Monday, September 29, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Nightmares & Some (very very preliminary) Race Talk

First things first: We all know that the best thing about Runner's World is Remy's World.

I mean seriously. If you still had any doubt that things have gone too far....


And of course, I assume you are all familiar with the popular urban legend:

I kid, I kid.

(No but it is liquid diabeetus, tho.)

On the other hand, I will brook no hatred toward my pumpkin beer.

Nothing like a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale after a fall long run.

There's a real art to pumpkin beer. I do not want a beer that tastes like drinking pumpkin pie. (Unfortunately, I get the sense that this is the type of thing a lot of pumpkin beer haters have tasted.) What I want in a pumpkin beer is something dark and rich that hints at cinnamon, nutmeg, & cloves, with just a kiss of pumpkin. (I almost want to just smell it, rather than taste it.) A pumpkin beer done well is a beautiful thing. A pumpkin beer done poorly makes one want to hurl.


After declaring my Month of (Relative) Sloth at an end, I did some chatting with Coach Tom & another of the RunCoach staff, Coach Ashley, about setting goals for the next year & getting back on a real schedule. I told them about wanting to do nothing but super easy base training for a couple of months, then adding in one marathon pace run per week for a couple of months after that, and about feeling unsure whether I want to use my deferred Napa Valley Marathon entry (Mar. 1) since I don't feel like that's enough time to solidly base train AND fit in a marathon training cycle.

Their take was that devoting some time specifically to base training & nothing else was a good idea, but that waiting four months to add back speed/interval work was probably overkill. So I imagine it will probably end up closer to six weeks & six weeks instead, & I'll start adding some speed work in mid-December. They also thought I should go ahead and race Napa rather than doing it as an easy run, but as more of a fitness check than a goal race. They agreed that five months isn't long enough to be at my best (which is fine because it's not a GREAT course anyway), but it's long enough to make some significant progress, & running a full around that time just to see where I am isn't a bad idea. (Again, always assuming my right leg doesn't sabotage me between now & then.)

The two other races I'm thinking about right now for 2015 are the Newport Marathon on May 30 (Oregon) & Santa Rosa again on Aug. 23. I'm not sure right now whether I'd want to run one or both or which it would make the most sense to target as my "A" race; most likely it would depend on how the next few months go and what happens with NVM. The nice thing, though, is that both of them are great courses, small, pretty cheap as far as marathons go, and unlikely to sell out early, which means I can take my time deciding what I want to do.

If things go well for the rest of 2014, I'm also thinking of potentially running a half sometime in December, the most likely candidate being Walnut Creek on 12/13. Obviously I won't be in shape to race a half or shoot for a PR, but training for too long without a race gets boring, and doing a half about halfway between now and NVM could be a good way to see what kind of shape I'm in & how I'm progressing. I could race it as a half (knowing I won't be in top shape for it) just to see how I do; another option would be to run it at 8:00 pace (the marathon pace I'm shooting for long-term) & see how that feels; a third would be to run it at marathon effort level & see how that shakes out pace-wise. Options are many.

WEEK OF 9/22-9/29

    * 25 miles, all easy
    * 4 x 45:00 strength workouts, plus a smattering of random push-ups/crunches/clamshells/etc. here & there

The thing about the low-heart rate stuff is that, although it's only 25 miles, it's closer to the amount of time I'd usually spend running 30 miles. Ie, although my easy weekday runs have mostly been 6 milers, that's actually slightly over an hour of running now, which is about the same thing I'd be doing on my maintenance days in the middle of marathon training when I'm doing mostly 8 milers (though I'm taking more rest days right now).

Similarly, I'd been planning to run another 8 on Sunday just like the previous week, since time-wise it would actually be more like 10, which would be the longest period of time I've run since Santa Rosa. But that was before my plan from Tom & Ashley was in place, and that called for ten (which, time wise, would feel more like twelve). It was fine except for that same pain in my right foot that I've been having on and off all summer (and which I am just sure is related to the hip/upper right leg thing).

Monday: a.m. strength work / p.m. karate

Tuesday: a.m. strength work / p.m. 3 miles with 4 x 0:30 hill sprints

    This was the day I was supposed to go to RunSafe, so my original plan was to get a few miles in after work, knowing that I'd be doing more running there. Unfortunately there was apparently a scheduling mix-up, and they had to reschedule me for Oct. 6. At that point I was cooled down, showered, & changed, & just really didn't feel much like going back out for more miles.

    Also, let me just say that if you really do go all-out, thirty seconds sprinting up a hill is maybe more of a workout than you'd think. Four of them were plenty.

Wednesday: afternoon 6 easy / p.m. karate

Thursday: a.m. strength work

Friday: a.m. strength work / p.m. 6 easy

Saturday Rest

Our friends had a fancy black tie wedding on Saturday, so we had fun dressing up.

