Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Facts Friday: 2011 Facts

To finish off 2011, here are some not-so-random Friday facts about the year.

1. I ran five 5Ks, two 8Ks, three 10Ks, three half marathons and one marathon.

Veteran's Day 10K
2. Per the above, I ran 14 races total.

3. Believe it or not, I swam exactly 26.2 miles this year, completely unintentionally. I just looked at my swim log, and boom! Right in front of me was the 26.2!

4. I spent 88 hours pool running this year.

5. The race performance I am most proud of this year is the Veteran's Day 10K with a time of 45:19. The 10K has historically been my hardest distance to run well and I finally did it.

6. I spent all of February and March recovering from 3 stress fractures in my tibiae.

7. My biggest lesson learned this year is that higher mileage doesn't necessarily equal faster running.

8. My top three running items purchased are my Saucony PE Revival shorts, my CW-X capris, and my CEP compression sleeves.

9. My worst race performance was ironically the race I trained the hardest for-- the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon.

10. I ran 70.7 tempo miles in 2011, which was 5.4% of my overall training mileage. I ran 43.8 tempo miles in 2010, which was 2.0% of my overall training mileage.

Alexandria Half Marathon
11. My average training pace this year was 8:49. Coincidentally my PR marathon pace from over three years ago is also 8:49.

12. The hottest race I ran was the Lawyers Have Heart 5K, which was supposed to be a 10K, but got downgraded on race morning due to the heat. A close second was the Alexandria Festival Half marathon.

13. In addition to my stress fractures, I also dealt with hip bursitis, early signs of peroneal tendonitis, and a calf strain.

14. I met a ton of cool people through running this year. And I started blogging more.

15. I won three age group awards: 1st AG at the Patriot's Cup 8K, 2nd AG at the Ringing In Hope 10K, 2nd AG at the Run Geek Run 8K.

16. I think I experienced my first-ever official "overtraining" after the Turkey Trot. I recently read a description of technical overtraining symptoms, and I had most of them. It took me nearly three weeks to get my energy back.

17. I do not have any running goals for 2012 other than to run smart and stay healthy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

I've already received most everything on my Christmas list:
  • Wonderful husband
  • Nice home
  • New job
But if I could ask Santa for just one more thing, I'd ask for a healthy calf. No, not a baby cow, but that muscle in the bottom part of your leg known in medical circles as the Gastrocnemius.

I was really hoping I'd be 100% today and ready for a long run. But unfortunately, my calf still needs more time. I've now missed my first two long runs of the training cycle, and that's the one type of run that you just can't substitute on an elliptical or in the pool-- although I will certainly try. 

I went back to my sports chiropractor (aka Santa?) in hopes of getting a healthy calf yesterday and even though his treatment helped, he told me that I wasn't ready to run anything longer than two miles at this point.

And since I'm making a wish list, I might as well add this:

And since I was born Jewish, I guess that means I can create a Hanukkah wish list too, which would include this item:

That's all for now. I'm looking forward to spending the holidays with family and relaxing. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 2011 Training

With the year coming to a close, I took a look back on my training in 2011. Thanks to the RunningAHEAD training log, I was able to make some pretty cool charts.

December is looking pretty wimpy-- mainly because I felt worn out/run down for the first half of the month. But I still have 10 days left to crank out some good workouts! My calf might be ready for a long run on Saturday. Apparently it was a mild strain and the Graston that I had done on Monday has already helped. I won't attempt a long run unless I am 100%, but I am hopeful that I will be. If not, there is always the pool. 

Looking only at land running and the specific workouts themselves, 2011 looks like this:

I worked really hard over the summer and was prepared to crank out a killer marathon on Oct. 2. But alas, it wasn't my day. Instead of getting a new marathon PR, I ended up with PRs in the shorter distances, which I am very happy about. 

My land mileage for 2011 is the lowest its been since I started tracking miles back in 2008. However, with the introduction of pool running, I haven't lagged behind too much. I'm also training smarter now, so I am able to get better results with fewer miles. 

