Spring Training: Week 4

The further along I get into training, or whatever it is I’m presently doing, the more relieved I am that I decided to skip doing a spring marathon. This past week shaped up to be a disappointing one, with low mileage, horrible weather and a severe bang to the head. All adding up to less than 45 miles, though not for lack of trying and regret for coming up short again.

If I was looking out to a race in 12 weeks, I’d be feeling pretty distressed. Maybe meandering slackerdom is the source of liberation I’ve been looking for all my life. No goal = no pressure + no disappointment. It also = no achievement, I realize. But everything in life’s a tradeoff…

Monday and Tuesday actually went pretty well. My recovery run pace continued to hold steady around 10:00 and my tempo pace picked up a smidgen. I felt horrible on Tuesday, the fallout of four days of celebratory eating and drinking. Which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed immensely. But I was certainly hauling the celebration along with me on Tuesday and forcing myself to run fast, and not particularly enjoying it. It’s times like this when I look back to the years during which I subsisted on vodka, Doritos and generic frozen pizza and realize I must have felt horrible pretty much all of the time.

My legs were dead on Wednesday, no huge surprise there.

Snow, ice and plunging temperatures resumed on Thursday, which featured a morning run I won’t soon forget. Or maybe I will, if I suffered any permanent brain damage. Still, determined to get those miles in, I went out again on Thursday afternoon and struggled through another few, although I had to stop and walk often due to residual ice.

On Friday I woke up and the right side of my neck was swollen and in a fair amount of pain. My back wasn’t happy either. It was a long, stressful workday as well, a 9 on the Stress-o-Meter. So I said fuck it and skipped the workout. If ever there was a day to take off, this was it.

Or maybe Saturday was. I took that off too. A mild headache (probably from that huge martini on Friday), continued neck pain, a persistent malaise and slight fever sent me to bed for the most the day.

And everything had been going so well.

Even though I’ve curbed my hypochondriacal impulses, I Googled “concussion symptoms” anyway. Headache, malaise, upset stomach: check, check, check. But no memory loss or single pupil dilations. Increased irritability? With me, who can tell? Did I really want to go in for an x-ray of my head or whatever they do? Bah. The treatment for a mild concussion is the same as what I was doing anyway: rest.

Even though the latter part of the week fell apart, I did manage to finally sleep well last night and wake up this morning feeling halfway decent. The headache was finally gone, my neck was in reasonable shape and I had some energy (or maybe it was just cabin fever gnawing at me). Sure, it was 5F outside with the windchill, but ain’t no way I was going to go into that stupid treadmill room. I would run outside if it killed me.

As so often happens, the runs I have the lowest expectations of often turn out to be surprisingly good ones. I’d originally planned to run a meandering hilly route through local streets, but at the last minute decided I’d check out the running path to see if it was still covered in murderous ice. It looked okay, so I decided to do a loop down to Bronxville and then see how far north I could get before the path became unrunable again. The Bronx River was partly frozen and I was half expecting to see hapless ducks and geese trapped in the ice like miniature versions of Shackleton’s Endurance.*

My legs felt great after two days of rest, so I decided to just run as fast as I wanted to for whatever distance seemed good. Sounds like a solid plan! I ended up doing a progression run, starting out at 9:10 or so and ending up around 7:25. Not great, but better than I expected for the effort I was expending. The path is still a giant jigsaw puzzle of black ice in spots, but it’s not too bad. We’re supposed to get temps above freezing this week, so I’m hoping those will go away.

I’m scheduled to do 70 this coming week, with 3-4 days of doubles. Yep, well, we’ll see. Between work and the weather, I’ve no clue what I’ll be able to do. But this week I demonstrated to myself that even now, after a year of disappointment, currently feeling slow and fat, and much of the time wondering why I’m bothering to pursue running seriously at all, I still care enough to go out and try.

My first race of the year is next Sunday and I have no idea how I feel about it. Or, rather, I do. I feel worried. And bad in advance. I’m certain I’ll race like shit, all things considered. So should I just race and accept where I am right now? Or skip racing until I feel “ready,” whatever that means? I’ll decide on Sunday morning.

*There. This is the cleverest witticism I could come up with today. I thought that one up while running. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Shiver in my bones just thinking…

…about the fucking weather.* Not just thinking about it. Being in it. Specifically, trying to run in it.

