"We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time." Christopher McDougall (Born to Run)

Friday, April 29, 2011

516+ miles in 9 months

I started tracking my runs at the very end of July 2010 by using the Nike+iPod and uploading them to Nike.com. Last week I purchased a Garmin so I will no longer be tracking my runs on Nike.com. Tonight I uploaded my last Nike+iPod run (last weekend's 10 miler). After uploading the run data a nice little video message came up saying I had run 500 miles! Adding in my run from this week (and ignoring the dozen or so runs that I was unable to track) I ran 516 miles in 9 months!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Week of April 24-30

My last post was about my struggle with running on Wednesdays after Tuesday's track workout. This week I changed my Wednesday workout and finally made both the Tuesday track session and the Thursday run. Here is a break-down of my progress this week.

Sunday and Monday: Rest Days

Tuesday: This week's track session consisted of a timed mile at about 85% exertion level. I didn't know we were doing a timed mile and did not have a chance to properly warm-up (I arrived late as usual, getting out of work at 6pm is tough). Nonetheless, I ended up doing a 7:38 mile, not bad. I have not run a timed mile since high school and I do not even recall what my time was. I have a feeling I ran slower in high school. After the timed mile we did 12 sprint repeats around the track, jogging or walking the curved part of the track and sprinting the straightaways. The total distance was 1.2 miles worth of sprint work, or 6 laps around the track. One of our running coaches complimented my form on the sprints and asked me if I ever ran track. Perhaps I remembered some of my high school winter track coach's teachings? I never ran track for real (winter track was not taken seriously), I only ran winter track to stay in shape for soccer and lacrosse.

Wednesday: Paying heed to last week's disastrous Wednesday run, I went to the gym and did the elliptical for 45 minutes instead of running. I also sprinkled in a little abdominal and triceps work and of course spent some quality time with the foam roller. So far I have not experienced any IT band issues and I hope never to develop any so long as I keep using the foam roller.

Thursday: For the first time since starting the SFM Training program I actually made the Thursday night run!! We ran from the Lake Merritt Boathouse to Jack London Square and back (5 miles) and I did a 1.5 mile warm-up run (total 6.6 miles). I felt pretty great throughout the run, doing my best to keep up with some of the faster runners in the group. Overall pace for the run was 9:08. Not bad! My goal pace for the marathon will likely be around a 9:20 pace if I can do it. Below is a view of the run we did.

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: This weekend I'll be out of town so I will miss the SFM scheduled long run which is 14 miles.

Sunday: I will need to do a 14 mile run all by my lonesome. I may try going to the Emeryville Marina and run along the East Shore freeway trail along the water. We did this last Saturday for the 10 mile run.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Not Every Run Is A Good One

Generally people enjoy telling stories about recent PR races or satisfying training runs (myself included) but rarely mention those poor performance training days or races. In an effort to be transparent about my marathon training, I thought it would be a good idea for me to share information about a recent unsatisfying training day.

I have at least a few runs a month that leave me feeling like crap, such as those where I get a stubborn side stitch, feel like my feet are encased in cement, get slightly light headed for no good reason, or for one reason or another just cannot get into an enjoyable tempo were I can forget about the mileage and instead just zone out in the scenery and my music.

My SFM training program schedules us to do a tempo run every Wednesday. Last week was only a five mile tempo run. (See description below of tempo runs.) For starters, I didn't do five miles. Nope, I barely squeezed out four miles. How fast did I run? Well, not even close to a tempo pace. The run would be better characterized as an "easy" run, or more bluntly, a "dragging my tired butt along" run. The entire time I was running I couldn't help but look at the mileage, dearly hoping it would be over soon. I thought to myself, why am I doing this? I should have just skipped today's run. I not only ran at a snail's pace, but because I had to pee the entire time (bad planning on my part) I stopped for a few minutes at around mile three thinking I'd duck into a local restaurant to pee. After stopping, I felt so tired that I realized if I waited another five minutes to start running again I wouldn't even finish four miles! So I didn't stop to pee and just slogged through the last mile.

This past weekend I thought a little more about my training program and how to avoid repeating last week's crappy run this coming week. I don't want to skip tempo runs, but I've learned that the SFM training schedule does not always work for my schedule or my body. I am notoriously tired on Wednesdays from the Tuesday track session, which always involves speed work. By using Wednesdays for cross-training, instead of a tempo run, I can let my body rest from the speed work, and re-direct my energy toward making Thursday's marathon-pace run a worthwhile endeavor.
Tempo Runs:

I've read about them, but mathmatically, I am not always sure how to pace out a tempo run based on my goal pace. John Hanc of Runner's World Magazine defines a classic tempo run as "a slow 15-minute warmup, followed by at least 20 minutes at a challenging but manageable pace, then a 15-minute cooldown--as often as twice a week." So what is a challenging pace? Here is how the article explains it:

To ensure you're doing tempo workouts at the right pace, use one of these four methods to gauge your intensity.

