Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I just can't get enough challenges!

I love me a good challenge. Which is why I love running so much - because it's so challenging. There's always another level to push yourself toward. Er. Toward which to push yourself. Ack. Technically, one is not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but sometimes the "correct" wording just sounds so snooty. I do not have a winter home in the South of France, and I don't own a collection of expensive artwork, so therefore I shall end sentences with prepositions if I so choose. And I would like to point out that Grammar Girl agrees with me. So now let us continue our discussion of challenges, shall we?

With running (and fitness in general) there is always the opportunity to challenge oneself. And beating a challenge is the ultimate reward for all that hard work. Whether it's finishing a marathon, or breaking a 4-minute mile, or being able to do one push-up, or 100 push-ups, or qualifying for Boston, or *insert goal here*, when the goal is finally met, the feeling of pride and accomplishment is like nothing else. And if you happen to get a shiny medal for it, even better! (Have I mentioned that I'm a sucker for a cool medal? I have? *ahem* Well, it probably won't be the last time... Just sayin')

So what are my personal challenges? Well, as you may recall, I joined the Runner's World Challenge Team not too long ago. The opportunity to take advantage of their pre- and post-race support (specifically, the private bathrooms), special training tools and online forums, and the possibility of meeting Bart Yasso, made it impossible to pass up. Is it really a "challenge" if I was already going to run this marathon anyway? Well, no. And yes. You see, yesterday I received my official Runner's World Challenge gear (see photo below). Including my official Runner's World Challenge technical shirt. Now I'm representing a team. So in a way, it adds to the challenge I had already placed on myself, because Runner's World wants and expects me to do well. And, because if I'm going to use their private bathrooms, the least I can do is finish the darn marathon.

But that's not the only challenge I have going for this marathon. Because just running a marathon isn't enough of a challenge *insert crazed laughter here*, I have also signed up for the Pump N Run Challenge. The Pump N What, you ask? Allow me to direct you here for a good explanation. Basically, it is an upper body strength challenge that can earn one a reduction in one's marathon run time. Not officially of course. In other words, I don't think the Boston Athletic Association will allow me to qualify for their famous marathon if my actual marathon run time is 5:15, but I bust out enough bench presses to get a Net Run Time of 3:45. But I am extremely curious as to just how much "time" I can shave off my marathon time.

For my age and gender class, I will have to bench press 60% of my body weight, which is really quite heavy (not because I'm particularly heavy, but because that's more weight than I would typically use for bench press - that's a weight that requires a spotter). So I'm training for the Pump N Run Challenge by lifting heavy weights (for upper body) and doing straight-legged push-ups as a substitute for heavy bench press. What is my goal for the Pump N Run Challenge? Well, I'd like to get at least a Bronze Medal (10 reps). I think I'm going to have to work pretty hard to get there, though. Good thing I still have over a month to train!

I have plenty of other challenges to look forward to after this marathon as well: Continuing my Steamboat Classic streak (this year will make the 5th year in a row I've run it). Finishing my first ever Warrior Dash. Raising money for the Organization for Autism Research as I train for the Chicago Marathon. Running a sub-5:00 marathon in Chicago (this one has me quakin' in my LunarGlides). Running a new 5k PR. Running a new half-marathon PR. I may not meet all of these challenges - they wouldn't be very challenging if they were all easily attainable.

Now, if anyone else has any other challenges to throw at me, I'm all ears. I don't accept every challenge that comes my way, especially if it's not realistic (i.e., don't challenge me to qualify for Boston 'cuz it ain't gonna happen). But I do like the opportunity to push myself. Especially if there's a cool medal involved.

Peace. Love. Train.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring FAST: The Musical

Tonight was the first meeting of Spring FAST. That's Fun And Smart Training for those of you who may have forgotten. Don't forget again. There will be a pop quiz.

We had our run in the cemetery today, which is the typical location for Speedwork Tuesdays. (In contrast, the typical location for Hillwork Thursdays is the monstrous Glen Oak hill - but we'll get to that one on Thursday. Patience, dear readers.) Getting back to Speedwork Tuesday... We began our workout with a little over a mile warmup, jogging into the cemetery. Then things got interesting. Bekah, one of our coaches, then led us in a series of "dynamic movements" to further warm us up. There we were, about a dozen of us, in the cemetery, doing things in unison such as sideways running, high knees, butt-kickers, and zombie walks. (Zombie walks are so appropriate for the cemetery, don't you think?) We looked like we were all dancing in a big musical number. So naturally that's when I started singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses". Naturally.

Later, one of our coaches, Bekah, informed us all that she knows the Thriller dance, and demonstrated her superior mastery of the moves for us. Interesting. Perhaps everyone in FAST should learn the dance. I would be willing to capture a FAST group Thriller dance on video and share it with you all if there's enough interest. So... if you want to see Team FAST perform Thriller, post a comment. With enough peer pressure, I bet we can talk them all into it. hehehehehe...

On to the actual run: I got a bit of a break tonight, owing to the fact that this is a recovery week for me. So while others did 4 x 1 mile repeats, I only had to do 2 x 1 mi. I did them somewhere between 5k and 10k pace, with 2 minutes of rest between. Then I added on an extra shorter repeat just for the fun of it (and because I didn't want to stand around and get all cold while everyone else was still running). I believe my pace during the mile repeats was about 9:30-9:45-ish. Not too bad considering even the "flat" parts of the cemetery are hilly.

In other news.... Several of my FAST teammates and I have decided to run the Lincoln Memorial Half-Marathon this weekend. I was supposed to do a 14 mile training run on Saturday, so doing a half-marathon is basically just as good, so long as I don't try to race it hard. The race runs through Springfield, Illinois and passes some historic sites associated with Abe Lincoln, including his grave site. It's a race and a history lesson all rolled into one! This will be my first race since the Screaming Pumpkin last October - it will be good to pin on a race bib and a timing chip again. I can use this race to fine-tune my pre-race and race strategies. And the best part of all is that the finisher's medal is a GIANT PENNY! I'm a sucker for a cool medal.

