Monday, April 2, 2012

The (Modesto) Marathon and Beyond

It was only a marathon and supposedly a training one so it wouldn’t ordinarily deserve a post. Especially when I haven’t even gotten around to writing up my Hellgate report yet! But a nice PR and a desire to share a little about my recent training (and upcoming races) seems like a good enough reason.

I started working with a coach back in September of last year. It was something I’d been thinking about on and off for a few years. I had at two different times in 2009 emailed one local and one CA-based coach asking for info on their coaching programs and hadn’t heard back from either so I decided it must have been a sign. I am always on the lookout for signs. 2010 kicked off with a good run of races spread around the country and training was going well despite not being very structured. However, after foot surgery in June, the second half of the year was a bit of a non-event from a racing perspective. Life, on the other hand, stepped up several gears and continued to move at a faster pace than ever as 2011 rolled around with a semi-relocation to northern California as well as travel to Ireland, Australia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and several states in between. Oh, and I fell in love too. With all that going on, it was easy to keep putting off getting serious about training. But then it was summer and hadn’t I signed up for a 100 mile race? Leadville (see earlier post) was a super enjoyable experience but not exactly the race of my life. I didn’t want to say the same thing about Hellgate. It was August. I was recovering well and I needed a plan! But before I got around to seeking out a possible coach, I came across two references to Joe Grant, on running blogs that I randomly read every few months – Tony Krupicka mentioned that Joe had taught him the value of walking up hills not always running them (I figured that meant superior coaching skills!) and a few days later Bryon Powell was but wasn’t promoting Joe’s coaching services on his website. It was a sign. I checked out Joe’s website and got chatting with him a few days after he returned from UTMB at the end of August. By September 1st I was kicking off my training plan for Hellgate.

For me, working with a 'remote' coach is easy and efficient. I am practically attached to my laptop and communicating over email and chatting via Skype is second nature. Another key aspect for me is discipline. I felt that I would work better with someone who doesn’t really know me outside of the coaching relationship. No excuses. I follow the plan and do as I am told. That is not my normal approach to life but it works well here! Though I should note that the training plan is far from rigid. Joe’s approach is to build flexibility into the schedule which certainly suits me well. Yet at the same time I find that I will get out of bed and run an hour and fifteen hilly fartlek because it’s on the plan as opposed to coming up with all sorts of excuses when I was training by myself. Joe writes up a plan about 4 weeks out. For Hellgate, I had a good base coming off Leadville but also had several areas I needed to work on. We focused on running lots of hills and the majority of my runs were on trails thanks to great access living in Los Gatos Monday to Friday. I input upcoming travel and what sort of trail/terrain access I will have so that the plan is doable and I’m not stressing about finding a 6% grade hill in downtown Boston. That’s the part I really like. The no-stress. And it’s fun! I could put the miles in and even mix in the speed/intervals/hills etc but working with someone who puts it all together in a coherent building block approach is clearly benefiting me. Upfront we talked about races and as we got closer to the end of 2011 I started to make plans for 2012. We typically chat every 2 weeks or so, with emails as needed in between. So the plan is set but the plan is fluid.

Hellgate (yes, there will one day be a super-detailed race report!) was a great race for me. It was the race I wanted it to be and more. Sure I did the work. And Chris did an awesome job crewing for me. But I certainly credit Joe’s training plan and advice over the preceding months with helping me achieve a second place finish and taking over 40 minutes off my previous best time from 2009. Second place by around 15 minutes to rock star Amy Sproston who has been a source of inspiration to me over the past few years. Totally a personal opinion here, but I feel that while she's clearly close to the top of the sport, she perhaps follows a tougher path than her fellow elites, relying more on hard work, determination, and will-power than sheer talent. But above all it's the honesty in her approach and in telling her stories that impresses me the most. I know without doubt that I am further down the talent grade and do not possess many of the typical 'natural athlete' qualities. So I figure if training my ass off gets me even remotely close to Amy in a race I'll take it!

