Bumping the mileage, getting faster

Sometimes you start to feel like you’re closing in on those big, crazy goals you set for yourself. Like maybe that ultramarathon is doable. Maybe running (racing?) two marathons in a week is possible. You might break three hours this year after all. It hits you in the middle of your long run, when you’re knocking out marathon-pace miles on tired legs. It hits you when you look at your training log and see week after week of totals you never thought you’d get to.

The last time I felt myself getting faster was about two years ago when I inched toward 70 miles per week. I can certainly look back through my training logs and see good weeks scattered over the last two years, but I can’t remember this exact feeling. In April 2013 when I wrote about getting faster, I said what worked for me was basically running more and incorporating speed work in to my already high-mileage weeks. But back then I didn’t realize how much room I had for improvement. I took another five minutes off my marathon PR and took seven minutes (!) off my half marathon time. Hell, maybe I don’t realize how much farther I can go even now.

Mileage since coaching started
Mileage since coaching started

The last week of January was probably the hardest training week I’ve ever run. It included ice and freezing temperatures most days, too. I know there are more of these in my future. After seeing the results, I’m sickly excited about them. On Sunday afternoon, I felt legitimately exhausted. I didn’t run 100 miles (only 93), but I ran faster, harder miles than I ever would have scheduled on my own. It looked like this:

  • Monday: Easy 8-miler and a gym workout for about an hour and a half. It was just starting to snow, but the pavement was clear. Easy meant 8:30 pace.
  • Tuesday: 10.7 miles in the snow with YakTrax in the morning. Another 6.3 miles on the treadmill in the evening.
  • Wednesday: 12 miles with speed work at Hains Point. Temperature was in the low 20s. Miles at 6:54, 6:36, 6:38, 6:34, 6:41, 6:41.
  • Thursday: 10 miles at 7:45 pace.
  • Friday: Easy 10K at 8:30 pace.
  • Saturday: Half marathon race on an awful, icy trail. Finishing time (1:29:09) is less than a minute off my half marathon PR. Warm up and cool down for 18 total miles.
  • Sunday: 22-mile long run. I could only manage an 8:28 pace after the race.

I never would have planned a long run the day after a race in my old training plan, but I now have confidence that I can at least finish a long run the day after a shorter race. It just might not be pretty. I think slower runs like these, combined with speed work (see Wednesday) are why I’m seeing real gains. I’ve also started taking easy runs seriously. By not running at a sustained 7:40 pace, which I used to feel like I needed to hold just to feel kind of fast — by just taking that pace up another 30 or 45 seconds, I’m able to save my energy for the harder speed workouts.

My next race won’t be a PR. It’s the Austin Marathon a week from today. I have no hopes of running a PR on a hilly course in the heat after four consecutive 90+-mile weeks. But I will probably set more aggressive goals for Boston and Big Sur.

Training with a coach

Starting this week, I took a big, scary step toward becoming a better runner. Hiring a coach and, more importantly, putting my training plan in someone else’s hands is probably the most significant change I’ve made to my running since I decided to train for my first marathon.

I didn’t make the decision lightly. I hate not being in control of my life running plan, so giving over my training plan to someone is not something I would do on a whim. I wouldn’t ask someone I didn’t trust or respect. In early 2014,  I’d been approached by one coach via Twitter, and I hated the experience. He looked at my mileage and goals and told me he could help me break 3:05 but only if I cut my mileage in half and agreed to take full rest days. His attitude about what was right for me and his cavalier statements about the Right Way to Train instantly turned me off. I ran a 3:02 in October by following my own training plan.

Last month, I altered my training plan to stretch for a 100-mile week. The week before the 100, I’d run 90 miles. I’m not foolish enough to think I could keep up this kind of mileage without getting hurt or that regularly stretching for 100 is a good idea. But I do know I can push harder and run faster and that my goal for Boston 2 Big Sur should be more than just “to finish.” I need a little guidance.

Speed work. Ouch.
Part of my speed work. Ouch.

