Tire(d)

Every 2-3 weeks, the rear driver’s-side tire on my car loses pressure for no discernible reason. I’ll start the car, and dingding, the low tire alert flashes on the dashboard. And it’s truly low–I test it with the gauge before hauling out the air tank. The other three tires don’t do this, but when I brought it to the tire place (these were new in January) they took it all apart and couldn’t find a leak.

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That tire is symbolic of my life right now. Every so often, I just deflate and run out of energy. This week was one of those times.

I don’t know why I was more exhausted than usual,  but a couple of mornings I could barely get out of bed. I rarely get enough sleep during the week and this week was no better or worse, so while I was not well-rested, that’s sort of my normal. K reminded me that I’m always tired at this point in the school year, so it could just be that it’s all catching up with me. I don’t know, but it was a tough week.

I (sort of) ran six miles with my group on Tuesday, but more than anything it was an exercise in suffering. My whole body felt drained. I’m not sure if it was lingering soreness from the somewhat hilly Longhorn 10K or what. Wednesday all I did was walk the dog for a mile. Thursday’s workout was slightly better, but then again I only managed four miles. So I wasn’t sure how well my Saturday long run would go. Still, I knew I had to run 12ish miles because the Pittsburgh Steel Challenge (5K and half-marathon) is two weeks away.

Since I’m not in half-marathon PR shape, and since I’m running a 5K the day before, I’m planning to run-walk the Pittsburgh half so I have been tinkering with the timing on runs over ten miles. The last time I ran 12 a couple of weeks ago, I ran for three minutes and walked for one minute; this time I tried pushing the running intervals to 4:1 to see if that improved my overall pace without sacrificing endurance.

Turns out, it wasn’t too bad. It was raining and about 60 when I started, and I stuck to the 4:1 pretty well the whole way. I drank my own electrolytes (this time it was DripDrop, which I think is my favorite) and ate a couple of Skratch gels along the way.

It was also a pretty morning for scenery.

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The bluebonnets are fading and won’t be around more than a week or two longer, so it was nice ro run past a few fields of them before they’re gone.

How’d the interval thing go? My overall pace was only about six seconds per mile faster than my last 12 miler at 3:1 and my quads were pretty tired by the end. I can’t tell if the tiredness was the result of the increased interval or the exhaustion from the week, or both. But I don’t know that I gained a whole lot by running a minute longer each time. And while my stomach was okay afterward, I didn’t feel like eating a whole lot until more like dinnertime. That’s with a cool morning, too–it stayed about 60 and rainy the whole time. Not sure how that would have gone in warmer conditions.

So I’ve got one more long run, a couple of team workouts, and some easy runs ahead of me before travel and back-to-back races. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch up on some sleep too.

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Longhorn Run 10K

I’ve never run this race before–I figured it was all fast college students and I am neither of those things. But I was persuaded to run it this year, despite its proximity to the Cap 10K, because supposedly a lot of those fast college students start too fast and burn out on the hills. I don’t know if that’s what really happened, but I was not last.

I knew the first half would be kind of hilly–I went to school here, and one look at the course map told me this is a challenging race. Especially six days after the (also hilly) Cap 10K and 36 hours after a crappy Thursday night workout. But the weather gods smiled on me and gave me 55* temps as we made our way to the steps of Gregory Gym to meet up with some other Rogues.

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The 10K started at 8:00, after the national anthem and “The Eyes of Texas.” The band was in the middle of “Wabash Cannonball” as I crossed the starting line. It was an uphill start–in fact the first half-mile was a roller coaster. Up 21st to University, down and up to MLK, down to San Jacinto.

It was difficult to miss the two water polo players running in their Speedos. They looked very … athletic.

