Post Mortem: Newport Marathon

An appropriately titled post, since roughly two thirds of the way into this race I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

It’s been exactly a month since my debacle in Oregon. In the intervening weeks I’ve had time to review my training log and diary, and discuss theories with Coach Kevin.

I’ve also had bloodwork to rule out anything there. And, although I suspect I could potentially feel better with higher iron-related numbers (and may start supplementing as an experiment), I don’t feel that the root cause is to be found there. No, I think it was simply a matter of too much for too long.

A couple of days after the race, I sat in my room in the Crater Lake Lodge (during a rare evening of relative sobriety) and penned (okay, typed) a document that I entitled “Training Theories.” Here it is verbatim, with some helpful links:

What went wrong?

Peaked too early?
I was running my best in mid-April. The workouts were going very well. I had that “magical run” on April 21 when I couldn’t hold back from running fast and had wished that were a race day. A few days later I flew around the track for those sub-6:20 mile repeats. I’m convinced that if I’d simply tapered for two weeks after around April 12 and run a marathon around April 26 I would have had a great run.

Couldn’t hold fitness?
I suspect that not only was it impossible to hold that peak for the following seven weeks, but I probably managed to degrade that fitness by foolishly pushing too hard through some exhausting runs. The ones that stand out are the two very hot runs in late April (20 miles in Central Park in 91 degree heat on April 26 and that awful track session two days later). Then I ran the NJ Half on May 3, which I thought would serve as a good training run (if a lousy race), but now I think it probably dug me in further in terms of creating a deficit in recovery.

“Up and down” schedule around tuneup half?
Then the next few weeks were so up and down due to the “interruption” of that race that I suspect the result may have been a staleness that settled in slowly. This was evident, although very subtle, in the remaining key workouts. I chalked up any issues with those to weather factors or just the regular ups and downs of not being quite recovered from day to day.

The run the day before the race should have been a red flag. I chose not to wear my HRM (although now I wish I had). But at one point I decided to run a fast quarter mile. I managed to get down to 7:00 pace but I was working very hard to do so. I decided it was just nerves and didn’t give it another thought.

Possible modifications
If left to my own devices, here’s what I would do differently next time around:

  • Shorten the total training+taper cycle by about seven weeks.
  • Shorten the taper, assuming the buildup has been invigorating rather than exhausting. Maybe two weeks rather than three?
  • Introduce Mpace miles much earlier in the cycle, with a gradual buildup. More on this below.
  • If I’m going to race during training, choose the races only so much as they support the specific marathon event (similar terrain, etc.), and allow adequate recovery from them. If that means fewer races (or none), so be it.
  • Include a little bit of fast running early in the taper. I do wonder if those solid two weeks of recovery running somehow contributed to the extreme slowdown on race day.
  • Do more Mpace running on the roads rather than the track.

As for Mpace running, I think I need to do more of it and a lot earlier. I never quite clicked with that pace in terms of matching pace to appropriate effort level. Although I can race a full at 88-89% MHR, I’d be a lot more comfortable getting to a point where I’m at more like 86-87%.

What we could try is having me do a few Mpace miles every week (or every other, if we started this during basebuilding), starting with just a few miles thrown into a longer run and working up to lengthy Mpace efforts toward the end. This method worked very well for me for my Spring 08 race, when I basically took one of Pete’s plans and modified it by adding in a few more of those faster miles every week. By the time I got to the 12 mile and 10 mile Mpace efforts during this cycle, I think I was already cooked. I’m not completely sure that I even needed those two workouts, and they may have further exhausted me.

So there you have — the best I can do with the data (and gut feelings) that I have.

I know I learned a lot from this experience, as has Kevin. When we were talking a few days after the race he said, “I have to remember that you’re a mortal.” By that he meant that between the 9 week basebuilding period (during which I got faster) and the following 22 weeks of training, it seemed like I had the capacity to absorb any amount of work and continue to flourish. That durability and work ethic, when coupled with a capacity for self-denial and dare I say irrational optimism, added up to  our both missing some subtle yet insistent signs.

