Tag Archives: Half Marathon

Book Review: 80/20 Running – Matt Fitzgerald


This book will be released on September 2, 2014 and is available for pre-order on Amazon (Kindle or Paperback), or via Penguin books.

Read it:

  • You’ve gotten injured, perhaps more than once, when you were otherwise fit and still want to keep running (and improving).
  • You have been running 5k’s up to maybe a half marathon and want to train for a marathon (although the book caters to 5k – marathon distances).
  • You enjoy reading literature reviews and find it entertaining (and helpful) to know what current research is suggesting.
  • You’ve read some of Matt Fitzgerald’s other books (I think it’s fair to say he’s a prolific writer at this point) and enjoyed them.
  • You are a solely motivated by how many miles you log per week, and how much faster you logged them than last week.
  • You like reading books that dispel myths.
  • You’re a fan of the McMillan or Daniels training tools and templates (this book is totally compatible with them).

*I’d like to point out, as an aside, that this book goes very well with Fitzgerald’s “RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel”. My opinion is such that if you read both, and have been running for more than 6 months to a year, you can probably then self-coach with reasonable success.

Skip it:

  • You have a training program that works for you and you haven’t experienced; symptoms of over-training, injury, a performance plateau, a sense of malaise or apathy toward training.
  • You’ve been under the tutelage of a well informed coach, you’re injury fee and happy with the progress you’re making.
  • You don’t like hearing about what “science” says. (yes, I know you are real, and it’s ok)
  • You want to just be given a plan and told what to do, not react to how your training goes or have to spend time planning your runs. You aren’t interested in the why’s and how’s, just the do’s and don’ts.
  • You can only/are willing only to train 3 times per week (<4hrs, but still expect to improve. (ok, so the book doesn’t say this, but I formulate that this training philosophy requires increases over time to training volume)


Several points that might bias me slightly toward liking this book: If you’ve read my rant page on the state of product reviews on the internet, then please allow me a teaspoon of hypocrisy. I did not pay for this book. I asked Matt if I might be sent an advanced copy, and to my surprise he (and his publisher) obliged. Next, as a rather large part of my professional life I spend a lot of time trying to synthesize lots of research results into, basically, getting small or large groups of people to buy-in to some different way of approaching problems and other things, and so I appreciate how difficult this is to do, I appreciate that this is the approach this books embraces. Finally, I like reading about running, and about different training strategies even if I don’t agree with them (in this case I do, however).

That all said, I had a bias to dis-like this book as well. As you may be aware the 80/20 principle (know by several names) is a popular one in business, managing, and with various work/life evangelists. It’s frequently misapplied, misunderstood, or over-generalized (simplified?), and I think more recently has been boiled down to the really annoying “work smarter – not harder” mantra. In order to be able to skillfully select the 20% of any causes that will generate the desired results takes a heck of a lot of hard work…I digress.

My Summative Experience:

Given that I was set-up to love this book, (“Run”, and “Diet Cults” are books I’ve pressured probably 50 people into reading, my interns have all been made to read the latter), I was actually a little disappointed. Of course, I should temper that by saying it’s exactly the same kind of disappointment I felt when I read “Hansons Marathon Method”. Both books are marketed as an approach to marathon training (ahem ,– running) that are “revolutionary”. So of course, you’re expecting some sort of magic bullet. The thought of which, even if you (like me) are in love with the process of training, will still find alluring. But this book is not “revolutionary”, I’d say rather that it addresses a cornerstone of successful training that is a MUST for all runners who want to run better (faster, healthier, happier etc), but one that runner’s typically fall into (the 80/20 formula) as part of their evolution as runners. That is, they get injured, get burnt-out, and so on, and over time settle into this more natural, and happily, more successful ratio.

I am definitely one of these people. I haven’t used a heart-rate monitor while running in years, but in the spirit of the full experience I wore one over the week and a half I was reading this book (it’s actually a quick read – I just had life-ish things getting in the way). Even though I’m still a bit out of shape (week 3 of an 18 week training cycle) I found that once I calculated my training zones I am well within the 80/20 rule. And in fact, when I looked back to my two most successful training cycles in the past, they were too. What’s of great interest to me is that had I followed the plans as set-up at the time, I would not have been. I would have, as defined in this book, been working way too much above the ventilatory threshold, but because I have always been a big proponent of listening to your body, I was “skipping” a lot of the workouts.

