The ITBizness

It’s been a while since I updated the blog, but if you follow me on social media, you probably saw that I decided to can the St. Jude Half Marathon after dealing with an IT band injury.

I didn’t feel the sense of loss that I expected to feel after missing out on a race that I trained hard for. In retrospect, I think I was on the verge of – or at – a state of burnout. I don’t think I had enough respect for what the Savannah half took out of me, even though I didn’t really “race” it. I’m not entirely sure I had an all-out, goal-race effort in me for St. Jude anyway.

The week after Savannah, I ran 43 miles. All those miles while feeling really drained and uninspired. I thought I was being disciplined by running all the miles, but I failed to heed some warning signs. While I had the “discipline” to run all the miles and even skip a rest day (whyyyy? I don’t know anymore), I was so beat that I skipped all my “prehab” core/glute/hip strengthening work that I struggled to be consistent with this whole training cycle, even before Savannah.

I dug up this old tweet in the injury post-mortem. Clues of possible burnout did exist!

The following week, I couldn’t deny my fatigue or the chronic nature of the soreness in my left glute and hip flexor. I skipped an easy run, didn’t do any strength training, and made it through the work week, which included an accounting conference in hot, rainy, muggy Orlando. Florida runners, my heart goes out to you in the biggest way.

I considered cutting back on my long run that week, then I decided to head out and play it by ear. When I was 14 miles in, I was running down a hill, and without warning I felt that awful stabbing sensation on the outside of my right knee. I’d never had ITBS before, but I’ve heard enough about it to know exactly what it was. My right leg didn’t feel like it could bear weight. It was a clear “oh, shit” moment. I took an Uber home.

Since then, I’ve been seeing a sports chiropractor regularly, doing all the prehab rehab exercises diligently, indoor cycling, and yoga. I’ve gone through a couple rounds of dry needling, which I strangely love even though it feels weird. I spent 3 weeks not running consistently, with a few unsuccessful test runs sprinkled in. Last week, I ran 18 miles without any noteworthy pain, all on a half-mile gravel loop. It’s the most boring route I’ve ever run.

foam roller

I’ve been doing a lot of this. (This = foam rolling, not gratuitous leg-showing. Sorry.)

As for the cause of the injury, I had some imbalances and some really gnarly tight muscles that just weren’t going to put up with hard training anymore. Hard training is a risk, and this time I came out on the wrong side. It’s easy to spout platitudes about “being in touch with your body,” but it’s not a magical injury prevention strategy, although I do think it’s something we should all strive to do.

What I’m trying to say is that by “listening to my body,” whatever the hell that means, I was aware enough to know I needed to back off. But I didn’t know enough to do anything beyond doing “less.” I finally see the importance of seeing a trained professional from time to time during normal training, to see (and treat!) the warning signs that I’m not trained to see or treat (as a person who lives my professional life in spreadsheets and memos).

I got my training plan for Paris today. The mileage is lower than what I was running for my last marathon. I wish I were healthy enough to take more advantage of the base that was built into my St. Jude training. But it’s not just any marathon near home that I can skip and not feel too bad about, it’s the Paris Marathon. The PARIS #*$&ing MARATHON. I’d rather finish this marathon – even if it’s slow – than get injured again from taking big training risks. So I’m (reluctantly) on board with the less-mileage plan.

I don’t know how it will go. (I guess we never really do.) My goal is only to PR (my PR is 4:20). Maybe if training goes flawlessly, I will think about going for sub-4:10 (the GMP in my training plan is a 9:25/mile pace). At this point, that kind of goal-setting is premature – everyone I’ve talked to mentions that ITBS can be a stubborn injury. I’m really excited to get started with training. I’ll start back up with weekly training posts next week for this abbreviated 15 week cycle.

Have any of you had ITBS? How did recovery go for you?

Have you ever had dry needling? Like it, or not so much?

Gear Guide: Brooks PureProject Seamless Capri

It’s the second edition of the Gear Guide, and we have another black seamless spandex bottom. What else did you expect from a bean counter?

Good news for the ol’ wallet: today’s gear is a past-season model that is currently featured on several discount sites. You’re welcome, Santa.

The Product: Brooks PureProject Seamless Capri

Brooks Women's Pureproject Seamless Running Capri

Photo credit: Brooks

I found these when I was looking for a deal on a pair of seamless black crops that I could pack for trips as a versatile, do-anything piece.

