Training: Feb 20-26

This was a week of “firsts in a long time”: first tempo run outside, first speedwork session, first run over 10 miles, first week over 50 miles.

I spent a fair amount of time this week experimenting in order to answer some basic questions here, at the start of a new training cycle. How fast should I run 1K intervals? How much running should I do the day after a tempo run? Is it a good idea to do some spinning the evening before a long run?

I am also trying to reintroduce some regular core strengthening work, since I am aware of how weak I am after I hit about the 8 mile mark on a run. My back is not happy the next day, so I need to work on the muscles that keep me upright. Have I mentioned how dreary and uncomfortable core work is? I hate doing it. But it sure beats pool running. Everything’s relative, I guess.

I managed three hard workouts again this week, from your staples of training run types: tempo, speed, long. The tempo run was difficult, the speed session not so difficult — and today’s long run was just meh on account of being scaled down from the original plan, which was to run 11, but do the last 2 at 7:30.

Although the rest of me had plenty of energy, my legs were not into it today. So I turned the run into what Sandra likes to call a “listen to your body” run — just run whatever effort/pace you feel like running. The result was wildly varying paces — from 7:45-8:30. But it was fine and I didn’t beat myself up about bailing on the original plan. A few miles at 7:45 is close enough. I will not do a moderate spin effort beforehand next time. Too much.

The Coogan’s 5K is a week from tomorrow, so I’ve only got two hard workouts this coming week — another speed session and a run with a few miles at race effort. The rest is easy with mileage around 40. The adductor was only an issue today, for part of the run. I have no clue what triggers it, since you’d think 1Ks on the treadmill would piss it off. But it was not too bad.

This post was boring. Sorry.

And the flowers are still standing!

Coach Sandra indicated recently that I should just go back to the plan she originally drew up for me before I got injured, whenever I felt I was ready to train again.That plan was constructed to get me up to a half marathon (5 weeks before a full), with one or two shorter races along the way.

Okay, I’m ready. After a couple of hours with Excel this morning, I now have a 10 week training plan to take me to the Long Island Half, starting two days ago. Working backward from the May 1 race date was easy enough. The stuff I’ve been doing over the past few weeks were a good lead in to the revisited training plan.

Mileage tops out at 54 mpw and the longest run is 14 miles. There’s a lot of speedwork and progression runs incorporating race effort/pace. The Scotland 10K falls in a good place in training too. I hate to say I’m excited, but I guess I am a little. It seems like a manageable schedule and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I have 10 weeks to prepare rather than the more measly 8 I’d been thinking I had.

The plusses: My body has held up well under some genuine training demands over the past month+ — the physical ones as well as the mental ones required by doing almost everything on the stupid treadmill. I can look forward to competing in one “important” race per month from now through June. And winter has to end eventually.

The minuses: Not many. I am afraid of getting reinjured, but that worry should manifest itself as a conservative approach to hard training and a prioritizing of recovery, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After a few years of overtraining, injury and race-time stagnation, I am happy to trade arriving at start lines slightly undertrained for not arriving there at all.

This post title is referenced at 4:30. I have always loved how this line is shouted off camera.

Training: Feb 13-19

In which I worriedly, hurriedly prepare for a short race

I am quite aware of the fact that I have a 5K race looming on the horizon. I don’t like 5K races but, to be fair, I haven’t raced that many of them, and only a handful have been since I started running competitively. In two weeks I’ll cover the Coogan’s course in Washington Heights. I have been doing what I can to prepare for a short, fast race while also trying to not do anything that’s going to irritate the adductor injury that continues to hang on for dear life. But I feel I’ve turned a corner in that if I’m careful and do a shit-tonne of stretching and strengthening, it’s under control and on its way out, however slowly.

That said, this was another okay week, featuring two decent workouts and one half-assed workout. I did not hit the 52 miles I’d originally planned, but that’s life. I do, however, now feel pretty confident that I can handle real training. With that I will get back in touch with Coach Sandra (whom I’ve not wanted to bug during this period of testing the waters) this week to talk half marathon training.

I’m at the point where running 10 miles at any pace doesn’t feel like a 20 miler. But endurance at faster paces continues to be an issue and time’s a-wastin’. So I am trying to add in some substantial efforts at speedier paces. This campaign to not embarrass myself in two weeks began with Sunday’s trip into Central Park. This time I dragged Jonathan with me, who managed 12 miles with some discomfort in his foot. But, heck, he ran 12 miles, some of them on the faster side. So that’s progress.

We ran 6 miles together to warm up, then split up to do our little workouts. I did an inner loop, he did an outer loop. I managed three miles at sub-7:30 and a last one at 8:00 (me so tired). That was pretty good for that course, in wind, coming off a “big” week. Having learned last week that a longer recovery run on Monday is a no no, I split things up into two runs.

Tuesday was a big social day as was Wednesday evening. On Wednesday morning I decided to try a fartlek run again. There has been some slight improvement over last week’s fartlek in that I could do two sets and the speeds were slightly faster. I also shortened the between-sets recovery time from 5 to 4 minutes.

On Thursday I didn’t feel like doing anything, least of all running. I spent pretty much the entire day finding ways to avoid running. Then I forced myself to go to the gym to do some circuit stuff and figured I’d just try getting on the treadmill and if it sucked I’d climb off and call it a day. Mostly, I wanted to go there so I could use the sauna. After the first couple of miles I felt okay so decided to at least do something a little more productive than a 9:50 plod: a couple of miles at faster paces, if not stellar ones. At least the 20 minutes in the sauna seemed well-deserved.

