Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 10 lessons in 10 years of running

In all the craziness of this past year, I forgot that 2014 marks my 10 year running anniversary. I started running in August 2004 and ran my first marathon that December. I walked through every aid station and had the time of my life in that marathon. I remember celebrating every mile over 20 because it was the farthest I had run in my entire life. I qualified for the Boston Marathon in that first marathon and was told that this indicated I might have some talent. I'm glad I have continued to run and push the limits of my training to see how fast and strong I can become.

I have learned a ton over the last 10 years and have chronicled about half of that in this blog. I decided to try to summarize some of the top lessons in this post in countdown fashion.

Lesson 10. Know your weaknesses. 

Acknowledge them, but don't beat yourself up about them. These may be cravings that keep you from making your goal weight for your big race or mental weaknesses that crop up every time you do a tempo workout. I have found that it helps to face these things and figure out ways to deal with them. One thing I like to do is remind myself of the bigger goal. Say I am craving that bag of
Lindt candies sitting out on the counter (this would be a real craving, btw). When I reach a point in my work where I want a distraction and can't stop thinking about the candies, I will make myself wait 10 minutes and during that 10 minutes review my racing weight goal. I don't tell myself how horrible a person I am or how fat I will be if I eat those wonderful chocolates, I just try to delay the action and remember why I care about not eating the chocolate. It isn't fool proof, but it mostly works, especially if I do this often. For that dreaded tempo workout, I often have trouble just getting out the door. Once I'm rolling, it doesn't seem to be a problem. So, I try to find ways to get myself out running without thinking about the tough workout I have planned. I often make a running date with someone for an early morning run and run the warm up with them. Since I'm already out there, it is easier to just roll into the workout.      

Lesson 9. Chunk it up.

I decided early on in my marathoning career (at the age of 38!) that I wanted to try to qualify for the
CIM '04. Walking thru
the aid stations!
Olympic Trials (OT). I was a 3:20 marathoner at the time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the massive gulf between my then marathon PR and what I needed to run (a difference of more than 30 minutes!) I decided to chunk it up. That is what I call breaking it down into smaller, bite sized chunks: something I can fit in my mouth and digest. I first set a goal to run a 5k race at the goal marathon pace I needed to get the OT qualifier (6:22 pace at the time). Then, I ran a 10k at that pace, and a 10 miler and half marathon. This took about 5 years. Over that period of time, the standard changed from 2:48 to 2:46, so I had to adjust my pace goals for my races, but I was finally able to take a shot at running an entire marathon at that goal pace. It took me two tries once I was ready to run that pace, but I finally did it in 2010. I use this same approach in workouts and races. It's a simple way of making a big hairy goal doable.

Lesson 8. Run with people (and dogs) that you like.

My running crew
This one might actually be more of a life lesson, but somehow it really sunk in for me once I became a runner. I spend a lot of time running, and I like to run with people for most of it. Well, to be truthful, I really like to run with my dogs, and I treat them like people, so that counts too. I run with a variety of people but they all have one thing in common: I feel good when I run with them. We may not run the same pace all the time, but I try to be respectful of their paces when they need a recovery day and then (politely) excuse myself when I need to run a faster workout. I have made some terrific friends through running, but I have also had to let a few go because they didn't make me feel so good. Of course, I met the Genius through running, and will be forever grateful for that.  

Lesson 7. Be a good sport.

US wins gold in World Mil. Marathon Championships!
Athens, 2010.
This refers back to Lesson 8, actually. I refuse to run with people that are disrespectful to me or make me feel badly. I think my tolerance for acceptable behavior has narrowed as I have gotten older. I value my time too much to turn something that I love like running into a negative emotional cistern. The "one steppers" and runners that can't run a workout without trying to "beat" everyone are just not acceptable training partners to me any longer. Instead, I look forward to spending time with my running partners. I also love the camaraderie that running offers through team membership and competition. I have competed as a member of the Impala Racing Team for the past 6 years and was a member of the US Air Force Military Marathon Team for a few years at the end of my military career. What on the surface seems like an individual effort or accomplishment becomes so much more meaningful when it is run as part of a team.  

Lesson 6. It's okay to be slightly undertrained but don't overtrain.

If you want to accomplish big things in your running, you need to push your physical and mental limits. I had the good fortune of being able to train and race hard for 6 years straight without a running injury. I had wonderful coaching during those first 6 years to attribute some of that to, but I also think I was lucky. When I had my first brush with injury, I was pushing my limits. I was clearly overtrained and needed to back off. My coach was sending me messages in bold type with exclamation points telling me to stop!!!!!! I remember telling her that I wanted to know my limits. I felt like I wouldn't know how far I could push myself until I had gone too far. Luckily, that injury only took me out of action for a month or so and I was able to cross train like a maniac to stay fit. I ran my OT qualifier 6 months later. While injury was an important thing for me to experience as a runner and as a coach, it has continued to be a partner in my running since that first injury.

One of my coaches used to tell me that it is better to go into a marathon slightly undertrained than overtrained, and I don't think I really understood that until I overcooked myself a few times. Recovery from overtraining takes FOREVER! Even if you have a good race, if you trained really, really hard and went into the race slightly overtrained, you can take 6 months or more to recover from the damage of that training cycle. This is okay I think when you're trying to do something big like qualify for an important race or run a big PR. However, you need to understand the sacrifice you're making when you cross that line. I do everything I can to try to keep the athletes I coach from overtraining. I know from experience now that you are much better off being able to train consistently over a longer period of time than throwing everything you have into one training cycle and going for broke. Overtraining doesn't just occur as a result of too much running, either. It is affected by so many other aspects of our lives including life stress, lack of sleep and even excessive strength and cross training. You only have one body and all of these things add stress to it. The key to becoming a stronger and faster runner is to cycle stress and recovery in a way that is anabolic rather than catabolic over time. You can easily become overtrained off of a relatively low volume of running if the other stresses in your life are too great and your body cannot recover.        

Lesson 5. Know your body.

One of the first important lessons I learned about my running body was that I needed more iron than the average bear. I ran for 3 years, slowly depleting my iron stores until one day, my body just
I heart iron
wouldn't move any longer. I was lucky to have a coach at the time who recognized my symptoms and suggested I get my iron stores tested. They were non-existent. What I have learned about my body since then is that, if I don't take iron daily in the liquid form with a vitamin C chaser, I can't keep up with the iron I lose in training and everyday life. That was important to know. I have also spent a lot of time trying to figure out what helps me recover most quickly; what fueling concoction keeps me going in races and workouts; what shoes work best; how I feel under different taper regimens; and on and on. I have found that the best way to quickly figure things out is to pay attention and take good notes. I keep track of a lot of "stuff" in my running log: how I feel in my workouts, what supplements I took; how much strength training I did; what hurt that day; what I thought about the workout; what shoes I wore and how many miles they had on them; etc. Maybe this is too much stuff for most people, but I find it immensely useful when something goes awry and I need answers. I keep a Google spreadsheet with formulas and fancy calculators, but I also like writing in a training journal. I like to say that the spreadsheet is for my left brain and the journal feeds my right. Even with all of this information, I know when I need to cut it out. I know when a pain is no longer something I should run through and when a cold has become more than just a nuisance. These are things you learn about your body over time. There is no substitute for experience.                      

Lesson 4. Build a team of body workers.

