Summer Basebuilding: Week 6

sum09-base-06Okay, people. Now we’re cooking with gas.

This was a funny week. It was the first attempt at doing the summer maintenance plan I was originally scheduled to start a month ago, before a disastrous couple of races and Rip Van Winkelian sleeping patterns necessitated an intervention. So I was a bit nervous and that expressed itself as a tiptoeing into the harder work that started on Wednesday.

My watch is still on backorder (with numerous apologies from Road Runner Sports after my notes of protest), and it rarely worked out for me to borrow Jonathan’s heart rate monitor, so with the exception of Wednesday I guessed at effort all week, as well as distance when it came to the treadmill (which I suspect is way off).

Anyhoo. I started by swapping the Wednesday and Friday sessions for weather reasons. I took it easy on Wednesday, mostly because I did something bad to my right hamstring (right at the insertion point below the buttock; TMI?) during last Saturday’s “let’s see how fast I can run” experiment and didn’t want to aggravate it. Still and all, I cruised along at a respectable pace that was probably in the 8:30 range or faster at an average 75% MHR; I threw in a fast last half mile at more like 7:30 pace, with an MHR that topped out at 85%. So far so good.

The rest of the week just got better and better. My recovery runs were easy and faster too, dipping under 10:00 pace on Thursday. Friday was a good day at the track, with a four mile warmup through the streets beforehand at, again, around 8:30 and then four miles at what felt like something between half marathon and 30K effort.

I woke up on Saturday to temps in the 60s and a dewpoint in the 40s. Ooh la la! My resting heart rate had shown no fallout from Friday’s session, so I decided to take advantage of the fantastic weather and do my planned Sunday 16 mile long run on Saturday instead. I’m glad I did. I did something resembling a progression run (although I have no data). I started out at around 10:00 pace and sped up to finish the last few miles at probably around 8:00. Don’t know what my HR% was, but I’m guessing it averaged in the middle-to-high 70%s.

Today the heat and humidity were back, but all I had to do was 10 miles at recovery pace. So I hoofed it up to the Hartsdale train station at a nonetheless relatively speedy pace considering the weather and coming off of two hard days in a row.

I am pleased.

Next week adds another 10 miles to the total, with another block of lactate threshold running, some 10K pace repeats and an 18 miler on the weekend.

Also, today I saw a groundhog. It was so weird seeing it just out in the open that I thought it might have rabies. But then I remembered that I can play with rabid animals if I so wish. So I shook the groundhog’s little paw and wished him a lovely Sunday (okay, I made that part up).

Summer Basebuilding: Week 5

sum09-base-04Hail pills and rest. All hail pills and rest.

Finally, after five weeks of either total rest or puttering along at a strictly recovery pace and relatively low mileage, I’m starting to feel like the runner I once knew. Who is this mysterious stranger? She sleeps 8-8.5 hours a night without interruption. She looks forward to longer runs. She yearns to run fast. She does not complain about chafing — nay, she celebrates chafing.

I ran nine times this week, again strictly by time and, with only one exception, sans gadgetry. My new watch/HRM combo is on backorder, which hasn’t been too much of a hardship. I borrowed Jonathan’s HRM (which worked fine with my watch) for yesterday’s run. More on that in a moment.

The heat and humidity this week were tough, plus we had a lot of rain. Wednesday was the worst day, like running in a giant dryer vent. This weather pattern looks to continue for at least another 10 days. And, let’s face it, it’s August. So we can probably bank on crap weather for the next six weeks minimum, longer if we’re unlucky.

Fortunately, after one false start (caused by an electrical short from a misplaced wire; oopsie) we managed to fix our ailing treadmill, which seems stable again — it’s no longer throwing random errors and shutting down unpredictably. It’s unreliability made for some very nervous running. How relaxed can you be when the treadmill may suddenly stop at any moment? Running slow was nervewracking enough — going fast on that flakey beast was out of the question from a safety standpoint.

I had some issues with my left side later in the week. The entire left side of my body, from left foot all the way to left shoulder felt achy and stiff. The outer fingers on my left hand were numb too. My suspicion is that my “nervous runner form” on the treadmill was probably responsible for these issues. Things are better today.