That one's mine ;)

I suppose I cleaned up okay as well.

Sunday: 10 long

Hope you're enjoying all your favorite things about fall, even if that thing is hating on fall. :)

Friday, September 26, 2014

heart rate stuff + all ur base training are belong to us

All my life, I've been fascinated with understanding how things work. I've also been an athlete in some form or another for almost as long as I can remember, so it's probably not surprising that I have a long-running fascination with what exactly is going on in your body to make you faster/stronger/more coordinated/etc. & thus better at your sport of choice.

Running track and cross country in middle school & high school, my understanding was pretty basic (running tears down your leg muscles, which makes them grow back stronger; breathing hard tells your body you need to transport oxygen faster, so it makes more red blood cells; something something mitochondria), which satisfied me for a while. When I started participating in long-distance road races as an adult and actively trying to improve my times, though, I wanted to know more.

And WOW, what a Pandora's Box that turned out to be. As someone who never took chemistry beyond AP or biology beyond the 9th grade, I very quickly found myself out of my depth and needing to fill in some pretty serious gaps in terms of understanding the finer points of metabolism and respiration. But I still found it fascinating, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to dive even deeper.

One of my biggest "a-hah" moments was learning about the body's different pathways for fueling activity and their connection to heart rate and perceived exertion.

(Super-Quick Overview You Can Skip If This Is Not News to You--

Every cell in your body runs on a chemical called ATP, which is created by your mitochondria out of fat, glucose (blood sugar), protein, & oxygen. When your cells need energy, they can get it via a few different pathways:

  • Pathway 1: Stored ATP / creatine phosphate. We have ~2-3 seconds worth of ATP ready-to-go; after that we can very quickly turn creatine phosphate into ATP, which gets us maybe ~6-8 more seconds. This is an anaerobic pathway (ie, no oxygen required) & the system you'd use to, say, run a 100m sprint.

  • Pathway 2: Aerobic metabolism. ATP created from some combination of fat & glucose (an aerobic pathway since burning fat requires oxygen). Preferred by the body because we have basically unlimited fat stores, but slow because it's limited by how quickly your body can get oxygen from your lungs to your muscles & clear out the CO2 (respiration). Used for low-to-moderate effort activities like sleeping, chilling, walking, and--surprise!--90-99% of your distance running.

  • Pathway 3: Anaerobic glycolysis. Glycogen (stored carbs) => glucose => ATP, with lactate as a byproduct cleared out of the bloodstream by the liver. Much faster than burning fat because no oxygen is required. At aerobic effort levels, lactate is easily cleared by the liver, but harder effort => more anaerobic glycolysis => more lactate. Eventually there's a tipping point where there is more lactate than the liver can keep up with (lactate threshold or LT). At that point you're in the anaerobic zone, & if you stay at that effort level, you'll eventually reach a point where burning muscles, labored breathing, etc., will force you to slow down.

LT is usually given as a percentage of max heart rate. There are field protocols for estimating it, but to know it exactly requires lab testing. Very fit endurance athletes have a high LT, because they can stay in the aerobic zone (ie, not relying too much on glycolysis & also clearing lactate effectively) at quite high heart rates; less fit people have a low LT, meaning their heart rate can't get very high before they're in the anaerobic zone.)

Of course I know that one of the most common Sins of the Recreational Distance Runner is doing easy runs too fast (ie, even if you're not technically running in the anaerobic zone, running hard enough that you're letting glycolysis do too much of the work & letting the aerobic/fat-burning system coast). While I don't think I've been super egregious about this, I know I've been guilty of some of it in the last couple of years & let those aerobic systems atrophy somewhat. And it just kind of seems like a waste to train for another marathon without investing some serious time in fixing that first.



I feel you, Captain; I made that exact face at first.

I don't know yet when my next marathon will be, but I'm in no rush; I might as well take the time to finally do it right. So for the next couple of months at least, I'm planning to do nothing but sloooooooow, easy, low heart rate runs and maybe two days a week of a few super short (ie, ~30 seconds) hill or bike sprints (more on that later).

I've also decided to go back to wearing a heart rate monitor every run, for a couple of reasons.

First, I suck at running slow and am really really good at talking myself into believing that "This pace is *totally* super easy, NO REALLY." Numbers (mostly) don't lie, so having them right in front of me should force me to be more disciplined about *actually* taking it easy.

Second, having a record of the numbers makes it easier to see improvement. Back in 2011 I ran with a monitor almost all the time, and over a long enough time period, you can actually see your aerobic fitness improving in the numbers, which is pretty cool.

18 weeks of HRM data from easy runs in 2011. Shit works.

But what's that you say? Heart rate monitors suck, you say? What ofthe unsightly blood & mangled skin in the chest area, you say?

