Wednesday, August 26, 2015

In Memory of Lox

Last Wednesday’s fun run included laps around a local lake.  The streets didn’t have sidewalks, and the up and down of the hills reminded me of running around my hometown (when I actually did my off-season training).

The sun was slowly setting, and on the last lap, I saw a house where the husband was working out in the garage.  The house was clearly similar to ones I remembered seeing on family walks as a child—a greenhouse window in the kitchen, a garage filled with tools, a dark brown stained exterior, a wooded lawn—and then I flashed back to another memory from college.

After sophomore year, I decided to stay on campus over the summer, working at the admissions office, as did many of my friends who were in a fraternity.  The university rented out the fraternity houses to the summer student employees, so I rented a room in my friends’ fraternity house.  I had run on the cross country team my sophomore year, but academics—and a cranky knee—caused me to stop running and focus on my classwork. 

Shortly after we moved in, one of my teammates asked if anyone wanted to join him on an evening walk around the neighborhood.  Remembering my childhood walks, I jumped at the chance.  It was a chat about hopes and dreams and happy memories.

That summer—and that conversation—was probably the last time we spent significant time together.  He went off to graduate summa cum laude, finish med school, and become chief resident at a hospital, I barely graduated and got a job as a bench chemist, laid off, unemployed, eventually landing at a consulting firm doing quality and validation work. 

Had you told me back then, that it would be me, not him, to finish the Chicago marathon first, I wouldn’t have believed you.  While training for the 2003 Chicago Marathon, he was hit by a car and killed.  I ran the 2013 Chicago Marathon in his memory.  He would have easily qualified for the Boston Marathon, so if I qualify, it will be run in his memory as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Goodbye, track (Marathon training, week 11)

Our club’s last speed workout on the track was last Tuesday.  At the start, we did a mile run as a baseline, so we did a second mile time trial at the end of the training to process improvement.
I am not, and will never be, naturally fast.  I was the one in high school who would trail behind the rest of the team on our warmup jogs at meets, mostly because their jog wouldn’t be much slower than my race pace.  Speed workouts were torture because the rest of the team spent the rest interval waiting for me to catch up with them, so when I finished my sprint, it was time for the next one.

As an adult, it’s been nice to have my full rest between intervals, and I have felt the results a bit.  I took another minute off my 5K time, and my results on Strava have improved.  So I was very much hoping I could break 8 minutes in the mile, something I hadn’t done since high school.

It was one of those days where you are never going to be ready.  I ate all the wrong foods, I didn’t sleep well, and then I got there and the bathrooms were locked.  Some of the other runners were getting nervous about the bathroom situation, so I reminded people that once we start sweating, we won’t have to pee.  Plus, it’s no different than any other race I’ve ever done.

I remembered not to push too hard on the warmups, and then it was time.  I was as ready as I was going to be.  We started, and in the first corner, my left quad seized.  Blargh!  But I wasn’t going to give up.  My friend Diana was sticking with me, and she’s fully capable of doing a sub-8 mile, so I hung with her the best I could on the first lap.  On the second lap, I passed her.  I was in shock as she wasn’t sticking behind me.  And of course, I slowed down a bit, expecting her to stick with me.  As I took the last straight for the lap, I shook out of it and thought “push-push-push.”

My struggle, more than anything else, is that my head is going so much faster than my body.  My head wants to push to a full sprint, but I also can’t sprint an entire mile.  On lap 3, people who started behind me started to pass me.  Except Diana.  Then the faster runners started to lap me.  As I reached the start line, my head knew I needed to give it my all, but my body could not go any faster.  I hit the last stretch and sprinted the last 100. 

As I crossed, I unlocked my phone and stopped my watch.  8:19, only 8 seconds faster than my original mile 11 weeks ago.  Arrrgh!  The leader of the club looked at me, trying to encourage, and I just shook my head, acknowledging my disappointment.  Diana finished right behind me—as it turned out, she had to stop and tie her shoe.

We still had a workout to do, and I stayed out until I did every step of the advanced workout, the last one on the track.  Posting the run on Strava, I realized that maybe I can’t get faster on one mile, but to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I have to string together 26.2 sub-9 min miles. 

