Archive for ‘Sports Psychology’

October 14, 2014

Taper Jitters

Marathon Taper Legs

I’m one week into my taper now and staying reasonably sane, although I do keep thinking of those Restless Leg Syndrome commercials from the early 2000’s.  (What ever happened to that, anyway?)  Last week I ran a somewhat normal workouts, though at about half my usual mileage.  I did a 10-miler Sunday at race pace, and this morning I had one last interval session (4×400’s).  That will probably be it until the race, with the possible exception of some quick strides on Friday just to stretch the legs out.  I’ve been trying to bank some extra sleep this week as well, though the kitten seems to have other ideas at 5:30 in the morning.

Predictably, the jitters have set in, but I’m trying to face them head-on this time, rather than letting myself become the victim of my nerves.  The problem with anxiety is that it tends to put you in a circular bind that’s difficult to escape.  Aside from the feelings of panic and negative self-talk it can induce, anxiety also tightens muscles, quickens the breath and heart rate, and interferes with fine motor coordination—basically working against every aspect of athletic performance.  Of course, knowing this, my biggest pre-race fear is that I’ll get nervous and it will compromise my race; it truly is the fear of fear itself that gets me.

Yesterday I could feel the pangs of anxiety creeping up and I decided it was time to take the bull by the horns.  I’ve worked my ass off this season, and I’ve earned my place at that starting line.  I know I’ll be nervous.  There’s no point wasting energy wondering if it will happen; I need to just accept it as a given.  But it’s also a given that when I look around at the starting line at all the other runners, they’ll all be nervous, too.  Even the pro’s get nervous.  (Kara Goucher famously discussed her pre-race nerves in a Runner’s World interview, and Shalane Flanagan, who races as though she is completely fearless, discusses the issue here.)  Knowing that it’s not just me always helps.  I also realized that if everyone is nervous and some people are still  managing to race well—maybe even better—with the nerves, then it’s really up to me how I handle it.  Instead of looking at it as me against a force I can’t control, I need to take charge of how I channel my energy.  Of course, that’s always easier said than done.

Preparedness is always a good first step, so I started by making a detailed, day-by-day list of everything that needs to happen this week.  I’ve been working on my packing list for weeks, but there are a million other details to race day and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  There is nothing worse than realizing you don’t have cash for parking or that you don’t know where baggage drop is when you’re trying to get to the starting line.  Any stress I can eliminate through good planning is a major victory.  I keep reminding myself that physically, I’ve done everything I can.  I’ve run every workout, hit every pace, and despite the nerves, my body has delivered every time I’ve pushed it this season.  I have to trust my training and know that it will this time, too.

The thing that has really helped me calm to down and focus, though, was kind of unexpected.  On a whim, I googled “athlete inspirational video” and watched a few.  (And just for fun, I also looked for this.)  Attitude is everything, and maybe a good pep talk at the start line is just what I need.


Clear Eyes, Full Hearts!


October 1, 2014

Shut Up and Run

Five Borough Series: Bronx 10-Mile

Sunday was the Bronx 10-Miler, and with it I ticked off borough number four on my list.  I planned to run it with Long Run Buddy, and we decided to shoot for an 8:15 pace, which was my distance-adjusted equivalent marathon pace.  Rationally, I knew I should be able to do it, but 8:15’s sounded fast and, truth be told, I was a wee bit concerned about keeping it up.  Sunday was fairly warm and I was coming off a hard week of training with only one rest day before the race.  If there’s been an emergent theme to this season though, it’s that I’m tired of being scared to run fast*.  As I shuffled up to the starting line, I decided that I was not really interested in listening to any more neurotic self doubt.  My new motto was shut up and run.

With almost 10,000 people running down Grand Concourse, the first few miles required the usual NYRR bob-and-weave techniques.  Eventually we found a pack running at our pace and tried to settle in.  The course was shaped like an arrow with very short arms, with the first turn around mile 4 and the return to the vertical leg at mile 5.  About 3 1/2 miles in I heard a wave of applause from the runners ahead, and cheered as the leader (and eventual winner) passed by.  A minute or so later we passed another lone runner, and shortly thereafter, a larger pack that included the first two women.

