Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sometimes you never know.

Hamlin Park, Shoreline
This past week started out tough.  I woke each morning early and planning on getting in a longer run with a workout (some intervals). Each morning, I had to bail on the workout portion of the run and just run easy miles.

One morning, I was so draggy that I couldn't have run fast if someone had paid me.
The next morning I tried an interval and realized that something was off in my gait. I had no power to run fast. I kept the miles short and went home to roll my low back and glutes out with a foam roller and tennis ball and found my calf muscles really tight. 
The third day, I woke even earlier before my alarm clock and could not get back to sleep because of some GI issues and the pouring rain.  Never mind.  I got up and planned to run (commute) home.

I never did get in that workout but ended the running week with a really nice long run (13 miles) and a pleasant recovery run on trails.  That makes 36 miles for the week with some strength training in there as well.  I'd call that a success. I would've been happy to get that workout in but just getting the miles in smartly is best.
Marked XC Course
I did have to talk myself into going for that recovery run today. It was windy and rainy and I wasn't looking forward to the rain. I knew I wanted to run on trails but didn't want to drive too far so I visited Hamlin Park in Shoreline.  It's a few miles north of us and not too big (80 acres) but with a variety of trails up and down the hillsides of a small ravine.  The rain stopped and the wind wasn't noticeable in the trees.  I saw just a few people out walking their dogs and enjoyed roaming around just looking to put some easy miles in.

There is a marked XC (cross country) course in this park.  Two loops of the course makes a 5k, I believe.  They've been doing a fair bit of work in this park too.  A rocky wash has been replaced by a graveled stair with large rock treads. There are some new stairs of wood down one hillside, some wooden bridge footpaths and to my surprise they've put in a paved road through one area.   I could've done without that actually.

This park is heavily used and it makes me wonder if some of the unofficial trails will need to be closed or walled off somehow to let the understory of the forest recovery.  I was sad to see some rather large sections of english ivy which is an invasive species here in the Northwest. In other sections, they have soft barricaded areas and have planted native shrubs and plants.  This is good to see. 

These mean STEEP.
And then you come to red triangle marked posts with numbers.  I've yet to google my way to figuring out what these are or if there is a map associated with them.  If you see one of these posts, you can bet there is a very steep hill right around somewhere. 

Wait scratch that!  Orienteering! Aha. I did find a map and a little booklet published by Cascade Orienteering.  From the booklet: "the object of orienteering is to find your way to the markers in the assigned order using the map."  I'm not sure about that one.  My object would by running around identifying them all but not necessarily in order but at least now I know.  But I guess they are not associated with a steep hill.  Ha!  I guess Hamline Park just has so many hills to choose from that's where the markers ended up. 

Anyway, good times and a chance just to check out and run with no care about pace or where I am going.  It was a peaceful end to the week and I'm thankful that there are so many interesting places to run. 

Gratuitous Keswick photo - tissue paper is really fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Snow Break and setting up for a good 2012

And did we have snow!  We had a few inches sticking to the roads the sunday after Nookachamps.  Monday and Tuesday stayed cold and then Wednesday, we got a few more inches.  it iced overnight and then we recieved a lovely mix of ice and snow, turning to mostly snow Thursday.  Winter roared in reminding us that nature can do whatever the hell it wants.  I measured 7" on Thursday and this was after a lot of it had compacted down.  I know we had more.  It's a lot for hilly, hilly seattle without a lot of snow removal equipment. 
it's pretty unusual for snow to stick around for more than a few days here in the Seattle lowlands. This snow stuck and even stuck around downtown.  I don't fuss with snow when training since I do not belong to a gym.  I count it as a rest week and don't worry about getting running workouts in.  I did go out and do a couple of short but really fun snow runs from our house on the hill.  all the kids with their sleds were out, i saw people cross country skiing and just tons of smiles on faces.  Sure i had to go to work everyday and I did except for the day when the ice exceeded my limit and I stayed put and worked from home.  Generally I can run on the waterfront trail along Downtown Seattle but this storm, even Downtown was affected.  I rode on the trainer a couple times for a short bit and just enjoyed looking out the window.  We even went and had wine and played scrabble with the neighbors. Fun snow stuff! 

It came at a great time too.  Nookachamps, the goal race, was a bust.  What next?  well I am signed up for a couple upcoming races (both trail and road) but I haven't really set the next goal.  I did take a closer look at why I think Nookachamps would've been tough to run well even if the weather had cooperated.  I really feel like I need to bump up my overall mileage and I need to look at my weight.  These two do go hand in hand to some extent (if i ran more, i'd lose a bit) but it's not that simple.  

