Custom Search

Monday, January 30, 2012

Racing Weight: a book review

Matt Fitzgerald's book Racing Weight appealed to me because, while I think I'm an average weight, I know that I could run more easily if I lost a few pounds just in time for my race. It's called your racing weight, and it's not a weight you'd want to sustain long term. It's just in order to be lean and fit for a particular race or race season.
The book is definitely an interesting resource. It is basically separated into three parts.
Basically your racing weight is whatever you are when you look like the athletes on the covers. 

Part I starts by linking low body fat to high endurance performance, with a really nice section describing the "ideal body" for many endurance sports. Then Fitzgerald outlines how an athlete ought to determine peak racing weight. The problem here is that he basically says you ought to run your best race, then see how much you weighed, and that's your racing weight. Hm. Kind of makes it seem like you wouldn't need the book then, right? But he does follow that with some good suggestions for estimating your racing weight, including tracking both your weight and your body fat percentage so that muscle gain and loss won't throw you off. He also advocates some basics like tracking calories in and calories out.
Part II is a five-step plan to get to your racing weight, including improving diet quality and nutrient ratios, timing your nutrition, and managing appetite. It's full of useful tips, well-cited research, and athlete-specific nutrition advice.
Part III is a cute little menu section with healthy meals, and includes some menus from elite athletes.

So, I don't know if this book "works" because I keep saying I will buy a body fat scale, but then I remember that I have no storage space and it would just sit around being tripped on. So I haven't actually tried to determine my ideal racing weight, which is step one.
But one thing the author says kind of stuck with me, and I think did "work" even without me trying. He points out that your body will get the message that if you keep training and keep eating right, you're seeking a lean machine physique. Your body adapts to that to make training easier. And I think he's right. I don't weigh myself, but I can tell from look and feel that when I'm in the middle of marathon season, I'm leaner and more muscled. My body adapts: I crave more healthy foods, too.

Fitzgerald has a lot of interesting observations like that, and I love how all the info is geared toward athletes. I wasn't looking for a diet book, and this isn't one. It's more a book that you can use to make your own plan for getting lean for racing. I also like that studies in the book are cited, and most are quality, although quite a few use very small sample sizes.
On the con side, a lot of the info in this book is common sense - like keeping a food journal. But losing weight when you are already at or near goal weight isn't easy, and overall this book is a good resource to do a difficult task.

Buy it: Amazon has it for $13 but I like to check my local bookstore first.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How I train: Q and A

Thanks for all your questions and comments on my "How I train" series. Here are some I didn't get to:

Vanesssa asked:
What was your typical weekly mileage training for your first marathon vs. now?
I mentioned that I used to run about 20 miles a week (first marathon) and now I run about 45 miles a week (need to increase!) but what I didn't mention was the standard deviation. I am much more consistent now - before I'd have weeks with just 6 miles total followed by weeks with 12 or 28. Now I might dip to 30 after a race or peak as high as 65 on a race week, but generally I'm in the 40 to 50 range.

Nelly said: Not sure if this is the case, but you look way more powerful now than you do in that picture above from your first marathon. Not sure if you feel the same way.
One thing I didn't talk about what weight training. I do try to do weights at the gym once a week for just that reason: increased power. I think speed work might help, too, although hill sprints would be better. All I need is a hill...

Ali Mc asked:
I really want to know how someone like me (a relatively new runner) could train for their first marathon differently. Everyone says train to just finish but I'd love to BQ on my first one you think that's possible??
Oh gosh. I don't know, I guess it depends on your base. I really think a runner shouldn't attempt a marathon until he or she has been running for several years. Not that finishing a marathon is insanely difficult; just doing one too soon can be disappointing. A young runner may get injured and will probably have a worse finish time than if they had waited until they had a very good base. I think if you have been running at least 30 miles a week for at least 6 months, and you regularly run in the double digits, and you've completed several half-marathons, and your half marathon pace is BQ pace or better, you will probably BQ at your first marathon. But that is total conjecture. 
Kyria asked:
So, you said you never really did taper before, but do you follow a training "schedule" at all? Or just wing it? You seem kind of like a wing it kind of girl. Do you do speed work? Pace work? Hills?
Where do you find the time? Do you run in the dark?
While I use a training schedule as a guide, I mostly wing it. The training schedule just helps me plan when my long runs should be. I only do speed work on Monday nights with the Varsity Sports group, so if my training plan has additional speed work I just do a regular run. I almost never wear a watch, so I don't do any tempo runs or marathon pace runs or all that jazz. 
Now that I work a set schedule, I run in the mornings before work. I get up at 6:00, and try to be out the door by 6:30.That still gives me time to get a ten-miler in, shower, get ready for work, eat breakfast, and get to work before 9:00. Sometimes it is dark, but that's ok; I live in New Orleans so you know there is NO crime. 

Mickiruns asked:
Would you mind including a "I wish I knew ____ when I was training for my first marathon"? 
Don't wear different underwear on race day! Ow, chaffing! 

I usually run 5-6 days per week and for me, reducing my mileage has actually been more effective. 45-50 miles per week are usually my max during marathon training. That being said, it could have been the combination of doing more comprehensive workouts (gym, yoga, lifeforce) that has improved my muscle imbalances so I'm not injured like I was before. 
Well said, I think cross-training for muscle strength is a great way to prevent injury while increasing all-around fitness. Too bad I suck at everything except running (I wish you could see me attempting soccer as a kid, it was tragic).

Christy asked:
My question is how do you stay injury free with the increase in miles?
Ah-hah! Great question! Mileage increase should be snail's pace slow. But once you are up there, you're golden. Stay where you can tolerate it. It's the changes that put you in danger, not the actual higher mileage. For me, after I ran a marathon in fall of 2010, I had built up to around 40 mpw and stayed there by simply adding on races incessantly. I have gradually increased that to 45 or so over the course of almost an entire year. The key is to maintain mileage so you don't have to build back up.

Kinza said:
I would love to hear details about your eating habits.
I eat fairly well. Besides three square meals, I snack a lot, mostly on mixed nuts, fruit,  or crackers and cheese. I don't have the most ideal diet, but I keep junk food to a minimum and I'm a healthy cook. Our most damaging meals come from eating out, which we do about once a week, but since my hubby and I both love food - and live in New Orleans - we aren't about to give that up! I don't drink soda or any sweet beverage at all, and I have raw fruit or veggies with every meal. I drink red wine several times a week and I'm a coffee addict, but I drink a lot of water, too. I could be more careful with my diet, but I'm fairly content with it.

