Lousy Smarch Weather

This is a frustrating time of year for me. The weather is up and down, and while the rest of the country is enjoying spring (or even sweltering in Boston on Monday), we’re still getting snow in the forecast. This past weekend was really nice, and even though it was much cooler on Monday, it was still sunny and didn’t feel chilly. Then Tuesday it was in the high 30s F and poured most of the day. Yesterday it barely made it over 40 F, and by the time I was getting up to get my running gear, the wind had kicked up.

I was already in a sort of melancholy mood, to the point where I almost sat in my car and finished listening to Eddie Vedder’s cover of “Comfortably Numb,” even though it only started about 30 seconds before I pulled into the driveway. I didn’t, but it was tempting. I updated my Facebook profile photo to Homer Simpson complaining about the lousy Smarch weather. I didn’t even have to upload a photo, because I have used it so many times before! It’s more like Smapril now, but it’s never clear where Smarch fell on the calendar.

After that I stupidly looked through older photos when I was more overweight. There’s more of a contrast between now and then than I thought, which I can look at as good, look how far I’ve come! or as bad, it got worse than I thought. Of course I was in the mood to choose the latter.

Then there was a huge gust of wind outside my window, and I decided not to run. Five minutes later, I said out loud, to no one but the cats, “NOPE.” I stood up, put on my gear, and managed to get outside.

I expected the run would make me feel better, and it didn’t. The first mile really sucked, it was into the wind, and had some annoying uphills (when leaving from my house, it’s basically impossible to avoid an uphill in the first mile), but I figured it would get better. Then I realized I was bleeding. A raw spot under my nose had split open (again). I had five more miles to go, so I got blood all over my lovely mint green jacket trying to stop the bleeding or at least avoid getting blood all over my face. It’s gross, but whatever.

It never got better. I somehow had to run into the wind no matter what direction I was heading. I kept burping the chicken curry Chinese takeout I had for lunch. My feet were landing hard on the ground, practically stomp-running, and I couldn’t fix it. I ran by a long-dead squirrel in someone’s yard. Dirt blew in my face. Not even the view of the lake along Skyline Drive near the copper top church cheered me up.

And my watch malfunctioned. It beeps when I’ve hit a mile, and occasionally I hear a phantom beep, which was what I thought I heard, until I looked down and saw that it was showing 6.2 miles when I was barely over 3 miles into the route. But a 7:17 average pace, congratulations to me!

I didn’t have the energy for any of the downhills I’d earned the hard way, through the big climb on Arrowhead Drive. Even as I turned down the final hill and was less than half a mile from home, I didn’t feel relieved. It felt like it would never be over.

I got home and had to do a load of laundry (to clean my coat), marinate pork chops (I really didn’t want to eat pork chops, but that’s what was thawed), and do some strength exercises (I did!), so even the end of the run didn’t bring me to a better mental state.

The point of this stream-of-consciousness post is merely to say: sometimes running sucks. The whole time, not just the first 2 miles. Sometimes running isn’t the answer to a bad mood, or a way to clear my head, or a way to feel like I’ve accomplished something on a day I’ve felt like I don’t have the energy to do anything. Running doesn’t solve every problem, and that’s okay. It’s not supposed to, and if I expect it to, it’s only going to make things worse. Tough days happen, and every single time I get out there and run on a tough day, mentally, physically, or emotionally, I’m figuring out new ways to cope. I can’t imagine when that will come in handy — maybe at mile 18 of Chippewa Moraine, or hour 18 of FANS?

MAF Test Attempt #1

My replacement heart rate monitor came on Saturday, and after I remembered I needed to sync it before it would connect with my watch, I was able to take it out for a test on Sunday.

I was attempting to set a baseline for measuring my aerobic progress using the MAF Test recommended by Dr. Maffetone. I was supposed to run a warm-up, followed by 5 miles at my maximum aerobic heart rate (mine is 142), and then a cool-down. The warm-up is 15-20 minutes long (or longer) and I was supposed to gradually increase my heart rate to 142. The 5 miles at 142 bpm should have gotten progressively slower, and then I had to cool down for 15-20 mins, bringing my heart rate gradually back down.

That’s not how it worked.

I chose to do the test along Minnesota Ave. on Minnesota Point, because it’s flat, so I wouldn’t have hills messing up my results. It didn’t seem that cold and the trees didn’t seem to be moving so I didn’t think there was any wind. Wind and cold can affect the heart rate. It turned out it was windy, so that was annoying.

I was having trouble with my heart rate from the get-go. I was walking and it was spiking even though I was barely exerting myself, and then the monitor slipped down and I lost contact. It wasn’t tight enough, since I was afraid of stretching out the strap too much, as happened with my first heart rate monitor. Apparently stretching out the strap affects its ability to function. Argh.

