Friday, September 30, 2011

Marathon Training, Week 5: In Which Dr. S. Tolerates My Extra-Special Brand of Neurotic

Ah, the smell of wet plaster in the morning...

Today was visit #3 to my PAMF podiatrist, Dr. Saxena.

The briefest of recaps from visits #1 & 2:

  • I have a moderate case of MTSS that is most likely caused by over-pronation that isn't being corrected sufficiently by stability shoes & semi-custom orthotics.
  • A few weeks of TheraBand exercises to strengthen the small muscles in the lower legs often corrects the trouble but in my case didn't.
  • The next steps were to try custom orthotics as a long-term preventative measure & air casts as a temporary measure to let the damaged soft tissue heal. Also, I can keep following my same training schedule as long as I don't experience any bleeding-out-the-eyeballs levels of pain.
  • I got the air casts but found them quite uncomfortable to run in for more than a mile and a half -- they felt like vice grips on the back of my foot.

(You can read about visits #1 & #2 in greater detail here and here, if you're, like, super into reading about podiatry or shin splints or Paula Radcliffe's bunions. Or if you're in the Bay Area & looking for a good podiatrist.)

So I went in today to be fitted for the orthotics. Now, I took my camera & had this whole grand plan involving documenting the process step-by-step, but it turns out to actually be a pretty quick, undramatic process and was over before there was really anything to document. (It also turns out that you have to lay face down on an exam table while you get your feet wrapped in warm plaster, so as you might imagine that is kind of a limiting factor.)

Here is a picture I found on the internet to make up for it.

orthotics fitting 1

It was pretty much like that.

(To prove I'm not completely morally bankrupt, here is the source.)

Regarding the air casts, Dr. S speculated that my feet were still trying to pronate since the orthotics I have aren't quite enough, and rolling against the hard plastic splints (hence the vice-grip-type pain). His take was that, since running in them for 1.5 out of, say, ten miles basically accomplishes nothing, that I should forget about them for now & try them again when I have the custom orthotics (which should take care of the pronation).

While he wrapped & molded my feet in warm plaster, Dr. S & I chatted a bit about running & marathon training in general (remember that he was a competitive high school & college runner & a 2:45 marathoner). I think if you go to see him, it's important to know that he is very straightforward as doctors go and not so much about the beating around the bush and sugarcoating things, which I definitely appreciate. This wasn't too surprising after reading his Yelp reviews, which are mostly quite good with a few abysmal ones here & there. As far as I could tell, people who gave him low ratings seem to want more of an avuncular sycophant who will confirm what they already believe (or want to believe) than a skilled doctor who will be straight with them & get them healthy again.

This was in evidence when he asked me if I had any particular goals for CIM, like qualifying for Boston. I told him about how I thought somewhere in the 3:20 - 3:30 range was probably a reasonable expectation based on my times at other distances, but that since it was my first marathon I was much more concerned with learning the preparation process and having a strong race. He asked me what my 10K time was and I told him around 44 minutes. "Yeah, you've got to be faster than that to run 3:20," he replied frankly. Heh. I'm sure this is completely true and I will be lucky to break 3:30 even if I have a perfect race.

We also talked about my mileage & how I was approaching training. I told him how I had started my marathon training at about 40 miles per week & wanted to peak somewhere between 50 & 55 miles per week. He said he firmly believed that 40 miles a week is about the minimum in terms of getting through a marathon with any modicum of health. (I'm pretty sure he meant people who are running with some sort of time / performance goal in mind, not people whose only goal is to finish.) "But obviously," he added, "the more you can run, the faster you'll be." His opinion seemed to pretty much be that 40 miles / week is a minimum for finishing a marathon safely, healthily, & with a respectable time, and that you really needed to be closer to 80 to really be strong at that distance. He's pretty much the first doctor (or health / fitness professional of any kind) who has actively encouraged me to build mileage as much as possible (without getting injured, obviously) as opposed to constantly warning me to back off, cut back, be conservative, etc.

Finally, we talked briefly about how I am pretty much obsessed with worrying about stress fractures. Our conversation went something like this:

    Me: "So, if I had a stress fracture, I would know it, right? Right? Because I pretty much worry about this every moment of every day."
    Dr. S: "Probably. But not necessarily. They can happen suddenly but it's very rare. You probably should not worry about this every moment of every day."
    Me: "Okay, but how would I know?"
    Dr. S: "Can you hop on one foot?"
    Me: [Hops on one foot]
    Dr. S: "And the other?"
    Me: [Hops on the other]
    Dr. S: "Does it hurt?"
    Me: "No..."
    Dr. S: "Yeah, it's pretty unlikely that you have a stress fracture."
    Me: "Okay, but if I did start to get a stress fracture, how would I know?"
    Dr. S: "So if there's a spot in your leg that pretty much hurts the whole time you're running and then you're limping after, then you might have a stress fracture."
    Me: "Oh, okay. Because my legs don't usually hurt much when I'm running. It's mostly after."
    Dr. S: "Yeah. That's because you don't have a stress fracture."
    Me: "Okay."
    Dr. S: "Seriously. If you had a stress fracture, you probably would not be able to run at all. So chill."

So, you know. That made me feel better.

So yeah. The orthotics should be ready in about two weeks; at that point I'll go back to have them fitted into my shoes (though Dr. S. said I could still take them out & use them in other shoes, just as with my current ones). In the mean time, I'm doing alright, MTSS-wise. Every now & then I get a little stabbing pain in one of my shins, and the medial areas are still very tender after I run, but for the most part it doesn't interfere too much. (Also, ice helps a lot with the pain. Which, all things considered, really isn't all that severe anyway.)

Tune in two weeks from now when SF Road Warrior finally becomes FULLY BIONIC!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, Why Not Kill Someone With Lemons?

I didn't kill anyone with lemons this weekend but I kind of wanted to.

Last week I blogged about my follow-up visit to the podiatrist, & how he was not pleased with my progress re: the MTSS from hell. The next step was custom orthotics (a preventive, potentially permanent solution) and air casts (a hopefully temporary way to stabilize my lower legs & let the existing damage heal in the immediate future). I was not excited about these options because they seemed rather Bionic Woman-ish. Not to mention pricey as hell.

But the more I continued to run & put up with the pain and worry about stress fractures & get all anxious about my CIM fee going to waste, the more I started to feel like I didn't really have a choice. If I were running 30 casual miles a week, that would be one thing. Building mileage I haven't even been close to for nearly a year for a marathon is something else. Finally I decided it was stupid to risk it & pulled the trigger.

I'll be fitted this Thursday for the orthotics. The air casts arrived last Friday; I had a HMP run scheduled for Saturday at the track so I decided to take them for a spin.

air casts 1

air casts 2

air casts 3

Dead seckseh, no? Try not to be too jealous.

I should've seen the shittiness coming when I arrived at the track and found it closed due to what looked like an elementary school field day of some sort. (Truly, I don't begrudge kids opportunities to be active. At all. But I have never once seen the track closed for an even that actually made use of the track. That's actually what makes me bitter.) So, with a sigh of resignation, me & my bitter bionic shins schlepped up to the concrete track at the top of the bleachers & started our bitter three-mile warm-up jog.

Which didn't last very long. It turns out that running in air casts is excruciatingly painful. The best way I can describe the sensation is like running with the back part of each foot in a vice grip. (On top of this, the rigidity of the casts also makes it almost impossible to plantarflex your foot, which almost forces you to land flat-footed. I could hear myself going smack-smack-smack all the way around the concrete track. Definitely not cute.)

