Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer of Speed

Summertime means sports bra tan lines, sunlit morning and evening runs, an unimaginable amount of sweat… and another attempt to improve at the 5K.

My 5K PR just does not stack up to my marathon time. Although I still think running calculators are not always accurate and need to be taken with a grain of (sweat-encrusted) salt, it’s striking that plugging in my recent Pittsburgh time predicts a 5K over a minute faster than I’ve ever run. The women I compete against run 5Ks a minute or more faster than me, and as I aim to get more competitive, I need to address my weakness: the dang 5K.

One of my problems with the 5K is I don’t give it enough respect. I do one or two a year, at most, usually in the summer when I’m not totally committed and really just waiting for marathon season to start again. (I admit I’m pretty much doing that again, dedicating an 8-week mini-season before gearing up for a fall marathon.) My other issue is that the 5K is a different kind of pain than the marathon; while the marathon starts off comfortable and gradually becomes a slow burn that settles over you in an achy exhaustion, the 5K is holding your hand in the flame almost from the gun. It’s a fiery, I-want-to-throw-up feeling in your chest and stomach that you have to maintain even as your marathoner’s brain is yelling to pump the dang breaks. It always seems too far to keep up the pace. And yet... the 5K really isn’t that long, but I never seem to understand that until it’s over. I always give up slightly in the second mile then kick it in more than I thought I was capable of and end up mad I didn’t push harder earlier. Doing well in the 5K means being comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m just so used to the feel of marathon pace, I can’t seem to deal with the shorter, sharper burn.

So I’m trying to work on getting comfortable with 5K uncomfortable-ness. I found a plan in an old Running Times (RIP) for marathoners dropping down to the 5K and have been doing the track workouts. They start with super short reps (200s!!) and short rest (30 seconds!) and build up to 1K repeats at 5K pace. I’ve been having fun with the changeup (I have no idea the last time I did 200s) and they haven’t been that hard yet, which is a good sign, since they are still so short. It’s comforting to see the progression and know I just have to hold that pace a little longer each time.

Track workouts from Terrace Mahon.
Move up to the next when you can hit or better the projected paces. 

As for getting used to the distance and pacing, I’m going to run a 5K for three Monday evenings in a row as part of Richmond’s Cul-de-sac 5K series. The times won’t be fast (it’s generally 100 degrees and humid), but I’m hoping I can improve each week, if only in giving a more even and fuller effort. And because Richmond is full of fun summer running events, I’m also going to race at the Summer Track Series. I’m looking to do a mile and also taking on my husband in a Spouse Showdown* at 800m. (Because nothing says true love than trying to out sprint each other, right??) My only reasoning behind the track races is they seem super fun (I’m even less a miler than a 5Ker), but that’s reason enough. They certainly aren’t the focus of the season. (Or that’s what I’ll be telling myself when Husband destroys me in the 800.)

The summer of speed begins.

The focus and serious PR attempt will be at the Pony Pastures 5K at the end of July. It’s a flat, fast course and a morning race so hopefully it won’t be too blazing hot. And even though “it’s just a dinky 5K” (my words, which I’ve spoken at least ten times when describing this race) I’m putting it on the calendar early and trying to start giving it the respect it deserves (i.e. not calling it "just a dinky" 5K). Hopefully this year’s attempt at a summer of speed will pay off with a big PR, and if not, it will still be a fun changeup.

Summer of Speed Schedule
Cul-de-sac 5Ks – July 2, 9, and 16
Track mile – July 18
Pony Pasture 5K – July 28
Spouse Showdown* (800m) – Aug 1

*The Spouse Showdown is our own creation; everyone else is just racing an 800m and not risking their marriages over a track race.

Dream big,

Friday, June 15, 2018

No Buildup's Perfect

“Erase from your mind that your preparation must be perfect. Hard work plus dedication equals a shot at your dreams.” – Kara Goucher

In March, a day after my failed attempt at 16 miles at sub-2:45 pace, Brother asked why I was wallowing over the workout. He laughed, “Marathon pace workouts?! Those things are so freaking tough; no one hits those dead on.”

