Saturday, February 14, 2015

Training update PLUS new gadgets and tools for training

Since I have fallen behind in updating all of you, I am giving you one monster update with lots of exciting new information on some of the things I'm trying out right now to help with my training and recovery. I'm not even going to try to be brief because I am pretty excited about how I am feeling and don't want to skimp on the details. So, grab a beer, cup of joe or some kombucha and enjoy the ride!

Jed Smith 30k 1st female!
1. Training update. The most important news is that I am still on track to run the Napa Marathon on 1 March. This is huge for me given the fits and starts I've had training for marathons and not running them over the last 12 months. The heavy lifting of my marathon training is now behind me, and I have a taper ahead. I have done the biggest workouts of my life in this training cycle (think 10 mile tempo runs within 22 milers and 15+ miles at marathon pace) and they have gone well for the most part. I have raced twice this cycle. The first was a half marathon at the beginning of February where I had a disappointing performance. I was really hoping for a good race, but my body was not cooperating. I had that feeling of breathing easily while my legs were stuck in thick mud. The following weekend, I ran a local 30k quasi-trail race as a workout and that went really well. I started out around 7:00-7:30 pace for the first couple of miles, cruised the middle 14 miles at ~6:20-6:30 pace and cooled down the last 1-2 miles. I won the women's race, set a 30k PR and the course record by 4 minutes.  

The best part of this training cycle is that I feel great. I recovered from my surgery in December and am finally back to excellent health. Though I have had a bad race and a couple of off workouts, for the most part I feel amazing. I actually feel somewhat undertrained to be honest. I don't have the typical total body fatigue that I generally associate with marathon training. My mileage peaked at 80 mpw about 2 weeks ago and I've averaged around 70 for the last 12 weeks. I have also been doing around 3-6 hours of strength and core training each week. I should be tired, but I am not. I have been smart about taking rest when I need it--sometimes delaying workouts when I am feeling really off or even skipping them (did that twice this cycle).

On a fashion note: If you see me flying around in cute running shorts and brightly colored tops (as in the picture above), I am most likely wearing clothes from a company called Janji. I appreciate this company because they have found a way to combine two things I really love: running and environmental protection. They make super cute, high quality running clothes and give back to society by funding individual projects that provide clean water to people around the world. Their colorful clothing and beautiful designs represent the various countries where they are funding projects. I love the idea that some of the money I spend on running clothes (and it is a lot!) doesn't just go to making big companies richer but that it goes to a cause that I can really stand behind.        

2. EnduroPacks. This product or rather supplement regimen may be part of the reason I am feeling so good. I read about it on another runner's blog and began looking into it. I was bothered by the fact that the only reviews of the product I could find were all reviews from people who had been given the product free to try in exchange for a review. All of the reviews were so good, that I was very skeptical. As a coach I am always searching for new products to recommend to my athletes but not until I have tested them myself. So, I ordered a 60 day supply and have been following the regimen the last 2 months. This isn't a single supplement but an actual regimen you have to use every day. It includes taking a liquid multi-vitamin, which is actually really tasty. There's an electrolyte spray that you put in your water during workouts, though I do it after. There's an amino acid patch that you put on your skin right after your workout and finally glutamine capsules that you take every night before bed. This is a  commitment, to be sure, but I have been really good about following it. Most of the reviews I read mentioned the quicker recovery time that they experienced when they started on the regimen. As I said, I have been feeling amazing and obviously recovering really well from some very tough workouts including a lot of extra strength and mobility work. I feel strongly enough about this product that I will continue to take it after Napa despite the somewhat hefty price tag. If it is contributing to how good I feel, it is absolutely worth the cost and extra effort.      

3. Fitbit Surge. I love my Garmin 620 for tracking my running workouts, but I wanted something that would track my non-running activities: enter, the Fitbit Surge. This device has an optical HR monitor that tracks your HR at your wrist so no chest strap is required! I have worn both a chest strap and the Surge and the readings are almost identical. I wear the Surge all day and night to track everything I do, including running, strength work, hot pilates, hot yoga, and even my sleep habits. There are so many things I like about having this information. I have become acutely aware of just how few calories I burn in a day. This was a bit of a surprise to me. I had always used standard activity trackers to estimate calorie burn, but I am finding they are way off. For example, I am consistently finding that I burn about 60-70 calories per mile when I run depending on my HR. I used to think it was 80-90. That's an overestimate of 400 calories burned for a 20 mile run. I was most disappointed with how few calories I burn in strength training classes. In an hour of hot pilates, I burn 175 calories. I burn 400 calories in 90 minutes of bikram yoga. I burn about 150 calories in a kettlebells class. I wanted to believe that this was an underestimate at first because these values were so low. However, it actually makes sense given how low my HR is in these classes. Anytime I lay down, regardless of what I am doing, my HR plunges below 90 and stays there. The point of taking these classes is to gain strength and not necessarily to burn calories of course, so it is somewhat of a geeky novelty to know the numbers. I wanted to believe that the numbers were artificially low for some reason, but the next paragraph explains why I don't think that's true any longer.

The fitbit app and website make it really easy to track my food intake and the device measures my calorie burn via the HR monitor coupled with some equation that includes my height, weight and age. While calorie tracking is wholly inaccurate, I have found that I am able to maintain my weight by taking in roughly the same amount of calories as the Fitbit says I am burning each day. It's kind of crazy how well it works.

One last note about the Fitbit: it has GPS and I have found it to be very accurate, so I often wear it instead of my Garmin on my non-workout running days. A feature that I wasn't sure I would like is text and phone call notifications. I actually really do like it. If my phone is nearby, the watch shows incoming calls and will display text messages. I can also control the music on my iphone from the watch when I have it with me.

