Friday, January 30, 2015


I don’t write Science Fridays anymore (but you can check out some running-related pieces I’ve written here), but it is Friday, so here’s some physics for you:

Inertia (n.): The resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction. (Wikipedia)

Since I have been in a state of Perpetual Sitting on the Couch Eating Cookies, I’m finding it very hard to change my speed (faster than sitting pace) and direction (towards anywhere other than the couch). I blame physics.

When you’re in the middle of training, your constant moving towards your goal keeps you going. You’re up early, getting in your daily miles, eating your chia-topped oatmeal. Sure, you may dream of post-marathon luxuries of sleeping in and various indulgences, but no time for that now, you’ve got ten miles to do before work. Maybe you’ll switch it up with some flax-topped oatmeal today, but mostly things stay the same—you keep rolling. No excuses. Run, rinse, repeat. I love that routine. (And obviously I love oatmeal, too.)

But I also love the amazing wonderfulness of my warm, cozy bed on cold, dark mornings. I swear, every morning it somehow feels better than ever before. I better cherish this moment, this best ever comfy-ness. I’m never leaving. And obviously oatmeal cookies beat all other varieties of oatmeal. (But, if we're taking cookies, try these, which I just made this week and are not even remotely, possibly good for you, but completely delicious.*) Despite loving training, I can’t quite get out of my off-season state.

So yeah, inertia. It’s real.
RunnerTeal's First Law Of Motion:
An object in motion will stay in motion (left).
An object not in motion will bake cookies (right).
I’m trying to nudge myself in the right direction. Get a little momentum. Inertia can be changed by the application of external force. (Like this video designed to get bodies off couches and excited for Grandma’s Marathon.) It’s early yet; official marathon training won’t start for a few more weeks, but the first race on my schedule will be here before I know it.

But it’s hard. I said last week that I like marathon training because it rises in a slow crescendo to the peak race. You climb the mountain of training, then—when you finally make it to the top—you jump for joy, plant your little flag, scream “I did it! I did it!” But then you quickly slide down the other side.

You get to the bottom—full of cookies and beer and ensconced in warm, cozy sheets—and look up ahead. Another mountain to climb. Didn’t I just climb that mountain? Why am I back at the bottom?

That slide back down is important: your body—and mind—needs rest. Without a proper break you risk burnout and injury.

Still, it’s hard to look up at that mountain and see how far you’ve got to go. 

A couple weeks ago, I went for a “long” run with the GRC girls. I hadn’t been with them in a while, but everyone insisted we’d go slow. I didn’t wear a watch, so I have no idea our actual pace, but their “slow” felt like sprinting and I fell way back. (Full disclosure: I may have had too many indulgences at our team party the night before. But also—let’s be honest—I’m out of shape.) The next week I decided it might be nice to get some semblance of speed, so I did a 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off fartlek. Woof. Five minutes is an insufferably long time when you’re out of shape.

And this week? This week I skipped my run on Monday, because Hey, it’s Monday. I don’t have to go running every day this week. Then I skipped my run Tuesday, because… because nothing. Because inertia. I had no good mildly acceptable reason to skip my run. (I finished off the amazing cookies instead.)

The force required to push an immobile object up a mountain is immense. The good news is it's easier to climb the mountain when you've been there before and know your way. The bad news is you can’t climb the mountain from the couch or your warm, cozy bed.

Dream big,

*Or try these super easy mini-brownies for the Super Bowl!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Moving On

Alright folks. I've blabbed enough about my last marathon. Time to move on... to blabbing about the next one.

There’s no real reason to do another marathon before the Trials. With the qualifier in my pocket, I could take this season “off” and focus on speed (or “speed” to a marathoner, meaning 10Ks, 10 milers, and half-marathons).

So I don’t need to run a marathon in 2015. But I want to.

Of course, there may be benefits to not running one. (Like actually having some speed/not having to use quotes when I type that word.) But I tried that once. Maybe it made me a better runner in the end, but it wasn’t as much fun.

During my first season with GRC I stepped down in distance and ran races from the half marathon to 6K cross country. I struggled, maybe with the newness of the team (doubtful, I loved them), maybe with iron deficiency (likely), maybe because I just couldn’t get in the groove of that kind of training (possibly). I like having one peak race at the end of the season, and other races and efforts rising in a slow crescendo, building on each other to the ultimate culmination, the hardest and longest effort: the marathon.

Besides, I’m not doing this out of obligation or to make millions (unless you'd like to give me millions?), I’m doing it for fun. And fun for me is 26.2 miles of glorious pain.

