The Discontent of My Winter

I am at that point in winter where I’m thinking “What business do I have running a 50 mile race in April?” Unlike the last two years this has happened, I’m actually signed up for Zumbro 50 this year.

The first 5 weeks of my Zumbro training have been 22 mi, 40 mi, 42 mi, 45 mi, and 50 mi. Somehow I expect to run 50 miles in 17 hours despite averaging less than that in one week, with my longest run being my half marathon in early January.

These unremarkable weeks of training are all I’ve got to give right now. I’m figuring out survival techniques for eking the most mileage out of my days as I can. Last weekend the temps were in the single digits Fahrenheit, so I ended up splitting my runs into an outdoor and an indoor portion. I ran as much as I could stand outside, then went home, changed, ate something, and ran the remainder on the treadmill. No, I don’t count those as long runs, but the miles are better than nothing.

It’s too cold and the footing is too iffy for me to feel comfortable running outside during the week after work. I don’t want to ruin my whole evening by being cold, and I don’t want to risk an injury that might leave me exposed to the elements longer than planned. Once the sun is gone and the wind kicks up, the nights are pretty brutal. And obviously the -30F weather we’re having this past week has turned evening running into a nonstarter.

But January is almost over. The days are getting longer, the weather isn’t going to be brutal forever, and maybe the trails won’t be so icy in February and March. It certainly will be a lot more fun once the weather’s back in the 20s and 30s and I can do some long runs outside. I’m doing pretty terribly on all my goals so far – I’m not consistently doing push-ups, the lion’s share of my runs have been on the treadmill, and I totally forgot I was going to take a multivitamin.

The next 11 months can only be an improvement over January, or at least I hope so.

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Race Report: Polar Dash Half Marathon

Official Results:
Time: 2:27:30
Pace: 11:16
Placing:
Overall: 307/354
Gender: 153/182
AG (F30-39): 46/55

Watch Results:
Time: 2:27:39
Pace: 11:27
Distance: 12.9 mi (???)
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals: (just trust me on this, I know I didn’t publish them ahead of time like I usually do)
A: 2:30
B: 2:32:01 (PR)

Food:
What I ate the night before: Jersey Mikes #13 sub
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 3 gel packets (I ate 2, at miles 5 and 9) and a disposable water bottle

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, tights, hoodie, buff, gloves
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion:
What a great way to start the year! I signed up for this race several weeks ago and started to regret it because I realized it could be cold. Apparently last year it was like 0F. NO THANK YOU. I’d have stayed in bed and eaten the entry fee. I asked one of my friends if she wanted to join me and she said she liked to wait til closer to the start for winter races because of ice. Oh yeah, I hadn’t even thought about that, whoops. But it didn’t matter! Because the weather was amazing and the race course was almost completely clear!

I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, although I didn’t have my usual pre-race panic-as-soon-as-the-lights-turn-off nonsense. I have been having trouble sleeping the past week or so in general. I still think I got 3 or 4 hours of sleep which isn’t bad, although I still woke up BEFORE MY ALARM WHAT IS THAT and considered rolling over and going to sleep for several hours more. Honestly, the only thing that kept me going was reminding myself that I would have to get it done, one way or the other, since I’m back in ultra training again.

I wasn’t sure how this race was going to go since I’ve had a really terrible December, running-wise, and I haven’t run double digit mileage since November (my last half marathon, actually). It was good in the sense that my legs were well rested, but bad in the sense that I have had a lot of fairly sluggish runs lately. Many of them have been on the treadmill, so it’s likely a lot of that slowness is mental. I did almost nothing to prepare – I had a vague idea of the course as I run in that area all the time, and I checked the night before what kind of pace I needed to run to hit a PR. I didn’t set out any clothes or (obviously) write up my goals or do anything beyond purchasing a bagel bundle with cream cheese yesterday so that I could have my favorite morning snack.

