Thursday, November 26, 2009

A day for giving thanks and giving back

At 8:00 a.m. today, I was still in bed, thinking about the race I was registered to run, The Run to Feed the Hungry 10k, which kicked off at 8:45. I tossed and turned all last night as a result of a poor choice in meals at dinner. Red peppers never do sit well with me. For hours, my stomach felt like little men were on the inside with pick axes poking at the lining and they probably had some sort of acid on the ends of their pick axes to make it hurt worse. I couldn't imagine myself running the race.

The only thing that drug my butt out of bed finally at 8:10 was a reminder that this was a workout for me, and I could stop at any point and walk or just decide to enjoy a stroll along the way if I wanted to. My workout was 8 miles with either 10k or 5k at lactate threshold (tempo) effort. I chose the 10k distance thinking I would have an easier time keeping myself at LT effort due to the longer distance. I laced up my trainers and left my racing flats at home, just to be clear with myself that this was not a race I was about to run.

Traffic was miserable, so we just parked a mile from the starting line and ran in. I ended up nearly stripping down while running to the start, throwing my bag of clothes to The Genius (who incidentally PR'd in the 5k today!) while I scaled the steep grassy cliff next to the road in an attempt to get as close to the starting mat as possible. I got to the line as the last words of the National Anthem were being sung. Luckily, the race started a couple of minutes late.

I started the 10k with a couple of runners that had told me they were going to be running what I thought my workout pace might be. We all got sucked out way too fast. When I looked at my Garmin in the first 1/4 mile, we were somewhere around 5:40 pace. We slowed to 6:05 pace by mile 1. When my group noticed how fast they were going, they started to slow down. I looked at my Garmin and saw 6:23 pace, and I took off around them. I finally settled into a steady 6:15 or so pace by mile 3 and hung there for the rest of the race. My stomach felt okay, but I was glad I wasn't racing or I would have gotten a major side stitch, I'm quite certain.

A young girl with a blond ponytail and headphones popped up next to me around mile 3 and asked if I was on a team, and if I ran in college, and if it was okay if she ran with me, and what my name was, and... I told her I was doing a tempo run, and she said, "great! I haven't done a tempo run in a long time!" Hmmm. Not sure she knew what a tempo run was. Anyway, she dutifully stuck with me for the rest of the race, and every time I got a step behind, she encouraged me to keep going. Very cute.

As we turned for home, I let her take off since there was really no point in me starting a sprint a half mile from the finish, but she wouldn't have it. She said, "Come on, Jaymee, keep going. We're almost there." I looked at her and very nicely said, "You go ahead. I'm just doing a workout here." She finally got it and sped off to finish 6 or so seconds ahead of me.

This workout was supposed to be a heartrate max test for me too, but that didn't really work out. While my heart rate got up to 192 within the first 1/4 mile, my coach and I think that may have been an anomaly. After that brief spike, it settled down, and then kept going down as I settled into my LT pace. My last 1/4 mile was at 5:46 pace and my HR averaged 174, the lowest average for any of my race splits. Go figure. And, I thought I was pushing it.

After my rant on effort-based running, I believe I hit it today. And, I did it in a race no less! My Garmin said I ran 6.3 miles at 6:10 pace with an average HR of 175 and best of all, it felt like a tempo effort. My official time was 38:50, which was good enough for 4th overall female and 2nd Master.

I actually won $100 in prize money, but started to feel guilty about taking that when someone asked me at Thanksgiving dinner how much money I raised for the hungry. I answered, "Actually, I think I took money from the hungry." I decided to donate the extra $65 I earned (after subtracting out my race fee), and contribute it back to the cause. Not sure I could live with myself otherwise. I made the donation in memory of my Dad, Joe Marty, Jr. I think he would have chosen to donate the winnings too.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Effortless Training

As a newish runner, I have found the concepts of running by feel and effort-based training to be pretty straight forward, but the actual practice difficult to employ. The running by feel concept is well described in this interview with Kara Goucher written by Matt Fitzgerald. Kara explains that if you're tired or just having a bad day, it's really useful to switch to run-by-feel mode where you let your body dictate the effort based on how you feel. The alternative is to be a slave to your Garmin and run yourself ragged trying to complete a workout at a given pace, even an easy workout, that your body really can't handle.

