Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hardest and Best Workout Ever

Last month, I had a tough workout of 5 x 1 mile repeats starting at 6:55 pace and getting progressively faster.  While I did each of the 5, I couldn't quite pick it up in the final ones, and even slowed down on the last repeat.  It was hot, it was hard, and ultimately, I fell a little short of the expectations.  But, I told myself that when the time came around to try it again, I would be ready: "I am excited about the prospect of rewriting how this workout goes and getting a second chance for success!"

Well, today was the day to try again, and with a little extra.  Instead of 5 x 1 mile, this was the task:
2.5 mile warm-up; 6 x 150 meters; 6 x 1 mile;  Start at 6:55 and cut down 5-7 seconds per mile;  500 meter recovery jog between each interval; 2.5 mile cool-down.  Total= 13 miles
Certainly a bit tougher than the last time!  But, it was only 68 this time, and I was determined to get it right today.
Last time: 6:56, 6:51, 6:46, 6:42, 6:46. (Average pace: 6:48)
This time: 6:54, 6:48, 6:43, 6:42, 6:39, 6:36.  (Average pace: 6:43)

Yeah baby!  And the last 3 were really hard.  I was really pushing in the last 400 of each one just to keep going and hit my necessary splits.  I knew, I knew, I knew that the second go at this would be better.  Still difficult to accomplish, but it was an accomplishment!  What a great way to start the day!

My comprehensive exams are one month from today.  And a month ago, this workout wouldn't have happened.  That is how I know that I will do well with the exams.  A month's worth of work can make a major difference - and that what this coming month is - working and working for my hardest test ever!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Running with Trust - Clarendon Day 5k PR

"Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord."  Jeremiah 17:7

I was re-reading Ryan Hall's Running with Joy for the 3rd or 4th time last night as I settled into bed, on the night before my last 5k of the season.  Ryan Hall quoted Jeremiah in his final month of preparation for Boston 2010, and I thought that was a great phrase for me to reflect on.

I needed to put a little more trust in God, in my training, and in myself.  I felt that I had let myself get a little shaken and lost a little confidence after a couple of harder races (Pentagon 5k 2 weeks ago and the NY Women's 10k in June).  And even though my workouts have been going well, I have felt a bit doubtful too.  Last Saturday, my tempo run was bellow normal standards.  On Tuesday, I had a raceweek workout: 2.5 mile w/u, 6 x 150 m strides, 2k cutdown (starting at 6:55 pace and getting faster), 800 recovery, 8 x 300 m (aiming between 64-66 for each) with 150 m recovery, 2.5 mile c/d = 9 miles.  I had a hard time with the cutdown, and it took effort to go below 6:55 pace.  The 300s were better: 67, 67, 66, 66, 65, 64, 65, 64.  They were sub 6 pace, which gave me some hope that I could pick things up a bit this weekend.  On Thursday, I had a slow 6 mile run that just felt like a lot of work.  The doubt crept back in. But on Friday, I did a 3 mile shakeout run in the pouring rain and felt absolutely exhilarated.  It was time to do something great.

And so as I was reading last night, I was caught up in the hopeful words that Ryan Hall expressed as he prepared for his marathon.  And when I got to that quote, I read it, smiled, stopped reading, and went to bed, reflecting on it.

I woke up twice in the night, including after a nightmare that I missed the race (which is actually one of the first running nightmares I've ever had).  But I did my warmup this morning, and was pleased about the cooler temperature (69).  I took the metro out and read on the train, grooving to my happy playlist and just trying to relax.  I tend to get so worked up, that I hoped to just distract myself on my way there.  Arrived with about 20 minutes to spare, dropped off my bag and jogged part of the course.  I did the 10k of this race (Clarendon Day 5k/10k) and I remembered the first mile being a fast downhill.  Well, as I previewed it, I forgot that it goes downhill twice: down, then flattens out, then down again.  Trotted back to the start, and bang - we were off!

The past couple of races, I have felt rather breathless from the start, which does not feel great.  But this time, I felt much more in control.  Even with this downhill, I just went with it, didn't get out of breath, didn't feel overwhelmed as people rushed around me, I just went.  I could see the lead women way out in front and I figured they would run somewhere in the 18-19 minute range.

