Sunday, November 22, 2015

To love running because I just love running

The late winter/early spring training cycle of 2015 treated me well. It's my favorite time of year to run in the deep south. On my days off, I can sleep in late, meander over coffee and breakfast, and go running just before noon in near-perfect temperatures. 

Summer is pretty much the complete opposite. I have to wake up early (re: muggy as hell) or plan my run late (re: hot as hell) to escape the midday feeling of simply wilting while standing. I'm still not really sure how I made it through a whole summer of ultra training. It did pay off in dividends at Woodstock and I think I am still reaping the rewards.

In mid-July, knee-deep in the inferno and among the piles of miles, I ran 10ish miles on the Greenway. It was 101 degrees real feel.
I carried my vest pack which has 2 25-ounce bottles to run 10 miles.
And despite my shorts/sports bra combo, I was still overdressed. But somehow I gutted out 10ish miles and hustled out an average of 8:00 minute miles. Sweet!
This was slightly slower than a MP run, but I cut myself a bit of slack given the temperatures.

Enter November 22nd. The first morning that Atlanta had seen temps with a "3" as the first digit since, um, at least April. I was like a kid on Christmas morning. I had even fueled with Christmas beer the night before!
And actually eaten a dinner that wasn't nachos. Perhaps this was actually the beginning of my alien takeover?
I had some coffee, ate a bowl of cereal, and put on my capris (!), short-sleeved shirt, and arm warmers (!!!). Sunny and chilly is my absolute favorite. The weather at Marshall last year was like, runner heaven.

When I got to the Greenway, I was all hyped up on caffeine and cold weather and I nearly skipped down the trail head. I told myself I could still play it cool though. This was just supposed to be an easy 10?

But I didn't really do the 8K-10K race as Pfitzinger maybe I could tempo the middle miles. If I felt good...

The first mile was relatively uneventful, but as I got close to the mile marker, Garmin clicked off and I saw 7:33. I likey. And it felt good. I tried to maintain a similar feeling pace through the next mile. I loved feeling chilly in the shade of the Greenway.

As I headed through the next couple of miles, I knew it was more of a tempo pace, but my legs felt strong and my form felt absolutely perfect. Plus, all my favorite jams were blasting on Pandora!

There is one small incline just before mile marker 4 that crests at a major intersection. I look forward to a short rest break most days as I normally have to wait on the light. But when I got to the top of the hill, the walk signal was on and I happily kept going. Back down the hill on the other side and onto the one open mile of the Greenway that doesn't have shade. By this point, I was in a groove though--I was hungry to maintain my speed and every person in my sight gave me ammunition to push a little harder.

I passed the 5 mile marker and continued all the way to the trash can/bench at mile 5.25 before I turned around. Now it was time to make my way to the finish.

When I got back to the intersection, I did have to briefly wait before I started back up again, but I was just agitated now. I was in such a groove that I didn't want to stop. The miles clicked off and as I dropped below 7, I knew I just wanted to finish strong.

The last 2 miles were definitely at race pace. I was riding high on endorphins. My arm warmers were pushed down around my wrists. I was sucking in the cold air quickly and deeply. My thoughts drifted to the summer runs where I felt as though one of my lungs had been removed. Today, I could breathe!

It was overwhelmingly, deliriously good. People shouldn't be allowed to get this high on running.

As mile 10 clicked off, I just rode the wave to the finish. Everything was so perfectly smooth that I couldn't allow myself to back off the speed until I stopped.

When I did finally check out my Garmin, I was pretty happy that despite my forgoing a real 8-10K race, I actually set my own 10K PR.

This run was sufficient enough to give me all the joy I need for the rest of the year. Heck, I didn't even need a run this great after this year. It doesn't mean that I won't try my best at Rehoboth, but it does mean that I don't always need an audience or a medal to enjoy running my best.

Maybe that can be a hard thing for a non-runner to understand. Or someone who is very goal-focused. But for those of us who love running just because we love running, it's easy to comprehend.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Over the edge

The wind was picking up as I walked to my car in the dark parking lot. Though already dressed in my running clothes, I was negotiating ways to get out of my impending workout. 6x600s in the middle of 8 total miles. On a cool, sunny morning with fresh legs, this would be easy and exhilarating. But tonight, it would be a challenge.

I let the GPS take me to the track via the fastest route. Google is a godsend in Atlanta at 6 p.m. I secretly hoped the lights would be out and I could just take to the streets for a dark tempo run instead. But the track was lit up brightly and the parking lot was half filled with cars.

I grabbed my water bottle and keys and chose the '6X600' workout on my Garmin. I walked to the track as my Garmin attempted to connect and sized up the situation. A man was running on the inside lane and a walker was on the far outside. Approximately 20 teenage girls were scrimmaging soccer on the field. A ball bounced onto the track and rolled to the fence line.

