And here we are again

I haven’t posted anything about my training (a term I’ve used loosely lately) for nearly two months. Running has not been at the forefront during this time, to say the least. But I have been doing something resembling training, if only to try to retain the 5K fitness I spent months carefully crafting in preparation for Houston.

In the weeks since my dad died I’ve run an average of around 28 mpw. That’s not terrible. Starting about a month ago I was back to two workouts a week most weeks. I ran the Cherry Tree Relay and didn’t do half bad (somewhere between 23:00-24:00 for 3.33 miles; I wasn’t timing myself). Three tempo runs, two speed workouts. Not exactly stellar, but I’ve made an effort. I took four days off last week. I was exhausted.

Today I raced Coogan’s and came in 12 seconds faster than last year. I’d liked that to have been 1:12 faster, but you can’t have everything.

During this time I’ve considered what I want to do with my spring and summer in terms of running. I liked 5K training in the fall and winter. It seemed logical to target another 5K in the early summer and then do another 12-14 week buildup for the Fifth Avenue Mile. But then I started registering for NYRR club points races. This despite my bitching about not wanting to run all those Central Park races. But something’s wrong with me. I can’t stop myself.

I’m not going to race nearly every club points race like I did last year (or, at least, that’s what I’m saying now). But it seemed crazy not to register for the Scotland 10K. Then the Mini 10K registration opened and well, it’s got so much history. How could I not race that one too? In fact, I may as well make that my goal race since I’ve got 14 weeks to prepare for it. There’s a newish race up here in the northern hinterlands, the 2nd Annual Bill Fortune Memorial Run (put on by Rockland Road Runners) on May 20th. That one’s around Rockland Lake, which is flat, if a little narrow. It appeals to me because it consists of a 5K and a 10K. So I can always wait and see which distance I feel like racing when the day comes.

I am returning to Jack Daniels’ Running Formula for training guidance and I am reminded that his plan for the 5K and 10K is the same. It’s the “5K-15K training” chapter. You see where this is going, right? I may as well train for a 10K since I’m now registered for two of them. Which is easy because I’ll also be training for the 5K.

The other decision I’ve made is to skip the Vermont Green Mountain Relay, much as I enjoyed the experience two years ago. I have long suspected that the combination of racing the Mini 10K all out, followed by the brutal requirements of that relay (three races over 24 hours, lots of hills and — during that year — a horrible heat wave), followed by hard training is what may have pushed me over the edge into a bad injury. I won’t be trained for that race on the current program, nor do I want to head into mile training exhausted, so that one’s a no go this year.

I’ll stick with two hard workouts (or one workout, one race) per week since it’s kept me uninjured since July. I’m designing my mileage to be relatively low: 45 max to start out with, but I’ll push it into the 50s if it doesn’t exhaust me. Aside from the 10K races, I’ve got a few much shorter competitive efforts planned as well. I’m sick of being a purist. So I’ll race stuff I’m not trained specifically for. Next weekend I’m running the 2 Mile, along with the 800m leg of the Distance Medley Relay, at the McCarren Track Classic (I like how it’s called “classic” even though this is the first year). Then the Scotland 10K a month later. Then the Rockland Lake race, although I may try to find something else in there since it’s six weeks between those two races. Then the Mini 10K three weeks after that. For June and July I’ll probably do two of the Icahn Tuesday night series races and, finally, the Van Cortlandt 2×2 Relay, although I don’t yet know with whom I’ll race.

Training starts in earnest this week. The other order of business is to find a gym closer to home so I can get back to pumping iron. That’s next weekend’s project.

It feels very good to be racing and training again.

And now for my next disaster…

Four years ago I watched the women’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials race on television and, noting that a few of them were over the age of 40, thought maybe. Maybe. About six months later, when I ran a 3:19, I again thought maybe. Maybe. I embarked on the pursuit of a 2:46 marathon time, believing there was some outside chance I could run that fast one day, despite all evidence to the contrary. I went through two coaches, about 9,000 miles, lots of shoes, and bouts of overtraining and injury. I finally gave up in May.

