Training: May 3-9, 2010

50 mpw seems to be my training “set point” these days. I hope it’s not too much of a shock when I start up higher mileage in the summer. But I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

This was an eventful week for two reasons. First of all, this week featured the first race in which I was sporting a blue bib. The other big event this week was that both Jonathan and I joined the ranks of running clubdom. But two different clubs.

Joe has been working on Jonathan for awhile to join Warren Street and finally broke him this week. Then I was plied with iced tea and delicious nibbly things by a New York Harrier on Saturday and in a moment of weakness said I’d join up to bolster the 40+ womens scoring.

I don’t know how competitive these two clubs are against each other, but I suspect that once we start racing for points in earnest, the crockery will be flying. I’ve already warned Joe that I plan to sabotage Jonathan’s training at every opportunity.*

I also have to admit that I don’t really understand the points scoring system, which seems arcane, at least at first glance. But this isn’t the first time I’ve committed to something with only a vague understanding of the requirements or consequences.

Below is a picture of me with said troublemaker. We are admiring our magical blue bibs (her first as well).

Bibstruck.

The week was capped with Yet Another Race, a Mother’s Day themed 4 miler. This is getting old, I know. So old that I’m not even going to write a dedicated race report this time. Since I’m on the subject anyway, here’s my quasi race report:

On the surface, it looks like I made zero progress between this 4 miler and the 4 miler on the exact same course in March. March was a 27:34. Today was a 27:35. But one must look at the splits, grasshopper. The splits. Very important. The splits, they hold the knowledge.

March: 6:47, 6:48, 7:06, 6:42

Today: 6:47, 6:43, 7:18, 6:34

It was hellaciously windy this morning, a very strong wind mostly going from west to east, although at times it felt southwesterly. My goal was to try to run 6:45s for at least three of the four miles. Mile three on this course is always awful for me — the transverse is often windy (as it was today) and the hills on mile three, while rolling, are exhausting.

I established a 6:45ish pace pretty much immediately and was feeling really good until the transverse when the wall of wind hit us. I was really working during mile three but trying to not work so hard that I’d wreck myself for the last mile. I was more successful with that today than I typically am, as evidenced by my 6:34 final mile. This is why looking at splits is important; they tell a more informative story than the finish line clock does. I’ve got a higher level of speed endurance than I had six weeks ago. I credit all the racing for that.

I also started up with the weight training again and have been experimenting with eating loads of protein and a bit more fat throughout the day. I lost three pounds, although I know quite a bit of it was water weight. But at least the scale’s moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, as part of this effort I’m tee-totaling, which is always a drag. But I find it’s easier to just not drink than to try to drink in moderation. Not because I have a problem. I just love to drink.

I briefly flirted with the idea of doing next Saturday’s Healthy Kidney 10K race. But I need to keep my eye on the immediate prize: running a halfway decent 1500 on the 18th. Racing a hilly 10K three days before that is not going to help. So next week will feature two speed sessions: another cutdown workout on Tuesday followed by some 300s (this is new) on Friday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 400m repeats I did this week, hitting most of them at 90, although I cut the session short at the tail end of the ninth one when my pace fell off and my left hamstring started complaining. It’s taken so many hard lessons to learn to cut a workout short when there’s an issue, or not do it at all if it’s the wrong day to try.

In other news, my Olympic Trials interview project has started off well. I’ve got at least six women who are very interested in taking part, and I’m hoping to add at least a couple more to my roster. But I haven’t stopped looking. All the women have quite different running/racing backgrounds, which I’m very happy about. They are all interesting in one way or another.

*Since I am the nutritional director of the household this should be very easy for me to do. I’ll plan to feed him copious amounts of goose liver paté, slightly spoiled Stilton cheese and Baconnaise. I’m also going to start keeping an airhorn next to the bed for very early morning wakeups.

Training: April 12 – April 18, 2010

Since I’m in a somewhat manic “oh I’ll just change everything” period, I may as well also change how I label these training posts. I realize that since I’m not training for any particular race, saying I’m in “week n” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I’m going to do what the pros do and just tell you what dates I’m talking about.

First things first — and I’m skipping ahead into this week, so if you’re confused, it’s not you, it’s me — I did not run the Boston Marathon, which everyone else in the world seemed to be doing. (And I should add that I never will run the Boston Marathon, despite its caché, for a host of reasons). But I did have a grand old time watching it on Monday evening.

