Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cold weather running is FUN!

At least, that's what I keep trying to tell myself as I push through the teeth-chattering miles of the winter months. I'm not sure if I believe it yet, though. These last few weeks, I've been doing a lot of indoor running for various reasons (such as safety, health, and general wussiness). Well, running indoors has spoiled me. This weekend, I took my running outside for a change, and, well, it hurt.

I started the weekend off with a race. How bad could it be?, I asked myself. It's just 4 miles. I'll be done before I even notice that it's cold! I carried these reassuring thoughts with me to the starting line. But as I stepped off the toasty shuttle bus and felt the bitter arctic blast on my face, those thoughts disappeared.

It was about 25º at the start of the FOLEPI River Trail Classic, with a wind chill of about 21º. This is pretty much my lower temperature limit for running outdoors. Any colder than this and I wimp out and take my run inside. I had on two layers of pants and two layers of tops, plus gloves and a hat. You would think this would be plenty. You would think wrong.

The course for this race is more-or-less straight-line point-to-point route along the East Peoria bike trail (which is fully paved). The race begins with a short section heading east before making a hairpin turn onto the bike path to head west for the rest of the race. As we rounded the hairpin turn, I could tell we were in for a real treat because the wind was coming out of the west... which meant the wind would be in our faces for the entire race. *begin sarcasm* Oh yay! *end sarcasm*

And so I ran as best I could with numb feet, foggy glasses and tears streaming down my face from the bitterly cold wind. I felt like I was running with concrete blocks attached to my legs; that's how numb my feet were. I wished I had electric socks. Well, actually, I wished I was at home snuggled under six blankets with a space heater aimed at myself. But since I knew I couldn't get home to my blankets and space heater if I didn't get to the damn finish line, I knew I would just have to suck it up.

I was told this was a downhill race, and that it was good for setting a PR because of the elevation drop. I was also warned that the downhill doesn't start until about a mile into the race. So my strategy was to run the first mile at a conservative pace (sort of a warm-up, really), then turn on all the engines when I hit the downhill. My previous best for a 4 mile race was 35:15, an 8:48 pace. I figured I should be able to run an 8:30 pace given the cooler conditions and downhill course.

As I passed the first mile marker and looked down at my Garmin, I saw that I had run my first mile in 8:30. Oops. So much for being conservative in the first mile. The course started to visibly drop at about Mile 1.5 and I felt like I was flying. Yes, my eyes were frozen open (better than frozen shut, I guess), my feet were still numb, and I had icicles hanging from my nose (aka, snotcicles), but I was flying.

The downhill section appeared to level off around Mile 3, but it was still a gentle decline. Which meant that I was still flying. But in order to fly at the same pace, I had to work a little harder. As I passed the Mile 3 marker, the discomfort of running fast has firmly set in and the race turned into a mental battle between the desire to back off to ease the discomfort, and the desire to keep pushing for a strong finish. Just one more mile to go. At the rate I was going, that was only 8 more minutes. Surely I could hold onto my pace for 8 more minutes.

In my final push, I cursed the three hills that were so close to the finish. They were small in actuality, but they felt like mountains to my fatigued legs. I rounded the final corner and I could actually see the finish line up ahead. I wiped the snotcicles from my nose, gathered every last bit of energy I could muster, and made a mad dash for the finish. I was vaguely aware of my in-laws standing on the sideline taking pictures but I did not have any extra energy to smile or wave or look remotely alive. I saw my husband at the finish line cheering me on. And in 32:34, I crossed the finish: a new PR, by over 2:30.

Incidentally, my husband also ran a PR, and finished about 50 seconds ahead of me. And our friend Niki also ran a PR. Coincidence? I think not....

As it turns out, there is a net elevation drop of over 250 feet. Check out the Garmin data, particularly the green elevation graph. Downhill, baby!

The post-race festivities were great and, thankfully, indoors. They were serving up yogurt, fruit, popcorn and pizza. All in all, a very nice race: well-organized, fast, and with nice amenities. Yes, it was freakin' cold. But I did eventually regain feeling in my feet, and my eyeballs did thaw out. So maybe this cold-weather running stuff wasn't so bad after all.

Feeling empowered by my success at the FOLEPI run on Saturday, I decided to take my Sunday long run outdoors as well. The Stashies were meeting in the usual place to run a 10 mile route, and that's exactly how far I was planning to run - perfect! The weather website told me it would be a bit warmer on Sunday morning than it was on Saturday, so I was thinking it would be a piece of cake.

Ha. Hahahaha.

As I started running down University Ave, I quickly realized it would not be a piece of cake. No, despite the fact that it was technically warmer than Saturday morning, it was a whole lot windier and consequently, felt a whole lot colder. My cheeks burned and my eyes watered and I was highly tempted to turn around, get into my car, and drive to the gym since nobody in their right mind would be running in this weather. And yet there I was, along with several Stashies, running against the icy wind. Clearly, none of us were in our right mind. It's the only explanation.