I don't plan on beating my 2010 mileage in 2012 because I don't think I need to go that high to see results. I do hope, however, that I don't get injured in 2012 and I can keep up with the mileage I want. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

WTF Calf?!

I wrote this blog in my head while waiting on a street a corner for 25 minutes in 35 degree weather for my husband to come pick me up because I decided to stop mid-run. My calf was hurting and I knew that I was risking serious injury if I didn't stop right then and there.

Let's back up.

The first hint I had that anything was wrong with my calf was immediately after the Turkey Trot just over three weeks ago. My left shin was achy, and I remember telling my husband that I thought the cause of the shin was a tight calf. I didn't run for two days and then I ran 10 miles pain free. Afterwards, however, I did notice that my calf felt tight.

I started stretching and foam rolling the calf regularly but nothing seemed to make the tightness go away. It didn't hurt, I could just tell it was tighter than it should be. I ran the Memphis Half Marathon with no issues, and then I took five days off because I felt sick/run-down. And then I took things very easy-- only running 4-5 miles every other day because I just wasn't feeling well. It had nothing to do with my calf. You would think with such a light running schedule that it would be nearly impossible to get an injury.

And then on Friday (two days ago) I decided to do the speed work that my coach prescribed. But instead of going to the track, I did it in a somewhat hilly neighborhood with a 15-mph sustained wind. My calf felt tight during the run, but it didn't actually hurt until afterwards. I stretched, iced and then went about my day. Yesterday, however, while walking around I noticed that I could feel my calf. With every step I took, my calf "spoke" to me. Probably a 2 out of 10 on the pain scale, so I wasn't freaking out, but I was worried that I could feel it at all.

This morning, my husband asked me if I was sure my calf was okay for a long run, and I said I thought it was, and that I would stop if it hurt. But deep down I knew he was right and that I shouldn't have attempted it. Considering my calf did not feel 100% to even walk on, the idea of going for a long run was ridiculous. But I really wanted to do it, given that it was definitely time to start training for my the Shamrock marathon.

I started running and immediately "felt" my calf with each stride. I thought maybe it was just tight and needed some time to warm up. But it just got worse and worse until I forced myself to stop after just three miles. My husband offered to run home, get the car and drive me home. I told him that I could just walk, but didn't think I should walk. He's so sweet!!!! (And he knows that I can be miserable to be around when I have an injury.)

I felt horrible for ruining his run, but he told me it wasn't ruined-- his top priority was making sure I didn't get injured. Even though we had run three miles, we were only two miles from home (we had taken a round-about route). So I waited there for 25 minutes with nothing to think about other than how frustrating this was and how stupid I was for attempting a long run when my calf wasn't 100%. I don't even have time to go pool running today because of a family commitment!

I don't know what's wrong with my calf. I doesn't hurt in one particular spot, but rather all around the inside of the leg.  I had scheduled an appointment with my sports chiro last week, thinking it was just tight and needed some ART. I see him tomorrow and maybe he will have an idea about what's going on. It's probably a muscle strain of some sort, but how on earth could I have strained a muscle on such little running!!!!

The good news is that the calf is completely pain-free while at rest and I only feel it when I walk on it. I know I did what I needed to do by stopping, but it's frustrating because I already feel like I am behind on my Shamrock training. I just spent two weeks of very little running because I felt sick and now I will probably be out for at least another week, unless my sports chiro can work some kind of magic.

WTF, calf?!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Frontier

Yesterday I turned in my resignation letter to a company that I have been working for since October of 2005. It was a huge step for me, but there is no doubt that I made the right decision. I accepted a position with a larger company where I will be doing the same type of work, but on a much broader scale and in a different industry.

In my previous post, I talked about believing in yourself and taking risks. I do not consider my new job to be a risk, but I'll definitely be stepping out of the comfort zone that I have been in for the past few years. This job will present me with new challenges and I am excited to tackle them. 

Professional Me.
The interview process for this new position was extensive. I have been speaking with the company since September, and I was even asked to give a 30-minute presentation. I took a relatively relaxed approach to interviewing, so the bulk of the stress was around the idea of making such a major change in my life. As I said earlier, I have been with my current employer for over six years. What would life be like outside of that world?

