7

How did I run a nearly flawless race?

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

It’s been a week and a half now since my nearly-flawless marathon in Chicago and I’m still trying to put together what I take away from this race. I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s much more to learn from failure than from success, but this race feels like the exception to the rule, for me. I want to analyze every bit of it and pick out what I did right and make it a part of my marathon training, planning, routine, and strategy going forward.

Two and a half years ago, I ran a personal worst at the New Jersey Marathon—if you exclude the Disney World Marathon and only look at races I’ve raced. To this day, I’ve never toed the starting line of a race more prepared or with more training miles under my belt—I even crushed a 20k five weeks before the race in a nearly exact mirror of my half marathon from three weeks before Chicago. Unfortunately, everything went wrong on race day. Weather was 30-50º warmer than nearly all of my training miles. It was windy as heck that day—the pacers all finished with their little flag sticks broken from it. I felt both dehydrated and uneasy to my stomach from the start. My legs just were not into the idea of running goal pace miles. And I all-around had no energy.

At the time, I chalked this up to overtraining. I assumed I just pushed too hard in training and burned myself out. My second peak week and both taper weeks were a pretty accurate precursor to race day, which felt like further evidence of overtraining. I spent the remainder of 2014 struggling through my running. Every run felt just like the crappiness of New Jersey. It exacerbated my slip into a months long bout with depression that year.

The following spring, I decided I wanted to run Grandma’s Marathon and made adjustments to my training plan to try to avoid the overtraining. Training went well for the first eleven or twelve weeks. Then I started feeling as I had the year before. Things feel apart. I felt like shit while running again. I started struggling through runs and I had zero energy. Two weeks before the race, I decided to DNS. I wasn’t where I wanted to be and I didn’t have the guts to fight it out on race day. A year and a half later, I’m now regretting that decision. I had good reason at the time and even thought I might have been developing an overuse injury. I don’t think I was. I should have raced instead of cheering through tears.

After that failure, I made a visit to my doctor to try to find the root cause of my problems. I had my theories as to why my energy levels kept crashing to zero and getting in the way of my running, but I needed blood work to confirm. It turned out that my hypothesis, which my doctor agreed with, was wrong. I actually had a severe vitamin D deficiency. Not to mention my testosterone was practically zero, but that was of no surprise. I started taking supplements, changed up my hormones, and lowered my testosterone blocker dosage.

A few months later, running started feeling good again, but it was too late to race another marathon before my surgery. So I had to go into surgery having started running well again and knowing I’d be out for at least six weeks.

When I was finally ready to start marathon training again, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. I hadn’t been running consistently again after surgery long enough to build my base to where it normally is before I needed to switch gears into actual training mode for Chicago. I made a very non-aggressive training plan and set aside my hopes of a BQ and big PR. I was a little disappointed, but I knew going into surgery that this was the most likely outcome.

Much to my surprise, training quickly fell right into place and I started nailing my runs. I hadn’t planned any speed work into my plan on purpose, but I was destroying my mid-week long runs of 8-10 miles. Each became an unplanned tempo run and each was faster than the week before. I started setting unofficial 5k and 10k PRs during them. I felt unstoppable. These runs were fast. The fastest miles I’d run since I transitioned. I kept waiting for training to fall apart because it just felt too good to be true. I got my testosterone level checked, 100% expecting it to be higher than when I was still on blockers. It had to be.

It wasn’t.

So that theory went out the window.

Throughout training, faster and faster times kept feeling easier and easier. I started struggling to keep my pace at 8:00. I was feeling very comfortable 7:30-7:45 and I run by effort so that’s what I ran at. Additionally, my heart rate was the lowest I’ve seen it seen I started tracking it.

On the flip side, a couple of my long runs were busts and my overall mileage was the lowest it’d been for marathon training in years. In my head, I was focused on the number of miles and seeing that as what would be my undoing. What I kept consciously dismissing was how many of the miles that I did do were significantly under goal marathon pace.

Here’s where I’ll mention that by week eight, I secretly changed my goal from “just have a good race and stay healthy, spring will be a BQ attempt” to “fuck everything, I’m going all in for that mythical 3:30 time I really want.”

Three weeks before Chicago, I kicked ass at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. It wasn’t the best race day execution I’ve ever had, but my time was solid and perfectly in line with a 3:30 marathon. Unfortunately, that was the last good run I had until the marathon. Based on this race alone, I was ready to go for it in Chicago. Based on the three weeks between this race and Chicago, I doubted my ability to even make it through the race uninjured.

So that was everything leading up to the race. What was it that got me there?

After analyzing as much of the race as I can, I’m giving credit to all those fast miles I kept throwing down.

It’s, what I’m calling, the Disney effect. Over the last five years, I’ve done the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days) three times and Dopey Challenge (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over four days) once. Each year, I go into these races woefully unprepared. The last two years, I had zero business running a marathon at all, let alone one after doing other races. But each year, feel fucking fantastic. I negative split and I have tons left in the tank by the finish line. The reason it works out is I run these races much slower than I typically run my miles. I run them for fun, I don’t care about time. I try very hard to run as slow as I can. Even though my legs don’t have the miles on them, they are never working very hard during the race. They’re running easy and aren’t fatiguing quickly.

