Didn’t see that coming

Why is it that the week before a race, my long run makes me question my ability to run whatever distance is upcoming?

We ran “only” six miles on Saturday, and it felt more difficult than it should have. Running alongside my two buddies helped offset my discomfort, but I still began to feel uncertain about the Austin 10/20 ten-mile race this Sunday.

Well, what a difference a few days makes.

On Sunday, on what should have been a two-mile recovery run, I accidentally ran five seconds faster than my time trial earlier in the week. Oops. Monday night after core class, I ran three miles at very near 5K race pace when I intended just to take it easy. And Tuesday night, my four-mile interval run averaged a full minute per mile faster than I’m hoping to run on Sunday. Not the fast intervals–the whole run. I know four isn’t ten and the transitive property doesn’t apply to distance running, but I haven’t strung together multiple miles at that kind of pace… ever.

I wasn’t trying to push hard–my coach had us taking it easy all week ahead of the race–for each of these runs, I never even looked at my watch until I was done. I ran by feel and it just happened20131030-102109.jpg

Back in October, I missed my 10-mile goal by thirty seconds, mostly because of the bridge at mile nine. I wasn’t originally planning to try to avenge that race at the 10/20, primarily because the weather is unpredictable this time of year. It is often humid and warm for this one, conditions less than ideal for me to run a PR race. But I’ve been stalking the weather forecast the last few days, and it’s looking like high 40s at the start. It’s expected to get to around 80, though, so it will likely warm up quickly and I’m not sure how that will affect me the second half. Still, I’m beginning to think that I might actually be able to race this thing… and maybe get those thirty seconds back.

The course has changed again, with (what I think is) the most difficult stretch moved to miles 8-9 rather than 2-3 like last year. So I’m working on my mental game to go with a fast-paced playlist–even though 20 bands line the course–and a little bit more confidence than I had a week ago.

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Take it easy

Now that the time changed and it’s light in the evenings again, I’ve returned to running after Monday’s core class–I’m convinced that extra run, even though it’s only three miles, contributed to my success this fall and winter, and I’m glad I can fit it in again. So this week’s mileage looked pretty good.

Sunday: 20-minute recovery run

Monday: core +  three miles

Tuesday: 4.25 miles (two-mile time trial at the track plus 1.25 miles out and back–we walked .25 of the return trip so I didn’t start my Garmin until we ran again)

Wednesday: 84-minute Fitness Blender total body workout

Thursday: five miles

Friday: 45-minute Fitness Blender core/upper body workout

My last two long runs were solo ten-milers, and I’ve been running five instead of 4.25 miles on Thursdays, so I’ve felt a little fatigued lately. Nothing hurts, I’m just not running at 100%. Even though temps were in the low 50s–great running weather–with the Austin 10/20 coming up next Sunday, I decided to take it easy (easier, anyway) this morning. I had not one but TWO running buddies, neither of whom had run much the last few weeks, so we went out for a relaxed six miles.

Despite the cool temperature, the humidity was higher than usual and I felt this weird simultaneous mix of clammy skin and sweat-dripping ponytail. But the three of us had lots to catch up on and our chatter distracted us nicely, even going up the steepest part of the hill.

Turning around at (only) three miles felt mentally good, and the trip back had more downhill segments than uphill ones so it was less physically taxing as well. My stomach started to feel a little funky around 4.5 miles, but after stopping at the last water cooler (with a mile to go) I felt okay enough to run it in.

Our post-run reward? Coffee, of course.

This week I’m going to limit my cross-training workouts to upper-body stuff, since I want my legs to be recovered and ready to race on Sunday. I won’t decide until race time (or maybe even miles 1-2) whether conditions are right for me to run a PR race and get back those 30 seconds from the Army Ten-Miler, though.

take it easy

Guess we’ll find out next weekend.

Uphill both ways

When I was a kid, I lived where we got snow most winters. I walked about half a mile to school every day, no matter the weather. Along the way, I had to go up one side of the hill and down the other, so I joke that I had to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow.

Today’s 10-mile running route also involved a sufficient number of hills for me to describe it as uphill both ways. Except instead of snow, we had wind. And no matter which direction I faced, it seemed like I was running into that wind.

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I’d only worn a long-sleeved shirt (and I agonized over that decision–I guess I’ve already forgotten how to dress for colder temps?) which was fine between gusts. But every so often, I got blown around by a cold blast of air that made me wish I’d brought a jacket or worn a heavier shirt. It was so windy, I literally had to hold on to my hat several times.

