Saturday, September 26, 2009

Charmed, I'm sure

I am fascinated by the prevalence of superstitious behaviors in modern sport. Why is it that a highly-trained super athlete can put in countless hours year after year practicing their sport but is convinced that the dried up jerboa tail given to him by a Mongolian shaman that he carries in his shorts pocket is what gives him the edge on game or race day? One might predict that the prevalence of superstition in the modern world would decline as our ability to explain natural phenomena through science increases, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Perhaps the old adage, "the more you know the more you realize how much you don't know..." explains it.

As I mentally prepare for my marathon next week, I find myself curiously drawn to superstition's doorstep. I am not normally very superstitious and don't have a special pair of underwear or a 10 lb. gold chain that I generally save only for the special races. But, I do have a few things that make me feel special on race day, and last week, I added one more to my collection that will make its debut in Twin Cities. I guarantee nobody else will be sporting anything like it (unless they read this post and go out and buy one, though a certain amount of torture with needles will be required).

I did a little bit of research about the use of talismans and ritual in sport and found that I am in good company. Some get their comfort from ritual. Take Major League slugger Wade Boggs' 'Rainman' approach to game prep, for example. He is famous for taking exactly 150 ground balls in practice, going to batting practice at 5:17 p.m. and running sprints at 7:17 p.m. He also ate chicken before every game and drew the Hebrew word Chai (meaning life) in the batter's box before each at-bat. Boggs retired in 1999 and was one of only a few dozen players to reach 3000 career hits. Was it the chicken scratch or was he just a damn good player?

Then there are the clothing and personal hygiene tricks that athletes rely on for important games and races. The successful pro surfer Aaron Cormican wears a lucky pair of shorts he calls "eye of the tiger" when he competes simply stating, "I win when I wear them." The "playoff beard" is a hockey tradition where players put off shaving throughout a playoff run. It is thought to promote a warrior mentality and single-minded focus. Olympic marathoner Brian Sell similarly sports a pair of signature chops on race day for good luck. Baseball player Moises Alou would pee all over his hands before going up to bat instead of wearing batting gloves.

Finally, many athletes sport special jewelry, hair clips and other charms for good luck. Probably the most widely noted article of good luck jewelry right now is Kara Goucher's Titanium Phiten necklace. She got the idea from her hero and nemesis, Paula Radcliffe, who has been seen wearing one of these for years in every race she runs. Kara also has a special pair of red, white and blue hair clips given to her by a friend that she wears for good luck.

Superstitious behavior is probably just in our nature. Psychologist B.F. Skinner found that he could create superstitious behavior in animals by using the regular dispensing of food as a trigger. The animal would eventually develop a pattern of behavior. For instance, if it just happened to lift a foot when the snausage came out the chute, it believed the foot lifting was responsible for the treat. Sporadic reinforcement is all that's necessary (say, treats received when lifting foot 1 time out of 10 or even 100) to maintain the ritual behavior.

Dr. Jack Daniels actively tries to break his athletes of their superstitions. In his book Daniels' Running Formula, he says, "To break a runner from relying on good luck charms, I try to set up a certain success situation and then find a way to hide the runner's secret victory socks. If you can be victorious once in the absence of the good luck item chances of future success without it are improved. The day will come when you forget or lose your good luck charm, and if that day happens to be at the Olympic Trials, well, that's really bad luck."

Sorry, Dr. Jack, I am keeping my lucky charms. I have a silver necklace (pictured around my neck above at CIM) that I have worn in every race since I bought it about 2 years ago. CIM was the race that reinforced this superstitious behavior. The charm is comprised of three little tags with the words "hope", "believe" and "dream" written on them. My goal with this good luck piece is just to blacken it with the sweat from as many races as I can before it falls apart.

I found my newest charm, the one I'll be sporting in Twin Cities, at a store known for its one-of-a-kind ancient Chinese artifacts: Claire's. It's a nose stud that has the Chinese symbol for luck (and I checked to make sure that's what it meant, worried that it might be something else that ended in u-c-k, which would be bad) on the stud. It's awesome, and I can't wait to see what kind of magic juju it will infuse into my race legs next Sunday. Good luck, indeed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Go Gadget, Go!

One of my pseudonyms is Gadget Girl. While I probably don't have to explain this to those of you who've read some of my posts, the name derives from my love of all things gadgety. Running has some especially cool gadgets, and I do my part to support the economy by trying out just about every one.

I had a bit of an electronics scare last week. One of my friends who is running the Twin Cities Marathon this year and also ran it last year told me that they did not allow elite runners to wear GPS devices last year because they were considered a form of pacing aid. I thought this sounded fishy, but my head started spinning with the repercussions of this news. What would I do without my Garmin? I don't have a regular split watch (aka wrist chronometer in USATF rulebooks, btw) that actually has a charged battery. In fact, I don't even know how to work any of my other watches since I don't wear them, ever. Of course, I could slap a battery in one and learn fairly quickly how to use it, but I want my GPS! After a quick exchange of messages with the elite athlete coordinator for Twin Cities, I found out that they are allowed. Phewww!

On Tuesday, the reality of catastrophic gadget disaster entered my happy little Gadget Girl world. I had the good fortune to run a workout with Jo (pronounced "ho") Mama early Tuesday morning and, in the middle of one of her repeats, her Garmin 405 froze up with the lights on. Just stopped functioning: no stopwatch, no pace, nothing. This had never happened to me before. She said it happened to her all the time! The 405 is notorious for bad behavior when it gets wet. Mine generally starts beeping like a hungry baby bird, but I can silence it with a bezel lock. I've always been annoyed by this defect, but I excuse it since there are so many other things I love about the device.

Faced with the potential for complete gadget meltdown at Twin Cities, I thought about my options which included carrying/wearing a separate watch as a back up. While this is a viable option, the alternative seemed much better to me: buy another gadget. Anyone who knows me knows that I am generally the first in line to buy the latest gadget. Case in point: I stood in line to be one of the first to get the iPhone when it came out. That was actually fun because it was like a geekfest replete with nerdy chatter and anxious energy in anticipation of holding one of these revolutionary devices in our own little hands (picture me right now rubbing my hands together and shouting muwahhh, muwahhh in a mad scientist kind of way). You get the picture.

