I must be almost recovered because…

…not being able to run more is beginning to really bug me.

Before my fall training kicked into highest gear (and I was exhausted most of the time), I got to really liking running twice a day. The morning run woke me up and got me both energized and relaxed for the rest of the day. The evening run was the day’s reward, during which I cleared out all the detritus that had accumulated in my mind over the preceding 10 or so hours.

Now I’m limited to one measly 6 mile run most days. I do it in the morning so it gets done. It’s also starting to get very dark, very early — a condition that will get worse after Sunday when we turn the clocks back an hour — so I guess it’s time to break out the headlamp for those evening runs.

At first I enjoyed having those aimless hours in the evening; I was still too tired to run more than a few miles anyway, so lying on a couch and reading a book was about the limit of what I could do anyway. Now I resent not being able to go run after work. The extra four pounds I’m carrying around (and the need to watch what I’m eating because I can’t run more miles) is only adding to the frustration. In fact, I’ve stopped drinking completely, since I can’t afford the calories. This is always guaranteed to make me very irritated, especially on the weekend. And, worst of all, my “longest” run on the weekend is laughably short: 10 miles? That’s all? That’s less than 1.5 hours. What will I do with the rest of the morning?

Just a few more weeks of this and then I can go back to running doubles most days and doing nice, long runs on Sundays and Wednesdays again.

I do sound like an addict, don’t I?

NYC Marathon pacing guide

Check this out: An Excel spreadsheet that helps you put together a pacing plan (and let your family, friends and fans know approximately what time you’ll be where) based on the actual NYC marathon course. Pure genius from author Greg Maclin.

Easing back into running

I ran every day this week except for Tuesday. I just couldn’t help myself. The weather is wonderfully cool (or even cold) in the morning and the leaves were so colorful this year; they burst into color over the last weekend and now they’re all falling, which is very dramatic on windy days.

I did a wonderful 10 miler this morning. The weather was gorgeous and perfect: sunny with temps around 52 and windy. I ran an average 8:40 pace at 78% heart rate and enjoyed myself immensely. I was truly sorry when the run was over. But it tired me out enough to nap for two hours on the couch after getting through the first few essays in the newish David Sedaris book When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

When I looked at my mileage this week, I could hardly believe it: I ran 39 miles. I hadn’t expected to get back up so quickly, but my legs have felt great and I wasn’t really paying attention to the cumulative mileage as the week wore on. I’ll probably keep it under 55 for the next couple of weeks, then start gradually working the mileage base back up into the 100+mpw range in preparation for starting up training again sometime around mid-January.

It’s nice to have such a long spell between races. The next one isn’t until very late May (that’s assuming we go through with our plans to run Newport, OR next year). I’m not going to do so much hard running during the base period again. Probably just one or two moderate-pace runs a week and the rest very easy. And I’ll probably do some racing for fun and training too, as there are some good ones coming up in the next few months: the Nyack Hospital 10K, the Hot Chocolate 15K, the Manhattan Half Marathon and the Boston Buildup series in CT.

Speaking of running 100+ miles a week, former champion Ingrid Kristiansen and 2008 gold medalist Constantina Tomescu-Dita had some training advice for Paula Radcliffe, who will be 38 when the 2012 Olympics roll around. Paula does not agree. I do, though, at least for myself. I’ll be cutting down on the mileage to average around 75 per week during training. I won’t, however, be having a baby.

Anyway, as for the next week, I have no plan. I will probably run almost every day again, once per day, with quicker running days determined by how I feel.

An elite is an elite is an elite

(With apologies to Gertrude Stein.)

This week’s running kerfuffle involved the Nike Women’s Marathon, in which Arien O’Connell, who describes herself as a “pretty good runner,” ran a 2:55 race and blew away the “elite” field by about 10 minutes. But since O’Connell didn’t register as an elite (and go with those who did 20 minutes before everyone else), her winning chip time was initially not acknowledged.

News articles began appearing, which led to reader outrage, which then led to complaints to Nike. Within a day or two, Nike reversed its decision, declaring O’Connell “a” winner (but not “the” winner). They also decided to do away with their elite start going forward.