The upside is that I didn’t stop very long for water breaks–standing still, I got cold really fast so I didn’t screw around. The downside? Even though it was a great temperature for a morning run, my overall pace was a full minute slower because I had to fight the wind at every turn. And there were a lot of turns.

The worst of it came during mile nine. This stretch has a gradual incline that used to destroy my mental game. I’ve mostly gotten over that hatred, but this morning the wind raced downhill into my face like I was trapped in a wind tunnel. My eyes watered and I struggled to make forward progress. I’m certain I looked like one of those cartoon characters running in place or defying the laws of physics.

coyote

But I eventually reached the top, my slowest mile of them all. After a brief water stop, I finished strong with my second-fastest mile. Ten miles, done. Can I count it as a long run and a strength workout, fighting that wind?

I guess after a week of gorgeous springtime weather, this shift back to winter reflects my dismay that spring break ends tomorrow. It was great while it lasted.

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Spring Break

The calendar still says winter, the bluebonnets and wildflowers say spring, but the temperature at last night’s training run went right to summer.

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We’ve had great weather so far this week, as Spring Breaks go. Perfect for our day trip to Enchanted Rock, mini golfing next to (the very full) Lake Travis, and bluebonnet sightings. But not so much for 1K hill repeats.

It was in the 90s as I ran the 1.3-mile warmup to the bottom of the hill that forms the first leg of the workout. My legs still felt tired. I don’t know if it was leftover fatigue from Saturday’s ten-miler (I tried a short recovery run Sunday and was ready to quit after only .25 but stuck it out for 20 unpleasant minutes) or Monday’s hike up Enchanted Rock, or some combination of both. But whatever the cause, I felt “off” and was glad I didn’t have to run the longer two-mile warmup.

Not that it was much reprieve. The 1K loop has two uphill segments and two downhill segments (at hard effort) each buffered by easy segments. Most people ran between three and six loops–I ran four–with a water break between each loop. My uphills were roughly 5K pace, the downhills faster than that. I walked the easy segments. Still, getting up those short hills was tough. “It’s hard only until that car” and “you can rest at the street sign” mantras bounced around my brain.

Naturally, my legs felt even more tired on the way back. For once, I didn’t mind the brief rest while stopping for cars turning onto side streets. But it’s mostly downhill this direction, so the return trip required slightly less overall effort.

In the end, I ran right at five miles at an average pace I could not have touched the last time it was 90 degrees. But ugh, summer already? Even for Central Texas, mid-March is too early to break out the tank tops and shorts. Then again, our official weather motto is “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.” Saturday’s forecast is 30 degrees cooler.

 

Early birds

B’s cousin is staying with us over Spring Break, and the weather is spectacular. Which means: road trip!

Enchanted Rock State Park is about 90 miles from my house–it’s pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s incredibly popular this time of year with both overnight campers and daytrippers like us. But the way it works is that once the parking lot fills up, it closes; rangers allow only a handful of cars in as others leave. The line to get in can be hours long, and in nice weather, this process starts early. So I packed a cooler and dragged the kids out of the house about 6:30 this morning, arriving right at the announced opening time of 8am. No line to get in, two people in front of me to pay the entrance fee and get a parking permit. By 8:30 we were on our way up.

Enchanted Rock, located between Fredericksburg and Llano, is an enormous pink granite dome called a batholith. From Texas Parks and Wildlife:

One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma, or hot liquid rock, perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly, turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away.

and

Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level, and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building.

You know, I can run a half marathon. I’m kind of in decent shape. But climbing up this sucker was not easy.

Once we got to the top, we wandered around a bit. The sun hadn’t made it too far above the horizon yet, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The higher we climbed, the windier it got, which felt great after the exertion of the ascent. A decent number of people had gotten an early start like us (some had probably camped overnight) but it never felt crowded.

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B remembered exploring some caves last time we were here, so he was not satisfied until he found them again. He made several trips in and down and around different entrances and exits–I think he’s part mountain goat, the way he scrabbled around the sometimes-steep granite surface.

Finally, after about two hours, we were ready to get some water and snacks from the cooler in the car. We made our way down like salmon swimming against the ever-increasing crowds heading up. I could see the line of cars inching along the road, waiting to enter. It appeared the parking lots had already closed.