Over the years this pursuit turned into a chronicling of expectations that have gradually lowered over time. Scratch one race, target another one in six months. Hope I come back from injury. Okay, so I wouldn’t run a qualifying time at all. But maybe I could get the first masters award in the 5K race in Houston that weekend. At least I could go interview some professional elites. But I got turned down for a media pass. Okay, so maybe I’ll just interview some of the amateur elite runners I know who will be there. Or at least meet them for dinner. Drinks? Anything? Okay, if not, I’ll just go watch the Trials then.

In the meantime, my partner in running, travel and life was beset by his own injuries and setbacks. A rock placed in his path by some mischievous running valkyrie on a 20 miler resulted in a sprained ankle mid-training cycle, then a compensatory injury in his quad. This was on top of years of injuries. So rather than running the stellar comeback marathon he’d planned, his sights were on just running a halfway decent pace and finishing in one piece.

We got to Houston on Thursday the 12th. Had dinner. Slept. Got up. Had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Went out to buy groceries, $92 worth of food and drink for a long racing weekend. We even bought extra beer to host people with, just in case. Entering our hotel room, I saw the red message light blinking on the room phone. I figured it was hotel management pushing room service or something, but it was a terse message from my sister to call her as soon as possible. I put down the phone and said to Jonathan, “Something terrible has happened. I am about to get some bad news. You need to prepare yourself.”

And I did indeed get bad news, on Friday the 13th. My father had been killed in a car accident near his home on Long Island while we were out buying $92 worth of groceries.

I won’t go into all of that here.

We left immediately to come back east and spend the long weekend closer to home, with family and family friends. On Tuesday afternoon we got back to our house in Yonkers. That evening, in a daze, I watched the Marathon Trials coverage, dutifully recorded for us by Tivo. I looked for my Houston Hopefuls, the runners whom I’d interviewed (or just meant to interview),  the handful of women who had both carried and achieved the dream. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t surprise me because they wouldn’t be in the front of the pack. Then I looked at Jaymee Marty’s blog post about the Trials. Jaymee (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries. Both started the race with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a sacral stress fracture, the same injury I had in 2010. Perkins would drop out early.

Marty, Loken and Perkins

These two women, Loken and Marty, bookended my experience as a Trials wannabe. Susan was the first masters runner whom I followed, as the face of the now-defunct More Marathon, the late-starter masters runner, someone who took up jogging in her thirties to get in shape, who went on to run in the 2004 Trials (at the age of 40) and 2008 Trials and win multiple masters championship titles. Jaymee was the second masters runner I followed and my first Houston Hopefuls interview — the woman who inspired the series, really. I have followed Jaymee’s running career for at least three years and was elated when she qualified for the trials in Chicago in 2010, the third-oldest first time qualifier in history (sorry, Jaymee; that’s not a backhanded compliment, just a fact). Not only did both of these women make the Trials, but they are also both phenomenal runners when they are running well. But now, here they both had been, struggling just to finish.

And, you know, I’m really proud of them both for running and finishing. But at the same time the whole thing — marathoning, the Trials, setting goals — it just seems like such a giant cosmic joke. You can make all the plans you want, but in the end life is going to happen. And just when you thought you’d lowered your expectations as much as you possibly could — “I’ll just race the 5K and watch the Trials…” — you end up having to lower them even more.

Why do we strive? Why do we set goals? Fate laughs at them sometimes, reminds us of how temporary we all are, and renders our grand plans totally trivial. But what else are we to do?

Race Report: 1st Day 5K

2012 began with a race in balmy temperatures. It was 49F at the start of the 1st Day 5K, a little race in Fair Lawn, NJ that’s part of that state’s USATF Grand Prix series. With that distinction, I figured it would be a good race to use as a final tuneup for Houston since it was likely to be accurately measured and well organized. I was not disappointed in either regard. But what I didn’t expect were the hills. And the wind. Both colluded to rob me of my goal to get close to 20:30 today. I ended up with a 21:11. Meh. But, boy, did I have to work for it.

