Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lauren

This past weekend was the National Club XC Championships, a race our team has looked forward to all season. Instead of the celebration we had planned, we suffered the most significant loss. On Saturday, December 8th, while walking across the street, our teammate Lauren Woodall Roady was hit by a car and killed. She was just 27 years old and recently married.

When we gathered after hearing the news, our team was in shock. How could this happen to someone so young, so full of promise, so kind, so careful? It didn’t seem real. It cannot be rationalized.

We stayed up that night sharing all the reasons we love Lauren. There were a lot of reasons, but no one was keen to sleep. Much was said about how driven she was. Since joining our team last spring, she has annihilated all of her PRs (she was going to crush her marathon PR in January) due to her incredible work ethic. She was the most disciplined runner I've ever known. During workouts, she always set the pace a little too fast, mostly because she didn’t know her own talent and didn’t realize the paces she was running with ease were faster than the rest of us had planned on. On Saturday, in her last race, she gave her absolute all, collapsing at the line. She was an inspiration.

Off the track, she was always positive, warm, and filled with endless energy. Besides having a full schedule as a lawyer, high mileage runner, and gym rat, she found time to make delicious homemade treats: cookies, muffins, strawberry jam. (“Strawberry jam is easy to make! You just start by picking 30 pounds of fresh strawberries...”) She had motherly qualities: an eagerness to help, a kind heart, and a knack for being prepared for anything. When someone mentioned being hungry before Saturday’s race, she whipped out a loaf of bread, a packet of peanut butter, a jar of jam, and a knife from her race day bag. She was a wonderful teammate. 

The next day, our team somberly took the bus back to DC. I wouldn't wish a ten hour bus ride on anyone grieving, but I was glad to be with my teammates who knew Lauren and understood what a loss this was. 

Despite the many discussions and tributes to her life, I am still in shock and cannot believe this is real. When I think of those most affected, her parents, her new husband, I am inconsolable. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. For my own part, I feel blessed and thankful I was able to know her and run with her for those few months. She will live on in all our hearts, and remain an inspiration to us always.


Our team after Saturday's race. Lauren is furthest left.
Lauren, we love you and miss you. You will forever be our teammate and our inspiration.

Dream as big as Lauren did,
Teal

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2:43

It’s official. USATF set the time standard for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. The time I’ve openly declared I would beat so that I can run in those trials. The time I’ve been wondering about since realizing I wouldn’t make it to the last Trials. The time I promised I’d get, without knowing what it was.

There are two types of standards, the A and B. The A standard is faster and gets you an all expenses paid trip to the Trials. You are invited to run if you meet the B standard, but to get to the Olympics, you have to run the A at some point. (Likely in the Trials, because you’ll also have to come in the top 3 against the A qualifiers.) In 2008, the B standard for women was a 2:47 (the A was 2:39.) For 2012, that dropped to a 2:46 (with the A still a 2:39). Okay, that seems fair. More and more people are qualifying, let’s raise the bar slightly. However, on the men’s side, they abolished the B standard entirely, and in 2012, they only invited men with a faster, A standard time.

My fear for 2016 was that the B standard would be dropped, just like it had for the men. There was no telling what they would do, but all I could do was wait and see. I had told everyone who would listen I’d go after it, no matter what the standard was. How difficult that would be lay in the hands of USATF.

I had no clue when they would decide. Completely unexpectedly, my teammate B broke the news at practice last week that the decision had been made. 2:43. I breathed a massive sigh of relief. It could be worse! It could be so much worse. My teammates didn’t share my enthusiasm. D did some quick math and figured out that was a 6:13 pace. Yea, okay, that’s pretty freaking fast. Still, I was almost giddy. It could have been only the A standard (now a 2:37, aka 5:59 pace.) And I’ll take any extra six minutes I can get. (In other news, they gave the men back their B standard.)

Obviously, I realize cutting ten minutes off my time won’t be a piece of cake. But qualifying for the Trials was never going to be a cakewalk to begin with. Ten minutes to cut is easier than 16 (or whatever other crazy standard they could have come up with.) Best of all, now I can stop worrying about it. And just get after it.

But that’s months/years away. (Although the training for Boston begins in a few short weeks (yippee!), the qualification window doesn’t open until August.) First up for the GRC team (aka future Trials qualifiers) is the National Club Cross Country Championship in Kentucky this weekend. My love affair with running started on the cross country course in high school, and I'm excited to run my first XC race in ten years. We’ve been prepping all season and we’re ready to roll!

Clubs, clubs, clubs!
We're ready for the Club(s) in our sharp new clothes and sweet shoes.
Look out Kentucky.
(... And later: Trials, trials, trials!)

Dream big (like 2:43 big),
Teal 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Science Friday: Days to Your Life

I don’t run to add days to my life, I run to add life to my days.

That quote is catchy and memorable because the first part is expected; we know that running and being active makes you live longer. The point of the quote is that it goes beyond that.

But today let’s focus on that first part. How many days are we talking about, really? Research recently published in PLOS Medicine attempted to quantify that number. The authors pooled findings from a couple of large studies (such as the Women’s Health Study and the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study) and accumulated data on close to 650,000 people. The studies included reports from a ten-year follow up and so the authors were able to correlate amounts of exercise with how long people lived. A quick perspective to understand the numbers on the graph below: physical activity was quantified as metabolic equivalents (METs); 7.5 MET-hr/wk is roughly equal to 150 minutes of brisk walking per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as running.) 7.5 MET-hr/wk is about the recommendation doctors and public health advocates encourage for a healthy lifestyle.


In the graph, you can see that as "leisure time physical activity" (i.e. exercising in your free time, such as running or walking) increases, years of life increase as well. As you can tell from the sharp increase to the left of the graph, just getting off the couch for an hour or so each week helps a lot. (Activities such as brisk walking for 75 minutes/week increased life expectancy by 1.8 years.) People getting the recommended amount of exercise (150 minutes of walking or 75 minutes of running) increase their life expectancy by 3.4 years. Incredibly, although the effect lessens, it keeps going up with more activity. (No, marathoning likely won't kill you.)

The study goes on to talk about the relationship between BMI, physical activity, and longevity. This is the relatively new concept of being “fit and fat.” Annoyingly, some people can’t seem to lose weight despite a rigorous and routine exercise program. Are these people better off health wise than those much hated skinny people who never have to exercise? So far, the research says yes: even if you don’t lose weight, exercise has other (perhaps less superficially obvious) benefits to your health. So fit and fat people are better off than those inactive, normal weight people (the lean and lazy? skinny and slacking? slim and slothful?)

This study provides more evidence. Overweight people (BMI between 25 and 29.9) who were active lived 4.7 years longer than inactive, normal weight people (BMI between 18 and 24.9.) Even active obese people (BMI between 30-34.9) lived 3.1 years longer than those lean and lazy people. However, this effect disappeared when people had BMIs greater than 35 (severely obese category.) It seems that at that point, the health risks of being overweight outweigh (no pun intended!) the benefits of working out.

In summary, it tells us what we already knew: running can add days to our lives. Now we know just how many: approximately 1,241 (3.4 years) for 75 minutes of running per week. But the life added to our days? That’s harder to quantify.

Dream big,
Teal

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quarters, Cramps, and Cross Country

This season’s focus has been on Clubs Cross Country, which is a 6k race, i.e. way too short for me. As the season has progressed, the workouts and races have gotten more and more out of my comfort zone. As you’ll see below, my stomach and mind have been protesting.

