Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Knees - Runner's Cocktail

Well, this is just getting silly. No sooner had my knee decided to partially cooperate in my marathon training than I go down with a Christmas cold. Bah humbug - I've been "resting" but am going out again tomorrow come what may. Frankly, I need perfect health for the next 9 weeks or I'm really snookered.

In the meantime, I have discovered that I can mix this juice I told you about with alcohol and claim it's a healthy necessity :)
Well, what the heck, it is New Year's Eve.

Happy Knees Cocktail
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • splash of vodka* (berry flavor is good)
  • splash of cointreau*
  • top up with Elations juice, or a mix of apple & cranberry.
*The size of the splashes is entirely up to you. I won't tell.
Here's to a very happy (and please, please, healthy) New Year!

Photo thanks: Ilker

Sunday, December 27, 2009

How to know if you're hooked on running

Do any of these tell-tale signs apply in your life?
  • On big days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, you squeeze in a morning run and end up burning more calories that day than you eat.
  • Your most expensive piece of 'jewelry' is your GPS watch.
  • You turn down Friday night social invitations so you can be up bright and early for your long run on Saturday.
  • When you get sick or injured, you act like an abandoned puppy until you're well enough to run again.
  • You have lucky socks that you save for special runs and races.
  • The best thing about time off work for Christmas is all that extra daylight running available to you.
Well, I'm totally hooked, and that's OK, I'm loving it. Yesterday I managed a long slow distance run of 14 miles, and while my knee started whispering very gently for the last mile, it's absolutely fine today. So I'm still in with a chance of at least being able to start the Napa marathon with 2 working legs.

However, time is getting tight and I won't be able to do as much total training as I would like. But hey, the last few miles of a marathon are supposed to be grim, aren't they? I'd hate to miss out on the full experience. :)

Photo thanks: Ariel da Silva Parreira

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I want that T-shirt

I definitely don't count amongst the world's stylish runners. Usually, I fall out of bed, locate something almost-clean and weather-appropriate, and off I trot.

So when I come across clever people with inspirational quotes on their gear, I take note. Here are a few I've seen that I love and would love to own. Have you any to add?

I run for chocolate.

The will to win is important.
But the will to prepare is vital.

Does my butt look fast in this?

Because 26.2 is too far.
(seen at a half marathon)

Run with friends, it's cheaper than therapy
by See Jane Run.

Today I was thrilled to do another 8 pain-free miles. The fresh and breezy weather here really blew the cobwebs away and reminded me why I got hooked on this sport in the first place. I'm planning a short outing on Thursday (maybe some very gentle intervals) and then Saturday will be long, slow distance to see whether there's life in the old knee yet.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cautiously hopeful

Well, it looks like the very pleasant people at Fleet Feet Sports might know a thing or two about running with a dodgy knee.

I'm cautiously pleased to report that I managed 4 pain-free miles on Friday and another 7 this morning. I can only assume that the surprisingly low-tech piece of velcro I bought is doing the trick. And I'm trying not to think about the cost-per-inch of my new friend. But hey, if it's doing it's job, who cares?

I totally realize that there is a huge difference between 7 miles and 26 in just 11 weeks. And I've clearly lost a lot of fitness (as my high heart rate to achieve an 11-minute-mile pace demonstrated). But I'm thrilled to be out running again and even if the odds are still pretty long, at least I'm not throwing in the towel just yet.

Needless to say I'll be proceeding with extreme caution. If you see anyone out running with bubble-wrap on their knees, please wave and say Hi. :)

Image thanks: Ilco

Friday, December 18, 2009

All I want for Christmas is a healthy pair of knees

Ooh, I love a good spreadsheet. As you might imagine, entering a marathon was a wonderful excuse for drawing up training plans, pace calculations, and what-if scenarios.

Unfortunately when I started all this, I didn't really expect to be doing the spreadsheet to figure out just how long can I rest my knee without kissing Napa goodbye. It turns out, Excel has spoken, and if I don't start trotting this weekend, with a LSD run next weekend, it ain't gonna happen.

With this in mind, I took myself down to Fleet Feet in Menlo Park, much beloved amongst local pavement-pounders for their friendly, helpful (miracle-working?) staff. I left the store $20 lighter and the owner of a Pro-Tec Patellar Tendon Strap. What the heck, it's worth a try, right? I'm heading for the track a little later to do just a couple of miles and see what happens.

But don't worry, I'll be careful. I've received some wonderful advice here about the importance of perspective and that I may be looking at one marathon versus the rest of my life. Sounds kinda scary when put like that.

Although, Santa, if you could return the Tiffany earrings and BMW convertible, and pop a couple of new knees down the chimney instead, it'd be much appreciated. Cheers.

Photo thanks: Pro-Tec Athletics, and please note, that's not my hairy knee.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lies and statistics

Well, I can tell you truthfully that yesterday morning, Beloved Husband and I headed out and covered 16 miles. I can also say, perfectly honestly, that one of those miles was done in 6 minutes, which for Struggler is an incredibly fast pace.

The problem with statistics like these is the piece of missing information: we were on bikes.

I still don't dare run on my knee, but having experimented with some extremely cold swimming pools and received some thoughtful feedback here that a lower body workout would be a better idea, we opted for bikes instead. My knee wasn't exactly thrilled at the whole adventure, but I think it was a little stiff and cold more than anything else. And at least the pain in my backside took my mind off it.

