Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Race Report: Spring Forward 5K

Holy shit I almost smiled in a race picture.
Soooo I may or may not have spent the night before this race eating a giant Italian dinner, drinking over half a bottle of wine, & staying up past midnight, and I also may or may not have been *incredibly* depressed when my alarm went off Saturday morning at 6:15 a.m., but I was pre-registered, and had plans to meet up with bt (who was running the 10K) after the race, so I sucked it up, got dressed, & drove to Mountain View.

The Microsoft (one of the big race sponsors) campus is right off the 101 & I'd been there before, so getting there was easy, & parking was no problem thanks to the campus's huge lot. I am a bit of a fanatic about giving myself plenty of extra time before a race, but since getting there was so easy I arrived an hour before the 8:30 gun. Everything was well-laid out & well-organized, & in less than 15 minutes I'd signed all the waivers, picked up my bib, hit the port-a-potties, & taken the requisite blog pics of the staging area.

I was excited to be able to warm up for this race (small victories) & as I jogged/strided/butt-kicked my way around the parking lot, my legs felt good & keeping good form felt easy. There was a little confusion about when exactly the 5K was going off (the 10K had started at 8:00) & I had a hard time at first figuring out which direction was the front & which was the back (a course map wasn't published & there were people facing both ways), but finally all the strollers migrated to one side, so I took that as my cue to go to the other one, lining up not right at the front with all the lanky cross country-looking dudes but just a few rows back & hoping I was more or less in the right spot. (There was no starting mat & the timing chips registered only at the finish, so this cost me a few seconds in terms of my official time, but whatever.)

One of my goals for this race was to go out at a more reasonable pace, which I kind of-sort of did. I ran the .1 from the start to the Shoreline Park entrance at what felt like a fast but comfortable pace, figuring I was probably around 7:00/mile & wasn't sure whether to feel annoyed or reassured when I looked at my watch & realized I was running ~6:33 at that point. It was nice, though, to let myself slow down pretty significantly and know that I was still running faster than I'd averaged at Get Lucky three weeks earlier.

My main goal in mile 1 was to keep the pace right around 7:00, so I was pleased when my watch ticked it off in 7:02. I am definitely out of practice running 5Ks, though, so there was still a part of my brain that was a little freaked out by working as hard as I was after only one mile. I know that I have a habit of slowing down in mile 2 because that's where it starts to feel uncomfortably hard, but there's still too much race left to start telling myself "only x left!" So in that mile, I wanted to push myself just a little, just beyond what felt safe and comfortable, knowing that I nearly always find something extra for the last mile. As expected my watch marked mile 2 ~0.1 mile before the marker, but I was happy to see the 6:58 split.

I don't want to say that I was comfortable at this point exactly, but there was a point not far into mile 3 where I did a quick body check & had to admit, "Nope, *definitely* not hurting enough for the last mile of a 5K." So I stepped it up a bit, started counting back from 400 (the best mental trick I know for getting through a tough final mile), & tried to just embrace the suck. I kind of felt like I could be running faster but, in contrast to how I felt toward the end of Get Lucky, had a really hard time forcing myself to dig for a little more, which I think means that I've got some mental work ahead of me in terms of getting back to that place where I can force myself to punch the accelerator even when I know it's really going to hurt. On the other hand, my third mile split was 6:52, so Operation: Negative Splits = accomplished.

There is something magical that happens once I can see the finish line; can I run any faster right before it comes into view? Positively, absolutely not. No way. But once I can see it it's like a switch is flipped, and suddenly I am sprinting close to a full minute per mile faster. Based on where I'd hit the various mile markers, I was expecting the course to run about .1 long, so I hit 'lap' when my watch hit 3.1 (0:37 / 6:10 pace) & crossed the mat at 3.21 as expected. I am definitely not one to rant about inaccurate course measurements at small community races, but I did want to know what my time was at that point (you know, to within the precision of my watch) for my own information.

Home stretch

Garmin (whole course): 3.21 miles / 22:13 / 6:56 pace
Garmin @ 3.1: 3.1 / 21:29 / 6:56 pace
Official: 3.1 miles / 22:15 / 7:13 pace

I'd run hard in the last couple of minutes & was obviously happy to be done, but if I'm honest, I knew that I felt way too good & recovered way too quickly for a hard 5K. Like, after maybe 2-3 minutes I felt completely normal. I'm guessing this is connected to that mental skill of digging really deep in the last quarter or so of a race & forcing yourself to the very edge of your ability, knowing it's going to be excruciatingly painful, against the objections of other parts of your brain. Feeling that good that quickly, I knew that physically I'd very probably had more to give towards the end & I'm just not in the mental shape to be able to do it yet.

