Monday, August 22, 2016

Training log - Week ending 8/21/16

This week was 50 miles of running, 31 "miles" of pool-running and 2000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

And....I'm halfway through the hardest part of the training cycle.  During what's the most challenging part of the year to run in, to boot.

The weather for the first part of the week was fairly tough - Wednesday's workout was in temperatures in the high 70s with a dew point to match.  On paper, the workout was supposed to be 25x400m at 10K pace with 100m active recovery (i.e. around 8:00 pace, not the normal shuffle jog).

 Because of the weather conditions, I slowed down my pace on the intervals (1:38s instead of 1:33s). However, in retrospect, I should have slowed down the recovery jogs as well.  The point of keeping the recovery jog so short and upbeat is to keep one's heart rate from dropping too much, but in hot and humid weather, one's heart rate isn't going to drop anyway.

As I got further and further into the workout, I could tell that I was overreaching and overheating, so I stopped the workout at 20 repeats to limit the damage.  It's always hard to do so - like any type A personality, I equate "harder" workouts with "better."  And forcing the last few laps would have been good mental toughness training.  But gutting out the workout would have also dug me into a big hole.  Y'know, the same one I always dig myself into if I'm not careful.

It's funny how good decisions make one feel sheepish at the time.  Workouts are stimuli, not validations of one's fitness and toughness.  But it's hard to remember that in the heat of the (hot and humid) moment.

The other news is that, sadly, my asthma has started acting up again.  And the uptick coincides very nicely with the onset of ragweed season.  Of course.

I had noticed my chest getting tight again, so I headed back to the asthma doctor on Friday.  There, some tests confirmed that my breathing had backtracked a bit, so we bumped up the strength of my Advair (from 250 to 500, for those who care).

I was annoyed for several reasons.  For one, I hate the side effects of the stronger dose of Advair.  I find it very dehydrating, and it also gives me hot flashes - both of which are not fun when trying to train in a DC summer.  It also makes me irritable - I get annoyed at really minor things, and then feel awful about it later.

I've also gotten really hooked on having 100% functioning lungs.  It was just an amazing feeling, and I'm depressed to have regressed.  It's like I'm in some pulmonary retelling of Flowers for Algernon - my breathing peaked, and is now slowly ebbing away.  I know that I'm still breathing much better than my norm for this time of year, and I'm pretty sure that this will pass in another 4-5 weeks (which is also when my training cycle concludes).  But 4-5 weeks seems a long time right now.


Monday: 9 "miles" pool-running; 2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night.

Tuesday: 7.5 miles very easy (9:17) then upper body weights, followed by 2.5 miles very easy home (8:59) plus drills and strides.  2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night.

Wednesday: 12 miles, including a workout of 20x400m averaging 1:38 pace with 100m recovery at easy run pace.  Followed with 1000 yards of recovery swimming.  Sports massage at night.

Thursday: 8 "miles" pool-running and yoga in the morning.  2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night

Friday: 10.5 miles very easy (9:26), followed by upper body weights and core.  Foam rolling at night.

Saturday: 17 miles, including a workout of 4, 3, 2, and 1 miles at marathon pace, with 1 mile easy in between. Splits were:
4 mile in 28:57 (7:23/7:15/7:06/7:13 - average pace 7:14)
3 mile in 21:33 (7:14/7:13/7:06 - average pace 7:11)
2 mile in 14:22 (7:15/7:07 - average pace 7:11)
1 mile in 6:55
Followed with injury prevention work and 1000 yards of recovery swimming. Foam rolling in afternoon.

Sunday: Took the morning off to clean and unpack (our brand new kitchen was finished on Friday).  6 "miles" of pool-running and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Training log - Week ending 8/14/16

This week was 65 miles of running, 24 "miles" of pool-running and 3000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

Another week in the books, with two topics of interest.

The first was the weather.  Summer in the DC area is always challenging (fun fact - DC is generally hotter/more humid than Tampa during the summer) but the past few days been out of the norm.  "It's not the heat but the humidity" is a cliche, but it's also true.  Very high dewpoints have made running at any pace tough.

Despite the weather, Friday's tempo went surprisingly well, with my conservative effort yielding a surprisingly fast pace for the conditions (temperature 79/dew point 76).  This was a good thing.

However, this created a false sense of confidence, and so I was a bit too relaxed about Saturday's easy 10 (temperature 80, dew point 78).  I carried a water bottle and planned to hit water stops along the way, but I didn't chug water before the run, and I also took Benadryl for my flaring allergies the night before, which often times dehydrates me.

The result was a run that was epic in its shittiness.  I've felt better during my bad marathons than I did on Saturday - by the last mile, anything that wasn't downhill felt uphill, and I was alternating running and standing breaks in an attempt at damage control.

It wasn't a great confidence booster for Sunday's long run, but it was helpful all the same. Determined to avoid a similar experience on Sunday, I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning chugging fluids like my training cycle depended on it.  Because it did.

I also paced the long run extremely cautiously, stopping at just about every single water fountain I saw, and draining my overlarge handheld between each.   I also kept a close eye on my heart rate, pulling back any time I saw the number getting a bit high, and supplemented my normal gel consumption with salty Margarita Shot Bloks.

The result was a solid long run.  Nothing spectacular (and I lost my discipline and got rolling a bit too fast the last two miles), but I survived, and I didn't bury myself in the process.  So woo.


The other topic was the Olympics.  Like a lot of other people I love watching as much of the sports as I can.  And like any good distance runner, I watched the 10,000 track races, women's and men's.

The women's 10,000 was one of the most frustrating things I've watched in some time.  If you're cynical/realistic/cynical/realistic/pick-the-adjective-of-your-choice, then you're aware that part of the game of competing at that level is doping.   And that robs the sport of a lot of its beauty.

There's two things that make competition really exciting. One is close competition.  The men's 10,000, though I'm sure that's also doped, at least came down to the last lap.

In contrast, there was no suspense in the women's 10,000.  Just a ludicrous performance as the eventual winner, Almaz Ayana, lapped most of her competitors, many more than once.  Spectacular performances and dominance can be thrilling, because they show us what the human body can achieve.   But they need to be credible,  And Ayana's performance wasn't.   As a friend of mine noted, it looked effortless, like she wasn't even working.  As she demolished a 20+ year old world record that was the result of "Chinese turtle blood."

