Taking a Break- Trying something else

After yesterday’s race, I put my head into gear for thinking about what to do during the rest of this month. A lot of my considerations come from the fact that I don’t know what races I’ll be doing anytime soon (unless it’s a half-marathon in December). Since I am going away to Hamburg and entering a different university system in a different country, I don’t know what to be prepared for in regards to being involved with sports. Do they have a running club that helps fund my races in the city? Will I find some races to do there? Will I find the time to run consistently there? Ah! Kidding about the last one. Unless I’m injured, I’m always a consistent runner. What I can’t be sure about is whether I would rather play soccer every evening and whether I’ll try to weather the unusual (for me) cold and winter rain or just hop on a treadmill. 

These considerations aside, I know that I need to back off a lot on my blogging about running. I’ve been using this as an outlet to feel productive, when in reality I’m procrastinating on preparing for my MA oral comprehensive exam (and packing!). I also lost more time than necessary in preparing for yesterday’s race. While I want to continue running, I don’t need to run to the extent that I was… not that it was terribly much. And I can do less writing about it and move it to the back of the line as far as priorities go. I should be blogging more on my reading blog. So this post is a way to plan what I’ll be doing for the next month so that I don’t have to think about it (or blog about it) anymore. 

Consider this chart of the past weeks:

My home page on my runner's world training calculator. (I know it's not the best online logger... but it's my oldest running log....)
My home page on my runner’s world training calculator. (I know it’s not the best online logger… but it’s my oldest running log….)

I haven’t really been doing high mileage weeks since my last injury (ITBS) a year ago. Then, I was doing 55-60 mpw that, compounded by some foolish timing of certain workouts, led to injury. 

However, now that my 5K ambition has been appeased for now, my ambitious self wants to consider training for a marathon again, and to do that I need to build a super-solid base. Now is a good time for it, because it means I have to do less fancy training and just worry about getting mileage in. The past two marathons I wanted to run were waylaid by injuries brought on by increasing distances too soon and intensity too fast. This time, I want to be patient and smart and just start building up my mileage each week with a drop (15-20% less of mileage) every fourth week. The best way to do this, I think, is to just go out and run 5.something miles each day, have a long run on the weekend and let that run make up the distance I need to be able to complete the mileage for the week. Sunday will be rest day. I’ll do weight-lifting every other day to get my core and arm muscles back into shape for longer distances–and everything that MYABR! 

The schedule will look like this:

September 8-13: 38 miles

September 15-20: 41 miles

September 22-27: 45 miles

September 29-Oct. 4: whatever I accomplish in my crazy week of exams and first days abroad! 

I’m going to return to my old habits of running in the morning and getting the run over with. That way I can use the rest of the day to study, something I desperately need to do. 

So, if you don’t see me for a while, don’t worry. I’ll be back- especially to post about how running around Hamburg will be! 

Have a good month. 

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Race Recap- Much ado about nothing?

After waiting until almost the last minute to sign-up for this race and building it and its preparation up for two days, I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed with the result.

22:33 for 3.16 miles (yeah, the course was a tiny-bit over)

Official results aren’t up yet, so I don’t know how I placed for the females. I just know that I got second in my age group and 28th overall. (edited to update that I actually had 31st overall, [out of 495] but 4th place for the females)

The morning started well. I woke up one minute before my alarm rang at 3:40 AM, albeit with sweat running down my back because it’s just so darn warm here, had a good carb-rich breakfast (the banana-date-nut bread tasted good cold too!) and some coffee, made it to the race in time for a comfortable warm-up at 9 mpm pace, and generally was feeling good and positive. So, when the run didn’t go the way I wanted, I had to think about what may have gone wrong.

There are a few things to say about this result, starting with the fact that it’s a minute off the time I wanted to run. Thinking about it though, while I made a few mistakes, I figure that I ultimately don’t need to be disappointed in myself. I ran hard. I can’t remember how I finished, whether I beat the girl I was hunting down for most of the last mile or not, so I know that I never made the conscious decision to let her go. I pushed myself as hard as I could, and if the result is what it is on the clock, it means that I could have run better but I also could have run a lot worse. The weather likely had a lot to do with my performance. It was more humid than I remember running during training and it wasn’t just me whining. I had trained sufficiently in hot weather, and my body has become very conditioned to keeping itself cool. I sweat a good liter each time I run, so I know that my blood volume decreases substantially on a regular basis and my body has learned to function in it (see last week’s run updates). However, today I was even more soaked through, which indicates to me that the humidity was more the problem. I knew I’d have some trouble after my damp warm-up, but so much else went right this morning that I didn’t think the humidity and heat would be an issue. Maybe there’s just only so much that mental mindset can do to overcome physiological discomfort and limits. Maybe I could have pushed the limits more to the point of passing out, but I was pretty far gone after the race. The cool-down run was tough, and my perceived effort was higher than the time I ended up with.

