Tuesday, December 26, 2017

19,000 miles in 10 Years

On January 1, 2008, I started an online training log at RunningAhead. Every day for ten years I have religiously logged my mileage, pace, route, and shoe. I have loads of data, and for a data junkie like me, this means I get to crank out some fun stats. As for my sentimental side, I get to reflect back on ten years of running and racing.

I've logged exactly 18,997 total miles in my training log as of today, which means I will be just over 19,000 come December 31. This has taken me 2,845 hours with an average pace of 9:00. That is 118.5 days of nonstop running!

Here are the averages from this 10-year period:
  • 1,900 miles a year
  • 36.5 miles a week
  • 5.2 miles a day
This chart tells the story:

In 2011, I was injured twice, but I also logged many miles in the pool (not shown here) just to be on the safe side. My slump in 2016 was due to having mono, and I also had mono in 2012.

Over the past ten years, my PRs have dropped as follows:

  • 5K from 23:22 to 20:17
  • 10K from 48:54 to 41:51
  • Half marathon from 1:50:43 to 1:33:36 (hoping to make that 1:30:43 next month)
  • Marathon from 3:51:49 to 3:21:54
Some people can make this kind of progress in five years, but I plateaued from 2011-2014. Also, I started racing in 2005, so these are not my slowest times. 

107 pairs of shoes! All of which have at least 100 miles on them. My shoe that got the highest mileage before retirement was the Nike Air Structure Triax +12. And that mileage was 247! I typically retire my shoes at around 180 miles, because that's when I start to feel them break down and my legs begin to hurt.
  • 39 Pairs of Brooks Adrenaline
  • 27 Pairs of Nike Lunarglide
  • 16 Pairs of Mizuno Wave Elixir
  • 15 Pairs of Mizuno Wave Inspire
  • 8 Pairs of Nike Air Structure Triax
  • 5 Pairs of Mizuno Wave Sayonara
Long Runs
I've completed 43 runs that were 20+ miles in length (but not actual marathons).
  • Slowest: 21.5 miles at an average pace of 9:49 in September 2014
  • Fastest: 20 miles at an average pace of 7:55 in February 2017
  • Longest: 24 miles at an average pace of 8:47 in April 2016
  • Hottest: 22 miles at an average pace of 9:05 in 76 degrees in August 2011
  • Coldest: 20 miles at an average pace of 8:57 in 23 degrees in February 2015
My hottest run ever was the Potomac River Running Twilight Festival 4-Miler in June 2016, when it was 91 degrees. Shortly after this race, I came down with mono. My coldest run ever was a 6.3-mile training run in 9 degrees in February 2015. 

I thought it would be cool to include my favorite photos from each year:

2008: Shamrock Marathon. The look of joy and pain as I approach the finish line toward a new PR of 3:51:49.

2009: New Jersey Marathon. Running in a torrential downpour killed my spirit and my time, resulting in hypothermia.

2010: The GW Parkway Classic 10-miler. I ran this race as a training run, and I love how happy I look.

2011: The Run Geek Run! 8K. I surprised myself during this race running much faster than expected, and this photo makes me look tough.

2012: The Potomac River Marathon. I DNF'ed due to race anxiety, but I tried my best to be relaxed before I bonked.

2013: The Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. I was disappointed that I didn't run a PR at this race, but I definitely gave it 100%.

2014: Boo! Run for Life 10K. This was a huge PR for me shortly after starting to work with my new coach: 43:56. I was still wearing the singlet of my former team, however.

2015: The Richmond Half Marathon. I ran this race in 1:35:08, which was much a PR by over two minutes from the PR I had set just four weeks prior!

2016: The Boston Marathon. No explanation needed!

2017: Semper Fi 5K. A new PR of 20:17!