Went through the first mile in 6:19.  Wow, that is fast, but Sarah told me not to freak out with the first mile split, and that things would eventually even out.  Kept on going, passed a few guys and just wanted to hold steady.  Mile 2 in 12:51 - I had slowed down a little, but this pace felt much more manageable.  The turnaround came soon after, I could count about 10 or so women in front of me.  I told myself I wouldn't try to pick things up until around 15 minutes.  And then, I worked on passing women, one at a time.  I think I passed at least 3.  Then, I was on the heels of another, but I wanted to be careful with my surge.  No point in surging if she was just going to respond harder.  I got to a point where I felt assured that I could make a strong move, and then I did.  There was 3 mile mark, and just .1 to go - which sounds like a nice small decimal, but when running it, it is still 45-50 seconds left to go.  I was all smiles as I came into the finish line, because I knew what awaited me:

A 22 second PR!
7th woman (out of 392)
44/686 overall.

It was great.  I felt relaxed, and while the pace was hard, I didn't feel awful either.  It was the best I've felt in a race in a while.  It was just enjoyable.  And, once I started, I knew that I was going to be able to do it - to PR, to run hard and strong, and to get the time I have been working months for (goal for the season was to reach 20:30) - and that was my last 5k of the fall.

It worked, it worked, it worked.  The training paid off - even when training days weren't perfect.  I ran with trust, and felt the joy I was searching for.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


in-de-fat-i-ga-ble adjective: unable to be tired or fatigued.

In my book that I read yesterday in preparation for comps (just under 6 weeks to go, if you're keeping track), So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke: The Beguin Heretics of Languedoc, the author Louise Berhman used the word indefatigable several times to discuss the relentless attitude of this religious movement.

I kept saying it to myself - in part to get the pronunciation correct (it's hard, right?), and in part because I couldn't stop thinking about its meaning.

I like that word a lot, and I wonder if sometimes we are called on to be indefatigable.  We practice and practice running, doing long runs, tempo runs, intervals that get faster and faster with each subsequent lap, in the hopes that even as the hours and miles pass, we will not tire.   We seek to find the perfect balance in challenging ourselves and improving our threshold, but at the same time not allowing ourselves to burn out from the intensity.  It is not easy.

I am trying to carry on in an indefatigable way in my comps preparation.  I have been reading a book a day for, well, a while now.  I have 15 books left, which puts me right on track to finish reading with 3 weeks to just review.  Now, I love reading - obviously.  I have picked a profession where that is one of the main tasks.  I find myself very fortunate that a regular, normal part of my life involve picking up a book, and getting lost in a world that is new and exciting.  But is also hard to keep my attuned to the subtle differences in books on the same field and retain the arguments of each book (of over 100 of them for this test).  I feel like I have created an entire filing system in my brain, and right now, there are a lot of filing cabinets!  But I am pressing on.

It is like I am in the midst of marathon training.  Heavy volume (quite literally - these are big books!), double days, just lots of time being put in.  There is that one month of marathon training that pushes you harder than any other time.  That is this month in terms of my comps preparation.
We'll look at this week as an example:

Monday, September 12th : 30 minutes on elliptical, weights, strength, core
Sisters and brothers of the common life : the Devotio Moderna and the world of the later Middle Ages
Tuesday, September 13th : 2.5 mile warm-up; 6 x 150 meter strides; 6x 1200 meters; start at 5:12 and cut down 3-5 seconds per interval; 400 meter jog between each interval; 2.5 mile cool-down.  Total: 11.25 miles
The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practice
Wednesday, September 14th  : 30 minutes on bike, weights, strength, core
start Possible Lives
Thursday, September 15th : 8 miles easy
finish Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy
Friday, September 16th  : weights, strength, core
Literacy in Lombard Italy c. 568-774
Saturday, September 17th : 2 mile warm-up; 6 mile tempo, 2 mile cool-down.  Total: 10 miles
The Last Days of the Renaissance
So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke: The Beguin Heretics of Languedoc
Sunday, September 18th : 15.6 miles easy AM, 3.4 miles easy PM
Images of the Educational Traveler in Early Modern England
start Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture

Weekly Totals: 48 miles, c. 180 minutes cross-training, 7 books and counting

Held on strong this week.  Lots of reading, lots of running.  Will try to stay indefatigable for another week!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Like coming out of anesthesia

...I'll explain the title, I swear

Last night, I had another track workout.  I can't believe how hard they've been, back-to-back-to-back.  I don't know if I'll have a workout with 7 minute miles again (not counting tempo runs - those tend to be around 7:00 miles) - things start at 6:55 pace and get faster.  Obviously, it's helping and getting me more comfortable to the faster times, but it is still hard work.

