A Glimmer of Hope (and a recipe!)

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I finally posted yesterday about what the heck has been going on after being MIA for a few weeks. I think I was putting off posting because I was afraid to talk about my dumb Achilles (among my other aches and pains) for fear that they would become a reality. Like if I didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t actually happening. I’m excited to report that yesterday afternoon, I had a pain-free marathon paced run! Wooohooo!

I get my workouts from my coach every two weeks, but we’ve been in contact daily to tweak them based on what happened with the previous workout and my injury status. For example, the weekend where I ran 18 miles, I had a track workout scheduled for the following Tuesday (only one recovery day in between the two). Since my crew and I ran faster than anticipated for the 18, my coach modified the track workout to a general aerobic run, especially because of my achy Achilles. That’s what I am really enjoying about having a coach. Before, if the plan said track workout, well, I best get in that track workout. Now, I have someone telling me when to back off and when to push and I really, really love it.

Yesterday’s run was supposed to be 8 miles, 7-7:15 pace. Certainly not an easy task when I’m running solo, but also not impossible as long I was feeling okay. Since I try to follow a mostly Paleo diet, I’ve been finding that sweet potatoes before a run work pretty well for me. I’ve been eating them for breakfast before my long run and they seem to give me a good energy boost without bothering my stomach. Oh, and it’s an easy, welcomed addition to my diet because I love them. Knowing I was going to try to hold a faster pace, I decided to pack one as my afternoon snack at work.

I had a few options as to where I could go to complete the run, but they were somewhat limited since there’s a little coating of snow/ice in our area.There’s a local trail that I really love, but it isn’t necessarily the best place to run if speed is my focus for the day. The surrounding roads, however, are perfect. They are usually well cared for when the weather is poor. Gently rolling terrain with gradual climbs and descents, and only one or two relatively steep hills in the middle of the run. I still park at the trail head since it’s only about 10 minutes from my house (on the other side of a huge mountain, or I’d just run there!), so it’s also very convenient. I knew there would be some snow on the trail anyway and didn’t want to worry about it messing with my pace, so I hit the streets for this one.

IMG_8043As I headed out of the parking lot, I told myself to start slow to warm up. Don’t look down at my watch, just let my legs do their thing and warm up at whatever pace felt good. I didn’t care if my first mile wasn’t in my designated range. I figured I could do this as a progression run and still hit that 7:15 average. I looked down as I neared the one mile mark and saw…6:53? Was my watch broken? I was cool with being out of my pace zone, but wasn’t expecting to be under the faster end of it. I ended up averaging half of the miles in the 6:45 range and the other half in the 6:50 range – with an overall pace of 6:49. It didn’t feel “effortless”, but I just felt great. FINALLY! Best of all…no aches and pains to whine about! I have no idea if I could even repeat that performance if I tried. Did that even really happen yesterday or did I imagine it?

This morning, I got up and went for a super short swim. Today is a rest day from running, and my coach said I could swim about 1500 meters (usually I swim 3000 + meters in a workout), and to do some core/strength work. My gym and physical therapist are conveniently located in the same building so I got up, hit the pool and made it in time for my 6:30 am PT appointment. My legs were totally dead when I was swimming – it felt like I was lugging around dead weight! Anytime I did a set using a pull-buoy (a foam buoy that goes between your legs to prevent you from kicking, just focusing on using your arms to “pull”) felt like a rest because I didn’t have to make my stiff legs try to work. The routine I have going on at physical therapy is pretty simple, yet effective: the therapist warms up the achy region, does some ultrasound on it, then some Graston and massage, and then I stretch it out. The Graston makes it a little sore, but I can really feel it working to break up whatever was causing pain. I am hoping that I’ll be released from PT by the end of next week. If I can get through my long run and recovery runs with no pain, I’ll feel a lot more confident.

After my run yesterday, I made my favorite weeknight dinner – a Honey Mustard Chicken dish that requires little prep and just enough time in the oven that you can get a few things done (for me, that’s usually some core work and packing my stuff for the next day). It’s a great post run treat, and I served it up with some glazed carrots. I haven’t shared a recipe in awhile, so here it is!