I typically like to think that here in New York, we’ve got it good. I follow other bloggers who live in godforsaken places like Michigan or Wisconsin and think, “Hey, at least I don’t live there.”

But this year, is it really any better here? In the entire month of January, we’ve had three days that got above freezing. Many days, the windchill was in the single digits or even negative digits. It’s already snowed three times.

I felt compelled to rant about winter because today I was actually looking forward to doing a 9 mile recovery run with strides. In a day packed with meetings and other sources of stress and dreariness, I especially appreciated the opportunity to get outside for 90 minutes and clear my head of the shit that kept me awake for 2 hours in the middle of the night (followed by a nightmare in which Jonathan died).

The forecast called for “flurries.” Maybe on some other planet heavy snow that sticks and accumulates counts as flurries, but not in my world. I got out of the house around 8AM, about an hour after the snow started. There was around half an inch on the ground by that time, and it was coming down heavily. But aside from bare pavement, I had traction on the snowy bits. Or so I thought.

I’d already decided to nix the strides today, not wanting to tempt fate. So merrily I ran along at 10:30 down toward Bronxville on the first of two local loops. I safely made it across Tuckahoe road (where no one ever stops for pedestrians, not even cops!), wended my way down toward the lake and…bam! My feet fly out ahead of me and I’m suddenly looking at the sky. Knowing I’m going to hit hard, I attempt to keep my head up, to no avail. My head actually bounced on the icy pavement a la Robert Cheruiyot.

Nice way to start the day! Now I have a huge goose egg and bruise on my head, plus when I turn my head too far to the left, the area around my left scapula burns. It burns!

Clearly this was not the day to run outside, so I got up and headed back. But in the 10 minutes or so that I’d been outside, the conditions had gone from acceptable to treacherous. It took me nearly 25 minutes to go the .7 miles back to our house. I managed to run a little, but by the time I hit the local streets (and big hill up to our street), the road was like an ice rink.

So in about 40 minutes I managed to run about a mile and give myself a concussion in the process. We’re supposed to get rain this afternoon, but I’ll believe that when I see it. In the meantime, we have a friend from South Africa coming to town for the Gift Fair. The forecast for tomorrow is “real feel” of 2F. I think she’s going to go into some sort of metabolic shock when she steps off that plane. Fortunately, she’s a wool designer, so she can swaddle herself in her own creations.

*Apologies for quoting one of the most boring bands of all time, 10,000 Maniacs (closely tied during that unfortunate era with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians).

Spring Training: Week 3

I was a happy runner this week. All my paces dropped and recovery time is also getting back on track after two weeks of very delayed recovery.

It was overall a speedier week, with the exception of Wednesday, which featured some wicked menstrual cramps in the first two miles — so bad that for a few minutes I thought I might lose my oatmeal. That passed, but not after strolling for a third of a mile; hence, the slow overall pace. But by and large my recovery runs are in the 10:00 range, a good minute faster than even a few weeks ago.

Tuesday’s midlength run was an odd one. I started out running inexplicably slow relative to effort. Then something kicked into gear and I was running faster at the same effort. The middle three miles were slowed by a muddy, slippery trail. But I was pleased to break 9:00 pace for a run in the high 70%s for effort.

I returned to the track on Friday morning for what turned out to be surprisingly good session. I say “surprisingly” because I again was running like crap for the warmup miles and had resigned myself to probably having an equally ho-hum speed session. But I started in on the faster quarter miles and found that running 1:34-1:38 felt just right (assigned pace was slower, but it felt way too slow). HR’s were in the right range, so I’m glad I went with the impulse to run them faster. I wore my spikes, which I’m sure helped speed me along.

Saturday’s recovery run (around 10:00, even though I left it off the chart) was also fine. I’m so used to running recoveries at 11:00 pace that it makes me nervous to go faster. But my HR says it’s fine, so I go.

This morning’s 14+ miler was great fun. I started with three miles below 73% then picked things up to 74-78%, throwing in a couple of 81% miles at the end. Ran those at 8:23, a pace that required considerably more effort a month ago.

