Monday, February 5, 2018

Some literal, actual navel-gazing

Generally, under normal circumstances, there are only 3 people on earth who are interested in the contents of my internal organs: me, my husband (if he happened to cook dinner), and my primary care doctor.

However, get yourself one of these, and suddenly n > 3 people are a little bit more interested.

Tiny human #2 has intra-uterine dance party. Don't worry if you can't make out him/ her clearly. On normal ultrasounds the tech has to be like HERE ARE FEET, THIS IS THE HEAD. 

Once again I'm training to grow a wee human. (It's dead obvious to anyone Strava-stalking me: lots of run/ incline walk treadmill workouts, most of my jaunts were 2-4 miles tops for several weeks during the 'feeling like ass' phase of first trimester, my 'long' runs shrivelled to 5 miles...) People keep asking me "how do you feel?" Uh, I'm a parent, tired is my default state. So I've been going with the 'a little something each day' plan: a bit of movement every day, whether that's 20 minutes of treadmill walk, a group track workout, or a few sets of MYRTLs and 15 minutes of stretching. Instagram SuperHeroMotherRunner I am not. Right now, at this stage, I finally feel about ready to kick my long runs back up to over an hour, but the weather hasn't been cooperating and I have zero desire to treadmill for >1h.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, child, stripes, close-up and indoor

Here is a gratuitous picture of small human #1 for good measure, from a year ago when he insisted on calling a CD an "ABCD", which is still one of my favourite language mistakes ever, right up there with 'heligoggy' for 'helicopter'. (Side note: why do children's books still come with CDs? On what antique devices are we expected to play them?)

Anyway, yes...tiny human.... I realise that in itself sounds like another cliche: girl achieves great big huge marathon PR (see: Baystate), girl eases off training, girl celebrates, girl gets knocked up. After Baystate in October, apparently my body was like 'What? You're not running 50 miles a week? DEVOTE ALL THE RESOURCES TO EGGS!'

It all happened so rapidly that at least one person asked me (kindly) if it was planned. (Answer: yes. I take a year and a half to plan for a single marathon, we definitely planned this tiny human.) We were just very, very lucky. Under absolutely ideal circumstances there's like a 1 in 4 chance each cycle, so I was psychologically prepared for it to take half a year, if not more. And, knowing other people who have struggled so hard with fertility, I am very, very grateful (& also wish someone would record this data point re: running, BMI and fertility for a fuller picture). We decided to just go for it, like the crazy people we are (because daycare x2 + 1.5 incomes + 1 bedroom apartment = pretty certifiable, even if temporary).

But your racing fitness! 

Anyway, I'm not the only one to have the thought go through my head: what's the point of working my way back to full racing fitness and building up all that motivation and confidence only to essentially chuck it aside again for about a year and a half? Between 2014 and 2017, I ran a scant handful of races (but oh I was so much more SRSBZNS about each one). It took me a year (tbh, partly physical conditioning, partly milk-supply-related anxiety) to work my way back to the point where I could happily finish a half marathon. I didn't run a marathon for three years. Why, after having achieved this level of fitness, would I want to 'throw it all away' again?

The truth is, folks, I'm playing a long game. I'm not on anybody's timeline but my own: I'm not training to qualify for the Olympic Trials, or even BQ (and heck, you bet I will take that age advantage, because #squeakerlife!). I'm not in any hurry. Racing and all its joys will be there when I'm ready. The tremendous advantage of being a mediocre (lazy) hobby-jogger is: There is no pressure. I can always improve some more. Heck, I have a friend who still sets PRs. In her 50s. Don't talk to me about over the hill; we runners eat hill repeats for breakfast.

Plus, I really like the kid I do have. Sure, I didn't sleep and existed in a rage-filled haze for a year and a half of my life, but for someone who was so demanding and angry at night, he sure is a sunshine child in the daytime. (Said a friend who just had her second: I forget, how do you get them to sleep? I looked at her blankly. Don't look at me, I don't know.) Sure, sometimes it's a PITA to wrangle everything, toddler clothing and snacks and all, for a 30min stroller run; but the look on his face when we pass a train, or various species of truck! And it is honestly fun to run at top (stroller) speed while pretending to be a spaceship or bellowing variations on Old MacDonald Had A Farm ('and on that farm there were...uh...some stegosaurs') with nary a worry about what other runners think.

I never really thought of myself as a 'kid person' and am still not a 'tiny infant' person; other people's children are cute and entertaining for a while and all that, but MY CHILDREN, oh, they are delightful. (YMMV. I obviously do not think this sentiment is universal.) Small #1 sometimes still insists on falling asleep with his hand on my arm or tummy, looking at me like 'duh, mom, you do not have bodily autonomy, you are an extension of me'. (In breaking science news, well crumbs, I *am* actually an extension of him. Who knew.)

In the meantime, I run because it allows me to be me. Not worker bee, not mama bear, not meal-planner-and-dinosaur-toy-imagineer-in-chief, just Runner Me. In another life this touchstone for my identity was dance. (Also mediocre hobby dancer, thank you very much.)

Comeback lessons from being a working mother 

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who's expecting her first kid around the same time; having run at a pretty high level before, she expressed concern that she'd have to give it all up after kids and never regain the same level of performance. Well...sort of. Sometimes there are serious physical complications and medical considerations that force women to cut back on running - but otherwise, barring those, no.

Here's a parallel. Remember when women used to leave the workforce completely after having children? This anecdote from superstar MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins reveals what it was like to be a working woman in the 1960s and 70s, and the kind of internalised biases one had:

"The science drew me to Jim’s lab every available moment.
I lived in a state of euphoric scientific excitement. Jim
told me repeatedly I should be a scientist. I knew I couldn’t
live without this science, but how could I be like these men?
Even postdocs had wives who stayed home to care for their
children while the men put in 70-hour weeks at the lab. Who
would care for my children? I knew I would have to give up
science before I had children: in the era before amniocentesis,
that meant before the age of 30. So I made a plan: do
the most exciting science possible as fast as you can, hope
you do a Nobel Prize–winning experiment before the age of
30, then retire and be a wife and mother."
  - (Source)

These days, that sounds pretty preposterous. It's no longer assumed that women have babies and leave the workforce, or that no one else will take care of their kids. In our generation, most women (and a growing number of men, but I refer to women because that's who typically bears the physical burden of being pregnant and going through labour/ postpartum everything) recognise that whether we want to return to work or not, we have real choices that are ours to consciously make. The support systems aren't perfect, and in the US much, much more could be done to make them affordable for the average family, but the choice is bound not by physical factors but social ones.

There's a bit of a parallel there with running, though of course the physical aspect is more important. It's a new world. Even pro athletes are in basically uncharted territory - look at Paula Radcliffe, who won the New York City Marathon in 2008 after having a baby in 2007, or Jo Pavey, five-time GB Olympian ( there something about the UK support system that helps distance runners more? Makes you think, especially about the long-term future of the current crop of up and coming US women runners. HMMM. HEY.) Or in non-running sports, look at Serena Williams, fighting her way back to the WTA circuit. 

And just like it takes time and patience and hard work to ease back into work after maternity leave, it takes time and patience and hard work (and planning and physical conditioning) to ease back into running. (I'm talking about average-hobby-jogging here, not Olympic-qualifying, and really the audience here is that segment of people who started running well before babies were a twinkle in their eye, not so much the segment who took it up after kids because then that's two different kinds of uncharted and unfamiliar territory and you have no pre-existing mental standards by which you judge yourself anyway.) Most people don't hit the office at full speed after two months of sleep deprivation and talking to themselves; you wouldn't hit the track at full speed either. And maybe you won't be able to throw yourself into 70-hour work weeks, but damn if you don't get more efficient with your 40 hours. It all takes deliberate and conscious effort, and MacGyvering yourself an adequate support system. There's floundering. Mistakes will be made. It gets messy. And sometimes expensive, and not within everyone's financial reach. But maybe, just maybe, it's possible. (So Rachel, if you're reading this, don't lean out just yet!) 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Running and life, lately

a mini-post in the spirit of Running Tangents & SF Road Warrior

October to this week:

Ran marathon. Worked. Ran with friend (Char) when she came to the US for the New York City Marathon! Work travel. Went on epic mud-run with friend (Cat) in her new habitat and attempted to help her chase down a new local running friend! Flew home. Worked. In untraining mode. Shorter days, longer hours of darkness. Completely sold on reflective vests. Went home at Thanksgiving, halfway round the world, to see family for two weeks. Hot and humid. Ran accordingly. Stuffed my face with prata, chwee kuay, fishballs*, prawn noodles, home-cooked everything, et.c. Ran with friend (Rachel). Saw more friends. Ran, with & without kid & stroller, in several old haunts. Flew home. Battling jetlag monster. Work.

