Sky Runs

Taking the long way round

Author: sky (page 2 of 4)

Midway

So it’s about halfway through the training cycle for Italy and I’m doing a bit of stock-taking.

Overall, I am stronger. My muscles have never been sore from the running, whether I’m doing doubles on days with long interval workouts or back-to-back long runs on the weekends. That is unprecedented for me. The worse muscular aches have come from massage (thanks Tiger Ellen) and one bootcamp-style class back in January.

The streak got completed. I ran every day for a month, sometimes twice a day. And yeah, I know February is a really short month, so I bookended it with running on January 31 and March 1 for good measure. 30 days, done.

I’m not sure it was the best idea for my body, which really wanted a break during the last week, but I was stubborn and determined to finish what I started. That’s a little issue I have with my training: once a goal gets put in my mind I’m gonna reach it- whether it’s minutes or miles or months. For example, yesterday I had 10×1-minute hill repeats scheduled at the end of my run. After the first one I felt godawful and thought I should just call it a day. But I did the second one and it wasn’t as bad, so I kept going. It was worth it just for this moment: heading back down after the last repeat, and older gentlemen who’d been walking his dog stopped by the side of the road to applaud my effort. Literally clapping.

But I’m at the point where training advice gets challenging. You have to listen to your body, but you also have to push through its pain to make it stronger. There’s the fixed training schedule and  there’s how I feel. The highs and lows come in every training run and before and after- mental preparation for what to expect during the run itself.

I ran long intervals on the treadmill with an upset tummy. I spent what felt like half of last weekend on the damned machine, and I am by no means a treadmill-hater. It’s just that enough is enough already.

There are other small sacrifices along the way. I was feeling pre-cold symptoms coming on so I cut back on my outdoor running time when it was very cold, missing out on social runs. I set aside my minor dream of running a sub-4 50K until next year. I cut back on my carb intake. I don’t go to parties and limit myself to a few sips of beer at occasional dinners. I don’t even go on runs that promise to end with hot chocolate and pastries (well more because it was too cold that day). These are minor things. I rely on plenty of hot coffee and hot baths to get me through each day, each workout. And I’m fortunate I get to do this.

My brain is a bit tired of all the speed work and parts of my legs have been crying out at me on a daily basis, which makes it harder to do the speed work as I have to channel more mental energy into it, thus tiring the brain even more- a bad cycle. So this next week is a bit of a cutback week following the last 2 intense weeks, which includes letting go of one of my short speed sessions because I have some calf pain that is aggravated by very fast running. And hopefully this week is also the last of the real winter weeks- snow, cold, ice, freezing rain, more cold- we’re really packing it in!

 Week in Review 2/23

Monday: 4 miles easy, about 150 pushups and light core work

Tuesday: AM: 11 miles with intervals and strength workout. PM: 3 miles easy and acupuncture

Wednesday: AM: 5 mile tempo. PM: 2 mile walk

Thursday: 13 miles with intervals on the treadmill and strength workout

Friday: 5.5 miles easy to moderate

Saturday: AM: 6 miles moderate pace outside. PM: 12 miles long intervals on the treadmill and strength workout

Sunday: 2 miles outside and 19 miles on the treadmill with some hills mixed in, easy to moderate pace

And the Streak Goes On

I’ve never been a streaker, neither the naked kind nor the running kind.

And while I have no interest in taking off all my clothes and dashing outside (especially in this weather!) I’ve sometimes been intrigued by long-term run-streaking and its gateway drug, REDFAM (Run Every Day For A Month), though I could never see myself putting on running clothes and getting sweaty just get one mile in to maintain a streak- I’d spend more time getting ready than running! I’ve always preferred to run at least 4 miles or 40 minutes in one go, and it’s only very recently that I can stand to run only three miles at a time- usually it’s the second run of the day and/or me running to get somewhere. Just another funky runner’s quirk.

When I started running a decade ago, I was, at best, an every other day kind of runner. I always needed at least a day to recover from any kind of effort. By five years ago, I could manage two days on, one day off, and three days straight would be pushing my limits. Over the last couple of years I gradually built up to four, five, even six days without a break, but as recently as last March I became Little Miss Crankypants when I hit nine or ten days of continuous training.

Less than a year later, it’s late February and we’re in the home stretch of my first REDFAM. I didn’t set out to do this. Even though my current training plan doesn’t have any scheduled days off for February, any of the easy days can be taken as a rest day or used for cross-training. But now we’re in the final week of February and my last rest day was on January 30th, and before that I had completed a 20-day streak (about twice as long as I had ever run before). Even after back-to-back long runs this past weekend, I feel like I can carry on with my usual training for a while longer. All of my runs have been at least 3 miles or so, and I’ve run twice on about half a dozen of the days so far.

I don’t really know how this happened. I’ve had some difficult moments, like last Friday, the day after a long-ish session of very cold early morning speedwork, when I felt moody, but my short run and pool running class later in the day left me feeling much better. My muscles aren’t screaming at me or demanding a break, and it doesn’t seem to take me as long to get that warmed-up feeling at the start of a run. My body is working differently now, and while I can’t pinpoint exactly what is doing what to me, I’d like to give shoutout to my coach Michele Yates’s Rugged Running training plan, as well as the products and services provided by my sponsors Carbo-Pro, Runner Clinic NYC, and Tiger Ellen LMT of Knot It Out Now Massage.

