Thursday, March 24, 2011

Three Things

Bad things happen in threes. Like my three stress fractures. To combat this, I have decided to make good things happen in threes too. In fact, here are three sets of three:

1. Three Types of Cross Training
My cross training has consisted of using the elliptical, pool running and swimming.

I typically use the elliptical twice a week, with one of these times being at tempo effort. I monitor my heart rate closely and usually I am at the top of my tempo zone, if not above it (the gym is really hot, so I think that account for an elevated HR). During easy elliptical workouts, I amuse myself by listening to podcasts from How Stuff Works. I've chosen a variety of topics including the the origin of Christmas, the economic bailout, FDA regulation of supplements, contagious laughter, blood pressure, the sun, memory, population studies, the lottery and many others. I am interested in a lot of different things! During tempo workouts, I have to listen to very pumped up music to keep me going.

I'm also a huge fan of pool running, and I have mentioned this in the past. I usually do pool running 3 times a week, with one of those days being a "long run" of at least two hours and another day being an interval day. The third day is easy pool running combined with swimming. For those of you who don't know much about deep water running, here is a video of me:

The third type of cross training is swimming-- always freestyle. I don't do any other stroke or any type of drill. I just swim back and forth freestyle because it's what I'm comfortable with and I think it provides a challenging workout. I typically swim about 2-3 times a week. I almost always accompany my long run with a swim so that I am in the pool for well over two hours. On my easy pool running days, I am also sure to swim so that I can get my heart rate up. 

Swimming is tough for me during the first 5-10 laps but gets remarkably easier as the workout goes on. I think it's because I find that "sweet spot" of speed and form that works for me. My longest swim with this injury has been 1500 yards (30 laps). Usually I do around 20-25. Swimming comes naturally because I grew up as a dancer, so the bilateral breathing thing that a lot of people struggle with is just like a dance movement to me. I was never on a swim team, but I was a lifeguard and taught swimming to small children. The only thing I dislike about swimming is that sharing a lane is tough for me. I have to watch out for that other person so I can't focus on my form, my breathing, or remembering what lap I'm on. I would hate to be taking a gasp of air right at the moment when that person is splashing and swallow a huge mouthful of water. 

2. Three Fun Challenges/Distractions
I'm a very goal-oriented person, and since I don't have my weekly mileage goals to fulfill that need, I have other hobbies and associated goals. Playing chess, singing Glee Karoake, and tiling the kitchen floor. 

Kitchen Tile
Tiling the kitchen floor isn't something that I am going to do myself, but picking out the tile, finding a good contractor and deciding on a pattern is quite a task. We are also re-doing our powder room which involves picking out a new toilet, sink, and lighting fixture. Shopping for a toilet with my new husband isn't the most romantic thing we have done together, but it's been fun. We finally made all of our decisions, now we just have to purchase the materials and wait for the work to start in early April. We ended up going with large 19" by 19" tiles in a slate color. Like a blackish grey, and with a lot of texture. We have light cabinets and light hardwoods in the neighboring rooms, so we though the black would be a good contrast.

The next challenge/hobby is Glee Karaoke for the iPad. This app is extremely addictive and can be very good or bad for the ego. I've downloaded about 10 songs that I can sing and be rated on. My two best songs are "No Air" originally by Jordan Sparks and "Hello" originally by Lionel Ritchie. My main goal was to be ranked in the top 100 of all time for No Air, out of over thousands of performances. I started out in the 900's and now I have worked my way up to 116. That top 100 is so close. There are also daily rankings, and my performance of No Air was ranked #1 for the day at the time I sang it. There had only been 81 other recordings at that point, but I think 1 out of 81 is pretty good! My "Hello" ranking once reached #4 for the day out of hundreds and I would like to see that one do as well as No Air.  Songs I suck at are "Take A Bow" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart". But they're still fun to sing.

