I got short legs

I spent a pleasant 90 minutes yesterday evening enjoying drinks (for the record, I had water) and nibbles with the majority of my Green Mountain Relay team, plus one interloper/potential spy from the Hash House Harriers’ team (girlfriend of one of our team members, and pretty darned charming — as spies so often are).

We assembled on the 14th floor of the Library Hotel on 41st St and Madison, in the Bookmarks cafe (notice a theme?), with a little table and benches under the skylights. We were sternly warned beforehand that if we all didn’t get there at 6:30 we’d lose our special area and have to drink with the riffraff at the bar (which was noisy, which means I’d have no chance of being heard).

This meant that I had to take a train that got me into Grand Central at just before 6:00, which then meant I had to kill time. So I wandered the streets, walking to the 41st St. branch of the NY Public Library to gawk. Then I couldn’t take these mindless perambulations anymore and just went on up. I got there at 6:20 and saw, sitting in our space, a bunch of fat, pasty complexioned people in conservative business attire. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “Are these my teammates?”

It turns out they were cubicle jockeys who were squatting our reserved space. The hostess summarily booted them out. So I got to sit alone, awkwardly (because that’s how I roll), awaiting the hopefully not fat, pasty-faced arrivals. They trickled in, all looking fit as fiddles, and I recognized the two I’d met about a year ago at our Blogging Runners meetup.

Anyway, it was nice and they were nice, as I’d no doubt they would be, since at least one of the team captains, TK, seems a good judge of character (she likes me, doesn’t she?). And I know the other captain, [B.], is at least generous, as he paid the bill, and also has a sense of humor; we already have an inside joke involving Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Yes, I think this will be fun. Once I sort out the logistics of how I’m going to feed myself and maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene during this odyssey, I should be good.

The “legs” in the title of this post refer to the three sections of the race that have been assigned to me, not my actual legs. My legs aren’t long, but I wouldn’t say they’re short either. I’d say they’re just right. And very sturdy. Sturdiness is going to count for a lot in about a month.

My “leg” is Leg 4. Which means I’m Runner 4. But everyone seems to just say “You’ve got Leg 4.” The way the relay works for a 12 person team (there are “ultra” teams made up of 6 people, but that’s too much fucking running) is that you each get one leg consisting of three separate legs, or the distances of the entire 200 mile race that you’ll contribute to by racing your little heart out along them.

So, let’s review: there are 12 runners and each of us runs three race distances staggered throughout a total of 36 sections of the race, and our collective three legs are also known as a “leg.”

Still with me? Okay, now, to further complicate things, the legs (meaning the collection of three) are given a rating from 1-12 based on their overall difficulty, as determined by distance and elevation gain. Difficulty score 1 is the easiest and Difficulty score 12 is the hardest. My leg, Leg 4, is also conveniently rated “4” in difficulty. I initially wasn’t happy with this, since I’m an overachiever and like to work hard and didn’t want anyone feeling that I either wasn’t pulling my weight or — worse (and I worry about this) — giving me a lameass leg because I’m old(er).

But after some thought, and examination of my, um, legs, I realized that what they gave me is perfect, both in terms of what my strengths are as a runner in general and the distances I have been racing lately. (Incidentally, there’s one leg that ends at a brewery. I didn’t get that one.) Here’s the breakdown of my legs’ vitals:

Leg 4 (section 4): 6.6 miles, Difficulty: Hard, Elevation: -657/+633
Leg 4 (section 16: 4.0 miles, Difficulty: Medium, Elevation: -247/+354
Leg 4 (section 28): 2.9 miles, Difficulty: Easy, Elevation: -309/+197

I warned them that I am a godawful downhill racer and actually preferred uphills given the choice. I’m only doing 13.5 miles total, but that’s fine because I think I’ll be able to actually race all of them at a decent effort given how they’re ordered. I had planned to run the first, whatever I ended up getting, in the 80-85% HR range so I don’t fry myself, and then focus on cleaning up in the final two with a full effort second race and whatever I’ve got left for the third. Heck, it’s less than 3 miles!

