Winter Basebuilding: Week 1


A few days ago I posted about having hired Kevin Beck as my coach. His first order of business was to come up with a plan to help me rebuild my base. This past week marked my initial foray into this new venture.

I plan and track every day of running in Excel. This enables me to not only see what I’m doing at a glance, but I can do other nifty things, like calculate number of sessions, total mileage, miles at recovery pace, etc. I also keep diary-like notes below each week so I can easily see what was going on over the course of a season.

I’ll just post each week’s sessions (sans the diary entries) here. If anyone would like a copy of this Excel workbook, just let me know and I’d be happy to email it (virus free!) to you. It’s offered “as is,” meaning you’re on your own to figure out how to fill it in or make other changes to it (or fix it if you gum up the formulas). If I wanted to work in software support, I’d move to Bangalore.

Some comments about this week:

As compared to my last basebuilding round in the summer, there are marked differences. Most notably, no doubles! Note also that the recovery runs on a few days are very short. That will change as my mileage builds back up from 60 to 85 over the coming month. The inclusion of longer recovery runs runs counter to advice I’ve read in various places (including Pfitzinger), the “common wisdom” being that you shouldn’t do recovery runs that last more than an hour. Such rules were made to be broken, or at least questioned, it seems.

Also note that, unlike traditional, old school basebuilding approaches (think Lydiard), it’s not all “easy” (or, here, “recovery”) running, meaning below 70% maximum heart rate. I have some real workouts in here, and it’s only week 1. On the blue days, I’m running most of the miles around the quicker bits (ex: 8K effort segments) at a reasonably hard effort, meaning “easy” pace (between 75-82% mhr). These are challenging workouts, as evidenced by my need for a half our nap after Thursday’s effort.

I also am doing strides on one of the recovery days, something I never did in the past.

Despite all the fast running, I felt very fresh and ready for yesterday’s race. I also feel fine after a 16 miler this morning. True, I’m coming off of many weeks of recovery, and the mileage was low this week. But I’m pleased with how I feel and my ability to run faster paces without late-week exhaustion resulting.

Just to fill in all the blanks, here’s a rundown of what I did during my five weeks of post-marathon recovery:

Oct 13-19: 5 miles recovery pace
Oct 20-26: 39 miles, 75% recovery / 25% easy
Oct 27-Nov 2: 42 miles, 50% recovery / 50% easy
Nov 3-9: 48 miles, 40% recovery / 60% easy
Nov 10-16: 35 miles, 40% recovery / 60% easy, and a bonus cold!

Coming up in Basebuilding Week 2: Ten more miles, longer recovery runs, and still more running at 8K and 10K effort. Plus some delicious lamb on Thanksgiving.

Race Report: Nyack Hospital 10K

Just a short report, since this wasn’t technically a race for me. It was a training run, a “tempo on steriods,” with two miles at a quickish pace running sandwiched on either side, making for a brisk 10+ miler.

It was fah-ree-zing this morning. Jesus Christ. The wind chill was 11 degrees when I did my first two miles and probably “warmed up” to around 14 degrees by the 9AM start. There was also an impressive wind from the WNW, probably in the 18mph range, with gusts. That was most noticeable for miles three and four, although it made for a helpful tailwind for the last 1+ mile.

It was sort of fun to run in a race without caring about the results or feeling the need to push myself. In fact, I was not supposed to push myself, and there were times in the race when I was thinking, “Eh, this feels too easy.” Still, I had the pleasure of handily passing two women in the last 1.5 miles who’d been out of reach by a mere fifty yards or so since the race start. What I lack in raw speed (at least for now) I make up for in endurance.

Here’s another interesting thing: I felt very fresh during this race, despite all the faster running this week. Or maybe because of it? I also think doing a nice, long two mile warmup (which I started at a 9:30 pace and ended at around 8:10) got all systems nice and primed to go fast. I felt loose and relaxed throughout, even during the windy and hilly bits. I think I may try a longer warmup for shorter races in the future.

Although he’s recover(ing?)ed from his injury, Jonathan’s not ready to race just yet, so he opted out of this one. Instead, he graciously played the role of support crew, facilitating numerous changes to layering and accessories, and ferreting out secret women’s rooms. He did get a free bagel out of the deal, though, and the chance to sit in a hospital waiting room for 45 minutes, listening to Muzak.