So after much deliberation and some budget calculations, I decided to ask Michael Wardian if he had any coaching openings. Mike has run all my goal races (Boston, Big Sur, Comrades), and he understands my goal to run every day. He *gets* my Ten-Mile Tuesday streak absurdity, and he’s worked that in to my schedule. He agreed to take me on, and we’ve had a great first week. Hearing from Mike on a daily basis has been a dream. This week, I’ve run faster speed work than I would ever put on my own schedule and pushed my middle long run miles more than I would have on my own. This week’s weather in D.C. has been horrendous, and I still managed to head to Potomac Park for some mile repeats when it felt like  0 degrees on Thursday morning. I might have wimped out and given myself another treadmill day if I wasn’t accountable to anyone else. On Saturday I tried two new things: an organized group run in Alexandria and I ran a part of the Mt. Vernon Trail I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. See? New things! Out of my comfort zone.

I’ve thrown out my self-guided training schedule for Boston 2 Big Sur, but I’m sticking with my build-up races. We’ll see how this change pans out. With a week of hard training behind me, I think putting my training in a competent professional’s hands was a great decision.

Ten Thoughts From a 100-Mile Week

I kind of wildly deviated from my training plan this week. It happened last week, too. Last week’s scheduled 68 turned in to 90, and this week’s scheduled 89 became 100. At some point in the middle of the day Thursday, I started crunching mileage numbers. I was feeling pretty good, even though I was nursing a holiday-party-induced hangover. My legs felt fresh, even after an unscheduled 90-mile week last week, and I wasn’t too cranky or sore.

100 miles
100 miles logged on Strava

To prepare for my first ultramarathon (Comrades 2016?) and to have a shot at running well in both Boston and Big Sur in April, I’ll need to increase the amount of time I’m on my feet. Last time I was close to a 100-mile week was in July when I was training to try to break 3:05. Then, going past 90 felt like a massive undertaking. This time I decided that if I felt overly sore or sick or awful, I would give myself permission to back away from the goal.

One-hundred is certainly a nice, round number. I think my training has come to a point where I can handle running this much, as long as I’m careful. With that said, running many miles may or may not lead to my ultimate goal of breaking three hours in the marathon. But if the elites and the coaches say it works, and I’m able to do it, I have to give it a shot, right?

The 100 idea sounded like a good, albeit fuzzy, plan on Thursday. It still seems like going for a higher-mileage week was a fine choice after 15 miles Friday, 23.5 miles Saturday and another 8.5 miles on Sunday. I won’t be doing it again for another month because for the first time in years, I’m legitimately exhausted during a training week.

Over the past few days, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how this kind of training feels. It’s a different feeling from the 80s I now regularly run. Here are 10 things I learned during my high-mileage week in no order at all. I’m sure these ideas apply to weeks when I’m not in running overdrive, but they’ve been more noticeable this week.

  1. Multitasking makes fitting in miles easier. I already was decent at answering work emails on the treadmill. This week, I perfected the timing of the treadmill run/farro dinner. Hell, I wrote the draft of this post on the treadmill.
  2. Don’t underestimate your need for water. The one thing I tend to skimp on after a run, and even during a run, is water. Drinking water during cold-weather runs is also hard to remember because I’m not immediately thirsty. But the thing that makes me feel better later in the day is drinking a lot of water. I swapped my normal glass of white wine for water most nights this week. That helped.
  3. Really don’t underestimate your need for sleep. Because my runs were longer than normal, I needed to be up earlier than normal. My muscles also needed time to repair themselves. Usually I’m lucky to get seven hours of sleep. This week I got eight most nights except Saturday night when I had a lot of trouble falling asleep.
  4. Be prepared to blow off social events. I manage to fit in most outings during a normal week. This week I blew off: work holiday after-party, drinks with coworkers three times (!) and staying for more than one drink at a birthday party.
  5. Your body will hurt, but in a different way. You might be familiar with that post-marathon soreness where you hobble around like a feeble old person and can’t take stairs for days after a tough race. That slight aching in your quads and calves during a high-mileage week is like a toned-down, dull, throbbing version of that. But it kind of creeps up on you when you’re in the middle of some important meeting. I’ve never had that kind of constant mild background pain before.
  6. When you run, you zone out much faster. Usually, I spend the first five miles of a run concentrating on my form and really feeling the road. It seems like every beginning step is moving me closer to loosening up. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least 30 minutes in. This week, I slipped in to the loose, clear zone within the first five minutes of most runs. I wish the first part of the run could always give way to that feeling.
  7. My relationship with hunger changed. This week, it seems like my body took about 30 extra minutes to let me know it was hungry, and when it did let me know, it was kind of a “Meh, you can probably eat now.” I feel like I should be hungrier, and even if I do eat, I can’t seem to get full.
  8. I keep losing track of which shoes I wore last. I tend to meticulously cycle through shoes over the course of a week so I have a nice balance of mid-weight trainers, bulky shoes and lighter ones. But I kind of gave up this week and started just choosing a pair that wasn’t still sweaty.
  9. Two-a-days are helpful if you can swing them. Honestly I can’t imagine running all these miles at once. I also don’t like running in the dark, so most of my miles in the winter have to be in the morning. And I’m lucky enough to have a treadmill at my house for evening easy runs.
  10. OMG you’ll never stop doing laundry. See the two-a-days item. Most days, I would pull clothes from the dryer, put them on and start my run.

