Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dress to compress

Someone pointed out to me at the No Excuses 5k just how many people are now wearing compression socks and sleeves.  They wanted to attribute this phenomenon to me starting to wear them in training and at races, but I am not taking any credit.  Other speedsters like Paula Radcliffe and Gete Wami have been wearing them on and off for years.  I think the Escays were the first on the Sacto running scene to be seen wearing them regularly, so give them the credit.

I first started wearing them for recovery after my trip to Washington D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon in October.  As I've noted before, I didn't have a great experience there because my body felt like hell.  After the race I was emailing back and forth with my coach from the Impala Racing Team and mentioned that my legs felt really dead before and during the race.  He asked if I had worn compression socks on the flight over.  Of course, I had not.  I wasn't even aware this was necessary.  He said I should definitely get a pair and wear them on the flight to Belgrade because they can really help reduce leg swelling and maintain good circulation in addition to preventing clots.  I bought a fashionable pair of the white, drugstore knee-highs that night. 

I had seen runners wearing them during training and races for years and always wondered what was up.  So, I went in to Fleet Feet Sports to check out what they had in stock for my trip to Belgrade.  I chatted with store owner and triathlete Pat Sweeney about his experience wearing them.  I found out that he swears by them.  I bought a pair of knee-high recovery socks and was thinking about getting a pair of the sleeves for training.  Pat was very enthusiastic about the sleeves he had tried from RecoFIT Sports.  He ran upstairs and grabbed one of them for me to try on.  It seemed to fit and he told me to run with that one and see what I thought.  I thought the idea he had was for me to test the one out and compare how that leg felt with the other leg.  I later found out he just couldn't find the other sleeve.

So, I started with just the one sleeve.  It looked a little weird, but that doesn't really phase me much.  I quickly realized the folly in this experiment and sent a note to the owner of RecoFIT Sports explaining how I only had the one sleeve and wanted to find out how to get a complete set.  She had great empathy for me and sent a complimentary pair to me right away.

I have worn these sleeves for the last few months of training and racing and feel like I can properly evaluate their merits.  Of course, as I always say, I am but a sample size of one in this big experiment, so take my data for what it's worth.  I don't believe compression devices confer much if any advantage while racing in terms of performance.  I do think, however, that they speed your recovery and that is super important.  This seems to jive with an article written by Brian Metzler for Running Times recently.  He cites a 2007 study that compared the performance (measured as maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate and minute ventilation) of treadmill runners wearing the sleeves to those not wearing them and found no difference between the two groups.  They did find a significant result in shorter lactate recovery rate after exercise in the runners wearing the socks.

I also think that they provide biomechanical support or reduce lower leg jiggle.  I have had consistent issues with tight calves and tender shins for as long as I've been running.  Nothing that has ever kept me from training, but just a side-effect of running.  I've noticed this tenderness is much reduced since I've been wearing these things, especially the RecoFIT version.  I have also tried the Zensah sleeves, but they're just not as well designed and executed. They don't seem to support my leg as well. 

I do have to say that wearing these bad boys takes a whole lot more commitment in the summer months as opposed to the winter.  First, there's the heat issue.  You're wearing a black, tight fitting piece of spandex on your lower leg when it's 90+ degrees out!  I do have to say I didn't really notice them when running in the heat in Belgrade.  They were actually the least of my worries.   I'm also somewhat concerned about the funky tan line I'm developing that leaves the impression of wearing a winter-white knee-high on my lower leg all summer.  Not attractive!  I guess that's why they make fake tan in a bottle.

Finally, I got a great tip from Pat about wearing full-on compression tights.  These are apparently quite popular with the Tri guys.  I bought a pair of Zoot tights from Fleet Feet and wore those on all of my flights to and from Europe.  I think these are much better than just the socks in this circumstance.  I noticed a major difference in how my legs felt after these flights.  Major.  I also wore these after super hard training efforts for several hours post workout.  I think this helped with recovery too.

So, you have lots of options for compressing.  You will get occasional snide comments from trail monkeys or a sassy little whistle here and there if you're lucky.  As a gadget junky, I always suggest you try new things to see if they work for you.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Keeping it real

I have been asked by more than 2 people about the title of my last post, so I'll start by explaining the dealio.  It was an inappropriate attempt at dark humor on my part, really.  The one time I channel surfed and caught the Tyra Banks Show, she was parading a circus of girls with eating disorders on her stage.  It was one of those morbid fascination encounters where I just couldn't look away.  The one that stuck in my head was the girl with pica disease who ate baby powder to sate her appetite.  The girl who ate cotton balls was a close second, but baby powder--ack.

Now, on to this week's training..

As I looked through the weighty tome I received from my coach entitled "Jaymee 17 weeks to Twin Cities Marathon", I noticed a subtle reminder that my goal training paces had been adjusted to the slower side. Maybe the yellow highlight wasn't so subtle.  Physiologically, this makes so much sense, but psychologically, it's a little harder to handle.  These were the same paces I had heading into my last cycle of training for Belgrade (except the goal marathon pace was slower for that one):

Goal Marathon Pace: 6:16-6:20 
Marathon training pace: 6:30-6:35 
1/2 Marathon: 6:10-6:15
LT: 6:00-6:10 
10k: 5:55-6:00 
5k: 5:45-5:50

A good year of training has cycles.  For me, these tend to revolve around marathon races.  I'll gear up for a marathon for a few months, increasing volume and intensity of my training, peak, race, and then spend a couple of months recovering.  I had achieved a new high level of fitness in my last training cycle right around the Shamrock'n half marathon.  The time I ran there is my fastest race at any distance to date.  After that race, my coach adjusted my paces down a notch to reflect this new level of fitness.  Of course, when I started up this new training cycle, I was looking at those paces and race times thinking they were my new baseline.  It is really hard for me mentally to adjust my expectations for training paces down for the 6-8 weeks or more after a marathon, but I think it is very important to make sure I don't burn out or get injured.

My coach doesn't seem to believe in pure and simple, unpolluted easy running days.  I found on average 1-2 days per week where all I'm supposed to do is run or jog easy.  There are several more "easy runs" in there, but there's always some sort of plyometric, stride, sprint, or hill shizzle built in.  I used to see these as options or suggestions rather than part of the workout and would prune them if I was feeling tired or sore.  I don't do that anymore.  I realize that every little thing she puts in my schedule has a purpose and I make sure I get it done.  

So, this week started with a good workout at the No Excuses 5k and just got better from there--after Wednesday. I went to a dinner party Tuesday night and had a lovely time enjoying the outdoor setting but was bombarded by pollen and munched by mosquitoes.  I snoozed through my 4:45 wake up call the next morning leaving myself only one option for running my 8 miles: at night in 90 degree heat.  Bugger it gets hot here.  I also dreaded this situation because it meant less than 10 hours recovery between that run (which included plyo drills) and the next morning's hard workout.

