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 🙂

Race Report: Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon

Background

So, there’s been an interesting trajectory in the last while that’s probably been evident in some form or another on this blog for the past couple years, but which has really been thrown into relief in 2018:

my half marathons have been getting faster.

  • In 2014, I ran 4 half marathons, 1 over 1:50 (1 was my still-standing half PR).
  • In 2015, I ran 4 half marathons, 2 over 1:50.
  • In 2016, I ran 3 half marathons, 2 over 1:50.
  • In 2017, I ran 3 half marathons, 1 over 1:50.
  • In 2018, I’ve run 4 half marathons, 0 over 1:50.

I even made a graph:

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Y-axis is in minutes. That second data point in mid-ish 2014 is my PR (1:41:07).

This has been particularly exciting in the past year, as I’ve noticed my times trending downward. Coming off an unexpectedly strong performance at AthHalf this past October, I felt something I truly hadn’t felt in awhile:

Confidence.

The AthHalf route was new; its final 5K was a particularly challenging route. Nevertheless, I still set an “event” PR of 1:47–the fastest AthHalf time I’d run in four straight years of the event (and three different routes; hence, “event” PR). Given how challenging the route was, and how happy I was with my performance, I felt like with another 3-4 weeks of training before Chickamauga, I could make a run at the 1:45:08 time I set at the Georgia Publix Half Marathon waaaaay back in March 2015, the fastest half marathon I’d run since moving to Athens. I came close at this past April’s Eugene Half Marathon, but my goal then had simply been to see The Lady to an 8-flat average over the first 10 miles (even that had made me worry at the time, so the fact that I came within 45 seconds overall of that average was extremely impressive).

I took a risk and set for myself what felt like an ambitious goal: set a new best half time for myself since moving to Athens.

At the same time, The Lady and I were discussing another interesting trend. For the past few years, our respective training regimens had diverged as she focused more on chasing a BQ: training for and racing full marathons. Given how my half marathon times ballooned over 2015 and 2016, it’s not like I could have kept up with her anyway, but suffice to say she widened her existing margin of victory with the household half marathon PR, netting a time under 1:40 and all but guaranteeing I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her except for the shortest races (I still hold the 5K and 10K family PRs, but only just).

But in the last year, things shifted. The Lady started pursuing non-marathon training again, and I continued healthy running trends from 2017 and into 2018. Consequently, we realized for Chickamauga: for the first time in years, it was a bit of a toss-up as to who might be able to run a faster time.

So, we did what any friendly but competitive couple would do: we made a contest out of it.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority went with The Lady. I certainly don’t blame them; I did, too! And when I say “vast”, I mean it: easily 90% or more of our friends went with her. There was one person who voted for me “out of pity,” and another because I beat them out in the final stretch of a 5K back in the summer. That was about it.

The half marathon is always a bit scary, especially when you’re not entirely sure what you’re capable of going in; adding a little element of competition can help shift your focus away from the unknown and to something a bit friendlier. Plus, by virtue of the aforementioned training divergence, it’d been a rare treat when The Lady and I could race together: the 10 miles at the Eugene Half was a welcome, but highly unusual, occurrence. So further underscoring the fact that we’d get to run together was really nice.

Race day

This year, we elected to stay in a hotel in Chattanooga. It meant a bit of a drive the morning of, about 30 minutes, but we had a much better list of options for hotels.

In the day or two leading up to race weekend, winds were blowing in a cold front. On race morning, it was cold: 33 degrees (before wind chill), with 10+ mph winds. Historically, race morning has been cold, but not that cold (36-39F) and not windy, so this broke with precedent. Furthermore, the course itself was slightly different at the start due to some construction in the associated state park.

Suffice to say, we bundled up.

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At the starting line (rocking Fleet Feet Racing Team uniforms).

Packet pick-up was a bit chaotic, but otherwise things went as we’ve been accustomed to (having run this event in 2015 and 2017): that is to say, smoothly.