But did I let any of this — the heat, the humidity, the schizoid treadmill, the broken HRM, one half of me messed up — get me down? Nope. I was a happy, happy runner this week.

The highlight was yesterday’s run. It was a warm morning, but with reasonable humidity (dew point of around 62). I borrowed Jonathan’s HRM in order to do another round of data gathering. The plan was to clock another 8:20ish mile and see what my HR did for the duration. It held in the 80% range, which I was very pleased to see.  Two weeks earlier I ran at about the same pace, but at a much lower dew point of 54, at about the same HR.

I’d asked Kevin if I could do 30 minutes of faster running this week should the mood strike, and it had in a big way. So I ran four miles between 8:00 – 8:20 pace, with the HR% topping out at 82%. Good stuff.

Today I felt no worse for the wear (and my HR was at a cooperative 43) so I went forward with the plan to do 2:15 of recovery running. I would have liked to have run this outside but we had rain and lightning moving through all morning. In the end, I’m glad I did the run inside where it was cooler and drier. I expect I won’t feel as knocked out tomorrow.

Now that I’m reasonably back on track I should be able to get into the rotating three week maintenance plan I was slated to start in June before all hell broke loose. I’ll start this tomorrow, with a week in the 80 mile range featuring some “perceived lactate threshold” running, some 1 minute repeats, and a longer run (16 miles next Sunday). I am so excited to be running long and running fast again.

The next race on the horizon is the South Nyack 10 Miler, one of my favorite races to run. I don’t have high expectations, meaning I’d be surprised if I PR’ed after this significant a pause in training (not to mention the fact that early September is still heat wave season). But it gives me something to look forward to and work toward over the next six weeks.

Summer Basebuilding: Week 4

sum09-base-03This week was yet another improvement over the last. Whether it’s the iron kicking in, recovery at work, or some combination, I was feeling good last week. The mileage got bumped up by a little over a third, going from 40 to 55.

The running was all time-based again (distances shown are estimates based on past runs), and with rare exception I didn’t wear the Garmin and HRM. The one day that I did wear gadgetry for good reason, my HRM stopped functioning normally. This was unfortunate since I’d wanted to run another fast mile or two to get some pace vs. HR% data. But, alas, it was not to be. My new 310xt is backordered, with an estimated ship date of 7/31 (Friday).

This has been the week for device failure. The HRM died on Friday. Our scale has started giving wildly erratic readings, so we made the decision to replace that as well. Then, this morning, our treadmill ceased to work after 5 minutes. That’s going to be a big one to fix.

So, for the time being I’m somewhat rudderless when it comes to the data measurement aspect of training. The heat and humidity are at full blast here in NY now and I’d hoped to do some running inside on the worst days. That’s not going to happen now. Nor will a new pace/HR% test until I can get a new watch. I suppose I could borrow Jonathan’s, but I’m beginning to believe that this sudden breakdown of most of my running and fitness-related devices is some sort of cosmic message: Stop worrying so much about numbers; pay attention to how you feel and take all your cues from that.

Last week had another couple of “wow, I feel great” runs. Despite horrible humidity on Thursday morning I felt great on my run. Friday morning was a bit drier and that was the day I wanted to motor. It was so frustrating when the watch didn’t want to go along with my plans. But I ran faster for a bit anyway just to feel the pleasure of running fast again.

I worked up to a two hour run yesterday and despite dreadful weather nevertheless managed an (estimated) 10:30 pace. This morning under similar conditions it was sub-10:00. So I’m definitely feeling better, and running faster, on these recovery runs than I was a few weeks ago.

The other activity I added back in was some weight work twice a week. I have a routine that takes an hour to an hour+20 depending on how many sets I do. The focus is on the upper body (arms, shoulders, back, abdomen), but with some squats and balance-related work for the quads, hamstrings and stabilizing muscles in the hips, ankles and feet. I may drop this work once I move into training in the fall, but for now I’m enjoying doing it again.

Aside from a one hour nap yesterday, my chronic need to nap seems to be behind me. The insomnia that replaced the excessive sleepiness was a bit less pronounced this past week too. I’m hoping it ebbs away completely soon.