This was also the case in Chicago. Sure, I was running much faster than Disney (31 minutes faster than my fastest Disney Marathon), but I was running much slower than a very large amount of my training miles. The pace didn’t tax my legs the way other marathons I’ve raced do. This allowed me to keep my goal pace while not depleting the tank in the first half to two-thirds of the race.

Sure, I could probably have ran the last few miles even faster with more training miles under my belt, but let’s be honest, I can’t complain about anything here.

Now, of course, this isn’t the only story. Your training doesn’t make for a great race. There were assists along the way. A great race takes planning, hard work, discipline, confidence, and luck.

The leg pain I had during taper, while robbing me of my last long run, meant I got plenty of rest and toed the line with very fresh legs. And more than just the rest, but it made me go to physical therapy three times in two weeks to get my legs massaged and it forced me to actually thoroughly foam roll every day. It was like a blessing in disguise.

Another big factor was being free of my testosterone blocker. I knew the side-effects for it held me back a little, but it wasn’t until it was out of my system that I felt just how much it was. The only positive side-effect from my blocker was the extra potassium in my body, but the loss of that wasn’t as noticeable as I expected it to be.

I also think I nailed my carbo-loading. Maybe not nailed, but I ate a lot of carbs and really focused on making sure that’s where my calories were coming from in the three days before the race. While this is sort of a hard thing to measure, the fact that I had plenty of energy through all 26.2 miles is likely a good indication.

Additionally, I focused on my race plan and stuck to it. I mentally broke up the race into small, manageable chunks. I took it one bit at a time and never let the weight of “oh my god, there are still X miles left” get to me. My first mile was too fast when you look at the time, but was exactly right in terms of the effort and feel. After that, I repeated my plan and strategy over and over in my head during the race. I mean, it was pretty constant. I kept that focus strong. it kept me from getting stupid. Even when I wanted to push a little extra in the middle miles, I listened to the smart voice in my head telling me to hold it back and save it for later. I took my gels throughout the race and I took water at every stop in the first half. I only stopped taking water when I was 100% confident in my hydration level being good for the rest of the race. And that’s something I was only able to do because I know my body and I know my hydration. Training through a hot summer was invaluable here.

And finally, there were all the other things that just went right. I pooped race morning, which I never do. I had good hydration. The weather was fantastic.—cool with only a slight wind and no rain. I timed my morning perfectly to minimize the amount of time I spent standing around on my feet waiting for the race to start. It was a flat course with great crowd support. And there was a big cheer section of people I know literally exactly when I needed it. I really can’t overstate how much that boosted me going into the last 15k. It was like a short of adrenaline that lasted and lasted.

When everything goes right on race day, it’s easy to have a good race and that’s what happened. But a lot of those little things that all add up aren’t things you can control. So the takeaway here is the training and the focus on my race plan. My mindset for the last four years that I need to be putting in more miles to race better was flawed. It’s not about the number of miles. It’s about the quality. Sure, your body needs to build the endurance to go the distance, but quality over quantity. I don’t mean to say I didn’t run quality miles before, but the pace of my runs was always second to the distance in past training cycles.

Going forward, yes, I want to run more miles than I did this time. But I’m going to stop making the quantity the end-all be-all of training.

(I’m on the right in the video below. You can see the moment I realized my time at about 5 seconds in.)

6

Halfway to Chicago Marathon – training check-in

Eight weeks down. Eight weeks to go.

Training is flying by! It feels like I just started this training cycle, but here I am eight weeks in. That’s a good thing, it means things are going well and I’m not miserable or counting down the days until it’s over. I’m actually really enjoying it so far! If you recall back to eight weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect from training. I was still building up and nowhere near where I wanted to be at the start of a new training cycle. I started off training easier than normal and put together a fairly non-aggressive training plan.

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks. That big jump in miles halfway was something I was nervous about, but I needed it somewhere.

At the halfway point, that decision seems to be paying off, I’m running very well. I’m getting all my miles in and don’t feel like I’m struggling through much of them. Even when my legs feel tired, they don’t feel too tired. I’m able to push them. My mid-week runs are ticking off and I’ve gotten my body very used to 5:30am alarms for pre-work running. I’m getting out the door and destroying miles. My 10k – 8mi runs are going as well as they ever have for me. In fact, I’m putting down as good or better paces and splits than I have since I started transition. Even better, I’m getting faster. Last week, I threw down my fastest training mile in nearly four years at the end of an 8-miler. And I felt great doing it! I feel nowhere close to plateauing yet. And the best part is that I don’t typically really feel like I’m settled into training and hitting my stride until somewhere between week 8 and week 10; I’ve already been hitting my stride for a few weeks now.

I’m not doing any speedwork besides tempo runs, but I didn’t plan to this training cycle. My focus was mostly getting the miles in, staying healthy, and building and that’s what I’m doing. Unfortunately, I haven’t been getting any cross-training in. I’ve been wanting to start working a spin class into the mix, but I’m only just in the last 2-3 weeks feeling as though I might be ready to get my crotch back on a bike again after surgery—this took months longer than expected. Right now, I’m running six days a week and I’m still lacking the confidence to make any day a run + spin day so it may be a few more weeks still.

COME ON!!!!

COME ON!!!!

