Tag Archives: speedwork

Never easy

“I just want one thing to be easy.”

I’ve been saying this a lot lately. In the last several weeks, a lot of Hard Things have piled up. Two deaths in March. Major work deadlines, for both Shannon and myself. Running and training rough patches – I’ve had this strange thing going on with my foot (which seems to be managed, though I fully plan on taking a month off post-marathon to let it get to 100%), and Shannon’s work-life balance has been so heavy on the “work” end that running has been a burden more than a release. And we bought our house, a weeks-long buildup of paperwork and endless emails and calls and panic right up until the very last moment: the lender only gave us the information to wire our downpayment to closing about two hours before our closing appointment. And then we didn’t have enough money for the wiring fee (oops). A co-worker saved me, and multiple Bank of America reps were incredibly kind and patient in the final days as we begged them to move money faster, even though they weren’t even our lender.

In the end, closing on the house was easy and relatively painless: the closing attorney was very kind and funny, and explained things to us first-time homeowners very well. And our realtor got us a cutting board as a gift. And, since we bought the house we’ve been renting the last 2+ years, we didn’t even have to move. We were pretty excited to have the whole process complete, to actually own our house.

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So excited that I didn’t notice until later that I had closing-appointment-chocolate-bowl-chocolate in my teeth for this photo.

The last few weeks of training, especially the taper, so often are rocky and fearful. You begin to second-guess everything you’ve been doing leading up to this point. Wondering if you are ready. Wondering if you are fit enough. Wondering if you could have done more, or should have done less. Wondering if that foot is going to behave, or blow up. Wondering if that missed 20-miler, that missed week of training, is going to be make-or-break. Even when you know, logically, that you’re as fit – more fit – than you’ve ever been.

Having a little extra down-time does not negate all the good work leading up to it, and the work after. Sure, things have felt harder, but that’s okay. The first several weeks of training felt so effortless, uncomplicated. Maybe this would have been detrimental. Maybe it would have had me go into the race with too much confidence and not enough respect. The marathon must always be respected. You have to be confident, but you also have to brace yourself. Prepare yourself for the fight.

I ran the Chick-fil-A half at the beginning of this month as part of a 16-mile day, mostly easy/by-feel, but with pace miles at hte end (either up to 5 miles @ MP or 3 miles @ HMP). It ended up being mostly the latter, primarily because the course is just rough. I did a good job really ignoring my watch, occasionally catching a split when I had a Pavlovian response to the sound of my watch beeping. I was mostly hanging in the 8:30s, slowing a bit later as the hills began to stack up. I saw so many friends volunteering and cheering, and it was fun to run an event without having to really suffer and push the whole time. It’s a hilly course, but it also goes through some of the prettiest parts of Athens.

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Around mile 8, during a very short respite from some of the worst hills, I found Margeaux, who had hoped to break 1:40 at this race, but who was having a rough day – similar to the day I had last AthHalf when I thought I could squeak a 1:40 half four weeks after Erie. We pulled each other along up East Campus and cutting through Five Points, and I tried to refocus her energy and thoughts on the pretty course and the gift of running. But it’s hard to pull yourself out of that dark place once you’re in it. I could hear her breathing beginning to relax when the course flattened on Milledge, and as I neared the 10-mile mark and had to pick it up, she told me to go. Shannon found me a few times, and I gave him a huge smile each time. I finished strong and with a big smile. My foot tightened up post-race but I got it to loosen up once more to run a couple cooldown miles with Chrissy (who beasted the course at marathon pace for a 1:38) and Justin (recently post-BQ-marathon and pacing 1:30).

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Probably the most encouraging moment of the last segment of htis training cycle was my last 18-miler, my last real long run. I ran the first 7ish solo and was hyper-focused on my foot: how it felt, whether it was hurting, whether I was altering my gait, how tight my left side felt overall. I linked up with friends for the next four and began to relax, and by the time we go to the Luv Run for Dustin and Catherine, who had just gotten married the night before, and whose marriage we’d be celebrating that night at their party/reception, I was having fun and feeling good. I just had a couple miles left at the very end of the group run to get to 18, and felt strong to the finish.

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Bride and her #BAMFL sisters! She looked so adorable in the Oiselle runaway bride dress! I love these ladies.
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Just a few of the friendly faces at the reception – we all clean up pretty good!

The weekend of this wedding was a whirlwind, since the very next morning, I was up at 6 am to catch a 10:30 flight home to Ohio for Passover. As it turned out, I woke up to a text message from Delta alerting me my flight had been cancelled in the wake of major service disruption from that Wednesday’s storm system. I rebooked on American, with a hop through Philly, had that flight delayed when I got to the gate, rebooked my Philly connection, and rebooked again when I found an earlier flight to a different airport. I was about 5 hours late to arrive in Cleveland based on my original itinerary, but I made it. I saw both of my parents, my 96-year-old grandfather (who still walks almost every morning – he’s my hero), and got in two runs, including a mile repeat workout on the roads and in the rain. I saw three deer during my warmup; they were maybe 10 feet from me, and when I paused my watch to look at them, they looked at me, regarded me a few seconds, then resumed eating, unafraid.

The marathon is never easy. There is no marathon without fear. But I am not doing something new, not doing anything I have not done before. I know what I am capable of. I am aiming for a BQ, but I am a BQ marathoner. That 3:34 was not a fluke, and it’s not gone and done. I need to improve my time, but I already have that capability inside me. I have to reach in and dig it out once more. I have to be ready to fight. I have to be prepared to walk across hot coals for as long as I think I can stand it–and then do it a little more. When workouts felt hard – a half-marathon pace workout a couple weeks ago that felt like hard work, and not the effortless floating of earlier HMP workouts this cycle – I remembered that I learned more from the experience of a workout that feels hard than one that feels easy. Nothing about that last 10K is going to feel easy. But I am ready for it.

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I’ve been lax overall lately about my “check in” entries in my training journal. Plane rides are a good time to write.

Work stress is still swallowing me whole. The Saturday of the Luv Run, I had a 90-minute appointment with my usual massage therapist (I’ve been getting weekly massages to keep my body happy these final weeks, a worthwhile “indulgence” to stay healthy), and two minutes into starting on my back, she remarked, “You are just a ball of stress.” We have a huge research symposium the Tuesday following the marathon. My race week distraction has to be set aside to get everything done that still has to be completed. I’m choosing to believe that focusing on work is helping me to maintain perspective. And I will have perspective on race weekend as well – set aside the work stuff, because it will be all-but-done at that point, and get in race mindset. We had a hectic, social activity filled Easter weekend, and now we’re spending this week as hermits, coming home from work, making and eating dinner, getting our to-do lists done, and relaxing. Quiet is a priority. Sleep is a priority. Wine and chocolate may be assisting a bit as well.

I streamed the Boston Marathon at work yesterday (very distractedly, since, yeah, very busy) and tracked my friends with the BAA app. I was over-the-moon thrilled for them, but my heart hurt. I was not there. I should be there. But the desire is greater. The fire burns hotter. I will be there.

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These ladies ran ridiculously impressive races. I know I can reach within myself to find some of that badassery and toughness.

I will make no excuses. This training cycle has been hard. Life never lets up – it never will. The marathon never lets up – that’s what makes it great. Racing the hot Erie Marathon branded me with a fire I will never lose. And this training cycle toughened me in still more ways. I have a couple more angels running with me this time.

Glass City Marathon: I’m coming for you.

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Halfway dreams

So, I’m halfway through this marathon training cycle. I keep waffling between feeling strong and confident – on my way to being prepared – and being completely freaked out.

So, about normal.

Will I ever stop sweating, though?
Will I ever stop sweating, though?

As with any training cycle, there have been ups (great, great ups) and downs (deep, dark, basement downs). Within the last week, the race dreams (nightmares? Not true race nightmares – yet – but not great signs if I’m at all prescient) have started. Last week, I dreamt I ran a 3:50 and was royally pissed to have worked so hard and only PR’d by two minutes (bratty? Possibly), and then my coach was asking to see my data and I couldn’t find it.

This weekend, I dreamt that I was at the start line of my upcoming half-marathon – the one that I’m supposed to race rather than run as a workout – and realized I had never gotten to talk race plan/strategy with my coach, and was full on freaking. The race never occurred in the dream, at least I don’t remember it, but not a very comforting moment.

In real life, things have been going a lot better. A few weeks ago, I had one of the worst (if not The Worst) long runs I have ever had. 17 miles of pure torture. I woke up with a less-than-stellar attitude, feeling a wave of dread. It had been a brutal week, hot and with a tropical air mass sitting over the south. It was relentlessly humid. My workouts that week had been brutal. And now I had to run 17 and it wasn’t any better. It felt awful from the first step, and I had maybe a half mile here and there of feeling less than shitty, but the rest was terrible. When I was running the last 3 miles out-and-back, I got to mile 15 (half a mile from where I needed to get to before turning around), sat down on a wall, and cried. Pulling myself together, I finished the last bit of out and turned back, forcing myself to keep going to the end, even speeding up by about a minute in the last mile. When my watch beeped the last mile and I hit STOP, I folded over and cried. It probably took me a good 10 minutes to pull myself together again.

