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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Apt Fife and Other Absurdities

A lot can happen over the course of 17 miles.

This morning was easily one of the oddest runs of my life. When I'm out the door at 5:30, I don't expect to encounter much of anything, and certainly not at the level of interaction that I found today. Still, when you've got something to distract you, the run can seem faster, and today was nothing but distractions.

At the start, I was going REALLY slow. One of my biggest issues when I tried to do this distance last week (besides the heat) was that I went out way too fast. I wasn't trying to run quickly at all, but my body has established a "normal" pace that is much faster than anything I should be running in training, at least for distances over 10 miles. A perfect example was my first energy gel today, which came at the same time in my run (52 minutes), but happened almost a mile earlier in the course. Clearly I was booking it last week, and I would not make the same mistake.

I developed an acronym for what I wanted to run: APT FIFE. Any pace that finishes is fast enough. I haven't had a really successful long run in almost seven weeks. My St. Patrick's Day run was broken into parts, the following week was the Capitol 10K, and the week after that, I had to take a long rest before the final three miles. From there, the workouts were cut short, skipped, and burned out. I needed to finish today, and finish is what I did. But as it turned out, pace wasn't the only thing I had to watch out for.

For one thing, there were feral cats everywhere. I saw three, all calico, all in different locations, and I found it odd that they all felt the need to wait until I was a few feet away from them to take off running. I'm not much of a cat person anyway, so I found this to be a little absurd.

Not as absurd, though, as the number of police that I saw. Seriously, I saw seven cruisers, all before 8:00 in the morning. I mean, maybe I was just catching them heading out to duty, but it seemed like an awfully heavy presence for so early on a Saturday morning. I did get a couple waves from them, though, and at least one real "hello" from an officer at a speed trap. It's always nice to be acknowledged.

The presence of cats and cops, while unusual, didn't bother me or anything. I just found it to be interesting. What did bother me was the five-foot snake I almost stepped on. Yeah. That'll wake you up. Shortly after my first energy gel, I happened to glance at what I thought was some rubber tubing stretched across the sidewalk ahead of me. I see a lot of car debris (mostly hubcaps), so I didn't really register it until I got close enough to see the stripes on its back. From about three feet away, I realized that it was a snake, stretched across the width of the sidewalk and then coiled up. Overall, it had to be at least five feet and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I would have taken a picture if I hadn't been so intent on getting the hell away from there as quickly as I could. Not okay.

And even all of this had nothing on the most dramatic moment of the run. Around mile 8, I glanced up and saw someone sitting on the sidewalk a couple blocks up the road. My first thought, based on the swaying and the location, was that someone had been out drinking all night, but I stopped and asked if I could help. My thought was wrong. It was an older woman who had fallen and hit her head on the sidewalk. She was very disoriented, so I stayed with her until she regained her senses. She wouldn't let me call for help, but she did accept me as an escort to her destination, the corner store, where seemingly everyone (staff and customers) seemed to know who she was. They accepted her, and among friends, she began to come to herself. I was assured she was in good hands before I headed out the door and back on the road.

With all of this, snakes and cats, police and injuries, I found myself five miles from home and feeling great. I mean, really good. So good, in fact, that I sped up for the end of the run, and ran the final four miles in under half an hour. I needed to build my confidence, and in the face of one distraction after another, I succeeded. Today was a very, very good run.

But I could really have done without the snake.

Saturday's workout:
68 degrees, cloudy
17.5 Miles

Friday, April 27, 2012

Free Time

It's amazing what you can do when you've got the time.

Today was almost an extra day for me, thanks to a careful front-loading of my hours for work. Without any official business to take care of today, I still got up in time for work. Instead of hitting my desk, however, I hit the road.

Really, it's incredible how much your experience on the road can change when it actually occurs in time that's free. Tomorrow, for example, will be a weekend run, but I have to be done by a certain time in order to get cleaned up and still make it to our latest adventure in dog training. My days get scheduled farther and farther in advance, and my running has to be squeezed in between any number of commitments.

But not today. Today, I got to run when I felt like running. It was still relatively cool out (we're already hitting 90s and above here in Texas), though I did have to deal with a bit of a headwind. I'll never understand how you can run in a loop and have headwind the whole time, but somehow, my neighborhood manages it.

I kept a forward but not fast pace throughout the run, ending up only a few seconds off my planned pace for the upcoming Sunburst Marathon. Of course, the eight miles that I did are not even a third of that distance, but it's nice to know that I'm able to keep that pace without losing my breath too much, even for as "short" a distance as eight miles. This is, of course, down from the ten that I was originally scheduled to do on Fridays, but in keeping with my sorta-less-is-more philosophy of late, I figured I could use the extra fifteen minutes of rest.