Our plan at the starting line, more or less, was: start off between the 1:50 and 1:45 pace groups, and kinda take it from there. Admittedly ambiguous, but we were both operating from a position of unknown but ambitious. To that end, we both decided to completely ignore our watches through the entire race, going wholly by feel instead of by time.

We wished each other good luck, and soon enough, we were off!

The first couple of miles I remembered pretty well from previous years, including the janky/rocky “trail” that preceded the actual paved pathways through the state park. We spent those miles trading leads: The Lady would slowly pull ahead, then I’d reel her in and pass her, and so on with the yo-yo style. My surges were mostly due to feeling boxed-in by other runners (the first few miles of a big race are always cramped), but then she would catch up and pass me on downhills (I suck at downhills).

8:02, 7:56

We were keeping in pretty close range of the 1:45 group, which ended up being a bit of a mistake: 1:45 was, for both of us, our reach times, so sticking with them from the very start felt a bit like pushing our luck. Especially since we weren’t checking our watches (mine was entirely under my long sleeves, so I couldn’t just glance at it), having a pace group right in front of us would most likely pull us along.

Which it did: while I obviously couldn’t double-check the time, we were way too close to the 1:45 pace group (maybe 5 seconds behind) by mile 3, so I made a concerted effort to pull up in mile 4.

7:47 (oops), 7:56

This was where, I admit, an unfair advantage kicked in for me: prior knowledge. As I previously stated, we’d attended this event previously in both 2015 and 2017. Both those years I ran the half, so this was my third time running the half. The Lady, on the other hand, ran the full in 2015, and while she had been registered for the half in 2017, ended up DNS due to a head cold. While the full marathon runs the half course twice, 3 years was a pretty long gap to retain any knowledge of the course to the point of integrating it into one’s race strategy.

To be fair, it’s not like I planned ahead, but at mile 5 when the hills began, I suddenly remembered: oh right, the next FOUR MILES are rolling hills. My strength has always been uphills; The Lady, downhills. So I figured, if I could push these next four miles pretty hard, I might be able to build an insurmountable lead before the downhills kicked in.

Conveniently enough, Immigrant Song kicked in right at that point on my playlist. So I went with it.

7:46, 7:37, 8:00, 7:53, 7:41

(that 8:00 was due to a totally unexpected water stop that caught me off guard, so I came to a full stop to fuel)

I left the 1:45 pace group behind on the first hills. The further I went the more the hills came back to me, so I kept pushing in time with the awesome mid-race music on my list (great job, Past Me, setting up that list!). I high-fived The Lady at the weird hairpin loop a little after mile 6, but otherwise just kept pushing as much as I could without feeling like I was in danger of flaming out.

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Pretty sweet shot.

It was a tricky balance: I was truly testing my limits, taking a risk where a very real possibility was utterly blowing up and walking it in. But man it felt good just to be in that position again!

7:58

For those who ignore their watches entirely (this course also didn’t have any clocks along it, so beyond the relative locations of pace groups I truly had no idea what time I was hitting), breathing is the key to semi-accurately assessing one’s performance. Up until now, I used my steady breathing to help quiet my anxiety about the pace I was pushing and convince myself I was doing ok. At this point, though, my breathing definitely changed: I was getting tired, and I felt like I was slowing down.

8:05, 8:05

Which I was. But at least I was consistent 😛

There was one brief moment of panic somewhere around here, where I heard feet and voices gaining on me from behind. I resisted the urge to look behind me (DON’T SHOW WEAKNESS), but was worried I was slowing down so much that the 1:45 group was gaining on me. Very quickly, however–far faster than I would have expected for a 1:45 pace group–I was passed by a group of very fast-looking guys. Not the pace group, but perhaps an early group of marathoners? Or late-starters? Wasn’t sure.

Good story.

8:11

This was that janky/rocky “trail” again, heading back to the starting area. There’s a rough up-down-up dip in the trail that I don’t even remember from the way out, but that’s probably because I wasn’t nearly this tired.