Stats:

  • Price: $39.95 minus 35% email subscriber discount on Sierra Trading Post
  • Inseam: 19″
  • Size ordered: Small
  • My measurements:
    • Waist: 28″
    • Hips: 38″
    • Inseam: 30.5″
    • Pants sizes: 2 in J.Crew; 6 in Theory
  • Size chart measurements for size small:
    • Waist: 26″-28″
    • Hips: 35.5″-37.5″

Initial impressions

Pattern down the side

The Brooks PureProject Seamless Capris were love at first try. They fit more snugly (in a comfortable way) than some seamless garments; the fit through the thighs reminded me of my Zensah compression sleeves. The fit is less snug through the butt than a compression legging, so it doesn’t restrict movement. The waist is high and feels like it’s holding in my tummy a little bit. The fabric is soft and comfortable, and there is a little decorative pattern in the texture down the side of the leg.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the description of the waistband pockets when I made the purchase. The pockets are on the inside of the waistband, and a rubbery substance is around the opening. I was nervous about the potential for chafing, but the pockets weren’t noticeable once I tried on the capris. The pockets are big enough for a card or keys, but not a phone.

brooks capris with pockets

Left: back pocket / Right: front pockets

On the run

I wore the PureProject Seamless Capris on a short recovery run with the temperature in the mid-40s, and I didn’t get too warm or cold. I stashed my house keys and a credit card/ID in the front pockets. I don’t think a full set of keys would work well in these pockets, but my two house keys were stashed safely and comfortably.

I barely noticed the capris on my run; always a good thing. After I took off the capris, I noticed that the fabric had pulled from rubbing against my shirt or jacket. I wasn’t wearing anything with a rough texture, so durability of the fabric could be a concern.
brooks seamless capris review

In the weight room

The Brooks PureProject Seamless Capris are my new favorite bottoms for strength training. They have every characteristic I like in the weight room: snug, comfortable, and don’t restrict my range of motion.

brooks seamless crops review

Cat photobomb outtake

Have you tried these capris or a similar style? Let me know in the comments what you think about them, or what comparable garments you’d recommend.

Note:  I received no free stuff nor compensation in exchange for this post. In fact, I decided to write this post last night on a whim when I pulled these crops out of the dryer. I think it’s safe to say that all opinions and observations in this post are my own.

RnR Savannah Half Marathon Race Recap

Mix your electrolyte beverage of choice before reading this one, folks, ’cause it’s gonna get sweaty.

In case you didn’t see the splash on running-social-media, hashtag RnRSAV was a sweaty, humid sufferfest for all. In comparison to my mostly-fairytale PR race in Savannah last year, conditions were quite to very unfavorable.

And if the temperature wasn’t oppressive enough, hourly weather measured at the nearby Hunter US Army Airfield showed that the humidity never budged from 100%. Also, as noted in the weather data, the fog was so heavy in the early AM that the visibility was just a quarter mile to a half a mile.

rnr savannah weather

Photo credit: National Weather Service (my own emphasis added via MS Paint)

This recap is hard to write, and not just because I raced sans phone and didn’t take any photos (as I always do). During the race, I experienced such a wide variety of thoughts and emotions that when I reflect on the race, it’s not a coherent story. I’ve attempted to do my best to capture the experience without going too far off the reservation. That’s no easy task, so bear with me. (or not, that’s fine too 🙂 )

The Heat: What Went Right/Wrong

Around 9:45 AM, race officials made the decision to divert runners to the finish along shorter routes than the full course. This affected full marathon participants primarily. As I understand it, most participants still were allowed to cross the finish line, although on a shortened course. I have also heard of other runners who were not permitted to finish. The heat index at this time was 87 degrees.

Everyone has made up their mind to support the decision or hate it. I support the decision. I won’t repeat the arguments I’ve seen repeatedly on social media, but I do want to highlight something that I don’t think was widely understood. One of our friends who lives in Savannah learned from a local EMT that the race created such an abnormal demand for ambulances, that the emergency services were beginning to struggle to respond quickly enough when called. This, to me, is enough to suspend the race by itself. I hear those who argue that other races were continued in conditions that were as bad or worse, but if the emergency services are so strained that they can’t respond timely, call it off. Savannah is not a huge city. The resources are what they are, and I don’t know how it would be feasible for the race organizers to supplement the emergency resources available.

