Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Working on speed at the track and trails

This month, I have really been honing in on speed, both on the track and in my tempo runs.  Next month, I have 3 races:
3/10: Four Courts 4 Miler
3/17: National Half Marathon
3/25: Scope It Out 5k

The goal race for the month is not actually the half, but the 5k the week after.  The half might serve more as a workout than a race.  It is my goal this year to crack into the 19s for the 5k, and I am hoping to get to that point very soon.

I have had 2 tempo runs lately that went really well.  2 Saturdays ago, I did a 10 mile run with 6 miles averaging 7:12 pace (finishing around 7:00 for the final mile), and it felt great.  Doing these tempo runs on the trail with marked miles and no road interruptions has been terrific.  I feel like I finally understand how to do them now.  I'm not perfect (and sometimes I blow up with them...read on) at them yet, but much better than I was at them a year or two ago.  This Saturday, it was a 10 mile run with 5 miles of tempoing.  I started at 7:10, then 7:00, 6:52, 6:36, and then errrrrk (you have to hear a car screeching), 7:01 for the last mile.  I definitely went out way too fast in that fourth mile, but at least I am learning how to really stretch myself in these runs.  The thing that was funny was that between last Saturday and this Saturday, a huge tree fell and blocked part of the trail.  So when I got to that part, I stopped my watch, and had to swing over it (practically like getting over the saddle of a horse), and then keep running.  An unexpected obstacle!  But seriously, I keep learning a lot about how to do good tempo runs.  I've heard that it takes 2 years of consistent running to really hone in.  So, if the tempo runs are just starting to come together now, that means a few good years ahead of me as I continue to learn how to do them.

And then my true love of the week - Tenacious Tuesdays on the Track!  Every Monday night, I go to bed so excited about the track workout that awaits me the following morning.  The time I spend on the track is one of the highlights of my week.  I tend to have the track all to myself, which is definitely helpful.  It is my private time, and generally tends to be a little victory for me that gives me a boost for the entire day.  And this is one of those moments when I am really grateful for the flexible schedule that comes with academia.  Each Tuesday morning, I get up, work for an hour at home, then go to the track, and then continue on with my day.  I don't have to get up super early, but because I teach later in the day, I have the time in the morning to do the workout.  Anyways, cycle 2 of spring training is coming to a close this week, so this is just a quick summary of a few of those workouts.

2.5 mile warm-up; 4x1 mile; 2.5 mile cool-down (2 days after a 5k race).  Start the  miles at 7:05  and cut-down 5-7 seconds per interval; 500 meter jog between intervals; 2.5 mile cool-down.  7:00, 6:57, 6:47, 6:39.  Total: 10 miles

2.5 mile warm-up; 2 x 1.5 mile workout, 2 x 800; First 1.5 mile is composed of 3 continuously run 800s.  It is easy, hard, easy.  2 lap jog; The second 1.5 is hard, easy, hard.  1 lap jog between intervals. 2.5 mile cool-down.  The goal is to keep the 1.5 rolling along evenly (even though there are pace changes), so on the first one, make sure to ease up enough the last two laps so that is about the same time as the first two laps.  Total: 10 miles

 This was my best go at this workout ever (I've done this one probably about half a dozen times): 
2 x 1.5 mile: 3:25, 3:13, 3:25
 3:13, 3:25, 3:13
 (so, a little fast, but was able to be fairly consistent with the switches - certainly much more than I have in the past with this workout)
2 x 800: 3:13, 3:10

2.5 mile warm-up; 2 x 2 mile, 2 x 800; The 2 miles should be run evenly.  Aim to run 13:50 for the first, jog 2 laps, and 13:40 for the second; jog 2 laps.  On the 800s, aim for 3:20, 3:17.  1 lap jog between each.  2.5 mile cool-down.  Total: 11 miles  
This was today's workout, and I was really proud of it.  I did the 2 sets of 2 miles in 13:41 and 13:31 and man, felt tired.  I regrouped and recouped, and then did the 2 x 800 in 3:21 and 3:14.

