Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The final step back into my routine

Yesterday was a day full of back-to-normal activities. I drove, and on the right-hand side of the road. I spent American dollars. I took a long shower without flip-flops. And I went on a run.

As I shuffled up the road outside my apartment, my pace was deliberately slow for two reasons: the wind and the rust. I'd spent six days in London, sandwiched by a full day of travel on either side. And then it occurred to me that I didn't remember the last time I'd been on a run (excepting my failed attempt to grab a departing train).

The last true run before my Oct. 29 effort, it turns out, was Oct. 17. The following two days, I had meant to run, but life got in the way, and then after that it was either travel preparations or the actual trip (which, I had already decided, would not feature a run).

I felt a bit of regret, knowing it would put me behind on my 1,000-mile challenge, but it seemed like my Google Reader had been trying to send me a message. All the running blogs I follow were extolling the virtues of rest ... so I embraced my 7.5-mile week.

Still, it's a bit scary — at least for this nonnatural runner — to go so long without running. Each day that passes after a run seems to chip away at my motivation to get back out there; I'd taken nearly two weeks off. (Which isn't to say I was lazy — I estimated that I walked 22 miles over the course of my trip.)

Thank God yesterday's run went off with only the expected hitches, or, rather, stitches. I lost my breath and stride at the same spots I always do on this particular route, no matter what shape I'm in.

Once I hit the flat final stretch, I was mostly fine — I knew there'd be another run after this one. No pain, only mild and fleeting discomfort; no anger; and no excessive sweat (less than normal, in fact).

I'm unequivocally glad now that I took that time off. I had a few aches before I did, and I'm sure they'll return if I ramp up the mileage again, but I hadn't given myself the summer break I'd been used to in 2010 and 2011. Maybe fall break was a must for those muscles and joints.

And given the mild yearning I felt while watching Londoners run, my mind might've needed the time away to grow fonder, too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

London loves to run

I recently spent six days in London, my first international excursion since my monthlong study abroad in France in 2007.

Some of the culture shock was expected, some of it wasn't, but here's the part that bears relevance to the central theme of this blog: London has lots of runners. High-tech, low-tech and everything in between, just like on the Midwest sidewalks I'm used to.

I don't recall seeing many runners in France — mostly bicyclists — but then again, I wasn't a runner back then and probably wouldn't have taken much note of any runners. The author of "French Women Don't Get Fat" did mention, though, that her countrywomen exercise enough by walking and riding bikes that they don't need to go to gyms, run, etc.

Was that in the back of my mind when I first began noticing British runners with surprise? Possibly, and the nightly fatigue in my entire lower body would agree with any Londoner who made the same observation about life and health in his or her city.

After all, the strong suspicion that daily life would be enough of a workout for me led me to leave all my running gear at home. (Also, the strong suspicion that the Old World's haphazard city planning would confuse this grid-based brain.)

But now that I'm not jet-lagged, I can think of more than just one famous British runner — Paula Radcliffe was the only one that came to mind, over Roger Bannister and Mo Farah — and it seems less odd that so many Londoners would head out for a run.

It made me just a little sad that I left my gear behind. Not a lot, because I knew I didn't need to start each day of sight-seeing with three miles already on my legs, but just a little. Especially when I thought of the pints, chips and gelato I'd be diving into shortly.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tough enough for Iowa in the fall

I've been feeling pretty tough lately — at least when it comes to handling the recent erratic fall weather.

Sunday morning, when it was mild but insanely windy, I probably wore a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, and on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, I was able to go back to my T-shirts. Yep, even in the drizzle.

I only bring this up because I'm smug about what I saw other runners wearing those days: jackets. Some even fleecy-looking. Guys, the high on Tuesday was 70 — the temperature at 9:30 a.m. couldn't have been fleece-worthy!

Monday, I took a much-needed rest day, but I still found the energy to be smug as I drove past a runner wearing a ear-warming headband at 9 a.m. in the sunshine. I'm pretty sure Des Moines broke 70 that day.

