Training July 25-31

Yesterday marked the official one month anniversary of starting work with Coach Sandra. This week was a true assbuster, the first entire week that I can apply that qualification to, although there have certainly been some difficult individual workouts in the past few weeks. But the hard work was piled on this week, three really tough sessions over five days.

The hard work began on Tuesday morning, when I met up with Sandra bright and early at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track. This is a good place to train. While the track is not as fancy as the one at Bronxville High, it’s also not crowded with amblers. There were only two other runners there. Given that Sandra was standing in lane four with a stopwatch and yelling at me, they stayed out of our way.

Okay, Sandra wasn’t actually yelling at me. I just enjoy that image. She was yelling splits and, most of the time, encouragement. I won’t go into what we did, but it was really fucking hard. She even scaled back things a little when she saw that I was struggling through one of the repeats. I felt bad when she did that but she assured me that it’s the whole point of having a coach there and it’s better to be conservative than to overtrain.

To be honest, it’s nervewracking to have someone scrutinizing how you run. I don’t come from a track (or running at all) background, so this is a new experience for me. There’s a lot of pressure to run faster when someone is standing there at each lap, waiting for you. I don’t have trouble doing my workouts alone — meaning I will apply myself regardless of who’s around. But having that extra pressure was a real motivator to pick things up when I felt like shit. After next week Sandra won’t be there for most of my track work, at least through the rest of the summer. But I feel I have a better sense now of how I should adjust the intervals as I go along.

Here’s this week’s running tip: always run your recoveries in the opposite direction. This keeps you from stressing the same outer leg/hip (your right one if you do the hard stuff counterclockwise).

On Thursday I did a longish tempo run. It was absolutely horrible weatherwise: 82F with a dewpoint of 72 when I started. The average time is slow because my warmup/cooldown was practically walking, and my tempo miles were no great shakes due to the weather (around 7:30). I did this run on the northern section of the Old Croton Aqueduct trail and it was really, really lovely. I can’t wait to run there in the fall when it’s cool and colorful. Although there is a .6 mile long section of extreme up/down hill in the form of switchbacks as you head to and from the Hudson’s edge. That was murder to run up fast.

On Friday I got a massage and discovered just how nasty I’d been to my legs over the previous days. Hamstrings, quads, calves — everything was fucked up. Even my arms hurt, especially the forearms for some reason. I wished I’d gone for a 90 minute session since 60 didn’t seem like enough. But I ambled home (it’s a short walk from my house through suburban streets) and collapsed on the couch for a few hours. I felt okay this morning, more or less ready for another epic run.

This time I tried the middle section of the OCA. I didn’t like that one as much. Much of it is a narrow track of dirt cutting through grass. Some of it is rooted and rocky. And it’s broken up by streets (including one that required a full seven minute wait at a stoplight where four streets converged), which slows everything down. My legs felt the week’s earlier abuses at the 8 mile mark, but I kept at it. Fortunately, the weather was so pleasant today that it was almost not noticeable. In the low 70s and very dry. I ran the last few miles as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. Still, faster than the last few progression runs. I was happy with the effort considering that it was on top of two earlier faster sessions.

Next weekend is the NYRR team championships, so the mileage and intensity get dialed down again. After this week, I’m grateful for some down days.

Review: Saucony Kinvara

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a shoe review. This is primarily because I’ve found a few models that I’ve been happy enough to stick with over the past 18 months or so: the Pearl Izumi Streak and the Saucony Fastwitch 3. They are covered on the reviews page (the Streak being pretty much identical to the Peak XC reviewed there). I used to use these for just racing or faster running, relying on another Saucony shoe, the Grid Tangent 3, as my daily training workhorse.

I was never totally thrilled with the Grid Tangent. This isn’t obvious, since I’m on my eighth pair. I kept buying it because it didn’t cause problems, and that is reason enough to buy a shoe. But I’ve been phasing those out as I’ve moved to doing my daily training in what I used to consider “speed” shoes (the Streak and the Fastwitch), and racing in even lighter shoes, such as the Asics HyperSpeed or the Adidas Adizero Ace, the former of which is a true racing flat. To give you a sense of how often I run in what, I’m on my sixth pair each of the Streak and the Fastwitch. The Adidas shoes (I also sometimes run in the Adizero Tempo) are slightly too narrow, so I won’t buy those models again.

This isn't even all of them.

