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Monday, August 31, 2015

Contraflow: bringing the storms

We went to Oregon to run in some cool northwest weather.
This was supposed to be the after-party at the beach. It was...a little windy. 
Instead we brought a tropical storm. That's what happens when you name your team "Contraflow".

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten years

Ten years ago, New Orleans changed forever as Katrina wiped neighborhoods, lives, livelihoods, and memories away in her violent storm surge. We didn't expect the storm to head straight for us. We didn't expect the levees to breach. We didn't expect the ones who should have protected us to turn on us, or forget us, or leave us. 
But we also didn't expect the grace of strangers, the outreach of those with plenty to those with nothing, the sharing of meagre resources, the indomitable will to survive, and the resolve of will of those who had experienced great suffering. 
Today, our city and our people live with the scars of this great storm, but we also live with a profound thankfulness for the gift of home, family, and friends. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Confidence booster

You know how all my recent runs have been about the speed of an octogenarian settling down into a church pew?
I have been pretty annoyed at that. I know I haven't been running and improving consistently for years, thanks to this endless injury thing, and I know over a full year of serious injury + surgery and recovery + more surgery and recovery = long time coming back, but I'm still shocked at how difficult everything has seemed.
My easy pace is well into the 8-min range (not recover pace, easy pace. My recovery pace is like 9:40, no lie).
I've failed several tempo attempts, quitting early or not hitting the pace or both.
Long runs that are actually short - like, ten miles - have felt insurmountably hard and required breaks to stagger around lowering my heart rate.

But you know what? I think part of it might be the high 90's I'm running in. And the stupidly high humidity. I had speed work scheduled for Tuesday, and it was an unbelievably cool day for August. I was actually excited to run - I couldn't wait to get out into that weather! I planned to do 8 440's, but realized at the end of the workout that I had done 9. I program my Garmin 305 when not at a track, and if anyone  has this model, you'll know that it tells you that you have one interval left when you don't. That "interval" is the cooldown. So it beeps after the last rest period and I start running thinking it's my last interval, and finally I look down at my Garmin and see that I've been running farther than 440...and I should have been done. Oh well. Anyway, I did 9 400's with a minute walk/jog in between.
AND IT WAS EASY. I ran 1:33's and 1:34's for the most part, which was actually faster than planned, but it felt like no sweat. Because there was no sweat. I was refreshed and could have done another 9! The difference the weather makes is really huge!

Hurray for being less out of shape than I thought!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Team Contraflow

Yesterday and today we were lucky to get some totally off-season weather: temps and humidity both in the 70's! Like, with a seven. I can't wrap my head around it. While I was thrilled with the cool temperatures, low humidity, and fresh breeze, something about 76 degrees in light wind in August brought back ominous feelings. That's pre-hurricane weather. If anyone has experienced the calm heaviness of the air in an evacuated city, followed by the jarring cool breezes and lovely sky that immediately precede the arrival of a hurricane or tropical storm, that's how this felt. And coming the week of the Katrina's 10th anniversary, it was unsettling.

Evacuation signage
Speaking of Katrina, I am going to be running Hood to Coast for the actual anniversary of the storm, and I have mixed feelings about that. Part  of me feels like I should be here in NOLA on that day, but part of me is ok with being gone. For one thing, I wasn't there on the actual day of the storm either; we evacuated. And for another thing, what better tribute to pay to Katrina than to be crammed in a van with poor food and water supply, dubious outfit changes, and a bunch of sweaty people, crawling at a slow pace down the highway?*

That leads me to our other team tribute to Katrina: our team name. We're Team Contraflow. It's a play on words that only New Orleanians will get, and I like that (obviously, since I named the team!). Contraflow, of course, means just what it sounds like - the term refers to when the state opens all interstate lanes in one direction to aid in evacuation. It's eery, driving north on southbound lanes and seeing the backs of highway signs. It's slow, and it's going the wrong way, and given our level of team talent (very little), it's perfect for our race, too. So we're Contraflow.