Thursday's 8 mile workout, as scheduled, was packed with delightfulness.  While programming this one into my Garmin, I realized it was not all going to fit into the prescribed 8 miles, so I estimated about 10 miles.  Sprinkles had the same workout, so we headed out together from our usual early morning meeting spot.  It's now light enough at 5:15 for us to head straight to the American River Parkway trail to run.  This is a true summertime treat.  

We did a nice 3 mile warm up and then started our sprint training after a few strides.  These short little suckers are surprisingly tiring because you're going at a gut-busting pace.  We then made our way back to the William Pond Park Bridge which I use for hill repeats of 75 seconds or less. This set of 10-15 x 60 sec hills at 3k effort with 60 second jog down rest was going to be a logistical challenge since I knew we would run out of hill if we only jog rested for 60 seconds. So we took a generous extra 30 seconds to get down the hill.  I was happy to be holding the same pace for these as I did a couple of weeks ago when I only did 8 of them (though they were 75 seconds long for that workout).  I felt super strong even on the last repeat and was very happy that Sprinkles stuck it out with me maxing out the reps at 15.  When I looked at my Garmin to see how far we had gone, it read 12.5 miles at that point.  I told Sprinkles I thought we should skip the 10x strides that were prescribed and she looked like she was going to kiss me for that.  So, we ran about 13.3 miles that day.      

This morning's workout made me realize I am starting to break through the other side of recovery.  I can feel the speed returning to my little legs.  We selected an early morning start and had a nice group of early girlies to run with for the warm up.  My 15 miler included a step down workout of timed repeats all at 10k effort.  I did 7, 6, 5, 5, 3, 2, 1 minutes @ 10k effort with half the rep time jog rest.  I had actually been looking forward to this workout.  I can do reps like this all day long.  Mentally, these are so much easier for me than long steady runs at LT effort.  I like having that rest break to look forward to.

I wasn't sure what pace my 10k effort was going to translate into, so I gave my Garmin workout program a wide berth--5:50-6:10 minutes per mile.  It is probably somewhat counter productive to program a pace for effort-based workouts.  I am a data geek and thrive off of instantaneous feedback.  I like it when my Garmin beeps at me calling me a lard ass making me speed up.  I also like it when it trills in the opposite direction and I am feeling comfortable at that fast pace.

My paces were 6:00, 6:05, 5:59, 5:57, 5:58, 5:50, 5:33.  It all felt like 10k effort and well in control.  We finished the run with 8 strides and I felt just fine.  An honest effort to top off a good 68-mile week of training.

Next week: more miles and harder workouts.  I even get to do 400 meter repeats!  I haven't done those in ages.  I'll need them to get me ready to face those cute fez-topped Shriners in their little cars at the Shriner's 8k race in a couple of weeks!          

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Maybe I should start eating baby powder...

I got my new training schedule from my coach yesterday.  Reviewing the summer torturefest she has prescribed for my next 17 weeks of training, I realized the enormity of what I am trying to accomplish.  I looked up statistics on how many women qualified at either the A (2:38) or B (2:47) standard for the Olympic Marathon Trials held in 2008:  181 women. How many of them were over the age of 40?  14 women.  And that standard was a minute slower.  Only 136 (75%) of these women ran a time fast enough to qualify for the new B standard of 2:46.  This analysis led me to ask the following question of myself:  what in the hell are you thinking? 

I start with this in part deux of my weight blog because I think it helps explain why I think the way I do about my weight.  It should serve to reassure you that I am not interested in losing weight or changing my body composition to look better.  I actually like the way I look and do not think I am fat.  My weight management goals are based on my running goals and shaped by the laws of physics. 

In fact, I have suffered from bipolar exercise disorder most of my life experiencing manic cycles of jazzercise-like activity followed by depressive cycles of hydroponic butt-farming on the couch.  I now understand why this was--my fitness goals were all shaped by a desire to look “fit” rather than a more compelling goal like running in the Olympic marathon trails at age 44.

I take my professional running career (and yes, I think I qualify as a professional runner after the windfall I won in Belgrade though I have yet to see a single Euro from them) pretty seriously.  I recognize that lacing up my running shoes daily and running hundreds of miles a week will not get me to my goal.  Rather, I have to train like a professional athlete and this involves a certain lifestyle.  I see running, both physical and mental strength training, nutrition and weight management as equal factors affecting my fitness and performance (well, the compression socks are vital too).  I also recognize that these factors are all interconnected in that an imbalance in one area can ripple out to affect all of the others.

How I lost 5 lbs without trying

Last summer I was traveling in China and Mongolia and ended up on an involuntary form of the Adkins diet. Mutton and cheese were on the menu every day and not a lot of food was provided to me (hmmm...this sounds a lot like Serbia).  Our eating schedule was completely whack with breakfast at 6 a.m., lunch around 3 p.m. (with only a ration of the Chinese version of moon pies to eat in between) and dinner generally around 9 p.m though we once ate dinner at midnight.  As a result, I ended up losing about 5 pounds during the 3 weeks I was gone and most of this was body fat.  

I was not unhappy with this change in my body composition.  I had people commenting on how fit I looked and asking what strength-training program I had initiated to look that way.  I had done no strength training, but I had removed a layer of insulation from the surface of these muscles allowing them to show through. 

I noticed a concomitant change in my fitness level pretty quickly.  I was killing my workouts and starting to perform really well in races.  I decided I liked the new me and wanted to try to maintain this leaner configuration.  So, I took this weight loss as an opportunity to change my eating habits and lifestyle. 

How I kept it off 

I decided to start tracking everything I ate using a clever little iPhone application called Absolute Fitness (version 2.1).  I was chiefly concerned about my net calorie intake as well as the composition of fat, protein and carbs in my diet.  I wanted to try to keep my fat intake low (<20%).>

This plan has worked very well for me mostly because I am capable of exhibiting self-control with my eating (on most days).  I do this by reminding myself of my long-term goal of running 2:46 when I am tempted by the entire carrot cake sitting in my kitchen from a friend’s party or by that beautiful In-n-Out burger sign on my way home from a work trip.  

I have also become a lot smarter about the foods I eat and their relative nutritional contribution to my diet.  I am able to plan my meals before races and workouts using this iPhone application to ensure I have the right proportion of carbs in my diet.  I can also see when I have a major calorie deficit and need to bulk up on foods in order to have the energy the next day for my workouts.  I hope you can see just how much work this is. 

