Just keep running, just keep running, running, running…

I’m getting stronger. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, but I’m undeniably getting stronger.

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A few weeks ago, I recorded a weekly mileage of 38.07. That may not seem all that amazing, but I haven’t hit a 1-week mileage in excess of 38 miles since my Big Sur marathon training in late March 2015, nearly 2 years ago. It’s been a long. damn. time.

Last October, I ran the Ath Half in 1:48:52, a 5.5-minute improvement over the previous year. Just this past week, I ran the Albany Half in 1:48:24, the fastest half marathon I’ve run since the GA Publix Half almost two years ago, also in March 2015. It’s been a long. damn. time.

As has been a regular mantra here of late, I still have a long, long way to go. I’m still barely within sight of my half marathon PR of 1:41–set back in May 2014–and I haven’t done speed work in so long I have to actually sit down to think about what a 7-minute mile would translate to on a per-lap basis.

My mental game is also an utter disaster. I seem to have completely forgotten how to push when I’m entering the pain cave; I mentally cringe and try to hold the pain at bay (which, of course, does nothing except exacerbate it) instead of accepting it and feeding off it. My brain runs at a million miles an hour, just like it does at work, which all but keeps me from settling into a rhythm and letting the miles just tick by.

And holy crap, I can NOT give myself a break. Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I mentioned this year’s Albany Half? By all objective measures, and especially in my specific context, I performed extremely well. Intellectually I understand that, but emotionally I just cannot convince myself I ran a good race, that I’m improving, and that I should be proud of my performance. All that registers on an emotional level is that I’m still 7+ minutes away from taking another crack at my PR, and jfc my mental game is shit.

I know at least some of this is, as always, the fault of the crazy stress levels I’m feeling from work. I’m 300% overextended with no end in sight until at least July; every week is a new version of finding a way to squeeze 100 hours of work into 60, which invariably means dropping the ball on some things, pushing off others, and outright sucking at whatever’s left. Running may be an escape, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s still a function of everything else that’s going on.

One of the few reasons I’ve managed to stick with it is because everything else is also a function of running.

It’s March already, and I still haven’t outlined a concrete set of 2017 resolutions. Or, as of last week, Lenten resolutions.

There are definitely some things I want to do that I know would help across the board. For instance, yoga 5x/week: I did this back in grad school for several months, and the results were absurdly awesome. The problem is when the debate inevitably arises between sleep and yoga, guess which one wins 95% of the time.

I also want to start regularly incorporating core work and weights. For the latter, I’ve already been semi-successfully bringing back “DropAndGiveMe.” But core work has been nonexistent, as allocating time for it has largely run into the same conundrum as yoga.

Speed and tempo work are things I’d like to do regularly, but as long as I’m getting the miles in, these won’t be too difficult to mix in.

Finally, I need to get my diet back on track. Through January and half of February it was pretty good, but I fell off the bandwagon. Stress snacking is one of my less-healthy coping mechanisms, but definitely something I can work on without a huge additional time investment.

As I’ve said, I don’t really know how I’m going to implement some of these. But I suppose it’s a lot like my running. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to get back to making runs at my PRs, but somehow, I’ve kept plugging away when I’ve had no desire to. As a result, every measure says it’s been paying off. Progress has been agonizingly slow, but undeniably measurable. Maybe that’s a good way to approach these resolutions: even when it isn’t pretty, even when it feels like it isn’t working or I would be better served by forgetting about it this time and trying again tomorrow: just keep plugging away.

Just keep running!

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Finish chute photo!

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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The Injuries of March

A few months ago, I finally picked up some custom orthotics for my ongoing metatarsalgia. A couple more weeks’ rest seemed to do the trick: I started running again (under Mark’s direction) and the mileage started ramping up nicely.

Too nicely, of course. My right Achilles tendon started bugging me, and from what I know of Achilles injuries, that’s not something to mess around with. I stopped by the local PT shop again, and sure enough he urged me to stop running immediately and let it cool down.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I started running again without any pain. For awhile. Then, my left foot–the metatarsalgic foot–started hurting in the exact same spot again, in spite of my still wearing the custom orthotics. In response, my right Achilles heel has flared up. Again.

So now I’m just trying to get to the Albany starting line in one semi-functional piece. I successfully logged a 10-mile this past weekend, and while it didn’t feel great (and was pretty slow) it felt solid. At the very least, I have the physical fitness to survive the Albany half marathon.

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Slow and steady, if nothing else.

But I’m getting really, really frustrated by this. Previous injuries–even bad ones, like the infamous IT band of 2013–didn’t take any longer than a few months. This metatarsalgia started up ten months ago. The Achilles pain is newer and seems a bit more under control (eccentric calf raises seem to be doing the trick…when I remember to do them), but I cannot seem to kick the metatarsalgia. Months of PT hardly put a dent in it, and while custom orthotics (expensive ones, I might add) kept it at bay for several weeks, it seems now like the orthotics have shot their bolt.

