Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to become an early morning runner in one easy step

1) Start going to bed early!

That is the only secret.


People often tell me that I'm "disciplined" to start nearly all of my runs at 5:XX a.m., but I'm really not.  I love running and I go to bed by 9:30 p.m., earlier when I can swing it.  That's all it takes!

You're welcome for the lengthy and ground-breaking post.

But, seriously, if you want to get up earlier - and actually want to want to run when your early alarm goes off - you need to start going to bed earlier.  I used to think I wasn't a "morning person", but it was because I wasn't going to bed early enough to be one.  You can make adjusting your sleep/wake times an easier gradual process by pushing back the time you go to bed and in turn the time you get up by just 10-15 minutes a day (or even every 2-3 days) until you get to your desired times.  Then you need to keep doing it consistently, and it really will become easy after a few months.  Don't get up at 4:30 a.m. some days and 7:00 a.m. other days!  You need to get up at the same time every week day, and on weekends don't sleep more than an hour later.  Your body will thank you and will also get used to the time you wake up.  Mine wants to be up at 5:00 a.m. even if I don't set an alarm --- and you bet it also wants to be in bed at 9:00 p.m.!

You also need to schedule your bedtime and make it a priority.  There are always going to be things to do around the house, but triage them; take care of the urgent early, and leave anything non-urgent that isn't done by your bedtime until the following day.  Your body and your training schedule will thank you!

Other things that can help, but that aren't as important as step 1 are:
  • Prepare prepare prepare on weekends.  On Sundays I lay out my work outfits for the week and Albani's school clothes for the week.  I meal prep so my weekday breakfasts and lunches are taken care of.  I also try to do whatever else I can do that is time-sucking if left until weekdays (e.g., laundry, cleaning, groceries, list-making, paying bills, etc.), because as a full-time working mom, I am never going to have extra time for anything during the week.  I am an obsessively organized person who never watches television, and that sure helps.
  • Prepare your running gear the night before; especially in the winter when a lot more gear is required!
  • Keep the items you use on every morning run in the same place every day (e.g., Garmin, shoes, headlamp).  Getting these should be mindless!
  • Establish a routine.  Get up, go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water, brush your teeth, get dressed, etc. - do it all in the same order each day so it becomes auto-pilot.
  • Multi-task.  I do a standing glute-activating exercise each morning while brushing my teeth, sometimes while checking Facebook.
  • Set yourself up for success.  Don't try to transition to early morning running in the dead of winter when it's 10* and pitch dark.  Summer may be the best time to do it, as you will also be rewarded by the coolest temperatures of the day, plus it is light at 5:00 a.m.!  Also just use common sense; if you're an accountant, it's probably not a good idea to start during tax season; if you're a mom, it's not a good idea to start when you have a sick infant on your hands.
  • Stop thinking it's optional.  If your alarm goes off and you hem and haw about running or not, you have a chance not to.  Just get up and do it.  Even if your run is sub-par, you got it in (and 80% of success in running is just showing up day after day!).  I have a specific training schedule, and missing one day or pushing my run to later in the day would screw up the whole week, so I never consider skipping it.  You may be sleepy when you start, but you'll feel much better after a mile!
  • Meet training partners.  If someone else is depending on you at 5:00 a.m., it's really not optional!  I know I will get out the door regardless, but on mornings I'm meeting friends I usually get ready faster.
Note:  I am not of the opinion that early morning running is a must for every runner; in fact, I think you should run whenever you're most likely to get it in day after day, and based on what works with your non-running life.  For me, the optimal time is absolutely early morning!

Any other tips from early morning runners?

Sometimes, races start before sun-up too!
Pre-dawn excitement is real when you consistently go to bed early!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Every day brings new choices, & today I chose my fall marathon!

I love having a marathon on the horizon, and I didn't realize quite how much I thrive on it until after BMO Mesa-Phoenix!  During my past three marathon recovery phases, I've had subsequent marathons planned that I shifted my focus to --- basically thinking about recovering to then begin another marathon training block.  I didn't want to plan my next move marathon-wise until after Phoenix, since my performance at Phoenix was going to heavily influence the decision, and I found myself almost panicking about not knowing what I was recovering to work towards, even though I had several shorter spring races planned.  What can I say, marathoning is addicting, and meeting goals begets setting bigger ones.

On a high from my Phoenix PR, I started passionately researching marathons – knowing that the soonest I would run one would be in October, due to the Trials qualifying window not opening until then, due to fall being more conducive to marathoning than summer, and due to Phoenix being my third marathon within 20 weeks (i.e., attempting to be intelligent about not doing another too soon).  Although I was in a hurry to pick a race to work towards, I also wanted to pick the "right" one to give myself the best chance in going for a 260 second PR.  So I looked, a lot and analyzed a lot!