When the program stopped working 

After I ran my 2:50 marathon at CIM (btw, did anyone notice that I ran 5 minutes faster at CIM than I did 7 months earlier in Eugene after losing 5 lbs?) I was still slowly losing weight (got down to 126) and feeling great.  I was continuing to track what I ate, maintaining the same calorie load and nutritional balance as before.  The only thing that really changed was a slight increase in running volume and intensity.  In about February, I started noticing that my weight leveled off.  I saw this as no big deal because my body fat continued to go down.  Then, my weight started going up to about 128 while my body fat continued to go down (about 9-10% right before Belgrade).   

You may be thinking right now that I have a bad scale.  While this may be true, I'm talking about trends over time rather than daily ups and downs.  Though I know the body fat measurement on my scale is not accurate, it is precise in that I weigh myself on it daily at roughly the same time and therefore have the ability to compare the values on a relative basis.  There is variation around the mean to be sure, but there is a downward trend in body fat and an upward trend in weight that cannot be disputed.  I have the data. 

I became pretty discouraged at this point.  I was working my butt off (or so I thought) and being so vigilant about my diet.  Furthermore, I was lifting no weights and was doing strength workouts similar to what I had done for the last couple of years.  What was going on?  I don’t know for sure of course but my working hypothesis is simply that I was gaining a whole lot of muscle while I was losing that fat. 

I think my body is still transforming into a runner’s body since I am still a relatively new runner.  I look at recent pictures of myself in full stride and don’t really recognize my body as my own sometimes (and I don’t want to when the race photographer catches me on the down swing with every percentage point of body fat trending toward the core of the earth). 

Where do I go from here? 

My wise coach told me to be less concerned about my weight and focus instead on reducing my body fat.  As she pointed out, the muscle I am gaining is running specific (except that my brain is also getting gigantic because I’m getting so much smarter) and will only help me be a stronger marathoner despite the additional drag.  

Both my weight and body fat have gone up since my long running break coupled with my April tour of the wine, bread, cheese, pasta, and gelato of Italy.  I agree with my coach that I can get my body fat even lower than it was before Belgrade for a short period of time.  Keeping it that low would be a mistake, but a short foray into the single digits will certainly not hurt my body one bit. 

The question is really a psychological one: Can I look at the numbers on the scale and not be disappointed when the weight reads high even if the body fat reads low?  I guess I’ll soon find out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weight. Weight. Don't tell me.

This is nothing like the NPR quiz show, but it is a game I play with myself.  I wake up every morning and weigh myself on my Tanita body fat measuring scale.  I talk myself through this procedure trying to assess whether I feel heavy or light and brace myself for the result.  I close one eye and peer through a slit in the other eye to see whether the number will come up on the light or heavy side. Lately, I've been disappointed in the result.

Today, I weighed in at a whopping 128.8 lbs. with ~12% body fat.  A runner will look at these stats for a 5'5" female and perhaps let out a little gasp.   To provide a graphical representation of this phenomenon, I have provided a hypothetical graph (below) of the weight distribution for 100 competitive female runners of my height.  As you can clearly see, I show up as an outlier giving the distribution curve a nice positive skew.  

I sort of knew that I was a little bigger than most of my female competitors.  That is pretty obvious.  It was really when I first noticed that the average weight of the entire men’s elite field for any given marathon is lighter than me that I started to realize that my weight might be a factor I should consider as one component in my training to run a faster marathon.  

Of course, one can't completely disregard the “Swiss” episode from the 2008 Eugene Marathon.  My Mom was at mile marker 18 or so when I came running up the bike trail hot on the tail of the lead female runner.  I would pass her while my Mom was watching and take the lead for a few short miles.  My Mom was looking for a place to vent her pride and found a gentleman that turned out to be a local running coach standing close by.  She told him I was her daughter at which point he glanced at my then 133-pound body and quickly responded that I sure wasn’t built like a marathoner.  My Mom replied without batting an eye, “Oh, right.  She’s just Swiss.”  Not sure what that means, but you get the picture. 

So, approximately how much could I shave off of my marathon time by reducing the badonkadonk I’m carrying in my saddlebags?  According to the following web calculator (, if I became no fitter than I was at CIM last December (where I ran 2:50:22 @ 128 lbs) I could run my goal of 2:46 (given similar conditions yada yada yada) by simply losing 4 pounds.  This equates to about 67 seconds for every pound lost over the marathon distance. 

This is a big deal and you can probably see why runners are drawn to the fantasy world of weight loss as an “easy” way to become faster.   For a runner that is already in the teens on the BMI scale, this approach will most certainly lead to sickness and injury.  For someone like me, I doubt that anyone would look at the following statistics--5’5” 124 lbs--and think “bone thin”.

Before I became a runner, I rarely  thought about my weight.  I actually went through much of my 20s and early 30s thinking that I was immune to weight gain, happily able to *eat whatever I wanted* without gaining an ounce.  There's some magic point in mid-life where your brain continues to believe this myth while your body starts developing evidence to the contrary.  This came around age 36 for me and was one of the original reasons I started running--to shed some pounds.  

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that the amount of attention paid to women who have gained a few extra fat nodules is equaled only by the gossip surrounding those deemed to be “too thin.” We are programmed at a very young age to look for our thinspiration in the world in the headlines plastered across every magazine stocked at the check out counter of the local grocery store.  If one of our kind dares to stray out of the tidy distribution of acceptable weight values, they are vilified in this week’s body image news.  Case in point:  “Tyra Banks Speaks Out About Her Weight: 161 lbs.—I still feel hot” is on the front cover of People this week.

The world of weight gossip is brutal among female runners. So and so was anorexic in utero and needs constant vigilance to ensure she doesn't relapse.  This other girl only eats crackers and kale garnish at restaurants and is therefore on the verge of an eating disorder.  Yet another always accepts chocolate cake at birthday parties, removes the icing completely and then eats only ¾ of it.  She is most definitely on the fast train to ana-mia-ville.   Ladies, these things do not go unnoticed!  I have seen this first hand and have to admit that I feel uncomfortable talking about my eating habits, weighing behaviors, etc. with some for fear of being labeled binge and purge worthy (though I guess this blog entry sort of makes employing a code-of-silence tactic impossible in the future).  I have to ask when did showing self-control when it comes to the food you eat become a sign of an imminent eating disorder?

In my next blog entry, I‘ll tell you how I lost 5 pounds last summer, why I think it had an impact on my running, how I gained some of it back and what I plan to do over the next few months to lose it. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Excuses don't make you any faster...

...but they sure make you feel better some days.  I ran the aptly named No Excuses 5k here in Sacramento this morning but only after throwing out and eventually shooting down every possible excuse I could find not to run it.