Char said:
I don't get how you think you suck at distances over 16 miles and yet run a 3:09 marathon. Clearly you don't actually suck - is it that you don't like going so far.
Well, that's kind of you to say, but I actually do suck. I have just had to persuade myself that crappy long runs don't equate to crappy marathons, or I'd be perpetually worried about my performance. I routinely hit the wall, fall off pace, get sick, or quit early during long runs! 
In fact, in all my ten races, I've only had one good twenty. Read about it here

Thanks for reading all my training posts and for your comments! Of course, it turns out that the week that I put up posts all about running and training I ran fever and had a cold and missed running for three days - plus skipped a long run for my next race. Not an auspicious start to training. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

How I train: the mental part

The last part of How I Train is kind of a catch-all of things I didn't put elsewhere, but it concludes with one of the most important parts: the mental aspect! If I could credit one thing with taking me from a 4:15 to a 3:09 marathon, it's thinking I could do it.
But first some bits and pieces I forgot...
The mental aspect comes into play when one realizes one has run 27.2 miles instead of 26.2. Yes, I actually did that. 

Injuries: At first (marathon #1), I was a big ball of injury - I was not in the shape to attempt a marathon and training hurt. This is why I'm not a proponent of the "You, too, can run a marathon" kind of plan. Sure, anyone can run a marathon. But first you need to build up a decent base, or the mileage increase will injure you!
My biggest injury was excruciating runner's knee that plagued me for months and lead to other, responsive injuries. I fixed that in 2 weeks by throwing out my motion control shoes and going neutral. Bam, just like that, no more pain. My only injury after that was a mild fracture sustained from a hard landing on a rough surface...playing chicken with a train. I know. Sorry. I do dumb stuff sometimes. It serves me right. It healed in a month and has been 100% pain free since then.
Edited in 2013: Since the time I wrote this, I developed a chronic condition (osteitis pubis) and then lost over 7 months to a stress fracture: what was initially diagnosed as a hamstring tear turned out to be a femoral stress fracture. I'm not sure how it happened to begin with, but running on it for 5 months certainly made it worse. I'll re-edit later if I find out more info on what could have prevented this injury!
Gear: I'm not really into fancy running stuff. I got a Garmin for Christmas a year ago, but I only wear it for speed workouts, long runs when I don't know my route distance, and races. I wear an ipod for long runs and races, too, but not for everyday running.
I buy my socks and jog bras from Walmart. They are cheap cotton. I buy shorts off Ebay or Nike clearance. I got tights at Target last year for $1.99. I have only purchased a running top ONCE, since I wear mostly race T's. I snap up clearance shoes and try to spend less than $39.99 per pair.
To me, the appeal of running is that anyone can do it with very, very little stuff. I don't want to lose that feeling of fun and freedom, so I keep things low tech.
Right now, I wear Saucony Kinvaras - men's, since I have wide feet - and I love them. I wear them for long runs, track, races, and every day. I also have a pair of Karhu Fulcrum Fast, which I rotate in about once a week. I love my Karhu's, too, but lately I've been having trouble with fit. I think I'm between sizes in a women's shoe - men's shoes just fit better.
The best thing I ever did for my running was to switch to a neutral shoe. I'm a believer in letting your body, not an external device, correct for any imbalance or anomaly. If you think about it, you've been alive and kicking with that darned pronation or funny gait for 20+ years and it never hurt you before. When you do natural activities like walking, lifting, or sitting, you didn't need special shoes to prevent a catastrophe. So why do you need them for running, which should also be a natural activity? I'm not saying go totally minimalist, which didn't work for me (I tried it, I felt too much impact); I'm just saying, let your body do its thing. If you aren't having problems, don't let some running shoe store sell you a stability shoe to "fix' something.

Fuel: Before I run I have half a cup of coffee - full cup for a race - but I generally do not eat. I eat lightly before a marathon but no other distance. While running, I eat gels or oatmeal or white rice. Yeah, I bring teeny bags of cooked and salted rice and oatmeal with me. It's cheaper than gels.
For long runs, I only fuel for 18 miles and over. I bring two servings of fuel (2 gels, 2 bags of rince, etc).
For races, I usually bring a gel or two for a half marathon, although I rarely will take more than one.
When I race a marathon, I need fuel. I drink Gatorade at about every other water stop, and I bring about 4 gels.
I take my gels in halves since it's easier to get enough liquid down with them that way. I try to stay on a schedule of miles 6, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22 - half a Gu at each. Obviously I will adjust this based on location of water stations.
For the rest of the time, my normal diet is just ok. I drink lots of coffee and have red wine at least 5 times a week. Hey, it keeps my cholesterol in check! I am lucky that I generally like healthy foods, especially fruits, veggies, and legumes, but I eat plenty of treats, too. That's why I'm medium-weight instead of pro-runner skinny. I like eating and food makes me happy.

What I don't do: I do not ice, I do not wear compression, I do not race without drinking water, I do not drink chocolate milk, I do not have mantras, I do not run barefoot, I do not diet, I do not take supplements, I do not bandit,  I do not cross train, I do not stretch, I do not carb-load, I do not buy expensive accessories, I do not raise money for charity, I do not negative-split, I do not mid-foot strike, I do not do Yasso 800's, I do not run on treadmills, I do not run ultras, I do not use sunscreen. I do what I can, want, like, and other words, I keep running a hobby, not a lifestyle. Only you know just the mix of dos and don'ts that work for you! Some things I should do to improve but I'm not willing to sacrifice for them. Some things would be fun to do, but would cut into time and money I should spend on other things. You just have to pick and choose what works for you. 

When the going gets hairy: So here's the thing. I don't like quitting or copping out. I don't usually make excuses for myself. I'm not silly enough to not allow myself a pass if I'm sick or injured, but I don't like going easy on myself. I'm not a perfectionist, just pushy.
I'm not built to be a runner. I'm a stocky, muscular build that doesn't promise long smooth strides. I'm heavier than most runners running my same speed. I have terribly damaged feet from wearing too-small shoes growing up, and I heel strike. But I do not give up and I don't make excuses. I think that's helped me more than any natural ability or training plan.