What IS feasible for the race organizers to do is have enough resources in the way of consumables on the course. Specifically, I learned that the race ran out of cups. Initially, I felt guilty for taking multiple cups at the later aid stations. However, when I reflect on it, it’s perfectly reasonable and predictable for me (and many, many others) to take more fluids on that day than we would in normal weather. Predictable is the key word here. This isn’t the first Rock ‘n’ Roll race, nor is it the first hot, humid Rock ‘n’ Roll race. Surely they’ve seen in past races that extra fluids and cups are needed in these conditions. I don’t know why this went wrong, but the fact that volunteers had to pour water into my friend’s mouth is inexcusable, especially for an organization this large and experienced.

Back to my recap:

Pre-Race

We had to leave Atlanta in rush hour because of people’s work schedules, so it took 5+ hours to get to Savannah. We arrived by 10 and were in bed by 11:30 or midnight. Pre-race dinner was an embarrassing assortment of Gatorade, potato chips and other junk food while driving.

As I was laying out my race outfit, I realized that I had left the Gu that I planned to eat at mile 4 on my kitchen counter. One of my friends realized she forgot a sports bra; thankfully, I was wearing a sports bra as casual wear, so I had an extra.

We decided to get up at 4:45, have breakfast and coffee, and leave for the race by 5:30 (we were staying with friends on nearby Wilmington Island and had to drive).

Imagine my surprise when my friend Britt barges into my room and tells me I’ve overslept, and I see the clock says 5:20. I looked at my alarm, and I had in fact set it, but I just didn’t budge from what was evidently a very deep sleep.

Britt’s fiance Ben saved the day by making the coffee while I got dressed. I had brought my standard pre-race oatmeal already made, so that went quickly, and we left for the race around 6:15. The race started at 7, and since we missed the expo (by design), we still had to pick up our bibs.

We got VERY lucky to find a parking meter about half a mile from the start line. We found the bib pickup area (we seem to do this every year, so we now know exactly where it is), and got our bibs without any trouble. I didn’t have time to run the two warm-up miles I had planned, or really do much of a warm-up. I did a half-assed lunge matrix and some leg swings next to the corral, and that was about all I had time to do.

The Race

Miles 1-4: 9:09 / 8:51 / 8:59 / 9:04

Official time through 5k: 27:50

My game plan was to take the first half of the race pretty easy, then see how I felt. I got in a comfortable groove during the first mile, and other than dripping sweat, I enjoyed the first 5k of the race. I felt stronger on the one hill of the race – a bridge over the viaduct – than I have in either of the other two times I’ve run this race.

Right around the 5k mark, I started feeling my effort become more labored. I knew that I’d run the first 5k of last year’s race in just under 28 minutes, so I was surprised and a bit worried to come in at about the same time.

I passed a water station around mile 2 and didn’t take anything. During mile 3, I took the tiniest pour of Gatorade I’ve ever had in my life. It was less than a full sip, but I’d already run through the station and didn’t want to go back.

Miles 5-9: 9:17 / 9:24 / 9:40 / 9:19 / 9:53

Official time through 10k: 56:38

The fifth mile of the race was a whirlwind of contrasting thoughts and feelings. I remember resolving to give all I had that day, then becoming lightheaded and briefly considering how I would feel if I decided not to finish the race (not good). I wondered if not remembering my Gu was part of the issue with how I was feeling.

When I hit the half marathon relay exchange point in mile 7, I felt pretty bummed that there were another 6.55 miles left in the race. I knew it was getting hotter and I was getting slower. I was soaked in my own sweat. Ever since the lightheaded episode in mile 5, I couldn’t settle into a pace that felt good. My legs wanted to go faster than the rest of my body could handle, so I was in a seesaw of feeling good, picking up a bit, then having to back off.

When I got to the mile 7 aid station, I decided to walk through aid stations from then on to make sure I didn’t shortchange myself of fluids. I had two cups of Gatorade filled to a normal level, a sip of water, and splashed the rest of the water on myself.