Now, obviously the 21:29 I clocked on my watch is not official, and that's fine, but like I said before, knowing what that number was (more or less) gives me some interesting information:

  • It's 37 seconds faster (!) than I ran at Get Lucky three weeks ago.
  • It's a solidly sub-7:00 average pace, which I really truly honestly did not think I was up to.
  • It's the second fastest 5K of my adult life, edging out PrideRun '12 by seven seconds.
  • It's unquestionably the best performance-to-average weekly mileage I have ever thrown down *ever*. My 5K PR of 20:44 was set when I'd been running 40-50 miles / week consistently for at least a couple of months, and the 21:36 at PrideRun '12 happened just a few weeks after that (granted, it was a harder course & I wasn't feeling well, but still). I mean, I've been averaging less than 10 miles a week.

So, *obviously*, we can conclude that:

  • Cross-training totally effing works. OR...
  • Putting a shit tonne of effort into improving your form is absolutely worth it. OR...
  • Consistent, high-quality strength work makes a big difference. OR...
  • Getting your nutrition in line & paying super close attention to what you eat has a huge impact.

...Or none of the above & Saturday was a total freak accident. YOU BE THE JUDGE. Or don't.

In all seriousness, though, it does make me feel very optimistic about the summer, when we get back from Italy & I'm able to get my mileage back up to what I think of as "normal." If this is what I can do on ~10 miles / week plus cross-training (and consistent strength training, and improving my form, and eating really well), I'm excited to see what I can do on 40-50ish.

I hung out while the 10K-ers finished & not long after heard bt calling my name. (Apparently she recognized me by the back of my legs! Aren't blogs crazy??) We chatted about our races for a bit, went out to brunch (FRENCH TOAST OMG SOOOOO GOOD), then came back at 10:00 for the awards ceremony. Apparently my 22:15 gun time got me 2nd place in the 30-39 bracket, which was pretty cool.

Overall: 27/628
Women: 7/380
A/G: 2/86

So.........yeah. That's how I spent my Saturday. :)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Deal: A small charity race benefiting Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, sponsored by SGI & Microsoft (among others). Stroller-friendly (asked to start at the back); dogs are not allowed in Shoreline Park.

Location: Mountain View, CA (staged in the Microsoft Silicon Valley campus parking lot)

Date: Early April (April 5, 2014 this year)

Price: $40 for both the 5K & 10K & $15 for the children's race, & $5 more on race day. Groups of 10 or more could get a $5 discount, plus there was an online coupon circulating for $5 off individual entries (which I used). With a discount I feel like this is *pretty* reasonable for a charity 5K, and really not bad for a chip-timed 10K even at full price. (Although, see reservations about the course below.)

Deadlines/sellout factor: Online registration closed on April 2 (three days before the race), but race day registration was allowed for $5 extra.

Field Size: 628 finishers listed for the 5K, & probably comparable for the 10K. So bigger than I was expecting for a small local race.

Staging:

The Microsoft parking lot is kind of perfect for staging a race; plentiful parking, open space for registration / bib pickup / snack tables / etc., & easy access to the Shoreline Park trail. The campus is super easy to find right off the freeway, but volunteers were still stationed at the three turns to direct people to the right place. Once in the parking lot it's pretty obvious where to go.

All the different tables one might need to visit (waiver, race day registration, bib pickup, T-shirt pickup) were well labeled & easy to navigate, & I did not have to wait long at any of them (I arrived ~7:30). On the other hand, bt registered that morning pretty close to the 8:00 10K start & said that there was a longer line for that.

Port-a-potty count seemed up to the job. There were lines pretty much from the time I arrived until the races started, but I don't think they were ever more than a few people long. I don't know if there was a bag check; I didn't see one, but I also didn't look since it was such a short walk from my car to the start area & it was easy to just throw everything in my trunk.


Starting area


"Why is that girl taking pictures of the port-a-potties?"
Because shut up, runners know what runners care about.

The Course:

Both courses (which are basically the same, except the 5K turns around sooner) are out-and-back, starting on the road in front of the Microsoft parking lot & then pretty quickly turning onto the paved trail that runs through Shoreline Park. There was mention on the website of dirt trails in some places; this must have been part of the 10K course past the 5K turnaround, because my race was 100% paved.

Of course you never know what you're going to get with small, community races & I always do my best to go in with no expectations, but it is worth noting that most of us marked the 5K course as 3.2 miles instead of 3.1 (the first/third mile was ~.05 long going by my watch, which would do it) & most of the 10K-ers marked that course closer to 5.9 than 6.2. (bt remarked that mile 3 in particular seemed SUPER short.)

Parking:

Like I said, in the Microsoft lot, which is plentiful & like ~1-2 minutes' walk from the staging / start area.

Swag:

A nice tech shirt, plenty of post-race food, and FREE HIGH-QUALITY RACES PICS FOR DOWNLOAD. They were even searchable!

Overall male & female winners in the open & masters categories got gift certificates to a local running store (I think?); race logo medals were awarded three deep in (mostly) 10-year A/G brackets.