What's helped YOU more than anything else?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How I train: Racing

Day three of how I train...
Today let's talk about races. After all, they're kind of why I run.

Races: I run a lot of races because they give me a goal to work for. Who cares if that makes me a moron. I like to schedule them close enough together that I don't have to start training all over again and I've always run better at my second race.
I feel like full marathons are my best distance, but I don't know if that is really true since I almost never run any other distances. I will do the occasional half, but short distances don't appeal to me. I know I am definitely a distance type because I generally underperform at short distances. For example, I have never run a 5k under 21 minutes! (Edit - have run under 20 now). And not for lack of trying, either! I've noticed that if I use the Mcmillan calculator to estimate my race times, I will always outperform at the marathon distance and underperform at shorter distances.  Meanwhile, if I attempt to do speed work at my extrapolated "5k pace" or "2 mile pace" I struggle to complete the workouts.

Training plans: I am not good at following training plans. I prefer, instead, to stay at half-marathon shape all the time, and build up to a marathon over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. However, I do usually use a training plan as a general guide, although I often jump in half-way through. I used training plans for my first two marathons, and they were not tough enough. They didn't challenge me, and they didn't have enough long runs or mid-distance runs. This is probably because they were beginner's plans and just had too much time off.
Sorry. I doodle a lot.
This is a plan I downloaded for the Louisiana marathon and sorry, I don't remember where from. As you can see, this one I started at week 7, since it actually included THREE marathons - two of my three 20+ milers were replaced by marathons. I did a lot of hand-correcting, and I was very liberal with this plan - it called for very high mileage (including a 28 mile run) and I cut almost every week down. Then I lost it completely around Christmas, when my husband took over my desk to put up my new computer, and it just resurfaced in a stack of files yesterday. Lot of good that did.

Recovery: After a long or hot run, I love love love club soda. Club soda and eggs are all I want. I actually rarely have carbs after a race or run - unless it is race beer, which is a good club soda substitute - but sometimes I will make toast to soak up egg yolks or put scrambled eggs in a tortilla. I don't do anything specific for my muscles to recover; I do like to walk around a lot the same day to shake out any stiffness. I am rarely sore after a race - or ever, really. I don't take days off after a race - I get out and run the next day. Like I said, not a fan of days off.
When I was a jogger I ate what people told me to eat (carbs), but now I eat what I crave.

Marathons: I have done ten marathons, and I don't claim to be an expert. But here's a general idea of how I run a marathon.
For training, like I said, I jump in in the middle. I stay ready to do 13 on any given day, so generally my first long run will be 16 miles. I might do one, two, or three 20's and kind of decrease mileage the week leading up to the race.
I have the very worst race preparation ever known to man and I've pretty much just assumed that something will go wrong pre-race. I will have a dinner of hot wings and wine, have the busiest 9-hour work day of my life the day before, stay overnight with friends who never go to sleep, be late to the start, have a dead ipod or watch, whatever. Not one single race has started out well, and that's just my life. Like I said, it's complicated.
Race morning I give myself two hours to get up, have a little oatmeal, get ready, go to the bathroom, and make it to the start. I don't warm up before the race because I just don't know how. I heard someone last week say they were going to "stride it out" before the race and I had no idea what she was talking about.  I bring music since I think having a beat helps me in later miles, although I'm happy to talk to other runners until I start feeling like a pile of crap.
I would love to say that I pace well and negative-split, but I'll be honest here. I've never negative split in my life. I start too fast and those last miles hurt! (Oddly, miles 20 - 26 are my favorites. I feel like I'm almost home and it's mentally easier for me than, say, mile 16 or 18). Once in awhile I hit the wall - twice this season - but I am ok with that. As long as I started adding glucose early enough, I can push through it.
I am a big fan of cheering others on the course. Anyone out there is working hard and could use the encouragement, and it distracts me a little! So I'm pretty generous with the clapping, high-fives, and shouted encouragement. I always talk to people I pass, too, if it's a spread-out race: I'll tell them they look good, hold the pace, etc. I feel kind of mean and guilty passing people! Is that normal?!
Another distractor, besides cheering others on, is running tangents. I am a very good tangent runner and rarely go much over the race distance by Garmin (even in large RnR races I will be at 26.3 max). Tangents are like a game: I will think, "See that corner up there? Run a straight line to it". Then I reach the corner and pick the next object to make the shortest line.
When I get to mile 25 I always tell myself I will sprint and I never do. I am too exhausted. But those last fractions I'll hit it!

So what tricks do I have for successful marathons? 
- Well, the biggest change I've made is having confidence going in. I literally cried after my first marathon, I was so miserable. I was slow, injured, and in agony. That didn't help me much going into marathon number two! But as time goes on and I have more races under my belt, I know what's coming and I can judge my own fitness for the distance. I am a very reasonably confident person. That is, I'm good at knowing what I can and can't do and being quite confident about it. I usually call my races like pool: I can tell you the night before that I will run a 3:15 or a 3:30. When I hit the tough later miles, I remind myself that I am in the shape to run a 3:30 marathon, and it is well within my ability. I reason myself out of the low-glucose panic that can set it around mile 18.
- I've gotten better at fueling. This is entirely a personal thing, so do what you have to do to stay fueled! But I will tell you two things that have helped me:
1. I underfuel for regular long runs. This is partly because I'm cheap and Gu is pricey, and partly to encourage my body to convert fat to fuel in an attempt to go longer on a tank of energy on race day. And to get rid of my Armenian butt (it's not working).
2. I follow a set-in-stone fueling rule during races: If I'm between miles 13 and 22 and I feel a surge of energy, I immediately take some fuel. I know that this is a sign that I've moved from blood glucose to secondary sources of fuel like muscle glycogen, and while I feel good now, I'll crash soon if I don't supplement. This usually hits at mile 16 or 18 for me. Last race I couldn't stomach the gel I took at this point - it nauseated me immensely - and sure enough, I hit the wall.
- I start in the right corral. Like I said, I have a lot of confidence in both what I can and what I can't do, and one thing I can't do is conserve energy while passing slower runners. I get caught up in bunny-hopping and the next thing you know, my first mile was a 6:42 and I ran a good bit over 1 mile to get around people. All my bad races were ones in which I started too far back. The corrals are there for a reason, and being correctly corralled at the start is safer, faster, smarter, and more polite to other runners.
- I set a general finish time or pace goal. No more of this, "I just want to finish" crap. And you know what? It is crap. If you set that as your goal, well, then you can do better than that. You trained hard for your marathon, and you know how you're doing. Set a reasonable goal and work for it. ANYONE can "just finish" a marathon. Challenge yourself to a goal, work for it, and beat it at your next race!