I'm glad you asked, because that brings us to point three. I've finally jumped on the Mio bandwagon thanks to Jen & Kimra, which, believe me, is the only way I could talk myself into wearing a monitor every day.

(I am not kidding that I have what I'm pretty sure are permanent scars on my chest from the days when I wore the chest strap every day. Ick.)

I'd actually intended to use my heart rate monitor this whole past summer, which is why I got the Garmin soft strap back in May. Alas, just a few runs were enough to remind me why I gave that shit up the first time and question whether there is a strap in the world soft enough to make any noticeable difference.

That time in 2011 when the chafing was so bad
I was augmenting band-aids with duct tape. Screw that.

I've only been using the Mio for a couple of weeks, so I'll try to post a review sometime in October; so far, things are promising.

Now. Before I say anything else about heart rate training: I have educated myself enough to know that there's approximately a metric tonne of bullshit out there about heart rates and heart rate zones and how they relate to exercise & endurance training. Gird your loins should you start googling about it. Plenty of ink has been already spilled on this topic, so I will not rehash all that here except to say:

  • I'm not a doctor, but I have a heart condition so I have had a lot of conversations with heart doctors about heart rates and exercise.
  • I've had my max heart rate & tons of other heart-related stuff tested, multiple times, in a lab, by actual scientists & doctors, so I'm not guessing about my own numbers.
  • If you don't know your max heart rate, it's difficult to do any meaningful sort of heart rate training.
  • Your max heart rate is not 220 minus your age. If I only I could cast this abomination of a statement into the Fiery Volcano of Hateful, Propagated Lies for all time and never have to hear or read it again. Don't fall for it! Alas, MHR is a biomarker that has so far defied meaningful prediction by any formula--there's just too much variation that isn't correlated with anything measurable.

So. I really do want to spend a lot of time putting in lots of miles at a super easy effort. While I believe whole-heartedly in the spirit of Maffetone, I just can't really do it full-on; I tried back in '10-'11, & while I know everyone says "OMG THERE IS NO WAY I CAN TRAIN THAT SLOWLY," I'm pretty sure I had a whole other level of "this is never going to happen" going on, since 1) Maffetone uses a formula that doesn't take max heart rate into account (!) and 2) I have an insanely high max heart rate. (Not kidding, my GP thought I was making it up and/or stupid until I showed her the lab report.)

The glorious Phil Maffetone. You didn't know he was also a singer-songwriter, did you?

Like really. Supposedly my "MAF number" (the heart rate you should be shooting for on your easy runs) is around 142ish, which let's be clear, is brisk walking for me. Walking uphill it's like 150. I mean I may have some work to do on my aerobic system, but I just refuse to believe it's THAT bad.

These last couple of weeks with the Mio, I've faithfully slowed my easy runs, way, waaaaay down, from the 8:00-8:30ish range to around two full minutes slower. Although it varies some depending on the temperature, so far I've been able to average in the 150s in terms of heart rate for most of my runs, as opposed to the usual ~175-180ish (the spirit of Maffetone being that, over time, you should find yourself speeding up while maintaining the same low heart rate). I think that's just going to have to be good enough.


(No but really, the resemblance is kind of creepy, right?)

Right now I have a loose plan to do only that & the occasional short-burst intervals for the next two months, then add in one progressively longer weekly marathon-pace run for the next two months after that. I love love love data & statistics, so I'll be sure to record everything & report back.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some Epiphanies I've Had

Like I said in my last post, I have ideas & thoughts & hopes & plans running absolutely wild in my head, & when I try to think about how I might wrangle them all into a post that is both coherent and not 27 pages long, I feel totally overwhelmed & like I need to just go look at internet cat videos for a while. Which tends to result in posting nothing.

So, I'm trying the bite-sized approach. One piece at a time, and probably a lot of circling back over time, because this shit is all connected.

After I DNF'd in Santa Rosa, I had a nice, long, silent two-hour drive home in which to mull a lot of things over. That night I spent probably another two hours pouring my thoughts out unedited into a blog post that I knew I would not be ready to post for a while. But, having let it sit for nearly a month now & gotten through the crazy-making-breath-holding-limbotastic nightmare of waiting for the MRI & waiting for the results & waiting for the follow-up & being cleared of anything catastrophic, I think I have enough perspective now to put it out there.

Friends, I present to you some really honest epiphanies that came to me during & after the race, the type of honest you can only really be with yourself once all the stakes & pressure are off.

1) I am scared of long runs. I used to just say I hated them, but the more I think about it, the more I think it's at least partly fear--of the discomfort involved, of the monotony, of the logistics, of the huge chunks of sacrificed time in which I can't really do anything else. In terms of process-oriented vs. goal-oriented personality types, I am 100% unabashedly goal-oriented. I don't want to do things; I want them DONE, as soon as possible. This makes me really good at finishing what I start, hitting deadlines reliably, not procrastinating, and getting things done quickly; the downside is that in many cases I have a lot of trouble "enjoying the ride," as they say, and I sometimes find enormous, long-term tasks or projects so overwhelming that I become too demoralized to start.

