Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Racing to train

"You only grow as a human being if you're outside your comfort zone."
                                               --Percy Cerutty

Too funny...and often too true.
Found myself with some unexpected free time this morning and decided to update the ol' blog! It's been a while!

I had coffee with my buddy Adrienne yesterday and as usual, the topic turned to training and race goals (some of my favorite nerdy topics besides running shoes).

This has been an unusual training cycle for me in many ways, but also a really, really good one.

I'm typically a runner who likes long training blocks and infrequent racing.  I think it sets up well for marathon training, and since I'm pretty much always in marathon training to some degree or another, that's sorta been my modus operandi over the last 4 years.

My typical training week goes like: speed on Tuesday, some kind of "tempo" on Thursday, and a long run on Saturday, plus easy runs in between those workouts. It's worked really well for me as it does for many other runners, with an occasional race thrown in besides my goal marathon race.

When you throw a race into the mix on Saturday or Sunday,  assuming you're giving pretty near all-out efforts in those races, you have to consider the week before and after the race and what you may be giving up to be able to put down a hard-effort run on race day and what it will take to recover.  To varying degrees, it requires some sacrifice of other workouts depending on the intensity of your race effort.

Racing makes things tricky for me not to go overboard and do too much hard-effort running during the week.

So, for those reasons, I don't race a lot. Usually.

The downside of course is that I forgo the practice of race day rituals and dealing with nerves and  nutrition, which means that for the few times I do race, all of those things become tougher to deal with because I'm a little rusty!

And while I certainly suffer to a degree in training, I think most would agree it's tough to manufacture the suffering level in a workout that you can achieve in a race when it really counts.

Racing teaches you to persevere in suffering the way a tough workout can't quite replicate.

After Houston, the perfect storm of trainng burnout and a desire to enjoy running again led me to sign-up for more races than usual.  I've also been told by a few key folks I trust that I needed to do more racing (short-distance) to work on speed to keep making gains at the marathon distance, since that is my weak spot.

So see, this all still goes back to the marathon :)

Anyhow, since mid February, I've been off the track and on the roads for speed work, and signed up for a race every other weekend including a couple of 5ks, a 10k, and then a 10-miler last weekend.

I'm not advocating it's the right way to train for everyone all the time, but it's been a good change of pace for me personally (hah).

The biggest thing more frequent racing has done for me is that it's taught me to be flexible in training.  I've shortened, eliminated (gasp!!!), or moved some speed workouts around to accomodate for the harder race efforts and gone a lot more by how-am-I-feeling today instead of forcing myself to run what's on the sched simply because it's there.

The other positive is that frequent racing has helped take some of my all-or-nothing attitude towards the outcome of the race and softened it a bit.  In other words, every race can't be a PR (ahem Kate), especially as you improve in your fitness. It gets harder to make those big gains in time, but there's a positive in every race if you look hard enough.

And as tough a pill as it is for me to swallow, when I have a "bad" race, it's not the end of the world if I don't let it be the end of the world.

Still working on that last one!

I love my running and racing, but life is full of many good gifts outside of running too that I sometimes forget in my tunnel-vision desire to improve. Less-than-stellar races are a good reminder of what really matters: faith, family, friends, health.  Lord-willing, there is always another race to try again.

So, I sit here feeling pretty darn good all things considered. These races, while not necessarily super improvements in time, have been solid and really good practice in racing some harder paces.  This will be the last high mileage week (about 70, yay!) before a taper heading into Boston, and I'm hoping that all the practice running faster than marathon pace will make marathon pace seem "easy" in about three weeks.

Ready to go after a hard marathon effort again. Haven't felt that way in about 6 months, perhaps in part too because my memory of the difficulty of miles 18-26 has faded :)

Change is good sometimes.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A little love for the 5k

"I don't avoid the 5k because I think it's a wimpy distance.  I avoid the 5k because *I* am a wimp at that distance." -me
Short rant for today:

It doesn't matter what distance run you're training for: if you're running that distance as hard as you possibly can, it's going to hurt.  Training will hurt and racing will definitely hurt.

