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.


Big Sur, Week 6: wat is happening

Wait, we’re six weeks into this thing already? Jeez.

I’m proud to say that things have improved dramatically since early January: my IT band is most definitely on the mend, and I finally seem to be settling into the ebbs and flows of training.

Good to be back in the 20-30 miles/week range on a regular basis!
Good to be back in the 20-30 miles/week range on a regular basis!

It’s still tough going, though. Life in Athens thus far has been a whirlwind, to put it concisely. Work has been nuts, and all our available not-working time has lately been spent running errands or unpacking. And oh yeah, training for Big Sur and trying to make friends in the process.

Last week I had a bit of a meltdown as a result. Just couldn’t keep up with the pace of things; consequently, I slept in both Wednesday and Friday, breaking our usual routine of hitting the gym Monday-Thursday mornings and doing yoga Friday mornings.

And then there was Exhibit B: Thursday morning was our first track session in I-can’t-even-remember-how-long. The goal was 6x800s with 400 rests in between, with warm-up and cool-down to make the total 6 miles.

It was…very meh.

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Splits 1-4 were ok (3:15, 3:31, 3:24, 3:24). After that I was absolutely dying. It seems like I have some speed, but stamina is still severely lacking. Which, given how run down I’d felt all week, probably makes a lot of sense.

The weekend’s long run was a lot better. We were scheduled for 14 but wanted to meet up with the local running group, Athens Road Runners, for their 6-mile run at 8am. So we did what any completely sane, pulled-together runner would do: woke up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning to run 8 miles before 8am, so we could then finish up the last 6 with the group! Logical, right?

We had a blast. We had to run some of the same brutal hills twice, but we met a handful of lovely folks and chatted with them both on the run and for a solid hour afterward at the local coffee shop / bar / music venue Hendershot’s afterwards.

I’m getting there. There’s still a lot of hectic, swirling chaos: my office furniture still hasn’t arrived, there’s still more unpacking to be done at home, and work is pretty stressful. But I feel more refreshed after this past weekend than I have in awhile, and my running has been noticeably improving of late. I’ve even upped the weights on most of my lifts at Ramsey for the first time.

Here’s to continuing the difficult but worthy process of settling in!

USAF Training: Week 1

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?!

Strava, for all its faults, has nice visualizations.
Strava, for all its faults, has nice visualizations.

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!

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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.

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:

Long runs!
Long runs!

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!

Oh, and: we’re both participating in the Runner’s World run streak. Today was day 15, though I came into the streak with 14 consecutive days before that, which I’ll tally up once the streak ends on the 4th of July. At which point, I’d love to snap my previous streaking record of 118.

Streaking is awesome, folks.

All good things…

As of this morning’s tempo run, I’m officially halting my run streak. The tally stands at 118 consecutive days.

November 28, 2013 through March 25, 2014.
November 28, 2013 through March 25, 2014.

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:

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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!

MCM Week 16: Runner Singularity

Supposedly, the taper is designed so that one feels like a coiled spring by the end. After weeks and weeks of building mileage and increasing the long run distance, the combination of two weeks straight of mileage pullbacks and the impending race creates a sort of running singularity: a point of infinite preparation.

And the only prescription is MORE COWBELL RUNNING A MARATHON.

Mileage has definitely fallen the last few weeks.
Mileage has definitely fallen the last few weeks.

Well, so goes the theory, anyway.

Many will remember my marathon from last year. tl;dr it didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped. This time around, a lot of things are similar: had some training issues, worked through them, some runs were awesome, some runs were terrible, ultimately got the mileage in that I needed and didn’t do anything [too] stupid. Also had stress issues that compounded with the high mileage.

But there are a lot of things that have changed. For one, I didn’t injure myself rather seriously a month out from the race. For another, my stress issues were at the start of training, rather than the end (they’re still somewhat ongoing, but I seem to have had the upper hand for a few months now).  I also don’t feel nearly as worn down and beat up as I did at the end of the last training cycle. I’m not to the point where I feel like I’m a coiled spring–I’m definitely tired!–but I feel a little more energized and a little more excited than I did this time last year.

