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.
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!
…and meanwhile we’ve been run streaking since Memorial Day.
I’ve hit that period of the run streak where my body starts to realize what’s actually happening and stages a rebellion. It’s not particularly pleasant; coupled with the copious travel I’m having a difficult time finding time just to write about Big Sur, which happened two months ago now.
To continue the 2014 march of unparalleled mileage, I hit yet another milestone a few days ago: I broke my previous run streak record of 118 days, and as of yesterday have reached 123 consecutive days of 1+ miles.
I’ve hit all the major milestones I wanted to hit this year–shattered my all-time annual mileage in a mere 7 months, broke my previous run streak record, and set a new monthly mileage record in excess of 200 miles–and I’m incredibly proud of that.
That being said…
I’m going to be aggressively tapering for the next several days leading up to the Air Force Marathon, and beyond that as well. I had a bit of a wake-up call yesterday when I attempted one final quality workout to tune up the fast-twitch muscles with my ultimate AF goal in mind of a sub-1:40 half marathon…and it almost blew up in my face.
My original intent for this run was to do a 1-mile warm-up, followed by 4 miles at HM goal pace (7:15-7:30), followed by 1-2 miles at tempo pace (6:50-7:00). It didn’t exactly go that way:
The first three quality miles were actually pretty good, but the whole time I felt really weak. And not just physically; I could tell my brain wasn’t settling in. I had no mental toughness, so as soon as the pain started hitting after mile 4, I had no capacity to push past it.
My mind and body are sending me a very concrete signal: you’re pushing too hard. Not just with training, but with my Ph.D. defense in just over two months from now, I’m flirting dangerously with burning the candle at both ends. Running should be my primary stress relief, not yet another energy sink.
It’s too early to say what kind of shape I’ll be in for the Air Force half marathon. I’d love to say that I know I’ll PR, but I’m not sure on that front yet. It really depends on how aggressively I can rest myself, both physically and mentally.
Following last week’s 18-mile long run, I simultaneously notched two milestones.
1: Most mileage in a single month: 181.50. That shatters my previous record (March 2014, 162.01) by nearly 20 miles, and extends my streak of consecutive months logging 100+ miles to 8.
2: Crossed the 1000-mile threshold for 2014. This happened precisely on July 31, making the case that it took exactly 7 months to reach 1000 miles. In 2013, I hit that mark in late November. In 2012, it was December.
Here’s the really frightening part in all this: this month, August, is monster month for Air Force 2014 training. Which means, assuming I don’t anger the running gods and turn an ankle–KNOCK ON WOOD–the mileage will be even higher than July.
I know, of course, that this all pales in comparison to hardened marathon veterans and ultramarathon runners. I recently read the blog post of a fast[hole-ish] runner here in Pittsburgh who wrote about the 80-90 mile weeks she was logging, and how a 60-mile cutback week was a nice reprieve. But insofar as personal milestones go, this is huge. It’s exciting! Especially considering everything that’s been going on in 2014, I’m proud of what I’ve already been able to do.
It’s something nice for me to keep in mind as the year continues–there’s still a lot more of 2014 to go.
To ever-so-quickly-summarize: the last few weeks of training have been absolutely spectacular. And ridiculously grueling. To wit, my weekly mileages:
28.99 (seriously? .99? seriously??)
If I had to pick a theme for the first third of this training cycle, it’d be: acclimation. Acclimation to all sorts of new and lovely circumstances, not the least of which is this friggin’ heat and humidity. I will say I am grateful for the fact that it seems to have warmed very gradually this summer, easing us into warmer weather. But I can’t really say that my body has followed suit, just yet. There have been a few runs that, while certainly productive, have left me drained and exhausted. Our first tempo run this cycle didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped for that very reason: it was just too hot and muggy to push the sub-7s that I really wanted to.
As seems to be my burden, I’ve had to re-learn how to run by feel instead of my usual run-precisely-my-goal-pace-and-damn-the-torpedoes approach. Graduate school is really ramping up–I’m hoping to, you know, graduate this fall–so I have no shortage of stress points to keep me company. But running is my escape, my release; turning it into an overcompetitive obligation would be burning the candle at both ends. It’s a lesson I have to keep re-teaching myself, but it’s an incredibly important one to keep close. I have several PRs that can attest to its effectiveness.
Part of that is taking a rest when I need it. That took the form of a vacation in Florida last week, coinciding with our first cutback week after no fewer than four build weeks.
