Tuesday, May 29, 2012

*Eeek!*

So I did it.

I broke my no-triple-digits shoe-buying rule.

I did it for these bad boys.

But, I humbly submit that I did it for some good reasons (or at least some vaguely defensible ones).

    1) I've heard great things about Newtons from many, many trusted sources.

    2) I'm still searching for a go-to pair of light-weight trainers / longer-distance racing shoes & I've had my eye on these guys for a while now. (A 7.7 ounce stability shoe? The hell you say.)

    3) I've accepted that I'm never going to get to try them for truly cheap.

    4) The new model recently came out, so the price has come down a little on this one (the older model).

    5) I get 10% off the sale price at Roadrunner Sports, & by some miracle they had exactly three pairs left in my size (the only size, as you can see, between 6.5 & 10.5). Holy timing, Batman! That never happens.

    6) I had a coupon for an additional 10% off, bringing the price down to ~$120ish (+ tax).

    7) I had lots of contracts this spring & have lots more coming this summer, so I feel less bad than usual about a little splurge.

Even with the excellent references that these guys come with, I just can't bring myself to pay $175 for a pair of shoes I haven't tried, but if the older model works out well & I really like them, I'd be willing to consider it in the future. They should be here by the time we get back from Yosemite, so hopefully I'll get to take them for a spin on Friday or Saturday. I'll try & get you a review in a few weeks. :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Week in Review: May 21 - 27 (such as it is...)

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. :)

Grand Total: 6 miles, all easy

So originally I had several easy runs of different lengths scheduled for this post-race week. But I really just didn't feel like running on Monday or Tuesday. Don & I were both (mostly) off work, and I really kind of just wanted to lounge around with him & get some stuff around the house done. I went out for an easy six miler on Wednesday before karate and didn't even wear my watch. Thursday, Friday, & Saturday we lounged some more, cleaned up/did house stuff, had coffee in the middle of the day, & went out for tasty dinners. Running just didn't seem to fit in vibe-wise, so I didn't force it. On Sunday we threw a big Memorial Day BBQ. And to be honest, since Wednesday I really haven't had the itch to run at all.

I've read several posts lately about periodization and the ebb & flow of training cycles and found myself thinking a lot about that this week. At first I felt a little guilty about "slacking off," but then the rational part of my brain was like, "Look. You've had two rather intense training cycles back-to-back. You've had two half marathon PRs in as many months and two MASSIVE PRs in the last three weeks. Give yourself a freaking break already."

And I said to myself, "Self, you are absolutely right. Time for a little break." So I'm viewing this week as a kind of celebratory one, as a well-deserved break that came at just the right time. It's not that I'm burnt out & kind of sick of running the way I was around mid-November of last year, but in retrospect, I think the reason I got to that point is because I never really let myself take a break that entire year. I built mileage literally non-stop from January through November, raced twice as much as I had the year before, and really never let up. By taking a little break before I get burnt out, I feel like I'm investing in my running mental health.

It's kind of like eating. Even if you're having your absolute favorite foods, if you keep eating and eating and eating and never take a break, you'll eventually make yourself sick. If you stop eating while you're still enjoying it and take a break for a few hours and give yourself a chance to get hungry again, you'll enjoy it all the more.

So I guess that's what I want to do. I want to make sure I don't stuff myself with running & racing to the point of misery, and give myself enough of a break that I'm nice and hungry for training when I start my Santa Rosa cycle in July. June's easy mileage will hopefully serve as a light appetizer. :)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

NEWS FLASH!! Blogs Are Narcissistic

IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU CUPCAKE!!!

Yes, even yours. And that's okay.

Recently I have noticed a spate of blogosphere apologies about the self-centered, narcissistic nature of our blogs coupled with promises to write less frivilous, self-indulgent posts & more useful, informative ones in the future. I find this kind of ironic and amusing, because HI, it's a PERSONAL BLOG. I doubt anyone thinks about my blog for long enough at a time to formulate existential questions about it, let alone ask me them, but if anyone was ever like, "Hey, don't you think it's kind of narcissistic that you write pages and pages about yourself and your obsessive hobby on the internet?" I'd be like, "DUH, Captain Obvious. It's my blog so talking about myself and my utterly fascinating life [sarcasm font] is kind of the whole point." (Also, it gives me an outlet for blathering on about all things running, & makes it so that the only people subjected to it are those who choose to be.) Sure, we do hope that our blogs will sometimes be useful or entertaining because that's why people keep reading them, but if a person's goal is primarily to do those things, they start a nonprofit or a youtube channel. They don't put what amounts to a PERSONAL JOURNAL on the FREAKING INTERNET.

I bring this up for two reasons.

1) If you have a personal blog, please. Own your narcissism. Be proud. Write without shame about all the inane details of whatever it is you do and care about. Share your inner emotional life with gusto. Stop apologizing for the fact that your blog is not first & foremost a source of objective & useful information. If that's all people were interested in, they'd just read Runner's World (or the equivalent for your thing) & be done with it. This girl gets what I mean. OWN IT, baby.

2) I am about to write a shamelessly narcissistic post without any guilt or apologies whatsoever. Watch & learn.

"So what's next??"

This is a question that I've gotten from absolutely no one now that I have finally captured the elusive sub-1:40 half marathon, and I am about to tell you the answer, in multiple paragraphs, ON THE INTERNET, anyway.

(See? Narcissism. It's my blog so I write stuff about me. That's how this works.)

Pay attention, because I'm about to tell you about my plans in backwards order. (Again, it is my blog and I will explain things in backwards order if I want to.)

FIRST -- I’d like to run another sub-1:40 half that’s, you know, MORE subber-1:40. 1:39:45 is legit but cutting it pretty darn close, and given the course and the weather at Windsor Green, I feel pretty certain that if I keep doing what I’m doing, I can beat that time. I want to use June to dial back the intensity a little bit and mostly just run a lot of easy miles, with just enough speed work to keep my turnover in good shape. Then in July I'll start another training cycle with the Santa Rosa Half on August 26 as the target.

SECOND -- As I think I’ve mentioned before, the program I'm currently using calls for a 5K race two weeks before the half as a fitness gauge, and though I’ll be out of town the weekend of the 12-13th, one of my favorite small local races, Brazen’s Summer Breeze 5K/10K/half, is happening on August 4. Instead of the 5K, though, I’m really thinking of running the 10K again (where I PR’d last summer) since I’m now in a lot better shape than I was the last time I ran one.

THIRD – Last year I ran the SF Pride Run 10K near the end of June, which I really can’t see any reason to skip. It’s a small, cheap, low-key race all of 20 minutes from my house, and all the proceeds go to good causes. This will probably be about the closest thing I do to a fun run since it’ll come near the end of my chillaxing month, but that will also make it useful as a gauge of where my fitness is as I start my Santa Rosa cycle.

It's been a very relaxing week, post-race. I didn't run on Monday or Tuesday, and on Wednesday I headed out for six easy miles without my watch. (Even so, I could tell that I'd just recently raced hard -- my legs were still tired and hills were decidedly tougher than normal.) My school-year job recently ended and Don finished at his old company earlier this week & is on a two week break before starting at the new one, so we've been taking it easy at home this week. This has fit right in with race recovery. We'll be in Yosemite next week for a mini-vacation, and then the week after we'll both be starting new & exciting jobs. It's kind of felt like a natural break around.