The only bit of comfort was that everyone else was dying out there, too. George cut his run short by 3 miles. Lindsay and I took a couple walk breaks in the middle (she gutted it out and finished her planned 11). Will cut his loop short. Everyone looked like they were in the middle of a death march. We had had it.

But since then – some days by degrees, and others by huge leaps – it got better. We got stronger. The tropical air mass moved away. The temperatures started to drop, and the humidity became less than crushing (after weeks and weeks and weeks of 95% humidity on a daily basis, 85% feels downright heavenly, I tell you what). The following week I aced an 800 repeat workout and bossed a 14-mile cutback long run on a beautiful day. True, I cut short my Friday run (did like 2.3ish when I had 4 planned) because it felt like garbage, but one bad run for the week, instead of only one good run the previous week? Definite win.

The following week…I may have gotten a little cocky. With an early morning meeting on Thursday, I flip-flopped my Tuesday/Thursday and did my long track workout Tuesday morning instead. There’s usually some group workout out at Spec Towns most early mornings, but on Tuesdays, apparently it’s the Shirtless Fasties (with Coach Al – this isn’t their official name, just what I call them. Also Dustin was wearing a shirt, so it’s not a firm rule). They were cruising 800s, one dude cranking out 2:20 splits (and making it look beautifully effortless), a second group was doing probably 2:50-3:00, and I think a third group was out there as well, probably just over 3:00. I had 1600s at 10K pace on tap.

Yeah, I fucked up. I hadn’t paced mile repeats in a while, and didn’t have a good feel for my 10K pace. I felt really good on the first one but apparently I was speeding up each quarter and wound up about 14 seconds fast. I tried to slow down on the next two, but was still about 8-10 seconds fast on each. I gave it all up on the last one (stupidly), and as the 3:00ish 800 group came roaring up beside me in the last 60 meters of both our intervals, I sped up and hung on the back of the pack to sprint in to the finish.

Well, my legs and feet were crampy as HELL for the cooldown (and my calves had been yelling at me earlier anyhow because I’d done calf raises Monday for the first time in many weeks). When I posted that workout, oh boy, my coach chewed. me. out. And rightfully. I was racing in that workout, especially that last one, which was foolish.

Spoiler alert: sleeping in calf sleeves doesn't actually fix everything
Spoiler alert: sleeping in calf sleeves doesn’t actually fix everything

I foam rolled and hydrated and stretched and rested, and then was ready to crush my next workout on Thursday. I was under strict instructions to bag it if I was struggling (which I defined as “more uncomfortable than comfortably hard,” and Coach Mark agreed to that definition). Despite humidity, janky sidewalks, and darkness (who turned off the lights? Oh yeah. It’s fall), I felt unstoppable for 7 miles with 5 at goal marathon pace, nailing each one a little faster than goal.

The runner's selfie.
The runner’s selfie.

I’m once again back to traveling too much – over Labor Day weekend that same week, I was in Cleveland to see my parents and a few friends, and had 17 miles on tap with 5 at race pace.

5 a.m., eating a bonk breaker, sitting on the floor of my former bedroom.
5 a.m., eating a bonk breaker, sitting on the floor of my former bedroom. #glam

My saintly mother got up at 5:30 am and drove me into the middle of nowhere Cleveland suburbs to drop me at my start point in pitch black darkness (I ran without headphones, and with headlamp and tail blinkie on a very, very quiet road). She met me at 9.5 for a water refill and towel off, and a half mile later, I pushed through 5 miles at race pace in rolling hills. I was grateful for the shade and for conditions that felt a little better than Georgia had felt all summer (though I know folks who live in Ohio were unhappy about the weather. Pittsburgh, too – sorry for bringing the heat and humidity up north with me, guys!).

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On Labor Day itself, I met up with running friend and former neighbor Liz for 9 beautiful miles full of chatting about life and work and school and BQs and triathlon and stories. And we only ran a hair too fast in places.

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I’ve started to break in my marathon shoes (or hopeful marathon shoes anyhow) – I at least upgraded to the Brooks Launch 2! Just a couple runs in, but I’m already in love. They’re smooth and springy and just cushy enough, with a perfect arch wrap. Plus, they’re pretty to boot.

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Boston Marathon registration opened last week, and I was once again infected by Boston Fever. I go back and forth between feeling confident that I’ll get there someday, and thinking that I’m kidding myself. Like that tempo run last week that I had to cut short because I couldn’t manage half-marathon pace on a crappy treadmill in the shitty med school campus gym after work (sleep won in the morning, and Ramsey at 5 pm is insanely crowded). Or that one crappy-feeling half-mile rep during 9×800 on the road (track was closed – it was annoying. And don’t even get me started on how my watch misbehaved halfway through. We’re just barely on speaking terms again). Or how it still feels hard to hold 9:00 during a 20-miler. But then I think of all the other miles I’m stacking up. Those effortless feeling marathon-pace tempo miles. I’m putting hay in the barn. I’ll keep working.

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Hay in the barn, or GU in the drawer?

Two months away from the race, I know I still have a ways to go, but I’ve already come so far. And in two weeks, I get my first real indicator: racing 13.1 at Michelob ULTRA Atlanta. I should probably make sure to carve out time with my coach to discuss race strategy. 😉

Need for Speed, and Becoming a Georgia Runner

These two things are both at odds with each other, and work in a lovely kind of harmony…but only in the long game.

Let me explain.

A lot of things happened and have been happening with this move. My whole life and routine and support system and running partner network was uprooted. I started a new job. I had to find a new network. I had to build new routes and new relationships. I had to really learn (AGAIN) how to boss hills. I had to learn how to run through weirdly cold dampness of Georgia winter (still better than up north, so I’m not actually whining – just observing) and endure the slow build up of Georgia summer heat, and then a THREE WEEK DEATHLY HEAT WAVE in June. And now we’re in another in July (but now this one doesn’t feel nearly as bad – acclimatization works!)

It’s been hard. Really hard. At first, a lot of it felt like one step forward, two steps back; some weeks it is still like that. But we’re definitely moving closer to two steps forward territory, with more infrequent steps back. Sometimes those steps backward wallop us. But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep fighting.

Or at least this is what I’m telling myself. This is what I’m putting into words here, right now, for myself, really.

After recovering from Big Sur (we took a full week off, including being sick as dogs for that and beyond. ugh), which didn’t take as long as usual given we didn’t “race” it, we started building our base back at a smart, reasonable rate, and eventually adding in some fun speedwork. I also hoped to run at least two 5Ks prior to the Peachtree Road Race on July 4 – I wound up running 3, actually.

And beyond trying to get my speed back (spoiler alert: speed is there, but endurance is not), what I really was doing – without realizing – was solidifying my place in the local running community.

Running with the Dawgs 5K (Memorial Day)

I considered this my first speed “test”: I knew I wasn’t remotely fit, so I just wanted to see where I landed. This was also the first day of the Runner’s World Summer Run Streak, which we planned to do (though I had no plans to hold it farther than July 4 – and, spoiler alert, I didn’t). Shannon and I warmed up with an easy mile, and did some drills and strides, per usual. My legs felt dead and heavy, with no speed in them. My fast twitch muscle fibers felt asleep.

The race started in downtown Athens, and with the gun, we came down a nice downhill before swinging around a block, heading uphill for a bit, and then heading down a screaming downhill. I let my legs fly on it but stayed in control, jockeying a bit with another girl who kept me honest the first half but whom I lost sight of later. The first mile clicked off in 6:40. The course slid on down College Ave before flinging us onto the Greenway and sending us on some rolling hills. It was still mostly flat at that point so I stayed strong in that mile. Second mile: 6:58.

Then the course went baaaaad. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize until I was out there that they were going to send us where they were: we headed up Willow and took a sharp turn onto Hickory; I think there was a photographer, but I have no idea what came of those photos and I’m not sure I’d want to see them. At this point I was passing a girl I had been keeping an eye on for a while (she was wearing full length tights on a hot day so this was a very distracting thing). She was panting really hard but I tossed her an encouraging word as we climbed. And then the course turned right up Broad Street and I unleashed all the curse words (in my head – mostly) for the short but grueling segment that we climbed (3rd mile: 7:26, ugh) before heading into a parking deck (seriously) and sprinting to the finish (final sprint pace: 6:35). I shook hands with tights girl, who finished a few seconds behind me, and coughed up a lung for a while.

Time: 21:54 (7:04 pace); 4th female, 10th overall, 1st in AG

Overall, a good first effort – well off my PR and more like my 10K PR pace (I’m pretty sure my 10K PR is a unicorn now, but we’ll get to that) but I figured if I did some work I could get back there, or at least closer.

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LEAD Athens Midnight 5K

I knew I wanted to get another 5K in before Peachtree, but when the opportunity for a bit of a novelty presented itself, I went for it: a Midnight 5K. I’d been hearing about it at group runs and had separately run across it online, so I decided to go for it. Shannon was out of town so it would just be me, but my friend Christine and I arranged to meet up.

I have to tell you though – fueling for a 5K at midnight is a bit bizarre. I got home from work around 5:30, relaxed a bit, and then took a 90 minute catnap. I figured getting a sleep cycle in wouldn’t be the worst thing, especially since I’m an old person who goes to bed at or before 10 pm almost every night. Midnight was late. I then made pancakes for dinner and ate them with peanut butter and banana while watching Netflix. By 10:30, I was heading out. I followed the crowd of running shorts and shirts in the midst of drunken bar-goers, and eventually found Christine, who brought glow sticks, because she’s awesome.