What was wholly not disappointing about this book is that I think I could go back twice and find additional interesting component topics to look into. Fitzgerald just does a plain old great job weaving in heaps of research notes.

Also, let’s just go ahead and acknowledge two things: first, the use of the term “revolutionary” is clearly a publishers’ favorite buzz word, and second, that sense of disappointment I had after reading the Hanson’s book? Well, I then used their training templates for 3 PR races, sooo…kettle, meet black.

Target Audience:

This is actually a little tricky to address. Normally I excel at pairing specific content with specific audiences (again, this is an element of my professional gig), but this book has left me a little stuck in the “der, well, everyone who is running should read this”. Let me explain: I hinted at this above, we all have to learn about what our bodies respond best to, and how they respond in general, to training. There is some trial and error to that. The thing is, we actually DON’T have to do the whole trial-and-error fumbling around in frustration thing because it’s been done for us, by other runners over many decades. If you read the books, and spend some time assessing and strategizing, then you can in large part avoid the misery of trial and error training. Reading about running, and the science of running, is a great component to that. I say reading, rather than talking with other runners, intentionally. Often runners get defensive, rather than grateful, when you start to pick apart their chosen training method.

I’ve learned this the hard way. So now, instead, I (try to) make only references to how I’ve contacted success in training, and then I recommend books. My rate of impassioned debates regarding marathon training has greatly decreased. But my recommendation library has grown. This book is perfect for it.

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

  • It is not as simple as arbitrarily delegating 80% of your training volume to easy running, and the remaining 20% to hard running.
  • There isn’t one most efficient way to run (stride, cadence etc), moreover your most efficient run is different given different workouts and other conditions.
  • There are people researching training loads and components of training, and slowly the populations they draw from are broadening (I’m being optimistic here).
  • To get better results over time in racing, you need to increase your training load/volume over time (i.e. run more).
  • Currently training models aren’t ousting old ones: they are building upon them.
  • Cross-training is supportive training (my words) – and has some positive effects beyond potentially injury prevention (I won’t give away the punch line!)
  • The point of diminishing returns in building fitness and skill is a real thing, so is genetic potential (for running fast).

Warnings and potential mis-use:

Within the book Fitzgerald makes the assumption (he might take exception to my use of this term, but I have a word limit here) that most people are running harder than they need to for optimal returns on fitness, I disagree, just a bit. I think within the running population there are people definitely people who fit that bill: I think these people tend to be beginners, or/and fairly competitive age-grouper types (this is where I fall, for a reference point) who tend to get stuck in a work-horse mentality and don’t realize they’re working in the realm of diminishing returns because the metrics like weekly mileage and individual workout stats are so damn reinforcing. Additionally, I think there is a population of runners (many perhaps falling into the 4:45 – 6:30 marathon finish, training 30-45mi/wk) who underestimate their rate of exertion, and aim too low in how hard they should train. It would be another 3,000 words for me to fairly elaborate this point, but I mention it here because I think there will be people who read this book and actually lose fitness gains by over-correcting.

Next, unlike the plans that typically appeal to beginners, where the whole 16-24 weeks of training is all pre-planned, you need to calibrate your training. This book includes great training plan templates and other key element run templates (tempo runs and the like), but you do need to first establish what your training zones are (i.e. easy, moderate, hard – the book will break them down into sub-sections for you), and then you’ll need to calibrate them over the course of training as your body adapts and becomes more fit. That is, as you improve. Call me a negative Nancy, but I can absolutely see people skipping the assessment work, assuming where their paces fall, and then blaming the system (er – Matt Fitzgerald) when they don’t improve.

Overall, this book is a great addition to your training resource library, and I look forward to digging into some of the finer points even more.

Let me know if you read it!


Go Speed Pacer, Go!

My new achievement:

You'd think I was carrying the Olympic Flame.

You’d think I was carrying the Olympic Flame.