Next week goes back down to 60 miles, but with three quality workouts again. All my workout paces are getting adjusted downward in light of this week’s data.

I’m feeling confident enough that I’ll be running as consistently as planned this season to go ahead and buy some new shoes to rotate into my colorful menagerie of blown rubber. It’s early in the year, which means the new models are coming out and you know what that means: the “old” models are on sale! I picked up two pairs of Pearl Izumi Streaks for around $70 with tax and shipping each. That’s at least $15-20 off what I’ve paid for those in the past. I’ve got several newer pairs of racing flats of various makes and two pairs of my recovery run stalwarts (the Saucony Grid Tangent 3) early in their mileage lives. So I’m set for the next few months.

The racing calendars are starting to take shape as well. I’m going to do as much racing as I can in Central Park this season (in pursuit of my coveted bib, plus there are a few races I enjoy, such as the Colon Cancer 15K). I’ll take it month by month, but it looks likely that I’ll be racing at least every 2-3 weeks. Some weeks will be back to back. I’ve even got one weekend where I might do back to back races on Saturday and Sunday (short ones).

But I’ll play it by ear. The first goal — enjoying training again and seeing improvement — is starting to take shape. Having fun racing again is the next goal on the horizon.

Spring Training: Week 2

This was the week I realized how much work I have to do. The workouts were hard, which wasn’t a big surprise. What was surprising was how long it took me to recover from them. Coach Kevin had originally scheduled 75 miles for this week and 85 the next. I knew by Tuesday, when I still felt beaten up from Sunday’s hilly run, that this wasn’t going to happen. Or if I did try for that mileage then I’d probably end up paying for it in the form of crappy workouts, exhaustion, injury — or perhaps all of the above. So Kevin dialed down the mileage for this week and next. I’ve got no real race goal, remember? So why rush when I’m on the comeback trail?

I was stuck back on the treadmill for the early part of the week for either weather or work scheduling reasons. I also had to push my tempo run (normally happening on Tuesday) to Wednesday since my legs still felt like they’d been run over by a tank on Tuesday. While that run was okay, its rescheduling definitely had a cascading effect.

On Friday I finally got to run outside for my mile repeats. Good thing, because the cabin fever was turning me into a real bitch. I’d hoped the local track would be clear of snow and ice but, surprisingly, there were still some messy sections and much of it was slippery. It was also crowded with people (damned kids, using their school track!) and, to make the workout extra special, it was very windy. So I spent the session dodging snow, ice and people while watching my heart rate soar on the backstretch every time I hit that 15mph headwind.

I ran some of these too hard, and I ended up bailing .8 miles into the third one when my legs turned to lead. But I’m happy with the workout considering the conditions and the fact that I only had a day’s recovery from Wednesday’s effort. I wasn’t that far off the goal paces either.

Saturday my legs were predictably fatigued. Actually, all of me was fatigued. I haven’t felt that tired since the day after the Sacramento race in December. I still felt tired on Sunday but decided to give the assigned run a go anyway. I felt like crap for the first few miles but got some energy back about four miles in. The last three were hard to do, but not impossible, and I ran them at the proper effort. Good sign.

I didn’t even hit 60 miles, but that’s okay. I care more about quality than quantity right now. I want to get my basic speed at all efforts back. Then I’ll start worrying about mileage again, once I’m confident that I’m getting adequate recovery and not flirting with injury. This week I’ll try for 70. That’s probably the highest mileage I’ll run from now until early February.

My first race, a four miler, is in about three weeks. I have no illusions of a PR. I’d just like to run fast enough so as not to embarrass myself.

[Goal?] Training: Week 1

It’s both strange and liberating to have no goal race for this round of training.* I don’t even know when training will “end” because of this absence of a race to work toward. I’m just training for training’s sake right now. That is okay.

For my first trick, I went out and whaled through a high effort run through the hilly streets of my neighborhood, Crestwood. Yonkers, which Crestwood straddles with Eastchester, is as a whole very hilly. Yet the running path I typically use isn’t that hilly at all. It cuts through the hills all the way from Bronxville up to Valhalla (just on the uppermost edge of Southern Westchester), with a 1.5 mile break on roads along the way. So when I do run elsewhere around here, it’s always something of a shock.

