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Thursday, February 28, 2019

This, that, and karate

I FINALLY took my yellow belt test for Shotokan karate, so we can move on along to some new stuff. I was supposed to test back in September, but I was in Scotland. And then I was supposed to test in December, but I was in Huntsville. The next test was in March...while I plan to be in Mobile for the Azalea Trail 10k! When I told my Sensei that, he pretty much forced me to drive an hour to Ponchatoula and take the test with another group. That all went well; the first belt test is really, really easy so not a big deal (although we learned different sparring defenses for each type of attack, whereas the Dojo in Ponchatoula just defended with a basic punch). Even though we only do the most basic karate, it has an impact on my running. I hope that over time it makes me a stronger person overall, and that I gain strength in muscles or movement planes that running doesn't develop. But in the short term, it leaves me a little sore for Tuesday workouts and, more seriously, does sometimes irritate my hip. How far I progress in karate definitely depends on how much it affects my post-surgical hips (oh, and also my coordination. You know.)

Training has been going mostly well. I hit about 265 miles for February, good for a short month, and the majority of my workouts went really well. This is totally surprising considering I had a marathon earlier in the month and was struggling with anemia for about half the month. I don't actually know my iron status now, but at this point I'm much more attuned to the symptoms than I was before, and I can hazard that I'm doing better. The thing is, my ferritin is so very low that I become symptomatic right away with any blood loss, because I don't have any back up stores! Right now, we don't have a cause for the problem, but the educated guess is some kind of autoimmune destruction of platelets. No mature platelets = no clotting = blood loss = anemia. If blood work bears that theory out, I think we'll do a short course of steroids to see if that helps. I have already been screened for various clotting disorders and thrombocytopenias when I had chronic nosebleeds in my early 20's, so that narrows things down (weird that I've already been through this sort of thing, though).

But actually, I am running pretty well! Even without being fully oxygenated! I like to think that anemia is kind of like altitude training, ha! Here are some of my more key workouts from the month:

20 miles with 4x2 at marathon pace. I actually struggled on this run. My marathon pace looked pretty good, but my rest paces were supposed to be aerobic and I had to run them easy instead. I also felt like DYING that day. This was the first long run - workout in the Boston cycle (we actually did 20 the week before, but no pace goal, just finish strong).

7x1k on the track. This workout was the Tuesday following the 20 miler described above, and I could tell I felt better. I ran 3:58, :55, :52, :54, :53, :57, :55. This is mostly notable because we repeated the workout later so I have a comparison - see below!

10 miles with 3xtempo, 2xtempo with 2 minute jog between. Less than a week after my "long run marathon" and I hit 6:31, :30, :34 followed by 6:32, :23. The final 6:23 gave me confidence that the marathon didn't tear me down too much, and gave me confidence that I was on the right track with workout paces.

Worst tempo ever. Six mile road tempo - not that bad, right? Uh... I totally bombed with workout. I couldn't even hit marathon pace. Maybe it was hot, maybe it was the puddle jumping, maybe I was just exhausted? I was feeling terrible that night, but everyone else had a bad night, too, so it could have just been weather related. It was hot, humid, and raining.

16 with 10 at marathon pace: This long run went really well. I averaged 6:47 for ten miles, and it was ten miles on the roads with no stopping. I think being able to run that pace on variable surfaces without taking water breaks or anything is very good for me. By the way, 6:47 is NOT my marathon goal pace, but it was what my effort brought me that day. My goal pace is 6:54.

8x1k on the track. A few weeks later and one rep longer and I ran 3:59, :51, :47, :48, :52, :47, :49, :49. Faster. Good!

It's kind of crazy to me that I've felt my running improve this month, even while I have been dealing with a health problem that directly impacts my running. The human body is amazing! I also want to note that our group separated out into two teams for Boston training: Boston high mileage, for those rock stars like Paige running 6:18s for MP (!!!). They're hitting multiple 90-mile weeks. And Boston low mileage, which includes me, and I am doing much better there. Grouping us all together held the fast people back, and it was more than I could physically handle. I'm not durable enough for that stuff, and I think a training plan with fewer miles makes sense. Sadly, I am still alone for training: our group is too small but also too fast for me to have any training partners at my pace!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Marathon recovery, and what's next?

