Monday, December 27, 2010

Half or Full?

OK, I know this is my second post in the same number of days, but I needed to get this one out there. I need help!

So last Tuesday, while I was lurking around the fully occupied treadmills at the rec center, I started chatting with another runner who was also waiting. Lean and rangy, one of those old-school 70s Boulder guys who has been running since before I was born and will be running until he keels over, he told me he was training for the Colorado Marathon in nearby Fort Collins on May 1.

Guys like him usually know what they're talking about when it comes to local races. So I looked this one up online when I got home. The course starts high in Cache La Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins, finishing in town after a net elevation drop of more than 1100 feet. In the eight years of its existence, it has qualified a relatively high 16-18% of its finishers for Boston. And the scenery is apparently amazing.

Immediately, I began toying with changing my plan.

That plan, currently, is to run the Boulder Spring Half on March 27 with the goal of breaking 2 hours, and then to use the results to determine my next step, which hopefully would be a full marathon in the summer or fall (fall being more likely given my aversion to hot weather). Changing to the May 1 race would mean switching to the FIRST program's marathon plan starting in January, and hoping that I have enough of an endurance base to hit my intermediate marathon goal of breaking four hours.

I can't run both races well, so I can choose only one. Both have pros and cons. I laid them out as follows:

The Half-Marathon

  • Builds my endurance base more gradually and probably more thoroughly
  • Race date is sooner and therefore more motivating
  • Easier to recover if sickness hits me or my family over the remaining winter months
  • Shorter training distances easier on my nagging sore foot
  • Familiar course

  • Delays a true test of my marathon prowess for almost a year
  • Kind of ho-hum--I've done this course before

The Marathon

  • New and scenic course--exciting!
  • The most appealing local marathon I've studied--I wasn't planning to do any local marathons, but this one might be the ticket despite the altitude (which I'm used to anyway)--and it means my family could come watch
  • I wouldn't have to buy a plane ticket or stay several nights in a hotel, as I will have to do for any other marathon that appeals to me down the road
  • High Boston potential--it's too much to hope that I would qualify for Boston as soon as this coming May, but doing a marathon so soon would allow me to test the course out and get an idea of how far I really have to go

  • May be too soon for me to do a full marathon; my right foot is still bothering me, and it definitely bugs me more the longer I run
  • Spring Half is already paid for, and non-refundable; the Colorado Marathon would set me back another $125

I'm on the fence. On the one hand, I know I shouldn't rush this. On the other hand, I'd like to get a move on, and a good time in a half-marathon, while it would be nice, isn't my larger aim. Each day brings the big four-oh closer for me.

What do you think I should do? Please leave a comment here or on Facebook with your opinion. I need all the help I can get!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

They might make it harder....

"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."
--Old proverb of unknown (to me) origins

Well, it's official. The Boston Athletic Association, the "owners" of the Boston Marathon, came out last week and said they plan to modify the qualifying standards for the race, according to an article in the Boston Globe (which you can read here). The article states, "The final formula will involve a combination of adjustments to the qualifying standards, field size, and registration start date and window during which runners can qualify." The exact nature of these changes could be announced as soon as January--just in time for my 38th birthday.

This is the result of the fact that the 2011 Boston race sold out in a matter of 8 hours in October, with many qualified runners unable to get into the Web site at all. As you might expect with something that lots of people worked very hard to gain entry to, only to be denied at the last moment, this created some resentment, with various people blaming too many spots reserved for runners raising money for certain charities (these runners don't have to qualify), too-easy standards for women compared with men, and other factors.

There was a lot of discussion of this on Facebook last Tuesday when Runner's World magazine posted a link to the article. Both those who have already qualified and those who hope to proposed many solutions. There was one hurt charity runner in the bunch, but most people (even those who may find these changes totally kill their chances of ever running Boston) seem to agree that this race is special, that everyone who runs it should have to qualify (you can still run for charity, you just have to qualify first) and if the qualifying times for younger women, or any other group, are too lax, well, they need to be tightened up.

And I have to say, I agree with that. My current age group, and probably the one I will soon be entering, may be among those that will see a stricter standard. For someone of my abilities, it could mean this dream really will become impossible to achieve. But as someone who has seen too many highly sought-after prizes become easier to get and therefore less meritorious, I'd rather never qualify than be heard to whine about something valuable like a spot in Boston being made appropriately harder to win. After all, it's the difficulty of the quest that makes its achievement so alluring.