Doc Ball's handy work.
I have learned a lot about my body and why it does the bad things that it does from a group of awesome practitioners that have helped fix me over the years. During my first 6 running years, I had some little niggles here and there and found a few good local practitioners to keep me on the roads. In 2010, I became seriously broken and I cycled through the local practitioners until, eventually, none of them could help me. I then wandered to the Arizona desert and found Dr. John Ball. I spent over a week in his care and came out running pain free. What Dr. Ball wasn't able to do was keep me from making stupid mistakes with my training. I spent the better part of 2010-2012 injured on and off, making the same training mistakes over and over. I have been back to see Dr. Ball twice more with similar positive outcomes, but he is in Arizona and I am in California. I am not a professional athlete and can't afford the trip to Arizona, so I have worked to develop a team of local practitioners that help keep me on the road. I have learned something really valuable from each person I have worked with over the years. On my last trip to see Dr. Ball he gave me hip mobility exercises and glute strengthening exercises to keep me out of trouble and they have worked! I also roll my legs with a lacrosse ball and this tool regularly and get a massage from Jen Walker at CMT Sports Therapy every 2-3 weeks. When I start to feel something a bit more serious crop up, I have learned to rest it and get it worked on right away.        

Lesson 3. Believe in yourself.

So much of our running success is mental rather than physical. We are learning more every single day about the complexities of mind and body and how to maximize our training to benefit both. In some ways, it was so much simpler back when I was new to running. I was constantly improving and learning new things to apply to my training. It seemed like everything I did helped me PR in the next race. I PR'd for years in every distance, well, until I didn't. I not only became injured, chronically, but I found both my physical and mental limits. While injury is a physical manifestation of overtraining, I think the mental aspect is the hardest part to take. You're this runner person who thrives on thrashing your body with these ridiculously hard workouts and are used to watching it bounce back, ready for more. Then one day, your body says no. Not gonna let you do that again. I'm gonna hurt. I'm gonna
hurt for a few weeks. In fact, if you try to do that again, I 'm gonna hurt a lot worse, maybe not even let you walk. The emotional roller coaster ride is obnoxious as hell and you start to lose faith in your ability to run fast ever again. I have watched runners succumb to this and never recover. But there are also many great examples of runners who continued to believe in their ability to come back and end up running even faster and stronger. It is that fundamental belief in yourself that keeps you going when you face the worst. I have experienced the worst health issues of my life in the last year and have begun to train for and had to stop training for 4 marathons in that time because of it. Giving up is always such an easy answer, and I really wanted to at the worst of times. But, I have this megaphone in my ear telling me that I can run faster than I ever have if everything comes together and I believe that. I think back to that 3:20 marathoner who wanted to run in the Olympic Trials. I made that happen. I worked hard and I believed. I can do the same now and so can you.  

Lesson 2. Get a coach.

I have been fortunate to have some wonderful coaches over the years. I tried the self coaching thing for a very short time and realized that I am prone to running myself into the ground without the guidance of a neutral third party to point out how silly some of my ideas are. I like having a plan to follow and someone to bounce ideas off of. I do believe I have learned enough at this point to know that I need to first and foremost listen to my body and take a conservative approach to my training. However, I will always have that drive to want to do more and a good coach tempers that. I am currently coached by Jack Daniels through the Run S.M.A.R.T Project and feel very lucky to have his guidance. I have not been injured in over a year though I have had some serious health issues, as I mentioned in Lesson 3 and have written about profusely for about a year. Despite those health issues, I have been able to keep training and am so excited to finally get to finish a marathon training plan and race in March at the Napa Valley Marathon! To be honest, at this point, I don't much care what the time outcome of that race is. For me, getting in a quality block of marathon training and running a strong race are my goals. That doesn't mean I'm not going to go for it and try to qualify for the Olympic Trials if I feel as though my training justifies that, but for now, I feel grateful to be training consistently and feeling good.          

Lesson 1. Don't give up on your dreams.

If you made it to this final lesson, I hope you can see that they all tie back to this one. Sometimes the pathway to my dreams seems to be paved with excuses and the faces of a few ugly people who want me to fail. However, when I can see my dream and really believe in myself, those things are simply small pebbles in the path and I can easily step over them (or crush their faces under my feet!). The foundation of the path includes the hard training that I have put in over the years and everything I have learned about myself. It includes the hardships I have faced and overcome as well as the stories of others who have accomplished amazing things in their lives. It includes my huge support system--those people (and animals) that help me on a daily basis to keep moving forward, one chunk at a time. If I choose to focus on the larger goals and the positive, then the dream remains alive.

Keep the dream alive people!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

For Sadie Pants

Sadie Pants Marty. 2001-2014
I had always thought that animals come into our lives somewhat randomly. We go to the pound or look at pictures on a website and choose them almost arbitrarily. Someone once told me that they thought animals chose us, and the animals that I've had the good fortune to share my life with have made me a believer. 

Sadie, aka Hope, 2001
Sadie was named Hope when I first found her on the internet in 2001. I think these were the days of the cable modem, so it took a concerted effort on my part to hunt her down. She was from a bad part of Modesto and part of a large litter. Her SPCA picture captivated me, but it was the actual meeting of this little butterball that convinced me she was the one for me, even as her brothers and sisters tried very hard to convince me they were the better choice. The name Hope didn't seem to fit, though I now see the beauty in it. I named her after lyrics in a Dr. Dre song I was listening to on the drive home: "...and get to mackin with this bitch named Sadie, she used to be the homeboy's lady." It stuck.
Sadie enjoyed a long life of adventure. I lived in Knights Landing, CA when I first got her and she had a large yard and acres and acres of farmland to cruise around on our daily walks. She developed a hatred for chickens after she was terrorized by the mean-as-shit roosters that the previous tenants had left behind at the house I was renting. Many chickens would be sacrificed for those roosters' hijinx. I hope never again in my life to ask someone, "how can I reimburse you for your chicken?"         

Sadie had many companions over the years. She loved kitties. Well, she ate a few too, but she loved
Sadie and Astro, 2001
the ones that I loved. She also had her doggie companions. Astro, a world-renowned, pig-hunting Catahoula, was unfortunately a short-lived partner. He died when she was about 6 months old but no doubt taught her quite a few important details about being a dog.  

The love of her life was a coonhound named Buddy. He was the most loving dog I have ever had the pleasure to meet and a perfect, low key, companion for her. Sadie liked very few dogs, but Buddy was love at first sight. They shared the better part of nine years together and were only separated when Buddy became suddenly ill with a sickness that took his life in 2011.
Sadie and Buddy, 2002. The day I brought Buddy home for Sadie.
Logan and Sadie, 2011.
After Buddy went, I knew that I needed another companion for Sadie. I wanted another Coonhound and found Logan on the internet (how I find all of my dogs). The Genius and I drove all the way to Yreka to meet him and adopted him on the spot. I was terribly nervous about whether this little guy would be welcomed by Sadie, given that she really didn't get along with many other dogs. Maybe this wasn't love at first sight, but they got along very well. Logan added years to her life, I am sure. Because I have a thing for hounds, I adopted a third dog in 2012 to bring me very close to the edge of "crazy dog lady". This one has been a handful, but I am glad that she chose me when she did so she had a chance to learn from Sadie and bring some puppy energy into Sadie's last years. One of my favorite pass times was watching Sadie and Bella spar in that fun dog way that they do--full of pomp and circumstance and lots of great puppy noises.   

Logan, Sadie, and Bella. 2012. Where do the people sleep?

Sadie has been a part of my life for so long, it is hard to imagine it without her. In fact, as I was watching her sleep in the sun yesterday, I realized that she has been the basis for numerous major life decisions during the last 13 years. 

I chose the house I currently live in for its proximity to the American River and the opportunity to take daily walks with Sadie and Buddy. I wasn't a runner back then, and am now incredibly grateful for them guiding me to this gorgeous spot so I can now run along the river too.

The dog van. 2004.

I bought Sadie and Buddy a Vanagon for Christmas one year so we could travel around California camping in style. Of course, she was my litmus test for people too. If Sadie didn't like someone, I knew something was wrong. Then there were the numerous small decisions I made every day, always with her best interest in mind.

Unlike my two hound dogs, Sadie never ran much with me. I didn't become a runner until later in her life, and we had a routine of walking, not running, twice a day down by the river. Ironically, as she got older, she ran more with me. I didn't want her to feel left out after I would run the youngins, so I would take her on a leisurely 1-2 mile dog jog afterward. We were able to run together up until about a year ago when arthritis in her back made it uncomfortable.