Oh, and also I'm back to considering running CIM again this year. I'll be in the country all fall, and not teaching, so....you know. A girl's got to keep busy. ;)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Race Report: Windsor Green Half Marathon

So this happened:

This weekend has been wonderful but also long and exhausting; I don't have it in me to make you wade through paragraphs & paragraphs of dramatic tension to get to the payoff, so I'm just going to give it to you straight. This:

    Official: 13.1 miles / 1:39:45 / 7:37 average pace
    Garmin: 13.07 miles / 1:39:48 / 7:38 average pace

And this:

    Overall: 50/658
    Women: 7/399
    A/G: 3/82

And this:

Which maps pretty well to this:

If you enjoy le grand narrative, however, read on.

Lately I've just been trying to get better at half marathons skill-wise by scheduling one every couple of months or so, which is great because it takes away the pressure of running any particular time at a given race. Last week I made a few observations about this race vis-à-vis my ability to run it well & end up with a solid time:

  • I am notably, demonstrably in better shape than I was two months ago in Oakland & really, truly believed I was in shape to run a sub-1:40 half given the alignment of certain stars. (plus)
  • I would be at a wedding the night before. (minus)
  • It was likely to be a warmish morning. (minus)
  • The course was basically flat. (plus)

After the wedding Saturday night (where I did very little drinking & wore comfortable shoes), Don dropped me off at Hotel Jana, of Oakland Running Festival renown. Not only is Jana the hostess with the mostest, but she is also a former Santa Rosa area super-local and knew exactly where to go / park / etc.

We left at 5:30 Sunday morning & made great time to Windsor, arriving at 6:45ish with plenty of time to get our bibs & shirts, hit the port-a-potties, & meet up with Sesa, Aisling, Kristin, & Sima.

At 7:30, it was still quite cool, but I know from experience that if I'm down to my scantiest layer before the race and don't feel a bit chilly, it's probably going to be too warm for me to run my best. I was perfectly comfortable in my sports bra & tiny shorts so I'd pretty much accepted it was just going to be a slower race (which I'd been expecting, so it was fine.)

As I've done in my pace runs, I tried to start off in the 7:40s, which felt pretty easy. The gradual ratcheting down, however, not so much. In those first few miles I was definitely working a little harder than I had in those pace runs & a little harder than I was really comfortable with, and still mid 7:40s was the best I could do -- I didn't dare start pushing hard enough to get the numbers down this early-on. There were also a few rolling hills, which, while not a huge deal, were also not insignificant in terms of the effort required. "Huh, I guess there were a few rollers in the beginning," I thought to myself. "Guess I missed that." That was also about when it dawned on me that the reason I couldn't do better than 7:45ish at this effort level was because in addition to the rollers, the first few miles were making a subtle but relentless upward ascent (see above). What a relief it was to hit the massive downhill at mile 4 and see a 7:33 split!

"Phew," I thought, "glad those rollers are out of the way."

Mile 6 was the uphill that I did remember from the elevation profile. Again, it wasn't terribly steep but it was certainly the steepest yet, and the climbing was constant. (I can't tell you how hard I worked to get this mile split in under 8:00. Cannot. Even. Tell you.) This was also when the weather went from irritatingly warm to decidedly HOT. The temperature was probably only low 70s at that point, but we also had 70% humidity, direct sun with no cloud cover, and no shade for long stretches, so it felt much warmer than that. None of this helped with the ratcheting down of the pace. (I ran with a throwaway bottle of 50/50 water/Gatorade and was sooooo glad I did -- those early aid stations were few & far between.)

Not winning booze with your foot strike? Maybe you should try my patented edge-striking technique. Seriously, this is why I roll my left ankle at least twice a week.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this was where I kind of went, "Eh, it's hot, and kind of hilly (btw, what idiot told me this course was flat?!?!?! Ah, right...); if I can more or less keep up this pace & punch it in the last mile or two, I'll have a slight PR, and that's really probably the best I can do today."

We got some encouraging downhill in mile 7; then something clicked for me in mile 8. Even though we were going back up hill, I actually started to feel better than I had earlier in the race. I saw that 7:37 split, took stock of how I felt physically (response: um....weirdly good...), and thought, "I can run the rest faster than this. My body wants to run it faster than this." So I stopped looking at the Garmin & just kind of let my legs do whatever they felt like. Usually around mile 7 of a half I'm doing okay physically but really just can't let myself think about how much running is left; this time, I felt like I could've gone on forever, even uphill. Bring it on, snarled the runner brain. Six miles is NOTHING. Bring it right the hell on.

Even through miles 9 & 10, I felt really strong & like I was running the race, as opposed to Oakland where, even though I ultimately got a strong time & a PR, I'd felt like the race was running me from about mile 4 on. I wasn't thirsty anymore, just hot, & started dumping cups of water over my head at every aid station. Around this time runners started flagging left and right, especially up those last inclines, and I was able to do a lot of passing.

This gung-ho, bring-it-on feeling lasted almost exactly through mile 10. After that, it finally started to feel like a race, and I started to have to fight for my pace. I'd pretty much abandoned the idea of going for sub-1:40 because the early miles had been so tough and I thought that for sure those faster more recent ones weren't going to be anywhere near enough to make up for it. I'm terrible at doing pace calculations in my head mid-race, but I kept waiting for the time when there were enough miles left that I could determine with certainty that a sub-1:40 was no longer possible. But every time I glanced at my watch, I had to face the fact that, bafflingly, it was still too close to call.

You know, if you really wanted to, you could probably still do it...

Four miles left. Three and a half. Three. At every point, my race-addled brain inevitably figured that it was still just barely possible, if I was willing to hurt.

This was both elating and frustrating. Elating because part of me was thinking, "I could do it. Holy shit, I could really do it, today, hills, heat and all!" Frustrating because I knew that, if I were going to do it, I had make a decision ASAP, and start paying the price. I was always planning to race hard, but there is definitely a difference between racing hard and scraping every last drop out of the barrel.

At mile 11, my watch read 1:25. 15 minutes to run two miles plus a little more. Doable, but only barely. I would have to suffer for it. Greatly. Yeah, but just imagine how much you're going to hate yourself if you give only 98% & run a 1:40:10, said the runner brain, and though I think it was kind of a dirty trick, I couldn't disagree. It would ruin my week & that was really all there was to it. So I made the decision.

I started counting backward from 400 (which for some reason is what I do when it starts to hurt) and pushed as hard as I could manage. And harder. And harder. And passed a guy. And passed a girl. And fought it out with another girl, almost lost her, then pushed harder than I thought I had the capacity left to do and finally passed her. These were the death moments.

Proof. Also, in this picture I am just seconds away from dry heaving on the Green. Sorry, Windsor...
I stopped counting when I could hear the finish area, mostly because I was half-delirious at that point & didn't have the mental faculties to spare. I ran so hard. SO hard. I passed like four dudes in the last quarter mile. I turned a corner and saw the finish chute and a 1:39:40 on the clock which lit another fire; suddenly I was kicking it into a gear I didn't even know I had after 13 miles of hills and heat.

God damned if I didn't leave every last ounce out there. I know because I crossed the finish mat, stopped my watch, stumbled off to the side, and very, very nearly yakked purple Gatorade all over the Windsor Town Green.

I collected my medal and somehow managed to stumble out of the finish area, found a nice, cool spot on the grass in the shade, and collapsed.

I can die now, I remember thinking. It is finished.