I decided (on Ewen‘s advice) to look at my watch in the first 1K to ensure that I wasn’t going out too fast. My goal was to run between 4:00-4:06 per kilometer (that’s 6:25-6:36 mile pace). Ha ha. Not today. My average was 4:12 per. But when I look at my kilometer splits and consider the course conditions for each, the data is actually pretty encouraging.

The course was a little turny — probably around eight or nine right angle turns, and a few gentler ones. But the turns weren’t the problem. At the start, I noted the flapping American flag. Wind was coming from east/southeast. Most of the first 3+ K headed either east or south. The race also started with a gradual uphill, and one steeper hop up a side street. I decided to run the first kilometer “conservatively” by trying to stick with 4:06. I managed a 4:08. Running into wind, my pace quickly cratered to 4:21, then 4:18. As we approached the start of the last mile I was struggling mentally. I knew there’d be no bettering my PR of 20:50 a few weeks ago, let alone hitting 20:30ish. I knew I probably wouldn’t even break 21:00 today.

I was so tempted to stop and walk at that point. But I decided to use it as a mental training session instead. I would try to get familiar with this feeling — this tiredness at the 2 mile mark — and make friends with it, make her my running partner. Didn’t Jaymee recommend that recently? I set new, impromptu goals — pass that guy in front of me; don’t let the guy running with the veteran’s flag get too much farther ahead; run the whole race without water and see if it makes any difference.

Once we turned out of the wind, things looked up. My pace dropped to 4:15 for the fourth K. There were two men running ahead of me, although I swear to God I thought one of them was a woman. A sturdy woman. This runner held fat in very womanly locations, so I just thought it was a short-haired woman who was built like a brick shithouse. Like me! “She” also had short hair, and had the mildly compromised skin elasticity that suggested a period on the planet of around 40 years. I had no idea how many women were in front of me but I wasn’t going to not pass this masters female.

I passed her, taking a surreptitious peek in the process. And she turned out to be a he. Oh, well. It was the motivation I needed at the time. I managed a 4:00 last kilometer, kicking it in at 3:24/k pace for the .04 extra that I managed to run. I’m glad I wore a Garmin today because otherwise I would have failed to see proof that I can run at 4:00 or faster at the end of a race. That alone was worth the trip and effort.

There were some familiar faces there, too, which I didn’t expect. First, I ran into Ansky and his daughter (AKA L’il Ansky) in the registration line. The last time I saw Ari he was on his way to PR in the Long Island Half as I was having a mile 9 meltdown. It was good to see him under happier, more relaxed circumstances. Then at the start I spied fellow Harrier (and 2nd F overall at the Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K last month) Shari Klarfeld. Shari won the women’s race, and as a bonus hung out in the home stretch and cheered me on to second place.

The highlights were, as they so often are in smaller races, at the finish. First, when I came in, the guy who was tearing off bib tags was talking to me and I guess I didn’t look so good because he stepped back a foot or two and mumbled, “Uh, oh.” I think he thought I might throw up all over him. My choked laughing at this realization probably didn’t help to correct that misconception.

After getting some water I sat down on the curb to watch other runners coming in. There was the usual mix of people you see in local races. But there was one man whom I was not expecting, a guy with a style all his own. I called him Ali Baba. He was fortyish, with a full beard and mustache.

He was frantically trying to break 29:00. But it wasn’t his finishing speed that I noticed. It was his choice of clothing. On the bottom he wore black MC Hammer pants. I don’t even know where you buy those anymore. On the top he wore a peasant shirt of some sort of semi-transparent material. It was bright yellow. It was also open to the bellybutton, revealing a square foot of chest hair that rivaled Karastan for its luxurious mat. But the crowning sartorial achievement was found on his feet. He was shod in what I think was some kind of bullshit barefoot running shoes. All I know is that he shouldn’t have worn socks because they caused one Vibram ballet flat to go flying off right at the finish.