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ignoring the voices inside my head...

...can be exceptionally difficult to do when they are screaming at me to stop. I became intimately acquainted with the mental aspect of marathon training today. There's always a bit of a mental aspect to any long run - like trying to tell yourself that running outside in the freezing rain is good for you. But today's 20-miler went far beyond that.

I started the morning like I would for any other long run... Got up early and had my standard pre-long-run brekkie (oatmeal, banana and hot tea). I even used my lucky Harry Potter mug. Don't scoff. It's a very cool mug (given to me by my even cooler friend, Robin). Look what it does when you pour hot water into it:

I checked the weather forecast - it looked perfect: sunny and above freezing. I was ready to manage some mischief for 20 miles. Or so I thought.

I had planned out an extremely hilly route (over 1000 feet of climb). Not because I enjoy pain, but because of specificity of training. My marathon will be hilly. The best way to train for that is to run hilly runs. Pretty much all of my long runs have incorporated lots of hills, so it wasn't a new thing for me. I honestly wasn't too concerned about the hills. I have developed a complex technical strategy for running hills that works well for me - I slow down when going up, and speed up when going down. Okay, I didn't say it was genius. But the basic premise is conservation of energy - keep it easy on the ups, use gravity to my advantage on the downs, and be left with more energy later on.

And so this is what I did. Usually, my routes tend to flatten out a bit after about 8-10 miles. This route did not. The flattest part was the last 3 miles. By then, I was already beyond exhausted. I started to doubt myself at Mile 13, because I had basically just run 13 solid miles of rolling hills with a very stiff wind to contend with (and we all know how I feel about wind). At Mile 15, I reminded myself that I only had 5 miles to go, but it still seemed impossible. I kept waiting to get my second wind. It never came. Every uphill, no matter how small, was a battle. The wind always seemed to be against me. My legs did not want to go anymore. Thoughts of self-doubt and failure flooded my mind. I wondered how I would ever run this marathon when I wasn't even sure I could get through this 20-miler. I wondered why this run seemed exponentially harder than my 18-miler last weekend. I wondered what I had done wrong. I wondered if I would even be able to finish, or if I would have to call someone to come and get me. The negative thoughts gnawed away at my confidence, which just made me feel more exhausted.

This is the mental aspect of the marathon. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my legs or my feet. They were tired, but otherwise okay. I knew I had the ability to do this, but I would have to will myself to do it. My brain wanted to tell my body to quit, but I had to tell my brain to shut up and let me run. As the cliche goes, I dug deep. With 3.5 miles to go, I played mental games with myself, telling myself to "just get to that Stop sign up there..." and "Okay, now get to that white mailbox". With 2 miles to go, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With 1 mile to go, I was finally out of the wind which instantly boosted my spirits. With 1/2 mile to go, I could physically see the end (the Tower in Peoria Heights). I did not have anything left in me for a final push. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. But I finished. I won the mental battle.

I'm still not sure of my ability to run this marathon. Not after today's run. I am fairly certain there's no way I could've done another 6.2 miles today. However, I have one more chance to run 20-22 miles in two weeks. Next weekend is a much-needed recovery week, and I will "only" be running 14. I need this recovery. I think part of the reason today's run was so hard for me was because I have been steadily increasing my mileage for the last 3 weeks and, well, it's hard on the body. So bring on the recovery week, I say!

And it's worth noting that today's run wasn't all bad. Indeed, my lucky Harry Potter mug brought me much luck. First of all, I didn't trip and fall like a goon. Secondly, I saw people I knew along the way (including my husband, who was getting ready for his own run, and a coworker, who honked at me and rolled her window down and waved excitedly at me). Third, I didn't have to deal with any unusual pains or injuries - my sesamoids kept quiet. Fourth, aside from the wicked wind, it really was a nice day. And finally, I finished!

For all my geeky followers, here's my run map and data. Will I run this hilly route again? Probably. But first, I will have TWO cups of tea from my lucky Harry Potter mug.

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's a hard life...

I was on vacation with the hubby in Clearwater Beach, FL this past week. It was pretty rough - all that sunshine and warmth, soft white sand, delicious food and wine - but I survived. Now I'm back home in good ol' central Illinois, where the temperature is hovering around freezing and the wind is strong and persistent. Ummm, yay?

The good news is that despite being on vacation, I didn't take a vacation from my running. I took advantage of the beautiful weather and abundant running/biking trails and got my three mid-week runs in. This is the part where I brag a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot. Just LOOK at where I ran! I'm jealous of myself. I would love to be able to run here all the time (well, maybe not during the really humid months).

This was Monday's 6-mile progressive build run. I ran it at about 8pm, so it was dark outside, but I could still hear the ocean waves.

See those two big spikes on the elevation chart? Those are from the bridge. It was a very large bridge - one of those high-arching ones that large boats can go underneath. Here's a picture of it (behind all the buildings). It's worse than it looks. Trust me. Coach Brad would LOVE to have us run hill repeats on this thing, I'm sure. (Hey, I'm all for a FAST field trip! Brad, are you taking note of this???)
Then on Wednesday afternoon (the hottest day of our stay), I did a FAST-esque workout involving the other large bridge in the vicinity - the Causeway Bridge. I think this bride is shorter, but just as tall, which means it's steeper. Great. My goal was just to power up the bridge as hard as I could, and recover on the jog down, turn around and power up the other side. I won't lie - this workout was a struggle. I was not acclimated to the hotter, more humid weather and my heart rate was relatively high just during the warm-up. However, with that in mind, I think I did pretty well. I ran up the back side of the bridge faster than I ran up the front side. Then I finished my run out with about a one mile tempo run ("comfortably hard"). I think Coach Brad would be proud.