But as one streak continues, another comes to a close. I started a pushup challenge on January 1, an idea I got from a runner I met last year. The concept goes like this: do one pushup on January 1, two on January 2, and so on, adding one pushup per day of the year until you are doing hundreds of pushups a day, up to 365 on December 31. But as I got into the low 50s I started to feel that the pushups were starting to detract from my main focus of running and strength training- so I’d take a day off here and there and make up for it the next day- easy enough to do now but it will be far more difficult to make up later- especially when I’m tapering , recovering and running for 24 to 30+ hours at the races I have scheduled for this year. I took the weekend off while I was running long and exhausted after getting home, and did a total of 150-ish yesterday (in sets of 15-25), which is a huge enough accomplishment for my spaghetti arms.

Week in Review 2/16

Monday: 7 miles easy to moderate on the treadmill

Tuesday: AM: 10 miles of intervals and strength workout. PM: 3 miles easy. Acupuncture

Wednesday: 4.5 miles easy with some hills, 1-hour MELT class

Thursday: AM: 11 miles with intervals. PM: 3.5 miles easy to moderate and strength workout

Friday: 3.5 miles easy and 45-minute pool running class

Saturday: 18.5 miles moderate to hard to easy

Sunday: 22.5 miles easy, lower body massage

Badwater Choices

The news came as a shock.

 Hello Sky!

Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to compete in the 2015 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, presented by AdventureCORPS, Inc. You are part of a select group who will participate in what is recognized across the globe as “the world’s toughest footrace.”

Then… PAY NOW!

Shiiiiiiit. Who applies for the baddest of the badass races and forgets about it?! Seriously. I know, I did it “just to see” and figured I had no chance, since I’ve only completed the minimum three 100 milers required to apply. I thought I should start getting my name out there so that the organizers would eventually let me in. In any case, it wasn’t in my race plan, as July was supposed to provide a mid-season break with no racing.

But something happens once you get into a race like Badwater. The “can I do this?” mindset takes over, and since ultra runners tend to have short memories and optimistic outlooks, the answer is invariably “YES I can!”

But… The money. I won’t be prepared for this. It’s only five weeks after TGNY 100. TSP won’t be able to come. I don’t have a crew.

And but… If I turn it down now will they ever let me in again? Couldn’t this be my year of really big races? With the new nighttime start rule it will be cool at night, right? Will I regret it if I don’t go? Am I ever going to be better ultra-trained, with the same motivation and means to do this?

I put off making a decision as long as possible. I kept silent as I watched friends Facebook-announce their intentions to run Badwater to hundreds of likes and unanimous congratulations. When I asked TSP what he would do in my position, his reply displayed an appropriate level of maturity: “I wouldn’t have applied if I wasn’t planning to run it.”

I wrote out a check and put it in an envelope and carried it around for a couple of days. I researched nighttime temperatures in Death Valley in July and was alarmed to find that my guesstimate of, oh, around 50-60F was off by at least 40 degrees. I decided I needed to start re-reading Scott Jurek’s book, which I read so long ago I forgot he started it off by recounting how trashed he got from underestimating the Badwater race.

By Friday morning I’d had enough of self-doubt and took the plunge off the deep end. I dropped my check in the mail, posted something on Facebook, and went to work on preparations for the Millrose Games. By the time I checked in again I had enough offers of help to make at least two crews. Poof! My first big worry– vanished. Next up is the logistical challenge of setting dates for travel and booking hotels, flights and cars. And stuff like reflective vests and sprayers, ideally two I’m told. Oh crap, I just want to run. What did I get myself into this time?

No turning back now

No turning back now

Week in Review 2/9

Monday: AM: 4 miles easy to moderate. PM: 2 miles for running mechanics test

Tuesday: AM: 13 miles intervals, strength workout. PM: 3 miles easy to moderate

Wednesday: 3 miles easy, 45-minute pool running class

Thursday: AM: 10 miles with very short intervals. PM: 4.5 miles easy to moderate, strength workout

Friday: 3 miles easy

Saturday: 10 miles with VO2 max intervals, strength workout

Sunday: 14.5 miles with hills, 1:15 easy yoga

Training Takes No Holidays

Since I was already out of town pacing for Rocky Raccoon, I figured why not extend the break from the cold a little longer. I spent the week in Miami and the Florida Keys, ruining my diet with every variety of fried conch fritters and Key Lime Pie encountered, but I held up my end on the training front. After the first day, when I put of my run until late in the day and felt anxious about it the whole time, I woke up early every morning to get my workout in before the temperatures rose and it was time to go sightseeing and do other fun stuff.

... to this

… to this

Back home on Sunday, I completed my first proper long run in a while, 3 loops and change in Central Park with clouds, cold and wind. Reality bites.

 Week in Review: 2/2

Monday: 5-mile tempo

Tuesday: 11 miles long intervals and strength workout

Wednesday: 5-mile tempo

Thursday: 7 miles short intervals and strength workout

Friday: 4 miles easy

Saturday: 8.5 miles short intervals and strength workout

Sunday: 20 miles mostly easy

Pacing at Rocky Raccoon

Winter officially arrived with the threat of a record snowstorm in NYC that didn’t turn out to be all that and a bag of chips, but still managed to shut everything down, including my gym. I made up for it by doing stair sprint repeats in my building’s stairwell, destroying my calves in the process.