To make this point more valid (and perhaps make myself feel better), let me point out this chart put together and depicted in the Running Times.

DEW POINT (°F) RUNNER’S PERCEPTION HOW TO HANDLE
50–54 Very comfortable PR conditions
55–59 Comfortable Hard efforts likely not affected
60–64 Uncomfortable for some people Expect race times to be slower than in optimal conditions
65–69 Uncomfortable for most people Easy training runs might feel OK but difficult to race well or do hard efforts
70–74 Very humid and uncomfortable Expect pace to suffer greatly
75 or greater Extremely oppressive Skip it or dramatically alter goal

Now, when I write that the dew point was 78 degrees, I guess it’s easier to understand that there was a lot I was up against. It was that bad, and I guess not PR conditions. At least I didn’t skip it!

That being said, I made a few mistakes during this race. The first mistake was relying on my watch for pacing. This was the first time I raced with my TomTom Runner, and I relied on it for my first mile to let me know whether I was keeping myself in the goal pace of 7:00-7:05 for the first mile. What I didn’t account for is the lag in response to a change in pace. I started off fairly fast in the first 50 meters with a 6:20 pace. However, I quickly let off when I realized that and settled into a comfortable pace…too comfortable, it turns out. I ended up 7:20 for my first mile. This meant that if I wanted to break 21:30, I’d have to do a lot of catching up. I think I should have known that I wouldn’t be able to catch-up, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try.

My second mistake was having music on my MP3 player that was not all positive and upbeat. I never realized how music could have a negative effect on running until today; usually, music makes me feel upbeat and willing to put in extra effort into my workouts. However, some of my songs on the MP3 that didn’t bother me in training were really negative when pushing hard during the run. For example, Linkin Park’s “Pts. of Athrty”:

Forfeit the game
Before somebody else
Takes you out of the frame (frame)
Puts your name to shame
Cover up your face
(You) You can’t run the race
The pace is too fast
You just won’t last

You like to think you’re never wrong…

I don’t even think I need to explain why those lyrics just ruined mile 2 for me. I ended up skipping the song after spending a while trying to see something motivational, determined in the lyrics, but it was too late. I can be wrong sometimes I couldn’t help think that I was wrong about thinking I could get close to my PR today. However, thankfully Incubus’ “Dig” was good. It spoke to me in a way that I needed during the last mile.

So when weakness turns my ego up
I know you’ll count on the me from yesterday
If I turn into another
Dig me up from under what is covering
The better part of me

I knew the last mile would be hard going into this, and so hearing these words made the struggle to keep going worth it. If anything, thinking about the lyrics and what they meant to me distracted me from thoughts of quitting. The verse “count on the me from yesterday” struck a humming running chord inside of me, since the “me from yesterday” was the me I was trying to be today. The “me from yesterday” was a cross country star (albeit for a really mediocre team) and I’ve been eyeing my 21:15 PR for a very long time since I ran it in 2006. I still think it’s in me to run that time or faster… I wasn’t impossibly far off last year in two races with 21:37 and 21:42. So while running today, when I thought of “dig me up from under what is covering the better part of me,” I considered it a cue to me to call on my better self, the one that wasn’t going to give up on this run even though I knew I wasn’t going to break 21:30. I didn’t know until I crossed the finish line that I wouldn’t even break 22 minutes (I ceased to look at my watch after it buzzed for the last 2 minutes…it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since all I would have been able to do at that point was to give my best), but I am glad that I saw it within me to keep fighting. It really was uncomfortable running, and I was breathing hard, and I probably looked as unattractive as … but I was going to finish this race with effort and pride because that’s what I had set out to do.