One of my running buddies was signed up to be a 1:45 pacer at the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon this Sunday, but she’s working through a lingering hamstring issue, so I said I would take her spot, with the warning that I might besmirch her name because I had no idea what I was doing, only that an 8min pace is comfortable right now, and I’d planned to run 10 miles on Sunday anyway, so why not? (yes, Half-Marathons are still 13.1 miles)

I’ve volunteered at races before:

  • I’ve volunteered at water-stops
  • As a course “marshal” (i.e. point and yell “go that way!”)
  • And, as a bike-marshal (the “weee! follow me guys!” kind, the “hey jackass, pull over before 1,000 runners come barreling into you!” kind, the “I’m so sorry but you’ll need to finish your race running/walking on the sidewalk” kind, and also the “please send an ambulance, I just got puked on, again” kind)

I volunteer a couple of times per year because, although the business model of big races is questionable, and actually doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, I do recognize that without the huge numbers of volunteers laboring for hours at every race from a 5k to a marathon, then the opportunities for us age-groupers and experience racers would not exist in anywhere near the abundance or quality they do.

I haven’t ever seriously considered volunteering as a pacer. Mostly because between experiences I’ve had while training, racing, and volunteering, the more popular running gets the more I see a whole lot of self-absorbed runners do and say a whole lot of disrespectful things to volunteers, as well as to fellow runners and walkers. Therefore, I’ve selfishly figured that if I’m going to put the energy into running the entire length of a race, then I’m going to be trying to do so as fast as I can, that is to say, I’m going to race (kind of hypocritical isn’t it? I’m complicated).

If the jersey fits...or whatever.

If the jersey fits…or whatever.

I’ve never run with a pace group even, but I’ve heard enough horror stories that although I was really motivated to help my friend out, and a though I felt pretty sure I could maintain the steady pace, I definitely lost a little sleep over the nuances of being what I thought would qualify as being a “good pacer”.

My experience of the actual pacing gig was 90% positive. The runners who stayed by me from start to finish of the race were all pretty stoic runners, which can be good when people are vying for a PR, because it means minimal banter and no energy to spare for heckling the pacer.

I was relieved to learn, when I went to the expo to get my bib and pacer jersey, that I’d have a partner-pacer who was a veteran at this game and could sort of show me the ropes. He definitely got me going and settled in over the first few miles, and totally helped me to not panic when I realized that everyone’s GPS watches were basically useless in this race (bridges, buildings…city races are fun, but offer a lot of satellite interference), he was great in knowing what to say to help people not freak out, and helped me be confident in my own rhythm and using my Garmin’s stopwatch function. (Which is silly because until a few years ago I’d only ever done so, well, no Garmin) Unfortunately, my pacer-pal was not having a great day and needed to ease off about 70% into the race. So it got a little lonely.

The not so positive 10% was actually nothing to do with this specific experience but some general things that happen in every race. There are always a few people who don’t know or aren’t aware of race etiquette, or more accurately, their surroundings.

So of course, there were the few folks who came to a dead stop getting water, and the guy who dropped a part for his iPod and dead stopped then reversed direction to retrieve it (add this to my growing list of why personal music devices should be banned from ALL races).

There were also a few passive-aggressive digs. This infuriates me, and I assume it happens with regularity, in different iterations, to most dedicated runner’s. I tried really hard to be extremely self-aware during the entire half-marathon. In fact, I made a point to only speak when I was either calling out the mile split, or answering a question someone had asked me directly. As it happens there were several people who had lots of questions. Those people, (4 of them) as far as I know, all ran substantial PR’s, I like to think in no small part because I told each of them, when our mini-conversations ended, that they were clearly feeling comfortable and they should speed up just a touch. They all did.

Insult # 1: Just after I finished one of these mini-conversations (lasted exactly a half mile – yes, I was tracking it), a man said “how can you talk so much while running this pace”? Trust me, he wasn’t giving me a compliment. I responded that I was in peak marathon training (a lie).

Insult #2: Post-race another man from my pace-group, said “I know why women are better endurance athletes than men” Sadly, I took the bait and asked why. He said, “Because women always talk the whole time they’re running.” I responded “No, I can talk because I train my ass of and I was pacing not racing. It has nothing to do with being female.”

I wasn’t trying to be an a-hole, that’s really offensive. Obviously, I’m not going to volunteer to pace a target-time that I don’t know is well within my comfort zone (I’ve since learned people do sign up to pace at targets shockingly close to their own PR’s, I do not like this, it seems very irresponsible).

Also, DO NOT use my sex against me because you’re feeling intimidated.

If you’re feeling intimidated, then work HARDER.

Also, seriously, I barely spoke. In fact, I worked really hard at that.

Equally frustrating (to me) are the runners who don’t understand that yelling at people mid-race is not going to teach proper etiquette. Mid-race is not the time to explain to someone why stopping at the water stop is a bad idea, or to yell sarcastically at completely panicked and clueless pedestrians who “Frogger” their way across the course.

