Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Peace on foot

Merry Christmas, everyone!  We had a very nice Christmas in Spencerport.  It was just me, my parents, and my brother for Christmas Day, and it was a great day.  After my brother got on the train to go back to NYC, I laced up for a Christmas Day run.  I've never run on Christmas Day.  My dad and I went bike riding last year because it was 50 degrees, but I've never run.  I didn't run twice, like Mo Farrah, but I did head out to run 8 miles.
In a cold, weary world, and in a chilly little town, there is still peace on foot.  Hardly anyone else was outside as Old Man Winter yawned and the last winter rays of sun vanished from the sky.  Lights from the houses illuminated my path, as I meandered through my hometown.  There weren't many cars to dodge.  I had no pace expectations to hit.  My head was clear, my legs weren't too heavy.  It was just me and the run - nothing more.
Christmas on the Erie Canal
Near the end of the run, it had grown dark, and I unplugged my headphones to just enjoy the silent night.  But after moments of quiet, what did my perked-up ears hear?  Christmas carols.  From a nearby church, a classical version of "Frosty" was playing and could be heard from blocks away.  So beautiful and simple on Christmas Night.
I am neither ignorant nor delusional.  I know that life is not perfect, and that our world is flawed and can be cruel.  But on one night, the holiest night of the year, in the sleep town of Spencerport, there was peace on foot.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Racing on tired legs: Jingle All the Way 2012

A bit behind in my blogging.  The end of the semester meant writing went on the back burner, and grading papers and exams instead.  And after last Friday, I just needed some time for prayer and reflection - not the time for quasi-narcisistic blogging.
But I did race in December, and as part of my foray into mega mileage, I did want to occupy a bit of digital space recapping the Jingle All the Way 8k.  This is my raceiversary.  It was my first race in 2008, and I had no idea what I was doing.  I was jockeying for positions, wearing a Mickey Mouse watch, and when the race was a 10k distance, pleased to finish in 55:04.  2009 - 46:01, then in 2010 - 44:45. A lot has changed!  The race has been shortened to an 8k (4.97 miles) and moved from West Potomac Park to downtown DC.  In 2011, I ran 33:31 for the 8k.
This year, I was just racing for fun.  That week, I had already run 58 miles in what would be my highest-mileage week ever.  I did not plan to PR, as most of my runs felt slow (as expected) - I just wanted to go out and have fun.  I even went to a Christmas party the night before and got into the Christmas spirit(s) too...
It was pouring race morning - not exactly ideal weather.  But I didn't care - I was nearing the end of my big week, and I wanted to culminate it with this race.  I got to meet British Olympian Claire Hallisey - who lives and trains in Arlington.  I've seen her at this race before, and last year I even stood near her at the start, but I told myself that if she was back to defend her title, I would say hello.  I did, and said I was a big fan, and she was very gracious.  It is very cool that in the DC area, the competition is deep enough to include not just Olympic Trial Qualifiers, but Olympians!
A very well-dressed and speedy runner
Get this - I forgot my watch.  Which, for a race that ultimately didn't matter, it truly didn't matter.  I decided to just run by feel, and not sweat it out.  When we started, I could really feel the weeks of high mileage in my legs.  Not sore - just heavy.  Now, get a look this guy, who ran alongside me for most of the race.  At first, I just thought the dude was intercepting the race and crossing the street, but no, he was running 8k dressed like this.  I later found out that he was promoting his new line of minimalist dresswear for men.  Who knew?   A lot of people swarmed to the front, and I just let them go - might as well just wait until later to pick them off.
But really, I just wanted to lock in on a reasonably comfortable pace, which ended up being alongside fancy pants man.  I had no idea what the pace was, but I was having fun watching everyone (there were almost 5,000 runners, and a lot of costumes).  When I got past mile 3, I started to work at picking off some girls.  Honestly, this is probably one of my favorite parts of racing.  Often referred to as being the hunter, when you come from behind and pick off people.  Ir is much better to be the hunter than the hunted, running scared (which I've also done).  It makes me not think about the pace or distance left - my sole charge becomes working to pass each one.  It's a great distraction.
A really fast elf
This course has a few hairpin turns that are a bit challenging.  I thought I had completed all of them, and I could see the finish line. But nope, we got diverted to the left (very misleading) for one last mini out and back.  And look who was in front of me now!
Yes, a big costumed runner who I just could not pass.  I was doing everything I could to kick, but the legs weren't having it.
I finished in 33:13 - techinically a 20-second 8k PR.  6:41 pace.
A couple of points to keep in mind - I've run both 10ks and a 10 miler at a faster pace.  But not on such mileage.
And I was reflecting about this too, because in my first week of mega-mileage, I ran a 40:24 10k.  That's 6:31 pace - how come I was running 10 seconds per mile slower for a shorter race?  Well, 3 weeks in, and that cumulative mileage began to set in.  Instead of just a few days of high mileage, these legs had covered 182 miles in under 3 weeks - no wonder I was running slower.
Running happy and light in my 10k PR
That afternoon, I ran 7 miles, to bring the day's total to 14 miles and ending my highest mileage week ever - 70 miles.  Wow!  Sarah was right, it wasn't too hard to get up to that high volume.  Sure, I was tired and sore, but it was in fact doable.  It did make me pleased about my 8k effort.  I've often read about elite athletes doing races "on tired legs" and for the first time, I got it.  I've also commented before in some of my PR races that I felt light and easy.  This was not the case, and I offer the following photo comparison from my 10k PR (left) and the Jingle All the Way (right).
Tired legs
This was not a light and easy feeling.  However, I was rewarded the following week with a "light" week of 42 miles for the week.  Running almost 30 miles less gave me back some spring in my step.  It even meant that on a 10 mile weekday run, I covered 12k on 12-12-12 in 59:55 (8:02 pace) - good enough for 12th place in a virtual run 12k challenge.  I generally don't do my easier runs that fat, but with a bit of rest, amazing what the legs can do.
This week, we are back to a 68 mile week as I begin cycle 2 of mega mileage.  Happy to have arrived home today - where I'll certainly get good home cooking to fuel those runs!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Running is like Jenga