Interestingly enough, I saw the “me from yesterday” in the eyes of an old cross country teammate that I randomly ran into after the race. It was a most pleasantly bizarre experiences. We exchanged a few words, then she went off to find her sister and I went off to do my cool-down run, but it was a sort of ray of sunshine, though I’m not entirely sure why. I could have tried to find her again after my cool-down, but I was still overcoming my disappointment about my race and though I like her and could have, for old times sake, gone to accept my second-place age group award while she accepted her third place, I just wanted to leave and get home. But now if I ever see her again, I can explain to her what was up and we have this memory of high school cross country in revival together.

Finally, to close this post (and I hope it doesn’t seem like an awkward shift, since I did just spend a lot of time talking about myself), I wanted to remind (myself and) the reader what this run actually was about and what it means, when it comes down to it. The other runners and I ran in honor, today, of the victims of September 11th. I’m sure there were at least a few family members there of those who died or were injured in the attacks. There were members of my city’s fire department at this run, decked out in full fire-battle gear, sweating it out much worse than any of us were. When I imagine how the fire fighters and rescue and response personnel ran to the towers on 9/11/2001, well… I can’t. They were incredible in their response and in their sacrifice. So when I look at my run today and my disappointment, I feel slightly ashamed.

This memorial consists of the beautiful relief showing PA, the Pentagon, and of course the World Trade Center towers. There’s also a piece of steel from one of the towers.

I will say, however, that I took a moment to stand in front of the memorial that the starting line was at, and I thought about what this run would mean to any of the people in those building on that engraving, if it even meant anything. I realized for the first time (please don’t judge me) that there were people in those buildings who were probably training for 5Ks, half-marathons, and marathons, hoping for PRs, and that they never got to run those races and get those PRs. In many ways it’s similar to the Boston Marathon attack, except people don’t normally associate 9/11 with runners. So I ran in honor of a runner today, to honor their memory not just as a victim of 9/11, but someone who maybe would have liked to run this race. I want to think, we gave him/her a race worth running.

Race: The last 24 hours beforehand

Today was the day before my race. Likely, I’ll forget about this day a few weeks from now because it will be overshadowed by tomorrow, which is race day. But for now, today is the important day. I did a few things to prepare and hopefully I’ll have a good run tomorrow so that next time I have a race, I can look back at what I did right.

I started off the day slowly after a good night’s sleep of 7.5 hours. I probably could have slept longer, but I also was limited in what I can do. Since I am getting up at 4-ish tomorrow, I know that I won’t get more than 6 hours of sleep, but I can work with that.

I ate my usual breakfast of berries and yogurt, but I didn’t eat oatmeal as I normally would have done. Rather, I opted to bake a banana-date-walnut bread and noshed on that instead. I baked the bread for several reasons. The most important reason was because I had a friend come in from out of town and I wanted something special to serve him that I could also eat myself, since I’m sugar-free. I also wanted a good carb-source to get some tasty carbs in for today (also hard to do when I’m sugar free), but also have something easy to prepare for a pre-race meal in the morning. I could make oatmeal tomorrow morning, but bread seems so much easier at 4 AM. I think if there’s anything I regret tomorrow, it will be putting dates in the bread, but who knows? Maybe I’ll appreciate the extra propulsion forward. The recipe I used can be found here

So, since my friend was over, I spent a good part of the day hanging around, off my feet. When I was on my feet, I certainly wasn’t doing anything strenuous. I made sure to drink my regular amount of water, which is about four liters. I think most of it was in tea today, but I’ll drink a bit more this evening before I head to bed. 

Finally, one of the things I did to prepare was a shake-up run. Back in the day, I thought that one was supposed to rest the day before a race. However, since I’ve been around the running forums and talked to more and more coaches, I’ve learned to make the second day before a race the day off, and do a light run the day before the race. 

