Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shifting the balance

After my long run this weekend, it occurred to me that the mind game I've been playing of late is all about shifting the balance of my thoughts from the negative side to the positive.  Whether I do that by tricking my mind into thinking that I feel good when I don't or changing my attitude to embrace the feeling of complete fatigue in my body at the end of a long run/hard effort as something valuable, it doesn't really matter.  Positive (constructive) thoughts must beat out the negative (destructive) ones.

Since I've been letting the negative creep in slowly over the last couple of years, there's much work to be done to reverse the trend.  The Fearless Athlete Program I'm going through is helping me get at the underlying beliefs and expectations that keep me stuck in the same old rut.  I admit I am disappointed in the audio portion of the program since the "coach" is simply reading what's written in the workbook.  I was expecting it to add value to the program.  That said, I do like the lessons in the workbook and think the process so far has been enlightening.  I am only 6 days into it and am already learning a lot.  I thought I'd share what I've been working on in some recent lessons.  

Creating a Functional Mindset
After understanding how fear of failure and perfectionistic tendencies can affect performance, the program works on uncovering the beliefs and expectations that hold you back.  The author explains that being a perfectionist is not all bad.  He explains that some behaviors can actually be functional and help you succeed.  So, the trick is to know the difference between those behaviors that are helpful and those that cause fear and anxiety.  I listed the following five characteristics I wanted to change and came up with a plan to change my non-functional mindset into a functional mindset.  I am supposed to review these daily and use them in my race day visualization as well as in training.

Non-functional mindset/functional mindset
1. I demand high expectations of myself because I work so hard to achieve my goals.
    --I choose to be confident in myself because I've done the hard work and trust in my abilities.
2. I assess my performance as either good or bad with no middle ground.
    --I will assess my performance on a scale from 1-10.  Most days will be 5 or 6, not 1 or 10.
3. I must control my performance under pressure to make it happen the way I want.
    --I will trust my ability to perform in races and allow my body to do what it was trained to do.
4. If my race isn't perfect today, I must analyze and fix it right away.    
    --I will race with the race I brought today and worry about mistakes in training.
5. The best way to perform perfectly is to avoid making mistakes.
    --I choose to perform functionally and focus on what I want to have happen.

Expectations and Confidence
The next exercise had me analyze my expectations and replace them with a confidence statement.  This distinction between expectations and confidence was good for me to understand.  The author defines expectations as "...demands that you place on your performance that cause you to judge how you're doing compared to how you think you SHOULD be doing." Having strict, perfectionist or unrealistic expectations undermines your confidence.  By contrast, confidence is a belief in your abilities, without judgment attached.  After each hard training run and race, I am supposed to review how I did in terms of setting aside my expectations and performing with confidence.  Here are some of the expectations that I have for my running and the confidence statements that I will replace them with:

Expectation/confidence statement
1. Marathon pace should feel easy.
    --I am confident in my fitness and know that I can run marathon pace on race day.
2. I need to run faster in training than I did in the same workouts before the Twin Cities Marathon.
    --Each workout I do regardless of pace is helping me get fitter so I can achieve my goal.
3. I should always feel good in workouts, or it means I'm not fit enough.
    --I embrace difficult workouts because they are important for training my body and mind.
4. I can't stop during a workout or, if I do, I am weak minded.
    --I have a strong mind that can handle adversity.  Stopping during a workout does not take away from that.

View from the halfway mark on my Bear Valley Trail run Friday. 
My workout on Sunday was a great test for me.  I knew it would be going into it.  I had run 9 miles on a coastal trail Friday afternoon that had some good hills on it.  I tried as hard as I could to baby my legs on the downhills with my coach's voice in my ear telling me that my legs wouldn't recover in time for Chicago if I took them too hard.  I felt successful enough in that I did not have any pain in my legs at all on Saturday.  However, there's really no way to run up and down hills and not sustain some muscle fatigue.  I felt this as soon as I started running on my brick legs Sunday a.m.  My 20-mile workout included:

~6 miles moderate pace
3 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP)
1-3 miles moderate
10 x 90 seconds @5k effort w/ 2 min. jog rests
1-3 miles moderate
3 miles at GMP

You may have noticed, as I did, that's a lot of stuff to pack into even a 20-mile workout.  I started the 3 miles at GMP about 5 miles into the workout and held 6:10 pace.  I could tell that the end of this workout was going to be a dinger with my legs feeling as heavy as they did.  That's when I decided that this was a great time to practice tossing out my expectations and replacing them with internal confidence statements.  The whole point of this workout, in fact, was to get me used to running GMP on tired legs in the late stages of the marathon.  I had the perfect conditions staring me right in the face.  

I ran about 1.5 miles at moderate pace and then started the 5k intervals.  This took me over 5 miles to complete.  I was now only 4.5 miles from home and had another 3 miles at GMP to knock out.  So, I jogged for about 1/2 mile and launched into the next 3 miles at GMP.  This is where I confronted the money part of the workout.  I was exhausted, now running in 80-degree heat and I needed to focus everything I had on staying positive and running smooth and relaxed.  I stopped at a water fountain half way through to get water and did not judge myself.  I felt like I needed water at that point and found no shame in breaking up my GMP work to get it.

I ran those last 3 miles at 6:19 pace and was very happy with myself.  As I told The Genius later, I would be ecstatic if I held 6:19 pace at the end of Chicago.  This workout, not just my physical performance in it but my mental performance as well, was a huge confidence boost for me.  I thought about all of the times I had judged my workout performance instead of simply seeing it as a process that pushes me closer to race day fitness and as a chance to practice handling adversity.

I think this is a good lesson for us all.  I read many blogs (including reminiscence on some of my own past posts) and am blown away with how much judgment I find.  How are we ever supposed to build confidence in our running fitness and abilities if we spend so much time beating ourselves up for not achieving unreasonable expectations that masquerade as "goals"?  Think about it.

And now for something completely different:
An Effin' J Invention Alert
I'm pretty sure I'm the first to think of this, and I want to be the first to publish to the web in case it really takes off so I can collect royalties at a later date.  Some colleagues of mine and I were driving in Point Reyes, CA on Friday morning when we spotted a runner carrying water bottles around her waist.  My colleague had seen her running before we left and mentioned that she thought it was me.  I made a quip that sounded something like, "I'm a real runner and don't carry water bottles around my waist."  It was a joke.  But, it astounded my two colleagues.  I said I plan most of my runs around water fountains so I don't have to carry water. I hate carrying water.  After I complained for about 10 minutes about all of the useless inventions I've tried (really, pretty much every one), my colleague challenged me to invent something better.

