Training: Sept 4 – Oct 15

An extravaganza of catching up (or neglect, depending on how you look at it). I’ll skip the commentary. I’m mostly putting this up to satisfy any unlikely curiosity about what exactly I was doing training-wise leading up to the Fifth Avenue Mile, about which I was chuffed. Then things went all unstructured right after that with travel and just wanting to unwind a little from that training/racing experience.

I will note that I did not do 34 strides the day before that race. That is a typo that’s too labor intensive to fix. What do you think I am, crazy or something?

This week marked the start of 5K training, which will include more consistent mileage in the 40-50 mpw range, longer stuff on the track and the reintroduction of weekly tempo runs. Unlike many runners, I really don’t mind tempo runs and in fact enjoy them if I’m in the right mood. I’ve never been afraid of them. I don’t get that at all.

I have 13 weeks to prepare for the El Paso Corporation 5K in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. My little running calculator says that based on my mile time of 5:57 I could conceivably race a 5K around 19:30 today. Yeah, right. I don’t think so. Not without a shit tonne of work. But I’ll be doing that work over the next three months.

Sub-20 is something I could not have conceived of for myself before. Now it doesn’t seem too crazy a goal to shoot for. I am now officially pumped, stoked and psyched to try. I’m also pretty excited.

Race Report: Fifth Avenue Mile

I waited three years for this race.

The last good race I had, meaning I made real progress in, was the Steamtown Marathon in October of 2008. That wasn’t even a particularly good race experience. But it was a huge leap forward in performance. From there I struggled to improve and in the process got overtrained, injured and extremely discouraged.

Had I looked into a crystal ball back then and seen the failure, pain and frustration that was waiting for me, I don’t know that I would have bothered to keep trying. But ignorance has its virtues sometimes. As does stubbornness.

I trained for this distance, and this particular race, for three months. This was coming off of four months of injury from a sacral stress fracture last August, followed by three months of just trying to run normally again, then a winter and spring that were filled with personal crises, more injury and not much running. More sub-par races. More questioning. Then a decision in May to shelve the marathon indefinitely and do something wild and crazy: focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile.

My goal was to break six minutes.

This goal wasn’t just ambitious from a pure clock time standpoint. It also represented a leap in relative racing quality. Since I started running seriously four years ago I’ve hovered in the low 70%s age graded. My best performance was a touch over 75%. A few weeks ago at Sunset & Suds I ran around 73%. Today I nearly touched 80% age graded. That had been my goal for sometime mid-2012.

But I’m there already. What’s this mean? It means I’m good at shorter distances. I’m better at running a mile after three months of specific training than I was ever running marathons with three years of specific training. I never thought I had raw speed. But I do. Now I just need to work on raw speed endurance and I can see about 3Ks and 5Ks, perhaps some track 800s. But I’m not done with the mile yet.

I trained using a plan out of Daniels’ Running Formula. I modified it and cut out one of his three workouts a week — because I’m old, and I break down if I do three hard workouts a week — and cut down the volume of his track workouts. That worked: I got faster and I didn’t get injured. I will keep doing that.

I also visualized the living daylights out of this race beforehand. I lay down quietly and envisioned everything: the warmup, standing at the start, the gun, and each quarter, then the finish. I imagined reading a clock at the halfway point that read 2:XX and a finish clock that read 5:XX. I visualized racing in high heat and humidity. I visualized racing in pouring rain. I even visualized falling down and getting back up.

Races never play out the way you imagine them, but this was pretty close. Here’s what happened:

I got to check-in early, well over an hour ahead of my 10:45 start. Checked my bag and did, as usual, a terrible warmup. I was hot, my legs felt heavy, I had a side stitch. Absolute shit. But that was okay, because that’s how I’d visualized it. It would be fine once I was racing.

It was very humid, with dewpoints in the upper 60s and a temperature in the low 70s. I told myself over and over and over again that not only had I been training in weather worse than this all summer, but some of my best workouts had been in these conditions. “Ignore the weather. Weather like this can destroy a marathon. In a mile it’s meaningless.”

Got to the start and we had to wait and wait and wait at a penultimate start line before lining up at the real start line. It was a mad dash from the first to the second and I didn’t want to get caught a few rows back. I was in the second row and ended up nicely asking the woman in front of me if I could move up beside her. She looked a little annoyed, pissed even. But I couldn’t afford to lose a second in a slow start or getting around someone, so I was pushy.