IMG_8048Honey Mustard Chicken
Serves 4-6 

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard (preferably something organic and with only a few ingredients to keep it as Paleo as possible, but if that isn’t a concern for you – any mustard would really do nicely!)
  • 1/3 cup raw honey (or whatever honey you have on hand)
  • Salt (I like the pink Himalayan stuff or sea salt, but use whatever you prefer)
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2-3 lbs of bone-in chicken thighs (I’ve also used split chicken breasts, legs, etc.)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place the chicken in a large casserole dish. I like to use a 9×13 glass Pyrex, but you can use whatever will fit it. It’s fine if they are a little squished. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the chicken.
  3. In a bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the Dijon, honey, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Pour over the chicken. Top with the two sprigs of rosemary, and bake for about 45 minutes or until your chicken is 175 degrees on a meat thermometer. Sprinkle with a little more fresh ground pepper when it comes out of the oven. Try not to eat the entire tray :)

There’s some snow in the forecast for the weekend but I have a 22 miler on the schedule for Sunday. Hoping the snow doesn’t mess that up, but excited for some accumulation. Such a love/hate relationship with it this winter. I did make it out to buy some brand new yak tracks so hopefully if I have to run in the snow, it won’t jack up my body too badly.

What are your weekend running plans? How do you handle running in inclement weather? Are you battling any injuries right now?

Bring on the Cranky Pants

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Okkkkay. I’m back. I’ve been semi-avoiding the blog world out of crankiness. My own crankiness, of course.

So way back before Christmas, I posted about a freaking awesome long run I had with my friends. I was on such a high. And then I got sick…on Christmas Eve (I had 20 people at my house for dinner and a fever. That was fun). Whatever I had lingered and caused me to miss about five days of training, and it was awful. But no problem, my coach and I communicated and agreed that I would rest and not panic. I missed a long run. I was bummed.

The next week, I jumped back into my training and felt decent – but had a nag in my left Achilles. I remembered feeling it after that last long run, but then after being sick it just went away. So I kept running. Got in a decently paced 16 miler, around a 7:25 in some slippery conditions but had some pain in the area that worried me. Still, I kept going. I hoped it was just one of those aches that would go away after a few days and work itself out. I even got in a nice track workout of 800s later that week and hit/exceeded my paces. The pain kind of just stayed the same, so I headed out for my 18 miler that Sunday. We had another epic day where we felt incredible – my friend Kathy and I pushed the pace and averaged a 7:08 for the entire run, hills and all. My ankle didn’t hurt while I ran – even so much as to think to myself, “Maybe this was all in my head and I’m past whatever it was!” Ha.

After the run, I made sure to take an ice bath (which was freaking torture, it is FREEZING in PA these days!) and popped some ibuprofen just because I wanted to get ahead of any potential inflammation. I’m not much of a fan of NSAIDs, but I thought it would be a good idea. Well, over the next few days I had some definite soreness so my coach backed off the intensity of some of my runs. By Thursday, I decided it was time to get in to my doctor. By some miracle of God, he had an open appointment right at the end of my work day. He had me get my left foot x-rayed before I even saw him and after a thorough clinical exam, determined it was a little tenosynovitis of my Achillies. So the sheath around the tendon was unhappy. Made sense, because I really wasn’t displaying any of the classic Achilles tendinitis symptoms.

He got me in for some PT – of course I have the therapist’s number in my phone so the three week wait to get in with him didn’t happen – I was there the next day for some Graston, ultrasound and massage. They also gave me the Flector Patch to put on the area – basically an NSAID patch that is directly applied to the source of pain. Which is kind of hard to find – there really is no pain to the touch, no swelling, etc. It’s so odd.

It seemed to work because I was able to log some miles at some decent paces over the weekend, but then we got hit with a bunch of ice, something I don’t mess with regularly. Started my long run (supposed to go 22 miles) on Sunday and the freezing rain began about 8 miles in. By mile 10, I started walking because I could barely take a step without sliding. I had to walk about two miles from my car, and I was frozen to the bone. Tried again the next day but had to wear my Yak Trax because it was still so slippery out. I made it 14 miles, but the outer edge of my left foot began hurting. My Yak Trax were kind of old and falling apart, so I think it threw off my stride. I threw in the towel, but my coach was still happy with the mileage I managed in such poor conditions. It was a rough run.

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Ski Area – Blue Mountain; Trail – Razor’s Edge

So on Tuesday, I went out for some easy-peasy recovery miles, and by the time I got about 2-3 miles into my run, the outside of that foot started aching again. What. The. Hell. It didn’t hurt all day and pretty much felt fine, so why now? I finished up six miles and sulked. Yesterday was a scheduled cross training/strength training day so I went tot he gym before work and lifted, and skiing after work. We got out of school early for some impending snow and I got on the slopes early and got in some extra runs. Felt good, no pain, but my next run is today.