We didn’t hang around for the awards ceremony because last year it took forever to get started. It turns out I was sixth female overall, third female master (and third in my age group, which was a broad — heh heh — women 40-49). I had a feeling I’d win something, but the awards last year were really cheesy. I know. I’m becoming blasé and snobbish about winning age group awards now. Only because my eyes are on bigger prizes now, like actually placing in the top three overall. I’m close: Had I actually raced today, I could have easily taken third place.

Fookin’ chilly!

As in 2007, winter has arrived a month early in an instantaneous, nostril-freezing blast over the last couple of days. We had one of the longest winters in the quarter-odd century I’ve lived in New York last year, and I’m wondering if this year will be a repeat.

No matter. Except for the problem of ice and the demonic drivers who hurtle over it with aplomb in their two ton deathmobiles (we have precious few sidewalks in our suburban hamlet), I love winter training. The colder the better.

Racing in cold weather is even more delighted squeal inducing, and I’ll have a chance to race in wind chills of around 13 degrees tomorrow morning. I ran my measly five recovery miles this morning at embarrassingly slow pace in anticipation. Race report to come.

For now, it’s almost 4PM on Thanksgiving Week Eve, which means everyone I work with has ceased to care about anything, a situation that I happily embrace. I’m technically working today, but it consists of cleaning out my email inbox and addressing the 14 inch high stack of crap that’s accumulated on my desk over the last 11 months. My manager at Massive Nameless Corporation just dragged me into gifted me with two more months-long projects, so I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll be able to continue to pay for running shoes, quality beer and interesting cheeses for another year.

Getting professional help

I hired a coach about two weeks ago: Kevin Beck. He was one name on a short list of other possibilities, all of whom I ultimately rejected for various reasons. More on that in a moment.

Why did I hire a coach?

But first a note about why I decided to work with a coach. Over the last couple of years that I’ve been training for and racing marathons, my finishing times have steadily (and dramatically) improved. But something went very wrong for the last race, in terms of the training and my experience of the race itself. I never felt adequately rested during training, nor did I feel that my “quality” workouts were going well. For months I had a nagging suspicion that I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be, something that was confirmed on race day when I succumbed to fatigue in the last eight miles of the race.

A few years ago, a friend of mine went to see a strange Russian man whose business was helping people to stop smoking once and for all. The “treatment” consisted of going into a room with five or six other clients, handing the Russian a crisp, new $100 dollar bill, closing your eyes, and hearing the Russian say to you, “When I snap my fingers, you will have lost all desire to ever smoke again.” Sounds hokey (and a little shady), but it worked for her.

The reason I share this story isn’t because I think there was anything magical the Russian did. The effectiveness of the treatment had everything to do with the power of suggestion. Going to see some weird Russian to stop smoking, deciding to go to a therapist for help, hiring a coach — they all share the element of a catalytic action, and the raised expectations that come from having taken it. In some ways, I feel that’s just as important as the guidance you get. And, in the end, you’re the one doing all the work. Sometimes the thing you need most is for someone to say “go.”

Why did I hire Kevin?

I don’t know how you people shop for goods and services, but here’s what I tend to do: I decide I want to buy something. Then I look at what’s usually a pretty small universe of candidates. At some point fairly early in the shopping process, some thing (or combination of things) tips my interest in the direction of one candidate. At that point, although I’ll continue to do some research on the others, that activity drops off a cliff and I’m basically looking for reasons not to go with my favored choice.

I had a few leads on other coaches, some of them quite well-known, but I rejected them all for various reasons, including:

  • A young woman posted to about her experience of approaching one of the coaches on my list and offering to pay him upwards of $500 a month for his services. His response was to suggest she work with one of his runners instead. Her response? I want an actual coach, not another runner helping me.
  • One of the coaches I was considering wrote a recent article that was so poorly written that I actually complained to the editor in chief. If I’m going to work with someone remotely, he or she needs to be a skilled and conscientious communicator.
  • I checked out the “remote coaching” site for another well-known person, but (and this will sound odd), it just looked too slick. My impression was “coaching mill.” I just got the sense that I’d get a training plan that might be slightly more individualized than what I’d get out of book, but not much more.