The subject of the Mini 10K race, which is week before the relay event, came up and there was much excitement, with at least one team member having decided to spectate rather than run it given the presence of Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher, who will be doing it as a fun run since they’ll both be fairly pregnant by then. I admitted that I’m planning to race that one like a rabid animal (since now I have team scoring to think about), regardless of the physical commitment I have a week later. No eyebrows were raised in worry or judgment.

Guest Post: The wee bunny gets a lesson in endurance

After 8 months of chemo in 2008, followed by pelvic-tissue-destroying rads and chemo in fall, then pelvis-mostly-removing surgery in spring 2009, I went for my first run since 2005 with my boyfriend’s leggy athletic pothead daughter. It was October 2009. In the past year, I’d been through times when I had almost no platelets, white blood cells, or hair. By almost no hair, you have to understand, I studied my whole hide and found exactly 4. All on my head, by the way. The only thing in my favor physically is that I too stomp around on longish pins, a fact few are allowed to forget for any length of time once they make my acquaintance.

Bunny was taught to bolt by a former boyfriend, an AWOL Marine. I suppose you can see why. I was trained to run cross-country in 1977, so I set a pace that lets me run indefinitely. You know how your basic pace and stride are sort of set in your bones? The raspy rhythm of my breaths has sounded exactly the same since my high school competitive days.

I had turned the Dilaudid up to 11. Nurses come by to fluff me up every few hours. I have no idea where I am.

On the first run, the young lady hopped off ahead and I did the tortoise thing. When we met again on her way back from Morocco, I did a slow 180 and again watched her tight white tail bounce into the twilight. I should add here that these days, it’s considered “okay” to leave your father’s middle-aged girlfriend in the dark in an unfamiliar area populated, essentially, with large men passing from behind and in front clad in sweatpants and little else, even after you’d been with her in emergency rooms for sudden life-threatening GI attacks twice since July and were aware she’d been in for those a total of five times since May.

I got to the Citroen about 15 minutes after Bunny had, admittedly somewhat weepy because I was tired and just barely able to stay in motion by then. Barely. And plus, I just hate being left behind in the dark in an unfamiliar area populated, essentially, with large men passing from behind and in front clad in sweatpants and little else. Just a quirk of mine. Her dad recommended therapy and medication for it.

I calculated that I’d just run over 5 kilometers and was quietly displeased at the absence of cheering throngs throwing unattractive but free* t-shirts and similarly disadvantaged water bottles at me. Wabbit had run farther than I, but I’d stayed upright and moving for 15 minutes longer than she. Before thinking, she tried to argue my assertion that I had shown more endurance than had she. But, I reminded her, her body was in motion for about 30 minutes, and mine for about 45. That’s 50% longer, and made it hard for her to say she could have managed the same thing. Not without proving it, anyway.

Caroline Collins, Ph.D.

*Caroline’s Law of Not Having a Bunch of Crap in Your House:
Never take anything for free that you wouldn’t pay at least $20 for in a store that day.

Training: May 3-9, 2010

50 mpw seems to be my training “set point” these days. I hope it’s not too much of a shock when I start up higher mileage in the summer. But I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

This was an eventful week for two reasons. First of all, this week featured the first race in which I was sporting a blue bib. The other big event this week was that both Jonathan and I joined the ranks of running clubdom. But two different clubs.

Joe has been working on Jonathan for awhile to join Warren Street and finally broke him this week. Then I was plied with iced tea and delicious nibbly things by a New York Harrier on Saturday and in a moment of weakness said I’d join up to bolster the 40+ womens scoring.

I don’t know how competitive these two clubs are against each other, but I suspect that once we start racing for points in earnest, the crockery will be flying. I’ve already warned Joe that I plan to sabotage Jonathan’s training at every opportunity.*

I also have to admit that I don’t really understand the points scoring system, which seems arcane, at least at first glance. But this isn’t the first time I’ve committed to something with only a vague understanding of the requirements or consequences.