What does this mean for my running? I'm giving up a job that allows me to work from home in exchange for one with an actual commute and longer hours. My coach said "why would you do that!?" Instead of being able to go for a run at pretty much any hour of the day, it's now back to waking up before 5:00 and running in the cold dark weather. Of course followed by the shower, putting on makeup, doing my hair and then commuting. Not as fun as what I have now, but it's worth it for a fantastic career opportunity. (The working-from-home thing just started a month ago and while it was great for flexibility, it wasn't helping me grow my career).

Ideally, the new job wouldn't impact my training for the Shamrock Marathon in March, but I'm accepting the possibility that it may. I'm also taking a vacation to Mexico in late January which will definitely disrupt the cycle, but in a good way! My goal will be to train to the best of my ability, while realizing that it won't be a "perfect" cycle and that Shamrock might not be the type of performance I would hope for. After so many bonks, there is only so much of emotional investment I can make in marathons, anyway. 

Runner Me.
What I'm trying to say is-- I don't care as much about my marathon time as I used to. I'm burnt out on thinking about those numbers. I'll always be motivated to train to the best of my ability because I enjoy the challenge. But with the new job, the vacation, and the stress that comes with making such a huge transition, I can only expect so much. Maybe I'll care more when Richmond rolls around next fall. But maybe not.

I'm really, really happy with the PRs I set this fall in the 5K, 8K, and 10K and I've proven to myself that I can take my running to the next level. In fact, I'm so content with those times that I have satisfied my PR "bug" for awhile, and I am okay with taking a more relaxed approach. 

So, what's been going on with my running lately? For the past two weeks I've felt run-down and lethargic, plus my coach told everyone on the team that we should be taking a bit of a break from running. That was a formula for very little running, but I think my body needed the rest.

Week of Nov. 28: 23.6 miles running (including a half marathon), 20 minutes pool running, 1/2 mile swim
Week of Dec. 5: 9 miles of running (all of them very slow and fatigued), 50 minutes pool running

So aside from that half marathon, I haven't been doing very much. I have been keeping up with my core strengthening, but even my planks were shorter and fatigued. Yesterday, I went for a six-mile run and I finally felt like I had some energy. I still plan on keeping the training very light this week and start my "official" Shamrock training next week. 

I don't have any upcoming races planned aside from the marathon, although my husband wants to do the same race we did last New Year's Eve. I haven't decided if I'll race that one or if I will just be his cheerleader. He thinks I should just do it as a fun run, which I may. 

It's an interesting time for me, to say the least. I've had a great year and a great "run" at my current company, and now it's time to explore a new frontier.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Running, Empowerment and Finding Yourself

I often get asked why I run. I could honestly write a novel on this topic because there are so many reasons why I run as much as I do. I sometimes even find myself asking why I care so much about a race goal, but I usually can't articulate an answer.

I'll circle back to the topic of why I run, but to do so I'm going to first provide some context.

As I have mentioned in previous posts over the past 6-8 months, I have had a lot of stress in my life recently. Not the type of stress that I had in 2010 when I was planning a wedding, buying a new house and making all kinds of life changes. I'm talking about internal stress. I've been spending a lot of time inside my own head, asking myself some challenging questions and searching for the answers.

The word "stress" has a negative connotation, but stress can be good too! It's how we grow, change and learn about ourselves. My life hasn't changed very much over the past year, but my perceptions have changed drastically. I apologize for speaking in vague terms, but the specifics aren't appropriate or even relevant to this blog. The important point is that our perception of our world IS our world and when our perception changes, WE change. Or more likely--  as we change, so does our perception. I'm getting very philosophical now.

As humans we all need external validation and we all struggle with self-worth in some form of another. No one is exempt from this need. However, understanding this need for approval from others and how it plays into our self-worth requires a great deal of introspection.