Part of me realizes I'm being a jerk and a hypocrite, because the blanket I curl up in at work has earned me quite a few incredulous "it's not that cold!" comments. Someone who's had to defend — or agree with mockery of — her internal thermometer probably shouldn't give side-eye to others.

But with that workplace wimpiness in mind, I think we can all agree that I deserve to at least take pride in my jacket-free runs of late. I'm the toughest in West Des Moines, as long as I can keep moving.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pardon my whining

One enormous complaint I want to get off my chest and into the blogosphere:

I generally run at least 12 miles a week. The previous two places I've lived have involved a flight of stairs in order to leave/access my bedroom, and both of my post-college jobs have involved several flights of stairs per day.

So why do I still get out of breath at the top of the stairs? And why don't other people? Are they all secretly Olympic-caliber athletes and laughing at me?

(Yes, I would like some cheese with this wine. That can't be helpful in solving this problem, though.)

Sure, you can tell me, like the handsome swimmer classmate did in college, that one must train for stairs in order to conquer them ... but when I work five days a week and take the same set(s) of stairs with the same amount of weight (i.e., my lunchbox and any reading material), how does that not count as training?

It's somewhat embarrassing — OK, it's not really, because I'd like to believe I'm not so narcissistic that I assume everyone's thinking about me and consequently judging — to be known as a runner and yet to be caught flushing or panting at the landing.

A former co-worker once told me that in his youthful soccer-playing heyday, he ran up and down flights of stairs. His face grew wistful as he remembered how fit he was back then; mine, sort of frightened by the sweat, side stitches and possible falls that this workout would cause.

But is that what the universe wants me to do? If this winter is as fierce as last one's was mild, is that what I'll have to do, in lieu of running on icy sidewalks in frigid temperatures?

God, I hope not. And, I'm sure, so do my fellow complex residents.

Please share any insight ... or commiseration.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Getting back into intervals

When I was training for my second half marathon, I did 400-meter repeats, because that's what Hal Higdon told me to do.

I didn't have a smartphone then, so I picked a spot based on easy measurements rather than on optimal terrain. Nor did I have a clear idea of interval pace versus recovery pace. Going slightly downhill at top speed could be fun, but that wore off quickly after just a few recovery jogs up a long, slow incline.

When I was training for my third half marathon, I reluctantly returned to repeats — but I sure wasn't diligent about them.

However, I had a smartphone by then, which meant I could just start wherever a certain traffic-free rural road became mostly flat and run until MapMyRun told me to stop. The plan wasn't perfect: There was still a slight drop and an oh-so-helpful tailwind as I sprinted; there was still a slight incline and frustrating headwind as I recovered.

Plus, I still went too fast, but at least this time — having read that if you have to stop and gasp for breath, you're going too hard — I was aware of the problem. (But not quite able to stop it.)

Now, I'm not training for anything in particular, which I realized yesterday morning is not optimal. But with evidence of potential improvement in my 5K PR, I decided that it was time to raise the bar a little bit and sought help from Twitter.

Brad of On the bus ... Running answered: 400-meter repeats. More importantly, he recommended using the McMillan Running Calculator to determine what my times should be. I'm sure I've read/heard about the calculator before but just forgotten. Kind of like how I knew intervals were helpful for improving, but "forgot."

Anyway, yesterday's intervals went as follows: 2:02, 2:00, 2:00, 1:58, 2:00, 2:02.

I gave myself major pats on the back for the following: consistency, rather than flying and crashing; proper route choice, with no hills either way and all gusts coming during recovery jogs; mostly continued movement, even after the sprints.

As for the McMillan suggestions? I came up a little fast if I'm treating this as a stamina workout (2:06 to 2:10), a little slow if I'm treating it as a speed workout (1:49.5 to 1:55.5 for speedsters, 1:50.9 to 1:57.8 for endurance monsters).