So the timing was perfect for a getaway to anywhere warmer, and when I heard that my friend Yoshiko was in need of a pacer for her sub-20 goal time at the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler, I couldn’t wait to pack my bags. I’ve been curious about the Rocky Raccoon race for some time, as it’s supposed to be one of the “easier” trail 100s, run on a relatively flat but rooty 20-mile loop course.

I flew out early on Friday just as another bout of snow started to drop, experienced a few stressful fight delays but eventually got lucky with my connections to Houston and hit the road to Huntsville with crewman Ken and Jackie, who was also running. We did the usual pre-race stuff: picked up supplies at Target, at went to packet pickup and the pre-race briefing, had an early and excellent dinner at Lindo Mexico, picked up more supplies and attempted to get to bed early.

Saturday morning Ken and I got to sleep in since we had enough cars to go around. We headed to the start/finish area in time to see our runners come through after their first loop. Yoshiko was right on schedule and looking strong. The weather was mild, with the threat of rain holding off during the day at least. Of course, mild weather for running = cold for me to stand around in, so I was ridiculously bundled up out there.

After the first round

After the first round

Apparently in previous years crews were allowed to drive out to the further aid stations, making the job a round the clock one, but this year there was a new rule: no cars at aid stations. From a crewing perspective, that meant we had plenty of time to go and do other important stuff, like eat and take naps. Ken and I went out to pick up some more supplies and coffee and donuts before going for lunch at Bennie J’s Smoke Pit, the real deal Texas BBQ.

Pre-pace meal

Pre-pace meal

We came back to wait for our runners to come from their second loop, the last time we would see them before we started pacing into the night. Yoshiko was behind. I asked runners who knew her and had been near her earlier if they had seen her and was told she was coming soon, 5 to 10 minutes behind, they both said, even though they were about 15 minutes apart.

The hardest part of crewing for me is the waiting. I am the extremely anxious one standing at the edge of the course, neck craned trying to spot my runner, worry mounting over each minute of lateness. Yoshiko arrived about half an hour behind her 20-hour schedule looking a little flustered- her hands were puffy and she had gotten very dizzy on the course: sodium imbalance, possibly too many electrolytes. She didn’t seem to be dizzy anymore, so I told her to stop taking electrolyte pills and to drink only plain water and to eat non-salty food until the swelling started to go down, and gave her some ginger candy and coke to calm the tummy. It was too bad, she said the dream of sub-20 was gone, but she would still finish.

Crew city

Crew city at Rocky Raccoon

After our runners left Ken and I went to the car for a nap before we came back ready to pace. I slept solidly in the back seat for close to two hours, then dressed and readied up for the long night. As I waited for Yoshiko there was a little rain, it got dark, and Ian Sharman came in for the win. Yoshiko was not far behind and we headed out after a brief break for her.

I had forgotten that I’m still pretty uncomfortable running trails in the dark, especially with my crappy headlamps that just got crappier. Due to a baggage snafu at The North Face 50-Miler in December, the headlamp I had dropped off at the designated aid station after sunrise never made it back to me, but a staffer from the race production company’s Dallas office kindly offered to give me some of the other headlamps that were never claimed, and it just happened that he was coming down to Rocky Raccoon to volunteer. I was hoping for a Petzl Nao but instead I got two older but usable headlamps, each with their own flaws. Worried about relying on an unfamiliar piece of gear to do something important, I mostly stuck with my old backup headlamp, a Petzl Tikka with a cover that keeps popping off at the wrong times.

The course was not quite as rooty as I expected, in that the roots were spaced apart pretty nicely, but that is the thing that lulls one into a false sense of security, and with my crappy light source it was very hard to make out exactly where all the roots were. I fell twice in the early miles- the first time was an easy slow-motion tumble that I brushed off as no biggie, but the second came with a hard smack to the right knee, the kind that forced me to walk it off for a few minutes as I questioned my fitness for this treacherous overnight pacing gig. I knew I would pay for this later with swelling and discomfort, but at least I hit a new spot near the top of the kneecap, not further down where it had been hurt a few too many times before.

Yoshiko had asked me to run in front of her early on, but I kept getting too far ahead and I didn’t like that feeling, so after about 12 miles I asked her to go in front and I would pace her from behind. This worked out better as we could stay close together and when the trail opened up a bit we could run side-by-side. We came back in to the start/finish after around five and half hours which was good, it meant we were not losing much time on each lap. Yoshiko wasted no time getting out of the aid station as I was still fiddling with my gear, I’d catch up to her in a bit. It was still warm-ish so shed most of the excess clothing I had carried (windbreaker, buff, gloves and the outer layer of socks) but I kept my poncho just in case.

Even though our second loop together took a bit longer, it went by quicker because we were chatting more and we knew it was the last round. We had a bit of pouring rain, enough that I was glad to have the poncho handy, though of course as soon as I put it on the rain would ease off significantly. Once the sun started to rise and we hit the last stretch, Yoshiko took off at a fast enough pace that I wondered whether I should have pushed her harder earlier on. Her hands had still been puffy throughout the night, and given the uncertain risks I felt more comfortable keeping her company and making sure she was safe and taken care of.

The course became downright lovely in the daytime, and the roots were much easier to spot, though I’m still unsure of whether this will be one for me to race, as I still managed to fall (lightly) one more time after the sun came up. The organization was really terrific, with well stocked aid stations and kind volunteers and all the good stuff you’d expect from a well-run 100 mile race, including some very cool awards.