Just like I couldn’t quite get 2:49 out of my head prior to Phoenix, there was one marathon I kept coming back to:  the California International Marathon.  The more I looked at other races, the more everything confirmed that CIM was the one I should target.  The race produces the most OTQs out of any marathon in the U.S., and organizers cater to that by providing a 2:45:00 pacer and performance bonuses to any athletes netting the A and B standards, regardless of place.  The course is point-to-point with a net downhill and minimal turns, at sea level, and purported to be as fast as Phoenix.  Historically, the weather has usually been near perfect.  The race boasts a very competitive field, and add to that, in 2017 it is the site of the USATF Marathon Championships, meaning that as a sub-elite I would get to line up just behind many of the fastest marathoners in the country!

There were only two reasons not to run CIM.  The first is the logistics of the trip; it’s across the country and occurs during the school year.  I considered Chicago because it would be an easier trip and they have an awesome-sounding American elite development program, but I decided it’s worth a costlier trip to give myself a better chance, plus the weather seems to be more of a gamble at Chicago.  The other con is the race date, as December 3 seems so much farther away than October, and I will also not be able to race the White River half like I wanted on November 18, since two weeks before CIM would be too close for an all-out half effort.  I’ve reconciled the former with knowing I will have more time to train between now and then, and I also know that better weather is worth the wait (every runner knows that bad weather can break any PR attempt!).  I’ve reconciled the latter with knowing I could run White River at marathon goal pace as (hopefully) a nice final confidence-boosting workout, which would be 6 seconds faster than the finishing time I ran there in 2016 anyhow (White River 2016 is also when my whole OTQ obsession began, so this seems fitting)!

I’m really excited about this solid plan, and salivating for workouts and mileage!  I’m trying to focus on patience as well, which is impossible a little harder.  I’m also vacillating between gunning for a 2:44:59 and wondering if I'll ever be able to run what I did in Phoenix again!  I told my coach that I want everything I do to be focused on building for a 2:45 and that everything else is secondary…although I sure hope I can net a 1:19 half in the process – to break that barrier, and because one really shouldn’t try for a 2:45 full without running a sub-1:20 half!

I feel confident that I’ve made the best decision, so I’m not questioning it.  The question is, however, how am I going to wait over 8 months??!

Clarification:  the OTQ standards have not been officially announced or posted for 2020, but the women's B standard is rumored to be 2:45:00 based on IAAF standards/the debacle with relaxing the standard at the last minute before the 2016 trials.  Currently, CIM has the 2:45:00 pace group planned to line up with this.  I am certainly hoping the standard is not any faster...if it is, stay tuned for an addendum post with a title like, "Why I'm giving up..." (insert grimacing emoticon here).

Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day after day

Week of March 20 through March 26, 2017

Mileage: 60.1, with a track workout, a double, a fast finish run, a long run with a little marathon goal pace running (while also pacing a friend), and two bootcamps.

Spring pictures came back this week too!
 Monday - Strength bootcamp (45 min.) with an elliptical warm-up (45 min.).

Tuesday - 12.1 miles total with Track Tuesday and Runch!  8.5 miles total a.m.; 2 warm-up, 2 x 3200 m. (5:50/5:54, 5:56/6:03) with 800 m. recovery, 2 cool-down.  My goal for the 3200's was to run steady 1:29 laps for 5:56 pace.  I ended up with a 5:56 average, The Hard Way (e.g., uneven pacing and a positive split!).  I couldn't be unhappy with the workout, but I also would have been much happier had my splits been in the reverse order!  I also suspect that I would have run a faster average had I started more conservatively.  It's amazing what a difference just 5-10 seconds per mile makes!

I was ambitious and asked Daniel to run this one with me; he and I are pretty evenly matched on half marathon pace, but he has way more speed than me (i.e., he would annihilate me in a 5K).  He took us out fast, and our 2:53 first 800 m. came back to bite me in the last mile for sure!  The way we ran it made for a harder workout, and also for a disappointing final mile for me (he hammered his last lap in 1:20, making his final mile 8-9 seconds better than mine, but I was done!).  It was a good reminder that when I race on the track, I need to run my own race and not get sucked into going out fast or pacing with others.  I am usually good at doing this, but I'm not used to running at 10K pace so couldn't lock into it the same way I can half or full marathon pace.  There was another group on the track running speed work too, so I also got to practice passing, which was good for me because I imagine there will be a lot of shuffling going on in the 25 laps that are a 10,000 m.  I will find out what pace I can maintain for 10,000 m on the track on March 31!  I'll tell you what I'm certainly not running that day, and that's a 2:53 first 800 m!

Then my second run was 3.6 miles (7:34); I was worried my legs would be toast on this since my cool-down after the track workout was quite a slog.  I almost waited until after work to run it to give myself some more recovery time, but I feel that it's better for my family for me to do my second runs at lunch when possible (and with them being 30 minutes or less and planned well in advance, it usually is possible), and after a sluggish first mile I was fine.

Wednesday - 10 miles base pace (7:18) with Missy and Zach.  Girls' group was crashed by Zach and Jeff (who ran a different pace with Amy R.) for this one!  It was stupid windy, and we were running 7:30+ pace going out into it, then when we turned around we were running around 7:05 pace at the same effort, hah.  I also did some core work, mostly planks.