So, when the Garmin Forerunner 405 came out, I was on it. I had it up and running and had dialed in all of the features to the point that I was teaching classes in how to use it within weeks. There were features from my older Forerunner 305 that I was sorry to give up like maps for navigation, a big screen and on-the-fly workout programming. However, I liked the sleek new design and the wireless data transfer of the 405 (though I waited forever to be able to download directly to my Mac).

When the Forerunner 310XT came out, I wondered what all the hubbub was about. It looked the same as the 305 (=big), but had the convenience of the wireless data transfer. The difference? It is waterproof. That's what I needed right now was a little reassurance that, if I dumped a cup of water on or drooled all over my wrist, I would still have a functioning watch and GPS during the marathon. I purchased this little beauty yesterday and my first question to myself was, "what the hell took you so long?"

While the unit looks bigger than the 405, it's not, in my opinion. The 405 just has a massive plastic bezel that serves no function while the 310 gives you nothing but screen. The map function serves as my Hansel and Gretel back up plan for when I'm running in foreign environs. It leaves little breadcrumbs on the screen that you can then eat on the way back to your starting position. I can't even tell you how many times my butt has been saved by this gem of a feature, which existed on the 305 as well, but not the 405. While I usually advise against the use of new devices in important races, the 310XT functions just like my 305 did. I feel confident that I can master it in time for the big race.

So, I got a chance to test out one of the features last night at the gym where I had a hot date with Tready. I had planned to do my 14-mile workout in the morning but got sidetracked. I sat down to check e-mail messages before my run and had an inconveniently-timed brainstorm hit. I started mind mapping like crazy on my computer. You just can't let moments of brilliance like that pass. Two hours later, I emerged from the blizzard, but now the temperatures were hovering around 75F outside. I was NOT going to do my hard workouts in the heat any more now that it looked like 40-50 degree weather was on tap for Twin Cities on October 4th.

So, I postponed the workout to the evening and made a date with Tready. He was happy to see me again. My workout was 14 total miles with:
  • 3 miles @ goal marathon pace (GMP), 3 minute jog
  • 2 miles @ 10-12 seconds per mile faster than GMP, 2 minute jog
  • 1 mile @ 10k effort, 3 minute jog
  • 4 x 400m @ 3k effort, 1 minute jog
I really wanted to dial in my paces in this workout after not feeling great about running GMP in last weekend's long run. I realized that Tready could help me here by literally, well, dialing in the paces. I could then use my new toy to measure and record my heart rate throughout the workout to see where it fell and to maximally leverage my geek-out opportunity with data analysis and chart creation when I got home.

This idea was truly inspired. I had a great workout and was even happier when I got home and saw my heart rate charts. I ran the GMP right on 6:18 pace (of course with added incline to make up for the lack of wind resistance) and my heart rate hovered around 85-88%* max. According to Dr. Jack Daniels, this is right where I want to be for marathon pace. My pace for the 2-mile section was 6:07 and my heart rate barely cracked 90% of max, which is at the tippy top of the marathon range. I ran 10k effort at 5:52 pace and my heart rate made it up to 92% of max. I felt great the whole time and, while GMP didn't feel "easy" it was a whole lot easier than it was last weekend.

While I'm not sure that you can count on the Effin' J stimulus package to turn around the California economy any time soon, I do feel much more confident going into my marathon race armed to the teeth with shiny new technology.

*As a follow up, I have done a little looking into the question of what range your heart rate should be in as a percentage of your max heart rate for a marathon. There is wild variability in the answer here, and it appears to depend on a lot of factors. Daniels says that the marathon training zone is 80-90% MaxHR and that elite athletes will race closer to the upper limit than novices. I've seen other articles that suggest you race a marathon around 80% MaxHR, starting out as low as 75% MaxHR. I think the real lesson here is that it's good to have a benchmark so you know what your range is, but the bottom line is that you will slow down if you push the limits of your fitness in a race. Your heart rate will increase to an unsustainable level and force you to slow down. I found this article in PLoS One on the regulation of physical strain in athletes to be particularly interesting. There's a graph showing the MaxHR of 55 runners over the marathon distance, and, regardless of speed, they all ramped up and remained at around 85% MaxHR by the 5k mark and slowly crept up from 85% to 90% MaxHR from the halfway point to the end.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Week of Shizzlesticks

"There is no failure except in no longer trying. "
~ Elbert Hubbard

Boy, am I glad last week is behind me. As I reported early in the week, it started with a phantom pain in my calf that made me worry about whether or not it would turn into a full-blown injury. I took Monday off from running to be safe, but The Miracle Worker saved me on Tuesday so I could resume running.

Next, my training schedule became all jacked up. At some point early in the planning for this training cycle, my coach had asked me for a list of races I wanted to do, and I apparently put the Race for Her 5k (held last Saturday night) on the list. I remember being puzzled when I saw it on my schedule, but I think I threw it in as an option just in case I was unable to run one of the other short races in the local age-graded series I'm entered in. As it turned out, I completed the other races (Shriner's 8k, Race for the Arts 5k), so I didn't need this one.

Nonetheless, my schedule was written to include this race. So, my training week was part recovery from the 10-mile race the weekend before and part taper for the 5k = light on mileage. I had a double planned for Saturday, with 4 miles in the morning and then 14 miles total including the 5k race and some goal marathon pace miles. I did the morning run, and frittered the rest of the day away doing some diversionary shopping. I'm happily typing away on one of my purchases presently: a sassy little MacBook Air.

As the clock ticked closer to race time (5:30 p.m.), I started questioning my resolve. I felt fine and knew that I would have a good race, but did I really need to run a 5k now? It seemed like running longer and closer to goal marathon pace was a smarter thing to do. In the end, I couldn't come up with a compelling enough reason to run the race, so I asked my coach for an alternate workout to tackle the next day.

As a side note, I discovered something that I think is important while going through these mental gymnastics. When I decided against this 5k, I immediately started looking for another short race to do. I found one that I wanted to do next weekend and proposed this to my coach. I have always done a fast race within 1-2 weeks before a marathon. She challenged me on doing one a week out from my marathon. She said that it would not improve my fitness one iota. In fact, it could only hurt me physically since my body would have to focus on repairing muscle damage from the race.

