Race month is here! In the words of my favorite turtleslug, YIKES!
2008 logo of the DC Ragnar Relay Turtleslugs.
I broke my tailbone New Year’s Day 2010, right when I was planning to return to running after a one-year layoff. And the cause of the first layoff was a combination of burnout and other injuries. So, right now I’m thrilled that I made it to October without any running (or skiing or yoga)-related injuries.
Getting back into running shape wasn’t easy, and actually, having not yet been tested, I’m nervous that I’m still not there. Training for October’s races messed with with my head…a LOT, and I’m already slightly neurotic to begin with. There were lows, like last Saturday’s double, and highs, like this past Wednesday’s tempo run, when I re-discovered the art of focusing on a different aspect of technique for each mile (more on this later – it derives from nearly a decade of being a crew coxswain and coaching).
Here’s what October looks like:
October 9, 2011 – Army Ten Miler
October 23, 2011 – Tough Mudder Virginia
October 30, 2011 – Marine Corps Marathon 10K 
Uhm, yeah. I had naïvely thought that I could register for the MCM 10K a month before the race, but when I checked in online today to register, I couldn’t find the registration button to save my life. Then I realized that the damn race was ALREADY FULL. Bloody hell. I would kick myself about this one, except that’s unyogic (ahimsa), and one less race in October is probably a blessing in disguise…

Snail Mail Loot!

Yesterday was a snail mail loot day: The Team Sparkle Traveling Skirt arrived, as did my “spicy mustard”-colored backcountry.com goat sticker.  Yay!!

Apparently I painted my coffee table “spicy mustard.”

Who says the USPS is dying?

Even though the skirt arrived more than a month before the event at which I’m planning to wear it – the Virginia Tough Mudder on October 23 – the skirt couldn’t have arrived at a better time in my training cycle. I was in dire need of a pick-me-up.

Two Fridays ago, I set out for an 8-mile run. It was dark, dry, a little breezy, and 50˚F. The sky lightened but remained mostly overcast. These were my ideal conditions, and that’s how I ran the 8 miles: 10 minutes faster than the last time I’d gone out and done the distance, in a humid 80˚F. It definitely wasn’t my fastest 8 miles ever, but it wasn’t bad for this year. The shorter runs during this week also went reasonably well, so I expected to have a repeat of last Friday when I woke up yesterday morning.

Except after I ate a small breakfast, I felt like going right back to bed, even after putting on running shorts. I actually crawled back into bed for about 5 minutes before convincing myself that it was possible to start a run feeling like crap but wind up feeling better partway through. Not yesterday. I called it quits after 3 miles and contemplated either trying again for 8 later in the day, or at the very least, finishing off 8.

This is pretty distressing 2 weeks before a race and has messed with my head.

After eating a proper breakfast and lunch for the next three hours, I texted my friend Jonathan to see whether he was going for a run later in the day. Maybe I’d join him for a few miles. It turns out he was planning on running 5. 3 + 5 = 8.  Voila!

Now, a few notes about Jonathan: (1) he’s recovering from some health issues and (2) there was a point in his life when a sub-3-hour marathon was normal. My only chance of keeping pace with any former elite runner is, I think, if they’re actively suffering from a health issue and/or missing a leg and have no prosthetic.  There, I wrote it. Jonathan with one lung and half a soleus muscle = Stephanie with two lungs and intact calves, maybe. Not that I would ever wish my friend to have one lung or half a calf muscle, of course.

Anyway, around 5pm yesterday, I found myself on hill #1 of Jonathan’s Northwest DC Tour de Hell Hill. Don’t get me wrong. I like hills. Especially those covered in snow.

Hoofing up a hill the day before Christmas 2009.

