Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Picture Perfect Track workout

Does it get any better than this? I was doing my warm-up on Tuesday morning, and I was stopped in my tracks by the sunrise. It was stunning. The fog was there, but the sun was able to peek through. It looked like I was running through an 18th century painting. It was so beautiful, I could not believe it.

The inspiration gave me a lift, and helped make for a great workout. The task: 2.5 mile warm up, 6 x 150m strides, 5 x 1200 m (3/4 mile) with 400m recovery, aiming to start the 1200s at 5:15 and knocking off 3-4 seconds for each one, 2.5 mile cool down.

1200s are interesting - perfectly in between the grinding it out 800 and the mile. I actually really enjoyed this workout, because each interval went by pretty quickly, and while the last couple were tough, they were certainly doable: 5:12, 5:07, 5:03, 5:00, 4:56! Which meant that the average mile pace went from 6:58 to 6:36! Again, I am starting to be more comfortable with that sub 7 pace. The fog kept things nice and cool, and even when the sun came out at the end, I felt good.

It was another triumph in my new running town, in new running shoes, with my new shorter distance plan.

Sun rises yet again

But the picture it paints is striking and new

Orange rays peer through departing fog

Seeking to start another day

Deviating from the tried and true.

The runner sees beauty in the mountainous land

Finds joy and refuge

In the mysterious scene

Stopped in her tracks momentarily to gaze

Take it all in

And depart with the new vision.

Impossible to ignore the beauty of the sky

Colors so glorious, undulating and new

The sight of it all pushes the runner

To aim high

To reach for such glory

To push harder

Strive for longer

To be a part of something greater

Surely not as majestic as the mountain

But at least to try to climb so high.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Conditioning Takes Time

Conditioning takes time. Be patient, runners. No one gets fit, nor fast, immediately. And even as we all settle into the groove of running, we continuously encounter new challenges. Whether we are seeking to go further in distance, quicker with speed, or both, or something else, there are going to inevitably be challenges that we must take on as runners. And while these challenges are hard in the beginning, and seem as if they can never be conquered, we can overcome these challenges.

My current challenge are hills. Not regular hills, mind you. I have always loved hills. Getting to the top is an achievement, and being able to pass people on them provides an unsurpassable thrill. And as Frank Shorter (American Olympian) once said, "Hills are speedwork in disguise." There is no arguing about it. They are magnificent training devices, and in many parts of the country, implanted right into the topography. They are good for the body, and once you work through them, good for the soul too.

But the hills I am dealing with here in Santa Cruz are like nothing I have ever seen before. In Boston, the hills are hard. I know this, I have conquered the Boston Marathon twice. But honestly, the hills in Santa Cruz make the Newton Hills look almost easy. I have now been humbled in California. To run the perimeter of campus, you both descend and ascend 600 feet during a 5 mile loop. I supplement this with a 5 mile out and back run to Wilder State Park and back (elevation unknown - gmap pedometer has not been helpful).

The first few weeks I was here, I would get so fatigued from the climbs, that I would have to walk for a minute midway. Walk? Me? I haven't walked during a run for years. It seemed as if that was the only way: I just needed a moment's rest before continuing on.

But things have finally clicked! Conditioning takes time! And now, I can take to these hills with some semblance of speed. I have been here 5 week exactly, and it was just a week ago that I felt as if I finally got the hang of these hills.

Case in point: today was a 12.5 mile long run. I went up, I went down, I went up again, 'round and 'round on these hills. I did not walk. I trucked on and on, averaging 8:28 pace for the run, and finished triumphantly. You know it's a good run when an hour later, you want to go out and do it again. It felt great: the weather cooperated beyond belief, there was good cloud cover, it was 60, and most importantly, my legs (and mind) were ready to take to the hills.

It is not easy to run here. However, simultaneously, it is a gift to be running here. I am conditioning myself to these hills, and when it is time for me to return to normal hills, will flatten them!