Om nom nom. We ate all the things. 

old haunts: good old Ulu Pandan Canal

Japan Airlines: cutest kids' meal ever. THE RICE. IT HAS A FACE.

*Tops the list of 'surprise food my toddler likes'. Also on the list: octopus sashimi. Even if he did spend ages chewing it to the detriment of the rest of his meal.

Micro mini book reviews:
Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures - a little rah-rah, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. No, I haven't seen the movie 
Hari Kunzru, White Tears - an unsettling rumination, not-quite-a-ghost-story, on hipsters, music, race, and atonement 
Sheryl Sandberg, Option B - I still can't say I love Sheryl Sandberg, but she's trying. More self-aware than Lean In. 
John le Carre, A Legacy of Spies - Le Carre, definitive spy-novel author (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy) is 85 and still writing! A Legacy of Spies is a satisfying modern-day spin on the 1960s spy genre, with all the ethical and narrative ambiguity you love from John le Carre. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Race report: Baystate Marathon 2017

I've never actually hit the wall in a marathon. Never even had the chance. I always cramp before I ever get to that point, and always in the same place, the vastus medialis part of the quads. After my last marathon disappointment, I headed to the physiotherapist who said in no uncertain terms: work on glute strength.

Well, three years later, here we are and I've just done marathon #7, the Baystate Marathon in Lowell. How did it go? Read on...


If you've been playing along for a while, you know I spent 7 years in journalism. Daily news reporting is sort of a non-schedule: news happens at any hour of the day or night. There was lots of shift work, and lots of 12-to-14-hour days during crises. I loved it, but it was kind of all-consuming. The point is, training through years of being a journalist, even before kids, was excellent training for fitting in the training around major stresses.

So when the husband's month-long work trip was rescheduled from November to September-October, I managed to deal. Just barely. I ran with the stroller. I ran at midday when it was 85 degrees out, in full sun. I had a neighbour babysit on Thursdays after D went to bed, and did the second half of my long run on a weeknight on the treadmill. In the end, my mileage for this training cycle totalled something like 640 miles over 18 weeks, not including the marathon: nothing spectacular, but a slow and steady drip drip of consistent work.

A note about time

The backstory: Back in 2014, I ran my 6th marathon at Gold Coast in Australia. While it was a gorgeous day out, marathon #6 was a crushing disappointment for me, due to debilitating cramps and likely under-training and under-fueling. Yes, it was a PR; but a PR by a single, hard-fought second, and way closer to the 5-hour mark than I wanted to be, or that all the race equivalency calculators said I 'ought' to be. In the three years since, I'd convinced myself that my inner 'turtle girl' was right - that I have no real business running marathons... but the itch to do so was still there.

When you have absolutely nothing to lose, you let go and become a master of total non-attachment. I let go completely of any marathon time goals. My process goal for Baystate was to train properly, stick to my race strategy, and see how it went. I even outsourced my training plan - I asked Coach Nicole from Community Running to write me a plan for a small extra fee, and we'd check in with a phone call every so often.

Somewhere along the line I said to her, "I know exactly how I want to feel during the race. You know the middle miles of a half marathon? With the sun shining and the wind in your hair, and you're flying along, feeling the earth return to you all the energy you put into it with every step? THAT is how I want to feel." And I believed it with every fibre of my being, and I knew that it was true.

I'd trained using a goal pace of 9:05, which roughly dictated my tempo and speed efforts, but by the time race week rolled around, I was so burned out from work and solo parenting that I honestly no longer cared if that was race day pace or not. (See: no time goals.) Plus, I tend to be on the slower side of race calculator predictions the longer the distance gets, even if conditions are perfect. Perhaps I'm just too chicken to race a hard half or full marathon. That's fine. I'll get there.

But not Sunday. I had every intention of finishing, and no intention of pushing hard.

Before the race

I drove up with my friend T, who was doing her first marathon, and we checked in to the Radisson in Chelmsford around 3pm Saturday before hitting up the expo at the same hotel. I'm not an expo-lingerer unless I spot an amazing deal on consumables I already use (gels, socks, etc). We wandered around for a bit, did our nails back in the hotel room, and headed out to dinner at Scola's Italian in Dracut. The portion sizes were so big, I had enough linguine + meatballs left for myself, husband and child the day after! Ahhh, America. We fell asleep around 9pm.

At 5am, T's alarm went off. I'm so used to waking at all hours and getting very little sleep that a 5am wakeup call was fine by me. Morning routine, totally practiced and utilitarian after weeks of 5.30am long runs. Instant oatmeal, coffee, nuun, wash face, visit bathroom, get dressed. Bodyglide, bra, tank top, shorts, socks, shoes, Garmin. Decided to run without visor, gloves, arm sleeves, or water bottle. 6:15 shuttle bus to the start. Drop off bags. Run into friends, take selfie, head in to UMass's Tsongas Center to wait, pee, eat a Luna bar. I felt - loose. Preternaturally calm. Totally zen.

By 7.45, it was already warm enough that I wasn't shivering in the start corral - so, a little warmer than ideal. So what? That's not something I can control. Plus no sleeves or gloves or bottle to weigh me down. I planned to start with 9:30s and hold that pace throughout. Anthem.  Pushrim start. And then we began.

Zen habits

Miles 1-5. 10:20, 9:21, 9:16, 9:32, 9:40.  Gel at mile 5. My plan was to take a gel every 5 miles and water at every water stop (about every 2 miles).

I started somewhere around the 10min/mile section of corral, and took the start very easy (10:20, mile 1). I chatted with people, including a woman doing her first marathon, and then had to pick my jaw up off the floor when we ran by her family and FIVE kids - the youngest were 5-year-old twins, I think. (Spoiler: she finished with me.)

I saw my fan club (Mr. GCA and D-money) who had driven up from Boston that morning and strategically situated themselves up the road from a giant playground. After I saw them the first time...well, what do you do with a toddler while mom runs a fall marathon? You go pumpkin picking, apparently. Now we have two enormous pumpkins and a toddler who has learned the word 'wheelbarrow' and uses it enthusiastically.

Miles 6-10. 9:29, 9:16, 9:37, 9:28, 9:28. Gel at mile 10.

Fall colours on full display. The course wound through mostly residential neighbourhoods until we got to the part along the river, heading northeast towards the Tyngsboro Bridge. At mile 8 I saw a teammate - hooray! - who shot the single happiest photo I've ever seen of myself during a marathon. It's pretty easy to be happy at mile 8.

photo credit: Tommy M. 

Miles 11-15. 9:38, 9:25, 9:53, 9:28, 9:38. Gel at mile 15. Surprise! Got the single salted watermelon gel I'd packed in my SPIbelt amid all the sea salt chocolate GUs I'd bought in bulk. It was a very tasty game of roulette.

I sang "Top of the World" to myself over and over in the exposed middle miles, and meant it.

