Thursday, March 7, 2013

My TBR (to-be-run) List

Mile 6ish into my birthday run
I don't have a bucket list because I can't really think that far in advance. Sure, there are things I'd like to do before I die (hike in Nepal, join the PeaceCorps, try durian, finally open that Slender Man game that's been hanging out on my computer for half a year because I'm too damn scared to play it). But all those things are in the distant future, not currently pressing on my conscience because I haven't even tried planning for them yet.

My partner's father once mentioned creating a five-year plan--I think he was talking about getting married or having children at the time--and that number has stuck with me. Even five years is too long though. How about a two-year plan?

Needless to say, a lot of what popped up on my two-year plan was running related. Among the things I'd like to accomplish within the next two years:
  • Run the Rim-to Rim-to Rim
  • Fastpack a few days on the Colorado Trail this summer, as soon as I get my paws on a GoLite Imogene 2 and a (purple) Jam 50.
  • Run a race in the Leadville series
  • Finish a sub-6 hour 50k
  • Get a buckle
  • Run a 100-mile race--definitely on the furthest end of the two-year plan
  • Run an ultramarathon distance every birthday

About 13 miles, looking back at the
mountains from Highland's Ranch
This past Sunday, I had my 28th birthday, and the idea of a long run had been germinating for a while. Why not shoot for 28 miles, I thought? I'm not in ultra shape right now, my longest run since last September topping out at probably 12 miles. I knew if I had the option of running loops on my favorite trails, I'd wuss out after a few hours and hike back to my car.

Another thing that had been sitting on my to-do list was to run to work. The drive is about 24 miles and follows the mountains along the highway. It's a lovely albeit long commute. Just for fun, I started playing with a walking route on Google maps, and extended the trip to about 27 miles. Streetviewing the trip made it seem totally doable. About ten miles in was a Whole Foods, there were quite a few gas stations along the way, and if I decided I couldn't make it, because I was on roads--and not in shape to run this distance--I could easily call for a ride home. It's my damn birthday, anyway.

There is something powerful knowing that your feet can fuel your commute, in knowing that after a few basic parameters are met (nice weather, a comfy pack, a backstock of convenient fueling items, someone willing to pick you up that night, and six-plus hours' notice), sans car I can still make it. No, I won't be in great shape by the time I get there, but I'd at least be a warm body to unlock the door.

At a low point, around mile 18. I felt a lot worse for the bison
stuck in that tiny enclosure than for myself.

Much like in my 50k, there was never a part along the run when I doubted my ability to keep going. Even at a slow, sluggish pace, I knew I would finish. Even when it seemed that the entire run was going to be uphill, I'd slow to a walk and eat, take a picture, and soldier on. Even though my elevation gain was only 1700 feet, and my fastest mile time was at a 10-minute pace (downhill, on torn up quads), when I finally made it to the end I was able to check two items off my ridiculous running to-do list. I loved running, as sore and tired and ridiculously smelly as I was, I was in the right place.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Speed up by slowing down. No really, I promise." Meh.

Warm tights and 2-cm high Hokas do
battle with 6 inches of snow
After browsing through Trail Runner Nation's archive of podcasts with Philip Maffetone, the Sock Doc, Sunny Blende and her discussion of Metabolic Efficiency Training, Mark Cucuzzella, et cetera, finally I gave in.

I bought a heart rate monitor. And it is ridiculously pink.

I already know I have a high active heart rate. Just putting on my running shoes brings me up in the low 100s. Running up a hill feels like a battering ram trying to escape through my sternum. Oh, and there was the curious fact that despite running 40 miles a week, I never lost any weight, much less fat.

Using Philip Maffetone's 180-minus-your-age formula,  I determined my maximum aerobic heart rate, which would increase my fat-burning ability, reduce my dependency on carbohydrates, and overall make me a better endurance athlete. The idea is that over time, my speed will increase at the same heart rate. So on Day One, I set out for a jog on relatively flat terrain. Running at a comfortably slow warmup 10-minute mile, my heart rate jumped to 170bpm.

Slow down, try again.

After bringing my pulse down to where it needed to be, I slogged along the road, refusing to make eye contact with anyone I passed as I imagined what they were thinking. Her running apparel is beautiful and technical, her shoes amazingly ridiculous but probably also the stuff of the greats, and clearly her legs are taking on a running pattern, but...

Over two miles, an average pace of nearly 13 minutes per mile. Downhill for the better part of it. The day prior, before I sucked it up and bought a HRM, I did an "easy" two-mile run (assuming if it felt easy my HR would be low) and averaged about a 9:30 pace. Misjudged that one by about a lot.