Friday I was flat out exhausted, so I skipped exercise entirely. Saturday featured an evening run at home on the treadmill. For some reason I felt compelled to tack on a half mile to the planned 6. I think I felt bad about bailing on Friday’s run entirely. A half mile here, a half mile there. Pretty soon you’re talking, like, a whole extra mile.

Next week I may attempt some actual speed work if I can find a clear outdoor track or uninterrupted flat pathway to run on. That depends entirely on snow meltage. We are scheduled to get more snow this evening, so yeah, ha ha. It’s February, bitches. Have another cup of snow. I suspect I’ll being doing more fartleks on the treadmill. They’re close enough.

My training weeks begin on Sunday (or, put another way, end on Saturday). But I got in the habit of posting these training tomes on Sundays. So I’ll cheat and mention that I did my first outdoors tempo run since the summer today in Central Park. I basically tried to simulate a 5K more or less, but split up into three bits separated by 4 minutes. I managed to run my 7 minute segments at around 6:50 pace, which I’m pretty damned proud of because it was hellaciously windy today. I was running at harder than tempo effort much of the time, but whatever. I’m not going to be a purist about anything at this point. Waste of time. I need to get used to being really, really uncomfortable for around 21 minutes.

Groovy new Tempo Run playlist appears below.

In which I am uncharacteristically social

I spent all day Tuesday with a friend (and part of the afternoon with her five-year-old, who is smarter and more articulate than many adults I know) in Manhattan. She’s one of the few people I’m still in touch with from graduate school from way back in the (gulp) mid- ’90s, and by far the friend from that milieu to whom I’m closest. She’s moving out of the country indefinitely in July, so we’re trying to spend some time with each other fairly regularly before that happens. I’m happy for her, but it’s still a bummer to have to say goodbye. There’s virtually no chance I’ll visit her where she’s headed. That sounds ominous; it’s not meant to. She’s not going to prison or anything. She’ll just be very, very far away in a place I have no desire to visit.

On Wednesday evening I drove up to Rye Brook for dinner and conversation with my heretofore virtual friend, Cris/Darkwave of Well, I’m TRYING to Run fame. I have been trading training notes and amusing quips online with Cris for several years, primarily on this weekly thread on LetsRun (although I have been absent for many months during my injury odyssey). Cris was just as intelligent, interesting and warm in person as I’d expected her to be. It was a fun evening, although I worried I kept her up too late on a school night, since she was up here on a business trip and had to get up at 5:30AM the next morning and be a responsible adult. I, on the other hand, being an irresponsible adult, was free to sleep in late and then spend the day farting around the house.

In which I somewhat reluctantly show some team spirit

I bought a long-sleeved Harriers tech shirt this week, since it was easy enough to swing by Urban Athletics on my way to see my East Side friend. It’s a little weird to anticipate wearing it in a couple of weeks, not only because I don’t want to put further pressure on myself in a race at a distance that is not my forte. I’m not generally a joiner and uniforms of any sort always give me pause. But wearing a shirt in the points races seems to be what people do.

I will say that it looks pretty fetching on me (I look good in black — and somewhat menacing, I hope) and it was comfortable enough on today’s test run, for which I wore it as a base layer so I could continue to stealth train.

In which I go back to my artistic roots

I have more websites than is reasonable for one person. Especially since none of them are making me any money. But I can always launch another one, even as the current ones sit neglected. I expect to launch this newest creative venture pretty soon — probably next month or in April. Those who have known me for a long time know that I have a long history of drawing cartoons. I have had a dry spell of this activity for, oh, about 20 years, although I will sometimes make a painting when under stress.

Anyway, I have been besieged by funny ideas lately. That has led to sketching and frequent giggling. I should do something with these ideas and with the good domain I own but have not known what to do with (people have offered to buy it from me, but I had faith that a use for it would eventually emerge). Yes, I want to express myself. At least I’m not writing erotic poetry or making wallets out of duct tape.

So look for that soon.

———————————————————–

Mix: Tempo Run

Nobody’s In Love This Year – Warren Zevon
Change4Me – Bettie Serveert
No Matter What – Badfinger
1994 – Amberhaze
When I Wonder – Charlatans U.K.
Souls Travel – Bettie Serveert
Meet Me In The Basement – Broken Social Scene
Elephant Woman – Blonde Redhead
The Well And The Lighthouse – Arcade Fire
Sincerity – Charlatans U.K.
Girls Talk – Dave Edmunds
Changes Are No Good – The Stills
Bled White – Elliott Smith
Pop In G – Heatmiser
Gimme Animosity – Superdrag
Godspell – The Cardigans
Better Things – The Kinks
American Girl – Tom Petty
Something’s Out There – Freedy Johnston
Don’t Look Down – Lindsey Buckingham
Billoddity – Mojave 3
Swimming Song – Kate and Anna McGarrigle
My Favorite Mistake – Sheryl Crow
Finding You – The Go-Betweens
Cellophane – Creeper Lagoon
Dirty Secret – Grant-Lee Phillips
I Need Your Love – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

Listen on Rhapsody

Training: Jan 30-Feb 12

Astute readers will notice that I’ve skipped a week, Jan 23-29. That was just an awful, awful week, runningwise and in all other respects. Let’s move on.

What I like most about the above image is that it’s starting to look like the log of someone who is actually training. I’m not training for anything just yet, but I will be soon. For now, I’m just focusing on getting the mileage consistently in the 50mpw range and getting in at least two (preferably three) quality workouts a week. If I can do this for a few more weeks and stay uninjured, I will be a very happy woman indeed.