4. Racing Weight. Long time readers know that this is a subject I have blogged about before. Getting down to my ideal racing weight is always a struggle for me and I have the disadvantage of being larger than the average quasi-elite endurance athlete, as I outweigh most of the elite men's field at any given marathon. I had my body fat tested today. I like to calibrate my home scale which uses bioimpedance and, while inaccurate, is precise enough for me to track trends over time. I went to a place called Weightless here in Sacramento because they have a BodPod. I've done hydrostatic testing before, but why get dunked in a tank of water and feel like you're drowning when you can sit in an egg and stay comfortable and dry? The accuracy of the two are comparable and the price was too ($50). My body fat is 10%. While that seems low for a lady, it's actually pretty normal for me just before a marathon. What it tells me is that I have done a good job reducing my body fat but that it's about as low as I can go. I only have 13 lbs of it, after all. I have definitely gained muscle mass with the strength training I'm doing and, while I probably have more upper body muscle than I really need, muscle is what counts for a marathoner. It stores glycogen and will carry me to the finish line. Fat is just dead weight. So, I am very happy with my body composition going into this race. I am slightly heavier but as lean as I was heading into my PR marathon in 2010.

I have worked really hard these last couple of months to achieve this leanness. I always run slightly lean, but I know from my home scale that I have lost about 2% body fat over that time period. In case anyone cares, I have a Tanita Ironman Innerscan scale (model BC-554) at home. It read 14% body fat this morning, so that shows the difference in accuracy. Again, for me it does a nice job of showing change over time and that's what matters. While I am doing more strength training than I have in the past, I find leanness begins and ends in the kitchen, or so they say. I cut out all alcohol over two months ago. I have tried to limit my sweets, though that is a constant struggle for me. I pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch, every single day and then I have been trying out some different options for dinner to try to keep it healthy. In tracking my food intake, I find that I consume about 60-65% of my daily calories in carbs. My protein intake is around 15% and my fat intake around 20-25%.

I subscribed to something called the Fresh20 which is a meal planning website that posts a dinner plan each week. It includes 5 meals that feed a family of 4, a grocery shopping list of the 20 fresh (get it?) ingredients that you'll use in those recipes and then fairly simple instructions on how to prepare each meal. We have liked almost every meal we've made and I really like that we rarely throw food out now because we are planning everything in advance. I realized that one of the main reasons I wasn't eating a healthy dinner was due to a failure to plan. With this, I have everything planned for me. I just buy the ingredients on Sunday and then do a little prep each night. The meals generally take 30 minutes to prepare, with a few taking less and more. This has absolutely improved my eating habits and I think I paid $24 for a year's subscription. Cheap.

5. Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV monitoring is a relatively new training tool I've added to my arsenal, so I still consider it to be in the testing phase. However, it has already proven to be really useful to my training. HRV is designed to assess the effects of stress on your body. It is measured as the time gap between your heart beats that varies during respiration. In general, high HRV levels mean you are in good health and have a high level of fitness while decreased levels indicate higher levels of stress, fatigue and burnout. This is a simple thing to measure from a users' perspective. I slip on a bluetooth HR strap (Polar) first thing after I get up in the morning and open up an app that takes my HRV reading from 1 to 3 minutes. Simple. The app then interprets the data and gives me a reading. A single reading is not that useful because you need a baseline so that your readings can be compared to one another over time. The key to getting good data is to be consistent: take a daily reading at the exact same time (not clock time but as soon as you wake).

I have been taking my HRV reading using 3 different apps: a major pain but for the sake of Science! I have found ithlete to be the best. There are two reasons I like this app/web-based program. First, it is the easiest to use. The app always recognizes my HR strap within seconds of opening it and only needs a 60-second reading. The other apps (Sweetbeats and EliteHRV) require a 3 minute reading. Sweetbeats never reads my HR strap on the first try, which is a pain. The other reason I like ithlete is for the user interface, especially the web-based tools. They have created a chart that uses Z-scoring to plot a value that incorporates your activation levels (think of it as energy levels) and recovery levels over time. The more readings you have, the better your baseline and the more useful the information will be. They have shaded quadrants on this chart that indicate where you are in terms of readiness to train.

There are so many cool things to say about this that I may devote an entire post to it once I have more readings and have played with it for a while. The usefulness of it is only as good as the amount of information you put in. You can use the chart to help guide your training in terms of knowing what days you are best suited to the most difficult workouts. You can use the information to help figure out what types of training (strength, yoga, intervals, endurance runs) tend to require more or less recovery. But, perhaps the most useful aspect is in better understanding how other aspects of your life such as stress from work and personal relationships or even stress reduction via meditation or relaxation change your recovery/activation profile. I see this as the biggest issue facing non-pro athletes: they often think they can partition their stress into bins of work/family/training. But, stress is stress to the body. We like to think of exercise as being good for us but it is absolutely a stress on the body. The good part comes when we allow enough rest to recovery and let the body adapt and get stronger. If we can't get that rest and relaxation because we are stressing our systems in all aspects of our lives, then we have to rethink our approach to training and living in order to achieve our athletic goals.

My HRV chart from the ithlete Pro website
This chart shows my HRV readings for about 2 weeks. There are a cluster of readings up in the left hand quadrant of the chart indicating that I was stressed out and had lower recovery. This was around the time I ran that half marathon. I was also preparing for a really important presentation and was not getting enough sleep. So, the HRV readings during that time just confirmed what my body told me during the race. Since then, my readings have all been in the normal to exceptional range and my workouts have been stellar. I have been sleeping a lot more, cutting back on the heavy strength training and meditating. This is not a free app, but I have found it worth the price so far. I believe the iPhone app cost me $10 and I pay a $5/month fee to use the website (first few weeks were free).                