To put it simply, I like my chances so far.

My A-goal is still 3:45, or an 8:30 mile average. My B-goal is to finish under 4 hours. I’m almost completely sure I can hit the latter; I’m about 75% certain in the former. That number has wavered a lot the last several weeks. Two months ago I’d all but completely dropped the goal; a month ago I was almost completely sure I could do it. Like all things, I’ll need to wait and see.

The most important thing for me in this race will be my mental game. Through all my physical issues this training cycle, they’ve started with an overburdened mind, a consequence of not taking any mental breaks in work or in running, and panicking when things weren’t going 100% according to plan. NEWS FLASH: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. I want to push myself, but I don’t want to blow up when it starts getting hard and I start berating myself for feeling worn out. The key is to challenge myself, but not to feel like I have something to prove (to myself or otherwise).

The key is to play the game like I have nothing to lose. Reckless abandon. Kind of like my latest track workout:

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 9.36.06 PM

This was our final track workout before MCM, and that is indeed a sub-6 minute mile, my first ever. After eluding me both last year and this spring when I’d felt I was ready, both times due to injury, I was finally healthy enough to make a “run” at a sub-6 mile. And by golly I friggin’ nailed it!

I’ve done the preparation. I’ve made significant strides in the mental game. I’ve set a 10K PR along the way. All the check marks are in right places; it’s just a matter of pulling the trigger. For 3 hours and 45 minutes, hopefully 🙂

I imagine this will be the last post before MCM; The Lady and I are ducking out of town as early as possible on Friday and staying with my friend Emmarie in DC for the weekend. I’ll definitely be live-tweeting as I run, but I’ll try to post a live tracking link at some point.

Wish us both luck!


MCM Week 7: Where am I?

Two pretty hard weeks have followed the Run for Gold, and we’re only in the middle of the second one.

In particular, I met up with my parents in Illinois to visit some extended family this past weekend. The trip coincided with a 17-mile long run. Fortunately, I have a few runner friends in the Chicago area who hooked me up with some sweet suggestions.

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I brought my phone along, just in case.

My Dad was kind enough to drive me out to the park, since the trails themselves were more than sufficient to fulfill my 17 miles. There were a few downsides:

  • I’d estimate about 10 of the 17 miles were completely unshaded,
  • Excepting the 9-mile loop on the right, the rest of the trails were fairly technical,
  • I started at 8am.

However, there were also a few upsides:

  • Unlike the previous weekend’s long run, I’d had a full night’s rest,
  • Temperatures were still quite nice,
  • Nature is always a plus.
Photo Aug 17, 11 48 18
One of the few shaded portions.

Ultimately, this run felt a lot better than the Run for Gold (which is too bad, since it was an awesome race). But it wasn’t without its pain. I had to take things a little easy, considering the cloudless morning and the lack of shade. I felt good, but proceeded with caution nonetheless. I really lucked out with the big loop having two separate water spigots available at some picnic areas, which I made good use of in refilling my handheld. Without them, I would have had a very rough time of things.

It was another learning experience. I go back and forth as to whether or not running blindly on wholly unknown trails is a boon: sometimes I have some really good days, other times it psyches me out. This time around, it was more the beating sun that did me in than any new surroundings (fortunately / amazingly I didn’t get any sunburn). As good as I felt, the single biggest thing I could have done here was to start at least an hour earlier. But hey, I was on vacation with my family!

The haze was actually just the airplane window. Ok, possibly also actual haze.
The haze was actually just the airplane window. Ok, possibly also actual haze.

In addition to this long run, I’ve done both an 8-mile track workout and an 8-mile tempo run. The outcomes, like the 17-miler, were very encouraging, and point towards a continuing physical and mental resurgence from the depths of thesis proposing.

