Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Something is wrong & I don't know what it is.

Well. I mean. Obviously **A LOT** of things are wrong right now and I am pretty darn clear on what many of them are (though I am sure there are plenty of other dumpster fires going on that I remain blissfully unaware of for the time being!). The something I'm talking about is, thankfully, a lot less consequential to the global community, but still kind of making my life suck.

Friends, I have lost my mojo lately. Yes, I'm still faithfully getting the workouts in (though not always as planned, and not always on the right days), but there's not much joy in it. Pretty much from last June through CIM, all I wanted to do was run. I wanted to run extra miles and extra days for the fun of it. Like, I didn't even worry about days when I didn't feel like running, because they almost never happened. I think I could count on one hand all the days that I came home thinking, "Wow, I kiiiinda think I'd rather just chill on the couch with Netflix & a glass of wine."

I'm about this excited about running lately.

But man, thus far 2017 has kind of been the year of "F#@$ this shit." I almost never want to do the runs. Lately I'd much rather work, or cook, or clean my house, or do any one of the billion renovation tasks on my plate, or torture myself reading about national politics on the internet, or, yes, chill on the couch with Netflix & a glass of wine. There have been so, so many days when it would have been so easy to say "Eh, who really wants to do a tempo run anyway" & go do literally anything else.

Also, I just don't feel very good physically. I have shin splints lately, a lot. I get twinges in my funky right knee sometimes, and also the right hip flexor (it of the Great Hip Flexor Debacle of 2013). My feet hurt. My back hurts. Sure, there are days where running is happy and magical but for whatever reason they are significantly fewer and much farther between.

I have my guesses about the reasons for this.

  • Stress. As I've read in more books & more websites than I can count, bodies don't differentiate between mental & physical stress. In the grand scheme of things, my stressors are mostly extremely first world in nature, but that doesn't make them non-existent. For one thing, work has been kicking my ass lately. For another, we're getting to the point with our remodel that a lot of shit we've been putting off has to be done like NOW, and then of course there is the ever-present raging shit storm that is the current national situation. (**Bonus**: I've been listening to The New Jim Crow on audio books this week during my commute & running, and while it is an amazing book and I highly highly recommend it to any American citizen worth their salt, it hasn't made me feel a lot better about the world or the human race.)
  • Winter sucks. Sorry but it does, even in a place that doesn't have real winter. I am so, so tired of running in the dark, and tired of being cold all the time. I hate hate hate running in tights (for chafing reasons that we don't really need to get into) & my reflective vest has a particular spot where it cuts into my neck a bit sometimes & ends up looking like some kind of hickey love bite that causes people to give me strange looks.
  • I just can't muster the same level of excitement about Shamrock'n Half that I had for CIM. I don't know if it really works this way, but I feel like I might have used up all my enthusiasm in those 18 weeks, and a month of dicking around/doing next to nothing afterward wasn't quite enough to replenish the well.

The obvious solution is to forget about all-out racing Shamrock & take a little more time off from real training until I'm feeling excited about it again. The thing is, though, I feel like I have a level of fitness right now that I haven't had in a really, really long time, and as I roll closer and closer to the days when lifetime PRs are no longer possible, it feels like a waste to run a five minute marathon PR and then not build on it and see what I can do in a half marathon.

So, I'm going to keep for-real training and plan on racing Shamrock hard, but I don't think I'm going to press on the mileage much for a while. I might not PR or run a sub-1:40 like I'd hoped, but that's okay. Right now running weeks in the low 40s is taking all the motivation I have, so that's probably going to have to be good enough.

* * *

Grand Total: 38.9 miles + 2 hours strength

* 32 easy
* 3.6 speed
* 3.3 tempo/threshold

Monday 1/23: a.m. strength / p.m. karate

Tuesday 1/24: 2 warm up, 1 @ LT pace/2:00 jog, 2 x (800m @ 5k pace / 2:00 jog), 1 @ LT pace/2:00 jog, 2 cool down 2 warm up, 3 x (1600m @ HM pace / .1 jog), 2 cool down

    Got late too home for going to the track to be plausible and I find doing speed work on sidewalks/roads terrifying & useless with all the pedestrians, traffic lights, etc. So instead I did Friday's threshold workout. I can tell I'm still out of practice at this pace because I was aiming for ~7:35 & did all three sub-7:30, which, no, is not a humble brag; it just means I suck at pacing right now.

Wednesday 1/25: a.m. strength / p.m. karate

Thursday 1/26: 8 easy

    OMG. Worst run in so, so long. Exhausted & everything hurt, especially the shin splints, which has not reared its ugly head in quite sometime.

Friday 1/27: 3.5 warm up, 1600m @ 10K pace/1:30 jog, 2 x (800m @ 8k pace / 2:00 jog), 1600m @ 10K pace/1:30 jog, 3.5 cool down

    It's been a long time since I was this unmotivated for a run. God, I came so close to just forgetting about it all together in favor of cleaning my house & getting more work done. I did not want to drive to the track and have to deal with re-parking my car, but the alternative was running there & back (meaning a double digit day), and I suppose the *real* issue is that I did not not NOT want to run 7:15 miles after it was so hard to run 7:25-7:30 miles on Tuesday.

