Marching, marching, marching

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

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

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

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

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Aw yiss.

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

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

Let’s see what happens!

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Injuries and All-Binny (Albany Half)

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

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

You can see the progression of it pretty starkly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SPOILER ALERT I’m improving!

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

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

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

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

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

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Mile 1 and Feelin’ Fun.

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

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

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

8:14, 8:11

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

8:31, 8:21

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

8:30

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

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

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

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It’s all in the headband.

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

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

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

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2017 in run-morium

Is it already 2018 already? Where did the last year even go?!

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…oh.

Yeah, even aside from the obvious, 2017 was brutal on a professional level: submitted close to 20 grant proposals (one funded, still waiting to hear on a couple more, so currently floating at a 5% hit rate… lower if we go by % of requested funds), several papers (though three were just accepted to ISBI!), taught two brand-new courses in the fall and spring, and mentored ~18 students from high school up to doctoral.

And, some. freaking. how. ran my second-highest annual mileage. It felt a bit like the year that both was, and wasn’t.

Ok–let me hit you with some numbers!

  • 2017 mileage: 1,423.57 (beat both 2015 and 2016 an average of 400 miles, each; second only to the beast that was 2014’s ~1,600)
  • Calories burned: 221,906 (someone convert that to units of “donuts”, please)
  • 9 out of 12 months over 100 miles. Three months–April, May, and June–came in under 100 each by a combined total of 29.27mi.

Some other 2017 running highlights (to borrow a page from Carly’s running year-in-review):

  • Set a course PR at the Albany Half in March, coming in at 1:48:24. This beat my previous (and first) performance at that half by nearly 5 full minutes.
  • Ran November’s Chickamauga Half Marathon in 1:46:55, which was not only a course PR (by about 3 minutes), but was also my fastest half marathon time since I ran about a 1:45-flat at the Georgia Publix half in March of 2015 (aside: it’s been a long, long, looong grind back to fighting form).
  • Ran the Chagrin Falls 5K over Thanksgiving break in 22:30, which was likewise my best 5K effort since mid-2015.
  • I participated in my first-ever Beer Mile! It’s something I’ve been saying I would do  since a few months before my dissertation defense, so this has been a long time coming. I even did pretty well: 2nd overall, behind last year’s beer mile winner. My running was pretty so-so, but the actual beer-drinking part is where I pretty much wipe the floor. Yes, I do indeed have that ability to “open my throat”, so unless you can make your drink flow faster than standard Earth gravity, it’s unlikely you’d beat me in that part 😉
  • I ran over 1,400 miles! Holy $*@#!

Annnnd, in what may be the biggest news of all from 2017: my beautiful, fabulous, enormously-talented wife got me a Garmin Fenix 5 for Christmas!

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Yes, that is indeed a Super Mario watchface. Also have ones from Star Trek and Star Wars.

Because it’s a Fenix watch, I named it Phawkes.

*pause for knowing smiles*

2017 wasn’t without some down-beats:

  • April and July were just plain rough across the board. April was spent in an exhausted stupor after back-to-back funerals in a three-week span in the previous month, to the point where I had to sacrifice running just to stay afloat. July was brutal for the oppressive heat and humidity, in addition to the never-ending teaching responsibilities and the huge CAREER grant deadline in the middle of the month. Basically, two months of way, way too much going on.
  • That metatarsalgia from a few years ago? Yeah, it’s back, but in the other foot this time. As soon as I felt it, I put the custom orthotics back into my everyday shoes, and have also purchased double-wide long run Kayanos. These seem to have mitigated the worst–I’ve had one single long run in the last six months that sidelined me afterwards, unlike every long would the last time–but like last time, it’s just kinda always there. It hasn’t gotten worse since it appeared, which is also a marked improvement, but it probably won’t completely disappear for at least another few months.
  • Even though I’ve made strides getting back into fighting form–after moving to Athens, starting a new job, and battling multiple injuries–I lost patience with myself again after the Santa Stroll 8K race in the middle of December. I melted down at about the halfway point, and even though I finished with an 8K that was 6 seconds slower than my best, I still lost it when I crossed the finish line. Most of the time I can logically convince myself that I’m making good progress, that I’m getting stronger all the time, that the day is getting closer when I set a PR again, but on this particular day it broke the surface and I just lost it.

