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!

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.

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: Oct 23 – 29

This week of training featured my first tempo run at Rockefeller State Park (aka “the Rockies”), and it was enjoyable. It’s a good park to run in once you figure out how not to get unspeakably lost. The last time we ran there one area in particular caught my eye: Swan Lake. This small lake has a trail (or, rather, several trails that connect) running around it. With the exception of a short little hill, it’s basically flat and it’s almost exactly a mile around. But since I’m running my tempos by time, that doesn’t matter. But it’s still worth noting.

The warmup to running includes a vigorous 3 miles that are mostly uphill. A long, steady grade on packed dirt or fine gravel. I like the uphill because it forces me to control my warmup pace but also feels like I’m getting a good little bit of hill work in. By the time I get to Swan Lake I’m ready to rumble.

This week’s tempo tacked on around another mile over last week’s. I wear my heart rate monitor for these so I’m running at the right effort. Paces have been right in line with what I’m guessing is my current VDOT of around 49: 6:55 per mile, give or take. Going to a newish place helps make tempo running, if not enjoyable, then at least a little more interesting. The lake is very pretty and there aren’t that many people walking around it if you get there early enough.

I had hoped to do weight work on Sunday but something took me away from it so I ended up moving it to Monday. I did a fairly big session, with the usual upper body work plus lots of leg stuff and plyometrics. I’m also back to doing core work consistently. But there was a price to pay for moving it to Monday. I went to Edgemont 36 hours later to do a speed workout and was just unbelievably slow, heavy-legged and tired. I struggled to hit 5:16 for the first 1200. Then, with a might effort, got down to 5:02 for the second one. My target was around 4:50. Clearly, I was wiped out from the tempo run plus weight work. So I threw in a couple of 400s just to see what I could do there and it was difficult to even hit 90 for those.

As (my former) Coach Sandra would say, I was “running like shit.”

So I went home. I took the next couple of days off, both because of work commitments and also because I had been scheduled to race a 5 miler in Central Park. But that was cancelled. Due. To. SNOW! Yes. We got a fucking snow storm in late October. But not just any snow storm. A snow storm that created massive damage to trees (the snow was heavy). So now our yard is full of giant downed branches that need to be professionally removed. The damage to trees in local parks is also impressive. Central and Prospect Parks were closed because it was so unsafe to walk around. New York is now down to two seasons. Thanks, Climate Change!

In anticipation of racing I did my little wimpy 2-3 miler with strides. Boy, was I ready to race. But it was not to be. But that was okay. Because my next week of training, which I will post about momentarily, featured a track workout that was nothing short of fantabulous.

New plan. New rules.

Back in May, after my debacle in the Long Island Half, I put together a plan that consisted of 10K-specific training to get me to the NYRR Club Championships in early August, prepared to race my best 5 miler. Then both life and injury got in the way and I ended up with severely compromised training until about a week ago. So here I am, back at square one again, sort of.

Over the weekend I looked at that original well-laid plan, and at the races scheduled over the coming few months, and decided that if I was going to try something new (again), now was the time. I have a few races scheduled between now and the championships. But there’s one beyond that — the Fifth Avenue Mile — that intrigues me more than any other. Ever since I ran a decent 1500 last summer (~5:46) on no short-distance training to speak of, I’ve wondered if I could improve at distances in the mile range. I originally thought I’d skip the Fifth Avenue race, since I’m guessing NYRR will screw up the start and I didn’t want to get stuck in a crowd clog. But now I’m thinking that if I train properly then I have a perfect right to start up front. So I will. Train. And start up front.

I’ve thrown out the 10K plan. Between now and the Club Champs, I’ve got three races: a 2 miler, a 4 miler and a 5K, respectively. I could continue to do 10K training, but I’m going to go ahead and start training for that mile race. I believe I have enough endurance that those races will take care of themselves, if not be stellar ones. That’s okay. I want to focus on the mile race in late September. I have 12 weeks. (I was originally going to give myself 6 weeks.) I want to be as ready as I can be.