    But, I sucked it up and just ran there and back. Getting there sucked. Every mile was in the 10:45 range & my shin splints were flaring up with a vengeance and every muscle in my body felt exhausted. Even once at the track I spent an inordinate amount of time avoiding that first fast mile. But weirdly, once I started, it felt...not that hard. In fact I ended up running the two miles in 7:04 & 7:05 instead of 7:15 (again, because my pacing sucks right now) and it was really fairly easy. I think the 800ms were in the 3:25 range instead of 3:30, so that was okay too.

    Alas, the jog home, much like the jog there, sucked. At least I know I can still run fast even when I feel like poop.

Saturday 1/28: Rest

Sunday 1/29: 12-14 easy 10 easy.

    And, I was lucky to get the 10. I actually think this day might have eclipsed the previous Thursday in terms of "worst run in recent memory." I was in so much pain. And exhausted. And less than two miles in I had not at all ruled out hitting that two mile mark & turning right back around. I hit three miles and thought, "I can make it to 12." By mile 6 the thought that I was only halfway done kind of made me want to cry. I started having those horrible horrible thoughts you have sometimes during horrible workouts where you're like, "Seriously, this is an utter shit show & I think it's much smarter if I call it good at x," and your jerkbrain is all like, "WHAT KIND OF WEAK ASS PUSSY ARE YOU????" and then you're like, "I'm sorry, I'll try harder!" but you still know you're going to call it good at x but will just feel shittier about it.

    Every time those thoughts popped up I countered with the classic "You would never say those things to another runner having a hard day, so stop saying them to yourself," which helped a little. I still felt shitty about the run but at least I could be honest with myself that it was physical pain & discomfort, legit yellow flags, and not being lazy due to boredom or normal running fatigue or a case of just feeling vaguely blah (all things I think I've gotten pretty good at pushing through).

I'd like to tell you this week has gotten off to a better start, but....I can't, really. I don't feel like I'm about to injure myself or anything, but it is about time for a cut-back week (which feels a little to say when you've barely broken 40 mpw lately), and I feel like my body (for whatever reason) will probably thank me for it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Resisting, & trying to stay dry.

What it's been like around here lately


If you're reading this, then the world hasn't ended yet (yet), so YAY! BRIGHT SIDE AMIRITE.

If you marched on Saturday, you are my hero. If you're looking for concrete actions to take next, might I suggest locating your closest swing district that's on the 2018 ballot & considering getting involved with their campaign. Mine is CA-10 and you can bet I am already making plans.


It's been a wet one around these parts lately. We had a gorgeous weekend, but after the holiday it's as if the weather kind of went, "Eh, that's enough joy for you people, here have a thunderstorm or three." (Kind of bizarre since we never have thunderstorms here.)

In terms of running, week three was SUPER RUDE in that things at my job kept just catching on fire (metaphorically, not literally) for NO GOOD REASON AT ALL. Sure, I work the occasional long-ish day, particular when I travel, because that's how most jobs work, but this week it's been one damn crisis after another and GUYS GET IT TOGETHER I HAVE RUNNING TO DO.

(Seriously, most of time, I do love my job, and I know how lucky I am to have found meaningful work, great coworkers, and a reasonable amount of flexibility all in one place. Which I've been reminding myself of over and over again this week.)

* * *

Grand Total: 40.4 miles + 2 hours strength

* 24.7 easy
* 1.7 speed
* 14 long

Monday 1/16: Rest.

    This was a scheduled rest day, but if I'd known what Tuesday and Wednesday held in store, I would have totally thrown a few easy miles in anyway.

Tuesday 1/17: a.m. strength / 3 warm up, 2 x (3 x 300m / 300m jog)/300m jog, 3 cool down.

    Two Tuesday zeros in a row??? WTF?

    Like I said, work caught on fire & I ended up needing to work all evening. Boo.

Wednesday 1/18: a.m. 6 easy / p.m. 4 easy

    I was supposed to do strength work Wednesday morning but I was super pissed about missing my run Tuesday so instead figured I'd try to make up some mileage by shoehorning in a few miles in the morning and a few more later that evening. Half of that plan worked out; the other half was foiled by more work craziness.

Thursday 1/19: 10 easy

    Ah, those magical, blissfully easy runs that only happen after multiple days off (& one other short easy run). More of this, please.

Friday 1/20: a.m. strength / 3 warm up, 2 x (3 x 300m / 300m jog)/300m jog, 3 cool down

    Not gonna lie, my first three strength workouts of the year were kind of a slog. Thankfully, on Friday, my body finally went, "Oh right! THIS is how this works." 65 lb. deadlifts, you guys! #ripped #justkidding #likereallyreallykidding

    Actually, things really felt way easier than they should have Friday, which is a good thing in a way, but also means it's probably time to slide a little more weight on next time.

    As teensy as it was, I wanted to get that speed workout done after work, and since I needed to tack on a bunch of easy miles anyway, I just ran from home to the track as a warm up (~3.5-ish miles), did the 300m's, then ran home. Though apparently somewhere in there I miscalculated & ended up with 10.4 miles instead of 10. Ah well.

Not nearly as nice a day today out at the track as last week. Even the weather is protesting.