I need to do some calculations, but I've a feeling if I can't get back to trotting rather than pedaling in the next week or so, the Napa Valley marathon will be over for me. Every day I "rest", I lose a bit of fitness, and the remaining time in which to rebuild my mileage shrinks. If I don't see a drastic improvement soon, the decision on whether to run or not will effectively be made for me.

Photo thanks: Karin Eggink

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Keep drinking the pink stuff

I surprised myself by getting through a Body Sculpt class yesterday, albeit missing out some lunges and other knee-needy activities. It felt good to be doing something a little bit active and I might even have burned off a few dastardly calories. (I'm convinced that, if my knee does get better, I'm going to be lugging some extra pounds with me.)

This week has turned unusually cold for northern California and there is no way I'm going near a swimming pool until it gets milder again. However, hopes are currently high that I might be able to trot a bit by the weekend. I won't dwell too much on the plan on my fridge door that says 20 miles, long slow distance - I'll just settle for any mileage at this point, before my feet forget how to do it altogether.

Meanwhile, I came across a free sample of a drink called Elations. Yes, I know, very strange name, but apparently it contains supplements Glucosamine and Chondroitin that are supposed to "improve joint comfort in just 6 days". Oh yeah, and they have a photo of men in running shorts on their web site. Given my total knee-obsession right now, I gleefully seized it to give it a try. It tastes OK: not fabulous, but not awful, and if there's even a slight chance it might help me, then frankly I'm happy to hand over the credit card. Desperate? Yup, just a bit.

Photo thanks: Elations

Monday, December 7, 2009

Facing reality

After nearly a week of knee-rest, I managed just 2 pain-free miles on Saturday. The next 2 miles were decidedly not pain-free, at which point I hobbled home on the arm of my enormously kind hubby who could easily have sprinted off and left me in the cold, but gallantly stuck with me.

The Napa marathon is now 13 weeks away. I think at least 3 of those weeks are needed at the end, to 'taper'. In theory, there's still time for me to take a couple of weeks off, and then start building my miles up again. But that assumes that my knee sees the error of its ways and will let me get back to my previous distance and then add another 50%.

In reality, I think I need to face the possibility I won't be able to do the marathon, or will get scooped up by the stragglers' bus after the 6-hour time limit passes. I'm doing all kinds of mental math (six 10-minute miles followed by 5 hours of 15-minute miles would get me to the finish line) and am making crazy plans involving heavier than recommended doses of painkillers.

But if I'm honest with myself, unless I can rely on 2 good knees within a couple of weeks, I think I'm going to have to accept my role may be cheering from the sidelines once again.

Image thanks: Billy Alexander

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Significance of Steam

This would be a good moment for me to remind us all that this is supposed to be a running blog. Sadly, due to my wonky knee, I have been enduring self-imposed rest for nearly a week now.

To cheer myself up and make me feel like I'm still doing something useful towards my March marathon, I very reluctantly took myself off to swim instead.

OMG. I will never, ever complain about dark, cold, drizzly runs again. Swimming at an outdoor pool in December really should qualify as an extreme sport.

On Wednesday evening I visited pool number 1, which was giving off more steam than the Night Mail pulling up Beatock. Three lanes out of four were marked for 'Slow' swimming, but the triangular torpedoes freestyling up and down appeared unaware of this fact. I shivered on the edge (looking most fetching in ski jacket and towel) and willed myself not to run away. A full five minutes passed before space became available and I dared insert myself into this thrashing throng. At that point, things did improve. The torpedoes turned out to be fairly friendly and not too concerned at me doing a hybrid doggie-paddle-breast-stroke up and down their pool. 4o minutes later I made the dash back inside, grateful for the cover of all that steamy darkness. Alas, this California pool really had been constructed for the summer months - the changing area was tiny and freezing. I literally threw my clothes on and scuttled to the relative warmth of the car.

In view of the torpedo situation and igloo-like facilities at pool number 1, I decided to try pool number 2 last night. It's closer to work but the lap-swimming hours are not as convenient. Happily, this is a larger facility (what luxury, a lane to myself) and the changing rooms even had heat! Alas, I should have been suspicious at the comparative lack of steam coming off the water. Heck, I could even see right the way from one end of the pool to the other. The water was breathtakingly cold and for someone like me who doesn't move very fast, 30 minutes was about as long as I could tolerate. I never earned my penguin diploma in high school and really don't want to start now.

Of course, only the very dedicated will choose to swim outdoors in December. I have new respect for those who choose to do so, but am more determined than ever to resume dry-land activities as soon as I dare.

Photo thanks: Steve Knight, Kristin Thompson

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I guess it's time to get wet

Question: what's worse than having to run in spite of darkness, cold and fatigue?
Answer: not being able to run.

I won't bore you with the details, but my knee is still very tender and, whilst not painful in every day life, feels really weak and I just don't dare ask it to pound any pavements.

I've now missed 2 sessions and 12 miles of training and am really freaking out. I've come to realize how totally hooked I am on this trotting business, and how important it is to my personal goals to be able to complete the marathon. I feel like I've already come so far - who knew 18 miles was possible! - and there's no way I'm giving up now. I'm frustrated, disappointed, and just a little stroppy.

However, I'm not a total idiot, I really don't want to cripple myself for life, and most of the advice for Runner's Knee involves rest.

So tonight I plan to do something even harder than lugging my lazy carcass out for an after work run. It's gonna be wet, it's gonna be cold, it's gonna be humiliating. But I will do it in order to have any chance of crossing that finish line in March.

Yep, so help me, I'm gonna swim.