We did a short warmup, and I did some drills and strides on my own before everyone began lining up. Catherine T. (aka “the other Catherine” as I jokingly call her. To myself. Really, I’m the other Cath(ryn) because I’m a newbie not that many people know, especially in comparison) was there and was standing with some other gals on the Fleet Feet Elite Racing Team, and I joked with Christine, “I am not going to chase them. I am not.”

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The race began downhill and curved onto Prince Ave and into some darker streets. I picked off a few people and tried to find that perfect 5K pain place. I opted to race without music – I’ve never done this in a 5K, but it was midnight and the roads were not closed for the race, so I wasn’t taking any chances. As we were heading up Prince, the cop escort took us around a turn and a college girl in a truck (she was behind the wheel and I’m not sure she should have been) shrieked “is this a parade??”

We turned onto some side streets and headed toward a short, nasty climb before zig-zagging down Boulevard, which rolls down for a while before rolling up a bit. I kept pushing and tried to avoid tripping in any potholes (I did get caught up on a speed bump, once each way – didn’t trip or anything, just got caught flat-footed for a second). Surprisingly, I was gaining on Catherine. I stalked off her shoulder for a bit, and pretended everyone cheering for her was also cheering for me. 😉 We traded leads a couple times, but I thought I’d lose contact with her when I fell back a bit coming back. Then as we headed the opposite way on that short but steep hill, I caught her as we rounded the next corner. Without music, I could hear her breathing, and I knew I had her. I just kept on going full tilt, heading past Pulaski on Prince (when it starts to go uphill), wondering whether or not a cop was watching the light (no one was, apparently – I got very lucky at a low-traffic moment).

The course turned once more up College and up the driveway to the bank parking lot where the finish was, all uphill, and I gave my best death face while punching stop on my Garmin.

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Time: 22:06 (7:01, 6:57, 7:21; 7:00 pace sprint up the hill); 14th overall, 2nd female, 1st in AG

Given the difficulty of the course, the fact that it was my second 5K that week, and that it was at midnight? I was OK with the slower time. And I bagged an AG win!

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Christine and I headed to The Place for half-priced drinks afterwards and chatted with some folks, including the race organizer, Lindsay, and another Athens Road Runners member, Tino. Both EXTREMELY nice people, who along with Will (whom I’d met separately at a Fleet Feet run) get together a lot of mornings to squeeze in some early miles. I got Lindsay’s phone number later that week, and collected the rest over the next few weeks and we’ve been meeting up pretty frequently.

I mentioned that these last few months helped me find community, and as the last mini-race report shows, I’ve definitely made some friends. But there’s another friend that Athens running lead me to that I feel I need to mention. As I said, Shannon was out of town for the Midnight 5K, but he got back late that evening. We had less than 24 hours together, but since we had a run streak to keep, we dragged our butts out of bed Sunday morning for a quick neighborhood loop. It took us a while to get out there. We tossed and turned and cuddled up and resisted the call of the road. But sometimes, timing like this is everything.

We were about a third of a mile or so into the run when Shannon said, “look, a bunny!” We live on the outskirts of Athens, so wildlife sightings aren’t unusual, and we always point out cute animals to each other. So I instantly looked around for a small, brown, woodland creature.

Instead, I saw a little white rabbit chowing down on clover in someone’s lawn. An elderly man sat on a chair a few feet away. He invited us to say hi to the rabbit, saying it was friendly. After a couple minutes of chatting, it became clear it wasn’t his bunny, but had been someone else’s, who had “released” it. Our guess is that it was an Easter gift that became “too much.” Now, this was a white rabbit. Living in a yard. In a neighborhood with cats, off-leash dogs, hawks, and coyotes. We talked to him some more about the rabbit, how long it had been there (a couple weeks), if he knew whom it had belonged to. Eventually, we had to move along with our run.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Shannon and I talked as I drove him to the airport and agreed that, since we had planned on getting guinea pigs soon anyway (after this trip I was getting him to the airport for, actually – we’d have a break from traveling), I could get the supplies (cage, etc.) that we could re-use later if we ended up getting pigs, and get that bunny out of that yard and out of harm’s way.

So I did. Within a week, we took the bunny to the vet and learned that it’s a girl, unspayed, 3 lb, and had ticks. We treated her topically for the ticks, and after very little soul-searching, knew we just had to keep her.

Sometimes you find a friend in the most unlikely of places.

That week, with Shannon out of town, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in my running life: at Monday’s Fleet Feet run, I ran with Camille for a mile, and after she split off for the 3 mile loop, caught up to Catherine and chatted it up with her. We both ended up pushing each other pretty hard, averaging low 8:XX in the pouring rain, and having a blast. Tuesday night was the monthly brewery run at Creature Comforts, and I found myself running and chatting with Lindsay on that steamy afternoon for the 3 mile loop, before joining her, Nina, and Tino at Little Kings down the street (the brewery was way too packed) for a couple beers and some chatting. We talked running and life and Peachtree (and they got me super-pumped for the race). It was lovely.

We parted ways but not for long, since I was up at 4:45 the next day to join them and the usual crew at the speed workout at Spec Towns Track. I had been meaning to check it out, and it helped that I knew a couple people who would be there. I nailed the 6×800 workout at 5K pace and had a blast while doing it. There was a range of abilities but everyone was encouraging and kind and fun, and it was a nice, relaxed setting.

Friday morning, Christine and I met up at Fleet Feet for a hilly 8.6ish miler on a nice morning, chatting the miles away. My husband may have been out of town, but I was actually starting to feel like I belonged here.

Over the next few weeks, I found a real groove: I got my mileage base where I wanted it (30-35 mpw), went to the track on Wednesdays, and dabbled in some shorter Monday tempo runs to try to get more speed back. Wasn’t quite where I wanted, but it was something. Even better, I was finding friends – running with Christine, Lindsay, Will, Tino, and others, commiserating bad running conditions, celebrating consistent splits, and just generally having a great time.

I also managed to snag myself a Garmin 220 from a friend – new watch, and just in time, too…

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Then was tune-up 5K #3!

Let’s Move 5K

I found this one online when I searched for later tune-up races. It was tiny, local, and in a park in nearby Watkinsville. Getting there, it looked reasonably flat, though I had no clue was the course was like, since I was unfamiliar with the layout of the park. We did our usual warmup – 1 mile easy followed by drills and striders. Unfortunately, it was already 77*, wickedly humid, and the sun was baking us, just in time for the 8 am start. Oof.

I shot out of the gate way too freakin’ fast and spent the first mile slamming on the brakes. I opted out of music again, and decided to suffer in silence. There was one very brief out-and-back section that was shaded, but the rest was baking in the sun, and it was just rolling enough of a course to be noticeable. I clawed my way past a few competitors and tried to hold a good tempo without dying too early. The first mile clicked off in 6:45 and I choked out a 7:12 second mile. In the midst of the third, I found myself once again near the woman in tights from the Memorial Day 5K. She was decently up ahead but I reeled her in.

We hit a turnaround and a tiny girl – I think she as 9 or 10 – was COOKIN’ (turns out she was leading); as we passed each other, I gave her a smile (it was all I could muster) and she said “good job” and I was in awe. We headed back past a water station I once again skipped, and given that the out traffic was heading my way and tights girl was right in front of me, I made a snap decision to surge and pass her before getting caught up.

Then, there was a large gap – and Shannon up ahead. I kept up my surge pace, maybe slowing the barest bit. I came up beside him and he told me to go ahead. I choked out that I was dying. But I gapped him a little, glancing down as my watch buzzed well ahead of the 3 mile marker (new watch means figuring out how far off it tends to measure – multiple sharp turnarounds never help with GPS measurement, to be fair). 6:48. I sprinted as hard as I could and flew through the line, gasping for oxygen. Final sprint: 6:24 pace.

I finished 2nd female. The little badass girl had won!

getting AG let's movegetting AG let's move 2

Time: 21:49 (official/gun); 1st in AG, 2nd female, 7th OA

A few more workouts, and it was go-time: I managed a solid, controlled, strong-feeling Rowland Tempo, an 8×400 track workout (full workout was 10 reps but the in-town coach encouraged us to only do what we felt truly ready for, so I stepped out of two reps. It was the right call. I managed the full workout a couple weeks later!), an attempted 12-miler than ended up being 9 and change because the humidity and lack of wind destroyed my soul, a merciful break in the heat (88* at a Monday night run felt downright blissful), and a race week sharpener of 3×800 at 10K pace that felt sublime, like I was just grazing a well of untapped potential. Maybe I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I knew I also wanted to enjoy my first Peachtree experience as much as I could. I didn’t have a PR (44:02) in me, but I figured I could manage a 45:30ish, or at least break 46 at my current fitness level.

Peachtree Road Race

Shannon and I headed into ATL Friday morning for a full day – I had gotten in my 1-mile minimum streak run (in the pouring rain) and we packed up and hit the road to get to the expo nice and early…to meet team USA, including Shalane Flanagan!

peachtree packingrainy run shalane

The whole group was super nice. I’m a really awkward person in general, and especially around people of celebrity status, so I decided to just ask them questions I would ask any runner: Is this your first Peachtree? What’s your favorite part of the course? Any tips? What are you most excited for? And of course, they are normal runners. Just super-humanly fast.