Coach T
Some of you may recall a few years back when Sadie became my coach for a while. It was in response to Ryan Hall's announcement that he was being coached by God. I figured I could then be coached by Dog. She wanted to be called Coach T, for Tuner Pants, because that's the name she liked best.  She was a hard ass and ultimately, we had to end the coach-athlete relationship. Her training methods were unorthodox, always about running for treats and chasing after things. She didn't really understand the concept of intervals. Run them into the ground was her method.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to work from home these last two years, especially in these last couple of months. To be able to spend so much time with her in her final months was priceless. She was my office companion. She would hobble into the office at around 9 or so and flop down in the middle of the floor, sprawled out like a rug. There she remained all day long unless something outside needed her attention.

I struggled mightily with the question of when/if to put her down. I believe that death is a natural part of life and was so worried about robbing her of a natural process that she needed to go through to pass from this world. I absolutely did not want to do it out of convenience for me. I tried the best I could to respect her needs. Deep in my soul, I knew that I could not let her suffer unnecessarily and would choose the option to have her put to sleep to spare her hurting.

That day came today. Saturday night was a horrible night for her. She woke in the middle of the night and was clearly in pain. I upped her pain meds until she finally quieted. I had a race to run on Sunday and really, really, really did not want to leave her. I had made a commitment to my team that I would run the race and did not want to leave them short a runner, so I went. I ran thinking about her every step and cried the whole way. I ran past the finish line straight to my car and drove back to her. Though she was doing much better all day, and ate lots and lots of doggie treats, she had another horrible night last night and I knew it was time.

We enjoyed a few more hours this morning, sitting in the sun in the back yard, with me staring at all those spots, trying to memorize every last one of them before never seeing them again and her nose actively sniffing the scents of her domain for the last time. The Genius and I were holding and petting her when she went very peacefully. I plan to take her cremated remains, along with Buddy's, up to Fiske Peak and let them be carried by the wind into the wonderful canyon below where we spent so many Thanksgivings.

And so I go back to a favorite book of mine by Pam Houston called Sight Hound when mourning my loss. It's about the intersection of dog and people love, and I always draw comfort from this quote of hers about her dog, Dante:    
"What I didn’t understand then, what I couldn’t have understood until I watched him breathe his last breath, is that nothing could take him away from me, not cancer, not an amputation, and not even sodium phenobarbital; that only in his dying could I truly understand the way I would have him forever, the way I’d had him forever all along, the way I will see him, whenever I need him, running across that big green pasture into my arms."

I love you Sadie Pants.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

CIM minus

From the title of this post you can probably already tell what's coming: I'm not running CIM. Why? Because I'm scheduled for surgery on December 2nd.

When I had my first surgery to remove my fibroid baby in August, the surgeon was able to scrape about 80% of it out. The doc told me that, for many women, this was sufficient to resolve their problems and suggested a wait-and-see approach. I did not want to wait and see whether my hemorrhaging resumed and asked him to schedule the second surgery to remove the rest. I waited for about a month and finally got a call from scheduling offering me the December 2nd date. I told them that I had a marathon 5 days later and couldn't take the date. They said they would see if they could find something else.

A month went by with no calls from Kaiser. I was fine with this because I wasn't having any symptoms. A little over a week ago, that changed. I was back in hemorrhagic hell for about 5 days and missed a race because of it. I realized that I needed to take the surgery date that was available. I have also asked to have the inside of my uterus cauterized (called ablation) so I never bleed again--or at least for several years. Because I was able to get my blood levels up after the surgery, this episode didn't take much out of me. However, I definitely felt the impact. It is absolutely stunning how good I feel with higher hemoglobin levels. I vow to never let them drop again!

In case you're counting, this is the 5th time I've started training for and not been able to run a marathon in the last 12 months. It is frustrating, but each training cycle I have gotten a little stronger. I had some of the best training of my life in the last couple of months and that fitness does not go away overnight. As long as I keep training, it will carry right over to the next race.

The lovely Napa Valley Marathon course.
My current plan is to run the Napa Valley Marathon on March 1st, which seems fitting since it's sponsored by Kaiser. It's a great race and fast course, though the only time I've run it was in 2006--the year that there was a 15 mph headwind and freezing rain the entire way (it's a point to point course). A headwind is unusual for that race, so I am hoping the weather will be more favorable this time around. They've also had tailwind years. Fingers crossed for that!

I worked my way up to 20 mile runs with 10-13 miles at marathon pace before all of this went down, and I was feeling really strong. I am reducing the mileage of my longer runs now (though maintaining my overall training volume) and getting back to some speedier running before I launch back into marathon training in a few weeks. I'm hoping to get a fast half marathon and 5k out of my current fitness in the next month. Keeping my fingers crossed that my body cooperates.

A little hip niggle over the last couple of weeks scared me back into doing my rehab work. When I'm feeling good, I tend to forget the weaknesses in my right side that need constant attention. I have been doing tons of strength work these last several months, but as the PT noted, I am using the same compensations in that training as in my running and making everything else strong while my poor glute is neglected. Focused exercises are the name of the game. The niggle went away and I've noticed some improvement in my right side strength. It was also a good reminder to me to roll both sides of my body equally. My left side tends to be tighter than the right, but the left side never hurts. I tend to roll the side that hurts more than the other and that just exacerbates the problem leaving my left side tight and loosening up an already mobile right side.      

Speaking of rolling, if you haven't seen this guy before, you should check him out. His name is Enso, and he works miracles. All those little discs are adjustable. Painful genius.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

CIM minus 10 weeks: aiming high

Weekly summary:

70 miles
1 speed workout: 5 x 1000m/3 min recovery (3:26 ave.) + 6 x 200m/200m recovery (34 sec ave.)
1 long run: 20 miles moderate (7:05 pace)
6 hours strength training (3 x hot pilates, 1 x kettlebells, 1 x barre, 1 x bikini butt) 

This has been an interesting week in a number of ways. I was anxious in the first half of the week about the speed workout I had lined up for Wednesday. I haven't run many speed workouts in the past several months and the last attempt (3 weeks ago) went really badly. For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you are aware that, relatively speaking, I am much faster at the longer races. For example, my marathon PR equates to a 16:57 5k, but I have only barely broken 18:00 for that distance at my fittest. The main reason for this disparity is that I don't practice at 5k pace. I started running as a marathoner and have focused on that distance at the exclusion of all others. I am very comfortable with the discomfort of running a lot of marathon paced miles but am very uncomfortable holding 5k pace. That's why I was anxious.

My paces for this workout were also very ambitious. 5:24 pace is fast for me, but I wanted to give it a shot. I asked the Genius if he wanted to do the workout with me and maybe help pace me for some of it. Thankfully, he agreed. I'm not sure I could have pushed myself that hard without help. I was pretty sure I could hold 83 second quarters for this workout and that was my goal, even though my training plan called for 81. My fastest 1000m workout ever averaged 3:35. So, this would be new territory. I wondered whether I had ever really pushed myself in an interval workout and I really wanted to try to do that here.

We started off the first 1000 and I was right on The Genius' heels. Despite getting a slight tingling feeling in my fingers at the end, it felt reasonable. First 1000m = 3:22 (81 sec/400m). We jogged the 3 minutes (which is a long time) and started again. This time, I started to fall behind my pacer. I felt like I was going backwards fast. I didn't look at my watch, but he pulled away from me in the last 200m and I started to feel heavy-legged and tingly as I tried to keep up. Second 1000m = 3:22. The Genius was speeding up, which made me feel better. However, I also realized the signs of oxygen debt coming on too early in this workout and decided to dial it back a bit. I ran the next three 1000m repeats in 3:30-3:31. I didn't take my splits during the repeat for these but just tried to concentrate on holding a hard but steady pace. I was happy that the early fast intervals didn't compromise the final miles of this workout. I felt good at the end. I finished the last 200m of the last repeat with a very strong mind repeating my new mantra, 2-4-2, to myself as I pushed it to the line. We finished this workout with some fast 200s. I ran all of them in 34-35 seconds and they felt great. 