It's frustrating to watch such an implausible performance, and to hear the announcers laud it as if it was credible.  I'm not a fan of the WWF, or of reality TV, because I don't like scripted reality.  But that's what that race was.

And performances like that just increase the doping. Not just because "you need to dope to compete," but because it plays into the rationalization that appeals to each one of us, elite or not.

If you're an elite on EPO, it's OK because all your competitors are also.
If you're an elite on something other than EPO, it's OK because at least it's not EPO.
If you're not an elite, you can take anything you want because you're not an elite.  And conversely, there's elites that argue that it's OK to take anything that a non-elite athlete does.

It's fascinating psychology, and one that plays out in pretty much every sport.  But also depressing.


Monday: yoga and 7.5 "miles" pool-running; 2.5 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night.

Tuesday: 12 miles, including a track workout of 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400 (95, 3:05, 4:35, 6:09, 4:34, 2:55, 78), followed by injury prevention work and 1250 yards recovery swimming.  Foam rolling at night.

Wednesday: 7.5 miles very easy (9:02) to yoga, then yoga.  Later did 4 miles very easy (8:43). 2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Thursday: 8 "miles" pool-running and upper body weights/core in the morning.  2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night

Friday: 10.5 miles, including a 5K tempo on the track in 20:32 (6:42/6:34/6:31/0:45), followed by 1150 yards recovery swimming.  Foam rolling at night.

Saturday: 9.5 miles aerobic (9:05), plus upper body weights. 2 "miles" pool-running with the belt and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday: 21 miles, done ultrarunner style (EIGHT water stops).  Ended up doing a very slight progression of first 9.5 miles at 9:12; next 7 at 8:33; last 4.5 at 7:40 (because the route is downhill for the last part).  Followed with 600 yards of recovery swimming.  Foam rolling in afternoon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Yes, it is a sport...

Every four years, the Summer Olympics come around, and the public is exposed to sports outside the American canon of basketball, baseball, football (not soccer), and hockey (plus golf and Nascar). Every four years, we're impressed by the athletes in some of these niche sports.  And every four years, we mock other sports.

Equestrian sports fall into the second category.  I've heard it all: "horse dancing"; "the horse does all the work"; etc.  NBC's coverage of the sport doesn't do it any favors either.  Instead of explaining the nuances and technicalities and physical demands of the sport, they recite cliches like "the beauty of the partnership between horse and rider."

(if I hear or read that one more time, I will scream.  No one ever talks about "the beauty of the partnership" in volleyball or crew).

Equestrian sports can be really interesting and exciting to watch - as evidence, I present my significant other, who knew very little about either riding or running before dating me.  He now finds the horse sports exciting, while a televised marathon remains of little interest.

However, you can't enjoy watching the sport unless you understand the sport.  So here's a primer.

First of all, a disclaimer: there are three types of horse sports in the Olympic games (well actually four, but Pentathlon is its own beast).   They are dressage, three day eventing, and showjumping. Showjumping, which is being televised next week, is what I did as a teenager.  And since I did "the jumpers" to a fairly high level, I feel qualified to explain it.

I did NOT compete in three day eventing or dressage, both of which are being shown this week.  And so I understand the general demands and structures of those sports in the same way that I understand 800m running or triathlons - enough to enjoy watching, but not enough to discuss in great detail.

Thus, I'll stick to what I know.  Showjumping.


There's two assumptions that underlie most people's dismissal of equestrian sports.  The first is that the primary concern in jumping a horse is not falling off.  I've come to the conclusion that many people think that successfully jumping horses is about a) getting the horse pointed the right direction and b) staying on while the horse jumps.  Steering and not falling off are indeed essential to competing in showjumping, in the same way that the ability to run a bit further than 6 miles is essential to racing a 10K well.  But there's much more than that to the sport.

The second assumption is that horse sports are not physically demanding.    I think this stems out of each person's tendency to define fitness in terms of the physical qualities needed to excel in their chosen sport.  If you run or swim or bike, you define fitness as aerobic endurance.  If you lift, you define fitness as pure strength.

Riding is a sport of skill, but also of strength.  You need to be quite strong to be a successful rider, though nowhere near the level of a elite weightlifter.  While most strength sports focus on concentric work - lifting something, moving something, etc; riding is an isometric strength workout.  Riders work very hard to keep stuff stable, and to engage in controlled, fairly small movements.  This is why the physical work that a rider is doing isn't apparent to the casual observer - because the rider isn't making large motions (hopefully).  But as anyone that's held chair pose in yoga or done planks can testify, isometric strengthwork can be very tough.

[when I watch dressage, my abs and biceps ache in sympathy with the rider.  I'm guessing the majority of NBC's viewership doesn't experience similar]

There's also a belief that riding is not an aerobic sport at all - that "you just sit there" while the horse does the work.  This belief is perpetuated by the many people every year who go on an organized trail ride, where a horse carries them around some scenic locale while they clutch the mane with both hands.

That's not riding.  That's sitting on a horse.  Riding (not sitting) is aerobic work. Yes, the horse is working and breathing hard, but so is the rider.  Trail riding is to equestrian sports like tubing is to kayaking, or sledding is to slalom skiing.

When riding a horse at the canter, my perceived aerobic effort matches that of running at marathon pace, and my heart rate does as well (mid 160s for both).  I can still speak in phrases or the occasional sentence, with a few breaths in between, but I am WORKING.  The key difference, of course, is that I'm probably not going to be working at the canter for more than 5 minutes at a time, while I'll be running my marathon for a bit over three hours.  Running is far MORE aerobically demanding than riding.  But riding does involve some aerobic effort, combined with far more strength than one needs to run.


So, what does a showjumping rider actually do?

Short answer: many different and difficult things that enable the horse to jump the course of obstacles.  In the end, it's the horse that takes off and lands.  But it's the rider's job to ensure that the horse is able to jump the jump well, with most of that work being done before the horse and rider arrive at the jump.  That's the skill part, which in turn requires significant strength to pull off.