Thursday - 7.5 miles (6:57), with 2 fast finish miles intentionally, and what ended up being a pretty 7 mile progression run unintentionally (7:34, 7:25, 7:17, 6:59, 6:50, 6:16, 6:11), with Missy.  The planned workout was 5 base pace with a 2 mile fast finish at 6:20-6:30 (which my mind automatically revised to 6:17).  It was stupid windy again, and we ran 3.75 miles straight into the wind, then immediately upon turning around we were running much faster!  So technically my fast finish miles were wind-aided, but they felt great.  I'm going to be obsessed with locking into 6:17 pace for the foreseeable future.

Friday - Bootcamp (60 min.) followed by a 4 mile shake out (7:05)...usually I run before bootcamp, but when I have a chance to run after I feel much more warmed up and surprisingly not bothered by the jumping squats and lunges.  No complaints, just surprised!

Saturday - 19.4 miles...when a 15 mile day turns into a nearly 20 mile day...oops!  I paced Amy R. in the Highline Half, as her goal pace matched my long run pace nicely.  I was planning to run a mile before the race, pace her during the race, and then continue on for another mile.  I had 10 miles steady, then 1:00 pick-ups to 6:17 pace at the beginning of each mile during the final 5 miles, so I figured I'd do the pick-ups and then double back to get back with her for that part of the run.

It was storming the morning of the race, and the race organizers ended up delaying the start by 30 minutes.  Before I'd known that information, I'd run a mile and gotten drenched, and Amy had run 3 so was even more drenched.  Amy had 23 miles total for the day (her longest long run before Boston!), so we decided we would go run another 3 while waiting for the start and to see if we could get more drenched.  So pre-race I ended up with 4.3 miles at 7:20 pace.  Then I ran with her for 13.1 miles at 7:05 pace (my 5 x 1:00 pick-ups ranged from 6:09-6:20), and to help her out further I ran 2 of her 4 cool-down miles with her at around 8:30 pace.  I didn't realize until I uploaded the runs that I'd done 19.4 miles...if I had, I'd have run the extra 0.6 to get to 20, because, you know.  Fortunately, it was about 55 degrees, so we weren't cold, but it did rain quite a bit during the early miles of the race as well.  Amy rocked her race and finished in first overall female, with her final mile being her fastest!  I admired her a lot for making an all-out half marathon race into a 23 mile day, as I am not sure I could handle that!

We were cooling down here, but you can kind of see how soaked we are!
Sunday - 7 miles recovery (7:35).  I didn't have pep in my step on this one...possibly what happens when a scheduled 54 mile week becomes a 60 mile week, but we also had another very busy/tiring family weekend!

Moving on to next week, which is lower mileage with no true long run (boo), but with a 10,000 m race on the track (yay!) on March 31.  This will be followed by a half marathon on April 8!

Saturday wedding fun, Albani and her cousin Samantha

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Race Equivalents Part Deux

Before my recent marathon, I wrote this post about race time predictors, with plans to revisit the topic post-marathon.  So here we are!  My tried and true calculator gave me the equivalent of a 2:50:10 marathon from my 1:21:26 half.  If you've read any of my 200 posts about the marathon (or pretty much anything I've written since then, bahaha!), you know I finished in 2:49:20.  When I put the 2:49:20 in, it gives me a 1:21:05 half time.  So I'd say this is a pretty solid calculator for my half to full and full to half times, also considering I had nice weather conditions and good courses for both of those races.

And, again, the equivalents that my marathon produces for the 5K and everything shorter are laughable (as in, no way in heck can I run those!).  However, this shows me that, relatively, my marathon PR is currently my strongest PR of all -- which is exactly how I want it.

Another method I used in the past for half to full estimation was to double my half time and add 10 minutes (e.g., a half time of 1:25 would predict a 3:00 marathon, via the calculation of 1:25 + 1:25 + 0:10).  I still think this is a decent estimate if you're running around a 3:00-3:10 marathon; if you're running faster you'd add less than 10 minutes, or add more time if you're running slower, as proportionally pace jumps are different (e.g., going from 6:30 to 7:00 pace is not the same percentage-wise as going from 9:30 to 10:00 pace).

I also recently noticed I had this predictor bookmarked, and that I may like it even better than my favorite calculator for shorter race distances, because it allows age-graded estimates.  The performances in shorter distances that it produces based on my half and full marathon times seem much more reasonable for me in my advanced age, haha!

A "Race Equivalents Part III" will be coming after I race a 10K on March 31!  I've beat my 10K PR so many times unofficially (in 4 longer races and in every tempo run over 10K I've done for months) that I almost want to not race one and instead try to beat it during the final 10K of a marathon - wouldn't that be great!?

What is your favorite race equivalent calculator and why?  Or do you think they are all ridiculous?!

Equivalents to my marathon PR

Monday, March 20, 2017

Back in the Saddle Again (Yay!)