Next week I’m planning to scale back down to the mid-70s, which should feel nice. Between now and then, I’ll be taking a long nap.

Boston 2 Big Sur Training Plan

EDIT: April 2015: I did not follow this training plan. I hired a coach and came up with another plan, which was similar to this, but it included more miles and speed work. Final B2B finishing time: 6:17:02.

I’ve never published a full training schedule here. I’ve written about the last few weeks before a marathon and how I need to stick to my taper plans, and I’ve talked about inching toward and exceeding 90 miles per week. But I haven’t written out a half year of workouts — possibly because I have some superstitious fear that if I get hurt, my training plan will be out there for everyone to see while I’m sidelined. Or maybe I don’t want to be judged by the number of miles I run or the fact that I don’t take rest days.

Now is a good time to put the nearly baked plan out there. It’s a roadmap I believe can get me to my big, scary goal of running two marathons in a week with a Boston PR (I’ll take anything under 3:11). And achieving that big, scary goal will help push my training to the high-mileage ultramarathon levels I need to be at for the Comrades Marathon in 2016. I’ve run a modified version of this training plan twice in the last year. This plan includes a few more miles in a few critical weeks, but it’s nothing more extreme than what my body has handled in the past. The Austin Marathon will be a long training run, and I am planning to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon to set a new PR. I’m aiming for 1:26.

Oh, and I know a lady never reveals her weight (or age?), but I know I feel best and run fastest when I weigh between 124 and 126 pounds. If I can keep my diet in check during the hardest training weeks and not pack on more than a few pounds of water weight during the taper, I’ll arrive in Boston to run it faster than ever. I also feel like 2013 was the first year I truly understood the Boston course. It is, after all, the marathon I’ve run more times than any other. If the conditions are right, I should be able to run and recover quickly. After that, with a smart recovery week, the Big Sur race, while slower, should feel like icing on the cake.

Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun TOTAL Race
Oct. 27-Nov. 2 1 6 10 12 8 6 18 8 68
Nov. 3-9 2 4&6 10 8 10 6 13 8 65 Battlefield Half Marathon
Nov. 10-16 3 4&4 12 9 8 6 20 6 69
Nov. 17-23 4 6 10 8 13 4&6 18 8 73
Nov. 24-30 5 4&4 10 6 6 8 14 6 58 Turkey Trot
Dec. 1-7 6 4&6 10 6 8 4&6 16 8 68
Dec. 8-14 7 4&8 14 8 13 4&6 22 10 89
Dec. 15-21 8 4&6 13 8 13 4&6 18 8 80
Dec. 22-28 9 4&8 13 8 13 4&6 24 10 90
Dec. 29-Jan. 4 10 4&6 14 AT1 (4) 8 hills1 (6) 24 8 74
Jan. 5-11 11 4&6 10 WO2 (4) 10 8 Race (10) 14 66 Al Lewis 10-Miler
Jan. 12-18 12 4&6 14 WO1 (4) 12 4&6 AT2 (22) 8 80
Jan. 19-25 13 4&6 13 9 hills2 (6) 4&6 24 8 79
Jan. 26-Feb. 1 14 4&8 13 WO3 (4) 8 4&6 AT3 (22) 8 77
Feb. 2-8 15 4&6 14 WO1 (4) 10 4&6 AT2 (22) 8 78
Feb. 9-15 16 6 10 8 4 6 3 Marathon 63 Austin Marathon
Feb. 16-22 17 8 12 WO4 (4) 8 6 14 at pace 10 62
Feb. 23-March 1 18 4&6 13 WO3 (4) 8 4&6 AT3 (22) 8 75
March 2-8 19 6 10 8 hills3 (6) 4&6 16 8 64
March 9-15 20 8 at pace 10 8 WO6 (4) 4 1/2 Mar 6 53 RnR DC 1/2 Marathon
March 16-22 21 4&6 13 9 hills2 (6) 4&6 24 8 80
March 23-29 22 6 13 WO5 (6) 8 4&6 AT4 (22) 8 73
March 30-April 5 23 8 at pace 13 8 AT5 (4) 6 20 6 65
April 6-12 24 4 10 WO7 (4) WO8 (4) 6 14 Race (10) 52 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler
April 13-19 25 6 10 WO9 (5) 6 5 6 4 42
April 20-26 26 Marathon 10 6 5 4 4 Marathon 81 Boston Marathon // Big Sur Marathon