I did.  Subcutaneous fluids.  It's really quite perfect, though there are a few details to work out yet.  The idea came from a medical procedure I performed regularly for months on one of my late kitties who was diseased and required fluids.  I simply stuck a large needle under her skin and drained saline into her until she had a nice little "kitty camelBak" bubble on her back.  She carried it around for an hour or two while it slowly diffused into her body, rehydrating her like a champ.  Why can't marathon runners use this same technique?  It seems like we could insert saline, and possibly a glucose mixture under the skin in various places throughout the body with just the right volume to last for an entire marathon.  There would be added weight to deal with, but think of the time that would be saved in fumbling with bottles and gels.  The potential for gastric distress would be eliminated!  I think it's awesome.  Or, maybe I should stick to ecology...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

40 x 400m

Doesn't that sound like a killer workout? For those of you who are lucky enough not to follow my stupid posts on Facebook, you missed the comments that followed when I posted that I had completed this workout. Let's just say it ended with people wondering whether I would pee blood the next day.

What if I told you I ran 5 x 2 miles with reps 1,3,and 5 @ 10-12 seconds per mile faster than goal marathon pace (GMP) and reps 2 and 4 at GMP (~6:15) w/ 2 minute jogs in between. That doesn't seem as bad, does it? Well, I did run 44 times around the track (including rest laps) Wednesday night, 16 miles for the workout and 20 miles for the day and it was hard. I made it harder, intentionally, by doing the workout around the track versus along the bike trail because I wanted to test my brain as well as my body.

I experienced all of the pre-workout drama that I normally do including feeling like I might be coming down with the flu, having an achy back, worrying about how windy it was, etc. I knew that my emotions would be enhanced by doing the workout around the track because 40 times around the track seems so overwhelming regardless of how fast or slow you're running the laps.

I ran a couple of miles warm up before heading to the practice track at Sac State. I started the workout and experienced the normal downer emotions right away. Here's a snippet from my internal conversation during that first two-mile repeat:

"6:00 pace feels so fast." Lap 1 complete. "How in the hell am I going to hold this pace for
39 more laps?" Lap 2 complete. "I think my breathing is way too hard for this pace." Lap 3 complete. "Well, the workout was written as 4-5 x 2 miles. I could always just do 4 repeats instead of 5." 4 laps complete. "6:03. That was okay. My target is 6:05-6:07 pace, so I can even slow down these next few laps and still hit my target." lap 5 complete. "Hey, this is a pretty cool song on my iPod." lap 6 complete. "Wow, I only have 2 laps to go this rep and then I get to jog." lap 7 complete. "Cool. The next repeat will be slower."

I finished that repeat in 12:06 and took my jog rest. I was now feeling warmed up and excited about running marathon pace. During this next rep, I let my mind continue thinking about how I felt and what I had ahead of me. However, I started to bring myself back to the present moment as often as I could. Having music in my ears actually helped with this. I would think about the song I was listening to in order to distract my brain a little and was then able to focus on more positive things.

That repeat felt good. I ran the 8 laps in 12:22. I jogged for a couple of minutes while taking a gu and sipping my water. I knew the next one was going to be my biggest challenge.

I really wanted to try out some tools to help keep me focused in this next repeat. I started the first lap and thought only about that lap. I took it out a little hot. I let myself relax a little. The next lap was a little fast too. It felt fine, though. So, I decided to go with the feeling instead of the watch and clicked off lap after lap. I passed through 4 laps in 5:56 and felt good. I practiced focusing on the 5th lap. I thought to myself, "just stay strong through this lap. The next lap will take care of itself." I used the same thinking for the 6th lap, and the 7th. Then, I decided to focus on the finish into Grant Park in Chicago. I thought about staying strong, pumping my arms all the way to the finish line. I finished lap 8 in 11:59. Two minute jog.

The next repeat would be relatively easy, because it was at GMP. That's why I love workouts that switch between slightly faster than GMP and GMP. They trick your mind into thinking that GMP is easy. I realized that this could also be my last repeat if I wanted it to be. I thought this to myself and quickly dismissed it. I knew I was going to finish all 5 repeats and they were all going to be great. I clicked off another 8 laps in 12:21, jogged for 2 minutes and jumped right into the last two-mile repeat.

I used the same tactics as before: think about the current lap only, finish the last two laps in Grant Park, etc. What was really surprising in this last repeat was how much more I enjoyed the experience of running even at a fast pace. I felt free. I was enjoying the songs that played on my iPod and did a little ditty while singing "Kitty on my foot and I want to touch it" followed by "Meow meow meow meow meow meow".

I ran 12:06 for the last repeat and felt very strong. I could have done more. I ran a few more miles in the dark back to my car and was ecstatic with what I had experienced in this workout. I ran 10 strong miles at the end of a 20-mile day and made some progress with my mental game.

I really like the approach I'm taking right now: letting myself experience the nasty junk and dealing with it head on. I'm building confidence in my ability to deal with the tough stuff and even more confidence in my fitness. All of the tools I'm employing including the hypnosis/visualization, Fearless Athlete workbook and various articles I'm reading are paying off. Whether or not they give me an edge in Chicago doesn't much matter. I'm enjoying my running more already and feeling great about my fitness. That seems like a winning combination.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


In my 'no holds barred' approach to improving my mental running game, I have settled on a few tools to help me overcome some of the ways my brain limits my performance.  My last post introduced the Fearless athlete workbook, which I continue to work through on a daily basis.  It's helping me understand some of my issues, and I hope will help me discover new ways to deal with them.

I'm also exploring a more touchy-feely method involving hypnosis and visualization.  I would not have considered trying this approach if it weren't for my brother.  A while back, he divulged to me that he had used hypnosis to help him prepare for big football games in college.  I believe he read about how to do this in a book.  This news kind of surprised me since I don't really see my brother as the type that would consider such things (think big, beefy, football player with a tough exterior).  It also intrigued me enough to look for similar books and tools related to running.

While searching the web for such a thing, I found a website with a program designed for middle and long distance runners.  I downloaded the mp3 version of this a while back, but finally used it for the first time on Monday.  Let me just say that I was blown away by what happened during the 30-minute hypnotic visualization exercise.

To start, Craig Townsend (cred. = Diploma in Hypnotherapy), who has a pretty cool accent, lured me into a hypnotic state with focus on my breathing and a countdown from 5 to 1.  I didn't feel like I was hypnotized at any time during this process, though I'm not sure I would know what that feeling is anyway.  After I was under, he started telling me what a great runner I was--how I was fast and strong, etc.  This went on for some time and then we started an exercise where I focused on my upcoming marathon.  It seemed like this part lasted forever, but I worked on staying relaxed and really tried to visualize what the race would look and feel like.