The rest of my training week went as well as could be expected after the hillfest I had on Tuesday. As predicted, my legs were certainly a lot more sore on Thursday than on Wednesday.  On Wednesday, I had to decide whether or not to do my scheduled strength exercises.  When it's difficult to even walk, you have to wonder whether it's smart to bring on one legged squats, step ups and squat thrusts.  I did it anyway (as well as on Saturday), letting out a little scream with every rep.

Thursday morning, it was difficult to waddle out of bed and out the door for another quality workout.  This workout marked the beginning of sprint training for me.  Luckily, I had some girlie company for the sprints and they helped take my mind off of the quad sting. I had to go the 15-minute lactate threshold portion of the workout alone.  After eating humble pie two weeks ago in a lactate threshold workout where holding 6:07 pace for 25 minutes without stopping was impossible, I was curious about how I would hold up.  The main goal was to run the 15 minutes straight without stopping and I almost made it.  I stopped at the halfway point for a water break.  I held 6:09 pace for this one, so there was really not a lot of improvement over last weekend (where I held 6:11 pace non-stop for 15 minutes during my long run).  Given the state of my legs, I was okay with that.

This brings me to today's race.  I awoke at 0500 hours with the clunking of the sprinkler system and subsequent whining of my dog Sadie.  I then proceeded to lay in bed and ruminate on my options for this day.  My legs were still hurting slightly yesterday during my easy 5 miler, but strides felt okay.  I asked myself why I was running this race today recognizing that I would not run very fast.  In fact, my track record at this race was quite miserable.  I have always run a relatively fast marathon 3-5 weeks before running this race and have turned in subpar times.  Last year, after running a 2:55 PR at Eugene a few weeks before, I turned in a blistering 19:25 5k at No Excuses. Excuse #1--I ran a marathon a few weeks ago.

As I mulled this over, I realized the primary reason I was running the race today was to get another mark in the age-graded series that I'm enrolled in.  You can count 4 short (less than 8k) and 4 long (greater than 10k) races in the series.  I was 3rd female overall last year in this same series and did win some prize money.  The problem with doing this series is that many of these races conflict with my marathon training (or in this case, recovery).  So, I have found myself more than once compromising on a workout or trying to fit a workout within a race to try to maximize my age-graded performance. You might recall me doing this at the Nutrition Fuels Fitness 10k I blogged about last week.

So, there's excuse #2--I'm only doing this for the age-graded points and that's not a good enough reason.  At this point, I had convinced myself to abandon the race series and just do a workout today instead.  I used the following additional lines of rationale to make my case solid: Excuse #3-- I hate the feeling I get when I run a 5k; Excuse #4--I couldn't even hold 6:09 pace for 15 minutes last week without stopping so I'm certainly going to suck ass today.

I was happy with my decision to not run the race.  Within a few minutes, however, I felt a little guilty and started the list of reasons to run the race: 1) I had already paid for my entry, 2) I had to run today anyway, 3) I wanted to watch my friends race, 4) I didn't want to wonder what I could have run had I gone out to the race.  That last one was the clincher.  So, I decided that I would compromise and do my workout within the race.  Why not?  Dissin' Genius (MF's rave name) helped me come to this conclusion.  I think he had fun watching me throw these excuses (with F-bombs attached) all around the room for about an hour before finally coming to this compromise.

I felt gnarly in the warm up, but that is definitely par for the course.  It doesn't seem to phase me anymore.  I like to formulate my race goals during my warm up and always have various layers of goals.  I'll have a realistic goal, a definitely doable goal, and then a back up "in case I fall completely apart" goal.  Today's goals were now set: first, keep each mile as close to 6 minute pace as possible; second, do the whole race at a comfortable effort that left me only feeling slightly taxed at the end (this would be my measure of maintaining LT effort); and finally, beat last year's time (19:25).

I lined up a little behind the starting line because I didn't want to get sucked out too fast. About 300 meters into it I passed many of the 12-14 year olds that had gone out at 4:25 pace and were now heaving on the sides of the road.  By the first mile marker, I was at a surprising but comfortable pace (5:48) and more importantly an effort that I felt I could hold for the rest of the race.  I had a nice group to run with, which was great.  I loved running next to DA, a Fleet Feet racer, who had on the sweetest blue terry cloth head band I've seen in a long time (BTW, DA, you do know it's too late to jazzercise, right?  He held a great pace, and we were able to work together the whole race.  Mile 2 was around 5:48 as well, but I think the mile marker was a little short.  I failed to hit my lap button at the 3 mile marker, but I know I slowed that third mile.  My Garmin showed me running a 5:58 pace for the last 1.11 miles of the race.

I was pumped.  I just ran 3.1 miles in 18:26, a 5:56 pace.  As a bonus, I didn't have to stop and it actually felt easier than the 6:07-6:11 pace I had been doing in my training runs the 2 weeks before.  My goal LT pace right now is 5:55-6:00, so I feel quite ready to start hitting that regularly and have it feel like it should in the next 4-6 weeks.

In the end I was glad that I had run this race.  I enjoyed watching everyone run their own races, competing against their competitors' statistically-calculated performances rather than the race clock.  Instead of the extreme confidence sinker I had predicted it would be, it helped me to see that I am on the road to recovery.  It also restored my confidence in my ability to run an adequate albeit not excuse-free race at the No Excuses 5k.  I guess the third year is a charm.     

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dealing with DOMS

I have a really cool job.  I get to visit some of the most interesting and strikingly beautiful places in the country.  These places harbor some of the rarest species on the planet and my job is to help figure out how to protect them from imminent destruction.  You’ll be happy to know that most times we succeed in this effort.  If we were losing battles left and right, I’m pretty sure my job would not be as cool.

This week I was called upon to tend to some important science matters on a property The Nature Conservancy just purchased near Mt. Shasta.  As you can see from the picture, it has a lovely view of the mountain.  It also has critical coldwater springs that are key to the survival of some highly threatened salmon runs.  

Originally, I had planned to do this week’s killer hill run, scheduled for Tuesday, on the treadmill when I returned on Wednesday since it’s impossible to find a convenient 30-minute uphill climb here in the Valley.  I keep telling my coach this in hopes that hill workouts will mercifully disappear from my routine.  Does she not get that you can see the immense flatness of the Great Central Valley from space?  She lives in Montana and is a National Mountain Running Champion.  I think the hill workouts are here to stay.

With this new wrinkle thrown into my schedule for the week, I started researching hill options out of Mt. Shasta City.  Of course there were plenty of roads leading straight uphill there, and I was excited about the prospect of actually doing this workout outside breathing in the beautiful mountain air.  When I arrived at our TNC office in Mt. Shasta, I consulted one of my colleagues who lives in town, is a runner and is very fit.   I asked about my hill options, and she told me that the one I was looking at would be a great option.  She said it was a Forest Service Road that had a nice, gradual, but consistent grade.  It was paved, but had no traffic.  It sounded absolutely ideal. 