Perhaps the biggest focus for me has been playing chess. Greg got me a really nice set for Christmas, like I have always wanted, and we have been playing all the time. On the weekends it's not uncommon for us to play 5-6 games. Sometimes more. I've also joined some tournaments on and playing people from all over the world. Another major opponent is Greg's dad, who we both play online at

Chess is another hobby that involves rankings (I am so competitive) and my ranking is slightly above average.  I've been playing since I was six years old but I've never really studied it, and there have been long periods (years) when I have gone without playing it.  Usually because I lacked an opponent. But now I am discovering new ways of thinking about the game and I'm a much stronger player than I was before this recent obsession.

3. Three Consolation Gifts
I'm very upset about this injury ruining my spring racing season, so I bought myself a few presents-- jewelry, clothing and a car stereo w/iPod.

New Earrings
I went to a jewelry party a few weeks ago where they have jewelry on display and in a catalog and you buy stuff. Like the tupperware parties, but with jewelry. I splurged and bought myself two new necklaces and two pairs of earrings. And then a few days later, I went to White House Black Market and bought myself three more necklaces and another pair of earrings. I usually wear the same three necklaces that I've had for about 10 years, so it was time for a change.

During my White House Black Market trip, I also bought myself two new outfits. New, stylish clothing always makes me feel so refreshed and puts me in a good mood. I wore one of my outfits this week and it just felt fun.

The major gift to myself was the new car stereo and a Nano to go with it. I've always wanted the ability to listen to my iPod from my car, so I bought a stereo that has both an auxiliary input and a USB input. Since my iPod Nano "lives" in its waterproof casing and isn't synced with my iTunes library because of a computer virus that wiped out a lot of the songs that are now exclusively on the Nano, I treated myself to the new Nano. The new Nano has a touch screen and can clip on to your clothing. Of course, none of these features matter when controlling it through the car stereo, but they are cool anyway. Considering I have three shuffles, an iPad and an older Nano, this purchase was a bit irrational, but I wanted it as a consolation gift.

So those are my coping strategies and they've worked decently well. I'm now to the point where I am running every other day, about four miles at a time. Not enough to keep my fitness where I want to be, so I am still cross training almost as much as when I couldn't run at all. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irish I Was Running

This morning was the Shamrock marathon. I was supposed to run it but was injured so my role was to support Greg.

Pity Party
I'm going to get my negative feelings out of the way first, so that I can focus on the wonderful time I had today.

I was depressed yesterday. As much as I was trying to be supportive and excited for my husband, Greg, it was so hard to just push my feelings aside. Yesterday was tough for me for two reasons: 1) It marked the 3-year anniversary of my last "good" marathon experience. 2) The forecast for the race was in the mid 40's and sunny.

Regarding #1, I was depressed because I realized that the last time I ran a marathon that I considered to be a non-failure was exactly three years ago at Shamrock 2008. Ever since then I have been living and breathing marathon training and yet things haven't come together for me. Injuries, illnesses, weather, whatever the case-- I have just haven't been able to make it happen.

Regarding #2, I was glad that Greg was getting ideal race weather, but I kept thinking, "Where was this weather last year? Last year I was in such great shape and I was at my peak and ready to run a sub 3:40, but it was so hot that I dropped out at mile 13 because I felt so horrible. It was 25 degrees hotter last year and unseasonably so. Now that am I injured, the weather is perfect. If I had just had this weather last year, I would have a solid marathon under my belt and this injury wouldn't be so difficult."

I Got Over It.
I did allow myself to be upset on Saturday at the Expo, but I knew that this was an important
weekend for Greg and I wanted to be happy for him. So I shoved my feelings aside and focused on being able to support him.

On race morning, I accompanied Greg to the start line. I stayed next to him in the corral for as long as I could before the corral started to move forward.

I wished him good luck, gave him one final hug and he was off. I walked briskly to the start line and when he crossed, I started my Timex watch. I wanted to know exactly when he started so I could know exactly when to expect to see him. And during the last few miles, I could tell him what time he was on track for.

The First Half
My plan was to meet Greg just after the halfway point, at mile 13.5. I told him exactly where I would be. This gave me enough time to go back to the hotel, use my bone stimulator (I'm still using it twice a day) and get changed into running clothes.