Not being able to switch to run-by-feel mode when necessary can lead to injury and overtraining. The trick is knowing when to let the workout go. I know that I have workouts, especially during heavy-mileage weeks, where my legs feel like dog poop at the start and I don't think I'll be able to complete it. As often as not, these workouts work themselves out, and I feel fine by the end. So when do you make the call as to whether or not you should press the run-by-feel button and ditch the workout or go with it and hope for the best?

Kara is lucky that she has an entourage of coaches trained to adjust or even nix her workouts when they notice warning signs like her leg lift not being up to snuff during intervals. She says she benefits from this insight because she has a hard time letting a workout go. I have a hard time letting a workout go too, but I don't have anyone there to tell me to skip it and go take a nap. The answer to my question appears to be: know thyself.

For salty dog runners, knowing what a given pace should feel like and what your body can handle on a given day appears to come naturally. Some may even take this ability for granted. I don't think there's anything natural about it. I believe that this skill is learned over many years if not decades and is honed through a lot of practice and feedback. As a novice runner, I admit that I become inpatient and get frustrated with my lack of experience even though I do understand the concept. Without knowing the "feel", I can't make it work.

I have been the butt of many jokes from more experienced (notice I didn't say older since many are actually younger than me) runners that find it ridiculous to wear a Garmin or even a watch for every workout. And a heart rate monitor is certainly way over the top! As a self-confessed geek, I love my tech toys, but I honestly believe the Garmin is a wonderful tool to help speed up the learning process for new runners. I wear my Garmin every time I run. I race with it. I do speed work with it. I do easy runs with it on. I take the pace feedback I get from this gizmo, and I use it to calibrate my effort in my brain.

While I wear my Garmin on my easy days, I try not to use the data as a tool for self flagellation when I'm dragging ass. I am getting the hang for what easy days should feel like, but I still find it interesting that my easy pace can vary so much. I'm not alone there, apparently, since Kara says her easy pace ranges from 6:30 - 8:00 minute pace depending on the day and how she feels. I have found that monitoring heart rate can be a useful tool for effort-based workouts, though heart rate can vary wildly depending on so many factors (e.g. sleep cycles, stress, heat, hydration).

Effort-based running is slightly different than running by feel, and it perplexes me too. The majority of my workouts in my training cycles, are run at 3k, 5k, 10k, LT, marathon effort and NOT pace. I believe the rationale for making these workouts effort-based is to get the idea through my thick skull that I shouldn't be trying to run at my goal training paces during this phase of my training, assuming that if I run at effort, it will be slower than if I run at goal pace.

You would think that 5 years of running would be enough for me to get to know what these efforts feel like, but I still lack the skill to truly regulate myself during these workouts. When you think about it, how are you really going to know what 3k effort feels like, if, like me, you've never raced a 3k? The obvious answer is to run slightly harder than 5k effort. By now, I think I know what 5k effort feels like, but honestly, at the end of a 5k (or at the beginning on a really bad day), my 5k effort feels the same as my effort at the end of the 10k or half marathon or marathon--like death is imminent. At what point in the race do you choose to develop the feel for that effort?

So many unanswered questions.

I'm hopeful that some day I'll be a "natural" at running by feel and will get my effort-based workouts under control. I do know that I will be using my lovely Garmin to get me there.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Planning to race

At the start of each new training cycle, I give my coach a list of races that I want to do and she works them into my schedule. Because the list is typically pretty long, I know that there is no way that I will actually be 'racing' them all. So, it's always fun to see which I'll be racing and which I'll be doing as a workout. As my Clarksburg post documents, I am sometimes challenged when it comes to controlling myself doing a workout within a race. Most of the time, however, I'm able to recognize that there's a bigger goal than the race I'm doing, and I keep my pace where it's supposed to be.

