Friday, July 14, 2017

Why don't I run trails more often?

Last week the husband got up extra early and drove into Austin to do a few miles at Walnut Creek Regional Park, a pretty cool place with miles and miles of trail. It's popular with runners, mountain bikers, walkers, and dogs and we've been out there for hikes a few times. I've never run it, however, and I didn't go with the husband last week because I had run very hot hill repeats the previous night and just wanted to sleep in. After seeing his photos, though, I regretted staying in bed!

So this week I told him I'd suck it up and, even after running hills last night, I'd get up with him this morning and run a few miles there. I got home after our tough and REALLY FREAKING HOT hill run last night and rehydrated and refueled, foam rolled, and relaxed. When that alarm went off at 5:40, however, I had the thought to just say screw it and go back to sleep.

So glad I didn't! We only ran for about 40 minutes but it was worth the drive into Austin. Getting in some slow recovery miles off the asphalt was good for my legs. I paid no attention to pace and just kept my heart rate down (only averaged 129 and mostly stayed in zone 2). Running right after sunrise was peaceful and such a great way to start my day and since I don't get to see the husband a lot during the week, I was glad to get this extra time with him. He's a pretty good running partner.

I have lots of trails close to my house so I don't know why I don't get out there more often. It's a very peaceful and fun way to get in some recovery miles and to just get a change of scenery and some quiet time.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Intentional Training

Every year I learn a little more about myself, about marathons, and about effective training. For years I merely trained to finish the race, occasionally with a time goal or the goal of a new personal best, even if by only seconds. I knew in my heart that I had more talent than what is shown in my race results. Sometimes weather was the factor, sometimes illness (yes, I have plenty of bad luck on race day), sometimes I ran with friends, and sometimes it really was "for fun" or to finish happy. I was definitely better at coaching other runners than myself.

Last year, after a two year marathon hiatus and some health problems, I got back into the marathon game. Because I had lost speed and fitness, I was not in personal best shape when I set out on my journey to Louisiana. Through hard work and a tough training schedule I turned it around and knew that I could beat my 4:17:53 best time, but probably just barely. While race day weather didn't allow for that, and because I was still in the process of figuring out how best to handle my asthma in humid conditions, I couldn't push myself as hard as I wanted to without it being detrimental to my health. I am still happy with the race, although it was very far off my goal. It allowed me to come into this current training season with more mental strength than I've had in all previous marathons.

Back in April I made the choice that this was my year to be in my best shape ever. After feeling so miserable on our relay at the end of March, I knew it was time to make big changes. I got my medication problems figured out, I got my nutrition figured out, I lost weight and gained muscle, and because of all this work over the last three months, I am a much better runner. I've written about my progress a bit in previous blog posts. My training officially starts on Monday and I am ready for it. I have spent the last few months building my aerobic fitness in the warm summer conditions and slowly building speed through our interval and hill workouts. I got back on my bike and I got back into the gym on a more consistent basis. While our weather has decidedly taken a turn for the worse over the last month, my ability to handle it has increased positively. I am running just as well in the heat as I did in the cold and I'm still gaining speed. It's the first time this has ever happened to me in my decade of running in Texas. I no longer dread our workouts when it's 80 degrees out and the dew point is in the 70s. I know it will be uncomfortable, but I also know that my body can handle it....FINALLY.

You really have no idea how incredible this feeling is, not only physically, but MENTALLY. Knowing that I don't have to necessarily suffer through the summer is huge! Don't get me is very uncomfortable running Thursday nights in triple digit heat (even though we do run in the shade), and I'd really prefer not having to try to beat the heat by running my long runs at 6am. But I am definitely more comfortable with the uncomfortable than I have ever been. Please let this feeling last!

I've also become much more intentional and focused with all aspects of my training. I'm better about wearing my heart rate monitor to be sure I'm not overdoing it in the heat, and to see if I'm adapting to the training. I'm analyzing my splits more than I probably ever have to look for improvement, even small improvement. I had to purchase a new multi-sport Garmin and finally upgraded to a Bluetooth capable model, the 920xt (thanks to my dear friend Doug!), and it's changed everything for me! My data analysis is now on a whole new level and I'm not sure why I suffered with the 910xt for as long as I did (okay, I didn't suffer. That watch was fantastic. I just sucked at syncing it to Garmin Connect). Being able to see how the watch can estimate my VO2 max (47!) and laugh at its race predictor (3:31 marathon my ass) is pretty darn cool. I've only worn it for a few runs so far, so I'm still assuming that marathon prediction will increase significantly with more run data, although it keeps getting faster so far. Strange watch.

Training like this has taken so much weight off my shoulders. I'm not stressing about my long run pace at all anymore, whereas I used to be so bummed if I didn't train at a certain pace all the time. By focusing more on my heartrate and cadence I'm able to steadily improve my aerobic fitness. Looking back on runs from years ago, my heart rate was ridiculous. I was burning myself out and not even realizing it. I'm consistently running on average with a heart rate probably 20 beats per minute less than I was back in those early marathon days. By being so specific with my easy/long run training, my body is efficiently feeding its muscles and burning fat as fuel. This is where the bulk of marathon training should fall. Because of the summer heat I can't always keep my heart rate quite this low (my target is keeping it below 140, or at least under that for the average), particularly running up hills, but that's okay. A heart rate a bit higher will help me build my cardiorespiratory capacity and improve my muscle strength and this is the zone I'll probably spend the most time in on race day. Several of my long runs down the road will include portions at race pace in order to simulate the feeling for race day. Then there are the tough runs...intervals and hill sprints. This is where I get into the anaerobic zone, and therefore improve my lactate threshold and performance. Proper recovery from the tougher workouts is vital (yay recovery runs!) to be able to continue to perform well during those particularly hard weeks. I'm just continuing to chant that mantra of "easy pace, easy pace, easy pace" (no matter how much my teammates laugh at how anal I've become). My long slow runs are paying dividends during hard workouts and will (hopefully, oh pretty please) pay off on race day.