Now, this made for a great month of speed that I hope I can apply in next month's races.  I feel like I'm really learning to apply myself/stretch myself/push myself with these workouts.  They are going faster than I could have anticipated, and by the time the next workout rolls around, I am rested and ready to go!  Seriously, those runs are some of my favorite hours of the week.  It's like a little victory for me.  And so even if a class doesn't go perfect, or research is a bit slow, I have that win to remind me to keep at it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Great days are here

Last week was pretty stellar (and yet was so busy that I haven't had time to write about it).
Now, I do not want this to be read as me bragging.  But, shared joy is the best kind, right?  That's my philosophy, at least, and I have felt joyful.
I found out last Tuesday that I am returning to my summer job as Academic Dean of a gifted children's camp in Santa Cruz, CA.  I have been working for this program for years (this is year 7!), but last year was my first time on the West Coast.  I absolutely loved it, and am so pleased and grateful that I have been given the opportunity to return again.  So, from June to August, I will be in sunny beautiful Santa Cruz.  I am very excited and very much looking forward to another year with the program.
Just in case anyone forgot how beautiful Santa Cruz is...
And if that wasn't enough.  And I was pretty happy to begin with - I had thoughts of California dancing in my head.  I got an email from my department chair asking to meet with me to talk about next semester.  In the meeting, he asked me if I would teach an upper level history class at our university.
I was beyond thrilled.  Only advanced graduate students ever get to teach classes of their own at my school, and I never thought I would get asked to teach a class.  The chair said that they were particularly excited to have me teach.  Me?  I feel like I have spent a good chunk of my grad experience looking up to the big dogs - people who really seemed to have it together, and I always hoped that I would get to that stage at some point.  And apparently now, the department feels comfortable assigning a class to me.
I am really excited about getting the opportunity to teach at my own university.  This is going to be excellent.  And it is a relief too - because it shows that the people who know me best in academia feel that I can take the full reins of a class.  It is a great moment in my (young) career.

A few years ago, my dear friend Jenny sent me a poem she wrote as a means of assurance when I was going through a rough patch:

Life is funny sometimes,
Life is great,
Life throws you a curve 
to test your strength
Enjoy your victories
remember your lessons
Great days are here
Sometimes, we just have to look for them!

When she first wrote that, I couldn't believe it.  I felt like I had trouble finding great days.  But great days are here, and for that, I am grateful.  My running is going well (more about that in a separate post), my school stuff is going well, and I have good family and friends to support me.  Great days are here, and I am enjoying the victories too.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A different kind of thinking

On Friday morning, I was in my university's pool, putting in another 2000 yards and staring at that black line.  I was planning some of things I was going to accomplish for the rest of the day as I was doing my laps. After school, I was back in the weight room, getting my session in, and while I was pumping up (you have to hear Arnold saying it), I had a thought:
"I think differently depending on the type of exercise I'm doing."
Is this true for others?
Before I get slapped with the crazy sticker, let me explain.

When I am running outside, I am on beautiful trails, or near the National Mall, or the Capital Crescent Trail.  All places filled with distractions - tourists, monuments, runners, various buildings, etc.  So, when I run, my thinking is very fluid.  Something will move me to contemplate something or remember an old event of friend, and I'll run with that thought (pun intended) for a while, until the next distraction comes along.  There's a nice ebb and flow between random thoughts (like recalling old memories) and things (like my dissertation) that need careful consideration.  When I am done running, I can't necessarily recall of those tangential things that have come to mind.  But my head is clear, and I am ready to move on with my day.

When I am swimming, there are no distractions.  No people, no buildings.  Just that black line.  The black line does not inspire creativity or spark any distractions.  It is unchanging and it is in my line for vision for 2000 yards.  So, when I swim, as I'm going back and forth, my thoughts are more rhythmic and precise.  I can plan my day out clearly, I can outline ideas for a meeting or a paper.  Nothing gets in my way, as I am counting laps carefully - there is no room for fluffy thoughts in the water - only precision.  This was why I called my swim the "swim to modernity" as I was preparing for my comprehensive exams - I ran through the AD timeline in my head 0-2000, in 25 year intervals.  And I get so much planning done underwater!

