Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I am the person who never gets sick. Even when I am sick, I'm not. I like to believe that my immune system is like the Berlin Wall and only clowns clever enough to pack themselves in the floorboards of a VW bug can get through.

Any time I feel a little off or even a lot off, I blame it on something else. For example, the week before last, I posted on facebook that the poor air quality was making my throat scratchy. Seemed reasonable. However, that was a day or two before I had the horrible episode during my long run. What I didn't mention in my last post was that I continued to feel bad for 4-5 days after that long run. That's when I thought back to the scratchy throat, all of the people I know who have been stricken by a late-summer virus, and the horrible GI issues I had been having.

I hate using sickness as an excuse, but I believe that was part of my problem last weekend during the 5k. I think what I wrote about not practicing paces in the 5k range is also legit, but I think I had an off day too.

Last night I did a track workout of 10 x 600m with 90 seconds rest. I have never done 600s before, so I didn't know exactly how it would feel. I treated it as if I was running 400s with a little bit extra and had a great workout. I felt speedy and did not feel like I had given everything at the end. My prescribed split range was between 2:05-2:10. I ran 2:04 average. Almost every single split, I went through the 400 in 81-82 seconds. That's much faster than the last few times I've done 400s.

So, I believe the virus that got through my immune system's concrete and graffitied barrier has been arrested by the Gestapo. Und tschüss, dumm Virus!         

The true test will come this weekend during a 5k cross country race. My goal is to run close to or faster than I did two years ago when I felt like I was in decent 5k shape. It is a hilly and twisty course, but the competition will hopefully help pull me to new places.
Saturday's 5k course

Monday, August 26, 2013

Focus pocus

I am happy to report that on Saturday, I survived my first 5k road race since April 2012. I was a bit surprised and frightened when I realized I hadn't raced a short race in 18 months. For that reason, I decided I wouldn't get hung up on a time goal, but I would instead practice my racing and 5k hurting skills.

The night before the race, a friend who was also racing asked what I was trying for. I think she was expecting a time goal from me. Instead, she got this:

"My goal is to not let my monkey brain get in the way of my body. This race is not about time for me, it's about focus. But if I focus, I'll probably have a good time. Sound circular? It is:)

I read a great quote the other day: focus on actions to do rather than outcomes desired. The outcomes arrive out of actions. 

So my action is to focus on staying strong each mile and see what outcome I get. Even if I don't run fast, I'll be happy if I stay focused and strong."

I love the quote about focusing on actions. It is really beautiful but takes some self discipline to execute. I also decided that I was going to try to run the first mile in control and not look at my watch at all during the race. So, I would be running only by effort and (hopefully) racing.

I executed my race plan well. I went out completely under control for the first mile. At around 1000 meters into the race, I heard someone breathing hard coming up from behind and realized it was a younger girl. I was in the lead at that point after having passed a number of overzealous girls close to the start. When I heard her breathing, I thought, "she's breathing way too hard. She can't possibly hold that pace. Let her pass."And I did. Except that she did hold that pace and put about 30 seconds on me by the final mile. I only really started to gain on her in the final mile, but not nearly enough to make it a close battle. Nice job, by the way, Emi. She told me after the race that she reads my blog:)

Instead of sticking with her, I stayed at what felt like a challenging, but controlled pace for the entire race. And, guess what? It was a comfortably hard 6:02 pace. I won't lie and say I wasn't disappointed with my time, because I was. However, I had executed my plan well, so I couldn't be too unhappy.

What I realized after the race is that I do very few workouts in the 5k pace range. I do almost everything in the 5:55-6:20 pace range, and I am very comfortable there. I don't have recent experience with the discomfort of a faster race and therefore, my brain will not naturally take me there. The girl who passed me in the first mile was at the appropriate effort level for a 5k. I was not, but I couldn't see that. Of course, this 5k was a race within a workout and I went out after jogging a few miles post race to tackle another 3 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP) for a total of just under 15 miles for the morning. I ran that GMP chunk in 6:12 and felt absolutely wonderful. 

Instead of making me feel like a slow loser, this experience motivated me to get better and more comfortable in the faster pace ranges. The idea is that, if I can get a bit more experience now with the faster paces, then my 6:00-6:10 pace will feel that much easier. So, I am running a speed workout tomorrow in place of a 3 x 2 mile workout and will be racing another 5k, cross country race on Saturday inside a long run. I am really trying to get my brain in the racing mode, you know, talking shit with my masters competitors and stuff like that. Lots of poking and finger pointing. All in good fun.     

I think it's really easy for us to become obsessed with the times on our watches for workouts and races. This focus on the outcome rather than actions can make us miss a lot of the important lessons that our training and racing experience has to offer.

