Spring Training: Week Six

This was a good week. although also a tiring one.

My legs were somewhat tired after the previous Sunday’s race, but they didn’t overrule my brain when it told them to run an extra mile on Monday. I spaced out and ran nearly 10, only realizing the error of my ways at just short of the five mile mark.

I did Tuesday’s tempo run as a ping-ponged series of four miles back and forth along a long stretch of lonely road we have up here (Pipeline Road — or, on the maps, Aqueduct Road). Unfortunately, it’s the one extended section of concrete my runs take me on, but considering that it’s straight, fairly flat and devoid of cars after the morning rush hour, that’s a compromise I was willing to make.

Sometimes I think that running a race can have the effect of speeding me up in subsequent days. I ran my miles at 7:15 (a little faster than planned), despite a swirling wind.

On Wednesday I did the only dumb thing of the week — a run in a foot of fresh snow, on tired legs. That two mile slog did me in for the remainer of the week. But it was enjoyable to be outside, as I would spend the remaining days (and will continue to) inside on the treadmill. And I didn’t bash my head this time.

On Thursday I dialed down the pace on the speed intervals, although in hindsight I probably didn’t need to. But I was really tired on Saturday and then delayed doing the long run on Sunday for as long as possible, finally climbing onto the treadmill at around 4:00, when I could procrastinate no longer.

That run was okay. Given the past week’s workload (more intensity than I wanted plus more miles than I’ve run in quite awhile), I didnt’ want to push myself too hard. So I did three miles at around 70% effort and then did the remaining ones at 75% avg.

DOMS last night at 3 a.m. rounded out the week. I didn’t hit the 80 mile mark as originally planned, but it was close enough and another 1.8 may very well have killed me.

Snow bunny

I just did my first run in my new Redwing snow shoes, down around the Bronxville pond. What we’re experiencing is not technically a blizzard, apparently. But the wind was around 20 mph. Not that I noticed the wind today.

Good God, running in snow is hard! Notice I said in rather than on. In the untrodden sections, I sank down a good 4-6 inches with every step. I ran just under two miles, much of it in a foot of fresh, powdery snow. Running in that stuff was laughingly slow. Once I got onto some packed snow, the going was much better and I could achieve something resembling a natural running form. Average pace: 12:55. Average HR%: 74.

I was supposed to do a four mile recovery run this evening, but the only way to stay below 70% was to walk. So I figure two miles at 74% is roughly equal to four at 65% (Uh…). But why do my calves, quads and ass hurt so much? Oh, I’m gonna pay for this folly, I know it.

For fun (and, as it turns out, demoralization) I tried two all-out sprints of .05 miles, one on the packed stuff and one on powder. The first one yielded a blazing pace of 8:32. The second one was paced a minute slower. My attempt to dash up a hill was equally unimpressive.

How do you people race in this stuff?

Spring Training: Week 4

The further along I get into training, or whatever it is I’m presently doing, the more relieved I am that I decided to skip doing a spring marathon. This past week shaped up to be a disappointing one, with low mileage, horrible weather and a severe bang to the head. All adding up to less than 45 miles, though not for lack of trying and regret for coming up short again.

If I was looking out to a race in 12 weeks, I’d be feeling pretty distressed. Maybe meandering slackerdom is the source of liberation I’ve been looking for all my life. No goal = no pressure + no disappointment. It also = no achievement, I realize. But everything in life’s a tradeoff…

Monday and Tuesday actually went pretty well. My recovery run pace continued to hold steady around 10:00 and my tempo pace picked up a smidgen. I felt horrible on Tuesday, the fallout of four days of celebratory eating and drinking. Which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed immensely. But I was certainly hauling the celebration along with me on Tuesday and forcing myself to run fast, and not particularly enjoying it. It’s times like this when I look back to the years during which I subsisted on vodka, Doritos and generic frozen pizza and realize I must have felt horrible pretty much all of the time.

My legs were dead on Wednesday, no huge surprise there.

Snow, ice and plunging temperatures resumed on Thursday, which featured a morning run I won’t soon forget. Or maybe I will, if I suffered any permanent brain damage. Still, determined to get those miles in, I went out again on Thursday afternoon and struggled through another few, although I had to stop and walk often due to residual ice.

On Friday I woke up and the right side of my neck was swollen and in a fair amount of pain. My back wasn’t happy either. It was a long, stressful workday as well, a 9 on the Stress-o-Meter. So I said fuck it and skipped the workout. If ever there was a day to take off, this was it.