* * *

A few minutes later I heard Sesa's name; by that time I was able to stand again and made my way back over to the finish chute & ran into Jana on the way, who had run a stunning 1:46 PR! (She told me Saturday night she was going to run a 2:10. OMG *SUCH* a sandbagger.) Sesa also ran a PR; she hadn't been feeling great, so to do that particularly on that course in that weather was incredible. We saw Aisling, Kristin, & Sima all finish not long after & spent a leisurely half hour or so chilling out in the shade, hydrating, avoiding dog poop, & taking silly pictures.

Sima, Kristin, me, Jana, Aisling, & Sesa

Now, normally I am on top of stalking prior years' results in my races to see where I can expect to place based on what kind of time I think I can run. With WG, though, I was greatly derelict in these duties & totally forgot to look until Friday or Saturday, & was a little surprised to see that if I had a really good race, I might be able to place in my age group. (Again, small race.) I'd kind of given up on that in the first half of the race the same way I kind of gave up on the 1:40, but once I finished I knew I at least had a respectable chance. Well, it turns out I came in 3rd, which got me a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay! I am super pumped about this because a) I have never placed in a half marathon before, and b) this is the first time I have ever won a material good. Medals & certificates are neat & all, but I'm pretty excited about something I can actually put to use.

(Guess what was being served at my friend's baby shower that afternoon? You guessed it; a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay. So obviously I had to try it.)

Also, 4th place was only 23 seconds behind me, likely one of the girls I battled it out with in that last half mile or so. And that's always a good feeling.

Oh, do you care about all the logistical details, btw? If so, read on. The exciting part is over. :)

windsor green half marathonLocation: Windsor, CA (just north of Santa Rosa)

Date: End of May(May 20, 2012 this year)

Price: This year, there was an active.com Schwaggle coupon in January or February where you could enter the half for $35. Barring that, the schedule was as follows:



  • Before Febuary 29th - 5k/$30, 10k/$40, 13.1/$65
  • March 1st - April 1st - 5k/$35, 10k/$50, 13.1/$75
  • April 2nd - May 1st - 5k/$40, 10k/$60, 13.1/$85
  • May 2nd or until full - 5k/$50, 10k/$70, 13.1/$95

There was also an option to sign up in groups of four at a discounted rate -- for example, four of us signed up in April for $255, which worked out to ~$65 a person rather than $85. If we'd been REALLY on top of it & signed up before March, we could've gotten four entries for $180ish / $45ish per person. So that was cool.

Deadlines / sellout factor: This year, you could sign up for all distances at the expo the day before, but not the morning of. As of a week before the race the half was 94% full; I don't know if they ended up selling out at the expo.

Field Size: 5K - 368; 10K - 487; half - 658. Small, but not tiny-small.

Expo: There was one the day before, but I didn't go so I can't tell you much about it.

The Course:

The half marathon course is a big clockwise loop along rural country back roads, so if you like races with lots of stuff to look at and cheering spectators and rock bands, this is probably not the race for you. There were some shaded parts, but also many long exposed stretches, so I definitely recommend checking the forecast ahead of time & dressing appropriately. It's 90% right turns, so it was very logistically easy to run, and because of the rolling hills I could almost always see them coming.

Speaking of the rolling hills, I looked at the course profile a few weeks ago and was all like, "Psssh, 1-2% grade at worst; that's pretty much flat." Um, no. It's not. If I'd run this course without looking at the profile, I would've guessed the uphills were more in the 4-6% range, but perhaps I am just a poor judge of grade. Hillier than Golden Gate Park, for sure. I'm also kind of wondering if the warm weather made them feel steeper & tougher than they were. Although technically all the positive & negative grades cancel out because it's a loop, I felt the effects of the uphills a lot more than the downs because the ups were long and gradual and the two big downs were short and dramatic. Granted, it's no Big Sur or SFM, but there were definitely more hills / steep grade than I was expecting and the effect on my effort level was noticeable.

Logistics:

The organizers really pushed expo packet pickup & warned about long lines on race morning, but at 6:45 we were able to walk right up & get our stuff with no problem. Even as it got later, I never really saw the lines get all that long. (Maybe that just means lots of people took their advice & went to the expo.) The bag check was literally two guys with a bunch of small drawstring bags & a couple of a sharpies, which worked great. I think I am the only one who checked a bag & everyone just left stuff in cars, which, given how easy & close parking was, made a lot of sense. Checking & picking up were quick, efficient, & problem-free.

Port-a-potties were situated kind of out of the way of the main staging area. It didn't look to me like there were all that many, but they seemed to be sufficient & we never had to wait in any lines. Again, the early aid stations seemed few & far between to me, but I carried a bottle so it didn't really matter. (Check the weather, check the weather, check the weather.) Around mile 9 or 10 there was a mimosa station.

Swag:

A nice logo tech shirt & a very classy-looking medal for finishers. (We also noted that the ribbon was particularly nice, not unlike the high-quality CIM ribbons from last year.) The top three in each age group (5 year increments) each received a bottle of wine from Chateau St. Jean, which, as inexpensive wine goes, I must say I am a great fan of. The local fire fighters cooked a pancake brunch for runners afterward (unfortunately, I had no appetite), & there were coolers of water & also mimosas & bloody marys for sale.

Suggestions:

Just a few. 1) More aid stations early on the course, especially if it's hot. I would've have been MISERABLE without my own bottle; 2) Have water available for runners in or immediately outside the finish area (rather than 50 yards away in a non-obvious spot); and 3) More shade at the finish. There was precious little, and runners were flocking together under the few trees that offered any. Once I finished, I wanted to hang out near the finish & wait for my friends, but all the shade was far away and I was just too hot.

All in all, a really cute, local, well done race, and I'm really looking forward to Healdsburg Half in October. :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Week in Review: May 14 - 20

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. :)

Freakin' RACE WEEK!!!

Grand Total: 27.3 miles

* 12.7 easy
* 1.5 speed / intervals
* 13.1 race


Monday: Karate + strength work

Tuesday: 2 wu + 6 x 400m @ 10K pace + 2 easy. Just some race week turnover drills and a few easy miles. Still a bit tired.

Wednesday: 3.7 easy + karate & strength work. Originally I was going to just make this a non-running day, but then I thought, "Ah, what the hell. One loop of GG Park East won't kill me." And it didn't, but my Achilles' tendon areas (between my heel & calf) were super tight & painful again. I figured it was best to just finish the loop rather than round up, which I like to do because I am OCD that way.

Thursday: 2 wu + 3 @ HM pace + 1 cd 4 easy. Asthma. Bad Achilles pain again. Right heel pain. Left forefoot pain. Horrific headwind in every direction pelting me with rocks & scrap metal. I could hear the injury fairy whispering into my ear, "Just give me an excuse." Since there was no way pushing through this one run was going to make me faster on Sunday, I did 2 easy miles out & 2 easy miles back and was more than happy to call it done.

Friday: 2 wu + 3 x 400m @ 5K pace + 1.25 easy Nope. I decided after Thursday that the universe was trying to tell me to rest my legs until Sunday & not tempt fate. Unless Bart Yasso himself called me up & told me that those three 400m repeats were going to make me race faster Sunday, my ass was parked on the couch.

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 1 wu + 13.1 race. On Sunday I ran a half marathon. It was kind of exciting. You should read about it. :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Swear I'm Not Being Paid to Write This

So a few months back this chica Christine sent me an email about a health/fitness site she was working on. She was looking for people who would try it out when it was done & give some feedback.