Recent Race: Add 30 to 40 seconds to your current 5-K pace or 15 to 20 seconds to your 10-K pace
Heart Rate: 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate
Perceived Exertion: An 8 on a 1-to-10 scale (a comfortable effort would be a 5; racing would be close to a 10)
Talk Test: A question like "Pace okay?" should be possible, but conversation won't be.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday's Trail Run

Yesterday, I went on the eight mile trail run scheduled through the San Francisco Marathon (SFM) training program in which I enrolled. The trail run started at Lake Anza in Tilden Park. The trail was a single track trail that meandered through thickly forested portions of the park, over (far too frequent) patches of deep, wet, and inescapable mud, it included several rocky uphill climbs, and a few peaceful grassy meadows. Unfortunately the poison oak is in full force (at some places it was several feet high), but I managed to avoid it. For the first time in the seven years I've lived in California, I saw not one, but dozens of banana slugs. They seemed to be attracted to the deep damp patches of mud. So, in addition to avoiding falling on my butt in huge puddles of mud that looked like brownie-batter, I also tried to avoid squishing the banana slugs (which were absolutely enormous)! All in all, the trail was hilly and muddy, but also beautiful.

While I ran the first few miles without stopping, a few miles into the run we hit a huge, never-ending, uphill climb and after running the first portion of it, I finally gave up and walked. As we continued on, I realized that I would re-characterize the morning's trail run into what was really a "trail run/hike" since I ended up walking (or hiking) a majority of the uphill climbs.

Somehow I managed to stay at the beginning of the pack with a group of about 6-8 people and one dog. I was at the back of the group, but we were far ahead of any other runners. The entire running group that morning was probably around 25 people. The run was absolutely exhausting. During the last few miles, my right hip flexor began to ache and my ankles and knees began to feel sore, but the pain was not so bad that I couldn't finish. When I did finish, my feet were entirely caked with mud. In fact, the trail's mud patches were so wet that my socks were also soaked in muddy liquid. When I removed my sneakers and socks, even my toes were covered in mud! Gross!! Here is a photo of my sneakers from after the run:

When I got home I was starving. In an effort to aid my muscle recovery, I slammed a protein shake and gobbled down a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. Yum! While I wanted to lie like a corpse on the couch for the rest of the day, my husband and I had big plans for the remainder of the afternoon and evening, which included spending the next seven hours on our feet (took the dog to the dog park then went on a long overdue shopping trip), followed by dinner and drinks with some friends in San Francisco. Needless to say, I definitely over did it Saturday. Fortunately, today I was not as sore as I expected to be. My quads and calves were not sore at all (which was sort of amazing). I just have lingering soreness in my joints but that is it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Getting Over My Doubts About 26.2

Since last November, I have been thinking about running a marathon. However, until a few weeks ago, self-doubt about my ability to run that many miles prevented me from taking the plunge and signing up. After the Oakland Running Festival I felt so pumped and excited that I figured I should seize the moment, find a marathon, and sign-up. So I did. I signed up for the San Francisco Marathon on July 31, 2011. I noticed that the SFM listed various training programs - in particular an 18-week program that had recently started. In line with my record of self-doubt in the marathon arena, I figured I should sign up for the training program to stay on top of training and to stay motivated.

Up until last weekend, my longest run was 13.1 miles, and I had only completed that distance twice. But last Sunday, after returning from a short snowboarding trip to Tahoe the night before, I set out for my weekly long run. The 18-week training program suggested I run only 10 miles, which would be no problem. But, I was ahead of the game having just finished a half marathon in late March. Plus, it was a beautiful day, not too hot, sunshine was abundant but not oppressively strong, and the air was crisp. As usual, I set out for a run down to Lake Merritt (in Oakland) and back (H & C introduced me to this route, which you can customize by adding/subtracting how many times you circle around the lake). Around mile five I began toying with the idea of running more than 10 miles. I told myself, I would mentally and physically "check-in" throughout the run to see how I felt. At mile seven I still felt pretty good, and when I finished mile nine I found I was not nearly as exhausted as I anticipated I would be. So after completing ten miles, I just kept running, and running, and running. I looped back from the lake and meandered around the streets off of Piedmont Avenue. At first I thought I would maybe run 12 miles. But then I approached 12 miles and thought, well shit, I should just run a half marathon. But then I realized, why not try to set a new distance PR and break through my fear about running distances greater than the half marathon? And so I did, I ran 14.5 miles. I will admit that the last mile was rough. I ran out of fuel and had barely any water (I wear a very lightweight CamelBak on my long runs). My stomach felt more and more concave and grew slightly tense, but I finished. Most importantly, I won a small battle (in a longer war) against my fear of the marathon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Runner's High