I’ve owned Jack Daniels’ training book, Daniels’ Running Formula, for a few years, but have never looked to it for training guidance. For one thing, his plans looked really hard and complex. Upon closer inspection, while they are still hard, they are not as complicated as they seem. Perhaps more importantly, they are quite flexible. Right now, flexibility is the name of the game for me. So I’m going to use Daniels’ 1500-3000 training plan (shortened a bit) to get me to my goal mile race.

Here are some of the characteristics I like about Daniels’ plan:

  • He provides either two or three quality workouts a week, but they are prioritized so that if you need to cut back, you can. You just make sure you do the first workout that week at least and preferably the second one as well. Since I plan to just do two quality workouts most weeks (or one plus a race), it’s pretty easy for me to spot which one to drop from week to week.
  • Speaking of races, there are lots of opportunities to fit races in as part of training. Almost every week features an option to use a race as quality workout.
  • He offers two plans: the A plan is more structured in terms of distances to run; the B plan is a little looser and gives you time-based goals rather than distance- or paced-based ones. I like this because it allows me to do workouts on the roads if the track won’t work out for some reason, plus it allows me to train purely by effort rather than obsessing about distance/pace. I’ve struggled with this tendency in the past (and have trained too hard as a result), plus it’s tempting to discount the effect of training in heat and humidity when you have set times to run. I can throw those out and just focus on effort now.
  • Within the workouts themselves there is latitude to make adjustments based on energy level, what distances are working best, etc. For example, today I had a bunch of varying repeats to do. I could do anywhere from 1000-1600 repeats. Since I was tired, I chose to do 1200s.
  • Maybe this is true of most 1-2 mile programs, but there are lots of shorter, faster intervals and fartlek segments. I love running 200s and 400s, and mixing those up with longer repeats. I’ll get to do a lot of ladder-type workouts.
  • The rest of the week is not regimented at all. The mileage I run from day to day, and how I distribute it, is up to me. As long as I take my easy days easy, do strides 4x a week and keep my weekly long run to under 25% of total mileage, I can do whatever I like.
  • Finally, there’s a ton of variety in terms of workout types and how they are structured: fartleks, tempos, track sessions…it’s all there and there’s lots of variation. This will keep me from getting bored and, I hope, be a good stimulus for improvement.

My rules are pretty simple:

  • As stated above, maximum of two hard runs a week, with little exception.
  • I will take a day off when I need to, and will do so anyway every two weeks at least.
  • If I feel injury coming on, I won’t run through it.
  • I won’t run my workouts too hard. I may even hold back a little in races.
  • If I’m unsure about how to adjust a workout, I’ll err on the side of caution and cut things down more so than less so.

So that’s my plan from here until September 24. After that I’ll probably take a week off, or just to do easy running. Then, if Daniels worked for me for the mile, I’ll go into his 5K-15K training plan for the El Paso 5K in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. That will be a 15 week plan. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself…

Training: May 22-28

Yeah, so I’m back to into it, officially doing 10K-specific training now. I am also back to self-coaching at the moment, not owing to any displeasure with what Coach Sandra had me doing, but because we’ve not been in much contact lately and I couldn’t really afford to wait around for guidance.

I looked around for a 10K plan and settled on this one from RunningPlanet.com. A few others I looked at didn’t seem to have a lot of variation in the track work. I like all the different workouts here — short repeats, mile repeats, ladder workouts, plus lots of tempo running and a smidgen of hill work — as well as the fact that I could easily slot in several races as logical replacements for certain workouts. Clearly, it was meant to be. So this is my plan.

Since I started my new gig in Manhattan on Friday, I had to do my first Ungodly Hour workout. I was at the Bronxville track at 5:00 am sharp. Amazingly, there was a guy (he looked bulky, like a sprinter) just leaving as I was arriving. Then I had the place to myself until about 5:45, at which point I was finishing up. It was nice to be there alone, save for one rabbit who raced me for about 20 metres along the backstretch.

