Pandemic Running

Why hello there, neglected blog *hugs* Guess it’s just you and me, eh?

In case you’ve been living under a vacuum-sealed rock for the past three months, there’s been a worldwide outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and its subsequent viral infection, COVID-19. Georgia’s stats haven’t looked great, and it’s still too soon to tell what kind of an effect the phased re-opening is having, but here we are for the foreseeable future.

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Source: Georgia Department of Public Health

Just before the country shut down sometime in March, I was busy training for the Savannah Women’s Half Marathon in early April, en route to–hopefully!–a second crack at the full marathon in as many years sometime later this year. Obviously the former didn’t happen–the race was postponed to November with virtual participation an option up to the physical November race date. I still haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to be doing, but suffice to say, immediate plans went up in smoke.

In the four weeks leading up to the shutdown, I was struggling a bit to find a rhythm in the new spring semester, but I was still pretty much universally killing the workouts and long runs–a clear sign that, while not perfect, training was definitely going well.

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Missed a couple of Monday easy runs, but was otherwise crushing the Tuesday workouts and Saturday long runs.

The next four weeks were, in retrospect, surprisingly productive on the running front, though I suspect pure inertia had more to do with it than anything: it was a plank of familiarity in a sea of unknowns. I managed a 36.7 mile week the first weekend of April, when I was supposed to have raced in Savannah.

And then the wheels really came loose.

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Ouch.

Two workouts, two long runs, in four weeks. The end of a semester that felt like it had barely begun–courtesy of a total and near-instantaneous shift from in-person to completely online barely three weeks prior–hit like a freight train. Along with, y’know, the existential weight of surviving during a worldwide pandemic.

Running was burning the candle at both ends. I couldn’t pry myself out of bed in the mornings to get a run in, but neither could I fall asleep at night after an exhausting day of existing.

I wish I could say there was a silver bullet to maintaining a running regimen during a global pandemic: some kind of magic wand that consistently carves out time and energy to make runs happen and enjoyable. Instead, there was a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt, a lot of anger and resentment and questioning whether this was really something I should be putting my time and energy into trying to make happen.

Was I just being lazy? Or would getting out there do more harm than good? Was this something I should push through, training myself in the process and building my mental fortitude? Or was I priming myself for a massive burnout down the road? What about my physical fitness? What about how exercise positively affects brain function?

All questions without obvious answers. Also, all pointless spinning.

There is no silver bullet. But there are the following tenets:

Get enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Loss of sleep is one of the first symptoms of a higher stress baseline, and it cascades into literally everything else. So this is the first thing to address. If you’re not getting enough sleep, the effectiveness of all other downstream mitigation strategies will be blunted at best, utterly negated at worst. Biggest bang for buck is right here.

Prioritize. And be honest about it. These two points go hand-in-hand, because what we sometimes think of in a single instant as our top priority actually has more leeway than we think. What really is your top priority right? What really needs to get done? And what else can wait?

Do what makes your heart sing. Those other high-priority things with some flex to them can wait until you’ve recharged a bit. Yes, you would do more harm than good by trying to get them done before you’ve rested. I’ve run on 1 hour of sleep before; it’s always utterly unproductive at best, and though this thankfully hasn’t happened to me, it could result in a devastating injury because of my fatigued state at worst. If a nap is going to be what helps in the long run, take a nap. If it’s playing a video game, play a video game. If it’s reading a book, read a book. The other stuff can wait.

My coach and I, in lieu of the half marathon, had planned on a 10K time trial on May 9 as a way to maintain some structure and keep up some motivation. Given the difficulty I had training through April, I asked to push the time trial back a week (see above: Prioritize). As a result, I got a complete week of training in last week–all 33 miles, including a solid workout and a crushed long run. This week, I’ve been on track, and we have a plan for tomorrow’s time trial. I won’t be setting any landspeed records–that 42-minute PR is going to be waiting awhile longer–but it’s giving me something to shoot for.

Wish me luck! And you can bet there’ll be a nap afterwards 🙂

The marathon is like a metaphor

In that both words have eight letters and start with “m”.