But my idea of a running hill is an on/off ramp. Seriously. So imagine my oxygen-deprived horror when hill #1 turned out to be half a mile long. And sure, what goes up usually comes down, but then it goes up again if you’re a former elite runner trying to pack in the most efficient run possible. Gack. Hill #2 basically had me for dinner. Or as an apéritif at the least. Yes. I walked up hill #2. It was lame. And at some point, Jonathan decided to describe to me the incomprensible plot of a crazy Korean movie he watched the night before, maybe to see if the plot made any more sense to someone who was oxygen deprived. See how all of this is messing with my head two weeks before the Army 10-Miler?

Between my morning run, the run to and from Jonathan’s place, and shuffling myself along Jonathan’s route, I logged 9.3 miles. They were neither pretty nor particularly satisfying.

That’s why it was a treat to find my mailbox packed with goodies yesterday, especially the traveling Team Sparkle skirt. It’s like the powers that be knew that I’d need a pick-me-up at 6pm Saturday.  Thanks, powers that be!

The girls at Team Sparkle are psychic.

Notes from the Weekend and a Readjusted 10-Miler Training Plan

After a couple of soggy morning runs last week, Saturday found me hydrating and generally mastering the art of rest after a great yoga master class with my teacher trainer, the lovely Chrissy Carter, and hanging out with some of my favorite yogis and yoginis the night before.
Thursday night, I had managed to strain or overwork at least one of the external rotators on my left hip, right at the attachment area (read: butt). So, on Saturday, I contently lounged in my pajamas well into the afternoon, intermittently sitting on a bag of frozen peas and making friends with vitamin I as I watched hours of U.S. Open tennis on TV. I had all but planned to postpone my long (for me) run until Sunday morning to give my butt time to heal when I realized that if I ran Sunday morning, I’d get caught up with the Nation’s Triathlon, which had morphed into a duathlon thanks to the weeks’ rains.

I laced up after Nadal beat Murray.

The run confirmed what I’ve already known: I’m a lot slower than I was three years ago. I’m working on being okay with this.
On the positive side, I have realistic expectations: the run took me as long as I had expected it would take me, which means that I was back on the sofa to watch the second women’s semi-final. I even had time to spare rehydrate. And, although I missed Cyndi Lauper gallantly streaming our flag was still there, I was particularly pleased at my ability to schedule the run in between matches.
On the other hand, in addition to improving endurance, I need to work on staying positive. It’s been a challenge to turn off ignore the chatter in my head that gets stirred up during and post run. I’m also looking for a mantra. It used to be “Power through the legs, strong in the core.” I haven’t tried it yet this year — mostly because I haven’t felt particularly strong during any run — but I may need to recycle it.

On tap for this week: After this Saturday’s run, which was 8-miles by the way, I decided to adjust yet again my training schedule. I don’t plan to run 10 miles prior to the Army 10-Miler.  My strategy has turned to something along the lines of train up to 8 miles, maybe 9, and rely on race-day adrenaline to carry me the rest of the way. So this week it’ll be ~17 miles total, including an 8-mile run and a tempo run in there.

And I’m still looking for a mantra if you’ve got any suggestions…

First 1.5 Hours on a Stand Up Paddleboard

My obliques will be crying uncle tomorrow, but before I lose the capacity to do whatever it is that oblique muscles do, a few thoughts on my first time out on a stand up paddleboard.

It was rad.
When my friend Ben asked whether I wanted to get out on SUP this weekend, my inside voice thought that Ben had turned into an late 90s wannabe rapper. Then, when I realized what SUP stood for, I told him I was game as long as we weren’t on a waterbody where I might wind up with a third arm if I fell in (aka, the Potomac in Georgetown).
On tap this weekend for my Army 10-Miler training was a short run and cross training to cap off a step-back week that left a lot of quality to be desired. No need to relive that. I did the run this morning, and by 9:30 am, Ben and I were waiting for the surf shop to open so we could pick up our boards. 