Since I had so much to do workwise (don’t people know not to schedule meetings on Patriot’s Day? Sheesh.) I had to sit on our Tivo recording until about 8:00PM. Staying away from all news was challenging (although, let’s face it, Facebook was harder to go cold turkey on for an entire day — I slipped once, but only to post something, not to read).

It was a thrilling race, especially on the women’s side, which is becoming a happy pattern in recent years. There are great summaries of the race elsewhere, so I won’t bore you here. Except to say that I wish Larry Rawson would truly retire. He’s like the Rolling Stones (only older) — constantly announcing his retirement only be exhumed yet again, our sport’s own version of Grandpa Simpson, rambling on about how much everyone is earning and how far that money goes in Kenya, reading leg turnover rates like so many tea leaves and getting nearly everyone’s name wrong. At one point he was laboring to compare running the mile (he was a miler in the Mesozoic Age) to running the marathon. Seriously. It was funny.

Okay. Onto the good stuff. I was a bit dumb about training last week, getting carried away and running a bit too hard. But I felt so good after the Scarsdale 15K that I couldn’t stop my legs, which wanted to go. On Wednesday I gave in and let them do a general aerobic run. I was surprised at how slow that was considering the relative effort, although I shouldn’t have been.

I was obviously still tired from Sunday — and probably also from racing over hills for three straight weekends — but that didn’t stop me from doing another speed session two days later. I went back to the “cutdown” workout that I’d done just once before, about three weeks prior. It was a strange session. The first repeat (a mile) was a minor disaster. It was quite windy and between that and running about 15 seconds per mile too fast I just died toward the end. I ended up cutting it short to 1400m. I figured the rest of the session would suck, but that first repeat turned out to be my warmup. The other three legs went extremely well, considering the wind.

I took Saturday off both to rest my legs and to clean our house from top to bottom so my sister and niece would never know what slobs we are. No one must ever know. Niece has decided she’s going to UC San Diego, although since Rutgers’ Honor College apparently offered her a metric fucktonne of financial aid she thought she’d better at least check the place out before deciding to remain a California girl.

While I’m sorry that I won’t have her around on this coast, as she’s really quite charming and the complete opposite — outgoing, cheerful and enthusiastic — of everything I am, I had trouble seeing her living here, especially sequestered away in East Brunswick, New Jersey rather than among the bright lights of New York City that drew her here (insert gratuitous “moth to flame” analogy here) in the first place. But she has her entire life left to move to New York and in the process ruin said life. Like I did! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

On Sunday they headed off into the city for theatre and lunch with more eagerly awaiting family and I dashed up to White Plains and back. Again, it was ridiculously windy and my paces were all over the place, anywhere from 9:30 to 7:50 per mile. But it was a satisfying run and allowed me to eat this monstrosity later on.

This week is considerably lighter: just one speed workout and then my first 5K race in several years on Saturday. I’ll go ahead and say my goal is to break 21:00. Unless it’s windy, I think this might be doable. But you’ll be able to read all about that … next week.

Spring Training: Week Ten

I’m starting to feel like a real runner again.

Now that I’m plunging into a few months of frequent racing, my training has taken on a different structure and quality. The most noticeable change has been in the number of workouts per week. They have generally dropped from three (tempo + speed + easy long) to two (tempo or speed + hard long or race). The mileage is, by comparison to last year, also a lot lower most weeks, with last week in the mid-30s.

I was very tired on Monday, so I just took it off. At this point, I’m seeing lots of evidence that the training is resulting in steady improvements. So recovering from those workouts has become equally important. I don’t want to either fizzle in the workouts or races, or drive myself back into a ditch of overtraining. Not when things are going so well. So I won’t hesitate to take a day off if my ass is dragging.

We’re trying to put a minimum of two rest days between a hard session and a race. This week, since I skipped the Saturday “Manhattan Monsoon” race (the NYRR 8000), I got three recovery days. That extra day didn’t seem to make me stale.

The nature of the workouts is also changing. This week my speed session featured 800m repeats, but with a twist: I was to run the first 600m in 2:30 (6:40 pace), then drop the hammer for the last 200 and run that in 45 (6:00 pace). This was a tough workout, not the least of which was because I was sharing the track with the entire Bronxville High track team (and it was, as usual, windy). But it would have been tough on an empty, windless track. Running uncomfortably fast for a few minutes and then running even faster proved a challenge both physically and mentally. This was also the first workout that I can remember in awhile that I felt slightly pukeworthy at times. However, I managed the paces, more or less. But I was fried afterwards.