And here's a picture of the Causeway bridge (waaaay off in the distance). Evil bridge. EVIL!

Finally, on Thursday morning, I went out for a nice easy 3-miler. It was the perfect morning for a run - warm, sunny and breezy. I ran to the base of the Causeway Bridge and back - no sense in tackling the bridge for an easy run, right? I even ran halfway down Pier 60 and back. I would've run to the very end of the pier, but it cost 30 cents to go to the end and I didn't have any change on me. I know - 30 cents to walk down a pier??? Just another tourist trap, I suppose.

Now I'm back home and trying to prepare myself mentally and physically for the challenge that awaits me tomorrow. I'm talking about my 20-miler, of course. This is often the summit of marathon training. One doesn't really need to do a long run longer than 20 in order to be able to finish the 26.2 mile journey that is a marathon. It seems like a huge leap in mileage, but Race Day Magic is a very real phenomenon that carries the runners those extra 6.2 miles to the finish line. After tomorrow's run, I would theoretically be ready for the marathon. But I still have over a month until race day, so I'll be doing another 20-22 mile run in a couple of weeks, and then I'll begin my taper. But I try not to think too far ahead. One run at a time. One foot in front of the other. Tomorrow: one foot in front of the other for 20 miles. Let's hope I don't trip and fall again. :P

So until tomorrow...

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Some thoughts on getting pelted with ice and being fed humble pie

So I ran 18 miles this morning. It went really well, except for the part where it rained and I couldn't see out of my glasses, and the part where the rain turned to sleet and I was getting pelted in the face with ice pellets, and the part where the wind was so strong I was practically running backwards, and the part where I tripped and fell so hard I thought I'd have to quit my run early.... but other than those things, it was a great run! *insert cheesy thumbs-up here*

Allow me to break the run down chronologically:

Miles 1-2
Perhaps the 2 most difficult miles in the whole run. It was insanely windy, and I was running against it, and I wasn't yet warmed up, so I was FREEZING. This is when I noticed the ice pellets that were mixed in with the rain. Ummmm... ouch. It seriously hurts to get hit in the face with ice pellets. I was just hoping against hope that the entire run wouldn't be like this.

Miles 2-4
Downhill bliss. This was the descent into Springdale Cemetery, the lowest part of the route. I love running through the cemetery. Morbid? Maybe. But it's so peaceful and beautiful.

Miles 4 - 6.5
The uphill slog. She who runs down must eventually run up. So remember that nice downhill into the cemetery? I had to climb up out of it. These are always the slowest miles in any run because I like to conserve energy as much as possible.

Miles 6.5 - 9
Another downhill-uphill segment, but not nearly as intense as the earlier one. I took advantage of the long downhill slope of this one and stretched out my legs with a faster, longer stride. It felt marvelous after all the shuffling of the first 6 miles. Going back up this hill wasn't too awful, except for where the wind was pushing me back. And in case anyone's wondering, the wind was a steady 15-20 mph. Awesome.

Miles 9 - 10
Things were starting to flatten out now and I was starting to feel really good about the run. The weather sucked, but my body felt good, my feet felt good, and I was starting to feel like I could conquer anything. I believe I actually thought to myself, Wow, I am doing awesome. I could run like this all day! And apparently some higher power thought that I needed a dose of humble pie because no sooner did that thought enter my mind than I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and took a hard flying fall onto the concrete. I mean HARD. It felt like slow-motion and then I felt first my knee and then my elbow crunch into the ground. Yeowch. I picked myself up but it hurt to walk. I limped along for a few steps and then promptly sat down on a bench to collect myself. A few deep breaths and a few gulps of water later, I got up and started running again. And by "running", I mean "stiffly shuffling". It still hurt a lot. My knee was throbbing and my elbow was burning. I banged them up pretty good. I was close to the truck, though, so I knew if needed to quit my run early, I could. Fortunately, that was not necessary. By the time I got to Mile 10, the pain had mostly dissipated and I was back in business. Whew! Crisis averted!

Miles 10 - 14
Against the wind. For most of these four miles, I fought the wind. Have I mentioned how much I hate wind? Yeah, I do. But hey, I was running, and I was over halfway through my 18 miles, so I tried to stay positive.

Miles 14 - 18
The home stretch. Ahhhh... these four miles were largely with the wind, and mostly flat. I was tired, yes, but the end was near and I could smell victory. Or maybe I could smell the food cooking at Cyd's (I ran right past it). Either way, I was happy to be nearly done. I picked up the pace for the last 2 miles and finished strong.

Not too long after that, my endorphins expired and my knee and elbow started hurting again. Drat! Now that I'm home and have been able to examine them, the knee is going to have a really nasty bruise, and the elbow has a nice scrape. Badges of honour, I say. I ain't gonna let that stop me.

By the way, I tried out my new Injinji Tetratsoks for the first time today. And I'm officially in love. They are so very comfortable, and they definitely helped with the blister problem. They may look fun and crazy, but they're serious socks. For those who are concerned with not having enough room in their shoes with these socks, fear not. There was still plenty of room in my shoes with these on - it was really no different than wearing regular socks.

So here's the run:

My hear rate looks crazy high at the beginning thanks to the technical fabric of my shirt. Trust me, my heart rate wasn't actually 180 then. Technical fabrics get static-y which can throw off heart rate monitors until sweat starts to diffuse the static.

