Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Race Simulation before Comps

Last night, I met my training coach/fellow medievalist Sarah on the track for a race simulation 5k.  It has actually been 2 years since we've run together.  We meet regularly and chat a lot (it helps that we're in the same grad program!), but just don't run together (she is really fast - like 37 minutes for the 10k).  The last time we actually ran together was in October 2009 at MCM, when she jumped in for the last 10 miles and helped me get my first BQ.  Anyways, there are still a couple of weeks before my next 10k (Veteran's Day 10k - 11/13), so she wanted to have me to a race simulation, just to test out the gears.  She said she would pace me, and that I would just tuck in behind her.  She said that we would be aggressive in the beginning, ease up slightly midway, and then push at the end.  I've never actually done a 5k on the track, so no matter what, this was going to be an interesting experience.  Sarah also said she was going to be interested to see what my effort looked like - as she gets the times I run for track workouts, but never sees me in action.
We got to the track (the one at our school), and there was a field hockey game about to start, which meant we were moved to lane 5 of the track.  Sarah said she would count the laps and approximate the 5k distance being in lane 5.  I was like, "Thank goodness, I can't do that kind of math right now."  And we were off!  From the "gun" I felt so tired.  I am sure part of it is just getting ready for comps, but it felt hard to go all-out, which is what you need to do in a 5k.  And as spectators were going up to the stands for the field hockey game, we had to do a little bit of weaving between lanes, so not perfectly smooth.  I didn't even use my watch - Sarah was doing all of the timing.  She yelled out "6:30" for the first mile, and I did not think I could do that again 2 more times.  The middle section was really hard - Sarah was about 8 yards in front of me, and I could not catch her for the life of me.  She kept yelling out, "Come on, come on!"  It was so hard to respond and try to pick it up.  I could not believe how hard this was, and in my head, I kept thinking, "I am really blowing this and now waiting her time, ugh."  With a mile to go, 2 of my friends showed up to watch the game, which I had no idea, and so they cheered for me as I passed them.  It really was an interesting experience - here we are doing these laps, Sarah is cheering me on, the stands are filled with people watching another game, but they're also seeing this race simulation as well.  Sarah put her hand up to mark that we had 2 laps left, and I was so relieved.  Maybe I could kick a little bit.  Then, with one lap to go, I was able to get a little closer to Sarah, and was just trying so hard to keep going (again, no idea what kind of time I am running), and my friends were cheering me in to the finish.
PHEW!  I finished and stubbled off the track exhausted.  She asked how I felt, and I said that that was one of the hardest efforts EVER.  She said, well, good, because you ran a 19:57!
Now, that is approximately 5k - we can't really count it because we couldn't do it in lane 1.  But wow!  She said that it equates to about 20:15 on the road, so definitely a PR (sort of) for sure!  I could not believe it, I felt so tired, I thought I had run about 21.  But nope, this was the fastest 5k effort ever!
Sarah said that that is what I need to feel like during a 5k or a 10k, and that I need to push myself a lot harder.  This is the challenge with coming from a marathon background - you find a pace that works that you can hold onto for a loooong time.  Now as I am moving down to these shorter distances, I just need to be more aggressive and be uncomfortable with the pace.  
All in all, I was really pleased with it.  It was a really good learning experience, and a great confidence booster going into comps.
And speaking of which...
Comps start tomorrow.  The written parts will be Thursday and Friday, and then my oral exam will be on Wednesday - a week from today.  All of those months of reading, all of those years of coursework, come down to about 9 hours of exams.  It is hard to believe it is here.  As much as I am nervous, I am also really excited.  I get to show my professors, who have invested a lot of time in me, what my intellectual journey has been like over the past 3.5 years.  I know I have grown up a lot, wrestled with these books and dealt with some of the big questions.  I have read and read and read, and thought about these books in a variety of ways, so that I could use a book on memory (Phantoms of Remembrance) to talk about literacy, church history, death and commemoration practices - I can spin these books in a number of ways.  For my family and friends, it's all they've heard about for months.  And I cannot overstate my gratitude to everyone for all of their support during this preparation process.
Just like a marathon, my big day (or in this, a few days) is almost here.  I'll certainly be listening to psych-up music on the way in to the exam, have a good meal tonight, and do all of those other pre-race rituals that have worked in my running world.  While my professors have called the exam "trial by ordeal," I am looking at it as the culmination of years of training.  Deena Kastor said that "Sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us," and I am going to seek to define myself in this exam.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Swimming to Modernity - body and mind worked together