In a recent post on Zelle, Dane Rauschenberg lists 52 reasons to run a marathon. His first reason: “While you can get an amazing high from tackling any race distance, conquering the mother of all races gives you a high which is hard to duplicate.” The amazing effort and triumph of the last one, the drug-like euphoria that came with it, the celebrations, the ice cream sundaes—it just makes me want to earn that again. 26.2 miles, one of the most addictive drugs out there.

One of my teammates put together a post on what I had done last season (compared to previous seasons) to get the qualifying standard. (His conclusion? Not much.) In his analysis, he surmised—correctly—that I sacrifice time and performance at other distances for success in the marathon. It’s true, my PRs for ten miles and the half marathon don’t stack up to my marathon time. (And don’t get me started on 5Ks.) And that doesn't really bother me. I’ve said it before on this blog: all I really care about is the marathon.

I’ll be cautious this year; the most important thing will be to not get hurt before next February. But barring major disasters, the second goal will be—as always—to get faster. I’ve got a bit of extra confidence in my training after last season’s successes, so I’ll take it much the same way: roughly a race once a month, building to the marathon.

So *drumroll please*… this season’s schedule:

Rock-n-Roll USA Half Marathon (March)
Cherry Blossom Ten Miler (April)
Broad Street Ten Miler (May… in Philadelphia…)
Grandma’s Marathon (June)

Will I be able to catch the same fire I did last season? Will I be able to beat Brother in the City of Brotherly Love Family Duels RunnerTeal Fails? Will I earn a post-marathon ice cream sundae that's as hugely delicious? I don’t know. But I’m going to try.

Stay tuned.

Dream big(ger),

Friday, January 16, 2015

10,000 Frustrations

You’ve probably heard the theory of 10,000 hours. Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, it says that excelling at something requires a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. You’ve maybe also heard the backlash: how it’s not really true, as there are plenty of examples of athletes quickly ascending to the top of their sport. (One of the most famous is Donald Thomas, a basketball player who became a high jumper when he jumped over 7 feet just messing around with friends. About a year and a half later, he won gold at the World Championships.)

From my own perspective, I'm not sure about 10,000 hours. I have a different theory:

10,000 Frustrations: The number of discouraging, awful, terrible days/moments/workouts/races/thoughts a person must experience before reaching their goal.

(Is this more universally true? Perhaps not. Or maybe all of Thomas's frustrations came during his basketball career?)

I’ve posted around twenty race reports since starting this blog and about half of them are discouraging: every race in Philly, most 5Ks (this summer I ran one at the same pace I needed to run 26.2 miles), the previous two marathons. Maybe that’s not quite 10,000, but I overuse the heck out of the word "frustrate" and an awful lot of those uses don’t even make it to the blog. Last week I mentioned the best workouts of each season, but not the worst: the marathon pace workout that got cut short and became a slow and pathetic shuffle home; the tempo run(s) where I needed to keep stopping for breaks and still couldn’t hit the prescribed pace; the many other workouts and races that were wildly off my goals, making my big dreams seem both ridiculous and impossible.

I had the best season of my life last fall, but I was close to rock bottom in September. After an embarrassing race capped off a terrible month, I jotted down some discouraging thoughts: When was the last time I had a good race? I keep making excuses… Maybe I'm just not as fast as I think I am. That thought/realization/fear was like a punch in the gut. It had been months since Boston, when that phrase had started its endless loop in my head. Nothing since had silenced it.
Mid-Frustrating-Race Face.
What was the solution? How did I move past what seemed like the 9,999th discouraging moment? Two ways: I was ever so slightly flexible and also unflinchingly stubborn.

A week and a half after Philly, I had a tempo run on the schedule. I’m awful at tempo runs; my expectations and actual paces are always vastly mismatched. (Or is it my expectations and actual abilities that are vastly mismatched? That was the interminable question.) I always did them on the same stretch of road, out and back. Like the old cliché, it was uphill both ways. (It’s actually pretty flat, but the effort felt that way. And—I swear to you—the wind was assuredly in my face both directions.) I’ve used this same route for years and tempo runs have never gone well.

So I stopped doing the same thing and expecting different results. I changed it up. I found a new route (a loop that I would have to circle a couple times, but no matter) and it made all the difference. I actually hit my goal pace for the first time in years, if not ever.

Maybe sometimes what we need is a fresh take. I have too many memories of tempos gone poorly on that route; maybe it was getting in my head that it was uphill and windy both ways. I think it’s possible that part of the reason I fell apart in Boston this year—at the exact same place as last year—was the memories and doubts from the year before. As soon as you let a doubt sneak in—“I’ve been here before, and it hasn’t ended well”—it’s all over. Sometimes you need to change things up: training routes, workout structures, race courses or distances. Give your brain a chance to not know the end result before it happens.