I made it about a mile before I stopped to see if I could adjust them in some way, but nothing worked. On top of this, I was having a really, really hard time effort-wise; running a nine-minute mile was taking way too much out of me and I couldn't for the life of me imagine how I was going to bust out a bunch of 7:37's once my warm up was done. (Sound familiar much?)

Basically, I think the upper concrete track is cursed. That's really the most obvious explanation by far.

At about 1.5 miles I stopped again, seething. I ripped the casts off and threw them into my bag, pissed as hell at elementary school kids, soccer players, the city's complete inability to post any kind of consistent schedule for the track, the clearly incompetent designers of air casts, the stupid backstretch headwind, and my stupid legs for their inability to just work.

At that point, I was ready to pack it in. (Just for clarity, this was the lemony part where I wanted to kill people, and if I had maybe had a bucket of lemons and a better arm it might have gone very badly for those little kids on the infield.)

(I am joking so please don't send me hate mail about menacing small children.)

In the end, though, no one was harmed. I sat in the bleachers for a bit, massaging my feet (it really took several minutes for them to feel normal again) & trying to decide what to do next. The weather was getting nasty and I had a finite amount of time. It would've been pretty darn easy to toss my bag in the trunk and just drive back home at that point, but instead I found myself ruminating on the words of Newark Mayor Cory Booker:

"You cannot let your inability to do everything undermine your determination to do something."

These are awesome words purely because of how widely applicable they can be. I can't remember when or where I first heard them, but I've come back to them over and over again in running, in my professional life, in my personal life, you name it. When things suck and you realize you just aren't going to be able to do what you planned or what you want to do or wish you could, it's easy let your emotions run away with you and throw your hands up. Why bother.

It's important to remember, though, that great things are often just a series of small things brought together. Don't fool yourself into imagining that the small things are irrelevant, just because they're small.

Okay, I sighed to myself, I'm not going to wear the air casts and I'm not going to try to do a HMP run today. What can I do, then?

I had an easy ten miler scheduled for the next day. I decided I could do that. I'd already run 1.5 miles, so I made a deal with myself that if I could just get myself mentally through 8.5 more easy miles, that would be good enough.

So I did. Well; sort of. The rebellious part of me did kind of go, "Eff target paces. You're lucky my ass isn't in the car on the way back home right now. I'm running at whatever the hell pace I feel like. Deal with it."

So I did. Suddenly, a few miles in, I looked down at my Garmin and realized I was running faster than marathon pace, and that it felt pretty easy. It seemed to be working for me, so I kept doing it. When I hit a few uphill stretches, I was careful not to run too hard; even if I couldn't really call this pace "easy," I still wanted to finish my ten miles strong and without breathing hard. In the end, that's what I did. My average pace ended up being about ten seconds slower than marathon pace, but it felt MUCH more than ten seconds per mile easier. Bizarre, considering how those Thursday MP runs have been the bane of my existence lately.

cory bookerWhat was I saying?

Right. Lemons. And Cory Booker. And small things.

Sometimes "perfect" is the enemy of "good" and sometimes "good" is the enemy of "done." Likewise sometimes nice, neat, meticulously-planned training plans can be the enemy of good, solid running. And sometimes good, solid running is the enemy of any running at all.

Cory Booker sez, "Git 'er done, bitch!"

And sometimes doing whatever you can, however you can surprises you with a great run.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Week In Review: Sept 19 - Sept 25

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. :)

7 Weeks to Clarksburg Half Marathon

10 Weeks to Cal International Marathon

After finishing my long run Sunday feeling pretty trashed & with a painful tendon in my left leg, I decided to take both Monday and Tuesday off. That week was my highest mileage in a very long time with some tough runs, plus this week was already scheduled as a cut-back, so I figured starting the week with two rest days was probably not the worst idea I ever had.

It did end up being more of a cut-back week than I intended; I meant to get another 8 miles in on Sunday, but it didn't happen. Such is life. All I can do is plan better next time.

Wednesday: 6 miles easy. It was HOT today, and although the tweaky tendon felt a little bit better for the rest, my tibias / shins were NOT happy with me. I am a little bit neurotic about stress fractures, and although I've been really careful about increasing mileage, pronation-induced shin splints does put me at a certain amount of risk. Although the pain gets pretty bad at times, I'm still passing the vast majority of the stress fracture tests (pain comes and goes with running instead of just getting worse; hopping on one leg is fine; there are localized spots on my shins that hurt when I press, but it's not excruciating pain, etc.), so I'm trying not to obsess too much.

Thursday: 9 miles (2 wu + 7 @ MP) 7:58 / mile & 175 bpm. These marathon pace runs are becoming BY FAR my toughest runs of the week -- absolutely harder than my half marathon pace runs, even though they're 20-30 seconds slower per mile and only a mile or two longer. On one hand, marathon pace should be 80-90% of max heart rate and this pace puts me at about 78%, so it's certainly not as if I'm over-taxing my cardiovascular system. On the other hand, right now I just can't imagine keeping up that pace for 3-4 hours. Could it just be a mental thing in terms of which distances my brain knows and is familiar with? Is it just that my body is tired, so the runs are harder on my musculoskeletal system? Is it that I've been doing my MP runs on the roads (meaning more hills and wind and a harder surface) and my HMP runs on the track (some wind, but only in small spurts)? All I know is, this run was utterly MISERABLE and I cannot tell you how excited I was to hear that last chirp from the Garmin. Ugh.

Saturday: 10 miles (1.5 easy, 8.5 MPish?) I'll post more about this run later. It was supposed to be a 3 mile warm up followed by a 5 mile HMP run, but for various reasons, that didn't happen. Still, it was a good run and I'm glad I got it in.

Sunday: 8 miles (3 wu + 5 HMP) Bemoan poor planning. I was really just a mess Sunday, logistically. I mean to be honest, it was raining when I woke up, and I don't really see how I can be expected to get much of anything done when it's raining. Sigh. Better luck next week, I suppose.

Grand Total: 25 miles

If it hadn't been a cut-back week anyway, I might be kicking myself for this. While not a habit I want to get into, missing one run is not the end of the world. This week, back to our regularly scheduled mileage.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Link: Dreams, Goals, & Expectations

feetI only recently started occasionally reading Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano's site, Run The Edge. For the most part, they tend to post light-hearted / funny / goofy stuff related to running, so it's pretty amusing to read. Recently, though, Adam posted a more serious piece entitled Adam Goucher: Olympic Dreams. It's a beautiful post that you should definitely read for yourself, but mainly he talks about how the way he thought about running and goal-setting changed for him between high school and his professional career. As a high school kid, he dreamed big, bold, audacious dreams (Olympic medals, world records, etc.) that filled him with joy and delirious excitement about running and training. As his career progressed, though, those euphoric dreams started to feel more and more like expectations, as if they weren't really his own anymore. His racing became less about achieving his dreams and more about meeting the expectations of others.
"When I was younger, I placed no limits on my dreams no matter how far fetched or improbable, but now I felt I needed to be realistic. I no longer allowed my imagination to soar and see myself shattering world records. Of course I still dreamt of winning the gold and deep down I would think, maybe just maybe… but I felt I needed to limit my dreams to more attainable goals like maybe a 10 second PR or a hard fought bronze."

Most of us don't face the same kind of pressure in terms of other people's expectations for our performance. Still, sometimes it's easy to put that pressure on ourselves to the point that running becomes less about the excitement of what we could achieve, and more about anxiety over what we feel like we have to achieve. Instead of filling us with excitement and a feeling of accomplishment, suddenly a good race is nothing but a relief. And rather than a learning experience that helps us to reflect and be thoughtful about our running and training, a bad race feels like an utter disaster.

