Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Bit of Crazy Shoe Kismet

I'm sure you'd agree that if there's one thing we runner-types can get just absurdly, unreasonably excited about, it's shoes.

("Unreasonably??" I hear you protest. "The hell you say. My level of running shoe excitement is completely appropriate. Running shoes are awesome." Well...alright. It is. And they are.)

And I am excited.

I have new shoes.

For the last six months or so my all-around, super-reliable, go-to shoe has been the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11, which I absolutely {heart} and will probably keep a pair around for at least the foreseeable future. They're perfect for long runs, half & full marathons, & putting in a lot of miles on concrete. Retail, they tend to run ~$100, but after my Road Runner discount it's more like $90, and if I time things right & wait for a good sale or a coupon, I can usually get them for $80ish. But recently the new model has come out, which means the price on the 11s has dropped even more and with my discount I could get them for $72. Perfect timing, considering my current pair is quickly approaching retirement.

Now, I do love the Adrenalines. At 9.3 ounces, though, it's definitely a lot of shoe. The heel is a tad on the shall we say generous side, and there's a pretty signiticant heel-toe drop (maybe 8mm-10mm?). It's partly for those reasons that I finally broke down & got flats last year. And for track work & 5K/10K racing, I love my little Mizuno Musha Wave 3s. They're thin-soled, light-weight (mine register 6.8 ounces), and have maybe 4mm of heel-toe drop, but also just enough stability to be workable for someone like me with moderate over-pronation.

I've been longing, though, for something in the middle. Something a little more stripped-down than the Adrenalines, but more substantial than racing flats. Something a little more natural-feeling, but that I can still run 6-8 miles on concrete in without ending up with achey feet. Something I could even conceivably race a half marathon in, maybe.

But I'm afraid to be without my trusty Adrenalines.

What I really wanted was to buy two pairs of shoes.

Unfortunately, running shoes are really freaking expensive. Witness some of my current shoe crushes in the lightweight trainer/not-quite-flats/performance shoe department:

NB 905

New Balance 905; 7.4 ounces.

Brooks PureCadence

Brooks PureCadence; 8.3 ounces. (Definitely the chunkiest of my crushes.) $120.

Newton Running Distance U

Newton Running Distance U; 7.0 ounces. $155.

Newton Running Motion

Newton Running Motion; 7.7 ounces. $175.

Love. Want. I'm actually drooling a little here as I'm writing this. Still, a part-time contractor's gotta eat & pay her student loans. So while $72 is a pretty good deal for a solid pair of running shoes, unless I could find an outrageous deal on something in the lightweight/performance category (say, oh, *75-80% off*), it's not really good enough to make two new pairs realistic.


On Sunday, however, I went with Don on a Tahoe-related trip to Lombardi Sports. Now, typically I don't go to Lombardi Sports because it's downtown, and I almost NEVER buy things there because it's crazy expensive. But, as long as we were there, I decided to swing by the clearance racks just to see what they had.

Lo and behold:

Adrenaline GTS 11s

Price Tag

Friends, I snagged the last pair of Adrenaline 11s in my size (and any size even remotely close to it, for that matter) anywhere in the store. They didn't even have a lid or fancy tissue paper or plastic inserts or wadded-up paper towels inside. (Does anybody actually know what those are for?) And $12 cheaper than the sweet Road Runner clearance price that I was probably hours, at most, away from taking advantage of.

Which meant that maybe, just maybe, my dreams of lightweight/performance/not-quite-flats still had the faintest glimmer of a pulse.

I think it's pretty clear that, as much as I'd like to, I won't be wearing any of the hot shit pictured above any time in the near future. But back a few months ago, someone mentioned the Saucony Kinvaras to me, another lightweight performance shoe that's not quite a trainer and not quite a flat. I read a lot of good things about it & heard of many people wearing it for daily shorter runs and even racing half marathons with good results. Best of all, it weighed the same as my Mizunos!

But it was not to be. When I looked into it further, I learned that the Kinvara is a neutral shoe, and while I haven't given up hope of running in one someday, I want to hang on to a little extra stability for now as I start trying to do more running in lighter/scaled-down shoes.

Instead, I dug a little further down into Saucony's lineup & found the Mirage. From their site: "Building on the success of the award winning Kinvara, Saucony invites the mild pronator into the minimalist category with the introduction of the ProGrid Mirage. The addition of a midfoot support bridge provides motion control, while still allowing the runner to enjoy the advantages of a minimalist shoe."

Bonus -- Saucony just introduced a new model of this shoe as well, meaning the previous model is beginning to go on clearance. Predictably, I found listings for shoes in the $40-50 range, but only for sizes < 7 & > 9. And there were a few results in my size for $70+ish, but that was still more than I really wanted to spend, given that I'd already put down $60 for the Adrenalines.

And then, as if in a vision from on high, I stumbled upon this:

Saucony Mirage

In my size.

Hellz to the yeah,

You better believe I snagged that shit with a quickness.

So, a few days later, here we are:


I'm planning to wear the Mirages a bit this week to see how they feel. Updates to come!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Week in Review: Feb. 20 - 26

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

4 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

Good morning/afternoon/evening! (It is morning for me.) I have been in Tahoe for the last three days, without my computer. And let me just tell you how lovely it was to go 72 full hours (a little more, actually, now that I think about it) without once looking at email, Facebook, Google Reader, the blog, etc. etc. A girl could get used to that.

(Well....for a little while.)

I'm not even going to try to catch up, so if something momentous happened in your life between Friday afternoon & now & we don't see each other IRL (that means "in real life"), I probably didn't hear about it.

But I should catch up on this. Without further ado, eh?

Grand Total: 32 miles

* 23 easy
* 3 speed work
* 6 HM pace

Not ideal, but okay under the circumstances. I'm a little bit annoyed that I haven't been able to get a long run in in three weeks, for reasons various & sundry. With the exception of the week when I was working all weekend, my February mileage has been okay, but still short of the consistent 40 / week average that's been my goal, and the missing long runs have been the main reason why.

Monday: Complete rest.

Tuesday: Strength work + 2 wu + 3 x 2 mi @ HM pace, 2 mt recovery = 8 total. This day was scheduled for some really FAST speed work, but post-race weekend I decided it was better to put that off & ease into the week. HM pace miles are not easy, but I figured my body would probably deal with that a little better right now. Keeping up the pace, which is good.

Wednesday: Karate + strength work. I'd originally also scheduled to run an easy 8 as well, but something very strange & concerning was going on with my left knee. I had a sharp stabbing pain inside of it for most of the morning, and then at several points in the day I would take a step with my left leg and feel my knee start to collapse as I went to put weight on it. This happened a few times toward the end of CIM, and I had some dull, aching pain in that knee for the rest of the December (when I wasn't running at all), but this is the first time it's come up in 2012. I hate skipping a run when I'm actually feeling pretty good and motivated, but when even a few easy strides down the hallway didn't feel right, skipping it seemed like a better idea. (We were also having a previous sensei back for karate that night, and I didn't want to be too broken to participate.)

