Running? Oh, right.

Here it is — May already — and I’ve yet to have posted a single training log. That hasn’t been a deliberate omission. I just haven’t really been training lately. My next goal race, the Fifth Avenue Mile, isn’t until late September, and I’m not going to train for five months for the mile. So…

I’ve been running consistently, usually six days a week, although my mileage has been at an historically low average of 30-35 mpw. I’ve been racing occasionally and recently bested my previous 10K PR. But I have also been injured for the past two months, although for most of that time the injuries have been mild enough that I can at least run easy most days. I’ve had three issues: a left hamstring tweak (which finally went away about a week ago) and Achilles issues and plantar fasciitis on my right side. It’s only in the last couple of weeks that the latter two have let me do any hard workouts without paying for it for at least a week afterwards. The Achilles problem is nearly gone and the PF is so mild that it’s more an irritation than pain at this point.

I baby the hell out of both of them: icing, massaging, rolling and NSAIDs. That discipline has paid off, as has only doing a workout once a week and only then when I’m pretty sure it’s not going to make either of those two areas of my right foot blow up again. Racing the Scotland 10K probably delayed healing, but it was worth the PR. Now I can say that I am doing something resembling training again. I’m still just doing one workout a week, but I’ll be increasing the frequency of those efforts pretty soon, with three workouts every two weeks. Eventually, assuming my body holds up, I’ll move back to two workouts a week.

I’m doing rough 5K training now, with the idea that I’ll go into mile training later in July for Fifth Ave (on Sept 22), using the Percy Sutton 5K in August and the Tuckahoe Mile (which I won last year…but, hey, it’s in Tuckahoe!)  in early September as tune-ups. I may throw in a few track races at Icahn if my schedule permits (and perhaps the Van Cortlandt 2×2 relay), but I will not over-race, especially if I’m injured. Making that mistake in March is what got me into the injury hole I’m just now crawling out of.

I’m doing some fast running in Central Park every couple of weeks, interspersed with track work. I did my first track workout on Sunday after nearly nine weeks away from it. I’m only slightly slower than I was at the peak of my pre-Houston 5K buildup, which both surprised and delighted me. Plus my right foot feels better after track work — also a nice surprise. Walking to the track with no small degree of trepidation, I was prepared to both run badly and get re-injured in the process.

It’s good to be running fast again. I missed it a lot.

Speaking of missing things: I will miss the NYRR Club Championships in early August for reasons that I will detail in another blog post very soon. Let’s just say that I’m looking forward to a very interesting and adventurous summer, and that I’m glad my passport doesn’t expire until October.

Scotland Run 10K

It’s more than a little ironic that my inexplicable improvement in running speed coincides with my plummeting interest in writing about it.

I got injured about a month ago after racing Coogan’s and the McCarren Park Track Classic back to back (and was already slightly injured going into both). Three days after that track race I did a track workout (15 x 300m at 67-71 per) and then the two days after that say “Injured.” For a few weeks I puttered along at around 9:15-9:45 pace on a hurting Achilles and hamstring (opposite legs). Then, last weekend, I got up on Sunday morning and felt pretty good, so I headed into Central Park thinking I’d run a 6 mile loop at around 8:30. Instead, I ran 10 miles at 7:46. No real pain to speak of. Well, alrighty then.

This morning I raced Scotland for the third year in a row. My 10K PRs are all on the roads and since I haven’t focused on that distance those are soft PRs. Still, I was happy to break 45:00 by one second last year. This year I ran 44:44, a 15 second PR. I didn’t look at my watch, save for the fourth mile, which is the one that hits the two huge hills at the top of the park. That was an abysmal 7:40. Between that and the very crowded and slow first mile, I figured I’d come in somewhere around 45:30. Needless to say, I was surprised and happy when I looked at my watch at the finish.

I have no idea what’s going on. I ran easy for three weeks at 31 mpw average. Then I did a hard 10 miler in the park, followed by a couple of moderate progression runs this week: a 6 miler ending with 2 miles at 8:10 on Tuesday followed by a 4 miler with one mile at 8:00 yesterday. I took Friday off. So some faster miles coupled with a mini taper of sorts. That seemed to work.

I will get back into “training” (whatever that means) after a week of recovery. I learned my lesson a month ago. The next race is the Mini 10K, which I’m not even sure I’m running since doing so means I will have to go to a three hour class immediately afterwards and inflict my rank self on a roomful of other humans. Baby Wipes will only get you so far.

It was good while it lasted

I managed to run pain free for about eight months. But I’m afraid I’ve broken my streak.

It was probably not a great idea to go out and do a track workout four days after doubling in a track race, especially when I already had a slight issue after Coogan’s (right Achilles) going into that race. Yeah. So the track race was a dumb idea. That brought hamstring pain afterwards, probably because my stride was off because of the pain in my Achilles. So now I have a messed up left hamstring and right Achilles. When I get up in the morning I also have pain under my right heel bone.

I took Thursday and Friday off. Yesterday and today I jogged 7 miles each day at around 9:30-9:45 pace. (I’m typically running 8:05-8:30 on my easy days, so that is ssslllllooowwww.) The hamstring is merely stiff on the runs, except when I go up or down hill, at which point it yelps. If I try to extend my leg, as would be required for faster running, or, say, walking up stairs or lifting my leg in the shower to shave, it hurts like a mother. The Achilles hurts with every single step.

I’m icing 3-4 times a day, slathering on Voltaren and hoping for the best.

Fucking injuries.

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!

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