It’s 2019, and another year over

Boy I’m glad I didn’t make blogging more often a resolution in last year’s new year’s post. That would have been embarrassing, given I only posted here seven times!

oh. Welp.

2018, on a whole, was actually a solid running year. More solid than it’s been in… years.

  • 1,518.92 miles. Which is strange, because Strava thinks I ran exactly 1,500. As far as I can tell, there was some bug in the database tally that mistook my first week of 2018 as some random week in December 2017. Technical wibbly-wobbly aside, the bottom line is that I had my second-best annual mileage, ever.
  • 236,891 calories burned. How many donuts is that? Not nearly enough, I say.
  • 248+ hours. That’s literally over 10 straight days of running/walking/hiking. Not too shabby.
  • 10 out of 12 months with 100+ miles. That’s one better than last year, though interestingly the mileage differential from 100 those two months was almost exactly the same as the total mileage differential over last year’s *three* sub-100 months. So, though I missed fewer times this year, when I did miss, I missed by more.

Weird. But still really, really solid.

What’s especially fantastic is that, by any objective measure, I crushed two of my three goals from last year’s review post:

I’m still reeling from that half marathon. Yeah, it’s still a good four minutes off my PR, but that is literally the closest I’ve gotten since moving to Athens. I couldn’t be happier about it. I had so much fun at that race!

Other accomplishments of note in 2018:

  • I entered 13 races in 2018. That may not seem like an eye-catcher, but if you check out the Races page (where I keep track of all my race results), you’ll notice the number of races I participated in dropped considerably in 2016-2017 (8 in both years, compared to 14 in 2015 and 16 in 2014). It’s great to be an active racer again (especially since I’m now on the Athens Fleet Feet Racing Team!).
  • Ran four half-marathons, all under 1:50. I haven’t run four half marathons in one year since 2015, and haven’t delivered a sub-1:50 shutout since… ever!
  • Set an 8K PR of 35:53. Athens seems to like 8Ks more than Pittsburgh, so we’ve been running them more often, and I went ahead and made them an official category of PRs I’m tracking. And, well–I nailed a PR at the Give Thanks 8K on Thanksgiving morning!
  • Ran our first trail race ever, and then ran two more for good measure! Technically the first trail race was the 15K in March at Lake Chapman. After that, we ran the Rabun Trail half over the summer, which was brutal but so awesome. We caught the bug, and ran the Helen Holiday trail half in December. We’ll definitely be doing more trail races in the future!
  • Participated in the annual holiday Beer Mile again! I vastly improved my time, from last year’s 8:55 to this year’s 8:28. Like last year, however, I still came in second place, though I did demolish last year’s winner. This year’s winner was not even in the same category–he beat me by a good 20 seconds or so, and was clearly sandbagging. Dunno if I’ll ever win the event if he keeps coming back, but it was still quite a lot of fun 🙂

All that makes it sound like 2018 was sunshine and rainbows. It was definitely the best year I’ve had since moving to Athens, hands down. I also–KNOCK ON WOOD–didn’t really suffer a major injury; there was a week in February I took off due to a pull in my knee, and it cleared up immediately. The writing goal–my third goal for 2018–was a fantastic anchor in my work/life balance the first half of the year.

But it kind of came crashing down over the summer. Part of it was absolutely the brutal online summer course I was teaching. Even though it was the third year in a row, it was far and away the most difficult iteration, and the one that convinced me that this wasn’t something I could keep doing.

But the other part, the part that really shook us both for months, was that we had to say goodbye to our dear 18-year old tabby, Lily.

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The Lady had adopted Lily as a tiny kitten and known her all her life. I was only introduced when she was 6, but after an initial period of inspection, Lily accepted me. Even though I grew up with cats, Lily was my first cat. All of July went by in a haze, and our running fell off quite a bit.

We started going for a lot of evening walks, a habit which we still pick up here and there. Our trail running picked up a lot (as every road run just felt awful and tedious), and we met a new Athens runner, Laura, who started graduate school at UGA and was game for pretty much any run or workout we could come up with. We kept the racing schedule fun, varying the distances and locations, pushing during training when we wanted to, and pulling back when weren’t feeling it.

I visited the Oiselle shop in Seattle during a December conference 🙂

The variety has helped. It continues to help. It’s something I want to carry into 2019:

  • 1,600 miles. This is no small feat for me: the mighty 2014 running year was just a touch over 1,600 as well. But it speaks of expectations regarding my next goal…
  • Return of the marathon! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is my fervent hope to participate in some kind of fall marathon! I’ve no idea which one, though I am looking at a couple of regional fulls (Richmond and Chickamauga are at the top of the list), so stay tuned! I don’t really have any goals other than to actually finish… but of course, it’d be great to finally come in under 4 hours.
  • Daily core/yoga. In doing some experimenting it’s become clear that daily yoga is a bit out of my reach. And core work is that frustrating thing that gets dropped at the first sign of trouble. But so far in 2019 I’ve managed to get 10-15 minutes of core work in each day (except for long runs, because oy), and 2x/week of yoga seems to be working as well.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2019!