The next few days were very easy because I thought I was going to be racing on Saturday. When I realized I wasn’t, I nevertheless cut back the planned mileage for Saturday from 10 to 6. I reasoned that if I was going to make the 2 miler my focus now, I might as well be as fresh as possible for it.

My legs felt great for the 2 miler, and I ended up with a few extra miles around it for warmup and jog cooldowns.

This week the mileage is back up into the 60s and I did a very challenging workout on Wednesday — a new sort which Kevin referred to as a “rite of passage” workout. More on that coming up in this week’s training recap. Next week features another surprise: my first “cutdown” workout on the track (1600, 1200, 800, 400 — all getting progressively faster). Then the Colon Cancer 4 miler next Sunday, where I hope to break 7:00 over that distance at last.

I’m also once again attempting to shed some of the extra baggage I’ve acquired in the past few months. My scale tops 134 now. Twenty months ago I weighed 126 and I felt a lot more comfortable at that weight, especially when running fast. It was very difficult to lose weight while running high mileage last year. I don’t know what the hell happens metabolically when you’re doing 90 mile weeks, but losing weight was all but impossible for me. Now I’m figuring that with relatively low mileage demands at the moment, my need for fuel should be on more of an even keel and perhaps my metabolism won’t be so inclined to demand calories every 90 minutes and then store them so enthusiastically.

Unfortunately, a concerted effort to lose the flab means scaling back on my usual gluttonous birthday plans in a few weeks and teetotalling most evenings. Moreover, my day gig’s team status call has been moved from Monday afternoon to the cruel hour of 8AM on Monday morning. This means I can’t get moderately inebriated on Sunday nights anymore and count on having half the day Monday to let a mild hangover seep out of my system. This is probably a good development, although I wish I’d had some say in the matter.

Spring Training: Week 3

I was a happy runner this week. All my paces dropped and recovery time is also getting back on track after two weeks of very delayed recovery.

It was overall a speedier week, with the exception of Wednesday, which featured some wicked menstrual cramps in the first two miles — so bad that for a few minutes I thought I might lose my oatmeal. That passed, but not after strolling for a third of a mile; hence, the slow overall pace. But by and large my recovery runs are in the 10:00 range, a good minute faster than even a few weeks ago.

Tuesday’s midlength run was an odd one. I started out running inexplicably slow relative to effort. Then something kicked into gear and I was running faster at the same effort. The middle three miles were slowed by a muddy, slippery trail. But I was pleased to break 9:00 pace for a run in the high 70%s for effort.

I returned to the track on Friday morning for what turned out to be surprisingly good session. I say “surprisingly” because I again was running like crap for the warmup miles and had resigned myself to probably having an equally ho-hum speed session. But I started in on the faster quarter miles and found that running 1:34-1:38 felt just right (assigned pace was slower, but it felt way too slow). HR’s were in the right range, so I’m glad I went with the impulse to run them faster. I wore my spikes, which I’m sure helped speed me along.

Saturday’s recovery run (around 10:00, even though I left it off the chart) was also fine. I’m so used to running recoveries at 11:00 pace that it makes me nervous to go faster. But my HR says it’s fine, so I go.

This morning’s 14+ miler was great fun. I started with three miles below 73% then picked things up to 74-78%, throwing in a couple of 81% miles at the end. Ran those at 8:23, a pace that required considerably more effort a month ago.

Next week goes back down to 60 miles, but with three quality workouts again. All my workout paces are getting adjusted downward in light of this week’s data.

I’m feeling confident enough that I’ll be running as consistently as planned this season to go ahead and buy some new shoes to rotate into my colorful menagerie of blown rubber. It’s early in the year, which means the new models are coming out and you know what that means: the “old” models are on sale! I picked up two pairs of Pearl Izumi Streaks for around $70 with tax and shipping each. That’s at least $15-20 off what I’ve paid for those in the past. I’ve got several newer pairs of racing flats of various makes and two pairs of my recovery run stalwarts (the Saucony Grid Tangent 3) early in their mileage lives. So I’m set for the next few months.

The racing calendars are starting to take shape as well. I’m going to do as much racing as I can in Central Park this season (in pursuit of my coveted bib, plus there are a few races I enjoy, such as the Colon Cancer 15K). I’ll take it month by month, but it looks likely that I’ll be racing at least every 2-3 weeks. Some weeks will be back to back. I’ve even got one weekend where I might do back to back races on Saturday and Sunday (short ones).

But I’ll play it by ear. The first goal — enjoying training again and seeing improvement — is starting to take shape. Having fun racing again is the next goal on the horizon.

Oh, right. I remember now.