The mile 8-9 stretch happens after the course runs through the heart of the city during miles 6 and 7, and there are a few long straightaways. I had a Gu and water just after the mile 8 marker – I remember getting very concerned once I saw the mile 8 marker and no Gu station, because I was sure the course map said it would be before the end of mile 8.

rnr savannah

The humidity is visible.

The first time I saw an ambulance on the course was during mile 9. I wasn’t surprised, because it was getting so hot, and the humidity wasn’t letting up one bit.

Miles 10-Finish: 9:56 / 9:50 / 9:42 / 0.11 in 0:49 (7:29/mile)

Official time through 13.1: 2:03:59

Halfway through mile 10, I saw another ambulance. I looked to the side of the street where the runner was being treated, and he was getting chest compressions. I’m not a medical professional, and I’ve never seen chest compressions outside of TV or movies. It’s not the same in real life. I won’t describe it out of respect for the guy who was down, but it was a scary scene. For a moment, I wondered if we were being disrespectful by continuing to run, but I realized that continuing to run was the least disruptive thing we could do. I saw people laughing up ahead – I doubt they saw what I saw – but I was a little disturbed by how happy they seemed.

In a race when I was struggling, well off the pace I hoped for, and had been waging an internal debate as to whether or not to “race”, the non-race side of the debate won out. I tried to settle into a comfortable training-run-type groove, but I also wanted to be done and no longer running in the heat and humidity.

Mile 13 was strangely tough from a mental standpoint. Normally the last mile of a race is pretty exciting, there’s less than one mile to go, and that’s nothing! For some reason, that wasn’t the case in Savannah this year. I think the first half of mile 13 is a slight incline, and every stride I took required fighting the urge to walk off the course.

I got a second wind once there was a very gradual downhill in the last half of the mile, then I became almost giddy when I saw the mile 26 marker for the marathon course. I picked up the pace for a quick finish to get the race over with!

sav4sav3sav5

Post-Race

sav2

The finishers’ chute had all of the normal refreshments I expected: water, sports drink, chocolate milk, Powerbars, bananas, and some unexpected things like chips made from peas (salty, crunchy = GOOD).

The beer line in Forsyth Park wasn’t too long when I got there, but about 45 minutes later, it was slammed. Picking up my shirt (since I didn’t get it at the expo) was pretty easy at the information tent. Our group met up in the park and went to Foxy Loxy for tacos, pastries, and beer. This was a great spot to go as sweaty as we were, because they have a spacious outdoor courtyard where a few people were dining with their dogs. I thought the chipotle chicken taco was quite yummy.

Postgame Analysis

I don’t have strong feelings about how this race went. I could have kept a race effort throughout the race, but I don’t regret deciding to prioritize safety and recovery. I knew going in that it wasn’t a goal race, although I didn’t fully grasp how difficult the conditions would be. Also, I don’t think not racing was a smarter decision than racing cautiously. It was what I wanted to do, so I did it.

I underestimated how bad the heat combined with the 100% humidity would be. Running the first 5k just under 28 minutes felt comfortable at the time. So I’m unsure of what to learn from how much harder it became to maintain that pace: is it best to start out slower than comfortable? Or is it just a given that as the heat rises, one’s performance will drop? If I ever race in similar conditions in the future, I’m going to go with option A. But I’ll have to have some short-term memory loss before I ever pin on another bib in 70s+100% humidity weather.

Swag

While the design of the race shirt is better than last year’s (not a high bar), I probably won’t run in a black short-sleeved shirt. I liked this year’s medal better than last year’s – it actually had a design on it rather than a standard-looking RnR logo with music notes.

Bottom Line

I’ll probably run this race every year because I enjoy going to Savannah with my friends. However, I have serious concerns with the way the race organizers handled the fluids on a hot, humid day, and the course is too crowded for a smaller-city race.

In normal weather, it’s a flat, PR friendly course. But as we saw this year, weather can be an issue. If I had to make a recommendation, go for it if this race is convenient for you, but I wouldn’t suggest that anyone go too far out of their way to run this race.

Gear Guide: Oiselle Vela Shorts

Running gear can really get expensive. But sometimes it makes the most sense to suck it up and buy the new things. Like…

  • when your 1 year old favorite spandex shorts seem to have grown spikes on the inner thigh section, shredding the adjacent skin into a chafed mess -OR-
  • when your Kinvaras with 250 miles on them start smelling like a decomposing body. (Shoes are expensive; they’re getting 400 miles whether they smell like roses or not.)