Overall Assessment:

Not a bad little local race. Well-run & and fairly reasonably priced. I probably would not run it for a PR because of the aforementioned issues with the course length, plus there was one spot where the course actually crossed over itself which resulted in the outbound 5K leaders & home-bound 10K leaders having to run through/around each other. It worked out fine for me, but it wasn't exactly ideal.

Monday, April 7, 2014

3.5 Miles, Baby (& then 4+)

On Thursday I set a new 2014 PDR of 3.5 miles, and nothing hurt. Better yet, this really was one of the best, most satisfying runs I've had yet post-sfx. My form felt good & my stride felt smooth & comfortable, and since I did it outside in SF, I didn't want to stab myself in the face every 90 seconds, which is basically how treadmill running goes for me.

(Yep, I'm back to hating it. T-mill & I went through a briefly honeymoon period when I was first allowed to run again because I was just so happy to be running at all. Once the shine was off the apple, though, I remembered why we broke up the first time & went back to mostly dreading runs on the 'mill like a normal person.)

Unfortunately, this run also reminded me how much I hate running downhill. Yes, uphill does require more effort (HI, it's RUNNING), but I find that that it's pretty easy to keep good form & stay biomechanically comfortable. Running downhill, though? Not so much. The best way I can describe it is to say that when I'm running downhill, it's tough to keep everything "in alignment" and PARTICULARLY tough to run so that I'm absorbing force properly with each step. (I can tell when I'm not, because that's when my shin splints & the area where I had the stress fracture tend to get whiny.) I think form is also harder for me going downhill because I've been working so much on the forward lean, which is just a lot more difficult logistically because physics.

On a related note, Buzzfeed wrote something funny! I know, I know. But hear me out:

This is basically how I feel about training runs. You should give the rest a read; I honestly can't remember the last time I actually laughed at something on Buzzfeed.

Lastly, I'd like to take this opportunity to show you what the Road to Freakin' Recovery looks like:

I'll just leave it at that, I think.

* * *

Grand Total: 54.2 miles

    * 14.2 running
    * 40 bike (easy)

Monday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 3.2 run + 5.3 bike / p.m. karate

    God, I'll be glad when I finally work up to running for 40-50 minutes straight & won't feel the need to do make-up minutes on the bike. I am going throw my head back cackling as I drive past the gym on my way to running ALL TEH TRAILZ. (Or, like...Sawyer Creek or something. Basically anything that's not a treadmill.)

Tuesday: a.m. 3 run / p.m. 13 bike

    Somewhere between running, biking, & karate Monday night, I managed to tweak both my right hamstring and quad. Nothing serious, but both muscles were feeling sore & achey enough Tuesday morning that I almost skipped my run. Instead I spent ~10 minutes rolling some tight spots & figured I'd give running a shot, but if anything hurt I'd stop. Both muscles hurt before and after, but not during, and they weren't any worse after, so hey. Winning.

    Normally on Tuesday afternoons I do my "speed work" on the spin bike, but given the precarious state of that right leg, I decided to play it by ear. A little over 12 miles in I started getting some of that yellow-flag-type pain so called it good at 13 fairly easy miles.

Wednesday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 11.7 bike / p.m. karate

    I kind of played with the idea of doing some speed work on the bike on Wednesday afternoon, but my quads & hamstrings were still feeling weirdly trashed, & I wanted to be sure I'd be able to run at least reasonably well on Saturday. So instead I just did 45 easy minutes with three 5:00 pickups at maybe LT effort. Post-karate my legs still felt pretty trashed.

Thursday: 3.5 run

    Although I was *really* just running Saturday's 5K for fun, I didn't see any point at all in running it with totally trashed legs (might as well stay home & do an easy 3 or so), so I decided to treat Thursday mostly as a rest day & try to give everything a chance to heal up. Honestly, this probably would've been a smart idea anyway; it's been a long time since I've had this kind of soreness in my quads, which is weird since I've been working so hard on using the hamstrings/glutes & leaving the quads alone. Rest days. They're. Y'know. A thing.

Friday: 6 bike

    OMG. Apparently I went 48 weekday hours without going to the gym, which, I am somewhat saddened to report, was the strangest feeling ever. I was all like, "I wonder if people will still remember me there!" Which, no, they didn't, because I am a staunchly asocial gym goer, and no one ever knew I was even there to begin with.

    There were a few reasons for my mini-vacay from the Den of Chatty Women & Cleaning Fluid Smells. One was that I was starting to get those worn-down, yellow-flag signals from my muscles, particularly in my quads & hamstrings, the kind that goes *just* one step beyond the healthy, satisfying, I-can-tell-I-worked-hard-this-week feeling. This was more the remember-you-actually-get-stronger-on-rest-days feeling, so I figured I should respect it by letting my various tissues catch up to the damage I've been inflicting on them before, y'know, inflicting more.