"For me, I think the main problem with being fit and eating healthy is motivation. It's an abstract, overwhelming goal. I think the best way to counter this is to turn it into winnable games and small victories. So... my app makes living healthy, and fitness into a RPG game, where users earn points, 'level up', and earn badges as they accomplish their health goals. Everytime they add something healthy like veggies to their diet, they earn points. Everytime they complete a workout, they earn points. As they achieve more and more, they'll level up and unlock badges, and discounts/coupons to rewards like spas, health foods, maybe even sweet and semi-healthy things like raw chocolate."

Now I will admit to you that this sounded kind of bizarre to me. It appeared to combine a thing I've never understood (RPG games) with a thing I've never been able to make functional (tracking what I eat online). But I am a (mostly) nice person so I told her that sure, if she wanted to send me a link when she was done, I'd give it a try & let her know what I thought.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got another email from Christine with a link to the finished project, which is called SlimKicker. Genuinely curious about how it all turned out, I created an account and have been playing around with it. And I have to say, it's actually been really interesting & informative.

How it works:

1) Sign up for a free account & enter your basic information (name, height, weight, age, gender, activity level, goals).

2) Choose a reward for your first "level up" if you so desire. (I have not been doing this because I'm mostly just playing around with it, but some of the suggestions include a cheat meal or a splurge purchase.) You can upload a picture of your reward to appear on your Dashboard page if you so desire.

3) Log your food & exercise & earn points. I love that the points toward your level-ups come from logging healthy behaviors (ie, you get 1 pt for logging a food, +20 for a serving of fruit or veggies, a point for every minute of physical activity, including things like housework & gardening, etc.) and not weight loss. (There is no way I could get behind it otherwise.)

4) Complete week-long challenges to earn additional points (ie, "20 push-ups every day" for +500, "No snacks after dinner" for +500, "Skip the elevator" for +700, "A new veggie a day" for +800, etc.). As you level up, you unlock additional challenges.

This is the default image the site assigned me since I didn't upload one. Don't I look hardcore? I also did not pick a reward so it looks like my reward is a set of little glass pikachus.

The food database seems pretty darn extensive, moreso than other online programs like this I've used in the past. When I eat something that's not in there, I can usually find something pretty close to substitute that I feel like will have more or less the same nutritional values. For example, I had a chicken pesto sandwich the other day from the pub across the street. Obviously that is not in the database and there's no way for me to find the actual nutritional values, but searching for 'chicken pesto sandwich' returned about 20 items & I just used the one that seemed to be about the same size & have pretty similar ingredients.

(With any kind of online food/activity tracking application, you have to accept that you're only ever going to get reasonably good approximations. The vast majority of the time, I've found the level of precision to be totally adequate for seeing & keeping track of long-term trends.)

Things I've learned:

1) I am *shocked* at how little fat, salt (except when we go out), and cholesterol I apparently eat. SHOCKED. (Well...on most days. One day I went from being at about 20% of my daily salt limit to WAAAAY over it by having a piece of smoked salmon in an attempt to up my protein without adding to the carbs & sugar.)

2) I eat way, WAY more carbs than SlimKicker thinks I'm supposed to, even with my activity level on the highest setting. Like 160-200%.

3) My sugar consumption is not particularly high, but given how little added sugar I eat, I was surprised that it's as high as it is. What I'd consider to be a low-sugar day is usually just about right on, and an average-sugar day is a bit high. (Basically, if I have any kind of dessert or fruit juice, it's game over right there.)

4) I eat a more reasonable amount of protein & fiber, but still apparently not really enough. Right now it is VERY hard to reach the bar on either of these guys without overshooting salt, sugar, or carbs.

5) My total calories are usually right on or a little under.

Right after my usual breakfast (1 cup plain nonfat yogurt, 2/3 cup Nature's Path granola, 1 cup strawberries, & 20 almonds). You can see what I mean about the sugar & carbs. Nature's Path is pretty low sugar as granolas go, but the natural milk sugars in yogurt are significant.

The pros & cons:

PROs:

  • I am a numbers person who likes earning points and gold stars. I get an unreasonable thrill out of entering my 8-mile run or my two cups of vegetables & seeing a big ol' "+65" or "+20" dumped into my progress bar, even though I don't even have a reward I'm working towards. I'm all, "YEAH!!! Take THAT, bitches!!!!" even though there are in fact no bitches involved to take anything from me.
  • Speaking of which, I like that it's not competitive. You can have friends and groups, but the site doesn't compare your points or progress to other people's.
  • If you want, you can go into the settings & adjust the nutrient levels from what the app assigned to you based on your info.
  • A lot of the point-earning behaviors are things I would do & have been doing for years anyway, but I've found that the tracking & getting points actually has changed my diet, which I think was already reasonably good, in some positive ways. (ie, I've been eating more vegetables, fruits, protein, & healthy fats, & less sugars & carbs.) I didn't go into this with the intent of losing weight, but the fact remains that after about three weeks I weigh 4.5 pounds less than I did when I started, which is well beyond the usual day-to-day variation.
  • There are no penalties for going over your calorie / nutrient thresholds; if you're at a birthday party & decide that by golly you're going to have some cake & ice cream & screw the sugar threshold today, you can do so without fear of reprisal. The app counts on rewards for positive behaviors to motivate you. (Besides, no one's going to make you log that cake...)
  • Again, I like that although you can enter & track your weight if you want, you don't earn points for dropping pounds.

CONs:

Or con, singular, I guess, so far. My one real complaint is that your calorie & nutrient thresholds are set, and determined by whatever info you enter (age, height, weight, activity level, goals) when you first create your account, as opposed to similar sites that set your levels initially at what they should be if you were basically inactive, then increase them as you log physical activities based on how many extra calories you've burned.

There are five activity levels to choose from -- Beginner (trying to get into shape), Lightly active (1-3 days/week), Moderately active (3-5 days/week), Very active (6-7 days/week), & Extra Active (athlete/training). This makes it tough because being active 4 days a week, for example, can mean 4 days of light yoga or short, easy jogs, or it can mean 4 days of heavy marathon & strength training. It also makes it hard to account for variation in your weeks. (We all know how hard it is to average these things.)

Initially I went with "Very active (6-7 days/week)," but that had me eating around 1400 calories a day, which felt really low to me for someone who is "very active." So, even though I don't feel like I'm necessarily in the "Extra Active (athlete/training)" category, I switched my settings to that, which puts my calories at more like 1700 a day. I'm sure it all averages out, but I think I'd still prefer a model where the thresholds change as you enter your activities for the day.

If nothing else, it's gotten me to pay more attention what I'm eating nutrient-wise instead of just focusing on calories. Yes, it's nice to be a runner & be all like, "But I HAVE to eat all these healthy carbs, I have to FUEL my RUN," but the fact is that most of us should probably be getting more of those carbs from fruits & vegetables & less from breads & pasta. Also, if I'm getting the amount of protein & fat that I should be, I don't actually have the calorie budget for that stuff anyway.

I've recently been told I should be getting more calcium as well, so that's something else I'm learning more about lately. You may be getting a few more nutrition-related posts from me than usual in the near future, I fear. ;)

I guess I should put in one of those disclaimer thingies, about how I haven't been compensated in any way for writing this post, the opinions expressed here are all my own, blah, blah blah....You know the drill.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ah, Running in Wine Country...

windsor green half marathonI am mad impressed with myself because this time last year, I had only run two races and after next Sunday I will have four under my belt. I am awesome.