Be patient as you take to your next challenge. Conditioning takes time, but the end result is so worth it!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's light it up!

I keep wanting to try to live like an elite athlete. I know I cannot run as fast as they can, but if I can follow their methods and efforts, maybe I'll reap some results. And so, I channel different elite runners at different times.

When I'm shopping for gluten free food, I'm thinking of Amy Yoder Begley and Stephanie Rothstein. I'm hopeful, hoping that I continue to get my diet straightened out, I'll see big results.

Since I am taking time away from the marathon to focus on shorter distance, I think of Desi Davila, who took time away to do track work, and then came in 4th in Chicago and 2nd in Boston. Looks like that plan worked for her!

Now that I am in California, I am channeling Deena Kastor, my big role model, more than ever. I can't sleep like her, but I can try. If you saw Spirit of the Marathon (one of my favorite movies), you saw Deena run through Mammoth Lakes, CA. That is about 9 hours away from me in Santa Cruz. I would like to go there someday and run on the trails that the Mammoth Track Club run on. But for now, I can run in Santa Cruz and hopefully take to the hills like her. Things are finally clicking on the hills of Santa Cruz. While it is still hard to climb 600 feet in elevation, it is becoming more doable. I am hoping to take that back home and flatten the normal hills.

I'm now adding someone else to imitate: Shannon Rowbury, the world championship medalist middle distance runner. Running Times published a pull out of 8 exercises she does on a regular basis. I don't have the hurdles available to do 2 of the exercises, but the rest have been really good, especially the ab stuff, since I always need to work on that. I really love taking on drills and exercises that I know the big deal people do.

What is it about the track that brings out a new level of energy and competition within in me? I don't know - track was never my thing, but now, track Tuesdays (tenacious Tuesdays) are my favorite training days of the week. In between intervals, I always do my recovery lap, and sometimes then grab a sip of Gatorade. Then, right before I start the next one, I sort of fold over, as if to clear up and stretch my legs, and then start again. This time, maybe it was because of the neon flats, my phrase kept being "let's light it up" - meaning, bring it on, let's set the track on fire. And I really felt like I did.

This was the workout: 2.5 mile warm-up; 6 x 150 meter strides; “The 1.5 mile workout”. Run 1.5 miles continuously. First 800
at 3:35, the second at 3:25, the third at 3:35. Run an 800 meter recovery jog. Run 1.5 miles continuously again. Run the first 800 , 3:22, second 800 at 3:32, third at 3:22. Run a
400 meter recovery jog. Do 2 x 800 meters. Aim for 3:20 for both (400 meter recovery jog in
between). 2.5 mile cool-down. The challenge on this is to change pace in a work-out, so try to
be as consistent as possible with hitting those times. Total: 10.5 miles

I did a bit better than predicted, and finished the 1.5 mile intervals at 10:15, and 10:05, and then 2 x 800 at 3:18, 3:16. All of my intervals were sub 6:50 pace, and while I was flying, I didn't feel like I was dying either. It wasn't too long ago that 3:18 800s would have been hard to reach, but that it turning into a more commonplace time. I was finishing strong, and while there was inevitably a sigh of relief as I hit each time, I didn't feel like I was going to collapse either. The track workout are meant to be hard, but not deadly. I am finally starting to learn how to go out and not kill it within the first 200 meters, but just settle in.

I think one of the challenges/adjustments I've noticed lately is that I need to mentally remind myself that I am capable of hitting these times and paces. Currently, there is something scary about sub 7 pace. I can do it in a 5k, but I know my training is aiming to bring my 10k pace to close to 7:00 (currently 7:12 pace for 10k PR). And I have to remind myself that sub 8 pace was scary for Boston, but it happened. And now it's time to adjust my expectations and fears again, and realize that I am capable of running this fast, and not just for a lap or two, but a consistent race.

