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Monday, February 29, 2016

RnR New Orleans 2016 - or, "Reacquainting oneself with the wall."

Well, I did it! I ran my first marathon back after all my endless injuries and surgeries.
I have mixed feelings about the race. I'm happy - or at least content - with the time, given all the barriers to completing this race at all (averaging 30mpw in marathon training does not a good marathon make!). I was so thrilled to actually complete a marathon at all that I was nearly giddy for the 4.2 seconds in which I felt remotely normal today.
But I hit the wall and that's never fun. I really struggled through the part of the course that is full sun on the lakefront - always a challenging portion. I just didn't have the necessary long runs and mileage to pull through it intact.
I ran what, for me, is a really consistent race, wall and all.

My plan going in was to run 7:35's (about 3:20 pace) throughout, but to start it out a little slow. I basically did that, except that I picked up the pace a little too much in the middle and paid for it later. So here's my race rundown:
Pre-race: Last night David and I ended our packed Saturday with two birthday parties. They were both scheduled for 7pm, so we planned to go to one from 7 to 8 and the other from 8:30 to 9. However, the birthday boy was an hour late to his own party #1, so both parties got pushed back. We didn't get home until 11:30 and I spent the whole night standing! BAD! Plus, my pre-race dinner looked like this: glass of wine, birthday cake at 8:40 pm, birthday cake at 9:30 pm, terrible beer. Regardless, I was up at 5:30, and after coffee and about 1/2 a cup of plain white rice, I was ready to go. Getting to the start was smooth as can be, and in no time I was in the corral, where I ran into one of my favorite bloggers (who is having a break-out year) - Audrey! She was in town for a girls weekend/race weekend! But she is in better shape than I, so I shooed her to the front before the gun went off.
Miles 1-3: I really tried to start slowly, and I did. I was far enough back to avoid getting swept up into a faster group. St. Charles Ave was beautiful, the weather was great, and I was loving running! But I knew that the heat was coming. It was way too warm for that early!
Middle miles: I saw friends at mile 4.5 (who had a camera!) and picked up the pace a little. By the time I was cognizant of that, it was mile 8, and I was glancing at the distance to start planning my gu's. I realized I'd been slowly speeding up, and I backed off a tad, but examination of my Garmin reveals that I ran ~7:25's consistently from mile 6 - 16.
It's still shady! The weather is lovely! I am happy! 
So, the gel situation. I messed this up big time. The course offered something called Glukos that I'd never heard of, and I simply assumed that all gels are alike.
NO. Glukos cannot really even be called a gel. It's a liquid. I grabbed one at mile 8, ripped it open, and - fluid spilled out all over my arm. The packets are really large and the "gel" is just semi-viscous water. But the worst part? The worst part I didn't discover until I got home and indignantly went to the company's website (like I should have pre-race!). Each packet has just 60 calories and only 20mg of sodium. A Gu has 100 calories and 60mg of sodium. Because I planned two gels that I brought, plus two Glukos on course, I was seriously shorting myself on calories and sodium - especially since I spilled half my first Glukos.
Marconi and lakefront - miles 16 through 21: The wheels starting coming off early. At mile 16, I was starting to feel a little disoriented, and I felt my pace slow. A gel helped, and that told me that I was behind on calories - and probably sodium, since my face was crusted with sweat. Then we hit the lake. Man, did I ever struggle. It was burning hot. The sun was strong, there is no shade, it was windy, and my blood pressure was plummeting. People were walking, and I SO wanted to join them. To stay focused, I'd pick a person ahead of me and fix them in my sites: except that they kept dropping and walking! Gah! It was a death march!
That is some burning sun and some serious marathon shuffle.
A friend took this one on the lakefront.