I did not dress warmly enough for this run. I didn't feel adequately warmed up until about Mile 6. And I think that even then, I only felt warmer because I was running with the wind finally. The snotcicle situation was far more dire than it was on Saturday. I lamented the fact that I had not brought any tissues along. I stopped at a Starbucks along the way for a potty break and learned that when you're wearing seven layers of clothes, going to the bathroom is a workout unto itself. The whole run, I felt slow, sluggish and tired. I had just raced the day before, so maybe I was still recovering from that.

I kept chugging along and before I knew it, I was high-fiving my fellow Stashies on a job well-done. I wasn't thrilled about the run, but hey, at least it was done. I rewarded myself with a peppermint mocha from Starbucks and headed home.

Upon reviewing my Garmin data, I noticed something interesting. I was not nearly as slow and sluggish as I thought I was. In fact, I ran at a faster pace than I would normally run my long runs. So my long run actually went a lot better than I thought it did.

It doesn't look like the weather will be warming up much for the foreseeable future. This means that I better get used to running in the cold, whether I like it or not. And I will also have to accept that these snotcicles are here to stay. I'll just think of them as a hot new running accessory.

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Marathon Training Strategery and a Huge Milestone!

Experts in the field of running (runologists?) often advise athletes to simulate anticipated race day conditions in their training in order to be better prepared for their target race. I have implemented this concept time and time again: For the Flying Pig Marathon, I trained on hilly terrain. For the Chicago Marathon, I trained in the blistering heat of summer, and incorporated a lot of goal-pace miles. Did it help? You bet it did. I managed to PR in both marathons.

The experts call this Specificity of Training. Since I am hardly an expert, I call it Marathon Training Strategery.

So why wouldn't I implement this tactic for my next marathon?

The conditions of my next marathon are very easy to predict, which makes Marathon Training Strategery incredibly easy to accomplish. There will be no hills, no wind, and it will be exactly 55°F. It sounds like the perfect marathon, doesn't it? Oh, yeah, and it consists of over 95 laps around an indoor track at an ice arena.

Wait. What?

That's right! Fellow FASTie / Stashie, Kristi, and I are officially registered for the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon. This unique event is held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the middle of January. It's a beautiful time of year in Milwaukee.


Sorry, I just couldn't keep a straight face for that one.

For those of you not well-acquainted with the upper midwest, let me assure you that mid-January is not generally a good time of year to run outdoors for any length of time, and it's definitely not a good time of year to run a marathon. But that doesn't mean that people in this area don't want to run marathons. We just have to be creative. So if we can't run a marathon outside, we must do the the next best thing and run it inside. There are basically two options for runners forced indoors - treadmills and indoor tracks.

Now personally, I would rather have my arms chewed off by hyenas than run more than about 8 miles on a treadmill. There's just nothing worse than running and running and running and going absolutely nowhere. I'm pretty sure a treadmill marathon could be used as a form of torture to get confessions out of people. ("Tell me where you hid the body or I'm gonna set the incline to 10%!") Also, the logistics of holding a treadmill marathon could be rather tricky. You'd need a lot of electrical power, a lot of precision-calibrated treadmills, and some sort of backup in case any treadmills break down. Add to that the extra safety concerns of treadmill running and the ease of cheating (just put your feet on the side rails to take a break!) and the disadvantages of a treadmill marathon become too great to overcome.

This leaves us with the indoor track. The indoor track is marginally more enjoyable than the treadmill. There is the obvious advantage of actually making forward progress. However no matter how you dice it, you're still just running around in circles. So why would anyone want to run a marathon on an indoor track? Because it's different. Because it's flat and temperature-controlled. Because it's like a 5-hour-long party with 120 of your closest friends but instead of dancing, everyone is running. Because it's fun!

Before you start questioning my sanity on that last point, I urge you to skim through some of the reviews and reports of people who have run this marathon in previous years. A race doesn't earn countless 5-star ratings by being boring or poorly-organized. This has Kristi and me very excited about all the fun we're going to have running around in circles.

Now, getting back to my Marathon Training Strategery...

When my training schedule called for a 14 miler this past weekend, and the weather was just way too cold and windy for my still-recovering-from-a-cold lungs, I decided to take my run to the track. I figured it would be boring because, well, 14 miles is 168 laps at my gym, and if that isn't boring, I don't know what is.

But it turned out Kristi wasn't a fan of the predicted cold and wind either, and she decided to join me on the track for 14 miles of strategery. We agreed to meet at the gym right when it opened at 7am Sunday morning. We were either really dedicated or really crazy. Maybe a little of both.