I am also enjoying soooo much my strategy of just running a half every couple of months & seeing what happens as I continue to train & build mileage (err...sort of). I was incredibly happy with where I was at Oakland in March, and in the two months since then I still feel like I've made a ton of progress. I have never been one to get the "taper itch," and I still wouldn't describe it that way, but I'm definitely more excited about this race than I am about most. This has been one of those pre-race weeks where I've felt like a cooped up, high-strung thoroughbred.

Friends, I cannot. WAIT. To run.

If I am completely, totally honest with myself, I really do think I'm capable of a 1:40 right now given favorable conditions. Just barely, but I've been stunned by too many of my recent workouts (particularly my HM pace runs) to be all modest and humble and pretend I don't know what kind of shape I'm in. However, it's not clear how favorable conditions will actually be on Sunday:

(Late spring in wine country and all that. At least they're calling it partly cloudy now; earlier today it was just a big ol' sun.)

So I'm not "calling my shot" as it were (which is fine, considering the whole point of this just-run-a-bunch-of-halfs strategy was to avoid putting that kind of pressure on myself in any one race). Since we start at 8 and I'm planning to be done by 9:45 absolute worst case, the heat shouldn't be too bad, but I know I tend to run a tad warm, and once the sun comes up you just never know. All you can really do is show up as naked as your dignity will allow and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Barring issues from the heat, I do have a plan. In Oakland, my goal was to go out at around a 7:50 pace, stay there as long as I could, and speed up after the halfway point if I felt good. I wasn't able to speed up that much, but I definitely held a 7:45-7:50 pace no problem. This time around I'd like to try to start out around 7:45ish for the first mile or two, then see if I'm able to wind it down into the high 7:30s (which has been working well in my pace runs). If I'm feeling good with that around mile 9, I might try for the sub-1:40.

I am still tentatively planning on running the Healdsburg Half in October (put on by the same group), but slightly bummed that I won't be able to run Water to Wine in August & get the extra-special three-peat bottle of wine. (Though let's be honest; the last thing we need around here is another bottle of wine.) But the reason I can't do it is because we'll be road tripping / camping up the California / Oregon coast that week & weekend, so I can really only be so bummed about it. :)

To take its place, I'm seriously considering the Santa Rosa Half on 8/26. Yes, another warmish wine country race, but it turns out there aren't a whole lot of options in that time frame. At least it's flat, and from all reports relatively well-run & -organized.

In the mean time, if you're one of those bloggers that gets all uppity about what other runners wear and have strong opinions about what is decent and proper, you may just want to sit this race report out. I think we're probably looking at Bad Bass levels of nakedness. Which is to say not full-on Bay to Breakers levels, but...y'know. There will be booty shorts.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Week in Review: May 7 - 13

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 Windsor Green Half Marathon

Grand Total: 31 miles

* 23 easy
* 8 HM pace

My standing mileage goal this year has been to run at least 40 miles every week. Well, so much for that; apparently my life prefers that I alternate 40+ weeks and sub-40 weeks (and sometimes sub-20 weeks, unfortunately). Maybe in Quarter 3 I'll be able to up it to two 40+ weeks followed by a sub-40 week. That's me; CRAZY ambitious.

Monday: Karate + strength work; recover from this.

Tuesday: 2 wu + 8 @ half marathon pace + 1 easy. I was nervous I wouldn't be recovered enough to run this workout, but it was AWESOME. Though, in retrospect, this plus the 5K might have taken more out of me than I realized, given how the rest of the week went.

Wednesday: 4 easy + karate & strength work. 7-8 on the schedule, but with 2 miles down, my legs were like, "Listen, chief. If you ask us to do this, if you insist, we will do it for you. But we'd just like to point out that we've worked REALLY HARD for you lately & given you two AMAZING runs in a row. Also you're about to go do 1.5 hours of martial arts, and a speed workout tomorrow. So....you know. Your call." At 3 miles I knew what the call needed to be. Dragged myself to 4 and was sooooo fine with calling it quits.

Thursday: 2 wu + 4 x 5:00 @ 5K pace Recover from Wednesday's INSANE kick workout at karate. Had it been up to me, this is not the workout I would have picked to do days after a 5K PR race & my longest HM pace run of this cycle, but what can you do.

Friday: 2 wu + 4 x 5:00 @ 5K pace I was having some serious pain in the Achilles tendon areas after about half a mile. By 1.5 miles, it was REALLY bad. I should've stopped then but I decided to try to finish 2 if at all possible. I don't really think it's an injury; I get tight there sometimes, & ran pretty hard earlier in the week. I'd also spent more time than usual standing & walking in dress shoes in the previous two days, so that may have also had something to do with it. 9 days out from the race I decided the intervals were not worth tempting the injury fairy.

Saturday: Skiiiiiiinnnggggg!!!! Saturday was our last day in Tahoe for the season, which was a ton of fun. Late in the spring they close at 1 pm, so on the drive back home I was all like, "Maybe I could get a few miles in this evening..." Getting out of the car several hours later disabused me of that notion. Um, no. NOT going to happen. On the plus side, running keeps my legs strong enough I don't get sore from skiing, even though I only do it a few times a year.

Sunday: 14 easy. Since the beginning of the year, I have had 14 milers scheduled on various Sundays and not ONCE have I been able to get one done. 12, yes, repeatedly, but never 14. Today, a week out from Windsor Green half, I had 12 scheduled, but I didn't have much going on & considering how low my mileage had been for the past few days, I decided to go for 14. I am pretty sure I ran the last 4 miles or so too fast (ie, sub-8), but I felt strong and fresh all the way to the end. Hopefully this won't have ruined my chances for a good race next Sunday. :)

Given everything I put my legs & cardiovascular system through this week (5K PR race, super-fast peak HM pace run, hardcore kick workout, a solid day of skiing, & longest run of the year thus far), I feel like 31 miles is completely respectable. I want to be sure I'm completely rested & refreshed for Windsor Green next Sunday, so odds are good I will cut my mileage this coming week even more than I'd planned to -- probably just two short "quality" workouts, a few easy shakeout miles on Friday, and the race on Sunday.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Public Service Announcement

Most of the time I stay away from putting personal stuff on this blog that's not clearly running-related. )In fact I would say that's my attitude toward the internet in general.) And I suppose strictly speaking what I want to talk about today is vaguely running-related. I considered for a while leaving the personal parts out, but this is the kind of post that I feel like has the potential to save a life, and if hearing my personal perspective makes it more real or motivates you to take it more seriously, then it's worth the small loss of privacy for me.

So.

If you read running blogs or magazines or follow any kind of running-type-news, you've probably heard about the March death of ultra-runner Micah True, or "Caballo Blanco" as he was known to many. True died on a routine twelve-mile run in the New Mexico wilderness. At the time the cause of death was unknown, but on Tuesday officials announced after an autopsy that the cause of death was idiopathic cardiomyopathy. (Follow the link for more detailed explanations; the short version is that 'cardiomyopathy' refers to a type of heart disease that causes enlargement of all or part of the heart, and 'idiopathic' just means that the cause is unknown.) It doesn't sound as if True was aware of his condition.

True's is not the first high-profile running death--not by a long shot. It seems like we hear about them more and more these days, each one creating an explosion of alarmist headlines like, "Is Marathon Running Really That Safe?" and "Are You Running Yourself to Death?" and "Marathons May Cause Heart Damage" and "Beware Marathon Heart Injury." It's one of those topics that I expect major news organizations like The New York Times and CBS have a mostly-pre-written piece about sitting around that they can run on short notice the next time someone dies at a distance event. (You can kind of tell because they all reference the same statistics & quotes & studies over and over again, & just add in a couple of sentences referencing the most recent tragedy.)