Week in Review: 1/26

Monday: 6.5 miles easy to moderate

Tuesday: AM: 3 miles easy out in the snow. PM: 17 x 1 minute stair intervals

Wednesday: AM: 5 miles walking. PM: Pool running class

Thursday: AM: 7 miles short intervals. PM: 3-mile tempo and strength workout

Friday: Off

Saturday-Sunday: 40 miles pacing

RRCA Coaching Certification

No wonder I’m tired, and it’s not just 6-hours of sleep the last few nights when I prefer 8ish. I had one rest day in the last four weeks, and ran consecutively for 20 days, a new streak PR by something like 10 days. I like my rest, and I get cranky when I go too many days running without a break. Yet it seems like my tolerance has gone up with training, because it wasn’t until the last few days that I began to feel the effects of so many consecutive training days. And again, the lack of sleep probably contributed quite a bit.

For my patience I got a bonus of two days off, not because it was strictly necessary but because I planned to attend the 2-day RRCA Coaching Certification Course offered in somewhat nearby Oakhurst, New Jersey. Anyone who has attended one of these courses will understand that the hardest part may be just getting in. New courses are announced by email, so the first step is getting on the email list. Next is finding a course: they are offered irregularly in somewhat random locations, and with only 42 spots per session, they fill up muy rapido. The organization of courses is a bit funky because each course needs a “host,” ie someone local who can provide a venue for the course over the weekend. (Point being, if you really want to attend a course in your area, find some space and ask RRCA to come to your hood, and as a thank you for your efforts your registration will be comped).

Our course was held at a pre-school

Our course was held at a pre-school

The course was held over two full days, starting at 8am and wrapping up some time after 4pm. There were slightly more women in attendance than men, and the average age skewed older, with quite a few of us in our 40s and 50s, it seemed. Many were already involved in coaching within their local communities, some professionally, and to my surprise I was not the only crazy ultrarunner- one guy had completed 20 100-milers, and another woman was an Ironman and seemingly competitive ultrarunner.

We received a thick binder of course materials (primarily the powerpoint slides we’d be looking at for two days) as well as a copy of the latest edition of Daniels’ Running Formula (which I already own, doh!). The focus throughout the weekend was really on the development of training plans for adult runners with varying levels of experience in distances from 5K to the marathon. We also covered topics such as nutrition, injuries, psychology and the business of coaching.

Day one was largely lectures, with a lot of time spent on the concept of periodization in training plans, while day two was more, um, interactive, as we split up into small groups to develop a training plan for a hypothetical client. This was tough, as there can really only be one coach in charge and here we were, five or six of us trying to coach poor “Robin” to a BQ by consensus, with our very different backgrounds and assumptions of what makes an ideal plan.

The knowledge. Our instructor was an MD

The knowledge. Our instructor was an MD

Overall, it was very different from the USATF coaching certification course I attend in NYC in December 2014. The USATF course is fairly easy to get into, as it was held in the auditorium and cafeteria of a large public school. The students were generally younger, and the curriculum covered all track and field events, so I learned more than I will ever need to know about the physics of the javelin and hammer throw. We spent no time on training plans, and the implied target of our studies appeared to be the high school or college athlete that competes in short-distance running and all those field events. It’s all relative though: USATF defines “middle distance” as 800 meters to a mile, I hear “middle distance” and think marathon to 50K.

I’m glad to have completed both courses for a fuller view of what is involved in coaching, however I don’t plan to hang a shingle as a professional running coach anytime soon. I’m still way too early in my competitive running career and still gaining experience with various kinds of training.

Week in Review: 1/19

Monday: 4-mile tempo

Tuesday: 8 miles long intervals and strength workout

Wednesday: 3 miles easy and 45-minute pool running class

Thursday: 8 miles mixed intervals and strength workout

Friday: 8.5 miles easy to moderate

Saturday: Rest with 3-mile walk

Sunday: Rest with around 30 minutes body-weight strength trainin

How Soon Is Now? Timing for a Breakthrough

Hot damn! I am bouncing off the walls, that is how good I feel. Is it the enthusiasm for hard training, the dietary changes, or some combination of the two? I’m not used to having so much energy without caffeine and sugar in the tank. I don’t want to jinx myself or speak too soon but if feels like a breakthrough moment.

Highlights of the week:

  • Was officially selected for the 2015 USA 24-Hour National Running Team that will compete at the World 24-Hour Championships in Italy in April
  • Started a new training cycle under my coach Michele Yates
  • Wrapped up the 10-day low carb experiment
  • Took  my first running “test”
  • Started looking ahead to the fall

Team USA

I woke up Monday morning to messages from Maggie about Facebook updates from USATF on the US 24-hour team selections- it was still unofficial at that point but a great way to start the day! On Wednesday I received an email from USATF informing me of my selection, and by Thursday the official roster was posted. Though I’d been thinking of this moment for the past two months, I only knew for sure that it would come for me after the final qualifying races took place earlier this month, and it’s still a different feeling once the announcement goes out there and becomes official. It’s real. I made it! I don’t usually brag too much but this is one time where I’m just jumping for joy.

Photo: Linsday Bruinsma

Photo: Linsday Bruinsma

Training

Since I’d been trying a short-term carb reduction for the past week, with mostly easy running as my body adapted to the fueling changes, I was nervous about going into my new training plan and doing speed work without carb-y dinners and breakfasts leading up to the workouts. The worry was unnecessary, my initial workouts felt amazing, with no bonking, no weakness and plenty left in the tank. I feel like the nerdy kid who wakes up raring to go to school every morning. Which brings me to the diet.

