Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Tale of Two Workouts

Last night was beautiful at the track. It was 70 with just the slightest of breezes and the sky was full of those cool silvery fall clouds. On tap was an up and down 5k ladder. I like ladders. The plan was to do 400; 800; 1200; 1600; 1200; 800; 400 @ 5k pace with half-time rest in between each rep. Since NC is just off her break post-Philly half (1:16:3x!) she joined me. I haven't run a workout with her in forever, so it was nice!

My goal pace was 5:50 pace or 87-88 per 400. I do not look at my watch on the track any more unless I'm on my own and then I only look at the 400. Tonight I didn't look at all, just ran. NC called out the 200 splits and coach called out the 400 splits. I just felt the pace. The first rep felt kind of harder than I would have liked and I was a little nervous that the rest of the workout was going to suuuuck. Well, when we rolled through the 400 in 84 I felt better. Way too fast, especially for the first one which always feels the crustiest.

I practiced focusing and clearing my head: left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. When a junky thoughts would enter my brain I pushed it out with left foot, right foot. When I was worried about the 1200's or the (eek) 1600, I just said left foot, right foot. One lap at a time, doll-face!

The first 800 felt much easier than the 400. We rolled through right on in 2:55. The best part was the 200's were in 43.5ish range so we were consistent the whole way. The first 1200 was 1 second slow in 4:23. But we were again even paced the whole way so I wasn't worried about it one bit. Even if I looked at my watch and realized we might be 1 second slow I don't like to push too much on the early reps. I like to just let it flow. I don't sweat 1 second and I don't think it's worth pushing crazy on the last 100 to get 1 second early in a workout. Just my thing, I guess.

Then the 1600. Gulp! I almost never hit 1600's in workouts. I was nervous, but pushed the nerves aside and went back to my commitment to take it one lap at a time. We were off. NC and I were joking about something on the first lap and we came through in 89. Oops! I didn't worry about it. We picked it up a little. 800 in 2:56. We stayed focused and ran right on with a 5:50 for the mile. Yee-haw!

And then, the best part of the ladder. It's all down hill from there. After nailing the 1600 I know I have the workout in the bag. 4:20; 2:49; 79! Take that track!

When I was entering this workout into my log I remembered doing it before. I checked it out and saw we did it in the beginning of July. Back then coach was having me run with E-speed. Our goal pace was 5:44 or 86 per lap! Eek. The funny thing is that I ran similar paces, just reverse: 83; 2:49; 4:16; 5:53; 4:21; 2:51; 79. I left the July workout feeling like I biffed it a little. I remember bending over after each rep feeling awful and watching everyone leave me in their dust after the first 1200.

Last night I felt comfortable on each and every rep (save for the first). I felt smooth and never had that I'm-going-to-die feeling. NC even commented that I ran that 5:50 so effortlessly that there's no way it's 5k pace (which would be nice, but I'm perfectly happy with 5:50 now too!) I felt like I nailed the workout and left happy and not in pain! Back in July when I ran the first workout I was struggling with my butt injury and blowing workouts left and right. I was running too fast on the track and I was overtraining. It's amazing what a mere 1.5 seconds per lap can do!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Because I Like It!

I really feel like I've turned a mental corner. I now realize how much I love training and racing. I love pushing my body, striving and pushing on day-to-day. I also have so many awesome friends to run with and share the joy I feel about running. As usual, it's very duh, but I don't care what times I run. I don't do this for race times. I do this because I enjoy it. If someone told me I could never run a sub-3 marathon or never run a B Standard OTQ'er, I would still do this. I am a better happier person because of running and not because I run x, y or z time in a race!

That being said, I have generally been a much happier and healthier runner lately. I have been able to deviate from the schedule, pull the plug to back off and recover when I needed to. I have enjoyed my workouts so much more and even races.