Much like the threshold pace run last week, this workout was a huge confidence booster for me. I lack confidence at the shorter distances so this was a really important training experience. To know that I can push myself and even start out too fast and still hold it together was big. 

I had a straight up, easy to moderate paced long run of 20 miles on Saturday and wanted to try to get my legs a bit tired before that run so I could work on running long on tired legs. So far, my mileage for this cycle hasn't taken me to a point where I experience muscle fatigue during my runs. I decided instead to use strength training to tire my legs out before this long run and see how that felt. I did back to back classes at P2O Hot Pilates on Friday night taking Bethany's Kettlebells and Barre classes. These were great workouts and my legs did feel pretty tired. I want to add a caveat to this experiment, and say I would never tire myself out with strength work the day before a hard workout (meaning a workout with faster paces in it). In fact, I try to "protect my workouts" by doing easy strength work two days before a planned workout and none the day before. Last week's botched midweek workout taught me an important lesson about how long it takes me to recover from strength work. 
I met my speedy friend, Juliet, again this weekend for the first 10 miles of my long run. She needed to be home early so we started at 5:15 a.m. I am always willing to wake up super early on the weekend to meet a good friend and training partner! We negative split that first 10 and had a great run. I was able to lose my headlamp at the halfway point and take in another dose of Generation Ucan before heading back out for the second half. I also negative split that 10 miles and averaged 6:37 pace for the last 5 miles. My legs did feel tired at the end, but they were still very capable of running fast. The bonus of starting so early was that I was done by 8:00 a.m.!

I had someone mention on Facebook that she thought it was great that I was putting my goals out there so boldly. My goal of running 2:42:XX is absolutely a stretch goal for me, but I believe I can run that time if everything comes together. It is absolutely a gamble to put it out there in the world though--telling people that I am trying to do this huge thing. What if I fail? Will people think I was stupid for trying? While I risk taking a hit to the ego if I come up short, I think putting my big goals out there will help me more than hurt me. Every time I tell someone I am trying to run 2:42 for a marathon, it makes that goal a little more real. It keeps me honest in workouts and even in my strength training where I use my mantra of 2-4-2 when I start to shake in the last few reps in a tough class. It is becoming part of my psyche right now. I am gaining that mental focus that I remember developing before I ran my qualifier in Chicago. 

Running healthy again has given me perspective. The last 9 months of health problems kindled a fire inside me that is helping me accomplish extraordinary things in this training cycle. I am running faster than I ever have and am challenging myself in new ways. It is both exciting and scary. I never want to experience health problems like that again, but I am grateful for the perspective it has given me.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

CIM minus 11 weeks: the reality show

Weekly summary:
61 miles
1 missed workout
1 long run: 19 miles w/ 4.5 miles easy + 2 miles T (LT pace) + 5.5 easy + 2 x 2 T pace w/2 min jog + 2.5 E
6 hours strength training

This training week was both marginal and spectacular for me. It was marginal because I missed a workout. That is such a hard thing to deal with emotionally, especially when it is due to stupidity (on my part). The spectacular part was the long run I did get in. I am pretty sure this one counts as a breakthrough workout. I had planned to run 65 miles this week, so I came close to that. All in all, I would put this week in the plus column.

I missed the workout because I was testing my limits with strength training. I started adding serious strength work into my exercise regime about 6 months ago. It started with a couple of months of hot yoga and then I found P2O Hot Pilates in Midtown Sacramento and knew I'd found a the right place. I have been training there for 4 months now. I started gradually taking a variety of classes but no more than 2 per week. I worked my way up to 3 and then 4 per week within a couple of months. Now, I do 4-6 workouts per week. These are mostly hour long classes and they are hard--the hardest strength classes I've ever taken.

This week, I was feeling ambitious and decided to double up on Monday with a kettlebells and hot pilates class followed by a 6 mile run with our run group. I think that would have been okay had I not done hot pilates and a bikini butt class the two days prior. On Tuesday, I was feeling pretty worked. By Wednesday, my planned workout day, I knew I wasn't going to be able to deliver anything close to fast running, so I just ran easy. I thought I would postpone the workout to Thursday, but work got in the way of that. So, there I was, on Friday with a workout to do. I got my new training plan from Jack and the Saturday long run meant I wasn't running anything fast on Friday. I bit the bullet and let the midweek workout go and decided to focus my energy on having a great workout Saturday.

I was lucky enough to convince a friend to meet me for the warm up of this workout, but she needed to meet at 5:30 a.m. Having someone to meet and getting the workout done early were way more important than sleeping in on a Saturday. My friend is 4 months pregnant and amazingly fit. She pushed me for the first 4.5 miles!! After we parted ways, I put in my headphones and took off at T pace. On my training schedule, my T pace has been 5:54 for over a month now, but I have not been able to hit that pace. The last few weeks, I've flirted with it, but never nailed it. I didn't intend to do it on Saturday either. I have been treating my target paces as something to work toward as I become fitter.

It was completely dark out when I started my speed work, and I was able to just get a nice rhythm going. I decided I would only look at my pace at the 1/2 mile markers. I hit the first one and saw 2:54 as my split. I thought, "this is going to be a long day" realizing I was really pushing the pace early. I split the first mile in 5:51 and the second in 5:55 (hilly mile). I now had 5+ miles to think about those next 4 miles at T pace. My legs were feeling a little tired from the barre class I had taken the night before.

With 13 miles on my legs I started the next 2 miles and split that in 11:46! I was so excited, I was actually running my goal T pace at the end of this long run. The last 2 miles weren't nearly as pretty, but I still split 11:52. I then jogged back to my car, pretty pumped about what had just gone down. I love the breakthrough workouts. You never know when they'll happen, but they always do when you're putting in the work and taking care of the machine.

I definitely need to keep playing with the strength schedule to find the ideal mix to compliment and not detract from my running workouts, which have to be the priority. I tell my athletes to "protect their workouts" which means don't do a super hard strength workout the day before a hard running workout or try to run off of 4 hours of sleep. Treat your workouts like races. I think I have given an example here of what happens when you don't! The key to experimentation of this kind is not pushing yourself so far that you can't recover from any mistakes you might make. The smart decision I made was not doing the running workout midweek after I had cooked my body. Had I done that, I might have pushed myself over the edge into injurious territory or overtraining. Neither pops up immediately, so I'm not out of the woods.          

There is no doubt that the strength work I am doing is making me a faster runner. I have never been able to hit paces like I did this week in a long run like that, not even during my build up to my fastest marathons. Get your strength work in, listen to your body and make smart decisions! These are the lessons to be learned from this week.

On Saturday, I took those Oiselle Distance Shorts for a ride and earned my coffee! 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The build up to CIM

It is official. I am entered in the Cal International Marathon to be held on 7 December 2014.  This will be my 7th time running CIM and my 21st marathon. Did I mention that 7 is my lucky number? Kismet.

I have decided to update this blog much more frequently as I build up to the marathon--posting about my training and racing each week as well as the little things that I am doing to stay healthy and strong. If my past marathon training is any indication of how this one will go, it should be an interesting ride.

I am finally feeling healthy enough to make a run at an Olympic Trials Qualifier in this race, and that is exciting. However, so many things have to come together to make that happen. I have had magical days before and will continue to push myself in training and believe that I can achieve this big goal.

Please, join me for the ride. Eleven weeks and counting...

Thanks, Lindy, for posting this! 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Four weeks post-surgery and a win!

Wings out. My debut race as a Oiselle runner and I won!
I am really happy to finally be able to report that I am cured. After months and months of seemingly endless posts about my struggle with out-of-control uterine fibroids and my anemic state, I am sure you are happy to get this news. No more posts about bleeding and lady parts.

