Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taking out the trash

I recently read an article titled: Rethinking Junk Miles. The article caught my eye, because the term "junk miles" really gets under my skin. For the article, the author redefined the term as "recovery runs". He discussed how so-called recovery runs can be useful to runners who run more than 4 days/week or who have high weekly mileage. Apparently even Kenyans use these long, slow runs to aid in "freshening up the legs" after hard workouts.

Ok, that's good and all, but let's go back to the original term "junk miles". Because that's where I get stuck. I have to admit that most of my runs are without purpose. I head out the door on my runs with a mileage goal, but I let the rest of the run be dictated by how I feel. So does this mean most of my miles are what are considered "junk miles"?

I don't stick to a formal training plan. Seems too much like work to me. The only planning I do is when I'm training for a race. I throw in a long run every week because I need the miles. And because I do like to run far.

I don't do much speedwork, unless the weather forces me onto the treadmill. Which happens at least once/week during the winter. Those intervals really help break up the monotony; makes the time pass quickly.

Tempo runs? Or as Runners World calls them: "comfortably hard runs"? An oxymoron if I've ever heard one. I don't purposely plan on on tempo runs but I guess I do them, because there are days when I hit the pavement and feel like I'm flying. And fly I do. Once I get going, I push myself to maintain that speedy pace. Never planned, but mission accomplished, in a way...

Fartleks? If I eat something obnoxious before I run I have GI issues...oh wait, TMI, that isn't a fartlek. Fartlek is Swedish for "speed play". I suppose I do fartleks too (lol!--sorry, farts are funny) --sprinting fast to a short destination, like the sign or tree up ahead, and then taking time to recover before I do it all over again.

But truth be told almost all of my runs are unplanned. I go with what my legs give me that day. I run because I love it. I run because I think it's fun. Some days, obviously, it is not. Some days it really sucks. But there is always the next run. I look forward to my runs as a release, as time to lose myself in the pace and the music, and as time for myself.

And would following a training plan really make a difference in my finish times? I'm not discounting training plans but I'm not an elite athlete. I followed a training plan for my Chicago Marathon, and look where that got me. Crashed and burned. Hindsight may be 20/20, but I seem to do my best when I listen to my body.

I get it, too many easy runs can affect a runner's finish times. But we need those "easy" runs, if for nothing else to remind us of why we became runners in the first place.

Junk miles? I hate to think of any of my miles as junk. Junk implies that those miles are garbage, worthless, useless. No matter how I run, fast or slow, short or far, my miles never feel wasteful. Sorry. Running isn't my job. It's my passion.

Ok runners, how about you? What do you think about "junk miles"? Are you pretty strict about your training? Or do you just wing it, like me?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Never satisfied


But what if your dream comes true, your goals are achieved, but you want more?

That would be me.

I don't know what makes me tick, but I have always been one to push my limits--in running and in life.

Big life goals I've achieved so far include becoming a mom twice after 2 IVF cycles; becoming a nurse practitioner; and running a marathon. A lot of people my age are starting to sit back and take stock of their lives, slowing down.

I haven't gotten to that stage yet. Maybe I never will.

I've talked about my dissatisfaction with that one marathon, Chicago, where I crashed and burned. This week, watching all the drama surrounding the Boston marathon, I started to toy with the idea of another marathon. Actually, I've been toying with the idea of another marathon for a while.

Huge goal alert:
What I'd really love to do is BQ. I can just hear my husband groaning in the background. Actually I haven't even told him this. I won't. And I don't think this is a goal that is achievable for me. At my age, the BQ qualifying time is 4:00:00. My PB for a half is 1:54, and that was a few years ago. Even using my most recent best half, last November, which was 1:58, my predicted marathon time is 4:07. That would be under the best of circumstances, weather perfect, nerves under control, training impeccable, no injuries.

I just don't think a BQ is in my future. It will never happen. 

But I can't lie. I have Boston Envy.

Do you?

How do I move past this? My dissatisfaction with my one and only marathon, my desire to achieve the unachievable, accept my limitations, and be satisfied? My husband always asks me that question: why can't you just be content?

Can I? I wish I could! Or should I push it?

I'm running my best of my life right now. I laugh...who does that at 51?

My husband and I talked about this tonight. His response: "I really hate to say this but this is most likely the best it is going to get. You need to prepare yourself for the downside. You aren't always going to be able to run like this."

Yep, I'm married to Debbie Downer. 

But inside of me, a little voice tells me he's right. Hard to be an aging runner. Hard to be aging period.

The whole aching toe thing seems to be a sign...

But I say to him...who runs their best at my age? I should have peaked 10 years ago. What's changed? Why now?