I'm committed to trying this out. This means that on a middle-distance trail run, I'm averaging about a 14-minute mile since I'm walking almost all the uphills, sometimes having to stop in the middle because even walking spikes it above my max aerobic heart rate. Most of today's short run was walked because of the six inches of snow that the city decided should stay on all the sidewalks.

The benefit so far has been that I can slog out a 10-mile trail run and still have the energy to go work a full shift without feeling the need to eat a 1,000-calorie meal before heading out the door. In fact, during my two-hour trail run, I didn't eat or drink a single thing whereas previously I'd be gelling it every half hour and finishing a 21-oz water bottle every 5 miles.

Speed-wise, it's too early to tell if there has been an improvement. But at least my attitude is getting better, and I've been told that is what needs the most development in my life anyway.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"I heard you almost died."

A manager from another store called me during work two days ago for help with something, but prefaced the conversation with those words: " almost died."

I tried to play it off as no big deal, everyone's exaggerating, it wasn't that big of a deal. I tried to move the conversation forward quickly, and did what I could to help him out. I just didn't want to talk about the d-word. For the last week and two days, I've been in a bit of a haze. I'm doing all I can do to seem positive and happy to those around me and the truth is, I'm scared shitless because he was right.

You really can go from healthy and happy one minute to... well, dead the next.

The last week of January, my partner and I drove down from Denver to Fort Hood, Texas, to visit with his sister-in-law and nephew, both of whom we've never met. His brother married a couple of years ago, they were stationed in South Korea, and had a son there. A year ago, they were stationed in Texas, much closer to us (though still a 14+ hour drive), and a few months ago, his brother was deployed. Since I work retail and can't take vacation during the holidays, we scheduled a trip down to Texas after things calmed down.

The few days we spent in Texas were a lot of fun. I haven't spent any amount of time with a two-year-old since my baby brother was that age (over sixteen years ago!), and boy, do they have a lot of energy. Parenting a toddler is a multi-year endurance event.

It worked out that after my vacation, I was slated to help out at our store in New Mexico, so we drove there. My boyfriend would drop me off, drive back up to Denver, and I'd fly home at the end of the week. Well, he developed the flu, and was in bed in my hotel room for four straight days. Not even sure he used the bathroom. So I'd wake up in the morning, do what I could for him, go to work, go to the pharmacy, and then take care of him some more. I never had a chance to go out and explore the city, or the food, which I was told I HAD to try.

So Thursday night, my last day there, I went to a burrito place that was recommended to me. They had plenty of vegetarian options, so I didn't think it would be a problem. I picked one up for me and another for my boyfriend, both stuffed with beans and tofu. I had to try the one with green chili, because I've never had it before.

Friday morning, we had to book it back to Denver because he had to work. My alarm went off at 4:30, and I knew instantly something was wrong. You know the feeling you get when you just eat too much. I guessed I wasn't digesting the food well, since I'd been eating simple things all week. I remembered a podcast with Sunny Blende saying drinking a lot of cold water can help, so I tried that understanding it would feel worse for a little while, then a lot better. Well, by 7, I wasn't feeling any better, and there was a bit of complication in the bathroom department as well, so I knew it wasn't just a problem with me digesting food improperly. Whenever I'd burp, I'd taste rotting burrito, and it made me sick. I kept saying that I just wanted to throw up, and then I'd feel better, but I couldn't.

And then I did throw up, and I felt so much better... for a little while.

We got in the car, and I started feeling woozy again. My boyfriend had gotten me some Pepto tablets, so I took two of those. They didn't help at all. On the drive up, we had to stop the car so I could use the bathroom on the side of the Interstate. I felt so sick, I didn't care where I was. Then I got back in the car and started shivering, but my skin felt like it was burning. Because he'd had the flu for so long, I'd gotten a thermometer to keep track of his fever, so I took my own temperature.

94 degrees. My temperature was 94-freaking degrees. I said, I think something is wrong. Duh. You don't become hypothermic sitting in a heated car. I think I need a doctor. I threw up all over the inside of my car, but it was just water and Pepto tablets. Not long after that, I blacked out for a few moments.

It took nearly 40 minutes to get to the hospital. My boyfriend put on the hazard lights, and told me later he was driving (my poor car) over 100 mph.

In the ER, the doctor was most concerned with my blood pressure. It's usually low as it is, but at under 80/60, he was more concerned with that than the fact that I'd thrown up over 10 times since that morning. They put hot blankets over me, because my temperature was still under 97 even with walking and moving around.

