2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 18 – 24

This week I focused on just keeping mileage up and recovering from Saturday’s race. The weather was also not great this week, with rain and/or wind. I had a track workout scheduled for Wednesday but it was pouring all day so I ended up modifying plans and relying on the treadmill. I originally planned to do combinations of 400s/800s at 5K race pace/tempo (no rests). But I don’t like running speed sessions on the treadmill for several reasons. For one, you are forced to maintain a certain speed which, I believe, increases the chance of injury at higher speeds. For another, treadmills are inaccurate, so it’s difficult to know how fast (or slow) you’re actually running.

So I decided to do tempo repeats instead. That way I could just wear a heart rate monitor and do the run by effort. In this case, high tempo effort. It wasn’t bad. I’ve only been relegated to the treadmill a few times so far this season. We’ve been lucky to have had (with the exception of October 30th) no snow this year. This is sort of amazing, considering that this time last year we’d already had several snow storms. It’s also been fairly mild. Considering that I’m training for a winter goal race, I’ve felt incredibly lucky. I just need my luck to hold for three more weeks — I have several track sessions that I do want to do on the track.

It’s Christmas today. This training recap concludes with Christmas eve (yesterday), but I’ll write about today’s workout anyway as I’m likely to forget the details over the coming week. I did a big workout, not assigned by Daniels. A few months back Running Times had a set of workouts that various high school and collegiate coaches use. One of them (I can’t remember who and I’m too lazy to go upstairs and look it up) goes like this: 3 miles at 5K+30 seconds per mile; 2 miles 5K pace; 1 mile all out; 5 minutes standing rests in between each.

I liked the look of this workout. But, since I’m not a 16-year-old boy, I cut it back a bit. For the base 5K pace I chose something that’s a little faster than what I can run now. So the first segment (2 miles, not 3) was like a very high tempo effort. The second segment (1.5, not 2) was like a slightly harder than 5K pace (4K pace, if that’s possible?). The third turned out to not be possible for me today. I knew I’d end up dying, slowing down, feeling like the crappiest runner in the world. So instead I ran 4 x 400m as fast as I could manage, which was 90-94 per. One minute rests. I was happy with that considering the 3.5 miles of hard running that came right before that.

I did this run in Van Cortlandt Park, not on the XC course (I’m crazy, but not that crazy) but along the path that surrounds the fairgrounds. That path is about 1.25 miles and almost completely flat, so it’s good for this kind of work. While I was resting for five minutes before the 400m segments a guy ran past me and commented that I wasn’t dressed warmly enough (he was right — I was wearing tights and tee shirt in sub-freezing weather). I said I’d get warm again soon enough and we struck up a conversation.

His name is Henry and he’s 73 years old. He said he’d been a runner for 50 years until a few months ago when he had heart valve replacement surgery. “They split me open like a Christmas turkey!”

I mentioned that my stepmother just went through that, with major complications, and that he was very lucky to be running again. He agreed (although he said he’s limited to speed walking for now) and then, pulling out his wallet, showed me a small laminated card featuring a simple line drawing of the human heart and connecting arteries that he carries that shows exactly the valve that was replaced plus an artery called The Widowmaker, both of them colored in bright red. “For EMTs,” he said. “In case I keel over.” The latter was 80% blocked when he went in for surgery.

Henry was funny. His new valve was bovine supplied. I asked him if he’d had any problems post-surgery and he said, “No, but I sometimes feel tempted to get down on all fours and eat grass.”

He asked me my name and I said it was Julie. “Julie!” he exclaimed. “I used to run with a Julie!” Pointing over my shoulder he said, “Julie Gaines! She lived right over there. She was a psychologist. I used to always say, ‘No pain, no Gaines!'”

I laughed and said, “Well, I’m not done with my pain yet. I still have some repeats to do.”

And with that we wished each other a happy holiday and healthy New Year.

Runners are just so fucking great.

