Tag Archives: Training

Weaknesses, Ambivalence, & a Great 10k

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

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

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

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

IMG_0030

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: not the actual boat.

Note: not the actual boat.

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

I can’t decide what to do. 

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

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

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

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

*AB

Which Results Are The Important Ones?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you internet running (experts) friends?

*AB

Finding X

Running brings many gifts. Three of my favorites are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*AB

Book Review: 80/20 Running – Matt Fitzgerald

Covers

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)

Context:

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!

*AB

Boston Marathon 2014 Recap

done 1This was my third time running the Boston marathon, in preparation for the first time (2012) I watched, read, and studied every course description or tour I could find. I am an almost obsessive “visualizer”, mainly because I am easily distracted and typically do things too fast, so there is less chance of breaking something, forgetting something, or hurting myself if I first visualize what I am going to do. I’m not referring to running or even sports exclusively here, I mean everything. Although it is a skill I learned by participating in sports as a child/adolescent/college student, I use it to get through everyday tasks like grocery shopping and answering work emails. I’ll admit that sometimes visualizing the mundane can get you in trouble because it’s easy to think you’ve already completed the things you really only visualized. It can also save your ass when you are alerted to things that you missed or forgot to do.

I bring up this characteristic of mine because I was in a complete panic in the weeks leading up to Boston because I just couldn’t visualize my race. I’ve spent a silly amount of time deconstructing this and will spare you the self-aggrandizement, it suffices to say; I didn’t need to visualize, I needed a guiding principle.

I think I’ve waxed poetic before that one of the best things about the Boston Marathon is that there really is a specific formula to running well on that course. A strategy that isn’t dissimilar from running any marathon but that does have its own special features. To be more specific would a separate long post, so I give you its essence as delivered by Dan Daly:

Credit: Dan Daly 2014

Credit: Dan Daly 2014

So, riding on the guiding principle of being the turtle (that is: run smoothly) so you can chase the unicorn, here’s a break down of how my race went.

Pre-Race: At the risk of sounding dramatic, but in an effort to be honest: I really, truly, felt like crap. My training was weird, “intuitive” is the nice, buzz-wordy, way I’ve been describing my plan, but really, it was weird, often desperate, and largely inadequate for my goal of running a PR at 3:10 or under. I had random pains in my guts, my general energy level was low-ish, and my hip girdle, back, and hamstrings have been tight and achey since running Catalina way back in November 2013. I was excited to be in the first corral of wave 2, however, and got up there with the perfect amount of time to spare, just enough to wiggle around a little and chit-chat, but not so much you get nervous or need to pee, again.

My basic plan was to run within myself, that is, to focus on even 7:15 splits if they felt manageable, and not get sucked into the fanfare. I heard someone say to Dan just as I was leaving to walk to the start “I’m going to do what you said and start slow” he immediately correct her saying “no! not slow, SMOOTH!” I let that repeat in my head like an annoying Katy Perry song for the first hour of the race.

From the start through Wellesley (roughly to mile 14): Roughly 2 minutes before our start, I was bending over, doing a makeshift hamstring stretch while trying to avoid getting kicked in the head by other makeshift stretchers, when I heard my name. I looked up, and saw Angie, a fellow Fleet Feet Boston365 participant. It’s always calming to see a familiar face right before the start, and you know, that’s ideally how you want to be recognized, by your ass, right up there in the air. Joking around in those final minutes was a great way to calm down, and prepare to run smoothly, my gage there was that if I was passing people in the first 2.5 miles, then I was going too fast. I think this is a good rule for anyone to follow at Boston. The corrals are seeded with precision, and you’re basically being pushed off a cliff, so I figure, if I am passing people then I am both going too fast, and wasting energy with all the bobbing and weaving.

What I sometimes find so weird and also fascinating about running (any competition really) is that even when you are feeling sub-par, in this case, things feeling heavy and tight, you might still be able to pull off, for a while at least, the performance you want. In this case, what was happening all the way until the other side of the scream tunnel, was that I felt like I had a level of discomfort that I could tolerate for 3 hours and 10 minutes, but that if I pushed it even the tiniest bit too hard, it would all fall apart. The problem was judging what “a tiny bit too hard” was, because I kept dipping perilously close to a 7 minute/mi pace, then reminded myself that I had to run smooth like a Turtle and then in the last miles I could chase the Unicorn.

This guy.

This guy.