Couldnt refuse beers with the beard. Photo:

Couldn’t refuse beers with the beard. Photo: Veronica Mikhaylove

 The Low-Carb Experiment, part 2 (aka the lifestyle)

After 10 days of this, I felt so good that I had little desire to go back to eating a lot of carbohydrates, though I did go have some ramen for dinner on Wednesday to carb-load for my “running test” the next morning. The noodles didn’t agree with me very much, which is too bad because who doesn’t love ramen? I gave up on my caffeine fast Thursday morning as I was heading to do running performance tests on an empty stomach, but I did go back to eating lower carb diet most of the rest of the day. It’s really difficult to completely restrict carbs when there is ramen in the world, beer on tap with Rob Krar, and famous Staten Island pizza after a freezing wet trail run, but it’s not every meal any more.

Ready for takeoff. Photo: Polly DeMille

Ready for takeoff. Photo: Polly DeMille

 The Running Test

You can’t fail this one but the numbers won’t lie. I’ve long been curious about finding out what my real max heart rate is but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve considered the value of getting all the data: VO2 max, lactate threshold, and metabolic efficiency (ratios of fat and carb burning at various intensities). I’ll detail more about my experience in a separate post, but the short version is that it was worth it to me. Some of my hunches were confirmed: I burn fat well (actually much better than I imagined possible), my max heart rate of 190 is close to the maximum number that I see on my watch during the fast sprinting end of a race, my lactate threshold pace does correspond to my 15K/half-marathon PR pace, and the VO2 calculators at Jack Daniels are pretty close but not entirely accurate.

 Looking Ahead

Summer and beyond still are a big empty space on my race calendar, but not for long. I’m leaning towards committing to Spartathlon and the NYC Marathon, with the possibility of no other serious racing in the fall. Even the late winter-early Spring is up in the air. I think I’d like to race something at some point but I don’t feel very motivated to focus on anything but Italy right now.

Week in Review: January 12

Monday: 4-mile treadmill tempo

Tuesday : 7-mile treadmill intervals

Wednesday: 3.5-miles easy

Thursday: AM: Treadmill test: ~6 miles in a14 minute warmup and 36 minutes of progressively harder running, strength training. PM: 6.5 mile moderately easy hilly trail run

Friday: AM: 45-minute MELT class. PM: 45-minute pool running class

Saturday: 8 miles of longer intervals on the treadmill

Sunday: 11 mile trail run

The New Year’s Low Carb Experiment

I love sugar. I wish I didn’t, but the only time I lose my taste for sweets is when I eat way too much of them and am forced to cut back, or after a gel-and-sports drink fueled race, when sugar is the last thing I need for a few days. But normally, I could eat chocolate for breakfast, followed by a post-run energy bar, a muffin and croissant for lunch, and cereal for dinner, with basic snacks of froyo and macarons in between. I must be genetically adapted to sugar, because I’ve never had a cavity.

However, I also have a sensitive gut. Or sensitive everything. Too many carbs make me sleepy right after eating, constipated the next day, and hangry in between. I often get the shakes from hunger, and low blood sugar gives me a depressed feeling that can be cured quickly with a prescription of a snack, preferably of the sugary variety. I’ve also had GI issues during many races, and something went very very wrong during Bryan Court and after the BUS Trail Mix-Up last month. I needed a reset, a cleanse, a fresh start, and maybe an opportunity to figure out how to improve my fat metabolism for running so that I can consume less during races and suffer less GI troubles. Running slowly is one part of the equation, weaning myself off of heavy carbohydrate consumption could be another.

A friend of mine had a good experience last year with this fairly simple 10-day plan that involved cutting all sugar, grains and starchy vegetables. While I have previously tried diets free of refined carbohydrates, I had never entirely cut out the fruit, grains and potatoes. This seemed impossibly hard to do until early January—after the holiday indulgence period has passed and before I start the next training cycle. While I’m at it, why not take a break from the coffee and diet sodas too? It’s only ten days, after all.

Seven days in, I can say that apart from feeling shitty in the first couple of days it’s been very good for me. I practice caffeine withdrawal a week before major goal races, and it sucks every time. Couple that with sugar withdrawal and I just felt very weird for a couple of days. But other than that, my energy levels have stabilized and I’ve noticed a huge difference in my response to hunger. No shakes, no low blood sugar induced depression, no hangriness. I could run hungry and it didn’t feel like the end of the world. A few almonds or a spoonful of almond butter work magic.

This is what passes for an exciting recipe that I can make at home.

This is what passes for an exciting recipe that I can make at home.

The big drawback is that the diet can become really boring and tedious. I’m only managing it for a short while because I spoil myself with fancy fish from the appetizing counter at Zabar’s, aged balsamic vinegar, halibut, olives and raw organic nuts and produce. I ate a lot of eggs, avocadoes, tofu, and Simply Bars (recommended by Michele Yates). I bought expensive crackers made entirely from flax seeds. I wouldn’t have madei it without decaf coffee and green tea .