I remember 2007. Or at least I remember my paces from 2007. ‘Cause that’s what I’m running these days!

This week was the first one during which I attempted anything resembling training, after four weeks’ rest and recovery from my blowup in Sacramento. I’ll post a detailed report after tomorrow, but I thought I’d do a post of early observations and random news.

Lots and lots of runners I follow are mourning their downtime-induced loss of speed. I know exactly what they’re talking about. My tempo pace is probably 30-40 seconds per mile slower than it was two months ago. 8-10K pace is about what my tempo pace used to be. Recovery runs are only a little slower than they used to be (although I always ran them on the slow side once the mileage got above 70 mpw).  I haven’t attempted much in the general aerobic range, but I’ll be dipping my toes back into that world tomorrow.

Along with speed, it seems I’ve also lost endurance. Whereas doing a 10 mile recovery run used to be easy, I’m getting tired right in the 6-7 mile range.

So I’ve got some work to do.

The weather has not exactly been conducive to good training. We’ve had the coldest winter in NY that I recall, save for my first year here (1985), in which this transplanted Californian simply couldn’t fathom sub-zero windchills. I also had not familiarized myself with wool and spent that winter freezing my ass off (because I was 20 years old and broke all the time) in $5 cotton layers purchased from the tables of Senegalese purveyors along 14th Street in Manhattan.

Anyway, it’s been cold. Plus it’s snowed, which partially melted, then refroze, leaving my beloved 11 mile running path an unrunnable sheet of pockmarked ice. Yesterday I had my first real intervals session in months scheduled. But my local rich high school’s million dollar Mondo track was covered in the morning’s fall of snow, so it was back to the treadmill again.

My first race of the season, a four miler, is in a month. After yesterday’s foray into running at 93% effort, my expectations are low. Still, since it’s in Central Park I’ll be able to use it as a good gauge of fitness. I honestly don’t expect to run sub-7:00 (the time that would gain me the coveted first corral bib qualification). Maybe I’ll surprise myself, though. How much fitness can I regain in four weeks? We shall see. Given the bad running conditions and how slow-as-shit I feel lately, I am glad not to be under pressure to train for a marathon in early May anymore.

In other News About Me…

Since I find it easier to lose fat when I’m not running 80-95 mpw, and I’m sporting more of it than I’d like, I’m once again on the wagon and keeping my chubby little mitts away from Nutella, roasted cashews and my various other calorie-dense weaknesses. This plan will partially go to hell at the end of the month, when we celebrate Jonathan’s birthday. But since we’re both sporting tight pants these days, it should be a fairly restrained celebration.

I committed (as it were) to be an alternate on PigtailsFlying‘s team for June’s Green Mountain Relay in Vermont. Like most other things running-related this year, I’m taking a “fuck it, I’ll try that” attitude. The introvert who needs six hours of alone time each day screams “Nooooo!” at the idea of spending three solid days with a bunch of strangers, much of it in a confined (very confined) space (and mobile too, which is sure to bring out my motion sickness), during which sleep and personal hygiene are considered non-essentials.

But the same introvert who misses the moments of pleasure and surprise in spending time with strangers is bellowing from the other shoulder that this could actually be fun – if I only reoriented my perspective from one of discomfort and deprivation to one of adventure and discovery. As my sister pointed out, it’s only a few days. And good blog fodder. But, then, so is the stomach flu. Don’t I sound like a great teammate already? No wonder I’m an alternate; Pigtails has met me exactly once, but I guess that was enough!

I’ve got no signs of injury. Anywhere. Even after my faster (cough cough) running on the treadmill yesterday. Nary a niggle. Nothing. I’m wondering how long this will last. All season, if I’m careful. I hope.

Obligatory “year in review” blog post

Doing a “look back on 2009″ post seems to be all the rage among running bloggers this month. Although I normally purse my lips in disapproval at such conformity, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon the past year, which from a marathon racing perspective was a disaster for me. But it was not a disaster in all areas. For one, I ran some stellar races (and workouts) at various points in the winter and spring. I almost ran a stellar 5 mile race in the fall (only to DNF at 3.7 miles with a raging hamstring). And I learned a lot, oh, yes. I learned a lot — about training in general and about myself as a unique physiological running specimen.