Training: Dec 11 – 17

Now we’re in the home stretch. There’s a month to go before my goal 5K race in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. The emphasis now is on (in this order):

  1. Staying uninjured
  2. Making tweaks to training to address weaknesses
  3. Determining what a reasonable goal pace would be

I’ve managed to remain uninjured since July. Since I’m not going to be doing anything radically different in the next four weeks, I don’t see that as being an issue. But I am being careful to warm up properly before speedwork or shorter races and do proper cool down runs. I’ve slacked off on rolling and massage, though. I like to live dangerously.

As for the second point, I will be doing more work that’s specific to race pace, while reducing the amount of pure tempo running in the original Daniels plan. I have a big workout planned for Christmas day — not in terms of length, but in terms of workload. I am hoping to learn some things from it. All of the rest of the workouts are typically a mix of 5K race pace running and tempo running.

For the pacing question, between the next 5K test race — two weeks out from race day — and a session of 1K repeats five days out, I should be able to arrive at a range of paces in which to run on race day.

This training week’s Tuesday session is typical of the weird shit Daniels assigns for late-cycle 5K training. I get what he’s doing: he’s put together a workout that taxes the spectrum of your system and works everything. While I think these are good to do, I have to consider that I have dropped his third workout every week (because I’m old), usually in favor of doing one very speed-focused session and then one like this one, which hits the tempo end of things. Other times, I’ve dropped his plan entirely, going for 1K repeats. These just work for me — I like the immediate feedback they give me, answering the question: how’s it feel to run goal 5K pace now? By doing the same track workout every few weeks I can see if there’s progress because I’m in a venue that removes the many variables introduced by, say, racing 5Ks on different courses.

My recovery run times are dropping too.

I ran a decent race on Saturday, nabbing a small (but psychologically important) PR, breaking 21:00 at last. On New Year’s Day I will again try for a 20:30.

In other news, I tried out a pair of Skechers Go Run shoes. Skechers is courting my running club and they gave out a coupon for free shoes at the Harriers’ holiday party. I ordered a pair and I have to say that they are good shoes. They are very light (maybe ~6 oz each?) and flexible. They are meant to promote a mid-foot strike. I already land on my mid-foot, so they’re comfortable to run in, but I suspect that if you’re a heel striker they might drive you crazy. My one issue with them is that the heel area is very wide, although the rest of the shoe fits very well. I like them enough that I will probably buy some heel inserts to try to fix the problem. I would love to try racing in them, but I’m afraid they’d slip off at the heel if anyone steps on me.

Race Report: Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K

This race, put on by the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC, not be be confused with the Long Island Road Runners Club — or, LIRRC), was the second of my three 5K tuneup races leading up to Houston in mid-January. I’m running these races to get a sense of where I am fitness-wise, so I can make any tweaks to training based on observations. I’m also running them to get some experience pacing the 5K, since this is the first time in my short running career that I’ve focused on training for and racing it.

This was a bigger race than I’d anticipated. I saw “Bethpage 5K” and thought maybe there’d be a few hundred people there tops. The race had over 1200 finishers. But I give kudos to GLIRC for putting on a good race. The streets were closed to traffic, there were plenty of volunteers, water stops were well-placed and well-manned. And the race started on time! I worried about this since it was near freezing and I was in shorts. I lined up in about the third row. Standing in front of me was a tiny woman who turned around and asked me my name. I introduced myself and she turned out to be Shari Klarfeld, a Harrier teammate whom I’d never met. She is a fast runner and won this race last year.

We wished each other well and watched as the wheelchair racers lined up, preparing to go out 30 seconds ahead of us. But then there was some chaos at the start as the race director intoned, “Only men who plan to run 5:00 minute miles should be in front; women running 6:00 miles.” He loosened it a bit and added 5:30/6:30, but people got worried and started moving back. Toes were trod upon. People were touching me. I thought, “If I’m going to get knocked down in a race, it will be this one.” So the start was a little dicey, but we got out okay and I had room around me.