I looked back to see what I weighed when I was racing and running my best.  The number shocked me as it seems so much less than what I weigh now.  Really? I know I have more muscle on me than when I set those running PRs. I've worked hard to build strength in my upper body, core, glutes and that strength has helped me stay injury free (knock down the tree!) and makes me a better trail runner. This is just a couple instances of why better strength is good.  

I didn't get into running for weight loss.  It was something I thought I could do and would be enjoyable and keep me fit.  And it certainly did that and more and as a bonus, I lost some weight.  But recently as I hit middle age and my female body is creeping towards change, I've noticed some gradual weight gain over the past couple years.  I didn't think much of it.  

However there is now a bit of a tummy that doesn't want to go away and a bit of extra padding which I'm pretty certain wasn't there a few years ago.  I came through the holidays with the extra pound or two gain which honestly is just fine to me.  I like to celebrate with family and friends and that often means eating and there is nothing wrong with that.  At some point, I have to draw the line and realize the extra pounds slow me down and will keep adding on.  what to do?

I usually go back to what worked when I initially needed to control my diet back when I'd joined a gym but wasn't a runner.  I cut out snacking at work except for what I bring.  I make sure I'm getting fruits/veggies with every meal and start measuring portions of things like rice and pasta.  I don't cut out wine or alcohol or sweets but do limit them to a few times a week.  This has generally worked without much fuss. 

And now?  I'm finding this harder to do when training as an endurance athlete.  I still gradually lose weight but struggle to eat enough at times and deal with hunger and wonder if my training suffers. And all this showed in my lead up to Nookachamps Half Marathon (turned 10k) I think.  Nookachamps is challenging because of the weather but also the time of year.  I enjoyed my egg nog a lot this holiday season and my weight is up.  If you know me, you probably can't necessarily tell.  It helps that I'm a taller person and can hide some extra weight.  I can tell you though that I am tired of carrying the extra weight up hills. 

I am not one who thinks I can successfully carry out a diet which limits or eliminates a lot of foods.  I like meat.  I like veggies, carbs, fruits and wine.  I love cheese and milk and full fat ice cream and homemade baked goods.  I'm the best omnivore I know!  Ok, I fail miserably at eating mushrooms (ick!) and seafood (mostly ick!) but I make do.  I've looked at diets like vegan or vegetarian or paleo or clean eating and there is no way that i could sustain that happily except for a short time.  I am very happy that i have not been forced to change my diet because of food sensitivities or gut issues. 

I came across a book which has really gotten me thinking about things like appetite, hunger, training versus racing weight, diet quality and balancing energy sources (fat, protein, carbohydrates) for an endurance athlete. 

Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performances by Matt Fitzgerald had me enthralled on the bus.  I had to take out my phone with calculator and start figuring my optimal performance weight.  This book is very technical to begin with and i can just imagine someone who has a lot of weight to lose could find it discouraging.  I did find a lot of references to what to aim for if that is the case.  Some simple changes include adding in more fruits and veggies (higher diet quality), portion control, nutrient timing and rethinking things like managing appetite instead of trying to control something you need.  I have one of those fancy scales to measure body fat percentage.  I hadn't done much but notice that yes as I peaked for races, my body fat would subtly decrease while weight would stay about the same.  I didn't track this or compare it to anything however. 

This book lets me do that and gives me a reasonable body fat goal to aim for while losing a couple pounds.  I know what I weighed when I raced my best.  I know I have more muscle than i did then so that weight may not be optimal now.  I really liked the discussion about balancing energy sources (ie how much fat, protein, carbs should I eat).  As a runner, I hear a lot about making sure to fuel a run by eating carbohydrates but then don't forget to eat protein to build muscle.  I'm sure you've heard this too and it isn't quite as simple as that nor in the case of protein building muscle even true.  

Note that this book is not really about what to eat when working out.  As Coach Lesley was quick to point out, everyone has different energy requirements when working out.  I know I burn fuel quickly when running a more moderate pace and have to fuel accordingly and often higher than someone else will.  but those higher carb diets overall make me hungry and cranky and prone to gorging on fatty stuff.  I was interested to see that higher levels of protein and fat is (probably) called for when you are NOT training at a high level.  I don't train at a high level.  I normally train about 5 hours a week consistently and if i plug in the recommended carb intake for that level of training, it is about what I get naturally.  If my training time goes up (ie my mileage is higher or I add a lot more biking) than I naturally start adding in snacks like whole grain cereal and other high quality carbohydrates. 

