Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Speedwork", or "Gen plays beat the clock"

Given my lackluster performance in my last 5k and 10k, I decided that it was time to start kicking things up a notch and finally do what I've been putting off for so long.  Speedwork.  Or as I like to call it, torture of a very quick and breathless kind.  I'm not sure why I've been so hesitant to do speedwork.  maybe I've been afraid of finding out just how slow I am, or regressing back into that fat girl who couldn't run a quarter mile in gym class.  It also doesn't help that I injured my hip after a particularly nice fast run, so I've associated speedwork with injury, which is stupid, but that's how my mind works.

So today, I bit the bullet.  If I ever want to get faster and reach more of my potential, speedwork is going to have to happen.  Haakan's always saying he thinks I should take his advice, so I picked his brain a bit and we decided that I should do two mile repeats with a quarter mile walking recovery, and I should aim for around 8:30 for my pace.  So, all well with the world, I set off for the reservoir to do my mile repeats, not at all sure this is a good idea and feel like a big weenie that my speedwork pace is his easy pace.  I jogged up to the reservoir and did a lap and a third so that I could start my intervals at the water fountain, then use the quarter mile walk to walk back to the water fountain so that I could get a drink before I tried the insanity again.

8:30 was my goal pace, but I ended up doing the first mile at 7:53.  And though it was exhausting and I was glad to hit that one mile mark, it also felt great to run that fast.  It was like a whole different experience.  It was actual RUNNING, no question about it, and it's something I wish I could do for longer periods of time.  And without feeling like my lungs were going to pop, or that I was going to lose my bowels (yeah, my stomach was upset, but at least I didn't throw up or anything).  So I walked back to the water fountain, got my heart rate back down to a respectable level, and did it again.  And it was hard.  Again.  But I did my second mile repeat at 7:51, and really, there wasn't a whole lot left in the tank after that.  I don't know that I could have done it much faster.  Did I pick a pace that was a bit too kicky?  Probably, but part of the problem lies in not exactly knowing what an 8:30 pace feels like.  And that always tends to be my problem - I go out too fast because I just don't feel it yet.  It's not internalized and I always have to guess, and I guess wrong a lot.

All in all, not a bad day's run.  I ended up with 5 miles total, two of them wicked fast.  For me, anyway.  I feel a little bit less cool knowing that my fast interval pace is about the pace Haakan maintained for the WHOLE marathon two weeks ago.  But you never know, I might get there myself some day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Race for the Cure - my "Runiversary"

A year ago on Mother's Day, I ran my first race ever - the Race for the Cure 5k.  I finished in 32 minutes and change, and after that first race, I was hooked.  I've been a runner ever since.  And today I ran the Race for the Cure again.  It wasn't my best race, though I beat my previous 5k time by maybe 30 seconds, but it was a good race because it gives me the chance to think about the past year and all that I've been able to accomplish.  It's hard for me to remember that it's really only been a year that I've been running, and in that year I've run three 5k's, three 10k's, three half marathons, and a full marathon.  That's 10 races, after having never run a race in my life.  After never having run faster than a 10 minute mile or farther than 3 miles on the treadmill (and thinking I was pretty hot stuff when I did that in college, probably because most of my friends weren't working out at all).

I think it was March of last year that I signed up for the Race for the Cure, thereby giving myself a reason to get out and run.  Or more like something to hold me accountable.  People were sponsoring me, I had to run it, and my goal last year was to finish it and feel good at the end.  And I did.  I was immeasurably proud of myself for finishing the race, I was high on the feeling of having run with so many people and crossing a finish line with a clock and a time and everything.  Last May I weighed more than 20lbs more than I do now, running 3 miles was a lot, and the idea that I could ever do more was a fantasy.