I knew I had plenty of time to get to the race, since it’s so close to my house, and that I could park for free instead of paying the $10 to park near the pavilion. When I did the Night Nation Run, I walked all the way there and back, but that was an untimed 5K in summer. This was a half marathon in winter – even though it wasn’t frigid, I didn’t want to risk getting cold post-race while walking home. I parked and then did my warmup by running down the hill and to the pavilion. I got there with about 15 minutes until race time, and the pavilion was open for runners. At signup, I had misunderstood the website and thought I’d have to pay $5 extra to have access to the heated pavilion, but that turned out to be for spectators only. That was a really great idea, actually! It made sure that there was plenty of room for runners, instead of getting swarmed with people’s family and friends. I didn’t want to pay the extra fee for having my packet mailed or picking it up on race day, so I picked it up on my way home from work the night before. I love races in my neighborhood! So convenient! It takes so much of the worry away for me – I fret a lot over dumb stuff like parking and getting lost, and I didn’t have to worry about that at all!

The race started along the riverfront outside the pavilion. It was a lovely view in the dim morning light – the sun hadn’t fully reached us down there below the bluffs at race start. I lined up right behind the 2:30 pacers, figuring if I stuck with them I’d finish in like 2:29:55 or something. They were a couple of nice, friendly guys who knew each other, and they chatted the whole way, which — we all know by now how I feel about chatting during the race, but I actually found it helpful at times because they were making pace-related comments. We looped around under the Wabasha Street Bridge, then came out and crossed Wabasha Street and headed back in the opposite direction. We passed the pavilion area in the first mile, and I realized my watch was already behind – I was only at 0.95 miles, when it’s usually ahead. The pacer guys’ watches were slightly ahead so I realized it was probably a glitch on my end, and it turned out it was.

stravapolardash

What is this???

The next section was a loop down Water St. to the 35E bridge, a route that I have run several times. There were a couple of water stops along this section, but I ran through them since I was carrying a bottle of water. I found it much easier to keep a rhythm going if I didn’t have to stop to get a cup.

I played leap frog a bit with the pacers: I’d get in front of them, they’d catch up, and so on and so on. I only got behind them once or twice, and that was only a step or two. I wondered if my pace would fall off, or if I would start to get mentally weak, but it never seemed to happen. I thought it was happening, every time the pacers caught up to me I thought I was slowing, but I finally asked them and it turned out they were sometimes speeding up rather than me slowing down! I also learned they were ahead of the 2:30 pace, so I knew if I stuck with them or slightly ahead of them, I’d come in ahead of my hoped-for A goal.

The course turns around just before 35E (about 4 miles in, I think) and then loops back around to the start. Somewhere just before we turned off the road and onto the Mississippi River Trail (maybe mile 5 or 6?), I got passed by the lead runner in the half. That was a little demoralizing – getting lapped on a 2 loop course! But the first loop is longer than the second, and this guy was flying (I believe he ran 1:13), so I can’t even be mad! At the course turnoff, I got a little confused – there was no one ahead of me and I couldn’t tell where to go. The 10K runners/second loop half marathoners were streaming at us from the road so I figured turning off the road was probably correct, but I asked the pacers and they weren’t sure, and only at the last minute did a volunteer turn around (they were focusing on crowd control from the 10kers and faster half runners) and confirm we were going the right way. And then we didn’t really see anyone ahead of us – there was a GIANT gap between us and the next set of runners for awhile. Just before the second turnoff, the second place half marathoner ran by us. So, hooray, only lapped by 2 people!

We passed through the start area again, and it was totally deserted. We still couldn’t see any other runners! I was almost certain we were in the right area, but it was so odd to have no one in front of us. Finally we spotted some people as we got closer to Wabasha St. I have to say, I really liked that the first loop was a mile longer than the second! I knew when I started the second loop that I had done over half the race, and I was still going strong. I remembered from the Moustache Run that I wished I hadn’t waited so long to eat my first gel, and that I should have eaten a second one, and I made sure that I didn’t let that happen again. It definitely helped!