I have written that I have not been good about my cross training.  Ultimately, one of my favorite forms of cross training is swimming.  It is a lot of fun and it feels great.  But logistically, it is a lot harder to get to the pool than just hop on a stationary bike.  Anyways...I was able to make time for it today and I was glad to be in the pool.
Today was an opportunity to do my "Swim to Modernity" - a 2000 yard swim where I review the timeline in my head.  Since my comps (I'm sure everyone is loving to hear about it in each post) are so soon, it is a good way to review both the chronology and the books I've read.  As I work my through the centuries, I can think about the major events and players, as well as the significant books that address these issues.  Yes, it is one of the nerdiest things I do, but certainly one of the most helpful ways to blend studying and exercising!  And, as the November Runner's World shows, running and training can help make you smarter!
But I digress.  My swim to modernity today was AWESOME.  My body was so happy to be in the water; everything just relaxed.  And my brain was alive and fluttering!  So many thoughts as I went back and forth, "410-Augustine's City of God, 476-Deposition of Romulus Augustulus, 511-death of Clovis, 540-Rule of St. Benedict, 751-beginning of the Carolingian Empire, 813-Synod of Mainz, 1076-Investiture Controversy, 1215-Fourth Lateran Council," and on and on and on.  I felt like my brain was moving so fast, and I was getting in these historiographic debates in too: "Ethnogenesis, barbarian identity, role of the laity in Christian burial practices, display of the sacraments, use of hagiography, functions of Renaissance education."
And, lo and behold, it seemed as if my body could withstand that rapid-fire too.  It normally takes me about 50 minutes to do the 2000 yards, and lately I've gotten down to about 48.  But today: 44 minutes!  I couldn't believe it!  Mind and body worked together today!
Did you ever see the Peanuts cartoon of Woodstock when he talks?  All of those exclamation points and question marks - that's what I must've looked like in the water.
And this is me out of it!  This was from the Clarendon Day 5k a few weeks ago.  Swim Bike Run Photography did a nice job with their pictures and just sent them out.
But I digress yet again.  It was a great day in the pool for both mind and body!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In and Out on the Capital Crescent Trail

While I do not design my own training plan, I have racked up enough workouts that I normally know what to expect.  Cross training 3 times a week, some sort of track workout on Tuesday, a tempo run on Saturday, and a long run on Sunday. The workouts vary a bit, and certainly so do the times I am expected to hit, but I generally know what is coming.  But, I had a new workout to do on Saturday that I had been looking forward to trying out:
2.5 mile warm-up: The purpose of this workout is to do continuous mile repeats with no break, with one mile being a harder effort and the following mile being a “rest” effort.  You will do 4 “In and Outs” for a total of 8 miles (One “in and out” being one harder effort plus the rest mile).  The goal is to start the first mile at around 7:05, the rest mile in about 7:45, the third mile in about 7:00, the rest mile about 7:40, the fifth mile in 6:55, the rest mile in 7:35, the seventh mile in 6:50 and the rest mile in 7:30 or so.  The rest miles should feel “moderate” the hard miles should feel difficult but not all out.  Your times may vary a bit because you will be off the track, and the times that I have listed are just general guidelines.  2.5 mile cool-down: Total=13 miles
So, I went to the Capital Crescent Trail, which goes from Georgetown to Silver Spring.  I had been on it one time before, but it is just a little hard to get to.  But this workout needed good mile markers and no road interruptions.  I was fortunate enough to get a ride from my roommate to Bethesda, so I was all set for this new workout.
I had a great time!  It was really hard, but I loved running on the trail.  There were a couple of times when the trail intersects with a road and I had to cross, but other than that, no interruptions!  And it was one of those perfect fall days - the weather running was made for.  So many people were out and about.  I loved it.  I did not get the workout perfect - I did the 8 miles in 59:20, with the hard/in miles in 7:05, 7:01, 7:02, 6:55.  But it was really hard to ease up in the "out" miles - they were still a bit fast. And I gave it my all in the last "in" mile - was just trying to catch this guy in front of me.  I couldn't get him - he stayed 20 feet in front of me, but he stopped at mile 7.  I yelled "I've been trying to chase you!" and he just laughed - I guess he was done though, because I kept going for the "out" mile and he just caught his breath.
Anyways, it ended up being a 13 mile run and I totally loved it.  I do think I should try to do some tempo runs on it.  Yeah, it stinks to have to pay for metro fare to head out for it, but it can certainly be a once in a while treat.  During the cooldown, I took a couple of pictures:

Beautiful, right?  The trails also reminded me a little of the trails in Santa Cruz.  
Today, I did a long run around the city, and even ran through the National Zoo!  So fortunate to live in a place where you can run almost anywhere in the city and it will be a beautiful route!
4 days to go until comps begin!  I am keeping my head on straight and just continuing to hunker down. Will be toeing the starting line soon enough!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Are my standards too high?

(No, this is not a post about guys or dating, in case you were wondering)

I do not know if I would describe myself as a perfectionist.  I actually don't think I would.  I work really hard, but there are some days and experiences when I'm not aiming for perfect.  But I am constantly aiming for my best.

It's funny when you compare standards:
1/3 is phenomenal for a batting average
52% can win you a presidential election
...that would also be a decent approval rating
In high school music competitions, only people who score 99 or 100 will be accepted into their All-State organizations
Only a near perfect SAT score will get you into an Ivy League school
You want your surgeon to have a close-to-zero mortality rate, right?

Obviously, it is not just about the numbers, and you can't go across the board and say what is "acceptable," "good," "excellent,"and "superb."

But I think my standards may be too high.  I have a week to go before the written part of my PhD comps, which will be next Thursday and Friday.  I have been preparing for months: doing the reading, writing, synthesizing, talking about it to anyone who will listen.  On Monday, I woke up in the middle of the night with a nightmare about the exam. I don't remember it now, but I couldn't get my mind to calm down for a while.  And it led to two days straight of just nerves and worrying.  I think part of the mental challenge is dealing with the fact that this is the culmination of years of work.  Another part of it is knowing that I have over 100 books and articles shuffling around my brain, clamoring to be remembered.  And it made for a rough couple of days.  I didn't quite hit my track workout on Tuesday either, which I attributed to the race and comps.

On Wednesday, I met with a friend of mine who is in the program and took his comps last year.  I asked if he would ask me a few questions, so I could practice discussing some answers.  And, over an hour later, I had hit a number of topics.  And I didn't struggle for ideas: I spoke freely and was able to draw from a number of different books.

It was a big relief.  And today I did some good reading and clarified some information about some medieval church councils, which was really helpful.  And all of that worrying lessened - it didn't go away, but it lessened, at least for a little bit.

A lot of this has made me think my standards can be really really high, maybe even unreasonable at times.  I expect to commit this stuff to memory, and I expect to be successful in running.  Consistently.  And maybe that is the issue - I want to be consistent, and when I have an off day, I am disappointed.  I am sure that I am not alone with this - I am writing to a community of go-getters!

And now, with just over a week to go, I am getting my head on straight.  I am pouring over my notes, putting it all together, and hoping that even if I set my standards really high, I will meet them.