Photo thanks: Petr Kovar

Monday, November 30, 2009


Sounds fancy, doesn't it? The less glamorous truth is that a very common condition known more widely as Runner's Knee has brought me to a grinding halt.

If you're unlucky to have found this page through a Google search, then try here, here, or if you really want to be depressed, here for more informed explanations. Otherwise, let's just say it:
  • Is one of the most common injuries among runners
  • Often strikes as runners approach forty miles per week for the first time
  • Affects twice as many women as men (yeah, we have wider hips, relative to our knees).
So on the physical side, I predict rest, ice, thigh-strengthening exercises and probably some anti-inflammatories will be top of mind for the next few days. Good job I still have some of those kick-ass pain killers from when I got my teeth done. :)

But more interesting, I think, will be the mental fight. What will Struggler do now? Will she just give up? Cry? Bitch and moan about how bloomin' unfair it is, when she was doing everything right and diligently following the plan? Or will she just quietly freak out about how on earth to get from 18 miles to 26.2, with 14 weeks and only one good leg?

We'll see.

Photo thanks: Colin Brough

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Now I'm scared

First, let's look at the glass being half-full: yesterday I went out for a long-slow-distance run with Beloved Husband and covered 18 miles without serious trouble. Sure, by the end, I was pretty fed up and more than ready to stop, and yes, my pace (keeping heart-rate deliberately low) was mind-numbingly slow, but we covered the distance without me ever feeling at all doubtful that I could finish it.

And now the half-empty. Afterwards, my right knee (yes, the same villain from our long run 2 weeks ago) was seriously painful. Not that good, been-out-for-a-trot-and-loved-it kind of ache that runners know and love. More of the hurts-to-walk-round-the-grocery-store and how-the-heck-will-I-run-tomorrow kind of painful.

Up until now, I'd been foolishly assuming that as long as I followed the plan, forced myself to train even when I didn't feel like it, and stuck with the program, then a marathon would be well within my reach. Now I'm having to face the thought that something outside my control might have the final say.

I'm disappointed, scared, and tired.

Photo thanks: Simona Dumitru

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Others training for Napa?

On Monday night as I watched it getting dark and contemplated the 7 miles ahead of me, I figured I can't be the only fruitcake training through the winter and that surely there would be some others signed up for Napa who were also heading out for an evening run.

That thought made me feel somewhat better so I did a Google blog search and found these valiant souls who look like they'll also be cantering through wine country in March:
Now, clearly, there will be more than just 5 of us running the race. But I'll enjoy checking in to see how others are getting on and getting a taste of how training feels for them.

Photo thanks: Pcuoco

Monday, November 23, 2009

Highs and lows

One of the things I need to get used to about a multi-month training program is that it's not all going to be a steady, cheerful climb to the top.

After Saturday's enjoyable run when I felt strong and, ooh, let's be honest, showed off just a little for the last couple of miles, it was a bit of a disappointment to go out yesterday for a five mile trot and find myself so sluggish. Logic, of course, says that's the whole point of the Sunday run - to go out when you're already tired and ask your body for a bit more. But I was quite shocked how hard it was and how un-zippy I felt. What's more, today there is another 7 miles to be done, after work, in the dark and cold. Oh joy. Getting out the front door is going to require some willpower.

To pep myself up a bit, I have booked a hotel in Napa for the marathon, and spent a few minutes thinking about women like Kathrine Switzer who fought for the right to run the Boston Marathon in the 1960s... back when everyone believed a woman couldn't possibly achieve 26 miles. Incredible, but true, and all the more reason to get my running shoes on this evening.

Photo thanks: Asif Akbar

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Still some gas in the tank

Thank you for the kind comments and encouragement regarding whether to listen to my wimp of a body or whether to just keep on runnin'. After discussing the matter with Chief Coach (aka Beloved Husband), we decided that since I wasn't feeling absolutely horrible, I should do just a quick trot on Friday morning.

That was accomplished and we then headed out for 9 miles 'at pace' today. The idea of a pace run is that you figure out your hoped for pace to do the whole 26 miles, and get used to running at that speed. Having pondered the topic and used a few online calculators, I'm hoping somewhere around the 10 mins 30 per mile mark is about right.

Happily, that felt great, and I was feeling strong enough that we sped up for the last bit. Granted, that got harder, but was still very do-able, and my last couple of miles were just over and then just under 9 minute miles.

There was definitely still some gas in the tank when I finished - maybe all that gruesome speed work is actually helping? :)

Photo thanks: Juliane Riedl

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is it Friday yet?

Let's start with the positive: I'm pretty happy with how the training is going and my knees have been playing nicely. I found a marathon training plan which starts at 16 weeks and since that's the time I have left, I should be in good shape.

... But I'm feeling awfully tired. So far this week, I've done:
  • Monday: 7 miles, pace
  • Tuesday: Body Sculpt class
  • Wednesday: 5 miles, speedwork
  • Thursday: Body Sculpt class
In theory, tomorrow holds a very short, easy run, followed by pace on Saturday, and a short recovery run on Sunday. Typing this out makes me see why maybe I'm feeling tired! I've also been trying to eat a bit better and my body is perhaps missing all the sugar and junky bits it previously 'enjoyed'.

So, the big question is, do I listen to the fatigue, and take a rest day, or do I gamble on the running junkie endorphins pulling me through?

Photo thanks: Nadia Jasmine

Monday, November 16, 2009

15 miles!