The Lady and I both had a pretty solid showing at the track:

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I still want to get my 1-mile splits down to about 6:15-6:20. But this was still an improvement; while I’d hit 6:30 a few weeks ago at the last track session, I wasn’t able to maintain it for all 3×1600 splits, must less the 4 that we did at this session.

I juggled this week’s schedule around a bit, doing my tempo run this morning instead of Thursday to make room for Elite Runners’ Hump Day Run on Wednesday evening, part of their Summer Outdoor Series. It was my best tempo run to date (though still not quite as fast as my current 10K PR, but I suppose without the adrenaline of an actual race environment, one can only expect so much):

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My tempo paces have been settling into 7s the last couple of weeks, and this was the first time I consistently broke that threshold. Most notably, this was the first run in quite some time that I experienced the sought-after runner’s high: during tempo mile 5 (split 6 above), things suddenly switched on, and even though I was cruising at a 6:55 pace, I felt as though I was coasting. I was even catching my breath. It’s been so long since that’s happened, it took me by surprise. A very nice surprise!

Of course, the middle 0.5 of the last tempo mile was a constant uphill, so that high very quickly vanished. But it was nice while it lasted.

The Lady and I still have an 18-miler scheduled for Sunday, and then we settle into another [welcome] cutback week. Physically I’m still feeling pretty strong: a few nagging points of pain here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary. I’m still foam-rolling like a madman at least once per day, if not twice per day. I do need to up my cross-training regimen, particularly as the mileage starts spiking, but for now I seem to be in a good position.

On to the rest of week 7!



MCM Weeks 1-5: Whirlwind

H’ok, so: now that thesis proposing is over and done with, regular updating can now resume!

Or so the theory goes, anyway. But first: a quick and boring summary of how my training has gone so far. Or, in other words, the breakdown of the first 5 weeks of training.

Workouts: 19
Average pace: 8:50
Total miles: 120.88
Elevation gain: 5,020 feet
Calories: 20,951

Normally I try to avoid these sorts of summaries, but since over a month of training has gone by with nary a peep on my part, I figured it’d be a good place to start.

The overall numbers have been pretty good. For the month of July I more or less stuck things in neutral while I weathered the beast that was my thesis proposal. Now that it’s over and done with, and now that I’ve pretty much had a full 10 days completely off from anything remotely work-related, I was hoping that I’m immediately pick up where I left off and resume becoming absurdly speedy absurdly quickly.

Especially after writing that out just now, it’s pretty clear how naive that line of thinking was.

I’m certainly not doing badly; particularly given my struggles with IT band problems earlier this year, I’m eternally grateful that I’m still healthy and kicking. Further, while I’ve been missing my upper-end paces on tempo and track workouts, I haven’t been missing by much. To wit, the last tempo run (just last Thursday, the 8th)

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and the last track workout (quite awhile ago, on July 18)

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My current goal tempo pace is flat 7:00/mile, and my goal speed pace is 6:20/mile. Stress levels have a huge impact on athletic performance, so given that my last track workout was barely 12 days out from my thesis proposal, and the last tempo workout was barely a week after it, I can’t really look at these paces and say I was doing a terrible job. Of course, we’re always our own worst judges: if anyone else was in my exact  position and explained it to me, I would unequivocally praise their ability to juggle an incredibly stressful occupational deadline with such strenuous workouts in a way that seemed to be working.

That being said, I did have one ugly implosion: this 12-mile long run from July 20. In order of mildly annoying to rage-inducing, these are the running miscues that set me off:

  1. Feeling run down
  2. Missing my goal paces
  3. Stopping

The rationality of each of these aside, stopping for any length of time–either for a breather or to walk–is the single biggest way for me to become angry with myself. This particular long run featured plenty of all three: I felt run down starting from about mile 4, I wasn’t able to churn out half-marathon goal pace (7:15) for the last two miles, and the “Time” is about 18 minutes shorter than the “Elapsed Time”, indicating the extent of the stops I made. Though I have to correct my description text: this felt quite a bit worse than Philly.