These examples are purely hypothetical, of course. I can’t imagine who would ever have these problems.

The problem is that a) the best deals seem to be found online, and b) there is an apparent dearth of pertinent information for the online consumer who may not have free return shipping. I buy gear for my personal use from time to time, so I figure I can write a quick post and give the Internet the information that I suspect it so desperately wants.

I’m calling these posts a “guide” rather than a “review,” because running gear, especially apparel, is pretty individual to one’s shape and personal taste. My goal is to provide information rather than a recommendation.

The Product: Oiselle Vela Shorts

During my hypothetical quest for a new favorite pair of non-chafing spandex shorts, the Oiselle Friends & Family Sale happened. I found the Vela shorts: nice-looking, seamless, black spandex running shorts that were on the longer side. Sounds like a good start to avoid the dreaded inner-thigh-chafe. These shorts also claim to have an anti-odor treatment, and while I don’t know how or if it works, I like the idea, given my current issue with stinky shoes.

Photo credit: Oiselle

Stats

  • Price: $38
  • Inseam: 4″ per the Oiselle website; my pair measured 5″
  • Size ordered: Small
  • My measurements:
    • Waist: 28″
    • Hips: 38″
    • Inseam: 30.5″
    • Pants sizes: 2 in J.Crew; 6 in Theory
  • Size chart measurements for size small:
    • Waist: 25″-28″
    • Hips: 35″-38″

Initial impressions

Out of the box, the Vela shorts were comfortable and soft. They were long enough to cover the meatiest (read: most chafe-prone) parts of my thighs. Although my measurements were on upper end of the size chart for a size small, there was nothing snug in the initial fit. These shorts don’t have any pockets.

On the run

I took my Vela shorts straight out of the washer and dryer for a sweaty 8 mile run with a couple miles at tempo pace and some short repeats at 5k pace. I didn’t notice the shorts at all on the run, nor did I experience any chafing or riding up.

Other observations

The fit of the Vela shorts around the waist was a bit peculiar on my body type. The waist on these shorts is quite high, and if I let it sit at a point that feels comfortable for me, the fabric from the waist to the crotch gets wrinkly (see photos).

  

If I pull up the waist of the shorts to smooth the ripply fabric, the front of the shorts sits much higher on my waist than the back. The waist of the shorts is also not completely snug in the back. I suspect this style may have been designed for people with more petite bottoms than mine.

I’ll wear these shorts with a tank, so the odd-fitting waist won’t be very visible. The fit issues I experienced did not affect the performance of the shorts (like I said above, I barely noticed them on an 8 mile run including multiple paces), and the fit issues were outweighed by the comfort of the shorts and complete lack of chafing.

Have you ever tried these shorts or a similar style? Tell me about your experience in the comments: likes/dislikes/etc.

Note:  I received no free stuff nor compensation in exchange for this post. In fact, no one but me had any idea that I planned to write this post. I think it’s safe to say that all opinions and observations in this post are my own.

RnR Savannah / St. Jude Half Marathon Training: Weeks 14-15

For those who have been keeping up with my training (hi Mom!), I’ve been working toward building mileage cautiously after August training went off the rails and September was a battle (often a losing one) for consistency.

Good news – it worked! I managed to increase my mileage without getting injured, and I’m caught back up to my training plan.

Week 14: 31 miles

This was a cutback/mini-taper week before the Atlanta 10 Miler.

Monday, 10/19 

Ressssst.

Tuesday, 10/20

  • Plan: 7 miles: mile 3 @ tempo + 8×1:00 @ 5k pace, 2:00 jog rest; core; strength training
  • Actual: 7 miles: mile 3 @ 8:41 + 6×1:00 @ 8:12/mi average; strength training

I read the workout wrong, and did 6 1-minute repeats instead of 8. The world shall not end; however, I will work on my reading comprehension skills.

I got to deadlift again in the strength workout (5 sets: 1 warmup set of 10; 4 sets of 5). Last week I eased into it by focusing on form and keeping the weight pretty low at 105 lbs. This week I did a couple of sets of 5 at 110 before increasing to 115 for the remaining sets. Still, it didn’t feel too challenging to hold good form; also, hooray for no SI joint pain!