Then I will start worrying about training for my only real “goal” race on the near-term horizon, the Long Island Half on May 1. I’ll only have about two months to train, which probably isn’t enough for running my best. But I just want to run a decent half marathon. On the way, I’ll run two NYRR club points races: the Coogan’s 5K in early March and the Scotland 10K five weeks after that. To prepare for those I will be doing a fair amount of fartlek and tempo running over the coming few weeks. I hate 5Ks, but it’s a points race, so what the hell. I’m looking forward to the 10K.

After Coogan’s I’ll start focusing on training for the Long Island Half on May 1. I am hoping that by then I’ll have a good mix of speed and endurance in place. The Scotland Run should be a good “thermometer” race midway through that training cycle. It’s true that eight weeks is probably not enough to produce a great half performance, but I don’t have a lot invested in a May race. I just want to not implode during training, run a good race, and feel like I’m set up for starting marathon training in the summer (and perhaps I’ll run a good Mini 10K in June).

But I must stay uninjured.

To help preserve this state of affairs, I am stretching and rolling fairly regularly these days — maybe 4-5 evenings a week. This is a harder habit to establish than was daily flossing (which I am doing, by the way), probably because flossing takes 30 seconds and rolling/stretching takes 30-60 minutes. I would like to be getting more massages than I am, but money’s tight so I need to do that judiciously. I also started breaking up some recovery runs into doubles to try to further give the graint a rest. I did an eight mile run after Sunday’s race and that was a mistake. Mr. Leg was not happy.

Sandra has a standard pre-race-week schedule — for shorter distances, meaning half marathon on down — and I notice that she crams in two hard workouts back to back. This week I followed that schedule, piling on the work on Wednesday and Thursday: two hard runs plus a big weight session (I added that one — don’t try this at home before a race). The little recovery run on Wednesday evening helped enormously, I think. My legs felt ready for the progression run. Paces are no longer embarrassing: 6:20-6:40 for the fartlek segments and 7:00-7:20 for the fast finish run. My graint was bugging me during the fartleks (so I cut out the two minute segments on the second set), but it was not terrible.

I was tired on Thursday and Friday evenings, and hungry, so I know I worked hard. But I am okay today and plan to do 10 miler in Central Park tomorrow with at least the last two miles at what I suspect is probably my current marathon pace, maybe around 7:40-7:50 on those hills. I was going to do 12, but that’s too far still. Especially after this, what I think of as my first significant (running) training week since the summer.

One word about the metabolic testing that happened last week. There was no metabolic testing, as it turns out. It was actually just a V02 max test. That’s because there was no C02 sensor in the machine. Which explains why, when Jonathan was asking them about “fat vs. carbohydrate usage,” they looked at him somewhat blankly and didn’t give a straight answer. Now I’m really glad I didn’t pay for it.

But all is not lost. The Nutritionist is consulting nutritionist to the Columbia University sports department, where she is also an adjunct, and Columbia is outfitted with metabolic testing equipment (and, presumably, people who know what they’re doing). But it’s on the fritz! What is it with sports testing equipment?! As soon as it’s fixed, I’ll probably go run on a treadmill with a mask attached to my face again, as well as get the resting metabolic test done (which the other place also neglected to do, although they could have with another machine they have).

I’m down a couple of pounds, finally. But it’s too soon to declare victory. When I’m down five pounds I’ll feel more encouraged. The Nutritionist is working with a basketball player who has the same issue with fat loss, except she’s 6’4″ and weighs around 225 pounds. We are the hard cases.

More random bloviations

Chicago was still open this morning at 8:00. Although I may as well have stayed up to register last night because I had insomnia. Because I was worried about not getting in. Damn you, Chicago Marathon. Anyway, we’re registered. I never thought I’d sign up for a big city race, but I’m doing what Coach Sandra says. Since it’s in October, and so far away, it feels completely abstract. That’s probably a good thing at this point. I’ll probably still hedge my bets with a New York registration as well.

It is now Snowing® (with Freezing Rain™!) for the ninth time this winter. My metabolic test, which has been cancelled twice already due to snow and once due to faulty equipment, is scheduled for noon today. At this point it is beginning to feel as abstract to me as the Chicago Marathon. The test was scheduled for 3 pm, but I rescheduled yesterday when I saw the latest weather warnings. I’m still not sure I’ll be able to negotiate the route given the dire warnings of impending death and destruction on the roadways.

But I will try. We live on a big hill and sometimes, if the crud is slippery enough, I can’t get my car up it. My wheels spin and spin, where I am usually trapped on a blind curve. Other drivers, who have four- (or front-) wheel drive, look askance and honk their horns. I can only reverse. Then I have to abandon our little jalopy in the church parking lot at the bottom of the hill. This is an experience I try to avoid if at all possible.

Also, about that test: I am not allowed to have any caffeine beforehand. That part’s probably harder than the actual test. I can already feel the headache coming on.

I skipped the Millrose Games on Friday. I have never been able to take that event seriously and it was just easier to sit on my couch and watch live coverage than it was to trek in on foot, then get home after midnight. I also knew I’d be spending all of Sunday in town and I can only take so much of Manhattan before I have to flee.

On Sunday I went to see this play, which my friend Michael’s wife wrote and has won a bunch of awards for. I confess that I don’t really like plays, which is odd because I love books, movies, and live music and comedy. But not plays. I don’t like opera or dance either. Notice a common theme? I am theatre challenged. I used to think it was due to a problem I have with the artifice of theatre, in that I can never suspend my disbelief. The weird, unnatural lighting; the sets that say “I’m a set!”; even the footsteps of the actors. I suspect that’s part of it, but it’s not all of it. I think I put my finger on why I can’t appreciate live theatre this weekend: I cannot help but empathize with the actors (the actors, not their characters) — meaning I feel embarrassed and worried for them, up there on stage, basically from the moment the lights come up.

