Why I’ve truly stopped tracking my weight

Longtime readers know that I have had an extended battle with the scale, my pants and race photographers over the issue of my weight. Or, more specifically, how much fat I carry and how it affects my ability to run fast. Here, for example, is a post from nearly two years ago in which, after a couple of years of calorie counting and restriction, and obsessive-compulsive tracking of my weight (Tanita) and body fat (Omron) readings, I had made no progress and decided it was pointless to keep caring. A check of my thyroid showed nothing unusual there, so my failure to lose (as it were) was obviously my fault somehow; or that of my ancestors. But according to at least one nutritionist runner, I shouldn’t concern myself with it.

That message stuck for awhile, but in the spring of this year, aware of my lack of progress in pushing my paces and race times downward, I looked for answers in the gravitational realm once again. Out came the evil twins, Tanita and her moronic brother, Omron, as well as my demented spreadsheets (which included colorful charts of my total lack of progress). Also, over the summer I acquired an Apple iTouch and among the universe of “apps” found something called Tap and Track, which would enable me to record every moment of energy expenditure and every morsel that passed my lips.

I dutifully tracked everything. I made adjustments over weeks, increasing calories slightly, or decreasing them slightly to drastically. I teetotaled for weeks. Or drank with wild abandon. Nothing happened. I began wondering if I might be the first person in the history of eating disorders to experience no change in weight.

During this time I’d started training with Sandra and, while the workouts were hard, the mileage was about what I’d been doing since January, or around 50 mpw, with very little cross-training. Then I got injured in August and could do nothing but limp and complain for about three weeks. I was not exercising at all, so I lightened up on what I was eating to compensate. I ate lots of cabbage and non-fat yogurt. I gained just over three pounds in those three weeks.

In early September I started cross-training and over a few weeks built up to what is now a steady weekly helping of hard work, with a day off about every 8-10 days or so. I kept up my compulsive taking and recording of readings. My weight did not change. My pants even got tighter for the first few weeks, which was quite discouraging indeed. In disgust, I sent Omron back to his dungeon under the bathroom sink and stopped stepping on Tanita every morning. I ate when I was hungry (about every 2 hours), stuck with reasonable foods (I haven’t eaten junk in years) and kept alcohol intake to a minimum most nights. But I stopped keeping score on the iTouch.

Then I started to notice things. Glimpses of shoulder muscles rippling beneath the fat. My arms had a nice, inward curve where triceps meet lats. I could see the adductor muscle that is giving me so much trouble. And veins. I had veins. My blouses were getting tighter, yet, paradoxically, I had obviously lost back fat. One day, getting dressed, I flexed my back and shoulder muscles for Jonathan and asked if he noticed a difference that would explain the shirt problem. “Do that again,” he said, a little stunned. Yeah, I had muscles alright. I think the weight training and spinning have helped my lower body, while I mostly credit the pool running for my upper body development.

Finally, my pants are loosening up, despite my emerging Incredible Bulk physique. But I think I will need new shirts. I still won’t weigh myself. But for shits and giggles I did some Omron readings over the past few days and they were consistently about 2% below the ones I got earlier in the summer.

I will probably always carry considerably more fat than your typical skinny bitch marathoner. But at least I’m learning it’s possible for me to lose some of it. Best of all, I’m saving so much time now that I’ve deinstalled Tap and Track.

NYC Marathon: I’ll be there, enjoying myself

I’ll be doing a little work for Runner’s World on marathon Sunday. I’ll be assisting photographer Stacey Cramp to help put together a “Faces at the Finish” slideshow. She snaps the pictures and I ask the questions. Last year Stacey’s aide de camp was Duncan Larkin. This year it’s me. I’m beginning to suspect that this assignment is some sort of rite of passage for budding running journalists.