I’m frustrated because since Christmas, it’s been just one thing after the other. Sick, injury, poor conditions. On one hand, life happened and caused me to miss some training. On the other, I’ve logged some quality miles. My next race is in a few weeks – a 10K – and then my first marathon of the “spring” season is on February 15th. With some of the long run paces I’ve hit recently, I wanted to shoot for 6:50-7 minute miles in the marathon, 6:20-30 in the 10k. Even with missing a long run and having to cut off some distance due to weather last weekend, I am confident that I can do this. I know I can. Except now I’m just hoping I don’t have a fracture in my foot or something. Honestly, I think I aggravated a tendon in there from running in the poor conditions in my Yak Trax, but it’s enough to have me concerned. I’ve had stress fractures before to know what they feel like, and what I felt was enough to worry me. The good news is, my “tell tale” stress fracture sign is the hop test. Anytime I had a stress fracture, I couldn’t hop on it without feeling something – and when I hop on this I feel nothing. So that’s good.

I guess when I take it for a spin today (after yesterday’s day of cross training), I’ll see what the deal is. Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best!

How do you deal with injury interrupting your training? When something hurts, what “process” do you follow to try to heal it as quickly as possible?

A Week in Review: 12/15-12/21

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IMG_7769Merry Christmas! The next few days are about to get crazy busy so I’m not sure now much posting I will be doing. We attended one of our annual Christmas parties yesterday, so we couldn’t help but snap a picture in front of the tree. My husband comes from a pretty big family, so we celebrate Christmas Day with his family on the weekend before the actual day so we can all be together. Of course, the day wouldn’t have been complete or as fun if it didn’t start off with my Sunday long run!

I already recapped much of my efforts last week because I posted about some of the different workouts I completed (track workouts and speed work). I don’t normally blog about my specific runs and paces, but I really want to keep track of my efforts as I move towards 2015 and my goals. I ran five days and 44 miles this past week. That’s the most mileage I’ve run since before the Chicago Marathon, and I finally got back up to a 14 mile long run. The previous week was a rough one for me, with a not-so-pretty hill workout and a tough race at the end of the week. It wasn’t that any of it was really “bad”, I just didn’t feel great. Having a few “wins” this past week felt good.

For this past week, the icing on the cake was my Sunday long run. 14 miles, 7:05 pace! We started a little more conservatively, and ended faster.The best part was that the last two miles were the fastest, with a 6:52 and 6:46. There were several other sub seven minute miles sprinkled throughout the entire run, but those were the fastest and meant the most because they were at the end. We were tired, we were hurting, we weren’t even able to talk – but we were pushing! A group of us went out for our long run together, but I mainly stuck with Kathy the whole time since we took off and cranked out the miles. For the first half, I was able to talk but was slightly concerned that I might not be able to hold that pace. After our first mile (it was a little slower as we warmed up), I saw our pace hovering in the 7-7:10 range and I panicked a little. I know my coach actually has it on my schedule for next week to run that pace for my long run, but I hadn’t really mentally prepared for that to happen any sooner. We’ve been running around a 7:20 pace for our long runs, so this was a bit faster right out of the gates.

I don’t know if I could repeat that performance again anytime soon (I sure hope I can!) but it was a HUGE confidence booster. I remember in the fall of 2013 when I began breaking the 8 minute mile barrier on long runs. I felt exactly the same way I felt this weekend when we were pushing the pace and hitting some sub 7s. Panicked that I would burn out, and worried I couldn’t touch those paces again. But the more I ran, the easier it got. Soon, it was “normal” to hold 7:30s for a long run. Not “effortless” but what once took everything in me to keep up with my friends turned into me leading the pack. Kathy has really been working hard lately (definitely harder than me – more miles and longer runs), so it was really great to have someone as determined as me to knock out such a good run. It was really challenging to run that fast for 14 miles, but I hope tackling that pace is the beginning of breaking through another barrier.

Around mile five, I took a gel. Normally, for a 14 mile run I’d only take one gel but my coach is working with me on nutrition. He recommended bringing 3-4 gels on the run, just in case. I ended up using two of them – the second one was at mile nine. It made a huge difference and I don’t know that I could have held that pace without some fuel. The calories helped me focus and held off any negative thoughts. He also wants me to break out my fuel belt but I absolutely hate running with it. I’m still deciding what I want to do to get some fluids in my system while running. I’ve also used a hand held water bottle in the past but I don’t like that much either. I know he’s right, I’ll figure something out eventually.