Ah yes. Races. I did one of those this weekend. It was the dreaded three-week-out-super-double-workout-weekend. I ran 12 miles including the 7.9 mile leg of the Akron Marathon relay on Saturday and then 18 @ 7:22 pace on Sunday. Surprisingly both runs were really good for me. I managed to run 6:18 pace for the 7.9 miles (which were way hillier than I remembered from the speed-bumps and post-pregnancy relays). I felt amazing. My splits reflect the terrain: 6:14; 6:09; 6:22; 6:35; 6:25; 6:19; 6:07; 6:10 pace for the last .9. I wish one of these days I felt that good on a fast course so I could log a big confidence boosting p.r., but this is the same pace as my 10k p.r. and close to my 5 mile p.r. which were both run on faster courses so I can't complain!

The last few long runs have been rough. Maybe it's because I am helping mrp at the farmers market on Saturdays and then trying to do a harder run in the afternoon and then a long run early on Sunday. Not sure. But today's long run felt pretty awesome, save for a hungry\dizzy spell around mile 12, which can be chalked up to not eating enough in between runs.

Anyway, I survived and I feel very ready to take on the marathon once again. And this time I'm really going to have some fun!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Squiggle

The week post half-marathon has been weird. One day slow death and the next day good workout--all week long!

I did an easy 5 mile recovery run on Monday pushing the kids in the double stroller with no watch. I'm sure it was slow, but a run like that is always slow. Since I didn't wear a watch (and almost never do when pushing the stroller--believe me, it would be scary to know how slow!) I don't know if it was slower than usual, but it didn't feel that bad.

Tuesday was track. I rolled down to the school and after the warm-up, drills and strides Coach told us the workout was 3 sets of 4 x 400 @ 1600 race pace. WHA?! I was hoping for something lighter on the post-race legs like 1000's at 10k or something like that. Oh well. I generally like 400's and I trust my coach so I rolled with it. Unfortunately I was on my own for the night as NC had her fall goal race over the weekend and none of the guys showed up for whatever reason. Much to my surprise, the workout was smooth and I rolled through all 400's in 79 or 80 with two outliers in 78 and 81 respectively. It didn't feel crazy, but rather strangely smooth and controlled. I must admit my butt was feeling it a little on the last set, but nothing too bad or even out of the ordinary.

Wednesday was a whole other story. Ouch. Yuck. My butt was sore, so I figured I'd do an easy warm-up outside, do dynamic stretches and then finish the miles on the treadmill. I wore the garmin for whatever reason and watched it as I struggled--yes struggled!--to run 9:30 pace! Oh my. Not good. I managed to get down to 8:20's after stretching and jumping on the mill, but it was ugly. Normally I start at 9:00 pace on the mill and am up to 8:30 by the end of the first mile and then down to about 8:00 by the end of the run. I don't care what the pace is, but because I know what my paces usually are for these kinds of runs I know that something was up!

So I did not have high hopes for Thursday's tempo. I decided to get in an a.m. shakeout run with the kiddos. Of course it was raining buckets, but thanks to the weather shield we were not deterred! This run wasn't too bad. Of course it was pouring and my attention was more focused on ensuring the kids weren't getting drenched than on how my legs felt. I just putzed along for about 3.5 miles and then we all went and dried off and played in the nature center. Other than my phone getting soaked and dying, it was fun.

That evening I hit the park for a solo tempo. Solo tempos for me sometimes go well and sometimes are a bust. I honestly thought I was in bust territory. NC came into the parking lot and ran with me for about .5 of my warm-up as she was finishing up one her last pre-race jaunts, so at least I had company for a few minutes. She reminded me to ride-out the slower sections of our tempo course and just relax. NC is 11 years younger than me and always offering up good advice for this old lady!

After my warm-up I was off for my 6 miles. The goal was 6:35 for 3, followed by 2 at 6:30 and the last one at 6:25. My garmin is notoriously mean in the park. It is almost always 1 - 7 seconds slower than everyone else's that I run with. When I'm along I try not to think about it, but there is usually a section of our tempo route or two that the pace on the garmin jumps up randomly. Of course during my first mile I was loping along at 6:34 pace last I checked only to hear the beep and look down to 6:42. ARGH. Sometimes this would bug me out--like a sign for the rest of the tempo, especially when I only need to run faster and faster throughout the whole thing. But not lately. I don't mind a slower first mile, even one that is surprisingly slow.