All I can do is keep on keeping on. On Christmas Day, I ran the same 9-mile course I had done the prior Saturday, but I did it nine seconds per mile slower. A combo of factors probably played into this, including still-too-late bedtimes, the lingering effects of my cold (though that's happily almost gone), a poorer diet this past week (shortbread, anyone? stuffing?), alcohol the night before and my body's waking up to the fact that we're training hard again and mileage is increasing. Nonetheless, the 9:02 pace was still spot on with what my training plan asked for (9:03), so I figured that was pretty good for a holiday.

Side note: It's so much easier to run with family here! Dan got out for his own run right after mine. Thanks to my brother John, his wife Jessica and my mom for all the help and fun this Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Out in the Cold....With A Cold

I probably did it to myself by mentioning colds in my last post.

Because sure enough, on Thursday night, just twelve hours after a great tempo run where I felt like I was flying and a bootcamp class where I felt strong as Superman, I began to experience the tickle in my throat that begins every cold I catch. By Friday night, after a scheduled off day and trying to take it easy, I had the full-on snots, the kind that wake you at 1 a.m. and have you tempted to drink Nyquil straight out of the bottle, despite its hideous taste and poisonous cocktail of ingredients, just because there's a chance it might help you breathe and clear your muffled ears (the blocked ears are the worst part of a cold for me).

I am what my dad used to call a "bad sick person." Very fortunate to have enjoyed ringing good health most of my life, I'm sent into a depressed funk by what more stoic folks might term a little sniffle. I sulk on the couch under a blanket and wonder aloud and to myself if I will ever get better. OK, maybe since I've had the kids I've gotten a bit more stiff-upper-lip about it (I've had to; they're sick a lot more than I am)...but the necessary rest and time-biding that even a little cold entail have me tapping my foot impatiently from that first scratchiness to the final sneezes and the healing of my upper lip, chapped from Kleenex too vigorously applied.

My running quest has added fuel to this fire of impatience. A missed workout is no longer just a missed workout. It's a setback that in my pessimistic sick-girl musings might mean a delay of a month or more in the achievement of my dream. I used to run shorter or not at all when I got a cold. But no more. Despite my husband's raised eyebrows, on Saturday I put on my shoes, jacket and tights (it's finally gotten wintery here) and solidered on with my scheduled nine-miler.

The pace dictated by my program for this run was half-marathon pace plus 20 seconds a mile (in other words, 9:03 per mile). I wasn't sure that would be happening, but I figured nine miles at whatever I had in me would be better than nothing. Sure enough, I started out slowly. My Garmin at the end of mile one showed 9:18, and that was downhill. The second flat mile came in at 9:16.

Around that time, though, things started to look up. I found myself running behind a girl I'll call Jen, who is the girlfriend of one of my husband's former grad school colleagues and a "real runner," by which I mean she sometimes wins things. She didn't recognize me, but I had seen her cross in front of me when my trail merged into hers. Somewhere into that third mile I realized she wasn't ditching me as fast as I'd expected her to. I didn't catch her, and eventually I turned in a different direction, but the confidence boost of having stuck with her lingered.

Though the course was gradually uphill for a while after that, I started to feel much better, both in terms of my speed and in terms of my cold. My nose was running profusely, of course, and my gloves and jacket sleeve were disgusting by the time I was done...but I became aware that this was clearing my head both literally and figuratively. I even had it in me to tackle a steep couple of hills at the end without slowing down too much. When all was said and done, I averaged 8:53 a mile for the nine, ten seconds *faster* than prescribed.

So now I know I can run with a cold, and I was able to establish some things I did right both ahead of and after the outing: 1) Eat something (I had steel-cut oats with a banana on top) 2) Drink lots, even more than usual, and don't forget the water bottle as I had done on the previous week's 10-miler 3) Expect a long warm-up and 4) Take a nap later (fortunately the kids cooperated on this one!).

Not only did the run go well from a training perspective, it turned what might have been a draggy day into one where I could enjoy getting our Christmas tree and trimming it with two eager four-year-olds and, later, wrapping gifts and writing Christmas cards with my husband. I also slept much better than I had the night Nyquil required!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you're all healthy and with family and friends.