Or maybe Saturday was. I took that off too. A mild headache (probably from that huge martini on Friday), continued neck pain, a persistent malaise and slight fever sent me to bed for the most the day.

And everything had been going so well.

Even though I’ve curbed my hypochondriacal impulses, I Googled “concussion symptoms” anyway. Headache, malaise, upset stomach: check, check, check. But no memory loss or single pupil dilations. Increased irritability? With me, who can tell? Did I really want to go in for an x-ray of my head or whatever they do? Bah. The treatment for a mild concussion is the same as what I was doing anyway: rest.

Even though the latter part of the week fell apart, I did manage to finally sleep well last night and wake up this morning feeling halfway decent. The headache was finally gone, my neck was in reasonable shape and I had some energy (or maybe it was just cabin fever gnawing at me). Sure, it was 5F outside with the windchill, but ain’t no way I was going to go into that stupid treadmill room. I would run outside if it killed me.

As so often happens, the runs I have the lowest expectations of often turn out to be surprisingly good ones. I’d originally planned to run a meandering hilly route through local streets, but at the last minute decided I’d check out the running path to see if it was still covered in murderous ice. It looked okay, so I decided to do a loop down to Bronxville and then see how far north I could get before the path became unrunable again. The Bronx River was partly frozen and I was half expecting to see hapless ducks and geese trapped in the ice like miniature versions of Shackleton’s Endurance.*

My legs felt great after two days of rest, so I decided to just run as fast as I wanted to for whatever distance seemed good. Sounds like a solid plan! I ended up doing a progression run, starting out at 9:10 or so and ending up around 7:25. Not great, but better than I expected for the effort I was expending. The path is still a giant jigsaw puzzle of black ice in spots, but it’s not too bad. We’re supposed to get temps above freezing this week, so I’m hoping those will go away.

I’m scheduled to do 70 this coming week, with 3-4 days of doubles. Yep, well, we’ll see. Between work and the weather, I’ve no clue what I’ll be able to do. But this week I demonstrated to myself that even now, after a year of disappointment, currently feeling slow and fat, and much of the time wondering why I’m bothering to pursue running seriously at all, I still care enough to go out and try.

My first race of the year is next Sunday and I have no idea how I feel about it. Or, rather, I do. I feel worried. And bad in advance. I’m certain I’ll race like shit, all things considered. So should I just race and accept where I am right now? Or skip racing until I feel “ready,” whatever that means? I’ll decide on Sunday morning.

*There. This is the cleverest witticism I could come up with today. I thought that one up while running. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Shiver in my bones just thinking…

…about the fucking weather.* Not just thinking about it. Being in it. Specifically, trying to run in it.

I typically like to think that here in New York, we’ve got it good. I follow other bloggers who live in godforsaken places like Michigan or Wisconsin and think, “Hey, at least I don’t live there.”

But this year, is it really any better here? In the entire month of January, we’ve had three days that got above freezing. Many days, the windchill was in the single digits or even negative digits. It’s already snowed three times.

I felt compelled to rant about winter because today I was actually looking forward to doing a 9 mile recovery run with strides. In a day packed with meetings and other sources of stress and dreariness, I especially appreciated the opportunity to get outside for 90 minutes and clear my head of the shit that kept me awake for 2 hours in the middle of the night (followed by a nightmare in which Jonathan died).

The forecast called for “flurries.” Maybe on some other planet heavy snow that sticks and accumulates counts as flurries, but not in my world. I got out of the house around 8AM, about an hour after the snow started. There was around half an inch on the ground by that time, and it was coming down heavily. But aside from bare pavement, I had traction on the snowy bits. Or so I thought.

I’d already decided to nix the strides today, not wanting to tempt fate. So merrily I ran along at 10:30 down toward Bronxville on the first of two local loops. I safely made it across Tuckahoe road (where no one ever stops for pedestrians, not even cops!), wended my way down toward the lake and…bam! My feet fly out ahead of me and I’m suddenly looking at the sky. Knowing I’m going to hit hard, I attempt to keep my head up, to no avail. My head actually bounced on the icy pavement a la Robert Cheruiyot.

Nice way to start the day! Now I have a huge goose egg and bruise on my head, plus when I turn my head too far to the left, the area around my left scapula burns. It burns!

Clearly this was not the day to run outside, so I got up and headed back. But in the 10 minutes or so that I’d been outside, the conditions had gone from acceptable to treacherous. It took me nearly 25 minutes to go the .7 miles back to our house. I managed to run a little, but by the time I hit the local streets (and big hill up to our street), the road was like an ice rink.