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I truly treated last week's marathon as a long run, rolling straight back into training. Risky? Probably. I have mixed feelings about races as "training runs". For one thing, I like to think of myself as someone who really wants to race! with all the effort! for all the PRs! And then, I think that "it's a training run" can become an excuse for a poor performance, and I don't want to start giving myself excuses. And for another thing, unless you have supreme self-control, there is an injury risk, as it's likely that the "training run" will be faster than typical training.
For your viewing pleasure, me covering my mouth politely while choking on a gel mid-race (manners matter all the time!)
I justified Sunday's marathon-as-a-workout for two reasons: one, it's just plain stupid to all-out race a marathon half-way trained; two, I'd been feeling SO bad for SO long, that a healthy day made me want to go ahead and run the distance since I might not have another chance soon (I really don't know if my sudden improvements will last because I don't know why I have pancytopenia!).
Anyway, now that I've explained my oddball behavior, I assessed how I felt Sunday night and throughout the day Monday, and determined that, but for sore quads, I didn't feel that much different than I would after a typical hard long run. So I slowly eased back in, with four 9.5 minute miles on soft surfaces Monday, then straight back to work on Tuesday. Luckily Tuesday was an easy day for us, with some aerobic-pace loops on the Bayou bridges. But of course, the race went over these bridges, so it was kind of deja-vu in the most painful way. I survived, and by Wednesday felt back to normal. The only different thing about this week was my hunger: I was absolutely starving all week, even to the point of getting out of bed to microwave some rice at 11pm one night. I'm usually hungry after a marathon, but relative inactivity keeps the starvation in check. Not so this week: keeping a normal workout schedule made me ravenous.

If tomorrow's long run goes well (and it might not, since I have a ball tonight and won't be home until maybe 2 or 3, and it starts at 6 am!) I'll be at 69 or even 70 miles - the week after a marathon. All I can say is, this bravado better be rooted in reality, and Boston better be significantly faster than this last race!

Speaking of, Boston is up soon, but not up next. Our team is heading to Alabama to run the Azalea Trail 10k. I ran that race years ago as part of the NOTC's team, and it was my very first team experience! I thought I ran really well considering the circumstances (like, I had a FRACTURED FEMUR as it turns out), so I'm excited to see how this year's race will go. The plan is for the marathon group to stay overnight and complete a Sunday long run on the rolling hills nearby. Sounds fun, and I'm excited! Other than that, though, I might just behave myself and not do any other sudden races.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

RnR NOLA: a last-minute almost-PR

Well, I ran a marathon this morning! I registered for Rock n Roll New Orleans in January when a flash sale + coupon code got me a registration for just $45. I chose the full, because the price difference between the full and half was only $3. And maybe I'd feel like the full!
Well. Then I started feeling kind of bad (and no, still do not have answers for my hematological issues!) and was left wondering if I'd run at all. But I started to improve this week, and it made sense to run the half. However, I never officially dropped down to the half. I was extremely late to the expo and they had already closed the solutions table, and I'd have to return the next day to have the drop-down recorded (this is a new process I believe. In the past you could just drop distances with no need to alert the race). I did somehow manage to circumvent the crazy-strict policy that only runners could pick up their own bibs. Everyone was in such a rush to go home - I got to the expo five minutes before it closed - that the volunteer didn't check my ID. I took a chance and got back in line to try to pick up my teammate Rachel's bib - she lives over an hour away, and that would be such a pain in the butt for her. Incredibly, this time the volunteer did ask for my ID, but didn't even glance at it as she gave me Rachel's bib! But I digress. Basically, I ran the full by default.
To avoid turning this into a high-stakes race on low-stakes training, I pulled out an old marathon workout and applied it to the race: 2x4 at marathon pace with an aerobic mile rest between. I decided to run the first half at aerobic pace, then do the workout, then easy home.
The start at Lafayette square, way early
We got to the race too early, because we were also giving Rachel a ride and she was doing the half. She needed time to warm up, but I didn't. So I shivered for a few minutes before finding my way to the corral. The weather was mid-50's, expected to rise to high 60's later, but blessedly overcast. A sunny lakefront can be brutal for this race! Humidity was mid-80's throughout - it was another rather foggy day, with winds between 8 and 16 mph. I'm used to humidity, so this weather actually looked good to me (although people are justified in complaining about the wind; it was not negligible, especially on the water).

When the gun went off, I settled into an aerobic feel, and instantly my calves were sore. WHY. This has happened in several recent races, and it's a ghost returning from my early running days, when tight fronts of my calves plagued me. All recent occurrences were in the Nike ZoomFly - honestly, I am about to give up on that shoe. I mean, it's fine, but it's finicky! I kept reminding myself that the pain would go away when I warmed up, and I just struggled through it. Once we got down St. Charles, I felt a bit better, and had the double pleasure of seeing David, who took some pictures, and of seeing half my Power Miler crew, finished with their long run and alternately egging me on to the full and admonishing me to drop to the half.  I headed back up St. Charles and enjoyed seeing the runners behind me and calling out to those I knew (the view of the leaders before we made the U-turn wasn't bad either, with Dathan Ritzenhein and Bett Emanuel leading the half). I was manually lapping my watch, but keep in mind that these splits can be off - the mile markers were not accurate this year. Mile 1,2,3,4,5,6: 7:14, :03 (short), :24 (long), :09, :16, :11.
Being heckled