So there you have it. A successful, albeit not without its difficulties, 18-miler completed. I do believe I have earned my Florida vacation. If you need me next week, I'll be on the beach. :)

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Runnin' hills with the Team In Green

Some people like to eat a lot of cabbage and drink a lot of beer on St. Patrick's Day. That's fine for them (although I would highly recommend those people take some Beano), but runners desire more from such a festive holiday. And what could be more festively and authentically Irish than running hill repeats, dressed in green, with your friends? After all, isn't Ireland rife with rolling hills? And isn't Ireland green? And aren't the Irish friendly?

While we would have loved to do our hill repeats on the rolling hills of Ireland (see picture above), it just wasn't practical. So we chose the next best place... Peoria Heights. Incidentally, the name "Peoria Heights" comes from the Gaelic for "freaking hilly". True story.

So we warmed up with a 2 mile jog down Grandview Drive. As you may recall, jogging down Grandview is literally jogging down Grandview, as it's a net downhill of probably about 200 feet. (And remember, what runs down must eventually run up - oh joy!) We made our way to Grandview Avenue. Yes, I realize this is confusing. Grandview Ave is a side-street off of Grandview Drive. Unlike Grandview Drive, Grandview Ave does not really have much of a grand view. But Grandview Ave does have some killer hills on a low-traffic cul-de-sac that are great for running hill repeats. It's about 1/4 mile long (shorter if you encounter the dog - more on that in a minute), and if you run out and back, you get 3 distinct, steep hills. We ran out and back TWICE, for a total of 6 steep hills.

The end of the cul-de-sac on Grandview Ave has a guard dog. It is not the kind of dog I would pick up and carry to his owners. He is a larger, scarier-looking, barking, not-on-a-leash dog. To be fair, he's never chased anyone or attacked anyone (he was also there last summer when we ran this street with FAST). But you can just never be sure if/when a big dog is going to turn on you. So, when we got close to the end of the cul-de-sac on our hill repeat runs, and the doggie trotted out into the street to bark at us, we tended to turn around and start running back a little sooner than planned.

After running our hill repeats, we then had the arduous task of running up Grandview Dr. As if running hill repeats wasn't enough! Not wanting to waste another perfectly good hill (even if it was 2 miles long), I tried to keep a decent pace all the way up, aiming to run my last mile faster than my first. And I did! Run graph is below (you can see the hill repeats in the middle, where my heart rate spikes and dips):

Now, you can't do a St. Patrick's Day run dressed in green without following up with some authentic Irish cuisine. So that's what we did. We headed over to Cyd's (our favorite place for post-long-run refueling) to enjoy some corned beef and cabbage and Guiness. I skipped the corned beef and cabbage, being a vegetarian and all, but I did have cabbage in the form of cole slaw (along with some decidedly un-Irish sweet potato curry, and lentil vegetable salad) and a Guiness.

Oh, and in case you were wondering who "we" are... here's a picture of us right after our hilly run (Niki, Matt, me and Kristi). I'm the short one. Although it's not so much that I'm short as the others are giants. True story.

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Evily: Slow-Runner and Dog-Rescuer Extraordinaire

It turns out I'm a multi-talented runner. Not only can I run very slowly for long periods of time, I can also provide useful services while I run, such as dog-rescuing.

Case in point, today I was running my progressive-build 6 mile run (outside, for a change, since the weather was decent), and as I was going along, minding my own business, I saw two teenage girls running frantically toward me. At first, I thought "Oh no, I must be wearing the colors of a rival high school and they're going to beat me up!" Although I was fairly confident I could take them. *flexing biceps* But then I noticed they had a dog on a leash. And then I saw the other dog: the dog NOT on a leash, running away from the girls, with a look on his face that I swear said "HA HA, you'll never catch me!" This was a small dog, a miniature schnauzer or something similar. So I thought "Oh, I can definitely take him." As the crazed little dog approached me, I slowed down and got ready to pounce. He slowed down too. I looked at him. He looked at me. I said to him "Do ya feel lucky, punk? Do ya?" And before he could respond either negatively or affirmatively, I grabbed him and picked him up. The teenage girls caught up to us and I said "This belong to either of you?" and handed the dog over. They were very thankful. I continued on my merry way.

The rest of my run was fairly uneventful. The temperature was nice outside, but it was windy. I really don't like wind. When you're a slow runner like me, a good stiff wind can actually cause you to move backwards. The wind was coming out of the north, and unfortunately for me, the return portion of my route was mostly, you guessed it, northbound. So that meant I was fighting a headwind during the part of my run that was supposed to be faster. (Remember that the progressive run is supposed to get progressively faster each mile.) Despite this, I still managed to run a true progressive run, with each mile faster than the one before it. It was overall not as fast as progressive runs I have done on the indoor track, but that's because the track doesn't have (1) hills, (2) wind, (3) dogs that need to be rescued or (4) traffic to dodge. All things considered, it was a good run today. Check it out here:

Or view it interactively here.

Now, if anyone has any suggestions for my run on Wednesday, I'm all ears. Speedwork? Hill work? Both? None? What do YOU all think I should do? Without FAST to provide me guidance for a couple of weeks, I feel kind of lost...

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A pleasant surprise

To be honest, I wasn't expecting my 16-miler to go well this weekend. I was expecting it to be a struggle. See, I'm still getting over this cold, so I was a bit stuffy. And I was sure that my sesamoiditis was going to rear its ugly head with all the hills I had planned in this run. I was afraid that my feet would get really tired and sore like they did on my last 16 miler. And I was expecting it to be rainy, thus making it impossible to see where I'm going... So many negative expectations.

But 16 miles later, I was very pleasantly surprised. It actually went very well. I must say, the first 8 or so miles were rough. It was extremely hilly. And it was foggy and misty, making it very hard to see through my glasses (ironically, I was running on Grandview Dr, which did NOT have a grand view, thanks to the fog). I was very conscious of my effort, and worked hard to keep my heart rate down during the hills. Conserve energy up front, have energy to spare later. I figured I could pick up the pace in the later miles, when it wouldn't be so hilly. I also made sure to stay hydrated and fueled from early on in the run. I started eating Sharkies around Mile 3, and continued eating them in twos every mile or two, along with lots of water.

