Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No Venting

I had a shitty run today.

You may now be expecting me to commence venting about said shitty run, to get it off my chest and make me feel better. Well, you couldn't be more wrong.

Why am I not venting?

Because it doesn't work. And let me tell you why it doesn't work. Because we make our own feelings with our words, actions, body language, physical responses, etc. Your heart rate doesn't go up and your face scowl because you're upset; your brain DECIDES you're upset because your heart rate went up and your face is scowling. Want to feel happy? The best thing you can do is look and act happy. Want to ensure you continue feeling bad about something? Keep scowling & rehashing it to people.

And before you're all like, "Oh, but it makes ME feel better to vent," no it doesn't. You feel better in the short term because the passage of time generally makes EVERYONE feel better in the short term. In the long term, venting = just as pissed.

It is known.

Let me tell you about my shitty run. Not to vent; just to provide you with the facts.

I had a speed workout scheduled -- a 2 mile warm-up, followed by 6 x 800 m at 10K pace with 400 m recovery jogs. It was warm and sunny outside at home, so I threw on a T-shirt and shorts, then drove to the track, ready for a great run. In that part of town, however, it was cold, cloudy, and windy, and I immediately wished I'd brought my sweatshirt to warm up in.

It turned out the track was closed because of a soccer game, so I had to run on the big, upper asphalt track, which is uneven and has two small hills. I jogged half a mile, then did my dynamic warm-up, then took off on my first interval. About halfway through I realized that I'd randomly skipped 75% of my warm up (probably distracted by my annoyance at the track being closed), so I stopped and jogged another 1.5 miles. Halfway through, both my shin splints & Achilles tendons started acting up. I started having foot pain as well, which never happens, and mild chest pains, which I've been having on and off for about a week and a half now. Towards the end of the 1.5 miles, I started having weird stomach cramps as well, which also never happens to me.

When I finished warming up, I had to sit down until the cramping stopped. After that I took off on my first 800 interval. I had a really tough time getting up to 10K pace and felt like it was taking me 3K effort to run half marathon pace. Then my Garmin started fluctuating wildly between 6:45 and 7:45 per mile, which didn't help. Also, the wind was extra bad on the back stretch, so I really didn't have any idea how close I was to the right pace / effort level at that point. My lower leg and foot pain continued throughout all this, as did my chest pains.

I got through the first interval (pace indeterminate); the chest pain lessened during my 400 recovery jog but the leg and foot pain didn't. During the 2nd interval, I had an even tougher time getting up to speed but forced my legs to do it anyway, gasping for breathe and cursing the wind the entire time. Well, this is going to suck, I was thinking by then, but I'm pretty sure I can still bust it out, and then at least it'll be done. About halfway through the second interval, though, I felt a sharper pain in my chest. That was the final straw; I didn't know what it was, but running faster seemed to be making it worse, and on the off chance that it was anything even remotely serious, I decided it wasn't worth pushing through the rest of the intervals. I finished the last 400 jog, then packed up and went home (fuming a little).

I think I've mentioned before how weak and defeated a failed run makes me feel. Back in the day, such a run could have very likely ended in some combination of snarling, snapping, throwing things around, slamming doors, collapsing & refusing to move, and, yes, even sobbing. But that was then and this is now and I am an emotionally stable(ish) grown-up and refuse to partake in that shit.

Well, most of that shit. Instead of sobbing and hitting things, I ate of piece of leftover tres leches cake, then moped on the couch for a while and watched a couple of hours of mindless TV. Then I showered and ate some leftover Indian food, then had another piece of cake. Don came home from a trip to the liquor store to pick up some things he'd ordered; I started free-styling with spirits and downing the results. Then I stopped mixing and did a few shots of barrel-aged gin. After that I stuffed myself with Chinese food and am now moping on the couch again with another healthy glassful of gin (I swear I'm not drunk. Yet).

So there's some mild wallowing going on. It's controlled, though, and there's a time limit; tonight is tonight and tomorrow is something different. Venting doesn't work; here's what *actually* makes people feel better when something crappy has happened to them.

  • Identifying the root causes of the situation when possible, and making a plan for dealing with them. I did just race on Saturday, and in spite of the fact that I like to tell myself a 10K isn't a "real" race, the fact is that I pushed my body really hard and I'm probably not fully recovered yet. Most of the physical issues are most likely due to that. (I had a pretty shitty run two days after my 3rd place finish at Pride Run as well.) The best thing to do is probably to attempt all my regularly-scheduled runs this week but pay close attention to my body in case I need to shorten or back off on any of them. For all that I forget it sometimes, that's not terribly strange for the week after a short, hard race. Also, I'll bring my sweatshirt next time; honestly, I know better than to predict the weather somewhere in SF by the weather in a different part of SF three miles away.
  • Letting it go when the causes can't be found, or were unpredictable / unavoidable. So the track was closed. So the weather was bad. So my Garmin was wonky. Stuff like that is about as avoidable as death and taxes. Let it go. I don't know what was up with the chest pains and stomach cramps; the best I can do is take things a little bit easier in the next couple of days and see if they get worse (or fail to get better). Until then, no use worrying about it.
  • Reframing the situation in a positive light / finding the good in it. Owing to the fact that I raced hard on Saturday, I preemptively shortened Monday's run from 6 easy to 4; there's no reason why I shouldn't have done the same for Tuesday, or moved the speed work to later in the week. It's actually probably for the best that didn't finish this one and instead did more of a "reverse taper" kind of speed workout. Trying to finish the whole thing likely would have made the pain in my legs and feet a lot worse, too.
  • Identifying any lasting effects of the situation, making a plan for dealing with them, if possible, and letting it go if not. I am now about three miles short on mileage for the week; tomorrow is a scheduled rest day, but if I feel alright tomorrow, I might do an easy three, just to make that up (though I won't attempt to make up the 800 intervals).
  • Thinking optimistically about the future. Bad days happen. Thankfully, they're reasonably rare. I've had shitty days before and they've all given way to good ones, usually fairly quickly. This is also a good spot to pull out my favorite Greg McMillen quote: “The most successful athletes don’t dwell on the bad days; instead, they’re eager to move on to the next day’s training or upcoming race. Successful runners know that bad days don’t last and aren’t a true indication of their fitness. Bad days are just a freak occurrence that must be tolerated on the path to your goals.” That one's gotten me through a lot of bad days.
  • Laughing it off. Kind of a ridiculous day, no? Seriously; I can't make this stuff up.

big girl panties

So yeah. I may still engage in some low-key wallowing when I have a bad day, but the difference is that I don't expect that to make me feel better, and I know what does make me feel better. I'll put my big girl panties back on in the morning; until then, no venting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pre-Race Fueling & Post-Race Recovery

In addition to racing a 10K this weekend, there was an awful lot of ridiculous eating and drinking.

Pre-race dinner Friday night:

Dry-aged roast & Yorkshire pudding, courtesy of our roommate, the Master of Beef:

beef carve


(Seriously. Any time anyone asks me what my favorite steak house in San Francisco is, I say "My house.")

Fresh-from-the-farmers' market salad with homemade dressing, courtesy of his lovely lady:


salad finished

Eleven-year-old Turnbull Black Label Napa Cab, courtesy of Don:

turnbull cab

Some people say you shouldn't drink alcohol the night before a race. Well, eff that noise. If there's beef involved, there's damn well going to be some cab up in this bee-yotch.

In short...

dinner was a good night.

The recovery meal was brought to you by the letter T, which, in addition to "Ten-K Winner," also stands for....

taouk (Lebanese chicken kababs) with toum (garlic sauce) & tabbouleh

...Taouk (Lebanese chicken kababs) with toum (garlic sauce) & tabbouleh

turkish meat pies

...Turkish meat pies


...Toasted polenta with Tomasso's marinara sauce, gorgonzola, & fontina

tomato tartlets

...Tomato tartlets with basil & mozzarella

tuna tartare

...Tuna tartare


...Potato, onion, & egg tortilla

tres leches

...and tres leches cake for dessert.