I wish I could add some interesting local color of the Bronx here, but I really completely failed to take in any of the scenery.  The course was rolling enough that a lot of runners weren’t holding a steady pace, so between the crowd and the grade changes, I was primarily focused on holding my speed and not tripping myself and others.  At the halfway point I was still feeling good and not really registering the uphills too much.  I had been fighting a slight side stitch since the first mile, but I tried to stay relaxed and belly breathe as deeply as possible.

By mile 7 I definitely felt like I was working, though, and that was where the mental game really began.  My brain was making a very good case for slowing down–I had Marathon Hell Week coming up, it was hot, who was I to think I was fast enough to run 10 miles at 8:15 pace, and why did I really need to pass these people, anyway?  As all of this was running through my mind, though, I noticed that my legs seemed strangely unaffected.  I was holding pace just fine, nothing hurt, and my breath was even and controlled.  Sure, I would preferred to have the whole thing be over at that point, but it was really going perfectly well.  I repeated “Shut up and run” to myself, pulled it together, and enjoyed a few blissful minutes of brain silence.  I wasn’t in the Zone exactly, but I did feel a bit like my body was doing what it already knew how to do and I was free to experience the ride without the incessant chatter from upstairs.

It was up and down a few more small hills, and then I was in the chute before I knew it with a good crowd cheering us in.  I tried to pick off a few more people as I approached the finish line, and then it was over.  As soon as I was clear of the runners coming in behind me, I checked my watch. My average split was 8:14–right on target.  I’d like to say that I’m over the race and pace anxiety and I now fully trust my fitness and the training.  The reality is, though, I’m already worrying over my last 20-miler this weekend.  I’ll continue to work at building my confidence, and I really want to have the courage to lay it all on the line on race day, Shalane Flanagan-style.  From here on it, the gameplan is shut up and run.

*Yes, I know that 8:15’s aren’t actually fast in the grand scheme of things.

September 17, 2014

26 and Change

Old Crotan Aqueduct Trail


Unlike most things in adulthood that I look forward to, this weekend actually exceeded my expectations.  Saturday the Caveboy, Long Run Buddy, and I met up at Grand Central and headed north on MetroNorth to Tarrytown.  It was a beautiful day for a trail run, and though the leaves haven’t really started to change yet, it definitely felt like fall was in the air.  Running southward, as we were, the trail is slightly down hill and it made for a perfect easy run to just put on the cruise control and enjoy the scenery.  The Old Crotan Aqueduct trail is now part of the state park system and is wooded for most of the section we ran, but there were a few clearings that overlook the Hudson as well.  After just about 8 miles we reached the northern end of Yonkers and turned off the trail at the Greystone train station on MetroNorth.  One the way back I stopped at NYRR headquarters at 89th St. and I picked up my Tune-Up race number in the hopes of buying myself a little extra time and sleep in the morning.  The race started at 7 AM at the northern end of Central Park, so a few extra minutes of sleep was a precious commodity on Sunday.  I was up at 4:30, at the park before 6:30, and still had to rush to my corral thanks to extra long lines at the porta potties.


My approach for the Tune-Up was to really use it as a dry run for the marathon and approximate as many conditions of race day as I could.  I planned to run at goal pace, wear my race day gear, and not to carry my own fluids and test out how I did with Gatorade.  I’ve written before about my struggle with pre-race anxiety, and I fully expected to feel the pressure to perform on Sunday in all its shaky, stomach-churning splendor.  I slept surprisingly well the night before, but I told myself that I wouldn’t try to talk myself out of any anxiety I felt before the Tune-Up, as I knew it would be there on marathon day, too.  At the starting line I did feel some jitters, but they were mostly physical and not the Plague of Doubts that I’ve struggled with in the past.  Mentally I was actually incredibly calm and clear on what needed to be done.  I would simply go run around Central Park three times at an 8:50 pace.  No drama.