In an effort to recapture that feeling of running for enjoyment and big, hairy, audacious dreams rather than meeting the expectations of others, Adam registered for the Rock N Roll Philly Half last Sunday. If he went under 65 minutes, he'd qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials (which would be his first ever marathon).
Does it sound like a crazy dream to imagine running my first marathon and qualifying for the Olympic games? Maybe. But once again it is my dream. It belongs to me...I know I am a long shot but I am healthy, motivated, and enjoying the chance to take one last shot at a dream. Most importantly, I am running for myself. I am running because I passionately love this sport. I feel connected with other runners again because our dreams are the same. We are all chasing the edges of our potential. I realize that I am no different from the runner who is striving to break 40 minutes in the 10K. We are both dreamers. We are both runners, kindred spirits, brothers and sisters in arms daring to dream big and letting our imaginations run wild.

It turns out he went 1:04:52 -- congrats, Adam! And congrats to everyone out there who raced Sunday, whatever dreams you're chasing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marathon Training, Week 3: In Which I Attempt Eating & Drinking On The Run

bars&gelsI'm not in the habit of carrying fluids or energy / nutritional supplements when I run. People often seem surprised by this. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying I don't find it pleasant to be able to quench my thirst during a run. On the other hand, I am a lazy ass muthaf**** and will do pretty much anything to avoid carrying things in my hands while I'm running.

Sometimes it's unavoidable. I used to pin my house keys to my shorts when I ran in the neighborhood. Then one night the safety pin managed to pop open at some indeterminate point during my first couple of miles & the keys went flying into oblivion. Once I realized they were gone, the only thing I could think of to do was run to my boyfriend's house, borrow his roommate's computer to log in to my email and find my roommate's phone number (because seriously, why would I know that??), leave her a message using his phone, wait for her to call back, then run to the bar where she was to borrow her keys so I could get into the house & then make new copies in the morning. Sheesh. To this day, unless I have a zipper pocket, I carry those bitches IN MY HAND. And even then I periodically check that they're still there. At a few smaller races with no sweat check I've also run holding my car fob.

Most of the time, though, I can get away without carrying anything very big. On a reasonably cool day, I can run eight or ten miles without water as long as I down a couple of glasses before I go. I'm not saying I'm not thirsty when I get back, but not that miserable, cotton-mouth-ey, boy-that-stranger's-garden-hose-sure-does-look-tempting kind of thirsty. If I'm on a longer run than that, Golden Gate Park is likely involved in some capacity, and there are enough water fountains there to keep me from reaching the afore-described level of thirst.

The concept of ingesting something non-liquid during a run is a foreign concept to me. On my first-ever half marathon, I carried a package of jelly beans in a little fanny pack (don't judge). For every one I managed to get into my mouth, probably at least three or four ended up on the ground. Plus they made my stomach feel kind of funny. On every half since then I haven't bothered to carry anything & just made sure to eat a solid, carb-ey breakfast & grab some Gatorade (or whatever) at every aid station. That's always worked out pretty well for me.

Of course, a marathon is a different story so I am going to have to get this drinking / feeding myself while running situation handled sometime in the not-too-dim-and-misty future. Hence a trip to Sports Basement, where a hand-held water bottle and various packages of gelatinous substances were purchased. (Full disclosure -- I didn't actually purchase the Gu Roctane; those, I won in a giveaway from the inestimable Rad Runner, along with some tasty, tasty nuun & a few packs of Gu Chomps. The flavor was peach tea, which sounds weird but was actually quite good!)

I won't embarrass myself by telling you how much time I spent staring blankly at the racks and tubs of water bottles of every conceivable shape, size, and price. Eventually, I'd examined enough of them to figure out what features I wanted (compact, hands-free top/nozzle/sucker/thing, roomy zipper pouch, key ring clip, reasonable price). Unfortunately, it seems as if the hand-strap water bottle industry has yet to create a product that meets my requirements. So I settled for the Camelbak one, which, although it's a little taller and the zipper pouch isn't quite as roomy (maybe two gels' worth at most), does have the hands-free top, the key ring clip, and was only $16.00 (which I still think is a rip-off but what are you going to do).

Friends, I have to say that I just don't know how this hand-held situation is going to work out for me. I've taken the bottle on three runs so far, just to get some practice holding & drinking from it -- an easy run last Monday (6), my MP run last Thursday (2 wu + 7 MP), & my long run Sunday (14). When it's full I feel like I'm trying to run with a dumbbell in one hand. I have to tense some of the muscles in my arm to support its weight, which really throws off my upper body form (I can feel my shoulders twisting back and forth, which is really bad). Also, drinking out of it while I'm moving has been extraordinarily difficult -- I have to slow down considerably to actually get anything out of it. (Then again, this could just be lack of coordination on my part. It wouldn't be the first time...)

I'm also not sure how great it is for me to have unfettered access to fluids at all times. I feel like a lot of the time I'm just drinking out of it because it's there, not because I'm actually thirsty. I feel like this could very quickly lead to a sloshy stomach, emptying the bottle within a few miles, and/or needing a pee break (which I'm hoping to avoid).

I'm not sure if ingesting gels really counts as "eating," but I took two Gu's with me on my Sunday long run as an experiment in logistics & digestion -- one Tri-berry and one Jet Blackberry. I was going 14 miles so I decided for no particular reason to eat one at five miles and one at ten miles. (As I suspected, those two Gu's barely fit into the bottle's zipper pouch, and I still couldn't close it all the way.)

The good news: I did manage to get both packages open & to get just about all of their gelatinous contents into my mouth & down into my stomach without stopping or making a giant mess.

The bad news: I cannot tell you how appalled I was at the texture / flavor of that stuff. Oh my god. WHY DID NONE OF YOU WARN ME??? (Boy that sounds a bit tawdry out of context...)

You know what it tasted like? Faintly berry-flavored chocolate ganache. Now, I've got no beef with chocolate ganache, but it is NOT at the top of the list of things I want to taste while running. EW.

awesome fuel beltClearly, there is no God. I just can't believe that a just, benevolent deity could allow such a disgusting substance to exist in the world. (Seriously; I almost choked, stumbled, & spit it out onto the ground. Probably only the knowledge that I paid a freaking buck twenty-five for it kept it in.)

The first one seemed to sit fine in my stomach once I washed the tasted out of my mouth. I managed to choke down the second one at mile 10 for the sake of science, and that also seemed to go fine, so at the very least, I've learned that regular Gu agrees with my digestive system while I'm running well enough. I am hoping that some of the other flavors are less revolting, though.

So there you go. My first foray into on-the-run fueling / drinking. Next week: Will she give the dorky fuel belt a shot? Eh? Eh? (Hint: Only if I can look this awesome. Thanks for the pic,!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Runner Boobs

jogbraIt is a pretty sweet day in the blogosphere when I can read two awesome sports bra posts in the same day. At RunnersRambles, I learned about the Zensah bra, and at XLMIC, I learned (or re-learned, actually) about the Moving Comfort Juno bra. (And also about how the first sports bra was two upside-down jock straps stitched together by a frustrated runner. True story. That's it right there. Aren't you glad you live in this decade?)

Several women in both comments sections remarked on the dearth of comfortable, functional sports bras for large-breasted women. (In the "Sports Bra History" article at XLMIC, you can read about how, even once the sports bra gained commercial legitimacy, designers poo-pooed the idea of a version for women in the DD range because they just couldn't believe that there could be that many large-breasted women in sports.) In the grand scheme of things, I guess I fall about in the middle -- the cute little yoga bras are not going to cut it, but I haven't had to suffer the same trials and tribulations of truly large-chested athletes.