Once I crested the loop around mile 13, I tried to put what I had left into the final stretch–managed an average 6:56 pace.

Chip time: 1:44:33

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I’d definitely ceded some ground to the 1:45 pace group, but The Lady came in behind me barely 1 minute later! She definitely made up some ground on the downhills as expected (she’s really, really good at those).

After finishing, we made a beeline for our car and changed out of our racing clothes and into new, dry clothes–the wind was still in the double-digits, and while we weren’t planning to stick around for very long, we didn’t want to freeze before we could grab some food.

In doing so, we were able to catch the print-outs of preliminary half marathon results, and in a very pleasant development, The Lady got 3rd in her age group! Not surprisingly, I was 6th; I would have needed to knock off another 2-3 minutes to get 5th, and almost 10 minutes to crack the top 3. Still a ways to go 😛

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Celebrating at the finish! (and after changing into dry clothes)

Post-race

Before freezing solid, we headed back to the hotel to clean up. We debated hanging around Chattanooga, perhaps checking out the aquarium (which was literally across the street from our hotel), but decided that our legs were pretty beat up from the effort. We settled instead on walking about 0.75 miles to the nearest Starbucks, getting celebratory mochas, and heading home.

The ride home was full of chatter about the race. Honestly I have to keep reminding myself that I technically won our little competition, because the whole thing was such a blast (and because, realistically, it’s only a matter of time before The Lady surpasses me in the half again). We both did so freaking well! 

We discussed how the summer had been such a whirlwind that largely set us back in our running. The first few months of the fall, August and September in particular, had hit the ground running so hard it’d been a massive undertaking to land as much mileage as we had. Despite all of this, we’d managed to build a solid base of consistent weekly mileage in the low-30s. Even though this only occasionally included tempo runs or track workouts, the consistent mileage by itself was both a huge factor and an amazing accomplishment by itself.

Given our collective performance at Chickamauga–at the upper end of both our expectations–we’re now thinking it may be time to bring the professionals back into the mix. We’ve had good experiences with coaches, and with the mileage base we’ve built, the next important steps will be 1) very structured running schedules, and 2) regular quality workouts.

In the meantime, we have some pretty fun races coming up: the Give Thanks 8K on Thanksgiving morning, the Helen Holiday [Trail] Half in mid-December, and an officially-unofficial Beer Mile, also in mid-December.

But after that… we shall see.

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.

Race Report: Eugene Half

Oh hey there blog, I’ve missed you. Want to chat about a really cool race I ran about a month ago? I remember it decently well. Let’s take a crack at it and just see what happens!

For those of you not familiar with the Eugene Marathon, it takes place in and around Eugene, Oregon, a picturesque college town (not unlike Athens!) that is legendary for its running culture. Hayward Field is the locus of the legend, having been home turf to such notable athletes as Steve Prefontaine and Jordan Hasay. Both the full and the half actually end on the track itself, which is of particular note since 2018 was the last year before the stadium closed for major renovations, including a full replacement of the original track that Pre and others actually ran on. So we were the last ones to share the same surface as the heroes who put the place on the map.

Our own journey began super-early…

Super-early, Thursday morning (April 26): The Lady and I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to catch a 9am flight to Portland, OR. We were lucky to be able to stay with our friends Keeley and Dave, as Keeley would also be running the half, so we were able to split an Airbnb in Eugene.

But that night we crashed in Portland. In fact, we made a point of rushing over to Portland Running Company for their Thursday group run, attended by none other than Mark Remy! We gabbed the whole 5 miles around town, and joined him and some of the PRC folks for a beer at a nearby brewery (Portland has a few of those).

Friday, April 27: We hit the road for Eugene! It took a couple hours, but the drive was awfully pretty. We checked into our Airbnb, which was adorable and easily one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in.

(ignore for the moment I’ve stayed in all of about 2-3 Airbnbs)

Saturday, April 28: We kicked off our day by going to an amazing waffle joint for breakfast following our morning shake-out run. After that…

…drum roll…

Infinity War! I mean, can you think of a better way of staying off your feet the day before  a race than going to see a movie? I won’t give away any spoilers. We ended up spending the evening at our Airbnb watching Thor: Ragnarok (as Keeley and Dave had not seen the complete movie).