I ran a 5k this past weekend and I can't tell you how much grief, however good-natured it was intended to be, came from my marathoning buddies.

Wimp...slacker...."only a 5k"....things of that sort.

Now, I know all of that was meant in jest.  And in the past, I've been guilty of it to some degree too, especially as I was building in distance and had moved beyond the 5k to longer distance.  The 5k didn't seem like a challenge anymore....when I wasn't running it for speed.

But the 5k takes on a whole new challenge when you race it. And if there is no difference between your 5k time and your 10k or 1/2 time, then YOU AREN'T RUNNING IT HARD ENOUGH.  I had a good race but I still don't think I ran it as hard as I possibly could. 

It is tough to make yourself suffer that much that quickly, even for a short time.

Go run 3 miles as hard as you can.  If you're lucky and pace right, the first mile is moderately comfortable.  Somewhere between 1.5-2 miles you want to poke your eyeballs out.

And if you don't pace right, well, sucks to be you.

As someone who prefers the slow burn of the marathon distance as my form of suffering instead of being lit up like a match at a shorter distance, I don't avoid the 5k because I think it's a wimpy distance.  I avoid the 5k because *I* am a wimp at that distance.

I have a ton of respect for all runners going out and running as hard as they can at any distance. This is not a post to argue which distance is harder or better or any of that.

Just a reminder to respect ALL of your friends in their training and goals and to watch the words you heart and soul are in longer distance running at this point, but I have the utmost respect for folks who excel at short distance.

Throwing in some speed work is not a bad idea for us marathoners, either.

End rant.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Thank you, DNF

Well, that's a first...I've never quoted Bruce Lee before.

I had my first DNF in the Houston Marathon a few weeks ago.  Without belaboring the point, it was demoralizing and frustrating and initially felt like months of hard training after Chicago went down the toilet.

I had battled heel pain from what I think is plantar faciitis that came up after the BCS 1/2 marathon.  I'm not sure what set it off, but it was probably a combination of wearing worn-out flats for that race and high mileage over and over again for months. 

It did get a lot better during my taper though, so I was optimistic about Houston.

I knew within a few miles of the start it was not going to be my day to make a run at a 3 hour marathon, so I adjusted my pace goal back a bit, but not long after that I felt my heel start to get a little sore. Not good so early in the race.

It warmed up and settled down, but then flared up again by mile 5-6, so I made the frustrating decision to run the 1/2 course back in instead and hopefully avoid inflicting too much damage to that foot.  I just was not certain I could make the full 26.2 miles and had visions of having to stop out at mile 16.

That was a a tough pill to swallow.  I did get some funny looks and confused cheers as I passed the mile 25 aid station after the courses joined back up: I was probably the first female marathon bib to come through, albeit about 50 minutes too early and NOT on an east-African :)

I cleaned up and went back out to cheer and watch the marathoners come in at mile 26.  It was bittersweet because I wanted so badly to be out there with them in the struggle of those last miles, and yet it was also incredibly inspiring to watch everyone power through the fatigue and pain as they closed in on that finish.

That's what makes the marathon so empowering on one hand and terribly frustrating on the other hand.  When it goes right, it is an amazing feeling.  When it doesn't, well, you can't just run another one the following weekend.

That DNF muddied the waters a lot for me at first in terms of what it meant about me as a runner, me as a marathoner, me as a person (am I not tough enough to do this anymore type thing).

And then after chatting with some of my running buddies who have also gone through DNF's, I got over it and realized all it meant was that I had a bad day and that my body was done with long distance for a while.  Simple as that. 

Heck, the Kenyans DNF all the time in their quest for marathon greatness.

I had found my limit, at least I hope my limit for now, in what I could handle both mentally and physically in training.

In other words, 6 months of grinding out the same types of workouts is probably not the best solution. I also need to watch my shoe choices and build in more recovery to maintain mileage near 70 a week.  Duh.