Wednesday, 10/21

  • Plan: 3 mile recovery run
  • Actual: 3 mile recovery run

Thursday, 10/22

  • Plan: 5 miles easy + 4 strides; hips/glutes
  • Actual: 5 miles + 4 strides; hips/glutes

After an otherwise unremarkable run, I was running strides and somehow hit a gear that I hadn’t hit in a while. It reminded me why strides are fun: it takes you back to running as a kid, without regard for paces or splits. (Side note: if you’re not running strides, give it a try! I like this explainer for the newbie to strides.)

Friday, 10/23

Rest day. For once, I wasn’t totally craving the rest day; this was probably because of the cutback in mileage. My cousin was in town with her husband for a conference, so she ditched the conference, and we went out for a delicious dinner at Rathbun’s. All of our food was delicious, but a real unexpected delight was the side of creamed corn.

Saturday, 10/24

  • Plan: 3 miles easy + 4 strides
  • Actual: 3 miles easy + 4 strides

Thanks to Oiselle for making green Mac Rogas. #sicembears

I got the run done on a fun football Saturday and wore green and white in honor of the Baylor homecoming game. All I did all day was run, watch football, and eat delicious foods. It was fantastic.

Sunday, 10/25:

  • Plan: 2 mile warm-up, 10 mile race, 2 mile cool-down
  • Actual: 1.5 mile warm-up, Atlanta 10 Miler (1:28:31), 1.5 mile cool-down

I mentioned this in my race recap, but I’m really awful at getting in the warm-up and cool-down miles called for – this time, parking a little over a mile from the race was the only thing that forced me to do it (although short by a half mile each way).

After the race, I tried to take an ice bath, which was pretty unsuccessful in my stall shower. 😛

Week 15: 40 miles

Monday, 10/26

REST. Sweet rest. Much needed. This week, we also learned that cats are predators who would like to kill us. As far as I can tell, Lucy has given up this dream and focuses her predatory instincts on her yarn ball and extracting extra kibble from her feeder. (I like this photo because she does look kind of creepy.)

Tuesday, 10/27

  • Plan: 3 miles easy + 4 strides; core
  • 3 miles + 4 strides; 15 minutes of core work

Super boring easy-paced treadmill run after work on a rainy day. I had packed stuff for running in the rain, but I wasn’t feeling it.

Wednesday, 10/28

  • Plan: 7 miles: 8×1:00 @ 10k pace, 2:00 recovery; strength training
  • Actual: 7 miles: 8×1:00 @ 8:08/mile average; strength training

I felt like $1 million after the extra recovery day from my race, and I ran my workout a bit faster than I should have. The good news was that it didn’t feel very challenging. I think the extra recovery day worked wonders.

Thursday, 10/29

  • Plan: 8 miles + 4 strides; hips/glutes; strength training
  • Actual: 9 miles + 4 strides, strength training

I inadvertently added about a mile to my run. I took a different turn to avoid stopping at a red light, and I’d run nearly a half mile when I realized I had to backtrack to my original route. I ran strides after the 8 mile mark (I found a really nice flat stretch there), then jogged home extra-easy.

Friday, 10/30

Ah, rest day. The Friday rest day was much appreciated this week.

Saturday, 10/31

  • Plan: 16 miles
  • Actual: 16 miles @ 10:32/mile

After suffering on hills in the 10 Miler last weekend, I decided to do my long run on the same hilly route that ate me alive for a few 9-12 mile runs earlier in the training cycle. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get into a rhythm on this run. During mile 12, I did a few short uphill surges at a medium-hard effort, which was pretty fun.

Fall is here! Please stay a while, fall.

Sunday, 11/1

  • Plan: 5 mile recovery run
  • Actual: 5 mile recovery run; Myrtl routine

I had a nice recovery run on a hilly route, although I probably should have found something a little flatter after the hilly long run the day before. I did the Myrtl routine – a quick hip-focused set of exercises – after my run. I was doing this routine more consistently earlier in the year, and it felt good to get back to it. It’s not too strenuous, so it’s great for a recovery run day.

What’s next:

This week is the RnR Savannah Half Marathon. I have another cutback/baby-taper week leading up to the race. Last year, I ran 1:55:53 in this race in good weather. This year, the forecast isn’t looking great: the forecasted low has increased from 65 degrees to 68 degrees, and with rain expected all week, there’s no doubt it will be humid.