Sunday, April 29

I haven’t really said anything about the race, or what my goals were. Frankly, I wasn’t sure. I was aware that I’d been making strides (very, very slowly) and improving my times over the past few months, but I still felt like I had no gauge for what I was capable of. Yes, my mileage was piling up, and that was extremely satisfying to see, but I still felt shorthanded when it came to quality workouts like tempo runs; I tended to burn out pretty quickly.

It rolled around my head all morning as we prepared for the race, established the game plan with Dave (who would be the chauffeur and cheering section), and culminated when we got to the field in a kernel of a radically different plan.

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Right outside Hayward field!

I kept thinking about my recent half marathons; Chickamauga and the most recent Albany had been great ego boosts, but the AthHalf just the month before Chickamauga–while still a solid performance–had been bruising. I’d just completed easily my most intense training regimen in years, but I still just couldn’t convince myself that I was ready to set an ambitious goal and run it into the ground. I still had so many question marks about my fitness, particularly my fast-twitch endurance, and my mental toughness over an extended race.

So my thoughts went over to The Lady, who was gearing up for her latest run at a Boston Qualifier, having also crushed a tough training cycle, and the thought struck me:

The half and the full run the first 10 miles together. That never happens. Nor, really, does the opportunity to run our respective [different] races as part of the same event. So I made the decision: forget my race. I don’t care what time I get. My goal is to make sure The Lady reaches mile 10 at a flat-8 pace (a 3:30 finish at that pace, well under the qualifying time for her age group). I’ll worry about the last 3.1 when the time comes.

And I actually relaxed. I mean, I knew an 8-flat for 10 miles would be hard for me; I hadn’t put that kind of consecutive workload together for years. The last time I remembered even doing that pace in a half marathon was March 2015’s Georgia Publix Half. But for once I wasn’t obsessing about my own race, and it felt good.

The feeling only lasted for a minute, though–once the race kicked off, I felt like shit in the first mile or two. But probably because…

7:56, 7:46, 7:54

…I was going a bit too fast 🙂 I tried to rein things in a bit, but I stayed pretty much glued to The Lady, hawking my own watch to keep us on-pace and letting her do her thing. The entire first 10 miles are basically in and around neighborhoods of Eugene, so the views were cozy and beautiful.

And did I mention: the weather! It was overcast (par for the Pacific Northwest), but not rainy! And it was very cool; starting temps were in the mid-40s, which is perfect.

8:07, 8:06, 7:47

I definitely felt better into mile 4 and beyond; despite a warm-up mile before the race, it seems like I still needed a few more miles to really shake off the rust and settle in. The super-flat neighborhood stretches also helped, and my revamped half marathon playlist was keeping me pumped without overdoing it.

7:52, 7:51, 8:06

It was at mile 9 where we encountered The Hill. I don’t know what it’s actually called, but it’s pretty much the only hill of any consequence on the course. Don’t let that fool you, though, as it almost did us: just because it’s the “only hill of consequence” doesn’t mean it’s a weenie. It’s no Negley or Baxter, but we had numerous folks at the Portland Running Company group run mention that this hill derailed their race in previous years.

We plowed up the hill. I had AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring so I was pumped. The crowd support, fantastic pretty much everywhere, was phenomenal on this hill, cheering us to the top where there were banners congratulating us on reaching the apex and encouraging us into the relief of the downhill.

It was awesome.

Of course, it was only once we’d climbed the hill and descended the other side that I realized I was definitely starting to hurt. I was also stoked that it hadn’t registered until just then! But I was almost to 10 miles, and I’d kept The Lady at a rock-solid pace (maybe even a bit faster than 8), so I needed to hang on just a bit longer.

At this point, the race exited the neighborhoods and went onto some trails. This changed things somewhat, as the route became much windier, which didn’t do much for my feeling of flagging.