Warmup: 1 mile, 18:39, 115 bpm avg

I was micro-managing my heart rate during the first mile, but it was either too high or too low, jumping all over the place. The road was snowy and/or icy in spots, and the sidewalks weren’t consistently cleared. I was running on the road and at times had to pause and wait for cars to go by before I could safely get around parked vehicles. I ended up with almost exactly the opposite of what is supposed to happen in the test.

Mile 1: 16:52, 137 bpm
Mile 2: 16:03, 134 bpm
Mile 3: 16:00, 133 bpm
Mile 4: 15:27, 134 bpm
Mile 5: 15:43, 135 bpm

Whoops. I’m not sure what this means. Maybe I need a longer warm-up. Maybe I need to use a lower max heart rate. Maybe this is not going to work in winter. I don’t know.

Cooldown: 0.74 mi, 19:06 pace, 122 bpm avg

I’m going to give the test another try in a month or so and see if I can get a better result. The workout itself was good, I felt great afterward, and the warm-up and cool-down felt nice. So it wasn’t a total loss, although it was frustrating trying to make the test work.

I looked at the extended forecast and it looks like there’s only a week or so of the somewhat unusually warm weather left, so that was a bit depressing. I also signed up for the lottery for the Superior 25K in May, so with a little luck, I’ll get in.

If The Good Lord’s Willing and The Creek Don’t Rise

So, there was my Sunday.

Saturday I made the somewhat ill-advised choice of doing another long (for me) run. I ran from the entrance of Park Point to the lift bridge and back, which is 7.5 miles. My legs were a bit fatigued from Friday’s run, but I figured a flat route wouldn’t be too hard on them. I made up for that by being stupid and pushing the pace. I couldn’t help it, I was bored. It really was a good thing I pushed the pace at times, because I had misjudged the temperature. I finished the run at about 6:45 and it was only 38 degrees. I was only wearing a tank top, a tissue-weight long-sleeved shirt, and leggings, but the only part of me that was cold was my hands. And they were extremely cold by the end of the run, so much so that I didn’t have full range of motion of my fingers until I’d warmed them in the car for a few minutes. Oops. I really should have known better, since I’d worn gloves on Friday’s run even though I felt like it was warm enough to skip them. Lesson learned.

Sunday my hips didn’t really want to function. I don’t find this concerning because I obviously put a lot of stress on them on Friday and Saturday, and the soreness was symmetric. So, unless I have Joe Mauer’s bi-lateral leg weakness, I’m sure I’m fine. I decided, because I’m not a complete moron, I wouldn’t try to make up the rest of the week’s mileage (21 miles) on Sunday. Originally I had planned a short hike with a friend, and then a run to top things off, but I scrapped the plan for the run.

My friend and I hiked from Chester Park down to 4th St, and then walked back up on the road. That was not the original plan, but the trail along the creek alternated between mud and ice, so we decided not to try to crawl back up it. As the video above shows, the creek was roaring along. Underneath the flowing water, the creek bed was still covered in ice; it was pretty cool to watch. I still can’t do a trail review, I suppose that will take a few more weeks of above-freezing temperatures, no more snow and some evaporation or absorption of the water we slogged through on the path. The walk up wasn’t that pleasant; it was an annoying uphill on a sidestreet, nothing of note. I felt fine afterward and my overall soreness was barely noticeable on Monday, so I haven’t completely derailed my training.

Total mileage for Week 4: 16.1 (5 miles short of prescribed mileage) (I am counting the walking miles in my total mileage, since they were intended as a workout.)
(Total mileage for Week 3 is of course zero, no need to recap that)

Third Thoughts

I went for my first run in thirteen days today. A lot of things happened. It started off with some poor nutritional decisions that led to a dearth of sleep that led to dehydration that led to getting behind at work and in school. I’m sure someone could comb back through how I spent my time over the last couple weeks and point out times where I could have squeezed in a few miles here and there, but I don’t regret taking the time off from running.

I am on spring break as of 3 PM today (when I finished the second of two midterms on the docket for the day) and it is unseasonably warm here so I am thrilled to get back in my running shoes. Between the warm weather, the time change, and the overall longer days, I hope I can arrange my running schedule so I don’t have to run on the treadmill at all (unless it is raining or it gets cold again, which I am sure it will).

I previously said I had second thoughts about my heart rate training plan. It was getting too frustrating; I was tired of being out in the cold so long and struggling to keep my heart rate down because I was cold, which slowed me down and kept me out in the cold longer, and so on. Well, it’s warm now.