I was able to function well for the rest of the day. I think the key to getting runs in early is going to be getting to bed early. Easier said than done. Or, rather, I can go to bed as early as I like; it’s getting to sleep that’s the challenge.

The workout went pretty well considering the extremely high humidity and that fact that I had no idea what kind of shape I’m in. 800s were in the 3:30 range and 200s in the 00:42 range. That’s about where I was in cooler weather a couple of months ago, so I have not lost any appreciable level of fitness, at least at the shorter distances. I think doing some faster stuff every week has helped maintain speed.

But I’m gonna get faster. I have some very aggressive goals for the year, although I will not share them.

The schedule’s pretty easy for the first month — just two workouts a week. After the Mink 10K on June 11, things start to heat up and I’ll be moving to three hard runs a week. I’ve modified the schedule for race weeks, usually, putting in a mini taper. I’ll be able to run the Mini, a Central Park 4 miler, a Van Cortlandt Park 2 miler (or a 5K up in Rockland, depending on work shedule) and, to cap off this cycle, the Team Championship 5 miler in August. Then I go into around 6 weeks of training for the mile.

Mileage will average in the high-30s to mid-40s, increasing just as my current project commitment (and need to commute) should end. I suspect I’ll have a lot of treadmill running in my future, but that’s fine. I’m doing core work at home, on the living room floor, twice a week. I will work in at least one weight session at the gym on weekends (another mid-week if time permits).

I think this is doable.

Training: April 3-16

The adventure continues: low mileage, lots of recovery and not a little hard work. Any misgivings I’ve had about taking days off and losing easy miles were put to rest during last weekend’s race. I remain concerned about my fitness for a 13.1 mile race in two weeks. But I have to keep reminding myself of three things:

  1. I am on the comeback trail. I’m not trained for a half, so I can’t expect to pull some amazing performance out of my, um, hat under these circumstances.
  2. I have raced enough half marathons to know what the effort should feel like. It’s not like I can’t run 13.1 miles. I may just need to run them a little slower than I’d like.
  3. Everything is going to be okay.

I’m feeling so nonchalant about Long Island that I may even run with music. It’s not a crowded course and I enjoyed having tunes along the course last year (I had an interesting soundrack to all the overweight guys in their 20s who were dropping like flies around me), and I don’t think they ban headphones.

Anyway. The workouts leading up to the Scotland 10K on Sunday went exceptionally well. Freakishly well. First, I did a progression run that had me running the last two miles at 6:45 and 6:30. Color me shocked. Then I did my special pre-race session on a windy track (~15mph steady, ~25mph gusts) and the splits were around what I got a few weeks ago on a windless track. Yay, me. Coach Sandra sees me as a poster child for cross-training these days.

One thing I did during that pre-race week was to take Sunday off and then move the progression run up a day so I could have a day recovery between that and the track session. Sandra had originally scheduled them back to back on Tue/Wed, but I felt that would be too much to handle. This arrangement worked well. I may try it again before my next shorter race (the Mini 10K in June).

This past week, post-race, I took it easy. Sunday’s race took a lot out of me, although I did a quicker recovery pace on Tuesday (around 9:00 — I’m usually running 9:30-9:45 for those). Then I was fried for the second run. The weather on Wednesday was horrible, so I moved the speedwork to Thursday. It was windy, so I decided that rather than go to the track and be frustrated, I’d turn the planned 1K track repeats into a bunch of time-based segments on the road. Same work, different perspective. That worked out — I just ran hard for 3-5 minutes at a stretch until I’d reached around 20 minutes of hard running. I have no idea how far any of them were, but IT DOESN’T MATTER.

Yesterday I got a massage — the first one in about three months, and she spent the entire time trying to get the knots out of my back and shoulders — then decided not to run since I knew I’d be doing a lot of walking that evening. Last night featured drinks and something resembling food at a sports bar on Theater Row with 2010 Green Mountain Relay teammates Amy, TK, identical twins Mike and Matt (aka “Steak”) Tartar, along with honorary guest Bridges Runner (whom I was happy to get a chance to talk to for quite awhile, having previously only met her for about five seconds) — and some other dude whose name I’ve forgotten but who was very excited about the new iPad. Even though it was in a sports bar on Theater Row, it was fun!