And then the hallucinations started. My sodium was perilously low, and I started seeing things. First I kept thinking cars were driving toward me (on the closed course!), then I thought I saw a pack of fast bikers zipping through the runners, then I thought everyone was running towards me - I could see their facial features and everything - but it was the backs of people in front of me! I was losing it!
Miles 22 - finish: I was so happy to get off the lake and onto Wisner Boulevard. We had a brisk headwind, and I LOVED it. It was so cooling after getting burnt up on the lake. Plus, shade! But I knew I needed some sodium - licking my own sweat wasn't cutting it. Thank goodness, a medical tent had salt packets, and I practically ate the paper, I ate it so fast. I believe that this is where I saw reader/local powerhouse runner Allison, who took a great pic, but I have no idea. I was out of it.
On second thought, that is definitely on Marconi, but I can't be bothered to move the picture now that it's here. 
Once I got some salt, my vision and thoughts started clearing, but I was in full wall mode. I couldn't pick up the pace for the life of me. Finally we neared the finish!
Right at mile 26 were the Power Milers! An awesome group of fast guys who also lead Varsity's speedwork! Drew shouted at me, "Grace! Catch that guy!" and of course, I had to do it, even though I moaned, "Guys! Don't do this to me!" I found enough energy to break 7:00 for the last 0.2 miles.
I crossed the line and made a beeline for the pretzels. More salt!
Post-race: Post-race (and post-race thoughts) and recovery gets its own post. This post is long enough!

Saturday, February 27, 2016


I don't think I should feel so much foreboding going into this race! What's the worst that can happen? I can stop and walk. Whatever. I'm not exactly planning on winning this thing, so I don't know why I dread that so much.
It will be very good to actually complete a marathon. It's been way, way too long. The marathon is easily my best distance. I like the training, I like the race itself, I like the time of year most of my marathons are run. But it's tough on the body, and my endless undiagnosed injury pulled me out of racing the distance for a very long time - almost four years (not counting the Midnight Marathon in 2013: yes, it was 26.2 miles, but it was more an event than a race). It's high time I got back out there.

There were plenty of things I should have done better this training cycle (change my shoes, do longer speed workouts, do something with my flabby core), but as a return-to-marathon training cycle it wasn't bad. I started it with a pulled hamstring, so I was coming off very little fitness (and training kicked off a year from my last surgery!). I won't beat myself up if I don't do as well as I'd hoped, but I will certainly work on improving for next time.

Pre-race, here's a little body rundown:
- Knees: left is aching post-run; right is close to better. Probably I'm a 7/10.
- Hips: actually, they feel pretty good! My right is always a little tighter, and clicks like mad, but they have a lot better range of motion than I'd expect after taper. I think my hips are about 8/10.
- Feet: I wore new flats this week and ended up with tired arches. I could put some arch wraps on, but wouldn't you know, I just read an article in which restricting arch motion was reported to significantly slow you. So no arch wrap for me (plus that's risky for a full race).
- Other: I got some little cough thing yesterday. I think it's allergies. I don't expect it to be a problem unless it worsens. And I somehow hurt my shoulder, which will probably be killing me by the end of the race. Marathons can be surprisingly tough on the upper body.

Excuse the wet hair.
To get myself into the running mood, today I'm wearing my new "Runola" shirt I got for signing up for the New Orleans Track Club! I let my membership lapse just long enough to score this cute shirt.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Come say hi!

I know at least two fellow bloggers are running RnR this Sunday, so I just wanted to mention my plans in case we can get together!
I will be going to the expo Saturday, getting dropped off Sunday, and will get picked up after the race (and willing to give rides to out of towners, as well, of course). Post-race, I will probably be at the Varsity Sports area (they usually have a flag) or in the New Orleans Track Club tent. Or dead, I don't know.
And if you want to try to meet up, you can email me - (removed because SPAM).
See you all at the race and good luck!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Marathon training summary: mileage and injury

Short version: I didn't run enough and I hurt my knee.
This was my training plan. I painstakingly wrote out all that
speed work, only to ignore it all and follow Harrell's workouts.
Then I spilled wine on it all, anyway.

Long version: Go back and read the build up to my very first marathon, when I was a brand-new runner six years ago, when I also didn't run enough and hurt my knee! Basically the same story!

Miles: In fifteen weeks, I ran just 490 miles. The furthest I ran was 20 miles; the most in one week, 51. And I only had 3 weeks at 50 or over. Yikes. Not what I was looking for.

