More Miles, More Weight

I was able to bump my miles up to just over 55 and add in a few more weight lifting sessions successfully. I also got a great speed work session of two by 3 miles and a 20 miler in. My exhaustion seems to be in check, but the bone and joint pain still persists. It seems to be especially bad in the evenings. Because this has been going on for several weeks, I really feel the need to get some blood tests done. However, because it is not an emergency, the doctor’s offices won’t see me until all this COVID 19 nonsense blows over.

So, in the meantime I’m focusing on hydrating well, getting lots of rest, running mostly easy miles, and upping some of my vitamins (magnesium, iron, and calcium).

I’ve been fortunate with my husband working from home that I get to be a bit casual about my workouts. I don’t have to get up crazy early to get anything done because there’s always someone home with the kids. I can get up when I’m comfortable and I can wait until the morning warms up a bit so I don’t have to run in too frigid temps. I don’t know how long this will last, but I’m certainly okay with taking advantage of it while I can! Life is definitely a lot slower with a pandemic going on!

My race in Latvia is still scheduled to go, which is a bit uncomfortable. I want to race, but I’m also apprehensive about traveling and being in crowds. I am basically just running through my training plan, but checking the Latvian government website daily to see how things shape up. I’ve already seen some May races cancelling/postponing, and even the Olympics is pushed off, so I can only imagine that Riga will follow suit.

Marathon Training in Uncertain Times

The week before I cut back miles due to extreme exhaustion. That seemed to help. This past week the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged me to keep those miles down. I was at 66.5 miles (which was a cut back already) when I decided that I needed more drastic measures. I stepped back to 40 miles of only easy base miles (no doubles, no lifting, no yoga and lots of rest). I felt better! I upped the mileage to 50 but still refrained from extras. My plan is to inch the miles up just a wee bit more and add back in lifting and yoga, but still judge how I feel. I’ll return to doubles in a week or two if I’m up to it, but really no rush!

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The coronavirus that is reeking havoc on the world right now hasn’t really changed much in terms of my running. I use weights at home, so nothing has been shut down for me. I typically run alone anyway, nor do I meet with a coach or trainer, so social distancing isn’t an issue. My race is in late May, so it has not been cancelled/postponed at this stage.

But, I am feeling the effects of the virus in other ways. Because all the gyms are closed, everyone is taking their workouts outdoors to the tracks and trails, so now I have to navigate through crowds that I don’t typically have to deal with. I encountered 18 people in the last five miles of my long run today, even though it was about 20 degrees. In the past, this would have been maybe one or two dog walkers. I did a track work midweek and there were easily over 50 people at the track between the field hockey, soccer, and football players, walkers, joggers, dogs, kids on bikes, and groups attempting their own HIIT circuits. Even though I am not meeting up for my twice a week group shakeout runs, I am not feeling that there is a whole lot of social distancing going on (I could feel and smell the breath off a woman I passed on the trail today). While getting outside & exercising is a great thing, I do think we need a lot more space between everyone!!

I am finding it hard to stay motivated since I do believe that I will not be able to race. Sure, the race may still be held, but I don’t know if travel restrictions will be lifted by then. I know I need to keep training, but a part of me keeps asking “what’s the point?”

While it’s easy to become despondent, I do know what the point is. The point is to stay hopeful for tomorrow. I have to keep training as if there is a race on, because as of right now, there is! And if I keep doing my part to slow the spread of this pandemic (washing my hands, self-isolating, and staying healthy) then the likelihood of it staying on is greater.

Keep staying home, folks.
Keep washing your hands.
Keep staying health.

Cut Backs: Reducing Miles and Sleeping In

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For whatever reason, this training cycle has been more of a challenge than I anticipated. I have had significantly more aches and pains than usual and an overall feeling of malaise. I just don’t wanna run. But of course, I do. Oh, it’s complicated!

I am sure most of this is mental – more in my head than it is in my legs. I’m afraid of disappointing myself if I don’t hit my goal, a goal that I am so close to reaching. And traveling all the way to Europe for a race is only another layer of stress. ( I mean, what if I go all that way with all this training and still fall short!? ) But, to be honest, I know I can do what I am setting out to do. All I have to do is take off 70 seconds. That’s it. That’s what? 2.5 seconds or so per mile faster? I can do that.