*Never evacuated from a hurricane before? That's exactly what it's like!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Adventures in KT tape

With the Hood to Coast relay looming, and my left leg still on long-term disability leave (or so it seems. Cannot get the thing to come to work at all), I decided to shore up my hamstring with some KT tape.
I can't really explain my left leg. It's like it just won't work as hard as the right leg, and somehow surgery either encouraged or unmasked that tendency. On a long run, I feel fine...but when I get home, I realize that my right leg is a little more tired that the left and a whole lot tighter. I know I'm not using the left as much. But when I focus on using the left leg, I get tendon pain at the distal hamstring insertion. To allow me to start using my left leg more, I decided to tape it up. I'd never used KT tape before (except when my PT taped my scars, which supposedly helps reduce scarring post-op, but my right hip [with its caterpillar-like red welts] begs to differ). I ended up finding a great deal on Ebay - two new boxes of 20 strips each for $11 total.
I looked up how to tape on Youtube, and applied the tape before a short run. It's hard to get your own hamstring, though, and I erred too far to the side, basically taping between my hamstring and IT band. However, the base of the tape was nicely positioned behind the knee, right where I wanted it, and that's what mattered most.
The tape stayed on for a short run, a ten mile run, and another short run before peeling off in the shower.
Verdict: Tape feels good on, like it's a little supportive, and doesn't irritate me. It did make a difference on the long run, and I don't think it was placebo effect. The problem, however, is that it's not very suitable for summer use. I put some on Saturday morning before my hour and a half run, and I sweated it off in under three miles. Now, Saturday was some extreme weather, and I don't know if I've ever poured sweat like that before, but until fall rolls around, it's not worth wasting the tape.
But it will come with me to Portland. I might need it then.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A better tempo

Or, perhaps my first tempo ever.
Last week I crashed and burned trying to finish a long run with a tempo. I think a few things went wrong:
1. It was in the mid-90's and, since I started rather late, the sun was strong.
2. I was wearing my heaviest shoes, which makes a surprising difference.
3. The fast portion was tacked onto an hour of easy running.
4. I vastly overestimated my speed and fitness.

So for a 40 minute tempo run later in the week, I made some changes. Luckily, that morning was not nearly as warm - yes, the humidity was still over 90%, but it was low 80's. I wore my Kinvaras, and followed the prescribed workout thus:
- Ten minutes easy
- Twenty minutes tempo, building up to 10k pace at the fastest, then slowing
- Ten minutes easy.
Of course, with less time on my feet and less time running a tempo portion, it was automatically better; what made it work (and allowed me to finish) was choosing a reasonable pace goal.
I didn't think to lap my Garmin when the tempo portion started, so mile one included about 2 minutes of "easy pace" running, but anyway, the three miles that included at least part of the tempo were 7:12, 7:06, and 6:58. The 6:58 mile included both speeding up to 10k pace for a few minutes and slowing back down.
Overall, I was much happier with this tempo, and I didn't feel completely beat and miserable afterward.
I think that's actually the first tempo run I've ever done! Hopefully I can build up to longer tempos as a way to get some speed back with minimal stress to my hips.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hood to Coast: Vans and legs

This week, most of our HTC team got together to divide up legs.
Our team has undergone some changes: we went from ten runners to twelve, then back down to ten, and now we're at eleven. We are by no means competitive, with an estimated finish time sometime over 30 hours.
So some of us gathered in my living room for sandwiches and sangria to divide up the legs. Turns out that we had very little input. Andrew, who put this team together, had already picked out the hard legs and assigned them. And then everyone else just piled into vans, and that was it.

Andrew's talented wife, Melissa, kindly offered to take the hardest leg assignments, runner 5, while the even more talented Celeste was assigned runner 2 (she wasn't there, so I cheerfully volunteered her for the spot). I have runner 9, which is ranked as the second most difficult assignment, but does not have any "very hard" segments - which should protect my hips somewhat (I didn't want any screaming downhill portions).
My legs are:
Leg 9: Flat, on a trail, no van/water access. No problem. It's five miles. I don't need water for five miles. And flat sounds awesome to me.
Leg 21: Flat or slightly downhill on gravel. Dusty. Five miles, but will be longer because I'll have to be dropped off early. Eh, no biggie. I hate gravel, but whatever. It's only five miles.
Leg 33: Almost 8 miles of rolling hills. Now this will be hard. My legs will be tired already and there will be hills. Probably equates to utter misery.