I stole this picture from someone
who stole it from
Horsejunkies is a very good site, BTW.
You should all visit it.
To understand this, we'll start with a very simple jump - imagine a hurdle similar to what a runner would encounter in a steeplechase race on the track.  Now visualize a horse jumping over the hurdle.

Or, alternately, just look at the picture on the right.

As you can see, the horse arcs over the jump, from take-off to landing.   In order to jump a fence well, the horse's arc should be centered over the highest part of the jump.   

(This jumping arc is generally referred to as a bascule, which is a pretentious sounding word that I despise, and so won't use again.)

The rider's job (in part) is to shape that arc.  Part of that ensuring that the horse takes off from the optimal place in front of the fence.  Not too close, or the front legs may hit the fence.  And not too far, or the back legs may not clear the fence.   And if you totally screw up, getting to a spot from which it is very hard or impossible to clear the fence, the horse will likely refuse to jump (and often times, you're grateful, as they've just saved your neck).

The rider also controls the shape of the jumping arc, generally by shaping the horse's stride before the jump.  If you have your horse cantering with short, bouncy strides before the jump, you'll get an arc that is narrow but quite high - perfect for high jumps that aren't very wide.  If your horse is jumping out of a more extended stride, then you'll achieve an wider, flatter arc - much better for jumping very
Most of these are verticals, but there's also an oxer,
a triple bar, and an open water.
wide jumps with little height.  Of course, there's many different shapes of jumps, and so a need for many different types of arcs.   Some jumps aren't very wide (they're called verticals), some jumps are wider but still high (oxers and triple bars) and there's occasionally a shallow but wide pit full of water.


So, that's how to handle a single jump.  But of course, it's not that simple.  While you occasionally have jumps sitting out in the middle of nowhere, most jumps are placed at measured distances from each other. And this fact makes shaping the arc for each jump harder.

A horse's normal stride is assumed to be 12 feet long, and the horse generally needs 6 feet in front of the jump to take off, and lands 6 feet away from the jump on the other side (that's a vast simplification, but just go with it - if you know this sport, then this post isn't aimed at you anyway).

So...if you have two jumps with 60 feet between them, then your horse will take 4 strides between the two.  60 feet less 6 feet for landing and less 6 feet for takeoff  is 48 feet, and 48 feet equals four 12 foot strides.

[incidentally, this 12 foot stride is why, if you ever watch a showjumping competition, you may see riders "walk the course" - striding between two jumps with a slightly military step.   They're actually measuring the distance between the two jumps, with each step that they take being exactly 3 feet long.]

But suppose that the second jump is fairly wide, and so you need a more extended stride to clear it. That more extended stride is 13 feet long.  If you do 4 strides, each 13 feet long, then you've covered 52 feet (plus the 6 for landing for the first jump), and you are way too close to the second jump.

How do you fix that?  One way is to land and then take two strides that are 11 feet long and two strides that are 13 feet long.  If the jumps are set on a curving path, another option is to take the turn wider, so that you can fit in four longer strides.


Course designers get mean sometimes.   And they get meaner as the level of competition get higher.   In my example above, they could set the jumps to be 56 feet apart, rather than 60.  So how do you fit in the 13 foot stride that you need to jump the second wide jump?

There's at least three options:
1) take two REALLY REALLY short strides and then two longer ones, and hope it works out.
2) try to leave out a stride, taking three REALLY REALLY long strides. And hope it works out.
3) take four slightly short strides and hope it works out.

If it doesn't work out, you may get lucky and get over it anyway.  Or you may get over it but knock a rail down.  Or your horse may stop.  Or you may crash.   Trust me, it's an awful feeling to realize two or three strides away out from a fence that you've made the wrong choice.


And of course, it gets even harder, since horses are individuals.  Some horses lengthen their strides easily, but don't shorten well.  Some horses like to have extra space in front of the jump - preferring to take off from 7 feet away, instead of 6.  Some horses are capable of jumping very big jumps, and so you have a wider margin for error.  This is called "scope."  Some horses are more limited, and you can't stray very far from perfection without knocking down the fence or worse.

One horse I showed regularly in the jumpers as a teenager, named Bar Brat, was limited in how wide she could jump (though not how high).  She also pulled in her front legs very quickly when jumping, meaning we could take off much closer to the jump.  When I rode her, I had to ensure that we a) carried a fast pace and a longer stride, to maximize her ability to get across the width, and b) took off very close to the jump, to minimize the total width she had to clear.

There's also other details for the rider to control, like where the horse's center of gravity is - more towards the front?  More to the rear?  And whether the horse's body is straight, bent to the right, bent to the left, etc.  Going into all of that would make this entry even longer, so just suffice to say - it's hard.   People write books on this stuff.  And people buy books on this stuff.


As described above, this all sounds very mathematical.  Measure the course, do some calculations, and you're set.  But horses aren't like planes - you don't program in your flight path ahead of time. Rather, you have a general game plan when you go in the ring.  Something like "5 short strides between one and two, then turn right and open up my stride for fence three..."  But you have to adjust on the fly, relying on your feel for how the horse is moving, and your visual depth perception to measure where you are relative to each jump.

And, there are no buttons to push.  Instead you manage the horse's stride and balance physically.    It's another oversimplification, but basically you lengthen the stride by squeezing with your legs more (or kicking, if necessary), and shorten the stride by pulling with your arms.  Sometimes this is a fairly subtle thing.  And sometimes you have to apply force.  A LOT of force.  Bar Brat would pull fairly hard, and 90 seconds in the ring was enough to bring me to muscle failure at times.

Of course, your core is working very hard as well - stabilizing you on a moving animal, and giving you something to brace against when you (oversimplified) kick and pull.    Though it's too complicated to explain here in detail, your core also steers and balances the horse - the placement of your body on the horse affects how the horse carries its weight.

Think pilates on a reformer machine with heavy weights, but with the risk of getting seriously hurt.

Riders don't always have the low body fat of other sports (unless they're competing in equitation, which is a variant of show jumping judged on the rider's performance and appearance).  And that extra body fat sometimes creates a misleading impression of a lack of fitness.  However, any rider competing at a high level has fantastic core strength, and can also perform some impressive weight work in the gym.