Side note: I have embedded my Garmin data for Saturday's run below, in case anyone out there is interested in more details, including the pace for each mile and an elevation map. This course was largely on the Bolder Boulder race course, for anyone who might be thinking of running that race at some point!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Race, New Pace

"The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone
And I must follow if I can."
--from The Lord of the Rings

It's now been a week since the Colder Boulder. In addition to continuing to bask a little bit in my happiness at the result, I and my family celebrated Dec. 8, a great day because it was our twins' 4th birthday. We also visited with my dad and his wife who drove out for the occasion from Missouri. With all of the eating out and birthday cake, I completely fell off the good food bandwagon, but will climb back on tomorrow, knowing I have a visit with Martha on Thursday morning and a lot of running work ahead that being lighter will make easier.

I have also shifted into half-marathon training mode, my eye on March 27 and the Boulder Spring Half. I ran easy on Tuesday, kept up the two days of aerobic cross training mandated by the FIRST program (I'll do a post on cross-training later) and on Thursday resumed full-on running with a tempo workout (tempo runs include a warm-up mile or so, a series of back-to-back miles at a semi-hard pace, and finally an easy cool-down). And yesterday I ran 10 miles for the first time in three weeks.

My training paces have all increased. The FIRST program, unlike some where you choose a race pace you're shooting for and then base training paces on that, uses your *last* race to determine proper paces to train. My prior training paces were based on October's Boulder Half-Marathon. Now, thanks to the Colder Boulder, I have a whole new set of (faster) speeds to hit in my runs. Here's how it breaks down (all times per-mile):

*1-mile intervals: Formerly 8:22s, now (gulp) 7:37s (I will do intervals of other lengths, but that's sort of the signature one)
*Tempo pace: Formerly 8:55 or 9:10, now 8:09 or 8:24 (my tempo run on Thursday was 3 miles at 8:09, and it felt hard but do-able--yay!!)
*Long run pace: Formerly 9:25, now 9:03 or 9:13 (depending on the distance and how far into the program I am)

The half-marathon race pace my 5K time predicts: 8:43, or a 1:54:16 (given faithful adherence to my training program). I'm excited about this, as it's right in line with my next goal of beating 2 hours in the half by as wide a margin as I can. (As a side note, my 5K also predicts a 3:57:17 marathon--not good enough for Boston, but *much* better than the 4:19 predicted by my last half. So I have definitely gotten closer! Hopefully March's half will bring me closer still.)

I've been formulating a few ideas not spelled out in the plan that should also help. I'm going to try to do as many of the long runs as possible *on* the half-marathon course itself. It's the same course out by the Boulder Reservoir where I ran my disappointing October half, and so I think getting to know every hill and dip of its gravelly length will give me an edge.

I'm also planning to do a race in February (the 10-mile Snowman Stampede) in lieu of another lonely long run, just to keep it interesting. As with the Turkey Trot, this won't be for speed but rather as a pacing exercise (and I'll try not to let it freak me out as I did with the Turkey Trot--repeat after me: "This is not my target race").

Of course a lot of this will depend on staying healthy. My kids both have a cold now, and though Dan and I have so far avoided this one, I know there's one out there with my name on it and that when it hits I *must* deal with it properly so as not to derail my progress. I've noticed my bedtime creeping later again, too, and I need to get back to 9:30 p.m. lights out at the latest.

So with my work cut out for me, let my Road's next stage begin!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Race Report: The Colder Bolder 5K, Dec. 4 2010

Boy, was I nervous before this race! I spent the prior evening skimming through my running books, reading scary things about the aging runner's muscle fibers and neuromas in the foot, and listening to the chinook winds bear down from the mountains like judgment on our little valley. All day Friday these winds had blown. In the afternoon, my kids and I went for an exhilarating walk in the tumult. Sticks and leaves tumbled by us, and when we reached the park, the gusts gave extra oomph to some "flying" on the swings. Playing in the chinook winds is fun. Running is not. Would the winds still be blowing on Saturday morning?

I also still felt spooked by my slow time in the prior week's Turkey Trot, discussed in last week's post. Was that the best I could do? I wondered.

Saturday morning began the way most of our days do, with Will and Ruthie's invasion of our bed at around 7 a.m. Ruth was chatty in the way of almost-4-year-old morning people everywhere, and Will was sullen, having misbehaved at bedtime the night before and lost the privilege of opening the next window on his Advent calendar. Lying there, with a little over two hours until my start time, I felt the butterflies in my stomach begin to flutter.

