Sunday, September 29, 2013

The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition, by Matt Fitzgerald

This book has been on my radar for a while, so last week I finally picked it up & gave it a read. (At 278 pages, it's a quick one, particularly since the last 86 pages are an appendix of training & nutrition plans.) If you're not familiar with Fitzgerald, he's a certified sports nutritionist who's consulted for a number of sports nutrition companies, helped several big-name elites (including Kara, Shalane, & Ryan) get their nutrition in line, & also works with average recreational runners to help them boost their performance by improving what and how they eat and drink both during training and on race day.

The thing I appreciated the most about The New Rules is that it's entirely research-based. There is nothing more frustrating to me than when people spout training advice based on anecdotal evidence, something they heard from their friend's brother's roommate who totally met Meb one time, or "facts" that "everybody knows" because we've all been repeating them back to each other on the internet since 2002. None of that here; when Fitzgerald makes a claim, he backs it up with science.

And I learned so much from it! Nutrition for running is an interesting enough topic to me that I've done a good bit of reading about it here and there, and I figured I had a fairly solid understanding of the basic tenets. And while no, there weren't tons of places where I felt like I was wildly off the mark, I was still surprised at how much useful, detailed information there was that I hadn't heard before.

For example, I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest mistakes runners make nutrition-wise is not eating enough carbs, either for fear of gaining weight or out of some misguided belief that carbs are bad, or because they just don't realize how much they need and how little they're eating. Carb starvation, says Fitz, is problematic because it tends to result in slow recovery and low energy levels, which can compromise your ability to benefit fully from your workouts.

So that's Rule #1: Know how much carbohydrate you need (the book includes instructions for calculating that - I came up with ~280g per day based on my recent training, and ~460g per day during peak marathon training), and make sure you get it.

I also love how Fitzgerald makes everything so simple and practical. He divides pretty much all food into eight categories which are, in order of quality:

    1) Vegetables (required; includes beans & non-sweet fruits like tomatoes & squash)

    2) Fruit (required)

    3) Nuts & seeds (optional)

    4) Lean meat (optional; includes seafood, meat from grass-fed/organically produced/free-range animals, & other meats under 10% fat)

    5) Whole grains (optional, but highly recommended as many endurance athletes have a hard time meeting their carbohydrate needs otherwise)

    6) Dairy (optional but still considered high-quality food in moderation; also includes non-dairy substitutes like soy or almond milk)

    7) Refined grains (low quality)

    8) Fatty Meats (low quality)

    9) Sweets (low quality)

    10) Fried foods (low quality)

Besides "get enough carbs," Fitzgerald's only other rule for runners in terms of nutrition is to eat more from food group x than the group below it, and less than the group above. Ie, if you eat say 25 servings of vegetables/beans in a given week, you should only eat 24 servings of fruit, 23 servings of nuts & seeds, 22 servings of lean meat, etc. That's it! You don't have to be perfect every day, but based on the research Fitzgerald cites, if you eat more or less from those groups in that order on average, you are probably fueling your running reasonably well without risking weight gain.

(A couple of other notes -- 1) He's impressionistic about what a "serving" is. He gives a few examples, but basically just recommends using common sense about that. 2) You can also divide things up between different groups--for example, if you have a serving of fried calamari, you can count it as half a serving of lean meat and half a serving of a fried food. 3) Alcohol can be ignored up to two drinks a day, since there is no evidence that that amount has any measurable effect on performance, but sugary cocktails should be counted as a sweet.)

Of course the trouble a lot of us have with trying to manage our nutrition in any meaningful way is tracking it in a manageable way. But Fitzgerald makes the very good point that most of us track our mileage and cross-training obsessively, so saying it's too complicated to track what we eat is kind of a lame argument. I decided to try it for a couple of weeks just to get a sense of how hard or easy it is, and I have to say that since all you're really doing is making tally marks in each of the 10 categories, it was actually completely reasonable.

What have we learned?

    1) #winning at vegetables

    2) I don't eat nuts & seeds, like ever

    3) I {heart} dairy (seriously, like half my diet consists of Greek yogurt & cottage cheese)

    4) Not that into grains (unless it's quinoa, brown rice, or the flour in the pumpkin squares I made Friday)

    5) Apparently I eat less meat than I would have thought

    6) We clearly went out to eat Friday night (mmmmm steak & tres leches....)

So it was interesting to see that I don't suck at this, but could still probably do with a little tweaking. The hardest thing is definitely estimating servings, but I didn't agonize over that too much.

Finally, let me make it really clear that the two Fitzgerald rules are not a weight-loss plan. In fact, he goes out of his way to share research on athletes who try to seriously train for an event while simultaneously losing weight, and the results are not pretty. Basically, trying to do these two things simultaneously means it's impossible to do either of them very well. The purpose of the two rules is to ensure that you adequately fuel your training, get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, and avoid unwanted weight gain.

More on The New Rules next week (or, y'know, whenever) -- I have so many other cool things to share with you!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ladies & Their Running Clothes: The Scuffle Over Skirts

I'd like to say something to the active ladies out there.

If you need to insult, mock, or make disparaging remarks about how other women dress for their run / exercise, you are doing it wrong.

I'm addressing the ladies specifically because, in my experience, men are usually not the ones engaging in this behavior. Just about everything I can remember ever hearing or reading in that vein came from women, directed at women. (Sure, we've all furtively giggled at Short Shorts Guy at one point or another, but it's the rare lady among us that's actively nasty about it.)

I won't get into the infinitely more complex world of insulting/mocking/etc. lady clothes in general. I've tried writing that post (not on this blog) over and over and over again, and I can never quite get it right. But surely we can leave each other alone when it comes to a shared hobby where we're all just trying to have fun, get strong, & feel good about ourselves?

You don't have to look far to find examples of female runners getting judgey & mean about what other female runners wear, and there is certainly no dearth of this behavior on the internet. But since I'd like to publish this post sometime before the next millennium, I'll start with just one that seems to come up over and over again, and we'll see how efficient I am about follow-up posts about others.

Case Study #1: Running Skirts

In certain circles, the running skirt has become the latest whipping boy/girl in a seemingly endless parade of running blog posts about "Things I Hate." I've lost track of the number of posts I've read complaining about this particular item of clothing and the women who run in them. They've stuck with me not because of the posts themselves (because, hey, your blog; write whatever you want), but because of the way they fit into a larger pattern of complaining about other ladies' running clothes choices in general.