I don't remember much about being in the hospital, except that the phlebotomist was training the RN how to draw blood, and I have very pathetic veins. I screamed more than once and begged her to stop, which of course they didn't, but they couldn't draw even a little blood. I'm still bruised all over my hands and arms from where they butchered me. The only needle that didn't leave a mark was the needle where they put the IV on the top of my hand. Because of my weak veins, they had to give me a "baby IV," so it took hours for me to get 2L of fluid. Later, another phlebotomist came in and clucked his tongue, saying that the RN had missed my veins entirely and had stuck the needle in a nerve in my arm. I didn't need to know that, and was thankful for the anti-nausea medication they'd given me, because those words would have made me throw up.

Later on the doctor watched my BP and wanted to wait until my systolic got over 100. It never did, even after all the fluids and after they let me have a tiny can of soda, but all of my blood work came back fine. They gave me an EKG (even though he didn't suspect any heart trouble), which was also normal. I can't wait to get all the bills back for this crap.

What gave me the most pause was how seriously the doctor had said that it was a very good idea that we'd turned around when we did. "You can see how dangerous this would be in a third-world country, without modern medicine." The IV with just a plain saline solution had saved my life. I had seen the sign for the hospital when we were driving, and thought maybe we should stop. By the time I realized how bad I was, we were far up the road, and the next hospital was still over an hour away.

Death by burrito. Not even on my top-ten list of ways I'd like to go out.

My official diagnosis from the hospital was gastroenteritis. I suspect that fun new Sydney strain of norovirus might be to blame. I'm always happy to be a survivor of an epidemic.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bear Chase 50k

This is long overdue, but for a few days after the race, I couldn't sit down to write. Literally, because if I sat down, I wasn't able to stand back up.

As we prepared to toe the starting line, I began fumbling with my iPhone. I don't own a Garmin, so I planned on tracking my splits with a GPS app, while also using it to keep in touch with my boyfriend and family on the trail. Oh, and listening to music.

Earlier that morning, I had created my special "Bear Chase Playlist," an eclectic mix ranging from indie rock to German industrial to growly death metal. I always listen to music or podcasts during my training runs. I wear the same clothes, carry the same gear, eat the same breakfast.. this was not the morning to experiment. So when my iPhone started acting up... I panicked. And yelled "Fuck!" A lot. (Sorry, everyone.) The power/lock button has been broken on my phone for a long time, so resetting was not an option. Somehow I activated voice control, and my phone started calling an employee of mine from two years ago. Then it called my assistant principal from back in my teaching days.

This was at 6:30 in the morning.

Finally, after thoroughly embarrassing myself and those around me, I resigned myself to carrying a $200 paperweight on my arm. Oh well, maybe I'd make some friends. It was still dark, maybe I wouldn't be recognized.

Lap 1
The beginning of a run is always the hardest part. My legs feel like lead, my breathing is erratic, my steps are clumsy as I try to find a rhythm. But for this first lap, I felt pretty good, considering my rough start. This being my first race, I knew it would be a challenge trying to pace myself with 200 people around me, and this became apparent as we bottle-necked into the single-track trail. I was passed. I passed other runners. For about two miles, I didn't have to think, and that was nice. The first aid station came up quickly (about 3 miles in), but it was liquids-only, and my water bottle was still pretty full.

The small loop follows the large loop for much of the way, but breaks away a few times. One of the break-away points is right before the trail leading up to Mount Carbon, the longest climb on the course. Laps 2 and 3 follow the big loop up this hill, and I used this time to stop and rest for a second, and let my friend catch up. I pointed up to the mountain. Earlier that day I'd said I thought the trail might be just short of a quarter mile to get to the top. I was indicating that I was probably very, very wrong. I finished the rest of the lap with him while chatting with another girl. She was a seasoned ultra runner, totally Zen about it. I saw her several other times on the course, and she always looked fresh and strong. Not fast, but very comfortable and confident. (Although I passed her two or three times on the course, she wound up finishing a minute or so before me.)

Lap 2
Aaron met me right after the start/finish line as I began lap 2. I passed him my phone, and declined his offer of his iPhone. The poor guy was really going to wait for me for 7 hours without a phone. I went over to my drop bag and swallowed a gel. I might have kissed Aaron good-bye, I don't remember, but I walked to the aid station and surveyed my options. Filled up my water bottle, took a shot of sport drink, and then we were off again.