The timing of nutrient intake makes a difference too.  when you eat and what you eat can either go to restock fuel sources, power muscle work, power immediate energy needs or get stored in adipose tissue making you fatter.  I like all the options but that last one.  How 'bout you  I like tracking food and activities because it really shows me how wildly I swing between undereating and overeating depending on my activity level.  I know that after a busy weekend of running, I can get to work on Monday and I'm starving all day long and do eat knowing that i need the calories.  Nutrient intake timing FAIL!  ha! I should've eaten a lot more over the weekend but i was too busy having fun.  what is my body doing with that extra calories now?  Hmmm.

No my body's energy requirements are not the same throughout the day nor every day and I often try to eat the same amount every day.  Athletes who do a better job of matching calorie intake with calorie needs throughout the day were leaner.  This means i probably need to bring even more food to work for snacks. Sigh.  I also plan on adding a quick snack before longer midweek runs to help. 

The author does a great job of debunking a lot of myths and pointing out design flaws in studies. What works for this elite athlete may not work for this other elite athlete in another country and may not work for you or me (definitely non-elite!).  This book was published in 2009.  I just noticed that the author has a new one out (Racing Weight Quick Start Guide). I've requested that one from the library and I'm curious to see what's different.  Like I said, the edition I'm reviewing here is pretty technical which the geek/nerd side of me loves!  Please, poke holes in studies and tell those nuanced shades of gray!  I don't believe the black and white.  I hate news stories which flash: Drink 12 gallons of mustard sauce to lose weight, build brain health and cure cancer!

I don't think food is cure for things.  I like to eat and I like to run.  I know that by making some subtle changes and bringing my weight down a smidge for training and then a bit more for a short time for racing, I'll run better.  AND I'll continue sailing into middle age happy about my body and what it can do.  It takes some effort on my part and that is ok.  It's the only body I have. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

And that's a wrap!

Trees around Maple Leaf after snow.
The goal race was this weekend.  We've had an extremely mild winter so far.  What are the chances that winter is going to show up on that weekend I have a goal race? After many years of lucking out, the Nookachamps Winter Run Events got weathered!

I was all prepared to run a half marathon, really I was.  I knew what pace I planned to go out at and what I was aiming for overall. A front was moving through with a mix of cold rain/slushy snow and temps in the mid-30s. Drizzle and temps under 40 I can handle.  Drenching rain in those lower temps?  I had my doubts.

There was a large group of us from plus friends of friends and that was fun!  It was great to see/meet everyone including one very new runner who was going to be running her first 10k.  I met up with EC who I did a lot of marathon training with last year.  We went out for a warm-up together and the rain was awful.  And as we turned back towards the start, I realized there was a pretty good wind coming from the south.  Really?

The start was even more chaotic than usual with this race.  All three races (5k, 10k and half) start at the same time with no helpful hints from anyone that slower paced runners and walkers should move to the back.  I couldn't hear anything with the heavy rain.  And without warning, I realized those in front of me were moving!  I guess the race had started.

My goal was to go out at 8:10 for the first mile and keep it feeling easy.  This is a crowded start and as usual, i did see someone trip and go down.  Careful!  I hit 8:09 and realized my shoes were completely soaked.  Hmm.  And oh yes, i was still really chilled even with a tailwind.  the second mile has a long sweeping downhill and I kept it easy (7:45) and was even colder.  And I was soaked. I could feel the crosswind and knew we'd be turning into it after another mile.

And here is where this course is perfect.  At just over 2 miles, the 10k turns off and goes up a hill.  There was no question, I made the turn off and ran a 10k.  It's a really hilly 10k (more hills than in the half i think) adn I didn't worry about pace at this point.  I just wanted to keep it steady and not have a repeat of last year were i fell apart the last mile and realized I had some running form work to do. Much better this year and I kept even splits even with all the hills.  That last mile on the squishy trail wasn't easy but I held it together.  I was a minute faster this year.  If I'd been aiming for the 10k, I'd have started faster too so I'm happy about that.

What was the big challenge with this race?  Taper!  Coach really wanted me to do a proper taper for this half marathon.  I was a little doubtful about how it would play out but decided to go ahead and follow it.  What did I learn?

I completely see the need to cut miles although I doubt I need to cut quite so many miles if I am not running that many overall.  I have been typically running about 30-35 miles per week with either 1 or 2 rest days erring on the side of caution (and weather!). Coach wanted me to cut about 25% of my miles and keep more rest days.  Now she gave me the option of doing some cross training  (bike or row) but as I've had some odd little back issues, I was hesitant to add that in when I haven't been doing much. And, I got so ridiculously stiff that it got hard to run.  I'm not kidding.

