Fit, fast and … fat?

Compared to most women in this country, I look like a runway model.

I have what I think is somewhere in the range of 24% body fat, although it could well be higher or lower, since all I have to go on is my consumer-level Moron body fat measurement device. While this number is on the low end of normal for the general female population (especially today, when overweight-to-obese is the new “normal”), it’s on the high side for a competitive marathon distance runner.

The discrepancy I see between myself and the women I finish with in races (who are typically carrying noticeably less extra poundage than I am) has bothered me more for theoretical than practical reasons thus far. After all, if I’m finishing with the skinny bitches, then the fact that I am not a skinny bitch myself is not holding me back. Or is it? I don’t know.

Not knowing something, especially something that might impact something else that’s important to me, really bugs me. So I sought out some expert advice from Mary Coordt, who is not only a nutritionist, but she’s also a three time Olympic marathon trials qualifier and frequent speaker on nutrition for runners. Since if you so much as exchange one email with me your expectation of privacy is null and void, I’ll share what she told me with you.

When I presented her with my plight (“I’m obviously fatter than my peers at the finish line, can’t seem to lose that extra fat no matter what I do, and I fear that it’s slowing me down.”) her response was frank, informative and oddly reassuring. To paraphrase, it went something like this:

You’re born with a certain body type and physiological framework within which to work. You’re in a normal range for body fat and you’re making great progress. So stop comparing yourself to the thinner marathoners and look to the bulkier runners instead (she mentioned Russians in particular) who have no problem moving fast over long distances despite the loads they’re hauling. Keep training and your times will drop. Don’t worry about it.

To me, one mark of a true professional is being able and willing to tell someone that they really don’t need your services.

So I’m going to stop looking for the diet or person who can promise me fat loss. I’m just going to keep running.

Winter Basebuilding: Week 4

09spr-base-04Ahh. A recovery week. And not a week too soon.

With a 25% reduction in volume, I was flying on my feet this past week. I truly needed the day off on Monday, as I was quite tired. Tuesday’s 20 minute effort at 10K was not that difficult physically — the real effort was mental for this run for some reason. I wonder if not running for a day had something to do with that.

I did Friday’s tempo effort on the track, which was a pleasure that day since there was almost no one there. Although at one point I was the entertainment for a PE class of bored eight year olds. I couldn’t help but wonder: did they find me fast or slow?

The centerpiece of the week was Sunday’s run, for which I was lucky to have good weather. Nice and cold and not too much wind. I felt fantastic during this run, managing to crank out eight miles at the end at around 10 seconds per mile faster than my early October marathon pace, all at a lower heart rate.

My resting heart rate is now solidly in the low 40s most days too.

I can hardly believe that I’m nearly halfway through basebuilding already. I’ve enjoyed doing the work and seeing progress, however subtle.

For Basebuilding Week 5 the mileage shoots back up to 85 and I start introducing doubles, on back-to-back days, no less. Then I test out my new and improved wheels and engine in a 15K race in Central Park on Saturday.

How the XBox 360 changed my run on Tuesday

Or, rather, how it changed the way my brain works when I’m out running.

My relationship with my significant other was forged over many games of SuperMario Bros. on the Nintendo. This was circa 1990, when people still used cassettes and the Internet was still developing its eyelids. Since then, we’ve upgraded to a new gaming system every five years or so. This year marked the move from our beloved Playstation 2 to the XBox 360.

Although the purchase coincided with Christmas, what’s the point of waiting until some arbitrary date (December 25) to start enjoying it? We could well be dead by then. No time like the present to start frittering away time and working up to a good case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

We ordered a number of games (sword and sorcery for him, post-apocalyptic mayhem and alien destruction for me). But they look pretty complicated. So for the test drive we inserted the Indiana Jones Lego game that came with the system (suitable for 10 year olds and brain damage victims). Let me tell you, this game is like video crack. We’ve killed entire evenings this week in front of this brain-bender.

Brain bending is the point of this post, which I’ll get to. The game forces you to look at your environment in a new way and engage in creative problem solving. This translated into the real world for me on a rainy day run. Our running path follows the Bronx River and, in one section, it’s forced to go underneath the parkway of the same name. Unfortunately, the environmental engineer didn’t consider the effect of heavy rain on the river. As a consequence, when it rains heavily, the path under the roadway is flooded.