My long sleeved shirt was necessary as the temperature had dropped in the relatively short time it took me to get to the track. I took a deep breath and tried to forget that my legs ached with 12,000 steps on them for the day and a half marathon pace run of 11 miles the day before. Whatever I had left to give, I would save it for that final 600.

I clicked the on button and trotted around the oval. Everything feels stiff. I am counting on the warm up to truly warm my muscles up. 2 miles on the Greenway seems to click off relatively fast. 2 miles on the track seems to take much, much longer.

I feel as though I'm on the climbing portion of a roller coaster as I head into the second warm up mile. It is both terrifying and exciting what awaits on the other side. Every time I do speed work, I wonder if it is worth the lung-searing pain, the waves of nausea, and the fear of getting to the last repetition.

But like the roller coaster, I suddenly hear the loud chirping of the Garmin signaling the first repeat is on deck. Time to go over the edge. I toss my long sleeve shirt off.

I pick up the pace and go out way too fast in the first 100 meters. As always. It doesn't matter the workout, it doesn't matter how long I've been doing it, I still sprint the first 100 meters each time I do speed work. Garmin is yelling at me that I'm way out of line with my pace. I had chosen 6:40-6:55 as my 600 meter pace. Pfitzinger says to do it at 5K pace. I don't race 5Ks. So I just guessed.

As I cross over the 200 meter mark, I slowly get into a groove. The pain eases a bit. I follow along the curve and use the wind at my back to go hard down the flat. Ouch. With just 200 meters left at the final curve, I lay it on again and hold tight until I hear the Garmin chirping that the pain is almost over.

For 1 minute and 30 seconds, I reprieve. I want to just let my form go, but there are still 5 reps on the line. I can't get sloppy yet. So I concentrate on taking short strides at a very slow pace. I jog 200 meters in 1:30 and am happy that my start/finish line should be the same with each rep.

I didn't plug in the pace goal when I set the next 5 reps so as I get to the end of my 100 meter sprint, I glance down to see that there is a 5:XX on my watch. Oops. That will not get me to #6. I dial back the pain. A similar situation that occurred in rep #1 unfolds in rep #2 and I fartlek the entire thing.

The new plan is to go 200 easy, 200 medium, 200 hard. I jog out my recovery and aim to stay steady in the first 200 meters. It seems better. But I'm not looking at Garmin. Takes too much work. So I just stare straight ahead and fly around the curves.

I'm conscious of the small crowd that has formed by the exit. Parents watching the last few minutes of practice are suddenly multiplying. My 'finish line' happens to be by the exit. I know they are there to watch their kids, but I pretend like they are my spectators. Grinding out a faster finish is easier when I have an audience.

I make a false promise that I can stop to get water after the 4th rep. Just one more and then I'll be on the homestretch.

My feet burn with the days' work. This workout couldn't be any more different than the 1200s I did in daylight on my day off last week. But I'm stronger for it. My form is still intact and the ache is not injury, it's fatigue.

I push on. When I finish the 4th rep, I decide to just finish the workout with nary a pause for water. The second to last rep is always such as tease. It reminds me of the 26 mile marker in the marathon. But wait, there's more!

I purposely save a little gas in the tank on the 5th rep. I want the last one to be fast. Really fast. So I maintain a bit of control. But I'm still not looking at my Garmin.

By the time I'm heading into the final rep, the field is completely cleared and a couple is power walking on the track. My audience is mostly gone. But I'm still working.

The first 200 meters takes forever. As I get to the final lap point, I aim to just speed up through the last 400 meters. My chest wails in pain as I hit 300 meters, but I am not backing down. Through the back straight and into the last curve, I wait to hit the sweet spot of 100 meters left to go. As I head down the final straight, I stretch my tired legs out as far and fast as they will allow.

There was never a sweeter beep than the one signaling the hard part was over.

The last 2.85 miles of cool down could be at whatever pace my body allowed. I just followed the oval around and around. The hard part was over.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An 11th hour Veterans Day Bloop

I'll keep this as short n' sweet as possible. After all, I did blog yesterday. Back-to-back blogs haven't happened since probably 2012. But cut me some slack, I did just finish up a 7 day stretch of running in my peak week of marathon training.

I took my Veterans Day run to the treadmill today. After logging 15,000+ steps at work today and on my 7th day of running, I was kind of expecting this 7 mile recovery run to be tough. But it actually wasn't too bad. In fact, I still had enough gusto to actually complete my 6 striders at the end of the run.

