Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Adventures with Iron Deficiency, Part 2

(Once again: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, coach, etc. and have absolutely no formal training whatsoever in medicine, diet, sports training, etc. and probably no one should listen to me about anything. Everything I know, I've learned from reading or talking either to people who ARE experts or other female runners who have had similar experiences. This entire blog is just Some Lady Rambling on the Internet and if you are getting your medical and/or training advice from me something in your life has gone very, very wrong; please go pay an actual expert actual money.)


So, last time we were talking about iron deficiency--what it is, and why runners (especially female runners) might care. You can read Part 1 where I discuss my first experience dealing with iron deficiency & some things I learned about it here.

All caught up? Excellent!

Fast forward to about a month before the Boston Marathon. In my first couple months of training I felt amazingly good--workouts were easy, and I had no trouble hitting the mileage. After that (as you know if you've been following along), I had some injuries and got really sick one week, so I would never in a million years have thought that I was training hard enough to mess with my iron levels.

Still, I kept getting that same feeling I remembered from when I was training for Eugene; just exhausted all the time, hitting workout paces starting to feel way, way too hard (and for the first time I can ever remember, sometimes actually impossible), and that sleep-deprived/low-blood-sugar, knock-me-over-with-a-feather feeling while running, even just on short easy runs.

For a while I was chocking it up to stress, losing fitness from all the missed miles, and maybe just getting old. But chatting about it with Don one day, he was like, "When was the last time you had all your blood work checked? Could it be iron or thyroid or something?"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Adventures with Iron Deficiency, Part 1

(Super obvious disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, coach, etc. and have absolutely no formal training whatsoever in medicine, diet, sports training, etc. and probably no one should listen to me about anything. Everything I know, I've learned from reading or talking either to people who ARE experts or other female runners who have had similar experiences. This entire blog is just Some Lady Rambling on the Internet and if you are getting your medical and/or training advice from me something in your life has gone very, very wrong; please go pay an actual expert actual money.)


People didn't talk much about iron levels when I was in high school and college. Or, at least, not my particular circle of runners & coaches. In fact I don't think I ever even had mine tested until I got a summer job running the barn at a Girl Scout horseback riding camp in college, and I had no idea what the numbers meant or even what the deal with low iron really was, except for some vague notion of how iron bonds to oxygen and that's why you need it to make red blood cells. Which, y'know. Sounds important. But wasn't exactly something I worried about.

My next encounter with iron talk was many, many years later, reading running blogs by people way, way, WAY faster than me (like RoseRunner, and Kris Lawrence, and Camille Heron), how they'd started generally feeling shitty on their runs while training hard, and so the doctor said, "You know, let's just check your iron just to be safe." It was't a problem I was personally having at the time, but I guess I must have put a mental pin in it to revisit if it seemed relevant.

So, a few years later, while I was training for the Eugene Marathon, I started feeling just really awful. Like tired and cold all the time even when there was no good reason for it, and so many runs, even short easy ones, where I felt like I might fall over at any moment. The way I tried to describe it to my doctor was that it felt like being sleep deprived and low blood sugar at the same time, only it happened when I was definitely definitely not either of those things. Also my workouts were just a slog. I could hit the times still, usually, but felt like I was dragging myself through them & when I got home I just wanted to lay on the couch and not move.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Life-Changing Magic of Bottoming Out

As you might imagine, after we got home from Big Sur on April 30th, I took a week completely off all physical activity (except going to work, which is to say, I went to work *at least* three days of five). Recently, though, I've gotten back to a basic level of activity. Very, very basic.

Some things I've been up to post-Boston/Big Sur:

Karate. I've been treating my class like my red headed step child these last few months & was starting to wonder if our students would even remember who I was. I still can't do any kicks properly but at least I can move around okay.

Actually buying groceries & cooking, something neither of us were even remotely up to for the first two weeks.

Massages. Knowing I was a bit of a mess even before the races, I'd had a woman who'd come recommended for her plantar fasciitis skills/knowledge work on my left calf and foot a few days before we left for Boston, & scheduled up a follow-up for Saturday May 5. As she put it that afternoon, "Holy moley, honey, you're a mess." So. Y'know. I guess that's where my expendable income is going for the foreseeable future. (Which is good, because things just really do not feel right. At all.)

Mobilizing. Again with the whole bit-of-a-mess body-wise thing even going into these races. I tried to do a good job with this while I was training, honest I did, but life was so crazy and stupid and I definitely did not do enough.

