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Tapering my expectations

This is a tough post to write. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon is four days away, and I’m sick.

I was able to generally follow my training plan all the way through to the 21-miler three weeks before race day. By “generally” I mean I completed most of my planned runs, but I ran at least one long run at a shorter distance than originally planned, I skipped at least one long run, and I wasn’t able to complete the 21-miler until March 14 — 19 days out rather than the planned 21 days. Yes, I was close to my plan and I felt generally okay, but by no means could I say that everything had gone perfectly. Still, I felt better about my prospects than I did in the final couple of weeks before my aborted October marathon. I wasn’t expecting to be fast, but I was completely confident that I’d run a steady pace and finish the race. I started my taper period feeling relief mixed with cautious optimism.

Then I woke up coughing on March 21. When I went out for my scheduled easy 12 mile run, I felt fine, but my heart rate was elevated so I decided to call it a day at 10 miles.

Over the next couple of days I coughed a lot more and started to sleep a lot. I had no other symptoms, just a dry cough. I figured that — because spring is bursting out all over right now — I was feeling some pollen sensitivity. Then I lost my appetite and with it, I lost a couple of pounds. This was in the midst of my taper period, when I should have been eating lots of carbs, drinking lots of water, and putting on a pound or two’s worth of stored energy for the race.

I canceled a run and rested as much as I could. I ate lots of vitamin C rich foods and tried to drink as much water as I could.

Yesterday I decided I’d go out and run 6 miles and see how I felt.

Neither my chest nor my stomach thought that was a good idea. I stopped running at 1.7 miles, mostly due to stomach distress. I figure the stomach distress was due to all the vitamin C. Now there’s a catch-22! The foods I’m eating to beat the respiratory symptoms so I can run are making it impossible to run.

Last night I slept 12 hours. Today I’m not coughing nearly as much, but I’m finally needing to blow my nose. I guess that’s progress.

Actually, I really do feel better.

You will tell me I’m crazy, but as of today I’m still planning to “run” a marathon on Saturday. I have worked so hard for this, and I was so disappointed last October when I trained so hard and then couldn’t get out of bed on race day. I don’t want to go through that disappointment again. I’d rather run and finish this — even if it takes me six hours — than miss another race.

But I am certain of one thing. This will be my last marathon. My body has told me very clearly that marathon training is too much for me. My knees and hips won’t permit me to do the high weekly mileage that is needed in order to be properly prepared to run 26.2 miles on race day. I am forced to cut corners on mileage. I reach race day without an adequate training base, with depleted energy reserves and accumulated fatigue.

It’s difficult for me to conclude that this is too much for me. I have to remind myself that I’m 60 years old, I’m the total opposite of a lifelong athlete, and I’ve already far exceeded my original expectations of myself as a runner. It’s time to recognize that the age-dependent sliding qualifying time for the Boston Marathon will always be just out of my reach. No, I’m not going to run a marathon in under 5:10:00 at age 75, or even 5:25:00 at age 80. Not gonna happen.

It’s time to taper my expectations.

It’s time to recognize that I’m not immortal.

I have other plans and goals and I want to keep them intact as much as possible. The half marathon is still my favorite distance and I hope to run many more of them before I’m through. I want to keep running 2-3 days a week, however slowly, for as many years as I can. Running makes me happy! Running has changed my life in all kinds of wonderful ways for which I will be forever grateful.

I also have big goals as a cyclist this year and in the future, and I’m looking forward to focusing on them. And I expect to continue walking every day without fail, as I have done every day since January 1, 2013.

I’ll let you know how the race turns out. Whatever happens, I still hope to have fun.

Right now, I’m going out for a walk.

Slow and happy!

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Marathon training again? Yes, please!

After the Marathon Virus From Hell knocked me out of the Victoria marathon this past October, I was surprised at how much I genuinely grieved. All that effort, all those training days and hours, and then — NOTHING! It took me a couple of weeks to fully recover from that heavy cold and even feel like running again. During that period I felt lost, purposeless, and rather depressed.

I didn’t start feeling significantly better until I began actively researching my next marathon. For a while I got excited about running the Fargo marathon.