It was fairly early in 2019 when I made the decision to run my first marathon in over four years. In receiving an award notification for the NSF CAREER in late mid-December 2018, I was now reasonably confident I would sail through my tenure approval process and be given the chance to stick around for foreseeable and moderately unforeseeable future. With the 2015 Big Sur marathon retreating further into the rearview mirror, I wanted to get back into the long distance game before I completely forgot how to fuel for anything over 13 miles.

I also, genuinely, wanted to take another crack at the distance that has vexed me all three times I’ve attempted it: a slow-burn meltdown in 2012 at Philly, a lithium-ion crash at the 2013 Marine Corps, and a head cold at the aforementioned 2015 Big Sur that yielded a brilliant 20 miles followed by a final 10K march so miserable I literally don’t remember it.

I knew, having already gone through the 2016 and 2017 stretch of learning how to run all over again, that I couldn’t do this by myself. Even with The Lady’s marathon expertise, I felt professional guidance was a necessity. The Lady put me in touch with Caitlin of Fearless Feet Running, and after we returned from Ireland back in May, we hit the ground running–literally and figuratively.

That process was anything but smooth. As much as I would flail and rage against it, life still happened.

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Monthly mileage totals over the training cycle.

June was brutal, but relatively successful: with the exception of a missed race (just couldn’t make Rabun happen this year), I hit the mileage goals. The quality workouts, however, were another story: I was having to cut back on difficulty on almost every one–a sprint here, a rep there. The heat and humidity were already at their worst and I just wasn’t acclimated. A lovely trip to the mountains with dear friends helped break up the cycle a bit and generally relax while still acclimating.

By comparison, July knocked me on my ass. While I did manage to finally halt my four-year slide at the Peachtree Road Race and clock a faster time than last year, it was still comfortably above 50 minutes; the halcyon days of southern summer swelter had arrived in force, and simply stepping outside required Herculean strength and resolve. I also had to deal with a small twinge in my knee that took me out of running for a week. Certainly didn’t do my ability to acclimate any favors.

In August, we started the formal 16-week marathon training program. By this time I had a “base”–that elusive concept referring to one’s baseline abilities and assumptions that we’re starting some epsilon away from scratch–and instead of maintaining weekly mileage while increasing difficulty, I could start alternating each week with increased mileage and increased workout difficulty. Of course, the start of fall classes did nothing to help the process go smoothly, and the fact that I was slated to teach the single course I was least prepared for (of the five I’ve ever taught before) ensured that this month felt completely chaotic.

…at least, until September rolled around and left no doubt that it would be perennial contender for Most F*#@ing Absurd Month. My quality workouts actually went well, but I had two spectacular blow-ups in long runs this month: one was entirely my fault (pro-tip, don’t drink margaritas the night before a long run) while the other I blame on the still-Venusian weather. Real life did a real number, too–The Lady and I traveled three of the four weekends in the month: one to West VA for a friend’s wedding (with a stop the night before at UNC Chapel Hill…not exactly “on the way”), one to Pittsburgh for my first-ever invited seminar and to visit The Lady’s brother and his family, and a third to D.C. to serve on my first-ever NSF review panel.

That last trip to D.C. was at the end of September and start of October, which was also supposed to coincide with my first 20-mile long run of the cycle, but I was so burned out at this point I ended up getting sick and not running a single mile of that 20. In the subsequent weeks of October my running improved considerably, but at this point we were solidly in Peak Month and everything was hard. The shortest long run was 18 miles, and the weekly mileage regularly topped 45. While the weather was slowly cooling off, we still had frequent mornings with temperatures over 70F and above 90% humidity. And despite out-of-town travel dropping to zero, I was now in perpetual catch-up mode at work.

Which brings us, at last, to November. The “Taper Tantrums” are in full swing: I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere; everything hurts, even parts which have no reason to hurt; short runs feel terrible, and longer runs slightly better. I feel completely tapped out at work, and when I get home it’s all I can do to keep from scarfing down literal pounds of leftover Halloween candy and avoiding egg nog like the plague, lest it turn my blood to lead and all but guarantee that my marathon will end within the first mile.