While I was busy rejecting the other candidates for these and other reasons, I had other forces tipping me toward Kevin. They included:

  • The fact that another writer/blogger whom I respect, Matt Fitzgerald, had also decided to start working with him. Realizing that a guy who writes books about training is working with a coach was sort of equivalent to the time I read about the fact that Adam Clayton (U2’s bassist) still takes bass lessons.
  • Kevin coaches through Pete Pfitzinger’s online DistanceCoach site. Pfitz’s book with Scott Douglas, Advanced Marathoning, is (in my humble opinion) one of the best training books ever written. Using it resulted in my best marathon experience (and biggest PR) thus far. So Pete, and anyone associated with him, can do no wrong.*
  • I have enjoyed Kevin’s writings over the years, most notably in Running Times. Here’s a particularly good article, but a Google or Running Times search will yield other goodies too. I also loved this page on his site for the clues it yields on his approach to running (and, presumably, coaching), specifically this snippet (emphasis is mine):

There will always be those who do not adopt mad training regimens simply because they do not want to. There are no demons flitting about compelling them to do more, ever more, and to make running a top priority in the face of swirling relationships, occupational and scholastic concerns, and what have you. These are legitimate issues often at odds with consistent training. And I do not believe that a runner can be taught to hunger the way some of us do. It may be as innate as the color of our eyes. It is not something upon which judgment need be placed or for which merit points ought to be allotted. There are runners and there are competitive runners, and there are racers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love running for its whole spectrum of benefits and the range of experiences I’ve had, many of them outside the competitive milieu. But I have one basic reason for doing what I do. The rest is gravy, basting the raw, tough, but often tender and delicious meat of competing against the rag-tag army of my alleged constraints — going into some awful yet welcoming zone, headed straight into downtown Hell to rip it up yet another time.

Once I’d gotten to the point where I was ready to look for reasons not to hire Kevin, I submitted him to a grueling litany of emailed questions. He answered them all in great detail (and with humor and humility, which was a bonus). Besides, he’s a writer. So he likes to write and writes well. As a writer myself, I’ll always be biased toward a writer in any area where I have a choice. The pre-PayPal phone call sealed the deal.

What did I get?

My next marathon is roughly seven months away, so I wasn’t ready to leap into a 31-week training program. Instead, I asked for a plan to rebuild my mileage over the next couple of months to lay the groundwork for the eventual training plan I’ll get. And I’m glad I did. The plan is radically different from what I designed for myself last time around: it’s high mileage, but with almost no doubles. It features lots of longer runs, pretty much every day, and a ton of shorter, faster work incorporated into at least three runs per week. Matt F. has a good summary (although, obviously, his plan has been customized in ways that are quite different from my own).

Three days in and so far, so good. I’m handling the challenging runs (despite running with the tail end of a cold) and feeling better than I did when I was grinding out doubles every day. On the other hand, I’m coming off five weeks of recovery, so come back in about a month…

*Incidentally, Kevin’s also written a book, Run Strong, which I have not yet read, but I will soon.

Whoever sneezed on me…

…a pox on both your houses!

I’ve managed to pick up my second cold of the year. Unusual for me since I rarely get sick. Or, rather, when I get ill, I get seriously ill. But that only happens about once every 10-15 years or so.

So, here I am, semi-horizontal, alternating between feeling sort of okay and feeling like garbage. My sister has introduced me to Gan Mao Ling, a Chinese herbal remedy for colds. I can’t say it’s helped with the malaise, but it has kept my head from turning into a phlegm machine. I’m sure it’s loaded with something like benzine or mercury or formaldehyde. Being from China and all.

Sister and niece are done with the rounds of colleges and are off gallivanting in the city. I skipped the Sarah Lawrence tour on Friday since I got sucked into three hours of phone meetings, then decided to go for a nine mile run. I’m sorry I missed it, because it sounded hilarious. It’s the most expensive private university in the country, with a tuition of $57,000 a year (that’s not a typo). The kids take three (three!) classes a year, one option of which is Playground Games. Yes, they actually play dodgeball, etc. with each other as part of the curriculum. The student tour guide also touted the vegan bar and its once per week availability of avocadoes. It’s hard to believe that Rahm Emanuel went there (dance major, no less), but truth is often stranger than fiction.

It’s actually probably good that I didn’t go, since I’m sure I would have had giggling fits and embarrassed my poor niece. So, it’s settled now — NYU is her first choice, Barnard second, and she’ll apply to some California schools as backup. I’m pleased that not only did she get the wanderlust gene, but that she’s wandering in the direction of New York. I think she should not stop here, but continue straight on to Europe. But it sounds like she’ll have ample opportunity to do that for a bit if she ends up at NYU.