Well, maybe one last bit. I was cured with a procedure called hysteroscopic resectioning. In this procedure, you are put completely out while a skilled surgeon sticks a device fitted with a camera and laser up your va-jay-jay and whittles away at the fibroid growing inside the uterus. The laser cauterizes as it goes so there's no risk of excessive bleeding. My fibroid was occupying the whole space, so there was a lot of work to do. In fact, they were only able to remove 80% of my fibroid baby before I became borderline hyponatremic. That's the risk of the procedure. The fluids they pump inside the uterus to keep things flushed out start to get absorbed by the body and at some point the electrolyte balance in the blood is compromised to a dangerous level. I knew ahead of time it was unlikely that they would be able to get it all in this first try, but was assured what they did get would still solve my problem.

I doubted this but have to say I now believe. I am 4 weeks post surgery and training like a mad woman again. It took a couple of weeks to stop bleeding completely, so my blood levels are still recovering, but, lifestyle wise, I am blissfully normal again. One odd thing that occurred within a day of the surgery was a return of massive energy and cognitive clarity. I have found nothing on the interwebs that can explain this. I was still taking the same (damn) hormones (massive dose of progestin) at that point so this had to be from the lack of fibroid. The only thing I can surmise is that the little bastard was stealing my energy. It makes sense physiologically that growing one huge ass muscle (fibroids are all muscle) inside the body over a very short time period would require a lot of nutrients and energy. So, my body must have been directing a lot my energy to it. Think about it. I was basically growing a bicep inside my uterus.

The surgery was a breeze. I was recovered in two days. I ran 13 miles three days after surgery and have not looked back. My training has gone really well too, though I am trying to be very cautious about not overdoing it. It is really easy with this much energy to want to ramp up fast and push myself too hard. 

My race shoes had Schwings! Thanks to Christina for the photo from mile 10.

I ran a race on Sunday. Well, I won a race on Sunday! It was thrilling to feel strong again. This race was the Buffalo Stampede 10 miler and it was my first race running for Oiselle. I have run this race numerous times and actually won it once before in 2010, just before my PR marathon in Chicago. My workouts leading up to the race were mixed. I caught a cold the weekend before (lack of sleep does it to me every time!) but still had a great long run workout of 17 with 2 x 2 miles at lactate threshold (T) pace, then 5 miles easy and another 2 x 1 mile at T pace. My last T mile was 5:50 and I knew I was on a roll. 

Midweek was another story. The cold was fully embedded in my sinuses and I couldn't breathe. I did a track workout of 5 x 1200m and had to cut the third one to 800m because of the breathing issues. I was barely holding the pace I had run for my 15th mile on Saturday! Did I panic? Nope. I wish I could recall who wrote this: "you can't fake a good workout". You can have bad workouts, but there is no questioning your fitness if you have a good one. So, I clung to my Saturday workout for confidence in my fitness and let the track workout go.

On Sunday, I was excited to see one of my Impala teammates at the starting line. She and I have always been really well matched in fitness and have battled at the line on numerous occasions. I love racing with her because I know we will push each other. What I wanted from this race was a hard effort and a strong finish. I have never finished strong in this race. I always die the last 3 miles. We ran together for the first 8.5-9 miles, in and out of a pack of boys and it was great. Our first mile was my slowest, and we negative split the race. At mile 9 or so, I saw The Genius with our hounds on the side of the road. This gave me a huge boost, especially as I heard my girl Bella start hound barking at me as I passed by. She was telling me to go. So I did. I had a lot of kick left and used it to get myself to that finish line as fast as possible. Megan is a fierce competitor so once I kicked, I knew I couldn't let up. I felt so strong rounding the corner and pushing myself through to the finish. My last mile was my fastest by about 15 seconds per mile.
Me and the Genius. And our shy dogs. Thanks for the picture, Maria!

I ran 1:02:23. This is not close to my PR, but I wasn't racing for time. I ran my goal marathon pace, and it felt good to feel so confident at that pace for 10 miles three months out from my goal race. 

My legs have felt amazingly strong lately in workouts and in this race. While I was dealing with my fibroid issues, I hunkered down and concentrated on my strength training. That has paid off. I have mentioned before that I go to (and am a run coach for) a Hot Pilates Studio in town called P2O and the strength work has made all the difference. I take 4-6 classes a week there, which is a lot more strength work than I've ever done. I love the hot pilates class, and that's what I do more than anything else. I am also a fan of the kettlebell classes for heavier lifting and TRX. I don't let these workouts interfere with my running workouts and use the "keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy" philosophy. I was very proud of the group of runners from the Studio at the race for pushing themselves and accomplishing their goals too!

I wore the Hoka Cliftons in my race on Sunday and I really liked them. I debated about this and did my track workout on Wednesday in my Lunaracers as a comparison. However, I didn't notice that it was a very tired pair. I grabbed the wrong ones from the shoe box and they were dead! Big mistake! I ended up dealing with a calf/tibialis/achilles problem the rest of the week and was nervous about that impacting my race. With some good self-PT and focused rolling, I didn't feel it at all in the race. It actually feels much better after having raced. That's a good sign! The Hokas definitely take some getting used to. My only concern with the Hokas is that I won't be able to go back to the lightweight, less cushioned shoes after wearing them exclusively. As long as Hoka sticks around, I guess that's not a problem.

The outlook for CIM is good this year! I am looking forward to the next 3 months of hard training and a few long races to test my fitness along the way. After having to pull out of my last three planned marathons, I am very excited for this one! 

I am mostly excited to be living a normal life again. In looking back on what I endured and how much it affected my life, I am not sure how I got through it in one piece. It was a wild ride but I am happy it is behind me. Thanks for your support along the way!              

Did I mention I won a pile of poop?
First place wins a pile of buffalo poo!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

So many good things to share

Despite the setbacks I am having in my running due to my health problems, there are so many things going right at this moment, that I can't possibly be bummed out.

First, I am pleased to announce that I am now representing a fantastic company, Oiselle. This company first caught my eye when they sponsored one of my favorite runners, Lauren Fleshman. They are a group of strong, outspoken women who provide awesome support for female athletes of all levels. I love that they have opened up the team to more runners and are able to support so many athletes despite being such a small company. I saw this as a chance to be part of something that is wonderful.    

Our fun running group last Sunday!
Second, I have partnered with a local studio, P2O Hot Pilates, to help with their running program. I joined this studio on an introductory offer and fell in love with the family atmosphere and the work ethic of the instructors and members. These classes are no joke and are fantastic for developing strength and mobility in runners! I love that they offer a free organized running program that is open to all levels and even non-members. The owners want to encourage running in their community, and I am excited to be a part of that! I am currently leading the runs on Thursday a.m. at 5:30 and Sunday a.m. at 7:00, both from Big Lots at 8700 La Riviera Dr. We head to the bike trail and have a lot of fun. Please feel free to join us for a run!

Third, my businesses are doing really well right now. I am enjoying an amazing explosion in my ecological consulting business. I love the work that I'm doing, all of which is supporting the conservation of biodiversity in California and beyond. I care so much about this work and am grateful I am able to make a living doing what I love. It's also wonderful working for myself. I was pretty freaked out at first about the challenges of starting my own business and all of the hardships that come along with that. I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy and fun it has been. Even with the health issues and medical expenses, I am able to make it work. My coaching business is also thriving, with athletes doing really well all around the country. It is an honor to help them and watch them work hard and reap the rewards of that hard work. That is why I love coaching.        

Finally, it wouldn't be an RAF blog post without a health update. I know it seems weird that I am so public about something that is so personal and really unflattering. This blog has always been about honesty and sharing information and experiences with others in hopes that it will somehow help. The messages I receive from women who are either going through this same thing or know someone who is confirm that my openness is helping others, and that's what it's all about.