It's been an amazing ten years. Running has added so much to my life with all of its ups and downs, but mainly ups. Hopefully I will be healthy enough to generate another 10 year's worth of data discovery!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Houston Half Marathon Training Update

As I casually mentioned in my previous blog post, I'm running the Houston Half Marathon on January 14th. I knew I had built up a good deal of fitness for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, even though my finish time didn't show it. So I figured that I could build on that fitness to run a speedy half marathon by mid-January. I've also been itching to race a half marathon. Of course my priority was healing my Achilles tendonitis, so I took two weeks off before jumping back into training. A few other reasons why I chose to run Houston:
Houston Half Marathon 2008
  • I ran the Houston Half Marathon in 2008, so this will be my ten-year anniversary. During that race, my watch stopped working so I had to run completely based on feel. Because I had been injured for the first two weeks of December, I was expecting to be much slower than my PR. However, I really surprised myself and walked away with a two-minute PR! And I attributed that to my relaxed attitude about the race: no pressure, not watching my splits, just running by feel and having fun. My time was 1:50:43.
  • This is an excellent opportunity to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. I can't even imagine what it must be like to lose your home. I'm running as a charity runner for the Salvation Army, specifically aimed at helping the Harvey victims.
  • It's "on my way" to Vegas. I need to be in Las Vegas on Monday the 15th for work, and I actually saved money by doing a stop-over in Houston on Southwest Airlines.
My original goal for Houston when I registered was to run a sub-7:00 pace, but based on recent workouts, I think I could possibly swing a 6:55 pace and run it exactly 20 minutes faster than I did in 2008. That's an average of two minutes a year! So, my revised goal is 1:30:43. Last year Houston was hot, so hopefully this year the weather cooperates and I have an "on" day. This goal time would be a PR by nearly three minutes.

In terms of training, my weekly mileage has been in the low 50's for the past three weeks, and this week it will be 59 after I do my 30-minute recovery run tomorrow. Here's a recap of this week.

Monday: 6.6 miles easy at 9:08 average
This is the slowest I have run in a long time. I received an email from my coach on Sunday night telling me that I would have a big week of training and that I should run the easy runs very easy. I took that to heart and ran very easy!

Tuesday: 3-mile tempo + intervals
The prescribed workout was: 3 miles tempo, 3-minute recovery jog, 2 x 90 seconds hard, 4 x 60 seconds hard, 4 x 45 seconds hard, 4 x 30 seconds hard, 6 x 15 seconds hard, all with equal duration recovery jogs. I programmed this workout into my Garmin so that it would beep at the start/stop of each interval, and then give me exact lap paces for each. I couldn't believe how fast my tempo was! The miles were 6:51, 6:42, 6:36. That's an average pace of 6:44! And even after that was done, I still had gas in the tank for the short intervals, which started at a pace of 6:25, and ended at 5:48. Last year at this time, 6:44 was my 5K PR pace, and now it's my 3-mile tempo pace. Including warm up and cool down, I ran a total of 9.8 miles.

Wednesday: 7.8 miles easy at 8:57 average
Thursday, Dec. 21

Another easy run that I took very easy.

Thursday: 2 x 3 miles at HMP + intervals
Another workout combining lactate threshold work and VO2 max! The exact workout was 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace with a 4-minute recovery jog in between, followed by 6 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy). This is the workout that makes me think I can run a 6:55 pace in Houston. My half marathon pace miles, which I ran based on effort, averaged 6:50, and the pace felt controlled. I could have definitely run faster. Exact splits were 7:00, 6:52, 6:48, 6:50, 6:49, 6:45. The 1-minute "hard" paces averaged out to 6:10. Including warm up and cool down, I ran a total of 11.4 miles. It was 30 degrees with no wind, which is ideal weather for me. My route was not pancake flat-- it was a series of small inclines and declines with two little hills, similar to how Houston is.

Friday: 6.7 miles easy at 8:43 average
A little faster than my other easy runs, but it felt like I was going much slower, surprisingly.

Saturday: 13.8 miles at 8:40 average
I kept this run nice and easy, with the first half averaging 8:53 and the second half averaging 8:29. My legs actually felt pretty good but I didn't want to push it too much.

Tomorrow I'll do a 30-minute recovery run and finish off the week with just over 59 miles.

Overall, I feel really good about this short training cycle. I'm basically just building a bit of extra fitness on top of my marathon fitness and seeing how things play out on race day. I haven't run a solid half marathon in nearly two years, so I'm itching to get out there and race one that I'm really well prepared for. 1:30:43, here I come!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Time Crunch

I spend the majority of my life feeling pressed for time.

I wake up, get dressed to go run, run for an hour or more, spend 45 minutes getting ready for work, commute for 40 minutes, work all day long, commute home for 50 minutes, and then I have about two hours to relax before it's time to clean up from dinner (which Greg cooks) and go to bed. And this is a life without having kids!