Best moment, though, had to be this: we’d been waiting in line for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and were nearly to the front (we couldn’t really see the team while waiting, not until we were basically at the front). A woman behind us suddenly asked us, “Excuse me…this is the line to meet Team USA for soccer…right?” (recall that the World Cup was going on at this point)

Shannon and I exchanged quick looks. “This is Team USA for the Peachtree Cup,” I said, trying to keep a straight face. For tomorrow’s race.”

There was a half-second of excruciating silence, and then they both tried to laugh it off. And then they left the line.

Alrighty then.

We got our signatures, got our shop on for a bit, and then wound our way back to the car and headed up to our hotel. We grabbed dinner at IHOP and tried to crash as early as we could for the early alarm.

Well, we happened to way overbudget on time – but better than underbudgeting, right? We got right up, ate some oatmeal that I heated up in the lobby microwave (Hampton Inn 4evar), lubed up, got in race clothes, pinned on bib, tripled-checked everything, obsessed over the forecast, got in the car, drove to the MARTA station, and took MARTA to the start. (btw, for anyone wondering – no, MARTA is not horrible. It’s the same as any other public transportation, only not funded by the state, so it doesn’t go many places.

Since we got there so mega-early, I got to use the portos twice (and the beautiful and clean restroom inside the Ritz Carlton once) and the MarathonFoto people were like a friggin’ paparazzi.

prerace3 prerace2 prerace1

We also got to watch the volunteers raise the enormous American flag over A corral, and in dramatic fashion, “Free Bird” was ramping up to its climax as the flag went up.

huge flag

It started to rain early on, though after hiding under the overhang at the Ritz for a while, it lightened up and seemed to vanish, only to return during the race. Oh well. We were garbage bag’d up to keep dry for the start.

corral volunteers

Around 20 minutes to go time, we did some drills and warmed up with a jog around a nearby parking deck and street, not managing a full mile, but knowing we were running short on time to get into the crowded A corral. After the National Anthem and a prayer, it was go time!

I knew the first mile was flat and maybe a touch uphill, followed by almost two full downhill miles, before the ups started. I tried to find my happy pace for that first mile, and realized that even with the wave system, it was still really, really crowded out there. First mile went in 7:33, slower than desired. The rain was coming a little harder, and I welcomed it on the muggy morning as the hills started pulling us down. I let them carry me and tried not to destroy my quads: miles two and three went in 7:11 and 7:01, making up for the first slow mile. We passed a group of proselytizers, waving their bibles and signs that said “ARE YOU READY?” On the flip side, a cheery pastor outside an Episcopal church unassumingly threw holy water at us with a big grin on his face, and a few feet later was a water cooling station.

midrace midrace2

Then came Cardiac Hill. Oh, Cardiac Hill. I had been warned. Then repeatedly comforted that training in Athens would have me ready for anything. Then warned again. Shannon didn’t remember Cardiac hill – didn’t remember any particularly gnarly hills on the course. I think his brain blocked it out. Because that hill. would not. end. Halfway up, we passed the spinal patients, in wheelchairs, many of whom would probably never walk again. I told myself, They can’t walk. I can run. Let’s MOVE IT. It gave me a push for a little while, but the hill continued to destroy my mental capacity. Mile 4 went by in 7:55, and mile 5 wasn’t much better – it flattened and rolled a bit, and I tried to recover, but I had zero fight on the uphills. 7:45. In that mile I came across Tino and we traded encouragement and groaned about the hills. Soon after, I passed him and kept pushing.

We came into midtown and I found myself astride with a young boy who was getting ample cheers from the crowd. We paced off each other for a bit and gave each other silent encouragement. Up ahead, finally, the turn onto 10th. Mile 6 clicked in 7:05, and I cranked hard.

finish

 

Seconds before the finish line, I realized I saw Shannon up ahead. I was on pace to shoot past him, and made a snap decision to just run with it. But he felt me go by and found one more gear on a rough day, and we finished practically stride for stride.

Time: 46:19

postrace2

We briefly got separated but in the end met up by the R with the rest of the Athens Road Runners, who huddled under a tree to try to get out of the driving rain, which was beginning to chill us all to the bone. So many of my friends got PRs, and it was so wonderful to hear their victorious tales.

The rest of the day was spent with family and friends, eating and drinking and being merry.

 

In the end, no I wasn’t thrilled with my performance – I felt I was fit enough for a faster day, but the conditions and the toughness of the course – and my current lack of mental toughness – got me in the end. But I gained so much in the two months leading up to the race, learning where I need to go from here, and building the support system and group to help me along the way.

And now, of course: It’s marathon season.

 

Need for speed

Time for a little ketchup.

Okay, okay. Bad joke.

What have I been up to? Well, for one, a very abbreviated off-season. I took Monday through Thursday off post-race, before diving back in Friday with a 5-miler with Danielle – a warm, humid 5-miler. While I can’t generally complain about how this spring into early summer has been, we did have  a couple of surprise hot and muggy days that were a bit of a shock to the system. Then again, I had forgotten what it was to sweat from a run – and I kinda loved it.

Hail Mary mesh is right – saving grace on a hot run

I contemplated reigniting the run streak again, and while I did eventually, I let myself ease in. Danielle and I changed up some routes – a hilly-as-hell 9-miler though Schenley Park springs to mind (done at an 8:34 average – I blame all the marathon training talk getting our hearts pumping as our splits started creeping into BQ marathon pace range the last few miles, even after all the quad-crushing climbs), and I dove back into cross-training with a vengeance.

We returned to some old favorites, including the 5K ladder workout, a week and a half out from a local 5K we wanted to kick butt at.

This would be the hubs’ data overlay, not mine, but to be far, I wasn’t THAT far behind! We also did this at Schenley Oval, since as you can see, CMU was unusable.

We also got to venture into new territory, including me being stupid about mileage (but it’s okay, because, off-season?). The week of the 5K,  and after, I did the following:

Friday: Kim and I ran 5 miles at goal marathon pace (~8:15) and marveled at how much our legs wanted to click into 7:30s (half-marathon pace) and as a result, how “easy” low 8:00s felt. Hope that remains true! I’m not targeting a BQ (YET) but am training with two women who are, so bring it.

Saturday: 10 miles with the Early Birds! These downright mythical creatures (okay, okay) are an offshoot of Steel City, and all wicked fast and really cool folks. The hubs hung with them, but after the first mile clicked off in 8:0x, Kim and I backed off to 8:30s to cruise the last 9 miles in, which was still a solid effort! And my ACTUAL marathon goal pace. Since we were near REI, I of course had to load up on Picky Bars…

Once again, not my data overlay. Clearly.

Sunday: 1.1ish mile warmup, striders, and raced the It’s About the Warrior 5K.

This tiny local race was at North Park, and as predicted, was an out-and-back starting at the Boat House and going around the lake loop counter-clockwise until the turnaround, which meant just enough rolling hills to keep things interesting. We got in a full mile-plus warm-up, did drills, and got the fast twitch muscles firing with faster-than-race-pace striders. It felt like death, but I knew this was what it should feel like. At least for me.

After some more milling around, they told us to head to the start – you know it’s a gun start when they say “go stand by the ____ shelter” and without any warning whatsoever, the gun went off, and we were off! The hubs and I shared quick wishes of “good luck and have fun!” as we took off at a dead sprint that I quickly tried to rein back in. I took a gander at the field and saw I was probably among the top four or five females (in the admittedly very small race). I figured this was as good a spot as any and tried to lock into right around 6:50ish, which was a good 20 sec/mile faster than my actual PR pace (though I did “break” that PR twice during teach split of the Great Race 10K, though at doesn’t really count).  I started reeling in one girl, then another, and mile 1 clicked off in 6:48 as we headed up a hill, tanking my pace for a bit, but I caught up. I could see my sweetie not too terribly far ahead – though definitely out of striking distance.

As we approached the turnaround and we went for our typical out-and-back high five, I saw there was only one girl ahead of me. I wasn’t sure how much she was scoping out the field, but I just chugged around the turnaround table and started reeling her in, wondering if I should pass her, stalk  right behind her, or hang out right beside her, righting the current and making her sweat. I ended up slowly reeling her in, despite some efforts to stay just off of her, and we ran together for probably a good half mile, trading a few words of encouragement. As we clicked off past the second mile (6:54), I slowly inched past her, knowing it was too soon to kick yet and praying I could just hang on. I had gotten the sense she was struggling to maintain the hot pace she had set, but as the mile counted down, I imagined her hot on my heels, telling my brain not to quit.

Mile 3 came in at 6:40 and I was in absolute agony, perking up a hair when I heard the crowd clap a bit more as I rounded the corner as first female. I neared the chute, a guy I had passed briefly and who then re-passed me, just a few seconds ahead, and I saw that two volunteers were waiting for him to clear the chute… so they could draw a finishing tape across! I couldn’t believe it! I was going to break the tape! The pain gave way to elation as I crossed with arms up and I’m pretty sure a big dumb grin on my face. I’m also fairly certain I heard my husband say, “holy $#%&!!” (in the best way)

I shook hands with the second place girl, who was really nice and a great sport, and we meandered around, sucking down gatorade and eating the post-race snacks until the awards. When I was given an invisible trophy!