Because I'm just not ready to hang it up. Because I took up heavy lifting. Because I refuse to grow up.

Here's the plan. I'll run my planned halfs this year and go from there.

If it all goes well, and I keep running like I have been, then maybe, just maybe, I'll talk to Becky about training me for a spring 2015 marathon. With a goal of 4:00.

You all know I've been doing crossfit. I believe that is what has made the difference in my running. At this point, I don't think I can do traditional marathon training. I need to preserve my body. The longest run the crossfit regimens do is a 16 miler. Yeah, I know all about the mental advantage of the long run. Been there, done that.

Yep. I've made up my mind. I have nothing to lose.

So if I continue to run strong...I'll go for it. If not, I'll accept that it isn't in the cards and move on. I guess.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Liar liar pants on fire


Yesterday, while perusing my running pages on Facebook, I came across this post:

Look closely. What do these 4 runners have in common?

If you noticed that they are all wearing the same bib number, you are a winner!

The story behind this post is that the runner in all her excitement about running Boston, posted her bib on Instagram the night before the marathon. Yesterday while going through her race photos, pictures of these runners along with her pictures came up. At that point, she realized what happened. Obviously, these 4 runners made their own bibs out out her picture and ran the race. And took medals at the finish! 

Now being the intrepid journalist that I am, I looked up her finish time, and it was a very respectable 3:31:41. But whose finish time was it, really? Actually, the bandits wouldn't have been timed because they didn't have a chip. But still?

Who does this?

Runners are notoriously honest. To a fault, when asked our finish times after a race, we quote it down to the last second. For example, a runner would answer about a marathon time like this: "oh, I finished that race in 3:14:159265359". Because that's how we are.

But there are dishonest runners, just like any other sport. And so I bring you:


"Why run when I can take the train?"
In 1980, Rosie Ruiz completed the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:31:56. Apparently after starting the race, she hopped on the subway and exited close to finish line, where she crossed first. Suspicions mounted as no one on the racecourse recalled seeing her run. In addition, stories swirled about her qualifying race in the New York City Marathon as well.

"You wanted bling?"
Outside magazine named this man, Dean Reinke, the shadiest man in the racing business. Reinke has a road race company, USRA, but has failed to deliver several times, taking runners' money and cancelling the races. Races that have been run log long lists of complaints from shoddy race amenities to failure of USRA to pay its bills and the charities it promotes. The article is long but a great read.

"No one remembers their first time"
Paul Ryan, who ran as Mitt Romney's VP candidate in 2012, is not shy about his dedication to fitness. He ran Grandma's marathon in 1990, and when asked about his finish time, claimed to not remember his exact time, but estimated it was "under three, high twos". After an investigation by Runner's World magazine, he actually admitted to a finish time of 4:01.

"In my mind, I've run a marathon in every state"
Kip Litton is a Michigan dentist who has posted multiple impressive marathon times; sub 3 hour times. The problem is that other racers never saw him on the race course. The New Yorker wrote a lengthy but again very interesting expose on Litton. In addition to multiple disqualifications for shortcutting races, some of his reported marathon finish times were for races that never happened; races that were made up! Nothing has ever been proven but his marathon prowess doesn't seem to add up.

There are other stories, but these are the most notorious of late. And how about bandits? Peter Segal, a regular Runners World contributer, confessed several years ago that he has banditted many races. His argument is that banditting is not equivalent to theft, that there are no victims, and that since running is all about fellowship, he just was joining in the fun. Sigh. I don't agree. And I'd say these runners who stole the bib number are pretty stealthy bandits indeed. Amby Burfoot, probably one of the most well known and humble distance runners of our time, wrote a beautiful essay several years ago for the New York Times. And I quote: 

"For true distance runners, to lie about time or distance is to lie to ourselves, to diminish the importance of the many sacrifices we make to reach the starting line. Focus and discipline form the core of a runner’s being; they are what make us put on a reflective vest and run six miles into the sleet at 6 on a dark winter morning."

"As aging marathoners, we know that our slowing times don’t diminish us. Like many of our friends, we run and compete for personal reasons. We have learned to take the measure of ourselves, and not to let others define who we are."
and this:

"When we run, we will ourselves to be the best we can be. That is all that matters. Our tribe expects nothing less."

Runners who cheat, who lie, hurt all of us. Wouldn't it be great to see this?

What do you think about runners who cheat? Do they hurt all runners, the sport of running, or just themselves? Have you ever banditted (is that a word?) a race? How do you feel about people who bandit? 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

CARA Lakefront 10 miler race recap

The CARA Lakefront 10 miler is hands down one of my favorite races. First of all...the distance. I love the 10 mile distance. I don't know why. But it feels good to me. I can go all out and still function the rest of the day. And second of all, it's a relatively small race--this one had less than 1500 participants. But the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) puts on a quality race for its runners and this year was no exception.