Bullshit, are we there yet? How about now?

In the past, with marathon training, this has meant that I've usually done the bare minimum that I think I can get away with in terms of long runs. (This time around, I only missed two, both due to injuries, but since they didn't really get all that "long" until halfway through my training cycle, two is kind of a lot, percentage-wise.)

I realized before the race that I was really, truly going into it actively afraid of the distance, and I suspect the same is true of every other marathon I've ever run as well. Mentally, I think I've just never gotten all that comfortable with runs over about 15 miles, and if I'm going to continue running marathons, I've got to get over that. Which, I think, means establishing enough of a base *before* the real training starts so that 18-20 mile long runs are just part of the weekend routine, instead of something I build up to doing two or three times a few weeks before the race & spend my training cycle dreading and stressing about. I don't want to run another marathon until I'm able to stare down the barrel of these runs and not bat an eye because it no longer seems like such a big freaking deal.

2) Related to #1, if I can get to a place where I'm comfortably doing an 18-20 mile long run most weekends, I think it actually might help me mentally to run one or two full marathons at an easy, comfortable pace in the course of training for a goal marathon (say, four months & two months before a goal race). I think one of the reasons I've never totally gotten over my fear of the distance is that I run the full 26.2 rarely enough that I don't have the feel of it in my body the way I do with shorter distances I run more often. It would also give me more chances to practice logistics/fueling/etc. as well as the mental aspect of never stopping (whereas on long runs I typically make brief stops for water, traffic lights, etc.).

3) Related to #1 AND #2, the last couple of years have been cycle after cycle of shortchanging base-building because there was always some race I really wanted to run and I "just didn't have time" to spend weeks upon weeks running slow, easy miles because "I need to get fast NOW!" I was constantly telling myself I'd get back to it right after x race, which would turn into right after y race, and so on, and so on. As a result, I know my "aerobic engines" have suffered a bit in a way that doesn't really show up until you're doing marathon-type long runs. Basically I think my options at this point are 1) stop running marathons so I can get away with doing less of that type of training, or 2) admit I want to run more marathons, accept that that's part of it, & invest long-term in some serious base-building efforts before I even *think* about another goal marathon. Basically if I'm going to be a semi-decent marathoner (at least temporarily), I have to start acting like one.

It's like Nanna always said....

4) Somewhere in the last year or two, I've lost my hill mojo. Although SRM was generally flat, there were a good number of rather steep rollers in there, and I felt myself kind of mentally fall apart every time I saw one coming because I was just not prepared for it. I mean I doubt I will ever totally {heart} running hills, but I think I've maybe gotten too caught up in trying to make sure I hit my prescribed training paces every time out, which has meant that I've avoided the hilly routes I used to run regularly in favor of friendlier, more gently rolling ones. I know it will make me stronger if I suck it up & do at least a couple of easy runs a week on not-nasty-but-legit hills. (The trouble with this is the downhills. Going uphill hurts in the good way; downhill a lot of times hurts in the not-so-good way.) Tying this back into #1 above, it would probably be good if I did a long, hilly run at *least* once a month.

I mean, I live HERE...

5) I need to do more medium-long runs at goal marathon pace, even if only for the mental benefit. This is the one thing I've questioned about my training plans the last couple of times. There have been some GMP miles, but usually only a few at a time, or chunks stuck into the middle of monster track workouts. I'm a firm believer in keeping true long runs nice & easy and I know it's very easy to overdo the amount of running you do at GMP, but I think this is something I might bring up with Coach Tom the next time I train for a marathon & see if there's a smart way to integrate some mid-week GMP runs (say, 8-10 miles) occasionally. I felt like I had a hard time "dialing in" to that pace/effort level & getting into a groove at SRM, even when my hip was feeling fine, and I think personally I might do better at that if I have more practice running at that pace & getting what it feels like solidly into my body. (Also, I think it's probably time to finally admit out loud that I want that pace to be 8:00/mile. Sorry not sorry.)

Every one of these deserves its own post, but again, I'm trying to keep things bite-sized for now in the interest of, like, posting something consistently. I have more to say about each of them, so hopefully that will happen bit by bit over the next few weeks or months.