This week confirmed that I made the right decision to postpone my marathon until December. My health issues reemerged at an alarming level this week, and I have become even more anemic, yet again. The good news is that I am working on the things that I can: overall strength and running speed. My endurance is not good at all, but I can do speed work without a problem. As always, once the spigot shuts off, I will be able to get my blood levels up and will be back where I left off.

I had a hysteroscopy (scope inside my uterus) last week and confirmed that my big daddy fibroid is in fact occupying my entire uterus and is stuck inside the lining. I have a picture of this guy on my refrigerator. My friends who saw the picture started seeing fibroids in everything: banana muffins, emoticons. I will spare the rest of you that torture. So, the fibroid I have can't be removed surgically without taking everything with it. What they can do, and I go in for a surgical consult tomorrow, is shave away at the fibroid a little at a time. This supposedly will reduce the hemorrhaging. That's the hope, anyway. I may need to go in a few times to get this big guy shaved down, but the recovery time is a matter of hours rather than weeks with this procedure. Totally worth a try. I will look forward to losing a few pounds as well with the removal of this little ball of muscle!

I am proud that I have held my ground and fought the doctors who were ready to yank out my useless uterus, telling me I had no other options. I may be on my 4th OB/GYN, but I now have doctors telling me that I have some great options available and they are actually treating me as if I have a choice. In the end, I may end up having a hysterectomy, but nobody should be pressured into that decision. There are so many other options out there, and we deserve to at least hear about them!!!

So, all good things. Give good stuff to the world, and good stuff will come back to you!  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I Got You Babe

I had to make a tough decision this week about my racing schedule. I have been training for the Eugene Marathon now for months and am as fit as I have ever been heading into a marathon. I have conquered some major workouts and have been putting in the highest mileage since last fall. In my last post, I mentioned that my health issues had cropped up again and that I was taking some new medication to try to bring things under control. As luck would have it, the new medication worked for its intended purpose, though I had to up the dosage to get it to work. However, the side effects from the meds were pretty dramatic. Several days last week, I experienced severe GI distress for hours so terrible that I was unable to eat or even stand. I understand this to be a common side effect of the medication, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

As I missed a couple of days of training (and work!) I realized that I just wasn't going to be able to rally from this one. I could feel in my easy running that my blood levels had dropped again (confirmed yesterday with hemoglobin of 11.5 and hematocrit of 35). It feels like I'm running at altitude or through molasses. The easiest efforts feel harder than they should. I've had success at getting my blood levels to recover quickly, but my training suffers until they improve. So, I conferred with friends and coaches and decided that I should let Eugene go.

One of the things that really struck me in my conversations about this was the distinction between just running another marathon and trying to achieve a gigantic goal. I have no doubt that, if my blood levels did rally in the next couple of weeks, I would have a decent race in Eugene. I'm sure I'm in sub-2:50 if not faster shape. I had to ask myself the question: what are you really wanting to do in Eugene? Do you just want to run a decent marathon or do you want to run your fastest marathon? 

We've all read stories of elite runners who overcame years of injury or sickness to come back and have spectacular races or seasons. What I am realizing is that you don't get to play the lead role in that story without making some really smart decisions about your training and racing. You have to decide what is most important and you have to go after that goal with the determination and drive of a predator. It is perfectly fine to race a bunch of races because you love the thrill of competition or racing, but that comes at a cost. You won't maximize your potential with that approach or if you do, you will pay later with a broken down body. I've seen it over and over. The people who achieve the big goals make sacrifices and smart decisions along the way that move them closer to their goals. 

So, I did the calculations. If I ran Eugene and then took the 4 week recovery into account, I wouldn't be ready to start training for another fast marathon until September. I think my best chances for a fast marathon are in my own back yard at the Cal International Marathon. I would need to get started training for that in a few weeks.

So, my body decided not to cooperate this time around. As frustrating as this continues to be, I do know that my day will come and that there is a marathon PR or even an Olympic Trials qualifier in my future. I also know that if I don't work with my body and make smart decisions along the way, I won't reach my potential.

So, I am starting over again, getting back to some speed work and letting my body recover a bit before launching into another marathon training cycle. I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up to Sonny and Cher over and over and over. But, I'll take that over the alternative any day. 

Keep your dreams alive people!                        


Friday, June 20, 2014

The one where I run a 1/2 marathon distance PR

That's right kids. What are the chances that both half marathons I run this spring end up being long, and not just a little long from Garminization, but 3/4 mile long? I feel like I should play the lottery some time soon. Here's a picture of me right after I finished. Do I look pissed?

I think this is right before I exclaimed, "Damn it, Chad!" (a Fleet Feet Event Mgt. employee) as he put my finishers' medal around my neck.
I have put off writing this race report because, quite frankly, it isn't fun to write about failures, and I also needed some time to cool down. I am not going to bash Fleet Feet Event Management, the organization that put on the event. They typically put on really professional races, but they had some bad luck of their own in the days leading up to this one. In short, they were short on volunteers for the event and they weren't able to supply enough course monitors to man the half marathon course. I'm sure they thought they had set up enough barriers and laid down enough chalk to keep everyone straight, but the course was very confusing to even the cyclists with maps who were leading the runners all over Sacramento.

The first problem I had that day was forgetting my Garmin. I have never done that before! I thought I might try to be Zen for this one and just not use a watch, but OMG am I glad I found a loaner! I can't imagine how much more disastrous that race would have been had I not known how long I had been running after I lost the course. And, then having a record of some of my splits for posterity's sake since the recorded time was about 5-6 minutes slow. I saw my friend Erika right before the race and luckily she had a friend, Jacqueline, who was running the half marathon and generously offered me her Garmin. I was so humbled by this gesture! I will pay it forward one day, I promise!

As I saw the pleas for volunteers from Fleet Feet Event Management stream across Facebook in the days leading up to the race, I had a bad feeling that something might go wrong. Given my experience at the Parkway Half and the fact that I had missed a 10k race the month before because of my health issues, I just wanted to run a legit race and test my fitness.

I met the eventual winner at the start line and introduced myself. She runs for the Oiselle Racing Team, and I knew that she would lead the race from the gun since she has a 1:17 half marathon PR. I also found a friend at the start, Kristen, whom I have met at other races and expected her to be right up there in front too. This is an all-women's race, by the way, so the three of us formed the lead pack. Except that we really weren't a pack. From the gun, Alison was in the lead as I expected. She went out hot. I stuck to my race plan which was to run 6:10-6:20 pace for the first couple of miles to get in a groove. I didn't become discouraged as Alison and then Kristen increased their lead on me in those first few miles. I had read a fantastic race report from Ellie Greenwood, the winner of the 2014 Comrades Marathon, the day before where she emphasized the importance of never giving up. You just never know what might happen in a longer race. Especially a hot race. The temperatures would reach 100+ later that day, and I think it was about 80 degrees when I finished, so not exactly cool. I have been heat training so I knew I would race relatively well in those temperatures and that would be an advantage.

Back to the race: Alison had gained a lead on Kristen and me by mile 3 and a cyclist dropped back to help us figure out where to go since we could no longer see the lead runner. Kristen was right with the cyclist and I was a few seconds behind her. We made a couple of turns and then I saw the cyclist stop abruptly while Kristen followed some cones around to make a left turn onto Folsom Blvd. This is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in Sacramento and I was a little surprised that they would shut down traffic for the race. In actuality, I wasn't really thinking. I was racing and following the cyclist and Kristen. As I turned onto Folsom, the cyclist, parked safely on a side street, looked up from his phone and smiled at me. I could see Kristen running in the vehicle lane and, at first, there wasn't any traffic coming toward her. I thought it odd that they wouldn't have coned off the shoulder of the road for the runners, but whatever. Then, the traffic light changed at 65th and Folsom and cars started streaming toward us. I was in the gutter at this point recognizing that something was seriously wrong, but Kristen hadn't caught on yet and cars had to swerve around her as she held her lane. I finally realized we were screwed and yelled at Kristen to turn around, but she was wearing headphones and didn't hear me. Don't wear headphones in races, peeps!!!