Saturday 1/21: 4 easy Rest

    I think I may have underestimated my ability to bounce back from back-to-back double digit days this early in training, just because I was doing it occasionally during CIM training with no problem. I was mentally ready to get a few recovery miles in on Saturday but as soon as I got up my body was giving me some of those serious yellow flag feelings that you ignore at your peril. I might have done it anyway if I didn't have 14 on the schedule for the next day, but I knew I'd be kicking myself if I tweaked something & had to skip or shorten it. So, I did the smart thing & just took a rest day, which is fine for now.

Sunday 1/22: 14 easy.

    WOW, was it pouring on Sunday! It was drizzling just a bit when I headed out, but I'd gone less than a mile before it was legit raining, and by 3-4 miles it was utterly pouring. I was wearing my RunShield water resistant shoes & my most hardcore waterproof jacket, by the halfway point I was utterly soaked anyway, and water resistant shoes don't help much when you're surrounded by deep, wide miniature lakes that are pretty much impossible to leap over or dodge around. Also I really really underestimated the temperature--it was 40s, maybe, which would not be so bad except for the pouring rain. It took me about half an hour to fully regain feeling in my hands. Egads.

    Please enjoy this stock photo of my RunShields because I just cannot be bothered.

    Weather aside, this run still didn't feel great. My right hip and knee were both bugging me a little (BAD), as was the old stress fracture spot in my left tibia (DOUBLE BAD). I finished feeling okay, but the next morning I felt sore and beat up in a way that I haven't in a really, really long time (even after multiple 50+ weeks). So I'm just trying to dutifully keep up the strength work & hope that whatever fairy dust got me through the highest mileage 18 weeks of my life this past fall will kick back in at some point.

Two consecutive weeks in the 40-45 range, though, so still officially on track!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On the subject of books: The Contenders

Please excuse the minimalist blog post, but I would very much like your votes for this year's monthly classics.

Here are the contenders*:

  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom
  • Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  • The Black Sheep, by Honoré De Balzac
  • The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
  • The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
  • The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  • The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
  • Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
  • An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  • The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass
  • The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
  • The Rainbow, by D. H. Lawrence
  • Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
  • The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
  • Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  • Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  • American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
  • The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
  • Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

*Though if you really really love something that's not on the list, please feel free to suggest it! I've particularly been trying to seek out more classics by women and non-white people, but it's hard, since who gets put in the "classic literature" bucket has kind of a long history involving a lot of '-isms.'

Since I've been doing for a few years now, here's all the ones I've read in past years:


  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  • The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner


  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.
  • The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin.
  • The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.
  • Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.
  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë.
  • The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.
  • Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
  • The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Cider House Rules, by John Irving


  • Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  • To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  • Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  • All The King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren

Monday, January 16, 2017

Shamrock'n Half Week 2 of 10: Improvements! :D

And after two weeks of gray overcast & pouring rain, a gorgeous day at the track on Saturday!

Wellll this week went a little bitter than last week!

I have to say I have had a *heck* of a time getting motivated to start training properly again, which is not usually a thing for me. When I was training for Eugene and CIM last year, I was like a machine. I had my workouts for the entire week memorized, and as soon as I got home from work, I'd change clothes & head out the door in maybe 15 minutes & git'er done, no excuses. So far in 2017 it's like I just do not care. Like, I do want to run a fast half in March, but it's not like a vision that's driving me every day. I have to work a little harder to get myself out the door (though, once I do, it's fine).

The other issue this week was that I finally got back in the gym for strength work (YAY), but even in spite of my efforts to take it a bit easy & not blow out my legs doing squats, I, er, well, blew out my legs doing squats. Like. I didn't even do that many, or with that much weight (in November I was squatting 90 reps of maybe 100 pounds or so & on Monday I started with just 40 pounds--less than the empty bar--& only did 74) and still by the end of the day my quads felt like hamburger meat. So that threw off my running plans a bit!

* * *

Grand Total: 41.65 miles + 2 hours strength & 3 hours karate

* 24.35 easy
* 3 speed
* 2.3 tempo/threshold/race pace
* 12 long

Monday 1/9: a.m. strength / p.m. karate

    Super proud of myself for dragging my ass out of bed at 5:30 for strength work! But less proud about overdoing it & destroying my legs. :-/ Since I didn't run on Saturday or Sunday, I'd planned to run at least a little before karate, but my legs were NOT having it.

Tuesday 1/10: 2 warm-up, 12 x 200m / 200m jog, 2 cool down Rest.

    I went back & forth on whether to try running Tuesday, like I'd be sitting on the couch & think, "I could at least do some easy miles!" & then I'd stand up & my legs were like, "Uh, no. No, I don't think you can."

Wednesday 1/11: a.m. strength afternoon 6 easy / p.m. karate

    I was supposed to go to the gym Wednesday but I stayed up too late Tuesday night so when my alarm went off at 5:30 I was like "F*** THAT NOISE." Legs still screaming a bit from Monday's squats by the afternoon, but I decided to see if I could get a few easy miles in. And, it wasn't so bad.

