Spring Training: Week Eight

This week I dealt with a head cold and foul weather, but the training went well despite those things. The cold took hold on Tuesday afternoon, hours after a very good run along my new favorite 5 mile back-and-forth in Scarsdale. I ran along that stretch three or four times this week and it’s likely I’ll be up there quite a bit again this week as we had yet another of our “paralyzing blizzards” mid-week and now have another foot of filthy snow on the ground.

Fortunately, the cold was mild and the temps have been above freezing, so even if I have to run in the streets, they are at least clear of black ice. It’s the little things.

So I had some kind of pre-illness pop in fitness on Tuesday, rumbling along in 15mph winds and a mixture of sleet, hail and rain that turned the road to the consistency of semi-frozen bird shit for much of the run. But I still managed a decent pace.

Even the recovery runs later in the week were okay, consistently below my usual slugtastic 10+ minute mile pace both inside and out.

Then I put on my big girl pants and made a second attempt at doing last Friday’s spectacularly failed speed session again. But this time I did it by effort rather than trusting the treadmill’s pace readout (I also knocked the total down by two miles and removed one 1K repeat, it being a recovery week and all). HR topped out at 93% for the last one, right where it should be — and I felt able to do a fifth, but didn’t so I could save my legs for today’s trip to Scarsdale.

With my cold now over and a fairly windless/slushless day, I was able to cruise along at just under 8:00 for 13 miles in the 81% range. This felt like real progress.

I like my new loop, but it’s a little weird having to run it back and forth several times on longer run days. Today I had to run one two mile section twice and a three mile section three times. I’d run up the road, nod my head to someone shoveling snow, then, half an hour later, I’d come by again and the snow shoveler would still be there. It was very Twighlight Zone.

The disadvantage to running in the street, of course, is that you take your life into your hands. Or, rather, you involuntarily place your life into the hands of insane drivers. The worst offenders are typically SUV-wielding Robomoms with a cellphone clamped to one ear.* These ladies are out for blood. Today’s adventure was with the woman who rolled right through a stop sign at 15mph.

She was close enough to me that I could give her Canyonero a good whack. I have for the most part managed to cure myself of the habit of hitting people’s cars when they offend, but this was so egregious a transgression that I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t think she even saw me at the stop sign, since it was not without some twisted pleasure that I noted her well coiffed head swinging wildly around behind tinted windows, trying to figure out what just hit her car. My hand hurt and my HR skyrocketed because I was so angry at the cluelessness of surburban drivers. But it was worth the pain!

My next race (actually, races: I’ve got two back to back) is in two weeks. I’m feeling pretty good about things. Which is always worrisome.

* Driving while talking into a handheld cellphone is illegal in New York. But — like the laws forbidding riding a zebra in public while naked, or allowing a drunken monkey to play a theremin — it’s rarely enforced.

Posts I wish I’d written

Sometimes I stumble over a blog post that I envy for how well the author has captured some aspect of running. In this case, our runner lines up for a race in foul conditions and “just wants a good workout.” Then, some internal shift occurs and, despite numerous distractions, she ends up racing the thing like her life depends on it.

Bravo, Angry Runner.

I think I’ll make this a new series, like Google search oddities.

Random crap

I’m looking for an excuse to stave off my evening run. Today is my sole day of doubles for the week. But I’ve managed to run outside for the last few days. This evening I need to take my 4.4 inside, after which we’re scheduled to get 4-8″ of snow. So the brief window of happy running outside has once again closed. On my fingers.

Since I ostensibly work in new media, I thought it was time to replace my 7-year-old piece of shit Palm device (the lowest end unit I could get at the time: the Zire) with something more up to date. Something that runs “apps.” I went for a 32G iPod Touch. Well, this thing is like crack! I can surf the web in the tub. I can go shopping with my list on something other than a post-it. I can sit in bed and play a game. I can listen to any episide of This American Life while cooking dinner. Whee!

Among the many apps I’ve downloaded and frittered money away on, two are relevant to runners: iPace and Race Pace. The second one covers the first’s functionality, but I didn’t realize that until later.

iPace ($0.99) is a simple conversion calculator. Plug in a distance and time and it will tell you the pace you need to run per mile and kilometer (and 400m for some reason). Or you can flip things around: plug in a distance and a per mile or per kilometer pace, and it will give you your finish time.