Anyway, the net of all this is that I have been a runner in transition, and my shoe choices reflect it. I have not jumped on the minimalist bandwagon (and you should probably put some space between me and barefoot running enthusiasts at parties). I’ve merely found that I’ve gotten more comfortable in lighter and lighter shoes. At this point, even the Grid Tangent, at 7.9 oz. each, feels too heavy. Add to this that I’ve discovered that, despite my feet falling into the “slight overpronator” category, I’ve found that neutral shoes are more comfortable to run in. The lighter shoes typically fall into the neutral category, so this has been a happy discovery.

Here I am today, doing most of my training runs in the Streak or Fastwitch. The Streak’s problem is that it’s just slightly too big (but if I half size down it’s slightly too small). So unless I wear thick socks, it can feel a little floppy. I wear very thin socks in the summer, so it gathers dust for 3-4 months a year. And the problem with the Fastwitch is that it’s a shoe designed for the slight overpronator. Which means it’s a little stiff around the arch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great shoe — at 6.6 oz. each, very light and fast, and it held up under the demands of a full marathon. But I am aware of the shoe while I am running in it. I don’t like to be aware of my shoes.

Sorry for the long preamble. There is a point to all of this. Saucony recently came out with a new model, the Kinvara. They have billed it as a “minimalist trainer.” It’s got a low heel-to-toe drop (meaning the heel is only 4mm higher than the toe). But this is not a racing flat. If anything, the sole is on the thicker side, and it’s flared out a bit, so there’s lots of lateral coverage. This design does not equal “heavy,” however. The Kinvara is only slightly heavier (meaning a few tenths of an oz. each) than is the Fastwitch.

It’s a great shoe. I think it may be the best trainer I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many. It’s light, but solid. You can feel the road, but it’s not “feel every pebble” thin like a flat. And it’s flexible and even feels a bit springy. I am months away from doing 20 milers, so I can’t say how it holds up over distance. But on 10-12 milers it’s been fine. Even though Saucony doesn’t bill it as a racer, I suspect it would perform very well at at the marathon distance.

One quibble: the colors. Do women really want pastel-colored running shoes? I don’t. The available colors are straight out of one of Estelle Getty’s polyester leisure suits from The Golden Girls. I am actually tempted to size down the men’s model (although I’m worried that the heel won’t be narrow enough for me) so I don’t have to wear Easter colors on my feel. They also conveniently don’t go with any of my other running clothes.

Here’s Saucony’s video about the Kinvara.

I’ll still experiment with doing speedwork and racing in lighter and lighter flats. But in the Kinvara I’ve found my new daily trainer for all of those other miles.

A few minutes with Adriana Pirtea

Adriana Pirtea, 29, was a surprise showing at the Mini 10K press event. She wasn’t on the roster, so I hadn’t researched her. But I knew three things about her: she’s originally from Romania, she lives and trains in Colorado (Fort Collins), and she was nipped in the last 50 meters by Berhane Adere at the 2007 Chicago Marathon, where Pirtea’s mistake was celebrating her win too early at what, up until that moment, had been a dream debut at the distance. Since dredging up a bad memory is a terrible way to get someone to open up to you, I decided to not mention Chicago (even though I was dying to). Instead, I decided try out some of the more oddball questions I had, to see what I’d get. One piece of exciting news: Pirtea is going to become a US citizen in November, so we’ll have another very fast import soon.

10th, London 2008, with a 2:28.

What do you think about when you’re racing?
Many things. When you’re in a race, you know how you’ve prepared and what kind of speed you want to go. If you’re thinking about the marathon, then it’s a long way. I actually have almost no time to think of anything else but just to keep myself in the rhythm.

So you’re in the moment when you’re running.
Yes. I just watch my competitors. If I struggle a little bit, I try to come back. If I go too fast, just go back in the rhythm so I don’t waste my energy too much. That’s kind of it. It’s almost like you think too much of the race over the moment. People say, “Do you think of everything you’ve done in your life in the marathon?” It’s not like that. It’s just keeping your body motivated and being able to keep the pace up to the end of the race.

Are you breaking the race up into different sections, or are you running mile by mile?
You know, it depends. A couple races were such a tactical race, very slow. Sometimes you feel very fit and trained. This might be a mistake, to stay at a slow pace. It happened to me a couple of times, and I blamed myself. Why didn’t I go faster, to make my own pace? But sometimes a race can be a fartlek, where people try to get rid of the other ones. Most of the time, it’s a good race if — like Magdalena [in Rotterdam] — you can be pretty steady all the time, if possible.