Thus fortified, we walked around the park area a bit more, and we each got souvenirs from the gift shop. I wanted to ask drivers how long they’d been waiting to get in, but I couldn’t imagine they were cheerful about whatever length of time it had been, so I kept my mouth shut. Especially since, after all that waiting, once they finally got in they’d learn the restrooms at the park HQ building were out of order.

We exited the park and I glanced at my odometer–I wanted to see how long the line stretched–and the kids started counting cars. By the time we reached the last vehicle (which wouldn’t be last for long) we’d gone right at a mile. More than two hundred cars sat there, creeping along the road. Yep, I’d dragged two tweens out of bed before 6am and shoved them into the car, driving mostly in the dark for an hour and a half. But my Vacation Death March get-up-and-let’s-go! strategy won the day. No lines, no waiting. We got our fill of exploring the place and were back on our way home when hundreds of people were what? An hour? Two hours? from even entering the parking lot.

We stopped for lunch on the way home, dining on the sunny patio of a restaurant just off the main highway. Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes lined the road almost the entire drive. The clear blue sky and the rolling Hill Country scenery reminded me what a gorgeous place Texas can be.

By 2:00 we were home, and by 3:00 both kids had crashed. I didn’t run sprints up the thing like one group of teens, but I collected 12,000+ steps on my Vivofit, at least half of them vertically. It was a perfect trip. Well perfect for us anyway. Not so much for those folks still stranded in line.

I love the smell of bluebonnets in the morning

For a number of reasons, this morning was the best chance for me to get in ten miles before the Austin 10/20 on April 3. But for other reasons, it was really hard to psych myself up to do it. Finally, sometime after 7, I made it out the door.

Like most weeks, the first mile sucked. But unlike last Saturday, it got better after that. Which is good, because the route was a loop and I pretty much had to commit to a distance at mile 2. So after that, I was running ten whether I wanted to or not.

We got five or six inches of rain this week, and clouds loomed overhead this morning as well. It was humid, but the temperature felt okay. Part of the route, maybe half a mile or so, followed a gravel trail on which the rain had left huge puddles. Dodging them was my least favorite part of the run. But bluebonnets had sprung up along sidewalks and roadsides, so at least it was picturesque.

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Stereotypical Texas bluebonnet picture

This part of the park spent several weeks underwater last fall, and evidently that killed off the bluebonnets.

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Top picture is from April 2015. I took the bottom one this morning. Same field, although a different vantage point.

The next two miles followed the paved trail I run once a week or so. It was a lot busier than it had been during the rain on Thursday, although it could have used one fewer patron–the guy who was walking a dog and smoking a cigarette. Thanks for the asthma attack, dude.

From here, I left the trail and followed the sidewalk for a couple of hilly miles, and even though I was alone (and the sun had come out) I forced myself to run the uphills. Go me. Then it began drizzling, which felt kind of nice after the sunny interlude. The last mile and a half, the sun came back out and added a degree of difficulty to finishing. But that last stretch was my fastest, and I’m pretty happy with my mile splits. I felt slow, but my miles were respectable. Especially considering I did not have my usual whip and chair buddies to keep me moving, and this was the furthest I’ve run since 3M.

And now, shower, compression socks, and coffee. Anyone care to join me on the couch with a book?

Exercise, therapy, and a shower … All at the same time

Halloween. Valentine’s Day. The week before Spring Break. 

These are times that try men’s souls a teacher’s patience. Add in thunderstorms, several “sorry for the short notice, must do this today!” requests, SXSW, and a bunch of schools dismissing early on Friday, well, things were crazier than usual all week. 

So even though it was drizzling and traffic was hideous, I drove out to the trail on Thursday to burn off some stress. No cars were parked at the trailhead, and the first mile I encountered not one person. In fact, by the time I turned around at 2.5 miles, I’d only passed two runners. Yeah, it was wet and about 60*, but I didn’t expect to be able to count on one hand the number of people out there. 

The rain caused the creek to swell, fed by waterfalls and runoff channels. Bluebonnets began to bloom (although the grounds crew had inexplicably mowed over a swath of them) and a large crane-like bird stared at me as I passed. 

 
On the way back, I passed only a few more people. Two runners, a couple of walkers, and a cyclist. But it was truly the quietest I’ve ever seen the trail. Yeah, my shirt was damp and my shoes got a little muddy walking back to my car. But it was cool and pleasant and it felt good to be out there. Refreshing, even. 

Let’s be honest though. I still needed a shower when I got home.