Given how screwy their race was set up to be, I think they made the right decision under the circumstances. It seems unlikely that had O’Connell been running with the pack of 3:06+ “elites” one or more of them could have risen to the occasion and matched her time. But because she started 20 minutes behind them, we’ll never know.

The fatal flaw in Nike’s race design was their failure to properly define who qualifies as an “elite.” Registrants were left to their own devices to self-identify. Most knowledgable female marathon runners know that “elite” runners are fast. They are very fast. Not just the top 3% of runners, but more like the top 0.3% of runners. A 3:06 time might be considered “local elite,” but, again, Nike gave no guidance, so I can’t blame the slower runners who entered as elites any more than I can blame the faster ones who didn’t.

Also worth noting is the trend toward using chip/”net” time (rather than gun time) to determine order of finish. NYRR just started doing this. I think this is a good thing, because it measures and acknowledges performance in absolute rather than subjective terms. Although NYRR takes a hybrid approach in that the first place male and female winners are those who cross the finish line first. All other place finishers are determined by chip time:

In all NYRR scored races, each participant’s official time, the net time, is recorded from when a participant crosses the start mats to when he or she crosses the finish mats. This official time is used to establish the order of finish and to determine award winners. However, the first male and female runner to cross the finish line will always be the winner of the race.

Here’s something that illustrates what happens when there is no set standard. The table below shows the average finishing time for the non-elites vs. elites, based on the race result leaderboards. The first average time shown includes the top 19 runners in each category. The second average time in the non-elite column removes O’Connell’s time (since it could potentially skew the results considerably).

Non-Elites Elites
2:55:11 3:06:18
3:06:18 3:08:59
3:08:59 3:12:35
3:12:00 3:13:07
3:12:25 3:13:44
3:13:07 3:13:48
3:13:44 3:14:34
3:13:48 3:22:00
3:14:33 3:22:24
3:14:34 3:23:29
3:15:23 3:23:52
3:16:50 3:25:22
3:17:30 3:25:38
3:18:13 3:26:06
3:18:14 3:27:27
3:18:35 3:30:49
3:19:10 3:33:52
3:19:57 3:57:56
3:20:38 4:23:09
3:14:10 Average for all runners 3:25:32 Average for all runners
3:15:13 O’Connell removed

Even with O’Connell removed, the average time for the elites is still over 10 minutes slower than for the non-elites. So, in actuality, the non-elite racers were much more competitive than the elite racers were. The numbers do not lie.

Having a separate start for elites makes sense in many cases. Its purpose is to allow faster women runners the chance to compete against each other fairly, meaning they run only against other women without the opportunity to draft off of (or otherwise receive a pacing advantage as a result of running with) male runners. It also gives them the chance to shine in their own right rather than getting lost in a mass of slower male racers. But given that this is an all women’s race*, those are non-issues. In the all women’s races I’ve run thus far, there’s been no separate elite category for prizes, and the elites know who they are (and the non-elites know who they aren’t!) and line up accordingly.

But what do you think? Did Nike make the right decision?

*To further complicate things, the women’s marathon allowed about 350 men to race it this year. So the fastest runner in the race was, not surprisingly, a man. What on Earth is Nike trying to do with this race?

Recovering nicely

I’m taking a very casual approach to post-marathon recovery this time around. Although I’m loosely following a recovery schedule from Advanced Marathoning, I didn’t run at all for six days post-race, then did five on Sunday and Monday, and seven yesterday, plus a little time on the stationary bike. I ran too many miles too soon and too fast in April; I won’t make that mistake again.

It’s been difficult to run slow, since my legs feel really good and — coupled with the cool weather — it’s a lot of fun to be out running again. But I’ve kept things at avg 70% max heart rate so far. I will do a 10 mile easy run (75-82%) on Sunday, which I’m so looking forward to.

I have gained weight from eating and drinking too much of the wrong things. No surprise there, but it is a little distressing. Hence, the time on the bike. I’ll do a longer ride this evening.