When I ran this one 3 years ago, it was a gloomy, rainy, 40 degree day. Not so this year. The sun was shining and it was 45 degrees at race time. There was a brisk northeast wind off Lake Michigan, and we were all pretty chilled while we waited for the starting gun to go off. The national anthem was sung beautifully, and unlike my last race, no one talked through it. After that, we were off!

We first headed north on the lakefront path towards Foster Beach. I ran gingerly, as I was so afraid of the return of that big toe pain that plagued me earlier in the week. I almost didn't run this one, because I feared that I would suffer a serious injury to that toe. I consulted with the sports medicine doctor at work, who agreed with me that it was a flare of arthritis. He prescribed Volaren gel, which is an NSAID, much like ibuprofen. I started using it, but didn't really notice much of a difference. Later in the week, I worked with Becky at my weekly crossfit session, and she kinesio taped my foot, hoping to promote lymphatic drainage from the toe. Heck, I would have tried voodoo at that point. I took it easy the rest of the week and hoped to run my race. I've never DNS'd or DNF'd and I didn't want to start now. Although there is a first time for everything, right?

Fortunately, today was not that day. Initially, I found myself running gingerly for quite a while. I was very conscious of my feet placement the entire race. I watched the ground for anything that might throw me off. I cautiously ran the tangents, not to strain the inside of my left foot. As the race progressed, my confidence grew. I felt myself letting go as the miles passed.

One of the "highlights" of the race included some random hill after mile 3. It was either a garbage hill or a dirt pile covered with grass. It was weird, because we ran off the path, through a field, and up this very steep hill, and back down to the path. Worried about my foot, this "trail run" made me nervous. Chicago is really flat, so the course planners must have had a little fun with this one. Once we were back on terra firma, I felt better. We circled around again and finally headed south towards Lincoln Park. As we passed the Peggy Notebaert nature museum, just north of the Lincoln Park Zoo, around mile 6, I stopped to gel. I had no trouble ripping open the package, which I had forgotten to cut prior to the race. But as it was cold out, the gel was really thick and I had some issues choking it down. When I took sips of water, the gel solidified in my mouth, and it was not a pleasant sensation. I finally got it down and began to run again, but cursed myself for wasting most likely 2 minutes with this process. I have to learn to gel!

Source: chicago park district website

We headed back north along the lakefront path and through Diversey Harbor. Although there were very few boats in in the harbor, there were 2 guys rowing skiffs and a guy in a wet suit on a standup paddleboard! Getting a head start on the season, I suppose. As I ran through this beautiful part of the city, I reflected on how lucky I am to live near such a great city. While I had these thoughts, my legs felt lighter than ever, and I began passing people! The gel must have kicked in and I was glad I took the time to choke it down. I passed the people I had been running behind prior to stopping to gel, and kept going. At mile 9, I kicked it into high gear, and flew to the finish line. I don't know where that came from, because in all the years I have been racing, that has never happened to me before! I saw the clock at the finish line, which read 1:29:30 and pushed even harder. I crossed the finish line triumphantly with a huge smile on my face.

My chip time? 1:28:38. Good enough for 8/61 place in my age group, 166/743 of all women, and 507/1531 overall. I could not be happier!

The post race party was great with food from Noodles and other suppliers, but for me the highlight was the post race beer, which was Lagunitas IPA. Yep at 930am, too! I rarely take advantage of the post race beer because it is usually something crappy like Michelob Ultra or Miler 64. Really, why bother? The Lagunitas was fantastic. There is a tasting room in the works for Chicago, and I plan on visiting it very soon.

Final reflections on this race and in general: This is one of the few races I have done more than once. The course wasn't bad, my only complaints were that weird hill in the middle of no where, and some crazy looping around. Once we were running south towards Fullerton, it felt like I could really let loose. The lakefront path is beautiful, but a little dicey at spots where the pavement is broken up. There is a limestone section which is great on the feet. The views of the lake and the Chicago skyline never fail to mesmerize me, even after all these years!

And from a personal perspective, I feel so lucky that I was able to run this race yesterday. Whether it was my new shoes, the kinesio taping job by Becky, the Voltaren gel from the sports med doc at work--I'm so grateful that I could get it done and have a finish time I'm proud of!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring is here! Spring is here! Did I say spring is here?