When did you start running in Romania?
I was 17 years old when I started running. I started improving very quickly and I got a chance to get a scholarship to run here [for University of Texas, El Paso] just a few years after I started running.

Did you specialize in a certain distance when you first started?
I kind of jumped from one to another one, because that’s the way the championships were going there. So I’d be running 1500 or 3000 indoor and then a half marathon and then 5000. So all over.

Do you have a favorite?
I have a favorite when I run well.

It’s funny how that happens.
Yes. Because I did my debut a couple years ago in the marathon. It was a great marathon for me. And so I liked it that day. A year later, when I didn’t do too well — don’t ask me, because I was like, “This is not for me.” But everybody’s saying, “This is for you. You have to go for the marathon.” I used to love being on the track sometimes, and right now [I'm] losing the speed. So I have to stick with the marathon and half marathon right now, because that’s probably where I can perform better.

If you couldn’t be a runner, do you have other things you’d like to do?
I think I just love running. Before I started running, I was a dancer. I was dancing for my school. That was a really cool thing. I started running because my teammate had to lose some weight. She was about to get kicked off the team. So I said, “I’m going with you. We’re going to go run, you’re going to lose weight, and you’re going to be back there.” When I took her there, she didn’t want to run. She was embarrassed.

So my dad talked to the coach and he’s like, “Okay, you have to run now.” And so I just glued to the group of guys and stayed with them and I was so relaxed. And they were saying, “Slow down…” and I was like, “No, I feel good.” At the second training session they said, “Uh, we have a cross country race in two weeks. Do you want to run it?” It was a short distance, only 1500 meters. And I was like, “Okay, I’m running.” And I won the race so easily. And they said, “You have to stay in this sport.” And I said, “Okay, I’m staying.”

I think that’s called “destiny.”
Yes, I think so too.

A few minutes with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet

Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, 37, needs no introduction. But here’s one anyway. Originally from Poland, she became a US citizen on September 11, 2001. She is a regular top 10 finisher at the marathon and was this country’s half marathon champion last year. She stood out in the 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials by immediately rocketing out to a sizable lead that she would hold for 24 miles before being passed by Deena Kastor. She lives and trains in Oakland, California where she is also one of the founders of the Bay Area Track Club. She is coached by Jack Daniels.

After smoking the Rotterdam course.

In your preparations for Rotterdam, a breakthrough race [2:26:22, for second place and making her the fourth fastest American female marathoner] for you earlier this year, it sounds like you were doing a lot of work on your top end speed.
Because the World Cross Country Championships were two weeks before that, we definitely incorporated a little bit more of that work into this preparation. I really enjoyed it. But I still maintained all the other marathon stuff that we’ve done in the past. Not much has changed. I think it was just a little more balanced this time around.

I know you did a lot of training for the 2008 Olympic Marathon on the treadmill. Did you find doing all that running inside difficult to deal with mentally or physically?
Not really. As a marathoner, you’re already doing a lot of repetitive stuff. Long runs, out and backs, loops. I started running on the treadmill when my son was born and I was progressively spending more time on it. But I learned to do workouts on the treadmill, which I’d never done before. I don’t have to run on the treadmill, but I still incorporate it at least once or twice a week now. I do hill repeats, actually. Because I don’t have to run downhill.

Do you think regular runners can benefit from incorporating the treadmill into their training to do those different kinds of workouts?
Yeah, a lot of people have a very limited amount of time and sometimes limited access to do a track workout. Over the last few years I’ve learned that you can take any track workout and convert it to the treadmill. Having a child at home, you might plan to do a track workout, but then something comes up and you have to cancel your plans. But there’s always the treadmill, so that’s a good option to have. It saved my training many times, where I was able to get the work done.

What are you thinking about when you’re racing?
I actually think about a lot of stuff when I race. It kind of goes in and out. Sometimes I reflect on workouts that I’ve done that remind me that I’ve done some workouts that are harder than this race. It keeps you at ease because it’s the feedback that you’re well prepared. My last marathon was the first one where it was marked every kilometer. It was really going by quickly, versus miles — you get all this feedback. I coach, so I started designing workouts [that use kilometers rather than miles] for the athletes that I coach.