Tomorrow we wrap up with some odds and ends and the mental aspect of training.
And then this weekend I will get to some questions!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How I train: How I run

Welcome back to my wholly self-centered, barely-masked bragging about going from a 4:15 marathon to a 3:09 in under 2 years. And still sucking at the 5k. 
Yesterday I covered how much I run. 
Day three of How I Train is about the type of running I do. This is just to describe my every day running. 
The beautiful Audubon Park running path

Surface and routes:
I run a lot on asphalt and some on paved sidewalks. I don't do trails. I also don't do hills, but it's not my fault. I live in a completely flat area. In fact, I often download or look at training plans that have hill workouts weekly and I just shrug and give up, just like that. I know I can't do hills, so why even bother trying the training plan?
I run in Audubon park a lot, because it is gorgeous (and it's about half a mile from my house. My house, around the park once, and back home = 3.2 miles on the dot).  I sometimes run along pretty routes like St Charles avenue or on the levee (side note: running up the levee is a possible form of hill workout, and I have done that on occasion. Sorry if we flood next hurricane because I wore the levee out). New Orleans is a very picturesque place to run and I'm blessed to run here. I work my routes around water fountains; one thing that has never changed for me is that I must drink water while I run. I am amazed and impressed by people (like my little brother Abe) who can do double digits without any fluids. I stop for water even for 3 miles most of the time!
I never run on a treadmill. If you do, more power to ya. I get bored and the double impact (the belt AND your foot are moving) hurts my knees. I think treadmills do outstanding things for endurance and perseverance, and I totally think you could train for a marathon entirely on a treadmill. I, however, am too ADD to take it!

Distance: Generally, I run 3 - 7 miles a day with a ten miler once a week and a long run once a week. The long run is 13 - 16 unless I have a marathon coming up. Lately I have been bad about getting in that 10 miler, though. Sometimes it becomes nine.
If I am training for a marathon, I try to get in a 16, 18, and two or three twenties. I don't do more than 20 miles because I would get bored. This year I worked in two marathons as "long runs" and this got me my 20+. That worked very well for me; I didn't run them all-out but I pushed a little. It was great practice that I wouldn't have done all alone in the park.
In fact, another dirty little secret about me: I do not like the long run, it always intimidates me, and I almost never have a good long run. I'm talking about walking, hitting the wall, feeling queasy, quitting early. I suck at distances over 16!
I think my weekly ten miler has done me a lot of good, which is why I intend on getting that back. It's a manageable mid-week distance that trains your mind to consider double digits an average distance.
When I started running more seriously, I realized that distance had to be a part of my improvement. Before that, I would do one loop in the park - 3.2 miles - every time. To increase my endurance I knew I had to change that. Now, I rarely do just 3.2 miles: maybe I'll do it on Sunday when my day is very busy. Instead my basic short run is 5 or 6.2 miles.

Speed: Last year I never did any speed work. In fact, I did none at all until this October. This fall I started joining a group that does speed work on Monday nights. I've improved since then (marathon and half marathon PRs) but if you do the math, I have actually improved less than last year. See, my Feb 2010 marathon and my Nov 2010 marathons showed a 14% improvement, whereas from Feb 2011 to Nov 2011 I only improved 6%. Of course, I do realize that time improvements become smaller as you get faster - it is easier to take 15 minutes off your 4-hr marathon than 5 minutes off your 3 hour marathon.
Speed work is kind of awful, but being with other people holds me accountable to complete the workout.
When we do speedwork, we are given assignments that are based on specific paces - like so many 400m reps at 5k pace, for example. To determine that pace we use a mile time trial or a recent race and plug it into the Mcmillan calculator. Here is where I cheat a little, though. I do not use my actual mile time trial or my actual race time. Instead I take my best race and knock a couple of minutes off of it, and I use that. this makes my speeds faster and is a sure recipe for injury or overtraining. Like I said, don't copy me.

Pace: I am not a big fan of the long slow distance. I run my long runs around marathon pace plus up to 30 seconds - that is an estimate. All I'm saying is I don't slow down a minute and a half per mile. I run lots of mid 7's and I think 7:40 is my sweet spot. If I settle down to a comfy pace and don't think about it, that is my pace. However, this comfy pace changes! If you asked me last year, I would have said 7:55. This year it is already trending toward 7:30.
I know a lot of people like to run their fast runs fast and their slow runs slow, but that didn't work for me. All it did was reset my idea of "fast". If the majority of your time is spent at 8:30 pace, then a 7:30 pace for three miles feels crazy fast! But if you usually run 8's, then 7:30 isn't that fast anymore. You'll aim for at least 7's.  To run faster...I ran faster.

Music, Garmin, and the like: I used to run with music all the time, but I got out of the habit when my ipod was malfunctioning. Now I only use music for races. I think this has helped give me an extra boost during the race, since I'm used to having to set my own rhythm. I listen to a huge variety of music, most of which I don't particularly like, just because it has a good beat! Right now my favorite running song is "Break your Heart", even though I'd rather be caught dead than be observed listening to Ludacris otherwise (hello, his name is a misspelled word, so offensive!). If you want to get pumped up for a race, though, you cannot beat that opening!
BTW I do not have an ipod right now. I got a replacement 6th generation nano after my first generation was recalled, and I hate it. So from here on out I'm silent.
My Garmin 305 goes on for track workouts, long runs, and the ocasional ten miler when I need to make sure I'm home in time for work (yeah, sometimes I wake up late). Normally I run without it. I don't feel the need to obsess over my time or pace most of the time, plus I'm a pretty accurate judge of speed so I generally know how I'm doing.
Before I got my Garmin, I would bring pace bands for races. I still think pace bands are the BOMB for distances over 13.1! However, I don't use them anymore, as I would feel like my puny little arms were overloaded with ipod, pace band, and Garmin.