I took the first left that I could, which was 65th street and took it to Elvas Ave. I knew that the course hooked up with Elvas at some point, though I didn't know whether it was on the way out or the way back. At this point I had no idea how to get back on course or whether I was cutting it short or running long. I finally found a police officer acting as course monitor and stopped (and didn't stop my watch) to ask where I was. He directed me down an off ramp and I started seeing what looked like course markings. It wasn't until I found an aid station around mile 6 that I found out where I was on course. That's when I knew this was going to be 3/4 mile long. I also found out that the leader had run the correct course, so now she was completely out of reach (as a side note: she ended up slowing a lot in the latter part of the race, which makes me wonder what Kristen or I could have done in the latter stages as we caught up to her). I didn't see Kristen anywhere even though I half expected her to catch up to me as I had lost some motivation at this point. I found out after the race that she was misdirected not once but twice and eventually dropped. Unlike the Parkway Half where everyone ran a long course, I knew that no adjustments would be made to my time for this one since at least the leader had run the correct course. How deflating.

Of course, dropping out crossed my mind A LOT in the second half of the race. Luckily, my friend Christina Applegate was on her bike not only giving me info on what was going down from an effed-up race standpoint, but also keeping me focused on getting my job done. I love that she decided to put these words on this photo she took because they are the same as the title of Ellie's blog post. I did not give up!
Thanks, Apple, for the pic and the support!
The final insult happened when I approached McKinley Park and there was a cop directing traffic at an intersection. He had his back to me (!) and was waving cars to move through the intersection. I made eye contact with the lady in the car who was being directed to cross the lane I was in, but she just kept moving right on through! I kept running thinking she would stop until she eventually nicked me with her bumper as I yelled out in surprise. I wasn't hurt at all, but Jesus Christo that was ridiculous!

I didn't quit the race even though I did slow at the end. Even running to the 13.1 mile point and lapping my borrowed watch was pointless because I had stopped running a few times to figure out how to get back on course without stopping the watch. I am still unsure what I really ran that day, and I guess it doesn't matter. I estimate I was about 5-6 minutes faster than my gun time but who knows?

I ended up coming in second place and found out that a pack of runners behind me also ended up running different configurations of the course., though most ran shorter than me because they figured out the mistake sooner. Eventually, someone figured out the problem and the rest of the runners were directed along the proper course.

I am not going to lie and say that I let this one roll off my back. I didn't. I really felt sorry for myself after this one. I didn't get to run a single legit race in my build up to the Eugene Marathon because I was either anemic or the course was long. That is some bad luck.

The next day, my health issues cropped up in a major way. I had cramps of the same magnitude as the ones that sent me to the ER back in the winter. This time, I had a bottle of Norco to ease the pain, and I knew that it was just my fibroid baby talking to me. But, holy cow, those cramps are debilitating. It took me out for the entire day. Then, I started bleeding like crazy from Tuesday until, well, yesterday. I had my blood levels taken on Monday to just get a sense of where I was and I was only borderline anemic (hemoglobin = 12.3; clinical anemia is < 12). This actually made me happy to think that I could experience as much blood loss as I had the week prior and still not get nearly as low as I was back in March (hemoglobin < 10). Nonetheless, these levels are still low, and I have found anything under 13 has a noticeable impact on performance, particularly my endurance. I ended up having to skip both of my hard workouts last week because of the uncontrollable blood loss, but I am back training as normal again this week.  

I ran a long workout Wednesday (shout out to Jen P. for getting my butt out there!) and attempted the workout as written. I knew I would have to play it by ear given how I had been feeling, but I wanted to give it a try. The workout on my schedule was 16 miles with 5-7 mile warm up and 4 x 2 miles at threshold pace. I was pretty certain my threshold pace was going to be slow but I thought I might be able to do at least 3 of the repeats. It went better than expected with my 2 mile splits at 12:15 for the first 2. I could definitely tell I was working though. I ran one more mile at around 6:08 pace and then the wheels started coming off. The last mile was around 6:15-6:20 pace and I knew it was time to jog it back in. I didn't really jog though. I finished all 16 miles at an average of ~6:50 pace, so that was another surprise. I will say that I felt like hell afterward. However, I rebounded quickly and enough to get in a TRX workout that evening.

I am on a new medication that is supposed to help control the bleeding, but it does have side effects. It is basically a super dose of progestin. It seems to be working to control the bleeding so far (fingers crossed).

So, what does this mean for my Eugene Marathon training? It means that I am going to continue to train as if I didn't have these health issue and just do what I can. I can't push my body harder than it can go, but I am hopeful that these new meds will keep the bleeding to a minimum so I can use the next 5 weeks to create more red blood cells. The good news is, once my hemoglobin levels get close to 14 again, I am going to feel like a freakin' rock star! I have been there and I know that feeling. It may or may not happen before Eugene, and that's okay. There will be other races for me to attempt to run under 2:43.

If I've learned anything from this spate of bad luck and bad health it is to never, ever give up on myself.                            

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shoes, Supplements and Strength

After months of posts about my health issues, I am happy to move on to much more important things: shoes, supplements and strength training!

First, I should update you on my training. I can't say things have been as great as they were around the time I ran the Parkway Half Marathon. That truly was an exceptional time for me. My blood levels were peaked and I felt awesome. Since then, my blood levels have dropped quite a bit and I had to miss a race because of it. This regression is upsetting, for sure, but I am learning to cope with my new 'normal'. My condition is progressively improving, but that improvement curve is more sinusoidal than linear.

I am learning a lot about patience and attitude. When my blood levels are higher, I have great workouts and when they are lower, my paces slow. BUT, I am doing the work that I need to to become a faster marathoner. I have really had to work on my attitude when my blood levels start to drop. I know it will affect my performance and it is really hard to even motivate myself to go out and run. I know that my goal for each workout is not how fast I run it, but just that I get it done at the right level of effort. As my blood levels rebound I will naturally get faster and paces will feel easier. The work I put in, regardless of how I feel, will pay off in fitness gains.

I make this sound easy, but it's not. I am in the meat of my training for the Eugene Marathon right now and am doing the big Jack Daniels' workouts. I generally have two long runs per week with 10-14 miles of marathon and/or threshold pace mixed in. In the last week, I ran two marathon paced workouts of 10 miles. The first one was run with reasonable (not great) blood levels and the second was a week later with lower levels. The first workout felt absolutely great. I cruised along for 10 miles @ 6:10 - 6:20 pace with ease and felt fantastic. This was a pretty remarkable workout for me given how far out I am from the marathon (8 weeks!).

In contrast, the one I did Thursday of this past week was not so fun. I had experienced the worst bleeding since March and am likely close to anemic again. I knew going into this workout that I was going to suffer. I drug my feet all day about even doing it and finally pushed myself out the door at around 7 pm. It was 85 degrees. This workout was a total of 14 miles with a continuous workout of 6 miles marathon pace + 1 mile threshold (T) + 3 miles marathon. I was mostly dreading that T pace. I started out into a headwind which really pissed me off and I decided to run back and forth on a two-mile stretch of the bike trail to get relief from that for at least half the workout. For some reason, this is easier for me to handle mentally than running out 5 miles and back. I broke the run down into two-mile chunks in my head. I started off around 6:25 pace for the first two miles into the wind. It felt hard. I turned and, with the wind at my back, was able to speed up ever so slightly. 4 miles done. I got some water and turned back into the wind. My pace remained steady around 6:20 through 6 miles. I had already decided to ditch the T pace mile if I was feeling crappy and almost forgot about it until I hit the half mile split in mile 7. I saw that my split was 3:03 and I decided I should try to get under 6:00 (my T pace) for this mile. I actually felt okay running 5:59 for that mile and then slowed for the M pace to complete mile 8. I stopped again for water and then finished up the last two miles under 6:15 pace. So, all in all, this workout was only 1-2 seconds slower per mile than the one I did the week before even though it felt less comfortable. I was mostly proud of that 7th mile.