Somethin' in the wind has learned my name
And it's tellin' me that things are not the same
In the leaves on the trees and the touch of the breeze
There's a pleasin' sense of happiness for me

I'm on the top of the world lookin' down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I've found ever since you've been around
Your love's put me at the top of the world

Why is nobody else running the tangents? People are weird. (For the record, I finished with 26.2 on my Garmin, and I think this is actually just really good tangent-running rather than a short course.)
Roadkill: Only two dead animals this year! The 'highlight' of last year's half was a flattened raccoon.
Slow and steady. If I'm Turtle Girl, I'm going to own it.

Miles 16-20. 9:48, 9:30, 10:04, 9:59, 9:53. Gel at mile 20.

I still felt good, like I was merely on an extended long run, but the lengthy exposed stretch around mile 18 was starting to get hot. I knew that I could certainly make it to mile 20, as I'd done on my long runs, and then I could re-evaluate how I felt beyond that.

To distract myself, I chatted with a senior gentleman. At my pace, there are always senior gentlemen, the sort of crusty gent who's been running for decades and is now basically enjoying life. This one told me war stories of marathons past, talked about running Baystate in its early days, and BQ'ed by finishing a few minutes ahead of me. When we got to mile 20, I said, this is the fun part now, isn't it?

Miles 21-23. 10:21, 10:16, 10:41.

I could feel my quads starting to protest, and gritted my teeth at mile 23 as the protest crescendoed into a full-blown revolt. It was warm now, and I knew from last year that the final miles were in direct sunshine. At each of the last few water stops I downed a full cup of Gatorade, which helped stave off the cramps for a minute or two each time.

Miles 24-26.2. 10:56, 10:39, 11:21, 9:37 pace for final 0.2.

With my quads cramping hard as usual, I was in no mood to walk and take a gel at mile 25 - I just wanted to keep shuffling on into the finish. Shuffle, shuffle. One foot in front of the other. All I had to do was not stop and I could be proud of my effort.

I didn't stop. 4:19:38.

The end

You guys. YOU GUYS. That is nearly 35 minutes off my last marathon time. The cramps didn't kick in till Mile 23, much later than usual, which I think is testament to being (mostly) properly trained and being pretty conservative. (A 22-miler next time, perhaps? Step-mill for cross-training? And some real lifting instead of just myrtls?)

I think what I'm happiest about here is that I finally feel like I'm beginning to run the marathon to my potential, my fitness and my training. I managed to stick with the race plan until the cramps really started in earnest. That decision to try and hold 9:30s, or rather a comfortable sort of just-a-little-faster-than-long-run pace, instead of pushing any harder, was the right one. I enjoyed the whole darn thing. Even the crampy bits.

Maybe one day I'll race a marathon - go out at a harder effort, endure discomfort for more of the marathon, see where it gets me. Right now? I'm satisfied with this.

A special message for Turtle Girl

*sings* I'm gonna get that turtle right off of my back -- BYE, FELICIA. It's been a long, strange trip from that 6+ hour marathon to this point. (Apparently when I PR, I go big or go home?) I am not a frequent racer, let alone of marathons, so each one is a bit of a milestone.

December 2009 - 6:18 - my first marathon. No idea what to expect. There was cramping. And walking. A lot of walking. 

December 2010 - 6:30 - total disaster, GI distress, threw up, never did eat or drink enough. Weirdly enough, caught up with friend who was also having stomach trouble, and we walked to the finish together.

March 2011 - 5:15 (Tokyo. -63 minutes) I don't recall the circumstances in which I signed up, because you had to enter the lottery well before December 2010, so I was somehow hoping to run two marathons ~3+ months apart...?? I'm not even sure what I was thinking. I think Tokyo was supposed to be some sort of casual vacation-run.

(Took a long break here to delve into the wacky world of triathlons)

December 2012 - 5:19:54 - another Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon

August 2013 - 4:54:18 (-20 minutes at Perth)

July 2014 - 4:54:17 (-1 second at Gold Coast)

(Had D-money in 2015. 2016-17: ran 5 half marathons; 4 were race efforts; 3 were under 2h, so, you know, pretty reliable.)

October 2017 - 4:19:38 (-35 minutes)

I'll bask in the glow for about a week. Where are my cape and tiara? Thank you, thank you. Then I'll recognise that this is equal parts valid and addle-pated, and then buckle down and start thinking about my next adventures in hobby jogging.

Thanks must go to:

  1. Husband, for taking the toddler during all of those weekend long runs and freeing me up to go do stupid sh*t like run 3.3 miles on the treadmill on Sunday afternoon so I'd hit exactly 50 miles for the week. Even when he abandoned us to do a month of fieldwork, he batch-cooked like two weeks' worth of meals beforehand. You're the best. Love you!  
  2. Community Running. Somehow track workouts are more fun in a giant group, even if you are generally DFL in the marathon group.
  3. And especially Coach Nicole. I asked her to write me a plan - essentially outsourcing all my planning and worrying, since I have quite enough to worry about. She did all the worrying for me, and then some. I'm pretty sure I gave her a heart attack a bunch of times during this training cycle.  
  4. Baystate organisers and the city of Lowell for putting on a good show. Did I mention the water and Gatorade at every stop were COLD? Also, people of the Merrimack Valley, you guys are A+ spectators, y'all.

Race logistics

Marathon finishers: 1,332. There's also a popular half marathon option, where I got my PR last year and sliced 10 minutes off my previous half time.
Course: Two loops - one big loop and one small one (if that makes any sense). Mostly flat, one uphill at the start, mini rollers. GORGEOUS fall scenery along the river. Somewhat exposed around miles 8-11, 18-21. The route is narrow in parts (down to half a lane or just a road shoulder), but the field is small enough that it's not a concern.
Start time: 8am (you get to wait inside the Tsongas Center at UMass till about 20 minutes before the start, so don't worry about packing a throwaway shirt unless it's freeeeezing)
Parking: $5 flat / day parking at 3 designated garages, free street parking throughout the city of Lowell on race day.
Transport: For the second year running, the organisers offered shuttles from the race hotels, both to and from the race. <- huge perk!
Course support: Fluid stops every ~2 miles. Both water and lemon-lime Gatorade supplied by perky, adorable high-school cross-country teams at each stop. GU gels at miles 7 and 17.
Swag: Long-sleeved gender-specific tech tee with thumb holes, hefty finisher medal with moving parts
Post-race food: Cape Cod potato chips, PB&J sandwiches, bananas, and 3 different kinds of soup - chicken noodle, minestrone, and vegetable
Photos: Free (!), by Capstone Photography

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Just your usual marathon-training freak-out

Just over here having my regular Friday night pre-long-run freak-out...

Boston registration season is always a trigger, even though BQing is only a vague and long-term goal for me right now. Early September is right before big fall races, and other people's anxiety gets to me. Plus the eternal debate over qualifying standards just reminds me exactly. how. far. off. that is for me. (1 hour, 19 minutes, and 17 seconds, plus two or three or five minutes of buffer, plus however much the BAA decides to tighten standards in future. Squeak, squeak. At which point I just throw up my hands and think 'eh, I should just give up now'.)

And then there's the identity thing. It's getting a little embarrassing: I am a small person, built like your stereotypical runner, who *looks* like she should be 'fast'. Whatever 'fast' means. It comes up in conversation when people hear I'm a runner. "Oh, are you going to do Boston?" And then I have to awkwardly extricate myself. You know how people who've lost a lot of weight are sometimes haunted by an inner 'fat kid'? I have an inner 'turtle girl'. Deep down I'll always be the girl who took six hours to finish her first marathon. Turtle girl says, dafuq are you doing here? Turtle girl says, echoing all those beardy crusty old guys in the deeply speedist and sexist history of the sport, You have no business running marathons.

It's true, I don't have a great history with marathons. I cramp, every single time. I happily run the first 20 miles with no ill effects, thinking I'm on track to finish strong and smooth, and then BAM! the quad cramps take over and I hobble home. I have no time goals for Baystate, I just. Want. To. Bloody. Not. Cramp. Is that too much to ask? I suppose I could walk the whole way and avoid cramps, but where's the fun in that?