6. Meditation. Back in 2010, I was really struggling with the mental side of my running and found some wonderful tools on the interwebs to help me. I downloaded a few mp3 tracks of what I was calling hypnosis but now know is actually guided meditation. I posted about the first exciting experience I had using guided mediation in my marathon training here. That was truly extraordinary. Meditation has made its way back into my life through the wonderful studio I am part of called P2O Hot Pilates. They offer a guided meditation class each week and then daily open meditation times first thing in the morning a few days per week. After taking my first class with Nick Anicich, I knew this practice would help me in my running. I started one-on-one coaching with Nick a few weeks ago and it is definitely helping my running. I am learning to focus on my breathing, refocus my thoughts quickly when monkey brain sets in and generally lessen the stress of my life so I can recover. The added bonus is that this practice is spilling over into other parts of my life too. I am such a novice at this point, but I know I will get better at it with time, just like so many other things.

7. Carb depletion and loading. So, my coach Jack Daniels recommended I try a carbohydrate depletion and loading regime for Napa. I know other marathoners who swear by this approach to carb loading and have had some fantastic performances after employing it. To be honest, it freaks me out. Here's how it goes. You do a carb depleting workout on the Sunday before your marathon and then start eating 90% of your daily calories as fat and protein on Monday. You do this through Wednesday and then on Thursday switch to eating 90% carbs through Saturday. The idea is that your body becomes highly glycogen depleted by Wednesday and then supercompensates the next 3 days when you add carbs back to the diet. Because glycogen depletion is one of the main reasons marathoners slow at the end of the race, I am told this particular regimen is only effective at this distance. There are risks to doing this including bloating, feeling like complete dog poop by Wedensday and increased potential for sickness in the week before the marathon. Jack's final words on this were, "at least you can blame me if it doesn't work." I will need every advantage possible in this race, so I am going for it. I will try to keep track of what I eat and how I feel so I can report back to all of you.      

Okay, I believe that is enough for now. Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment or ask questions!      


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 10 lessons in 10 years of running

In all the craziness of this past year, I forgot that 2014 marks my 10 year running anniversary. I started running in August 2004 and ran my first marathon that December. I walked through every aid station and had the time of my life in that marathon. I remember celebrating every mile over 20 because it was the farthest I had run in my entire life. I qualified for the Boston Marathon in that first marathon and was told that this indicated I might have some talent. I'm glad I have continued to run and push the limits of my training to see how fast and strong I can become.

I have learned a ton over the last 10 years and have chronicled about half of that in this blog. I decided to try to summarize some of the top lessons in this post in countdown fashion.

Lesson 10. Know your weaknesses. 

Acknowledge them, but don't beat yourself up about them. These may be cravings that keep you from making your goal weight for your big race or mental weaknesses that crop up every time you do a tempo workout. I have found that it helps to face these things and figure out ways to deal with them. One thing I like to do is remind myself of the bigger goal. Say I am craving that bag of
Lindt candies sitting out on the counter (this would be a real craving, btw). When I reach a point in my work where I want a distraction and can't stop thinking about the candies, I will make myself wait 10 minutes and during that 10 minutes review my racing weight goal. I don't tell myself how horrible a person I am or how fat I will be if I eat those wonderful chocolates, I just try to delay the action and remember why I care about not eating the chocolate. It isn't fool proof, but it mostly works, especially if I do this often. For that dreaded tempo workout, I often have trouble just getting out the door. Once I'm rolling, it doesn't seem to be a problem. So, I try to find ways to get myself out running without thinking about the tough workout I have planned. I often make a running date with someone for an early morning run and run the warm up with them. Since I'm already out there, it is easier to just roll into the workout.      

Lesson 9. Chunk it up.

I decided early on in my marathoning career (at the age of 38!) that I wanted to try to qualify for the
CIM '04. Walking thru
the aid stations!
Olympic Trials (OT). I was a 3:20 marathoner at the time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the massive gulf between my then marathon PR and what I needed to run (a difference of more than 30 minutes!) I decided to chunk it up. That is what I call breaking it down into smaller, bite sized chunks: something I can fit in my mouth and digest. I first set a goal to run a 5k race at the goal marathon pace I needed to get the OT qualifier (6:22 pace at the time). Then, I ran a 10k at that pace, and a 10 miler and half marathon. This took about 5 years. Over that period of time, the standard changed from 2:48 to 2:46, so I had to adjust my pace goals for my races, but I was finally able to take a shot at running an entire marathon at that goal pace. It took me two tries once I was ready to run that pace, but I finally did it in 2010. I use this same approach in workouts and races. It's a simple way of making a big hairy goal doable.

Lesson 8. Run with people (and dogs) that you like.

My running crew
This one might actually be more of a life lesson, but somehow it really sunk in for me once I became a runner. I spend a lot of time running, and I like to run with people for most of it. Well, to be truthful, I really like to run with my dogs, and I treat them like people, so that counts too. I run with a variety of people but they all have one thing in common: I feel good when I run with them. We may not run the same pace all the time, but I try to be respectful of their paces when they need a recovery day and then (politely) excuse myself when I need to run a faster workout. I have made some terrific friends through running, but I have also had to let a few go because they didn't make me feel so good. Of course, I met the Genius through running, and will be forever grateful for that.  


Lesson 7. Be a good sport.