It began with pain in my foot. Then it creeped into my calves. Then one day, out of nowhere, I had tear inducing shin pain. My hamstrings were always tight. I slowed my easy runs down. I sought out softer surfaces. I bought new shoes. I reduced the hills and cut back on mileage. I continued to run through everything because it didn’t hurt (or at least not that much) while I was running. The pain was usually an every-other-moment-of-the-day type of thing. I had found a way to cheat my way through this!

But then it all got bad, really bad. I got tired. And by tired, I mean depressingly exhausted. I was easily getting 8 hours of sleep at night, sometimes 9. I upped it to 10. But no matter what, I would wake up feeling beat. And it was everything I could do to keep myself upright during the day. I was craving more sleep. I was cutting runs short so I could get home and glaze out on the couch. I was also craving carbs like a junky looking for a fix. Was I lacking some essential vitamins? Was I on the verge of illness? Was I overtraining? I staggered through my dog walks contemplating these things and how I’d fix them when the obvious hit me. Just stop running for a minute.

Dog walks/jogs are roughly 20 miles a week. Add in the 60+ miles I do for marathon training, plus yoga 2-3 times a week, plus weight lifting another 2-3 times a week and that’s just a lot of activity. I’ve been down the over training route before and it was so awful. While the other adjustments in mileage, elevation, and new shoes were probably necessary, taking an honest to goodness BREAK was also necessary. And so, I stopped for two days & drastically adjusted my weekend runs. I know two days doesn’t seem like a lot, but this meant cutting out 27 miles from my week, including marathon paced miles. This meant skipping a day of lifting.

I did not do my double on Thursday (that would have been a total of 10-12 miles) and I did not run Friday’s medium long run of 13 miles. On Saturday I did an easy 5 miles instead of 7 + strides and Sunday’s long run was another easy 15 miles, instead of the 4 easy + 12 at marathon pace that was on the calendar. I also refused to look at my watch in the last two days, except to check distance for the turn around.

I did not feel guilty about this because this is simply what I needed. I felt much more relaxed on those two runs than I have in a long time. And tomorrow will be another rest day! I am considering making Thursday a rest day as well, or at the very least cutting out the double. I can run a lot of mileage, but what’s the point if it’s running me into the ground? I can stay loyal to the plan, but that’s pretty useless if I have to crawl to the starting line on race day. I do not consider myself “cured” by those two rest days, but I do believe they were incredibly beneficial; whether it was simply a mental break or a physical slow down it was the right decision.

0-550 miles: Retiring the Trainers

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Today was a fun day in running. I said both goodbye and hello to two pairs of shoes. My old trainers with 550 miles on them got one last ride in the form of a warm up and a cool down (6 miles total) before they are shuffled off to gardening kicks. Coincidentally, I was also taking my new racing flats for a spin on the track in a 6×1000 meter session. It’s rare that I get to retire and break in shoes on the same day, so this seemed rather special.

I get a little sentimental when I retire my shoes, so I always have to make it an official stopping point with a “one last run” to say farewell to them. These were awesome shoes to run in, but it is time to let them go and move on to the next pair. 890s – were good to me!

These New Balance 1400v6s were okay, but they weren’t nearly as comfortable as the last version I had. But, I will give them time and a few more runs before I decide to race in them or not.

On a side note: My workout went perfectly, hitting each rep just below the 4 minute target. Things are looking good on the marathon front!

Tread Carefully

I began to feel a deep, dull ache in the arch of my foot, just in front of the heel. My right calf muscle was also knotted up, solid as a rock. Oh no – I had so much running to do, so many miles looming on my calendar – I couldn’t be dealing with an injury already, could I?! I had been so careful about gradually building up a base and miles, but banging out almost 10 miles a day was perhaps taking a greater toll on my  body than I’d thought.

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My husband even agreed to record me on the track so I could analyze my form and blame my hard heel strike.

I reassessed everything. Obviously, I was running too much. This training plan was just too hard for me and I couldn’t cut it. Maybe I wasn’t even ready for a sub3 attempt. It’s probably the pacing, I thought. I just can’t run as fast as the plan wants, and I’m hurting myself trying. It could be the hills, too. I’m sure the hilly area is reeking havoc on my body. And my form is terrible! My foot does this weird thing when I land, and I’m pretty sure I have a hip drop. I started to get pretty gloomy about it all, and Doctor Google wasn’t really helping.

I thought about taking time off (I still have a long way to go before the marathon, so I can afford it for now), but to be honest, it wasn’t that bad when I was running. Just great! Another mystery injury that felt fine while running and excruciating every other moment of the day! Ugg. Maybe it was plantar fasciitis, but I wasn’t sure. Sleeping was difficult because the foot pain kept me awake. I couldn’t let my husband attempt to massage out my tight calf muscle because the slightest touch was too much. And which ailment was causing the other – were they even related?