Today was a fairly typical day and this is what I ate:

Breakfast:

Decaf with a little whole milk

2/3 of a Simply Bar

A teaspoon of almond butter

Then I went out to run and exercise for a couple of hours

Lunch (at Peacefood Café):

Half a bowl of lima bean and spinach soup

Half a piece of raw lasagna and some vegan Caesar salad (minus the croutons)

Steamed or roasted zucchini and eggplant

Ginger soymilk decaf latte

Afternoon snacks:

Homemade chia almond milk pudding with a tiny bit of coconut sugar

Some almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds

Lentil poppadum crackers

Green tea

Dinner:

Miso soup

Smoked sable

Flackers and baby carrots with hummus

Some almonds and almond butter

Most of a bag of Trader Joe’s crispy crunchy broccoli florets (the best thing I had all day!)

Digestive tea (mint, chamomile and anise)

Supplements:

Ester-C, turmeric, and liquid iron  for a diagnosed  iron deficiency

I am so looking forward to eating a banana and some oatmeal.

Ultimately, I’m going to eat carbs, especially right after big runs. I have zero desire to consume a truly high fat diet with over 90% of calories coming from fat (especially since the performance benefits are questionable) and diet of more than 50% fat diet seems like a stretch, even with the potential benefits for ultrarunning. I may try to adopt Pam Smith’s “carb back-loading” approach, eating more carbs when they count the most to get a bigger bang for the buck. (She’s a doctor and a champion so she should know!) I’ll do my best to stay away from sugar, other refined carbs, junk food and even beer (gasp!) over the next few months until I can sense whether it has any impact on my performance and recovery. I am usually a big proponent of enjoying life all the time and eating whatever’s appealing at the moment, but now I have something that I’m willing to make sacrifices for to see how good I can get.

Week in Review 1/5

Monday: 5 miles easy

Tuesday: 6 miles easy to moderate on the treadmill with some hills

Wednesday: 3-mile easy walk

Thursday: 3-mile easy treadmill run, 1 hour MELT class

Friday: AM: 45-minute MELT class. PM: 3 miles easy getting to and from 45-minute pool running class

Saturday: 9 miles moderate-easy

Sunday: 9 miles easy, 1-hour Ironstrength class, 3 miles easy

That’s it for the easy weeks of low miles. The new training plan begins tomorrow!

2015: Running Ahead

As I noted my 2014 review post, I didn’t have many fixed goals going in to last year and things turned out pretty well. I still think of myself as a very fly-by-the- seat-of-my-pants, winging-it and figuring-it-out-as-I-go-along kind of runner, so I’m understandably a little nervous about all of the thought and planning that’s having to go into 2015.

I have my big long term goals: improve at the marathon, run more 100 milers, get strong on the mountains, be fierce in 24-hour running, and I’m impatient so I want everything this year or next year. In October I turned 40 which is really just a number in the ultra world. I’ve only started competing over the last year and half without knowing too much about what I’m doing, so I should still have many good  years ahead of me if I’m smart about all the things it pays to be smart about: training, recovery, nutrition, and not running an average of 2.83 races per month all year. But I know there always be a certain amount of anxiety that weighs on me, the feeling that now is my peak, that I have only a few  good years to be great and that time is of the essence. This is what’s keeping a fire lit under my ass!

So what do I want out of the next year? Priority number one is always to fun and stay injury-free. I’ve had no trouble enjoying myself so far, as you all can see from all my ridiculously happy smiling race photos, but the hidden niggles are often with me in my day-to-day training. I’ve had a good recovery period and I’m feeling pretty fresh so the key is to keep doing those exercises and stretches and foam rolling to prevent future problems. But on my own, I’m really only consistent at taking hot soaks. It’s easier for me to go to a class and do as I’m told for an hour or so, so I’m adding more easy yoga and MELT, which was recently featured in the New York Times.

Nutrition is another area to work on. Left to my own devices, there will be days when I’ll eat chocolate for breakfast, energy bars for lunch, and microwave popcorn and cheese for dinner, washed down with coffee in the morning and Diet Coke the rest of the day. I honestly enjoy fruits and vegetable and all the good-for-you foods, but I’m lazy about preparation or even ordering food, and this is in New York City, delivery capital of the world. I’m currently experimenting with cutting my sugar intake, by completely eliminating it and limiting other carbs for a short period. I’ll have more to report on this later.

As for races, the big one for me, the one that everything else revolves around at this point, is of course the World 24-Hour Championship in Italy in mid-April. The selection takes place next week, and if I make the team that race will have my complete attention for the next few months, so much so that I may even sacrifice any serious racing until then. After April, I’ve only got the Rock the Ridge 50 Miler on May 2, TGNY 100 on June 20 and a couple of vertical K races. And I signed up for Boston months ago, which will have to be sacrificed for the 24-hour championships. Geez, did I just write that? What universe am I living in where I can’t run Boston because I am going to run in a freaking world championship race?! Maybe I will walk my way from Hopkinton to Boston. The official cutoff is at least eight hours.

On my “maybe” list are the Caumsett 50K on March 1 (the national road 50K championship race), a spring marathon or two, the full Vermont 100, and several fall marathons, most likely including the NYC marathon. For the “dream” list we have the Transrockies 3 Day (or something else fantastically scenic and out west), Spartathlon and JFK 50. I was getting excited about Spartathlon until I realized that my numerical dyslexia had convinced me it was “only” a 135-mile race (like Badwater) when it is in fact a whopping 153 miles. Those additional 18 miles are giving me pause.