Post-Santa Rosa I decided to give myself a month of much-needed (relative) sloth, but as of Monday I think it's probably time to get back on some sort of schedule & start holding myself accountable for putting this stuff into practice. I have a hard time doing that when I'm not training for something imminent, so hopefully forcing myself to blog regularly again will help.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wherein Groping Is Big Business, Yo

(N.B.--FYI, I probably haven't stopped reading your blogs; I've just been having fights with both WordPress & Blogger where either they just won't let me post comments, period, or they give me an error message that's all like, "Sorry! Looks like you already said that!" when in fact it is the first time I've attempted to say whatever it was. Every now & then they let one through, but blog platforms be wiley, unpredictable beasts & I never quite know whether it's worked or not. Soooo....yeah. Any thoughts/tips/suggestions around that? Send 'em my way!)

You guys. I have had so many thoughts & plans & hopes running through my head that I haven't really known where to start in terms of blogging. There isn't really what you'd call a real starting place, so maybe let's start with Thursday's visit to the sports doc for the MRI follow-up. Just kidding, let's start with four amazing days of eating & drinking in New Orleans.

Chef Donald Link is a man who knows his sheezy.

Then get to know the bartenders down the street at Bellocq (also with the knowing of the sheezy)

Patio drinking at Cure

Fantastic cocktails + outdoor table service = winning

Foi gras & smoked peaches at Revolution. OMG YES.

Foi gras & seared scallops

Lobster gnochi

Foi gras & seared scallops, with lobster hat


We had great drinks at French 75 from a bartender who used
to work at the cocktail bar 3 blocks from our house.

When you're done drinking fancy cocktails, go
destroy your palette with a frozen mint Irish coffee at Erin Rose.

More Donald Link wizardy at Cochon (rabbit dumplings)

Dessert at Cochon??? You must be joking.

NOLA = excellent hat shops.

Last fancy dinner at (Donald Link's) Peche

...which also has awesome cocktails

Cane & Table, another sweet venue for enjoying delicious cocktails & a picturesque patio

In short: If you haven't been, get there. But only for a few days; otherwise, it might actually kill you.

OK fine, we'll talk about the MRI follow-up. :P


This is not my MRI but I thought you all deserved to see just how totally obscene & disturbing these images can be.
First off, the doc showed me the MRI images & pointed out the small white spot on my right pubic bone (hawt) which indicates extra fluid/blood flow which generally indicates something trying to heal itself. He did all the usual clinical stuff to see if there was any pain (there's not, and hasn't been since the marathon-that-wasn't on Aug. 24), then palpitated that spot to see if it felt particularly tender, which it didn't. Which means that either the spot on the MRI was nothing (which happens, apparently), or whatever it was seems to be totally healed.

(Side note: In airport security I always opt for the Freedom Grope rather than the nudey scanners. Coming back from New Orleans, the checkpoint had only one lady TSA agent working, and when I requested my Freedom Grope she happened to be busy seizing three suitcases worth of hot sauce (not kidding) from a woman who is #notapro at this, which meant I had to wait like 15 extra minutes for my grope. I wanted to be all, "Well could you just, like, get a dude to come do it?" Because given that the list of body parts I have now paid male medical professionals/body workers to fondle now includes both ass cheeks, coccyx, & pubic bone, it's not like there's much left to feel awkward about. Later Don was like, "I'm pretty sure they have regulations about that stuff." And I was like, "What if I tell them I'm a lesbian?" Somehow, it made sense at the time.)

After a bit of single-leg squatting, he pointed out how my left leg seemed totally fine basically all the time, but my right still tended to tremble a bit & collapse in at the knee, which made NO sense to me given how many thousands upon thousands of single-leg squats I have done on both legs in the last two years. But when he'd have me put my hand on my right glute med and actually think about engaging it, I could do the squat fine with no shaking or collapsing at all.

"It's not that the muscle's not strong enough," he told me. "It's just not firing automatically for some reason, the way the other one is. So you may just have to work on consciously thinking about that when you run and when you do your squats." So there is that.

In any case, he said I can keep running as long as I build back up at a sensible rate & stay-pain free, and he isn't sending me back to PT, and he is curious to see what they say at RunSafe this coming Tuesday (as am I).


Do not try to tell me that this picture is not COMPLETELY AWESOME and/or TOTALLY related to iron.
Because of my thyroid and heart problems, I get regular blood tests just to make sure everything is fine; since I was there & we were talking about electrolytes, I asked if he could request my tests now instead of in a few months when they're scheduled. In particular, we talked about iron, & how my GP is obsessed with it, & all the different things I've heard about it relative to runners.

Technically, if your ferritin (stored iron) levels are above ~12 ng/mL, that's considered normal, and mine have always fallen in the 28-30 range. But when you consider that the ceiling for women is 300 ng/mL (it's 150 for men), you can see that that's still towards the low end. I've also read several articles that seemed to indicate that endurance athletes should shoot for higher levels (opinions seem to vary on how much higher), & even training just 7-8 hours / week, we can be considered "sports anemic" even if our levels are in the normal range for non-athletes.