The point here, though, isn’t that I had a bad run; that’s bound to happen, something I understand both as a student of the sciences (hello, statistics!) and as a human being. The point here is that I let it get to me. I was angry as I finished this run, angry for each of the three reasons listed above. Which, of course, accomplishes nothing except to sap more of what precious little energy one has left during a bad run and make it feel even worse.

It’s a lesson I’ll probably have to re-teach myself many times over the coming years. Life happens, and it’s going to impact the quality of my runs. They can’t all be 16 miles at an 8:30 pace while feeling like a million bucks the whole time (as we’ll see in my next post: a race report on the Run for Gold 26.2K!). Part of embracing running is accepting that it’s going to follow the same cyclical pattern of life: namely, that there will be both good days and bad ones, and in general, those bad days don’t really care if you’re planning to have a good day.

All things considered, I can’t really be anything but pleased with my performances over the month of July, given what else was going on.



Offseason Antics

Ahh, the Offseason: that glorious time of unstructured workouts, pressure-free races, and flirting dangerously with the line between pushing your limits and being just plain stupid.

A few years back, after The Lady and I ran our first Air Force half marathon in September 2011, I took a few months off (glorious offseason!) before doing something I hadn’t really done before: experimenting. I hit the track and the streets in the early months of 2012 with singular, sometimes borderline ridiculous, goals in mind. The first few attempts were often colossal failures: I’d burn out really, really fast. A track workout in mid-November 2011 saw my first-ever sub-6:30 mile…followed by a 7:15 mile, followed by throwing in the towel. I wasn’t there yet.

Same with tempo runs: I was pushing below 7:30s, but couldn’t hold it for very long before burning out. And on several occasions, I’d hit the track and do a tempo run in the same week. Yeah, a little borderline, I will readily admit: rest is a very, very good thing.

But here’s my point: provided you’re smart about it, the offseason can be an incredible opportunity to explore your own limits. Come January and February of 2012, I was pushing consistent 6:50s on the track, and 7:30s on longer tempo runs. The first half of 2012 saw what has been my longest period of steady, uninterrupted improvement.

I was off to a somewhat late start this offseason, given my IT band injury. But it’s been cooperating lately (KNOCK ON WOOD), so I’ve seen fit to push things a little: two weeks of both a track workout and a tempo run.

Farragut High School football stadium. Hello, gorgeous.

The local Fleet Feet has started its summer speed sessions, and while I’m departing Knoxville this weekend, I wanted to participate in the two sessions I could attend (pro-rated, of course!). The first was a time trial–and a very wet one at that–which we built upon this past Tuesday morning with a ladder workout: 10-minute warm-up, followed by 400 / 800 / 1200 / 1200 / 800 / 400 / 200, with (# of 400s) minutes rest in between each set. The goal was to match my time trial pace, or a 6:40 min/mile (1:40 for 400, 3:20 for 800, and 5:00 for 1200).

Don't pay attention to the average pace, not sure why it's so bunk.
Don’t pay attention to the average pace, not sure why it’s so bunk.

This was, of course, hardly 24 hours after I’d returned from a weekend in Las Vegas, visiting my godson and nephew. While the visit was spectacular, the time change wasn’t nearly as awesome. I did well enough at the track, but I decided to really push my luck and go for the gusto: a tempo run two days after the speed session.

Put simply: it was brutal. I’d gone to Mellow Mushroom trivia the night before, and while I was really good and didn’t touch any pizza (I know, I’m still in shock), I did get to bed a little later than would be ideal. Even less rest for tired muscles. And I opted for a 6-mile run, the longest since April 25, with 4 miles at tempo, the longest tempo run since April 11.

Flirting with stupidity? You’d better believe it. To quote a line from the great Dr. Rodney McKay: “Mentally unstable like a fox!”

My legs wanted to quit after mile 2.
My legs wanted to quit after mile 2.

About a quarter of the way through mile 5, I walked. I was in complete anaerobic mode, and my quads felt like they were eating themselves. The humidity didn’t help, either. But just like last week, and in the same spot I might add, I saw my buddy Bob.