The criticisms I have most often heard about running skirts include:

  • They are dumb-looking;
  • They are un-tough/wussy looking (and running is about being tough);
  • Girls wear them because they want to look cute and/or feminine while running;
  • Running is about looking/being tough and and strong, not cute and feminine;
  • They only exist in the first place because of the relatively recent influx of slow, non-tough, girly-girl runners to the sport.

I say to you: bullshit.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

First, we're all obviously entitled to our own opinions about what is and is not dumb-looking. I think a lot of trends are dumb-looking. I'm sure I wear things all the time that other people think are dumb-looking. Hell, I probably wear things sometimes that my friends think are dumb-looking. But please recognize that a) this is your personal opinion, not objective fact, and b) when you inflict that opinion on others, nothing is accomplished besides making someone feel bad and/or confirming that yes, you are indeed an asshole. That's all. No one is going to be like, "Wow, you are so right! I never realized how dumb I/they look! How observant and wise you are!" No. You get to think running skirts are dumb-looking, but please also try to be a stand-up human and keep it to yourself.

Second, although the opinion that running skirts are un-tough/wussy looking is also one you get to have if you want, it's a much less neutral, more insidious one, because it's rooted in gender stereotypes that have been doing women more harm than good for generations. It is absolutely true that traditionally female attire like skirts have historically been associated with traits like weakness, demureness, kindness, subservience, etc., because those are the traits that have historically been associated with and expected of women.

Fortunately, many people--men and women--have worked extraordinarily hard to begin undoing these associations. Many of us are gradually learning to uncouple a) a person's gender from her character traits, and b) certain character traits from traditionally gendered clothing. Women now give us ALL *KINDS* of opportunities for judging how tough they are if we insist on doing so, without resorting to their wardrobe. Ladies change tires, wrangle children, broker multi-million dollar deals, and win at boxing, sometimes in skirts, sometimes not. When you make a statement like "Running skirts are/make you look wussy/un-tough," you're aligning yourselves with a brand of sexism that says it's okay to judge a person's character based on YOUR interpretation of THEIR clothes, and also that things associated with girls/women do and should continue to symbolize weakness. If you really do insist on judging the character of someone you don't know at an endurance event, *at least* have the decency to do it based on her performance, not her clothes.

These skirt sportin' ladies all placed in their age groups.

Nicole Deboom won Ironman Wisconsin in 2004 in a hand-sewn
running skirt, then went on to found the wildly successful Skirt Sports.

Elite ultramarathoner Lisa Smith-Batchen ran 50 miles in each
of the 50 states in 62 days, rotating through 4 Nuu Muu running dresses.

Are you really saying that the fact that your garment of choice has a visible crotch
makes you tougher than these ladies? Because I kind of dare you to throw down that gauntlet...

That said, the very idea that a girl who is running should look tough (or bad ass, or hardcore, or whatever word you want to use), is somehow obligated to look tough simply because she is running, is also pretty exclusionary. Like most other hobbies, there is no one thing which running is "about" for all people or all women. Running is about all kinds of things. For some people, it's about being tough/bad ass/hardcore. Other runners really couldn't care less about being tough/bad ass/hardcore or about whether others perceive them that way. No one gets to be the judge of what running is or should be "about" for all people, any subset of people, or any one person, other than yourself.

Which segues nicely into the idea that women who wear running skirts do so because they want to look cute and feminine while running. There are two issues with this argument:

Issue 1: You don't know that. Like most other things, it's true for some women and not for others. To my knowledge no one has conducted a rigorous, peer-reviewed study on the topic, so until that happens it's impossible for us to say with any certainty whether or not this is true for many or most or all women who wear running skirts. That means that when you make this argument, you're making an assumption--even if you happened to know one or two or ten or two hundred girls who have straight up told you that this is why they wear running skirts, it's still bad logic to assume that that's the case in general.

Based just on conversations I've had with lots of different women over the years, I can give you a whole list of reasons why some women wear running skirts:

  • They don't like how they look in shorts.
  • They like the fit of compression shorts but want some extra coverage.
  • They want to look cute and/or feminine when they run.
  • They feel they perform better when more people are watching them, and skirts attract more attention.
  • They never thought of wearing a running skirt before, but then found one in a pattern they LOVED.
  • They feel self-conscious about crotch-sweat & the skirt layer makes them feel more comfortable.
  • They are very very UN-girly/feminine & enjoy subverting that stereotype by wearing a skirt.
  • They get a kick out of pissing off people who get bent out of shape about running skirts.

Issue 2: So what? Is some runner girl's desire to look a certain way while she's running personally harming you in some way? How does that work exactly? At what point did this somehow become your business? Is it because you think that running should be about toughness and bad ass-ness and somehow looking cute and feminine conflicts with that? Because that's another opinion rooted in some pretty sketchy assumptions about gender signaling and character. You might decide that you can't feel cute/feminine and tough at the same time, but there are plenty of women out there who can and do. Don't project your stuff on to them.

Finally, this idea that running skirts only exist in the first place because of the relatively recent influx of slow, non-tough, girly-girl runners to the sport.

This. This is my hands-down favorite argument against the running skirt, because it does such a nice job of wrapping all of the others up into a nice, neat little package. Implicit in this argument are the ideas that running is about toughness and performance only, that toughness and performance are in conflict with femininity, that running skirts are un-tough and wussy and purely about looking feminine.

Let me try to explain some things, as gently as I know how.

For a primer in fake nostalgia, I recommend this book. Totally explains why I'm always nostalgic for four years ago.
1) The culture of any group or affiliation, including sports and other hobbies, is constantly in flux. As much as it might feel to you that it's "always" been a certain way, that's a narrative based on personal experience, not objective reality. I dealt with this a LOT when I taught high school. Older students would complain about the new ones & talk about how "it's not like it used to be" and "those new kids just don't get it," and they'd inevitably find some trend among the younger ones to latch that complaint onto--some new band they all listened to, how they wore their pants, some pop culture reference they'd become obsessed with. What it was didn't really matter; if it hadn't been one thing, it would've been something else. I had to remind them that the kids who'd graduated a few years before had said the same thing about them, as had the ones before them.