Okay, not actually invisible, but sure looks that way.

And my sweetie got first in his (very competitive) age group!

Monday: 6.8ish trail miles with Kelly. Gosh darn beautiful… and warm. And someone – the mom of the second place female, I believe, recognized me from the race, which cracked us both up.

Finally getting to see the greened up trails.

Tuesday: I swore up and down I would take it easy. My legs were DEAD and I was just generally worn out. But when Danielle texted – “same route as last week?” (i.e., 9 miles including Schenley), well, I couldn’t say no! We were both dead tired – me from too many miles and her from racing a 5K on Monday and doing lunges, plus all her other mileage, but it was still pretty fabulous. And we saw a lovely doe, which I never see at Schenley, and it made it all worthwhile.

So there you have it – 35.5ish miles in five days. Whoops…? I put myself on mileage lockdown the rest of the week, but with one mile minimums because…

Yep! Streaking again – I’m counting the official streak, but adding a parenthetical +4 to my counts since I actually started the Thursday before Memorial Day. We’ll see how long it lasts!

 

MCM Training Week 6: Return of the Hunger Beast

Can you hear it? That little rumble?

It’s the hunger beast, and it’s growling for food. It doesn’t matter that you fed it five minutes ago. It doesn’t matter if you ran five miles or fifteen miles. It wants food – right now. And if you don’t feed it, there will be consequences.

Mileage is still on the moderate side, but is edging up fairly rapidly, and we’re still in the first half of the training cycle, so it’ll only get worse from here. My only ally? Snacks. Healthy, filling, delicious snacks. And lots of them.

I’m doing my best to jump back onto the cross-training wagon, with just a few obstacles in the way. I did an arms and core workout on Monday, an easy 3(ish) miler with the boy on Tuesday, but Pilates was cancelled (read: she told us she would be absent but put in for a sub, and the gym management had no idea what was going on), so that was a real bummer. Wednesday I made my triumphant return to spin – the day before I decided I wanted to try again, and this time I was actually looking forward to it. And it paid off! I didn’t exactly bound out of bed at the 5 a.m. alarm, but I wasn’t feeling a knot of dread at the impending hour of sweat and possible boredom, so I think my time off from it may have been just enough. It was a decently full class, and while the bike I was on was kind of crappy (really had to crank it to get any kind of resistance – all those bikes have issues, though), I got in a solid workout and a great sweat.

Thursday was track day, and we had 4×1600 on tap. I was gunning for between 7:00-7:15 and was mostly in a blissful state of mental denial as we got up well before dawn and headed to the track. I was looking forward to the fact that Tess was going to be able to make it this time. Tess is really fast at short and mid-distance, though her hip won’t allow her to go farther than 6 or 7 miles usually (a feeling I am well familiar with), and has a similar competitive side to mine, so I knew it would be fun and interesting, and a very good distraction to have her there. We warmed up with five easy laps around the track before we took off.

Tess stuck behind me like a shadow for the whole of the first two repeats. Any time I thought I had lost her I’d give a quick glance  back and she was still tailing me, which kept me on pace more than I could ever believe. This was her first taste of mile repeats, so we modified the workout a bit into a ladder. After my second repeat, she did a bit of an extra jog rest period as I gunned into my third, and brought me in for the last 800 of repeat #3, which is usually when things get a little gnarly. The perfect motivation.

Repeat 4 I really wanted to crank it, and was finally starting to feel the pain – having Tess there so took my mind off of the effort that at times I was truly on a runner’s high and it felt more like tempo pace than speed, but nothing stays that way forever. Tess ducked out until the last 400, and while I had been at 7:00 pace for the final leg, she pushed me the last lap and I wrapped up a 6:46 1600. Awesome!

Friday I was a lazy butt getting out of bed – my sweetie was in Illinois visiting family so I didn’t have anyone there to motivate me to get my ass to the gym. But I made up for it with my walk commute plus a 40ish minute body weight strength workout while watching some West Wing after work.

Sunday morning, my 5:30 a.m. awoke me in the dark, alone, for my 17-mile long run. I had loaded up on my usual granola pancakes for dinner the night before, and I made a very small bowl of quick oats for breakfast (1/3 cup oats with some brown sugar cooked in water – generally avoid dairy pre-run).  I had a few moments of panic trying to find a handheld, then jammed a bunch of extra gels in there. I pocketed my iPod for later (still missing my armband) and cell phone in a fuel belt, slapped on my Road ID and Garmin, and was out the door just after 6:30.

Half a mile out the door I realized I had applied lube only to my feet and nowhere else. Too lazy to head back, I just crossed my fingers and kept going. Fortunately it was an absolutely perfect morning – mid-60s and overcast, and breezy at times. There were occasional rain drops but it never really rained.

View from the 40th Street bridge – no Pittsburgh long run is complete without bridge crossings

Pittsburgh really is runner’s paradise – there are so many trails that are well-maintained and trafficked, and you can almost never get bored. I came across lots of bikers, walkers, and other runners, mostly friendly and returning my waves and smiles and “good morning’s.” One guy near where I started on the North Side was clearly waiting for satellites to lock in, but caught up with me later and we chatted briefly. Mostly “how many miles today?” before we wished each other well and he took off.

Maybe a half mile from the Andy Warhol Bridge, which I was dying to see, another runner started to overtake me with a wave, when I asked him how many miles. He said he was also going 17, and when I said that was my mileage, he slowed down and we ran together for the next little bit. He’s training for Columbus, his sixth marathon, and was hoping for maybe a 3:15-3:20 (PR of 3:30) but wasn’t sure. We chatted about the trails, getting in these long miles alone and so early (I mentioned my running buddy was out of town so I’d been dreading it a little but it was going well so far). I was probably going to tell him to go ahead at his pace eventually but soon enough I came to my bridge and told him to enjoy his run, heading on up the stairs.

I designed this course specifically to see the result of the Knit the Bridge project, which you can read more about here. It’s an amazing project, and the studio wasn’t far from where I live so I often passed by and saw the massive squares these folks were working on to yarn bomb the bridge. I unabashedly stopped my watch for photo ops of the sight:


I hopped off the bridge into downtown, traveling all the way around the Point to see more of the finished fountain, taking five minutes to chat with a park worker about the city and my upcoming marathon.

Then it was on to Fort Pitt (bridge #3) and up to South Side where I made my way back across on Hot Metal, forgoing an out-and-back in favor of wandering around flat-ish Oakland to make up the last two miles.

Fearless bunny I encountered on South Side.
View of downtown from Hot Metal

I was starting to feel all those miles as I headed toward the Eliza Furnace trail head, with about 4 or 5 miles to go. As I neared the parking lot, I debated going all the way around or just cutting across the tracks to get to where the path picked back up. I ended up doing the former, but somehow overshot the little rocky path that heads down across the tracks, and wound up walking down a slightly steeper portion of it. A split second before it happened, I had a premonition of the rocks starting to tumble and me falling, and then it happened – luckily my ass broke my fall? I landed solidly on a rock with my tailbone and waited for a few moments to see how I felt. I knew it would be bruised and sore, and my right leg was now covered in dirt, but I didn’t seem to have done any real damage. Other than ruining my streak of not falling this year.

The last few miles went reasonably well, and I was able to kick it home the last two at goal half-marathon pace, finishing on a side street a couple blocks from my apartment for lack of a perfectly measured route. I quickly got showered and cleaned up, and began icing my rear – yesterday it looked like a thumb print, not it’s a pretty ugly purple and blue bruise, but it’s mostly okay, just a little sore when I sit or lay on it a certain way. No Pilates for me tomorrow.

The rest of the day I spent looking for and then feeding the Hunger Beast. Some of these super-long runs sap my appetite, so I pushed through a bagel and cream cheese and some eggs over easy, later sipping on a green smoothie (bunch of kale, two gorgeous peaches from a friend’s CSA, and some milk to add some more liquid). Around 3:30 I thought I should eat again, and had a 4 p.m. “lunch” of shrimp pad Thai – the Hunger Beast approved of the decision. I picked up my guy at the airport at around 7:30, and by 8:30 we were having a late dinner of ravioli with homemade pesto (CSA basil!), sun dried tomatoes, and spinach.

Now, I don’t plan on posting a food diary, pretty much ever, but it has been eye-opening to be using MyFitnessPal pretty religiously this training cycle, mostly to see just how much I need to eat after a long run, usually crammed into the late afternoon and evening when my real appetite returns.

It helps, though, that it’s still summer and there is amazingly fresh, beautiful, wonderful produce out there – not to mention that we got to take a couple of friends’ CSA last Wednesday when they were out of town. Free veggies!

Now I’m nearly wrapped with another week of training – having been working on a draft of this post for too many days during a very busy week. So I think I’ll leave you with a montage of food pictures. Because, I mean, what else is there really, in the thick of marathon training?

Track Thursday

Next weekend (after Memorial Day), I’ll be heading to Knoxville, Tenn., to visit my guy – he’s spending May and June there working at Oak Ridge National Lab (because he’s a badass), and he’s been really enjoying the Knoxville running scene. As luck would have it, he found a local 5K (that looks to be flat and fast) for that weekend, which starts just blocks from where he’s staying. Without hesitation, we both signed up!