Below is a picture of me with said troublemaker. We are admiring our magical blue bibs (her first as well).


The week was capped with Yet Another Race, a Mother’s Day themed 4 miler. This is getting old, I know. So old that I’m not even going to write a dedicated race report this time. Since I’m on the subject anyway, here’s my quasi race report:

On the surface, it looks like I made zero progress between this 4 miler and the 4 miler on the exact same course in March. March was a 27:34. Today was a 27:35. But one must look at the splits, grasshopper. The splits. Very important. The splits, they hold the knowledge.

March: 6:47, 6:48, 7:06, 6:42

Today: 6:47, 6:43, 7:18, 6:34

It was hellaciously windy this morning, a very strong wind mostly going from west to east, although at times it felt southwesterly. My goal was to try to run 6:45s for at least three of the four miles. Mile three on this course is always awful for me — the transverse is often windy (as it was today) and the hills on mile three, while rolling, are exhausting.

I established a 6:45ish pace pretty much immediately and was feeling really good until the transverse when the wall of wind hit us. I was really working during mile three but trying to not work so hard that I’d wreck myself for the last mile. I was more successful with that today than I typically am, as evidenced by my 6:34 final mile. This is why looking at splits is important; they tell a more informative story than the finish line clock does. I’ve got a higher level of speed endurance than I had six weeks ago. I credit all the racing for that.

I also started up with the weight training again and have been experimenting with eating loads of protein and a bit more fat throughout the day. I lost three pounds, although I know quite a bit of it was water weight. But at least the scale’s moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, as part of this effort I’m tee-totaling, which is always a drag. But I find it’s easier to just not drink than to try to drink in moderation. Not because I have a problem. I just love to drink.

I briefly flirted with the idea of doing next Saturday’s Healthy Kidney 10K race. But I need to keep my eye on the immediate prize: running a halfway decent 1500 on the 18th. Racing a hilly 10K three days before that is not going to help. So next week will feature two speed sessions: another cutdown workout on Tuesday followed by some 300s (this is new) on Friday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 400m repeats I did this week, hitting most of them at 90, although I cut the session short at the tail end of the ninth one when my pace fell off and my left hamstring started complaining. It’s taken so many hard lessons to learn to cut a workout short when there’s an issue, or not do it at all if it’s the wrong day to try.

In other news, my Olympic Trials interview project has started off well. I’ve got at least six women who are very interested in taking part, and I’m hoping to add at least a couple more to my roster. But I haven’t stopped looking. All the women have quite different running/racing backgrounds, which I’m very happy about. They are all interesting in one way or another.

*Since I am the nutritional director of the household this should be very easy for me to do. I’ll plan to feed him copious amounts of goose liver paté, slightly spoiled Stilton cheese and Baconnaise. I’m also going to start keeping an airhorn next to the bed for very early morning wakeups.

The state of the sport

MarathonGuide.com has come out with its annual review of US marathon statistics. It’s all here: biggest races, AG participation, finishing times and trends, trends, trends.

I can summarize with something you did know — and something you probably didn’t know: Marathons are getting bigger. But did you know that marathoners (meaning the average Janes and Joes) are getting faster? I did not know this.

Podcast FAIL

I’m hoping of the handful of readers I have out there, one of you will be able to clue me in on how to easily (and cheaply) record a telephone conversation as a podcast. Idiots do this every day, so why can’t I figure it out?

Here’s my badass setup: a Plantronics USB headset/mic (model Audio 470 USB, if you must know) and a Samsung NC10 netbook running Windows XP Home Edition v. 5.1.