I think it will be fun, even though my van only contains one person I know (um, David!) and he's the only chap. And we're short a runner. But it should be an adventure! I'm starting to get excited!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Worse shape than I thought

The schedule: A Hal Higdon half-marathon plan, fresh off the printer
The suggested workout: An 90-minute run, with the last quarter at race pace
My modification: A 90 minute run. At 1 hour in, 3x1 mi reps at 6:55 with 1 minute jog between, then cool down. (I know that does not have the same effect as a tempo, but just starting out from zero I would rather gauge how the pace feels and work up to longer distances).
What actually happened: A 90 minute run with a disaster at the end.
I hit 1 hour of easy running, then buckled down for my first mile. It was 6:59, and a lot of work. Oops. I jogged a minute, then hit lap again - and oh my gosh I was so tired. My legs were heavy, sluggish, and slow. I was gasping for breath. So I quit at half a mile. I stopped for water, then did another half mile; it was 6:50. After a minute rest, I repeated that - 7:00! I got the three miles in, but they were broken into short segments - and slower than intended! In other words, I am not even in the "bad shape" I thought I was in - it's worse.
Furthermore, I felt terribly sore after the run. I could barely jog home, and my legs were killing me. I think part of that is the new shoes (Saucony Cortana) I've been wearing. They cause me to work different muscles, and the soft cushiony sole makes me engage auxiliary muscles for stability. They're like those old stupid fit shoes that used to be so popular.
I am sure you are jealous of my outfit.
When I got back, I did yoga, then suited up in full compression. Oh yeah. Super cute.
Verdict from day one of half-marathon training: I have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A sad week.

The last few weeks have been rough ones for us.
Last week my grandfather passed away. He was a brilliant, self-made man who had a PhD from Yale despite a childhood of relative poverty. His mother could neither read nor write English, yet he became a successful engineer for Sikorsky, Amtrak, and later Westinghouse. He was a perfect example of bettering the next generation, and instilled his work ethic and love of learning in all of us.
He was a loving grandfather to the nine of us, his only grandchildren, although he freely announced that I was his favorite. When you are one of nine kids, hearing that you are the favorite can be very special, and I remember fondly when we came for just a short visit, and he took me - just me! - to get ice cream and walk around the harbor. I felt very loved and important!
Sadly, we rarely lived close enough to my grandparents to visit very often, but in the last few years grandpa has kept in touch through emails, and most recently, Facebook, which he joined at age 81!

One thing I remember about grandpa is that he always complimented my sister and I as "both beautiful and smart", and because of that, I figured smart was just as important as beautiful, if not more so. He gave us good guidance when we got that from precious few sources. I will miss his wit and wisdom, and his loving smile.

Sadly, that is not all that we have been facing. At the same time, my grandmother is in the ICU, and in fact was not able to be with her husband when he died. Her condition is not clear, but it is not good; she is a 30+ year lung cancer survivor (who never smoked) with less than 30% lung function. She is no longer a candidate for intensive interventions.

And lastly, David's brother has filed for divorce. His wife has heartlessly had affairs with multiple men over the past year, with little regard for her family of three boys ages 6 and under. It is a very hard time for David's brother, obviously, and we are pretty heartbroken over this development.

So silence over's for a reason. Lots going on.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My racing calendar

This is easy.
It's short.
I haven't made any long-term racing plans, because I'm not ready for the mileage and NOT ready for the speed.
The only race I have? The end of this month. Hood to Coast!
A friend asked me last month and I cringed...I was afraid I'd eventually get this question. I just didn't know how to answer! I kind of wanted to do a relay, just to check it off my list, but I also think it will be hard on the ol' body. I finally got pressured into saying yes, which I did while David was gone on a 3-day silent prayer retreat. That sounded like the perfect time to sign him up, too, so I did.
Poor man. He puts up with a lot.
I've never done a relay and I don't exactly know what I'm doing, so if anyone has any advice for me (packing, nutrition, training) PLEASE share!
One thing I want to try doing is running with food in my stomach, since this is something that is usually a problem for me. I ran 3 miles on Sunday with a pork chop in my gullet and felt like death, so I have work to do.
Any advice or suggestions? Let me know!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Weekend: long run, white linen, stalker

Friday night I texted David to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home from work. As if we don't already have twenty bottles in the cabinet...but this time I asked for something we rarely drink. He picked up a Côtes du Rhône and we had a little wine and Top Gear to start the weekend!
Yummy toast and avocado breakfast. With cheese. 
My Saturdays are all kind of the same: I clean the whole house, make our weekly menu, go grocery shopping, clean the whole house, and do whatever cooking is required for the upcoming week. This includes my lunch salads and perhaps granola bars for us to bring to work; about once a month I bake bread and freeze a few loaves. This Saturday I made zucchini bread for two events this week.
Saturdays are also long run days, and even though I've basically been off running, I ran a little over ten because it was such lovely weather. I followed the long run (which was a really great run, best in a while, since it was nice out) with a recovery yoga class. And after that I had my paper and coffee, like any good old person.
Sweat fest with friends. 
Saturday night was white linen night! I wore a white strapless dress with rope wedge sandals and looked exactly like everyone else. But it was a fun night. We ran into so many people we knew as we browsed galleries and drank beer. The talk of the evening was about University Medical Center. Saturday was the big move between the interim LSU hospital (which replaced shuttered Charity Hospital after Katrina) and the brand new University Medical Center. There is a lot of trepidation about the new hospital. Will it maintain Charity's trauma prowess? Will it adequately serve the needs of the poor? Will it remain funded, stay open, fill its beds? A lot of my friends are in the medical community, so that was the topic of the day!