I don’t think it makes sense to put all my eggs in the PR basket for this race, especially with St. Jude coming up in December. The heat and humidity could get me in trouble if I try to run an exact Garmin pace. My plan is to wear the Garmin so I can nerd out on the data post-race, but I don’t plan to look at it too often during the race.

I plan to aim for a sub-1:55 half in Memphis, so this race will more or less a dress rehearsal to gauge where I am fitness-wise on a flat course. If I can run close to the time I ran last year, I’ll feel like I’m in great shape to run a fast race in Memphis.

Anyone else racing in Savannah this weekend?

What are your thoughts on racing in humidity?

Atlanta 10 Miler Race Recap

If you read here much, you know I don’t like running hills. I’m not good at them. I’m always surprised if I pass anyone while running up a hill.

The Atlanta 10 Miler is a nemesis of a race for me because it has so many hills, and steep ones at that. Last year, I ran the 10 Miler on a whim as part of a 17 mile training run. I gave it a marathon-pace effort. That was challenging, but not nearly as challenging as trying to race the thing.

Pre-Race

Packet pickup was at Big Peach Brookhaven or Big Peach Alpharetta. I don’t know how these locations were chosen, because Big Peach’s Midtown location (not to mention several other running specialty stores) is much closer to the race than either Brookhaven or Alpharetta. There was a lot of traffic and road construction in Brookhaven, and the surrounding area was a mess. The volunteers were great and had no control over the traffic chaos, but the pickup location could have been thought out better.

Pickup was easy. Runners were able to look up their bib numbers beforehand, or or the volunteers could look it up quickly. Packet, safety pins, and you’re on your way. A+ for organization.

The night before the race, our friend Ben grilled up a ton of meats and vegetables from our favorite farmers’ market. Not traditional carb loading, but I am not particular about what I eat the night before a long run (aside from things that I know don’t work for me – no super spicy food or loads of dairy). It was delicious.

We watched a couple of football games, and I tried to go to sleep early. That didn’t work very well – I finally fell asleep between 11:30 and midnight.

IMG_5931

Celebrating the Georgia Tech win with a great surrender cobra in the background.

Race Day

The race starts at 7:30, so I woke up with my alarm at 5:30 and had my regular pre-run breakfast – oatmeal and coffee – by about 6. I had a glass of water when I woke up and sipped a glass of Gatorade over the course of an hour. I left for the race just after 6:30.

The plan was to do a dynamic warm-up, run a couple warm-up miles, then do a few strides before the race. I parked in Midtown, a little over a mile from the race, to avoid traffic (later, I heard the parking at Atlantic Station was well-organized). I did my warm-up on the sidewalk in the dark and ran a warm-up mile before I realized I’d started warming up a bit too early. Hhhhhhh. I walked around to stay kind of warm, stood in the portapotty line (VERY long; I gave up), jogged another half mile, tried to run a few strides (hard to do in a crowded area!) and got in the corral about 5 minutes before the start. I was pretty disorganized before the start of the race, but at least I didn’t feel like I was starting the race cold.

The weather was in the low 60s with 90% humidity – not ideal racing conditions, but could be a lot worse.

The Race

I knew I wanted to run this race by feel, because any pace data I’d get from my watch would be affected by the hills. My plan went like this:

  1. First half: run at an effort slightly easier than a tempo run
  2. Miles 5-Cardiac Hill (mile 7.5 or so): tempo effort
  3. To the finish: hang on & race
  4. To keep my effort honest on the hills, especially early in the race, I told myself not to let it “hurt” until Cardiac Hill
10 miler elevation

Elevation chart for the race

As for goals, I thought I was capable of between 1:25 and 1:30. My fastest 10 mile effort in a race was the last 10 miles of Savannah last year, at 1:27:57. I hoped to finish below 1:28.

Mile 1: 8:50

This mile loops around Atlantic Station and past the townhomes on 16th Street. It’s mostly gradual inclines with a couple of steeper climbs and one noticeable downhill. I focused on listening to my breathing, keeping my effort in check, and not letting the race excitement get to me. I wouldn’t realize it until later, but this was exactly the pace I wanted to run early in the race.