As for the coming week, I have a lot of hard stuff and 54 miles. I will, as I’ve been doing, cut back on recovery miles if my legs are trashed. I have a 14 miler, my first in a long time, tomorrow. I will run up to White Plains and back, a run I’ve missed doing. Then more 1K repeats on the track and another progression run. And a trip back to the massage therapist so she can attack my legs.

In other news, I will be running the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 21. I’d thought we’d be away that weekend, but we will be here. Since it’s three weeks after the Long Island Half, and three weeks before the Mini 10K — and it’s a NYRR club points race — there is no reason not to run it. So run it I shall. Since I won’t get a chance to wave to the cat on Cat Hill, I will wave to the Giant Killer Rat on the boardwalk in Coney Island.

Longer term, I’m still wrestling with what to do about a fall marathon. In an unfortunate combination of bad timing and lack of foresight, I’ve managed to end up with no automatic qualifier for the New York Marathon. My meltdown at the California International Marathon, while a Boston qualifier, did not give me the 3:38 I needed for New York. Then a freak heatwave at last year’s Long Island Half turned that race into a slow training run. Since then, I’ve only been racing shorter stuff.

So now my only option is to enter the lottery if I want a shot. I think. I’m so on the fence that I can’t even deal with figuring out the details. I think the deadline’s in two days or something. I should really look. I will do that right after I hit “Publish.”

Jonathan has an autoqualifier for New York. I suppose we could both enter (he on auto, me in the lottery) and see what happens. I am not excited about flying all the way to Chicago for a race that has been hot three out of the last four years. There’s Syracuse, but it’s a brand new event and I still don’t trust the weather in October. I would like the New York option, especially if it looks like I need more training time. Decisions, decisions.

Running moment to moment in lane 4

[Warning: A bout of confessional bloggorhea follows. There is a running pay off, though. And maybe other useful things.]

This past fall and winter were rough. When I think of 2010, I see a year that began with disappointment and frustration (following hot on the heels of a less-than-stellar 2009), then had a fabulous high point — a couple of extremely good and gratifying months in early summer — and then began a nosedive in August followed by a flap-rattling death roll through the rest of the year and into this one. The ups and downs (mostly downs) weren’t limited to running — there were work/career goings on, social stuff, financial stuff. You name it. It was a year of extremes in many ways.

While I’d hoped that 2011 would bring instant relief — I don’t know why, since it’s just a calendar page, or dropped Times Square ball, or new crow’s foot, or however you keep score — the hideous blob of sheer misery and distress that was laying waste to my psychic backyard was rapidly advancing toward my mental domicile’s shaky foundation in the new year in a most horrific way.

On this blog I have not made a secret of my history of anxiety, a problem that I still struggle with now. I’ve also got a long history of depression — a constant kind (called dysthymia) which sometimes erupts into major depression (a delightful sequence known as “double depression”). This glowing tinder of seemingly innate unhappiness has become a full on conflagration on several occasions in my life, lasting anywhere from weeks to more than a year. I’d gotten a reprieve for most of the 2000s and thought I was out of the woods. But it was back late last year.

Why did I get depressed this time around? In some ways, it’s an impossible question. Why does anyone get depressed? Normal people — meaning people who are not otherwise vulnerable to depressive states — will get depressed in reaction to some catalyzing event: extreme loss, for example. Again, this is normal. Others, like me, will get knocked slightly off balance by some event that is not on its face disastrous — in my case, it was a couple of things that don’t need detailing here, but [here's the tie-in] included my stress fracture and subsequent total layoff from running for about 4 months. It’s not an event in particular that’s causing the quick slide down off the mountain. The event may be disappointing, but it’s not the problem. The problem is the reaction to the event — or, really, the chain reaction of mental machinations, all of them harmful in their extremity and breadth, and based on ingrained patterns from previous death spirals, that cranks into motion after that single event.