I have no plan yet for this week, aside from doing more of the same and continuing to let the iron and rest do their stuff.

Summer Basebuilding: Week 3

sum09-base-02Note: There was no week 2 in this basebuilding effort. I took the entire week off in an attempt to hasten recovery.

I’m somewhat reluctant to honor this week with the label of “basebuilding” lest I tempt fate. But, what the hey. I’ll be an optimist.

Basebuilding? No, not really. More like continued recovery from whatever ails me. But it was a good week from that perspective. I’ve not run “by time” (as opposed to “by miles”) since my first foray into jogging 10 years ago. And, like back then, I ran with no gadgetry to quantify the effort.

Monday through Saturday I ran with a plain vanilla watch and when I hit the halfway point of the prescribed time, turned around and headed home. I’ve noted approximate distances anyway because, well, I’m anal retentive and can’t stop myself from doing so. I’ve run my route a few thousand times, so those guesstimates are good within a few meters. But I didn’t pay attention to distance while actually running, which is what was important.

Running without constant feedback on HR, pace and distance was a challenge to get used to. But after the first run I found it liberating. I will probably go gadgetless for most of next week as well.

The two days of note were Friday and today (Sunday). Friday was notable because despite high humidity, I felt really good on my run. Good as in “I haven’t felt this good since April” good. It occured to me that this feeling is what I should have experienced during my taper, but didn’t. I’m trying not to read too much into it. I know I’m still crawling out of whatever mysterious performance hole I’ve fallen into. So I won’t get overly enthused. I am trying to remain patient, which is not my strong point.

Today’s run featured a bout of faster running, but only for the purposes of gathering some data to help give clues as to how my recovery is coming along (and to use as a comparison in the coming weeks). For a mile I ran varying paces, most of them in the 8:30 range, but I tacked on some fast running for the last .2 just to see what I could get myself down to. I managed to hit 5:46 for a few seconds. This is good news, as I struggled to get down to 6:30 during a race warmup a couple weeks back.

Whatever the issue is — overtraining, iron deficiency, vitamin deficiency, or simply the lack of a proper recovery — it’s abating slowly but surely. This makes me happy. It also helps me remain patient. Progress is exciting to see, but it’s also a reminder that I trashed myself before and it would be easy to do so again in short order, while I’m still groping my way along during this nascent state of training readiness.

On another encouraging note, the compulsive napping dropped off early in the week. Unfortunately, mild insomnia has moved into its place. But my gut tells me that it’s temporary.

So patient I will be. Next week looks a lot like this one: all running for time, 99% of it recovery pace, with a little faster running thrown in to have some data to look at. We’re building up the mileage again, probably by about 25% or so. But that’s discretionary; if I feel tired or otherwise overstretched, I’ll back off.

Summer Basebuilding: Week 1

sum09-base-01Here we go again.

Now that the dark days of May (and somewhat drunken days of June) are behind me, it’s time to put nose to grindstone once again in preparation for the California International Marathon, taking place on December 7th. On that morning, at 7AM, I will run from Folsom to Sacramento. And I plan to run it a lot faster than an anemic 7:45 pace this time around.

Was my pace in Newport literally anemic? I’m beginning to think it may have been at least flirting with anemic the more I read about blood test results and after a couple of dismal performances in local races. In any case, I’m taking action to try to correct the problem via handfuls of iron and vitamins B, C and D.

I’m also working on dropping some fat during the coming weeks of basebuilding. I’ve found it impossible to lose any significant extra fat while actually in the throes of marathon training, but I’ve had luck doing so in the past during basebuilding. Throw in a pledge of complete sobriety until after Labor Day (since weekend drinking tends to derail the weight loss effort) and you’ve got either a recipe for success or misery.

I winged it last week since Coach Kevin was still off in the wilds of Colorado, basically taking an early week from our last go-round of basebuilding and modifying (okay, bastardizing) it. I also threw in a race yesterday, which didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped.