Week of March 13-19, 2017

Mileage: 54.2 (yay, back in the 50s!), with a fartlek (yay, back to workouts!), a double (yay, back to 2-a-days!), a set of strides, a fast finish long run (yay, back to long runs!), a bootcamp, and a solo strength workout (yay, back to strength!) - inching back towards my pre-marathon schedule!  I am not sure if you noticed, but my overall feeling about this is yay!

Motivation for the week part 1:  The BMO Phoenix-Mesa Marathon dropped this video on my Facebook on Thursday!  I completely forgot that they were doing videos in addition to professional pictures, and although I dislike nearly all photos and videos ever taken of me running (actually, ever taken of me, period), I loved seeing the finishing clock, and my smile at the end wasn't the worst either.  I also got some dying finishing photos from the Big 12 12K, a few of which I added to this post.

Motivation part 2 -- but is there another 12K, on a different course, before I turn 37?!
Monday - Bootcamp (45 min.) with an elliptical warm-up (35 min.).  I didn't go to bootcamp for 3 weeks (1 taper week, 2 recovery weeks), but I still remembered how to do everything and was thankful this was was a lighter leg day.  I did some strength work last week, which I am sure helped, but this workout was the first time I did squats and lunges since February 17!

Tuesday - 9.1 miles, with 2 warm-up, a fartlek workout of 2 x 4', 3', 2', 1' with recoveries equal to the next push (5.59 miles total covered at 6:27 average), 1.51 cool-down.  Winter was back with vengeance for this one, with a blustery wind, 'feels like' 20*, and pitch darkness (thanks a lot, Daylight Savings Time!).  I decided to embrace all of this, although I blame running against the wind for my one push that was not quite sub-6:00 (thanks a lot, 6:01 pace!).  My legs weren't fresh for this one (thanks a lot hilly 12K!), but I didn't feel bad either.  Any day I get to go out there and run hard is a wonderful blessing!   
Embrace the conditions you're given!
Wednesday - 12.3 miles total, with 9 miles base pace (7:08) in the morning with Missy, and a 3.3 mile shake out (7:32) at lunch.  I told my coach I wanted to go all in for an OTQ marathon in the fall, and my base pace range is now 7:10-8:00 -- down from 7:30-8:30, although it's been inching down unofficially for awhile.  This change is based on my recent race times and my marathon goal, and my marathon goal pace running is also now 6:17, oy!  I've been doing my base runs around 7:15 recently, but something about it being "official" makes it intimidating.  Missy and I both felt relaxed and like we were running much slower than we were, which we credited to there being no wind for once.  My second run was a nice return to RUNCH!

Thursday - 7 miles base pace with 6 x strides in the last mile (7:05) with Missy, Danielle, and Amy R.  Missy and Danielle did a fartlek workout, and were ahead of me once they started it, so my pace ended up being a little quick on a few miles (6:5X) due to running behind them...something about having people in front of me makes me want to chase!  I did a 45 minute strength workout on Thursday evening in lieu of my usual Friday morning strength bootcamp, because I had time to kill in town between work and an OMRR board meeting; this worked out nicely because after getting to bed later than usual on Thursday night, I slept later than usual on Friday morning.

Friday - 3.5 mile shake out (7:30) and drills.  Happy St. Pats!  I was a tad sore from Thursday's strength work.

Saturday -15 mile long run (7:03) that was 10 steady, 4 progressive fast finish (7:01, 6:47, 6:31, 6:07), 1 cool-down.  The weather was beautiful and I ran with Amy P. for the first 11 (she had a steady run scheduled while I had the fast finish miles, but the first fast finish mile wasn't much of a drop so she stuck with me for it).  It was wonderful to be back to long runs, which are my favorite!  On the final mile I was aiming for 6:17, so was quite happy with the 6:07, especially since the final 0.3 was up incline into my neighborhood (the bane of every fast finish run I finish at my mailbox).  6:07 felt like work but not like death, so that was also nice!  I was pretty sore from Thursday's strength workout on this run, but it never seems to bother my running.  We then spent a family day in Branson!

Sunday - 7.1 miles base pace (7:21) with Missy, followed by 9 hours at Silver Dollar City - the latter was 100 times more tiring than the former!  I was also still sore from strength work...clearly I lost some of my capacity for lunges and one-legged squats in those 3 weeks I didn't do leg strength!

9 hours at SDC is more tiring than a marathon, or at least I trained better for the latter
I think I can consider myself pretty much fully recovered from my marathon now (3 weeks later) -- in case you missed it, yay!

Did anyone run any fun St. Pat's races this week or last weekend?  I want to run one sometime in order to wear these socks!  I wore them to work instead; but who am I kidding, I wear them year-round!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Is recovery more important than training?

What better time to ponder this question than during a recovery phase?!

The recovery aspect of training is something I ignored for years!  Ignorance is bliss, right?!  I tried things that running articles said would help my recovery here and there, but it wasn’t a priority to me.  I always prioritized hard workouts over everything else, figuring that the results would come that way.  However, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned recently is that sometimes less is more, and that rebuilding between hard efforts is uber-important.  If you’re always tearing your body down but never allowing it to build back up, the results won’t come.  The goal of training is to obtain the maximum adaptation with the minimal stress you can use.  I didn't get this until the past year or so, although it seems like it should be obvious.  Now I notice that many talented athletes don't understand it or practice it, and I relate to that 100%, but now I want to help them all stop over-training!