I don’t really have a strategy for what I think about. I just try to go with the flow. But I’m never out of touch with what happens in the race. It’s usually not until the second half that my mind fully tunes into the race that’s happening. The first half, it could be anything. I’m thinking about the dinner I’m going to make for my son the next day, or the workouts that I’m going to give to my athletes, or my own workouts. And then the second half is usually all about the race.

Can you tell early in a race whether you’re having a good day or a bad day? And are you ever wrong?
Usually, in the first part of the race you can tell. I’ve had races where I was warming up and feeling awful, just awful. I remember a couple races on the track where I was warming up and thinking, “There’s no way if I keep feeling like this…” but it ends up being a PR day. It happens. When you do feel bad, you always have to give another shot at changing something within the race to make sure that it’s really not happening today. Sometimes, you can change the outcome, hopefully.

After you bashed your knee, before the Olympic marathon [which Lewy Boulet could not run], you seemed really accepting of the situation. You were upset, but you seemed to take it in stride. Do you generally have a positive attitude when you have a setback like that?
You know, my coach is just an unbelievable person. Jack is really positive. It doesn’t just start with just races, when you don’t do well at the Olympics. It’s day in and day out — I’ve learned that I need to take something positive from each workout. He’s gotten me to always learn something from each situation and turn it into something positive. Making the Olympic team — even though it was a horrible outcome — I still learned so much from that experience. Something as simple as the logistics of how things work at that level. When I do make another team, I know what to do.

Is the marathon your favorite distance, or just the one you’re best at?
Usually, they go hand in hand. You always love events that you’re good at. I do love the marathon. More than anything, I love the preparation required for a marathon. It’s very rewarding when you do run well. And you don’t get too many chances. A 5K you can do once a month, or a mile every other week. With the marathon, you only get two shots a year. But I did love cross country. Racing at Worlds this spring was a lot of fun. The fact that it was in Poland, that I made the team and got a medal was pretty super cool.

I’m not deaf. I’m ignoring you.

A couple of decades ago a friend bought me a pin (pins were very big in the eighties) that said, “I’m not deaf. I’m ignoring you.” She thought it was perfect for me. I took it as a twisted compliment at the time, even though I know she was trying to tell me that I can come across as aloof. I’m really not. Okay. Maybe some of the time.

I should wear it (if only I could find it) because once again I’m ignoring you. Or, rather, I’m ignoring the results of my latest poll. Believe me, you don’t want the Mini 10K interviews verbatim. Do you want to see all of the footage from a four-day shoot of “This Old House”? I didn’t think so. Nor do you want rambling answers about GPS watch models or maiden vs. married names either. Really. Trust me on this.

Poll: What should I do with the Mini 10K interviews?

I spent about two hours in June interviewing quite a few of the elites who ran in the Mini 10K. We’re talking close to six weeks ago. I am assuming no one cares about the Mini 10K at this point. However, a lot of the questions I asked (most, in fact) did not have to do with that particular race. What should I do with this material?

You have one day in which to answer. Tick tock tick tock.

Training July 18-24

The adventure continues. As does the heat wave.

This past week was typical of what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks: speedwork and lots of progression runs. I didn’t cross-train as much as I’d hoped to, but I’m working on making biking and weight work more of a priority. I also got my first massage since right after the Green Mountain Relay in June. I was informed that my hamstrings aren’t nearly as tight as they were then. But my back, shoulders and neck are still a holy mess.

Monday was really, really hot again. So I did my short progression run on the treadmill. That went pretty well, considering that I’d raced hard on Saturday. Wednesday was another really hot morning at the track — 90F with a dewpoint of 68. I had to do longer intervals, which was mentally difficult.

Then I stupidly ran an extra 5 miles, bringing the total to 11, which was supposed to have been distributed over two runs: 7 at the track and then 4 recovery in the evening. I got so used to running lots of miles around track sessions last year that it’s hard to break that habit. I won’t do that again. Coach Sandra was not pleased and thought I was just being overly enthusiastic (so unlike me) or simply non-compliant. I told her that I merely have poor reading comprehension sometimes and all was forgiven.

On Thursday, as often happens the day after some faster running, my legs felt zippy. So I ran the recovery run by feel, which turned into a slightly higher effort outing. But I knew I had the next day off from running, so I didn’t worry about it.