Race Pace ($1.99) is a little fancier. It’s basically a performance equivalent calc, much like the industry standard online version from Greg McMillan. Plug in a recent race time and you’ll get predictions for what that might translate into at various other race distances. You also get training paces for basic types of runs: tempos, long runs, easy runs and recovery runs. The paces are, for the most part, more aggressive (or optimistic; take your pick) than McMillan’s. But they offer a pretty good place to start when goal setting for your next race. You can also modify them to your liking in your iPod’s Settings area (something I only recently stumbled upon).

Speaking of paces, I’ve been tearing up the streets of Scarsdale the past few days, just as a nascent cold has started to take hold. I ran just shy of 10 miles yesterday in dreadful conditions (wind, sleet/hail/rain, slippery roads) at 8:21 pace at 80% effort. At lunchtime today I followed up with a recovery run at 9:27, or around a minute faster than those runs have been lately). I should get sick more often.

Too soon?

I guess bad marathons really are like childbirth: you forget the extreme pain and suffering after awhile and start yearning to pop another one out.

My marathon plans (or lack thereof) for the spring have not changed. In fact, now that the big spring races are around the corner and running bloggers are started to post things like “just eight weeks to Boston…” I find I’m relieved not to be among the worriers.

One decision we did make about the spring was to bag the idea of running the New Jersey Half again. I’m annoyed with this race. Not only have they jacked the fees up to the $100 range (for a half!), but they sin in other ways. Their web site looks like it was put together by a 12-year-old. They don’t respond to emails. Their explanation of how to defer an entry to next year is written like something off of Engrish Funny. And you can no longer park anywhere near the course. You have to go stand in a parking lot and wait for their buses (which were late last year). So, screw you, New Jersey. I’m entered for the full marathon this year, which I’ll defer until next year and decide then if I want to run the full or write it off as a loss.

Just for fun, I’m including this quote from the NJ site, in which they attempt to describe a change to the course:

Approximately 4.3 miles of the southern end of the 2009 course, in Elberon, will not exist in 2010. It has been replaced by approximately 4.3 mile in Oceanport.

Sorry, I’m a writer and editor. This sort of thing makes me crazy. When you say something “will not exist in 2010,” it reads as if the race director has metaphysical powers and has transported entire neighborhoods into a yawning cosmic void. Probably the same one into which my deferral request will be cast.

Instead, we’re going to give the Providence, RI half marathon a spin. It’s the same weekend, but it’s in Providence! I haven’t been there since sometime in the mid-1980s. I remember it was a cute city and I had a great breakfast at the Newport Creamery (it’s still there!). Affordable hotels abound just blocks from the start/finish and it’s close enough that we can drive home after the race. And it’s only $55.

Change of plan: We’re running Long Island. $50 and it’s 40 mins from our house. No hotel, no long drives…and it’s flat!

As for the fall, I’m already forgetting my past agonies and considering a full marathon again. Specifically, the Richmond, VA marathon. It’s well-established and large enough that I could easily find people to run with, but not so huge as to be overwhelming. We could also combine it with a trip to see a friend of Jonathan’s who lives in Maryland. My idea is to use the Westchester Half in October as a tune-up race or Mpace training run, and then do the full in VA five weeks later.

The other possibility is making the Westchester Half my goal race for the fall, then plan to run the New York Marathon as a fun run a month later. But I don’t know that I’d be satisfied with doing that. The sheer size of the NY race and the logistics of just getting to the start line have always been daunting. I’m not sure whether going in with the attitude that I’ll run it for the scenery and experience would help make those things more tolerable or have the opposite effect, making the venture seem like a complete waste of time and effort. I’m leaning against the idea, but I’ve got months to decide.

I’m surprised that I’m thinking about a full race again this soon. The last two races, and a few good workouts, are having their intended effect, I suppose. That being to renew my confidence that I’m not necessarily doomed to a future of hideous marathon implosions. Still, it’s weird to be hearing the siren call of the marathon already.

Spring Training: Week Seven

This week was notable for two events: First, on Friday evening I officially went batshit during my fourteenth consecutive training run on the treadmill. Then, on Sunday I ran a surprisingly good race.

The rest of the week was meh. I doubt I would have gone so nuts had I not had so many doubles. But having a run every morning and evening inside began to feel like a form of punishment. What a relief after Thursday to only have singles to look forward to.

I’d thought that would offer a sufficient mental break from the monotony, but Friday’s failed speed session pushed me over the edge. After that I was so eager to run outside that I did the race on a lark, since it was really good racing weather. That turned out to be what my dearly departed grandmother would have called “a happy accident.”