I started to pass more people starting around mile 8 or 9. I overheard one guy saying he was never going to run a Team Ortho event again because the mile markers were too confusing. Look, it’s a two-loop course, sir. It’s not that hard. If you’ve been running for 2 hours and see a sign for Mile 2, use some common sense, please. And if you see a sign for mile 3 and one for mile 5, then try to think – which one comes sequentially after the last one you saw? THINK MCFLY, THINK. Now, I am a person who made lap-counting signs for my friend to hold up when I was running an indoor 2-mile race, and I definitely forgot what lap I was on during FANS many, many times, so I can relate to getting confused during a race, but it seemed like an extreme reaction. There are lots of other reasons not to run their events – like, they are very expensive, for example!

The second loop really seemed to fly by. Honestly, the whole race did! It hardly ever felt labored or unpleasant. The conditions were perfect – not too warm, almost no wind, mostly ice- and snow-free terrain. There were a few tiny hills, rarely was it ever truly flat, but it felt flat. I feel like I ran a fairly evenly-paced race, but it’s really hard to tell because my watch was so off. I had a rhythm going, at least. I should have hit a couple split buttons along the way just to see how I did as the race went on – there weren’t any intermediate timing mat results. I’ve had some trouble with running too hard at the start and then tapering off at the end (it happened in TCM and the Moustache Run), but the course conditions changed a bit in those races. TCM has a couple hills in the second half, and the Moustache Run has a few as well (though it has the same hills, the other way, in the first half) and I also had some changing weather there, with the temp dropping as the day went on, and running into the wind in the second half. So of course it’s easier to pace a race without much variation. I’m not going to give the course all the credit though, I think I did a good job pacing and holding back at the beginning, too.

In the last mile, I did try to speed up a bit as soon as I saw the flag, since I knew the course well and I felt like my legs had more to give. I finished the last few sips of water in my bottle and planned to toss it away at the final water stop, which was about half a mile from the end. I passed a guy who decided to try to pass me back, and I don’t think it went well for him as he ended up dropping back just as we reached the water stop/turnoff. I tossed my water bottle (yes, it was single-use, but I have used it more than once!) and cruised away from him onto the pavement. I was mentally chastising myself for wanting to stay in bed this morning – I’ve got to remember that it’s almost always better to get up and run the race! (Surf the Murph is an exception.) I saw the mile 13 flag at the top of a small hill, and ran it on in.

I felt really great! Probably like I left something in the tank, but maybe not, since I’m still pretty tired this afternoon. But I felt happy and a little bit out of it, so I feel like that’s the hallmark of a solid effort race. I got my medal, wandered around a bit to clear my head and calm my body, and then picked up my post-race snacks (granola bar, Cheetos, gorp mix) and this cute penguin hat they give to all race-day participants. I watched the start of the timed and untimed 5Ks (they start late because there are multi-race challenges – e.g. run the half and the 5k, or the half, 5k, and 2.019k), thought about taking a couple of pictures, and then decided to just walk back to my car.

As I mentioned, I ran down the hill for my warmup. That meant I had to go up the hill for my “cooldown.” It didn’t kill me, as I wasn’t completely noodle-legged and my lungs were fine, but it wasn’t super fun either. I stopped and took a selfie about halfway up, just for fun. I got kind of cold while I was walking back, since I was all sweaty and my sweat was getting chilled, and that reinforced my decision to drive to the top of the hill, instead of coming from home. I picked up a latte before heading home to eat two more bagels and watch Star Wars while vegging out on the couch. Oh, and doing my daily pushups! I’m at 40! Eventually I’ll take a shower.

I am very excited to have gotten such a big PR – almost 4:30 dropped in just a month & change. Obviously the better weather and easier course helped a lot, but so did experience, improved pacing, and the motivation of trying to stay ahead of the pacers. Half marathons are so fun! I don’t know if I’ll make one a goal race in the near future, but I am definitely going to use them as training runs and as I get closer to an interesting milestone (2:20?), I might zero in on one as a goal race. In the way, way, way back of my mind, I’m hoping to run a 5 hour marathon this year, so this is an important step forward toward that. I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.