I do not look at my watch when I run anymore. This is one of several pieces of advice from (former) Coach Sandra that I take to heart. It’s helped me, generally, although today I wish I had looked to confirm my suspicion that I was running slightly too fast in the first 1K. For 5Ks I set my watch to record each kilometer rather than mile. I like the more frequent feedback, knowing where I am in the race. But I don’t look it at it; I just note the buzz on my wrist every four minutes or so.

The course consists of a double loop through residential streets, most of which are wide enough to accommodate runners. There are quite a few momentum-killing 90 degree turns, but not nearly as many as the Flushing Meadows 5K a few weeks ago featured. The course is totally flat, which makes it a good one to run. But there was wind, unfortunately, along one long stretch of Stewart Avenue, probably totaling a little under 2K of the total 5K. It wasn’t terrible, but it was a noticeable, draining force.

Nothing that notable happened during the race. I did battle with a few teenaged boys during various parts of the race. And on the second loop there was a guy riding just behind me on a bicycle who kept screaming, “Go, girl! Come on! Go, girl!” It was kind of annoying and I was thinking, “Who is this girl? He’s not screaming at me, right? Because it’s annoying.” Then a teenaged girl in a rim racer pulled up alongside me and I understood that she was the girl. We turned into the wind at that point and I observed that I think it’s harder to race in a wheelchair into wind than it is to run into it. She was struggling and my guess is there’s more resistance because of the tire spokes. Just a theory.

Also, right at the finish some dude decided that he was going to outsprint me. But there were cones. He passed me, leaping over a cone at the same time, and his flying left fist nearly clocked me in the face. I hate idiots.

Anyway, about that pacing. Like I said, I had the suspicion that I was running too fast in the first 1K. And indeed I was. I had been going for a pace of 4:06 per kilometer (6:35/mile) to get me a 20:30. It did not play out that way, but I wasn’t ridiculously off either. Here were the splits:

1K: 3:53 (6:15). Oops! Dammit. That was extravagant.

2K: 4:11 (6:43) <– headwind

3K: 4:12 (6:45) <– mid-race torpor

4K: 4:15 (6:50) <– headwind

5K: 4:08 (6:39) <– “I will commit hari kari with a cheap steak knife if I don’t break 21:00 today.”

191 ft: 0:13 (5:34) <– did not hit tangents

Official time was 20:50. The good news is that I’ve finally broken 21:00, which is a major mental thing for me. The bad news is that I was way off my goal today. Here is what I need to work on based on observations from the last two races:

  • I need to rein things in for the first kilometer. If I run too fast, I develop a slow leak for the rest of the race. I may need to look at my watch, much as I hate to.
  • I need to work on endurance. I tend to flag both physically and mentally around the two mile mark. My mind drifts. I feel very tired. I know that I will not make today’s goal. Then I feel bad about myself. I wonder why I bother doing this. I start to give up. This whole fucked up mid-race cycle needs to stop.

I have a month left to fix these two problems. So I’m going to slightly alter training plans and start doing mile repeats rather than kilometer repeats. I will try a session with 3 x 1 mile at goal 5K race pace (I’m not telling you what that is yet), with 90-120 second rests. If I can do that workout then I’ll extend the next week’s to 4 (or 5) repeats with 75-90 second rests. If I can manage that, I’ll feel pretty good about Houston readiness. If I can’t, then I’ll adjust goals. In the meantime, I have one more 5K tuneup in two weeks. By then I will have done these two workouts. Between those track sessions and this New Year’s Day race, then a little bit of tapering, I am hoping I can reach a training peak in a month. Famous last words.

Other fun facts: I was 10th woman overall, although there were some speedy masters women there, so even with that I was second in the 45-49 AG.

The me (not me)

(Warning: Non-Running Post)

I was going to wait until New Year’s Eve to write my “what happened this year” post. I’ll still write one. But I thought I’d get a jump on writing about one aspect of what was a terrible-yet-wonderful year.