Highlights of the week: Lost of slow recovery running as I continued to try to become acclimated to the summer heat and humidity. On Wednesday I went to the track and attempted some faster running. It was quite hot and humid, though, so it was hard to run fast or particularly hard. I got my HR up to 92% but found that my lungs gave out before my heart did on those efforts.

Yesterday I did an 8 mile race, the Putnam County Classic, which I’d thought would be flat, as the majority of the course was running around a large lake. But it was actually quite hilly, with lots of sharp ups and downs and very little flat bits. The weather was very nearly ideal, at least for a race in July: 65-70F and dew point around 58 or so. Since I’ve been racing so badly lately I decided to just run the whole thing by effort and not even look at pace during the actual race, since I’ve found it so depressing to do so. It’s hard to keep running the remaining miles when you know how slow you’re going.

I ran at as high an effort as possible, which averaged 93% MRH, although I did finish up the last half mile at 95%. Still, I was slloooowww. I was not happy to see a time well over an hour upon reaching the finish line. All I could muster was an average 7:40 pace. Barely faster than I could run for 18 miles five weeks ago in Oregon. Sheesh, it’s so depressing to see how far I’ve fallen, and continue to fall.

I should note that I’ve become a chronic napper lately. I needed a 3 hour nap on Friday (thank goodness it was holiday for the company I contract for and I’d already put in my work hours for the day). Then another yesterday post-race (not quite as surprising). It’s probably a reaction to the increased mileage + heat/humidity running + two races in eight days. Still…uh…what the fuck is wrong with me?

Today I felt okay and the weather was fantastic: mid-60s and an unheard of July dew point of 48. I had to take advantage of it since it will be hotter than Hades soon enough. So I did a hair short of 16 miles up past White Plains at a halfway decent pace.

My experience over the past few weeks has shown me how performance issues can sneak up on you. Everything can seem fine during regular “bread and butter” runs like recovery and long, steady distance efforts. The problems only make themselves known — and in quite dramatic fashion — when trying to run fast, or at least they do for me.

I may do a few more races over the summer if the weather isn’t horrible, just to try to gauge if taking supplements is helping at all. There’s a nine miler later this month that I might try, as well as the Van Cortlandt Track Club’s summer series of 5K races on Thursday evening. And I’ll definitely do the 10 miler I do every September in South Nyack, the weekend after Labor Day. I really hope I’m in better shape by then. I ran that one in 1:14:20 last year (with 80 miles on my legs already going in). I’d love to break 1:09 this time around.

Don’t get me wrong — I know so many people right now who are struggling with injuries and who can barely run at all. I’m grateful that I can run. I just wish I could run fast again.

Post Mortem: Newport Marathon

An appropriately titled post, since roughly two thirds of the way into this race I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

It’s been exactly a month since my debacle in Oregon. In the intervening weeks I’ve had time to review my training log and diary, and discuss theories with Coach Kevin.

I’ve also had bloodwork to rule out anything there. And, although I suspect I could potentially feel better with higher iron-related numbers (and may start supplementing as an experiment), I don’t feel that the root cause is to be found there. No, I think it was simply a matter of too much for too long.

A couple of days after the race, I sat in my room in the Crater Lake Lodge (during a rare evening of relative sobriety) and penned (okay, typed) a document that I entitled “Training Theories.” Here it is verbatim, with some helpful links:

What went wrong?

Peaked too early?
I was running my best in mid-April. The workouts were going very well. I had that “magical run” on April 21 when I couldn’t hold back from running fast and had wished that were a race day. A few days later I flew around the track for those sub-6:20 mile repeats. I’m convinced that if I’d simply tapered for two weeks after around April 12 and run a marathon around April 26 I would have had a great run.

Couldn’t hold fitness?
I suspect that not only was it impossible to hold that peak for the following seven weeks, but I probably managed to degrade that fitness by foolishly pushing too hard through some exhausting runs. The ones that stand out are the two very hot runs in late April (20 miles in Central Park in 91 degree heat on April 26 and that awful track session two days later). Then I ran the NJ Half on May 3, which I thought would serve as a good training run (if a lousy race), but now I think it probably dug me in further in terms of creating a deficit in recovery.