I had been debating about wearing my bib. At the start line, the announcer said that your bib must be displayed, or you wouldn't be able to cross the finish line. So I figured I should wear my bib and that way no one would question me running or taking water if I needed it. But I also didn't want people to think I was cheating, so I took a black Shapie and drew a big X over the entire big and wrote DNS. Even still, when people saw me on the sidelines with my bib, they asked me if I was hurt or was cramping, etc. (You can't really see the X in this photo, but it was there!)

I wore a shirt that said "Irish I was running" which was extremely appropriate for the occasion. I got it from volunteering at the Pacer's Four Courts Four Miler last weekend. It was so perfect!

Mile 13.4-15
My first stop was at 44th street, just after the halfway point. I waited there for about 20 minutes and enjoyed cheering on the runners. Everyone's names were printed on their bibs so I was able to cheer for people by name, which most seemed to really like.

Greg's plan was to go out at a 9:00 pace and then speed up at the halfway point if he felt good. So I expected to see him just after 2:00, and that's exactly when I saw him. I handed him a bottle of Gatorade and two gels, like we had talked about. Both Greg and me like to carry water bottles when we run, at least for the first half, because we don't have to stop, and you get more water in you and less all over your face.

I ran with him for 1.6 miles and our pace was 8:53. He was following his plan perfectly-- speeding up just a little after the halfway point because he felt good. During this time my stress fracture didn't hurt at all but oddly enough, I felt something in the LEFT shin. My bone scan did show a stress fracture on the left side, but I had never felt anything there. And it was really surprising to me that all of a sudden it would start to hurt. I didn't mention anything to Greg because I just wanted to offer words of support to him.

Miles 23-Finish 
I expected to see Greg at around 3:30 but much to my excitement, he arrived a few minutes early, at about 3:27. He looked strong and said "we're gonna kill this!" or something to that affect. I didn't even have a chance to start my Garmin right away (I logged these as two separate runs). He said "this is just a race now!" I looked down at my Garmin, which I did eventually start, and noticed that we were in the 7:40's!  What a change from NYC when we were walking most of mile 23. I was so happy that he was feeling so strong.

I was also happy that I was running a 7:45 pace and still feeling conversational. I definitely felt like I could have maintained it for the rest of the race, although my leg might not be happy about it. He slowed us down a little for the next mile, but we were still running at a very good clip and passing lots of runners.

Mile 24: 7:44
Mile 25: 8:46
Mile 26: 8:01
The last 0.2: 6:47 pace!

I took this video during the last mile. We were just about to turn onto the Boardwalk and head for the finish.

Just strides away from the finish
We sprinted pass tons of people at a 6:47 pace and had a great finish. Greg's time was 3:52:26, which is faster than he expected. He said that he thinks this is because he didn't have a goal. He ran the first half very conservatively and then gave it all he had at the end. First half was 1:59 and second half was 1:53. He said that he hated bonking in NYC so much and that he vowed it wouldn't happen again. I really like his approach and I think that if I ever run a marathon again, I am not going to have a time goal. I will run by feel and keep my heart rate low in the early miles.

My shins were pain-free during those last 3.2 miles, and I haven't had any pain since. I was really nervous running that sprint at the end, but my shins handled it just fine.

I am so proud of my husband. I really enjoyed running with him and supporting him on his special day! I couldn't have done that if I ran my own race.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Milwaukee?

A key part of racing strategy isn't the strategy that you bring to each race you run, but the strategy around which races you run-- how many, how often, which kind of courses, and when.

Some runners prefer to race very frequently without choosing a target race. Some marathoners like to simply run as many as possible without much regard for time. My race strategy is to space out my races evenly enough so that I have sufficient time to train/recover between them. When this hasn't been the case, then I have always prioritized one race over the other. For example, in 2008 I ran the Shamrock marathon, followed by the London marathon four weeks later. Shamrock was the target for speed, and London was a fun run.