2019 Running Goals

Another year, another chance to set myself up for three seasons of successful, enjoyable, purposeful running. I leave my more practical goals for the beginning of each season (Mar-May = spring, June-Aug = summer, Sep-Nov = fall, and I don’t set goals for winter) and instead let my year long goals be more holistic.

  1. 2019 mileage > 2018 mileage
    This is an obvious goal. One day I’ll stop setting this as a goal as I think I’ll reach a point where there are diminishing returns for additional mileage, but I know I’m nowhere near that point.
  2. Do 100 pushups/day
    I keep saying I need to do strength training and keep failing to do it. This is a good way to do something measurable and achievable to jump start that initiative. My friend Jeff had an amazing year of running last year, and he did at least 100 pushups a day, even during FANS when he was 3rd overall in the 24 hour race! So why wouldn’t it work for me, too? Look for me to be winning races left and right thanks to pushups.
  3. Run more new races/courses than old ones.
    I have been running a lot of the same races (Superior, Be the Match, Chippewa Moraine, FANS), and it’s time to branch out and try some new things. Be the Match 5K has ended, so that’s out, and I didn’t enter the lottery for either Superior Spring or Fall. I’ll still head up in September for the big party, but as a volunteer only. I’m still doing FANS and Twin Cities Marathon, so I’ll have some repeats. I’m doing Zumbro 50, so that counts as a new race even if it’s not a new course.
  4. My highest category of training mileage will not be treadmill mileage.
    Last year, 42% of my workouts were treadmill workouts! 34% of my mileage was treadmill mileage, so if I made it out the door, the run was probably longer. It’s cold sometimes. It rains sometimes. I travel to places that aren’t great for running. The treadmill is convenient. But as a trail runner, I can’t have nearly half of my workouts be indoors.
  5. Start taking a multivitamin.
    I am not a “clean” eater. I’m totally fine with that. I don’t want to be the type of person who refers to food by its macronutrient type. While I’m working on making incremental improvements to my food choices, I want to make sure I’m supplementing those efforts with the right micronutrients.
  6. Volunteer at a race that isn’t put on by Rocksteady Running.
    I love RSR, I love supporting their events, and I will continue to volunteer at them, but I need to support other events as well! There are so many races in the area that need volunteer support, and I want to spread that love around a little more.
  7. Go for a run in every county in MN.
    This is a multi-year goal I’m starting today (that is retroactive). It’s a bit of an homage to Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, except I’m not planning to run across every county.

Now that I have some direction, I can go out and start executing. Since my abs and chest muscles are killing me today, I can tell the push-ups challenge is going to be a good one… eventually.

2018 Goals Revisited

I got my last run of 2018 in this afternoon. It was pretty miserable – 4.9 miles in stinging snow, but it was also kind of lovely. And I was proud of myself for getting out there even though it was already snowing when I left.

At the beginning of 2018, I laid out a couple of goals for the year:

I wanted to take more planned rest breaks. I took one planned rest break after FANS, but the rest were unplanned and due to either illness or my move. I have to stop getting sick, because I love planned rest breaks that are there for no reason but my own sanity!

I wanted to run more miles than I did in 2017. I ran 1689 miles this year, vs. 1706 in 2017. That’s 17 fewer miles, which is both frustrating and fine. I came so close! If not for my illnesses in December, I’d have made it. Just 3 or 4 more days of running! But at the same time, it’s not like I missed it by a lot and I took a huge step back in my running. So that makes it not a huge deal. It’s like a third of a mile per week, so it’s virtually the same outcome. I’m still not going to say I made my goal, but I’m not going to fret too much over it. I will note I took 24 fewer rest days in 2018, so my miles per run went down. That’s probably more concerning – I didn’t do nearly as many long runs as I should have in my various training cycles. Something to fix in ’19.

I wanted to reach the 1000 mile mark sooner than in 2017. I did this on July 20th, which was 11 days sooner than 2017. I achieved this on the treadmill, which is apropos for this year and will need to be addressed in next year’s goals.