So that, in a nutshell, is what the rider is doing on the horse.  Of course, they're doing this with a purpose, and the purpose is to place well in competition. So how is the competition scored?

In show-jumping, the objective is to jump a clear round over the course of jumps.  "Clear" means that you haven't incurred any "faults."  How does one get faults? Well....

  • If you alter the height or width of an obstacle (generally by knocking a pole down), or get a foot in a water jump - 4 faults.
  • If the horse refuses to jump a jump, it's called a refusal, which is a type of "disobedience."  It's 4 faults for the first disobedience.  The second disobedience is elimination.  If you circle while on course, or come to a complete stop anywhere on course, it's also considered a diobedience, and 4 faults are assessed.
  • If the rider falls (defined as touching the ground) - elimination.
  • If the horse falls (defined as both the shoulders and the rear end of the horse touching the ground) - elimination.
  • If you jump the fences out of order, it's called "off course" - elimination.
Each course has a start and finish line clearly marked - you only incur faults while you are between the start and finish.  Fall off after the finish line, and you're still in the game - this has occasionally led to some hilarious scenes as riders who have been jumped loose struggle to hang on until they cross the finish.

You're timed from when you cross the start to when you cross the finish, and each course has a "time allowed."  At the Olympic level, riders are expected to maintain a pace of 400 meters per minute (essentially a four minute mile).  The time allowed is calculated by combining that pace with the measured distance of the course - thus the time allowed for a 500 meter course would be 75 seconds.

If you exceed the time allowed, you incur 1 fault for every 4 seconds, or portion thereof, that you are over the time.  So, if the time allowed is 75 seconds, and you take 76 seconds, you get 1 fault.    If you take 79 seconds, it's still 1 fault.  If you take 80 seconds, it's 2 faults.

If you really go crazy, and are out there for twice the time allowed, then you've exceeded the time limit - that's elimination.


That's how each round is scored.  In a "normal" horse show, there are multiple classes for individual horse/rider combinations, each treated as a separate mini-competition, with awards given for that class.  In each class, there's a first round, and then all competitors who are tied for first after that first round (usually, this is all the clear rounds), return for a "jump-off" where they compete over a shortened course with their time in that second round being the tie breaker.

The Olympics differ slightly, in that they are a team competition.   At Rio this year, the competition will be spread over multiple days.  The first day is a "qualifier" with relatively simple course.  Placements on this day affect the starting order for future days - there's usually an advantage to going later in the order, so that one can see how the course rides.  

Two days later, the riders return for a two round "Nations Cup" that determines the team medals. Two rounds  over the same course.  Each country fields a team of four riders, with the scores from the best three counting for each round.  At the end of the two rounds, the lowest team score (after cutting the drop score) wins.

Two days later, the top 35 riders from the team competition plus the qualifier return for the individual competition.  Their scores are reset to 0, and they compete over another two rounds, with the lowest score winning gold.  If there's a tie for any medal after the two rounds, the tied competitors jump off for the medal.


If you've made it through this all, then you're ready to watch Olympic Show Jumping.  Congratulations.  The qualifying round is on Sunday, August 14 from 9:00 am -12:45 pm EST.  The Team competition is on Tuesday, August 16 and Wednesday, August 17 starting at 9:00 am EST each day.  And the individual competition is on Friday, August 19 starting at 9:00 am EST.  

See you there!  (virtually)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Training log - Week ending 8/7/16

This week was 59 miles of running, 21 "miles" of pool-running and 3000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

The first half of this week was a bit tough.  Though the splits from Tuesday's workout aren't bad on paper, it wasn't a great workout.  The first reps felt great, but then I started hurting halfway through the workout, and had to work to finish it.  Workouts are for training, not straining, but I did the latter on Tuesday.    I think this was partially due to residual fatigue from Sunday's race, and partially due to slacking off on my water consumption during the workout.

I was tired on Wednesday as well, and I struggled to fall asleep on Wednesday night.  And just felt all around lousy and heavy.   Being tired is part of marathon training.  But...problems falling asleep, combined with a bloated feeling, are often a warning sign that I've overreached in my training.  So I reduced my workload substantially on Thursday - skipping the gym and my evening pool-running double.  I also donned a flotation belt for the morning pool-run, to reduce the intensity and make it a true recovery activity.

This seems to have done the trick, as I felt better on Friday (with a much easier workout) and even better yet on the weekend.   So yay.  But it was a good reminder that I need to be mindful of not pushing stuff too hard.  It's a fine line - push hard enough to improve, but not so hard that you can't absorb the training.  Harder is not better.


In other news, I signed up for "23andMe" some time ago.  (unofficial motto: when you can't justify buying any more running stuff, spend your disposable income here instead!)   It's a service where you pay some money, spit into a tube (it requires a LOT of spit), and then ship tube+spit off for analysis. They do some analytic stuff, and send you a report a month listing all sorts of genetic information about you.

Having now purchased (and spat), I'm a bit meh about the whole thing.  The report wasn't that interesting, though I guess that's a good thing, since much of the results were confirmation that I didn't carry genes for horrible rare diseases.

Some of the results were pretty funny, though.

 Some results were just....incorrect.

 And some were both incorrect AND hilarious.

Next week, I get to run my first 20+ mile long run since November of last year.   Oddly, given my latent sprinting capabilities, I'm looking forward to it.


Monday: yoga and 7 "miles" pool-running; 2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night.

Tuesday: 10 miles, including a track workout of 2x800, 1600, 2x800 (3:03, 2:59, 6:03, 2:57, 2:53), followed by injury prevention work and 1250 yards recovery swimming.  Foam rolling at night.

Wednesday: 7.5 miles very easy (8:53) to yoga, then yoga.  Later did 3.5 miles very easy (8:41). 2 "miles" pool-running and a sports massage in the afternoon.

Thursday: 8 "miles" pool-running with the belt.  Foam rolling at night

Friday: 11 miles, including a track workout of 3200, 1600 in 12:45 (6:29/6:16) and 6:03.  followed by injury prevention work and 1250 yards recovery swimming.  Foam rolling at night.