I snapped back, “But I did! Before CIM! That’s how I knew I could run the Trials standard.”

And so I kept wallowing. I wasn’t sure I could run 2:45 pace in a race if I didn’t in practice. So I attempted the workout again. And failed again. And yet… on race day I did run sub-2:45. Because marathon pace workouts are so freaking tough, and it’s rare to hit them dead on.

Just because I didn't run well on this one day... 
I feel like I’ve done you all a bit of a disservice. Here on the blog and in interviews I rattle on an on about the one workout that helped me get to the Olympic Trials the first time, to the point that people have reached out to me to ask more about it. (Which is awesome! I always love hearing from you guys!) The gist of the workout: a long run of 18-22 miles with 12-16 miles in the middle at goal race pace. (I peak at 16 pace miles after building up to it over the years and over the course of each season.) I’ve always said that if you nail this workout, you are ready to nail the marathon. It’s a hard grind that you’ll likely do alone, in the middle of a high mileage week. If you can nail it then, you’ll be ready on race day when you’re tapered and high on adrenaline.

But what happens if you don’t nail the workout? Is the inverse true? Does failing at this one workout mean you’ll fail at the marathon?

No, because it’s only one workout. Every season is an accumulation of workouts, long slogs, hard tempos, intervals, easy days, strides, core, strength, eating right, sleeping enough. No build up is perfect. It’s too long, life is too messy, the weather is too uncontrollable. Every season has its share of bad days. The trick is to focus on the things that go well and forget the rest. (“Remember the compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.”)

Before Pittsburgh, those failed attempts weighed on me. How could I be confident enough to go for a Trials qualifier when I didn’t run my tried-and-true confidence booster? But I was giving that workout too much power; just because I made it to the Trials by one route before, didn’t mean I had to take exactly the same route this time. I looked back over the rest of my workouts and everything else—tempo runs, track workouts, tune-up races—was on par with that magical CIM season. I was in similar shape overall. All that work didn’t disappear because of a couple of bad days. So I put my faith in the total, in the accumulation of miles, rather than in one or two big workouts.

And honestly, I wasn’t wildly off. I’ve had some seasons where I’ve tried to force things when I didn’t have too much evidence to go off, with disastrous consequences. (If there are more bad days and than good days, it’s probably time to reevaluate your goals or give your body a break before it breaks.) But I did run pretty close to my goal (four seconds per mile slow the first time, six seconds the second time), even if it took some convincing for me to see that. I whined and moaned at the time that it wasn’t close enough; it wasn’t perfect. But I wasn’t that far off. I looked back at my past marathons (other than CIM) and realized I often ran about five seconds per mile faster on race day than in a workout. Hoping to run a little faster on race day wasn’t being totally unrealistic.

(I still think marathon pace workouts are the most important workouts of marathon training; they are the most similar to the marathon physiologically and psychologically. They deserve to be given top priority and hard effort. But if the effort is there and the pace is a few seconds slow, it’s not the end of the world. They aren’t the only workout.)

... it doesn't mean I can't run well on this one.
The thing about nailing the most important workout is it’s an easy confidence boost; if you run a long effort at race pace, you’re ready. It’s harder to see that you might still be ready, even if you don’t quite hit it exactly. It takes confidence and knowing your body and the kind of shape you’re in, based on the total season. That can be tough. Experience and looking back on old training logs can help, as can coaches and outside perspectives.

Of course, you need to have an accumulation of something; you can’t run well on optimism and hopes alone. I know I also blab on about dreaming big and believing in yourself, but obviously you have to do the work too. Dreaming big gets you out of bed in the morning to do the work (and maybe also into bed early to get that crucial sleep!) Believing keeps you in the game when doing the work/running the race gets really freaking hard. But behind it all is a base of hard work. Of grinding, of sweat in your eyes, sun beating down, muscles aching to quit, stomach urging to rebel, of hard freaking work. Dreaming and believing won’t get you anywhere without those really tough workouts.

But that doesn’t mean they all have to go perfectly.