8:02

It ended up being almost mile 10.5 before we reached “the bridge”, the advertised point of the half and full courses splitting. In fact, at some point, The Lady had asked if we’d somehow missed the split–we’d gone well past the 10-mile mark! Was she inadvertently now on the half course, or–horror of horrors–was I inadvertently on the full? Thankfully, no repeat of my 2012 Air Force half marathon (how did I not write a blog post on this?! tl;dr I was having the best race of my life up to that point and then was mistakenly diverted onto the full course for almost a full mile); the split was just farther down the course than either of us had realized.

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This was taken on that very bridge, seconds before the half/full split.

We wished each other good luck as we crossed the bridge. I hadn’t been able to get a good feel for how The Lady was doing, but I also didn’t want to bust her Lizard Mode bubble, so I let her know I was proud of her, regardless of what happened.

She’s a badass, BQ or no.

Me, on the other hand–moments after the split, I stopped and walked for a bit. Partly to give myself a break, but also to take it in: holy SHIT. I’d just thrown down a flat-8 pace for 10 miles! I hadn’t done that in YEARS. AWESOME.

I had no plan for this juncture of the race, but I honestly didn’t care. So I cranked my music and kept plugging away as the trails continued. These trails kind of kicked my ass, to be honest; the weaving and all the minor bumps and dips were making it tough for me to find my own Lizard zone.

Perhaps amazingly, my last 3.1 weren’t all that far off from the previous 10 miles:

8:12, 8:14, 8:18

Managing to kick things up to a 7:04 pace for the last 0.1 (my watch measured 0.2), I finished with an overall of 1:45:43.

Which was, in my fact, exactly my best half time since the March 2015 Georgia Publix Half.

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Eugene finishers! Left to right: Dave, Keeley, The Lady, me

I waited at the finish for Keeley (also doing the half), at which point we met up with Dave (who’d enjoyed some hiking + alone time to vent about putting up with runners) to engage in the subtle art and definite witchcraft of Predicting Where The Lady Would Be So We Could Cheer Her On.

We found a spot around mile 22(ish) that was easy to get to, and set up shop. When The Lady came by, I ran with her for just long enough to ascertain how she was holding up, grab a selfie, and to remember that I’d just raced a half and didn’t have functional legs.

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Would YOU be smiling at mile 22? Like I said: badass.

(I’ll link to The Lady’s race report once it goes up)

After the race we went back to the Airbnb to get cleaned up and, unfortunately, check out. We couldn’t really even stick around to relax. By evening, we were back in Portland, though we did take this opportunity to buy a bunch of ice cream and play several round of Peggle before happily crashing.

Monday, April 30: Another bright-and-early wake-up to catch a flight back to Athens. We said goodbye to our hosts, thanking them both for putting us up (and putting up with us). The flight and drive back, while long, were uneventful.

Final Thoughts

Even now, a month after the race, I still don’t know where my fitness really stands. I still burn out on quality workouts pretty quickly, but I seem to have a strange ability to maintain a sustained pace for a longer-than-expected period of time if my mental game is on-point.

And maybe that’s the real take-away here: my physical fitness is absolutely, definitely, positively coming back. More quality workouts, especially tempo runs, would certainly help things, but the sheer volume (and lack of injuries KNOCK ON WOOD) has done wonders on its own. What’s still missing, what would really get me to the next level, is an improvement in my mental game.

Annnd I’m still kinda stumped on that one. As the summer months close in, and the temperatures and humidity skyrocket, mental toughness will be the name of the game; so in some sense, I can count on a baseline level of development through simply maintaining this volume through the summer. But I’m still hungry for getting on the hunt again: a sub-1:45 half marathon that puts my PR on notice, a 45-minute 10K, or even a pair of sub-7-minute miles strung together.

I’ve come a long way in the past 12-18 months; the progress is tangible. If nothing else, Eugene was an indicator that, if I can get my mental game in order, there’s a lot more progress to be had.