Getting through the Newton Hills (mile 14 – 21): There is a really important aspect of the Boston Marathon course that tends to get glossed over. There are not ONLY hills between miles 16 and 21. The course sort of rolls and ungulates the entire 26.2 miles. I was tired of hills by mile 4. I even indulged in the thought of “hmm, I swear the course is more hilly this year…” (NOT a good sign) Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t very big hills, but the level of tension in my back and hips was such that every incline and decline sent me into a panic of anxiety that something was going to cramp, or worse actually snap. My family was planning to be just after the turn at the Firehouse, so immediately after Wellesley I started focusing on that. Repeating in my mind over and over “turn right, stay to the right, high-five time”.  Just after Wellesley was also the point where my guiding principle shifted from the “turtle” phase, to the “shark phase”, I wasn’t focused any longer on running smooth and controlled, well, controlled yes, but I started passing people intentionally, and targeting people to slowly chip away at passing. I also started to find it harder and harder to stay at or below my goal 7:15 pace. Each hill seriously threatened to end my race.

One of the Newton hills, trying to stay focused. You can tell I was in pain, no?

One of the Newton hills, trying to stay focused. You can tell I was in pain, no?

Some Bootleg Runner’s who travelled from Chicago, and some teammates family members were stationed for spectating somewhere in the mile 18-19 range, and my family was right after them, my memory is a little foggy here but about a half mile or so before I saw my friends someone had a sign that read “MED WON!”. As I said, I was starting to struggle, trying as I was to “be the shark”, I got so overjoyed when I saw that sign that I unleashed the Kraken a bit too early, and way too intensely. I covered the next tear-jerking 3/4ths of a mile at faster than my 10k PR pace (that is to say, sub 6:30). For a fleeting moment, once I gathered myself and slowed down, this was hugely encouraging, maybe I could still run a sub 3:10 today! But no, about 5 steps later I had crippling side pain. I get these, in my right side, often, they’re not exactly side stitches, but rather come from my back and psoas, and are more cramp-like. Anyway, I worked through it.

When I saw my friends I screamed at them “MEB WON!” and they cheered back. Another brief boost. Then the last hill before Heartbreak, where my family was standing about halfway up. I tried to look tough, and got the high fives. Then cried, of course. It’s impossible to really illustrate to non-runners how much that 2 seconds of interaction with those you love most mid-race means. (So, Mom, Dad, Jorge. Thanks for being there!)

Heartbreak hill seemed like no problem in 2012 (the heat was more of a concern that time) and 2013. But this year, holy shit, I thought it was never going to end. But it did, and it was time to see if the ol’ Kraken felt like helping a Unicorn chaser out.

Right on Hereford

Right on Hereford: No Kraken, more like an antelope trying to survive.

That last 5 miles: It turns out that the Kraken went back to sleep, or something. In 2012 and 2013 I remember the last 5 miles to be totally intoxicating because the intensity and size of the crowds grew and you just got lifted up. This year, there was so much extra support along every mile (which, don’t get me wrong, was amazing and heart warming), that I was sort of numb to it by the time I got to Boston College. I knew there was no way I was running at 3:10 and, as a runner will do, I focused on squeaking in a PR. Every  quarter-mile I tried to surge to freshen my legs, and when that inevitably failed, I took inventory head to toe to see what I could relax, or fix. But that Kraken, he just wasn’t playing, I felt more fear of failing than inspiration or drive for succeeding, loathe as I am to admit it.

Left on Boylston: staring down the sweet relief of the finish line.

Left on Boylston: staring down the sweet relief of the finish line.

Finally, I was under the CITGO sign, and I put huge effort into no longer thinking, fixing, or planning , and thought, “ok just run, now, 1 mile, run fast, you sprinted when you heard about Meb’s victory, so clearly you love to do this, and can give it more, so just fucking go faster!” Yah, nope. Nothing. No fight left in me. Eventually those beloved last two turns came, I was able to pick it up a little by glaring like freaking Cyclops at the finish line. The most thrill I felt at this point was when I heard my named called by the announcer a few hundred feet from finishing.

I managed a 59 seconds PR. 3:12:45

I’m not exactly disappointed, but I am dissatisfied. I can tell, and I bet those who know me well can tell too, looking at the race photos, how uncomfortable I was physically, and mentally, and that is something that is wrong with my training right now, and I need to figure it out. That said, one of the best parts of my marathoning journey so far has been the friendships, and the celebrations, and I am totally satisfied with that!

Pickle-backs in Boston with the BRC and "Coach" Dan (on the right with me).

Pickle-backs in Boston with the BRC and “Coach” Dan (on the right with me).

