Zeitgeist

After enjoying my first road half marathon last year in Moab I made plans to run another this year with the goal of improving my time by about 90 seconds to run 1:35. Plans to visit family in the fall lined up nicely with the Zeitgeist Half Marathon, so I signed up for what I hoped would be a scenic, beautiful-fall-weather half and penciled some 13.1-oreinted training into my summer/fall plans. The course had some significant hills (1,180 feet of climbing/descending over a loop course with each hill being ~2 miles long on each side with a flatter 3 miles at the end), but I had hope that with a lot of luck and some strong training I could still dip under 1:35.

After my delayed start to summer training due to injury my mileage started to increase beyond what I’ve been able to do since about 2012 and my 5k/XC focused training was starting to lead to some quick workouts and races. I also found two new wonderful running buddies to do long runs with. For the half I loosely followed the Kara Goucher training plan for workouts, but did a double run day about every other week, occasional double workouts or a workout and race most weeks, and long runs up to 16 miles rather than the shorter recommended maximum long run of 11 miles that she included in the plan. I felt strong enough towards the middle of the training plan to add an extra 2-mile repeat onto one workout, and an extra tempo mile onto another. I definitely skimped on the strength training (oops…) but tried to do core 3 times a week.

Perhaps the most important modification that I made was to incorporate hills into the tempo repeats/longer tempo runs. Starting with the Switchblade workout in week 6 I began doing my workouts at a spot where I could warm up on flat road for a couple miles, and then could do my repeats going up a mile or so on a steady climb, and then turn around and practice my turnover and relaxation on the speedy descent. I learned to focus on holding a controlled grind on the uphill, and to then quickly switch to a focused ‘spin’ on the downhill. I could hit my goal average pace (say 7:30/mile) by grinding up at a steady 7:50 pace on the uphill and then pushing my turnover to hit a 7:10 coming back down. On longer tempos I did the initial tempo on the flat or on more gradual rolling hills and then added part of the steeper climb/descent to practice climbing and descending while tired, and to practice hitting the flat again after a big downhill and maintaining the gained momentum. My quads suffered but grew stronger, and the repeated practice at uneven pacing to hit a solid average pace helped me to mentally prepare for the fluctuations in pace and attitude that would hit me out on the hilly race course. 7:15 pace started to seem like a reasonable goal, if I could just maintain my optimism and focus on the hills…

 

Some very solid mileage heading into the race! The long runs and long workout days really boost the total for the week.

 

The week before the race I crammed in a final long workout, a longish run, and my other runs into the first 6 days of the week so that MountainMan and I could drive the 12 hours to my hometown without worrying about runs. I felt ok, but developed some severe calf tightness while sitting in the car. I made it through a final short workout and some easy runs the week of the race, but ended each run worried that I’d managed to really injure myself. My left calf was especially bad – the Achilles was tight, my fibularis longs/brevis tendons were tender to the touch and would spasm randomly, and my soleus was sore every time I stretched. If the pain hadn’t shifted to a new spot every day I probably would have been even more worried (real injuries tend to stick to one spot rather than jumping place to place), but even with the somewhat reassuring ‘taper twinge’-like behavior I was concerned. I spent the days leading up to the race icing and gently massaging the muscle and tendons, hoping I wasn’t going to have to step off the course and throw away my chance at a good race thanks to a last-minute injury.

Final workout! Calf actually felt fine during this, but hurt on the easy run the day before and the two following easy run days.

Pre-race run in the rain. Calf hurt *except* when going uphill or doing strides so I figured I could at least rock the hills and sprint the rest ;P

 

With the apprehension about my calf being able to last the whole 13.1 miles and the self-inflicted pressure to take full advantage of this rare half-marathon racing opportunity I spent the days leading up to the race with a stomach full of butterflies. However, an early birthday celebration with family the evening before helped me to relax and get some solid sleep, and I woke up the morning of the race feeling focused and alert but not overly anxious.

A beautiful drive along frosty streets under the setting moon brought me to the start, where I had some extra time to relax and watch the sun rise after picking up my packet. The weather forecast had called for snow or a cold drizzle earlier in the week, but the sun was quickly burning off the fog and I opted to run in shorts and my singlet with just a pair of gloves to fend off the high-30s/low-40s chill in the first few miles.

