- Human's ability to sweat allows us to cool our bodies even when running in extremely hot environments. However, the need to circulate blood out to the skin periphery for this cooling draws this much needed blood away from working skeletal muscles and causes a lower cardiac filling and stroke volume leading to higher heart rates at any given work load. The loss of electrolytes and fluid via the sweating (without adequate replacement) will lead to a decreased blood volume and add additional demand on an already taxed heart.
Who Am I?
- I'm a 45 year old runner living in the Sacramento area and have been running for just over 8 years (only ran before then when the military ordered me to). I worked my ass off trying to qualify for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials and finally achieved this goal at the Chicago Marathon on 10-10-10. This blog began with a focus on the training and adventures that led to my 2:45 marathon and will continue to chronicle my efforts leading up to the big race in January 2012 and beyond. Cover photo by Ian Shive.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I am going to apologize up front to all of those people who set personal records at the Race for the Arts 5k last night. You’re going to read this and wonder why I can’t keep my trap shut, I know. But, I am telling my race story, and it includes some facts about the course that call into question its length. I do not benefit from this at all since I set a big PR too. However, I think, as a race community, we need to recognize when something is a little too good to be true and push race organizers to at the very least give us accurate courses. We sure know how to complain when a course measures long, so I think it’s only fair to 'fess up when we suspect the course is short. To be fair, nowhere in the race literature did it say that this was a certified or accurate course, so perhaps caveat emptor applies here. I will say that I just measured the course as shown on the race map (which is also what we ran last night) using Google maps and it measured slightly long, 3.21. I will chalk up the extra .1 miles to poor mouse control and not knowing exactly where the start/finish was. I guess the only way to know is to actually use a measurer's bike and ride the course.
UPDATE: After sending a message to the Race Director, I found out that the course was certified in July. I found the certification and map on the USATF website. The map from my GPS that shows the course we ran matches the certification map. I am at a loss to explain the discrepancy.
I was feeling pretty anxious about this race all day—maybe all week. 5ks tend to do this to me (as my No Excuses Race post described in great detail). I never train for 5ks, so I am not used to the special kind of pain you feel holding the pace especially at the end of the race. I think that, if I were to do more of my workouts in the 5k pace range or faster, I would be a lot more comfortable with the feeling of battery acid snaking up through my gullet, fire burning the bottoms of my feet and what feels like Lino’s muscle stimulator machine squeezing my quads until they feel like they will seize completely. But, I am a marathoner and run 5k races for fun. Some fun.
I had no idea what to expect to run last night. This week is a recovery week, so I knew that should be a plus. I have been sleeping a lot this week and have had an amazing appetite, so my body is taking this recovery thing seriously. However, I had just completed three 95-mile weeks and a sub-3 hour marathon on Sunday. I had reason to believe my legs and body might still be recovering from all of this. I had a good Yasso 800 workout last Friday, but had no idea how or if my 2:40ish 800s translated into a fast 5k race. I decided to just go by feel and try to hang on when I felt like death was swooping in during that last mile.
The race: It was in the mid to upper 90s at the start with no wind though there was plenty of shade. It took all of 10-minutes to warm up to the point that sweat poured from my head. I decided I was warm enough at that point and just hung out until the start. It also felt humid though weather.com may not have reported this. The race is run in a park that is so green you could just as easily be in Atlanta, Gerogia with ponds everywhere, lawns and other vegetation producing water-laden air via the process of evapotranspiration. This was a jungle oasis given our parched Mediterranean clime. I was wishing I had my sling psychrometer with me to actually measure the humidity, but that would have been a little too geeky.
I had quickly eyeballed the course map and thought it was an odd configuration. There are so many races run in that park, I wondered why they didn’t pick one of the usuals. I thought maybe this was a new course that someone had recently certified. Nonetheless, I didn’t have to worry about where to go, I would follow the pack of boys racing ahead of me. We were off with the gun and I was chasing the lead girl for about 300 yards before she fell off rapidly. I had a nice group of guys to hang with for the first mile and a half. This was a nice course in the sense that there were few turns and most of them were pretty gentle. We also had the whole street to use so that made cutting the tangents easy. I hit my lap button at the first mile marker and my split was 5:31. Hmmm. My watch said I was running 5:38 pace. I thought maybe the tree cover was disrupting my GPS mojo and pressed on.