Today I owe a big warm thank you to Beloved Husband who somehow endured the boredom of three hours of 12-minute-miles to accompany me on a 15 mile run on Saturday. What's more, it rained on us so I felt even more guilty at being the impetuous one, responsible for signing up for a spring marathon.

I just checked back on the 14 miles achieved at the end of August and am a bit concerned to see a mention of complaining knees in that post. On Saturday, my right knee wasn't just complaining, it was yelling at me. We're hopeful that the grade (camber) of the path was a factor, and in fact when I switched sides it did improve, but for a couple of miles I was in serious pain. Thankfully, it now feels absolutely fine, so I'll be heading out again this evening to see if I can put a few more miles on the clock.

Beloved Husband has drafted a plan in which I add 2 miles every other week from now until February. I hope my knees are listening.

Photo thanks: Billy Alexander

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hot-footing it in Hawaii

No rest for the wicked, even on vacation in Hawaii. Beloved Husband, aka chief coach, decreed that even while we enjoyed sun, sea, sand (oh yes, and rain) in Kauai, we would still be doing some running.

To be honest, that was just fine by me, although it was surprisingly hard work in such hot and humid conditions, even though we hit the road shortly after dawn to catch the coolest part of the day. We found we needed about 40 oz of water even for the 5 mile runs and were delighted to discover a drinking fountain at our halfway point. Anyone else thinking of running in Hawaii would be well advised to double your expected liquids.

Tuesday: 5 miles - Kiahuna Plantation to Spouting Horn and back.
Thursday: 8 miles - Kiahuna Plantation, east along Poipu road, west to Spouting Horn and back.
Saturday: 9 miles - Kiahuna Plantation, east along Poipu road, shameless sticky-beaking through the Grand Hyatt, west to Spouting Horn and back.
Monday: 5 miles - Kiahuna Plantation to Spouting Horn and back.

Add to this our 8 miles of hiking during the week including a lovely trail in Kokee State Park, and I feel like we covered a respectable distance. Hopefully, returning home to run in the cool Bay Area air will feel like a treat for the feet!

Photo thanks: Sheri Steffenhagen, Andre Schaer

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trouble at Mile Twelve

The plan for Sunday's run was to do 14 miles at a very easy (low heart-rate) pace. Considering I did this very run at the end of August, and a half marathon at much faster pace just three weeks ago, it should have been fine.

Except, I guess we failed to take account of the 10 days I missed on behalf of my imperfect teeth and the fact that my legs had used that time to forget much of what they'd been taught.

By mile 8, I knew it was going to be tough; by mile 10 I was seriously plodding, and by mile 12, although I had plenty of breath left in me, everything between my knees and my hips had declared quitting time. It certainly wasn't a wall and I definitely didn't hit it: the good news was I was still able to make fairly painless progress once I walked and I was always confident that I could make it home, eventually. But it was my toughest run yet and worryingly bad.

Photo thanks: Robert Linder

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Seal sighting

After almost two weeks without running, I was glad to find my legs still working yesterday. They weren't working very fast or very willingly, but that's OK, I've figured out that dental work puts a dent in my overall energy levels and I can get back up to speed gradually.

The highlight of our outing was the sighting of a harbor seal in the water a couple of miles from home - certainly not unheard of, but the first time I've seen one in our zip code. Needless to say the run came to a grinding halt in order to watch the seal for a few minutes.

According to Wikipedia, adult seals can grow to just over 6 feet and weigh 290 lbs. Females outlive males (30–35 years versus 20–25 years). They stick to familiar resting spots, generally rocky areas where land predators can't reach them, near a steady supply of fish to eat.

I suspect this one was a little outside his or her usual territory, but if they want to move into this neighborhood, that's just fine with me.

Photo thanks: Silvia Cosimini

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why so quiet?

I decided that the week after the half marathon was a good time to schedule some minor but not-too-fun surgery for my teeth. All is well, but with stitches in my mouth I'm going to take a short break from pavement-pounding.

However, I won't be resting on my laurels for too long: in 5 short months I'll be trotting 26 miles and there's work to do between now and then!

Photo thanks: Falk Schaaf

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wow, that felt great!

Considering how unfit I've felt in the last couple of weeks, today's half marathon went staggeringly well.

(Can you see me on the right, in the yellow? Kidding.)

We had close to ideal weather and Beloved Husband was a wonderfully supportive wing-man, never letting on that he was bored with this gentle trot!

Hats off to the race organizers for plenty of toilets, oodles of volunteers, and well-enforced starting corrals. It was a pleasant, if undramatic, course around the neighborhoods of San Jose, with lots of support from local residents (thank you, San Jose-ans!) and the promised rock bands every mile.

We enjoyed seeing and applauding the leaders from the other side of the road (they were somewhere around mile 12 and we had yet to reach 6!) but then got a huge boost when we were at the same point and encountered the resolute walkers going the other way.

My chip time was 2:08:51, which gave a big yah-boo-sucks to my previous (February 2008) equivalent of 2:20:ish (gun-timed, foul weather). And I was thrilled that my overall pace was under 1o minutes per mile.

Age: 37 Gender: F
DistanceHALF MAR
Clock Time2:11:41
Chip Time2:08:51
Overall Place4110 / 9892
Gender Place1516 / 5599
Division Place300 / 993
Age Grade52.2%
5 Km31:41
10 Km1:02:57
10 Mi1:40:32

If you're good with numbers, you'll notice I sped up as the race progressed. :) Per Beloved Husband's advice, I took it easy until half way, sped up a little between miles 7-11, and then got a serious wiggle on for the last 2 miles.

