Sandwich runs

Tomorrow I have what I’ve started calling a “sandwich run.” This is a workout that consists of a respectable number of miles to start with (at aerobic pace), followed by a race, then finished off with another chunk of miles immediately post-race.

In these runs, you’re not meant to race all out. Instead, the aim is to get in some aerobic miles so you go in tired. Next, you run the race at some predetermined goal pace that is slower than you could actually race it (for example, marathon pace, marathon+10%, etc.). And finally, you force yourself to run some more miles at a respectable pace once the race is finished and everyone else is off enjoying their bagels and hot chocolate.

I was first introduced to this concept back in November, where I saw that my coach had scheduled two miles on either side of a 10K race. I was told to really run these miles, not jog them. In fact, if I could manage it, it would be even better to work up to my intended racing speed at the end of the pre-race segment.

At the time, I thought this was a nutty idea. But that day I learned the value of running a mile or so hard before a short race; for the first time, I felt truly warmed up before a 10K, and I ran fast (considering the conditions) that day.

I’ve since had one other sandwich run: a planned 18 miler with 4.5 each on either side of the Ted Corbitt 15K in Central Park. It was very wet and cold that day, so I cut the two “bread” runs short (3.5 and 4.0), but nevertheless raced the whole 9.3 miles of “meat” in the middle.

That run was over three months ago. Tomorrow is the biggest sandwich run yet: the Colon Cancer Challenge 15K, with two full loops of the park (6.2 miles) tacked on either side, bringing the total distance to around 22 miles. I’m planning to do the first segment on the low end of the aerobic range, or around 72% max heart rate. Then I’m aiming for an average pace of 7:15 for the race. For the final miles, I’m taking the attitude that I’ll do what I can do, although I hope to again maintain an effort that is at least in the low 70s% mhr (recognizing that cardiac creep may push it higher anyway).

I find these workouts both intriguing and satisfying. In the satisfaction department, it takes the pressure off of racing. I know I can’t race all out, and so I don’t have to feel bad when I don’t. It’s also amusing when I’m running the course after the race and an astute volunteer says, “Hey, you’re on your third loop!” or something else that indicates they’re onto me (or they think I’m mentally challenged).

These runs are also a great exercise mentally, as the last thing you want to do after crossing the finish line is to go run six more miles. But that’s kind of how I feel every time I reach mile 20 of a marathon: I’m done. I don’t want to run fast anymore. But I have to. So I do. But, boy, does it take a mental effort to race those last six miles. The intrigue lies in whether a regular dose of sandwich runs helps with that particular aspect of marathon racing, which I have always suspected is as much mental as it is physiological in nature.

Spring Race Training: Week 5


I originally wrote a beautifully worded and utterly fascinating post for this week. But then WordPress failed to autosave it and it’s gone forever. So the clumsy, awkward presentation that follows will have to suffice.

I ran a shade under 90 miles this week and it feels quite natural to do so. To be fair, this was my average mileage over the summer, so it’s not a new experience. However, what is different this time around is that I’m not completely flat-on-my-back exhausted all the time. I’m doing three days of doubles per week now (and that’s set to go up to four days soon). Over the summer, I was doubling at least six days a week, sometimes seven, and I think that was way too much. I also didn’t have as much variation in the mileage from day to day as I do now, which I believe also contributed to an inability to truly recover.

Previous posts already talked about the bad run on Tuesday followed by the good one on Friday. I was thinking about these two runs and what made one bad and the other good and remembered a subject I’ve meant to write about but haven’t gotten around to. So I may as well do so now. The topic is hormonal fluctuations and how they can affect athletic performance in some women.

As I’ve tracked my training over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern of performance degradation or enhancement depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle. To put it in simple terms, I run with all the speed and grace of an arthritic platypus in the days before and during my period (luteal phase), after which I gradually, but quite dramatically, evolve into a gazelle hopped up on speedballs in the four days or so before ovulation (follicular phase). If you find that you mysteriously run better or worse at certain times in the month, you might try tracking where you are in your cycle to see if there’s a predictable relationship. On a related note, some studies have shown that women taking oral contraceptives may also experience lower VO2 max during the luteal phase and/or elevated body temperatures (which can affect hot weather running), so there’s a double or triple whammy for some of us.