Saturday: 10 miles very easy (8:57), plus drills and strides.  Upper body weights, 2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday: 17 miles, including a workout of 4, 3, 2, and 1 miles at marathon pace, with 1 mile easy in between.  Splits were:
4 mile in 28:27 (7:08/7:09/7:07/7:03 - average pace 7:07)
3 mile in 21:34 (7:11/7:12/7:11 - average pace 7:11)
2 mile in 14:18 (7:11/7:07 - average pace 7:09)
1 mile in 6:52
 Followed with injury prevention work and 750 yards of recovery swimming.  Foam rolling in afternoon.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Training log - Week ending 7/31/16

This week was 49 miles of running, 26 "miles" of pool-running and 1000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

Another week of putting in the mileage, on land and in the water.  I did pull back some during the second half of the week, before racing a 5K on Sunday.

 I've been experimenting some with how much running I can get away with in the last few days before a race - I usually do 0-4 miles the day before a  5-10K race, and no more than 7 miles two days pre-race. But I bumped the mileage up a bit this week, as an experiment.

My conclusion is that I probably did a bit too much in the days before the race - while my legs weren't truly tired, they also weren't as sharp as I would have liked (of course, that also could have been the humidity).  So that's a lesson for next time.

Of course, it also could just be that I've been doing so many flights of stairs recently.  We're halfway through a major kitchen renovation, which means that our "kitchen" is in the basement.  And also that nearly all of the first floor of the house is off limits. Which means a LOT of trips up and down two flights of stairs, from the second floor to the basement and back.   Sort of like a bit of extra hill running.

The nice thing is that if all remains on schedule (and so far it is - knock on wood), we'll be done with the kitchen renovation just in time for marathon training to kick into high gear.

[which also means I'll have to be moving furniture back into place at the same time marathon training is peaking, but I'm trying not to think too much about that one...]

In the meantime, I'm getting sick of stairs.  And paper plates.  And the Whole Foods hot bar.  /whine.


Monday: yoga and 7.5 "miles" pool-running; 2.5 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling at night.

Tuesday: 11 miles, including a track workout of 4x1200, 2x400 (4:41, 4:37, 4:37, 4:31, 89, 85), followed by injury prevention work and 1000 yards recovery swimming.

Wednesday: 7 miles very easy (9:00) to yoga, then yoga.  Later did 5 miles very easy (8:37). Foam rolling in the evening.

Thursday: Upper body weights, core, and 10 "miles" pool-running.  Foam rolling at night

Friday: 8.5 miles, mostly easy, but with a mile pick-up in 6:13. Followed with drills and two hill sprints.  Foam rolling later.

Saturday: 6 miles very easy (8:42), plus drills and strides.  Foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday: 3.5 mile warm-up, 5K race in 20:22, and then 5 mile "warm-down." Followed with injury prevention work.  6 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling in afternoon.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Race report: Anchor Run 5K, July 31, 2016

I ran the "Anchor Run 5K" in Odenton Md today, finishing in a time of 20:22, which was good enough for the female win.  And also top master, male or female (just had to get that in there).

The obvious question for all of my local friends was: why Odenton?  (And also, where the heck is Odenton?).

Answer: Odenton is near Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County in Maryland, and not too far from Annapolis.  Like anyone who lives in Northern Virginia, I have a unconscious bias where anything in Virginia is "close," while anything in DC or Maryland is "far." (excepting Georgetown.)  Odenton was actually only a 40 minute drive for me, slightly closer than Leesburg, Virginia (where I sometimes drive to race).  It just seems further since it's closer to Baltimore than to DC.

The other reason is that I wanted to race, I wanted to race on Sunday, July 31 for multiple scheduling reasons, and I wanted to race no further than 5K, since it's been pretty hot and humid recently.  That left me with one option - the Anchor Run.

I had naive hopes when I registered that the course  might be fairly fast - Annapolis is flat, right?  But those hopes were shot down (a nod to the Naval theme of this race) when I played with Map My Run and confirmed that no, this race was not flat (Annapolis ain't flat either).  But what the heck, I really wanted a race, not a time trial, so hills were fine.


I showed up at the race start at 6:30 am - perfect timing to grab my bib and head out for my warm-up jog.  For 5K races, I usually just jog the course once - I need a three mile warm-up anyway, and I like having some idea of where the course goes.  The first mile of the course was fairly easy to follow, and well signed, but then the race turned right, into a park with a nice collection of bike trails.  I very quickly got confused as to where I was, and rather than muddle my way through and risk missing the start of the race, I just turned around and retraced my steps to the start area.

Per my normal warm-up practice, I inserted 90 seconds of hard running into the end of my warm-up, with the goal of elevating my heart rate up to something close to what I'd be holding during the 5K race.  I've found that I race short distances much better when I do this, finishing up about 10 minutes before the start.  I'm a runner who always struggles with the first rep or lap of a workout, and so I like to get that first lap out of the way before the start of the race.  Since there was a big hill heading towards the start area, I did my hard run up that.  It got my heart pumping fairly nicely.


A few drills and strides, and then we were off.  The first few seconds of the race were a mad sprint through the parking lot, before a sharp pair of turns that routed up onto a narrow paved trail, and then a sidewalk.  As is normal (and expected) I was dropped massively during this first mad dash.  I reminded myself that 5Ks could be lost in the first minute, but never won, and hung back, letting the chaos burn itself out ahead of me.  This resulted in me going out a bit more conservatively than I would have liked, but the alternative was to try to elbow my way through people on a narrow path, which would have done nothing but burn energy.  So I waited.

Eventually the sidewalk got a little more spacious, and there was room to do some passing.  So I started patiently working my way through as I was able.  Another woman had sprinted past me at the very start of the race, but I was able to pass her here, along with a few others.  A bit later (about 1200m into the race) the course routed us around a traffic circle in front of a school.  By that point, I had already put about 30 seconds on her, with no other woman in sight.  And I was still holding a fairly conservative effort.  It sounds obnoxious, but at that point I realized that I had the overall female win in hand unless I did something monumentally stupid.