Yeah; it was a good weekend. :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Week In Review: Aug 21 - 27

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


I cut back a good bit this week, partly due to the fact that I was racing Saturday, and partly due to the fact that I ran a pretty hard week last week and my body clearly needed a little time to recoup before knocking out another one like it. Still a pretty good week, though!

Monday: 6 easy. On Monday I was still undecided about what I was going to do when this week, so I figured I should at least do something so as not to fall too far behind in mileage. I ended up just busting through one of my usual neighborhood routes before karate.

Wednesday: 6 miles (2 warm up, 5 x 5:00 @ 5K pace = ~3.5, ~.5 cool down). This was a good, solid speed workout, and the main quality run I wanted to make sure to get in fairly early in the week. This is the first time I've done a full five 5-minute intervals in a while, and they felt easier (and less physically painful) than they ever have. On the other hand, my back and hip had stiffened up again after the 15 minute drive to karate, which, frankly, is something I really could've done without. :P

Thursday: 4.5 miles easy. This week was roga (running + yoga) at Lululemon Run Club. I wanted to get a few more easy miles in this week before the race and also figured yoga might help with the stiffness I've had in my hips and lower back this week, so I stopped by. The 4.5 mile group was quite content to run 9:00 - 9:30 miles, which was fine with me. For the first time since I've started going to these, people were actually social and *trying* to run together & chat! I met two guys from New York, both named Leonard, who'd never met until that night. The yoga really helped -- nothing like 45 minutes of hardcore stretching to get you loosened up. I felt SOOOO much better on Friday.

medalsSaturday: 7.7 miles (1.5 warm up + 6.2 race) Summer Breeze 10K! Although this was my 4th 10K this summer, it was my 1st since April that was basically flat, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect in terms of pace/time. I'd say running my fastest 10K in recent memory & coming in 1st in my age group / 3rd overall is hard to be disappointed with, though. :) Full race report coming soon.

Grand Total: 24.2 miles

Originally, I'd planned to race one more 10K this summer, but I'm pretty happy with where I am in that department, so I think it's probably smarter to use this month to start targeting training for the half in November rather than another 10K. (More detail about that to come as well.) Hoping I can get in another good 35-40 mile week next week.

Week In Review: Aug 21 - 27

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


I cut back a good bit this week, partly due to the fact that I was racing Saturday, and partly due to the fact that I ran a pretty hard week last week and my body clearly needed a little time to recoup before knocking out another one like it. Still a pretty good week, though!

Monday: 6 easy. On Monday I was still undecided about what I was going to do when this week, so I figured I should at least do something so as not to fall too far behind in mileage. I ended up just busting through one of my usual neighborhood routes before karate.

Wednesday: 6 miles (2 warm up, 5 x 5:00 @ 5K pace = ~3.5, ~.5 cool down). This was a good, solid speed workout, and the main quality run I wanted to make sure to get in fairly early in the week. This is the first time I've done a full five 5-minute intervals in a while, and they felt easier (and less physically painful) than they ever have. On the other hand, my back and hip had stiffened up again after the 15 minute drive to karate, which, frankly, is something I really could've done without. :P

Thursday: 4.5 miles easy. This week was roga (running + yoga) at Lululemon Run Club. I wanted to get a few more easy miles in this week before the race and also figured yoga might help with the stiffness I've had in my hips and lower back this week, so I stopped by. The 4.5 mile group was quite content to run 9:00 - 9:30 miles, which was fine with me. For the first time since I've started going to these, people were actually social and *trying* to run together & chat! I met two guys from New York, both named Leonard, who'd never met until that night. The yoga really helped -- nothing like 45 minutes of hardcore stretching to get you loosened up. I felt SOOOO much better on Friday.

medalsSaturday: 7.7 miles (1.5 warm up + 6.2 race) Summer Breeze 10K! Although this was my 4th 10K this summer, it was my 1st since April that was basically flat, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect in terms of pace/time. I'd say running my fastest 10K in recent memory & coming in 1st in my age group / 3rd overall is hard to be disappointed with, though. :) Full race report coming soon.

Grand Total: 24.2 miles

Originally, I'd planned to race one more 10K this summer, but I'm pretty happy with where I am in that department, so I think it's probably smarter to use this month to start targeting training for the half in November rather than another 10K. (More detail about that to come as well.) Hoping I can get in another good 35-40 mile week next week.

Race Report: Summer Breeze10K

Summer Breeze 5K/10K/Half MarathonThis race was stop #4 on my 2011 10K Summer Tour (Santa Cruz, SF Pride Run, Bad Bass, and Summer Breeze) and put on by the same group that also did Bad Bass in July. I've been looking forward to it for a while because it's the first flat 10K I've run since Santa Cruz in April, and I was excited to see how much I've improved at this distance since then. Even better, I haven't suffered any debilitating injury scares lately, which is kind of a first this year as far as race weekends go.

Location: San Leandro, CA

Date: Late August (August 27, 2011 this year)

Price: 5K -- $29 until 6/19, $34 until 7/17, $39 after 7/17; 10K -- $34 until 6/19, $39 until 7/17, $44 after 7/17; Half Marathon -- $50 until 6/19, $55 until 7/17, $60 after 7/17

Deadline: Race day registration if space (there was space in all distances this year)

Sellout Factor: Unlikely; it was a small event with race day registration


startIn the pre-race email, the race director noted that parking would be limited, so carpooling was encouraged. I suppose it's limited relative to the number of people participating, but when I arrived at about 7:30 or so, there were still a good number of public spaces left (though many of them were a good 5-10 minute or so walk from the start). All free, though.

As with the other Brazen races, you have the option of local pre-race packet pickup on Thursday and Friday or race morning pick up (which is what I did since I don't live super close). As with Bad Bass in July, the pick-up table was well-labeled, well-organized, and efficient, and there's a free sweat check a short walk from the start/finish. The T-shirt and goody bag station (also well-organized and efficient) was just a few tables over from the sweat check, & you could pick them up before or after the race.

Something I neglected to mention in my Bad Bass report is that part of the way that the group keeps race costs down is by using volunteer photographers instead of hiring a professional company. In my opinion, this actually works out better for runners; at most bigger races I've run, there's usually a photographer at the finish and maybe one other spot on the course, but at both Brazen events there were people taking pictures at several different places along the course as well as the finish. After the race, the photographers upload all their pictures to Brazen's online album, and runners can download them for free. The trade-off is that the pictures aren't indexed or tagged by your bib number so there's no super-fast way to search for yours, but I've found it's actually pretty easy to just scan each album visually. To me, this is MORE than worth not having to pay for professional pics or settle for low-resolution, watermarked proofs. I wish more races would do it this way. MAD PROPS to all the volunteer photographers, for sure.

Not to mention all the other volunteers--enthusiastic, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, etc. I love volunteers who inspire me to think about volunteering at a race sometime when I'm not running. (Is it bad that I never have? Probably.)

The Course

Brazen is really a trail race group, so this course was a little bit of an outlier for them in that it was flat, fast, and almost completely on a paved trail (with the exception of 80-100 yards of grass at the start / finish & a few gravel patches). Rock! The only slightly challenging bit was that the trail isn't very wide, considering it was an out-and-back course. For the most part, I didn't have much trouble, but in the last few miles I did have to do a little weaving in and out of 5K walkers. It also meant that you'd end up on the opposite side of the trail from any given aid station either going or coming; not much of an issue for me but I could see how it could be a little tricky if you ended up having to cut through a bunch of runners coming back to get across to the tables. People who are more used to road races should also be aware that because of trail accessibility issues with the half marathon course, it isn't always possible to have regularly spaced aid stations; this year there was a 3.5 mile stretch without fluids, so half mary runners were advised to carry a bottle with them. Still, overall, a very nice course, particularly for chasing a PR.


As with all Brazen events (as far as I know), a cotton T-shirt is included in the registration price. For $6, you can upgrade to a very nice technical shirt, or go shirtless for $5 off your fee. I ordered a women's medium tech shirt this time, which fit perfectly! I shall do this from now on any time I run a Brazen event. They will do exchanges for you if they have an extra in the size you want on a first-come, first-served basis.