Stretching. I think it's probably true that runners don't need to constantly obsess about stretching too much, but I know that my body just tends to get pathologically tight when I'm running even remotely close to kind of a lot, and I'd been pretty terrible about it while training for Boston/Big Sur. So I've been trying to do a little every day while I'm not running in an effort to help things get back to normal (...whatever that means).

Extremely gentle strength training. Like, *extremely* gentle. Tuesday, May 8th was my first day, about 45 minutes at the gym involving 80 squats w/ a 30# kettle bell (ie, not even the empty bar), 80 push ups, 80 seated rows @ 40# (again not even the empty bar), & a smattering of clam shells, jack knives, & bridge marches. So just a wee baby workout really, and OMG I was sore for days. FOR DAYS.

(This might be its own post right here, but side note, just because you can run 2 marathons in 13 days means doesn't necessarily mean you're particularly "fit" or "in shape"; it just means you have a decent amount of cardiovascular endurance. I am very, very much NOT in good shape relative to what I like to think of as my baseline.)

Also: Sitting on the couch drinking wine & catching up on WestWorld & The Crown.

Also: Eating whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want.

Also: Nothing.

Something I have NOT been doing, at all, not even a little bit, is running.

Like, imagine waking up really, really hungover, & someone offers you a margarita; it's like that. Sometimes I'll see someone casually out running and for a moment, "Oh, hey, running! I like--oof, NOPE. Do not want. All the nope. 100% nope rocket."

On one hand, I guess, this probably shouldn't surprise anyone. I can't say I trained super hard for Boston/Big Sur in terms of mileage, but I definitely tried. Which means I expended a lot of mental and emotional effort, and still ran my body into the ground pretty good and suffered a lot, not to mention the three injuries.

Not surprisingly, as the weeks went on I started to get excited about the possibility of a break after Big Sur. And not like the usual four days off, then a couple weeks of short easy runs, then start ramping up for the next thing. Usually I'm very much in the camp of, "Ehh, don't make any big decisions till you see how you feel," but I saw this one coming weeks and weeks out. I knew without a doubt that once these two marathons were over, I didn't want to run again for a while.

A looooong while.

And, I'm fine with that. Which is surprising because I was definitely not always fine with the idea of taking long breaks from running.

If I think about it, this probably goes back to something a coach told me years and years ago when I first got into long-distance running. "You'll never even get a glimmer of how good you can be until you train hard for a solid two years, no injuries and no breaks." And somehow in my head that got twisted into, "NO BREAKS EVER OR YOU SUCK!"

Also the idea that burrowed into my head at some point that running the same number of miles in a year as the number of the year (ie, 2,018 miles in 2018) was the bare minimum acceptable baseline and if I couldn't even manage that then what even was the point. (I even had it all broken down in my head by week--to get to 2,0xx miles I needed to run about 38 miles a week on average, so of course every week became a judgement. 38 miles or more? Good week. Not great, necessarily, but C+. Less than 38 miles, unless it's a race or recovery week? Terrible, horrible, no-good very bad SHAMEFUL week.)

So, yeah; I could rationalize reasonable breaks, like a week or two after a hard marathon, or a few weeks or months of all-easy running.

But the idea of just not running, at all, for more than a week or two?

Horrifying. I swore I could feel all my hard-won mitochondria evaporating just thinking about it.

The blogosphere didn't help matters. So many big-name big-following bloggers made such a big to-do about bouncing from marathon to marathon, training plan to training plan, and we called it "INSPIRING!!1!" and "HARD CORE!!1!" and heaped them with praise and admiration for their dedication and commitment and no-days-off attitude.

You know what I say to that now?

Fuck that shit.

Fuck. IT.

And I'm not alone. You know who agrees with me?

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, co-authors of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive With the New Science of Success. The science is sound when it comes to the core message of the book, which is stress + rest = growth. As a lifelong runner I of course understood the concept of hard/easy and that rest days are when you *actually* get stronger, but this book was probably one of the first places where I first encountered the idea of hard/easy on a larger scale, like weeks and months.

    "Whether you want to grow your body or mind or get better at a specific skill, you need to push to the outer limits of your current ability, and then follow that hard work with appropriate recovery and reflection. Decades of research in exercise science show that this is how you get stronger and faster, and the latest cognitive science shows that this is also how you get smarter and more creative."

Greg McMillan. The well-known coach emphasizes that the benefits of a long break from running aren't only physical:

    "I see a bad habit forming in many runners: the lack of a recovery cycle after their big races or racing seasons. Today, far too many are simply finishing one race (often a marathon) and immediately starting to train for the next one....Science is discovering that the chemistry of the brain, the hormonal system and the immune system are compromised during hard training. Breaks rejuvenate these systems, allowing us to train better, more consistently and with more zeal across the next training plan.