Greetings, Shannon. I am the Heron. You have many questions, and while the process has altered your physiology, you remain irrevocably human, ergo you are going to feel tired after TWO QUALITY WORKOUTS IN A SLEEP-DEPRIVED WEEK.

I took his presence as a sign: finish this last 0.75. So I did, hence why my mile 5 time is a little slow compared to the middle two.

It was hard. Really, really hard. A mental battle as much as a physical one, and for just about the entire run. This is a rather extreme example, and I’m not planning any more quality workouts until MCM training starts.

BUT. It was awesome. I love this sort of limit-pushing and flirtation with disaster. I love it. Nothing outright stupid, but just stupid enough to be interesting and perhaps reveal something about one’s character as a runner. The key to all this, of course, is that it’s done during the offseason. That way, if you fall a little too much on the side of stupid, you have some time to recover from it. Once MCM training starts, then it’s time to stick to the schedule. Sure, there’s flexibility for races and schedule hiccups, but pure experimentation time is over until the race is done.

Oh, and one little awesome tidbit: as I was walking after my cool-down, I noticed Bob flying by…with a friend! It was the first time I’d seen two herons in one place all summer, and it was beautiful to watch them gliding so gracefully in unison. It’s like they were making sure I finished my run. Rotten shame I didn’t have my camera on me, because it was an incredible sight.

Track Tuesday: Rain, rain, and more rain

The forecast yesterday called for buckets and buckets of rainfall. Did I listen? Nope.

All morning.

I was too excited about the first speed session workout with the Fleet Feet group. It’s an 8-week training program, and while I will not be around for even half that time–in fact, exactly one quarter of it–I wanted to see about participating anyway. I’ve done plenty of track workouts as training for the one marathon and handful of half-marathons I’ve done, but never with a coach or in a group setting; the biggest group The Lady and I ever had at a track workout was 4, when another couple made the one-time mistake of agreeing to join us for a morning track session.

Apparently enough folks were in my situation that the coach made the decision to pro-rate the program: it was $65 for all 8 weeks, so they asked us to pay $8/session if we were only going to attend a few of them. Gladly!

The track session The Lady and I typically do take the form:

  • 3, 4, or 5 lap warm-up (8:45-9:15 pace)
  • x-by-1600s (x = anywhere from 2 to 5, depending on where we are in our training)
  • Each 1600 is interspersed with an 800 rest
  • 3, 4, or 5 lap cool-down (8:45-whatever we can maintain pace)

The important thing to note here is that at no point do we actually stop running. Once we start the 3/4/5 lap warm-up, we’re running continuously until finishing the 3/4/5 lap cool-down. Yeah, it’s usually pretty painful.

This workout, however, was a bit different. We started with a 10-minute warm-up, and after talking to the coach (who was pretty much the nicest person ever), he suggested I start running a little early to get in a longer warm-up (if I wanted). I took the suggestion, and ended up running 1.5 miles (6 laps).

After the warm-up, everyone congregated on one end of the track to do some active stretching: high knees, butt kicks, karaoke stepping (good for the IT bands), and so on. I found this incredibly familiar: we used to do these stretches all the time before football practice in high school.

Following the active stretching, we got into the meat of the workout: a 2-mile time trial. This would help the coach set the workouts for everyone for the next 7 weeks. I took it as an opportunity to see how fast I could push, while at the same time keeping my paces consistent, as that has been my biggest problem lately.

There was a group of about 20 of us. The packs split off pretty much as soon as we started, and out in front was a guy about my age, a teenager I’m guessing was in early high school, and me. I knew we were starting off just a bit too fast, so I was perfectly content with painting a bulleye on the back of the older guy’s shirt and keeping him in range. Within the first 200, the teenager started dropping back, and by the time we finished the first lap, I’d claimed the lead from the older guy.

The next seven laps was me trying to stay out of my own head, avoiding counting down the laps, and enjoying the steady rainfall.