A few weeks ago, we did a quarters workout. Doing a billion quarter repeats is the classic toughening workout. Run one lap fast, jog for a short rest, run another lap fast, short rest. Repeat, repeat, repeat. At some point, take a longer rest (between “sets”) and then get back to cranking out 400s. In high school, I remember doing ten quarters on the second day of practice, to weed out any slackers not willing to put in the work. But looking back on it, that workout seems way too hard for day two of high school track (at least on my team), so maybe my mind has warped it. In the book Once a Runner the protagonist does (spoiler alert!) 60 quarters, which leads to all sorts of post-workout unpleasantries, not to mention complete wonderment and awe from all the readers.

Our workout called for 16 quarters (not 60, but still.) We got one minute between each, and after four, we got four minutes until the next set. Needless to say, this was not in my wheelhouse. As per usual, I lined up towards the back, but this backfired when we decided to go one by one down the line for pacing duties; being at the back had me pacing one of the faster quarters. Whoops. So for the first ten quarters, I worried if I’d be able to lead this group at a pace that is the fastest I’ve run 400s since I was 16. When my turn came, I managed it alright, and just like that the pressure was off and I was back to my place at the end of the line. On the very next quarter, I died. Cramped up and fell completely back. I’m not sure if it was because I had just been hanging on for dear life until I did my duty, but after that I bombed. We got another long break before the last set, which helped quell my cramps and I was back with the pack on the 13th, but then again cramped and fell way back on the 14th. With my stomach revolting, my legs refused to go any faster (and my stomach, not my legs, would be sore for 2 days after.) Coach said it was fine to call it at 14; after all, it was a pretty good showing for someone who’s better known for a marathoner’s shuffle.

I was really bummed/embarrassed/frustrated I didn’t finish the workout, but I had at least kept up with them for a significant portion. A few days later, we had a “cross country” workout on a grass field. I had only been to one of these so far, and it was pretty low key. But Clubs is looming, so this one was kicking it up a notch. The loop is about 2k, and we had to do three repeats of the loop, getting faster with each repeat. I think I got dropped halfway through the first, and almost immediately on the second and third. It was not pretty. I realize these girls are some freaking rock stars, but it’s frustrating to get gapped so early. Am I just throwing in the towel? Shouldn't I be able to push myself to stay with them longer? It was a frustrating day.

Back at the track the next Wednesday, I actually did hang with them for the entirety of a workout. (That’s not completely true, I got dropped at the end of the one of the earlier intervals, but then recovered and stayed with them for the rest. Hey, let me have my small victories.) I took it as an encouraging sign, because (to me, at least) it was a tough workout, and I needed to have one of those moments where it totally sucks and you think you’ll never make it but then you hang on and surprise yourself. 

Sunday was the Veteran’s Day 10k. I’ve been looking forward to it since Philly; I knew Army 10 was too close to get over whatever was ailing me, but the Vets Day 10k seemed far enough in the distance that I’d be back to business. Since the beginning of the season, Coach has said I can run a 37 minute 10k, which sounds great (PR!) to me, so now was the time to go for it. The goal was 6 minute pace, as in “do not go out with the other girls” (who are way too fast) but start easy with the hope that I’d have something left to kick it in at the end. This meant running alone, but whatever, remember the old days when I always raced alone? I latched onto two people in the first mile or so, and was feeling good, right on pace. Then one of them sped up, and one dropped back, and I was alone again. No worries, I’m cruising along on pace and everything is peachy. Might even get a 5k PR out of this.

Feeling good around 5k.
In reality, although the first mile was on pace, the next two were a few seconds slow, and there’s not much time to fix that in a 10k. After the turn around, one of my teammates struggling with a hamstring issue (but determined not to drop out!) decided to run back with me. Company again! I certainly felt like her presence was willing me to go faster, but when our splits came, it wasn’t the case. With two miles to go, I knew this was the time to pick it up and find that other gear, but instead my stomach twisted up again and I relived the cramps I felt in the 400 workout. Except I had two miles to go, not half a lap. My teammate was trying to push me to go, but I couldn’t pick it up. Even with the finish in sight, I had no kick. I finished in just over 38 minutes. (A PR, yes, but way off my goal.)

It’s been a frustrating few weeks (as evidenced by the frequency of that word in this post.) Certainly there are excuses to be made (work’s been rough, sleep’s been little, stomach’s been cramping) but I hate making those excuses. I have another 10k coming up on Thanksgiving (my first ever Turkey Trot!), and although it’s a much tougher course I’m hoping for some sort of redemption. Even if it’s not faster, I’d like to at least make it through a race without dying in the latter miles. Get back to the old negative splitting Teals of yesteryear. Of course, it’s much harder to do that as my expectations keep growing...

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, November 2, 2012

Race Report: Army 10 Miler

The race began with a bit more stress than I would have liked. It was a mess to get to the start (for a seemingly organized person I often come eerily close to missing the starts of races) and when they started the wheelchair race, I learned I have a small heart attack when I hear cannons go off. But after another cannon (and another heart palpitation) we were off.

I felt pretty good for the first few miles, with the exception of the cobblestone on the bridge. (No wonder the London Olympians complained!) We had a ton of support, GRCers, Coach, Fiance; everyone was out cheering us on. Despite being the same pace as the early miles of Philly, it seemed significantly more maintainable. But a little before mile 4, reality sank in and I started to slow. L asked how I was feeling, I think it came out as “eh.” I felt bad because I thought she must be slowing down to be nice and stay with me. But by the next mile marker, realizing we were off pace, she told me to go ahead without her. Apparently she was struggling too, and thinking I was the one holding back! We had a laugh about it and continued to stick it out together. Clearly it wouldn't be the day either of us imagined, but we’d see what we could do.

The next few miles I felt pretty good. We had lowered our expectations, and I was happy to know I wasn't holding L back and I’d have a teammate for a few more miles. And the miles were flying by. Captain Obvious Fact: The faster you run, the faster the miles tick away. (Of course it helps if you’re feeling good and not more and more like wanting to throw in the towel with every step.) But by mile 7.5, I needed a pick me up. I was struggling to get Gatorade at water stations. (Some had Gatorade cups before water cups, some after the water. Other stations had only water, which I didn't realize until I was past them and realized there were no other options. This may seem like a minor detail, but water stations can be stressful moments in a race.) I made sure to get some at the next stop to swish around in my mouth. (Nerd Fact: Studies have shown that even if you don’t swallow the Gatorade, the receptors in your mouth trigger your brain to think you have and you feel like you have more energy. It’s sort of a placebo effect.) But at the water stop, I lost L. And just like that she was gone. (No wonder professional runners use water stops to break away!)

I kept her in my sights as we headed over the bridge and just tried to maintain pace, because the bridge is LONG (close to 2 miles.) I saw her trip on one of the gratings and as I watched from behind I felt like a helpless mother, wanting to run towards her with my arms out to catch her (hadn't I already been running towards her for the last mile?) I wished I was still with her to see how she was doing, but she recovered her step and soldiered on. (In fact, despite a twisted ankle, she would go on to destroy her last mile.)

I had been warned mile 9 was a doozy, but somehow as soon as I hit it I was delusional and started thinking the finish line would be right around the corner. But the course keeps looping around a highway, up on ramps, down off ramps. You can’t see where you’re going, so a few times I sped up thinking the finish line must be close, only to make it around the loop and see no finish line, but runners clearly still marching ahead. Finally I heard the announcer, including his announcement that L was finishing after her blazing last mile, and knew I was close.