Where things aren’t going as well has been my long runs. I messed up my schedule and did 13.1 on my first week scheduled with 12 miles so I just went with it and ended up with three weeks at 13.1 miles (as opposed to two at 12 and one at 13.1). These were all tough. It was hot and humid out and hydration was a major issue for two of them. I ended up getting dehydrated and having to battle those symptoms, including bad nausea that kept forcing me to have to stop. The other 13.1-miler was plagued by some bad GI issues…which is pretty abnormal for me. Despite this, my paces were all right on point in the 8:40s and, besides the hydration and GI issues, comfortable.

This past weekend’s long run, a 15-miler, was a different story, though. Similar pace at 8:43, but very different feel. I felt strong, comfortable, and without any hydration issues. At the 85º, 83% humidity, and a heat index into the mid-90s by the time I finished at 9am, I expected hell. But I was smart about hydration early on and it made a difference.. I felt good the entire way, better than I have on any other long run in the last four or five weeks. Very encouraging!

In general, my body is responding well all around. Compared to my last couple of training cycles, my heart rate has been lower at most paces and the same efforts are yielding faster paces. I’m feeling good so far.

I don’t plan on making any adjustments for the second half of training. I’m going to stick with my plan and what I’m doing and see how that works out on race day. Every indication I have so far points to my suspicion and hope that surgery would pay off with my running performance. No longer having the side-effects of spironolactone (testosterone blocker) and now having (what I’m suspecting is) a higher testosterone level (I’m getting labs done soon to verify this) is making a huge difference. Why did that sentence have three parentheticals? Anyway, the only negative I’ve noticed so far is my potassium level may be something I have to actually start thinking about again. For three years, I didn’t have any cramping/charley horses in my legs on account of spironolactone being a potassium-sparing diuretic. Recently, I’ve had some minor post-run cramping, but so far it hasn’t been anything major. It’ll just be something to keep an eye on. Maybe throw a few extra avocados into my diet. You can never have too much avocado, right? Right.

So, that’s that so far. I still don’t have an official goal for Chicago yet, besides just having a good race. I do want to go for a PR, but given my relatively slow PR, the question seems to be less if I’ll PR, but by how much. And I don’t mean to sound like I think a 3:44 marathon is slow by any means. It’s not and it’s a PR I’m proud of. It’s just that I’ve had multiple training cycles now that have been on track for sub-3:30 and have yet to be able to execute a successful marathon. Anyway, I’m not going to lie, I’m eyeballing that 3:40 Boston qualification time for 2018—thanks Boston 2018 for being one day after I turn 35 and jump an age group! But I’m not setting anything officially just yet. Just going to see how the next few weeks go and play it all by ear.

How I watch the Olympics while at work

How I watch the Olympics while at work

And, of course, the women's 10,000

And, of course, the women’s 10,000

9

Marathon training, I guess

IMG_1322It’s been about five months since I had surgery and over a year since I last did a formal marathon training cycle. And it’s fifteen and a half weeks until Chicago Marathon. So, I guess, it’s time to start a new training cycle.

Going into surgery, I had just run the Dopey Challenge and was crushing as many runs as I could fit into my schedule. I had to stop all of my hormones a month before the ol’ knifing so my testosterone level was starting to come back up and I was finding my body recovering from runs quicker and having no problem chewing up fast miles. I didn’t hate it. Well, the running potion, that is; everything else about not having proper hormones in my body was the worst. Anyway, I went into surgery in excellent running shape. My wife joked that I should not have surgery and instead focus on a spring marathon. I think I’d have crushed it.

Surgery kept me from running for six and a half weeks, but even when I started, it was up and down for a bit and quite inconsistent. It wasn’t until closer to sixteen weeks that I started getting more consistency back into my running schedule. That didn’t leave me a lot of time to build my base mileage back up and properly prepare for marathon training.

When I scheduled surgery, I knew I couldn’t make any firm goals for a fall marathon this year. There was too much unknown. I knew I’d likely not be able to race a marathon, but being able to run a marathon, even just for fun, felt realistic. Having deferred my Chicago entry from 2015, I knew Chicago would be my race. I wished it was a late-fall race, rather than an early one, but it is what it is. This was the biggest factor in choosing a date for surgery.

Ideally, I’d like my weekly mileage going into training to be over 30. I did 28 the other week and then did a step back last week, but this was far from a sustained weekly mileage. The last two weekends have seen ten mile long runs, but they weren’t easy. On the flip side, it seems I didn’t lose quite as much strength as I expected and I’m running slightly faster than I was going into the last marathon training cycle I did. Certainly faster than I expected to be, I’m still far from where I’d prefer to be.

My weekly mileage in 2016 so far

My weekly mileage in 2016 so far

I also don’t yet know how my body’s hormone levels have evened out after surgery (I haven’t gotten labs done yet). My hope is that my testosterone level has moved up into the normal female range—it was just barely above zero prior to surgery which makes building strength and overall training very difficult. My body may be able to do more with less than it has been able to for the last few years. Or it might not. That remains to be seen. What I do know is my body did a lot more than I expected with low mileage and making up a plan as I went along while training for my last two Disney Marathons I’ve done so it could also turn out that my body just works better with plans that aren’t as aggressive and intense.

So that’s where I am and the reality I’m dealing with. I waited until the last possible minute to make a training plan and sat down on Sunday to look over my previous plans and put together something that was going to push me while still keeping me from diving head first into a pool with no water. What I came up with was the least aggressive training plan I’ve done since the first time I ran Chicago, in 2012—six months before starting hormone replacement therapy.