Part of it has to do with my own mortification at being the center of attention in any way. I would not want to be up there (yet I know that’s precisely where they want to be). The real issue is that I find myself sitting there and obsessively speculating about their lives. Is he having trouble paying his student loans? What will she do after this play closes? Does he have health insurance? If she flubs her lines, will she get fired? So of course I’m totally distracted from what’s actually going on in the play. I have to continually guide my attention back to the characters and story, and away from the actors. I probably shouldn’t go to plays for this reason alone. I will say that I liked this one, to the extent that I am capable of liking a play, and admired the skill with which it was written, along with clever uses of various set devices, sounds and cultural ephemera. Coming from a theatre retard like me, I think that’s probably high praise.

For dinner I went out with my theatre companion and friend of 20+ years, Lisa, to this place (I like the genericism of its name). There, I learned that Turkish food is a lot like Greek food, except that it’s actually appealing. I had the lamb kebab.

Earlier in the day I had lunch with Pigtails Flying at this restaurant. I learned some things that I did not know about her. Here’s one: she’s a good lunch date.

Earlier in the week I made this:

And that was my week, plus 24 miles of running that are not worth going into detail about. This week I hope to run 40.

New Houston Hopeful interview: Lori Kingsley

Lori Kingsley is fast enough to have regularly rubbed shoulders with (and been lent hotel room showers by) marathoning’s professional elites. She wins a lot of races. She likes to play dress up. And she describes herself as “a happy runner.” This one took awhile to post, but I think it was worth the wait. The 90+ minute audio is an added treat.

Houston Hopefuls > Lori Kingsley

Patience. Endurance. And more patience.

It’s been surprisingly difficult to get back into a regular running routine, considering how much I missed running from August through October. I had a rough goal of achieving 40 mpw over the past few weeks. But then I found myself skipping planned runs. Or, rather, I had no plans. So not running was easy to do on many days.

Coach Sandra is still traveling and that’s fine. I told her a few weeks back that I was dropping plans for a spring marathon and that I just needed to get injury-free before I could think about making any significant training or racing plans. Building mileage and getting rid of my remaining adductor problems have been the only goals on the horizon.

Still, one needs a plan. In my case, a specific one. “Run 40 mpw” isn’t enough structure for me. So I’ve mapped out runs for the next five weeks. Two of those weeks consist of the “pre-race” schedule Sandra had put into my original plan over the summer. The others include one tempo or fartlek session midweek and a long run on Sunday. Mileage is 35-45 mpw. I have one doubles day. This at least resembles real training, and it’s reasonable to think I can stick to it. I’m giving myself a day off from running about every 7-10 days.

I have races penciled in, despite my better judgment. First, the NYRR Gridiron 4 Miler in early February. That’s completely dependent on how the tempo/fartlek efforts go. If I still have adductor pain, forget it. But if not, I’ll probably go for it. Then, in very soft, highly erasable pencil, the Cherry Tree 10 Miler a couple of weeks later.

That one is probably not practical, based on my run today. I did 11.2 miles in Central Park, although I’d planned to do 12. I ran a bit faster than the previous run two weeks ago (and it was very windy today), and four of them were well under 8:00 at a not ridiculous effort. But I don’t have real endurance yet. I was cooked at 10 miles and made my way out of the park via a shortcut.  I’ll try for 12 next Sunday, down from my original planned 14.

It drives me crazy not to have something to work toward. So I’m going to loosely train for the NYRR Colon Cancer Challenge 15K. That’s 10 weeks away. My best time in that race is 1:07:18 in 2009, and that was doing it as a tempo effort training run with 6 miles tacked onto either side of it. Incidentally, I have no fucking clue how I was doing runs like that two years ago. It seems impossible now.

Running a decent 15K would give me opportunity train for endurance and speed, which training for these 4 milers won’t give me. But I figure I can punt if I’m still struggling with longer distances and just do the Colon Cancer 4 miler instead as a measuring stick against whatever I do next month.

I’m not ready to jump into marathon training yet, physically or otherwise. I need to feel like I can run 50 mpw consistently without getting reinjured. But, looking a bit farther ahead this season, I’m thinking a run at the half distance in Long Island in May (and hoping we don’t have another freak heat wave) is not a terrible idea.

In totally unrelated news, we had a good New York Running Show episode this evening, in which we (Joe, Amy, Brenn and I) covered all things related to training in Central Park (and some racing tips), as well as a discussion of whether men should wear shorts over their tights. We had 83 downloads of the show last week. That’s up from around 50 a few weeks ago. Explosive growth!

“I think you need to stop making plans.”

This is what Jonathan said to me about a week ago. I was sick, still feeling like a half-crippled rhino when I did make attempts to run, and reviewing a list of unappealing, far-flung marathons in April.

That fellow gives good advice sometimes. I’m listening to him, for once. I’ve got no marathon plans whatsoever. I need to be able to run “like everybody else” again (in the words of Special K*) before I can think about that.

Who knows what the spring holds? I can’t afford to care too much. As for the fall, I may want to run Chicago. Or I may not. It all depends. But there will be no plans for the time being. It’s just going to be day by day.

*Thanks to all who offered kind words on that article and about both Sandra and Khalid.

The American Master: Khalid Khannouchi’s Second Last Chance

It’s a Saturday morning in September and for the last hour I’ve been staring at the back of Khalid Khannouchi’s head. We’re being coached through a workout in the deep end of a 25m pool in Briarcliff, New York. Directing us is Sandra Khannouchi, Khalid’s coach, manager and wife of over 14 years. She’s in the water with us, but she stays out of our way as we circle round and round her in Lane 4. Sandra is timing us through a fartlek run that she’s designed with varying intervals of hard running broken up with one minute rests. These are arranged in what has emerged as a diabolical order. The work is extremely hard both physically and mentally, and at one point she’s made it harder by forgetting to notice the end of the interval. “It’s been three minutes!” we protest at 3:02, our heart rates and tempers soaring. “Okay, okay…” Sandra says with some sheepishness, looking up at the huge clock. “Sorry.”