Thursday 1/12: 3.25 warm up, 2 @ HM pace / 3:00 jog, 3.15 cool down

    At first I thought I'd do Tuesday's track workout this day, but I left work late enough that driving to the track and then driving home and trying to park would have been near impossible. So instead, I did Friday's planned threshold run.

    Lololol at trying to run 7:35 pace. I was clearly still getting over the last bits of being sick; even warming up super easy felt hard. I started my first fast mile, though, and was surprised at first at how easily I was able to hit the pace. "This isn't so bad!" I thought, until I hit .3 miles or so & suddenly it did NOT feel so easy anymore. Sigh. I did manage them at 7:29 & 7:31, so ultimately I called it a win.

Friday 1/13: a.m. strength / 8 easy.

    Thankfully, deadlifts are a bit gentler on the out-of-practice muscles than squats!

Saturday 1/14: 2 warm-up, 12 x 200m / 200m jog, 2 cool down = 7 total

    Finally got to the track for the first time in 2017! A bad habit I have is going out to the track for 200m's & sprinting them like I'm some kind of miler or something, but this week I really had no problem just la-la-ing them in at :43-:44. (Note - early last year, :43-:44 200ms was super fast for me & :46-47 was la-la pace. So that's neat.)

Sunday 1/15: 12 easy

    Such a lovely day for a long-ish run! The sun was out, but it was still crisp and and cool. Though, I started at 2:30 & was glad I didn't start any later as it's still getting dark fairly early. (But OMG, the worst chafing in MONTHS on this run, and no clue why. #coconutoileverywhere.)

Well, that's all I have to report this week. Back to worrying about the fate of the free world!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Books 2016: Quarter 4

As you probably already know, I've been reading a classic a month for the last two years. It started as a one-year project in 2014, but I've enjoyed it enough to keep going with it & will probably continue until it starts to feel like a chore.

2016 Classics: Quarter 1

2016 Classics: Quarter 2

2016 Classics: Quarter 3

However, I must report that I fell off the wagon a bit during the fall. I had my November Classic all cued up & ready to go, but then The Blood Mirror came out (Book 4 of 5 in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks), and I started reading that, then realized it had been way, way too long since I read the first three books, so I had to stop and go back and re-read those three, which took the better part of two months as they clock in at 700-900 pages each. I actually didn't end up finishing The Blood Mirror until the first week of January, so here we are in 2017 with me still two classic behind. Ah well.

Anyway, I can at least tell you about my October selection.

October: All The King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren (1947, 661 pages). 4 stars. Filing this one under "Worth reading & I can see why it's a classic, but did not enjoy, exactly." It is very rich, very human, brilliantly written, and the characters practically live and breathe, but a lot of the story felt slow and meandering to me. I couldn't always tell where things were going (not in the good way), parts of it seemed extraneous, and WOW, it's really just depressing as hell. So, I don't know. 5 stars for the literary quality, I guess, but only 3 for my actual enjoyment.


I got suuuuuper lazy this fall keeping track of things I read, but if I don't remember it, it probably wasn't all that great anyway. These were my favorites:

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn. (2009, 249) 5 stars. The book opens with an epigraph described as a "Schoolyard Rhyme, Circa 1985" wherein 15-year-old Ben Day gruesomely murders his two sisters and mother one winter night in 1985 in their Kansas farm house while the youngest sister, "Baby Libby," somehow survives. Fast forward 24 years, and we spend most of the book following "Baby Libby," now 31 and completely dysfunctional. On the verge of financial insolvency, Libby is contacted by a group obsessed with her family's murders and with exonerating her brother who is serving life in prison. If she's willing to go talk to various people of interest from that night that the Kill Club can't get access to themselves (her brother, estranged father, various associates of Ben, etc.), they'll pay her for her time. Libby wants nothing more than to forget the murders ever happened, but since she also likes eating and not being homeless, she agrees to revisit her past with the KCKC's sponsorship. I loved this book and could not put it down. Yes, there were maybe a couple coincidences too many and I do think the ending suffered from that thing where the story has done such an amazing job building up tension and expectation that no ending ever could have lived up to it. But the writing itself is top-notch, the story dark and chilling and also disturbingly humanizing, and the characters themselves just brilliantly done (diverse, compelling, multi-layered).

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. (2014, 405 pages) 5 stars. The premise of this book is that some people have the great fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) of being reborn over and over again with all the memories and knowledge of their previous lives intact; Harry August, born in Leeds in the early 20th century, is one such person. But there are complications to such a world, and a set of agreed-upon rules that are not to be broken for the sake of the rest of the world. When Harry learns that one of his ilk has been breaking those rules, he embarks on a bizarre, reality-bending (sort of?) mission to set things right. Really spectacular, well-thought out sci fi. This is a classic of example of the author going, "What if...," following the premise out to all its logical implications, then writing an amazing story around it. Unique, clever, witty, and extremely well-written.

80/20 Running, by Matt Fitzgerald. (2015, 272 pages) 5 stars. I heard about this book a while back but never sought it out because I'd already been on board with the go-(mostly)-slow-to-go-fast principle for a while. But when Cat offered me her copy, I decided to give it a read. While the main idea was not new to me, a lot of the history & science around it was, so I found it to still be a super interesting read. One of my favorite things about all of Matt Fitzgerald's books are how he takes all the data and scientific stuff & presents it in a way that is both interesting and entertaining and also easy enough to follow and understand even if you don't have a math/science background, so if you're interested in learning more but are scared of numbers and data, don't let that put you off.