Have I ever mentioned Bishop Ave hill before? If I haven't, it's because I try not to think about it. *shudders* It's tall and steep and scary. It was at about Mile 3.5 of this run. When I trained for the Disney World Marathon, my coach used to make me run it at least once (sometimes twice) during every long run I did. Thus began my love-hate relationship with the hill. Running up Bishop Ave hill is a very painful experience indeed. It's probably at least 100 feet tall. And only about 1/4 mile long. Why do I insist on putting it in my routes if it's so scary? Because it's good for me. I intend to be be well-prepared to tackle the hills of the Flying Pig Marathon on race day. Bishop Ave hill will help me get there. Of course, that doesn't mean it doesn't suck. I never get to the top of Bishop hill and think "Wow, that was a blast, I'm going to run back down and do it again!" Usually my thoughts are more along the line of "#@*%& #*&%!!! I'm never doing that again!"

Around Mile 8, the terrain started to flatten. It was a huge relief. There were still some slopes here and there, but nothing like the steep canyons of the first 8 miles. I was tired, though, from those first 8 miles. I was still chewing on Sharkies and drinking my water. I didn't feel terrible, nothing was hurting, and overall, I was pleased with my progress. Then something happened around Mile 12. I got my second wind. Maybe the Sharkies were kicking in. Maybe it took me that long to recover from all the hills. I don't know, but I suddenly felt much more energetic. So I wanted to see how much more energetic.... I kicked into high gear to see what I could do my last 4 miles. Apparently, I could do quite well (for a slow gal, that is). My pace went from about 13:30 down to 12:30, then 12:00, then 11:40, and finally 10:44 for the last mile.

All in all, my average pace for this 16 miler was about 10 seconds per mile faster than my last 16 miler, and this one was much hillier. I also felt less tired when it was all said and done. I don't know if it was a result of last week being a recovery week, or using Sharkies instead of Sport Beans (Sharkies have complex carbs rather than just simple sugars), or what.... but this was a good run. My sesamoids did not complain at all. I will say the area is a little achy today, but nothing like last weekend. I will keep icing it to keep the inflammation to a minimum.

So without any further ado, here's the run data:

Or, if you want to see it in the Runner's World Personal Trainer, click here. The data says my total climb was over 1600 feet. I doubt that very much. I suspect it was more like 800-1000 feet. Which is still nothing to sneeze at. And speaking of sneezing, I'm feeling much less sneezy. Nothing like a good 16 mile run to clear up the sinuses!

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A few words on being a klutz and other random stuff

Today's post should just be called "Random Crap" because, well, that's what it's going to be. I have a couple different topics to talk about, and little subtopics within those topics... so buckle your seat belts and strap on your protective hard hats. It's going to be a bumpy ride!

Topic #1 - Yesterday's Run

Oh what a lovely day it was yesterday! The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was 56 degrees!!! Spring is springing, and that makes us runners very happy people. I've had about all I can take of running around in circles on an indoor track. Or worse, running in place on that glorified hamster wheel known as the treadmill. It's nice to have these things when the weather is bad or when injury necessitates it... but they just don't compare to the feeling of being on the open road, wind in your hair, sun on your face, cars swerving to avoid hitting you, bloodthirsty dogs chasing after you... Such fun! Okay, so maybe those last two things aren't so great. But they are rare situations, thankfully.

So I left work a bit early yesterday because I was feeling utterly craptastic. My sinuses were completely clogged up, my nose was pouring, I was sneezing constantly. I was pretty sure my coworkers wanted me to leave. You know that look people give you when they think you have the plague - that look of "OMG ewww, get away from me!". Yeah, people were giving me that look. So I bid them all a fond adieu (or maybe it was a fond achoo!) and headed to The Heights for a run with my husband. "The Heights", for those of you not in the Peoria area, refers to Peoria Heights, which is a popular running area around here. It has lots of hills, lots of spectacular views, and lots of of friendly runners and walkers.

It's amazing how sunshine and fresh air can instantly make you feel better. As soon as I started my run, I felt my sinuses clear and my nose stop pouring. Fabulous! We started our run from The Tower and ran down Grandview Dr. Running down Grandview Dr is literally running down Grandview Dr. It's a net downhill of probably about 300 feet over 2 miles. Which means when you turn around to run up Grandview Dr, it's, well, really hard. I had decided when I started the run that I wanted to run up Grandview Dr faster than I ran down it. It would be a sort of hill-speed-tempo workout. This is what happens when I don't have a coach telling me what to do - I make up some bizarre mish-mash that probably has no cardiovascular or performance benefit. Spring FAST can't start soon enough!

Anyway, it was a wonderful run. Except for the part where I tripped and fell. I mean like splayed-across-the-ground-facedown-with-scraped-up knees fell. Oh don't worry, I was fine. My pride was wounded more than anything. It's just one of the pitfalls of being a klutz. I don't fall often while running, but when I do, it tends to be dramatic. I picked myself up, dusted myself off and continued on. And as if that wasn't embarrassing enough, as I was powering up Grandview Dr, feeling all strong and zippy, some skinny woman pushing a huge jogging stroller with a kid in it passed me like I was standing still. Hmph. Showoff.

But other than that, it was a very good run, especially considering I was sick. My run graph and map are below:

It's hard to tell from the speed graph, but I did run up Grandview faster than I ran down it, so my goal was met. Go me!

And speaking of meeting goals.... My husband, aka Zippy McSpeedypants, had such a great run last night that he beat his 10-k race goal. And it wasn't even a race! Not only that, it was crazy-hilly! Methinks he needs a new 10-k race goal now.