I honestly don’t know what to expect from this marathon, partly because I haven’t had a chance to discuss with Caitlin yet, but also because of the simple fact that it’s been 4.5 years since my last and life has been so life in the last six months that anything between Phawkes’ 3:20 predictions (“Phawkes” is the name of my Garmin Fēnix) and my standing 4:17 PR seems well within the realm of possible, even plausible.

FiveThirtyEight linked their marathon pace calculator from last year in time for this year’s NYC Marathon, and for giggles I punched in the information they wanted: 35 miles/week (average) training, a 1:44:52 half marathon time on a moderate course (Swamp Rabbit in Feb 2019), and a 51:29 10K on a hard course (Peachtree this past July). Here’s what they thought:

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Courtesy of the FiveThirtyEight marathon calculator.

Seems as reasonable as any. But enough with reasonable.

Every fall it seems like the conceptual thunderdome of “which is a better metaphor for life: football or marathons” crops up. I spent a significant portion of my formative years having the football metaphor drilled into me: the gridiron as a stand-in for all the challenges and uphill battles you’ll fight on a daily basis, with the guarantee that you’ll get knocked down repeatedly, and the mark of a successful player is the ability to get back up to [likely] get knocked down again and [maybe] make a play.

16 years later (jfc I’m old), I embrace that metaphor with considerably less enthusiasm. While I don’t think it’s outright wrong, it’s definitely misleading: there are only so many times you can get back up before trying again could, literally as well as figuratively, be dangerous to your health. To that end, I’ve increasingly found the marathon to be the superior metaphor: it’s a long grind, especially with the training, and has its share of ups and downs. Sometimes it will feel great, other times you’ll wish you’d stayed in bed. There’s no shortcut–I’ve found one can “fake” their way through a half marathon without training, but with a full it’s just impossible unless you’ve put in the time and effort. Critically, you can’t put it all on the line at the very beginning; it’s not a sprint, so you better go out hard but make sure you’ve got something left for when the going gets really hard.

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Georgia Tech’s 2019 Homecoming game against Pittsburgh! We lost. Badly.

I may be training for a marathon, but I’m also actively running one. I nailed a huge PR last December and took some time to recuperate a bit. Unfortunately, this fall, I attacked the hills a bit before I was fully rested and it hurt like hell. It’ll make me stronger down the stretch, but only if I take care of myself now. But in that recover-while-training synchrony, I’ve been frustrated by what feels like simply treading water: workouts where I’ve had to cut out reps because it was just too humid out, or long runs I had to bag because I was under the weather. Meanwhile, I’ve yet to get further than a week ahead in my teaching, I’ve pushed a couple grant deadlines, and I outright canceled my appearance at a top conference in October. In isolation, these felt like misses in my training, milestones I should have been able to hit but didn’t. Was I not training hard enough? Did I need to push even more? Maybe I could make up for it by cramming in more later?

It’s crazy how often the same identical neuroses crop up in marathon training and everyday life, and are handled oppositely. I get a small tweak in my knee? Take a week off, no worries, especially since it’s early in training; Big grant deadline? Push through it, pull an all-nighter if you have to, then back to work first thing in the morning because I haven’t made the lecture slides yet. Conversely: three weeks in a row of travel, feeling sick, sure I’ll take a day off from work; three weeks in a row of travel, feeling sick, but if I skip this 20-mile run it’s the end of the f#@!ing world!

I love what I do; I also hate my job with every fiber of my being. So, too, do I love and hate running marathons. Maybe I’ll give marathons a slight edge in sum because I often run to escape work, but never the other way around. Also because I can eat a lot more donuts while running marathons than I can sitting at my desk.

This is all to say: I’ve really, really missed this grindy, miserable, wonderful event, and I’m excited and terrified to see what I can do on Saturday morning. But no matter what happens, I’ll feel better again, I’ll have fun, and I’ll have the world’s best cheering section the whole way.

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The Lady sat through a one-sided (not our side) football game. That’s true love.

Marathon training mode: enable

Yep, I’m still alive.