All finishers received a large, hefty medal for their pains; equally hefty medals are awarded three deep in each age / gender group in five year increments, plus Fleet Feet gift certificates to the overall male & female winners for each distance. Finally, there was the small plastic bag with a few fliers, coupons, & samples as per usual.

My Race

Like I said, I was particularly excited about this race going into it because, although it's the 4th 10K I've run this summer, both the Pride Run and Bad Bass had not-insignificant hills in places, and running another flat course would give me something objective to compare to Santa Cruz (also basically flat), now that I've had four additional months of training under my belt.

A word about Santa Cruz, though -- that was the first 10K I had run in over 10 years, and my time was 44:24. However, according to my Garmin, that course was also 6 miles even, not 6.2, so although it's my "official" 10K PR, the fact is that I was averaging 7:24 / mile, not 7:09 / mile as the results page stated. So you can see why I was excited about running 45:56 at Pride Run a couple of months later -- at that race I ran 7:19 / mile, a full five seconds per mile faster, on a course with two brutal hills. Since Summer Breeze was a flat course and I'd had two more months of training, I was pretty sure I could beat my Pride Run pace without a problem; I just wasn't sure by how much.

In the first mile, I concentrated on not going out too fast and finding a comfortable pace to settle into. My first split was 7:13, which startled me a little because I really didn't want to overshoot and end up dragging myself to the finish. I finished the second mile in 7:18, which made me feel a lot safer. On the other hand, I started thinking to myself, Wow, this really feels way too easy. My heart rate monitor seemed to corroborate that; generally I've been able to average right around 200 bpm in a 10K, and at this point it wasn't even up to 190.

Thus began an argument in my head between the part of me that really thought I could safely be running faster, and the part of me that was terrified of not having enough left to run hard at the end. You're already beating your fastest-ever 10K pace and it's only mile 2, I kept reminding myself. Just keep it here for a while and see what happens.2 miles downStill, I couldn't shake how good I felt at this pace. It felt like a tempo run, not a 10K race.

Finally, a little ways into mile 3, I started allowing myself to entertain the notion that these last two months might have gotten me into considerably better shape than I'd realized. I made a deal with myself that if I still felt like this pace was too easy at the halfway point, then I'd let myself push it a little more in mile 4.

I spent mile three slowly reeling in one of the only women in front of me that I could see. She'd run a good fifty yards ahead of me for the first two and a half miles; at about 2.7 I pulled even with her and could hear her breathing hard, much too hard for less than halfway through. I ran mile three in 7:19 and continued pacing her to the turnaround. After that she was done; I pulled away from her and never saw her again.One of the advantages of running the same distance several times within a short period of time is that you start to become an expert at how you should feel physically at different points in the race, and it gets easier to tell from your body whether you're right on track, taking it too easy, in trouble, etc. After the turnaround, with my heart rate still barely breaking 190, I kind of went, "Okay, this is ridiculous. I am not suffering NEARLY as much as I should be at this point." So I started to push more and let my heart rate come up to about 200. I decided I'd say there until we had about a mile and a half to go, and at that point I would run as hard as I wanted.

At mile 4 I spotted another woman twenty yards or so ahead of me starting to fade and went after her; at 4.5 I passed her along with a few men. The first/last water station was right at about 4.7, and as soon as I passed it I started pushing hard for the finish. Yep; I was thinking, definitely shouldn't feel this comfortable with only 1.5 miles to go. That's when I knew for sure that I'd run the early miles far too conservatively, just because I wasn't sure what kind of shape I was in and what I'd be able to hold. I could've run miles 2 & 3 each at least five seconds faster and been perfectly fine.

I ran mile 5 in 7:09, mile 6 in 7:05, and the last .21 in 1:20 (6:18/mile pace). Though not an "official" PR, I knew it was still the fastest I'd ever run 6.2 miles, and it ended up being good enough for 1st in my age group and 3rd overall, so I can't complain overly much. :)

Although I really am quite happy with my race and my time, I'm kicking myself a little (in an half-amused, good-natured way -- honest) for not trusting my intuition and heart rate more in the early miles (ironic, given my recent posts on that subejct...). I ended up averaging 195 when I really should have been closer to 200. I doubt I had it in me to catch the 1st or 2nd place women (42:34 and 43:34 respectively), but I have a feeling that if I'd suffered just a touch more, I may have been able to beat my Santa Cruz time, or at least come close, and this time on a legitimate course.

Here's the really exciting news, though. According to the Runner's World pace prediction calculator (which I love, BTW), running a comfortable 44:42 10K should translate to a comfortable 1:38 half marathon. As much as the 10K has grown on me over the last few months, and as tempting as it is to keep working on that distance and chasing new PRs, the whole point of spending this summer on 10Ks was to get in really good shape for half mary training in the fall. Getting back under 100 minutes at that distance has been my fondest goal for a while now, and I think I'm finally ready to do it. Given all that, I've decided that instead of continuing to work on the 10K and running Race to the End of Summer 10K in September, leaving only seven weeks until Clarksburg, it really makes more sense to get back to half training right away and give myself the full eleven weeks. So yeah; Summer Breeze was very likely my last 10K this year. (And hey, nothing wrong with going out on a win!)

A few other Summer Breeze fun facts:

  • Congratulations to Sesa for rocking a PR sub-2:00 half! You rock! :D
  • This was my first time racing in my Mizuno Wave Musha 3s. I loved how light and fast they felt! On the other hand, the soles of my feet were basically numb by the end of the race. I run in them on the track all the time and have worn them for shorter distances on concrete and haven't had this issue, but I can't imagine running farther than 10K in them on concrete. My wussy little feet are definitely not tough enough for that yet.
  • I had the chiropractor/ART provider check out my hips and back after the race. Apparently my pelvis is still twisted, my right SI joint is locked up again, and my right leg is back to being slightly shorter than the left. Not that any of this is really surprising, given how I've been feeling lately. "Yeah..." she told me, "you should really just go see a chiropractor." Buh.
  • I had some WICKED tibia pain for most of the afternoon. Seriously. There was a lot of icing. On the plus side, I feel totally normal today. (Yet another way I can tell that I didn't run this race quite as hard as I could have.)

I have to say, I've been pretty impressed with the Brazen races. Both were lots of fun and well-organized, and I really enjoy the lower-key feel. I'll definitely keep this race in mind the next time I want to shoot for a fast time in the 5K, 10K, or half. :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Speedy McSpeederson (er...sort of)

Uncharacteristically, I took Tuesday off from running, which gave me the fortitude (given my achy hip & back) to do a good, solid (but not overkill) speed workout on Wednesday.

A beautiful day at Kezar Stadium!

kezar 8.24.11
Pre speed work. Why he-LLOO, five minute repeats at 5K pace, how YOU doin'?!?

kezar 8.24.11
(You've got to flirt with your speed work a little if you really
want to rev her engine. This is my flirty face.)

I have a training partner!!! (Or not; he left me pretty quickly to go dig in the garbage can.)

kezar 8.24.11kezar 8.24.11

kezar 8.24.11
Post speed work. Apparently 5K pace repeats make me kind of drunk (?).

End of speed work = no longer such a beautiful day. Have you ever found yourself shivering on the 5th of 5 repeats? (Note: Photo enhanced to drive home my point.)

kezar 8.24.11
Told you it would get nasty again. Heh.

In other news, Angela needs some serious sports massage action all up in her lumbar region. On the plus side, it is ON like DONKEY KONG tomorrow morning in San Leandro.

Good luck to everyone else who is racing this weekend! :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Best Kind of Cross-Training...

stewSo last week I had damn near a 40 mile week for the first time in many, MANY months, including two double workout days where I ended running before karate (suck) and on four consecutive days, with Sunday of this week scheduled to make it five (my body gets complain-ey after four). So when I woke up kind of achy on Sunday and then later got super-busy, I figured this was maybe a good day to, you know, hang out and rest, as opposed to running 13 miles. That night I laid in bed, mentally shuffling my training plans for the week, trying to decide on the best and most efficient way to get them all in now that I'd taken Sunday off.