Couples shot on the end of the pier after our last run of vacation 🙂
The beach was a tad windy.
Relaxing on the patio as the sun sets.
The Lady enjoys her vacation.
I made a friend!
We kept our runs short and sweet, the longest being 4 miles, in part because it was so hot and humid that we really couldn’t fathom going any further than that. But the rest was much-needed and much enjoyed. A really hot and humid run, followed by a hearty breakfast, followed by a long shower, followed by a 3-hour nap is pretty much the best thing ever. I already miss it.
But back to the real world!
The Lady and I ended our cutback week in Pittsburgh with the 2014 rendition of the Sweet Sprint 3K. This is one of the most interesting races I’ve done, as it has the dubious distinction of being the most painful. Seriously. I thought 5Ks were painful…and then ran this one last year. You know how you say “I can always run 1 more mile”? While that may be true, have you ever had to run another 1.86 miles? No? I contend that, in an all-out sprint, 1.86 miles is about as bad as it gets. Not far enough to warrant an actual pacing strategy aside from “go as fast as you possibly can”, but absolutely long enough for it to really hurt like hell.
The race is so-named because the finish line features a delicious assortment of cookies and cupcakes. It’s like they know me.
This year, however, I surprised myself: not only did I avoid my racing-in-humidity fade that nailed me in last year’s Sweet Sprint, but I netted 1st in my AG for the second year in a row! Of course, I couldn’t hold a candle to The Lady, who won 2nd female overall! I lowered my time from 12:00 flat last year to 11:38 this year, an average pace of 6:18. And the most surprising part: it felt good. Yeah I was definitely hurting towards the end, but I daresay from miles 0.25-1.25, I actually felt like I was cruising. Fire was setting in my legs around 1.25, but that was when the “you’re almost there!” signs started showing up, urging me to put in everything I had left. And there were, of course, cupcakes.
Aside from this and a couple other races, I’ve just been logging mileage like a madman. I successfully completed the RWRunStreak, recording a whopping 193.77 miles from Memorial Day through the 4th of July.
And as previously, I’m continuing the streak. I started it with a 14-day buffer, so I’m now up to 57. I fully intend to break my previous streak before calling this one quits! …unless, of course, I have to, aka I’ll be smart about it.
Speaking of mileage: I recorded 152.22 miles in the month of June, my second-highest monthly total ever (second only to this past March). And it’s only the first month of training! We still have August–aka Monster Month–yet to go. Holy shnikies, people.
And while I’m gawking, how about this little fact-a-roo: in the first half of this year, from January 1 to June 30, I logged 834.94 miles. To put that in perspective, I need another 300 to break my 2013 mileage record for the entire year. At the current rate, that’s another 2 months. If I keep at the current pace (not upsetting the running gods here, just speculating in hypotheticals!), it’s going to be really, really hard to top.
What’s on deck? I have a fundraiser 5K later this month (check out our team!), followed by the Run for Gold metric marathon in August. Then: it’s USAF time! We’ve already got a hardy group of 6 people, so it’s shaping up to be a blast for the 4th year in a row. And while I’m certainly hoping for that elusive sub-1:40 and my all-time-dream of a 1:35, I’ll just be happy to make it to the starting line healthy. Here’s to a phenomenal training cycle!
I feel somewhat like an imposter writing this up: I’m actually “only” running the half marathon come September (as I mentioned in a previous post), but I’m still training with The Lady as if I was running the full, at least until such time that my thesis obligations mandate a decrease in mileage.
But anywho. How about that first official week of training?!
This week featured the first 1600-repeats track workout in a very long time. I was aiming high–I really, really want a sub-20 minute 5K this year–and I didn’t miss by much. I don’t even remember when the last track session was with mile repeats, but it’s been at least a couple of months. Not a bad performance given that kind of lag in between workouts!
1st and 2nd repeats were dead on; sub-6:30 min/mi is pretty much my goal. The 3rd set I struggle-bugged it a little, as I was really feeling like death at that point. Still, it was a solid showing and definitely a good spot for further improvement.
This week’s long run was 12 miles (yeah, the first of the training cycle!) and featured the awesome loop that goes all around the city, hugging the rivers and taking us through the likes of Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Schenley, Point State Park, and the Strip District. My first few runs along this route were…varied in quality…but in the last year this has been a mainstay that I love simply by virtue of how much of Pittsburgh I get to see. It’s beautiful.
City of Bridges.