Anaerobic Threshold (AT) Workouts:

  • AT1 & 5 = 4 x mile @ 77 – 90%, this will vary with individuals. (Pace should be approximately 10 seconds per mile faster than your marathon pace.) 2-3 minute rest between miles. Warm-up and cool down 2-3 miles. You should feel exhilarated after these workouts, ready to do more.
  • AT2, 3, and 4 = 18-22 mile run with six to eight miles at approximately your marathon pace. These miles should bring you within a mile or two of finishing the run. The last mile or two should be easy. If conditions (either course or weather) are severe, adjust accordingly. A heart monitor can help considerably here by keeping the effort at the effort window that you can run a marathon.

Hill Workouts:

  • Hills 1, 2 & 3 = 8 x 2-3 minutes up at 77-90% effort, jog down for recovery. 2-3 mile warm-up and cool down.

Track Workouts (WO):

  • WO1 = 12 x 400 @ 90-95% with 200 jog recovery. Warm-up/cool down
  • WO2, 4 & 6 = 15 x 200 @ 85-95% with 200 jog recovery.
  • WO3 & 8 = 6 x 800 @ 90-95% with 400 jog recovery.
  • WO5 = 4 x 1200 @ 90-95% with 400 jog recovery.
  • WO7 = 15 x 300 @90-95% with 100 jog recovery.
  • WO9 = 3 x 200 @ 85-90% with 200 jog recovery / 400 jog / 3 x 800 @ 85% with 400 jog recovery.

Over the 90 hump and celiac disease-free (ish?)

I’ve neglected the blog again for a few months, but I don’t have much running news to report. I did top off three 90+-mile weeks without any injuries and without suffering many of the symptoms of overtraining. My training plans have come to regularly slot 13-mile Tuesdays where 10-mile Tuesdays once were, and my body seems to have adapted to the higher mileage. When I’ve pushed past 90 in the past, I’ve experienced any of the following: a mild case of plantar fasciitis, tight hips resulting in a hip injury, mood swings, restless leg syndrome, inability to fall sleep when all I want to do is sleep, dehydration. Anyway, each of the last three times I pushed past 90 miles (92, 90, 93.5), I only was a little irritable. That’s great news because the ultramarathon plans I’m looking at are calling for similarly high mileage.

With the hardest part of training behind me, I can start to focus on building more speed. I have three 5Ks on the calendar and one half marathon between now and my goal marathon. If I string together quality miles and can improve my times for shorter races, I think I have a strong chance to break 3:05 in Utah.

I do have some good health news to share. About five weeks after my post about my probable celiac disease diagnosis, my doctor sent my printed results. No mention of celiac. Getting him on the phone took about another week. When we finally talked, he said he wasn’t sure what it was, but the next time we meet he wants to put me on antibiotics. That’s what my primary care doctor did the first time, and I was violently sick for several days. My follow-up appointment is later this week, and this time before I go in, I feel I should volunteer to be on one of those TLC mystery diagnosis shows. The overwhelming sense that I’ve had as this ordeal wears on is frustration, mostly because I think I’m throwing thousands of dollars at the problem and I’ll never find the right answer.