My legs did feel a little tight and nervous for the first few miles of the race, but I figured that was to be expected and so it didn’t concern me.  The course started just before the Harlem Hills, so each loop began with a short downhill followed by the longest climb of the circuit.  I spent the first lap finding my pace, trying not to charge the hills too much, and making mental notes about where the aid stations were located.  As I passed the starting line for the second time, I really settled in and relaxed.  I figured that if I could turn in a solid second loop, even if I got tired, I could take the third lap one hill and mile at a time and just focus on holding my pace.  The amazing thing was, I wasn’t getting tired. The hills just came and went.  It wasn’t that it was effortless, it was just unencumbered by worry, second-guessing, and emotional baggage.  It was actually fun. The last lap felt no harder than the first miraculously, and I finished right on target at 8:51 pace.


I think the biggest factor, though, may actually have been my attitude about pre-race nerves this time.  I didn’t fight it and actually welcomed it as a training tool.  I’ve always read that the secret to beating anxiety is just to accept it will be there and do whatever you want anyway.  It’s much more easily said than done, but I think I actually did it this time.


September 9, 2014

Bikram Running


Several years ago, my friend and I went for a run up Diamond Head on Oahu on the morning before her wedding.  It was summer in Hawaii, there was no shade, and what little breeze there was carried about 90% humidity.  Five miles later and drenched in sweat, we kicked off our shoes and ran straight into the ocean to cool off.  I think it was then that we dubbed the experience ‘Bikram Running.’  I hadn’t thought about that run in ages, but as fate would have it, said friend was visiting New York this weekend.  I planned to see her on Sunday morning, so I moved my long run to Saturday.

It was 77 degrees and 93% humidity when I got up at 5:30, and the sun wasn’t even up yet.  I was scheduled for 15 miles, but had hoped to eek out 16 in preparation for the 18-mile tune-up race next weekend.  In the end, I ran somewhere between 16 and 17 in what I’m quite sure was the sweatiest three hours of my life.  I am still without my Shuffle, so instead of my playlist for distraction, I got through it with the catchy mantra “heat training is more effective than altitude,” interspersed with the occasional stream of profanity.  I’ve been really trying to get better at ’embracing the suck,’ and just the fact that I wasn’t completely miserable out there was a major victory for me.  Even so, this one really was laborious.

I have never been good at feeling a true sense of pride in finishing an ugly workout.  Banging out a good set of intervals?  Sure.  Even a solid tempo day?  Yes.  But the really hard-fought runs with a sweaty face only a mother could love?  No way.  No matter how difficult it was to get through, I still tend to focus on what I should have done better, and that’s largely counterproductive.  I know it’s the really rough days that make me better, and will eventually get me to that holy grail, Making a Formerly Hard Thing Seem Easy.  In that spirit, today I remind myself of my very first 5-miler, about six years ago, run on the bike path and trails in Santa Barbara.  The last mile was excruciating, despite me slowing to something like a 12-minute pace by the end.  Apparently I looked so bedraggled by the last mile that an old man actually jumped into the weeds rather than making me swerve around him on the narrow path.  In the car on the way home, I was so concerned that my blood sugar had plummeted with the exertion of running such a great distance that I binged on half a bag of pretzels.  (This was pre-paleo…)  I’m pretty sure the pretzels then caused an insulin spike that really did tank my blood sugar, because I got home and lay limply on the couch for an hour before I could summon the energy to shower.

So really, 17 very sweaty 9:30 miles… definitely winning.



July 1, 2014

Odds and Ends

I realized that I forgot to post my training schedule this week, so here it is:

Monday – Rest

Tuesday – Intervals: 5x1K @ 7:13 min/mi

Wednesday – XT/Easy run

Thursday – Tempo: 1 mi easy; 4 mi @ 8:09 min/mi; 1 mi easy

Friday – XT/Easy run

Saturday – Rest

Sunday – 20 mi @ 9:47 min/mi


I did do the intervals today, which were probably the toughest workout (at least mentally) that I’ve had yet.  For one thing, 1K’s have always been a hard distance for me–they’re in that yicky no man’s land between an 800 and a mile, and I never have a good sense of just how long they are or when the next interval is going to be over.  5x1K’s seem particularly evil, since it’s like the pain of a fast 5K dragged out over a much longer time.  (Although, put that way, it does seem like a fabulous training tool.)  Anyway, the pace was not actually painful or unsustainable, but I felt like it must have put me physiologically right in my fight or flight zone.  The only real description I can give is that it felt stressful in a reptile-brain, something’s-about-to-eat-me sort of way.  I really wanted to stop, or at least slow down, but I was aware that although I was working hard, I definitely had it in me to finish.  I tried to be Zen about it and just allow the discomfort to be there, which sort of worked.  I got through it and I did feel a bit lighter when I would remind myself that I could hang out with the feelings while I just did what I needed to do.  I’ll admit to a couple of 30-second walks during the recovery intervals, but I was upstairs (read: hot) at the gym, so all in all, I’d call it a win.