IMG_7778Other than running, I had two nice swim workouts of about 3,000 meters each. I’ve really been loving my morning swim sessions and how they loosen up my legs. I did core work almost daily and got to the gym for a few strength training sessions. I made a point to get on my yoga mat almost daily to stretch and foam roll. A few weeks ago, the local running store that I frequent informed me that I was the lucky winner of a brand new pair of Newtons! Lately, I’ve been preferring my Brooks Pure Connect (4mm drop) and Nike Zoom Elites (8 mm drop), but I wore Newtons for over a year. I backed off the super low drop shoes when I injured my calf in the summer but do miss them. I prefer my Brooks, but like how Newtons really reinforce that forefoot strike because of the lug design. I don’t know that I want to use them all of the time, but I really want to use them for my speed workouts. I prefer the Distance model because of the 2mm drop. Originally, I ordered the Distance Elites but they sent me the Distance S instead since they were out of stock. I’m stoked to have another pair to add to my collection, and even more excited that they were free!

Do you wear a fuel belt running? What does your nutrition and hydration look like when you are running long? Ever take notice to the effect it has on your run?

Goals on the Horizon: A Change of Focus

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2016_US_Marathon_Trials_Project_-_Logo_Jpeg

The point of this blog has been to document my quest to conquer my 50 state marathon goal and ramble about my other favorite past times (yoga, triathlons, cooking, etc). I post about which states I plan to visit each year and review races. I mostly do it because I don’t want to forget the incredible experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have. It’s purpose is also to update the family and friends that enjoy following me as I work towards this goal. Sometimes, I document training efforts and injuries so I can learn from my mistakes and help others who may find themselves sidelined with something I’ve encountered.

It’s no secret that I’m gunning for a sub-3 hour marathon one of these days, but I don’t dwell on it because I feel like eventually, it will come. For as much as it seems to rule my training lately, pace is ultimately a secondary goal for me. My primary running related goals are to be able to run healthy, train with my friends,  and to see new places. My pace goal is always to run a PR unless I’m legitimately using the race as a training run, like I did with Knoxville for Boston last March. I never really throw out my goals and paces regularly. I guess in the past, I felt like if I actually posted about it and didn’t achieve it, I’d be a failure. But a failure to who? The reality is that I do this for me. I enjoy the camaraderie of the sport, the friends I’ve made along the way, the order it brings to my life, and the time I get to spend outdoors.

I’m still planning on hitting up all 50 states for a marathon, but I’m going to take that goal a little more slowly in 2015. I made some big progress last year- running seven marathons in six new states (Boston was a repeat). From a pace standpoint, if you look at where I started when I ran my first marathon in 2008, the amount of time I’ve cut is huge. I did run a 3:06 in June, but in 2008, my PR was a 4:52 – that’s one hour and 46 minutes slower. To break three hours, I need to cut more than six minutes off of my time, and I can do it. It will take a lot of work, but that’s something I am willing to do.

I’m bringing this up because my ultimate goal is not to break three hours, but to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Okay. I said it out loud. Go ahead, you can laugh at me – because I laugh at myself when I actually hear what that sounds like. The reality of me actually getting to the 2016 trials is slim, but not because I don’t believe I can do it. The window of time that I have left to qualify is closing quickly.  I need to run a lot faster than a three hour marathon, and I need to do it by January 2016. I have until 30 days before the trials to run my qualifying time, and I need to run a 2:43 to meet the “B” standard. To put it simply, I need to cut off an entire minute per mile from my current marathon time. It’s faster than my current 5K pace and a hell of a lot to ask of myself.

I’m extremely stubborn, persistent and self-motivated. And I’m certainly not a quitter. I didn’t start running until my late 20s, but that just means my legs are fresher than anyone who has 20+ years in the sport. It also means I still have a LOT to learn about racing and training. I didn’t even know much about putting in the work until the last few years, and with just a little effort got to where I am now. I believe I can do this. And if I can’t, and I end up running a 2:50 marathon or something, would I be that disappointed? Helllllllll no!

The whole thing became more of a reality for me after I met and began working with my coach back in August. He asked me what my goals were, and I said I wanted to break three hours in the marathon. He questioned what I would want to do after I break three hours, and I joked, “Oh, I don’t know. Qualify for the Olympic Trials?” I’ve qualified for the other big races. I don’t say that to be snotty, it’s the truth. Boston. New York. Chicago. Check, check, check (though I’ve qualified for NY but haven’t actually run it). I used to be a Boston sqeaker. Then I wasn’t. I might as well try while I can. I don’t have kids, and my husband is extremely supportive. As a teacher, my hours are ideal for training purposes.  I’m also fortunate to have some of the most amazing and supportive friends. People of all different paces to run with, push me, and motivate me.

