July Triumphs

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For the first time since March 2017, I broke 100 miles in a month. And by a decently-sizeable margin, too. I know it’s an arbitrary threshold, but it still feels good. Especially considering what the weather here in Athens has been most of the month of July: hot (highs in the 90s) and humid (99% humidity in the mornings). It’s been brutal, but I’ve even managed to top out at a 12-mile long run this month. The milestone is particularly satisfying, given how brutally awful this year’s Peachtree Road Race felt; at the time, it felt like an auspicious start to what historically was an awful month for weather.

Fleet Feet Athens celebrated its 4-year anniversary. Part of the celebration entailed setting goals for the next year. The last thing I want is for my 125+ mile month to skew my self-confidence, but I shot for the stars anyway: the highly-elusive sub-1:40 half, and the equally-intangible sub-4 full (fun fact: I haven’t run a full marathon since Big Sur 2015. high time I changed that!).

Until we celebrated my Dad’s birthday earlier this month, I hadn’t bowled in at least 3 years. I honestly don’t remember the last time, but I know it was before The Lady and I moved to Athens. So color me shocked when I not only broke 130 in both games, but nailed a turkey (not my first, I’m proud to say) in the 10th frame of the first game.

I have to admit: it’s been a good month! Bring on August!

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They really shouldn’t let us out in public.

Another year over, and what have you done?

Not much, frankly. At least, that’s how it feels.

I haven’t posted nearly as many updates here as I’d wanted to over the course of the year, though I’d say that’s probably because I really didn’t have much of anything to post about until the last few months.

And the past few months have been the most insane months, professionally, of my life. So my running has nonetheless been at a kind of treading-water standstill until I can get things under some modicum of control.

My year-over-year running stats aren’t terribly impressive, though I am glad I crossed the almighty 1000-mile mark. Still, didn’t come close to the monstrous 2014 (I have no idea how I did that; I had a freaking wedding, a dissertation defense, and a relocation that year).

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I’m convinced that Garmin changed how their software computes elevation gain from GPS data somewhere in 2012-2013 and again 2014-2015, because seriously, wtf.

This year has been frustrating. I was really hoping it’d be a comeback year for me after last year’s extremely lackluster and injury-prone antics, but that was derailed early on by an injury that just wouldn’t go away, and then further put on hold by a professional life that rode burnout for a couple months. The month-by-month breakdown throws this into sharp relief:

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Take a look at the last few months of 2015, and the first few months of 2016, in comparison to the rest of 2016 (from May onwards): they’re night and freakin’ day.

(This month has been a little weird with travel, sickness, and general burnout recovery, but I’m hoping I can ramp things up in the next 10 days and still hit 100 miles)

October’s Ath Half was a wake-up call that my body has been responding to the training without my consciously realizing it–that I’m slowly getting stronger even if I don’t really feel that way. So now, I want to see if I can start to capitalize on that.

Obviously that would take the form of more frequent structured workouts (I currently do…ZERO!) in the form of speed work at the track and tempo runs. Additionally, I’d like to maintain the current level of weight-training (sessions with Matt are pretty awesome) and hopefully throw in some more cross-training (yoga, erg, cycling).

Of course, this is all going to depend on what my spring shapes up to be. Right now, I’m slated to teach yet another brand-new course, so at least initially that’s going to take up all my time and energy. But since it’s only one course, as opposed to the two from this past fall, I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be such a time sink.

The Lady will be going for her next BQ attempt–Glass City in April–and I’m toying with the idea of hiring her coach to be mine as well. I really want to get back on the horse, and I think adding some structure and accountability to someone other than myself will be the best way to do it. I’m just not sure what form that should take:

  • Should I go for the sub-1:40 half marathon? I’ve been in that hunt for almost 5 years, and achieving that would feel really freaking good.
  • Should I go for the sub-4 hour marathon? I’m still convinced my current 4:17 is a soft PR, and with the right training it could tumble.