I could do the 13 miles Monday before karate, but I'd done that last week and it had kind of wiped me out, plus gotten me into a weird cycle for the week that eventually led to the five consecutive days. I could do the long run Tuesday, but that meant I'd really need to do easy runs on Monday and Wednesday, if at all; then Thursday would need to be speed stuff. I'm racing Saturday (Summer Breeze 10K; incidentally, Sesa is running the half, so I am hoping to run into her! Figuratively, you know; not literally.), so I wanted make sure I kept Friday short and easy. Then again, I thought, maybe it would be better to do the speed stuff on Tuesday so that I might get some benefit from it by Saturday, and the long run on Thursday. Then again doing a long run two days before a race maybe isn't such a great idea either.

Still undecided by Monday afternoon (and still feeling kind of achy), I ran six miles reasonably easy, then jumped in the car and headed to karate. By the time I got to class, my left hip and lower back were decidedly unhappy with me. I tried to stay pretty low key and not aggravate it, but when I woke up Tuesday morning and only felt a little better, I decided that this was one of those times when my body was maybe trying to tell me some things, like...

  • You made us work really hard last week and we complied.
  • You made us run on a karate day again, for the 3rd time in a row.
  • We are tired now.
  • You have tweaked something somewhere.
  • You have a flat, fast 10K to race the hell out of on Saturday.
  • Maybe you should just chill for a bit.

Fair enough.

So I didn't run yesterday. Instead, I engaged in a bit of cross-training, by which I mean walking leisurely down to our neighborhood market & returning home with stew fixings.

But Angela, you may object, isn't stew fall / winter food? Why would you want something hot simmering in the kitchen for 6+ hours in the middle of August?

And I answer, because this is San Francisco, and summer is basically fall / winter here. (September / October is our summer. Yes, totally messed up, but there you are.)

coldest winter

But Angela, you may object, I live in SF, and wasn't it like 85° here yesterday?

And again, I answer...well, yes. But we didn't know that was going to happen Monday night when it was kind of cold and foggy and we got all excited about stew. Anyway, I'm sure it'll be nice and miserable again soon. Just you wait.

Last spring, we made a really delicious stew that involved a big pot & braising in the oven. It was delicious, but this time we wanted to use the crockpot, so I started hunting down recipes. None of them were truly satisfactory, so I kind of started free-basing.

First, les ingr├ędients:


  • 3 pounds stew beef (at least, I asked for 3 pounds; the butcher ended up giving me 3 pounds 6 ounces & asking, "It's okay?" I shrugged; sure, it's okay.) - $11.97
  • 5 potatoes, 5 carrots, half a bunch of celery, & 2 onions - $5.65 (while I was paying, the clerk and I had a very animated conversation about the cost-effectiveness of cooking at home; he was not at all down with the $8 burritos nearby.)


  • 2 cans beef broth - $2.98 (normally I'd get the reduced-sodium variety, but I was not about to drive anywhere, and that's what the corner store by us had)
  • 2 loaves crusty bread - $8.49. When it comes to crusty bread, I refuse to skimp. I even walked five blocks to get it. Hard core.
  • red velvetTurley Red Velvet zinfandel - $10. This is our standard cooking red wine because a) it is excellent & well-made (never cook with something you wouldn't drink), and b) it is $120 a case. And there are times when we've bought it by the case. Although it wasn't part of today's shopping trip, it was technically purchased at some point. On the other hand, I only used about 8 ounces or so. (On the other other hand, we definitely drank the remainder.)

Now, when I got home, it occurred to me that my crockpot was WAAAAY too small to accommodate 3.4 pounds of meat plus liquids and vegetables, so I only ended up using half of it, and then adding whatever amount of liquids and veggies would fit. Also, I sort of free-styled the seasonings as well. More or less, I just doused half the meat with flour, salt, & pepper, browned it, & threw it in the crockpot with 12 oz broth, 8 oz wine, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, & however much carrots, potatoes, celery, & onions there was room for. Then I seasoned it with fresh thyme, white & black pepper, & parsley & let it sit for about six hours on high.

It ended up quite edible and not at all offensive, but not as good as what we made last spring. if I were to make crockpot stew again, I'd do more like what we did last spring, minus the oven-braising:

(N.B. - I don't measure quantities all that reliably when I do stuff like this; I just sort of put however much I feel like / however much will fit. The recipe that this was mostly based off of called for 5 pounds of beef, 3 carrots for making the broth & 1.5 pounds for the stew, 3 celery stalks, 2 onions, 1.5 pounds small potatoes, 3 T tomato paste, 1/3 balsamic, a full bottle of red wine, & 3 cups beef broth.)

  • Cut the beef (stew meat or non-lean boneless chuck) into cubes, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper (I just put the salt & pepper in a plastic bag & shook the meat around with it. Some recipes also call for a bit of flour.)
  • Heat a little olive oil in a big pot, then brown the meat.
  • Set meat aside, reduce the heat, & cook carrots, celery, onions, & garlic in the same pot until well-browned (10-12 minutes).
  • Push the veggies aside & pour in a little tomato paste; stir & cook for ~2 minutes, then stir into veggies. (I did not use the tomato paste this time and I think the stew suffered for it.)
  • Stir in a little balsamic vinegar for ~2 minutes.
  • Stir in red wine, bay leaves, white & black pepper, fresh thyme, & parsley; boil until the wine is reduced by about 2/3 (10-12 minutes). (I didn't reduce the wine this time either, which was not as good.)
  • Transfer pot mixture, beef broth, meat, & juices to crockpot. Cook on high until meat is tender. (Again, I did 6 hours with 1.7 pounds of meat, but I think another or hour or two would've been better, and more meat will probably take more time. I recommend just tasting the meat periodically to see if they're tender enough for you.)
  • When the meat is about two hours from done, strain all the solids out of the stew, return the meat to the broth, & discard the soggy veggies & seasonings. Add in chopped potatoes & carrots & let cook for ~2 more hours (or until the veggies are tender enough for you).

Whew! What a workout. (It is for me; I don't cook much, sadly.) Maybe I should cross-train like this more often.

Enjoy! (And also, pass on your crockpot stew-making tips -- I'm still in search of the perfect recipe.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Crash Course in Heart Rate Monitors...


So, I'm currently working on a post about tempo runs and how fascinating it was to do one the other day with the monitor. In fact, the first post about heart rate training last week originally started out as the tempo run post, but the more I wrote, the more I kept being like, "Okay, wait--back up. Wait a minute--back up again. Okay, back up some more." Finally I decided that the heart rate monitor stuff probably deserved its own post.

Before I finish up the tempo run post, though, I thought it might be useful to go into how an average, non-elite runner (ie, moi, and potentially vous) can use a heart rate monitor to get the most out of it with a minimal amount of time and effort. I'm not an expert or anything, but this is what I've learned about heart rate and running, and how I've used my monitor in my own training.

First, in order for the numbers on your monitor to really mean much to you, you'll need to get a reasonably good idea of what your maximum heart rate (MHR) is. Your MHR is the fastest that your heart is physically capable of beating. MHR is mostly genetically determined; while losing fitness can cause it to drop a little, you can't increase your MHR through training once you're in reasonably good shape, and higher MHRs are apparently not correlated with better fitness or performance (ie, take two equally fit athletes of comparable ability; one may have a MHR of 170 and one may have an MHR of 230).

There are lots of formulas you can use to estimate your MHR based on your age, but they are notoriously unreliable. For example, the most familiar formula is probably 220 − age; at age 30, this would predict an MHR of 190 for me, when in fact mine is actually more like 225. People have come up with any number of more complex formulas over the years that are supposedly more accurate, but because MHR varies so dramatically from person to person, none of them are really all that reliable. From what I've read, the least objectionable one thus far is MHR = 205.8 − (0.685 × age), but again, that would predict an MHR of ~185 for me, which is an even worse estimate than 220 − age.

If you have your MHR tested in a lab, a doctor or technician will hook you up to a heart rate monitor or EKG machine and have you run on a treadmill progressively faster and faster, causing your heart rate to increase. At a certain point (essentially an all-out sprint), no matter how hard you run, your heart rate won't increase (and will probably start to decrease pretty rapidly, because you won't be able to sustain that peak effort for very long). That's your MHR.