So for a good six weeks I ate a gluten-free diet. My GI issues seemed to be letting up, my skin looked better, I was sleeping better, everything seemed great. But I gained about four pounds, which slowed down my running (just slightly, but still). I was replacing wheat products with fatty fillers. Now, I’m sure there are many great ways to adhere to a gluten-free diet that are low in fatty calories and high in taste. I just wasn’t good at replacing my favorite foods. Since my un-diagnosis, I have eaten far less gluten than before, and I’ve managed to lose those four pounds. I feel slightly better most mornings, but my stomach issues are still pretty noticeable at night.

I know there are people with real, life-shattering problems out there, and that a persistent stomach ache is small potatoes. Everybody has something, though. I guess this is my thing.

Ups and Downs and a New, Big Goal

It’s been more than two months since I checked in here. In the time I’ve been neglecting the blog, I ran a 10-miler and two marathons and set a new PR. I also had five doctor appointments and got myself pretty sick before the 10-miler. Still, I came to the start line of the Boston Marathon healthy and tapered and managed a time (3:11:27) about 20 seconds slower than last year. My Cherry Blossom 10-Miler time was five seconds slower than last year (1:07:35), but I was throwing up the night before the race.

Good News

In March, the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon went unbelievably well. I practiced running on the course’s big hill throughout the winter, and I finally understood how to run the back half of the course. I placed sixth female (!) in the race. In hindsight, if I’d run the Austin Marathon as planned, my legs probably would have been too tired to manage a PR.

I didn’t have high hopes for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler because I’d been sick the week before the race, but I still did well there. This is one of my favorite races of the year, and my fitness and adrenaline kept me going.

Michael and I also ran the Boston Marathon this year. I knew this year could be emotional, but a session with Runner’s World and Running Times editors on Sunday reminded me to keep my emotions in check. I only got choked up once — at Wellesley on the downhill where I always let myself experience unbridled enthusiasm. Every year I tell myself, “This is the happiest you’ll be all year while you’re running. Let it soak in.” The crowds through the weekend in Boston and along the course were unreal. Next year’s Boston won’t be as big or as boisterous, and I’m fine with that. This year, Boylston felt like home, and the city felt like a hug. I already booked our hotel for next year when we’ll get back to running the marathon for other reasons, all of which are OK.

 

Bad News

For the past few years — maybe three years — my stomach has been upset more and more often. The audible grumbling happens at night almost every night, and I wake most mornings with a crazy urge to run to the bathroom. I kept thinking the feeling would go away or that maybe it was related to stress. When I’m on vacation or when my job is in low-stress mode, I still have the same issues. It’s probably not stress. It’s not like a running injury. I take care of those as soon as they happen or as soon as they might happen because an injury will sideline me. But an upset stomach is something I could put up with. I run marathons. I’m tough.

So when I was sick before the 10-Miler, I’d had blood drawn three times in the span of a week, and I was on antibiotics to try to reset the bacteria in my stomach. That didn’t work. I visited a gastroenterologist. He wanted to schedule a few tests. His first available appointment date was Wednesday, April 23. That would be the Wednesday after the Boston Marathon. Meaning I would be on a liquid diet the day after the Boston Marathon. Ha. I scheduled it for a week later.

My probable results from today, according to my doctor, are that I have celiac disease. That means I’ll need to adjust my diet. I love pasta, and I LOVE baked goods. I’m not sure how this is going to work, but I certainly will try to follow his advice to feel better. I just don’t want to be one of those people who’s a pain in the ass asking, “Is it gluten-free?” And I don’t want to make people in my book club accommodate another dietary need. And I don’t want to have people make a special dish just for me. I would hate all that. Basically, I’m in wait-and-see mode until I hear a true diagnosis. I’m not happy about the likely outcome, though.

New, Big Goal

Given that I just got some shitty health news and given that I’ve been running the same types of races for the past three years, I really need something big to aim for. So here’s my big goal.

In 2016, I will run the Comrades Marathon.

