Tag Archives: Chicago Marathon

Weaknesses, Ambivalence, & a Great 10k

I’m at a week (and a half) in recovery mode: Last week I tried to get a bit more sleep (success), not work a ton of extra hours (moderate success), and ran only 23 total miles. I was feeling a lot more optimistic about the rest of Winter training and going into the Spring racing season. Especially after running the Back On My Feet Mardi Gras 10k on Saturday without falling apart (although it wasn’t without cramping).

The course was .20 short. Whoopsy. Mile 5 was slow because we ran into the 5k..bod and weave isn't in my repertoire.

The course was .20 short. Whoopsy. Mile 5 was slow because we ran into the 5k..bob and weave isn’t in my repertoire.

With honesty I’ve concluded that some of the discomfort and bonkyness I experienced at the LA Marathon wasn’t from having a cold (although that was the biggest contributor and certainly exacerbated things), but also was an illustration of several weak spots in my training and other habits that all reacted at once to the stress of 26.2 miles, on a hilly course, while fighting a lack of rest, a high level of stress, and illness over the past few months while also running at a (for me) high volume.

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Screen shot from thumbnail…used without permission…is marathonfoto really never going to decide to charge a reasonable prices for downloading images?

Also, side note, I’m on my second “rest day” in a row (because of logistics and weather), so it’s plausible I’ve entered a reality distortion based panic where I can’t stop eating, feel 20lbs heavier, and am certain I’m out of shape. You know, the usual.

What are these training weaknesses? In no particular order here are the things I’ve pin-pointed, which if given some attention, it’s realistic to expect I would run (and generally feel) much better:

  1. DIET: True, I maintain a diet that more-or-less keeps me  more-or-less feeling good, and out of the hospital. Having faulty guts  means that I eat much “better” than the average person. But there are several areas where my vices rule me: lots of sugar, lots of coffee, lots of wine. If I just halved my consumption of those three things , I might wake up looking like Shalane… or at least, I’d reliably be able to button my slacks instead of trying to make leggings work-suitable. us-olympic-marathon-trials-results-team-amy-cragg-shalane-flanagan
  2. STRENGTH: I’m as total weak-ass. Figuratively and quite literally. I have very little strength and gave up my weight lifting habit once my weekly mileage went over 40. So, that was like 4 years ago, and now I have all kinds of hip, back, and core issues when I run… because those areas are so damn weak! And, as suggested, I think my ass is pretty wimpy too.
  3. SLEEP: Poor Jorge can share hundreds of anecdotes illustrating how much I struggle in the morning. I’ve been like this my entire life. Doesn’t matter how early I get to bed, my brain, mood, and body take FOREVER to wake up in the morning. If I sleep less than 8 hours (and who has time for THAT?!) it’s worse, and for me sleep debt seems to accumulate very fast and I almost always develop a fever, or catch whatever virus/bacteria is going around – this is what happened in Jan/Feb first the flu then the cold. I was logging only 5-6hrs of sleep per night from Thanksgiving until I got back from LA and said….NOooooooo I can’t take this anymore!
  4. STRESS: Productivity and stress have such a weird relationship. High productivity increases overall stress, but also decreases it… but then if overall stress gets too high then productivity slows down – creating more stress! GAAAAH! This is my life.

    This counts as a whole week's worth of ancillary work, right?

    This counts as a whole week’s worth of ancillary work, right? (and to be clear: this is me NOT Shalane.

  5. CLARITY OF GOALS: For the first time, outside of wanting to break 3:10 in the marathon this year, I don’t really know what I want from running in 2016 … which makes it hard to focus, do the supplemental work, drink less wine,  plan training, and choose races. Which brings me to my next point.

I’m still waffling like crazy over how to proceed in terms of racing and training. More specifically, I can’t decide whether I should go run the Catalina Marathon on March 19th, or stay home and run the Cary March Madness Half Marathon on the 20th (already registered). I registered for Cary on New Years Eve (it sells out within minutes most years), and then last month, very impulsively I entered a giveaway for an entry into the Catalina Marathon. I was really excited when I won! As it says in my entry post, I ran the Eco Marathon in 2013, and LOVED it. I also managed to finish as the first female, and 7th overall… which was an awesome experience. I wrote about it here.FullSizeRenderWhat I failed to consider in my impulsivity, was that this race is 5 weeks after LA and 4 weeks before Boston, and although it’s a comped race entry, I still need to FLY TO CALIFORNIA, which ain’t free. If the weather and sea conditions cooperate I don’t need accommodations because my bother, SIL, nephew and I will go out to the island on their boat. I usually take 36 or so hours to not be sea-sick, but I mean, who sleeps before a marathon anyway? Not me! The bigger concern is running with “sea legs”, basically then you feel sea-sick, but while you’re on land, running a race that is 26 miles with like 4,000ft of elevation gain. Awesome?

Note: not the actual boat.

Note: not the actual boat.

I honestly feel ambivalent, I can get on board with going and with not going. The biggest appeal is an extra visit with my family . I feel too awkward to ask to defer the entry, because, you know. Contest. But I also feel like a douche if i don’t use it. I need to make a decision so I can figure out how to train…

I can’t decide what to do. 

Thanks for hanging in here with me, now it’s time to CROWD-SOURCE this, yay!

What do you think? Catalina: yes or no?  (follow-up question, am I stuck being a jackass no matter how I handle this?)

Reduce training volume by 20% to make time/energy for supplemental work: yes or no?

Give up candy and wine: just kidding, don’t answer this one.

*AB

Which Results Are The Important Ones?

I ran the LA Marathon yesterday, and although what follows may seem to have a dreary tone, I’ve got about a hundred things that when I think about them they make me laugh, so overall I’m in a good place. There was a seemingly unending and hilarious series of small and large calamities leading up to this race, most of which I’ll leave out of this post in the name of talking about some other things. But before I get into it, I have to upfront thank my sister-in-law and mother for journeying to the finish line, Meredith for traveling from San Francisco to spend the weekend with me and my crazy clan, and Erica who was probably the sole reason I made it to the start…because I set my alarm for 4:30pm, not am. Which means if I’d been at my brother’s house, and not a hotel in downtown LA, well, there’s no way I’d have made it on time!