I’ve done a lot of reading on what works and doesn’t work in regards to recovering, and combined with my personal experimentation, here is what I’ve found:

Not running too many hard workouts.  I'm starting with this one, because I think it's the easiest one to violate in the name of goal-chasing.  No matter what else you do from the list below, if you run too hard too often, you're going to be over-trained and not recovering or seeing the best training gains.  Over-training is relative; one person's ideal training schedule is over-training for someone else.  BUT, no one should be running hard workouts every day!  There's a reason professional runners run 80-90% of their mileage easy.  I currently run two hard days a week most weeks, including either a speed workout, tempo run, hill workout, or a combination workout (i.e., hill repeats followed by a tempo or a tempo + fartlek + tempo) and a long run.  I'll have another day with a bit of faster running such as 6 x 20 sec. strides or a fast finish mile, and the rest is easy running.  I never would have believed anyone who told me 2 years ago that I would run a 2:49 marathon/1:21 half on this type of schedule.  I used to religiously run 3 hard workouts a week - typically a speed day, a tempo run, and a long run, and the fastest I ran on that type of schedule was a 3:03 marathon/1:27 half (with similar total mileage).  I occasionally have weeks with 3 hard days, but they are the exception rather than the rule; for example, if I race a 5K I might have a Tuesday workout, race on Saturday, and long run on Sunday.

Foam rolling.  If I could only do one thing to maximize recovery outside of the workout strategies above, it would be foam rolling, hands down.  It’s something that you need to do on a regular basis to see full benefits from, but I think you notice a difference even with just a few sessions - then if you keep it up, it helps more and more.  I currently use a more sturdy roller with a PVC pipe-like core (I think it's called a "sports roller" since it's not foam), and just 5 minutes on it each day makes a huge positive difference.  I try to stretch and roll right after running, but if I only have time to do one or the other it will be rolling.  If I’m hugely pressed for time and can’t roll after a run, I will do it later in the day.  I even keep a second foam roller in my office!  In general, you’ll find a great deal of research support for foam rolling, provided you’re doing it correctly.  It's best to start with a roller that is foam and work up to a more solid roller like I use.
The secret is in the roller
Stretching.  I think it’s pretty common knowledge now that you shouldn’t stretch muscles that aren’t warmed up before running.  I stretch after the majority of my runs, using a fairly quick routine that includes stretches given to me by various professionals (physical therapist, ART therapist, trainer) over the year to address my specific areas of inflexibility.  I think it helps keep me from getting imbalanced, as we know that only running can lead to imbalances, and it feels good.  When I get back from my morning runs, I usually stretch for 5 or so minutes in Albani’s bedroom while she takes her time waking up, and she asks for that routine so who am I to stop?  I usually stretch then roll, and it is 10-15 minutes well-spent! 

Compression.  I am a huge fan of compression socks.  Most of what I’ve read has noted that they are beneficial for recovery, and they may or may not be helpful when worn while running.  I like them for both, and believe they help me for both – even if the latter is a placebo effect, I’ll take it!  But this is about recovery, and I nearly always wear them at least for a few hours following hard and long efforts (the exception to this is during hot weather).  I put them under tights and boots with dresses for work all of the time!  I think they’re great when traveling anytime, especially before and after racing.  Plus they're adorable!

I own this exact pair
Eating.  Getting some nutrition in following runs and workouts is something that everyone will agree is helpful.  You can find a lot of precise advice on the exact time window and the exact macro-nutrients that are best, but in general it seems the sooner the better, and a mix of carbs/proteins/fats is best.  This seems like good common sense to me.  Our muscles are primed to soak up those nutrients post-workout!  I always eat breakfast soon after my runs, and due to running early it’s really simple because this is just routine.  When I have second runs they are typically followed by lunch or dinner.  On the rare occasion more time than usual elapses between my run and refueling, I notice a hit to my recovery.  Of course, the quality and nutrient-density of foods also influence recovery, and the foods that are good for everything are also best for recovery too (fruits, veggies, eggs, whole grains, nuts, beans, etc.).  However, I think that something is pretty much always better than nothing - so even if you have to grab a pre-race treat filled with refined sugar because it's the only available option, it's better than waiting 3 hours to eat something (there's also a lot to be said for always keeping dried fruit and nuts in your car, though!).

Electrolytes.  This is one I just learned about within the past year or so, but I’ve really noticed a positive difference since I started including electrolytes instead of just plain water as part of my rehydration plan on a regular basis.  After hard efforts and anytime I sweat a lot, I’ll have nuun in my water post-run, which helps me bounce back faster.  This can also be helpful pre-run.  
nuun is amazing!
Sleeping.  Obviously, no one can argue with the benefits of this!  Getting more of it is an ever-present challenge for most of us, but it sure helps.  I almost always feel better on Saturday runs that I don’t set an alarm for.

