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.

Training: Nov 13 – 19

This week featured two workouts (planned) and two days off (one of them unplanned). I had to cut back on the first workout since my back was still iffy. I had planned to do 4×10 mins at tempo pace on Sunday, but it took me about 5 miles to feel good on the run. But by that time it was too late to start doing that much tempo work. So I slashed it in half. Doing some work is always better than doing no work.

I should note that last week’s back issues put the kibosh on doing any major weight work. Then an out of town guest (nephew Joe!) put paid to any plans to do gym visits while here’s here. So, with Thanksgiving and a race, I probably won’t get back to weights until after 11/26. But I will get back to it.

The next day, on Monday, I still had speed in my legs and ran a very zippy recovery run. Then I took Tuesday off, my planned rest day for the week. On Wednesday I was zippier still, ripping through a 7 mile recovery effort in 8:18 — a pace that was moderate effort run pace a mere 9 months ago or so. That felt great.

On Thursday I headed back up to Edgemont track, which I had mostly to myself for the first half of the workout, then just a few walkers who stayed out of my way. It was a tough day for a workout. Cold and quite windy. I had a bracing 20 mph wind that was a total to near-total headwind for about 150m of each 400m lap. The workout was a “ladder” session, with lots of 200s, some 400s, a single 800, then back down to the 400s and 200s. All repeats were at mile race pace (or, as was the case today, mile race effort).

I love running 200s, and this time around I arranged those so I had either a side- or tailwind. I had to adjust target times give the wind, but I didn’t do too badly. And things were very consistent. Splits:
40, 45, 42, 44, 90, 94, 3:15, 92, 91, 42, 44, 45, 41

Then I got a 90 minute massage, which revealed major problems in my neck, shoulders, calves and — no surprise here — lower back. I need to go back, but not until after a race on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Naturally, I have Thanksgiving and, possibly, day after Thanksgiving social plans. It will take a steely discipline and extreme fortitude not to eat and drink myself silly. I do want to perform well on Saturday since it’s a flat 5K course. I have no clue how much speed endurance I have right now, but I’d be delighted if I could hold anything around a 6:40 pace, conditions permitting.

On Friday I was back doing slower recovery miles, 5 miles at a 9:45 crawl. Very tired.

Then on Friday evening I had my second experience with post-French cuisine gastrointestinal distress. Got home at 1 am, having felt not quite right driving home. By 2 am my bowels were rebelling. By 3 am the puking had begun. And so the tag teaming continued early into Saturday morning, finally easing off around 5:30, when I fell into a dead sleep for 3 hours. There was to be no running that day.

I suspect I’m allergic (or “food intolerant”) to either duck or escargot (“snails”). Both of these foods figured into my last expulsionfest in March as well as Friday’s technicolor extravaganza. I will, with some sadness, probably never eat either of these two foods again.

With the post-foodpocalypse day of rest, the week was a light one in terms of mileage. That’s fine. Despite a stomach feeling like it had been spindled, I went out and ran a fastish 9 miler, followed by an outstanding tempo session this morning. I’m feeling very good about my training these days. But we’ll truly see its value (or not) on Saturday, when I go out and run a race of the distance for which I’m training. If it doesn’t work where the rubber hits the road, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Just one gear note: I needed a new mid-layer, since my old Mountain Hardware zip-ups (which I love) are getting so faded and frayed. On a lark I bought this one, a wool/synthetic mix from Nike for $80. This shirt is fantastic. So many nice details. For one, it has a little zip pocket, which is useful. It also has robust hand warmers — little concealed finger-covering flaps that are hidden in the sleeves. Very effective for keeping hands warm a the start of a run. The neck closes and is comfortable. Plus the cut is just right; it’s formfitting without feeling tight or binding. You just feel snug. It also means it’s a great shirt to wear walking about, under a coat. You do have to hand wash it because it’s wool. And hand dry it. Totally worth it. I like the blue. May need to try one of the other colors…

Training: Oct 30 – Nov 5

Welcome to winter! I wish I had a short memory because if I did:

  • I would forget that we had temperatures around 80 earlier in October
  • I would also forget that it snowed for 5 months last winter

We got about 6 inches of snow the day before Halloween. Much damage, to my training schedule and to my trees, resulted. I’m moving on. I need to be more flexible than my trees were.

