What, are you high?

It’s official. The “runner’s high” is real. Full story

Tapering’s not so bad. So far.

Maybe I’ll feel differently next week, but so far I am loving (to use the present continuous) my taper.

I went out for one of my last quality runs this morning, a 7 miler with 3 miles at marathon pace. I was a little alarmed, since my heart rate was pretty high for those miles. But I’m trying not to worry about it. My watch was acting hinky, losing satellite contact, so I’m chalking it up to technical difficulties. I’ve got too much other evidence that I can run 7:48 in the mid-80s to put too much stock in one flukey off day.

Now I do my one daily run in the morning and…I don’t have another run cluttering up my evening. I can do other stuff. Like go to Trader Joe’s. Or lie on the couch and read a book. Or play with the cat. Or all three! In one evening! And it’s not even time to make dinner yet. What do other people do with all their time? Oh, right. They have kids and commutes and social lives…

The only big drawback is that I can’t eat as much and drinking anything fun (like wine, beer or vodka) is out of the question, since that’ll put me right into calorie overage. So I’m drinking lots of tea and looking forward to the afternoon of April 6, about an hour post-race, when I will begin my birthday blowout blitz.

Saving fascia

Well, with much reluctance and trepidation, I dragged myself to an orthopedist today to see about my recurring right calf problem. The funny thing is, as soon as I made the appointment, the leg began to feel a lot better. But I went anyway.

The verdict? I have a torn fascia, but I can still run my race. I need to load up on ibuprofen several times a day, stretch, start going to physical therapy for ultrasound and massage, and go back to the ortho in a month to get reevaluated.

Hoorah! Considering that HIP just raised my monthly premium by $50, I am all too happy to use my insurance benefits to the hilt.

I was somewhat sheepish when I had to explain that I was running a marathon in a mere week and a half, yet I’d had this problem for over a month. The Dr. said that was nothing: he says the week before the NY and Boston Marathons are for him what tax season is for an accountant. Apparently people fly in from other countries, then call up an orthopedist the day before their marathon expecting to get fixed in time.

Runners are idiots.

Training week in review: 16 of 18

This week’s training theme:

My achilles tendon is my achilles’ heel.

I have never been very good at flirting. But I spent this week flirting with injury. Specifically, my right achilles tendon continued its campaign of complaint. I had to skip a day of running last week and darned if it wasn’t acting up again this week.

I haven’t spent 10 months training just to get injured three weeks before my Big Race. So I took Tuesday AND Wednesday off, then did very short, very slow recovery runs inside on the treadmill, with icing four times a day and wearing a compression wrap. I also attempted some stationary biking, but 15 minutes into my ride the power went so that was right out.

I think it’s better. Whereas on Tuesday I couldn’t walk up or down stairs (never mind running) without limping and whimpering, the problem was reduced to a minor ache by later in the week. I upped the mileage on Friday and Saturday, then took the leg out for a full test drive this morning on a 17 miler. Still felt an annoying twinge, but it went away by mile 10.

While on the treadmill that first day back, my feet just felt really stiff. I don’t know what possessed me, but I tried taking my shoes off and running in my socks for a couple of miles. That felt quite a bit better. I will probably try this more often when my feet are feeling tight.

Anyway, I’ve got two weeks to heal this thing up and I think that will happen. It’s no worse than aches I’ve had at other times — I’m just more paranoid than usual.

With the missed days, my planned mileage of 75 was brought down to just under 52. But I figure that at this point the training’s done, so I’m more concerned with reaching the starting line with no issues, even if that means dropping some mileage to get there. I will still do either a speed interval or tempo session this week to keep things sharp, but otherwise it’s all easy or recovery running coming up.

Still bloody freezing — 25 with the windchill this morning. I hope it warms up soon. But not too much.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 6.2 mile limpfest
  • Tuesday: off
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: 3 miles alternating running and walking (AM); 3 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Friday: 3.5 miles recovery pace (AM); 5 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Saturday: 6 miles recovery pace (AM); 7.2 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Sunday: 17 mile long run (steady pace) — nothing fancy

Total mileage: 51.6 miles

Paces this week:

  • Recovery: 9:40 – 12:50
  • Long: 8:46 – 9:37

This week’s quote:

Start slow and taper off.

