Sunday, November 11, 2012

Everything's groovy

Today's half marathon settles it. I'm in a groove. I've had glimmers of hopeful workouts lately that made me take notice, but today's 13 mile race/workout within a 20 mile run confirmed that these workouts weren't one-hit-wonders. I think I was most worried about the lack of volume in my training and how that would affect my endurance in a longer race. This week has been my longest yet with a whopping 72 miles. I'll try to get to 80 next week before tapering down.

Because I was running this half marathon as a workout, I was completely relaxed about it. My goals were all centered on pacing it correctly with no overall time goals. I ran this same race last year and had a really bad day. I should have been able to run what I expected to (low 1:20s), but I had no way of knowing I was headed into a funk that would last until the Olympic Trials race in January. Instead, I went out at the pace I thought I could hold and then fell off in a major way. It's possible I was a bit gun shy today too, given that horrible memory from last year.

I still haven't settled on a goal pace for the Cal International Marathon, but I've been running around 6:20-6:30 for my marathon effort workouts lately. So, I chose 6:30 as a good pace to start with today. I behaved very well at the start. I watched the fast women pop off the start line and I remained farther back, checking my Garmin to make sure I was minding my pace. My first two miles were 6:30 and 6:33. Awesome.

With each split, I found myself picking up the pace. I decided early on that I would not let my pace get below 6:20 until I hit mile 10. I wanted to run a good negative split and wanted to experience feeling strong enough to cut down the last few miles of the race. You might wonder why I wouldn't just race hard. Generally speaking, you don't want to run a long race like a half marathon all out a few weeks before a marathon. A lot of people do it, but I wanted to ensure I would recover well enough to get in another couple of weeks of training before CIM.

We were blessed today with perfect racing weather and sweet nature moments. I saw and heard numerous flocks of Sandhill cranes and dizzying swarms of shorebirds waving overhead as we ran through the lovely wine country of Clarksburg. I know at least one runner I saw around mile 3 was none too pleased with the birds as they launched a rain of doo doo on her head. Glad it wasn't me! It is funny how different the surroundings can be when you're having a good race. I'm sure last year was equally as lovely, but I couldn't pull myself out of my personal running misery to enjoy it.

I held to my plan and kept inching closer to 6:20 pace but didn't go under until mile 10. At that point, I had been making up time on the 5th and 6th place females and felt as though I had enough road to make a run at passing at least one of them. I passed the first runner just after the 10 mile marker and then ran up to my teammate, the second runner, with about 2 miles to go. She told me after the race that she was grateful that I came up at that point because she was entering no-man's land. We pushed each other for the next two miles. I had a bit extra at the end to drop the pace and finish fast.

I had only been paying attention to my mile splits the whole race, so I had no idea what my overall time would be. I was happy when I saw 1:23 on the clock as I rounded the corner for the finish. My official finish time was 1:23:35. As an added bonus, I was the first Master finisher and 5th woman overall.

1  6:30
2  6:33
3  6:26
4  6:25
5  6:23
6  6:23
7  6:22
8  6:24
9  6:20
10 6:18
11 6:18
12 6:16
13 6:08
last 0.1 41 seconds
Watch time: 1:23:29

I finished off my 20 miler and still felt peppy. I am now very excited about seeing how CIM goes. I proved to myself today that I can pace a smart race and I plan to do the same during CIM. Just a few more weeks to go.

As for my health issues: I have continued to get migraines though this weekend was a major breakthrough for me. I have been getting the migraines regularly on the weekends for the past few weeks, but I have not had one yet this weekend. The last one was Wednesday. I started taking some supplements recommended by my doctor and the many doctors that inhabit the internets. I am taking B complex, magnesium and 5-HTP in addition to my iron and Vitamin D. It's a shit load of pills each day.  I do feel more energized and the migraines are occurring a little less frequently. Fingers crossed.

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I am working from home with my new job. I set up my workspace so that I have a sitting desk, but I also got a standing workstation, which is a fancy name for a desk with long legs from Ikea. The advantage of the standing station is that my hip flexors don't get shortened and my hamstrings don't get smashed near the attachment point like they would sitting in a chair. It's a bit tiring, but I have gotten used to it. My hope is that I'll continue to have fewer problems with my butt and hamstrings as a result of this new configuration. I've had no problems this entire training cycle (knock on wood).

My fancy standing workstation.
On tap for next week is my highest volume of training (hopefully) and one last 20 miler. It seems silly to me to taper when my mileage has been so low, but I have to remind myself that it's all relative. It won't be a dramatic taper, but it's still important to get to the starting line fresh.

Three more weeks!          

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Everything Changes

It might be simpler to list what hasn't changed since my last blog post, but in a nutshell:
I quit my job, started working from home doing another job, bought a new car, started getting frequent migraines, got a CT scan, stopped hormone supplements...