I just carried on and ran 6:34 and 6:35 for the next miles which are usually slower miles on the course. Then I picked it up in the neighborhood loop portion of the course. It starts of slightly down and then this mile finishes slightly up. I comfortably ran 6:26 here. Then I turned to head back to the park and was socked by a headwind for the next mile. I just focused and try to stay smooth and not forced and ran 6:3o on the nose. I got back into the park and was rolling under 6:20 and felt good for .5 miles and then the next time I looked at the garmin it said 6:37. Man! I hate that. So even though I know I was running faster than the previous two miles I had to run even faster than that just to see 6:24 on the garmin. Even though I 99% know the garmin hit a black hole I still have that 1% doubt so as long as it's within myself I make myself run the time on the garmin. Oh well. Done and pretty much hit the goal and surprisingly felt good doing it!

Ah yes. But then Friday was a repeat of Wednesday, only worse. The first 2 miles were over 9:00 pace and just felt awful and clumsy. Again I thought the writing was on the wall for Saturday. I had 12 @ 7:00 pace on the training schedule and 4 hours of farmers market and more hours of mommying to get through in the day before I could even head out to run. Lucky for me E-speed was awesome and picked me up in her new ride at 2:30 p.m. and we headed out to a nice smooth path out in the sticks. She biked 8 miles with me while I surprisingly ran on pace and then stowed the bike and headed out for 4 more and two-stepped me the whole way! I averaged 6:58 for those 12 miles thanks to her! And happily it felt good despite the up-and-down week and crazy first part of the day.

But yes. As is the theme of this post, what goes up must come down ... hard. I woke up at 5:15 and stumbled out the door to meet FD along the lakeshore for my 18 miles. It was dark and I knew hitting 7:25 pace for at least the early miles wasn't going to happen so I didn't bother to look at the watch until we stopped to view the sunrise around mile 4.5 The view was wonderful and the company was good. I was having fun, but the pace was ugly. After the break we headed back out and I figured I better start to try to get the overall pace at least within 30 seconds of the goal pace! A mile later I was suddenly famished. I normally don't take a gel until around 12 or more into a long run, but I was desperate so I sucked down a gross Powergel which was thankfully very liquidy since I had no water to wash it down. We were now running 7:45 pace, but I was huffing and puffing when normally 7:20's is easy for my long runs. Then my hips and butt were starting to hurt even after the gel hit my bloodstream and raised up my blood sugar enough to make me feel better in that regard. I was beginning to worry I wouldn't make it back from the 10 mile first loop of our run!

But I did. I decided I'd eat a little something, walk around and then head back out. Ha! Everything hurt and I realized that I'd have to do the 9:00n shuffle-slog to get through 8 more miles and that would be dumb. If I can't get within 30 seconds of the goal pace, I think that's a good place to draw the line between where pushing is making me stronger and where pushing is going to kill me! I moped to my car and drove home. I considered stopping at the park and running the rest on trails. I actually pulled into the parking lot, got out of my car and then realized I was insane. Got back in, went home and made pancakes for the family.

Just to be on the safe side, I'm taking today off too. I think I've arrived at the starting line of every marathon I've run since my first slightly overtrained. I'm not doing that again. I am learning to understand where the line between good-pushing and overtraining is for myself and no matter what the schedule says or how stubborn part of me is I am going to do my best to NEVER cross it again.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

You Never Know What's Ahead

* Going into Sunday's race, I've been working really hard on detaching from results. What this means is that I have been letting go of my need to run a certain pace or race time to feel satisfied and focusing on the process of running and finding enjoyment in that process. I am committed to letting myself run whatever I run and being ok with whatever that ends up being. If it's not quite where I'd like to be use that as motivation to keep plugging along, but accepting that result for what it is. And what a race result is is just showing me where my running is on that particular day. Period. Moving on!