So. Now you know. I am a terrible person. I laugh at people at race finish lines. (But only people who deserve to be laughed at.)

2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 11 – 17

Now we’re in the home stretch. There’s a month to go before my goal 5K race in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. The emphasis now is on (in this order):

  1. Staying uninjured
  2. Making tweaks to training to address weaknesses
  3. Determining what a reasonable goal pace would be

I’ve managed to remain uninjured since July. Since I’m not going to be doing anything radically different in the next four weeks, I don’t see that as being an issue. But I am being careful to warm up properly before speedwork or shorter races and do proper cool down runs. I’ve slacked off on rolling and massage, though. I like to live dangerously.

As for the second point, I will be doing more work that’s specific to race pace, while reducing the amount of pure tempo running in the original Daniels plan. I have a big workout planned for Christmas day — not in terms of length, but in terms of workload. I am hoping to learn some things from it. All of the rest of the workouts are typically a mix of 5K race pace running and tempo running.

For the pacing question, between the next 5K test race — two weeks out from race day — and a session of 1K repeats five days out, I should be able to arrive at a range of paces in which to run on race day.

This training week’s Tuesday session is typical of the weird shit Daniels assigns for late-cycle 5K training. I get what he’s doing: he’s put together a workout that taxes the spectrum of your system and works everything. While I think these are good to do, I have to consider that I have dropped his third workout every week (because I’m old), usually in favor of doing one very speed-focused session and then one like this one, which hits the tempo end of things. Other times, I’ve dropped his plan entirely, going for 1K repeats. These just work for me — I like the immediate feedback they give me, answering the question: how’s it feel to run goal 5K pace now? By doing the same track workout every few weeks I can see if there’s progress because I’m in a venue that removes the many variables introduced by, say, racing 5Ks on different courses.

My recovery run times are dropping too.

I ran a decent race on Saturday, nabbing a small (but psychologically important) PR, breaking 21:00 at last. On New Year’s Day I will again try for a 20:30.

In other news, I tried out a pair of Skechers Go Run shoes. Skechers is courting my running club and they gave out a coupon for free shoes at the Harriers’ holiday party. I ordered a pair and I have to say that they are good shoes. They are very light (maybe ~6 oz each?) and flexible. They are meant to promote a mid-foot strike. I already land on my mid-foot, so they’re comfortable to run in, but I suspect that if you’re a heel striker they might drive you crazy. My one issue with them is that the heel area is very wide, although the rest of the shoe fits very well. I like them enough that I will probably buy some heel inserts to try to fix the problem. I would love to try racing in them, but I’m afraid they’d slip off at the heel if anyone steps on me.

Race Report: Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K

This race, put on by the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC, not be be confused with the Long Island Road Runners Club — or, LIRRC), was the second of my three 5K tuneup races leading up to Houston in mid-January. I’m running these races to get a sense of where I am fitness-wise, so I can make any tweaks to training based on observations. I’m also running them to get some experience pacing the 5K, since this is the first time in my short running career that I’ve focused on training for and racing it.

This was a bigger race than I’d anticipated. I saw “Bethpage 5K” and thought maybe there’d be a few hundred people there tops. The race had over 1200 finishers. But I give kudos to GLIRC for putting on a good race. The streets were closed to traffic, there were plenty of volunteers, water stops were well-placed and well-manned. And the race started on time! I worried about this since it was near freezing and I was in shorts. I lined up in about the third row. Standing in front of me was a tiny woman who turned around and asked me my name. I introduced myself and she turned out to be Shari Klarfeld, a Harrier teammate whom I’d never met. She is a fast runner and won this race last year.