My strength is not the problem. I know I can run the pace that I want to run, and I can do it for a great deal of time. The trouble that is looming on the horizon has to do entirely with endurance. And that's what tomorrow is for. It's 9:30 here, and yes, I'm in bed. I'm going to finish this entry, maybe read a chapter of Pride and Prejudice (better than I expected), and then I'm going to sleep so that I can get up at some ungodly hour and hit the pavement.

Unlike last week, I feel that I've done everything right today. I ate well. I drank lots of water. Maybe yard work wasn't my best option for the afternoon, but it needed to be done, and it's a self-propelled mower, so really, it's not that big a deal. Now I'm off to bed early, and I'm hoping that all of this, combined with the cool air of the morning, will make for my first successful long run in several weeks.

If so, there's nothing that can stop me. With only four more double-digit training runs on the schedule (including tomorrow), I'm nearing the end of this season. I'm excited, scared, and cautiously optimistic.

If tomorrow goes well, I'll be confident, too.

Friday's workout:
68 degrees, cloudy but windy
7.93 Miles

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fresh Legs

Reasonable expectations and adequate rest make for a good Thursday morning.

I took another stab at the speed workout that I attempted last week, but two very important things were different this time around. First, I wasn't shooting for any particular time. Second, I was running on fresh legs.

Really, that first reason is probably the more compelling of the two. Last week, I tried to maintain a 2:30 half-mile pace on one minute's rest, and quite frankly, that wasn't anywhere near enough. That kind of time is almost a sprint for me, and over the course of two lap, energy gets drained quickly. Today, my goal was to run strong, but not sprint. I wanted to be winded but not gasping. As a result, I started out well, and then I got better.

The rest probably helped a lot, too. For one thing, it made me more anxious to get out the door and put in the miles. For another, I didn't have the fatigue of running yesterday on my mind. And finally, knowing that I'm more rested and therefore better able to take on a workout of this kind makes me much more confident going into the weekend, where my troubles have been of late.

I did 8 half-miles today, and the first four went by extremely quickly. Around five, I really started to feel the effort, but it turns out that I was dropping time, so that probably had something to do with it as well. Last week, I quit after six, so when I finished my sixth one strong, I knew I was in the clear. I let myself push the second lap of the last one a bit, though it really took the energy out of me. Still, I was able (after a few minutes' breathing) to complete a one mile cool-down, which (when considering I also did a one mile warm-up) brought the entire workout to six miles, a personal record on a speed work day.

My favorite part of speed work is looking at my total time and wishing I could actually run that far that fast. If I just keep adding mileage, maybe one day I'll be able to compete with the elites of the sport. (Probably should have had this thought about ten years ago.) Or maybe I'll just get stronger and develop greater endurance.

That'll do for now.

Thursday's workout:
8x800 on 1:00 rest
2:42     2:37
2:42     2:38
2:40     2:35
2:39     2:34

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mile Zero

Did I forget to do something today?

No. No I didn't.

Because for the first time this year, I wasn't planning to run today. I gave my legs (and brain) a much-needed rest, and instead of running, I made burritos. And read. And soon, I'll be going to bed. Early.


It's always odd writing about something that didn't happen. I found myself, several times throughout the day, wanting to do something physical, to the point that I was looking up punching bags online. I was just about to head to the garage to do some weights, when I remembered why I was resting. My body needed a break, and I was going to take it. That's how I'll get stronger.

And tomorrow should be a good day. If all goes according to plan, I'll be in bed within the hour. Using general sleep cycle numbers and my own personal habits (yeah, I've thought about this), this should put me in perfect position to get up right on time and head out the door for some speed work in the morning.

I'll be done with that nice and early, and might even get started at work earlier in the day, meaning I'll be done earlier in the day as well. I'll be able to make dinner and work on a few projects I've been putting off throughout the house. Additionally, the fact that I've front-loaded the hours in my week means that I don't have to work at all on Friday, leaving the day open for running, reflection, and rest in preparation for Saturday's long run which WILL be successful.

Optimism is fun, if not easily obtained.

My point of view on life today is brought to you by not running. Instead of looking at it as a failure to run, I'm choosing to see it as a victory over exhaustion. By taking just one day off a week, I'm already seeing things more clearly and with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

What a difference nothing makes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rest Is Best

Tomorrow's going to be awesome.

