“Speedy! Come queek!”

(For anyone who’s never seen an early Warner Brothers cartoon, this post title is a reference — and a semi-racist one at that — to the Speedy Gonzalez character.)

Okay, I’m officially taking back every bad thing I’ve ever said about hating to run fast. Or, rather, I’m caveating those previous statements. I did a track session of 200m repeats today and wouldn’t you know it, they were a blast! I understand why someone would want to be a sprinter: You only start hurting in the last 15 meters or so, and it’s not even that bad. At least not at my current velocities.

I won’t go into great detail, as a bath and dinner beckon, but I was assigned 12 at 43-44 seconds apiece and, except for three at 45, I was dead on for the rest. I even did a 13th (the last one, at 44, thank you very much) since I forgot to record one of the earlier ones.

I’m almost afraid to say this, but they felt too easy. I only wish I’d worn my spikes because I could feel a lack of traction and kept thinking, “Darn. If I had my spikes on, I bet I’d be running 41-42.”

The other great thing about doing shorter repeats is that not only do they probably look a lot more impressive than, say, 1200m repeats, but I also don’t have nearly enough time to completely fall apart and exhibit the unattractive wheezing, nose running, tears and spastic form that longer efforts elicit.

Short intervals. Try them today.

Spring Race Training: Week 8

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A hundred and one miles of fun!

Check it out: I ran just over 101 miles this past week, my biggest mileage week since July when I ran a mere 100.1. Piling on that last mile wasn’t the disaster that Mr. Creosote experienced at the hands of a maître d’ and his wafer-thin mint. I did not, in fact, explode.

In the end, it’s just a number. But it’s a big number for me.

Considering that I raced a very tough 25K a week ago, this week went very well. In fact, I’m thinking it’s probably my most successful training week so far. Here’s why:

  • Well, for one thing, I ran 101 miles with no ill effects. Sorry to state the obvious.
  • My resting heart stayed cooperatively low, up after tough days, but back down to 44 after a day or two of recovery. This surprised me.
  • Two of my big quality workouts, both done on the track, were marred by steady winds of anywhere from 5-14mph. That affected my time, and for once I accepted that and felt the sessions went well once that was taken into consideration.
  • Today’s 20 miler was a real confidence booster. I had lots of energy and ended up doing a big negative split.

Onto the details.

On Monday and Tuesday I experienced varying levels of tiredness, varying from barely any at all to near-stupefying exhaustion. Sunday’s hilly 25K race was a huge effort, so this was expected. Still, it was interesting to note how delayed the fatigue was and how, in some ways, it seems recovery running almost seemed to stave it off (I was most tired Tuesday evening).

Wednesday’s speed session on the track went as well as it could. It was very windy, so I focused on effort and decided to not let the effect of the wind on my pace get to me too much.

Thursday was the day when I suspect there was a tremendous amount of training consolidation going on. I had a terrible ache in my thighs and calves overnight, along with “I’ll eat anything” hunger. I also lost about two pounds overnight, a loss that I’ve sustained in the days since, despite drinking a lot of water and eating quite a bit.

Friday was the low point of the week, as I had a workout I’d come to dread: a 15 miler with the last five at a tempo pace on the track. Despite doing everything I could to prepare, I was again disappointed with the results. Once again, my legs felt heavy for the 10 mile aerobic portion, with the added delight of a slightly upset stomach. Once I got to the track and felt the steady wind, I began to rapidly lower my expectations of what I could sustain over 20 laps. Still, I gave it my best effort, managing five miles at 7:05 pace (instead of the planned 6:51 pace). And I only had one bout of stopping/berating/pep talking at the halfway mark.

I actually ran a little better after stopping halfway through, although whether that was for mental reasons or merely because the wind may have died down a little, I’ll never know. Of note is that my stomach was completely screwed up about an hour afterwards, which I chalk up to a physical manifestation of several days cumulative stress from the race plus heavy training (despite the recovery days, which still featured mileage in the teens).

I felt very good on Saturday and ran the two recovery runs faster than I’d expected to.

This morning I woke up feeling good again, owing to nine hours of deep sleep and Saturday night tea-totaling (okay, I admit I had one beer). In fact, I was actually excited to go do the 20 miler. I had no plan for the run, which may have explained why it went so well. Going in with no preconceptions or pressure allowed me to truly run by feel, which was a refreshing break after the two earlier, pace-focused workouts in the week.