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Race Report: Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon

Background

So, there’s been an interesting trajectory in the last while that’s probably been evident in some form or another on this blog for the past couple years, but which has really been thrown into relief in 2018:

my half marathons have been getting faster.

  • In 2014, I ran 4 half marathons, 1 over 1:50 (1 was my still-standing half PR).
  • In 2015, I ran 4 half marathons, 2 over 1:50.
  • In 2016, I ran 3 half marathons, 2 over 1:50.
  • In 2017, I ran 3 half marathons, 1 over 1:50.
  • In 2018, I’ve run 4 half marathons, 0 over 1:50.

I even made a graph:

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 12.07.50 PM

Y-axis is in minutes. That second data point in mid-ish 2014 is my PR (1:41:07).

This has been particularly exciting in the past year, as I’ve noticed my times trending downward. Coming off an unexpectedly strong performance at AthHalf this past October, I felt something I truly hadn’t felt in awhile:

Confidence.

The AthHalf route was new; its final 5K was a particularly challenging route. Nevertheless, I still set an “event” PR of 1:47–the fastest AthHalf time I’d run in four straight years of the event (and three different routes; hence, “event” PR). Given how challenging the route was, and how happy I was with my performance, I felt like with another 3-4 weeks of training before Chickamauga, I could make a run at the 1:45:08 time I set at the Georgia Publix Half Marathon waaaaay back in March 2015, the fastest half marathon I’d run since moving to Athens. I came close at this past April’s Eugene Half Marathon, but my goal then had simply been to see The Lady to an 8-flat average over the first 10 miles (even that had made me worry at the time, so the fact that I came within 45 seconds overall of that average was extremely impressive).

I took a risk and set for myself what felt like an ambitious goal: set a new best half time for myself since moving to Athens.

At the same time, The Lady and I were discussing another interesting trend. For the past few years, our respective training regimens had diverged as she focused more on chasing a BQ: training for and racing full marathons. Given how my half marathon times ballooned over 2015 and 2016, it’s not like I could have kept up with her anyway, but suffice to say she widened her existing margin of victory with the household half marathon PR, netting a time under 1:40 and all but guaranteeing I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her except for the shortest races (I still hold the 5K and 10K family PRs, but only just).

But in the last year, things shifted. The Lady started pursuing non-marathon training again, and I continued healthy running trends from 2017 and into 2018. Consequently, we realized for Chickamauga: for the first time in years, it was a bit of a toss-up as to who might be able to run a faster time.

So, we did what any friendly but competitive couple would do: we made a contest out of it.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority went with The Lady. I certainly don’t blame them; I did, too! And when I say “vast”, I mean it: easily 90% or more of our friends went with her. There was one person who voted for me “out of pity,” and another because I beat them out in the final stretch of a 5K back in the summer. That was about it.

The half marathon is always a bit scary, especially when you’re not entirely sure what you’re capable of going in; adding a little element of competition can help shift your focus away from the unknown and to something a bit friendlier. Plus, by virtue of the aforementioned training divergence, it’d been a rare treat when The Lady and I could race together: the 10 miles at the Eugene Half was a welcome, but highly unusual, occurrence. So further underscoring the fact that we’d get to run together was really nice.

Race day

This year, we elected to stay in a hotel in Chattanooga. It meant a bit of a drive the morning of, about 30 minutes, but we had a much better list of options for hotels.

In the day or two leading up to race weekend, winds were blowing in a cold front. On race morning, it was cold: 33 degrees (before wind chill), with 10+ mph winds. Historically, race morning has been cold, but not that cold (36-39F) and not windy, so this broke with precedent. Furthermore, the course itself was slightly different at the start due to some construction in the associated state park.

Suffice to say, we bundled up.

Photo Nov 10, 07 26 22

At the starting line (rocking Fleet Feet Racing Team uniforms).

Packet pick-up was a bit chaotic, but otherwise things went as we’ve been accustomed to (having run this event in 2015 and 2017): that is to say, smoothly.

Our plan at the starting line, more or less, was: start off between the 1:50 and 1:45 pace groups, and kinda take it from there. Admittedly ambiguous, but we were both operating from a position of unknown but ambitious. To that end, we both decided to completely ignore our watches through the entire race, going wholly by feel instead of by time.

We wished each other good luck, and soon enough, we were off!

The first couple of miles I remembered pretty well from previous years, including the janky/rocky “trail” that preceded the actual paved pathways through the state park. We spent those miles trading leads: The Lady would slowly pull ahead, then I’d reel her in and pass her, and so on with the yo-yo style. My surges were mostly due to feeling boxed-in by other runners (the first few miles of a big race are always cramped), but then she would catch up and pass me on downhills (I suck at downhills).