I got up and, following the advice of Nancy Clark in the sports nutrition book, I ate a much bigger breakfast than I would have done in the past before a race. It was just Cheerios and milk, washed down by some Nuun water, but even that was a lot more than the single banana I would have had in the past. Then I stepped outside to gauge what I should wear. It was overcast, much colder than the day before (temps in the 30s)....and still as stone. The winds had moved on. Whew!

At this point, I made a couple of decisions about the race. The first decision was to leave my Garmin at home. I love the Garmin. It's fun and useful to see my paces and the altitude profiles of my training runs. It also takes the tedium out of planning long runs (because I don't really have to plan them). But during the Turkey Trot I found it distracting and worrying. So for this race, which mattered more, I just put on my old Timex digital watch. It was time to be a grown-up, and try to feel my race pace without technological help.

The second decision was that I would run with my iPod. I had been on the fence about this ever since failing to meet my goal of going under 2 hours in the half-marathon in October. I used the iPod during that race, and I felt the music made me push the pace too much in the middle, perhaps contributing to my major bonk at the end. But since the 5K is so much shorter, and speed so much more important, I figured having some super-fast tunes going couldn't hurt.

The kids and Dan were headed to the Christmas pageant rehearsal at church at about the same time as the race, so I wasn't to have any spectators. That was OK with me this time. I was still feeling nervous and fluttery, and wanted to be alone. I said goodbye and rode my bike up to the University of Colorado campus, about a mile from my house. Bike riding is a great warm-up for me. It gets some of the jitters out, gets me used to being outside and helps me break a light sweat.

The packet pickup and finish area for the Colder Bolder are in Balch Fieldhouse, which has an indoor track and bleachers and an old-school running feel to it. Heats for the race start early, with the fastest Bolder Boulder finishers going first at 8 a.m. My race was at 9:10 a.m., so I got to watch a few of the finishes while putting on my number. I also saw the awards ceremony for the fastest finishers' race. Then I went outside to do some strides, and was time.

There were 52 people in my wave, which as I've mentioned before was for people who finished between 54 and 55:59 minutes in the Bolder Boulder 10K. The start, which leads you downhill for about 1/4 mile, was fast. But I felt warmed up and good, with the BoDeans singing "Fadeaway." I also imagined I heard my friend Angela's dad, a track coach, telling me to "use the downhill." The course then turned up for the first climb. I am very familiar with this hill. I passed the first mile, according to my old Timex, in 7:39.

That probably should have worried me, but it didn't. All of the prior night's fears and my disappointments over the half-marathon and the Turkey Trot seemed to fade away. I knew I would slow down a bit on the second mile, which is up and down (more up, I think!), but I pictured the flat stretch at the end, on which I've accelerated at the end of several 10 milers, and told myself, "I'm going only 3 today, and I've felt good there at 10. I can do this." There were some small changes in the course from last year, but that didn't bother me either.

I ran on, through two repetitions of Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man" (love that song--apologies if its f-bomb offends anyone; for me hearing it makes me feel tough and angry, good things when you're trying to rip it) and one of their "Roll Away Your Stone." And still I ran, through Uncle Tupelo's "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" and Man or Astroman's "Philip K. Dick in the Pet Section of a Wal-Mart" (couldn't find a video for this; think surfer punk).

Finally, I turned that corner onto the flat, and Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance" came on. I knew I was almost done. Which was a good thing, because I was hurting. A group of three people running together, whom I'd passed early in the third mile, repassed me. I wish now that I had tried harder to re-catch them, but I just trailed on behind them, trying to hang on to my pace.

Then I entered the field house and saw the clock. The first two numbers on it were a 2 and a 4. That was enough to help me find my kick. And so...I did it! My goal had been to finish in 24:51. My official time was 24:24, a 7:52 pace overall, a post-pregnancy PR in the 5K and good for 14th in my heat (which was won by a trio of male sandbaggers who all ran faster than 21 minutes). I was so happy about this that I almost cried on the massage table ten minutes later.

Nothing like a few disappointments to make a small victory sweet. In the evening, we went out with a big group of friends to celebrate Dan's 40th birthday. I had one glass of champagne for Dan (may we celebrate his 80th and beyond together!) and one glass....for my race.