On Sundays I've been doing my recovery runs (post long-run) on soft surfaces, so either the 2 mile dirt loop around Audubon Park or along streetcar tracks. I just did one loop around the park for a total of 3.5 miles, followed by specific strength training focusing on my left leg (it still feels markedly weaker than the right). Exercises included plyometrics, like jump squats and single leg jump squats, and weights work like deadlifts and overhead press from squat. After church, I did my foam-rolling: something else I've been scheduling on Sundays. After the morning's weights, the rolling hurt!

The last thing that happened this weekend was that I discovered this.
Creepy hand print on the door frame.

No one woke me up this week, but looks like our backyard stalker was back on our porch.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Not that hot

Something amazing happened this Saturday. I awoke early, feeling expectant, the way I feel the first real fall day: like it's crisp and cold outside, and it will be beautiful weather.
I couldn't shake the feeling, even though it was actually the first of August, so I got up and went downstairs. I stuck my head out the door was true.
A giddy check of the weather revealed 80F with 60% humidity: dryness we haven't experienced since February or March. Just because I JUST wrote about it being incredibly hot.

I threw on my shorts and bra and, just for fun, did a before picture so I could see how not-sweaty I was at the finish. Normally I'm drenched...not this time!
Barely a sheen of sweat! Can't even tell before from after!

I've been running shorter, on my little running break, but how could I resist these temperatures? I sailed through ten miles, running effortlessly. I forgot how much of a ball and chain the humidity is!
In hotter weather, this run would have been terrible. When I got to the levee, I found a miles of it shut down for major electrical work. That left me no choice but to run along the train tracks on huge gravel for about a mile. You know the kind I mean: big chunks of rock near train tracks. I finally reached The Fly and headed cheerfully over to my 4.5 mile water stop - only to find the restrooms and fountain closed and under renovations. No problem - the next fountain was at mile 6.5 - but if it had been warmer out I would probably have been miserable!
Instead, I was enjoying every single step. This is my inspiration to tough it out now to earn those easy autumn runs.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Drowning in hot lava

I've just discovered that I don't have to train for something all the time.
And since I'm not, and since it's about a billion degrees out and churning out my morning 3 or 5 miles feels like drowning in hot lava, I've been taking a break.
Either no running, short running, or nothing at all for a few weeks, then I'll gear up to get ready for the fall (fall should be here sometime in late November...).
Now that my hips are all old and decrepit, I think I have to be pretty choosy about races and miles and training plans. In the interest of keeping my hips as long as possible, I'm trying out a new strategy: breaks after races. After four on the fourth, I realized that I was just sweating and plowing through humid air in the morning, and with no real goal. So I backed off for awhile. I am sometimes too lazy to go to the gym, so I did a few short runs on those days, but otherwise I've spent the last few weeks doing strength and cross-training.
If this goes well, then in the future I'll maybe intersperse training for a specific race with periods of non-running cross training to reduce the wear and tear on my hips. But that's just speculation for now: I might find out that it's hard to ramp back up, or that it makes me MORE injury prone. So we shall see over the next few weeks. It's an experiment!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I love this: Testimony

Last year I was sitting in the Mahalia Jackson Theater tolerating a Shostakovich piece when I suddenly remembered that he'd written memoirs. During intermission, I added his Testimony to my "books to read" list in Evernote, but I'm only just now reading it.

I love it. I love his snarky, no-holds-barred writing; I love his humble honesty; I love his casual mentions of other Russian greats; I love his glimpse into the brutality of Stalin's reign. He's not my favorite composer, but I respect his music more now that I understand that it was partly his muffled rebellion against Soviet constrictions.
The veracity of Testimony has been questioned, but embellished or not - it's a great read. If you have even the slightest interest in Communism, Soviet Russia, or modern Russian music, you should check it out.