Here’s the really cool part: I ran this pretty much entirely by feel. After the first lap, the only interaction I had with my Garmin was to stab the “Lap” button each time I crossed the start (the coach had stated he wanted everyone to track their lap-by-lap progress as best they could, so he could have an idea of where they had problems as the 2 miles went on). It’s amusing how much the “average pace” can swing if you run a 400 in 1:38 vs 1:41, but there you have it: 2 non-stop miles in 13:18, no part of which was particularly faster or slower than the rest.

I ran a two-lap cool-down before I started on core work that involved lower abs, obliques, and more stretching.

I should reiterate: it was raining the whole time, from start to finish. I suppose you could call it drizzling at the start, but by the time I was finishing my half-mile cool-down, it was full-on raining. Which made lying on one’s back while doing crunches interesting: RAIN IN YO FACE.

And of course I neglected to bring a towel. Oh well.

Bottom line: this workout was a ton of fun. And to be completely honest, the rain only made it more enjoyable. I’m hoping to go out with a bang next week at my last track workout in Knoxville!

Getting back in the game

This morning I had my first track workout in over a month. It was awesome.

The track at the University of Tennessee, mere blocks from my summer abode.
The track at the University of Tennessee, mere blocks from my summer abode.

I’ve been–by my standards–extraordinarily diligent about doing exercises to strengthen my hips, glutes, and thighs, in an effort to give my troublesome left IT band as much help as it can possibly get. Brutal squats, a dirty dozen, wicked cross-training, religious foam-rolling, and icing have all formed the basis for my morning routines at least 3-4 times each week, more if I don’t run.

(Note: The Lady supplied me with all the above workouts. I’ve just adapted them for my own purposes)

My IT band has been pain-free for some really easy runs over the last week, so I decided to put things to the test: a track workout. It’s especially appropriate given The Lady and I will be running a local 5k here in less than two weeks, so speed is of the essence. I’ll do a tempo run soon enough, probably next week as my IT band allows.

Obviously I didn’t want to push things too hard; jumping from two absurdly easy runs that involved a lot of walking to a continual high-speed track workout is quite a leap no matter how you slice it. I settled on a 5-mile plan: 0.75 (3 laps) warm-up,  0.25 (1 lap) at speed, 0.25 cool-down, 1 mile (4 laps) at speed, and 0.5 (2 laps) cool-down, then repeat all the way back: 1 mile speed, 0.25 cool-down, 0.25 speed, 0.75 cool-down.

It certainly wasn’t my best performance, but given my hiatus, I like how it went down.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 6.48.29 PM


The last round was indeed supposed to be 0.75, but I started feeling my IT band (not painful, just uncomfortable) during those cool-down laps and decided it wasn’t worth ending the workout on a bad note after such an awesome outing.

There’s still a lot of work to do. As you can see from both the above splits and in particular the below timings, I was running out of steam on the second full mile.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 6.49.57 PM


Part of the reason is obvious: I haven’t done this in a long time! Another part is that it was incredibly humid; cited 100% humidity at 6am. Regardless, I was drenched after the workout. I’m not acclimated to the humidity, so even though I’ve been really good about hydrating lately, I still lost a lot more water than my body was expecting, and with it goes a lot of energy.

Additionally, I’d just done a thorough squats workout the day before, and my quads were definitely squawking during the laps of that second full mile. And finally, I was a little tense; I wasn’t sure how my IT band would hold up in this veritable trial by fire, so I was watching it perhaps a bit too closely.

As always, some things out of my control, and some within my control that just require patience. But here’s the upshot: this workout was awesome, so if it’s patience my IT band wants, then it will have it. Yeah, it’s a little frustrating that every attempt at a sub-6 full mile has always ended with injury (last October, this April), but right now I’m just happy to get out and run. If that means delaying–as opposed to canceling–some of my personal goals, then so be it.

As quoted in The Mummy: “Live today, fight tomorrow.” Obviously requires some paraphrasing, but the sentiment is pretty clear.