So you know all about Tuesday and Friday already. To bring this full circle: If you look at the four days that are outlined in red, that’s my period. Tuesday fell on the first day, which is often my nadir in terms of running performance. After that, things start to look up. I hope this means that I’ll be at my apex come the weekend.

Apologies if this is way too much information, and more than you wanted to know. It took me awhile to figure out that there was a connection between cycles and performance. I wish I’d read something similar much earlier so I could have cleared up some mysteries (and timed my races a bit better).

What’s left is a few recovery days during which I was pretty tired. But that’s what they’re there for. Today’s long run was a blast, actually. I woke up after 9.5 hours of sleep feeling great. The predicted inch of snow didn’t materialize overnight and we instead had a day of light rain, but never heavy enough to soak me through. I felt so good on my run that I threw in an extra mile, and picked up the pace in the second half, running several at 7:50 or well under. I’d like to be doing my garden variety long runs at a slightly faster pace than I’ve been doing them thus far (a flatter course on a clear path with no wind certainly helped today), so I’m going to be trying to get my average down closer to the 8:00 and below range over the coming weeks.

Week 6 bumps things up to 95 but removes the tempo running on Tuesday, adds a speed session of 300m repeats (for which I may break out the shiny new spikes), and ends with a 25K race/training run on Sunday.

I love to eat and run

If you feel like eating, eat. Let your body tell you what it wants.
— Joan Benoit Samuelson

Or rather, run and eat.

A little over a year ago, when I started training in earnest for my third marathon, I began to notice a shift in my relationship to food. Namely, I became aware of wanting specific kinds of foods at specific times. I would know when I was low on carbohydrate stores because I’d find myself wanting raisins, or bread with jam, or juice. A need for protein and iron asserted itself in the form of knowing that I wanted nothing more than a steak for dinner, preferably with a side of spinach.

Not only do I crave certain foods based on their nutritional makeup, but it’s the intensity of the desire for those foods — and specificity of the individual food items — that I find so striking. I don’t just want a bagel; I want a salt bagel. I don’t just want meat; I want roasted chicken. When I don’t have those things around, my disappointment seems out of proportion. But is it? Or are our brains just very good at determining those nutritional elements that are lacking and driving us toward the foods that can replenish them?

I’ve learned to make a mental note of a craving and plan for it. After a recent hard run, I had a strong desire for an everything bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I had none of those things in the house, but I made sure that I would next time around. After some long, windy intervals this afternoon, that’s exactly what I wanted. And it’s exactly what I had.

I can’t wait to have some tenderloin and sweet potato fries later on this evening…

The other side of the groin

I’ve learned a little about groin pulls this week. For one, I have a mild case. I trace it back to the half marathon in Central Park 11 days ago. A day or two after the race, I noticed a sharp pain in my inner right thigh whenever I lifted my leg, stepped sideways or went up or down stairs. (There go my hopes for a fabulous career in country step dancing.) Interestingly, it didn’t hurt while running. So I kept running.

It would get a little better after a recovery day, then I’d do a hard session (either a long run or faster intervals or tempo work) and the pain would be back the next day. On Kevin’s advice*, I skipped the 400m intervals I was scheduled to do today (and just did a 10 mile aerobic run), even though it was a lot better this morning. But the idea was not to irritate it again. And it is better still this evening.

In my web trawlings, I learned that exercising in extreme cold can cause it, which might explain why it’s never cropped up before despite lots of racing in Central Park in the past year or two. It was five degrees (windchill) that day, so it was bloody cold out there. I also learned that ice is recommended, although people find success with heat just before exercising. Before my 10 miler, I squeezed a hot water bottle between my thighs like an aggressive convention hooker this morning — and darned if that didn’t help quite a bit! Much more pleasant than ice too.

I’ll be doing a fast 20K run over a hilly course in Connecticut this weekend. I hope it’s better by then. At least I know it won’t be worse.

*Or, rather, upon my cajoling him into granting me a “get out of intervals free” card.

For running wonks: An excellent analysis of Olympic lap times

How fast is Tirunesh Dibaba? Other-fucking-worldly fast, that’s how fast. Read about her spectatular last lap in the 10K final and more from the BBC.

“Magical” run days

On Tuesday morning I had one of those magical run days. I was scheduled to do a 14 miler at “easy” pace (Pfitzinger’s “general aerobic” pace). That pace has meant in the range of 8:12-8:20 in recent weeks.