When I arrived at the gym, there were exactly 3 other cars in the parking lot. The locker room was silent except for the whirring of a tabletop fan. Most of the lights were turned off in the big gym / track. It was like some kind of fitness ghost town.

Kristi and I started our run in the "wrong" direction. That is, we ran clockwise even though everyone is supposed to go counterclockwise on Sundays. We were breaking the law. Thwarting authority. Living on the edge. Oh yeah. Our plan was to run the "wrong" way whenever there was nobody else on the track, so that we wouldn't get any muscle imbalances or unusual stresses from always running in the same direction. (Yes, this is a valid concern for indoor track running and a real cause of injuries!)

I kept track of our laps. At first, this was discouraging. After 12 laps, we had covered one measly mile. Which meant we still had 13 miles to go. But as we got further into our run, the large numbers kept us motivated.

"84 laps! We're halfway!"

"100 laps - woo hoo!"

"120 laps - that's 10 miles!"

Sometimes we chatted about this and that, and sometimes we were content with our own thoughts. Our pace stayed consistent and comfortable throughout the run, averaging 55-56 seconds per lap. We stopped every 4-5 miles to have a drink and get some fuel (and I would have a brief coughing fit). Before we knew it, we had only two miles to go. And then one. And then two laps to go. And then one. And then we were done.

If we can survive 168 laps on a dark and uninteresting track, then surely we can survive a mere 95 laps on around an interesting ice rink with lots of other people and cheering fans. Yes, Marathon Training Strategery has given us confidence.

Will we be doing all of our long runs on the indoor track? Not if we can help it! But at least we now know we can do it (without dying of boredom) if we need to. Now, I would love to show you my Garmin data from this run, but it's... well... boring. It's just a long list of laps and lap times. But I have taken the liberty of creating a lovely Excel chart for you so that you don't have to look at a long list of laps. Because I'm just nice like that.

Look how we finished strong! That's also part of Marathon Training Strategery!

Now it's time for a change of subject. My loyal readers, it is time for a celebration!

*throws confetti in a festive manner*

Why, you ask? Because I realized (a little too late) that my last blog post was my 100th! Hard to believe I've been rambling on for over 100 posts now. Even harder to believe that people keep reading them! To celebrate this momentous occasion, I have baked a cake to share with all of you, my awesome readers.

I bet you didn't know I had such mad cake-decorating skillz. Or that I apparently really like birds. And pointy rosebud things. And that I know Japanese (it roughly translates to "Long live the blog of awesomeness!" True story.). Believe me, it all came as a shock to me too!

So everyone gather round and I'll slice you off a hunk of bird or rosebud. Thank you all for reading. Without you, I would be basically talking to myself. I'm a marathoner - I don't need any more evidence in support of my insanity. So, again, thank you.

*throws more confetti in a festive manner*

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Madness of a different kind

No, I'm not talking about taper madness.

I'm talking about the madness that comes from really, really, REALLY wanting to run, but being unable to due to Mr. Rhinovirus and his cohorts in crime.

'Tis the season for colds and flus and all manner of icky illnesses, and I thought I was going to make it through unscathed. I was doing all the usual precautionary things - eating lots of fruits and veggies, washing my hands obsessively, opening doors with a paper towel, avoiding sick people, or spraying them with Lysol if I was forced to be near them, ingesting overdose quantities of Vitamin C. You know, all the normal germ-prevention stuff.

(For the record, I don't really spray people with Lysol, although I have been tempted to... )

But alas, there is something nasty afoot in the Greater Peoria Area. It has no mercy. It has taken down people who claim to never get sick. Like my optometrist, who had to cancel my yearly eye exam due to being sick for the first time like 40 years. Like my massage therapist, who had to cancel several days worth of appointments, which I know is not something she takes lightly. There is nowhere to go for eye exams or massages in this town! If this isn't a state of emergency, I don't know what is.

And like me. I never get sick. The last time I was sick... well, I don't even remember it, that's how long ago it was. I had some sniffly head thing when I was training for the Flying Pig, but I'd hardly call it "sick". I managed to run 16 miles in the middle of it, so I definitely wasn't sick. But this thing that's going around right now... it made me SICK. Lying-on-the-sofa-trying-to-moan-but-can't-because-I'm-too-busy-blowing-my-nose-all-the-live-long-day-and-that's-all-I-have-the-energy-to-do sick. I felt like I had been hit by the proverbial bus.

The worst part of it was I just couldn't run. I barely had the energy to walk down the hall to fetch a new box of tissues. I certainly wasn't going to be running the 10k race I was hoping to run on Saturday, or the 14 mile long run I had planned on Sunday.

So I did the next best thing.

I watched other people run from the comfort of my couch. Yes, I sat (and sometimes lay) on my couch and watched the Florida Ironman competition (when I would've been running the 10k race), and the New York City Marathon (when I would've been running 14 miles).