    The second reason was the 5K on Saturday (see above). The third reason was that my Thursday night got reeeeaaaalllly long thanks to a work project, so I was up til nearly 2:00 in the morning, and ain't nobody getting up early to do a strength workout after that nonsense (I hope). But I figured a few easy miles on the bike after work couldn't hurt & might help me loosen up a bit after my run Thursday.

Saturday: Race Day! (1.1 mile warm up + 3.2 race = 4.3 LIKE WHOAH.)

    The short story: Slightly long course, but a good run for me. Race report soon!

Sunday: Travel to New Orleans & have approximately 18572839 snafus on the way. I will tell you more about this next week, but seriously. It was a god damned miracle that come Monday morning I was where I was supposed to be in grown-up clothes having gotten some nonzero amount of sleep.

Being on travel this week, I'm going to try my best to get some running/spinning/strength work in, but everything is harder when you're traveling, so we'll see how exactly that works out.

Later, Space Cowboys/girls.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

So I'm Running This 5K On Saturday...

...Because if you can only run 5Ks, you might as well run all the 5Ks, amirite?

The race, Spring Forward 5K/10K, is down in Mountain View on the Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus & Shoreline Park. It's another charity race, but thankfully significantly cheaper than the last charity 5K I ran. Weirdly, although I've been to a bunch of concerts at Shoreline, lived on the Peninsula for three years, & even worked near Mountain View briefly, I've never been running there, so all I know about the course is that it will be a mix of concrete & packed dirt trail. (Anyone run down there before & have additional info?)

Ostensibly, I'm just running this race for fun and because I had a discount code for it. But, now that I've run one 5K post-injury & established a baseline, it's hard not to approach this one with the goal of beating my time (22:06). Which, honestly, shouldn't be very hard since 1) I have three additional weeks of running 20+ minutes at a time without walk breaks under my belt, 2) I can run long enough now for both a race AND a quick warm-up, & 3) it won't be 80F out (unless something truly freakish happens). So while a post-sfx PR isn't guaranteed, the odds are definitely in my favor.

Honestly, I would be perfectly happy just to run under 22:00, & at the the low end I think a sub-7:00 pace (~21:40) is the absolute fastest I could reasonably dream of at this point. (My guess is that's probably still out of reach for now, but it's good to have stretch goals.) My other big goal, to the extent that I really have any, is to go out at a more reasonable pace given my current fitness. At Get Lucky my first mile was 6:45, which is a great 5K first mile for me when I'm in good shape, but given that my 2nd & 3rd miles were 7:14 & 7:13, it's definitely not defensible right now. I'm willing to cut myself a little slack in the negative split department given how out of practice I am at this distance, but if I can hold myself to say 7:05-10ish out of the gate, I think I'll be much better off.

I have spent the last few days (apparently) utterly trashing my quads & hamstrings, so until Saturday, the name of the game is rest up. Because while I am *really* just doing it for fun, I would also prefer not to suck.

Update: Oh, hey, part of the trashing of my quads is apparently an enormous bruise across my right thigh! #karateproblems #goodtimes

Monday, March 31, 2014

Strava & Instagram, I Am On You

Last week I gave in to peer pressure & finally joined Strava.


TA DA!! Also, why has the internet suddenly become
obsessed with circular profile pictures? Lame city.

I put the little "LATEST RUNS!" widget in the right sidebar over there, but so far in spite of my having logged a bunch of runs, it still says, "Angela has not logged any activities yet," which is weird and a bummer & *totally* false. (I will fix it if anyone can tell me how.)

Being pretty new to the whole thing, I don't really "get it" yet & am kind of hoping its many glories will become clear to me in the fullness of time. To be honest I'm a little hesitant to join yet ANOTHER social media platform and ANOTHER place to log my miles. I can't help thinking about how DailyMile was such the new hotness among recreational runner / blogger types 3-4 years back & now it's kind of become the Friendster of online mileage platforms, which makes me wonder if a few years down the road Strava will join it as, I dunno, the MySpace of online mileage platforms, once our mileage / routes / KOMs are uploaded automatically via Google Glass.

But hey. I'll totally try it for a while & see if it moves me. I haven't quit Twitter yet!

What I'm saying is if you want to Strava at me, you can go here. Don't ask me what to do once you're there because I haven't the faintest idea. I've been entering my workouts; the ball, as they say, is in your court.

Oh yeah, & Cathryn also inspired me to resurrect my defunct Instagram account!


Apparently I took one picture last year of a pile of meat
before abandoning this, so.....we'll see how it goes?

Also, I'd like to direct your attention to the fact that even though I never told a soul about this account, I have followers. Thirty-seven of them. Thirty-seven people saw that one picture of a pile of meat & were like, I NEED THIS IN MY LIFE. WTF, internet people??

Anyway, if that's your bag, you can follow me here. I can't promise it won't be all shots of food & booze. But at least they'll look #crappychic? Which I guess people are into now?

