February in New England, motherhood, and marathoning: when these three things come together, things get awfully tricky. It seems I’m getting a snow storm every couple of days, plus poor clean up crews, plus sub-freezing temps means dangerous roads for this runner. It also means my kids are home, either on a snow day or remote learning, and my kids are not yet old enough to leave home alone.
February brings on training anxiety. I have to get this done. I have to get this workout in or I’ll be behind on my training plan. In years past I usually freak out a little bit in the month of February. There’s a Spring marathon quickly coming, whether I train for it or not, and I am always convinced that skipping workouts due to weather will put me behind or be the reason I don’t reach my goals. I’ve run through all sorts of foul weather to train, to get those miles in no matter what. I’ve driven my family mad with farming them out to friends or begging my sister to babysit so I can go run. And, every year it has paid off. I’ve always done well in my races and moved on. But this pressure I put on myself isn’t helping my depression or my fitness. I go through this same cycle year after year and I think maybe it’s time to break it.
For now, I do not have any goal races on my Spring calendar, despite all the base training I put in for January. The last 5 weeks were nice, steady weeks of 50-65 miles. Good, quality miles. But suddenly this week I am stuck at home. I do not have a treadmill, so my options are run or don’t run. And, for the first year ever, I do not feel compelled to run. I’m taking this week (and maybe more) to give my legs a bit of a break and run unstructured. Instead, I’m focusing on High Intensity Interval Training (something I often neglect because it’s hard and it hurts and I don’t like it) and strength training. I’ll run when and if I can, but I’m not worried about the miles right now. Between our rolling snow storms and the fact that my kids will be on February break (three days of no school!), I’ll be breaking as well and hitting the weight room instead. And hey, everyone could use a little extra strength training, right?
Winter hydration doesn’t seem like it is a real issue, right? I’m not dehydrated because I’m not sweating as much, so maybe I don’t need to worry about refilling my water bottle so often, right?
Well, no. While winter dehydration may not seem as evident as the obvious signs of summer dehydration, there are still a lot of endurance athletes that are doing themselves a great disservice by not chugging down the H2O. In the summer, there are plenty of cues reminding us to drink: hot, sweaty, and thirsty means drinking comes easy. But when it gets below freezing, the thought of sucking down cold water just doesn’t seem very palatable. But if I’m not even sweaty, do I need to?
Our bodies have to work harder in the extreme cold just to keep them warm, and this involves increased respiration. Cold air goes out and the body uses water to warm it up inside you. When you breathe out and you see that steamy puff as you chug up the hill, you are seeing water leaving your body. Your body is also sweating, though you may not notice it as you would on a July run. The sweat cools and dries quickly in the winter, leaving you feeling dry and fresh – very dry on the inside. If you are wearing multiple layers, sweat can get trapped between the layers. If you aren’t taking in water, then you are setting yourself up for a fun bout of hypothermia – wet clothes, cold temps, and dehydrated bodies do not make a good mix. Personally, I also find the dry cold air plus heating systems dry out my skin really fast – an indicator that I need to drink more frequently.
If you normally consume water on the run, great! Make sure you bring an insulated container so it doesn’t freeze. I wear a hydration pack and blow into the mouth tube after each sip to clear all the water out of the hose so it doesn’t freeze between gulps. This helps and I’ve been able to run in extreme cold (below 10F) without issue. If the run is short or you’re not a fan of carrying water (I can relate), make sure you drink plenty before and after your workout. I’ve become a big fan of drinking hot Nuun post-frozen workout. I’ve also found that because I tend to reach for the tea and coffee more often (warm liquids just feel and taste better in February!), I need to make myself drink water – just plain water. I fill a 64 oz water bottle and leave it on the kitchen counter. Every time I walk by it, I take a sip, whether I’m thirsty or not. So far this has been working well and I’m consuming more and more water each day. This will help me avoid dehydration, muscle cramps, headaches, dry skin, poor sleep, and most importantly – slow times.