US wins gold in World Mil. Marathon Championships!
Athens, 2010.
This refers back to Lesson 8, actually. I refuse to run with people that are disrespectful to me or make me feel badly. I think my tolerance for acceptable behavior has narrowed as I have gotten older. I value my time too much to turn something that I love like running into a negative emotional cistern. The "one steppers" and runners that can't run a workout without trying to "beat" everyone are just not acceptable training partners to me any longer. Instead, I look forward to spending time with my running partners. I also love the camaraderie that running offers through team membership and competition. I have competed as a member of the Impala Racing Team for the past 6 years and was a member of the US Air Force Military Marathon Team for a few years at the end of my military career. What on the surface seems like an individual effort or accomplishment becomes so much more meaningful when it is run as part of a team.  

Lesson 6. It's okay to be slightly undertrained but don't overtrain.

If you want to accomplish big things in your running, you need to push your physical and mental limits. I had the good fortune of being able to train and race hard for 6 years straight without a running injury. I had wonderful coaching during those first 6 years to attribute some of that to, but I also think I was lucky. When I had my first brush with injury, I was pushing my limits. I was clearly overtrained and needed to back off. My coach was sending me messages in bold type with exclamation points telling me to stop!!!!!! I remember telling her that I wanted to know my limits. I felt like I wouldn't know how far I could push myself until I had gone too far. Luckily, that injury only took me out of action for a month or so and I was able to cross train like a maniac to stay fit. I ran my OT qualifier 6 months later. While injury was an important thing for me to experience as a runner and as a coach, it has continued to be a partner in my running since that first injury.

One of my coaches used to tell me that it is better to go into a marathon slightly undertrained than overtrained, and I don't think I really understood that until I overcooked myself a few times. Recovery from overtraining takes FOREVER! Even if you have a good race, if you trained really, really hard and went into the race slightly overtrained, you can take 6 months or more to recover from the damage of that training cycle. This is okay I think when you're trying to do something big like qualify for an important race or run a big PR. However, you need to understand the sacrifice you're making when you cross that line. I do everything I can to try to keep the athletes I coach from overtraining. I know from experience now that you are much better off being able to train consistently over a longer period of time than throwing everything you have into one training cycle and going for broke. Overtraining doesn't just occur as a result of too much running, either. It is affected by so many other aspects of our lives including life stress, lack of sleep and even excessive strength and cross training. You only have one body and all of these things add stress to it. The key to becoming a stronger and faster runner is to cycle stress and recovery in a way that is anabolic rather than catabolic over time. You can easily become overtrained off of a relatively low volume of running if the other stresses in your life are too great and your body cannot recover.        

Lesson 5. Know your body.

One of the first important lessons I learned about my running body was that I needed more iron than the average bear. I ran for 3 years, slowly depleting my iron stores until one day, my body just
I heart iron
wouldn't move any longer. I was lucky to have a coach at the time who recognized my symptoms and suggested I get my iron stores tested. They were non-existent. What I have learned about my body since then is that, if I don't take iron daily in the liquid form with a vitamin C chaser, I can't keep up with the iron I lose in training and everyday life. That was important to know. I have also spent a lot of time trying to figure out what helps me recover most quickly; what fueling concoction keeps me going in races and workouts; what shoes work best; how I feel under different taper regimens; and on and on. I have found that the best way to quickly figure things out is to pay attention and take good notes. I keep track of a lot of "stuff" in my running log: how I feel in my workouts, what supplements I took; how much strength training I did; what hurt that day; what I thought about the workout; what shoes I wore and how many miles they had on them; etc. Maybe this is too much stuff for most people, but I find it immensely useful when something goes awry and I need answers. I keep a Google spreadsheet with formulas and fancy calculators, but I also like writing in a training journal. I like to say that the spreadsheet is for my left brain and the journal feeds my right. Even with all of this information, I know when I need to cut it out. I know when a pain is no longer something I should run through and when a cold has become more than just a nuisance. These are things you learn about your body over time. There is no substitute for experience.                      

Lesson 4. Build a team of body workers.

Doc Ball's handy work.
I have learned a lot about my body and why it does the bad things that it does from a group of awesome practitioners that have helped fix me over the years. During my first 6 running years, I had some little niggles here and there and found a few good local practitioners to keep me on the roads. In 2010, I became seriously broken and I cycled through the local practitioners until, eventually, none of them could help me. I then wandered to the Arizona desert and found Dr. John Ball. I spent over a week in his care and came out running pain free. What Dr. Ball wasn't able to do was keep me from making stupid mistakes with my training. I spent the better part of 2010-2012 injured on and off, making the same training mistakes over and over. I have been back to see Dr. Ball twice more with similar positive outcomes, but he is in Arizona and I am in California. I am not a professional athlete and can't afford the trip to Arizona, so I have worked to develop a team of local practitioners that help keep me on the road. I have learned something really valuable from each person I have worked with over the years. On my last trip to see Dr. Ball he gave me hip mobility exercises and glute strengthening exercises to keep me out of trouble and they have worked! I also roll my legs with a lacrosse ball and this tool regularly and get a massage from Jen Walker at CMT Sports Therapy every 2-3 weeks. When I start to feel something a bit more serious crop up, I have learned to rest it and get it worked on right away.        

Lesson 3. Believe in yourself.