* * *

Grand Total: 58.8 miles

    * 8.8 running
    * 39.5 bike (easy)
    * 10.5 bike (speed)

Monday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 13 bike / p.m. karate

    What a difference good sleep makes. In spite of waking up at 3:45 and 5:10 worrying that I'd overslept, I woke up with my alarm at 6 a.m. feeling actually not like death & excited about getting to the gym for some strength training.

    Okay, maybe not excited, exactly. But again, let me emphasize, not like death.

Tuesday: a.m. 2.8 run / p.m. bike, 2.6 warm up + 5 x (5:00 @ 5K effort, 2:00 easy) = 13.1 speed

    Dead legs on the 'mill this morning, so my cadence was maybe not so quick at first, but I warmed up after a few minutes & things gradually got easier. On the other hand, it was encouraging to find that being tired and not really feeling it now results in pretty good/not terrible form, where as pretty-good-not-terrible used to be all I could do at the best of times & "tired/not feeling it" usually meant piss poor form.

Wednesday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 6 bike + 3 run / p.m. karate

    Ugh. I don't really know what it was, but when I left work on Wednesday, I just could. NOT. face the thought of getting on the 'mill for 25 minutes & then on the elliptical for 20 (which was my loose plan). So instead I did ~21 minutes of hard-but-not-stupid-hard spinning, then did my 24 minute run when I got home. (I am guessing this does not technically count as a "brick" since I sat in my car for 45 minutes in between.)

    It's funny how the more strength work I do and the more targeted and focused it's gotten, the more I can feel it in my form. The leaning forward just gets easier & easier. Which in turn makes it easier to load up my hips & use my glutes & hamstrings well. Which makes it easier to keep up a good cadence. Which is all related to landing softly & quietly on my feet & keeping all my various bones & muscles & various other tissues comfortable & happy. It still takes a lot of effort, but I have to admit it's getting easier every day.

Thursday: 11.8 bike

    One of the advantages of keeping a weekly training log in narrative form rather than just the numbers is that over time sometimes patterns emerge that might not be as obvious otherwise. Apparently, Thursday morning rides / runs are just always tough. I'm sure the dead legs & falling asleep on the bike/treadmill is a combination of late-week accumulated sleep debt (though I have been getting better at going to bed early! I swear!) & general physical wear & tear and the fact that it comes on the heels of karate & our inevitably late Wednesday night. (I have no excuse, really, for not getting myself in bed at 10pm on Tuesday & Thursday nights, but on karate nights, we don't even get home until nearly 10, & then still have to eat dinner/clean up/get ready for bed/the next day/etc.) So I've kind of just accepted that Pathetic Thursday (Morning) is a thing & I just shouldn't sweat it too much.

Friday: 3 run + 6 bike.

    For whatever reason, I was just so incredibly unmotivated for this workout & wanted so desperately to just go home & pack for Paso Robles. Knowing I wouldn't get any running done in Paso, though, I dutifully marched myself to the gym after work and cracked the glass on my EMERGENCIES ONLY!!! training playlist. (Seriously, I haven't had to resort to music for motivation since 2006. Oy.)

    Thanks to a little help from these & others...

    ...I made it through 25:00 of running & 22:00 of spinning relatively unscathed. And, as per usual, felt a hell of a lot better after than before.

Saturday/Sunday: Rest/drink wine.

    This weekend was our twice thrice however-often-we-feel-like-yearly trip to Paso Robles for wine tasting/buying. There might be some lovely places to run down there but I would not know as I am generally too busy drinking wine.

The Future...

You guys, I totally signed up for another 5K this Saturday (Spring Forward in Mountain View). As long as I beat my time from Get Lucky, I'll be happy. There is no beer after, but on the other hand, it's not at 11 a.m. in wine country, so that's something.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Have You Mocked A Lady Today?

I'm sure you've heard by now about the cancer patient recently mocked by SELF Magazine for running the LA Marathon in a tutu.

The tutus were made by her company, the proceeds of which were donated to Girls on the Run, for the record.

If you've read this post, you can probably guess my feelings on this matter. (And if you haven't, you might take a look -- it's one of my most favorite things I've ever written.) My brain was putting together the skeleton of the angry six-page blog post I would no doubt write on the subject when I came across Caitlin's post at Fit & Feminist. It turns out that she said pretty much everything I would have & more, AND did it in, like, two pages, which, the way I see it, is a win for all of us.

I highly recommend clicking through to read the whole thing, but there were a few passages in particular that really resonated with me that I wanted to highlight:

    "[I]t doesn’t escape my notice that the race gear deemed most mock-worthy – running tutus, running skirts, pink and purple gear, flowers and sparkles – are almost always things that are overwhelmingly embraced by women. It’s like there is this refusal to take a woman seriously as a runner and an athlete unless she presents herself in clothes that are similar to those worn by guys. Running skirts and dresses are prissy, gear with pink and flowers encourages women to be less assertive, women who wear makeup to the gym are insecure...the criticism seems to be endless, but the end message is clear: that things normally thought of as feminine are inherently frivolous, silly and stupid. It’s basically textbook femmephobia.