Khalid is injured. I am injured. So here we are. When he’s running fast in the pool he reminds me of a wounded duck, pierced by a bullet and struggling madly to get away. I realize at one point that this must be how I look too. Although I’ve met Khalid a few times before this, I barely know him. It’s hard not to feel a little starstruck; I’m doing a workout with the fastest marathoner this country has ever produced. Yet we’re moving at the same speed, water being the great equalizer. Sandra leaves and we remain for a 10-minute cooldown of leisurely laps. Khalid and I pass like ships. At one point he offers, “That was a good workout.” I agree and then tell him that it’s good to know that I’m not the only runner Sandra is constantly screaming at to go faster, harder. He laughs, but then I mildly regret what I’ve just said, realizing that I’m talking about someone who is not just his coach, but also his wife. Yet later on Sandra tells me that Khalid wants me to come back and do more workouts with him in the pool, so we can share the work. She adds, good-naturedly, “and the screaming.”

I first met Khalid and Sandra in May, 2010 at the NYRR Healthy Kidney 10K press event, the day before the race in which Khalid would make a tentative, and very public, return to competitive running after an injury-induced layoff of nearly two and a half years. At the time I was struck by his affability and candor. At one point he’d even taken off a shoe to show us exactly where on his foot he’d had his most recent surgery. Sandra as coach came across as realistic about Khalid’s current situation, yet exuding a sense of utter confidence in his ability to make a comeback. She was also smart. Those qualities were enough for me to approach her for coaching help a month or so later on.

After that 10K race, I looked for Khalid and found him just outside the Media tent. He surprised me with a warm hug and a question –  “How was your race?” – before I could get a chance to ask him how his had gone. Khalid had finished in 21st place. But he was upbeat. To him, the race was a success, because it wasn’t intended to be a race at all. Central Park had instead served as proving ground: would his foot hold up post-surgery? It had, and, while his chip time was nothing to write home about, he called the run “something promising…something we can build on.”

Now, months later, I sometimes run into Khalid when we’re both working alone in the pool. Devoid of body fat, he sits low in the water despite a buoyancy vest. So low that his breath hits the surface and, amplified by the water, sounds like a steam engine. He is always, always working ridiculously hard. After he leaves I’m sometimes tempted to ask the lifeguards, “Do you have any idea who that guy was?”

A spectacular ascent, in spite of injuries

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1997, if you follow elite running then you know who Khalid Khannouchi is. Originally from Morocco, he moved to the States almost immediately after winning the 5000m at the 1993 World Student Games in Buffalo. He first settled in that city, living for several months in the home of a Buffalo doctor he’d befriended at the games, then moving south to Brooklyn with other members of the Moroccan running team after quickly realizing that cruel upstate winters aren’t conducive to good training.

The next year, he joined Warren Street Athletic and Social Club and became a rising star on the Tri-State racing scene, winning the NYRR Club Championships in 1994. That was also the year he met Sandra, an American originally from the Dominican Republic (and holder of the women’s marathon record for that country) at a road race in Hartford, CT. Sandra,10 years his senior, took over his coaching and management as she was winding down her own career as a professional runner. A contract with New Balance followed in 1995, enabling Khalid to finally focus full time on running. In 1996, the two married. From the very beginning, they shared a love of running – and a belief in Khalid’s potential to do great things.

Over the next six years, he would set world records, course records, and the standing American record in the marathon. It’s an impressive résumé: fastest debut marathon in history, four Chicago wins, three sub-2:06 marathons, one of which (London, 2002) is considered by many to be the greatest marathon competition in history. A phenomenal, seemingly unstoppable talent.

Yet there were cracks forming as early as 1999. That year began with a dropout at mile 16 in London, his left foot burning with a neuroma. But Khalid came back later that year to run a sub-1:01 at the Philadelphia Half, followed by a new world record in Chicago that would take four years (and Paul Tergat) to break.

A victory at the 2000 San Blas 10K in Puerto Rico was immediately followed by a ligament problem in his ankle. That led to a compensatory hamstring injury. His run for third place in London in 2000, a race Khalid ran only because of citizenship delays that put a bib for that year’s USA Olympic Trials in doubt, only exacerbated his injuries. Things got so bad that he ran no marathons in 2001, although he got lucky in 2002, when his injuries abated enough that he could train for and win two spectacular races: his 2:05:38 at London, as previously mentioned, followed by a 2:05:56 at Chicago, his fourth win there.

From there, it was all downhill, in the bad sense of the word. Three weeks after that Chicago 2002 race, Khalid’s battle with his own body began. The battle continues to this day.

The forgotten champion

Khalid eventually gained US citizenship later in 2000 and looked forward to trying again for an Olympic berth in four years. But he missed the 2004 Olympic Trials, again due to injury. In the fall of that year, he finished fifth in Chicago. 2005 was another year lost to injuries. 2006 featured a fourth place finish in London with a 2:07, but it was a time that was more than fast enough to qualify him for the 2008 Trials. 2006 also saw the first of several foot surgeries Khalid would undergo over the coming years. History repeated itself in 2007 when, with a neuroma in his right foot this time, he was again forced to drop out of the London Marathon midway through the race. The following few months included a string of disappointing races, or withdrawals from the elite field altogether, again due to injuries.