While I had always done these in the past and they didn't seem to affect my marathon, how could I know if they did since I had always done them? Could I have gone into my previous marathons better rested and run faster without these races? I couldn't answer that question. What I realized about these races is that the purpose they served was as an ego boost. I think I have even said as much suggesting that at least I'd have a 5k PR under my belt if the marathon race went awry. After exposing this, I realized what folly it truly was. If 3 months of hard marathon training and a 3-minute 10-mile race PR doesn't convince me that I'm in the best shape of my life, nothing will. So, this will be the first race where I don't run a fast, short race before my marathon, and I am down with that.

While a good race can boost your confidence, a mediocre workout this late in the game has just the opposite effect. My coach gave me a tough alternate workout to do Sunday: 20 miles with 4 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP), 4 minute jog, 3 miles at GMP, 3 minute jog, 2 miles at 10-12 seconds faster than GMP, 2 minute jog, 1 mile as fast as I want. I was excited to run this impromptu long run. My legs were rested from a week of relatively light mileage, and the weather was somewhat cooler. I expected to hippity hoppity down the bunny trail leaving little tufts of bunny fur swirling in my wake.

Hippity hoppity, I did not. At 4.5 miles, The Dissin' Genius remarked that I must be feeling good given our warm-up pace, and I was feeling good then. I started my pace work at around 5 miles and started to dial in 6:15-6:20. I started a little fast, but quickly fell into a steady 6:15 pace. After about 2.5 miles, my legs started feeling heavy, and I stopped feeling the love. I ran the first 4 miles at 6:20 pace average. I shook it off, took a gu, and rocked on at GMP for the next 3 miles (6:18). Again, no love. At that point, it became all about putting this beeotch workout away. I ran the next two miles at 6:10 pace, and the final mile I hit the bridge hill and just knocked out another 6:18-paced mile. That was as fast as I wanted to go.

I was spent. the feeling I had was reminiscent of my under-fueled state in Belgrade. Because my workouts were changing all week long, I think I didn't fuel enough for this effort. Certainly, eating a smallish salad the night before (because I was still full from having eaten a mondo burrito late in the afternoon as prep for my planned race and long run Saturday night), did not give me the energy I needed for the effort.

I was unhappy with this and transformed into the Cancer crab that I was born to be for the rest of the day: fierce claws snapping in the air, thick, hard shell, and wee beady eyes narrowed and focused on being pissy. Poor DG.

While these tough spots are not fun to endure, they serve an important purpose. I strongly believe they are necessary in order to become a better runner (and person). I have always said that the true test of a person's constitution is in how they handle both success and failure. When you succeed, do you candy dance all over others who are struggling? When you fail, do you immediately throw in the towel and give up? Hell no. You learn to be humble with your success and strong with your failure. So I sat with my challenging workout all day yesterday and worked through it. I woke up this morning with proper perspective and was able to let it go.

Recover hard. According to my coach, that's my new mission for the next two weeks. I have put in all the hard work and now it's time to make sure I rest enough, eat well and let my body absorb all of that training so I get to the starting line in Twin Cities raring to go.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let the Geekfest Begin!

Here I sit, 15 days out from my marathon, trying to figure out what to do with the energy that I am no longer putting into hard training. When you're training hard, you get this feeling of satisfaction after each and every workout knowing that you're doing something to increase your fitness for your goal race. It's a little less satisfying to sit around telling yourself that doing nothing will help you achieve your goal.

While some find the couple of weeks before a marathon race (the taper) unnerving, I actually love this part of the program. It's the place where I give myself permission to commence geeking out about the deets of the race. I am a scientist, after all, and this is one of the things I love most about this business of running marathons--the data and all of the analyses I can perform!

Geeking out has three main components:

1) weather tracking
2) course analysis
3) race day planning and preparation

I officially started tracking the weather for the Minneapolis-St. Paul area today and will check it out at least once daily up until race day ( gives a 15-day forecast). For some, this might seem foolish since there's very little you can do to change what the weather will be on race day. However, it helps me to mentally prepare for the conditions, thinking about how my clothing options, fueling and hydration and pacing plan might be affected by bone-chilling winds or a sweltering heat wave. While I agree it is pointless to look at the weather 15 days out, I do it anyway because I can. Right now, the conditions look to be fine: lows of 52F and highs in the mid-70s. I won't be able to get more detailed information (wind speed, direction and humidity) until 5 days out. But, currently, at least the temperature looks like it will be in a good range on race day.

For me, a big part of preparing for a race involves visualizing myself achieving my goal. I want to think about how I might be feeling at any given point in the race and this includes getting through the tough spots. I typically will use elevation charts and course maps to help get a sense of what I might encounter. With this race, I am lucky to have a lot more data available to work with.

I received a message from an Impala teammate a month or so ago with a 2:45 pace chart for the TC marathon course attached. The marathon website has several of these posted for various goal times. She requested one for the 2:46 goal that so many of us are looking to hit, but they only had one for 2:45. The target mile splits are supposed to be tailored to the course, taking into account elevation profile and other factors.

I sent this chart to my coach, who has run the course twice in the recent past, and was excited to find out that she also possesses the anal gene. She had done her own detailed analysis of the course back in 2003 when she first ran it and sent this information to me. She also included her splits from her 2:44 effort on the course. I converted all of this into spreadsheet format with the "official" pacing plan juxtaposed with her actual splits and descriptions of each mile as either:

very fast ~7 sec/mile faster than GMP
fast ~3-4 seconds faster than GMP
flat = right on pace
slow ~ 7-15 seconds/mile slower than GMP

At the bottom of my spreadsheet, I pasted a screenshot of the elevation profile for the 26.2 miles. I might call this, if I were immodest, a thing of beauty. All of the information I need to plan my pacing strategy is right there on one page.

I will use my beautiful spreadsheet as a tool to prepare mentally and to create my own pacing plan. I plan to carry this with me in some form (maybe I'll fashion a head-up display for the inside of my sunglasses) to ensure that I stay on track. It is so easy to get lost in numbers and calculations particularly at the end of a marathon race. It's nice to have big numbers written down somewhere that say what your time should be at a given mile marker. This takes the guess work out of it.