Second runs/active recovery.  Short second runs are great for getting my blood flowing and loosening up.  When I first started running them in June 2016, I worried that they would hurt my next run on the following day, but soon learned they actually helped it!  The same purpose can be accomplished through a second cross-training workout (biking, swimming, elliptical, etc.), provided that it’s relatively short and easy.  Sometimes I’ll just do a few dynamic warm-up exercises (leg swings, high knees, butt kicks, high kicks, etc.) across my living room to loosen up in the afternoon after a hard morning run, and it really does help and takes 2 minutes.  I don’t run many doubles, but I can see why the pros do for recovery (and mileage) benefits!  Just make sure you keep any second workouts nice and easy, or you'll end up violating my first recommendation of not doing too many hard workouts.

Standing/walking.  This ties in with the active recovery thing, but I sure recover better when I’m up and moving around during the day after running then if I’m not.  I use a standing desk much of the time at work, and when I started it (to combat a hip issue I was having) I was afraid it would interfere with my recovery, but it actually helped it a lot!  I notice a negative difference if I’m sitting in meetings or at a conference all day, but on those days I try to wear compression socks to counteract that.

Mileage.  This sounds counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that increasing my mileage has helped me recover better.  I think my body is just more conditioned to run the miles so they don’t take as much out of me, and also this is probably confounded by the smart training my coach guides me through.  Our bodies become more efficient at what we regularly do for sure.

Ice baths.  I used to use these often 3-8 years ago, but currently I rarely do.  I learned that they will reduce inflammation and reduce recovery time, but in exchange for a reduction in training gains.  Apparently some inflammation is actually a good thing, as your body builds back up stronger from it.  So basically, they are good to use only when recovering quickly is more important than gains from the workout.  I used them twice during my 2016 training cycle for Prairie Fire/Bass Pro, when I had fast turnaround between tough workouts and races.  I did not use them at all during my recent build for Phoenix because there wasn't any time that fast recovery was more important than gains.  I’m running a half marathon on April 8 and a 10K on April 15, so following that half I will likely use one.  They do feel amazing after the initial shock of getting in!

Legs up the wall.  This is just what it sounds like; I lay down and put my legs straight up the wall (my body is bent at a 90 degree angle) for about 10 minutes.  Try it, you'll like it.
Bonus: legs up the wall while wearing compression socks, in a hotel room
What I haven’t tried:  massage, massage boots, electrical simulators, specific “recovery” nutrition products or vitamins -- and probably many more things I’m not thinking of here.  These things may be wonderful, I just haven’t experimented with them – in part because of the additional time commitment and in part because I’m just cheap!

In the end, I don’t know if I can say that recovery is more important than training, but it is certainly as important!  We need to do both to maximize our performance, and there is a happy medium in there somewhere of doing enough of both.  If you train too much and don’t recover enough, you’ll become over-trained; if you don’t train enough and rest too much (less common in Type A runners), you won’t reach your potential.

What helps you recover?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Big 12 12K: "Lord, be stronger than the weakness in my mind"

The short version:

Everything about this race was up in the air until I actually crossed the finish line - from whether or not the event would get canceled, to whether or not I was strong or dying, to whether or not I would take home a cash prize or $0!  The course was crazy hilly, the weather was tough, and I didn't have 100% in the tank post-marathon yet, but I gutted it out and was pleased with my result of 46:16 for the 12K.  This got me 2nd overall female (which was the same as a victory to me, as I had no chance at beating the winner, a 1:15 half marathoner), and a new single age state record for the 12K in Missouri.  I also won the biggest fight of the day, and that was the battle within my own head.
I looked as bad as I felt!
The long version:

Racing 2 weeks after a marathon is always a psychological game for me, but this race was really a mental trip due to weather and accompanying uncertainty!  In the 3 days leading up to the race, the race day forecast changed from cold steady rain, to ice and snow, to snow flurries, to a snow storm, and to the point I wondered if the race would even happen.  Add to that, the race was in Kansas City (2.5 hours away from me), and I was there for work on Friday but wondered if I should drive back home Friday evening before the Saturday weather came!  Even on the Friday evening news, the meteorologist said that there might be a dusting of snow or there might be 3 inches -- and that the forecast would probably change at the 10 p.m. news.  As someone who likes to know every possible detail in advance, all of this killed me!  Finally I gave up obsessively looking at my weather app, and decided that whatever I woke up to on Saturday morning would be what it would be, and if I got snowed in in Kansas City with my good friend Megan and her most adorable baby boy CJ, it would not be the worst thing ever.  I also had a back up plan to run a 15K time trial with Amy P. on Sunday, as she was in a similar situation with her planned 15K race on Saturday.  My race started at 10:00 a.m., another out-of-the-ordinary factor for me.