And what’s feeding that engine of awfulness? For me, it’s anxiety. And feeling bad about the anxiety. Then the anxiety about the anxiety feeds the depression and then the depression, in turn, feeds back into the anxiety in a crescendoing feedback loop. Pretty soon the top flies off your Waring blender of distress (“Hey, what’s that burning smell?”) and before you know it your kitchen walls are covered in the worst parts of yourself.

Holy crap. I finally get this. For some reason, this was the year that I was able to step back and observe what happens. I couldn’t stop it from happening, mind you. But, once things lifted enough for me to think straight, I could somewhat recognize cause-and-effect/effect-and-cause. That small shard of perspective produced a glimmer of hope. That hope got me thinking. The thinking got me reading. The reading got me working.

It’s not fun to be me much of the time. I think I’ve established that. But I will always be me, so I’d better learn how to live with myself. What I suspect needs to happen is that, going forward, I need to focus less on fixing and more on just being aware of the pattern and movement of my own thoughts and feelings, with an aim to get out of my own way. Floating, not flailing. I don’t write all this because I feel sorry for myself. I write it because I’m a slow learner and I hope that someone else can learn from it a little quicker than I have. It’s also nice to share news about things that are working well.

I am now trying some things that are wacky, or at least they are to me. I gave up on psychoanalysis several years ago. I will not take meds for these problems, as that presents a host of other potential problems in the form of side effects and — let’s face it — masking rather than actually addressing what’s going wrong. I am taking a bunch of vitamins and supplements that supposedly help with moods. We’ll see what those do or don’t do. I don’t put a lot of stock in them, but I figure they can’t hurt. I’m off synthetic hormones. I stop at one drink now.

But the heart of everything else I’m doing is a twosome of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and “mindfulness,” areas I only just became aware of quite recently. I so wish my former analyst had looked at me in 1991 and said, “Julie, your habitual thought patterns are toxic and your perceptions are totally distorted. You need CBT for your anxiety and the depression it fosters, not years of analysis from me.” But Freudian analysis is at best a quaintly blinkered belief system and at worst a cult perpetuated by adherents who I believe only have the best of intentions, so I bear them no ill will. But given what I know now, I’m not surprised that our exchange never took a more practical turn.

Okay. So what does any of this have to do with running? Fair question.

Running.

Running.

Running has given me so much when it’s gone well, but has hurt me so deeply when it hasn’t. Or, rather, it has set me up perfectly to hurt myself deeply. This time around, it lit a fire of depression. When I was limping around with my stress fracture in the fall, my dad, himself a former obsessed marathoner asked, “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” By that I think he meant: “Why do you keep making this so important and setting yourself up for a fall in the process?”

The answer to that is because I thought in running I had found a source of pleasure and achievement that I could control. Boy, was I wrong about that! A sane person would have stopped caring so much about it after it went so wrong for so long. But I reacted by stubbornly caring about it even more. I devised new goals, goals that may or may not have been realistic. It doesn’t matter if they were or are. The problem is that I had goals.

Getting better. Changing myself. Fixing what’s wrong. Whether we’re talking about running or about my state of mind, these are all bad goals. They are all about forcing something to happen, denying what’s actually happening, giving potency to something that’s nothing, missing what’s real, and often good.

Edited: One book I’m reading quotes from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet

“How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races — the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than any you’ve ever seen, if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows moves over your hands and everything you do. You must realize that something has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

One of the wackier things I’m trying — the “mindfulness” part — is meditation. I would like to say that I suck at it. But that would involve a judgment and I’m gathering that the whole point of meditation is to be, not to do. If you’re sitting there meditating and thinking, “I’m not meditating the right way,” you’re lost. You need to just sit there and be. If in one moment you realize that you’re thinking about what to make for dinner, then you’re doing it right; the work lies in the realizing and the accepting, not the thinking or the not thinking. Gaining an awareness of whatever’s going on in your head means you’re on the right track. Awareness of “mistakes” — and refusal to label them as such — is the success, not the failure.