As I wrote to Matt of the the Dump Runners Club (who I’ll be highly annoying to in person in about a month at the Green Mountain Relay; I’m sure he’s campaigning to not be in my van even as I type this):

I’m trying to get a series of interviews going with masters women who are trying to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. I want to interview some of them by phone and present those interviews as podcasts (MP3s or whatever the format usually is). Only thing is, I’m retarded when it comes to this stuff.

I bought a USB headset/mic and attempted one call (with my SO) using Skype and something called Hot Recorder. What I got was hilarious. I sound normal. He sounds like Mr. Snuffleupagus on quaaludes. I attempted to work with the file in Audacity, but all I get is a short screech.

Inspired comparisons like this shouldn’t go to waste in an email, so I thought I’d post it here for maximum comedic mileage.

But after the laughter fades, the issue remains: when it comes to podcasting, I don’t have a fucking clue about what I’m doing. Can someone out there help me? Please. Help me. These women have lots to say and I’d like you all to be able to actually understand what they’re saying.

Dreamers Wanted

I’m looking for a few good women. Women who are attempting something that is a longshot, if not in all probability impossible.

Approximately 200 American women are able to run a marathon fast enough to qualify for the US Olympic Marathon Trials, a race that rolls around only once every four years and whose top three finishers will make up this country’s Olympic Marathon team.

Most of these women are young, meaning in their 20s and 30s. But every year a handful of them 40 or older make it into the race. In 2008 there were 14 such women, including a few notable past Olympians: Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Colleen De Reuck and Linda Somers-Smith. For 2012, the USA Track and Field Association has lowered the standard by a minute from 2:47 to 2:46. Yeah. This time it’s going to be even harder.

Here’s who’s in so far for 2012. Are you fortyish and trying to get on this list? Are you willing to talk about it? If so, I’d really like to hear from you: raceslikeagirl@optonline.net

About the project

I will be doing a series of interviews with masters women marathoners who are attempting to qualify for 2012. The basic criteria for my interviewees are that you:

  • Are or will be at least 40 years of age by the 2012 Houston Trials date.
  • Have not previously qualified for an Olympic trials race.
  • Have not yet qualified for the 2012 trials.

I started posting queries about this just yesterday, thinking I’d be lucky to find one or two beyond the one candidate I had already. As it turns out (much to my delight), there are more of you out there who fit the above criteria than I’d have thought. You are coming out of the woodwork, but I’m continuing to look. This could be quite an extensive series.

If you fit the above criteria, please get in touch with me. I’ve heard from one or two people who don’t fit them all, primarily former qualifiers who are going for it again. I’m open to including them as well for a more rounded view. But the one common criterion I’m insisting on is age (first bullet point above).

I would like the interviews to be equal parts inspiration, personal observation and practical knowledge. To avoid a bunch of generic interviews, I will plan to get some background information from you, which I’ll use to put together some questions customized to your background, current status, etc. You’ll have your choice of doing the interview via email or over the phone as a podcast.

This is a personal project that I fully expect will be published on my blog (then probably picked up by some running blog aggregators). However, I’m also exploring a few other potential outlets that might garner a bigger audience (which wouldn’t be saying much).

While that would be nice, I’m not going to sit on these interviews should the process of working with other media outlets mean a long wait time between interview and distribution. I want these interviews to see the light of day sooner rather than later and I’m proceeding with them regardless.

Pass it on.

Training: April 26 – May 2, 2010

This was not a great week for either training or racing. That’s okay, as my expectations were low going in (although I then had to lower them yet again as the weather changed). I’m posting this more or less as a formality, since details about the week can be found in earlier posts:

I’m not thrilled by the fact that the one event that resembled a “goal race” was shut out by horrendous heat and humidity. But it is what it is. I’ve still got a couple months’ worth of totally new racing experiences to look forward to: track racing at Icahn Stadium, a cross-country race and then the ultra relay in Vermont. So I’ve got lots to look forward to.

Then I buckle down this summer, get the mileage back up and start my preparations for the fall, which I’ve decided is going to be all about getting good at racing half marathons.