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!

CrossFit, from a runner’s perspective

I know I’m probably wading into a pool with which I’m at best unfamiliar, at worst wholly unwelcome. In that spirit, I want to limit my discussion here to what I am perceiving given my role as a runner and athlete.

Basically this is what I see:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jn8KwUNLdkI]

I’ve heard The Lady use a line I’ve also since seen on the interwebs at large:

CrossFit is the opposite of Fight Club: the first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit.

Needless to say, I don’t have a particularly high opinion of it. I’ve been known to defriend acquaintances on Facebook just to cut down on the sheer quantity of CrossFit-related pictures showing up on my News Feed.

However, my biggest complaint with CrossFit isn’t how it appears to encourage humblebragging. My biggest complaint isn’t that it seems to reinforce bad and potentially injury-prone lifting technique. My biggest complaint isn’t that it exudes a very clique-ish aura of you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mentality.

My single biggest issue with CrossFit is that proponents of it truly cannot acknowledge the effectiveness of workout regimens that aren’t CrossFit.

crossfit-memes

This is completely at odds with one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with running: if you ask a runner why they run, you’ll get a unique answer every time. Everyone runs for their own reasons. And that’s not only ok, it’s awesome! We’re all bound in siblinghood by our varying degrees of crazy, even though our motivations may be wholly disparate.

And even the activity of running itself can take many forms! There are long slow (LSD) runs, tempo runs, speed work, hill repeats, fartleks (heh heh), striders, sprints, run streaks, and the catch-all of cross-training. All of these are essential, and while some are qualitatively more important than others, they all work in unison.

tl;dr version: There’s no best way to go about doing your thing. Of course there are plenty of wrong ways, but there’s no single right way. Where every one of my interactions with CrossFit proponents seems to be a paraphrasing of “CrossFit is the only way to work out,” runners revel in the veritable “Choose Your Adventure” of training regimens. Coming from an athletic background–organized baseball, football, and basketball; weightlifting, running, pick-up soccer, racquetball, tennis, and even swimming–one of the worst things you could say is that one of these sports is objectively better than another.

For instance: since arriving in Athens, The Lady and I have adopted the following workout routine:

  • Monday: squats, squats, and more squats (30-45 minutes’ worth); 30 minutes of treadmill / elliptical; 3-5 miles in the evening with Fleet Feet
  • Tuesday: back and shoulders weights (bench press, standing/sitting rows, laterals, plate lifts; 1 hour), treadmill / elliptical (45 minutes)
  • Wednesday: core work (45 minutes); treadmill / stationary bike (45 minutes)
  • Thursday: biceps and triceps (dips, tricep extension, chin-ups, halting dumbbell curls; 1 hour), quality cardio workout (speed work / tempo run)
  • Friday: rest, yoga
  • Saturday: long run (10+ miles)
  • Sunday: rest, yoga

Nontrivial amounts of strength training (with focus on proper form) with nontrivial amounts of cardio. The specific lifts and cardio sessions change each week to ensure our bodies are exposed to as many different workouts as possible. “Cross-training,” indeed.

Running thousands of miles may sound like drudgery to some, but to me, it represents a release from my day job and an unbreakable union with millions of my brothers and sisters in arms. It’s as solitary as a trail run in North Park, or as social as a 30,000-person Marine Corps Marathon. While I firmly believe everyone could be a runner, I also respect that not everyone wants to be a runner. And even for those who want to be a runner, there are myriad routes to doing just that.

Which is awesome. And is, I think, what sets it apart.

run-good-for-youIf you want to run, run! If you want to CrossFit, do CrossFit! If you want to do both, do both! Just remember that what works for you–as amazing and remarkable as its results may be–won’t necessarily work for everyone. The key is to be open about that. Runners are so perpetually hopped up on endorphins, we can’t help but roll with it.

Race Report: The Burgh 10K

On the heels of The Lady’s race report, I present for your consideration the sequence of events as told from my own perspective.

Ahemahemahemahem! I give you: the Burgh Pizza & Wings Pub Montour Trail 5k/10k Run / 2mi walk!

Or simply: "Burgh 10k."

Or simply: “Burgh 10k.”

It’s a phenomenal local race. It’s hosted by a little restaurant down in the sprawling metropolis of Cecil, PA as an annual fundraiser for ongoing maintenance and expansion efforts on the Montour Trail system in Pittsburgh. These trails wind their way throughout the outskirts of the city, and are so awesome that The Lady and I ran both our 20-milers on the trails while we were training for the Philadelphia Marathon (saves on having to find a 20-mile route through the city!).