I ran the first three miles as a very easy warmup, then decided I felt good enough to try to keep things in the 76% max. heart rate range. I stopped and took a little breather at the turnaround point and then decided to just run and keep my eye off the watch for the next few miles. With five miles left to go, I made the commitment to step up the effort. While this wasn’t to be a fast finish long run (as that wasn’t assigned), I wanted to run the last few miles “comfortably hard” (as opposed to “hardly comfortable”).

Imagine my surprise when I got home and discovered that I’d averaged well below 8:00 pace for the last few miles, all at a reasonable MHR of 76-77%, with a final blowout mile of 7:33 at 83%. I needed to have a good run combined with a relatively windless day to remind me that I am making progress.

Week 9 is another 100 miler, although there’s no tempo work and the speed session is short at 2400m total. This cutting back is (I suspect) to reserve some energy for the big workout on Sunday: the NYRR Colon Cancer Challenge 15K race sandwiched inbetween two full 6.2 mile loops of Central Park.

Hope, change and tempo runs

Matt Fitzgerald recently wrote about how he was afraid of his upcoming workout. I have one like that in a few hours, a 10 mile general aerobic run with an additional 5 miles at 6:51 pace tacked onto the end. That’s about my current half marathon pace, which I’ll need to sustain just over 34 minutes.

These 34 minutes and 15 seconds will be difficult. I know this. What I want to avoid is having them be pure hell.

A few weeks ago I had a run that was very similar to this, one that I didn’t think went particularly well. I was 13 seconds off pace and had to stop a few times. Since then, I’ve looked at what may have gone wrong that day, and experimented with a few potential remedies, all in order to help prepare myself for another try today.

First, I looked at how I ran the initial non-tempo miles and concluded that I ran them too fast. All of them. From the get go, I was so eager to work hard on this run that I started working hard too early, then paid for it during the miles that counted at the end. I was also running into a headwind for the initial 5.5 miles, which I know tired me out. I should have taken this into account and adjusted my pace, but I was too bull-headed at the time to do so. Also, this run was scheduled for the first day of my new menstrual cycle, a time that has proven itself time and time again to be the day when I am likely to run at my worst.

I also looked at what I was doing in the days before that sub-standard run. For one, I’d cut calories fairly drastically (I’ve been cutting them to shed fat), so I may have been low on glycogen reserves. I’d also done a fast finish 17 miler on the Sunday before that Tuesday run, so I was probably not fully recovered from that.

Here, then, was data I could work with — a whole bunch of factors that I could influence next time around.

I knew I’d have to do this run again — except with the fast miles a little longer and a little faster — in a few weeks, so I conducted a few experiments. First, I tried doing a fast finish long run with the aerobic section done at a lower heart rate than my typical 75-78% for general aerobic efforts. I kept it right around 72% max heart rate, then only sped up in the mile or so before the very fast ones at the end. I also did the first two at very slow speed and low heart rate — under 70% mhr.

The other thing I did was make sure I didn’t cut my calories too severely in the two days before this run, and I loaded up on carbohydrates and water. I also made sure I got plenty of sleep and stayed away from alcohol.

The result? I had no problem running at 7:00 pace for the last 2.5 miles of a 17 miler.

I’ve taken care to do all the pre-run preparations described above. In a few hours, I’ll put that together with my pre-tempo-miles pacing strategy and hope for the best. At least I’m going in knowing I’ve done everything I can to help myself, and that can only benefit me mentally.

Now let’s see if this actually works.

“Insane hunger”

That’s what part of my training diary entry read this morning. At 3AM, I awoke with two urgent needs: first, do something about the ache in my thighs and calves, the dreaded DOMS*; second, eat something right now.

Random waves of ravenous hunger appear to be one side effect of combining high mileage with high intensity. And the hunger is of a particularly urgent, single-minded sort. It’s not, “Oh, I’m ready for dinner” hunger. It’s “I’m so hungry I’m going to eat that smashed Twinkie in the middle of the road” hunger. I was aware of this kind of “I’ll eat anything as long as it resembles food” hunger from reading about people in ultrarunning races. I had yet to experience it for myself until pretty recently.

But here it’s hitting me at odd times — typically either in the dead of night, or (more strangely) an hour or so after I’ve already eaten something substantial. There also is a delayed aspect to the hunger. Recently, I had two back-to-back days of extreme hunger in the early days of a recovery week. It started after a speed session and continued well into the next day, which featured a mere 7 miles of recovery running. The point being, I’d expect this sort of thing in a high mileage week itself, not in the days following one. I can only speculate that as my body consolidates the previous week’s training-induced stress and recovers from it, it’s demanding help in that consolidation and recovery from food.