That’s what I did. After corralling up my brother to join me, I put on my running shoes that I am not going to race in tomorrow (my Mizuno Wave Creations. I’ll race in my Sauconys that I feel slightly more comfortable in, even though neither shoe is really idea for racing) and went out. I set my TomTom GPS runner for 21 minutes because my goal for tomorrow is 21:something (preferably sub 30 sec) and I wanted to envision the run in my head. So when my brother wasn’t filling my head with his plans for the weekend, I thought about how I would feel at certain moments in the race. At minute 12 I was thinking “okay, you’ll be beyond halfway there here. Things will start to look tough and you’ll start to want to slow down, but you’re only halfway there. On the plus side, you’ve only 1.5 miles to go, which is easy-peasy!” Three-quarters of the way through I was thinking, “alright, you’re into your last mile. Things are going to go down now. You’re going to want to compromise, you’re going want to make arguments with yourself about why reaching your goal time isn’t possible. But it will be possible. You’re prepared. You’re well-rested. You will be able to do it if you’re willing to go through a bit of pain.” When my watch buzzes for the 90% done, I know that I’ll have about two minutes left to give it all I’ve got. At that point, I know I’ll want to push myself. 

To round-out this live-race vision, I did some pick-me-ups to just feel some speed. The first one felt awkward, as it should after an easy 9:30+ mpm run, but the next few felt good. I didn’t push myself too hard, but made sure to extend my legs and get a real stride going. 

Now that I’ve done everything physically that I need to do for preparation, it’s all mental. I’ve got my socks chosen, I know what shoes, shirt and shorts I’m going to wear. I’ll bring my wallet for gas in the morning and my ID for packet pick-up. I am thinking of bringing a towel and a change of clothes, as well as filling up all my water-bottles to have in the car. 

I’m eating some sushi tonight (something I do every Friday and have done several times before races), playing cards and watching some tele with the family, and going to be around 2215. 

The only thing I haven’t really decided is whether to run with music. Most of my interval and tempo runs have been with music, so I’m afraid I’ve come to rely on it. On the other hand, I don’t want to be anti-social at the race or during the run. I want to be among fellow runners running for the good cause that is memorializing the heroes of 9/11 and funding ceremonies in the future. I believe in the cause this run is hosted for, because I believe it’s important not to forget what happened 13 years ago. I’m afraid to dishonor the memory of those this run is held for, because I won’t be participating actively with the participants and the volunteers while I run. I guess I can just try to do my best before and after the race. 

Race time is 6:30. It’s going to be about 84 degrees Fahrenheit with 90% humidity (ew). 

I’m going to be up at 4, out of the house by 5:30, and warming-up by 6. 

Wish me luck!! 

Race Ready- How do you know if you’re ready to race?

 How do you know when you’re ready to race? Generally, you don’t. However, there are usually a few indicators in your ability to follow a training plan and the runs in the days leading up to your race that will let you know if you’re ready or not. 

For example, let’s say it’s the week leading up to your 5K on the weekend and you do two one-mile runs at 5K race pace. Then, after a short rest, you do two 400 meters at 1-mile pace. If you complete these, you’re in pretty good shape to target that race pace for the 5K on the weekend.

Usually, if you’re able to nail a certain interval workout at race pace or better, you can feel fairly confident that you’ll be able to tackle similar distances during the race. Keep in mind that interval training runs are controlled environments in which you’re expected to feel pain, but also able to recover and do another good run the next day. Races are clearly more intense, painful, and allow for a much harder effort since few people actually need to conserve energy and speed for the next day or following days (unless you’re, you know, doing a hat-trick or something). Those shows of speed that you pull off in a training run are good indicators of the speed you can draw on during the race, especially if you follow a pretty easy regimen for the week with a rest day before or two-days before the race. 

Some other ways to know if you’re race ready is if you’re motivated to break a PR or a certain time, if you’ve been training for at least 4 weeks before a 5K or 6-weeks before a 10K, have good base, have been watching the diet and not gaining weight over the course of training… there’s many factors that come into race preparation. 

However, it’s also possible to be physiologically ready and not feel ready at all. This happens to many runners, especially the day before the race when one would rather just have the next 24-hours be done with and the race have already happened. It’s similar to the experience of putting alcohol on a wound. You know it’s going to hurt, but you know the wound needs to be disinfected and that you’ll be relieved afterwards. At that point before a race, the best thing to do is distract yourself. If you’ve done the training and you’ve done your best to prepare, even in last minute preparation, you’re going to be fine.

So, after that how-to, let’s see if I can follow my own advice. 

Monday’s run: 2 x 1 mile at 6:50 mpm with 5 minute rest; 2 x 400 meters at 6:18 mpm with 3 minute rest; 2 mile warm-up, 3-mile cool down. I should feel good that I nailed the pace for both miles, but I can’t help but be nervous. Goal for Saturday is to break 21:30. 