One of the things about running that drew me in and has kept me plugging away is the allure of predictable success. The premise that if you complete x, y, z actions (training details) then you can expect x, y, z results (faster races). The challenge with this concept is that  you have to maintain a sort of aerial view of your training and racing in order for this rule to be supported. There is a constant temptation look at single races and workouts and get sucked into flip-flopping between thinking you’re either the inevitable next member of the olympic team or you should give up running forever, because there’s obviously no hope for improvement.

Another challenge of the a+b=c theory of running is that how we define success, our rate of improvement, the ceiling of our abilities, and how much we can manipulate our daily life to support training is highly fluid. That is, all of these things vary across people, and within each of us across time.

Since my first marathon in 2010, if you’re looking from afar, I have slowly increased the volume and intensity of my training cycles (I’m not going to get into specifics in the name of, trying to be succinct -probably a futile effort). For the most part I’ve seen a positive relationship between these increases and increases in my performance across distances on race days. But, if you take a close up view, this journey is riddled with full-stops, breaks, bonks, DNS’s, and (one) DNF. Admittedly, I’m a little stuck in the myopic view right now, I’m feeling a bit desperate for a breakthrough or at least some unquestionable evidence (i.e. marathon PR) that overall my performance is still improving, or unquestionable evidence that I need to change the way I train.

My current marathon training plan of choice is the Pfitzinger 12 week 70 miles per week training plan. That is, you begin the first week running a total of 55 miles, and at the peak of the cycle you have 4 weeks at 70 miles.pfitz Like most plans out of a book (read: not individualized) this one has weekly elements that target improving lactate threshold (tempo runs), VO2 Max (intervals and goal pace runs), and your glycogen storage and fat utilization (total volume, long runs, medium-long runs). That is to say, each week you spend some time running hard, running at or near goal marathon race pace, running easy, running tired, and put in as many miles as you can without flirting with diminishing returns. Hopefully the outcome is that you end the training cycle with your training and racing paces faster than your previous training cycle, or the start of this one. 

I’ve now “completed” two cycles of this plan.  The quotations are required because in the first cycle, last fall, right as the first taper week began I got very sick with colitis and diverticulitis complications. Then, this cycle for the LA Marathon I had the flu, and had it bad, during the second peak week, then 5 days out from race day developed a cold which began moving from my sinuses to my chest about 36hrs out.

The weather report for racing in LA was not ideal. In Chicago “unseasonably warm” in February means 40 degrees, in SoCal is means 90. But with the early start (6:55am) and running toward the ocean I really never felt hot. In fact, coming down the last couple of miles into Santa Monica, there was a dense fog and I felt rather cold. That said, I also wasn’t running very hard, or fast…Ok…at that point I wasn’t really running at all.

The LA Marathon course is NOT an easy one. People kept telling me it was mostly rolling hills. Those people clearly don’t know what “rolling hills” means. The course alternates between intermittently shoving you off cliffs, and long never-ending moderate inclines. But this could just be my bitterness and resentment talking. Even if you’re feeling at the peak of your game, I suspect it would be challenging to run an even effort or even pace on this course.

Unfortunately, for this race my strategy moved from “target a 3:10 finish and run smart” to “don’t die and/or quit running forever” within the span of a week. The highlight reel of my performance yesterday is as follows (with mile splits for your amusement):

  1. Struggled to slow down for first few miles because options included either blowing out your quads barreling down the hills, or blowing out your knees and hamstrings trying to slow down (do I have that backwards?) — oh and the constant certainty that someone was going to fall.  (7:17, 7:10, 7:18)
  2. Spent 10 miles feeling responsible for some mans BQ because he wasn’t wearing watch and the course clocks SUCKED, and he kept asking me about my pace (note: he was totally nice about it and non annoying). TRANSLATION: my modified race plan to run 7:30-7:45’s and prevent bonking due to chest cold? fail)  (7:19, 7:35, 7:30, 7:15, 7:22, 7:26, 7:15, 7:16, 7:13) *he later took up with the 3:15 pace group as they passed us -phew.
  3. Halfway. Coughing a lot. Shirt full of snot.(7:31, 7:29, 7:08, 7:24)
  4. Mile 17. Chest discomfort. First walk breaks. (7:41, 7:44, 7:37)
  5. Mile 20. Longer walk breaks, chest discomfort spreading. Made friends with a very hungover 2:30-something marathoner. (8:09)
  6. Mile 21 – stopped for a beer with new friend (9:18)
  7. Soon after – abandoned by new friend because he had to pee/saw something shiny – decided to start jogging
  8. Mile 22-25 my diaphragm didn’t seem to be working properly, lots of abdominal muscle spasms and cramps. Lots of stopping to feebly try and stretch them out.(8:53, 8:31, 9:27, 7:57)
  9. Mile 25+ stop to see Meredith, Mom, and Teresa (my SIL) (9:15)
  10. Mile 25.5 to finish – maybe 10 full stops, hard to stay upright for the abdominal cramping. (FOREVER)
  11. Stupid cold. Lame immune system. Running is hard.
meh.JPG

For once I perfectly expressed all my emotions: “meh”.

I’ve got two marathons coming up in the next 9 weeks. First, Catalina Island, which isn’t (perhaps obviously) a race at which I’m going to be looking to PR at, I love Catalina and I’m lucky to have a brother who goes there often with his trawler, so to the degree that it’s not insane to do so, I’ll be training around that one. Then, Boston, where I do want to go out looking for a PR. But I’m stuck.

Which data do I look at to decide if my current goal of running 3:10 pace is reasonable and/or if I’m training properly? Do I look at those workouts where I hit the training targets reliably, or do I look at the fact that 3 times now I’ve gone out at 3:10 pace in a marathon and 3 times I’ve bonked. (Boston – hypothermia/med tent/3:19, Bayshore – DNF at mile 20, LA – well…the above).

While it’s true that in each of these cases there were variables that affected performance: wet/cold weather, proximity to the previous ordeal, and moderate illness (in that order), I also don’t feel that I’ve had a very strong half marathon performance in the past two years where I feel like I can confidently say I’m ready for a big jump up in marathon performance.

What say you internet running (experts) friends?

*AB

Finding X

Running brings many gifts. Three of my favorites are:

  1. Access and exposure to people you may not otherwise have the grace and good fortune to know.
  2. Running makes you a more informed and enlightened tourist/traveller.
  3. It can bring strengths and weaknesses to the surface, many you may not expect to be related to running, and some that aren’t reality.