The half obviously is more conducive to someone with a tight work schedule, but in some ways I feel like the full would be less stressful and a good way to get my mental game back on track as well as my physical game.

Feel free to leave any feedback on this 🙂

Happy holidays!

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The summer doldrums aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

In this case, though: in spite of the brutal heat and humidity that’s been the near-constant in Athens since June, I’ve managed to maintain a decent level of consistency in my running.

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Took a 1-week break after the Scream half marathon in early July, but otherwise have been dead-on consistent in my weekly mileage for months now. Foot’s been cooperating, and evidently stress levels have been manageable: my blood pressure at today’s physical (first one in two years) was a positively delightful 118/77. I don’t recall it being under 130/90 since sometime in college!

Although my heart rate was 58. In grad school it got as low as 42. Oh well; we’ll get back there, as evidenced by my consistency of late.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been sucky runs; there have been a lot of sucky runs. The heat has been absolutely stifling–with few enough exceptions to count on just one or two hands, it’s been highs in the mid-90s, lows in the low-70s every single day since June began. Oh, and humidity approaching 100% with 70+ degree dew points.

Basically, a sauna for three months straight. Going outside has been awful.

But just in the past few weeks–and it took me a few weeks to even notice–I was more consistently ending runs feeling strong than I was feeling beat up and run down. Again, still plenty of runs where I wanted to die (just this past Saturday, for instance), but they’re beginning to become the exception, instead of the rule.

This is all to say that, following the entire second half of 2015 that was so inconsistent due to ongoing metatarsalgia, and the beginning of 2016 that was so stressful, all signs would currently seem to indicate that I’m actually finding a groove for the first time in a year.

I just hope I haven’t scared it away with this post.

I don’t have any races coming up, or even any planned races in the moderate future. It’s something of an odd situation; usually I’ve got at least one race per month, but this year I think I’ve run barely 5 races total, and one of them was a team relay. On the one hand, I miss racing, but on the other it’s been nice to just focus on the fundamentals of “me + road” and getting back in the swing of things.

Who knows, maybe the switch will suddenly flip when (if?) the temps start falling, and I’ll go right back to cranking out 20-minute 5ks!…yeah, probably not. But as long as I’m logging mileage, it’s a good thing.

Moving back to the starting line

I’m currently sitting in the enormous Oregon Conference Center in Portland, OR for the weeklong PyCon 2016 (where I’ll be speaking later this afternoon, w00t!). However, I wanted to take the brief reprieve–there’s a career fair going on in the main exhibit hall right now, which I arguably don’t need to worry about for at least the next 6 years–to discuss something completely unrelated to Python or science in general (ok, maybe it’s grounded entirely in science, just not in the sort of research I do).

The thought that’s been slowly crystallizing in my mind for the past several months (yes, months) is this idea of “starting over” with running. It’s a tough idea to fully wrap one’s mind around; we certainly remember when we first started running, and we often look fondly at what we once thought of as “long” runs or “fast” runs compared to what we do now. But it never occurs to us–at least, it never occurred to me–that at some point before realities of aging set in, we may essentially have to start from scratch.

Start over. As in, among other things:

  • 3-mile easy-pace runs aren’t hard, but they’re not easy either.
  • Tempo pace feels hard after the first mile.
  • Hitting double-digit mileage in one run is really long.
  • Every single run feels at least a little bit grind-y.
  • (corollary to the previous point:) I have no idea what this “runner’s high” thing is you keep mentioning.

There are plenty of other little points, and I’m sure everyone could name a few from their own experiences (e.g. coming back from an injury), but the real kicker I want to emphasize in all this: these are things new runners don’t think about. They don’t have the experience or the context to remember previous easy runs that were truly easy, or tempo runs that got hard once you were a few miles into the tempo pace, or that it was the 20-milers that were lengthy (10 miles was a cutback run).