Using his guided imagery cues, I was at the starting line and focused on feeling the excitement.  I've run Chicago before, so I have the advantage of really being able to envision the starting line and the parts of the course that I can remember.  I felt the people's shoulders rubbing against me and felt myself hopping around to stay warm as we all listened to the music and announcer waiting for the gun.  Then, I was starting the race, running along the packed streets of Chicago, taking in the energy and enthusiasm of the other runners and spectators.  I was with a pack of runners and my running felt really smooth and easy.  I focused on feeling the rhythm of the pace while not being at all concerned with the actual pace I was running.  In fact, I don't even recall whether I was wearing my Garmin.

Eventually, he directed me to think about being at the half-way point and I pictured the big clock as I crossed over the timing mat.  It read 1:21:45, the same time I passed the halfway point in the Twin Cities Marathon last October.  I felt great and was still with a large pack of women.  A little later, he said I was 3/4 way through the race, and I thought about that point being about the time I would take my last gu.  I always see that act as a big relief and milestone in a marathon.  I took my gu and swigged some water and had nothing else to worry about.

He then told me that there was a competitor up ahead that I could catch if I worked hard.  I started focusing on her and began to increase my effort slightly.  I finally caught and passed her and was feeling strong.  Soon, it was time for him to guide me through that final push to the finish.  At this point, my mind was so engaged in the exercise that I was really there at the race.

I saw the final turn into Grant Park ahead and could see and hear the cheering crowds as I approached.  I had completely lost track of my time and was eager to see the finish clock as I started pumping my arms to start my finishing kick.  As I rounded the corner, I saw the clock and it read 2:42:30.  I literally watched the seconds tick away on that clock as I ran toward the finish line.  I felt the crowd's excitement as I watched the clock tick off the seconds--40, 41, 42.  The emotion rushed over my body in a huge wave as I finally realized what I was accomplishing in that moment.  I raised my arms as I crossed the finish mat in 2:42:53.  I dropped my arms and held my face in my hands as spontaneous tears welled up in my eyes, and I began to cry with absolute delight and bewilderment.  I saw my Mom and The Genius come running up to me and hugged them both, still sobbing.

It was then that I realized I was actually crying my eyes out, laying on my bed with my pink iPod Nano plugged into my head.  Craig Townsend talked me out of the hypnotic state, and I sat there for a few minutes pondering what had just happened.  It was all so real and crazy.

Visualization has never worked for me before, and I think that's because I wasn't sure how to get into the right mind state.  I have no idea whether this exercise, which I will do on a daily basis up until race day, is going to help me, but running a 2:42:53 marathon, even in my dreams, was pretty damned cool.                        

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Exercise #1

I started my fearless athlete workbook last night and am fairly happy with the program so far.  It's geared more toward sports that involve apparatus like soccer, golf and baseball, but I am modifying it as I go along to work for running.

Last night's program included a nice little Stuart Smalley-esque warm up exercise where I repeated a few affirmations to myself while looking at my reflection in my iPad.  Then, I was tasked to write about a time when I performed free of fear, anxiety or tension.  I was to recall what it felt like and relive the experience. The time I recalled was California International Marathon 2008.  Here's what I wrote in my workbook:
The time I recall where I felt I performed free of anxiety or tension was my 2008 CIM performance. I felt relaxed because I had already run my goal race at Marine Corps Marathon a few weeks before, and it didn't go well.  I felt like I had nothing to lose, and I had confidence that my fitness was higher than the 2:57 performance I had at MCM.  I was focused on running as fast as I had trained for in the first half of the race (2:53-2:54 marathon pace) and was surprised with how easy that felt.  I was drafting off of another runner that I knew to be faster than me and was surprised to still be with her at the half.  When her coach told her to pick up the pace I went with her.  I passed her a couple of miles later because I knew I could run faster.  I did not look at my watch even though I knew I was going faster than I had trained for.  It came very easily. I continued to pick up the pace and never really thought about fearing whether or not I could hold the pace or if I would crumble in the last few miles.  I was shocked when I rounded the corner for the finish and saw 2:50 on the clock.   
This was a good exercise for me.  It helped me realize a couple of key elements in that performance.  First, I had no pressure to perform because nobody, myself included, expected me to perform well since I had just run another marathon a few weeks before.  Second, I had confidence in my fitness and knew that I was faster than the 2:57 time I posted at MCM.  Third, the lack of anxiety and tension allowed me to run completely by feel, and I didn't try to sabotage myself by slavishly minding my split times.  Finally, I enjoyed the hell out of that race from start to finish.  The headliner picture for this blog was taken at mile 20 in that marathon--happy as can be.

I was also tasked to keep track of some of the signs that I am allowing fear of failure to affect my performance.  I thought I'd get a chance to look for those signs today in my long run.  As it turned out, I had a great long run and hard workout and really didn't experience any distress during the run. I did, however, go through the usual gyrations before I went out to run, working myself up and practicing avoidance behavior (can I postpone until tomorrow?  I think I feel something weird in my stomach.  Maybe I can't do this after all. And on, and on.)

My long run was an 18 miler including 10 miles of pace work.  The 10 miles included 1 mile @ 10-12 seconds faster than goal marathon pace (GMP), then 1 mile @ 45 seconds slower than GMP.  Repeat that 4 more times without stopping between pace changes.  Using 6:15 as my GMP, my target paces were 6:00-6:05 and 7:00-7:05.  I resolved up front that I would stop for water and to take gu, since I was starting the run at 11:00 a.m. with temperatures in the low 70s, but I set the stops up front and wanted them to coincide with the slower-paced miles.  I wanted to stop because I planned to, not because I was in distress and felt like I needed to.

One change that I made for this workout was to wear my super duper cool new iPod Nano.  It's much less clunky than that blasted iPad.  I normally don't run with music for hard workouts or any workouts for that matter, but I've been wearing my new toy all week on my runs.  I also read this article from Matt Fitzgerald about the costs and benefits of running to music.  I wanted to see whether it made a difference for me.

I think the music actually helped me today.  When I wanted to be distracted during the hard part of my workout, I could concentrate on the lyrics to whatever uptempo song was blasting into my ears.  I could also concentrate easily on the task at hand if I needed to.  I had stopped listening to music while running using the argument that I wasn't going to race with my earphones in, so I shouldn't train with them.  I'm less convinced that is a real issue for me.

I never got to a point in my run today where my legs felt heavy or I felt like quitting or stopping.  I didn't sandbag this run either.  In fact, my last split was my fastest. My splits were:


Today, my focus word was control.  In a long workout like this, it's easy to go out too fast.  I needed to not only control the fast miles, but I found it hard to keep the slower miles in the proper range too.  I actually failed to do that.  That was the hardest part of this workout: slowing down enough in the slow miles.  I was surprised with how easy 6:30-6:45 pace felt during this workout and really had to work to slow down during the second mile of the set.

I get to learn about perfectionism in my fearless athlete lesson today.  I should be able to relate to that one just a little.