We wished each other well and watched as the wheelchair racers lined up, preparing to go out 30 seconds ahead of us. But then there was some chaos at the start as the race director intoned, “Only men who plan to run 5:00 minute miles should be in front; women running 6:00 miles.” He loosened it a bit and added 5:30/6:30, but people got worried and started moving back. Toes were trod upon. People were touching me. I thought, “If I’m going to get knocked down in a race, it will be this one.” So the start was a little dicey, but we got out okay and I had room around me.

I do not look at my watch when I run anymore. This is one of several pieces of advice from (former) Coach Sandra that I take to heart. It’s helped me, generally, although today I wish I had looked to confirm my suspicion that I was running slightly too fast in the first 1K. For 5Ks I set my watch to record each kilometer rather than mile. I like the more frequent feedback, knowing where I am in the race. But I don’t look it at it; I just note the buzz on my wrist every four minutes or so.

The course consists of a double loop through residential streets, most of which are wide enough to accommodate runners. There are quite a few momentum-killing 90 degree turns, but not nearly as many as the Flushing Meadows 5K a few weeks ago featured. The course is totally flat, which makes it a good one to run. But there was wind, unfortunately, along one long stretch of Stewart Avenue, probably totaling a little under 2K of the total 5K. It wasn’t terrible, but it was a noticeable, draining force.

Nothing that notable happened during the race. I did battle with a few teenaged boys during various parts of the race. And on the second loop there was a guy riding just behind me on a bicycle who kept screaming, “Go, girl! Come on! Go, girl!” It was kind of annoying and I was thinking, “Who is this girl? He’s not screaming at me, right? Because it’s annoying.” Then a teenaged girl in a rim racer pulled up alongside me and I understood that she was the girl. We turned into the wind at that point and I observed that I think it’s harder to race in a wheelchair into wind than it is to run into it. She was struggling and my guess is there’s more resistance because of the tire spokes. Just a theory.

Also, right at the finish some dude decided that he was going to outsprint me. But there were cones. He passed me, leaping over a cone at the same time, and his flying left fist nearly clocked me in the face. I hate idiots.

Anyway, about that pacing. Like I said, I had the suspicion that I was running too fast in the first 1K. And indeed I was. I had been going for a pace of 4:06 per kilometer (6:35/mile) to get me a 20:30. It did not play out that way, but I wasn’t ridiculously off either. Here were the splits:

1K: 3:53 (6:15). Oops! Dammit. That was extravagant.

2K: 4:11 (6:43) <– headwind

3K: 4:12 (6:45) <– mid-race torpor

4K: 4:15 (6:50) <– headwind

5K: 4:08 (6:39) <– “I will commit hari kari with a cheap steak knife if I don’t break 21:00 today.”

191 ft: 0:13 (5:34) <– did not hit tangents

Official time was 20:50. The good news is that I’ve finally broken 21:00, which is a major mental thing for me. The bad news is that I was way off my goal today. Here is what I need to work on based on observations from the last two races:

  • I need to rein things in for the first kilometer. If I run too fast, I develop a slow leak for the rest of the race. I may need to look at my watch, much as I hate to.
  • I need to work on endurance. I tend to flag both physically and mentally around the two mile mark. My mind drifts. I feel very tired. I know that I will not make today’s goal. Then I feel bad about myself. I wonder why I bother doing this. I start to give up. This whole fucked up mid-race cycle needs to stop.

I have a month left to fix these two problems. So I’m going to slightly alter training plans and start doing mile repeats rather than kilometer repeats. I will try a session with 3 x 1 mile at goal 5K race pace (I’m not telling you what that is yet), with 90-120 second rests. If I can do that workout then I’ll extend the next week’s to 4 (or 5) repeats with 75-90 second rests. If I can manage that, I’ll feel pretty good about Houston readiness. If I can’t, then I’ll adjust goals. In the meantime, I have one more 5K tuneup in two weeks. By then I will have done these two workouts. Between those track sessions and this New Year’s Day race, then a little bit of tapering, I am hoping I can reach a training peak in a month. Famous last words.