Looking back, I think the cracks were beginning to show at the tail end of April in that I was really struggling to hit times in workouts (and the NJ half wasn’t even close). It was easy to attribute those problems to other forces, but I’ll be a lot more attentive going forward to, as well as more communicative about, the qualitative aspects of the work. Heart rate data is valuable. But seeing and acknowledging that you’re working way too hard, regardless of what the stupid watch says, is more important than any data.

Hot weather training presents its own challenges, of course, but the plan I’m getting will allow for it. The timing looks to work out to around a 14 week training schedule, including the taper (which we discussed shortening). I’m hopeful that between a shorter training cycle and having learned some important lessons, I can look forward to a happier experience in Sacramento come December. (knock wood)

NYC Marathon: How to get in if you didn’t get in

On behalf of a friend of a friend, I’m shamelessly plugging a charity that’s offering guaranteed entry for this year’s NYC marathon in exchange for a fundraising commitment: Team Continuum. They engage in fundraising through a bunch of different events, including NYC. I notice that their page about NYC mentions a per-runner goal of $3,750, but the note I received stated the minimum for entry as $2,950.

If Team Continuum doesn’t float your boat, it’s one of several official “charity partners” for NYC you might hook up with, as well as Team for Kids and Fred’s Team (which fellow blogger Marci runs/fundraises for). And there are lots of others too.

Bloody good

Just got the call from my doc. Good news: Bloodwork came back normal. Bad news: This confirms that the problem was somewhere in my training.

I get the full results by fax tomorrow morning. But, for the curious, the ferritin level was 35. My notes say a female endurance athlete should be, at minimum, somewhere in the 25-50 range. So that’s a good number, although perhaps not great. I’ll see what the other iron-related readings are (he did the whole shebang) and decide if I want to supplement anyway.

Meanwhile, Coach Kevin is putting the frosting and sprinkles on a nine week basebuilding schedule. I don’t know the details, but he’s said it will be different from the previous basebuilding schedule because I’m fitter this time around, plus he’s allowing for the horrible summer heat and humidity.

A nine week schedule sets me up to start training for CIM at the start of September. That yields a 14 week training cycle, including the taper. I think this will work better than Newport’s 22 weeks.

But more on that in a bit…

NYC Blogging Runners Meetup #2 is July 7

Live in or around NYC? Run a lot? Blog and/or podcast about it? Then this event is for you. Learn more.

Okay, that’s enough recovery

I’m going to consider this week as my last week of post-marathon (as it were) recovery. Which means basebuilding begins anew tomorrow.

I know I’m recovered because I have been determined to run a race. Not because I expect to PR in anything (especially in the summer heat and humidity of NY), but mostly because I’ve missed running fast in a crowd. I tried to race in a brand new 10K up in Rockefeller State Park yesterday, but had to skip it after getting horribly lost. So I tried again today, with greater success, and ran the Achilles Track Club 5 miler in Central Park.

I’m not even going to bother putting together a race report, because this wasn’t really a “race” race. I just wanted an atmosphere in which I could run fast for more than a mile or two. I went in with no expectations and a liberating “I don’t give a shit about this race” attitude.

As a result, nothing bothered me. The lady at registration gets annoyed because I only have $25 (that’s what the NYRR web site said it cost) and they suddenly wanted $35? I don’t give a shit. I get stuck behind a bunch of 8:00 pace people for the first half mile? I don’t give a shit. Four women pass me in the last two miles? I don’t give a shit.

Yes, it was fun to race and not really care much about it. Although I did find one thing to motivate me: a woman with 12% body fat passed me in the first mile and said, “Nice job” and instead of appreciating her innocently offered good tidings, my inward competitive bitch muttered, “Lady, you’re dead meat.”