Things looked up in the summer of 2007, though. In a rare period of pain-free running, Khalid was at last able to train for a viable US Olympic Trials race that November. Perhaps the third time would be the charm. But his training was too little, too late; after making adjustments to his new orthotics he and Sandra had just nine weeks to prepare. Despite a heroic run, he nevertheless finished in fourth place. It’s a race he still has mixed feelings about. “It was a good experience. But, you know, it’s disappointing because I was very close to making the team. When you finish fourth, it feels really bad: fourth place. At the same time I was happy because I was able to run a marathon. So I thought, ‘Maybe I can train again. Maybe next year will be good. Better.’”

Through eight years of injuries, two missed US Olympic Trials races, one Trials fourth place and frequent trips across the globe for surgeries, therapies and treatments, Khalid has not given up on his dream of representing his adopted country on an Olympic Marathon team. This despite having declared 2008 the deadline for that dream, a deadline that he missed by just under a minute on the hills of Central Park. “Realistically,” he told the New York Daily News in 2007, just days before the Trials, “This is my last shot.”

Do a search on “Khalid Khannouchi” on LetsRun.com or other popular running sites and you’ll hardly see anything following his failed 2007 Olympic bid. One forum thread from the summer of 2009 is entitled “Is Khalid Khannouchi still running?” In many ways, Khalid’s situation mirrors that of Meb Keflezighi’s a few years ago: a once-stellar runner completely drops off the radar, hobbled by injuries, living under the encroaching shadow of advancing years. Lots of people wrote Meb off, but he made a stunning comeback in 2009 in New York and has not looked back. Khalid has cited Meb as an inspiration and role model. Good things can happen. But you have to keep the faith, and keep trying.

Riding the second wave of American running

When asked why American marathoners have slipped so far behind the Africans over the past two decades, and why no other American has broken 2:06, Khalid is emphatic. “We are improving! I think the attitudes of American runners now are totally different. They think they can compete, and win honors, titles and all that. They can go and run with Kenyans and Ethiopians. We saw Meb win New York City. We saw Dathan get a medal in the World Half Marathon. We see people breaking American records, which is good! So you cannot say that because nobody has broken my record that we are not improving.”

Khalid also points to the growing pool of potential champions, as reflected in participation in the Marathon Trials of 2008 vs. the mid-to-late 1980s. “If you look at the number of people competing in the US Trials in ’84 or ’88 [compared to] the numbers in 2008 or 2012, you’re going to see that maybe we’ve tripled the numbers. That’s how you know there are more people coming up. But,” he adds, “It’s going to take a lot of time. And, believe it or not, there are people who are out training a lot harder somewhere else,” with “somewhere else” being a euphemism for “Africa.”

The Africans are the runners to beat, and Khalid has beaten them in the past. With Americans now seemingly poised to truly take on the current world-beaters, Khalid wants to once more be among those leading the charge.

For the most part, Khalid’s American cohorts are anywhere from 5 to 20 years his junior. He’ll turn 40 in 2011. Can experience compensate for the unavoidable toll that time takes on a marathoner’s paces? For Khalid, that’s not the relevant question. “I think fresh legs are what really matter. I’ve not been running for almost a year. So I feel like I’m 35 or 34.”

Reaching the age of 40 could be significant for Khalid in several ways. For one, he’ll be competing as a master at that point. That presents even more opportunities – such as new records to break – to add to his list of achievements. The possibility of beating men decades younger than himself is an extraordinary one in its own right. But his new status as a masters runner doesn’t factor into how he thinks about his comeback. “To be honest, I don’t feel like a ‘master.’ You try to take care of business, get healthy and get back to training. I think if I can do that, I still believe I can compete. And if it comes as a master, I don’t mind it.”

So many dreams, so little time

Try for a moment to imagine how this feels: you are the best marathon runner in the world.  You get injured, but you work through it and can clearly see that when you’re not injured you can still be the best marathoner in the world. Then the injuries just keep on coming. This goes on for eight years. “It’s very difficult,” Khalid acknowledges. “But you have to believe. You be patient, go to the gym, swim a bit, run a little bit. We had good, solid training. It’s just that I couldn’t keep up the work because I had little problems again. So you’re trying to get back and, for some reason – I don’t know if it’s a curse? Maybe I’ve done enough already.” Glancing down, he explains, “My feet are banged up. That’s the problem. If you have a good car without good wheels, it’s like you have nothing. That’s basically the problem I’m facing right now.”

Khalid had a plan back in 2007: finish in the top three in the Trials, run for the US on the streets of Beijing – and perhaps pick up a medal there as a souvenir – and then retire from competitive running. That dream died hard in November of that year and then was all but forgotten as new injuries took hold. At that point it seemed that even being able to run at all was an achievement worthy of pursuit. “Last year I wasn’t able to run for 20 minutes,” he notes. “So I said, ‘You know what, let me have surgery. I know it’s painful, but let me do it because at least then I can run like everybody else.’”

But then something happened. What began as an effort to simply get well enough to be able to run for more than a few miles without pain turned into a rekindled fervor for making the Olympic team. “Then when I started running like everybody else,” he says, laughing, “I said, ‘You know what, I want to get back and compete!’ I never wanted to run after 40. But I’ve got this opportunity: to be in the Olympics. I had the world record. I won the best marathons. But I’ve never been in the Olympics and I want that on my résumé.”

As Khalid and Sandra have learned over and over again, it can be dangerous to make plans, as they have a nasty habit of going awry. Perhaps this is why they speak of goals with a certain fluidity, a reflection not so much of shifting priorities but of their capitulation to the mercurial whims of Khalid’s body. The immediate goal is to get him healthy enough to train again, and run some test races at shorter distances, while avoiding further injury. The longer-term goal is to make a competitive comeback in the marathon. Ideally, an Olympic bib would figure into that comeback. But both of them acknowledge that betting all their chips on the US Marathon Trials in January of 2012 is risky. So he will run when Sandra says it’s time to run.