I had a great run today, all things considered. I've been having confidence issues related to my endurance lately, so I wasn't really looking forward to doing a ten-miler today. The fact that it came at the end of a particularly long work day didn't help. But I laced up and headed out.

The temperature had dropped since the hottest part of the day, but it was still rather toasty. I let myself take it easy and did my best not to push the pace. With about three and a half miles to go, something occurred to me that carried me the rest of the way. Tomorrow, for the first time in a very long while, I will be taking a planned rest day. That's gonna be nice.

So as I turned off my 8-mile course onto my 3-mile course, I smiled at the fact that I wouldn't be running it tomorrow. Every hill was smaller, every wind gust lighter, because I knew that tomorrow, I would rest.

There are very few problems for runners that cannot be fixed with a little rest. It took a little effort to overcome my pride and back down on my mileage, but the only real evidence I needed was to look at last April. I was shocked to see just how little work I had done before the best marathon of my life. Combine that with how quick (and yet effortless) my weekday runs have been, I know that I'm physically strong enough to succeed.

The struggle, at the moment, is that I do not have the mental toughness to succeed in the long run (no pun intended). My endurance is there, I believe, but my brain just doesn't believe that 90 minutes into the a run. I have to run near or over 3 hours at least once, and preferably twice, before I get to race day in just a few weeks. That means that I WILL complete my 17-mile course on Saturday, and a 20-miler next week. If all goes well in those, I will take my shot at 22-23 the following week before my taper.

My legs know I can do this. My lungs know I can do this. I need only convince my brain, and nothing's going to stop me. This weekend's going to be a huge success.

But tomorrow's going to be awesome.

Tuesday's workout:
85 degrees, sunny
10.31 Miles

Monday, April 23, 2012


I'm quite sure that I'm overtrained.

As any running coach worth their salt will tell you, it's better to undertrain for a race than to overtrain. If you undertrain, you're usually in better shape than you realize you are, and you have lots of energy left in your legs come race day. Overtraining leads to injury, exhaustion, and, well, failure. I have not been succeeding much in the last couple weeks, and that leads me to believe that I've overtrained.

There is but one solution for overtraining, and that's to cut mileage immediately. I cannot, however, forget that I've got a race in less than six weeks. Quite the conundrum in which I find myself. But here are the facts:

1) As of tomorrow, I will have run over 700 miles already this year, including the three most extensive weeks and two most extensive months in my running career. Tomorrow also marks the point at which I have run more miles in preparation for this marathon than for Austin and Seattle combined last year, with six weeks to go.

2) Last April, I ran a total of 63 miles due to injury and general laziness. This April, if I stick to my new, adjusted mileage plan, I'll run over 180, nearly three times as many as last year, which was in preparation for Seattle, my current PR. And that monthly total, by the way, is still more than I ran any month last year.

3) Sunday, I tried to do my long run, as Saturday did not work out for my timing. I severely underestimated the heat index, and found myself at mile 10, no longer sweating. I tried to drink some more water, but my body wasn't having it, and I had to call the run at 11, having my good friend pick me up and drive me home so that I didn't have to walk the 4 miles home in the sun. Great friend. Bad run.

4) My mental toughness and drive to succeed are lacking.

While this post has gone a long way toward reassuring myself about my abilities and chances in June, it also confirms what I've been suspecting. I'm trying to do way too much. I cut roughly 50 miles out of the next six weeks of training, which may not seem like much overall, but will go a long way, I feel toward easing the stress on my body. Additionally, I've decided that, at least for now, it will help to have a rest day, which is scheduled for Wednesday of each week.

I have a lot of decisions to make in the next few months, but there is one thing that, six months from now, I want to make sure I can say about myself, and this is that I am a Boston Qualifier. I know I can do this. I've surprised myself many times in the past, and by being a little more tough, I'm sure I can succeed.

And in order to stay tough, I have to be smart.

Monday's workout:
78 degrees, sunny
5.15 Miles

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Week in the Life

Well, crap.

I've been so good about posting lately, it's always very disappointing to me when I go a few days without getting something up here. Missing it for a week just feels like laziness. I promise I wasn't entirely lazy this week, though I did end my streak. My life has merely been a hurricane of transition lately, and in between doing everything I can to keep my head above water, I haven't had time to write. Here's my last week in bullet points:

Friday - Word to the wise: if you're running in the late afternoon, coffee and Whataburger do not a quality lunch make. I got about 3 miles into my run when everything south of the esophagus went haywire. I tried  to take a shortcut home and ended up six kinds of lost, no doubt returning fifteen minutes later than I would have if I'd just kept running. Not a pleasant day, overall, but I did get in six and a half miles, which is something. Also, I ended up between a buzzard and its dinner again in a completely different area from the time before. Not a trend, I hope.