The other big lesson in all of this has been that gaining running fitness is not guaranteed to be a linear progression.  Over time, and having been free from major injury the last few years, I had gotten lulled into thinking I could just keep notching up my training which would translate to better running fitness and race times, and simply do it over and over again.

Darn you real world.

But now on the other side of it, I see life moves on, the PRs gained during that cycle mean all of that hard work did not go down the toilet, and there are new goals to go after in 2015.

Most importantly though, I've found that joy in running again after some time off, I'm excited about Spring races, and it's forced me to think about what goals I really want to go after long-term.

More on that later!

So thank you, DNF, and thank you to my fellow DNF'ers who set me straight. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Race mojo returning: are you ready Zoltan??

 "I'll never catch the front of the pack, but I'll never stop trying. Committing to a level you'll never attain may sound ridiculous, and it is.  It's a form of insanity-something also known as life.  Everything moves forward or dies. Whether or not you actually move forward is irrelevant. What matters is that you never stop trying."
- Marc Parent in Faster is Better, Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Runner's World

My race and running mojo were lost for a while, which is pretty typical in peak marathon training, but this time those feelings have lingered more than usual.  I've had a ton of the why-am-I-doing-this type thoughts and much appreciated reading the quote above.

Between Chicago and Houston, I "rested" a few weeks with low mileage, but then ramped back up fairly quickly with the goal of making another serious dig at my marathon time in Houston in a few weeks. Anytime you marathon train, you're always on a fine line of too much vs. maxing out gains in strength, but I have never felt this close to blowing up before. After some discussions with coach Bill and Dave at the outset of the training cycle, all of this has been by design, but that certainly has not made it any easier.

I didn't expect it to be, and they never promised it would be.  The struggle is what makes the outcome so rewarding of course, but it's probably good I did not fully know what I was signing myself up for. I knew the format of the Hansons plan, which I have followed again, but the intensity level has been quite challenging.

Running had become one of the last things I wanted to do, and many mornings I've had to will myself out the door to keep getting in the miles. 

That is highly unusual for me.

Anyway, I think things have finally turned a corner after taking a day off last Sunday that was much needed and grabbing a massage (thank you to my buddy Ray at Superior Performance Massage!). 

I also needed a perspective change-I'll never run super fast professional-caliber times, but I do find joy in the challenge of running and bettering myself to the extent that I possibly can. So yes, running is not my job, but it's ok to strive for your best.

And right now, that is still enough to keep going.

And finally, I felt just a smidge of life come back into the ol' legs tonight at track, giving me some hope that all of this will not be for nothing on race day.  It's easy to forget how good you can feel with even a little rest when your legs are flat from high mileage.

One more tough week this week, then bring on the taper.

So....all that to say, the training end is in sight, and I'm more positive and feeling that competitive drive come back for another hard marathon effort.

At the end of my Houston 2014 recap, I mentioned several things I wanted to improve on for 2015. One of them was to beat Zoltan (jokingly...ok, sort-of), a random runner that happened to show up in one of my race photos.  I thought he had a super cool name and serious look that perfectly matched the persona I have in my head for someone by the name of Zoltan.

He beat me by 14 seconds.

I might have run a little harder if I'd have known I was chasing a guy named Zoltan!!!

I know you've registered for the race in 2015, Zoltan, and I hope your training has gone well.  After a lengthy absence, I feel the race mojo returning, and I know I've trained as hard as I could this year.

Kate vs. Zoltan....Who will win in 2015?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On stiff legs and training partners

Too much cuteness (minus the poor grammar...)

Promise, those two things DO go together!

Today is Thursday.  As usual, I'm walking around stiff-legged, tired, and with a couple cups of coffee already under my belt. 

It's only 8AM.

Tuesday begins this descent into stiff-leggedness (is that a word?) with a morning easy run and then track workout in the evening.  Wednesday is an easy run "recovery" day, but of course it's not a full recovery, and then Thursday morning is the marathon pace workout, which gets progressively longer into the training cycle.

I'm usually falling sleep by 7:30-8PM come Thursday evening.