The trouble with lab tests is that they cost money, and are deeply unpleasant, and many technicians report that they aren't even able to find MHR for a lot of people because they're just not mentally capable of pushing their bodies and handling the pain and discomfort long enough to reach peak effort. (Less relevant for runners who are in good shape, but sometimes a physician won't even do an MHR test for a person if they are out of shape or have heart issues because an all-out physical effort could be dangerous.)

If you have a heart rate monitor and do any kind of speed work or hard racing, though, you can approximate your MHR on your own reasonable well. One way to do it is to head out to a track wearing your monitor, warm up with a mile or two of jogging, then run a lap at a harder effort, then push yourself through one more lap at close to an all-out effort and do your best to sprint the last 50 or 100 yards as hard you can. You'll probably finish gasping for breath and kind of wobbly-legged, but if you're able to push yourself to that point, the highest number recorded by your monitor will probably be pretty close to your MHR. All but the most bare-bones monitors should have a way for you to see the highest number recorded (see the summary screen from my 305 above), and most fancy-schmancy ones, like Garmins, record your heart rate along with pace and elevation data and come with computer software that will let you see exactly what your heart was doing over the course of your workout, like so:

(Click to embiggen)

(This is a screen shot from the Training Center application that comes with most Garmins, which will store maps, time, distance, pace, elevation, and heart rate data for all of your runs.)

Another way to estimate your MHR is to wear your monitor the next time you run a hard race, particularly if you're able to sprint towards the end, and look for the highest number. For the most accurate results, you'll probably want to give it several tries over a few weeks. Eventually, you should get a pretty good idea of about where your MHR lies.

(If you have a Garmin, it's also somewhat possible to reverse-engineer your MHR. In order to get accurate calorie burning information, you need to calibrate it by entering your weight, age, and MHR. When I first got mine, I didn't have the first clue what my MHR was, so I just used 220 − age and entered 192. The first clue I had that this might not be accurate was my Garmin telling me that I'd burned something like 1300 calories on a 5 mile run. After wearing it for a while during speed work and races and occasionally seeing numbers in the low 220s, I changed the number in my Garmin to something more in line with that, after which it gave me much more reasonable calorie readings. So that's one way to tell how close or far off you are.)

Once you have a pretty good idea of what your MHR is, you can use your monitor to help you stick to the right intensity levels during different types of runs. Different experts seem to give slightly different numbers, but for the most part they seems to stay in the same range. Here are the guidelines that Jack Daniels gives in Daniels' Running Formula:

  • Easy runs -- 65-80% MHR
  • Marathon pace runs -- 80-90% MHR
  • Tempo runs -- ~90% MHR
  • Speed work -- 98-100% MHR

This is definitely what I've found to be most useful about running with a monitor.

Be prepared for your heart rate to fluctuate somewhat, both during your runs as well as from day to day, week to week, etc. I think this is why Daniels gives such a wide range for easy runs. So many things can affect our heart rates in subtle ways (sleep, nutrition, hydration, medication, stress, weather, etc.) that on one day you might find that an easy effort gives you numbers in the 65-70% range, and another day the same level of effort gives you numbers closer to 80%. I also find that my monitor can be unreliable for the first mile or so, for whatever reason, but it settles down pretty quickly after that.

Another fun thing to measure with your monitor is your resting heart rate (RHR). Unlike MHR, RHR is something that can change as you get fitter -- as you become more fit, your RHR will drop due to your cardiac muscle becoming stronger and able to move a greater volume of blood with one beat. The best way to accurately measure your resting heart is to keep your monitor on your nightstand and check it first thing in the morning while you're still lying in bed, as still and relaxed as possible without losing consciousness. It's cool to do this maybe once every couple of weeks and note any changes (again, data nerd...). For average people, RHR is usually somewhere between 60 and 80 bpm, but for athletes in good shape, it may be lower. Less relevant for recreational runners (like me), but one symptom of over-training that elite athletes sometimes look for is an abnormally high RHR.

Knowing your RHR also lets you make sense of another term that pops up occasionally, heart rate reserve (HRR). HRR is the difference between your resting & max heart rates -- essentially, how far your heart rate has to go from complete rest to peak effort. Sometimes instead of describing an effort level as a percentage of MHR, you'll see it described as a percentage of HRR. Because heart rate reserve takes resting heart rate into account (which changes with fitness), this can sometimes be a more accurate description than something that just relies on MHR (which does not change as much with fitness). For example, if I wanted to calculate 75% of my heart rate reserve, I would calculate: (MHR − RHR) × .75 + RHR, or (225 − 55) × .75 + 55 = 182.5 bpm.

It's also interesting to watch how quickly your heart rate falls once you stop running. For an average person, heart rate will drop by about 20 bpm per minute; as you become fitter, you should see your heart rate fall faster and faster during those first minutes of rest.

So yeah -- that's more or less how I use my monitor, for anyone who is curious. :) Any day now, I'll finish up the tempo run post & get that up...Until then, anyone else have any hot heart rate monitor tips?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bay Area Excursions: Podiatry Edition

When I worked in Redwood City, taking care of business on the Peninsula was relatively simple. Most things were either on the way to or from work, or, on occasion, not too terribly farther south that the R-Dubs. These days, though, Peninsula business requires a special trip, so I try to save up those errands when I can and take care of them all in one fell sweep.

pep boysTake maintenance on my car, for example. I have a very special six-year relationship with the Pep Boys in San Carlos, and don’t think for a moment that just because I moved 30 miles away that I’m about to go through the torturous process of finding a new auto mechanic in the city. (It does help that my car only requires service every 10,000 miles, and that since moving to SF, I only drive it about 20 miles a week.)

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going out of my way to make a special trip. Nope; just add it to the pile of Peninsula business to be taken care of the next time it’s convenient.

Somewhat unfortunately, I haven’t had to be on the Peninsula for anything specifically scheduled in a while. About three weeks ago, though, you may recall that I made an appointment with a sports medicine podiatrist in Palo Alto, so this morning I packed all my errands into my service-needing car and left the cold, nasty drizzle of SF for some Peninsula sunshine.

sf to pa

I traveled to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to see Dr. Amol Saxena. Like my beloved Pep Boys, Dr. Saxena is a good 30 miles away from me. Surely there are perfectly adequate sports podiatrists in San Francisco, you may ask? Well--yes. But after spending countless hours with doctors and physical therapists, one of the biggest things I've learned is that finding the right person to treat you (particularly for a running issue) is everything, and doctors are certainly NOT all created equal. You've got to do your research. So I did mine.

Here are a few of the reasons why I waited three weeks and drove 30 miles to see Dr. Saxena:

    pr bunion
  • He is a runner / duathlete with 13 marathons, several Bostons, and multiple World Duathlon Championships under his belt.
  • He went into podiatry because of his experiences being treated for running injuries in high school and college.
  • He is affiliated professionally with the San Francisco Marathon, Stanford University, Palo Alto Run Club, USA Track & Field, Runner's World, and the Nike Oregon Project.
  • He has / had numerous elite & Olympic runners as patients, including Alan Webb, Paula Radcliffe, Shalane Flanagan, and Alberto Salazar. (I figure if he's good enough for them, he's good enough for me, right? Heh.)

(By the way, those are Paula Radcliffe's bunions, up there. That's what Dr. Saxena fixed for her.)

So yeah. 3 weeks and 30 miles seemed like a small price to pay.

After getting vaguely lost in the small city-state that is Palo Alto Medical Foundation (I always leave ridiculously early for doctor appointments for the same reason I leave ridiculously early for races; it is a sad fact of my existence that if it’s possible to get lost, I will get lost), I finally made it to Dr. Saxena’s exam room, which is hung with race bibs and autographed photos and copies of running magazines picturing athletes he's treated.

When I made the appointment, the receptionist requested that I bring my running shoes and inserts; having recently changed shoes and suspecting that my old shoes might have had something to do with my shin splint flare-up a couple of months ago, I brought my old Kayanos in addition to my new Brooks (also my Mizuno flats, but those didn’t come up much).