Maybe the cancellation of my planned Sunday race was a blessing in disguise, though. I took it easy in terms of mileage early in the week. Then I had a monster day of driving and sitting around in conference rooms. I spent no less than 4 hours in the car. It was a 16 hour day. I was tired on Wednesday.

And yet. My legs were strangely peppy. My recovery runs are now consistently under 9:00 pace, often more like 8:30. This just shocks me. Also, with the exception of the day after a very hard run, I have plenty of energy for strides. While I’m sorry that it took me several years to realize that I do best on two workouts a week, not three, I’m happy to finally be flourishing by following this guideline.

Because of the cancelled race, this was a light week. But. Maybe also a good thing. Because I went to the track on Thursday. And. Sweet Jesus. I’m improving.

But first. About false starts…

We first went to the Edgemont High School track, but discovered something very important. There is a reason a Mondo surface track is better than rubber. When water freezes on rubber it turns into a sheet of ice. A good 50m of Edgemont, the part that gets no sun, was totally unrunnable due to ice. So this track will be largely useless in winter. That is a shame.

But at least we do have a Mondo track up here, and that’s at Bronxville. So we got back into the car and drove there, hoping we would not encounter another Circus of the Absurd. We did not.

My targets for the 1200s were 4:50. I flew through the first one in 4:40. Second one in 4:41. Wind picked up for the third one, yielding a 4:46. Hot damn. I’ve gotten faster. On the fourth one I got totally thrown off by crowds of children, so I cut it short at 800 (3:13). I decided to run a final 400 fast, just to see what my legs could do after this effort. I did an 84. That’s 5:38 pace for those of you following along at home.

Training: Oct 23 – 29

This week of training featured my first tempo run at Rockefeller State Park (aka “the Rockies”), and it was enjoyable. It’s a good park to run in once you figure out how not to get unspeakably lost. The last time we ran there one area in particular caught my eye: Swan Lake. This small lake has a trail (or, rather, several trails that connect) running around it. With the exception of a short little hill, it’s basically flat and it’s almost exactly a mile around. But since I’m running my tempos by time, that doesn’t matter. But it’s still worth noting.

The warmup to running includes a vigorous 3 miles that are mostly uphill. A long, steady grade on packed dirt or fine gravel. I like the uphill because it forces me to control my warmup pace but also feels like I’m getting a good little bit of hill work in. By the time I get to Swan Lake I’m ready to rumble.

This week’s tempo tacked on around another mile over last week’s. I wear my heart rate monitor for these so I’m running at the right effort. Paces have been right in line with what I’m guessing is my current VDOT of around 49: 6:55 per mile, give or take. Going to a newish place helps make tempo running, if not enjoyable, then at least a little more interesting. The lake is very pretty and there aren’t that many people walking around it if you get there early enough.

I had hoped to do weight work on Sunday but something took me away from it so I ended up moving it to Monday. I did a fairly big session, with the usual upper body work plus lots of leg stuff and plyometrics. I’m also back to doing core work consistently. But there was a price to pay for moving it to Monday. I went to Edgemont 36 hours later to do a speed workout and was just unbelievably slow, heavy-legged and tired. I struggled to hit 5:16 for the first 1200. Then, with a might effort, got down to 5:02 for the second one. My target was around 4:50. Clearly, I was wiped out from the tempo run plus weight work. So I threw in a couple of 400s just to see what I could do there and it was difficult to even hit 90 for those.

As (my former) Coach Sandra would say, I was “running like shit.”

So I went home. I took the next couple of days off, both because of work commitments and also because I had been scheduled to race a 5 miler in Central Park. But that was cancelled. Due. To. SNOW! Yes. We got a fucking snow storm in late October. But not just any snow storm. A snow storm that created massive damage to trees (the snow was heavy). So now our yard is full of giant downed branches that need to be professionally removed. The damage to trees in local parks is also impressive. Central and Prospect Parks were closed because it was so unsafe to walk around. New York is now down to two seasons. Thanks, Climate Change!

In anticipation of racing I did my little wimpy 2-3 miler with strides. Boy, was I ready to race. But it was not to be. But that was okay. Because my next week of training, which I will post about momentarily, featured a track workout that was nothing short of fantabulous.

Training: Oct 16 – 22

My foray into the virgin territory of dedicated training for the 5K continues. It was kind of a strange week.