We took a tour of the new property on Monday afternoon.  It was a beautiful hike.  Well, it was fine until my poor choice in footwear created two nickel-sized blisters on the backs of both feet—OUCH!  The tour ended around 8:00 and I was famished having not eaten since noon.  I started flashing back to my hunger fest in Belgrade.  I got a big fat burger, garlic fries and downed two beers in record time at a local bar called the Billy Goat Tavern.  I took my happy, drunken self to my hotel room to try to rest up for an early-morning run.

I rolled out of bed and threw on my running clothes, GPS and shoes after gingerly covering my newly acquired blisters with band-aids.  I screamed a tiny scream every time I took a step.  I then strapped a water bottle pack around my hips. I never wear these torture devices, but I thought it might come in handy on this run.  Let me say that I have never found a water bottle and holder that fits my body aside from one I can carry in my hand.  I’m convinced that they just can’t make these for women.  The pack inevitably starts out in the right place, on my hips, and within a few shakity shakes, shimmies up my hips to become a hula-hoop around my waist.  If I cinch it at the waist, I find myself unable to breath. I ran back to my hotel after about 10 minutes and chucked the damn thing in my room.

I found my hill road after ditching my pack and started up the hill at lactate threshold (LT) effort.  The hill was mild at this point and I felt like a rock star.  I was doing 6:45-7:00 pace steady and having fun.  Then, I turned a corner and saw the real hill.  Wow.  I was facing about a consistent 7-8% grade.  I kept going and my pace slowed.  It then dawned on me as I was sucking wind in a major way that I was at altitude and was probably going to start suffering much worse as I climbed higher. 

I surrendered after about 5 minutes into this climb, having gone out too fast.  Damn.  I really wanted to try to do this one without stopping.  I caught my breath for a few seconds, tried to forget that I had 25 more minutes of climbing ahead of me and took off again.  Like my LT effort run last week, I couldn’t seem to slow this one down enough so that I didn’t have to take a break.  The hill seemed to get steeper as I climbed and of course the air became thinner as I approached 5000 feet.  To my mountain goat friends, that doesn’t seem that high.  To a sea-level puke like me, it might as well have been Mount Everest.

As I got to around 20 minutes, I started negotiating with myself.  I knew that the workout as written called for 25-30 minutes and I thought about stopping at 25 to head back down the hill.  I propose such things to myself quite often while running, but I never take myself up on them.  I always max out my workouts whether it’s the number of reps, the mileage, or the pace.  No matter how painful it feels, I know that I will feel a lot worse shortening my workout than pushing through the discomfort and finishing the whole thing.  No excuses.  I actually came up with a mantra that I like to use:  excuses don’t make you faster.  Damn straight.

Each time I stopped, I thought I heard chipmunks mocking me.  I just flipped them off and kept chugging up the hill.  I finally got to 30 minutes and realized I had an “easy jog down” to deal with.  I have a long and rich history of trashing my quadriceps on down hills like this.  There was no way to avoid the fact that I would do damage.  How do you run down an 8% grade hill without trashing your legs?  I just went with it and enjoyed the ride.  I ended up climbing about 1800 feet for the whole 10+ mile run with 1300 of it in those 30 minutes over ~3.7 miles.

I was so preoccupied with the hills that I had forgotten what the rest of this workout was supposed to include.  So, I invented something.  I did 5 x 1 minute at 5k effort with 1 minute jog rests.  This was tough after the down hills, but I actually felt okay.  Then, I had a few cut downs to whip out and I was done.

Thinking back on the workout I am disappointed that I couldn’t pull the whole uphill off without stopping.  I do believe that the setting made the workout too tough to actually accomplish in one long run (unless I was half billy goat like my coach).  I am pleased with myself for sticking it out and doing the whole 30 minutes.  I could have easily completed the whole thing without stopping on a treadmill, but I wouldn’t have had nearly as interesting a story to tell, now would I?

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) has set in today, but not nearly as badly as I expected.  My easy run this morning was not as painful as I would have predicted.  However, it’s always the second-day-post quad trashing that is the worst.  I‘m looking forward to another tough workout tomorrow on these hill-ravaged legs.  No excuses!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A small slice of humble pie

The first week of "hard" training after a marathon is always a humbling experience for me.  My brain should know that I am not going to be in the same shape I was before the race, but for some reason I never quite accept that fact.  I spend quite a bit of energy agonizing over what pace I should shoot for in a lactate threshold (LT, aka tempo) workout, how fast 5k effort should be and how I should feel after the workout is finished.  I feel crushed if I don't meet my unreasonable expectations.  

I took 11 days off after Belgrade.  I mean completely off--no running, no cross training, nothing. That is the longest rest from running I have had since I first started.  I believe I really needed the mental break.  Physically, marathons don't beat me up much.  I had no soreness after this marathon.  I normally get a little tightness in my calves, but I had nothing at all.  My brain, on the other hand, needed a break from the intense focus I had been giving to this crazy pursuit.

I had always heard from coaches of elite runners that they give their athletes a break as much for their mental as physical recovery after a marathon.  I think this was the first time I really got that.  After Belgrade, I finally relaxed and had a new perspective to contrast with my life before the race.  I was so focused for the 2-3 months leading up to the race it made my brain hurt.  It really took about 3 weeks for me to recover mentally and start getting excited about starting a new training cycle.

This week marked that three week milestone and a return to a 7-run-per-week schedule including two intense training efforts.  I had a tough workout scheduled for Tuesday and was nervous about it for over a week before.  It was 10 miles overall with a short warm up, 25 minutes at LT effort then right into a 25 minute fartlek bout.  

My anxiety was a result of the scarring I had developed from my first hard workout back after CIM.  My CIM time was so far off any of my other PRs, Coach Nicole told me it was hard to come up with new target paces for me.  She did come up with some based on the marathon time.  When I saw these new paces, I freaked out.  I thought to myself I couldn't possibly run those paces!  But, they were the equivalent of what I had just done at CIM.  So, my first workout out of the shoot, I attempted to hit the new paces even though it was an effort-based workout.   Ridiculous.  Predictably, I failed to reach these paces and actually fell apart quite spectacularly at the end of that first workout.  I was humbled.

So the scars were fresh, and I thought I should shoot for something more reasonable this time around.  I decided I wouldn't program my Garmin and would just go by effort for 25 minutes. That worked fine until I looked down at the pace reading on my Garmin and saw 6:10 pace and it felt hard!  I was determined to prove that I was faster than that and sped up slightly.  Now, I was averaging 6:08 pace and couldn't hold it.  I stopped for a *water break* after only about 5-6 minutes into this bastard workout and regrouped.  