What this means is that I get a press pass with pretty-good-to-excellent access. I asked for finish line access as well as access to the raceday breakfast and watchathon that goes on in the former site of Tavern on the Green. There are days and days of scheduled interviews, both in person and by phone, among the elites during marathon week. Looking at the schedule, I feel a little sorry for them. There will also be post-race press conferences. That’s great, and I’ll go to some of that stuff. But I’m basically going to take it easy on November 7 and during the days leading up to it, aside from my assigned task with Stacey.

There will be lots and lots of interviews and articles coming out of the marathon. Mine probably won’t be among them. The one elite I really, really wanted to interview, Lyudmila Petrova, isn’t going to be among the field available to the media. I’m taking this as a sign, as much as I don’t generally believe in signs.

When I do my NYRR interviews, I spend hours researching and coming up with questions for the runners I’m going to interview, probably an average of 2-4 hours apiece. Then I go interview. Then I spend a few hours transcribing the interviews. Then I edit those and write them up. The average interview probably takes me around 6-8 hours in total to do. And those are the ones I can actually use. A Houston Hopefuls interview, because it’s more detailed and longer (and harder to research), typically takes me around 25 hours total from initial contact to posted interview.

I’m not whining. I’m just explaining why my contributions will be slim for the marathon. I’ve got around 50 hours of freelance work next week. Plus my insane cross-training schedule. Plus all these frigging medical appointments. So I’m going to put the kibosh on what was emerging as another source of pressure next week, much as I’d love to take full advantage of what NYRR is offering those of us with the fancy square of plastic around our necks. My apologies in advance.

But all is not lost. I will be on the NYC Marathon edition of the NY Running podcast on Tuesday November 2nd at 8PM ET, with cohorts Joe Garland and Steve Lastoe of NYCRuns.com. I have no idea if I’ll actually have anything to contribute, but I’ll try. NY Running is a parallel effort to the Runners Round Table podcast, of which I have become a fan, as the archives have provided much distraction (along with entertainment and insight) during the aforementioned insane cross-training schedule.

Anyway, tune in on Tuesday and help us make the show interesting. I’ll post something after the marathon. I just have no idea what.

The MRI experience

Imagine a 50 foot tall wasp humming selections from Laurie Anderson’s album Big Science while operating a jackhammer as rhythm accompaniment. That’s kind of what an MRI sounds like.

Jonathan tried to prepare me for the experience, as did others. But it’s nearly impossible to fully impart what such a visceral experience is like.

After swearing that I had no shrapnel, rods or tattooed eyeliner (?), I was told to strip, put on my gown and wait. Shortly thereafter I was ushered into the MRI room. I need to buy stock in General Electric, because that company makes all these diagnostic machines. It was smaller than I’d expected, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

I’d been given the choice of either the radio or plain old earplugs. I figured chances were good that I’d get stuck listening to Cristina Aguilera and 30 second spots for Ovaltine on Hot 97 if I went with the radio option. So I chose the earplugs and my own thoughts. I was given a little ball to squeeze as an “alarm” if I needed them to stop. In a way, being handed this device made me even more nervous. What were these people about to do to me?

Zoom. Whirrrr. In I slid. The technicians hurredly left the room. One of them crackled into being over the intercom, “We’re just going to do a short one to start.” Pause, fiddle. “Here we go.”

A series of three low buzzes, less than a second each, sounded. I came to think of those as the “Okay, it’s show time, folks!” intro sequence, as they featured before each new round of buzzing and banging that accompanied the creation of each new image, which typically took about 3-4 minutes.

I really was not ready for what happened next. I can’t explain it, but when the loud noises and vibrations started, I suddenly felt awful. My heart rate shot up and I started to mildly hyperventilate. This lasted only for about 15 seconds or so, but it was bad. It passed, probably because I just tried to focus on the rhythm of this sequence’s particular banging and bring my breathing in line with it. I also did not want to screw it up and have to start all over again.