With that in mind and my new mantras in my tool box I hit the road with mrp to the race early Sunday morning. I found NC and ran my early warm-up before performing my other pre-race rituals: pinning on the number, changing into flats, etc. Hit the starting line for some strides and lined up next to my occasional training buddy MZ. Luckily he picked a spot close to the front, as you will see!

Despite all the detachment and mantras and all that I still had time goals for the race. A) < 1:25; B) <1:26; C) p.r. (1:27:34); D) course best (1:28:39). MZ was going for < 1:24. I thought I'd go out with him for the first mile or so and see what happened, since lately I've tended to go out a little too slow. The bell rung and MZ went out a little too fast--I could tell it was quite a bit faster than the 6:25 we had discussed. Sure enough around .25 in I saw sub-6:00 on the garmin. We backed it off some and then a woman came roaring up beside me. I heard Coach G in my head encouraging me to be competitive so I thought I might as well give attaching to her a try as long as it was semi-comfortable.

So, I stuck to her like glue for about half a mile. We went through the first mile (according to the garmin) at 6:14 (it's a little downhill, so not too worried about it and it felt fine). But as soon as we hit the mile marker she picked it up from there. I was not about to do that, so I had to let her go. MZ got away not long after that too. Around mile 3 I could see a bit where the runners ahead of me were and realized that woman made a ton of ground on me in 2 short miles. Good for her, I thought! She was clearly going for a much faster goal than I was. I was ok since I was running the mid 6:20's as I had wanted for the first 3-4 miles, since they're a bit downhill. I did just that without thinking about it too much. Each mile beeped in the right range.

At either mile 4 or 5 I noticed the garmin went off WAY before the mile marker. I made a mental note, but didn't worry about it at all. After the downhill miles I settled into a mid 6:30's rhythm. I would have liked to see a low 6:30's or high 6:20's, but I just rolled with it. Between mile 5 and 6 an older dude ran up beside me and encouraged me to hang with him. I did for about a mile, but then we hit a small uphill and he got away from me a bit. He yelled back to me, "Come on! You never know what's up ahead!" I never did catch back up to him, but his words stuck with me for the rest of the race!

I have to be honest. After he got away from me there was a minute or two in which I really had to fight the negative feelings. I was getting crushed by the first woman, MZ was long gone and even the older guy was getting away from me. Woe was me. But then, just as I was battling with myself I noticed something way ahead. A vision in pale pink. The first woman! I could see her waaaaaaaaay up there, but I could see her and I couldn't see her before that. Maybe. Just maybe. And this hope was enough to renew my commitment to stay positive.

At each mile thereafter I noticed she seemed just a little bit closer. I ran every one of those miles between 4 and 9 in that mid-6:30's range. My garmin beeped consistently between :35 and :40 before the mile marker, so I think mile 4 or 5 was just long, while the rest were on. Mrp said the same thing after the race. I knew I needed to add this time to my predicted finish and I knew I wasn't going to reach my A goal, but if I really hustled I could maybe, just maybe reach my B goal.

Mile 10 has the big uphill of the race and that wasn't too bad in 6:40. After that hill my race plan called for picking it up. So I did. And as I did the woman ahead got closer and closer. I was now holding steady in the mid-6:20's again and gaining on first! At mile 12 I was worried I'd run out of real estate, but I told myself I still had over a mile to get her. I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and with .25 to go I caught her. She stayed with me for a second, but then I turned on the jets I've acquired on the track and I just put that hammer down and ran with my eyes closed until the finish! And then I heard the announcer. "And here's our female winner, The Salty One with a time of 1:25:59!"

YES!