I finished way off my goal time, but it was an optimistic goal given the last few weeks. It was a PR, although the only other ten miler I ran was when I wasn't at my best either. (Hint, hint: Hey Brother, want a rematch?) Most importantly, I didn't feel as terrible as Philly, probably because I went in with different expectations and less pressure on myself.

Fiance realized later I also set a 10k PR en route. (I didn't even notice!) Clearly it’s been a while since I've run a 10k. The good news is I've got two 10ks this month, and I’m excited to reset that PR again!

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, October 26, 2012

Science Friday: Team Training

As you know, a few months ago I decided I needed to change things up and start training with a team. That team has helped in all the expected ways (faster workouts, inspiring role models, great camaraderie) and a few unanticipated others (first hand ferritin knowledge, wedding planning advice). But this week I came across another reason why working out with a team is better than going it alone.


The loneliness of the long distance rower is more painful too.
In an article published in 2009 (and referenced in this week’s NYTimes blog about laughter), a group in England investigated the pain threshold in rowers who worked out either in teams of six or by themselves. They used pain threshold as a corollary for endorphin levels; the higher the pain threshold, the higher the expected endorphin release. (Endorphins are the molecules responsible for exercise's euphoric and pain suppressing effects, aka "runner's high.") Collegiate rowers each performed two tests on a stationary rowing machine: one rowing alone and one in the presence of teammates. The length of time and the power output were the same for both tests, so the other teammates weren't actually helping the work load decrease. To measure their pain thresholds, the rowers' ability to tolerate a blood pressure cuff being inflated on their arm was measured before and after the workout. As expected, they tolerated pain better after the workout than before. Gotta love those endorphins.

What’s interesting was that the rowers also tolerated pain better when they worked out with a group. Besides having teammates that hold you accountable and push you to work harder to keep up with them, teammates also make you feel less pain. It seems that the loneliness of the long distance runner rower is a more painful path. The authors speculate that "synchronized physical activity" helps boost levels of pain relieving molecules and this may promote bonding among group members. Anyone who has survived a hard track workout with a group already knows it bonds you. And now it seems your pain tolerance is the better for it too!

Note: Don't worry! I did survive the Army Ten Miler this past weekend and you'll hear the whole story if you tune in next week. I just couldn't resist a Science Friday this week.

Dream big and with friends,
Teal

Friday, October 19, 2012

Back in the saddle

I'm back in the saddle again, pulling on my racing flats. This weekend is the Army 10 Miler, here in DC. I wouldn’t say I’m dreading it, but I’m not looking forward to it with my usual mix of nerves and excitement. I’m not really looking forward to it at all. Ever since the Philly Half I’ve been unsure of how I will do and how I feel about racing Army.

At practice this week, I got a boost of encouragement from my teammates. When I told them about the ferritin issue they were immediately more insightful than Google and my doctor combined. They had been there, done that, bought the iron supplement. They all assured me that was certainly the root of the problem and I’d be back to normal in no time. (Or 8-12 weeks, which is how long the pills take to have an effect.) Some were impressed I had been able to run as much as I have and am not curled up in a ball somewhere. (I won’t say I haven’t considered that.)

So mentally I’m doing much better. I know the cause of the trouble and I’m taking action. I’m excited to see how things will go once I’m at normal levels. (And I wonder how long this has been an issue?) But, I’m also racing on Sunday and things haven’t exactly turned around yet. (See above for timeline of drug action.)

Because I don’t learn from my mistakes, I’m once again shooting for 6:10 pace. (Granted this race is shorter than Philly.) What’s that saying? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” (I’m pretty sure that’s called thesis research.) Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

But there’s also the old standard: if at first you don’t succeed... So regardless of the likelihood of blowing up, I’m going after it and hoping my improved mental attitude will turn things around. Also, I’m running with my girl L, who would normally kick my butt, but is struggling with her own issues of late. We’re just going to go out, see what happens, and have some fun. Hopefully it’s not a repeat of Philly.

Sad it’s Friday and this post has zero to do with science? Never fear! If you live in the DC area, come check out a live version this Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 7 pm at the MLK Library. I’ll be discussing the effect exercise has on the brain as part of a monthly Hot Topics in Health Science series. I’d love to see you!

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, October 12, 2012

Science Friday: Diagnosis and Discoveries about Iron

Feeling exhausted?
It could be iron deficiency or iron depletion.
This week I finally got the results of a blood test to determine if low iron was the culprit of my running funk. At first glance it seemed like everything was fine. My doctor told me I had normal iron and hemoglobin levels, but could be maybe, possibly, considered borderline anemic because of low ferritin. She suggested an iron supplement but then proceeded to tell me she thinks I am just running too much. Ah yes, well if I wasn't running, I wouldn't be in here complaining about how my running is going poorly. True, but irrelevant for a die hard runner.

After leaving her office I immediately Googled ferritin (ahh, Google, every doctor’s nightmare.) I remembered an article I had read a while ago about Stephanie Rothstein having iron issues. I discovered that her issue (eventually attributed to celiac disease) had been low ferritin as well. According to the article, normal levels are 20 nanograms/milliliter, but runners actually need more, in the range of 30-40. Rothstein’s was 4 ng/mL. Mine was 6 ng/mL.

Why did Rothstein's doctor suspect that was an issue while mine seemed doubtful? More Googling (and some more sophisticated scientific "Googling") ensued. Why do runners have iron issues? What the heck is ferritin? Could low ferritin be my problem?

Runners need iron to produce hemoglobin, which is the molecule that carries oxygen to your muscles. Without it, your muscles can’t function as well, so you can’t run as fast, you feel more tired, etc. The problem is runners lose a lot of iron. To start with, iron is hard to absorb.We only absorb 15% of the iron we eat; the best (and most easily absorbed iron) is from animal sources like red meat. If you choose not to eat a lot of red meat, like me, that can start the problem. (Good plant sources of iron include beans, nuts, bran, and spinach.) Absorption is inhibited by calcium, coffee, tea, and anti-inflammatories, all of which runners, as a whole, consume a lot. We lose iron through sweat (which can be worse in hot, humid conditions) and through GI stress. We also lose iron through foot strike hemolysis, when blood cells burst from the force of impact with the ground. Women are more likely to have iron deficiency anemia because of blood lost through menstruation.

Ferritin stores iron; most of the iron in our body is bound to ferritin. Less ferritin in your blood means less stored iron. According to some data, low ferritin levels is the best indicator of iron deficiency. However, by definition, anemia is diagnosed by low hemoglobin levels, which is why I am technically not anemic and why my doctor is less than concerned. But then I found this from an article by Coach Jeff Hess in Track and Field News:

Anemia, clinical iron deficiency, is not rare among runners, but even more common than iron deficiency is "iron depletion" due to low ferritin stores... It is common among distance runners to have acceptable hemoglobin and hematocrit counts even when ferritin levels are severely depleted. For less active people, low ferritin levels are much less significant and don't often draw the attention of medical professionals.

So your average doctor might not think anything of it, while a sports medicine specialist might notice the red flag. The symptoms of iron depletion are similar to iron deficiency and include abnormal exhaustion, slow recovery, declining performances, heavy legs, loss of motivation, etc. This was sounding all too familiar and the statistics gave me some validation: one doctor suggested that if ferritin dips below 20 ng/mL, performance begins to suffer. Worse yet, injury rates double when ferritin is less than 20 ng/mL and triple when less than 12 ng/mL.

