[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.

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.

Obligatory “year in review” blog post

Doing a “look back on 2009” post seems to be all the rage among running bloggers this month. Although I normally purse my lips in disapproval at such conformity, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon the past year, which from a marathon racing perspective was a disaster for me. But it was not a disaster in all areas. For one, I ran some stellar races (and workouts) at various points in the winter and spring. I almost ran a stellar 5 mile race in the fall (only to DNF at 3.7 miles with a raging hamstring). And I learned a lot, oh, yes. I learned a lot — about training in general and about myself as a unique physiological running specimen.

Here’s what I learned this year:

  • High mileage results in huge gains for me, but only up to a certain point. If I run high mileage for too long, I will eventually break down in the form of either overtraining or injury.
  • If I have injured myself, I often have a short window of faux-recovery during which I can nevertheless run a spectactular race or speed session (and fool myself into thinking I’m not really injured). But if I continue to run hard after that I will get reinjured.
  • A hot, hilly long run or race will fuck me up for weeks, if not months.
  • Doing a very long and very hilly run at the end of one or two high mileage weeks is dangerous. Depending on how long I’ve been doing high mileage, chances are good that doing one of these will push me over the edge into injury, although it can take anywhere from 7-10 days to develop. Training in Central Park is an especially hazardous prospect in these cases.
  • Extreme changes in weekly mileage are a bad idea. Going from 50 to 95 (even if I’ve recently run 95 without issue) is a great big embossed and monogrammed invitation for Injury to attend my next workout, and perhaps even bring a guest.
  • If I’m feeling very worn down and don’t want to run, I need to take the day off. A few missed runs won’t destroy a season. But too many runs that I shouldn’t have done will.

Bonus realization:

  • My right gracilis muscle does not like running in weather below 20F. My left one, however, is completely okay with this.

The above lessons are hard won. But I won’t soon forget them.

As for what happened in Sacramento two weeks ago, here’s my theory: I suspect that I was undertrained for the marathon specifically. When you look back at my training in the fall, it was constantly being interrupted by one thing or another. First it was a two+ week trip to South Africa, which involved days of travel, a large time zone change, eating and drinking a lot of stuff that isn’t on the menu for marathoners in training, and big time stress in the form of all of the above along with the added treat of being a victim of major property crime. Not to mention some terrible workouts due to poor conditions (brutal heat among them).

Then I came home and had a few good weeks only to experience the first of two serious injuries: hamstring pull followed by inflamed tendon. I didn’t give myself time to heal properly from the first, piling on 95 miles after a 52 mile injured week, and the second injury came in to take its place. All told, injuries screwed up my training for close to a month total. So out of a 13 week schedule (3 of which were taper weeks), at least 6 were heavily compromised. For you mathletes, that’s a screwup factor of 60%.

I toed the line in Folsom thinking that there was a good possibility that I might have to settle for a 3:20 or even a 3:25. I might have been able to make that time somewhere else, but not on that course on that day. The downhills chewed up my quads a la Steamtown and the headwinds were just, wow.

This was all on top of whatever was wrong with me in the spring, which for the sake of simplicity let’s say was overtraining. After an amazingly good buildup from the fall into April, I crashed in May. I was a wreck in June and July, then ran in a holding pattern in August and commenced training in September, as described above.

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

Summer Basebuilding: Week 10

sum09-base-10I guess this is the last of the summer basebuilding. In 10 weeks I’ve gone from anemic shuffler to something resembling the runner I was in April. Where I truly am fitnesswise is still something of a mystery, since so much of my running over the past few weeks was on the treadmill.

But the outside running I did this week did yield some clues. Recovery runs have continued to be on the speedier side, mostly owing to the decent weather we’ve suddenly experienced. As a side note, for all my complaining, this summer wasn’t bad. The Hades-like weather didn’t start until the second week of July and (if Accuweather’s 15 day forecast can be trusted), we may have seen the last of it.

Or, rather, I may have seen the last of it. I’m off to South Africa for a couple of weeks later this month (where it is now late winter, headed into spring). So freakish October heat waves of the sort we saw in 2007 are of no concern to me.

Now let’s get down to bidness.

I came into the week feeling reasonably recovered, the previous week having been a recovery week. Recovered enough run a 13 mile recovery run that was, as I discovered later in the week, just a smidgen too fast for several miles. I felt good, though, so I couldn’t help myself. But I need to remind myself: recovery runs are for recovery.

I started paying the price on Wednesday. My legs felt awful, cramped and heavy — although that was mostly owing to cycle/hormonal stuff. But the extravagance of the day before didn’t help. I stopped more than I’d liked to have done during the faster miles.

Thursday was worse. The AM run was a slog. On the PM run I felt like I was running on two logs and one lung.

On Friday I was still in recovery deficit (or perhaps merely still suffering from “women’s troubles”), with my legs feeling tired and unhappy. But I did the workout nonetheless. I’m fairly happy with the splits for the fast bits, although I’d hoped for 6:45s each. I cut myself some slack, though, as there were low bridges, 90 degree angle turns and idiots with 30′ dog leads to negotiate along the way.