    "I took nearly a month off after my last marathon. I gained a few pounds. I enjoyed some new hobbies and time with family. But most of all, I rediscovered the desire, motivation and passion that drive me as a runner, and I couldn't wait to challenge myself to do better. The next training cycle went even better than expected because I carried all the fitness from the previous cycle, plus my recharged motivation. I was able to run 2 minutes faster in the 15K than I had the year before. I'm convinced the recovery phase played a large role in this breakthrough."

Shalane Flanagan. Known as one of the hardest working, most bomb-proof women in US running, Shalane was crushed to miss the 2017 Boston Marathon because of a stress fracture in her back. But the injury ended up a blessing in disguise. As she told Mario Fraioli in a fantastic interview (seriously, go read it):

    "I had to, for sure, mourn the loss of a dream of running Boston again. It was what got me so excited to start training again after Rio, and it’s all I could think about throughout the whole fall and winter as I was preparing and getting back in shape....I realized quickly thereafter, getting over feeling sorry for myself, that I think, essentially, I needed that break. I hadn’t really allowed myself to ever really take any downtime or rest. I just am constantly throwing new projects and goals in front of myself, and I think I needed that break. Not until I allowed myself to just take a step back and rest, did I realize how tired I was. I think [taking a break] has rejuvenated me mentally and physically more than I ever would have thought, and it allowed me to appreciate the other amazing things in my life."

And then what does she come back and do the following November? Kick the crap out of the NYC Marathon, that's what.

Desi Fuckin' Linden. If you've followed her career or even just read a few of the post-Boston articles, you might have heard that a year or so ago the 2018 Boston Marathon Champ took five months completely off running due to general burnout & lack of motivation. "I hated everything about running," she famously said. So instead of jumping back into training after a disappointing 4th place finish at Boston 2017, she did literally anything else--kayaking, fishing, reading, playing with her puppy. The opportunity to do a fall marathon came up, but instead she said, "Nope, don't wanna." Instead of telling her she was wasting her career and her mitochondria were evaporating, her coach Kevin Hanson just told her, "Hey, let me know when you want to do this again." After five months of nothing training-wise, she was apparently ready, and. Well. We all know how that worked out.

RIGHT BEHIND YOU DESI!!!! ok maybe not right RIGHT behind...

So. Yeah. I kind of love that the timing of this last training cycle has given me the opportunity to read about these two amazing, hardcore women whom no one can *ever* accuse of being lazy or undisciplined or less than super-duper-ultra hard core & how taking a nice, long break from running ultimately resulted in both of them coming back stronger than ever.

I still fully intend to run Race to the End of Summer on September 9 (PROMO CODE AK2018 FOR $7 OFF ANY DISTANCE!) & RNR San Jose Half on October 7, but it very well may be mid-June before I lace up my running shoes again. I'm signed up for Bay to Breakers, but ugh, dudes, I just cannot get excited about even going to get the bib (which is a huge hassle in & of itself, BTW). I'd also planned to take another crack at the 5K at Pride Meet in June, but I really just don't want to do it unless I'm really feeling it, and currently I am just so, so far from feeling it.

When I do start running again & training for RTTEOS & RNRSJ, I want to be all in, and for that to happen I think I really just need some time to completely & totally bottom out.

Ever needed a nice, long break away from running? How long? What happened?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Boston 2 Big Sur: Should You Or Shouldn't You?

I don't remember where I first heard about Boston 2 Big Sur; it just seems like one of those things that's sort of been in the water since I started running distance races ten or so years ago. I'm sure I first read about it on someone else's blog back in the day, or one of my very earliest Bay Area running buddies mentioned it in passing. Who knows. But for about as long as I've wanted to try to qualify for & run Boston, I've always known that if I did, I would try to complete the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge as well.

Part of this has to do with wanting to run Big Sur, but not wanting to devote an entire training cycle to it since it's pretty much guaranteed not to be a fast race. So Boston 2 Big Sur kind of let me do a two-for-one: Train for and run a "for-serious" marathon (Boston), then run another casually while I'm still in shape to finish the distance reasonably well.

There was also the issue of getting in; the race is popular enough that there's a lottery, so you can't just assume you'll be able to run it whenever you want. (See this post for more details about the Big Sur Lottery.) Boston 2 Big Sur was the closest I'd ever come to being guaranteed a spot.