For a while the increase in the number of deaths during or after marathons called into question the safety of marathon and other types of long-distance running; over the last, say, 20 years or so, though, these concerns have largely been put to rest. We now have tons of evidence that, far from causing heart damage, intense cardiovascular activity has a protective effect and actually lowers a person's risk of a cardiac event (by up to 50%!), even when risk factors like family history or obesity are present, and people who do "vigorous leisure time activities" who do have a cardiac event have a 29% lower fatality rate than those who don't (Paffenbarger et al. 1978; Sesso et al. 2000). In a study of deaths from sudden cardiac arrest in healthy people, vigorous exercisers had a 67% lower risk (Siscovick, 1984). These are just two examples of many, MANY studies that have been done; for more, I refer you to The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, Chapter 15.

Furthermore, it's become very clear that these aren't random people dropping dead out of nowhere. Very, very occasionally we'll see a death caused by dehydration, hyperthermia, or hyponatremia, but the VAST majority of deaths during marathons & other endurance events can be traced to pre-existing heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, meaning the person was at a much higher risk than the general population for a cardiovascular event anyway. We just hear about these deaths more, because they're more public. In that respect, it's mostly a numbers game: The popularity of long-distance running has exploded in the last few decades, and the more people participate in an activity, the more deaths will occur during that activity. It's just as true for knitting or gardening as it is for skydiving or mountain climbing.

Of course, that's not to say that people die during endurance running and gardening sessions in the same proportions. Although Siscovick found that vigorous exercisers had an overall lower risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest, those that did die suddenly were more likely to die during said vigorous exercise than not. Endurance running is a physically demanding activity, and any activity that requires your heart to beat significantly faster or even moderately faster for long periods of time does stress the cardiovascular system. (After all, that's what makes us stronger, and part of what lowers the overall risk of a cardiac event.)

But once you've been doing it for a while and gotten comfortable with the distance and the experience of running really far, it's easy to become a bit blasé about what you're actually asking your body to do and what the biological effects are. For example, in a study of healthy runners, one researcher (Neilan, et al., 2006) found mildly impaired heart function up to a month post-marathon. Not dangerously impaired, but enough to register medically and be statistically significant. A 2001 study (Siegal) found levels of inflammatory and coagulation markers typically associated only with heart attack victims that lasted for 24 hours. For all that those facts might sound a little scary, they're not that big of a deal for a healthy person who is properly trained, fueled, & hydrated. But for someone with a pre-existing cardiovascular condition, it's a different story.

The overwhelming number of people who suffer a cardiac event while running or soon after an event have such a condition. Some are aware of it & receiving treatment. But most have experienced symptoms & warning signs (frequent, inexplicable fatigue, regular chest pains, dizziness, nausea) and ignored them, and a few have what is known as silent heart disease, meaning they are fit, strong, have few or no risk factors, and never experienced symptoms.

This is where I come in. I joke sometimes about how when I started running track in high school, I sort of picked the worst possible extracurricular given my exercise-induced asthma and barrage of biomechanical issues. It turns out the truth is a little less funny.

I've had a heart murmur all my life. When I was a kid no one worried about this much because they're fairly common in children as the heart develops and usually go away on their own. Mine, on the other hand, did not go away and has gradually become more pronounced. Realistically, even in adults most heart murmurs are benign and require nothing more than a check-up every now and then to make sure there are no symptoms of anything more serious (ie, certain types of murmurs can indicate conditions that lead to cardiomyopathy), which has always been the case for me.

My case is complicated by a few things, though. First, heart disease runs in my family. In spite of being fit, active, and eating a healthy diet, my grandmother suffered from HD for years and had multiple heart attacks, one of which caused her death when she was only 60 or so. Second, high blood pressure / hypertension runs on that side of the family as well (realistically the two are probably related). My grandmother had it and so does my dad. Third, given how (reasonably) well I eat and how active I am, you might expect my blood pressure to be crazy low. Not only does it run high for a young healthy active person, it runs high for an average, sedentary, junk-food eating American.

Even though I've never had any real symptoms (beyond the occasional chest pain), all of these things taken together put me at uncomfortably high risk for heart disease / cardiovascular event. Thankfully my age, weight, general health, diet, and activity level are all on my side, but it is still something I have to think about and pay attention to. I have to monitor my blood pressure regularly and be at least somewhat careful about my diet. (This is fairly easy given how little I eat high-fat/cholesterol/junk/processed food/red meat; it's mostly the salt that's tough sometimes, especially when eating out.)

I am grateful every day that I am able to run at all, let alone run as much and as fast and, yes, even as pain-free as I am. I think about all the force my feet absorb, the crazy lacework of bones and tendons that supports and moves my body weight, the intricate rope-and-pully system of my legs, the layers of muscle that stretch and contract, the infinitely complex network of nerves that fire in exactly the right order so that I can keep doing what I do. I push my muscles and joints. I praise them when they recover quickly, chide them when they're complain-ey, exhort them give just a little more toward the end of a race, joke about the relatively minor ways that they aren't perfect. Legs get a lot of attention from runners because they're flashy and sexy, you can see when they are working hard, and you can post pictures of them on your blog to keep people from getting too bored by all the words.

If you don't have at least 1-2 pictures like this per month in your running blog, I hear the internet shuts it down. (I mock because I love.)

As much as I adore them, though, my legs are not the linchpin of this whole operation.

If I hurt my IT band, maybe I have to rest and foam roll for a couple of weeks. If I have some concerning pain in my shins, maybe I have to take a day off and sit on the couch and ice. I have the luxury of whining on the internet about what is very, very much a first world problem. Yes, having a musculo-skeletal injury is sad and irritating. But not being able to run for a while is truly the worst possible thing that can happen as a result.

If there are issues with my heart, on the other hand--chest pains, blood pressure that won't settle down, bloodwork out of whack--that is an entirely different story. I am not pouting on the internet about the fact that I can't run. I'm not gingerly testing things out in the hallway to see if it still hurts. I'm not plotting my glorious return to racing. All I'm really doing is feeling grateful that I'm not hospitalized and am still breathing, and paying very, very close attention to my doctor.

As circumstances would have it, I had a checkup on the day True's cause of death was announced. I watched my doctor's face closely as she listened to my heart, trying to read her mind and searching for any hint of what she was going to tell me. It used to be that the site of the murmur was easy to pinpoint; these days not so much. It seems to be coming from everywhere, which ups the chances that it could be something structural. In the next week or so I'll have an echocardiogram and a blood panel to look at a bunch of stuff related to hypertension & heart disease, just to make sure there is still nothing more serious going on.

She likes that I run. (Indeed, there is evidence that healthy people at higher risk tend to benefit the most from intense exercise.) I'm not sure how crazy she is about how much I run and how hard I run (if only occasionally). I know that all of these factors nudge me every so slightly in to the higher-risk pool in terms of collapsing at the end of a race from a cardiac event. Every time a doctor listens to my heart or watches an echo or reviews my latest blood panel I worry that today will be the day they say, sorry, the risk is too high now. No more running. Or less running. Or no racing all-out.

All of this is to implore you not to take your health--the really important parts of your health--for granted. People on running blogs are always going on and on about how they "listen to their bodies" and decided to take this day off or shorten that run or whatever because their legs were tired, or their ankle felt funny, or that twinge in their hip was getting worse, or what have you. That is all fine and good, but please don't mistake that for monitoring your health. It's not the same thing. I know we're prone to making stuff like that into omg DRAMA and making it sound like the most critical thing ever because at the time it can feel very dramatic and like one of the worst things that could happen in our running lives. But the fact is that it's really, really not.

