RLaG in 2010: Plans and goals

My goals this year are modest. In years past, I had ambitious goals that revolved around mileage and race times. Not this time. Here are my goals for 2010:

  • Enjoy running, training and racing again
  • Avoid injury
  • Listen to my body and rest so I don’t get overtrained
  • Don’t race another marathon until I feel ready to do so

I’m exiting 2009 in a state of extreme rest. This was the year in which, if I ever wondered what my limits were in terms of training, I found out.

For now, between recovering from the CIM race, a head cold, work pressures, terrible weather and the holidays, I’m not worrying about running. I’ll get back into it in January. I accept that I will have lost fitness and will need to have some patience with myself.

The plan over the next few months is to get back into marathon training, but incorporate a lot of shorter races. I have no spring marathon planned. As for those shorter races, I don’t expect to pick up any PRs early on, but perhaps by sometime in late March or early April I can make some updates to my Stats page. Mostly, I’m looking forward to having fun racing again and not having all my eggs in one basket.

I’m awaiting the new training plan. But I do know that the mileage will come down in both peak and recovery weeks. That should help me avoid both the overtraining and injuries that have plagued me this year. I should be racing at least 2-3 times a month from February into April.

I’m registered for the full NJ Marathon on May 2, but I’ll be deferring my entry until 2011. If I’m feeling good in April, I may race the NJ half instead. The room’s reserved, so I can play things by ear without having to scramble for accommodations.

I’m also picking up a pair of inexpensive racing snowshoes. These will allow me to view a coming blizzard with delight rather than dread. The running path from Hartsdale to Valhalla allows for a good 10 mile out and back, except when it isn’t plowed (which is throughout the entire winter). Now I’ll be able to use it.

Plus, there’s this race. I’d have to drive for 2+ hours each way. But it’s at 11AM and it would be a new adventure.

Another decision I’ve made is to stop combining a major marathon with a vacation. Who wants to spend half or most of their vacation exhausted and in a crappy mood? So that era is over. I now get why people fly in and out on marathon weekend. In fact, I may not do any major travel at all in 2010. I spent six+ weeks and more money than I want to ponder on travel this year. My house needs attention and I need a break.

Looking farther down the road, we could Amtrak it to this race in the fall. Small, good course, and many good reviews. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Sitting here with a head cold, knowing my fitness is leaking away just a little more for every day I’m not running, it’s easy to feel stuck. But I suspect this rest is doing me more good than harm, and I’ve got a plan for next year, however loose at the moment.

Obligatory “year in review” blog post

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

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

Here’s what I learned this year:

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

Bonus realization:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

Happy feet

I’ll say it again: cortisone is a fucking miracle drug. 48 hours after the shot into my tendon and the problem is all but gone.

I did my penultimate marathon-y run on the track yesterday: 12 miles with 9 at a few heatbeats below marathon effort. My heart rate during the warmup miles was just way too high — low 70%s for 10:00+ minute miles. Something was off. I suspect it was a combination of lousy night’s sleep, monthly hormonal shenanigans and possibly the effect of being on heavy duty NSAIDs for the past week. Not surprisingly, my speed for the higher effort miles wasn’t anything to write home about either.

I’m not allowing that performance to rattle me. I do know that it’s been very easy for me to run at 85-86% effort for long periods of time (up to 2 hours) and finish up with plenty of energy left over. So I’m confident in my endurance and feel that if I hit things on the right day, my speed will be respectable. I’ve been off the NSAIDs for 24 hours and this morning’s recovery run seem to indicate that things are getting sorted out with regard to energy output vs. speed. I’ve got a little bit of speedwork on Friday, so that should be another checkpoint.

I have a goal time for the race, but I’m not going to share it this time around. There are so many variables and my goals for this race aren’t so much about seeing a particular time on the clock as they are about running at the appropriate effort and managing my energy output. A negative split would be a bonus.

I’ve raced five marathons and four of them have been mediocre to disastrous. What I want most next week is to run a solid, consistent pace — without spending the last 30-45 minutes of the race feeling like I want to die.

Fall Training: Week 9

09fall-training-09
This was by far one of my most enjoyable weeks of running in recent memory. I may not be as speedy as I’d like at this point, but I am becoming a stronger runner by the day, or so it seems. Even training with a dodgy hamstring, which was more a slightly worrying nuisance than a hindrance, I felt great this week.

By “stronger” I mean that I am evolving into even more of an endurance machine than I usually am. I can run seemingly forever at a moderate effort, and tacking on high effort miles has been almost easy. I’m also not exhausted after any particular workout or at the end of the week.