We are now at the almost exact halfway point between the Boston Marathon, and Grandma’s Marathon on June 21st. Oh, right, I forgot to tell you, I am running the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth next month thanks to Bib Rave! (so please check them out here!)

Cheers everyone!

*AB

Boston Will Be

The 118th Boston Marathon is in 10 days. Everyone is waiting. We know nothing is going to happen. That is, collectively, the running community, the Boston community, and the country know that another bomb will not go off in Boston on Patriot’s Day. Any yet, there was just another shooting at Fort Hood. So let’s be honest. Anything could happen. That is why we run the marathon.

Left on Boylston

Left on Boylston

I don’t mean the Boston Marathon 2014 specifically. I mean, that is why we, repeat marathoners, run the marathon. Whether you have run the distance once or a hundred times, each and every time, anything can happen. You could run like you’ve taken flight and not feel any pain, or you can start falling apart only a quarter of the way in. Both scenarios can be equally unpredictable.

We were reminded at 2:49pm on April 15, 2013 that anything can happen, at any time, and in any context. I’ve had a few minor instances of panic since then while running, when in a crowded space, or when something, usually something arbitrary (read: unpredictable) reminds me of how vulnerable we are, how exposed. This has been my response, and I was not in the blast zone. In fact, I am quite certain I was in a bathroom at the Marriot Copley hotel being post-PR-marathon-effort sick when the first bomb went off. Yet it stays with me, that now prescient feeling, that someone can hurt you, or someone you love, at any time and in any place.

For those running, with 10 days to go, we wait with everyone else, we’re all waiting for the evidence that nothing will happen, it’s evidence that will only come with the absence of tragedy on April 21st. While we wait, we also obsess the way we do before any marathon. We check the weather forecast every few hours. We calculate different versions of our race, we go to great and socially ostracizing lengths to avoid getting sick. We wish we for a protective bubble of protection against clumsiness, like twisted ankles while taking the laundry downstairs. We fight the temptation to cram in last minute hard workouts, which will only wear the body down at this point. All of this is comforting because it’s what we do. It’s not special things that we do before the first anniversary event of a terrorist act, it’s just what we do.

What we do.

What we do.

I (and I believe the vast majority of those running in 10 days) didn’t train hard for Boston 2014 because we want to prove anything about terrorism. Yes, a great many runners are running for people injured from the blasts, and many of us have been compulsively donating to the various funds, and/or fundraising, but that’s not WHY we trained hard, it’s only a part of it, a recent addition.

I would train hard and run this race anyway. Even so, I’ve found myself incapable of visualizing my race. I always visualize my races, especially when I am hoping for a personal best. I heard someone on the radio recently describe something (I’ve forgotten what) as like trying to see a black hole. That when you look for a black hole you cannot see the thing itself, only the edges of it. That’s what the actual running of the Boston Marathon this year is to me: a black hole. The harder I try to visualize, to see, my race, the more blank my mind goes. I feel only grief in my chest, tears in my eyes, and I can see the edges. That is, I can visualize everything that happens before the race, and everything that happens after, but the race itself? Trying to see myself, and everyone else running the actual Boston Marathon is a complete void. I can remember every mile of last year, and most of the year before, but I can’t pretend to see this impending one. What no one will say, is that acts of terror are aptly labeled. They work. They change us, they change our behavior, and how we perceive things. They create terror.

I wish we could quietly continue with our training and racing, continue to revel in the allure of the Boston Marathon in its entirety, of all road races, and the pleasure of gathering in the streets with coolers full of snacks and drinks, without suspicion or anxiety. I want us all to be gracefully unaffected by what happened last year. However, I recognize it’s the American way to be over the top in our effort to show that “you can’t stop us” and “you can’t scare us”. We have to, rather than carry-on as we were before, persevere with extra celebration, and more gusto, more everything. We like to say that the best revenge is a life well lived. My problem is that I don’t want revenge. In fact, the feelings after last year’s events that I’ve had the most difficulty with, are feelings of empathy, not anger, not even fear or sadness, but empathy. Insufferable empathy for those killed, those hurt, and for those who did the killing and the hurting. I don’t think I have to spell out here how very complicated that is, and how very uncomfortable.

Our love for the Boston Marathon is not new, and we'll never take it for granted.

Our love for the Boston Marathon is not new, and we’ll never take it for granted.

I think the way to really show that an effort was futile is to actually behave in a way that is unaffected. Unchanged. I want the other Boston marathon back, the one I dreamed about for almost two decades, and then got to be a part of twice. Or more accurately, one and a half times (because, really, the post race celebrating is half the experience). The old Boston Marathon experience was an emotional, exhilarating, and life affirming one. I’m worried not that those elements will still be there, but that now those elements will be so exaggerated as to be intolerable.

