Tuesday, March 26, 2013

some hilly runs

Ai!  I have not reported on my training in some time...but rest assured, I am still training!  Although, there have been a few hiccups lately.

First, the good news:  I had a really wonderful 12.5 mile run on March 9!  It was a glorious day - I actually got a little bit sunburned on my face because I wasn't quite ready to experience that much sun!  The sun was shining, and it was warm enough to run with just one long-sleeved layer (without a scarf!).  I was excited to see what my second trial of the Laurel Run Switchbacker would be like.

What it turned out to be was a HUGE icy mess!  I had really intended to go up and down the hill twice to get in my 12.5 miles, but it because very apparent about 1 mile in that it was not a terribly wise idea to do this.  The mountain road on this part of the hill receives little sun, and so while the roads down in the valley were clear of any traces of snow, there was still snow and - worse - ice covering most of the span of the road the entire 5K up (and down).  There was one part of the hill where it was utterly impossible to run, much less walk/shuffle to proceed.  ...And why was I doing this?

Well, despite those challenges, it was in fact exilhirating.  My favorite part of this hill is how stupid it makes you:  you get to the top, and then you run down, and as you're going down you think, "Hm, this isn't so bad after all; I think I'd like to run back up this hill as soon as I get down!"  You forget that about a half mile before you thought you were going to keel over and swore you'd wait a long, long time before you approached this challenge again.

Thankfully, I was shaken from my stupor when I fell down on the ice.  I knew for sure that as tough as I wanted to prove to myself that I was, it was not worth it to risk serious injury running that hill again.  Fortunately, I was not hurt in the fall.  When I got to the bottom of the hill, some folks at the finish line gave me great news -- if I took a different fork in the road, there was a different path to run on and the road was clear.  I didn't realize until after I did the ~6 miles on this road that it was also a hill (much less challenging than the first 10K), so all in all I ended up accumulating 1,378 feet of elevation gain (and an equal amount of loss) over the course of 12.52 miles and about 2.5 hours.  Here's a picture of what I did:
The next weekend, the day after I dug up part of my garden in anticipation of planting...it snowed.  So much for the beautiful weather!  There continues to be snow to this day.  The snow made me hem and haw about whether to try to run repeats of 800m/0.5mi outside or on the treadmill, because the track I would have preferred was completely covered.  I found that a few roads by my house and the bike path were clear enough for me to run, so I gratefully went outside.

         lap        pace
1 8:32
2 9:00
3 8:44
4 8:40
5 8:36
6 9:04
7 9:30
8 9:18
9 9:14

At the time, I was please with my splits, but...well...the story continues...

The Tuesday after this 9x800 I did used the treadmill to do some cadence drills and then run a mile at "race pace."  Which, of course, I did faster than I should have...around 9:00/mile (the race-pace aim is 10:30/mile with walking breaks every 3 minutes).  I don't know for sure that the hard running did it, but...on Tuesday night my left knee started hurting.  It was mild, but it was also concerning enough that I thought I should really take a break.  I was also facing some major stress in the Life department, which I think also contributed to tightness in my leg and therefore more knee pain.  So I said no to my Thursday morning run.  And then proceeded to ice my knee several times a day and try to figure out what was wrong.

I've determined that I've aggravated my iliotibial band.  I had suspected this was happening at the end of last year, and it seemed to get better during a period when I wasn't running heavily and was doing some foam rolling at a gym during December.  Now, it seems to have come back.  And from what I have been reading about it, the most important thing I could have been doing to combat the problem is the one I've been neglecting most often.  Probably the culprit isn't from running too fast...nor is it lack of stretching (which...I should probably do more of anyhow) -- no, it seems that putting off strength training is probably the #1 factor (combined, probably, with some more intense hills than my weak muscles could put up with).

This is interesting to me because a couple days after running up the gigantic icy hill my abdominal muscles really hurt.  I hadn't done any core strength training that I could connect to the pain, so I settled on the explanation of the run itself giving my abs a workout.  From breathing hard, maybe??  I'm not sure, but I was certainly convinced that abdominal strength could have an impact on my running.  And now, what I'm learning about the IT band issue suggests that lack of core and butt-muscle strength are the best correlations between runners who get IT band problems compared with those who don't.