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Oh Pacific Northwest, you so purty.

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)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just keep running!

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Finish chute photo!

Another year over, and what have you done?

Not much, frankly. At least, that’s how it feels.

I haven’t posted nearly as many updates here as I’d wanted to over the course of the year, though I’d say that’s probably because I really didn’t have much of anything to post about until the last few months.

And the past few months have been the most insane months, professionally, of my life. So my running has nonetheless been at a kind of treading-water standstill until I can get things under some modicum of control.

My year-over-year running stats aren’t terribly impressive, though I am glad I crossed the almighty 1000-mile mark. Still, didn’t come close to the monstrous 2014 (I have no idea how I did that; I had a freaking wedding, a dissertation defense, and a relocation that year).

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I’m convinced that Garmin changed how their software computes elevation gain from GPS data somewhere in 2012-2013 and again 2014-2015, because seriously, wtf.

This year has been frustrating. I was really hoping it’d be a comeback year for me after last year’s extremely lackluster and injury-prone antics, but that was derailed early on by an injury that just wouldn’t go away, and then further put on hold by a professional life that rode burnout for a couple months. The month-by-month breakdown throws this into sharp relief:

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Take a look at the last few months of 2015, and the first few months of 2016, in comparison to the rest of 2016 (from May onwards): they’re night and freakin’ day.

(This month has been a little weird with travel, sickness, and general burnout recovery, but I’m hoping I can ramp things up in the next 10 days and still hit 100 miles)

October’s Ath Half was a wake-up call that my body has been responding to the training without my consciously realizing it–that I’m slowly getting stronger even if I don’t really feel that way. So now, I want to see if I can start to capitalize on that.

Obviously that would take the form of more frequent structured workouts (I currently do…ZERO!) in the form of speed work at the track and tempo runs. Additionally, I’d like to maintain the current level of weight-training (sessions with Matt are pretty awesome) and hopefully throw in some more cross-training (yoga, erg, cycling).

Of course, this is all going to depend on what my spring shapes up to be. Right now, I’m slated to teach yet another brand-new course, so at least initially that’s going to take up all my time and energy. But since it’s only one course, as opposed to the two from this past fall, I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be such a time sink.

The Lady will be going for her next BQ attempt–Glass City in April–and I’m toying with the idea of hiring her coach to be mine as well. I really want to get back on the horse, and I think adding some structure and accountability to someone other than myself will be the best way to do it. I’m just not sure what form that should take:

  • Should I go for the sub-1:40 half marathon? I’ve been in that hunt for almost 5 years, and achieving that would feel really freaking good.
  • Should I go for the sub-4 hour marathon? I’m still convinced my current 4:17 is a soft PR, and with the right training it could tumble.

The half obviously is more conducive to someone with a tight work schedule, but in some ways I feel like the full would be less stressful and a good way to get my mental game back on track as well as my physical game.

Feel free to leave any feedback on this 🙂

Happy holidays!

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Race Report: Holy crap, where did that come from?!

To those of you who stop running because it became tiresome and grindy: I absolutely get it.

The last year of running has been the most unproductive and least enjoyable that I’ve ever had. It’s come from a really bad combination of 1) stressful job that hasn’t let up in this time frame, and 2) bad, lingering injuries that have been extremely slow to heal. I’ve had to mentally put myself in the position of essentially starting from scratch, albeit with the knowledge of having once run 5×1600 with 6:20 splits and a half marathon PR of 1:41.

“Frustrating” is putting it kindly. So when someone expresses their own frustration with running, or dreads going out for a run, or drops it entirely for these reasons, I totally get it.

But if you manage to catch a glimpse of light at the other end, a whiff of progress out of the seemingly-endless grind, it is beautiful.

With very few exceptions, my running the last several months has been consistent down to the week: mid-20s’ worth of mileage.

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It’s just that so little of it was actually fun. That the majority was during the absolutely horrific summer we suffered through this year probably didn’t help much, but an enjoyable run in this stretch was the exception, not the rule.