So I ran up and down in the local streets since the path was iced over and I needed a break from the treadmill. Crap pace at high effort (85% avg). Bleh.

The Festival of Slowness continued through the next few days, with slow runs on the treadmill, followed by a slowspeedwork session, again inside. That was also a bummer. I was running 7:30 intervals at 92-93%. Oh, my God. Kevin used the word “nadir” to define this post-bad marathon, post-holiday, post-sitting on my ass period.

Just as I was feeling most despondent, things picked up late in the week. My resting HR finally settled down into the mid-40s again after a month of being elevated. Then my recovery pace vs. effort picked up on Saturday. Yesterday I went out to do another very hilly run in Scarsdale, again because the path is still frozen (and looks to be that way until at least Friday).

That was a damned good run, all things considered. I kept up a 9:15 pace at avg 78% for most of the early miles, then did a few 8:50s (the last at 8:30) in the second half. Elevation up/down was 2000+ ft., to which my calves can attest today. I enjoy running this course because I get to run through some really beautiful neighborhoods. The Scarsdale 15K and 4M races go through some of these same streets, and I’ll be running one of those in April, so it’s also good practice.

I trained on these streets a lot during my buildup for my spring 2008 marathon, and I think it helped me deal with the hills in Central Park. So I’ll be up there a lot this winter and spring to prepare for my hilly races.

One annoying thing that happened: I’m running up Brite Avenue, listening to Pink Floyd, when I hear a rumbling behind me and smell exhaust. I look back and there’s a huge truck right behind me, driving on the wrong side of the street. I think, “Oh, it must be pulling over to park,” but it stays behind me for another hundred feet. I pause the music so I can hear if I’m about to get run over. I think the truck will go around me, but, no, it stays right on my tail. Now I’m getting pissed off. So I hop up on someone’s lawn and wait for the truck to go by. Then it stops 15 feet ahead of me, presumably in front of the address where it’s making a delivery. I ask the driver why he felt he had to drive right behind me along the entire street. His reply: “I had to deliver on this side. I thought if I kept driving you’d eventually go faster.” Fucking moron.

This week features a substantial, but not insane, jump in mileage and another speed session, which I hope to be able to do on the track. I think there’s some tempo work too, but I don’t have pace assignments yet.

The days are getting longer and I’m getting a little faster. These things make me happy.

*Ignore the field that says “21 weeks until race.” I’m just too lazy to update the spreadsheet.

The Law and Order SVU Drinking Game

It’s been cold beyond description in NY lately, so I’ve been forced to do most of my runs inside on the treadmill. This means lots of hours in front of the tube in my tricked out workout crib.

When I get sick of Alpine Skiing on Universal Sporks (“Next up: the Women’s Super G Spot!”), I turn to “Law and Order SVU,” which, like me, always seems to be running a bad marathon. There are about 4,000 episodes, so this doesn’t surprise me. While I can’t drink and run (much as I’ve tried), I can make up drinking games while running. Here’s one I made up for Law and Order SVU.

Take one drink when:

  • Mariska Hargitay says “Oh, my God.”
  • Tamara Tunie (aside: that woman has the most beautiful skin) describes any victim as having “bled out.”
  • Christopher Meloni roughs up a suspect.
  • Ice-T calls someone “bro.”
  • Police tech cracks into a network or comes up with a password in less than 10 seconds.
  • Anyone mentions “Hudson University.”

Take two drinks when:

  • Richard Belzer brings up a conspiracy theory. Three drinks it if involves the CIA.
  • Mariska Hargitay opens up a mildly creepy “comfort the victim” session with, “Hi. I’m Olivia. What’s your name?”
  • Any judge screams, “Get him/her out of my courtroom!”
  • Christopher Meloni mentions his divorce or one of his kids.
  • Mariska Hargitay “goes undercover.”
  • Dan Florek says the brass is going to be “coming down hard” on him soon.

Finish the bottle when:

  • Stephanie March screws up her case (this happens more often than you’d think).
  • Someone attempts to murder one of the major members of the cast.
  • Any detective leaves the Tri-State Area to investigate a case.

Have fun!

Oh, right. I remember now.

I remember 2007. Or at least I remember my paces from 2007. ‘Cause that’s what I’m running these days!