Of course, any number of factors can throw even the best pacing plan out the window during the race, and that introduces a whole other kind of fun--Semper Gumby. You have to be willing to ditch the plan and just race your whoopie cakes off.

Race-day planning is fairly standard but includes a lot of details, especially since I'll be traveling for a few days before the race. I won't start thinking about those until the week before the race. However, there are some things I have to tend to now, like making sure I have a good pair of racing shoes that are somewhat broken in prior to race day. I realized that I bought my last pair in September 2008 and they now have over 150 miles on them. I bought a new pair yesterday and will work on breaking them in over this next couple of weeks.

I am feeling great about this race. I have a goal that I think is achievable if all goes well. I will be running with some of the fastest Masters runners in the nation, competing for a sizable prize purse. I will have teammates and family members there to cheer me on as well as friends at home that will be sending me good wishes. And, I will have another (my 14th actually) marathon experience under my belt. As much as I hope everything goes well, it is really the richness of the experience that I value most.

I also like to remind myself that this is only the first opportunity for me and all of the other female marathoners to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. Starting January 1st, we will have 2 years to try to qualify on (almost) any course. I believe I will continue to get faster in the next 2-5 years. How fast? I have no idea. Five years ago I could never have imagined running 6:20 pace for a half mile let alone 26.2 miles without stopping. Hell, I had to stop and walk at least twice in every marathon I ran up until the Eugene Marathon 2 years ago (where I broke 3 hours for the first time). Dream big, I say. What do you have to lose?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Miracle Worker

You either know him as the great healer or you think he's a charlatan. For me, Lino has proven on numerous occasions to be a miracle worker, and I only trust his healing hands when I have a nagging ache or pain to resolve. The thing I value most about Lino's unconventional approach to healing is his ability to pinpoint the root cause of the problem or at least give you a fantastic story to tell post-appointment.

My first visit to Lino was about 4 years ago, and it hooked me. I walked in with what my Google diagnosis revealed to be plantar fasciitis, in both feet. The heels of both of my feet were in great pain. I had gone through numerous pairs of shoes, Superfeet, heal lifts and cases of Tiger Balm all with no relief. I was starting to think I was not made to be a runner and should just give up. I had also gone to see my Kaiser doctor. He told me that I needed to stop running and biking for 30 days and take 3200 mg of ibuprofen every day. I could then start up running again, but if the pain returned, he would shoot cortisone into both feet. I ran out the door of the clinic completely scared, pulled out Lino's card that had been given to me by a Fleet Feet employee after changing out my 3rd pair of perfectly functional shoes, and made an appointment.

I walked in to Lino's torture den, and he asked me what the issue was. I told him about how my feet hurt and how I thought I had plantar fasciitis. I told him about all of the shoes I had tried and the insoles, etc. He said, "the problem's not in your feet." He explained that I was walking like a man. I had no action in my hips. He then asked if I had been sitting on an airplane or in a car for extended periods recently. I had actually driven to Southern California for military duty the week before and went on to drive to Death Valley in a day from there to catch the spectacular wildflower display. I thought, "Wow, this guy is good."

Then, he started a line of questioning about my reproductive cycles--did I have female issues? I did. I was intrigued. What in the world could my ovarian cysts have to do with my feet? He explained that having the pain in both feet was what tipped him off. It's a little sketchy in my brain now, but he said something to the effect that my cysts were somehow changing the elasticity in my hips (making them tighten up) and this changed my stride leaving my heels to take the brunt of the load and hurt. Sitting in a car for such a long time further exacerbated the problem by causing my hips to become even tighter.

If you've been to see Lino, you know what comes next. He manhandles you to the point where you feel as though your leg will snap off causing you to either scream out in pain or break down crying. He worked on my hips for three visits. The pain got worse after the first visit, and his response was, "Good!" Then, he tortured me some more. All the while, he kept on telling me to keep running. My Kaiser Doc had said my tendons would snap if I kept running. Lino gave me hope. After my 3rd visit, I graduated, and he told me to go out and run like normal. Lino had not only "cured" me, but he gave me a sense of confidence that I could train hard and there was someone out there to fix me if I broke.

Fast forward to 4 years later, and Lino still inspires that confidence in me. I have never been injured to a point where I had to take time off from my hard training. Lino has played a part in that. I think the last time I saw him was in August 2007 when I was having hip issues and he bent me back into shape.

After the Buffalo Stampede Sunday and my painful 10-mile cool down, I was limping. My right calf had tightened up and was on fire. I used the TP Massageballer to roll the crud out of it that night, iced it for an hour and wore my compression socks to bed (attractive, I know). While my calf felt better the next morning, I could still feel it biting with every step. I had an easy 6 miler or a rest day scheduled, so I decided to go with the rest day to give my legs a break. The biting in my calf persisted last night. I decided not to roll it, thinking that maybe that was aggravating it. I consulted my coach, and she assured me that I was doing the right thing. She explained that any little niggle at this point in the game needed to be taken very seriously.

I have to say I started to freak out. Here I am, on the eve of my big marathon, being sidelined by stupid calf pain. Moreover, the cause was a little munchkin that veered in front of me during the Great Train Run causing me to step wrong and twist my left ankle. I had seen Lino enough to diagnose that I was compensating after that incident which changed my stride and caused the right calf to become irritated.

He gave me a nod today, when I offered up this theory, saying that could easily be the cause. Once again, the problem was not in my calf, it was in my hip, confirmed with a quick check of my hip flexibility. He pushed down on my pelvic region in a number of spots until he found just the right place to push and then released just before I was about to scream. He then did a quick check of my hip flexibility, and confirmed that I was back to normal. He then started cranking on my foot. When I asked what the problem was there, he simply said that my foot had become really tight from running with the tight hip. Basically, my hip wasn't extending enough during the push-off phase and this affected how my foot was contacting the ground and was putting strain on my calf muscle. So, once again, the problem was not in the place where the pain was occurring. My calf pain was a symptom. Brilliant.

I got a few excruciating Lino pushes on the calf, followed by a session of the jumpy machine (muscle stimulator), a lesson in how to stretch the calf and a swift kick out the door with a command to, "go run". Once again, I know that I have the magic healer in my back pocket and am no longer afraid that I will be sidelined for Twin Cities. I plan to run 10 miles tomorrow and will continue on my schedule as planned this week.