Time off: I missed close to three weeks with my knee - one in January and almost two in February. And then I got new shoes, because somehow that didn't occur to me when my knee started hurting. That much time off isn't good, and it's why I have scaled back expectations for this race. So my best-case scenario is 3:20, but I'd be happy with a 3:30 or even a BQ. Mostly, I just want to get back out and run a race I trained for. It's been too long since I've completed a training cycle!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Marathon training summary: the speed work

Speedwork was easily the worst part about this training cycle! I got back into the swing of things with Harrell Track Club at 5:30 am once a week, but it wasn't ideal. The group is one much faster woman and a varied group of 3 to 10 runners significantly slower (and older) than I. No one to run with at all. Plus, Christmas, New Year, and Mardi Gras disrupted our schedule (one member of the group had one daughter debuting, and two others in Rex's court, so she was either busy or frazzled for months!)
But even if we'd been totally consistent, I just don't have the speed I used to (and I was never fast, especially short and fast track stuff). I disappointed myself every single time. Plus, the speedwork was much shorter than I would have preferred for marathon training, since no one else in the group was running a marathon in the Spring, and since many of the members are late 50's and starting to move away from a lot of miles.
My favorite workout was actually one I ran by myself on a day when no one else was running. I went to the track anyway, and ran:
4 sets of 4x400 with 200 jog between each (400 between sets - continuous workout). Sets at half marathon pace, 10k, 5k, then mile pace. Set 1: 1:47, 1;40, 1:41, 1:43. Set 2: 1:40, 1:37, 1:36, 1;38. Set 3: 1:34, 1;33, 1:32, 1;33. Set 4: 1:31, 1:29, 1:31, 1:30.
It was a nice 8 mile workout with the warm up and cool down, and starting slower eased me into the speed. I find it incredibly hard to run fast early in the morning!
But other than that, workouts have been slow and depressing. So nothing good to report on that front.
I did something probably foolish last night... I went to Monday night track with Varsity! We just started back up this week after ceasing this workout for several years. I missed it, and I wanted to check it out, even though it started at 6:00 pm (while I was still at work, counting my register down). When I got there, the warm-up was still going on, so I didn't actually miss any workout. We did 4x400 at 5k, with a full 400 jog between, then a 1:30 rest and 4x400 at a cut-down pace. I did ok - it was tough to gauge my pace. I wore my new stopwatch and I hadn't quite figured it out (because the instructions show a watch with 6 buttons and mine has 5, so I was understandably confused). I started much too fast, but during the rest I got a better grip on using the watch and turning the light on, and did better.
Only a few people showed up, but I REALLY hope that we continue with Monday track. I loved Monday track! I just don't have the same pep on Tuesday morning. It's just too early. Right now, though, I'm just hoping I fully recover by Sunday. I hope the high volume of easy running in this workout will have kept my legs fresh.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marathon training summary: the hills

How do you run hills in training when your whole city is pancake-flat? You run repeats on the side of the levee, of course.
I run uptown around Audubon park, and my long run route gives me six hills: one up the side of the levee, as I get up on the levee the first time: this is deep grass and steep, so I no longer do repeats on this one. The next is by the Corps of Engineers: Their building is right on the river, so the walking path dips down off the levee to ground level. This is the longest hill, and my favorite, since it's closed to traffic and I don't have to watch for cars. I usually do ten repeats on this hill rather than five, since I skipped hill #1.
Next is a tiny hill up the side of the levee into some business's parking lot (it's located on the other side of the levee). This is the shortest hill. It gets five repeats.
Then the levee takes me to The Fly, the part of the park that is along the river, and I have two hills: one going up into the park, and one exiting. These hills are dangerous in that there is a lot of car traffic over them, and two train tracks run smack mid-hill. That also creates a nice double-hill situation: you run uphill, then it levels out where a set of train tracks are, then you continue to climb up into the park. They both get five repeats.
Foggy levee. I'm in the orange shirt: I am almost to the level area before it briefly climbs again.

