Sunday, August 30, 2009

Climbing on the wagon

I got a wake up call earlier this week from my coach after sending a quick check-in message to her. While she applauded my progress, she strongly suggested that I lay off the alcohol until after Twin Cities. She said that it is compromising my training. No more Go Jobs for this Go Girl. She reminded me that this is a chance of a lifetime opportunity for me and that I need to do everything that is within my control to increase my chances of achieving my goals. She's right, of course.

I know that she reads my blog, and I (obviously) don't filter. I've never understood the logic behind keeping such things as bad workouts, missed workouts or even nights of drunken celebration from your coach. Your coach is one of your biggest supporters and the person that is qualified to give you the advice you need to be a better runner. Being given and executing good workouts are only part of what makes you a successful runner. Lifestyle plays a role too.

Of course, she is offering me advice, and it is my choice as to whether or not to accept it. Her words made me realize that I don't want to be the person that is always talking about how I did this and that workout or raced this or that time despite x, y and z. The psychology behind this is interesting to me. If you do all of these things that have the potential to detract from your training then you have a ready-made excuse if you don't achieve your goals. But, why not do everything you can to increase your chances of success? I guess for some it might be hard to face up to the fact that you did everything possible and still didn't hit your mark. With a marathon, there are so many things that are out of your control that can have a huge effect on race performance that it only makes sense to do whatever you can to set the odds in your favor during training.

So, I am following her advice and will no longer get my drink on (until after Twin Cities, that is). This wake up call has also made me adjust some other things. I realize that I need to give my body more recovery while I'm awake and when I'm sleeping. I am making better choices about both, starting with ensuring that my easy runs are EASY. They had been creeping up into the 7:00 to 7:30 range and that is too fast. I am keeping them in the 8:00-8:30 range to make sure my heart rate stays low.

I am also trying to get more sleep by arranging my work and social schedule to make sure I maximize pillow time. I know I can survive and still perform with the 5-6 hours I generally get, but why not try to get a little more for the next few weeks?

This weekend, I decided to work on both of these changes. I slept in after Friday night's race/workout--way in. While it felt good to get more sleep, the temperatures soared into the 100s in the afternoon. I wasn't able to start my run until after 3, so I made a smart choice to run my easy 8 miler on the treadmill in the air-conditioned gym. I also hadn't done my weight workout at all this week, so decided to fit that in too. The beauty of the treadmill is that you don't have to worry about pace creep since you have complete control. So, I dialed in 7 mph and didn't touch the controls the entire workout. My heart rate stayed in the mid 120s the whole time. Perfect.

I also made a great discovery in that workout. I was pretty jealous when I read that Tera Moody is able to read while on the treadmill, which I cannot seem to do. So, I decided to try listening to a book instead. I tested this out with a fascinating audiobook that I started last week. The book is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. During my workout, I got to listen to the story of Ann Trason and the Tarahumara runners battling it out in the 1994 Leadville 100 ultramarathon. I was captivated the whole time, and the workout went by very quickly.

The weight workout was a lot more of a challenge, and I had to turn off the audiobook for it. This is a new program and by the end of three sets, I had done:

60 hanging leg raises
60, each leg, laying glute extensions
60, each leg, cable single leg raises
120, each leg, one-legged squats
185 push ups
60 walking lunges
120, each leg, step ups
60 lat pull downs
120 arm swings with weights
60, each leg, calf raises
180 ab reps of various ab exercises
40 back extensions

My legs hurt today when I woke up, and they felt like bricks for almost my entire long run. I got a late start on that run (again!) mainly because I was feeling lazy this morning. This left me with hot and windy conditions for the 16 miles. I know that I wasn't completely with it today because I just realized that I skipped over the circuit drills (Antelope Explosion) that were part of my workout when I programmed the workout into my Garmin. In hindsight, I think it's a good idea that I didn't go out and bounce around on tired legs in the hot sun. Plus, the run was hard enough without the prance fest. The temperature when I started was about 78 and would climb to 85 by the end of the run. The direct sunlight was torture.

While I think training in the heat is a good idea for acclimation, it definitely takes a toll on the body and doesn't allow you to run to your potential in a race or workout. This link offers a nice piece of writing on heat acclimation for runners and offers this quote from Greg Loomis that explains how the body adapts to the heat:

  • 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.