Here is my tentative calendar the first half of the year:

January 31: Maybe either running the BUS 3-hour race on Long Island or pacing at the Rocky Raccoon 100

February 12: Maybe running the Lincoln’s Birthday marathon on Long Island or another marathon someplace warmer that weekend

March 1: Maybe Caumsett 50K

March 15: Pacing 1:50 at NYC Half

April 11: Hope to be running the World 24-Hour Championships in Torino, Italy

April 20: Maybe crawling my way through Boston

April 26: Pacing 2:00 at the New Jersey Half

May 2: Rock the Ridge 50-Miler

May 24: Maybe Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in California

May 30: Maybe Quest for the Crest Vertical K in North Carolina

June 20: TGNY 100

June 27: Whiteface Vertical K

PHUNT 25K

Last year I raced more weekends than not, and I resolved to cut back on that year. So what did I do but go run a race on the first weekend of the year? Maggie’s fault.

I’d been hearing about PHUNT for some time since Maggie had invited some friends over for a sleepover before the race, but by the time I looked into registration it was already sold out. Last weekend at a party for our trail running group, Maggie mentioned that she would ask the RD and sure enough, before I’d even gotten home from the party, she was letting me know that she’d secured a spot for me. Apparently some runners had cancelled after the RD posted an update on the forecast for rainy weather the following weekend. Now I had to go, right?

After a week or so of easy running and averaging only about five miles a day, my body and mind were finally feeling rested and relaxed. I’ve picked up the heart rate monitor to keep me in line and aim to stay within my aerobic heart rate zone according to the Maffetone formula of 180 minus my age, which works out to no more than 140 or a 9:40-9:45 pace at best, and ironically slowing down can be a struggle at first (even for someone like Liza Howard). Running in Central Park and getting passed by everyone, I wanted to tell them, “Hey guys, you’re all running too fast! You know that’s not good for you right?” But I decided against getting punched in the face.

I braved the cold as much as I could all week, since it’s not yet super-cold in NYC and I’m trying to build up my weather toughness, but I notice that my hips and lower back tighten up and it’s difficult to open up my stride once the temperatures dip into the 30s. After getting a super-tight hip flexor from just standing around in Central Park on New Year’s Eve to see the fireworks and cheer the NYRR Midnight Run, by Friday I decided to “treat” myself with a visit to the gym treadmill. And man did it feel luxurious: no layers, total comfort, and I managed to throw down a few speedy intervals to work on my neglected leg turnover. I think once the real cold starts up this week I’ll start spending a little more time indoors.

But the real highlight of my week was not running on the treadmill for half an hour but experiencing PHUNT, or the little Fatass that could. In this, the 12th year of PHUNT, the Trail Dawgs who organize the event were testing out whether they could transition from a DIY self-supported Fatass run to a legit paid-entry race. I’d say the money ($35) was well spent: the course was terrifically well marked, they had themed aid stations every few miles, hot food at the finish, and my favorite race souvenir- pint glasses! The course itself was like a lollipop with a 1-mile stem and a 13.5 mile trail loop, run once for the 25K and twice for the 50K, mostly singletrack with some roots and rocks and few stretches of road and gravel, nothing technical.

Now I wish I could say I was as well prepared for the race as the organizers. I went to Maggie’s packed for a 40-something degree run and was shocked to find we’d be starting in freezing weather. I had brought the CWX tights I’d worn on New Year’s Even in Central Park and knew my legs would be chilled in them, but I woke up on Saturday with the brilliant idea of doubling up with some of the extra clothes I’d brought to change into. I added a second pair of looser leggings over my compression tights and I layered a thicker tech shirt over a thinner long sleeve shirt. With a Buff, headband, cap, and gloves/mittens and handwarmers, I figured I could survive the 25K.

Our gang pre-race. Photo: Ken Tom

Our gang pre-race. Photo: Ken Tom

I hoped to enjoy an easy trail run and try to stick to my moderate heart rate plan: ignore the pace, set my main Garmin display to show only the heart rate and let it go maybe as high as the low 160s. But what ever goes according to plan on race day? A week of relative rest had me raring to go from the start, we took off and one woman shot ahead to the front of the pack and I hung back behind the next group of half a dozen guys. We had a road section to start with which I knew to take advantage of, because me and trails in this part of the world don’t get along so well. As soon as we hit the trail section I had to slow: it was covered in fallen leaves, twisting and turning like a maze through the bare woods. You could see people running around but couldn’t always tell if they were in front or behind or how far either way. A few people passed me in the first mile or two of trail, including one woman, but even my slow run was getting my heart rate up towards 170 early in the race.

Lined up and brrr. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Lined up and brrr.

Despite the early morning chill the weather seemed perfect by the time we started running. A few miles in I was feeling warm and I decided to take my handwarmers out of my mittens, but when I started to fiddle with a place to put them– BAM! First fall of the day. I could feel a sting of blood in the usual spot on my left knee but my pants were untorn and I was unhurt. Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall again, I remind myself repeatedly, and wonder why I keep signing up for trail races when it would be so much nicer to come here for a simple training run.

The course was ziggy and zaggy, the hills not as steep as I expected (until much later) and I felt nice and comfortable- as much as possible when I’m trying too hard not to fall. I was trying out some new gear for the first time- a fresh pair of trail Hokas and a funky looking Simple Hydration bottle that goes in the waistband in the back. The bottle jiggles a bit when it’s filled to its 13 oz capacity, but feels very comfortable half full, which was all I needed between aid stations. I’m not sure if I would want a cool water bottle against my skin on a cold day, but since I was wearing two pairs of leggings I was able to stash the bottle in between the layers. It worked.