In the end, I think I did well. I figure pulling it in 20 seconds under is enough time that people who were keeping me in their sights as a target could pull off a finish in the 1:45 minute, but close enough to 1:45:00 that there were not dead-sprints needed.


What surprises me is I always considered being a pacer a free entry to races. But it’s not. It definitely felt like work, between staying aware of what a runner might need (count down miles? Yell out splits? Do neither? Talk? Stop Talking? Encourage? Offer gel? Run close? Give space? etc etc etc), making sure I stayed on track for the target finishing time without any periods of sprinting or crawling (my variability ended up being only about an 8 second range), and even trying to find that balance between projecting confidence but not making it seem too easy because that could be really aversive to someone who is just hanging on (maybe I need to work on this, see “insults” above).

Anyway, if they comped your entry into another event (or the next running of that event) so that you could run your own race, then I’d call it a “free entry”, and holy cow, I’d volunteer to pace all the time, my desire to practice racing more and more is bankrupting me!

I probably wouldn’t have ever registered for a “Rock and Roll” event without this opportunity, but I actually can’t review the race at all because I was so hyper-focused on my little pacing-gig that I don’t remember anything except for running through the (McCormick?) tunnel near the list mile and almost falling several times because of the stupid disco-lights and thunderous music. Complete sensory over-load. I guarantee people threw up in there.


Thanks to my new blogger-friend Declan for the above capture of my first-ever pacer finish!


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!!


Why Swimming will make me a better runner.

As you might remember, a couple of weeks ago I got a membership to the super-excellent gyms I used to work at (2006-2012 in fact). This means I have access to yoga, Pilates, spinning, (treadmills), step mills (!!!), weight training, and swimming. So far I’ve completed one extremely uncomfortable yoga class (I can’t stand on one leg, as it happens), and have been swimming a few times. Here, this happy moment will jog your memory:

Flatterning picture, isn't it?

flattering picture, isn’t it?

Let me start here with a disclaimer that I am doing zero (and I mean N-O-N-E) research into the sports and physiology literature to support anything I say in this post, this is just me, stringing things together.

I watched the video below the other day (Jay Johnson posted it on his blog), and then did the routine two nights ago. I’ve had more ankle twists, pops, strains, and sprains in my 31 years than I care to try tallying up, but it’s very likely these injuries (both the individual insults and the cumulative effect), are definitely effecting my running (negatively) but also might explain some of the persistent aches and pains I have.

When I finished this approximately 10 minute routine, I thought that my feet and lower legs felt similar to the way they feel after a swim.

Some history: For over a 18 months, until early 2012, I had very bad planter fasciitis. I slept in not one, but often two, night splints, and systematically went through every remedy out there, including working with an orthopedic surgeon. The treatment that finally proved effective (FOR ME) was to get in the pool a few times a week, and just kick, lap after lap, after lap, after lap.  I wasn’t even running very much, or consistently when these all developed in late 2010.

It’s Friday and I’ve only been running twice this week. And I’ve definitely not been observing my “become a fast runner” diet whatsoever. But I did supremely enjoy a swim session on Tuesday morning, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

So here are some reasons swimming will make me a better runner:

  1. It reminds me of the first time I practiced a complex, athletic skill, over and over, and saw consistent improvement. (I was a swimmer as a kid, and in college)
  2. I love flip-turns, I love that 5-10 meters when you’re underwater and moving fast.
  3. It makes my core stronger.
  4. It’s great breath control practice.
  5. I could float, on my back, all day. Bliss.
  6. Swimming teaches you how to selectively relax while uncomfortable.
  7. Swimming loosens up all those things made tight from running. Increases flexibility.
  8. Sometimes a break from running makes you grateful for running.
  9. Moving through the water is like being on another planet, and it feels awesome, and graceful.
  10. When I’m swimming I can think about running, without being able to critique my running in real-time, it makes for a more objective/rational view.
  11. Swim workouts are similar in structure as marathon training workouts.
  12. A great workout in the pool requires patience, as does running a great race.
  13. Swimming is a skill I’m fluent in, and it’s rhythmic, so I don’t have to think if I don’t want to…it’s calming, even medicinal.
  14. ……..I like it.

I think recreational runners tend to over-emphasize the importance of cross-training. The time we are able to allot to training is precious, and finite, so for us non-elites our best training tool is probably specificity. However, the emotional, and perhaps physically therapeutic effects of cross-training totally justify having a gym membership, or going to a few spin classes.

