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.

Change of plan

I’m not following Jack Daniels’ training anymore. I need a breakthrough and 20:50 was not a breakthrough.

So now I’m doing something totally different.

Over the next three months I will be doing a combination of weekly speed workouts consisting of track repeats at various distances, all at a goal 5K pace of 6:25; and one hard, lung-busting hill running session in either Central or Van Cortlandt Park each week, of gradually increasing distance and speed.

Let’s see if this works.

 

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.

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 18 – 24

This week I focused on just keeping mileage up and recovering from Saturday’s race. The weather was also not great this week, with rain and/or wind. I had a track workout scheduled for Wednesday but it was pouring all day so I ended up modifying plans and relying on the treadmill. I originally planned to do combinations of 400s/800s at 5K race pace/tempo (no rests). But I don’t like running speed sessions on the treadmill for several reasons. For one, you are forced to maintain a certain speed which, I believe, increases the chance of injury at higher speeds. For another, treadmills are inaccurate, so it’s difficult to know how fast (or slow) you’re actually running.

So I decided to do tempo repeats instead. That way I could just wear a heart rate monitor and do the run by effort. In this case, high tempo effort. It wasn’t bad. I’ve only been relegated to the treadmill a few times so far this season. We’ve been lucky to have had (with the exception of October 30th) no snow this year. This is sort of amazing, considering that this time last year we’d already had several snow storms. It’s also been fairly mild. Considering that I’m training for a winter goal race, I’ve felt incredibly lucky. I just need my luck to hold for three more weeks — I have several track sessions that I do want to do on the track.

It’s Christmas today. This training recap concludes with Christmas eve (yesterday), but I’ll write about today’s workout anyway as I’m likely to forget the details over the coming week. I did a big workout, not assigned by Daniels. A few months back Running Times had a set of workouts that various high school and collegiate coaches use. One of them (I can’t remember who and I’m too lazy to go upstairs and look it up) goes like this: 3 miles at 5K+30 seconds per mile; 2 miles 5K pace; 1 mile all out; 5 minutes standing rests in between each.

I liked the look of this workout. But, since I’m not a 16-year-old boy, I cut it back a bit. For the base 5K pace I chose something that’s a little faster than what I can run now. So the first segment (2 miles, not 3) was like a very high tempo effort. The second segment (1.5, not 2) was like a slightly harder than 5K pace (4K pace, if that’s possible?). The third turned out to not be possible for me today. I knew I’d end up dying, slowing down, feeling like the crappiest runner in the world. So instead I ran 4 x 400m as fast as I could manage, which was 90-94 per. One minute rests. I was happy with that considering the 3.5 miles of hard running that came right before that.

I did this run in Van Cortlandt Park, not on the XC course (I’m crazy, but not that crazy) but along the path that surrounds the fairgrounds. That path is about 1.25 miles and almost completely flat, so it’s good for this kind of work. While I was resting for five minutes before the 400m segments a guy ran past me and commented that I wasn’t dressed warmly enough (he was right — I was wearing tights and tee shirt in sub-freezing weather). I said I’d get warm again soon enough and we struck up a conversation.

His name is Henry and he’s 73 years old. He said he’d been a runner for 50 years until a few months ago when he had heart valve replacement surgery. “They split me open like a Christmas turkey!”

I mentioned that my stepmother just went through that, with major complications, and that he was very lucky to be running again. He agreed (although he said he’s limited to speed walking for now) and then, pulling out his wallet, showed me a small laminated card featuring a simple line drawing of the human heart and connecting arteries that he carries that shows exactly the valve that was replaced plus an artery called The Widowmaker, both of them colored in bright red. “For EMTs,” he said. “In case I keel over.” The latter was 80% blocked when he went in for surgery.

Henry was funny. His new valve was bovine supplied. I asked him if he’d had any problems post-surgery and he said, “No, but I sometimes feel tempted to get down on all fours and eat grass.”

He asked me my name and I said it was Julie. “Julie!” he exclaimed. “I used to run with a Julie!” Pointing over my shoulder he said, “Julie Gaines! She lived right over there. She was a psychologist. I used to always say, ‘No pain, no Gaines!’”

I laughed and said, “Well, I’m not done with my pain yet. I still have some repeats to do.”

And with that we wished each other a happy holiday and healthy New Year.

Runners are just so fucking great.

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.

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