I don’t have a goal for this race outside of having a solid training cycle, building strength, and not getting injured. A BQ (Boston qualifying time) is almost certainly out of the question. This race will be just a little too late for a 2017 BQ and I jump an age group for 2018 so my qualifying time goes from 3:35 to 3:40. I actually think I could get close to 3:40, but going under would be a stretch and going under enough to guarantee actually getting into the race would be even more of a stretch. It just doesn’t make sense to put my body through pushing for that right now. That said, my post-testosterone PR is a 3:44 so a PR isn’t impossible, but I’d be jumping the gun right now if I made that a goal. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

(As a side note, my PR before I transitioned was from that 2012 Chicago race.)

The end result of all of this is marathon training started this week. I’ve got a plan. It’s not super aggressive, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m going to hold off on setting a goal time until much closer to the race and focus on running by effort rather than hitting specific times throughout training.

Wish me luck!IMG_1404

10

The decision to DNS a marathon

How I feel while writing this

How I feel while writing this

I haven’t really posted about it here yet, but my training for Grandma’s Marathon has completely fallen apart. I don’t know exactly what caused it, but it’s gotten really bad. When I say bad, I mean I’ve been heavily considering DNSing (did not start) the race for the last couple of weeks. Yeah, that kind of bad. I’m not injured, I’m just…my body hates me.

Rather than make you read this whole post to get to the important takeaway, I’ll just drop it right here. I have officially decided not to run Grandma’s Marathon in two weeks.

The last time I checked in with y’all here, it was halfway through training and things felt like a positive-leaning mixed bag. I had some good weeks, I had some bad weeks, but I was still hopeful to have a good race. I still felt like a 3:30 finish was possible, but I’d likely just go for sub-3:40 and use that as a jumping off point for the fall.

Unfortunately, since then, things have sort of nose-dived. Hard. Into a volcano. Filled with alligators…that can somehow survive the lava.

It started three weeks ago with my 19-mile long run. Two days before, I had skipped an 8-mile run to give my legs a little extra rest, but didn’t think anything of it. The 19-miler went reasonably well, that is, it felt like most long runs do. The only weird thing was my left calf felt a little tight from the start. It wasn’t too bad so I didn’t think much of it, but it stayed like that for the whole run. Because we had a wedding to attend two hours away that afternoon, I had gotten up very early to knock out my run and get ready. This didn’t leave me with any time to stretch it or ice or anything afterwards. By the time I was showered and ready to go, I could feel my calf didn’t feel right. It felt kind of like I had pulled something in there. Luckily, I was able to wear flats to the wedding, but it was outside with a lot of walking up and down hills and such to get to different parts of where the wedding was. Throughout the night, things didn’t get any better.

I took the next two days off, which involved missing one run and pushing one back a day. At first I wasn’t too worried, but the pain stuck around without getting much better. I ended up missing that whole week of running minus a four-mile trail run. I even missed my 20-mile long run that weekend.

I tried to get back into things the next week, but my body was exhausted as if I had been pushing myself hard. I had no energy and my legs felt about how they do 4-5 days after a marathon. I missed another long run. I tried to get out there to do it, but I stopped after four miles when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go the distance. Since it was a Saturday, I figured I’d just give it another shot on Sunday, but when I went out there Sunday, everything hurt right away. Calves, quads, knees. It was really bizarre. Because I hadn’t been running, my legs should have at least been rested. It was the kind of pain that said “do not run through this! Stop now!” I listened.

This brings me up to this week. I’ve done one 4-mile run and it felt like garbage. Surprisingly, the very easy effort I gave turned out to be a pretty quick pace. Still, my legs felt awful. Again, it was that whole feeling like I just ran a marathon 4-5 days ago thing.

I really don’t get it, but that last run was the final thing to push me over the edge to a DNS. Could I finish a marathon right now? Probably. Could I still finish somewhere in the mid-3:40s? Probably. But what does that get me? What does running on a body that’s clearly telling me not to do for me? I’m risking actual injury by doing that. If I didn’t have the Chicago Marathon 16 weeks after Grandma’s, this might be a different story. I might just go for it and have fun. But Chicago can still be a good race for me. It’s where I scored my PR. Running Grandma’s does nothing but put more wear on my body when I could instead take the next couple weeks to recover myself and get ready for Chicago training.

If my marathon goal is to a BQ, running a marathon just to add another tick to my marathons-run total does nothing to help me. If I were in good shape, it could be a good tune-up and jumping off point, but that’s not the case. It can do nothing but push me further from my goal.

I’m super, super bummed about this and I’ve been pretty depressed because of it for the last couple weeks. Unfortunately, running is tied very closely to my emotional well-being. This works great when running is going well, but when it’s not…yikes.

The thing is, though, there will be other races. This isn’t the end of the world and I know I’m making the right decision.

The weird thing is since nothing is refundable, I’m still planning on getting on the plane and going out to Duluth in two weeks. I’ll hang out and cheer and just enjoy the scenery, I guess. Since everything is already paid for, it doesn’t cost me anything to go.