The reason I even had this idea in my mind was actually thanks to a friend of mine, Bill. He’s a friend that I met through my friend, Bart Yasso (he’s lives a few miles from me!) at the Marshall Marathon and “introduced” me to Ariana Hillbourn’s story. It’s scary similar to mine. She also began running in 2007, in her late 20s and was never spectacular at sports. Like me, she also ran her first marathon in 2008 – and she ran in 4:36. Over time, she had the same goals and milestones I’ve had – qualify for Boston, run sub 3, and now the trials. She just ran a 2:35 at the Twin Cities Marathon – her SECOND trials qualifier, and now qualified under the “A” standard (a 2:37).Coincidentally enough, she was a teacher before all of this began.

So over the next year, I have a rough idea of where I am headed. I’m only going to run courses that are certified and sanctioned by the USAT&F. My coach has put in some serious time planning out the method to this madness. It’s looking like my season will start with a tune up race in February, and run through June. Then, I can do a short recovery and start again for fall – kind of like a split season. So far, these are the races on my schedule:

  • February 15, 2015 – The Lost Dutchman Marathon (Apache Junction, AZ): My goal will be to use this as a benchmark test. I would love to break three here. The reality is that I may not even run a PR. I am only up to a 14 mile long run right now, so this will really be more of a training effort. I may use this race as a chance to try to run sub-7s for an entire marathon. My current PR marathon pace is 7:08. I emailed the race director to ask if the race had USAT&F sanctioning and could be used as a trials qualifier, and he gave me a free entry coupon! As a bonus, I haven’t hit up AZ for a marathon yet, so it will be State #27! Winning.
  • March 22, 2015 – Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon – tune up race for Boston
  • April 20, 2015 – The Boston Marathon – This will be my 5th consecutive Boston. If I could pick one place to break three hours, it would be here. This race has been an integral piece of my running experience. I wrote about how this race has been my source of motivation to overcome obstacles right before the 2013 race. You can read all about that here.
  • June 20, 2015Grandmas Marathon (Duluth, MN): if nothing else, it will be state #28 since I haven’t visited Minnesota for a marathon (or for anything) yet!

I don’t know anything past Grandma’s at this point. I’m eyeing up Indianapolis Monumental for fall, but that’s totally up in the air right now. I’m assuming my spring will be spent chipping away at that sub-3 goal. If I can make that a reality, then I can move onto part 2.

It’s a serious long shot. It’s going to require me to have a day where all of the stars are aligned and my training will have to be on point. But I’ll never know if I don’t try. So yes, this blog will still follow and document my 50 state quest. But over the next year, it’s going to follow my quest to reach my newest goal. I read an article the other day about a 44 year old woman who had a 3:08 PR that qualified for the trials. I’m the right age, I have the time to train, and the desire to go for it. I have a great support system – a husband, family, and friends that support my goal and a coach that might believe I can do it more than I actually believe I can do it. So…here it goes. The clock is ticking!

What’s the craziest goal you’ve ever set for yourself? Did you achieve it? 

Facing Fear and Four Minute Mile

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“If you do face that fear, it’ll change your life.”

I ran a 4 minute mile.

Haaaaa. TOTALLY kidding. But seriously, I watched a movie on Netflix called “Four Minute Mile”…close enough, right? I also did a speedy workout yesterday afternoon before watching the movie, so it was all very fitting. The movie is worth mentioning. I’ll get to that.

On Tuesday, I spent my day (besides working, of course!) fueling and mentally preparing for my track workout. It wasn’t the workout I’d expected since I wound up on the treadmill, but it ended up being a good one anyway. It also wasn’t the only workout on my mind. As soon as my track workout was over, I had to start hydrating, fueling, and mentally preparing for Wednesday. The workout my coach planned was a six miler. No problem, right? Wrong. It was no easy peasy recovery run like I’m used to on the day following a hard workout. He wanted me to do a 1/2 mile “fast” (a 6:15 pace), followed by one mile “strong”, (a 6:45-7 minute pace) and repeat for the duration of the run. Um. When did he decide that 6:45 was my “strong” pace – like it would be some kind of a recovery or something? Last time I checked (which was just the day before), I had to work pretty freaking hard to run anything sub seven. I did the math in my head. He was basically asking me to run a 10K PR…the day after a decently tough track workout. The 6:45 intervals from the day before suddenly made sense. They were challenging, and they tired out my legs – but they were not meant to completely trash my legs. Not completely, because something had to be left for the leg buster he had planned for me the following day.