So in about 40 minutes I managed to run about a mile and give myself a concussion in the process. We’re supposed to get rain this afternoon, but I’ll believe that when I see it. In the meantime, we have a friend from South Africa coming to town for the Gift Fair. The forecast for tomorrow is “real feel” of 2F. I think she’s going to go into some sort of metabolic shock when she steps off that plane. Fortunately, she’s a wool designer, so she can swaddle herself in her own creations.

*Apologies for quoting one of the most boring bands of all time, 10,000 Maniacs (closely tied during that unfortunate era with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians).

[Goal?] Training: Week 1

It’s both strange and liberating to have no goal race for this round of training.* I don’t even know when training will “end” because of this absence of a race to work toward. I’m just training for training’s sake right now. That is okay.

For my first trick, I went out and whaled through a high effort run through the hilly streets of my neighborhood, Crestwood. Yonkers, which Crestwood straddles with Eastchester, is as a whole very hilly. Yet the running path I typically use isn’t that hilly at all. It cuts through the hills all the way from Bronxville up to Valhalla (just on the uppermost edge of Southern Westchester), with a 1.5 mile break on roads along the way. So when I do run elsewhere around here, it’s always something of a shock.

So I ran up and down in the local streets since the path was iced over and I needed a break from the treadmill. Crap pace at high effort (85% avg). Bleh.

The Festival of Slowness continued through the next few days, with slow runs on the treadmill, followed by a slowspeedwork session, again inside. That was also a bummer. I was running 7:30 intervals at 92-93%. Oh, my God. Kevin used the word “nadir” to define this post-bad marathon, post-holiday, post-sitting on my ass period.

Just as I was feeling most despondent, things picked up late in the week. My resting HR finally settled down into the mid-40s again after a month of being elevated. Then my recovery pace vs. effort picked up on Saturday. Yesterday I went out to do another very hilly run in Scarsdale, again because the path is still frozen (and looks to be that way until at least Friday).

That was a damned good run, all things considered. I kept up a 9:15 pace at avg 78% for most of the early miles, then did a few 8:50s (the last at 8:30) in the second half. Elevation up/down was 2000+ ft., to which my calves can attest today. I enjoy running this course because I get to run through some really beautiful neighborhoods. The Scarsdale 15K and 4M races go through some of these same streets, and I’ll be running one of those in April, so it’s also good practice.

I trained on these streets a lot during my buildup for my spring 2008 marathon, and I think it helped me deal with the hills in Central Park. So I’ll be up there a lot this winter and spring to prepare for my hilly races.

One annoying thing that happened: I’m running up Brite Avenue, listening to Pink Floyd, when I hear a rumbling behind me and smell exhaust. I look back and there’s a huge truck right behind me, driving on the wrong side of the street. I think, “Oh, it must be pulling over to park,” but it stays behind me for another hundred feet. I pause the music so I can hear if I’m about to get run over. I think the truck will go around me, but, no, it stays right on my tail. Now I’m getting pissed off. So I hop up on someone’s lawn and wait for the truck to go by. Then it stops 15 feet ahead of me, presumably in front of the address where it’s making a delivery. I ask the driver why he felt he had to drive right behind me along the entire street. His reply: “I had to deliver on this side. I thought if I kept driving you’d eventually go faster.” Fucking moron.

This week features a substantial, but not insane, jump in mileage and another speed session, which I hope to be able to do on the track. I think there’s some tempo work too, but I don’t have pace assignments yet.

The days are getting longer and I’m getting a little faster. These things make me happy.

*Ignore the field that says “21 weeks until race.” I’m just too lazy to update the spreadsheet.

Fall Training: Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: 2009 Westchester Half

Short report since work is nuts, I have lots of training logs to catch up on, and I have to run 90 miles this week (eek).

Like the Whale Half in South Africa two weeks ago, I came into this race with an open mind and no real expectations. But unlike that race, the conditions were near perfect, with a starting temperature of around 48 degrees and almost no wind until the last few miles. True, the course is hilly, but not as bad as what I faced in South Africa. Plus I was familiar with the course, so I could come up with something resembling a pacing strategy.