In other news, this weekend my Kindle suggested that I read Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield.  I picked it up without really knowing anything about it, but so far I am very intrigued.  It’s largely a manual of training hacks for endurance athletes that runs the gamut from how to incorporate strength training effectively, to using electrical muscle stimulation for faster recovery.  I haven’t gotten to the nutrition section yet, but his training methods definitely take a primal approach and I’m expecting it to skew somewhat Paleo.  I can’t comment on the validity of his approach yet, but the text provides extensive footnotes and references, and I’m looking forward to delving into the science.  I’ll write a full review when I’ve finished it; in the meantime you can get a taste for Ben Greenfield’s methods from his podcast.

May 19, 2014

2014 Brooklyn Half Race Report


I’m coming to realize that one of the best parts of running in New York is the train ride to and from races.   At any other time, subway rides are an exercise in pretending that the strangers who are occupying your personal space (and who could potentially fall and/or step on you at the next curve) don’t actually exist.  On race mornings, however, runners smile at each other and say hello, chat about race plans, and cheerfully dispense advice.  Sure, there’s the occasional guy talking way too loud about his PR and how he usually only runs ultras, or complaining about the starting time/location/corral system, but all in all it’s generally a friendly, happy bunch.  Saturday morning was no exception when we headed off at 5:30 to the Brooklyn Museum.

We had actually gotten out the door a little later than I’d hoped, and in my rush I gulped down my smoothie and pounded some beet juice faster than was probably wise.  I nursed some butter coffee on the train, but by the time we arrived at the start it was clear that my digestive system was not fully on board with the morning’s activities. Thankfully, the Caveboy offered to make the run to baggage check while I waited in line at the porta-potties.  We reunited briefly for quick wishes of luck and a discussion of where to meet after the race, and then he headed off to the Wave 2 start.

I had a long wait ahead, as the corrals closed at 6:20 and the race was not scheduled to start until 7:00.  I tend to get nervous and a little too amped up waiting in the corral, particularly with the aggressive jock-rock music that tends to be blasted there.  I’ve realized that if I plan for it, I can use that time to calm down, so I’ve started including some chill pre-race music in my playlists.  After saying goodbye to the Caveboy, I popped my headphones in, did a last gear check, and tried to get into my race mindset.  After the usual chitchat and shuffling, we finally ended up getting off about 15 minutes late due to a car parked on the course (?) near the start.

This was my first Wave 1 start, and due either to the extreme competence of NYRR or simply the speed of the runners ahead of me, we got out FAST.  There were roughly 12,500 runners in the crush through the starting line, and within the first 20 seconds I realized I was already running faster than race pace.  I had been vacillating all week about how hard to push it in this race–I already had two half marathon PR’s on the season and part of me wanted to run this one on cruise control and just enjoy the day.  Another part of me felt like I had worked really hard training for this and it was the perfect opportunity to really push myself and leave it all on the course.  I ultimately decided to try the latter approach, and was shooting for 8:30 splits, which would be good enough for another PR.

For some reason I was more nervous for this race than for anything else I’ve run this season.  I spent the early miles focusing on settling into a steady pace and staying loose, trying to keep my shoulders down and breathing deeply.  I could feel the slight pulling of a side stitch starting, but I did my best to breathe and stay focused and positive about the race ahead.  Somewhere in the third mile I realized that my mouth was really dry, and I grabbed some Gatorade at the mile 4 aid station.  I was starting to get hungry already (probably due to the, um, compromised digestion earlier).  I had brought two gels, but had really only planned to eat one, probably around mile 7 or 8.  I decided that I would have one at at mile 6 instead and then judge from there if my stomach could tolerate another around 9 or 10.