After about 10-15 minutes of sitting through repeated rounds of banging, buzzing and whirring, I got used to it and was able to relax a little. I thought a lot about how powerful sound is. I remembered once reading a chapter in the book Pranks (page 72-74), an interview with an artist named Monte Cazazza who did a lot of, um, interesting things with ultra-low and ultra-high frequency sound. In it, he describes an experiment he did on himself using ultra-low frequency sound. He basically made himself ill:

“You felt bad. If low frequency sounds get to a certain level, the molecules in your organs start rubbing together, and your cell walls could eventually break down and turn to mush. At lesser levels you’d lose control of your bowels…People don’t realize how much sound physiologically affects them — it can make people sick, and it does in their jobs. It’s dangerous to work in a really noisy environment. Of course, some frequencies bother you more than others.”

Another thing I remembered during the cacophony was a former girlfriend of Jonathan’s who claimed she’d once had a spontaneous, totally hands-free climax at a Led Zeppelin concert. Having inexplicably burst into tears myself at more than one classical concert, I was inclined to believe that story.

The power of sound to affect us physically and psychologically has not escaped the private sector. Nor has it gone unnoticed by the military. That second link is a particularly fascinating read and worth the time.

With all this on my mind, the time flew by. As I was slid back out I asked one of the technicians if people ever experience a lot of anxiety during the procedure. Actually, the term I wanted to use was get totally freaked out. She nodded. “Oh, yeah. We have people we can’t do this with.”

On my way out they gave me a CD with the images, since that’s what the doctor ordered. They will not mail one, so I have to mail or bring it in myself. I am tempted to open them up in Photoshop. But I don’t want to break the seal. I’m sure he’ll show them to me while I’m there anyway.

Epiphany? Or a big steaming pile of obvious?

Today I was thinking about the cross-training session I did yesterday. It was two hours in the pool at a steady effort equal to a general aerobic run (75-82%), but with a very tough 20 minutes of short intervals/short recoveries toward the end. At the 45 minute mark I seriously flagged in energy and attitude. I thought, “I don’t know if I can keep up this effort for another 1:15.”

Around that time Coach Sandra appeared, quite unexpectedly, and, as she often does, cheerfully suggested that I make things harder. In this case, by throwing in 20 minutes of very hard running. I couldn’t say no without looking like a slouch. So I did the intervals when she said to do them, even though she was on her way out when it was time to start. Still, I did them as if she was there. Meaning I did them as hard as I could. Somewhere, I found the physical energy to do them. But, perhaps more surprisingly, I found the mental will to do them too.

Therein lies the epiphany that took me about 30 hours to have. The cross-training sessions are hard. I tend to come away with them focused on how hard they are physically. Yesterday, even as I rested on a bench afterwards — patiently waiting for my heart to stop going “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” — I felt the mental effort. Not just the mental effort required for that particular session. No, it’s the cumulative nature of cross-training that hit me. Unlike running outside, there is no sensual pleasure in cross-training in the gym. I bear with it by telling myself this is an investment that will pay off. But it’s like throwing money in the bank rather than frittering it away on fun stuff from day to day. It’s hard to do. But it adds up over time and you’ve got something you can use. You skipped the new shoes and now…now you can go to Switzerland for two weeks.

This is a sloppy post. Here’s my point: all this cross-training isn’t really physical training. It is. But that’s incidental. This is, at its core, mental training. It’s the best mental training I’ve done. I have had to find my own gratification in this work, to have faith and to maintain my optimism; otherwise it’s all just suffering. But, mostly, the fact that I can do this day after day, indefinitely, is proving to me that I care a whole lot about becoming a better runner.