I ran 6.4 miles today, which was not the smartest training decision ever. I mean, it was fine, I felt good, but I am sure ramping my mileage back up is a stupid decision and could lead to injury. Since I’m not pushing the pace and I’m using a run-walk method to keep my heart rate down when going uphill, I am not too worried about it.

For the first five miles, I ran the same route I did on my last run. On that run, it was 25 degrees but the wind was awful and cold. Today, it was around 46 but the wind was mild. Comparing the two:

Mile 1
2/28: 15:24, 160 bpm
3/1: 15:00, 151 bpm

Mile 2
2/28: 18:24, 148 bpm
3/1: 17:36, 147 bpm

Mile 3
2/28: 17:55, 146 bpm
3/1: 17:16, 142 bpm

Mile 4
2/28: 19:14, 148 bpm
3/1: 18:08, 143 bpm

Mile 5
2/28: 15:55, 145 bpm
3/1: 15:09, 143 bpm

So after 13 days off, I’m able to run the same course 45 seconds faster (on average) than I did the previous time. This tells me I haven’t lost much fitness (or didn’t have much to lose), and it also tells me that the weather had a significant effect on my heart rate and pace. I should be back on track with marathon training starting next week, and I’m going to try to get some decent mileage this weekend so my weekly mileage isn’t too far off where it should be. The dream of Grandma’s Marathon isn’t dead!

Week Two Update

Oh man, last week was a big fat failure, and it’s the lowest mileage week of the program. I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, as far as the time commitment is concerned.

First, the mileage recap for the week:
Monday: rest
Tuesday: 2 miles, treadmill
Wednesday: 3 miles, treadmill
Thursday: 3 miles*, treadmill (*I think. About 20 minutes into the run, I touched the treadmill screen and a static charge zapped it and it stopped the belt and reset the display to the time, as if it had just turned on. I wasn’t looking at the time or the distance when it shut off, though I remembered to stop my watch eventually. The watch does distance indoors, but it does it incorrectly [either that or my treadmill is poorly calibrated], so I had to guess at the total distance I did. I guess there’s something to be said for staring at the treadmill display the whole time after all!)
Friday: rest (GI issues)
Saturday: 5.58 miles, road
Sunday: rest (studied)

Whoops. 3 rest days. 13.8 miles. I had planned to recoup the lost miles between Saturday and Sunday, running 6 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday, instead of 5 and 3. Saturday’s run ended up being unpleasant. I wore my chains and for the first bit of the run, I thought it was silly, because the sidewalk was relatively clear, but eventually I ran through slush, snow, ice, and all manner of combinations of the three, so I was glad for the traction as well as the feet protection. I was all excited for the downhill on the 5th of 6 miles after trudging miserably up Arrowhead Road, but the wind was so brutal I was running at about the same pace I had been going uphill. I mean, not quite, but I was running 16:xx and 15:xx paces during a downhill, and my heart rate wasn’t even that low. I am slow, but not usually that slow. I cut the run short by about half a mile due to the cold, and also due to overall anxiety about the rest of the stuff I had to do that day.

Sunday I got up, planned on sandwiching my run between homework sessions, and even put on some of my running gear early so I could jump right up when I was done with my homework. The homework took so long that I realized I couldn’t justify running 4.5 miles, which would take over an hour not including transit time (I was going to go to the Lakewalk since I know it’s 4.5 miles), when I had additional work to do on my take-home test, due the next day. (I finished with plenty of time left, the panic was unwarranted.)

I have to re-think something here. Either I have to reconsider running the marathon in June, or I have to reconsider how I’m approaching my training. I am running slowly, but I also haven’t hit my target heart rate in two weeks, so I’m not really accomplishing anything. I am not dedicated enough to meeting that target heart rate, and it is too cold out to make that heart rate easy to accomplish, even at a slow pace. In short, I am running slowly for no reason. My runs are taking too much time, time that I don’t have this semester. I still think this training is extremely valuable, but I think I’m going to have to abandon it or modify it for this training cycle.

Here’s my plan, which is basically arbitrary:
I am going to continue training for Grandma’s Marathon in June.
I’m still going to monitor my heart rate and my rate of perceived exertion in order to make sure I am running easy on easy days, hard on hard days, and medium on medium days. I just can’t commit to 142 bpm as a maximum heart rate.
Whether or not I run Grandma’s, when this training cycle is over, I will give this training another shot, as the weather will be warm enough that I’m not struggling to balance heart rate and homeostasis.
I’ll use metabolic efficiency training to train for the Mankato Marathon in October, assuming I don’t have an injury or a miserable and traumatic experience if I run Grandma’s.