Skeeter 5K!

But here’s the thing. Since the half-marathon, my mileage has, well – tanked. I planned on taking an entire week off, which I did. I toyed with the idea of an easy run the next Tuesday, but I was prohibitively sore after an amazingly fun and beautiful Mother’s Day hike with a friend on some grueling local trails (not complaining, but honestly my booty was just too sore to run! I was walking funny for three days). I’ve been doing most of my runs unplugged – no Garmin, sometimes no music as well, just running easy based on feel.

But I knew I needed to inject a little speed into my legs before then. So why not do a track workout a week and a half out?

So I polled twitter. And before long my twitter buddies Kelly and Mark were to the rescue, suggesting a grueling ladder workout. After some back and forth, I had a game plan: 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 – all at 5K pace. I figured out the splits I needed to hit to get 7:25 pace, which would put me in under 23 minutes in a 5K. My last 5K I did in 23:19, a PR even when my shoe came untied at the start of mile 2, so it’s well within reach. I thought about writing my split goals on my hand, but knew it would be too many numbers to stare it, and with how short some of intervals were, it wouldn’t really help me any. But I had the numbers swirling in my brain all night, going to bed excited and nervous and taking a while to fall asleep (work stress wasn’t really helping things, either).

I popped out of bed with my alarm at 5:15. My tummy was roiling a bit (for unrelated reasons) but it behaved itself during the entire workout. Armed with water, a gel, pump-up music, and my Garmin, I drove to the track to – as Shalane Flanagan put it – f*ck sh*t up. There weren’t many other bodies on the track. Two guys and a chick did a couple fast laps then disappeared to the soccer field nearby to do other stuff. A pair of girls about my age did some laps in between drills and strength exercises, and a couple runners flitted in near the end, but otherwise, I had the track to myself. I went the “wrong” direction around, as I hadn’t switched directions in…too long.

I jogged two laps to warm up, trying to quell my nerves and excitement, so I wouldn’t take off too fast, blow up, freak out – anything. After a few seconds considering a third warm-up lap, I started my first power song, and hit “lap” at the starting mark.

The thing about the ladder, is at first it doesn’t seem so bad I was running basically my mile repeat pace over very short intervals: 200, 400, 600. I jogged rest intervals after each, 50% the distance of the previous interval (100 m after the 200, 200 m after the 400, etc.). I’m bad at dialing into the correct pace quickly, and over-accelerated at the start of each one, but my rest interval paces were also pretty good – high 8:xx’s.

But as the laps piled up, the fatigue set in. Mile repeats are hard – I’ve done as many as 5×1600, and it’s grueling, both mentally and physically. But with 800 meter rests, I would recover pretty fully between each repeat, until maybe the last one or two, where the exhaustion starts to really set in and you’re running on pure grit and determination.

But with these short, hard intervals that built on each other, I wasn’t fully recovering during each rest – which is the point. I also can’t really speak for my mental capacity during the workout – I really had to focus on where each interval started and ended, since each was different because of the variable distances. What am I running now, 400 or 600? Wait, was that a half a lap just now, or a lap and a half? I held it together, but barely. In my distraction, I almost had a time slide during the 1000 m interval, but pulled myself back together at the last moment.

the climb:

200: 0:53 (goal – 0:56)

400: 1:48 (goal – 1:51)

600: 2:47 (goal – 2:47)

800: 3:42 (goal – 3:42)

1000: 4:36 (goal – 4:38)

So coming back down the ladder should be easy, right?

WRONG. Sure, my intervals were getting shorter, but the rest intervals were also shortening, and the hurt was growing. But I kept pushing. Tough as it was, I was still having fun. Breaking this pace down over the 5K distance into piecemeal felt thrilling, fun, like a game. I bargained with myself, taking it interval by interval, and when I got to the last 200, I pushed just a little harder.

the descent:

800: 3:43

600: 2:46

400: 1:50

200: 0:48

I stopped for a moment after the last interval to lean over and heave, then let myself walk for maybe 150 yards before breaking into a jog for three cool-down laps.

This workout was a lot of fun and a HUGE confidence boost. I know it’s not an exact science, and a lot can happen on race day, but with those splits, I could potentially run a 5K in 22:55. Which would be awesome!

I’m still enjoying a low pressure off-season, but going inside the pain cave every once in a while for a 5K isn’t something I can pass up. So expect a race report from me in a couple of weeks! Tomorrow I plan on using our summer Friday early dismissal policy from work (deadlines permitting) and the cooler weather to take the time to run some trails nice and easy for fun.

Weeks Five to Seven: I hate/love/hate/love running

Week Five:

Monday: 10 min. erg warmup; arms and core workout

Tuesday: 5.73 mi (random, I know), including 5 short, steep hill repeats; evening pilates class

Wednesday: 30 min. bike (hard); legs workout

Thursday: 4 miles easy

Friday: 4 miles easy

Saturday: rest (though did a lot of swing dancing at a wedding!)

Sunday: rest (…up late for a wedding = no Sunday run)

This week was a recovery week, and thank goodness. Wedding numero dos for the summer through my weekend schedule out of whack. My Tuesday run actually was great. I brought along cold water with electrolytes mixed in (Nuun tablet) and while my first two miles out to where I wanted to do some hill repeats were pretty slow, I actually managed nailing some good paces on the way back, and kicked ass at the repeats. For Thursday’s run, I had a pre-run popsicle, and it actually helped a TON. Sunday’s run… just didn’t happen. I actually did an extra five miler the following week but that in itself felt a little pointless. NB and I tried to get used to the idea of getting up at 7 a.m. after getting to bed at 1, and just couldn’t stomach it. So we skipped it. It’s a recovery week after all, right?

 

Week Six:

Monday: 2 miles easy (was meant to be make up 5 miler, but fell at mile 1)

Tuesday: 5 miles easy (awful. Had terrible GI issues starting mile 2, but got through it with some walk breaks)

Wednesday: 10 min. erg warmup; arms and core workout

Thursday: 6 miles – 3×1600 with 800 jogs, 1 mile warm and cool

Friday: 3 miles easy (middle mile at tempo-ish pace on hills) – treadmill run; legs workout

Saturday: rest

Sunday: 11.29 mile long run

Thursday’s speedwork was an epic fail. I nailed the first repeat too fast… and then just, gave up. Problem was I gave up mid-repeat, and then Shannon and I lost track of what lap we were on. I knew my garmin sometimes would get off, especially for track work. Turns out I was right and we accidentally did a 2000 instead of a 1600. I also had a mini-meltdown for the third repeat. I don’t know what my problem was, but the short of it is: it’s all in my head.

Friday I tried to make up for it a bit, doing my three miler on the treadmill (so I could then do a leg workout) and threw in a fast-ish second mile on hills. Funny how running fast on the treadmill actually feels better than slogging along at easy pace.

Sunday’s long run was actually kind of great. It was a pretty rough course, including a loop of Frick Park, but I listened to some Wait wait Don’t tell me podcast and saw a family of deer on Forbes munching on a buffet of local garden plots. I stopped my Garmin and music so I could watch a bit and Momma Deer stared at me, big ears swiveling, while her spotted little baby ate at the vegetables. Another runner coming the opposite way saw me stopped and looked over and smiled. We chatted a bit before she went on her way, but it was a nice moment between runners.

Week Seven:

Monday: rest (decided to sleep in)

Tuesday: 4 miles “easy”

Wednesday: 10 min. erg; arms and core workout

Thursday: 6 miles – 4 @ tempo

Friday: 3 miles (including 2x400m Shady repeats)

Saturday: rest

Sunday: 12 mile long run

Tuesday’s run I did with NB, and we took our normal tempo route, which is nice and flat (well, for Pittsburgh anyway). It was nice to take it easy on our usual fast route, but we were both hurting at the start, feeling heavy-legged and burned out. Our first mile was right on easy pace. The second mile things started clicking… and we did it at sub half-marathon race pace (I’d like to do a 2 hour half, so that’s 9:09; we did mile 2 at 9 minute pace, rather than 9:30ish). The third mile was 8:44, and the fourth was the same. We then realized why we never do easy runs together. Oops.

Thursday was another epic fail for a quality run. The only highlight was seeing the set up for the new Batman movie outside Mellon Institute. But I was mentally freaking out. I had one good mile on pace, one that was a little slow, and two that were… awful. Pathetic.

Friday I tried to make up for it… again: I ran a mile from my gym to Shady and did a couple VERY painful hill repeats, and ran back to the gym to kick my legs’ ass some more.

Sunday was where the magic happened. It had been weeks since I’d had a really awesome run (other than that ‘easy” for miler) especially for a quality run. I was ready for a break. I plotted out a new route that I knew would be pretty flat, and I knew the change of scenery would be a big help. I hydrated like crazy the day before, and it was a good thing: Sunday dawned 75* and 95 percent humidity. We went out really strong. We had a one slow mile at the start (around mile 2 by my Garmin stats) but the rest were dead on long run pace. We crossed over to South Side and did an out and back along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Around mile 8, though, NB started having some trouble. He drained the 12 ounce handheld I gave him to take (with a Nuun tablet in it) and I gave him one of my 8 ounce bottles from my fuel belt. I stopped my watch as he sat down to try to let a dizzy spell pass. He was suffering. The humidity was horrible, and his sweat rate is much faster than mine. we took a little time to try to evaluate what we needed to do, and decided to keep on. We did take a walk break after we crossed back over, which gave us one pretty slow mile, but we stopped near a guy’s house who was doing some yard work and he let us use his hose to fill NB’s bottle (thank you, good Samaritan!). Once we climbed a long set of steps near the entrance of Schenley, we were able to run it in. A mile out NB asked how much we had left, and wehn I told him, he cursed, but we kept going. I kept encouraging him telling him how much we had left and we hammered it home at race pace.