My real concern right now is I don’t know what really happened. I don’t know why my legs feel like a boy scout troop used my muscles to earn their knot tying badges. In reality, I don’t feel a ton different than I did this time a year ago. I see a lot of parallels between now and the last couple weeks of training before New Jersey Marathon and the months following. The warmer weather is definitely a contributing factor to both, but only a small piece of the puzzle.

A lot of me wants to just say I pushed myself too much, but I scaled back quite a bit from what I did for New Jersey and I still burned out. Maybe hormones have had more of an effect on my fitness than I thought and the minor tweaks to my marathon training aren’t enough. I tried adding cross-training. I was reasonably good about strength work. I started foam rolling daily. Maybe I need to completely rethink how I train. I really don’t know and that’s what upsets me the most. I don’t know what I to learn from this and how to prevent it from happening again. I had fallen back in love with running pretty damn hard in February, March, April, and early May and I was crushing a lot of runs. I know I still have it in me. I just need to figure out what I keep tripping over.

2

Grandma’s Marathon training update: week 8

Love the view on my regular running route!

Love the view on my regular running route!

Training for Grandma’s Marathon is half over already. It’s starting to feel like the race is like a freight train coming at me!

Training is going well overall, but I don’t know if I’m ever going to feel ready for this race. Even when I have an amazing run and hit mile splits I didn’t think I could hit, I still feel afraid I won’t be able to keep the pace I want for the race.

Two weeks ago, it felt like I couldn’t buy a sub-8:00 mile no matter how much I gave. Even the half marathon I ran that weekend was rough. But last week, I was busting out 7:30s on seven and nine mile runs like they were nothing. My 18-mile long run this past weekend was 7 seconds/mile under marathon PR pace. It’s just been a lot of ups and downs, it seems. It’s hard to get a good feel of where I’m at.

To be fair, I’m still only halfway through training and there are eight weeks to go until the race. That’s a lot of time to make improvements and I’ve done a lot over the last two months. I’ve absolutely been converted to a daily foam roller. It’s amazing the difference in how my legs feel in the morning when I foam roll the night before versus when I don’t.

The thing that’s keeping me completely sane is that I haven’t set a hard goal yet. I’m training as if I’m going for a 3:30 finish, but I’m still 50/50 between really going for it versus targeting 3:40 and making this race a step-off point for a fall BQ attempt. Literally just now as I was typing this, I got the email that I was selected for the Chicago Marathon this year so that’s a big consideration and gives me an idea of what my fall will look like. Plus, I’m also going to sign up for the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge (5k + 10k + half marathon + marathon over four days) at noon today! Obviously, that won’t be any sort of a race for time, but it’s something to think about when I plan out my fall race schedule.

I'm in!

I’m in!

1

Grandma’s Marathon training: Weeks 1-4

I finally have a new profile pic on Twitter and Tumblr!

I finally have a new profile pic on Twitter and Tumblr!

Sheesh, I really don’t post here much anymore, do I? Work has been keeping me super busy, but I’m not actually complaining about that. I kind of like it.

So it’s now one quarter of the way through training for Grandma’s Marathon. I feel like training is flying by so far! I’ve converted fully to a morning runner during the week and an afternoon runner on the weekends. It’s been working out for me and I’ve somehow found the motivation to wake up at 5:30-5:45 every morning to run. I never thought that’d be a sentence I’d type!

For the most part, I feel like training is going pretty well. I’m finding I’m much stronger than I thought I was when I started and I’m running much faster with the same effort than I was even just a month ago. The only concern I’ve been having is my right knee and, well, actually my whole right leg. Starting a couple weeks ago, I began having some pain on the outside and inside of my knee, my calf has been tight, and my hip has been hurting kind of all around. When it first started, I took a couple days rest and focused on strengthening. It seemed to help and my runs last week were amazing. Then I woke up Friday and everything was feeling like crap again. Saturday and Sunday’s runs were okay and as I write this everything feels almost great. I really don’t know what to make of it. Mostly, it’s been just under the “I should probably not be running” threshold, but it’s close. I’ve been foam rolling and doing strength work every day and that’s definitely helping, but I feel like I’m flirting a little too much with injury lately.

Right now, my plan is to just pay close attention to it and be willing to let go if I need to. Until then, as long as the strength work and foam rolling is keeping it controlled, I’m going to keep to my plan.

Last week, I hit 40 miles which is my highest weekly mileage since the first week of July last year and I even went to two kick-ass spin classes! I’m pretty psyched about that. It was also three miles more than was scheduled which isn’t smart considering what I just was talking about, but I didn’t plan for it! On Saturday, the wife and I met Miranda and Jim for a little group run to meet Ruthie for a runner ice cream social. The route ended up being a lot longer than was described to me, but it was a fun run and the pace was easy so I didn’t complain. I guess that pre-emptively makes up for me skipping my run today to give my body a little extra sleep to get over this cold I woke up with yesterday.

Last Wednesday’s seven-miler ended up including my fastest 5k and 10k since transitioning which was especially impressive considering it was 12 hours after a great FlyWheel class where I was second on the Torq Board and PRed “total power.” I wasn’t even trying to run fast at first, it just sort of happened.

Despite all the weirdness in my right leg, this is how training has been overall. It’s been really encouraging for me. I’m already running faster than I thought I’d be by the end of training. We’ll see how the next twelve weeks go, but as long as I can keep the issues in my leg in check, I feel like I’ll be in good shape!