The new job was the biggest change given the fact that I had been with my previous employer, The Nature Conservancy, for over 12 years. I had a lot invested in the organization including amazing working relationships with some fantastic colleagues. Many will continue to be personal friends, but I still feel a sense of loss not seeing them on a daily basis. There was also a growing amount of negative stress associated with the job that was outside my control to change in the near term.

More than anything, when I looked at what I was doing on a day-to-day basis, I wasn't inspired. I am an ecologist. I became an ecologist later in life because I wanted to study nature. I love being in the field counting plants and dip-netting for shrimp. I am inspired by figuring out how nature works and applying that knowledge to conserving biodiversity. I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from that personal mission.

When I was presented with an opportunity to work with a small firm based in Berkeley with a group of like-minded biologists led by a guy that requires everyone to spend time in the field, I was very interested. This is a for-profit entity, so a very different operation than I am used to, but that is more exciting to me than it is scary. I am most excited about learning new things, and not just biological things. Learning is what makes me feel alive.      

While this change is positive for me, that doesn't mean it has not ben stressful. It has! Stress, whether caused by positive or negative forces, is still stress and affects the body all the same.  Maybe as a result of the stress, I started getting migraines every day a few weeks ago. This is very abnormal for me. I generally get one every six months or so. My doc ordered a CT scan just to make sure there wasn't anything really nasty growing in my head, and there wasn't.

In my last post I talked about my (hypothesized) low estrogen levels and how much better I was feeling being on supplements. My doctors became concerned about those supplements being responsible for my migraines since hormone fluctuations can trigger migraines in many women. I also learned that there's a growing body of medical science that shows women who get migraines with associated visual auras are at a greater risk of having a stroke when they are on hormonal supplements than women who don't get migraines or those who get migraines without the aura. This quote from this link made an impression on me: "the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the WHO have considered migraines with aura to be an absolute contraindication to the use of combined hormonal contraception". It's one thing for the ACOG to say this, but when a famous rock and roll band from the 70's like The WHO says you shouldn't take the pill, I knew it was time to listen. What I find scary is how few people seem to know this information. I have now talked to four women who are or were on BCPs that also get migraines with auras and they were unaware of their increased risk of stroke. Do doctors just not know this information? It's not exactly new. 

Even after stopping the pills, the migraines have not stopped, but they have become less frequent. I don't think the hormones caused the migraines--I think it was the stress. Nonetheless, migraines aren't fun. I actually got one in the first seven miles of a 20 mile run last Sunday. That was a first. I thought about stopping but really wanted to know what it would feel like to continue. It was pretty much as you would expect. I was pretty blind while the aura made its way around my field of vision and I felt wiped out about 30 minutes after it stopped. I did finish the run and at a decent pace.  

As you might imagine, running has had to play second fiddle to the other major events in my life. I am still planning to run the Cal International Marathon on December 2nd, but I've had to change my goals for the race. I have thrown out any goal time expectation in favor of running a comfortable first half and  ratcheting down in the second half if the day allows for that. I did this the last time I raced CIM and had the best marathon of my life. I negative split the course by three minutes and felt like a hero from mile 20 on. There's no better feeling in a marathon. A big key to that race was my mental state. I had run a shitty marathon five weeks before and had no expectations coming into the race. I knew I was in better shape than I had been able to run in the previous marathon, but there was no real pressure to perform. I have that same mindset headed into this race.

My training leading up to this marathon has been consistently inconsistent. Most weeks, I have only run 5-6 days. I've gotten in two 20 milers so far and my max weekly mileage was last week--67 miles. I hope to break 80 before starting to taper. This is lower mileage than I've run in the last five years of marathon training. Some may question why I'm even bothering to run the marathon. I see it as a great opportunity to test some of the foundational beliefs I have held about marathon training: namely, that I have to run high mileage and kill myself doing workouts to run a decent race.

If I was having all crummy workouts, I would probably be thinking about dressing up in costume and really treating CIM like a fun run. The interesting thing is that my fitness is really improving. My first 20 miler of this cycle was two weeks ago and included 10 x 1 mile @ marathon effort with 1 minute recovery on a hilly course. I averaged 6:25 for the marathon effort miles. My overall pace for the run was under 7:00.  I also had this crazy little 15 minute tempo run as a warm up for a set of shorter repeats where I found myself at 5:44 pace for the last 5 minutes. It's funny sometimes how fitness sneaks up on you. If nothing else, I'm setting myself up with a really great base for whatever I decide to tackle in 2013. Oh, and the fact that I haven't had a single niggle (knock on wood) in months is also a huge bonus.

My plan for the final few weeks leading up to CIM are to run a half marathon next weekend at marathon effort as part of a 22 mile run, get in one more 20 miler the following weekend and then bring the mileage down. I will do most of my workouts at marathon to slightly faster than marathon effort over the last few weeks to nail a rhythm down and then leave my fate to the running gods.

Happy daylight savings time everyone!