Mile 2 broke up my little pack and I started to feel burning in my feet and the air seemed to get very thick. My 2 mile split was 5:38 and again my overall pace was slower. My GPS was useless to me tonight and I was starting to feel the heat and last weekend’s marathon in my legs. I slowed even more and had not much gumption to pick it up when the Yoga Master passed me at the 3-mile mark. I didn’t even hit my split I was so done with this race. I was just hoping to still see a 17 on the clock as I rounded the corner to the finish tape. It read 17:20 and ticking. Are you kidding me? I crossed the line in 17:34 (17:32 chip time) and immediately knew there was a problem. My watch read 3.03 miles for the total distance, and I immediately began polling the other GPS-clad runners. The highest reading I got was 3.08. The median was somewhere around 3.06.
So, while I may have run 17:32 for a 5j, I am calling the distance 3.06 which roughly equates to a 17:48 for the 5k. This is still a big PR for me and makes me happy in many ways. I overcame my anxiety about the distance yet again, I pushed hard when I felt like crap at the end of the race, and I felt fine soon afterward. I felt good enough actually to complete the rest of my 10-mile workout including a final mile at marathon effort = 6:15 pace.
Congrats to everyone who braved the tough conditions last night. If you want to play this game, you might be able to convince yourself that the sweltering conditions slowed you down at least as much as the shortness of the course improved your time. Some may argue that heat and humidity don’t affect a 5k performance much, but I know that I felt like I was leaning over a boiling pot of water breathing in steam at the end of that race. The good Dr., Jack Daniels, tells me that my 17:48 5k race, run in 95 degrees (not factoring in humidity) would have been 17:37 had it been 5 degrees cooler. I would have run 17:27 if it had been 85 degrees and 16:49 if I was running in temps below 60! So, there you go.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Then, almost as quickly as he had appeared in my life, my coach disappeared into the ether. I had only worked with him for 7 short months and managed to shave 10 minutes off of an already fast marathon PR. I was slightly concerned at first when I didn’t hear from him. My concern morphed into being downright pissed off after about a month had passed with no word. I was determined to not let this sidetrack my training for the next big race and decided to cobble together my own training plan based off of the program that had put me under the 3-hour mark. I immediately started into my training taking maybe one day of rest off post-marathon and, of course, I crashed.
I was constantly tired. I was falling apart in races. Easy runs were no longer easy for me. In fact, no runs were easy for me. I wondered what happened to that kick-ass runner that had placed 10th at the Eugene Marathon and won a free pair of shoes? She was now lost and coachless. Finally, my coach emerged from a deep, dark funk and explained that he couldn’t coach any longer.
After grieving for a couple of days and wandering around aimlessly, I took a look at the website of a coach that he had recommended I check out. We talked on the phone and both decided to give our e-relationship a shot. For a number of reasons, this change in coaches was one of the most positive things that has happened in my running career. Though, at first, I stubbornly resisted changes to my training regime wondering why I should change something that was working so well for me, I quickly realized what a gem I had found in my new coach.
I described to her the lethargy I had been feeling lately during my runs as well as during normal daily activities. She asked me right off the bat if I knew what my ferritin levels were. Ferritin? I hadn’t mentioned anything about my penchant for small carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae to her. How could she know? Was she concerned that I had accidentally caught bubonic plague from one of them?
Of course, she was asking about my iron levels. More specifically and importantly for competitive runners, she was referring to my iron stores as measured by testing the levels of a protein called ferritin found in the blood that binds with and stores iron. The answer to her question was of course, no. She strongly suggested that I go out and find out what my serum ferritin level was, and I did right away.
My number was 12 ng/mL. This explained why I felt like dog poop. The “normal” range for sedentary female folk is 18-160 ng/mL. The other common tests for anemia like serum iron and total iron binding capacity were within an acceptable range which reassured me that this wasn’t full-blown anemia. What I had was something called sports anemia. And, surprise, surprise, my doctor had never heard of this. In fact, I struggled to convince my doctor to test my serum ferritin levels along with all of the more traditional tests for anemia. Don't be surprised if you need to be a little forceful to get your doctor to run this test and if they tell you a number below 20 is still "normal".
For competitive runners, I found out performance is significantly affected when your number dips below 20. I began studying this ferritin thing in depth and found out I was in good company. Top runners like Alan Culpepper have suffered from this, and I found out it is actually pretty common among runners and triathletes.
Why do runners tend to deplete their iron stores and become vulnerable to sports anemia? Apparently, we lose small quantities of iron through our sweat and from something called foot strike hemolysis. Foot strike hemolysis is a result of the mechanical damage to red blood cells that occurs as they pass through the capillaries in the foot during foot strike. When your iron losses exceed iron intake over a long period of time, your stores become depleted and your performance suffers.