The problem with a racing strategy of "don't do something really stupid" is that it's not conducive to fast running.  If I know I have the female win in hand, I tend to shut down and just cruise.  I need competition in order to race well.   Especially when it's hot, and I'm racing a 5K, because I despise hot 5K races.

So I mentally flipped a switch and decided I'd target the overall masters win, male or female (a category I just made up on the spot.)  Fortunately, I had two older men running near me, with another a little further down the road.  Game on.

As we continued past mile 1, downhill, I patiently stalked my potential victims.  One of them surged ahead, and I let him go, but kept him in my sights.  Shortly after the first mile marker, the course took a hard right turn into the park and the bike paths.  It was nice, in that it was a flowing downhill and shaded from the bright sun.  It was also not so nice, in that the bike path was fairly twisty, curving around trees and other stuff.

I'm a very good downhill runner, and so normally I can milk long downhill stretches for a nice speed boost, before defending my turf on the uphill return.  However, the winding nature of the bike path made it hard to really get rolling.  The path was also a bit slick in places from the previous evening's heavy rain storms, meaning I had to slow down to negotiate each twist carefully, bleeding momentum.   But we all run the same course (hopefully), and so I just kept at it, managing to edge my way past male masters buddies/foes 1 and 2.

(I'll take a brief pause here, to allow all of my technical trail running friends roll their eyes at my kvetching about a bit of mud and some turns on a downhill asphalt path)

A bit after mile 2, we exited the park, rejoining the roads for the climb back to the finish. The good was that I now had a nice straight, fairly open path to run.  The bad was that it was uphill, and fairly steep.  But I could see my good buddy, male master number 3 (collect them all!), and so I got to work on him.

By the time I hit the top of the hill, I had passed him, and now it was just me and the finish line.  I mad the right turn into the parking lot, only to realize that the course required me to run PAST the finish arch to a set of cones, before doing a 180 and running back to the finish.  Not nice.  But many courses do this or some variant, so good to get the practice.

For the record, this is reaalllly mean.

As always, I ran this one watchless, so I didn't know my time until I saw the finish clock.  I was slightly disappointed to see it ticking past 20, but not terribly surprised.  I think I'm actually in really good shape right now, but between the hills, the difficulty of the course, and today's hot and humid conditions, it wasn't realistic to expect a fast time.  I thought I ran pretty well for the course and the weather, and it's hard to get too upset about a win.  Plus the race was managed very well, with enthusiastic volunteers manning the course to keep us all on track through the park.   Not all races are well managed or affordable, so it's nice to run one that is.


Splits per my Garmin were:

Mile 1: 6:32
Mile 2: 7:46 (1.17 miles according to Garmin - pace of 6:39)
Mile 3 plus last bit: 6:05  (.91 miles according to Garmin, pace of 6:39)

What's interesting here is that the second split is where most of the elevation loss was, and should have been my fastest split by far.  And yet I didn't run it any faster than the final split, which had a significant uphill in it.  I think this reflects all the speed lost on the bike path through the park, which was most of that split.

Other notes:
Dorky photo of me
after the finish.
Cuz why not.

  • I ended up 7th overall (out of about 250), top female, and top masters male or female.  So yay.
  • For the female win, I received a gift card to a local running store.   Normally this would be problematic, since I don't live in the area, and the running store didn't open until noon today. But fortunately, Brian and I are headed back that way next Saturday, so hopefully I can sweet talk him into a quick visit to the running store.
  • According to the emailed results I received, the air temp for the race was 82, with a "feels like" of 89.  I honestly don't think it was that bad.  But hey, never reject any excuse that has an appearance of legitimacy.  [Wunderground says temp 76, DP 74, which sounds more reasonable]
  • Breathing was great.  Never an issue.  No hanging over the side of the fence when I finished the race.  Awesome.
  • Caramel Machiatto GU in the morning pre-race.  Lotsa water before and after.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Training log - Week ending 7/24/16

This week was 56 miles of running, 20 "miles" of pool-running and 3000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

Training continues to go very well - temperatures are warm, but I'm handling the warmth and humidity very well this year.  And I feel like I'm recovering far better than I was before going on Advair - probably because I'm breathing and sleeping so much better.

I was particularly happy with Sunday's long run - though the temperature was not as apocalyptic as forecast, it did get quite warm - 86 degrees by the end of the run.  But the relative humidity wasn't awful, and a combination of plenty of water, a shady route, and conservative pacing yielded a confidence boost.

The final third of a progressive long run is supposed to be at marathon pace, and I generally try not to stop for any reason during that part.  That's because 5-6 miles continuous at marathon pace is very different, both mentally and physically, from 2x3 miles with a two or three minute water/bathroom/stretch break.

I broke that rule this weekend by stopping quickly during the marathon pace segment of my long run to refill my water bottle (which was the right choice - trust me).  However, this time I kept my watch running during the water break, which encouraged me to keep the stop very short (21 seconds, if you care).  

I don't think the quick stop affected the overall training stimulus from the run (my heart rate didn't drop at all).  It did give me a chance to practice quickly filling my bottle and resuming race pace, which is exactly what I do during my longer races.  I'm guessing that I'll be doing this (very short water stops, with the Garmin timer running) during my Chicago training runs this summer, rather than trying to tough it out for a continuous MP segment.  Staying on top of my hydration during my long runs will be essential to making it through August marathon training, and practicing the very quick water stop will help on race day.


Monday: yoga and 7 "miles" pool-running; foam rolling at night.

Tuesday: 10 miles, including a track workout of 6x800 (3:02, 3:00, 3:02, 3:00, 2:58, 2:50), and 1000 yards recovery swimming.

Wednesday: 10 miles very easy (8:39) followed by upper body weights and foam rolling.

Thursday: 10 "miles" pool-running.  Foam rolling at night

Friday: 10 miles, including 6 hill repeats (~500m up, then 200m jog, 100m stride, and 100m jog down to base of hill). Followed with injury prevention work and 1000 yards easy swimming. Foam rolling at night.