I woke up to see snow on the ground but clear roads.  It was snowing and forecasted to continue through the race, but the event was still on and everyone else would have to deal with the weather too.  I cleared the snow off my car and made my way to the starting line.  I then sat in the car with the heater running until I knew I could run my warm-up and basically keep running until the gun went off.  It was snowing, windy, and 'feels like' 19 degrees.  I raced in tights, which I very rarely do (but since I also recently wore them in the Christmas mile and "5K", I may not be allowed to say that anymore - how about I say I only wear them when it's under a 20 degree wind chill?!).
I missed my garage a lot!
If race organizers ever have to disconnect this event with the Big 12 basketball tournament, I have a suggestion for a new race name:  The Big Hill 12K!  This was definitely one to run by feel rather than by pace due to the elevation fluctuations.  I'd looked at the elevation chart and some runs from the 2016 race on Strava beforehand, so I knew I was in for nearly 400 feet of elevation gain, including a really fast mile 6 followed by a really slow mile 7.  Before race day I'd planned to run for place, and not worry about my splits or time, and with the weather being what it was (hello, snow pelting me in the face!) that further confirmed that this was the best idea. 

I did my usual warm-up of running easy for a couple of miles, a half mile-ish of uptempo running, plyometrics, and a few strides, then continued to jog around until the race was about to start.  I ran my warm-up out on the course so I knew what to expect for the first mile, and my half mile uptempo pace variations further confirmed my plan of not looking at my Garmin or splits during this race (hello, 5:30 pace...hello, 6:45 pace at the same effort)!  I knew my fast friend Kim was running so I would be racing for 2nd overall (she runs marathons in the 2:30s and 10Ks in the 34s!), and the difference in awards for 2nd and 3rd was significant; i.e., $$ for 2nd, nada for 3rd.

The race also had a 5K, and the two races started together.  I lined up by Kim on the starting line and looked around at the other ladies towards the front with us.  There were several women wearing Kansas City Smoke jerseys, which is an elite KC-based team.  I knew who a few of the girls were, and I knew that they were all fast!  I thought to myself that I likely wasn't going to get any money in this one, then tried to look at bib colors to see who was running the 12K and who was in the 5K.  My parents came to watch the race, as they were picking up my niece in Kansas City for a spring break trip; they were so sweet to stand outside spectating in that weather!  I gave them my warm-up jacket a few minutes before the start.  My coach was also there, as Kim is his wife (a good testimony for his coaching is that he also coaches her!).

Professional photo of the start
As the gun time neared, I think everyone was just ready to run hard to get warm.  No one looks too excited in the photos my dad snapped!  As we were off and sorted out, I saw two KC Smoke gals out in front, then Kim, then two more KC Smoke gals who I thought I'd be pretty evenly matched with.  I settled in behind those two at what felt like the perfect pace for a 7.5 mile race.  The two races split just after the mile mark, and the two gals in front of Kim turned with the 5K so I knew Kim was leading the 12K and I was pretty much in a 3-way tie for 2nd.

After running the first mile just behind the two KC Smoke girls (Lindsey and Tara), I felt the pace was slowing so I went around them to pick it up.  They stayed right there with me, so then I started thinking that perhaps that was a bad idea because I'd put myself in a position to do the pacing work.  I didn't want to show weakness, though, so I kept plugging away, but I was conscious we still had a long way to run and we weren't exactly out for a Sunday jog!  I also had some uncertainty about whether or not I'd have enough in the tank to finish strong, due to being 2 weeks off of my marathon.  But at that point, I'd gone out as if I were going to have a strong race, so I wanted to continue as long as my body would let me!  After the first two miles, I don't think there was ever a time I felt really amazing, but I didn't feel completely dead mid-race either; unsure more than anything.

Around mile 3, Lindsey came up beside me, which was a relief.  We ran side by side for the next couple of miles, and exchanged a few words of encouragement.  Running with her was great, and since I didn't see Tara I figured we may have gapped her a bit, but then I would hear spectators say, "2nd, 3rd, and 4th ladies" so I knew she wasn't far.  While running with Lindsey, I kept going back and forth between thinking, "I'm strong, I can do this," and "I am going to die/This was too soon after my marathon/This is too hilly/I went out too fast/I feel like crap/maybe I didn't eat enough before for a 10:00 a.m. start", etc.  There was so much back and forth between confidence and self-doubt that it almost got ridiculous!  In retrospect, I am so glad I didn't look at my splits, because I think they would have screwed with my head even more!  Every time I would drift to negative thoughts (i.e., quite frequently), I would also think, "Lord, be stronger than the weakness in my mind," which really became my race motto and at many times was all I had.

Around mile 5 I was feeling alright about things for a hot second, when suddenly Tara came from behind to pass both Lindsey and I.  I did not see that coming!  I was able to cover her move, and in a split second I went from running beside Lindsey to running beside Tara.  She looked strong, so I knew it was going to be a tough push, but I wasn't letting myself give up.  I stayed right with her for a mile or so, and then at the bottom of the extreme downhill, she gapped me slightly.  I kept telling myself "Stay on her, stay on her, you can stay on her" while simultaneously thinking, "I can't, I'm dying, I'm going to lose her."