And I have different thoughts when I am weightlifting in the gym.  Now, if you've seen me - I am not a force to be reckoned with.  I can't bench a jillion pounds or max out (whatever that means), but I do enjoy weightlifting (and strength/core work) 2-3 times a week.  I think it makes a better, stronger runner.  My back is stronger, my legs are stronger, and maybe my arms are even stronger (although they are more scrawny than anything).  But, when I am in the weight room, I tend to be the only girl there.  And I am surrounding by a bunch of hulking guys in wife-beaters, grunting their way to muscular glory.  I am not grunting, but I am working hard.  And I've gotten a heck of a lot stronger.  In most of the free weight exercises, I have doubled the weight I used when I started doing this three years ago.  But, if you've seen me lately, I'm not preparing for the Olympia competition either.  I always feel a little sheepish in the weight room - like I need to prove myself. I can prove myself on the road - I can run fast, place high, and no one doubts what I am capable of.  And in the pool, I am starting to at least not appear like I am drowning.  But, in the weight room, I am sure that I do not look like I can do much damage.  So, half of the thoughts in my head go into drill sergeant mode:, "Come on, come on!  Lift!  Lift!  more, more!  You call those curls?!  Come one!"  But at the same time, I am eyeing all of the guys in the gym, who are probably doubting that I have any physical capabilities.  And my thoughts when I see them are "Oh yeah?  You think you're so tough?!  Come on, let's go!  I'll see you on the track and put you to shame."  Okay, a bit intense (or insane.

But I've proved my point, right?  Those are three very different frames of mind.  So, I am really curious - does anyone else think differently during different kinds of workouts?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Day-Glo, me say Day-Glo

Day-glo comin' and me want to run home.
You know you could find me in the fog, in the snow, the rain, the dark, anywhere!

I have never had a running vest, and I've been contemplating getting one for a while.  Finally last week, I broke down and got this nice orange Saucony vest.  It even comes with a removable flashing light to clip on.  And nice side pockets too for my phone and keys.  It arrived on Wednesday, and I tested it out on Thursday morning's 8 mile run.  It was a little drizzly outside, and the vest was perfect.  It packed heat in well, kept me warm and dry, and illuminated me for well, all of DC to see!  I'm sure my parents are happy, because now I've acquired a few pieces (pink visor, pink winter jacket, and now this) of running clothes that ensure drivers on the road see me.  

And in other news.  The weeks are just flying by!  With teaching,  I am just finding the time going by so fast!  I am starting to develop a routine in terms of preparing lectures, putting together power points, and figuring out a good lecturing style.  I found this video on the Reformation, which I used to open class on Tuesday - so yes, I also like to inject a little humor here and there too. And I'm starting to master the driving part - 140 miles roundtrip twice a week!  It turns Tuesday and Thursday into pretty fast-flying days.  By the time I get home at 9PM, I am pretty beat and before you know it, the week is over.  

And with that, I am just trying to keep my head down and plug away.  Plug away on my dissertation proposal, plug away on teaching, and plug away on running and training.  It seems like that is the best way to go -- head down, focused, and making sparks fly in the way they should.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love the Run You're With 5k - Rust buster 2012