Here is one (long) example of this last gift.

As is socially embraced by math-phobics and math-vangelists alike, I often make self-deprecating cracks about my lack of math fluency. One of my most tired lines being, “You figure it out, there’s a reason I decided to be a psychologist, I failed algebra three times”.

If memory serves me right, I actually failed algebra once, in high school, but then I dropped out half-way through re-taking it. By dropped out I mean; simply stopped going to school, got my GED, and moved on with my life (I really, REALLY hated school). Of course, moving on with my life meant having to take “college algebra”, and while I didn’t fail it, I did re-take it to bring up my grade.

This means that I took algebra 3.5 times. (See? I CAN do math!) After which, I should be a freaking Algebra wiz! And you know what. I think I kind of am. Actually, I am more like the Picasso of Algebra.

Seriously. Most specifically I relate to; “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” – Pablo Picasso.

You see, the reason I struggled in school generally. and specifically with math, is perhaps the same reason I ended up in a professional area of expertise that ends with the words “ANALYSIS” and “ANALYST” (NOT as ironic as you may think, stick with me here). I have a hard time doing things in a prescribed order because that order seems to rarely make sense to me. I vividly remember being in math classes, arriving at the “correct answer”, showing my work, and getting marked down (and made to feel foolish) because I didn’t perform the operations and whatever in the right order. That order being, whatever the text book said, or the teacher preferred.

When I really started struggling at school, academically and socially when I was 15, a very unimaginative psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADHD, prescribed TWO meds, and told me I was lucky to have made it that long with becoming hooked on narcotics, getting pregnant, or getting arrested,  I was almost hilariously far from any of those things so I told my parents he was a moron and never went back (I have REALLY GOOD parents).

In graduate school,  while studying Applied Behavior Analysis, the only two classes I struggled with were two that subjected me to the exact same experience (narrowly defined “correctness” not insults and unnecessary psychotropics), except instead of math operations, it was treatment design.

I’ve found in adulthood, and  in my career as a scientist-practitioner these last five years, that we actually have this amazing freedom to do things in WHATEVER ORDER YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE. This drive to do things in an order that seems functional rather than what the book says, helps me to be creative and actually solve problems more efficiently and effectively (and in a way that might maintain) than if I bang my head against the dogmatic protocols.

Wow, that was vague. Cut me some slack, I’m in the middle of some serious self-actualization right now. 

Perhaps the really major flaw in how we teach both algebra and treatment selection, is that we assume only a specific set of tools is available for reaching the conclusion, and that no other tools could ever lead to the same result. When in reality, you could be solving for the same “X” with a wide variety of tools available at different times and in different contexts.

Runners and coaches take hits to their confidence and performance because of this same fallacy. Just because a plan worked before, or this workout meant this or that THEN, doesn’t mean it will work NOW. We treat data that are fairly arbitrary as law (I’ll digress abruptly now, because this is a whole new 1,000 words waiting to happen).

Here’s my point: I was led to believe for 30 plus years that I suck at math. Then, while running the other day, and having to do a bunch of “X” finding to make sure I didn’t run too far or end up late for work, I realized that there are MANY circumstances where I’m actually pretty darn slick with the math skills, here’s a sampling:

  • calculating the tip on a restaurant bill (20%, dudes, 20%)
  • figuring out when to turn around during a run when I’ve altered course multiple times (as above)
  • re-arranging a training plan (where “X” is always shifting, and so are all the other variables)
  • Orienteering with a paper map and a compass (old school!). At least I assume I could still do this…also, this is totally math. Right?
  • Deciding which quantity of a product is cheaper, even though retailers and manufacturers are seemingly HELL BENT on discouraging you from doing so by never using the same unit of measurement for different packagings of the SAME PRODUCT. Sigh. I work in social services. In Illinois, I’ll always be on budget, this is a crucial skill.

The thing about how math (and problem solving) is taught in general education and how we use it in real life, is that the “X”we’re trying to solve for is often a moving target. Moreover, there are often multiple correct answers, potentially high-stakes (positive AND negative), and sometimes the part where you show your work, is truly the only part that matters. NOT because you used the “right” tools, but because you used the tools you had mastery over, you fostered progress, and so, even if you don’t arrive at the “correct” answer for “X”, you win.

What is the terminal outcome for my career, marathon running, and anything else? I’m not sure, and that’s what keeps me trying to solve for X, making the most of what I have, and chasing Unicorns.

*AB

What it’s really all about: Chicago Marathon 2013 Recap

(Note: I began writing this a few days after the event, but after 5 drafts I haven’t been pleased with the result. So I decided to just be brief -haha, for me- and make my basic point. Please share your stories of what running a marathon is really all about for you in the comments.)

DM CM post

pain joy 2

Marathons and marathon runners often get a bad rap. Some of the negative reputation surrounding marathon’s and endurance athletes is the same as what draws some people to the sport; it is an “individual” as opposed to “team” sport, training is often done in solitude, and to make improvements, sometimes even small ones, hours and hours of training are required, which means training can have a ripple effect on the athlete’s entire life. These things give marathoners a reputation for being selfish, self-centered, and self-interested.

I'm certain I'd individually come in 1st place for anything at a major international sporting event.

I’m certain I’d never individually come in 1st place for anything at a major international sporting event.

Ready to take our first racing singlets for test run!

Ready to take our first racing singlets for test run!

I can actually agree or at least understand, some of the complaints surrounding very large half marathon and marathon events, especially with there being one or more going on it seems every weekend in or near major cities nationwide. Streets are shut down, public parks, paths, and trails get monopolized, there’s sometimes a lot of clean up needed, some are franchise and commercial events so not necessarily giving much back to the community of a charity organization, and so on.

However, if you are reading this and aren’t a runner, or don’t live with one, or if you are a runner and you haven’t thought about what running means to you and your life, let me tell you something, you can’t pour your heart and energy into training for and running marathon’s without help and support from a whole lot of people. My new running friend, and teammate, Declan, who just made his marathon debut (in 3:17!) articulates some of what I mean in a blog post here.

I've never run with someone at a goal race before. Declan was a perfect race buddy, but it's possible we wasted energy with our enthusiasm.