We turned into Prospect Park not long after the mile 4 aid station, and from there the course starts rolling gently uphill for the next mile or so.  I was holding just ahead of my pace and feeling good.  The only real hill of the course comes around mile 5 and rises about 300 feet in a third of a mile.  I run it nearly every week on my long runs–usually several times–and I’ve actually developed some affection for it.  I charged up it this time, pleased with the number of runners I was passing and probably speeding up a little too much in the process.  I crested the hill knowing the hardest part was now over and focused on recovering a bit and finding a good pace on the next downhill.  At the mile 6 aid station I had my first GU (chocolate mint) and grabbed some water to wash it down.  I don’t know if it was the slight change in my breathing when I ate, or just the effort of the hill sprint catching up with me, but the side stitch that had been threatening since the start suddenly kicked in with a vengeance.  Without slowing my pace, I tried to adjust my breathing and footfalls, hoping to alleviate the sharp pain.  I rarely get side stitches, but I had a similarly severe one during my last 10K that nearly doubled me over for the last two miles.  I was now finding it hard to breathe deeply, and after some agonizing, I decided that power walking as briefly as possible was preferable to potentially running the second half the race with that much discomfort.  I walked as fast as I could for about 30 or 40 seconds, lamenting that I was wasting a particularly speedy downhill in the process.  The stitch let go a bit though, and I was quickly able to resume the 8-ish pace I’d been holding on the downward slopes.  It still hurt a lot, but I told myself I could deal with the pain as long as I could at least breathe normally.

I started counting the exhales just to focus my mind, and got to about 56 before the ache started to lessen.  (Full disclosure: the last-minute addition of the perplexing Work, Bitch to my playlist may have aided in effectively distracting me at that point.  Has anyone worked out what the correlation is between fitness and living in France?) A few minutes later I was out of the park and making the turn onto Ocean Ave, which would lead us south to Coney Island.  Without the cramp and with some sugar in my system I was feeling really good again, and started doing some quick math as I approached the mile marker at 8.  I was still ahead of my goal pace and if I maintained an 8:30, I would finish around 1:51.  I had five downhill miles to go, though, and was already running 8:15’s.  I realized that if I could keep that up, I’d break 1:50.  Suddenly, the PR seemed trivial and cracking the 110 minute mark was all that mattered.

I hammered on with renewed resolve, which was probably good, since this stretch of the race is pretty monotonous.  I pulled over for Gatorade at mile 9, but opted not to eat the gel since the side stitch seemed to be reawakening every time I took in any nutrition.  This may or may not have been the best call, but at the time I figured I could hang on without any problem and refuel post-race.  I don’t remember much about the next few miles, but by 11 I was still holding the 8:15 pace, but starting to feel it.  My legs felt good, but I was working hard and starting to feel a little loopy.  I hadn’t sipped much of the Gatorade at 9 and I was pretty sure the added speed had already burned through what little sugar reserves I had left.

Through the next mile I kept checking the instantaneous pace readout on my Garmin to make sure it stayed below 8:15, but I couldn’t really summon the focus to compute how close I might be to 1:50.  When I passed the aid station for 12 I really wanted to grab a cup, but I was afraid that if I slowed down at all I wouldn’t be able to pull it back together for a fast finish.  I remember having a conversation with myself at one point as to whether I was willing to puke for this, and I decided that I was, if it came to it.  As I charged on I started to feel vaguely detached from my legs, which seemed to be doing a remarkable job of holding pace despite my mental fog.  It was kind of disconcerting, actually, and I tried to think as little as possible that last mile.  The pack around me slowed down a bit as we negotiated a narrow pedestrian ramp, and then we finally made the turn final onto the boardwalk at Coney Island.  I picked up the pace as much as I could for the final push, hampered a bit by fatigue, but mostly by the wet, sandy boardwalk, which was quite slippery.  I ran through the finish line and stopped my watch without looking down until I was clear of the chutes.  1:49:45!  I wouldn’t have wanted to cut it much closer, but there it was!


With a few days perspective, I have the following take-aways:

I am really, really happy with how I ran this race.  I was more nervous than I expected or would have liked, and it led me to slide back into micromanaging my race a bit.  Despite that, I stayed positive, confident, and pretty happy throughout.  I really fought for this one in a way that I haven’t been able to do before.  The sub-1:50 was a huge accomplishment for me, especially given that until last November I hadn’t run sub-2 hours since 2011.  The course was downhill and about as fast as you could get, though, so I’m considering it more of a course record than a PR.