Three weeks to go and the taper begins NOW!  Yippeeeee!  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Leaps and bounds

For those of you who are bored with my incessant jabber about brain training, you may want to avoid reading my blog for a spell.  While I admit I haven't looked very hard, I have found very little honest and substantive reporting of other runners' trials with this sort of thing.  So, mostly for my own benefit, I plan to fill a lot of white space chronicling what I find as I work through this.  There's a good chance that I'll find nothing new, but I will have at least tried.

One thing that occurred to me today on an easy(ish) 11 mile run was that I can practice some of these brain training skills in all my workouts rather than just waiting for the big ones to test my mettle.  In fact, this is probably a better approach since it gives me regular practice and won't fuel the anxiety that already surrounds many of my hard workouts.  This occurred to me while I was doing some hill bounding in the middle of my workout.  I was almost finished with the first, 45-second repeat when my legs started burning and my mind started churning out the familiar, "Oh my God.  This is only the first rep.  My legs are burning.  How will I ever do the rest of the repeats let alone run all the way home?"

Still frame from video of Women's World Mountain Running Championship showing my coach grinding out the last 100m of the course (view video here). 
I started to jog down the hill readying my self for the next repeat when I thought of a video I viewed last week.  It was from the World Mountain Running Championships a few weeks back, and it shows the Americans finishing the race, up a steep and rocky hill.  My coach is in the video.  You can see the strain on every one of the runners' faces.  Their legs look wobbly, on the verge of collapse even, but they are determined as they push up that hill to the finish.  That visual made an impression on me, and I used it today.  I decided in the second rep to use this image and try to keep my mind in the present.  Instead of thinking about how much longer I had to push up the hill and how many more reps I had, I thought about climbing that mountain to the finish tape and really feeling the burn in my legs, not being afraid of it.  I immediately felt a change in attitude.  I was looking forward to the next rep because it was a chance to practice this new technique.

I was pretty blown away as I ran home thinking about this discovery.  After downloading my Garmin data when I got home, I discovered that each uphill bounding rep got faster as I went along too even though I wasn't focusing on speed.

I also received a workbook and 2 CDs in the mail today entitled, "The Fearless Athlete: a 14-day Plan for Unbeatable Trust".  I was attracted to this particular program not because it promised to teach brain training exercises and mantras, which I think are pretty much useless without a clear purpose.  It's geared toward self awareness, and I think that will be the key to my success.  Fourteen days is certainly not long enough to "cure me", but I hope to be exposed to some useful tools that will help me progress toward my goals.  Here are some excerpts from the introduction (The Fearless Athlete, Peak Performance Sports, 2008-9):
"…What you may not know or understand is that athletes with fear of failure are highly motivated individuals who want badly to succeed and reach their goals.  Perfectionists are incredibly motivated to improve and succeed.  But this very positive mindset for use in practice can actually hinder them and undermine perfectionists from reaching peak performance in sports….In this workbook, you will be asked to look honestly at yourself to discover the beliefs and attitudes that keep you stuck in a comfort zone (or a certain performance level) and hold you back from reaching your goals.  Throughout the next 14 days of this workbook, I will present many self-awareness exercises to help you pinpoint your own fears and attitudes that block your success..." 
You can see why this program attracted me.  I plan to start the 14-day plan today, probably not the best idea right before a big marathon based on the wisdom that you don't try new things before a big race.  But, I feel as though this can only help me.  I'll be the guinea pig here for those of you interested in this tool.  This one workbook and CD set costs about the same amount as a pair of running shoes.  Hopefully, a small price to pay for a while lot of learning.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Comfortably fast

My last post was written more as a note to myself than anything else.  I wasn't concerned that you, my fabulous readers, questioned my toughness.  I was more concerned that I was losing my edge and needed a little reminder that I did in fact come equipped with the badass gene.

With that established, I was able to move on to more constructive problem solving.  I am embarking on a process to get at the root(s) of my problem with self confidence/fear of failure or whatever it is that is wrong with my mental running game.  As with any other aspect of my running, these are deeply rooted problems that first need to be properly diagnosed before they can be treated.  I liken it to changing running form.  I read a great story about a coach who is changing one of his runners' form (can't honestly remember where I read it).  The obvious problem with this runner's form is that one leg has an excessive back kick out to the side.  He diagnosed that this runner was kicking out because she was staying on the ground for too long with each foot strike.  To correct this, he can't just tell her:  "don't let your foot stay on the ground for so long."  She can't act on that.  The solution is to do drills that help decrease the amount of time her foot is on the ground and to do those drills over and over and over until her body and mind are trained to recognize the difference and change her form.

This is why advice from people about using mantras, visualization and other mental training techniques have not resonated with me.  They may or may not be useful treatment for what ails me.

What I am finding useful is taking the time to explore the root of this problem.  The first step was to convince myself that I am not a wimp.  Chuck 50 reminded me of that, and I am serious about wearing my airborne wings on my racing uniform in Chicago as a tangible reminder of her.  I think it is great to have runners to look up to who embody the characteristics you want to emulate.  It's even better when you can draw on examples from your own past and can use those to motivate yourself.  You've done it before.  You can do it again.

The next step in my diagnostic analysis was to think about what in particular is driving this lack of commitment to suffering in workouts and races.  I think I know the answer.  As I wrote in one of my first posts in this blogging journey, I hated to run for 37 years of my life.  I mean, really hated it.  I tried it many times but could not convince myself that the pain I felt when running was worth repeating regularly.  It's no wonder that I felt this way since the most regular experiences I had running were during military fitness tests where I was required to run 1.5 miles all out.  I never trained for these tests and felt like absolute death every time I did one.

When I finally caught the running bug, it was because I finally felt comfortable running, and I discovered this by running for longer distances at slower paces.  So, my new life as a runner was constructed on a foundation of comfortable running.  My unstated (and likely subconscious) goal in every race and training run to date has been not just to run as fast as I could, but to run as fast as I could while remaining in a given comfort zone.  I was telling The Genius the other night that I cannot think of a race or training run where I pushed myself into a zone that I would characterize as suffering.  Sure I often don't feel good in races and training runs, but I don't push myself harder when I feel that way.  I always back off.  This is also likely the reason why I recover so quickly after my marathons.  I don't push myself into that suffer-fest territory that probably causes more physical stress requiring more recovery.

Given the level I've reached with my running, I would have to argue that this has actually worked out very well for me, and I've really had no reason to make any changes.  To get to the next level of competitive running, however, I realize I will have to push myself out of that comfort zone.  This will be hard, and I will need a lot of practice to break my old habits.  I need to build confidence that I can sustain a harder level of effort than I have in the past.  This also needs to be a deliberate process.  I have a training plan that details the physical workouts that I need to do to race a certain time.  I will need to overlay a brain training plan on top of that to develop my mind as well.