This Thursday will be one of those challenges for me. I will be running the local Run to Feed the Hungry which is a true Sacramento running tradition. It's a huge fun run with about 28,000 participants. There's also a small competitive contingent that competes for the little bit of prize money that's up for grabs.

My first challenge associated with this race was trying to figure out which distance to do: 5k or 10k. My goal for that day is to run the 'race' at lactate threshold (tempo) effort. This was highlighted in my training plan in bright yellow, so I think it's pretty important to follow the plan. I decided that the 10k would be the better option because the longer distance would help me keep my pace under control. It would be hard to hold back my pace in a 5k right now to 6:00-6:10. I would just be too tempted to race it instead of running it as a workout. Best to just remove the temptation. This will also be a heart rate max test for me where I'll run the first 5.5-6 miles at LT effort and then kick it in for a full on sprint to get my heart rate as high as possible. If I look like I'm going to die at the finish, that's what I'm going for. So, don't worry. I'm not quite sure what pace LT effort will have me running, but it will be fun to test it out and set a benchmark complete with heart rate data to look back on later in my training.

Here are the other races on my list for the next 5 months:
  • 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)
Just when I had my head wrapped around this racing schedule, serendipity dropped in for a visit and changed everything. Last Wednesday, I received a message from my boss asking if I could sit in on a review panel in his stead that would require my participation over the next couple of months. The panel meets in person in Seattle 11-12 February. Within hours of receiving that message, I got a message from my Air Force Team about Cross Country Nationals in Spokane on what day? February 13th--perfect! I need to apply for the team, but I have a feeling I have a good chance of earning a spot after my Marine Corps Marathon performance. I know I can be in sub-18:00 5k shape by then too. So, after my meetings in Seattle, I can just hop on over to Spokane and run what will no doubt be a bitterly cold and possibly snowy race.

It may seem hard to believe, but I have never run a cross country race before. I guess it can't be that hard. I probably have to get some new shoes and figure out a new race strategy. I think I'll do fine and will have fun if nothing else. The kicker here is that the top 5 military female finishers get to compete for the U.S. in the world military cross country championships in March in----wait for it------Belgium! I am now very excited about trying my hand at cross country and winning a trip to Europe to compete for the US. How fun would that be? This would displace the Shamrock'n race, but I promised my coach I'd be able to get in the long miles if I got to do these two races.

So, my fingers are crossed that this cross country opportunity materializes for me and that I compete well enough for the Air Force to spend some time in Europe kickin' it with the top military cross country competitors in the world. Fun fun!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My fear of not running

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

The new training plan is here! The new training plan is here!

Today was like Christmas or my birthday because I received my new training plan from my coach. It is a 21-week doozie that begins with about a month of recovery and then launches into 21 weeks of fun that will prepare me for my next marathon. So, what is my next marathon?

Well, I went through quite a process to decide which spring marathon I would run to try to break 2:46. While there are numerous options, I narrowed it down to either Boston or Eugene. I received many other good suggestions including the LA Marathon, Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, the National Marathon and Napa. I decided Boston and Eugene provided the best options for me to achieve my goal.

I've run both before. Boston was my second marathon in 2005, and I ran Eugene in 2007 and 2008. Boston is attractive to me because I know there will be other very fast women there and likely other women trying to run 2:46. It is also a fairly fast course if you are a good downhill runner and if there's good weather. There's also the prize money enticement. The problems with Boston include an early elite women's start which you have to use if you want to compete for money. This is kind of cool since you get to run through a virgin crowd but it is not so cool if you fall off of a pack and are out there floundering on your own. The big unknown for Boston is always the weather. When I ran it in 2005, it was hot and miserable. They've had colder weather in the past couple of years, but headwinds are always a concern particularly on the last stretch into the city.

Eugene is a nice, small race. The scenery is beautiful, running along the Willamette River for much of the second half. It is fairly flat, and this year they're supposed to finish up at Hayward Field. In past years, the race started at Hayward and finished at Autzen Stadium. The weather has also been ideal for the 3 years that the race has been run. The main problem with the race is that it has not been very competitive. The first year saw some fast female finish times because several women were using it as a qualifier for the 2008 Olympic Trials. The second year, I led the race for a few miles and ultimately placed second with a 2:55. Last year's winner ran just under 3 hours. I have heard rumors that they plan to offer incentives for those trying to qualify for the Trials. That might bring in some fasties.

