July Triumphs

Photo Jul 04, 09 14 42

For the first time since March 2017, I broke 100 miles in a month. And by a decently-sizeable margin, too. I know it’s an arbitrary threshold, but it still feels good. Especially considering what the weather here in Athens has been most of the month of July: hot (highs in the 90s) and humid (99% humidity in the mornings). It’s been brutal, but I’ve even managed to top out at a 12-mile long run this month. The milestone is particularly satisfying, given how brutally awful this year’s Peachtree Road Race felt; at the time, it felt like an auspicious start to what historically was an awful month for weather.

Fleet Feet Athens celebrated its 4-year anniversary. Part of the celebration entailed setting goals for the next year. The last thing I want is for my 125+ mile month to skew my self-confidence, but I shot for the stars anyway: the highly-elusive sub-1:40 half, and the equally-intangible sub-4 full (fun fact: I haven’t run a full marathon since Big Sur 2015. high time I changed that!).

Until we celebrated my Dad’s birthday earlier this month, I hadn’t bowled in at least 3 years. I honestly don’t remember the last time, but I know it was before The Lady and I moved to Athens. So color me shocked when I not only broke 130 in both games, but nailed a turkey (not my first, I’m proud to say) in the 10th frame of the first game.

I have to admit: it’s been a good month! Bring on August!

Photo Jul 23, 13 53 20

They really shouldn’t let us out in public.

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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.

LIKE A BOSS

LIKE A BOSS

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!