So I’m in front. I’m in the center, so I’m not running along cambered road. Then I heard three women behind me talking about their race last year: “Oh, we went out too fast. We ran like a 1:17 first quarter.” I turned around and asked, “What are you planning on running the first quarter in?” They replied, “Oh, around 90.” Good, because I’m going out at 86 or so, so I wouldn’t have to worry about being in their way.

Two of my Harrier teammates are also in front, but they’re leaving me alone. I probably look grim and stern. I’m repeating things to myself, nearly berating myself, “You came here to race this. Don’t look at your watch. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t give up. You have to apply yourself the whole way and push.”

I’d lain on the couch before we left listening to the song I played while doing speedwork. I’ll admit it. It’s guilty pleasure. The song was Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.” I ran 100m in 17 to that song. It makes me run fast. So that was my brainwashing soundtrack, my cue for going postal. That and being hopped up on 150mg of caffeine.

I’m wearing my plain Jane Timex. While I’d love to have Garmina’s quarter (or even 200m) splits, the temptation to look at them will be too great. I need to just race and never look at my watch. The upshot is that I don’t know how fast I was running at any given point on the course.

FInally, we’re given our 30 second warning, then 10 seconds and “blam!” — off we go. I know I have to run harder than I did in Tuckahoe, and it will feel a lot harder because of the humidity. The first quarter is downhill and I fly. I’m running slightly too fast, but I’m banking time for the uphill second quarter. I’m in, like, fourth position (!), for that first quarter. Then fifth when we hit the little hill.

Sometime in the first quarter my left ear becomes completely blocked, like it’s full of water. I can’t hear anything except my own breathing, amplified to fill the entire left side of my head. It’s so fucking annoying, but I can’t do anything about it. It will stay blocked until about 10 minutes after the race. The second quarter is slower, I can just tell. But not that much slower. We crest the hill and I can hear my friend Amy Cooper screaming her lungs out at me. I’m touched but I know that if I do anything to acknowledge her it could steal from my time. I can’t afford it! I keep running.

Shortly beyond, I see a blur of bodies in black and I know they are Harriers. They are also screaming at me. I continue with my robotic running. I can be friendly later!

As is the case with track miles/1500s, the third lap was the hardest. That’s where I could feel a growing ache in my legs and the seeds of doubt really beginning to take root. I can see the pace car up ahead, and it says 3-something, but I’m fifty feet behind it and I don’t know where we are. I’m too much in tunnelvision to be able to look for the clocks along the course. Plus, I don’t really want to see them for the same reasons I don’t want to see what’s on my watch. It’s too much of a mindfuck risk.

I start to loose hope during that third quarter and I’m thinking all kinds of negative stuff: “I went out way too fast. People are passing me. I’m going to run something like a 6:10 today. This weather has wrecked my chances. I can’t run this hard alone.”

I can see the finish line. But it’s tiny. So far away in the distance. I was warned about this phenomenon. The moving mirage, like one of Zeno’s paradoxes, that tempts you with a big sign that says, “Finish!” — yet you can never seem to get to it.

I’ve one quarter to go. I have to push, just as I’m most tempted to give up. I can’t read what the finish clock says, so I’m just going with faith that I’ve raced hard enough. This is the hardest I’ve raced in recent memory. I see the 200m sign and then am able to make out the clock. It still says 5-something. But 5-what?!

As I’m about 50m out I can see it’s in the 5:40s. Okay, this is doable. I keep going. I cross. I hit STOP. It says 5:57.5. I can’t breathe. People come up and talk to me and I can’t speak. I’m drooling. This isn’t pretty.

Okay, I’m fine in half a minute. I chat with a few people, real friends and formerly those who I knew only in the virtual realm. I look around and realized that this was a competitive race. This is confirmed when I look at results — the 45-49 women were far harder to beat than were the 40-44 in terms of field depth. Where’d all these fast pre-menopausal women come from all of a sudden?

Six of them came in ahead of me. Another four in the 40-44 crowd beat me too. I was 11th masters.

I’m happy with this race, but I’m happier with what this race means: I have raw speed that I can develop; I have clues about how to train safely and effectively; but mostly, I feel as if I’ve discovered some kind of dust- and rust-covered treasure, lying in the corner, perhaps buried under all the piles of marathons. The Mile. The mile and its cousins.

Today’s race event featured two acts, actually. My race was Act 1. I’ll cover what happened in Act 2, the professionals’ races, in a post tomorrow.

Ready, steady, go!

I’m behind on training updates because I’m behind on everything these days.

But who cares about training. My fall goal race is nigh.