In the year I've been running, I've had fabulous races - last year's Great Race, which I ran faster than I ever thought I could have, and last weekend's Pittsburgh Half Marathon, which was probably the closest to a perfect race that I've ever gotten - and I've had miserable and unpleasant races - the Just a Short Run Half Marathon comes to mind, as well as the miserable Burgh's Pizza and Wings 10k that I did two weekends ago - and races that were just kind of mediocre and "meh", like today's 5k and last year's Run Around the Square 5k.  I have to remember just how new I am to running and racing every time I have a less than stellar performance, remind myself that there are still a lot of lessons I obviously have to learn and a lot of ways that I can improve how I train and how I race.  The fabulous races make me feel over the moon, the bad ones make me want to hang up my running shoes and just give up, but I'm starting to see that they're both equally valuable because of the lessons they teach me.  I'm getting better at dusting myself off after the bad ones, too.

Happy Runiversary to me!  I'll do the Race for the Cure next year, too, and my goal is to shave another minute off my time, at least.  But should I fail to do that, there are still things that I'll take away from the race, but hopefully another year of running with make me older and wiser, and just plain better.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

That girl who runs funny with the jogging stroller

I tried something new today.  I decided to run to pick Oliver up at preschool with the double jogger, with Elliot in it, of course.  And that went fine.  I took the Jackson/Stanton loop on the way there, and got to school right on time, allowed myself just enough time.  But while I was running, I caught a glimpse of myself in a store's plate glass window and I was horrified to see that I was far from looking like that hard core woman running with the jogger.  Instead, I was kicking my feet weird, kind of bouncing, and it just looked... odd.  Not even just odd, it was dorky, not cool, and not at all runner-looking, if that makes sense.

Now, I had always kind of, silently, in my head, pitied people who ran with really weird strides.  There's that girl who runs like a sloth who I've seen in a few races (and who has passed me, rather horrifyingly), and the women who shuffle their feet oddly, the guys who kind of glide along.  I never thought I was one of them!  Ok, well, sure, I'm not the best runner out there, but wow, I'm going to be kind of self conscious now (and I'll think more charitable thoughts about the girl who runs like a sloth, since I think she might have finished the half before me last Sunday).

Better for me to concentrate on the run today, which was quite good, actually.  My pace turned out kind of slow, since I hit all the red lights on the way back (and had an extra 40lbs of kid to push in the jogger), but I did the whole way there with really no stops, other than for traffic, even up the hills into the park.  So I guess I am getting better, even if I don't feel like I'm getting all that much faster, which is a nice feeling.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's on the iPod

I am currently absolutely obsessed and in love with Janelle Monae's Metropolis - The Chase Suite.  It's freaking amazing, I'm just blown away by it every time I listen.  I heard her somewhere on NPR during the South by Southwest music festival, and was really intrigued by the concept album - a kind of Bladerunner-esque dystopic vision starring an android named Cindi Mayweather who is going to be deactivated because she's fallen in love with a human.  "Many Moons" came on during the half on Sunday and it was a wonderful blast during the beginning of the course.  I can't wait to hear more from Janelle Monae, and am looking for videos to see the dystopic vision in action, not that you really need a video.  The instrumentation and all leads to a very cinematic feel to the music, so it's easy to picture what I think she wants you to.  Everyone should go out and get themselves a copy (you can get it on iTunes).

I put the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack on my iPod, too, and "Jai Ho" came on at some point during the half and also helped me pick up the pace.  Pretty much every song on the soundtrack is great to have on my running mix.  And Ben Folds' "Hiroshima" is thrilling me lately, too.  I love the part when he says "There was blood on the key" "Oh my god."  It just gets me every time.  I don't think I heard "Hey Ya" during the race, but that's another favorite that always gets me going a little bit faster.  But my all time favorite pick up the pace song is Sinead O'Connor's "No Man's Woman".  No idea why, but that song just gets me totally pumped.  It's like my go-to song when I need to make a push up a hill or just power through something.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More musings on the half marathon

I must still be basking in the afterglow of yesterday's race, because I had a hard time reeling it in for today's easy run, doing it about 15 seconds per mile faster than I should have.  But while I was out doing my easy 4.5 miles, I thought about some of the things that I started doing that probably helped with yesterday's race, things that I definitely should have been doing all along, and most certainly should have been doing prior to the marathon in Phoenix.