Well, we made it. The calendar rolled over and we are done with 2020. I actually don’t have a lot to say for my year in review. Races didn’t happen for most athletes, gyms closed, and we learned to run in masks. Before the pandemic locked us all down, my sights were only set on a sub 3 hour marathon. I was really excited for my first trip to Europe to race in my husband’s home country, Latvia. That was cancelled. All back up races were cancelled. My anxiety over the illness mounted each day. Going to the grocery store was panic inducing. I couldn’t fathom racing in crowds…
I quickly shifted gears to focus on short distance time trials. After all, running itself wasn’t cancelled. I tried a few mile runs on the track – just for fun and to see what I could pull off. (Spoiler alert; it wasn’t terribly impressive!) I attempted several 5ks and a 10k, all of which were a little lack luster. But really, without competition, these distances are even harder than they already are. I rolled all this summer speed up and threw it at a solo half marathon time trial on my birthday in the fall. I had actually put in a lot of really good training for it, so I had big goals. But I also knew that running it alone, on the road with traffic, and a touch hilly would make for a struggle. With the support of my husband and kids as a make-shift aid station at the side of the road, I ran an impressive 13.1 miles and snagged a meager PR. I also managed to pull off a 100 day run streak during this time. I then backed off my mileage for some rest & recovery and promptly got sick.
The entire month of November was dedicated to recovering from the flu. And then the month of December was dedicated to recovering from my recovery and attempting to build back some semblance of fitness. But, by the end of the day on New Year’s Eve, I had accumulated more miles than ever before (even if it wasn’t as much as I had intended way back in January) and had climbed more elevation than ever before. I also ended the year healthy and without injury.
2020 may not have been the year I had hoped for, but I did walk away from it stronger and faster – even if I had to race just myself and a watch. I learned a lot about patience and the grit involved with solo running. I learned to become my own cheering squad and push myself along with positive thinking. I’m hoping that we’ll all get to race again, for real and in person, in the Fall, but I also think I’ll be alright if we don’t. It ended up not being quite as soul crushing as I thought it would be.
My goals for 2021… 1. Stay alive. This means continuing to socially distance, mask wearing, & lots of hand washing. 2. Stay healthy, stay injury free. This means continuing my form drills, strides, listening to my body, taking rest days, eating well, hydrating, foam rolling, etc. 3. Faster time trials. This means a bit more prep for the 5k & more distance specific workouts in the summer.
My strategy for 2021… I’m honestly not too sure how comfortable I am with in person racing just yet, so I’m not looking at spring races at this time. What I am doing is building up to two half marathon time trials, one in March and one in May with the latter being a “target race”. I’d really like to hit a sub 1:24 – though I do accept that running a solo time trial will be difficult and a lot of things may change between now and then. My build up for these halves will be similar to marathon training so if there is a race and I am comfortable, I’ll be prepared enough to jump in. The summer will be a focus on a mix of speed and long run endurance with (fingers crossed) a trip to Europe at the end of the summer for some more running. I want to tackle a marathon in late October/early November, though I have no idea how the world will look at that point so it may be an actual race, a virtual race, or a solo effort. Time will tell.
I am happy to move on to 2021, though with reserved optimism. I am happy to tackle some specific goals and to build myself up even faster and stronger than before. I have a lot to offer this year and I intend on giving it my all.
Back in June I was beyond annoyed with wearing my watch 24/7. I liked the data it gave me from constant use, but it just wasn’t working out. The watch was bulky and I was constantly banging it on things, plus, I just couldn’t look away from the information it gave me. Why was I sleeping less than the night before? What was my heart rate now? How many steps did I get from that dog walk? I just had to take a break from it. So, I took it off unless I was running. It was nice to break free from it.
But…I missed it. I couldn’t go back to wearing it all the time – it’s really just too big for my tiny arm. But was getting a second device silly? I thought about it for a long time. I really liked the convenience of wearing a watch (pulling my phone out to tell the time was annoying and would often lead to wasting time on Facebook or Instagram). I really liked the look of a lot of the slim “activity trackers” that were out there. But did I need one? Not really, but I still wanted one.
I eventually ended up purchasing a refurbished Garmin Vivosmart 4 at the end of September as an early birthday present to myself. I liked how neat & trim it looked on my wrist and it blended in with most outfits. After years of large fitness watches, I could finally tell the time on something scaled to my frame!
