Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smurf Patrol Kills

I went out one evening just over a week ago to do a 6 x 1 mile workout.  I threw in a few strides to warm up the legs and took off at what was supposed to be around lactate threshold to 1/2 marathon pace. I got to the first 1/2 mile marker and saw 3:19 for my split. "Okay, this isn't going to work tonight," I told myself. I loped home feeling defeated.

This type of workout experience has been the norm over these past few months, and I have been so frustrated. Most days I have felt ridiculously tired and not able to get excited about pushing my body even for an easy run.  I did have some weird virus and a crazy immune system inspired rash, but if I'm being honest, this has been going on for a lot longer than a few months.  In the 4-6 weeks before the Grandma's half, I had bad workouts almost exclusively. Go back even farther to my build up to the Olympic Trials, and I had not just bad workouts, but also freak injuries that didn't want to heal.

In thinking about my situation, I wondered if something systemic was wrong. I suspected low iron levels, because this mirrored that depleted feeling I had when I once let my ferritin levels get really low. I tested my iron levels twice in the last 4 months and both times they were higher than they've ever been.  I started wondering about hormones.  I am old, after all, and my estrogen levels are probably starting to drop.  I also had my body fat measured a year ago and found out it was pretty low, like estrogen depleting low. Is it possible that, when my body fat levels get super low, my estrogen levels get low enough to make me feel like a sloth?

There was one way to find out.  Well, one easy way.  I had a prescription for hormone enhancers (the name rhymes with the blog title) that had been sitting around the house since last winter. I had a long discussion with my doctor back then about taking them for their main purpose, killing smurfs, but for some other side benefits like maintaining my iron levels and eliminating the ovarian cysts that plague me. I decided not to take them back then because I was worried about weight gain right before the Trials. That was pretty silly. I consulted her again to get her blessing and started taking them a few weeks ago.

The morning after the workout I described above, I was determined to get back out and try again. I decided to change the workout to a fartlek running 1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2 minutes at 3k-10k pace with 1/2 the interval jog between (e.g. 30 seconds after 1 minute). I decided to just go with the flow and truly run by effort.  I didn't want to get discouraged in the first few intervals and give up.  My goal was to complete this one no matter what.

I started the first 1-minute interval and felt fine. I jogged for 30 seconds and launched into the 4 minute, 10k effort interval. I settled into a groove that felt like 10k effort, but I didn't want to look at my watch.  I knew it would read 6:30 pace or something slower. I just wanted to stay relaxed and smooth.  I finally got to a 1/2 mile marker and allowed myself to look at my Garmin.  The pace read 6:00! Holy crap! I felt awesome and this was 6 minute pace!  How could that be? I immediately felt a surge of excitement that lasted throughout the workout.

The rest of the workout was great. The 3k effort (1 minute) intervals were 5:40ish; the 5k effort intervals (2 minute) were low 5:50s; and the 3 and 4 minute intervals (10k effort) averaged 5:58.  I had just run 30 minutes of intervals at sub 6:00 pace.  I know, it's not screaming fast, but compared to how slowly I had been running, this was a small miracle.

The rest of the week went well, up until my long run on Sunday.  I had worked in the yard all day in the heat of the day clearing the jungle of vegetation that had started to obscure the house. I may have forgotten to drink any water the whole time I was out, ~3-4 hours.  Well, you can guess what happened as I tried to maintain a hard steady state pace in the middle of my long run later that night. Muscle cramp smack down in the middle of my hamstring. I hobbled home on it and have been babying it since.    

Despite that avoidable muscle cramp incident, I have felt peppy in all of my runs, my sleep has improved dramatically, my mood is brighter, and my energy level throughout the day has been incredible. I have a feeling that the smurf killers are working.

I just completed my best workout in months. I invented it today and call it the mini progression interval run. I had run this workout differently in the past as a continuous effort.  Every time I ran it, I ended up having to stop multiple times during the workout because I couldn't hold the paces I was running. So, I decided to just nip that problem in the bud by building rests into the workout.  I ran 16+ miles with 4 repeats of a 12 minute progression of 6 minutes at marathon effort, 5 minutes at half marathon effort and 1 minute at 5k effort. I jogged for 3-4 minutes in between each interval. All totaled I averaged 6:22 pace for just under 8 miles. Yay!
Here's an update on my training:

Week of 3 September
Total miles: 62
M: 7.5 easy with hill plyometrics
T: AM: 4 miles easy PM: 5.5 miles easy with 1/2 mile at 6:38 (workout fail!)
W: 11 miles with strides then 1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2 minute intervals at 3k-10k effort with 1/2 jog rest
Th:  6 miles easy
F: 8 miles easy
Sat: 10 miles moderate with hill plyometrics and 10 increasing effort strides
Sun: 10.3 miles with 3.7 miles at 95% GMP (6:38). Hamstring cramp!  

