Thursday, March 27, 2014

Racing with Heart(-rate Training) - Rock 'n' Roll Dallas Half Marathon 2014

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It's been 50 days, the longest we've gone without a race in year and that includes Ron recovering from surgery last August. We went from doing five races in the space of five weeks, capped off by doing two full marathons in the span of 4 days on different continents and we somehow forgot to plan a race for the month of February. So what's a Marathoner For Life to do?

After going three and a half years without setting a half marathon PR between 2006 and 2009, I improved my PR twice in 2010, 3 times in 2011, twice officially in 2012 (we have timing mat and traffic questions that may have made it four PR's), and three times in 2013. I've been getting faster, but the incremental improvement has been getting smaller every year. 

We've dedicated 2014 to heart rate training. After eight years of marathoning, it felt like the right time to take greater advantage of our Garmin technology and educate ourselves more on the nuances of the heart. We’re only a couple months into this journey and yet we’re already learning a lot.
First things first. We've been in recovery mode ever since completing the White Continent and Punta Arenas marathons. Since then, our weekly long training has been slow and steady, keeping our heart rates in the 130 - 135 beats/minute (Zone 1 - 2, depending on your calculation method) as long as we can. The idea here is to elevate your heart rate, but only to the point where your body can easily clear out any lactate build up easily and you never go into a state of oxygen deprivation.
Thanks to the advice of veteran marathoner, Al, we've been monitoring our heart rate on flat ground for miles at a time. We end our training when we can no longer sustain the low heart rate regardless of how slow we go. For a benchmark, the training pace was anywhere from one to three minutes per mile slower than race pace.
Susan has successfully experienced this phenomenon of spiking heart rate once,  after about 11 miles, with her heart rate coming up into the mid 140's without being able to bring it down. It was alarming when it happened so it was good to know what was coming in advance. Ron went nearly 20 miles before he spiked into the 140's. Regardless, our race in Dallas was going to be the test to see what affect this novel (to us) approach had on our race performance.
The results are now in. Apparently we've successfully increased our level of metabolic efficiency. Since we’re still new to the physiology of heart rate training, bear with us as we do our best to communicate our understanding of what is going on.
  • Both of us were surprised to notice that we ate less during the race - a sign of greater efficiency. Ron actually didn't eat anything at all, a first for a half marathon.
  • Both of us were surprised to notice that we drank less during the race. This could have just been due to the colder weather that day, but again, it's a sign of lower overall exertion.
  • Negative split accomplished: a strong indicator that you tackled the course well is having reserve energy at end such that your second half split time is faster than your first. 
  • Susan’s last mile of the half marathon was not only her fastest mile that day but it smashed her best timed mile pace by 18 seconds. An eight-time half marathon walker Elana paced Susan at the end of her 58th half marathon, proving that anyone can inspire even the veterans among us.
  • No muscle soreness later that day or the next day. Susan was quite tired after the race but physically our lactic acid clearance threshold seems to have improved preventing muscle soreness.
How did we feel right after the race? Ron felt great, like he didn't even work for a 2:36 walking half marathon that would have been a PR three years ago. Susan said, “This race seemed relatively good, but I didn't feel like I did very well”. It wasn't until Ron reminded her that a 2:40 walking half marathon was as fast or faster than most of her run/walk times.
Heart rate training further engaged! Stay tuned for more as the year progresses. 
Random References:
Heart Rate Zone Calculator at Digifit. Use as a starting point only. It does not take into account individual situations, weather, humidity, hydration and sleep.
Recent article at about training with the Lactate Threshold method as a different direction in building endurance.

Faces in the Crowd
On another note, Susan’s most vivid memories on the course often come from things that she overhears and observes. A shout out goes to the Team in Training Texas participants and coaches on the RnR Dallas half marathon course on Sunday. 
Overheard: “If you ever get into any trouble on the racecourse and need help, look for a TNT coach; they will always help you even if you’re not with TNT.” Great to hear! Most TNT coaches absolutely abide by this philosophy that they are there to help anyone in need to the best of their ability. In addition to it being the right thing to do, you never know who might sign up for TNT next season because a supportive encounter out on the race course.
Observed:  A non-TNT race participant was sitting down on the curb surrounded by several people. A TNTer ran up to her and said, “Don’t worry, my TNT coach is just ahead. I’ll call him and he’ll come help you.” Later that TNTer ran by me and I thanked her for what she did to help out a fellow racer who wasn't with TNT (not yet at least). It’s that spirit of camaraderie out on the course and the feeling that, ‘we’re all in this together’ that makes me proud to have been affiliated with the Team in Training organization for so many years.
Keep up the good work – GO TEAM!

Dallas was a great trip for the Rock n Roll Gypsies. We haven't seen Kevin since his 5-second walk-by at RNR Las Vegas.

Pre-race dinner at Ravenna. Kevin was able to get his Alfredo fix.
Al goes old-school with the original RNR Las Vegas singlet in 43 degree weather. He's also one of the hundred or so Legacy runners who've done all 5 RNR Dallas races.
Al, Susan and The Biggest Loser Season 5 contestant Dan Evans. Dan caught up to Al and me at the finish line, just in time for the three of us to have our pictures taken gawking at the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. We were a little distracted in the last 50 yards of the race.
If you're looking for more races, The Biggest Loser Run/Walk has added a Theme Park Race Series with 10k and 5k races in the Six Flags locations. We've signed up for the two in California that landed on free weekends. Yay!

Veteran Rocker Joe Harris celebrated his 100th Half Marathon. Michelle Bogush, Jim and Beth Austin were also at the race, but we didn't see them at the finish tent, probably because they were freezing their butts off.

Joe at the finish line VIP tent. The 100 Medals were a gift from fellow Gypsy Beth Deloria-Austin.

This year's Rock 'n' Roll Dallas was the 5th year of the event. There were 9678 finishers in the half marathon compared to 10711 in 2013. The median finish time was 2:15:14. Weather this year was a typical (for March) low to mid-40's during the race and it didn't warm up much until noon. Bring some warm clothes if you are waiting at the finish line for a ride back since its a point to point course. Note that Uber operates in Dallas and there was a $20 credit for first time users in the Rock n Roll goodie bag. We splurged for VIP for Joe's party, so we were able to take the CGI Shuttle back to the Omni.

This was our second Rock 'n' Roll Dallas, last coming to the city when Susan was doing the commute in 2011. Ron had a goal of setting a personal best for the state of Texas, which he did by over 14 minutes. It was Ron's 57th half marathon (43rd Rock n Roll event) and Susan's 58th (44th). While we aren't likely to register for RNR Dallas 2015, we'll come back in the next few years.

We had a few good dining experiences to add to a great list complied at #CGIEats Dallas edition, written by the CGI superstar Shayne McCoy. Look for Shayne's Rock Blogs before your next Rock 'n' Roll race for some great tips!

Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse
We started with the YO Queso and had the Buffalo Filet and Pecan Crusted Trout for our early dinner. Top that off with the Pecan Pie and Apple Tart and you should be set for your post-race celebration.

Price: $$$

Tiff's Treats:
After hitting Slickables after Rock n Roll Arizona earlier, I've learned to appreciate the fresh-baked cookie/ice cream sandwich. Tiff's uses Blue Bell Ice Cream. And they deliver.

Price: $

Yumilicious Frozen Yogurt:
Some of the more interesting flavors include Mango Habanero, Avacado Tart and Maple Bacon Donut. Flavors rotate daily, but there's always a selection for the adventurous and main-stream dessert aficionados. 

Price: $

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