What happened next? Loyal readers know the story: I took that one workout (the Only Successful Tempo Ever) and I ran with it, literally. I used it to fuel the remaining workouts before the Army Ten Miler, and they went well, too. I based every morsel of hope I had for Army Ten Miler on that workout—not on the many failures of August and September. And it worked.

Changing things—even the simplest thing like a workout’s route—was the flexible part. Now for the stubborn part:

People often talk about how they get a lot of motivation from wanting to prove their doubters wrong. But I’m incredibly lucky to have a relentlessly supportive family, team, and set of friends, and often the only person who says I can’t do something is me. So when I get frustrated or discouraged, I also get a little mad at that girl that thinks she can’t. When she gets her way, I get a little more stubborn. Next time, I’ll really show her. 

If you look carefully at last week’s rundown, you'll see that my expectations (my A and B goals) often got faster and faster, even when I didn’t get the results I wanted the previous go-round. (Despite never breaking 3:10 or 3:05, I went for sub-3. Despite never breaking 2:50 or 2:46, I went for sub-2:43.) Is this dumb? Maybe. It could lead to more disappointment and frustration.

But I think it’s actually evident of a completely rational belief that training pays off even when races don’t go as well as you planned. You’ll have your bad days—in workouts and races—but if you're stubborn enough to keep fighting, you will get better. Maybe it won’t be evident just yet. But if you’re working hard, your muscles, heart, and lungs are getting stronger. And if you get your brain to believe it too, you'll get there.

I hope 10,000 frustrations is a gross exaggeration, but it seems that way sometimes. As Rocky said, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.*”

So even if it is 10,000 hits, keep fighting.

Dream big,

*Thanks, GotMyTShirt, for posting that quote a few months back. (See? I told you all my supporters are eternally encouraging.) 

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Evolution of 2:42

My first marathon was a 4:07. My twelfth was a 2:42. How did I get there? Presenting: "The Evolution: An oversimplified look at how my training, goals, and lifestyle changed over ten years and twelve marathons."

As you’ll see there were some big jumps (namely the first one) and lots of smaller ones. I didn’t go from over four hours to under three overnight. I slowly chiseled away at my time, making new short-term and long-term goals as I went. Sometimes a big chunk would come off, but more often it was a small shard.

I chiseled away at other things, too. My first marathon was in college, fueled largely by burritos, beer, and too little sleep. I’ve slowly improved my nutrition over the years, to the point where I no longer chug Diet Coke all day and focus on getting a healthy serving of vegetables at every meal. (I’ve found it most essential to focus on vegetables; proteins and carbs come pretty easily with most typical meals. And I love fruit so I easily hit my quota there.) I’ve also focused on sleeping more, reminding myself (sometimes nightly) of its importance to training and racing well.

1. Charlottesville Marathon, April 2005
Goal: Finish
Training changes: The first marathon means longer runs than ever before. I didn’t worry about time or pace, just on getting in the distance.
Weekly mileage average: As proof of my inexperience, I’m not sure I kept a log or counted miles. I do know I started off with a training plan, and I diligently did most of my long runs each weekend, but I also remember skipping an awful lot of weekday runs in favor of sleep.
Best workout: On my first (and only) twenty-miler, I ran by a man working in his lawn. Hours later, I passed by again. “Are you still running!? How far are you going??” I proudly responded, “Twenty miles.” The shock on his face powered me through the final stretch. This is what it’s like to be a marathoner.
Biggest challenge: Running 26.2 miles…
Result: 4:07:12 (9:26 pace), completely satisfied and proud.
An amateur in a plain old cotton tee. Charlottesville 2005.
2. Baystate Marathon, October 2008
A goal: Qualify for Boston (3:40 back then, 8:25 pace), B goal: PR
Training changes: With a time goal in mind, I started caring about the pace of my long runs and added some tempo workouts.
Weekly mileage average: I definitely think I calculated mileage at this point, but apparently didn’t save my notes. (I still didn’t fathom how long this obsession would last.) 
Best workout: I started running long runs at goal pace, around 8 minute miles. (I’ve since honed my running knowledge quite a bit more, and that strategy is not recommended. I now do marathon pace runs only every few weeks and not for the entire duration of the run, see below.)
Biggest challenge: Run a marathon with some semblance of pace. I had over 27 minutes to slash to nab a BQ, and I often reminded myself (and family and friends) that it could take a few tries.
Result: 3:28:38 (7:58 pace), BQ by 11+ minutes, PR by 38+ minutes. Ecstatic.
On my way to my first BQ. Baystate 2008.
3. Boston Marathon, April 2009
A goal: Sub 3:20, B goal: PR
Training changes: I did more twenty milers (that often included part of the Boston course), going from doing one per season to three.
Weekly mileage average: 36 Highest week: 45
Best workout: My first half-marathon, a 1:34:39, which predicted a 3:18 marathon.
Biggest challenge: Battled some ankle issues, spent 3 weeks in January cross training
Result: 3:18:49 (7:35 pace), PR by almost 10 minutes. Pleased.
Finishing my first--but certainly not last--Boston. 2009
Side-note from my journal after this race: [Thinking about new goals and how far I can take this] Could I get under 3:00? If I could, I bet I could win (or give a serious shot to winning) a small, unpopular marathon. And if I got that, I would have to give a serious shot to getting a 2:48 [the 2008 standard, I didn’t know it would get harder] and qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Yea, yea, yea, it’s CRAZY and that is a really impossibly* hard goal … I'll probably never get there, but if it drives me to win a race or to slowly get closer and closer to 3:00 then I'll take it.”