I think the crux of this is, I'm afraid I'll just cramp up and be disappointed again this year. I'm afraid I'll feel like I've wasted all this time and effort in training. More than the training or the finish time, the disappointment lies in the sense that I'm not really running to my full potential the way I am with half marathons. And trying to push the limits of my potential is part of how and why running makes me happy.

I keep watching and rewatching this talk by Hillary Biscay: look where you go, and you'll go where you look. "If you're willing to keep showing up until you get where you want to go, you can't stop relentless forward progress."

I mean, there's no turning back now, is there? I still enjoy training. I still enjoy the act of running. And I'm still going to do this marathon. The only way out is through...

Monday, August 14, 2017

A trying week

It's been a trying week. Not personally. (Personally? It's great. Baystate training is chugging along - I love summer training and fall racing. Training logs are always available over at Salty Running.) I mean, if you are in America and you are a woman or a person of colour, I am very very sorry and I feel your emotional exhaustion and disgruntlement and terror and distrust of the environment you live in, as though what you thought was stable (we've advanced rational thinking about gender since the 1950s, the civil rights movement won in the 1960s) was shifting like quicksand beneath your feet.

Anyway, it's Sunday night and time to reset, and here I am drinking coffee and eating ginger molasses cookies from Flour bakery and peaches and cucumbers and that Trader Joe's cheddar cheese with little dark flecks that are supposedly fragments of truffle and thinking about eating and why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks it has to be so complicated.

Go read this fantastic Guardian piece
'How we fell for clean eating'. If you haven't read it yet, go and read it! in its entirety!
The whole tragic piece has so much truth in it, from how people lost their trust in the food system:
"In prosperous countries, large numbers of people – whether they wanted to lose weight or not – became understandably scared of the modern food supply and what it was doing to our bodies: type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a host of other complaints that are influenced by diet, ranging from Alzheimer’s to gout. When mainstream diets start to sicken people, it is unsurprising that many of us should seek other ways of eating to keep ourselves safe from harm. Our collective anxiety around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet – inflated by newspaper headlines – could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these “experts” say next, and why should we believe them? "
To the losing battle of trying to separate the truth from the snake oil:
"The true calamity of clean eating is not that it is entirely false. It is that it contains “a kernel of truth”, as Giles Yeo puts it. “When you strip down all the pseudo babble, they are absolutely right to say that we should eat more vegetables, less refined sugar and less meat,” Yeo said, sipping a black coffee in his office at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, where he spends his days researching the causes of obesity. Yeo agrees with the clean eaters that our environment of cheap, plentiful, sugary, fatty food is a recipe for widespread obesity and ill health. The problem is it’s near impossible to pick out the sensible bits of “clean eating” and ignore the rest. #Eatclean made healthy eating seem like something “expensive, exclusive and difficult to achieve”, as Anthony Warner writes. Whether the term “clean” is used or not, there is a new puritanism about food that has taken root very widely. ..
The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without bouncing back to a mindless celebration of the modern food environment that is demonstrably making so many people sick..."
And to the systemic inequalities that enable the affluent to indulge in the luxury of 'clean eating' and other nonsense, while leaving everyone else with no other choice:
"Our food system is in desperate need of reform. There’s a danger that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic task of nourishing us. Former orthorexia sufferer Edward L Yuen has argued – in his 2014 book, Beating Orthorexia – that the old advice of “everything in moderation” no longer works in a food environment where eating in the “middle ground” may still leave you with chronic diseases. When portions are supersized and Snickers bars are sold by the metre (something I saw in my local Tesco recently), eating “normally” is not necessarily a balanced option. The answer isn’t yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food...
Among the affluent classes who already ate a healthier-than-average diet, the Instagram goddesses created a new model of dietary perfection to aim for. For the rest of the population, however, it simply placed the ideal of healthy food ever further out of reach. Behind the shiny covers of the clean-eating books, there is a harsh form of economic exclusion that says that someone who can’t afford wheatgrass or spirulina can never be truly “well”. "
I'd add one more caveat: even balanced, 'normal' healthy eating is a luxury. It's easier to be balanced about food, with no hang-ups, when society deems your body to be a desirable shape and size, *and* when you have full access to a wide variety of foods. And when you have the ability and time and freedom to move and exercise. Now 'eat food, not too much, mostly plants' begins to look a whole lot more complicated, doesn't it?

Ugh, so what's a sensible individual to do? Is there no way to push back against the tide of fad diets (which by the way, have probably existed as long as there is food, and have always been a luxury for the affluent) and absurd eating 'rules' and a broken food system? Is there no way to fix it?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Baystate week 4 on the books

Week 4 of 18. Motto for this week: just keep showing up.

The first month of marathon training is always exciting. It’s a thrill, like starting the first page in a new notebook, or perhaps getting your calendar organised for a new year. (Fine, I was a huuuuge nerd.) But then five different teachers announce their first quizzes of the school year, give you 250 pages of reading, and assign two papers all at once, and the semester begins to lose its shine. Well, I can tell you that the end of week 4 in an 18-week training cycle is when you realise, oh, I have to settle in for the long haul. Sort of like mile 6-7 of a marathon. Man, it’s a good thing I actually like to run...

Monday – speedwork on treadmill. Warmup, cooldown, 8x 5min @ 8:00 mile pace with 2min walking/ jogging recovery; total 6.5 miles. This was a pretty satisfying speed workout: a little more mental toughness in the bank.

+ lots of sitting on the porcupine ball

Tuesday – 5 miles easy

Wednesday – 4.5 miles easy with stroller. I was supposed to do 6 tempo today but I got to Wednesday and decided my legs needed an extra day to recover, so what do I do on Thursday but…

Thursday – 10min cycling warmup + lifting. A sure sign that I haven’t been keeping up with my #extrasalt – I was sore for two days after repeatedly lifting weights only a bit heavier than my son. (How does that even work? I lift him all the time.) Gym session was followed by 40 minutes of tempo-effort pool running. I figured I’d try this since I was going to the gym anyway and didn’t really want to do my tempo in a thunderstorm…

…and then my Timex expired. Pool running was the last straw. RIP; those were some good times!

Friday – AM 2.5 easy with stroller, PM 2.5 back and forth to lunch. I felt like I was waddling; my legs were still sore.

Saturday – 13 miles with miles 10-12 speeded up (9:20, 9:40, 9:58) and then back to ambling mile 13.
Marathon training before kids: do long run, shower, have a lazy brunch, take a nap, read/ engage in hobbies all afternoon
Marathon training after kids: do long run, shower, hastily tidy the house before husband and son get back from the supermarket + playground run, read to kid, finally acquiesce to request for [screen time/ slightly junky snack/ extraordinarily messy art project], put him down for a nap, go to lake with friends after he wakes up, splash around trying to stop small children from hurling selves bodily into water, etc.

Sunday – rest (zoo with friends, epic nap, pool time, go out for sushi and fried rice dinner - basically a perfect Sunday)

Currently reading: The World According to Star Wars, by Cass Sunstein.

Currently eating: Chocolate ice cream with a…ahem, generous sprinkling of chocolate chips.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Baystate Marathon training, week 3

Week 3 of 18 for Baystate.

Motto for this week: consistency, consistency, consistency.

I went back and looked at my old training logs for the last two marathons I did (Perth, in August 2013, and Gold Coast, in July 2014). I was nominally using the Hansons beginner plan, but not really adhering properly to it, and my peak mileage was maybe 45 miles due to work and...seriously, a 2.5-week trip to Italy in the middle of one cycle. Seriously. What was I thinking?

But now I've been running consistently (like 20-30 miles a week), trained for three half marathons in the last year (May 2016, October 2016, May 2017), and actually run 5 half marathons (May 16, Oct 16, Nov 16, March 17, May 17, some as training runs for the others) maybe this round I'll be somewhat more prepared for a full marathon? Something like that?