Maybe it’s just me and my superhumanly-overactive frontal cortex that runs every little thought into the ground before beating it ad nauseum, but it’s tough to shake the feeling of “this is where I should be in my running” when I don’t perform to my internal expectations.

It was about this time a year ago when I first started seeing a physical therapist in Athens about my nagging metatarsalgia in my left foot. The problem never really improved until months later when I invested in some custom orthotics. Even now, though, it can still be problematic depending on how tired I am and, ultimately, how hard my foot slams into the ground while I’m running.

This injury has resulted not only in a slew of secondary injuries from “compensating” while running (Achilles’ tendonitis, IT band warnings, foot pain)–DON’T DO IT, KIDS; DON’T ALTER YOUR RUNNING FORM–but it’s necessitated a huge pullback in the total mileage I’ve logged. I barely crossed 1000 miles last year after logging nearly 1600 the previous year, and right now I’m on track to do about the same as last year. Only in the last several weeks have I managed a sustained training regimen in the 20+ weekly mileage range.

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Finally putting in some consistent mileage again.

The thought bouncing around my head for months but which I’ve only just started fully elucidating is this: I’m essentially starting over.

My paces and average mileage hearken back to an era nearly half a decade ago, when I was just getting into running and had no frame of reference for any of these concepts. In some sense, particularly given the context of this post so far, that certainly made the process easier: nothing against which to compare myself. Just pure reckless abandon.

But as The Lady has pointed out numerous times, it doesn’t necessarily have to function as a weight, a reminder of what you once were, and how far you’ve fallen. Instead, it can serve as foundational experience, a guide for how to do things the right way. How many times have we said that if we could do it all again, we’d do it differently?

Of course, this comes with the caveat that we first have to accept that we’re starting from scratch. That’s the part that’s been months in the making for me. All this time, I’ve been implicitly assuming it would take only a short time (weeks? days? who knows) to work out the kinks and get back into fighting form.

If only any part of life were that simple!

No, this is a much more sustained effort; I took months off from running. Yes, I increased my cross-training, throwing down hours upon miles upon hours upon miles on the stationary bike and, weather permitting, my beastly Raleigh Talus, Sybil. But you can’t leave something for months at a time and just jump back in without skipping a beat.

So here I am. I’m not fully healed yet–metatarsalgia requires constant vigilance, and I have to keep up with my PT exercises to hold tendonitis at bay–but the last several weeks have demonstrated more promise than the months before that. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those same past several weeks have overlapped with the time where the idea that I really was starting over began to consciously take hold.

Hi. I’m Shannon, and I’m a newbie runner looking to build my mileage and crush my PRs.

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Rebooting and restarting

This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for me with running.

Most of it is due to one big factor I don’t really have much control over: injury (metatarsalgia). That’s come under a bit more control lately, as I received the first of two sets of custom orthotics a few weeks back and can already tell they’re helping redistribute weight where it’s supposed to be and allowing the irritated joints to actually start healing.

That being said, I’m still injured, and my running mileage is still in the tank. I’ve logged barely 950 miles this year; I may yet break 1000, but I’m on track to set the lowest annual mileage since I started tracking it on Garmin Connect.

Of course, the flip side of the injury is the innumerable personal records I’ve set in cycling. This year alone, I’ve logged more cycling workouts, more cycling mileage, and simply more time on the bike than 2011-2014 combined. I have nearly 650 miles on the bike this year, and really that’s all been in the last 6 months. Not too shabby!

All this is to say: I’m hungry to get back into the mix.

The Lady ran an incredible marathon (go read about it!) under the direction of her coach. Given her goal of catching the unicorn this spring, there is absolutely no way I can expect her to help me get back on my feet with running. But I’ve been out of the game so long, I can tell my mental acumen is not nearly where it once was; while I’m still not 100% physically, my biggest weakness is far more mental than physical right now.