Thursday: 2 wu + 6 x 800 @ 5K pace minus 10-12 sec/mile + 4 easy = 9. So I don't actually even know what my 5K pace is right now, let alone 10-12 seconds faster than that. I kind of thought, "Oh, 7:00 / mile sounds about right. Sooooo...6:50? 6:48?" I had no idea what that pace felt like running, but it sounded, you know, fast, so I kind of just started running fast. (I had my Garmin set to auto lap each .25 mile & show me average lap pace -- with paces I (should) know I've been trying to get away from relying on it so much, but for this I figured it was okay.)

I basically went into it shooting for 800s in the 3:24-5ish range.

Riiiight. (3:21 & 3:24 may not sound all that different, but remember that that's a 6:42 mile vs a 6:48 mile over a very short distance, and six seconds per mile is the difference between a 20:46 5K and a 21:04 5K.) Still, this pace actually felt pretty reasonable for what I was doing -- not easy, but not exhausting, even sticking to the prescribed 2 minutes of rest in between, and I finished feeling like I had maybe a couple more left in me.

I consulted Coach McMillan when I got home, & according to him, my recent 44:49 10K predicts a 6:57 / mile 5K pace. So realistically, my target for these guys should've been 6:45-7, or 3:22-4ish per 800, so I wasn't actually that far off.

Friday: 8 "easy." Knowing I'd be in Tahoe all weekend and unlikely to get my scheduled 13 miler in on Sunday, I figured Friday was a good day to do it. But no. This was one of those days when, for whatever reason, I just physically felt like shit. Really bad shin splints. Bad pain in the ball of my left foot. Exhausted after 2 miles. Nausea. Weird chest pain. The running commentary in my brain went something like, "Okay, twelve. Twelve miles. Twelve is doable. Or ten. Nice ten mile loop. Am I going to vomit? I think I might vomit. Okay, just get to three. Three and turn around. Six is okay. Alright, three down. This isn't so bad! Maybe we can get to four and turn around? A solid eight? Maybe by the time we get to four, the ten mile loop will seem pretty doable? Yay, four down! OhgodohgodI'mgoingtodie." So I turned around at four and by 4.5 I legitimately felt as if I couldn't keep my legs moving forward. I felt sick. I had chest pain. If I'd been on a treadmill I would've quit then. But, since home was still 3.5 miles away, I ended up with eight. Eight bitter, painful miles.

Saturday: Skiing / "rest." I left Saturday open for an apres-ski run if I felt like it but didn't specifically plan anything. Which was good, since I was having ski boot issues in addition to the foot pain issues I've been dealing with for several weeks now. Post skiing, even just putting weight on my feet felt iffy, so rye & ginger in the hot tub it was.

Sunday: 7 miles easy. The snow was pretty shitty on Saturday so I skipped skiing altogether on Sunday & instead just went for a run. (Fortunately, shitty skiing conditions = sweet running conditions. The roads were bone-dry.) I didn't know the area very well & also didn't know what my busted-ass feet were going to feel like, so I figured I'd just run until I got to 13 miles or it started seeming like a bad idea to keep going. My feet started to give out at around six & change, so I called it good (or at least adequate) at seven.

I did not choose to run ridiculous hills that day, but ridiculous hills was what there were, so I did. And by the way, if you've never run ridiculous hills at altitude, you should give it a try sometime. Part of me really wants to believe that it provides a little extra cardiovascular benefit per mile than running flat/moderate hills at sea level, ie, so that 1 hilly mile at altitude = 1.2 reasonably miles at sea level or some such. Alas, I can find nothing on the interwebz to support this hypothesis. :P

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

No Words.

TITLEI just learned this morning that a nine-year-old Alabama girl recently died after being forced to run for three hours as punishment for having lied to her grandmother about eating candy bars. The cause of death was severe dehydration & hyponatremia.

This is an absolutely horrible story under any circumstances, but it made me a little extra sick because it reminded me of something I saw at the track last fall, another little girl about the same age being forced to run as a punishment.

What the hell is wrong with people?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Conflicted & Tumultuous Relationship With HM Pace Miles

HMUnlike marathon or long run miles, they are fast enough to feel like work.

Unlike 5K or 10K miles, they are slow enough to feel interminable.

I want to slow down because waaaaaah, I'm tired.

I want to speed up because, dammit, I want the things DONE.

I want to rest less in between intervals because they're not too tiring & I'm impatient.

I want to rest more because I don't really want to start the next one.

I want to do them because I really, really want to improve my HM time.

I DON'T want to do them because of all the reasons I already said.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Race Report: Bay Breeze 10K (Or: A Tale of Two 10Ks)

Bay Breeze 5K/10K/Half Marathon

I think I may actually be developing some skill at the 10K.

I'm not talking about speed, necessarily (though I have improved there); I'm more talking about strategy, and about the intuitive body sense of how hard you can run at a given point in the race that only comes with experience, through racing the same distance over and over again in a short amount of time.

If you do much racing in the Bay Area, particularly the East Bay, chances are you're familiar with Brazen Racing. Mainly their bag is trail races (and they do some amazing ones!), but they also host the occasional thinly-disguised good ol' fashioned road race. Last summer I ran their Bad Bass 10K at Lake Chabot (mostly runnable paved hills and one MONSTER dirt hill -- very much not an example of a thinly-disguised road race) as well as the extremely flat, fast, PR-friendly Summer Breeze 10K at the San Leandro Marina. The 10-second story is that I had a perfect day and a perfect race, and seven months of 10K-specific training culminated in a 44:42 PR finish, good enough for 1st in A/G & 2nd overall.

In February, they host basically the same race (same distances, courses, etc.) under the moniker Bay Breeze. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for a half marathon tune-up. The 2/18 race date fell almost exactly halfway between the beginning of the year (when I started running again after taking 4 weeks off) and the 3/25 Oakland Half, and having a strong time on the same course when I knew I was in really good 10K / half shape would make it easy to gauge my current fitness.


Location: San Leandro, CA

Date: Late February (2/18 this year)

Price: The prices for each distance are the same at all Brazen races. Price increases generally happen one & two months out from the race. (5K = $29/$34/$39; 10K = $34/$39/$44; HM = $50/$55/$60)

Deadline / Sellout Factor: Race day registration if space. Last year you could count on race day registration, but recently their events have started selling out ahead of time, especially the 5K/10K. I think this was the first one where everything sold out pre-race day.


Pretty much identical to Summer Breeze. Parking is free but limited, so get their early or car pool (highly encouraged). I arrived at 7:15 & had a 10 minute walk to the start.

As with the other Brazen races, you have the option of local pre-race packet pickup on Thursday and Friday or race morning pick up. As always, the pick-up & t-shirt tables were well-labeled, well-organized, and efficient, & free sweat check close to the start. This time there were boxes of sample bags sitting out for runners to take if they wanted instead of handing them out with the T-shirts, which seemed less wasteful to me. (I always feel bad that I end up recycling or throwing out over half the stuff, so I didn't take one. Plus I have enviro-guilt about plastic bags.)

Volunteer photographers are stationed along the course & upload their pics for runners to download for free (love), not to mention awesome, enthusiastic, & hard-working volunteers all around.

The Course

Summarizing from my Summer Breeze RR...