Thanks, Lino.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

PR Party with the Buffaloes

Today's race was not the best that I've ever had, but it was also not the worst. Starting with the good:
  • I ran 1:00:39, setting a new PR for the distance by over 3 minutes.
  • I also set a 10k PR in the first 10k of the race: 37:19 (old PR, 37:23 set last March).
  • According to my Garmin, I ran 6:00 pace for the 10.10 mile course: right on pace.
Now for the bad and ugly:
  • Windy conditions made for a tough first 4-5 miles, and I had no buffalo to draft off of. My Swiss frame came in handy for my teammate who tucked in behind me until mile 5 where she took off and ended up winning the race. Smart girl.
  • Mile marker 9 greeted me with a side stitch that felt like a buffalo was goring me (photo documentation provided above), and this had me hunching over to keep from hyperventilating. Batty can attest to the look of misery on my face as I passed her just as this was hitting. Her cheering kept me pushing through it.
  • My right calf seized up after the race during my 10 mile cool down, and I felt it the whole way home. However, I quickly forgot about the calf when my sloshy belly conjured the return of my side stitch in miles 19-22. Pain competition among body parts is quite a thrill to behold.
The last (and only) time I experienced a side stitch in a race was the Zoo Zoom 10k back in 2007 before my first Eugene Marathon race. My ex-coach had me primed for a sub-40 minute race at the Zoo Zoom. The side stitch hit me late in mile 5 and stopped me in my tracks. I had never had anything like this happen to me before, and I was not quite sure what to do. So, I stopped to catch my breath and desperately began pushing on my gut in various places to get rid of the awful pain. I lost about 1 minute to the stitch, but I did finish the race, in over 40 minutes though. I did days of postmortem stitch research and came up empty handed. Seems nobody really knows what causes them short of an angry competitor stabbing your voodoo doll in the gut with needles. I wasn't ready to try the lead shot and lard palpation treatment recommended on one website, though I'm half tempted now.

So, when this stitch hit at mile 9, I was bummed out. I was having a good race up until then. I started out at a reasonable 5:58 pace for the first few miles. My teammate caught me after the first mile and stuck right to my tail. It was good to have someone pushing from behind, but it would have been nice to have someone blocking the wind in the front. I believe we were headed directly into about 10 mph headwinds for at least half of the race, but the temperatures were perfect. I lost my teammate when she pulled ahead just before the turn around at some unspecified point in the race, and she put about 15 seconds on me just like that. I only saw a total of 4 mile markers the whole race at miles 1, 2, 3 and 9. I'm having a hard time deciding whether that was good or bad. It did make me rely on my Garmin a lot more for my pacing, and, of course, it showed I was right on target pace at 6:00 the whole way.

I had some mantras flying around today that seemed to work pretty well. Batty had a cross country race yesterday in Golden Gate Park where I volunteered, and she told me about a few of her mantras that she uses. The one I used today was, "rock n' roll, you're in control." It worked for a little bit. I started feeling strong right around where I imagine mile 7 would have been, and I started a new internal chant, "Don't count me out yet. Don't count me out." I started gaining on my teammate. I was closing the gap! I saw Batty cheering. I saw the mile 9 marker. Then, wham: that's when the steeotch hit. I was very proud of myself for hanging in there in that last mile where I lost about 15 seconds to the stitch. Oh, how I wanted to stop and walk it off!

I am going to get certain Buffalo Chips all lathered up for saying this, but after the Race for the Arts 5J experience, I feel a special obligation to report on race distance. This race is notoriously long and today, just like in 2007 and 2008 when I ran it, it came in at 10.10 miles. Others reported Garmin readings of 10.08-10.11. I did everything possible today including running in the center lane to try to run the shortest possible route, and I still came up with 10.10. I have to say that I go into this race knowing it will be long. The race organizers, after all, don't have an obligation to make it shorter. They just have to make sure that it is not too short. I am not complaining here, just stating the facts.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I sit here with a cup of Joe, a belly full of sushi and my calves happily swaddled in their compression casings feeling pretty happy with the day's 22 miles and the end of another 80+ mile training week on the road to the Twin Cities Marathon. Congratulations to all of the fierce buffaloes getting it done out there today!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Buffalo Shizzle

It is the eve of the Buffalo Stampede 10-mile race here in Sacramento and time for me to formalize my goals. A blog I wrote earlier in the week reported my reservations about this race. I whined that I wasn't getting enough of a taper for the distance. I complained about a workout that didn't go so well. To top things off, a twisted ankle sustained last weekend on the Great Train Run, when a small child decided to go left when his mother told him "go right" as I passed making me dart left onto a slippery rock, created a hitch in my giddy-up that has made my right calf sore. Veteran marathoners know what I'm going through here. Everything is breaking down in the last few weeks before a big race. It would be funny if I weren't living it, I suppose.

Nonetheless, I have a race to run. So, here are my three goals:
  1. Safe goal: My safe goal is to PR. Well, I hope that my tight calf doesn't cramp up on me so I can at least PR. The trick here is in deciding which PR to choose. Since this is a safe goal, I will go with the obvious choice which is to set a personal record for an actual 10-mile race. My current PR was set at the Buffalo Stampede last year and is 1:03:46. I have, however, broken that record in the last 10 miles of my 2008 CIM race and in the first 10 miles of both the Shamrock'n and SF half marathons this year. Those don't count, however.
  2. Reasonable goal: I believe I can run under 61 minutes for the distance. This is faster than I've ever raced 10 miles, so it is a fair goal.
  3. If stars align goal: My goal all along has been to break the 1 hour mark. This is actually a big deal, I think, on par with breaking the 18 minute mark in the 5k, the 1:20 barrier in the half marathon, and the 2:50 mark in the marathon.
So, I'll drag my clunky marathon legs out of bed tomorrow morning and see what I can pull off. I have 22 miles total but plan to add most of that on after the race is over. Hopefully, my stampede will turn into a post-race gambol with at least a new PR on the books and another race checked off my dance card leading up to Twin Cities.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Feeling the squeeze

I announced last week that I had turned over a new leaf. I was going to try to do everything right leading up to my once in a lifetime opportunity at the Twin Cities Marathon. I committed to stop drinking, start sleeping more and pay attention to my nutritional needs even more closely. How has that worked out, you ask?