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3), by Tana French. (2010, 400 pages) 4 stars. This story focuses on Frank Mackey, familiar from the first two books as the veteran head of the eponymous Dublin Murder Squad. In this installment, Frank is abruptly thrust back into his childhood community when his teenage sweetheart's suitcase is found in a condemned house in the neighborhood 22 years after her disappearance. As teenagers the pair had planned to run away together, but when she didn't show up as planned, Frank had assumed she'd changed her mind & run off without him. The suitcase suggests otherwise, and he must now confront all manner of ugliness from his past including (for starters) his highly dysfunctional family and a community plagued by family grudges and deep mistrust of the police. The real brilliance of this book is in how much richness and depth French brings to all the characters and relationships and how three-dimensional the world and history feel, and as with The Likeness, the writing is excellent. My only complaint is that the ending felt a little predictable & anticlimactic. But I still enjoyed the ride & look forward to reading more DMS.

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. (2006, 254 pages) 4 stars. I enjoyed this book for the same reason I've enjoyed reading Megan Abbott and other Gillian Flynn books--a dark, gritty mystery that turns at least in part on broken, unlikable female characters and their relationships. In it, crime journalist Camille Preaker is sent by her editor to the tiny Southern town where she grew up to investigate the recent murder of two preteen girls. In addition to the general unpleasantness of the assignment, this also means connecting with her cold, distant mother, bewildering stepfather, and 13-year-old half sister and navigating the bizarre politics of her childhood town. Naturally, Camille also has her own psychological demons to deal with.Things quickly get weird, then creepy, then gruesome, and although the story was engrossing, it pretty much stayed super dark start to finish. It's not a long book and I think that's for the best, since it isn't one of those books where the darkness is balanced out here & there by humor or absurdity or whatever. I enjoyed it, but it was definitely disturbing in ways that go beyond the murders that set things into action, and I'm not sure I could have hung in there for all that much longer.

The Blood Mirror (Lightbringer #4), by Brent Weeks. (2016, 262 pages) 4 stars. I continue to love everything about this series: Many complex, dynamic characters with layers of back-story. Multiple kickass female characters that defy tropes & stereotypes. Really, really excellent writing. The Bechtel Test. New spins/fresh takes on old tropes. Skillful, brilliantly executed dialogue. Characters you just can't pin down. Large-scale narrative planning that is clever, artful, and occasionally makes you think back two books & go, "Oh, SHIIIIIT." You will never stop guessing. Bad guys do honorable things and have understandable motives. Good guys sometimes do crappy things. Ambivalent characters abound. Political machinations are brilliantly executed. What you thought was characterization was actually plot. What you thought was plot was characterization. He's a clever, calculating man, this Brent Weeks. Can't wait for the 5th & final installment!

* * *

Currently Reading:
Use of Weapons
, by Iain M. Banks

Currently Listening To:
The Vanishing Year
, by Kate Moretti

Up Next:

  • Alice, by Christina Henry
  • Dreams and Shadows, by C. Robert Cargill
  • Annihilation (Southern Reach #1), by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Alena, by Rachel Pastan
  • Mort(e), by Robert Repino
  • The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp
  • Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow
  • Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes
  • When The Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Dear Mr. M, by Herman Koch
  • Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Doors of Stone, by Patrick Rothfuss (Come on, Rothfuss. Get it together, man. I believe in you.)

And who knows, whatever else tickles my fancy. (Taking future suggestions as always!)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Evolution of a Distance Runner: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Going Slow

I've wanted to write this post for a while now, but it's not the kind of post you can really write while you're in the middle of multiple years of being injured & not being able to train & DNF'ing and DNS'ing. Now that I've managed to cobble together something of a reasonably successful season, though, I feel like writing it finally makes at least some kind of sense.

For the first few years of my distance running "career," I didn't own a GPS watch & didn't race, so I honestly had no idea what my pace was. If I was going on a run of x miles, I had a vague idea of what to tell people regarding when I'd be back, but I really had no concept of whether I was running 7:00 miles or 12:00 miles. I even ran my first few races watchless, and although I did get my official finishing times, they didn't really mean anything to me and it never even occurred to me to go back and calculate my pace. (I was a sprinter in school and sprinters don't really talk in terms of pace, so it wasn't part of how I thought about running.)

The first time I can remember ever thinking about pace was when I started training for the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in fall of 2009. I would plot out my route using MapMyRun to find the distance, run with an old-school stopwatch, then do the math afterward. Even then the number didn't mean much to me. As I recall, at that point most of my easy training runs were somewhere in the 8:30-9:00 range, depending. I honestly had no idea what kind of race goal time was reasonable, but I sort of arbitrarily decided that trying to run under 100 minutes (so 1:40) sounded nice & round & calculated that I'd need to run about 7:38-7:40/mile to do it. (I ran 1:47:10, ~8:05 pace, in case you're curious. I overdressed and went out waaaay too fast & paid for it with an utterly miserable death march down the Great Highway & Back. SO MANY LESSONS!!)

lol what even is that outfit
(also, that dude behind me tho)

Kaiser '10 was an utterly miserable experience, so naturally, I immediately turned my thoughts towards another half and getting that completely arbitrary sub-1:40. Knowing really nothing more about training for distance races than what I'd learned from Hal Higdon, I concluded that duh, obviously, if you want to race fast, you darn well better start training faster. (Though to be fair to Hal, I should probably point out that he never said this. It just seemed obvious to me.)

