Tag Archives: motivation

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.

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?


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:


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.


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:


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!


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.


30 Days To Boston, Photo #4: Inspire

I want to do a whole post on my grandfather (Melvin Beck). He died before I was much of a runner, or athlete really. And he developed Alzheimer’s when I was too young for either of us to know how similar we were, kindred even.

But, for now, here he is at Alabama circa 1930:


Roll Tide

I have a few photo’s of him on the track, pole vaulting, and high jumping.

He was an olympic qualifier, and stubborn as hell. My mother has some spectacular stories of him rooting for the underdog, following a zig-zag path, a unapologetically striving for his dreams.

I think he’d approved of my ways. Or at least I hope so.



Tracking Training (my probably not super efficient system).

I don’t use a paper and pen calendar for appointments and reminders. I do have a paper desk calendar at work but it is used for three things, mainly:

1) taking notes when I can’t find a post-it
3) performing embarrassingly rudimentary mathematical calculations
2) counting down the days until races (the running kind of course)

I work with a few people and have socially heard many others talk about not being able to trust technology enough to give up their day-planners and Bic pens.

I  have a hard time understanding this sentiment. I love being able to book appointments, and set reminders, and manage just about everything in my professional life from my phone, and then open my computer and viola! There it all is, chiming and dinging away.

Also, it’s not very convincing when you flake on a meeting and your excuse is “er, I forgot to look in my day-planner this morning” or “um, sorry, I forgot, I’ve just been soooo busy!”

Everyone’s always too busy, and really tired, so the paper and pen calendar/planner excuses will always make you look bad.

But the “I am so distraught, my phone and computer aren’t sinking!” or “I’m so sorry I missed out meeting/call/pep talk, but iCloud isn’t working right, again!” not only makes you look really technologically savvy, but efficient as well.


Source article: "Trapper Keeper Reborn"

Source article: “Trapper Keeper Reborn”

This combo concept sort of doesn’t compute…too much logistics talent needed.

Where I become a hypocrite in this declaration of paperless love, is when it comes to tracking my marathon training. (Well, I also carry a notebook, ALWAYS, even though I could also take notes in my phone. Notebooks are still far more socially accepted in meetings than smart phones are, at least in my field…iPad would be great, and I’d ditch the notebook, but infuriatingly my 1st generation iPad operates too slow, already.)

I enjoy the process of designing my own custom training plan templates and building my plans within them. I know a lot of people who do this via web-based programs and apps, but the danger for me there is that I would be referring to it constantly at the cost of other tasks I should be doing. So I keep a binder at home.

I have a Garmin GPS watch and so have access to their Garmin Connect website and software. But really I only use that interface when I want to show off splits that are either really good or really bad.

For example, here’s how NOT to run the back half of a marathon, courtesy of Garmin Connect:

Lap, Split, Distance

Lap, Split, Distance

The saving grace of this huge positive split race effort was that it was both a PR and my new-standards BQ.

Anyway, I sync my Garmin up with my computer after each training run, so the splits, distance, and map are all there for reference if needed. But in terms of other useful variables, rather than type them out and store them digitally, I write whichever variables I want to look at over particular training cycle on a hard (paper) copy of my training plan. Right now I check off the elements of the plan I completed, then I record: hours slept, weight, outside temp., time of run, average pace (if applicable), and often a general comment of how the run felt.

training log sample

Yes, that is correct, I choose my color schemes to match the goal race.

This training cycle I have 3 weeks  of my training plan to a page. This is for two reasons:

1)  that’s just how the formatting worked out when I adjusted the template to include the elements I wanted this go-round.

2) I only build my plan 3 weeks at a time. This way I can adapt my training based on how the previous 3 weeks worth of key workouts went.


It’s like having a coach, except that I don’t have to pay one, and instead of a highly-qualified professional writing my plan I have me, with an arsenal of books, google searches, performance predicting calculators, and my binder/Excel work-book of previous training efforts.

Totally equal. Totally.

I get the sense of accomplishment out of flipping through pages and writing on them that others probably get out of having a day-planner.

At times sheets can get a little messy:

Actually, I guess this was pretty tidy...(and 2 months ago)

Actually, I guess this was pretty tidy…(and 2 months ago)

I have a binder that is getting close to qualifying as a scrap book.

Every Sunday (and sometimes mid-week if I need a morale booster, or some motivation), I plug the information from my training log into an excel work-book where I have stats from each of my 4 full marathon training cycles completed to-date.  I don’t transfer all the information from the log to excel, just the elements I want to compare to other cycles, or track trends over time.