Every time I thought about running throughout the day, I had this knot in my stomach. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to run, but I was scared. What if I couldn’t even touch a sub-8 minute mile? How am I going to hit race paces on a day like today? What have I gotten myself into? My legs weren’t exactly sore, but they were heavy and tired. And I was actually kind of angry, too. It honestly sounded like a super fun challenge – on FRESH legs, which I didn’t have. Not to mention I was just plain scared because I’ve always followed the hard/easy rule. Everything about what my coach is doing with me right now is new, and it scares the crap out of me. We are increasing intensity at the beginning of the training cycle to increase my top end speed. The hope is that as we begin the heavy base building, my “easy” pace is faster than when we started. I think it’s working…I hope it’s working….

As the day wore on, I was pretty uneasy about the whole thing. I even texted him to ask if he was really, really, REALLY sure this workout was a good idea.  I mean, 6:15 is my 5K PR pace. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that on my watch when I’m not racing or on the track. Definitely not on a regular, everyday run. Not to mention that 6:45-7 is certainly not a pace that I consider a picnic to recover from a 6:15-paced interval. I typically walk/jog my recoveries when I’m hitting paces like that. In the back of my mind, I knew he had me scheduled for a swim on Thursday, and an easy 6 mile run on Friday. I was already thinking, “Maybe I’ll just do the easy run today, the hard run tomorrow, and the swim on Friday” as I drove to the trail. Problem is, he also prefers me to do the workouts in the exact order he gives them to me. Life happens, and adjustments sometimes have to be made – but there was no reason other than my head telling me “I can’t” to not try the workout.

I chose a local trail near the school where I teach as my playground for the day. I find that if I need to run fast, it usually comes a little easier on this trail…and I was going to need all of the help I could get. It’s a cinder path, and the flattest place I know of other than a track. Since I was beginning to accept the fact that I actually was going to have to attempt this, I started thinking of ways I could make it seem easier. It was basically four, 1 1/2 mile intervals. I just had to make it through that 1/2 mile and then I could “recover”. I refused to let myself think about the pace at which I was supposed to hold for the recovery – I just kept telling myself to make it through a half mile and it would get “easier”. Mind over matter. If I told myself a 6:45-7 minute mile would be “easy”, maybe I could trick myself into getting through this workout relatively unscathed.

I didn’t warm up much, just a quick walk around the little park to get my legs moving. I should have done a 5-10 minute jog, because my first half mile was rough and I didn’t hit that 6:15 pace…instead, it was a 6:28. I started to feel defeated and thought about just letting myself do the easy six miler instead. But then something happened. My “recovery” mile was a 6:42 and it didn’t feel awful. I mean, it wasn’t like “wow, this is the most comfortable thing ever“, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. It was enough to transform my “fail” mentality to “ohhh, it’s ON!” I was able to negative split the remaining 1/2 mile intervals with 6:15, 6:13, 6:11 pace, with the “recoveries” all in the 6:45 range.

During the last mile and a half interval I could see an orange shirt running up ahead. Our school colors are orange and black and the person was moving pretty quickly, so I knew it had to be one of the boys from the cross country team. It kept me hanging on for the last mile as I tried to catch whoever it was. Ended up being a speedy kid that I had in class last year. He had to be cruising at a 6-6:15 pace…and it’s their off season. So impressive!

I feel like this was a key workout and a turning point for me. It broke through a lot of mental barriers, which is something I’ve been struggling with lately. After the run, I spoke to my coach. I mentioned how I was scared because I thought the 1/2 miles seemed doable, but I thought the “strong” pace following it made it seem like an impossible feat. He questioned why I thought that. For me, anytime I see a pace that starts with a “6” on my watch, I think it’s just a fluke. Like I could do it once, but fat chance I could repeat that performance. Especially in a training run. He started to talk to me about having confidence that I am actually there – that these ARE my paces now. I needed to hear that, and I needed that confidence booster. I’m still working on getting myself to believe that, but it was nice to hear.

I also asked what the intention was of this run – was it to see how hard I could push on tired legs? I explained that it made me uncomfortable to do two hard days in a row. He told me he knew that when he wrote the plan, and part of what he is doing right now is intentionally trying to make me uncomfortable. Like I’ve said before, distance running is all about embracing certain levels of discomfort. It’s about being okay with the unknown…you know, and all of that good positive motivating stuff. At any rate, I felt pretty excited with my run and he was excited for me.