Next up: Racing!
Please...ask any questions in the comments! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How I train: Running volume

A quick note - Thanks for the questions. If I don't answer your questions here, I will do a Q and A post at the end and answer everything I miss.

 Day one of How I Train: 
Ah, volume. I know it's important, but so is having enough free time to re-read all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
Want to know a dirty little secreet? Part of the reason I got faster is because I didn't want to have to dedicate so much of my time to running. Faster = more miles, less time commitment.

Mileage: I run about 45 miles a week. To get faster, I added 15 to 20 miles a week. I think more would be better - probably 70 - but I simply don't want to commit the time. After a race I cut it down to about 30 for a recovery week.
If I averaged out miles for marathon #1, I did about 20 a week. Now I generally stay around 45, but I go over that on weeks that I race or do a 20 miler.
I know mileage has made a huge difference in my running, and I really would improve if I could buckle down and increase that number. Last year when I went from a 4:15 to a 3:27 marathon, I didn't do any speedwork - I just increased my miles. It's that important. If I could make just one change in my training it would be to increase mileage. In fact, I think ANY runner with the time and inclination to build up to and maintain 70 miles per week could meet or beat my marathon time. You just don't get good at anything without practice.
In the future I would like to add miles, so if you are friends with me on Dailymile and see me slacking off, send me a "Get off your tush" motivation.*

Days a week of running: I feel best with six or seven - six on weeks I remember to go to the gym and get my puny muscles pumping. I don't like taking days off. If I do, the fronts of my calves hurt the next day!
This is another change I made that improved my time - running just 4 or 5 days a week, like I used to, gave me fewer quality runs because I felt stiff and out of shape after off days.

Days off: Rarely am I off from running and the gym - probably two or three times a month. If I'm sick I take off, unless I feel like a run would do me good. I prefer to limit the excuses that I'll allow for a day off. When I was 4-hour marathoner, I took days off whenever anything hurt, believing that I was preventing injury. Not only was I injured anyway, I was just hurting my fitness, which in turn led me to more injury. I went into my first marathon with low levels of fitness and low confidence in my running.
This brings me to a point I meant to make: To a certain extent, running will hurt. That's ok. If you maintain a certain level of fitness all the time, you will know if the hurt you are feeling is normal and will go away (ie, sore knees from old shoes, pain from bruised nail bed, stiffness post-race, side cramps during a fast run) or if you are heading for an injury like a sprain, tear, or fracture. So it sounds paradoxical, but more running can actually help prevent injury.

Next up: How I run - the types of running, speed, and distances I do.
Questions? Ask below. If I don't know the answer I will make one up that sounds plausible. 
*You aren't friends with me on Dailymile? Why not, you don't like me?

Monday, January 23, 2012

A week of how I train!

Well, you asked for it...
So this week I am going to do several posts on exactly how I train.
As an introduction, a few years ago, I was one of those casual joggers who got bitten by the marathon bug. I ran my first marathon in 2010, poorly trained, injured, and miserable. My official time was 4:12.
My very first marathon! Feb 2010.
It was a bad enough experience that I laid off running for awhile, but I picked it back up 8 months later. I qualified for Boston at marathon #3 in November, 2010.
The beautiful Harrisburg marathon course, a great BQ course
A year after my first marathon, I ran a 3:27, agin at RnR Mardi Gras, and felt great doing it. Again, I took a little break - this time an injury combined with the hot weather kept me from running as much. I'm getting back into the swing of things this winter - my current best marathon is 3:09:36 (read about it here)  - Edit: Now it is 3:06:17 - and I ran a 3:24 in hot, windy weather with no Garmin or watch. My half marathons have improved, too, with a current PR of 1:30 from last month. That's down from the 2:03 I ran for my very first half.
Do I still have a long way to go? Of course!
While I can't claim to be fast, I CAN claim to have improved drastically. 
I don't have a coach and I have no background in running, so a lot of what I do is just what seems to work for me. Take this as my personal story, not what will necessarily work for you!

Coming up this week:
- Running volume and mileage
- What kind of running I do
- Racing
- The mental aspect 

Now ask me questions! If you have any specific questions on how I went from a 4:15 marathon to a 3:09 marathon in less than two years, ask away. I will do my best to provide helpful information!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Foody Friday: making broth

Whenever I make a chicken, turkey legs, or bone-in roast, I also make some broth for later use. It's a money-saving trick that takes less effort than opening a teeny tiny Campbell's can.
My broth after an over-night cooking.
If I plan to cook some broth-worthy meat, a few days before I'll be cooking it I start saving my veggie scraps: carrot and parsnip tops, ends of green beans, tops of onions, celery leaves, even kale stems. I just throw them all in a bag in the fridge.
After cooking the meat, I save bones and scraps and toss them in the crockpot. If you cooked your meat in the crockpot, you don't even half to wash it first. This week I cooked turkey legs, and we ate some, but the rest I saved for use in turkey tetrazzini. After deboning the legs, I just put the bones in the crockpot along with all my veggie scraps (note - you may add the skin for flavor, but it will add a lot of fat to the broth). I add water up to the top, and season a little.
For turkey or chicken broth, I add salt, pepper, and perhaps sage, thyme, or majoram, plus some coriander seed.
For pork, I add whole mustard seed, salt, tiny bit of crushed red pepper, and a dash of nutmeg.
For beef, I add salt and pepper, rosemary, and a dash of worcestershire sauce.