Why? We all need big, silly goals, and the Comrades Marathon, which is actually not 26 but 56 miles, is a huge goal that is probably attainable. It’s in South Africa, and I’ve never been there, nor have I run a marathon in a foreign country. See bucket list. The idea of this race is just to finish. Really. And with the amount of base training I have right now (peaking at 95 miles per week and averaging 70), I could probably already finish a 56-mile run. But I want to be smart about it, so I should probably train well, right? As an added bonus, I think Michael will run Comrades, too.

And here’s another big goal for 2015 that will help get me there:

In 2015, I will run Boston 2 Big Sur.

Why? The Big Sur Marathon is beautiful, and Boston is my favorite marathon. I want to run both of them, and I think I can build enough fitness to run a decent marathon (maybe 3:30) six days after Boston if conditions are not bad.

I’m putting the goals out there, and I’m keeping the fire burning for a 3:05 marathon. I’m only two minutes away, and I might have a speedy marathon coming up in October. We’ll see what happens.

Minor Injury: Anterior Tibialis Strain

I might have been a little overzealous in my mileage over the past few weeks. I was starting to taper ahead of the Philadelphia Marathon after running some pretty intense mileage and races recently. Let’s break it down:

But on Tuesday I was in Central Park, and it was a beautiful day, and it was my 30th birthday, so I thought running 14 miles couldn’t hurt anything. Around mile 12 of my birthday run, I started to feel a dull and then a bit of a sharper pain in my left shin. It didn’t feel like shin splints exactly, and it wasn’t exactly like a stress fracture. I stopped for water at mile 12 and took the last two miles back to my hotel at an easy pace.

The day before this (Monday), I bought some new boots. I also spent the day walking around New York. I found the perfect pair at Macy’s after trying on several pairs. Sometime in the middle of my boot-buying, I tried on a pair that was particularly tight around the forefoot, and I remember yanking off a boot pretty hard. I thought it kind of hurt.

Tuesday’s run was going well, but I knew the feeling wasn’t just fatigue. As the day wore on and as I tried to walk the High Line, the slight pain I felt during my run turned in to an ache. When I got back to the hotel in the afternoon, I took off my boot and noticed some swelling in my left shin about an inch and a half above my ankle. My ankle started to stiffen as the day wore on. By dinnertime, I was hobbling down the street, even with Advil.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, my shin and the front of my foot had swollen so much that I couldn’t see the main tendon in the front of my foot. The area also was bright red. I couldn’t flex or point my toes past a certain point. I tried to hop on the treadmill for a few easy miles to see if I could make it through the pain. No luck. I stuck with the elliptical and bike.

Back in D.C., I was able to see the physical therapist Wednesday afternoon. She diagnosed it as an anterior tibialis strain, which means I did some damage to the tendon in the front of my left shin. The good news is it will heal a lot faster than a stress fracture. The bad news is I’m supposed to stay off it for five days and take it easy on cross training. The best news is I might be able to run the Philadelphia Marathon. But I probably shouldn’t run that 10K I was planning to do this weekend.

I’m incredibly grumpy if I don’t exercise, so I ran a few very slow (10- to 11-minute) miles for the past few days. The pain is pretty minimal right now, and the swelling is nearly gone.

I have two tiny exercises I am doing as well.
flex-1

Stretch ankle PF sitting

  • Sit in chair.
  • Place top of involved foot down as shown.
  • Slowly sit forward in chair, pushing down on foot until stretch is felt.
  • Relax and repeat.
  • Perform one set of two repetitions, twice a day.
  • Hold exercise for 10 seconds.

pull-2

Stretch Gastroc sit w/towel

  • Sit as shown, looping towel around ball of foot.
  • Gently and steadily pull on towel, keeping knee straight.
  • Perform one set of two repetitions, twice a day.
  • Hold exercise for 10 seconds.

Also on top of all this craziness with a running injury and turning 30 and a fun trip, I start a new job on Nov. 11 at The Washington Post. I’m adding getting past the ankle strain to my list of things to be excited about.

