Archive for April, 2014

Anyone who reads my blog – or reads anything about my training – knows that I’ve been a dedicated devotee of the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run method. As someone who started running relatively late in life (around age 38), I found that run/walk has helped me finish endurance events with minimal injury. While some beginning running programs like the Couch to 5K use run/walk as a bridge to running continuously, Jeff Galloway firmly believes that the run/walk method can benefit almost anyone who wants to continue running until age 100. He also believes, in most cases, that taking walk breaks from the beginning of a run will actually speed the runner up rather than causing a slower overall pace. His belief is based on many years of coaching runners to the finish line and seeing an improvement in finish times when run/walk is used versus running continuously.

So what’s the catch?

Despite the popularity of run/walk within the runDisney community, there are many runners who see run/walk as “cheating” or as a bridge from the couch to running continuously. As I’ve started experimenting with heart rate based training, I’ve had 2 different coaches tell me that I have to stop using run/walk now that I’m a marathoner. My strength coach (who I generally love and is a marathoner herself) told me to just go out a run 10 miles continuously for my next long run (please note that I usually use run 30 sec/walk 30 sec or run 40 sec/walk 20 sec intervals for my long runs). Another heart rate based coach told me that there is NO way he will allow me to take walk breaks during my upcoming 10K. Interestingly neither person asked me how I feel about run/walk or what my goals were. The assumption is that if I want to get faster, I need to stop taking walk breaks.

During a recent submission to The Extra Mile Podcast (which is produced by my amazing friend Kevin who is one of the kindest people I know), I spoke of my training angst caused by these recent attacks on run/walk. Adding fuel to the fire are a few friends who are quite openly anti-run/walk (it’s predictable that at least one of them will post that I should just run my upcoming 10K continuously regardless of my training or how I actually feel about it) and a family member who has confessed that he finds run/walk to be a little bit like cheating and something that he can’t imagine actually using himself (I’m withholding names to spare the not-so-innocent but I will say this person ran track 50 years ago but has never done endurance events). I know my Extra Mile friend Kevin is very intrigued by this question about run/walk and plans to explore it further.

I know my angst has led to discussions amongst my running friends and amongst listeners to the Extra Mile Podcast. Just today I was fortunate enough to listen to a super interesting podcast – The Seeker – which explored my question. I’m downloading at least one other running podcast that also addressed my run/walk angst (Just Norm is the podcast).  I am certain that there are other runners who struggle with run/walk as a concept and question whether or not it is right for them.

So where do I stand?

It’s still a fluid issue for me because I haven’t firmly settled on my running goals which makes it hard for me to take sides.

Part of me continues to feel frustrated that I’m not a faster runner. I grew up as a competitive athlete (not a runner). I was competing in gymnast from at least age 7. I graduated high school with 9 varsity letters. I raced sailboats, competed in diving over the summer, and was a passable tennis player. I’ve never really been a couch potato even when I was really actively participating in sports. So why can’t I run faster than back of the pack? In my heart I don’t believe it’s a run/walk problem. I conceptually like heart rate training but believe it could be combined with run/walk and still be effective. The Seeker podcaster James mentioned something in an email exchange today about how less than 1% of the U.S. population finishes a marathon in a given year so that makes me faster than 99.5% of the U.S. even if I don’t finish faster than a few other runners on the course. Good point but still not entirely satisfying. I think that losing a few pounds and added a few extra miles per week might help me speed up. And I’m continuing strength training and hoping to add more cross-trianing to further help things along.

The other problem for me is that I need running to be fun. This may be surprisingly to some but I lead an incredibly stressful life. I’m a surgeon. wife, and mother of 3 children. Work can be very stressful and parenting can be very stressful. Running is what I do for fun. I’m never going to earn a living as a runner. As long as running is a hobby, it needs to be fun. Focusing solely on speed takes some of the joy out of running. My solution has been to run a lot of races for fun and with friends and only focus on a few time goal races. If I’m taking over 6.5 hours to finish the Disney Marathon, then I’m obviously not worried about speed. On the other hand I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun runner. I finished the NYC Marathon well over an hour faster than Disney and yet I felt disappointed and let down after that race. Following Disney I had a runner’s high for weeks and weeks. Big difference. If time goal racing makes me stressed and sad and running races with friends makes me happy, maybe that’s my answer (I don’t think ALL time goal racing makes me stressed and sad and I really did enjoy the MORE half marathon recently.).