Who knew!  Well, I now feel slightly more motivated to do the strength training that I had penciled in to my training schedule, and I am forming plans to spend some serious time focusing on developing more strength and mobility once I get through the race in May and take a break from lots of running.  The benefits are becoming very clear to me now!

P.S.  The good news is that my IT band is feeling much, much better the past couple days (even after a fairly grueling 10-miler on Sunday, which might have not been the world's best idea).  I've been rolling it, icing it, and this morning started doing some strengthening exercises.  I'm feeling hopeful!

Friday, March 8, 2013

marching onwards

The training continues to go well - feeling great for the most part.  Yesterday's 45-minute run was a bit ungreat because I'd had a pretty poor night's sleep, but no aches and pains.  I think my calf muscles are getting stronger - they feel different.  I attribute it to the speed training sessions.

This Saturday (March 9) I'm heading out for a 12.5 mile long, slow run.  But I also don't want to miss one of the events that got me started with this running hobby:  the Laurel Run Switchbacker 10K, part of the "Tussey Teasers" series by the organizers (well...mainly organizER) of the Tussey Mountainback.  This year I will NOT be beating my time from last year, since the goal is to run at a 12:30 pace (last year I did it at 10:15 average pace, although...the first half was much slower than the second half).

This one will be a little tricky because the first half is entirely uphill (and it's a rather brutal uphill, if I do say so myself).  You can see the elevation profile here.  997 feet uphill in 3.1 miles...but then it's 997 feel downhill for 3.1 miles!

We'll see how it goes, but the current plan is to do this twice plus a little extra to get the 12.5 miles in.  As much as running up and down this hill isn't the most awesome experience in the world, when I got done with it last year, I thought..."I want to do that again!"  Not immediately, but I did want to give it another go, having a better idea of what I was getting myself into.  I'm intrigued to see what my uphill pace will be like with the run-walk-run approach.  Last year I was very proud to get uphill running the ENTIRE way, and I averaged about 11:39 per mile.

I'd better get a good night's rest tonight, because if I feel like I did during yesterday's run, I might not make it the whole 12.5 miles.

Monday, February 25, 2013

long run...getting LONG!

Saturday's long run was 11 miles long.  Whew!  My first thought when I think of running that long is..."I am going to get SO bored!"  Pleasantly, that has not yet happened when I've run long distances.

Theoretically I am supposed to be running my long runs at about a 12:30 min/mile pace.  I tend to go a bit faster than that, but nevertheless, once I'm over 10 miles that's at least 2 hours of doing nothing but...running!  What do I do to keep myself from getting bored?

1. I listen to opera.  Ha - I suppose that would increase boredom for some!  One of the reasons I typically do my long runs on Saturday afternoons in the winter is that starting at 1pm the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast begins!  Whee, 2 to 3 solid hours of riveting, interesting music and/or interviews and information about the opera.  I find that I can run at my own pace even if the music is at a different tempo; I have a really hard time not running "with the music" for other genres of music that I enjoy, and that leads to too-fast or too-slow speeds.  Another bonus is that, while I enjoy listening to the opera broadcast, if I were at home I would probably not carve out 2 hours of my time to listen to it.  If I run with it, I get to take care of 2 things at one time!  Listening to the opera prevents boredom because I am subjected to a lot of emotions coming from the music.  And...since I really don't know what is happening (I can't see it, and it's in a foreign language), I am constantly wondering "Is this the part where Jose returns?  Or...not yet?"  Another thing I value about listening to opera instead of other music is that I can still hear what's going on around me.  Sometimes, especially if I'm running on roads or on trails that seem creepy, I will NOT listen to anything - because I want to be SAFE!  In training for my first half-marathon, I did most of my 10+ mile long runs without music because the race organizers for that one prohibited MP3 players, radios, etc., which I thought was a very wise idea on their part.  Having been startled drastically by people running up behind me as I've jogged around town, I believe running without distraction can be as important as driving without texting!