As such, I’ll also be hiring The Lady’s coach; not to catch a unicorn, but to get me back into fighting form. I’m going to need someone to help me set goals and to keep running when I want to quit. My mental game was my greatest Achilles’ heel even before I was injured; it’s likely a veritable sea monster now, and I’ll need help taming it once more.

Yes, I netted a sub-1:50 half marathon at Chickamauga last month, despite being injured and running a grand total of 90 miles over all of September, October, and November combined (including the race itself). I even managed to feel phenomenal while doing it. But while it’s pretty thrilling to be able to hit sub-1:50 while subsisting purely on long bike rides (50-mile rides are not trivial, bee tee dubs), it’s fleeting. It doesn’t stick with me. It doesn’t stoke the fire in my belly. The thought of a sub-1:50 half marathon is fun, but doesn’t make me bolt out of bed.

The thought of a sub-1:35 half, on the other hand, most certainly does.

I want to run with reckless abandon again. I want to race a half marathon, putting my heart and soul into it; feeling like I’m tearing to shreds in the final miles and the only thing holding it all together is sheer force of will. I want to race a full marathon, gritting my teeth through the final 10K while stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other in a staunch refusal to accept anything less than my first sub-4hour finish. I want to haul ass while feeling like death warmed up, confident that nothing and no one could coax a single rate constant’s worth more ATP reactions out of my muscles at this moment than I am right now.

I’m ready to get back to work.

Running “inside out”

First of all, if you haven’t seen Pixar’s latest film Inside Out, I highly recommend it. Bring tissues.

I’ll avoid spoiling specifics from the movie, but if your concerns extend to thematic spoilers, you may want to skip this post for now. Consider yourselves warned.

I’d already been planning a post along these lines ever since the Peachtree Road Race over July 4th weekend, but frankly that was just the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I got an extra boost in this direction after reading Megan’s post: taking mid-year stock of one’s running goals.

Here’s the punchline: I’m not happy with where I am right now. In fact, I’m downright upset to the point of being angry.

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Peachtree mile splits.

The Peachtree started off well enough–until we hit the first uphill. Then it was like my mind + body just threw in the towel; I couldn’t recover, even once the elevation leveled off. If Peachtree was the only time this happened, I’d simply write it off as a bad day. But I feel like this has been the story of my races of late: start off at a pace that’s brisk but still [seemingly!] safely slower than PR pace, and blow up anyway halfway through. Add to that the lack of motivation I’ve been feeling lately, and you have my current state of mind.

It’s not like I’m out of shape, either. I’m certainly not in PR form right now–breaking a 42:45 10K PR is going to be a beast under the best of conditions, to say nothing of a humid and rainy race morning on a course I didn’t hardly remember–but I nonetheless didn’t expect a breakdown this bad:

Now, you might be wondering where Inside Out comes in. The Lady and I saw the movie recently, and…well, it hit a nerve. That, along with this lovely Ask Polly article posted by a separate friend of mine, triggered one or two brain cells.

One of the many things I love about running is the variety of reasons people do it. But I’d also have to argue that, to some extent, everyone who runs does so because it’s fun. It may not be one’s primary motive–mine is food, thanks–but if it’s “zero fun sir” then I find it difficult to believe any other motivation would be sufficient. And in all that fun-having, there’s zero downside, right?

Well sure, we’ll readily admit we’re crazy: we run in bad weather (Peachtree), we run super early in the mornings, we run crazy miles, etc etc. But actually admitting that a run legitimately wasn’t fun? Go ahead: say out loud that your last run wasn’t fun.

Not easy. Especially for me, a lifetime people-pleaser. When someone asks how my run went, I love to tell them how great it was and how much I love running and that I can’t wait for my next race and… you get the idea. Plus, when someone asks “oh how is X” where X is someone or something you devote a significant amount of time to, I sincerely doubt anyone wants to respond with “yeah it blows right now.”