Part of the change is just perception, but part of it (not to get too zen on you) is just the reality that everything is always changing. Before it was "those girly girls in their girly skirts," it was "those girls wearing girly colors," and before that, "those girls," period. All of us tend latch onto the things that disrupt the nice, comfortable narrative we've created for ourselves about our sport. Adults have to learn to recognize when we're doing this and not act like children about it.

2) Disparaging people who are getting involved in your thing because they don't look like you or dress like you or do it for the "right" (read: your) reasons or get the "right" (read: same as you) thing out of it is called xenophobia, and it's just plain petty. Particularly when your thing is a social sport that has such a myriad of benefits to offer just about anyone. No one is hurting you. No one is "ruining your experience." (And if they are you are letting them....Well, if you're out of your teens and still letting other people have that level of power over your experience, I just don't know what to tell you.)

We need to be careful about the assumptions we make about people based on things as superficial as clothes. Just as with a woman in shorts or tights, a woman in a running skirt may be a new runner training to finish her first 5K, or she may be a seasoned veteran gunning for a three hour marathon. She may be just learning to deal with the physical discomfort of physically challenging her body, or she may be tough as nails. Maybe she's a new runner but climbed K12 last year. You don't know, and it's not fair to make assumptions because of a piece of clothing. We also need to think hard about the reasons behind those assumptions. Sometimes if you really unpack them, they come from some pretty insidious places.

And for the love of Yasso, stop acting like you own the sport of running because you wear shorts. Geez.

Tune in next week (or next month, or next year, or whenever I finally get it together) for Part 2, where I take on stupid comments about booty shorts. (You know you can't wait!)

**Post-script:** This is still only my second time writing about something pseudo-controversial on the internet. As a refresher, the ground rules in general are 1) feel free to respectfully & thoughtfully express disagreement, and 2) don't be a dick. I won't delete a comment just because someone has a different point of view, but I will not abide ranters and pool-poopers that insist on making things tiresome for everyone. Of course you guys are the coolest, and I've never yet had to resort to that. :)

Read Part 2: The Brouhaha Over Booty Shorts.

Read Part 3: The Tizzy Over Toplessness.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Shout-Out To The Best. Sports Bra. Ever.

First: Post-injury weekly mileage record (22 miles)! Post-injury distance record (8.7 miles)! This week is awesome just because of that.

Second: Let us talk about exciting things, like the prospect of racing (actual racing! With finish mats & timing chips & everything!) for the first time in nearly five months. On 10/19 I'll be toeing the line at the inaugural Let's Go 510 10K in Berkeley, and since this is supposed to be my glorious return to racing, I've purchased a new sports bra for the occasion:

Well; sort of. I'm not generally in the habit of buying new running clothes *just* for specific races, but in the last couple of weeks, I've found myself getting down to the last of my solid, reliable sports bras with workouts yet left to go before laundry day. I'd kind of been toying with the idea of at least wearing green & yellow for 510 (green & yellow are sort of the official colors of Oakland / the East Bay), so imagine how stoked I was to find that my absolute favorite running bra in the world, which I kind of wanted to grab another of anyway, is out in a new green & yellow pattern.

What's so awesome about Moving Comfort Alexis?

  • Compression AND encapsulation (ie, actual cups) -- shit is LOCKED DOWN.
  • Higher coverage
  • Mesh panels for extra ventilation
  • Thin, adjustable shoulder straps (I find these more comfortable than the traditional racer-back design)
  • Less chafing that any other running bra I've tried
  • (Reasonably) flattering shape (translation: no uni-boob. This is advantageous because I can wear it to work for lightning-quick wardrobe changes before & after lunchtime yoga / Pilates)
  • Fairly long-lived -- my oldest Alexis is coming up on three years and not quite as supportive as it used to be (I try to wear it for karate or yoga rather than running when I can), but that's a pretty darn good lifespan for a running bra.
  • Lots of cool colors & patterns

MC Alexis in plain black, SF Pride Run, June 2011

There are only two sports bras on the planet I trust for running (the other is the Nike Pro line), and this is one of them. The green & yellow is my sixth Alexis, and although at $34-36 they are not cheap (though you can sometimes get discontinued patterns at clearance prices), I've gone through my share of "bargain" sports bras & can say with confidence that this is definitely a case of you-get-what-you-pay-for. (And really...this isn't the priciest sports bra out there. Not by a long shot.)

LEFT: Nike Pro Combat in red, Bad Bass 10K, July 2011
RIGHT: Nike Pro Combat in purple, Healdsburg Half Marathon, October 2012

(Sidenote: The Moving Comfort site describes the Alexis as made for A/B cups, but I'm a C & a size medium is *perfect* for me. Yes, there is a bit of effort involved in getting it on & off, but let's be honest--this is the hallmark of a running bra that effing does its job. If you can pull it on & off like a tight shirt, don't complain when the girls are be-bopping all over the place.)

MC Alexis in light blue, Windsor Green Half Marathon, 2012

If you're looking for something in a larger size, I have heard good things about their Juno & Fiona styles -- you can check out the whole selection here.

* * *

Grand Total: 22 miles

    * 19 easy
    * 3 speed


a.m. 8 miles spin bike, lunchtime yoga, p.m. karate/strength work. Seriously, this is two weeks in a row of not hating on the spin bike. And I am always excited to hate things less. :)


5 speed. 1 warm-up, 4 x (1200m @ 5K pace / 3:00 rest), 1 cool down. Speed work, f**** yeah!!!!


karate / strength work. I planned a.m. spin bike & lunchtime yoga, but ended up working from home due to technical difficulties, so no gym access. :/


a.m. strength work + p.m. 3.3 easy. Hanging with Coach Nate & the Triathletes [that's a band name if I ever heard one] is always deceptively challenging -- no one drill or exercise seems that hard on its own, but attempt multiple sets of a bunch of them in a short amount of time, and suddenly you're soaked with sweat & sore in places you didn't know you had muscles. Efficiency win.

Hijinks ensued on Thursday evening & even though it was only supposed to be 3 miles I came very close to ditching this run altogether & just getting up early on Saturday to do it. Then around 8pm I just said, "Eh, screw it," changed clothes, & headed out. Even though I was dutifully engaging my glutes & hamstrings, this run still felt surprisingly easy. My average pace ended up being around 8:27, which is much, MUCH more reasonable for an easy run than the low-to-sub eights I've been seeing.