Giving up on the drinking was easy. For many days in a row, I resisted the temptation provided by hecklers posting endless Facebook comments about how they were busy enjoying glasses of wine while reading my "climbing on the wagon" blog. Then, last Friday night, I discovered the "only in moderation" clause in my contract. Actually, I don't have a contract, but whatever. I had dinner at Tuli Bistro and ordered a glass of wine. I believe The Universe was trying to tell me something when that glass of wine turned out to be not so great, and I did not finish it. Or maybe it was the guilt on my taste buds that tainted the flavor. Regardless, I call leaving a half drunk glass of wine behind a success.

Nutritionally, I have done so so. I have been eating out a lot more than I generally like to, and I haven't been tracking my diet as closely as a result. This, as noted in my latest weight-related blog, has led to weight gain for me in the past. I've worked pretty hard to attain this lower-body-fat physique. I can't afford to let mondo burritos, burgers and pizza spoil it. I also haven't been prompt about eating post workout which can be a problem for recovery.

I blame part of my nutritional snafu on a new sleep cycle. I have done a great job of allowing my tired body to get more sleep, averaging between 7-9 hours lately. But, I am starting to pay for this in a few ways. I realized pretty quickly that my eating cycle is pretty tightly linked with my sleeping cycle. Mess with one, and the other suffers. I have found that I am not hungry when I should be eating and allow myself to go too long without food which ultimately ends in a quick take-out fix.

I also realized that I get a lot done in those extra 2-3 wakeful hours. Let's use my housekeeping as Exhibit A. I'm not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination, but I know there's a problem when the dust bunnies in my house have bred, built houses and are now opening coffee shops in the corners of every room. I plan to fashion sticky suits for my pets and The Genius to wear around the house to collect lint and fur in an effort to combat this growing problem. Necessity is the mother of invention after all.

Work is always a priority, so I don't skimp there. So, when something has to give, it's my workout schedule. For example, yesterday morning, I got up later than usual because I couldn't get to sleep until after midnight the night before. This set in motion a series of workout disrupting events. I had a double planned for Tuesday with 15 in the morning and 5 in the evening. Honoring my need for sleep, I decided that I could only run the 5 miles in the morning if I was going to make a morning meeting and would postpone the 15 miler for that night. Of course, my workday ended close to dark, and I was not able to get in the 15 miler unless I paid Tready a visit. I was also exhausted. So, I decided to run 8 moderate miles last night and postpone my 15 miler to this morning.

While I ran the 15 miler, I was not perky during the workout. The quality included 5 x 2000m repeats with 400m @ 5k effort, 400m @ 10k effort and 1200m @ goal marathon pace and included a 2 minute jog between repeats. When I looked at this workout on paper, I thought, "piece of cake." I'm not sure if it was the double yesterday or just the cumulative miles on my legs that made this one feel so hard. I completed it running the 5k effort at 5:45 pace, the 10k effort at 5:55 pace, and the GMP at 6:15 pace. But, I did not feel as good as I had hoped. I have a big race at the end of the week, one that I've been looking forward to for this whole cycle, and now I'm starting to doubt whether I'll even come close to my goal for the race. I must seem like such a fragile flower: struggle in one workout and my world goes to hell. When I get this way, I remind myself of the fact that I have had some of my best races off of workouts like this one. Sometimes, I think it helps to be humbled by a workout before a race so that you set reasonable expectations for yourself and may even end up surprising yourself.

So, tomorrow will be another juggling act as I have to be in San Francisco for a 9 a.m. meeting and won't leave the city until 5 p.m. I have another double planned with 10 in the morning and 3 at night. This means I will be up at 4:00 a.m. running the morning workout and will likely end up with a nighttime dog jog after 8 p.m. when I return. I have a feeling I'll be back to my 5-6 hours of sleep sooner rather than later.

So, what in the world am I doing sitting around writing this? I need to get to sleep!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

26 miles to go before I sleep

I have two very tired dogs at my feet tonight and that is a truly good thing. Buddy, a muzzled Tunavicious and I just returned from a 4-mile nighttime jog along the American River Parkway. This is the first dog jog that I have taken since the dog rumble earlier this summer landed Sadie in jail. It was cool enough tonight for me to not have to worry about her overheating in the muzzle. Buddy is always laggy on these runs, and I just have to drag him along--until he smells a deer, that is. Then, I can barely hang on as he pulls me down the trail through brush and dry grass.

The book Born to Run reminded me of what I love about running. I think that sometimes I get so caught up in my regimented workout programs that I forget about what I love about the sport and end up depriving myself. You may be shocked to learn that I do not sit around chomping at the bit to run my killer workouts. I dread them too some days and rarely look forward to them though I always feel great after I've done them.

What I really love is running down steep trails. One of my favorite hikes is out of the Cache Creek Canyon near Rumsey along the Blue Ridge Trail. I have made it a Thanksgiving Day tradition to pack up my Vanagon with good food, good wine and my pups and head to a cute little campsite about a mile from the trailhead. After I race the Run to Feed the Hungry in the morning, we head straight to the trail for our hike. It's a brutal ascent, gaining over 2000 feet in 4 miles. The view from the top is fantastic and there's a little notebook at the top that we all sign every year documenting our summit (it even survived the brutal fire of 2004). Then, the fun begins. I take off and immediately start glacading down the steep switchbacks. It is actually impossible for me not to run down these hills. I love the bounding, hopping, braking and careful concentration it takes to do this without breaking an ankle. The dogs generally can't keep up. I get to the bottom exhausted and exhilarated. Then, we head to the campground for dinner and a good book or movie in the coziness of the Vanagon. It's a good tradition indeed.

I also love running in the dark. There is nothing more meditative than moving through still air on a moonlit night with crickets chirping, dogs panting and the sound of your footsteps on a dirt path. There's also that little bit of adrenaline coursing through your body as you anticipate what might be behind the shadowy brush up ahead or around the next turn in the trail. There have been a lot of warnings flying around about muggers on the AR Parkway trails lately, and I refuse to let the creepy bastards scare me away from something that I love. I know the risks, and refuse to live my life in fear. I also accept the consequences of this decision recognizing that there is a tiny amount of danger associated with it. It's not in my nature to shy away from danger (much to my Mother's chagrin). So, now that it's cooling down again in the evenings, I can take the pups out for a dog jog and enjoy my moonlit runs again.