This was a foggy run! Usually, Manhattan is right there all staring you in the face.

This was a foggy run! Usually, Manhattan is right there all staring you in the face.

Starbucks, does ANYONE spell Amelia like this?

Starbucks, does ANYONE spell Amelia like this?

2

Training update

NYC skyline with frozen Hudson River

The view from my run yesterday looks way colder than it actually was out

I haven’t done one of these in a long time, but seeing as how marathon training time is almost here, now seems like a good time to start again.

I guess I should also drop in here that I decided on a marathon for the “spring.” Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota on June 20!! Yay! I’m kind of excited for this. I haven’t trained for a marathon since this time last year and I think I’m ready for it again. I’m not going to harp on how rough my running was for most of last year, but things are feeling like they’re coming together now. Not to mention, I’m coming off an awesome weekend running the Goofy Challenge!

Training starts a week from today. I decided I’m going to drop back to the same plan I used for Richmond 2013 and Chicago 2012. That plan worked really well for me. Richmond was a very successful race and Chicago was pretty successful too, even though I didn’t hit my goal. I would love to go for it with the same plan I used for New Jersey last year, but I’m in no way running the kind of miles needed right now to jump into that. Plus, I’m not even sure how to fit those kind of miles into my schedule right now.

I don’t have a concrete goal for the race yet. For now, I’m just looking to PR, but I’ll check back in with my goal halfway through training and adjust accordingly. I would love it if I got myself back to a point where I could go for a BQ, but right now that feels really far away. We’ll see how it goes.

Two weeks ago, I squeezed in four runs and two spin classes with just one rest day. I totaled 21 miles. Not a a ton, but not bad with the two spin classes.

Last week, I ran five days, went snowboarding one day, and took a spin class. I hit 30.4 miles. The spin class and four of the miles where on the same day as part of my first ever double workout in one day! I was super proud of myself. I also felt really good all week. Tired, but less so than I expected. Yesterday’s run, in particular, was awesome. It was a ten-miler in Liberty State Park. The weather was perfect. 41º, very light wind, and sunny! But it was very wet out! Puddle city! All the ice and snow from Saturday was melting and leaving behind all kinds of slush and ice-cold puddles. I ended up stepping into a calf-deep puddle about 200 feet into my run and completely soaked my feet. Though, this is kind of the best thing that can happen in that situation. Once your feet are wet, you don’t have to worry about avoiding puddles anymore so I just had fun running right through them like a child. It was great!

This week, I’m planning pretty much the same thing, but the snowboarding is still up in the air. Once Monday hits, running is my number one focus and snowboarding will be done until next season so I’d like to go once more, but I’d also like to start training with fresher legs and be able to squeeze in two rest days this week. We’ll see how I feel later in the week, I guess.

mountain creek snowboarding

Snoooooow

On a side note about snowboarding this past weekend…it was a great day with awesome snow conditions. Unfortunately, it was partially ruined by being misgendered by my friend’s girlfriend. I had never met her before Saturday and hadn’t even seen my friend since before I transitioned. Throughout the day, she’s use male pronouns for me, but I wasn’t quite 100% sure I heard her correctly. Sometimes, things sound off, but you’re not sure enough to actually speak up and correct. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt in those situations rather than risk calling someone out for something they didn’t actually do. Eventually, on the bus ride home, I heard her clearly call me “him” to my friend. I corrected her and she apologized and then did it again a few minutes later!

It wasn’t malicious or anything like that, but given that she’d never met me before there was no excuse of “muscle memory.” Her misgendering me meant that’s how she actually seems me. And this was after we had conversations in which I clearly asserted myself as a woman in the way I talked about things. At one point, she even asked me “how do you go from having a full beard to being a woman?” I quipped back that I was always a woman and “a ton of lasers.”

This kind of thing is just super frustrating and it really makes my fears about using the gym seem so much more real. I’m either not seen as a woman or I’m not seen as a real woman.

Orale tacos

And tacos because why not?

3

Erie Marathon training: week 8

Last week, I wrote about how I needed to reevaluate my goals and plans in regards to Erie. I decided I’m likely going to shift my goal race back to Philly in November. In the meantime, I’m still planning on running Erie as a training run, but that could still change as the race gets closer.

Making that decision was hard and means having to accept my biggest running goal for 2014 (a BQ for 2015) won’t happen. It sucks, but I know this is the right decision. On the plus side, this did ease a lot of weight off my shoulders. And without the pressure of having my goal race two months away, I was also able to see that I needed to take a few days off from running to rest and regroup. The reality is most of my rut is likely caused by over training. Because I jumped right back into things after New Jersey, I’ve been in hardcore marathon training mode for almost seven months now. That’s too much. And then pile on top the fact that my increased progesterone dosage is causing me an immense lack of motivation and energy, as well as severe depression, and I’m not in good marathon training shape. I can feel it throughout my body, it just doesn’t want to move when I’m out there.

