Sunday, May 18, 2014

Taper Time!

It's hard to believe as I sit here typing this after a leisurely, relaxed 10-miler with Jordan, Larissa and Sarah, but one week from now I'll have finished the Vermont City Marathon! The hay is in the barn and all those other metaphorical ways to say that the hard work has been done; now it's time to start focusing on all the little things--sleep, nutrition, not drinking a bottle of wine every night--that will help me make it from here to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Technically speaking, my taper officially began after my final substantial workout on Thursday morning. On paper, it looked to be incredibly, suspiciously easy--so much so that I wondered if Coach Jordan had made a mistake, but I wasn't going to say anything. As it turned out, I didn't have to, because as we were warming up he casually mentioned that the workout was to be adjusted "slightly" from what he'd originally written. By "slightly," he meant all the paces would be considerably faster and all the rest significantly shorter. Fortunately I handled this curveball with ease and finished up feeling strong and confident. The most painful part of the entire session was during the third mile repeat when I ran up a little too close behind Jordan and managed to perfectly connect my injured knee with his back kick. (Up to that point it had been healing quite nicely.) The constant throbbing for the remainder of the workout diverted all attention away from the rest of my body.

Original target: 3xmile @5:50 w/2 mins. rest; 8x400 @85 w/1 min. rest
New target: 3xmile @5:50 w/45 secs. rest; 8x400 @82 w/100m jog recovery (35-40 secs.)
Actual: 5:46, 5:46, 5:44; 82 (39 jog), 81 (38), 81 (38), 82 (39), 81 (36), 81 (36), 80 (35), 80

So that's that. I've put in the doubles, the long runs, the tempos, the short intervals--can't wait to see it all pay off next Sunday!

First order of taper business: sunbathing with Larissa at our own private waterfront spot in Marblehead. #nofilter, for realz

Larissa modeling in front of the Marblehead harbor (and our old house) near Fort Sewall

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fall From (Lack of) Grace

Rest assured, I appreciate the irony of the situation. The day before, whilst taking the scenic route home from Albany with my coworker Alex, I'd stumbled across the Appalachian Trail. Despite my well-established aversion to camping, or sweating, or generally being outdoors, I'd been harboring a curious interest--albeit in the most passive, voyeuristic sense possible--in the AT (as us seasoned hikers call it) ever since reading (and re-reading, and reading again) Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods a half decade ago. (Side note: if you haven't read this book, or any/all of Bryson's other work, what are you doing with your life?? Put down the new Grisham novel for goodness sake. Bryson is the best author in the history of authors in the history of Earth.) At any rate, now here I was, unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to be on the AT. A sign rakishly stapled to the parking lot bulletin board outlined various routes and landmarks from our starting point, including a ~4-mile round trip hike that would take us up a "very challenging" stone face hill and over wooded dale to a beautiful vista point overlooking the entire valley. Alex and I, previously having no intention of doing anything other than stopping in the parking lot to stretch our legs, looked at each other and said: why the hell not? A 4-mile hike, no matter how technical, shouldn't take more than a few hours at most. Never mind that we had minimal food, little water, no reliable means of carrying either of them, and spotty at best phone reception. What was the worst that could happen? I fired off a quick, relatively uninformative text to Sarah B. ("Stopped to hike on the App Trail. If I'm not back in two hours, I'm probably dead.)" and off we went. 

Upon returning fully alive afterward, I saw that the text had not even sent. But, fortunately, our hike was fun and "challenging" and beautiful and otherwise uneventful. I was painstakingly careful about picking up my feet, paying strict attention to the trail, singularly focused on not tripping and breaking my leg or plummeting to my death. "Wouldn't that have been the absolute worst," I chuckled ruefully (and, truth be told, somewhat smugly) to myself later that day, "if I'd done everything right for months, only to somehow manage to fall and hurt myself a mere two weeks before my goal marathon."