For me, the transition from college to the "real world" was a difficult one. Looking back, I think it was the lack of structure that presented the biggest challenge. Until that point, I always knew what I was supposed to be doing, and it was very easy for me to get the external validation I needed. Study. Get good grades. Participate in extra-curricular activities. Have an active social life (ie. go out drinking with friends frequently). I was able to do all of these things relatively well, so my life was easy.

Once I graduated, things weren't as black and white. I needed a goal-- something tangible that was mine and that I could succeed at. Having a job wasn't enough because of stability issues that came with the burst of the DotCom bubble. I also wasn't used to living alone and having to "commute" through traffic to see my friends. This is when I turned to exercise and fitness. It was a very simple solution to filling that need.

About five years later, I discovered racing, which presented me with another opportunity to succeed at something tangible and measurable. I won't go as far as to say that running defined my self-worth, but it was by far the biggest element. It's not that I didn't think there were other valuable aspects about me-- it's just that those other qualities weren't objective. It didn't matter how great I thought I was, because I didn't see myself as a qualified judge. Was I truly intelligent? Was I truly a good person? I thought so-- but I had no way of really knowing that because such things aren't measurable.

When you have something measurable providing you with your sense of self worth, then you don't have to do the real "work" of truly believing in yourself. It's HARD to believe in yourself. It sounds easy, but to truly believe in yourself, you often need to defy what others think. You have to go out on a limb and know your worth even when you think other people might disagree. People who dream big and accomplish great things don't get there by setting "reasonable" goals. They go out on a limb, believe in themselves, and don't listen to people who tell them they can't do something.

I run because it's where I find my power. When I feel that other people are dragging me down and walking all over me, I go for a run and I feel strong again. With running, it's somewhat "safe" to dream big, because there will always be another marathon, another chance to achieve my goals if one race doesn't go my way. And when I do set a new PR or meet a specific race goal, then there's no doubt that I succeeded and nobody can take that feeling away from me by giving their opinion.

Many runners say that they have found themselves through running. I find this to be very true of myself. But it's not an endgame. In fact it's just an opening into many other possibilities for me to unlock my potential.

What's changing in my life is that I'm starting to find power within myself that isn't necessarily measurable. Don't get me wrong-- running is amazing and wonderful and I love it. But I'm finding my own power in terms of knowing what I am truly capable of, even when people around me think I am not. It's one thing when there is just one negative voice among the many other voices of encouragement and praise. But it's another story when it seems like you are the minority in thinking you can succeed at something.

I apologize for the vague nature of this blog post. I do plan to continue to run/train with the same passion and motivation as always. I'm not suggesting that I shift focus away from running, but rather toward how running fits into the bigger picture of my life, who I am, and what I stand for.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon: Race Report

Yesterday morning, I ran the St. Jude Memphis half marathon. This is my third consecutive year participating in this race. In 2009 I ran the half marathon and in 2010 I ran the full marathon. The full marathon went very badly for me last year due to stomach distress, but the half marathon in 2009 was a very good race for me.

The company that I work for is a gold sponsor of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon weekend. Several years ago, we chose St. Jude as our official charity partner and we made a commitment to donate $1 million to the research hospital over a period of time. St. Jude Children's Research hospital was created to find cures for childhood diseases and provide first-class treatment to sick children.

As an avid runner, I knew that St. Jude organized a marathon and half marathon, so I looked into how my company could be a part of that. It turns out that all sponsorship money goes directly to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and that if we sponsored the race, it would help us fulfill our $1 million commitment. As such, I was easily able to convince my CFO to sponsor the event in 2009, and we have been doing so ever since.

Expo Experience
St. Jude Marathon Expo
The company I work for provides software to manufacturing companies. It has nothing to do with running, however, our sponsorship came with an expo booth. My husband and I traveled to Memphis on Thursday to staff the booth. Special thanks goes out to Greg for taking vacation time to come to Memphis with me and keep me company at the expo.

As you may imagine, we got very little traffic, except for the fact that we were giving away pens and people were happy to take those. There was one runner who was a user of our software and I had a great conversation with him.Otherwise, we were there primarily for the brand recognition. It was really cool to see our logo on the race shirt and have our signage on the course. After all, I run the marketing department (and therefore manage the brand) so it was exciting to see people wearing a shirt with my company's logo.