Monday - AM: 4 miles easy with stroller. PM: track with the group. 2 mi warmup, 3(1200,400). Total for the day: 9 miles

Tuesday - 3.2 miles easy with stroller. We went to a northern Massachusetts farm in the morning for some end-of-season strawberries, and had to drive 45 minutes back. Uh-oh! Any time the kiddo has a car ride after 10am, he takes a mini nap that ruins his real one. Inevitably, he took a 30-minute car nap. 1pm rolled around, and still no real nap. nap. So in the heat of the day, I loaded up the stroller, slathered us with sunscreen, and took the kiddo for a run...all the way to the ice cream shop. Happy Fourth of July!
one for the for the mouth. one for the bucket...

Wednesday - Warmup, cooldown, 5 miles tempo: 8:58, 9:12, 8:48, 9:22, 9:14. Tempo runs are HARD, y'all. Total 6 miles

Thursday - Ran with a friend who was visiting from out of town! (Thank goodness for flexible hours so I can do things like this; I tend to make it all up at night, which suits me fine.)
Original plan: run downtown to meet her, run 3 miles, run home. Got stuck doing work. Made up new plan: take the T downtown to meet her, run a bit, run home. Then I was stuck on the world's slowest bus and there were delays on the T (oh, Boston). Ran downtown to meet her, ran 3 more miles, took the T back and ran to daycare pickup for a total of 6 miles.

Friday - rest

Saturday - long run, 12 miles.

sunrise over the reservoir 

Sunday - unplanned rest day, because I honestly needed that extra hour of sleep more than I needed a few easy miles today; we went to the beach in the morning and then to a toddler birthday party in the afternoon.

Total: 36.2 miles, which is a nice gentle ramp-up for me instead of trying to jump straight into 40+ miles a week.
Yes, the 0.2 mile does not drive me crazy. I'm a Type A in life and a Type B in running.

Currently reading: Commencement, about the friendship between four young women during and after college. The characters sometimes tell, not show, rather clumsily, but it's not terrible. Unfortunately I saw the 'reveal' coming from a mile away, but it was a sufficiently entertaining summer read; I especially enjoyed how spot-on the portraits were, and how exactly the book captured the sense of dislocation that college freshmen experience.

Currently listening to: Cape Francis, 'Iditarod'

Currently eating: Homemade strawberry shortcake, using that Fourth of July haul

Friday, July 7, 2017

Marathon Training for the Completely Average Runner: Weeks 1-2 of 18

Believe it or not, I am still chugging along running. I read this Quartz article recently about the importance of having 'serious' or otherwise meaningful leisure pursuits - ones where you have to practice and regularly refine your skills.
"...the weekend goal should be “eudaimonic” happiness, which is a sense of well-being that arises from meaningful, challenging activities that cause you to grow as a person. This means spending the weekend on serious leisure activities that require the regular refinement of skills: your barbershop-quartet singing, your stamp collecting, or slightly less dorky, but still equally in-depth, projects. You pursue serious leisure with the earnest tenor of a professional, even if the pursuit is amateur..."
Sounds a lot like hobby jogging to me!

Other components of a Really Good Weekend might include socialising (which may or may not revolve around said hobby - see 'church of the Sunday long run'), altruism (like volunteer work), and play. Especially play. Sometimes the early evening seems to drag as we kill time while waiting for D-money to go to bed, but sometimes there are moments of magic as we entertain him and lose ourselves in singing silly songs, having dinosaur-train face-offs, or making him laugh by sketching badly drawn animals on the Magna Doodle.

Toddler icecreamface. He wouldn't take a nap, so we went for a run so he could get a little rest...all the way to the ice cream shop.  

What all this leads up to is that I'm currently training for the Baystate Marathon on October 22. I ran the half last year and liked it; it's a two-loop course that I know; it usually has good (cold!) weather; and it's part of the USATF New England Grand Prix series so I'll have plenty of company, even if pretty much everyone else running with a club team is miles ahead of me.

Process goals for this round: 

- Commit to doing something, anything, every day, that isn't running, to support my running. Sometimes that's a bunch of squats and MYRTLs. Sometimes (often) it's stretching and rolling. Sometimes it's getting a massage...

- Stick to my training plan. I’ve been, in the past, resistant to either a structured training plan or to working with a coach beyond a running-group situation. What, little old me? I’m not remotely fast enough to deserve personal coaching. There’s so much low-hanging fruit – if I ran more, slept more, or ate better, I’d be faster.

Truth is, as a working parent, I need a PLAN to run more, or to really capture any of that low-hanging fruit at all. I don’t want to have to think about how far or how fast I have to run on any given day. I want to look at the plan and just go. I have enough to think about already: from weekend social plans and longer-term work travel/ vacation planning, to whether daycare needs an extra shirt or sun hat, to meals and grocery shopping for the week, to the status of client projects at any given time. (Who says parents make bad employees? We’re masters of logistics and problem-solving. And we get sh*t done.) I don’t want to be out there second-guessing myself or thinking ‘Maybe I don’t have time for 7 miles today, how about 5?’ and then short-changing myself and stressing out about making it up on the weekend.

So, I’m outsourcing my marathon thinking to one of my running-group coaches; she’s given me a fairly detailed and sensible-looking plan, with instructions to switch things around as needed (but not run hard two days in a row, duh), and some apparently very ambitious paces. (Yes, I already told her I have no marathon time goals!) What’s the worst that could come of it? If I manage to stick to the plan and go into the race feeling more prepared, so much the better.

Training logs, week 1 and 2 

Week ending June 25 - week 1 of 18 and probably the toughest week of the 18! Motto this week: survival mode. 

This was just hard all round. I was solo parenting this week, and had to squeeze in all my workouts (speed, tempo, long run) during daycare hours. Easy runs could be done with or without the stroller, whichever. I had calls for work most mornings so running right after daycare drop-off was out of the question; I wound up doing a few mid-afternoon runs and a few hiding in the gym on the treadmill, which is a last resort for me but at least it's convenient and efficient.

so tired. moar coffee pls

Monday - warmup, cooldown, 8x800 at 7:55-8:20/mi pace. Coach didn't specify a rest or recovery interval, so I improvised: 2 minutes of walking in between reps. (She later suggested equal rest or recovery. I do not plan that well and therefore never have time for that.) Done at 2pm on treadmill. Total 6 miles.

Tuesday - easy 5 miles

Wednesday - warmup, cooldown, 3 tempo miles at 8:30-8:50 (ran by effort - it was hot at 3.30pm). Total 4 miles.

Thursday - rest!!!!

Friday - Long run. Had to split this: 4 in the AM, 6 in PM. Again, hot (30C/ 86F) and humid - I went by pure effort. By Thursday morning I'd run 15 miles and slept roughly the same number of hours, so on Friday morning I woke up almost too exhausted to move. I did a quick stock-take: Tired? Yes. Injured or about to be? No. After daycare drop-off I hauled myself out for 4 miles and actually felt much better by the end. The afternoon 6 miles that had to be accomplished before pickup at 4, though...

Saturday - strength workout and impromptu easy 4.5 miles to and from the splash pad.

summertime view

Sunday - easy 4, in small pieces, with friends. My Strava is veritably littered with weird short runs. 1.8 miles to the subway station. 2.5 miles back and forth on a bike trail with a friend. And so on, and so forth. Also, stroller runners have the weirdest-looking Strava accounts: a mile here, two miles there, 1.5 miles in 30 minutes because you stopped to chase some ducks in the park and left your watch running...

Week ending July 2 - week 2 of 18

Monday - off

Tuesday - Track. Warmup, 2x400, 2x800, 2x1600, 2x800, 2x400. Let's be honest, I only did this because it was on my training plan. This is not the sort of workout one prescribes oneself. At least if one is not a masochist. 1:56, 1:53, 3:49, 3:48, 8:11, 8:24 (here you begin to see me getting grumpy and giving up), 4:07, 4:10 (pause here, as the sky became very dark and lightning crackled suddenly in a way that suggested I should not be out on a great big open a track), 1:56 (mad dash home), 2:06 (final 400 completed on treadmill next to a very surprised woman on the elliptical).

and legs up! 