Anyways, this was last night's workout: 2.5 mile warm-up; 6 x 150 meter strides; 6x 1200 meters; start at 5:12 and cut down 3-5 seconds per interval; 400 meter jog between each interval; 2.5 mile cool-down.  Total: 11.25 miles  I had read The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices in the morning, so the run had to wait until after work.  It was still hot at 5, so I kept working on my book, and headed out at 6:20.  It is always a bit unnerving when you're sweating during the warmup.  Thankfully, the shade had covered the majority of the track, so even though it was hot, the sun wasn't going to fry me.  I got through the first one in 5:09 -- woo!  Better slow it down.  Sarah says if you go too fast on the first one to just try to match the time again for the second interval.  But nope, 5:06.  I then matched it again: 5:06.  I felt pretty tired at this point, and still had 3 intervals to go.  The 400 meter recovery laps just go by so fast!  The fourth was 5:05, and I felt like I was pushing to just knock off one second.  Then the dreaded penultimate interval - always the hardest one: 5:02.  Okay, the end is in sight.  And when I took off for the last one, it was like coming out of anesthesia.  I was becoming more aware again and I knew that the end was near.  During regular runs, I have lots of thoughts - medieval, my life, the world, anything.  But during fast intervals, my mind is just so focused, and almost devoid of any thoughts whatsoever.  And in that sixth and final interval, I was starting to wake up again.  4:58 baby!  My average pace for the 6 1200s was 5:04, which translates to 6:47 pace.  Yippee!  And just a few days after a fast 5k, I will take it!  I was just so happy that the heat didn't melt me too much, nor did I ever slow down during the set.  I felt so awake and alive during the cool down - running is really what gets me going.  And even though it was 7:30 at night - that was when I was most alert on Tuesday.

In other running news, today would have been the day for me to sign up for Boston.  I had 10 minutes to spare with my BQ, but I will not be signing up today or tomorrow.  I will not be running a spring marathon, and I will not be running the Boston Marathon, which is a weird feeling - I have done it the past 2 years.  But it is part of the plan - to focus on the shorter stuff, and then come back to Boston Marathon in the future.  Part of my heart will still beat for Boston, it's just on hold for now.

Today's run was the coolest I've had probably since I left California - 71 at the start.  "Baby love" by the Supremes was playing - a good way to start the day!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5k - Beautiful Race

Saturday night was my first race of the season (as Sarah was calling it, my rust buster): the Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5k around the Pentagon.  I have only done one other night race - it is a weird feeling!  As nice as it was to sleep in, I felt like I was waiting all day to start!  While there was a holdup on the metro (which didn't really help with my nerves), I got to the race in plenty of time.  I had enough time to do a 20 minute warm-up, which loosed me up.  I was nervous because (well, I could come up with a bunch of reasons) it was so hot (80), and I am not a good heat runner.  But, I saw on my warmup that there would be a spot of shade, so I could hold onto that thought.
We got corralled in, and they actually had markers to have people stand to separate everyone according to pace (6:00-6:59, 7:00-7:59, etc).  I thought this was great - I had never seen that for a 5k, but since there were so many people, it was totally worth it.  I was a bit nervous, because even though I stood in my appropriate spot (6:00-6:59), there were only 2 other women around.  I had looked around online, and I didn't think I was going to place quite that high.
The gun went off, and off we went.  There was the general swirling around me, but I settled quickly into a pace.  We hit the first mile around 6:40, and I was a bit doubtful of how fast I was going to run - I was already hot.  Felt very grateful when we hit the water stop around 1.5 miles in - dumped 2 cups on my head.  I was wearing very bright clothes, and I knew I was up near the front of the female pack, because I got a lot of "go girl" comments, and then someone even yelled "5th woman."  Wow - in a DC race?  Hit 2 miles around 13:25.  A girl ran alongside and said, "I'm going to try to stick with you."  I grunted a "thanks" but not too long after, she passed me.  It was just hot, and the goal was to just hang on at that point.
We approached the Pentagon, which had the sun streaming on it - very beautiful and moving.  Just felt so blessed - I was able to run - I was able to run in a place that receives threats and there is currently high security at.  I was able to run because I am blessed with that ability and because there were others out there looking to protect us.  How could you not be grateful and moved during this race?
I used all of my energy to just keep going, and the finish line finally came into sight, what a relief.
21:02 (6:47 pace)
6th woman (out of 2244)
90th person (out of 4217)