2.  I count my steps.  I do this for a couple different reasons.  One is to get a relative idea of how fast I'm going...if my cadence is too fast, I'm running too fast!  Another is because sometimes the only way I'll get through the next 5 minutes of the run is if I break it into smaller parts - so I run 100 steps...then 100 more...then I'm nearly halfway through that 5 minutes!...another 100 steps -- and hey, I can run 200 more, if I have to!  It's a mental thing.

3.  I do math.  Knowing my cadence and approximately how far I've gone and how far I have yet to go gives me all kinds of things to calculate.  "If I need to slow down to 12:30 per mile, how many steps is that each minute?"  "Given that, how many steps do I have left to go in this run?"  When I was in middle school I took a career-placement assessment, and I distinctly remember one of the questions being "Do you enjoy adding large columns of numbers?" and I answered an emphatic "YES!!!"  I also enjoy doing long division.  ...In my head.

3.  I think of where I'm going to go.  Usually I have a pretty good concept of what route I'm going to take to reach my mileage for that day.  But, I don't always know exactly where I'll go.  On Saturday's run I started out walking and thinking, "Do I want to go up the Blue Course hill, or run down it?"...that set me off on my first leg (I went up).  And since the uphill loop intersects with another loop I know the approximate mileage for, I had that option -- to veer off onto a new loop and finish the first one later.  And if I'm not quite sure how far a loop is exactly (i.e. this week I doubted my concept of the second loop thanks to the 2-mile-off-calculating from February X's run!), I brainstorm some "outs" where I can add in some extra distance or take a shortcut once I get a better idea of what mileage the planned loop is going to give me.  And...sometimes I just run off course because it seems enjoyable - on Saturday after the second loop I still had 5 miles to go, and I happened to be by a very beautiful path, so I turned and ran through the golf course and some trails for the next 3 miles, which was much more exciting than simply pavement if I'd stuck with my original plan.  (Sometimes I plan-on-the-go because I really want to avoid running a particular part at a particular time...like, I really hate finishing my runs on this bike trail by my house.  This Saturday I gladly accepted the golf-course distraction because it meant I wouldn't need to go to the bike path!)

4.  I observe - especially when I am running by something lovely.  I started running because I thought it would be enjoyable to experience the woods and outdoors by jogging past, so I am reminded to take a look around and enjoy what I see and hear and smell and feel.  On Saturday I heard birds singing, I saw lots of dogs on walks with owners, I felt it get warm enough to take off a layer of clothing and then get cooler forcing me to re-dress.  Saturday was also the so-called State Patty's Day "holiday," and I briefly ran past downtown State College, so I saw and heard some reveling.  ...Plus, when I'm running and I don't exactly have a plan, I need to pay attention to where in the world I am so I can get back if I need to turn around!

5.  I pray.  I sometimes feel like I ought to do this as my primary activity while I am running.  What better time?  Instead of wasting 2 hours listening to opera, why not spend it with valuable prayer?  I try, but so far I haven't excessively successful at staying focused on this.  I suppose it's in part because I'm doing all those other things -- observing, thinking of where to go, doing what needs to be done mentally to get through -- and I don't currently have the ability to pray and do something else at the same time.  (Case in point:  today I was praying while filling up some jugs at work...I finished and went to do my next task, still praying, and arrived at my new location with the realization that I had brought the jugs WITH me, although they were supposed to stay at my original location.  Um...)  On Saturday when I heard and saw the State Patty-ers, I did pray for a while for them, for the city, for everyone else who was praying.

So, before I knew it...I was done!  Eleven miles past me, and I'd hear pretty much all of Carmen, counted to 80 about 50 times, recalculated my plan until the very last second, saw plenty of things including the sign for Saratoga Drive where I need to remember to turn or risk getting lost in a tangle of subdivision streets, and prayed.  No wonder it's not just my legs that are tired afterwards -- it's also my BRAIN!

Monday, February 18, 2013


Another speedwork session was had on Saturday.  It was a very busy day, so instead of heading to the track (driving there...driving back...) I just went outside and ran back and forth on a mildly flat portion of the bike trail that goes behind my home.  Not sure what the folks who live along there thought about me running past their house 5 times in one hour, but no matter.