But before I'd even run Hellgate I had my eye on the next race. And here is where the marathon fits in. In 3 weeks time I'll be in Serengo, close to Milan in northern Italy, running in the World Championship 100k event. Or, as my non-running friends dubbed it, the Olympics for Crazy People. Running for Ireland no less! Who'd have thought? Not me. And likely not anyone who knew me 10 years ago when I ran my first 10k race in Dublin. But here I am, officially headed to Italy. As I say, I've known about the race for several months and the possibility of running it, so I've been training towards it. But I didn't know for sure that I'd actually be going until quite recently. Unfortunately, given that ultrarunning isn't quite as popular back home, and the few other interested ladies are either injured or unable to go, I will be running as an individual. But there is a full six-person men's team (top 3 score) as well as an additional individual runner. So with all of us, and my awesome support crew, we'll make our presence known! It will also be cool to see some of the ladies I've run into at races in recent years representing the US, Canada, England and Scotland. I should note that while running for Ireland is a huge privilege and not something I ever thought would happen, my goal time for this race would not get me even close to qualifying for the US team. But hey, wearing a green singlet outweighs that!!

So that's the reason behind a training schedule since January that has increasingly included more roads and faster pace runs. Though it's been a gradual transition and I've continued to run more than half my mileage on trails. Which brings me back to the marathon and the training which led to an unplanned PR by 11 minutes. Since I was going to be running more roads this spring I talked to Joe and putting a marathon on the calendar. It would be mostly as a training race but I figured there was a good chance I should be able to run something close to 3:10. I came across the Modesto race and it fit the bill exactly. Small, easily accessible, flat, good chance of nice but not hot weather, and it was 5 weeks out from the 100k. And better yet, my friend Sonya decided to join me from Minneapolis! Having already incorporated a 50k (Lake Nokomis Fat Ass - good times) and a 29 mile run into the training in February as well as several long trail outings, I knew I could probably run the marathon at a faster pace without too much downside. I didn't want to have to spend time recovering from this but I did want to test myself to a certain extent. I got the okay from Joe to run fairly fast while in control and not going "all out" - easier said than done! In the days leading up to the race I was still on the fence about what my goal should be. I wanted to focus more on how I felt than watching my pace but I couldn't help feel that this was a great chance to nail a relatively fast marathon time. But the real goal was the 100k. But. I was also unsure about the reality of running 7:12 minute miles 26 times. I'd run the Frozen Half back in January and despite the miserable conditions I came close to a PR with a 1:32:30 finish which is a 7:04 pace. Without a taper and I hadn't needed any recovery time. And that was two and a half months ago. Surely I would be well able for it. But I rarely run seven minute miles in training. In fact, I'm not sure I ever do. I run a lot of hard miles, tough hilly fartleks and 1 minute on, 1 minute off type runs that push me hard and certainly require the same effort as a seven minute mile. But is that it enough? Does it translate? Turns out it is and it does. At least for me. At Modesto my legs just wanted to run 7:05's. I would try to ease off but within a minute be back at that pace. It felt good. I did slow down a little around mile 17-20 with some headwind and general fatigue but my legs felt strong and none of the hip flexor soreness I sometimes experience on long flat runs. I figured I'd have something for the final few miles. I knew I was in third place with Sonya and another girl running 1,2 close together when I saw them on the out-and-back. At about mile 22 I knew that 3:05 was unlikely but I was getting tired of the guy in yellow who kept taking off in little bursts and then I'd catch him, then he'd take off again... between him and the half marathoners we were catching (who were mostly awesome but some were walking 3 or 4 across), I knew I had to just put my head down and focus on myself. Off I went, picking up the pace as we headed back towards town. Took a little water and a taste of a gel at mile 23, kept it going up the overpass (the only hill) and passed a guy at the mile 24 marker who kindly told me that 2nd place was just ahead! Sweet. I continued in hot pursuit and passed her a few minutes later. Mile 25, we were in town now. Many half marathoners. Passed maybe one or two more guys in the marathon. Mile 26. Turned the corner to the finish line. The clock had indeed ticked over 3:05. Next time! It was a super fun feeling to finish second to Sonya. She had crossed the line in 3:01 taking 8th overall and picking up a surprise paycheck to go along with the win! The next few days I felt tired but pretty decent. My left foot was quite sore on Monday at the base of my middle toes. I gave myself the day off and when I ran trails in cushier shoes (new Montrail Bajadas) on Tuesday, it felt fine. I had made a PT appointment for Wednesday so I went along to that anyway and got some work done on it. I didn’t get to run that day but had a good run Thursday morning. Then I flew to Salt Lake City to meet Chris for the weekend and all of a sudden on Friday my quads felt terrible on a long run on Antelope Island (Chris was running the 100 mile race). It was a miserable surprise which continued during Saturday’s run. Deep tissue soreness that didn’t feel like it was going to go away anytime soon. I was beginning to regret pushing hard the previous weekend! By Monday, after a 90 minute massage, things were coming around. Legs felt decent on a hard-ish run Tuesday morning. But then Wednesday’s run, in Boston where I was for work, my right quad felt sore almost the whole time. Definitely not as bad as the weekend but still not good. I stopped into City Sports on Boylston Street as I was finishing up my run and picked up a Thera-roll foam roller which I hadn’t seen before but am ‘enjoying’ using it since. I got the hard version which is certainly aggressive. Whether or not that did the trick, I certainly felt a lot better on an easy run Thursday (Rhode Island) and was back at it for a series of runs over the weekend in New York. Did I mention I travel a lot? I would say the quads are not quite 100% yet as I can feel some soreness when I press hard but nothing while running. And given that most of the 45 weekend miles were on roads in my Adidas Adios - which is probably what I'll wear for the 100k - I think I am back on track. It felt good to be able to put in a solid weekend. The last of the really long runs before Italy. Next weekend I am running the Ron Daws 25k (and will be less aggressive than Modesto!) in MN and then a 2.5hr easy run on Sunday. And then it’ll be almost time to talk about tapering. Wow, it comes around quick.