8:02, 7:56

We were keeping in pretty close range of the 1:45 group, which ended up being a bit of a mistake: 1:45 was, for both of us, our reach times, so sticking with them from the very start felt a bit like pushing our luck. Especially since we weren’t checking our watches (mine was entirely under my long sleeves, so I couldn’t just glance at it), having a pace group right in front of us would most likely pull us along.

Which it did: while I obviously couldn’t double-check the time, we were way too close to the 1:45 pace group (maybe 5 seconds behind) by mile 3, so I made a concerted effort to pull up in mile 4.

7:47 (oops), 7:56

This was where, I admit, an unfair advantage kicked in for me: prior knowledge. As I previously stated, we’d attended this event previously in both 2015 and 2017. Both those years I ran the half, so this was my third time running the half. The Lady, on the other hand, ran the full in 2015, and while she had been registered for the half in 2017, ended up DNS due to a head cold. While the full marathon runs the half course twice, 3 years was a pretty long gap to retain any knowledge of the course to the point of integrating it into one’s race strategy.

To be fair, it’s not like I planned ahead, but at mile 5 when the hills began, I suddenly remembered: oh right, the next FOUR MILES are rolling hills. My strength has always been uphills; The Lady, downhills. So I figured, if I could push these next four miles pretty hard, I might be able to build an insurmountable lead before the downhills kicked in.

Conveniently enough, Immigrant Song kicked in right at that point on my playlist. So I went with it.

7:46, 7:37, 8:00, 7:53, 7:41

(that 8:00 was due to a totally unexpected water stop that caught me off guard, so I came to a full stop to fuel)

I left the 1:45 pace group behind on the first hills. The further I went the more the hills came back to me, so I kept pushing in time with the awesome mid-race music on my list (great job, Past Me, setting up that list!). I high-fived The Lady at the weird hairpin loop a little after mile 6, but otherwise just kept pushing as much as I could without feeling like I was in danger of flaming out.

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Pretty sweet shot.

It was a tricky balance: I was truly testing my limits, taking a risk where a very real possibility was utterly blowing up and walking it in. But man it felt good just to be in that position again!

7:58

For those who ignore their watches entirely (this course also didn’t have any clocks along it, so beyond the relative locations of pace groups I truly had no idea what time I was hitting), breathing is the key to semi-accurately assessing one’s performance. Up until now, I used my steady breathing to help quiet my anxiety about the pace I was pushing and convince myself I was doing ok. At this point, though, my breathing definitely changed: I was getting tired, and I felt like I was slowing down.

8:05, 8:05

Which I was. But at least I was consistent 😛

There was one brief moment of panic somewhere around here, where I heard feet and voices gaining on me from behind. I resisted the urge to look behind me (DON’T SHOW WEAKNESS), but was worried I was slowing down so much that the 1:45 group was gaining on me. Very quickly, however–far faster than I would have expected for a 1:45 pace group–I was passed by a group of very fast-looking guys. Not the pace group, but perhaps an early group of marathoners? Or late-starters? Wasn’t sure.

Good story.

8:11

This was that janky/rocky “trail” again, heading back to the starting area. There’s a rough up-down-up dip in the trail that I don’t even remember from the way out, but that’s probably because I wasn’t nearly this tired.

Once I crested the loop around mile 13, I tried to put what I had left into the final stretch–managed an average 6:56 pace.

Chip time: 1:44:33

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I’d definitely ceded some ground to the 1:45 pace group, but The Lady came in behind me barely 1 minute later! She definitely made up some ground on the downhills as expected (she’s really, really good at those).

After finishing, we made a beeline for our car and changed out of our racing clothes and into new, dry clothes–the wind was still in the double-digits, and while we weren’t planning to stick around for very long, we didn’t want to freeze before we could grab some food.

In doing so, we were able to catch the print-outs of preliminary half marathon results, and in a very pleasant development, The Lady got 3rd in her age group! Not surprisingly, I was 6th; I would have needed to knock off another 2-3 minutes to get 5th, and almost 10 minutes to crack the top 3. Still a ways to go 😛

Photo Nov 10, 09 48 57

Celebrating at the finish! (and after changing into dry clothes)

Post-race

Before freezing solid, we headed back to the hotel to clean up. We debated hanging around Chattanooga, perhaps checking out the aquarium (which was literally across the street from our hotel), but decided that our legs were pretty beat up from the effort. We settled instead on walking about 0.75 miles to the nearest Starbucks, getting celebratory mochas, and heading home.

The ride home was full of chatter about the race. Honestly I have to keep reminding myself that I technically won our little competition, because the whole thing was such a blast (and because, realistically, it’s only a matter of time before The Lady surpasses me in the half again). We both did so freaking well! 