One study had some good news. Iron deficient female runners were split into two groups: one given an iron supplement and the other a placebo. While the placebo runners continued to experience a drop in their performance, the iron supplemented runners improved. But the catch is it usually takes 2-3 months for iron to right itself; you can’t pop a pill or eat a big steak and feel better in the morning.

Warning: Excess iron is also not a good thing and can have far worse consequences. Before taking a supplement based on suspicions, get a blood test (make sure you specify ferritin to be checked as it isn't always reported) and discuss it with your doctor. A study found that among male marathoners, <2% had iron depletion, but 15%  had signs of excess iron. (On the other hand, 28% of female marathoners had iron depletion, <5% had signs of excess.) In addition, iron supplements are notoriously hard on your digestive system so ask your doctor for suggestions that may work for you. (My doctor suggested Vitron-C.) 

At first I thought I was grasping at straws but, as the evidence piled up, this seems like a common issue, especially among women runners. I had been thinking it was all in my head, that I just needed to stop being a wuss and toughen up. It may be a placebo effect (except I haven't even taken the pill yet!) but having a possible explanation and a plan of attack makes me feel better already.

Special Announcement: Do you enjoy Science Fridays? Do you live in the DC area? If so, come hear me talk about exercise and the brain on Tuesday, October 23 at 7:00 pm at the MLK Library. I’ll be discussing how running cures diseases, slows the aging process, and makes you feel all around spectacular—things you surely already know, but I can give you the hard facts for the next time your coworker says running is bad for your knees. More information about the series Hot Topics In Health Science here.

Dream big,
Teal

P.S. Shout out to the Flexatarian Filly for suggesting this months ago. It planted a seed, and I finally listened. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Race Report: RnR Philadelphia Half

I lost my mojo.

It happened a few weeks ago; after a couple crappy workouts, I just didn’t feel like myself. My confidence was gone, taking my competitive fire with it. I thought the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon would rekindle the fire. I love racing, especially big city races with thousands of people, where you feel like the whole city has shut down to welcome the runners. The fans are cheering, the adrenaline is pumping, the excitement from other runners is contagious. 

I ignored my shaky confidence and stuck with my original plan: a big PR. I planned to run with one of my teammates, B; our goal was 6:10 pace. It seemed ambitious, but I hoped that after a few miles I would settle in and the miles would tick off. With someone at my side, it would be infinitely easier.

Most of this post is going to be full of complaining, so let me take a moment to appreciate the best part of the race—I was seeded in the elite corral for the first time in my life. (The perks of having a coach who can vouch for you.) My number started with an F, which stands for Female, or Freaking Fast, I’m not sure which. I’m also pretty sure I didn’t deserve that, but I soaked up the moment anyway. We got to hang out in the elite tent, do strides off the starting line, and were inches from famous runners (Ritz!) It was awesome.

Mile 5. The crazy screaming spectators in the
background are my family. Love them.
Until the gun went off, when things went downhill fast. I stayed with B for as long as possible, trying to settle into a 6:10 rhythm. She got into it much faster, but I was struggling. The pace felt too fast. I was scared of what was to come. I couldn’t keep this up. Honestly, I worried I was going to drop out. Anytime you try to PR or really push your limits, there will be moments of doubt, of panic, of thinking “My God, this hurts, I'll never make it. I'll have to drop out.” You don’t beat your best past self painlessly. Every PR will come with some moments of fear and agony. But usually not so early in the race. I tried again and again to find a rhythm, but it wasn't coming. Around 4.5 miles, B forged on ahead, and I was on my own. Now guilt was added to the many emotions swirling through my head. We had agreed to run together and now I left her on her own too. I tried to stay near her, in reach, but she kept slipping further ahead. The temptation to drop out grew. My inner monologue was not pretty: it warned me the sooner I drop out the better, because once we leave the city the course goes out and back and I didn't want to be stranded miles away. 

As we headed out along the river, I tried to silence the negativity, focusing on maintaining and just not slowing down any more. I pushed and pushed and thought for sure I must not be slowing, but the splits kept telling me the ugly truth. People were cruising past and I was jealous—why couldn't I have their energy, their drive, what was wrong with me? My Freaking Fast seed number seemed completely inappropriate as I kept falling further and further back. I just wanted to make it to the bridge, the turn around point. Maybe heading back towards the city would bolster my spirits. My splits continued to slow; soon I was going at marathon pace. Marathon pace?! In a race half as long! I had given up on a big PR miles ago, but now any PR seemed impossible. I had lost hope for this race, I just wanted it to end.

Mile 12. With L, just trying to finish.
Finally we hit the bridge and headed back. I picked it up slightly, then saw my coach, and another teammate, L, who was having her own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and had called it at 11 miles. She decided to run in with me, to carry me to the finish, and it helped enormously. Together we slogged through the final miles. My family cheered their heads off, much to the surprise of L who hadn't yet met my overly enthusiastic support crew. The sun was beating down on us now, and the finish would not come. Finally (finally!) we were there. I was just glad it was over.

In the end, it was a PR, by 24 seconds. I owe all of those seconds to L for dragging me through the final miles. I know you should always be happy with a PR, but I’m not. I know I worked harder than that and expected it to pay off in a much bigger way. I ran my old PR in the middle of marathon training, while holding back for the real race a few weeks later. (And I was even disappointed then.) I intended to destroy that PR. I thought I had more in me, but on this day, I just... didn't.

I took the next few days off, trying to figure out if I (a) was exhausted, overtrained, and burnt out, (b) have some kind of nutrient deficiency (iron, vitamin D?), or (c) was just mentally zonked. I didn't want to go running, but I didn't enjoy not running either. The rest of the season was looming but I couldn't muster any excitement for it. I was in a funk. After a few days of being a non-running grump, I realized I can’t feel sorry for myself forever. And so I went for an easy jog, and then next day a longer one, and then back to track practice, and slowly, slowly I’m coming around. Stay tuned.

In other sad news (that affects far more people), the University of Richmond recently cut their men’s track team (and men’s soccer team) to add men’s lacrosse. (FYI: the men’s track team had no scholarships.) You can read more about the reasoning here, sign a petition here, or vent your anger leave your own opinion in the comments below.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, September 14, 2012

Science Friday: Calories and Aging

Note: This post doesn't have much to do with running or exercise, but it does talk about staying healthy into old age, which I think is something of interest to most active people

A few years ago I was watching a segment on the Discovery Channel about diets and aging. It was discussing how starvation conditions (a man was trapped in a cave) tell our bodies to shut down the aging process. (When the man emerged from the cave weeks later, he hadn't aged a day.) Fascinating stuff. It went on to suggest that if we reduced our calorie intake we would live longer. Still not too much of a stretch. But then it used an example of someone slashing their normal diet in half, from 4000 calories/day to 2000 calories/day, and (surprise!) that would lead to a longer life.

That's when I turned the TV off. First of all, 2000 calories/day is not near starvation, it's the recommended amount for the typical adult. (Whether or not people are actually eating closer to 4000 calories is besides the point.) Obviously cutting back from overeating will lead to a longer life. But what about reducing a 2000 calorie/day diet? Is there a benefit to that? Ever since the Discovery Channel completely misinterpreted the point, I've cringed a little when I read calorie restriction studies. 