Saturday - Alas, I knew the streak had to end at some point. I made it to 101 straight days of running, but I simply did not have the time and/or energy to get out the door on Saturday. I ate right, rested, and prepared for the final night of my show, which also did not go as planned. Live theatre is always an adventure. So yes, I skipped a day of running, but I'm in no way concerned about it. I've run so many miles this year, one day off may have been the best thing I could do.

Sunday - Oh, that's what fresh legs feel like. With my running partner still on hiatus, my mother and I hit the lake and did our own thing. I tried really hard not to go fast, but my legs were itching for some work after their oh-so-foreign day off. Follow up the run with a little brunch, some exploration, a lot of cooking and a potluck, and you've got yourself a pretty stellar day in Austin, Texas.

Monday - I returned my mother to the airport from whence she came and returned home to psych myself up for an early morning run, at which point I immediately fell asleep. I've been tired all week, so most of my runs have been in the late afternoon, which actually hasn't been too bad, since the weather has abated somewhat. When I finally got out the door, I kind of tore it up. I was feeling good, my legs felt rested and strong, and the sun was shining on my face. Everything felt right, so I let it fly.

Tuesday - This was the really surprising day of the week. I started the day out with some disappointing news, which took me out of the focused mindset I needed for the day. Mid-morning, I simply decided that nothing could possibly be better for me in that moment than a run. Boy, was I ever right. Tuesdays and Fridays are supposed to be the same distance for me, and one of them should be at around race pace to get my body used to running that fast for an extended period of time. I recently changed this from the Friday run to the Tuesday, since it made more sense to push the pace the day before a resting run than before a long run. So I pushed, just a bit, on Tuesday, while still feeling comfortable. I ended up running 13 seconds faster per mile than I needed to. Confidence boosted, life better.

Wednesday - Nice, easy recovery run. Just jog it so that your body recovers. Or, run a sub-Boston pace because it feels slower than the day before. You know, whatever.

Thursday - Kind of a disappointing speed work day, but only because I picked a bad time of day to get it done. I was shooting for 8 half-mile repeats, but only made it through 6. My lungs didn't have it, and if they're not up to the challenge, it really doesn't matter what the legs are feeling. Still, good times for the most part, and it gives me something to shoot for next week.

Friday - The end of a rather exhausting week. Emotionally. Physically. Certainly psychologically. Everything about this week has drained my personal resources, so the idea of ending my Friday with a ten-mile run was not a pleasing one. But you know what? I did it. I ran every one of those miles, damn it. And it was windy and hot and I was burping pasta the whole way, but I did it. And with a week's worth of killer fast runs, I decided to give my legs a little bit of a break. I would only run as fast as was comfortable.

I beat Tuesday's time by 30 seconds.

Friday's workout:
76 degrees, windy!
10.31 Miles

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Triple Digits

There's nothing like a good milestone.

Today was the 100th straight day of running for me, and I decided to celebrate it. Instead of doing my traditional speed work, I chose instead to do a nice, hard three-miler. The fact that I had almost no time in which to complete this workout also had something to do with the choice, but mostly it was the thing about celebration.

For the most part, the run went very well. I kept up an extremely strong pace throughout and was continually surprised to find myself already at certain landmarks. It was getting warmer, but not hot yet, and while I could feel my legs working, I was nowhere near the point of exhaustion. 

There was one awkward point of the run, but it had nothing to do with my running. As I climbed the last little hill before my turn homeward, I found myself somewhere I had never been before: standing between a buzzard and its dinner. Now, I'm not sure exactly what kind of bird it was, so before the ornithologists come and get me, let me acknowledge that this thing looked like a buzzard and had clearly been eating something with a tail. That's enough for me to give it the name.

As I came around a tree, the bird did its awkward hop/walk maneuver into the shelter of the bush opposite its prey, leaving me a path directly between the two. This was not somewhere I particularly wanted to be, but given that I was moving pretty well, I figured it would choose its food over chasing me, and busted through.

Once past, I glanced back at the bird, which slowly began its trek back across the sidewalk, cautiously watching both directions for any more interruptions. I began to think of how this bird was actually kind of a coward. Sure, it's scary looking and people don't like them because of the connection they have with death, but really, buzzards aren't, by any means, threatening birds. They hunt things that have already died, and, evidently, run (not fly, mind you, so they're clearly not that smart) away from anything nearing them, particularly runners in bright green shirts.