— Harry S. Truman

Coming up in training week seventeen: Tapering continues. I attempt some faster running, but will bag it if the leg starts acting up again. I also get to play Race Spouse next Sunday when Jonathan runs the 30K Boston Blowout in Fairfield, CT. Once we’re home and he’s settled in with pancakes and beer, I’ll go out for a little 13 miler.

Training week in review: 15 of 18

This week’s training theme:

Food is fuel. Don’t put cheap gas in the tank.

This week I learned a very important lesson about the importance of eating properly. I’ve been experimenting with “carbohydrate cutback” days — lowering carb intake on some days and loading on others. The theory being (at least among bodybuilders who use carb cycling during their “cutting” phase) that if you cycle your carb intake it keeps your metabolism guessing. And if you do it right, you lose more fat than if your diet was structured around a static daily distribution of carbs, fat and protein.

Great theory. One which I’ve applied in the past few weeks. If the new prominence of my leg muscles and veins in my hands and arms are anything to go by, I have lost some fat since trying this method. But you need to be careful during high intensity training, because — as every runner knows — carbs are our friends.

The long and short of it is that I pushed the low carb envelope just a little too far this week and paid for it. I’ve never “hit the wall” in a race, but I do now know what it feels like, having hit the wall on Saturday morning. I ran 19 miles on Thursday, and obviously didn’t replace enough of the lost carbs. Then, on Friday, I did an eight mile easy run and also did not eat enough carbs.

The chickens came home to roost yesterday morning when I attempted a six mile recovery run. I didn’t feel well, and in fact was craving sugar. So I ate a PowerBar before heading out, but that was not enough to make up for two days of deprivation. I was slogging along at a 10:30 pace and thinking, “Wow, I feel like I’m working really hard just to run this slow.” I checked my heart rate and it was elevated to 76%! I normally can run 10:30 at around 62% max heart rate, so something was obviously very wrong.

I had absolutely no energy. It’s such a strange feeling, to actually feel as though you couldn’t run another step. Since I also felt foggy in the head, I turned around at 1.25 miles and walked home and right into the kitchen for a large plate of carbohydrates. My last major long training run was scheduled for the next day (this morning), and there was no way I wanted to feel like crap due to bad nutrition. The only thing I could do — despite the extreme sacrifice — was to consume as much bread, rice, pasta and beer as I possibly could. For my training, of course.

I was also in a slightly injured state all week, as the irritated right achilles tendon continued. It was bad enough to skip running altogether on Tuesday. It was actually pretty funny. I put on my little running getup, walked down to the bikepath and took two running steps in a pronounced limp. Turn around. Go back up the hill. Take off the running getup. Take the ibuprofen and get out the ice pack. *sigh*

Still, it’s only the second or third time in all these weeks of training that I’ve needed to take time off, and it was the smart thing to do.

These changes in plans conspired to bring my mileage down from the planned 91 miles to 73ish. C’est la vie. This training business has been a grand experiment on my body and mind. It’s a great program, but I recognize that I need more than a day after a hard race and, in weeks where I have lots of high intensity work, I may need to swap a recovery run day with a day of complete rest. It’s a lot better than limping.

Another notable aspect to the week was my third speed session, which went very well and resulted in yet more learning. This time around, rather than running a six mile warmup before hitting the track, I just ran straight to the track (less than two miles). I felt much fresher than last time, so that’s what I’ll do from now on. I think even six very easy miles can take the wind out of your sails to some extent. I did 1200m intervals at a 6:45 pace and darned if I didn’t hit all my splits again. I thought I wouldn’t like speedwork, but I’m beginning to like it. Probably because it’s so prescribed and it’s easy (and quick) to evaluate whether or not it’s going well on a given day.

Finally, this morning was my last big, serious, long training run before the race in three weeks. I’d originally scheduled to do it in Central Park, but the weather was iffy. So I lay around all morning, consuming carbohydrates, and noting the weather in an attempt to avoid rain (which I did, save for some sprinkles in the last two miles).