I had one little pre-race panic when I was still 20 people back in line with 5 minutes to the start and had to dash behind a nearby shed to attempt a subtle pre-race nervous-pee. I don’t like contributing to urine puddles in inappropriate places, but the 10 guys lined up against the wall when I dashed around the other side on my way to the start at least made me feel less alone in my awkward grass-watering activities. Relieved that I wouldn’t spend all 13.1 miles dealing with internal sloshing I scurried over to the start and squeezed my way up near the front group in the starting corral.

The race countdown consisted of a cheer-squad style spelling of “Z-E-I-T-G-E-I-S-T” and then a yelled “Go!” as we took off. A small group of men accompanied by a couple women immediately sped ahead through the chilly shade of the starting stretch. I ran along a little ways back alongside another group of lightly dressed men and women and a few misguided souls in full sweat suits. I wanted to start conservatively so worked on staying relaxed in this second group while still holding what felt like a strong pace. After about half a mile we got out of the shaded, tree-lined road leading out of town and onto the sunnier, foothill-surrounded 2-lane road portion of the course. The sweat-suite wearers fell back and I passed one of the quick starting women.

As we headed into the first climb at about 1 mile the two women next to me were still chatting happily while I was doing my best to stay relaxed at what felt like a quick pace. A little bit of doubt entered my mind but I focused on just hanging in behind them and enjoying the diversion provided by their chatter. The two friends eventually cut down the chatter and separated as the hill got steeper, both moving a little further ahead of me.

The first climb wasn’t too bad and the top, at 3 miles, soon arrived. I had glanced at my watch and knew my pace was slower than what I wanted for the average (as expected), so I really focused on my turnover on the 2 mile downhill into mile 5. I felt good, but just couldn’t quite gain on the two women within eyesight ahead of me. I had seen another women go out very fast who I could no longer spot, and could barely make out another women in a blue singlet in 2nd place. I was sitting in 5th and hoped that eventually I could manage to reel in one of the women ahead of me.

My hands had finally warmed up enough to take my orange-and-blue gloves off, but I tucked them into the shoulder of my sports bra so that they flapped lightly as I ran. I hoped the Boise State color scheme would  get me some extra cheers as I ran by the primarily BSU-apparel-clad spectators. I spent miles 4 and 5 trying to slurp down a gel while winding through the streets of a small sub-division, chasing the closer women ahead around the turns on the short nearly-flat section. Every time I seemed to gain a little ground we’d go around a turn and they’d both suddenly have jumped back a little further ahead. I focused on just staying smooth and keeping my outlook positive in spite of the frustration.

At some point a man in headphones passed me and ended up a little ways ahead, but on the whole I’d been running pretty much alone since the 2nd mile or so. I was glad to have my GPS watch to be able to glance down at my pace every once in a while, but was mainly running by feel and trying to maintain (or decrease) my distance from the little group up ahead.

There was another mini climb around mile 6, which fortunately didn’t seem too tough. I was happy to be approaching halfway, with the hope that some of the runners ahead would finally start to fall back. As I crested the little hill and began striding down the descent I realized I could see the final BIG hill stretched along the hillsides in front of me. The number of turns in the road as it wound up, and up, and up was a little unnerving! The head-phone man was dancing and humming ahead of me and I found myself wondering if he’d be able to keep up the dance moves on the challenging climb.

We rolled down the little downhill, leveled out, and then began the big, intimidating climb. I reminded myself that I had practiced this, and tried to channel the hilly long runs with my new running buddies. One of them is an AMAZING climber, so I tried to picture her just a little ways ahead, springing up the incline. Thinking of this big climb as just another challenging long-run climb was comforting and helped to keep my breathing steady as the hill steepened. I also started mentally chanting “cow poooop, cow pooop” which helped to express my full feeling about the hill ;P

Just as I approached the crest, with legs getting quite heavy and my focus having narrowed to just the 20 feet or so in front of my feet, I heard my name. I glanced up and was happily surprised to see my parents and their dog standing just off the side of the road! They cheered me up to the top, boosting my spirits and bringing my mind back into race mode as I crested the peak and started down the other side.