This morning I went to the track and did a couple of tests at perceived mile race pace: 1×800 (2:56), 1×400 (1:24), 1×400 (1:26). I had a bad night’s sleep and had a 10mph headwind for half of each lap. It was humid too. Still, I was just 1 second off my goal pace for the 800 but right on target for the 400s.

I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to run fast down Fifth Avenue in a few days.

Race Report: Sunset & Suds 5K

Racing a 5K while trying to peak for a road mile probably wasn’t the wisest move. Conventional training wisdom would probably dictate shorter, faster work in the weeks leading up to the Fifth Avenue Mile (which is next Saturday). But following conventional training wisdom has often been a crapshoot for me, so I figured I’d race it and get some fitness on the endurance end of the spectrum.

The heat in New York has finally broken (I hope) for the summer and we were given cool, overcast conditions on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, there was a hellacious NW to SE headwind (although it shifted around at times). I stupidly failed to heed it in the first half mile of the race and paid for that stubbornness later on.

Long story short, I finished in 21:46, which is 24 33 seconds off my PR at the 5K distance. I have a feeling that I might have been able to get closer to, or perhaps even best, that time had it not been so windy, but I’ll never know. The wind affected us for about half the race, which is run along a north-south path that runs along the Hudson in Riverside Park. I had a feeling that I was running slightly too fast in the beginning, but since this wasn’t a goal race I figured I could afford to experiment. I came through the first mile in 6:49. Yes, with that headwind, that was probably about 10 seconds too fast.

In the second mile we headed south, then turned around. But by this time the sun was down and we were running in the dark. Since was afraid of twisting an ankle on uneven pavement, I was somewhat cautious going under an overpass. Yeah, lost tons of time there. Sure. No, I was just tired during that mile. That one clocked in at 7:11.

Heading back north into the third mile I was feeling low energy. This was a good thing to experience because it convinced me that I need to lay off the calorie restriction in the days before the Fifth Avenue race. I was also incredibly thirsty and grabbed a bottle of water off the table, took a few sips and then — feeling awkward — dropped it off to the side. No one else was taking water and I hate throwing bottles on the ground. It seems so rude.

As we headed up toward the little loop that marks the northern end of the course I got some energy back, but, boy, was I sick of that full on headwind coming from the north by then. I will say that we had a lovely sunset over New Jersey (that’s the “sunset” part), although it’s hard to appreciate a sunset when you feel as if you’re about to puke up your spleen. We turned to head south and that was a relief, but I was feeling done. When the woman calling the splits at mile 3 said, “21:10,” I knew I’d blown a chance at a PR. And yet, in front of me was a woman with whom I’d been playing “Pass me! Now I’ll pass you!” throughout the entire race. I decided to try passing her, which I did, and found some speed for the last .1, which I ran at 6:22 pace.

The woman who won the race in just under 19 minutes is 39. So it’s a little hard to be proud of a “first master” status. I’ll take it, though. I was 7th female overall. The race field was probably under 100 total. I love small races. The post-race beer (that’s the “suds” part) and chitchat with teammates and others was a bonus.

What I learned, besides the fact that I need to eat more before racing, is that if you train for a mile it’s hard to pull off even a decent 5K. My endurance over anything longer than about 3K is not there anymore. That’s so odd to me. I’m so used to being able to sustain an effort over long (sometimes very long) distances. I wouldn’t dare enter even a 10K now.

Even though the mile race is next weekend, I’m already looking ahead. In some ways I feel that the Fifth Avenue race will take care of itself. There’s no workout I can do at this late stage that will get me any readier for it, and in fact doing too much will only detract. I have a little session planned for Tuesday, just 1-2 800s and a couple of 400s. But I may even skip that if I’m feeling at all tired or if anything anywhere hurts.

I’ll take a little down time in the week after that race and just run easy. Then I go straight into 5K training with one tempo run and one speed session every week, plus one longer recovery pace run. I think those will top out at 10 miles. Upper mileage limit will be around 55 or so.

My next planned race is a 5 miler in late October, the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff (a raincheck for the cancelled Percy Sutton race). The last time I ran that race I suffered a violent hamstring pull. Good times. I did find another road mile in mid-October, the Harry Chapin Run Against Hunger. That’s billed as a “fun run.” But I am incapable of doing fun runs. I will be out for blood as usual.

Race Report: Tuckahoe Mile

Well, I won. I wish I could say this was a hard race to win, but it wasn’t. In some ways, winning was a drawback. Read on.

My winning time was not great, but it wasn’t terrible either. It’s about where I expected to be: 6:09.