The last second win and the meeting of the goal by the tiniest of margins left me elated at the finish. Since mrp came to the race and NC and Coach G were also there we made it a point to hang out and have some fun afterwards. I grabbed an illegal beer courtesy of JV and swigged all bad-@ss like out of the open container on the way to Coach's car. And then we had brunch with a big crew of fine folks and have had more fun than I have had in a long time post-race!!!

We came home and I saw the results only have my gun time. Which is 1:26:00.40. NOOOOO! I talked with the R.D. who said that the timing company's new policy is to only acknowledge gun times for the overall placers, but that my chip time is used for age group records. It just so happened I have the almost old lady age group record of 1:25:59.59 and that, my friends, is going down as my official p.r.! Like I said, good thing I started close to the front or it could have been worse!

Anyway, I am now left feeling pretty good with things. A couple of months ago I would have been bummed with this time, but it is a substantial p.r. and a step in the right direction on all accounts. Big breakthroughs in running are hard to come by, but I am still hopeful one is right around the corner for me. Maybe it will be in 4.5 weeks, maybe not. But it will happen. In the meantime, I'm on the bubble for sub-3. That will be the goal, but if it doesn't happen this time I'll be ok as long as I keep moving in the right direction.

* This is really the only decent photo from the race. The rest, as always, are comic gold. If I get some time I'll post them with captions like I have done in the past with the photos from this race!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Brain Transplant

I know I said I was taking a break, but I guess we'll just think of this as a break from the break :)

Since I took my break I've been working hard on the mental side of my training. Last I left you I ran a disappointing 10 mile race. During the race Coach G rode his bike near me during the 9th mile and got on my case about looking at my watch too much. I never really thought about it, but I tend to peek at my watch an awful lot sometimes. As he was yelling at me about it I noticed I was having trouble resisting the impulse to look. A couple of times I thought I lost him, took a peek and then heard him yell at me again about it! Ha!

What's the harm you ask? Well a couple of things. One, is that whether I realize it or not, I'm running by the watch. I have an idea in my head what pace I should run and then I use the watch to adjust accordingly. The weird thing is that I have a tendency to worry about going too fast so I pick a pace that I'm comfortable with and target that rather than race goal pace. Weird, I know! But this certainly explains why I keep running races really close to times I've already run. I haven't always done this and I think a reason for it is that I'm training so hard that I'm a little burned out with pushing myself. I used to save pretty much all the pushing myself for race day, but not these days. I have to learn to find that next level of pushing myself. Hopefully by marathon day!

The other thing that's a problem with the watch staring is that it shows how unfocused I can be. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, I'm distracting myself with thoughts on how far I have to go or how much longer until the next mile marker and stuff like that. If I want to run to my potential I need to learn to focus focus focus! Working on it!

Since that race I've picked up two tricks to help me not think about looking at the watch. They're similar, but I find having two tricks is helpful when one of them starts getting boring. Neither of these tricks is mind-blowing. In fact, they're downright silly! But they are working for me. The first is to repeat, "Left foot. Right foot." every time my left foot strikes. The second technique is to count to 10 over and over--each number falling on a foot strike. The latter is especially good because I've discovered that 8 counts of 10 is about a minute no matter how fast I'm running.

In between these very simple mantras I have some affirmations to pull out of my mental trick bag. The best one is, "No matter the result, I run like a champion." This is great because it's positive and it helps me not worry about pace, time, results, splits, etc. The rest are pretty basic: "Today is my day;" "You're doing great;" "This is fun;" etc.

I've been practicing these techniques at every track workout. On the track I aim to not look at my watch at all. Coach G calls the splits and I go with them. I don't worry about whether I'm on pace and the weird thing is, more often than not I hit the mark. The techniques help a lot with tempos and at the end of long runs when I start getting bored or lose focus. They also help me stay relaxed even when I'm struggling to hit the paces.

On Sunday, I ran a half marathon. It was my first race to use all my new mental tricks. I made it my goal to look at my watch minimally, stay focused and positive throughout the race, and to not worry about the end result--just run! I'll be back soon with a race report!