That race was a confidence booster. Not only because I did better than expected, but also because it was five miles at 7:05 avg pace, with hills and wind, on tired legs. I need to run five miles under 7:00 avg pace in Central Park in three weeks. Yesterday showed me that with a proper taper this is no longer a long shot. I just need to get into my second corral early so I can start as far ahead of the sub-8:00 dawdlers as possible.

There’s not a whole lot else to say. I was scheduled to hit 75 miles, but fell short again slightly. It doesn’t matter. I appear to be thriving on what I’m doing, so I’m not going to sweat a few missing miles here and there. This week’s a down week, with just 65 miles and only one day of doubles. Good thing, as we’ve got shit weather predicted again, so I’m likely to be running a lot of those miles inside again. Send meds.

Google search oddities

Today I got one hit on this phrase:

white women with nice legs .com


Race Report: TRRC Freezer Five Miler

This race was one of the many B or C list races I had on my calendar for the winter and spring. Unlike the four mile race I ran a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t planned on racing this one. So why did I race it? Because it was there.

I was feeling discouraged by my debacle of a speed session on Friday, aside from suffering from a bad case of cabin fever. I did a five mile recovery run along Fox Meadow Road and Walworth Avenue in Scarsdale yesterday (reasonably flat) and was surprised to find that I felt good and wanted to run fast.

Jonathan had planned to do the five mile race and I’d thought I’d go as his driver and support. But I reasoned that I hadn’t raced in a few weeks, and the next important race isn’t until mid March. I might as well race this one for the experience and practice. Naturally, I got a terrible night’s sleep and woke up two pounds heavier than the previous day, with stiff, sore legs. I figured I’d go in with low expectations and if I felt crummy I’d turn it into a tempo run.

I should note that this race (or at least the course it’s on) has some history for me. I ran my third race ever, a cold 10K in March 2006, on this course and haven’t been back since. My average pace per mile that day was 9:04. Today it was two minutes faster per mile and the hills didn’t seem nearly as bad as I remember them.

The race was held in FDR State Park, about a half an hour north of us. It’s just north of the Donald Trump State Park, which we’ve never been to, although I always like to say that it’s probably very classy.

The course is hilly, with fairly steep ups and downs, but they are short. In some ways, it reminds me of Central Park’s terrain and I’m thinking I should race and train there more often. The races there are on the small side, probably well under 200 people, so you can hit all the tangents and easily find individual runners to work on reeling in.

Today I had an experience that was eerily similar to my last Westchester Half Marathon in October. At the one mile turnaround (an out-and-back they tack on to come up with five miles) I noted that I was ninth woman again. So I worked on passing women over the next couple of miles. I managed to get into sixth place by mile three, at which point I could only see two women I had any hope of catching.

One of them turned out to be Yukiko Nishide, a prolific local masters runner who was running my exact pace, even the up- and downhill variations the whole way, but seven seconds ahead of me. Try as I might, I couldn’t close the 20 yard gap she had on me. I did manage to catch one woman, though — last year’s winner — about .2 miles from the finish, ultimately gaining four seconds on her, which was fun. My breathing as I passed her was something straight out of a porno soundtrack; thank goodness she was wearing headphones!

My first mile was the fastest at 6:50, with the rest varying between just under 7:00 up to 7:20 for one bad hilly mile. My legs were tired going in and there was a stiff headwind in some of the tougher uphill sections, so I would have been surprised to have broken 35:00. Official time was 35:26. In any event, I got fifth overall, second in the 40-49F AG. I suspect Ms. Nishide and I would have placed higher (as would have Jonathan, 13th overall and first in 50-59M) had a vanload of 20-year-olds from West Point not turned up.

Afterwards we ran into a friendly AG rival of Jonathan’s, Takashi Ogawa, and his wife, Katsura, who races on and off but always comes to his races. We last saw Takashi nearly a year ago as the three of us were deciding not to run a 30K race in torrential rain. He was preparing for the Green Bay Marathon at the time. Neither of us had seen him since and we wondered if they’d moved out of the area. It turns out Takashi pulled out of that race at the two mile mark with a hamstring injury, which he’s been working to come back from this entire time. While I was sorry to hear that news, it was comforting to know that we weren’t the only ones who’d had a disappointing 2009, at least for marathon racing.