The "Sports Bra History" article mentioned a company that I have heard good things about but haven't thought about in a while called Enell. Enell was started by the woman who first commercialized the idea of a sports bra for D / DD / etc. women (which I did not know until reading the article). If that's you and you just haven't found the right fit yet, you might also give them a try. :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Week In Review: Sept 12 - 18

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. :)

8 Weeks to Clarksburg Half Marathon

11 Weeks to Cal International Marathon

Monday: 6 miles easy. This was a pretty good run except for the uphill sections, which I ran a little too fast. Which is also par for the course. I need to make sure to keep easy days *truly* easy.

Tuesday: 6.5 miles (2 wu + 6 x 800 @ 10K pace w/ 400 recoveries) Even though I had a good speed workout last Tuesday, it was still kind of a psychic relief to have a good 800s workout after the shit-storm two weeks ago. (There was no actual shit involved...I am learning that on running blogs, it is important to specify this whenever there could be a question.) I was working pretty hard by the end but got every single 800 in right at 3:40, which, when you account for the headwind on the backstretch, is about 10K-pace-ish.

(I feel like I type "the headwind on the backstretch" so much that it should get its own name. Maybe I'll start calling it Carl.)

Thursday: 9 miles (2 wu + 7 @ MP) Got it done at a 7:55 pace, but did NOT feel good after. When it comes to strength work, lunges are kind of like my arch nemesis, and Wednesday night, I did lunges for the first time in many, many weeks. Although I didn't do all that many, I clearly I over-did it; my hamstrings and glutes felt like rocks going into the run (and not in a good way), and afterwards they felt like hamburger meat. I see a lot of stretching and foam rolling in my future

Friday: 4 easy REST. There's residual soreness, and then there's the hurtin' sort of pain that makes you walk funny. I have a rule about not attempting to run when I can't even walk normally. (Also, some crazy shin pain today that's making me a bit nervous.)

Saturday: 8 miles (3 wu + 5 HMP) Pretty psyched that I didn't get kicked off the track for a soccer game today. (For the record, I'm not categorically anti-soccer; only when it unexpectedly interferes with my running!) Same average pace (7:37 / mile, with wind) and heart rate (189 bpm) as last Saturday's HMP run, but definitely easier mentally. In fact, it felt positively easy...Then again, I suppose if HMP doesn't feel easy after only five miles, you're in trouble. I haven't run a half in nearly a year, and didn't wear a heart rate monitor in that one, so I have no idea what kind of heart rate I can expect to maintain for 90-100 minutes. I feel like 188 is a pretty good estimate, at least for the first ten miles; I may go with that & then just kill it for the last 5K. My shins were still pretty painful after, but while I was running they felt completely fine, which I guess is at least not a bad sign.

Sunday: 14 miles easy. This is the farthest I've run in nearly a year. Other than a head-on collision with a cyclist (seriously; she actively swerved into me when, as far as I could tell, there was nothing for her to be swerving around; the farther out of her way I tried to get, the farther she served) and an irritated tendon near my left ankle, it went pretty well. I ran most of the miles in the 8:50's and negative split the whole thing; plus, I got my first Gu practice in, which I'll be posting about shortly. :) On the other hand, my body feels pretty trashed as I write this (about an hour post-run), so I'll probably be taking the next two days completely off to make sure everything's kosher. It's a cut-back week anyway so whatevs.

Grand Total: 43.5 miles

Getting there. :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Track & The Long View

old person runningI have a love / hate relationship with the track. I love the soft, predictable surface. I hate the killer headwind on the backstretch ("Carl"). I love never having to pause for stop lights or dodge strollers and dogs on thirty-foot leashes. I hate the monotony of running circles.

One of my favorite things about running at Kezar Stadium, though, is the people watching. To wit:

  • For one of the many high schools that use the track, girls' track practice seems to involve jogging a lap, doing a dynamic warm-up, then sitting on the infield for an hour. Coming from a rather, er, draconian track background, I find this interesting. (Maybe it's just some bizarre kind of PE class? Dunno.)
  • I love the old people that come to jog on the track; although I will invariably cover more distance, those old people are out there jogging when I get there and still out there when I leave.
  • kid runningThe little kids whose parents will occasionally bring them to the track. I watched one little girl (4? 5? 6?) try over and over again to run an entire lap without stopping. Each time she couldn't make it, her mom would say, "Well, try again." On something like try number four she added, "Only maybe don't start out running at your top speed this time." The girl reacted as if her mother had just changed the world of long-distance running forever. The look on her face said, "You know, it's so crazy, it just might work..."
  • Last week a little kid and an old person were at the track at the same time. The little girl pointed out the old lady jogging to her mom. "You know," she said, "I can't decide if that's a girl or a boy." To which her mom replied, "Marie, maybe you could practice not saying everything that pops into your head." I'm pretty sure the girl didn't understand the point her mother was trying to make at all.
  • The endless parade of, um, "personal trainers" and their clueless clients. Who knew you didn't have to actually know what you're talking about to get paid to watch people hurl themselves miserably around the track and them do a million sit-ups & push-ups with shitty form? And how do I get in on this action?
  • All the track teams that work insanely hard. I remember 20 x 200 with 30 seconds rest; for me those workouts are inextricably linked with the smell of the track on a hot day. Every time I see them out there I'm cheering them on in my mind, because I remember how much I needed it when I was them.
  • The day camp groups whose counselors somehow manage to convince a bunch of eight-to-ten year olds that doing hundred meter sprints is the most awesome / entertaining activity imaginable.

track practiceIt kind of reminds me that no matter what we're doing, whether we're running two miles or ten, 100 sprints or lap after lap of steady jogging, training for a marathon or just trying to get around the track once without walking, we're all just out there, doing the best we can, trying to make ourselves a little better than we were when we got there (except for the girls that just sit on the infield....I don't know if they're really any better). It reminds me to take the long view with my running, to think about myself twenty-five years ago, challenging other kids to a lap around the school yard at recess; fifteen years ago, doing whatever I had to not to disappoint my coaches; ten, twenty, thirty years from now, hopefully still blessed enough to be able to run and be my best running self, hopefully able to inspire younger, more serious runners to remember to take the long view.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Do Not Wish to Become Bionic. Or Destitute.

bionic legsOn Monday I went back to the sports podiatrist in Palo Alto (remember? Runner? Boston qualifier? Duathlete? Podiatrist to the Stars? That's the one).

Something I'm learning about doctors is that they always have really high expectations for your body. Typically I will go to have a thing treated, then go back a few weeks later for a follow up; they're like, "So how's it doing?" and I'm like, "Oh, pretty good, it seems to be a little better," or "Oh, great, I'm not incapacitated by pain anymore." Then the doctor will examine whatever it is with a disapproving look and say something like, "This should really be much better by now." This always makes me feel kind of anxious because I feel like s/he is insinuating that I haven't been trying hard enough to make my body heal itself.

So it was with the podiatrist. I've been faithfully doing my TheraBand exercises 4-5 days per week, and although my shin splints are definitely still there, I haven't had any utterly miserable days since my last visit. I assumed this was some kind of progress. Then he started pressing around on my medial tibias until I cried uncle. That was when he got the disapproving look.

Since I've had the shin splints for years, they don't go away with less mileage, and a few weeks of strength exercises hasn't gotten rid of them, he said that the next steps were to try fully custom orthotics and try running in air casts for a while. Sometimes, he said, people are just too biomechanically messed up for their bodies to be able to deal with something like this on their own. (Okay, maybe he didn't put it exactly like that.)