Dream big,

Friday, June 1, 2018

One Year of Nursing

Almost exactly a year ago, I was returning to running after having a baby. My body felt stiff and foreign, but more than anything else, my boobs hurt. Last week, I found myself in a similar spot: my body stiff from a marathon and time off, with my boobs crying the loudest. This time around, instead of my body learning how to run and feed Baby, it was learning how to cope as I stopped feeding Baby.

When I had Baby, I set a goal of breastfeeding her for one year. I wasn’t sure that would be possible, especially in the early days, and I didn’t know what to expect as I added running and racing to the mix. Below is a summary of how that year went for me, but I’m curious to hear how other mamas dealt, so feel free to share your experience in the comments! (Also please know that I am a stay-at-home mom who works from home part time. I’m sure I would have stopped nursing earlier if I had to pump at work and am uber-impressed with all you Mamas who deal with that!)

But before I get into everything about nursing, let me start by saying more generally to Mamas everywhere: cut yourself some slack and be happy with whatever path you’ve chosen, not just regarding breastfeeding, but running too. I know Moms who are crushing marathons/Boston qualifiers/Trials standards who didn’t run much when their babies were small, and Moms crushing it with babies in diapers. If racing and trying to run fast makes you feel more overwhelmed, by all means take it easy. If it makes you feel more like yourself and gives you a break, then go for it. Don’t let other people and the path they take make you feel any less proud of your own. 

And in that vein, don’t feel pressure to breastfeed if it’s not for you. Don’t feel pressure to run while breastfeeding if it’s not for you. For whatever (often unknown) reason, some babies are super demanding and fussy, some boobs struggle to produce enough, some bodies are injury prone. Do what you can but don’t drive yourself crazy forcing anything, breastfeeding-wise or running-wise. If you do choose to breastfeed and run, know that the combination puts a lot of demands on your body. Take care of you and your baby first; running takes a backseat.

The first few days of Baby:
Breastfeeding-wise, these days were a nightmare. I dreaded having to feed my daughter and the lactation consultants at the hospital made me feel worse, not better. But the more sympathetic nurses helped by recognizing how hard it was, reminding me I was doing a good job just for trying, and not judging if I wanted to stop. For the first week or two I opted to rotate between pumping* and breastfeeding; pumping was less painful and gave my boobs a bit of a break from Baby, who was also struggling to figure out how the heck to do this. (This has nothing to do with running, but it’s a reminder to not feel bad if it’s a struggle; it is for nearly everyone! Also: try not to think about how long you want to keep it up, just take it one day at a time.)

*To feed a newborn pumped milk, you may need to syringe feed her, which a lactation consultant can give you the supplies for. No one mentions this beforehand, but it is totally an option.

The undisputed best part of nursing is the closeness.
Now I just have to settle for these incredibly rare moments. 

The first few months:
When I started running again, I quickly learned to splurge for better sports bras (i.e. not the Target ones I’ve had for five years). I was also careful to time my runs around Baby’s feeding schedule: I would nurse her right before I left and be home before she needed more. At that point she was going about two hours between feedings and I was not running anywhere near that long, so it wasn’t an issue so long as I planned it out.

Starting to train again, 4-9 months postpartum:
I started pumping in the morning before my run, so she’d have milk when she woke up (and I could get out the door earlier to fit in more miles). Pumping also enabled me to totally relieve myself; Baby had a tendency to only drink from one side first thing in the morning, leaving me uncomfortably lopsided. If I noticed I pumped a little less one morning, I would be sure to eat more that day, but it was never really an issue. I also periodically checked I was still producing enough by self expressing a tiny bit after Baby finished nursing, reassuring myself there was more there if she had wanted it. (This was really just to ease my always-worried mind: Baby was a healthy weight and seemed happy and satisfied.) At six months, we introduced solid foods (and by “solid” I mean pureed mush) so even though I was still nursing she was no longer relying on me 100 percent.