Saturday was, once again, very hot and humid, so I took the progression run inside again. This was a horrible run. My stomach was a mess and my right hamstring felt very stiff. I ended up puttering along at 10:45 pace for 4 miles before I was able to pick things up ever so gradually and run the last few miles at a properly fast pace. Given how shitty I felt, I was tempted to abandon the workout, but remembered that if I don’t finish a week, I need to do it all over again. I didn’t want to be held back in what is the training equivalent of Kindergarten.

Besides training, it was an eventful week. For one thing, it was my first week as a non-IBMer in 7 years. That took some getting used to. I also updated Houston Hopefuls at long last. Then I worked on my first byline piece for Running Times, a profile of one of the masters runners who has already qualified for the 2012 Marathon Trials, Tamara Karrh. Originally I’d hoped to do a piece on the growth of masters participation in that race over the years, with Karrh as personification of this trend (but not the article’s centerpiece). But getting historical Trials data on short notice proved impossible, despite how annoying I made myself (in a friendly, grateful way) to the USATF. Fortunately, Karrh turned out to be a great interviewee, worthy of a profile focused on her alone. That will hit the newsstands/web in October (November issue).

This week is more of the same: track work (with Coach and stopwatch this time), a tempo run and more progression miles. I’ve been exploring the local trails, to save my legs by running on soft dirt, but also for a change of venue. I don’t actually have to be anywhere these days. I can drive to a trail. I can stop and look at other creatures’ homes. I can wander the aisles of Costco at 2:00 in the afternoon. I don’t feel a shred of anxiety over this current state of affairs. I have not felt this relaxed in decades.

Some things I learned today

The Old Crtoton Aqueduct (aka “OCA”) is a lovely place to run, at least the northern section, which starts at Sleepy Hollow High School. I will probably do my tempo run there later this week for a change of scenery. More info at Joe‘s excellent blog, Westchester Trails.

Taking a long nap is much more enjoyable than sitting in a meeting.

It is possible, with extreme discipline and careful use of syntax and clauses, to cut a ~1,000 word article down to ~750 words without losing too much.

If you run with small rocks in your hands they will remind you to swing your arms. Swinging your arms makes you run faster.

Racing shoes are for racing and speedwork only. Doing any other running in them is strictly verboten.

The stopwatch tells no lies.

New Houston Hopeful Interview: Jill Howard

Extreme heat! Vicious eels! Multiple attempts to vomit!

This is just a typical day in the life of a world class triathlete. Jill Howard has experienced these challenges and more as she’s climbed the ladder from starry eyed charity marathoner to Team USA triathlete to, now, Olympic Trials hopeful. If there’s one word that comes up again and again in her interview, it’s “determination.” She’s got enough to spare.

Apologies for the wait. This one was too long in coming, due to a ridiculously busy June and July. The next profile, with two-time previous (2004, 2008) qualifier Heather May, will appear in August.

Birdbrains

I see lots of birds on my runs. Grackles, robins, crows, red-winged blackbirds, herons, swans, ducks and, of course, geese. What I don’t often see are birds’ nests. When I see them on the ground, I pick them up and take them home. I have two on the mantle.

Today I saw quite the nest. It was unusual in many ways. For one thing, it was built in low shrubs, maybe four feet off the ground. At first I took this to indicate a lack of intelligence (or, at the very least, survival instinct) on the part of the nest builder.

Then I noticed other aspects of the nest that made me revise my initial assessment. For one thing, the nest was of an extremely robust construction. It was a small nest, presumably built by a small bird. But it was made out of very sturdy twigs, some of them up to a quarter inch in diameter. Not only that, but it was built in such a way as to be interlocked with the criss-crossing shrub branches that served as its structural foundation. The only thing missing was a cantilevered beam.

The twigs were intricately woven, in some cases with nubs along the twig being used as “catches” to hold the twig in place between other twigs. I have no idea how a small bird could have flown with such large twigs and then maneuvered or levered them into position.

Also, the nest was strategically located between two natural barriers. On one side was a large body of water (a section of the Bronx River that opens up into something resembling a big pond). On the other side was a wall of thorny shrubs. I had to carefully move these aside, branch by branch, to get to the nest.

The nest had other features. It had pieces of torn plastic woven into the inner twigs, perhaps serving as insulation or even a thin barrier to lay atop the twigs, making for a more comfortable place to sit. I also saw a few pieces of dryer lint integrated into the construction. I leave out tufts of such lint for birds, and I always wondered if they actually use it. Now I know that they do. Maybe this was our lint.

I think birds are probably a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

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