I've brought this up a couple of times with my GP and the lab techs, and they've always been like, "You're fine. Eat more spinach if you're worried." Talking to my sports doc on Thursday, though, he said that yes, 30 is a bit low for a distance runner. He said that I'm probably fine for now given that I'm not training heavily for anything, but when I'm up in the 50's in terms of weekly mileage, it would not be a bad idea to supplement and I am extremely unlikely to poison myself.

I have more things to say but lately I have found that if I get too ambitious it takes me like nine days to get a post up. So hopefully pictures of booze & discussion of awkward groping & electrolytes will tide you over for a few days while I get the rest of my thoughts together in my post-vacation brain.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

#allthebooks #allthewine

It has been So. Nice. Lately to run whenever I feel like, whatever I feel like, at whatever pace I feel like, without any pressure to cover a certain number of miles or complete specific workouts or hit specific paces. Obeying my doctor's instructions to ease back a bit has been no problem, as "whatever I want, whenever I want" has been translating roughly to 6-7 miles a few times a week, which thus far, has all been pain-free. (I actually would kind of like to go for a nice 15+ long run, but I have a feeling that would be pushing it.) On Sunday I ran six miles and found myself happily clocking near-half marathon pace miles near the end; on Tuesday, I felt like lazily running the tough parts of the Bay-2-Breakers course & turned in my slowest (and probably hilliest) run in years. Both of which made me super happy.

As I write this, I'm packing for another quick New Orleans trip; when I get back I'll have my follow-up with the doc, and five days after that it's off to RunSafe, and at that point I assume I will have more to say about running.

In the mean time, I've been indulging in two other equally important parts of life: Books & wine. Which, if you have good ones, it turns out are not a bad short-term substitute for pounding the pavement.


Let's start with the winners:

2014: The Year of the Classics has proceeded pretty much as planned. There have been books I've enjoyed more & ones I've enjoyed less, but I have to say there's been nothing that I've regretted reading. They've all had some value & been worth my time, which I guess is part of what makes something a classic to begin with.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I don't fully understand the magic with which Lee has woven this story, but somehow she managed to write a sober, poignant, heartbreaking tale addressing some pretty hardcore themes (race, class, gender, family, community, loyalty, justice, rape, murder, and on and on and on) without it being depressing as hell (though I'm sure having the story told from the point of view of a precocious 7-8 year old has something to do with). I've been avoiding it forever because it sounded so dark and depressing, and though it deals with some pretty serious stuff, it's all unquestionably underlined by the ideas of hope, optimism, compassion, and unwavering belief in the fundamental goodness of human beings.

The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks. I'm always a bit wary of starting a fantasy series because there are just so many ways they can go horrifically bad. The Black Prism was a rare treat, though. Sure, there are a few cliched elements (false/mistaken identity, long-lost progeny of important ruler-person swept up into adventures, powerful beloved ruler-person weighed down by responsibilities/dark secrets/unrequited love), but I didn't mind them because they were executed in such unique and fresh ways, which kept things interesting and (mostly) unpredictable. The young, brilliant, wise, gorgeous, powerful, beloved ruler/religious leader ("The Prism") has a sweet relationship with his mother. His long-lost-suddenly-resurfaced bastard is a sassy, chubby, uncoordinated 15-year-old who is too smart for his own good but has a heart of gold. The ex-fiance for whom the Prism still carries a torch is a hot shit, tough-as-nails soldier & one of his personal bodyguards. Book #2 was if anything better; can't wait to read the last two in the series. (Be warned, though - only the first three of four have been published & there's no word yet on book 4.)

The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith. So this book was based on actual events that happened to the author. In the spring of 2009, Smith received a call from his father saying that he needed to come to Sweden immediately because his mom had suffered a psychotic episode & was in an asylum. And almost immediately after, a call from his mother saying she'd just been released from the hospital, everything his father had told him was a lie, that his dad was involved in a criminal conspiracy, and she was flying to London to explain the truth. You might think, well, obviously, this book has to go one of two ways. Nope. Smith keeps you guessing all the way to the end, with a couple of twists I'm happy to say I never saw coming. Ditto with the resolution. A smart mystery, tight writing, fantastic storytelling, and rich, believable characters? More of this, please.

Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. After Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates left me rolling my eyes, I wasn't totally sure I wanted to wade any deeper into Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume has become such an iconic book, though, that I felt I had to give it a chance on the strength of the recommendations I've gotten from people who loved it, and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it. In a lot of ways this is just the type of book I'm looking for when I've been reading a lot of intense, srsbzns stuff -- it's whimsical, irreverent, and overall on the light-hearted side, but still well-written and possessed of a unique, intriguing plot and interesting, well-rounded characters. A quick, fun read if you're in the mood for something a little quirky & irreverent but still clever & well-written.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. My only complaint about this book is that it was over too soon. Short, cute, & entertainingly written, it's probably just a *little* too serious to properly be called a beach read. A commute read, maybe. Just what I needed to cleanse my palate after Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.