How often have I looked at something from afar and been terrified? Something seems like it should be scary, and it becomes so, regardless of the actual danger it poses. A marathon can have the same effect on some people. You say twenty-six miles, and the blood just drops out of their faces. The more you run, however, you find out that your number one opponent in the marathon is boredom. You have to train yourself to keep moving for hours at a time without getting distracted, and the more you can do that, the less likely you'll be to encounter any sort of physical difficulty related to the race itself. 

And if you ever need a little extra motivation, just imagine yourself between and buzzard and its mid-afternoon snack.

That'll get you moving.

Thursday's workout:
78 degrees, cloudy
3.22 Miles

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The 99

Until today, I really did not want to go for any of my runs this week.

I'll go through swings where I'm excited to get out the door every day and others where I have no desire to run whatsoever. At the end of last year, one of those latter swings led to me complete very few miles from October through the end of December. While I keep reading quote after quote about people who live for their daily run, the simple fact is that sometimes I don't have the motivation.

I tend to feel really motivated in one phase of my life at a time. It's not an actual decision that I make, so much as an unfortunate coincidence. If I could get myself into a regular routine, perhaps I would have a better shot at splitting my focus effectively.

But I'm still working on that. The simple fact is that with a show closing and a busy month at work, my running hasn't had the kind of priority status that it could. You may notice the recent lack of blog posts, as I haven't found anything particularly interesting in the runs that I have completed. Still, I have managed to keep it as a part of my life, and each day, I've gotten out for my miles for one main reason. The streak.

Today was day 99 of straight running. While I did not want to get out the door Sunday or Monday, I simply could not stop at 95 days. No, no. You can't get that close to triple digits and walk. Or not walk. Sit. Whatever it is. You can't do it. So I ran Sunday afternoon and Monday evening to keep the streak alive. And Tuesday, my first steps were just as unenthusiastic. But something happened. After a mile or so, I felt the tension in my legs release, and with it went the stress of the day. I glanced down at my watch and saw my pace was faster than I had anticipated. I felt revived.

For three miles or so. Then the sun started to get to me. On a long, hot incline, I began to feel little tweaks and twists in my leg muscles, and I wondered if maybe it was time to take a break. But a little voice popped into my head. It hadn't been a good couple of days, and I really wanted a win. Not yet, said my voice. No walking yet.

The sun got hotter and my legs got tighter, but the voice got louder. I actually decided on a place to stop at one point, but when I got there, my legs kept moving. Don't stop. Keep running. So I kept moving, maintaining a surprisingly quick pace. There were a few short stops for traffic lights, but still, movement.

I felt incredible as I finished yesterday's run, and it made today's run so much better. Of course, it helped that I only had a quick recovery 5K, but I knew going in that the run would make me feel better, and I was right.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate my 100th straight day of running in the only fitting manner.

With speed work.

Wednesday's workout:
76 degrees, sunny
3.22 Miles

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stick to the Plan

...unless the plan is going to kill you.

A friend of mine ran the same Capitol 10K that I did. Around 35 minutes into the race, the sun really came out and started roasting the competitors. As my friend began his last mile, he would later remember that he started feeling heat climbing up his back, and a couple hundred yards from the finish line, he collapsed. He had succumbed to heat stroke, and for the following week he was not allowed to run as all the excess chemicals that were flowing through his body returned to normal. It's a terrifying prospect, and not one that I normally consider.

Heat will always be a factor for runners in Texas, but you can fool your body into thinking you are more ready for it than you are. Add to that other details like a full schedule, not enough food, and abbreviated sleep, and you could really have a recipe for disaster. When I began my run in the 70 degree pre-dawn world this morning, though, I didn't think too much about it.

My goal was to keep to an 8:00 pace for as long as it was comfortable, and at around 10 miles, as I started the long climb up South Lamar, the comfort began to wane. With 12 scheduled miles remaining, I wondered how I was going to finish this run with any sort of strength. Oddly, my legs were still moving well, but my body was getting tired quickly, and I was uncertain if this workout was really in the cards for me on this particular morning. I refocused myself and pushed on.

Then, at around 13, I got stopped by a red light, and realized that it was time for my second energy gel. I took it with some water, and as I waited for the light to change, I saw just how incredibly sweaty I was. My willpower was almost entirely gone, and I knew that I did not have 9 more miles in me.

So I was smart. I rested a few minutes and then, instead of the roundabout 9, I did the straight-shot 3 that would get me home. My speed was still there, but I didn't know if I would have the endurance to finish all the miles that I had planned. Turns out I was right.

With about one mile to go, I felt the last waves of energy leave me. I slogged (my mother's word for a "slow jog") through the final mile, soaking wet and struggling, but upright.