We discussed how the summer had been such a whirlwind that largely set us back in our running. The first few months of the fall, August and September in particular, had hit the ground running so hard it’d been a massive undertaking to land as much mileage as we had. Despite all of this, we’d managed to build a solid base of consistent weekly mileage in the low-30s. Even though this only occasionally included tempo runs or track workouts, the consistent mileage by itself was both a huge factor and an amazing accomplishment by itself.

Given our collective performance at Chickamauga–at the upper end of both our expectations–we’re now thinking it may be time to bring the professionals back into the mix. We’ve had good experiences with coaches, and with the mileage base we’ve built, the next important steps will be 1) very structured running schedules, and 2) regular quality workouts.

In the meantime, we have some pretty fun races coming up: the Give Thanks 8K on Thanksgiving morning, the Helen Holiday [Trail] Half in mid-December, and an officially-unofficial Beer Mile, also in mid-December.

But after that… we shall see.

What day is it?!

So my last update was in July. That’s… something.

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Also, ❤ Robin Williams

Predictably (in hindsight at least), September was a shitshow. Work has since calmed down a little bit, but is still moving at a pretty brisk pace, so this is more of an update-for-the-sake-of-updating than an in-depth spread.

Mileage. I’ve been steadily building in the past couple months, which is good because I’m about 1.5 weeks’ worth behind on my annual goal of 1,500 miles. I’ve been steadily chipping away at that deficit (it stood at 2.5 weeks’ worth about a month ago), but averaging 31-33 miles per week for the rest of the year could still be a tall order as we head into the holidays. I’m already at 55 miles for the month of October, semi-tapering in preparation for the upcoming AthHalf event in 9 days! After that, it’s a straight shot to our third Chickamauga Battlefield event, at which both The Lady and I will be doing the half this time around.

Maybe next year we’ll both do the full?!

After that, we have a trail half marathon up in Helen, GA in mid-December, so we’ll definitely have to keep our mileage up and even start working in some trails. Given that the weather has finally

FINALLY

FINNNAAALLLLYYYYYYY

started acting more like fall (58F this morning!!), the trails should be quite a bit more pleasant as temperatures continue to fall and the mosquito populations continue to wither until winter’s onslaught.

Speaking of half-marathons…

Sub-1:45? Ish? The Eugene Half was really close to that magical number, all of about 45 seconds long. Given how awful the summer was, and the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends-ness of August and September (and let’s be honest, October too), and how tough the AthHalf course tends to be, I’m not expecting any kind of run at 1:45 in 9 days. I would, however, love to take a crack at my “event” PR of 1:48:56 from 2016 (I say “event” because the course will have changed 3 different times for the same event between 2016, 2017, and 2018). We’ll see how that goes!

That said, provided work eases up just a tad bit more after AthHalf, it’s possible that I could actually make a run at 1:45 for the Chickamauga half. I ran it in under 1:50 the first year while severely undertrained, and came in just under 1:47 last year. I think I’m in better condition this time around than I was even last year, so we’ll see!

And finally, drum-roll…

Work-life balance.

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Oy.

The summer was unexpectedly brutal, and since June it’s basically been a sprint with no real let-up. I managed to maintain a decently regular writing regimen through the spring and into the summer, but that basically ended in July. I’ve been more or less white-knuckling it ever since. I’m kind of amazed I’ve managed to keep within range of my 1,500 mile 2018 goal, but as stated even that will be still be tough to hit at this point.

I did spend a lovely half week in San Francisco for a conference back in late August, where I also managed to get a decent amount of running in.

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Ran from my hotel to the Golden Gate bridge–a little more than 6 miles one-way. So I basically did a half marathon one morning.

But since then it’s been go-go-go.

  • The class I’m teaching this semester is one I taught back in Spring 2017, but due to some personal things at the time there’s a gaping hole in the curriculum right around now, so I’m spending quite a bit of time making lectures and homeworks from scratch.
  • Grant proposals have been unending. There was a giant one at the end of July, then another huge one at the end of September (this was one that we submitted last year and missed by inches–others have said they’ve had grants funded on worse reviews than ours). Now I’ve got one next week (Oct 16), and a final one planned for the end of November (the 27th). If literally one of these is actually funded I will be over the moon.
  • What’s weird about this brutal mix of teaching-and-grantwriting is that I haven’t been able to read any research papers. At the start of the year I borrowed a page from Carly’s book and started keeping a spreadsheet of the papers I’d read. Granted, I’ve skimmed over abstracts and glanced at figures, but in this spreadsheet I noted papers I’d read start-to-finish, with that intent. The last one that truly met that criteria was from mid-August.
  • Sleep has been… problematic. I’m hoping with this Oct 16 grant getting wrapped up, my cortisol levels will chill out a bit.

I fervently hope it won’t be another three months between blog posts. Running has been the thing that, when all else falls off due to work obligations, I let running fall away last, so I’ve still been largely pounding out the miles.

Here we go.