Now that it’s cold, I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of eating oatmeal. I started buying McCann’s Irish Oatmeal from Trader Joe’s. This stuff rocks.

I’ll be planning out my spring training this weekend. I’m pretty much sold on the idea of returning to the plan I used from Advanced Marathoning (the 18 weeks at 70+ mpw plan), with the same modifications I made the first time around. The biggest difference this time around will be that I’ll start out with a much bigger mileage base (100+ mpw vs. 80 mpw last year) and I may shorten the plan to 14 or 16 weeks.

Lots to look forward to.

Once a runner, always a runner

68-year-old former cross country champ kicks some criminal ass in the streets of Devon.

Bad luck always comes in threes

This has been quite the eventful week. My mom and her lovely partner, Jan, are visiting us for a few days — something I’ve been looking forward to for many weeks. The visit got off to a very iffy start, though: They were scheduled to arrive at JFK at around 8PM on Wednesday evening. Extensive mechanical problems in Pheonix (and JetBlue’s lack of an effective Plan B) resulted in a huge delay. Huge. Jonathan and I tag-teamed, with him manning the phones Wed. night while I slept, and me getting up at around 3:30AM Thursday morning to go pick them up.

I got them home and they promptly went off to bed to try to sleep for a few hours. I, however, was wide awake. So I had breakfast and figured we’d use the day for shopping and recuperating from the night’s travails. And we did have a good day of shopping, a nice dinner at home and copious amounts of wine.

Cut to 10:30PM. We’re settled into our little beds — or so I thought — but I hear Jan calling my name from the hallway. I think, oh, they need to know where the glasses are or something. Instead, it seems that my mother has discovered one of our broken — and dangerous — double-hung windows. One of the windows that acts like a guillotine when you try to open it. Top half of window has slammed down on the second finger of her left hand and crushed the nail. She is feeling faint and freaked out. And I am feeling like the worst daughter in the world.

The three of us head over to the closest emergency room, where we wait. And wait. And wait. What’s the deal? This is Bronxville, for God’s sake — one of the richest square miles in America. Well, here’s a tip: while Lawrence Hospital has great inpatient care, their emergency room is staffed with exactly one physician. There are other, better emergency rooms in the area. More on that in a moment.

She’s finally seen to. I wasn’t allowed to stay, but I know whatever they did to her involved a boatload of novocaine, plus sharp knives, stitches and three pounds of gauze. At around 2AM, she’s released and we’re walking through the parking lot, joking about what could possibly happen next to complete the triad of bad luck events.

It didn’t take long to find out.

We arrive home. Jonathan is still awake, but bleary-eyed given his lack of sleep the night before. I am approaching the 22 hour mark of having no sleep, having had around 4.5 hours prior to that. Mom and Jan head off to bed and I head off to the bathroom and steal one of Jonathan’s 3mg Lunesta pills. I head back into the bedroom, ready to try again for sleep and…and…where is Jonathan? Ah, of course, he’s gone downstairs to use the half bath.

And at the moment this explanation enters my mind I hear a very loud crash and thump downstairs. I call out to him and there’s no answer. I am overcome with a sinking feeling. I run down the stairs, at the foot of which is our cat, looking quite stricken, and round the corner to find Jonathan face down on the floor, unconscious. He has passed out cold.

I shake him and he comes to in about 10 seconds, but he’s somewhat confused and — very unlike him — babbling. We later figured out that the door broke his fall (and was responsible for the loud bang, which I’d originally thought was his head hitting the floor). Miraculously, aside from a cut on his cheek, he’s not injured himself. Even his glasses are still intact.

Fortunately for me, Jan is an MD (and very calm in a crisis!). While she tends to him and checks his vitals, I call 911 and request an ambulance. The fireman first responders are on the scene within about two minutes, followed about a minute later by the EMTs and ambulance. I am done freaking out, as Jonathan is lucid, able to answer basic questions, and not in any pain or other distress. So: no stroke, no heart attack and (I hope) no concussion.