Other fun facts: I was 10th woman overall, although there were some speedy masters women there, so even with that I was second in the 45-49 AG.

Training: Dec 4 – 10

This was actually kind of a tough week. It started out with a race that went very well. Then a zippy recovery run on Monday (my pace is averaging right around 8:30 on most recovery runs these days). Then a very late night owing to going to see Sleep No More, a piece of immersive theatre in Manhattan. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but it’s long — about 3 hours — and requires a lot of mental energy. We got home and to sleep at around 1am.

The weather was horrible for the first part of the week — pouring rain, for the most part. So I was relegated to the treadmill for a couple of runs. I have no idea how I used to do 22 mile runs on that thing, since now I can barely handle 6 mile runs without losing my mind. Fortunately the weather cleared up overnight on Thursday and I could move back outside again, although it was muddy or flooded in spots.

On Friday I headed back to Edgemont High School’s track for another session of 1K repeats. It went extremely well. Even dodging people and running gingerly around the slippery turn for home I was able to easily hit 4:00 (6:25 pace) for every single one. When I was done I chatted with a gentleman who’d been jogging around. I’ve seen him a few times there. He is 80 years old and was the captain of his collegiate track team in India, where he ran the 100m and 200m sprints. He jog-walks 2 miles a day there. I asked him if he missed sprinting and he said, “No! I don’t want to run that fast. This is good for me now.”

On Saturday I felt that I needed a break from the muddy path so I headed to Van Cortlandt Park for 8 miles of recovery running. I spent about 5 of those miles on the flats (and discovered that the dirt path there is a mudbog after it rains). But the cinder path was good to run on and I measured it at a smidgen over 1.25 miles. So it’s a good place for doing tempo runs or mile repeats.

I got bored with that too, though, so I headed into the hills, running 1.5 miles out and back on their legendarily brutal cross-country course, which is marked with signs featuring a tortoise and a hare. I took it easy, but still worked harder than I should have. But I was having fun, which is what I went there for. 24 hours later those hills would be full of racers running the Pete McArdle Cross-Country Classic, a 15K effort. Among them were friends Hilary (who took first place in our age group) and Amy, with a 7th place AG finish, although more important than that was her return to successful racing after a period of injury and rehab. I like knowing all these fasties.

And speaking of good times, the week concluded with a trip in to the annual New York Harriers holiday party. I got to drink Newcastle and eat cake and talk to nice people and I also won something. Hoorah!

Up next: a bizarre workout from Jack Daniels and a 5K race on Long Island, where I hope to put all those 1K track repeats to use.

 

Race Report: NYRR Join the Voices 5M

This race, a 5 miler (this is known as stating the bleeding obvious), was NYRR’s final race in its 2011 club points series. They swapped it with the Joe Kleinerman 10K, which was moved to January. Good thing, too, because I’m a 5K runner now. I can barely race for 3 miles as it is. Racing for 5 miles taxed all of my systems today.

But. I PRed by 47 seconds (my 5 mile best being admittedly soft, an excuse I figure I can milk for at least another year). My previous 5M PR was also set on a hilly course, although not Central Park’s.

I learned some things today. One of the biggest things I learned is that I don’t necessarily need to do a “proper” warmup to race well, at least not for this distance. I was rushed after picking up my bib and checking my bag. I did a grand total of 90 seconds warmup jogging before heading over to the start corrals. No race pace running, no strides, no dynamic stretching. Just a stupid, barely-qualifies-as-a-warmup warmup. It didn’t matter.

This may have been partly the case because, as is the case with many NYRR races, the course was crowded and I was hemmed in and running slower than I wanted to for the first three-quarters of a mile. But this means that I got to have a nice chat with Hilary, who sidled up to me in the first minute of the race with a hale and hearty, “Excuse me, sir!” This, a reference to a thread we had on Facebook last night about the gender misidentification that having an extremely short haircut can cause, made me laugh. We chatted for a bit, but I said I’d stop being able to talk in about 30 seconds and she politely sent me on my wheezing way earlier than that.