 

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Post beer-mile shenanigans.

So here we are, in 2018. Definitely looking to improve my game:

  • 1,500 miles. Should be totally doable; push those three consecutive sub-100 months up over 100 and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
  • Sub-1:45 half. I’m tentatively targeting the Eugene Half in April for this. We’ve just officially started training (The Lady is training for the full for her next BQ attempt, nat), and with the roaring Fall of 2017 at our backs I should be in pretty good shape to make a run for it in a few months.
  • Better work-life balance, primarily through regular writing practice. This is solidly in the camp of “professional resolutions,” but I think this is the one that is by far most likely to reverberate throughout all aspects of my life. I took a writing workshop in December that focused on establishing regular (i.e., daily) writing habits for early career faculty such as myself, and it’s a habit I’m trying now to develop in earnest. Already I can tell I’ve been a little more at ease and patient with myself. It’s a pretty nice feeling to be able to say, after a morning writing session, that I can check that off the rest of the day and worry about other things!

Happy 2018 miles to everyone!

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The face of single digits (aka northern Michigan on Christmas Day)!

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?

It’s the journey, not the injury

Like I mentioned in my previous post, the longer I’m out due to injury, the more I’m convinced this will ultimately be a good thing for my running psyche.

Allow me to explain using two races I ran in the last weeks as Exhibits A and B, respectively.

Sunday, Sept 27: Pittsburgh Great Race 10K

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, The Lady and I returned to the city we are still as madly in love with as ever (disclaimer: we really and truly do love Athens and the wonderful people we’ve met; doesn’t mean we don’t still miss Pittsburgh, too) for a wedding: Kim and Scott (go ham)!

It was a beautiful ceremony, and so very Them. It took place at North Park, an exceptionally picturesque park that’s far enough outside the main Pittsburgh area that deer are a regular sighting (also host to such events as the Frigid Five Miler, Spring Thaw, and Just A Short Run). The ceremony itself was intimate–maybe 70 people in attendance–and took place under a pavilion on a day that God Himself was probably proud of: mid-60s, a gentle breeze, low humidity, and barely a cloud in the sky. It was, in every possible way, perfect.

But it just so happened their wedding coincided with the Great Race, Pittsburgh’s annual 10K that has as much personality as the city that hosts it. We couldn’t pass up the chance. Even with my injury, I felt my foot could handle 6.2 miles, and with all the cycling I’d been doing felt confident my cardiovascular system could keep up.

I went into the event knowing I wouldn’t be setting any PRs; in fact, I wasn’t going to try, not even for anything close. The Lady had to use the race as a training event and stick like glue to her goal marathon pace (8:12 min/mi), and I felt like sticking with her would be plenty given my complete lack of running mileage the past month.

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So that’s precisely what I did. I soaked in the sights and sounds to a level I rarely ever have at this event (been too busy in previous years gunning for a PR), and all the while felt great. I wasn’t officially pacing for The Lady, but I also had to be careful: I noticed I would keep speeding up to a sub-8 pace without realizing. Come mile 5 and the infamous Boulevard of the Allies climb, The Lady said I was more than welcome to take off if I was feeling good; she would stick to her own pace.

I pushed an 8-minute mile 5 (nothing spectacular), a 6:45 mile 6 (not too shabby!), and a 6:23-pace last quarter-mile before crossing the finish line at 48:41. Definitely not a PR (almost exactly 6 minutes long), but I’d had a blast and felt great the entire time. I was truly on Cloud 9.

Yeah, I was definitely sore the next week: muscles I hadn’t used in almost a month had suddenly been called upon to run a hilly race at a reasonable clip. My lungs, quads, and hamstrings were more than up to the task, but all those little stabilizing muscles had a serious case of WTF M8. Furthermore, my foot was pretty pissed at me the rest of Sunday; while it felt great during the race, it tightened up very quickly afterwards, so I made the decision that I would skip the next weekend’s half marathon in Atlanta and resume healing.

Sunday, Oct 4: Michelob ULTRA 13.1 Atlanta

…at least, that was the plan. Until I recalled that The Lady and I had signed up for the ATL Challenge and had already completed the first of the two required races back in March. I wanted that medal, dammit!