Topic #2 - The Runner's World Challenge

Yesterday I signed up for the Runner's World Marathon Challenge. What's that? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let me show you. Click here to read about it. The Flying Pig Marathon and Half-Marathon are official Runner's World Challenge events for 2010 - how cool is that? I hadn't signed up for this sooner because (1) I already had a race entry, and until recently there was no way to sign up for the RW Challenge without also getting a race entry, which would have meant I would have had TWO race entries, and I sure as hell ain't running this marathon twice. And (2) I didn't really need any coaching or training plans because I have a coach.

But recently, they've made it possible to sign up for the run-with-us option without having to buy another race entry. Ooooooo, now they've got my attention! Of course, I still didn't really need a training plan, but look at all the other perks:
  • A technical t-shirt with the RW Challenge logo, and a book (I selected The Runner's Rule Book)
  • Private pre-race gathering area with food, drinks, gear check, and PRIVATE BATHROOMS inside Paul Brown Stadium (where the Cincinnati Bengals play)
  • Private post-race party area with lots of tasty food and drinks, free massages, and PRIVATE BATHROOMS in the Great American Ballpark (where the Cincinnati Reds play)
  • The chance to meet Bart Yasso, one of the RW editors
  • Access to RW Personal Trainer online training tool
  • Oh yeah, and did I mention, PRIVATE BATHROOMS????
I think the RW Challenge fee is worth it just for the private bathrooms. Not having to stand in ridiculously long lines before the race is a huge benefit. HUGE. Sign me up.

Now, I've only been signed up for a day, but I gotta say, the RW Personal Trainer thingy is actually really slick. I can track my workouts, my training plan, my running shoes' mileages, my diet, my running routes... and the really cool thing is that I can import data from my Garmin and see it presented in an even nicer format than the Garmin website presents it. (Sorry, Garmin!) Wanna see? I pulled my Garmin data from yesterday's run into the RW Personal Traininer. Here's what it looks like: Clicky

Cool, huh? (Well, except for that ad with Ryan Hall in it - sorry to have to subject you all to that) And the user interface is even more impressive, but I can't show you that without giving you my login and password. I've got a 4-month Premium subscription to the Personal Trainer tool for now (it was part of the RW Challenge perks). I think this might be something worth keeping around, though. There is a free version of the tool, but it has limited features and customizability, and of course it is probably laden with advertisements. But that shouldn't stop all you runners out there from checking it out and letting me know what you think.

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I've been taking things for granted...

...Specifically, the ability to breathe. I have just gotten so used to doing it all the time with no problems, that I never imagined it would become an issue. But, alas, here I sit all stuffed up and longing for some good old-fashioned oxygen. I miss breathing. I really do.

Yeah, I still have that little head cold. It's not really that bad. In fact, I managed to run 6 miles last night, and I felt better afterward. Interestingly, it seemed to clear out my sinuses quite well and I was able to breathe nicely all night long for the most part. So I think perhaps I'll do the same again tonight.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering about my toe thing. Sesamoiditis. It's fun to say, isn't it? Say it with me now - ses-a-moid-i-tis. See how fun that was? But I digress... Last night I did my run on a treadmill for two reasons: (1) to keep my pace in check because I didn't want it to turn into a tough run and (2) to provide a more cushioned running surface for my feetsies. I believe I was successful on both counts. I don't have a run graph to share because, well, it would look really boring. I started out at 5.0 (12:00 pace) and increased it every mile until I finished at 5.5 (10:54 pace). So it was a progressive run, but easier than my usual progressive run. It felt pretty good. And my foot did not complain. I'll admit it was mildly achey after I was done, but I went home and iced it really good (it was turning blue, it was so cold). Today, it feels okay.

So I believe another run is in order tonight to clear out those sinuses again. Maybe you're wondering why I don't just rest if I'm sick. Ha! You don't understand (well, maybe some of you do). Running is a sickness unto itself! So much so, there is even a book about it:

Those of you who have had the misfortune (er, I mean, pleasure) of running with me know that I look a lot like that guy when I run. I've got my Garmin on my wrist, my iPhone on my arm, my earbuds in my ears, my shoe pod on shoe, my Nike+ sensor on the other shoe, and on long runs, a water bottle and/or fanny pack for all my hydration and fueling needs. And yet, I never feel fully prepared when I begin a run. It's all part of the sickness. I need help. But first, I'm going to go for a run.

Hello, my name is Emily, and I'm addicted to running.

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Listening to my body...

...can be really hard to do when it's telling me "Whoah, take it easy there!" I hate it when I can't do my scheduled run. I feel lazy and I get all panicky that I'm deviating from my schedule. So you may have noticed that I rarely miss a run. In fact, today is my first missed run of marathon training. I feel terrible about it. But my body is screaming at me to take it easy.

Two main issues are at play here. First of all, and I didn't mention this in my last long run post because it didn't seem important at the time, but I somehow managed to hurt my big toe during my 12 miler on Saturday. Not the actual toe, but the ball of foot just behind my big toe. I didn't even notice the pain until after the run, so I didn't think too much of it. But the pain has persisted for a couple days now. A little internet research (Dr. Google can bring such wisdom when he isn't making you feel like you're an inch from death) revealed that the likely cause of my discomfort was Sesamoiditis.