A few minutes with Shannon Rowbury

Shannon Rowbury, 26, is one of the better known American middle distancers. You’ll mostly see her running the 1500 (where she placed 7th in the 2008 Beijing Olympics) or the mile; although she’s done well at the 3000 (winning the National Indoor Championships at that distance in 2008) and 5000 distances too, as well as the 800. Personal records of note include: 2:00.47 for the 800, 4:00.33 for the 1500 and 4:20.34 for the mile. I hired my former coach, Kevin Beck, partially on the basis of a 2008 Running Times article he wrote about Rowbury (and her then teammates Erin Donohue and Shalane Flanagan). I figured anyone who could connect that well with his article subjects and write as intelligently as he did about them and about running would probably be a good person to work with as a coach too. Kevin has described Rowbury as a “sweetheart” — and she is. I enjoyed talking with her about her running and other things — and even received the bonus of getting some injury advice from a real, live Olympian.

On your blog, maybe about a year and a half ago, you had a couple of posts — they were kind of poignant — about the difficulty of adhering to drug testing requirements? Has anything improved since then?
After I’d made those posts, and there was some talk about that problem, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) came out with a list of “suggested” supplements. There’s still a lot of work to do. They still say to use things at your own discretion. But they said, “These are some things that are a little bit more…”

It was crazy, because they were saying “You can use this kind of Midol, but you can’t use that kind”…
Exactly. I felt, and I still feel, that it’s so naive to say, “Just don’t use anything. Don’t take any vitamins. We can’t guarantee that any of them are good. You can get everything from your food.” I wish that were true. There have been times when I’ve tried to do that. But when you’re training five or six hours a day, when you’re trying to get a workout every other day — you’re asking your body to do these things that are somewhat unhuman, and then expecting that you can eat a good sized salad to get all the vitamins that you need. It’s just not practical.

Would you ever want to get involved in influencing the drug testing policies to make them a little more doable for runners?
My goal when I finish running is I’d love to be involved with the sport in another capacity. Taking what I’ve learned and taking my experiences and trying to help future athletes to have better opportunities and a better situation. Because I think it’s so important for the athletes who’ve lived through it to then go on to share their experiences and help shape the direction that the sports heads in. So I’m hopeful.

You’re kind of already involved now in that way with the Bay Area Track Club. What are you practically contributing to that club?
For the club right now I’m involved with David Torrence, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Bolota Asmerom, Tony Kauke and Crosby Freeman. We’re the founder’s committee, if you will. So we meet to talk about what we want to do with the BATC and what direction we want to head in. For me, specifically, I manage the blog that we have for the website. We’ve also got a cross country race that we’re putting on. So I’ll get on different committees we create to try and help with specific projects. But across the board the six of us are just doing whatever we need to do to make things happen. We’ve been around for a little bit more than a year now, but all of us are still working for free because we’re passionate [about it]. So if something needs to be done, it’s like, “Okay! I’ve got the time! I’ll do it!”

Do you ever get sick of wearing the same Nike racing kit? Are you ever tempted to “customize” it?
[Laughs] You know, I don’t get sick of wearing the same thing. I’m a product of the “uniform system” growing up, from elementary school, and I kind of liked the consistency. “This is what I wear.” But I do wish — and I have shared this with some other friends — I think it would be really cool if the Nike athletes could ID their uniforms. Because in, like, the women’s 1500, in a field of 20 athletes, 15 will be wearing the same exact uniform.

Right. Sometimes you can’t actually pick out the individual athletes.
Yeah. Nike already has the Nike ID set up for shoes. I wish they would have, maybe, a small color scheme of, say, five colors that are allowed and then let each athlete go in and ID their uniform the way that they wanted. That would be cool. And then I’d wear that all the time.

This one is from my friend Joe: Have you ever finished a workout and thought, “I should really go back to stepdancing.”?
[Laughs] Sometimes I do think that after some of those monotonous, really boring workouts. I think, “It would be so fun to be dancing again.” You get to learn a routine and have music, and it’s so energetic and lively. So there are times when I miss that creative aspect. But not so much from workouts where I’ve been so trashed that I didn’t want to run anymore. Usually after that I just go home and melt into my bed.