I’m building muscle like it’s going out of style, and losing fat. So I’m guessing the demand for food (and craving for protein in some cases) is also to support that repair and expansion work at the muscular level. I have no idea what I’m talking about, by the way — this is pure conjecture.

In any event, I go with the hunger, getting up in the dead of night to shovel whatever appeals into my face, illuminated only by the 40 watt refrigerator bulb and with an audience of one bleary-eyed cat, confused by my sudden presence, yet hopeful that I’ll feed her too. Last night it was roasted sweet potatoes (carbs), spelt (more carbs) and prosciutto (protein, fat and salt). I wonder what I’ll need next.

*A problem easily solved with my favorite regularly smuggled controlled substance from overseas, the wonder drug from the UK, Solpadeine. It’s chock full of codeine goodness, and the effervescent variety works in about five minutes.

Spring Race Training: Week 7

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Following the pattern of two weeks on and one week off, this was an off week, with just seven sessions and 66.6 miles (Satan’s mileage?).

Despite having run the previous week’s hard weekend run on Saturday rather than Sunday, I was in zombie mode on Monday. For the second time during this training cycle, I was so tired that I felt slightly fluish. I did a very slow recovery run on the treadmill (since we had a late-season blizzard on Monday) in an attempt to get myself ready for hard work on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s tempo run was short (just two miles at the end of faster running), and theoretically went better. I say theoretically because I’m never really sure of what I’m actually running on the treadmill. But it felt hard enough and my HR seemed in line with where it should be for a sub-7:00 pace.

The snow kept me inside again on Wednesday and Thursday, which had a modified speed session to allow for a little more recovery for Sunday’s 25K race/training run. This speed session went very well, although the fact that I’m not a Mathlete led to a quarter mile of extra effort.

I bumped up the mileage for Friday’s recovery run, then did a short session on the track on Saturday — five recovery miles with eight strides. I ran the strides fairly fast — in solid 5:30-5:40 territory for most of them. So now I can almost run as fast as Paula Radcliffe’s Mpace, for about 100m. Or, to draw a real world comparison, while Paula can rocket to the the moon, I can take a bus to Philadelphia.

This little track session gave me a chance to try out my first pair of spikes in a non-workout context (in case for whatever reason I’m not a spike-friendly runner). They were quite comfortable (and light at about 5.5 oz. each)*, and I’m looking forward to doing more speedwork with them in the coming weeks.

I skipped the planned PM four mile recovery run on Saturday due to a social commitment. Of all the runs I could have thrown away last week, that was the most logical one to jettison. I’m glad I did, as it probably left me a little fresher for Sunday’s race.

My resting HR was high all week. This may have reflected the usual consolidation of the previous two weeks’ work, or it may have been because I slept badly for several nights. Or it may have been too much wine. Regardless of the causes of a faster beating, I basically felt okay all week, but not great.

The race on Sunday took a lot out of me, forcing a post-prandial collapse on the couch for a two hour nap. I’m still feeling the effort today, although with each hour, the fatigue lifts just a little more.

Week 8 is a big one, with a 10 mile run including an 8 x 600m speed session on Wednesday, a 15 miler with the final 5 at tempo pace on Friday (boy, am I dreading this one), and a 20 miler on Sunday — along with the other four days featuring doubles adding up to 13-14 miles each. All totalled, a nice, round 100 miles.

*Or, as my favorite bad track commentator Larry Rawson would say, “Running in shoes that each weigh about the same as two slices of bread, is Julie.”

Race Report: Boston Buildup 25K

This was technically a training run, but considering how useful this race series is for anyone in the tri-state area who’s training for Boston or another spring race, I’ll treat it as a race report.

I ran this race last year, also as a training run. It was my big 15 mile Mpace training run at the time, so I ran harder last year than I did this. I’m earlier in my training cycle than I was at this time last year, so I’ve not quite worked my way up to such lengthy Mpace efforts yet. The event takes place in Norwalk, CT and typically attracts around 150-200 runners. Whereas last year was quite cold, we had great (if a little warm) weather this year: low 50s at the start and overcast, although the clouds burned off for the second half.

For better or worse, I tend to have a selective memory about extreme changes in course elevations and physical pain. This race offers both in abundance! In fact, last year when I ran this race, I distinctly remember feeling something give in my calf on the worst of the early hills (Bald Hill Rd). That turned out to be the only time I’ve had anything resembling a real injury. Considering how bomb-proof my legs are, that’s saying something about this course.