So, as I said, I appreciate the irony. The next day, the warmest, sunniest, most beautiful day that the commonwealth has born witness to in all of 2014, the day I took off from work with the express purpose of banging out a hard 18 miler because I'd been unable to run long on Sunday due to the aforementioned trip to Albany, a mere three minutes--yes, minutes--into my run, I somehow managed to very nearly eff it all up. Jordan and I were running out of Salem on Canal Street, a route we'd taken dozens of times before, on the sidewalk bordering the right side of the road. We needed to cross the street so we could run against traffic and eventually turn left on the bike path that would take us into Marblehead. Somehow the process of stepping off the curb, crossing the street and avoiding a stealthily pernicious tree branch proved too much for my brain/legs to handle, and before I knew it I was skidding across the blacktop and frantically gasping for breath. To his credit, Jordan--who, as anyone who knows him will attest, is not one who coddles--immediately swooped me up and shepherded me back onto the very sidewalk that had cruelly tossed me aside only moments earlier. Having witnessed firsthand the force with which my delicate flower of a body collided with the open road, he did not suggest that I walk it off and then get back to business. Instead, we made an about face and began to slowly walk (him)/limp (me) back in the direction from which we'd come. One thing was glaringly obvious: my long run was not happening today. Also: this was going to leave a mark.

 My view for the next few hours

The white part is Neosporin. The red part is layers of my knee I never knew existed.
The ensuing few hours were spent with Jordan springing into Florence Nightingale mode and me pouting/icing/elevating/Neosporin-ing and trying not to cry while thinking of all the worst case "what if" scenarios. Later that afternoon, infused with an indomitable (one could say stubborn) sense of determination and an elephant's dosage of Advil, I inched down the stairs intent on going for a run, any run, of any length, provided it was more or less pain free. I could tell that Jordan was against this course of action from a boyfriend/emergency contact perspective, but as my coach he knew that I knew that if I couldn't run without pain now, the remaining 12.5 (but who's counting) days between now and my marathon would be less about putting the finishing touches on a solid training block and more about pep rallies and damage control.

Fortunately, like all great sports biopics, this story has a happy ending (for now). After a few tentative, rusty steps, I coasted through eight miles with no ill effects. This morning, waking at dawn, I covered 15 miles at sub-6:40 pace--not quite the long run intended for yesterday, but not far from it. So whatever happens at Vermont City, I'm confident that this little mishap will have no bearing whatsoever on the result (unless I totally bomb, in which case it is 100% due to some invisible marathon sprite Tonya Harding-ing me yesterday). If I can get through the next 11.5 days without any other catastrophes, I just might be able to squeak out a Trials qualifier after all.

Salvaging the beautiful day with a picnic by the ocean
Post-picnic, unfiltered, sunset view from Salem of the Beverly harbor

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Big Weekend Workout(s)

Saturday, May 3rd
9am: Target: 8-10 mile progression from 7:00-6:20
Actual: 9.75 miles w/8 steady @6:26 avg. (7:12, 6:26, 6:29, 6:26, 6:29, 6:23, 6:28, 6:19, 6:27, .75 @7:15 pace)
4pm: Target: 10 miles @MP (6:05-6:10)
Actual: 2.25 mile w/u
10 miles @61:00/6:06 avg. (6:14, 6:06, 6:08, 6:06, 6:04, 6:07, 6:00, 6:06, 6:03, 6:03)
.5 mile c/d
Total: 12.75
Daily total: 22.5

Sunday, May 4th
2.25 mile w/u
Run for HAWC "5 Miler" in 29:40 (actually 4.82): 5:55, 6:06, 6:10, 6:20, 5:08 @6:15 pace 
1st place female; $150
3 mile c/d
Total: 10 miles

Weekly total: 95

Whew! Just writing down all the above details took a considerable amount of energy. The fact that all three of these workouts took place within a 24-hour period means I definitely earned the 2+ hour nap with my kitty this afternoon! I'm glad to have this monster block behind me and even more pleased with the outcome.