  • Flat, fast, & paved with the exception of 80-100 yards of grass at the start / finish & a short gravel stretch. (From the pictures, it seems like the half spends more time on gravel further down the road.)
  • A bit on the narrow side, though runners are supposed to stay to the right since it's an out-and-back course & all three distances share the same road. Fine for me most of the time, but I can imagine that it might get tough in the middle of a big pack, and at both races the last stretch did get a bit touch-and-go as the 10K leaders had to weave in & out of the 5K walkers.
  • Reasonably scenic & quiet -- right along the water for most of the way


Again, to summarize:

  • Cotton T-shirt is included in the registration price; $6 gets you a nice tech shirt; skipping the shirt saves you $5.
  • Hefty finisher medals for all distances; age group medals awarded three deep in each age / gender group in five year increments, plus Fleet Feet gift certificates to the overall male & female winners for each distance.
  • Bags of free samples (optional this time)
  • Fantastic post-race spread (water, sports drink, bagels, fruit, granola, cake, candy, etc.)

My Race

When I ran Summer Breeze in August, I had a reasonably good idea of what I'd be able to do based on the other three 10Ks I'd run that summer. This time was different, given that I've done a grand total of 7 weeks of any kind of running since sitting on the couch for 4 weeks post-CIM. I felt pretty certain that I could run sub-7:30s at the very least and fairly sure I wasn't up to my 7:12 PR pace from August, but within that range, I really had no idea.

My strategy at Summer Breeze had been to run 7:15-7:20 miles for the first half (a strong but slightly conservative pace for me at the time), then kill the second half with whatever I had left. I decided to go with the same general strategy this time, except aiming more for the 7:20 end of things for the first 5K. If I started off running 7:20s and was dying by the second or third mile, I could always dial it back; it was just a tune up, after all.

I lined up in the second or third row and watched maybe twenty women blow by me in the first hundred yards or so. I took a moment then to reflect on how there'd been a time when this would have bothered me and I would have charged recklessly after them, pace be damned. These days I've got a lot more experience and a lot more confidence; I'm completely comfortable now with running my race & letting everyone else run theirs. If I can catch them, it'll happen when it happens, and if I don't, then charging after them in the early miles wouldn't have helped anyway.

~One mile down
I did a little Garmin stalking in the first couple of miles, just to be sure that I wasn't going out too fast or falling into the trap of settling in behind or next to someone who appears to be going about the right pace for me but then imperceptibly begins to slow down.

2/18/12 Bay Breeze - Mile 1: 7:23; Mile 2: 7:18

8/27/11 Summer Breeze - Mile 1: 7:13; Mile 2: 7:18

This pace felt good. Yes, it took effort, but I also felt like I had plenty in reserve & could've run faster. I kept telling myself to stick to the plan, though, & keep it around 7:20 at least until the turnaround. Surprisingly, it was during miles two & three that I picked off the women who'd gone out too fast, plus the odd dude here & there; in the past, most of my passing has been spread more evenly across the middle half of the race.

"Third female!" a volunteer on a bike called to me, coming back the other way as I approached the turnaround.

2/18/12 Bay Breeze - Mile 3: 7:23

8/27/11 Summer Breeze - Mile 3: 7:19

It was then that something in my runner brain clicked on and everything else shut down. I stopped thinking. I stopped looking at my Garmin. Yes, the rational part can draw on data from tempo runs and speed workouts and analyze and calculate and make smart guestimations about just exactly how hard my body should be working at this point in a race, what my pace should be, what my heart rate should be, but for some reason at that moment my runner brain decided to step in and take over.

"Good work in the first half," it said to the analytical part. "You played it smart & got us this far in good shape. But I can take it from here."

The analytical part obliged, slipping amicably into the back seat as the runner brain took the wheel.

I could tell in mile 4 that I was speeding up, but not really by how much. But I also knew intuitively that whatever the numbers were, it was just the right pace for this point in the race given my current fitness. I reeled in a few more dudes. I ignored my Garmin. I kept speeding up; it hurt but I knew that the runner brain was in charge and trusted that it knew its business. Somehow it knew exactly how hard to push and when -- truly, I can't express in words how liberating it was not to have to think & worry about & watch pace at this point. I kept an eye out for either of the two women purportedly in front of me but couldn't see them anywhere.

2/18/12 Bay Breeze - Mile 4: 7:16; Mile 5: 7:13

8/27/11 Summer Breeze - Mile 4: 7:17; Mile 5: 7:09

In mile 6 I caught up with the gauntlet of 5K walkers, both out- and in-bound. I duked it out with a guy in blue. We traded the lead back and forth for maybe half a mile before the runner brain said enough of this and dropped him. With less than .7 left to go in the race she became exceedingly fed up with 5K walkers three and four abreast on both sides of the road. She may or may not have barked at a few and/or clipped some shoulders here & there; I can't say for sure because I wasn't running the show at that point. (Honestly, I don't feel too badly about it either way, though, since we were given clear instructions multiple times to run/walk single file unless passing due to the narrow-ness of the trail.) A volunteer at the last water stop called out "Third woman!" again. Having seen hide nor hair of them, I figured at that point that whoever those two ladies were, they were WAY out of my reach.

Once the finish was in sight it was tunnel vision. At this point, all conscious thought had ceased and I'm pretty sure it would have taken a physical barrier or debilitating injury to stop me. The rational, analytical brain was just holding on white-knuckled at this point, doing her best to keep breathing & not pass out.

"Hold on," the runner brain said to her. "Just a little farther now."

She nodded and clenched her jaw and covered her eyes.

2/18/12 Bay Breeze - Mile 6: 7:05; Last .2: 1:14

8/27/11 Summer Breeze - Mile 6: 7:05; Last .2: 1:20

When I crossed the mat I was a bit unsteady on my feet but managed to smile at the volunteer who draped a lovely cephalopod medal around my neck and told me "Good job!" I heard Sam announce me as the 4th 10K woman overall; apparently the other volunteers had missed someone.

It wasn't until I'd been stumbling around the finish area for a while that I realized I hadn't stopped my watch (I had to go back later & subtract to figure out my split for the last .2), so I didn't know my exact time until the official results were posted. I knew I'd run a solid race, though, and probably a fantastic one considering where I was training-wise. Still, it still blew me away to see 44:49 next to my name -- only 7 seconds off my Summer Breeze PR time. I'd have been happy if I'd managed to average a 7:20 pace; 7:13 was beyond my wildest expectations.

Not that I was even REMOTELY in this one for competition's sake -- I'd gone into it assuming I was nowhere near ready to put up a medal time -- but it was sort of gratifying to see that the three women ahead of me (40:56, 43:21, 44:01) were too far ahead to have worried about catching. (Also interestingly, at 47:00, the next female finisher was more than two full minutes behind me. Since I was never going to run faster than 44:01 or slower than 47:00, my place in the finishing order was basically pre-ordained.) And, bearing out my long-standing and well-supported belief that on average the fastest chicks are in their early thirties, two of those speedy chicks in front of me were indeed in my age group.