Here’s what I learned this year:

  • High mileage results in huge gains for me, but only up to a certain point. If I run high mileage for too long, I will eventually break down in the form of either overtraining or injury.
  • If I have injured myself, I often have a short window of faux-recovery during which I can nevertheless run a spectactular race or speed session (and fool myself into thinking I’m not really injured). But if I continue to run hard after that I will get reinjured.
  • A hot, hilly long run or race will fuck me up for weeks, if not months.
  • Doing a very long and very hilly run at the end of one or two high mileage weeks is dangerous. Depending on how long I’ve been doing high mileage, chances are good that doing one of these will push me over the edge into injury, although it can take anywhere from 7-10 days to develop. Training in Central Park is an especially hazardous prospect in these cases.
  • Extreme changes in weekly mileage are a bad idea. Going from 50 to 95 (even if I’ve recently run 95 without issue) is a great big embossed and monogrammed invitation for Injury to attend my next workout, and perhaps even bring a guest.
  • If I’m feeling very worn down and don’t want to run, I need to take the day off. A few missed runs won’t destroy a season. But too many runs that I shouldn’t have done will.

Bonus realization:

  • My right gracilis muscle does not like running in weather below 20F. My left one, however, is completely okay with this.

The above lessons are hard won. But I won’t soon forget them.

As for what happened in Sacramento two weeks ago, here’s my theory: I suspect that I was undertrained for the marathon specifically. When you look back at my training in the fall, it was constantly being interrupted by one thing or another. First it was a two+ week trip to South Africa, which involved days of travel, a large time zone change, eating and drinking a lot of stuff that isn’t on the menu for marathoners in training, and big time stress in the form of all of the above along with the added treat of being a victim of major property crime. Not to mention some terrible workouts due to poor conditions (brutal heat among them).

Then I came home and had a few good weeks only to experience the first of two serious injuries: hamstring pull followed by inflamed tendon. I didn’t give myself time to heal properly from the first, piling on 95 miles after a 52 mile injured week, and the second injury came in to take its place. All told, injuries screwed up my training for close to a month total. So out of a 13 week schedule (3 of which were taper weeks), at least 6 were heavily compromised. For you mathletes, that’s a screwup factor of 60%.

I toed the line in Folsom thinking that there was a good possibility that I might have to settle for a 3:20 or even a 3:25. I might have been able to make that time somewhere else, but not on that course on that day. The downhills chewed up my quads a la Steamtown and the headwinds were just, wow.

This was all on top of whatever was wrong with me in the spring, which for the sake of simplicity let’s say was overtraining. After an amazingly good buildup from the fall into April, I crashed in May. I was a wreck in June and July, then ran in a holding pattern in August and commenced training in September, as described above.

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

Fall Training: Week 5

09fall-training-05Having recovered from the difficult previous week, I decided to have another go at running some miles at marathon effort before leaving South Africa. This run went much better than Friday’s semi-disaster, as it was again in the low 60s and the sun was behind the clouds.

Despite a weekend of drinking, staying up late and stuffing myself, I felt pretty good for this run. Although I have to admit that I was looking forward to getting home and swearing off shortbread biscuits, chocolate and buckets of wine and beer. At least until after I run CIM in December.

Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with getting home and getting ready for my reentry into work and serious training again.

I guess I managed to kill a few brain cells with all that fabulous local wine and beer because on Thursday I went out and hammered a workout that was supposed to be on the easy side. My Thursday speed session should have been run at recovery pace, with the exception of the 8:00 at speedy effort. Instead, I ran the whole thing at moderate-to-hard effort. My legs felt great and I just forgot that I wasn’t supposed to run this hard for these workouts.

Not surprisingly, I was tired on the subsequent recovery runs. I cut the Saturday run short by a mile and ran it at a slow jog pace to try to save my legs for Sunday’s race.

I went into the Westchester Half on Sunday expecting…well, not really expecting anything. I didn’t know if I’d do badly, well, or somewhere inbetween. As it turns out, I did very well under the circumstances. Maybe those lighter mileage weeks gave me the rest I needed to race well. Or maybe it was the wine, chocolate and beer.

Between this and the Whale half, I’m feeling good about my current level of fitness. The next few weeks of training — under what I hope will be healthier, more amenable conditions — should yield more clues as to where I am.

Race Report: 2009 Westchester Half

Short report since work is nuts, I have lots of training logs to catch up on, and I have to run 90 miles this week (eek).

Like the Whale Half in South Africa two weeks ago, I came into this race with an open mind and no real expectations. But unlike that race, the conditions were near perfect, with a starting temperature of around 48 degrees and almost no wind until the last few miles. True, the course is hilly, but not as bad as what I faced in South Africa. Plus I was familiar with the course, so I could come up with something resembling a pacing strategy.