So, I started up again and my body gravitated back to an unreasonable 6:07 average pace.  I stopped at least 3 more times to catch my breath before I was done with the 25-minute workout.  I did end up averaging 6:07 for that portion of the workout, but that was not LT effort.  So, I totally missed the boat on that part of the workout.  What a moron.

I completed the fartlek without incident and spent the whole time cogitating on all of the data calculations I was going to do when I got home to make myself feel better.  I thought I'd check out the humbling workout from the last training cycle.  I was very happy to see that I was having trouble back then even holding 6:25 pace for the same amount of time and had to stop and walk when I pushed it into the 6:10 range.  So, maybe I wasn't as out of shape as I thought.

That workout made me set a new standard for Saturday's workout which I luckily got to do with one of my Early Girlies, Sprinkles.  She's also coached by Nicole and does many of the same workouts as me.  This one was 13 total miles with a warm up, 15 minutes at LT effort and then 8 x 75 second hills at mile-3k effort, finishing with strides.  My new goal was to run the LT effort section without stopping for a water break--lofty, I know.  I set a reasonable pace for myself this time and met my goal.  My pace was 6:11.  I was secretly disappointed that that pace felt harder than I wanted it to, but I was also proud of myself for keeping a pace that I could hold for the whole time. What I can't do (even though I am right now) is think about the fact that I ran 6:06 pace for a half marathon just a couple of months ago.  I'll get back there, I know. Baby steps.

The hills were hills.  Brutal as ever.  I was doing them at mile pace to start--too fast--but then calmed down and ran them closer to 5k pace.  This weekend also marked the first days of 100+ degree weather in the Valley.  Even though we were smart and started at 6, we didn't miss the heat.  It will take some time to acclimate.  I hate acclimating.

I got in all of my strength training and core work this week too.  I also started back into my routine of stretching using the TP  massageballer twice per week to make sure I stay injury free.

Next week:  30 minutes up a hill at LT effort.  This is the workout I dread the most.                 


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Belgrade--the Race

Race morning came early with the insane clanging of the church bell right outside our room's open window.  It rang 33 times at 1:30 in the morning.  That's right--33 times.  As if sleep wasn't enough of a challenge with the bells going off, the local cadets were screaming and hooting below our window for what seemed to be much of the night.  They say that it doesn't matter if you get any sleep the night before the marathon.  It's two days before that counts.  I'm pretty sure it would be more appropriate to count the number of minutes of sleep I got two nights before the race.

I always take a shower race morning when running a marathon.  I'm not sure why, but I do. With the late start of this race (10:00 a.m.), most of the women on our floor wanted to shower too.  Problem was, by this time, only one shower was working.  We scrambled to get our showers and breakfast before being corralled to the busses and finally to the start.  Breakfast for me was probably the best meal I had all week: instant oatmeal, bread with the one pack of peanut butter I had scored from my hotel in D.C., a banana and my special energy tea.  Yum!

As expected, the temperatures were already in the upper 60s by the start of the race.  I worried about what the heat might do to me since I hadn't raced a hot marathon before.  I also had no idea what the course was going to bring.  The athletes were not invited to go on the course tour the day before.  I was particularly worried about overheating and passing out after our military coach reminded us, the women's team members, that there was no room for dropping out of this one.  We were short a team member and we all needed to finish in order to qualify for the team competition.  No pressure.

I didn't make the cut for the "elite" start.  So, I was stuck behind a line of Serbians holding hands to form a fence to separate the elites from the non-elites.  This was pretty funny because I could actually reach over and touch the elites they were so close to me.  I'm sure the human shield gave them some comfort.  With the gun, we were off for the 22nd running of the Belgrade Marathon.

The first 6 miles or so were pretty fast with a nice downhill start.  I banked some time in this section and got a chance to see how the competition was shaking out.  A Swedish military competitor went out like gangbusters and was quickly recycled within a couple of miles.  Then, a Spanish competitor zoomed past me.  I saw her again around the 10k mark and passed her. To my surprise, she tucked in behind me and just hung there.  She would hang there for another 14 or 15 miles, drafting off of my much larger frame.

The course took us along the Danube River though we didn't get to see it at all.  We were stuck on very wide roads with absolutely no shade.  The people on the sides of the road seemed surprised that runners were out.  It was as if they had no idea there was a marathon taking place.  I loved that people were yelling "bravo!  bravo!" as we ran by.  I heard lots of people yelling, "go USA" (pronounced oosah).  Children wanted to slap my hand as I ran past, and I took them up on it.  I did hear some jeers about George Bush along with oosah sucks, but most people were friendly.  I spotted only one wild dog along the course.

At around the 21 km mark (half way point) I saw our military coach, Joe, and he told me that I was the 3rd military and 5th woman overall.  Up to that point, I had no idea where I stood in the competition.  This lifted my spirits and made me think more about the Spaniard riding my butt getting the benefit of the draft.  

Temperatures were definitely heating up for the second half of the race on this super exposed course.  It would eventually rise to the mid 70s by the time I finished.  I was very disappointed to encounter hard plastic cups at the first water station where I took my first gu.  These cups can't be squeezed properly, and you end up with more water up your nose than in your mouth. I was very nervous that I wouldn't get enough fluids throughout the race as a result.  Thank goodness they had plastic water bottles for the "elite" runners every 5k or so.  I was able to grab one of these at each station and soak myself with half of it before trying to guzzle as much of the water as possible.  I also tried to throw a little behind me to see if I could scare off my tailgater.  No luck there.  I was probably cooling her off.  Spitting was my next trick and that didn't work either.

Aside from good mile markers up to the 10k point, there were few markers along the course to let us know where we were in the race.  I of course had my trusty GPS unit on my wrist to help out, but I was forgetting to lap it regularly.  There were a couple of times that I couldn't see the nearest runner in front of me and had no course markings or monitors to direct me where to go.  I had to guess which direction and luckily guessed correctly.

I think it was around km 32 or 33 that I finally lost my Spaniard.  Perhaps all the talk the day before about Phedippides and pain got to her.  I had no sense how far back she was.  I knew that I had some hills to contend with soon and I was really getting hot.  For the final 3-4 km you start a gradual and then more extreme climb into the city.  I once again saw Coach Joe.  He told me that the 4th place woman, a Kenyan, was struggling up ahead and slowing to about 7:30 pace on the hill.  He told me to go catch her.  I could see her, and she was flailing.  She was slowing and spinning her head around to look for other competitors.  I passed her decisively, but I felt like I was crawling up that hill too.  I would later find out that she had gone out with the lead pack and is probably a 2:35 marathoner.