I trained and trained and trained kinda sorta in retrospect really not that hard at all but it felt like a lot at the time, did get a good bit faster, watched my PRs drop like flies, nailed that elusive sub-1:40 no less than three times, and by summer 2014 was running my "easy" runs in the 8:00-8:15 range (basically, my goal marathon race pace). Some friends started calling me fast and comments admiring my speedy training paces occasionally dotted my Strava feed.

In a way I felt super baller but in other ways I was frustrated. I was mostly happy with my performance in shorter races, but never seemed to be able to translate those times into the marathon times on the same row in the pace chart (or even remotely close). Positive marathon splits were par for the course. Long runs made me feel like death, so I found excuses not to run so many (or didn't fight too hard to find the time), and every time I tried to sneak my average weekly mileage above the 40 mark for too long, I ended up hurt (whether shin splints or tendinitis or something a lot worse like a stress fracture or torn muscle).

In retrospect, it's hard to remember where or when I started to see or hear more about the wisdom of slowing down. Or, maybe it was always out there and I just didn't want to believe it. "That's not me, I can legitimately run those paces, not like people who try to race every workout." "Oh, those guidelines don't apply to me in the same way; I have a naturally high max heart rate." "No, really; this IS easy pace for me." It makes me cringe a little now but I remember a co-worker on my Ragnar(ish) team asking if I thought I could manage 10:00 miles and I swear to god I sniffed a little & said something about how if at any point I were running 10:00 miles it was because I had a broken leg.

{"Wow, you were a snooty bitch." Yes, but an OBLIVIOUS snooty bitch! That's better, right? No?}

So it's sort of fine and good to be snooty and hoity toity about how fast you run your training runs until you suddenly realize it's been nearly two years since you've run anything like a PR or even managed to string together a single successful training cycle. At that point you kind of have to take a hard look at what you're doing & ask if maybe, just maybe, it isn't all dumb luck and maybe all these experts and coaches and people who actually do this for a living know what they're talking about when they say things like "80% of competitive recreational runners are sabotaging their races by doing training runs too fast."

Probably one clue that this whole "go-slow-to-go-fast" deal wasn't complete bullshit was the sheer number of running/endurance sport experts out there recommending it. People talk about it different ways and the exact recommendations vary depending on who you're reading ("You should run xx% of heart rate reserve" "You should run x minutes per mile slower than your marathon race pace" "You should run easy enough that you can carry on a conversation in complete sentences") but the basic concept showed up over and over and over again. It's one thing if it's one fringe dude saying people should do something that sounds counter-intuitive, but when it's the majority of them, you should probably at least check it out and make an effort to make sense of the science.

So between fall 2014 and spring 2015, I decided I didn't have a whole lot left to lose & dove in.

I dug out my heart rate monitor and calculated my heart rate reserve. I took all the 'pace' fields off my watch, and for months and months and months did nothing but run for time, based on nothing but my heart rate and effort level. The recommendations, at first, seemed ludicrous--"There is no way I can run 10:30 miles for my easy runs, that's barely a shuffle." "OMG there is no way I can do easy runs at 142 bpm, that's like fast walking."--but then I'd think to myself, "Yeah, maybe, but what you're doing now doesn't really seem to be working, sooooo...????"

ca. 2011, ie, the bad old days of chest strap heart rate monitors

And little by little, it got easier. I discovered that yes, 10:00-10:30 pace was actually still running. And, what's more, if I wanted to keep my heart rate in the right range, I actually had to run more like 11:00 miles at first. o.O

(Then again, Phil Maffetone describes working with relatively fast runners whose aerobic base fitness was so bad that they had to actually start with walking fast in order to stay out of the anaerobic zone; at least things weren't that bad for me!)

A couple months back Cat gave me her copy of 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald. I'd first learned about the book long after I was already sold on slowing down so had never sought it out, but decided I might as well give it a read. It was a lot of stuff I already knew, but also a ton more that I didn't!

Two bits I found particularly intriguing were:

    1) If you ask a bunch of "recreationally serious" runners to run at their normal, comfortable training pace and then rate their level of effort on the Borg Scale (which goes from 6-20 for a dumb reason), the overwhelming majority will rate their level of effort right around 13, which the Borg Scale calls "somewhat hard."

    2) If you ask just about any runner to run for a while at a comfortable pace with no access to GPS or other pace/speed information, they'll almost always end up running at about the same pace, AND if you explicitly ask them to start out slower, they'll still gravitate back toward their usual pace, whatever it is.

Ie, we are incredible creatures of habit, and we very quickly come to perceive our usual level of effort as "comfortable," even if when asked we describe that effort level as "somewhat hard."