I tried three new things in this race. I know you’re never supposed to try new things in a race, but this wasn’t an important race for me, so what the hell. The three experiments were:

  • Shoes: I wore my new pair of Adidas Adizero Ace’s (with only 8 miles on them), just to see how they compare to the Saucony Fastwitch 3′s for racing. They were great racing shoes and I’ll wear them again in my next few races. I’m not sure how they’d hold up over the marathon distance, but I plan to try them on a 22 miler this Sunday in Central Park to see.
  • Warmup: I tried a new warmup routine, a modified version of what’s discussed in this online article in Running Times. While I didn’t follow it to the letter (it was for a 5K anyway), I used the principles: a solid block of very easy running, followed by some active stretching and skipping, topped off with some short intervals at close to race pace.
  • Mental approach: I dumped the data, at least during the race. Meaning I decided not to look at my watch and run completely by feel. Although I was 3.5 minutes off my PB for the half, this was a very successful race and I suspect that this data-free approach had a lot to do with that.

Why was I 3.5 minutes off my best? I chalk it up to several factors:

  • Course: My best half was run on the nearly pancake flat Long Branch Half Marathon course. The Westchester course has significant hills throughout the race.
  • Training cycle: I’m in the middle of a marathon training cycle. When I ran my best in NJ, I’d had over a month of rest after a good full marathon race.
  • Jetlag/stress: I got home on Wednesday afternoon after close to 30 hours of travel on two flights. On subsequent nights I was sleep-deprived. We also had to deal with the burglary/rental car damage in the last few days of the trip and that caused a lot of mental stress.
  • Terrible nutrition: I’d spent the past 2+ weeks eating garbage and drinking like a fish.
  • Weight: I gained about three pounds while on vacation. So I guess I was literally hauling ass during this race.
  • Lack of recovery: Thursday featured a run that was supposed to be 8 miles at 70% MHR with four 2:00 repeats at 91-92% and 2:00 rests. Instead, I ran an average effort well into the low 80% range and only did 1:00 rests between repeats. Not until I got home did I realize my error. So my legs were still somewhat tired going into Sunday.

All things considered, this was another good race. Unfortunately, as with the Whale Half late last month, lots of factors conspired to obscure the quality of my performance. But I feel good about both races.

The Westchester course featured a steady climb in the first mile, and two other notable hills in subsequent miles, but the first half is a net downhill drop. That means the way back is uphill. So I reserved energy in the first half and ran at a manageable pace.

During the first half, some people passed me and I passed other people. I was cruising along and not really worrying about what other people were doing. The pace was hard, but comfortable, a full breath every three steps. About a mile before the turnaround I spotted the leaders and was happy to see Jonathan in sixth. He held that position to the finish. Then I started counting boobs and by the time I hit the turnaround had figured out that I was in ninth. Suddenly, I cared more about this race.

So I made a deal that I would do my best to work my way up to fifth, but exercise enough control that I wouldn’t kill myself in the next few miles only to fade in the last two. I easily passed the first woman in my sights, who was fading fast anyway. The next one was tougher, although I surged by her as she slowed at a water stop and that seemed to work. I spotted the next just beyond the 9 mile mark, right before a big hill. She was holding her pace on the hill so I thought it would be foolish to try to pass her then (especially since I’ve done no hill training). As we crested the hill, a friend of hers on the sideline yelled, “Go, Mary! There’s someone right behind you.”

I wanted to ask her friend, “How old is Mary?” but I didn’t. Instead, I felt slightly annoyed that my cover had been blown. But it was a great motivator. So I followed Mary down the hill and recovered over the next few hundred yards. Then I decided to try a longer surge on the flat bit that was coming up. So I passed her “decisively” (as they say in strategy articles) and held a pace of about 20 seconds per mile faster than she was running for a good quarter mile, then picked up the pace again on subsequent downhills. She came in a minute behind me, so I guess this was the right thing to do.

After that, the only other woman I saw was blowing her Wheaties just past mile 11 (isn’t racing fun?). I thought she was the leader at the time, but now I realize she wasn’t. She may have been a quarter marathon runner (we bumped into them on the way back), but I don’t know. But for a good couple of miles I was convinced I had fifth place, and it was a good feeling to know I did everything I could to move up. [Updated: it turns out I did get fifth.]

The penultimate mile ends with a huge hill and I felt done at the time. But I managed to rally in the last mile and ran that one the fastest, a good 20+ seconds faster than the overall average pace for the race. This makes me wonder if I should have run the whole thing slightly faster if I had that much left.