Running doesn’t happen in a vacuum

The Lady and I ran the Peachtree Road Race 10K this week, our fourth since moving to Athens 3.5 years ago (has it been that long already?). Barring some of the most condescending and unhelpful race officials I have ever encountered in my life (they’ll be hearing from me; it was an embarrassment to the sport), it was a top-notch event, as always.

It also continued a monotonic slow-down in race time year-over-year for me since we started running the race as Athens locals: in 2015 I ran it in 46:19; in 2016, 51:48; in 2017, 53:27; and finally, this year, 53:44.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification; after all, the last several blog posts here have detailed how much running has actually improved over the last year-ish. And broadly speaking, that does seem to hold true.

But the month of June was a barn-burner. The two weeks leading up to July 4 were particularly awful.

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Mileage the last two weeks of June.

As much as I like and trumpet the fact that running is a mental and physical cleanse, an opportunity to leave the real world behind for a bit and be alone with my thoughts or just the ambience of nature, I can’t make that switch flawlessly; just like I carry the benefits of running with me into my day-to-day life, the consequences of events from my day-to-day trickle into my running. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I am a function of my entire life, not just the “good” parts I want to bring with on a run.

The Lady and I went through a hard June. We’re still feeling the effects, but we’ve reached the point where re-establishing a regular rhythm–particularly one which involves physical activity–is going to be a net benefit. But to even consider that our running could have continued unaffected during that stretch would be laughable. There was one run (I think it was that Wednesday on the above screenshot, the tiny bubble with no number on it) where I’d planned about 3-5 miles. I got up in the morning, got dressed, headed out… and quit after 1 mile.

There’s the good kind of awful, and just plain shit. This was the latter. You don’t push through that; you listen and do what you need to do, including and especially if that involves not running.

And that’s ok.

Of course, I have a lot of trouble with the “that’s ok” bit. Part of that stems from my innate perfectionism that wants to check off every goal I set: Strava wastes no time in reminding me I’m currently 20 miles behind my mileage goal for the year, which isn’t quite a full week (~28 miles/week is needed to maintain), but warrants attention paid if I want to stay on track. The other part is the fact that, for the most part, I know running is good for me, but too much of anything is a bad thing; finding that balance is tricky. At the time, I wasn’t sure I should call it quits after just 1 mile of a planned 3+; even after I started walking it in, I questioned if I should try to push through it. It’s only in retrospect (two weeks later) that I can confidently say that 1 mile was all I had to give that day, and even then I was probably drawing on the next day’s energy.

Finally, another part of me just wants to run. Rack up those miles, push the pace, snap long-standing PRs, and just fly. Because, all hemming and hawing and navel-gazing aside, I love running.

It’s that simple. But as many religions have found, it’s tough to be both of the world while also separate from it. Impossible, really; that’s why I can’t just flip the switch and drop the real world when it comes time to run.

But it is nice to occasionally remind myself why I run.

Race Report: Eugene Half

Oh hey there blog, I’ve missed you. Want to chat about a really cool race I ran about a month ago? I remember it decently well. Let’s take a crack at it and just see what happens!

For those of you not familiar with the Eugene Marathon, it takes place in and around Eugene, Oregon, a picturesque college town (not unlike Athens!) that is legendary for its running culture. Hayward Field is the locus of the legend, having been home turf to such notable athletes as Steve Prefontaine and Jordan Hasay. Both the full and the half actually end on the track itself, which is of particular note since 2018 was the last year before the stadium closed for major renovations, including a full replacement of the original track that Pre and others actually ran on. So we were the last ones to share the same surface as the heroes who put the place on the map.

Our own journey began super-early…

Super-early, Thursday morning (April 26): The Lady and I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to catch a 9am flight to Portland, OR. We were lucky to be able to stay with our friends Keeley and Dave, as Keeley would also be running the half, so we were able to split an Airbnb in Eugene.

But that night we crashed in Portland. In fact, we made a point of rushing over to Portland Running Company for their Thursday group run, attended by none other than Mark Remy! We gabbed the whole 5 miles around town, and joined him and some of the PRC folks for a beer at a nearby brewery (Portland has a few of those).

Friday, April 27: We hit the road for Eugene! It took a couple hours, but the drive was awfully pretty. We checked into our Airbnb, which was adorable and easily one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in.

(ignore for the moment I’ve stayed in all of about 2-3 Airbnbs)

Saturday, April 28: We kicked off our day by going to an amazing waffle joint for breakfast following our morning shake-out run. After that…

…drum roll…

Infinity War! I mean, can you think of a better way of staying off your feet the day before  a race than going to see a movie? I won’t give away any spoilers. We ended up spending the evening at our Airbnb watching Thor: Ragnarok (as Keeley and Dave had not seen the complete movie).

Sunday, April 29

I haven’t really said anything about the race, or what my goals were. Frankly, I wasn’t sure. I was aware that I’d been making strides (very, very slowly) and improving my times over the past few months, but I still felt like I had no gauge for what I was capable of. Yes, my mileage was piling up, and that was extremely satisfying to see, but I still felt shorthanded when it came to quality workouts like tempo runs; I tended to burn out pretty quickly.