The biggest breastfeeding-related issue I faced was that my diastasis recti wouldn’t heal until I stopped nursing. While nursing, your body produces hormones, like relaxin, that keep ligaments loose, making it hard for the abdominal muscles to come back together properly. This meant I had to be a little more cautious about my running and I couldn’t do all the strength and supplemental work I’d normally do, but it also served as a reminder that (a) for me, nursing my daughter was more important than running, and (b) some things just take time and I can’t force anything. The only other issue I had was that I was thirstier on runs, but that was an easy fix: I just carried a bottle more often.

I purposely choose a logistically easy marathon for my first (the Richmond Marathon, where I live), so I could pump before I left the house, have a short drive to the start, and then pretty easily find my family after. I ended up not nursing Baby until we were back at home, which was longer than I had planned but Baby and I were both fine. (She had a bottle and a snack while I was running.) Of course, major marathons—and all the waiting around at the start—would make this more complicated), so that’s something to keep in mind when racing and nursing (although Boston does allow you to have a pump at the start).

Transitioning to solid food... and the inevitable mess.

Training for an OTQ, 10-14 months postpartum:
Breastfeeding for a year would have meant stopping in mid-March. I went in to the spring season with a flexible attitude: if breastfeeding seemed not to be causing any issues, maybe I’d keep going through the marathon and not have to worry about how my body might react to weaning.

And that’s what happened: in the buildup to Pittsburgh, I honestly didn’t really feel affected by breastfeeding. My abs started to close (probably because Baby was getting more calories from solid foods) and I started to hit times and mileage that were in the realm of pre-Baby. I wasn’t sure whether weaning would throw my body for a loop: would the drop in hormones make me crazy cranky, gain a bunch of weight, or feel totally off? Things seemed to be going pretty well, so rather than fix something that wasn’t broken, I decided to keep breastfeeding through race day. (Although I did start to slowly cut back starting around her first birthday; by the time of the marathon I was down to two sessions: pumping before a morning run and nursing her at bedtime. I noticed I was pumping less as I cut out the other sessions, but she still had plenty.)  

The final days:
A day after Pittsburgh I cut out the morning pumping session with no obvious effects. Two weeks later I stopped nursing at bedtime. And 36 hours after that, I was so glad I had waited until the marathon was over. I was a mess. Baby was cranky from a cold, but I seemed particularly drained dealing with her crankiness. (The week I cut from three sessions to two was also a rough one. Again, I’m not sure if Baby was just being particularly difficult, but I felt crankier and more overwhelmed than usual.)

But more than my moodiness was something I hadn’t considered: my boobs were incredibly painful. I hadn’t really had any issue weaning to that point—maybe I felt a little full but nothing too bad—and I had clearly been producing less so I naively thought it would just taper off and that would be that. Not so. From about 36 hours to 4-5 days after I stopped I was painfully full; my chest was so sore I couldn’t lift my arms above my head and when I’d pick up Baby, she’d hug me and leave me wincing. (It’s a sad day when your baby’s hugs hurt!) This corresponded to when I started running again and I was happy to only go a few short miles, because while the post-marathon tightness eased after a mile or two, the boob pain did not. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to train hard or race during this period. (Not that it would have been impossible, but very uncomfortable. I’d recommend timing weaning for a down week if you can.)

So in the end, I’m happy with how I timed everything: I was able to run two marathons while breastfeeding and hit a big time goal in the latter. My paranoia about the added injury risk (the hormones that kept my abs apart can also cause joint trouble) made me more cautious then I have been in the past, making me take a few days off here and there, especially in the lead up to Richmond. But before Pittsburgh, I felt healthier than ever. (Even before CIM, where I set my current PR, I was dealing with a cranky butt muscle.) I can’t attribute it to breastfeeding exactly, but I do think that taking care of Baby and having her rely on me made me take care of myself better. I was more conscious about eating well, I took a prenatal vitamin daily (it’s recommended to continue those while nursing), and I was extra diligent about sleep, given everything that I was asking of my body.

Some say breastfeeding slows you down; maybe I would have run faster this spring if I had stopped earlier, but I’ll never know, nor do I really care. (I'm obviously not complaining about how the season turned out!)  I’m just glad to have hit another goal, one that seemed incredibly ambitious in the early days.

Dream big,