We picked up a bit of tailwind for a little bit after St. Charles curved, and I got miles 7 and 8 in 6:59 and 7:07. And then I forgot what I was doing as we headed down Decatur to Esplanade, and skipped the next three laps...21:09. All this time I was feeling absolutely just fine. No straining, aerobic effort, lots of chatting to those around me and cheering to those I saw on the other side of St. Charles or spectating. I was also ON my Gu game. The night before I realized that I had a few ancient gels in my closet, none of which had caffeine, and luckily I was able to find two friends with extra gels who were going to the same party I was - I love runner friends! They hooked me up, and I brought four gels with me, three caffeinated (I think the caffeine really does give me a boost).
I ran 12 and 13 in 7:01 (short) and 7:05 (long), and by the time I said goodbye to my half friends as they turned off I'd already had two gels and gatorade whenever it was offered. My teammate Tom had biked along Esplanade on the other side, offering encouragement, but once the full marathoners turned, we were immediately lonely, like so many other years. And. Now the course heads up Wisner, and we were climbing the Wisner bridge. That's fine at mile 13, but at mile 25? Wow, brutal!

Time to work, I thought, but what with the bridge and then the next water stop, my set of marathon pace miles were 6:59, 7:00, and 6:58. And I didn't realize until after that...I only did three MP miles the first set! I got confused after missing hitting lap a few times! I ran a "rest" mile of 7:18, and then hit marathon pace again. By now I was on the lakefront, and I was fast overtaking a group of guys working together. I encouraged them to come with me, run one fast mile and see how they felt, and one did! The other 8 or so fell back, and soon so did the guy who joined me - BUT - he ended up just two minutes behind me and thanked me at the finish for keeping him honest! Fun, except - yeah, I was still alone. And also majorly pissed. Because mile 18 was a 5:32. Huh?! I knew that was short. I ran the next two in 7:03 and 6:54, but was astonished to see my hard work on my fourth mile of the set was a 7:21. Oh. It was long! I hoped it had made up for the earlier short mile, but obviously it didn't; it was maybe 25 seconds too long and mile 18 was a good 1:30 short.
Obviously all these pictures are from St. Charles, sorry!

Meanwhile, I was still interminably on the stupid lakefront. We made a giant T for an incredible 8 miles of windy, empty lakefront, complete with I think 6 bridges? Which, ok fine, that's not that bad. But remember that I am a flatlander. Two feet of elevation is noticeable, forget a 23-foot high bridge (it's the steepness that is hard, really, although I tried to take the downhill hard and fast). One thing I liked was that we had other runners opposite us on the T, so I got to cheer people on. I felt very good, and had plenty of energy. And I was passing everyone in my line of site. No women, though: I passed the last girl for the whole race in the middle of mile 13. There were, as usual, almost no people out there - I saw one group of spectators! - but the volunteers loved me, so excited to see someone still running hard when so many people were struggling. And that was a big boost!

So now, here I was, with a 10k to go, and I started to do the math. I realized that if I just held aerobic pace, I could PR. I decided that 7:08 sounded good. I ran 7:08, 6:53 (I think I had a mile with a downhill and no uphill, last bridge!), and 7:07 as I finally left the lakefront and headed back down Wisner. And suddenly I was two miles from the finish. Quick math told me I'd PR, even if I added 30 seconds a mile! Right at 24, I passed two guys in matching singlets, one obviously pacing the other, who was falling apart. I cheered him on and tried to work with them, but he was a goner. On I went! Another 7:07, and then I saw Will and Rich from our club, who cruelly offered me a disgusting beer. I was insanely thirsty at that point, but not beer thirsty!
Edited to add this picture Will sent me, from right before mile 25
Mile 25 started and the Wisner bridge loomed miserably above me, somehow growing an extra 50 feet while I was running the past 12 miles, and I trudged up it. Unfortunately I couldn't take advantage of the downhill, as - oddly - the last water stop was positioned at the foot of the hill, forcing me to brake hard to grab a cup. And I couldn't afford to skip it, because I'd been choking on my last gel for a whole mile. I did great getting my gels down, though, taking all three Gus and two Science in Sport offered on course. My last mile was 7:09, winding through a dusty construction site (huh?) and then, there was the finish. I sprinted through at 5:45 pace for the last 0.2, feeling still quite energetic. 3:04:38. My previous PR was 3:06:11 from 2012!
No PR for me. But still happy with the race!
But. Unfortunately that 3:06 still stands. The course was slightly short. I finished with 26.15, when I normally get about 26.25, so it was probably a tenth short. I blame mile 18! I am annoyed by that, but not terribly upset. This was a last-minute race. I'm untapered (I hit 68 miles this week). I've been feeling dreadful lately. And I still would have PR'd, so that means that the next race I definitely should have a real PR!