If your legs are tired and you run 10 miles anyway, oh well. Even if you insist on making it worse first, your ankle will eventually get better. If you ignore the twinge in your hip, the worst thing that possibly happens is you end up not being able to run for a few months & forking over a shit ton of cash to sports medicine people & PTs. The aboslute, worst fucking thing. (I know because I did that. Spoiler alert! The world didn't end and I'm faster now than I've been in 10 years.)

If you ignore the symptoms of cardiovascular problems because they don't seem that bad or because you think you're too young / fit / active / healthy / etc. to be at risk, you can end up with *actual* problems.

So, PLEA #1:

  • If you have unexplained fatigue that goes on for days or recurs that can't be explained by lack of sleep, poor diet, overtraining, etc., see a doctor.
  • If you have chest pains severe enough to make you go "Ow!" more than a couple of times a year, see a doctor.
  • If you have any unexplained loss of consciousness, see a doctor (though I suppose in most cases you would want to do that anyway, even if you did know the explanation).
  • If you have GI symptoms that recur or go on for a while that you can't explain or resolve, see a doctor.

Other more subtle signs of cardiac trouble include inexplicable shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, weakness/dizziness, nausea, and sweating. (You can see how it's possible, sometimes, for people who are training hard to miss these less dramatic signs.)

PLEA #2: Even if you're symptom free, do not assume that just because you are young and fit and active and eat well that you are not at risk, particularly if you don't know your family medical history re: cardiovascular stuff. Yes, the odds are in your favor. But, as a doctor friend of mine likes to put it, this is one of those "low risk, ludicrous stakes" sorts of things.

If you don't go to your doctor, if you don't have things like your heart and lungs checked out and there's a problem you don't know about, there can be real consequences. Yes, the overwhelming majority of us are fine and have nothing to worry about as long as we train, fuel, and hydrate properly, but I cringe a little every time I hear about a runner dropping dead during or after a hard race from a cardiovascular event and all the friends and family are like, "But we had no idea!" Especially when the victim is a young, healthy person with no obvious risk factors. I feel like people who are taking on endurance events who are older, less active, or know they have potentially risk factors take the whole "Check in with your doctor" thing reasonably seriously. Young, healthy people with no symptoms...not so much.

No, my heart checkups are not going to fix what's wrong with me. But knowing that I have an elevated risk and having this work done semi-regularly means that if things start to move in a bad direction, my doctor is more likely to be able to catch it early and treat me, which could prevent me from developing actual HD. And that's about my long-term survival, not running.

So please make sure to listen to the really important parts of your body in addition to the flashy parts. When in doubt, get something that seems minor checked out--it's better to find out the easy way that it's nothing than the hard way that it's not. Also, please remember that feeling strong and fit is not the same thing as actually being fully healthy, and that there are aspects of your health that you can't assess on your own. If nothing else, get your doctor to check out your heart, lungs, and blood pressure once a year, just to be sure you are as fit and strong as you feel. I know it sounds trite, but it really could end up saving your life.

Sources:

  • Neilan, Mousavi, Czarnecki, Kumar, Fallah-Rad, Lytwyn, Han, Francis, Walker, & Kirkpatrick. Relation of Biomarkers and Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging After Marathon Running. The American Journal of Cardiology 103(10):1467-1472
  • Noakes, Tim. The Lore of Running, Chapter 15: Running and Your Health
  • Noakes, Tim. Heart disease in marathon runners: a review.
  • Paffenbarger, Wing, & Hyde. (1978) Chronic disease in former college students: XVI. Physical activity as an index of heart attack risk in college alumni. American Journal of Epidemiology 108:161–175
  • Sesso & Paffenbarger. (2000) Physical activity and coronary heart disease in men: The Harvard Alumni Study. Circulation 102:975-980
  • Siegel, Stec, Lipinska, Van Cott, Lewandrowski, Ridker, & Tofler. (2001) Effect of marathon running on inflammatory and hemostatic markers. American Journal of Cardiology 88(8):918-20, A9
  • Siscovick, Weiss, Fletcher, & Lasky. (1984) The incidence of primary cardiac arrest during vigorous exercise. New England Journal of Medicine 311:874-877

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Freaky Friday/Sunday/Tuesday

It's been a weird month or so for me. I've had multiple moments where I've felt like I've somehow slipped into the body of someone noticeably faster & stronger. In the past I've had races or runs where I've really mustered my strength, mentally pushed myself to try harder and suffer more and come out of it with exciting times, but this has been a little different. It makes sense to me that greater effort should result in faster times; it makes less sense that the same or less effort should result in faster times.

Two Fridays ago I had six miles to run at half marathon pace (~7:40), ending up running a 7:32 average, and could not believe how easy it felt.

Sunday I ran a 1:16 5K PR on about 90% effort, basically no 5K-specific training, and zero taper.

Today, only two days post-5K PR, I ran eight miles at a 7:29 average pace with warm weather, rolling hills, and a stiff headwind half the way. It wasn't quite as easy as the six miles a week & a half ago, but it was extremely manageable, especially considering that I went into it unsure I'd even be able to keep a 7:40 pace the whole time (and totally fine with it). My splits were 7:48, 7:39, 7:37, 7:34, 7:32, 7:24, 7:12, 7:14. Yes, the last couple of miles were downhill and really too fast even so, but I was getting a little impatient & the pace felt good & not at all like I was pushing too hard, so I went with it.

I don't know whether I'll be able to run a sub-1:40 half at Windsor Green (not least of all because I'll have spent the previous evening at a wedding...), but I'm feeling pretty good about taking a more aggressive tactic this time around & seeing where it gets me. :)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Race Report: Menlo-Atherton Big Bear Run 5K

Big Bear Run Logo

I'm not really all that focused on the 5K right now; in fact the only reason I signed up for it was because my half marathon program called for a 5K time trial two weeks before the race, and this one was on the right date & relatively close & cheap. (By & large it was well-organized and well-done, so I can highly recommend it!) Still, I did set some 5K goals at the beginning of this year.

My immediate goal was just to beat my rather outdated 5K PR of 22:00, which I felt 99.99% certain I could do this year just because it's such an old time at this point and I'm in considerably better shape now. My intermediate goal (as in doing it this year was possible but far from certain) was 21:30, just because that would mean a solidly sub-7:00 pace. My long-term goal (as in I'd really like to do this before I die) was 20:30.

I was pretty sure I'd break 22:00 in Atherton, but I didn't go into it expecting much more than that. My plan was to run it pretty hard and really race it, but not 110% balls-to-the-wall as hard as I possibly could. Between that & the fact that my training for the last few months has been very half marathon-centric and not at all 5K-centric, I figured I might go 21:45ish, or if the stars aligned and I had a great race, reach my 21:30 goal.

Location: Atherton, CA

Date: 1st Sunday in May (May 6, 2012 this year)

Price: $25 up until a week before the race; $30 thereafter (under 18 gets a $10 discount)

Deadlines: None; race day registration (though I think online reg closed a week before the race)

Sellout Factor: Unlikely. I don't know if they have a cap but it seems like race day registration is a regular thing.

Field Size: 830 this year; sounds like ~1,000 on average. So a pretty good size for a local charity race with only 1 event.