So hey, bronze medal! :D

Looking Forward

According to Coach McMillan, a 44:49 10K should give me a good shot at a 1:39:44 half marathon (plus the 5 weeks of training time I have left). It looks nice on a computer screen, but so far I have yet to translate a sub-45 10K into a sub-1:40 half marathon. It seems clear that I've got the speed, so in the next few weeks (months?) the real work will probably need to be around melding that with the strength necessary to make it 13.1 miles at a reasonably uncomfortable, just-barely-manageable pace. Yes, there's a lot left to do, but it is nice to know that I'm at least back in the right ball park. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week in Review: Feb. 13 - 19

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

5 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

Grand Total: 34.2 miles

* 19.5 easy
* 4 speed work
* 4.5 HM pace
* 6.2 race (10K)

Monday: 7 miles easy + karate + (mini) strength work. One of the biggest obstacles for me when it comes to getting out the door for my runs is the monotonous nature of the scenery. When you take into account traffic, lights, pedestrians, giant hills, etc., reasonable running in SF can be scarce, particularly if I just want to put on my shoes & run out the door (vs. driving to GG Park or the Embarcadero). I had a meeting at Stanford Monday, and although I've thought several times about going for a run when I'm down there, this was the first time this year it's actually worked out.

I ran most of the campus loop twice (skipping the section on Junipero Serra), one of my regular routes from my student days. It was SO refreshing to have some variety! Hopefully I'll be able to do this more often.

Tuesday: 2 wu + 5 x .8 mi @ (fastish????) pace, 2 mt recovery + 3 easy = 9 total. I left the house thinking I was supposed to run at 10K pace minus 10-12 seconds per mile, but when I got to the track I was like, "Wait. Was it 10K pace? But .8 mi seems too short for 10K pace repeats. Should I just do, like, 5K pace?"

Racked by indecision, I just kind of started running at a fast-ish pace & figured I'd try to split the difference. (This might be one of those situations where you try to do a little bit of two different things and actually end up not doing anything useful at all.) My .8 mi splits went 5:43, 5:41, 5:40, 5:39, 5:34 (or 7:09, 7:07, 7:06, 7:04, 6:58 in pace terms). So I guess I started out closer to 10K pace & then ended up closer to 5K pace. These felt really easy, even with longer intervals & less recovery time than I'm used to (when I do 5:00 intervals at 5K pace I usually take 3 minutes). Also, no soreness in the balls of my feet! YAY. (If you are like Don, you are probably snickering at the phrase 'balls of feet.' That one never gets old.)

Unfortunately, the easy three down MLK Drive afterward kind of sucked & some of the ball-of-foot pain came back. Hindsight suggests that running on the track after noticing this type of pain was #smart and taking it to the concrete after was #dumb. In an effort to be #smart, I decided to do the rest of my runs for the week on the track (even if the monotony killed me).

(Also, I got home & checked & it was supposed to be 10K pace. Oops.)

Wednesday: No running; karate + strength work.

Thursday: 2 easy + 3 x 1.5 @ HM pace, 2 mt recovery = 6.5. Trying very hard to stick to my resolution to run half marathon (goal) pace miles every week. Each week, I try to increase either the length or number of intervals. For the past two weeks I've run 3 x 1 mile, so today either 3 x 1.5 or 4 x 1 would've worked. I know these are important runs for me because I'm scared of them and also a little intimidated by the fitness I've lost around this pace, but I can't ever afford to let that stop me from doing them. So the protocol has become 1) gradually increase number/length of intervals, 2) shoot for < 7:40 pace with 7/10 effort, & 3) if that doesn't work, do as much as I can at that pace & effort, then finish the scheduled intervals at 7/10 effort at whatever pace I can. It was hot and windy today, so I was really pleased to be able to finish all 3 at 7:39, 7:37, & 7:35 at what I *think* is about the right level of effort. The challenge now is getting strong enough to do that for 13.1 miles. Right now I think I could probably run 8:00-8:10's & I'll be happy if by Oakland Half I can run 7:59s (which would still be a PR!).

Friday: No running; rest up for Bay Breeze 10K.

Saturday: 1.5 easy + 6.2 race = 7.7 total. A great race and a shockingly good time, given only seven weeks of running since my month of post-CIM sloth! Good enough for 3rd in A/G, even. Kind of hard to complain about that. :) (Race report soon.)

The ball of my left foot has been bugging me on and off since I started running again in January, and in the last week or two it's been especially bad. I did most of my running this week on the track for that reason, knowing I'd be running on pavement Saturday, which helped, and it was also for that reason that I decided to race in my big cushy Adrenalines rather than my flats. Still, within ten minutes of finishing I couldn't really put any weight on that foot at all. It got a little better over the course of the day (though, to be honest, I was probably on it for the rest of the day more than I should have been), but if it's not a LOT better within a few days, I'm probably going back to the podiatrist. Also, my right Achilles bugged me pretty much the whole way. Not really sure what's up with that.

Sunday: 4 easy. Sunday was two firsts for me. 1) As far as I can remember, going back even to high school, I've never run the day after a race, and 2) I've never literally "run" an errand. I'd added some miles to this week to make up for the bustedness of last week a little, including a short recovery run the day after the 10K. Long story short, I hadn't slept well for the last two nights & was still feeling a little sore / blah-ish after the race & very nearly just called it a rest day. Then I remembered that I had a close-by errand I needed to run & that I really, really didn't want to risk losing my parking spot (parking SUCKS around here on weekends), so I decided to just try & jog it.

Bodies are funny things. I've had so many sucky runs two days post-race, including a rest day, where my legs have felt like lead and my cardiovascular system like that of an emphysema patient. This run, on the other hand, felt ridiculously easy. I floated effortlessly to my destination & back, then decided to go just a bit farther to make it a nice even 4 round trip. Why can't ALL post-race runs be this awesome?

Overall, a pretty encouraging week. For the next few, my focus will be continuing to build mileage & getting in those half marathon (goal) pace miles. :D

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Strength Training Part 3: Pelvic/Core Stability

bootyStrength Training Part 1: Introduction

Strength Training Part 2: Hamstrings

Today's post is about hips & glutes. It's a long post, but frankly, in terms of bang for your buck when it comes to injury prevention, this is probably the most useful & important of this entire series. If you're only going to read all the way through one of them, I'd probably go with this one. As I learned from my PTs, it's the exceptionally rare running pain that can't ultimately be traced back to either foot strike or hip strength (excluding sudden injuries like twisting an ankle, of course).

My original plan was to do what I did for hamstrings -- start off talking about how everything works & where the injuries come from, then show some exercises. Hips & glutes are complicated, though, and by the time I finished all the "how stuff works," this post was already fairly longish. So I'm just going to post that stuff first, and then show the exercises in a different post. I am utterly fascinated by muscles & body movement & how everything works together (or doesn't), but if you're more the "just fix me" type, I won't be TOO offended if you just check out the exercises when I get them posted. ;)

(Quick Reminders:

  • I am not a doctor/PT/trainer/etc.
  • The info I have to share with you by & large comes from sports medicine doctors/PTs/trainers/etc. but has mostly come to me in the context of dealing with my own injuries.
  • If you try anything and it hurts, stop & check in with a pro
  • If you ARE a doctor/PT/exercise professional and anything here sounds sketchy or like I've misunderstood it, let me know so I can fix it!)

The Nuts & Bolts

One of the things I spent a lot of time working on when I was in physical therapy was what they call pelvic (or core) stability. Pelvic stability, as you might guess, refers to how much your pelvis wobbles around when you run.

unstable pelvisstable pelvis

The red dude has poor pelvic stability. When his left leg pushes off and leaves the ground, his left hip drops, causing his pelvis to tilt horizontally. When his right leg leaves the ground, his right hip will drop. You can see how this will cause a horizontal see-saw motion in his hips while he runs.