I find it helpful to write down a few lessons I learn from each race. Lucky for all of you fantastic followers out there, I do this in my blog! I highly recommend that you practice this yourself in your training log, an email to your coach or on the back of a Picky Bar wrapper--wherever you feel the urge to document such things. Sometimes, I like to do this right after a race and then let it sit for a bit and try again later after reflecting personally or talking it out with others. It's amazing how much wiser I become with the passage of time and the input from others.    

Monday, August 19, 2013

Don't pants your poop

About a year ago, I saw this video (click here if you don't see a video in the space above). It's about a dude running his first marathon going through all of the usual first timer's experiences, mile by mile. When he gets to the point in the marathon where he is trying to keep from pooping his pants, I laughed but I couldn't really relate. I've peed myself before, but never had to worry about poop, even during training runs.

Until yesterday.

You may recall in my last post I mentioned a little gig I had Saturday night. I suspected bad behavior might overwhelm me if things turned out to be fun, and I was spot on. We played first, then another local band played and finally, a sweet little ensemble out of Oakland came on and stole the show. These guys not only rocked, but they were hilarious. I laughed my ass off and just couldn't bring myself to leave. I did bring myself to purchase multiple adult beverages in an attempt to throughly enjoy the show happening on and off the stage.
Felsen. Confident people frighten them.
I got home at 1:00 a.m. I ate a slice of pizza. I had made plans to meet some friends at 7:30 the next morning for my 17 mile long run. I was not happy about that when my alarm went off at 6:30. I was still drunk, I think, when I woke up. I was still digesting the pizza. I knew, however, if I baled on my friends I would not only be a loser, but I would also hate myself for postponing a run that wasn't going to feel good no matter what time of day I chose to attempt it.

So, I forced a packet of oatmeal down my gullet and sipped coffee on my way to the meet up spot. The girls knew my predicament and were very nice about it. There were a few jokes at my expense, but I felt like I deserved it. The workout wasn't a killer, well, on a normal day. I was so happy to have them with me. I'm not sure I could say the same for them.

Almost immediately, during the warm up, I noticed some independent activity that required the attention of a bathroom stop. One friend suggested a stop in the bushes, and I suggested this would not be appropriate for my situation. The workout was meant to be a continuous run (npi) alternating miles at 6:10-6:20 pace with miles at 7:00-7:30 pace. Not super tough, but still a challenge. It is called the "gentle wave". My body took that very literally.

We started the workout and almost immediately I was struck by another urgent desire to find the loo. We stopped at a portable john after the first hard mile and then the second. I think we got through repeats 3 and 4 without a stop, but during number 5, number 2 came a knockin'. That's when I started reciting to myself, "don't poop your pants. don't poop your pants." About 2/3 of the way through the final mile repeat, I saw a bathroom and I said out loud, "I am not going to shit myself during a stupid workout." I am too proud.

You'll be glad to know that the bathroom breaks were effective. I got through 17 miles, hit all my times without an offensive incident. I even ran 4 more miles that evening. I did, however, take a long nap almost immediately after coming home from that first run. My GI tract was a mess all day long too.

Of course, during my short evening run, I stepped funny on something in the dark and came down on my ankle with the force of a giant panda. I was strapped to the dogs, and their forward momentum took me forward onto my elbows, hands and butt. Scrapes, bruises and a sore ankle later, I live to tell the tale. I cross trained on the Elliptigo today which was a fun change of pace. Also, I stood all day at my computer and was quite surprised that the ankle was much less sore by the end of the day. It's swollen, but not at all sore. I may have found a new treatment for a twisted ankle: stay on the foot.

Soon enough, I'll climb on the wagon and swear off alcohol until after CIM. Even with the unpleasantness during the run, I am happy that I had the night of debauchery. You only live once, after all.                    

Friday, August 16, 2013

training update

I mentioned in my last post that my training is going well and that my mileage is in the 70s. I'm starting to hit that point in my training where the long-awaited benefits of the hard work are starting to show. It has taken longer this training cycle than I am used to and my patience was wearing thin. I ran a long workout midweek last week of 4 x 1.5 miles with 90 second jog rest and ran faster than I expected. It was fun to be able to negative split the workout, going from 6:15 pace down to about 6:07 pace. My goal range was 6:10-6:15. I finished the week with an 18 mile run late Sunday evening.

This week, I had a rough time getting my shit together midweek and barely got a run in on Wednesday, and even that was only 2 miles with my old dog and former coach, T. I was supposed to run 12 miles with an 8 x 800m workout that morning and a 4 mile easy run at night. After beating myself up sufficiently for delaying the workout, I knew that I needed to get it done Thursday.

