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.

Training: Dec 4 – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Training: Nov 27 – Dec 3

Blah blah blah.

Another week of 5K training. But a light week, owing to a 5 mile race today. My legs felt trashed after the previous week’s 5K race. But they were snappy again for Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday I headed to Edgemont High School for what would be yet another aborted attempt to train there. This time around, it was the wind (and cold) that stopped me. The weather websites were delusional, claiming it was around 48 windchill. It was actually somewhere in the 30s. So I was under dressed. But, mostly, the issue was wind. A steady 15-20 mph number.

I drove there, arriving at prime high school arrival hour (which meant a clogged road and parking lot), ran 100m on the track and knew I’d have a terrible workout. I’d run too hard. I’d freeze. I’d be demoralized. I knew this. So I left.

Drove home and put away all the crap that’s been sitting on the treadmill over the summer. And I cranked that machine up to 6:30-6:35 for some 1K repeats. I have long suspected that our treadmill is slightly fast. I went by effort. If the effort was a little low, that’s okay. Better slightly too low than slightly too high. Plus I knew I’d be racing today, so the workout I’d get on the hills of Central Park would make up for any unintended slackery earlier in the week.

On Thursday I did a slow run, again inside (because it was a long work day and after dark by the time I was free to run), around 9:50 on the treadmill. Then a day off, which I’m going to make a habit of two days before races now. Then another zippy 3 miles 24 hours pre-race, with 3 strides yesterday, Saturday. 8:22 pace for that one.

I’ve got two more test races before Houston. That’s all I could find. But it’s also all I have room for. I’m hoping it’s all I’ll need.

One another note, in case it hasn’t been obvious, the Houston Hopefuls project has been shelved (or, a kinder word would be “concluded”). I just don’t have time for it. And Houston’s just a few weeks away. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still keeping an eye on the women I didn’t get a chance to interview. Two of them ran California International this morning in search of an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. Neither one made it. One dropped out with stomach issues halfway through; this after missing a qualifying time by 10 seconds in the spring. The other missed it by 10 minutes after having run a sub 2:48 at Grandma’s in June. In addition, this morning I had a fairly long conversation with a Harrier teammate about his meltdown in the last 10K of the New York Marathon, despite having done everything right.

I really hate the marathon sometimes. It’s just such a bastard.

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.

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