I usually feel like I am running behind and I'm always rushing around to get stuff done or go somewhere. I have often thought that I would love the option to work 4 days a week and get paid 80% of my salary. I value my time above all else. But of course, full-time salaried jobs don't work that way in the United States. Having a job means that you're all-in. Don't get me wrong-- I love my job. But the commute + all the running I do puts me in constant time-crunch mode.

I totally recognize that I am choosing to be this busy and I could opt for a job closer to home. I could move. I could run less. Or, I could find ways to make sure that the little "free" time I do have is not also occupied with things like running errands, cleaning the house, etc.

Over the summer, Greg read an article that showed how spending money on things that save time leads to the most happiness. I totally agreed with the article, which is how I justify spending up to $10/day in tolls to take the "fast" lanes. (Yes, a 40-50 minute commute is "fast" when compared to what it would take without the toll lanes.) After reading the article, he promptly hired a lawn service to take care of mowing our yard. He told me I should hire a cleaning service if I wanted. I didn't do this though, as that would require time to research, and I would want to be home while cleaners were at the house.

Instacart: 1.5 hours a week saved
Over the past month, however, I've really felt the time crunch with all of the additional "things" to do for the holidays. Holiday shopping, holiday gatherings, holiday cards, and holiday everything! On Thanksgiving, my sister told me about a grocery delivery service she uses to avoid having to go shop. It's called Instacart and for $149/year, you can have a groceries delivered to you from virtually any near by store: Wegman's, Giant, Harris Teeter, Costco, Whole Foods, CVS and more. There's also a 10-15% up-charge on the food, plus any tip you decide to leave the delivery person.

When Greg and I heard about this, we thought it would be life-changing and so far it has been. Each weekend, we typically spend 15 minutes driving to the grocery store, 45-50 minutes shopping for a week's worth of food, and then 15 minutes driving home. We prefer to shop at Wegman's and the closest one is about a 15-minute drive. In August, we will have a Wegman's within one mile of our house! But that's a long way off. When you include unpacking all the groceries, this ends up being about an hour and a half of time over the weekend, which we'd rather spend relaxing. Another benefit is being able to get groceries in the middle of the week instead of having to wait. This will cut down on eating out, thus indirectly saving us money. But as I said above, I'm at a point in my life where I'd rather save time than save money.

Dyson Hair Dryer: 1 hour a week saved
I've been eying the Dyson hair dryer since it came out about a year ago. It's supposed to dry your hair much faster, eliminate frizz, and be much healthier for your hair. For someone who spends 15-20 minutes each morning drying her hair, this sounded amazing-- if these claims were true. With a $400
Smooth, frizz-free hair in no time!
price tag, I simply couldn't justify buying this hair dryer for the longest time. But finally, when a 20% holiday sale came about, I pulled the trigger. And I was not disappointed! This hair dryer is twice as fast as my previous one, but not as hot! And it leaves my hair feeling as smooth as it does after I go to a salon, and without all the frizz. I love, love, love it!

House Cleaning Service: 1 hour a week saved
To be honest, I actually don't even spend a full hour a week cleaning. I only clean our shower once a month, and I never touch the guest bathroom. I vacuum about once a month, and I hardly ever dust. I've never cleaned the inside of our microwave or our ovens. I've mopped the kitchen floor about 3 times this year. Yup, my blog is all about honesty! Generally speaking, I do clean the house, but usually "cleaning the house" is an event that can take several hours. Our house always "looks" okay, but I have always felt a little guilty for never investing the time in truly deep cleaning it.

After years and years of wanting a cleaning service, but never enough to allow strangers to touch my stuff, I finally bit the bullet. My friend Rochelle told me that she hired a really good cleaning service who totally deep cleaned her home. Greg told me that if I wanted to have them come on Friday, he'd be home from work to supervise. Perfect! Greg actually gets every other Friday off work because his company has an alternative work schedule of 9-hour days.

Not only did I not have to worry about researching a good service, but I also didn't have to worry about trying to be home when they came. I still didn't like the idea of them touching my stuff, but I moved enough things out of the way beforehand that I felt okay with it. Rochelle was right- the cleaners did an amazing job, and we've reached a level of "clean" I never thought possible!

Time Savings
Now that I don't have to go to the grocery store, clean the house, or spend 20 minutes drying my hair in the morning, what am I going to do with all of this extra time? Probably nothing other than simply feeling like my life is less hectic, less stressful, and more enjoyable.