Every single week, Tuesday to Thursday is my toughest stretch...thank you Hansons.  I absolutely dread the marathon pace workouts Thursday mornings.  It's an early start and my legs are still shot from track.  

I'm often questioning the sanity of leaving my warm bed when the ol' alarm goes off Thursday morning.  

And yet, I still get up and go suffer a little bit more.


Answer: pancakes.  Ok, not even the lure of pancakes could coax me into some of these workouts lately.

Try two. 

Answer: good training partners.  Darn that group accountability.
Post-BCS 1/2 2013

A good running mentor makes a big difference!
Baytown 5 much fun with these folks!

My running group is full of folks who both challenge me to run faster and also encourage me in the process of attempting to do just that.  Many of those guys could drop me in two seconds flat, and yet they've often graciously slowed down a bit and run with me, or at least sorta near me.  

I know that just trying to hang on with them has helped me become a better athlete.

They're competitive runners, but more importantly, good folks without big egos.

 There's a group of them at track on Tuesday nights and another group on Thursday mornings.  And I know I'll get some friendly harassment, as I should, if I decide to skip out without a good reason.

After a beastly ladder workout Tuesday night. Got in 4 miles of long repeats in the 5:45-5:55 range, which was a huge stretch.  Encouragement is powerful.

And when you find someone who is closely matched to your fitness level, willing to jump into tough workouts with you, mentally fierce in the middle miles when you want to ease off your pace, and yet kind and encouraging in the rough parts of a workout, it is AMAZING to see the kinds of workouts you can do together...ahem Skye...

So, even knowing that I will look and feel of a geriatric age from Tuesday to Thursday week in, week out until Houston, I know I've got a bunch of awesome friends who will briefly commiserate with my aches and pains and stiffness and then spur me on to keep going to the next hard workout. 

To my Volte all are the best.

Summer tri training and racing...a lot more fun with friends~!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Present Mile: Chicago Marathon Recap

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. " 2 Timothy 1:7
 I just really enjoyed a marathon.
Start line of the Chicago Marathon. Tremendous race.
The weather was glorious!
The Chicago marathon in a nutshell is a fantastic race. It doesn't have the history of Boston, but it absolutely has the international flair of a world marathon major. The course itself is flat, fast, and a lovely tour through the streets of downtown Chicago. It was lined with people the entire way.

I hope to run it again someday.  If you're considering it, I highly recommend it!

I've had a lot of people ask about the physical training following the Hansons Marathon Method and whether I felt prepared to run a marathon  without having run a 20 miler in training.

I'll save details for another post, but yes, I will absolutely follow that training plan again.  The lack of 20 mile runs in no way harmed my marathon performance.

With that out of the way...

Wanted to touch on the mental side of the marathon in this post, because it's generally my weakness.

I love this verse from One Republic's "Love Runs Out":
"There's a maniac out in front of me
Got an angel on my shoulder, and Mephistopheles"
It reminds me of the runner's dueling inner voice: you can do you can' can do you can't....

My biggest concern for this race was not the physical suffering, it was breaking mentally during those middle miles, either by allowing myself to get overwhelmed with the mileage left to run OR berating myself for falling off pace. 

A negative spiral is a tough spot to pull yourself out of.  I allowed it to happen in Houston and almost gave up around mile 14.

But, it doesn't have to be that way.

We DO have choices in how we frame our thoughts and which voice we listen to.

One of my running mentors, Dave, shared this fantastic article about how to think like an elite runner. 

The best piece of advice I took from it was this: be present in each mile.  Don't compare yourself to others based off how well you are or aren't running and what you think your finish time will be.  Focus on what you're doing NOW and what you can control NOW, not an hour from now, not two hours from now.

Think about performance, leave out the emotion.

So my mantra, and I'm not really a mantra kind of gal, became "this present mile".  Focus on the mile I'm currently running.  Relax.  Is my breathing still under control?  How can I improve my form? Is this the mile for gu, gatorade, or water?

It worked surprisingly well.