Side note: why do none of the weather sites agree with each other? There was a swing of 10 degrees and 15 mph wind speed between Accuweather.com and Weather.com. It’s a shame that the artist Henry Darger isn’t still alive. I’m sure the moral outrage at his local weatherman’s inability to accurately forecast the weather, which he cataloged daily in his Book of Weather Reports, would be felt and expressed even more keenly today in light of the technology at meteorologists’ fingertups nearly 40 years on.

Anyway, back to my swan song long run. I decided to make it special: a progressive run with some one mile intervals at or below marathon pace. I did a few 1-2 mile surges at marathon pace, with one mile 8:20ish pace “rest miles” inbetween. And since I’m an overachiever, I did the last mile at 20 seconds faster than marathon pace (7:28). All of this was physically encouraging to me; I had no problem with the paces and still felt good at the end of the run.

But I suspect the run had the most value in the mental realm. I ran 22 miles in just over 3:07. The miles flew by. No tedium, no having to play mental games with myself, no urges to stop. There’s also the issue of time: A rule of thumb says that if you can run 22 miles in your goal marathon time, you’re probably in very good shape to achieve it. I ran mine in around 20 minutes faster than my goal time, so I’m hoping this means I’m in great shape to achieve it.

Taper starts tomorrow. If I’m not ready for April 6 as of today, then I’ll never be.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 6.1 miles recovery pace (AM), 3.6 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Tuesday: 11.8 with 4 x 1200 at 5K race pace; no rabies shot this week — next week is the last one
  • Wednesday: took the day off owing to an inflamed (and complaining) right tendon
  • Thursday: 15 mile long run (progressive pace) (AM); 4 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Friday: 8.2 miles easy pace (AM)
  • Saturday: Disaster run of 2.5 miles due to severe glycogen shortage; 2+ hour nap in the afternoon
  • Sunday: 22 mile long run (progressive pace) with 5 miles at marathon pace

Total mileage: 73.2 miles

Paces this week:

  • Low carb: 10:30 – 14:00 (!)
  • Recovery: 9:35 – 11:00
  • Speed: Intervals at 6:45 pace
  • Long: 7:58 – 9:38
  • Marathon pace: 7:28 – 7:48

This week’s quote:

There’s no such thing as a bad carbohydrate.

— Don Kardong

Coming up in training week sixteen: It’s not Easy Street yet. I have a 10 mile easy run on Tuesday with strides, a 14 mile midweek long run, a 10 mile tempo run on Friday and a 17 miler on Sunday. With the exception of tomorrow, I only need to run once per day this week. What a luxury!

Why Americans are fat and broke

I was thinking of just posting this image with the title and leaving it at that, but I felt some analysis was in order.

Around two thirds of American citizens are overweight. About half of those people are obese. And we’re on track for those numbers to continue to trend dramatically upward.

I have nothing against overweight people. I used to be an overweight person myself, albeit only slightly so. I will say that I’m much happier not to be overweight anymore, and that’s primarily owing to how I feel, although looking better has been a fringe benefit of losing weight.

I do have something against people who throw garbage out the car window onto my street, however. Like this receipt. I picked it up and, well, how could I not play amateur anthropologist?

So here, with caveats*, I present an analysis of this McDonald’s receipt and why I believe it is emblematic of why our country is facing such enormous health and financial crises.

Exhibit A: This food was purchased at around 10PM at night on a Wednesday. Was it dinner? If so, wow, talk about a meal completely devoid of nutritional value. Can you say Type 2 Diabetes?

Exhibit B: If this was merely a late night snack, then how many calories were in that snack? I’ll tell you how many:

Cinnamon Melts: 480
Medium French Fries: 380
Large Vanilla Shake: 1,110
Total calories: 1,960

Let’s assume this was a guy of average height and weight (which today means overweight). We’ll peg him at 5’10” and 200 pounds (BMI of 29, right in the middle of the overweight range). He gets no regular exercise (remember: he’s average).