Game on!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Negative Split Convert: Boo! Run for Life 10k

After a September set of 5ks, it was time for the 10k in October.  I had signed up to do the Boo! Run for Like 10k in East Potomac Park.  I was really excited to turn to the 10k, because I do think I have more potential to do well in that distance compared to the 5k.  I was also excited because the weather had finally cooled, and they were calling for 50 degrees for race morning. 
Everything this morning in regard to the metro went well (which hasn't been the case lately pre-race), and I arrived with 40 minutes to spare.  Got in a nice warm-up on the course, which meant that I got to preview both mile 1 and mile 6 on the out and back course.  I have actually run this course several times, as it also hosts the December Jingle All the Way 10k, which I've run 3 times.  But, the weather then has always been a bit raw and this was gorgeous.
I was happy to get a good position in the second row of the starting line.  And when the gun went off, felt great.  Sarah told me to aim for just under sub-7 pace.  I went thorugh the first mile in 6:50 and though I should probably back off.  I was in 5th, and then whoosh, 2 women passed me.  And one of them was wearing a tutu and carrying a wand.  I mean, come on!  I don't want to be passed by a fairy.  But it as too early to get worked up over it - I'll deal with her later, I thought.  Hit mile 2 at 14:00, which meant I had actually slowed to a 7:10 mile.  C'mon, gotta even out this pace.  I was hoping to go sub 43 (current PR was 44:45 from last December at the beginning of ITBS).  At this point, I wasn't sure if that was going to happen.  Even still, I felt really comfortable and knew that I had enough in the tank that I could really move in the second 5k.  I have to say, the course was gorgeous: we ran along the harbor and it was just a very pretty morning.  Things spread out nicely, there was a lot of room, and it was actually pretty quiet as we moved along.  I reached the 5k mark in 21:45 (7:00 pace).  I tried to pick it up, but then I hit mile 4 at 28:00, still being very consistent at that 7:00 mark.  I picked it up a little, and I think I ran 6:57 for mile 5.  At that point, I was bound and determined to pass at least one girl.  I just took off, and I although I wasn't sure how smart it was to "kick" with 1.2 left, but I was going to do it.  Last month, I did 6 x 1 mile average 6:42 pace - this was what I was practicing for!  I just kept going and going, and it finally this one girl (not the tutu one - she must've been clocking 6:40s, which is pretty remarkable) was within 20 yards of me.  It took forever, but I was just behind her at the 6 mile mark.  Thankfully, I was able to pass her comfortably, and felt that she wouldn't be able to react back.  I just kept going and going, and could not believe my eyes when I crossed the finish line:
6:54 pace
Almost a 2 minute PR!
This was fantastic in so many ways, particularly because I ran a negative split!  I ran the second 5k almost 45 seconds faster than the first 5k!  I have never been able to do that - I always positive split, so that was really exciting too.  Overall, I was 6th woman and I won my age group (first time doing that in DC!): 25-29.  Good prize too: $20 and a $10 gift card to Pacers Running Stores.  It was a great race overall, and I was just really pleased with my performance.  I may not have caught the tutu, but it certainly was a great victory in DC.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meeting an Olympian

Thanks to Pacers Running Store in Alexandria, I had the privilege of meeting 2008 Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet.  She did a talk on injury prevention and about her training for the Olympics, training through pregnancy, and working on form and making the little tweaks that have helped her to continue to PR at age 38!
I had heard about this talk almost a month ago, and I was just so excited.  Once i got into the world of running, I became so immersed in all of the elite runners: their stats, their background, upcoming races, etc.  Naturally, I had read a lot about Magdalena, and was very excited to meet her.  She is an Olympian and one of the fastest female American marathoners of all time.  Opportunities like that don't come along all of the time, so I was just thrilled.  She gave her talk, and then there was an opportunity for meet and greet after.  We chatted a bit about California (she lives in Oakland and also was in Santa Cruz for a race this summer), and then I asked her a couple of questions about her favorite pre-race workouts:
For the marathon: 8 x 1 mile 15 seconds faster than goal marathon pace with one minute recovery in between
For 5ks, 10ks: 8 x 1k at 5k pace with equal recovery (so, if you run the 1ks in 4:10, recovery for 4:10).
She was so nice and even agreed to take a picture with me.  I tried not to gush too much, but when you meet someone who is at the top of the sport, who has dedicated her life to training and becoming the best, it is hard not to be in awe.  I have my role models in my field of history and I have my running role models, and she is definitely one of them - it was very cool to meet her.
Good luck as you get ready for Houston (and hopefully London!) 2012!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the time leading up to a marathon...