A few fun facts about Dr. Saxena:

  • Dr. Saxena can identify the make and model of a running shoe with a sidelong glance.
  • Dr. Saxena can identify your foot / running shoe type by watching you march in place for approximately three seconds and then stand on your tiptoes for approximately two seconds. No fancy pressure pads or treadmill videos for him!
  • Dr. Saxena knows the approximate dates and course profiles of every major road race in the area (and probably a bunch that aren't).
  • Dr. Saxena makes no bones about his opinions of different running shoes.

I’d been telling him about how my shin splints come and go, and how they’d gotten particularly bad in the weeks prior to my changing shoes. I told him about how my Kayanos had sort of felt worn out, even though they’d only had about 380 miles on them.

This kind of made Dr. Saxena laugh a little. As a general rule, he’d told me, Asics last about 250 miles. “They’re comfortable,” he admitted, “but it’s all marketing.” (Dr. Saxena intimated later that he personally could not run more than about 3 miles in a pair of Asics.) The Brooks, on the other hand, he told me, should last 350-400 miles. I find this kind of hilarious, given that the Kayanos generally cost ~40% more than the Brooks Adrenalines.

Dr. Saxena did not have strong feelings about my orthotics except to say that the reason I’ve been feeling as if I have stone bruises on the balls of my feet could be that they are slightly too long in the heel, causing the orthotic to ride slightly forward in my shoe relative to the part of my foot that it’s been molded to. That means that the very front part of the arch is essentially pressing up on the ball of my foot (where there is apparently a cluster of rather temperamental nerves). Dr. Saxena advised taking the orthotics back to Roadrunner Sports and asking them to trim up the heels a little.

Like everyone else who’s ever looked at my feet and legs, Dr. Saxena seemed pretty positive that my shin splints were caused by moderate pronation and the tiny muscles in my lower legs not being strong enough to pull them back into alignment completely with each stride. For this, he recommended strengthening exercises with a Theraband. For the pain, he recommended regular icing (which is my usual approach anyway). We did talk briefly about ibuprofen, and it seems that Dr. Saxena agrees with my best buddy K-Starr on that point: Ibuprofen is known to interfere with the healing and strengthening process, and the relative benefits (barring a significant injury like a sprained joint) are minimal.

For the next three weeks, I am to continue running normally & increasing my mileage, do my daily Theraband exercises (sidenote: I wonder what percentage of my life I’ve spent doing Theraband exercises?), and ice for pain. On Sept. 12, I am to see Dr. Saxena again for a follow-up. He seemed to think that my particular case is a fairly mild one, if chronic, and that the Theraband work should take care of things. On the off chance that it doesn’t, he described to me a few more options that are sometimes necessary in more severe cases:

  • Fully custom orthotics (~$400; The Footbalance ones that Roadrunner Sports will do in-house for you are more semi-custom, according to Dr. S., but if they work, they work.)
  • Aircast ankle braces
  • Shockwave therapy (to break down scar tissue in the tib med area)


After my visit with Dr. Saxena, I went to Pep Boys and had my car serviced, then popped over to Roadrunner Sports (just a few blocks over) to explain about my inserts. To my great pleasure, they did better than just trim it up; they replaced the too-long-in-the-heel inserts with a brand spankin' new set in a smaller size. Thanks, guys! After that, a few more errands on the Peninsula, then back home (where, thankfully, it was no longer drizzly and nasty).

So we'll see how the Theraband exercises go. They are yet new and different from any other shin splints exercises anyone has ever prescribed for me, so I'm willing to try them for a few weeks (hey, it's Dr. Saxena, after all!). I'll keep you updated on how it goes. In the mean time, if you're local and find yourself in the market for a podiatrist who gets runners, you might consider heading over to PAMF.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Week In Review: Aug 14 - 20

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

Monday: 12 easy miserable. I'm blaming this one mostly on fight club the night before (which is why I was doing this run on Monday instead of Sunday to begin with), and a little on the warmer-than-usual weather and my stopping for water at miles 6 & 7 & that was all. This was one of the physically hardest long runs I've had in a long time.

Wednesday: 8 miles (2 warm up, 5 tempo, 1 cool down). This was my first run (other than races) with a heart monitor in a long time. I couldn't face a tempo run on the track today so I did it through Golden Gate Park, basically from Ocean Beach to the Conservatory of Flowers and back along JFK Drive, which is flat enough and traffic light-free enough to be functional. Wearing the heart rate monitor for this run was fascinating enough that it deserves a separate post, so I'll go into all that later. Still, it was a good run, and I'm tempted to start doing more tempo runs along this route (now that I'm wearing the monitor again) when I just can't face running in circles for 8 miles.

Thursday: 9 miles easy 6 miles miserable. I think for the time being, I may have to go back to taking my inhaler before every run, without fail. I've had too many runs lately where I get a mile or so in and find I can't breathe. Today was one of those. Yes, I can run through them, but not well, and not enjoyably. In addition to the obvious discomfort of not being able to transport oxygen to my cells (!), asthma also saps my strength in a more general sense. Every mile feels like I've been running for three or four times that long, in terms of how quickly my muscles fire and how strong they feel. The worst thing about that is that I very quickly find myself unable to maintain good form, which causes ghosts of all sorts of little aches & pains to pop up. It was highly unpleasant. Plus, I knew there was just no way I was going to safely get my full nine miles in, which sucked. But I did what I could.

Friday: 6.25 miles (2 warm up, 3 x 10:00 @ 10K pace (about 4 miles), .25 cool down) In spite of semi-nasty weather at Kezar, this was one of the best speed workouts I've had in a while. All three repeats felt good, I kept what I think is a reasonable pace (a little bit slower by the numbers than my actual 10K pace due to the nasty headwind that has essentially set up camp on the back stretch at Kezar Stadium), and no shin splints / Achilles pain. I actually meant to cool down with a full mile, but I had to be somewhere & ran out of time.

Saturday: 7.2 miles easy. I'd only planned to run 6, but I felt good and realized that if I could tack on an extra 1.75, it would bring me to an even 40 for the week, for the first time in nearly a year! So exciting. Alas, again, I had places to be & was already cutting it pretty close in terms of time, so I didn't quite get there.

Grand Total: 39.45 miles

Not quite back to 40 yet, but getting really close. Plus, no aches and pains (at least no significant ones)! Next week I'll probably cut back a little since I'm racing 10K on Saturday, and maybe the following week as well, but starting the first week of September, I should be ready to start busting out 40+ weeks on a regular basis. Finally feeling like I'm really, truly recovered, which gives me all sorts of mischievous ideas... :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why I Love My Heart Rate Monitor...

monitorAbout two years ago, I started running with a heart rate monitor all the time. Being a mathematician in addition to a runner, I couldn't get enough of the data end of things -- I had a whole Excel workbook going where I tracked the date, my pace, my average heart rate, as well as the temperature and any pertinent notes about the run. It was fascinating to see how different variables affected my pace, and neat to watch my average heart rate drop for the same run over time.

I built statistical models. Yes, I kind of have a problem.

About six months ago I stopped (except for races) because of some nasty sports bra chafing that the monitor was irritating. I recently strapped it back on for a tempo run, though, which sent the numbers part of my brain into kind of a blissful fit. Oh, average I've missed you...

As creepy as my relationship with my heart rate monitor may sound, I'm actually not one of those runners who's super-obsessive about heart rate during training. I didn't have withdrawal symptoms or anything when I stopped using it. Still, running with a monitor changed so many things for me, so if you've never tried it and are monitor-curious, consider giving it a try.

How did running with a monitor change things for me?

  • I FINALLY learned my resting & max heart rates. You know all that stuff you read about different training zones, how easy an easy run should be, how much effort a tempo run should require, etc.? And how it's usually explained in terms of heart rate? Running with a heart rate monitor finally let me make sense of it all. Because I've learned how 70% of max, 80% of max, 90% of max, etc. feel, I do a lot better job now of running at the right intensity level even without the monitor.