Now I'm coming back down. The funny thing is - these pictures are accidental. I asked
David to take some photos of one or two levee hills so I could use them on the blog (he
runs with his phone, and I don't). He realized as he was taking these photos that that was
me running up and down the hill! We just accidentally ran into each other.

The way I do the repeats is even-effort, no stopping: run up, turn, try not to get hit by a car, run down. No speed or extra effort; I am mindful of my hamstring. Hopefully it's like adding some rollers into a regular run. We will see if it pays off in any way on race day!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Marathon training summary: the long runs

I'm looking back at the last few months building up to this marathon, and it's a little scary. I haven't done much!
Long runs at the Fly

Let's first examine my long runs. I did only four real long runs: 18, 20, 20, 20. My final one should have been 21 or 22, but I felt far too sick to finish.
The 18 miler was the day after Christmas in dreadful hot weather (80's); I did 25 hill repeats and ran 8:09 pace and everything felt normal (but hot).
The first 20 miler was my best of the cycle: Rainy, slow start; 25 hill repeats; fast finish for five miles. That was 7:45 pace and felt pretty comfortable, which thrilled me. Anything under 8 is faster than I've been running at all lately.
But I stopped being thrilled when I realized that my half-marathon pace hadn't budged as I ran a race the next week. And that was kind of the last time I saw any improvement in pace.
My next 20 was much the same, except I caught the longest train on earth. This meant that in addition to my 25 hill repeats, I had a bunch of short hill sprints (the train crosses one of my hills. So it shortens the length of the hill and I chose to do sprints to make up for the tiny distance). I ended up with something like 35 hills, but finishing on the windy levee meant that my even-pace finish I had hoped for didn't happen. 7:50 pace.
Then I took off two weeks for my old lady knee.
And I wrapped up with a final 20-miler two weeks out from the race (I don't do well with long tapers).
I just posted about that 20, so you probably read that it was a stomach disaster early on. Naturally, I'm nervous about blowing up so badly on my final long run, but I'm crossing my fingers that my stomach is perfectly content on race day.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The typical terrible last long run

It's what I do: have a terrible long run right before a marathon.
Saturday morning I just messed everything up. I had my last 20-miler on schedule, and I made sure it was awful. I overdressed (again) and ran by the house at mile 4 to toss my shirt. I was also already feeling wobbly. I have this annoying insulin-dump thing in the mornings. If I eat before 7am, my body responds with a huge amount of insulin, and I quickly feel faint. If I wait until after 8am, I don't have that response. So I usually have a late breakfast, and I don't eat before running unless it's 18 miles or more. At that point, that stored glucose might still come into play at the end of the run, so it's worth struggling through. But today's half-a-plain-pancake (the cupboard is bare over here) left me weak and hungry.
Brilliantly, I grabbed a Honey Stinger waffle as I went out the door. I'd never eaten one before, but I've heard good things, so I bought some a few weeks ago. However, when I read the nutrition label, I saw that there were 7 grams of fat per waffle, and I knew that my stomach rebels if I have high fat while I run. For whatever reason, I chose to ignore that fact on Saturday, and I chomped the waffle as I ran.
Almost immediately, my run started to suck. For one thing, I got to the levee to start the hill repeats that I've been doing in the first half of my long run, and there was a train blocking my way. And it was stopped. I ended up detouring all the way through the park, and by that time the train was gone, but I also pushed my hill repeats back by about 4 miles, which can be tiring. It's hard doing hill repeats in the second half of a long run.
And by the time I finished my last hill repeat, my stomach was in knots. I felt over-full (a Honey Stinger waffle is a lot of food, and in addition to the 7g of fat, they have 160 calories - that's a lot for early in a run) and a little ill. I knew I needed to start adding more fuel, because I was at mile 12, but I couldn't stomach anything.
Finally, at mile 15 I opened a gel, and immediately made a beeline for the bathroom with terrible stomach cramps! That was the end of that gel and any attempts at fueling for the rest of the run, which meant that I was just hanging on for the final miles. Walls-ville. I still squeaked out 20 miles at a 7:50 pace, but I think that had less to do with feeling comfortable at that pace and more to do with
1. A fifteen-minute break in the bathroom, and
2. A strong sprint the bathroom.
The entire rest of the day was spent doubled over with incredibly painful stomach cramps. I curled up with a hot water bottle and watched the Olympic Marathon trials and wished I was dead. It didn't help that I couldn't eat or drink, even though I knew I needed some fluids and electrolytes: not to mention food! I finally wised up and took an Imodium, and I gradually started to feel better.
Lesson learned: No or low fat for running, and I am very reliant on carb fuel at this point. I wish I was a better fat-burner, but I don't have the training miles needed for that right now.