Sheer determination to hit 20+ miles each week, seeing how many weeks in a row I could do it, and stubborn refusal to give up on it were just about the only reasons I kept going out every day. That, and trying to keep my endorphin levels as high as possible with the stress of work. If I wasn’t running, I wasn’t working out, period. And I needed to work out.

So I kept running. But it wasn’t confidence-inspiring; if anything, it did the opposite. When almost every run hurt, my already-dim view of my own abilities only drooped further. It probably doesn’t come as much surprise, then, that when Ath Half rolled around, I was just hoping not to thoroughly embarrass myself.

<Aside>

You can argue that one’s finishing time ultimately doesn’t matter. And you’d be 100% correct! The problem is, once you actually hit the road, that just doesn’t matter anymore. The fact that I haven’t run a half marathon in over 2 hours since 2010 weighed heavily on me as I considered possibly exceeding 2 hours in this race, given how miserable my runs had been.

I was telling everyone ahead of Ath Half that I just wanted to come in under 2 hours.

</Aside>

Truthfully–as runners do–I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to come in under 1:55, since my 2015 Ath Half time was somewhere around low-1:54. C’mon, I thought: at least make a run at last year’s time, right?

But I had absolutely no gauge for what I could do. The last half marathon I’d run in recent memory was the brutal downhill Scream Half, where I posted a respectable 1:53, but the insane elevation change obviated any possibility of comparison. Plus, that was all the way back in June. I had no barometer against which to infer my limits.

And, because the aforementioned summer sucked so freaking much, I wasn’t putting much stock in my abilities. Hence, sub-2 sounded like a treat to me.

Enter race day.

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Up and at ’em, rise and shine!

One of our running buddies, Jonathan, was the 1:40 pacer. A bunch of ladies on the Fleet Feet running team were going to hang with him. Going in, I figured I’d stick with the group for the first mile for the lulz, then just coast the rest of the way to the finish. An eclectic plan for sure; it also betrayed just how not-seriously I was taking this race.

(and belied how much I was dreading it)

Still, the weather was quite a bit nicer from Ath Half 2015. That year, it was muggy as hell, and I suffered quite a bit as a result. But while the more pleasant weather was certainly welcome, it did nothing to assuage the dark recesses of my mind worrying about the hills on the back half of the course. They’d be there no matter how nice the weather was.

Thus began the race.

It was clear within the first couple of blocks that I wasn’t going to stick with the 1:40 group; I let them go pretty quickly after the start. Still, I knew I was being pulled along at a decent clip by all the folks around me, so I focused on slowing down.

8:06

Cool! But too fast, let’s try to draw it back a little.

8:01

Wow, that’s neat. But still too fast. Pull back on the throttle.

8:02

Hmm. Is the throttle busted?

7:58, 8:02

Yeah: first 5 miles of the race in 40 minutes flat. I was not expecting that. But at the same time, I knew it was the flattest 5 miles I’d get, so I really, really needed to slow down, no seriously guys, for real, time to slow down.

Somewhere around this time, I caught up to The Lady, who’d fallen off the 1:40 group. I walked alongside her for a bit, checking in and making sure she was ok. I was also confident at this point that I no longer had to worry about living through my WORST NIGHTMARE of coming in over 2 hours (by my math, would’ve had to run 10-minute miles for the remaining distance for this to be a problem).

Turns out, we weren’t far from the next water stop, at which point The Lady stopped there for a bit to collect herself, and I started back up running again. I could feel that my legs were definitely getting heavy, and we’d only just started with the hills. Welp, I figured, I wasn’t going to set any landspeed records anyway. Let’s just see what happens.

I was mentally kicking myself at every mile, as I kept watch-hawking. I couldn’t seem to help myself; I was going by feel, but at the same time felt an overwhelming need to check the distance, check my splits, blah blah blah. I knew it was mental, that my mind wasn’t the honed, sharpened, hardened diamond it had once been, and as a result I was doing things and engaging in habits that were counter-productive in a race environment. But the discipline just wasn’t there. I tried to shake it off and just keep on going.