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The Burgh 10k group, 2012 edition.

This year was my third year running, and each year the race is more enjoyable than the next. You can read about last year’s event and the trail itself here, but briefly: the first year, April 2011, I ran with Rob as he attempted his first sub-40 10k. I, meanwhile, was aiming for my first sub-50 10k in 6 years. I nailed it with a time of 48:10; Rob missed by 18 seconds, at 40:18. The second year, in April 2012, The Lady came along as our photographer (snapping this awesome finishing picture) as Rob crushed a 37-minute 10k and I hammered my own PR and finished a touch over 44 minutes.

The only downside to this race is the timing: it’s always 2-3 weeks out from the Pittsburgh marathon, so it interferes with the longest runs of the training cycle. It requires a bit of creative shoehorning to fit this race in without compromising mileage or making injury all but certain. However, The Lady and I had somewhat of a precedent: we ran last year’s Great Race 10k the day after a 16-mile long run in preparation for Philly. And we both had huge PRs that day. So clearly, it was doable…if somewhat necessarily suspect.

So the day after a 15-mile long run, The Lady and I got to the race well ahead of time to try and settle in. In particular, my IT bands had picked yesterday to suddenly start giving me problems for the first time since January, so I was keeping a close eye on them as we walked around to warm our muscles. We ran a decent warm-up, and left the rest to fate as we took our positions at the starting line. We wished each other good luck and settled in during the last few seconds–

AIR HORN! OFF WE GOOOOOOOO

Elevation charts may appear choppier than they actually are.

My plan was simple: first two miles in 14 minutes, next two in 13:40, next two in 13:20, last 0.2 as hard as I can. My first two miles were pretty much spot on: the first in 6:53, the second in 7:01. My next two miles, despite the turnaround shenanigans, were also nearly spot on at 6:52 and 6:53, respectively. I was hurting, but mentally I was sharp. I reached the 2-mile downhill and tried to turn it up.

Here’s where I hit a bump: I couldn’t seem to put any more zip in my legs. It wasn’t even [entirely] an issue of fatigue; I just couldn’t. My next two miles were a tad slower than I’d wanted, at 6:48 and 6:49 respectively. Unlike The Lady, it was pretty lonely where I was running, only ever occasionally passing or being passed by someone. At this stage of the race, I was pretty much in no-man’s land: behind the sub-40 runners, but ahead of everyone else. Not that I terribly minded, though a little competition certainly doesn’t hurt!

The last 0.2 was excellent, and I blasted through it at nearly a 6-flat pace to finish 14-seconds below my PR.

I'll take it!

I’ll take it!

Mentally, this was the most rock-steady I’d ever been. I was confident, poised, and unflappable (anyone who really knows me is aware how easily I get into my own head), but my legs weren’t cooperating. I even felt at the end how I had a lot more power under me, but I only managed to harness it intermittently. At the end of the day, I suppose that’s all you can really ask for when you’re running on 24-hour rest after doing 15 miles; 21.2 miles in two days is a tall order by any standard, to say nothing of when some of those miles are from a competitive race.

One mistake I made was actually in planning: I didn’t quite follow through on the math involved in determining how long the last 0.2 would take. Further, I didn’t account for how the tunnel (a solid 0.15-mile in length) messes with GPS distance and throws off the time and speed estimates for awhile after; hence, 0.29 miles at the end!

Nevertheless, this race was awesome. I had a blast. The Lady and I both nailed 5th in our respective age groups, which was a feat when we considered how competitive this race had suddenly become since last year: I was over a minute slower but got 3rd in my age group. It solidified my slowly-returning confidence in my speed game, and made the 8-mile tempo run scheduled for this week seem easy peasy (though I know enough to give it the respect it deserves).

We thoroughly enjoyed the free post-race food and drink, chowing down on hot wings, potato chips, and FREE BEER. God I love the Pittsburgh running community. Quoth my sister when I mentioned our post-run eating habits: “you guys are my idols.”

In the meantime, The Lady and I are on our peak week for the Pittsburgh half. Way back when we first created the schedule, we looked at this week in a sort of awestruck fashion, The Lady going as far as to leave the following note:

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Yeah. A 38-mile week. For a half-marathon.

We’ll see what happens!