Photo: Jimmy Wilson

Hands-free with a nifty bum bottle. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

The 50K runners had started about 10 minutes before the 25K, which meant  a lot of passing after the first couple of miles. I get very nervous about passing or being passed on trails. I’m happy to pull over to let a faster runner go by and I always appreciate when someone does the same for me, as it spares the awkwardness of having to speed up to get by and chance falling right in front of the person I’ve just passed (yeah it’s happened). I saw Ken as we approached the halfway point and gave him the usual ass-slap as I passed him, and soon after came to a water crossing with some rocks. Don’t fall, don’t slip… okay good. As soon as I start congratulating myself for making it across- SLAM! I fall again and bang my right knee. This one hurt a little and required a minute  of walking up a hill to catch my breath and settle down. I fell again about a mile later for no reason, nearly landing on my face. I can’t even tell you what I trip on, I just fall. But three times in the first half of a 25K is not good. At least I shouldn’t fall more than another three times at this rate, I tell myself, as I self-debated whether I should just accept that I may fall a few more times or put it out of my mind because even thinking about falling might become a self-fulfilling prophecy… How about I just focus on looking at the ground instead? Focus, focus, focus. Sometimes the cold makes my eyes water and it’s hard to see, plus there are all those leaves and so much danger when stepping into them off the side of the trail while passing some runners. The time went by slowly and I tried to let go of the awareness of time and just enjoy playing in the woods on a pretty nice day for early January. Since my heart rate was high and my falls might be an indicator of too little fuel or electrolytes, I made sure to munch on some GU Chomps after the first hour or so. They are a bit hard to eat when they get very cold so I let them sit in my mouth for a while to soften before chewing.

It started raining more in the second half, but the trees provided some shelter and I was protected by my double layers of everything for a while. As I approached the final aid station I was starting to feel cold and regretted leaving my handwarmers at the first aid station. I checked the time, saw that I’d been out close to two hours and confirmed with a volunteer that this was the final aid before the start/finish and the distance: 3.8 miles, she said. Ok, probably not more than 40 minutes then, since the last portion had some road on the way back to the activity center. I toddled along, slowing or even walking a little on the uphills, which seemed to be getting bigger now, until I spied a lady up ahead who looked like the one who’d passed me at the start of the trail. With a few miles to go, this gave me something to look forward to: I could close the gap slowly on the trail and make a move to pass once we got back on the road. My heart rate was up in the mid 180s now and would pretty much stay there until the finish. I was extra careful trying not to fall on the remaining trail portion and took a short break to walk as we came to an uphill field section since my heart rate felt unsustainable. I let it drop a few beats and then turned on to the gravel road I’d been waiting for. I picked up the pace, closed up the gap and booked it to end with a little kick on that final half-mile stretch. After a few hours out there by myself, falling and trying to hone my focus on nothing but the few feet of trail in front of me, it felt real sweet to lift my head up and finish on a high note with a little of that game called racing.

I hurried in to the warm activity center to get changed ASAP and there were loads of people hanging out already- with the deteriorating weather and more rain forecast all afternoon, a bunch of 50K runners had decided to stop and take a 25K finish. I still have no idea about the results- I was the second lady who started with the 25K to finish that race, but there were several 50K ladies who started 10 minutes earlier who got in before me and dropped down. But as one of them said, “It’s PHUNT. Who cares?” Anyways, My watch time was 2:32:28, or a 7.5-minute PR over my last trail 25K in May. Nowhere near the 2:15 fantasy time I thought I would run, which was based on nothing, since I’d never seen this trail before and I suck on trails generally. I don’t see where I would have shaved much time off apart from a minute or two if I hadn’t fallen, and my heart rate was always higher than expected at 175 average. Still it was a decent training effort to start the year on.

Maggie FTW, and Dylan for the 3rd. Photo: Ken Tom

Maggie FTW, and Dylan for the 3rd. Photo: Ken Tom

Since I was the only half –ass among my friends who all signed up for the 50K, I had lots of time to hang out at the center, eating the delicious PHUNT lentil barley soup and sipping a bit of beer here and there (PHUNT is big on beer!) and meeting more of the locals. The ultra world is so small that there are always people who’ve been at the same races or have friends who did all those races.

Afterwards it was back to Maggie’s for a post-PHUNT meal and following live updates from another competitive 24-hour race in Florida late into the night. I went to bed and woke up under Maggie’s lucky charm Team USA jersey from Pam Smith and I guess it brought me some good fortune too because I woke up still at number 5 on the list of qualifiers. It doesn’t look like there are any more qualifying events before the team selection begins next week so I should be good to go to the World 24 Hour Championships in April. Stay tuned for the official announcement to come in mid-January!

Here’s a video of the entire PHUNT made by Jimmy Wilson, who ran the race wearing a pair of Pivothead glasses that automatically shoot a photo every 30 seconds. The rear images of me in this post were taken from screenshots of this video.

 

Week in Review 12/29

Monday: 7 miles easy at 135 HR

Tuesday: 5 miles at low 130s HR, body weight strength exercise

Wednesday: 5.5 miles easy

Thursday: 4 miles easy, heart rate monitor not working

Friday: 3.2 miles easy with 3 x 2 minutes fast + 1 minute recovery jogs

Saturday: 25K trail race

Sunday: Total rest

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