So, I'm not doing myself any favors trying to run goal pace in these conditions. My 16-miler was a cutdown workout starting at no faster than 1 minute slower than GMP (7:30ish pace) for 5 miles, and for the next 10 miles cutting the pace down by 10 seconds every 1-2 miles starting at 7:05 pace and ending at 6:10 pace. I did the workout as prescribed and that was a struggle. When I turned at the 8-mile mark, I felt the 10-15 mph headwind that had been at my back on the way out. While it cooled me down, it was a beast to run the fastest part of this progressive workout into.

Next week, I run 102 miles with 21 miles on Tuesday, 17 on Thursday and 26 on Saturday. Tuesday will include 8 miles at 6:05-6:10 pace and Saturday will have 12 at GMP--that's 20 miles at faster than GMP. The weather is supposed to cool off, and I am grateful to not have the heat to work around. While I am going to be one tired puppy next week, I know this for sure: I will give myself the recovery and fuel I need, and I do plan to stay on the wagon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Race for the Arts 5j

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 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

Bitter irony

About two years ago, I was on top of the world in my running. I had just completed my first sub-3 hour marathon (spanked it actually in 2:57) and was hungry for harder workouts and more success. I had a coach that I really enjoyed working with and was awaiting my next training plan that I was sure would catapult me to my next big marathon PR.

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:

Iron Needs in Endurance Runners

Iron Depletion: What You and Your Doctor Need to Know

Owner's Manual: Tired Blood, Tired Body

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Marathon, Shmarathon

Last fall, my goal race was the Marine Corps Marathon. I was gearing up to run 2:50-2:53 there and had a great couple of months of training leading up to it. For a number of reasons, I didn't quite achieve my potential at that race and wanted a chance to run to my potential. Within hours of completing the race in 2:57:04, I contacted my coach and asked if she thought it was feasible to run CIM in 5 weeks. She understood why I wanted to do this and agreed to write a plan for me that would help me maintain my fitness while allowing my body to recover.

I had a spectacular race at CIM, setting a personal record by more than 5 minutes, and running a huge negative split. I ran 2:50:22 and was thrilled. I decided I needed to analyze everything I had done leading up to that race and plan my next training cycle to capitalize on that success.

One of the obvious changes was running a marathon 5 weeks before CIM. I wondered whether or not that had served as a novel training session and, because I wasn't able to run it to my potential, it had been more like a workout for my body than a race. So, I talked with my coach about including a marathon-length training run in my next cycle, and we did this. I wasn't completely sold on the concept when I looked back at my training post-Belgrade because I ended up piling too many back-to-back hard workouts and races around the same time as that training run. I wound up feeling a little more fatigued than I wanted to leading up to the Belgrade Marathon.

I found the 26 miler in my workout plan again this cycle and was uncertain about whether it was a good idea or not. That is to say, I ignored the lower end of the mileage range (as usual) and declared it a 26 miler. The workout actually read:
  • 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.
For those of you who have been following my blog, you've probably picked up on the fact that I tend to be much better at planning my workouts than actually implementing them. This workout was no different and it all started with a little celebration.

I hadn't celebrated anything for a while and decided yesterday would be a good day to celebrate. I started off with a 10 mile run, followed by a pedicure with Sprinkles in celebration of her birthday. When I got home, I invited the Dissin' Genius over for a fun-filled afternoon including a number of Go Jobs, my signature drink consisting of 1.5 jiggers of vodka and a 1/2 can of Go Girl. We ate chips and salsa while watching Track and Field as well as the first episode of the new season of Project Runway. We were quite polluted by late afternoon but had the good sense to make a nice pasta dinner to carbo load for our long runs in the morning.

While the Go Jobs seemed like a good idea yesterday, I felt their wrath this morning. I got to bed around midnight and woke to my alarm at 2 a.m. so I could watch the World Marathon Championships Live from Berlin. The alarm went off for all of 2 seconds before I turned it off completely and slept until 8. I laid around for a while longer, got up to have breakfast and coffee, walked the dogs, and finally was ready to run. The only saving grace today was that the weather was a relatively chilly 62 degrees when I started the run though it would get up to ~85 by the time I finished. I had originally planned to run twice around Lake Natoma so I could get some hills in the workout, but one major problem with that route is the lack of water stops. I was pretty dehydrated this morning following my Go Job adventure, so I knew I would need more regular water fountains than that loop provides since I don't like to carry my own water.