The other major point that I learned on Saturday is that if I’m going to run faster paces, I probably need to consider including more starches and carbs in the week before the race.  Stomach issues aside, I maintain a pretty low carb diet and I clearly did not have enough glycogen in my system to really turn on the jets at the end of this.  I’m planning to reread The Paleo Diet for Athletes to get some ideas on how much and when to incorporate carbs and starches.  I also may start using Generation UCan, which I initially tried a while back but haven’t reordered.  If anyone has any suggestions for “safe” carb-loading, let me know!  This was the last big race of the season for me, and my plan right now is to take the next couple of weeks with reduced mileage to recharge, retool, and get ready for the next bid thing.  Details to follow.

P.S. My 8:23 average split is precisely my BQ pace.  I cannot imagine maintaining that focus and energy for 26.2 miles.  I am totally fantasizing about maintaining that pace for 26.2 miles.

May 7, 2014

Getting Your Head in the Game

To follow up yesterday’s post about finding some positive head space, wanted to add a couple of resources I’ve come across recently.  As I’ve said, I think that more than half the battle is finding a strategy that’s personally meaningful, and that can take some amount of trial and error.  The links below are free resources you can try out for yourself.

This week’s Runner Academy podcast had an interview with Dr. David Asp, who discusses productive goal-setting, impostor syndrome, and aspects of mental preparation.  There is also a  free 25-minute visualization audio by Dr. Asp available for download on the site.

Carrie Cheadle has given several webinars for endurance athletes which are available on YouTube, including this one on the Psychology of Suffering.  She is the author of Top of Your Game, which is in the Kindle Lending Library, and her website has additional free resources and downloads.  I like her goal-setting worksheets in particular.

Good luck!



April 29, 2014

The Cavegirl is Back!

I’ve been wanting to revive the blog for ages, but there’s been a lot going on and I’ve had too many balls in the air to really give it the attention that I think it deserves.  In the past year I’ve moved to New York and embarked on a new chapter of my career, this time as a part owner of a new firm.  Running has been my constant and has really saved my sanity at times, and I’ve also significantly revamped my training this season, with great results so far.  I’m looking forward to outlining my new approach on the blog, as well as some nutrition tweaks I’ve been exploring.  I’ll be getting down to brass tacks in later posts, but for now I’ll start with my broader strategy and goals for this season.

After working through the IT band injury last year, I felt like I still had a lot of work to do on my mental game.  I was incredibly frustrated and disappointed to have put all the work into training for the marathon and then have it all fall apart when I was so close to the goal.  It was almost a year before I raced again, and it took even longer for me to get my fire back.  I’ve long struggled with putting too much pressure on my performance and having major pre-race nerves as a result. The marathon debacle really made it clear that I needed to reevaluate how I was approaching not just my racing, but my running in general.

I run to get stronger, to manage my stress, and for the primitive joy in it.  I’m also the type of person who loves keeping score, logging miles, and tracking my stats.  I thought that all the numbers and goal-setting was the problem, and I tried just not racing to see if I enjoyed it more without the pressure of competition.  I immediately got bored and slow.  After really thinking hard about it and looking back at my most inspired (and most successful) periods of running, I realized that what I really needed were better goals.

Step 1 was to figure out my season.  My sometimes-coach and mentor suggested that I try more racing to get over my race nerves by making it make it more routine, “like going to work.”  I laid out a schedule with the goal of racing every 6-8 weeks through the winter and spring.  I picked mostly half marathons and 10K’s (my favorite distances), as it would allow me to focus and get into a training groove and then just tweak and reset between races.  I ended up with the schedule below.  There may be a few more shorter fun runs thrown in this summer, these are the main events:

2014 Race Schedule

January 25, 2014 – Brrr-ooklyn Hot Chocolate Half, Prospect Park – PR 1:55:12

March 16, 2014 – NYC Half, Central Park – PR 1:52:46

April 5, 2014 – Scotland Run 10K, Central Park – PR 50:51

May 17, 2014 – Brooklyn Half, Prospect Park

June 1, 2014 – Celebrate Israel Run, Central Park

June 22, 2014 – Queens 10K, Flushing Meadows

September 28, 2014 – Bronx Run

October 18, 2014 – Baltimore Marathon


The schedule culminates in the Baltimore Marathon, and I wanted to come up with a training plan that would I looked back at my training when I had PR’ed previously (the advantage to keeping meticulous records), and analyzed what worked.  My best running had been on a modified version of the plan in Run Less, Run Faster by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss.  I like the structure of their training, which gives incredibly detailed workouts based upon a goal race pace.  I’ve been following their tables since last fall and incrementally adjusting my race goals after each cycle.  I’ve been thrilled with the results and have PR’ed each of my races so far this year.  (I have some thoughts on why their approach works for me, and what the downsides are, but more on that later.)  I’ve also hired a personal trainer who I see once a month to help with strength training and injury prevention.  This week, my training looks like this:

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Intervals – 2×3200 @ 8:04/mi pace w/400 RI

Wednesday: Easy

Thursday: Tempo – 5mi @ 8:19 pace

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Easy

Sunday: Long – 12mi @ 8:48 pace

This morning’s intervals were glorious, and if the weather holds, tomorrow’s easy run will be a run commute to and from work over the Brooklyn Bridge.  There will be more in the coming weeks on training, strength, and nutrition, so check back soon!





October 3, 2012

Fall Race Plans

I’ve spent the past few weeks getting organized for my triumphant (I hope) return to racing.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I approach training and racing, and I realized that it would be advantageous to approach the entire season with a strategy, rather than focusing on one race at a time.  That should have been obvious, I suppose, but having only run track, and not distance, competitively, periodization and peaking were never really on my radar.  Running 100 meters doesn’t take much planning ahead—you run as fast as you can every time.  One of the things I love about sprinting is that it is best executed with your brain turned off.  The chief challenge of distance running for me has been balancing the careful thought and analysis required to craft a successful training schedule with the need to not overthink the runs themselves.

My greatest strength as a runner is that I’m compelled (yes, it’s probably a bit OCD) to complete my training schedule to a T.  I’ve made an effort this past year to tune into my body more and be flexible about making adjustments when I need an extra rest day, but in general I’m by-the-book.  I’m apt to get nervous before races, or even in training runs where I’m trying to sustain a specific pace, so my mantra for this season is Trust Your Training.

With the goal of approaching the entire season as whole and creating a focused training schedule accordingly, I’ve planned three races for the next few months.  At the end of October I’ll be running the LA Cancer Challenge 10K, which I’ve been doing with a friend for the past four years.  It’s a Halloween race and we’ll be running in costume, but I plan to use it as a time-trial to gauge my fitness a month into race-training.  On December 2nd I have the Nittany Valley Half Marathon, which will be a cold and hilly race back home in Central Pennsylvania.  That race should be a good checkpoint and give me a chance to tweak the next month and a half of running in preparation for the Miami Half Marathon at the end of January.

For the next few weeks I’ll be focused on figuring out exactly where I am, speed-wise, and setting appropriate goals for the races.  It’s been annoyingly hot and humid for the past few months in LA, so it’s been hard to gauge my fitness for much cooler winter races.  The weather should be breaking, at least temporarily, this weekend, though, and I’m hoping for some faster long runs in the coming weeks.

On the Paleo side, I’m doing the October Unprocessed Challenge this year. I think it’s a great message and I love month-long experiments as a concept.  It also makes drinking my homebrew beer seem quite virtuous.  I don’t have too many processed food vices, but packaged energy bars and some of my no-brainer convenience snacks have had to go.  I’m continuing to tweak my pre- and post-workout snacks and meals, although I’m intentionally exempting my brown rice syrup-laden energy gels (it’s the arsenic that makes it good!) from the campaign.  With all the other variables and a new training schedule, I don’t want to mess too much with my nutrition while running.

Now that I’m back on the training wagon (or off it and running alongside?), I plan to post much more frequent updates on my schedule a goals.  Stay tuned!