I suppose like anything my training has evolved over time and there’s no doubt it’s more focused today than a few years ago when I set most of my current PRs. It is likely to change again in time but right now I am really excited about the months ahead. It’s also helped me to plan races a bit better and not just sign up for everything that looks like fun. I know that a large part of my enjoyment in running and racing comes from having a plan, putting the work in, and seeing the results. While it is tempting to continually sign up for races, especially being in California with races every weekend, it would burn me out pretty quick. I say that knowing that I am signed up for Miwok two weeks after Worlds – two quite different races! I had entered the lottery for Miwok before I knew for sure about Italy. I will just see how it goes and run Miwok however I feel on the day. Can’t turn down the opportunity to spend a day on those trails. Working with a coach has also led to more thought around shoe and nutrition choices. Or should I say, leverage of someone else's thoughts. I could happily spend hours online researching products but, as evidenced by my lack of blogging, those hours are harder to find these days. So I am gladly taking the help. It's been fun trying new road shoes - something that I hadn't really put much thought into in recent years. The Adios shoes have been working really well for me. And thanks to Kurt at Twin Cities Running Co. doing an awesome job for the race team, I've just picked up the Scott T2s and will soon be trying out the Race Rockers (which look like the funkiest shoe on the shelf). Sweet! More miles too. These days I tend to run almost every day and rarely have time for yoga or swimming or biking unlike the good old days of triathlon training (and singledom) when working out for 3 hours a day was often the norm. I just don't have the time these days and if I have to choose it'll always be running. Working with a coach has been great from that perspective - fitting it all in with work and travel and life. No complaints though. The one-year-old 'new' job is going well. The move to California, when it finally fully happens, will be awesome. The travel has been fun as always. Oh yeah, and I ran a 3:05:49 marathon at Modesto...

Roll on Italy...