Quick Running Update
Track workout at sunrise

I realize I haven't updated this blog with my training lately, but things are are going really well. I've been posting my workouts on Instagram almost every day. My weekly mileage has been in the low 50's for the past several weeks, and I'm gearing up to run the Houston Half Marathon in mid-January.

I've been doing a lot of workouts focused on speed, and I think my fitness is in a good spot right now based on my paces. I'll run a 5K on New Year's Day with the hopes of a modest PR, and then make my way to Houston two weeks later. My Achilles tendonitis is practically gone, and I've only felt it about 3 times this entire week! For just a few minutes at a time.

With all the actual racing I do, hopefully my life will feel like less of a race with these small time-saving strategies.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Insertional Achilles Tendonitis Recovery

If you've been following this blog you'll know that I have been struggling with insertional Achilles Tendonitis for the past few months. I'm delighted to say (and I hope I am not speaking too soon) that I have made a near-full recovery, or at the least have experienced a dramatic improvement. I'm writing this blog primarily for my own records, and also in the hopes that it helps someone else out there. I am not a medical professional, but I thought I would share my experience and what helped me recover.

This all started in mid-July when I noticed stiffness on the backs of my heels when waking up in the morning and taking those first few steps. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time because it wasn't painful (stiffness is the best term for it) and I really only felt it when I first got out of bed. After a few weeks, the issue became more noticeable while on the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. It still wasn't painful, but I felt the stiffness more frequently, like after running.

At this point, I consulted with Dr. Google and diagnosed myself with Achilles tendonitis in both feet. What I didn't realize, though, is that there are two types of Achilles tendonitis: insertional and midpoint. The treatment for each of these is different. However, without knowing this fact (and that's the danger of Dr. Google) I started doing the exercises that had proven to heal midpoint tendonitis.

I did these exercises every day throughout the month of August. The exercise was standing on the edge of a step, and doing heel drops so that my heel fell below the step. This was slightly painful to do, but the article I read said that these exercises should feel painful. I also stretched my calves thoroughly each day.

The pain gradually worsened in that I would feel it after almost every run. My runs were completely pain-free (with maybe a hint of stiffness at the beginning), but then I would spend 40 minutes driving to work, which resulted in them stiffening up substantially. I would get out of my car and the first few steps would be really painful. The pain would last for the first hour of the day and then subside. This pattern continued for a month before I finally decided to see my sports chiropractor.

Rehab Exercises
My sports chiropractor told me that by stretching and doing those exercises, I was treating midpoint Achilles tendonitis, not insertional tendonitis. He told me that stretching my calves and sinking my heel below the step was putting additional strain on the tendon and making things worse! Oops! He told me that I should do eccentric heel drops on each foot, but on a flat surface. He told me that I should use as much weight as tolerated because the added weight would stimulate healing.

Ideally I would back off of the training, but given that I had a marathon approaching, he told me I could continue running, as long as I did the exercises every day. And once the marathon was over, he advised that I take a few weeks off to let the tendons completely recover.

I was very good about doing the exercises and I saw a notable improvement within just a few days. What a relief! I wore a backpack with 20 lbs worth of weights inside while I did the heel drops. I did 3 sets of 15 on each side, as prescribed, twice a day. As prescribed, I did these very slowly (lasting 3 seconds for the full drop) starting from half the height of full tippy-toes.

I continued training, running 60-70 miles a week, and sure enough, the pain worsened again a month later. Even though my actual runs were pain free, my heels really hurt afterwards. After a 22-miler, they hurt all day long, so I ended up taking 3 full days off from running. The most worrisome part about this was that my heels hurt when I was at rest, whereas typically they would only hurt when walking. The time off worked, with the pain diminishing significantly, and I was able to resume training, with just three weeks left to go.

The Smith Machine
I lower the bar and hold it in a relaxed position
The marathon came and went. My heels were mostly pain-free during the race, but they were extremely painful afterwards. With every step I took I could feel a burning sensation! I took two weeks off from running and spent this time focusing on recovery. After doing more research on insertional Achilles Tendonitis, I realized that my backpack-with-weights approach was not allowing me to add enough weight to stimulate tendon recovery. These exercises didn't hurt at all, and apparently they were supposed to hurt a little bit.