Now was my time to really push! The peak of the hill was right around 8.5 miles, so I knew I had less than 5 to go, and 2 of those miles were steeply downhill. My quads were aching, but I forced my legs to turn over and started spinning down the hill, battling the fatigue that was pushing me to heel-strike and flail my arms. As the incline eased slightly I was able to stride out more effectively and realized that I felt *strong*. As my parents drove by my mom leaned out the window and pointed out that I was (finally!) gaining on the group ahead. I had my own doubts about catching them, but her encouragement got me looking forward as I focused on speeding down the sloped road.

Around 10.5 miles I had finally gotten up to just a few feet behind one woman in white and the head-phone man. An aid station appeared as we rounded the corner and I made the sudden decision to skip the water and instead surge like a wild woman to get around the two while they were preoccupied. The plan worked perfectly – I felt a surge of adrenaline as I went around on the outside, watching the pair slow and reach for cups, unable to respond. If my heart rate hadn’t already been pretty maxed out I’m sure it would have been beating extra hard over the next hundred meters as I slightly frantically pushed the pace to get a solid gap and squash any thoughts they had of re-passing me. I had decided to go for it and was now running fueled by a mixture of fear and excitement – there were two miles to go and now I had the extra motivation of being chased!

The slight downhill was heavenly after all the climbing, and I was enjoying the chance to really push the pace and no longer worry about going too hard and collapsing on a climb. I felt like I was in the last couple miles of a tempo run, starting to strain but buoyed by the proximity of the finish line. I glanced over my shoulder a couple times to see if the woman in white was catching back up, but appeared to be in the clear. For about half a mile I was free to just focus on my turnover and on pushing the pace.

Rolling! And making weird faces because maybe they’ll help me go faster 😛

My parents were still stopping every little ways to cheer, and my mom again brought to my attention the fact that I was once again gaining on a pair of runners. This time the woman in blue who I’d barely been able to see until the last mile or so was the target. I was gaining steadily on her and a male runner.

As sometimes happens to me when passing people towards the ends of races I had a moment of doubt – if I passed these two then they would be chasing me too! What if they responded with a surge? What if I couldn’t handle it?? As weird as it may seem I’m sometimes afraid of passing people, because I know it can lead to a battle to the finish, and those battles HURT. However, I swiftly realized that at the pace I was going I did’t really have any choice about passing, so I committed and tried again to pass as aggressively as possible to discourage them from coming along with me. A speed bump helped out at just the right moment, as I was able to push off for an extra boost off the top just as I was passing. Once again I got no response from the runners I was passing, and the extra adrenaline propelled me just a little faster.

Finally I hit the half mile to go point. My legs were burning, and I found myself hoping fervently that the course was not, God forbid, long. I could just see the second place woman ahead of me, but was giving it everything I had and not gaining. With about a quarter mile to go I spotted the last, unexpected hill. With the finish line still not in sight, but down to the left of the course behind a bank and some trees, the volunteer waved us *right* up a short, but steep little incline! A small sign posted on the course stated “no, we’re NOT kidding” and the amusement of seeing it helped counteract the panic of wondering if my quads could handle one more climb.

Fortunately, I did not collapse into a heap on the last hill, and quickly found myself at the top and in view of the finish! As I started my descent the second place woman finished, and after 20 seconds or so of sprinting down the hill I also crossed the line, slightly stunned to see the clock still ticking up in the 1:32’s! I shuffled through the finish, thanking the volunteers, and emerged into the sunny parking lot outside the finish coral to be greeted by my parents, who’d somehow timed all of their cheering perfectly to still arrive for the finish.

 

 

I ended up technically getting second, as the first place woman wasn’t really registered, and with a PR of almost 4 minutes. The place had helped motivate me during the race, but the PR was the more significant reward. I’d somehow managed to knock nearly 4 minutes off my time on a fairly brutal course! All the workouts, long runs, and time spent stretching, rolling, and catching up on sleep had really paid off.

