Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Restlessness

It's always after an easy-feeling, pleasant run that I feel this restlessness. This itch to improve, to figure out the next thing and how to get there. I've spent the last hour and half looking at advanced half marathon training plans and hunting down a nearby school track to do speed work.

After spending Sunday sulking about my duathlon times, I feel back on the wagon. Screw the bike. Hockey is my cross-training, so I don't really need it. Running is my jam, baby. Let's do this thing.

Here's how it plays out:
  • I have the DRC Half on Sunday, Nov. 3. I'm setting a 2:30 goal. It's a stretch goal, so it isn't one of those "pout if I don't get it" goals, but it's my goal. This is a mostly flat, very familiar course and if I can average 10:30 run intervals and 14:00 walk intervals doing 3:1 intervals, I can reach this goal. I was doing 9:30 run intervals and 14:00 walk intervals on the 15k when I got hurt. If I can dial that back a smidge, avoid angering the hamstring, and not have to stop to pee or anything, then I can do it.
  • Our DRC training runs through the Dallas Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 7, but since I already had 2 road halfs scheduled and the Dallas is crazy expensive, I decided to sign up for the Isle du Bois 18k trail run on Dec. 6. 
  • Trail running is a different animal, so I need to train up for it, which means moving long runs on Saturdays to the trails. Maybe not all of them but probably 3 of the 4 post-DRC Half. Rosie is doing IDB with me, so I'll have some good company.

And that's it for 2013. Well, the 8M Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, but that's kind of a throwaway, shits and giggles, earn-your-pie race. (FYI, last year I did the Houston Turkey Trot 5k and it was an all out, exhausting effort to run that. I think the most I'd done was 4 miles and this year I'm shrugging at 8 miles. How amazing is that??)

So, the point is, I'm all out of races after Dec. 6! And that's only like a month away! Ack! Then what???

I'd considered seriously signing up for the New Years Eve half in Allen, but now I'm thinking to skip that and start a new half marathon training program. That would give me a few light weeks while allowing me to start integrating legitimate speed work without the pressure of another race on the near horizon.

I hate to not run with a group but I really don't know of a group that will have the timing (not waiting until mid January to start) and elements I want (real speed and hill work while still letting me do run/walk for the long distances).

What's more, the RunOn Speed Training class starts on Jan. 21 and I'd love to do that, but it would conflict with DRC Tuesday runs, so that's money wasted.

So, I think I'm going to have to strike out on my own (and maybe try and bring some folks with me).

I'm considering Hal Higdon's Intermediate or Advanced Half Marathon program. If I did the Advanced, I'd have to shove the whole week back a day to put the long run on Saturday and make Sunday a rest day and put weight training on Tue/Thu/Fri.

Or if I did Intermediate, I'd have to replace some speed days with hill days. After all that work I did for Tyler, I'm not letting my climbing muscles shrivel up.

Anyway, it's 1:30 a.m. and I may read this with a clearer mind in the morning and think I've lost my marbles, so I better post this now as evidence of what The Restlessness does to a girl on a runner's high. It's dangerous stuff. I love it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Esprit de She Duathlon - Dallas - 2013

I debated for weeks on whether to do this race. The challenge was intriguing: 5k run/18m bike/5k run.

For one, I'm not much of a short distance runner. I honestly think I'd need to run at least a mile before a 5k in which I actually wanted to do well. For two, I'm not a cyclist. I have a bike, I can ride it okay, but I don't particularly enjoy it. I can run hills and feel like Wonder Woman, just chewing them up, but on a bike? Ugh. I just feel like gravity is conspiring against me. Biking hills hits my "Uncle!" button way faster than just about anything.

But the description said the course was fast and flat, and I had a friend from Houston racing it, so I said, "What the hell. YOLO, right?"

In the last couple of months, I added a bike day to my training each week, and then started adding runs after those and even a bike/run/bike/run interval day to prepare for this race. I felt like I'd done as much as I could given my other training goals, and would fare pretty well.

But earlier in the week, I joined the Community Recreation Center up the street and started my weight training program. Wednesday's workout included deadlifts, and either I did them wrong or used too heavy a weight, but the lifts just wrecked my hamstrings. And if you recall, I already had a gimpy hamstring from three weeks earlier. Doh!

Fortunately, it was the OTHER hamstring muscles that got goobered up by the deadlifts and not the one that was hurt before (the more medial one). Then on Thursday, I did a pretty hard stride run that I knew at the time might come back to bite me. But it felt so good, I couldn't help myself. And indeed, by Saturday morning, my hammies were talking to me with every step, much less every running step, and my legs felt anything but fresh.

And from the first half mile of the 5k, I knew it wasn't going to be a day of stellar times. After researching pace strategies for duathlons, I decided going comfortably hard for the first 5k and just muddling through the second 5k with whatever was left was my strategy. The second one was going to suck regardless, so make up time where you can.