Check out those ripped arms 😉
The last 2 miles of our 12-miler were at race paces: The Lady at her goal marathon pace, and me at my goal half-marathon pace.
I should expound a bit on this point. The last two half marathons I’ve run were PRs, but I’m still gunning for that elusive sub-1:40. However, at this point, I’ve switched gears and set my sights at my all-time goal: 1:35. I’ve been hungry for this one for over two years, and have joked at times (honestly, kind of half-joked) that I would retire once I hit 1:35. Don’t ask me why it’s so important to me; once I hit it, I’ll probably just set my sights at 1:30 anyway. But there it is.
So despite not having notched 1:40 yet, I’m already setting my goal half-marathon pace at 7:15min/mi, at least for the purposes of training. I know it’s bloody fast, and I’m still entirely open to the idea that, come September, I just won’t yet be able to crank that hard for 13.1 miles. But I figure that, in the spirit of running with reckless abandon–flirting heavily with that line between having fun and pushing a little too hard–I’m going to train at 7:15, and let the chips fall where they may at Air Force.
The last 2 miles on our 12-miler were 7:26 and 7:11. Not too shabby.
I’m still treating my non-long-run, non-quality-workout days as “run whatever feels good”, i.e. not looking at my watch, specifically so my legs (and brain) can recover. I’m also prepared for the possibility that I’ll crash and burn on a few quality workouts, and maybe even during the half-marathon pace portions of our long runs. But I’ll roll with it. Part of my problem last year was perpetual mental gridlock between “I must run faster” and “I must rest.” This year, I’m returning to where I started: “Sure, why not? I’ll pull back if I need to.” It has its problems, but it’s arguably a significant step up from the former.
…and I may need to pull back, given that we’re in a 4-week build:
It was a bit of scheduling voodoo that necessitated a 4-week build cycle. I’m rather excited about it!
And next weekend, The Lady and I are running the Man Up 10K! Last 10K before I submit my application for a seeded position at the September Great Race. Given I was accepted the last two years, I’m hoping for a hat trick…and so I can start up front with The Lady, who was invited to be a seeded runner. Badass!
As of this morning’s tempo run, I’m officially halting my run streak. The tally stands at 118 consecutive days.
Why, you may ask? After a kickass 7-mile tempo this morning, I noticed my left IT band. It didn’t hurt, didn’t even feel uncomfortable, but the point is I noticed it. I could feel something on the side of my knee, the same spot as my previous IT band injury that sidelined me for the 2013 Pittsburgh half. As much as I would love to continue run streaking–in all honesty I probably could as long as I was viciously foam rolling–I’m on such a hot streak at the moment that I’d much rather be safe than sorry.
March always seems to be my month for blasting out the gates, and this particular rendition is no exception. I’ve already logged 134.47 miles, behind only October 2012 (136.84) and October 2013 (142.84), both of which were months of marathon training. I’ve made enormous speed gains almost overnight as well, with my “easy” runs coming in with average paces south of 8:30 for 8 and 13 miles, respectively (the latter was a 1:51 half-marathon!). Just this morning I posted my fastest 7-mile tempo run to date at 51:45, cruising at a 6:44 pace for 5 miles and beating my previous 7-mile record by over a minute. And last week, while traveling for an interview and getting next to no sleep as a result, I still managed a respectable 3×1600 track workout:
On top of all these speed gains, I’ve been adhering to MyFitnessPal to try and knock off a few pounds (also in the interest of helping my speed). I came out of the holiday season around 230 pounds, and as of today I am down to 210, which I haven’t weighed since high school. That was my goal; any less than 210, particularly at this level of training, would be detrimental (or so I feel).
With all this momentum and good March vibes, it’s definitely a tough decision to end the streak. But it’s also eerily similar to my situation last year: I had an explosive March (after a particularly lethargic February) and set a bunch of personal speed records, only to try to naively push through an injury as I was peaking. I’m not going to make the same mistake this time around.
The Lady is also wisely backing off the streak for similar reasons. She’s the biggest reason I was able to stick with the streak for as long as I did–we excel at keeping each other honest. Now we’ll be partners in foam rolling 🙂 One benefit of ending the streak: it implicitly sets a goal for the next one!
We’ll both be running the Just A Short Run half marathon this coming Saturday (assuming everything goes well with our respective nagging injuries, of course). My A-goal is a 7:30 pace, bringing me in somewhere in the 1:38-1:39 range. As of this race, I’ll be aiming to break a PR that has stood for two years, so I’m pretty pumped. The Lady has her own A-goal, which I’ll let her post about if she wants. Let’s just say she could potentially net a pretty sweet starting spot at the Pittsburgh half in May, so wish us both luck this weekend!