Within about 20 feet of leaving the aid station, I realized I'd forgotten Body Glide this morning... d'oh. The inside of my thighs were being chafed pretty badly as the short liner started riding up. I cut my ankle pretty badly a few days before the race, and the bandage was starting to grate on my nerves at about the same time. I was having trouble keeping up with my friend (he said we were averaging about a 10:30 pace at this point), so I slowed down to take care of my ankle. When I was sure he was far enough ahead, I used the SPF chapstick stowed in my handheld to lubricate my thigh. Yum. But it didn't bother me again for the rest of the race.

From this point on, I stopped and walked through every aid station, which averaged about 3.1 miles. Soda became my best friend, settling my stomach and giving me a little caffeine boost. I tried eating cookies and chips, and though chewing was a hassle, these sat a lot better than the gel did.

The trail crosses a river . Though I've run in this park many times, I could never find this part of the trail. By the time I reached it, I'd run about 13 miles, and over about a quarter mile you cross the river three times. The water reached my knees. It was ice cold, and felt amazing. I was impressed with how well my shoes drained... but then the trail turns paved right before the next aid station, and that was a pain. I jogged past a girl I recognized from Daily Mile, and we headed up to the station together. I swallowed some soda and watermelon, peed in the port-o-potty (the only time I used the bathroom during the whole race), and took off up the hill back onto the trail.

Coming up to the start/finish line, Aaron was waiting for me around the turn. It was a great motivational boost, and the whole time I was reminded of how lucky I am to have him.. that the poor guy would be waiting another 2+ hour for me to make it back around, after already waiting for 4.

Lap 3
I ran most of this lap alone, in contemplative silence. When I hit the 20-mile mark, I was buzzing. Why didn't I sign up for the 50-mile race? This was easy!

At mile 22, I was crashing and cursing. Why did I sign up for a 50k? Who runs 30 miles? Who were these crazy people running FIFTY MILES that were passing me?

It was at this point I just stopped paying attention to the miles. My goal was to get from one aid station to the next, and that's what I used to get me through. The final aid station came up sooner than I expected. I was running and walking at this point, but when I saw the "1 mile to Start/Finish," I picked up the pace.

As I ran through the parking lot right before the finish line, I heard the announcer call my name. Um, but I wasn't close by yet? And why was he saying that I was doing a cartwheel over the finish line? Apparently he'd mistaken the girl in front of me for me. Poor girl ran 31 miles, cartwheeled over the finish line, and had her name messed up!

I ran across the finish (as the announcer apologized), got my medal, and collapsed against Aaron who was waiting for me. I remember wondering where the photographers were for my finish photo, and was a little upset that there were none around. It would seem running for 6.5 hours had me a bit distracted, because there are a few amazing pictures of me and Aaron hugging at the finish line!

Overall, The Bear Chase was a great race. The aid stations were fully stocked and staffed by amazing volunteers, the course was almost entirely runnable with some difficult steep sections, and the loops are long enough that you don't get bored doing the same one twice. Next year, my coworker and I plan to do the 50-miler. Four 12.5-mile laps, woo!

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of inefficiency.

I said this to a coworker the other night as I shut off the Bissel sound machine, which at some point in its short life also doubled as a vacuum cleaner. After a few more passes over the same speck of dust on the rug, I was ready to give up. Two platitudes warred: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" was ultimately drowned out by "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." I shut off the vacuum and pulled out the broom instead.

Sometimes I wonder this about my running. I'm slow, often painfully so, and half the time I'm at peace with this knowledge--that is, on the days my legs are fresh and I'm hitting my target pace, I tell myself it's okay that my long runs often are two to four minutes slower per mile than my shorter (5-10 mile) runs. Basically I do the same thing over and over again, and wait for the results to change--while riding a long, long plateau.

About two weeks ago, I had my longest run ever. I completed 18 miles in about three and a half hours, a pace that should have left me feeling comfortable, though tired and sore. I hydrated throughout the run, consumed a scant few calories even, and while I was tired mentally that last mile, I felt fine. I shouldn't have been dry-heaving for half an hour after I stopped. I shouldn't have passed out on the community's gym floor, where I stopped when I couldn't make the extra two hundred foot walk to my apartment. I shouldn't have had to sleep for three hours after I was finally able to crawl out of the bathroom.

And then I woke up the next morning, banged out six more miles, and went on with my life.

This coming Wednesday, I have another long run ahead and frankly after my last performance, I'm terrified. What did I do wrong last time? What can I change this time around? I am capable of completing this distance--I'm stubborn to a fault and will likely die trying to meet a distance goal someday--but I'd like to do so without the foam around the mouth, gelatinous legs, migraine-level headaches and fever. And at a pace faster than 11:40 miles.