I’ve never run with someone at a goal race before. Declan was a perfect race buddy, but it’s possible we wasted energy with our enthusiasm. Photo credit: Maggie Wolff

Until about a year and a half ago, I trained alone, travelled to races alone, raced alone, and then came home and outside of my parents didn’t really talk about running with anyone. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I started developing friendships with runners, I immediately started to get faster, and fell more in love with running.

On April 15, 2013 and the month that followed many non-runners became familiar with a quote from a marathon legend, Kathrine Switzer, “If you are losing faith in the human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

The 1967 Boston Marathon. Race official Jock Stemple attempts to remove Switzer from the race. Her running companion (and I think boyfriend) Tom Miller, physically defends her. 5 years later women are officially allowed the compete in the marathon.

The 1967 Boston Marathon. Race official Jock Stemple attempts to remove Switzer from the race. Her running companion (and I think boyfriend) Tom Miller, physically defends her. 5 years later women are officially allowed the compete in the marathon.

It’s a phrase that can be taken as a reference to the perseverance and dedication shown by those running toward their individual goals, it can be illustrated by the hours and hours of time, service, and encouragement given by spectators, and it can be seen in acts of friendship, sportsmanship, teamwork, joy and loyalty shown by competitors.

So rather than detail my own race experience, I’d like to share a few examples of what running really means from the Chicago Marathon 2013. It’s easy to find 100 samples of “inspiration porn” within any marathon event. I’m not trying to minimize the efforts of the amazing people who are fundraising for heart-breaking causes, and the people who preserve through physical, emotional, and situational hurdles most of us can barely fathom, but only trying to say that every marathoner who pours their heart into this sport is an inspiration.

Every single mile is meaningful, and every challenge is meaningful.

A marathon is about finding and embracing joy even when things fall apart. Scott Laumann and Evan Rosendahl are fellow Chicagoans who run with The Track and Trough Athletic Union. Following how these guys train and race, and the matter of fact, yet focused way they approach running, totally helps me to stay focused on long-term goals, and I aspire to race with their sportsmanship and class. Both of these men are capable (and have) run marathons firmly in the mid-2 hours range, and when their races fell apart at Chicago they spent the final miles of the race having fun and hanging on to finish with each other.

Evan and Scott

A marathon is about showing someone that you believe in them even when they have stopped believing in themselves. My friend Lynton (as seen above), jumped in just before mile 20 wearing an injured friend’s bib (thanks Ogi!), I was really struggling, and indeed, evidently, not making much sense during that final 10k. But Lynton stayed right with me, pulling me along, and calling me out on my bullshit.

mile 23 whiney fina;

What does running mean to me? It’s something that makes me feel good, but it also make me feel helpless sometimes, I am compelled to do it. Running means relief and solace, when I’m running there is nothing else. For me, it is the very definition of mindfulness. It means perseverance, and it means love. I’ve never had such good friends and known such amazing people, as the runners I know.

*AB

Running is hard

Training for the Chicago Marathon (which, FYI, is this Sunday) since completing the No Frills Marathon last month has been a little challenging. Nothing hugely or meaningfully catastrophic has occurred, just lots of hiccups. To put it another way, I haven’t been bitten by a bear, just by lots of fleas, and scratching them is tedious and I’m tired.

I’ll catch you up on my training and some of the multiple flea-bites while also bringing to you a message I’ve wanted to deliver for a long time:

RUNNING IS HARD!

This is what Meredith and I say to each other when one of us “overreacts’ to a bad workout, or when the weather is conspiring against us, or when some ding-dong or another makes some remark that minimizes our efforts. It can be an extremely validating and calming thing for a runner to think about.

DM 10-8

Running.Is.Hard. This is my Daily Mile entry from this morning.

Running is hard for some obvious reasons, such as, it takes a lot of energy to run. I don’t mean that a prerequisite for being a runner is that you’re a crazy-eyed-always-moving-fast-talking-knee-shaking sort of personality, I mean, actual energy must be exerted to move your body overground at a more rapid pace than you’d normally take to say, transport yourself from the car to the grocery store.

When your goals begin to move past running for fitness, or “to eat”, to wanting to get faster and stronger, sometimes workouts can be so challenging (read: HARD) that you don’t realize that they were a breakthrough session until much later. This is my Daily Mile entry from about 2.5 weeks ago, I was totally “meh, typical fair” about it until I got the flu last week and missed my final chance for a goal-pace test run.

Running is so hard, that it becomes impossible to talk about your life without talking about running, or running without talking about your life.

Running is so hard that it becomes impossible to talk about your life without talking about running, or running without talking about your life.

Pet peeve alert: I HATE it when people say “I run so that I can eat/because I love food”, in fact, I call B.S.. Eating is TOO EASY and running is TOO HARD for that to really be the behavioral contingency at play.

Running is also hard for some reasons that you may not think about, and that people actually lie about. Here’s one example, speaking of food, if you want to get better at running, you cannot eat all of the cupcakes, or even any cupcakes, on anything that resembles a regular basis. In this case “cupcake” is equal to the following (not even close to exhaustive) list: donuts, frappachinos, brownies, cookies, pizza, soda, bagels and all the ridiculous toppings, pretty much everything on “Pinterest”, anything Racheal Ray put cheese on recently, mimosas every weekend and beers everyday, bags of candy corn, adult-head-sized cinnabons, or brunch 2-4 times per week. I mean you can, but good luck running that off, and good luck not puking or hating running while you try.

Running is even harder if your diet is crappy.

Last Monday, running was hard.

Last Monday, running was hard.

Running is hard because even though running marathons, indeed running any race distance, has become a wildly popular, there is still a lot of discouragement that you’ll face based on a misunderstanding of how the human body best operates. “You’re tired? Oh you shouldn’t run”, “You’re stressed? You should stop running so much.”, “Oh, XYZ hurts? You definitely need to stop running”. There are probably 100 comments that could be added to this list, and the fact is, that running helps make nearly all of the BETTER, not WORSE.

A thing that makes running hard is that you learn how to decide when you run even though something hurts, because the running actually helps it heal.

Two weeks after the No Frills Marathon: A thing that makes running hard is that you learn how to decide when to run even though something hurts, because the running actually helps it heal.