But then I read that NY Mag article (emphasis mine):

[Y]our life sounds compromised and constrained to me. Someone told you to improve your attitude and color within the lines and you listened, and now all of the powerful emotions swirling around inside you have been stilled and muted and you can’t access them anymore.

That’s pretty much what I do: run a bad race, get upset with myself for it, but bury it deep down and “find the positives” in it whenever I have an audience.

And then I watched Inside Out, the Pixar tale of “emotions with emotions,” following the inner monologue of a young girl whose world is flipped upside down when her family moves across the country. The NY Times wrote a great article on the science behind the movie, and two main points stood out (emphasis mine):

First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations. But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation.

Second, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.

So to rephrase my original punchline in the context of these revelations: it’s ok to be upset, disappointed, and even angry! Furthermore, it’s ok to express that outwardly!

Running is personal. Running is emotional. Runners have a great deal of passion for what they do; running is certainly central to who I am. It’s challenging, it’s rewarding, and it’s responsible for a lot of physical, mental, and emotional growth. How on earth could one possibly convince themselves that any kind of negative emotion toward running is, in any sense, “incorrect”?

And yet, that’s precisely what I’ve done, and in so doing have directly created the lack of motivation I cited before. After all, if running is supposed to make me happy, and I can’t admit to myself that I’m having a difficult time with it right now, it would seem to follow that I’d start avoiding running, therefore avoiding disappointment.

BUT. That’s not how running works, or really anything that’s deeply meaningful. Sometimes it’s Sadness who has to save the day.

In that vein, I’m admitting to myself (and, therefore, everyone else) that I’m frustrated with my running. I feel stuck. I feel like I’m not getting any faster, and I’m tired of feeling tired all the time. I feel like every workout sucks and I just don’t have the mental toughness to push through it. I want a sub-4-hour full; I want a sub-1:40 half; I want a sub-40-minute 10K and a sub-20-minute 5K. I want to go on tempo runs and track workouts and kick their asses. Not necessarily come out feeling like I could run another 10 miles, but come out knowing I put everything I had into that workout. I miss knocking out 5×1600 with straight 6:20s; I miss crushing 9-mile tempo runs at a consistent 6:50 pace; I miss cruising at 7:45s for 12 miles and then unleashing hell at mile 13 with a 7:15 mile.

I miss all that and I want to get back there. To do that, I’m not ignoring my disappointment anymore; rather, I’m staring it down. I’m accepting that it’s part of being a passionate runner in love with the sport. Most of all, I’m allowing myself to feel the range of emotions that come with that passion, whether or not I think I’m “supposed” to feel that way.

To use the vernacular from the Ask Polly article (emphasis mine):

You have to dig. You have to get down on your hands and knees and let go of your pride and you have to dig, with every ounce of your strength. You’re young, and you haven’t done this before. Do it now! If you commit to nothing else, commit to figuring out what makes you happy, and what makes you unhappy. But to do that, you have to accept that you DO have preferences. Stop trying to be good and stop trying to have a good attitude.

And when a motherfucker comes by and tells you you’re doing it wrong, laugh out loud. No one knows better than you how to do this. Trust your instincts. You can cry and be grumpy and be angry and be happy and hate street fairs and have a great attitude and have a shitty attitude and work hard and be lazy, all at the same time. Follow your heart. Don’t give up. Laugh out loud, and get back to digging.

I don’t know when I’ll get back there. Marathon training is just around the corner, so it’s possible it’ll happen sooner rather than later. I’ve already been making strides in strength training; my bench press has risen considerably from a very difficult 1-2 reps at 185lbs to an almost-comfortable 3-4 reps at 205lbs, and my general upper body strength has been noticeably improving. I threw down a very consistent ladder workout (400/800/1200/800/400 at 5K pace [6:35] with 400 rests in between) earlier this week; it was definitely difficult but I kept my focus, even without any music. My foot/toe knuckle inflammation seems to be going steadily down; I’m conscious of it less and less and it’s not impacting my running.