The Fargo marathon??? Apparently it’s a pretty good one. It started in 2002 and has quickly grown. It’s become a very popular destination race with a cap of 2,500 for the full marathon and 7,500 for the half. It features a start inside a domed stadium (convenient for staying warm and dry while waiting for race time), a nearly pancake-flat course, several miles of riverfront trail on the Red River, a zigzag through residential streets in miles 15-21 where the locals compete to see which street can cheer the loudest, and a finish back inside the dome where you can watch yourself on the jumbotron. All of that is followed by a downtown pub crawl with something like ten participating brewpubs. The date (May 21, 2016) seemed ideal — I could do that and still follow up with our local half marathon on June 5.

Still, I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of driving two long days to Fargo. So I began toying with the idea of changing my North Olympic Discovery (my local race) registration from the half to the full marathon. I’ve resisted the idea of running the full marathon here because it’s a rather hilly course. Those rollers are tough enough in the half marathon; doing another (and larger) set of rollers in the first half of this point-to-point course has never seemed like a good idea. Yet training for this race would be logistically easy — I could practice on the course itself!

But I resisted. I procrastinated on sending that email to the race organizers to change my registration. I kept looking for another suitable spring race.

I found it! On April 2, 2016 I’ll run the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. It’s small (a few hundred people). It’s an incredibly scenic course through the (you guessed it) Yakima River Canyon between Ellensburg and Selah, WA. The race organizers are a remarkable 86-year old couple who seem to know everyone in the running world, many of whom come back year after year to run this race. He’s run 500+ marathons; they have added a half marathon for the first time this year, which he’ll be walking. The course is mostly downhill except for a hill at mile 15 and a big hill at miles 21-23. So what if I have to walk the hills? I can take my time at those spots, enjoy the scenery, and still claim a course PR when I’m done.

So I’m registered! My partner CFL will walk the half. I’ve already calculated that I’ll pass him around mile 24 and reach the finish line about ten minutes ahead of him.

April 2 is only 16 weeks away! That means — you guessed it — marathon training has begun!

The thing is, I realized something while brooding for all those weeks about whether to run another marathon and if so, which one. I realized that as much as I love running a race, it’s really the process of planning and training for races that keeps me going. I love being in that groove where my calendar fills up with planned runs and my schedule starts to revolve around preparing for the next workout, doing it, relishing it, analyzing it, recovering from it, and then preparing for the next one. I love being even more conscious than usual about what, when, and how I eat, rest, and sleep. I love the pure focus that marathon training requires. I can ramp up to running a half marathon in a few weeks, but full marathon training takes commitment, dedication, and tenacity. It demands my full, extended attention.

But it’s December. Right now running means a slog through rain, mud, sometimes ice, and the occasional detour around a landslide. The fact is, I enjoy running long and slow this time of year because it takes me 3 miles to warm up so I might as well just keep going, right? In January I’ll have the optimism of the new year to keep me enthusiastic. It’s February and March, when the weather will still be lousy but I’ll be out there doing the REALLY long training runs, that will test my resolve.

That’s where having a solid training plan really helps. I can’t wait to test my resolve in February and March! I’m going to do this!!

 

That was fun!

It would have been considered perfect race day weather probably anywhere in the country except for here on the Olympic Peninsula. Here, we locals shudder at the idea of running when it’s over 70 degrees.

When I got off the bus and took my place at the starting line for the 13th annual North Olympic Discovery half marathon (coincidentally also my 13th half marathon), the temperature was already in the low 60s. There was neither a cloud in the sky, nor a hint of a breeze. It was going to be a scorcher!

I got through the first couple of miles fine, and actually a bit ahead of my plan. As we hit the first hill just past mile 3, I was talking firmly to myself and instructing myself to slow down and save energy for the hilly miles to come.

Somewhere in mile 4 or 5 my watch must have hiccuped at least once. It lost about a quarter of a mile, although I didn’t realize it at the time. What my watch said was that all of a sudden I was running a lot slower than I expected. I lost (or thought I lost) so much time in those two miles that by the time I got to the really steep hills at mile 7 I was almost 3 minutes behind the elapsed time I’d expected to see at that point. This, combined with the heat itself, was starting to feel very discouraging.