4minmileThe best part was that I went home, did my MYRTLs, stretched, cooked dinner and finally hit the couch to wind down. I was checking out Netflix, and a movie called Four Minute Mile caught my eye. It’s decent. Not too much of a climax, but a inspirational movie about running so it’s worth checking out if you are in the mood for something mindless. It’s about a naturally fast high school track runner with a bad temper. He decides he wants to run a sub-4 minute mile, so he starts working with a retired coach. The movie highlights his struggles, but also has some truly motivating moments and quotes. The theme was mostly about overcoming mental barriers through running. It was just a strange coincidence that I stumbled upon it last night, because I was fighting quite the mental battle all day. I didn’t think I could physically do what I set out to do. As long as I was telling myself that, I really couldn’t do it. I could not hit my first 1/2 mile interval. As soon as I told myself I could, I did it. I realize not all workouts and races will have that same happy ending, but it was just funny how that theme was so present in my day yesterday. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Have you ever started a workout that you just didn’t think you could complete? What was the result? What mental barriers do you face when running? How do you overcome them? 

Track vs. Treadmill

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For as much as I looooove running, I reeeeaaaally don’t love the treadmill. What I love most about running is being outdoors, running on hills, and exploring. I hop on a treadmill maybe five times per year, and it’s usually due to two situations: we’ve had some sort of precipitation that turned the roads into ice skating rinks (I love to run in snow, but not ice) or I need to fit in a track workout before work because I’m busy with something after work. I am a high school teacher and have to be at work by 7 a.m., so the likelihood of me getting up early enough to get to the closest track (I don’t even know if it would be open at that time of morning), doing a track workout and coming back home to shower before leaving for work is just not possible. And it MOST definitely wouldn’t leave enough time for my absolutely necessary stop at Starbucks.

Yesterday, I ended up on a treadmill and it was due to neither of the above circumstances. The last time I stepped foot on a treadmill was sometime in March. I had a track workout to do and I packed up my running clothes to go to the track after work. As the day went on, it started to rain. I had a not-so-fun rainy hill workout last Tuesday and just wasn’t in the mood for that again. The day before all of this, my poor husband came down with a fever and horrible cold, so I was concerned about running in the cold, chilly rain and getting sick before the holidays. I know, I know, weak. I was cranky about the workout (I’m starting to see a trend: cold, rainy, dreary December days + hard workouts = FML) and the weather. The day before was sunny and mid-40s, but I went swimming to loosen up my legs from two tough weekend runs. That would be my luck.

So I went to the gym and begrudgingly got on the treadmill. I had to do a pyramid workout: 15 minute warm up, and then 1000 meters, 2000 meters, 3000 meters, 2000 meters, 1000 meters at 6:45 pace, with four minutes of recovery between each interval. The whole thing was followed by a 15 minute cool down. When I first read the workout, I thought the 6:45 pace seemed a little easy for those distances. Not that a 6:45 pace is easy by any means – but I just held a 6:27 for the Christmas City 5 Miler. Then again, the race WAS on Saturday, followed by a hard long run. I had one day of swimming to recover, and then it was right back into the intensity with this track workout. Maybe that was my coach’s logic in suggesting that pace. I confirmed I read the workout correctly and that he wanted me to hold that pace, but still have to ask his rationale. He has a pretty good reason for everything, and I am trying to learn everything I can at this point.

I did the warm up as a progression to get my turnover moving before the intervals, beginning around an 8:30 pace and progressing to about a 7:30 by the time I hit the 15 minute mark. For my first interval, I set the treadmill to a 9.0 – a 6:39 pace. I figured I would crank it up a little faster than my coach asked me to for the workout since I think the treadmill is easier (note: I have plenty of friends who train SOLELY on a treadmill and are way fast. I just mean that the treadmill is an easier workout for me, personally. I am in no way saying that if you train on a treadmill, it’s easy!). During the first interval, I cranked it up halfway through to a 9.2 (6:31 pace). The rest of the workout went the same way, starting each interval at a 9.0 and progressed throughout the duration of each interval. I was relatively conservative with the first two, but once I hit the 3000 meter interval I was almost over the hurdle of the halfway point and the most difficult distance. I really started to let it rip and would end the intervals closer to my 5K pace. By my last interval, I had the treadmill cranked to 10.0, which was a 6 minute mile.