In the past, upon arriving at this spot and seeing six inches of water where a path should be, I opt to risk my life crossing a busy parkway, around a blind corner. On Tuesday, however, I had a completely different reaction. For the first time, I noticed a steel handrail with three horizontal rails running alongside the entire flooded area. “Hey,” I thought, “I can put my feet on the first rail, brace my knees against the second, and grip the third with my hands. Then I just need to scoot along the rail past the flooded part.”

And so I did, feeling very clever at having found an alternative to sprinting across two lanes of 50mph traffic.

Now I’m wondering how many other people have figured that out. And what percentage of them are 10-year-old video gamers.

Damned chipmunks

After the About page, this page is the most popular page on this blog. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t get hits from people searching for “baby chipmunks”. For some reason, this drives me crazy. I’m half tempted to remove the post so I don’t have to see it at the top of the most trafficked pages every single day.

Rain, rain on me.

We’re supposedly in for two solid days and nights of rain. After my horrible sleet- and wind-filled long run recently, we reclaimed the guest room as suburban torture chamber and reassembled our treadmill.

But I just can’t bring myself to run on the thing this morning. A nine mile recovery run, inside? I can’t do it. Yesterday I did a seven miler in the rain. I was soaked, but it was still better than running on the treadmill.

Notice how I’m avoiding putting on rain gear and going outside by blogging instead?

Winter Basebuilding: Week 3

09spr-base-03The rosy fingers of dawn gently caress the Westchester valley stretched out before me, as I reflect on the last week of running and prepare myself for the prospect of a 10 miler with 20 minutes at 10K effort this morning.

Sure, it’s a hackneyed, run on sentence. That’s why this blog’s content is absolutely free.

Yesterday I posted about being soundly convinced that hiring a coach was the right move. This last week was a gratifying and, yes, enjoyable running week.

I’m getting up there in mileage, yet I feel great most days (a little tired on recovery days, but not too). I’d never have believed that I could go out and run 10 miles every morning as a matter of course, but it’s become the new normal. And a lot less exhausting than  doing doubles every day.

Tuesday’s faster run was marred by headwinds, but at this point the emphasis is on effort rather than on specific paces, so it didn’t really matter. Of course, I’m obsessed with paces anyway, so I can’t help but pay attention to them. I’m assured by Kevin that I will be able to focus on paces “exquisitely” soon enough.

I confess that I am a “stride slacker.” I did no strides during summer training. Doing them again feels unfamiliar. I realize just how ungainly I feel running very fast (I’m managing 5:40 – 6:10 on most strides). I’m sure that will get better over time. I hope it will.

Friday’s interval session was a blast, actually. I did it on a local track and enjoyed running fast (stop and go) for half an hour. True, it’s easy to run fast for a minute at a time. I’m sure I’ll be back to my historical hatred of intervals once that turns into 3:00 at a time.

Last, but not least, there was Sunday’s long run — the run that said, “Yes, you’re on the right track.”

Basebuilding Week 4 is a recovery week, in which the mileage goes down, but not the intensity. I needed the day off yesterday, as my legs felt the effort of Week 3. In a few minutes, I’ll head out for the first of the usual three hard runs this week. I’m looking forward to Sunday’s run, a sixteen miler with the last hour at marathon effort. A week after that, I get to race a 15K as a training run.

Uh, okay. This is working.

Today marked the end of my third week of coach-assisted basebuilding. I’m officially convinced that working with a coach was the right thing to do.

I’ll post my usual recap of the week’s training tomorrow morning, but I wanted to post about a few things specifically.

I’ll start by saying that I was initially a little worried when I saw the plan Kevin gave me. I knew I could handle the workload, but it seemed a bit intense for just the basebuilding phase. Specifically, it looked more like marathon training, not basebuilding. I no longer feel that way after having spent three weeks easily being able to handle the buildup in mileage and doing three hard runs a week.

Dang. This really works. Witness:

  • My resting heart rate has dropped from 48-50 to 46. You can’t argue with that.
  • My recovery runs are getting faster with no change in effort.
  • I am hitting my paces for all faster sessions. Don’t get me wrong — they are not easy. But they are doable.
  • The dreaded 3:00AM DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) has been minimal.
  • I feel recovered and ready for each hard session.

But today’s run is the one that sold me. It was the last run of an 80 mile week and one that I’d been, well, not dreading, but ruminating about during the latter part of the week: 18 miles “steady” pace, which translates into an 8:15 pace (or about 90% marathon effort). That is a long way to run at that effort.