My race strategy for 2011 was to focus on Shamrock (March 20) as the target marathon and then do the Nike Women's Marathon (October) for fun. I'm going to be in San Fransisco for a business event while the Nike Women's Marathon is taking place, and my hotel is just a block or two from the start line. So I can't not run it. I wasn't going to try and race it for time because I've heard that the course is difficult, it's not well-organized, and it's really geared for people who want to run something for fun and get a cool prize at the end (a Tiffany necklace). Quite a few runners have told me not to waste a training cycle on it. So, that left me thinking that I should do the Nike Women's half marathon as a fun run while I am in San Francisco, and pick another marathon to race seriously before then.

Why before and not after? I always run the St. Jude Memphis marathon or half marathon in December, so I wouldn't want to fit in a marathon prior to that. Plus, after my business event, I will be spending 4-5 days in Napa Valley on vacation, which would put a wrench in my training. Why not make St. Jude Memphis the target marathon? Because I am anxious to race one sooner and the Memphis course isn't advantageous to a fast time.

Another factor that I have to deal with is the weather. I am extremely heat sensitive and have DNF'ed two marathons due to the heat, and have bonked in another one because of the heat. If it's going to be above 55 then forget it. Therefore, later in the fall is preferable, but I've already said it needs to be before the weekend of October 15 so that I can take my vacation afterwards. So I decided I would target the weekend of October 1-2.

I started poking around on to see what races were going on that weekend. I was pretty flexible travel-wise, but I didn't want to go cross country. An obvious candidate was the Wineglass marathon. I had heard a lot of good things about Wineglass, and with a net downhill elevation, the course profile was certainly in my favor. Another possibility was the Mohawk Hudson River marathon, but that was actually the following weekend, which would prevent me from doing the Nike Woman's half marathon the weekend of the 15th. And, the Mohawk Hudson River marathon is very much of a downhill course, and I want to see what I can do on something that's either flat or has rolling hills. Something like Shamrock is ideal, but of course I am injured and can't run that one! Although Wineglass looked really attractive, it had two drawbacks. 1) There was no airport nearby, so it would mean a 5-6 hour drive. 2) The start time was 8:00am, and I was hoping for 7:00 to 7:30. That extra time without the sun beating down on you can really mean a lot at the end of a marathon.

So, that brought me (well, us-- Greg and I decided on this together) to the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon. It had everything that we were looking for.

  • Target weekend of Oct. 1-2
  • In the northern part of the country
  • Start time of 7:30am
  • Medium-sized race
  • Reputation for being well organized
  • Direct flight without having to rent a car when we get there
  • Gently rolling hills for the first 16 miles, and then some nice downhills
The only drawbacks are that I've heard it can get windy in the last 3 miles near the lake. And that "Lakefront" is a misnomer because you don't even see the lake until the last few miles. And of course, with my luck, it could be really hot and spoil the whole thing for me, putting me on a nearly 4-year streak with no marathon PR, despite massive improvements at all other distances over the past few years. (Yah, I'm bitter.)

To recap past marathons:
March 2008: Best marathon ever on very little training
October 2008: Got really sick for 4 weeks, couldn't run the Hartford marathon
January 2009: Overheated in the 65+ degree, sunny weather in Phoenix, AZ
April 2009: Got hypothermia and passed out at the end of the race due to 45 degrees & pouring rain
September 2009: Foot injury, couldn't run the Toronto Waterfront marathon
March 2010: DNF'ed at that Shamrock marathon due to 65+ degree, sunny weather
May 2010: DNF'ed the Potomac River marathon due to 75+ degree weather and 90% humidity
May 2010: Mediocre time at the Bob Potts marathon due to missing my peak, or being worn out from the 18.5 miles I ran at the Potomac River marathon
November 2010: Ran NYC as a fun run with husband for his first (was happy I did this)
December 2010: Stomach issues, extremely painful, walked the last 4 miles
March 2011: Stress fracture, can't run the Shamrock marathon

Maybe to some people these sound like excuses, but I know my training has been rock solid-- especially in comparison to how I trained for the Shamrock in 2008. And my PRs at other distances prove it. I am capable of running a marathon much faster than a 3:51, and one day I'll actually be able to demonstrate that.

So hopefully October 2011 in Milwaukee will be the one!