Just please, no cross fit. (I love this article, and also this one)

I’m registered for the Chicagoland Spring Half Marathon on Sunday…Before then, I’ll probably just go for another swim.



First Midwest Half Marathon (my perspective)

I think getting a race re-cap posted in under 7 days is a new record. For worst blogger. Wuh-wuh-wuh.

Run bud and snappy dresser Meredith, with me in my BAA colors. I feel guilty for enjoying that people even know what they stand for now.

Run bud and snappy dresser Meredith, with me in my BAA colors. I feel guilty for enjoying that people even know what they stand for now.

Last Sunday was my third half marathon this year. That sounds prolific to me, maybe even excessive. Regardless, I’m hoping to bag at least 3 or 4 more races at the distance this year. I think consistently nailing the half is one of the (many) keys to really whittling down my marathon time and sharpening that performance. Also, practicing how to recover while doing some serial racing will hopefully set me up for a successful (or at least not disastrous) fall when I attempt 3 marathons in 3 months. (I’ve updated my race schedule, so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out that page)

I was expecting a very poor performance, and to be in a good amount of pain. But I ran far faster and with more consistent splits than I thought I’d be able (1:31:47  finish. The course measured about .10mi long, so this was shockingly close to my PR). And my discomfort was way less than I expected. This race experience was far more challenging mentally than physically.

This Half, in Palos Heights, had several features that make it a great race in my (rather selective) opinion. First, and please forgive my self-indulgence, was that there were race photographers placed much as they are at any other race (at 3/4 the distance, the finish, post-finish etc) but because of the relatively small field (about 1,500 runners) and my particular pacing, there was plenty of space between myself and other runners at most points, and so I have several pictures taken where I actually look like I might be a competitive runner rather than a sardine in a running kit! I’m going to order prints for the first time in ages! (erm. next pay check)

Here’s a nice finishing sequence for you:

Palos Half finish

My friend Cindy shot a video clip of my finish as well, and my form looks incredibly stiff! And all the on-course photos confirmed that I was basically running like my knee’s can’t bend. Mostly I think that was a fatigue symptom and also from my efforts to guard my psoas injury and not trigger any stitches and cramps. I was mostly successful on that front.

I’m hoping to run both Boston and Eugene next spring, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the 2014 installment of this race, but I really want to! This course is perfectly designed for a PR if I were fit for it (and I’d argue, for anyone). Which right now I am not, my body is in a very strange place: mildly injured on two accounts, not exactly de-conditioned, but also not totally “recovered”, and yet not feeling hard training runs…I’m not super clear even on what to do right now. So a lot of snap judgements are being made day-to-day. Case in point: This week I’ve done the following: swim, yoga, total body class, spin, run…who am I? I’ve also done a lot of pity-party throwing with cider and lots of decidedly not training friendly foods.

But I digress, back to Palos, the course is out and back, which I love because I get a real boost both on the way out (seeing the top runners) and the way back (seeing everyone else). There are several rolling hills that are just enough of a challenge that you see people begin to drop off  just before the turn around. To date, all my PR’s, for every distance, are on hills, and most of my “podium” finishes are also from hilly courses. Now, Palos doesn’t technically qualify as hilly, which is why I think people probably struggled. If you’re expecting flat terrain, you’re probably not strategizing appropriately for the inclines and declines when they do arrive, and also, especially as you get tired, it can be really hard to switch gears in terms of stride length and cadence to keep an even effort of hills if you haven’t been practicing. Both Meredith (see photo at top of post) and I love hills, and seem to sort of intuitively know how to tackle them. It’s admittedly really satisfying to pass people on hills who previously blew past you on the flats.

I tried to make it all instragram-hipstery. Like? I think the ribbons are pretty excellent.

I tried to make it all instagram-hipstery. Like? I think the ribbons are pretty excellent. Photo credit: Action Sports Images

I hinted above that it was an emotional race. That might actually be an exaggeration, mostly I just could not focus, I couldn’t seem to block out intrusive thoughts about Boston, and everything that has come with it.

This is very unusual for me. The major appeal of running, and most definitely racing, is that when I’m doing it, there is nothing else. It’s the very definition of mindfulness, and escapism. Two things I typically really, really, suck at. Truly.