I'm also sending warm thoughts and hopes to the guy receiving heart massage from the paramedics, right before the finish line. Sincerely hope he is OK and that he'll complete his last tenth of a mile, another day.

Photo thanks: San Jose Rock n Roll Half Marathon

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Race countdown

Well, the San Jose Rock & Roll half marathon has really crept up on me. Just 5 days to go and I'm in the taper zone and trying not to be really concerned that I don't feel fitter and more ready.

The good news is, I know I can trot 13.1 miles. It's just I was hoping to go considerably faster than 11 minutes per mile and ideally beat my previous half marathon time. But I still don't feel like that silly cough has left me, and the last couple of times I've been out, running "pace" (10 minute miles) has been really hard.

So the plan this week is for early nights, better eating, and lots and lots of water!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who stole the sunrise?

This is the time of year when we seem to be losing daylight the fastest - almost my entire run this morning was in the dark.

However, that wasn't the part that bothered me. Since the half marathon is now less than 2 weeks away, I'm supposed to be gently tapering the training and running no faster than 10 minute miles. In reality, I found I was running at 10.5 minute pace and it felt like hard work.

I'm praying it's because the cold isn't quite gone and that I'm feeling a bit tired from our (lovely but taxing) house guests. It looks like some seriously early nights, healthy eating, and general relaxation will be needed if I stand any chance of doing OK on October 4th.

Photo thanks: Carlos del Arco

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trotting at Tahoe

The climb from zero feet above sea level in the San Francisco Bay Area, to 6000 feet at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, usually leaves me feeling cranky and listless for a day or two. In addition to that I was still fighting off a cold and my lungs had enough to keep them busy.

However, it's not every day you wake up in the scenery of Lake Tahoe so I hauled myself out of bed for a trot beside the Truckee River. We found a lovely bike path that runs close to Highway 89 and I covered a respectable distance before we admitted we probably couldn't make it to Tahoe City and back.

My Dad later pointed out that taking the bus from Squaw Valley to Tahoe City, and running back, would make a nice 7 mile outing. We'll save that for another time.

Photo thanks: Marici Marchini

Friday, September 11, 2009

(Slightly) sick, now what?

I woke up feeling horrible on Wednesday and for the first time since July, really had to drag myself out of bed to run. Happily I achieved 5 x 10 minute miles so that was a good thing.

"Horribleness" (cold is brewing, nothing serious I'm sure) has continued through the week and Beloved Husband decreed I shouldn't run this morning. I might do a bit tomorrow hopefully... it's hard to know whether to rest or grit my teeth and keep going.

We are then driving up to Tahoe for the weekend and I'm hopeful we'll find somewhere reasonable for a running outing. Usually the change in altitude bothers me for the first day or so, after that, some mountain air would be a nice change.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Maximum heart rate?

Well, I finally got those pesky intervals licked, although I'm not at all confident I can do it again.

Five half miles were duly covered at 8.5 minute pace, with another 5 at 10.5 minute pace for recovery. According to Beloved Husband (who kindly accompanied me as my wingman), I may well have reached maximum heart rate, but we'll have to check the watch to confirm that.

I'm absolutely mortified that I can barely keep my act together to do short distances at that pace, when there are thousands of women who run entire marathons at a quicker rate. But it will have to do for now.

Photo thanks: Sanja Gjenero

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Darn, missed again

These pesky speed intervals are giving me the runaround (no pun intended).

Once again this morning I hoped to do half a mile at 10.5 minute pace, half at 8.5 minute pace, and repeat for a total 5 miles. Again, I was slow for the first fast bit- although hopefully I hit the others (watch will confirm later). Excuses? Couldn't see the watch in the dark... had to cross a road... 2 walkers in the way. Darn.

The good news is, I think it's getting easier to hit my intended pace when I get daylight and a path free of obstacles. And I'm finding the recovery pace of 10.5 minutes just fine, which is great news because I think that's the speed I need to do for the San Jose half marathon on October 4th, if I'm to equal or beat my previous half marathon time of 2:21:58 (call it 2:19 as it wasn't chip timed).

Next week's plan is to do these intervals in the daylight on Labor Day - I'm going to hit all 5 of those 8.5s or die trying!!

Photo thanks: Lysanne Ooteman

Monday, August 31, 2009

Running east at sunrise

Uneventful morning run, 5 miles at just under 10 minutes per mile. The mornings are getting rather dark; I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to do this route and be able to see anything.

A circuit that heads east at sunrise is a benefit though. :)

Right knee complained a little but nothing I can't live with.

Photo thanks: Andris Kovács

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Outside the Shire

This little hobbit ran further than ever before today - 14 miles. Granted, we did it at 'endurance' pace (so my heart rate stayed low), to get used to the distance more than anything else.

But, given that these legs have only ever covered 13.1, it felt like a big deal anyway. Knees were the only body part to really complain, and strangely, speeding up at the end helped them a bit. Hopefully they'll get the hang of things for future outings.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cheer up Sleepy Jean

After last week's euphoria, I was expecting this week's training runs to be more enjoyable than in fact they were.

On Monday morning I did intervals, aiming for 5 half miles at 8.5 minute pace, interspersed with half miles at 10.5 minute pace. I was over on the first two of those (my excuse is I couldn't see the watch in the darkness), but I dunno the real reason. Considering there are gazillions of runners who can easily do faster than an 8 minute mile, I feel pretty stodgy by comparison.