So, I decided that a run east on the bike trail from my house had enough hills to qualify as being run "on rolling hills" and left the house at 10 a.m. with the Dissin' Genius, who had 18 miles to run today. This route has water fountains every 2 miles or so. We started off the first 8 miles of this run at 7:06 pace. I dropped the Genius at the 18 mile marker where he had to turn around, and I split the next 5 miles at 6:48 pace. I dropped the pace to 6:35 pace for the next 5 miles and down to 6:24 pace for the next 5 miles getting me to mile 23. I then had 2 miles at goal marathon pace which I was able to knock out at an average 6:06 pace taking me to mile 25. I was super happy with how I felt in those two miles and how strong I was feeling at the end of this run. I did my cutdowns at mile effort and finished 26.22 miles at an overall average pace of 6:45 to finish in 2:56:29--another sub 3:00 marathon on my legs.

The advantage of doing a marathon-length training run is that you get to experience the distance under fairly low-stress conditions. I think every marathon run is a great learning experience. What I've learned about myself is that I tend to feel good at the beginning of a marathon until somewhere between 13-18 miles. I have a few bad miles and wonder how in the hell I'll be able to finish the distance let alone achieve my goal. Then, I start to feel strong again around 20 miles. Today's run followed this pattern to a T. It will help give me the confidence I need when I start to feel sucky around mile 17 in Twin Cities to know that I will finish strong.

So, this was my 15th marathon (if you count my two marathon-length training runs), and my 8th marathon under 3 hours. I like those statistics. Next week, I have less mileage (73) and a 5k race on Friday evening at the Race for the Arts. I'm not sure how I'll do at the 5k distance at this point in my marathon training, but you never know. I'm pretty happy with my 2:56 marathon today.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I heart Bart

Tonight, I did my second hard workout for the week: the classic pre-marathon test workout called Yasso 800s. Bart Yasso invented the workout based on a simple concept: the time you can run these 10 x 800m repeats in minutes and seconds (with jog rest in between equivalent to the time it took to run the repeat) is the approximate time you should be able to run a marathon. So, if you can work up to running 10 x 800m averaging 4 minutes per repeat with 4 minutes rest in between, you should be able to run a 4 hour marathon. This article delivers a very enthusiastic endorsement and explanation of this workout. The article explains that you can start doing this as a workout with fewer repeats early on in your marathon training program trying to hit your goal time for the reps. You then work up to 10 repeats as your test workout a few weeks before your marathon race.

Of course, this is not a magic predictor workout and its voodoo probably only works under special circumstances. The beauty of the Yasso 800 is its simplicity. It makes you want to believe it can work. I used this workout when I first started running and would do it about 3 weeks out from my marathons as a predictor. The funny thing is that it never really worked for me back then so I abandoned it in 2006. It is a good workout if nothing else.

Nonetheless, I did this workout tonight for the first time in over 2 years and felt a little nostalgic. The last time I had done it, I was trying to break 3 hours for the marathon for the first time. So, I was trying to do these 800s in 3 minutes. I remember that being really hard, but I believe I was able to do it. The marathon I ran was Chicago and it was super cold and pretty windy that year. I ran 3:07.

My coach gave me 13 miles for today including the Yassos--10 x 800m in ~2:46 with 3 minute jog rests. I wanted to do the workout in the morning, but I got very little sleep last night being woken constantly by dogs who were suffering from GI distress and whining to go outside. This time, I had no idea what was upsetting their delicate little bowels. I did not feed them sweet potatoes or any other foreign chow.

So, my brilliantly planned workout started at about 6:30 in 95 degree heat and I felt every degree as I set out for the Sac State practice track. I was all business tonight, sporting my Lunar Racers, which I save for only the most serious of workouts and races. As I approached the practice track I noticed a very large bright orange sign that said something like Track Closed Idiot--Don't Even Think About Jumping This Fence To Get In. Normally, this wouldn't stop me, particularly if I saw someone else violating the rules. Tonight, however, I was the only one out there and I saw trucks driving around close to the track. I would sort of stick out like a sore thumb running my laps. So, I decided I would just have to do them on the bike trail. Ironically, this is exactly where I had done them before, running back and forth between the 8 and 8.5 mile markers on the trail.

This is not an ideal set up for this workout since it's much easier to run 800m on a flat track. Here I would be dealing with other trail users and topography. Plus, I would be running 1/2 miles rather than 800m though there's not a big difference (~16 feet). So what the hell did I do out there?