Week of 10 September
Total miles: 64
M: 6 easy
T: REST--travel day and no time to run:( Probably best to rest the hammie anyway.
W: 11 miles with 10 minutes at lactate threshold effort (no idea what pace) then hill repeats (on treadmill): 1,2,3,4,4,3,2,1  minute @ 5k effort with 1-3 minute jog rest.  Finish with 3 x 200m cutdowns (dodging people on Market Street sidewalks in San Francsico)
Th:  8 miles easy
F: 8.5 miles easy
Sat: 10 miles moderate with hill plyometrics and 10 increasing effort strides
Sun: AM: 16.25 miles with 4 x (6 min marathon, 5 min 1/2 marathon, 1 min 5k effort) with 3-4 minutes jog rest. Finish with 3 x 200m cutdown.  PM: 4 miles easy with 3 min @ 3k effort.      

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Race

I ran a cross country race last week: only the third cross country race of my life. The second one was on the same course last year. This was the first race for me in months, and I really just wanted to relax and enjoy it.  I did not put any pressure on myself and, in fact, had a pretty gnarly week leading up to it because I was completing my annual military tour.  I train with the military out at Travis Air Force Base, and, although what I do is not grueling work (mostly desk work), the days are really long: 11-12 hours including commuting time.   Both training and sleep suffered, and it definitely caught up with me.  I felt horrible all week long and especially horrible when I pushed my body in workouts.

Despite how my body felt, I was determined to do the cross country race.  For one thing, I wanted to score for my team, the Impalas. I also wanted to enjoy a race despite not being ready to race. I have been dealing with lots of performance pressure over the last couple of years and it finally got to the point where I wasn't having any fun running. As a result, my training had become really hit or miss.

To overcome this, I'm trying to put myself in high pressure situations and work through the anxiety, find a way to cope, and face the fear head on. It's not hard to pinpoint fear of failure as a huge issue.  I have an ego. I care about slow race times. But, I have a choice to either use these perceived failures to motivate me to train hard or let them defeat me.

Another problem lately has been that my reliably strong body has been uncharacteristically weak. I haven't been able to push myself and am disappointed most days when I go out to do a workout.

These thoughts run through my mind:
"How can this pace feel so hard?"
"I'm putting in the work but not getting any faster."
"Am I just washed up?"
"Do I enjoy running enough to keep at this?"

This last question is one that I assume not a lot of runners ask themselves. I imagine most of you started running and continue because you love it.  For me, I never loved running. I started running because it was a challenge and then because I was good at it.  It has been one of the best examples in my life where putting in hard work led to fairly quick, tangible and impressive results. I have found many other aspects of the sport to love, and believe I have cleared the hump in my love/hate relationship over towards the love side. In the back of my mind, I have always wondered what I would do, how I would feel, when the improvement curve took a nose dive.  Would I still want to train hard? This is the weighty space that my brain has occupied lately.

This cross country race marked a turning point for me. I made it to the starting line.  I kept my fears in check and truly enjoyed the race. I pushed myself hard and kept the negative self talk to a minimum. The experience wasn't all puppies and kittens, though. I struggled with the fact that I was more than a minute slower than last year, and last year I wasn't in particularly great shape. But, that's where I am right now.  I can only build from here.

The thing about having dreams is that they require belief beyond reason sometimes. That's a tough thing for me with my logical mind. I am a scientist after all. I love data, and my data is not indicating fast running any time soon. But, I am also a dreamer and I know that if I don't try, I will never get faster. My daily challenge will be to find the joy that comes from the trying rather than just from the achieving.    

Week at a glance:

Total Miles: 48
Monday: 7 easy
Tuesday: 8 moderate with strides
Wednesday: 10 moderate with 6 x 400m @ goal 5k pace (~88 sec)/1 min. jog rest;  finish with 3 x 200m cut downs; all in the midday heat.  Yuck!
Thursday: 7 miles with push ups, crunches and 1.5 mile fitness test (@ marathon pace; 9:37) followed by 45 minutes of strength training.
Friday: No running.  12 hour work day.
Saturday: 10 total with 5k cross country race in 19:28
Sunday: 6 miles easy