I did have to make a deal with myself: don’t obsess on the data or you’ll have to take it off! I check my sleep data and Body Battery in the morning while I’m drinking my coffee. This gives me an idea on my starting point and will help make decisions about pacing for my morning runs. The sleep data on my Vivosmart is more detailed than what I got from the older 235. I get REM (though mine seems to be wonky) along with the deep sleep cycles as well as a Pulse Ox, indicating how much oxygen I suck in while sleeping. I’m already seeing patterns in my SpO2 – when it drops, by how much, and how that effects my over all sleep (what to do about it – I’m not sure yet). The Body Battery is also an interesting metric. It basically tells you how much juice you have left in the tank based on heart rate, activity, sleep, etc. Mine tends to get up to 100 by about 4am (within 5 hours of sleeping) – which is good to know. And, if I have a lower Body Battery reading in the morning, I’ll adjust my intensity accordingly, and possibly even add in a power nap in the afternoon.
I will also check my data at the end of the day around 8:30 or so when my kids have gone to bed and I’m just sitting in front of the TV. This tells me everything I did (steps, stress level (another nifty metric based on heart rate variance – I’m still figuring all of that out…), heart rate, blah blah blah). I don’t necessarily need to know, but it fulfills my curiosity. These two times are my only times to check date. Otherwise, I leave the thing alone.
At first I didn’t know what to do with all the graphs and pretty colours that showed up on my phone. My heart rate was predictably low. My Body Battery went to 100 overnight, and, depending on what all I did during the day, usually went down to about 50 or so by the evening. My Stress Score was generally low – 20 or under for the day. Rarely did anything ever get high.
One evening my watch started buzzing on my arm. Weird, I thought, I didn’t think I was connected to Bluetooth. I looked at my watch expecting to see a notification about a text message or some sort from my phone. Instead the screen was asking me if I was feeling stressed and wanted to take a break. Huh?! And then, every few hours for the next two weeks my watch was concerned about my stress levels. I was through the roof – even while sleeping. My resting heart rate went up a bit more each day. My sleep was broken and poor quality. My Body Battery stopped charging up. One morning I woke up and it was a 4. FOUR. What was going on? I felt fine. I was sleeping fine. It was a rest week, so I wasn’t even running, let alone over doing anything. Obviously the watch had to be garbage! After almost a week, I reset my watch. There. Body Battery was back in the upper range where it should have been. Stress levels were no longer orange and alerting me. It was all back to normal for a day. The very next day I was back to doom & gloom.
Then I got sick. So horribly sick that I was in tears from the headache and began babbling to my husband about how to take care of the children in the future. I just assumed that I wouldn’t be alive by the morning. (Spoiler alert: I lived to tell about it.)
I don’t really know what I had. Maybe it was the flu. I know for sure it wasn’t COVID-19. I was tested twice and both were negative. I lost weight (5lbs in two weeks, which for me was roughly 5% of my body weight). My throat felt as if I had swallowed glass and my head felt as if a truck had driven over my face. My body hurt. My soul hurt. My chest was tight and a horrible, wracking cough burned my lungs.
My Vivosmart showed my illness in graphs. My stress score was up, despite sitting on the couch glazing out in front of the TV. My heart rate, even when not running, would crest over 100. My sleep was broken, disturbed by nightmares and interrupted by coughing fits. My Body Battery was on empty day after day. I felt awful and the data reflected that, clear as day. I felt like I was just waiting to die and looking at the data trends, I just didn’t see how I could ever bring my numbers back up.
Now that I’m out of the woods, I’m starting to see my numbers go up. I’m better than I was, but not healed, yet. (This is seriously one nasty MFer of a cold!) And now that I’ve been looking at this device’s data for two months, I can see what it’s been telling me. I should have seen this illness coming! I am pretty confident that in the future I will be able to dodge this type of thing before it runs me over. Could I have taken it even easier in the two weeks leading up to this? Could I have upped my Vitamin C in take, increased hydration, or gone to bed earlier? Now that I know what all the device can tell me, I’ll listen a bit better instead of assuming that the data is wrong or the watch is broken. I also think this will help me actually listen to my own body a bit closer. Of course I do not need to rely on technology to tell me that I’m about to get sick, but I can certainly use it to try and prevent it or lessen it.
So, here I am with this cool little watch – still figuring out how to actually use the thing, how to read all the graphs, and what all the data means, while trying not to become too obsessed with the numbers or my health. Do you have an activity tracker that helps you with recovery? Are you able to avoid illness with the data? Any tips for this newbie?