The second mile wound around the football stadium (hello happy place!) and Bass Concert Hall (see you May 3rd for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!), down to 26th and north on Speedway. Even though some Rogue friends were cheering just before the turn, for me the toughest part of the course began here. Not only did it have a couple of steep hills, most of Speedway was out-and-back so the faster runners were coming back toward me as I was trudging my way out. This always makes me feel slow. But after I turned around at 45th Street, my outlook improved. More than halfway done, I faced more downhills than uphills, and I was able to pick up my pace a little each mile.

My Rogue friends waited at the top of the hill just before Mile 5, and that helped. This section made a little loop kind of around Kinsolving, and from there, we had a sweet descent on 26th to San Jacinto. I know this stretch pretty well from 3M–the Mustangs, the art building–then we looped around the traffic circle below the East Mall fountain. I passed a bunch of 5K walkers, including one group that was seven-wide.

Just after we turned back on to San Jacinto, in front of the football stadium and Ex-Students, I passed the 11:30 pacer. He was not running 11:30, but I still felt good about leaving him behind. Then we had one final turn–up 21st Street to the finish.

Yeah. Up.

I knew this was coming–this stretch of 21st is my route to and from every home football game. I’d taken it easy on some of the earlier hills so I’d have a little left for this one, so I turned the corner and charged up, passing a friend and dodging a few people that last .2.

Several Rogues stood at the corner of Speedway and 21st and cheered for me, which carried me through to the finish. I wasn’t sure how far back my friend was, but I didn’t want to relinquish my lead. And it turns out, even with the hill my last mile was my fastest. It wasn’t a PR, but I finished two minutes faster than last week’s Cap 10K time.

The finishers’ area steered us straight up the South Mall to the Tower, where every college student on the 40 Acres posed for pictures.

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We cut through the crowd and headed to Kerbey Lane for breakfast. Priorities.

 

Austin Cap 10K

For the first time in eleventy-nine races, I woke up to a morning temperature in the 40s. And it was glorious.

Our corral started at 8:30, so it was kind of a chilly wait. But once we started running, I was glad I’d worn short sleeves.

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As we started, we heard the announcer say that the first finisher had just come in. Which is both kind of demoralizing and impressive.

The first mile is a gradual incline, then it’s mostly either flat or downhill. But the Mile 2 marker is at the top of the wicked Enfield hill. Ever hear your grandparents say that they walked to school uphill both ways? Yeah, this one is uphill whether you are coming from the west like the Austin Half Marathon, or the east like Cap 10K and the Turkey Trot, and it is equally steep either way.

The third mile is the toughest–a steep downhill, then about half a mile uphill before kind of leveling off the rest of the way to Mopac. This was my slowest mile for good reason. Mile Four is not flat, but the hills don’t compare to the earlier ones.

It used to be pretty common to see people wearing funny costumes, but today I only saw a few. This one, a construction crane I saw right around the Mile 4 marker, nailed the state of things in Austin.

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The last two miles are the flattest of the race, running behind Austin High and along the lake to the First Street bridge. By then my legs were a little tired from the hills, but I maintained a pretty consistent pace. Then as I turned onto Riverside, I picked things up for the last .2. The Teenager had to be first so he ran a little ahead, but Spouse and I finished together.

I didn’t run it to PR the 10K distance–the hills make that super difficult–but I did want to perform well. And it turns out I ran my fastest Cap 10K. I was three minutes off my 10K PR, but this is a much tougher course. The past few years I’ve struggled during this race, so I am pleased with my results today.

And then there were medals.

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Congrats to all the finishers today–it was a great day to run!

Night and day

I don’t know what happened today. But I’ll take it.

My hip bothered me during both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s runs–in fact, Thursday I cut the workout way short because it felt pretty bad and I wanted to be able to run 12 miles on Saturday. My coach told me not to force 12 if it hurt, that I could still hit that distance another weekend before my upcoming half-marathon. But I wanted to make it happen, considering the last time I ran this route, I also had 12 on the schedule but dropped to 10 because I felt awful.

