Thursday, June 28, 2012

Where I've Been and Where I'm Going

Yes, friends, I know what it's come to. You've been sitting captive at your computer screen, impatiently hitting "refresh" day after day, hour after hour, wanting nothing more than an update from yours truly. Great news! Despair no more, because today is your lucky day. Not only am I here to present a real, for real, legitimate update on my training and racing (or woeful lack thereof), but I am also offering my humble pledge to return to the prolific posting and witty musings that have so endeared you to Green Lightning Running.

First, to acknowledge and ever so kindly address the elephant in the room, I did not triumphantly return to form in the US Half-Marathon Championships a few weeks ago. On the contrary, I dropped out. It seems as though barely training for a month and running on a semi-injury that isn't 100% does not facilitate race-day success. I started the race with Caitlin, Alana, Allison and a substantial pack of women, but our 5:40 uphill split for the first mile delivered a shock to my system. It was a pace I'd barely touched over the past month, and it was one I was well aware would be unable to maintain for another 70 minutes. I slipped helplessly off the back of the group a few minutes later, and despite splitting a very respectable, still-on-goal-pace 18:00 for 5k I knew things were about to get real. The harder I tried, the slower I ran and the worse my leg felt. After limping through 10k in over 37 minutes, I knew that to push further would yield nothing but further disappointment at best, further injury at worst.

But wasn't dropping out disappointing in itself? Of course. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but it still stung. And pulling out of a rinky dink local race is one thing, but to do so at a national championship is an unspoken taboo. (Interestingly, this same sentiment did not seem to prevail at the Olympic Trials marathon, when something like 1/4 of the field did not finish.) To be sure, I spent a good portion of the morning wallowing in my own feelings of discouragement, of failure, of not being good enough to belong at a race like this so why did I even come. But it's hard to wallow, at least visibly, when you're sitting at breakfast with one of your best friends in the world watching her order six eggs as a side dish and planning how early in the afternoon you could start drinking in order to be sober and in bed by 9pm. And, honestly, it's hard to wallow at an event as special as Grandma's. As I said in my previous post, the city of Duluth and everyone involved with the half-marathon championships did an astounding job of making every single athlete feel like a rock star. This only continued at the post-race dinner and awards ceremony, which took place in an old train depot museum that had been completely reserved for our party. I had a blast hanging out with Caitlin and Allison and other Charlotte friends Pezz, Alana and Mark. (Shout out to Pezz and Karhu-supported athlete Joe Moore for their podium finishes!) It was a wonderfully buzzed night capping off what truly was a fun and memorable weekend, disastrous race itself notwithstanding. If they'll have me, I'm already making plans to return to Duluth next year to experience this unparalleled race hospitality again. 

Immediately afterward, despite an ailing right leg and bruised pride--or, truth be told, likely because of it--I made the totally nonsensical decision to enter the following weekend's BAA 10k back home in Boston. In his dual roles both as coach and boyfriend, Jordan emphatically denounced this as a terrible idea. I wasn't totally healthy, and I would "get my doors blown off by practically everyone." (Here's to seeing that ringing endorsement on a Hallmark "good luck" card sometime in the near future.) In the end, I guess my body decided that if common sense wouldn't prevail, it would have to resort to desperate measures. And so that's how I found myself, a mere 48 hours after my half-marathon debacle, stricken with what I can honestly describe as the worst sickness I've had the good fortune of enduring in the last five years. While this would be less than ideal under any conditions, it was particularly unfortunate given that I was preparing to board yet another jet plane, this time bound for Washington DC and the Fleet Feet Summer Conference, at which I would be required to run early, socialize late and stand on my feet presenting our lines for two full days. Normally I love these class reunions of sorts, as they present an opportunity to reconnect with far-flung friends and colleagues within the running industry. This time, I spent the entire trip exhausted and drugged and struggling to find my voice. (I'm being literal about that last part--at one point I had to ask Jordan to stand in for one of my presentations because I kept opening my mouth but was unable to force out any words. It must've been a dream come true for him on many levels.) I still dragged myself through a handful of runs throughout the trip, equally because I absolutely love training in DC but also because running was the only brief period of the day during which I could actually breathe. Outside, the mercury spiked to nearly 100 degrees, but I welcomed the heat. It warmed my cold, achy body from the inside out. Needless to say, the BAA 10k didn't happen.

At this point, still recovering from illness and injury, you'd probably think I'd be planning to take a nice, long summer break from training. Maybe take up a more civilized sport like badminton or spend my free time decorating our new condo. On the contrary, since Monday I've taken a surprising turn for the better on all physical fronts. I've regained air flow through both nostrils and my legs feel springy and light. And, though I will admit to not enjoying every minute of every run, for the most part I genuinely enjoy lacing 'em up and getting out the door every day for a few miles. On days when I don't run, even when these days are planned, I find myself feeling sluggish, grumpy and out-of-sorts. Mentally, having basically hovered in the 50-60 mile per week range for over a month, I don't feel burnt out or overtrained in the least. So, while there will almost certainly come a time in my life when I can no longer run for one reason or another, today is not that day. Neither, hopefully, is tomorrow. Which brings me to...