So much of our running success is mental rather than physical. We are learning more every single day about the complexities of mind and body and how to maximize our training to benefit both. In some ways, it was so much simpler back when I was new to running. I was constantly improving and learning new things to apply to my training. It seemed like everything I did helped me PR in the next race. I PR'd for years in every distance, well, until I didn't. I not only became injured, chronically, but I found both my physical and mental limits. While injury is a physical manifestation of overtraining, I think the mental aspect is the hardest part to take. You're this runner person who thrives on thrashing your body with these ridiculously hard workouts and are used to watching it bounce back, ready for more. Then one day, your body says no. Not gonna let you do that again. I'm gonna hurt. I'm gonna
hurt for a few weeks. In fact, if you try to do that again, I 'm gonna hurt a lot worse, maybe not even let you walk. The emotional roller coaster ride is obnoxious as hell and you start to lose faith in your ability to run fast ever again. I have watched runners succumb to this and never recover. But there are also many great examples of runners who continued to believe in their ability to come back and end up running even faster and stronger. It is that fundamental belief in yourself that keeps you going when you face the worst. I have experienced the worst health issues of my life in the last year and have begun to train for and had to stop training for 4 marathons in that time because of it. Giving up is always such an easy answer, and I really wanted to at the worst of times. But, I have this megaphone in my ear telling me that I can run faster than I ever have if everything comes together and I believe that. I think back to that 3:20 marathoner who wanted to run in the Olympic Trials. I made that happen. I worked hard and I believed. I can do the same now and so can you.  

Lesson 2. Get a coach.

I have been fortunate to have some wonderful coaches over the years. I tried the self coaching thing for a very short time and realized that I am prone to running myself into the ground without the guidance of a neutral third party to point out how silly some of my ideas are. I like having a plan to follow and someone to bounce ideas off of. I do believe I have learned enough at this point to know that I need to first and foremost listen to my body and take a conservative approach to my training. However, I will always have that drive to want to do more and a good coach tempers that. I am currently coached by Jack Daniels through the Run S.M.A.R.T Project and feel very lucky to have his guidance. I have not been injured in over a year though I have had some serious health issues, as I mentioned in Lesson 3 and have written about profusely for about a year. Despite those health issues, I have been able to keep training and am so excited to finally get to finish a marathon training plan and race in March at the Napa Valley Marathon! To be honest, at this point, I don't much care what the time outcome of that race is. For me, getting in a quality block of marathon training and running a strong race are my goals. That doesn't mean I'm not going to go for it and try to qualify for the Olympic Trials if I feel as though my training justifies that, but for now, I feel grateful to be training consistently and feeling good.          

Lesson 1. Don't give up on your dreams.

If you made it to this final lesson, I hope you can see that they all tie back to this one. Sometimes the pathway to my dreams seems to be paved with excuses and the faces of a few ugly people who want me to fail. However, when I can see my dream and really believe in myself, those things are simply small pebbles in the path and I can easily step over them (or crush their faces under my feet!). The foundation of the path includes the hard training that I have put in over the years and everything I have learned about myself. It includes the hardships I have faced and overcome as well as the stories of others who have accomplished amazing things in their lives. It includes my huge support system--those people (and animals) that help me on a daily basis to keep moving forward, one chunk at a time. If I choose to focus on the larger goals and the positive, then the dream remains alive.

Keep the dream alive people!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

For Sadie Pants



Sadie Pants Marty. 2001-2014
I had always thought that animals come into our lives somewhat randomly. We go to the pound or look at pictures on a website and choose them almost arbitrarily. Someone once told me that they thought animals chose us, and the animals that I've had the good fortune to share my life with have made me a believer. 

Sadie, aka Hope, 2001
Sadie was named Hope when I first found her on the internet in 2001. I think these were the days of the cable modem, so it took a concerted effort on my part to hunt her down. She was from a bad part of Modesto and part of a large litter. Her SPCA picture captivated me, but it was the actual meeting of this little butterball that convinced me she was the one for me, even as her brothers and sisters tried very hard to convince me they were the better choice. The name Hope didn't seem to fit, though I now see the beauty in it. I named her after lyrics in a Dr. Dre song I was listening to on the drive home: "...and get to mackin with this bitch named Sadie, she used to be the homeboy's lady." It stuck.
   
Sadie enjoyed a long life of adventure. I lived in Knights Landing, CA when I first got her and she had a large yard and acres and acres of farmland to cruise around on our daily walks. She developed a hatred for chickens after she was terrorized by the mean-as-shit roosters that the previous tenants had left behind at the house I was renting. Many chickens would be sacrificed for those roosters' hijinx. I hope never again in my life to ask someone, "how can I reimburse you for your chicken?"         

Sadie had many companions over the years. She loved kitties. Well, she ate a few too, but she loved
Sadie and Astro, 2001
the ones that I loved. She also had her doggie companions. Astro, a world-renowned, pig-hunting Catahoula, was unfortunately a short-lived partner. He died when she was about 6 months old but no doubt taught her quite a few important details about being a dog.  

The love of her life was a coonhound named Buddy. He was the most loving dog I have ever had the pleasure to meet and a perfect, low key, companion for her. Sadie liked very few dogs, but Buddy was love at first sight. They shared the better part of nine years together and were only separated when Buddy became suddenly ill with a sickness that took his life in 2011.
Sadie and Buddy, 2002. The day I brought Buddy home for Sadie.
Logan and Sadie, 2011.
After Buddy went, I knew that I needed another companion for Sadie. I wanted another Coonhound and found Logan on the internet (how I find all of my dogs). The Genius and I drove all the way to Yreka to meet him and adopted him on the spot. I was terribly nervous about whether this little guy would be welcomed by Sadie, given that she really didn't get along with many other dogs. Maybe this wasn't love at first sight, but they got along very well. Logan added years to her life, I am sure. Because I have a thing for hounds, I adopted a third dog in 2012 to bring me very close to the edge of "crazy dog lady". This one has been a handful, but I am glad that she chose me when she did so she had a chance to learn from Sadie and bring some puppy energy into Sadie's last years. One of my favorite pass times was watching Sadie and Bella spar in that fun dog way that they do--full of pomp and circumstance and lots of great puppy noises.   
 