Put the crockpot on low, cook overnight. In the morning turn it off and remove the lid to let it cool while you go for a run. When you get back, drain it through a colander into storage jars. I use jars that hold about 2 cans' worth, or as much as I'd use in a recipe. If you plan to freeze the broth, use freezer-safe jars. Let cool in the fridge and skim any fat off the top when it has hardened. At this point you can taste and correct seasoning. Incidentally, if you like vegetable broth, you can just keep a container for scraps in the fridge at all times, and when it fills up, make a broth.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My thoughts on taper

As I mentioned before, I tapered before the Louisiana Marathon this past week. It's the first time I really tapered, so I was curious to see how I felt. Would my legs feel fresh and energetic? Would I be chomping at the bit at the starting line?
Underneath those tights are unprepared muscles. 
Here's how my taper went and how I felt:
What I normally do: Well, this totally depends on what other races I've done in the past few days or weeks. Usually my last long long run is two weeks out; this could be 18 or 20. I drop volume just a little in the days leading up to the race, with 3 - 6 miles the day before the race. If I just ran a hard or long race, I may take the whole week leading up easy.
Taper summary: This time my last long run was 20 miles, a full three weeks out from race day, The next weeks my long runs were 14 and 12 miles. I did "easy" speed work each week, except that I skipped one week while I was sick. I decreased my total mileage to around 35 miles (down from 45 - 55) and my last week I did just 30 heading into the race.
How I felt before the race: In a made-up word, unfresh. My lack of miles and low speeds made my muscles feel unused, and each run for the last week felt like I had taken a long break. Rather than feel rested and ready, I felt stiff and uncomfortable. Less running affected my appetite, too, and I didn't feel like eating much. That would be normal, except I didn't want to head into a race hungry.
How I felt during the race: I started out with the same "unused" feeling in my muscles, as if I'd taken too many days off. But that was not the biggest problem. I think my long taper had made my body forget how to retain fuel for the finish. I hit the wall in this race, and that is NOT the norm for me, yet overall I had fueled well during the race. I just think you have to train your body to use fuel efficiently for a long distance, and my body wasn't used to this. Usually during a race I start feeling the need for fuel at very regular intervals: I start at mile 6, even though I don't feel like I need it yet, then I continue to take half-packets of GU at 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22. Sometimes I'll take some at 8 instead of 22. But this race I felt like I was burning through the energy and not hanging onto any of it. Result? WALL. 7:41 instead of 7:11. And felt like I was running a 5:30. Ugh.
How I felt after the race: I am rarely sore, but I think my muscles took this one a little too seriously. I have some quad and hamstring soreness. I usually recover speedily, but this time I'm not.
What I think will work for me: No more long tapers. I will do my last long run (like 20) two weeks out, and while my regular runs will be easy, I'd rather take an extra day off instead of decreasing mileage each day. I will keep the speedwork, as I find it keeps my muscles ready for race pace. And I will NEVER take off the day before a race if I can help it; when I have it has always resulted in poor performance!
So - do you taper? If so, how long? And if you run short distances, do you still do a taper or a rest day?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesdays are half price day!

...At the Salvation Army!
For $17 I got:
Black skinny chinos from Banana Republic
A black tank top
A magenta silk Banana Republic sweater with tags still on
Giani Bini heels in pristine condition

Look at the price tag...I got that for $2.50!

An interesting orange button-down
A lovely floral shirt with bow
A cute green cardigan with puffed sleeves
A red top, also Banana Republic...must have been a BR kind of day for me!

...And put it all together! 

Thrifting tip: January is the best month for thrifting, since people often donate after Christmas.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Louisiana Marathon: Race Recap

The Louisiana Marathon was my "goal" race this year, meaning that when I finally decided to dig out a training plan,* I picked this race to stick at the end (I ran two other marathons this Fall as long runs). It was also the only marathon I've truly tapered for. So I was going in with a definite goal - 3:10 - and a less definite plan.
Oatmeal and coffee, made in the hotel room

Getting ready...sorry about the nasty bedhead and no makeup; that's how I roll for races! 
Sunday morning David and I walked to the start area from our hotel. We had stayed a sleepless night in Hotel Indigo - thanks to the sobbing parents, security, and police which invaded our floor from 1 am to 3 am because the parents had gone out and their kids locked themselves in the room and refused to respond. Eventually the smirking brats opened up and informed the world that they did it "as a joke" (P.S. their parents suck for leaving them alone, too.) Total waste of money. I got NO sleep. 
I was a bit concerned about running an inaugural race, but the start area was well-organized, there were ample port-o-potties, and the race started on time. NICE. All signs of a good race!
I had a garbage bag and throw-away gloves because it was in the 30's for the start. 
Chilly start! Notice my super-convenient Gu armband and my drug dealer gloves.
So, since I didn't have a plan, I started out way too fast. I kept trying to reign it in, but the cold temps tricked me into faster speeds. I ran the first two miles under 7:00, but forced myself to pull back and kept around the 7:10 range for the first half. I was chatting for several miles with two guys planning on running a 3:10, and I'm blaming them for my early speed - they were out too fast, too! (They finished in 3:12).
The course was not as nice as Baton Rouge beach - more boring stretches of empty neighborhoods, less pretty lakes - and it was actually slightly hilly. Nothing bad, just lots of long stretches of mild grade and small hills. What sucked, though, is that the half and full course divided and reconverged  several times throughout the race. This meant the a group of 7:10 pace marathoners were funneled into a group of 10:30 pace half-marathoners, where we were stuck for several miles, then got dunked in again even later - near the 11 or 12 mile mark for the half, when many of the runners at this point were slowed or walking (oh, and I had to skip the water stops; too crowded with stopped runners!). This happened three times; the last was near the finish, so I was dodging weary halfers drudging on, just trying to complete the distance. I'm not blaming the half runners at all; it was just the design of the course.This hurt my time a tad: I am queen of running tangents and had been spot on the mile markers, but after the second time the two races met, I was off by a full 0.1 mile (I finished with 26.35 Garmin, way far for me, since I'm good with tangents).
Around mile 16 I lost the guys I had been chatting with and passed a girl - the first female marathoner I'd seen all day - and then I passed Alison, a 16 year old from Baton Rouge! She rocks - her first marathon last month was a 3:24 and Sunday she ran a 3:15. If she was better at pacing she'd beat me. I was staying strong but I had no idea what my place was. I noticed several speedy looking women up front at the start; I guessed I might be top ten! 
Then I hit the wall. Really. Here is where I think taper hurt me. I was not used to the distance and I hit the wall around mile 20. I had just taken a Cliff gel (from the course) and they are very thick, almost chewy. It tried to come back up. Like, seriously, I thought I was going to puke! I struggled, kept it down, but pitched the rest of the pack. I glanced down and my hard effort showed an 8:11 pace on the Garmin. It felt like 6:50's! By now I was so close, I just wanted to push to the end. I was getting very warm - it was in the 60's now - and the shadeless course left my head baking in the sun. I'd over-dressed in my tights. I was covered in sweat and my non-wicking Saints babydoll top was sticking to my body. Mile 22 crept up to 7:23. Mile 23 was even slower at 7:29. Mile 24 I was just holding on with 7:30. Mile 25 I ran into the halfers again and barely made a 7:41. Mile 26 I managed a 7:37, and finished the final fractions with 6:32 pace. I totally chicked this guy at the end, too. 
I'm sneaking up behing you!  
I passed you in the chute, SO rude! Sorry dude, I had a time goal :(