The off-season – that lovely space between training cycles – is more than just time off from hard training. If anything, it is a crucial part of your overall fitness and training for your next target race. That’s right – your down time is also a training period when considering the big picture that is your fitness goals.
In a typical year I specifically train for two target races. For me, they are usually marathons, though I have dropped down to half marathons in some cycles. My “big picture” is generally a build up of an 18 week training plan – including and endurance phase, a sharping/speed phase, a taper phase and a race – followed by a short period of down time of roughly four weeks that quickly blends into a second build up of 12-15 weeks – with endurance, speed, taper phases and a race – and a nice long off season of two to three months before I start it all over again.
I spend a lot of time going hard, going long, and staying focused. This can lead to burn out, injuries, and general boredom with the sport. That’s why the off-season is such a crucial part of my overall fitness. It is a tool that keeps me healthy and strong by giving me some much needed rest. And I take this rest time very seriously.
Here are some things to consider during your off season:
It’s not about mileage; it’s not about pace. This is not the time to worry about how many miles you are logging or trying to impress anyone with your Strava stats. Running in the off season is simply to maintain fitness, get the blood flowing, and keep sane. Personally, I find that running by TIME works better than running by DISTANCE. I am also liberal with my rest/off days and take as many as I feel I need. I slowly build back mileage and lengthen the long run – but how far I go and how fast I do it is not a priority.
Yes, workouts still need to happen. Speed work is still important during the off season, but it will look different in your training log than it does the rest of the year. Shorter tempos (3 miles and under), shorter intervals (5 x 2 minutes is a favorite over here), and hill strides are necessary for form, maintenance, and breaking up monotony. I’ll do one or two light workouts a week, but at less intensity – normally I aim for half marathon to marathon race pace, and not any faster. You should be able to recover from these sessions very quickly.
Lift all the heavy things. I am definitely in favor of strength training all year long, but I will advocate the crap out of lifting during the off season. Now is the time to lift heavy and often. Build up all that strength while you have the extra time (because you aren’t running as many miles) so you can convert that power to speed once you are in the throes of your next cycle. I will personally lift heavy weights two to three times a week, with stability, core, and drills three to four times a week. Yes, I am getting five sessions a week of strength focus. It.is.worth.it.
Maximise your down time. It sounds silly, right? But just like any other phase of training, it’s important to make the off season work for you.
Know the beginning and ending of this phase. Start by making a plan, even if it’s just a loose outline of one. You are more likely to stay motivated and use the time effectively (i.e. not jumping into fast paces because you are getting bored already) if you know all your steps ahead of time. Predetermining how many weeks off between cycles can help stave off over training and injuries in the next cycle. This is best done if you start looking into your next goal and putting some dates on the calendar.
Plan your daily activities. We have a detailed plan for our marathon training, why not have a plan for our non-training as well? I keep the schedule flexible and take rest days as I need them, but I still have an idea of what I’m going to do on a daily basis for the next two months. Paces and distances will gradually increase as I head back into a marathon prep, but it is mostly a lot of the same easy miles. Monday/Wednesday/Friday will be easy runs of about 30-45 minutes total with pilates/yoga/stability exercises afterwards. Tuesday/Thursday may be a short workout of hill strides, a mini-tempo run, or a fartlek followed by heavy lifting. The weekend long run will be about an hour of steady, easy running and gradually get longer over the weeks. I like to focus more on the lifting, drills, core work, and stability exercises over the time spent running. I also prefer to alternate A and B weeks with A weeks heavy lifting two times and B weeks heavy lifting three times.
Consider not running at all. Because this time is meant to recover the body, it’s okay to not even run. There are lots of ways to stay fit & get the heart rate up and exploring those other fitness options is a good idea. Sometimes I just get bored plodding through the same 5 mile course, so switching it up to hiking in the woods, cycling on a new path, or doing an aerobic video for half an hour keeps me engaged and willing to stay off the couch.
Ignore the whole thing and do a random workout or sign up for a 5k! Okay, I know this sounds counter-productive, but just like runners suffer from the taper crazies, it can happen during the off-season as well. I often start feeling a bit antsy after a couple of days off and very restless after a week without a hard workout, so to break up the monotony and to scratch that itch, I may do a fast & hard track workout or jump into a 5K fun run. That’s okay too! Just remember that if you do deviate from any plans to keep it fun, allow yourself to fully recover, and don’t expect any PRs (just be pleasantly surprised if you hit one).