Every time I was tempted to think about the fact we were only on mile 8, etc, I just went back to those words. Over and over again.  Sounds a little cheesy, but to focus on things that were actually in my control at that moment really allowed me to be fully in the moment and not get overwhelmed thinking about what was left to run.

The miles clipped by.

I did not use a GPS watch this time, because I had been warned about the signal loss running through some short tunnels, so my trusty lap watch sufficed.  In a way, it was freeing not to check the ol' Garmin every 30 secs and just run what my legs wanted to do, though I did occasionally check my splits at the mile markers.  

The other great thing about my race experience was the Nike 3:10 pace team, led by a couple of super fun and really encouraging pacers.  I went out ahead of them, but sorta jockeyed for position with them on and off.  Sometimes I would pull ahead a bit, and a few times fell behind.  I used them as my pacing barometer outside of my watch and that worked well.

Had a blast running in a pack. Here's proof I remembered to smile this race.
Somewhere around mile 11-12 I felt those familiar mid-race feelings: the pace was starting to make it's presence known just a bit, but I still had so many miles to go.  I had fallen off a little, my left glute and hamstring were tightening, and I briefly had the thoughts of backing off.

No.  All those summer miles in the miserable humidity at 5AM will NOT be for nothing.

I told myself: pick up this next mile.  Just one. See how it goes.

So somewhere in there, I stretched out the stride a bit, felt better, and managed to get back to the 3:10 guys.

At mile 14 I took a gu (my third, blech), picked up a couple more from Bob at mile 17, and by mile 18, I couldn't believe how good I felt again, relatively speaking of course. It's been a long time since I felt that good at mile 18.

I really started to believe at that point I was going to make a sub 3:10, maybe even a 3:08 if my energy stayed that even.

Chinatown just past mile 22
And it did, until somewhere in mile 22-23.  It's amazing how fast you can go from feeling great to not so great.  My thoughts were  clear enough though that I knew a bonk was not imminent and just needed to focus on keeping that turnover as quick as possible. 

By mile 24, the muscle burn was pretty stout, and the 3:10 guys were back up by me. I knew they were running closer to a 3:09, so I just told myself to hang on with them. 
Homestretch heading back up Michigan Ave.

They were yelling and cheering at what was left of our motley crew as we ran down that last long stretch of Michigan Avenue.

And then we hit the only incline on the entire course at 26 miles.  It wasn't really a hill, but after 26 miles of pancake flat running, any elevation change is noticeable.

After you hit the top of the "hill", you make a left turn and there is that glorious marathon finish line!

3:09:22. Boom.

I almost couldn't believe it was over.

A lot of things came together for a great race, and anyone who has run a marathon knows to be grateful when the stars align so to speak: good training, good weather, a nutrition plan that worked, and a silly little catch phrase: this present mile.

At the finish, with a goofy grin and my mylar blanket the wrong way....oops.

3:10 Pacer Danny...he and the other guys did a fantastic job!
Thank you dear Bob, who has functioned as chef, sherpa, psychologist, cheerleader, massage therapist, coach, and many, many other hats for the last 4 years of running.  I absolutely could not do this without you.

Thank you Skye, Ken, and Derek, who have braved some tough workouts in absolutely miserable weather this summer to run with me.

Thank you Dave, Bill, and Adrienne for your belief in me.

And certainly never least, to my great God, giver of all good gifts, thank you for the precious gift of health and joy in running.

Post-race pancakes!!

Time for rest. More pancakes.  And then more running...


Monday, September 22, 2014

Part 2: Hansons Method: Pros and Cons

Here are a few more specific thoughts on the Hansons Method now three weeks out from Chicago....and a random picture of my race shoes.  Such a shoe nerd....

Kinvara 4's for race day in Volte colors...Go Volte!

Thought I would list some pros and cons of the plan, though I really hesitate to even use those terms because so much depends on your training background prior to starting Hansons.  For example, a 60+ mile week may be a con for someone who has only done one prior marathon that topped out at 40 miles/week, but perfect for someone who had run multiple 50+ mile weeks the prior training cycle.  20 miles/week is a huge jump, 10 miles/week is more managable.  You get the idea.

