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.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
- Dec 13: Christmas Relays with the Impalas (run at LT effort)
- Feb 13: Valentine's Run 4 miler (race!)
- Mar 6: Norcal John Frank Memorial 10 miler (race!)
- Mar 14: Shamrock'n half marathon (goal marathon pace workout)
- Mar 28: Nutrition Fuels Fitness 10k (race! but with 10 miles tacked on to the end)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
While I’ve been in recovery mode these last couple of weeks, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the question of why it’s so hard for (some) runners, myself included, to take a break from running. What are we afraid will happen if we slow down for a spell? I’m convinced that any runner that’s been at it for a while is well versed in the benefits of recovery and rest. They’ve either heard about the wonders of rest from friends, books or magazines, or they’ve learned it the hard way by pushing themselves so hard without a break that they became injured or sick and were forced to take a break.
I can only answer this question for myself, but this week, I think I uncovered the origin of my fear. I’m afraid that if I stop working hard, I will fill my time with stuff that doesn’t require nearly as much pain and effort and I won’t want to run ever again. While I’m afraid that I might get injured if I push myself too hard, I’m equally afraid that I will become lethargic and unmotivated if I let myself slack off for too long. Let me assure you that this is a rational fear. Running is the one sport/activity that I’ve done consistently and for a long enough period of time to actually become good at.
I have dabbled in an assortment of activities in my lifetime (golf, gymnastics, cycling, softball, knitting, guitar, cello, violin, singing, yodeling, sewing, painting, candle making, carpentry, and on and on) and have been able to get by with a certain amount of proficiency with each one. The common denominator with all of them has always been this: I throw myself into the activity at the onset until I become ‘good enough’ at it, then when the hard work starts producing fewer and fewer results, I drop the activity like a maggot-infested carcass. With running I seem to have broken this pattern. Maybe I’ve not yet hit that feeling of being good enough or the return on investment has remained high enough to keep me hooked. Regardless, the fear of not running remains.
This week, I have learned that I do a fine job filling the time that would have been spent running or rolling out the kinks in my legs or doing strength training. I’m getting projects done around the house, knitting a hat for the Genius for Christmas, sleeping more, eating more, drinking more, getting caught up on Project Runway and Dexter. It’s really relaxing, and I think I’m starting to like it a little too much!
Just when I was contemplating becoming a slacker full time, my new plan kicked my training up a notch. Today, I had my first “hard” workout post marathons and I was very pleased with how it went. The first one out of the chute is always a bit unnerving for me. Just a few weeks ago, I was the fittest I have ever been in my life. So, as usual, I'm having a hard time facing the fact that I won’t be able to maintain the same training paces I was running pre-Twin Cities in my upcoming workouts. Instead of just rolling with the workout, taking whatever my body has to give, I fret about it. And, the escalation of self-doubt begins with wondering what pace I’ll be able to hold for my tempo-paced effort. This is followed closely by: how fast should I run 5k effort? How should I feel running at these efforts? Will I ever be able to run these workouts as fast as I did in the last training cycle? Am I over the hill as a runner? These are all great questions to stress out about for hours. Okay, maybe not hours. I’m being dramatic, but I stress for numerous minutes at least.
My run today was a total of only 10 miles, but it was packed to the gills with quality. After a brief warm up, I had a 15-minute foray into the lactate threshold (tempo) effort zone. I was able to maintain 6:02 pace for the full 15 minutes without stopping. While it seems ridiculous for ‘not stopping’ to be my benchmark since I should be well within myself running at lactate threshold (LT) effort for 2.5 miles, I always have a bit of a problem keeping myself at LT effort rather than pace.
I looked back at one of my blogs from the beginning of my last training cycle and saw that my first LT-paced workouts were disasters. Last May, I blew up at 6:07 pace, having to stop three times during a 25-minute LT effort interval. In the next hard workout of that cycle, less than a week later, I slowed down the pace a bit and was able to run at 6:11 pace for 15 minutes without stopping. So, 6:02 pace for 15 minutes without stopping is an improvement for me. Was I running at LT effort? Well, let’s not go there right now.
After a 5-minute jog, I then launched into 12 x 1 minute intervals @ 5k effort with 1 minute jog rests. I ran these comfortably between 5:20-5:45, with most under 5:30 pace. In this portion of the workout, I decided I would start trying to convince myself, by thinking happy thoughts, that I like the feeling of running at 5k effort. The record I’ve been playing in my runner’s head since I started running 5 years ago is entitled I hate the 5k. I don’t hate the 5k. I LOVE the 5k. Well, I will learn to LOVE the 5k. I’m convinced it’s all in my mind, and I will overcome it. I am also going to work on loving hills. I LOVE running 8 miles up a hill at LT effort. I will become good at hills. Yes, I will. Hill. Bill. Dill. Pickle. Wow, I really want a pickle right now. See how that works? Mind over matter.
I am off to a good start with my training. Now, I just need to figure out when to begin my higher-fat food and alcohol taper in preparation for the next phase of hard work. I have not been tracking my diet or weight for the last month but realize I need to get back into the habit to keep myself honest. Maybe I’ll start after Thanksgiving. Oh, how I do love my pumpkin pie.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
- I know the course (maybe not the exact course since they're finishing in a different location).
- I can drive there in less than 8 hours. So, no flying = no drug/alcohol pre-flight ritual.
- My family can come and watch since they all live fairly close, and it's easier to con my friends into running it too.
- Even without a fast pod of women to work with, I might find a couple of dudes running my pace. At Boston, that's not an option.
- Finishing at Hayward Field might give me that little spark I need at the end to slip in under the qualifying mark.
- Three, 100+ mile weeks in this plan, versus one in my Twin Cities plan.
- Eight, 20+ mile runs and 13 weekend long runs that total over 20 miles/day (including the two-a-days).