In the fall of 2010, while attempting to stay in shape as I recovered from a stress fracture, I was spending huge amounts of time running in the pool, spinning and doing whatever it’s called when you use the elliptical. I was in the gym for many hours each week and, unlike running, there was no joy in the activity. It was just a tedious, boring, time-consuming grind.

My playlists of music got old quickly. So I turned to podcasts. I listened to lots of different podcasts but ended up only sticking with a few that were reliably good. Two of them, WTF! with Marc Maron and the RISK! Show, remain my go to podcasts. I wrote about them in February. The first is an interview program hosted by standup stalwart Marc Maron. The second is a storytelling podcast, a weekly show that typically combines 2-3 true stories, told either before a live audience or in a studio, with musical interludes between them.

These two podcasts mean a tremendous amount to me personally, although for different reasons. There was a period of time during January and February when I was completely mired in one of the worst periods of depression that I’ve experienced in years. Coupled with the despair and hopelessness was a near total inability to sleep for several weeks. During that time, because I was so restless, I moved into our guest room and spent many nights listening to archived WTF! shows. Between the highly personal stories of what happened to host Maron during the week (usually a mixture of hilarity and unforgiving self-examination) and his intelligent, empathetic interviews with guests, I was often moved. His voice was like an audio life raft that I clung to in the night.

The other show, RISK!, whose tagline is “True tales, boldly told,” was a similar mixture of comedy and tragedy. Some stories were better than others, but they were usually honest and unflinching. I forgave the more self-indulgent or boring ones because when the stories were good they were incredibly good. Yet, during some shows I’d find myself thinking, “I could probably do a better job than that guy.” Even months after I’d emerged from the depressive mud, that thought stayed with me.

For decades I’d been attracted to the idea of doing standup comedy, yet was terrified by the prospect. And I do mean terrified. I have (or had, up until a month ago) an intense fear of doing anything in public. Public speaking was torture for me. Even business meetings were (and, oddly, still are) a challenge. So the prospect of getting up on stage and trying to make people laugh seemed like the craziest, hardest thing one can do. It’s the purest form of failure — you’re there to make people laugh. That’s hard to do. And you’re doing that as yourself. So if they don’t laugh, in a sense, those people are rejecting not just your jokes, but also you. Like I said: terrifying. I still have trouble imagining it.

But these podcasts, especially RISK!, were a revelation. You could tell honest stories about yourself and people would listen. You didn’t have to be funny, although you could be if you wanted to.  For me, storytelling falls somewhere along a spectrum that spans monologue and standup, as illustrated below. I inserted names of entertainers and where I feel they fall along that spectrum. I in no way include myself in their esteemed company — they’re just there to help you get a picture of what I’m talking about and also because I admire them all in their own way. I can only hope to achieve an originality and consistency of performance, perspective and persona that each of them has managed to.

Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment, yet it was news to me. I’d sampled the storytelling podcast, The Moth, which is the one everyone knows. But it didn’t grab me the way RISK! did and still does. In fact, I was so affected by RISK! that I started scheming ways to get on it. I started working on story ideas and struggled with how to pitch them. But the biggest obstacle was the performance issue. If you want to tell stories, you have to get up in front of people and tell them. There is simply no way around that. So I started looking for classes. I needed help not just with the “how to” of constructing a story, but also with the mechanics of telling it without being totally petrified on stage. And, what?! It turns out that Kevin Allison, the brains, passion and voice behind RISK!, teaches classes! In storytelling! It was fate! It was fate. I signed up for the September class at The Story Studio.

It was a great experience. I met other talented people. Kevin is an excellent teacher and listener. I got everything I wanted out of it, including the encouragement I needed to keep working on it.

This and some related activity in the theatrical realm has given me a new lease on my creative life. It’s introduced me to some wonderful people — other performers, new friends, potential collaborators. It’s given me the confidence and curiosity to take an acting class to further plumb the mysteries of performance and onstage persona. I am finding themes in my stories that may eventually drive me to doing a longer piece consisting of a cycle of related stories. But I’m getting ahead of myself already.