Thinking back on my own experience, this wasn't at all surprising. Going from running 8:00-8:30 miles on my easy days to running 11:00s felt like crawling, and if I didn't pay close attention to my heart rate, I would very quickly find myself gravitating back towards those low 8:00's while my heart rate climbed through the roof.

Now, this is the part where people will often say things like "But you have to train fast to race fast!" and "Your body does what you train it to do!" and "You have to make your race pace feel normal!" and start yelling about the Specificity Principle. I know, friends. These things felt truthy to me too, once. And the reason they feel truthy is because they all do contain some element of truth. But not necessarily the way our brains intuitively want to apply them.

I won't repeat all the science here because many, many people who are actually experts in this stuff have already explained it far better than I can and I'm sure you know how to use Google. The bottom line is that there is science, quite a lot of it. When you're a relatively new runner (say in your first few years of actually putting some consistent work into it), it's easy to get faster. Most of us have so much room for improvement in so many areas that literally any amount or kind of running is going to make us faster. But once you've picked a lot of that low-hanging fruit, it's not uncommon for recreational runners to find ourselves plateauing. Then what?

Thanks to science, we do know for a fact now that running mostly slow, probably way slower than you think, makes you race faster at just about every distance. There are piles and piles and piles of evidence to prove it, both on the biology side and the real-world results side. The more reading I did, the more I believed that if you train mostly at 8:00-8:10 pace and then manage to race a marathon at 8:00-8:10 pace, you are likely cheating yourself out of a significantly faster race time.

So, I dutifully ran my 11:00(+) miles and worked hard to get my heart rate to stay down in the 140s.

And after a few weeks, a funny thing started to happen. Instead of feeling like I was crawling, running 2-3 minutes per mile slower started to feel...normal. At first you might be tempted to think that indicates I was losing fitness, but my heart rate data disagreed. Whereas my early runs in the 10:30-11:00 range often resulted in an average heart rate in the 160s, I was soon running that pace in the 150s, then the 140s. And then I started to be able to keep my heart rate in the 140s, but run just a little faster.

Something else happened, too.

Back in 2012, I wrote a post entitled "A Confession," which included gems like the following:

    "Friends, I do not enjoy the act of running.

    I don't. It's not fun. I do not find it enjoyable. Most of the time, it's a chore I pretty much have to force myself to do. Nine times out of ten, I would SOOOO prefer to sit on the couch and read or watch X-Files reruns or--gasp--get some extra work done.

    And really, can you blame me? It's physically uncomfortable. You have to breathe hard. You sweat. Your various little aches & pains get going. It's hot sometimes. Or cold. Or it's raining. Or you have afternoon brain coma. This is why I find it funny when someone is like, "Oh, I wish I was a runner, but I just REALLY HATE running." Well no shit, Sherlock! I want to tell them. Of course you hate running. Most of us do. It kind of sucks.

    Of course, I understand that some people really do enjoy the actual act of running. I think I'm friends with a lot of them! And I'm super jealous of those folks. I mean, yes, very occasionally I do enjoy it, if I'm feeling really good and the weather's nice, or if I haven't been able to run for a few days, for example. But most of the time, I can only dream of mustering the same enthusiasm for my runs as I do for a lazy afternoon Dr. Who."




These days, those words kind of make me cringe in a combination of horror and pity. If a runner friend were to tell me something like now, I'd immediately be like "Then Christ, girl, give it up already & go do literally anything else! Learn to paint or some shit." I don't even recognize that person now, and that's a good thing.

Do you want to know what changed?

I stopped trying to do my "easy" runs at goal marathon pace or just-slightly-slower-than-GMP. I made myself go slow, until slow felt easy and comfortable and--GASP, you guessed it--actually pleasant.

    "It may seem odd that runners do not naturally choose to train at an intensity that feels more comfortable. The reason, I believe, is that humans are naturally task oriented. When we have a job to do, we want to get it done. Of course a twenty-minute workout is a twenty-minute workout, regardless of how fast you go. But humans evolved long before clocks existed, so we think in terms of covering distance rather than in terms of filling time even when we are on the clock." -80/20 Running, p. 16

    "Runners typically are not aware they are working somewhat hard when running at their habitual pace until they are asked to rate their effort. As a coach, I know that if I tell a runner to run a certain distance at an 'easy' pace, it is very likely the runner will complete the run at her habitual pace, which is likely to fall in the moderate-intensity range. And if I ask the runner afterward if she ran easy as instructed, she will say that she did. In short, most runners think they are running easy (at low intensity) when in fact they are running "somewhat hard" (at moderate intensity." -p. 17

Some other things that happened:

  • I could mentally handle more miles because I didn't hate it.
  • I could physically handle more because I got hurt less (except for the time I tried to do three 20+ milers in three weeks after only about five weeks of running ~30 mpw & got a stress fracture because SMART LIKE THAT).
  • I went from 8:00 pace requiring a heart rate of 190+ bpm to it requiring about 180 bpm.
  • My running economy went through the roof.
  • I ran a marathon just for fun at 8:50 pace and it wasn't even hard (5 months of going slow).
  • I ran a marathon at 8:04 pace, it was the easiest 26.2 I'd ever run, and I finished feeling like I could have run at least 2-3 minutes faster (2 years of going slow).