Let's light it up!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another lesson learned: Be Present

Last fall, I wrote a couple of posts about the FISH philosophy - which comes from one of my favorite books. There are a total of 4 components of the Fish philosophy, 2 of which I've already written about: play and choose your attitude. After a long (awaited? maybe?) hiatus, here comes lesson 3:

Be present. It means not mulling over things that have already happened or becoming too anxious about the future. Rather, it means living fully in the present, the here and now. It means learning from the past and creating a future. The book The Present, another favorite of mine, says that the past present and future are a tripod - you need to balance each in your life in order to capture the best image. It means experiencing everything fully and not let other things in your life preoccupy/distract you from what you're currently experiencing.

I think that can be tough in today's world. With technology, you can immediately get distracted with a text, or phone, or email and forget about what you're actually dealing with. We can be demanded by too many people and obligations, and tugged in a million directions. And amidst all of that haste, what happens if we take a moment to actually enjoy the gift of the present?

The other day, I went on the best run I've been on since I arrived in Santa Cruz. There are these paths by our campus, and last weekend on a long walk there, and really liked it. But I wasn't sure if it was really run-able. I mean, if I were a trail runner, totally. But I'm not. But, shouldn't I take the road less traveled?

Why not! It turned into an 8 mile run that was just perfect. Lots of trees, which meant lots of shade, and lots of hills. And so beautiful. I couldn't stop looking around. Sometimes, when I know a running route really well, I just zone and don't even pay attention to the landscape. Not here. I was taking it all in, breathing the cool air, and just loving it. I wasn't thinking about work (we just ended our first session of our camp), what I needed to do when I got back, or anything that could've detracted me from the run.

When I came back, I was in heaven. So happy how well the run went and at the same time, ready to get back to work too. Amazing how well it served as a recharger and refresher. It was truly a gift, that of the run and the present.

I won't say I'm always good about living in the present, but I do know how much of a gift it is.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I will do better next time

I still haven't totaled my mileage from May, or June, or the first half of the year.

Sunday technically ended cycle 1 of "5k and up" training, although a third of the training felt like a bust. I know why: I spent one week settling into life and my new job California, and then on Thursday, I got some sort of stomach bug, which wiped me out for the last few days of this cycle. I missed both of my weekend runs, but I did go on a 6 mile walk on Sunday through some trails around campus.

A lot of things can happen in a 4 week running cycle. I tend to be pretty consistent, so I think that was the hard part about cycle 1 - I missed a couple of runs, and that rarely happens. I tend to say I am not quite a perfectionist, but I do feel like one in times like this -- I usually get it right, and this time I didn't. So, I wallowed for a little bit, and got on track again…

Quite literarily

My track workouts last week and this week were both stellar. Last week, it was 3 x 1 mile, then 2 x 800. Nailed it, 6:55, 6:41, 6:39, and then 3:16, 3:13.

Today, I finally got to break out the racing flats that my parents got me for my birthday last month. They are awesome, Saucony's highlighter yellow - they just look fast! After my warmup, I put them on, and did 6 x 150 meter strides in them - woo! They were so light, and it felt great to be moving in them. I still felt like I was getting the support i need, and I don't think they could be any lighter, and they just worked. After the strides, I lined up for my next assignment: 6 x 1000, aiming for around 4:15 for the first one (6:50/mile pace) and knocking about 3 seconds off. Bam! Took off, and I felt great. It was like the placebo effect - you are told these will make you fast, and you just go. 4:15 for the first, and I kept knocking down the time: 4:12, 4:08, 4:05 (at this point, I was so happy to be 2/3 through the workout), and then 4:02, 4:02 (6:30/mile pace). I couldn't go any faster for the last one, and while I was hoping to break 4 minutes for 1000 (can't believe people can run a mile at this pace), it was still a victory. A few days off from running did no harm, even a stomach bug couldn't knock me down for too long.

Cycle 2 is off to a good start. And I will do better this time!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hills are hard, but the beach is beautiful!