9:24

Yep, definitely slowing down (though I did walk this mile…).

7:54

Huh, apparently not.

8:23

This is where it started getting hard: the hills kept coming and my mental game wasn’t improving. Turning down some extremely rolling terrain, I tried to focus entirely on the relief I still felt that it was nigh-impossible at this point to finish in over 2 hours.

Still, that damn hill coming out of River Rd is effing brutal. I used the water stop there as an excuse to stop and re-tie my right shoe, which had become loose enough that it was becoming a distraction. I recalled at the starting line it had crossed my mind to double-knot my shoes, then something shiny must’ve come along. Go me.

8:54, 8:47

At this point I was coming into the home stretch where we loop around the stadium a few times. It’s both electrifying (lots of cheering sections) and deflating (so close to the finish for so long). I was still allowing myself to slow considerably on uphills; I’d like to say it was because I was refusing to walk at any point, but really it was because I was just mentally lazy and knew that I’d come in under 2 hours, so who cares about shaving off a few seconds on this hill.

Then I finally did the math–wait, I’m less than a mile out and barely into the 1:40s? I CAN BREAK 1:50?!

!!!

8:30

I tried to kick, I honestly did. My legs were burning pretty good at this point, and my chest felt like it was being compressed by an anvil, but for once in the entire race I managed to push my mental laziness aside and give it everything I had left–an average 6:43 pace.

1:48:52

I couldn’t believe it.

I just finished Ath Half–ATH HALF–not only faster than last year, but under 1:49!

For comparison, here’s the mile-by-mile breakdowns of Ath Half 2016 versus last year:

One hell of an improvement!

This is not to say I’M BACK B#^*%ES. I still have a ton of work to do. My cadence fell off considerably, especially in the last few miles. Given my foot issues from the last year, cadence is the one thing that I absolutely cannot slack on; it needs to stay above 160, preferably around 170.

Speaking of slacking, my mental game is a joke. I had absolutely zero capacity to settle in, let the world around me disappear, and just let go and go. I kept glancing at my watch at least a couple of times each mile, I kept oscillating between worry about the next hill and worry about embarrassing myself. And I had no ability to push myself in the last few miles, instead getting lazy and just slowing down, even though I clearly still had gas left in the tank. Speedwork and tempo runs will help with this, though.

And hills–in a not-so-distant previous life, a source of strength and motivation–have become borderline intimidating. That’s a little worrisome; downhills have always been hard for me, but it’s helped that I always got a boost out of uphills, even if it was only psychological.

But! Yes, there is, in fact, a “but.”

There’s a core here worth building on. Something has clearly been clicking for the past several months, to the point where I could run a sub-1:50 under less-than-ideal conditions; my previous sub-1:50 performance was at last year’s Chickamauga Battlefield half marathon. Absolutely perfect conditions–extremely gentle hills, near-freezing temperatures, and perfectly sunny–and it was still a squeaker: I came in somewhere around 1:49:57, and only after redlining the last two miles to do it.

I had time to spare this year, on a much harder course. Time that, of all things, I spent being mentally lazy on the final climbs. Had I really pushed myself that last 5K, who knows how much room under 1:50 I would’ve had.

I’ve been telling people how this past year has basically felt like starting over from zero, except with all the knowledge and experience of “I used to be able to do this…”, which has made it so easy to be so hard on myself. It’s been true in a big sense: I’ve had to accept limitations I haven’t experienced since I started running, and at that time I was blissfully unaware of said limitations.

That’s made it hard. Really hard. Which is why I understand if you’ve been in this position and have chosen to walk away and try something else. And who knows: maybe this race was an anomaly and running will go right back to sucking in the near future.

All I know is something clicked at Ath Half, and for something to click in a half marathon, something has to be clicking for weeks before that. Plus, I told The Lady years ago that I would retire when I broke a 1:35 half marathon; can’t stop now that I’m making headway toward that goal again!