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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The Injuries of March

A few months ago, I finally picked up some custom orthotics for my ongoing metatarsalgia. A couple more weeks’ rest seemed to do the trick: I started running again (under Mark’s direction) and the mileage started ramping up nicely.

Too nicely, of course. My right Achilles tendon started bugging me, and from what I know of Achilles injuries, that’s not something to mess around with. I stopped by the local PT shop again, and sure enough he urged me to stop running immediately and let it cool down.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I started running again without any pain. For awhile. Then, my left foot–the metatarsalgic foot–started hurting in the exact same spot again, in spite of my still wearing the custom orthotics. In response, my right Achilles heel has flared up. Again.

So now I’m just trying to get to the Albany starting line in one semi-functional piece. I successfully logged a 10-mile this past weekend, and while it didn’t feel great (and was pretty slow) it felt solid. At the very least, I have the physical fitness to survive the Albany half marathon.

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Slow and steady, if nothing else.

But I’m getting really, really frustrated by this. Previous injuries–even bad ones, like the infamous IT band of 2013–didn’t take any longer than a few months. This metatarsalgia started up ten months ago. The Achilles pain is newer and seems a bit more under control (eccentric calf raises seem to be doing the trick…when I remember to do them), but I cannot seem to kick the metatarsalgia. Months of PT hardly put a dent in it, and while custom orthotics (expensive ones, I might add) kept it at bay for several weeks, it seems now like the orthotics have shot their bolt.

The Lady has been kicking serious ass in her workouts–she’s chasing the Unicorn this weekend!–and I was hoping I’d be able to start building back to the point of being able to run at least a few miles here and there with her. No such luck, it would seem.

I can’t describe how insanely frustrating and rage-inducing this is becoming. I barely eked out 1000 miles last year and am on pace for a dismal 2016: barely 100 miles total over the first two months. Running has been my release, my preferred method of relaxing for the past six years, but I can’t seem to log more than a mile or two every few days, if that.

I see friends running halves and fulls, going through the training, doing the work, and notching spectacular accomplishments; The Lady’s meteoric improvements have been nothing short of astounding. But I’ve been relegated fully to the sidelines, unable to even run them into the finish lines or see them off from the starting line. I’ve skipped more Saturday morning long runs and Monday evening group runs than I care to count, and given the rigors of my professional life those are pretty much the only times I have to see and socialize with friends in a relaxed setting, to say nothing of letting much-needed endorphins saturate my tissues.

I know I’m supposed to throw out an “aw shucks, I’m keeping my chin up” line somewhere but honestly I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had enough work lately to keep me distracted for a hundred lifetimes (conferences in New York and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks; posts forthcoming), but I’m a runner, dammit. When I don’t run, I get angry. That’s just kind of how it works for me. Ellipticals and stationary bikes, while wonderful inventions whose praises I sing every single day, can never be anything more than temporary stopgap measures, not permanent training strategies.

So here I am, four days out from Albany. My left foot is niggling, my right heel is questionable, and my fitness is “merely sufficient” for the task. Not exactly the lights-out dominating aura I’d hoped to exude upon arrival, but given the circumstances I suppose just making it to the starting line is a plus.

Here’s hoping something breaks my way. In the meantime, everyone send The Lady some good vibes! She’s done the work and has endured a lot of crazy ups and downs, but she’s ready. More than ready.

Wish us both luck!

How not to run a marathon

With a head cold.

Except not.

Except not.

The Lady and I ran the Big Sur International Marathon a week ago. It was beautiful, it was brutal, and to cap off the triumvirate with a non-alliterative finish, it was exhausting, and not just because we ran a marathon.

I had a sore throat in the days leading up to our departure for the west coast. It flared up a little bit the day before–nothing more than a somewhat runny nose–and I still felt good through about mile 20 on race day.

But that last 10K. And then a tattered immune system, shredded from running 26.2 miles the day before, completely giving up on life. And then spending the entire next day traveling.

Ugh. I strongly recommend against running a marathon while under the weather.

Race report to come!

Week 9: Still re-training myself

As we near the halfway point in our Big Sur marathon training cycle, it’s worth stopping to take a look at how things are going and make an honest assessment.

Honestly? Hard not to be disappointed. It doesn’t feel like there’s been a whole lot to be proud of.

Of course that’s objectively false. I logged my first 100+ mile month since November (127.35 miles, to be exact). While my IT band still stiffens up at times, it seems more than capable now of carrying the marathon training load as long as I’m diligent in rolling it out on a regular basis. My quality workouts (track work, tempo runs) have been solid; not outstanding, but steady. Weightlifting has been going well. Our latest long run–16 miles–while a strangely disjoint route due to a strange afternoon running schedule, clocked in at an 8:47 min/mi average.