The upshot of the race is this: it’s a 5-mile loop that can be run two (10 miles), three (15 miles), or four (20 miles) times. What’s neat is that you can literally change your mind mid-race: if you’re running the 10 but decide you’re cruising so well you want to keep going, you can! If you’re running the 20 but decide today isn’t your day, you can drop down to 15!
Historically, despite the name, this race has been absolutely frigid. Two years ago there was a ton of snow on the ground and the temperature was nowhere near melting. Last year, there wasn’t as much snow, but it was just as cold.
This year! This year was a break, and it actually deserved the words “spring” AND “thaw”! There was still a surprising amount of snow on the ground, and the wind was actually pretty brutal–20mph gusts were the norm–but the sky was crystal clear and the temperatures swung upwards of nearly 50 degrees. Contrast this with the deep freeze we’ve been under since mid-January, and you have a recipe for a lot of very excited runners.
As for the race itself, The Lady and I had some pretty lofty goals. We started our training for the Pittsburgh half not too long ago, and we’re also still keeping up with the run streak (88 days and counting!). We didn’t want to push our mileage too high this early in training, so we both opted for the 10-mile option, thereby seamlessly folding it into our training program as this week’s long run (and only the second long run of our training cycle).
We both wanted to run the 10 miles at our goal half-marathon pace. Hers is a 7:49 min/mi, putting her right around a 1:42 finishing time. Achieving this pace in March’s Just A Short Run would give her qualifying credentials to apply for a seeded position at the Pittsburgh half in May, which would be pretty freakin’ badass.
My goal half-marathon pace is a 7:38 min/mi, which is exactly 1:40. I know it’s still beyond my abilities, but I wanted to see if 10 miles (instead of 13.1) at my goal pace wasn’t insurmountable. However, I knew I needed some help. Just a couple of weeks ago, The Lady and a friend of hers ran this same track and I tagged along. I barely eked out an 8:30 pace, feeling like crap just about the whole time. I knew I was in better shape than that for this race, but knocking a full 10 minutes off was going to be challenging no matter what.
Enter Mark (who I affectionately call “cranberry dude”).
He’s a 3-hours-and-really-no-change marathoner. He was originally on the fence about running the Spring Thaw this year (he, like myself and countless other runners, have a hard time running “easy” when there’s a clock going), but I convinced him to do it as a pacer for me. I told him my goal was a 7:30 pace for 10 miles. He agreed.
Thus set the stage for one hell of a ride.
Mark is highly active in the Pittsburgh running community, and my request for a pacer sparked a deluge of similar requests. As I lined up with him at the starting line, there was a solid handful of other folks with us as well. Amusingly, there was also an “official” 7:30 pace group, but they took off and we lost sight of them after the first mile. Fail.
The Lady was also running with a friend of hers who is similarly matched, and they were gunning for a 7:49 pace. We wished each other luck at the starting line before splitting off in our respective groups. Soon enough, we were on our way! (sans some equipment malfunction***)
The first couple of miles were spectacular. The group of us just talked, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and Mark gave me occasional pointers as we went (he used to be a running coach in his spare time; in particular, he kept reminding me to stick to the tangents of the course, as “those extra steps will come in handy later in the race.” Boy was he spot-on). Most of the “unofficial” pace group were folks training for marathons or ultras; I was the only one for whom a 7:30 half-marathon pace was a reach (one guy’s goal marathon pace was 7:30…I can only dream).
Coming into the race, I knew I could do the first 5 miles at 7:30 without a problem. It was the next 5 I was worried about. As we crossed the starting line for the second loop, I told Mark “this is where my race begins.”
Yeah, it definitely did.
Miles 6-7 felt pretty good, too. Mile 8 was where the pain really started hitting, and hard. Up until then, my breathing was extremely regular and not at all labored. Very quickly, things got hard and I was sucking wind. I knew I could finish, but the question was whether I could keep pushing at this pace. The final two miles have two hills that, in the first lap, were energizing: they’re not big enough to be really challenging, but they’re just hilly enough to be motivating. This time around, though, they were just plain taxing. The second one in particular at the end of mile 9 really knocked me back; I started falling off my pace, slipping into the low 8s.