This is a work in progress and I am in the R&D phase right now.  I'm gathering my tools and resources so I can start figuring out what works and doesn't work.  While this sounds completely hokey, I have downloaded some podcasts and mp3s on hypnosis for runners as well as ordering a copy of a training plan guaranteed to make me more fearless in my sport.  I'll let you know how those work out.

One of the main reasons I'm delving into this so deeply is because I had started to see a noticeable deterioration of my love for running in the last year or so as my expectations for success increased.  I started to find myself not just getting nervous jitters before a race or hard workout, but feeling negative thoughts bordering on dread and anxiety.  That is ungood.  Uncovering the root of those fears and that anxiety will be part of this process too.  It' going to be an interesting journey.  I can tell already.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding Chuck 50

I've been doing much soul searching these past few weeks as I've resolved to improve my mental running game.  I have been consistently giving myself an out in workouts when the going gets tough and have been allowing myself to take "water breaks" just when I need to really dig deep.  After the Buffalo Stampede this weekend, I was talking with The Genius about his race and asked when in the race his legs started to feel heavy, like he was struggling to hold his pace.  He said, "Around mile 6 or so."  That's exactly when I felt that sensation.  He knew that this feeling meant that he needed to dig deep and push harder which resulted in him maintaining his pace.  For me, it signaled that something was wrong and that I needed to back off or I might not finish.  If this had been a workout, I would have stopped for a water break at that point.

According to the mind training information I've read, in order to resolve this problem, I first need to figure out why I do this.  Is it that I am just a wimp and afraid to experience that kind of pain?  Am I simply not fit enough to hold the pace?  I thought about this on my easy run last night and channeled a younger, fearless me to help shed light on these questions.

In July 1988, I was a 20-year-old Air Force (AF) ROTC cadet on my way to Army Airborne Training in Fort Benning, Georgia. Most of my peers were headed to a random AF Base in the States to shadow a real AF officer in their chosen career field for a week or two. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to jump out of big airplanes and earn my jump wings and proudly wear them on my military uniform for my entire career.

I did not know what to expect but was quickly introduced to the Army way of training soldiers for combat. I have not endured greater mental or physical strain in my life than I did at Army Airborne training that hot summer in Georgia. I watched a friend collapse from heat stroke, go into cardiac arrest and get rushed to the hospital while a Sergeant Airborne told me he hoped that she died because she didn't drink enough water. The next day, I almost burst my over-hydrated bladder while standing in formation for hours without being allowed to go pee after witnessing the near-death incident. We were doing hundreds of push ups, sit ups and flutter kicks every day. We double timed everywhere in combat boots and practiced crashing into the earth from various heights over and over again until we got it right. We spent 12-16 hours of each and every day doing these things. I got it, and I loved it. They were trying to make us mentally and physically strong enough to survive our 5 jumps from large C-141 and C-130 aircraft without killing ourselves or the soldier next to us in the process. It was all one big well-designed training program.

I had three things that made me stand out and worked against me in this training. First, I was Air Force in an Army Training program. Second, I was an officer candidate in a sea of enlisted. Third, I was a female. From day one, I got attention, and it wasn't the good kind. I wasn't able to blend in because I was branded with a piece of masking tape on my kevlar helmet that read "C50". The C stood for Cadet and the 50 was just my number. Charlie is the phonetic identifier for the letter C in the military. The Army shortens it the monosyllabic Chuck. So, my name was Chuck five zero.

Loading up a C-141 for my first jump.

Dumping the chumps out of a C-130. 
I was fearless at that time. I wanted to do the most difficult and daring things possible. I wanted to push myself to test my limits. I ended up getting injured during the last week of training, jump week, when an Army Officer landed on my back while I was gathering my parachute after a jump. My knee twisted underneath her weight, and I knew something wasn't right with it when I tried to walk. I had just gone through 2 weeks of hell to get to this glorious week of jumping and it had ended with a dumb accident. I was not about to give up. The Lieutenant who landed on me gave me an entire bottle of ibuprofen, a prescription-only medicine back then, and tried to assure me I would be okay. I took the drugs and limped through the remaining days of training, completing my 5 jumps and earning my airborne wings. (I had arthroscopic surgery as soon as I returned home to fix a torn medial meniscus in my knee).

Even receiving my Airborne wings in a glorious ceremony wasn't enough for Chuck 50. I wanted "blood wings". You get your blood wings behind closed doors where they punch the metal Airborne badge into the flesh of your chest with the pointy barbed fasteners exposed. I got my blood wings and proudly wore the scabby holes in my chest left by this act for a couple of weeks following training.

Graduation Day for Charlie Company and Chuck 50. 
Replaying this memory during my run reminded me that I am not a wimp. I never have been, and I never will be. It made me realize that I have an incredible amount of courage and pain tolerance that I can draw upon in my running if I want to. I firmly believe I have the fitness to achieve my goal in Chicago and run even faster in the future. I just need to reconnect with and summon that mental toughness when I feel those tired legs, at whatever point they decide to introduce themselves in my race, and tell them to go to hell. I plan to bring Chuck 50 to the starting line in Chicago, airborne wings and all, and will bust open that marathon with this 43-year old, Airborne-trained ass.

Effin' hooah!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

And the pile of poop goes to...

Proudly displaying my pile of ungulate pooh.
Sadie is loving this thing (PJ too).*
*No pooh was harmed in the making of this picture.
Me! Me! Me!  I couldn't be more thrilled about winning the shellacked pile of ungulate dung mounted on a plaque for winning the Buffalo Stampede 10-mile race this morning here in Sacramento.  What many don't realize is that I have secretly coveted this prize for years, and today I won!  Some of you know that I have a tight relationship with animals in the family Bovinae, having studied these creatures for nearly 15 years.  I've actually published in the peer-reviewed literature on the subject and have even trained cows to follow me into my study plots in the field.  So, this prize will be proudly displayed on my office wall at work.

After the lousy week I had, I was not feeling particularly sassy leading up to this race.  Last year, this race was the pinnacle of my training.  I was crazy mental about running under 1 hour for 10 miles.  In the end, I didn't meet that goal, but I ran a good race.  This year, I did not set a time goal.  Sure, I was thinking it would be nice to PR, and of course, there was the 'W' and that coveted plaque that came with it.  But, winning a race is all about who shows up, and I didn't know who would be showing up.

One of the reasons I was not willing to commit to a race goal for today was because my Impala Racing Team celebrated its 30th year of teamdom at a party in San Francisco last night, and I wanted to be there.  It was a lot of fun but left me driving home late and getting to bed at close to midnight.  On my drive home, I had the morning's race on my mind and decided to listen to a new podcast I had downloaded from iTunes.  It's from  I can't say that I really recommend it mainly because the podcasts are light on substance and heavy on advertising for their other products.  However, I had 2 hours to kill in my car and could listen all the way through.  While these podcasts appear to be mostly geared toward golfers and baseball players, they offered some interesting insight for me.