I actually did have a race plan: I was settled that I’d run a 7:45 pace (this is where I am usually most comfortable for a long run) and just slow down if it hurt.

As we were walking over to the start area we passed a few police SWAT (I think) officers (?) carrying military grade rifles. They looked EXACTLY like the men that were so kind to me when I needed to get out of my hotel room the morning after the Boston Marathon but was totally not OK being alone. At that time, seeing the uniforms, and even the weapons, was a comfort. It seemed to bring a level of order and sense to total chaos and confusion. But last Sunday morning, seeing them made me unbearably angry.

Military level security does not belong at road races. It made me feel like I should be expecting another terrible event like that on Patriots Day. And that infuriates me.

I understand that race directors are obligated now to increase security. And I understand that I am likely in a minority of people so passionately defensive of running that we don’t want the symbolism of the increased security measures to be there. I understand that, but it doesn’t change my reaction to it.

The national anthem was awesome, a high school girl I believe, I was grateful I was wearing sunglasses. And from the start to mile 5 I couldn’t stop thinking about those SWAT officers.  (I’m actually not 100% I using the right designation, but it conjures the accurate image)

I started the race still enraged, and it showed. My first mile split was a 6:36 which is somewhere extremely close to my 10k PR pace. Whoops. Mile 2 was 6 seconds slower….and mile 3  just under 7 minutes. At that point I had somewhat of a rhythm, and nothing hurt yet, so I decided to try to focus on keeping it there. I think I succeeded in focusing for about 2 seconds out of every 10.

At mile 5, I stopped thinking about Boston, and about how betrayed I felt running had been, and just thought about stopping. I was miserable, I didn’t have an ounce of desire to run, and I just wanted to stop, sit down, and eventually wander back to the start. Then I remembered that my friend was waiting for me, and she as going to interview me for a project for a class she’s taking.

And the symbolism hit me. I thought about how giving up because I felt heartbroken, which was because of the increased security, which was because of the terror attack…would be the exact opposite of what I stand for.

So I decided that to take another moment of running for granted, or to waste even another second of the opportunity to race, and soak up the race atmosphere (which I love!) would make me a complete fool. And although I could tell that my body would not be able to go any faster, I began to do what I would normally do in a race, I started to try to pick people off.

Once I saw the lead woman go by on her back half of the course, I counted each additional woman, and at the turn around I counted myself as number 20. I decided to try to get to 15th place for the finish. Sighting and then catching up to  the women in front of me took patience, which was exactly the type of project I needed to keep my mind off of ANYTHING else, and on running.

I finished as the 17th woman. And 100% smitten with running again.

Palos done

I had worried briefly at mile 9 that at the finish there would be a heavy law enforcement presence again. I was relieved when I saw none. About 20minutes later someone pointed out to me two snipers positioned on rooftops, and facing the finishing area. My heart went right back down to my toes, and I was again devastated, and felt hopeless, and thought I might just scrap my summer running plans and join a masters swim team.

By the time I got to a Monday morning recovery run, those precious 7 miles, where I was committed to running, and only running, and taking down a course and a few competitors piece by piece, kept coming back to me. And I feel so relieved. Those moments of hard work, of joy, of success, are way more powerful than anything else. And that is how it should be.

Between Boston, and this race, I’d only gone running 4 times, with 4 additional failed attempts. And each mile felt endless. Monday morning I finally ran 8 miles that felt like they took an appropriate amount of time. That is to say, it flew by.

So in the end, racing is still a symbol of all that it is to be free, and it is still a sanctuary. Just don’t look to the rooftops.


Transitioning from Boston

Pre-Boston, my plan for post-Boston had been to take 10 days mostly off of running to recover, and put together a killer training program that would span from the 11th day after Boston and carry me through my last planned event for 2013: The Catalina Eco Marathon on November 9th (FYI, that’s the day after my birthday, feel free to send gifts). I have only completed a few uncomfortable runs, and have barely thought about what my training for the next 6 months is going to look like. One run worth noting, however, was the back half of a friend’s marathon, the week after Boston.

brc sistahs

My motivation to run, even a little, took a sharp nose-dive two and a half weeks ago. I recognized it for what it was, which was, I think, equal parts:

  1. a bizarre “injury” to my right side…
  2. legitimate post-PR need for rest
  3. a conflagration of conflicting emotions that were a bit slow to take shape regarding the events post-marathon in Boston
  4. frustration when I realized how big my goals are and how limited my resources seem (and the profound guilt at thinking that way, see #3)

The 3rd point has taken a lot of forms, but the one related to running is that it has seemed foolish to focus at all on my very self-indulgent, self-interested running goals, amidst what has happened.