I will eventually be doing tempo runs that are solid blocks of 30-45 minutes, but after months of no tempo work I need to ease into them. Fortunately, Jack Daniels agrees, so I’m following his workouts, which break up the tempo runs into segments with a few minutes of easy running (or strolling) between them. I did this week’s tempo run in Central Park. I have a 5 mile race there coming up and since I haven’t raced there since August thought I’d better do some harder running over its hills so racing there doesn’t come as a total shock.

That actually went very well, despite the strong winds that day. Average paces were 6:45-7:30. My tempo pace on flatland is around 7:05-7:10 these days, so I guess those ranges were reasonable. I wore a heart rate monitor, as I’m doing with all tempo runs — at least early in training as I reacquaint myself with how that effort should feel — and was running right around 89% of max most of the time.

I’ve gotten back to doing weight work a minimum of once per week, and core work has gotten re-prioritized as well. I hope to get back to doing that twice per week. The pictures of me in the Fifth Avenue Mile are proof that this was worth doing — I’m running upright, with my hips, shoulders and head in a straight line, even at the very end. The other thing I’ve added is some light plyometrics — mostly rapidly stepping up onto a platform while carrying a barbell, one-legged leaps up onto said platform. Plus balance work. It takes forever.

I’ve slacked off on doing strides, but my recovery run paces are decent these days (usually either around 9:00 or well under), so I’m not too worried about it.

The speed session this week was a disaster, through no fault of my own. This is the last trip I’ll make to the Bronxville High School track for awhile now that I’ve discovered the oasis that is the Edgemont High School track. Jonathan and I went together and, from the moment we arrived, we could tell that there would be distractions aplenty. The first thing we noticed were two men swerving around the lanes with leaf blowers. Those were both going at about 120 decibels. It was earsplitting. The men formed piles of leaves, twigs and other debris, which we had to run through, and always seemed to be in the lanes we were in as we rounded the track into the area in which they were lackadaisically working.

There was also a 30 mph wind. Flags were horizontal.

Then arrived the children. About 100 of them, tearing around the track in all lanes, stopping suddenly without warning. At least two repeats were fucked up by that issue. But they cleared out and assembled on the field finally.

Meanwhile, walkers were arriving and wandering in phalanxes of 3-4 across with no awareness of lanes.

To top things off with a nightmarish absurdism that only Italian directors can recreate, the tractors arrived. Yes, there were tractors. On the track. They drove around the track hauling floodlights. Sometimes they’d stop. We were trying to run around a track while tractors also drove around the track. Had a group of monster trucks, elephants and a dirigible arrived, I would not have been surprised.

I finally gave up and went home. Jonathan battled on. After all, I’m just training for a 5K. He’s training for a marathon.

Training: Aug 28-Sept 3

This is my 800th post.

It was a big week for training, the effects of which snuck up on me. Sunday was a day off owing to a hurricane (but mostly because it was a lot more fun to read, eat, nap and talk with my cohorts Amy and TK at the latter’s country digs in Pennsylvania than it was to run).

Fully recovered from the previous day’s hangover, TK and I headed out on Monday morning — which featured cool, dry post-hurricane weather — for what we thought would be a 12 mile run. (Amy is, alas, injured and can’t run; but, boy, can she still swim.) That turned into 14.6 after we missed a turnoff. Oh, well. At an average pace of 9:30, it was no slouch of a run. And encouraging for us both since we were able to converse easily for 2+ hours at that pace. I have not run this far in well over a year.

On Tuesday, as I could have predicted, my legs were shot. But I nevertheless was running at 8:40 pace. What gives?

On Wednesday I headed to the track and noticed undeniable progress.

On Thursday I did another quickish recovery run. In fact, all of my recovery runs (save for the long one on Monday) were sub-9:00.

On Friday I did another quick recovery run, again on tired legs, so I skipped the strides. Then a faster 7 miles again on Friday (8:47) in high humidity. Ho hum. This is getting boring.

On Saturday I tried a new track in Edgemont and found my training limits at the moment. I was running like poo for the longer stuff, although the shorter bits were still okay. I remembered that this was the third big workout in just 6 days, plus it was warm, very humid and I was running in full sun. Did I mention that there was a stiff wind too? So I am not going to worry about it.

I have been a good girl with regard to doing weight work and core work. Booya. I also did some foam rolling in there because I can feel my legs starting to knot up and that’s never a good sign.