Things have been chugging along at a good clip across the board, but mostly my absence has largely been due to burnout: I’ve been taking this summer to actually recoup and recover, rather than fill up my first non-teaching semester in 3 years with more-and-different-but-really-just-status-quo stuff.

I’ve still been active running–continuing my 100+ miles/month streak that started about this time in 2018:

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Normally July is a beast month, but two weeks ago I noticed a pulling in my right knee. Since I’m really set on doing my first marathon in four years this November, and I’d had a pretty stellar June, I didn’t want to push things too hard too soon, so I took a full week off and then slowly built up again last week (without issue, thankfully!). Consequently the mileage was well under where it would have been, but I’m simply grateful for being able to keep running.

Speaking of the marathon! I’ve hired a coach–Caitlin Kowalke, who owns Fearless Feet Running. We’ve been working together since early May when we started base-building, and as of last week we are now officially in the 16-week marathon training cycle.

I can’t say enough–she’s been fantastic. She’s exactly the right combination of pushing-the-envelope with listen-to-your-body that I need. The Tuesday morning workouts have become almost infamous between The Lady and myself–“what fresh hell is on the docket for this week?”–and it always pushed me right to the edge, but always in a way that 1) I can finish, even if only barely, and 2) I learn something about myself in the process. The Lady pointed me to her late last spring, as she made a recruiting post around that time on Instagram that got circulated through the Oiselle community. I’d been pondering getting a coach (to get me under that brutal 4-hour mark on marathons) but hadn’t had any luck finding one, up until then.

Training through the summer has not been easy, either. While it’s been a far better summer than, say, 2018 (Lily) or 2016 (new record for consecutive highs over 90–somewhere in the realm of 50+ straight days), I’ve been dealing with the consequences of going 9000mph in my job for the last four years straight. Having finally received my first federal grant last December, and in my first semester (including summers) since Spring 2016 where I haven’t had a course to teach, I’ve taken this summer to try and recover a bit from some very serious burnout, starting with our anniversary trip to Ireland in mid-May.

At the same time, this summer has been the hottest we’ve had since that brutal summer in 2016 with 50+ consecutive days with highs over 90 and lows above 70. It hasn’t quite reached that level, but evidently this past July was on par with July 2016, the standing record. That, plus the two weeks of travel in May to Ireland, a week of travel in June to Tucson AZ, and a week of travel in July to Austin TX–all of which was AWESOME, by the way–has been tough to maintain a regular base-building regimen through.

But Caitlin has been patient with my schedule, encouraging in my foibles, and supportive in my successes AND everything in between. I particularly want to point out how she’s gently (but firmly) turned me away from what I perceive as failures, and encouraged me to celebrate wins, even when I felt like a workout was a total bust. This is absolutely the part I have the most trouble with, and not just in running–I forsake the broader success to instead focus exclusively on the one thing that didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. She’s been great in keeping me focused on the bigger picture, and the progress I’ve been making over the weeks and months.

It’s been working. I didn’t break any landspeed records at Peachtree this year, but I did finally break a 4-year slide of consecutively-slower races, coming in right around 51:30 and beating last year’s time by over two full minutes (and under brutal conditions, too). I even felt like I had some gas left in the tank at the end!

The workouts have been equally encouraging, even just in the past few days: Saturday was my first long run (8 miles) since I started feeling that pull in my knee, so not only was I apprehensive about how my knee would hold up, but also about how I’d handle longer distance in the heat after nearly two weeks on the bench. I finished the run but the last 3 miles was a slog (just because of the weather–my knee held up great!).

Fast-forward all of three days later to a 5.25-mile tempo run, and I did it 1) at 11am, so the sun was already beating down pretty hard, and 2) with 8:20-pace segments in it, and I felt great!

I’m excited for what the next four months will bring. This summer has felt restorative, even though I accomplished almost none of what I’d had on a “list” of things that I could potentially do. At the end of the day, you can’t put a price tag on recovering from burnout; while three months of recuperating will never fully compensate for four years of mindless and endless hard work, and while I wasn’t able to pick up any of the personal projects that have languished for years now, this summer still fulfilled its role of restoration and self-care. And I got a solid marathon base to boot 🙂

 

What day is it?!