As I came down the big hill in mile 9, however, I could feel that I still had some speed left in me. I picked up the pace. I figured I still had time to pull out a 2:13:something, which would be a respectable time on this warm day.

Rounding the turn toward the waterfront, I felt a hint of cool marine air. I would have appreciated feeling the usual brisk breeze at that location, but there was none. Still, I was feeling all right and I pushed on.

When I reached the official mile 10 marker (at which point my watch said I’d run 9.7-something miles), it finally occurred to me that my watch might be wrong. It finally occurred to me to look at my elapsed time, add another 30-ish minutes, and I’d have a projected finish time. That time was 2:11:something. A PR was very much in sight!

So I ran the last three miles as hard as I could: which turned out to be 9:43, 9:43, and 9:23. I hit the finish line at 2:10:38, which is a new PR by 56 seconds. It is also my first sub-10:00 half marathon — I averaged a 9:59 pace! This is a major, really-big-deal milestone in my running career!

I took 8th place out of 61 in my age group. I was comfortably in the top quartile of all female runners, and in the top third of all runners. I’m very happy with that result!

It took me a while to realize that I’d done it and to enthusiastically congratulate myself. The free beer at the finish line certainly helped.

The beer went down especially well because it was 72 degrees and climbing at the finish line. We sat in the sun and had a few beers. Yesterday’s high turned out to be 82 degrees — not an all-time record for early June but certainly much warmer than normal.

Today I’ve got a few sore muscles, but not bad. I have some serious chafing on my chest from wearing my heart monitor. One of my toenails looks a bit bruised — a first for me. Other than that, I feel great!

Now I plan on taking at least two weeks off from running while I attend to other priorities. In late June I’ll start running again, focusing on long and slow. I’ll also do a lot of bike riding to prepare for a cycling event in early August. I won’t start the serious full marathon training until the second week of August. That gives me two months to prepare for Victoria. At this moment I’m confident I can do that!

Easing into training season

It’s April!

I guess that means I’d better get serious about training again. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been content to run a bit less, with less intention. Although we’ve had an extremely mild winter, I’m generally less than enthusiastic about running when my hands and feet are sure to go numb for the first 3 or more miles. I confess that my weekly mileage has been down… a lot… so far this year. Whereas I usually aim for 17-25 miles a week (and I can train quite adequately for a half marathon on that mileage), I’ve been doing more like 8-12.

But it’s April! So it’s time to get serious again.

The other day I passed the one-year anniversary of breaking my arm while trail running. Although I hiked on many miles of steep, challenging trails last summer, I’ve kept my vow to resist running on a rugged, rocky, root-filled, hilly trail ever again. I’ve recognized that it’s not for me. My habitual semi-shuffling gait is not well suited for avoiding obstacles on uneven trails, and I’m not likely to change my running style enough to warrant risking my life out there.

Fortunately I have many beautiful places to run while staying on pavement. I’m good with that.

But now it’s suddenly just nine weeks before our local half marathon. It’s time to get busy!

My primary goal for this year’s NODM on June 7 is, of course, to arrive at the finish line safely and in good health. Beyond that, I’d like to beat my current PR for this race, which I set two years ago, of 2:13:25. On this rather hilly course I’m not likely to set an all-time PR, but a race PR would be nice, and feels quite doable.

I’ve recently invested in some new running gear that has been really helpful. A couple months back, I decided to try running with a heart monitor again to see what I might learn about my progress as a runner. I used one for a while, maybe four years ago, but stopped using it because the big numbers I kept seeing were scary! I almost convinced myself I was going to have a heart attack out there, even though I was actually feeling just fine.

Well, when I strapped on the heart monitor again I was delighted to see how much progress I’ve made! I know enough about myself as a runner now that I know what it feels like when I’m pushing hard rather than just moseying along. The heart monitor provided validation of those feelings. I still habitually tick along on the high side of what the charts say I should be doing at my age, but the numbers are lower and less variable than they used to be. The fact that I can run along for miles with a steady heart rate of 150+, and still comfortably carry on a conversation most of the time, actually means that I’ve got a very healthy heart. I should celebrate those numbers, not fear them!