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Soft trail, check. Squishy shoes, check. Compression socks, got ’em. Pace, slowed.

Despite what everyone would have told me, I decided to keep running with modifications. One, I wore a compression sock that was tight around my arch & ankle (this helped my foot when not running, making dog walking possible again). Two, I wore graduated knee-high compression socks on a few shorter runs and all dog walks (this helped my calf). Three, after every single run and every single evening I used my KT ice ball to roll out my foot and calf as best I could. Four, I switched surfaces from road to trail. I was adding up to nearly 60 miles on hard asphalt with well over 3,000 feet of elevation each week. No wonder I was hurting. A few weeks on slightly flatter ground & softer surface would probably help. This also forced me to slow down and not worry about pace so much.

Oh yeah – and five, getting new shoes. I checked my gear log to find that most of the shoes I’d been running in were over 400 miles, some as high as 600 miles! I was surprised; it didn’t seem like I had been running that much. Time to retire several and replace a bunch. I only had enough dog walking money to order two pairs, so I grabbed a new set of racing flats (the old ones will become speedwork shoes for the remainder of this cycle) and a set of basic trainers (my 500+ mile trainers will now be demoted to dog walking shoes and my current dog walking shoes – the ones with the holes in them (oops) – will be tossed). Hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on one more pair in another couple of weeks.

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Fresh outta the box!

I kept my mileage up and the pain did pretty much go away with these changes, though not 100% just yet. Hopefully the new shoes will do the trick this week. So, seriously folks – PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FEET! I’m a bit sheepish right now because I did feel it coming on long before the pain started and I ignored it. I felt the PAIN and ran through it, ignoring it. It took me nearly two weeks to realize my shoes were so old. There’s no excuse for that. Shoes are our “tools of the trade” and we have to keep them in check. Our feet carry us to the finish line, so they deserve respect. Tread carefully on them and take good care of them. I’m lucky I haven’t caused a serious injury that would put me out of the spring marathon altogether. Take heed and replace your shoes often!

Putting in the Effort

I am past the point of trying to build miles (though of course I totally am with three medium long runs in one week – uff). I am now narrowing in on pace, specifically race pace. Or, what will be my race pace. Well, at least I’m trying to anyway.

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This happens every training cycle; I set out to do a tempo run and ride the struggle bus the whole way. I use the Jack Daniels VDot app to determine my training paces and on paper they don’t look too daunting. I mean, I know I should be able to do this. All of my races say I can do this. But, for whatever reason, I can only seem to pull off these paces under race conditions. I’m always a good 10 seconds slower, no matter what I try to do. (Example: today’s run included 4 miles at half marathon pace, and while I went as hard as I could to run 6:33, I barely made 6:45, which is close to marathon pace. Yet, when I’m racing a marathon 6:45 doesn’t feel like I’m digging deep every step of the way.)

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I used to get really upset when I wasn’t able to hit these targets. I would chastise myself for not trying hard enough. Why was pacing so damned hard in practice?! And then I discovered a feature on Strava that changed the way I looked at my training. GAP – Grade Adjusted Pace. Splits are loaded into Strava and then calculated with the elevation gain and loss and recalculated with what your split would be had you been running on flat ground. For someone who lives in hilly New England, this is awesome. It gives a whole new perspective of effort. Today’s run looked like this: 6:45, 6:46, 6:52, 7:21. When the schedule tells  you to run those four miles in 6:33, it’s a bit of a bummer. But let me tell you, I TRIED. The EFFORT actually looked like this: GAP 7:15 (-210 ft), GAP 6:45 (-28 ft), GAP 6:43 (+28 ft), GAP 6:22 (+213 ft). With some of the hills as steep as a 9.8% grade, this wasn’t too shabby. Also, It was a relatively consistent effort over those 4 miles.