You struggled with injury a few years ago. What were the details of that?
I was diagnosed in April of 2007 with a stress fracture in my left femoral neck.

Hmm. What were your symptoms?
It first started with tightness on the side of my hip. Then it went back into the glute. Then, with that kind of injury, you’ll feel it in your groin, kind of in your adductor.

That’s what I have…
Uh, oh.

I have an injury and I’m convinced that’s what it is. It’s been seven weeks, so I think it’s healing.
I would suggest getting some really good massages and chiropractic work — when I was diagnosed I started getting that twice a week, every week, for, like, three months. In order for me to even get that injury in the first place, all my muscles had just gotten so knotted up and were misfiring. So one of the biggest things for me was getting everything back in alignment so that, once I was healed, I wouldn’t have that same bad pattern.

How long were you unable to run?
After six weeks I started running on an Alter-G treadmill. It was about three months until I ran on the ground.

Did you do any other cross-training during that time?
Yes. I first did swimming, then biking and then elliptical/Alter-G — my doctor kind of saw them as synonymous. That was mainly it. Primarily either bike workouts or Alter-G.

Did you do speedwork equivalents when you were doing elliptical or just steady paces?
I did do workouts. The pool, not so much — it’s more for recovery, like jogging. For the bike, I would do interval workouts there that were harder than some of my running workouts. And then on Alter-G I would do uptempo stuff. The highest intensity work was on the bike, just because there wasn’t the impact or the danger of reinjury.

Did you have trouble accepting the injury mentally?
It was weird, because I’d had a period from late February into March where I was injured and unable to run “right,” but was being told by my trainer that it was just tendonitis or something. So I should be able to run, but I couldn’t. So once I was diagnosed it was actually a relief. “Okay, I’m not crazy. I’m not a wimp.” So once I had that diagnosis and a plan of attack, I was so focused on getting healthy. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be running again, that I wouldn’t be back by the fall, training. So I just powered forward — cautiously — but kept making progress in small steps.

Did you feel that you lost any fitness, or did the cross-training help you maintain — or even gain — fitness?
It was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. It was extremely hard emotionally. But it gave me a separation from college. It pushed me towards my new coach. It forced me to sit down and study where my weaknesses were biomechanically and across the board — and really fix all of those problems. It really set the foundation from which I could move forward in my professional career. Maybe I lost a little bit of fitness base from not running for that many months. But I think I gained general strength that I’d never had before.

A lot of the European races this year were ridiculously crowded.
Yes.

I’m curious to know how you deal mentally and strategically with a race of, say, 20 people vs. something more manageable in size.
It is a little bit frustrating. It’s crazy, the difference that even three extra athletes can make. That being said, I have no control over the entries in a race, so when it is a really packed field, I just try and do my best to get out, get into a good position, and just be very aware of what’s going on. I fell once at Worlds last year, which was more of a trip than a stumble. I think my dancing background helps me stay on me feet. I try to just defend my space and get myself into a good, clear position. Also, I think it’s important to be relaxed when you’re in these big crowds. Because if you start getting frantic, then that’s when falls happen, that’s when you get into trouble. So I usually just try to “go to a Zen space” or something [Laughs].

It seems like a lot can go wrong very quickly at those speeds.
There were falls in multiple races this year. It definitely was not a clean season. It was frustrating with the 1500. I would always get so jealous of the men’s races because they would have David Krummenacker perfectly pacing every single 1500 that was raced. [In our races] every single rabbit would go out in 61 and then run 66 for the second lap or something. So, it was kind of challenging for that race to have a good one. But it’s good practice, because the Championship races are always tactical, so getting better and better at that [is important]. And you can really only get good at that through practice.