A few lessons learned:

  1. I was stronger than I expected. Course-specific training and increased mileage were *extremely* helpful for this race. If I hadn’t practiced so many steady-but-strong uphills and aggressive downhills I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have caught those women at the end, and just might have actually collapsed on that final short hill!
  2. My conservative pacing, although a bit frustrating at the start, resulted in a very strong finish. When gradient-adjusted, my second half was a little faster than my first half, and I felt like I had rationed my energy perfectly. I felt strong towards the finish, but was also starting to doubt the ability of my legs to hold on much longer – a perfect place to be right at the end of at half marathon! I will admit that after recovering I started to wonder whether I could have gone out a little quicker and moved up with the 2nd place (technically 1st place) woman, who started out just ahead of me at mile 1 but was 20 seconds ahead at the end. Passing people at the end was fun, but maybe if I’d been alongside her I could have fought for the win! I may have to test a slightly more aggressive 13.1 strategy at some point, but the pacing that I used last weekend worked remarkably well considering how rarely I race this distance.
  3. Sometimes taper twinges are really just taper twinges. I have no idea why this happens but it seems to be a common phenomenon. Theories?
  4. A good cheering crew works wonders. I think I still would have closed on those last couple of women at the end, but having a little external pressure and encouragement was amazing! Having a parent/dog cheering section was probably my favorite part about doing a race back in my home town 🙂

 

All in all it was an amazing day – I was blessed with *glorious* Fall weather, a strong field of runners to chase, a little family cheering squad, and an unexpectedly speedy time. I still have a few final weeks in my racing season and I hope to carry this momentum forward through my final race, and to use if for confidence in my next year of running!

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Sub 20, and an altitude-conversion post college ‘PR’

After the rather disappointing summer trainging spent slogging my way back into shape post injury, and a few decent but not thrilling early fall races, I was starting to have my doubts that I would meet my original season goal of breaking 19 minutes (a 4% improvement from last year, to put it in relative terms). I still have my hopes up for a quick final 5k at the RSNA conference, but also know that colder weather could make it more of a toughness-testing slog than a quick race. I discussed my goal dilemma with MountainMan and he suggested a still-challenging, but maybe more reachable in the short-term goal of breaking 20 minutes at altitude (over 5000 feet). This new goal would let me focus on earlier season races (so any fair weather racing at RSNA would be more of a bonus) and would let me focus for a while on goal-at-altitude pace, which is moreconfidence boosting than the short, lung-busting effort of trying to hit sea-level 5k pace up here at 8000 feet.

Although my few races so far hadn’t been spectacular, recent workouts made me believe I was finally getting into similar form as I was in last year when I just missed a sub-20 at my final cross-country race with some of the local Oiselle voleé team members. It had been a few weeks since my last race and I was itching to get in an all-out effort to see what I could do. 

Two of the races I was hoping to run were scheduled for the same day (and were either on a somewhat boring course or on a more interesting/fun but slow course), so I ended up signing up for a totally different race that one of the Oiselle voleé women was directing as a first-time race in Denver to raise money for migraine research. As someone involved in medical-related research the idea of running to help raise funds for someone else’s research was appealing!

I did the long, dark drive up to Denver, registered and warmed up, and got to meet a few new teammates on the starting line.

halfway through the drive – holiday lights already!

Weird fish on my warmup 😛

starting-line social club 🙂


After a few pre-race instructions we were off! I knew one of the women I’d met on the start line was a speedster, so focused on relaxing while running next to her over the first half mile. Another runner, a tall man in a bright yellow shirt, soon came up between us and I fell back to third in our little line, running stride for stride a in a row a bit like a track race for the first mile or so. The pace felt fast but I figured I would just hang on, keep pushing, and see what I had in my legs and lungs on that morning.

 

By 1 mile to go we were a bit more strung out and I was focusing on keeping my turnover up and pushing through the growing discomfort. I knew I was on pace for something near 20 minutes and was hoping my normal pattern of a slow 2nd mile and faster third mile would hold true.