The race was organized by the Taconic Road Runners Club. What they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. They only have around a dozen races a year, but I’d forgotten about the great post-race food they provide: homemade cookies and banana bread, coffee cake and excellent coffee, along with beer if you wanted that at 10:30 in the morning in sub-freezing temps. There was even a roaring fire going in the outdoors clubhouse. No water stops, which was a little weird. But they had race results up in hours rather than days.

Today I did everything you’re not supposed to do. I raced 36 hours after doing speedwork. I tried new tights and shoes (Asics Hyperspeed 3’s — men’s models, no less — which were outstanding to race in). I was groggy from a Lunesta I’d taken at 2am. I had wine last night. No taper whatsoever. I ate candy (Yes, candy. I know! I’m insane!) five minutes before the start. You name it, I did it wrong. Things went okay despite all that. I’m starting to think that I need to start caring less about doing everything correctly.

A terrible workout

My speed session was ugly today. This came as a surprise, as I went into it feeling ready mentally and physically. The day called for 11 miles with 5 x 1K at 6:34 pace (that’s 4:05 for each 1K repeat) and jog rests of 2:45.

I did my little two mile warmup and things seemed to be going well. My HR was impressively low and I didn’t feel bad when I picked it up to 85% in the last little bit before launching into 6:30 pace on the treadmill. Since my treadmill doesn’t have a 6:35 pace, I went for 6:30 with a plan to slow to 6:40 if I needed to. Quite honestly, I have no idea what pace that thing is really going at. I swear it feels more like 6:15 or 6:20 than 6:30. Maybe it is.

I handled the first 1K repeat okay. The second one was harder, but still alright. The third one felt like an entirely different pace. I felt in control for the first minute and then things rapidly went downhill. It was just hard. Too hard. Way too hard.

I have stupid things I say to myself when this is happening. Things like:

“It’s supposed to be very uncomfortable.”

“You’ll never have to run this hard in a race.”

“This is how you get faster.”

I wasn’t buying it today. I bumped the pace to 6:40 about three quarters of the way through that third try, but even that didn’t help. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and bailed 30 seconds early.

Then I spent the next five minutes berating myself. I can globalize a bad workout — even just a bad interval — so everything I’m doing is called into question. I wonder if I’ll ever get faster or if my best days, however modestly successful those were, are behind me. I wonder if I’ll always be carrying an extra 10 pounds around. I wonder why I’m pouring so much energy into something that is, on the face of it, completely meaningless. Something that will only get harder as I get older.

Then I went into the next room to talk to Jonathan. He suggested I either slow down the remaining intervals or just call it day. I went for the second option, since I knew I’d end up just feeling worse if I kept trying to bludgeon my way through what was obviously a workout gone bad. I ended up running 5.5 miles easy to bring the total up to 10. That at least gives me some permission to have a beer this evening.

While it’s possible to overanalyze why something like this happens, it can’t hurt to look at the big picture.  First, the physical: This is my second big mileage week, still fairly early on in my buildup. I ran three days of doubles this week (including nine miles last night, after which I was tired) plus a fairly hard 12 mile aerobic run on Tuesday. Next, the mental: I haven’t run outside in nine days. Because my flat path and track are covered in snow, if I want to run outside then I have to run hills in the street. This isn’t exactly conducive to recovery between harder runs — because all of the runs end up being hard.

So all of my runs have been inside on the treadmill. By last night, I was beginning to feel the mental effects of doing two runs a day in that tiny room, like two oppressive bookends to — another mental stress — work days that were not exactly carefree. Get up and run. Work for 8-9 hours. Run again. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day after day. A mental fatigue, or even dread, sets in eventually.

I was reminded of Jaymee’s post this week, in which she related some obvious reasons for why she underperformed in her most recent race. That woman works harder than I ever will at this ridiculous hobby. You’d think that with her Calvinist training regimen, combined with having a real job and a life, the reasons behind a bad race wouldn’t be gleaned only in hindsight. But I suppose we all get used to being able to “handle” the work, perhaps not seeing how close to the edge we are at times. For many of us, that edge only reveals itself suddenly, in the form of a bad race, or an injury, or a crappy workout.

So maybe all those mental and physical apples were legitimate reasons for the upsetting of the apple cart this evening. Or maybe I was just having an off day. Either way, I’ll write it off and move on. What else can I do?