So I took most of last week off. I ran eight miles on Wednesday and that was it. I took the rest of the time to just relax and rest my body. I can’t say if it’ll be enough yet, but it’s probably better than something. It’s likely just one week off isn’t going to magically fix all of this, but it can’t hurt. I hope. Taking time off for me is always a risk because I lose fitness almost instantly. A week off now practically destroys everything I’ve worked for. It never used to be this bad, but having a testosterone level that is only 4ng/dL will do that to you. For reference, the normal female range is somewhere between 20-50ng/dL and the male range is 300-1000ng/dL or so (these numbers can vary a bit depending on where you source your info). When I started HRT, I was around 300, I believe. Essentially, what this means is my body will pretty much do anything it can to not have any muscle.

Anyway, I’m hoping to get back into it this week. I’m going to rework my schedule for the week so as to not be jumping right into a 53 mile week, but I’m planning on getting at it hard. I also have a 5k on Wednesday night so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.

Not how one should be eating when they're not running

Not how one should be eating when they’re not running

 

12

Erie Marathon training: week 7 – Time to be honest with myself

McDonald's Big Mac

As far as I can remember, I’ve never had a Big Mac before, but somehow on Saturday night this happened.

Last week was not a good week of training. In fact, it was crap. Total crap. The week was scheduled as a step-back week with 42 miles planned. Unfortunately, this was based on running six-days a week for the previous few weeks, which I haven’t done, so it was only one mile less than I ran the previous two weeks (which should have been 48 miles each, but were only 43).

The week was filled with garbage run after garbage run. The humidity is partially to blame, but I also just felt awful and tired otherwise. My midweek miles were all there, but I had to make some adjustments to my plans to get them done. I also wasn’t able to do any speedwork. My long run was scheduled at 16 miles. I started the run in the rain, but, after a mile, the rain stopped and the humidity soared. I could have fought through that, but my legs felt like lead. They were exhausted and really didn’t feel up to the task at hand. When I looped back to my house in between my two eight-mile out-and-backs, I called it. I knew there was no way my legs had another eight miles in them.

So, I ended the week with just 34 miles. On the plus side, that makes it an actual step-back. On the negative side…I only ran 34 miles.

With nine weeks to go, I think it’s time to start being honest with myself about my progress towards my goal. I’m not running all my miles, I’m running much slower than I should be, I’m not doing any speedwork, and I’m ignoring my strength work. I’m working off the same plan I did for the New Jersey Marathon earlier this year. The plan was challenging, but doable for me and I made a lot of progress. I thought doing the same plan again would be the best course of action, but I’ve yet to be able to run six days a week, as the plan calls for, so my mileage is lower than it was last training cycle. Not only am I running fewer miles than last cycle, but I’m also running quite a bit slower. I can blame the heat and humidity for some of it, but not enough to ease my concerns. I’m actually running slightly slower than I did during Richmond Marathon training last year–which means much slower than training last cycle. That’s just not going to cut it. To make matters worse, with only a few exceptions, my body has been dead on every run. I haven’t had it in me to do the speedwork. I just don’t have anything to give. And each run takes so much out of me, physically, mentally, and emotionally, that I can’t even bring myself to do any strength work after running.

I’m in a serious rut right now and nothing is really going right. It’s really the same rut I’ve been in since just before the New Jersey Marathon. I’ve had a few good weeks here and there, but running has been overall more crappy than good, by a wide margin. I’m also risking injury by not keeping up with strength work. Basically, I’m barely treading water.

I feel completely defeated. I have since New Jersey and every time this rut feels like it’s coming to an end, I fall right back into it. I don’t really know how to get myself out of it at this point. I’m out there running, but it’s killing me. At this point, it’s not just physical anymore, it’s mental and emotional as well. It also doesn’t help any that, outside of running, I’ve been dealing with a fair amount of depression and lack of motivation (separate post on the depression coming tomorrow). I was positive about things for a long time, but I’ve about used up all my ability be optimistic.

What this all boils down to is that there just isn’t enough time left between now and the Erie Marathon on 9/14 (two months from today) to be able to hit my goal of sub-3:30. It may not be completely impossible, but it’s highly improbable. Even just my BQ time of 3:35 doesn’t feel very attainable right now. I’m not making progress and the race is getting closer and closer. Accepting this means accepting that, as obsessed with this goal as I have been, I have no chance of snatching my BQ in time for 2015. It’s just too far of a stretch and I need to let it go.

It’s time to weigh my options…

  • Continue working towards my goal anyway and hope this all comes together somehow. Sure, I could keep it up, but this is essentially just hoping for a miracle and ignoring reality. There’s simply too much ground for me to make up. This is the riskiest of all the options. It means pushing myself on race day without the training to really get me where I want to be. It means beating up my body and forgoing another attempt until the spring next year. Racing three hard marathons in the course of 10 months is probably the max I can handle right now. I’d have to give my body some real time off before racing another marathon.
  • Continue training, but change my goal. I could continue training for Erie, but change my plans so Erie is no longer the goal. I could run Erie as a long training run instead of racing it and then use that as a step towards a race later in the fall. Likely, I’d go with the Philly Marathon. I’ve done the race before–so I know the course–and the wife is running it so we’ve already got a hotel room and everything. It would only cost me my registration fee. This would give me an extra two months to focus on getting faster after having already primed my body for the distance. Of course, I’m seriously risking burning myself out here, but it would take some pressure off for a while and give me a better chance of getting a BQ…it just wouldn’t be a BQ for 2015 anymore. This also means doing a hard marathon seven weeks before the Goofy Challenge in January. This isn’t ideal, but  it would be a repeat of 2011/2012 when I raced the Philly Marathon (first marathon) and then six weeks later did Goofy for the first time. I know it’s more than doable.
  • Drop from Erie and refocus for later in fall. I could just call it a wash and refocus entirely on a different race, again, probably Philly. The realist in me knows this is the smartest decision, the one that limits my injury risk and maximizes my chance of getting a BQ, even if it’s not for the year I want. At this point, my commitment to Erie is mostly just my time, emotion, and effort. I would only be out my registration fee. Of course, I would be wasting a bib for a sold-out race which I’d feel guilty about. While Erie does a wait list, it looks like, according to their website, they may not draw more names so me dropping may not allow someone else into the race.