The only other employee from my company who participated was my CFO, but the CEO sent his wife and two of his kids, along with his sister and her husband. I had also invited my friend from Atlanta and her husband to join our team.

Race Goals and Strategy
This was not a target race for me. I was actually much more interested in doing well at my recent 10K and 5K then I was for this half marathon. My mileage had been relatively low and I hadn't done many long runs since my marathon two months ago, so I didn't have any specific training dedicated toward this race. I was mainly looking forward to having a fun time and running a decent race.

Time-wise, I would have liked to go sub-1:40, which would have meant a PR by a bit less than two minutes. On the one hand, I know I am in much better shape now then when I ran my 1:41:40 last October. On the other hand, 1:41 is a very solid half marathon time, so I'd have to push myself to beat it.

My strategy was to take it easy during the first 5K and then just run the race by feel, without looking at my Garmin too much. I've run enough of these that I know what half marathon pace should feel like.

Race Morning
Greg and I met up with two of our friends and headed to the start line. Our hotel was just three blocks from the start line, and the self-corralling system was very clearly marked. I didn't see any obvious walkers in the faster corrals. Corrals are released one minute apart, leaving plenty of room on the course for the runners. At the same time back home, many of my friends were running the Hot Chocolate 15K and 5K, which was a logistical nightmare. Knowing what they were going through, I was very happy to have a short walk to the start and a course that was not overcrowded.

Greg and I started near the 3:25 marathon pacer, which would yield a half marathon time of 1:42:30. I thought that starting out near him would be perfect, and then I would gradually start to speed up and pass him-- hopefully catching the 3:20 guy toward the end of the race. Greg didn't have high expectations for this race because he hasn't been training much since our marathon two months ago. But we still started out together.

Miles 1-3
The race started and I was running about 20 feet behind the 3:25 pacer. It wasn't long before Greg sped up and got ahead of me, and I stayed steady. I glance down at my Garmin a few times and saw that I was running at about an 8:00 pace, which I was fine with.

Mile 2 came and I knew it would be faster because it had a long downhill. I decided to just keep the effort level steady. After the downhill, there was a bit of an uphill and that's when I realized that I didn't feel very well. I saw Greg wave to some people cheering on top of a hill, and I didn't want to expend the energy to do that. But this was mile 2! I didn't want to write the race off yet, but I could tell that my energy level was very low.

I just focused on staying relaxed and maintaining the pace (based on feel, not on the Garmin) and I didn't care that the 3:25 guy was no longer in my sight by mile 3.

Mile 1: 8:02
Mile 2: 7:43
Mile 3: 8:03

Miles 4-7
I took my first honey at mile marker 4, thinking that some calories might make me feel more peppy. But it didn't seem to make any difference at all. I started thinking about why I could be feeling so tired. I had gotten a decent amount of sleep that week-- but I had waken up quite a few times during the middle of the night on Thursday and Friday night due to the hotel bed being small.

I knew it was time to pick up the pace and start running at what felt like half marathon pace, but I didn't feel like I had the energy to do so. My pace of 8:00 didn't feel like half marathon effort, but I felt really tired doing that, and I didn't think I had the energy for faster. I glanced at my Garmin off and on, and was maintaining a pace of around 8:00, but I kept running by feel instead of letting the Garmin dictate my pace.

If this had happened a year ago, I think I would have been too focused on time to pay attention to my body. I would have sped up to my target 7:40 pace and probably crashed really hard.

I remembered when I ran this race in 2009 after coming off of a foot injury and being shocked that I held a pace of 8:00. I was very happy with that pace back then, so I was going to be content with it now. This wasn't a target race for me, so as long as I could just hang in there and not have a repeat of the full Memphis marathon in 2010, I'd be fine.

Mile 4: 7:38 (partially under a bridge, Garmin was off a bit)
Mile 5: 7:48
Mile 6: 7:58
Mile 7: 7:55

Miles 8-10
I was feeling so bad by mile marker 8, that I had to remind myself that I only had five miles left. During the recent Milwaukee Lakefront marathon, I started feeling bad at mile 13, and I still had 13 miles to go. But it was like being at mile 21 of a marathon, so that thought was encouraging.