I spent some time last weekend speaking with a friend who was writing an article that focuses on having ran the Boston Marathon and coping with the stark change in tone that occurred during the experience. It was a hugely therapeutic exercise that made me realize I’ve been avoiding blogging, planning my training, reading blogs/articles, and indulging in all things running, because admitting how important it is to me is uncomfortable given the recent context.

Although this is a personal blog, I still don’t want to re-count my experience in Boston here (it’s not going to add anything to what others have already written), but people have been so kind to inquire so I’ll say this: I felt safe the entire time and  was surrounded by friends. The way the bombing has affected me, personally, has nothing to do with running (Except that I will not be posting a race re-cap) and doesn’t belong in this format.

I will say this piece though: I am very disappointed in the general attitude amongst running-bloggers that it’s important to “move-on” quickly. Within 8 hours of the bombing in Boston I saw posts mentioning moving on and focusing back on your goals and training. I think that is OK, for some people, but to pressure everyone to do the same is not.

Being “Boston Strong” doesn’t mean to push ahead with aggressive defiance, it’s ok to be shaken.

If terrorism didn’t make us self-reflect, didn’t scare us, and didn’t throw us off our game for a while, then we would call it something else, and we’d be changed fundamentally, and in a way that reduces freedom.

Running is perhaps the ultimate expression of freedom.Very often my motivator to get out there when I’m not feeling like it, is to remind myself how amazingly fortunate I am to have not only the capacity to make such a choice, but the freedom to execute that choice.

So please, stop telling me that I am “entitled to celebrate” my PR.

I know that I am.

I just don’t want to.

On a happier note, although jumping right into training again hasn’t panned out, I did, last weekend make a list of the things that would help me move up another “level” in racing. I’ve got two items crossed off already: I am currently “shopping” a few chiropractor, and with help from some former colleagues, I got a membership to the kick-assingest gyms in Chicago (slight bias there). This morning marked my first swim workout in years. Which, as you can see, I was thrilled about.

Flatterning picture, isn't it?

Flattering picture, isn’t it?

I’m running this Sunday in Palos (First Midwest Half Marathon). Back in March I was planning on a PR effort, and to break 1:30, however, it appears I can’t maintain my marathon pace (so certainly not Half pace) for more than a mile without some pain, so I’ll be running just to soak up the environment, and the energy.


March Madness Half Marathon: new prep strategy, new PR, same love of Hills.

Last weekend was a great one. Nearly everything I did was related to running. Saturday morning I ran to Soldier Field (which is just shy of  8mi from my apartment). 8 of my running buddies ran the Get Lucky Half Marathon and 1 ran the 7k version.

I have to say I was totally grateful I wasn’t running, the conditions were definitely less than ideal, with  steady and strong headwind for the entire second half (it was an out and back course). But neither wind nor hail can stop a Bootleg Runner on a mission and we posted several PR’s!

Get Lucky Runners

And Shelly can cross half-marathon number 2 of 13 off her list for the year! (and now so can I!)

2 down 11 to go

I said I was swearing off alcohol until after I cross the finish line in Boston next month. As it happens, I lied. Because I now am on a mission to replicate the happy results of drinking whiskey the night before a race. Which surely means I must now drink it the night before long runs, and maybe even before a morning strength run.

Anyone want to meet me up for a nightcap the night before Boston?


I was at the bar post-race on Saturday for about 9 hours. Yes, nine. I had two square meals and didn’t have a drink until about hour 4.5. I attempted a Whiskey-sour, and hated it, it just made me pine for beer even more. So I ordered a whiskey-on-the-rocks, which I love. We had two rounds of shots, and I ordered a second drink.

Then on Sunday, I took 4 minutes off my half-marathon PR.

So, I have been wondering all week. Would Jameson be interested in sponsoring this runner? Nuun, Oiselle, and many others have already turned me away. And anyway, let’s be real, my temperament is far better suited for a liquor company.

I’m totally serious. Anyone have a marketing in?

On to the March Madness Half Marathon:

This event is wildly popular and this year sold out in 18 minute! As near as I can figure from the results there were just under 1,100 runners. I felt extremely lucky to get in. I was boarding a flight home from San Antonio when registration opened. My father volunteered to get out of bed before dawn on New Years Eve to register me. He’s my biggest fan (I assume so anyway).