I got to the top of that hill, turned a corner and there was a steeper hill.  No mile markers in sight. How much longer did I have to go up these crazy hills?  I was starting to feel really hot and then, brace yourself, my body broke down and I lost control of my bladder.  This has never happened to me in my life let alone a race before.  What the hell was going on?  I just sort of looked around to see if anyone noticed and realized that I was soaking wet from sweat and water anyway.  I just wanted to see that finish line.  I turned the next corner and there it was.

The crowd was cheering.  I was pumping my arms as they called my name and announced that I was finishing third in the military competition.  I couldn't believe it.  I was so happy to be done. I finished in 2:51:12.  I was pleased with this time given what I had endured.  I knew I could have run faster under better conditions, but I felt like I kicked some butt anyway.  To my surprise, my Spanish competitor came in only 20 seconds behind me.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by 2 women and a man.  They congratulated me, handed me a banana and a bottle of water and said they were from doping control.  They would be needing a sample of my urine.  I laughed and really wanted to tell them to wring out my shorts.  I asked how much time they had.  It took 2 hours and they did not leave my side the entire time.

First, I was whisked off to a small room within a nearby hotel.  I was told to sit down and fill out some paperwork.  I was soaking wet and was not allowed to get my sweats bag to get dry clothes.  They asked for my identification and I told them I didn't normally carry it with me during a race.  I didn't even have it in my bag.  They said I would need someone to verify I was who I said I was.  Suddenly, a large Serbian rushed into the room and started talking about uniforms.  He then looked at me and asked where my service dress uniform was for the awards ceremony.  I explained that it was back in the dorm and my key to the dorm room was in my sweats bag and my sweats bag was somewhere on a bus.  He looked at me with displeasure and stormed out.

We were forced to leave the pee pee room to go to the finish line area where the awards ceremony was to take place.  I still had not seen anyone from my team and didn't have my sweats bag.  Finally, I saw Lt Col Peterson, our Chief of Mission.  I asked him to find my sweats bag so I could get something dry and somewhat presentable to wear for the awards ceremony. I was also looking for more water, trying to replenish my stocks for the ensuing test.  I was not allowed to get water from anyone outside the inner doping control circle.  After about 15 minutes of wrangling, I got a bottle of water.  I finally got my sweats bag minutes before the awards ceremony and was allowed to change.  The first place winner had her uniform with her (she knew she was going to win, I guess).   

The awards ceremony was quick and actually kind of fun. I was surprised by the size of the trophy that I received and mostly worried about how I would lug it around Italy the following week.  In celebration of my accomplishment (of successfully carrying it around Italy), I pulled that damn trophy out in every hotel room I stayed in and displayed it proudly.

I finally was sent back to the pee pee room for my test.  Lt Col Peterson accompanied me to vouch for me, and later for my pee.  After sitting around for yet another 30 minutes (only to find out they were waiting for me to tell them I was ready) I got to go up to the processing room.  I won't bore you with the procedure, but it was quite a production.  Lt Col Peterson verified that in fact the yellow fluid in the bottle before him was my pee, and we were allowed to leave.

I was taken to the busses that were still waiting on a runner that had become ill after the race.  It was now 3 hours post race and I was starting to get hungry--a feeling I was used to by then.  We got back to the barracks, showered, changed into our service dress uniforms and were rushed off to the closing ceremonies.  I was dizzy and had a headache a mile wide from lack of food and water at this point.

At the closing ceremonies, the US women's team was presented with the first place trophy in the team competition.  We rocked the race!  We beat the Spanish team by a long shot.  My two teammates were disappointed with their individual performances, but their times were critical to the team win.  Perhaps the most inspiring moment of the entire experience was standing in front of this group with our trophy in hand and having the US National Anthem play as a result of our achievement.  I was verklempt.

Finally, we were allowed to eat at the reception--appetizers of, you guessed it, meat and cheese. Like a sea lion at the Ballard Locks I stood at the door to the kitchen and ambushed the servers carrying their fresh trays of food as they entered the reception hall.  
We then filled our trophy with beer and drank from our spoils.  It took about 4 sips of beer to get me hammered.
We started talking about going to dinner at about 8 p.m.  We didn't eat dinner until 11 p.m.  I have no idea why this happened every single night, but it did.  We did eat at a great restaurant and I finally felt full.  We were back to our barracks and in bed by 1 a.m. with an alarm set for 4:30 a.m.  to catch our early flights.  What a day it had been.  I was ready for a vacation!               

Welcome to Beograd

I was right to be concerned about the impact of international travel on running performance. Only, I don't think I could have predicted the specific challenges I would face.  For that, I would have needed a conversion chart for the military factor.  I believe someone has designed an Excel spreadsheet for the military factor and the constant starts with the letter F.             

I did everything I could to prepare for the things I predicted I would face.  I packed a butt load of extra food, specifically what I might want race morning.  I had my special blueberry pomegranate Roctane Gu to fuel my marathon race.  I brought my compression socks and the full-on compression tights to wear for the plane flight.

I met up with my team in DC and we flew to Munich together, all wearing our "uniform" of khakis and polo shirt with military embroidery.  This surprised me a little, that we would wear such a conspicuous outfit.  As part of my prep for this military marathon event I was required to undergo anti-terrorist training.  Just so you know, the very first rule to follow in order to avoid becoming a terrorist target is to dress inconspicuously.  Well, I guess the threat was pretty low in Munich and Serbia.  As expected, the travel was long and tiring.  I'm actually a nervous flier, but a well-timed dose of Ativan did wonders.  

We arrived in Belgrade and were greeted by our Serbian hosts.  They transported us to our accommodations at the Serbian Military Academy.  I should have foreseen that my accommodations in Belgrade would be subpar when I was ordered to bring a lock, my own towel and shower shoes.  The building was located quite a distance from the city center which would become a huge factor later as I was trying to find an alternative to the boiled meat and cheese served in the dining hall.  The building was probably built in the 40s or 50s and was on par with some of the worst army barracks I've stayed in.  

We had squat toilets and had to constantly search for TP.  Need I say more?  I guess I should mention the gang showers too.  At first, we thought we were dealing with a coed situation, when my teammate Jenny came running out of the bathroom into our room exclaiming that there was a man in the shower room!  A little investigation revealed that this was just one of our female German teammates with a shaved head.  The whole German Women's team had shaved heads.  I didn't ask Jenny about the traits she saw that we usually use to sex humans because I really didn't want to know.  