Wednesday - 5.5 miles easy

Thursday - warmup, cooldown, 5 miles tempo running by effort and really struggling with paces. 9:03, 9:28, 9:06, 9:55 (traffic light), 9:21.

Friday - 5 miles easy

Saturday - 11 miles that went by faster because I went haring off exploring a new route. Up hills, down hills, into a new and much greener (with much larger backyards!) part of the city that I hadn't known existed, along a river, a slightly hairy highway crossing, around America's first 'rural' cemetery (Mt Auburn), and home. This run featured Singapore levels of humidity, where you break a sweat before leaving the house. I still can't fathom people who run, voluntarily, at midday or late afternoon in the summer.
Sunday - 2.8 miles total, stroller, in 3 parts, kind of like a symphony (you know, four movements) that was missing a fast bit, because my legs were once again dead.

Currently reading: Robert MacFarlane, Landmarks. MacFarlane is hailed as an up-and-coming member of the new generation of nature writers (and what have I done with my life?), and this book rambles gloriously across the UK collecting stories and words like ammil (the icy casings of leaves and grass in the morning glowing in a mist of sun) and rafty (of weather: misty, damply cold). This book makes me want to start my own word-hoard.

Currently listening to: the podcast 99% Invisible. On the Modern Necropolis episode I learned why people began to move cemeteries out of the city (churchyards, hillsides, etc) into their own separate spaces. In Boston, a city so old it predates the original Brexit by nearly a century and a half, you can still see historic burial grounds right downtown, next to the local churches and chapels. Later, epidemics of disease and a general sense that being so close to the dead was unsanitary forced burial grounds out of the city and into more rural areas.

Currently eating: Vegetables. All summer I crave vegetables. I don't usually like raw vegetables. And I don't often like raw vegetables anyway, so sometimes I stir-fry baby greens with some garlic (and a dash of oyster sauce, or sprinkled with feta and balsamic, or whatever - it's versatile). But right now? Mini Persian cucumbers with a little ranch dressing on the side. Radishes with mascarpone and honey. Mmm. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Running, lately

Oh holy moly, where did May go? Why is it June? Why is it 15 degrees C and rainy? Where is summer?

I can't answer any of these questions, but here are some recent running and life updates:

A weekend in Providence 

On May 7 I did the Providence half marathon. The week of the race, as Murphy's law would have it, I contracted the daycare grot from the D-monster. I considered the weather, the head cold, and the elevation profile, and downgraded my expectations.

My usual half marathon strategy is: 5 miles easy to moderate effort, 5 miles moderate to hard, 3.1 miles 'run like you're being chased by a velociraptor' - I made it the first 10 and then would have been eaten. Nutrition and water were ok. Just a cold that lasted too long, plus one too many hills.

In the end, I finished in 1:56:22, although I'd trained for a more aggressive stretch target. That is the second fastest half marathon I've ever run in my life - the fastest was one second faster. Gah!

There were no velociraptors. (This is a plus. We will not be doing the Jurassic World Half Marathon anytime soon, thank you.) There were donut holes at the finish, and frozen yogurt bars, and pizza, and bananas, and clementines — the usual array of delectables. The (by then no longer snotty, as life is not fair!) toddler ran the quarter-mile kids race with his dad, and then ran it again because the big kids were doing it. A grand time was had by all, especially the kiddo, who stole all my donuts and clementines.

Other stuff to do in Providence: eat at a restaurant featuring a ceiling-mounted working toy train, which for a quarter a pop will mesmerise your toddler long enough for you to scarf your spaghetti. Go to the Providence Children's Museum. Have your zoo plans derailed by an epic family nap.

basically any time you let a small child ride or drive a large vehicle it is the BEST DAY OF THEIR LIFE

I Ran A 5K On No Training* And The Results Were Surprising! 

On June 4 I ran the Cambridge Freedom Run 5K. We did it as a family outing, strollers and all, with some of the kiddo's little swim class buddies. (OK, when the class first started in winter, the munchkins were all running around together and I pounced on...I mean, started chatting with potential new mom friends, because I am completely shameless like that.) Dads pushed strollers and we moms lined up ahead. Zero stakes, zero expectations, zero strategy or plan, surprise PR (24:23)! How did that happen? I tried to keep up / chat with one of the girls for the first mile. And then she TOOK OFF. I was like, please go ahead, I haven't done any real speed workouts in months. Ouch.

* Yes, I have been running. Like 25 miles/ week. I just haven't trained specifically for a short fast race. Just trolling!

Also, yes, I am clutching my phone in the photo above, because I didn't want to short it out by sticking it down my shirt.

Maybe the theme for this year is low-stakes, low-expectations? I've already tossed out my marathon time goals. I have none. I have other goals for the marathon, like being good about the 'extra salt' and doing my strength work and stretching and getting to the start line injury-free - all with an eye to not cramping. I think my big fat hairy audacious goal here, the true emotional core of all this, is to run for joy

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Well that snuck right up!

The Providence half marathon is this weekend! Eeek. 

I'd rate this training cycle about a 7 out of 10:

  • Nailed my long run most weeks. 
  • Made it to track most weeks. 
  • Hit 30 mpw most weeks (I realise this is Not A Lot and Who Do I Think I Am expecting to do well on This Little Running, but...meh. It is what I can, when I can.) 
  • Had a fling with a foam roller and the elliptical due to ITB issues, the very week I was supposed to do a 15-mile long run. 
  • Currently fighting off a slight above-the-neck cold. Children are tiny disease vectors. These viruses must surely evolve as they leap from host to host, because D-money is still peppy and *I* get the great clots of green snot. Gross.

I don't want to make pre-emptive excuses though. New Bedford indicated that I was in pretty good shape, so I'm just going to get out there on Sunday and see what I can do. I'll be happy to run a good hard effort and keep to my usual race plan (5 miles easy to medium, 5 medium to hard at or around goal pace, 3.1 RUN LIKE A VELOCIRAPTOR IS CHASING YOU). Bonus points for negative splits.

(Wouldn't it be fun to get points for hitting process goals - stick to race plan, negative split, walk through the water stops, doing your MYRTLs - that one can then turn into shoe discounts, extra coaching months and Strava premium subscriptions? How is this not a thing?)

Also coming up in a couple of weeks: two years of being a mom. Happy almost-birthday to you, kiddo. Two years on, I am still doing all the heavy lifting - funny how that works!

Someone has inherited my penchant for rewriting lyrics. I almost inhaled my coffee this morning on hearing this recited:

"Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man
Bake me a as you can.
Roll it and prick it...and put it in the oven...
...Take it out...and eat it!...Yum yum yum."

In which tiny science dude figures out which objects float and which ones sink.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Race report: New Bedford Half Marathon 2017

New Bedford Half Marathon
Race website 
Signup: $60 early bird, $70 through January, $75 late without USATF discount code 
Finishers: about 2,300
Start time: 11am (!)
Day-of bib pickup: yes 
Food: clam chowder and fish sandwiches (hello, New England seaside town!) 
Parking: street, ample 
Swag: bling, long-sleeved tech shirt (as usual I fell victim to the 'size S' trap: is it unisex? is it women's? I took a gamble. It was unisex. Now it's a nightshirt.) 
                                                                                                                                                                  Short version:
It was windy, I mean WINDY. I came in eight seconds behind my PR in some pretty ugly conditions. 

Net Time: 1:56:29    
Pace: 8:54   

Long version: 

When we left off, I was trying to decide whether to run New Bedford with my running group. This race was part of the USATF NE Grand Prix series, and apparently is part of the Grand Prix almost every year? A week and a half before the race, there were two other women running, so I figured I'd do it to make up the numbers for a women's team. Fortunately we ended up with five women running (four of whom are faster than I am!) and came in 17th out of 34 teams! 