It was good, in that I think I got my heart rate up a little bit cheering for various athletes. ("YAY SHALANE!!! *cough cough hack*") But it was bad in that it just made me want to run even more. I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to just try to run. Just to see how it would go. I thought to myself, Maybe I'll miraculously feel better! Maybe I'll discover a previously unknown talent for running while completely unable to breathe!

Yeah, right. *snort*

Maybe I'll end up in the fetal position on the ground by the side of the road, hoping for some kind stranger to help me figure out how to get home. Knowing my luck, I would instead end up with a dog using me as a fire hydrant.

And so I was forced to rest my weary germ-infested body for a full six days before I attempted to run again.

When I finally did go out for that first glorious run, it went something like this:

start run * cough* run run *cough cough* run run run run run run *cough* run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run finish *cough cough cough cough cough cough cough*

If anyone saw or heard me, they were probably a bit alarmed by all the coughing. But it wasn't a bad thing - the run just loosened up my phlegm and I needed to hork it up. Oh I assure you, that's every bit as attractive as it sounds. Later that evening, I felt much less congested. And thus the healing power of running is proven once again. Every day I run some more, and every day I feel a little better.

My first run after six days of madness. I'm sure I set some sort of land-speed record for running while coughing.

And so my madness comes to an end, hopefully for a very long time. Well, at least until my regularly-scheduled taper madness begins again. That'll be in January, in case you're wondering. Consider yourself warned.

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Move over Hill of Death... there's a new kid in town!

It's been weeks since I've written about a training run. Since Summer/Fall FAST has come to an end, there haven't been any crazy, tough or puke-inducing workouts to speak of. I have spent the last 6 weeks either tapering for or recovering from the Chicago marathon. But now, it's time to step it up again. And what better way to step it up than to run up a crazy-ass hill?

Crazier than the Hill of Death?

Oh yes. The Hill of Death is but a wee little knob compared to this new beast.

Some of my fellow FASTies/Stashies and I decided to meet for an after-work run yesterday. As we were contemplating what sort of run to do, Claire mentioned that she knew of a good hill in the High Point subdivision.

Thanks a lot, Claire.

The four of us (plus Claire's dog) did an easy warm-up run through High Point and then we got to the top of the purported "good hill". In order to run up the hill, we would first have to run down it. No problem - it would be a sort of extended warm-up. We couldn't see all the way down it, as it was a winding road, but how bad could it be?

Famous last words.

As we kept running down and down and down and DOWN, my concern grew. Would we ever reach the bottom of this valley? And how would we ever get back up? Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached the bottom. It was a beautiful curvy road with fall trees and big houses - a very scenic place to run. But as I looked up the hillside we had just run down and realized that I couldn't see the top of the hill, I got a little worried.

Slowly, we began our ascent. At first it wasn't too bad. That was mostly because I was running at a snail's pace. But as I climbed and climbed, it got harder and harder. I led the pack and I could hear Louisa behind me yelling "Are we there yet? Is this the top???" My initial thought was that Louisa should probably be running harder if she was able to yell like that. I certainly couldn't yell. But then I realized that I, too, wanted to know the answer to her questions. Where was the top??? Why weren't we there yet???

After huffing and puffing and running up this hill for approximately 1.6 million years, we finally crested it.

And then we all died.

But we got better!

I was itching to get home and check out the Garmin data. How high was that hill? As it turned out, it was almost 250 vertical feet of climb over 0.55 miles. In comparison, the Hill of Death has "only" 110 vertical feet of climb over 0.25 miles. A hill that's more than twice as big (in both height and length) as the Hill of Death? Oh, a hill like this needs a very special name.

I'd like to introduce the Mountain of Mayhem. *insert scary horror movie music*

Here is the Mountain of Mayhem in all it's steep and winding road glory. Look at the green graph. That big V-shape is where we ran to the bottom of the hill and then back up. The red graph shows how my heart rate skyrocketed while climbing said hill. And then it dropped off because I died. But as you can see, I got better.

So there you have it, folks. The mean older brother of the Hill of Death has made his debut. And I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Mountain of Mayhem. I know Louisa wants to go back. I think she's crazy, but then, aren't we all a little crazy?

Oh, and don't tell my coaches about this new hill, okay? We don't need to go giving them any ideas for some new "Extreme Hill Repeats On Crack" workout or anything like that. Believe me, FAST workouts are extreme enough already!

So shhhhhhhh! This Mountain of Mayhem will just be our little secret. What the coaches don't know can't hurt them. But if the coaches do know, it will only hurt us, the innocent FASTies. And you don't want that now, do you? Of course not!

*looks shifty* So, mum's the word. *sneaks quietly out of blog entry*

Peace. Love. Train.