How do you feel when you finish a run? Elated? Invincible? About a month ago, the New York Times ran a story entitled Phys Ed: What Really Causes Runner's High discussing the cause of "runner's high." The article first points out that endorphins are not the cause of runner's high.
Endorphins first gained notoriety in exercise back in the 1980s when researchers discovered increased blood levels of the substance after prolonged workouts. (Endorphins, for those who know the word but not the molecules’ actual function, are the body’s home-brewed opiates, with receptors and actions much like those of pain-relieving morphine.) Endorphins, however, are composed of relatively large molecules, “which are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier,” said Matthew Hill, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University in New York. Finding endorphins in the bloodstream after exercise could not, in other words, constitute proof that the substance was having an effect on the mind. So researchers started to look for other candidates to help explain runner’s high. Now an emerging field of neuroscience indicates that an altogether-different neurochemical system within the body and brain, the endocannabinoid system, may be more responsible for that feeling.

The article detailed a few different research studies concerning the effect of endocannabinoids during and after exercise. What appears without question is that "the endocannabinoid system 'is well known to impact onto central reward networks.' . . . Without it, exercise [seems to provide] less buzz. . ." In fact, in experiments on rats, the rats with non-functioning endocannabinoid systems did not indulge in exercising on their running wheel as much as those rats with properly functioning systems.
Although the full intricacies of the endocannabinoid system’s role in motivating and rewarding exercise is not yet understood, it seems obvious, the researchers say, that the cannabinoid-deprived mice were not getting some necessary internal message.

While the article concluded that current research is not decisive on the issue of whether endocannabinoids are the cause of "runner's high," "endocannabinoids are a more persuasive candidate, especially given the overlap between the high associated with marijuana use and descriptions of the euphoria associated with strenuous exercise."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recap on Oakland Running Festival

On March 27, 2010, I ran in the Oakland Running Festival's Half Marathon. The race began at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland. The course meandered through Oakland's China Town, by Laney College, near Jack London Square, through West Oakland on Mandela Parkway (going right by the famous Brown Sugar Kitchen) and ended with the last three or so miles around Lake Merritt.

From start to finish, the race was a joy! The course included dozens of live bands; a large scale metal-work piece of art with flames on Mandela Parkway that you could run underneath; a group of Oakland A's fans cheering on the runners near Laney College; as well as Oakland Raiders fans in what I believe were gorilla costumes and masks! The water stations were incredibly well staffed and all the volunteers very helpful and enthusiastic. One water station also included free energy gels. At the finish line, there were orange slices and bananas, beer stands (race registration included two free beers), free massage tents for runners (which I took advantage of), and various food carts. Whether you are a local Oakland resident like me, or traveling from another part of the state, or traveing from out-of-state, I highly recommend the Oakland Running Festival. Hopefully one year I'll run the full marathon.

While I trained on a regular basis for the US Half in San Francisco last November, I had less time to train for the Oakland Half Marathon. Yet, I still managed to beat my time from November. My goal for the US Half was to finish in 2 hours or less. Whether it was the pouring rain, the poorly staffed water stations, overtraining, or nerves, I didn't make my goal and finished that race in 2:06:14. But, I was happily surprised when I finished the Oakland Half Marathon in 1:59:38. The other pleasant surprise was how great I felt. During the US Half, I vividly recall feeling exhausted at mile 10, like I had slammed into a wall. During the Oakland Half, I did not have the same experience. However, the US Half has several hills in and around the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge, whereas the Oakland Half did not have any serious incline at any point during the run.

US Half San Franciso - Nov 2010 (First Half Marathon)
Overall: 1071/2978 (35.9%)
Gender: 379/1624 (23.3%)
Age Group: 131/475 (27.6%)

Oakland Running Festival - Half - March 2011 (Second Half Marathon)
Overall 1013/3409 (29.7%)
Females 396/2096 (18.8%)
Age Group: 97/379 (25.6%)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beginning Again

Solving the Pain Problem

Almost exactly one year ago I started running again. In April of 2010, my husband Adam and I took a trip back East to visit some close friends in Pennsylvania. Ski season had recently ended, and while I had maintained a certain baseline fitness level, it was time to set free the extra pounds my thighs had taken hostage that winter. In between eating Philly Cheese Steaks I managed to get in a few short runs for the first time in almost three years. Those first few runs, while only three to four miles long, were not easy. At the end of each run, I was red-faced, dripping in sweat, and panting like a dog. While I could partially blame the balmy spring air of eastern Pennsylvania, I was mainly just out of shape.