Hills.  I started running the lower loop at the Highland Park Reservoir, rather than the upper one.  I started doing this after last month's horrendous half marathon, and I really think that it helped a lot.  I powered through the hills yesterday, unphased, because none of them actually seemed all that bad.  "I've run that hill before," I thought as I came up to them, and then I smoked them.  I think doing the hills also helped me to learn how to run downhill better and just let go on the hills.  I think I made up a lot of time on the downhills, something I was too tired to do during the last half marathon, thanks to starting out too quickly.

Speed and pace.  I was conscious to run at a MUCH slower pace than usual this past week, and to not do very high mileage, and though I was worried that it would hurt me in the end, especially since I haven't done a long run in a few weeks, thanks to being sick, it seemed to really help.  I was nice and fresh and not exhausted for the race.  I'll definitely be sticking with the slower easy pace and adding in some speed work to try to get me going even faster at races.  I definitely have the potential to be running faster than I am, at least in races.

Taper.  I had planned to taper, really.  But the length of the taper was kind of accidental, since I had only planned to taper for a week before the race, and I ended up tapering for 3 weeks because I had to take a whole week off because I was sick.  But I felt great once I started running after that week (even though I was irrationally worried that I wouldn't be able to run at all and would totally lose all my strength and all after a week off).

So all these things together, plus the absolutely perfect long race weather, led to this being not only my best half marathon time, but really, probably the best race I've ever run, in terms of how I felt the whole time, my mental state, etc.  It was the polar opposite of the marathon in January, where it was hard and unpleasant from the very beginning.  This one was great the whole time, just really fabulous.  I haven't even found the right word for how good this race has made me feel.  Truly, it'll be a hard one to top.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


The Pittsburgh Marathon and Half Marathon was today, after 6 years on hiatus, and I was just so excited to be running the half.  I think it has something to do with it being a race that I've been watching all my life, as well as being one that goes through so many neighborhoods that I know and love.  Even though the half marathon course didn't go through my neighborhood (the full one did, though - mile 21 was just two blocks down the road from my house), I still was pumped for it, but definitely feeling a bit gunshy after my past few races having been so unpleasant.  I had decided if today's race was miserable, I was just going to swear off racing, since clearly it would mean I was doing something very wrong.  So mentally, there was a lot riding on this race.

When my stomach started acting up again, I wasn't optimistic about the outcome today.  Haakan and I stood in the kitchen at 5:30am, saying "Why are we doing this again?"  But we were on our way with no major difficulties, Haakan leaving early, Byrno (who was also up for the half) and I leaving after my sister showed up to watch the kids (thank you, thank you, thank you, Jessica!).  We found parking, found Haakan, and all was going according to plan.  I found my pace area and said good bye and good luck to Haakan and Byrno, and prepared to just do it, however it came out.  My goal was to keep to around a 10 minute mile, to bet my previous time (2:12:22), and to not feel like a soggy pile of doodoo when the race was over.  

And it was amazing.  The race went better than I could have ever hoped.  I feel like I have redeemed myself after so many miserable races as of late.  I PR'ed with a finish time of 2:08:16 and a pace of 9:48/mile, and most importantly, I felt GREAT during the whole thing.  I ran the entire course, I didn't stop once, even only slowed down at water stops, and I really felt wonderful throughout.  I'd say that the only difficult points came in the last 3 miles.  There was a lot of uphill and I was having a hard time pacing myself properly and ended up pushing a bit harder than I wanted to up the hills, but it all worked out in the end.  And as much as I wish I had trained for the full marathon, I was very happy to split off from the full marathon runners to finish up the half.  I was ready to be done at that point.  I really turned it on during the last mile so that I could be sure to come in at 2:10 or under, and I had quite a bit left to pour it on, more than I thought I would.  So now breaking 2 hours doesn't seem so unachievable in a few months.  I kept checking my pace, which was in the 10 minute mile range for the first few miles (which I had planned), but gradually I was able to pick it up a bit, averaging between 9:30 and 9:45 for the rest of the race.