Granted, it's difficult to do these studies in humans. There aren't many volunteers ready and willing to be nearly starving subjects, let alone graduate students who want to wait a lifetime to get the results. The next best thing is primate studies. In the 80s, two groups started putting monkeys on calorie restricted diets (30% fewer calories than normal diets) and then let them age (for 20+ years). One study was done at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) and published in 2009. It showed some promise for calorie restriction: the monkeys fed less outlived the monkeys on a normal diet. However, another study, done at the National Institute of Aging (NIA), came out this month and found much the opposite.

The NIA study looked at two cohorts, one that was started on the restricted diet at an old age, and one that started at a young age. The monkeys put on restricted diets in old age had no difference in survival compared to monkeys eating the normal amount of calories. However, there were some health benefits; compared to monkeys on a normal diet, they weighed less and had lower levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, fasting glucose, and oxidative stress. The animals put on a restricted diet at a young age also had no benefit in survival. Furthermore, no other health benefits were observed. Although they weighed less, there were no striking differences between triglycerides or glucose levels. They did have fewer cases of cancer, but diabetes and cardiovascular disease were not prevented.

The results from this study suggest that diet restriction doesn't increase longevity. The major difference between the WNPRC and NIA studies (besides the genetics of the animals, which is a factor, but I won't get into it) is the diets given the monkeys. The diets from the NIA study were healthier: they had less sugar, more antioxidants, and fish oil. (Give the WNPRC some credit; they started these studies in the 80’s when most people were concerned only with total calories.) Additionally and importantly, the control animals in the NIA study weren't allowed to eat as much as they wanted, like the WNPRC animals. They were slightly restricted in order to maintain a healthy calorie intake. The control animals in the WNPRC study may have represented more of an overweight population. So perhaps the WNPRC study was doing more of what I feared these studies would do: just slash the calories of a diet that's too caloric and not very healthy to begin with. Of course you'll be healthier after eating less of a poor diet.

There's a lot more research to be done here.  There may be some benefit to smaller, nutritionally complete (an important point!) diets, but we aren't sure yet. The diets themselves matter, as well as the genetics, the current age, etc. Another study looked at people and found those within a normal weight range (BMI 20.0-24.9) had the lowest mortality rates. So we shouldn't be gorging ourselves, but maybe not starving ourselves either. That sounds good to me.

Dream big,
Teal

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blast from the Past Race Report: Boston 2011

I signed up for Boston yesterday, as soon as it opened. It’s by far my favorite race and just signing up makes me excited for next spring. Since the race has been on my mind (and Paul Ryan got everyone talking about sub-3 hour marathons), I got to reminiscing about my first serious attempt at sub-3, at Boston 2011. I’d like to do a Blast from the Past/RunnerTeal History Lesson/very late Race Report from 2011. Please pardon the fact that it’s outdated, and any mistakes or inaccuracies are completely unintentional.

I first ran Boston in 2009. It was awesome; I loved the excitement of a big city event, got a PR, and realized this “marathon phase” I was going through would be longer than originally anticipated. In 2011, I returned, but with entirely different goals. I wanted to PR again (don’t we always want a PR?) but I already had the Boston experience, fought Heartbreak, bought the jacket. This time, I was in it for a sub-3. I had had a disappointing fall; my worst marathon to date was 2010’s Chicago, where I fell wildly off pace and blamed the heat (and my lack of respect for it.) I was heading to Boston for redemption, but with even higher expectations than Chicago. It was sub-3 or bust.

I told everyone who cared to listen (and many more who probably didn’t) that I was going for sub-3. I figured if I told enough people it would hold me to it, but in the weeks leading up the race I was more nervous than ever. I wished I hadn’t blabbed to everyone about a ridiculous goal like that. If I missed it, even by a second (especially by a second), I knew I would be devastated. At the pasta fest the night before, Dad tried to put an end to the madness: “Wouldn’t you be happy with a big PR? If you have a great race, but finish just over 3 hours, won’t you be happy?” No, I won’t.

In an attempt to win the Brother of the Year Award, Brother offered to pace me. My parents, Sister-in-law, and (future) FiancĂ© came all the way to Boston to cheer. The conditions were perfect. (In fact, more than perfect, as determined later when the men destroyed the world record, but it didn’t count because of the tailwind and net downhill.)

As always, I started a little slow, partly due to necessity because of the large crowds and partly from the fear of starting too fast: a dead man’s game. Once Brother and I got going, I felt pretty good. I tried not to assess myself too much, but focused on staying out of my own head. I enjoyed the crowd, the course, the fact that this is Boston. Brother had GPS in his ear, I had GPS on my wrist, the mile markers were in our sights. There were no excuses for pacing errors. At one point, a fire truck had to veer onto the course (!!) but we got just ahead of it and barely missed a beat.

At the 10k we saw our cheering squad. High fives, high spirits. I love this part of Boston; you’re still so excited just to be there, you’re absorbing everything with nothing but a grin on your face. Best of all, your legs haven’t started rebelling yet.

When we got to the half, I was still repeating “stay out of your head,” but I had to admit I was feeling pretty good. Until Brother broke the news: he had to make a pit stop. This was bad news; I was to go on ahead into the hills, into the pain, into the actual hard part of a marathon—alone. I remained calm, he promised to try to catch up (is he crazy?!) and I just glued myself to some unknown strangers for a few miles. I was on my own. Without the extra pacing technology (how much technology do I need?), I somehow missed a mile marker and started to wonder if I had lost pace. Don’t focus on it, just keep forging on.

Around mile 17, just before the turn towards the Newton hills, I heard someone behind me: “Teal, I’m here. I’m here, Teal.” It was Brother! He was back. If you thought he deserved the Brother of the Year Award for pacing me (you were right), here he was going for some kind of Brotherly World Record. He had timed the pit stop, knew how much he lost, how much he had to cut his pace by to catch up with me before the hills. It was madness, but he was committed to getting me my sub-3. He knew after the hills it would be over. My relief was so great it made me realize maybe I had been freaking out slightly.

We started heading up the hills. They weren’t as bad as my first Boston, maybe because I knew I had tackled them once and could do it again. I had memorized the times I had to hit in 5 mile increments (the splits for 5 miles, 10 miles, etc.) We hit the 20 mile mark and were 9 seconds ahead of pace. I thought that was pretty good, but Brother said later that scared him. Nine seconds are lost in a heartbeat. Or a Heartbreak, which was looming.

Turning onto Beacon, with Brother just behind.
Indeed, Heartbreak’s mile was the slowest of the day. But the other side of Heartbreak was where things really went downhill. I started to feel it, all at once, just as predicted. Brother was screaming at me, “C’mon, Teal, C’mon!” There was fear in his voice. I tried to stay optimistic, telling myself it was just exhaustion in his voice, but he said later it was fear. Then the turn onto Beacon, make it or break it time. I had practiced it in my mind over and over again. The crowds are amazing, there are only a few miles left. You’re hurting and exhausted, but you’re through the hills, done the majority of the race, this is the time to fight for it. Brother started slipping behind (he had sacrificed everything to come back to me and take me through the hills) but he kept screaming cheers at me from behind. I was hurting, but his screams kept me going. When I hit the 23rd mile, I did some calculations (I’d say quick calculations, but at this point in a marathon, simple math is difficult) based on the time I knew I had to be at mile 25. I calculated (whether accurately or not, I'll never know) I had 14 minutes to get there = 7 minute pace. I could do it. I just couldn’t slow down a step. The realization that sub-3 was still possible, that I could do this, kept me going. By mile 25, I was 20 seconds ahead of pace. 20 seconds! I could lose that in a mile, so I tried not to get ahead of myself. Keep pushing, keep pushing, until I cross that line.