Of course, I'd never tried to run two marathons just 13 days apart, let alone running one of the toughest road marathons around just days after running what is on its own not necessarily the easiest marathon around. When I first started running marathons, I never would have dreamed of attempting such a thing, but October 2017 rolled around and I was feeling a bit nervy, so I figured, "Ehhhhh, what the heck? It's not a challenge if you're sure you can do it!"

(At least 2018 was one of the 13-day gap years; some years the two are only 6 days apart & I'm not 100% sure I'm *quite* that crazy.)

When I was first thinking about doing Boston 2 Big Sur, I had a lot of questions. I'm grateful for everyone on the internet who wrote race reports and shared their experience, so I thought I'd pay it forward & add to the collective bank of information that's out there. Obviously these are all just my personal opinions, and they're extremely colored by my experiences & background, so, as always, YMMV.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Race Logistics: Big Sur Marathon

This post is about the logistics/nuts & bolts of running the Big Sur Marathon; you can find my race report at this link. :)


Big Sur Station, CA to Monterey, CA

Date: Late April (April 29, 2018 this year)

Price: I want to say that the 2018 race cost $175-180 this year. So, not cheap, but not out of line with other high-profile marathons. Boston 2 Big Sur was $300, so $120 more for your medal, jacket, post-race food & beer, & presumably the extra administrative costs.

Field size/deadlines/sellout factor: The marathon is capped at 4,500 & it's popular enough that registration for the stand-alone race is by lottery each year in July. In fact, I learned by reading the race program that it's actually a series of five lotteries:

  • Groups & couples
  • Loyalty runners (ie, those who've run before)
  • Monterey County resdents
  • First-timers
  • Last chance drawing

This makes a lot of sense given what Road Bunner had told me before, that once you get in once, it seems like your odds of getting in again go way up. (Hence her getting in eight times.)

Boston 2 Big Sur registration happens after Boston Marathon registration closes (it opened on October 1 this year) & is first-come, first-served. If you've already gotten into Big Sur via the lottery and then register for Boston 2 Big Sur, your registration is converted & you're refunded your original registration fee.

Staging, Parking, etc.:

So, I can't really talk about the Monterey end of the race at all because we stayed down at Big Sur station. If you want to go that route instead of catching a bus from Monterey at 3:30am, here's how I did it.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Race Report: Big Sur Marathon

I'm planning to write a separate post specifically about the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, but I figured I'd give Big Sur its due & write a proper race report just about that race first. :)

Friends, I must say that post-Boston marathon, I was in rough shape. If you've been playing along at home for a while now, you might recall that part of the reason my Boston training cycle sucked so badly was getting injured badly enough to miss a week of training on three separate occasions, not to mention all kinds of little yellow flags & micro injuries that made it difficult to ever really build up much fitness at a stretch.

I'm pretty sure I know most of the reasons for this (which maybe I'll write more about in a future post), but just suffice it to say that I knew going into that race that I was very, very far from top form and was lucky to even make it to the start. The upside of this is that I wasn't able to run hard enough to be sore after, but I definitely did have a number of body parts screaming at me to DAMMIT WILL YOU PLEASE JUST STOP WITH THIS NONSENSE ALREADY! In all honestly, if it wasn't Boston & I didn't have so many sunk costs already, I probably would have said "Eh, screw it" & stayed in bed.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Planning Your Boston Marathon Trip: Trip Logistics

This post is about the logistical issues involved in planning your Boston Marathon trip (at least, from the view of a first-timer from the opposite coast!). To read my Boston Marathon Race Report, click here.

Somehow it didn't occur to me until I was registered & in a training group that like any other race, Boston has "streakers" -- people who run the thing every year. It had kind of always struck me as a bucket list kind of thing, or at most an 'every-few-years-when-I'm-feeling-spendy' type of thing. But no; there were people in the Facebook group with 10, 15, 20, or more Boston Marathons under their belt, many of them even consecutive!

Of course, most of those people live within easy driving distance of Boston, where your participation costs are mostly the registration fee and a night or two of lodging. (And if you have friends or family in the area, perhaps not even lodging.) I know there are even West Coast folks or those from other far-flung areas of the country who still run Boston regularly, and I admire the commitment, but WOW, that's a significant logistical & financial commitment.

When I first signed up, I had a lot of logistical questions--when to travel, where to stay, food options, the expo, transportation issues, etc. While there was a lot of information out there on the internet, it wasn't always easy to find answers to specific questions I was wondering about. So I figured I'd do a post on my experience & hopefully add just a little more info to the pile & maybe someone out there will get a question of theirs answered just a little bit sooner.