The Course: There was no published course map, but the web site described it as a "professionally timed, marked course begining at the Menlo-Atherton High School Gym Lot on Ringwood [that] weaves through beautiful, flat Lindenwood, and ends on Coach Parks Field with a track finish," which I would say is pretty accurate. They did have course maps at the bib tables & big posters of it up on the gym walls, which I appreciated. The course was flat, plenty wide, easily navigable with lots of volunteers to point you in the right direction, and SHADED, which I appreciated given that it was probably at least 70 by the time the race started at 9. Plus I love me a track finish. :)

Logistics: Very easy. Parking is in the school lot which is sizable; I got there a little after 8 and there were TONS of spots. I didn't know exactly where to go so just followed people who seemed to know where they were going; bib & shirt pickup were in the gym, about a 3 minute walk from the parking lot. They had the the real bathrooms in their gym available, and I was kind of surprised how short the lines were. There was no sweat check, but the parking lot is so close to the start/finish that there's not really a need for one. (I just stashed my bag behind a volunteer table where I was pretty sure no one would bother it, which is my usual tactic at small races.)

The eponymous Big Bear
Swag: A cotton T-shirt (at pricey for-profit races I bitch about cotton shirts, but I think it's totally fine & par for the course at fundraisers) and nice medals awarded three deep in each age/gender group (under 12, 13-18, 19-29, 30-39, etc.), with the group info engraved on the back (a nice touch)

The Race

My loose plan was to try to run the first two miles in the 6:50s and then give it whatever I had left for the last mile. Once I had my bib & shirt & had scoped out the course map & start, I jogged an easy mile to warm up, did a little dynamic stretching, & headed to the start.

Honestly, I have very, very few complaints about this race and I certainly don't hold tiny local fundraisers to the same standard as I do large, professionally-run, for-profit affairs. Still, I would offer the organizers just a little advice about the start. First, I think it would have been good if the guy with the bullhorn giving instructions would have added something about lining up according to expected pace, because I think a lot of people who were just participating for fun and not really racing just legitimately didn't know that that's how it's typically done. Most people just pressed toward the front willy-nilly, and I knew the start had the potential to be shall we say interesting when I overheard a group of teenage girls in front of me discussing which of them were thinking about attempting to do the whole thing without walking.

Second, getting runners' attention for some sort of countdown or "Ready...Set..." action prior to the bull horn tone that served as the gun would've been nice. One second, he was giving instructions and people were hanging out chatting and then out of nowhere came the tone and I'm surprised people weren't full-on trampled in the ensuing freak out. I was pretty near the front and managed to weave my way around the run-walkers fairly quickly without tripping over anyone, so I'm certainly not suggesting that the start line antics had any effect on my race or finish time. It just could've been slightly better organized.

Inevitably it takes me the first quarter mile of a short race to settle into the right pace, but it can be worse at fun run-type events just because so many people tend to take off at a mad sprint and it's hard not to get caught up in that. I had my watch set to show me average pace for each half mile, so I just tried to keep it right around 6:50. The first half mile was definitely faster than I intended, but after that I settled in fairly quickly. As the first mile clicked off (6:47) I still felt pretty good and was thinking, "Wow, this isn't bad at all! Maybe this will be easier than I remember."

But that's the thing about having not run a 5K in so long; I'd forgotten how quickly that kind of pace starts to catch up with you. Halfway through mile 2 I started to feel how hard I was working, but was able to keep the pace and even speed up a little. By the time I hit the 2nd mile marker (6:40, though I didn't look at the time), I was starting to reach that OMG-so-ready-to-be-done place. (Guy next to me, panting: "Come on, show me a mile marker...." Me, in my head: "Right there with you, buddy.") At that point I knew I would PR, but I wanted to run an honest race all the way to end.

I didn't look at my watch in the last mile & just tried to gradually speed up when I could. As in Oakland, I kept wondering if it was too early to start pushing hard and kept concluding that no, I should play it safe & wait until I could see the finish. As soon as I spotted the track I started to push, then really gunned it for those last 300 meters on the track. I don't usually keep total time up on my Garmin, so when I hit the homestretch and saw 20:50 on the clock, I was completely shocked & sprinted as hard as I could in an effort to get in under 21:00. I think I crossed the mat somewhere around 20:56.

Cheerleaders cheering on runners as they approach the track

Finish line

When they posted the results, my official time was 20:44 (5th female overall, 2nd in my age group). I don't know for sure but I have a sneaking suspicion that the marked start line was not the actual start line. There were several different cords on the ground and it would not surprise me if one that picked up the chips was actually some number of yards ahead of the one they had us line up behind (which would also explain why my watch clocked more like 3.25ish). If they started the race clock with the gun and it took me 12 seconds to get from the starting line to the sensor, that would explain the difference.

The one other suggestion I have for the organizers is to do a little more planning around the presenting of medals. Most small races I've done don't even bother & just have a table where AG winners can pick up medals, but if you're going to do it, you should work out in advance when, where, who will hold the list, what order people will go in, whether or not there are supposed to be pictures of each group, etc. It was a bit disorderly and I'm not really sure the crowd knew what was going on (though this was in part due to the volume of the loud speaker, which to be honest was more of a quiet speaker).

Pretty medal display. Couldn't resist a shot!

I'm still reeling from this a bit. My big, hairy long-term goal has been to break 20:30 and get sub-seeded at Bay to Breakers, with an intermediate goal of 21:30. I thought if I had an AMAZING race today, I might be able to break 21:30. To have blown it so completely out of the water without even going 110% all-out has sort of boggled my mind. Don't get me wrong -- I am not saying it was easy or that I didn't have the death feeling a little towards the end, but in mile 3 I definitely went the slightly more conservative route rather than taking a risk and pushing hard all the way to the finish. Afterward I was certainly breathing hard and stumbling around a little, but it wasn't like when I ran the 22:00 in August '10 and finished light-headed and seeing spots and unable to stay upright -- now that was 110% effort.

So I'm having a little of that same whose-body-is-this-and-how-did-I-get-into-it feeling I had a couple of Fridays ago. Suddenly my long-term goal of 20:30 is squarely in the cross-hairs, something I was completely and totally unprepared for this soon. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I will certainly take it.

Overall: 37/830
Women: 5/404
Age/Gender: 2/29

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Week in Review: May 1 - 6

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. :)

M-A Big Bear Run 5K Race Week!!

2 Weeks To Windsor Green Half Marathon

Grand Total: 40.25 miles

* 32.8 easy
* 4.2 speed/intervals
* 3.25 race

Any week when I run 40+ miles is a good week. Also, any week when I run a PR is a stellar week. So let's focus on those things.

Monday: 8 easy. Nothing really remarkable to say about this run; it was fine.

Tuesday: 2 wu + 3 x 1.4 @ 10K pace + 1.8 cd = 8. 7:16, 7:14, 7:10 for the intervals (pace), which is okay but not super consistent. It really should've been four intervals & a shorter cool down but I was having some red flag sort of shin splint pain in my left leg & I am not trying to have another injury scare before a race. So three it was.

Wednesday: 8 easy. One of those easy days that isn't. My legs were still tired from Tuesday's track session, plus I'd had a long day & was just tired in general. Tired legs => poor form => complain-ey shins/ankle/feet. I was just glad to put this one in the books.

Thursday: Rest

Friday: 6 easy with hill pickups.

Saturday: 6 easy. Just an easy pre-race shakeout run.

Sunday: 1 wu + 3.25(???)ish race = 4.25. Big Bear Run 5K! Lots of fun & a great race. (Race report here.)

Fortunately, there's not much else to say about this week because I am ZONKED. Early bedtime for me tonight, I think.