I also enjoy doing something different in my workouts. Today, I introduced The Dissin' Genius to my Great Train Run. I invented this run a couple of years ago when they opened the new Regional Transit line to Folsom. I could take the RT all the way to Folsom and run home from there. The distance is just a hair over 20 miles. Even though you end up running the same stretches of trail that you typically run, somehow it's much better doing it this way--point to point.

I had a 22 miler this morning with the last 12 miles at goal marathon pace and The Genius had 20 miles too. So, we started out from Old Town Folsom, winding along the trails on the east side of Lake Natoma, then at mile marker 20, I started into my GMP work. Remember, this is coming at the end of my 102 mile week and less than 24 hours after doing 3 sets of my weight program. My legs felt like bricks most of the way. Oh, the train didn't start running from the Watt Ave. station until 9:25, so we didn't start the run until 10:00. This, of course, meant we ran in the heat though it was mild this morning only getting into the mid-70s by the end of the workout. I really wanted to practice my GMP which is 6:20. For some reason, my legs want to run 6:13-6:18 pace when I tell them to run GMP. I was really trying to keep it slow, but was not successful for the first 4 miles: 6:13 pace. So, I hit my split timer and tried again in the next 4 miles: 6:14 pace. I was getting better. Certainly, I would be able to slow down in the last 4 miles. Well, I got down to 6:17 pace. This did not feel easy, but I did not expect it to. I was up to 98 miles for the week.

I had things to do today that I couldn't let my running get in the way of like back to school shopping (for me) and a nice dinner with Sprinkles and The Genius at Casablanca. I had some success on the shopping front and left the restaurant this evening at 9:30 full as a tick but determined to get my run in. The dogs were sleeping on the couch when we got home, but they rallied for my cause when I asked them, "dog jog?" Buddy jumped up to dance with me and Sadie looked giddy at the prospect of being dragged for 4 miles in the dark.

We didn't get mugged. Sadie was able to breathe just fine in her muzzled state, and Buddy didn't collapse or charge off after a deer. That's 26 miles in the books, 2 happy dogs collapsed on the wood floors and one runner ready for a marathon taper.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Born to Run: a review

I have been alternating reading and listening to the book Born to Run by author Christopher McDougall for the last week and have found it absolutely captivating. I had heard about the book from a few friends and had even read a 2005 article of the same name in Natural History Magazine claiming that humans have a deep-seated evolutionary tie to running. I dismissed the theory back in 2005 as a cute story thinking that some overzealous running science geek had set out to legitimize his running addiction with scientific "evidence".

However, the evidence seems to be mounting. You see, humans have all of these traits that define us as runners as opposed to walkers like our closest extant evolutionary relative the chimpanzee. For instance, we have an achilles tendon and natural arch in our foot that give us our bouncy gait--both not present in the walking chimp. We also have a butt which serves to keep us from falling forward when we run but is not useful when we walk (chimps have a case of pancake ass). We also have several compelling "anti-bobblehead" adaptations to stabilize our heads when we run. These include an organ in our inner ear that keeps our head from nodding and an elastic ligament attached at the base of our skull that damps the bobbing effect. There is a lot more evidence presented that suggests that humans are runners through and through: and not speed demons, but endurance runners. Cool.

I tend to gravitate toward the geeky science stuff that this book offers, but that is a minor part of its allure. It is an incredible story about a number of whack-job characters that have one thing in common--they love and live to run. The book's main focus is on a reclusive band of Mexican Indians called the Tarahumara. They have developed a knack for endurance running as both a survival technique and way of catching game. Over the last few centuries, when threatened, they learned to run far away and hide in places that others would not venture: places like their present address in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. The finale of this book takes place in the Copper Canyons of Mexico where a race is organized that pits the best Tarahumara runners against the best American ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek, along with a few other colorful ultrarunners.

I found so many of the stories enchanting, like the one about the 1995 Leadville 100-miler where Ann Trason (aka Bruja) took on the Tarahumara runners. I won't tell you how it ends. Then, there's the story about the Czech Olympian Emil Zatopek who ran his first marathon in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic marathon--and won! McDougall tells the tale of a green Zatopek running up alongside the veteran marathoner, Jim Peters, in the Olympic marathon. Peters knew Zatopek had not run a marathon before and decided he would go out at a blistering pace, wear Zatopek down, and zoom off to victory. So, early in the race, Zatopek pulls up alongside Peters and asks if they are going the appropriate pace for the marathon distance since he hasn't run one before. Peters fires back that they are actually going too slow. So, Zatopek thanks him and speeds off, never looking back. He won the marathon and broke the Olympic record that year. God, I love that story!!!

I was thrilled to tell Sprinkles the other day that this book revealed why her feet are so big and floppy and lack an arch. It's because she never goes barefoot: indeed never has in her life. There's a whole section of this book on barefoot running that is pretty interesting though much of the information is not actionable for most of us. The author presents a lot of interesting information that tends to indict our modern cushiony shoes as doing, at best, nothing to ward off modern-day running injuries, and, at worst, being the cause of them. "Putting your feet in shoes is similar to putting them in a plaster cast," says Dr. Hartmann--Physical Therapist to such stars as Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie. He goes on to say that, "the deconditioned musculature of the foot is the greatest issue leading to injury, and we've allowed our feet to become badly deconditioned over the last 25 years." This is supposedly thanks to modern-day running shoes. Allegedly, Alan Webb's feet shrunk 2 shoe sizes and his injury rate plummeted once he started conditioning his feet with barefoot running exercises. Sprinkles, this is your ticket to that lovely size 9 foot you've always wanted!

As you can see, I loved this book. It combines great stories, meaty characters, and terrific writing. I give it two toes up!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Honest Effin' Nears Her Fighting Weight

Did I say in my last post that I was happy it was supposed to be cooling down this week? Well, it hasn't. Damn, I hate it when the weather people are wrong. I ran a brutal 15 miler this morning in 80-degree heat and another 6 tonight in 95-degree heat. The 15-miler had 2 x 4 miles at 5-10 seconds faster than marathon pace. I averaged 6:05 for the first 4 miles and 6:07 for the second. I was worthless afterward. I'm tired of running in the heat, let me just say.