Saturday: 10 miles easy (9:10), plus upper body weights and core. 3 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday: 16 miles progressive, split as 9:08 for first 5 miles; 7:57 for next 6, 7:16 for last 5.  Followed with injury prevention work and 1000 yards of recovery swimming.  Foam rolling in evening.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Training log - Week ending 7/17/16

This week was 55 miles of running, 21 "miles" of pool-running and 4000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

Busy.  Running good.  Busy.  Weather hot.  Busy.  Breathing good.  Busy.  Bloviation will return in near future.  Hopefully next week.


Monday: 7 "miles" pool-running; foam rolling at night.

Tuesday: 9 miles, including a track workout of 3x1600 (6:17, 6:09, 6:01), and 1500 yards recovery swimming.  Foam rolling at night.

Wednesday: 6.5 miles easy to yoga (9:14), yoga, and then 4.5 miles very easy (8:53)  plus drills and strides.  3 "miles" pool-running in afternoon; foam rolling at night.

Thursday: 9 "miles" pool-running plus upper body weights and core. Foam rolling at night

Friday: 11 miles, including 6 hill repeats (~500m up, then 200m jog, 100m stride, and 100m jog down to base of hill). Followed with injury prevention work and 1000 yards easy swimming. Foam rolling at night.

Saturday: 10 miles easy (8:55), plus upper body weights and core. 2 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday: 14 miles progressive, mile splits were 9:36, 9:06, 8:44, 8:32, 8:09, 7:42, 7:53, 7:46, 7:31, 7:15, 7:03, 7:02, 7:05, 7:04.  Followed with injury prevention work.  1500 yards of recovery swimming and sports massage in afternoon.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Training log - Week ending 7/10/16

This week was 63 miles of running, 12 "miles" of pool-running and 3000 yards of swimming -- training log is here.

This week's mileage is a bit overstated.  While I normally do my long run on Sunday and use Monday as a pool-running recovery day, a Monday race threw my schedule off.  Next week should be closer to normal, with lower mileage.'s looking like lower mileage is going to be my theme for the upcoming cycle.  Which is a bit counter intuitive, given that that the common wisdom is that more miles is better for marathon training.  But in the past, more miles hasn't worked so well for me - my marathon PR was run off of my lowest mileage cycle.   So, we're going with 5 days a week of running this cycle, and land mileage that will max out at lower than my recent half marathon training cycles.  I'll be supplementing some with pool-running, but not to an extreme.

It's different from what I've done in the past, but you can't succeed if you're not willing to take risks and step out of your comfort zone.  And my comfort zone is cranking out lots of easy miles.

Cutting the mileage also makes sense since I'm on Advair now - an asthma medication with a significant side effect of reducing bone density.  I've handled higher mileage in the past without injury, but things may be different now, and best to be careful.

As for the Advair, my doctor and I decided on Tuesday to reduce the dosage  It's a bit of a balancing act - the Advair helps my lungs, but also aggravates my vocal cord issues.  So the lungs work better, but my throat feels uncomfortably narrow, making breathing difficult in a different way.  The other side effects weren't much fun either, though they would have been manageable if they were the only complaints.

So we dropped from 500/50 (the highest dose) to 250/50 (medium dose), and things seemed better by the end of the week.

Particularly notable was Friday's hill workout - I'm used to that workout hurting by the last few reps, with my upper body feeling heavy and my arms and shoulders burning when I hit the steepest section of the hill.  It hadn't occurred to me that those sensations could be asthma related - I thought it was just part of the workout.  But there was no burning heaviness this Friday - it was eerie.  It was still a hard workout, and my legs were tired - 6 reps were enough for me.  But there's a difference between tired legs and the way my upper body usually feels during that workout.

The next two weeks are going to be crowded on the personal front - demolition of our kitchen starts on Monday morning - the first stage of a (hopefully) 6 week renovation.  At the same time, a big deal work project is approaching release next week.  Ideally, these two things wouldn't overlap with each other (or with marathon training).  But sometimes the schedule gods don't play nice.


Monday: 3 mile warm-up, 4 mile-ish race in 27:19, and then 1 mile-ish cooldown.  A bit later did 6 miles easy (8:32) (arguably too much, but wanted to chat with a friend).  1000 yards recovery swimming and foam rolling later.

Tuesday: Upper body weights and core, and then 6.5 miles very easy (9:30).   Foam rolling at night.

Wednesday: 4.5 miles easy to yoga (9:07), yoga, and then 4.5 miles very easy (8:44). Foam rolling at night.

Thursday: 9 "miles" pool-running plus upper body weights and core. Foam rolling at night

Friday: 10 miles, including 6 hill repeats (~500m up, then 200m jog, 100m stride, and 100m jog down to base of hill). Followed with injury prevention work and 1000 yards easy swimming. Foam rolling at night.

Saturday: 9.5 miles easy (9:04), plus upper body weights and core. 3 "miles" pool-running and foam rolling in the afternoon.

Sunday: 14 miles progressive, split as first 2.5 at 9:07, next 6.5 at 8:06, final 5 at 7:09.  Followed with yoga.  1000 yards of recovery swimming and foam rolling in afternoon.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Race Report: DC Road Runners Age Handicapped 4 miler, July 4, 2016

I ran the DC Road Runners Age Handicapped 4 Miler today, finishing with a gun time of 31:23, and a net time of 27:19.  This was good enough for eighth overall, based on gun time in this fairly unusual race.

This race is run a bit differently from most.  It uses a wave start, but the waves are ordered not by fastest to slowest, but rather by age and gender, with each five year age/gender group having a different start.  The youngest and oldest runners start first, and then the others are sent off, with the men in their 20s starting last.  The gap of time between when the race starts, and when your wave goes, is your "handicap."  Got it?  If not, the picture to the right explains it better.

It's a very casual, inexpensive, fun race.  There's neither chip timing nor bibs - one signs a index card marked with one's place after finishing. The prizes are donated by the runners and placed on a table, with each runner choosing their prize off the table during the awards - similar to a gift swap.   And the race course is approximately 4 miles - relying on the mile posts on the C&O Towpath, which are notoriously inaccurate.  The race was very clear about this up front, humorously noting that any world records set during today's race would be invalid.