I'm on my feet a fair bit at work (going up stairs and walking around) and we debated how much of an impact that has on training recovery.  personally, I think it is a great thing because when I get tired of sitting and need a stretch, I can get up and attend to some other duties.  Coach has been concerned that the extra time on feet takes a toll and I need the strict taper with full rest days for this reason as well.  Again, I have my doubts that this is the case.  I am very used to being on my feet a bit more than the average office worker.  

And then race day, after two weeks of dealing with this, my low back was grumpy and tight the morning of the race.  This never bodes well for having any sort of power on the hills and my hamstrings always feel tight if this happens.  So lesson learned.  I'm "challenging" with taper so obviously we'll be playing with this.

So the race itself was disappointing from the standpoint of I was looking forward to racing a half marathon.  Both weather and taper challenges meant running a hard 10k was a better choice.  Overall it's been a great year though and I've learned a lot.  After that awesome 12k where I was a LOT faster than I expected and held that race pace, I know good things are happening. I'm looking forward to the coming year for a lot of reasons.

And as usual the beer and burger at Skagit River Brewery with even more running friends was wonderful.  We came home and the next day, SNOW!  Woohoo!  Winter, finally.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Staying Busy

Along Bus Trail - Lake Tradition Plateau
WARNING: I'm going to whine.  Taper.  I hate it.  After all the hard training, the hardest part comes right before the goal event.  Taper refers to cutting training load so that your body has a chance to heal, recover and rest.  Tapering doesn't just work with running.  it applies to a lot of sports before a big event.

I'm finding tapering particularly challenging before a half marathon.  With marathon training, I am only too ready to take the 2-3 week break.  I'm tired mentally and physically and it's nice to have the couple weeks to attend to rest of my life.  Half marathon training isn't as demanding with no long runs.  The workouts can be challenging but I recover from them quicker.  So what d'ya mean I gotta cut back running?  I'm feeling so good!  Once I cut back running and take more rest days I just get stiff and sore.

The cure for whining is, of course, a nice and easy and short trail run out at Lake Tradition (see photo top).  I still found it challenging to slow down on some of the non-technical/non-hilly sections but just getting out to somewhere besides the normal running route is always good. 

K spent a couple days of his winter break replacing the lights in our kitchen.  They look great! The holes from the old fixtures needed to be patched and painted. It has been 12 years since we remodeled the kitchen from the studs out and I've wanted to repaint the walls and ceiling anyway.  All patching and painting is done!  It's like having a new kitchen as the new lights are so much better.  LED technology has certainly come far. 

Knitting is always a good thing.  I got to meet a new baby last week.  And that was the perfect excuse to knit baby leg warmers.  They are done and I will send them off tomorrow.  The only model I have is Keswick the Cat and these leg warmers are a little big for him but you get the idea.  Cuteness! 

We went off to the Seattle Asian Art Museum today for a small exhibit of "Painting Seattle: Tokita and Nomura" who were well known Japanese-American artists before World War II. It's a very small but a well done exhibit when ends mid-February.  See it if you can.

And driving out of volunteer park we came across the Conservatory.  How did I not know about this little gem in the middle of Seattle?  I had no idea that such a place existed and was quite delighted with the lovely room progression. On one of those freezing February days where you just cannot get warm, go here!

And to prove that taper only increases the thinking about running, as we were driving from Volunteer Park we saw a very nice little lookout park that would make a very nice running route addition with some serious hills. Gotta look at that map!  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Starting the year out right!

Volunteering at a race is a great way to start the new year.  The next best great way to start the new year is to explore a new trail!  That's what LM and I did this morning.  I'd known about Lake Boren Park from a favorite loop running road course through Newcastle and Issaquah.  Sadly the traffic on some of those roads means that loop isn't real safe to run anymore and I haven't been over there in some years.  There was one section along SE May Valley Road that I knew is still runnable and could easily connect with some other areas. 

Poking around and looking for trails in the area, I came across a great website, which documented the trails in and around Lake Boren Park.  I've biked and ran on roads in the Newcastle area and I'd seen the signs marking trails. I was impressed to see the great work they are doing to link trails (see video below).  There was a map with very clearly marked roads and trails on the website.  Add in the current information updating the trail work they've done recently, and I was ready to go to figure out a loop on trails starting from Lake Boren.