Both last weekend and today, because of my hip I adopted a run-walk strategy–three minutes of running to one minute of walking. It feels weird to take the early walk breaks, when I’m barely past the first cross street, but lots of people who have tried this say the early ones are important. Two of my BRFs ran with me and adopted the same strategy.

It was in the high 50s and windy and we started an hour before sunrise, so I felt pretty comfortable the first couple of miles. At the first water stop, I added my package of DripDrop to my handheld water bottle–hydration test #3. We plodded along for the next couple of miles, and I didn’t have any trouble restarting after each of the walk breaks. Much better than the last time I ran this route.

At the second water stop (mind you, these are just big coolers bike-chained to corner street signs) we were warned that one of the nearby neighbors was upset because people running past his house woke him up. Apparently he also threatened to turn his dog loose on us. No word on what he might have said to his next-door neighbor whose diesel truck made far more noise than a dozen running people.

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Unfortunately the way this route looped around the neighborhood, we had to pass his house at least three times.

Midway around the first loop, the three of us kind of drifted apart, with me as the caboose. Back at the water stop, the middle person stopped for water and two of us kept going, knowing we only had to go about half a mile before the turnaround. We got further separated as the rest of the run progressed, so for the last four miles or so I was on my own.

But I did okay. Later, looking at my Garmin data, I saw that my mile splits were fairly consistent the whole way. Doing the run-walk thing isn’t going to get me a half-marathon PR, but I finished feeling good. I skipped the last two walk breaks, and my last mile was my fastest. My hip was barely noticeable, and while I wouldn’t say it was easy, I felt like I could keep going. And the rest of the day, I practically forgot that I’d run 12 miles–I didn’t feel sore or anything. The difference from Thursday to Saturday was like night and day.

Considering the mental factor against me–my previous experience with this route–and the physical one of my hip, it easily could have gone to shit. But it didn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised!

The hydration experimentation

I don’t have a good track record of successful hydration.

After the debacle at Zooma, I have decided that this summer, I will get it under control. Since Sunday is April 1, that basically means we’re done with 50-degree running days, so now’s as good a time as any to start trying a few things.

But how on earth do I figure out what might work for me? There are so many options–gels, drink mixes, bars… most of which taste like cardboard. So I did some Googling reading and discovered there’s a lot more out there beyond Gatorade and GUs. I mean, I knew that, but I didn’t realize that these products don’t all do the same thing.

This article and this one both explain the concept of slower-acting carbohydrates and why traditional sports drinks lead to GI distress in some people, me included. Here’s the TL;DR version:

Here’s the back-story: As you run the marathon, your gut gets dehydrated and blood is shunted away from it to the working muscles. This is a positive for your muscles but is a big negative for your GI tract. It can no longer tolerate as concentrated or as much carbohydrate as it could earlier in the race. You hear this when runners mention that the gel or drink that tasted so good at mile 5 made them want to vomit at mile 20.

In this strategy, you aren’t using fast-acting carbohydrates that create the quick shuttling of carbohydrates from the gut to the blood stream (and creates the spike/crash cycle). Instead, you use slow-absorbing carbohydrates that maintain a steady blood glucose level and are kinder on a dehydrated GI tract.

It kind of goes along with my earlier strategy of using real food–Fig Newtons, pretzels, etc. as running fuel–but I never really found the right combination to make carrying all of that stuff worthwhile. Since hydration and GI issues continue to plague me (sometimes simultaneously), this slow-carb concept seems right in my wheelhouse.

Some more reading and I’ve narrowed my search down to three products.

The first is Tailwind, which is both fuel and hydration. You’re supposed to sip it a little at a time during an endurance event, not chug it at an aid station like Gatorade, and supposedly it’s more gentle on the GI tract. It’s also a fuel source, so it covers all the bases and eliminates the need for gels, etc. I tried the Naked Unflavored first, which tasted a bit like diluted seawater, but the caffeinated green tea flavor was tolerable at least at first when it was cold. After a few miles it got warm (even in an insulated handheld bottle) and tasted less appealing though, so I’m not sure whether it will work for me through the summer. But one test does not a decision make, so I will give it some more trials.