The blue dude has good pelvic stability. When his left leg pushes off and leaves the ground, his hips stay even. This means that his hips will stay level and even as he runs rather than see-sawing.

So why should you care about how stable your pelvis is when you run? Well, according to the physical therapists I worked with, poor pelvis stability accounts for a huge number of the running-induced overuse injuries they see. In my case it was hip pain right beneath the iliac crest, but apparently this is the kind of thing that can manifest in all kinds of exciting ways.

What an unstable core/pelvis looks like in a real runner.

Me: "Ah, interesting. I'd been kind of wondering whether it was some kind of IT band syndrome thing or something."
PT, with a shrug: "Eh, it wouldn't have changed much. IT band syndrome is often pelvic instability too."

A few sessions later:

Me: "(Blah blah blah), a few years ago when I was having all this knee pain...(blah blah blah)."
PT: "Yeah, that was probably the same thing. Pelvic instability is a pretty common cause of knee pain."

A few sessions after that:

Me: "(Blah blah blah), medial tibial shin splints on & off...(blah blah blah)."
PT: "The overpronation & hypermobility is probably causing some of that, but a lot of times MTSS is just another symptom of pelvic instability."

A few sessions after that:

Me: "Hey, at least it's not piriformis syndrome!"
PT: "Yeah, guess what I'm going to tell you about that."
Me: "So what you're saying is that pelvic instability is basically what keeps you in business around here."
PT: "Job security, man."

As one of them explained it, all these diagnoses and syndromes that are out there -- ITB syndrome, piriformis syndrome, patellafemoral syndrome, etc. -- are all just extreme manifestations of the same underlying problem, and most patients fall somewhere along a multi-dimensional spectrum in terms of their particular symptoms. A runner with persistent hip/upper leg pain obsessing over "What do I have?" is asking the wrong question. The label you attach to it, he told me, is irrelevant, because most of those things have the same root causes. They could have written "Mild ITBS" or "Mild piriformis syndrome" or "Mild TFL syndrome" on my chart for all the good it would've done, but the treatment would've been the same. (Instead they went with "general hip dysfunction / not otherwise specified.") The important question is, "What is the underlying cause?"

hip musclesOf course I'm not saying that every running pain you've ever felt in your life was a result of weak pelvic stabilizers. But I am saying that it's a problem that manifests in many different ways, and if you have a thing that's gone on a long time & you haven't had the whole pelvic stability thing checked out, it's maybe worth looking into.

So let's talk about your pelvic stability muscles. Today's cast of characters:

Hip flexors. These are the muscles that let you bend your leg or torso forward at the hip. The most important hip flexors are the psoas major & minor (fun fact: not everyone has a psoas minor, which I guess is why it's not in the picture), the iliacus, and the tensor fascia latae, or TFL.

posteriorGlutes. Your gluteal (butt) muscles let you move your leg backward at the hip. You can feel them working if you lay on your stomach and raise your leg backward up off the ground, keeping your knee straight. There are lots of gluteal muscles but the most relevant ones for us are the gluteus maximus ("glute max" for short) and the gluteus medius ("glute med," which you pronounce "glute mead").

piriformisPiriformis. Trying to explain about the piriformis is kind of hard for someone like me who is not a pro at this. Wikipedia states, "The piriformis is a flat muscle, pyramidal in shape, lying almost parallel with the posterior margin of the gluteus medius. It is situated partly within the pelvis against its posterior wall, and partly at the back of the hip-joint." I'm going to tell you it's a little pear-shaped muscle deep in your butt muscles. If you stand up and raise one leg a little off the ground in front of you, keeping your knee straight, then try to rotate your whole leg out and backward at the hip, that's your piriformis working.

IT BandIliotibial Band. I think a lot of people are under the impression that the IT band is a muscle. In fact, the IT band is a long, tough, fibrous piece of connective tissue that connects to the TFL and glutes at the iliac crest & to the muscles in the tibia at the other end. (Get it? Ilio-tibial?). The IT band is primarily made up of the same type of collagen fibers as your spinal discs, which which gives you an idea just how tough and strong it is. The main role of the IT band is to stabilize the lateral (side-to-side) motion of the upper leg/femur.

How Does A Wobbly Pelvis Cause Running Injuries?

On the left is an example of more or less what your lower body is doing during the support or stance phase if you have a stable pelvis (except that my left leg should really be pushing backward, like in the other picture...sorry). Notice that my hips are level and my right knee is pretty close to directly under my hip. (It is harder for women to align our hips & knees perfectly since we tend to have wider hips than men, but this is pretty decent.) On the right is a slightly exaggerated example of what it's doing if your pelvis is not so stable.


See how in the unstable version my right hip is popped out slightly to the side, my left hip is dropped, and my right knee is (kind of) collapsing inward as it bends? (I've spent so much time working on fixing this that it was really hard for me to do the collapsing knee intentionally, so this isn't the greatest picture for that.) These are the telltale signs of weak hip abductors, the muscles you use to lift your leg sideways away from your body (as opposed to the adductors, which you use to squeeze your thighs together). The prime mover (the muscle that does most of the work) is the glute med, & the synergist muscles (the ones that assist & help control the motion) include the psoas, piriformis, & TFL. These muscles control the IT band, which keeps your femur straight and your hip and knee in alignment.

Here's another picture that shows the collapsing knee idea a little better:

collapsing knee

It's this lateral motion of the support (touching the ground) leg that causes so many problems in runners.

  • IT Band. The IT band tries to stabilize all the wobbling & tilting of the femur, but it can only do so much. Overtaxing the IT band pulls it in a way it isn't really designed to go, causing the underside to rub against some of the knobby bony parts of the femur & resulting in irritation & damage (think of a rope fraying as it's pulled back & forth across a rock). Scar tissue forms where the damage happens, causing a) tightness (scar tissue is tougher & less flexible) & b) more pain (scar tissue is nerve ending-rich).
  • Lateral Knee/Hip. A tight/overworked IT band can create pain & tenderness where it connects to the TFL and glutes (the problem I had) or where it connects to the tibial muscles on the outside of the knee (the more standard ITBS symptom).
  • Patellafemoral. When the hip pops out and the knee collapses inward, a misalignment of the knee joint results. This makes it hard for the patella to slide smoothly over the patellar ligament that connects the quads to the lower leg. The ligament rubs against the underside of the knee cap, causing pain & swelling. (A lot of times this is referred to as 'runner's knee' or patellafemoral syndrome.) This is the problem I had several years ago.
  • MTSS. This collapsing of the knee inward also creates what's known as induced pronation, and probably accounts for a lot of the orthotics & stability shoes out there. Knee collapses in -> lower leg follows knee -> ankle follows lower leg -> foot follows ankle & rolls inward. Excessive pronation is one of the most common causes of medial tibial shin splints. (I've dealt with this on & off for most of my running life.)
  • Piriformis. If the glutes & hip muscles are too weak to control the lateral motion of the femur (resulting in all this hip dropping & knee collapsing), the piriformis will often try to compensate for it. Because it is a synergist muscle when it comes to hip abduction and not a prime mover, it isn't really strong enough to do this, and the result is same as with the IT band -- damage, scar tissue, tightness, and pain. We call this piriformis syndrome.
  • TFL. On the anterior side, the same thing can happen to the TFL (also a synergist in hip abduction). It tries to compensate for the inability of the stabilizer muscles to do their jobs and ends up sore and tight (TFL syndrome).