To horribly misquote Animal Farm, all races are fun.  (Right?  That's why we do this.)  But some races are more fun than others.  And this is one.


The start of the race was a bit disconcerting.  Way back when, in my horse show days, I was used to being sent off into the ring one at a time; when I switched to running, I found it unsettling to be starting with all these people AT THE SAME TIME.  Over time, I've become used to it, and now I plan my race morning around the race's announced start time.  The staggered start time of this race was a flashback to my past, and also seemed odd in the same way a mass start once did.

[and in another flashback to my riding days, I lost track of time and was caught slightly off guard when it was time for my cohort to start.  Unlike riding, I couldn't ask the guy at the gate to let someone else go in front of me, so I just skipped my final set of strides.]

and...they're off
As I noted before, each age/gender group had its own start, resulting in a distinct second race, where you were racing against your direct peers.  It was pretty cool - in most races, I'm usually guessing who's in my age group - here it was pretty clear.  At 14:03 after the gun officially went off for the race, the 40-44 women were unleashed upon the sands of the C&O Towpath.

Two friends had given me advice about how to pace this race. The first noted that you really had to be careful about how you started - it was easy to get too competitive early on, chasing down those who started ahead of you, only to run out of gas later.  The second friend noted that the trick to winning this race was to start chasing down people from the very beginning - if you were too patient, you'd just be run down by the fast guys behind you.

I decided I'd just pace according to feel, and try to also stay conservative until the end.  Part of that is that running my own race generally works best for me anyway.  The other part was that I was test driving yet another new asthma med, and this was my first try at running hard while on Advair. Given that fact, the high humidity, and my crash and burn the last time I tried a new asthma med, it was better to be cautious.

Even with this resolve, I might have been a bit too aggressive in the first few minutes.  Due to the nature of the race, it's easy to pick off people at first, and that sings a siren song.  But I managed to reel myself in, and just held a relaxed, conservative rhythm.

The Towpath is a mild but steady climb going from east to west.  The race started just about halfway between mile posts 10 and 11, so we ran up to 11, then down past 10 to 9, before heading back past 10 to the start/finish arch (which was pretty impressive for such a bargain race).  My plan was to hold a careful effort until I had the finish line in my sight, at which point I'd pick up the pace if my breathing seemed OK.  Until I could see the finish line, I didn't want to take any risks.

Throughout the race, my lungs felt great, even despite the humidity.  Awesome.  However, my throat
Me doing fish face, with my two competitors.
was tightening up throughout, which is something I've noted the last few days  I think the Advair is irritating my throat and causing some vocal cord dysfunction - that's a known side effect of the drug.  Fortunately, though the vocal cord stuff is annoying, it's not dangerous, and I know how to deal with it.  

There are ways to breathe that encourage the vocal cords to relax.  I'm sure they have some technical medical name (and that name is on the handout that I'm too lazy to retrieve).  I just call it fish face.  So I fish faced my way through the race.  To the amusement of others, I'm sure.

The interesting thing about the race, because of the stagger start, is that it's very likely that most of the runners who started ahead of you are slower than you.   And many of the runners who start behind you are faster than you.  Which means that you do nearly all of your passing at the beginning of the race.  And any person who makes up the time gap and passes you is likely much faster than you. Towards the end of the race, I was passed by several of my teammates who had started behind me.  I knew that I didn't have a hope in hell of keeping up with them, so I let them go.

I did end up with two guys near me when the finish line first came into sight,  Since I was about 3.5 miles in, with no asthma, I decided to pick up the pace.   As it turned out, I had a lot left in the tank, running the last half mile at a pace significantly (20+ seconds per mile) faster than the rest of the race.  So now I know I don't need to be so careful next time.

And then I crossed the finish, in eighth place overall.  Looking at the results, I think I passed everyone ahead of me except two (both women in the 60-64 age group, who finished 1-2 in the race), and was passed by five men who started behind me.  Not that that matters at all.  But sometimes I think we race so we can stare at the results after.

Of course, one question that comes to mind is - how do they come up with the time gaps for the staggered start.  And is it really fair?  Decyphering what is fair seems challenging at first glance.  But in the end, it's actually pretty simple.   You review the overall results, and draw a line across the sheet at the eighth place finisher.  Anyone who finished below that line was handicapped appropriately. However, the handicap of anyone who finished above that line is suspect and should be subject to review.

Splits (per Garmin, and based on mile posts)

  • From start to mile post 11 - .48 of a mile in 3:14 (6:46 pace)
  • From mile post 11 to 10 - 1.01 mile in 6:51 (6:47 pace)
  • From mile post 10 to 9 - 1.02 mile in 7:01 (6:52 pace - includes me getting a bit stuck behind someone due to traffic on the trail)
  • From mile post 9 to 10 - 1.01 mile in 6:49 (6:46 pace)
  • From mile post 10 to finish - .53 of a mile in 3:23 (6:23 pace)

Other notes:
  • Temp 69, DP 68 (and no asthma - WOOO)
  • Took a salted watermelon GU in the morning for a slight bit of caffeine.
  • Brian and I have been cleaning out our kitchen, living room, and dining room in preparation for a major renovation that starts next week.  As a result, we had a lot of stuff to get rid of, and so I brought a cute decorative clay jug that we would otherwise donate to Goodwill (don't judge - that's exactly the sort of thing you were supposed to bring).
    I wasn't supposed to bring anything back, but I felt bad rejecting the prize table (plus, who says no to race schwag?) so I grabbed a CD of the Capitol Steps.  It's really small, so I didn't get in too much trouble.
  • My taper for this race was really a non-taper. I did my first hill workout on Friday, then ran 10 miles too hard on Saturday, and then lugged boxes and stuff up and down stairs on Saturday and Sunday.  Part of this lack of care was that this was such a low key race, and part was that I seem to be recovering much better now that I'm on asthma meds, and wanted to see how I'd race if I wasn't well rested.  Plus, I think Brian would have (justifiably) killed me if I had told him I couldn't move furniture this weekend because I was running a $5 race on Monday.
    My legs didn't feel fresh today, but they certainly didn't feel horrible, so that's good news.