I run outside all year long. This past winter was the worst I've ever run, in my 20+ years as a runner. Never have I been so cold and frustrated by the weather. Looking back, I truly can't believe how few times I actually had to take it to the treadmill. I used the cold weather as an excuse to do weekly intervals on the 'mill, otherwise my 3 other weekly runs were outside. I logged some pretty significant mileage too, as I was training for my spring break half marathon, the Florida Halfathon. Training in cold, snowy weather isn't really adequate when you are planning on running in a tropical climate. But I did get the miles in and that's that. You do the best you can, right?

But now, it seems like the weather is finally turning! We've had a string of seasonal temperatures this week--could it be the real thing? This morning I ran outside for 6.5 miles. It was 58 degrees when I started, and I was wearing shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt. Clearly I am not acclimated to even these temperatures and the first mile was tough as I struggled to find my breath! But as I eased into a nice sub-9 minute mile pace, I listened to my music, relaxed, enjoyed, and made some observations about spring in my neighborhood.

1. Early spring is UGLY here. The trees are bald, the grass is brown, there are patches of dried mud everywhere. But the daffodils and tulips are peeking through the dirt. The grass is, as my father in law likes to say, "greenin' up".

2. There's a lot of garbage on the ground. Everywhere I ran in my neighborhood, the parkways were clogged with crap. Coffee cups, pop cans, beer bottles, airplane vodka bottles, cigarette packs, condom wrappers, dog name it. Do people throw this stuff out of their cars? Well, except for the dog poop. Oh, but I did find 30 cents on the ground, so they can keep throwing money out the window!

3. Spring is WINDY! Warmer weather comes on the flow of gusty winds from the south. My mile splits reflected this. Any time a large portion of my run headed south or west, my mile times were a little slower. With the wind at my back, I flew like I had wings! I should have gone point to point today. Don't know how I'd get home though...

4. 58 degrees here is not the same as 58 degrees in Florida. When I ran on those cooler days in Florida, I still heated up quite a bit. Not so much here. It has to do something with the position of the sun in the sky, I'm sure.

5. The geese are back and they are leaving poop everywhere! My neighborhood route takes me by a small apartment complex where there is a pond, and the geese congregate there. Running on that sidewalk is an exercise in agility as I try not to step in any goose droppings. Ick. And if I get too close to the geese, they hiss at me. Sssssssss....

6. On the other hand, the mallard couples are sweet. They walk around in pairs and don't seem to be as annoying as the geese.

7. Today was garbage day. AKA squirrel feeding day in my 'hood. There are a ton of very obese squirrels in my neighborhood. They make a huge mess, digging through the garbage bags. And they are aggressive. My dog barked at a squirrel one day and that squirrel gave poor Cleo a piece of his mind. She came back to the house, tail between her legs.

8. Mrs Kravitz alert: Newspapers are piling up in front of the widow's front door across the street from me. She's always been really unfriendly to all of her neighbors and none of us know where she is. I hope she's ok.

9. The landscape trucks are back. The workers were doing a spring clean up in someone's yard. They were mowing and the fresh cut grass smelled good!

10. Moms and little kids were at the parks, swinging on swings and playing on the climbers.

Like the slow arrival of spring, I'm hoping that I too will acclimate and be ready for my summer races and running. It sure felt good to be out there today!

Has spring sprung where you are? What are seeing now that the snow is gone? How long does it take you to acclimate to the warmer temperatures?

Monday, April 7, 2014


What happens when you've had a bad race?

You've done the training. Your training went well. You feel well prepared.

You line up with the other runners. A little pre-race jitters, nothing more than usual. You begin to run. 

But you know, after a few miles, that this isn't going to be one of your best. Not even close. What do you do?

Do you stop? Or push through it and try to salvage what you can? Maybe start to analyze what's happening and try to learn from it?

We've all been there. I've had a few bad races myself. Most recently, my Florida Halfathon, which was one of the hardest races I've ever run. Heat, humidity, and travel all combined to make it my slowest half marathon. This one didn't disappoint me too much, though, because in spite of my poor finish time, I finished strong. I found some inner strength that I didn't even know I had! So in spite of a bad day, I found something to be positive about. 

Contrast that with my one and only marathon, the Chicago Marathon that I ran in 2011. I did the work and yet crashed and burned. I blamed it on the weather, which was hot and humid. I blamed on on the leg cramps that plagued me from mile 14 onward. I blamed it on my nerves. I blamed it on my lack of sleep, my parents' 50th anniversary party the night before. Oh, there was plenty of blame to spread around. But really, it just wasn't my day to run a marathon. I fell apart. I called my husband, crying, at mile 19, to pick me up. I walked. A lot. It was not pretty.