I felt so crummy today that I decided I may as well do the work that’s been hanging over my head like a Microsoft Office-based sword of Damocles for the past few days. I have to give a presentation to an executive on Tuesday morning about my progress on a project that deals with a knowledge area in which I have very little understanding. In other words, I must do the corporate equivalent of faking my way through a tap-dancing audition. This is the second time I’ve been put on this project at my contracting gig at Massive Nameless Global Corporation. The first time around, I failed spectacularly (or at least I thought I did), but here I am, putting on my tap shoes again. I think it’s just that no one else wants to deal with it. At least it paves the way for another 12 month contract renewal for 2009.

Anyhoo, my PowerPoint presentation is done, my pithy speaker’s notes written, and the whole pitiful mess sent off to my manager for any last minute critiques. In other news, I had a nibble of interest on a content strategy/writing project at Huge Well Known Non-Profit Foundation — something that’s been dangling in mid-air for about four months. I figured it was dead in the water, but, no! It lives!

Also — I like to bury the lead — I hired a running coach. More on that in an upcoming post…

Life, and a little running

Not much posting of late as I’m playing host to my sister and niece as they tour some NYC area colleges for said niece to attend in about a year and half. It seems like just yesterday that my sister was visiting me while five months pregnant with Annie. Gads, how did I get so old so quickly?

I skipped the Barnard walkthrough yesterday in favor of a 12 miler, some shopping and a few hours of work. But today I went in with them to tour NYU. I went to NYU for my grad degree in the mid-nineties and it was interesting to see how differently they market to teenagers vs. adults. Teens (and parents) get an emphasis on safety, social/club opportunities, studying overseas and the ubiquity of free food. Graduate school prospects (at least in my dept.) were sold on professional networking, potential for good incomes and more professional networking. Snacks were never mentioned.

The rest of the day was spent at a display of gothic fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology (which was a great show, actually; I have a new appreciation for haute couture). Then a trip to TKTS to get them tickets to a show and then a stop at one of my all-time favorite places in the world (after the Swiss Alps), the Oyster Bar in Grand Central, where we ate very expensive oysters and I had the rare martini.

Tomorrow I’ll tag along on a tour of Sarah Lawrence, which is just down the road from us. Then the academic vetting is behind us and we can go have some more fun. Fortunately, my sister and niece share my morbid genes, so we have not one but two graveyard visits on the agenda (the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery AND Woodlawn!), as well as some more typical touristy stuff, like Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, et al.

Since this is a running blog, here’s the relevant running portion of this post: I ran around 48 miles last week, including two easy runs of nine miles (8:45ish pace) and a delightful 11 miler on Sunday that started slow and ended at an 8:00 pace). Not exactly hard running, true, but enough to feel like an effort. I expect I’ll have around the same mileage this week. My legs feel good and I’m looking forward to gearing up for the next training cycle as well as doing some winter racing.

In other notes, I’m always reading a running-related book. On Ewen‘s recommendation, I picked up an out of print copy of “Guide to Running” by Grete Waitz and Gloria Averbuch. This book is utterly charming. It’s a combination of memoir, training guide, cultural criticism and “lifestyle” guide (which has the effect of making me wish I lived in Norway, at least circa 1980). There are even recipes for making Norwegian snacks (although you’ll need to find gjestost).

English is not Waitz’s native language, obviously, but that’s part of what makes her writing voice so appealing. She is also remarkably frank when talking about what it was like to be thrown into world-stage competition as a teenager, the pressure to medal “for country,” and her discomfort with fame. As an added treat, you can pick up lots of great little Norwegian sayings (“It’s so secret; it’s no secret” and “Hurry slowly”). Maybe it’s having a distant Norwegian heritage that makes me slightly biased, but this is a great little read.

Pinch me. Is sanity restored?

I’ll let my political beads drop. I am ecstatic — ecstatic, I tell you — with Tuesday’s election results. A blue sweep across New England, a blue sweep of both houses of Congress, and…a black family on the White House Christmas card!

I went out for a run on Tuesday morning to try to get my mind off the fact that it was pointless to watch television until at least 8PM. There was definitely something in the air. People were walking around with smiles on their faces. We all knew. We all just knew. And we were all in really good moods.

If this keeps up, we’ll have a woman and an atheist president (perhaps in the same person?) in my lifetime. The only dark cloud was the passage of gay marriage bans in states that should know better. So I’ll add “gay, lesbian or bisexual person” (heck, let’s throw in transgendered as long as we’re dreaming) to my list of people who need to be president before I die.