I invited several friends to my end-of-class performance. Jonathan came too. I deliberately did not share the story I’d tell with him — although he’d heard less-detailed forms of it over the years. I did not invite him to come to the two open mic story slams I attended to get some experience with an audience that was not my class. I needed to do this on my own, unsupported (and unfettered). The act of keeping him at a distance throughout the learning process had one fantastic side effect, though: I got to watch him in the audience, watching me. During my 13 minutes on stage, he wore an expression that was some combination of delighted and dumbstruck. Later, I asked him what it was like to watch me and he said, after a long pause: “It was like seeing you, but some other version of you.”

I knew what he meant. I was me. But I was also not me. I was a transformed, perhaps better version of me. The me I’d like to always be. But I needed a story and an audience to be that person. It’s the person I’m not yet. It’s a start.

A few years ago, when I was still struggling to write short stories, I registered the domain modernstories.com. I was surprised no one had taken it. A bit later someone offered me a few hundred dollars for it. Even though I’d abandoned fiction by then, some instinct told me to hang onto it. I’m glad I did. I’ll do something with it, although I don’t know what yet.

Telling stories to strangers is gratifying, fun and very hard work. I am lucky to have found it, especially while living in a suburb just north of New York City, which seems to be ground zero for live storytelling. There are so many shows to explore. The Moth is not the only game in town. Nor is RISK! For the next month or two I’ll sample other shows and see what’s a good fit, then see if I can fit in somewhere.

Anyway, here’s the first of many ventures I hope to make onto various stages starting in 2012. To honor what RISK! did for me, I decided to tell the truest, boldest tale I could think of. The name of this story is “The Beast.”

Training: Dec 4 – 10

This was actually kind of a tough week. It started out with a race that went very well. Then a zippy recovery run on Monday (my pace is averaging right around 8:30 on most recovery runs these days). Then a very late night owing to going to see Sleep No More, a piece of immersive theatre in Manhattan. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but it’s long — about 3 hours — and requires a lot of mental energy. We got home and to sleep at around 1am.

The weather was horrible for the first part of the week — pouring rain, for the most part. So I was relegated to the treadmill for a couple of runs. I have no idea how I used to do 22 mile runs on that thing, since now I can barely handle 6 mile runs without losing my mind. Fortunately the weather cleared up overnight on Thursday and I could move back outside again, although it was muddy or flooded in spots.

On Friday I headed back to Edgemont High School’s track for another session of 1K repeats. It went extremely well. Even dodging people and running gingerly around the slippery turn for home I was able to easily hit 4:00 (6:25 pace) for every single one. When I was done I chatted with a gentleman who’d been jogging around. I’ve seen him a few times there. He is 80 years old and was the captain of his collegiate track team in India, where he ran the 100m and 200m sprints. He jog-walks 2 miles a day there. I asked him if he missed sprinting and he said, “No! I don’t want to run that fast. This is good for me now.”

On Saturday I felt that I needed a break from the muddy path so I headed to Van Cortlandt Park for 8 miles of recovery running. I spent about 5 of those miles on the flats (and discovered that the dirt path there is a mudbog after it rains). But the cinder path was good to run on and I measured it at a smidgen over 1.25 miles. So it’s a good place for doing tempo runs or mile repeats.

I got bored with that too, though, so I headed into the hills, running 1.5 miles out and back on their legendarily brutal cross-country course, which is marked with signs featuring a tortoise and a hare. I took it easy, but still worked harder than I should have. But I was having fun, which is what I went there for. 24 hours later those hills would be full of racers running the Pete McArdle Cross-Country Classic, a 15K effort. Among them were friends Hilary (who took first place in our age group) and Amy, with a 7th place AG finish, although more important than that was her return to successful racing after a period of injury and rehab. I like knowing all these fasties.