Excel data shot B2013

Sometimes after a rough run, or when work, weather, or my body forced an unplanned rest day, coming up with new comparison graphs, or looking at improvements over time can be huge confidence builder.

I might finally have a training cycle that differentiates from all the others!

I might finally have a training cycle that differentiates from all the others!

I have found myself frequently this training cycle going back to the Garmin uploaded workouts from the same day of training or same workout from last year and comparing splits. Which is fun in practice, but not super useful as my training strategy is pretty different, so only race results will really determine effectiveness and fitness levels.

So to re-cap here’s my process/system for tracking my training. (totally evolved from how I did things a few years ago, and I’m sure to look back from a much different system years from now):

  1. Design template with specific elements to track across training cycle.
  2. Review progress and build next phase of training plan every 3 weeks.
  3. Print and add to big binder of running joy.
  4. Fill in daily stat’s.
  5. Weekly transfer: daily mileage, daily weight, weekly mileage, long run distance to excel.
  6. Compare key workouts when appropriate to prior efforts splits using the Garmin software.

So there it is. A rather stream-of-consciousness account of my tracking system.

Several people asked. And now you have received.

If you want a copy of my template just holla’ and I’ll email it to you.




“Like” Challenge #2

When I was working as a personal trainer (2006-2011) I did all sorts of variations on the “burpee” or “squat thrust” every day. However, as I alluded to last week, I seem to have lost my strength for all things other than running. So, head over to my facebook page, and get help me get back in “like” with burpee’s. I’ll “cash in” on Tuesday evening (tomorrow).

I like Burpees



What kept me on track this week (so far).

I’m not sure if it’s the scoring of this video, or the footage that got me all butterfly-bellied. But I definitely had a visceral reaction to seeing the side angle shots of people starting, it really is liking being pushed over a cliff for the first mile. 11.5 (or even less) weeks until Boston 2013!


Maybe I’ll make this one of those things that happens weekly, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Being routine about particular tasks is also something I am working on at, um, work.

This has nothing to do with the theme of this post. I just wanted everyone to know that 5lb Gummy Bears exist. This makes me happy (the frivolity!) sad (they are decidedly not gluten free) and terrified (what a fitting symbol of the SAD).

If you click on the image you can order your very own “51 servings of mouth-watering sweetness”!

Here are my running PSA’s (i.e. things that were motivating for me) for this week.

My first race of 2013 is this weekend! The F^3 Lake Half Marathon. I am especially looking forward to it because several of my Bootleg Runner’s Coalition running buddies are racing to. You can see a video about the race here.

I’m trying to go into racing on tomorrow feeling good, but at the same time want to train through it. So far this week my legs feel much better than the same time last week. Still much tighter than is ideal, but I’m working it out. I’m also trying to get more sleep this week, I was on roll until Wednesday night when I was awake from 2-5 am. And last night when I woke up every dang hour, and today I’m really whiney, self-pitying, and convinced I can’t even run, let alone, race, 13 miles…

After reading several articles about training to get faster, (most notably this one, which talks about the different ways people talk about “speed-work”  I did this:

race time predictor

In another article Jay Johnson shared on Twitter, he discusses how you can use last years training and racing to improve your training this year. One of the tools for doing so is to use a race times prediction calculator.

I’ve used these calculators before, in fact I have a few app’s on my phone that do this. I’ve also used them before races to sort of temper my expectations, like, “ok, if I run hard and feel good, and the weather is good, I can reasonably expect to run something around a time of ___”.

Also, as it happens, I don’t think I’ve ever run at my top speed (for a very short distance as the first article points out). I need to move on from this feeling of certainty that I will wipe out ass-over-tea-kettle if I try. Doing a ladder workout on a treadmill on Tuesday night I had the pace set slower than I would have run outside because I didn’t feel in control.

Back to boston talk: I am silly excited about the colors for this years jacket. I’ve been hoping to snag some gear in the traditional colors since getting my first BQ in 2010!

2013 jacket

4.) Runners world (.com) has a sweet article about some running buddies. The biggest change and improvement in my life over the past year has been that I’ve made some amazing friends. They are always there to text, email, or talk about the really detailed nerdy stuff of running, they’re there to make me feel more positive after a bad workout or race, they celebrate the good runs as though they’re their own (and I get seriously more excited to see one of them PR than I do for myself!)

(left) AB, (right) Erin- who is knocking on the door of a sub-3 marathon, and can make you laugh even on the most dire day.

(left) AB, (right) Erin- who is knocking on the door of a sub-3 marathon, and can make you laugh even on the most dire day.