Along the way I saw some Harriers, both on and off the course, and met a few new (to me) ones at the finish line, and reconnected with others whom I know already. But I probably missed others. I had a strange kind of tunnel vision this morning. It took a lot of mental and physical effort to race 5 miles hard. Now, after several months of mile/5K training, 5 miles seems like a very long way. I wore my no frills Timex and didn’t bother hitting the lap splits or even looking at it. I could tell from the course clocks that I was doing okay.

It was a good day. Temperature was 44 degrees (still a little warm for me), it was overcast and there was virtually no wind. I took advantage of the good conditions since I had no excuse for doing badly.

My chip time was 34:39, or about 6:56 per mile. That’s almost down to my best 4 mile pace on this course (6:53). I believe it was also a slightly stronger performance (relatively speaking) than was my 5K in Flushing Meadows a week ago. I took a day off on Friday and ran just 3 miles yesterday, after a week that featured just one hard workout. I’m becoming convinced that doing a mini taper (and no warmup?) is the way to go.

Aside from the warmup and mini tapering lessons, I also learned that I should ignore weird phantom injuries that crop up a day before the race. Yesterday, there was a weakness in my left leg. The quad felt like it was going to fail a few times, just while walking around. This morning, as I made my way down the stairs at 5:45 am, the left knee felt shaky. I was relying on the handrail to get downstairs. WTF. Well, you know what? Nothing TF. It’s just weirdness. It means nothing. Usually. Sometimes it means you’re about to get a catastrophic stress fracture. But most of the time, it doesn’t mean anything.

I remain grateful to have remained uninjured since July. Knock wood. It has been such a shit few years in this regard. I think that remaining uninjured, more than anything I’ve been doing training-wise, has been the key to my “sudden” improvement. If you can’t run, then you can’t train consistently, and you can’t get faster. But I also think doing a lot of different kinds of speed work (and a weekly tempo run) has been a crucial element in this training cycle. Jack Daniels’ training comprises about 80% of what I’m doing, but I’m substituting other workouts, like 1K repeats, that I have felt would help me more, given my training history. These are turning out to have been good instincts, I think.

Next up: a 5K in Bethpage on Long Island in two weeks. I hope that one doesn’t have hills or 23 right-angle turns. But if it does, I’ll be ready.

Training: Nov 20-26

This was kind of an odd week. The previous week ended with a night of barfing up duck and escargots, followed by a day off to recover from that ordeal. I got up on Sunday still feeling iffy, but managed to run 9 miles at a fairly quick clip. Recovery runs are now solidly under 9:00 most days, closer to 8:30 on many. This increase in speeds on easy days continues to blow my mind.

Since I had a race on Saturday I just did one workout, a 45 minute tempo effort with one minute rests between five minute high effort segments. That was hard. But not that hard until toward the end. I nearly bagged the ninth one but these workouts are as much about mental toughening as they are about physical conditioning, so I threw myself into number nine.

The week featured slackery in the form of eating junk (my teenaged nephew, Joe, was visiting, and that meant things like pizza tours and Chinese takeout). Then came Thanksgiving. This was one reason I kept the mileage up — to burn off the extra fuel. It worked. I finished up the week at 128. Now the party’s over and I’m back to cutting back in an attempt to lighten up for January. Lots of apples and water. It sucks, but it works.

I’ve also neglected weights and core work. If I have to drop something, it’ll be weights. I’m crazy busy these days with work and creative projects. But there’s no excuse for not doing core work at least 1-2x per week. I’m back to it tomorrow.

I had an okay race, won a big ass trophy. But was not as fast as I’d like to have been.

Houston’s fast approaching. Six weeks until liftoff.