I was living proof of this. So, what’s a runner to do about this condition? My coach had the answers because she had gone through this process of recovering from sports anemia herself. She had coached many other women who suffered from it as well. Women tend to be more vulnerable to this than men though men definitely get it too.
First, she explained that it was going to be a long haul. It would take months, maybe even a year for my iron stores to rebound. I was to start immediately taking an iron supplement, liquid ferrous sulfate, to be exact. Iron pills would not do the trick. I was to take 1 tbsp of this elixir in my orange juice (vitamin C aids in iron absorption) twice daily—forever. I was also supposed to increase my intake of red meat. She explained that, while our bodies can absorb iron from plant sources, it’s a relatively small percentage compared to what we can absorb from red meat.
I started feeling better within about 6 weeks of beginning iron supplementation. I got my serum ferritin levels checked about 6 weeks later and my levels were up to 24 ng/mL. Improvement! Within 6 months I was up to 40 ng/mL but still wasn’t feeling completely back to normal. It seemed to take about 9 months for me to feel spry again and back to normal. I started to back off the supplements, taking them once per day and didn’t eat as much red meat once the threat had passed. I had my iron levels tested a year after I first began supplements, and I was back down to 32 ng/mL.
I had my ferritin levels tested again this week and my levels are still hovering around 30 ng/mL. As my coach noted, this is dangerously close to the low end of the scale, and I could easily dip below 20 again if I don’t watch it. I immediately went out and stocked up on more liquid iron. While it turns my teeth hideous shades of grey, causes plumbing problems, and has forever tainted orange juice as a breakfast drink for me, liquid ferrous sulfate is my friend and will be for a long, long time to come.
A final, cautionary note: do not, I repeat, do not just go out and start taking iron supplements. You really need to be tested first since there are some oddballs out there that actually have similar symptoms to what I described as a result of having too much iron in their blood.
For more information about sports anemia and how it affects athletes, try the following links:
Sunday, August 23, 2009
- 23-26 mile progression – run the first 6-9 miles easy, the next 5 miles @ ~7 to 7:15 pace, the next 5 miles @ ~6:45 to 7:00 pace, the next 5 miles @ ~6:30 to 6:45 pace run the last 2 miles @ GMP. Finish w/ 3 x 40 sec’s @ mile effort w/full recoveries. Run on rolling hills.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I managed to complete two 95-mile weeks chock-full of hill workouts while on my annual military tour these past two weeks. I breathed a sigh of relief over the weekend until I realized that I had an equally busy work schedule when I returned to my regular job and was facing my toughest training week to date for this training cycle.
While this week’s mileage remains the same as the last two (95 miles), my coach squeezed in an extra hard workout on Friday. This week has 50 minutes of hills scheduled for Tuesday but I did them on Wednesday, 10 x Yasso 800s on Friday and a marathon on Sunday. While I thought I was done with the hills last week, this week is actually the last week of hard hill training, though the hills never completely disappear.
Tuesday and Wednesday I was scheduled to visit a couple of properties with conservation possibilities in the Merced area. Tuesday’s meeting was at 8:00 a.m. in Mariposa County. My colleague and I decided to drive up that morning. I had a double scheduled for Tuesday and an easy run scheduled for Wednesday. To get my two runs in Tuesday, I had to start my short run at 4:00 a.m. and then do the long workout in the afternoon in Merced.
When the alarm went off at 3:45 Tuesday morning, 4.5 hours after I had gone to bed, I began reformulating my running plan. While dozing on and off, I tried to figure out alternative run options and decided I would hope for a good treadmill in Merced at my hotel. I lucked out and found a nice little facility with 2 treadmills, an elliptical trainer and weight bench that overlooked the pool and Hwy 99--very scenic.
After our morning tour, I ran 7 miles on the treadmill Tuesday afternoon and did two rounds of my weight training circuit before meeting my colleague for dinner. It was good to get the weight workout in earlier in the week even though I knew I would feel it in my hill workout the next morning. This is a constant challenge for me: trying to schedule these weight workouts on days where I'm not dead tired and where I won't negatively impact a hard workout. I have found it to be impossible to achieve both of these goals consistently and generally end up going into a hard run with tired legs rather than compromise a recovery day.
I got a good night’s sleep Tuesday night, maybe a little too good. I slept in a longer than I should have before hopping on the treadmill again for what ended up being a 12 mile workout. My schedule prescribed 12-14 miles with 10 x 5 minute hills at half marathon effort with 1 minute jog rest in between the hills. I was supposed to finish this with 10 strides.