Maybe this doesn't sound like a big huge deal, but it kind of feels like one. I have always been kind of biased against braces and orthotics and such except in the case of serious injuries; everyone I've talked to about it and everything I've read (that's credible) says that the net effect of things like that is to weaken the small stabilizer muscles in the feet & lower legs. (This is where I can hear the minimalist shoe people starting to yell about the evils of modern shoes. Believe me, don't think I haven't thought about trying the creepy toe shoes on the off chance that it makes a difference, but it's not something I can start working on with a marathon in 10 weeks.) Also, the idea of running with all sorts of little pieces of medical technology strapped to my legs and feet makes me feel a little like the Bionic Woman or something, and that's an icky feeling. Like my body, in and of itself, has been officially deemed Not Sufficient.

air castSigh. To be honest, it's kind of a moot point right now. The air casts aren't covered by insurance, and the cheapest I've been able to find them for is about $40 each, so $80ish in all. The orthotics are mostly covered; I'd pay 20% of somewhere between $350-400, so $70-80, plus whatever they'd charge me for the fitting. The fact of the matter, though, is that cost of the marathon and hotel room is probably more than I really should've spent on something I didn't actually need, and I certainly don't have a spare $200+ sitting around to spend on medical bills. (I've already spent $50 on the two visits alone.)

On the other hand, there is a part of me that's sufficiently terrified of having paid for this race and then not being able to run it because the shin splints suddenly went rogue on me that I'm still seriously tempted to just eat the cost of one or the other. These days I get a little panicky any time I feel a sharp pain anywhere in my shins and start hyperventilating about the possibility of ending up with a stress fracture. So maybe it'd be worth it, just for the peace of mind.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Long Run, Part 1: The Physical

long runAh, the long run. The sacred weekend ritual of the distance runner. The indispensable cornerstone of any training cycle. The long run.

Long runs do so many amazing things for us. I'm thinking a lot about that lately because, since coming back from many months of little or no running thanks to an injury, I actually haven't done all that many. For several months I was under strict instructions not to run more than 5-6 miles at a time, and I'm just now getting back to the point where I feel confident training for something long-ish. I spent the summer running 10Ks to help me get back into shape and build up a solid base before the heavy lifting started, so, although I've done a handful of 10- and 12-milers in the last few months, it hasn't been necessary for me to do them every single week, or to push the distance much beyond that.

As I start to do more & longer long runs in preparation for Clarksburg and CIM, I'm gaining a new appreciation for the fact that this was something I used to do (and most of you have continued doing) regularly, weekly. My 12 miler a couple of Saturdays back was the first in a few weeks; when my Garmin ticked off the last mile, I slowed to a walk and was a little taken aback at first by the dull ache that settled over my entire body, especially my tibias. (Isn't it funny how, with long runs, the aftermath is usually worse than the run itself? I'd kind of forgotten that.)

I paused at my front door to stretch a little, then forced myself to sit in an ice bath for ten minutes. (Not nearly as miserable as I remembered, by the way!) I showered, then stretched some more. My tibias continued to ache; icing and wrapping them tightly in ace bandages seemed to help. (Note to self -- look into graduated compression socks.) I downed a liter of Nuun-ified water (or do you just call it "Nuun"?), then devoured an enormous Mission burrito & collapsed on the couch.

I've learned that any time you're pushing mileage up, it's never wise to put your schedule before the way your body feels. Better to take it one day at a time, to know what's on your schedule and be ready for it, but never let yourself feel irreparably bound to it. There are plenty of runs where I've finished feeling completely drained, going How the hell am I going to run xxx tomorrow, feeling the way I do now? Usually the smart thing is to tell myself, Why don't we forget about that run right now, and just focus on relaxing for a while? If we still feel awful tomorrow, we'll skip it or cut it short. And nine times out of ten, I feel fine when the time comes.

I had a six-mile tempo run planned for the subsequent Sunday and another six easy planned for Monday, but after the twelve miles on Saturday, I really needed two days off. As in, I could've pushed myself through both runs, but felt pretty sure I would've ultimately lost more mileage later in the week than I would've saved. My body just hurt, especially my tibias, and since building up lo-o-o-o-ong-distance endurance is kind of the main point of the next three months, I figured that if my body was asking (read: begging) for some extra recovery time for something it hasn't been used to lately, it was probably smart to just go with it.

So why do we do this? What do we get out of it?

Well, in terms of the ol' "practice makes perfect" mentality, long runs seem to make perfect sense for someone training for a long race like a marathon or half marathon. If you want to get good at running a long way, you should practice running a long way.

But that's clearly not all there is to it. Nearly all of us run all or most of our long-run miles considerably slower than race pace. Marathoners don't even run their full race distance, mostly topping out at a couple of runs in the low twenties per training cycle. And what of 5K & 10Kers? If they're only racing 3 or 6 miles, why do runs in the 10+ range? When you dig a little deeper, suddenly "practice makes perfect" doesn't actually hold up all that well.

I dug into this a while back when I was helping to coach long distance high school runners as part of my first teaching job. It seemed to me that if we were going to ask kids racing 1-3 miles to run an easy 10K once a week (which, for most high school kids, is REALLY FAR!), I needed to be able to justify it to them.

So, miler or marathoner, what are the physical effects of running long that will help make you a stronger, faster runner? If it hadn't been for my inquisitive kiddos, I may never have learned that long runs give you...

  • Tougher bones. As strong and hard as bone tissue is, bones are still prone to injury from repeatedly absorbing force. Gradually increasing the amount of time you continuously ask them to do it stimulates your bones to produce more tissue and become denser. The denser your bones become, the more resistant they will be to injury.
  • Tougher muscle & connective tissue. Just as with bones, muscles, tendons, & ligaments are prone to injury from absorbing force and moving in extreme or unexpected ways (as with sprains and tears). Long periods of easy running stimulate all of these tissues to become denser and stronger, making them more resistant to injury.
  • A stronger heart. Just as with skeletal muscles, increased periods of aerobic exercise stimulate cardiac muscle to become denser and stronger as well. The stronger your heart, the higher your stroke volume (how much blood your heart is able to pump out to your body with each beat). This means that your heart has to do less work to get more oxygen to your muscles.
  • More red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen. On long runs, muscle tissue needs a lot of oxygen for an extended period of time, which stimulates your body to produce more red blood cells. More red blood cells mean more fuel sent to your cells more quickly.
  • More capillaries around muscle fibers. Capillaries are the tiny blood vessels that transport blood to your muscle fibers. Running long stimulates more capillaries to grow around your muscle fibers, which means more oxygen (and hence more energy) more quickly.
  • Increased myoglobin concentrations. Once the capillaries get the oxygen to your muscle fibers, myoglobin is the substance that carries the oxygen to the cells. The more myoglobin in your muscles, the more quickly more oxygen can get to your cells.
  • More and larger mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of your cells that use oxygen to transform fat and carbs into energy. When you run long, you send your body the message that you need access to a LOT of energy, so your body creates more & larger mitochondria in your cells, which means your body can generate more energy more quickly.
  • Increased aerobic enzyme activity. Mitochondria contain enzymes that speed up energy production; going long increases the activity of these enzymes, helping your mitochondria to create energy more efficiently. (Also, all the business with the mitochondria & enzymes is what helps increase your lactate threshold.)


The physical effects above are likely to help out ANY runner, regardless of what distance they're training for. In addition to all that, there are some particular advantages for folks shooting for the longer stuff:

  • Fast twitch muscles acting like slow-twitch muscles. Slow-twitch muscles are the ones that help us out the most at long distances. When you continue running past the point where your slow-twitch muscles become fatigued, your body learns to recruit fast-twitch fibers and use them more like slow-twitch fibers to keep you going.
  • Increased glycogen storage. Glycogen is how your body stores carbs, which you go through a LOT of when you run long. Your body can only store a limited amount of glycogen (about twenty miles worth, more or less, for most people), but running to the point of near-depletion stimulates the muscles to store more glycogen in the future.
  • Increased reliance on fat for fuel. For all intents & purposes, your body has an unlimited amount of fat it can use for fuel. However, burning fat is a slow process, so when you’re active (ie, running), your body prefers to burn more glycogen. Running to the point that we deplete our glycogen stores helps train our bodies to rely more on fat for fuel than they really want to. The more your body burns fat, the longer your glycogen reserves will last.
  • Better form for longer. When your form is good, you're a more efficient runner. Most of us can keep up reasonably good form for a while, but the more exhausted you get, the harder it is. Going long gives you a chance to practice keeping up your form when you're really, really tired and helps to make good form more automatic.