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Tailwind Green Tea Buzz

I have to say that the company’s introdcution cracked me up. “The three most traumatic moments in my stomach’s career: Spring Break Palm Springs ’91, Lechuguilla at the bottom of the Copper Canyon ‘93, and Gel #6 Leadville ’04.” Gotta love someone with a sense of humor about barfing.

The second product I’m trying is Generation UCAN. It’s designed to deliver electrolytes evenly to prevent the blood sugar spike that faster-acting carbs provide, and as a result is more gentle on the stomach. This one is an electrolyte-only, which means I still have to use gels or other fuel sources, but I like the Skratch gummy gels and don’t find that to be a significant turnoff.

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UCAN lemon lime

I tried a serving of the lemon-lime UCAN Hydrate during an 85-degree workout, and found that it tasted pretty good even after it got a little warm. Huge plus, considering my flavor pickiness. They have a buy-one-get-one-free promotion going on through tomorrow and I’m tempted to stock up (I’m a sucker for a discount), but since I’ve only tried it once I’m not sure I want to to double down on it without more testing on longer runs.

My third experiment is with DripDrop. I hadn’t even heard of this or come across it in any of my research, but a training friend (who’s a pediatric ICU nurse) brought some to a workout this week and shared it with all of us.

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DripDrop

I had just mixed up my UCAN though, and didn’t try it, so I’ve put the DripDrop in my bag to test out during tomorrow’s long run. Their website doesn’t specify that it’s a slow-acting carb like the others I’ve researched, but it explains the science behind delivering rehydration via the small intestine, which is the same way Tailwind and UCAN work. And since it’s formulated for children, I’m thinking it’s gentle on the stomach as well. Like I said, I’m weird about tastes, though, so that will be a big factor when I do try it.

All three are more expensive than traditional hydration and fueling products like Gatorade. A package of 12 Tailwind packs (two servings per pack) is $30 on Amazon Prime. Like I said, UCAN Hydrate is $25 per container (30 servings) plus shipping, and for another day is buy-one-get-one-free from their website. With Amazon Prime the 30-serving container is $28.95. DripDrop’s website sells an 8-serving box (each package mixes with 8oz of water) for $9.99 or Subscribe and Save for $7.99. Amazon Prime‘s page is confusing–it says there are two sizes–a four-count box for $10.99 and an eight-count box, also for $10.99. Why anyone would pay the same price for four as eight is beyond me, but Amazon can be weird so I’m not sure what’s really happening there.

All this to say that my Stage One trials are underway on these three products. Summer lasts half the year here, so I have some time to tinker with them and see what works. And if all else fails, I still have a small supply of Zofran to pick up the pieces. 😀

Stay tuned.

Spring has sprung

Yeah, I know some parts of the country got a foot of snow yesterday, but not Texas. It’s pollening here, though, if that makes y’all feel better.

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But no school cancellations

Fortunately I’m one of about twelve people in Austin not really affected by seasonal allergies. But the bane of my running existence, heat, is already here–it was 68* and 100% humidity for yesterday’s run–and it’s only gonna get warmer. Pretty soon I will be wishing for 68* mornings.

Still, I have races this spring: two local 10Ks on consecutive weekends in April, then the Steel Challenge in Pittsburgh the first weekend in May.

This Saturday I had ten miles on the schedule. While (for once) my legs didn’t feel sore and tired, my hip hurt so I modified it to a run-walk most of the way. I actually set my Garmin alerts (3:00 running to 1:00 walking) so I wouldn’t walk too much, because we all know I can easily default to lazy. It was a hilly route, and of course hills exacerbated the discomfort, so sometimes I ran through a walk break if the road was flat or downhill, then walked through some of the running interval if the incline was especially steep. Overall I kept the 3:1 balance pretty well, then foam-rolled and lacrosse-balled the hell out of the hip muscles the rest of the weekend.