Running economy, CIM 2016 training (June through November)

Now, let me be very clear--I did not give up speed and tempo work, except for that initial 6 month hardcore base-building period, which I needed to do because my aerobic fitness was so underdeveloped as compared to my ability to run short and fast and hard. But since then, my training plans have pretty much followed the traditional thing where you have one speed workout and one tempo workout per week. (That would be the "20" in "80/20" philosophy.) The difference is that if I'm not doing a workout, I am taking it really, really easy.

I learned a few other interesting things from 80/20 Running as well. For example, I've known for a while that VO2 max, while an important factor in endurance performance, has a relatively low ceiling. But I did not know that many highly competitive runners (say, top college runners or emerging elites) max out their VO2 max with just a few years of serious training. Paula Radcliffe, for example, reached her lifetime best VO2 max just two years into her college running career, yet she continued to run faster and faster for many years afterward by improving her running economy.

Running economy seems to be mostly connected to sheer training volume, though the exact mechanism is still not 100% understood. Mostly likely it's a number of things, including the following:

  • Cardiovascular improvements. This is the part I already knew a good bit about (and I'm sure most others do too). The more miles you run, the more and larger mitochondria you grow, the more red blood cells you grow, the more your blood plasma & overall blood volume increase, the more your body learns to metabolize fat more than carbs, etc. What a lot of people don't realize, I think, is that these benefits come from bathing your cells in lots of oxygen and not much lactic acid, which means mostly zone 2 (ie, 60-70% of your max heart rate, which probably means ~2-3 minutes slower per mile than your marathon race pace).
  • Neuromuscular improvements. Basically, your brain just gets better and better at figuring out the most economic way for your body to run--literally practice, practice, practice. The more you do it, the better you get. (This is also where sleep comes in. You don't reap even close to the full benefit of neuromuscular adaptations unless you're consistently sleeping 8+ hours a night. For more on this google sleep spindles.)
  • Increased fatigue resistance. This part seems to have both physical and psychological components, but one of the major players seems to be a cell signalling compound called IL-6. IL-6 is generated by muscle cells and contributes to fatigue. However, the release of large amount of IL-6 also seems to trigger the body to release less IL-6 in future workouts, thereby kind of "fatigue-proofing" itself. And how do you generate IL-6? By depleting your glycogen. And what is best for that? Hours and hours and hours on your feet. And since running faster puts more stress on your body parts, and IL-6 release is affected by time and not intensity, the best way to maximize this benefit is through lots and lots and lots of super easy miles.

So, yeah. Like I said; the science is out there & you can certainly find plenty to read simply by googling. But if you're the type of person who is more interested in personal experience, I am here to tell you that no, running your non-workout days at goal race pace or close to it will not make you race faster in the long-term, and no, slowing your easy days way, way down will not cause you to lose fitness or make it harder to run fast. Living proof, right here.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Shamrock'n Half Week 1 of 10: Slow Beginnings

Going into this first week of the new year, I was excited to star training for my first "real" race of 2017, Shamrock'n Half, on March 12 in Sacramento. I'd been planning to kick the week off with 40ish or so miles, mostly easy, & to get back into the gym three times a week as I definitely slacked off more than intended as CIM approached in December. Alas, as I mentioned, I've been sick this past week, so it wasn't quite the celebratory 1st week of the training cycle I'd been hoping for.

* * *

Grand Total: 32 miles, all easy + 1 hour karate

Monday 1/2: 8 easy

    Monday is usually a rest/karate day, but since I didn't run on Sunday due to being sick/feeling terrible, I decided to take advantage of feeling good the next day. (Also too many people out sick/traveling so no karate). I had also planned to start back with my M-W-F morning strength routine this week, but at this point it was clear I was getting sick & needed all the extra sleep I could get.

Tuesday 1/3: 2 warm-up, 5 x 5:00 @ 8K pace / 3:00 jog, 2 cool down 8 easy.

    Feeling somewhat better, but the gut check still said speed work was a bad idea.

Wednesday 1/4: Karate. Which is to say, Don & I went to karate, but I was still feeling so yucky that I only did about an hour's worth of kinda-sorta real work.

Thursday 1/5: 8 easy

    These easy sick day runs feel pretty easy, but they are SLOWWWW. I just try to keep reminding myself that I'm sick & haven't suddenly lost all the fitness gains from my CIM training.

Friday 1/6: 8 easy.

    I'd planned to do the track workout on Friday if I was feeling significantly better, but I wasn't, quite, so more easy miles it is. Ain't nothin' wrong with a bunch of slow, easy miles!

Saturday 1/7: Rest

Sunday 1/8: 12 easy

    My plan was to get up early & get my "long-ish" run done as we were busy for the rest of the day on Sunday, but it turned out that instead of sleeping I was up coughing all night, so I spent those hours catching up on desperately needed sleep instead of running. The weather was pretty shitty, including a good bit of flooding all around the city & a number of very large downed trees, so while it wouldn't have kept me in if I'd been feeling better, I suppose if you have to be out sick for a day missing the nastiest weather in a while is the day you want to miss. Ah well.

I'm starting to feel a lot better (still coughing a lot, though) so hopefully I'll be able to get with the program this week!