I’ve always been a bit anti-run streak. I saw them as something that only running obsessed people did, and other than the attention they garnered, I didn’t really see the point. I attempted one late last Fall and failed miserably with incredibly tight muscles and had to quit at two weeks. I like to stick to very scheduled training plans – and with two marathons a year that’s between 30 and 40 weeks of planned workouts. I also really like my rest days and time off – I take sleeping in very seriously.
I made lots of assumptions about run streaks: * They would lead to injury * They would lead to burn out * Running every day would leave less time for other things * Properly training for a race wasn’t possible without days off * They would get boring
I started streaking in the middle of the summer, but it was an accident. Thanks to the pandemic, races were cancelled, training got weird, and I took the time to experiment. I now had time to test out some theories I had! If I blew up in a time trial, I didn’t really lose anything, but I would gain some knowledge about what works & what doesn’t, right? One of the things I experimented with was a greater consistency on shakeout runs & their outcome. I began running an afternoon/early evening jog of 3 miles or 30 minutes Monday through Friday. This ended up being double run days four days a week. Since Mondays are my rest days, I ended up running all seven days. After three weeks of this, I decided to keep going to just finish out the month of August – a whole month of running! When I was most of the way through September I decided to go for a 100 day run streak, because why the heck not. COVID was keeping me from testing myself in a race, so why not mix it up & go for the long haul.
I was racking up a lot of miles with 60-70 mile weeks, but I was feeling great. I had fantastic energy levels. I was getting deeper sleep at night. I was recovering from hard workouts and long runs much faster than ever before. I hit PRs in all of my time trials (1 mile to half marathon). Even things like my chronic knee pain just seemed to disappear.
I’m not going to lie; I did start to peeter out in the last two weeks. Mentally I was kind of over it. I had finished my half marathon time trial in the middle of October & had nothing to train for. I was now just running to log miles & it was getting boring. The miles became plodding and the slower pace caused my hamstrings to tighten up. But, I was determined to finish my 100 days – all of them running. I even ran my last run as a 100 minute medium long run, which seemed like the most fitting way to wrap it all up.
I actually learned a few things in these last 3+ months, too.
1. You don’t have to sit still to have a rest day. Mondays were still my designated rest day (day after my long run), but instead of zero movement, I stretched, did my drills, and jogged super slow for 30 minutes. Slow meant 2-3 minutes slower than my marathon race pace. Since my long runs were run on Sunday mornings and my rest day shakeout was run on Monday evenings, there was a lot of time (roughly 35 hours actually) between the start of both runs. That’s basically a rest day!
2. If you focus on RECOVERY, you will not get injured or burn out. Shakeout runs were all run incredibly slow – warm up pace slow. So slow I wouldn’t break a sweat or breathe heavy. I had a few key workouts a week; a tempo, some intervals or hills, and a long run – and weeks alternated between 2 and 3 of these quality sessions per week. Everything else was easy. Runs that weren’t workouts and weren’t shakeouts were run relaxed, and anywhere from a 1 minute to 2 minutes slower than marathon race pace. I do believe that keeping an eye on my pace as well as perceived effort (and often slowing myself down) is what kept me going without ever crashing.
3. Streaks & training plans are compatible if you run the right paces. I planned on my “season” building up to and ending with a half marathon time trial. That was ten weeks of hard training for a goal “race” and throwing a run streak on top of it. My training plan was not at all hindered by my motivation to run every day – if anything they worked hand in hand. But, I was strict about sticking to pacing zones, allowing myself to run as slowly as necessary for true recovery, eating healthy & often, and getting as much sleep as possible – just like I would during any other training cycle.
4. Don’t focus on the mileage. While of course you will be adding up a lot of miles each week by running day after day without a break, you have to widen your sights a bit and look beyond the end of the week. Because the miles stacked up, I actually chose to run a bit less than I would otherwise. If I had tackled my typical weekend long run of 18-22 milers, I wouldn’t have finished. I knew the mileage was there for me and I didn’t have to get it all in on Sunday mornings, so most of those weekend runs were actually medium long runs of 15 miles and under. It wasn’t about the miles or the pace; it was about keeping going, day after day.