And they’re rough races sometimes.
Yeah, they’re also good practice for that. I try to, in general, be a nice, friendly person. But the more I get into these tactical races, the more I can get good at just defending my space. Not being a jerk, not being aggressive just to be aggressive — but learning how to keep other people from taking advantage of me. As I’ve gotten more adjusted to it, I think I’ve developed more confidence in myself to not let other people push you around, like when they try to guide you or take over your space. Usually you can see ahead of time if it looks like someone’s going to impede your space, and you can just tap them or make a little noise to let them know that you’re there. But it’s about protecting the little space that you’re in.

Have agents complained to the organizers about the size of the fields?
I think a lot of the field sizes come as a result of the agents. A lot of the agents are pushing to get a dollar or two out of having one or two more of their athletes in a race. They’re hoping to get something from the prize purse. So there’s still some work to be done to figure out how to make these races a little bit more fair in size.

How do you get yourself through really tough workouts?
I remember a workout in Mexico — a tempo run at altitude in the hot sun — where I was making a deal with myself in my own head as I was finishing the workout and feeling exhausted. “Okay, body, just get through this and I will give you a great lunch afterwards, we’ll take an ice bath…” Bizarre, neurotic deals you make with yourself.

It sounds like, from a professional standpoint, you want to stay involved in running once you finish your competitive career.
When I studied film I was really interested in the production aspect of things. Had I not gone into running I think I would have done further schooling to try and get an MFA to work in film production. But because film and running are mutually exclusive, that’s kind of taken a backseat. But I enjoy multimedia and media — and being a distance runner, you’re kind of Type A — I enjoy being involved in a project from many angles. And so I think when I finish with competition [I'd like to] be involved in some sort of role of helping to promote the sport and getting to have a hand in many things.

Do you see yourself as a “behind the scenes” person or someone who’s out front, like a spokesperson?
I could see myself doing either or both. I like the behind the scenes, organization, making things happen [role]. But I also really enjoy getting out and getting to talk to people and hearing from them. That interaction is really important. So ideally I’d get to do a little bit of both.

I know last night you co-hosted a fundraising event by the Young Professionals to raise money for the youth programs that NYRR runs.
It’s a group in their late-twenties to mid-thirties. It was so cool to walk into a fundraising event and see a crowd that was so young — see my peers already starting to “give back.” I think that’s really important and it was really neat to see that.

You seem like a fairly outgoing person. Are you comfortable playing that role? The public aspect of competitive running is something that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when you start out.
You know, I’m excited by it. When I first started — you know, I came from a dancing background, where you had to learn a routine, and then practice it and get it down. In high school and college, we had to do some extra stuff, but it was pretty straightforward [running]. I found it not very stimulating mentally. Once I started with Coach [John] Cook, there were more drills and things like that to work on that I enjoyed. And finally, as I’ve been doing this, to have more opportunities to speak to people, to challenge myself mentally — I fell in love with the sport even more, because the mental aspect comes into it. I feel like I can be doing my career and being a complete person rather than just a runner.

Training: Oct 10-23

The grind continues. Today marks 11 weeks since someone or something gave my running the stinkeye.

I continue to train hard using alternate methods. To break up the monotony, and make sure I’m working hard enough, I’ve started getting creative with cross-training:

Spinning: I naturally tend to work harder in a spin class than when I’m on my own. Unfortunately, my schedule does not always mesh with the gym’s, so I’m doing a lot of spinning on my own these days. I focus on getting my heart rate up, evidenced by a) a high heart rate and b) getting myself to sweat like a pig. I achieve this with lots of standing up while pedaling alternated with 2 minutes of pedaling like I’m being chased by a mob of zombies — the fast kind, not the slow kind.

Elliptical: You can do speedwork on the elliptical. You can also do hillwork, but I’ve been told to stay away from doing that because it could aggravate whatever my injury is — plus the focus for us distance runners is high turnover, strength and endurance, not being able to do the equivalent of running up stairs carrying a dishwasher. So I do surges here too, getting my reps up to 210 (and making sure I’m pouring off sweat) for 2-3 mins with 1 min recoveries. In the case of both spinning and elliptical, I note the days I’m doing intervals with a plus sign.