  • It kept me honest on my easy runs. Something I don't always do a great job of is keeping my easy runs easy. I get impatient, or bored, or like to fantasize that my "easy" pace is faster than it is. It's a lot harder to argue that a too-fast pace is appropriate when you know what 70-75% of max is and you can see the number right on your wrist.

  • It showed me hard evidence of getting fitter. Because race courses and how you're feeling on race day can vary so much, it can be tricky to use those times to determine whether or not you're really getting faster. With the monitor, it was cool to run the same course for the same distance at the same pace every month or so and see my average heart rate drop a little every time. (Also nice because you can pick whatever pace you want.)

  • It helped me nail my tempo runs. The hardest thing about doing tempo runs according to pace is that hills / wind / heat / poor footing / etc. will wreak havoc with them. While there's something to be said for going by perceived effort, I'm acutely aware that, at least for me, this isn't a fool proof system either. Knowing that a tempo run was all about maintaining ~90% of MHR made it SO much easier for me to do my tempo runs under pretty much any circumstances and feel confident that I was maintaining the right effort level.

  • It helped me nail my race paces. Again, going into a race knowing you want to keep a certain pace is smart, but if the course is hilly / windy / hot / etc., this gets trickier. I fount it much easier to go into a race knowing that I was physically capable of maintaining a certain heart rate for a given amount of time and try to stick to that, regardless of hills / wind / etc. (This was especially important early in a race when I was feeling over-optimistic & likely to try & convince myself I could TOTALLY hold a pace 10 seconds faster per mile than I'd trained for -- no matter how good I felt subjectively, I'd look over at that bpm number and know there was just no way I could stay there for x number of minutes.

So I'm thinking that I'll probably go back to wearing it for a while, at least for tempo runs and easy runs where I don't want to let myself speed up too much.

garmin 305I started out with a Timex standalone monitor, which I wore along with an ordinary sports watch. It worked fabulously well and I had no complaints about it; eventually, though, I got tired of wearing both, and also wanted something that would tell me about my current pace. That was when I got my Garmin 305, which I absolutely adore, simply because it is the Swiss army knife of sports watches. I highly recommend it!

So that's my heart rate monitor shpeel (sp?). Give it a try sometime if you haven't! :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Positive Self-Talk In Action

Just recently, I discovered Lesley's blog Racing It Off. A couple of days ago, Lesley had a post entitled "What I Learned From My 6-Year-Old." I loved this post because a) it was absolutely precious, b) her daughter Lily is hard core, and c) I think it is a GREAT example of both positive self-talk and expectations, both of which I've written about here and think are some of the most important keys to the mental part of strong (and enjoyable!) running. It doesn't sound like this is something Lesley has explicitly coached Lily to do -- she's just doing it, because it works!

So yeah. Consider letting this little girl inspire you on your next really tough run. :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fight Club & Long Runs...

3 recovery beveragesSo last Sunday (7/7) I ran 12 miles for the first time since the Broken-est Half Marathon last October. It was a cool Sunday evening, I felt great, and even ran the last 6-7 miles at PR pace without working too terribly hard. Then, today (7/15), I went out for another 12 miler. This was, shall we say, a less spectacular run by just about every possible metric. Whereas I finished last Sunday's run with a few sub-8:00 miles and felt strong all the way, today was the first run I've had in a very, very long time where I literally found myself questioning just how many more steps I had in me before I could no longer avoid collapsing into a twitching pile of sweat and sunscreen.

At 11.5 miles, it was not at all clear whether making it to 12 was actually in the cards. Half a mile has not seemed so un-doable and interminable since reaching 12.6 miles in my first half marathon. Most of the time when I start feeling bleak about a long run it tends to be a mental thing and I still feel reasonably good physically. Not this time; this time, it was my mind dragging my body along, which felt completely drained and utterly exhausted (also, both my right quad and hamstring started cramping up on and off around mile 9, which has never happened before, and didn't exactly help. I'm blaming inadequate hydration, for now). Definitely a triple recovery beverage kind of day (sweetened ice tea, grapefruit soda, and Gordon Biersch blonde bock, for the record).

This isn't terribly surprising. Whereas my run last Sunday was during a cool evening (probably 50°ish), I headed out for today's run around 2pm, and although it wasn't stupid hot or anything, it was probably at least 70°, which for me is noticeably warm and enough to make a difference. (I used to scoff at the idea of temperatures over 60° affecting performance all that dramatically; a relay leg through Napa in 80° heat disabused me of that notion.) Also, on this route, the first water fountain is at about 6 miles. There's another at about 7 miles, and then that's it. When it's cool, that's totally adequate, but I think maybe 70° is just a little too warm not have water before 6 miles or after 7, so that may have also played a role.

kusanku saiThe bigger issue, though, probably has more to do with the reason why I ran my long run on Monday this week instead of Sunday. I may have mentioned at some point that in addition to being a runner, I'm also a martial artist, so from time to time, Sunday evening is fight club.

Out of all the different parts of karate practice, sparring is probably what I'd consider my weakest point. That isn't a huge deal, except that I'm now most of the way (I think) through my second degree brown belt, meaning it won't be too much longer until I'm a third degree brown belt, which will put me probably less than a year away from my black belt testing. And it kind of makes me a little bit sick at my stomach to think about testing for a black belt with what I consider to be my current level of skill in terms of sparring.

Our regular practices are on Monday and Wednesday nights (which is why I don't normally run on those days). We do some sparring then, but to be honest, there is already so much else to practice in terms of basics, kata, weapons, and self-defense that there isn't always a ton of time for it. So, a while back, our sensei started an informal sparring night wherein experienced martial artists from all different styles would get together at our dojo once every month or two and just work on one-on-one fighting. In an effort to address what I see as my woefully inadequate sparring skills (relative to everything else, at least), I've decided to do my level best to get to every fight club I possibly can. The only trouble with this is that Sunday also tends to be when I do my long runs.

As you may have guessed, doing a long run AND fighting like ten different guys for two hours later that evening is not really a functional option. I'm not saying I couldn't do it; just that I'm a lot more likely to end up injured and/or getting my ass handed to me. Potentially multiple times. (It's also unclear how much quality fighting I'd actually be capable of getting in before I just can't move fast enough anymore to make it worth the effort.)

Hence Sunday night fight club, and Monday afternoon long run. Which is definitely more functional, but still more or less equivalent to doing two long runs in the space of 18 hours. (Seriously; I more stumble out of fight club than walk, and getting out of the car once we get home takes some doing. Getting to sleep does not.)

So yeah. Not terribly surprising that I'd have a less-than-stellar long run post-fight club. Still! I'm glad that I did it; whatever doesn't kill you, and all that. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get dressed for karate in an hour (it's Monday, after all).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Week In Review: Aug 7 - 13

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

Sunday: 12 miles easy/moderate. Woo-hoo! It had been waaaaay too long since I'd gotten in a proper long run (thanks, life). Also, can we just talk about the fact that this is the farthest I've run since the Broken-est Half Marathon last October? I ran the first five or six fairly easy, then decided to see how far I could push the pace before I felt like it wasn't really an easy run anymore. It pleased me greatly to run the last 6-7 miles at about my PR half marathon pace (kind of outdated at this point, to be honest) with what felt like a pretty easy effort. Maybe there's something to all this 10K-as-half-marathon-training business. :)

Tuesday: 7 miles (2 warm up + 5 tempo) Realistically, I've been trying to use tempo runs as half-marathon practice. In order to run 1:40 in November, I need to maintain a 7:38 pace, so my goal is to get to the point where I can run ~7:30-35 per mile fairly comfortably for 6-7 miles. I know I'm not there yet, but lately it's been a little tough to tell for sure how close I am because SF has had a near-constant westerly wind going on for the last few months. As a result, running on the track means contending with a wicked headwind on the back stretch; at more or less the same effort level, my Garmin can show 7:26/mile on the tailwind side and 8:08/mile on the headwind side. Today I averaged 7:46/mile, which realistically means I'm probably running harder than I should be for a tempo run (and it felt like it).