Wow.  Not a PR, was off by 18 seconds, but given that it was 80 degrees, I will take it.  I was really pleased with my performance.  I ran fairly even splits, and placed high in a DC race.  It was a good performance, and Sarah says a good start to the season.  Next race: Clarendon Day 5k on 9/24.
This was a very moving race.  I was very happy to be a part of it.
On Sunday, I had a 13 mile run, which I felt so sore during all of it.  It is remarkable how much running 3.1 can tire you out for 13.  But, I kept going, because I felt like I was running with a lot of inspiration on 9/11.  I am a very different person than I was 10 years ago.  I was living in my hometown, now I am in DC.  I was a high school kid who now is running in a different world.  Freedom is only free because others work to protect the rest of us, so for that I say, thank you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Could you give me a lift?

I went home this past week for a very good friend's wedding.  I went to middle school and high school with Sara, and now we have known each other for over half our lives.  It was a beautiful wedding, and she has married a great guy.  We had a great time, and I also got to be with another one of our best friends, Jen.  Most of middle school and high school was spent together, and we managed to keep in touch through college, and now after.  It was a lot of family time this weekend: my parents were invited to the wedding too, and all our parents are friends as well. Just so much dancing and time together: I had family brunch at Jen's house, and I've been palling around at their house for 13 years.  It all just felt so right and comfortable: I fit right into each their families.  I have 4 families outside of my own who I can fit into, and I got to see 2 of them this weekend, plus my parents.  I couldn't believe how happy I was - all from seeing family and friends.  It was like when I went home for my best friend's wedding in March (Family means the most): same feeling, same simple joy.  And again, I need to remind myself that even when I am stressed about school or anything else, I have wonderful people in my life.
This isn't really a post about running - but more just a reminder that we can get a lift from the people we love, and the effect can last longer than anticipated.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

World Championship Inspiration and the Laying Out of Plans

With the beginning of school, I wasn’t able to tune into the IAAF World Track and Field Championships as much as I would’ve liked.  Then again, given the massive amount of reading I did this week (ranging from the Scientific Revolution, to the plague, to miracles and wonder (yes, again, more wonder), it was probably a good thing I stayed focused.

Nonetheless, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Jenny Barringer Simpson won the gold medal in the 1500m.  First time an American woman has done that at IAAF since the early 80s.  I watched her post-race interview, and she was just absolutely filled with joy – and pure excitement.   And then, Lauren Fleshman, who overcame so much this year to make the American team, was just so pleased with herself for making it to the 5000m final.  Tera Moody came in 17th in the marathon and was the top American woman (and ran a very respectable 2:32 in the heat – not far off from her 2:30 PR).  All radiated such happiness and relief in their performances.  Not everyone won a gold medal, but all competed at a world class meet.  Brava!  So inspirational! 

It was a nice dose of inspiration.  I have now completed 3 4-week cycles of 5k to half marathon training.  With a couple of small exceptions, it has been very successful.  I have varied my cross training, added some drills and form work to my routine, and am a week away from my rust-buster 5k – the Pentagon Memorial 5k.  A little bit downhill, and supposed to be a fast course.  I’m really excited – it’ll be the first time I use my flats in a race.  I’ll be lighting it up!  Today’s workout included a 6:15 mile and 9 x 300m all under 6:00/mile pace – it felt good to get some turnover and to know that hopefully a 6:35 or so pace for the 5k will feel not too horrible.  It was also about 74 outside, so I finally feel like I am re-acclimating to non-Northern California temperatures and not wilting at all!

And with just under 2 months to go until comps, I need to lay out my plan.  I was talking with a new professor in our department today, and he asked how comps studying was going.  He said that when he did it, it was very hard preparing for it, but on the day itself, the exam was actually a lot of fun – a culmination of all of the hard work.  And then he said, “and the preparation is a marathon, not a sprint.”  And I replied, “And as a marathon runner, I understand that.”  I’m sure he wasn’t expecting that, but then he said, “Well, I am sure your endurance will pay off in this.”  And really, I am treating this like training.  I met with my advisor this past week, and I told her of my plan: to finish all of the reading by October 7th, to start reviewing other books (not on the lists but books that I read in previous semesters) September 1st, and to have 3 full weeks of studying in October.  She said it was a great plan, added one little tweak to it, and gave me her blessing.

So, the plans have been laid out, and the wheels (my legs and the ones in my head) are turning.  Time to keep pushing on!