Is your GPS watch a slavedriver?

Runners are naturally OCD. When I say naturally, I mean that runners who are successful will follow set routines for pre-workouts, post-workouts, eating, timing, race preparation, and other things. They usually track their pace, heart rate, calories burned, distance run, and know what they want to accomplish for each run they do, even if it’s an easy run. 

 I’ve always wanted to ask, doesn’t looking at your watch constantly throw you off stride? I know I clip myself with my feet each time I cross my arm across my body… though checking does make for nice arm muscle views.

I’ll never forget the first time I did an easy run on a training course (just a local golf course) with my college running teammates. I didn’t have a GPS watch at the time, but most of them did, and throughout the run they’d give the rest of us updates on pace. “Look guys, we’re doing 7:42 pace.” Then, when we reached the end of the route (and it was confusing for me, it being a golf course and my first time and all), they suddenly started doing random strides and turns and didn’t tell me and two other girls was was going on. Turns out, we’d run 4.87 miles and they wanted to get to the round 5-oh. 

Now I have to confess, I am a runner for ten years now. The first four years of running in high school, I just did what my coach told me to do and did races. When I ran at home, I just ran to be home by a certain time. Then I progressed to using stop-watches and running logs to map my runs and see how fast I’d run certain distances. I can’t explain how bizarre it was to find out that a run that I’d thought was 3 miles ended up being almost 4 (no wonder I could never run faster than 26 minutes on that!), or how motivated I suddenly was to conquer more distance or run the same distances faster and beat my own times. 

However, a lot of times, especially when I was in a new city or exploring a new route, I wouldn’t know how far I’d run or how fast I’d run until I got home and completed the mapping and computer calculations. That’s something that has been extremely aided by my Tom Tom Runner GPS watch. Yet, I have never felt the urge to “round-out” my run to get the “perfect score.” I feel just as much pride when I set out to complete a route than if it’s a certain round number. Plus, I like prime numbers and numbers that end in ones and three anyway; a straight 00 or 50 isn’t that appealing to me.

One time, I thought, “what the heck” and did a few laps around my cul-de-sac to get a 5.93 mile run up to 6 miles. I felt stupid doing it, but wanted to meet the number on my training plan. Yet, when I hooked up the watch to my computer, it turned out that I ended up with 6.03 after all. 

So, I guess I want to pass on the message that it can be cool to leave a run with a few hundredths or tenths of a mile off your set mileage for the training day. I’m not saying that you have to run naked (though there are benefits to that too), but that you don’t have to be a slave to your watch. Even if you do it every day, the most it will add up to is a mileage off your weekly mileage that you didn’t run. Such a mile does not make or break your training. It’s the constant running near the required mileage that you need that makes the training. Numbers really mean nothing unless it’s the time of your PR. 

Such being said, I ran an easy 45 minutes today at a little less than 9 mpm. Ended up with 5.19 miles and felt no need to do an extra hop-skip to round it up. It’s quite possible 

The quickest working anti-depressant

Sometimes the time it takes to go on a run and feel better is faster than the time it would take for an anti-depressant to work. 

Sunday was another run during TOM, and so it wasn’t done with the intention of getting my workout in or anything like that. Rather, it was a run that was supposed to make me feel more like myself again. And it did. No matter that I start my runs with varying degrees of optimism, enthusiasm and energy, I’ve never ended a run and regretting it or not feeling at least a little better, more in control of life. Sunday was like that. Even though Sunday’s run was post extra heavy intervals on Friday and a full day of gardening on Saturday (does that count as cross training?), and even though I was feeling like my legs were two bags of top soil, my arms wouldn’t pull like they usually do, and my mind wanted me to scratch myself out of my skin, I tied on my shoes and got out of the house for a while. 

The first mile went by too slowly, despite giving a lot of effort. This 10:1 ratio of effort to speed was probably also due to the humidity and the heat (93 degrees, 85% humidity?). I was not happy to be running. But I pushed myself an extra mile and found that by the end of it, I was beginning to find my stride and could appreciate the warm breeze that happened every so often. By the end of the last mile, I was almost sorry to run up to the stop sign that marks the end of my route. 

4 miles, 35 minutes kept me in shape through the evening. Even though the causes of my depression were still lurking, running numbed that for a little while. I bet a pill wouldn’t have had the same effect, and not as fast.