Today I did 5 miles at 10 minute pace, which was fine, but it felt a bit harder than I would have liked. Maybe the lack of pelican sighting was a factor. :)

I'm probably being a bit impatient in expecting sudden and dramatic improvements in my ability, which clearly are not going to materialize out of thin air.

Photo thanks: Leslie Collingridge

Friday, August 21, 2009

I think I'm hooked

I don't know what the Runner's High is and am pretty sure that what I experienced this morning was not it.

What I did get, after a 5 mile easy trot, was the feeling that this was really fun, that I still had energy to dance during what should have been my cool-down walk, and that I'd really much rather keep on running than go to work.

And I'm starting to notice that despite the (now) dark mornings and 5:30 alarm, getting up to do this stuff is no hardship at all.

Watch out, you could get hooked too.

Photo thanks: Sanja Gjenero

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Gear

I can't believe I just spent $130 on running gear. Even worse, $20 was for a pink Nike hat to wear on rainy days - I don't mind running in the rain, but drips on my nose really annoy me.

But I've noticed that my standard workout capris are not as comfortable as they might be, and with 3 runs a week, 2 weights classes and a yoga session, laundry was becoming critical. So the time had come to invest in some new bits and pieces. I figure, as darker, wetter days approach, I might as well have some cheerful kit to venture out in.

I'd still love to find a really lightweight but sorta-waterproof top, to make things a bit less soggy if I'm out for an hour in wet conditions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Running with your other half without wrecking your relationship

I suspect hubby and I are just a little unusual in that, until his marathon adventure in July, we had almost always run together. He is 5'11, 155 pounds and built like a racing snake (as the fabulous Terry Wogan likes to say). I am shorter, slower, and have never held a pace faster than 10 minute miles for any real distance. However, our weekend morning runs were pleasant quality time together, with much marital conversation. I also suspected that without him to prod me out of bed, I would snuggle into the pillow for an extra hour every time.

One of my biggest concerns, therefore, about his marathon training, would be that he'd get too fast for me and would not want to run with me any more. Happily this never transpired, although I do worry I'm now holding him back from getting speedier. Here are some alternatives we tried that might work for you. For ease I'll call us Slower Spouse and Speedy Spouse. "He and she", "he and he", "she and she" are clearly interchangeable, depending on your situation.
  • Slower Spouse can join Speedy Spouse for the shorter of two weekend runs. For example, Speedy can do a long, serious, pace run on Saturday, then on Sunday he'll just be looking to rack up some extra miles at an easy pace.
  • Speedy can leave the house and do a 6 mile (ish) lap, then come back and pick up Slower for a second loop around.
  • Light ankle weights can add a bit of challenge for Speedy.
  • Part way through your run, find an extra loop that Speedy can do. This is a great opportunity for Slower to slacken the pace or even enjoy a walk, until Speedy catches up again.
  • Consider signing up for different distances in the same event. At the Big Basin Trail Run, Speedy registered for 25km and Slower joined the 15km. We did the first part together.
  • Slower could always resort to riding a bike. So far, I've only used this option when I've been sick, but it's nice to know it's available.
On race days, I recommend having the conversation in advance about whether you're absolutely planning to run together, or whether Speedy will forge ahead (and under what circumstances). It wastes too much breath during the race to have a conversation like this:

"Go if you want to".... "No, it's fine"
"I know I'm too slow for you".... "It's OK, I'm still warming up"
"I can't go any faster".... "You went faster than this last week"
"Are you sure this isn't too slow?"... "Well, maybe you are a bit"

Photo thanks: Adam Kurzok

Friday, August 7, 2009

What does speedy mean?

Barring injuries or illness, I know I can complete 26.2 miles in one day. The question is, how fast?

I have a couple of speed aims for my marathon:
  • At a minimum, not to get kicked off the course - there is a 6 hour time limit, after which a bus scoops up stragglers to bring them to the finish (disastrous outcome IMHO).

  • Ideally, to run the whole thing, at a pace that will not cause marital discord. We haven't talked in detail about this, but at the moment I think hubby and I would like to run together. In order for him to tolerate that, I don't think I can go slower than 10 and a half minutes per mile.

  • In my wildest dreams, I'd be thrilled to achieve a pace that allows hubby to better his San Francisco time of 4 hours 18 minutes. That's under 10 minutes a mile and is definitely a stretch target.
Photo thanks: Gil Ros.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Previous running history

This morning I was pondering how I came to believe I have 26.2 miles in me. Or 13.1 in each leg, that sounds easier, doesn't it? :)

I believe I can trace my running career back to 1997, when I took part in a 5km Race for Life charity event as part of the British Airways team. At just 25 years old, I struggled to run the entire 3 mile distance.

How funny that I now do twice that before breakfast without blinking; I get a huge kick out of beating my 25-year-old self and look forward to my 60-year-old self doing 3 hour marathons. But I digress.

At our next Race for Life, my friend Audrey said she enjoyed it so much she planned to do a 10k. Good grief, that seemed an impossibly long distance and utterly unattainable! Even though Beloved Husband and I would go for runs in Bushy Park, I never really got the hang of it and 3 miles felt like a long way.

In 2004, hubby and I moved to San Francisco and found ourselves living on a flat piece of land, with views of the Bay and easy, safe, scenic trails outside our front door. Winter was mild and it was unusual for both Saturday and Sunday to be wet. We started to jog more regularly.