While the 100 day run streak was a fun personal challenge to accomplish during these times of no racing, I’m not sure if I’ll streak again. If I do, I will probably set an intention – ie every day in a single month or x amount of days. Some people just run, run, run until they feel like stopping, but I personally need a little more structure than that to be comfortable. It was definitely more mentally challenging than it was physically, and I was surprised by that. I will most certainly continue to use shakeout runs in my future training – which just may lead to another streak in the next block. We’ll see!
Have you ever done a run streak? What was the longest you went without a break and how far did you go?
Fall is winding down in New England with a lot of rain. I am going to be honest – I am not looking forward to the dark, cold days that lay ahead. A lot of Spring races are already falling off the calendar with cancellations and postponements. And without a concrete goal to work toward or something to look forward to, training is going to get super rough.
It’s time to start zeroing in on a big WHY. Why am I doing this? Why am I running in the cold, in the dark, in the rain and snow? Why am I trying if there is nothing to show for it? Why will I keep running?
It’s not an obsession or madness. There is a reason. I just have to figure out what that is so I can keep going forward. I have long term – very long term – goals. But it can be hard to stay motivated for something years away. I need to run in the present, the here and now. One month, one week blocks. One run at a time.
Despite the lack of racing, strange stop & go training, and all the spicy chips I can get my hands on, I am in great shape – possibly my best shape ever. I’ve also come a long way mentally, keeping my depression and anxiety in check through the lock-downs. I’m not giving up on my fitness just yet, nor am I losing hope in 2021’s possible race line-up. I simply have accepted the fact that running is going to continue to look different with different goals, priorities, and measurements. And I’ll get through it, even if I am bummed.
The rest of this year is going to be fairly relaxed with alternating A and B workout weeks. Week A will consist of two workouts (Tuesday and Thursday, ideally) with tempos and shorter repeats or hills, one long run on the weekend (probably Sunday), and easy runs around it all. Week B will be mostly easy runs with one bigger workout (Wednesday) of longer repeats (1000s, miles, or a longer tempo), and a weekend long run (hopefully with some marathon paced miles thrown in). This is how I plan on tackling my base training until the New Year when (hopefully) I’ll have a better idea about racing in the Spring (when/where/how). I want to continue to do workouts and speed work through my base training to keep myself from getting bored on the same old runs. The goal for the next two months is to stay fit, stay sane, and don’t get injured.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and nearly all in-person races cancelled, I was feeling a little lost. What was all this running and trying even for? I’d get excited when I’d see an ad in my Facebook feed for a marathon or half marathon. I’d click on it and my heart would flutter as I’d read the details. But then my stomach would drop at the thought of being around people! The idea of having to stay in a hotel, eat out, or generally hang around other humans has simply been too much for me the last few months. But I also needed to have purpose in my running.
I resolved fairly early in the Summer that I wouldn’t be racing in 2020. This was a bummer because I still wanted to attempt my sub 3 hour marathon goal. I still wanted to see what I really had. I didn’t want to waste any time! But, I also realized that this year wouldn’t make or break my big goals. I had big goals in 2018, but due to injury took basically a year off from marathons and came back the following Spring with a huge PR. I could do that again. I could use this time to harness speed, to build strength, and come out of the other side of this pandemic as a running machine.
I am usually one to shy away from shorter distances. I haaaaate the 5k. Any distance shorter than that is just torture. They are fast and hard, and always feel like a frantic sprint. I suck at them. But, I also had to get better at them. It started with the Mile. I hadn’t run an open mile since sometime in college when my coach insisted I could run middle distance. I hated it then, turns out I still do.
I had no clue what I could pull off, but I figured I should be able to come in under 5:30. I spent most of July building up strength with heavier weights in my strength sessions, which I upped from 2 per week to 3 weights and 1 dedicated core/stability session per week. I ran lots of power workouts; shorter, faster reps, lots of hills, – shorter long runs, but quicker up tempos in the middle. One morning in August I went to the high school track and banged out four laps. 5:26. Well okay then. In two weeks I ran it again with a significantly faster kick and shaved off two more seconds. Not as fast as my college days, but fast enough to accept it as a current PR. In mid-September I was ready for a 5K time trial. I had originally planned on running this on the track, but it was packed with high school after school sports on the day I made the attempt, so I took to the roads instead. 19:07. I was a bit disappointed because I really thought going in that I could come in under 19 minutes, but this was still technically a PR, so I accepted it with grace. At this point, I didn’t have time to fret over it because I had more training to do.