I’m not sure how you quantify training progress outside of racing times, but this week of training has me feeling that after two+ years of consistently running high mileage, I’ve finally adjusted to its demands. Almost as if I really do now have a “base” upon which to build further, as opposed to a base that I am working to build.

The highlights for the week, aside from running 95 miles without issue, were Wednesday’s tempo run, Friday’s speedwork, and a monster run in Central Park this morning. Tuesday was no slouch either, with 15 miles at a decent pace for 70% effort.

The tempo run was an experiment in hamstring healing. My ailing leg felt okay, so I decided to try running as far on the track going counterclockwise as I could. That turned out to be 3.5 of the 5 faster miles before the hamstring started to tighten up. So I finished up going the “wrong way” and, aside from the slower, cautious first mile, chalked the run up as a success, given the decent paces.

Another thing about that run: I realized while running my warmup miles on the way to the track that I no longer dread tempo runs beforehand or suffer through them. If anything, they’ve become too easy and I have felt in the past few weeks that the faster blocks are too short. I have said as much to Coach Kevin and he concurs that they are becoming easy for me. So we may schedule longer tempo blocks for the spring cycle.

Friday’s speedwork was worrisome insofar as I didn’t want to screw up my leg and compromise the Sunday run. Still, I was feeling brave, so I decided to once again run in the proper direction on the track and see what the leg would do. It held up well, possibly owing to the fact that I had trouble working up to 92% effort due to fatigue. Still, I’m happy with the splits, considering most of them were run at 91% effort.

I should also note that I only had two days of doubles this week, which is not bad for a 95 mile week. I have observed that I am overall less fatigued in the weeks that I only have one or two days of doubles compared to those in which I have three or four. I don’t know whether it’s a function of age or just my own particular physiology, but I suspect I need 24 hours between runs to recover properly. Fortunately for me, I like running long.

Friday evening and yesterday morning, my legs were completely trashed. Not just my legs, but ankles and feet as well. My confidence in being recovered in time for this morning was shaky, but I’ve learned that miracles can happen overnight.

As it turned out, today’s run was, again, no big deal. I’ve decided to do my final long runs in Central Park so I can get the benefit of the hills there. The California International Marathon course is by no means as hilly as Central Park is, but it does feature a net downhill drop. I’d like to avoid another thigh shredding exercise if I can.

I ran three full loops of the park starting at 72nd St on the west side, along with a 1.5 out and back north, turning around at the 102nd St transverse. Holding effort between 76-79% was easy and I felt energetic enough to run the last mile at 86% just for the hell of it. That got me a 7:26 mile over hills on extremely tired legs. I’ll take it.

Fall Training: Week 8

09fall-training-08This week was a planned recovery week, although it featured exceptionally low mileage due to lingering issues with my hamstring. Interestingly, after watching Paula Radcliffe drop off to fourth place due to a hamstring problem in today’s New York Marathon, I can understand how that happens. It’s possible to run with a problem hamstring, but not as fast as you’d like to. I learned all about this on Friday.

I took Monday off because the hamstring bothered me running. Instead, I took a walk to get the blood flowing to it, then spent some time massaging it to try to head off any scar tissue buildup. On Tuesday I did a little test run in the morning, in which the leg showed improvement, although things were still iffy, so I did another walk in the evening rather than a run.

Wednesday was a turning point, as the leg no longer hurt while walking and I had a lot of range of motion back. It could also tolerate being rolled along the foam roller and massaged fairly aggressively.

I pushed things a bit further on Thursday, with a slightly faster run and an experimental stride at 7:15 pace. There was still some stiffness present, but no pain at that speed. Again, to give it 24 hours rest for the big test on Friday, I cross-trained, this time on the stationary bike.

Friday was the day of reckoning: Could I run fast on the bum leg? The answer turned out to be: well, sort of. But only in a certain direction. I ran to the track and all was well on the way there. Then I started into the tempo work and within half a mile of trying to run fast the leg stiffness evolved into pain. And, like Paula, I couldn’t run fast. The first mile was a disappointing 7:47, owing to my inability to extend my stride with my right leg.

I have no idea why this occured to me, but I thought about the fact that I couldn’t extend my right leg properly and realized that every time I hit a curve on the track I was forcing my right leg to extend further out than my left leg was extending. So, much to the confusion and annoyance of others on the track, I reversed direction for the next three miles and got much better results. At least I was considerate enough to take the extreme outside lane (there’s one guy there sometimes who runs “the wrong way” in the middle lanes and it’s confusing — and probably dangerous — on a track crowded with people).

So I’m not sure whether to call Friday a success or not. I could run fast, but only clockwise on a track. Is that good? Or just necessary for the time being?