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While I do work on hitting a pace, I focus more on maintaining an effort. Having to run a specific pace without race conditions (crowds cheering you on, volunteers handing you Gatorade, police stopping traffic at intersections, competitors giving you a reason to push) can be tough. Add in the mental and physical block of hills, lousy weather, or fatigue from training and it will be really tough! This is why I spend more time checking in with myself on how I feel than I do checking my watch for splits. On the track, sure, splits matter, but on the road, it’s a whole different game. I’ve run a lot of races, so I know how I feel when running various distances, paces, and efforts. A 5k pace is hell-bent for election, dig your nails in and hang on as long as possible type of fast. 5k pace HURTS and is only maintained for roughly 20 mins. I don’t do a whole lot at this pace/effort, thankfully. 10k and “tempo” runs are also hard, but less soul crushing and I could hold on to this for about 30 to 45 minutes. Half marathon pace is always tricky for me. I always feel like it should be easier than it is, but honestly, I’m so bad at 10Ks that it’s basically the same pace. I’ve been able to hang on to the 6:33 pace in a race, though it did feel completely unsustainable the whole way and I’m always surprised with myself when I finish and am still alive. In training, I can really only hold the pace for up to an hour, if I’m lucky. Marathon pace is my favorite. I always feel like I’m clipping along. It’s fresh, easy, quick, sustainable. Until the last few miles of the workout or race I always feel like I could run at that speed into eternity. So, whenever I have a workout with an assigned PACE, I think back to a race and remember how I felt running it and try to imitate that EFFORT through the intervals and over the hills.

Pace matters in a race. Effort matters always.

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Complacency Doesn’t Fit In a Training Cycle

So I’ve technically been back to marathon training for two weeks now, and to be honest, it hasn’t been great. I envisioned loping along snowy streets, clicking away miles, and happily building up miles. Running that was pure bliss. I have been all out of sorts since my race in October and I felt that a lot of that had to do with my lack of schedule and purpose. So, naturally it would be made all better with some real training on the calendar. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

The truth is, I’ve been bored the last few months and that hasn’t really gone away, even though I’ve registered for a Spring marathon & have big shiny goals to look forward to. But it’s more than boredom or lack of desire. It’s depression and I’m not facing it – at least not properly. Some times depression and anxiety isn’t cured by getting fresh air and exercise, despite what all those memes tell you. Some times it is a lot more stubborn and can make your running suffer.

Of course there are always catalysts: my husband & I didn’t have the best week including a conversation where the awful D word was thrown around, followed by everyone getting sick including my daughter with a 105 fever. There’s also the bills to pay, the chores to do, the cat that ran away, the work to comply with, the house to build. It never ends and there’s always something stressing. I tried to use the Fall as a space to slowly build up my mileage and get the Long Run to be long again, and perhaps do a few shorter races. But there was always an excuse to not run, to skip lifting, to not register for that 5k, to cut the LR short. I ran boring 5 mile aerobic and easy runs on the same boring courses. I just didn’t care anymore.

My 18 week training plan officially started 14 January, and I was set on being dedicated. I was all in and I was going to get fast and strong, damnit! But I ended up cutting the very first workout. I should have run 4 miles at half marathon pace (10 miles total with warm up and cool down) but instead I crawled through 3 miles at barely marathon race pace (8 miles total). No worries, it was only day one. I’d get through this. But, I haven’t gotten much better. I struggle to control the pace. I feel wildly out of control. I feel like I am horribly out of shape. It all feels like so much more work than it should be.

Since I was getting pretty good at tearing myself down, I figured why not give myself a pop quiz, a pre-assessment of sorts, to see where I am starting from. So I signed up for a 15k road race and went at it. The goal was to lock on to half marathon race pace (around 6:30) and hang on to it for as long as possible. Sadly, this didn’t work out. I took a gel before the race which gave me a wicked sugar rush, followed by a devastating sugar crash, leaving me dizzy and fatigued at mile four. I took the first mile down hill a bit too aggressively and suffered for it later on. From mile four to the finish I struggled to keep marathon pace, but I honestly didn’t care, and that was the worst part about it. My head wasn’t in it and it was keeping my body from being in it as well. I tried to pull it together in the last mile, but I’m not gonna lie – it wasn’t a strong finish. I finished second, which won me and elite finisher’s rain jacket (this will come in handy!!) and my time was 102:32, a moderate 6:42 pace. I know I used the hills, the muddy road, the reaction to my nutrition all as excuses, and maybe they are legit, but I also know that I didn’t run with heart, and I haven’t been since I crossed the line in Hartford.

So, if I’m going to go after this sub 3 hour marathon goal, I am going to have to figure out how to care again. I’m going to have to wrangle in my depression, make amends with my family, and run like I mean it. I’m not in a bad position to start a training cycle – my weight, base miles, nutrition, training plan, everything is all looking good and is right where it ought to be. The only big excuse I have right now is myself.