The main reason I stopped running was due to an unresolved over-use injury that began in the Summer of 2007, which I spent in Anchorage, Alaska. That summer I interned with an environmental legal non-profit after having finished my second year of law school. There is a well-known paved trail in Anchorage called the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail which runs along Knik Arm and Cook Inlet in Anchorage. It is the perfect setting to fall in love (or back in love) with running. A few other interns I met that Summer were avid runners, and they inspired me to get into running. I went to a local running store, got sized up for the type of shoe I needed based on the salesperson's views on my pronation and arch needs and got to running! As increased motivation, I registered for the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon Relay with three other interns. My portion of the marathon was only six miles. At that time I found six miles to be rather challenging since I had not been running regularly, and certainly not six miles. After the relay, I decided to keep pushing forward with my mileage, and that was when I ran into trouble. I started getting a sharp pain in the peroneal tendon on my right foot (tendon running under the ankle bone). The pain would begin as a mild irritation, but as I kept running it developed into a sharp stabbing pain. At times, it was so sore that I was unable to walk without pain. For a period of time I biked almost everywhere, even short distances. Long story short, as a student with minimal health insurance coverage, it was hard to go see a doctor in Alaska and not pay through the nose. So I rested when the pain started, but did not see a doctor until returning to law school. When I finally visited the doctor at the student health service office, he said there was nothing wrong with me and left me searching for answers. In the following months, I would try to run a few miles here and there, but each time I did the soreness in my ankle would return. And so I stopped running, turning back to the standard elliptical and bike machines (yawn).

Fast forward to 2010. During the winter months, I began reading "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. Within the first few chapters of the book I was brimming with curiosity. As I read on, my curiosity turned into optimism, and my optimism turned into action. The (now well-known) theory of "barefoot running" and minimalist shoes was fascinating to me on both an academic and personal level. Instead of going to the extreme and buying Vibram's, I decided to try out the Nike Free's. And it was those Nike Free's that I took with me to Pennsylvania to log my first few miles since 2007. Perhaps the ankle issues I experienced in 2007 were caused by the pronation control/stability running shoes I bought in Anchorage, or perhaps not. So began the Nike Free experiment.

The first few runs I had no pain, no ankle issues, nothing. Of course, perhaps I just had not logged enough miles to cause a flare up. So I kept running, mostly three to four miles at a time, while also continuing my regular cross-training at the gym. In July, I started to run a little farther, logging a few runs of 5 miles and one 7 mile run. I was feeling great--nothing was in my way. I broke down the only significant barrier preventing me from running-pain.


My husband and I moved into our current house in January 2009, but we didn't really begin to meet our neighbors until a year later. One of our neighbors, a couple I will refer to as H & C, are not only great people, but are a large part of the reason I started running longer distances. Both H & C have about 10 years on me, yet each of them are incredibly fit. They each have run several marathons/triathlons, and C has completed an IronMan. The interesting thing was that C had only recently started running long distances. Over several months, listening to them talk about running, races, and training, a light-bulb went off in my head: maybe I could run a marathon, or at least a half marathon. For some idiotic reason, I had always written off the possibility of running really long distances. I resigned myself to the assumption that long distances were for "other people" for real runners-- not me. With a revised vision of my capabilities in hand, I decided to sign up for the November 2010 US Half Marathon in San Francisco. I started reading "Runner's World" magazine and reviewing various Half Marathon training programs and then set off training!

Running Buddy

Another huge factor for my enthusiasm for running is attributable to my running buddy, who I'll just refer to as JP. While I logged most of my miles alone, JP and I would run on average once or twice a week together -- and still do. She also signed up for the US Half Marathon and we ran the race together. After spending months and months running together, I feel like I know JP a great deal better than I did before, and I appreciate her as a friend more than I did before. Sometimes we would log a five-miler while bitching about our day, or planning for ski season, or without talking much at all. Running was no longer just a workout, it was a social engagement -- a healthier version of getting a drink after work (which I also enjoy). JP and I continued running after the US Half, and just ran our second half marathon in March at the Oakland Running Festival.

And that is, in short, the story of how I got back into running. In a matter of 12 months, I went from not running at all, to completing two half marathons and training for my first full marathon in July!