I wanted to go outside every day with intention. I did this 284/365 days, for about 78% achievement. So a C+, which is about what I deserve. Some of the days were pretty simple, just stepping outside to look at the stars or let my cat run around on the porch for awhile. Other days were races, or hikes, or long days hanging out on the lake. But this also means that 81 days, I did absolutely nothing outside beyond walking to/from my car to get to work or wherever else I was going. And a few of those days, I likely did not even leave the house! That’s probably bad.

I wanted to turn strength training into a habit and track my spending. I didn’t do either.

I wanted to spend more time with other runners. I think I did ok at this, although I did no group runs. I volunteered a lot more so I made new friends that way, which was perfect. All my running friends are people I’ve met volunteering.

2018 was a pretty darn good year for me! I ran my fastest and slowest marathons. I set a distance personal best at FANS. I ran personal bests in the half marathon and 5K. I finally beat 4 hours in the Superior Spring 25K. I volunteered at both the spring and fall Superior races as well as 3/4 of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series. I made new friends and strengthened my existing friendships. I found a lot of neat new places to run in my new home of St. Paul. I ran in sweltering and frigid temps. I tried and failed at a run streak. I raced the fewest races since 2015, and DNS the most ever (Hot Dash, Women Rock Half, Surf the Murph, is that it?).

The actual running season in 2019 still feels so far off. It’s going to get cold soon (well, tomorrow is going to be awful, but then it’ll warm back up for a bit), just in time for me to start needing lots of mileage in preparation for a big spring season. I’m hoping for a real spring this time, not an extended, snowy winter, spring barely jammed in, and then a short but sweltering summer, leading into a cold autumn. I don’t even know if that’s really what the year was, but it is my perception of it right now.

Happy new year, and best of luck in reaching all of your big and small goals in the coming year!

The Streak is Dead

I tried to get back on my run streak again, but it didn’t happen, and I am okay with that. My wonderful colleagues gave me a beautiful Christmas gift of a cold, so I haven’t run since Thursday, and now not only is my streak over, but my goal of running more miles than 2017 is also in jeopardy.

I guess that’s okay. I’ve run a lot of miles this year, and I’ve done a lot of other things, too. Does it really matter if I ran 10 or 20 miles less than last year? Not really. I’ll do the math tomorrow and see if it’s possible for me to make up the mileage in the next week, or if I’d have to run myself into the ground to do it. If I have to go crazy with the mileage (and, say, run 60 miles between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve), I’ll accept it’s not something I want to pursue.

Last week was supposed to be my first week of Zumbro 50 training, so I’m extra disappointed I caught a cold and couldn’t get many miles in. Whenever I get sick, I get extra dramatic in my head and think I’ll never be able to run another ultra again. It’s that yucky fatigue talking, when my head and lungs are so full of phlegm that I can barely think. Then I get over it and remember there are 15 more weeks of training to go, and I will survive.

I suppose this is another word of caution, that run streaks aren’t for me. Or at least they aren’t for me during cold and flu season!

On Streaking

I started a run streak on Thanksgiving, something I was planning to carry through until the new year. I am philosophically opposed to run streaks and wholly in favor of rest days, but I also think it’s important to get out of my comfort zone (and rut) with running. I got challenged by one of my friends to join his holiday run streak, so I decided to join in. It wasn’t years-long, so I figured it was doable. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to ensure I met my goal of beating last year’s mileage, a goal which has been slipping away from me lately after a promising start.

I managed 17 days of straight running, completing anywhere between 2 miles and a half marathon a day (the Moustache Run was right at the beginning of the streak). Actually now that I look back at my running log, I actually ran 22 days straight, but 5 of them were before the streak began. Hooray for me?

I stopped early because I got sick Saturday night with a stomach bug that was itself brief (no small mercy), but ended up knocking me back for longer than expected due to some dumb choices on my part (sleeping all day Sunday without drinking any fluids led to more dehydration issues than actually getting sick, I think!). I ended up not running at all from Sunday-Tuesday, and I began the streak anew yesterday. It won’t be the same as running all the way through until New Year’s Day, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.