Say what?
Those who know me well know that I love extended analogies.  Hear me out on this one.
Running and training, as I have learned over the past few years, is not a house of cards.  When you build a card house, you have to use total concentration and perfectly align the cards at the precise angles.  Otherwise, one false move, and boom, the whole things falls apart.  I used to think this way about training.  I wanted to make sure every single run that was scheduled, happened, and that I hit every single time split and expectation.  This is not healthy, nor is it the correct approach.  It ultimately makes an inflexible runner, unwilling to bend or adjust to anything.  It made me neurotic, obsessive, and probably not that much to be around.
I've learned more and more (particularly this season), that running is more like the game Jenga.  You have a huge stack of wooden blocks, and the challenge is to delicately pull out the blocks, one at a time, and make a higher structure than you ultimately started with.  There is a lot of creativity with this game, and a lot of strategy. If you pull out too many blocks in one area, it will topple over.  However, you can really stack the tower very high if you play it smart.  And this is the kind of approach you need to have with running.  A fixed, rigid approach and mentality will not pay off.  In Jenga, if you pull out the middle block every time, you've built a sturdy structure, yes, but you won't be able to get that high.  But if you manipulate smart, you can accomplish a lot in the game.
I have had seasons where I never missed a run, nailed or exceeded every workout.  This fall, particularly during a challenging end of August/early September, I had training weeks of missed runs, shortened runs, and workouts that did not meet expectations.  Now granted, I settled into a good rhythm and then had 2 months of very consistent training, plus cumulative years of training to boot.  But it culminated in some big PRs - in part probably because I didn't freak out and try and run (or run hard) on the days when my body was less than willing to do so.
I am halfway through my highest mileage week ever.
Monday: 8 miles in the AM, 6 in the PM = 14
Tuesday: 4 miles in the AM, 6 in the PM = 10
Wednesday: 8 miles
Thursday: 10 miles
Working my way to 70 miles!
Yesterday's run was proof that running helps me think and makes me a better student.  I had a big dissertation meeting with my advisor, and my run beforehand cleared my head.  I planned out my major talking points during the 8 mile run, and then sat down and wrote out a mini agenda/outline.  When we met, she said I had made good strides this semester (I found the term "strides" to be quite fitting) and that had developed a clear project.  Progress!  Encouragement!  Just what I needed to hear - that this cumulative work had been paying off.
Maybe getting a PhD is like Jenga too...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Easy Does It

 I've seen conflicting views on easy miles.  Many look at these as recovery days.  Some call easy days "junk miles," meaning that they don't really count or add to training.
Easy days, where the pace doesn't matter, just getting the distance in, are very important.  Moreover they are not bad - they do help.  During my training cycles, I'll have 3-4 days of easy runs.  They range from 5-9 miles most days, and most days I don't even wear a watch for them.  It'll all about just getting cumulative miles.  Sure, it would be nice to push a 5 miler a little and get it done in under 40 minutes, but I'll take my time, and maybe run 9 minute pace.  Or 8:30.  Or 9:15.  It really doesn't matter.  I've had days leading up to a PR race where I've done my runs at a pace 2 minutes slower per mile than race pace.  And it can be a bit unsettling - during a taper or easy week, you feel like you should have a little more spring that whole week.  But easy does it - ease the mind and not worry about times.
This is coming from someone who can be neurotic about times.  Easy does it.
All my runs now are easy runs, and the pace really has varied.  Almost nothing has been faster than about 8:10 per mile for my runs since the mega mileage segment started.  I finished November with 161 miles - not too bad since that also included a week of no running!  I was supposed to hit 65 miles last week, but a busy weekend cut shortened Sunday's run, and so it 58 miles instead.  A missed run here or there isn't going to make or break the next few months, so I'm not sweating it.
Really!  And even though the next few days are a bit mild, this cooler weather has been nice.  I ran 10 miles after work Thursday afternoon, and scarcely broke a sweat!  Plus, I love that brisk feeling of stepping out into the cold - very exhilarating.
The photo company from the Veteran's Day 10k - when I broke 40 minutes - just uploaded their race pictures.  I have to say, Swim Bike Run Photography does the best job taking race pictures, and they let you download the pictures for free.  I had written on this race that I felt "light" - and for once, the picture captured that too.  This was coming in toward the finish, and I knew I was going to break 40, and I could not stop smiling.  And that sub 40 came after speed work, yes, but also a lot of days of easy-does-it running too.  Lesson learned.