So what causes all this lateral motion in the upper leg?

It's the job of the IT band to stabilize the femur & keep it moving in a fairly vertical plane between the hip and knee. But remember, the IT band itself is not a muscle -- it's connected to the TFL and glute med. So really, it's the job of the glute med (and its synergist muscles) to stablize the femur via the IT band.

When the glute med, et al. is strong, it's able to use the IT band to keep the femur square and prevent the support knee from collapsing inward. When it's not strong, it can't do this (or can only do it for a little while). It's just the physics of the motion that cause the leg to want to roll in in this way, but when the glute meds & synergist hip abductors aren't strong enough to limit that motion, you get the problems above.

The upshot: If you're going to do any amount of serious mileage, your glutes and hip muscles have to be strong.

Why are weak hip abductors/glutes so common in runners?

Running is primarily a front-to-back motion. Our legs get a lot of work in that direction but almost no work in the rotational / side-to-side direction. Yes, our hip abductors will still work to try to stabilize the lateral motion of your legs through that front-to-back motion, and if you don't run all that much, they might be able to handle it. But the more running you do, the sooner those hip abductors are going to get worn out and overused. This is why paying special attention to strengthening your hips and glutes goes hand-in-hand with building mileage.

Secondly, weak hip abductors/glutes are common in runners because they are common in first-world people in general. It's just a fact that most humans, even those of us who are active a lot, spend a lot of time sitting. I mean, think about a recreational athlete with a typical commuter/office job. Half an hour sitting in the car/bus/train/etc. on the way to work; let's be generous and supposed she manages to spend a grand total of two of the nine hours she spends at work standing or walking & spends the other seven sitting in front of her computer or in meetings; half an hour sitting on the ride home. Again let's be generous and suppose she finds two hours on average in her evening to exercise and be active and do things like make dinner that involve standing and walking. Then maybe she spends three more sitting at the table for dinner, relaxing on the couch, helping kids with homework, sitting at her computer checking email/paying bills/etc., or sitting up in bed reading before she goes to sleep. That's 8 hours sleeping, 4 hours standing/walking/exercising, and 11 hours sitting. (Divide up the remaining hour however you want.) And that's an ACTIVE person who prioritizes exercise.

So what's the problem with sitting? Remember how we talked in the hamstrings post about how complementary muscle groups (muscles that move the same joint in opposite directions, like the biceps & triceps for your elbow) should ideally stay equally strong & flexible, and how imbalances in complementary groups can cause overuse injuries?

When we sit, our hip flexors are shortened and our glutes are lengthened. When we stand, it's the opposite. Our ancestors living on the African savanna three million years ago had a much better balance between the two, resulting in (surprise!) fairly balanced hip flexors & glutes in terms of both strength and tightness. These days, though, even for active folks, tight hip flexors and weak glutes are the norm. (BTW, lower back pressure/pain? Probably the same cause.)

Do your hips/glutes need work?

The simplest DIY way to test your hip/glute strength is with the single-leg quarter squats that I used above to demonstrate a stable pelvis vs an unstable one. First, make sure you're wearing something where you can clearly see what your knee and pelvis are doing (probably not pants, and a top that leaves at least the waistband area of your shorts visible). Stand in front of a mirror and lift one leg off the ground. Note the angle of your waistband -- at this point it should still be pretty much horizontal. Now slowly bend your support knee until you're about a quarter of the way to a full squat position. The following are red flags that can indicate weak hip abductors:

  • You can't do the squat at all (ie, you don't see how you can stand on one leg and bend your knee and still support your body weight). The first time I tried to do it, I was sure I had misunderstood the instructions because it seemed so completely impossible. Nope; I'd just lost a ton of muscle tone in my glute meds.
  • Your knee doesn't stay in alignment with your hip and foot and instead moves inward. (Like I said above, women get a very little additional leeway here, but not much.)
  • Your knee/leg trembles or wobbles as you move through the squat.
  • The hip on your suspended leg drops instead of staying level with your support hip (sometimes it's easiest to see this by watching the waist band of your shorts -- if it tilts as you squat instead of staying parallel to the floor, the hip on your suspended leg is probably dropping)
  • The hip on your support leg pops outward as you squat

Another thing they had me do a lot in PT is jump off of a small box and freeze as I landed. The box was not tall, maybe 18 inches or so, and my instructions were to bend my knees a little to absorb the force of the landing while keeping my back straight as much as possible (ie, not leaning over too much). To assess my hip abductor strength, they would look at what my knees did when I landed. If they stayed pretty much square over my feet as they bent, then my glute meds, et al. were strong enough to do their job & use the IT band to stabilize my femurs and knees. If they collapsed inward, that was an indicator that they still needed work.


Left: A strong, stable landing with knees more or less directly over feet.
Right: An unstable landing with knees collapsing inward.

Last but not least -- Eccentric Strength & Shock Absorption

Your muscles are capable of two types of contractions: concentric, where the muscle shortens (ie, bending your elbow to lift a weight toward your shoulder), and eccentric, where it lengths under a load (ie, gradually straightening your elbow to lower the weight in a smooth, controlled motion rather than just letting your arm fall). Eccentric and concentric are two different types of strength that don't always go hand in hand. You can have good concentric strength in a muscle but poor eccentric strength, or vice versa.

For runners, eccentric strength in the glutes & other hip abductors is essential for preventing injury. When you run, your foot (hopefully) lands directly beneath your hip in order to reduce braking forces and direct most of your energy horizontally and into forward motion rather than vertically down into the ground. Still, even the most beautiful foot strike the world has ever seen will generate some amount of downward force, which in turn generates upward force from the ground to the foot (Newton's 3rd). All that force has to go somewhere.

Concentric strength in your glute meds (as well as most of your other leg muscles) is important for running because that's what you use to push off the ground and propel your body forward. Eccentric strength, on the other hand, is what lets those same muscles lengthen in a smooth and controlled way when your foot hits the ground and your ankle, knee, and hip bend to safely absorb and distribute the upward forces from the ground. (When you do the slow, single-leg squats described above, you're using eccentric strength on the way down and concentric strength on the way up.) Having poor eccentric strength means that instead of gradually lengthening to absorb the force over more time, the muscles lengthens more suddenly, meaning they absorb less force. And the less force that gets absorbed by eccentric muscle contractions, the more ends up channeled into ankles, shins, knees, hips, spine, etc.

To get a better sense of this, think about what would happen if your biceps did not have the eccentric strength to slowly lower a barbell in a controlled way, and instead you could only drop your arm & straighten your elbow suddenly. Instead of the force slowly getting absorbed by your biceps over time, most of it is absorbed suddenly by your elbow joint & its various connective tissues. This is often the mechanism by which “too much / too fast / too soon” leads to strains, stress fractures, & other overuse injuries.

"Think of your muscles as cushions," one of my PTs told me. "The stronger they are, the more they will protect your bones, joints, and connective tissue."

Testing Your Eccentric Strength

Again, the single-leg quarter squats are great. If you're able to slowly lower your hips (keeping them square) a quarter of the way to a full squat without too much shaking or trembling, the eccentric strength in your glute meds is probably pretty good. If you can't do it, or can't go very far, or your knee & femur wobble as you do it, you could probably use some work in this area. (I was not discharged & cleared to train again until I could do 50 in a row on each side pain-free.)