First of all, how do people do really long streaks? Do they never get sick? Do they run whether they have a monster head cold or explosive diarrhea? I know I’m not a paragon of a healthy lifestyle, could stand to eat better, etc., but even people who don’t eat bagels or vanilla Cokes must get sick. Or do they?

Anyway, even at 17 (22) days, I was struggling to see the purpose of the run streak. Maybe I would have reached some kind of moral clarity about it, had I pressed on long enough, but it seemed more like a burden at times than a fun choice. I never wanted to quit or skip a day, but I didn’t enjoy running daily. I already run six days a week, so giving myself the mental space to rest and recharge on that seventh day is essential, especially when my work is stressful or mentally taxing. I had one day where I wanted to just pack it all in and give up on the streak; I had taken the day off and planned on a nice run along the river, followed by a mid-afternoon drive up to Duluth. It turned into a day of me taking phone calls and scrambling to find answers for about three urgent issues, broken up by a 2.15 mile run (my shortest), and then when we finally got going to Duluth, I slipped and fell down the deck stairs (only 3 stairs, so not terrible) and lay in the snow pondering the cruelty of the world for about five minutes.

There is value in suffering, of course. That sounds absurd, but as ultrarunners, all we do is practice suffering. I found a rigor I’ve been lacking; somehow there was time in a day to work, run, attend my violin lesson, eat, and catch up on the news. But there’s also value in one fewer day’s worth of laundry, in one evening where I can do nothing or go to a movie or just not be sweaty for a day. There’s value in channeling that energy into my work, or into one of my other hobbies, instead of into my running.

I don’t think I’ll ever see value in running 1 mile or 2 miles just to say that I continued a streak. For me, I’d rather have a rest day than just run a single mile. At least know I know that for sure.

And now I know that I can complete a run streak without completely falling apart. Of course, the days were low mileage; I don’t know if I could do a run streak while running lots of double digit runs, or difficult speed workouts, or heat training. So then, I don’t see the usefulness in a run streak either, if I have to keep it low mileage or risk serious burnout.

I can see its appeal, though. There is a kind of simplicity in waking up and saying “I will run today” and following through every day. It’s a ritual. It’s alone time, time to clear one’s thoughts. It sounds really nice, put like that. Maybe someday it’ll be like that for me.

Fall 2018 Running Goals Revisited

It’s December, which means I need to look at how my fall stacked up against my goals.

  1. Distance personal best. Nope, I did not start Surf the Murph, and that was my one shot at it.
  2. Marathon personal best. Success! 5:32:55 at Twin Cities Marathon.
  3. Moose Mountain Marathon course personal best. I got a course personal worst, instead.
  4. Spend some time exploring St. Paul. Well… I guess. I mean, I ran all over the place. I ran across the High Bridge for the first time. I ran around Battle Creek Park. I ran around my neighborhood. I ran to TCM packet pickup. I ran across the Mississippi on the 35E bridge, and across the Minnesota River on the Mendota Bridge.

I went 2 for 4, and those were probably the easiest two goals to make, but that’s ok. I will get that distance personal best soon.

I’m not going to set any goals for the winter. There’s slim pickings for races, and the training is hit or miss. I like to give myself a season to just do what I want.

As for my 2018 goals:
-Taking deliberate rest breaks: I have done that a few times, though sometimes I have had to take them sooner than planned due to colds.
-Running more miles than 2017/reaching 1000 miles earlier than 2017: I need to run an average of 4 mi/day to beat my 2017 mileage. I reached 1000 miles 11 days earlier than last year.
-Going outside daily “with intention”: Still working on that. It’s not every day, but more often than not.
-Turning strength training into a habit: No.
-Tracking spending: I forgot I was going to do this, so no.
-Spending more time with other runners: I’m not really sure. I have made more running friends, that’s for sure, but most of my contact has been through social media. I have managed to find someone I know at most of the start lines I’m on, and I have done volunteering, as usual.