I carpooled with teammates to the race, leaving Mr GCA and D-money at home on their usual Sunday swim lesson-playtime-lunch-and-nap schedule. The weather was close to freezing, overcast and windy. I decided on full tights and a long-sleeved shirt under my t-shirt and was pretty glad of it, despite being a card-carrying member of Overheaters Anonymous. 

Bib pickup and bag drop were at the local YMCA, and we even got to use the locker rooms - a big plus! We huddled in there till ten minutes before race start, then I inserted myself at the front of the 9:00-mile-pace corral. (Do you seed yourself by starting pace, or by the overall pace you're aiming for? I know mine aren't really too different, so I don't care and it all evens out eventually. Plus if I get a little stuck behind other runners, hey, it keeps me from going out too fast.) 

Miles 1-9 were a normal sort of blustery, and I managed to hold the paces I’d hit in training. Hills for the first three miles, nothing massive. I spotted a great ('great'?) sign at mile 6: "YOU'RE ALMOST THERE #altfacts"... to which I shouted, "Worst protest sign ever!" 
Definitely pre-gale, probably around mile 7, still going strong. 

Then we hit the Mile 9 marker and rounded a corner onto the oceanfront…where gale-force winds awaited.

For the next two miles I felt like I was running in place. Or perhaps backwards. Then backwards, while trying to scale a hill. You get the…er…drift.  I glanced at my watch. 10:00 miles. At mile 12 I thought to myself, “YOU’VE COME TOO FAR TO WALK NOW”. 

My teammate E was doing this half as part of a training run for a spring marathon. I thought I'd passed her and lost her at mile 6. At mile 12, as I was slogging up the last hill, I heard her voice over my right shoulder, chipper as ever. "Hey, how's it going?" And she zipped past me and trotted off! The last quarter mile, mercifully, was all downhill. I finished eight seconds away from my half PR, totally spent, and straggled off to the pub where my teammates were waiting with food and beer.

I honestly had no expectations for this half except ‘do my best’, and that’s what it turned out to be. My gut feeling was right about being able to match my previous PR, and in fact until mile 9 I was on track to finish in the low 1:50s, so things are looking pretty good for the Providence Half in May. In a sense it was totally refreshing to have signed up so late – I basically had no time to be anxious about racing, and it was really just a fun Sunday out with the CR team. I'm so impressed with all the spectators and volunteers who turned out in that weather to make their lovely hometown half what it is! 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

fitting what in?

Hello both readers of this blog,

This is some kind of a record. Two months without a single post?

My regular training log is over at Salty Running, but I'm thinking about racing the New Bedford half on March 19 (yes, kind of an impulse half) as part of the Community Running team for the USATF-NE club competition. We're struggling to field a women's open team - I said I'd race iff (if and only if) we could field one, otherwise it's 5 hours of travel + race time for...for what?

So I'm one of the only women with children under school age who makes it to track group regularly, and I'm beginning to understand why. (The men with children under school age don't seem to have this problem...hmm.) The question is what's worth it? What is it worth to me?

Hauling myself an hour or two out to a race, waiting around at the start line, noodling around the finish - it all takes up so much time. I'm just an ordinary woman with an ordinary life. If I were a professional athlete, sure. That'd be my job. If I were gunning to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Or run a sub-3 marathon. Or qualify for Boston, or whatever. If some external prize like that were motivating me, maybe it'd provide the little extra impetus to keep going, to keep training and racing. But no - all my motivation has to come from within right now, and I'm just an ordinary runner struggling to fit it all in to an ordinary life, and my well of motivation is just sapped.

If you have family or other commitments and continue to race - or if you stopped - talk to me. Why? 

Update: we scraped together a women's team (...3 people...) and I'm in for New Bedford!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

And we have a winner! plus training log

In my last post I considered two race strategies for next year, and after deep contemplation and much soul-searching ('do I really WANT to run two marathons next year?' 'No') we have a winner. I'll be doing the Providence half in May and the Baystate full marathon in October. Maybe one or two 5ks or 10ks thrown in there somewhere, but nothing terribly serious. My focus is on trying to PR the half and remind myself that I can in fact still train for a marathon.

Since half training doesn't start till January, my goals for this block till the end of the year are simple:
- Build my base to about 25-30 miles a week with no concern for speedwork or pace
- Get in at least three strength sessions (MYRTLs, squats, core) a week
- Try some new classes (ballet, yoga, etc) while I don't have to worry about soreness taking too much out of my training

11/21 to 11/27 

Monday - 4 miles
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 5 miles as warmup, 5x1200 w 3min active recovery in between, starting at 8:30 pace and working down to <7:30, cooldown
Thursday - Thanksgiving break

Thanksgiving family time. My heart is full. Actually, so is my stomach. So, so very full. Perhaps the third slice of pie was unwise.

Friday - Friendsgiving leftover shenanigans
Saturday - 4 miles with stroller; 3 miles walking home later in the afternoon to let kid take a lengthy stroller nap
Sunday - 6.2 miles

11/28 to 12/4

Monday - 2.5 miles
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 3 miles
Thursday - 4.5 miles
Friday - rest
Saturday - 3 miles with stroller
Sunday - 8.1 miles in the no-man's-land between tempo and easy because it was freeeeeezing

Dusk on the Charles River (3 miles, Wednesday) 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Racing 2017, two ways

I'm starting to plan my 2017 race calendar and my grand return to marathon running. Sounds crazy until you realise that 2017 is in five weeks! But I've run into a dilemma and need to pick between the wiser of two strategies.

Strategy 1: Do two marathons next year: Providence in May and Baystate in October, with the first as a dust-the-cobwebs-off warmup and the second as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal Race. That's two 18-week cycles with nearly two months of #runwhatever in between.

- Cost. If I sign up early for each race, 2 marathons = less than $100 apiece. Sure, we'll probably be overnighting in town for at least one or the other, but the non-race hours are all family time and we'll spend that time exploring the area.
- Providence gives me the chance to remind myself how to run a marathon. I used to know this. I don't necessarily want my goal marathon to be my first marathon in three years!

- Time: do I have the time to train for a spring marathon? I suppose I'll have to bite the bullet and do it one way or another. I'm going to have to find the time to train for a fall marathon, anyway. For us back-of-the-pack folks, a 20-miler takes more than three hours. THREE HOURS. In what universe do I have three uninterrupted hours on a Saturday morning? Do I want to inflict this on myself and my family TWICE?

Strategy 2: Develop some speed: Race a bunch of 5ks (Craicfest, Spring Classic, BAA 5k etc) in winter and early spring, 10ks, and a half (Providence or Run to Remember) in spring. Then train through summer for Baystate in October.

- I'm really bad at finding that extra racing gear on my own. I'm sh*t at time trials. If I don't have a hare and a free t-shirt, I'm the most unmotivated runner you'll ever meet.
- I reckon I have a couple of short-distance PRs in me, aided (ahem) by the good old cold-weather discount. My 5K PR is almost three years old. My 10K PR is so old it's ready for kindergarten. A little short sharp racing might give me a few more things to feel smug about.

- Time. Part of the reason I don't race much is all the downtime. You have to get to the start line, wait around for the race start, finish, pick up a drink and a snack, extricate yourself from the crowd, and get home. In a 5K the downtime generally turns out to be longer than the actual time spent running.
- Cost. If I'm late or lazy, all those registrations add up. $$$
- I have a sneaking suspicion that to train for a marathon, I have to train for a marathon. In other words, my training should be distance-specific.

Other stuff:
I'm actually thinking of using a 50K plan for the October marathon, as I always wind up slightly undertrained - so if I pretend to train for a 50K I might actually be properly trained for a marathon?