Books I've read recently & could have done without include Off To Be The Wizard, Madame Bovary, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates , & The Fault In Our Stars.


This rosé:

Kenneth Volk 2011 La Rosa Loca, Paso Robles. If you make to Paso & like quirky, unusual varietals like negrette, blaufrankisch, & cabernet pfeffer, you absolutely must make a stop. Listing for ~$18, it is a bit pricey for a rosé, but the last time we were there was in the fall & they were clearing it out for 30% off or something, which made it pretty reasonable for a good pink. Would buy again for maybe up to $15ish.

This grenache blanc:

Tangent 2011 Grenache Blanc, Edna Valley (SLO). This, you actually stand a chance of finding outside of the winery, and at ~$15, it's a nice find. Don has a co-worker with a connection to the winery, which is where we learned about it; we also drank a bunch of it in Kauai last fall, since apparently every restaurant there stocks it. When we visited the winery for the first time, we found that we enjoyed just about all of their whites, which are equally reasonably priced.

This Italian-style merlot:

Caperone 2003 Merlot, Paso Robles. Italian merlot??? Yes! You won't find it in stores, but you CAN order it online. Caperone is one of the oldest wineries in Paso Robles & makes several lovely Italian-style reds, all of which we really like. Unlike most wineries, they tend to sell bottles with a reasonable amount of age already on them (pretty sure we bought this 2003 in like 2011), and they're STILL only ~$15, with discounts for half & full cases.

This SLO pinot:

Claiborne & Churchill 2009 Pinot Noir, Edna Valley. Another random find on our trip to SLO last fall. I always kind of cross my fingers any time I open a bottle I know I bought towards the end of the day, so I was incredibly pleased when I opened this a couple weeks back to have with grilled salmon. I don't remember the exact price, but I'm guessing it was probably under $30, and any time you can find a solid pinot for under $30, you're doing quite well.

This single-vineyard Sonoma pinot:

Porter Creek 2006 Hillside Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River (Sonoma). More salmon = more pinot. This maybe a little trickier to get without visiting the winery and is a bit pricier (apparently the current vintage will set you back $65? Pretty sure it wasn't *quite* that insane when we bought this one), but GOD was it worth every penny.

So yes. A little break from running is survivable with good books & wine. If you find yourself needing one, you now have my recommendations in both categories. :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

MRI Results + The Future


Relevant Plot Points:

  • On-&-off hip(ish) pain since late July, identical to what I was having last summer leading up to spectacularly crippling myself at M2B marathon.
  • Since then, lots of missed workouts/general suckage.
  • Friday before Santa Rosa Marathon, my doctor ordered an MRI & made me promise to quit the race if I had any pain & then not run at all after that until we find the problem.
  • I started the race but felt sort of tight/"off" with my stride & dutifully stopped at mile 15 when it was clear I'd be risking a bigger injury for a non-PR race. (Race report = here.)

All caught up?

So. I had the MRI last Friday, which was noisy & took a while but was otherwise uneventful. (I didn't have any claustrophobia issues but I TOTALLY see how someone could if that's your particular bugaboo. It is a bit like being in a really noisy white plastic coffin.) On Tuesday the doctor called me back to say that it showed a tiny, very fine not-quite-crack on my right ischium, which was one I had to look up:

It wasn't advanced enough to call a stress fracture, but was clearly a stress reaction of some kind and probably would have headed in that direction had I tried to run through it. As for the cause, well, you get them from any one or more of the same list of 20 things that cause every other running injury on the planet, which means god only knows. Apparently, even though the reaction is in that one bone, pain in the glutes, groin, adductors, hip flexors, lower back and sometimes thigh or even knee as a result is fairly common, all of which I've had at some point in the last 1.5 years. (Apparently pelvic stress fractures are commonly mistaken for adductor strains since that's where those muscles insert, which explains A LOT.)

The good news:

  • We have some clue about what was causing the pain.
  • The damage is very, very minor and should completely heal in a few weeks (whereas full-blown pelvic stress fractures can take 3-12 months of zero impact to heal, depending on the severity).
  • I can still run on it while it heals as long as I keep the volume low, don't do any speed work, and stop if there is any pain with impact. (Currently there isn't.)

The bad news:

  • The stress reaction is still a symptom, not the root cause.
  • I am probably headed back to physical therapy to try to figure out & address said root cause, which could be just about anything related to moving my body.

One more bit of good news is that I have a RunSafe appointment at UCSF booked at the end of September, so if there is something to be found biomechanically, they should be able to find it.