Being okay with that pace and with that heat index is a long process

The crazy thing about analyzing the data is being able to quantify how I'm getting more efficient, while still getting faster. Tuesday's interval workout was a beast, but my heartrate never got into the red zone, not even once! My highest heart rate was 163 and the average stayed under 150. I was working very hard and practically threw up a couple times from the effort, but knowing that I technically was not overtaxing my system is a huge bonus (I'm going to chalk the pukey feeling to the Gatorade I drank after the previous night's bike ride....I have very little sugar in my diet but really needed the rehydration after the heat, so Gatorade it was....and it was so delicious). Being able to see this kind of data is helping me during each hard run. Even through the discomfort I know I can do it, even when my brain is trying to tell me I need to give up. I also realize that I can push myself even harder at our next interval workout.

Shit is getting serious starting on Monday. Every week my miles will increase. There are some weeks when I am running 6 days, and I'm not going to like it very much. But there's a Boston Qualifier inside of me and I need to find her and push her and make her do what's she's capable of doing.

Also, please be good to me on December 10, Mississippi weather. Pretty please.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Duathlon? Sounds great!

Every 4th of July, my triathlon team hosts an informal triathlon/duathlon for our members. Two years ago I did the triathlon and last year the duathlon. This year I again tackled the duathlon, and it would be only my second duathlon I've ever done.

I came into this year feeling much better about working hard in the heat, so I felt like I could do a decent job "racing." I wasn't so concerned with racing my teammates so much as racing my time from last year. I wanted to see that my fitness had improved and with the weather this year being so similar to last year, it would be a good gauge of improvement.

Armed with my lovely new multisport watch, I was ready to go race morning. We had a big turnout, way more than usual. Nineteen members total raced so it was going to be a very fun morning. Lake Georgetown looked beautiful at 7:30 in the morning and I was almost a bit envious at those who were doing the triathlon. The lake was calm and looked so refreshing. Perhaps it's time I got my butt back into the water?

The first run of the duathlon was about 1.1 miles just around the picnic area at the lake. We shortened the first run this year so it better coincided with when the swimmers would be coming out of the water and we'd all be on the bike course about the same time. For this first run, I wanted to be "comfortably uncomfortable" with my pace, so I figured right around 9 min or just under would be great and then hopefully I'd be able to push it harder on the second run. I was feeling pretty decent and got down to about 8:30 pace within the first few minutes. I kept that up and finished the that loop at 8:33 pace.

A quick transition and I was on my bike. The course for the bike is actually not all that easy. It's short...9.55 miles...but it starts out uphill. My heartrate spiked right away, hitting 160 within 3 minutes of ride time. But I stayed with it, knowing I'd get a good downhill in a couple miles. Every opportunity I got on a downhill I shifted into a tougher gear and tried to make up some time speed lost on the uphills. I want to be better with shifting, so this was good practice. By the time we got to about 7 miles I knew I was riding much better than last year. I felt a lot more comfortable and my heartrate was staying more in control overall. I ended up riding 1.1 mph faster than last year, coming in at 16.7 mph. A win in my book. It probably helped that at the turnaround on the dam at about 8 miles into the ride, I saw my friend Esther right on my butt, probably only about 30 seconds behind me. Although I didn't want to view this as competition, seeing her that close to me definitely got me moving my butt a little bit faster.

Another quick transition (where I thoroughly messed up the lapping on my watch and accidentally hit the button too many times. I had to look back on the data to estimate my transition time versus my actual run time, but I think I got it figured out based on the elapsed time of the workout. Both my transitions came in at about 40-45 seconds. Not bad for being so out of practice!

I knew I could get the second run done in under 15 minutes if I pushed myself and remembered it was a very short distance, only about 1.7 miles. I glanced at my watch to see that it was right at 44 minutes total for the workout. I remembered last year's time was 1:11:xx so even with a shortened Run 1, I was definitely doing better this year. I just felt so much stronger! I kept thinking Esther was going to blow by me right before the finish so I sped up to about 8 min pace for the last half mile. It got hard but I knew it was almost over. I ended up coming in at about 14:48 (if I estimated correctly from my watch mishap).

I finished in about 59:50 total for the 2.8 miles of running and 9.55 miles of cycling. Last year I ran 3.4 miles and cycled 9.45 miles in 1:11:33, so it was a definite improvement. I had so much fun! My entire team did a really great job out there, with speedy times for everyone. They're all very worthy competitors and they keep me on my toes day in and day out.

Informal team races like this are a great way to get into that competitive spirit, gauge where you're at in training and fitness, without the expense or nerves from an actual organized race. Teammate Amanda even made up medals for the fastest of us out there so that's a very fun keepsake.

Looking forward to the next one!

Team pre-race

The medal winners, although every single person out there killed it!