The best part is that you get ALL these benefits running at an easy, relaxed pace. In fact, one of the biggest (and easiest to rectify) mistakes that distance runners make is running their long, easy runs too fast. While we should definitely do some race pace, tempo, & speed runs when training for something specific, those have a different purpose. In fact some of these changes (like teaching your body to burn more fat & spare glycogen) won't occur or won't occur as effectively if your heart rate is too high. (Running too hard too often also means your body will need more time to recovery and be ready to run again, so save those efforts for your hard days.) Love your long, slow runs, and they will love you back!

Next up -- the psychological & logistical benefits of long runs.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Reason

shadowI am slowly circling the long-awaited and much-anticipated ( me at least) post that will reveal once and for all why, after at least ten years of swearing I would never run a marathon, I've finally decided to give it a shot. This shit is crazy complex and I want to make sure I get it right. Or some reasonable approximation thereof.

When I think about trying to explain why I'm running this race, I always seem to come back to why I run in the first place. Which is really hard to explain. I've tried to have this conversation with so many people and it never seems to go right. I just don't have a nice, tidy, soundbite that sums it all up. I don't run for health or weight loss or to memorialize someone or relax or hear myself think or get away from it all or any of that. When these conversations come up, mostly I'm like, "Um...well, I guess I like it.(?)" and people are generally like, "That's weird." And I'm like, "Yeah...yeah, it kind of is."

Then today I was reading Shut Up And Run (which, if you haven't read, you simply MUST. Unless you're easily offended or grossed out. In that case, you probably shouldn't). In today's post, Beth wrote about 1) a mountain getaway with girlfriends where they discussed taints and 2) supporting an ultra-runner friend through part of an event in her town. A quote from her friend really struck me:
“I ask myself why I do this. I don’t know. All I know is that tomorrow I will know something new about myself I did not know today when I started this.”

I think that's relevant somehow. I think it's in the mix somewhere.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week In Review: Sept 5 - 11

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. :)

9 Weeks to Clarksburg Half Marathon

12 Weeks to Cal International Marathon

Tuesday: 7 miles (3 wu + 3 x 1600 @ 10K pace w/ 400 recoveries + .25 cd) Today was the Day of Redemption for last week's Track Session from Hell. It's been touch-and-go with my shins since the 12 miler Saturday, but, as always, I figured I'd do what I could do, and if I was suffering too much, I wouldn't push things. Warm-ups are always a good predictor for me of how the workout will go, and within a couple of laps I knew that taking both Sunday and Monday off was the right call. Although it was hot and windy, so my pace was a little slow by the numbers, I still had a good, strong speed session and got all the miles in, with no pain to speak of. (Hell, I even thought about running a 4th repeat, but decided I had enough mileage planned already this week, thankyouverymuch. Maybe next time.)

Also, can we talk for a minute about how *cute* the off-season high school track kids were out at Kezar? 5 x 400 with 30 seconds rest -- oh yeah. I remember exactly how miserable and unappealing that sounded after a summer of basically sitting on my ass playing video games. ;)

Wednesday: 6 miles easy. Wednesday was originally scheduled as a rest day, but since Monday was originally 6 miles easy & I took that day off, I decided to go ahead & do the 6 on Wednesday. If I continue feeling good for the rest of the week, I'll do the rest of this week's runs as scheduled. However, given next week's schedule, that would put me at eight consecutive days of running, so it's possible I'll skip Friday's easy six and make that a rest day. We'll see.

Thursday: 9 miles (2 wu + 7 @ MP) This run actually got its own post earlier this week; my target pace was sub-8:00 / mile, which ended up being more like 8:08 with the wind on the back of the track (grrr...). I kind of wonder if this was still too hard; occasionally I'd see numbers like 7:40 & 7:45 on my Garmin on the homestretch (no wind), which is too fast. Also, running 9 miles on the track is pretty much what I imagine purgatory is probably like.

Saturday: 8 miles (3 wu + 4 tempo + 1 cd) One of the slightly tricky bits about this training cycle is making sure that I'm not focusing on the marathon in December to the exclusion of the half marathon in November. Part of the way I'm trying to address that is by doing more frequent and longer tempo / half marathon pace runs than the marathon plan strictly calls for. Technically there's a little bit of a difference between tempo pace and HMP, but for my purposes I've kind of decided to split the difference & call it good. (The alternative seems to be doing a tempo run AND a half-marathon pace run each week, in addition to a speed workout, a marathon pace run, and a long run, and that just seems like a bad idea all around.) Basically what I'm calling "tempo" pace translates into however fast I can run while staying in the 185-190 bpm range, or about 83-85% of max. I ran on the track today, so with the headwind, that ended up being about 7:37 / mile & averaging 187 bpm. (Guessing that would be somewhere in the 7:25-7:30 range with no wind.)

In contrast to the marathon pace run on Thursday, this run was actually pretty fun. I set my Garmin to auto-lap every quarter mile, which is nice because I can break up the run more or less into laps -- mentally, the self-talk goes something like, Alright, run a 1:53-55 lap. Check. Alright, run another one. Check. Oops, 1:57, pick it up just a touch. Check. It's actually a pretty great way to learn what that level of effort feels like. This was the first run I've had at this pace where I've really felt that although, yes, it's hard, and yes, it takes some effort, and no, it's not super-comfortable, I could actually see holding that pace for 13 miles. The only down side was that I'd actually wanted to do five tempo miles, but the track police came & shut everything down for a soccer game. I thought about doing one more hard one on the roads after dropping my stuff in my car, but by then I was getting cool & a bit stiff so I just jogged one more easy mile instead.

Sunday: 11 miles easy. Sunday was the first time I had a chance to run with some of my fellow Bay Area runner / bloggers (& runner / non-bloggers). Alysa from Diary of an Average Runner organized a 9/11 memorial run in Golden Gate Park (hence the 11 miles) -- it was great to finally meet several of the runners whose blogs I frequent (including Sandra, Marge, and Naomi) as well as a few other folks. We had a great run with great weather the whole way. Thanks, everyone! :)

Grand Total: 41 miles
Suuu-weet! This the first time I've had a 40+ week in about a year, so I'm pretty pumped. Hopefully I'll stay healthy & able to keep it up. :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Marathon Training, Week 2: In Which I Refuse to Trust Pace Charts

Hanson-BrooksI'm only officially about two weeks in (on top of a solid four months of base training), but I have to say I'm pretty excited about the marathon plan I'm using. By & large, I'm following the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project approach. You can read more of the details in this article, but here are the highlights:

  • This is probably not a good 1st marathon program for most people and DEFINITELY not for beginning runners. I feel comfortable using it because I've done several pretty hard / high mileage half marathon cycles successfully that focus a lot on speed & tempo work.
  • Most marathon programs include speed, tempo, & long run components, but most focus more on the long run piece. The Hanson-Brooks program puts about equal weight on each.
  • There is a strong focus on marathon pace mileage & teaching your mind & body to run at your goal pace no matter how tired you are.
  • The program is intended to produce "cumulative fatigue" -- high mileage & 3-4 hard workouts each week (speed, marathon pace, tempo, and long).
  • For non-elite / regular-person-kind-of runners, the longest runs are 16 miles (though you do it several times).