Here are my splits:
1 - 2:36
2 - 2:40
3 - 2:41
4 - 2:44 (felt like quitting after this one--no really)
5 - 2:43
6 - 2:46
7 - 2:42
8 - 2:46
9 - 2:42 (the penultimate rep!)
10 - 2:45

My average was 2:42.5. So, Bart would say I am in shape to run a 2:42:30 marathon. I really doubt that. I am just thrilled that I pulled this workout off in the heat and on the trail. I could have taken it much easier on myself had I run this morning and found an open track. I have to say it is a good feeling to still nail a workout despite myself.

I just finished my recovery beer and will rest up tomorrow in preparation for Sunday's marathon-length training run. Here's to Bart Yasso!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I thought I was done with hills

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

Sleep deprived and still getting it done

I met Tera moody at the San Francisco half marathon after the race a few weeks back. She is a super nice person. I got to play the 'I know someone who knows you' card to gain access to the inner circle, and luckily she genuinely liked the person we knew in common. So, I was excited to see the article in this month's Runner's World about her. She suffers from insomnia and is still able to train and race at a very high level.

What surprised me most was that she still gets 5-7 hours of sleep a night. It's probably not uninterrupted sleep, but I realized that I probably don't get enough sleep either. It was interesting to read the various quotes from coaches and experts about the importance of sleep for recovery and performance. Most nights I get 5-6 hours sleep. It is mostly uninterrupted unless a dog has the sweet potato runs or a kitty is channeling Punxsutawney Phil under the covers.

Does Deena Kastor really get 12 hours of sleep a day? Does Kara Goucher really start her daily workout at 9, go home to sleep after the workout and then get up in time to start her second workout at 5 p.m.? That's a lot of sleep and certainly one of the benefits of being a professional athlete.

Those of us working stiffs often don't have the luxury of fitting in naps or waking up at 8 to start our workouts. That's why, when I get the chance to sleep in without an alarm, I take it!

This morning was one of those mornings. I didn't set my alarm and slept a blissful 8 hours rising at 7:00. It felt great after a week of early rising, hard work all day long, hot evening runs and late nights. I ate a bowl of oatmeal, had some coffee, walked the dogs, delivered some fresh tomatoes to my neighbor and got ready for my long run.

The problem with these leisurely mornings in the summer is of course you end up running in the heat. When I finally started my run at about 9:00, it was already 72 degrees. I decided it was good training for my marathon in case it's a hot October in the Twin Cities this year. My legs were less than fresh this morning after running a double yesterday and doing some light strength training. Again, this is also good training for a marathon--running goal pace on tired legs. At least it gave me some ready excuses in case the run didn't shape up the way I wanted.

Today's first run of the day was going to be another one of those goal marathon pace (GMP) test runs. This is the time in a marathon training program where you're doing lots of miles at GMP to get your body used to how it feels, especially when you're tired. These runs can be discouraging as you're pushing yourself to higher levels of performance. I remember early on in my running career (about 3 years ago) my then team's coach told me that goal marathon pace should feel super easy, and that I would likely always be slowing myself down. He was not a marathon runner and actually hated the distance. This misguided observation plagued me for a while as I kept expecting GMP to feel easy and most of the time it felt like I could barely hold it at the end of a long run. This often delivered a serious psychological blow late in my training program.

The bottom line here is this: GMP may or may not feel easy or even doable during your training. It rarely feels easy to me even during the last few workouts before my marathon race. I don't let it get to me because I know that I am fit and the taper will work its magic on race day.

So, today's morning run was all business:
  • 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
In summary, the workout would end up being 17 miles including 12 miles at a little faster than GMP. I immediately felt the heat when I started into the GMP work after 2 miles of warm up and made a mental note to stop at every water fountain I could find. I'm not sure if I've mentioned before that I live a stone's throw from the American River Bike Trail and can just start my runs (and bird watching) from my house. I saw the narrow endemic yellow-billed magpie, mockingbirds, and a Nutall's woodpecker within the first 1/2 mile. I love Sacramento.

I usually struggle in my first repetition of any workout. As much as I try to mentally prepare myself for this, I am always frustrated by how I feel right off the bat. Today was no different, but I just concentrated on developing a rhythm. I locked right into 6:13 pace immediately. This was faster than I wanted to go, but I think the new horsey shoes on my feet had a mind of their own. I was very pleased to see that this time, I would hit my 1/4 mile at 10k effort on the lee side of the Pond Park hill. Yes! That 1/4 mile was a scorching 5:38. The 5 minute jog in between was a dream.

