2017 in run-morium

Is it already 2018 already? Where did the last year even go?!

CFALz6FVIAAD4iS.png

…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!

File Jan 10, 20 56 35
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.

 

25398374_10155869608410119_3252684641703809596_o.jpg
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!

26026140_10107119143037089_8798117484541076758_o
The face of single digits (aka northern Michigan on Christmas Day)!

The magic of tempo runs

Here’s the punchline: tempo runs dictate your race performance.

How my tempo runs usually feel.
How my tempo runs usually feel.

When you’re training for anything over 10k, and you’re past the point of just surviving and want to actually crush it, tempo runs are your best friend. And probably your worst enemy. You may have found that folks are throwing the phrase “tempo run” around quite a bit, but my favorite definition from that article (and the one I’ll use here) is as follows:

One fourth to one third of race distance at race pace.

So to use my own situation, in which I’m training for a half-marathon and want to finish in under 1:40, I need to be semi-regularly running 4-5 miles at 7:38 min/mi pace. Though realistically, my tempo runs need to look like this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 12.27.41 PM

 

The whole point of tempo runs is to get your body acclimated to racing. Long runs are great because your body needs to get used to the distance; easy runs are great because you need to rest; speed work is great to push your body’s anaerobic limits and increase your V02 max. But at the end of the day, tempo runs are what carry you through a PR on race day.

Tempo runs are supposed to closely mimic your race environment: you’re pushing a hard pace for a handful of miles (just like a race) without resting in between (just like a race). It gives your body and your mind a taste of how you’ll handle the rigors of a full race. This is why speed work, in my opinion, is less essential to training than tempo runs: you don’t get to rest in between miles during a race! Plus you certainly won’t be pushing as hard as you can for one mile at a time before taking said rest.

One thing (of the many) I learned from my years in team sports: you practice like you play. You have to be put in game-day situations during practice, so when those situations happen during the game, you’ll know what to do and can react without thinking. Whatever your race strategy is, you have to practice that exact strategy while training for the race. Tempo runs are the next best thing to actually racing.

As always, Runner’s World has a great write-up on what tempo runs are, why they’re so beneficial, and how to go about implementing them correctly. There’s a definite reason why these, to me, are more intimidating than long runs or even track workouts, and therefore even more rewarding. If you already have a solid mileage base and are looking to improve your current race times, tempo runs will get you there.

When progress is slow

(don’t worry, I’ll make a race report of the Spring Thaw once Elite Runners posts the pictures from it)

It’s tough to admit, but I’m in a bit of a rut at the moment: my paces have plateaued since last year, and I haven’t been able to progress as quickly as I would like.

I didn’t start running in earnest until late 2010, when I ran my first half marathon. The rest of that year and most of the next were intermittent; I struggled with on-again, off-again shin splints from shoes that really weren’t built for me. Things started smoothing out in the fall of 2011, and between that time and the spring of 2012 I experienced incredible gains in both speed and distance: I was hammering out long runs at sub-9 paces, and crushing half-marathons at tempo pace. This rapid improvement continued through about 3/4 of our marathon training, right about until I twisted my ankle and stress levels skyrocketed due to impending research deadlines.

Since then, I’ve had trouble finding my footing again. As it were.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to see why I had a relatively poor marathon outing: stress, lack of sleep, a lackluster final month of training, and a precedent for breaking down the first time I run a longer distance. Most of this was completely outside my control; something runners have to be prepared for is that on each day there’s some non-zero chance of having a bad day. Usually, these bad days happen during training, and you hardly think twice about it. But by sheer probability, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a bad day at least once when you really, really don’t want to. Like your first marathon.

But I’m still struggling to find my rhythm again. Training has started for the Pittsburgh Half in May, and the second week was a bit rough. The desire to run is back with a vengeance, but my muscles still seem somewhat timid. Spring Thaw didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and this morning’s “easy” run didn’t feel all that easy, and was in fact a bit slow for me (average pace was a few seconds over 9min/mi).

Ambivalent week 2 is ambivalent.
Ambivalent week 2 is ambivalent.

It would be unrealistic to expect near-constant gains in speed and endurance over time. I had an incredible ~1 year run where every run seemed to be faster than the previous one; almost every time I raced, I set a PR for that distance. I was steadily pushing my tempo pace into the low-7s; my speed pace was right at 6:20, and I even set one at 6 flat.

Here’s the upshot: these slowdowns not only happen, but they’re inevitable. Training goes in cycles; you’ll experience gains and then plateau while your body catches up. The key is not to become frustrated by these seeming lulls in productivity. Frustration will build on itself and create more problems. The hardest part is knowing that you’re capable of doing something by virtue of the fact that you’ve done it before, but right now it seems just beyond your reach.

Google “running slow progress” and you’ll find endless threads from people in the same situation. I’m no expert; I only started running in earnest in late 2010. But if history is any indication: be kind to yourself. Be patient; stick with the plan. If boredom is part of the problem, mix in some cross-training. This is something I haven’t been particularly good about; I miss my long 25+ mile bike rides around the city. I’ll have to bring that back now and again, along with semi-regular rowing.

I’m my own worst enemy. The worst thing that can happen is I get so frustrated with myself that I start hating running, and that would be truly regrettable. I need to take a deep breath…relax…and trust my training. Switch to cross-training on occasion. Run without music, or without a GPS watch. I’ve been going at this for longer than I ever have before; of course there are going to be bumps in the road.

I was out of the game for about 6 months in early 2011 due to shin splints. Quite literally the only difference between then and now is that I’ve built up a bunch of expectations for myself. I’m running like I now have something to lose, which always adds stress. I need to run with reckless abandon, like I have nothing to lose.

You know: run for fun 🙂