While I already knew that I had some issues I needed to face in terms of mental toughness in training and races, I had not really known what to do about it.  To be honest, I still don't.  However, these podcasts gave me some new tools to try out.  The first step for me was to figure out my issue and why it exists.  Do I have fear of failure? Check. Is this because I am a perfectionist? Check.  (I can hear the peanut gallery right now saying, "you think?")  Okay, so I know why I do this, but what's the cure.  It appears that, as with most things in life, a quick fix is not available.  But, I decided I needed to start working on this issue starting with the morning's race.  So, my goal was to use this race and subsequent workout to hone my mental running game.  I would do this by:

  • trying to stay in the present as much as possible. 
    • to do this I would stay focused on small chunks of the race like maintaining a hard effort for the current mile and reassessing how I felt at the mile split.  When my mind would panic as I looked down at my Garmin and saw a split that indicated I would not PR or meet some goal that my whacky perfectionist mind had set, I would go back to what I was doing right then and stay in the moment.  
  • defeating negative self talk when it appeared. 
  • replacing the negative talk with something positive.      

I told my coach tonight when I sent my race report that I feel like physically I'm developing well as a runner, but mentally I'm still at an infantile stage.  I really believe that the mental game is limiting me most right now and am committed to doing the work necessary to get better at it.  I'll post more about this later.

Back to the race:  I talked with many fellow Impalas at the party last night who indicated there would be a whole Impala contingent at the race this morning, so I was a bit disappointed when many of those ladies no showed; understandable given the late night.  I found one female that I knew would run fast and that was confirmed in the first mile when she shot past me about a half mile in.  I hit the first mile split at 5:51, and she was ahead of me.  I was fully expecting her to maintain that pace for a while, so I just let her go.  It was faster than I wanted to go.
Eagle Eye John Blue takes this photo hovering from above
 around halfway through the race (I think). 

Half way through mile 2, she came back to me.  I sat on her tail and saw a 6:04 split at the second mile.   The next split was 6:09, and I needed to make a move.  I surged ahead and started drafting off of the next guy up.  This next mile was 5:55.  Then, he started fading so I found my next victim.  The next split was 6:03, and he was fading too.  I passed him and entered no man or woman's land.  The rest of the race I ran alone.  Well, I did have my bicycle escort, who was cheerfully yelling at every runner we passed and surprising some of the folks finishing the slower Buffalo 10-mile Migration by swooping up behind them and yelling.  I also had about 50 people call out to me as I ran along the course, and that felt awesome!

Mile 6 showed a 5:57 split and then I felt my legs become pretty heavy as I kept trying to push.  I was worried that something was wrong with me at that point.  Come to find out, heavy legs when you're pushing hard is normal in a race.  Really, I didn't know this.  I generally slow down when I feel this way because I think I'm pushing too hard.  It seems you're supposed to push through this.  Wow, that reads like I'm a complete idiot, but I'm being honest.

I started practicing my mental game at this point and tried to really focus on staying strong and relaxed through each mile.  It worked okay, I think.  I really needed to focus as I felt that same side stitch that I was afflicted with last year start to stab my gut around mile 8.  I focused on easy breathing at that point and managed to keep it at bay.  My next few splits were 6:07, 6:07, 6:12, and then 6:46!  The 6:46, however, showed 1.09 miles for that split.  My pace was actually 6:11.  I am not complaining about the course being long, guys.  I'm just reporting the data from my Garmin.

Around mile 9.5.
Photo: Pete Zinzli
I didn't see the next closest female again after the 3rd mile and handily won the race and the ungulate poop plaque running 1:01:17.  I did not have the opportunity to stick around and receive this award in person as I had a small matter of 12 additional miles to get in to total 24 for the day.  I was so happy to have Sprinkles there to watch me race and cheer me on.  I got to run-escort her to her house and then turn around and run to my house to top off my 24 miler for the day.  I felt so much better this year adding on the extra miles than I remember feeling last year.  I think last year, I actually limped home and stopped about every 2 miles or so to stretch out a sore calf muscle.

My hip/butt/hamstring issue was not an issue at all today, which is HUGE.  I was really starting to sweat this thing this week and was feeling tightness in almost every run.  I have been doing all of my maintenance work, but it is persistent.  I don't think it's completely gone, but I am always happy when I can run a super hard effort like today and not have any pain.  I also like comparing the photo above with the one in the sidebar taken at last year's race.  It confirms that my dietary dedication and strength training are paying off with a leaner me.  My upper body is getting leaner while my legs are getting beefier.  These are good changes.

Reflecting on the day, I just completed my hardest workout of this training cycle: 24 miles including 10 miles at tempo pace with NO WATER BREAKS.  That's almost a Ryan Hall style workout;)  And, I get to wrap all of that up with an 85-mile-week bow.

I leave you with a favorite dung quote carefully culled from this wonderful collection of beloved dung quotes:

"A fool looks for dung where the cow never browsed."  ~Ethiopian Proverb
Late Night Edition:

I decided to follow through with the body metamorphosis theme by posting these photos from my last 4 Buffalo Stampede races (2007, 2008, 2009 and this year).  Wowza, I almost look like a runner now!

Friday, September 10, 2010


I missed a workout this week, and it has been tormenting me.

It all started with the decision to sleep in last Saturday morning and postpone my long run to Sunday.  Little did I know that this seemingly innocuous decision would create a ripple effect that would affect my training for the next 5 days.  The day after my 22-mile Sunday, I did a not-so-easy 10-mile workout that included hill bounds, one-legged hill hops, some short 3k repeats and finished with sprints.  Tuesday, I was headed to the mountains for an overnight work trip.  I had a double on tap for Tuesday: 15 miles including 10 x 800 @ <2:45 (<5:30 pace) w/3 min. recovery + 4 miles easy later in the day.  The 800s are the famous Yasso 800s--not an easy workout.

I decided that doing three relatively long/hard workouts in a row was not smart, and I knew that I couldn't possibly do the 800s at 6,000 ft. elevation, so I ran Wednesday's 8 mile easy workout Tuesday morning and punted the Yasso's to Wednesday night when I got back home.  I also needed to get in a strength workout early in the week since I had a race coming up on Sunday and didn't want to have sore legs on the starting line.  So, Tuesday night after the day's meetings, I created a mini gym at the smoker's picnic table outside our resort hotel and propped up my iPad, which happily displayed my strength workout and blasted motivational music.  This was a new strength routine for me and included lunges, one-legged squats, calf raises, step ups, squats with dumbbell presses, pull ups, push ups and squat thrusts all to fatigue.  I think I took the to fatigue requirement a little too seriously and ended up doing 2 sets of at least 30 reps of most of these exercises with up to 50 of some.