The first 5k was still in the range of 11 minute miles, which isn't all that great for me by any means. AND, that "flat and fast" promise? Uh uh. One portion was on a trail that was flat and fast but the rest of it was rolling hills and I just didn't have my hill chewing teeth that day. I guess I can chew hills over long distances because the walk breaks that I use to stay fresh become less consequential time-wise yet more valuable energy-wise the longer I go, but for short distances, I just don't know how to manage it.

But we got it over (we being me and Rosie, my friend from the DRC running group) and headed to the bike transition. My first few strides on the bike felt SO good. My quads were still pretty fresh despite the hills and it felt great to use new muscles, so I just flew through the first few miles. And indeed most of the bike route was flat. However, there was a STRONG headwind for nearly half the out and back loop, which we did twice. Every American flag on the route was standing straight out parallel to the road we were on. So, into the wind FELT like riding uphill, and blessedly, the other direction was very fast and easy thanks to the tail wind.

However, as the bike route went on, you did finally hit a hill. Of course, going down it was amazing. I just hunched down, tried to reduce my wind drag, and coasted. On the way back, though, into the wind and up a pretty steep hill was pretty bad. The second loop around, it was straight up AWFUL. We all agreed that that was the worst part of the race.

The second worst part of the race was a hill on the second half of run that neither of us even remembered being there on the first 5k. There were some longhorns in a field and that's all we remembered from the first 5k. The second 5k, I didn't even see the longhorns because I was cursing that hill! My legs were so miserable by the second 5k that pain didn't matter anymore. My legs were just tired and I knew my overall time wasn't going to be anything to brag about, so I didn't grind as hard as I could have. I have a half marathon next weekend and didn't want to blow a hammy or something else stupid on this race.

So I walked some of each of those hills on the second 5k. The cycling just sapped my spirit and my climbing muscles (moreso my spirit, I'd say) and I just couldn't find the will to get to the top.

I'm always happy to see a finish line, but usually in a "woo! I did it!" way. This time it was in a "Woo! It's over!" way. I did my best but my best was disappointing to me on this day.

I was very proud of my friends, however, who rocked it. Rosie beat me by a good margin, and my Houston friend won first in her age group! So proud of my girls and very inspired by their success.

Some items of note from this race:
  • Very nice free 15 minute shoulder massages afterward. My shoulders were up to my ears on that bike ride, so that was a great perk that probably saved me from a raging tension headache later in the day. Also some really tasty food and drinks, even though we never made it to the bubbly bar. Also, nice cycling jerseys instead of tech shirts and very pretty medals. A very good swag race.
  • The bike route ended up stopping a line of cars half a mile long. Lots of irate drivers, a few shouting encouragement, and one guy... well, he made the most of his time and pulled out his flute (not a euphemism, a real silver flute) and started playing it with the window down while he waiting in our little traffic jam. Bravo!
  • The lady on the second 5k who panted and moaned like she was having an orgasm (or working on it) the entire time I was in earshot. Now, I know you must think I'm exaggerating, but I'm serious. If you heard these noises on the other side of a door, you would assume someone was being very well serviced in there. It was unbelievable! I don't know if she was in pain or couldn't help it or what but it did at least serve to make me turn on the jets to get away from it. It was very disconcerting!
Today (Sunday) I have two hockey games this evening but am so worn down that I'm basically hiding under the covers until I can't any more. But I am still looking forward to the DRC half on Sunday. Should be plenty of time to taper, rest, and get my legs back under me. Luckily I'm not very sore today. Just drained.

Overall, I'd do it again, but I'd do more hill work on my bike and work on my 5k to prepare and I'd taper better so my legs were fresher. In the end, though, I enjoy straight road running much more. Way less complicated, I can just zone out and go, and it's easier to gauge my competition, which is what drives me later in the long runs.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tyler Rose Half Marathon 2013

So, it might not have been the smartest idea ever to choose, as my first half marathon, the one that makes all the runners in the North Texas area go, "Whoa... HILLS."

But I think I've made it pretty clear by now that I'm just winging it and if it looks like I did something quite smart, I mostly just got lucky. For example, mid-October weather is highly unpredictable weather in north Texas. So, to sign up for the Tyler Rose is to potentially sign up to run non-stop hills in super-humid 80 degree weather.

This very real threat smacked me in the face the morning before the race when I opened my back door in Dallas to let the dogs out. Warm and oppressively humid. Houston humid. I first thought about my poor running group doing 11 training miles that morning, and then thought, "Oh crap, this better blow out by tomorrow."

It was humid and yucky and drizzly all the rest of the day. I kept checking the weather hoping this was the ugly end of a cold front blowing through, but the 5 weather apps on my phone refused to budge off lows in the mid 60s and highs in the high 70s with nearly 100% humidity for Sunday.

"Run? On THESE hills, Doctor?" - Rose Tyler
What have I done?