Overall, not too shabby. But it’s nonetheless difficult to shake off an overall feeling of disappointment. The Lady and I have discussed this, and while we’re both certainly having a tough time settling into our new lives here in Athens, there has been an unexpected (though perhaps it should have been anticipated) side effect: I’ve forgotten how to suffer.

Somewhere along the line, my training switched from trying to push my limits and make myself better and stronger to simply trying not to crash and burn. Trying not to suffer. Making the goal of my workouts that of avoiding pain.

It clicked earlier this week with something I’d said to The Lady several weeks ago: that I felt like I was holding back. I’m tired seemingly all the time (work stress, unpacking, a general feeling of floating in limbo), consequently I’m not pushing myself as hard as I should be in a bid to “go easy on myself.” It wasn’t a conscious decision, but the result of a constant grind wearing down my psyche. I told one of the Fleet Feet folks here that I felt as though I was having to re-train myself how to run “from scratch,” as though I was starting over at 0. One could argue for the truth of that, honestly. But it’s not the full story.

I’ve written here before about how I need to run as though I have nothing to lose, to leave it all out on the course, to run with reckless abandon. It’s a good thing to remind oneself of from time to time. Forgive my cringe-worthy triteness, but my high school football coaches were right: when you hold back in an attempt to protect yourself, you actually make yourself more injury-prone.

Plus, making your goal “to avoid pain” is boring. What can possibly be accomplished without pain?

It’s something I objectively know, but which has nonetheless crept into my habits when I wasn’t paying attention; believe me, there have been plenty of distractions of late. To some extent, I do indeed have to re-train myself. In particular, I need to learn how to embrace the inevitable pain, rather than try to avoid it.

I made some strides this week. Our Thursday tempo run went decently well; the last mile was a struggle for me, as the pain really started caving in and I couldn’t manage it. This Saturday’s long run went better; it was the first time in quite awhile I posted 16 miles. I felt like crap the whole time, but I actually managed it. I sucked it up and kept putting one foot in front of the other. It felt awful but it proved [to me] I can re-train myself how to do this.

8-mile tempo. Managed to stay fairly consistent in the middle tempo miles.

8-mile tempo. Managed to stay fairly consistent in the middle tempo miles.

Long run, and at a surprisingly brisk pace.

Long run, and at a surprisingly brisk pace.

So here it is: I’m disappointed an 8-mile tempo run at 7:30-7:40 feels so difficult, when I used to pound out sub-7 minute tempo runs at the same distance. I’m disappointed I let the pain get to me so easily. I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to let go and just enjoy the run. I’m disappointed all of this feels so bloody hard all the time.

Most of all, I miss our friends in Pittsburgh. I like Athens and its folks, but moving really sucks. It’ll take some more time, I know. I guess I’m just impatient. 🙂

At the very least, I can say we haven’t been skimping on our carbo-loading–

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The Great Wall of Sushi.

2014, the year without a marathon

Potentially. Most likely. As all things, this is not necessarily written in stone.

But most probably, I will not be running a marathon this year.

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There’s really only one major reason for this: logistics.

The Lady and I are getting married in April, and with any luck, I’m graduating in September. That makes the next 9 months extremely busy by default, and leaves the open-ended question of where we’ll even be, geographically speaking, after all is said and done. There are myriad options to choose from, and The Lady has already opted for Air Force as her 26.2-mile comeback event. But after that, even though the fall running season is positively saturated with awesome marathons, any option could potentially be on the opposite end of the country once we’re settled in. We could be in Pittsburgh, we could be on the west coast, or nearly anywhere else in the continental US. I don’t want to spend upwards of $100 for an event I may not be able to make.

HOWEVER! I do plan to stick as closely to The Lady’s marathon training schedule as possible, ideally running exactly the same mileage save for the marathon itself. That’s a best-case scenario, however, giving me the flexibility to drop the mileage if I need to spend the time working on other things…like, say, for example, my dissertation.

This will, at least in theory, take a lot of the pressure off. I can run the high mileage I enjoy without worrying if it’s too fast / too slow, and focus instead on knocking off my almost-two-years-old half-marathon PR. I registered for my 4th Air Force half; that, plus the Pittsburgh half in May and Just A Short Run in late March, should offer ample opportunity for breaking the 1:40 barrier and, hopefully, 1:35 as well.

This will be two years old come March.

This will be two years old come March.

Half marathons are still my favorite distance. I haven’t run enough marathons yet to fully get a handle on those beasts, but time allowing I will certainly toss my hat back into the ring. It may even happen this year, location and work circumstances permitting! But I don’t want to count on that. Not just yet. Not when I have a half marathon to crush first.