I really should get a massage, but I’m afraid to. The last time I went to my massage person it had (like now) been months since my last visit and there was a lot of damage for her to undo. Fewer than 12 hours after the first damage control session my back went into spasm and I was in semi-agony for three days (she went out of town). Then she finished the job and that went away. But I don’t want to go now and risk another spasming right before a bunch of races. I think I’ll take my chances and get a massage after the Fifth Avenue Mile.

How much tighter can I possibly get in three weeks? Don’t answer that.

This morning I got up and was dog tired. Plus both hamstrings were engaged in mild grumbling. So I took the day off from all exercise. I’m scheduled for an early morning track session tomorrow but I will bag it if I still feel tired or out of sorts in terms of my hamstrings.

Oh, but these have been hard lessons.

And this little piggy went whee, whee, whee all the way home…

Training: Mar 27-Apr 2

What a weird week. I was sick all week with a cold that kept flaring up and then ebbing. On Tuesday I went out for a progression run that went okay (I was running 7:30 at around 86% effort — I wore my heart rate monitor for the first time since the summer), but my hamstring went nuts toward the end. That was annoying. And worrisome. I wish this thing would just work itself out, but I think it’s going to take awhile.

I rolled, stretched and massaged the living daylights out of it that evening. I’ve learned that this is what I must do now: tend to it. Usually, all is forgiven within the next 24-48 hours.

Wednesday was Zen on the Track Day. That was a good session.

I was supposed to do two 6 mile recovery runs on Thursday, but I questioned the wisdom of that plan. The first run went okay, but the second one was just painful. Since I could not see how running 6 miles on exhausted, aching legs was going to help, I cut the run short at 4 miles.

On Friday my cold peaked and I felt very low energy. I had a 9 mile recovery run scheduled but couldn’t imagine running a mile. So I took the day off. I do this now and I think it’s a good thing. I don’t worry about getting overtrained anymore and, in fact, I see some evidence that my training is actually going pretty well.

I was still dragging on Saturday, but I forced myself out to run anyway. I had 14 x 1 minute surges scheduled. I saved those for the last possible point in the run, doing them over the final 2.5 miles. It was windy. I was not into it at all. But I did all 14 of them and was pretty darned proud of that.

This week’s workouts have been surprisingly good. So much so that I am now worried about Sunday’s 10K. Things seem to be going so well — I expect some sort of cosmic payback this weekend. I am trying to push those worries aside. I will be trying for Zen in Central Park.

Finally, let me offer my apologies to the reader who submitted a comment on my March 30 post with some thoughtful observations about running without goals and, often, without a watch, and the potential for personal liberation in these decisions. It got flagged as spam and then in a spastic move I managed to trash it. Thanks anyway. It was nice of you to comment. If you want to try again, I’ll try not to screw it up this time.

Oh, also, yesterday I had a really good birthday, which included several phone calls from family and friends; a few really sweet cards; some snazzy new earrings; free money; and…flowers! And we had some leftover cake and wine from our weekend celebration. I got to make another wish. I don’t feel any older. Just happier.

And the flowers are still standing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training: Oct 10-23

The grind continues. Today marks 11 weeks since someone or something gave my running the stinkeye.

I continue to train hard using alternate methods. To break up the monotony, and make sure I’m working hard enough, I’ve started getting creative with cross-training:

Spinning: I naturally tend to work harder in a spin class than when I’m on my own. Unfortunately, my schedule does not always mesh with the gym’s, so I’m doing a lot of spinning on my own these days. I focus on getting my heart rate up, evidenced by a) a high heart rate and b) getting myself to sweat like a pig. I achieve this with lots of standing up while pedaling alternated with 2 minutes of pedaling like I’m being chased by a mob of zombies — the fast kind, not the slow kind.

Elliptical: You can do speedwork on the elliptical. You can also do hillwork, but I’ve been told to stay away from doing that because it could aggravate whatever my injury is — plus the focus for us distance runners is high turnover, strength and endurance, not being able to do the equivalent of running up stairs carrying a dishwasher. So I do surges here too, getting my reps up to 210 (and making sure I’m pouring off sweat) for 2-3 mins with 1 min recoveries. In the case of both spinning and elliptical, I note the days I’m doing intervals with a plus sign.

Weights: I have yet to have found a way to make this work creative. Although I do enjoy the fact that I’m usually the only woman in the weights area. I feel so special. Let’s move on.