- Though I didn't think it was possible, my hill training became hillier.
- There are a lot more two-a-day workouts. Several of the weeks have five, two-a-days during the week.
- The Rock circuit returns in January with a vengeance! This is a serious butt-kicker of a strength workout that I highly encourage all runners to try.
- My core workouts doubled from 100 reps, 2 x per week to 200 reps, 2 x per week because I need to get rid of my beer gut.
- In addition to a major quality effort on Tuesdays and Saturdays, Thursday runs are faster and have some quality incorporated.
- My second run of the day has the occasional 1 mile at GMP or similar quality thrown in.
- Something called the wolverine has been added to my schedule in April. This is something new indeed!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
This week, I was sequestered at a science writing workshop at the Bodega Marine Lab with 20+ of my geeky science colleagues from The Nature Conservancy. Since I’m in recovery mode, running has not been the central focus of my life, but it is never far from my heart. The atmosphere of creative energy during these writing fests is always inspiring and this week provided a great distraction to keep my mind from obsessing on how little I'm running.
The running high I’ve enjoyed for over a month is starting to wear off and has forced me to put my life back into perspective. Like an addict looking for the next fix, I was all fired up to keep pushing myself after the Marine Corps Marathon. My coach (aka training colonel) ever so gently talked me off the ledge and convinced me to take my recovery more seriously. And, I am listening. I have run only 4 times since my last marathon and the cold I have been battling is finally on its way out. My cold did serve an alternate purpose, providing me with a sexy smoker's voice for a concert that I played tonight. I was able to get away with a Johnny Cash song (actually a 9 Inch Nails song as covered by JC) that just has less of an effect without a little rasp and vocal depth that comes from either smoking or lots of phlegm.
So, back to science and running. A post in the Science of Sport blog last week caught my scientist’s eye. Ross discusses the use of science in coaching and states that the most successful coaches use the scientific process with their athletes. I would like to carry that one step further and propose that athletes benefit when they think about their training scientifically. I have talked with many runners that laugh at the fact that I wear a cigarette-pack-sized GPS unit on my wrist for every run, or that I painstakingly record every workout in a relational database, or that I keep a log of how I feel before and after every workout, or that I record weight and body fat measurements every day. What they’re missing is that this is all part of a grand experiment: sample size (n) = 1 and control = 0! As a matter of fact, this data forms the basis of my training and aids in my improvement as an athlete. One might even say that it is one of those elusive secrets to my success.
But, I didn’t always think like a scientist. After reading the blog post I began to reminisce on my transformation as both a scientist and a runner and the interaction of the two.
Born to run (in a multi-variate statistical sort of way)
In defiance of my early acquisition of an INTJ Myers-Briggs brand, I chose a dodgier career path in management out of college (INTJ is actually called The Scientist: I have the barcode on my right earlobe to prove it. As an aside, Lance Armstrong and Hanibal Lecter: both INTJ). While I got by as a manager and found it mildly entertaining for about 6 years, I was constantly trying to solve problems using what I would later find out is the scientific method.
I finally embraced my inner-geek and dove into the field of ecology with both feet in 1995. I landed in California after an Air Force tour in Germany, leaving management and the active-duty Air Force with hopes of becoming a certified science genius in ecology. The odds were not in my favor at this point. I had a non-science undergraduate degree in Aerospace Management and little practical experience doing science. So, I needed to get my hands dirty in this new field and give it a test run. I wound up as an AmeriCorps ‘volunteer’ for a year making $600/month before taxes. While I amassed an amazing amount of debt that year, I also fell in love with science and ecology.
I applied to and was (amazingly) accepted into the Graduate Ecology Program at UC Davis in 1996 and started pursuing my Ph.D. While I thought like a scientist, I had no flippin’ idea what I was doing at that point. Drinking water from a geyser is about how it felt my first year in grad school. I was simultaneously learning the basics of ecology, biology, botany, genetics, etc. in an attempt to make up for my lack of undergraduate training in these areas while also taking graduate-level ecology classes. As I became immersed in my new field, I realized just how fun it was to systematically solve problems using a butt-load of data, some sweet statistical software, all nuanced with a bit of keen personal observation. I was finally formally using the scientific method and dug it to no end.
Here’s how the scientific method works:
- You come out of the closet with a wild-ass idea (called a hypothesis);
- You design a clever way to test whether or not your wild-ass idea has any chops (called an experiment),
- You collect a butt-load of data in a supposedly unbiased way (though I now believe this is impossible for humans to do—there’s always bias);
- You analyze the data using some sweet piece of software to determine whether you were dreaming when you came up with the wild-ass idea, and you either reject or accept your hypothesis based on the evidence;
- You form a new hypothesis based on what you’ve learned and begin the process anew.
- *Optional step: you spend 3 years writing and re-writing a paper that gets criticized (objectively, of course), rejected for publication and rewritten until you find a venue that will take your piece of trash science rag off of your hands so others can continue to criticize it (is that cynical?).
But, I digress.
This is the scientific process that Ross talks about in his article (well, he might describe it slightly differently). It doesn’t mean that you blindly follow Jack Daniels’ training prescriptions or read Noakes’ Lore of Running before bedtime every night. It means that you’re aware of the science and you use it to form educated guesses about how you’ll do in race X using training plan Y. You do the work prescribed in your training plan and collect the data along the way including the final piece of data: your race time. You then go back and attempt to divine why you did or did not meet your goal and revise your training as appropriate.
My coach and I both think like scientists and use this process to improve my training and make me faster. That's why I think we make such a great team.
So, my advice to you, dear runner, is to embrace your inner scientist and go get that 5k/10k/marathon PR. Or, continue to rely on voodoo and necromancy to get you across that finish line faster. Your choice.