I saw my mom twice along the course and she got some good pictures (she tells me), so that was nice.  My sister wasn't able to get the kids out to see Haakan come through because it started to rain, but he says he didn't really notice, anyway.  He finished in 3:28:35, which just blows me away.  And Byrno finished in 2:17 and change, which is awesome for a first half marathon.  I also saw a lot of very neat running going on.  At the very start of the race, I passed a woman who had on a t-shirt that said on the back "I'm slow because of Mylee  4.2.09".  I said "does your t-shirt say that you just had a baby last month?" And she said, "yeah, that's why I'm so slow."  I said, "Honey, you're not slow.  You just had a baby a month ago, you're hardcore!"  I don't know how she did or if she was doing the full or the half marathon, but I thought that was pretty amazing that she was out there with a newborn.  I had my water at the water station between miles 7 and 8 handed to me by a woman with a small baby in a moby wrap.  I said "Hey!  A babywearer!" and probably sounded like a total freak, but I was excited to see it.  I also saw a little girl, maybe 4 years old, running holding her mom's hand as her mom started the second leg of the marathon relay.  And I saw a couple, maybe husband and wife, cross the finish line wearing matching outfits and holding hands.  It was sweet to see a couple supporting each other that way.  And I got to see the winner cross the finish line, since I was there waiting for Byrno (who had already come through, but I didn't know that).  Runners in the half were crossing the finish line at the same time, and I just thought how cool that would be, to cross the finish line with the winner.

I'm sure lots of hard core racers would disagree, but for me, it seems that doing well in a race is like a balancing act.  How hard can I push myself and still complete the distance.  I'm sure there are those who would say you should be pushing hard the entire time, but that hasn't worked out so well for me, maybe because I haven't trained as well as I've wanted to or as wisely as I should have.  So I pushed, but not so hard that I felt like I couldn't recover, if that makes sense.  I'm actually feeling kind of excited for The Race for the Cure 5k next weekend.  My previous best 5k time is pretty unimpressive, 29:something, so I'm SURE I can beat that, especially with so much downhill on the course.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The humidity hits

I did an easy 4.5 miles yesterday in prep for the half on Sunday and I think we can safely say that running in high humidity kind of sucks.  It was like running through soup.  I was soaked at the end, but I think a lot of that was just because I had to basically swim around the reservoir, since it wasn't actually all that warm.  But it's amazing how the humidity can make what should have been a very pleasant run much more challenging than it otherwise would have been.  

I think that was my last run before the race on Sunday, and I'm feeling very optimisitc about my chances of doing well.  I'm hoping to at least maintain a 10 minute mile, if not a hair faster.  The sub-2 hour half is just not going to happen this time, maybe because I didn't really do anything to train for it.  I've been going along thinking that I can just kind of get faster without really putting in much effort, but clearly that's wrong since I'm not really getting any faster!  I do feel a little bummed that I'm not doing the full marathon, and even very briefly entertained the stupid idea of switching to the full, but I'd just be setting myself up to fail.  I keep forgetting that there's a whole big chunk of the course that goes over through Regent Square and over into Homewood - it doesn't go straight from Oakland into Highland Park like I keep wanting to think that it does.  The half course is just so stupid, though, going through so many areas where no one really lives.  Are there really going to be crowds to cheer us on?  I certainly hope so.  I've told my mom to come out and cheer for us, since she lives right off of North Avenue, and I should be pretty easy to spot in my neon green top.  And hopefully the marathon is back to stay and I can do the full one next year or the year after.  As Haakan keeps telling me, I've got plenty of years of marathoning ahead of me.

So now there's just the logistics to work out.  We could eat early Italian before the race, or Chinese (since all that rice is carbs, right?), or Thai from up the street... decisions decisions.