The treadmills were high tech in that they had TV built in including closed caption, but they were quite wobbly. It was a challenge to stay on the thing while running up a hill with sweat running into my eyes as I tried to read about Michael Jackson’s doctor’s latest video release and Michelle Obama’s fashion faux pas wearing shorts out in public. It was a big news day!
For the hills, I started the incline at 5% with the speed at 8 mph. This was steeper and faster than I did last week's 45-minute uphill workout even though this workout was supposed to be at an easier effort. I monitored my heart rate (HR) and found that it stayed well below my lactate threshold HR range, so I went with it.
After about 5 repeats, my little fitness cubby started to fill up. A man jumped on the elliptical trainer to my right and started gutting out his workout. Then, a very orange woman I would guess to be in her 50s showed up at the door wearing nothing but a spray on tan, a turquoise bikini and tennis shoes. She first went to get some water at the special water cooler in the corner but surprised me when she hopped on the treadmill next to me. She was in pretty good physical shape and began her jog/walk workout speeding up and slowing down erratically on the machine while it was set at a constant speed. Throughout the workout the machine would make these loud clunking noises, which caused elliptical guy and me to look over with alarm. She sort of shrugged her shoulders and looked confused, but kept on going. Eventually, she finished her 10-minute workout and headed for the pool.
I started to panic a little as I was running out of time and still needed to get in a couple more miles. I did a quick recovery jog after the last hill repeat and then started cranking up the treadmill. I found myself pushing 6:40 pace and feeling good, so I decided to run the last mile at goal marathon pace (6:18) so I could watch my HR. I started with the incline at 0 and my HR stayed steady at around 155. I decided that this wasn’t a true test so I set the incline to 1% to make up for the lack of wind resistance of running on a treadmill vice outdoors. My HR got up to 158, but went no higher. I don’t know what this means, but it made me feel good that my HR was relatively low (85% of max) at goal marathon pace after a hard workout.
By the time I finished, I had 30 minutes to get back to my room, shower, pack and check out. I became seriously panicky about getting breakfast when I got down to the lobby and one of my coworkers was already there waiting there for me. I grabbed my 8-cup plastic container that I had used for my yogurt, granola and fruit breakfast the day before (rinsed out, of course) and started piling heaps of oatmeal, mini donuts and muffins into it. I must have looked homeless to the people in the restaurant, but I got plenty of food!
We had a lovely day in the field followed by a long ride home where I finished off 19 miles for the day running 7 miles with 10 strides.I also found out this week that my little scheme for getting an automatic appointment to the US Military Marathon Team for 2010 based on my medal at the last championship race in Belgrade wasn’t approved by the governing board. So, I will have to compete for a spot on the team at the Marine Corps Marathon on October 25th, 3 weeks after Twin Cities. I am anxious about doing this, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, right?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
- short warm up
- 4 x 3 miles; with the first 2.75 miles at GMP and the last 0.25 miles at 10k effort
- 5 minute jog rest in between reps
- very short cool down
Friday, August 14, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I hated running until I was 36 years old and avoided it like The Plague. Early in my blogology, I wrote about this aversion and mentioned that the Air Force 1.5 mile run fitness test was one of the primary sources of my hatred. Today, I performed the 1.5 mile fitness test for maybe the 20th time in my life and actually set a lifetime PR. As I was circling (more like moving in a quasi-rhomboid fashion) around the “track” this morning, I recalled the first time I had done this test when I was an 18-year-old cadet in ROTC at the University of Puget Sound. I think I clocked 11:30 for the distance back then and was considered “fast” for a girl. I’m not sure that I ever got much faster than that until I started enjoying running 18 years later.
Every year, I have to do a military fitness test in addition to my physical exam to basically prove that I am breathing and ambulatory. It is actually nice to see the Air Force requiring Airmen to do PT three days a week and giving them time to do it. My Squadron forms up every week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for PT. On Wednesday, fitness tests are done for people who are due. I have usually scheduled this test at my convenience, but this time I wanted to do it with the group. I was really looking for a rabbit for the run since time trials on that track are ridiculous.
Since I normally do this on my own, the person that administers the test never makes me wear the AF PT uniform. I don’t actually own one and was really hoping I wouldn’t need it before I retired. Running with the Squadron presented a fashion conundrum for me as everyone else would be in their uniforms. I decided that I would designate and wear an alternate PT uniform—the shimmel and shorts issued to me by the AF for the Marine Corps Marathon last year. Since it was issued to me, I decided it was fine to wear. It is much more practical to run in than the rather bulky and scratchy AF PT uniform, and it comes in a fabulous cornflower blue color! Needless to say, I stood out like a sore thumb and slightly regretted my fashion choice when the Squadron Commander showed up for PT and looked askance at me. Call the fashion police!