Logan, Sadie, and Bella. 2012. Where do the people sleep?


Sadie has been a part of my life for so long, it is hard to imagine it without her. In fact, as I was watching her sleep in the sun yesterday, I realized that she has been the basis for numerous major life decisions during the last 13 years. 

I chose the house I currently live in for its proximity to the American River and the opportunity to take daily walks with Sadie and Buddy. I wasn't a runner back then, and am now incredibly grateful for them guiding me to this gorgeous spot so I can now run along the river too.

The dog van. 2004.



I bought Sadie and Buddy a Vanagon for Christmas one year so we could travel around California camping in style. Of course, she was my litmus test for people too. If Sadie didn't like someone, I knew something was wrong. Then there were the numerous small decisions I made every day, always with her best interest in mind.

Unlike my two hound dogs, Sadie never ran much with me. I didn't become a runner until later in her life, and we had a routine of walking, not running, twice a day down by the river. Ironically, as she got older, she ran more with me. I didn't want her to feel left out after I would run the youngins, so I would take her on a leisurely 1-2 mile dog jog afterward. We were able to run together up until about a year ago when arthritis in her back made it uncomfortable.

Coach T
Some of you may recall a few years back when Sadie became my coach for a while. It was in response to Ryan Hall's announcement that he was being coached by God. I figured I could then be coached by Dog. She wanted to be called Coach T, for Tuner Pants, because that's the name she liked best.  She was a hard ass and ultimately, we had to end the coach-athlete relationship. Her training methods were unorthodox, always about running for treats and chasing after things. She didn't really understand the concept of intervals. Run them into the ground was her method.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to work from home these last two years, especially in these last couple of months. To be able to spend so much time with her in her final months was priceless. She was my office companion. She would hobble into the office at around 9 or so and flop down in the middle of the floor, sprawled out like a rug. There she remained all day long unless something outside needed her attention.

I struggled mightily with the question of when/if to put her down. I believe that death is a natural part of life and was so worried about robbing her of a natural process that she needed to go through to pass from this world. I absolutely did not want to do it out of convenience for me. I tried the best I could to respect her needs. Deep in my soul, I knew that I could not let her suffer unnecessarily and would choose the option to have her put to sleep to spare her hurting.

That day came today. Saturday night was a horrible night for her. She woke in the middle of the night and was clearly in pain. I upped her pain meds until she finally quieted. I had a race to run on Sunday and really, really, really did not want to leave her. I had made a commitment to my team that I would run the race and did not want to leave them short a runner, so I went. I ran thinking about her every step and cried the whole way. I ran past the finish line straight to my car and drove back to her. Though she was doing much better all day, and ate lots and lots of doggie treats, she had another horrible night last night and I knew it was time.

We enjoyed a few more hours this morning, sitting in the sun in the back yard, with me staring at all those spots, trying to memorize every last one of them before never seeing them again and her nose actively sniffing the scents of her domain for the last time. The Genius and I were holding and petting her when she went very peacefully. I plan to take her cremated remains, along with Buddy's, up to Fiske Peak and let them be carried by the wind into the wonderful canyon below where we spent so many Thanksgivings.

And so I go back to a favorite book of mine by Pam Houston called Sight Hound when mourning my loss. It's about the intersection of dog and people love, and I always draw comfort from this quote of hers about her dog, Dante:    
  
"What I didn’t understand then, what I couldn’t have understood until I watched him breathe his last breath, is that nothing could take him away from me, not cancer, not an amputation, and not even sodium phenobarbital; that only in his dying could I truly understand the way I would have him forever, the way I’d had him forever all along, the way I will see him, whenever I need him, running across that big green pasture into my arms."

I love you Sadie Pants.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

CIM minus

From the title of this post you can probably already tell what's coming: I'm not running CIM. Why? Because I'm scheduled for surgery on December 2nd.

When I had my first surgery to remove my fibroid baby in August, the surgeon was able to scrape about 80% of it out. The doc told me that, for many women, this was sufficient to resolve their problems and suggested a wait-and-see approach. I did not want to wait and see whether my hemorrhaging resumed and asked him to schedule the second surgery to remove the rest. I waited for about a month and finally got a call from scheduling offering me the December 2nd date. I told them that I had a marathon 5 days later and couldn't take the date. They said they would see if they could find something else.

A month went by with no calls from Kaiser. I was fine with this because I wasn't having any symptoms. A little over a week ago, that changed. I was back in hemorrhagic hell for about 5 days and missed a race because of it. I realized that I needed to take the surgery date that was available. I have also asked to have the inside of my uterus cauterized (called ablation) so I never bleed again--or at least for several years. Because I was able to get my blood levels up after the surgery, this episode didn't take much out of me. However, I definitely felt the impact. It is absolutely stunning how good I feel with higher hemoglobin levels. I vow to never let them drop again!

In case you're counting, this is the 5th time I've started training for and not been able to run a marathon in the last 12 months. It is frustrating, but each training cycle I have gotten a little stronger. I had some of the best training of my life in the last couple of months and that fitness does not go away overnight. As long as I keep training, it will carry right over to the next race.

The lovely Napa Valley Marathon course.
My current plan is to run the Napa Valley Marathon on March 1st, which seems fitting since it's sponsored by Kaiser. It's a great race and fast course, though the only time I've run it was in 2006--the year that there was a 15 mph headwind and freezing rain the entire way (it's a point to point course). A headwind is unusual for that race, so I am hoping the weather will be more favorable this time around. They've also had tailwind years. Fingers crossed for that!