The turn onto Boylston is the biggest tease. You dream about it for 26 miles, you will make that last turn, see the finish line, and you will be there. The thing is, you make the turn, see the finish line, and it is still SO FREAKING FAR AWAY. It’s enough to stop you in your tracks, doubt you’ll ever make it, but you must keep pushing, pushing, pushing, until you’re under it and you’re done.

As I got closer and closer I started realizing I was going to do it, finish in sub-3. A few meters from the line I knew I had it, but no celebrating until I crossed the line and checked the watch. 2:59:30. I beat it by 30 seconds! Thirty seconds is nothing, but I didn’t care if it was 1 second or 100, the first number of my time was a two, and that is all that mattered.

TWO hours! (...and 59 minutes.)
I waddled through the finish, got my medal, my food, my belongings, and waited to meet my family. I could barely contain myself; I wanted to jump up and down and celebrate, but I had to wait to share it with someone. After a few minutes, Brother arrived. “I did it! I did it!” I told him. His face lit up, he had no idea if I would make it, and we rejoiced. Then the cheering squad arrived and joined the celebrations. We went out for a post marathon meal (burger, fries, and beer) and I don’t think I’ve been as excited, happy, relieved, exhausted, thankful, and thrilled.

The next day, in post-marathon I-can’t-move-my-legs bliss, I got an email from Dad with a link to the Boston Globe list of the top 100 women. The kicker was the end of the URL, where they referred to the list as the “elite women.” It was certainly the first time anyone had put my name on a list with the word elite, and I teared up reading it. (Disclaimer: I tear up a lot.)

We did it! (Yes, "we." My support team deserves a lot of the credit.)
Some non-runners wonder why the heck it matters if you’re 2:59 or 3:00. It’s so much more than a number. It’s a sign that you belong to a group of (dare I say it?) elite runners who have put in the hard work, trained their butts off, and made sacrifices (along with their families) to make themselves into great marathon runners. There are no awards or prizes for being sub-three, just pride. But it is so worth it. It's the same with qualifying for Boston; others may not understand, but runners do. A BQ is a badge of honor. And you've earned it the hard way.

In April, I’ll be back on the hallowed roads of Boston. Back to the guys who jump off the course at mile 1 to pee in the woods. The endless smiles of the early miles. The signs to beat the Kenyans, that you’re crazy, that you're a "wicked fast runnah." The girls of Wellesley, of course. (Even for women, it’s awesome.) The college kids handing out beer. The downhills you don’t notice until you start going up, and simultaneously begin hating yourself for loving marathons. The excruciating pain that doesn’t come at the top of Heartbreak, but just on the other side, when the crowds thin and your quads revolt. The turn onto Beacon, where the crowds are going wild and won’t stop until you do. The turn onto Boylston, when you can finally see the finish line. The last moments of doubt, will you make it? The moment you realize you will, and you have.

Good luck to all those signing up for next year’s Boston, to all those going after BQs this fall, to all those dreaming of someday lining up in Hopkinton. It’s worth all those miles and all that dreaming.

Dream big and go after Boston,
Teal

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hiccups

I hate hiccups. My friends and family know this about me; I can't stand having them and I despise when other people are overcome by them (call me overly empathetic). Not only are they uncomfortable and annoying, but they make you wonder if they will ever stop.


Similarly, I hate hiccups in training. Inevitably, every workout won't go well. But when a couple bad ones string together, it seems like a downward spiral. It's annoying, uncomfortable, and you wonder if and when it will stop. 

This past week has been full of hiccups. It started last Wednesday at track practice; right from the beginning, I felt a little off and just didn't seem to have it. But I surprised myself, held on, and handled it. 

Two days later I was back at it, trying to squeeze a long run in before a holiday weekend getaway. It wasn't the best of plans, realizing I wouldn't have ample recovery after the track workout, but it was a "now or never" situation. I had planned to do a few miles at a good clip, but faded quickly. I hit every water fountain, splashed water all over myself, nothing helped. I gave up on my pace. But by the end, I was crawling, slower than I've run in a long time. When I got home, I was completely drained. I skipped my strength exercises (against my blogger advice) in favor of recovery. Looking back, I could come up with a zillion excuses as to why this run went poorly (too little recovery time, a killer combo of heat and humidity, a new sports drink that I was a "tester" for; it will not be getting good reviews), but all I can think about is how that was the last solid long run before the half and I bombed it.

I enjoyed my vacation for the next few days, relaxed at the beach, the pool, went for one short, slow run, and took two days completely off. I figured I'd return extra recovered and ready to go. 

But I wasn't. Tuesday's run wasn't anything special, but I couldn't help but notice that it was quite a bit slower than the same route last week. I blamed the humidity. 

But then came Wednesday. I started feeling a tickle in my throat, and my stomach was a bit off all day. The track workout was daunting: 4 x 2k, much faster than I prefer to go (or, possibly, am capable of going). Again, I felt it from the beginning. But I hung on last week, so I tried to keep at it. My stomach was not having it, and threatening action. On the second repeat, I fell far back. The second repeat!? I usually fall off on the last, but we were barely started. And the pace was continuing to drop. On the third, far back again, Coach made me call it at a mile. I took the extra break, debating if I had one more in me. I decided I would it give it another go, but only a mile. Once again, I fell back after 2 laps, and barely got through it. I felt completely wiped and drained. I couldn't even keep up with the girls on the cool down. Moreover, I was upset because I can't honestly remember the last time I cut a workout short. I've definitely adjusted my expectations and slowed (see above for the long run disaster) but never didn't finish. I feel like endurance is my thing, and until now, I've been able to at least endure the workouts, even if they are at a slower pace than I'd like. Maybe that's a silly philosophy to have -- there is certainly no reason to run yourself into the ground if you don't have it in you -- but I'm disappointed I couldn't complete it. 

The biggest problem is the half marathon is looming, a short week and a half away. My confidence is lacking, and that's not the attitude I want to go into a race with. With no marathon this fall, I feel like this is my moment to shine. This will be my favorite and best distance until the spring. Of course I'm shooting for a big PR, but I need to build my confidence back up to believe that's possible. 

One way to get rid of hiccups is to focus on something else--to ignore them. Easier said than done. There is a great quote in the Wear Sunscreen graduation speech-turned song: "Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how." Everyone has bad workouts, but they are so much harder to forget than the good ones. Particularly in the days leading up to a race, why can't we forget the discouraging days and focus on the encouraging ones? If anyone knows how to do this, how to ignore the hiccups, tell me how. 

Dream big, 
Teal

Friday, August 31, 2012

Science Friday: The Strength Training Debate


Are these counterproductive?
Advice from the running community (coaches, magazines, books) always includes the plea to supplement your running with strength training. It can help correct muscle imbalances, prevent injuries, and improve your running economy. But most runners are resistant. We run because we love running, not hanging out in gyms heaving weights around. We sneak our runs into our already busy schedules, early in the morning, on our lunch break, after work while others are out enjoying social lives. Do we really need to make time for strength training also?