 ...summer training! Simply put, I plan on running. A lot. I've heard it called a "Kenyan Summer" and referenced on the LetsRun message boards countless times as the "Summer of Malmo." I plan to run in the morning and, most days, run in the evening. Strides 2-4 times per week. An occasional tempo. An occasional fartlek. But, mostly, just running. If I need a down week, I'll take one. If I need a day off, I'll rest. But if I'm just tired...well, then I'll put on my big girl pants and run some more. I'm not sure what this will mean in weekly numerical terms. 100 has a nice ring to it, but I've never been able to maintain that level consistently. 80-90 seems to be my sweet spot and where I'll most likely settle. Regardless of the math, the goal is to spend the next 8-10 weeks between now and the end of August getting ridiculously strong. Not fit, necessarily, though that will come. Just strong and healthy and ready to begin fall marathon training. By that point I'll have Caitlin to keep me accountable from afar and my partner in crime Emily to keep me trucking along day to day. In the end, it just might be crazy enough to work.

Awards dinner in the old train depot

Caitlin and me along the water behind our hotel

Duluth sits right on Lake Superior--who knew?!

Caitlin, me, Allison. First the Trials, now here, next up...Philly!

Kara Goucher's baby meets the mayor of Duluth's baby at the train depot. Kara and the mayor were teammates in high you can guess who ran faster.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Half-Ass Pre-Race Update

I realize my blog is in need of a serious update, and to my tens of readers and my dad I sincerely apologize. I've been living on the road, at friends' homes and in Residence Inns across the Midwest for the last nine days and just haven't had time to write a proper entry. During that time I've run in several awesome places and several not-so-awesome places, successfully completed a fartlek or two, and discovered that I can, in fact, still run 13 miles despite not having done so in over a month. The latter was confirmed at 13.1 Chicago last Saturday, in which I did not defend last year's title but did still manage to pocket $500 in spite of an unfortunate (but absolutely, 100% necessary) pit stop. Training is still by no means great, but it's getting there. And as I type this, I'm lounging in mine and Caitlin's hotel room in Duluth preparing for tomorrow's half-marathon national championships. A few weeks ago I didn't think I'd be healthy enough to make it to the starting line, but here I am. I look forward to writing a much more detailed entry after the race, not just about the race itself--although I hope to share the details of my triumphant return--but also about the wonderful job the quaint town of Duluth has done welcoming all of the athletes and making each of us feel like the top-tier elite athletes that only a few people here actually are. Until then, it's time to rest, relax, go for an early bird special dinner and get ready to race!
A special present from the Grandma's staff--they've now officially given me flowers one more time than Jordan.

Contents of the gift bag left in my room by the race committee. Wine! Beef jerky! A piece of chocolate shaped like a shoe!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

So You're Sayin' There's a Chance

Tuesday, 6/5
8 miles incl. 12x1 min. on/1 min. off

Wednesday, 6/6
2+ mile w/u
Target: 2x3k @~5:50 pace (3:38/k) w/jog recovery
Actual: 10:48 (3:34, 3:37, 3:36); 4:30 jog; 10:45 (3:34, 3:35, 3:35)
2+ mile c/d
Total: ~8.5 miles

Early Tuesday morning, with Jordan out of town and the prospect of another cold, rainy run from our temporary living quarters on tap, I decided it was time. Time to break up the monotony of slow, uncomfortable slogs and actually see if my legs could move faster than 8-minute pace. I seriously questioned whether it was possible, but I needed to know. So after about 30 minutes of aforementioned slogging, I decided to spice up the return trip with 10 or 12 "minuters," a trusty baby workout that almost anyone can survive. Equally important as testing my fitness, I also needed to see if my foot and leg could hold up to the pounding of a brisker pace--if not, then it would be definitely, unquestionably time to pull the plug. 

I started out timidly, tentatively, then gradually began to relax and open up the pace. By the final six intervals I might not have been running fast (and thankfully have no way of quantifying that), but I was definitely running hard--for the first time in weeks. Mercifully, my leg and foot held up fine--in fact, my body felt better at the end of this semi-workout than it has after any recent "easy" runs. My only explanation is that, forced to travel the path of least resistance in order to achieve some semblance of a quick pace, my little legs had no choice but to fall back into "normal" form instead of the awkward gimpy shuffle of the past few weeks. My leg and foot didn't just feel okay, they actually felt better.