Certainly, I'm not going to complain about completing a 16+ mile run on a Saturday morning, but I was a little disappointed in my endurance for the day. The good news is that I've still got plenty of time, and I can point to any number of extenuating circumstances that contributed to my inability to run the absurd number of miles that I wanted to run. The most convincing reason is that I should not be doing runs over 20 miles on consecutive weeks. I had hoped through my build-up that I would be ready, but I also want to make sure that I'm strong in those later miles, and now that I'm in training, I can't afford to just care about the miles that I'm doing. I have to watch the minutes, too.

With that, I present my top ten "when in doubt" decisions for runners and running etiquette. When in doubt...

10) Don't spit. If you can't see where it'll land, don't let it fly.
9) Ask. Most runners love to share tips and secrets with others.
8) Don't run. Trying to run through excessive time crunches or illness will only lead to trouble.
7) Run for distance, not time. Build endurance first, and speed will follow.
6) Water. Sports drinks are great, but always get water, too.
5) Try both and see, by gut feeling, which is going to be best.
4) Assume that you are, in fact, injured, and rest the ailing body part.
3) Stick with what you know. Gear, routes, pace, anything. Routine makes for confidence.
2) Undertrain. This will always garner better results than overtraining.
1) Stop running and rest. You can't be better tomorrow if you break yourself today.

Be smart out there.

Saturday's workout:
68 Degrees, dark
16.34 Miles

Friday, April 6, 2012

Forward, Not Leaning

I knew that today wouldn't be easy.

With my next marathon eight weeks from tomorrow, it's time to start focusing on the little things that will truly make the difference in those end-of-race miles. The first, and for this race probably most important, skill to master is going to be running on pace without checking my watch every five steps. The number one way to accomplish this is running at my goal pace for extended periods of time. This morning, my goal was doing this for an hour.

When you really pay attention to your pace, avoiding a variety of distractions, you learn a lot about yourself as a runner. Mile one today reminded me that, early in the morning, the first miles aren't going to be the best ones I can run. It takes a few minutes for my legs to warm up, so even though the first mile was a few seconds above my goal, I knew that it was still solid. I really had to wait until mile two, however, to have an idea of how this run was actually going to go.

At which point, I found things to be going well. I was pushing slightly harder than I wanted, but I recognized that this was still early on. Mile three felt pretty much the same, but mile four brought some surprises. Having been within a few seconds on each mile thus far, I was suddenly 15 seconds fast. I'd let my mind wander a bit, and now taking stock once again, I realized how much easier I was moving. I took careful stock of how my body felt, and made some slight changes.

This was the point that I figured out exactly what my goal pace feels like. It feels forward, but not leaning.  Let me explain.

In order to keep landing on the middle of my feet, I try to keep my shoulders over my toes. This moves me forward and maintains my form. However, I also try to keep my head over my shoulders, and this is what really makes the difference. Instead of dropping my head and pushing too hard, I keep my head up over my shoulders and my pace is held to a strong but comfortable level.

With this adjustment in place, I passed mile five, and I was well ahead of my goals. My original hope was to keep up the strength through mile six, and as I neared this point, I became exceedingly optimistic of my ability to continue. Six. Seven. Eight. With one mile to go, I let my shoulders move forward ever so slightly and tried to push against the weariness that was creeping up. When the dust settled, I'd run an incredibly strong nine miles and had more confidence than ever in my pace. I'm certainly not ready for the race yet, but I'm well on my way.

At one point, I started thinking about tomorrow's 22-miler and how much I would enjoy running that nice, easy pace instead of today's speed. I took a second to check my pace on the watch, and found that, in that one moment of distraction, I slowed down significantly. One moment of thinking slow, and I found myself losing strength. The lesson? Think fast. Act fast.

Run fast.

Friday's workout:
60 degrees, cloudy
8.98 Miles

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Functional Form

Every runner has his or her own unique form.

It's a problem that's been plaguing track and cross country coaches for years. While there seems to be general agreement on various techniques that make for more efficient running, there is no way to point to any one running star and say, "Just run like he does," because every runner is different, so every runner has a slightly different form.

I still remember running cross country in junior high and high school and noticing the absurdities in everyone else's form. There was the tall guy who seemed to be jumping from one step to the next, and my smaller friend who always looked like he was leaning back against a heavy wind. There were the older girls on the team with their signature moves: one fell across the finish line every time and the other had, well, no form at all. You didn't want to run within a foot of her for fear of death by rogue limb. Then there was me, with my ridiculously high bounce and hair that went in all directions. By the end of the first week of training, you could pick anyone out by their stride from a half mile away.