It rolled around my head all morning as we prepared for the race, established the game plan with Dave (who would be the chauffeur and cheering section), and culminated when we got to the field in a kernel of a radically different plan.

Photo Apr 29, 14 29 18

Right outside Hayward field!

I kept thinking about my recent half marathons; Chickamauga and the most recent Albany had been great ego boosts, but the AthHalf just the month before Chickamauga–while still a solid performance–had been bruising. I’d just completed easily my most intense training regimen in years, but I still just couldn’t convince myself that I was ready to set an ambitious goal and run it into the ground. I still had so many question marks about my fitness, particularly my fast-twitch endurance, and my mental toughness over an extended race.

So my thoughts went over to The Lady, who was gearing up for her latest run at a Boston Qualifier, having also crushed a tough training cycle, and the thought struck me:

The half and the full run the first 10 miles together. That never happens. Nor, really, does the opportunity to run our respective [different] races as part of the same event. So I made the decision: forget my race. I don’t care what time I get. My goal is to make sure The Lady reaches mile 10 at a flat-8 pace (a 3:30 finish at that pace, well under the qualifying time for her age group). I’ll worry about the last 3.1 when the time comes.

And I actually relaxed. I mean, I knew an 8-flat for 10 miles would be hard for me; I hadn’t put that kind of consecutive workload together for years. The last time I remembered even doing that pace in a half marathon was March 2015’s Georgia Publix Half. But for once I wasn’t obsessing about my own race, and it felt good.

The feeling only lasted for a minute, though–once the race kicked off, I felt like shit in the first mile or two. But probably because…

7:56, 7:46, 7:54

…I was going a bit too fast 🙂 I tried to rein things in a bit, but I stayed pretty much glued to The Lady, hawking my own watch to keep us on-pace and letting her do her thing. The entire first 10 miles are basically in and around neighborhoods of Eugene, so the views were cozy and beautiful.

And did I mention: the weather! It was overcast (par for the Pacific Northwest), but not rainy! And it was very cool; starting temps were in the mid-40s, which is perfect.

8:07, 8:06, 7:47

I definitely felt better into mile 4 and beyond; despite a warm-up mile before the race, it seems like I still needed a few more miles to really shake off the rust and settle in. The super-flat neighborhood stretches also helped, and my revamped half marathon playlist was keeping me pumped without overdoing it.

7:52, 7:51, 8:06

It was at mile 9 where we encountered The Hill. I don’t know what it’s actually called, but it’s pretty much the only hill of any consequence on the course. Don’t let that fool you, though, as it almost did us: just because it’s the “only hill of consequence” doesn’t mean it’s a weenie. It’s no Negley or Baxter, but we had numerous folks at the Portland Running Company group run mention that this hill derailed their race in previous years.

We plowed up the hill. I had AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring so I was pumped. The crowd support, fantastic pretty much everywhere, was phenomenal on this hill, cheering us to the top where there were banners congratulating us on reaching the apex and encouraging us into the relief of the downhill.

It was awesome.

Of course, it was only once we’d climbed the hill and descended the other side that I realized I was definitely starting to hurt. I was also stoked that it hadn’t registered until just then! But I was almost to 10 miles, and I’d kept The Lady at a rock-solid pace (maybe even a bit faster than 8), so I needed to hang on just a bit longer.

At this point, the race exited the neighborhoods and went onto some trails. This changed things somewhat, as the route became much windier, which didn’t do much for my feeling of flagging.

8:02

It ended up being almost mile 10.5 before we reached “the bridge”, the advertised point of the half and full courses splitting. In fact, at some point, The Lady had asked if we’d somehow missed the split–we’d gone well past the 10-mile mark! Was she inadvertently now on the half course, or–horror of horrors–was I inadvertently on the full? Thankfully, no repeat of my 2012 Air Force half marathon (how did I not write a blog post on this?! tl;dr I was having the best race of my life up to that point and then was mistakenly diverted onto the full course for almost a full mile); the split was just farther down the course than either of us had realized.

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This was taken on that very bridge, seconds before the half/full split.

We wished each other good luck as we crossed the bridge. I hadn’t been able to get a good feel for how The Lady was doing, but I also didn’t want to bust her Lizard Mode bubble, so I let her know I was proud of her, regardless of what happened.

She’s a badass, BQ or no.

Me, on the other hand–moments after the split, I stopped and walked for a bit. Partly to give myself a break, but also to take it in: holy SHIT. I’d just thrown down a flat-8 pace for 10 miles! I hadn’t done that in YEARS. AWESOME.

I had no plan for this juncture of the race, but I honestly didn’t care. So I cranked my music and kept plugging away as the trails continued. These trails kind of kicked my ass, to be honest; the weaving and all the minor bumps and dips were making it tough for me to find my own Lizard zone.