So I spent some money and bought a new heart monitor that, in conjunction with my watch, tells me a lot of really interesting things like how far my feet come off the ground (not nearly far enough to consider trail running) and how long my feet stay on the ground (a rather leisurely amount of time). With this data I’ve figured out that the best way for me to get faster is to focus on cadence and simply turn over my feet a bit faster. I can do that!

After upgrading the heart monitor, of course I could not resist upgrading the watch. I’m now the proud owner of a Fenix 3, Garmin’s latest multi-sport GPS watch. While in the past I’ve worn a GPS watch only while actually running or cycling or hiking, this one is also an activity and sleep tracker. Hence I’ve taken to wearing it 24/7.

It’s not exactly a fashion statement on my wrist. It’s huge!

But it does get the job done. When the danged thing buzzes and tells me to move, I get up and walk around the house.

I’m about to go out for a 9 mile run. I’ll put some big numbers on the step counter, and try to put some smallish numbers on the average pace screen.

Tomorrow I’ll ride my bike. I’m trying to alternate running and biking days so that I’m doing lots of both. As the days get longer and warmer I’ll start mixing in hiking days. But from now through June 7, running is my top priority.

After June 7, cycling and hiking will take top billing. I have a major cycling event coming up in early August. After that I’ll get serious about training for the marathon I’m going to run on October 11.

What about you? What are your running plans for 2015? Has your training kicked into high gear yet?

Wrapping up 2014, planning for 2015

After I broke my arm while trail running last April, I stopped worrying about my running mileage goals for 2014. I knew I wasn’t going to set any annual distance records. I was happy simply to run again after having to take seven weeks off! I was thrilled to run a slow half marathon only nine days after being cleared to run again. Then I was elated in October to run another half marathon and set a new PR.

That was enough, with respect to specific running goals for the year. I spent the rest of 2014 running for pure enjoyment. I ran when I felt like it. When I didn’t feel like running, I walked or rode my bike… a few miles every day without fail.

I did my now-traditional long run on Christmas day, and logged 11 miles. I briefly toyed with the idea of running a half marathon just for fun, but decided I didn’t want to raise the bar too high for next year.

I finished 2014 with 670.04 total running miles. My average distance was 7.2 miles. I still enjoy going long and slow most of all. I figure, why even bother to go out and run if you’re only going 3 or 4 miles?

I’m already looking forward to training for another full marathon next year! I’ll run my local half marathon in June, and then focus on training for the full in October. Currently I’m only thinking about those two races, but I may toss in another half or perhaps a 10K or two somewhere along the way.

I’m currently anticipating that I’ll run about 900 miles in 2015. In addition to that, I expect to cycle about 1,500 miles and put in lots of hiking and walking miles.

I’ve also added light weight training to my routine. I’m finally starting to get some real strength back in my left arm. By summer I hope to show you one of those awesome bike ride finish photos of me holding my bike high over my head!

What about you? Did you achieve your running goals for 2014? What are your running or other activity/fitness goals for 2015?

Are you finding that the focus of your goals changes from time to time? It doesn’t always have to be a specific number of miles or a certain race. Sometimes it’s just about going out and doing as much as you can do, one step at a time.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!

Another half marathon PR? I did that! Safe and sound!

I went to Victoria with, shall we say, a bigger than usual focus on a goal. My last few weeks of training and preparation had gone so well that I wasn’t simply looking forward to running another race. I figured that I had a realistic chance at finishing faster than 2:12:01 and finally setting another PR a year and a half after that previous great day.

I really didn’t want to screw up my chances, so I planned every last detail — what I would wear on race day, exactly what and when I would eat, the precise times I needed to hit at the end of every mile. Okay, I went a little around the bend into obsessive-compulsive territory. The Victoria half marathon had become a Really Big Deal for me.

I’m one of those runners who almost always runs to music. I run in beautiful places and I do love the sights and sounds of nature, so I keep the volume really low. Still, there is something about a running anthem that helps me to gather courage and keep going at times when I might otherwise feel like stopping to take a photo or maybe walking for a while.