The hell you say, I can hear you gasping through the inter-webs. No 20+ milers? Not even 18? Don't they take away your Garmin for that?

Well, seeing as I'm not actually the expert, here's what the Hansons have to say about it:
Perhaps the most notable feature of the plan is the absence of a sacred cow—the 20-plus-mile long run. For non-elite runners like me [the author, a RW writer], the long effort tops out at 16 miles. "People say, 'How can a long run be only 16 miles?'" says Kevin [Hanson]. "Then they'll finish that run and say, 'Gosh, I don't think I could run another 10 miles.'" And they'll be right, he says. With the plan's emphasis on high mileage and hard workouts, "you're not running the first 16 miles of a marathon, you're running the last 16. We're duplicating that final-miles feeling." Traditional programs overemphasize the long run, he says. Twenty-plus mile efforts sap most runners and compromise the quality of subsequent workouts. "There's nothing magical about a long run of a certain distance," he says. "The most important factor is quality total mileage, week in and week out." It's a formula, he says, that holds true for beginners, elites, and everyone in between.

So, in a way, the overall mileage / intensity is intended to make it so that you don't go into your long runs feeling fresh -- you go into them feeling as if you've already run 5-10 miles.

I basically started with the advanced program & then just tweaked some of the mileage so that it dovetailed well with what I was already doing. For me, that will mean starting with around 40 miles per week (I only did 31 last week, as I raced the Saturday before), then working up to 50 within a few weeks. (Compared to the rest of my 2011, that'll be reasonably high mileage.) Every other week, the miles are split about half and half between easy efforts and hard/long runs; the rest of the time, about 25% of the miles are easy and 75% are from hard/long runs. I had to do a touch more tweaking to fit in the Clarksburg half-marathon and its taper (three weeks before CIM), but since that's about when my marathon taper would start anyway, I think it'll work out more or less okay.

I do have to admit, it being my first marathon and a VERY long time since I've run over 15 miles for any reason, part of me is kind of itching to do one or two really long runs at some point. If the program works the way they say it does, though, I shouldn't be able to. (Alright, I'll be honest. I've penciled in an 18-miler seven weeks before the race and a 20-miler five weeks before, just to shore up my confidence, but we'll see how realistic that is when I get there.)

But let's talk about this marathon pace business for a moment.

According to every pace chart and training calculator I've looked at, a 7:12 10K pace should translate into a 7:28ish half marathon pace (which is what I'm shooting for in November) and a 7:51-2ish marathon pace. If I'd run that 10K all-out I probably would've been closer to 7:09-10 / mile, which translates into a 7:48 marathon pace.

I am greatly disturbed by this.

I know that part of the reason is because I'm just not trained for the distance yet, physically or mentally. You know how for toddlers a five-minute time-out is just as bad as a fifteen-minute time-out, and how birds can't tell the difference between six and twenty? Well, as far as my brain is concerned, 26 miles might as well be 100 miles. It's just a really long-ass way.

Allow me to express how I feel about 26 miles as a distance in the form of a short one-act play:
Vaguely interested party: "Oh, you're running a race? How nice! How long?"
Me: "Really effing long. That's how long."
VIP: "Oh, but in miles, dear?"
Me: "Like, a billion, maybe? I don't know. Approximately one metric f***-ton. A lot."


So, yeah. I can imagine running 7:50 miles for a finite distance, but somehow 26 seems kind know...not finite. Like I'll just be running, indefinitely, until someone takes pity on me and lets me stop. Or I die. Whichever.

Pace charts & calculators aside, I find that I deal better with this situation mentally if I just think of my marathon pace as "under 8:00 / mile." Hell, it's my first marathon; I've got nothing to prove. All I have to do is manage not to get lost, stop breathing, or lose the ability to put one foot in front of the other. On my first marathon pace run last Thursday, that's really all I was shooting for -- run six miles in under 48 minutes. The run went okay, although considering that I was running uphill most of the way and in the heat, 7:52 / mile was probably too fast. (It definitely felt harder than I thought it should; my heart rate averaged 179 bpm, or about 80% max.)

Yesterday was my second, seven miles this time. I did it on the track, so although it was flat, I did have to contend with that wicked headwind on the backstretch. It was particularly bad yesterday, too -- most of the time, I would come around the turn and feel as if I had actually stopped moving. Sometimes I could barely keep my eyes open. I hit every lap in almost exactly 2:02, for an average pace of 8:08 / mile. Not sub-eight, but I'm willing to chock up *at least* eight seconds per mile to the wind

Mentally this was a hard, HARD run. Now, let's not forget that I ran my last 10K at a 7:12 pace and thought that seemed too easy. It seems ridiculous that I'd be running 8:08 miles and worry after two that I wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace. Nevertheless, that's exactly how I felt. Physically, everything was going fine -- I was keeping an almost creepily steady pace, wasn't hurting anywhere, and my heart rate stayed right around 78% of max. Physiologically, it was all systems go. Mentally I was grasping at anything I could to get me through the next mile, the next lap, the next step.

I finished (not even breathing hard, of course, because no one breathes hard at 78% of max) and thought to myself, 3.75 times? I have to do that 3.75 times IN A ROW???

This was the first glimpse I had of what the Hanson brothers are talking about -- cumulative fatigue, and learning to run at your goal pace no matter how shitty you feel.

I still don't know if I buy 7:50 as my marathon pace. I'm willing to work with "under 8:00" for now & see where it takes me. The real test will come in Clarksburg; I'll feel a lot more comfortable with what pace charts & calculators are telling me once I have a current half marathon time to plug in. If indeed I can pull off a 1:38ish half and the marathon training is still going well, then I'll feel comfortable shooting for 7:50-55.

Still, honestly...I'm so much more excited about this than I thought I would be. I hope I like it. :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I have a confession to make.

If you're super-observant, you may have noticed that for sometime part of the sidebar over there looked like this:


If you'll glance over, you may notice a distinct change (aside from ticking off races).


Holy balls, Batman.


First, let's get a few things out of the way about the confirmation page:

  • Are you really staying at home and driving an hour and a half to Sacramento on race morning?
    Hells no; I'm going the day before to stay in a hotel like a normal person. I wasn't really thinking all that clearly when I was registering, though, so the hotel question kind of caught me off guard. Since I hadn't even thought about where I'd be staying, I just put "home" because "I am kind of too freaked out by the idea that I'm actually doing this to think about things like hotels" was not an option. (I did briefly consider driving up race morning to save money, but between packet pickup, dealing with parking, and losing two hours of sleep, it seemed worth the cost of a cheap motel.)
  • Are you really planning to cab / hitchhike / jog / Marty McFly it to the start?
    Again, no; I'm taking the bus like a normal person. (That whole "I am too freaked out by the fact that I'm actually doing this to think about things like how I'm getting to the start" thing again. I also often have a knee-jerk reaction to things that cost extra money. Thankfully I checked and you can buy a bus ticket at the expo if you didn't get one when you registered.)
  • Are you really trying to qualify for Boston?
    Given that it's my first marathon, it's not my top priority, but based on my times at other distances, it seems reasonable likely enough that I could do it that I figured I wouldn't embarrass myself by checking yes. Mainly I am trying to run the fastest marathon I can, and if it happens, it happens. (Also, checking yes didn't cost extra money.) (That was a joke about my cheapness.)
  • But I thought you were anti-marathon!
    I'm not anti-marathon but it's true that I did say for a long time that I would probably never run one. Why I decided to do it is a bigger question that I'll have to tackle in a separate post -- it's going to take me a little time to get my thoughts together and be articulate about this business.