I worked my way up to 20 mile runs with 10-13 miles at marathon pace before all of this went down, and I was feeling really strong. I am reducing the mileage of my longer runs now (though maintaining my overall training volume) and getting back to some speedier running before I launch back into marathon training in a few weeks. I'm hoping to get a fast half marathon and 5k out of my current fitness in the next month. Keeping my fingers crossed that my body cooperates.

A little hip niggle over the last couple of weeks scared me back into doing my rehab work. When I'm feeling good, I tend to forget the weaknesses in my right side that need constant attention. I have been doing tons of strength work these last several months, but as the PT noted, I am using the same compensations in that training as in my running and making everything else strong while my poor glute is neglected. Focused exercises are the name of the game. The niggle went away and I've noticed some improvement in my right side strength. It was also a good reminder to me to roll both sides of my body equally. My left side tends to be tighter than the right, but the left side never hurts. I tend to roll the side that hurts more than the other and that just exacerbates the problem leaving my left side tight and loosening up an already mobile right side.      

Speaking of rolling, if you haven't seen this guy before, you should check him out. His name is Enso, and he works miracles. All those little discs are adjustable. Painful genius.


  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

CIM minus 10 weeks: aiming high

Weekly summary:

70 miles
1 speed workout: 5 x 1000m/3 min recovery (3:26 ave.) + 6 x 200m/200m recovery (34 sec ave.)
1 long run: 20 miles moderate (7:05 pace)
6 hours strength training (3 x hot pilates, 1 x kettlebells, 1 x barre, 1 x bikini butt) 

This has been an interesting week in a number of ways. I was anxious in the first half of the week about the speed workout I had lined up for Wednesday. I haven't run many speed workouts in the past several months and the last attempt (3 weeks ago) went really badly. For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you are aware that, relatively speaking, I am much faster at the longer races. For example, my marathon PR equates to a 16:57 5k, but I have only barely broken 18:00 for that distance at my fittest. The main reason for this disparity is that I don't practice at 5k pace. I started running as a marathoner and have focused on that distance at the exclusion of all others. I am very comfortable with the discomfort of running a lot of marathon paced miles but am very uncomfortable holding 5k pace. That's why I was anxious.

My paces for this workout were also very ambitious. 5:24 pace is fast for me, but I wanted to give it a shot. I asked the Genius if he wanted to do the workout with me and maybe help pace me for some of it. Thankfully, he agreed. I'm not sure I could have pushed myself that hard without help. I was pretty sure I could hold 83 second quarters for this workout and that was my goal, even though my training plan called for 81. My fastest 1000m workout ever averaged 3:35. So, this would be new territory. I wondered whether I had ever really pushed myself in an interval workout and I really wanted to try to do that here.

We started off the first 1000 and I was right on The Genius' heels. Despite getting a slight tingling feeling in my fingers at the end, it felt reasonable. First 1000m = 3:22 (81 sec/400m). We jogged the 3 minutes (which is a long time) and started again. This time, I started to fall behind my pacer. I felt like I was going backwards fast. I didn't look at my watch, but he pulled away from me in the last 200m and I started to feel heavy-legged and tingly as I tried to keep up. Second 1000m = 3:22. The Genius was speeding up, which made me feel better. However, I also realized the signs of oxygen debt coming on too early in this workout and decided to dial it back a bit. I ran the next three 1000m repeats in 3:30-3:31. I didn't take my splits during the repeat for these but just tried to concentrate on holding a hard but steady pace. I was happy that the early fast intervals didn't compromise the final miles of this workout. I felt good at the end. I finished the last 200m of the last repeat with a very strong mind repeating my new mantra, 2-4-2, to myself as I pushed it to the line. We finished this workout with some fast 200s. I ran all of them in 34-35 seconds and they felt great. 

Much like the threshold pace run last week, this workout was a huge confidence booster for me. I lack confidence at the shorter distances so this was a really important training experience. To know that I can push myself and even start out too fast and still hold it together was big. 

I had a straight up, easy to moderate paced long run of 20 miles on Saturday and wanted to try to get my legs a bit tired before that run so I could work on running long on tired legs. So far, my mileage for this cycle hasn't taken me to a point where I experience muscle fatigue during my runs. I decided instead to use strength training to tire my legs out before this long run and see how that felt. I did back to back classes at P2O Hot Pilates on Friday night taking Bethany's Kettlebells and Barre classes. These were great workouts and my legs did feel pretty tired. I want to add a caveat to this experiment, and say I would never tire myself out with strength work the day before a hard workout (meaning a workout with faster paces in it). In fact, I try to "protect my workouts" by doing easy strength work two days before a planned workout and none the day before. Last week's botched midweek workout taught me an important lesson about how long it takes me to recover from strength work. 
 
I met my speedy friend, Juliet, again this weekend for the first 10 miles of my long run. She needed to be home early so we started at 5:15 a.m. I am always willing to wake up super early on the weekend to meet a good friend and training partner! We negative split that first 10 and had a great run. I was able to lose my headlamp at the halfway point and take in another dose of Generation Ucan before heading back out for the second half. I also negative split that 10 miles and averaged 6:37 pace for the last 5 miles. My legs did feel tired at the end, but they were still very capable of running fast. The bonus of starting so early was that I was done by 8:00 a.m.!