It was a ridiculous run, but really kind of great, as far as overcoming adversity. Strangely enough, I felt great the entire time. I was totally okay with stopping my watch for that one dizzy spell break considering I knew I would have been able to keep going without stopping and it didn’t feel like a cheat, I was just sticking around for NB, who ALWAYS sticks with me.

We got home and stretched, elevated our feet, hydrated and had a little food before we showered up and got a full breakfast.This week

This week starts five weekly runs. I have a 13 miler to do on Saturday (I’m in a wedding on Sunday… yes, another wedding) so it should be an interesting week. Gonna try to be good about sleep,, hydration and nutrition as best I can. I have another shot at a tempo run this week, and I’m hoping to kick its ass. Weather looks like it’ll be less painful, but I’m thinking adjusting my paces wouldn’t be out of the question in the heat/humidity lately. But we shall see.

CycleOps and an Air Force captain – how a bike trainer made my day

I’m four weeks into my current training cycle, and haven’t blogged – I could make a bunch of excuses about work and life in general being insane (which is true), but I am TOO EXCITED to go into all that.

Why am I so excited, do you ask? Because people’s AMAZING generosity just astounds me, every day.

So here’s the back story: I’ve been a reader of Frayed Laces‘ blog since I discovered it last summer; she’s a very talented amateur triathlete with a very devoted readership. She has several sponsors that allow her to offer semi-regular product giveaways. A few weeks ago, she had the biggest giveaway to date: a CycleOps trainer that retails for $399.99.

Now, I’m not a cyclist. I don’t even have my bike here in Pittsburgh, though I plan on bringing one here eventually, and usually just ride a bit on the stationary bike at my gym for cross-training. My big brother, on the other hand, is a HUGE cyclist.

Really, though, we’re a pretty big biking family. We did a lot of family rides, and my brother (let’s call him Captain Cyclist, or CC for short) very quickly started dominating these rides. He’d fly down hills, cruise way ahead of us, and loop back to us, only to vanish again. We grew up on mountain bikes, but when he was big enough, he started buying my mom’s bike (my dad’s didn’t have dropped handlebars), eventually buying a bike at a garage sale and revamping it a little. About halfway through his college career, he had saved enough money to buy himself a nice road bike (what brand, you ask? I have no idea, I tell you. Because I am not a cyclist. Rest assured, I will take note next time I see him) and started churning out longer rides. It was mostly cross-training throughout college, since he did crew, but since he graduated it’s his main form of cardio.

As most of you probably know (the whole two or three people who read this blog), he’s also in the Air Force. He was commissioned in December 2005 and has served several short tours, first as a KC-135 pilot (a tanker that refuels other jets, about two and a half to three month deployments) and most recently piloting the MC-12 (a six month deployment). During the most recent deployment, he logged over 1,000 miles on an indoor bike.

For the last three years, he has lived in Spokane on his current assignment, and later this year will be moving to Las Vegas for his next assignment: flying drones. Pros? More infrequent deployments (though longer). Much cheaper to visit him (Traveling to Spokane from the east side of the country is $500 plus on a good day, and is always 2 or more stops). Cheap real estate (apparently he and my sister-in-law put an offer down on a townhouse!) Cons: Las Vegas heat. Sure, it’s a desert, but the summer nights are still BLAZING, which means a lot of his summer rides he’ll be confined indoors.

I leapt into action when I saw the giveaway, knowing that FL tends to use random number generators to select the winner (really the only fair way) but told my story (much briefer, of course) anyway about how I really wanted to give my brother a top notch trainer for his indoor rides. I mean, someone might be reading them for content, so why not try?

Fast forward several days later: the blog says I lost. It’s okay. I never win anything. I know everyone says that, including when they win, but it’s true. I was really more disappointed about this one because it wasn’t just a big box of Gu (which, I mean, would be awesome), but a TRAINER for my one and only brother (who is impossible to buy gifts for, btw, as all guys are).

This morning, I’m taking a little break from work and check my email. I have a comment on this blog awaiting approval – from Frayed Laces! She’d been trying to get in touch with me and told me to email her. I started to get really psyched, but tried not to expect too much. It might be something completely unrelated. What, I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I email her, and a little while later hear back. CycleOps had seen my comment, and wanted to send CC a trainer!

“Good news.  I found a trainer in our storage that I would love to send to runsforcookies for her brother.  It’s not brand new and has a few bumps and bruises on the frame, but that’s from being shipped around and showed at events and shows.  It would still be treated like/have a warranty, so hopefully that would be ok.  If you wouldn’t mind reaching out to the blogger and getting her/her brother’s contact info I can get the trainer on the way.   I thought it’d be good karma to send him a trainer.”

Me: HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT. (silently. I was at work, after all, and sit about fifteen feet from Boss man)

What was REALLY funny was I had emailed CC about twenty minutes early with the coupon code for 15 percent of CycleOps stuff that FL had just posted on twitter. After I got this email, I wrote to him again: “…Umm, nevermind. I just won you a free trainer!”

Naturally, I freaked out on twitter – favorite response came from my twitter pal @Amy Bushatz: Big thanks to @CycleOpsPower for going above and beyond to just do something nice for an Airman! #SOT !

Of course when I heard from CC (he called in response to my email, what a guy) he had his usual unruffled tone on. Seriously, I could get him a power meter for over a grand and he’d be like, “Cool.”

But despite a brotherly underwhelming response (trust me, it’s typical), Frayed Laces: seriously, thank you. Thank you for being an amazing blogger, for attracting awesome sponsors, and for getting in touch with me to help make this happen! And CycleOps? Seriously. I’m beyond thrilled. I may not be a cyclist now, but if I turn into a cyclist and/or triathlete, I guarantee you, I will be a very loyal customer of yours.

The things folks will do for our troops: truly amazing!

 

Well, okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (ha!), where was I? Okay, I’m four weeks into training for the Air Force Half-marathon (Saturday, Sept. 17). Instead of giving a full blow-by-blow, here are the highlights.

Week one happened to coincide with awful GI distress, meaning a skipped tempo run. Which blew, but it was okay! Because I listened to my body. It also coincided with the aforementioned brother visiting, as well as, of course, my sister-in-law. So on my tempo run day, I did a short easy run… then went for a leisurely bike ride with CC and his wife. Friday I didn’t run at all, instead going for a walk in Frick Park with my visitors. It was a really nice visit, and I honestly don’t have any regrets about missed runs. Well, at least not anymore.

Week two went much more according to schedule. I actually did pretty well on the first speedwork – I mentally copped out a couple tops but manage to nail my splits anyway. The long run was, unfortunately, a bonk fest, which involved walk breaks, thogh some of these were due to NB’s recovering ankles (downhill impact was painful, so we walked the steeper ones).

Week three I had a very successful tempo run, even in the gnarly heat and humidity, and each split was faster than the first. My long run (10 miles) felt good for a while, until random knee pain after a long uphill, and then random ankle hill at the top of another hill which forced me to walk down my favorite downhill. Then I just ran out of gas in the last quarter mile. I think the heat/humidity has been killing me. Need to come up with new strategies.

Week four (aka last week) was… interesting. NB and I had to run out of town early in the week, and did our easy three miler in unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately my Garmin refused to lock on satellites (I gave up after about five minutes) and then the route I mapped wasn’t the route we took, so we HOPE it was three miles. when we got back, I slept in (we got home at 1:30 a.m/ the previous night) so I decided to enjoy the randomly gorgeous weather by going for a random 4.5 mile trail run in Frick. I run-walked some portions to save it for the next day, especially since I was zonked from our trip, but the single track section was gloriou s- still my absolute favorite. Sunday’s 10 miler ended up being solo, as NB’s new shoes (unfortunately Brooks Addiction aren’t as cushiony as Asics Gel-Evolution for his big frame and very flat feet) and he walked home while I ran the last 8 miles. I didn’t have that great of a run, but did a couple pretty solid miles in the middle, including a sub-goal pace split. At the very end I was running interval pace, in absolute agony, but dying to get it over with and just cruising along.

This week is a recovery week – at last! I’m going to try to use it as an opportunity not just to regroup but to gain some mental confidence. I’m definitely doing hill repeats this week, likely tomorrow. I’m trying to hydrate like crazy in anticipation, as it’s supposed to be 75 by 5 a.m., and well over 90 percent humidity. Joy.

And now, to call CC and hear about his Vegas plans, and try to see how excited he REALLY is (maybe get a “sweeeet” out of him. That’s always a good one).

 

Weeks Five through Seven: playing catch-up

WOW I’m behind – so sorry guys! I promise to be better. Life has gotten pretty crazy. So here’s a recap:

Monday, March 21: I have no idea. I truly don’t remember – and forgot to tweet about it.