A few other things they constantly looked at when I was in PT included:

  • Vertical hip bounce while running. I would run on a treadmill while they videotaped from the side, and then we would watch to see how much difference there was between the highest point my hip reached in a stride and the lowest. A few inches was okay, but more than that meant that my entire pelvis was dropping as each foot hit the ground because I didn't have the eccentric strength in my glutes to control the downward force.
  • Loud/quiet foot strikes. From my first weeks, they coached me to "run whisper-quiet." Barely audible foot strikes indicate that force is being absorbed & distributed efficiently & safely, while easily audible pounding/slapping indicates poor absorption due to poor eccentric hip/glute strength.
  • Loud/quiet landings on the box jump. Remember how I mentioned they watched me jump off of a box a lot & watched to see what my knees did? They also listened to how loud my feet were when I landed, for the same reason as they did on the treadmill. A soft, quiet landing meant good absorption & eccentric strength, and a loud landing meant I still needed work.

Whew! If you made it all the way through that, then good on you. Hopefully you found at least some part of it informative and/or useful.

For all that I would have loved to avoid four months and many hundreds of dollars in physical therapy last year, I still feel very fortunate to have gotten a chance to learn so much about the details of how running works and how to continue doing it while taking care of my body. In the next post, I'll show the strength exercises I still do, even many months later, to keep my hips and glutes strong and pain-free.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week in Review: Feb. 6 - 12

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

1 Week to Bay Breeze 10K

6 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

Hey, congrats all you trail racers! I wish I could have tagged along, but alas I was stuck working 9-4 both Saturday & Sunday. Not really my ideal weekend, but at least they're paying me for it.

This week turned out to be a perfect storm of running fail. Well, not fail, really; more like loss of momentum. In addition to a busier-than-usual M-F work week & working all weekend, I had my 3rd degree brown belt testing (a big one because it's my last before black belt) at karate on Monday, so I knew I might have to be a little more creative in terms of finding time to run. Also, while I don't normally think of testings as being all that big of a deal in terms of exertion and stress, physically this week has felt sort of like a post-race week (soreness, random leg pains, general exhaustion) and I kind of wonder if maybe that's part of why. In any case, mileage was looking pretty bleak by mid-week, but I did rally enough towards the weekend to at least keep myself semi-respectable (for very generous definitions of "semi").

Monday: Testing + strength work. Yay! :D

Tuesday: 2 wu + 4 x 10:00 @ 10K pace Strength work + running fail. In addition to just plain feeling exhausted, I was super sore & having some weird pain in my forefoot/ball-of-foot areas. that made even walking uncomfortable & had me googling 'running pain sesamoid.' I probably could have forced myself through a few easy miles & went back & forth for a while about whether that would be a smart & hardcore thing to do or a dumb & reckless one that I would regret the next day. In the end I just did my strength work & called it good.

It's been mostly like this.
Wednesday: 8 easy (not) + karate + strength work. Most of the time preceding a run with two rest days is a recipe for awesome, but this was just HARD. Yes, it was unusually warm, but towards the end I felt like I could barely keep my legs moving. It's hard for me to believe that I was still that worn down from the testing after two days; then again, I suppose I've felt this way for multiple days after racing 5Ks & 10Ks so maybe it's not so crazy. Anyway, I couldn't think of any other reason for it.

Thursday: Running fail. Still a bit sore & having foot pain, but mostly I was just exhausted still. Another day I went back & forth with myself about whether I was being smartly conservative or just letting the couch win.

Friday: 2 wu + 3 x 1 mi @ HM pace + 3 easy = 8 total. Still feeling worn out but negotiated my way out the door with a little winter pesto and a promise to myself that if I felt really miserable or had bad foot pain I could just do a few easy miles to avoid another goose egg for the week. I did not actually believe I had enough gas in the tank to run at HM pace for very long, but felt better enough after two warm-up miles that I decided to try. They turned out passably okay, though I had to work much MUCH harder for them than I did the last time I did this workout. Still, no goose egg!

Saturday: 6 easy. The ball-of-foot pain wasn't too bad & I actually felt like I could have run a few more easy miles Saturday, but this was about all I had time for between work & dinner.

Sunday: Got home later than expected from work & the weird foot pain was back. No running. Again -- smart? Lame? Who can say?

Grand Total: 22 miles

So yeah; not really the week I had planned. Trying not to beat myself up for it too badly, given all the weird foot pain & extra soreness from the testing Monday (?). I'm running Bay Breeze 10K next weekend so I was planning to keep it < 30 next week, but since it's not an A race & really just more of a fitness gauge, I may do a little more than I'd originally had planned & just take it easy the two days before the race.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Winter Pesto (or, "I finally put too much garlic in something.")

This has been a hard week for me running-wise. I knew I'd be busy & might not have time to get all my runs in, but that turns out not to be the real issue.

I didn't run on Monday because I wanted to be fresh for my 3rd brown belt test (smashing success, btw). Tuesday was supposed to be my normal track workout; I was really busy that day, but mostly I just felt completely exhausted and really sore (which I can only assume was from the testing). Wednesday I forced myself out the door, still sore, for an "easy" eight miles that completely wore me out, then went to karate (perhaps not the wisest of plans). Thursday I was back to feeling sore & exhausted again. I decided against running again, which led to the inevitable no-running guilt. Reminding myself that there is a difference between tired/lazy and actual pain only made me feel a little better.

Needless to say, mileage for this week is rather in the toilet.

But now it's Friday. I'm feeling better & ready to go run this afternoon, but before I could face it, I needed a little comfort food.

One of my favorite comfort foods is traditional basil pesto. I still remember how excited I was when I figured out I could make it at home. I think I made it every weekend for months. This past summer we started growing basil in our backyard, which has made the process that much easier. The only trouble with making your own pesto, though, is its summer growing seas. Yes, we can still get it in winter, but I try to buy & eat seasonal & local whenever I can, so this time of year it takes a little tweaking.

Friends, I give you a lovely winter pesto.

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread a handful of almonds on a baking sheet & bake for 10-12 minutes.


2) Rinse & chop 1.5 cups each of dinosaur kale & arugula & combine in a food processor.




3) Grate 1.5 cups of a sharp pecorino & add to the greens. I've used other winter pesto recipes that call for chevre, but in my opinion most goal cheese is a bit too mild. I like the tangier flavor of pecorino.

We get bulk EVOO at costco for more mundane uses, but this is our favorite "fancy" kind. Our local Italian market recommended it as the best "nice" bottle they have for the price
4) Add the juice of half a lemon, a quarter cup of almonds, & ~3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. (Adjust to taste, of course; I probably like it a little on the dryer side.)

5) Peel & add a few garlic cloves to the mix in the food processor. This would be the part where I finally added too much garlic to something. My general practice is to at least double the amount of garlic in any recipe as a starting point. This time I peeled a head & just thought to myself, "Oh, eight or ten cloves seems about right."

Which turned out to be too much, even for me. So I'd recommend starting with 4-5, even if you're a big garlic fan & then going from there.

Anyway --

6) Pulse the ingredients together in the food processor until it looks like pesto.


Look,it's pesto!