This week was the first one during which I attempted anything resembling training, after four weeks’ rest and recovery from my blowup in Sacramento. I’ll post a detailed report after tomorrow, but I thought I’d do a post of early observations and random news.

Lots and lots of runners I follow are mourning their downtime-induced loss of speed. I know exactly what they’re talking about. My tempo pace is probably 30-40 seconds per mile slower than it was two months ago. 8-10K pace is about what my tempo pace used to be. Recovery runs are only a little slower than they used to be (although I always ran them on the slow side once the mileage got above 70 mpw).  I haven’t attempted much in the general aerobic range, but I’ll be dipping my toes back into that world tomorrow.

Along with speed, it seems I’ve also lost endurance. Whereas doing a 10 mile recovery run used to be easy, I’m getting tired right in the 6-7 mile range.

So I’ve got some work to do.

The weather has not exactly been conducive to good training. We’ve had the coldest winter in NY that I recall, save for my first year here (1985), in which this transplanted Californian simply couldn’t fathom sub-zero windchills. I also had not familiarized myself with wool and spent that winter freezing my ass off (because I was 20 years old and broke all the time) in $5 cotton layers purchased from the tables of Senegalese purveyors along 14th Street in Manhattan.

Anyway, it’s been cold. Plus it’s snowed, which partially melted, then refroze, leaving my beloved 11 mile running path an unrunnable sheet of pockmarked ice. Yesterday I had my first real intervals session in months scheduled. But my local rich high school’s million dollar Mondo track was covered in the morning’s fall of snow, so it was back to the treadmill again.

My first race of the season, a four miler, is in a month. After yesterday’s foray into running at 93% effort, my expectations are low. Still, since it’s in Central Park I’ll be able to use it as a good gauge of fitness. I honestly don’t expect to run sub-7:00 (the time that would gain me the coveted first corral bib qualification). Maybe I’ll surprise myself, though. How much fitness can I regain in four weeks? We shall see. Given the bad running conditions and how slow-as-shit I feel lately, I am glad not to be under pressure to train for a marathon in early May anymore.

In other News About Me…

Since I find it easier to lose fat when I’m not running 80-95 mpw, and I’m sporting more of it than I’d like, I’m once again on the wagon and keeping my chubby little mitts away from Nutella, roasted cashews and my various other calorie-dense weaknesses. This plan will partially go to hell at the end of the month, when we celebrate Jonathan’s birthday. But since we’re both sporting tight pants these days, it should be a fairly restrained celebration.

I committed (as it were) to be an alternate on PigtailsFlying‘s team for June’s Green Mountain Relay in Vermont. Like most other things running-related this year, I’m taking a “fuck it, I’ll try that” attitude. The introvert who needs six hours of alone time each day screams “Nooooo!” at the idea of spending three solid days with a bunch of strangers, much of it in a confined (very confined) space (and mobile too, which is sure to bring out my motion sickness), during which sleep and personal hygiene are considered non-essentials.

But the same introvert who misses the moments of pleasure and surprise in spending time with strangers is bellowing from the other shoulder that this could actually be fun — if I only reoriented my perspective from one of discomfort and deprivation to one of adventure and discovery. As my sister pointed out, it’s only a few days. And good blog fodder. But, then, so is the stomach flu. Don’t I sound like a great teammate already? No wonder I’m an alternate; Pigtails has met me exactly once, but I guess that was enough!

I’ve got no signs of injury. Anywhere. Even after my faster (cough cough) running on the treadmill yesterday. Nary a niggle. Nothing. I’m wondering how long this will last. All season, if I’m careful. I hope.

The quiet, obscure toiling resumes…

Since December 7th I’ve taken things very easy, having vowed to enjoy the holidays and recover properly from my debacle in California.

This weekend marked the end of this extended hibernation period. I’d meant to run on New Year’s Day but I was fried and decided to nap instead. On Saturday I ran 10 very easy miles on the treadmill, tootling along at 64% MHR.

Yesterday I threw down the gauntlet. I felt good in the morning so I decided to do a “data gathering” run. This meant a longish run on the treadmill, with several sections at varying speed (getting progressively faster) so I could record some data showing speed vs. effort.