We spent the next 3.5 miles passing each other. She’d pass me on the uphills, I’d pass her on the downhills. At mile 4.5, a downhill, I passed her for the last time and kept up the effort all the way through the uphill finish. I did not hear “Nice job” again.

Final time was 37:17, good for 45th Female overall and 4th in my AG. I realized somewhere after mile 3 that I could have run harder. I guess it’s been over half a year since my last short race (a 10K), so I’ve forgotten how to run them. I knew I hadn’t raced all out because I still had plenty of energy afterward. So I came home and then went out and ran another 8 miles. Now I’m tired.

All in all, this was a good transitional week between the relative slothdom of the weeks immediately after the Newport race and next week, in which I hope to keep running some faster miles and get the mileage up around 70. I may even try to race again next week. I covered 58 miles this week, which is close to the 60 I wanted to hit.

I’ve not yet built the new spreadsheet for this season, so here’s the low-tech, unflashy breakdown:

  • Monday: 5 miles, recovery
  • Tuesday: 9.6 miles general aerobic with last 15 mins at harder effort (~91-93% MHR)
  • Wednesday: 7.1 miles, recovery
  • Thursday: 8.2 miles, recovery
  • Friday: 4.9 miles, recovery
  • Saturday: 10.1 miles, recovery
  • Sunday: 5 mile race, 7.8 miles general aerobic

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to get the results from last week’s bloodwork. I’ve held off on posting a post-Newport post-mortem until those come in. I have lots of theories about what could have been done better in the training (opinions that are shared by Coach Kevin), but if the bloodwork comes back with neon numbers pointing to an obvious problem at the cellular level then I’m apt to revise some (but not all) of those opinions. I still think there’s room for improvement in the next cycle, but the extent to which (and how) I think the training should be tweaked will rest in no small part on what the lab numbers say tomorrow.

Google search oddities

I think I’ll make this one into a series. Today someone found my blog by searching on “rapturous legs.”

Oh, if only.

Three weeks of recovery

If by “recovery” you mean light running combined with heavy drinking.

I’m still working on my race debacle post-mortem (which may get thrown out the window after I get my blood tested next week). I still have one area (the nine week basebuilding period) to pore over before putting that together. For now, here’s what I did in the three weeks post-race.

This is more for me than for anyone else. Just so I’ve got a record somewhere that I can get to easily. Feel free to stop reading now if you have something more interesting to do such as, say, flossing.

June 1-7

Overall mileage for the week: 25 miles

Notes: I don’t know why I ran the first two after the Newport race so hard. I think I was testing myself to see if was still running weirdly slow as I was on race day. It was hard to tell given that I was running at elevation and up and down significant hills in Ashland.

The remaining runs were a little faster that I’d normally do for recovery runs. But I was running with Jonathan, who runs faster than I do, so we compromised on pace. They were also more or less flat, so I haven’t noted elevation change.

June 2: Ashland, OR. 5.5 miles at 9:09 pace. HR 75%.
This was a run from Iowa St. down to Lithia Park and back up again. Climb: +426/-452.  1,900 above sea level.

June 3: Ashland, OR. 5.2 miles at 8:15 pace. HR 77%.
Pretty much identical to previous day’s run, but done in the opposite direction so I could finish with the downhill portion (I’m no dummy).

June 4: Bend, OR. 3.4 miles at 9:33 pace. HR 71%.
Crap run in Bend, probably because I was at 3,600 feet above sea level. Bend’s maps could use some work too, as they reflect future plans more than today’s reality.

June 6: Eugene, OR. 4.2 miles at 9:20. HR 71%.
Ran a loop along Pre’s Trail, which is very pretty and chock full of other runners, many speedy and/or practically nekkid. Enjoyed this run a lot, even if it was a bit windy (and I a bit winded).

June 7: Corvallis, OR. 6.7 miles at 9:15. HR 70%.
Lovely run taking us out along cow and sheep pastures and then through the campus of OSU. I liked this town. Weather was perfect.