I ran 6:14.5 on average for the GMP portion of this workout and 5:45 for the 10k effort. It felt hard, especially that last 3 miles. My legs were very tired, and I struggled to keep the GMP under 6:20 for the last rep. Somehow, I still managed to find 5:50 pace on the last 1/4 mile. But, when my legs stopped moving, I was done. I always like to look at my overall pace for these runs too and this one was 6:42 pace for the 17 miles. That's something. I gave everything I had in that workout. I hope to have a lazy afternoon today before getting back out there and grinding out another 5 miles with strides.

I got all kinds of motivational comments from fellow runners and cyclists today on my run and I really appreciate this. I deliberately ran without my iPod because I wanted to try to concentrate and the side benefit was getting to hear these uplifting cheers from the other trail users. I also really appreciate the compliments people pass along about this blog I write. It means a lot to me especially to hear that discussing the hard work I put in helps motivate people to get out and be active.

The other morning on the trail while I was stopped at the water fountain with my girlies, a friend of mine was running by when she noticed me. She was in the middle of a workout, but said she had to stop to tell me how much she enjoys the blog. She said she appreciates the details I throw in that might be lost on some like the Spinal Tap references. I thanked her and, as she ran away I turned to my girlies and I proclaimed, "She gets me. I think I love her." Thanks J-Pants.

Friday, August 14, 2009

You're either in or you're out

I'm sorry to report that the Nike Lunar Glide is officially out. While it may rank high on the running fashion style-o-meter, it stinks as a trainer for me. I wanted to love this shoe, but I'm afraid I gave up on it after 3 runs. While a running shoe stylist may have put me in these shoes, I'm quite sure a true running shoe professional would not have advised me to buy them (and let me state that I had no help professional or otherwise with this purchase).

These shoes felt squirrelly on my feet during even the first wearing. I swear I felt like they were constantly correcting my position on the ground. They seemed to be on constant autopilot. I don't know how to describe it any better than that. While they are light compared to the Max Motos I normally run in, they did not feel 'fast'. I can only describe this as defiance of Newton's Third Law of Motion--feeling as though I was losing something to the ground with every step rather than getting an equal and opposite reaction from the pavement.

I can say that I liked the upper on this shoe and it really fit my foot well. Nonetheless, these shoes will be relegated to easy runs and dog walks from now on.

I am happy to report that my search for a better shoe did come up with a winner--the Nike Pegasus. I have worn this shoe before and quite honestly don't know why I ever broke up with it. She's a sweet little ride, only a fraction of an ounce heavier than the Lunar Glide and I scored a pair for $34 (tax free) at the BX!

So, my feet are happy again and my search is over. You should have seen my cute little blue outfit I wore tonight to match my newest pair of fashionable running shoes. Tim Gunn would be so proud.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

4 laps + 454 feet

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

Pimp my run

Yes. Those are the new Nike Lunar Glides on my feet. The rest of the outfit was simply a gratuitous purchase I made to complement my new ride. If I'm going to wear bright-orange-soled shoes, then I'm going to light up like a Centerfolds sign running down the trail too.

I am a technology junkie. I admit it. I am never so satisfied with my current running gear that I won't try something new. I normally run in the Nike Max Moto. It's a nice neutral shoe and actually super cheap if you don't mind running in an older model. When you change up shoes every few weeks, this is a nice quality. I've gone through about 10 pair of these shoes, and they've worked well for me. I ran in the Nike Vomero before the Moto and found them to be a little more shoe than I needed. They actually tended to wear out more quickly than the Moto and were about $40 more.

I can tell when my shoes have worn out because my feet start to get little niggles here and there. It usually takes me a couple of runs to realize this is why my feet are hurting, but throwing on a new pair makes the world right again.

So, I took my first spin in this new technology tonight, and the jury is still out. I am looking for these to be a replacement for my Motos, not just a trainer to wear for fast workouts. I actually don't use a lightweight trainer for my workouts--I wear my heavy trainers for everything and then race in the super lightweight Nike Lunar Racers. In fact, I was intrigued by these shoes mainly because of my love affair with the Lunar Racer. They are the best racing shoes I've tried, and I wear them from the 5k to the marathon without any problems. Mine weigh in at 5.25 ounces (using my kitchen scale) per shoe. They are lightweight and feel super supportive. You just can't beat that.