My biggest problem, in the past, has been cramping in the same muscles every single time, at or around the 35k mark. Is that a strength or imbalance issue? An undertraining issue? I doubt it's a pacing issue as my pacing has always been pretty conservative (10:00 miles during a marathon, on track for a 4:30 finish). Believe me, I've already been faithfully doing my MYRTLs. #teamgluteusmedius

What do you think? Do I have any alternatives to these two strategies?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

All the Things I Knew: a Baystate Half Marathon race report

A version of this race report is cross-posted on Salty Running

Two seconds: that's all that separates 1:59:59 from 2:00:01. In between, 2:00:00. There's nothing fundamentally different about each of those times. Yet two hours, or any other pleasantly round time goal, seems such an insurmountable barrier.

At least, it did to me. Once upon a time (2008 - I'm not that old), I ran my very first half marathon in 2 hours and 43 minutes. Since then, I'd slowly whittled my time down. Fifteen minutes. Ten minutes. Five. If there was a Zeno's paradox for PRs, this surely was it. And then in May this year, on a misty morning in Pittsburgh, a breakthrough: 2:06.

Could I finally break two hours? I knew I could do it - in theory. My brain knew that other runners with the same 5K and 10K PRs had run sub-2 handily. But did my body understand that too? Did I know it in my bones? In my heart?

Both feet off the ground! I'm telling you - purple is my lucky colour.


The Baystate Half Marathon in Lowell, MA, has a reputation for being fast and relatively flat along a river through the former mill town. Close to a quarter of its 2,000 marathon runners qualify for Boston each year. The October race date generally comes with great weather. And it has good food (chicken noodle soup, frozen yogurt bars), a long-sleeved unisex-ish tech shirt, and fun bling, all for $65 fed back into the local economy.

I say I had no training plan. I mean I had no 'official' training plan, no coach, no Hal Higdon or Pfitzinger or RLRF or Hansons, nothing but my calendar and my own experience and intuition. Nothing, really, but common sense.
I started training in July, after a month and a half of casual running. The bread and butter of my untraining plan, as with any training plan, were one speed ('speed') workout, one tempo-ish run, and one long run. Each week I'd throw in one to three more easy runs, and every 3-4 weeks I'd pencil in a cutback week. Each of those easy runs was 3-5 miles, and if I had time for only two miles, so be it.

Here are the things I knew going in:
I knew from a previous marathon cycle using Hansons that I was physically capable of running six days a week if I wanted to. I did not, eventually, run six days a week any week of this cycle; a typical week was 4-5 days of running with 0 to 1 cross-training session. Honestly, I was in *zero* danger of overtraining.
I knew from experience that it's very, very hard for me to nail solo speed work. So I committed to my local running group once again for Monday night track sessions.
I knew there were things I was not willing to sacrifice. Time with family, for one. That meant few early morning workouts, lots of weekday lunchtime or mid-afternoon runs in the full heat of summer. On weekends, it meant sneaking out the door early for my long run and leaving my husband to deal with toddler separation anxiety till I got back.

And here are the things I knew coming out: 
That I had a new 'Garmin PR' from one of my long runs, and that I could handle a long run without carrying water and drinking only from local water fountains.
That, from my tempo runs, I could handle being a little uncomfortable for five miles.
That fall PRs are forged in the summer heat.

Race day
We stayed overnight at the Radisson in Chelmsford, 3 miles from the start line, and there were shuttles to the start so I didn't have to drag my lovely fan club with me. The start line is next to the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, a big hockey arena and concert venue, and runners were able to huddle in there (and use the bathrooms, in addition to a whole bank of portapotties!) before the race start.

Race weekend weather was 39 (7C) at the start and high 50s (about 15C) at the finish - perfect weather for running. Not so perfect for standing around in a t-shirt, shorts, arm warmers and gloves. I knew I'd have to eat and drink more to make up for what I'd shiver off at the start line. With that in mind I had leftover spaghetti at 5am, a packet of instant oatmeal at 6am, and an energy bar at 7.15am before the race start at 8.

The one thing my body did not know going in was how to race a half marathon, so I consulted some more-experienced Saltines. The consensus, and my eventual race strategy, was to run the first 5 miles easy, up the pace for the next few, and 'just barely hold on for the last 3'.

When you're racing for a PR you don't really have a lot of spare mental bandwidth to take in the sights. I remember the three frigid extra minutes we waited after 8 for the race to start. I remember the scuffed-up bridge crossings on the two-loop course. I remember roadkill on what must have been the busiest main road (don't step on the dead raccoon - that'll really put a dent in your race day). I remember water stops staffed by high school students. I remember fall foliage, and getting glimpses of the river along which we ran. I remember small children giving high-fives. I remember seeing my husband with our son on his shoulders at the end of the first loop: "Go mama!".
Fall foliage from an earlier training run.

Here are my splits, rounded to the second. 

Miles 1-5. Remember overall sub-2 goal pace is 9:10.
9:18. Small rollers, very crowded as we started with the marathoners, lots of crowd support. I stepped in a pothole almost immediately and my ankle wobbled. I heard someone next to me say, "That's what I'm afraid of." Further behind us there was an anguished gasp. "Oh man, everyone is finding the potholes."
9:15. Sign on course: IF TRUMP CAN RUN, SO CAN YOU. A voice behind me bellowed, "HE ISN'T JUST RUNNING, HE'S GOING TO WIN." I ran a little faster.
9:15. I pulled the arm warmers down, covering my Garmin.

Miles 6-10. A little over my usual 10K/ tempo pace (8:30).
8:39. We began the second loop of the course. I unearthed my Garmin face from beneath the arm-warmer.
8:28. At this point I began to feel like I was working. Not hard - just pushing the pace.
8:52. "Everything hurts," said a nearby woman to her friend, giving voice to what I was thinking. "It could be worse," her pacer friend responded. "You could be doing the marathon." I passed them.

Miles 11-13.1 'just barely holding on'.
8:42. In theory it was time for BIG ENGINES and 5k pace. After 10 miles, this is all I could do. Still passing people.
9:09. I felt my quads and calves twanging, juuuust on the verge of cramping, and slowed down in order to make it to the finish cramp-free.
0.1 - 0:48:19 (8:04 pace. Did I mention I am not a sprinter?)

Final official time: 1:56:21, net time. Overall, it felt...not easy, but not hard, either. Not hands-on-knees breathless. I knew I'd worked for it and would pay in soreness, but my legs weren't trashed. I'd say this result is probably a good gauge of my current level of fitness. I did not scream. I did not cry. Going in, I was fairly confident I would at least PR, if not go sub-2, and so I was not all that astonished by the result.

There’s a saying, credited to an indigenous Indonesian group, that knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle. You could say my heart knew what I could do before the rest of me did. Is that, in some way, a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you’ve done enough work to build your confidence, can that confidence carry you the rest of the way?
From top left: shivering my a** off at the start; official results; and a drive up to NH after the race for foliage, apples, friends, and fun. 

So, what's next?

Well, for starters, I've come down with a cold. I swear there's something about racing, compared to a mere long run, that shatters your immune system. So I have to get over that. Yuck!
I did a lot of rolling, stretching, and hip/ glute and core strength work this past week. It's almost more important for me to have a recovery plan than a training plan, otherwise I'll either vegetate on the sofa and feel awful because of all the inactivity, or try to do workouts way too soon and feel awful because of all the overactivity (not a risk this time round!).

Over the next few weekends, I'll head out for some longish meanders, and see if I can't get a couple of friends to run with me. I'm kind of excited for proper tights weather...but ask me again in February.

On November 13 I'm running the Cambridge Half strictly as a fun run. If I feel good that day I might see if I can go under 2 hours again, but I'm not going to stress out about it if I don't. New England fall weather is totally unpredictable. It might be raining on race day. There might be sleet. It might be 80 degrees. Who knows?! Several friends are running, and there's beer and pizza at the finish. And that'll round me out for the season.

In the end, does there have to be a 'next'? Why not some downtime, some casual running, and expending my energies on family and work? Running, after all, is supposed to deliver balance - to fit in with the ebb and flow of life. Then: a big hairy audacious goal a year or two away, punctuated by a series of smaller, intermediate steps. There's no shame in casual running, and there's no shame in striving - I know.