Ladder workout pace (top) and cadence (bottom).

Ladder workout pace (top) and cadence (bottom).

Most importantly: I’m enjoying running more. I’m feeling fired up (and a little nervous!) for these harder workouts. I’m feeling the passion creep back in, even though I know disappointment from a crash-and-burn could still be right around the corner. But it’s that openness to all emotions, that reckless abandon–damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!–that is where my runner’s high really comes from.

That, and chewy chocolate chip cookies. Omnomnom.

Run-up (heh) to marathon training

Man, real life can be quite the time sink, #amirite?

At any rate, in the intervening weeks since my last update, I’ve since halted the run streak due to nagging pain under the knuckle of my second left toe. I’ve started seeing a PT, who looked at my gait and–I kid you not–said “I can’t let you keep testing, because otherwise you’ll break records that *I* set. Your gait is fine; take some time off and you’re good.” While I haven’t stopped running entirely, I have been doing a lot more cross-training (stationary bike, elliptical, weights, push-ups at work) and am still participating in the weekly Fleet Feet group runs, Athens Road Runner track workouts, and group long runs.

Still, it means my mileage has tanked somewhat; I barely eked out a 100-mile June (100.47, to be exact) for a 6-month total of 672.27. Very much on track to break 1000 miles again, but way short of the monstrous 1600+ I put up in 2014; I sincerely doubt I’ll be able to log 1000 miles in the next 6 months. Not without further injuring myself, at least.

So if absolute mileage isn’t my goal for 2015, what is?

How about some PRs, maybe with some cross-training thrown in? To expound a little further:

  • The Lady and I are running the Peachtree Road Race in a few days’ time, and while we managed to get ourselves seeded at the VERY FRONT of the pack–wave A–I don’t think it’ll be a PR course. Still, I’d love to get under 44 minutes.
  • We’ve also registered for two half marathons in October: the Michelob Ultra 13.1 Atlanta, and the Ath Half right here in Athens. My half PR stands at 1:41 and change, and while I couldn’t come close to that back in March at the Georgia Half, I still put up a respectable 1:45. For October, I’m just going to lay it out: I want sub-1:40.
  • I mentioned marathon training in the title of this post. In just a few weeks, The Lady and I will start training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in mid-November in the foothills of the Appalachians. I’ve run three marathons with varied degrees of success–Philly was an implosion, Marine Corps was better, and Big Sur was still better even though my time was worst–and my PR remains stuck at 4:17: what I ran at Philly and beat by 8 measly seconds at Marine Corps. I want sub-4 hours.
  • I have a beastly Talus mountain bike that hasn’t seen the outside of our garage since we moved to Athens. I want to take Sybil out for a spin or several.

I’ve had some motivational issues over the last month. In fact, all things considered, my current nagging foot injury came at the best possible time: marathon training was still far enough away to provide plenty of time for a full recovery, and it gave me a good excuse to take a bit of a step back from running. I’d been enjoying it less and less; I still liked the idea of running, but whenever I actually got out there, I spent the whole run wanting to be done.

Effectively, “burned out” is the phrase I’d use to sum up how I’ve been feeling. So perhaps it’s time for a breather before training ramps up. The summer has been nice for settling into my 6-month-old new job, but with it came a brutal three-week heat wave: mid-70s and humid in the mornings, mid-to-upper 90s in the afternoons…and no rain for that entire period. Every run, especially the evening group runs, was painful and grindy. Pulling back a little has helped, but I’m still working on shifting my mentality (and getting more sleep; it’s been a very busy couple of weeks and my sleep has been iffy) from “avoid pain” to “haul ass“. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m hopeful that I’ve been taking small steps in the right direction.

Wish us luck this weekend, as we join 60,000 of our closest friends to run the world’s largest 10K!

Have a very happy and safe 4th of July!