These Lunar Glides felt the same on the roads as they did in the store: unresponsive, stiff and much like running on a flattened marshmallow. So, why did I buy them? I always like to give technology (and people for that matter) a second chance to charm me. I never judge based on first impressions. They actually felt better by the end of the run. My feet didn't hurt at all, but the shoes just felt a little dead. It is quite possible that my legs and not the shoes were dead tonight during the run given my long workout yesterday, so I'm not going to throw them out just yet. They are a sleek 9.75 ounces after all. And, they look pretty cool too. There will be more to come on these little beauties in future posts.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A long run with a capital L and R

Today was a special day. I got to run with Hover K, a fellow runner who also works with my coach and is training for Twin Cities. We are basically on the same training schedule, and it's really nice to run together when our schedules and workouts match up. It's also nice to know when we aren't running together that someone out there is going through the same gauntlet as me and to know that they feel my pain. Not that I would want to wish pain on anyone, of course.

Our workout was a pretty straightforward 23 miles with:
  • 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
Because we needed hills at the right time in this workout, we decided to meet at Lake Natoma. I may have scared Hover K when I approached her with my hand-drawn map of the route I thought we should take. It was crude, but I do like to have a plan. When you run long around that lake you have to be mindful of where to get water. The water fountains are few and far between and they are all crammed within a few miles of each other on the northwest corner of the lake.
My plan had us starting at the Aquatic Center, running about 5-6 miles through the rolling hills along the east side of the lake, stopping for water in Folsom, continuing on to the water fountain/stinky bathrooms on the trail around Greenback where we would start our mile repeats. We would head south along the eastern edge of the lake for about 4 miles, turn around and head north back to the water fountain, then head up the hill toward Beals Point for 2 miles, and run the final repeat down the hill back toward Greenback. We would then run back along the western shore of the lake to the Aquatic Center and jump in the lake. Dizzying, I know, but it worked very well and ended up being 23.55 miles. I like it when plans work out.

This was definitely one of those days where my run could have gone either really well or really crappy based on how I felt before we started. Lucky for me, it went really well. We started with a nice 5+ mile jog on the rolling, shaded trail along the east side of the lake. We stopped at the secret water fountain (maybe not so secret to local runners) in the hotel next to the trail in Folsom and I took a gu. We then headed to the trail and started our mile repeats. The course we chose was not flat, so it was hard to keep a good rhythm. But, I think it was a great test for what will be a rolling course in Twin Cities. Also, there were throngs of cyclists doing a Jamba Juice sponsored ride around the lake. They were recreational riders, so were generally courteous and actually quite supportive. I got lots of encouraging comments from these riders as they passed by and that made me smile. I did however end up on the rocky and narrow path adjacent to the trail for a good bit of the run to keep out of their way.

My mile splits were:
1 - 6:12
2 - 6:18
3 - 6:13
4 - 6:11
5 - 6:14
6 - 6:10
7 - 6:12
8 - 6:42 (175 ft ascent)
9 - 6:35 (142 ft ascent)
10 - 5:57 (170 ft descent)

My overall pace for the 10 miles was 6:16. Not too shabby with those hills. My goal marathon time of 2:46 requires a 6:20 pace, so I was right on track. I also felt like I was at marathon effort the whole time. This is actually a really nice change for me, feeling like I can actually run at GMP in the heart of my training program. I remember 2 years ago trying to run my then GMP and not being able to hold it for more than a few miles. That is seriously frustrating. As I stated in an earlier post, I love these long workouts because they are the most relevant to the task at hand and ingrain goal pace in my body and mind.

We jogged back around the lake to the Aquatic Center and ended with the mile effort repeats. They seem like punishment with 23 miles already on your legs, but I always find them refreshing once they're done. Even more refreshing is a dip in the healing waters of Lake Natoma. It was a perfect way to complete a terrific Long Run.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This treadmill goes to -11!

I'm close to the end of a very hectic week performing military duty out at Travis AFB, running 95 miles and practicing for a musical gig this weekend. I tried to make my life a bit easier by staying on base Monday night because I had to run 21 miles Tuesday with 16 in the morning. I was lucky the Dissin' Genius was available to watch the zoo for me so I could do this.

I got up at 5 a.m. Tuesday to start my 16-mile workout which consisted of:

  • a short warm up
  • 5 minutes at goal marathon pace
  • 12 x 3 minute hills @ 10k effort, with 3 minute jog rests
  • 10 strides
Of course, the hills required a treadmill. I felt a little guilty about cheating on Tready until I walked into the base gym and saw the diversity of treadmills I had to choose from. I swear I heard angels' voices call out as a little Jesus light shone from the corner of the gym on them all. I carefully walked around and inspected all of the features before hopping on the one that had a television built in, big buttons for incline and speed and a heart rate monitor. This was my machine.