These workouts were scheduled for yesterday. I got a late start in the morning so had to cut my run short and actually go to work. I spent the cooler running hours (though they weren't really all that cool) revisiting the Race for the Arts course with the Race Director. I felt somewhat responsible for lathering the crowd after the race and wanted to be part of the solution. We confirmed the course was short and the Race Director plans to adjust times for the Buzz Oates series. I applaud her for taking the time to correct this.

I really enjoyed watching everyone's reactions to the short-course situation, and I don't mean this to come across as all judgy, judgy. I knew from the moment I stepped over the finish line that something was wrong and did not believe my time was accurate. I am not in 17:32 shape right now given my untapered, high-mileage-beaten condition and the miserable heat that night. Some convinced themselves that they had set a 20-25 second PR over a race they had run less than a month before under better conditions. Some added 25 seconds to their time without batting an eye and called the new time good. Others added just enough time to their finish time to still make it a PR. I was also amused to see that many decided to embrace my suggestion that the heat balanced out the shortness of the course.

I don't really care so much about the time, since I know where I am in a 5k and don't plan to list this PR* on my running bio (which gets oh so much press). The bottom line for me is that I don't want to earn points in the age-graded series that I didn't earn. There's a super close race in the women's division (if you knock out Barbara Miller), and I am vying for one of the top spots. I just couldn't live with myself if I beat someone out by 1-2 points and didn't earn them. Honest Effin' indeed. It is my curse, and I realize you are all going down with me, so just deal with it.

I realized that, before the advent of GPS technology, we probably wouldn't know there was a problem unless we were so in tune with our bodies that we knew what a given race pace should feel like. More often than not, people find courses to be long. This may not mean that it was measured long. It is more likely that you ran it long since a good course certifier will ride the shortest possible route. Remember my experience at the San Francisco Half Marathon? I ended up running almost an additional 1/4 mile in that race due to my having to employ slow-runner-avoidance maneuvers.

I thought it would be a good time to check in on my progress on some other fronts. First, I am still clean and sober. I am taking regular showers and have not drunk any alcohol since my coach suggested I lay off. Yeah me! I believe I have also confessed to being a dataholic. I subscribe to the Roger Bannister school of self experimentation, using my body as if it were an experimental treatment (n = 1) though I don't have the equipment needed to do the really cool stuff. I can however, manipulate my food intake, take a bunch of data on it and chart my weight and body fat for you.

I am happy to report that I am right on track with my weight goals. I haven't blogged about this since I played the weight, weight don't tell me game months ago. As a self-respecting woman, I probably shouldn't blog about it, but it is one factor in my training that has an impact on my running. As you may recall, I mused that I needed to lose 4 pounds from what I weighed at CIM in order to meet my goal of running 2:46 at Twin Cities. The logic behind this is that you shed 1-minute in a marathon per pound of weight lost. Do I actually believe this? Hell no. But, I did set out to lose a few pounds if I could do it by losing body fat. And I am almost there.

I have included charts (below). The top chart shows my weight for the last year which is as long as I've been keeping records. Throughout this time, I have also been keeping track (most days) of what I eat and can calculate my calorie intake as well as the breakdown of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in my diet. In a thorough analysis of my weight creep in February and March, I determined that I must have been gorging myself on days that I wasn't keeping track of my dietary habits. This was pretty funny to see and mostly took place when I was traveling. Inevitably, I would see a new weight benchmark after a 3-4 day trip and then watch my weight level off. Nutritionists say that keeping a food log is key to understanding how your eating habits affect your weight, and I couldn't agree more after seeing this for myself. It also seems to help keep you honest.

I also realized that I was likely overeating due to an inaccurate calculation of my daily caloric intake. The iPhone app. I use calculates my needs by approximating my base caloric needs and then adding on any exercise I do each day. Back in March, I was carefully recording what I was eating each day and would do a check-in late in the afternoon to see how much I needed to eat for dinner to meet my caloric needs. The program said I needed 1900 calories to continue to exist plus the calories burned in exercise (daily average of ~2900 calories total). At the end of the day, I was tallying up my net calories and would inevitably be behind the 8-ball. So, I would try to fit as much food in my body as possibly to make up the difference. You can probably see how this could lead to weight gain.

This time around, I have cut back slightly on my intake assuming that I don't need 1900 calories to exist--more like 1600 (though still averaging about 2800 calories due to increased exercise). I feel much better not gorging at the end of the day and rarely feel hungry. So, I think I'm doing everything right.

Back to the charts: I have detailed the significant events that have occurred during this last year: CIM was in early December and I was hovering around 128 lbs. I marked the entrance of the Dissin' Genius mostly because it was a memorable event. I'm not suggesting that the weight creep that comes directly after our first encounter has anything to do with The Genius' presence, however. As you can see in this cycle, my weight took a serious nose-dive when I was unable to eat after my dog Sadie went to jail, and I never gained this weight back. Finally, we are now in the phase where Jaymee is running in the heat for nearly every run with weight approaching 124 lbs.

Anytime a female runner talks about weight there is a quiet hush that fills the room. Does she have weight "issues"? It's a fair question considering how many female (and male) runners are afflicted by eating disorders. I was shocked to read about Tera Moody's battle with anorexia when she was back in college. She went from 5'8" and 128 lbs down to 96 lbs in a matter of months! I was watching a track meet a few weeks ago and noticed that Kristen Wurth-Thomas had trimmed down a bit. The commentator said that her coach had given her an ultimatum: either lose 5 lbs. or he would retire her. Retire her? What is she, a race horse? It's a cruel world out there, but there's no escaping the fact that less weight equals faster times--to a point.

My coach pointed out to me when I first blogged about this that I should not be so concerned with weight loss in general but should really key in on losing body fat. Losing muscle can hurt your running but body fat is completely useless (well, a small amount is important). I believe I have managed to maintain that balance as my body fat chart follows roughly the same pattern as my weight chart showing about a 2% loss of fat since CIM.

So, I'm getting close to my fighting weight, feeling good and ready to start my taper next week. Twin Cities, here I come!