Bay to Breakers is a famous San Franciso 12k race, although I use the term race mildly - it's more of a moving party and if you're a serious runner, you'll probably steer well clear. However, being new in town, we wanted to give it a try. Despite the wet and slippery tortillas on the course (don't ask) we survived intact.

This was followed by the Emerald Across the Bay Race, which is still one of my favorite routes: one way across the Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito to Ghiradelli Square.

And whaddya know, a 1/2 Marathon followed in February 2008. To date, that is the furthest I have ever run.

Photo thanks: Roy Appleyard, Gene Cohn Photography

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tips for Marathon Supporters, part 2

  • Assemble your supporters kit. You'll need drinks and snacks for yourself, as you may not have time to find a cafe and races are often early morning before stores are open. Sometimes you'll be in industrial parts of town with no stores anyway. You might also want to pack a few of your runner's favorite snacks, and their preferred sports drink, just in case they decide to use you as a pit-stop. I also strongly recommend you carry some basic first aid for the same reason - during the 1998 New York Marathon my runner was desperate for an indigestion remedy. Ask them if there's anything else they might need; pain relief, dry socks, wet wipes, sunglasses, and so on. I like to have some hand sanitizer too, as you may not see a proper restroom all day. And last but not least, get yourself a rattle, whistle, or some other noise-generator. If you take your duties seriously, you'll be cheering for all the runners, not just the guy or gal you know, and this will be a welcome boost to your tonsils.

  • After the race, your runner may be in greater or worse shape depending on how experienced they are and how it went. Don't expect to get too much sense out of them, don't look to them for big decisions, and don't be offended if they talk a load of rubbish at you. Get some photos, get their kit bag, if possible get some liquid or food down them, and get them out of there. I don' t recommend letting your runner drive home, even if they claim they're up to it. It's not unusual for folk to feel faint after 26 miles, so keep an eye on them, and keep reminding them to drink.

  • If you see other runners who are on their own and appear to be in distress, don't be shy about asking them if they need any help. A loaned cell-phone, spare water or snack bar can make a world of difference to those not lucky enough to have a dedicated support crew. Don't hesitate to call emergency services if they're not lucid enough to talk to you or sit up.

  • And finally, try not to get so caught up in the excitement and pride in your runner's achievement that you sign up for a marathon yourself. I learned this last tip the hard way... the 26.2 mile way. If you'd like to join my support crew, I'd love to see you in Napa in March 2010.

Friday, July 31, 2009

218 days to go

Wow, well, OK, I've gone and done it.

I've signed myself and Beloved Husband up to run in the Napa Valley Marathon in March 2010. Ooh-ee. No going back now! I haven't told him yet - do you think he'll be OK with it?

I knew there was no way I would take all this seriously unless there was an actual date in the calendar and money committed. I'm just not one of these people that can train for something hypothetical.

The good news is:
  • The course is very slightly downhill
  • There's usually a tail wind
  • You get 6 hours before (oh shame), a stragglers bus comes to scoop you up and deliver you to the finish
  • The event seems pretty small and friendly
  • It's a point to point course, the only way is forwards!
And the bad news:
  • A March marathon means training in the winter - dark and wet runs are likely
  • Race day itself could be really foul weather
  • I'm expecting there will be far fewer supporters on the course, compared with San Francisco.
But I can do this, I know I can!

Photo thanks: Napa Valley Marathon 2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reasons not to run a marathon

  1. It takes a load of time to train. You need to be out there 4 or 5 times a week, and it chews up your weekends.
  2. I'm pretty sure it's bad for your body and joints, to be doing all that pavement-pounding.
Um, and that's is really. Am I going to let 2 tiny little reasons stand in my way?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tips for Marathon Supporters, part 1

I've now supported runners (to a greater or lesser extent) in the London, New York, and San Francisco marathons, so am declaring myself to be something of an expert in this little-known art (hah!). Many of these tips relate to San Francisco, others are more general.

I'm a huge believer in the importance of support; a friendly cheer from someone you know, or even someone you don't, can squeeze a couple of extra miles out of the tiredest pair of legs. When I'm on the course, I like to cheer everyone, regardless of whether or not I know them. Get out there and make some noise!!
  • Find out your runner's start time. Many larger races have waved starts; a 5:30AM advertised event could mean your runner doesn't cross the start line until 6:15AM or later.

  • Know your runner's predicted race pace, but don't expect them to stick to it. Often times, they'll start out faster (adrenalin) and slow down later. But, if you're hoping to cheer them at, say, mile 10, you'd better know whether they're planning to be there after 70 minutes or 2 hours. In San Francisco, the shuttle bus takes at least 20 minutes to get from the start to mile 4: if you watched your runner start and they have a fast pace, they'll be gone before you get there.

  • Know what color top they're wearing. In the bigger races, an impenetrable throng of runners will be passing and being able to look for a specific color is great. Ideally, encourage them into something lurid - green, orange and pink are all great choices. Discourage them from wearing the free T-shirt given out at the Expo: they won't know if it chaffs, and you'll never pick them out from the hordes of others who are wearing the same shirt. Likewise, if they know what you're wearing (lurid also good), they can look out for you. Some supporters bring helium balloons but I suspect they're a hassle to deal with.