Sesama-what? Well, copying and pasting a definition is easier than trying to explain in my own words, so here's what has to say about it:
Sesamoiditis is a common ailment that affects the forefoot, typically in young people who engage in physical activity like running or dancing. Its most common symptom is pain in the ball-of-the-foot, especially on the medial or inner side. The term is a general description for any irritation of the sesamoid bones, which are tiny bones within the tendons that run to the big toe. Like the kneecap, the sesamoids function as a pulley, increasing the leverage of the tendons controlling the toe. Every time you push off against the toe the sesamoids are involved, and eventually they can become irritated, even fractured. Because the bones are actually within the tendons, sesamoiditis is really a kind of tendinitis - the tendons around the bones become inflamed as well.
The article goes on to say that it can be caused by various things including increased hill work - ahhhh, well, my 12 miler was rich with steep hills. So that was probably the source of my ailment. The article also says that treatment involves rest. Well crap. I don't want to rest! I'm supposed to run 6 miles tonight! That's the training plan!

But what's the most important run in marathon training? For me, it's the long run. So the question is - would I rather have a so-so 6 mile run tonight and maybe make my foot worse and be unable to run my 16 miler on Saturday? Or would I rather take it easy today (and as many days this week as necessary) and have a successful 16-miler? Definitely the latter option.

So I'm taking an unscheduled rest day. I hate it. I'd rather be running. But it's more important that I run pain-free, so that means temporarily restricting myself. And to make sure I really got it through my thick skull, Mother Nature has also given me a developing head cold to deal with. Gee, thanks. Like the toe thing wasn't bad enough.

The good news is that over the course of today, the pain in my foot has nearly disappeared. I am going to try going for an easy run tomorrow after work and see how it goes. That is, if this head cold doesn't get a lot worse and I can still breathe tomorrow.

Peace. Love. Train.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A road trip, a run, and a little dude

This weekend was a bit different from the usual routine. For starters, we weren't in Peoria. We took a little road trip to visit my husband's family in southern Indiana (and soon you will see why). Since it's about a 6 hour trip (when you factor in a quick dinner stop along the way), it means we got to the in-laws' house pretty late on Friday night. I was already tired and after having a quick snack, I went right to bed. No time for any serious carb-loading. Not that I really needed it - we were only running 12 miles on Saturday morning. Ahhhhh, recovery weeks are wonderful! Hard to believe I now think of 12 miles as "short".

The alarm went off bright and early on Saturday morning and I had some breakfast (the typical oatmeal and banana), and about an hour and a half later, Matt and I set out on our run. He runs faster than I do, so after about 4 or 5 miles, he was out of my sight. No worries, though, I had my music and the fresh air. It was sunny and pleasant outside - a nice change of pace from recent weeks in Peoria!

Even though this was a recovery run, I did have a goal in mind. I wanted to run at about my marathon goal pace (for the Flying Pig Marathon, that is). That's about 12:00-12:30 per mile. Maybe I could run faster than that, but I know the Pig is really hilly and I don't want to force myself into an unrealistic goal for this particular race. The "nice" thing about southern Indiana is that it's actually pretty hilly too. So it was a decent approximation of marathon conditions.

I went into my run with a clear strategy in mind. When I tried to maintain a 12:00 pace during my 14 mile run two weeks ago, it was a disaster. Remember that? Yeah, I didn't want to relive that. Time to test a new strategy:

(1) Start slow and taper back. If I saved my energy at the beginning, I would have energy to pick up the pace later. All I wanted was for my AVERAGE pace over the entire 12 miles to be 12:00-12:30.

(2) Don't attack the hills. Take them easy and calmly.

(3) Take advantage of downhills and flat sections. Let gravity work its magic.

So that was the game plan in a nutshell. I had a water bottle strapped to my waist so I could hydrate as often as I needed. And I had some Sharkies with me for fuel. I had dressed in layers so I could peel layers off as I warmed up. I was ready to git 'er done!

All in all, it ended up being a pretty darn good run. My strategy kept me feeling strong the entire run. I was able to run a very nice negative split, averaging about 12:20 for the first 6 miles, and about 11:40 the last 6 miles. End result... an overall average pace of 12:01. I couldn't have asked for a better result.

But it wasn't perfect. I had not-so-nice words with my water bottle holder (see link above). It's nothing against the actual holder (or the bottle). It's a perfectly good hydration system. The problem is me. I have a small waist and big hips (in other words, I'm female). But I don't want to wear the holder belt around my actual waist, because it's too high up and makes it uncomfortable to breathe. I just want to wear it low on my hips, so it doesn't cut into my stomach and the bottle is easy to reach around to. But noooooo, the dumb thing was constantly migrating up to my waist, no matter how many times I pushed it down to my hips. Also, the repetitive motion of reaching around my back on the right side (because that's how you get the bottle out of the holder) ended up giving me back spasms starting around Mile 7.5. I was able to run through them, but it got a bit uncomfortable for a while there. By about Mile 11, I was this close *holding fingers really close together* to taking the stupid thing off and throwing it on the side of the road in hopes that maybe a big tanker truck would run over it repeatedly. About Mile 11.5, I finally did take it off and carried it in my hand. The relief to my midsection was immediate - I could breathe again!

So I'm not sure what I will do about hydration in the future. Water bottle belts are all the same - they all ride up to my waist. So it's not like I can just use a different product and have better results. But carrying a bottle in my hand isn't a great option either (I've done that before and it's really no fun at all). What I need is a crew that will drive around to various places on my route and hand me Dixie cups full of water and/or Gatorade. Any volunteers?

Getting back to the run... here's the run graph and map! It's hard to tell from this but it was basically an out-and-back course that started and ended in the middle.

But enough about the run! I promised I would tell you why we were visiting the in-laws this weekend. It was to meet our new nephew! Bryce was born last November, 10 weeks premature. He is a little miracle who has blossomed and grown and was able to go home in early February. Now that he's settled in at home with his mommy and daddy, we were able to go and meet him for the first time. He's the cutest, most laid-back little dude you'll ever meet. It was love at first cuddle. Henceforth, I shall be known as Auntie Em. And henceforth, he shall be known as Bryce-a-roni. When he's older, I will be sure to embarrass him thoroughly with that nickname. And maybe someday, after he's learned to walk, I'll take him to the running store for his first pair of Asics and we'll see what those long legs can do. He'll be my little cross-country runner in training.