On Sunday, one of my friends told me that I can go faster, but just have to clear out whatever is holding me back.  He might only been a runner for a short time, but he’s exactly right.  So the next step of the journey….find out what has me stuck at 8:20 and get unstuck.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Long Run (Marathon Training, Week 9)

We’re getting into longer and longer Saturday runs.  15 miles, 13 miles, 17 miles, 20 miles…these runs train your mind just as much as they train your body to handle the 26.2 miles on race day.
Long runs are, well, long.  At my pace, I have to plan ahead and block out a half day for a run over 15 miles.  After 10 miles, you’re tired, bored, and so ready to just stop.  In summer, it’s hot, and in winter, it’s cold.  After 15 miles, hunger and thirst sets in, and on a 20 mile day, you’re feeling like the miles will never end.  It’s time to dig deep and figure out how to mentally distract yourself from everything.

Race day is much, much easier.  You’ve been planning this day for weeks.  The crowds, the excitement, the adrenaline create a fun atmosphere that distract from the long mileage.  Then….you hit mile 14 or 16 or 21 and you realize that you’re tired.  You still have an hour or two to go.

That’s when training kicks in.  Not only are you less physically tired, but all the mental tricks you’ve used to gut through those long solitary miles also come into play.  It’s an invaluable experience to draw from when a marathon is smaller, with less cheerleaders and less populated courses.

Running with a club helps so much, because you can chat about everything from the weather to running to TV while knocking off those miles.  Since I’m at a slower pace, my experience is hit and miss:  some days I have a lot of friends to chat with, and others I end up on my own for over an hour.  Either way, I’m preparing for the long miles of a marathon.  Now if I could just do them at sub-5 hour pace….

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hot, hot, hot! (Marathon, week something-or-other)

Two weeks ago, it was one of the first 90 degree days of the summer, and of course, we had our weekly Saturday morning long run.

I grew up running in all weather conditions, including a thunderstorm that blew up in the middle of the 3200 during a meet.  Treadmills and gym memberships were expensive, and even our school wasn’t air conditioned.  Races were held, rain or shine, hot or cold—so training was done outdoors.
That was quite some time ago, before we really understood hydration and heat exhaustion.  However, races are still held when the temperature rises, so your body has to be ready for race day, regardless of weather.  Like a couple weeks ago, when a half Ironman triathlon and a half marathon were both held locally.  It was warm, but all my clubmates were well trained for conditions and finished strong.

Some common sense about hot days:

  • Dress appropriately.  I saw several people running in capri length tights and t-shirts.  Running heats up your body, so you want to wear as little as possible, even if you are chilly on your first mile.  Trust me, your body will heat up very quickly.
  • Hydrate.  Water.  Electrolytes.  Whether it’s a relay around public drinking fountains or carrying a water bottle, don’t ignore hydration.  It’s pretty obvious on the day of the run, but also be mindful of alcohol/caffeine the day beforehand as well.  Choosing water over wine at dinner might make the next morning so much easier.
  • Listen to your body.  The entire point of running in bad weather is learning how your body reacts.  Knowing how far you can push yourself can save you a trip to the medical tent on race day.
  • Go in race simulation mode.  It’s why you’re training in hot weather—for your hot weather race.  On race days, the adrenaline will often take over for common sense, so preparing and planning your strategy on a hot race day will make it automatic, saving energy for the race while also staying safe.

I was able to test all of these things a week ago Saturday, when the temps weren’t so bad, but the chosen route was in the sun almost the entire time.  The only running bottoms that were clean and not designed for winter running were a pair of capris.  Knowing it would be warm and humid, I decided to pair with a tank top, following the above rule.  I had eaten a very salty dinner with a glass of wine, so I had a glass of water when I went to bed.  Even with all the prevention and planning, the run was awful!  I was hot, thirsty, and just wanting to stop running three miles before the end. 

Last Saturday I was smarter.  I only had water with dinner, which contained fresh blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, limited caffeine intake, and wore an opaque sports bra under my shirt so I could remove if necessary.  It made a world of difference, which helped me mentally.  (That is the subject of my next blog post.)