I was supposed to do a tempo run on Friday but woke up soooo sore I could barely walk. I'm guessing it was a combination of an intense karate day on Wednesday night & Thursday morning's strength session. Either way, since walking was challenging enough on its own, I decided not to attempt the tempo run & just take a rest day.


5 easy. I've been using Saturdays as pre-"long"-run rest days, but since I didn't run on Friday, I got up early & ran 5 easy miles. I'd sort of toyed with the idea of attempting the 1 warm up / 4x1600m @ 7:20 / 1 cool down, but it became evident early on that although I *was* able to run, the idea of running a 7:20 mile was just laughable. Over the course of the morning, though, I loosened up, & did manage to finish my last three miles sub-8:00. (Not what I intended to do, but there you go.)


8.7 easy. I wanted to hit 22 for the week, so 8.7 through Golden Gate Park it was. This is the first time since April I've done a "long" run after a non-rest day, and I could feel it in my legs. By the time I got going at around 11am, it was bright and sunny, so although the temperature was probably only low seventies, it also felt uncomfortably warm & there was little shade to be had in the park. I was glad I opted to ditch the top & just run in sports bra & shorts (stripey purple Alexis FTW!), but still--one of my hardest runs since May, in spite of the fact that I was specifically watching my Garmin & making a concerted effort to keep my pace slower than 8:15. (I finished with an 8:10 average, soooooo....yeah. That is what it is, I guess.)

I finished this week with tired legs, so we'll see what happens with my track workout come Tuesday evening.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Speed Work, Mental Toughness, & Tim Noakes

On Tuesday, I was finally (FINALLY!) able to do a track workout with longer intervals at the prescribed pace. I've attempted 1200m repeats a couple of times in the last few weeks, but I've always had to scale it back to 400s or 640s either because of hip soreness or my posterior muscles just not being up to the distance yet at a fast pace. But today I was ready to try again. SUCCESS!!

Also, for the first time in a long time, I was able to lock in to 5K(ish) pace without constantly checking my Garmin. A neat party trick I have always been kind of pointlessly proud of is my ability to tick off interval after interval in almost exactly the same time, and after pretty much sucking at that for the last month or so, I think I can safely say I've got my mojo back:

#stupidhumantricks. But still kind of cool. :)

Lest you think this workout consisted entirely of ice cream and unicorns, let me assure you that in terms of difficulty, it still sucked big hairy ass. Which makes sense, given that it's been a long, LONG time since I was doing hard track workouts on a regular basis. But the experience reminded me of some things about running--particularly about running hard, and running fast--that I haven't had much occasion to think about recently.

People often talk about how the point of hard workouts like speed training & tempo runs is only half physical, and the other part is mental. Lung-busting intervals are important because they put you through the experience of having to push through extreme physical discomfort, something we don't encounter on easier runs. They force you to develop mental coping skills for forcing your body to continue doing something it really, REALLY doesn't want to do.

I also think there's an element of acclimatization to the discomfort that happens. In The Lore of Running, Tim Noakes talks about something called the Central Governor, whose purpose is to prevent us from unsafely exerting ourselves by making us feel like we're working absolutely as hard as we possibly can already. Basically, the brain will override your physical ability to run faster and harder before you’re able to do serious or permanent damage to yourself.

(Plug: Tim Noakes is basically a god. A brilliant, brilliant god. I think every runner should own this book for reference)

The CG theory explains why in certain circumstances people are capable of super-human feats, ie, a mom lifting a car up to save her child. When you feel like you are at the absolute edge of your physical capabilities, goes the theory, you are actually more like 60% of the way there. Your CG saves the rest for emergencies, like outrunning saber-toothed tigers & lifting woolly mammoths off of your children--ie, situations where risking severe, long-term injury (or even death) might be worth it from an evolutionary standpoint. (You can read more about the Central Governor theory here, here, or in Noakes's book.)

I don't think the existence of the CG has been empirically proven, but I've found it to be a very useful framework for thinking about tough workouts. When I first get back to hard speed sessions after a break, they feel incredibly difficult--halfway through just about every interval, I feel certain I won't make it without slowing down. As the weeks go by, though, they start to feel not quite as terrible, even as the workouts get harder. Obviously a lot of this is due to getting fitter, but I also suspect that it's a matter of the Central Governor starting to trust the conscious brain a little. It's learned that while, yes, I will push my body fairly hard through each interval, I'm actually not going to give myself a coronary. So the CG kind of says, "Yeah, yeah; we've seen this before. Not too worried about it." And each week it moves the fail-safe back juuuuust a hair.

It also explains why my last interval is always the easiest, and also often the fastest. For x minus one number of laps, the CG has been doing nothing but fretting and wringing its metaphorical hands over the possibility of my conscious mind pushing my body too far and responding accordingly by making me feel like I want to puke. But, halfway through the last interval, I can believe it stops worrying as much and lets me run that last little bit as fast as I want with a lot less discomfort than before. (This is also how Noakes explains how at mile 8 of a half-marathon you can feel like maintaining goal pace is actually going to kill you, then run the last half-mile at a pace that's a full minute faster than you've been averaging.)

Who wants to get me this shirt? I'll write a blog post about how I'm your ambassador....

So while it's not pleasant, I know that this is what I need right now -- I am way, WAY out of practice when it comes to embracing the suck and pushing through that really terrible last 20% of a race. Hopefully I'll have, y'know, *some* semblance of it by the time Let's Go 510 rolls around. (I am informed by RunCoach that that's in a little more than 31 days....)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Which I Cannot Complain

This was a great week in terms of running. I spent four out of five days working in San Francisco, though, which is awesome in terms of my commute but less than awesome in terms of nutrition & cross training.

My gym is near my office, so most of the time I get in my strength work / cycling / yoga / Pilates before or after work or at lunch, and just following my normal routine usually means that I have to plan out everything I'm going to eat ahead of time, which makes eating well pretty darn easy.

When I'm working in San Francisco it's a little harder to do that for a lot of reasons. This means that my strength work this week was limited to what I did at karate, and on Friday I ate nothing but hummus, brown butter-bourbon cookie dough, and a 12 ounce filet mignon at Boboquivaris.

Also half a bottle of Syrah.

And a croque-monsieur from Tartine on Saturday.

I love this city.