At this point, I knew I was going to have to slow down, it would just be a matter of how soon and by how much. Mile 10 is probably the toughest mile of the race which has a lot of uphills, and that's when most of the people in my "group" started passing me-- including Greg. I felt like a snail going up the hills and I just wanted to collapse. I was so tired. Even though I ran an 8:22 pace for mile 10, my effort level was the same because of all the hills, but then I felt completely "done" after mile 10.

Mile 8: 7:56
Mile 9: 8:02
Mile 10: 8:22

Miles 11-13.1
Approaching the Finish
After mile 10, I wanted to walk. I was afraid I was going to have to run-walk to the finish and not even get a sub 1:50. Thankfully, mile 11 was mainly downhill. But there were a few uphills, and I did walk for a few seconds on those.

Mile 12 came and I walked a few times, about 5-10 seconds each time. But I told myself "you are only prolonging this experience by walking. It's not helping you at all. Just run and you'll be done with it faster." All I wanted to do was to lay down and just pass out. But I tried my hardest to tolerate it for two more miles.

The last mile was pretty much all downhill. It starts with an uphill, but then the last 3/4 of that mile is a nice downhill. I walked for a little bit on the uphill and then decided to really push hard on the downhill because the end would be there soon. I passed mile marker 13 and just cruised to the finish on the downhill and into the stadium at a surprising 7:03 pace. I guess I had some energy left in me.

Mile 11: 8:32
Mile 12: 8:43
Mile 13: 8:37
Last 0.2 (per garmin): 7:03 pace

The Finish
I crossed the finish line and saw Greg. I was so happy to be done! I starting coughing out air off and on, but that stopped after about 5-10 minutes. And then I felt okay. I probably could have pushed myself more during this race, but it really wasn't "my day" and it wasn't a target race so I just went with what I thought my body could tolerate without making myself feel completely sick and miserable.

Official time: 1:46:49

My time was far off from my goal, but it wasn't horrible given how tired I felt throughout the race, and I'm not beating myself up for my fitness level or making some big mistake. I seriously thought that I might not even get under 1:50. I know I'm in great shape, as evidenced by my recent 10K and 5K races-- yesterday was just an off day for me. I ran this race in 1:44:30 back in 2009, and I am in far better shape today.

What really does bother me, however, is that this type of thing just "happens". This same exact thing happened to me at the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon-- a lack of energy that left me run-walking starting at mile 14, despite going out at a pace that was "easy". It also happened to me at the 2009 Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I started feeling crappy at mile two, and then by mile five I pulled off the course and DNFed. No real explanation for why-- I just didn't have any energy in me.

My coach suggested that flying to races could be putting an extra strain on my body, or maybe I was coming down with a cold/flu. My allergies had really been acting up the day before the race, but overall I felt decent, so I thought they were just allergies-- like I was allergic to my "pet-friendly" hotel room.

Maybe I've been running too many races. I ran a 10K on Oct. 29, followed by another 10K on Nov. 13, and then a 5K on Nov. 24. I've also been doing speed work in between these races. Maybe I was burned out on racing. Who knows!?

I really don't have an explanation, and that's what bugs me. There isn't anything I can focus on to prevent this type of thing. There was no way for me to predict this was going to happen, and I can't pinpoint the cause. I wasn't anxious or stressed about this race, although I guess my restless sleep could have played a role.
I guess one good thing is that my legs feel 100% normal today. Absolutely no soreness. Because I ran the race at a relatively easy pace, there wasn't much strain on my legs. However, I do plan to take two days from running just to be on the safe side. And I plan to take the next two weeks very easy-- in case I was burned out from too many races and too much speedwork.

In any case, it was a fun weekend with my husband, my friends, and the rest of the runners on my company's team. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is an amazing organization, and it was wonderful to participate in an even that supported such a noble mission.
My corporate team (minus the 13-year old who was looking for his results)