Anyway, the race goes a little something like this:

First, you start on a nice downhill. This gives you plenty of opportunity to remain blissfully ignorant of the horrors to come, or obsess about said horrors, depending on your personality type.

Less than a half mile later, you have the first of the hills, a climb of around 120 feet over a third of a mile. Miles 2 to a little past the 5 mile mark are rolling. Then you hit the first of several big climbs that will take you up (or, rather, up and down) another 300 odd feet in elevation over the next 4 miles. I stupidly thought the worst of it was over just past the 7.5 mile mark, and proceeded to fly along on the extreme downhill, only to be met with an additional 70 foot climb for the first three quarters of mile 9. Then, at last (or so I thought), the climbing was over.

For the most part, it was. For the most part. There was ample opportunity to motor the downhills using what was left of my legs. But there are two nasty uphills later in the race: The first is a 85 ft climb over .25 miles at mile 12; the second a 100 ft climb, also very short and steep, at 12.5. Only then are you more or less home free.

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Since this was a training run I didn’t race it all out. It was windy on the way out, which also forced me to take a conservative approach. On a course like this, trying to lay out a mile-by-mile pacing plan is pretty silly. I had no specific time goal, although I did want to maintain around a 7:20 average pace if possible, and beat last year’s time of 2:01. I managed a 7:22 pace, which was close enough. I wish I’d had more oomph in my legs for the last 5-8K, but I worked with what I had and did manage to pass about eight people (including three women) for that stretch. So I guess this course beats everyone up.

My watch read 16.2 miles, evidence of the piss poor job I did of hitting the tangents. The roads were not closed to traffic, so I figured since it wasn’t a real race for me, it wasn’t worth risking my life to shave some time off by veering back and forth across the roadway. Normally, I’m willing to risk maiming or death for a good time (and I do mean that in both senses of the phrase).

I made a token attempt at some cooldown running, giving up after a mile. Then scarfed down a high-quality bagel, which was documented by blogger Frank of rundangerously. It was a big photo opp day, as Jonathan and I posed with some of the other age group winners in the series in our free (bling) shirts before the race.

Me: Front row, far right. Jonathan: Back row, third from right.

Me: Front row, far right. Jonathan: Back row, third from right.

No official results yet, although my watch time was 1:58:48. Since the official results haven’t yet been posted I don’t know how I placed, but I think it was probably decent.

Update: Official time was 1:58:47, netting me 3rd in the 40-49F group and 13th Girl overall.

Going mental

Yesterday’s run was some weird hybrid of a speed session and a tempo run: 10 miles general aerobic including 2 x 2400m in 10:00 (that’s 1.5 miles at 6:42 pace) with a three minute jog inbetween. Since we’re still buried under snow, I did this one on the treadmill.

Heading into the run, I was already doing battle with myself. I’d gotten a lousy night’s sleep, my resting heart rate was high to begin with, and my ever-present groin issue was again bothering me. My plan was to run roughly 3 miles as a warmup (with the first 1.5 very easy, recovery pace). Then do the two intervals, and then finish the run at whatever pace yielded a HR in the low 80%s.

Oh, one other requirement: Don’t stop during the fast interval sections no matter what.

That last requirement is one that I’ve introduced very recently. I’ve had a couple of experiences lately in which the voices in my head successfully cajoled me into stopping, after which I felt terrible about the run and myself. In thinking about those times when I’ve quit (even for 30 seconds to “catch my breath”), it’s become more and more apparent that the danger in stopping isn’t that I’ll compromise my physical development as a runner (although that’s certainly one side effect).

The real danger is in the mental realm. After all, you can’t stop during a race to catch your breath. Those voices are bad enough when you’re training. In a race, when someone’s on your heels for several miles, or that headwind is worse than you’d expected, or you put your sock on slightly wrong and now have a blister, your mind is the thing that either breaks your spirit or pulls you through. Every time you let your mind be your adversary, you get that much farther away from making your mind your ally.

With each speed or tempo session, I realize that these assignments are there to build physical and mental strength in equal measure. So I’m committed to doing them properly from here on out.

As it turns out, my mind and I got along very well yesterday. In fact, due to my mind’s inability to do remedial math I ended up running the first repeat a quarter mile long (1.75 miles). Such are the dangers of leaving “autolap” on during a run when you’re manually recording laps too. During the last minute or two of the repeat I was thinking, “Jesus Christ, this really hard. But I’m not going to stop.” Had I only known I could and should have stopped already. Or maybe it’s better that I didn’t know, as it was a discovery that made me laugh (and had me more than a little tickled) after I downloaded the run data and noticed my mistake.

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