The current week is light, with one speed session and lighter mileage. Sunday’s another race, a 5 miler over Central Park’s hills. I’ll see how that goes.

Race Report: Flushing Meadows 5K

Today I raced the inaugural Flushing Meadows 5K race in Corona Park, Queens. The park was the site of two world’s fairs (1939 and 1964), and it contains very large, and very visually striking, vestiges of at least one of them. I’m too lazy to research more than that. This is a blog, people.

The race was hosted by the Sri Chinmoy organization which is, as far as I can tell, a benign religious cult. Whatever they are, they put on a well-organized race. The race started on time, it was well-marked, well-staffed (there was a volunteer at every turn — and there were lots of turns), and they gave out huge honking trophies to winners, plus age group winners’ medals. The awards were so…well, big…that I couldn’t bring myself to skip the awards ceremony.

This trophy is really no big deal.

As for the course, this is not a race in which to attempt a PR. The course starts south of the Long Island Expressway and, unfortunately, in order to cross the LIE one needs to run up and over a short but very steep hill, both at the start and finish. Strike one against speed. Strike two against speed is the fact that the route winds all around Corona Park and there is a 90 degree (or worse) turn about every 200m or so. As usual, I did not look at my watch while racing but I did set it up to autolap on the kilometers. The only fast kilometer I ran was the second one (4:03) and that was only because it was almost all straightaway save for one 45 degree turn to the left.

We started at 10:00 am sharp and I was immediately the first woman. I doubted this would last, and I was right. A young woman with a lovely blonde ponytail passed me at about the half mile mark and within another few hundred meters I knew I’d never catch her. She would finish around 50 seconds ahead of me. After that, no women passed me and only one man did. I passed two teenage boys who went out too fast and died in the second kilometer. And that was the end of any passing action.

It was a tough race. For one thing, all of us in front were running alone. There were no packs. There was just a string of runners separated by around 15-20 feet each. The turns were frustrating and mentally draining. At some point in the middle of the race I settled for second place women’s and then things kind of went south from there from a mental standpoint. I knew the nature of the course was going to prevent me from running as well as I could have normally, so I found myself taking an, “Eh, why bother?” attitude. I was totally drifting off in the fourth kilometer (my slowest at 4:25) and then rallied for the last one and got back down to 4:12 territory despite the sharp turns and insane hill. But it was kind of depressing to see 21:15 on the clock when I came through. My PR is 21:12. I couldn’t find four seconds in there? I could have if I’d tried harder. I also wonder if I ran too far and too fast on Thursday (7 miles at 8:26 avg). In the past I’ve taken the day off two days before the race. I will do that before the 5 miler I have scheduled for a week from tomorrow.

This is one of three 5K races I have scheduled leading up to Houston. The primary purpose of these races is just to get some practice racing the 5K. I am very shaky in terms of knowing how it’s supposed to feel. But these races are also good gauges of where I am fitness-wise. Despite a disappointing clock time, I’m happy with the effort today and I do think I’ve gained some speed endurance in the past six or so weeks of training. I have seven more weeks to work at it.

Splits: 4:16, 4:03, 4:16, 4:25, 4:14

My watch read 3.12 miles, so I did a stellar job of hitting the tangents today. Either that or the course was short!

Sri Chinmoy may be familiar to some of you runners out there, but more as a creator of ultra running events than as a religious leader. (That Wikipedia page is worth a look; you will learn, among other “facts,” that he painted 200,000 paintings and lifted celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Sting over his head.) His organization is best known for their “self-transcendence” series of races in Queens. These races are, frankly, insane. They hold races that go on for 6 and 10 days, respectively — in Corona Park — running as much as possible, on as little sleep as possible, to accumulate as many miles as possible. But the crowning achievement in insanity is their 3,100 mile race, which takes place over many weeks in summer and is run around a single block in Queens. The block is circled 5,649 times, to be exact.

Yes. Runners are crazy.

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