June 8-14

Overall mileage for the week: 15 miles

Notes: Just two runs this week, although I should note that I did a grueling seven hour hike on Wednesday which featured a climb up 5,000, then down 5,000 over a total distance of around eight miles. So my legs were destroyed for the following few days.

June 8: Troutdale, OR. 5.8 miles at 9:26. HR 71%.
One of the most unpleasant places to run I’ve ever encountered. I’m never going back to Troutdale.

June 14: Portland, OR. 9.2 miles at 9:19. HR unknown (forgot the strap).
This was a tough run in Forest Park, an enormous park that runs northwest along the NW and SW areas of town. Like the Ashland runs, this was a significant up and down course: Climb: +887/-928.

June 15-21

Overall mileage for the week: 35 miles

Notes: Back home again, so no locations are noted. Monday was a long travel day followed by a Tuesday of catching up on shopping, unpacking, laundry and work. I was tired and jetlagged anyway.

June 17: 4.7 miles at 10:09. HR 72%.
First run in the summer heat (unless you count the horrible freak heat wave in late April). Felt terrible and slow. Was also coming off of several days of intense travel and not enough sleep, so I didn’t expect to do well.I know this will pass as I get acclimated.

June 18: 5.0 miles at 9:55. HR 67%.
Pouring rain sent me inside to the treadmill. Felt better on this run, having caught up on sleep.

June 19: 4.7 miles at 9:15. HR 81%.
I’m experimenting with running hard on these “comeback” runs. Can I speed the process of acclimating to the heat and humidity by pushing myself in those conditions? We shall see.

June 20: 8.1 miles at 9:42. HR 76%.
Forecast for Sunday was steady rain so I decided to do a slightly longer run today in case I had to do Sunday’s on the treadmill. Probably ran too hard, but I couldn’t stand crawling along to keep my HR closer to 70%.

June 21: 12.2 miles at 9:25. HR 79%.
At this point 12 miles is a “long run” so I did it at long run effort. It was quite humid out in addition to being warm. I sweated out around 20 ounces of water. This is just a taste of what’s to come.

Boring vacation photos: Corvallis, Hood River, Astoria (and northern coast)

Last installment, I promise.

While downloading photos from my camera I was not surprised to find that I’d taken zero pictures in Bend. Bend was, to me, like nonfat plain yogurt: something you buy because you think you should. Then, because it lacks any obvious appeal, you let it lay moldering in the back of your refrigerator and eventually throw it away. Bend left the same impression. First it was nondescript. Then it evolved into an irritating place: semi-desert (I don’t like the desert), weird downtown, sterile neighborhoods and a terrible place to run. Let’s move on.

Edited: I just realized that I’ve already forgotten the sequence of places we visited. Bend was, in fact, before Eugene (covered in an earlier post). I guess Bend annoyed me so much that I had to take yet another swipe at it.

The next stop after Eugene was Corvallis, a place we had no preconceptions about and no expectations of. What a pleasant surprise Corvallis turned out to be! Lovely weather and scenery (it’s in the Willamette Valley, in the heart of the wine country, and rural), cute town, exceedingly friendly people, nice downtown to wander around, and pretty good running. We did a run that started out just a few blocks from downtown and within about 10 minutes we were running with an audience of cows. It reminded me a lot of running in Iowa.

Heading toward Corvallis

Heading toward Corvallis

Corvallis is distinguished as having one of the most concentrated collections of highly educated people in the country among its citizenry. Oregon State University students make up nearly half the population (20,000 out of about 50,000), and obviously university professors, adjuncts and other academic types make up a large part of the population as well. The people who ran our B&B (Harrison House — excellent place to stay) were both former academics. Yet it (and its people) were approachable and exuding a warm, relaxed vibe. We really liked Corvallis and were sorry to leave. But leave we did, to make our way to Mt. Hood.