We got up around 11 on Sunday to try to catch some America's Cup action down on the Embarcadero. I don't understand all the finer points of yacht racing but I am given to understand that Fly Emirates Team New Zealand is ahead by like 5 races or something, and Larry Ellison Oracle Team USA had only won one race (and was also two races in the hole already because of cheating or something). We managed to catch the 1:15 race, which the Americans won by a lot, so that was neat to see.

Winning! Actually this was the victory lap.

Unfortunately they lost the 2:15 race, also by a lot.

Is the whole thing kind of a giant, disgusting pissing contest between people who are so filthy stinking rich they have nothing better to do with their money? Yes. But, having walked through the exhibits on the boats and learned something about how they work, I have to say that I find all the physics & engineering behind it absolutely fascinating, so watching the races can be really interesting from that standpoint.

Afterwards I set out through Golden Gate Park on my "long" run for the week. My goal was to get in eight miles with good form and no pain in my hip.


It was not too shabby. Slightly faster than ideal, since realistically this is on the low side of what I'm shooting for in terms of marathon race pace; I'm still having a lot of trouble right now running my easy runs at an appropriate pace while keeping good form & keeping my glutes & hamstrings engaged. On the other hand, no hip pain. In that respect I am feeling 99.5% recovered.

So really; I can't complain too much.

* * *

Grand Total: 20 miles

    * 18 easy
    * 2 speed


a.m. 8 miles spin + p.m. karate. Spinning is getting psychologically easier for me. At first, it was worse than the treadmill, even with an audiobook, & I found myself fighting off the urge to spork myself in the eye every half mile or so. But this last Monday, for some reason, I was like "Oh, done already? Cool."


4 miles speed. 1 warm up, 3x(300m fast/100m jog), 400m jog, 3x(300m fast/100m jog), 1 cool down. This is the part where I obnoxiously complain about how my intervals were too fast (#woeisblogger). Instead of 6:11 pace they were closer to 5:45 pace, because who can sprint a 300m while also looking at hir watch and adjusting pace. With anything shorter than 800m's I find it easier to just go by effort, and when the difference between a 300m at 5:45/mile and a 300m at 6:11/mile is all of 5 seconds, you can't convince me the difference is all that meaningful.

I also got brave & wore my Universes for the 400m jog & the second set of 300ms. Have I mentioned lately how much I love running in these shoes? Switching from my Kinvaras into the Universes is a lot like what I imagine it must feel like to go from driving a perfectly serviceable station wagon to zooming around in a Ferrari. VROOM VROOM!

Mizuno Wave Universe. 3.2 ounces, 2mm drop, zero stability, extremely waddable.


Strength + Karate.


4 easy. This was the hardest run of the week. GOD, I did not want to. But I did. And it sucked. But at least it was over fairly quickly. I think I'm getting sick of my usual route (even after a two-month break from it) & that actually makes a 4-6 mile run feel longer & harder than it actually is.


4 easy. I didn't want to do this one either. I tricked myself into it by lying & saying I was only going to run 2 miles & then I would run 2 or 3 on Saturday. Then I was like, "Eh, what's one more mile out?" And, "Well, I guess we have no choice but to run the one mile back home."

I would say that at least 75% of what I've achieved in my life athletically has been accomplished by lying to myself. Never underestimate the value of lying.


Rest / be lazy. Officially I was assigned 3 easy miles on Saturday, but I wanted to keep my total for the week at 20 & wanted to be sure I was fresh & rested for my longer run on Sunday.


8 miles easy.

So. 22 next week. I've been modifying my "official" schedule each week by making Saturday a rest day & cutting the Sunday long run down to whatever I'm feeling up to. At this point, part of me feels like 8 is a big enough number that I could probably start jumping the Sunday runs up by 2 miles at a time; the other part feels like I should maybe hang out in the 8-9 range for a few weeks & up the mid-week runs a little. We'll see.

Monday, September 9, 2013

That Time I Could Barely Run But Signed Up For A Marathon Anyway.....

Yes, I know. In the age of ultras and trail races and Ragnars and Ironmans and Half-Ironmans and those races where people shoot paint at you, this news does not particularly rate. The lowly road marathon, once King among Horrible Ordeals People Put Themselves Through Voluntarily, is now a mule in a land of unicorns and dragons and whatever this is. I get it.

BUT. It's kind of a big deal to me because it's the first time I've ever signed up for a marathon with some level of trepidation. Even before I signed up for my first one, I already had multiple twenty milers under my belt. I wasn't worried about the distance or finishing or the training. So this is really the first time I've signed up for a race at a moment when I was physically unable to run that distance or anything even close to it, which feels a bit....unsettling.

I just keep reminding myself that it's nearly six months away. That helps a little.

So why Napa?

  • The date (Mar. 2) falls nearly two months before we leave for London & Italy (Apr. 29), so if something terrible happens to me, I hopefully won't be totally disabled by the time I get on a plane.
  • It doesn't involve a plane trip or soul-crushingly long drive.
  • It's in a location where I have a good chance of convincing my wine-loving boyfriend to come along & be my pit crew.
  • Odds are good I'll have some other friends there as well, either because they are running or I have pressganged them into spectating.
  • It's a relatively small race (bigger than M2B, but smaller than CIM).
  • The course is rolling but still net downhill (a net 300 ft drop over 26 miles, as compared to 360 ft for CIM & ~700 ft for M2B).
  • They let you prep your own bottles ahead of time & put them out at whatever aid stations you want. (This is a pretty big draw in my opinion, though I'll admit I'm nervous about the logistics of locating & grabbing my bottle amidst all the others. I suppose you can always just grab a random one & hope there's nothing gross in it.)

As always, there are a few cons.

  • A bit overpriced. Like everything else in Napa. ($250 for a night at the Best Western. I am not kidding.)

Truer words, my friends.

  • I had to get a hotel room. In Calistoga. (See above.)
  • The course is on Silverado Trail. It's billed on the site as providing "world-class scenery," but I've spent enough time running and driving around on it to know better. For the most part it's just a rolling, wooded, badly-cambered-in-places country road. I'm not saying I'd kick it out of bed, but really, a vineyard is a vineyard, and once you've seen three or four, you've pretty much seen them all.
  • I am *slightly* concerned about the weather, just because Napa has the potential to be WICKED hot, even early in March, even early in the day. (Of course that's the case in lots of places, so I'm trying not to dwell on it too much.)
  • I'm a little concerned about my ability to train solidly through the holidays. In the past, the advantage of running CIM was that it's three weeks before Christmas and taper basically falls around Thanksgiving. I think it's doable -- I'll just need to do a bit of planning and expectation-managing in advance.
  • March 2 is a little earlier than I wanted. I was hoping to find a race I could get excited about towards the end of March / early April, but most of my top pics were late April or May. On the other hand, having Napa early means that if it's looking like I want another few weeks, I can probably get a Mar. 23 Modesto bib (or possibly Oakland) for not too too much.