Running is hard because as you start achieving your goals, and start getting faster, people make assumptions. It minimizes a runner’s hard work when you attribute their successes to a god-given talent, saying, “oh, they’re fast”, the same way you’d say “oh, they have brown eyes”. When I was in high school and college, in New Hampshire, I had this one 5 mile loop that I ran hundreds of times, and no matter how hard I tried, I never could finish it in under 48 minutes. That’s how frustrating it was, I remember that it wasn’t 45 minutes, or 5o, but 48 that I got stuck on. The last time I ran that loop was about 10 years ago.

The other side of the counter-intuitive decision making to train through some injuries and illnesses, is that other required backing off. The flu, and colitis flare-ups for example, which means this was actually was my last solid workoutbefore Sunday's race. Running is at its hardest when it's unpredictable. But  I do know, that after this workout, next time I go to NH, I breaking that 48min barrier!

The other side of the counter-intuitive decision to train through particular injuries and illnesses, is that others require backing off. The flu, and colitis flare-ups for example, which means this was actually was my last solid workout before Sunday’s race. Running is at its hardest when it’s unpredictable. But I do know, that after this workout, next time I go to NH, I breaking that 48min barrier!

My first 10k, where I felt like I was running like the wind, my pace was over 9 minutes per mile, it has taken me almost 15 years (of on and off effort) to get my 10k PR pace down from 9:16 to 6:39, and a whole hell of a lot of runners are faster than that.

Like this one:

Hearing what the pro's have to say should be a required element to training.

Hearing what the pro’s have to say should be a required element to training.

Running is hard, and to master it (whatever that means to you) takes a lot of practice, strategy (I don’t just mean for the workouts, I mean to manage it with all the other parts of life too), and patience. There is a cultural oddity in this now HUGE population of runners, where, even though a runner is training hard, and making improvements they should be (and perhaps really are) very proud of, they will look at another runners bad workout and say “oh, man, you’re shitty run is still faster than my best mile!”. I know that the intent of comments like that is very positive. But I always cringe, because running is just too hard for people to self-deprecate like this.

Running is hard because contrary to what MANY people will tell you, you can tell very little about a person's running by how many mile they log each week.

Running is hard because contrary to what MANY people will tell you, you can tell very little about a person’s running by how many mile they log each week.

Comments like that minimize the efforts of both runners, the faster one and the slower one. Because at an equal effort, runner A might run a 5 minute mile, and runner B might run a 12 minute mile. It’s still EQUAL EFFORT. What I’m saying is that it is OK for someone who usually runs a 7 minute pace to come back from bad run that had a pace of 8:45 and call it a bad run. And it’s ok for a runner who usually runs an 8:45 pace to come back from a run that had a pace of 8:30 and call it the most amazing run ever. And neither runner should feel at all shy about either statement. Because running is hard enough! One of the hardest things for new runners to understand is that above all else running and training (especially for the marathon) is all relative.

So whether you run a 14 minute mile, or a 4 minute mile, you better own that ability, or I am going to internet slap you silly!

Running is so hard that even if it’s their favorite way to pass 20 minutes or  several hours, and even if they are relentlessly pursuing a goal they are passionate about, nearly every runner really REALLY looks forward to a day with no running now and then!

See? Haaaard.

See? Haaaard.

*AB

Sunday: A Runner off her Routine, and Purpose.

I hope you’re having a great weekend. Every day I read something and think “Wow, I wish I’d written this!” Yesterday my friend/running idol/Shoe Fairy, Marron, shared a Rose-Runner blog post with me,  it had me laughing and saying “Amen, sister!” so here, add this to your Sunday musings.

Another great read is this Huffington Post article about the work of Melissa Carroll. I was on a swim team (Go Raiders!) with Melissa for many years as a kid. I haven’t seen her in at least 12 years, if memory serves me right, but I’ve spent hours in emotional chaos and 100% enraptured by her artwork and other posts via social media as she has lived with recurring bone cancer. She had a show the other night, and from my internet stalking it appears to have been a wild success. Salman Rushdie was there! This woman, well, I don’t know where to start, so visit her blog here.

There is so much symbolism here that I cried, then laughed, then cried and laughed.

There is so much symbolism here that I cried, then laughed, then cried and laughed. (Also, I swiped this picture from Facebook, sadly, I’m in Chicago, not NYC, or I’d have been at that show!)

There isn’t a lot of variation in how my weekends go, I am either traveling to a race or they look like this:

Saturday: Up at 6ish to meet up with some run-buddies, either at the lake front or to drive out to the suburbs for a long run. By the time that’s done, and I’ve daily-miled, showered, eaten and so on, it’s usually close to noon, and the rush for serial Netflix-ing, dog snuggling, dished doing, laundering (clothes, duh), blog reading, run-studying, and usually an hour or two of work-related activities begins.

Sunday: Looks exactly like saturday, except the long run is replaced by 6-10 easy miles, and I try to go to yoga at 3:30pm (I succeed about every 3rd week).

On Thursday evening this week, although I was having a hard time keeping awake while navigating the Dan Ryan traffic on the way home from work, I had a great run:

Thursday 8/22/13 Daily Mile entry.

Thursday 8/22/13 Daily Mile entry.

Then, on Friday morning I went out for my planned 8 mile recovery run and ended up posting this:

“So there I was, a half mile into my recovery run, feeling tired but good, and thinking about how I hadn’t fallen down in over 3 weeks, and woohoo! And then, BAM! I was body surfing the sidewalk on Wellington Ave. Again, I was wearing the Flow 2’s (I’ve actually lost count of my falls at this point). I’m done with them until a new edition comes out, or I’ll size down…why are they so long?!

Both knee’s and one hand were short some skin and looking bloody, and it hurt just enough that I sat down for a couple minutes. Then carried on.

At mile 2.5 the discomfort wasn’t shaking off so I turned back, things disintegrated from there, I did a lot of walking. After each bout of walking my right knee hurt more, until in the last .25 I couldn’t run at all.

I’m trying not to catastrophize, hopefully it’s just a temporary response to the insult…but we’ll see won’t we?”

I’ve been looking forward to this week’s long run for ages! A challenging 16-mile progression run with one of my training partners who’s paces a near-perfectly matched with my own. (As it happens, I owe him one, he encouraged me to turn back when my gait changed to accommodate the knee discomfort, ok fine, pain).