I knew I could do this, if my brain would just shut up. Mark and some of the other guys were yelling encouragement, which given my days of football from high school, was actually helpful. Mark asked at the top of the hill if I had anything left in the tank; I shook my head no, but after rolling downhill into the final straightaway (a 0.75-mile straightaway), I suddenly felt a rush and started pushing things. I don’t know where the burst came from, but at the very least I wanted to make up the time I’d lost on the hill.
I crossed the finish line at 1:15:22, a solid 7:33 pace and 10th in my [extremely competitive] age group. Check out the video on the official results to see how much pain I was in as I crossed the finish line (apparently at a 5:55 pace!).
I hobbled off to the side, feeling like I was going to lose my breakfast. That was the hardest and longest I’d ever pushed, and I couldn’t have run another step at that pace (I was grateful indeed for sticking to the tangents of the course!). It took a few minutes before my stomach calmed down, and I could revel in my victory.
The Lady came cruising in at 1:18 flat, nailing her goal pace solidly on its head as well. We congratulated each other and waited for other friends of ours to finish.
Holy shit guys, we ran our goal half-marathon paces for 10 miles straight! I know I couldn’t have done it on my own, and I definitely couldn’t have held the pace for another 3.1 miles, but then again, it’s the very beginning of training; of course I shouldn’t be able to hit my goal just yet! Just a month ago I staggered through these 10 miles at an 8:30 pace; at this race, I knocked a full minute off each mile and felt about as good (maybe even a little better). Who knows what another month (or two!) will bring?
It was an all-around solid race. Great confidence boost, great effort, great people. I can’t thank Mark and his running buddies enough, and I couldn’t be more proud of The Lady for nailing her goal.
***A scaffold holding up the chutes fell at the very start and hit some runners, one of whom is a dear friend of ours. From what I hear, one runner was even carted off in an ambulance (not life-threatening, but serious enough to warrant an on-the-spot check). I’d love for Elite Runners and Walkers, an organization I’ve come to love in my 5.5 years in Pittsburgh, to reach out to these runners to see if there’s anything they need. The comment on their Facebook page was a good start; a formal post would be even better, and personal contact with the injured runners would be ideal.
Here’s a funny story: I logged 120 miles in January. And I’m not training for anything.
To provide some context, I went back to Garmin Connect and generated monthly reports. I wanted to see what my highest monthly mileages have been, and where my previous non-training months ranked compared to months where I was training for something and these couple months of run streaking. The results were a little mind-blowing. Here, in its full glory, is the list of my 16 Highest Monthly Mileages:
Oct 2013: 142.84 miles (MCM peak month)
Oct 2012: 136.84 miles (Philly peak month)
Sept 2013: 133.32 miles (MCM training)
Aug 2013: 125.32 miles (MCM training)
Mar 2013: 122.52 miles (Pittsburgh half training)
Jan 2014: 120.66 miles
Apr 2013: 118.48 miles (Pittsburgh half training)
Aug 2012: 118.30 miles (Philly training)
Sept 2012: 117.24 miles (Philly training)
Apr 2012: 107.97 miles (Pittsburgh half training)
Dec 2013: 100.82 miles
Mar 2012: 97.55 miles (Pittsburgh half training)
Jul 2013: 96.76 miles (MCM training)
Jul 2012: 81.10 miles (Philly training)
Feb 2013: 80.58 miles (Pittsburgh half training)
Jun 2012: 79.98 miles
(for reference: I bought my Garmin and started recording running information in August 2011)
I’ve bolded the two previous months of run streaking. I had to go down 16 spots on this list before I reached another month where I wasn’t training for anything. Run streaking is insane, people. These last two months have beat out previous months’ mileages that involved marathon and half-marathon training!
Wow. Just wow.
The Lady and I have started putting together our Pittsburgh half marathon training plan. Our ~30 miles/week base gives us flexibility in setting some pretty lofty training goals, but the logistics for the coming few months are tricky, to say the least. Exhibit A:
We’ve got a wedding and everything that surrounds it coming up fast. Figuring out how to get our training runs in while basking on the beaches of our honeymoon destination is an interesting balancing act. I’m pretty excited about it (and, obviously, the wedding!), but we’ll probably have to take some liberties with the training plan as we go along. We have some experience with this: we’ve always had to tailor our training plans to fit in some of our favorite races (in this case: Spring Thaw, Just A Short Run, and Burgh 10K), but squeezing in a wedding and the ensuing honeymoon is…challenging.