Q: What Am I Doing For The Next Six Months?

A: Getting my ass ready to run a fast marathon. And I do mean my literal ass. There is so, so much work to be done. Right now, that work looks like an October 10K (Brazen 510 10K), a November half (Berkeley Half Marathon), & a February half (Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon). I'm excited about the two East Bay races because they're inaugural events, and about KP because I love that race & haven't run it in years.

Here & now, I would settle for not having another week like this past one. I didn't sleep almost at all Monday night, and thought I got up & made it to the gym for some strength work Tuesday morning, I felt absolutely terrible at work all day & knew what I really needed to do was go home & get a nap. For the most part I've defeated the "Ugh, I'm too tiiiiired to ruuuuun..." monster, but that is a totally different thing from legitimately worrying that you might fall asleep on the freeway.

On Wednesday I got my strength work and karate in, did strength work plus an easy five miles on Thursday, and another easy five on Friday afternoon. I actually would have liked to have gotten in a short run on Saturday, but since we spent the morning and and early afternoon at a wedding & late afternoon / evening at the Stanford-San Jose game (34-13 bitches!!), I just didn't have time (plus I'm trying to be disciplined about using Saturdays as rest days so that I'm fresh for my longer Sunday runs).

My dojo cleans up pretty good.

On Sunday I had plans to run eight miles, but about an hour after I got up my hip flexor started to hurt for the first time in over a month. I gave it a few hours of errands & housework & hoped it would settle down but it never did, so I opted not to tempt fate by trying to run on it. Thankfully, as of Monday it's feeling normal again; I have a feeling that six hours of standing / walking / going up & down stairs in heels plus another good bit of walking before & after the football game just wigged out the muscles a bit.

So 10 miles for the week it is. Which is fine really; things have been going pretty well, and a cut-back week every few weeks never hurt anyone. If I can get in 20 this week including an 8 miler on Sunday with no drama, I'll be right on track.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In The Gym: Pushups

Lately I have gotten several questions about strength work (what I do, how much, when, why, etc.) so I thought I would do a few posts on some of that. Strength work is something I've usually done to some extent or another since I was like, I don't know, ten or something, as part of whatever organized sport(s) I was participating in at the time, though I've definitely gone through phases of being more and less organized about it, more and less consistent, and more and less purposeful depending on lots of different things. Over the last few months in particular, all the treatment and rehab for my sartorius injury that I've been through has helped me learn to be intentional & directed about it in ways that will hopefully keep me from re-injuring it.

Before we get to the fun stuff, a few of the usual caveats:

  • I'm not a doctor, PT, coach, trainer, or any other kind of fanciness -- I am not pretending I'm an expert here. (Although most of what I know has come from working with doctors, PTs, coaches, and trainers who have a background in working with runners and endurance athletes and whose judgment I've come to trust. I'm not, like, cutting & pasting bullshit off of or anything.)
  • Obviously most of it has come about through conversations about my specific injuries and struggles. I think most of them are pretty common ones so they're probably applicable for a lot of people, but how useful or appropriate it is for you obviously depends on your own stuff.
  • I don't think there's anything perfect or magical about the details of how much I do or when. For the most part I fit it into my life where I can and assume that's better than, y'know, not fitting it in.
  • There are some things where I think it is not the world's worst idea to get some professional instruction.

Cool? Cool.

Today, we are talking about PUSHUPS!!

Pushups are hawt.

I think pushups don't get the respect from runners that they deserve because we tend to think of them as primarily an upper body exercise. AU CONTRAIRE, MON AMI!

Although they're fantastic for your upper body, properly executed pushups (and proper execution is key) are one of the most effective core exercises runners can do. Deceptively, the most important pushup muscles are abs and glutes, and if those muscles are doing what they're supposed to, the upper body part becomes surprisingly easy. The sticky point is that many recreational runners have weak abs or glutes, or have some issue with getting the muscles to fire correctly. So, they either a) avoid them or b) do lots and lots of shitty pushups & the abs & glutes don't get any stronger.

Reading about the importance of pushups for runners is actually how I initially found Coach Nate. Earlier this year I stumbled onto a pair of great articles he wrote about the importance of pushups for running, the connection between good pushup form & good running form, & tips on how to begin working pushups into your strength routine:

"Better Pushups For Better Running"

"Pushups tell us a lot about how we run. It’s important to have good posture when performing the pushup in order for the shoulders to be strong and stable. A “soft” butt and belly destabilizes the pelvis, the low back arches, and our shoulders become unstable....Runners who perform “soft” pushups with overextended posture [arched lower back] also tend to run soft and overextended. This disconnection contributes to a whole host of problems, including low back pain, IT band pain, collapsed arches and a clipped running stride. Performing a better pushup addresses these issues."

"Strength Tests For Runners: Where Do You Fit?"

"Beginner runners who struggle to do less than five pushups tend to lack the postural strength to run with the upright posture and quiet upper body needed over even short distances. Instead, these weaker runners over-rotate in the upper and lower body, and arch or round in the low back. These runners simply lack the core strength and shoulder stability to run upright....Runners who lack this positional strength also tend to see the most hip, knee, ankle and foot strike problems....For more advanced runners, we expect 10-15 pushups with a 25-pound plate (for women) or a 45-pound plate (for men) on their back."

(15 pushups with the 25 pound plate is my "green light" for being strong enough to safely marathon train again; at this point I can do maybe 3 of those, soooo....yeah. There's some work left to do.)