Supposedly meditation can actually change your brain chemistry, affecting key areas like the amygdala, which is our brain’s bus driver for fear reactions (“fight or flight” — the core of all externally expressed anxiety)  and so-called “emotional memory” formation, and which comes into play in conditions like social phobia, depression and other problems that are near and dear to my heart and history. Working with the hypothalamus, the amygdala also regulates some aspects of our nervous system. Read up if you’re interested, since I’m sure I’ll screw something up if I continue here. I found it intriguing enough to pursue in addition to the more directed methods offered by CBT. This book, which was created by some of the authors of this study, in particular has been quite the mind- and eye-opener. Its approach works as well as happy pills, but doesn’t make you fat, dizzy or dullwitted in the process.

But back to running. All this other stuff I’m doing is having an effect on running, which is a welcome, and quite unexpected, side effect. I am starting to naturally run without goals, without expectations and without judgment. This is making running easier in ways I did not expect. For example, I had a very tough track session today. Since it’s unusual, I think Coach Sandra would consider it “proprietary,” so I won’t give details. But there was short stuff (a lot!) followed by semi-short stuff, followed by a long interval that was to be run “all out.”

I had never done this workout before. It frightened me a little, but I went in with an open mind. Stuff that normally would have bothered me didn’t today.

People were wandering chaotically around the track. I like running in lane 4 because it’s closest to 400m (the track in Bronxville is screwy because they shoved it into too-small a space, but the installers chose aesthetics over accuracy for the markers — so no lane is exactly 400m — inner lanes are shorter, outer lanes are longer). I did not let the dawdling interlopers get to me. I ran around them. I did not have to run in lane 4 at all times. Accuracy didn’t matter. The effort is what mattered.

I did not think of the many repeats/rests that lay ahead. I thought only of the one I was doing. I didn’t think of how far I was from finishing it. I didn’t think, with dread, “Oh, god, 300m to go…” or, with resentment, “This fucking wind is slowing me down” or any of the usual stuff I do when I’m doing track work. I just ran at what I thought was the appropriate effort at that point in time and kept the rest of the workout out of my mind. I would get there when I got there.

At one point I was running fast and realized that I was totally relaxed, watching my hands swing up, my right arm swing and wrist angle completely different from my left, something I now accept rather than try to correct, my flats eating up the curve. I enjoyed running in that moment. Thinking about it right now makes me happy. My splits were remarkably even — for 18 intervals (I did an extra by accident). Like within a second or two of each other. No watch required.

The last, killer interval was awful. It was slow, something I knew without looking at my watch. Then I realized that it probably wasn’t supposed to be fast. It couldn’t be. I had exhausted myself with the previous few miles of faster running; my legs were burning and aching. I realized midway through that I was now doing “get comfortable with suffering” training, something I’ve come to recognize in some of Sanda’s workouts. I made a mental note to ask her what the purpose of that horrible last big push was — mental, physical or both — and then I gently returned my attention to my hands, my feet and the metres unfolding in front of me.

What’s been going on, as presented in Warren Zevon song titles

I’ve been rediscovering Warren Zevon lately. If you have no idea who he is, then look him up and discover for yourself his uniquely sardonic yet humane — and always highly literate — musical take on things. He’s dead, by the way. Before succumbing to lung cancer in 2003, he produced one of my favorite quotes: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

So here’s a Zevonesque take on what’s happening in my life, running and otherwise.

Although we’ve had bits of snow and sleet lately, it is officially spring, even if the weather hasn’t gotten with the program yet. We’ve been able to run Backs Turned Looking Down the Path now that it’s clear of snow, although on many days we’ve also had to Hasten Down the Wind. For the most part I’ve been running in Splendid Isolation because, as I’ve said to Jonathan, “I’ll Slow You Down.”