Highs and Lows of 2013

Hello again, poor neglected blog.

Yesterday, as The Lady and I were on the road to Lewiston, MI for the new year, a friend of ours posted some thought-provoking conversational fodder that included the following:

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Thinking about it for more than two seconds yielded a longer response than could fit in a tweet, so I decided to dust off the ol’ blag and blabber about my highs and lows of 2013. A year-in-review without the annoying tagline, if you will.

Let’s get the depressing stuff over with first, shall we?

Lows of 2013

Frankly, there were a lot. 2013 was a difficult year in a lot of ways, but it was probably reflected most poignantly in my running.

IT band injury in late April, sidelining me for the Pittsburgh half marathon. I had just PR’d in a 10K the day after running 15 miles. Training was going unbelievably well. My speed and endurance were going through the roof. But right at the start of peak week, my IT band suddenly screamed bloody murder. Exacerbating the problem was my own inexperience: muscle injuries, which I’m used to, are very different from IT band injuries, which I’d never had before. Consequently, I took the only approach I knew and treated it like a muscle injury. Ultimately, I was forced to drop out of the Pittsburgh half and a very likely sub-1:40 achievement.

Backward progress in half marathon and marathon goal times. Due to a combination of travel and injury, I was only able to run a single half marathon this year (Air Force), and due to the following item, I was not able to PR or come anywhere close to my goal time. Similarly, though I technically achieved a marathon PR by 9 seconds, it was a full 17 minutes past my B-goal, 32 minutes past my A-goal. This was not my year for longer distances.

Work stress in the fall. This had far-reaching effects, but my running is probably what suffered the most. Every run for the 4-6 weeks spanning half of August and most of September felt hard, grindy, and not the least bit enjoyable. Physical symptoms included a constant feeling of exhaustion and being run-down, and my quads in particular had that growing-pains feeling. Mental symptoms included a lack of motivation, decreased desire to run, and a not-terribly-optimistic outlook on my own abilities. I started hitting an upswing as the stress abated in late September, just in time for the Air Force half marathon, but this item was probably the single most damaging obstacle to my running progress. This knocked me around physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Highs of 2013

Again, frankly, there weren’t many. But there were some resolutely bright spots that more than bear mentioning.

Sub-6 minute mile. It may seem small; after all, it only lasted all of 5 minutes and 58 seconds relative to the entire year around it. But twice near the end of two previous training cycles I’ve felt worthy of attempting it, and twice before I’ve missed by, quite literally, 1 or 2 seconds. Not this year. I nailed it, with a few seconds to spare.

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5K and 10K PRs. I’m now as close as I’ve ever been to breaking the magical 20-minute 5K barrier, set with a 20:26 PR while in Knoxville (and recovering from my aforementioned IT band injury, I might add). Furthermore, smack in the middle of a subpar fall running season and the day after a 14-mile long run, I nevertheless set a 10K PR of 42:47 at the Pittsburgh Great Race. Amusing anecdote: while I was a seeded runner for the race, I had more or less written off the race as a potential PR and elected to start way in the back with The Lady and some friends of ours, resulting in a much, much slower first mile than I would have otherwise had at the front of the pack. Still managed to PR; a very bright spot, indeed!

MCM improvement. Despite my disappointment with my overall Marine Corps Marathon performance, I would be remiss not to mention how it was an improvement in every possible way over my Philly marathon performance from the previous year. No, I didn’t get anywhere near my A or B goals, but everything else that went into running a marathon improved considerably. My first 20 miles were excellent, even finishing the first 13.1 miles in under 2 hours; I was mentally sharp and focused; I hadn’t seriously injured myself two weeks out; even when I hit the wall at mile 20, I was still having fun and enjoying the event; I didn’t chide or beat myself up. And technically, MCM was a PR by 9 seconds.

Holiday run streak. This is still blowing my mind with its awesomeness. What started off as a way to unwind from the stress of final exams and to dampen the effects of holiday junk food has become a means to, almost without trying, set a 30+ mile weekly running base and skip over the 100-mile marker in a single month. There was a small adjustment period, but I’m now officially hooked. The Lady and I have already discussed continuing the streak for as long as we can. The only downside is running outdoors in single digit winter weather. Eek.

I suppose this leads rather organically into what my plans for 2014 might be. Wonder no more, dear readers!

Goals for 2014

This is going to be a packed year: I’m marrying my best friend, defending my thesis, and hopefully starting a new and kickass job. Consequently, I’ve made the executive decision not to run a marathon. Or at least, I have made no concrete plans to run one in 2014; the logistics of it are simply too complicated (this could be its own blog post). With that in mind, I present the following goals.