This week I'll change up my nutrition, because quite frankly, even though my stomach tightens and can't hold food during a run, NOT eating (and getting in sodium) hasn't helped my body cover  long distances with any degree of efficiency.

I'm not sure 50 kilometers is going to be as nice to me as my last 18-miler.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marathon Training: A week in review

Last Sunday, I ran 11 miles. The following day, I ran another 10. Tuesday morning over a bowl of oatmeal, breakfast ice cream and a few bananas, I decided I needed to develop a base if I was going to keep running like this. Four ten-mile runs in a one-week period was probably more than my undeveloped running muscles could handle, and I'm still getting a grip on what it means to fuel. (Hence ice cream at 7 a.m.)

The marathon seems like a good place to start. I downloaded some generic "intermediate" training plan after breakfast, and started plugging all the mileage into my Google calendar. Because of Monday's unnecessary long run, I picked up the training plan a day late. This schedule does exactly what I need it to. It lets me run six days a week, gives me a mandatory rest day--something I'm not very good with--and forces me to incorporate a speed workout.

Wednesday was a 6-mile run. Nothing to shake a stick at. Thursday I ran 4 miles, and clocked in averaging an 8:48 mile. I liked the short distance because I could run faster. That is, until I ran into a steep hill charging at an 8:20 pace that degenerated into an 11 minute per mile shuffle. Friday I ran 6 miles, pacing under a 9-minute mile. Was I already getting faster?

Saturday's 3-mile run started off poorly. As I was rounding the corner of my apartment community's parking lot, one of the cars facing the street honked at me. Startled, I stumbled and fumbled with my iPhone to pause my run tracker. The woman sitting in the driver's seat could have been 40 or 70, dressed in a bathrobe and draped with a blanket. The car had a stale cigarette smell, and I pitied the aging golden retriever wheezing in the passenger's seat. The back was filled with junk,  probably everything the lady owned.

"Tell me how to get to McDonald's," she said. I had to step back, because the cigarette smoke was burning my already over-taxed lungs.

I haven't been in a McDonald's in over six years, and I've stopped "seeing" them. They're everywhere. I gave the woman some generic directions to what might have been a McDonald's, or a Taco Bell, or a Wendy's. I'm still not sure, all I know is there's some fast food restaurant where I directed her, because I'd used the drive-thru to reach the street on a previous day's run.

Despite the interruption, overall it wound up being a nice short run with negative splits, averaging an 8:32 pace.

Sunday's 10-mile run was a drag. I'd made a gel with chia seeds and agave nectar, which I tried to sip while I was still jogging and managed to inhale the seeds, some of which are still lodged in my nose.

Today is a rest day, which I will use to (possibly) get another few thousand words into my novella-in-progress, and (hopefully) extract the sprouting chia seeds from my nasal cavity.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Long distance versus speed..

I'm not a fast runner.

I accept this fact. There was a time in my running life, back in college when I had definition in my abs and an 8-minute mile was my easy day. But that time has come and gone.

Nowadays, I've shortened my stride. Slowed myself down to enjoy the mountains. I stop to take pictures, slow down on the uphills and focus on my footwork. I try to convince myself I run because I love to run, and not to get faster or break any land speed records.

However, I don't find that I'm any easier on myself at the end of the run, and while I shouldn't make any excuses for my performance (unless it's valid), I need to take some pause before doing so.

I ran an easy 10 miles today. I went out knowing it was going to be long and slow, and I had no idea how fast it was going to be. Didn't really care, because it was cold, windy, raining, maybe snowing, and cloudy in Denver for the first time in ages. I finished the run at about a 10-minute pace with splits all over the place because of long and steep hills. I felt good the whole way, never feeling like I was exerting too much energy and ended back at my apartment fairly certain I could run another several miles at the same pace comfortably.

Then I really looked at my numbers, and felt defeated. No, I didn't hurt at mile 4, but I could have sworn I was running at least a 9-minute pace. Did I really only finish the final mile in 9:58, because I swore I was flying!

Afterwards, I compared my time with my last easy long run, a 9.29 mile lap up the road and back about two months ago. I averaged a 10:51 pace that run (even when I paused the timer to take the two pictures at Bear Creek on the right, which I ran by today under heavy cloud cover). I did almost a minute better per mile over a longer distance today.

Long distances are humbling. It isn't just how physically fit you are, but mentally prepared as well. Two hours of running, four, six, twenty-four hours... it takes more than strong legs to get you there.

And gives you a greater appreciation for the view!