Well, my body decided it was time for an upgrade on Tuesday. I first surprised myself by doing my first mile at 8:50. I typically do a mile or two of warmup in the 9:30 or above range. So I could see that the fires were stoked and my legs wanted to go. I let them do as they wished.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a progression run, but my 14 miler turned into one without any conscious effort. I just kept going faster and faster. I didn’t notice this was happening because, oddly enough, my heart rate was staying pretty much the same — in the mid-70%s.

I motored along in the 8:05-8:20 range for the first few miles, then did one in 7:43. Whoa! Where’d that come from? Then I did a few more of those. Took a little breather for miles 10 and 11 (8:00s) and then turned up the gas again, did a couple more in the 7:50 range and then finished up the last mile at 7:27. Even there, my heart rate was only at 82% for the last mile.

On Tuesday, it was as though someone held up a sign that read, “Hey! You can run faster! You’re fitter now!” I know that it’s the mileage plus faster running over the past eight weeks that led to this bump in fitness. What’s interesting is how such advancements sometimes make themselves known in the form of a “magical” run (or, if you’re lucky, a magical race, which for me was last year’s New Jersey Half Marathon). One day you’re plodding along at your “normal” paces; and the next — blam! — you’re flying on winged heels and aching to go faster still.

And with that, I’m off to the track for some 5K intervals…

Fit, fast and … fat?

Compared to most women in this country, I look like a runway model.

I have what I think is somewhere in the range of 24% body fat, although it could well be higher or lower, since all I have to go on is my consumer-level Moron body fat measurement device. While this number is on the low end of normal for the general female population (especially today, when overweight-to-obese is the new “normal”), it’s on the high side for a competitive marathon distance runner.

The discrepancy I see between myself and the women I finish with in races (who are typically carrying noticeably less extra poundage than I am) has bothered me more for theoretical than practical reasons thus far. After all, if I’m finishing with the skinny bitches, then the fact that I am not a skinny bitch myself is not holding me back. Or is it? I don’t know.

Not knowing something, especially something that might impact something else that’s important to me, really bugs me. So I sought out some expert advice from Mary Coordt, who is not only a nutritionist, but she’s also a three time Olympic marathon trials qualifier and frequent speaker on nutrition for runners. Since if you so much as exchange one email with me your expectation of privacy is null and void, I’ll share what she told me with you.

When I presented her with my plight (“I’m obviously fatter than my peers at the finish line, can’t seem to lose that extra fat no matter what I do, and I fear that it’s slowing me down.”) her response was frank, informative and oddly reassuring. To paraphrase, it went something like this:

You’re born with a certain body type and physiological framework within which to work. You’re in a normal range for body fat and you’re making great progress. So stop comparing yourself to the thinner marathoners and look to the bulkier runners instead (she mentioned Russians in particular) who have no problem moving fast over long distances despite the loads they’re hauling. Keep training and your times will drop. Don’t worry about it.

To me, one mark of a true professional is being able and willing to tell someone that they really don’t need your services.

So I’m going to stop looking for the diet or person who can promise me fat loss. I’m just going to keep running.

Nice legs

I needed to do a six miler last evening. I usually construct this run with a four mile loop up to Scarsdale followed by a two mile loop down to Bronxville. But the weather was so horrible yesterday that I couldn’t handle the idea of having to run beyond my starting point down to Bronxville. So I ran a bit farther north and turned right on Harney Road, figuring if I ran up to White Plains Road, I’d probably go around 3 miles (to turn around and make it a six miler).

Running through a commercial area had its benefits, as it turns out. I ran by lots of store windows, some positioned at clever angles. And, damn, my legs are starting to look really good. They are no longer shapeless blobs of bouncing flesh. There’s still a fair amount of bouncing activity in the inner thigh region. But I have real muscles now, and I can actually see how my knees are put together.

Running 90-100 miles per week seems to be the ticket for fat loss. It’s going to be a shame to cover these puppies up with tights soon.


*For mice only.

And then there are those of us who actually enjoy distance running.

Something to make summer training even more unpleasant

High levels of lactic acid, carbon dioxide emissions and body heat are mosquito magnets, apparently. Enjoy that evening run!


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