My usual running playlist contains about 130 songs, which is about 7.5 hours worth of music. I put my iPhone on shuffle and let it serve me up songs randomly; whatever comes up is usually good enough.

For this race I got the idea of creating a custom playlist that I would let play through in order. I timed the order of the 37 songs as closely as I could to my planned pace of about 10 minutes per mile through mile 10, and then as fast as possible.

I planned to go over the starting line to the opening notes of the theme from the movie Chariots of Fire. I know, really hokey, but the song always gets me pumped. For the first few miles I’d be listening to music about relaxing and enjoying the day, designed to keep me from going out too fast. Then at certain key points I’d hear very specific songs that would cue me to think about this thing or do that other thing. For example, I put “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler at the point where the course turns back toward the finish. I’d hear “Eight Miles High” by the Who at the 8-mile mark. From that point on I had songs that were designed to help me get down to work and seriously pick up the pace. Finally, I planned to finish to two iterations of “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities. The phrase “safe and sound” is sort of a running mantra for me.

I timed the whole thing so that if I could get to the finish line before “Safe and Sound” ended for the second time I should have my PR by 15 to 30 seconds. I added one more song after that so that if I faded (or miscalculated the song lengths!), I wouldn’t have to finish in silence.

I had a lot of fun assembling the playlist, and doing that project helped me quell the pre-race jitters as well.

Before dawn on race day, CFL and I walked the mile from our motel to Victoria’s Inner Harbor where the race would start and end in front of the Parliament building. The sun was just beginning to rise as we lined up with nearly 4,000 other runners. I lined up with the “2:15” crowd and CFL, who was walking, went back toward the rear.

After the horn went off at 7:30 it took me about three minutes to reach the starting line through the crowd. I queued up my music as I crossed the mat and off I went.

The weather was perfect — low 50s and calm with a light cloud cover. My feet did not go numb in the first mile as they usually do. Everything looked good!

The first couple of miles went exactly as planned. Then I noticed that the course, which I always think of as flat, is actually quite hilly. Victoria fools me that way every time! By the time I hit mile 4 I was working harder than I wanted to and was still a couple seconds over the magic 10:00 minute pace. I was regretting that last taster at the brewpub the night before.

There was some downhill in mile 5 so I made up all that time with a 9:36 mile. I then managed to get myself settled down over the next few miles. My GPS watch was telling me I was on pace, and the fact that I was hearing the right songs at the right time confirmed my watch data and gave me that extra bit of confidence.

At most of the aid stations I was only taking splashes of water, and choking on most of that. One of these years I’ll master the art of drinking on the run, but I’m not there yet. I eventually got rather warm and thirsty so I decided to walk through an aid station at mile 10 and take a few full swallows. That was my first walk break.

At mile 11 I had one song backfire on me. The opening notes of Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went” caused my mind to scream, “Oh no we’re not going!” I placated myself with another, very short walk break. But I was just under a 10 minute pace at that moment and that PR was not yet out of reach! After a few long deep breaths I decided to ignore that part of my mind and get back to work.

I ran mile 12 in 9:29, carried forward gallantly by David Bowie’s “Heroes.” I started mile 13 right on schedule to a reprise of “Chariots of Fire.” Then when “Safe and Sound” came up for the first time I knew I had exactly 6 and a half minutes to get to the finish line.

I got there with at least 10 seconds to spare. I passed several people right at the finish. I finished in  2:11:42 — a PR by 19 seconds! It was a negative split by almost two minutes. I placed 67th out of 173 in my age/gender group, which is my highest-place finish at Victoria and a Really Big Deal for me.

I finished feeling safe and sound, but I’m quite sore today — more so than I usually am after a half marathon. I really did put it all out there in the last couple of miles. I’m not sure I could have done it if it weren’t for that silly playlist. I think it actually helped me to maintain my commitment to myself in those late miles when I was getting very tired.

As for CFL? He took a leisurely stroll on a beautiful course, finished in 3:21, and told me in great detail about the sights he’d seen along the way — things I’d mostly missed while in my tunnel-vision running world. He had a great day too.

We’ll be back to do it again next year!