But not before a stay overnight in Troutdale. About the only thing to recommend Troutdale is the fact that there is a McMenamins Hotel there. The rest of it is a dump. We attempted to run there (actually, we did run, but suffered through every step). It was horrible. We spent most of the time running in a bike lane or on concrete sidewalks, with heavy 40-50mph traffic roaring by us mere feet away. It was also hot, humid and windy. And, to top things off, our lungs were burning from the plane exhaust, as Troutdale is in the flightpath of not one but two airports. I imagine that if you run there for more than a few months you’ll probably suffer from hearing loss and respiratory health problems.

For those not unfamiliar with McMenamins, they are a chain of hotels around Oregon (and I think they may be in WA too, but I’m too lazy to look). They are also a brewery. Their hotels are more like mini resorts, little compounds typically consisting of a set of refurbished buildings that once had some other use. In the case of the Troutdale location (McMenamins Edgefield), it used to be a “poor farm” (presumably from the days when being in debt was grounds for imprisonment, as the old “rules” posted refer to “inmates”), then later it was a nursing home.

Their hotels typically feature a movie theater, a restaurant or two, a spa and a handful of places to get drunk either on beer, wine, cocktails — or all of them. This one distinguished itself by being the single best meal we had on this trip, out of at least 15 eaten out. The food was outstanding, as was their wine list. Alas, their martinis fell short. But nobody’s perfect.

McMenamins is also known for its whimsical decor, the heart of which are elaborate (and ubiquitous) painted murals.


Water pipe in our shower at McMenamins Edgefield

After a night in Troutdale, it was on to Hood River. But not before a drive south to Mt. Hood. As we learned in Crater Lake, early June isn’t the time to visit Oregon if you want to see anything above about 5,000. We had a couple of great hikes picked out to do around the base of Mt. Hood, but the local ranger’s office gave us the bad news: everything was still under many feet of snow. But they did offer us the Ramona Falls hike. It wasn’t the challenge we wanted, but it did provide a decent payoff.

This is the last waterfall picture I'll inflict on you

This is the last waterfall picture I'll inflict on you

With Mt. Hood hiking a disappointment (and lesson for the future), we headed north to Hood River, where we’d booked a crappy little efficiency with what turned out to be a spectacular view of the Columbia River. Interesting fact: Hood River is a mecca of sorts for wind surfers in the late spring and early summer. A constant winds blows eastward up the river and is apparently at its strongest around Hood River. Wind surfers come from all over the world to take advantage of perfect conditions. No matter how early we got up, if it was daylight, there were mad surfers out there.


What you don't see were the outrageous stunts these people were doing in high winds -- full somersaults, taking flight or just screaming along the surface at top speed.

Hood River was where we found our hiking nirvana. Jonathan felt reasonably recovered from the marathon 11 days before and I wanted to make some good use of my marathon training since my race was such a bust. So we looked at our hiking books and found not one but two hikes graded “difficult.” In doing some online research we further learned one (Mt. Defiance) was considered the toughest hike in Oregon, with the other (Starvation Ridge) a close second. We were in!

Starvation Ridge runs up the side of Mt. Defiance, so we decided to take that up, then try to ascend to the peak of Defiance, then go down the Mt. Defiance trail. The combined hike was predicted to be 10-11 hours. We did it in under 7. Booyah! Camp over night for an 8 mile hike? That’s for pussies! The reviews of these hikes were not joking. They were tough. Going up, Starvation Ridge started out as challenging (elevation gain via switchbacks) and then became very difficult, climbing nearly 3,800 feet in under 3 miles. That’s steep.

A relentless uphill climb along Starvation Ridge

A relentless uphill climb along Starvation Ridge

A trail with a view: looking westward along the Columbia River

A trail with a view: looking westward along the Columbia River

We couldn’t go all the way to the top of Mt. Defiance because we lost the trail in the snow. But we were probably about .2 miles from the top. The way down was in some ways worse than the way up. It was steeper and shorter. We trashed our legs and, with the exception of the Steamtown race, my thighs were as destroyed as they’ve been after any marathon. We needed two days to recover until we could think about running again.