Which is great and all. Truly, I was beyond grateful. But at the same time, being able to run 12 minutes hard without maiming myself is far from assured success at the half-marathon distance. So, when Jordan returned home Tuesday night, I outlined what needed to happen the next morning: 2x3k on the roads. Jordan playing queenmaker, as per usual. The pace needed to be 5:50 or faster--goal half-marathon pace. If I was able to execute that simple test with little difficulty, then all hope would not be lost. If, on the other hand, I struggled mightily--or worse, fell helplessly out of his slipstream only a few minutes in--then I needed to stop deluding myself with notions of a respectable performance in Duluth. As we toed the invisible starting line at our normal workout spot, I honestly had no idea how this recently untouched pace would feel. "I can do this, right?" I asked aloud with more than a tinge of uncertainty in my voice. "Yes," he replied with a tad less conviction than I would've liked.

From the outset, however, I could tell that things were going to be just fine. The pace came easily enough, and my breathing felt relaxed and strong. My only moments of struggle came when we encountered a short, steep uphill at the end of the second kilometer--the same hill that had unexpectedly greeted me toward the end of the Beach to Beach 5k last month--but once I was up and over it didn't take long to regain my equanimity. I took a long jog back to our starting point between the intervals, and once we started up again I knew the second round would go as well as the first. I finished at or slightly than faster than goal half-marathon pace without pushing or straining, and like yesterday, my semi-injuries felt inexplicably better because of it.

It's funny; at this point in a normal training cycle, 10 days out from my goal race, I'd typically be putting the icing on the proverbial cake with one final hard workout, one last gasp to gain some tangible fitness that might manifest itself on race day. Instead, I find myself on the upswing, hoping to use today and yesterday as a springboard to actually increasing my level of training between now and next Saturday. By no means am I convinced that success is a lock--as Jordan so helpfully reminded me on our cooldown, I still need to run another 15k at the same pace--but I'm relieved to report that it at least appears to still be an option.   

Sunday, June 3, 2012

(Another (Down)) Week in Review

60 miles
2 doubles
1 day off
3 days of sales meeting
2 days of moving

Generally, the purpose of my "week in review" post is to summarize all the great training that took place throughout the previous week and look ahead to the even greater training that lies on the horizon for the week ahead. Unfortunately, I can say that this won't be one of those posts. It is with a heavy heart that I report this to have been a "two small limping steps forward, one uncomfortable step back" sort of week. My foot, though no worse, is not entirely better; and, worse, the inevitable compensation process induced by such a condition has made my right shin and calf throb to an almost unbearable level. While I'm the first to acknowledge that running and training isn't always midgets and sunshine, I can honestly say that I usually enjoy and look forward to lacing 'em up and heading out the door once or twice per day. Not so as of late. The discomfort-bordering-on-pain wracking both sides of my body has caused me to dwell on every single stride, analyzing my progress (or lack thereof) on literally a step-by-step basis. Needless to say, running at a woefully pedestrian pace is requiring far more mental and physical energy than should ever be necessary, leaving me exhausted and drained to a depressing degree at the end of what should have been a banal 60-minute run.

At this point, you might be thinking that I should just give it a rest. Take a break. Stop the insanity and let my body truly recover. As Caitlin said, I won't lose any fitness in a week's time. In theory, I have no problem with that. In truth, I've already taken two weeks more or less off, logging only 2/3 of the quantity and 0/3 of the quality that is expected, required, at this juncture when building up for a big race. I'm still trying to (irrationally?) salvage the hope of a respectable performance at the US Half Champs in two weeks, and whether right or wrong I'm clinging to the belief that shuffling around for even a few miles every day is better than doing nothing. It's almost cruel, this ambiguous state of half-injury in which I find myself. I'm not at the point where running is physically impossible, which would force my hand (foot?). But I'm also not feeling up to doing a stride, much less a workout, and in fact probably haven't dipped below 7-minute pace since the attempted NB Boston 10k over two weeks ago.

As for the upcoming race, setting aside everything outlined above I continue to remain optimistic, even borderline cheerful, despite all physical indications to the contrary. Maybe it's my deep-seeded confidence in the work I've done over the past weeks and months, an entire spring's worth of work that has so far yielded no worthwhile results. Maybe it's the prospect of reuniting with my best friend and training partner, along with several other familiar faces, with the hope of replicating our magical teamwork from the Trials. Maybe it's the rare prospect of approaching a race like a real, actual race participant, not someone who has spent hours and days on my feet selling shoes and then hastily throwing on my racing flats moments before the start, quads already quivering. Likely it's some combination of these. However, the next few days will be telling. If, by midweek, I still find myself lethargic and limpy, it might be prudent to acknowledge that the half-marathon PR of my dreams isn't meant to be right now. 

But, just yet, I refuse to give up.