To prepare, I did a two day mini carbohydrate load (not a ton, but basically making sure I had enough stored away) and made sure I was well hydrated. I also took care to get adequate sleep.

I did a leisurely warmup for the first three miles (9:17, 8:53, 8:27). Then I got down to work. For the next six miles I average 8:11. Then I backed off for two miles (hills and headwind), running around 8:25 each — I also took in some carbohydrates at mile 10, which gave me a lift shortly thereafter. Then I ran the next seven miles at an average 8:07 pace, finishing up with an extra half mile for which I motored along at 7:48.

I felt great during the entire run, despite brisk, shifting winds and a face full of snow in the last two miles, and had no problem picking up the pace. Despite the slow early miles, my average pace for the run was 8:17. Pretty much right on the nose.

Side note: In addition to having a great run, I also was a good Samaritan today. As I was pausing at my car at mile 10 I witnessed a woman take the paint off the side of a Volvo with her Mercedes SUV during a botched parking attempt. She proceeded to park in another space about 30 feet away. I waited to see if she would post anything to the windshield of the car she’d just done significant damage to. Not surprisingly (but no less appallingly), she didn’t, although I did notice her take the time to see what the damage was to her own car (minimal). So I posted her  make, model and license plate number to the damaged car myself. I’ve had damage done to my car by people like this and it really pisses me off.

That which hurt no longer hurts

Specifically, my left shin.

In my brief history of competitive running, I’ve had exactly two incidents of “injury.” (The quotations denote the dubiousness of these having been bonafide injuries.)

In the first case, I suffered through the first four months of a five month training program for my first marathon with shinsplints. The cause was classic: I ramped up mileage and intensity at the same time. And, as usual, I was too stubborn/oblivious to change my ways. So I huffed handfuls of Tylenol and suffered through my runs and tuneup races. A month before the big race, they mysteriously went away, never to return.

In the second case, I suffered a slight tear to my right calf’s fascia. This came as a result of doing lots of racing (and not enough recovery) during the height of training for marathon #3 on a Pfitzinger 18 week/70+ miles per week plan. I also limped around with that, only going to an orthopedist 10 days before the race. He told me to — you guessed it — huff the painkillers and I’d be fine.

I had no issues in the ensuing nine months. Until yesterday, when I was visited by a periodic sharp, stabbing pain on my left shin, sort of between the muscle and the bone. I ran and walked fine on it. I could go for hours without an issue but then, without warning, sitting in an easy chair, the icepick would be thrust. Speaking of ice, that didn’t help.

I took a painkiller last night and hoped for the best. Today the pain’s gone.

This is why I don’t worry about such things as much as I find them annoying. They never turn out to be anything serious. I am extremely lucky in this regard.

Winter Basebuilding: Week 2

09spr-base-02This week featured more mileage but fewer miles of hard running as compared to last week. The recovery runs were longer, as was the second easy run of the week on Friday.

Some observations:

My recovery pace is starting to drop slightly on some days, meaning I’m going just a bit faster using the same effort as a week or two ago. I don’t care how fast (or slow) I run on recovery days; just something I’ve noticed.

I had a much better sense this week of what “8K effort” is for me. I no longer race five mile or shorter races, because I don’t like racing that fast. Or, rather, I don’t like the physical sensations that result from racing at 95%+ effort. It sucks. Give me a longer race any day — one in which I don’t feel like I’m either on the verge of puking or hyperventilating — and I am a happy racer.

I now know exactly where my left piriformis muscle is located. It was not happy yesterday, owing to the faster intervals on Friday followed by 17 miles on slippery footing on Sunday.

Running in sleet, rain, and heavy winds affects your time. I know this intellectually, but it’s so hard to accept when you’re actually running in crap weather. On Sunday, I ran in such conditions and was targeting a pace of 6:50-7:00 for the last 15 minutes. Alas, it was not to be.

So far, the hard days and easy days have been structured just right, so I’m pleasantly tired on the recovery days (but not totally exhausted like I was over the summer), yet ready to rumble by the time the next hard day rolls around.

We’re into week three already, and I’m heading out for a 13 miler with 25:00 at 10M effort.

Also coming up in Basebuilding Week 3: More long recovery runs, some very short intervals at 5K effort and an 18 mile run at around 8:20 pace on Sunday. Fingers crossed for good weather, or I’m doing this one inside on the treadmill.