WORD, Caitlin. Internet fist-bump.

Are there legitimate questions about the female apologetic (see also this) & the pinkification of all things lady-related (don't tell me you've missed the pink BodyGlide they charge you more for)? Of course there are. And we should absolutely continue to discuss them in a constructive, supportive way. But there's a huge difference between asking thoughtful questions respectfully in appropriate forums & straight-up publicly mocking someone for doing something that made them happy & hurt no one.

Once more, for the record: If you need to insult, mock, or make disparaging remarks about how other women dress for their run/exercise, you are doing it wrong. You can have your opinion. You can make judgements. Think or feel whatever you like in your sweet little heart. But don't inflict it on the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Three Cursed Marathons

So, once upon a time, I decided to quit rolling my eyes at full marathons & give it a shot, giving myself full permission to hate everything about both the preparation and the event itself, and never do it again if it turned out to just not be my bag (which I highly suspected it would not). Then and now, I felt like there was too much emphasis in the recreational running community on marathons (particularly running as many/as frequently as possible, regardless of quality) and not enough emphasis on just running better in general. But after twenty years of 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons, I just felt like it was something I should do once so I could speak with some small measure of authority on the subject.

("Oh, you're a distance runner!"
"Yep!"
"Neat! How many marathons have you done?"
{Mental face palm.}
I cannot even tell you how many conversations I have had with non-runners that went exactly like this. Cannot. Even. Tell you.)

And thus I came to Marathon #1: Cal International Marathon, in December 2011. Based on my long runs & other workouts, I felt confident I could run a ~8:00 pace comfortably, but since I was completely new to the distance, I wasn't all that attached to a particular finishing time--I just wanted to finish strong, feel good, & be able to say, "Yes, I have run that freakish, outsized, monstrosity of a novelty distance they call a marathon."

Then about 3 weeks before the race, I came down with an upper respiratory infection that made a lot of important activities (running, sleeping, breathing, etc.) incredibly difficult. I spent the week of Thanksgiving in bed at my mom's, sucking on my inhaler every hour or so & basically just trying to keep myself out of the emergency room. A week later I was doing a lot better, but still having asthma problems & using my inhaler quite a bit, and had been able to run maybe twice in the three weeks since I'd gotten sick. I thought very seriously about DNSing but then decided "Hey, maybe I'll be fine! And if not I can always quit."

Well, I did start. And immediately had an asthma attack. And I suck at quitting things. So I wheezed my way through an otherwise perfect race, sucking on my inhaler every two miles and trying not to black out, & finished in 3:47, which under the circumstances I felt was pretty respectable.

And weirdly, instead of walking away from that race as I'd planned going, "Ugh, that sucked, glad I don't ever have to do it again," I left with this nagging unsatisfied feeling. I knew I'd done the best I could under the circumstances, but I also knew I could do so much better if I had a shot at it healthy. Maybe just one more, I found myself thinking. Just to see.

So I spent the first part of the year running shorter races, & then in the summer signed up for round 2.

Marathon #2: Cal International Marathon, December 2012

I actually ran fewer miles in preparation for this race than for CIM 2011 but was finishing all my workouts much stronger and racing WAY faster at shorter distances. I'd had more and longer long runs and was finishing them more strongly and really felt like ~8:00 / mile should be a cake walk. Then 3 weeks before the race on my last long run, I finished completely unable to put any weight on my right foot. I limped home, called my sports medicine doctor & was instructed to ice & rest it & stay completely off of it until there was no pain whatsoever, and maybe I'd be able to run.

It did get better, but very slowly and very-two-steps-forward-one-step-back, so just like the year before, I ended up getting in maybe 2-3 short runs in those last three weeks. Going into race weekend the pain was totally gone; on the other hand, the forecast called for Sacramento to be pummeled by a freaking monsoon on Sunday between the hours of 6am-9am, and Jesus Christ did it ever deliver. For a second year in a row I seriously considered not running (though I wasn't alone this time), but once again decided that "Maybe it'll be fine! And if not I can always quit."

Long story short, the wind, rain, & standing water on the course made it a tough race as it was (we had 20mph headwinds in some places, I think), and by mile 11 I could barely put weight on my right foot again, which made me compensate with other muscles that eventually began shutting down in their turn. This was the closest I've ever come to quitting a race, and there was a LOT of stopping / limping in those last 12 miles. My gun time was ~3:55; I didn't even get a chip time because apparently the section of the starting mat I crossed shorted out thanks to the three or so inches of standing water at the start.


From the Sac bee


I still love this shot of Giraffy's, because it
just captures the entire experience so exquisitely.