I was incredibly nervous before this race for some reason. My heart was pounding right before the horn sounded. I’m not sure why. I suppose one possible reason is that it’s been so long since I raced a mile that I wasn’t sure what the right effort would be, so I was afraid of blowing it by running either way too fast or way too slow. But I think most of my nervousness had to do with the fact that this was my one chance to evaluate how I would do in a road mile prior to the Fifth Avenue Mile. What I was most worried about happening was that I would race my hardest and steadiest, yet bomb and run something like a 6:30. What would I do with that? Give up? I wasn’t sure.

Fortunately, not only did I not bomb, but I could have raced harder. This was a good realization to have today, two weeks before the day on which I need to race race. I am confident that I can run a bit harder than I did today. If conditions are right, that could get me below 6:00.

With my handy Garmin set to record 200m splits, here’s how I made out (splits are rounded up or down from the hundredths):

200: 43
400: 45
600: 48
800: 48
– 3:04 at the halfway, hairpin U-turn –
1000: 48
1200: 46
1400: 45
1600: 46

I started in the second row, since I did not want to battle the likes of Joe Garland (Warren Street) and Kevin Shelton-Smith (Van Cortlandt Track Club) from the gun. The first 200 was a little “fast”* because I was somewhat crazed with trying to not get trapped by slower runners. For the first 400 I was feeling a sharp pain in whatever the smaller quad is in the front of my left thigh. That was worrisome and partially responsible for my lowering the effort a little. But that pain ebbed in short order.

For most of the race there was just one woman ahead of me (and I’m pretty sure I was well inside the top 10 overall). She was running a steady pace so I thought I’d have trouble catching her. But I passed her at about the 1300 mark, and as that happened I kind of settled mentally and didn’t kill myself in the last few hundred meters.

I had hoped to run even 45s and then pick it up for the last 400m. But I got freaked out by a headwind for the first half that, while not strong, was still noticeable. In my last few track workouts I’ve seen how quickly — instantly! — I can go from redlining to running out of air and/or muscle strength. I did not want that to happen in the first half mile. So I held back a little more than I needed to. That U-turn stole some time too, something that will not be an issue in two weeks.

I didn’t go into this race with a goal to win, but when I realized I was going to win my competitive instincts took a quick nosedive. I should have run harder those last few hundred meters, but I’m not going to beat myself up over that too much. This was a time trial and opportunity to make some experiential observations. The race was a success in those regards.

With the information gathered, I’ll have a few more specific training goals over the next few weeks. My pace sagged in the middle, which I suspect is a confidence issue and not a physical one. I need to focus on keeping up a constant effort without being afraid of a blowup in the second half. I have two more speed sessions. In those I’ll focus on running 800s in around 2:55 and doing some 400s in the 84-86 range.

There were some familiar faces in Tuckahoe today. As previously mentioned, Joe was there to run both the mile and 5 mile races, but suffered a pull early on in the mile race. I am hoping that it’s a big nothing like some other recent twinges he’s had. Joe has some video of today’s 5 miler up, including some of me, sitting (not running, thank goodness) and receiving Fifth Avenue Mile strategy tips from VCTC’s Ken Rolston.

Taconic’s Frank Colella and Emmy Stocker also turned up, and Emmy won the 5 Miler, despite protestations that she was tired. She’s not fooling me with this sandbagging act anymore, though!

Other random details: I was the only New York Harrier there, not surprisingly. But VCTC had a sizeable contingent — around six runners. Also, I wore my New Balance Minimus 10 Road racers. They were good to race in. I will probably try them for the 5K on Thursday. I discovered that one of the race’s sponsors is Hector’s Auto Repair, the scene of many repairs to our aging Toyota. Hector is a good mechanic — and by that I mean honest, accommodating and reasonably priced. The fact that he sponsored this race did not surprise me.

And, finally, here’s an idea for you race directors out there: pin one tee shirt of each size to the wall next to the registration table. That way, runners can evaluate way ahead of time what size shirt they will want. It’s so simple and obvious, yet I’ve never seen this done anywhere else.

Afterwards I decided to take advantage of Bicycle Sunday — the closure of a 7 mile stretch of the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays in September and October, along which bicyclists, rollerbladers (remember them?) and “joggers” are free to traverse between the hours of 10am and 2pm. I had a lot of life left in my legs because after a first mile at 9:20 I was cruising along in the low 8:00s, finishing up with a final mile at 7:44, for 6 miles at average 8:28 pace.

Good. Now I can eat.

*I use quotations around “fast” because ~44 is what I need to run my splits in for Fifth Avenue if I want to break 6:00. But let’s not think about that just yet.