I ended up with sixth fifth overall and first in the 40-49F age group, with a net time of 1:37:35. The woman I passed, Mary Fenton (2nd in our AG), came up and congratulated me, which I appreciated. The other funny thing was seeing a young woman win an age group award and go completely batshit with excitement. It was very endearing and a good reminder that I need to remember how hard it was to win awards until very recently. Jonathan won the 50-59M age group. We have matching ugly trophies, New Balance gift certificates and enough powdered Heed drink mix to poison a small cult.

Did I say this would be a short post?

Watching out for ticks and tik

Well, as suspected, my training has gone somewhat to hell since I’ve been here. I certainly am not running the miles planned, although I’ve made an effort to get the important workouts (or something resembling them) done.

On Tuesday we did a 14 miler along a dirt road called Riviersonderend, which translates roughly into “Endless River.” Since we are in such an isolated place and had to do different workouts, we spent some time beforehand planning how to ensure that we’d be within a mile or so of each other. Jonathan had to do 8 1K repeats and rests and some easy running. I had to do 5 tempo miles in a midlength effort. So we worked out a 7 mile out/7 mile back plan, where he’d eventually catch up to me and pass me coming and going, then I’d catch up to him and we’d run the last few miles together.

What we didn’t count on was another day of brutal headwinds and big hills. Worse, we were in full sun and it was warmer. So those 5 miles were tough and I was again glad to be training by effort rather than pace, since I was averaging 8:00 miles again. I have been told by the locals that a woman running alone is safe, and I have not doubted this while looping through the town, especially with my little borrowed Doberman at my side. Once out on deserted roads with only a farmhouse every few miles, I’ve not been so sure. But Tuesday was fine and the few interactions I did have were comfortable (although I did wonder why two boys who looked about 14 were driving a giant tractor).

Speaking of the Doberman, it seems the owners who were out of town are back and again properly caring for her, so I’ve not seen her wandering the neighborhood anymore. I may go ask if I can borrow her if I do another solo town run again.

The rest of the day was spent consuming recovery-friendly hot chocolate and quiche, followed by a stroll around nearby Genanendal, site of (again, this was what I was told) the oldest missionary settlement in Africa, in this case Moravians from the early 18th century. Something I really like about South Africa is that the flip side of its second-world flakiness is the flexibility that goes along with it. In Switzerland, if you turn up at a cafe at 3:58 and it’s closing at 4:00, they’ll turn you away. Here, they’ll serve you and tell you not to rush, and they really mean it. Or, another example: restaurants often run out of dishes (ask me about the pizzeria that, on a busy Saturday night, had to stop serving because they ran out of cheese!), but the ones they do serve can be out of this world, like the crackling pig I had last night.

Genanendal is also worth noting as we noted on Google Earth that it has a running track. Or, at least, it once had something resembling a running track. Now it’s a molehill-pocked, overgrown loop surrounding a slightly less ratty rugby field, populated with wild dogs. We decided not to run there, despite my being innoculated against rabies.

Next up on the itinerary was a much-anticipated group hike, a 14k from Greyton to McGregor, through the foothills of the Overbergs. I have pictures but forgot my connector cable, so they’ll have to be added later. Most impressive was the presence of Jonathan’s 78-year-old mother, Margaret, who, while not skipping up and down the trails, nonetheless performed like a trooper and made it to the end of the trail without complaint despite two minor tumbles along the way. The English are a hardy folk.

It was a great time, actually. I got to know a few Greytonites, all retirees and most of them transplants, including Paul, who shared his mishap-laden stories of travel in the States and, most shockingly, his total ignorance of Elvis Costello (despite being a huge fan tof Diana Krall, he’d never heard of the guy); Ulrich, a retired professor of German Literature and escapee from East Germany, with whom I had a detailed discussion of Caster Semenya; Claus, a retired Swiss engineer with a penchant for photographing flowers while apologizing for not knowing what any of them are. We got a ride home from Andrew, another cheerful, good-natured Brit, and his lead-footed Londoner girlfriend, Susan.

The hike itself was fantastic, taking us from cultivated wine country into semi-arid desert. Along the way were natural falls and pools, wild lilies the size of saucepans and more wildflower varieties than I could count. No baboons, snakes, spiders, leopards or Lyme-carrying ticks, though.