I didn't even realize that I was going to make 3:10 when I hit the wall because my foggy brain couldn't do math. I had myself running a 3:12 even if I kept 7:30 pace at the end - I cannot multiply on low blood glucose. Seeing a 3:09 as I came around the corner was a big boost; so was hearing that I was third female! I had no idea up to that point.
My shoes are doing an amazing job of hiding amongst the orange cones. Camo!
My official time was 3:09:36. I felt Ok at the finish, but I didn't recover as well as usual this time around. After my gel incident, I didn't take any more gels and was even afraid to eat. I was hungry, and no longer felt nausea, but I had come so close to throwing up that I didn't want to risk any food. By the time I realized that this was stupid, the food was gone and we were ready to drive home. So I think my muscle recovery is a little impaired by that. I also feel kind of crappy because I have a horrendous sunburn! 
It's time now to think about what's next. I still have three marathons this season, but none are PR-friendly (warm weather, hilly course, Boston - I'm sure I'll bomb at Boston). Maybe I should plan longer term? What do you think?
*Then when my hubby set up my new computer, he threw it out to make room on my desk. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Into single digits!

3:09:36. Today I ran in the "3's and single digits" for the first time!
And I won one of their art prints. I kind of like it, except for the purple pelican. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

True Taper

Well, I'm all set and tapered. The Louisiana Marathon is Sunday and I'm ready to go!
This is the very first marathon for which I have actually tapered. I had a forced taper (illness) once, but I generally just run a typical week with a long run no longer than 15 miles. This time, however, my last 20 miler was a full three weeks before the marathon! I decided to give a real taper a try, so I'll recap that later.
Right now, I feel a little off-peak. My legs have felt heavy and my short runs - I'll be going into the marathon with fewer than 30 miles for the week - are leaving me uninspired. I guess I'll know Sunday if taper is for me!
I really hope I don't forget my shoes after my run tomorrow. 
I'm getting packed tonight because we are spending Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge watching the Saints game with a friend. We decided to go ahead and stay overnight since the race starts at 7:00 am and Baton Rouge is an hour and a half away. I personally would prefer driving the morning of, since I like to sleep in my own bed and drink my own coffee, but David made the decisions this time.
I decided to break out the Saints T-shirt for the race since they'll be playing the day before.

This lovely little gadget is a brand-new arm band for an ipod touch. I bought it expressly to carry Gu in. It holds three, so one will have to go in a pocket or my hand.

I'm also bringing my own coffee pot, coffee, creamer, filters, and a tub of oatmeal. I'm so high-maintenance. 

Why the sudden rash of preparation? I figured that my lazy, last minute attitude I have toward racing makes me take the race too easy. It's all fun, when I should be working for something. I'm hoping that taking the time to carefully prepare will make me take this race more seriously. I'll need it. I'm hoping to PR Sunday!

How well do you prepare for a race? And what is the one thing you would never race without?
I can't say "time" or "ipod" because I've raced without both. I guess I'd say hair accessories. I wear a tight bun with two elastics and hair sticks. If my hair budges I'm miserable!

Foody Friday: freakin' nasty King Cake

Carnival is here, and king cakes are begging to be eaten!
The first day of carnival is Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, or Armenian Christmas (as we celebrate in our house). Anyway, it's January 6th, and that particular morning I really wanted some king cake!
So much so that after my nine mile run I grabbed my credit card and made a cycle to THREE bakeries in our neighborhood (ugh, the constant temptation) in search for the first Kind Cake of the season.
No one had any. I was distraught.

In case you don't know what king cake is, it is a rather repulsive yeast coffee cake in a ring, decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. There is a plastic baby hidden in the cake, and whoever gets the baby in their slice has to buy the next cake. It creates a purposeful vicious cycle of cake consumptions on Friday in the workplace. Kiss your resolutions good-bye, New Orleanians!

I refused to give up on my king cake, so I bought one from Robert's Supermarket on the way home. Robert's has the best French bread in town, so their cakes should be good, right? So wrong! The cake was undercooked and filled with gobs of oozing red stuff (some cakes are filled, but that usually just means an innocuous strip of strawberry jam, not freaking jelly donut style!). It was overpoweringly sweet and their was about a cup of colored sugar on top.
David got the baby. And if this isn't the grossest picture you've ever seen you must be reading a med school text book. 
I ate it anyway. I went into a sugar coma. I am still in said coma. I am typing this in a coma.
Louisiana people: You know you have a favorite. Who makes the best King Cake?
I actually like the ones they sell at Pj's!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Even more on body fat percentage

In my last post, I talked about body fat percentage and mentioned that Matt Fitzgerald's book Racing Weight encourages you to measure body fat percentage in addition to weight. I thought it would be good to write a quick review for you, and I will definitely do that this week or next.
Image from a website about body fat, duh

But before I do that, I was thinking about the numbers I generated last post, including the whopping 33.72% that the Army method gave me for body fat. Last time I got weighed, I was 127 lb. That means that my actual body fat is 44 lbs, and if I lost all that body fat, my essential self would weigh 84 lbs. Now, that sounds laughable for me, since I'm over 5'7", even if you consider that you should probably add about 10% to that since no one has ZERO body fat. Still, it sounds way off! But here is the catch. It's not. When I had thyroid cancer, I got extremely skinny extremely quickly, and I weighed in at the doctor's office at under 90 lbs. (After my surgery to remove the tumor, I gained 30 lb in less than a month!)
So what I'm saying is, maybe the Army formula isn't that far off after all! It definitely gives a general sense of how much of your weight isn't essential...although I think it is not accurate for estimating how much of that is actually fat. But still, it is interesting, because I assumed that if I subtracted my supposed "fat" I would end up with a number too low to sustain life. On the contrary, I actually have lived at that weight, albeit for a very brief period of time!
That was some random personal history for you there. Hope you aren't too grossed out picturing what I looked like at 87 lbs. It was pretty awful. 
And since we're talking about fats, take my poll:
On a delicious slice of fresh bread, you would slather:
a- real unsalted butter
b- light margarine spread
Obviously I would choose butter. I think it's one of the five major food groups.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Body fat percentage

Can calculating your body fat percentage help you become lean, fit, and ready to race?