A Week of Great Runs

After months of dealing with this silly hip injury and slowly trying to rehab it, I wasn’t planning to have a breakthrough week or breakthrough run like I had back in June any time before my next marathon. Going back to the two (two!) PRs I set last weekend, I was already thrilled. Maybe my training was going better than I thought. Maybe the hip injury hadn’t set me back that much. Even so, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for running well most days this week. My legs were tired, and the weather was still warm. I also had to contend with two travel days and weird sleep patterns for several days. This evening when I was adding up my weekly mileage, I realized I put in a bunch of miles, and I still feel fresh. So here’s a recap. Maybe I’ll look back on this week someday and be able to figure out what I did right.

  • Monday: MKT 10-miler: This week I visited the college town where I really became a runner. So many running-related firsts happened here: I remember running my first long run (more than 13 miles), having my first stress fracture, overdoing my miles for the first time, buying my first pair of legitimate running shoes. Have you ever visited your elementary school as an adult? You know how the desks seem smaller, and the halls seem really short? My old trails felt so small and easy when I went back, even on tired legs a day after a half marathon, even in gut-busting humidity.
  • Tuesday: I started with three miles on the treadmill inside because I needed to go to a conference early. Then I tried to hit up as many of Columbia, Missouri’s running high points as I could before 7:30 a.m. Done. Eight miles and three different trails.
  • Wednesday: Forest Park is my favorite running path in America. I love it more than Central Park or the National Mall. Maybe I’m sentimental because I grew into a runner in Missouri. Maybe Forest Park is simply amazing. I chose a hotel next to the park and made sure to eat a pasta dinner the night before. Easy eight miles followed by a three-mile cool down.
  • Thursday: Back in D.C., I did a ton of speed work on brand new treadmills (woo!) at the gym. Six reps of 1200m with a 400m cool down and a warmup and one-mile warm up and cool down. I still wasn’t tired.
  • Friday: The hills that felt hard a few weeks ago suddenly seemed easy. I changed my 10-mile route mid-run so I could hit up another hill on the way home.
  • Saturday: On Saturday morning, I opened the front door, and cool fall air knocked me in the face. Michael and I started our long run a little fast, but we both figured we would slow later. But we got faster. Many of our middle miles were near marathon pace. If I’d kept up the pace for six more miles, it would’ve been good for my fourth fastest marathon.
  • Sunday: I capped the weekend off with a great low-key trail run in Rock Creek Park. The weather was still chilly this morning, and the trails were nearly perfect.

Maybe this is when the training pays off. I have 20 days to try to figure out how to bring some of this week’s goodness to the next race.

Bull Run Trail: Getting in to this Trail Thing

Michael loves trails, while I strongly prefer roads, so we tend to go our separate ways on weekends. Our first date/non-date — depending on who you ask — was a trail run. I asked him what he was doing that weekend. He said he was going for a trail run and invited me along. All casual, like it wasn’t a big deal. We ended up running almost 10 miles on rooty, rocky trails. I was coming off the Boston Marathon the week before, but I was trying to impress him, like, sure, I run trails all the time. I didn’t, and I don’t really now.

On our recent trip to the West Coast, we ran trails almost every day. When I got home I realized I’d gained quite a bit of fitness without even realizing it. As part of my recovery from this summer’s hip injury and maybe in an effort to not get injured again, I’ve decided to try to run more trails. They force me to slow down and to use different muscles. I’m not going to stop doing long runs or training for marathons. I might decrease my mileage on trail-run days, or maybe I’ll do a recovery run as my second run that day. I’m just going to make an effort to run at least one trail per week. That could be Rock Creek trails must weeks. Easy, right?

Step 1. Get some real trail shoes.

trail shoesTo be a real trail runner, I don’t need to be decked out in crazy trail gear, but I probably should invest in some actual trail-running shoes. My Brooks Pure Connects took a beating on the trip, and my feet never made great contact with the trail. Pacer’s had a holiday weekend sale, so I sprung for the New Balance WT10v2 Minimus. I’m used to zero-drop shoes and very little cushioning. The trail running shoes I’ve found seem to be either crazy bulky or quite minimal. I can’t imagine running in shoes that are heavier than road-running shoes, so I went for the lighter option. I think I chose well.

Step 2. Find a trail.