  • Get hold of the course map and be strategic. Find out where your runner thinks they'd like support, and which sections of the course are easiest for you to get to, keeping in mind road closures and crowd/traffic chaos. (In some cities, the course will alternate to allow for some cross-traffic, so make sure you pick a section that is consistently in use by the runners!) My brother always asked to see us at the 20-ish mile point which can be the (metaphorically) darkest part of a marathon experience. They'll probably need you far more there than they do at the finish line. Ideally, your runner will know where to look out for you - if you can tell them which side of the course you'll be, that's the icing on the cake. The San Francisco Marathon has a wonderful shuttle bus which will help you catch your runner at mile 4, 13, 16 and 22. I paid $20 and strongly recommend it.

  • If you're planning to meet your runner after the race, for goodness sake arrange a meeting spot. With thousands of people milling around in identical foil blankets, you could spend hours searching for each other.

  • Races today are often chip-timed (meaning your runner has a chip attached to their shoe) and wondrous technology means you may be able to receive text messages when they cross a few key points on the course. Bazu are one provider but the website for your race may have specific details. This can be hugely useful to know if you have, in fact, missed your runner, in which case you can cut your losses and move to the next cheering point. This cost me $5 for the 2009 San Francisco marathon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If they can do it, why can't I?

Still chuffed to bits with my marathon running hubby, we spent time tonight on the computer looking at the race results and times of him and others.

I began pondering the efforts of women roughly my age, who took 5 or 6 hours to complete the San Francisco Marathon. Hmmm. Can you tell where this is heading?

A 6 hour marathon is equivalent to a pace of more than 13 minutes per mile. Even on my slowest days, I rarely take more than 11 minutes for a mile. I'd just need to practice a bit, to do that 26 times. Or, at my current level, I could pretty much run a mile, walk for 3 minutes, and repeat.

I've never thought of myself as a competitive kind of person, and I've been heard to say often enough that I've no wish to run a marathon. But if they can do it, why can't I?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Proud as punch: diary of a marathon supporter

6:11AM, Embarcadero, San Francisco, Mile 0
Hubby joins x thousand other runners for his first marathon. The first wave went off at 5:30AM; it's still dark, and everyone is lined up for the porta-potties which are woefully inadequate. As a result, we barely have time for a couple of pics before he squeezes through the fence to catch up with the back of his wave. I'm praying he's stretched properly, but have no time to lose as I must drop his gear at sweat-check and then seek out the spectator's shuttle bus in order to try to catch him at mile 4.

6:45AM, Crissy Field, Mile 4
The bus worked great and I'm in position with plenty of time to eat a breakfast snack and chat with the other supporters. We're somewhere near mile 4 so the runners look pretty fresh as they pass us. I'm half expecting him to be early, but he's right on time, which is great because it means he resisted the urge to start out too fast. Our strategic choice of bright green shirt is another plus: he's very easy to spot in the mass of white tops.

8:20AM, Golden Gate Park, Mile 13
The shuttle bus delivers me with an hour to spare. I would love to find a Starbucks but instead walk through the drizzly park to the start point for the second-half-marathon where I can be sure of finding another porta-potty. After that, I hang around mile 13 to cheer the runners. The first-half-marathoners have split off by this point, so they're running on a quiet, damp road and I figure they could use a little support. I wish I'd brought something with me to make noise; my voice can't encourage everyone. Many of the runners thank me for being there, which is super nice - others want to know the time as this is an important half-way point for them. Hubby passes, again right on his predicted time, looking just fine. You wouldn't guess he'd been running for over 2 hours and has the worst of the hills behind him. I cheer like crazy and might even have bellowed out 'love you!' to his back.

8:50AM, Golden Gate Park, Mile 15.8
I beetle through the park to our next planned cheering point, just a few hundred yards for me but nearly 3 hilly miles for him. I get a great spot on a corner where the course turns; this section is far busier because the second-half marathoners (fresh as daisies after just 2 miles) have joined the throng. Again, much more cheering and my voice is feeling it, but probably less than their quads. Hubby spots me and takes the corner wide so I can get some photos. As he passes, I realize he's likely to stop at the water point just up the hill, so I take off after him to cheer him on again. The runners give me puzzled looks as I overtake them on the hill.

9:50AM, 16th Street, Mile 22
Again, the shuttle bus worked like a dream and I had time for a snack and a drink before taking up my position on the street. This section of the course alternates to help traffic flow, so it's important to find a bit always in use. Some sensible supporters here have got noise-making gear and I regret being voice-reliant. The runners look like they can use all our help; traditionally this is the part of a marathon that's hardest, before the end is in sight. They're also coming up a slight hill which probably feels like Everest; many are walking. Hubby spots me from afar and waves for his photos. I can't believe he's still looking just fine - his planned timings have clearly worked well and he's obviously going to breeze home.
Having been so lucky with the bus all morning, I had now formulated hopes that I might be able to get to the finish line in order to cheer his triumph. Sadly, that was not to be - a crowd of us were frustrated when the only bus to show up was insistent on going back to Golden Gate Park (duh, who wants to go backwards on the course?). Our attempts to bribe the driver into a route change were unsuccessful.... at 10:25AM I was still on the bus when the text message to tell me hubby had finished came in. However, overall the shuttle buses worked great and I'd recommend them.

10:30AM, Embarcadero, Mile 26.2
After making hasty meeting arrangements 5 hours earlier, I'm thrilled that we manage to find each other. He looks great, is clearly tired, but still functioning. Hugs, photos, admiration of the marathon medal follow. With a time of 4:18, this was a respectable first marathon. Early in training, 4 hours had been talked of, but with a trail-running ankle injury at 2 months out, he was lucky to be running at all. I am insanely proud.
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