Within the first minute of running on this machine, I realized that it felt a heck of a lot different than Tready. It felt like I was running harder than I would on Tready at any given pace. I also noticed within the first few minutes sweat pouring off of my forehead. As I started into the marathon pace work, my scalp became a shower head spewing sweat everywhere. I knew then that this was going to be one hell of a workout. I can safely say I have never sweat more during a workout than this one. I literally wrung out my shirt at the end and could have filled a combat boot with the sweat. Ewwww.

The funny thing is that, when I started my training for Twin Cities, my coach really wanted me to try to simulate the hot and humid conditions that may greet me in Minneapolis. The heat I decided I could cover, but the humidity would be hard to replicate during California's dry Central Valley summer. I eyed the rubber suits that I saw Deena Kastor wear to train for similar conditions at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. I decided that would be pretty extreme. So, I proposed running on a treadmill in a gym filled with people as an alternative strategy and my coach agreed that this might work.

I was happy to be right about how well this plan would simulate hot and humid running conditions, but I was not excited about completing 12 miles in it including 10 miles of hill repeats. As I was coming down from one of the uphills, I accidentally pressed the incline button one too many times and it displayed a -0.5%! I had heard about this technology, but I had never encountered a treadmill that did both up and downhills! I was excited about this for about 2 seconds as I tested out running extreme down hill grades. The novelty wore off on the next uphill.

I completed the hill workout, but I didn't feel like I was able to max out my performance running at 4.5% grade between 8.6-8.8 mph. I had done that workout back in January at a steeper incline at about the same paces, so I was disappointed that I didn't replicate that performance. I was very happy to head outside to the slightly-skewed-Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants-shaped track for my final 4 miles and strides.

This track is worth mentioning just because it is so ridiculous. This is where I have to run my timed 1.5 mile fitness test every year. The layout of this track is so effed up that you have to pay attention to running SPR (shortest possible route) after you swing through the near 180-degree turn at the southeast corner. Most runners don't realize that you can cut some distance off of it if you cut the tangents, but this little trick was not lost on me. The track measures 3/8 mile, a standard distance for tracks. This requires you to run an equally standard 4 laps and 454 feet to complete the 1.5 miles. Fubar in action. Plus, there's some topographic relief to this beauty. You run slightly uphill on the east side just before heading into the constant 30 mph winds at the north end and downhill on the shorter western edge. Wow. At least the surface is halfway decent--standard rubber track material with lanes delineated and everything!

I completed my 21 miles on Tuesday night with a 5-miler along the Parkway. I decided to run my easy 8 Wednesday during my lunch hour on base. There's a nice little decomposed granite trail around the base duck pond at the north end of the base that has some great little hills. It's only 1.25 miles long, but it's better than that crazy track. I noticed that it is illegal to run on base with headphones in your ears. Of course, I noticed the signs posted on every major street forbidding this unsafe behavior after I had run 8 miles with my headphones in. Luckily, I didn't get pulled over by the iPod police. That would have led to a court martial and bad chicken dinner for me for sure.

I hear Athens is beautiful in October

Just when I had the end of my military career all figured out, everything changed. I was informed nearly two years ago that my Reserve position at Travis Air Force Base was being terminated. Since I was so close to retirement, they let me remain in that position until I completed 20 years and retired this October. I was completely happy with this plan. Staying in my current military job meant I didn't have to look for another less fun job to complete my 20 years. What I didn't factor in back then was my military running career which launched and skyrocketed last year.

How cool is it that I get to run for the United States as part of my military duty spreading "Friendship Through Sport"? Damn cool. I became slightly nostalgic when I received messages last week from my Air Force running buddies about the upcoming US Military Marathon Competition held each year in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). I ran this last year and got the Silver medal. I told them I was out because I was running Twin Cities 3 weeks before MCM and wished them all luck. I would be retired then anyway, so ineligible to compete. Then the message came in about the location for the International Military Marathon Competition in 2010--Athens, Greece. It would be run in celebration of the original marathon run there some 2500 years ago. I was bummed that I wouldn't be able to go.

Yesterday, I got word that my position at Travis was being converted to a pseudo position. Yes, that's what they are actually calling it. It seems perfect for me. I stay in the military in my pseudo position and travel the world running pseudo marathons.

One downside to this dastardly plan is that as of right now I will have to run MCM and place among the top 4 military women in order to be on the US team for Athens. MCM is 3 weeks after Twin Cities. I am trying to weasel an exemption to the current policy and am asking if a podium finish at the most recent international marathon confers automatic membership on the team. We'll see if they buy it. If not, I may be looking at a quick turn around and a tiring MCM in late October.