I could go on, I could talk about how unsettling the constant talk of heightened security measures is, and about how much I wish people would stop calling it “the marathon bombing”, but really, the important thing is that in 10 days the Boston Marathon will be. No matter what happened, and no matter what happens. It will be, and I will be there with over 100,000 other runners and spectators, racers and partiers. With laughter and with tears: We will be.

*AB

0b847a1362038963bb3db9b2f05a41c0

 

 

 

Running is hard

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

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

RUNNING IS HARD!

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

DM 10-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running is even harder if your diet is crappy.

Last Monday, running was hard.

Last Monday, running was hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like this one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? Haaaard.

See? Haaaard.

*AB

No Frills Eve in Minocqua

Tomorrow, this will the the 22 mile mark of the No Frills Marathon!

Tomorrow, this will be the 22 mile mark of the No Frills Marathon!

Yesterday, run-buddy Meredith and I drove from Chicago to Minocqua, Wisconsin. Not getting lost was a hugely good omen for tomorrow’s race. We’re fairly certain that the same trip last year took us twice as long.

The scenery was OK. Just, ok.

The scenery was OK. Just, ok.

We arrived at about 4pm and spent a while catching up with Meredith’s folks, then hit some golf balls (they live on a golf course, which tomorrow’s marathon course runs through). We had a great time, and have already started to strategize how we can incorporate golf, or the Diversey driving range into our lakefront training runs. I think my chiropractor and yoga instructor will both approve, as they agree I have serious deficits when it comes to spinal mobility (hopefully they also won’t mind my liberal simplification of the issue).

We went for a late dinner:

martys north

At dinner, I had an experience that has been played out so many times I don’t understand why people don’t talk about it more. I’ve been more symptomatic over the past couple of months and am planning to commit to really getting the last questionable elements out of my diet when I get home from this trip, to see if I feel better.

Anyway, the restaurant last night had several items on the menu marked as “Gluten Free”. But really all they did was replace wheat pasta with gluten free pasta, the sauces and other elements still had gluten or in the case where I asked, the chef was using wheat flour…so, the meals marked as “gluten free” were absolutely not free of gluten! Had I eaten them, even with the pasta substitution, I would have gotten very sick.

Because I know you’re curious: I had broiled haddock and a baked potato. It was delicious!

In other food news, Meredith’s mother is an absolute angel! I had a big bowl of cereal for dessert when we got back to the house. Before the Boston Marathon this year, I had a terrible time getting enough carbohydrates in the 72hrs before the race, and ended up eating a whole box of gluten free cereal, in a panic I should add, the night before. So I laughed (with joy) when, without any suggestion, she had this waiting for me when we arrived.

So good!

So good!

Back to the marathon!

I’m having a hard time accepting that tomorrow kicks off my 3 marathons in 3 months project! Meredith and I are psychologically prepping ourselves for a really hard race; it’s going to be very humid tomorrow, potentially stormy, and warmer than we’d like. BUT, 20 miles of the race are on a beautiful trail that runs through a pine forest…so my complaints are at a minimum.

6:50am Fog over the 7th hole. 24hrs (and 10 minutes) until the start of No Frill 2013!

6:50am Fog over the 7th hole. 24hrs (and 10 minutes) until the start of No Frills 2013!

When we start running tomorrow I will only have run 23 miles since last Friday. My training plan had called for closer to 55 in that time. But my body needed a lot of recovery time after I fell last Friday. And although I know that I made the right adjustments, and my fitness shouldn’t be at all affected, the drastic change in my routine, and my plan, has really shaken my confidence.

What’s counter-balancing this hiccup however, is that my fundraising effort is off to an amazing start! Check it out here.

WOW!!!

WOW!!!

I am so incredibly inspired by how many people have stepped up to support Garden Center Services, and I’m comically (as in: Poor Meredith is forced to listen to me talk and talk and talk about it) excited to continue this through to November 9th when I’ll climb those massive hills on Catalina Island for marathon number 3!

*AB

Sunday: A Runner off her Routine, and Purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 8/22/13 Daily Mile entry.

Thursday 8/22/13 Daily Mile entry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So my training week ended like this:

stupid knee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

*AB

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

The quick reference review

 Read it:

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

Skip it:

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

The long form review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Target audience:

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

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

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

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

Warnings and potential mis-use:

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

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

*AB