But when I stumbled upon an article about combining endurance training and strength training, I found that the scientific community seems to think the opposite. Since endurance training and strength training target two opposing mechanisms, it may be counterproductive to do both.  (Endurance training increases mitochondria in your muscles, while strength training increases growth of muscle cells, or hypertrophy.) The research seems to suggest strength training will interfere with the effects of our endurance training. (For example, the resources needed to increase mitochondria might be used up trying to increase muscle size.) Could it be true? Could we get away with skipping the weights? Would we have a scientific excuse to do so?

The short answer, unfortunately for all you running purists, is no, we can’t skip the weights just yet. While most of the articles I read mentioned this interference, their findings showed it didn’t really hold up.

One article was a recent meta-analysis (basically a combination of all previous data, reexamined for large trends) that compared groups that did strength training only, endurance exercise only (running or biking), or a combination. As expected, they did find some interference. Tests of power were the most striking: people who only strength trained had greater power than those who strength trained and did endurance work. This fit with their hypothesis: by supplementing running, weight lifters may sacrifice some power. But to us runners, what we care about is the endurance group compared to the strength + endurance group. In that comparison, people who did both strength and endurance training had improved power versus those that only did endurance training. (See figure below.) More importantly, adding strength training did not affect VO2 max, so lifting weights doesn’t interfere with all our work done on the roads. Additionally, body fat measures were lowest in the strength + endurance groups, and lower for runners than bikers. (Take that cyclists!) As a side note, high intensity exercise increased body fat loss the most, consistent with other research. (So keep up with those intervals if that’s what you’re looking for.)

For us runners, we are most concerned with the comparison between endurance training alone (checkered bars) and endurance training + strength training ("concurrent," horizontal lined bars.) In all categories, adding strength training either helps or doesn't hurt.
So it seems like it’s not as bad as some research would imply. But does it help? What does it mean practically, and why should we bother?

Another group did a review of the literature (the difference from a meta-analysis is they didn’t reanalyze any data.) They found improved endurance capacity (measured by time trials or time to exhaustion) when there was a combination of strength and endurance training. This was true for both short trials (less than 15 minute time trials) and longer trials (over 30 minutes.) They also found that sprinting at the end of the trial (the finishing kick) was improved with strength training. Interestingly, they found that these improvements were made without increasing hypertrophy. The authors speculate that in this case the interference might be a good thing, because it prevents hypertrophy while still allowing for some improvements. So while strength training is helping, it’s not causing you to bulk up, something most runners will be happy to hear. (This article says that lots of reps of heavy weights are best, although I’ve read just the opposite elsewhere. That will have to be a story for another day.)

So here is what the advice for runners is built on: if you strength train, you can run faster over shorter distances, longer distances, have a better finishing kick, and not fatigue as quickly. And no, you won’t bulk up.

Crap, the coaches/magazines/books were right. Time to hit the weights.

On a completely unrelated note, there was an interesting piece this week about changing the way we sell exercising. In a world fueled by a desire for instantaneous results, it seems long term benefits of exercising (living longer and healthier) aren’t enough to encourage people to start exercising. So if you are trying to convince friends and family to develop healthy habits, you might want to emphasize how awesome you feel after a run or from being a runner, rather than how awesome it will be to live longer and healthier. (Good luck selling them on the lifting.)

Dream big,
Teal

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Steady State Runs

Fall is around the corner and racing season is almost in full swing. My major races for the season:

September 16: Philly Half
October 21: Army 10 Miler
November 11: Veterans Day 10k
December 8: XC Clubs (6k)

The season builds backwards, from longer races first to shorter races later. For me, this means easing off marathon type workouts and into faster, shorter stuff. But training for a half first means I don’t need to ignore my favorite aspects of marathon training just yet.

I like long, slow runs, but they are just that: LONG. If you’re not pushing the pace, they literally drag on for hours. You can’t (and shouldn’t) push the pace on every long run. There are both physiological and psychological benefits to running at a comfortable pace for a long time. But every few weeks I do think it’s nice to insert some faster miles to add a new training stimulus and break up the monotony.

For the marathon, the best way to do this is the marathon pace run. I put a lot of emphasis on these workouts and dread them beforehand (they are not easy!) but I’m all the better for it. If they go well, it breeds confidence. If they go poorly, it gives me a kick in the butt when I need it. And of course, it makes the next long, slow run seem that much more enjoyable.

Naturally, I wondered how I could adjust the workout to translate to the half. Greg McMillan describes the benefits of what he calls steady state runs, which are essentially the same thing only shorter. Whereas for marathon pace runs I generally start with 8 miles at MP and progress to 14, for steady state runs I started at 4 and will stop at 8. Again, the miles are nestled into the latter half of the long run for the week, providing a nice break from long and slow. The idea, of course, is to run them close to marathon pace, or somewhere between easy and tempo effort.

As per usual, my first attempt wasn’t great. But on my second I got faster, and more importantly, felt a lot better. (My third and final one will come this weekend, before a well deserved vacation.) Another difference from marathon training is to adjust the emphasis placed on these runs. Unlike for the marathon, these aren’t the most race specific workouts, so there’s no sense in beating myself up over them. (The bread and butter of half training is the tempo run.) Steady state runs help build confidence that you can maintain a good pace even after many miles, and for me it helps to know that, despite some training changes, I’m not losing too much in the endurance department. Also, it helps when the long run doesn’t take quite as long.

Dream big,
Teal

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fake Fall

Running makes you more invested in the weather. Nonrunners can stay inside when the weather turns ugly. But runners must deal with the elements, leading them to complain incessantly about the heat, the humidity, the wind chill, the rain, the snow. We runners are like the Goldilocks of weather: too hot! too cold! But fall is the Baby Bear of seasons: just right.

Fall is ideal running season. When there is a crisp chill to it, you can almost smell cross country in the air. There’s a reason there are more marathons in the fall than the spring. After months of hard training through hot summer days, you can feel the change of seasons and sense your hard work is about to pay off: it’s racing season!


I love fall. I love the trees changing colors and being able to wear sweaters and jackets again. I love all things pumpkin flavored: bread, beer, tea, cookies. I love that it always has a feeling of a fresh start, a newness, born from years of back-to-school routines. I love the holidays that come one after another, each with different things to celebrate (and different treats to eat!) And of course, I love running, ideally in shorts and a long sleeved T-shirt.

In DC, this past week has felt like fall. Granted, it’s still August, but the mornings have been cooler and it’s enough to trick you, is it fall? I find myself noticing stray leaves crumpling under my feet. They are old, dead leaves, leftover from summer storms, but in my mind they are orange and red, freshly fallen off autumn trees. Kids are back in school, football is starting... well, preseason football. People are running in long sleeves. (Seriously!) Ok, I’m excited too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

Of course it’s not yet fall. Stores aren’t even touting their pumpkin flavored treats yet, and stores’ schedules are ahead of everyone else’s. Soon it will go back to normal late summer heat and humidity, but until then I’ll enjoy my fake fall and dream of happier times. My long sleeved T-shirts are ready and waiting.

Dream big and dream of fall,
Teal

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

17 Days of Ups and Downs

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA for the past few weeks. During the Olympics, I was living a double life: staying up late to watch the best athletes in the world and waking up early to work on becoming my own version of a better athlete. During the in-between hours, I ignored the internet and any Olympics news until I could watch in prime time. I crawled under a rock and stayed there, glued to every athlete’s move, under the complete power of Bob Costas. My anti-internet campaign, combined with every free moment filled with workouts or watching people enjoy the fruits of their own workouts, made it difficult to blog. To make up for it, here’s a summary of ups and downs of the Olympic days from both my spectating and running perspective.