I was feeling the fires from the foothills in the air on Thursday so decided to take my workout indoors. I seem to have amazing super powers when I run my workouts on the treadmill lately. I think part of it is that I always feel like I'm cheating on the machine and make myself work a bit harder to make up for that. Even then, however, I never feel like what I did is quite real. What I can accept is that I got in a good workout. I warmed up for 3 miles ending at just under 7:00 pace, then started my 800m workout dialing in the speed at 10.4 mph (=2:53 for 800m). I had done this workout on the treadmill a little over a month ago and started out at 10.2 mph. My goal was to make sure I started and finished faster than that last time.

At the 1/2 mile point, I backed the speed off to 8:00 pace and ran for a 1/4 mile. I then bumped up the speed to 10.5 mph and continued on this pattern until I got to repeat number 8, running that one in 2:42 (11.1 mph). I noticed that my heart rate was barely at 90% by the end of the repeat and hadn't been getting higher for the past few repeats. I also felt great at this point with a ton of energy and noticed that I had about 3+ miles left to run for the workout. I decided I would add at least one more repeat on which turned into two. The 10th and final repeat was at 11.3 mph (2:39) and my heart rate finally climbed to 95%. I finally felt like I had worked hard. I ran for another couple of miles to get to 12 miles total. I felt so energized after that run.

So, maybe the paces that I ran don't equate to anything "real", but I did get a great workout and ran much stronger and farther than I had the last time I did 8 x 800. If I could ever run those paces for a track workout, I would be thrilled. That will be my next goal, though I'm not sure I have another 800m workout on my schedule for the rest of the training cycle. Maybe we'll just have to add that in!

I have my first 10 mile 'wave tempo' workout within my long run this weekend. I don't have very high expectations for that one given one less day of rest between hard workouts and a band gig on Saturday night that is sure to lead to bad behavior. I will have some good company for the run and might even guilt one or two people into running the workout with me. I've already warned them that I might break down and cry part way through.            

Even with the lost day on Wednesday I'll still hit another 75 mile week this week. Next week, I'll run my first road 5k in a long, long time. Hopefully all of this training will translate into some fast times on the roads. Fingers and toes crossed.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Next Marathon

Oh, hello there! I guess I forgot to officially post the news that I decided to switch my goal marathon race from Chicago to the Cal International Marathon. It was actually an easy decision once I thought about it a little. More than anything, I just felt as though my confidence in my fitness level was not where it needed to be in order to pull off something spectacular in Chicago. Plus, CIM has a great course (literally in my back yard), and I know a lot of fast women that will be attempting to get their OT B standard qualifier there.

Let's just hope the weather is better than last year.
CIM 2012
Since making the decision, my workouts have gone very well, and my training has been consistent, with my mileage in the mid 70s. I feel like I'm developing a nice base that will take me through the next few months of tough training. I have long wanted to have a group to train with and finally realized a month or so ago that I could do something about this. I am lucky to have a group of fast female friends in the area that like to train hard. I realized that a big part of the problem was not having a workout coordinator. So, I took on that role and we have actually met up for several runs so far. A few of these gals will be running CIM, so I see some great workouts ahead for us. Even if we don't do the workouts together, having someone to meet is so helpful.

Starting up my coaching business has had some good carry over benefits for my running. One thing I currently dig is having my training plan (and my athlete's plans) and training log on the interwebs. You can see what they look like on my coaching website. I currently use Google Docs for this, but I plan to switch over to iCloud once they get done with their beta testing and have a fully-operational version of Numbers up and running. I am currently testing out Apple's new web-based apps and I do really like them. I just am unable to share them right now with my athletes, friends and my coach. Google docs does a fine job for now. What I especially like is being able to change training plans on the fly when things change and have those changes automatically shared. This morning, I was able to have a chat session with an athlete while we looked at the plan together. I was able to make adjustments to the race schedule on the spot. Done. So cool. I also like being able to share my training plan with my friends, so they know what I will be up to and can plug in to my workouts when they want.

I do have a number of races coming up (races in bold are focus races):

8/24  Race for the Arts 5k
9/8 Buffalo Stampede 10 mile
10/6 Urban Cow 5k
10/20 Humboldt Redwoods 1/2 Marathon
11/10 Clarksburg Country Run 1/2 Marathon
11/28 Run to Feed the Hungry 5k
12/8 CIM!!!!

This is a full race calendar, especially for me, but I am happy about that. I need to get back in the swing of racing and learn to harness the excitement of race day to maximize my performance. All of the reading I'm doing about the mental aspects of performance is making me realize just how important this is!

CIM 2013, here I come!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jagged little pill--warning controversial topic ahead!!

Image From
About a year ago, I was not feeling quite right and was looking for answers. Sound familiar? I was already supplementing with iron to boost my iron stores which I knew were low. I was taking vitamin D since I know that tends to be chronically low for me too. I suspected that I was also suffering from low estrogen levels. I wasn't showing signs of this in terms of my female cycle, but I had really low body fat and just assumed that my estrogen levels would be low. My doc and I discussed this and she okayed me to go on low dose BCPs. I actually started feeling better fairly quickly after that and pronounced myself cured by BCP. About 3 months later I started getting ocular migraines every other day. I normally get these 1-2 times per year. This was a huge red flag. I never once attributed the migraines to the hormonal supplements, but I was urged to stop taking the BCPs because of the fact that they, and all other estrogen-based hormone supplements, greatly increase your chance of having a stroke if you're a woman over 40 who also gets migraines with aura.