Tuesday, March 22: Tempo run- 1 mi warm; 3 mi at 8:15-8:20; 1 mi cool (actual splits: 8:03, 7:38, 8:13)

Wednesday, March 23: Legs day – 17ish min bike warmup (5.4ish miles); single-leg squats, lunges, regular squats, calf raises; step-ups; leg press; hamstring curls w/ pilates ball; hip adduction, hip abduction

Thursday, March 24; easy 3 miler while running errands

Friday, March 25: easy 2 miler on the dreadmill; then light arms and abs workout (since I had a race the next day)

Saturday, March 26: 8.1 mi race (1:14 and change; race report to come)

Sunday, March 27: total rest day

As you can probably tell from the splits, I completely SPANKED this week’s tempo run. There were fleeting moments where I thought about how great it would feel to stop and walk for a minute, but I barely acknowledge them. We have a really nice route that’s about as flat as you can get in Pittsburgh so we can really turn up the speed. But even after a couple short climbs that I charged on, I just focused on regularizing my breathing to get my heart rate back in line with where it should be. And it was FUN. I had never enjoyed tempo runs before this training cycle, and am finally learning to love cranking up the speed and effort that goes with.

My 3 mile easy run was interesting in that I was trying to run errands (dropping off bills – successful. faxing my w-2 to my accountant: not successful, as the fax number was wrong. Oh well) and I was weaving around to get my route done (it was about 3.25 miles in the end, I think). I was cruising down Ellsworth when I noticed a group gathered outside Bites ‘n Brews, all wearing brightly colored tech wear and running shoes. I slowed down, stopped my Garmin, and asked what was up. The woman running the group gave me the website and said the running club met every Thursday at a different restaurant in a different area of the city and ran at 6:30, and a lot of people would stay for beer and dinner after. Awesome! Moral of the story: see a group of runners, always stop to say ‘hi’ and see what’s what.

And as for the race? Well, you’ll have to wait for the report. I promise it will be soon! Tomorrow?

Monday, March 28: Again – forgot to post my workout. I’m guessing it was biking 50 min easy (and guessing the previous Monday was, too) based on the rest of the week

Tuesday, March 29: Speedwork: 1.25 mi warm; 3×1600 @ 7:38-7:48; 1.25 mi cool (intervals: 7:26; 7:47; 7:41)

Wednesday, March 30: total rest day (travel)

Thursday, March 31: 3 mi easy (on the West Side Highway)

Friday, April 1: plan: 2 miles easy; actual: fuck that noise. I have a hella busy day, it’s raining and gross out, and I’m on vacation in New York.

Saturday, April 2: 8 miler in Central Park

Sunday: total rest day

NB and I have been tweaking our plan a bit. I like the new Smart Coach – it does some things better than the old version did. But for some reason all the tempo runs and interval workouts are shorter. It had us doing another 4 mile tempo run the previous week (with 2 miles at tempo) so we bumped that to 5; it was also having us do another 2×1600 this particular week, which we obviously also changed. We’re still being reasonable, and listening to our bodies, but we can take the challenge.

Also, as is probably obvious, this weekend I was in New York. I went to school there (graduated from NYU last May) and in addition to meeting my NY work colleagues and meeting friends, I got to run in some of my favorite spots. I enjoyed the cold and dark and haunting West Side Highway at 6:30 a.m. Thursday before work, skipped my two miler the next day, and had the most fantastic 8 mile long run in Central Park on Saturday. The rains cleared, the sun came out. The flowers were blooming. I ran the main loop (six miles) and a little extra, plus the inner loop of the Reservoir (the view is better). I saw tons of runners, walkers, cyclists, and even a hand cyclist (who was ROCKING the hills). I average about 15 sec/mile faster than my usual easy pace, and I think it was mostly the elation I was feeling. Really, really happy to be there.

Monday, April 4: total rest day (took an extra day since I was WIPED from traveling. Also, since I was in NY, I had walked my feet off – that should more than suffice);

Tuesday: 5 mile tempo run (as above) – splits: 8:10; 8:08; 8:05

Wednesday: 10 min. erg warmup, then arms/abs workout

Thursday: training plan says: easy 2; intended to do: easy 3; actual: easy 4

Friday: (supposed to be an easy 2, but given the previous day…); 20ish min bike (6ish miles) and leg workout

Obviously my tempo run was again a smash success. Only mnor issue was random toe/foot numbness during the last mile. I loosened my laces which helped for a bit before it got worse again. I’m keeping an eye on it. I think it’s mostly a lacing/striking issue, but we’ll see.

That accidental four miler was actually my first running club experience. We met at Ryan’s Pub on Braddock near where I had run quite a bit when staying with Ben and Ellie (my cousin and his wife) and later in a sublet when I had just moved to Pittsburgh for my job and was apartment hunting. It was awkward at first: standing around while people clustered off. I’m not very good at breaking into large groups (at least not without alcohol) but once we got going I was pace for pace with a girl and we chatted a bit. Later she broke off (naturally, not in a bitchy leaving-you-behind way and I met up with another girl and we chatted a bit. Turned out I had missed the turn off for the 3 mile route and ended up doing the 4. I was going to stay for dinner, and hung out for a while, talking with the first girl some more, as well as another group regular who wasn’t running since she was dealing with a knee injury. But since it was after 8 and no one had come to take orders, I and girl number one headed out to go get some grub at our own homes. Oh well. Next time, perhaps.

And now, another training week is coming to an end (a cutback week – not terribly exciting), but I’ll post about that later, as well as the promised race report.

Week Two: These are my magic shoes

Monday: Arms and abs workout – 10 min. erg warmup; dumbbell press, bicep curls, tricep extensions, bent-over rows, military press; planks, Russian twists, push-ups, bridges

Tuesday: morning – 3 miles easy @9:36-9:48 (actual splits: 9:07; 8:48; 9:01)

evening – 60 min pilates class

Wednesday: 50 minutes stationary bike (low resistance, high rpm)

Thursday: Total – 4 mi. – 1200 m warm; 2×1600 @ 7:37-7:48 with 800 jog rest; 1200 m cool (actual 1600 splits: 7:27: 7:41)

Friday: 10 min. erg warmup; modified leg workout: single-leg squats; calf raises (parallel, turned in and out); regular squats; walking lunges; leg press (190-240 lb); hamstring curls with pilates ball; stretch/foam roll

Saturday: total rest day

Sunday: “long” run – 5 mi.

 

This week, I felt like Wonder Woman, and am convinced that my Brooks Ghost 3’s are magical shoes. I had two really solid, speedy-ish to speedy runs and a successful “long” run. Tuesday’s run was meant to be an easy three, but as you can probably tell from my splits, I was feeling really strong. I wasn’t wearing my magic shoes – was wearing my new Asics Gel-Nimbus, which I also love, but was feeling really, really good. I saw the first mile fly by at goal pace (meaning my sub-2 hour half-marathon pace, which is 9:09, actually), and went even faster the second mile, barely reining it in on the third mile. When I saw my splits at the end, I only thought: Oops. Oh well. That felt GREAT.

Thursday I had been kind of psyched for and kind of dreading. I was excited to try out the Ghost. I’d left them in the box so I could take them out as this sort of corny little ceremony for myself – these are my magical, speedy shoes. They will make me magical. And speedy.

And boy, did they. We hit the track and I was feeling apprehensive. We were both a little cranky, too, because it was fucking cold: a whopping 19 degrees. Our coldest speedwork to date (we haven’t done speed work since November, note). It was only two mile-repeats, so I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t that bad. I was also trying out a different gel: I’ve had Gu before, but I was trying the Espresso Love flavor, which also has a double-dose of caffeine, so I could maybe get some placebo boost from the thought of all that caffeine. And actually, it was really tasty. And whether or not it worked physiologically, after such success, I’ll be taking it a lot for hard workouts and races, I think.

After a warm up, which was a  bit fast (9:05ish) probably because were desperately trying to get warm, we kicked it. I felt GOOD. It hurt, a lot, but I just kept reminding myself to relax, that it was only four laps, that it would be over soon. That the pain would pay off. And when I hit the lap button, it really, really had paid off. I was THRILLED. The second repeat was slower, but still well within goal range. It hurt more. Near the end of the third lap I was gasping a bit and slowing up, but still in the 7:40s (according to my Garmin’s instantaneous pace, which isn’t always that accurate if you know anything about GPS devices, but is still somewhat useful) which was very good. We kicked the last half a lap and my legs almost crumpled beneath me as I gasped and heaved. But I was psyched. We had nailed it. I had NEVER nailed a track workout. The confidence boost was amazing.

Granted, my leg workout Friday felt a little week. I felt okay but I could tell my legs were fatigued, and I was grateful for the full day of rest on Saturday. Today we slogged through – surprise! – snow and 31 degrees (which had been forecasted as 40ish and rain. Whoops) but were happy we did when we made ourselves chocolate chip pancakes and sat on the couch all day watching West Wing.

I’m feeling good. I’m actually really excited for my tempo run on Tuesday. Not only because it’ll be 50 degrees when I take my lunch time run, and I get to wear my magic shoes – I swear, they made me feel god(dess)-like. But I’m also looking forward – at least a little – to the pain. To suffering and feeling the reward at the end.

Bring it on.