Pool: I’m beginning to not mind the pool so much. For one, I’ve developed some mind games to play. But when I’ve got an entire lane to myself for upwards of an hour and a half, there are no distractions and the act of running in circles becomes meditative. Pool running is the priority among all these gym activities, so it’s where I work the hardest. I tend to “save my strength” for the pool — meaning I am conscious of not trashing my legs in whatever I’m doing before I hit the pool for a hard session, meaning anything harder than an hour’s steady effort of 72-75%. What are hard sessions? Right now it means three things: long run (80-90 mins at 75%+), fartlek session (around 18-25 minutes of short and long intervals with very short recoveries), progression run (I start at 65% and work up to 85% in 10 minute increments). Once I’m back to regular running training, I’ll still be hitting the pool 3x a week as well as doing 3 sessions of spinning and frequent weight work.

I met up with Sandra a couple days this week at the gym. She was doing a little training, but as she’s dealing with a knee problem, couldn’t do everything with me. Still, she hadn’t seen me at work in a few weeks and she seemed surprised at the effort I was putting into it. I also sent her my training log and her reaction was that I’m probably training a lot harder than I was when I was “just running.” She swears I’ll be faster when I hit the roads again as a result of this conditioning work. I hope she’s right. At least I’m getting a nice pair of legs out of the deal.

So, where do things stand right now? An MRI should provide some clues this week. If it’s a stress fracture then I guess I’m sidelined according to how serious it is. I would be very surprised if it needs surgery, but what do I know? The other possibility to be ruled out is a hamstring tear. I have not looked into what that involves because I’ve already wasted so much time Googling injury-related information. I can’t do it anymore. I’m sincerely hoping it’s merely inflammation in the joint that can be treated fairly quickly so I’m back on the road next month.

As for training and racing plans, there will probably be adjustments. In the training realm, one piece of news is that Sandra and Khalid are moving to Colorado Springs next month to pursue some opportunities she has out there, live at altitude and leave the high cost of living in New York State (and horrible weather) behind. It’s also a quicker trip to Mexico, where they spend a fair amount of time every year.

I knew when I started working with Sandra in July that this was their plan, but now it’s really happening, which has not been easy to accept. I got a mere month of road/track training in before I got injured. So that’s been a source of disappointment. But I have to acknowledge that I learned a lot about training in that month — and in the “injury months” since then in terms of how to apply cross-training (both while injured and as a supplement to regular training). Sandra and I communicate well, so I’m feeling confident that we can keep up the good work using the various modern tools at our disposal — Skype, Google docs and email. I was also encouraged to discover that the majority of the Houston Hopefuls are successfully working remotely with their coaches.

As for racing, I have no idea whether I’m going to Houston in January. If I can start marathon training in, say, two weeks, it’s probably enough time — around 12 weeks — to get me in shape to run a good marathon, if not a great one. If it’s a longer wait, another option is to train for and race the Houston half instead. I love the half and working toward a PR there would be a good stepping stone to returning to the marathon, so that’s a compromise I could live with. And if I’m completely screwed for a January race, one idea I’ve proposed is switching my plane ticket and targeting the Napa marathon in early March.

Nearer term, I would love to race something, anything, as soon as possible. Watching the Fifth Avenue Mile last month — not just watching, but limping around as a volunteer — was enormously depressing for me, as will be watching the New York Marathon next month. I don’t want to get greedy and demand a race when I should feel lucky to be able to run anywhere for any distance, which I still can’t. But I’ve appreciated in the past couple of months that, while I enjoy training, the racing is what the training’s all for. I have it my head to try to run the Joe Kleinerman 10K in Central Park in early December. It’s a carrot to chase after mentally. But, ultimately, my body’s going to be the one calling the shots.

At least I’m not living alone in Injury Land. And I have a reliable cross-training partner most days, although he recently had to drop out for a bit while battling an infection. Anyway, here’s yesterday’s quote of the day, triggered by the arrival in our mailbox of an entry form for the Marisa Fund 5 Mile Turkey Trot.

“It’s amazing to think that just five months ago, I won their 10K on that course. And now I couldn’t even win a snail street-crossing contest.”
– Jonathan Sumpter

Houston Hopefuls on Runners Round Table…

Whee! That was fun. Listen up! (Link to MP3 is at page bottom.)

The Runners Round Table: Episode 103 – Houston Hopefuls

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