The run was a 12 mile progression run, with 3 miles at 64%, 3 miles at 70%,  2 miles at 75%, 2 miles at 80%, 1 mile at 85% and 1 at 89%. I won’t post the paces here because, well, they’re pretty embarrasing. But I’m hoping that when I do this same workout three months from now, I won’t be cringing at the numbers.

One oddity that I did note was that my HR% shot up from 70% to 75% with a mere difference of 6 seconds per mile. That tells me that my treadmill is lying about its speed. My next little project is to spend some quality time coming up with a calibration factor table (Jack Daniels explains how to do this in detail on various threads on LetsRun.com) so I’ve got a better idea of how fast (or slow) I’m actually running on my particular torture device.

I was zonked after yesterday’s run. But not as zonked as I’d expected to be.

Spectator Report: NYRR Emerald Nuts Midnight Run

I spent New Year’s Eve and day playing host and driver to another coachee of Kevin’s, Kim Duclos. Unlike me, Kim is young and fast. She just ran a 2:38 at Huntsville in mid-December and is gearing up for an even faster run at the L.A. Marathon in the spring.

Kim had been invited by NYRR to to run in the elite field of their four mile Emerald Nuts Midnight Run. She drove down from Worcester, MA for the race yesterday, hanging out at our place for a few hours before we drove in. Jonathan has a bad cold, so he skipped the festivities.

Despite the fact that I felt like I was a combination interloper/running groupie, accompanying her to the race and hanging out in the elite tent was a huge treat, as well as a glimpse into how the other half races.

NYRR required that Kim pick up her number by 11PM for the midnight race. Since I didn’t want to be responsible for missing that deadline, we left ridiculously early — 9PM for what’s usually a half hour drive to the Upper West Side. I’m glad we left early since not only did I space out and miss the Boat Basin exit, but no one knew where the elite tent was (we’d walked right by it, unlabeled). Half an hour later, we found a volunteer who knew where it was and settled in.

The conditions in Central Park were awful. A snowfall of around 1-2 inches earlier in the day had turned to icy slush. NYRR had salted the course, but it was still treacherous just walking around. We claimed a couple of chairs in the heated tent and surveyed the table of cookies, water and tee shirts. I spotted a few others who were not there to run, so didn’t feel too self-conscious in there, although I did eventually give up my chair when it started to fill up.

The highlight was when the star of the evening, Erin Donohue, appeared about 40 minutes before race start. At two feet away, this was about as close as I was ever going to get to an Olympian (unless, of course, Kim continues to get faster over the next couple of years, heh heh) and I tried not to stare. But, people, that girl is built: 5’7″ (she looks shorter in person) and around 145 pounds. Solid muscle. She’s got legs like cherry tree logs and you can see every muscle in her shoulders. She was friendly, but I sure wouldn’t want to piss her off.

Runners got the call to get ready to get their asses outside in 10 minutes. Then Mary Wittenberg wended her way through the tent for the pre-race meet and greet. I hid behind Derek Scott, who was conveniently tall, serving as a potted plant proxy. I’d told Kim that I planned to introduce myself as her “handler” if anyone asked, a term that she said had come up for her in a few interactions with race directors. I love how it makes the runner sound like a circus animal.

The race started at midnight sharp, as did an impressive show of fireworks. I watched from the start/finish in a prime spot, thanks to my elevated hanger-on status. Despite the crap weather, people were clearly having a blast. It took close to 12 minutes for the entire race field to pass the start line, and lots of the back-of-the-packers were jolly already. Good costumes, many fist pumps, and some unsteady legs!

As for the elite race, which was the only one being timed (at least for the top five in each gender field), it was pretty competitive, considering the conditions. The first man, Patrick Smyth, came in less than half a minute off the course record, and Donohue won the women’s race in a little over 21 minutes. Kim came in shortly thereafter, perhaps a minute slower than would be expected under normal racing conditions. But she was smiling as much at the finish as she was at the start, so she had a good time, which was her goal. Not falling on her ass was a bonus.

After her cooldown we wandered around, hitting the dance party and pretending we didn’t speak English when some guy started babbling to us about portapotties. But the ground was an ice slick and it was getting cold, so we headed home for some wine and other treats. Got to bed around 3:30AM, which is probably a personal record for me for New Year’s.

All in all, a great start to 2010.