So, I discovered the Smith Machine at gym in my office building. This machine allows me to do the heel drops with a lot more weight, as it is easier to use the bar than wear a backpack. I simply hold the bar with my arms in a relaxed position down at my thighs. I started off with 25 lbs + the weight of the bar and after about a week, upped it to 30 lbs + the weight of the bar. I started doing the exercises twice a day, 15 reps on each side. And I am still doing them at this level.

Doing the heel drops with this machine has helped me more than anything. As soon as I discovered it, my Achilles felt dramatically better within just two days. I've now been using this machine for three weeks, and I am close to 100% recovered. By that I mean that most days are completely pain free, and on the days I do feel it, it's only for a minute at a time, like once or twice during the day. This injury developed gradually so I imagine it will take awhile to become 100% pain free 100% of the time. But I am very close to being there.

Here are some questions I had about this injury, and the answers I discovered. Once again, I am not a medical professional so take this as one runner's experience and opinion!

Shoes I wear to avoid additional tendon strain
Q: What type of shoes should I wear when not running?
A: My sports chiropractor advised me to wear a backless shoe with a chunky 1-2 inch heel, and that the heel height would relieve the strain on the tendon. While high heels are not a good long-term solution, they did allow me to be pain-free while walking around, and in order to recover fully, it's necessary to reduce strain on the tendon as much as possible.

Q: How do I know how much weight to use for the heel drops?
A: I started with a low weight (15 lbs in the backpack) and worked my way up. I think it's supposed to slightly hurt in the area of pain, but not horribly so. All of the articles I've read say "once you can do this without pain, then up the weight." So I assume there should be a little bit of pain or you aren't using a heavy enough weight. I saw the most improvement when I discovered the Smith machine and used 25 lbs plus the weight of the bar.

Q: How do I know if I should run?
A: This is a tough question, especially if you are pain-free while running. I think it really depends on how bad the situation is, and you should consult a medical professional. When my Achilles started to ache all the time (even when not walking) I knew it was time to stop running altogether until they calmed down. Recovery is not linear-- some days are better and some days are worse. It's important to look for a trend towards improvement and if you aren't seeing that, then it means you should reduce your mileage or stop running.

Q: What causes insertional Achilles tendonitis?
A: In my case, I think it was a change in footwear. I had been using a 10mm drop firm shoe for my speed work for the past decade, and then I changed to an 8mm drop cushy shoe in June. Even though this is only 2mm difference, my heel was getting even closer to the ground because of the cushiness of the shoe. My sports chiropractor cautioned me that those heel drop numbers can be deceiving because you have to take into account how stiff/firm the shoe is. I have limited ankle mobility, so I am not a candidate for a low heel drop shoe. Generally speaking, a high heel-to-toe ratio is best for preventing Achilles tendonitis.

Q: Should I ice or heat the tendon?
A: I've gotten conflicting guidance on this from multiple trusted sources. I tried icing my heels once after a run and 5 minutes in, they started burning really badly. So I nixed ice. Tendonitis means that the tendon is inflamed, so heat isn't a great idea either. However, heating the lower calf to get blood flow to the area is a good idea before runs.

Q: What's the best form of cross training?
Getting ready to go deep water running!
A: I was reluctant to use the elliptical machine or the bike because those machines can place strain on the tendon by forcing the foot to flex upwards. Swimming and pool running were a good option for me because I don't move my feet much when I do those activities. A more skilled swimmer might potentially move his/her feet more and thus irritate the tendon. I am not all that skilled!

Q: What about a night splint?
A: My podiatrist gave me a night boot/splint thing to wear while sleeping, but my sports chiropractor thought this was a bad idea. What to do? Since the boot didn't fit me anyway, I never used it, but I know some people have had relief with it. It basically keeps your foot in a neutral position overnight (not allowing the tendon to shorten/relax) so that when you get up and start walking around, your tendon has adjusted to being lengthened.

Q: Can the tendon rupture?
A: My sports chiro and my podiatrist both told me that this would not happen from long distance running. A rupture occurs from sudden force, which is more likely to happen in soccer or basketball. I ran a marathon with insertional Achilles tendonitis and it didn't rupture.

My best advice to anyone struggling with insertional Achilles tendonitis is to see a doctor, PT, or sports chiropractor. It's important to have a correct diagnosis and to pinpoint what caused the issue. It's also important to have a medical professional watch you do the exercises so that you know you are doing them correctly.