Saturday was meh. Actually okay, but I was feeling the miles on my legs, especially in the last two.

Today’s run was a grand experiment. It’s been ages since I’ve done a real “progression run” and I’ve been itching to do one for its mental benefits as much as for its physical ones. I was originally scheduled to run 18 miles, but I bumped it up to 20 to further test my mettle.

Upon waking at 6AM this morning, my first conscious realization was that my thighs ached. Oh, crap. Not the most auspicious start to an ambitious workout. But that’s been the running theme all week, so why start acting reasonably now?

My goals for this run for today were, in no particular order of importance:

  • Complete it in 2:45 or better
  • Run a big negative split
  • Start at 72% effort, turn up the heat throughout and run as hard as possible for the last few
  • Take in as little nutrients as possible

Missions accomplished! I finished a few seconds shy of 2:45. I ran the first half at an average of 76%. Then I bumped it up to 80% pretty quickly and ended with the last few at 88-90% effort. The second 10 mile set was a good 8 minutes faster than the first. The paces weren’t great, my last mile a pedestrian 7:30. But I knew as soon as I woke up that I wasn’t going to be running 7:00 miles today. I managed this on half a bottle of Gatorade G2 and one gel.

In all, I’m happy with the workout, especially considering that it was a less than stellar week in turns of how I was feeling after Tuesday. Now I get to see how fucked up I am next week as a result!

Summer Basebuilding: Week 9

sum09-base-09The heat and humidity eased a bit in the middle of the week, allowing me to comfortably do a few of my runs outside (something for which I was very happy). Then the outer edges of Hurricane Danny skirted the east coast and wrecked the prospects of having two decent outside weekend runs.

I’m sitting legs up in my fancy recliner, having resumed Semi-Stupor Sundays once again, thanks to the advent of the English Premier League Football season. Between the long runs on Sunday morning and hours of entertaining football, nothing gets done in my house on Sundays.

One of us lies half-conscious on the couch; the other semi-upright, but no less heavily lidded, in the recliner. The only motion observed is the periodic re-feedings every 2-4 hours. Sometimes in this soporific tableau I see a foreshadowing of our retirement years together. Then I remember that we’ll probably never be able to retire.

Anyway. Back to the week’s adventures. Monday, Tuesday, treadmill, treadmill. Wednesday, more treadmill, with some tempo effort miles. And, lo, they were faster than the last couple of weeks’ tempo miles.

Thursday I ran outside for the first time in 12 days and I was like a coked up greyhound. These were supposed to be recovery runs, and I did run them at recovery effort, but just barely. Zip zip zoom. Fall can’t come fast enough for me.

Friday I did more crazy fast running, this time on the track. A 1.75 warmup, then about three miles on the track with some one minute repeats. I was all over the place pacewise, anywhere from about 6:20-7:00. But I settled in at around 6:40 pace for most of them. A sprinkle turned into a steady rain, leaving the track all to myself for most of that work. Then things dried out and I finished up with six miles on the running path, again alone for the most part.

It was raining buckets on Saturday, so I did my recovery run inside. Slow, easy, boring. What it was supposed to be.

This morning was the third week in my long run experiment: how fast can I run at around 75% average HR? This week, it turned out to be faster than last. I ran the first two miles dead slow in 19:00. Then picked it up and ran 14 at an average 8:04 pace. HR was average 76%, although it crept up to 78% for the last four. Nevertheless, I was happy that it didn’t drift up farther than that. The next experiment is to see if these times/effort carry over to the roads. I hope next weekend brings good weather so I can see.

The South Nyack 10 Miler is in two weeks. I originally thought I’d like to break 1:09 this year, but I’m now approaching the race with no real goal. I’ll be running it after two fairly hefty weeks of miles and training, so that alone is making me reconsider setting lofty goals. And mid-September is always a crapshoot in terms of weather.

To put things in perspective, here are my previous times for that race:

2006 — 1:27:05
2007 — 1:23:35
2008 — 1:14:34

Whatever. I intend to race as well as I can and have fun. I’m pretty sure I can pick up at least another AG award this year. But even that isn’t a “goal” — more like a nice surprise if it happens.

Summer Basebuilding: Week 8

sum09-base-08Every single run this week was inside on the treadmill. But I’ve gotten used to it. Just as I sometimes have stretches of many weeks during the winter when the ice on the ground necessitates running inside, so I’ve accepted the same fate during the steambath summer months.

I just remind myself that runs inside in reasonable temperatures and humidity will be much more productive (and faster to recover from) than runs where I struggle outside in heat indices approaching 100F.

This week concluded week six of taking iron and vitamin supplements. I feel like a new person lately, especially in the past three weeks. I’ve also been sleeping remarkably well (but not too much) and my resting HR has been in the 45 or below range most days.

On the training front, this was another very good week. I ran most of the recovery runs at a very low HR% (around 59-63% in most cases). I wanted to have plenty of energy for the harder runs and I did. The Wednesday run was tough, but it’s certainly easier doing those faster miles when they’re stuck in the middle of a run rather than tacked onto the end.