Perhaps amazingly, my last 3.1 weren’t all that far off from the previous 10 miles:

8:12, 8:14, 8:18

Managing to kick things up to a 7:04 pace for the last 0.1 (my watch measured 0.2), I finished with an overall of 1:45:43.

Which was, in my fact, exactly my best half time since the March 2015 Georgia Publix Half.

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Eugene finishers! Left to right: Dave, Keeley, The Lady, me

I waited at the finish for Keeley (also doing the half), at which point we met up with Dave (who’d enjoyed some hiking + alone time to vent about putting up with runners) to engage in the subtle art and definite witchcraft of Predicting Where The Lady Would Be So We Could Cheer Her On.

We found a spot around mile 22(ish) that was easy to get to, and set up shop. When The Lady came by, I ran with her for just long enough to ascertain how she was holding up, grab a selfie, and to remember that I’d just raced a half and didn’t have functional legs.

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Would YOU be smiling at mile 22? Like I said: badass.

(I’ll link to The Lady’s race report once it goes up)

After the race we went back to the Airbnb to get cleaned up and, unfortunately, check out. We couldn’t really even stick around to relax. By evening, we were back in Portland, though we did take this opportunity to buy a bunch of ice cream and play several round of Peggle before happily crashing.

Monday, April 30: Another bright-and-early wake-up to catch a flight back to Athens. We said goodbye to our hosts, thanking them both for putting us up (and putting up with us). The flight and drive back, while long, were uneventful.

Final Thoughts

Even now, a month after the race, I still don’t know where my fitness really stands. I still burn out on quality workouts pretty quickly, but I seem to have a strange ability to maintain a sustained pace for a longer-than-expected period of time if my mental game is on-point.

And maybe that’s the real take-away here: my physical fitness is absolutely, definitely, positively coming back. More quality workouts, especially tempo runs, would certainly help things, but the sheer volume (and lack of injuries KNOCK ON WOOD) has done wonders on its own. What’s still missing, what would really get me to the next level, is an improvement in my mental game.

Annnd I’m still kinda stumped on that one. As the summer months close in, and the temperatures and humidity skyrocket, mental toughness will be the name of the game; so in some sense, I can count on a baseline level of development through simply maintaining this volume through the summer. But I’m still hungry for getting on the hunt again: a sub-1:45 half marathon that puts my PR on notice, a 45-minute 10K, or even a pair of sub-7-minute miles strung together.

I’ve come a long way in the past 12-18 months; the progress is tangible. If nothing else, Eugene was an indicator that, if I can get my mental game in order, there’s a lot more progress to be had.

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Oh Pacific Northwest, you so purty.

Marching, marching, marching

I still haven’t set a PR in one of the four major categories (5K, 10K, Half, Full) since 2014. But man, am I racking up the mileage like it’s 2014!

This past week I hit a whopping 43.78 miles, which is 6th on my all-time list. Note that the 40-mile week from January is a little further down the list… and nowhere will you find anything from 2016 or 2017.

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All-time mileage in one week. Pretty sparse of late.

Even more interesting, though, is the trend of late. Coming off a really strong second-half of 2017, I seem to be maintaining and even building mileage volume since the new year. With the exception of those two weeks in February where my knee started acting up (and I took it seriously), it’s been mid-to-high 30s each week for the most part.

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Aw yiss.

We’re entering into the final couple of weeks of training for Eugene. The Lady is going to knock this next BQ attempt out of the park; her training has been going well (particularly in the last couple weeks).

As for me? Honestly, no idea. I haven’t gone into a half marathon with a mind to set a PR (or even feeling like there was a chance of doing so) in literally years. Now, I doubt I could expect to go into this with any realistic shot of breaking my 1:41 from 2014, but I may very well have a realistic shot of running my best half since the Georgia Publix Half the first April we were in Athens; the last few half marathons (1:48, 1:53, 1:46, 1:48) have been consistently under 1:50 (and by a decent margin) after a year of being consistently over 1:50 (by an equally decent margin).

Let’s see what happens!

Injuries and All-Binny (Albany Half)

Yeah yeah, it’s March already and this is pretty much my first blog post of the year, despite saying I would blog more often. It’s a work in progress.

At any rate, January started off well, but February was marred by my first injury of the year: some kind of inner knee muscle/tendon pull. I can’t be more specific because I’m honestly not sure what it was, but during runs I was starting to feel a “pull” in my left knee (inside the right part of the socket). I thought perhaps it had something to do with a really tight inner left groin tendon I’d been trying to stretch over the previous couple weeks, but even now I have no solid proof.

You can see the progression of it pretty starkly:

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After recording my highest single-week mileage since April 2015 (!), I was starting to feel that pull during the workouts the following week. It’d go away–like it was a muscle that needed to be warmed up–but by the time Saturday’s long run came around, it wasn’t going away. Hence, a 2.6-mile run was all before I bagged it.