The ambulance takes him to our second emergency room of the night, St. John’s Riverside on the Hudson. Folks, this is the place to take people in the middle of the night. The place is well-staffed and they were all over him pretty quickly (although, to be fair, I’m sure that passing out cold when one has no history of doing so is seen as potentially more serious than a smashed finger).

He saw a doctor fairly quickly (45 minuntes?), who decided to admit him in order to do a CT scan, EKG and numerous other tests to rule out anything serious. We left at around 5:30AM just as they were preparing to check him in. During these hours I discovered that it’s possible to resist the effects of a sleeping pill, but it’s not easy. I also learned why sleep deprivation is such an effective torture technique. Combine just 24 hours of no sleep with some high-stress stimuli and you can make someone who is normally pretty even-keeled fall apart quite easily. Which I did. For about 10 minutes after we got home. Then I collapsed into bed for three hours of sleep.

I spent most of Friday at the hospital keeping Jonathan company through various new test procedures, as well as napping on a waiting room couch in the deepest sleep I’ve ever experienced in a public place. Finally, finally, he was released at 5PM, with a more or less clean bill of health (but no explanation for the fainting episode; just one of those wacky things…).

Friday night featured pizza, lots of wine again and — at last — lots and lots of sleep for everyone.

We salvaged the trip for the two days we had left, spending Saturday at Storm King Art Center in Rockland (a perfect day to go there) plus a little drive further West into the Delaware Water Gap for more leaf peeping. Then dinner at a local Thai place. And today was spent driving up the Taconic to Beacon for lunch and a trip to Dia Beacon. Unfortunately, we got to Dia at 3:30 and the place closes at 4:00 on Sundays. But that was fine. Because at this point any trip that does not involve an ambulance as a means of conveyance or a hospital emergency room as the destination is a good one.

Bad luck always comes in threes. Believe it. But I am very lucky to have such a great family. Even if they are a little accident prone.

Saucony Fastwitch 3: my perfect marathon shoe

I wanted to put in a good word for the shoes I wore on Sunday: the Saucony Fastwitch 3. I love these shoes for shorter races (half marathon on down), but had some misgivings about wearing them for a full marathon. Though I’d worn them on my longest training runs (up to 24 miles), my experience was that they’d feel okay until about mile 20, and then it felt like I was running on pieces of cardboard.

Jonathan convinced me to try out the Asics Speedstar. I started running with those a few weeks ago. They felt good on some mid-length runs and were definitely more substantial, yet still light. I’d decided to wear them for Steamtown, but at the last minute had misgivings. First, I noticed that the left foot was ever-so-slightly bothered by the shoe. Second, I have always regreted it when I haven’t I heeded the old adage “don’t try anything new before the marathon.” So while packing on Saturday, I went with the Sauconys.

My last few marathons have left me with varying degrees of mauled and/or blistered feet. As terrible as this last race was, however, the shoes did not make a bad race worse. Yes, my feet were tired after 20 miles, but when I took the shoes off after the race there were no problems anywhere; not even the hint of a blister. I’m sold on the Fastwitch. Now I need to start hoarding them again, since I’ve fast running through the three pairs I have now.

Race Report: 2008 Steamtown Marathon

My race experience was summarized in my preliminary report: I ran under 3:20 — a 13 minute PR over April’s race — but it wasn’t a pretty performance. The detailed version follows.

Pre-race warmup

Steamtown has an excellent reputation, one that is well deserved. The volunteer-to-runner ratio is about 2:1 and it shows. The buses from Scranton to the start in Forest City were plentiful and easy to find, and they left as soon as they were loaded. I found a seat on a 6:20 bus and had a pleasant chat with my seatmate.

Once onsite, we were greeted by cheerleaders and lots of adorable teenaged volunteers, all of whom were friendly and proactive. Bag dropoff was easy, there was a gym to keep warm in. Most notably (and unnecessarily), the portapotties were segregated into Men’s and Women’s.