Right now, I’m leaning towards option two. I think it’s a good compromise between the other two options and I’m way too stubborn for the third one. I can use the time between now and Erie to just work on distance and not have the pressure on myself anymore. Then, after Erie, I can take a couple days off and then hit pavement focusing on maintaining mileage and getting faster.

Is this the right choice? I have no idea. But I need to do be honest with myself. The good thing is, I don’t have to choose right now. I’ve got time for that.

Have you ever been in a running rut that lasted three months? How did you get out of it?

1

Erie Marathon training: week 6

Another week down! For the most part, week six was really a really solid week of training. I’m finally starting to feel like I’m making some progress.

Tuesday’s seven miler included a “feels like” temperature of 98°. It was a hot and sweaty run, but my body seems to finally be adjusting to the summer weather because I kicked some serious butt. My paces are still a little slower than I need them to be, but with ten more weeks of training and things feeling like they’re coming together, I can be really happy about an 8:26 in that kind of heat!

Hanging at the vet with Hattie

Hanging at the vet with Hattie

Wednesday was slated to be even worse in the heat department. I was too tired to get myself out of bed early enough to run before work even though all I had to do to fit in a run was wake up normal time since I was working from home. In the afternoon, I had to take Hattie to the vet for her final round of distemper shots and it was hot has heck out. I was not looking forward to ten miles in a “feels like” of 105°, but I knew it had to be done. I waited until around six to get ready to run, but it hadn’t cooled down any. Then, I got super lucky while I was doing my warm-up routine inside and a big thunderstorm moved in. The temps started to drop a little, but there was a lot of thunder off in the distance. I knew running in that wasn’t exactly the smartest thing, but I wasn’t going to miss my run because of it. I said “screw it” and went for it. Things started off alright, but it was still a bit steamy through the first mile. The thunder was picking up so I started counting the time between lightning strikes and the thunder. I figured if it got too close, I’d head home. Around mile two, it started to pour. Heavily! I spent the next four miles running in a torrential downpour. The sidewalks were flooding and there were puddles calf-deep. I could only see one or two sidewalk cracks ahead of me, but it was incredibly awesome and refreshing! I love running in the rain in the summer so I was really enjoying it! And the rain cut the temperature a ton so I was really able to pick it up and feel great. Unfortunately, the lightning and thunder kept increasing until the time between them was less than a second. Since I was miles from home already, there wasn’t much I could do about it at this point so I just continued on. Though, I’m not going to say I wasn’t at least a little scared when the sky was lighting up as bright as day and I could see bolts very nearby. All-in-all, though, it was a solid run with the last few miles kicked at close to marathon pace.

Enjoying a quick nap with my favorite buddy before Wednesdays run

Enjoying a quick nap with my favorite buddy before Wednesday’s run

I took Thursday easy with just a slow three miles since I had a four mile race on the Fourth. The race was great and I nailed my goal. Afterwards, we spent the evening with some friends at a party. I brought my “death burgers,” as I call them and there were a hit. I’ve never had anyone else try them before so I wasn’t sure what people would think, but the batch came out really good and there weren’t quite as spicy as normal…which is good for regular people.

The wife getting her 4th of July sparkler on

The wife getting her 4th of July sparkler on

I took Saturday easy and rested instead of running so I could have a good long run on Sunday. We were a little slow getting out of bed on Sunday, but we knew we were going to head down to the towpath so we’d have some extra shade from the heat. We each had 15 miles on the schedule and decided to run together the whole time. The first eight miles of the run were pretty solid. We were mostly on pace for where I wanted to be with the last couple being a tad on the fast side, but I was feeling reasonably good. Then, we swung back to the car to rehydrate and take our goos. This is where it all started to go wrong. I think we took too long and cooled down too much. When we started back up again, we both felt awful. My legs felt tired and tight and we both kept getting cramps. One of us would get a cramp so we’d stop for a second and then, as soon as we started back up again, the other would get a cramp and we’d have to stop again. It was brutal. I ended up cutting the run when we got back to the park at mile 14, which felt like a minor miracle itself. I wasn’t feeling well and knew the last mile wasn’t a good idea. I promised myself I’d go back out for another three in the evening to make up for it, but by mid-afternoon I was really regretting making that promise to myself! Still, I kept it and did the three at what my goal pace for the end of my long run was. So instead of doing 15 on Sunday, I totaled 17. I’ll take it.

Overall, I’m happy with the way the week went. Sunday’s long run being a disaster was sort of to be expected after a whole week of running hard so I’m not too upset about it. I’m looking at things as a whole and I feel like I’m making progress and going in the right direction.