Bulls Run sign
The trail where we ran on our first date/non-date was not exactly beginner-friendly. The trails we ran in California and Nevada weren’t all easy either. Dipsea was certainly not easy. I did some research and found Bull Run Trail, which is at the opposite end of a series of trails called the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail. It is a little flatter with a few rolling hills. Doug at RockCreekRunner.com pointed me to this article: Trail Report: Bull Run – Occoquan Trail. Perfect.

The trail head where we parked (off Centreville Road) is only 35 minutes from our front door by car. We ran errands in Virginia while we were out. That’s not bad for a Sunday morning.

Step 3. Run the trail.

trail steps
Steps leading down to trail start.

At the beginning of the run once we’d cleared the steps to get to the trail itself, we had to pick our way over a bunch of rocks at an underpass. In California when we were running at 8500 feet, rocks were understandable. These rocks were random. Michael guessed they were left over from construction or something. So there was some slow going at first. But after a few hundred feet we hit the trail itself, and I settled in to an even pace. Michael was patient with me and let me set the pace most of the time.

When I run, I fall into a great rhythm on rolling straightaways or any terrain that doesn’t have roots. But the second I see a tangle of roots or a wet rock, I slow down, lose my cadence and pull back so I can pick my way down. Is that self preservation or inexperience? On the way out, I had trouble with pausing, but I was in the zone on the way back — kind of like how I feel when I’m on the road.

The trail had only a few crazy switchbacks, and the portions along the water were flat enough to let me push the pace a bit.
Bull Run
I remember this trail being pretty muddy in the spring and winter. Another runner we chatted with talked about it getting muddy, too. Today was a pretty day to run it, but I wish we’d had an earlier start because by 9 a.m., the temperature was already near 80.

We finished a 6.5-ish-mile out-and-back in about 1:15. Our midway point was at the top of a pretty tough hill. The trail keeps going for miles and miles. If I had all day and was more experienced, I could see running point to point and arranging for transportation. The course was clearly marked by blue blazes that even a trail newbie like me could understand.

Step 4. See a turtle!

Bonus of the day was a wildlife spotting in the parking lot. This turtle had wandered across the parking lot, so we set him straight in the grass across the way, closer to the water. I hope he made it out of harm’s way.

turtle
Lost turtle

Random Running Thoughts

One of non-runners’ most common questions is a combination of, “What do you think about?” and “Don’t you get bored out there?” Most of the time when I’m running, I think about a whole lot of nothing. I think about maintaining my form or my mile splits, and the time sort of floats by. Running gives me time to relax my mind and completely zone out. But sometimes, I fixate on one little tidbit that seems really dumb. For example I spent the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler two years ago thinking about how I was eating Cherry Lime Roctane GU and how amazing that was. Because cherry, cherry, right? For about six miles.

Because I’m lazy and have been slacking on blog updates, here’s a list in no particular order of thoughts I’ve had while running in the past week. I’ve put in about 80 miles, so I’ve had plenty of time to think.Salted Caramel GU

  1. This Bright Eyes song has come on my shuffle at least five times. Someone must want me to be sad. Skip.
  2. Band-Aid is falling off my toe. Every step for two miles.
  3. Well, hello there shirtless men’s track club.
  4. (next to the zoo) Is that sound a weed eater or a cow? Why would a cow be in the zoo? Wait, are cows rare? Thought about it for next 15 minutes.
  5. Yeti on the Salted Caramel GU is carrying a sign that says 2014. Does that mean it’s only available through 2014? The end of 2014?
  6. It should start raining now. Thought many times.
  7. These Kenyans are running slower than I am. They’re smarter than I am.
  8. Slurpee. Wonder if the Coke Slurpee machine is working today. For seven miles.
  9. Let’s play Ana Ng again. And again.
  10. How many miles are on these shoes? Tried to calculate a guess for the next mile.
  11. I can extend this run by two miles by going the long way. Thought occurred six miles from the decision point and worried about decision for the next six miles.
  12. Oh look, Blake! Hi Blake!
  13. (Random thoughts about content management and data that are too boring to mention, mostly involving drag and drop.)
  14. Don’t ding-ding your bike bell at me when we’re on a narrow bridge, or I’m going to fall off the narrow bridge.
  15. Vacation vacation vacation.