After quick showers the four of us youngsters, myself, Jonathan, Rob and Phil, headed out for a restorative meal in town in R&P’s rental. And then, upon our return, our adventure began. The first thing we noticed was that the entire side of our own rental car was scraped and dented. Next, upon entering our rented house, inside doors that had been closed were now opened. A survey revealed random items taken: Rob’s camera and cellphones, Phil’s iPod, Jonathan’s Adidas racing shoes and, most oddly, yogurt, tea biscuits, Nutella and biscotti. But not the wine, beer or gin. Nor the laptops, expensive running watches or my jewelry case.

With no sign of forced entry, we all sat around worrying that a key was floating out there somewhere. But we finally found a window that was unlocked, probably from prior to our check-in, although there’s always the possibility it was opened by a clever thief with a knife. Also, a deck chair in front of the window was shoved to the side, making it the obvious point of entry. I will say that the police were responsive, as was the security company when we called. The biggest nuisance was the rental car. Again, don’t ask. A day was wasted dealing with that mess. At this point, we’re out a substantial sum due to arcane car rental mores coupled with Avis’s bait and switch policies. Strongly worded letters to the Avis corporate offices and various regulating bodies will follow. Probably with no effect. Don’t rent from Avis!

The agent responsible for managing the house told us that it was probably the work of local teens looking for things to sell for “TIC” (or “tik”), the local variety of crystal meth. How horrible to know this blight has now spread to one of the countries on the planet that can least afford another big social problem. School’s out, which means the kids are idle, and the property crime is up as a result.

So, what a huge fucking drag this has been, a bruise on an otherwise lovely trip. My visits to SA are never complete without a moment when I say to myself, “I’m never doing ‘x’ here again.” The first time it was sitting alone on a beach in Cape Town. The second time it was flying South African Airways. This time it’s…well, I don’t know what exactly.

Jonathan has two friends from his university days, Brand and Ronel, arriving tomorrow evening from Johannesburg. We’ll forget about the events of the last 24 hours and focus on spending time with them. I’ve got a hard 21 miler scheduled this weekend and had hoped to do it before they come tomorrow, but we’ll play it by ear. At this point, I’m inhaling G&Ts in absence of Xanax.

Africa. A nice place to visit until something goes horribly wrong. Which it will if you give it a few days.

Today’s final note: One of the headlines in the Cape Town Times today is “Seeking solutions to baboon-related issues.”

Recipe: Chicken Livers and Bacon

In my quest to become as iron saturated as quickly as possible, I’ve been reading up on foods for the iron depleted. Chicken liver is tops in my book. Not only is it easy to find, but it’s also suprisingly low in calories (around 150 for four ounces raw; not that you’d actually eat it raw) and high in protein. But wait — there’s more. It’s off the charts in Vitamin A and offers a good natural source of Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 (the latter is useful for building up red blood cell count). Chicken liver is also dirt cheap, at least where I live: $1.99 a pound.

Some caveats: It’s very high in cholesterol, so you probably shouldn’t eat it more than once or twice a week. It’s also not safe to feed children and infants large amounts of liver as it can overdose them with Vitamin A. For the same reason, pregnant women should avoid it. Finally, the phosphorus in liver can impede calcium absorbtion, so time those liver meals carefully, or take a calcium supplement.

If you think of liver as resembling the rubbery remains of a shredded Michelin tire, then you haven’t had liver that’s been prepared properly. With the exception of pork liver (which I’ve never actually seen for sale anywhere), you can cook liver to the level of doneness you’d prefer in any other meat. In my house, that means rare-to-medium-rare. The result is a tender meat, slightly pink inside. For an extra shot of iron, cook liver in a cast iron skillet.

Here’s how I like to prepare chicken liver:

Chicken Livers and Bacon

Serves 4 restrained eaters, 3 hungry ones.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. raw chicken livers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 5 slices of bacon
  • 8 oz. raw mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • half cup chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. light cream
  • 1 tsp. Chinese 5 spice powder
  • half tsp. ground ginger

To prepare:

  1. Preheat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  2. Mix the two spices with raw chicken livers.
  3. Cut the bacon crosswise into half inch wide strips. Cook until chewy but not crispy. Drain on paper towels.
  4. Drain off all but 1 Tbsp. of bacon fat.
  5. Cook mushrooms for a couple of minutes, just before they start to “sweat.”
  6. Add chicken livers to pan and cook until they are mostly brown on outside, not pink.
  7. Add chicken broth and turn heat up to medium high. Add bacon pieces back to skillet.
  8. Check “doneness” by slicing into a piece of liver.
  9. When done, turn off heat and stir in cream.
  10. Serve immediately. It goes nicely over some brown rice, but it’s also fine by itself.
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