They also are there to make me laugh when I am frustrated about non-running events. I’ve never known better people.

This is Lee Ann (left) bailing me (right) out when I had not idea what the melody was for the verses of "Rebel Yell"....I still don't, but any time she needs an end of race pacer, I'll be there!

This is Lee Ann (left) bailing me (right) out when I had not idea what the melody was for the verses of “Rebel Yell”….I still don’t, but any time she needs an end of race pacer, I’ll be there!

Me (left) a Meredith (right), you've seen Mere before, here she is reminding me AGAIN that we were in Wisconsin NOT Michigan to run a marathon.

Me (left) a Meredith (right), you’ve seen Mere before, here she is reminding me AGAIN that we were in Wisconsin NOT Michigan to run a marathon.

I could spend all day digging up photos (my apologies, that last one seems blurry…can’t figure out why)….and embarrassing these awesome runners and amazing people.

Good luck to everyone running out there or racing this weekend!

Have any good running/training insights to share from this week?



Bastille Day 5k/8k and networking

I think I have mentioned before that joining a training group for the Boston Marathon training cycle last winter has had myriad bonus effects, and only a small proportion of them are performance related. I was thinking about that again last night. For nearly 10 years I have gone to 90% of my race efforts alone, ran, then left.

Now, since January of this year, I always see people I know, I get a total thrill out of seeing people I have trained with get PR’s, and I find myself wanting to hang around afterwards to talk about all sorts of running related stuff, and have a few drinks, and talk about decidedly non-running related stuff. Additionally, these people don’t think I am weird, or too loud, or that I am too obsessed with running.

I guess it’s pretty clear my social development arrested at like age 5.
The other thing that has evolved since Boston Bound 2012, beer tastes twice as good as it did before.

Which is why I had many of them post-race. A dozen of us went to a bar with outdoor seating, had some drinks, and were wholly recruited by a local contingent of Hash House Harriers to join their Thursday night beer-runs.

This is not one of the actual Hashers from last night, but you get the idea. Click on the image to read a blog of a Hasher. I really might join, actually. At some point.

Anyway, my friend Julian (my boyfriend’s brother, incidentally), ran the 8k and did fantastic, this is only his 2nd race, and his training has consisted of playing soccer. I think we have a budding new member in our midst!

Julian and I practicing for our inevitable Runner’s World cover.

Other highlights were that I am pretty sure I agreed to do an Ironman 70.3 in October…and, there is an average of one destination race per month that I want to do for the remainder of 2012. Ummm, anyone want to be my benefactor?

I certainly didn’t run a very clean 5k. My splits tell a pretty accurate story of how it felt:

mile 1: 6:20

mile 2: 6:40

mile 3: 7:00

Finish: 20:49

It’s really interesting that every 5k, regardless of how well, or not so well I am running or feeling I go through the same chain of thoughts. They go something like this:

start: woohoo, running fast is so fun! I am going to sprint the shit out of this thing!

mile 0.75: hmm, I have to pee, and I keep almost tripping.

mile 1.25: maybe I will just stop at the halfway point.

mile 1.50: I really, really, really, really ,really don’t feel like doing this anymore. Maybe I can just switch from running to volunteering at the water stop.

mile 2: crap. this is really painful.

mile 2.1: WHY DOES THIS HURT SO BAD??!!?!?!

mile 2.5: only one YASSO to go!

mile 2.55: shit shit shit, it’s a 3 point ONE race.

mile 2.6: NOW only one YASSO to go!

mile 2.75: 400 meters, shit, I did it again. shit shit shit, 500 meters? wait, that’s not right either. ach! This is never going to end!

mile 3: kick-don’t-trip-kick-don’t-trip-kick-don’t-trip.

mile 3.1: when can I try this again? I SO bet I can run an 18 min 5k.

In all seriousness I think I go through way more psychological issues, confusing math attempts, and delusional thinking during a 5k than a marathon.

Which brings us to today. Which was a wash. I worked from home but only completed about 25% of what I planned. I also took a 4 hour nap in the late afternoon rather than going for a 10 mile run with a friend. She reportedly had an awesome run, which makes me feel relieved that my bailing didn’t hold her back at all, and also makes me feel like a jackass for setting myself back.

Running is so full of ambivalence (or did you already notice that from my inner monologue?)

I am going to work 4hrs tomorrow and 4 on Sunday to get caught up. Also, since I had a rest day today, I am going to try to run 10 Sunday and swim as well.

It’s an ambitious plan but I think starting off on a Monday feeling on top of both my work load and my training is the key to a successful week.

Anyone feel like sharing their internal behavior during racing or training?