And speaking of good times, the week concluded with a trip in to the annual New York Harriers holiday party. I got to drink Newcastle and eat cake and talk to nice people and I also won something. Hoorah!

Up next: a bizarre workout from Jack Daniels and a 5K race on Long Island, where I hope to put all those 1K track repeats to use.

 

Training: Nov 27 – Dec 3

Blah blah blah.

Another week of 5K training. But a light week, owing to a 5 mile race today. My legs felt trashed after the previous week’s 5K race. But they were snappy again for Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday I headed to Edgemont High School for what would be yet another aborted attempt to train there. This time around, it was the wind (and cold) that stopped me. The weather websites were delusional, claiming it was around 48 windchill. It was actually somewhere in the 30s. So I was under dressed. But, mostly, the issue was wind. A steady 15-20 mph number.

I drove there, arriving at prime high school arrival hour (which meant a clogged road and parking lot), ran 100m on the track and knew I’d have a terrible workout. I’d run too hard. I’d freeze. I’d be demoralized. I knew this. So I left.

Drove home and put away all the crap that’s been sitting on the treadmill over the summer. And I cranked that machine up to 6:30-6:35 for some 1K repeats. I have long suspected that our treadmill is slightly fast. I went by effort. If the effort was a little low, that’s okay. Better slightly too low than slightly too high. Plus I knew I’d be racing today, so the workout I’d get on the hills of Central Park would make up for any unintended slackery earlier in the week.

On Thursday I did a slow run, again inside (because it was a long work day and after dark by the time I was free to run), around 9:50 on the treadmill. Then a day off, which I’m going to make a habit of two days before races now. Then another zippy 3 miles 24 hours pre-race, with 3 strides yesterday, Saturday. 8:22 pace for that one.

I’ve got two more test races before Houston. That’s all I could find. But it’s also all I have room for. I’m hoping it’s all I’ll need.

One another note, in case it hasn’t been obvious, the Houston Hopefuls project has been shelved (or, a kinder word would be “concluded”). I just don’t have time for it. And Houston’s just a few weeks away. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still keeping an eye on the women I didn’t get a chance to interview. Two of them ran California International this morning in search of an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. Neither one made it. One dropped out with stomach issues halfway through; this after missing a qualifying time by 10 seconds in the spring. The other missed it by 10 minutes after having run a sub 2:48 at Grandma’s in June. In addition, this morning I had a fairly long conversation with a Harrier teammate about his meltdown in the last 10K of the New York Marathon, despite having done everything right.

I really hate the marathon sometimes. It’s just such a bastard.

Race Report: NYRR Join the Voices 5M

This race, a 5 miler (this is known as stating the bleeding obvious), was NYRR’s final race in its 2011 club points series. They swapped it with the Joe Kleinerman 10K, which was moved to January. Good thing, too, because I’m a 5K runner now. I can barely race for 3 miles as it is. Racing for 5 miles taxed all of my systems today.

But. I PRed by 47 seconds (my 5 mile best being admittedly soft, an excuse I figure I can milk for at least another year). My previous 5M PR was also set on a hilly course, although not Central Park’s.

I learned some things today. One of the biggest things I learned is that I don’t necessarily need to do a “proper” warmup to race well, at least not for this distance. I was rushed after picking up my bib and checking my bag. I did a grand total of 90 seconds warmup jogging before heading over to the start corrals. No race pace running, no strides, no dynamic stretching. Just a stupid, barely-qualifies-as-a-warmup warmup. It didn’t matter.

This may have been partly the case because, as is the case with many NYRR races, the course was crowded and I was hemmed in and running slower than I wanted to for the first three-quarters of a mile. But this means that I got to have a nice chat with Hilary, who sidled up to me in the first minute of the race with a hale and hearty, “Excuse me, sir!” This, a reference to a thread we had on Facebook last night about the gender misidentification that having an extremely short haircut can cause, made me laugh. We chatted for a bit, but I said I’d stop being able to talk in about 30 seconds and she politely sent me on my wheezing way earlier than that.