Finally we hit 400 to go. I had gained on the guy in 2nd but couldn’t quite get up the gear to move around him, instead falling back slightly as he suddenly surged ahead. I was feeling pretty ragged and prayed none of the 1 mile walkers who were also on the course would step in front of me, as I didn’t know if I had the energy to yell or jump around them while keeping up the pace. Finally the finish came in to view and I gave a last bit of effort while watching the clock numbers come into focus.

19:45…pump arms…46…stride….47….gasp…48….49….lean….50!

Sub-20 was checked off my list and I’d managed to snag second place, helping the Oiselle voleé women in the field to a podium sweep! The small but well-matched front pack in a rather sparse field, the perfect racing weather, and the long awaited fitness had all come together beautifully to bring me to my goal with a few races left in the season. My confidence has gotten a nice boost and I’m excited to see what I can get out of my remaining ‘bonus’ races!

Oh…it’s August!

Between several busy experiment weeks at work, increased running mileage, and family visits July was an exhausting, but satisfying month.

I spent the second-last weeks cramming in pre-6am specimen MRIs and a couple post-5pm CT scans and MRI re-scans for a time-sensitive (i.e. Refrigerated human body parts only last so long…) experiment, alongside some project plan writing, IRB paperwork, technique teaching, paper revisions, and an interdepartmental presentation that sent my heart briefly into the fat-burn zone on my FitBit but actually went quite well. The busyness of the last few weeks really hit when I ended up vacillating between nausea and extreme sleepiness at the End of Year Clinical-Fellow Hi/Goodbye party and had to head home before the dancing even started 😦

Enjoyed my presentation in spite pf my heart trying to escape


In spite of spending 5-15 extra hours at work the last few weeks I still managed some higher mileage running weeks (35, 40, and 43 miles) and a painful but beautiful trail half marathon. The running piled on a little additional weariness but greatly helped with the work stress, so was worthwhile even in the time-crunched recent few weeks.

I smiled for the camera and then went back to sleep-deprived, dehydrated slogging

Beautiful views followed by 3 hours of nausea…


The feeling of being stretched thin at work was also soothed by an amazing visit with my friend who just started a family medicine residency a few hours away and the promise of a few days off for a sister + MIL/FIL/BIL family visit. I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life 🙂

our fur-baby and BIL’s 5 month old puppy

Sister really savoring our time together bahaha

Family time on the train tracks

The desert near friend’s residency town – beautiful rocks and saw bats, frogs, bighorn sheep, and collared lizards!

June running – snowy relays to sweaty, sun-burnt long runs

June turned out to be quite the wild running month. I started the month off in injury-recovery mode, praying things would hold together and get me through a frigid, snow-flurry-filled Sawtooth Relay without letting down my team or suffering a major hamstring set-back, and ended the month with a much happier hamstring and the confidence and strength to enjoy some long runs back on the trails in the summer heat.

Some highlights:

  1. Sawtooth Relay – in spite of a brief scare the day before (hamstring cramped briefly after a shakeout run with my teammate/friend) I was actually able to push the pace with zero pain or tightness, even with the couple hours of cramped van riding between my two relay legs! Our team had a blast as we pushed through swirling snow, sideways rain, and (luckily small!) hail stones to reach the much-appreciated sunshine at the finish line.

    HSCC3933

    Went from getting pelted with half-frozen snow/rain to getting bombarded by hail and wind gusts. But at least it was warm enough for shorts on leg 2!

  2. New Oiselle singlet arrived. A small but fun highlight since I am a sucker for new running clothes. I can’t wait to fly in this sunset-glow design at my next race!  IMG_0270
  3. Return to trails! After a week of lowkey recovery after the relay I re-committed to my hamstring rehab and gradually tested my hamstring out on hillier, more demanding terrain. My final week in June included some long, hilly trail runs with no mid-run or post-run soreness, and enough confidence to enjoy the amazing trail views rather than constantly worrying about my hamstring.
  4. Managed a brief handstand balance with no body parts touching the wall! This one isn’t strictly running related, but did renew my motivation to continue consistent core and upper body strength work. The effect of strength and stability during easy running is less obvious, so it’s nice to have a more demanding test to see the results of all that flopping around on the yoga mat and getting dog hair all over my hands by doing pushups around the house.