Thankfully the pain in my foot turned out to be really bad tendinitis & not a stress fracture, but I was still in an air cast & not allowed to run for a month after.

Obviously, I could not let this be the last marathon I ever ran. So in January 2013, I started all over again.

Marathon #3: Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, May 2013

Why no, not hobbling across the finish with a torn muscle at all, what are you talking about
This cycle was definitely the best marathon training I've ever done, up until I started having problems with my right hip flexor ~4 weeks before the race. Once again, instead of running, I spent that last month desperately trying to fix a health issue & was barely cleared to run before I got on the plane for Ventura.

This was definitely the closest I've come to having the race I felt like I'd trained for. Up until mile 20 I averaged 8:06 / mile (including a 1-2 minute stop to deal with my foot going numb) at a pretty comfortable level of effort. But after that my hip was done, and between that & the heat it was all I could do to walk/jog/hobble my way through the last four miles & try to stay upright. (Later I'd learn that I'd torn ~40% of the tissue in my previously-strained hip flexor.) I finished in 3:36, an 11 minute PR, but still very far from the race I wanted & felt like I'd trained for up until that last month.

Going Forward...

So yeah. I doubt I will ever be a marathon junky, but if I could just get one good one under my belt, one solid race where there are no injuries or illnesses or acts of god to make running 26 miles at the absolute edge of my ability any more difficult than it already is, I think I could get over it for a while & go back to my core competencies. But right now, I'm still after that one.

One thing I know for sure is that I am through with the "Maybe it'll be fine/I can always quit!" mentality. I think it is quite clear by now that in a target race situation where I'm still physically capable of moving forward, I can't trust myself to make the smart decision & walk off the course. I've had enough of "giving it a shot" only to blow my training on a lackluster/disastrous race. Peak marathon fitness is too valuable, too hard-won for that. Yes, I had $300+ in reg fees, hotel, & rental car invested M2B, but in the 10 months since then I've spent over $1000 on doctor visits & physical therapy & another ~$170 on three races I couldn't run, so you do the math.

So that's my new resolution. If circumstances (health, weather, etc.) aren't reasonably close to ideal, marathon = not happening. I am extremely fortunate and thankful to be in a position where I can write off a couple hundred dollars now and then without sweating it (especially since that has definitely not always been the case); given that, it just makes a lot more sense to me to skip a race I paid for than "Give it a shot!" under sketchy circumstances and end up either too injured or burned out to run another one any time soon.

Marathon #4

I don't know how soon I'll have the fitness to run another marathon, but I think August is as soon as it's likely to be, so right now I have my eye on the Santa Rosa Marathon (8/24). It's close, the fee is reasonable, ($125 before April 30), and I've run the half before & so I know it's a well-organized race. In previous the years the course has been two monotonous loops along the gravelly-in-places Santa Rosa Greenway, but this year it's been changed to a single loop around town / local roads, so gravel should be minimal. While I'm not an elevation diva, I can't say I'm exactly *crushed* by the flatness of the course, and the 6 a.m. start means you stand a chance of decent temperatures. (We are talking August in wine country, after all.)

I think I have a good shot at being ready to run Santa Rosa if everything goes perfectly for the next few months--no injuries, no last-minute travel plans, etc. My plan is to continue building up my easy mileage & keep up my strength work & cross-training, ease back while we're in Italy (though I'll probably have to do some running there, just for maintenance), then jump into actual training with Coach Tom (no way I'm doing this alone) in mid-May. That leaves me ~15 weeks, which, if I can get to ~25-30 miles a week by then, is completely respectable in terms of a marathon cycle.

And if I get to May & August just isn't looking reasonable, there is certainly no dearth of sweet fall marathons; Wineglass, Steamtown, and Fox Valley have been on my radar for a while, and there's a handful of less flashy local options as well.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Same Old, Same Old...

This is basically how I've felt all week. Cheers.
In case you ever find yourself feeling insecure about your mileage and comparing your weekly miles to other people's, I'd like to offer you some perspective. I remember running 50 miles a week & how my legs would feel tight and tired and tender in places, how they'd get that skin-stretched-too-tight-about-to-split feeling, how I'd sometimes know I needed to take care of myself with an extra rest or cross-training day and lamenting about how "little" mileage my body seemed to be able to take consistently without feeling like crap.

Well, let me tell you. This week, at a 2014 high water mark of 11.1 running miles, I feel the same way. I woke up in the middle of the night Friday after running three miles with that lovely dull ache that I associate with peak marathon training & 20+ long runs & twice weekly speed work, the type of mild discomfort that would probably make me really sad if I had to be up & around on my feet doing things, but lying there half asleep, bones & muscles bathed in my body's natural pain killers, knowing I had nothing I had to get up for, mainly just felt satisfying. Acclimation and fitness counts for a LOT.