So that's the story of my wretched final long run. I finished, it wasn't pretty, and I am not expecting miracles for the marathon coming up. Realistically, I think I can do a sub 3:30, but I'm not so sure that 3:20 is a reasonable goal right now (Ouch. Don't get old and have surgeries, youngsters). Thoughts? Predictions?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Knee update

My right knee started bugging me a few weeks ago, so I took off two weeks from running in an attempt to fix whatever was wrong. It felt like run-of-the-mill runner's knee, so I started the usual routine: Squats, leg lifts, and wall sits to strengthen the muscles.
Then I iced it.
Then I put on a patellar strap.
Then I stretched it and did yoga.
It seemed like my knee was just staying the same: I could run on it, but it ached later and I could definitely feel that distinct under-the-knee-cap pain.
New shoes: back to the Kinvara 5

Then I changed my shoes. Ta-da! For some reason, I forgot that very key step. I'm doing much better now, and I guess I have to reassess how long I keep shoes. I used to get 800-1000 miles per pair, but it seems that the conventional wisdom of 500 miles is more accurate: in fact, my shoes were closer to 450 when my knee started hurting. That's frustrating, but I'd rather buy four pairs of shoes a year and protect my knees than buy two pairs and be limping!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Stretch like Meb

I bought Meb for Mortals for super cheap on this fall when I was supposed to be Christmas shopping (I did end up buying a Picture Bible for my little nephews, and then I felt all nostalgic and bought myself one, too. It's like a graphic novel of the Bible, and I grew up on that book. That's why I can spout some really esoteric Old Testament knowledge on occasion).
Also pictured: late night snack of pinot and cheerios and some rare glass bead throws - one I caught, the other my boss brought me! 

I really like Meb, and I think he's one of the smartest racers out there, but the book is actually pretty basic. There are not a lot of big surprises, but I guess that speaks to Meb's process: mostly common sense and hard work!

But I did like his section on stretching. Meb does a variety of stretching routines, depending on what workout he's doing, but that sounded like just the kind of complicated thing I would never remember to do, so I've been focusing mostly on his rope stretching. I bought a stretching strap when I had my first hip surgery and it was unbelievably tight and stiff. My PT's strap really helped me get a deep stretch, so I got one for myself on Ebay. Now, I'm using it for Meb's short routine. He stretches:
- hamstring
- lower hamstring
- outer hamstring
- inner hamstring
- adductor
- piriformis
- quad
I added to that hip flexor, since mine are about as tight as a  speed skater's suit. Now, Meb does these exercises PRE-hard workout and POST-recovery run, but I just do them post-run. Pre-run I do my myrtles and some other hip exercises, plus probably squats, lunges, bridges, and various injury-flavor-of-the-month work.

Hopefully I can stick with this. What stretches do you do, and do you stretch before or after you run?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Runner's knee!

Oh, no! My runner's knee is hanging around, so I am taking some time off in hopes that it goes away. Meanwhile, I am doing quad and hip strengthening (like always...), but any additional advice is very welcome.
ice pack tucked in a knee support
Doing leg lifts...
With a tiny tote bag full of barbell weights

It's weird that it feels ok after I warm up, but hurts when I'm inactive.
What does this mean for the marathon in February? Not sure. Chunks of time off when it should be peak week doesn't bode well for a long race, so I guess I will see how I recover and how long it takes. If I feel better but only have four days until the race, I will skip it. But if I can get a good couple of weeks in, I will probably be fine.