I tried three new things in this race. I know you’re never supposed to try new things in a race, but this wasn’t an important race for me, so what the hell. The three experiments were:

  • Shoes: I wore my new pair of Adidas Adizero Ace’s (with only 8 miles on them), just to see how they compare to the Saucony Fastwitch 3′s for racing. They were great racing shoes and I’ll wear them again in my next few races. I’m not sure how they’d hold up over the marathon distance, but I plan to try them on a 22 miler this Sunday in Central Park to see.
  • Warmup: I tried a new warmup routine, a modified version of what’s discussed in this online article in Running Times. While I didn’t follow it to the letter (it was for a 5K anyway), I used the principles: a solid block of very easy running, followed by some active stretching and skipping, topped off with some short intervals at close to race pace.
  • Mental approach: I dumped the data, at least during the race. Meaning I decided not to look at my watch and run completely by feel. Although I was 3.5 minutes off my PB for the half, this was a very successful race and I suspect that this data-free approach had a lot to do with that.

Why was I 3.5 minutes off my best? I chalk it up to several factors:

  • Course: My best half was run on the nearly pancake flat Long Branch Half Marathon course. The Westchester course has significant hills throughout the race.
  • Training cycle: I’m in the middle of a marathon training cycle. When I ran my best in NJ, I’d had over a month of rest after a good full marathon race.
  • Jetlag/stress: I got home on Wednesday afternoon after close to 30 hours of travel on two flights. On subsequent nights I was sleep-deprived. We also had to deal with the burglary/rental car damage in the last few days of the trip and that caused a lot of mental stress.
  • Terrible nutrition: I’d spent the past 2+ weeks eating garbage and drinking like a fish.
  • Weight: I gained about three pounds while on vacation. So I guess I was literally hauling ass during this race.
  • Lack of recovery: Thursday featured a run that was supposed to be 8 miles at 70% MHR with four 2:00 repeats at 91-92% and 2:00 rests. Instead, I ran an average effort well into the low 80% range and only did 1:00 rests between repeats. Not until I got home did I realize my error. So my legs were still somewhat tired going into Sunday.

All things considered, this was another good race. Unfortunately, as with the Whale Half late last month, lots of factors conspired to obscure the quality of my performance. But I feel good about both races.

The Westchester course featured a steady climb in the first mile, and two other notable hills in subsequent miles, but the first half is a net downhill drop. That means the way back is uphill. So I reserved energy in the first half and ran at a manageable pace.

During the first half, some people passed me and I passed other people. I was cruising along and not really worrying about what other people were doing. The pace was hard, but comfortable, a full breath every three steps. About a mile before the turnaround I spotted the leaders and was happy to see Jonathan in sixth. He held that position to the finish. Then I started counting boobs and by the time I hit the turnaround had figured out that I was in ninth. Suddenly, I cared more about this race.

So I made a deal that I would do my best to work my way up to fifth, but exercise enough control that I wouldn’t kill myself in the next few miles only to fade in the last two. I easily passed the first woman in my sights, who was fading fast anyway. The next one was tougher, although I surged by her as she slowed at a water stop and that seemed to work. I spotted the next just beyond the 9 mile mark, right before a big hill. She was holding her pace on the hill so I thought it would be foolish to try to pass her then (especially since I’ve done no hill training). As we crested the hill, a friend of hers on the sideline yelled, “Go, Mary! There’s someone right behind you.”

I wanted to ask her friend, “How old is Mary?” but I didn’t. Instead, I felt slightly annoyed that my cover had been blown. But it was a great motivator. So I followed Mary down the hill and recovered over the next few hundred yards. Then I decided to try a longer surge on the flat bit that was coming up. So I passed her “decisively” (as they say in strategy articles) and held a pace of about 20 seconds per mile faster than she was running for a good quarter mile, then picked up the pace again on subsequent downhills. She came in a minute behind me, so I guess this was the right thing to do.

After that, the only other woman I saw was blowing her Wheaties just past mile 11 (isn’t racing fun?). I thought she was the leader at the time, but now I realize she wasn’t. She may have been a quarter marathon runner (we bumped into them on the way back), but I don’t know. But for a good couple of miles I was convinced I had fifth place, and it was a good feeling to know I did everything I could to move up. [Updated: it turns out I did get fifth.]

The penultimate mile ends with a huge hill and I felt done at the time. But I managed to rally in the last mile and ran that one the fastest, a good 20+ seconds faster than the overall average pace for the race. This makes me wonder if I should have run the whole thing slightly faster if I had that much left.