We traded one lost hour for longer days last weekend. And one night last week They Moved the Moon. Or at least they claimed it was bigger than it would be in another 18 years. Does that mean it was closer? I’ve seen “bigger” harvest moons in the summer, so I was not impressed.

My workouts have spanned the spectrum from lousy to great. Maybe it’s Bad Karma, or just the usual training Turbulence, but I don’t quite feel like I’m training with the consistency I’d like. On the other hand, I can usually come up with reasons for why a workout Ain’t That Pretty At All. For example, I had a scheduled 13 miler in Central Park on Sunday that was, in hindsight, Trouble Waiting to Happen. After a ridiculously hard speed session Thursday, followed by ridiculous weight work and spinning the following day, my legs were dead. I was also at my hormonal low point, and always run like shit on that day. Not surprisingly, my planned 8:00s were rapidly turning into 9:00s. Then my right hamstring and adductor had tandem hissy fits. Poor, Poor Pitiful Me. I cut the run short at 11 and told myself, “You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared. So stop it. You no longer need to let one workout define things. It doesn’t mean you’re headed for a Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Don’t worry about it.”

So sure, My Shit’s Fucked Up on some days, but not always. On Wednesday, two days ago, I had a mysteriously great track session. We got up to find it sleeting. I packed my spikes. The Bronxville track was devoid of people and the sleet/drizzle/shizzle stopped. It was cold, but not too. And there was almost no wind to speak of. All I needed for a good session was the right attitude, because everything else was in place.

Attitude was important because I was assigned 1K repeats. Seven of them. How was I going to do seven when I couldn’t even do four of them two weeks ago? One thing I like about working with Coach Sandra is that she doesn’t assign paces. She trusts that I know the right effort to run and that my splits will just reflect where I am on that day. I may be “slower” or “faster” than expected. I may be running supernaturally well or running like dog shit. What matters isn’t the splits in one workout; what matters is doing the work every week and getting faster relative to effort over the course of an entire training cycle. And if that isn’t happening, figure out why and make immediate adjustments. Maybe that’s obvious already, but I think it’s pure Genius.

I ran the first conservatively, as I always do, to see how I was feeling. 4:15. But I knew I could do a little harder. The next six were: 4:11, 4:10, 4:12, 4:11, 4:11, 4:10. Rests were 1:28-1:50. I attacked those repeats like Boom Boom Mancini. This gives me some confidence that I’ll be able to fly over the Central Park hills like An Angel Dressed in Black in a couple of weeks at the Scotland 10K. If I can’t do that, I’ll be Looking for the Next Best Thing, which is just to put in an effort that I can be proud of.

Jonathan did the workout with me (although his splits were more in 3:30 territory) and had an equally good set. This made him into an Excitable Boy indeed.

It’s hard to know if my perceived gains in speed and endurance are Real or Not, but I’m trying to Roll with the Punches (like I did after my night spent hugging the Porcelain Monkey) and not be too much of a Basket Case about adhering perfectly to the schedule.

Later that evening we attended a A Certain Girl‘s birthday celebration in Manhattan and neither of us was too tired out to enjoy ourselves. It was a late night, but I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. My own birthday is in a couple of weeks. Will 46 be a Wild Age for me, or will I evolve into a Model Citizen? I think I’d like to remain a Renegade and work on turning Jonathan into more of a Mr. Bad Example and less of a Worrier King. We’ll be celebrating at home because MacGillicuddy’s Reeks.

Our home has become something of a Detox Mansion (“I’ve been raking leaves with Liza! Me and Liz clean up the yard!”). We’ve finished up all of our wine and booze, which I’m not planning to replace, and when the beer dwindles I restock with only a sixpack or two, which takes us forever to get through. This means I’m a total lightweight, something I shall have to be careful about when we head off to search for the Werewolves of London in May, shortly after we run the Long Island Half (please, Don’t Let Us Get Sick). I won’t be bringing Lord Byron’s Luggage; the fees are too outrageous. My Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded to visit us in April, so they’ll be here in June. That means we have to do something about the Disorder in the House before then.