October 14, 2011

Progress on Multiple Fronts

Things are looking up.  I ran 3 miles on Wednesday night, which felt arduous, but much, much better than my run on Sunday.  It didn’t help that the air conditioning at the gym had once again failed during our heat wave, and I was stuck on the treadmill in the corner with no air movement.  (I’m beginning to suspect that the entire HVAC system in the cardio room is just decorative.)  Last night was just as warm, but the run went much better. I was hoping to get 5 miles in, and planned to do more if I felt up to it.  I managed 6 before my knee started to hurt, and could have done more, at least from a cardio-standpoint.  I usually take Fridays off, but I’m debating doing my Saturday mileage tonight for a couple of reasons.  First, I may end up working tomorrow, and I don’t want to be stressed about missing more time on the treadmill if things run late.  Also, I’m thinking that giving myself (and my knee) a break before the 20 on Sunday might be wise. 

Earlier this week I placed an order for NuBound, the supplement that Dick Beardsley swore by.  I’m generally not much of a supplement person, but I read a Runner’s World review of recovery supplements and decided that it was worth a try.  According to the product literature it takes about a week to kick in, and I’m anxious to see if I notice a difference. 

I mentioned a few days ago that I planned to use the taper time to focus on my mental game for the race.  I’ve been plagued by pre-race jitters in the past that I know have severely compromised my performance.  I’ve laid awake the entire night before several races and arrived at the starting line feeling sluggish and miserable.  My nerves have also tended to manifest as stomach cramps and general digestive unhappiness during the race.  Fighting through the fatigue and discomfort drain my mental energy, and before I know it, I’m flooded with all sorts of negative thoughts.  With all that, you would wonder why I still race at all.  For one thing, not all my races are that difficult.  When I go in feeling confident, I’m fine and can perform well.  The problems only really seem to arise when I’m afraid of the race.  In the past, I’ve dealt with that fear by over-preparing, running further than the race distance, and running a few long runs at race pace.  For the marathon, those methods aren’t really an option, though.

I’ve been reading a few books on sports psychology, focusing primarily 10-Minute Toughness by Jason Selk.  He promotes visualization as a critical tool for success, and it’s something I was able to use very effectively back in my figure skating days as a kid.  When it comes to visualizing running, though, I find it a much more difficult task.  A skating routine is completely choreographed and has a well-defined standard of execution, so it’s easy to imagine performing each element as perfectly as possible.  There are a wide range of muscle memories to tap into, too, which always helped me feel physically engaged in the visualization.  Races, on the other hand, are long, the motion is repetitive, and they’re somewhat difficult to picture if you don’t know the course well.  The other problem I have in visualizing races is that when I get into an immersive storytelling mode I don’t really have any specifics to focus on and my imagination starts to run away with all the things that could go wrong.  The visualizations become and endless stream of possible disasters, with me struggling to get things back on track by trying to imagine myself handling each calamity positively.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s a very effective tool to quell my anxiety.

After mulling over the predicament for a while, I think I may have hit upon a solution.  I wrote a page-long script describing the race exactly as I want to happen.  It was easier to construct this in writing, I found, than by trying to create it on the fly as a mental movie.  I wrote my script in the past tense, with the theory that I would be creating the illusion that I have already run the marathon, and it was awesome. I didn’t think that just re-reading the text would really tap into the same consciousness as visualization, though, so I decided that I needed to get it into audio format.  I briefly considered recording myself reading it, but ruled that out with the idea that the sound of my own voice would be way too distracting.  I though of having the Caveboy, or a friend to read it, but again, I didn’t really want to associate the visualization with a specific person.  In the end, I uploaded the script to a text-to-speech converter, and I now have my scenario in mp3 format, read in a slow, soothing British accent.  I used ABC2Mp3, which is free and has fairly realistic-sounding voices with speed control.  In a moment of inspiration, I added a track of Chariots of Fire under the spoken word.  Voila—a completely personalized guided visualization of my race. 

I started doing my new and improved visualization last night, and I do feel like this is a positive step towards running a strong and enjoyable race.  I was able to get into the emotion of the event without going off track and letting the worries take over.  It occurs to me that this would also be a useful method to insert positive encouragement, useful reminders, or mantras into a running playlist.  I haven’t decided yet if I would find that helpful or annoying, but having a built-in voice of reason when the blood sugar gets low is definitely worth considering.