At least it doesn’t look as ridiculous as the boards did on a Golf.
We got some beta from the guys at the surf shop, did our own exploration, picked up a parking permit for the landing where we wanted to put in….and then fueled ourselves for the paddle.
Way too excited to be at an open-air bar for lunch.
About all we had decided was to paddle in protected water, off Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We drove down a road that abutted the Wye River, looked for public access to the water, and came upon a landing road (preceded by a country store operated by a not particularly nice proprietor). Bingo. We put in. I wobbled in a table top position.  This was the extent of my yoga practice on the board. After a few tentative strokes in a kneeling position, I popped onto my feet. Well, “pop” is too active a word. It was more of a gradual metamorphosis from a crouch to not as much of a crouch. The judges on So You Think You Can Dance would have been super impressed with my interpretive dance with a prop. 

I can’t wait to see how my obliques feel tomorrow.
Once on my feet, we paddled for an hour into a headwind. Holy resistance training! Thanks to the headwind, I was pretty sure at times that my paddling was futile. It’s a good thing that several motor boats puttered and not so puttered at us to provide the illusion that I was moving forward. And, I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that we turned around at the Aspen Wye River Conference Center dock. Nerdy factoid: the 1998 Mideast Peace talks were here.
The best part about starting out into a headwind, obviously, is the return, which took half an hour. I even caught a few waves on the way back, and we came in to the landing as the local fishermen and crabbers brought in the day’s catch.
Now about those obliques…

Why I’m a Morning Runner

Wednesday night, someone asked me whether I was a morning runner or evening runner, and I responded morning because it’s usually more bearable, temps-wise. This reasoning usually makes no sense in December, nor did it make sense this week, when the post-Irene weather has been awesome unbelievably amazing. I’m not even really a morning person; I’m just a night person in disguise. At any rate, at some point in the past, I had decided to run in the mornings, and that’s what I now do. I couldn’t remember why.

Thurday morning, I remembered:  less traffic (foot, bicycle and vehicular) = decreased likelihood of getting hit by an idiotic distracted DC driver.

Five years ago this month, I was doing a short loop through town just before 7am and making really good time when I got hit by a car driving forward out of a nursing home driveway.  I stress that the car was moving forward, not backing, out of the driveway because when I posted this on a RunnersWorld forum at the time, I got flamed for not watching for cars backing out of driveways.  Ah….the anonymity of the interwebs!

So, in August 2006, I was about a mile from the end of my run and on the sidewalk. The car was moving slow enough that when I got hit, I folded over the hood all Matrix-like (and possibly keying the hood in the process) but stayed on my feet.  Go yoga! After my brain realized that I just got hit by a car, I did a quick body scan and yelled at the driver that I was okay.  I figured that if I had just hit someone, I’d be concerned about whether the person was okay, right?  Well, the driver, in turn, yelled at me for not stopping to look both ways before crossing the driveway. Whatever, bitch…you hit me — at least be concerned as to whether I’m, I dunno, injured. I fired back some choice words and ran away. Then I spent the rest of the day telling everyone who would listen, “OMG, can you believe I got hit by a car while running? I got hit by a car while running!”

I’m sure this is about when I started waking up earlier for my training runs and also switching up my routes so that I either beelined for the Mall or for a park trail.

Guess what! Yesterday, I was on the same route, but I didn’t make it outside until just after 7am. I was .75 miles from the end of my run when I took one step into an alley, and a car came barreling out past me and the sidewalk before coming to a stop just beyond the cars parallel parked on the street. I was heading uphill, and I’m so out of shape that I was able to immediately stop, inches away from the car. This car was moving fast enough that I have zero doubt that if I had taken one more step (or was faster), I would have been on the hood. The entire time, the driver had her head turned to her left.  I don’t think she noticed me until after she stopped and found this crazy 5-foot-tall woman dripping in sweat, yelling and pounding her rear window. Then I ran off.  I call that a hit and run.

This week is a step-back week in my Army 10-Miler training.  I know, I don’t feel like I’ve built enough mileage (and I’m not exactly blazing fast, either) to step back, but I’ll take a week where all my runs are no longer than 4 miles.