For a detailed discussion of proper form & execution, I (again) refer you to Kelly Starrett's amazing work, Becoming A Supple Leopard, but here's the tl;dr version:

  • At the top and bottom of the pushup, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor. (For most people this seems to mean moving their hands backward from where they're used to.)
  • Arms should stay in close to your sides the whole time (except at the very top of the plank, obviously). You don't run with your elbows out to the side like wings, so doing pushups that way is counterproductive. (For many people this means your hands may need to be closer together than you're used to. Which makes them harder.)
  • Create a strong, stable shoulder by spreading your fingers out & "screwing your hands to the floor" (outward).
  • Squeeze the abs & butt as tightly as you possibly can. (This is probably the most crucial piece, so really be sure to stay aware of what those muscles are doing.) I've found that the number of good pushups I can do in a row seems much, much more strongly tied to how long I can keep my abs & butt squeezed than it does to arm strength.
  • Straight back, both lower and upper. Watch for sagging in the lower back & rounding of the upper back / shoulders. (It's helpful to start off doing these with feedback, either from someone watching or near a mirror, since for most of us there is often a gap between what we *think* our bodies are doing vs what they are *actually* doing.)
  • Look straight ahead, not at the floor. Looking at the floor tends to cause people to round their upper backs.
  • Chest all the way to the floor or it doesn't count.

If you can't do a pushup properly yet, resist the temptation to do them on your knees -- knee push ups do not use your core and can actually be bad for your back and elbows. Instead, try one of two things:

1) Place your hands on a raised surface like a box, chair/table, or wall and continue to work squeezing the abs & butt:

As you get stronger, you can gradually lower the surface where your hands are until you are ready to start mixing in a few at floor level. (Likewise, you can make them harder by elevating your feet. See handstand pushups. Yes, that's a thing. :) )

2) Start in the proper plank position & lower your chest to the ground in the normal way, & then sort of "cobra" back up into the plank:

Try not to get too frustrated if you find that once you've got the right form, you can't do very many. When I first started working with Nate I think I could do maybe 8 really good ones at a time, and now I'm up to sets of 12. (Without the plate, of course.)

Of course he does. BUT NOT YOU! You know how to scale them [make them
accessible relative to your ability level] appropriately, because you are a rock star.

If you can only do a few, try making an interval workout of it -- do a few, take a 30 second break (or do some other exercise), do another set, etc. Just as with running, it will let you get in a decent number of total reps while also gradually making you strong enough for longer sets.

I try to do some pushups every day, but most of the time I succeed in doing them maybe five days a week -- maybe 2-3 sets at karate on Monday and Wednesday, usually 4 sets at the gym on Tuesday, Thursday, and/or Friday, and whenever else I happen to think about it. I have a friend who consistently does 100 every day (spread out in sets of 5 or 10), and while she IS still amazing and baddass, this is actually a lot more doable and less insane than it sounds. That said, it's not something I personally feel the need to do; I figure if I try to do several sets on most days and gradually increase the number I can do in one set, I'll keep making progress and sooner or later that 25 pound plate will be my bitch.

Do some pushups, runners!!!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Two-Month Mark

After my amazing-slash-disastrous marathon on May 26, I spent the month of June in physical therapy, and was finally able to run again on Monday, July 1. On that day I ran .6 slow, awkward miles around Kezar Track, and could not have been more thrilled to finish those two laps without any pain in my hip. Sure, it was a humbling experience in some ways, but on the other hand, it meant I was able to run again (!), in some amount that was greater than zero.

Now that I've got two months of solid, post-injury running under my belt, I feel like it's time for a bit of reflecting.

In the first three weeks of July not shown here, I ran 2.6, 2, and 9 miles respectively, mostly in half-to-one mile chunks.

(This seems like a good place to insert my yearly plug for, which is my free web tool of choice for tracking my miles. I switched over to it after a brief stint on TrainingPeaks, which I found just a bit too overwhelming. You can track as many different activities as you want, color code them all, and have the option of using any number of a *HUGE* list of data fields like time of day, workout time / pace, route, type of run/ride/whatever, intervals & recoveries, weather, temperature weight, heart rate, etc. etc., or none at all. There is a summary view as well as a calendar view showing all your different activities, miles, & time for the past month or so, and forums / community options if you're interested in that. Also, it's FREE.)

While those weekly numbers are not enormous ones yet, I have lots of good things to say about the last two months:

  • With two exceptions, I've increased my mileage every week, and better yet, always by a very reasonable amount.
  • I've been very gradually increasing the distance on my Sunday run (traditionally my long run day), and haven't had any pain.
  • I've been able to start incorporating some shorter speed & tempo runs, & playing it by ear in terms of how my hip feels has been working out pretty well.
  • I've recommitted to strength work -- real, intentional, structured strength work -- in ways that have helped me get back to running with better form and protect my still-fragile sartorius muscle. Dealing with the injury has also forced me to re-focus on some long-term strength & balance issues that I fully believe can only make me faster and less prone to injury in the long term.
  • I've learned a LOT about mobility work as distinct from stretching, & how it interacts with that & strength work to influence both speed and susceptibility to injury.
  • I've embraced the value of cardio cross-training both in terms of retaining some semblance of fitness while sidelined as well as something that has a lot of potential benefits in general.

The most un-fun lessons I've learned from this whole ordeal have to do with my ability, both pyschologically and physically, to endure a sucky injury situation. I've had setbacks due to running injuries before, but this has been by far the worst in terms of the severity of the injury, how long it kept me from running, and how carefully and gradually I've had to come back from it. Secretly a part of me has always worried that if I was ever hurt long enough that I couldn't properly train for more than a few weeks that I'd lose all of my fitness, gain 20 pounds, & find myself huffing & puffing up the stairs at work, and that it would take months and months to get back to any semblance of the shape I was in before as a runner. And yes, all of those things happened to some small degree, but not in any extreme or irreparable way. Just as you can't become a strong, skilled, kick-ass runner in three months, it turns out you can't completely lose all those things in three months, either.

I also worried that I would have to deal with some mental & emotional setbacks as a result as well. In part I rely on running and racing to manage anxiety and OCD feelings, so not being able to do that creates a very real problem. While it was admittedly tough at times, I found that throwing myself into cross training as well as other non-active hobbies went a long way toward dealing with those issues. It also helped to let myself occasionally submit to pointless impulses like perusing and buying running gear, stalking races I was many, many months from being able to run, and creating absurdly detailed spreadsheets for cross-training and my eventual return to running. (Don't judge. You cope your way; I'll cope mine.)

Where Am I Now?