While I'm sure that every one of us could have benefitted from some modifications to our stride, there was no way that my form was going to look anything like Lady Flail. Recently, with the resurgence of barefoot running, form has become one of the most talked-about aspects of running, and even though we can't all have Ryan Hall's perfection, there are several things we can do to make ourselves more efficient, which means more energy later in the race, which means better times.

First, posture is important. Running with your head down and shoulders slumped closes airways and leads to exhaustion. Keep your head up and your shoulders back, which will open up your chest and make room for more air. Not to mention the psychological benefit of looking strong and thereby feeling strong.

Moving down the body, the next thing to consider is the movement of your arms. This is difficult for me, as I've got bad form here. The ideal movement involves keeping your arms moving forward and backward, not across the body. The latter creates torque on your body which forces your legs (and particularly your knees) to compensate in order to keep you from spinning to the ground. By keeping the motion in one direction, you get the balance benefits without sacrificing stability.

The last major thing that I've been working on is landing on the middle of my foot. As any barefoot runner will tell you, the human heel is not designed to absorb any kind of shock. Notice how little muscle is there? When you land on your heel, the shock shoots up your leg and messes with knees, hips, and lower back muscles. By keeping your body forward and landing in the middle of your foot, you absorb the shock much more easily and the soft, strong muscle of your foot gives you a smoother landing than your heel ever could. It takes some practice, but you'll find that it makes you faster, too.

Where I really get into trouble, though, is when I'm tired. As a race pushes on or, say, I get to the fifth of eight half-mile repeats, my resolve starts to break down, and I begin to forget about all the form corrections on which I've had so much focus. And of course, this is when I need to remember them most of all. Alanis Morrissette would call this ironic. I'm not sure she's using that right.

My goal is to make little tweaks to my form in such a way that they become a part of my natural tendencies, rather than something I have to think about. And then, when I start repeat number six, I won't be quite so terrified of the upcoming miles. They'll be easy, relaxed, and strong.

Not to mention I'll look good.

Thursday's workout:
65 degrees, cloudy
8x800 on 1:00 rest
2:52     2:40
2:39     2:41
2:38     2:42
2:34     2:42

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Training Mode

I finally got myself into a training mindset today.

This wasn't the most useful time for it to happen, mind you, because today was meant for resting. I got to bed a little late last night, so waking up on time was not really in the cards. Fortunately, with only three resting miles to complete, I could easily fit the workout into my lunch break.

During the run, however, my mind strayed to what was ahead. I thought about tomorrow's speed work and the following day's 9-miler, not to mention the 22 miles that I've got on tap for Saturday. With so much on the horizon, it could be very easy to be overwhelmed, but instead of thinking of it as a large number of miles, I chose instead to focus on the individual challenges.

First, I've got my speed work tomorrow. I have found that my new workout of 800s leaves me with more energy and less trepidation than the 400s that I had been doing before. However, they're not as challenging, which means, theoretically, that they're not making me as strong. What is the solution? To look at the race that I'm choosing to run. If I were trying for a 5K personal record, 400s would make more sense, as my desired speed would be much higher. But I'm not. I'm running a marathon, during which my pace will never approach my current 800 time, let alone what I run in 400s. I think that tomorrow's plan will be 8x800, with a slightly faster time than I've been trying for in recent weeks.

Which brings us to Friday. These pre-long runs, according to Hal Higdon, should be run at or near race pace, in order to train my body exactly what the pace feels like over distance. I haven't been doing that the last few weeks, because technically, I haven't been in training. That starts now. I went over my course today and identified the mile markers in the hopes of keeping myself on pace throughout the run.

My trouble here will be the way that I've built up the miles. Though I've had several quality runs on Fridays, I've never tried to keep a pace, and to start doing that at 9 miles seems like it may be a little ambitious. Therefore, my plan is to keep the pace for as long as I can, at the very least 6 miles, and if I have to build later, then so be it. I've still got lots of time, and there's no point in pushing too hard if it's going to kill me. Especially the day before a long run.

And then my strategy on Saturday, as always, is to survive. The best preparation for this, of course, is to make sure that I fuel up properly on Friday, something I'm trying to focus on more carefully. If I can make it through these few big runs, I have no doubt that I'll be able to make it through the rest of my training, as I consider these two weeks to be the hardest on my schedule.

Good thing I'm planning ahead.

Wednesday's workout:
75 degrees, sunny
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Previous Mileage Factor

It's like my legs can recognize the roads they're on.