Today I looked at my calendar and realized that March is almost over. How did that happen so fast? I feel like that scene from Top Gun: Where’d he go? Where’d WHO go?

Where’d March go? It seems like I just got back from my February NJHS trip, yet here we are a week away from the last grading period of the school year.

So I had to think about my April training schedule:

 

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Yeah, that is a 5:15 AM flight… :/

Because I have those back-to-back 10K races, I don’t think I can get more than two 12-milers done before May 5-6. I’ve learned that tacking on mileage before or after a race is not for me, so I instead I’ll just consider the race effort enough to offset the shorter distance. I will shoot for 12 next weekend and again in mid-April.

I don’t worry about jumping from 10K to 12 miles because it’s not like this is the first time I’m reaching those distances–I ran a half two weeks ago. But I am concerned about a different kind of back-to-back: the fact that the Pittsburgh event is a 5K on Saturday and a half on Sunday. Last year when I was training for Cleveland’s version of this, I completed my regular long run on Saturday, then instead of an easy 1.5 or 2 mile recovery run on Sunday, I went out for 3-4 miles with a little more intensity. I haven’t been doing that this spring, for a bunch of reasons. The good news is that Pittsburgh’s first race is a 5K (Cleveland’s was an 8K) that I won’t really be racing, so it’s slightly less demanding. Still, I’d like to be more prepared than I feel right now–although that could just be the Zooma hangover talking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shovel some pollen off my driveway.

Reflections after a difficult race (AKA Zooma follow-up)

When I shared my Zooma race report earlier this week, I got a bunch of comments I wasn’t expecting. Many were supportive, but others (vitually) rolled their eyes and said I was whining or need to toughen up. It’s always interesting to see how people perceive me through the words I write, which I didn’t think all that many people read to begin with. 😉 Fair enough. I try not to sugarcoat my experiences when I post race reports, but I recognize that this one certainly fell on the negative side.

Still, reading the responses got me thinking about how to rebound from a race that went awry. Yes, I trained for the race and the hills, but what should I do going forward to improve?

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Zooma was my 17th half marathon. I’ve run about half of them slower and half of them faster, in temperatures ranging from 35 degrees to 85. I’ve run a couple when I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted (due to injury) but for most of them, I’ve done the work leading into the race. I’m slow and not a distance badass, but I’m stubborn. Preparing for Zooma, I had to miss a few days of training at the end of February due to a work trip, but other than that I followed my training plan. I’d run 3M in January, so I had the ability to complete the 13.1 distance well before Zooma. But 3M didn’t go very well either, in similarly-warm weather conditions. In my defense, a few days before that race it was 15* and schools were closed because of ice. February’s high temps were a bit warmer overall, and certainly it was humid and unpleasant during some of our quality workouts, but there were enough cooler days mixed in that I really didn’t acclimate to the warmer stuff we saw on race day.

So yeah, my performance definitely correlates to race-day temperatures. My half-marathon PR came on a day barely above freezing. I think it was actually below freezing the day I ran my 10K PR. And I ran a 5K PR a couple of weeks ago when it was in the 40s. But on the other hand, I’ve now been sick twice from overheating after a too-warm race. The first one was three or four years ago, yet despite similar conditions and post-race health, my finishing time was 30 minutes faster at Zooma. Clearly the last several years of training have been effective in the long game. But I still have work to do.