For obvious reasons I skipped strides and any speedwork this week. Yesterday was very easy, with another experimental 30 second surge down to 6:40 pace. That speed had my hamstring not so much hurting as tapping me insistently on the shoulder, as if to say, “Uh, what are you doing?”

Fortunately, I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere near 6:40 pace on today’s run (boy was I right about that, as my speed sucked today). But the run today was about endurance and, without making too many excuses, I could still feel Friday’s effort in my legs in addition to having to fight a steady headwind for most of the miles.

I still consider it a successful workout, though. I easily maintained 77-78% effort for 12 miles and then had no problem stepping it up to 88-89% for the last five. I also wasn’t trashed by the workout — no need for naps or other forms of collapse. I credit that more to the lower mileage this week than I do to some leap in fitness.

Toward the end of the run I had matching fatigue and complaints in both hamstrings, which offered some comfort. Although now, six hours later, the right one is definitely complaining slightly more than the left. I have trained injured before, the latest example being the 10 weeks I trained with a mild groin pull, which I suffered on a cold and slippery half marathon in Central Park in January. That was probably worse than what I’m experiencing now (can you hear me rationalizing this away?). But it’s always unnerving to have in the back of my mind, every time I put on my running shoes, the knowledge that something’s not quite right. Kind of like living with faulty wiring and wondering if your house is going to go up in flames at any moment.

Fall Training: Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Basebuilding: Week 5

sum09-base-04Hail pills and rest. All hail pills and rest.

Finally, after five weeks of either total rest or puttering along at a strictly recovery pace and relatively low mileage, I’m starting to feel like the runner I once knew. Who is this mysterious stranger? She sleeps 8-8.5 hours a night without interruption. She looks forward to longer runs. She yearns to run fast. She does not complain about chafing — nay, she celebrates chafing.

I ran nine times this week, again strictly by time and, with only one exception, sans gadgetry. My new watch/HRM combo is on backorder, which hasn’t been too much of a hardship. I borrowed Jonathan’s HRM (which worked fine with my watch) for yesterday’s run. More on that in a moment.

The heat and humidity this week were tough, plus we had a lot of rain. Wednesday was the worst day, like running in a giant dryer vent. This weather pattern looks to continue for at least another 10 days. And, let’s face it, it’s August. So we can probably bank on crap weather for the next six weeks minimum, longer if we’re unlucky.

Fortunately, after one false start (caused by an electrical short from a misplaced wire; oopsie) we managed to fix our ailing treadmill, which seems stable again — it’s no longer throwing random errors and shutting down unpredictably. It’s unreliability made for some very nervous running. How relaxed can you be when the treadmill may suddenly stop at any moment? Running slow was nervewracking enough — going fast on that flakey beast was out of the question from a safety standpoint.

I had some issues with my left side later in the week. The entire left side of my body, from left foot all the way to left shoulder felt achy and stiff. The outer fingers on my left hand were numb too. My suspicion is that my “nervous runner form” on the treadmill was probably responsible for these issues. Things are better today.

But did I let any of this — the heat, the humidity, the schizoid treadmill, the broken HRM, one half of me messed up — get me down? Nope. I was a happy, happy runner this week.

The highlight was yesterday’s run. It was a warm morning, but with reasonable humidity (dew point of around 62). I borrowed Jonathan’s HRM in order to do another round of data gathering. The plan was to clock another 8:20ish mile and see what my HR did for the duration. It held in the 80% range, which I was very pleased to see.  Two weeks earlier I ran at about the same pace, but at a much lower dew point of 54, at about the same HR.

I’d asked Kevin if I could do 30 minutes of faster running this week should the mood strike, and it had in a big way. So I ran four miles between 8:00 – 8:20 pace, with the HR% topping out at 82%. Good stuff.

Today I felt no worse for the wear (and my HR was at a cooperative 43) so I went forward with the plan to do 2:15 of recovery running. I would have liked to have run this outside but we had rain and lightning moving through all morning. In the end, I’m glad I did the run inside where it was cooler and drier. I expect I won’t feel as knocked out tomorrow.

Now that I’m reasonably back on track I should be able to get into the rotating three week maintenance plan I was slated to start in June before all hell broke loose. I’ll start this tomorrow, with a week in the 80 mile range featuring some “perceived lactate threshold” running, some 1 minute repeats, and a longer run (16 miles next Sunday). I am so excited to be running long and running fast again.

The next race on the horizon is the South Nyack 10 Miler, one of my favorite races to run. I don’t have high expectations, meaning I’d be surprised if I PR’ed after this significant a pause in training (not to mention the fact that early September is still heat wave season). But it gives me something to look forward to and work toward over the next six weeks.

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