I ended up with sixth fifth overall and first in the 40-49F age group, with a net time of 1:37:35. The woman I passed, Mary Fenton (2nd in our AG), came up and congratulated me, which I appreciated. The other funny thing was seeing a young woman win an age group award and go completely batshit with excitement. It was very endearing and a good reminder that I need to remember how hard it was to win awards until very recently. Jonathan won the 50-59M age group. We have matching ugly trophies, New Balance gift certificates and enough powdered Heed drink mix to poison a small cult.

Did I say this would be a short post?

Another day at the track

I’m usually annoyed when I arrrive at the track and it’s full of people. But yesterday was an exception.

Yesterday morning I headed over to the Bronxville High School track to do some tempo running. I got a late start and needed to run about five miles as a warmup before doing the tempo miles. By the time I got there it was probably around 8:30 already.

It was a good session, not only because the running went very well, but also because of various things that happened during the run to keep me distracted and entertained.

My assignment was four miles at LT effort. All of my training is by heart rate this time around, so my goal was to hit 88% quickly and then ramp it up to 90% for most of the run. As it turns out, I did the last mile at 91% but I didn’t notice the upped effort until I got home and looked at the data. Splits: 7:08, 7:13, 7:06, 6:49. I’ve gotten into the habit of running the last quarter mile of most harder runs at a very high effort, which explains that faster last mile.

Anyhoo. When I got to the track, I saw two groups forming, with an assemblage of odd-looking accessories on the ground. As it would turn out, the first group was the return of what I always think of as The Ladies Exercise Group. This is a group of women who look to be in their 20s and 30s — yeah, a lot younger than me — who all gather and, under the direction of the group leader, engage in various forms of synchronized exercise. On this day that meant the use of resistance bands and lots of hopping around. No slow jogging this time, though (in the past they would alternate hopping around with a slow lap on the track).

For some reason, I often find myself wishing that one or two would “defect” from their group and come talk to me about running. Unless all these women are coming back from some sort of injury, nothing they’re doing is really helping them fitnesswise. Doesn’t at least one of them harbor some curiosity or secret desire to run fast rather than engage in dreary routines with a giant rubber band?

The other group was a class learning how to ride a harness along a rope. I have no idea what this is called, but I’m sure it has a name. This activity involved stretching a rope between two poles approx. 150m apart, and placing a folding stepladder toward the far end, just off the track. The instructor stood atop the higher “launch pole.” Each helmeted and harnessed kid would climb up the handholds to the top of the pole, attach him- or herself to the rope (and a “safety” held by classmates, presumably to stop the larger kids from slamming into the opposite pole), and wheee!! Kid would fly toward opposite pole, then naturally sink back a bit where the ladder was waiting to enable an exit from the rope.

What this meant was that sometimes I’d be rounding the track with a child flying over my head. This certainly kept me alert.

Finally, in the center field was a group of little kids learning to play some sort of kickball game with a pockmarked, round Nerf-like ball (bright yellow). This would sometimes fly across the track (and I could sense some minor annoyance that I didn’t go out of my way to return it to them). The guy coaching the kids was enthusiastic as was the guy at the top of the pole. I was again reminded that I would make a lousy teacher because I would forget to say things like, “We have to stop now. But don’t worry, everyone will have an opportunity to do this!”

So the center and periphery were truly a three ring circus. The track itself wasn’t crowded; I shared it with maybe six people. One of them was a guy who’d come on when I was well into my tempo miles and was running in the inside lane at maybe an 8:30 pace.

With about seven laps to go I rounded the track and came up alongside him a few lanes out. He suddenly started running faster, determined not to let me pass him. This instinctively made me speed up too, but after a few seconds I realized what was happening. So I slowed back down to my 7:0X pace. In the meantime, he’d taken off like a bat out of hell. He lasted at that pace for about a lap and then stopped dead, doubled over. I continued on and finished my run, wondering if it was a guy vs. girl thing or if he was just competitive regardless of gender. Silly twat.

New 5K trail race in Irvingon

The Van Cordtlandt Park Thursday night 5K series has ended, alas. If you find yourself in severe 5K trail race withdrawal later this summer, you’re in luck. There’s a new trail race north of the city in Irvington. It takes place on Saturday, August 29 at 9:30AM at Irvington High School to benefit their XC team. More info here.

NYCRunningRaces.com

Robert (Cowboy Hazel) has just launched a brand new resource for NYC area racers:

http://www.nycrunningraces.com/

The site provides a monthly calendar of races in NYC and environs. You can follow updates on Twitter and even submit a race for inclusion. I’m hoping he’ll add Connecticut, given how extensive its racing scene is year round.

In an age of complex web sites, this one just does one thing and it does it well. Thanks, Robert!

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