While I still much prefer running outdoors, completing this workout on the treadmill had a lot of benefits. It brightened my attitude because I didn’t have to fight the elements. I know a lot of being successful in distance running deals with overcoming mental battles, but I just didn’t have it in me yesterday and wanted to have a good workout. Maybe that’s weak, but its also a week until Christmas and I want to try to stay healthy! The treadmill also made me negative split my workout, with every single interval run faster than the one before. I did that on the track two weeks ago with my 400s, but I almost always positive split my speed workouts and races. It forced me to be conservative early on because I could literally “set” the pace. The whole workout ended up being 10.1 miles, so it was really important to start easier so I could finish stronger.

By default, the treadmill also forced me to do exactly what I’ve been trying so hard to do in my recent workouts: shorten my stride to take short, quick steps to increase my cadence. I’ve gotten in a very bad habit of lengthening and hyper extending my stride to try to get faster, and it’s putting a lot of strain on my glutes/piraformis. Particularly the right side, which has been pretty angry with me lately. By shortening my stride, it puts less strain on the area and increases my running efficiency. But most of all? Oddly enough, something about running on the treadmill just made me relax. I feel like I’ve been so wrapped up in numbers and paces lately that it’s been hard for me to just relax and enjoy the workout. For as much as I say I dislike the treadmill, it gave me a sense of peace and helped enjoy my run. Oh yeah, and I got to wear a tank top and shorts to run in December. Bonus!

Do you use a treadmill regularly? Which do you prefer – outdoor running or treadmill running? Any tips/drills on shortening your stride? 

Christmas City 5 Miler and a Week in Review

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Saturday morning was the annual Christmas City 5 Miler! Living near the Christmas City, I can’t think of a more beautiful town to run a race in during the holiday season. It’s a great local race that I try to get to every year. Most of my friends run it so it’s not only about the fun course but about spending time with good friends. I missed a few over the past few years because of late season marathons, but this year I was in town and decided to sign up. I ran a PR in that distance over the summer at the Belmar 5 Mile (33:07), and that was a pancake flat course. The likelihood of me breaking that PR wasn’t too good because the Christmas City 5 Miler is a pretty hilly course, and I am still building up my mileage from the off season. I had some good short distance races recently, but still didn’t think it would be enough for a PR on that course.

I warmed up before the race with a few friends on the streets of Bethlehem. While my legs felt decent, I felt a little winded at what should be an extremely comfortable pace. Maybe it was just nerves, but I had no idea what to expect from the actual race itself. When the gun went off, I went out with the leaders and knew I’d gone out wayyy too fast when my Garmin beeped at mile one and flashed a 6:10 pace. Five seconds faster than my current 5K PR pace. Whoops…this could be a loooooong five miles. I hung on to a decent pace over the next two miles, but slowed down a little for the remaining two. Partially because I’d gone out too fast (big shocker there), but also because it’s a hillier second half of the course. I’m sure it is common to run a positive split no matter how conservative you start. Around mile 3, I also had a bit of a side sticker and backed off. Though my piraformis is still feeling a bit sore and tight , it did not act up during the race – I was just aware and cautious, especially on the hills.

I ended up finishing the race in 32:16, a 6:27 pace and a PR by 51 seconds! I was something like the 7th female but 1st in my age group. The best part of the day was the company – lots of my friends were present and participating, and everyone ran well and seemed to really be enjoying themselves. Cassie (pictured on the left, who was the first female overall in 30:14 or something) even got me to wear something festive, which is completely unlike me:

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And yes, the socks actually stayed up during the race!

Overall, it was a productive week. I had two super fun swim workouts, both around 3,000 meters. Fun distances and fun paces that kept me interested and feeling strong. I’ve really been enjoying getting in the pool and using swimming as a cross training tool. I spent some time in the gym continuing my strength training and core work. Besides the Christmas City 5 Mile race and my nasty hill workout, I logged some low intensity recovery miles throughout the week and nice long run on Sunday. It was 12 miles at a pretty good clip (7:24 pace), which was exciting because we all raced on Saturday and had somewhat tired legs. The rest of the group ran a little further than 12, but I stuck to what my coach gave me. Although I felt like I could run longer, I am just starting to increase my mileage again, raced on Saturday, and want to keep an eye on my piraformis. I still only logged about 37 miles this week, which is relatively low for marathon training but I’m still happily easing my way back into it.

How was your weekend? Have you ever dressed up for a race? Any holiday themed races on your upcoming agendas?