The Hartford Marathon has been my go-to Fall race for several years now. I was a bit sad when I saw them announce that there wouldn’t be a race this year. I’m not sure I would have attended anyway, but it always falls on my birthday weekend, which makes it a special race day for me. I like gifting myself PRs while running my homestate’s race! I decided that while I might not be running in Hartford this year, collecting another cow bell, or crossing finishing mats, I could still go for a phenomenal birthday run. A solo-full sounded a bit too daunting (not to mention a lot of support from my poor husband and kids), so I decided to do a solo-half marathon time trial on my birthday. The rest of September’s training was laser focused on this goal. What could I do solo for 13 miles? I knew it would be hard without crowds, course support, or competition, but I was pretty confident that my Summer build up had given me the strength to at least try.
I found a 3 mile loop that I ran four (and a half ish) times with my husband and kids passing me water and a gel from the side of the road on each revolution. It was warm (about 60 degrees) and hillier than I would have liked (690 feet of elevation gain – that’s 200 feet more than Hartford Half, where I hit my PR in 2018). Like my other tests of speed, I didn’t know how I’d pull it off – I just figured I’d run like hell for 8 to 10 miles then either hang on and finish up close to “marathon race pace” or end up having my husband come pick me up off Main Street. Either way, I had to try. I ended up running fairly consistently through out the time trial. I was right on target the whole way, hovering just under 6:30 pace. I did start to fade in the last 5k, but rallied myself together to stay mentally strong and not worry about the pace. It all paid off with a surprising 20 second PR! A 1:25:24 in a solo attempt. I was truly thrilled. And tired. And hungry.
What I LEARNED from my Summer of Speed is that shorter distances can help you go long. Nail that short & fast stuff and you can use that power and speed at the end of a longer race to get you up that hill, around the last lap, or through the final painful miles. I ran my half marathon time trial about 20 seconds per mile slower than I ran my 5K time trial, which tells me that 1. I have more in me in terms of a 5K, I just have to believe in myself and tap it out and 2. With real racing conditions (anxiety, endorphins, and adrenaline combined) I will probably fly.
This past Summer of not racing has actually given me a lot of confidence in terms of my own strength & speed and what I can do when I can put a race back on the calendar. And while time trials really aren’t the same as a real race, they can still be exciting, rewarding, and an excellent tool in measuring our fitness. It has been harder to stay focused and committed in 2020, but I do believe that it has made me significantly stronger.
I took my watch off. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I was weirdly attached to it. It was as much a part of me as my hand or my cell phone (the next device to go). It was always on me and I recorded everything. But, I realized one day that I was feeling exceptionally uneasy because I had to take it off to charge it. I experienced anxiety when it had a glitch and wouldn’t turn back on. That’s when I knew it had to go.
Of course I still wear my Garmin to run. I can’t go cold turkey like that. Besides, it is still a very useful tool. But I knew I didn’t need to record every act of athleticism: I stopped timing lifting and yoga sessions. Did I really need to keep track of how many minutes and seconds I spent doing these things? Surely not.
I was still kind of wrapped up in the Garmin data. How many steps did I take in a day? How many miles did that come out to? Heart rate, sleep (and how many times I rolled over), steps, hydration, body weight…all of these things seemed SO important, and not just when I was running, but all the time. I was constantly checking graphs and trends on the app, checking my resting heart rate when watching TV, checking my steps while doing chores, checking, checking, checking.
What was I doing with all this data? I wasn’t sleeping more or figuring out how to get better sleep. I didn’t need to increase my step count, but I was worried if I didn’t hit my new, automatically adjusted goal on rest days. There wasn’t much I could do or was willing to do about my heart rate at any given point of time. So why was I allowing myself to be tied to this device that was collecting and feeding all this data to the Internet? What would happen if I just didn’t?
It’s been a month since I’ve tracked anything not related to running. And, I’ve felt pretty free with a naked wrist. I haven’t run any better or worse without collecting all this non-running data. I still lift and do yoga just as often, I still sleep roughly 8 hours at night (and sometimes roll over), my heart rate is still somewhere in the wide range of 35 to 170 bpm. Maybe I didn’t really know how to utilize this data correctly. Maybe I didn’t even need it at all. I do know that I’ve been calmer about my overall health since I’m not so hyper focused on it. I’m trusting myself and just living off of effort. Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where I can run without my watch at all, or at least stop looking at it so much. Maybe.