7) Top with more pecorino & enjoy! :)


You can really use any kind of leafy greens you want. (I've also used chard & different types of kale which has been good too.) Cilantro can be interesting as well.

Alright -- time to get out the door.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hardcore January!

OpHardcoreFitI've never done a monthly recap before, and to be honest I don't see them becoming a regular thing. (Alright, I know we're well into February; the beginning of the month sort of got away from me.) I tried to write a monthly recap back in August & the whole thing just felt a little rehash-ey and un-genuine. This month I'm doing one for #OpHardcoreFit, which feels less re-run-ish and more genuine because I actually have stuff to tell you about that is actually NOT the same stuff I've been writing about all month!

First among those things is, well, Operation Hardcore Fit. OHF is the baby of Meg O (of Watch MeGo Run), who is training for her first marathon this year & gunning for a sub-4:15! (GOOOO MEGAN!!) As she put it in a December blog post about marathon training, "The only option is hardcore."

"So, once I was all registered, I was all, "I'm so cool, I'm gonna run a marathon" and so I decided that one thing and one thing only could happen at the gym today: HARDCORE. No wimpy workout. Go big or go home."

Then in January:

"Recently I've been thinking about Operation Hardcore, my mission to train for the marathon and be an overall better runner this year. I'm terrified, to say the least. What if I don't have what it takes? Then, I thought, 'you know what would make this better? If I had other people on the same page as me.'"

And thus #OpHardcoreFit was born, its essence being thus:

"Operation Hardcore is a project to push yourself past your comfort zone into a territory you may not even know existed. I have a feeling 2012 is going to be my year and I want you to join me in it, by making it your year too. To push yourself past your limits, test yourself, and prove you ARE stronger than you think, faster than you feel, and better than you know. It will motivate you on the days you think, "I'm too tired" and will convince you that you, do, in fact, "got this" on the days you feel unstoppable."

The idea is to choose one big goal and maybe a few other smaller ones for the year & support each other in doing what we have to (even when we don't feel like it) to make it happen. My big goal is to run 2,000 miles this year, and my smaller goals are a sub-1:40 half marathon and a sub-22:00 5K.

Now, I will be honest with you. These goals are not going to "push [me] past [my] comfort zone into a territory [I] may not even know existed." They are 'safe' goals that I feel pretty sure I can achieve in a year without taxing myself overly much. I decided to "HardcoreFit" them, though, because over the years I have had a very bad case of the "I-have-nothing-to-prove"s. Ie, "It would be kind of cool to run a marathon, but I know I could do, it takes a lot of work, & I have nothing to prove. So whatever." It turns out, though, that no one is very interested in things you know you could do if you wanted to but haven't actually bothered. For me, I guess that's what #OpHardcoreFit is about.

So what did I accomplish this January in that vein?

  • I ran every single day that I had scheduled for a total of 131.5 miles.
  • I've recovered from my post-marathon 4-week period of holiday sloth.
  • I've lost 6 of the 8 pounds I gained during said period of holiday sloth.
  • I've averaged ~4 strength workouts per week.

Other more and less hardcore things that happened this January:

1Q841) I finished reading this book, which, at 925 pages, I had been putting off for a while. Yes, it took me a month, but it was a fantastic read and well worth it. Like just about all of Murakami's work, it's a bit strange in places, but the story is really sweet and about as original as they come. (Runners may also want to check out his autobiographical What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I confess that I haven't read it yet but I've heard it's fantastic.) #hardcorereading

karate2) I found out that I was being tested for 1st kyu on Feb. 6th. (Note: It's over and I passed! :) ) Kyu ranks are student ranks and go from 10th (white belt) to 1st (3rd degree brown belt). 1st kyu testing is kind of a big deal because it's the last one before black belt. #hardcorefighting

3) Volunteering at Coyote Hills 5K/10K/Half. I've run two Brazen races & really enjoyed both (even though neither were among their *real* hardcore trail-ey ones), but this was my first time volunteering. I was up at 4:30 & at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont setting up tents in the dark by 6 am. (In retrospect, I should've brought a headlamp.)


From about 7 to 9:30 I worked at the bib table, then spent 9:30 - 11:30 pouring gallon after gallon of water into tiny Dixie cups for the finishers. And OMG, I had no concept of how much water even smallish races (2000 people?) go through!

reg table

water bottles

Maybe two thirds of the gallon jugs of water we went through.

For the last half hour I sorted trash & recycling (which was kind of gross because they were giving away It's It ice cream sandwiches, the discarded parts of which were melting all over EVERYTHING). I will not lie to you and say that I wasn't mainly doing all this for a free entry into next month's Bay Breeze 10K, but I am also not lying when I tell you that it really was a lot of fun and I would totally do it again. Jasmin & Sam are great & I can highly recommend their events. #hardcorevolunteering

4) I went to Sonoma with Don & his folks. If you have never gone wine tasting with someone who works in the industry, you absolutely must get on that shit. It is no secret that I love me some good wine or that Don & I spend several weekends a year in Paso Robles & Napa/Sonoma, and it's also not too terribly uncommon for us to chat up the folks pouring & end up not paying tasting fees and/or tasting things that are supposedly not open / VIPs only / sold out / etc. But when one of your party is a wine educator & buyer & has done a bunch of consulting with well-known wineries, that experience is increased by an order of magnitude. No tasting fees? 30% discount? An hour & a half in your caves tasting everything you make? Yes please.


My top Sonoma / Healdsburg / Santa Rosa wine picks:

  • Porter Creek - Super tiny; $5 fee waived with purchase; tasty pinot, award-winning viognier, & a really unique food-friendly zin. Plus reasonable prices!
  • Williams Selyem - Mostly pinot, but they're making a few other things now as well. Not cheap, but hands down the absolute best California pinot I have ever had.
  • Bella - This was a first for me on this trip. Don's dad wanted to go to pick up some of their Late Harvest, but we ended up tasting through everything. The Late Harvest & Late Picked were both amazing, they had an excellent pinot & chard (under their Ten Acre label), and several very tasty zins. Plus, very reasonably priced for the quality.
  • Siduri & Inspiration - These two are right in the same little plaza in north Santa Rosa. Siduri makes a TON of stuff under that label and another one called Novy Family wines. Very tasty pinots, a FANTASTIC $17 syrah (!), and a lovely dessert white. Inspiration has only a few wines, but their chard & viognier were lovely, and I enjoyed the zin, pinot, & syrah very much as well.
  • Yoakim Bridge - A long-time favorite mom-and-pop winery. Don is a member so we go there any time we're in the neighborhood. Uh-may-zing zin, syrah, cab, and petite sirah.
  • Ridge - Not cheap, but reliably good. Taste the Montebello if they offer it because you probably won't ever get another chance. They also have a tasting room in the Cupertino hills.
  • Seghesio - Reliably good zins, a lovely field blend called Marian's Reserve, and a tasty 60/40 cab/sangiovese blend called Omaggio.
  • Twomey - It's been a while since I was there but I pretty much loved everything I had and the tasting fee is cheap even if you don't buy anything, so just go.
  • Wilson - Lots of really good zins, & several other things that are worth tasting as well.


So that's really it for my hardcore January. For February my only real goals are to keep building mileage & stay healthy, and to run strong at Bay Breeze 10K on Feb. 18.

How was your January? Anything hardcore to share?