Until then, who else is running CIM? Wanna carpool or meet up at the expo? :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Week In Review: Aug 28 - Sept 4

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. :)

10 Weeks to Clarksburg Half Marathon!!

Last Saturday, I ran my last 10K for the year (Summer Breeze in San Leandro). Now, it's back to half marathon training -- ten weeks to Clarksburg Half Marathon on November 13!

Monday: 4 miles easy. Kind of warm out and I also ran the hilly route, so I probably should've taken it slightly slower, but still a good, short recovery run.

Tuesday: 6.5 miles (2 wu + 6 x 800 @ 10K pace with 400 recoveries) 3.5 miles (2 wu + 2 x 800 @ 10K pace with 400 recoveries) Ugh. This sucked, for lots of reasons. Mostly I'm blaming it on a combination of not being fully recovered from Saturday and bad luck. I decided to walk away after two somewhat questionable intervals, which I think was the smarter choice.

Thursday: 7 miles (1 wu + 6 @ 7:52 / mile) Not what I'd call a pleasant run (heat*, hills, wind, asthma), but I got it done, chest pain- & stomach cramp-free, no less. The goal pace for this run was 7:50-7:55, but considering everything I was up against, part of me wonders if the right effort level might have been more like 8:00 / mile and that averaging 7:52 actually means I was running harder than I should've been. Still, I averaged 179 bpm, which is about 80% mhr for me (ie, supposedly I wasn't all that running that hard). Somehow it felt harder than that.

*Y'all know that when I say "heat," I mean relative to SF, right? Meaning it was like 70°? Just checking.

Friday: 5 miles easy. I've been trying to go back to running hilly routes on my easy days; unfortunately, that makes it a little tougher to make sure I'm running at the right intensity. The target pace for this run was 8:50-8:55 and I averaged 8:52, but again, considering hills, wind (grrrr...), & heat, I kind of wonder if I should be shooting for 9:00-9:05ish instead. (Sounds like a job for the heart rate monitor...)

Saturday: 12 miles easy. Originally, this was supposed to be a tempo run day, & the long run was supposed to be Sunday, but due to all kinds of frustrating crazy that's not worth going into, that plan became non-implementable. Feeling kind of pissed, I ruminated over what to do for a while, then finally decided to just do the long run today because I had the time and didn't have to drive anywhere to do it. The first six miles were kind of insanely rough on my shin splints, but strangely the pain mostly disappeared during the second six. In general, it was a good run, though, and I did a good job of keeping it at an easy pace. (Again, shooting for 8:50-8:55 / mile & ended up running 9:01 / mile, which, considering that I ran basically the first half into a stiff headwind and also had to contend with a few hills, was probably about right. I did wear the heart rate monitor this time & averaged 164 bpm, so that's a good yard stick for what I should be doing on these easy runs in terms of effort.) And, bonus for everyone, I came back in a MUCH better mood than when I left. :)

Grand Total: 31.5 miles

Not bad, for a post-race week (was that only last weekend??? Geez, this has been a long week...). I was hoping to get Saturday's originally scheduled tempo run in on Sunday (since I did the long run scheduled for Sunday on Saturday), but my shins were REALLY sore after the long run (still having those obscenely painful stabbing pains in places), so, as much as I'm itching to start putting in 40 mile weeks, I decided the best thing was to stay off my feet today and rest. After all, I'm in pretty decent half marathon shape already (thanks to the 10K Summer Tour), and still have 10 weeks to go. :)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Obscure Local Races: Clarksburg Country Run

Clarksburg Country RunYou know how your conversations about running tend to go, even if the other participants aren't necessarily runners. Eventually someone asks you if you're training for something. For me these conversations have gone kind of like...

"Oh, so are you training for anything?"
"Yeah, I've got a (few) 10K(s) coming up, then a half marathon in November."
"Oh! Nike Women's! ZOMG so awesome & empowering!"
"Um--no, I'm not running Nike--"
"Oh, Big Sur Half? I hear that's like the most beautiful race ever ever EVER!"
"Ah, the US Half, then--that's supposed to be pretty cool too."
"Santa Barbara International?"
"Malibu International?"
"Run With The Jets?"
"So...what race are you running?"
"Oh, it's the Clarksburg Country Run. In Clarksburg."
"What's a Clarksburg?"

Heh. Mostly, I just find it amusing. I actually spent many, many weeks agonizing over which fall half I was going to do; you can read all about my hand-wringing in this post if you want the full story.

If not, I'll recap for you:

  • I don't mind running hills at all, but my big goal for this particular half is to break 100 minutes and qualify for the Prestige Half Marathon next year, so I need a flat course. That nixes the US Half & Big Sur.
  • Similarly, I am terrible at windy courses (as in having many turns) and it's very hard for me to run tangents without memorizing the course (which I suck at), so Primo's Run is out.
  • I'm still only working as a part-time contractor, so I don't have a bunch of extra $$$ to throw around. To be honest, unless it's a really special event for some reason, I have a hard time justifying more than about $60 for a half marathon, mostly because so much of the time all that extra money goes to stuff I can do without (giant medals, photography companies, rock bands & after-parties I won't attend, etc.). That nixes a BUNCH of stuff -- R&R San Jose ($85), Healdsburg Wine Country ($95), & Nike Women's ($130!!?!? Are you KIDDING me? Jesus effing Christ) to name a few. Anything where a hotel is involved is also out of the question.
  • I always prefer a small, quiet, more personalized race to a big, flashy, crowded one; it helps me relax and keep calm, which usually leads to a better race.

So after a bit of hemming & hawing, I settled on this tiny, cheap, flat little half an hour or so away that looked like it might be a little more competitive. It seems unlikely that I will share in the $29,000 prize pot (hah), but at least there will be plenty of parking and a free lunch in the school cafeteria afterwards, and showers if I'm feeling too gross for the drive home.

So here's my sort of "pre-race report":

Location: Clarksburg, CA (close to Sacramento)
Date: Mid-November (November 13, 2011 this year)
The Deal: The event is a fundraiser put on by several Clarksburg community groups (Boy Scouts, Fire Fighters, Cub Scouts, The Soccer Club, & Clarksburg Schools) who volunteer to run it. Also, Clarksburg is a PA USATF Championship race, which is kind of exciting.
Price: There are several different events:

  • 20 Mile or Half Marathon - $45.00 til 10/28, $50.00 til 11/12, $55.00 race day
  • Half Marathon Relay (2 people) - $70.00 til 10/28, $75.00 til 11/12, $80.00 race day (per pair)
  • 5K or 10K - $30.00 til 10/28, $35.00 til 11/12, $40.00 race day
  • Kids' Fun Run - $10.00 til 10/28, $15.00 til 11/12, $20.00 race day

Deadline: Race day registration
Field Size: In 2010, there were 601 participants in the half, & 53 in my age group. (You may be thinking that in a field so small, my chances of placing may actually amount to something! Heh, no. That's the magic of a PA USATF Championship race. Lots of super-speedy runners will be there to earn grand prix points; if I have a good race, I can probably make it into the top ten in my age group, but that's really all I can expect.)
Sellout Factor: Unlikely, as far as I can tell; PA USATF grand prix aside, it's a small local race. In the FAQ section, the response to "Will there be race day registration?" is "You bet!"

The Course

To quote the site, "All courses are USATF certified, flat, paved and scenic past area wineries and farms." Certified, flat, paved -- them's the magic words. :)

It is a little bit of a drive, but given the small size of the race, ease of parking, race-morning packet pickup, and 9:15 start time, making the trip up from SF that morning seems a lot more reasonable than it might be otherwise.

So there you go -- your obscure local race education for the week. :)