I had plenty of time to do some warmup running, stretching and sitting around attempting to relax. Jonathan couldn’t run this race due to an injury. Those last few minutes before race start, when I was warming up alone, were when I missed him the most acutely. My pre-race emotional “anchor” wasn’t there and it was a lonely feeling indeed.

We were called to line up early and, for the most part, people seemed to line up under the appropriate pace per mile sign. The national anthem was sung, start instructions were given and after a rib-cracking firing of a cannon just 50 feet away, we were off and running.

Early miles

The first few miles were worrisome. My thighs felt tight and my calves and ankles were aching. Not a great way to start a marathon. I was also having difficulty getting into a 7:10-7:15 pace as planned. I managed around 7:30 for the first three miles, and 6:59 for mile four (big downhill). I should have realized that I wasn’t in shape to run 7:15 the whole way and adjusted my plans. But I am stubborn.

At mile five I started to feel better. My legs were warmed up and I was cruising along in the 7:20 range. We were still mostly going downhill, but there were some bumps upward and flat sections. So I switched to my heart rate view and focused on keeping my effort in the 87-88% range.

Pace/heart rate

Mile 1: 7:33, 83%

Mile 2: 7:31, 88%

Mile 3: 7:28, 88%

Mile 4: 6:59, 87%

Mile 5: 6:58, 87%

Mile 6: 7:02, 87%

Mile 7: 7:34, 88%

Mile 8: 7:15, 87%

Mile 9: 7:24, 88%

Mile 10: 7:20, 87%

Mile 11: 7:26, 87%

Mile 12: 7:37, 87%

Mile 13: 7:35, 86%

Middle miles

The first half of a marathon is supposed to feel relatively easy. This was not easy. I was starting to feel the strain at mile 12. That’s also the point at which my quadriceps began to burn. I had a feeling that I’d taken the early hills too fast — and was possibly running at too fast a pace — but it was too late to undo the effects of those early hills.

Miles 14 – 17 were okay, but not great. We hit a section of cinder trail and it was sort of like running in sand. There were lots of roots and rocks to avoid too, and I was having trouble putting out the mental effort required to both avoid falling on my face and keep a decent pace up. Lots of people passed me on the trail, which didn’t help.

My watch lost satellite reception at around mile 16.5, so I was flying blind in terms of pace. I stopped looking, since I knew it would only depress me. I still had heart rate info, so I used that as my guide. For miles 18 – 20, I couldn’t keep up a good effort. The pain in my thighs was becoming more pronounced and it was difficult to move them at a fast rate anymore. It was at this point that I knew the hardest part was yet to come: an additional six miles that were going to hurt a lot physically and challenge me mentally.

Pace/heart rate

Mile 14: 7:30, 85%

Mile 15: 7:38, 86%

Mile 16: 7:47, 85%

[This is where my watch lost GPS reception, so the next few miles are a bit wacky. It reconnected by mile 19, but the splits from 19 on are guesstimates.]

Mile 17: 9:14, 84%

Mile 18: 11:37, 83%

Mile 19: 7:56, 84%

Mile 20: 6:40, 86% (big downhill)

Miles 21-26

Internally, I was suffering greatly at this point. I was trying to isolate the pain I was feeling in my legs from the feelings of dread that consumed my mind, as they only fed off of each other. This was the first race in which I got something out of the spectators lining the streets, as it allowed me to focus on something external. They were a helpful distraction and a few individuals provided the small act of kindness or the shot of humor I needed during those awful 45 minutes.

There was the woman at mile 21 who affectionately scolded me for slowing down to try to get my cup into the trash can. “Just leave it!” she yelled. “We’ll pick it up. This is your day.”

There was the elderly man rolling down the middle of the street in a electric scooter at mile 22, who yelled at me, “Lady, you gotta work for that mile!” That made me laugh out loud.

And there were the many, many people who clued me in to the fact that there weren’t that many women in front of me:

“See? There’s a lady runner…”

“We like to see the girls out front!”

“You go, girl!”