“Up and down” schedule around tuneup half?
Then the next few weeks were so up and down due to the “interruption” of that race that I suspect the result may have been a staleness that settled in slowly. This was evident, although very subtle, in the remaining key workouts. I chalked up any issues with those to weather factors or just the regular ups and downs of not being quite recovered from day to day.

The run the day before the race should have been a red flag. I chose not to wear my HRM (although now I wish I had). But at one point I decided to run a fast quarter mile. I managed to get down to 7:00 pace but I was working very hard to do so. I decided it was just nerves and didn’t give it another thought.

Possible modifications
If left to my own devices, here’s what I would do differently next time around:

  • Shorten the total training+taper cycle by about seven weeks.
  • Shorten the taper, assuming the buildup has been invigorating rather than exhausting. Maybe two weeks rather than three?
  • Introduce Mpace miles much earlier in the cycle, with a gradual buildup. More on this below.
  • If I’m going to race during training, choose the races only so much as they support the specific marathon event (similar terrain, etc.), and allow adequate recovery from them. If that means fewer races (or none), so be it.
  • Include a little bit of fast running early in the taper. I do wonder if those solid two weeks of recovery running somehow contributed to the extreme slowdown on race day.
  • Do more Mpace running on the roads rather than the track.

As for Mpace running, I think I need to do more of it and a lot earlier. I never quite clicked with that pace in terms of matching pace to appropriate effort level. Although I can race a full at 88-89% MHR, I’d be a lot more comfortable getting to a point where I’m at more like 86-87%.

What we could try is having me do a few Mpace miles every week (or every other, if we started this during basebuilding), starting with just a few miles thrown into a longer run and working up to lengthy Mpace efforts toward the end. This method worked very well for me for my Spring 08 race, when I basically took one of Pete’s plans and modified it by adding in a few more of those faster miles every week. By the time I got to the 12 mile and 10 mile Mpace efforts during this cycle, I think I was already cooked. I’m not completely sure that I even needed those two workouts, and they may have further exhausted me.

So there you have — the best I can do with the data (and gut feelings) that I have.

I know I learned a lot from this experience, as has Kevin. When we were talking a few days after the race he said, “I have to remember that you’re a mortal.” By that he meant that between the 9 week basebuilding period (during which I got faster) and the following 22 weeks of training, it seemed like I had the capacity to absorb any amount of work and continue to flourish. That durability and work ethic, when coupled with a capacity for self-denial and dare I say irrational optimism, added up to  our both missing some subtle yet insistent signs.

Looking back, I think the cracks were beginning to show at the tail end of April in that I was really struggling to hit times in workouts (and the NJ half wasn’t even close). It was easy to attribute those problems to other forces, but I’ll be a lot more attentive going forward to, as well as more communicative about, the qualitative aspects of the work. Heart rate data is valuable. But seeing and acknowledging that you’re working way too hard, regardless of what the stupid watch says, is more important than any data.

Hot weather training presents its own challenges, of course, but the plan I’m getting will allow for it. The timing looks to work out to around a 14 week training schedule, including the taper (which we discussed shortening). I’m hopeful that between a shorter training cycle and having learned some important lessons, I can look forward to a happier experience in Sacramento come December. (knock wood)

Bloody good

Just got the call from my doc. Good news: Bloodwork came back normal. Bad news: This confirms that the problem was somewhere in my training.

I get the full results by fax tomorrow morning. But, for the curious, the ferritin level was 35. My notes say a female endurance athlete should be, at minimum, somewhere in the 25-50 range. So that’s a good number, although perhaps not great. I’ll see what the other iron-related readings are (he did the whole shebang) and decide if I want to supplement anyway.

Meanwhile, Coach Kevin is putting the frosting and sprinkles on a nine week basebuilding schedule. I don’t know the details, but he’s said it will be different from the previous basebuilding schedule because I’m fitter this time around, plus he’s allowing for the horrible summer heat and humidity.

A nine week schedule sets me up to start training for CIM at the start of September. That yields a 14 week training cycle, including the taper. I think this will work better than Newport’s 22 weeks.

But more on that in a bit…

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