As disappointing as it was not to be able to run Santa Rosa the way I wanted, having the whole thing over and done with brought with it an enormous sense of relief. Ever since the issue with my hip returned after SF2HM, running has been so stressful. I haven't really been able to enjoy it because even when I've been pain-free, it's been with the stress of August 24th bearing down on me & the constant fear of the pain coming back and/or finishing the race in the same shape as after M2B. Training is supposed to be (mostly) fun & races are supposed to be exciting, but it's hard to have fun with something when you're constantly worrying about it. On Saturday before I left for the race, I said to Don, "Twenty-four more hours & one way or another, all of this will be over." So you can maybe tell what my mindset about it has been for the last few weeks.

And now it's over. I only ran 16.5 miles (btw, it's pretty entertaining to tell non-runners you "only" ran 16.5 miles, heh) so I didn't have the usual post-marathon physical exhaustion to deal with. Mentally, though, I've been Jello this past week, as if something in my brain went, "Look, we got you through that crap, and now that it's over, we are DONE."

That week saw one bike ride and one karate class, but other than that I've been a complete slacker. I worked at home (read: slept in) most days or went in late/left early, spent hours sitting on the couch reading, and happily abandoned any pretense of eating like an athlete. I read almost no blogs and looked at almost nothing running related. In short, I essentially detoxed myself of all things running, which was exactly what my brain needed.

That week also gave me some time to reflect back on my training cycle and think objectively about it. DNF nonwithstanding, I think I learned a lot and accomplished a lot in those 15 weeks.

For one, I'm proud to say that not once did I miss a workout for a cop-out reason. Yes, I had trouble with my hip (11 workouts) & Achilles (2 workouts), got sick a couple times (2 workouts), had a couple of super-packed travel days (2 workouts), and took a few extra rest days when I was concerned about overdoing things (6 workouts), but not once did I ever say, "Eh, I'm just too busy/tired/not feeling it." Not once. I think this may be the first training cycle where I've really been able to say that.

Also, with the exception of the weeks when I was traveling & the week before the race (where I was busy mentally self-destructing), I've been consistent with my strength work. I think it'll be good to get re-assessed at the PT and/or RunSafe to make sure I'm still doing the right things with the right frequency, but up until that last week, I did not slack.

There were also some bright points to starting & running a good chunk of the race. For one, it gave me some additional practice with managing marathon logistics like clothes, packing, fueling, the whole pre-race routine, etc. I feel like I've run enough 5K/10K/halfs to have all that down for shorter races, but since I run marathons so rarely, it's not something I get a ton of practice with.

For another, the fact that I was in okay/not bad marathon shape, ran 16.5 miles, & then stopped means that at this point, I'm still sitting on a pretty solid base without having wrecked my body. Yes, a lot will depend on how the next month goes, but there exists at least the possibility that in the not-too-distant future I might be able to start training for something farther out with a solid base already in place. (Which, hey! Wouldn't that be novel!)

Obviously, it's too early to start setting any specific running-related goals. But, being a pretty goal-driven person, I can only lounge on the couch with my books and my wine for so long before I need SOME sort of target in my life, if only a small, short-term one. So until I can get back to thinking about racing and training, I have two (I think) very reasonable, very achievable goals for the month of September:

1) Get to RunSafe as healthy, fit, & strong as possible. These appointments are not cheap and I want to be sure I get everything I can out of it. To that end...

  • Be very careful with the hip/stress reaction. I want to do some non-trivial running over these next few weeks since the doctor okay'd it, but never at the expensive of letting the injury heal.
  • Get as strong as possible. Like I said, I was incredibly consistent with the strength work this summer up until the end of July, so I'm still pretty strong. But if I go in with the same weaknesses and imbalances that I already know I'm prone to, they're only going to be able to tell me things I already know. I want to know what's wrong when I'm at my absolute best.
  • Get reasonably lean. Again, I think I was in my best shape at the end of July, but I never managed this summer to really get to what I think of as racing weight/body composition, and since then all the missed workouts/lack of strength work/emotional sabotage/week of mental recovery hasn't helped. September seems like a nice, chill month to focus on that & try to get back into really good shape before I start training for something again.

2) Maintain the fitness (at least in terms of endurance) I've developed over the summer.

  • As long as my leg stays pain-free, try to do longer runs with more rest days rather than shorter runs more frequently. (The priority, though, is taking care of my leg.)
  • Supplement with time on the bike (particularly short, fast intervals) when I can stomach it. Gaaaaaaaahh...

I am not as strong now as I was at the end of July, but I still have a respectable level of endurance, & if I can hold onto that until I'm ready to pick a race & start training again, I'll be in a much better place than I was in May.

AND FINALLY, because the universe must always maintain a balance between the sucky & the delightful, get thee to White Rock Vineyards in Napa & stock up on some of this.

Quite possibly the best chardonnay I've ever had in my life, and that's coming from someone who generally *loathes* California chardonnay. Amazing.