A series of questions rush around your head:
-Can I really go that far?
-Can I really run at my desired pace, for 26.2 miles, even if I've never been able to do it in practice?
-I couldn't even do 20 miles at that pace, will it really happen?

And somehow, on Marathon Day, it comes together.  The body knows what to do, even if it has never been put to that specific test before.  All of the types of training link up in perfect union and harmony, and we take off, stringing each mile together at that pace.  And in the 3-4 months of preparation, things didn't gel quite like that, but on the big day, it did.

I need to remind myself of that.  And remember that sometimes I may be my own worst enemy.

And with just over 2 weeks out from my comps and with all of my books done, I am now studying.  And there are some days when I can spout out quite a lot on late medieval devotion.  And there are other days when after a few seems like there isn't much left.

I just need to remind myself that:
- Every study day is not perfect
- It is all about the culmination of preparation
- It may not happen in practice, but I can pull it together on that big day.

I even did some reading about Kara Goucher.  Absolutely phenomenal world-class runner, but struggles with self-doubt and "negative chatter."  And look what she has managed to accomplished once she's knocked out the doubting voice - her own.

Just over 2 weeks until the big day, and I just need to remember that I knocked off 9 minutes in Boston, ran a 3:27 after much adversity, and I will do the same very soon with these exams.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Charging into October

I ran 161 miles last month.  My cross training was so-so - that is something that I need to work on reeling back in next month.  But I also read about 30 books in the process, so that is the big achievement of the month and I ran a PR in the 5k.
And now that it is October, it is time to get my act in gear.  I've got a 10k in 2 weeks (Boo! Run for Life 10k in DC), and that is my next race.
On Saturday, we had our first real taste of fall - 50 degrees and rain.  And I loved it.  It was the first time I wore short sleeves since I was in California this summer.  It was nice not to "melt" halfway through the run.  And today was a hard run: 2 mile warm up, 7 mile tempo, 2 mile cool down.  I still have not mastered tempo runs yet, even though I've been doing them for over a year.  Somehow, it is hard to lock into those perfect paces just beneath the limit and hold onto it for 30-60 minutes.  And I have done a lot of them, but not all go smoothly.  Some, I crash and burn and can't pick it up.  Other times, I am checking my watch too often to see if I'm close to being done.
Saturday was better.  I actually averaged 7:13 pace for the 7 mile tempo, which I was pleased about.  Even though that it slower than I am hoping my 10k pace will be on October 16th, I was happy about it.
Then on Sunday, I did a long run of 18 miles.  I didn't time myself, but was pretty pleased, seeing as that my longest run since Boston in April.  It was a super hilly course, but again, the fall weather was just wonderful - it was beckoning for me to keep going and stay outside.
Needless to say, my legs were pretty beaten up by the end of the weekend - I had run 29 miles in about 24 hours.  So, it was probably a good time to work out my brain instead.
I finished my comps reading yesterday!  I've now read over a hundred books on early medieval history, early modern history, and late medieval religion and society.  The written part of my exam is October 27-28th, with the oral part in November.  So, I have just about 3.5 weeks to just review at this point.  I am very relieved - it was my hope to be finished by this Wednesday, so I am right on track.  Now is the big task of compiling my notes and synthesizing the information: connecting themes and topics, as well as evaluating the "state of the field," meaning what have historians done so far in this area and what still needs to be done.  The ground work has been done, I've done my base training, and now is the time for sharpening.