So my training week ended like this:

stupid knee

And so my Saturday looked a lot like me and the Shi-Tzu’s laying on the bed, watching an entire season of a Netflix series, and several episode’s of Dr. Who…yup, totally a productive use of my time.

I have noticed a pattern in my falls however, so that explains why my right knee is so inflamed.

In my hours of trying not to panic, I've tallied 6 falls that probably looked like this, since May 1st.

In my hours of trying not to panic, I’ve tallied 6 falls that probably looked like this, since May 1st.

Here we are, Sunday in full swing, I’m in my PJ’s still, no running because my right knee is stiff, which is exactly how it felt before my run attempt yesterday.

I am running my first of 3 marathons in 3 months in exactly ONE WEEK. I’m sure my knee will be 100% fine by then,  I’m basically just getting an extreme taper that I wasn’t planning on.

This week has been exhausting because a lot of great things have developed, and then that momentum came to an abrupt halt when I hit the ground on Friday morning. Sounds silly, I know, but, that’s the nature of such self-indulgent pursuits like marathon running and training. I’ve wallowed for nearly 48hrs and now it’s time to remember that something else happened this week: I’ve received over $800 in donations for Garden Center Services!

My training and racing this fall is in dedication to the people I work to support. Please visit my Go Fund Me page to learn a bit more. This may not sound like the most politically correct message, but part of what drives me professionally is that when I was in graduate school, it seemed like everyone wanted to work with children with autism, and do parent training and in-home therapy. While all this is a good and needed service, those cute kids are going to grow up into adults who still need a lot of support.

The challenge I see, is that children’s programs pull at heart-strings, and get lots of fundraising, awareness, and research attention. But when they grow up, and the disabilities and other challenges are still there, they join the ranks of an under-funded, often neglected, vulnerable,  and largely silent population, and that has to stop.

Thank you!

*AB

Book Review: YOU (only faster) – Greg McMillan 2013

The quick reference review

 Read it:

  • If you want a step-by-step guide that will walk you through the process of building your own custom training plan either by adapting a pre-designed one, or piecing a “custom” one together via training phase modules (provided in the book).
  • If you want to know what elements of your training to track and assess in order to build or adapt a marathon training plan.
  • If you are a runners who would like to coach other runners. Specifically, if you don’t have a lot of background in the sport beyond perhaps a handful of marathons or half marathons, and you haven’t built your own training or read much of the seminal research papers or books on the sport.
  • If you want to know what the seminal concepts of developing a competitive runner are, but don’t have time to read the books and research,  or peruse the countless online articles, this book will provide you with a basic understanding of what all those slightly more enmeshed runners are babbling about.

Skip it:

  • If you’re looking for a training plan or training style to follow for your first marathon (this book will likely totally overwhelm you, and you won’t know a lot of the crucial things about how your body adapts to training required to use this book as a resource).
  • Same as above, except you completed more than one marathon but haven’t kept a detailed training log. (I’ve done 6 marathons, and still couldn’t confidently answer two of the key questions)
  • Competitive age-group runners, who have been studying the sport, and designing and adapting (i.e. self-coaching) your own training plans for a while and are making progress, there likely isn’t anything in this book you don’t already know.
  • If you have read books and articles written by Daniels,  Lydiard, Noakes, Avery, Johnson, Pfitzinger, Fitzgerald (etc.) or any combination of these contemporary leaders, legendary and groundbreaking coach/scholars of the sport, then this book is basically cliff’s notes for what you already know.

The long form review

Context: This is 100% from my point of view,  I’m not trying very hard at all to be objective, because I’m not sure that’s necessary considering the product. I am coming at this from the perspective of half marathon and marathon training. I’ve read many, but certainly not all of the books on how to develop as a runner, and I read online content about the science of running and training at least a few times a week, I am currently “self-coaching” myself and seem to be making slow but steady progress. I have the capacity to read anything and everything about running (specifically marathon running), even the most detailed race-report of someone I don’t know whatsoever, and derive utter enjoyment from it, and so, any review of  a book about running is likely to have a slight positive leaning bias.

My summative experience: Until I got about a third through this book, I was disappointed, I wasn’t sure what service this book was offering. Mostly, I think I was hoping for something that would revolutionize my training, much in the way the McMillan (yes, same guy) calculator and Daniels’ charts have. I know, that was silly. Then, I thought about what it was I was expecting, accepted that this book differed significantly from that, shifted my perspective, and really enjoyed reading the rest of it.

As you can see I found plenty of things to tag for future reference. No, YOU'RE a nerd.

As you can see I found plenty of things to tag for future reference. No, YOU’RE a nerd.

Another early impression was that McMillan was annoyingly and frequently name-dropping. Mostly referencing his experiences with some of the preeminent scholars of running as legendary coaches. But again, once I was about a third of the way through the book, I appreciated the vignettes as they provided insight into how and why McMillan subscribes to the concepts he’s writing about. Also, one could really put together a reading wish-list from them.

For me, someone who builds their own training plans from scratch and it constantly adapting them for myriad reasons, a lot of the content of this book was a great source of reassurance that I am in fact training intelligently (most of the time). It also very succinctly explained some of the common arguments I have with newer (or less observant) runners.

This book is a good compliment to the McMillan calculator. In fact, based on the marketing for the book, it seems like the book is an advertisement for the calculator and the calculator and advertisement for the book.

This app has been worth the $4.99 pricetag for me. I've won many an argument, and recieved several crucial confidence boosts over the year or so I've had it on my phone.

This app has been worth the $4.99 pricetag for me. I’ve won many an argument, and received several crucial confidence boosts over the year or so I’ve had it on my phone.

Target audience:

I think this book is a useful reference tool for a fairly narrow population of readers (see the quick review up top).

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

  • There are more than just the 3 training phases (speed, strength, endurance) typically familiar to the recreational and maybe even more competitive age-group runner. McMillan describe 9 phases of fitness, and I was giddy with agreement reading about them.
  • Training for training! This is a concept that I think is crucial for beginning runners to grasp, that in order to reap the maximum benefits from your training, you need to be able to perform the training accurately, which means you may need to build some certain skills before diving into some types of quality work…in a nutshell, anyway. It’s kind of like thinking you can become a maestro by staring at a piano 6 hours a day: PERFECT practice makes perfect.
  • Subtle differentiation between things that are dogma and things that are science: for example, McMillan briefly discusses that the “hullabaloo” (his word) surrounding foot plant and running form (that is: the mid-foot strike controversy) is far less indicative of good running economy than overall posture (that is, foot strike pattern is a product (result), not a cause).
  • Tapering versus Peaking: personally, taper-banter annoys me, but I could talk and read about the art and science of peaking all day. So this chapter was a blast to read.
  • Predictor workouts: several workouts are described that aim to predict various race performances. I plan to use them all, a workout performance is much more comfortable to put your trust into than an iPhone app. (wink)
  • There is more than one way to perform a long run. I think that pretty much sums it up.