I donned some red n' blue to get in the spirit:
And grabbed my favorite picture of one of my favorite veterans to accompany me on the run (grandpa is in the middle):
I had a couple of other Loopster veterans join me, but they were watching from the wall (Colonel Cupcake, VBlevins, BBlevins....):
I was trying to find an Air Force movie to watch, but after spending 10 minutes scrolling through Netflix, I finally happened upon at running movie that I hadn't heard of. So 4 Mile it was:
After crank out just over 5.5 miles, I started doing my striders and finished up 11.11 kilometers:
I still needed to do a bit of a cool down so I kept going until I reach 1111 calories burned:
After I was done, I realized that my treadmill run was exactly the pictorial collage of an outdoor run. So I looked around for a bit of Veterans Day inspiration and saw my keyboard was kind of a perfect starting place:
Of the 4 books I play from with irregularity, Patriotic Songs for Piano is one of them. I decided it would be appropriate to play our national anthem post-run. I should have thought of it before, but hey, I had to warm up my brain I guess:
I did scan the room for other signs of Veterans Day signs, but all I could come up with was a patriotic medal:
And a really great race that happens to take place in November. The year I went, the Colonel and my local RB happen to run 13.1 miles together. Kind of perfect I think.
That's all I've got. Thank you for your service Veterans!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How did I get here?

I never considered this year's trajectory until I started doing the math. In 2014, I ran 1438 miles. I ran 6 marathons and maintained a fairly steady training schedule for the majority of the year. Mostly pavement. Mostly 25-35 miles per week. Mostly 100-140 miles per month.

This year, I'm already at 1800+ miles. I've had multiple 50+ mile weeks. I've had multiple 200+ mile months. I wondered where my extra free time went. Duh. Running!

When I was training for the 50 miler, I was spending about 30-40% of my mileage on the trails. Though it ate up a considerable amount of time because I was running much slower, I do feel like it was much easier on my body.

Lately, I feel as though my body has been put through the wringer. Nothing necessarily hurts outright--there are no gait-altering pains. Just a couple of extra twinges here and there. The main thing is that I feel fresh far less often. And when I do feel fresh, I really just take advantage of it. It doesn't matter if I'm doing a long run, tempo, or speed, if I feel fast, I want to go fast. All these extra miles that I'm not used to have been holding me back. Which I think it means this marathon training thing is working?

Fall is second to winter for my favorite time of year to run. It can be a touch on the warm side here so I cannot fully commit to loving it first. I was running in a tank top and shorts today. I think I got a bit sunburned. On November 10th. Womp, womp.

But on those proper fall days when I'm feeling fresh?! There really is nothing better.

In fact, I was feeling so good 2 weeks ago that I PR'd my half marathon time during the middle of a 20 miler. Sweet!
My last PR at that distance came while training for Boston.

As if on trend, I was doing 4x1200's at the track today and happen to PR in  the 5K and 10K.
The thing is, I never signed up for Rehoboth to be a goal race. I was perfectly content with all the awesome that 2015 has brought to me thus far and just was planning on going funning again. But as the training cycle progressed, I saw I had made progress even from Boston. All those monster mile weeks are maybe paying off.

I still am not laying all my cards on the table. I joined a new BQ age group this time around since I'm a lucky soul with an early April birthday. 3:40 should be achievable, but I never want to get to the point where I don't respect the distance. Getting cool mail is always a privilege, never a right.
So I continue to put in the work. Even when my poor Greenway has been flooded off and on for nearly 3 weeks.
I've been logging miles on the treadmill. Lots and lots of treadmill miles.

Fortunately, I don't mind it too much. I'd rather run outside, but it has helped me control recovery runs and I can watch trashy Netflix shows.

My local RB met me near the Chattahoochee last week where the trails were wet, but not impassable. The leaves were stunning and though I was a dying a humid, slow death, it was a scenic run.

I have a little over 3 weeks left in this training cycle. Two more long runs and then it'll be time to taper-ish. I'm using Pfitzinger again this time. I did a modified version for Boston, but I'm going pretty much by the book this time. I have wimped out on 2 runs since the end of September and haven't done any of the suggested races, but I do feel like the compounding miles and mix of hard workouts will make me stronger on race day.

Plus, any time I get wussy about my workout, I think back to the 50 miler.

Random side note: I love the idea that success isn't linear. I've had some really, really crap days running in this training cycle. Where I just didn't feel like doing it. Or that it just never got better the entire run. But I've had some really great days that I've made huge strides in my progress. So I have to believe that I am ultimately gaining ground little by little. And having no major goal helps. At the end of the day, I'm happy to finish a marathon. If I am better than I was before, that's cool too.

Lastly, since I haven't been blogging much, I feel like you should also know that I do other things besides go to work and run.

I mostly eat a lot of nachos and drink beer.
Sometimes I drink beer with friends.
I like wine too. And it's also good to share with friends.
I've been baking too. Mostly tons of pumpkin stuff. Like pumpkin whoopie pies.
Sometimes I get involved with desserts in the fall though. Everyone likes apple pie.
And chocolate chip cookies.
And I do like sleeping. Rest is essential for a training cycle, right?
I promise to not be such a stranger. Sheesh...