  • I can run again, for real. Today I ran seven miles, using my posterior chain not perfectly but pretty darn effectively if I do say so myself. At this point the distance I can run is limited more by the endurance of my glutes & hamstrings in terms of maintaining good form than it is by my cardiovascular fitness. Basically I've learned that if my glutes, inner hamstrings, & lower abs feel like I'm wearing Bike Shorts of Steel, I'm probably engaging them enough to run well.

    Hell yeah.

  • I do still have some speed. Not the speed I had when I PR'd both the 5K and 10K last summer; not even the speed I had in April while I was marathon training. But a respectable amount. I can do small sets of 200m & 400m repeats with no problem. I still have a long way to go before I'm ready to try to PR at shorter distances again, and that's perfectly fine.

  • My legs have gotten weak. Even running just 15-20 miles a week, they get tired and stiff and sore the same way they do during peak marathon training. I am usually a five-days-a-week runner, but I've been finding that after running two days in a row on Thursday and Friday, I do better to take an extra rest day on Saturday so that my legs are fresher for a longer effort on Sunday. Because my runs are so short right now anyway, I'll probably stick to that until my legs have had more time to re-acclimate to all the pavement pounding.

  • I am really, *really* excited to race again. In a perfect world, I would just love to PR at the Brazen 10K in October, but realistically there's just no reason to expect that will happen, mainly because I know what kind of training it takes for me to get into 10K PR shape and I don't have a) the base for it or b) enough time for it between now and the race. I'm trying to keep my expectations reasonable -- run fast, finish strong, don't tweak anything. If I'm under 50 minutes, that's more than fine. Under 47:30, I'll be thrilled. Under 45:00 & I'll throw a party. :)

* * *

Grand Total: 19 miles

    * 14.6 easy
    * 4.4 speed


a.m. strength work + p.m. karate


This is after 48 consecutive hours in the charger. Not even kidding.
2 easy / 2 speed work. I am taking the speed stuff really, really easy since that's the thing that's more likely than anything else to tweak my hip. My schedule called for 1.5 warm up, 12x(200m in ~0:45 / 200m jog), 1.5 cool down, so I decided to try to keep the spirit of the workout but trim off some mileage (so 1 mi warm-up, 8x200m, 1 mi cool-down).

In spite of sitting in the charger for two days, my Garmin greeted me with a low battery warning as soon as I took it out of the cradle Tuesday afternoon. From experience, I knew that generally meant it had about 10 good minutes left, so I plugged it back in & resigned myself to an effort-based track session.

Normally track sessions are the one workout where I really just can't do without GPS if I want to have any sense of what I'm doing, particularly if it's something involving different lengths of intervals or paces too close together to distinguish by effort. But given the simplicity of this workout & the fact that I'm really just trying to get back into doing some fast running in some amount, I figured I could probably just be impressionistic about it & everything would be fine.

The other nice thing about Tuesday was that I was working at home for the day, which meant I was able to get out to the track an hour earlier than usual, which meant it wasn't too crowded. No one else appeared to be doing fast intervals, so after four laps of warm-up I didn't feel bad about doing my 200m's in lane 1 (meaning they were probably *actually* pretty close to 200m). I didn't worry about pace all that much & just tried to run them just fast enough to feel hard but not so fast that I couldn't recover with the 200m jog. It was still hard, and I was glad when they were over, but it's also kind of remarkable how quickly two miles goes by when you're alternating 200m hard / 200m easy. I'd recommend this as an intro-level track workout to anyone. As we've seen, you don't even need a watch. :)


Strength work only. Boy, my Wednesdays have been utter fails as of late. No karate that night (since karate is 7-9 in Berkeley & the bridge closed at 8), but instead of doing something else active I came home & crashed & basically just continued to be a non-functional person for the rest of the night.


a.m. strength work + p.m. 3 easy. Thursday's run was an exercise in frustration. My Garmin was still refusing to hold a charge, and I was still completely sick of my usual route, so I got this warm fuzzy idea to stop at Sawyer Camp Trail Head in Belmont on my way home from work, just off of 280, where I used to run almost every day when I lived in Belmont back in the mid 'aughts, but part way to the trail head I ran into a "Do No Enter" traffic sign. Apparently there was construction or something going on.

Instead, I drove home to SF & stopped by the REI to get my new Garmin (woo!). I thought that once I got home I'd just do a few laps around our neighborhood to get the three done; I just didn't have a great reference for the distance.

The following things happened when I got home:

  • My old Garmin continued to not hold a charge.
  • My new Garmin had zero charge right out of the package (predictable, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try).
  • Our shitty, shitty internet refused to load Google Maps or any other web page.

At this point I was determined to run, if out of nothing more than spite. (And I speak from experience -- you'd be surprised just how much you can accomplish on spite alone.) I loaded up the MapMyRun app on my phone, which is annoying to stop & start at traffic lights but is totally functional for tracking distance, & set out.

This. Run. SUUUuuuUUUUuuuCKED. But, in less than half an hour, it was also done.


2.6 easy / 2.4 speed (1.2 warm-up, 6 x (.4 @ ~7:05), 1.4 warm-up). Arrrrrgh this sucked as well, for so many reasons.

  • I was supposed to do 3 mile repeats at half marathon pace, which I can do just out in the neighborhood, but I still prefer the track. Unfortunately there was a soccer game going on & I was relegated to the concrete upper track, with which I have a long and storied history.
  • My new Garmin could not get a satellite signal to save its life. Seriously. I left it on for over an hour. There was no signal to be had. #pissed (Fortunately, I know from experience that the upper track is just about exactly .4 miles, and I could still use the Garmin as a stopwatch. A $170 stopwatch.)
  • Like I've said before, my sense of pace is still pretty broken, and I just could not lock into half marathon pace, and with no functional Garmin, I couldn't adjust as I went. This meant I ended up running closer to 10K pace or faster.
  • My glutes were so, so tired. I could not run a fast mile. Could not. Yes, partly this was because I was running too fast, but I'm not sure I could've run mile repeats that day anyway. Instead I decided to just keep things simple & do laps on the upper track. Six seemed like a nice, round number & would keep me in the 5 mile neighborhood for the day.

BUT. I didn't quit. I damn well stayed up there until the five miles were done. Mental toughness, & all that.




7 easy.

Next week looks like the first one where I might *actually* be able to do all the runs that are on the schedule, as written (though I'll probably still take a rest day Saturday & add a couple of miles to the easy runs earlier in the week). That would be super sweet.