I need to get out of that room this weekend. Tomorrow I’ll drive north and do my recovery miles on a flat street in Scarsdale. It’s just four stupid miles, but I think I’ll go insane if I have to run inside again. Sunday I’ll also run in the street and do my two fast miles on Pipeline again. Fuck it. I’m running a five mile race tomorrow. Why not?

Spring Training: Week Six

This was a good week. although also a tiring one.

My legs were somewhat tired after the previous Sunday’s race, but they didn’t overrule my brain when it told them to run an extra mile on Monday. I spaced out and ran nearly 10, only realizing the error of my ways at just short of the five mile mark.

I did Tuesday’s tempo run as a ping-ponged series of four miles back and forth along a long stretch of lonely road we have up here (Pipeline Road — or, on the maps, Aqueduct Road). Unfortunately, it’s the one extended section of concrete my runs take me on, but considering that it’s straight, fairly flat and devoid of cars after the morning rush hour, that’s a compromise I was willing to make.

Sometimes I think that running a race can have the effect of speeding me up in subsequent days. I ran my miles at 7:15 (a little faster than planned), despite a swirling wind.

On Wednesday I did the only dumb thing of the week — a run in a foot of fresh snow, on tired legs. That two mile slog did me in for the remainer of the week. But it was enjoyable to be outside, as I would spend the remaining days (and will continue to) inside on the treadmill. And I didn’t bash my head this time.

On Thursday I dialed down the pace on the speed intervals, although in hindsight I probably didn’t need to. But I was really tired on Saturday and then delayed doing the long run on Sunday for as long as possible, finally climbing onto the treadmill at around 4:00, when I could procrastinate no longer.

That run was okay. Given the past week’s workload (more intensity than I wanted plus more miles than I’ve run in quite awhile), I didnt’ want to push myself too hard. So I did three miles at around 70% effort and then did the remaining ones at 75% avg.

DOMS last night at 3 a.m. rounded out the week. I didn’t hit the 80 mile mark as originally planned, but it was close enough and another 1.8 may very well have killed me.

A treadmill easter egg

Since my local environment is still Hoth, I’m running on the treadmill for the foreseeable future. My last run outside was my snowshoe experiment on Wednesday. That run took a lot out of me and by Friday morning I was still feeling the effort in my legs. So I did my shorter recovery run in the morning and moved the speedwork to the afternoon.

A few more hours of recovery helped, but I climbed onto the treadmill feeling that I wasn’t really ready for mile repeats at 6:45. But rather than bailing on the workout altogether, I figured I’d just do it a little slower than originally planned. I ended up with three repeats in the 6:55 range, so my compromise was not that great. I got that number be adjusting the speed from 6:50 to 7:00 during the repeats (it breaks things up a bit).

Anyway. Long preamble to my point, which is: I probably could have run 6:45 had I had a better understanding of how our treadmill works. The machine has a toggled display for Pace and MPH. In both cases, you get three digits:

MPH: ##.# (example: 10.5 MPH — ha ha, as if!)

Pace: ##:# (example 06:4 — or what would appear to be 6:40 pace)

When is “06:4” not 6:40 pace? When you’ve only hit the “increase the pace” button (or “+”) once. Apparently, at high speeds, our treadmill offers five second pace variations. You just can’t see it. So if you’re running at “06:5” and you hit “+” then you’ll go down to 6:45 pace (with an “06:4” readout). Hit “+” again and you’re at 6:40. Who knew? (Jonathan did.)

All this time I just thought I was being wimpy when I pressed “+” and the treadmill display wasn’t responding. Since I knew I wasn’t in any shape to run 6:40 repeats yesterday, I shied away from plugging in that pace. Had I realized that the treadmill will give me 6:45, I would have at least made an attempt to run the original workout. The difference between 6:40 and 6:45 (or 6:45 and 6:55, if you like) was probably minimal enough that I wouldn’t experience enough physical distress for it to have mattered. The issue was a mental one (“I can’t run 6:40 today.”).

Since I don’t like doing faster workouts indoors if I can avoid it, I rarely run below 8:00 on the treadmill. The fastest I’ve ever managed is 6:00 pace. Once you’re getting close to your maximum effort, 10 seconds per mile is a huge difference. Plus I don’t like being forced by a moving belt to move my legs that fast; it always feels a little scary.

I had no idea that I had less than a 10 second spread available to me for some paces. Knowing this, I’ll be a little more enthusiastic about (and willing to try) doing my speed workouts indoors. Hooray!