Alas, I am still running these TOO FAST.  I'm learning, slowly but surely.  At least this time I could complete my repeats of 1/2-mile.  But the pace is well over 1 mile/minute faster than what I'm aiming for.  It seems good to go faster, right?  Perhaps, but I am reminded over and over by articles I read that training TOO HARD (which includes too fast) is asking for a) injury and b) exhaustion.

Between now and the next repeats-session in a fortnight, I aim to get an better feel for how my target speed-pace FEELS.  I'm thinking that tomorrow's run might involve some of this, assuming it's warm enough for me to go outside and not feel frozen.  Or...looking at the weather forecast, which is calling for freezing rain about that time tomorrow...maybe not tomorrow's run!

Anyhow, the report on my actually running on Saturday:  after a 5 minute walk, I jogged for a while (7ish minutes), did some acceleration drills, then turned around and ran a half-mile back from where I'd come from.  Back and forth I went, 5 times; afterwards, jogging and walking to cool down.  Here are the times of my 5 half-miles (a short walk-break of approx 20-30 seconds was included in each one):

Lap Time Speed (min/mile)
1 04:13.2 08:26.4
2 04:19.2 08:38.4
3 04:32.0 09:04.0
4 04:23.5 08:47.0
5 04:34.0 09:08.0

Average 04:24.4 08:48.8

I should be going 10:00.0 min/mile.  And if I remove the time for the walk-break, it tells me I'm running at just about as fast as I am able without puking, 8:08.8 for a mile.  BOOOOO!!!!  Thankfully I did not feel like I was going to puke when I was running these, but the message is clear to me nevertheless.

Despite these issues, it was a really good run.  I like accomplishing a good workout first thing in the morning.  Now, I just need to remember that tomorrow when it's freezing-raining outside!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

how it's going

Whew, it's been a few weeks.  The overview is that the week of February 1 I ran...and then I was forced to take about a week off due to some medical testing.  I'm fine (more or less), and I was frustrated that I couldn't run.  Fortunately, I consoled myself with the fact that my long run on February 2 was quite good.  By "good" I mean...I finished it well, without being exhausted at the end - AND I even managed to not feel like my legs were tired until about mile 9 of the 9.5 mile run.  That's pretty amazing -- I usually start feeling it around mile 6.

That long run ended a bit strangely.  I had planned out my route - making a 4.5 mile loop and then a separate 5 mile loop using a different route.  I was supposed to end up back at my home, but I managed to be about 1.5 miles away!  Due to it being quite cold, me being quite sweaty, and realizing it was not a super idea to walk in that state despite the fact that I was physically able to do so, I called my husband and he kindly picked me up.  I still haven't investigated why my calculation was so off!

The week off was frustrating, but it was probably good.  I hadn't felt the pains in my chest at all until they recurred the day before yesterday.  This morning I did a 45-minute non-challenging run, and I felt great.  Time to get back on track!  And speaking of the track, I'm scheduled to spend some time on the actual TRACK again on Saturday to do some repeats of 800 meters.  Hooray!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

a great training session!

WOW!  Tuesday's morning workout was GREAT!!!  I don't know if it was simply the fact that I was outside or if there was more to it, but I really enjoyed getting up early and running some drills through a drizzly fog.

When I run outdoors in the morning it's usually dark, at least this time of the year, and so I strap on a headlamp.  Depending on what time I get outside, the headlamp isn't so much for me to be able to see where I'm going as it is for other people/cars to see me.  Tuesday I was out around 6:45, and so there was a fair amount of traffic along the road I was running, which meant quite a bit of light due to their headlights.

The weather was pretty rotten, but it was WARM!  Around 40F, my thermometer said!!  This meant that even the sidewalks that hadn't been properly shoveled to remove the snow from the day before were fairly clear and not too slippery.

I definitely found this Tuesday's workout easier and more enjoyable to perform than the similar one last week.  Tuesdays in this training regimen are for "if you've properly recovered from the weekend run, work on footwork & going fast!"  When I first read about this workout I thought it would be awful -- doing running-based drills was always the worst part of sports practices!  But after some thought I realized that the drills could actually be FUN!  They're kind of a game, in fact.