If you go by Racing Weight, by Matt Fitzgerald, body fat percentage can be one of the best tools to reach your ideal weight for racing. I might review this book later. Once I lose those last 5 pounds. Kidding.

But there seems to be a bit of confusion on how to determine your body fat. Take a look at the results below: according to the website I used (based on height, weight, sex, and circumference of  your neck, waist, low waist, hip, thigh, wrist, forearm, and bicep), I am anywhere from "obese" (the worst ranking) to "athletic" (the lowest except for "essential"). I think I'll just go buy an inaccurate body fat scale.

Using your measurements of a 25 inches waist and weight of 127 pounds your body fat percentage is estimated to be 33.72 % using the U.S. Army body fat algorithm, or 25.08 % using the U.S. Marine body fat algorithm, or 18.99 % using the U.S. Navy body fat algorithm, or 19.37 % using the formula developed by the YMCA. 

 Geez, sucks to be in the Army.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Picnic in the park and stupid taper

I just wanted to highlight a moment of my weekend. It wasn't the moment in which I called Sean Payton names for running the ball so much in the first half (Dude, we are a PASSING TEAM, we have Drew! Quit running Ivory!). Nor was it the moment in which I humiliated my brother in public in order to confiscate his lighter. As you know, lighters are the only source of fire, so this means he will not smoke a cancer stick now, because he cannot light it. I'm having brother troubles lately, can you tell? I mean, with seven of them, one of them is always having drama. This particular brother (it's Abe, like I just said, I don't mind humiliating him in public) is especially trying lately. 

But back to my moment. It was a lovely picnic in Audubon park with my hubby. We had tortellini salad, satsumas, and toffee, and we played football until it started to rain. Perfect Saturday afternoon!
You're welcome. I know you want this as your wallpaper. 

Next Sunday is a marathon, and this time I am tapering - also known as pulling out all the stops on lazy. Really, I am just being a sloth. During the last week I start to question everything: What should I be eating? Is it going to be shorts weather? What should my goal time be? (Seriously, I change this a hundred times, landing on a number seconds before the gun. I am nuts.) Is it ok to do speedwork this week? Should I pop this blister on my foot, or leave it?
And then stupid stuff always happens when I taper. Always! Last year I had to work a 9-hour day the day before the RnR Mardi Gras marathon, and one of my techs was an hour late. Then we were insanely busy and I didn't get to eat or even drink water all day!
This week it's starting already. I have not gotten over my Christmas cold yet - it keeps lingering - and today the sore throat returned!*
Does taper drive you crazy? What the worst thing that's happened to  you before a race? (As for right before a race, nothing beats this marathon!).
Do your siblings also drive you crazy?
*What? You think it's related to the Saints game? Nonsense. I shouted quietly. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Foody Friday: Three-ingredient soup

Sometimes I'm feeling really lazy and don't want to get all gourmet after a long day of work. A perfect recipe for this kind of night is Sausage and Leek soup - just three ingredients and almost no work creates a cozy winter meal. All it needs is a salad!

Six hot Italian sausages, uncooked, sliced or removed from casing
2 stems leeks, washed and coarsely chopped
6 - 8 ounces of wide egg noodles

In a large stock pot, brown sausage. When nearly done, drain off any fat and add leeks. Cook for a minute or two to wilt. Add egg noodles and cover by one or two inches with water. Cook on high, uncovered, until pasta is tender; adjust water volume as needed to make an appropriate amount of broth. Add salt and pepper if needed.
Serves 8.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Packing lunch

At my house we pack lunch to save money. True story: when David and I first got married, he wanted to replace his old television with a new, flat screen model. I made him put $5 in a jar for every day he brought his lunch until he could afford it. And just for the record he cheated and bought it two weeks early.
I eat a lot.
Between running for exercise and running around at work all day, I get hungry. Plus I just like to eat. Good thing I own a carry-on sized lunch bag.
Here's what I'm bringing today:
I read the paper on an operating table every day. Hey, my hubby already owned this steel table when  we got married and I'm too cheap to replace it. 

Lasagna for lunch (a mediocre recipe, sigh) with a big salad. I pack those lettuce leaves in there! And I only drizzle dressing in a corner so the whole thing doesn't get soggy.
Yogurt for mid-morning snack. This is uncharacteristic of me. I don't like yogurt, after being force-fed the homemade variety every morning for 12+ years, and Greek yogurt is crazy pricey. But I bought this when it was $0.50 a cup on sale.
Grapefruit for an afternoon snack. Can't wait to eat that juicy thing! Grapefruit are my favorite fruit!
Peanut butter cups for the hours between 4 and 6 when I wonder why I chose my profession.

What did you pack for lunch today?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Breaking in new shoes

I wore my last pair of shoes for over 1000 miles. I didn't realize how old they were until my knees got a little achy. That was my warning bell to grab a new pair. Last week I switched to my new Kinvaras.
Tell me those shoes on the right don't look like they have 1000 miles on them! I am so impressed by the quality of those shoes! And ignore the grayness. The dirt is all me. I ran along the streetcar tracks. 

Oh my gosh.
The difference was astonishing. I practically bounced in the air for the first few steps, there was so much more cushioning. My old shoes hadn't felt worn out until I tried the new ones!
I realized I needed to replace the old pair two days before the Ole Man River half-marathon, but I waited until after the race. Even though they were the same style, I didn't want to be breaking in shoes during a race.
How long does it take you to break in a new pair? A week? One long run? One ill-thought-out marathon?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

May 2012 be a year of love and happiness!
From David, Grace, and our sporadically lit tree. Let me tell you about the problem with pre-lit Christmas trees.