Like the fall, I am having a spring racing season with a bunch of shorter races - no marathon - all about getting fast.  I have been training regularly since the beginning of January, and wanted to test my fitness so far.  So, this morning, I ran the Love the Run You're with 5k by Pacers on Pentagon Row.  I volunteered at this race in 2010, but had never done it.  Sarah set this race up in my schedule as a "rust buster:" a race to just get out there and hammer it out as best as I can.  My training has been pretty consistent, but again, have only been following a formal schedule for 5 weeks.  Last fall, my rust buster came after 10 weeks.  But I was trying to remind myself that I've gained good fitness and have been consistent with training.  I was not planning on running a PR (20:23), but was hoping to just stay sub 21 minutes.  
It's funny, when Sarah scheduled this race, she said, "Maybe you'll have a 60 degree day, or have to deal with the pain of the a 5K and 20 degree weather :)"" 
Well, she hit the nail on the head with the latter.  This morning, it was 25 with 22mph winds! This made the windchill about 15.   This was a lot colder than we've had in DC, and a heck of a lot windier!  I had on 2 shirts, tights, and gloves, plus a jacket and another pair of pants that I was going to wear for my warm-up and then strip down.  So, I trotted it out in my 2.5 mile warm up, and found it pretty hard to move!  The wind was insane, and I'm not exactly big enough to push back with the wind.  I was hoping that in the race, I could tuck behind someone and have them block me a bit.
I found a buddy of mine before the race and we chatted, shivering away, anxious for the gun to start.  He said that he was hoping to run under 21 as well.  And then we were off - thank goodness!  The first half mile had such a steep climb - it definitely took a lot of work to get up that hill!  I got through the first mile in 6:38, which felt really fast.  I had looked around earlier and recognized some of the elite runners, who were way ahead of me, but I knew I had to be in the top 10 women.  There was a turnaround at the halfway point, and as awkward as it is to fly (or in my case, awkwardly stumble) around a cone in a 180 degree turn, the turnaround meant I could count the number of women in front of me.  I figured that I was in 7th or 8th.  I passed a couple of women at mile 2, and had slowed to 6:50 for the second mile.  I figured that that was the hardest one, and that I probably still had a little gas left.  And I worked really hard to pass some men and women and moved up to fourth place.  Wow!  I even caught up with my friend, Caldwell, who ran sub 20 last fall, and passed him.  Finally, the downhill was waiting, and I tried to just fly down, but some girl buzzed by and I could not go any faster.  But, I was still really excited as I crossed the finish line: face frozen but still a big smile.
20:41 (6:40 pace)
5th woman (out of 961)
33rd person overall (out of 1454)
This was great!  That was the highest place I've ever finished at a DC race.  I didn't catch my split at mile 3, but it must've been around 6:35 pace, so I was really motoring toward the end.  When I did my rust buster in the fall, it was 80 degrees, and I finished in 21:02.  This time, it was 60 degrees colder and I showed great improvement!  And while it wasn't a PR, when I texted Sarah to let her know how I did, she said that she was pleased, and that the effort was close to my PR time.  And she said "Good things are in store for some better weather racing!"  
I also came in 2nd in my age group (actually, 5th, technically, because the top 3 open winners were also 19-29), which meant at $15 gift certificate to Pacers.  And because it was a Valentine's Day themed race, they had different bibs for those who were single/in a relationship.  I was the fastest single lady!  I feel like that's a nice little title - something to impress the fellas, right?  And they gave me a little hand towel for that.  The giveaway was a blanket (a nice change from shirts) - so now I have a fleece blanket with the race theme (see above) on it.  Definitely nice to have something toasty to wrap about today.
They had a nice after party too, so I even had a mimosa!  Lots of celebrating to do!  They even had karaoke after, and I sang "You can't hurry love" - that was a first.  
So, the 2012 spring racing season is on and off to a good note.  Can't wait for more races in the spring!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Do you remember when you growing up, and you thought a particular class or grade was hard?  For example, algebra was the hardest thing EVER and when you were in the middle of it, you thought nothing could be harder than dealing with (i) - that imaginary number or freaked out when your answer suggested a negative square root (I did).  And then you finished that year, with only some battle scars, onto the next challenge.  There are a number of classes throughout my years in school: math, science, Latin, that just seemed like the hardest thing ever.  And while many of those classes still have horrific memories attached to them, they are also in the past and I am on to bigger, better things.

It's not just hard classes that stick in my mind like that.  I remember starting new jobs and the first weeks  of a new job: learning the new system, meeting all of the new people, and wondering if it was all ever going to click/feeling completely overwhelmed.  I remember that especially when I started as academic dean of my summer academic camp.  It all felt so whirlwind, and then eventually, things clicked and it worked.  The bar constantly keeps getting raised, and it seems like a new challenge is always waiting in the wings.  And that is a good thing - I like challenges, and while it seems tough in the beginning, knowing that I've gotten through previous challenges successfully gives me the optimism that I need to work my way through the next one.

I am in the middle of trying to clear the bar again.  I am in my third week of teaching a history class (my first class of my own) at Mount Saint Mary's University - a dream come true.  I've been wanting to teach for so long, and now I am!  It is really exciting and I am loving it so far.  It takes a lot of time to prepare my lectures and get everything ready for class, but it is great.  One of my favorite things about teaching European history (specially medieval or early modern (1400-1850) is that since it is typically less studied here in America, students don't know a ton about it beforehand. So, part of what I get to do is surprise them with all of these interesting things.  It's a ton of work, but I love it - which is good, since this what I want to do as a career!

The thing that I was most nervous about with the new job was not the job itself, but actually the commute.  I live in DC, and the university is 70 miles away.  This is the first time I've had a car in DC, and the first couple of times back and forth was absolutely terrifying.  I don't have a ton of driving experience (I've never needed a car), and so to go from driving my parents' car to the mall at home to almost 300 miles a week (I teach there twice a week) was a big leap.  White knuckles and sweaty palms for sure.  When I first started, the semester seemed so long and looming - I couldn't believe how much driving I was going to do.  But now, a few weeks in, I am settling into the routine and starting to think "Oh, it's not so bad."

It is funny how our perception on the difficulty things can change as we age.  And even when the challenges seem hard now, I am sure in a few years we'll all be thinking "That wasn't so hard."