Friday July 27:
Nothing like enjoying decadent dessert
while watching the fittest people on the planet.
Spectator Teal: Opening Ceremonies. I was dead set on watching them, having fallen asleep during the famed Beijing Opening Ceremonies, only to hear for weeks (and years!) afterwards how amazing they were. I don’t make that mistake again. But as expected, the Opening Ceremonies are pretty weird and not even in the British humor Monty Python kind of way. (That comes in the Closing Ceremonies.) Worse yet, the NBC anchors can’t get over how the Queen just parachuted into the stadium with James Bond, when that was clearly a (poor) job of camera editing. Still, I’m excited it’s the Olympics and make festive brownies to kick them off. 

Saturday July 28:
Runner Teal: I meet some of the GRC girls for a long run. We chit-chat through a leisurely 12 miler. Nobody kicks my butt. Oh yea: long, slow running, this is the part I’m good at.

Spectator Teal: In my excitement, I make a rookie mistake and start too fast.  I watch fencing and archery and am glad to see Misty May and Kerri Walsh are back. It won’t be the last I hear of them. (It will be the last I see of archery and fencing.)

Monday July 30:
Spectator Teal: Missy Franklin, the sweetheart of the Games, wins gold less than 15 minutes after swimming a semi. It’s unprecedented, sure, but given how many events swimmers can compete in I start to wonder how that’s possible. Why is the recovery so much faster than track? 

Tuesday July 31:
Spectator Teal: In the afternoon, I overhear my coworker screaming “He only lost by a stroke!!” Ingeniously, I put two and two together. Later, I watch Michael Phelps lose by a hair. I decide I need to start wearing headphones during key racing times. The women's gymnastics team wins gold, and my 8 year old self leaps for joy.

Wednesday August 1:
Runner Teal: My track workout is terrible. I’m exhausted and can’t get in the rhythm. I’ve eaten all the brownies, the lure of archery and fencing is gone, track has yet to begin. I hit a mid-race slump.

Friday August 3:
Spectator Teal: Track starts! I crawl deeper under my rock. Runnersworld and basically every site I ever go to are now strictly forbidden. Fortunately, the only other race that I hear about before watching is Bolt winning the 100m. If anyone had told me the results of any longer races, I think I would have slapped them. Fortunately, I have very kind and understanding friends and family, who don’t like to be slapped.

Saturday August 4:
Runner Teal: I get in my long run on Saturday in anticipation of the women’s marathon Sunday morning. I try to do some of the final miles fast. I bomb. I’m only slightly comforted by the fact that I do a variation of this workout every season and the first attempt is always a disaster, but I’m still upset. I come home and bang out an entire strength workout that I almost always skip.

Spectator Teal: Hours later, I’m tuned in to the (Live!) men’s 10k with my aching legs propped up on the couch. Until the final laps, when Mo and Galen put on such a thrilling race that I’m jumping up and down, screaming, and (in my eyes) willing them to an amazing, unforgettable 1-2 finish. I celebrate with more screaming, jumping, clapping, tearing up. Somehow my neighbors don’t call the cops. Best moment of the games, hands down.

Sunday August 5:
True teammates, through thick and thin
(mostly thin), rain or shine, win or lose.
Spectator Teal: Apparently there are two reasons I get up early on weekends: to run and to watch running. At 6 am, I’m glued to the TV and the women’s marathon, the event I’m looking forward to the most. But slowly, on the rainy and twisting streets of London, my hopes for Kara and Shalane fade. Shalane hangs tough for a long time, but fades hard. They finish 10th and 11th, and in a touching moment Kara, the more seasoned marathoner, picks Shalane up off the pavement and they walk arm and arm away from the finish.

Runner Teal: After the race, I go for a short jog to shake out yesterday’s run and spontaneous Mo-Galen-triggered plyometric workout. I think about the American marathoners and my heart aches for them. Not only because it’s the Olympics, which I certainly cannot relate to. But because of all the hard work they put in, how they felt they were in the best shape of their lives, and yet (while their performances are still impressive) they’re unsatisfied. I can relate to that. And now all they can do is take time off, recover, and then do it all over again.

Monday August 6:
Runner Teal: I do my full strength workout again. I’m not sure whether I’m inspired by the Olympics or disappointed in my own progress. Whatever it is, it’s working. I continue to do my strength workouts through the Closing Ceremonies.

Wednesday August 8:
Runner Teal: We have a doozy of a track workout, which I’ve been dreading since I got the email on Monday. It’s 6 x 1 mile with a shorter recovery that usual. The paces start slow, but drop frighteningly close to my mile PR. Also, I’m still exhausted. Somehow I make it through five of them right with the pack. On the last, I manage to cling on until the last straightaway, when I fall back but still hit the line in 5:41, 7 seconds faster than our intended pace, and 4 seconds faster than my PR. 

Friday August 10:
Runner Teal: I switch my workouts around and end up doing an easy 12 miler in the morning. I haven’t gone that far before work in a while and I enjoy it, in my weird-masochistic way. While reading about the contenders in the women’s marathon a few days before, I saw a picture of one of them running NYC. Something about the fall colors in the background and the famous course triggered a pang of missing the marathon. Today’s run reminds me again.

Spectator Teal: Final lap of the women’s 1500 and Morgan Uceny falls. Again. I can’t believe it; I am close to tears. She is filled with very real tears, pouring them onto the track. People say she should have gotten up and finished the lap, but I don’t think so. In her situation, I probably would have done the exact same thing. It’s heartbreaking. When will she get her redemption?

Saturday August 11:
Runner Teal: Tempo run. As you may recall, I’m not great at tempo runs, but I manage this one all right. I average two seconds slower than my goal pace, but it’s apparently one of the faster tempo runs I’ve ever done (although it’s on the shorter side) and it was the day after a 12 miler.

Spectator Teal: In the 5k, soon-to-be Sir Mo Farah does it again. I scream and clap but I don’t jump up and down as much. Even though it’s an incredible double, it’s almost like it’s old news to me. Of course he would win again. He’s freaking awesome.

Sunday August 12:
Spectator Teal: 6 am, it’s marathon time again. From the start, it’s obvious Ryan Hall is off. He usually runs in the lead, and he’s falling further and further back. He drops out. Not long after, Abdi is out too. Meb is all we’ve got left. At halfway, he’s in 17th place. Meanwhile, the three vying for medals are clear: Kirui and Kiprotich (aka Kipsang) from Kenya and another Kiprotich from Uganda. The two Kenyans are chatting back and forth and around mile 23 it seems they are finally pulling away from the Ugandan Kiprotich. Ugandan Kiprotich does the sign of the cross, and I think “oh man, he’s praying that he can hang on, at least get bronze.” But the next thing you know, he’s caught the Kenyans and is blowing past. He must have prayed for the strength to make his move, and his prayers were answered. He amasses a lead that he won’t lose, and he gets Uganda gold (its first marathon medal). Meb, somehow, claws his way through the field to finish 4th. He’s a few minutes out of the medals, but it’s no matter. Many people, myself included, may have counted Meb out of this one, but once again he proves us wrong with his tough, fighting spirit. Before the race, he was the American who seemed injured. Afterwards, he’s the only one left standing.

Runner Teal: I take the day off. It’s been an exhausting 17 days.

Dream big,
Teal