So my last update was in July. That’s… something.

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Also, ❤ Robin Williams

Predictably (in hindsight at least), September was a shitshow. Work has since calmed down a little bit, but is still moving at a pretty brisk pace, so this is more of an update-for-the-sake-of-updating than an in-depth spread.

Mileage. I’ve been steadily building in the past couple months, which is good because I’m about 1.5 weeks’ worth behind on my annual goal of 1,500 miles. I’ve been steadily chipping away at that deficit (it stood at 2.5 weeks’ worth about a month ago), but averaging 31-33 miles per week for the rest of the year could still be a tall order as we head into the holidays. I’m already at 55 miles for the month of October, semi-tapering in preparation for the upcoming AthHalf event in 9 days! After that, it’s a straight shot to our third Chickamauga Battlefield event, at which both The Lady and I will be doing the half this time around.

Maybe next year we’ll both do the full?!

After that, we have a trail half marathon up in Helen, GA in mid-December, so we’ll definitely have to keep our mileage up and even start working in some trails. Given that the weather has finally

FINALLY

FINNNAAALLLLYYYYYYY

started acting more like fall (58F this morning!!), the trails should be quite a bit more pleasant as temperatures continue to fall and the mosquito populations continue to wither until winter’s onslaught.

Speaking of half-marathons…

Sub-1:45? Ish? The Eugene Half was really close to that magical number, all of about 45 seconds long. Given how awful the summer was, and the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends-ness of August and September (and let’s be honest, October too), and how tough the AthHalf course tends to be, I’m not expecting any kind of run at 1:45 in 9 days. I would, however, love to take a crack at my “event” PR of 1:48:56 from 2016 (I say “event” because the course will have changed 3 different times for the same event between 2016, 2017, and 2018). We’ll see how that goes!

That said, provided work eases up just a tad bit more after AthHalf, it’s possible that I could actually make a run at 1:45 for the Chickamauga half. I ran it in under 1:50 the first year while severely undertrained, and came in just under 1:47 last year. I think I’m in better condition this time around than I was even last year, so we’ll see!

And finally, drum-roll…

Work-life balance.

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Oy.

The summer was unexpectedly brutal, and since June it’s basically been a sprint with no real let-up. I managed to maintain a decently regular writing regimen through the spring and into the summer, but that basically ended in July. I’ve been more or less white-knuckling it ever since. I’m kind of amazed I’ve managed to keep within range of my 1,500 mile 2018 goal, but as stated even that will be still be tough to hit at this point.

I did spend a lovely half week in San Francisco for a conference back in late August, where I also managed to get a decent amount of running in.

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Ran from my hotel to the Golden Gate bridge–a little more than 6 miles one-way. So I basically did a half marathon one morning.

But since then it’s been go-go-go.

  • The class I’m teaching this semester is one I taught back in Spring 2017, but due to some personal things at the time there’s a gaping hole in the curriculum right around now, so I’m spending quite a bit of time making lectures and homeworks from scratch.
  • Grant proposals have been unending. There was a giant one at the end of July, then another huge one at the end of September (this was one that we submitted last year and missed by inches–others have said they’ve had grants funded on worse reviews than ours). Now I’ve got one next week (Oct 16), and a final one planned for the end of November (the 27th). If literally one of these is actually funded I will be over the moon.
  • What’s weird about this brutal mix of teaching-and-grantwriting is that I haven’t been able to read any research papers. At the start of the year I borrowed a page from Carly’s book and started keeping a spreadsheet of the papers I’d read. Granted, I’ve skimmed over abstracts and glanced at figures, but in this spreadsheet I noted papers I’d read start-to-finish, with that intent. The last one that truly met that criteria was from mid-August.
  • Sleep has been… problematic. I’m hoping with this Oct 16 grant getting wrapped up, my cortisol levels will chill out a bit.

I fervently hope it won’t be another three months between blog posts. Running has been the thing that, when all else falls off due to work obligations, I let running fall away last, so I’ve still been largely pounding out the miles.

Here we go.

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!

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?