What’s my plan?
I signed up for another 6 months of ecoaching with Jeff Galloway. My fall race calendar is busy and I finish it off with the Dopey Challenge in January. From October 11th until mid January I am running two 5Ks, one 10K, 3 half marathons, and 2 full marathons. I need to be healthy and I did to enjoy running. All of those races will be run with friends and, with the possible exception of the Hartford Marathon at the beginning of that stretch, none will be time goal races. 

As for my June 10K? I still don’t know. Jeff Galloway has me doing speed work for a time goal and I will likely stick to whatever plan he suggests. Tomorrow will include 400M repeats (probably on a treadmill due to terrible weather) instead of heart rate training. We’ll see how the plan works. I’m still a believer to Jeff’s training for now and I’m going to commit myself to his plan.

Sometime between finishing the NYC Marathon in early November and running the Disney Marathon in January, I realized that it wasn’t reasonable to run 2 full marathons for time goals in a 9 week period. I made the decision to run the Disney Marathon for fun (which was a GREAT decision) and to put off speed work and time goals until my spring half marathon. I’ve long felt frustrated that I’m not a faster runner and was hoping that some speed training would help me improve in time for the More Magazine Women’s Half on April 13th.

The winter of 2014 will certainly be remembered as a bad one and there’s no doubt that this impacted my training. Instead of doing track work I had to rely on the treadmill as our local track was buried in snow for months. I wasn’t sure how my treadmill dependent-training would translate to the very hilly course in Central Park. And then, of course, the weather predictions for the race included a high temperature in the 70’s. 

Race day morning was sunny and just a touch chilly. I wore a running skirt with compression socks and then my Super Girl tech shirt with arm warmers. I had brought a mylar heat wrap for pre-race warmth but decided to leave it in the car. I found a parking spot on Broadway and 69th Street (which made me giggle like a 14 year old because, why not?) and then walked a few blocks over to the starting area. I had enough time to wait in a gigantic line for the only toilets with indoor plumbing in the area and luckily convinced my friend Kim to come wait with me. Another “virtual” friend (who is now a “real” friend), Christine,  stopped by to say good luck as she headed to the start area. We had a funny moment in the bathroom line when a woman asked to please be allowed to cut the line because she was singing the National Anthem and was needed on the stage immediately. (For the record I thought she did an amazing job singing!)

Kim and I headed to the “poo brown” starting corral. The last corral in these larger NYRR races is always brown and another running friend, Beth, always calls it “poo brown.” I’ve adopted it. Kim and I weren’t there particularly early so we started mid to late in the brown corral. I think in the future I would make more of an effort to get to the corral earlier because I spent the first 2 miles weaving around walkers (I do run/walk so I honestly don’t mean that in a judgmental way). NYRR has the opposite problem as runDisney. Disney used to lump anyone with a sub-2 hour half marathon into Corral A which was frustrating for the 1:30 half marathoners who are quite a bit faster than the 1:59 half marathoners. NYRR lumps all of the 11+ min/mile people together. This race had a 4 hour time limit which meant that I finished more than 1:30 faster than many of my corral-mates. 

My arm sleeves came off by mile 1. The crowding at the start definitely impacted my race as my 1st two miles were my slowest two and they weren’t particularly hilly. After mile 2 the crowds opened up a bit but then you have the Harlem Hills to counteract that.  With the except of the BIG hill, my pace per mile pretty much got faster as the race went on. Mile 13th was the fastest mile of the race with a 10:30 min/mile pace. And I definitely felt like I put everything I had into the last few miles. One of the fun things about doing 2+ loops around the park is that the elite runners lap you during the race. It was amazing to see Deena Kastor – a 41 year old mother – with an impressive lead as she set a course record. What an amazing athlete! I also ran into (figuratively, not literally!) several other runDisney friends on the race course which was so much fun.