Then we started up the hill that was the entire 7th mile.  My body sure felt my marathon here!  One of the reasons I was nervous about running this race was because I knew how hilly it was, and I'd been struggling with hills during my marathon recovery.  The first week post-marathon, even minor elevation changes killed my quads on my little 3-4 mile runs, and during the second week I felt much better but could tell I was still weak on the hills.  I would have felt a lot better about running a flat race, and I'll tell you what is not ideal two weeks off of a marathon, and that is running a mile long hill that climbs 150 feet at the end of a 12K!  Oy!  I felt like I was running 9:00 pace up this thing, and also began resigning myself to 3rd; but at the same time I knew I would not give up; I will never give up.  I stayed at close as I could, and I could hear my coach yelling from one side of the road while running along the sidewalk, while 100 other people were yelling for Tara (which was the story of the whole race; the first few times I thought they said "Sara", but the "Go Lindsey and Tara" cheers cued me in).  I began thinking, "Oh, geez, this is embarrassing, I am dying flailing up this hill and Marshall can run this pace while cheering."  I also felt like any chance at 2nd was slipping away; I don't know exactly how far the gap between us was, and it was never that extreme, but for awhile it felt like miles.

Finally I could see the top of the hill, and I knew from there that we made two left turns and then went into the finish.  We were also close to the 7 mile mark.  Suddenly, I was gaining on Tara.  I started thinking that maybe I could still do it.  I can do anything for a half mile, right?  I wasn't going down without a fight!  I pulled up on her at the top of the hill, with less than a half mile to go.  Getting back on flatter ground, I felt better, albeit still dying, but like I could kick it in to make it happen.  I went around her as fast as I could.  I fully expected her to respond and that I was getting myself into a crazy sprint battle to the finish, and I was ready to do it.  She did not stay next to me, but there was still a long stretch to the finish - probably at least 0.3.  I found a gear I didn't even know I had and hammered with everything I could; I went to a dark place I'm not sure I've gone before (i.e., I thought I might pass out).  But I did it -- I finished in 2nd!  I ended up 7 seconds ahead of her at the line, so I didn't need to quite go into the coronary state that I did, but I didn't know.  The announcer announced me as the female winner, "with Tara ----- right on her heels", as he apparently missed Kim coming in -- but this was almost symbolic because it felt just like a win to me (although I feel bad that Kim wasn't recognized!).  I only know this was announced due to the video my dad took; I was comatose at that point!  I also kept running through the finish line to ensure I went over the correct mat (there were two), and didn't stop my watch until afterward because I just knew it would be my luck to get edged by stopping at the first mat or while stopping my watch.  I wish I had a video of the entire race, as it would have been an edge-of-your-seat viewing in my opinion.

Pain cave!
Clock shot, not the most clear due to the snow!
The ups and downs of this race made my 2nd place finish a huge victory for me!  I haven't had too many races with so many trade offs for place, nor have I had one come down to the final stretch like that for quite awhile.  I was so proud of myself for not giving up, even though I wanted to a thousand times; my mind was so weak at so many points during the race.  I'm a competitor, and I give everything I have on race days -- sometimes that's enough for a victory or PR, and other times it's not.  I believe we were all winners for getting out there and putting up a fight.  Those girls pushed me so much, and were also so kind at the finish.  I know it really could have gone either way; and I'm sure we will meet again to push one another to new places...although I'm not sure about going back to that dark place I went at the end of this race, bahaha!  

After the race, it was easy to think about the "battle" for 2nd place, but my biggest battle in the race was truly with myself.  My competitive spirit lives on though!

My 12K time of 46:16 was an automatic 12K PR since I'd never raced one before, although I feel pretty confident I could beat this time significantly on about any other course.  When I saved the run on my Garmin, it started beeping and telling me that I PRed in several distances (see below).  I am really ready to run a 10K, seeing as how I have now surpassed my official 10K PR in 4 longer races (2 halves, a 15K, and a 12K) and every tempo run over 10K that I've done recently.  Since the 12K is not a common distance, I also set the single age Missouri state record for age 36!

I haven't had a race that caused me this much or this type of stress going into it for awhile; I hate uncertainty and the weather gave me a lot of that!  I almost didn't show up at the starting line, as the decision to not go would have been one I could follow through on no matter what the weather did.  I am so glad I decided to give it a go.  It was really good for me to get in there and compete like that, and to show myself I could do it.  I didn't feel 100% recovered from my marathon (maybe 85%), but nothing hurt; mainly I could tell I didn't have the reserves that are usually there.   I came away from this one mentally stronger than I went into it, and that is another victory in my book.

Also, Jon is always very supportive of my running, but let me tell you how much more supportive he is when I bring home some cash...

Official results can be found here. A video of me finishing is here - I am in the red shirt and finishing at the beginning of the clip.  You can also see the snow coming down, the 3rd female coming in, and me doubling over in the finish chute.  Jon made fun of me because I ran way past the finish line, but as I mentioned I was making sure to run over both mats, and then I guess I was running too hard to stop on a dime; it is funny to watch though!
Crazy erratic splits

Who designed this course anyway?!  I'll tell you it wasn't someone 2 weeks off a marathon!

Strava continues to rub my current weak official 10K PR in my face