A good morning at the track

This morning I headed over to the Bronxville track. It was early. It was raining lightly. I was ambivalent about my planned workout given how cruddy my Saturday session was.

But I felt good in the warmup despite the fact that it was 100% humidity. My hamstrings felt okay. I’ve slept remarkably well for the last five nights (my longest stretch without insomnia in a few years).

My workout plans, from a pure workload perspective, were not ambitious. But there was, today, an important psychological component to the proceedings. In short, I wanted confirmation that I could run 800 meters under 3:00 without doing an all out effort. I figure if I can manage that at this point, I should be able to crack 6:00 in the mile in a few weeks.

I was prepared to give it three tries. I only needed one: 2:57. Okay. I can work with that.

Since I am saving my legs for my time trial in the Tuckahoe mile road race on Sunday, the rest of the planned workout consisted of shorter repeats with nice long rests inbetween. These too yielded some pleasant surprises (please ignore that second 400; I have no idea what happened on that one):

400s: 88, 96, 91

200s: 37, 38

100s: 19, 17

I ran 100 meters in 17 seconds while tired.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was listening to Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” at the time. That’s a really good song to run fast to.

Is that fast?

It seems fast.

It’s 4:34 pace.

I think that’s kind of fast.

Or, at least, it’s fast for me.

Training: Aug 28-Sept 3

This is my 800th post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, but these have been hard lessons.

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

A sweet little track off the beaten path

Joe did a recent tour of Mount Vernon’s track. Here’s my travelogue of the Edgemont High School track.

Faster and faster, little by little

I’ve gotten faster in the last month or so. This is a fact that cannot be denied.

For one thing, my recovery runs are now anywhere from 8:30-9:30 pace. Usually right around 9:00. I was heretofore running these at 10:00 or slower.

For another, my trips around the track are taking me less time. Two weeks ago I did a workout that consisted of 800s and 200s at high/higher effort. High being a little above tempo. Higher being something a bit short of all out. Splits for that were around 3:25-3:30 for the 800s and 48ish for the 200s. I did one two weeks ago, a 3:13 (I was hopped up on lots of caffeine), that was obviously way too hard. Yesterday I ran all three 800s in 3:13-3:15 at lower effort than last time. The 200s were 39-43. Hmm.

I run better when the humidity’s lower, as has always been the case, but low humidity is no longer a requirement for running fast. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about my prospects at the Fifth Avenue Mile even if the weather’s hot and/or humid. But if it’s cool/dry weather, I’m feeling more than pretty good.

Next up, a mile road race in Tuckahoe on September 11th. We shall see. We shall see. Wish I knew if the course was accurate.

On another note: Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer) won gold at Worlds today in the 1500 final, in an inspiring sprint from about 120 metres out. She’s the first American woman to win gold in that event since Mary Decker Slaney did way back in 1983. And Morgan Uceny fell down about three minutes into the race, which was upsetting to see.

Training: Aug 14-20

Lots of variety this week. The highlights included a speed session Tuesday that went eerily well. Like “10-15 seconds per mile faster than the previous try at this workout” well. Then on Thursday I ripped through a 7 mile recovery run at 8:30 pace. Hey, Lady. Watch it!

The next day, I screwed up my second speed session of the week by running too fast. I was supposed to be doing 1200 repeats at tempo effort (around 7:10-7:15 these days), then shorter stuff at faster speeds. I got to the track and promptly ran 1200 at 6:40 pace. Oops. Then, 600m into the next one I was going at 5:58 (!). WTF.

Perhaps the slight twisting motion I used to look at my watch in that moment with a mixture of pride and alarm is what caused me to then pull my left hamstring. I slowed for the last 200, then tried a slower 400 and 200, but the run was over.

I spent the next 24 hours icing and anti-inflaming. It was okay enough to run on the next day. Since I’m getting sick of the running path I asked Jonathan if he wanted to go do an 8 mile run with me along the upper Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) trail. He was up for it, so off we went.

I have not done a run with Jonathan since I don’t know when. He usually runs too fast for me (at all speeds), so it’s impractical. Today we were in sync, though. My recovery pace has picked up from 10:00+ to between 8:50-9:20 lately. We trundled along at an average 9:00 (with frequent stops for me to pick the tiny stones out of my Trail Minimi — don’t wear these on a gravel trail, kids).

It. Was. Fun.

I took yesterday off from running (although I did weights and core work), then did another quick 7 mile recovery effort this morning. The hamstring issue is still there, so I’ll baby it this week and skip speedwork rather than tempting fate. I want it ready for Harlem on Saturday.

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