Fortunately, Saturday's warmth abated, cloud cover kept the sun from being a factor, and the light mist in the air kept me from overheating, despite the sweat dripping off my fingertips as I ran. I might not have felt smart for signing up, but at least I didn't feel dumb for it either.

 I knew when I signed up for the race, I had two main challenges: First is that my longest training run had been 10.5 miles. I was throwing this race in a little ahead of where we were on the schedule. Second, those hills. I read race reports, I asked people who'd run it. I said, "So, what kind of hills were they? Long slow hills? Short steep hills? LONG, STEEP HILLS??"

All the kinds of hills, they said. Okay. I live in a hilly neighborhood with all the kinds of hills, and our training runs included hills (both on our Tuesday night runs where we did a few hill repeat workouts, and on our long runs around White Rock Lake neighborhoods). I figured the best I could do was devote all my Thursday runs to hill work in my own neighborhood. So that's what I did. Dutifully, every Thursday, 3-5 miles of hills.

I didn't know if I'd done enough, but at least I could sleep easy and know that I did as much as I could for where I'm at in my training.

The DRC 15k Loop club race the Saturday before threw another challenge my way, when my overzealous speed, thanks to my determination to beat the pants off the girl in the Pujols shirt, led to me pulling my hamstring. PUJOLS! (I beat her soundly, BTW, so it was worth every painful step.)

So, now I'm running:
  • My first half marathon
  • It's super hilly
  • I'm slightly injured
  • It's humid, and
  • I'm nowhere close to finishing my half marathon training.
I wasn't sure what my goals were for the race other than to just get through it, but as race day came within reach, it clarified for me.

Three main things:
  1. No racing; run training pace and enjoy the journey. Even if Pujols himself lopes past me. Do. Not. Chase.
  2. Don't make the injury worse.
  3. Finish strong and smiling.
I had a time of 2:45 in my head as respectable, but given all the unknowns, I just couldn't tie any goals to time. I had to listen to my body and do what I needed to do (even if that meant stopping at a port-a-potty midway so I could run a more comfortable race... man, I hate stopping and I hate port-a-potties).

So, when Runkeeper kept telling me at nearly every mile marker that I was clocking an average pace of exactly 12:33, I knew I was meeting goal #1. That's a little faster than my group training pace, but my instinct during races is closer to 11 and I'd had easily beat that into submission. Happy.

I felt my hamstring maybe once the whole race. I'd put KT tape on it and between that and taking it easy and running my natural stride (not too short, not too long), it was a non-issue. Happy.

The final mile and change of the race has two big uphills. As I was approaching the 12 mile marker, my phone gave me the ol' "7% battery" warning. Shit. I was NOT losing this race data! So I decided to ditch my 2:1 intervals and run it in. I felt great and knew I had this final push in me so long as my hamstring stayed quiet.

And so, I ran. And I felt strong. And entered the rose garden and there were my parents cheering me in and the guy announcing my name and the photographers and the finish arch and the people handing out medals and bottles of water and the astroturf or grass or whatever the green under me was, was so soft on my tired feet. I finished strong and smiling. Happy.

I'll admit to a tinge of disappointment in my time, but when you factor in the 5 minute potty stop (3 women ahead of me), I really wasn't that far off the mark with my 2:53 finish.

Once I gathered myself and thought about the race with some clarity, the one goal I was afraid to set was the one I met and am most proud of: Conquering those hills.

Because I never once thought how bad the hills were. I think maybe one time, a fairly short hill was steep enough that I had to swing my arms a little higher to keep my steady pace up it. I passed people by the dozens on those hills, especially late in the race, especially that last mile, when people who'd passed me miles ago were now slowed to a waddle up these final ascents. 

I was READY for those hills. I whooped those hills. I finished saying, "What hills?" and meant it without an ounce of false bravado. I really thought, "What is the fuss?" And yet in the days after the race, I see tons of, "OMG that course nearly killed me!"

I'm here to tell you, there's nothing to be scared of on this course if you've put your work in. And for what it's worth, I'd characterize most of the hilliness as longer slopes of moderate incline but not much break from the ups and downs either. Do your work and you'll eat those hills for breakfast.

After sweatyhugging my parents, I drank my chocolate milk, ate a banana nut muffin I'd brought (apparently you had to walk up stairs to get to the post race pizza, so no thanks) and hit the road for Dallas. My hip flexors are my achilles heel at the moment (just started working on fixing that) so they were screaming when I got home. I took a nice long nap and then went and played hockey that night.

Not surprisingly, the lingering soreness the next couple of days was in my quads. I worked most of it out of my right (dominant) leg at hockey getting up off the ice, but my left was sore for 2 days after that. Go figure. I really don't understand how the human body works sometimes.

But add playing hockey to the list of victories that day. I honestly thought I would make a mess of it, but we actually ended up winning the game and my stiff legs didn't snap off like I was worried they might.

All in all, I'd call my first half marathon a raging success. Maybe not on the clock but in every other way, from training to mental strength, it was an amazingly rewarding day.