A female, aged 40-44, needs to meet the following standards to max out the points on the AF fitness test (simply passing requires much less effort):
- Have a waist measurement less than 29.5 inches
- Do 20 pushups in 1 minute
- Do 38 crunches in 1 minute
- Run under 12 minutes 30 seconds for 1.5 miles
You start with the pushups and sit ups, and if you want to do well on the run, you just do the number that gets you the max points. That’s what I did today: 20 push-ups and 38 crunches. We then had our waists measured. The girls were escorted into the locker room for this procedure since female belly exposure is not authorized on a military base. Only two females were taking the test today: me and my 19-year-old crunch/pushup buddy. She and the measurer stood around and admired her massive belly tattoo and talked about how much it hurt while I was instructed to hold my buddy’s shirt up to aid in measurement. That was more than I wanted to know or see.
As we headed out to the track, I sized up the competition for the run, and it looked like there might be a couple of 19-year-old boys that could give me a run for my money. As we approached the track, I started having flashbacks of the SF Half Marathon—people were running around pell-mell, breaking into full-on sprints followed by near collapse. Then, there was the group that would jog a lap then stand on the side of the track and drop for dozens of push-ups or crunches—right there on the track. Of course some were happily jogging around the track in an orderly fashion. I estimate about 100 soldiers were using this 3/8 mile track for one purpose or another as we got ready to run fast. We had to wait for several minutes for the inside lane of the track to clear enough for us to take off. Without any warm up (aside from pushups and crunches), I blasted off the line followed by, well, nobody. I misjudged the competition and realized I was in for a time trial.
Little did I know, everyone in my Squadron was watching this cornflower-blue and white-compression-sock-outfitted runner “tear up the track”. I guess I looked like I was going fast compared to the hobby joggers running their 10-minute miles. I had to take it somewhat easy because I was doing another 12.5 miles after the time trial. I felt fine at 5:40 pace and just held that as I cut the tangents, swerved around joggers and leapt over prone soldiers. My time was 8:37. I have long wanted to break the 9-minute mark at that distance and did it easily today. My time was 38 seconds faster than last year (my previous PR).
After I finished, I jogged a recovery lap and headed back to get my paperwork signed off. The belly measurer asked if I was on the Air Force running team or if I just bought my cool outfit somewhere. I told her I was on The Team. I don’t think she was impressed. She just wanted to get a shimmel like mine. The deflated boys were all talking about how they really wanted to run fast, but they were served chicken fried steak at the Chow Hall last night and that really weighed them down. I’m sure that made a big difference.
I headed back into the gym for the next part of my workout—the dreaded 45 minutes up a hill. I used a different treadmill today than I did for last week's hill workout, but the gym was still as hot and humid as ever. My legs were barking loudly at me at the start of the hills so I took it a little easy, leaving the incline at 4% and the speed between 7.8-8.0 mph. I am a slacker, I know. I was absolutely drenched and seriously dehydrated by the end of the hill run despite my attempts to rehydrate. I finished up the 14 miles with some laps around the duck pond and a few cut downs on the track.
Apparently, I made an impression on the troops out on the track this morning. One of my co-workers told me later that she happened to overhear some of the women in the locker room talking about me. They were saying, “Did you see that Reserve Major flying around the track out there? I hear she lapped all the boys. She’s on the Air Force Team, you know.” Mission accomplished.
Now, off for another 5...
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
- prolonged warm up
- 10 x 1 mile @ goal marathon pace (GMP) with 1 minute jog rests; miles 8 and 9 run uphill, mile 10 run down a hill (to roughly simulate the last few miles at Twin Cities).
- filler miles
- finish with 3 x 25 seconds @ mile effort
- Soak legs in the lake
Thursday, August 6, 2009
- a short warm up
- 5 minutes at goal marathon pace
- 12 x 3 minute hills @ 10k effort, with 3 minute jog rests
- 10 strides
Sunday, August 2, 2009
- 4 mile warm up
- Everest Hill drills
- 15 minutes at marathon effort
- 10 x 1 minute hills at 3k effort with 1 minute jog rest
- 30 minutes up a hill at lactate threshold (tempo) effort
- 3 x 200m cut downs (from 3k to 800m effort)