It was fantastic.  We set out with maps and iphones and garmins and easily found the trails.  Some are not maintained but are in good shape.  You can tell the system is still under construction as there are signs at the beginning and ends of trails but no signs in the middle.  So we did some outs and backs and sometimes couldn't find a particular path.  With patience and a bit of tenacity though, you can usually figure out where the trail comes out and backtrack it that way.  I really like figuring out how the trails all fit together with the roads we cross firmly set in my mind.  It's like an interesting jigsaw puzzle and I have to put it together.  

Finally we got to the trail I'd wanted to try for some years.  The West May Creek Valley Trail is just a short section but quite pleasant.  It's wide, flat and follows the path of the old Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad along the ravine of the May Creek.  I knew that they had been working on the EAST May Creek Valley Trail which was going to a connector between the existing trail and Coal Creek Parkway.  LM and I found the road which should've led to a trail down by the creek but it got too steep and mucky and blackberries.  Where is this trail? Hmmm.

Ok, so we then looped around via roads to where the trail was supposed to come out and found and followed the trail.  It's not done yet but still easily passable and absolutely delightful.  There is a new bridge across Boren Creek and great views of the two creeks. We followed the trail back up to where we'd been hunting for it.  Yep, that used to be a road as there were two abandoned vehicles along the trail!  I love this sort of stuff and shouted "Car!" when I first saw it.  LM assumed that a car was driving along like what you'd yell back to runners and bikers when a car is approaching.  No, this car (milk truck?) shown above isn't going anywhere. 

All that backtracking and exploring added time and miles and that meant that we weren't able to add on the extension road and then connection to the Cougar Mountain trail system but that is the goal. Keeping running fresh and fun is always my goal and exploring new trails and finding new and interesting routes to run is a great way to do this. Mission accomplished today! And meanwhile, thanks Roland for the connector.  I think the trail should be renamed as East May Valley Trail doesn't have such a great ring as Roland's Trail or Eagle Scout Trail. What do you think? 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

And here comes 2012!

It's a bit odd because my goal event (Nookachamps Half Marathon) is in two weeks so I don't feel like I'm quite to the end of the year.  Still it's always nice to acknowledge the year and those accomplishments and look at what is the next goal and areas to work on.

First I ran 1616 miles for the year and averaged 31 miles per week.  I never set mileage goals for the year and this is just over 150 less than last year's all time high.  I never had any forced downtime because of injury though.  That is my main mileage goal and I achieved it.

I had some nice bike rides during the spring and summer and like usual that cross training fell by the wayside as running intensity increased and the light/warmth of summer left.  I have been very consistent with strength training and I'm pretty happy with the real increases I've seen in that.  I definitely plan to be mindful of not just focusing on running when that is appropriate.  I always like the mix and that keeps running fresh. 

Last year I did not have any standout races and still did not feel done with that marathon demon.  So earlier this year I did finally run one more marathon and felt better about it.  It was still a bit of a slog the last miles but less of a slog than I've had.

I then dropped back the distance and focused on faster running. I finally hit well under 1:50 for a half marathon in June and then ran really strongly at the Ragnar Relay in July.  I also added captain's duties for managing the relay and really enjoyed myself.  I thought to capitalize on the distance training I'd had, add trails and try for my first 50k.  But stress at work precipitated an illness the day before the race.  I finished half the distance and both enjoyed myself and was disappointed.  At that point, I knew I needed to focus on shorter events with the occasional longer road or trail run.  and in the build up to my goal half marathon, I've had some real surprises.  I never expected to run so fast at the hilly 12k two weeks ago.  Hills like that have typically been my undoing in races but for that race, everything finally worked. 

What have I learned this year then?  In training, I need to work a lot harder in that speed and tempo work.  Quite often I cannot hit the intensity I need to hit to really be able to hold the feeling of discomfort in a race.  And I've learned that if I don't monitor and control my form when I'm starting to feel the race, everything can fall apart.  So this year I was able to run quite a few races and practice these lessons.  Between volunteering and getting some comped race entries and having a great and inexpensive monthly race series plus some fantastic trail races in the area, I ran in 20 races!

5 - 5ks all on road
1 - 5 miler on trails
5 - 10ks all on road except 1
1 - 12k on roads - Personal Record (PR) for this distance
1 - 10 miler on roads - PR at this distance
3 - 25ks all on trails (also a PR but those are less meaningful for different trail races)
2 - half marathons with one on roads and one on trails
1 - marathon on roads
1 - 2 day relay

Like I said, I'm not sure what 2012 holds as I'm waiting to see how the upcoming half marathon turns out.  2011 really was a year to regain my confidence and focus on figuring out what works for me.  Those goals were definitely achieved and I am really looking forward to 2012.