Which is not to say the actual running itself is any harder. I don't have a lot of speed or hours and hours of endurance right now, but the hours (and hours...and hours...) I've put in on the bike & elliptical have at least helped me maintain a baseline level of kinda-sorta-60/40-okay cardiovascular fitness. It's no big challenge to run for 22-23 minutes right now. It probably wouldn't be much of a challenge to run for an hour.

No; the discomfort at this point comes after. An hour after running 2.5-3 miles, my body feels like I've run six; not terrible, but definitely like I've done some real work. Mild tissue damage has occurred. Things have tightened up. I've learned that I can't skip the lacrosse ball, not ever, if I want any chance of running the next day. (Okay, I can skip it maybe one day, but the next morning I really regret it.)

Between that & generally not sleeping well, mileage/cardio time this week was definitely down. I'm not following an actual schedule right now, which means that cut-back weeks aren't planned out & I kind of just have to remind myself that if I've been getting in higher mileage weeks & my body starts feeling crappy, it's probably time for a cut-back. (Also, I just need to do a better job of sleeping more.)

* * *

Grand Total: 47.4 miles

    * 11.1 running
    * 25.8 bike (easy)
    * 7.2 bike (speed)
    * 3.3 elliptical

Monday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 13 bike / p.m. karate

    Sore in the abs / glutes / hamstrings post-race, but if you're going to be sore somewhere, at least you know you've been using the right muscles! I thought I would take it a little easier with the strength stuff if I needed to, but nothing hurt (though push-ups seemed harder than usual).

Tuesday: a.m. 2.6 run / p.m. bike, 4 warm up + 4(5:00 @ 5K effort, 1:00 easy) + 1.8 cool down = 13 speed

    22:00 minutes on the treadmill. (See? 10% rule! I am good at this.) Normally I would have finished up with 23:00 on the elliptical or bike but there was a HORRENDOUS accident on the way to the gym that morning, so I really didn't have the time before I needed to be at work & was half an hour late as it was.

Wednesday: afternoon 2.7 run + 3.3 elliptical / p.m. karate

    Running = still great. Elliptical = still ass. Seriously, I am going to quit any day now.

Thursday: 7 bike

    For all intents & purposes this just ended up being a rest day. There are some nights when karate just shreds every muscle in my body and I think Wednesday of last week was one of those nights. My legs were utterly dead on Thursday morning; normally I do my easy bike rides at 90-95 RPMs, and when I first started it took all my effort (ie, an effort I could not sustain for very long) just to get to to 70. I warmed up a bit & gradually got to ~80-85ish comfortably, but more than half an hour just was not happening. Instead of trying to run or bike that afternoon, I accepted that my body needed some recovery time & spent it attending to some desperately needed rolling & stretching.

Friday: a.m. strength work / p.m. 3 run.

    I'd planned to go to the gym after work & do a 22-24 minute run on the 'mill, then do some spin bike to make it 45 minutes total, but my legs still felt absolutely trashed. Everything felt tender & tight, & my right hip flexor was really bothering me. At that point I'd basically decided that my body was telling me it needed another rest day, so I skipped the gym & went straight home. But it was nice out, so I decided to try a little running & just see how if felt & stop if anything felt off.

    Since giving up on the Hitogamis, I've been running in the Altra Ones on the treadmill. They've felt great in general, but being zero drop & fairly low on cushioning & support, I didn't feel great about running on concrete in them when my legs were already maybe six out of ten at best, so I wore my trusty Kinvaras, which are if nothing else dependable & saw me through a fantastic-feeling 3 miles in 24 minutes.

    The other awesome thing about Friday was meeting up in SF with Sesa, RoseRunner, & Alyssa (whom I haven't seen in WAY way too long) in order to welcome the Faster Bunny (whom we desperately hope will some day revive her blog!!) to the Bay Area. You'll have to take my word for it that this actually happened, as there were no selfies/Instagramming/obsessive group photo-taking to mark the occasion. Don't ever let anyone tell you bloggers can't act like normal people if they need to.

Saturday: Rest.

    I'd kind of been thinking I'd do another 22-23 minutes of running on Saturday as long as nothing felt off, but my legs were still achey from Friday, my right hip flexor still felt super tight in spite of plenty of rolling & stretching, & I kept thinking I felt a little twinge where I'd had the stress fracture. I might have been hallucinating, but since better safe than sorry is the name of the game every day of the week & twice on Sundays right now, I decided not to tempt fate & take a rest day instead.

Sunday: 2.8 easy.

    Just 22 minutes of cruising around the neighborhood, doing my best to focus on form. Which? Super tough. I could write a whole post just on that. I wore my Newton Gravities, which were feeling pretty good, actually, so I may just stick with them for now unless they start to feel weird. (Sometimes they do that.)

Next weekend we'll be in Paso Robles wine tasting/buying. I know I won't be doing any running there, so my main goal for next week is to sleep well & make sure I nail every week day workout.