“It’s month by month,” says Sandra. “You don’t know what can happen. If, for example, it’s October and he says, ‘I feel good. Now is when I really have to run a marathon. Now I’m in peak condition,’ as a coach, as an agent, I will say, ‘Let’s go to New York.’ Because you don’t know what’s going to happen later. If you say, ‘No, let me wait until January,’ then you can get hurt again or that peak is not there anymore.”

Yet so many opportunities

From one perspective, Khalid’s comeback might seem at best daunting and at worst Quixotic. But from another, the whole world of running lies at his feet.

While the 2012 London Olympics is the headliner, other opportunities are waiting in the wings to serve as understudies should timing dictate: a run in New York, long-desired but always thwarted by injuries; or a return to Chicago; or perhaps a master’s world record or American record, if it happens – although Khalid has never entered a race with the intention of setting a world record, but rather picking one up as a bonus when that’s what the race required on that particular day.

Khalid knows what he wants to happen. “If I had a choice between going to the Olympics and running New York, I’d go to the Olympics.” But if the timing isn’t right for the Trials? “I want to run New York. I wish I had that opportunity in my day because I felt I could win New York, no problems. Chicago is probably the city where I feel more comfortable. It has a special place in my heart, more than London, more than any other place. Chicago is by far the best. But now, because I’m from here, I would love to have an opportunity to run New York City. No question.”

If Khalid does make the US Olympic Marathon Team, it will be historic regardless of what he goes on to run in that Olympic race in London. Only two masters men have ever represented the US in an Olympic Marathon. The last time around was James Henigan in 1932. Then there are masters’ marathon records to consider. The American record is 2:12:47, set by Eddy Hellebuyck in 2003, although given Hellebuyck’s recent admission of heavy EPO use during that period it can hardly be considered legitimate. The world record of 2:08:46 was set that same year by Mexico’s Andres Espinosa. That time is well within striking range for a healthy Khalid Khannouchi.

But, ultimately, what he wants most is just to have a good marathon, an experience that at this point seems very far away indeed. “I haven’t been running marathons. My dream is to run another marathon. I don’t care where. On another planet? I’ll go there!”

It’s not so easy, making a comeback

One of Sandra’s favorite observations, oft repeated, is, “It’s not so easy, being an elite runner.” That sentiment applies to making a comeback as well. When you are a world-class runner it’s impossible to participate in a race and go unrecognized. But the recognition isn’t the problem – it’s the expectation. Everyone watching is expecting you to win, even if that’s not why you’re there. Khalid tried to choose his test races carefully, in venues that would minimize the pressure to perform. But he still had to cope with people’s perceptions and assumptions.

He felt the weight of expectation on him at the Healthy Kidney 10K in May, his first race in well over two years. “You know, I thought at first, ‘It’s going to be the race to start with; it’s no pressure.’ But when I got to the starting line, everybody’s hugging you. You do feel the pressure. I said, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ Because people know you, they love you, they expect a lot from you. That’s when the pressure hits you.”

After Healthy Kidney, Khalid ran a few other test races, including Beach to Beacon, a race that he’d hoped would be lower key. “We have a good host family, our friends. I feel like I’m going on vacation there, not racing.” He’ll return to such races in 2011 when he does his next round of test runs. Then the plan is to go for a Trials qualifying time at the half marathon distance, with that race as yet to be determined.

A major comeback demands major changes

Going forward, Sandra and Khalid know that they have to take the hard lessons they’ve learned over the years and apply them to every area. The first priority is healing from and preventing injuries. When the third neuroma of his career emerged earlier this year, they knew what to do: apply medications through local injections, slice a tendon to reposition the problem toe, then make adjustments to his orthotics once again.

Then there’s his training. The mileage will go down while the quality of those miles goes up. Lower mileage means lower impact and reduced chances of injury. As Khalid put it, “Running, running, running is what’s going to get you there.” But not so much running that he’ll be stopped dead in his tracks along the way. High levels of cross-training, along with strengthening and balance work, will augment the miles. “These other things will help to have a faster comeback,” Sandra asserts.

A move to Colorado Springs will further facilitate a comeback by reconnecting Khalid with some of his key training partners on a more consistent basis. That move punctuates a major change in his personal life as well. After 14 years of marriage, Sandra and Khalid have decided to divorce amicably. They’ll continue to work as a professional team and, in fact, both feel that the decision to part ways as a couple will only better his chances of racing well again.

“We care for each other,” Khalid says. “But for both our happiness, this is better. We have some differences. Lately we don’t agree. Maybe it’s because of me because I’ve been through hard times, dealing with injuries, not racing, not running like I would wish. It just seems like there is no good communication like we used to have.” He holds up a blue coffee mug. “When we had all the success, it was clear: ‘This is blue.’ We didn’t have to argue about it. And now…”

Sandra is quick to emphasize, “I think if he wants to make a comeback, it’s better not to be husband and wife. I really want him to make a comeback because I know he can do it. I think [the divorce] will be better because I can then concentrate and really give energy to him.” She reflects for a moment or two. “You have to be happy. When you’re doing something you want to do, whether it’s professional or your personal life, you have to be happy. If you’re not happy, nothing’s going to grow. I know that this is going to be better for both of us.”

Despite the plans to end their marriage, there remains an easy affection, and even jocular bickering, neither of which seems in danger of going anywhere. At one point Sandra offers me some Moroccan bread she’s made, although she was engrossed enough in our conversation that she forgot to take it out of the oven in time. As a result, it’s slightly overdone.