So, I decided on Eugene for the above reasons and a few more:
  • 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.

So, my plan takes me to May 2nd, race day in Eugene. The general breakdown is: 5 weeks of general strength training, 4 weeks of general strength training with a side of speed, 5 weeks of hills and marathon specific training, and 7 weeks of marathon specific training + race week. I've been busy inputing the workouts into iCal and noticed a few novel things about my new training plan right off the bat. The volume is slightly higher, but the intensity is clearly kicked up a notch. In the 21-week meaty portion of the training plan (after my recovery phase), I found:
  • 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!
I will now spend the next few weeks convincing myself that I can do this. I will explain to myself that I've completed training plans similar to this before and am ready to take it to the next level. All the while, a nugget of doubt will sit in my amygdala and cause me to question every workout. Somehow, I will manage to overcome my insecurity and fear each day, become fitter than I've ever been in my life and give it the old college try on race day. It will be a fun ride indeed!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Clarksburg half marathon shuffle

The good news about today's adventure at the Clarksburg Half Marathon race is that I clinched third place in the 2009 Buzz Oates age-graded race series. The bad news is that I got caught in the trap and showed a serious lack of self control out there on the roads. However, I don't think I did any long-term damage that will foreclose on my future ability to get the cheese and eat it on my way to the Olympic Trials. I ran around 1:32, but that's faster than I was supposed to.

For background's sake, the race series requires a total of 8 races: 4 long and 4 short. I had 4 short and 3 long races as of September, and there was only 1 long option remaining. The shortest option was the half marathon (they also offered a 30k and 20 mile race today). I felt compelled to complete the series since I had put so much work into it throughout the year, but I also would receive $300 for placing in the top three. That was hard to let go.

This was a serious point of contention between me and my coach. She was not thrilled that I "had" to run this race. While I was hopped up on adrenaline in the hours following my Marine Corps Marathon race, I proposed that I could run 1:25 or 1:26 at Clarksburg and that would probably put me in 2nd place for the series. I look at that now and laugh. That would have been crazy. My coach also didn't like my next proposal of 1:30--still too fast. She was thinking 8:00 pace. We went back and forth a few more times, and I finally laid out my lowest offer: I really really really wanted to run Clarksburg and I didn't care how fast. I just wanted the points to finish the series. Her concern all along was that I would compromise my recovery for my next big cycle of marathon training recognizing that what I do right now could impact the training I do several months down the road. I told her that I promised I'd rest if I just get to run this race.

As I started trying on this idea of running the half marathon at 8:00 pace, I became antsy. It sounded really painful to me. I asked my coach last night if I could keep myself occupied with a workout within the race, and she said that would work. I was to run the first 5 miles as a cutdown from 8:00 to 7:40; then run 15 x 30 seconds at 5k effort with 2 minute moderate rests; wrapping up with a 5 mile cutdown starting again at 8:00 and knocking 5 seconds per mile off my pace every mile. You can probably do the math and see that following that plan does not get you across the line in 1:32 which is a little over 7:00 pace.

When I programmed my Garmin computer this morning, I Effin J-sized the workout. I had the cutdowns going from 8:00 to 7:20. I gave the 5k effort repeats 15 extra seconds just in case I was feeling really spry. This didn't mean I HAD to run for 45 seconds at 5k effort. I could just stop running at 30 seconds and jog for a bit, couldn't I? I also turned the sound off on my GPS so I didn't scare runners as I ran up beeping from behind. My fabulous new Garmin has a vibrator that tells you when to change pace with a silent but stimulating alarm rather than an annoying beep beep beep.