Weights: I have yet to have found a way to make this work creative. Although I do enjoy the fact that I’m usually the only woman in the weights area. I feel so special. Let’s move on.

Pool: I’m beginning to not mind the pool so much. For one, I’ve developed some mind games to play. But when I’ve got an entire lane to myself for upwards of an hour and a half, there are no distractions and the act of running in circles becomes meditative. Pool running is the priority among all these gym activities, so it’s where I work the hardest. I tend to “save my strength” for the pool — meaning I am conscious of not trashing my legs in whatever I’m doing before I hit the pool for a hard session, meaning anything harder than an hour’s steady effort of 72-75%. What are hard sessions? Right now it means three things: long run (80-90 mins at 75%+), fartlek session (around 18-25 minutes of short and long intervals with very short recoveries), progression run (I start at 65% and work up to 85% in 10 minute increments). Once I’m back to regular running training, I’ll still be hitting the pool 3x a week as well as doing 3 sessions of spinning and frequent weight work.

I met up with Sandra a couple days this week at the gym. She was doing a little training, but as she’s dealing with a knee problem, couldn’t do everything with me. Still, she hadn’t seen me at work in a few weeks and she seemed surprised at the effort I was putting into it. I also sent her my training log and her reaction was that I’m probably training a lot harder than I was when I was “just running.” She swears I’ll be faster when I hit the roads again as a result of this conditioning work. I hope she’s right. At least I’m getting a nice pair of legs out of the deal.

So, where do things stand right now? An MRI should provide some clues this week. If it’s a stress fracture then I guess I’m sidelined according to how serious it is. I would be very surprised if it needs surgery, but what do I know? The other possibility to be ruled out is a hamstring tear. I have not looked into what that involves because I’ve already wasted so much time Googling injury-related information. I can’t do it anymore. I’m sincerely hoping it’s merely inflammation in the joint that can be treated fairly quickly so I’m back on the road next month.

As for training and racing plans, there will probably be adjustments. In the training realm, one piece of news is that Sandra and Khalid are moving to Colorado Springs next month to pursue some opportunities she has out there, live at altitude and leave the high cost of living in New York State (and horrible weather) behind. It’s also a quicker trip to Mexico, where they spend a fair amount of time every year.

I knew when I started working with Sandra in July that this was their plan, but now it’s really happening, which has not been easy to accept. I got a mere month of road/track training in before I got injured. So that’s been a source of disappointment. But I have to acknowledge that I learned a lot about training in that month — and in the “injury months” since then in terms of how to apply cross-training (both while injured and as a supplement to regular training). Sandra and I communicate well, so I’m feeling confident that we can keep up the good work using the various modern tools at our disposal — Skype, Google docs and email. I was also encouraged to discover that the majority of the Houston Hopefuls are successfully working remotely with their coaches.

As for racing, I have no idea whether I’m going to Houston in January. If I can start marathon training in, say, two weeks, it’s probably enough time — around 12 weeks — to get me in shape to run a good marathon, if not a great one. If it’s a longer wait, another option is to train for and race the Houston half instead. I love the half and working toward a PR there would be a good stepping stone to returning to the marathon, so that’s a compromise I could live with. And if I’m completely screwed for a January race, one idea I’ve proposed is switching my plane ticket and targeting the Napa marathon in early March.

Nearer term, I would love to race something, anything, as soon as possible. Watching the Fifth Avenue Mile last month — not just watching, but limping around as a volunteer — was enormously depressing for me, as will be watching the New York Marathon next month. I don’t want to get greedy and demand a race when I should feel lucky to be able to run anywhere for any distance, which I still can’t. But I’ve appreciated in the past couple of months that, while I enjoy training, the racing is what the training’s all for. I have it my head to try to run the Joe Kleinerman 10K in Central Park in early December. It’s a carrot to chase after mentally. But, ultimately, my body’s going to be the one calling the shots.