The basics of the workout are:
1.  Warm up with easy jogging.

2.  Pick up the pace a little bit -- run for 30 seconds counting left-footstrikes, then walk for a minute; the next 30 seconds, try to hit the ground 1-2 times more than you did the first 30 seconds (a.k.a. run slightly faster).  Repeat a few times.

3.  Work on transitions:  go several steps slowly, then several steps faster, then over the course of several more steps work up to race-pace -- and then stop trying and let momentum carry your legs back to slow jogging.  I'm not sure that I really see the point of this yet, but it's okay.  If nothing else, it doesn't take long.

4.  Run a mile at race pace.  I've settled on shooting for 10:30 miles for the May 5 half-marathon.  I have a feeling I could go faster than this if I really pushed it, but it's already a 25-second-per-mile faster speed than I did my first half at, and that's a pretty good jump.  Tuesday's race-pace mile was actually rather faster than the goal pace (...refer to the report on the weekend speed work...).  While it's splendid that I can run-walk-run a mile in less time than I want to, the goal is really to do this all SAFELY and gently!  So I still need to work on knowing how race-pace feels so that I don't go too fast.

5.  Jog some more until the total time is 45 minutes.  I set out a bit late Tuesday morning, so it was more a total of around 40 minutes.  Close enough.

While wandering in to work thinking about the morning run, I realized that it wasn't that much different from a sports practice.  The difference was that I was the coach!  I was the one keeping track of the time for the repeats and internally yelling to myself "GO!" and "keep moving!"  I got a better appreciation for why doing such drills in other sports was useful.  Just like for the half-marathon I'm training for, the drills work to make muscles stronger and more responsive...and give a mental challenge to keep going to reach the end!

Monday, January 28, 2013

still pushing!

With my performance goal with this training series being to reduce the risk of injury, I'm doing a pretty good job of pressing that to the limit.  I've noted so far that I tend to push myself too hard:  first it was with running too fast in general during my first year of serious running; then it was running my speed-work drills too fast when I tried them out a week back.  NOW even my strength training, being implemented because it is supposed to help me prevent injury by giving me better overall stability, seems to be tempting me to push too much.

In other words:  I hurt!

A couple weeks ago in the middle of the night I woke up, drowsily turned to the side, and then was overwhelmed by a sharp, stabbing pain emanating from around my sternum.  It filled the upper part of my left-side chest area and left a dull ache extending into my left arm.  It was fairly frightening!

My husband was out of town, and I had half a mind to call him, but I realized there was not a whole lot he could do in Kansas if I were having (as I feared) a heart-attack in Pennsylvania.  So, I did what any wise person would do...I looked on the internet.

To my surprise, I learned that even the most foreboding websites were pretty confident that my pain was not due to a heart attack or breast cancer.  It was suggested that these pains were more likely caused by a strain in my muscles, specifically those in the torso and/or back.  It just so happened that I had started doing abdominal exercises a few days ago AND was experiencing a lot of tension in my back thanks to a lot of stress that I tend to store in those parts.  The internet suggested that a leading cause of the pain I was having was due to too strenuous exercise.

Bah!  I was caught again in that habit of too much!

The pain was gone for the next week or so, but it started coming back again when I laughed hard one evening at home.  After more hemming and hawing over it, I settled again on the fact that I had pushed my core muscles a bit too much and potentially pulled a muscle in my chest.  Fortunately, I have learned well what the cure for these types of ailments is:  REST.

So, as hard as it was, I abandoned my planned strength exercises over the next 4 days.  I'm not sure that's been enough to really heal the issue, but when I did my ab exercises this morning I made a conscious effort to do them carefully and gently, and I followed them with some serious stretching.

We'll see how it goes!  I may be making yet another adjustment to my training plan!!

Tomorrow it may actually be warm enough for me to get motivated to go outside for a morning run before work, which will be nice because I'll be doing some speed drills -- much more enjoyable on the ground compared with on a treadmill!