I tell them it’s fine, but Khalid says, “Bring her something else.”

Sandra laughs and says, “There is nothing else. You ate everything!”

While he may not be running at the moment, Khalid still has the appetite of a marathoner in training. “I am like a snake,” he says mischievously, weaving an undulating hand in the air. “I go through the house, eating everything.”

The sleeping giant

With the Trials set for January, 2012, it would seem that a year is plenty of time for a runner at Khalid’s level to prepare. But when you’re used to being blindsided by injuries, looking at a calendar can create more anxiety than confidence. So much can go wrong in those twelve months.

While Sandra may have her eye on 2011, Khalid can’t afford to look that far ahead. “I don’t want to talk about next year,” he says with a mixture of worry and conviction. “I’m talking about next month, when I start running and see the feeling. Look, I want to hear that everything is fine and I can run. If I do, then we’re going to have a lot of fun. Running 10Ks, maybe for six months. Just try to get back.”

It’s been over three years since he’s run a race with confidence, and that was the last Trials marathon in 2007. That’s enough time to forget everything you know. “Before, I used to know what I should do before races: I knew the workouts I should do, what I should eat. And now I’ve lost it. I don’t even know what I used to do before.”

Khalid is consumed with getting beyond his injuries and returning to the lead pack, displaying a drive to excel that even a decade’s worth of setbacks hasn’t diminished. “I want people to know that I’m trying the best I can. I invest a lot of money going to doctors and all that, just trying to get better. Because I really want to compete. I will never give up, and I’ll try. It’s frustrating. Eight years of struggle. People who have had injuries will understand me. We still hope. There is hope. I have faith that if I’m healthy I will compete again.”

As we’re wrapping up our interview, three of Sandra’s four grandchildren (by her daughter from a previous marriage) are making their arrival. I watch Khalid leap up from his chair, dash over to the door and impishly hide behind it, with a finger pressed to his lips. The kids tumble in, the youngest, four, tearing off her coat and throwing it on the floor. Khalid sweeps it up and shoves one arm into the pink sleeve. He struggles to get his arm into the other sleeve, but even on his 5’5”, 125 lb. frame, this is an ambitious proposal. Giving up, he lets the jacket drape across one shoulder and, eyeing the kids, singsongs, “I’m going outside for a walk now…” He’s Gulliver in a frock, eliciting a chorus of Lilliputian giggles. A few minutes later, as I’m walking away up the street, I can still hear faint laughter coming from the window.

Fear the bike. Respect the bike.

Coach Sandra sent me a series of stationary bike workouts about a month ago that she says she got from Joan Benoit-Samuelson. Joanie used these back in the 1980s when she was just starting to establish her status as Patron Saint of Injured Marathoners. Now I’m trying to schedule an interview with Ms. Samuelson so I can 1) talk to her about how she trains today by comparison to back then and 2) actually share these workouts if she’ll give the okay.

I was given a free issue of Running Woman — or Women’s Running(?) — magazine. I can’t remember the name, but it was bland and featured an equally bland, heavily photo-retouched non-runner model on the cover with huge tits and it’s downstairs and I am upstairs and don’t feel like walking downstairs for reasons I’m getting to. In that issue was an article by Joanie about tempo runs. In it, she states exactly how to do the various runs. So I’m hoping she won’t have a problem with sharing these workouts with the world.

So, back to those workouts (and the reason I don’t want to go downstairs again today). I received three workouts. Two of them are what I could call reasonable. I was not worried about them, having done similar stuff on my own already. But the third one I was actually afraid to try. It takes about 96 minutes, 40 of which consist of the warm-up and cool-down. I’ll leave it at that.

I did the workout yesterday. The spin bikes at the gym only allow you to “program” an hour. So I had to do two 50 minute sessions, ending the second one 4 minutes early. A guy got on the bike next to me when I was 35 minutes into my first session, then looked mildly alarmed when I finished that one and sweatily punched in another 50 minutes. I could hear his thoughts: “Head case.” He left long before I was done. He probably thinks I’m still there.

It was hard, but not as bad as I thought it would be. At least not until today, 24 hours later. I did lower body weight work for an hour this morning. That was hard, but okay. Then I got into the pool to do a 45 minute session (this is now considered a short session for me, but we had a meeting with a client later on so I had to keep things brief). My plan was to do 15 minutes of half-pool length intervals (you “run” all out for about 30 seconds, then rest on the turns for about 10-15 seconds). I warmed up for 15 minutes and launched into my first interval. My legs were dead. I have started doing pool runs after weight work, so I don’t expect them to be peppy. But this was different. I could not do anything hard. I gave up and just ran easy for another 10 minutes and wrote off the workout.

That was one sneaky bike workout. It took 24 hours to show just what a pummeling it packed.

I will try again in the pool tomorrow morning. But I would not be surprised if I have trouble. My legs are still fatigued now, 36 hours later. I run again tomorrow afternoon, on grass, for 30 minutes. I’m sure I can manage that. I think.

In other news, Joe Garland is making a noble effort to revive the Ekiden in New York (his older post about that is here; old dreams die hard, it seems). I am trying to help, since for all my bitching about the More Marathon, I still love the idea of people racing multiple loops in the park. Just not 9,000 people. I think 150 or so is a good number.

I am also attempting to plan some good shows for the Runners Round Table podcast in the new year. My first planned show is a January 5 hour on eating disorders and exercise addiction. I’m no expert, but the people I’ve invited on are. I have other ideas for shows, but I want to see how they pan out in terms of getting good guests before I blather about them here.

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