Now, I am pretty convinced that it was the BCPs that were causing my increased migraine frequency. I am eternally grateful to the doctors, including my sister-in-law, who urged me to stop taking the pills. Who knows how close I came to having a stroke. I will say that I am still fuming that my gynecologist told me it was totally safe to take these when my record clearly indicated that I had migraines with aura. This isn't the first time she missed something in my record and made a mistake. I finally switched doctors, but the new one isn't much better. Ah, the joys of having Kaiser as your HMO.

The reason I am so convinced that the BCPs caused my headaches is that I finally went in to get my estrogen levels tested. My ex-Kaiser doc refused to order tests for me, so I did it myself at I didn't know anything about this cool service until a month or so ago when I was looking for a place to get my serum ferritin tested. You simply order your test and they call it in to a lab close to your house. You go in, do the deed and *voila*, test results in 24-48 hours! It was almost as cheap as what I would co-pay at Kaiser. $39 for a ferritin test. The estrogen test was $99, but I didn't have a choice there.

The result? My estrogen levels were off the charts high and during a time of the month when they shouldn't have been maxed out. Who knows what they are when they're at the peak. The chart put me in a level commensurate with women undergoing IVF treatment to get pregnant. I did some research into high estrogen levels and found that this condition is actually more common than I thought in women. It can manifest itself with symptoms similar to low estrogen, but it just doesn't get as much attention. The problem is, there aren't a lot of simple things to be done for high estrogen. So, think about me having these high estrogen levels and then adding a continuous supplement of estrogen pills to that mix. Recipe for migraines? Uh, yes.

Can I rant for a minute? Wait, maybe I have been already. The reason I think that there is so little info out there about high estrogen levels is that doctors aren't testing for it. When I asked for these tests, my doctor refused on grounds that hormone levels change daily so why bother? That is a load of crap. While it is true that hormone levels do fluctuate a lot, that is not a legit reason to not test. Why not take readings at certain points in the cycle to establish a baseline for the patient in order to try to correlate these levels to better manage her symptoms? Wait, that would cost money and makes a lot of sense. Sorry, my bad.

What I found through my research is that having high estrogen alone isn't really the issue. It's typically an imbalance of the three big guys, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, that cause symptoms. There are clinics and whole centers designed around "women's health" that do good work along these lines. I just don't know the secret handshake to get in the door. I could, of course, pay out of pocket for these services, but I've decided not to pursue it.

This is where this post is going to be CONTROVERSIAL. When I probed more into managing hormone-related issues, I found a world that made me very nervous as a competitive athlete. I started hearing rumors of men and women taking testosterone boosting supplements to relieve legitimate symptoms associated with aging, however completely inappropriate for competitive athletes since the substances are banned. The rationale, as it is rumored, is that if it is a legitimate medical condition, then it's okay to take the banned substance. I even heard, second or third hand of course, this couched as something that would never show up on a drug test if the athlete's levels were low enough to start with. Still cheating.

So, when I thought about getting my testosterone and progesterone levels tested, I also had to think about what I would do if I found out they were low. The progesterone is easy, because it is not a banned substance. Add a dab of cream here and there, and I'm golden. Anything I took to raise my testosterone levels would almost certainly be a banned substance, and while it might make me feel better, I am not a cheater.

The issue of supplementation with substances that aren't banned, such as thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), was recently a huge topic of controversy, and I found the discussion fascinating. There are those that say that if you can't handle the training load because your body breaks down (e.g. thyroid doesn't function), then that's just separating the men from the boys, so to speak, and you shouldn't be allowed to compete if you have to supplement. Take this a step further and you find those who say, if you can't get all your nutrition from food alone and have to supplement to train and compete, then you shouldn't be competing. That, I believe, is going too far. Should I not be allowed to take iron supplements because I happen to have a body that gets iron depleted easily with hard training?              

Where do you draw the line? Well, that's actually pretty easy. The line is drawn for us by WADA. If the substance is banned, and you are taking it. That is cheating.

Just. Say. No.

Where does this leave me? Well, my hormones are probably whacked out beyond belief, but, for once, I'm not sure I want to know the numbers right now. My body is aging but I can still train hard and compete well. I may end up going through periods where I feel super low energy, like I did the last 2-3 months, but this comes along with the role of playing the part of a woman in her 40s. The good news is, I don't have to worry about low body fat levels causing low hormone levels, which is actually quite a relief. Bring on the strength training and washboard abs!