So what does my training look like? Core class on Mondays, quality workouts with Rogue Cedar Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, long run on Saturdays and a recovery run on Sundays. I sometimes run on Wednesdays–adding the second quality workout in December took some adjustment, and for a while I was recovering on Wednesdays with lighter activities like walking the dog, although sometimes I did nothing at all–but the rest I’m pretty religious about. Now that it’s staying light later, I’ll go back to running 2-3 miles in the evening after core class as well. As far as terrain, when I run from my house, it’s mostly flat; Rogue routes vary between flat and hilly, and we run on both the road and at the track. Mileage-wise, I generally run 95-105 miles per month. Not bad. But I have several relatively hilly (although not on the Zooma scale) races coming up this spring, so I need to add in a few dedicated hill workouts in addition to those I do with Rogue. Since the May event is a 5K on Saturday and a half on Sunday, I also plan to increase my Sunday mileage to prepare for that back-to-back element.

Next, can I improve time and effort? I work a full-time job (at work by 7am) and on Rogue days I get home with just enough time to change clothes and head out again. I already wake up at 5:45, and don’t have any more evening time to give. So I try to maximize my return from the workouts I do–most Rogue workouts include a 1-1.5 mile warmup, then some kind of shorter speed repeats, and the same distance back. This winter, my weekday quality workouts averaged about 6.5 miles each, and I don’t have a lot left when I’m done, except sore legs. When the plan calls for 3-4 repeats, I do four–I rarely do just the minimum or baseline, and I don’t miss Saturday long runs even when I want nothing more than to sleep late. I think I have a pretty decent work ethic, although I will cop to the rare evening when I’m just too tired and I take an unplanned rest day.

What about fuel and hydration? Well, I struggle with the latter not because I find it difficult to drink enough. It’s the effects of drinking enough. I teach 90-minute classes back-to-back and can’t just leave a room full of 7th graders while I visit the restroom, so I have to be smart about how much I drink and how often. After 20+ years I have this down to something of a science, but it’s an imperfect science nonetheless. During races I take water at every stop, but I don’t carry my own–maybe that’s something I need to start doing for warm races. I don’t usually have hydration issues on training runs, though. As far as fuel, I eat reasonably well–a protein bar for breakfast, a salad with chicken for lunch, and usually something easy like grilled cheese or tacos after I get home from my run. My sweet tooth is part of the reason I run, though. 😉 I have experimented with race fueling for a while, and I found success with Skratch gels during long runs–I guess they just weren’t enough to combat the temps of Saturday’s race. Perhaps continued tweaking is necessary in that department.

So while I feel like I do a lot of things pretty well, at least in my physical training, that’s not to say I should just throw up my hands and declare I can’t possibly do anything better because it was all the race’s or venue’s fault. By definition, self-reflection means considering my own behaviors and attitudes. For example, I’ve lived in Austin most of my life and I’ve been running here for seven years–I should be used to running in the heat, but obviously I still struggle with it. So since I can’t control the weather, somehow I need to improve my mental game–my response to tough conditions. Negativity is one of my biggest downfalls (shocking, huh?). My coach always says “We love hills!” and I growl. But the other day I was listening to Ali on the Run‘s interview of Gabe Grunewald–do you know her story? She’s a young professional runner who has been diagnosed with cancer four times. The most recent, I think she said Stage 4 on her liver, is inoperable, but instead of focusing on the zillion negatives inherent in a diagnosis like that, she has the most positive outlook. She keeps running and training through treatment because if she’s feeling well, she wants to be ready to race. She said something about no matter what happens in her future, she wants to live now with no regrets.

Sometimes it’s easier not to fight when things get tough, but if you keep pushing, great things can happen. – Gabe Grunewald

I recommend listening to the whole episode–she’s so inspiring, it humbled me that my biggest running complaint was that I felt like shit after a half-marathon last weekend.

Someone asked if I run because it’s easy or because it’s hard. And after some thought, I guess my answer is both, and neither. As a former couch potato I appreciate the physical challenge, I value the milestones I achieve in pace and distance, and I love the community of runners I’ve joined. There are days when every step is difficult, and it’s both exhausting and rewarding to finish a tough workout or race. But damn, I don’t want everything to be hard. I want to enjoy the time on my feet too. The destination and the journey.

With that, I’m going out for a run.


This post also appeared on Texas Running Post.