Avoid the meltdowns. High stress is going to continue to be a part of my job for at least the next 9 months, and while I’m doing my best to mitigate its effects, it’s still going to be something I have to face. That said, if stress is impeding a training run for whatever reason, my recourse should be to pull back, mentally and physically, rather than to keep pushing. I already tried the latter this year; doesn’t really work.

5K, 10K, and half marathon PRs. Pretty straightforward. A sub-20 5K would be fantastic. A 10K right around 42 minutes would be awesome. And a half marathon under 1:40 would be amazing, 1:35 would be epic.

Run streak and cross-training. I definitely want to keep the run streak going for as long as I can. December proved really neat in maintaining the run streak and lifting weights 3-4 times each week; I felt and noticed rapid changes that would absolutely improve my overall fitness and training.

1,120 miles. I beat 2012’s mileage total of 1,062 in 2013 with 1,119; a full 57 miles more. I’d love to break 2013’s total again next year!

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I hope everyone has a very happy, fruitful, and mileage-filled 2014!

MCM Week 14: Taper, taper, taper!

No, not tapir, cute as they are.

Taper: you're doing it...right?

Taper: you’re doing it…right?

With the exception of miles 18 and 19 of last week’s 20-miler, peak week of marathon training went off without a hitch. That’s always a huge relief considering the really high mileage (45 for me, 50 for The Lady), but for me the relief is twofold: where I was struggling a few months ago in 20-30 mile weeks, I hammered through a 45-mile week, complete with a 9-mile tempo run and a 20-mile long run, with hardly a hiccup.

Weekly mileages since the start of MCM training.

Weekly mileages since the start of MCM training.

The only run that was even slightly suspect was the 20-miler at the end of last week. And with good reason: I was hopped up on NyQuil from the night before. The Lady went through a pretty bad head cold during the last week, and while she is definitely on the mend, I picked up at least a small part of it several days later. My body seems to have fought it off without the worst symptoms ever showing up, but I did have a sore throat over the weekend, so just to be on the safe side, I knocked back some NyQuil Friday and Saturday evenings.

Turns out, that Saturday evening dose was a bad idea. I just couldn’t get my muscles to respond; it felt like my brain was wrapped in a cloud, and while my muscles felt really strong, they just weren’t quite responding how my brain was expecting them to. I will say, if you ever want to experience the closest thing to the fatigue issues I was dealing with the last few months, take NyQuil the night before. While it’s certainly not exactly the same, it approximated the feeling of being completely unable to push despite all indicators being ok.

Even so, the run was solid, my fastest 20-miler to date in 2:58:06, which certainly bodes well for a sub-4 hour marathon. As I mentioned, miles 18 and 19 were a bit of a breakdown: it was really humid out, and I am particularly susceptible to humidity if I’m not used to it. I sweat a lot, so if I haven’t been training regularly in the sauna, it drains me pretty quickly. But The Lady and I made phenomenal time the first 17 miles, and even miles 18 and 19 were both 9:30s. Provided DC isn’t tangibly humid on Oct 27, I should be ok.

This was the weather at the very start. Oh, and miles 17-20 are pretty much completely unshaded.

This was the weather at the very start of our 20-miler; temps rose pretty fast over the next 2.5 hours. Oh, and miles 17-20 are completely unshaded.

With that long run, we officially entered The Taper, that wonderful time where the first week is a welcome break from the grueling training schedule, and by the week of the marathon you’re going absolutely bonkers with how low the mileage has become. Most notably, I feel significantly healthier at the start of this taper than I did starting the taper for the Philly Marathon last year. With any luck, that feeling will hold for the rest of the month. While I’m pretty confident in a sub-4 hour performance, I would absolutely love to hit my original goal of 3:45 (8:30 mile). That will depend largely on continued efforts to keep stress levels low (the primary antagonist of my running performance, it would seem), and as always, to refrain from doing anything stupid.

For instance: as much as I was dying to participate in CMU’s Donut Dash this year (with Team OM NOM NOM), even just two miles of hard running would be two more miles that I could potentially risk turning an ankle. Plus, it was right smack between four straight days of running for a total of 25 miles, and the 20-mile long run. Participating in the race would have robbed me of my only opportunity to rest, and that would definitely fall under the category of “doing something stupid,” albeit deliciously stupid.

This week is a total of 35 miles, followed by a week of 24 miles. The week of MCM, we’ll log about 12 miles total, then it’s marathon time! It’s rather humbling to consider that we’re only 18 days out now, and with the hardest training runs behind us. Here’s to a successful taper!