I had someone mention on Facebook that she thought it was great that I was putting my goals out there so boldly. My goal of running 2:42:XX is absolutely a stretch goal for me, but I believe I can run that time if everything comes together. It is absolutely a gamble to put it out there in the world though--telling people that I am trying to do this huge thing. What if I fail? Will people think I was stupid for trying? While I risk taking a hit to the ego if I come up short, I think putting my big goals out there will help me more than hurt me. Every time I tell someone I am trying to run 2:42 for a marathon, it makes that goal a little more real. It keeps me honest in workouts and even in my strength training where I use my mantra of 2-4-2 when I start to shake in the last few reps in a tough class. It is becoming part of my psyche right now. I am gaining that mental focus that I remember developing before I ran my qualifier in Chicago. 

Running healthy again has given me perspective. The last 9 months of health problems kindled a fire inside me that is helping me accomplish extraordinary things in this training cycle. I am running faster than I ever have and am challenging myself in new ways. It is both exciting and scary. I never want to experience health problems like that again, but I am grateful for the perspective it has given me.

                 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CIM minus 11 weeks: the reality show

Weekly summary:
61 miles
1 missed workout
1 long run: 19 miles w/ 4.5 miles easy + 2 miles T (LT pace) + 5.5 easy + 2 x 2 T pace w/2 min jog + 2.5 E
6 hours strength training

This training week was both marginal and spectacular for me. It was marginal because I missed a workout. That is such a hard thing to deal with emotionally, especially when it is due to stupidity (on my part). The spectacular part was the long run I did get in. I am pretty sure this one counts as a breakthrough workout. I had planned to run 65 miles this week, so I came close to that. All in all, I would put this week in the plus column.

I missed the workout because I was testing my limits with strength training. I started adding serious strength work into my exercise regime about 6 months ago. It started with a couple of months of hot yoga and then I found P2O Hot Pilates in Midtown Sacramento and knew I'd found a the right place. I have been training there for 4 months now. I started gradually taking a variety of classes but no more than 2 per week. I worked my way up to 3 and then 4 per week within a couple of months. Now, I do 4-6 workouts per week. These are mostly hour long classes and they are hard--the hardest strength classes I've ever taken.

This week, I was feeling ambitious and decided to double up on Monday with a kettlebells and hot pilates class followed by a 6 mile run with our run group. I think that would have been okay had I not done hot pilates and a bikini butt class the two days prior. On Tuesday, I was feeling pretty worked. By Wednesday, my planned workout day, I knew I wasn't going to be able to deliver anything close to fast running, so I just ran easy. I thought I would postpone the workout to Thursday, but work got in the way of that. So, there I was, on Friday with a workout to do. I got my new training plan from Jack and the Saturday long run meant I wasn't running anything fast on Friday. I bit the bullet and let the midweek workout go and decided to focus my energy on having a great workout Saturday.

I was lucky enough to convince a friend to meet me for the warm up of this workout, but she needed to meet at 5:30 a.m. Having someone to meet and getting the workout done early were way more important than sleeping in on a Saturday. My friend is 4 months pregnant and amazingly fit. She pushed me for the first 4.5 miles!! After we parted ways, I put in my headphones and took off at T pace. On my training schedule, my T pace has been 5:54 for over a month now, but I have not been able to hit that pace. The last few weeks, I've flirted with it, but never nailed it. I didn't intend to do it on Saturday either. I have been treating my target paces as something to work toward as I become fitter.

It was completely dark out when I started my speed work, and I was able to just get a nice rhythm going. I decided I would only look at my pace at the 1/2 mile markers. I hit the first one and saw 2:54 as my split. I thought, "this is going to be a long day" realizing I was really pushing the pace early. I split the first mile in 5:51 and the second in 5:55 (hilly mile). I now had 5+ miles to think about those next 4 miles at T pace. My legs were feeling a little tired from the barre class I had taken the night before.

With 13 miles on my legs I started the next 2 miles and split that in 11:46! I was so excited, I was actually running my goal T pace at the end of this long run. The last 2 miles weren't nearly as pretty, but I still split 11:52. I then jogged back to my car, pretty pumped about what had just gone down. I love the breakthrough workouts. You never know when they'll happen, but they always do when you're putting in the work and taking care of the machine.

I definitely need to keep playing with the strength schedule to find the ideal mix to compliment and not detract from my running workouts, which have to be the priority. I tell my athletes to "protect their workouts" which means don't do a super hard strength workout the day before a hard running workout or try to run off of 4 hours of sleep. Treat your workouts like races. I think I have given an example here of what happens when you don't! The key to experimentation of this kind is not pushing yourself so far that you can't recover from any mistakes you might make. The smart decision I made was not doing the running workout midweek after I had cooked my body. Had I done that, I might have pushed myself over the edge into injurious territory or overtraining. Neither pops up immediately, so I'm not out of the woods.          

There is no doubt that the strength work I am doing is making me a faster runner. I have never been able to hit paces like I did this week in a long run like that, not even during my build up to my fastest marathons. Get your strength work in, listen to your body and make smart decisions! These are the lessons to be learned from this week.

On Saturday, I took those Oiselle Distance Shorts for a ride and earned my coffee! 
          

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The build up to CIM


It is official. I am entered in the Cal International Marathon to be held on 7 December 2014.  This will be my 7th time running CIM and my 21st marathon. Did I mention that 7 is my lucky number? Kismet.

I have decided to update this blog much more frequently as I build up to the marathon--posting about my training and racing each week as well as the little things that I am doing to stay healthy and strong. If my past marathon training is any indication of how this one will go, it should be an interesting ride.

I am finally feeling healthy enough to make a run at an Olympic Trials Qualifier in this race, and that is exciting. However, so many things have to come together to make that happen. I have had magical days before and will continue to push myself in training and believe that I can achieve this big goal.

Please, join me for the ride. Eleven weeks and counting...

Thanks, Lindy, for posting this!