So, I left my lucky necklace at home, wore my heavy trainers and a long-sleeved shirt that I would tie around my waist when I got warm. Surely, these things would slow me down. I showed up to the race with about 3 minutes to spare and actually had to sprint to the starting line to catch the race (which starts with the gun, not your chip). I started way back in the pack to keep myself slow. That was a good move. I was able to start out at 8:00 pace without a problem. At the first mile marker, I picked up the pace and let my GPS settle in. 7:25 is what it read. Woops. I slowed. That lasted for a while, but I found myself sticking to around 7:30 pace for those first 5 miles. I really enjoyed this more leisurely pace through this section. I got in some fabulous bird watching with a pair of Sandhill cranes doing a low fly-by around the 2-mile marker. I was so excited and shouted, "Sandhill crane!" while pointing in the air but nobody else seemed impressed. I also saw numerous flickers and several hawks out trawling the farm fields for small prey items.

As I got set to start my 5k repeats, I looked up ahead and saw a huge pod of runners spanning the width of the street. I've done workouts in races before, and it is really kind of embarrassing running up on people super fast, backing off and then watching them pass you back only to repeat this cycle, well 15 times. I threw caution to the wind and went for it, running on the gravel shoulder to get around the pod. Luckily, I went fast enough in the first one that the pod did not catch me back. I heard a couple of, "whoas" and "wows" which made me a little uncomfortable. Once the half marathon runners turned for home at the half way point, there were fewer obstacles to deal with. I kept doing my repeats, always going the full 45 seconds and running between 5:20-5:45 pace depending on the wind. I took the 2 minute rest seriously though!

At around mile 10 for the half, fast 30k runners started coming up behind us. A very tall man wearing a remarkable amount of clothing for the conditions had a chicklet wearing bun huggers and a bra top right on his butt. The wind was tough in that section, and she was being smart but the contrast in clothing options was amusing to me. They passed me handily during a rest phase. Then, my vibrator went off and I kicked in the juice. I passed them at about 5:20 pace, and as I cleared the tall man's peripheral vision he literally jumped sideways and said, "What the fuck?" (I can quote that since that's what he said, by the way). I yelled back that I was just doing intervals and to not be alarmed.

After we turned onto a street and now had a crosswind, his tailgater took off. I passed him a couple more times before losing him completely, but I only made him jump again once. Finally, I was done with the intervals and had about 2 miles to go. I was still passing half marathoners at this point, but I didn't go back to 8:00 pace. I was now hovering around 7:15. Mind you, I felt fine this whole time. I had no aches or pains and was not taxing myself.

As we approached mile 12 for the half, my fully-clothed tall guy friend came running up from behind me and started to pass. The guy to my left said to me, "Come on. Let's get this guy." I instinctively charged forward for about 3 seconds until I realized I had nothing to gain by racing a guy running the 30k and blowing my plans for an easy finish. I backed off and the tall guy sped off at an even faster clip. I reminded him as he huffed and puffed along that there was still a mile to go sort of suggesting that he might not want to kick that early.

I recycled him a half mile later. While this might be because he kicked too early and had slowed, I had actually picked up my pace significantly having spied a juicy target ahead. A couple of runners that I knew were doing the half were slowing by that point and I decided I had nothing to lose by picking it up in the last half mile. I passed them with 200m to go and finished strong.

I guess the lesson I learned today is that it's really not practical for a competitive runner to try to run a race that slow. I now understand my coach's trepidation a lot better because I think she knows this. She never came out and said she didn't trust me to go slow, but she apparently had good reason to question my ability to follow the plan.

While I didn't get the cheese today, I don't think I did any damage either. My coach is presently writing a new training plan for me, and it will start right off with a couple of weeks of rest. She tells me she is increasing both my volume and intensity this round, so it will be very challenging which excites me to no end.

I'm stating this for the world to read (mostly to keep myself honest): I will not enter the Buzz Oates Race Series should it continue next year. While I love the fact that Fleet Feet Sports sponsors this race series and that it favors the older runners, like myself, I spent way too much energy fitting those races into my schedule and running races (like Clarksburg) that had the potential to detract from my overall goals. I will probably still run many of these races, when they fit into my schedule, but I refuse to be a slave to the series. I liken this to having Halloween candy in the house--if it's there, I will eat it all. I recognize and accept that I have little self control when it comes to candy and racing so I am simply removing that temptation.