For months after that race, I was in a tailspin. My confidence was shot. And yes, I ran a marathon, but not the race I wanted to run. Not the race I envisioned. And not the race I trained for. When people asked me what my finish time was, I always gave a vague answer: "oh, 5:20-ish". I was depressed.

Post marathon depression is a real thing. Jenny Hadfield wrote a great article in Runner's World describing the 6 signs of PMD: 

  • Comparison shopping and minimizing your marathon accomplishment
  • Lacking interest in setting a new goal
  • Feelings of sadness, pessimism, and worthlessness
  • Feeling lost without your training
  • Not able to see the light through the fog
  • Rounding your marathon time down--"I ran around 5 hours for a 5:55 finish
Well, doesn't this sound familiar?!
It took me a long time to get over myself. Adding insult to injury was a stress fracture that I developed in my foot several months after the marathon. I was in a boot for 6 weeks, and there was no running. I bought a road bike, and began riding long distances, which really helped me feel better. There's nothing better than going fast! 

I was also diagnosed with Lyme disease that summer, and that really impeded my return to running. But by November, I completed my first 5 mile run. It felt great and I was ready to take on some new challenges! I signed up for the Wisconsin half marathon for the following May. The race was tough for me, but I finished in a respectable 2:01. 

I've run a few more races since then. Today, I feel good about where my running is at. Yet I still have that BAD marathon hanging over my head. I'd love to redeem myself, but everytime I finish a half, I remind myself that a marathon would be another half more! I don't know if I have it in me to run another marathon. And what if that one is disappointing too? Do I want to commit to the training time, to the punishment that marathon training puts on my body? Would it be worth it?

How do I accept that I did my best, even though to me, my best wasn't good enough? 

That even though my finish time was slow, I can take claim to being a marathoner?

I quote from Jenny's article: One runner's personal worst is another's personal best. 

Ultimately, no matter how far we run, how fast we run, every finished race is an accomplishment. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

This moment brought to you by running.

Well, so it was back to reality this week. Sometimes I wonder if it is even worth going on vacation, because the landing back to the real world is not always a soft one. The bad weather we are currently having is one thing, but after relaxing, running, and generally doing nothing for 9 days, going back to work and juggling responsibility is tough. On Monday, I hit the ground running and saw 26 patients. That night my son had a football game (indoor 7 on 7 league). I also hit the side of the garage with my car and broke my mirror. Ugh. Hello, life, I'm back!

Anyways, today is my day off, and I woke up with a migraine. I had planned a 6 miler today but when I looked outside it was pouring rain. Lightning was flashing, and the wind was howling. I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and contemplated life and going back to bed. I struggled mentally with the idea of running on the treadmill. I took some ibuprofen and got the boys off to school. Then I made my way to the 'mill. I decided to go easy and run for an hour.

The first mile was tough, but it usually is, and after that my legs lightened up. I began to count down the minutes. I divided the hour into fractions. At 15 minutes, I'm 1/4 of the way through. At 20 minutes, I'm 1/3 of the way. At 30 minutes, my mind was begging me to stop. I got off to use the bathroom and got back on, telling my brain to hush. After that I started counting down songs. Less than 10 songs to go. Finally, I got to 60 minutes. But the mileage meter read 6:44. OCD kicked in! Decision time: do I stop at one hour or go to 6.5 miles?  Of course, I pushed for another 30 seconds to get to 6.5 miles. I AM PATHETIC. But I got it done.

Kind of like my treadmill this morning! 
But wait? Pathetic? Am I? Really?

This drive, this perseverance, this desire to never give up translates over to my life so well. Several times this week, I saw examples of how running makes me perform so well in my job. Earlier this week, I saw one of my patient's moms in a room. The older child was seeing one of my partners. I stopped to say hi, and the mom told me she asked the partner to see the baby too, because she was sick, but was told no. I told her I'd see the baby, to tell the front desk to add her to my (already full) schedule. A sick visit is usually a quick visit, and it didn't seem right to make the mom come back later or the following day, since she was already there. No big deal, right? To me, it wasn't. To the mom it was, and she let everyone know it.

Today, I received a letter from the president of our medical group. The mother of a patient I saw last month contacted him because she was pleased with the care given to her by one of my partners and me. When I saw her son, I made a plan, but felt like I was missing something, and discussed it my partner. My partner suggested adding one other test, which turned out to be the right test for the diagnosis. Because of this, I was able to properly treat the patient and he is doing great. I was happy to get it right and do the best for my patient. But this letter was the icing on the cake.

That's what I'm talking about. Drive, perseverance, endure, resolve, never giving up. Brought to you and your life by running.