*Dear 2009 Teal: Never say something's impossible. (See marathons 7, 9, and 12 for how accurate this prediction turned out to be.)

4. New York City Marathon, November 2009
A goal: Sub 3:10 B goal: Sub 3:15
Training changes: I bumped my mileage slightly (tried to average 50 miles per week) and added track workouts.
Weekly mileage average: 44 Highest week: 57
Best workout: One week in October I did 10X800s, averaging 3:08 (“Yasso 800s,” predicts a 3:08 marathon), on Tuesday and an 8 mile tempo run at 6:46 pace on Thursday. I drew a smiley face in my log that week.
Biggest challenge: During the summer I moved to DC for graduate school, but first lived in a rodent-infested apartment where I got no sleep. I moved out by September, but had a string of workouts where I tripped and fell. I blame exhaustion for making my already shuffling stride worse, to the point where my feet barely came off the ground and I tripped often and brutally. (I even ended up tripping and falling in the race, just to give the season a sense of continuity.) 
Result: 3:18:29 (7:35 pace), PR by 20 seconds, but upset.
Scraped up as usual. NYC 2009.
5. National Marathon, March 2010 (now Rock-n-Roll USA)
A goal: Sub 3:05, B goal: Sub 3:10
Training changes: Tried to get better about lifting and doing core work. (Something I still struggle with.)
Weekly Mileage Average: 42 Highest Week: 56
Best workout: Yasso 800s with 3:05 average
Biggest challenge: DC’s infamous “Snowpocalypse.” It snowed repeatedly and massively (for DC, which was ill-prepared to deal with it). My log is a string of curses about the snow.
Result: 3:14:45 (7:26 pace), PR by 4 minutes, but a little bummed.
At least race day was snow-free. DC 2010.
6. Chicago Marathon, October 2010
A goal: Sub 3:05, B goal: Sub 3:10
Training changes: Bumped my mileage again and started doing doubles one day a week.
Weekly mileage average: 60 Highest week: 69
Best workout: Broke 1:30 for the half marathon (predicts a 3:06 marathon) and averaged 2:59 for Yasso 800s.
Biggest challenge: The training went relatively well, but race day was hot (mid-80s). I stupidly went out hard anyway (3:05 pace at halfway) and paid for it, brutally. 
Result: 3:20:16 (7:39 pace), the first marathon I did not PR. Devastated.
Hot, hot, hot. Chicago 2010.
A goal: Sub 3:00 (6:52 pace)…. I didn’t have a B goal; I wanted a 2:59 and nothing else.
Training changes: I started using the training plans in Advanced Marathoning. (I’ve used them ever since, tweaking them only ever so slightly.)
Weekly mileage average: 63 Highest week: 70
Best workout: Advanced Marathoning gave me the structure for my marathon pace workouts. I did 8 miles at pace (15 total with warm up and cool down) in January and 12 miles (20 total) at 6:56 pace in March. I also broke 6 for the mile for the first time in my life.
Biggest challenge: The challenge was mental: getting over Chicago and believing a 15-minute PR was possible.
Result: 2:59:30 (6:51 pace), a PR by 15 minutes. Ecstatic.
Going for sub-3. Boston 2011. 
8. Chicago Marathon, October 2011
A goal: Sub 2:55, B goal: PR/redemption for 2010 Chicago
Training changes: I didn’t seem to change much here. Was I so happy with breaking 3 that I got complacent? That seems doubtful, but the plan looks similar to the previous season.
Weekly mileage average: 65 Highest week: 71
Best workout: 10 miles at 6:47 (18 total) in August, track workouts went pretty well.
Biggest challenge: Looking back at my workouts, none of them were stellar. A half marathon in early September went terribly.
Result: 2:55:35 (6:42 pace), PR by almost 4 minutes. Pretty pleased.
Back for redemption. Chicago 2011.
A goal: Win, B goal: Sub 2:50… changed to just PR-ing after I saw the hills the day before
Training changes: No more complacency. I cranked up my mileage again (went to the next level in Advanced Marathoning) and only took a day off every 2-3 weeks. I also made my marathon pace workouts hillier.
Weekly mileage average: 74 Highest week: 81
Best workout: 12 marathon pace miles (18 total) at 6:42. Also did a 20 miler with 14 marathon paced miles (my longest yet) but wasn’t so pleased with the pace (6:49).