In the majority of races I have run, the largest climb has been between 100-200 feet, and the biggest climbs have been the Newton Hills of the Boston Marathon. I do train on hills regularly, and try to incorporate them into many of my runs. I had thought I had mastered the hills - the hills were not only alive, but I could really pass people on them.

Until I got to Santa Cruz.

This is crazy! From campus to the beach, it is an 800 foot drop, which means an 800 feet climb on the way back. I have never experienced anything like that - you really do need to slow things down, be patient, and know that you'll reach the top at some point. They make the long runs really hard, but I know that this will definitely pay off when I return to normal hills - 100 ft. climbs will feel flat!

On Saturday, I actually went to the beach and back during my 10 miler, and took a couple of pictures when I arrived at the beach. Absolutely amazing. One of these days I'll stay longer, but now I have at least set foot there.

All in all, I was pretty proud of what I was able to fit in last week, given that our camp was in full swing:

Monday, June 27th: 6000 meters rowing, weights

Tuesday, June 28th: 2.5 mile warm-up; 1200, (500 meter jog) 2 x 800, (1 lap jog between) 2 x 400, (200 meters jog between);1 mile jog, 10 x 200 (run 200 between each, but make sure you aren’t going super slow during the rest, a moderate rest). Aim for about 5:15, 800s in 3:20 and 3:18, 400s in about 90; 200s should be hard but not all out sprinting, aim to keep all consistent at about 44 seconds. 2.5 cool-down. Total= 12 miles

Wednesday, June 29th: weights

Thursday, June 30th: 8 miles easy (not so easy with hills!)

Friday, July 1st: 30 minutes rowing, weights and core

Saturday, July 2nd: 44 minutes out easy, back in 40 minutes. Total=10 miles

Sunday, July 3rd: 12 miles easy

Weekly Totals: 42 miles, 180 minutes

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sprinting by the Bay

This was how I felt getting ready for my track workout on Tuesday:

Granted, Joan Benoit ran Boston over an hour faster, but you get the point. It was pouring here in Santa Cruz (I've been told this never happens, whereas at my old site in Saratoga Springs, it rained all the time). But, as long as I am properly dressed, I love running in the rain - I find it simply exhilarating.

This was the toughest shorter distance workout I've had: 2.5 mile warm-up; 1200, (500 meter jog) 2 x 800, (1 lap jog between) 2 x 400, (200 meters jog between);1 mile jog, 10 x 200 (run 200 between each, but make sure you aren’t going super slow during the rest, a moderate rest). Aim for about 5:15, 800s in 3:20 and 3:18, 400s in about 90; 200s should be hard but not all out sprinting, aim to keep all consistent at about 44 seconds. 2.5 cool-down. Total= 12 miles. The longest interval was a 1200 (3/4 of a mile) and I worked my way down. And the rain didn't let up. Halfway through I took off shirt, because it had just gotten more heavy than useful and wrung it out - I couldn't have been more yet if I had jumped in the pool with all of my clothes on.

The 200s were tough. I am not good at that all out, pump your arms and just go, kind of thing. All of them ended up being between 44-45 seconds, and phew, each one was tough. With longer intervals, like mile repeats, I'll finish one and the recovery process is not too bad. But with 200s, and only 200 meters to recover, it never ends. The good news is, that it only takes 10-12 minutes for that part, so you know the pain will end soon enough.

All in all, it was exhilarating. I am getting back on track with training, finding time to fit it in my schedule. I also made it to the library to get a few more books for my comps list. Got up early and read while enjoying coffee before all of the kids got to the dining hall. It was amazing how good an hour of quiet felt before starting a busy day.

This is a busy program, but all in all, a great gig. My staff is tremendous: helpful, friendly, supportive, and great teachers. One asked how it felt to fly across the country to start a new job at a new site, and I said "half exhilarating, half terrifying," which is still the case. CA is not a different country, but some things do feel utterly foreign. Then again, the concept of starting afresh and anew has also been a relief. Nothing like the opportunity to create your own identity, virtually from scratch.