So I'm a little off, but I'm very much encouraged. At no point did I consider keeling over, which was a frequent problem in past interval sessions; it's just that next time, I might consider being a little bit less comfortable.

Is it improved fitness, improved weather or improved feel for pacing that got me through? I'd like to think it's a mix of all three (because I can't deny that this fall has been better for running than last spring).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Making good decisions on accident

I spent last weekend in Ohio for a wedding — and I'm still feeling its effects.

Nope, it's not the world's worst hangover. It's muscle fatigue that makes me feel three times my age, thanks to Saturday night's exuberant and orthotics-free dancing.

My knees and ankles ached most of Sunday, and my calves were still so tight Monday morning that I could barely stumble down the hall to feed my cat. Wait a minute, I'd squandered a nice day and motivation to run on Sunday afternoon in favor of recovering ... and this is how I felt?

A shockingly smooth and easy 4.5-miler brought me brief relief. After averaging 9:24/mile, I thought the rest of the day would be limber and comfortable. I thought wrong, apparently.

But to the point of this post: It could have been worse. I could have started Saturday out with a five-mile run, which is what one of my hotel buddies had suggested we do.

Emily's getting ready for the Hot Chocolate 15K on Nov. 4, and last weekend being the halfway point of her training plan, she wanted to get a five-miler in ... even though she was on vacation. Nice dedication!

One friend shook her head in envy at our motivation; another scoffed at our decision to go out on a chilly, blustery day. We were not deterred. Maybe we wouldn't get five miles in, but our track date was still on.

And 10 minutes later, it was over for a grand total of 1.05 miles.

What happened? Well, at the time I thought it was a solo runner's naivete — I hadn't asked Emily how fast she normally went, so I didn't realize that I was pushing her at a 9:30 pace. (In fact, I'd thought: "Wow, she's speedy for a recent runner!")

Over my profuse apologies, though, Emily pointed out that the benefits of short, fast workouts aside, an abbreviated workout was probably best for the calves and feet that would take a beating over the course of a raucous wedding reception.

As my calves continue to stiffen if immobile too long, 48 hours later, running a single mile suddenly doesn't seem so silly after all. It seems like a good way to loosen up muscles pre-emptively and the culmination of a rare chance to be excited about running — on vacation, no less.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My adventures in trying to run fast

Thrilled with my Remembrance Run 5K results, I decided that it was high time — after 3.5 years of running — to push harder. I'd seen what I could do, after all.

After three attempts to repeat said speed, I'm starting to fear that I peaked Sept. 30, 2012.

On my first attempt, a too-strong start had me gassed before I hit the hilly portion. Those hills, by the way, weren't supposed to be there. Splits: 8:35, 8:22, 9:03, 8:58, for an average of 8:44.

On my second attempt, I knew what I'd done wrong the first time. That didn't mean I was able to avoid repeating it. Splits: 8:19, 8:18, 9:44, 9:20 for an average of 8:56.

CAVEAT: I fudged my numbers the first time by pausing the clock for things like nose-blowing, retying of shoes and catching my breath/swearing. I was more honest the second time, resulting in some larger numbers.

On my third attempt, I went with some boring out-and-backs along a not-quite-mile-long, flat stretch. Surely this would help, right? Wrong. Over 3.35 miles, I did average 8:47, with another incredibly speedy first mile catching up to me on the following 2.35 miles.

None of this was fun, except for each run's first mile. I was frequently angry and in some sort of discomfort. Surprisingly warm weather on one day and surprisingly strong winds on another contributed to my frustration.

During one low moment, though, a perfectly timed quote floated into my head: "If it were easy, everyone would do it."

That doesn't magically make it all kittens and bon-bons — I still feel only an average amount of accomplishment after these runs — but it does remind me to be a little more rational and realistic.

For example: Perhaps instead of repeatedly trying to run four miles at a pace I only achieved during a 5K full of positive peer pressure, I should remember all the advice I've heard/read about good speed workouts and do one each week.