The other downside of course is the threat of being pseudo deployed to fun places in the Middle East rather than Europe. This is currently a risk since they are terribly low on people in my military specialty. I actually handle endangered species and natural resource issues out at Travis AFB, which naturally transfers directly into managing construction and destruction projects in foreign countries. Perhaps pseudo qualification is all that's needed to be deployed. Of course I have thought about the possibility that this is too good to be true and that this is the equivalent of a recruiting ploy promising to make me a fighter pilot stationed in Hawaii for my entire career. It is a risk.

Competing for the US at the International Military Marathon Championships in Belgrade was one of the most memorable experiences of my military career, perhaps of my life. Despite the tough conditions, the feeling I got wearing that US singlet and competing against 30+ other countries was pretty amazing. Finishing third in the individual competition was thrilling, but being awarded the first place trophy as they played the US National Anthem for our women's team win was priceless. I want to do it again.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

6 weeks of hills

On Monday, I enter week 4 of a 6 week, hill-specific training section of my marathon program. While I've been doing shorter hill repeats, I'll now be doing longer hill workouts as well as goal marathon pace workouts. While these workouts are hard, I find them to be the most satisfying in my build up to a marathon. Maybe this is because I also think they are the most relevant. A big part of training is convincing your brain that you can achieve your goal whether it's to finish a marathon, run a PR or qualify for the Olympic Trials. I gain a ton of confidence in my fitness level when I nail a long workout with a number of miles at goal marathon pace.

Yesterday's long run was a mix of short and long hills and marathon pace work--the best of all worlds! The workout consisted of 14-16 miles including:
  • 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)
Though I was super tired, I met the J-pack of early girlies bright and early Saturday morning. I love running with this group for the fabulous company of course, but I especially appreciate it when we are enduring the same painful workouts together.

I almost didn't make it to meet the J-pack because I had been up all night dealing with the doggie effluent that resulted from my imprudent idea to let my dogs eat the old sweet potatoes in my cupboard the night before. The first wake-up call came when I heard a doggie explosion at 11:30 p.m. in the living room. I cleaned that up and went back to bed. At 12:30 a.m., Sadie was whining at the back door to go out. Buddy followed at 1:00 a.m. At 2:00 a.m., both dogs were whining to come in. At 3:20 a.m., both dogs went back out. I got the last wake-up call at 5:20 a.m. allowing the crew to polish off their land mine configuration in the back yard. This will go down as one of the dumbest things I've done. My dogs are still working it out of their system. Yowza.

We headed west on the bike trail to my favorite dirt hill so we could do our hill boundie exercises (aka Everest Hill Drills). As we approached the hill, we saw Hover K leaping up a hill on one foot and one of the girlies said, "same coach?" Yes, we have the same coach. Who else prescribes one-legged hill hopping?

After we completed our hill drills I began running at marathon-effort for 15 minutes. I started out hot, but kept reminding myself to slow down. I tried to remind myself that I had a lot of workout ahead of me. It was hard to slow down particularly on legs that had enjoyed relative rest for the last 5 days. I managed to keep it at an average of 6:12 pace for the session.

Sprinkles and I then headed to our favorite hill at the William Pond Park bridge for short hill repeats. These felt good to me, and I zoomed up them at 5:12-5:40 pace. Our rest was longer than what was prescribed, but the hill is too short to take a shorter rest. My coach suggested that, if I take a longer rest on the hills, that I increase the intensity. So, I pushed the pace a little for that reason.

We then headed in to the gym for the 30 minute run up a hill. As I've said before, I really prefer to do this workout on a real hill, but that can be a logistical nightmare. Since I started my romance with Tready R., I actually have been seeking out excuses to go to the gym to run. I jumped on Tready and ran at 4.5% incline for 30 minutes at 8.3 mph. My heart rate got up to 173 at the very end. That's at the top of my lactate threshold heart rate zone. I probably could have pushed it harder, but I had pushed the rest of the workout hard and was worried about crashing. I then jumped off the treadmill, headed out to the parking lot and did my cut downs to complete the workout. Never a dull moment!

Of course, all of this stuff added up to 18.5 miles instead of 16. I was fine with this additional mileage given the fact that I had taken Monday off and was under the mileage limit for the week. Tonight's 8 miler and power core circuit will complete my recovery week, and believe me when I say that I have savored it. Two weeks of hills to go!