Whoops. Laissez-Moi Tranquille. I Have to Leave. My Ride’s Here.

Training: Mar 6-12

I realized just now that I did three hard workouts, plus a race, this week. That probably wasn’t the smartest way to schedule things — and I take responsibility for this schedule. In reintroducting Coach Sandra’s original schedule for the summer, I wanted to get back to doing long runs on Saturday. This seemed as good a week to shove that run up a day as any.

As usual, the workouts this week were a mix of gratifying and disappointing. But I won’t label anything as a “bad workout” for reasons previously stated.

So. Coogan’s went pretty well. Then, with only a day’s recovery — which featured 10 miles of running — I headed up to the streets of Scarsdale (since our running path was flooded) for a progression run. My legs felt dead that day and I nearly abandoned the run. Or, well, kind of. My thought process moved from “I’m going to cut this short at 5 miles” to “Maybe I’ll make this a recovery run” to “I’ll run a decent pace, but drop the 2 fast miles” to…”Well, goddammit, I’m gonna run those last 2 miles hard.”

Why did I make this decision? For one, my legs began to feel better after about 4 miles and I was naturally picking up the pace anyway. For another, Coach’s rule is: if I can’t do the workouts in a given week, I have to go back and repeat that week until I can. I hate repeating weeks.

It worked out and I did better than expected: Mile 7 was 7:36, run into a stiff headwind; Mile 8 (wind assisted) was 6:50.

Thursday’s speed session was nothing to write home about, but I’m calling it close enough to count. Coach said I should have either deferred the workout to Friday or substituted a fartlek run (as she instructed me to do, but I ignored, because I’m a weirdo and I happen to like 1K repeats, at least when they’re going well).

I took yesterday completely off. No running. No cross-training. Nothing. And I’m glad I did because today’s 12 miler in Central Park was a satisfying run indeed. After a 9:20 warmup mile I was solidly in 8:15-8:20 territory. There were several miles run well under 8:00.

The last mile was ridiculous: 6:59. I did not intend to run it that fast, but as I was coming off the north section of Museum Mile, ready to hit the downhill before the 102nd St. Transverse, I passed a guy. He did not like being passed. So he caught me. I did not want him to pass me. So we both kept running faster and faster. Soon we were racing. At one point my watch said I was on pace for a 6:20 mile. This was getting silly (and I was getting out of breath). So I let him “win.”

But the funny thing was, once he got a few feet ahead of me, he slowed to around 7:10 pace and I was still about a meter behind him. When we hit the downhill around the top of the park, I decided to open up. I felt good and I was half a mile from the 12 mile mark, so why not. I passed him again, tearing past him down the hill. He looked a little annoyed. Or maybe I surprised him. But he didn’t race me this time. Average pace for the run was 8:07. I want to get that below 8:00 by the end of the month.

Today featured yet another new mix. But I ran so fast that I didn’t get through it. The Keane and Nick Drake were good for the drive home.

Long Run Too

Consequence – The Notwist
Handson Us – The Notwist
Lover’s Spit – Broken Social Scene
Texico Bitches – Broken Social Scene
Kids (Soulwax Mix) – MGMT
Flash Delirium – MGMT
Our Time Has Passed – Pernice Brothers
She Heightened Everything – Pernice Brothers
Barely Legal – The Strokes
Alone, Together – The Strokes
Human – Pretenders
Popstar – Pretenders
Untitled – Social Distortion
Far Side Of Nowhere – Social Distortion
Finer Feelings – Spoon
My Little Japanese Cigarette Case – Spoon
Breaking Into Cars – The Raveonettes
Heart Of Stone – The Raveonettes
Some Might Say – Oasis
The Shock Of The Lightning – Oasis
60 Miles An Hour – New Order
Regret – New Order
Hold It – Marshall Crenshaw
Right On Time – Marshall Crenshaw
Perfect Symmetry – Keane
The Lovers Are Losing – Keane
Which Will – Nick Drake
Pink Moon – Nick Drake

Listen on Rhapsody

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