Instead of assuming that one extraordinary race meant I'd learned pacing and mental endurance overnight, I should expect a learning curve. Even after 3.5 years.

And finally, instead of being grouchy about my failure to relive the magic, I should applaud myself once more for ever finding appropriate race-day aggression — I earned that medal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My ninth check-in on the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge

The further into the 1000 Mile Challenge I get, the more diligent I become about tracking my walking.

No, I don't log the distance from my work to my car, or my apartment to my car — though maybe I should — but if I'm going to save my sanity and stroll to an event rather than move my car a half-mile closer, or if I'm going to spend a few hours at a festival, yeah, I'm gonna record that. Particularly if I feel any sort of burn the next day.

It's really like saving your spare change here and there, but there were definitely a few weekends in September where that walking put me up over 20 for the week. The recent short-term goal has been to get closer to 20 than 15.

So anyway, through Sunday, I've logged almost 705 miles for the year. The weekly average to win creeps ever higher: I'd have to get 24-plus per week, and that's just not in the cards.

But to get to 900, it looks like about 16 or 17 per week will do the trick. I just have to keep remembering that running chases away the grumpies and the caloric remorse over beer.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I rocked the Remembrance Run

I did Sunday's Iowa Remembrance Run practically on a lark — taking over for an injured friend, I hadn't trained for speed, nor did I turn in early the night before.

But somehow, it all went right anyway. It went more than right, actually. I finished 108th out of 402 total (and 88th among men, because I was filling in for a male friend, but I would've been 21st out of the women, I believe).

My official race time was 26:22, though I used MapMyRun to track me from the start line to the finish line, and it said I did 3.05 in 25:59. So, to those of you who received boastful texts about my 26-minute 5K: Sorry, I technically lied to you. You can take back your congratulations.

Still, my splits according to MapMyRun: 8:48, 8:34 and 8:16. I'm going to have to start trying to push myself more often, if this is what I can do when I put my mind to it.

I don't have many 5Ks to compare this one with, but even had I not notched some epic speed (by my standards), I would definitely say this was my favorite so far. The organizers definitely put together an event, not "just a race" — a flyover, a good prerace speaker, and a postrace concert with Jethro's BBQ that I sadly did not attend — and they did a great job.

What I liked the most:

* Seeing service dogs in training during the prerace events. I think they were freshmen, because they kept getting distracted by each other and invisible things in the ground.

* The costumes. Some people wore T-shirts that honored a particular fallen service member, and one woman went all-out with patriotic colors/patterns ... and a tutu. A few men even ran while carrying flags.
I was working on my 8:16 mile at this point, so forgive the questionable photography. I think I may have passed him at the end, but he definitely gave me a run (ha!) for my money.
* The woman playing music on her iPhone without earbuds. I briefly considered sticking with her just to benefit from her tunes ("I Love Rock And Roll"), but I was on a roll.

* The final stretch — posters next to flagpoles had photos of the fallen service members.
* The finish line welcomes. Someone called out your name (or, in my case, my buddy's name) as you approached, and staffers were waiting with a medal to hang around your neck.

* My start-line buddy. We only made running small talk for a few minutes, but it was definitely an Iowa nice moment.

* The racing chips — all you had to do was strap on a Velcro band to your ankle. No complicated lace weaving or twistie-tie usage.
I didn't wear glasses or contacts during the actual race. If I had, I might've noticed that this angle makes me look like I have cankles — which I most certainly do not. Not that there's anything wrong with cankles.
What I didn't like:

* Like most races, the first half-mile or so was a bit of a bottleneck. The poles that held up a big START banner didn't help, and the walkers who didn't listen to directions (go to the back) also caused me a little (OK, maybe more than a little) frustration.

* The earbud wearers. When 800 people register for a 5K on a park path, you should probably not block out the world — especially during the first mile, and especially if you're walking.