I paid for my strength training exuberance in a major way the next day.  I could barely move my tree-trunk-like legs when I got up early to do my 4-mile run Wednesday morning.  I did enjoy my scenic run on the Legacy Trail that runs along the Truckee River despite the sore legs.  I then sat in a meeting until noon and drove 2 hours to get home.  I had to peel my legs off of the car seat when I arrived home.  My hip/butt/hamstring pain and stiffness were monumental.  I was so mad at myself for doing the strength workout and compromising my running workout, but there was nothing to be done at this point.  I actually resolved to go out and attempt to run the workout that night.  I gave up after one 800m repeat around the track, but I got in 9 painful easy miles that night.

The entire run home I was trying to figure out a way to get that workout in without compromising my race on Sunday, but there wasn't an option that made sense.  If I had a relationship with the Lord like Ryan Hall, I might have asked for divine assistance, but I'm not tight with Jesus like that.  I figured I had two choices: a) run the 800s on Thursday and not race the 10-miler Sunday or b) drop the Yasso 800s and do a workout that required less recovery so I could have a chance to race Sunday.

I emailed my coach and presented her with this dilemma along with my proposed solution: plan b.  She agreed that this made sense and reassured me that missing one workout during an entire 15-week marathon program is outstanding.  It made me realize that I am indeed lucky that I have never had to drop a hard workout in a training cycle (aside from dropping my Eugene training completely due to injury), which is why this is bugging me so much.  I also rarely have to change a workout due to illness, injury or fatigue.  Of course, this is all very rational, but I am still having a hard time letting this workout go.  It made me realize that completing my workouts and doing them well is a huge part of making me feel prepared for a marathon.

I do believe I am growing as a runner in that I am better able to see where blind devotion to get in every workout and all of the mileage in a training plan might lead to excessive fatigue and eventual injury.  I learned that lesson in my last marathon training cycle, and I have now applied it to my decision making in this one.

When I made the decision not to do the 800s, as I stood on the track Wednesday night, I knew that I would only hurt myself if I pushed to try to complete the workout given the state of my worked legs.  After all, why follow a series of blunders with another?  I did run 15 miles Thursday with 12 x 1 minute on/1 minute off @ 3k effort and felt okay.  I should end up getting in all of my mileage for this week too, which makes me happy.        

I have spent a fair amount of time this training cycle comparing my workouts with what I did last year in my build up to Twin Cities.  In that program, I was running slightly higher mileage than I am now, but doing similar workouts.  I realized this week that I was in a constant state of fatigue during that training cycle and very few if any of my workouts went exactly as planned.  Most of them included generous "water breaks" even though they were run at the right paces.  In fact, I did not have a single good goal-marathon-pace workout that whole cycle, yet I ran a 2:46 marathon.

I'll leave you with a nice read from by Matt Fitzgerald that provides a good reminder of the importance of getting to know your body and how hard to push yourself.                

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How to fix piriformis syndrome

Chances are you found my blog by doing a Google search for information about piriformis syndrome.  So many of you have done this, in fact, that this post is the number one result!  So, I feel a sense of responsibility for updating the post with newer information about how I fixed my piriformis syndrome (PS) and kept it at bay.  As luck would have it, I developed a renewed case of PS a few months after this post went up and lived with it off and on for over a year.  So here are a few new points I want to make:

** Update on February 22, 2014:

**1) I have a renewed sense of faith in gluteal specific strengthening exercises. I have gotten relief from more than just PS by doing regular glute strengthening work. For runners especially, I think these exercises are a staple in the battle to remain injury free. I do clam shells (see video in original post below), side leg lifts, hip hikes and wall pushes (described in this article). I try to do these daily. Patience is the key. I just came out the other side of IT band syndrome by doing these exercises, but it took four weeks doing these four exercises daily to start to see a difference.
2) This is a problem that tends to hang on and rest is not necessarily going to make it go away.  In fact, I have not met a single person suffering from this problem who was able to get rid of it solely by taking a break from running.
3) The key to treating this seems to be getting some sort of manipulative therapy like Active Release Therapy (ART) from a qualified practitioner.  A good massage therapist can help here too, but they need to be able to get in to the hip capsule if your problem is originating there.  This is a deep, deep place in your pelvic region that may make you blush when they go after it.
4) If you have adhesions in your hip and butt region (glute min/max, TFL, deeper butt muscles), your best friend should be a lacrosse ball.  Not a tennis ball.  Not a golf ball.  A lacrosse ball.  You should roll out the sore spots in your gluteal and hip flexor region in every possible direction with that ball: laying down, standing up against a wall, however you can get in there and break down the adhesions that are messing things up.
5) Be Patient and don't expect instant relief.  It took me months of self treatment, following 5 days of intense ART, to get this problem to finally
6) Sitting is the devil when it comes to PS. I have been using a standing desk for about 10 months now and believe this is part of the reason I am free from hamstring/piriformis trouble. Aside from getting a sports massage once every 3-4 weeks, I now do nothing else. No stretching. No foam rolling. No lacrosse ball rolling. As long as I don't sit for a long time. I start to feel piriformis niggles when I have been sitting a lot, usually driving long distances since I don't sit at a desk for very long. Standing desks are cheap. I got mine at Ikea for less than $100. It's a table top with some long legs attached. Basic and beautiful.   

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

The original post:

A friend of mine, who also happens to be a Physical Therapist, sent me the links to a couple of YouTube videos yesterday.  In one of the videos (for ballerinas), a woman demonstrates the clam shell exercise designed to target a few of the muscles in the butt that can cause what's known as piriformis syndrome.  I have done this move before, but, after watching this woman demonstrate the right and wrong way to do it, I realized I had been doing it all wrong before.  The key appears to be in isolating the butt muscles and not allowing your quads and abductor to take over like they typically like to do.  It is such a slight movement, but when done right, burns the bejesus out of your butt.  The ballerina also demonstrates how to stretch the piriformis, though I pretty much have that dialed.  She also sent me a link to a basic abductor exercise.

Serendipity graced me with her presence during my YouTube visit, for I found a gentleman with a video entitled How to Fix Piriformis Syndrome listed in the "you might also like" section.  The dude is a goofball and appears to be filming this in a hotel room, but I'll be damned if he didn't have something good to share.  He demonstrates a little exercise that is an example of "neural flossing".  He says it is supposed to loosen the muscles along the length of the sciatic nerve.  I don't really buy his explanation for how it works, but I decided it was worth a try.  I actually felt a difference after doing it for the first time.  I also found a better explanation for neural flossing here.

After introducing these new stretches and exercises to my routine yesterday, my right leg felt so much stronger, albeit a little tortured, when I started my long run today.  I had 16 miles to conquer with 9 miles of pace work.  The 9 miles included:

3 x 3 miles alternating 10k effort and goal marathon pace every 400m without stopping during the 3-mile repeat, 3-5 minute jog rests between each 3-mile repeat.  