Thursday: 9 miles (3 easy, 6 tempo) This was the day I ran with the Lululemon Run Club six mile group. Ack! This was supposed to be an easy day; due to circumstances mostly beyond my control, however, I ended up running those 6 miles faster on average than my Tuesday tempo run! While this was not the end of the world, it was definitely not what I'd planned to do. Next time I run with those folks, I'll either have to declare my intentions early-on to run at an easier pace or plan on a tempo run. On the plus side, no shin splint or Achilles trouble. On the downside, wicked sore hamstrings the next day. (I actually felt more sore than I usually do after a race.)

Friday: 6 miles easy. I'd planned on doing speed work today, but after that Lemon Club Run the day before, it just wasn't going to happen -- I really needed an easy day. Did an easy six mile loop in the 9:20/mile range, which was mostly okay except for a little bit of asthma (boo) and some shin splint pain. I've definitely noticed that my shin splints tend to show up a) when I run more slowly and b) when I'm functioning at less than 100%. When I run more slowly, I think my feet spend more time in contact with the ground, which means my legs spend more time supporting my weight (as opposed to when I'm moving faster and relying more on momentum). When I'm not completely fresh, I think my big muscles (hamstrings, glutes, core) aren't as good at stabilizing my body so I end up doing more of that with little muscles in my lower legs, which leads to pain.

Grand Total: 34 miles

Given how sore I still was after that Thursday run, and that I'd already met my goal of 30+ miles, I decided to spend Saturday recovering. I didn't get my speed intervals in this week, but since I essentially ran two tempo runs, I don't feel too badly about it. Shooting for another 30+ miles next week!

A Few Myths About Orthotics

orthoticsDue to mild pronation, I've run in a stability shoe for as long as I've been getting my shoes professionally fitted. That was towards the beginning of college; before that I honestly can't say what type of shoe I was running in, because my basic approach was to try on a bunch of running shoes until I found ones that felt comfortable. Then there was the one year we couldn't afford shoes and my coach gave me a pair to wear for the season, which I think were actually used and already worn out. Given all that, it's probably not surprising that I suffered from horrendous shin splints for years that all manner of leg and foot exercises did nothing to fix. Around the same time that I started wearing a stability shoe, I also started trying to switch to a forefoot strike; between these two things, my shin splints all but disappeared in a few months.

Earlier this year, I got really curious about racing flats and started looking into getting a pair for shorter races. At the time, flats weren't something I knew much about. In high school I wore spikes for time trials and races 1600 m or shorter or regular trainers for workouts and two mile races; it never occurred to me that there was any other option. (Mostly I wanted them for 5Ks & 10Ks - it's hard for me to imagine running farther than that with that little cushioning.) In an effort not to walk into a running store completely clueless on the topic, I tried to at least do some research on how flats are fitted compared to trainers and what different types exist. Alas, there wasn't as much detailed information out there (at least that I was able to find) as I'd hoped. So, armed with precious little knowledge beyond the basics, I put myself in the hands of the shoe people at Roadrunner Sports.

And I learned a few things right away. First, that there are two types of racing flats: performance neutral or "true" flats (very little in the way of cushion and support), and performance stability shoes (slightly more support, mostly aimed at preventing overpronation). After video-taping a few seconds of me running barefoot, they confirmed what I already knew: high arches + flexible ankles = not insignificant overpronation. Which, one of the salespeople explained to me, meant that running in a true racing flat was probably out of the question.

On the off chance that it might help, they did a quick custom orthotic for me and we did a few more videos of me running in the neutrals with the orthotics. It made some difference, but not really enough. Next, we tried a few different performance stability shoes. In those videos, my pronation looked similar to when I was wearing the neutrals with orthotics. When we added the orthotics to the stability shoes, the pronation was almost gone. So I left that day with my Mizuno Musha Wave 3's and a pair of molded inserts.

In the last couple of months before this, the shin splints I thought I had banished back in college had been sneaking back up on me. They weren't as bad as they had been; just noticeable enough to be annoying (and worry me a little). On the off chance that it might do some good, I started switching the molded inserts into my trainers when I wore them. (It didn't.) As I've mentioned lately, I think they've been getting better in the last few weeks; I'm now running in my new Brooks and the molded inserts in an effort to add every little bit of stability I can.

It's been a while since I discussed all this with someone with an actual medical degree, though, so recently, I made an appointment with a sports medicine podiatrist, just to see what he thinks. Then today, I ran across another Gina Kolata article regarding orthotics and running.

That was kind of a bummer.

Well; sort of. It turns out that yes, orthotics really do work in a lot of cases in that they often do let people run or walk more or less pain-free when they weren't able to before. On the other hand, there's apparently a lot of bad information out there about orthotics as well. The article goes into a lot of detail, but here's what I took away from it in terms of myth-busting:

Myth#1: Doctors understand how orthotics work. Apparently they don't, really. It's more a process of trial and error than anything else.

Myth #2: Doctors can predict what effect a given orthotic will have on a given patient's biomechanics. Unfortunately, ten patients with the same biomechanical problem may react to the same orthotic in ten different ways. Depending on how a certain patient responds, the issue may get better, worse, or stay the same.

Myth #3: Orthotics change a person's running form & kinematics (how the skeleton moves during running). Even when a patient reports that orthotics are working, there is rarely evidence that s/he is actually moving differently as a result of the orthotics. (On the other hand, there is evidence that wearing orthotics can reduce muscle strength.)

Myth #4: There is good scientific / medical evidence that orthotics prevent injury. There isn't. There are lots of studies, but most of them are not scientific or lack rigor. That doesn't mean that orthotics don't prevent injury in certain cases, just that there is no real evidence that they do. (The article does site one well-controlled scientific study where orthotics did appear to reduce injury in a group of soldiers; but again, even in the soldiers who suffered fewer injuries, the researchers did not see evidence that the orthotics changed anything about their biomechanics. Also, the soldiers chose their own orthotics based purely on what they thought was comfortable, without any input from a doctor at all.)

The article wraps up with some advice from a professor of biomechanics: Instead of turning to orthotics right away, he says, most athletes would do better to instead work on strengthening the muscles in the affected parts of their legs.

So really, who knows whether those custom inserts are really doing anything for me or not? I'll definitely be very interested to see what the podiatrist has to say about all this next week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Do You Know What's In Your Coconut Water?

zicoSomehow I missed it when coconut water become the hot new trend among runners. Me? I just sort of noticed it appearing in stores and was like, "That looks tasty." And it is! So I've been drinking it fairly regularly when I want more than water but nothing overly sweet.

Then, maybe a week or two ago, I saw an article on the big coconut-water-as-recovery-drink buzz. Who knew?? (Hint: Not me. Then again, I am notoriously unobservant. Just ask Don.) Apparently runners of the world were all aflutter over the extra electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium in particular) without all the chemicals & fake stuff that's in more traditional sports drinks.

Then, a couple days ago, I spotted this article in one of my favorite green-and-clean health & beauty product blogs, No More Dirty Looks.

(Sidenote: After reading the book these ladies published on the state of the health & beauty industry & what's in the stuff we put on our bodies, I basically trashed everything in my bathroom & never looked back. Coconut water aside, I highly recommend spending a few minutes poking around their blog if this isn't something you've read or heard much about.)

blue monkeyYou can read the original article from CNN here; the upshot is that out of the three brands ConsumerLabs tested (O.N.E., Vita Coco, and Zico), only Zico contained the amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and sugar stated on its label. The other two were basically coconut-flavored sugar water.

Which is a good reminder to us all:
"When something like this becomes wildly popular, people have a tendency to look at the claims rather than reality," says Taub-Dix, the author of Read It Before You Eat It. "If you're working out and sweating a lot, this isn't going to do the trick."

Frankly, I've just been drinking it because I like it, but if you're a runner relying on coconut water to rehydrate you during or after a hard race or workout, you deserve to know whether the brand you've got lives up to what it's promised, and the companies producing and marketing the stuff owe it to you to be honest about what their product actually contains & does.

Above - Blue Monkey is another brand I've had a couple times. Since it wasn't part of the ConsumerLabs test, I have no idea whether it passes muster or not, but it tastes good. :)