** these last two points do not differ significantly from other coaches such as Jack Daniels and Jay Johnson.

Warnings and potential mis-use:

PLEASE! As with all running books, DO NOT just piece together your marathon training plan from the modules in the book without first reading the entire book! I guarantee someone has already done this. And they may have a decent training cycle, especially if they’ve previously followed a training plan designed for mass consumption (e.g. pulled one off of a website, out of a magazine, or from a book such as Hal Higdon’s marathon training – all things that are acceptable for a first-timer). Or, they are going to totally crash and burn, or give up, or get injured, and then they’ll blog or post comments on forums that are totally misrepresenting the text.

That’s what I refer to as the “Hanson’s method syndrome”.

*AB

Me and my personal “Blerch” at Waterfall Glen

If you haven’t yet seen Matthew Inman’s (of “The Oatmeal“) online comic about running yet, there is a reason it’s making its way around all the runner-popular internet outposts. It evokes some chuckles and it’s highly relatable. Which I suppose is how he makes his living, creating that sort of thing.

Anyway you can view/read his piece “The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances” here.

And then you will understand this:

"Blerch" image borrowed from Matthew Inman, of www.theoatmeal.com, please don't sue me, sir.

“Blerch” image borrowed from Matthew Inman, of http://www.theoatmeal.com, please don’t sue me, sir.

Running is at its best and worst an experience in ambivalence.

More on that later.

*AB

 

The Sagal Strategy (among other things)

A few weeks ago I started using Daily Mile, are you on there? If you are, find me and  friend me (for a short-cut just click on that orange icon to the right of this post). If you aren’t you should seriously get on there, your Facebook (FB) friends, and real-life friends, may not want to hear about your training runs and races in extreme detail, but your Daily Mile (DM) friends do! There are a lot of examples of how social media can reinforce or set the occasion for different behaviors but here’s just one:

WFG on DM

See, total validation for weaknesses, some pats on the back for the ol’ ego, and also encouragement to persevere. All at once, and all from seriously accomplished athletes. I got to share my new 10-mile PR with people who get it (you’re FB friends will just say “wow, I don’t even like to DRIVE ten miles, harharhar!”), and I also got to admit where I’m struggling to people who get that, too (you’re FB friends will just say “You run so much you can eat ANYTHING!” – fellow runner’s know better).

That particular DM post was from Saturday’s race, race number 3 of my 4 races serial-racing accidental experiment that’s now underway (race 3 is tomorrow, and race 4 is 9 days after that).

I’d been toggling all week between thinking I’d be able to follow an aggressive pacing plan (because, seriously, I should be able to run 10mi at a faster pace than I’ve run a half-marathon), and thinking I should not even go because I was undeniably wallowing in the depths of over-entitled self-pity over the iliac-psoas “injury slash-“complete GI/Immune system malfunction”-slash-chronic weird rib pain-slash-“oh now I appear to be bloated enough to float down that Ganges” thing that’s been happening.

But go I did with my trusty training and travel-to-races (sometimes really crazy ones) buddy Meredith.

We look really unsure of ourselves, here. Hanging in the parking area...

We look really unsure of ourselves, here. Hanging in the parking area…

Truth be told I really did feel like crap. I was having all kinds of GI issue’s that even I don’t feel like discussing, I was tired from a night of mild fever and general discomfort, my stomach was all sloshy, and I wasn’t exactly feeling fleet of foot.  So all stirrings of race strategy went away and I tried to just enjoy seeing friends and meeting a couple new ones in our little start corral.

Whilst chatting with said run-buds I noticed that Peter Sagal was standing right in front of me, I confirmed with Erica that it was indeed him and then got way too awkward to say hello. Then he popped into the first corral, and I had my race plan.

I would try to catch up with, and then beat, Peter Sagal.

Good form, sir.

I made a few assumptions based on what I know from his Runner’s World pieces, the fact that he schooled me at the F^3 Half Marathon in January, and that knowledge that he’s blown away my own marathon time with a not-dissimilar training strategy. I then decided he’s probably just a touch faster than me and considered that he’d have a 2min head start with the corral separation, but that would push me to keep plugging away, so I was game.

Yes, it was a totally one-sided, likely unfair, and probably creepy, competition scenario to set up.

(Read this article about how the muse of this post took his marathon PR from a 3:20 to a 3:09, still one of my favorite RW articles, and you all know how opinionated I can be on this subject.)

It turned out to be a great strategy, having a target to look for got me thru miles 2-7 when the undeniable little jolt of excitement you feel at a race start wore off. I finally caught sight of him just past mile 7 and it took me until about the mile 8 marker to get within passing distance.

Obviously I’m not so annoying and socially clueless as to say “Hi, Mr. Sagal, I’m a huge fan, blah-blah-blah…” mid-race. He’s a witty intellectual, who’s also a celebrity, so I’m sure he’d have been gracious, or subtly insulting enough that I’d have totally missed the point, but still, I’d want to punch me in the throat, so I refrained and trotted along.

I finished with a time of 1:09:37 which is a PR by over 5 minutes, and was good enough to place 3rd overall (female)!

So there you go, a new, totally legit, tried and true race strategy. I hear by coin the “Sagal Strategy”, which I predict will become as embedded in the runner’s lexicon as the infamous “Yasso’s”.

After I’d caught my breath and gotten some water, I turned and saw Mr. Sagal finish. In my metabolically altered, post-race mental state I practically pantomimed a mugging in sidling up to him to say “Mr. Sagal! My goal was to beat you and I did!” or some such poorly executed, expertly idiotic, expression of admiration and gratitude. It was all rather rude and embarrassing but I’m operating on the assumption that people randomly approach and say weird shit to this guy on a regular basis. But I did feel stupid as we drove home, so of course, I turned to twitter.