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Winter FAST goes out with a bang - my fastest lap pace ever!

I apologize for being so late in writing about Wednesday's workout. I have been stuck in training the last few days with no computer... I'm sure many of you can identify. Training for what, you ask? It's called "Voice of the Customer" and it's an extremely rigorous and detailed method of interviewing customers and extracting wants and needs from those interviews in order to develop products they will want to buy. It probably sounds boring, but it's actually quite fascinating. I've had a few opportunities in my career to interview customers for this purpose and it's always a very interesting process.

But I didn't come here today to tell you how to interview customers. Let's talk about the good stuff - running! And the better stuff - pizza and beer!

This last Wednesday was the last night of Winter FAST. *sniff sniff* It has gone by so quickly - hard to believe it's been 12 weeks already. The coaches had quite a workout planned for us.

Here's the overview: Warmup, 5-6 partner 1200m repeats with core work recoveries between the repeats, cooldown. Whoah. The middle section was a mouthful! Let me try to explain a little better. Partner repeats generally involve teams of two who take turns running repeats and recovering. So while one person runs, the other recovers, etc. Except these partner repeats had a little bit of overlap. Like this:

(for this workout, 1200m is about 6 laps)
Person 1 runs 4 laps alone
Person 2 then joins Person 1 for 2 laps
Person 1 recovers while Person 2 runs their remaining 4 laps
Person 2 recovers and Person 1 begins the cycle all over again
Repeat 5-6 times

Did you get that all? Ready? Set. Go!

But wait! There's MORE! Those "recovery" periods? Yeah. Right. *snort* Bekah (one of our fearless leaders) decided to turn them into torture sessions to work on our core strength. She had us doing things like mountain climbers, triceps dips, hover squats and chair step-ups.

My partner was a slightly slower runner than I am, so I did end up getting a bit more recovery than other people. Lucky me?

All in all, it was a good workout. I finished stronger than I started, which Brad always encourages us to try to do. So here's the graph:

The dashed blue lines are the "recoveries". A word about the last few laps... Brad was running with me and chatting. And he kept speeding up. So I kept speeding up to keep up with him. I think he was doing this on purpose. Sneaky! When I got to my last lap, I said "See ya!" and I took off, determined to show him that I could play that little game too. And the result was the fastest lap I have ever run (or at least the fastest one I've documented). A 7:07 pace. My heart rate was very high. 188 bpm, or about 97% of my max heart rate. Very high indeed. I had entered what I affectionately call the "Hurl Zone". You know the place. Where your effort is so hard that you feel like you'll puke if you keep it up much longer. I have never actually puked as a result of running. I have, however, felt like puking a few times (usually at the ends of races, when I sprint for the finish). This was one of those times. It was a short-lived feeling, thankfully. I walked a couple laps around the track to cool down and catch my breath and then I was ready for dinner.

Did someone say dinner? Oh yes. We had to end Winter FAST the right way! With pizza and beer! We met up at Old Chicago and enjoyed a very tasty recovery meal and good conversation. Old Chicago has a lot of different beers. It's almost too much to choose from. So I did what any self-respecting beer-drinker wouldn't do... I chose one because I liked the name. Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat was what I chose. And with a tasty thin-crust tomato-basil pizza, it was an excellent recovery meal.

Wait a minute. Beer for recovery? How can it be? Hey, I don't make these things up. See for yourself!

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A huge milestone and a progressive experiment

Happy Recovery Week to me!!! Yes, today begins a wonderful recovery week in my training schedule. Oh, I'm still running, and in some cases, running hard. But the mileage is reduced so my muscles can enjoy a little extra recovery before the next ramp up in mileage. Ahhhhhh...

I want to start out today's post by patting myself on the back. *pat pat pat* You see, I hit a huge milestone accomplishment in the month of February... my first time ever of logging over 100 miles in a single month. (And February was a short month!!!) In fact, I logged just over 108 miles altogether. Up until this, the most I had ever logged in a single month was 90 miles. So, go me! March should have even more miles logged - can I break 120? We shall see....

Now, moving on to today's run. Remember last week's deep thoughts? Remember when I pondered how well I would do with the progressive run without looking at any sort of timing device? I didn't think I'd do too great, since I've come to rely so heavily on my gadgets and gizmos. But for you, my wonderful and supportive readers, I decided to run an experiment today. I wore my Garmin for my 5 mile progressive run, but I did NOT look at lap times, total time, or pace the entire run. I did have to look occasionally to see what lap I was on, so I knew how far I had gone. But aside from that, I resisted the pull of the pretty gadget, with all it's flashing numbers and happy chirpy beeps. I cranked up my iPod and ignored my precious run data. *gasp*

But the data was all there waiting for me when I got home and uploaded it to my computer. I couldn't wait to see how I did. Did I manage to get progressively faster just by feel? I FELT like I was getting faster during my run, but I couldn't be sure if it was because I was actually running faster, or just getting more tired. Well, the results are in... I needn't have worried at all. As it turns out, progressive running may be my forte. This graph is really quite lovely. Perhaps even more lovely than graphs of progressive runs where I relied on my gadgets to keep pace. I'll let you all be the judge, though:I was a little wonky during the warmup mile, trying to find my groove. But after that, there's very little up-and-down in my pace. Note, I ran an extra lap because, since I wasn't constantly looking at my watch, I was never really sure what lap I was on. So my sprint lap ended up being one lap later than I thought it was.

So there you have it. Proof that listening to your body can be more effective than listening to your Garmin. Which is not to say I'm going to stop using my gadgets now. You can take the geek away from the gadget, buy you can never take the gadget away from the geek.

Peace. Love. Train.