With a new mid-week distance, I had to put together a new route last night. While I've created a ten-mile course in my neighborhood, there are several points along the way that are without sidewalks. While this isn't such a big deal on a sunny Saturday morning, a dark and cloudy weekday is not the time to test the headlights of the city of Austin.

So, I basically combined the better part of two courses to create a new one that I knew would be safe for an early run. Knowing about my safety didn't make it any easier to get out the door in the morning, but I still managed to do it and hit the pavement.

The first mile felt a little difficult, which was a little frustrating. Now that I'm officially in training, I've got to start paying more attention to my pace during the run. After about 2 miles, I checked my pace and found that it was good, but not nearly as fast as it felt. It's always a problem when you realize that you're expending more energy to get less speed, so I began focusing on what might be wrong.

I went through the usual checklist. I'd gotten enough sleep the night before, I'd eaten well all day yesterday, and the previous day's run was far from taxing. Though this reminded me of how slow I ended up feeling on Monday as well. That's when it hit me: I may have been awake, but my body wasn't there yet.

For weeks now, I've been running at various times throughout the day, and my body has had plenty of time to wake up, including joints, lungs and all other various parts that are involved in the process. The last couple days, as I've actually gotten up on time, all of these parts have been rusty for the first few miles, so my runs have started with a slower-than-expected pace. Once these miles have been completed, my legs feel much better, but at that point, it's exceedingly difficult to increase speed.

It's an effect that this morning I termed the Previous Mileage Factor. It shows itself in many different aspects of the run. For one thing, the difficulty of one workout is directly related to how many miles you did in the last one. On the bright side, it also means that, like this morning, a few miles of warm up will lead to easier movement later in the run. All of this combined to a pretty decent second half of today's run.

Except for one little part. As I neared the end of the first part of my hybrid course, I felt my legs engage, seemingly of their own accord. This was the last half mile of the 8 miler I used to do, and my body was excited to be done. But then I took a right turn, and my legs got confused. For a minute or two, everything went a little haywire, as if my legs really believed they were almost done. The final two and a half miles, part of my 5K course, seemed much more difficult than they normally do on Wednesday mornings, and this is the last effect of the PMF. Any hill, regardless of size, becomes far more difficult after tough miles. This is why every marathon course has a late hill, just to test your ability to complete the work.

I completed everything in a decent time, regardless of the increased PMF of the day, and the knowledge of finishing ten miles on a Tuesday morning is more than enough to motivate one through the rest of the day.

Or so I hope to find out.

Tuesday's workout:
73 degrees, cloudy
10.31 Miles

Monday, April 2, 2012

Out of Time

I honestly wonder from time to time where my days go.

Every once in a while, I'll sit down and really map out the week that I've had, hour-by-hour. When I feel like I've been efficient every day but still didn't have time to complete everything that I needed to complete, I have to look at each day to see where I lost my time.

Usually, it happens on weeks of more than average activity, but there are always a few items to which I can point as culprits in the theft of my time. Sleep, for example, usually occupies more hours of my day than it needs to. Some say that your body sleeps as long as it needs to, but mine sleeps as long as my schedule allows it. If I don't hold myself to a certain number of sleeping hours each night, I'll snooze as long as I can and just end up being groggier than if I'd slept less. The first key to a more efficient week is sleep regulation.

Next comes work, but those hours are more regimented. It's my other work that usually creeps up on me. A couple hours of rehearsal here, a few hours of memorization there, and before you know it, I've got a part time schedule in addition to my full time job. Couple that with travel time, meals and the general loss of time moving from one activity to another, and there isn't time in the day for much else.

However, for almost 13 straight weeks now, I've made time for my run. Even if I haven't been able to get the blog post written for every one of them, I've made it out for at least three miles every single day since January 3rd.

Now, if I could get my run as regimented as I do my work, I'd be in good shape. I'm never more productive than when I've gotten my run and writing done first thing in the morning. It wakes up my body and my brain, it makes me climb in the shower and get dressed, and, perhaps most importantly, it means there are two fewer things on my "To Do" list for the day. This is my goal for April. Very much like February, I want to be up on time and out the door for my run. Unlike February, I won't be doing so for any kind of monetary reward. The bonus this time around will be my increased productivity and, thereby, my relaxed schedule and eased nerves.

It's important that I get myself focused now, because my training for the South Bend marathon has officially begun. There was a possibility that something else would need my attention that weekend, but as it turns out, I'm perfectly free. Two months from today, I'm going to qualify for Boston.

That is, if I can find the time.

Monday's Workout:
69 degrees, cloudy
5.15 Miles