Biggest challenge: An incredibly hilly course, all the other women in the race.
Result: 2:53:10 (6:37 pace), 1st place, 2+ minute PR. Thrilled.
Winning. (The clock is wrong.) Charlottesville 2012.
A goal: Sub 2:48, B goal: Sub 2:50
Training changes: In the summer of 2012 I joined GRC. I spent the fall trying to improve my times at shorter distances; this was my first marathon with the team.
Weekly mileage average: 78 Highest week: 85
Best workout: I broke 1:22 for the half marathon, a week after running an 8k as a workout. I did the 8k (~5 miles) at 6:04 pace and was feeling confident.
Biggest challenge: I reworked my training plan to align more with teammates, planning to cut my longest effort at pace from 14 to 12. But in reality, I never even made it to 12, as I had stomach issues that day and called it at 8. I also struggled with insomnia leading up to the race. Looking back at this training block, I think I was in great half marathon shape, but not great full marathon shape.
Result: 2:52:35 (6:35 pace), PR by 35 seconds. Really bummed. (But quickly overtaken by other emotions on that horrible day.) 
A day ending in many tears. Boston 2013.
A goal: Sub 2:46, B goal: Sub 2:48 (I was sure I would at least break 2:50.)
Training changes: Coming back from my hip injury, I went back to less mileage and taking one day completely off each week.
Weekly mileage average: 64 Highest week: 72
Best workout: My longest marathon pace effort was 12 miles (18 total) at 6:24 pace (equates to a 2:47 marathon). I was psyched.
Biggest challenge: Coming back from injury, with less of a build up then usual. Still, the workouts seemed to tell me I was ready for something big.
Result: 2:58:37 (6:49 pace), the second time I did not PR in a marathon. Devastated.
A disappointing, dehydrating day. Boston 2014.
A goal: Sub 2:43, qualify for the Trials, B goal: None. Sub-2:43 or bust.
Training changes: I put my faith back in longer marathon pace workouts. I also started doing yoga more often and foam-rolling every day.
Weekly mileage average: 70 Highest week: 83
Best workout: 16 mile marathon pace run at 6:12 (22 miles total)
Biggest challenge: A poor showing at the Philly Half set me back psychologically… I took a few days off and cut down my mileage to try to get some bounce back.
Result: 2:42:13 (6:12 pace), Trials qualifier, 10+ minute PR. Ecstatic.
Achieving the dream. CIM 2014.
The most encouraging story from that progression is that there’s power in disappointment. Two of my biggest PRs (Boston 2011, by 15 minutes, and CIM, by 10 minutes) came right after my biggest failures (the two marathons I did not PR, Chicago 2010 and Boston 2014). Defeat can be a powerful motivator. Like an old football rivalry, you don’t want your enemy to get the best of you again, so you fight harder and do everything possible to come out on top.

Also, as I chiseled my time down, I sculpted my training to what works for me. Yasso 800s—while wildly popular in some running circles—don’t work for me (or at least don’t predict correctly), but long, steady efforts at pace do. (This makes sense, as Renato Canova, the famous coach of Kenyan marathoners, often discusses. Workouts with paces close to marathon pace are far more important than those farther away; i.e. a workout at marathon pace matters more than a track workout at a much faster pace.)

You have to find what works for you. I remember frequently thinking that there was no way I (or anyone) could make it to the Trials on less than 90 miles per week. The women who compete in the Trials just seemed too amazingly fit and fast to be running anything less. I like running higher mileage and kept trying to bump it up to something that seemed “Trials-worthy”, but in the end, I made it on 70 miles a week. Don’t be intimidated or discouraged by what others are doing (or what you think others are doing). Everyone is different; what works for someone else might not work you.

That’s how I made my goal. How will you?

Dream big,