The next week was rest, followed by cross-training of ellipticals and rowing machines. I did try to run on it that first Thursday on the treadmill, but quit after only 0.4mi as I could feel the pulls getting tighter with each step. Wasn’t worth it.

In addition to heavy cross-training, I also brought back some single-leg workouts I picked up from PT back in Pittsburgh. All that together seemed to do the trick: I ran 8 pain-free miles the following Saturday, and then slowly upped my mileage over the next week with no problems.

I’ve since been congratulated many times on showing restraint in how I approached the injury, and the abundance of caution I exercised. I missed 100 miles in February (had 82.98), and my race fitness for the Albany Half this past weekend certainly took a hit, but a week off running that results in missing a small mileage goal and slightly degraded tune-up performance versus potentially multi-week (multi-month?) downtime? I’ll take the former, thanks.

Which brings me to this past weekend: the Albany half marathon!

This is actually our third year participating in the event–Strava was kind enough to remind me of this fact and show me the trend over those years in my performance.

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SPOILER ALERT I’m improving!

This year (as with every year, I think) I went in with pretty low expectations. The Lady and I had just had a brutal work week, including at least one night for both of us where we didn’t get more than a few hours’ sleep. And I’d missed a week of training a only a few weeks before, courtesy of the aforementioned injury. Still, I was hoping to put in a performance at least on par with last year’s. Furthermore, The Lady was treating the race as a tune-up for Eugene, and with her job promotion formalized on Friday, she wanted to see just how much wind she had at her back! And I, of course, wanted to see if I could keep up 🙂

Things certainly started off with a bang: I got a little caught up with the fast-packers, especially since The Lady was out to see what she could do at the halfway point for our Eugene race in late April. The first few miles were a bit faster than I’d originally planned:

8:04, 8:10, 8:06, 7:51

Still, I’ve internalized over the past few years that one should not look a faster-than-anticipated mile gift horse in the mouth. Instead, consider it a gift of buffer space if needed later in the race when things aren’t clicking quite as well.

Somewhere within the first mile, one of our own Athens Road Runners snapped my picture.

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Mile 1 and Feelin’ Fun.

I kept considering slowing down, but around mile 2.5 was a water stop, and I was slowly passed by a group of steady-paced racers, and I just decided I’d hang with them for as long as I could. I was also intent on focusing only on the mile I was on: do what felt good, and worry about the later miles when I got there.

8:00, 8:08, 8:08, 7:56

Still rock-solid pacing, though after the very first mile I didn’t look at my paces, opting to go entirely by feel. I was also definitely starting to feel the pain at this point, my week off from running thrown into sharp relief. I yearn for the days when flat-8s for 13.1 miles feels like a manageable workout instead of a race, but that was not this day.

8:14, 8:11

At this point, I definitely had to start letting that pacing group go, as I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. There was a long, uncovered stretch on a main city drag around mile 8.5; it’s right when things start getting hard, it’s completely unshaded, and it’s long and straight and pretty much flat as a pancake (with a slight uphill, if anything). That one hits pretty hard, and I knew it would be a slog from there.

8:31, 8:21

Yeah, definitely in pain at this point. I was still focused on just the current mile, but I had resumed checking my mile splits, which didn’t help my mental game. I did, however, blast Wonder Woman’s Wrath (and again as I neared the finish). That helped.

8:30

This was really freaking painful. I felt completely gassed and just wanted to cross the finish line. I will say, though–I didn’t feel any of what, until now, had become almost a refrain of being angry with myself at this point in the race for not performing as well as I thought I should’ve been. Certainly a mental game improvement!

The Lady got some pretty awesome pictures of me coming into the finish at a surprisingly-brisk 7:17 pace for the last 0.3 (ok, 0.1, but my watch measured 13.3 so):

I crossed the finish line at 1:48:16 (unofficial), which set a new course record for me by about 15 seconds!

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It’s all in the headband.

It wasn’t a hammer-drop shatter-the-ceiling outing; it was a 15-second improvement over last year, though about 90 seconds slower than last November’s Chickamauga. And it’s still a good 7 minutes beyond my still-standing 2014 half PR. But it did tell me a few valuable things:

  • My mental game is slowly improving. My focus on each individual mile is a small, albeit crucial, step forward. I can’t run with reckless abandon if I’m counting down the miles the whole time.
  • Taking some time off if something is making running physically uncomfortable is always, always, always a good decision. Even if you rage against it at the time.
  • It’s slow, sometimes agonizingly so, but physically I seem to be getting back into things as well. The last three years have been marked by an almost token ~1:53 half marathon time, but in the last year I’ve seen more 1:48s than 1:53s. That’s still a ways off from my PR, but again it’s a definite sign of progress.
  • Snickers are delicious.

In a couple weeks I’ll be doing a fun 15K trail race, and then in late April it’s off to Eugene, OR for the half marathon, while The Lady aims for her second BQ!

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