This entire workout was a HUGE mental battle. I kept feeling sorry for myself and let the worry slip in at every curve. Would I be able to finish the workout? For how many days would my blood levels continue to drop? Will they recover in time for my half marathon next weekend? Would they keep me from running a good marathon in Eugene? When will the madness end? I must have had the most horrible look on my face the entire workout, but I will say I was glad when I finished.

So, my marathon training is actually going well. I am up to around 70 miles per week and I won't go much higher than that this cycle. I am doing major workouts and they are tiring, but they are really giving me confidence in my marathon fitness. I have never run so many long workouts this close to goal pace this far out from a marathon. Fingers crossed that the stars align and I get to the starting line in Eugene fit and healthy! I am defending my title, after all.                                


I've been meaning to write about some changes I've made in my running footwear over the past months. Typically, shoe changes lead to injury for me. It normally takes about 3 weeks for me to see the effects, but my last couple of changes have been right before I became pretty majorly injured. I normally wear the Nike Pegasus as a training shoe and the Nike Lunaracers as my racing shoe for all distances including the marathon. One thing that I dislike about the Pegasus is the fact that I wear them down quickly. I get about 200 miles out of them before I start to lose support and need to swap them out. This is about 2 1/2 weeks of training for me, so pretty expensive. So, I began adding shoes into my rotation to break things up a bit and to just see what would happen (I can't leave well enough alone). Here's what I'm wearing.

1. Nike Pegasus 30. I now wear these about 1-2 times per week for easy runs.
Pegasus 30

2. Nike Flyknit Lunar 1. I'm on my third pair of these lightweight trainers and really like them. I like that they have a higher heel drop, good cushioning and are super lightweight. I've been able to get away with wearing them for my long (14-18 mile) workouts. I've been getting about 150 miles out of a pair of these before needing to retire them.
Flyknit Lunar 1

3. Nike Lunaracer 3. These are my racing shoes and I train in them when I'm doing fast and short speed work. I'm not sure I'll ever change these out. They work way too well for me.
Lunaracer 3

4. Hoka Kailua Tarmac. These were a big gamble for me. I wanted to try them because of the extreme cushioning they provide and thought that might be beneficial for recovery days. I also wanted to see if I could get more than 200 miles out of them. The risk was the low heel drop. Each time I've tried to go lower than my Nikes, I have ended up with niggles and injuries. So far, I haven't had a problem with these and I can't quite say why that is. Perhaps it's the rocker bottom that they use, but I don't have achilles or calf soreness from the low drop. Instead, I feel like I get that cushioned ride that I was looking for and can tell the difference running in them. I'm at 200 miles on this pair and I feel like I can wear them longer. My legs feel better recovered after a recovery run. I wear these on my easy days 1-2 times per week.
Hoka Kailua Tarmac

5. Hoka Stinson Trail. I started running on trails a few months back and decided that my road shoes were a hazard. I invested in these right after getting the Kailuas. These are like running on marshmallows, and I really appreciate the cushiony ride on my easy days. I wear these on trails and when I feel like I need a little less impact on tired legs. I also like a heavier shoe for easy days which makes my light shoes feel like slippers.
Hoka Stinson Trail

So, that's my current rotation and it appears to be working well for me.


Right now, I am taking a boat load of (legal) stuff to try to "cure" my health issues and to help my body replace the RBCs I lose. On the sports nutrition side of things, I recently found a couple of products that I am really loving. They are manufactured by BRL sports nutrition. The first is a recovery powder that I also use as a mid afternoon snack. It is called Invigor8. I have tried both flavors and they are both excellent. I typically mix this in my Nutribullet with frozen fruit and either water, almond milk or coconut water. What I love about it is that it has everything in it already so I don't have to add things like probiotics, omegas, digestive enzymes, BCAAs, etc. While I don't ride the 'sugar is evil' bandwagon, this product only has 1 g sugar. I add my own sugar:)

The second product is one that I use more for pre-workout fueling. It's called TriFuel. It is also billed as a recovery drink and I sometimes take it after a workout. It is unusual in the sports drink market in that it has BCAAs, carbs, a load of electrolytes and some stuff that keeps you going and focused during your workout including caffeine. I typically take this within 15 minutes of a long workout and it holds me over for up to 2 hours. I was skeptical about the manufacturer's claims about improved mental focus, but I do notice an improvement in that aspect of my workouts. My recovery has also been very good especially now that I'm adding in a lot of extra stuff (see below).


Every day, I am bombarded with an endless feed of running-related tweets and articles about how important strength training is for runners. I have long been a believer in the importance of strength training for performance and injury prevention. When I was experiencing the worst of the anemia, I lost all interest in doing strength work. It took every ounce of energy I had to work and to run. Doing anything more was not in the cards. When I started to feel better, I still lacked motivation to do my usual extra strength, core and basic maintenance routines.

So, to get myself back into the groove, I decided to start going to group training classes to motivate myself as well as try some new things out. It started with Bikram yoga. I signed up for a new student special at Sacramento Bikram yoga and was shocked back into the torture of this practice. The first day I went, the 105-degree room was filled with the vaporized sweat of about 50 people. It felt like Florida in there. I just about hyperventilated for the first 10 minutes and literally swam in my own sweat when I got down on my mat for the ground poses. I have continued to do bikram 2-3 times per week and have noticed the following changes:

  • Doing yoga in a very hot room hastens heat acclimation due to physiological changes that occur when exercising in the heat (e.g. increased blood volume). My transition to running in the heat (80-90 degree temps) has been very easy so far this spring.
  • I am gaining flexibility in my lower back. It wasn't until I started yoga that I realized that the area with the least amount of functional mobility on my body is my lower back. All of the twists we do in this class are making tiny improvements in this area.   
  • I can sleep on my stomach without pain now. This may not have anything to do with running, but I had to stop sleeping on my stomach about a decade ago because my neck would start to stiffen up and ache after about 10 minutes. It took about 4 weeks for my neck to loosen up but it did and I am happy.
  • My balance is improving all the way from my toes to my head. Several of the poses require balancing on one leg and holding various parts of the body in strange configurations. I wobble and sometimes fall, but each week I can tell I am getting better and believe this will translate to being steadier on my feet while running.
Will bikram yoga make me a faster runner? I don't know. For now, I appreciate the positive changes I am seeing and it is helping to motivate me to get in additional strength work.

I also joined a studio called P2O or Hot Pilates here in Sacramento, of course taking advantage of a 30 days for $30 new member discount. They offer a lot of different classes. So far, I've only tried the TRX class. This class is a butt buster. It challenges your core muscles while also getting the heart rate up with some calisthenics. The thing I like most about it for runners is that it challenges your range of motion, especially in the hips, in a very functional way for running. I'll try their hot pilates class tomorrow after my long run and see how that goes.

Right now, I am doing some form of strength-based training (yoga, weight lifting, pilates, TRX) at least 4-5 days per week. That's a lot more than the zero days per week I was doing a couple of months ago. I feel so much stronger and can actually feel the improvement in my core strength during my runs. I have also been quite pleased with how much more quickly weight has come off over that time period. My weight peaked during the winter when I was dealing with all of my health issues. I was eating a lot of ice cream to make myself feel better and wasn't doing a lot of running. That's a bad combo. I am just a few pounds off of my racing weight now and quite certain I'll get there in the next 8 weeks.

Next weekend, I race another half marathon. I really hope that my blood levels rebound from this last drop in time for the race. I am downing iron shots like they are whiskey three times a day and crossing my fingers. Hopefully, I'll have a race report to share next Sunday!