Now it’s July and the trails are calling! I plan to spend as much time enjoying the singletrack as possible while using the lessons of March, April, and May to remind me to stay on top of pre/re-hab before little twinges take me back off the trails.

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Summer – the season for long runs and outdoor ice baths 🙂

Art post 21/running update

With MountainMan putting in some time at work today and my BolderBoulder race plans cancelled the Memorial Day holiday brought me a long day alone to get some work done around the house, do some reading, explore some new trails, and catch up a bit more on my drawing/art practice. 

I was blessed this morning with my first pain-free long, hilly run since injuring my hamstring. I set out to explore some new trails with the intention of walking if anything got tight or if the downhills were too long/steep, and the expectation of walking about a mile out of the 6-mile route. However, I actually only had to walk a couple times, and only chose to do so out of caution, rather than any difficulty with the hamstring. It was a sunny, beautiful day and I was so glad to get to fully savor the trails in all their hilly glory! This run was a great reward for sticking to my cautious training plan and hamstring rehab, and a good motivator to stay disciplined going forward.

After my run I spent some time reading and cleaning, and then escaped outside again to do some sketching…while intermittently hollering at the dog who kept trying to wander off of our little patio. In spite of the fur-baby supervising it was a lovely sketching session with the dead-head deer skull MM picked up a couple weeks ago. The skull’s geometry is intricate and challenging, and I had fun messing around with different views while trying to capture the layered combination of curves and ridges. 

I think this sketch session brings me back on track, at least until the next busy weekend!


After a hectic couple weeks I am grateful for this solitary day and for the time spent on quiet, renewing activities. 

I hope all of you were also able to spend the holiday in whatever way was needed, especially if honoring and remembering friends or loved ones. 

Training/hamstring update

So, round 2 of ‘come back from the hamstring injury’ did not go as planned, in spite of my sincere promises to my hamstring to take things slow and *not* be an idiot. Behind these promises lurked the reality of a race a few weeks away and a desire to salvage my training by squeezing in a few short, but up-tempo workouts. I still really wanted to do BolderBoulder, so, foolishly, I attempted a tempo workout  the week before last to ‘test things out’. As you can probably guess, this pushed me back over the hamstring-aggravation threshold, and I had to take another four days completely off.

After that second break I finally realized that the only way I was going to be able to manage my training expectations in a way that is compatible with healing the hamstring was to pretend that my couple months of strong late-winter/Spring training were their own separate season, and that this return post-break represented a start-of-season base-building mode after what was effectively a post-season break. In light of this more realistic new view of my recent training I’ve dropped my plans for BolderBoulder, postponing them to next year, and am focusing purely on getting my hamstring healed in time for Sawtooth relay in early June. I’m going to be cautious and patient with that June 10th date in mind – I’d rather be out of shape than in shape but running two 6-mile segments on a cramping leg!

For my ‘back to base’ plan I’m sticking to a maximum of 5 days a week of running, and am focusing on controlled, gentle pacing for all runs (no faster than 9:00 pace average unless I go a whole week of running with zero pain, and absolutely no workouts). I’ve also adjusted my hamstring rehab routine to include some lighter exercises to warm up before doing any higher load hamstring rehab, and I’ve been getting out on the bike more to exercise the hamstring in a low-impact, small range-of-motion manner. So far things are improving – my hamstring pain during normal daily activities has been eliminated, and I’ve had several solid, pain-free runs in a row!

My runs are rough even at the controlled pace and I can tell I’ve lost fitness, but I’m hoping the solid training from the start of this year will still give me a boost when I finally get back to workouts and racing. I’ve had a few frustrated moments when I think of all the tough, miserable winter miles that I ran in the dark, thinking the suffering would pay off in Spring/Summer races. However, I know that even with time off I’m still in better shape than I would have been if I hadn’t put in those miles, and the several speedy Spring workouts I got in pre-injury were rewarding even if I never got to ‘use’ the fitness gained. They reminded me of what I can do as a runner, and will hopefully let me get back to those exciting paces a little quicker once I’m healthy!