Of course, if it was just the medal, I would have been disappointed but not enough to switch strategies. I noticed that come Monday (24 hours later), my foot was feeling better. As in, better than before I’d run the Great Race. So I started aggressively icing each night after work while making plans for completing the ATL Challenge.

Like the Great Race, I had no plans to attempt a PR. 100 miles of cycling each week, while certainly more than sufficient to maintain a baseline level of cardiovascular fitness, does not for a long-distance PR prepare one. But I was still nonetheless confident my fitness level could carry me through the race standing up.

Come race morning, me and the 7.2 miles I’d run in the last month (Great Race, plus a 1-miler on Sept 4, the only other time I’d run) lined up at the starting line, with the lofty goal of a sub-1:50. The Lady, meanwhile, was using the race as a training tune-up: she had her coach’s blessing to open up the throttles and see what she could do. With that, The Lady took off at the start, while I settled into something that felt comfortable.

A few things I very quickly realized within the first three miles:

  • This humidity was going to be a problem: I’d drained 2/3 of my handheld within the first few miles and my body temps were still skyrocketing.
  • A sub-1:50 wasn’t going to happen; 8:24 min/mi just didn’t feel comfortable, and I had no intention of feeling uncomfortable within the first few miles of a race that was effectively doubling in one morning my entire running mileage for the last month.
  • Holy. Hills. Batman.

Really, that list could be condensed into just the third point (with the side addendum: there were 11 aid stations advertised on the event website, but only 5 on the actual course). The hills were brutal. They were fast elevation changes that zipped up and down, leaving the runners very little on which to build some momentum before shifting yet again.

Michelob ULTRA elevation chart.

Michelob ULTRA elevation chart.

…and yet, I felt strong. I felt focused, alert, and in control. I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I was consistently staying within the 8:30-8:45 range every mile, regardless of terrain; in fact, only mile 3 broke 9 minutes (9:07); the rest were below 9, often solidly so. Helping even more was a steady, misting rain that started around mile 5: it perfectly countered my rising body temperatures and kept them stable through the rest of the race, allowing me to preserve what was left in my handheld water bottle in case of emergency.

I kept cruising, feeling strong, taking the hills at a slow-but-steady pace and chewing up the miles. I high-fived The Lady a few times as we passed each other on out-and-backs, cheering her on. The only hiccup was around mile 9, when I discovered my calves were really hurting but I couldn’t figure out why.

And then it dawned on me: I haven’t been running, so my calves weren’t used to absorbing the shock from my midfoot-to-forefoot strikes, and the Great Race was too short for this problem to surface. Cycling is great for your quads and hamstrings, but doesn’t do a whole lot for your calves. The last couple downhills I had to switch to heel-striking to give my calves and ankles a break, but I made a mental note to start mixing some calf work into my workouts.

I crossed the finish line at 1:53:10, again setting no speed records but nonetheless giving me an immensely satisfying finish, especially considering 1) the humidity, 2) the lack of aid stations, 3) the omg-hills, and 4) my complete lack of running mileage.

Also got my hands on this supaswank challenge medal (in addition to the regular finisher’s medal [not pictured]):

13.1 from the Georgia Half Marathon, and another 13.1 from the Michelob half.

13.1 from the Georgia Half Marathon, and another 13.1 from the Michelob half.

Again, I’d felt great throughout the race. The hills were brutal but I never stopped having fun. The pace was a good workout but it still felt comfortable, giving me a huge psychological boost toward keeping doing what I’m doing while making me all the more antsy to get back to running full-time. My foot was somewhat pissed the rest of the day, but I’m waiting to see if it does the same as before and feels better following the initial 24 hours post-race.

Conclusion

Technically, I’m still injured. My foot definitely still hurts when I walk, some days worse than others. I’m still not going to run on it during the week (dooming myself to miss even more group runs with Fleet Feet and Athens Road Runners), and I’m going to keep hitting the bike as much as I can to maintain my cardio fitness.

But I’m cautiously optimistic that my foot is–slowly–healing. I’m thrilled that I can still race and hit certain milestones. And I’m stoked that I enjoyed those races as much as I did, that I’m chomping at the bit to get back into running form. I miss running. And I like that I miss it.

I needed this break from running, without a doubt. Now I want to do everything I can to get back into it.