The course has 6 “significant” hills and a bunch of rolling ones throughout. I love it. I love hills. They have a start and a finish and you can focus on them and really feel like your making progress, flat courses are far more daunting to me. All of my PR’s, except for the marathon (which I hope will change in a few weeks!), were achieved on courses with significant hills. I also usually rank overall better on hilly courses, because most people don’t share my affection for them.

The steady distribution of the 6 big hills makes this race especially popular with runners who are Boston bound. Another thing that makes me a fan of this course is the distribution of the turns. They all seem to land right about where you need them, which is right about when you’re getting bored, or overwhelmed with how far is left to go. Usually there are some spectators gathered at turns too, which always gives you a boost in spirits for at least a quarter-mile.

Hillstriders course

It felt unreasonably cold when we arrived at the race location, and it was hilarious how weather-and-clothing-centric most conversations were. It took me until my final trip to the bathroom to finally pull the trigger on what layers to wear. You’d think after running in cold weather nearly everyday for the past 4 months we’d all have a handle on this. But you’d be wrong.

I did only a 1 mile warm up (had planned to do 2, but spent too long in the potty lines), and from that point on didn’t feel cold at all. Win.

I went into this event having no idea how I was going to feel, but ready to consider running anything slower than a 7:15 average pace, unacceptable. This would translate to a PR, but also I haven’t been feeling super confident or comfortable at my marathon goal pace lately so I felt like a strong run was absolutely crucial in terms of what it added to my Boston training.

None of that is in any way scientific. totally all emotional.

The first mile was like the first mile of every race, jockeying stupidly for a position to settle into, accelerating and hitting the brakes every couple hundred meters….and so on.

By mile 5 I felt sure I could get close to a 1:30 finish. And I really wanted to speed up and see if I could BREAK 1:30. But it was so early, I was afraid that if I got greedy, instead of a happy PR, I end up with a miserable shuffle for the last couple of miles and perhaps end up with a new worst time.

Wait Up

Ayuh, yet another fairly ridiculous race outfit…I need help.

So I told myself, “Self, stay as relaxed as you can, enjoy the scenery, hug some hills, hold 7’s, and if you are in a happy place at mile 10, then you can kick it up.”

Here I am, probably discussing the options with myself. That expression is referred to as "The Shirley Lip Press" in my family. We all do it.

Here I am, probably discussing the options with myself. That expression is referred to as “The Shirley Lip Press” in my family. We all do it.

So that’s what I did. The last 5k was actually a pretty joyous experience, which sounds annoying, I’m sure.

Here I am so relaxed I decided to do the Macarena...or something.

Here I am so relaxed I decided to do the Macarena…or something.

Well, not the entire last 5k. The last 800 meters hurt. But it hurt in a totally worth it even in real-time sort of way.

I am extremely satisfied with the entire experience.

I ran a negative split, only by almost exactly one minute, but even that is a margin I’ve never achieved. Not ever. I’m not sure negative splits are as indicative of a strong performance in a half marathon as in a marathon, but I’m choosing to feel awesome about it. (seriously though, if you know something about this topic please share!)

As I shared before, my run buddy/carpool to the race buddy and I both finished in the top ten.

Hello snuggly green hoodie...I love when races venture away from the t-shirt model.

Hello snuggly green hoodie…I love when races venture away from the t-shirt model.

I love adding new items to my running memorabilia collection that Jorge won’t allow in operation-redesign-the-bedroom:


And with that, I must get to bed, I’m running the last 20-miler before Boston tomorrow morning!


Chicago Half Entry Giveaway via Too Tall Fritz

Amanda’s got a Chicago Half entry to giveaway!





You may have seen one or two bloggers giving away entries to the Chicago Half Marathon on September 9, 2012.  If you haven’t yet won, then here is YOUR shot!  This race is actually filling up faster than ever before so time to either win a freebie or register so you can be on the start line September 9th!

I have fond memories of this race.  First, I love racing in September because the height of both marathon training and TRI season is in the done column.  The September, October and November races fly.  Or more importantly YOU will fly from killing it during summer training and racing.  All the hard work pays off in the fall.  I always run my fastest races of the year at that point and really just love the sport of running and racing so I am thrilled to be able to giveaway an entry…

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