Along the way I saw some Harriers, both on and off the course, and met a few new (to me) ones at the finish line, and reconnected with others whom I know already. But I probably missed others. I had a strange kind of tunnel vision this morning. It took a lot of mental and physical effort to race 5 miles hard. Now, after several months of mile/5K training, 5 miles seems like a very long way. I wore my no frills Timex and didn’t bother hitting the lap splits or even looking at it. I could tell from the course clocks that I was doing okay.

It was a good day. Temperature was 44 degrees (still a little warm for me), it was overcast and there was virtually no wind. I took advantage of the good conditions since I had no excuse for doing badly.

My chip time was 34:39, or about 6:56 per mile. That’s almost down to my best 4 mile pace on this course (6:53). I believe it was also a slightly stronger performance (relatively speaking) than was my 5K in Flushing Meadows a week ago. I took a day off on Friday and ran just 3 miles yesterday, after a week that featured just one hard workout. I’m becoming convinced that doing a mini taper (and no warmup?) is the way to go.

Aside from the warmup and mini tapering lessons, I also learned that I should ignore weird phantom injuries that crop up a day before the race. Yesterday, there was a weakness in my left leg. The quad felt like it was going to fail a few times, just while walking around. This morning, as I made my way down the stairs at 5:45 am, the left knee felt shaky. I was relying on the handrail to get downstairs. WTF. Well, you know what? Nothing TF. It’s just weirdness. It means nothing. Usually. Sometimes it means you’re about to get a catastrophic stress fracture. But most of the time, it doesn’t mean anything.

I remain grateful to have remained uninjured since July. Knock wood. It has been such a shit few years in this regard. I think that remaining uninjured, more than anything I’ve been doing training-wise, has been the key to my “sudden” improvement. If you can’t run, then you can’t train consistently, and you can’t get faster. But I also think doing a lot of different kinds of speed work (and a weekly tempo run) has been a crucial element in this training cycle. Jack Daniels’ training comprises about 80% of what I’m doing, but I’m substituting other workouts, like 1K repeats, that I have felt would help me more, given my training history. These are turning out to have been good instincts, I think.

Next up: a 5K in Bethpage on Long Island in two weeks. I hope that one doesn’t have hills or 23 right-angle turns. But if it does, I’ll be ready.

Training: Nov 20-26

This was kind of an odd week. The previous week ended with a night of barfing up duck and escargots, followed by a day off to recover from that ordeal. I got up on Sunday still feeling iffy, but managed to run 9 miles at a fairly quick clip. Recovery runs are now solidly under 9:00 most days, closer to 8:30 on many. This increase in speeds on easy days continues to blow my mind.

Since I had a race on Saturday I just did one workout, a 45 minute tempo effort with one minute rests between five minute high effort segments. That was hard. But not that hard until toward the end. I nearly bagged the ninth one but these workouts are as much about mental toughening as they are about physical conditioning, so I threw myself into number nine.

The week featured slackery in the form of eating junk (my teenaged nephew, Joe, was visiting, and that meant things like pizza tours and Chinese takeout). Then came Thanksgiving. This was one reason I kept the mileage up — to burn off the extra fuel. It worked. I finished up the week at 128. Now the party’s over and I’m back to cutting back in an attempt to lighten up for January. Lots of apples and water. It sucks, but it works.

I’ve also neglected weights and core work. If I have to drop something, it’ll be weights. I’m crazy busy these days with work and creative projects. But there’s no excuse for not doing core work at least 1-2x per week. I’m back to it tomorrow.

I had an okay race, won a big ass trophy. But was not as fast as I’d like to have been.

Houston’s fast approaching. Six weeks until liftoff.

The current week is light, with one speed session and lighter mileage. Sunday’s another race, a 5 miler over Central Park’s hills. I’ll see how that goes.

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