Prior to starting Hansons, my last few marathon training cycles were:
  • Lake Tahoe 2013: Upper 40s a month before tapering
  • Houston 2014: One month of low 50 mile weeks before tapering (pushed only one up to 60 miles just to test the waters....all extra mileage was easy running)
  • Boston 2014: 3 weeks of upper 40 to low 50 miles before tapering

So, I knew going in to Hansons I was capable of stringing multiple 50+ mile weeks together without injury, which is good, because the Advanced plan in Hansons has you running that mileage for over two months!! More on this later.

Given my training background the last year, here is how I break out the pros and cons:

  • Higher mileage plan-both the Beginner and Advanced plan are higher than most traditional training programs.  I was ready for more mileage.  Faster marathon times demand more mileage (in a balanced way of course).
  • Lots of marathon pace work-I wanted practice weekly for race day
  • Emphasis on speed at the beginning-Good mix of paces through the week, this plan doesn't neglect speed like so many programs do
  • Balance of the big three: speed/strength work and marathon pace and the long run-it's a fine line to walk for sure, but all your bases are covered each week. 
  • Clear guidelines for pacing: Tables included in the book that are very clear with your prescribed paces to run for every workout.
Cons: (again, I really don't see these things as "cons" in the sense that there is something fundmentally wrong with the plans...just things to take into consideration if you're considering Hansons after more traditional marathon training programs):

  • The "Beginner" plan-Don't let the title fool you, even the beginner plan will get you up over 50 miles in later weeks. It's a more advanced training program in my opinion.  The mileage is not quite as high as their Advanced plan, but there is still the track work AND marathon pace work AND long run.  For someone who has only done 1 or 2 marathons and not done much in terms of speedwork during those training cycles, the beginner plan would be quite taxing to jump into from my own experience. 
  • 18 week buildup-18 weeks is a LONG time, but may be needed depending on your background and what kind of time goal you have.  If you're looking for major improvement (say 8-10%), you'll likely want a long training cycle.  As marathoners, we also have to consider balancing training at a high level with injury risk.  Marathon fitness takes a lot of time, and you want to build to peak fitness, but not too soon, and not at the expense of your body shutting down from overtraining or injury.   In my case, I think 12-16 weeks is probably more my sweet spot.  I feel like I could go run Chicago this weekend and have a good showing, but still have three more weeks to go in training.  It's enough time for a little more improvement, but also more time for something to crop up...eeek.
  • Running 6 days a week-You run a lot on this plan (This is absolutely not a con for me...I love running 6 days a week!), and that's what makes the cumulative fatigue work. If you start dropping run days, you lose a lot of what makes this plan great, so make sure you really have the time 6 days a week to devote to it or you'll shortchange your training.
  • The 16-mile long run-You have to buy into the 16 mile cap folks, and this is going to be the single hardest thing for people to get past in going to Hansons.  And while I have not yet run Chicago and been able to fully see the results of how this training works, I can you now that this is HUGELY important in maintaining the delicate balance that Hansons prescribes between track, marathon pace, and long run mileage.  If you push through to 20 miles instead of 16, you will be sore and fatigued to the point you won't recover to do these other tough workouts during the week, unless you're already training at a pretty high level (70-80+ mile weeks).  That being said, I totally understand the psychological benefit that is gained from seeing that 20 mile run on your Garmin before a marathon. If you are a newer marathoner, it is much easier to swallow the idea of only having to run 6.2 more miles on race day then 10.2 miles because you stop at 16.  So, just know before you start that you will need some major discipline to keep your long run mileage in check.
All that to say...3 more weeks to the real test to see how all of this shakes out.  Had a fantastic 16 mile run yesterday (last one!) that showed me I'm ready to tackle the marathon again.  Won't be easy, but I feel very prepared.  Excited and eager to see what these last few weeks of training will do.

If you want more info on why Hansons stops at 16 miles, here ya go:
Part 1: The Hansons Method: Mile 20 Running without the 20 miles