Do you record biometrics when not working out? Does it help; how so? Have you ever thought about why you record all these numbers?
I’m not gonna lie: I’ve gained some weight in the last few months. Apparently the “Quarantine Fifteen” that my non-running friends have talked about even effects us athletes. Sure, there was some stress eating at the end of March and beginning of April. I was really stressed out with the uncertainty of everything, my husband being home, my kids out of school, almost nothing available in the stores, my elderly parents… I may or may not have emptied a few too many bags of chips. Alcohol came back into my life. I don’t drink while I’m training for a race, but I do indulge in a glass of something in the evenings between training cycles. While moderate drinking isn’t necessarily awful for your health, it does contain a lot of extra calories, and the fact that I was mostly drinking gin & tonics (i.e. soda, which I almost never consume), my stressed self was hanging onto those calories for dear life. There was also the fact that I suddenly stopped training. I always gain weight after a marathon because I cut way back on miles and my body stops working as hard. It’s good for me to gain a few pounds between cycles.
But, I do think the biggest culprit in my (almost) 10 pound addition has been my diet. My husband returned to work in mid-April since he was considered an essential employee. Instead of having me drag three homeschooling kids with me to grocery shop in a pandemic laden world, my husband took over the shopping duties. This meant that what I had in my cupboards to make meals with was very different from what I was used to. Typically, I shop on Mondays or Fridays on payday. I make up a big chart of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the entire week, then make a list of what I need to get based off of that. And I never deviate from that list! Most of my recipes come from The Runner’s World Cookbook, Shalane Flanigan’s Run Fast, Eat Slow, or Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight Cookbook. We eat lots of lean meats (fish, chicken, and turkey), lots of beans, and a ton of vegetables. However, the pandemic led to grocery stores being wiped out. There either wasn’t anything left (we went three weeks without any chicken at all) or strict restrictions on how much could be bought (and with a family of five, one package of anything is usually not enough). Typical ingredients and quantities just weren’t available. He simply bought whatever he could. This meant that I had to get creative and dinners got weird.
At first my husband didn’t even know what to get and just bought what looked good to him in the moment without thinking about how it could be incorporated into a meal. And he was buying it after work on his way home when he was already very hungry. This meant lots of boxed, prepackaged, snack type foods. Chips, candies, sugary cereal, tons of pasta, and cookies. There was a lot of pork, but in the form of sausage. He was able to stockpile a decent amount of beans. We now have a freezer full of frozen peas and corn. But there were weeks where he wasn’t able to bring home any veggies other than a sack of carrots or a single box of salad mix. There was no fish or chicken at all for weeks on end. It also cost him nearly double our weekly grocery budget.
All the pasta, white rice, pretzels, chips & crackers really piled it on. But thankfully as the weeks went by he started learning to look at the foodstuffs as ingredients and reaching for the raw stuff. And as some things started becoming more available, he grabbed up as much as he could. While I haven’t really been able to plan dinners like I’d like, at least they are healthier than a plate of Oreos with a side of Doritos. Mostly it’s just a random combination of stuff thrown into a pot and tossed on a plate. One week he might be able to buy up tons of broccoli, but there is no guarantee that there will be anything green the following week. I keep some frozen stuff in reserve for that.
I’m not worried about my bit of Quarantine Chub. Most of it will come off now that I’m back to serious training. But this have given me a pretty good look at why diet is so very important. Being a long distance runner doesn’t automatically make me healthy. Of course I am still a healthy weight, an acceptable weight – but 10 pounds on my slim frame is considerable and I can feel it even on easy runs. I’m slower, I feel sluggish, and I tire a lot faster. I can’t eat whatever I want just because I run. I need to run AND I need to eat a healthy (preferably raw), well balanced (Dorito-free) diet. Drills, warm ups, proper shoes, long runs, hill repeats, foam rolling – we know we need to do all that stuff to stay a strong, healthy, fast runner. But running doesn’t actually stop when you end your run or stop your watch. It’s a life style and to be your best, you need to eat the best!
It might be hard to commit to healthy foods during this pandemic with limited supplies, but I’m sure we can at least commit to trying.