This was fine, as we were next headed down the Columbia River to Astoria, the westernmost point on the Oregon coast and where river meets ocean. Astoria was another place we visited because we thought we should and, like Corvallis, immediately took to it. It’s a port town and a bit sprawling. There’s a broken-down quality to it, but full of charm. The place feels thrown together, which this picture illustrates. Check out the mix of houses and buildings: you’ve got Victorians, Craftsmen…and those weird 60s multicolored box houses. But somehow it works.

The hills of Astoria

The hills of Astoria

We took a drive over the Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington State, up the coast a bit to see where the river opens out into ocean. As with most of the stunning things to see on this trip, there was hardly anyone else around.

Looking west from the coast of Washington State

Looking west from the coast of Washington State

Before taking off for Cannon Beach and the rest of the northern coast, we paid a visit to Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark concluded their famous expedition and where there is a recreation of the soggy, dark and cramped log structure they shared with Sacagawea and family and about 12 men.

But first, this photo:

I wonder what the ACLU did to rouse Clem's ire so

I wonder what the ACLU did to rouse Clem's ire so

Last, but not least, some snaps of Cannon Beach even though there are much better ones out there by professional photographers. Cannon Beach goes on for miles, as do many of the beaches along the coast. But it’s also a pretty town, as is its smaller sister to the south, Manzanita. Oh, to wake up every morning and go running on this beach.

* sigh *

* sigh *

Like Bend, I took no photos of Portland. We were pretty exhausted by the time we got there and spent one day staggering around the Japanese Garden in a sleep-deprived state. The second day was spent driving all around Portland and its suburbs to check out the neighborhoods. I forgot I even had a camera. We did manage one fairly grueling run in Forest Park: a 9 mile run with 900 feet of elevation over rocky terrain. (We even spotted an Ethiopian runner.) Just when our legs were almost recovered from the Hood River hike, we whaled on them again in Portland. It was fine, though; the trip was over and it felt good to go out with a bang.

Suckage fake out?

For those who want to know every detail of my running: I did 5 miles inside on the treadmill in a hot room last evening. Felt fine and even ran a fast last half mile or so (7:30ish). The difference yesterday was that I actually wanted to go running (even if it was inside). The last week or so I’ve wanted to do anything but (and have).

I’ll try again today and tomorrow. Will probably do a longish run on Sunday (12?) if weather permits.

I’m awaiting a new maintenance/base-rebuilding plan that should start on Monday. I’ll probably still go get blood tested, but I’m yet again unconvinced that therein lies the problem.

I’ve also dropped 2.5 of the 5 lbs gained already. So most of it was water weight.

Kevin was scheduled to chat with Lorraine Moller yesterday. So I’ve been awaiting his web updates with (as our more illiterate web posters like to say) “baited breath.” In the meantime, I’ve posted a review of her book on Amazon.

Now. Would you like to know what I had for breakfast?

Well, I certainly do feel like crap.

Just when I’d convinced myself that my poor marathon run was due to overtraining (in the loose rather than clinical sense of the word), I’m now swinging back to the theory that there’s something wrong with me physiologically (never mind psychologically; we won’t go there). I went out today to do a simple 4-5 mile run and found myself working in the low 70%s of max HR just to run a 10 minute mile. What gives?

I did some runs in Oregon, but they were tough. I chalked them up to various conditions (altitude, running uphill, being hungover or tired from driving). But this morning I was back in familiar territory, on a lovely, cool morning run. And I sucked. I’ll try again this week and see if the suckage persists.

Now I’m trying to scrape up all the information on ferritin, iron depletion, hematocrit and hemoglobin numbers I can find in order to summarize them for my non-running doctor to then facilitate some tests that will actually provide useful information.

I’m not sure what will be worse: Finding out that I’ve got a blood/thyroid issue (and having to possibly spend weeks or months correcting it) or finding out that I don’t and not having that to conveniently blame everything on.