The summer doldrums aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

In this case, though: in spite of the brutal heat and humidity that’s been the near-constant in Athens since June, I’ve managed to maintain a decent level of consistency in my running.

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Took a 1-week break after the Scream half marathon in early July, but otherwise have been dead-on consistent in my weekly mileage for months now. Foot’s been cooperating, and evidently stress levels have been manageable: my blood pressure at today’s physical (first one in two years) was a positively delightful 118/77. I don’t recall it being under 130/90 since sometime in college!

Although my heart rate was 58. In grad school it got as low as 42. Oh well; we’ll get back there, as evidenced by my consistency of late.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been sucky runs; there have been a lot of sucky runs. The heat has been absolutely stifling–with few enough exceptions to count on just one or two hands, it’s been highs in the mid-90s, lows in the low-70s every single day since June began. Oh, and humidity approaching 100% with 70+ degree dew points.

Basically, a sauna for three months straight. Going outside has been awful.

But just in the past few weeks–and it took me a few weeks to even notice–I was more consistently ending runs feeling strong than I was feeling beat up and run down. Again, still plenty of runs where I wanted to die (just this past Saturday, for instance), but they’re beginning to become the exception, instead of the rule.

This is all to say that, following the entire second half of 2015 that was so inconsistent due to ongoing metatarsalgia, and the beginning of 2016 that was so stressful, all signs would currently seem to indicate that I’m actually finding a groove for the first time in a year.

I just hope I haven’t scared it away with this post.

I don’t have any races coming up, or even any planned races in the moderate future. It’s something of an odd situation; usually I’ve got at least one race per month, but this year I think I’ve run barely 5 races total, and one of them was a team relay. On the one hand, I miss racing, but on the other it’s been nice to just focus on the fundamentals of “me + road” and getting back in the swing of things.

Who knows, maybe the switch will suddenly flip when (if?) the temps start falling, and I’ll go right back to cranking out 20-minute 5ks!…yeah, probably not. But as long as I’m logging mileage, it’s a good thing.

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Coming back from injury

It’s arguably almost as tough as being sidelined by injury. Granted, I’ll take being off the bench–even if not at 100%–to sitting out any day. But the recovery process really taxes one’s patience.

After a lovely weekend with The Lady, I tried my luck at a 2nd local 5k: the Run to Play 5k, a fundraiser for a brand-new gradeschool in the area. It was even smaller than last week’s 5k, topping out at 147 participants on race day. I was even daring to hope for an overall award!

And by golly, I nailed it!…with a time that was a full minute slower than last week’s 5k.

Top men and women.

Top men and women.

My prize envelope!

My prize envelope!

It was an absolutely beautiful trail, starting near the Ijams nature center and continuing along the river. I ran along that trail the first weekend I was in Knoxville, and quit very early on due to ongoing IT band issues, so I was excited at the prospect of seeing more of the trail. It was gorgeous, unlike my splits. I crashed so hard and so fast that my frustration was equal only to my giddiness at my first-ever overall award. The humidity that morning was so thick you could take a bite out of it, but the real (and ongoing) culprit is my questionable stamina.

My IT band has been making a steady, if slow, recovery. It still occasionally feels tight on runs; sometimes it will loosen up, other times it will continue feeling uncomfortable until I opt to stop tempting fate. Like on a recent run, where a heron sighting provided an excuse for what would have otherwise been a stop to let my IT band loosen up (apologies for the shaky camera; I was breathing hard, and it’s my iPod).

It’s a slow process. I’ve been in touch with one of my previous physical therapists, who has given me a regimen that I can practice in the meantime. And I’m certainly seeing results: I’m posting 3-5 mile runs like it’s my job. The problem is building stamina. It’s clear from the past few races that I have plenty of speed but not enough endurance to hold that speed for very long. Part of the issue is certainly the weather: it’s hot and muggy here at the foothills of the Smokies! But the other part of the reason (and, truthfully, the bigger part) is work-related stress. That’s something only I can work on.

Case in point: yesterday’s miserable failure at a tempo run. I’d planned for 5 miles, 3 at 7min/mi tempo, but I barely lasted through 2 and even had to cut the cool-down mile short.

Oy.

Oy.

This was a rare evening run (I felt like death that morning), so the sun on my back was brutal. But as soon as I kicked up the pace, I knew in the pit of my stomach that there was no rhythm to be found: I would run on sheer adrenaline until my lungs gave out, and no further. I got whipped on this one, plain and simple.

There are always going to be bad stretches during running. In this case, I have a very good idea of what the problem is: work stress + low mileage. It’s frustrating, but it’s both inevitable and more than surmountable. I’ve been good about my PT exercises, and my IT band is clearly better for it. If I start prioritizing distance over speed and increasing my cross-training, I should start building endurance while ensuring my IT band is content. That, and I absolutely must get enough sleep every night!

I have yet another race this weekend, the Summer Solstice 8k. Unlike the previous two races, and in the spirit of this race’s description, I think I’m going to cast all aspirations for a blistering pace aside and do what feels good. There’s a full dinner after included with the race, plus drinks and entertainment, so I’ll try to keep the social aspect at the forefront. After all, I’ve found the runners here in Knoxville to be quite friendly 🙂