I don’t plan on ramping up speed like crazy, I don’t have anything other than an “easy” run until the end of March, so I will still be running conservatively. We’ll see how things go after my first run this evening! Enthusiasm!

Week 1 Update

I’m mostly through my first week of “marathon” “training,” which actually feels like “slightly shorter than a normal week” “training.” I had to take an unexpected rest day on Thursday when I came home from work at 6:00, took my coat off, and realized it was really cold in my house. 55 degrees, in fact. The furnace blower had gone out, and I had to wait to get that fixed, then wait for the house to warm up again. I huddled under the covers with my cats and the heated mattress pad on while I waited for the house to heat up, dressed in my workout clothes, planning to take advantage of the slightly cooler house so I didn’t have to turn a fan on. Unfortunately, being cold basically all day (since it barely got above 0) left me sleepy, and I decided to skip the run.

Yesterday I forced myself to run outside since it was in the teens and not too windy. Since it snowed, the sidewalks were mostly horrible. I wore my shoe chains in order to give myself some traction, but it was an unpleasant run. My legs were burning from the effort of running in the new snow, although it’s still preferable to running in sand! I ended up with all 4 (well, 3.93) miles in the 17:XX pace (actually no, the final 0.93 miles were at an 18:26 pace, ew), which was disappointing, especially since I didn’t hit my heart rate target (average BPM was at 147). Overall I was just thrilled to be running outside rather than on the treadmill. I keep looking at the 10 day forecast and it only looks like a few more terrible days are in the forecast… unless there are some lurking just over the horizon. Some mid-40s temps by mid-March would be glorious, especially after last March was still so bitterly cold.

On another note, I need to buy a new winter coat because my current one is about 10-11 years old, is dirty, and the zipper is wearing out at the bottom. They are a lot more expensive than I thought, even on end-of-season clearance (this is what happens when one goes a decade between coat purchases), which is annoying, because there are a couple of running accessories I want (a hydration vest, a new top layer for running outside in cold weather that actually has ZIPPERED POCKETS, and a new sports bra) and those will have to wait. Unless I end up with a teeny tiny tax return, in which case the coat will have to wait, too. I have a backup coat somewhere that’s even older than my current coat; it is orange and I won it at the all-night party after graduation. It’s a nice coat but is also kind of dingy. With all the salt and sand and dirty slush around, it’s hard to avoid. Here’s hoping I only have another month where a winter coat is required!

Trail Review: Minnesota Point (Winter)

I really, really love this trail, but it does have some drawbacks.

This is not one of the drawbacks.

The Minnesota Point trail is a mix of access road, single-track, and wider trails that extend to the very tip of the spit. It’s somewhere between 4 and 4.6 miles, depending on which route you take. I took a longer way out than I did back, hugging the edge of the Superior Bay side, and then cutting back in at Point Zero Lighthouse. The ruin of the lighthouse actually once stood at the tip of the spit, but sand deposits from the lake changed the location of the harbor entry. I saw it on an episode of Lost Duluth on public television last summer, which was what prompted me to head out there in the first place.

The major drawback to the trail is the terrain. Much of it is sand. Running in sand is annoying. I am sure that it was a good strength workout for my legs, or something, but it is still incredibly annoying. I had hoped since it was winter, the sand would be compacted and covered in a bit of snow, but that was not the case.

All the snow had blown off the trail, I think. That’s the other drawback to the trail in winter. The vicious wind. At the beginning of the run, I was questioning if I was appropriately dressed, and if I had made a horrible mistake. One side of my body was being pummeled. The trail heads into the woods early on into the run, so I was somewhat shielded, but it was whistling and howling above me through the treetops, which made me imagine it was colder than it was.

Those are the only two drawbacks to the trail (in winter). The rest is beautiful. There are a few small “mounds” but no great changes in elevation, the sand was a little bit compacted so it was easier to run in than it is during warmer temperatures, and the scenery is amazing. Some of the trail is in the trees, other parts along the shoreline, and the end of it is…

…even better in person. The only downside is having to look at Wisconsin sometimes.

It’s still better in the summer (despite the sand), because the sound of the waves against the shore is heavenly, but it is a great place for a hike or a run. It is not a great place for speedwork or tempo runs. I don’t know what the trail grooming is like if there is snow, I’ll try to get out there when/if it snows a bit more to see. The trail, other than the sand, is not difficult; there aren’t trees or boulders or other obstacles. In a few spots the trail gets a little overgrown, but it’s not too hard to push a few branches out of the way.

A great long run would be an out-and-back of the entire strip of land, from the lift bridge to the tip and back again. I have run from the entrance to the park to the lift bridge and back (which is about 7.5 mi) but I’ve never put the two together. Sounds like a bucket list item for a time with warmer temps and a better training base.