Friday, November 6, 2009

On science and running

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:

  1. You come out of the closet with a wild-ass idea (called a hypothesis);
  2. You design a clever way to test whether or not your wild-ass idea has any chops (called an experiment),
  3. 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);
  4. 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;
  5. You form a new hypothesis based on what you’ve learned and begin the process anew.
  6. *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.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Here's to recovery

During my last training cycle, I was strongly advised to change my party-girl ways after my coach, who I know reads this blog, read about a couple of silly drunken escapades and became concerned that this was affecting my training. It was an important reminder that daily hard training takes a toll on your body and, if you expect to maximize that training, lifestyle matters. Well, guess what? I'm in recovery now, and you know what that means? I need to get my party on pronto before I get sidelined from the festivities again with the next round of hard training.

I started the party in Washington D.C., the night of the race. As the second oldest person on the Air Force team, I have a special obligation to show that a piddly little 26.2 mile race can't keep the old folks from throwing down in the hizzie. It is Air Force tradition to dress up for this post-marathon caper, but, of course, I had no costume. I must admit that I was seriously doubting my ability to rise to the occasion as the clock approached 10 p.m.

The team had gathered at a traditional hang out in Adams Morgan called Madam's Organ. I knew that I needed to dress up lest I feel totally lame, so I looked around for potential costume material. The Genius had kept the space blanket given to him after the race, so I tied a top knot with two corners of that above one shoulder to fashion a mylar toga and found an ethernet cable in the closet to use as a belt. Slip on a running skirt, a t-shirt and some Birkenstocks and, voila: toga! I still needed a crown of ivy, but I had seen some in the courtyard in the hotel. So, on our way out, I slipped into a chair next to a potted ivy plant and, while nobody was looking, wrestled a couple of strands off the plant for my head dress. The Genius felt no pressure to dress up though he would end up becoming part of the rotating costume fest throughout the night.

A couple stops (and hundreds of questioning stares) on the Metro and a taxi ride got us to the party house. I asked the bouncer if there were others dressed like me inside and he told me to beware of the Indian. I knew I was among friends. The Indian in our group had actually been accosted on the Metro because an angry woman thought he was being disrespectful to Native Americans. He was lucky to have gotten out of that jam with his loin cloth intact. And thank God for that, because there wasn't much else to that costume.

Aside from my lame ass toga, we had the Jolly Green Giant and his wife represented, a pumpkin, a few species of Coleoptera and Hymenoptera, a running santa, Screech from Saved By the Bell, and the Indian. We danced and drank and drank and danced until nearly 2 a.m. It was a blast, but I was not feeling the love when sunlight broke through the window the next morning. I'm pretty sure the soreness I experienced in my calves over the next couple of days had little to do with the marathon and everything to do with the incessant bouncing I did for nearly 3 hours at Madams Organ.

Last night, we went to two Halloween parties. Once again, recognizing that my party days are numbered, I felt obliged to go all out. The Genius went as Fat Bastard: The Biggest Loser (aka Skinny Bastard), and I recycled a Fem-bot costume I had created 10 years ago. Yes, my jumblies are lighting up in that picture. the secret is a remote control in my left glove. They even operate independently of one another for a true rapid-fire effect. It's fun to be the light show out in the middle of the dance floor with people wondering how you're getting your bosom to light up in sync with the music. We danced, drank countless plastic cups filled with my signature drink--the Go Job (Go Girl and vodka) and stayed out until 2 a.m.

So, I think I have gotten my pent up party energy out of my system for a while. I remember now why I don't party like this much--recovery is a beeotch.

As for my training, I resumed running yesterday and felt good running 5 miles at an easy pace. I am still in negotiations with my coach over the shape that my training plan will take for the next couple of months. She reminds me that, while my legs feel great, there are other parts of my body that require recovery post marathon besides my legs--minor things really like my heart and endocrine system. I know that recovery is key, but damn I want to get back in there and train hard again.

I guess admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?