His caloric needs for the day therefore are somewhere in the range of 2,250. And let’s assume that he’s alone and wasn’t sharing this with his significant other or a child. Our littering friend has just consumed over 87% of his daily required calorie intake in those three food items. That leaves room for a piece of fruit and handful of nuts. I wonder if that’s all he ate for the rest of the day. Probably not.

He’s also just consumed 80%, 42% and 39% of his recommended daily maximums for saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, respectively. Ouch.

Exhibit C: I’ll admit that not only do I rarely eat out, I pretty much never buy fast food. Maybe once every few years, and only under duress when there are no other available options. Even then, I go for the plain chicken breast.

So, I’m totally out of touch with what garbage food costs today. But seven dollars? That seems an unconscionable amount to charge someone for three fast food items.

Exhibit D: MasterCard. It’s everywhere you want to be. Even if that’s McDonald’s on Tuckahoe Road at 10 o’clock at night on a Wednesday. Maybe our guy pays off his credit card bill every month. But, again, he’s average. Meaning that there’s a good chance that he’s among the 60% of Americans who carry a revolving balance, the median of which is $2,200.

That’s a lot of boxes of cinnamon melts. 1,078, to be exact.

*I know nothing about the purchasor of these food items. But I’m a pessimist, and I believe in statistics. So I’m going to assume the worst.

Training week in review: 14 of 18

This week’s training theme:

Trust your training.

I’ve seen the three words that make up this week’s training theme before. In books, in interviews and on message boards. Trust your training. It’s often used in the context of tapering, as advice to take tapering seriously, not go out and do a bunch of aggressive training runs two or three weeks before your marathon to get that 1-2% edge. You’re more apt to tire yourself and leave your marathon out on the training runs. Trust your training.

Like last week, I had certain priority runs around which I organized all other miles. They were, in descending order of importance: a 15K race, a 20 miler and a speed interval session.

On Monday I was still pretty worn out from last Sunday’s 25K race/training run. I also had a nagging soreness in my lower right leg’s achilles tendon — must have been the hills in Connecticut. That soreness persisted into Tuesday morning, just in time for my speed session. Since I had the fourth of my five rabies shots scheduled later on Tuesday morning — after which I knew I’d feel like, well, like I had rabies — I got up at an ungodly hour to run the 10 miles with the speed session sandwiched in the middle.

It was — of course! — incredibly windy. And I was — still! — very tired. So I did just three intervals on the Bronxville track. In a respectable time, all things considered. I learned that you need to get to the track and done with your work before 8:30, because that’s the moment the school doors fly open and 200 children come pouring onto the track. Kids today!

Wednesday was a nothing day — one little four miler so I could get ready for…

Thursday’s scheduled torture session: a 20 mile long run, which I again got up very early to do. My leg was still hurting and the first seven or so miles were a real run down memory lane from last year, during which I suffered with pretty much constant shin splints during marathon training. It went away and I was thankful for my new status as someone who runs without pain most of the time.

Friday and Saturday were easy days so I could save my energy for today’s race.

And Bob’s your uncle.

So why is this week’s training theme “trust your training”? Because this is the mantra I will soon need to spend weeks repeating to myself during my pre-race taper, when I will be tempted to go do some harder running. It’s also a reminder that I can trust my training; my recent races bear that out.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 5 miles recovery pace (AM), 5 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Tuesday: 9.9 with 3 x 1200 at 5K race pace; felt like I’d been hit by a truck post-rabies shot in the afternoon
  • Wednesday: 4 miles recovery pace
  • Thursday: 20 mile long run (steady) pace
  • Friday: 4.6 miles recovery pace (AM), 5.4 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Saturday: 7 miles recovery pace
  • Sunday: 9.5 mile race (15K)

Total mileage: 70.4 miles

Paces this week:

  • Recovery: 10:05 – 10:25
  • Speed: Intervals at 6:45 pace
  • Long: 8:25
  • Race: 7:07

This week’s quote:

You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

— Steve Prefontaine

Coming up in training week fifteen: Another peak week of 91 miles, including more speedwork and 22 miles in Central Park. And it’s the storm before the calm: my taper starts after this week.