PS tweet

Really, my point, because I do have one, I just like to take the long road, is that often an element of success, whether it’s in running a PR, learning a new skill, or developing yourself professionally, is to aim for a target you know you can reach, if you focus, filtering out sometimes even signals from your body and brain (sloshing stomach, general grumpitude).

The next few weeks of training involve some weird scheduling conflicts (e.g. yet another race on Monday night, traveling to Texas next week, etc.), but hopefully I can tick off everything listed.

Training block #3

There you have it. Hope you had a good week!

*AB

2013 Training and Racing Plan

It’s totally reasonable to expect a training/racing plan post to go up in late December for early January (and perhaps I did one and forgot?). As we enter the seventh month of the year, I’ve still been slightly less than committed to my racing plans and training strategy. Mostly because I want to be smart, and successful, when I hit the fall racing season.

What that really means is I don’t want to be miserable for my fall marathon(s). For those of you who are not runners, I’m sure you’ve assumed this but let me be clear: 26.2 miles is an ETERNITY of MISERY if you are under-prepared, injured, or anything less than 100% committed on race day.

A sub 2:45 marathoner in Chicago told me over the winter “A PR race is always easier to manage and less painful than a bad race”. For example, in my own experience, my 3:17 performance at Boston this year, even though I had some discomfort that held me back at times, was by far more enjoyable and seemed to go by much faster than the Chicago Half Marathon when I ran it last year in 1:38. If you do the math you’ll realize that the latter race was half the distance but run at the same pace. And, I swear, it felt like I was out there for just as long.

Another example, if you were reading Fluency’s Folly last fall you might remember this:

Slightly injured, burnt-out (mentally), under-trained = looong and tantrum filled marathon.

Slightly injured, burnt-out (mentally), under-trained = looong and tantrum filled marathon.

I ran a 3:26 at Chicago 2012, but I swear, it felt like I was out there for 8 hours, just China Town felt like I was on a treadmill. Bad race experiences, of course, can happen even when you are completely prepared, there are dozens of variables that can individually effect a marathon performance. I think it’s this sort of gambling scenario that keeps runners coming back to chase their own definition of marathon mastery.

I’ve had some success doing 2 marathons within 2 months (last year, Boston then Midland). This fall I’m attempting 3 in 3 months, with the last one being a doozy:

I know, you've seen this screenshot like 17 times now. Sorry, nerves.

I know, you’ve seen this screenshot like 17 times now. Sorry, nerves.

Racing review of 2013 so far:

I’ve run 4 half marathons, one being a PR where I felt as good as I could ask for (read about it here). The first one (here) I wasn’t race fit but still race a controlled race and was satisfied, the last two, I was emotional, not fit for them, and overall not pleased with how they felt (go here for a recap of the First Midwest Half). I’ve also done a 10k where I hoped to break 40 minutes for the first time, but failed, and had to admit I was injured (read about that here), I ran a 5k, totally impromptu, and was shocked to break 20 minutes, but it wasn’t without discomfort. Finally, in June I ticked two items off my running bucket list: Ragnar (fun recap post here) where I felt awful when running, but could probably be convinced to sign up again, and the Mt. Washington Road Race (HERE!) which brought me full-circle with my post-Boston events emotional roller-coaster and confirmed that I do in fact, love to run, and do, in fact, want to keep working at it.

Training review of 2013 so far:

Boston training went great, I hit most of my targets every week, and after a lot of time spent staring at my training log, and thinking back to how key workouts felt, I think I’ve isolated where I crossed the line from having some tight back/core/hip muscles to have pulled/pissed off muscles. It was while doing 800 repeats in March, I remember hitting descending splits and being stoked about it. I remember having 3 to go, and tension growing in my right lower back. I remember it hurting, and I remember making the choice to push through and get my split. Then, I remember searing pain 3/4 of the way through the penultimate 800. And then limping slowly through the rest of the workout and the cool-down.

I survived the rest of training, and still hit a massive PR in Boston. I’ve run between 30 and 45 mi per week most weeks, I took the week between Ragnar and Mt. Washington completely off of all exercise, I didn’t even walk the poor dogs. I’ve been seeing a totally awesome chiropractor  (Ryan) for the past 6 weeks or so and I’m learning a lot, but mostly, I’m learning the value of doing the ancillary work that elite runners and coaches are always talking about.

I returned to a structure plan 2 weeks ago, which included some flirtations with speed and tempo work, after at 15mi long-run effort today, I’m ready to commit to saying that I am officially “in training” for the fall.

Here’s what I have planned for the next two weeks.

training block #2

Beyond these next two weeks I’ve only just plugged in the key workouts I think I should be doing, and will fill in everything else as I go, based on how I’m doing. I’ve been trying to research how to best handle the recovery and preparation for the serial marathons…it’s a little overwhelming to say the least, although I’m ok with not racing hard at the No Frills marathon, and at Catalina, I’d really rather not do any walking, or feel like I’m unprepared to race should a perfect day present itself.

Planned races:

Bastille Day 5/8k (5k): Chicago, IL. July 11, 2013

Waterfall Glenn Xtreme 10: Darien, IL. July 13, 2013

Burgers and Beer 5k: Chicago, IL. July 15, 2013

El Chupacabra De San Antonio (10k): San Antonio, Tx. July 26, 2013

Zooma Half Marathon: Chicago, IL. August 10, 2013 **

No Frills Minocqua Marathon: Minocqua, WI. September 1, 2013

Bucktown 5k: Chicago, IL. September 15, 2013 **

The Chicago Marathon: Chicago, IL. October 13, 2013 **

Carrera de Los Muertos (5k): Chicago, IL. November 2, 2013

Catalina Island Eco Marathon: Catalina Island, CA. November 9, 2013

** = Goal Race (PR effort)

So there you have it. I’m sure I’ll add a few 5 /10k’s this summer and fall, because I’m a sucker, and there are so many good races every weekend! I could also continue with more detail about how I’m thinking about my training and race selections…but I’ll save that for later, this post is long enough.

What are your goal races the rest of this year?

Do you go to a chiropractor and/or massage therapist as a part of your training?

Got any research on ART, Graston, foam rolling, and the like you’d be willing to share with me (email me?)? I’m coming up peanuts…(stuff procured from the Graston Technique website doesn’t count).

Tell me, tell me!!

*AB