Friday’s run was gratifying primarily because I was able to run a lot faster that I’ve ever been able to on the treadmill. I managed 6:20 or better for the repeats and even managed to run 6:00 for two minutes during the first repeat before having to drop down to 6:10.

Today’s long run was the most satisfying run of the week. I’ve been working up to a faster pace on the last three weekend long runs, just to see what I can manage at a reasonable heart rate. Today I did an easy two mile warmup of 9:00 average pace, then dropped the pace down to 8:20 for a couple of miles, then 8:10 for the majority, finishing up with the final three at 8:00. My heart rate for the entire run averaged 74% (and that’s about where it was for the bulk of the miles), although it topped out at 80% for the last two.

Comparing this week to the previous two, my paces have gotten faster across the board for the faster workouts, with about the same amount of effort applied. This is giving me tremendous confidence. But it also makes me a bit wary. I was running spectacularly well in April and then everything fell apart in the following weeks. It’s hard not to worry about that happening again. But at least I know I’ll be more attentive to signs of a problem.

As with last week, I had no issues with the mileage either. Hitting 95 wasn’t difficult and I don’t feel particularly tired today. Next week is a recovery week with just 80 miles on the schedule. I’ll treat it as such, although I am keen to do another fast long run on Sunday, this time with a goal of averaging 8:00-8:05 for the run, to see if that yields a HR% in the mid-70s again.

I dropped the weight work this week, primarily because I didn’t have time for it. But I was also tired in the evenings. I may take it up again during the coming recovery week.

Now I go into mourning, since the IAAF World Championships have concluded. There were some wonderful races, not the least of which was today’s women’s marathon. I’m glad I’m not a betting woman, because none of my picks (which did not include Kara Goucher, for the record) podiumed. But at least I got two of the countries right (China and Japan), even if I picked the wrong runners.

Summer Basebuilding: Week 7

sum09-base-07This week: a little more mileage, a little more speed, a little more confidence.

I ran just shy of 90 miles this week, although it very well could have been 90 or more since I was guessing at distances until Friday, when I at last had my new training partner, Mojo, happily vibrating and blinking on my wrist.

NY was a sauna this week, with little relief, even at night when it rarely dipped below 70F. The dew points were very high some days, which is really where you feel the misery. The worst days were Saturday and today, and once again I was glad I wasn’t running in the NYC Half Marathon this year, as the heat index was already around 80F at 7AM and only went up from there.

I took it fairly easy on my recovery runs, especially yesterday (when it was a brutal 91F heat index when I got in).

I wanted to have a productive run on Wednesday, so I took the LT run inside on the treadmill. The last five miles at LT effort were tough but doable. Although the treadmill’s pace readings are always suspect to me (meaning I always suspect it’s anywhere from 10-20 seconds “slower” in terms of what it’s reporting), I know I was running at the right effort (as I borrowed Jonathan’s HRM again) this time around. And right now effort is more important than pace is.

Like last week, there was the strange pattern of my running recoveries quite a bit faster on Thursday, sandwiched between two speedier sessions.

I did Friday’s 10K repeats on the Bronxville track, which even at 8:30AM was like an oven, with the rest of the run on the running path.  But I wanted to try out my new watch, and I wanted accurate speed data, so I braved the weather. On my third repeat I suddenly had an image of myself as a soufflé with legs, rounding the track as the cheese atop my head bubbled, blistered and browned. Still, I was happy with what I managed: Two sub-7:00 pace repeats of around 1200m and one just over 7:00, all at 92% MHR.

The heat yesterday was just insane. I knew today was going to be a big long run, so I ran yesterday’s run extremely slow and at just 63% MHR average. The run, of course, took me forever. The longer I ran, the hotter I got, the more my HR went up, and the slower I went. This experience convinced me to take the long run inside today, since the weather was scheduled to be even worse today (and it was, according to Jonathan, who ran 16 miles up to North White Plains).

And so I ran 18 miles on the treadmill. And I was grateful for it. With AC and fans cranking, I too cranked. After a slow couple of miles to start as a warmup, I ran somewhere around 8:20 for most of the miles, then picked it up to 8:00 or so for the last few. HR% averaged 74% through most of the run and topped out at 79% toward the end. For entertainment, I watched the movie I’ve Loved You So Long (which was excellent) and then finished off by blasting some Radiohead. The 2.5 hours didn’t exactly fly by, but it beat the alternative of struggling outside for 3+ hours instead.

I should note that I’m tiptoeing into things in terms of pace on the harder workout days. Last weekend I did the long run at just under 9:00 pace. This weekend it was around 25 seconds faster (that table should say 8:27 for today, not 8:37). For next Sunday’s 20 miler (if I run it inside again), I’ll probably shoot for trimming off another 15-20 seconds per mile to see what my HR does.

Next week is yet more of the same, although the LT miles come in the middle of the run and the intervals will be shorter and faster (three minutes at 5K effort). Plus five more miles to top me out at 95 miles per week. I don’t know yet if I’ll be running more miles than that during fall training.