My previous half marathon PR had been at the 2013 More Magazine Half Marathon one year ago. I finished in 2:25:31. As I was approaching the finish line I knew that my time was pretty close to last year’s but I wasn’t sure in which direction. For some reason as I approached the finish line I had convinced myself that last year’s PR was 2:24:41 ( I have no idea where that came from – runner’s math?) and that I was going to finish within seconds of that time. Perhaps prophetically that was my exact finish time and also a new PR. I still haven’t achieved a half marathon pace per mile below 11 min/mile which was my A goal. A new PR is still a new PR and I have shiny new medal to add to the collection.

I was able to watch my friend Kim finish the race is an amazing new PR for her. Super excited and proud of her! It was great fun to hang out with her and Christine for a while after the race. This is one of the many reasons that I pay to run 2+ loops of Central Park every year. Good friends. Good vibes. Fun race. It’s definitely more expensive than some other local half marathons but I love what it has to offer.

Pre-Race MORE Half, 2014

There is a Henry Ford quote that has been popping up on social media, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” I worry that perhaps this quote will become prophetic regarding tomorrow’s race.

When I first started running – about 5 years ago – I had no concept of speed. I was training for my first half marathon, mostly on a treadmill in my basement. My B goal was to cross the finish line (preferably within the 3:30 time limit of the race) and my A goal was to finish under 3 hours. I had no race experience to help me predict my likely finish time and had only done a small number of runs outdoors. I set a pace on the treadmill based on nothing better than a random guess and used that pace for training purposes. I finished that race somewhere in the 2:45 range (I think around 2:46 but I don’t remember exactly) and was thrilled to shatter my sub-3 hour goal.

The downside to having finished a race is that I now had a target to beat. I quickly realized a few things: I needed a decent training plan, I was setting the treadmill at too-slow a pace, and I needed to run more outdoors in “real life” conditions. Over the next 3 years I managed to take about 21 minutes off my half marathon time. The last half marathon I actually ran for time was exactly one year ago at the MORE Magazine Half Marathon where I set my current PR (Personal Best).

My first race represents a sort of Eden-esque time. I was thrilled to be racing. Even more thrilled to be racing at Disney. And very pleased with my finish time which was significantly better than I realized I could run. Unfortunately my naive state of satisfaction with my performance was quickly destroyed when I ran the MORE Magazine Half as my second race. I beat my time at Disney but quickly learned that Disney races produce slow finish times and a mid-pack finish at Disney put me firmly in the back in a New York Road Runners’ race. With this realization came the desire to get faster.

I haven’t actually raced a half marathon since one year ago. The only half marathon I ran between then and now was in October in the heart of my NYC Marathon training. I ran the race at training pace in order to PR at the NYC Marathon. Following that I ran the Disney Marathon for fun before re-starting more serious training. I decided after the NYC Marathon (which despite a solid PR was not a great race for me), that I would focus my attention on a faster half marathon this spring.

Starting in December I added speed work to my running schedule and then in early March adding strength training and heart rate training. Unfortunately some of my efforts were derailed by the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad winter we had. I found it impossible to convince myself to run outdoors at 4:30 in the morning when it was pitch-black, 10 degrees, windy, and icy/snowy. I didn’t miss any training runs but I found myself, once again, training primarily on the treadmill. I’ve had a few outdoor runs, including a 15 miler and an impressive track session of 14 x 800m repeats, but the majority of this training cycle has involved a treadmill. My one attempted tempo run took place on a Sunday afternoon about 24 hours after a challenging strength training session and following a day of running around from one child’s activity to the next. It was a confidence-blowing disaster.

Which leads me to my dilemma. I, honestly, don’t know what I’m capable of running tomorrow. Will this be my 2:20 half marathon that I’ve been hoping to achieve? Or, similar to my recent tempo run, an unequivocal disaster of low energy and slow pace? Will the 14 x 800m repeats be predictive of a fast (for me) race? Or will the hills of Harlem kick my butt since I haven’t done as much hill work as I had intended? I wish I could go into tomorrow’s race with a sense of confidence that I know what I can do but I honestly have no idea.

So what’s the game plan? I’m going to pretend like I have to the training to leave it out on the course. With a generous 4 hour time limit, I can walk the last half of the race and still finish. I’m hoping for 11:30 min/mile until I pass the first big hill and then increase the pace a bit until the second hill before trying to turn it up another notch or two. This might be a recipe for disaster but I guess I won’t know until I try!