For miles 21 and 22, I had a younger woman right on my heels. This was both good and bad. Good because she pushed me to run harder. Bad because she was obviously drafting off of me. I would move way over to the side and she’d follow me. This began to annoy me and just as I was about to ask her to share the work and run with me, she passed me anyway.

Miles 24, 25 and 26 were the toughest. My heart rate was down in the low 80%s because I couldn’t get my legs to move faster. It was very frustrating to know that I am capable of running a full marathon at 88-90% heart rate, but not today.

Still, I didn’t resort to walking up the hills as lots of people around me were doing. And I did pass a few people in the final miles, despite the fact that my pace was falling off. Still, when I look at the final mile splits, I never really fell apart. And how I managed to run a 7:30 pace at mile 25 is a total mystery. I kept telling myself that regardless of whether I ran fast, ran slow or walked, it was going to hurt like hell; so I may as well try to run as fast as possible to get this over with.

Pace/heart rate

Mile 21: 7:42, 86%

Mile 22: 8:03, 83%

Mile 23: 7:48, 81%

Mile 24: 8:00, 80%

Mile 25: 7:30, 82%

Mile 26: 7:55, 85%

The finish

The finish at Steamtown is phenomenal. You are richly rewarded for those last three miles of hills with a .2 mile downhill that’s steep and lined with screaming spectators. It’s too bad my legs were trashed or I would have dashed down that hill at a faster clip than I did. Still, I tried to run as fast as I could.

Which wasn’t very fast, apparently. Jonathan’s description of my crossing the finish line:

“You were running a controlled pace, and you showed a lot of focus. Your form was still okay. You didn’t look as tired as a lot of the other people coming in, but you also didn’t look like you could have done much more.”

Finish time: 3:19:22. I was 19th female overall and the sixth masters finisher.

Post-race ponderings

This was not my best race, but it wasn’t my worst either. Unlike the 2007 Vermont City Marathon, the wheels didn’t completely come off. But, looking at my splits and heart rate for this one, it’s fair to say that I could have run this better. So why didn’t I?

For one, I overestimated my fitness and ability to run at a particular pace. This summer’s training was hampered by extreme heat and humidity, leaving me doubtful about what I could run. After the first few miles, when it was clear I was working too hard, I probably should have set my pace at 7:30 and stuck with that, but I really wanted to try for 3:10.

My most successful race was the 2008 More race, with “success” being defined as the improvement in time coupled with a confident, consistent race performance. My training went well for that one, and so once I’m recovered, I’m going to revisit that plan. What’s obvious to me is that running very high mileage didn’t help me very much, especially since it came at the expense of being able to do quality workouts well. I was never fully rested and recovered during this training cycle, and I didn’t do the requisite miles at marathon pace that I needed to in order to prepare.

I’m happy that I improved my time this time around. But I didn’t run a smart race; I simply lacked the necessary training. As a result, I suffered much more than I needed to. I don’t want to suffer like that again, at least not if I can help it.

Broke 3:20

I’ll do a full report later on, but the net of it is that, while I didn’t get anywhere close to any of my goal times (dream goal of 3:10, so-called “reasonable” goal of 3:12, “I can live with it” goal of 3:15), I still managed to PR by 13 minutes. The official results aren’t in yet, but my watch read 3:19:22 at the finish.

The Steamtown course is a complete and utter bastard. Now I understand why it’s called a “quad killer.” My quads were in trouble by mile 12 and basically shot by mile 18. I also overestimated my fitness; I simply wasn’t ready to run a 3:10 marathon (7:14 pace). I managed a 7:18 pace for the first 10 miles, but couldn’t hold it and ended up slowing over the next 16 miles, with a few wildly fast exceptions when I had some young whippersnappers on my heels.

It was a crazy race with a lot of ups and downs, literally and figuratively. It was very hard mentally and physically. I’m glad I ran it, proud of myself for not walking ever, but it was a real trial. Given the huge discrepancy between my goal time(s) and finish times, I have a lot to ponder and analyze when planning the training for the next one.

Anyway, more later. For now I’m eating my cheeses, drinking my wine and watching idiotic television. Later, there will be cake.