At least I’m not living alone in Injury Land. And I have a reliable cross-training partner most days, although he recently had to drop out for a bit while battling an infection. Anyway, here’s yesterday’s quote of the day, triggered by the arrival in our mailbox of an entry form for the Marisa Fund 5 Mile Turkey Trot.

“It’s amazing to think that just five months ago, I won their 10K on that course. And now I couldn’t even win a snail street-crossing contest.”
— Jonathan Sumpter

Alphabet soup

Well, since I can’t seem to get to sleep despite 3mg of Zolpidem Tartrate, I will post something.

I’ll post about a new game I play in the pool. I call it the Alphabet Soup Game. I “run” in a 25m pool, about half of which I can cover without my feel touching the bottom. So I am basically running in loops in a 6 ft wide lane for about 12m each way. It takes me around 60-75 seconds to complete a loop.

Time passes slowly in the pool. Very slowly. And lately I’ve found that wearing an MP3 player hampers my ability to keep up a steady effort. It’s a complete pace-killer for intervals/fartleks, just like on the track. Running hard in the pool is like running hard anywhere else —  it takes concentration and focus. So I’ve set aside the music and podcasts and now run in silence.

I have found with some experimentation that there remain some ways in which I can occupy my mind without slacking off on effort. One of them is a game whereby, on each loop, I choose the next letter of the alphabet and think of all the words I can during that loop, then move onto the next one with loop 2 being sponsored by the letter B, etc.

I also play this game when I’m trying to get to sleep — when counting backwards from 999 has not worked — and the same thing happens in the pool as it does in bed: I start off with a mundane, obvious children’s grammar book entry, such as “A is for apple” — and then immediately launch into some of the most obnoxious, obscure words. Words I’d forgotten I ever knew. I mean, I guess I’m happy that I have a decent vocabulary. But why am I coming up with words like “estoppel” and “egregiously” when “egg” would do perfectly well? I slip into themes too, where I’ll go on a psychological/brain journey and hop my way along related tangential words like they’re river rocks (“agoraphobia,” “amygdala,” and my favorite: “aquaphobia” — a fear of water found in the final stages of rabies. And in the early stages of pool running).

My standard pool run time is now 60+ minutes. After the warmup I can usually get through this word game at least twice, sometimes three times. 90 has been my biggest water run so far, and I did that one with music to reduce the shock. But on Sunday I’m doing a 2 hour run at steady ~75% effort, basically to simulate a long run. No MP3s. My vocabulary and capacity for free association will get a big workout then.

I’m becoming more efficient in the pool (meaning I cover more “ground” and I have had to increase my flail pace to get my HR up. I’m also adjusting the spin bike and elliptical machines to higher resistance settings these days since I’m much fitter on them than I was a month ago. Will this all pay off? I think it kind of has to, if one assumes that, at the very least, the aerobic conditioning will be applicable to running. I was also informed by Jonathan, in for him what was an uncharacteristically enthusiastic reaction (“Hang on — flex those again!”) that my shoulders, back (lats, especially) and triceps are making a statement when I enter a room. Some of that’s the upper body weight work. But I think most of it’s the pool running.

The visit to the new orthopedist went well yesterday, insofar as I was listened to quite carefully and the response was positive: “If it’s w, we’ll do x. If it’s y, we’ll do z.” The big surprise is that he takes my insurance, which I’d figured he wouldn’t. I’m so used to getting shafted by our insurance company and loathed by practictioners who grumpily accept it.

The MRI is next week. More news as it comes in. I’m sending Jonathan in to see ortho guy Tuesday since I figure he may as well get to work on fixing both of us.

I am hoping our diagnoses and recoveries will be easy as A, B, C. I don’t even care if they are painful and expensive. I just want them to work.

Uh oh. Can’t see straight. It’s time to make my way to my favorite horizontal space and start counting backwards…

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