We went for a short, escorted run and were getting pretty hungry.  We were ordered to eat in the dining facility in our barracks.  One whiff of the grub they were serving left me nearly heaving on the linoleum.  So, I ate some bars instead.  I ate lots of bars on this trip.  We went foraging for food for dinner in the city that night escorted by our new Serbian friend, Radivan. He was very helpful and showed us how to use the busses to get around.  However, we must have walked 4 miles before we finally settled on a place to eat and I was hungry!!!!  I did find the Cafe Grand Pleasure where I got a cappuccino and was in heaven.

Understand that I was supposed to be eating 70% of my food for the 3 days leading up to the race in carbohydrates.
That's hard enough to do when you have access to grocery stores.  I'm here to tell you that it is impossible to do in Belgrade restaurants.  Our dinner choices were almost solely meat and cheese at the traditional restaurant selected by our escort.  I found potatoes on the menu and ordered two helpings.  The waiter brought one.  I tried to explain that I needed a heap of potatoes the size of the Matterhorn if I was going to have a chance of completing this marathon in two days.  I got another spoon full.

Breakfast and lunch the next day (the day before the marathon) were no better and I felt hungry the entire day.  I ate bars for breakfast (and a banana I managed to score at the mini mart the night before!).  I did get some broth and risotto for lunch (yeah, carbs!).  

We were then required to get into our service dress uniforms for the opening ceremonies at Kalemegdan (  We would end up standing around in the hot sun for hours in our wool uniforms and walking several miles (in heels no less!) to get back to the busses.  The ceremony was actually pretty cool with everyone in their uniforms and all of the pomp and circumstance.  The main speaker, however, decided to focus his remarks on the tale of the inaugural marathon run of Phedippides.  He said at least a half a dozen times that we were soldiers too, running into battle and would
experience the extreme pain that Phedippides experienced around 32 kilometers.  We would feel like death was rushing to greet us, but we would continue on in hopes of glory for our country.  I was waiting for him to say that some of us might die like Phedippides and this would be a great sacrifice.  He stopped short, but I bet he was thinking that.

So, less than 12 hours before the race, I'm hot, dehydrated, sunburned, my legs are swollen and I'm hungry!!!!  I was becoming seriously cranky at this point and proclaimed to our team that we were going to find pasta for dinner.  I needed carbs and I knew everyone else would benefit from them too.  Somehow, we didn't make it out until after 8 p.m. that night and ended up being led astray by a 2009 guide to Belgrade that lured us into believing there was actually an Italian restaurant in the city.  To my complete chagrin, the Italian restaurant we had just paid a taxi 400 dinar to get to had apparently closed up months before.  I raised my arms in the air and cursed Phedippides.  I was now convinced we would be walking for miles to find yet another traditional Serbian restaurant.  As luck would have it, we found a pub (because the boys only wanted beer) that also served pasta.  I got my gnocchi and was happy.         

Our next adventure was trying to find boiling water to make instant oatmeal for breakfast race morning.  The kitchen didn't have any.  Boiling water!  Come on.  I was desperate and asked one of our cadet helpers if he could help us locate some boiling water in the morning.  He told us to wait as he scampered off up the stairs.  He came back about 15 minutes later with an electric hot pot!  Brilliant.  He said they had confiscated it from students last quarter because they were using too much electricity, but it was okay for us to use.  At least I was going to to get a good pre-race breakfast.

With gnocchi in my belly and a hot pot next to my bed I was starting to feel a little better about the race the next day.  Well, except for the fact that I knew then that it was going to be hitting the mid-70s at the end of the race and that there was a two-mile uphill finish to battle.  Would Phedippides and I share the same fate?

The road to Belgrade

So, after a difficult race at MCM followed by a spectacular experience at CIM I realized a lot of what went right and wrong had to do with being able to control my pre-race situation.  For CIM, I was viewing the race as a throw away and changed just about everything possible to help me run a fast marathon.  The good news is that it all worked!  The bad news for me was that I knew I wouldn't have the ability to control my situation in Belgrade and I had to accept that.  
I work with a fantastic coach, Nicole Hunt, who designed a great training plan for me.  When we were working on my training plan prior to Belgrade, I told Nicole that I didn't expect to PR in Belgrade mainly because of all of the unknowns associated with traveling and racing in a foreign country.  I wanted this bout of training to push the envelope for me in terms of volume and intensity.  I wanted to really push myself as a training stimulus for a shot at the Olympic trails qualifying standard in October 2009 at the Twin Cities Marathon (TCM).  

As it turned out, I had another spectacular 3-4 months of training leading up to Belgrade.  My training went flawlessly and I was consistently pushing the upper limits of my pace ranges in workouts.  I exceeded all of my expectations and set personal records at all distances from 5k to the half marathon.  

I also tried some new things in my training.  As I mentioned above, I wanted to jack up my mileage this time around to prepare for even higher mileage in my prep for TCM.  My weekly mileage was as follows with long run mileage noted next to it.

Week 1 32/10
Week 2  56/13 
Week 3  62/13
Week 4  70/16+4  
Week 5  74/20
Week 6  80/16+4
Week 7  90/20 
Week 8  74/20 
Week 9  87/16+5 
Week 10 100/23
Week 11 66/16 
Week 12 81/16+4 
Week 13 100/26
Week 14 88/18+4
Week 15 80/17
Week 16 64/12 
Week 17 43 +race

This was a substantial increase from what I had done before.  As a matter of fact, I calculated my average weekly mileage for 2008 and it was around 56 mpw.  I, of course, average a lot higher during my build up for a marathon and then take the week after a marathon off completely.  I was actually surprised at how low that number was and realized I had a lot of room to grow.

In addition to overall mileage, during this training cycle I ran 23 days of 16+ miles per day either in one run or as a two-a-day but ran only 5, 20+ milers.  I also asked Nicole to throw in a marathon-length training run thinking that perhaps my running the Marine Corps Marathon prior to CIM may have been a good training stimulus contributing to my success there.   

Although I was completely pleased with the results, I did learn some les
sons.  I became a little worn down by the end of the training cycle.  I believe this was because I was trying to fit too much in.  I had a 4-week period in there where the first weekend, I got lost on Santa Cruz Island and ended up running a super hilly 10 miler with 1600+ feet of elevation gain.  More importantly it had 1600+ feet of downhill that trashed my quads for 5 days (elevation profile pictured above).  The following weekend was a half marathon race where I had a fantastic race running a 4 minute PR coming in at 1:19:45.  The weekend after that I did my 26.22 mile training run and pwned it, running the whole thing in 2:59:56.  The following weekend was a 10k race that I needed to do to keep up my point count in a local age-graded series.  I ran a 2-minute PR there and followed it up with a goal marathon paced workout totaling 22 miles for the day.

That was too much.  I felt a little burned out, but of course very pleased with all of the PRs and great training runs.  I felt ready for Belgrade.