The Lady has been kicking serious ass in her workouts–she’s chasing the Unicorn this weekend!–and I was hoping I’d be able to start building back to the point of being able to run at least a few miles here and there with her. No such luck, it would seem.

I can’t describe how insanely frustrating and rage-inducing this is becoming. I barely eked out 1000 miles last year and am on pace for a dismal 2016: barely 100 miles total over the first two months. Running has been my release, my preferred method of relaxing for the past six years, but I can’t seem to log more than a mile or two every few days, if that.

I see friends running halves and fulls, going through the training, doing the work, and notching spectacular accomplishments; The Lady’s meteoric improvements have been nothing short of astounding. But I’ve been relegated fully to the sidelines, unable to even run them into the finish lines or see them off from the starting line. I’ve skipped more Saturday morning long runs and Monday evening group runs than I care to count, and given the rigors of my professional life those are pretty much the only times I have to see and socialize with friends in a relaxed setting, to say nothing of letting much-needed endorphins saturate my tissues.

I know I’m supposed to throw out an “aw shucks, I’m keeping my chin up” line somewhere but honestly I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had enough work lately to keep me distracted for a hundred lifetimes (conferences in New York and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks; posts forthcoming), but I’m a runner, dammit. When I don’t run, I get angry. That’s just kind of how it works for me. Ellipticals and stationary bikes, while wonderful inventions whose praises I sing every single day, can never be anything more than temporary stopgap measures, not permanent training strategies.

So here I am, four days out from Albany. My left foot is niggling, my right heel is questionable, and my fitness is “merely sufficient” for the task. Not exactly the lights-out dominating aura I’d hoped to exude upon arrival, but given the circumstances I suppose just making it to the starting line is a plus.

Here’s hoping something breaks my way. In the meantime, everyone send The Lady some good vibes! She’s done the work and has endured a lot of crazy ups and downs, but she’s ready. More than ready.

Wish us both luck!

On to 2016!

So, what are your new year’s resolutions?

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I have a few, though they all ultimately converge on one single, broad resolution: get back into the thick of things.

I spent the better part of 2015 with an extremely finicky metatarsal, resulting in my lowest annual running mileage to date (since I started keeping track, at least): 1,018 miles. I’m glad I got over 1,000, but it’s quite a bit less than 2014’s monster 1600+. And that mileage came with a wedding, a thesis defense, and a cross-regional move! 2015, what’s your excuse?

…oh right. Injury. Ahem.

So like I was saying: getting back on that running train is my #1 goal. More specifically, though, there are a couple other milestones I want to hit.

  • 1500+ miles. I miss the uber mileage, I really do. Notching my first 200-mile month was awesome, to say the least. I’d like to hit that again this year if I can, but more importantly I want to get back into consistent high mileage.
  • Sub-1:40 half marathon. It’s been on my mind ever since break 1:45 back in early 2012; numerous setbacks since then have kept this goal on the back burner, but it’s simmered there. Boiled. Came close to exploding when I hit 1:41 practically on the nose in 2014. Due to injury this past year, my best half performance was a 1:49–made more impressive by the fact that all I did to train was bike obscene distances–but with Mark as my coach for the Albany half in March, I’m confident this is a very real possibility.
  • Race weight. The holiday season is great for visiting family, not so great if you’re trying to maintain a race weight. I’m not picky, but I do recognize that I can run faster when I’m not carrying extra pounds around. 210lbs is my goal; definitely achievable.
  • Bench press. An injury I haven’t discussed here: sometime in the latter part of 2015, I injured my left shoulder. Still not sure how, but suffice to say it was pretty bad: a good month of complete and total rest had to go by before I could start PT-type exercises, and only recently have I been able to really hit the strength training again. My bench press is about as low as I can ever remember–I just did 4×10 of 135lbs this very morning, which is along the lines of what I did as a freshman in high school–so I’d like to get back into fighting form there as well. I’m well on my way, but I want to get back to the 225lbs reps of a year ago.
  • Blogging! Oh man did blogging take a backseat as last fall went on. All told, I managed a paltry 31 blog posts across 3 blogs; 19 of those on this one. Over a whole year. That’s pretty sad! So I’m changing things up a bit this year: this blog will still be here, and I’ll keep using to discuss my running / athletic escapades, but I’m closing up shop at my other two blogs and consolidating them in a new github-based static blog: http://magsol.github.io/ . I’m still getting it up and running but I made great strides over the holiday break; it’s just about done. I figure between two blogs I can manage a more respectable update frequency.

And remember: don’t hate on the resolutioners in the gym. We were all there once as workout newbies. Encourage them to stick it out beyond January!

Any interesting running goals / resolutions for 2016?

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.