If you've been following my blog for a while (and if you haven't, what else could you possibly have been doing with your spare time??), you know that usually once a training block I embark on a "double workout day." In the past, this has typically consisted of something shorter and faster in the morning, like a 10k tempo, followed by a longer effort at marathon pace in the evening. The focus is always on the second session, with the objective being to simulate the fatigue of the marathon and practice running fast on already heavy legs. Before Philly, I crushed both sessions and achieved arguably the greatest distinction of my running career, dropping a half-injured, totally unfit Jordan twice in one day. Prior to CIM, I had to get creative due to weather and ended up pounding out a 10k tempo on the indoor track at Harvard (that's a cool 50 laps) and then struggling mightily during a solo point-to-point tempo in hurricane force winds later that afternoon.

This time around, Coach Jordan was either feeling unusually beneficent or seriously doubting my fitness, because he scheduled my morning workout as a fairly relaxed uptempo run rather than something faster than marathon race pace. We set out together on our familiar "double bridge loop," a loop in the true sense of the word that runs from Salem to Beverly and back again without ever doubling over itself. This route is not particularly fast, with plenty of zigs and zags and several rolling sections, but that was sort of the point. Jordan wanted this to feel as much like a "normal" run as possible, allowing my legs to settle into pace naturally. Fortunately I had no problem doing so, and save for a few tricky sections--a gusty incline up the Beverly Bridge in mile 7, and Jordan sprinting to (unsuccessfully) chase down a curmudgeonly driver who honked at us in mile 2--this felt like a jog. The pace fluctuated naturally with the terrain and wind direction, and I never felt like I was pressing or strained. With my legs only moderately fatigued, I was confident round two would be a breeze.

After what seemed like only a few short hours of lounging around trolling the interwebs, Sarah arrived at our door ready for the marathon paced tempo. Have I mentioned how glad I am that she decided to stick things out after a disappointing Boston and run Vermont with me?? With our queenmaker at the helm, we set off on a course that would take us from Salem into Marblehead and back with a short addition at the end. There was only one problem: I was dying. From the outset. My legs felt heavy, my breathing was short and erratic, and I was by no means comfortable at the pace I was supposed to be able to maintain for almost three hours. In hindsight, I think this was because we were charging straight into a 15-mph headwind down an unusually busy street (damn you nice weather for bringing the Salem tourists out in droves). If nothing else, I can find solace in the fact that there's no possible way the marathon will be this much of a cluster--weaving in and out of cars and pedestrians, creatively crossing busy intersections, ignoring various and sundry catcalls (and the creepy guy who drove sloooowly alongside us for almost a quarter mile blasting terrible '90s music like some sort of unrequited soundtrack). This run was neither easy nor particularly fun for me, but all that matters is we got it done on the faster end of our desired pace range and still had enough energy to walk over to our favorite neighborhood pub for a celebratory drink afterward.

Needless to say, I woke up on Sunday morning without the desire to move, much less run, much less run quickly. However, it had been brought to my attention earlier in the week that a race was taking place in Salem that started and finished less than half a mile from our house and offered a tempting $150 prize purse. How could we not jog over and give it a shot?? But after shuffling through two creaky warmup miles at a blistering 8:15 pace, I was less than optimistic. If attaining the victory meant running a single step under six minute pace, I was screwed. Fortunately, all our hopes and dreams came true. No one showed up and the course was short! In fact, my new friend Mariah, whom I met through Larissa last weekend, decisively took second--and she was only running the race as part of her long run. As expected, my legs were utterly and completely trashed and I artfully executed a textbook positive split. (A stiff headwind for the entire second half didn't exactly help.) If yesterday's afternoon effort was meant to feel like the second half of a marathon, this morning definitely felt like the last five miles.

Not a bad way to start the morning: JoKin and I both bringing home the W (and the Benjamins)
But overall, I'm pleased. And tired. Very, very tired. The upcoming week will be a delicate balance of recovering from this weekend's shenanigans and still stringing together one more big chunk of high mileage and respectable workouts before starting the gradual taper process. It all hinges on a very unscientific combination of compression socks, pizza, Nuun, kale smoothies and wine.

T-minus three weeks! 

better than water