I started my run at 9:48 and 75 degrees.  Yes, of course I would have loved to have started in the cool morning air, but I had an even stronger desire to get my beauty sleep this morning.  I started the workout on the track, since that's what my training plan called for.  However, I knew by the end of the first 3-mile block, that I needed to do the rest of this baby in the shade of trees.  The track was scorching hot.  So, I jogged over to a shady section of the American River Bike trail and ran the rest of the workout back and forth there.  It was a busy morning on the trail as I dodged bikers, runners and small mammals the entire time.  But, being in the shade was priceless.

My paces averaged 5:56 for the 10k effort and 6:12 for the goal marathon pace for an overall average for the 9 miles of 6:04 pace.  I was happy with how I felt and even happier that I felt absolutely no tightness or pain in my right leg.  Thank you Elissa and the odd dude filming himself in the hotel room.  I'll keep you posted on my progress with these exercises and my butt/hip/hamstring issue.

This was a 94-mile week and felt like nothing.  I guess I have 6 more miles to run tonight to complete the 94, but I have a feeling that will go well too.  I believe I am feeling the benefit of increased iron in my body and higher vitamin D levels.  I got my test results back on my vitamin D levels yesterday and they have doubled (from 47 to 92 ng/ml) since April when I last had them checked!

I have a key tough workout coming up next week (Yasso 800s on Tuesday) followed by a 10-mile race next Sunday.  While I'm still running high mileage (86 miles) next week, so won't be primed for a super fast race at that distance, it's the same mileage I was running last year when I ran this race.  So, it will be another good comparison for me on my road to Chicago.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Feeling 34 again

About four weeks ago, I had my iron levels tested during my annual military physical.  The results were not good.  My iron stores (measured as serum ferritin) were down to my second lowest recorded level ever: 21 ng/ml down from 27 measured back in April.  My coach and I were very concerned since I was headed into the heaviest part of my marathon training.  Not only would this affect my training (in fact it already was, I just didn't know it), but I was about to lose a lot more iron as a direct result of that training.  My coach underscored how serious this was by stating that many coaches have their athletes back off their training when their iron stores get close to 20 ng/ml.

We decided that this change in my iron stores was due to a change in my supplementation program, which I talked about in this post.  I immediately switched back to my old faithful Rugby's ferrous sulfate elixir and doubled up on my dosage.

I got my levels checked again yesterday, after waiting the full 4 weeks to retest and got the results this morning.  My serum ferritin level was 34!!!!!  I leapt up as I read this on my iPad while still in bed and started dancing around as my dogs looked at me utterly bewildered.  This is the highest value I've seen in 2 years: a clear indication that the supplementation is working and cause for celebration.

To be honest, this only confirmed what I already knew.  Within 2 weeks of starting on the new supplements, I knew I was getting better.  The crazy thing about iron deficiency is that it's a slow and sinister villain.  It creeps up on you and the effects can be extremely subtle.  It was most definitely affecting my training and explains a lot of how I was feeling in June and July.  I wasn't quite right and certainly lacked any sort of gumption in my legs when I needed it.  But, where I felt the iron deficiency the most was in my day-to-day living.

I just put this together about 3 weeks ago when I was starting to come out of my iron-deficiency fog.  I had been having serious difficulty at work and home using my brain.  I mean, this was getting bad.  I would try to concentrate but would find myself staring at something in a distracted stupor.  I was still able to get things done, but boy was it taking a lot more work than normal.  What really fell off was my motivation to take care of little things around the house.  I was just feeling too tired to do anything when I got home from work or a workout.  I was really starting to worry about being depressed or some such.  It was also impossible for me to see that this was happening until I came out the other side of it.

I linked the lack of focus to iron deficiency when I recalled having this same problem (along with a series of super crappy training runs and races) just before I ran my first sub-3-hour marathon in Eugene in 2007.  I confirmed this by looking back through e-mail exchanges with my then coach.  While I ran a good marathon, I crashed and burned a month later with ferritin levels at near zero.  My levels were probably right around 20 right before the marathon (though I didn't know to have them tested at that time).  Anyway, I was able to find numerous messages about unexplained fatigue, crappy races and finally a message about 2 weeks out from the marathon where I asked about losing creative energy during marathon training.  I wrote:
I've been have a terrible time focusing at work lately.  I was wondering if hard training could be contributing or if work has just  become seriously boring.   
The first thing I noticed as my iron stores improved was a return of that laser-like focus in my daily life.  The difference was night and day, really.  The improvement came not a moment too soon.  I was ready to start taking my cat's Prozac (wrapped in a yummy Greenie treat pocket, of course)!

So, I've had a lot to be worried about lately including my looming hip/butt/hamstring pain.  I've watched as this same injury has claimed the running lives of three of my friends over the last year.  I knew I had to make a decision this week as I faced 95 miles of hard training: continue business as usual and work like hell to keep this niggle at bay or take some time to rest and let it heal. The first option is risky since, as I learned in my build up to Eugene last winter, I could push myself over the edge into a full-blown injury cycle.  The second option risked missing out on a qualifier in Chicago.  I chose the first option and sallied forth like a good soldier.

I'm happy to report that my pain has lightened up since I started giving it proper love and attention.  I have been stretching daily, doing yoga for athletes twice a week, icing my butt after runs and rolling on the ball in the TP Massageball kit every other day to work out the knots in my butt muscles.  As Julie points out in her blog, it seems to be important to allow the treated area to recover a bit before attacking it again.  I typically feel some pain during my run the day after I've worked on it, but that goes away the next day, even when I've thrown in a very hard workout.  I am now down to feeling a little tightness in the top of my hamstring for a few minutes during my run.

This week marked the end of a 4-week hill phase in this training cycle.  Yes, Chicago is a flat course, but I do hills for the training benefits as explained in this article.  The hill phase of my training is the hardest for me to get through because physically, the workouts are very strenuous and mentally, they don't correlate well with paces or efforts I find meaningful to gage my fitness.  About the best I can do is compare my hill workouts from one cycle to the next in terms of how I felt and what I did.  On Tuesday, I ran a total of 20 miles with 4 in the morning and then 16 at night.  The 16-mile workout included a bunch of sprints before I hopped on the treadmill for an hour of uphill running at lactate threshold (tempo) effort.  I ran this workout at the same incline but slightly faster than I have run it before.  That felt good.

I begin my marathon specific training next week.  What that means is that I will do a lot of miles at goal marathon pace or faster as I slowly taper my total weekly volume.  In my build up to Twin Cities last summer, I did a lot of goal marathon pace (GMP) miles.  This summer, I will be doing a lot of miles at 10-12 seconds faster than GMP.  My coach likes to switch up the training stimulus in my program.  Two years ago, I had a program that included the 10-12 seconds faster than GMP workouts and had a major breakthrough marathon come out the other end.  But, more about that in another post.