Mile 2: 8:57

I used to live near this part of the course, which includes the “Northside Hill of Death.” This hill is not that long, but it’s steep enough to be demoralizing. I focused on keeping my cadence high and a consistent effort through the hill, which resulted in nearly everyone passing me! After that hill, there’s a stretch of mostly downhill running.

Mile 3: 8:27

The third mile has a couple of small climbs, but it’s mostly downhill. I didn’t pick up the effort at all, but the downhills helped my pace. There was one downhill stretch that I remember being too steep to be beneficial, but most of this mile was nice easy declines.

Miles 4: 8:57

At the 5k mark, there’s a nasty uphill beginning on Alden and going all the way down 26th Street. It’s worse than the Northside death-hill. I couldn’t run this hill slow enough to stay in a “comfortably hard” effort level. I got dropped by everyone around me. At this point in the race, I began seeing many of the same runners pass me on uphills, and I’d pass them on downhills. The rest of the mile is peppered with short inclines and short drops – some of which were pretty steep. I thought this was the worst mile of the course, including Cardiac Hill.

Mile 5: 9:09 (Official time through 5 miles: 44:08; 8:50/mile average)

Mile 5 is more of the same. Up and down, up and down. In trying to keep a consistent effort level, I ended up slowing a bit – this is where those longer tempo runs that went so poorly earlier in the training cycle could have helped me.

Mile 6: 8:50

I let myself pick it up a little once I was halfway. There was a great cheer zone in this mile – I think it was a high school group from Decatur. They lined both sides of the street and were so enthusiastic (thanks to you guys!). I think this mile is easier than some of the others simply because the hills are a little more gradual.

On a downhill, I caught up to a girl who was dropping me with ease on every hill. I introduced myself and asked the secret to her hill-running prowess. Her only secret was that she was using the race as a last training run / dress rehearsal for the NYC Marathon, so she wasn’t racing all-out.

I took a Gu near the end of mile 6.

Mile 7: 8:46

There’s another climb in the first half of mile 7, and again, a lot of people passed me running up the hill. The Atlanta Track Club had a “Conquer Cardiac Hill” challenge that extended from about three-quarters through mile 7 to three-quarters through mile 8. The one-mile timed “race-within-a-race” started with a nice downhill before including the hill-before-Cardiac-Hill (if you’ve run the Peachtree Road Race, you know the one), a brief downhill, and the beast itself. I think mile 7 ends right as the hills begin.

Mile 8: 9:20 (official time for Conquer Cardiac Hill: 8:57)

This was the mile that included the big hills, as my Garmin seemed to indicate. I kicked up my effort, but I wasn’t ready to go all-out with a couple miles left in the race. I engaged my glutes, kept a quick cadence, and gave it a hard effort. I’m not sure why there’s such a discrepancy between my Garmin time for mile 8 and my time for the Cardiac Hill mile. Perhaps I unintentionally slowed after the “finish line” at the end of the Conquer Cardiac Hill challenge, or my Garmin may have been a bit off.

There were several lively cheer stations along this mile that I vaguely remember being awesome and super encouraging, but I was so zoned into the race I don’t remember much else. I can’t thank the people who came out and volunteered/cheered enough!

Mile 9: 8:43

Mile 9 starts with a downhill before the grade turns upward again past the Amtrak station. I tried to stay with a few guys who were running easy after doing the Cardiac Hill mile in around 6 minutes, but I couldn’t stick with them once we started running uphill again. I felt like I was barely moving when I got to the top of that hill, but I turned a corner and the course started bouncing up and down again. Another hill – the second-to-last of the course – started within sight of the 9 mile marker. At this point, I was close enough to start trying to race the three women I’d been back and forth with the whole race. I ran quite hard up the hill to keep them in my sight. It felt good to finally pass more people than were passing me.

Mile 10: 8:22

There is one more relatively modest hill on the course in the first half of mile 10 before the course descends to Atlantic Station. The volunteers let us know that it was the last hill, so I used all the strength I’d been conserving and ran strong up the hill straight into the pain cave, past one of the women I was trying to catch. The rest of the race was all pain cave.

I saw the NYC marathon girl up ahead and surged to catch her. She was running at a pretty good clip, and I hung on to her pace for a minute until I decided I could pick up the pace a little more. When we turned into Atlantic Station, I caught one more woman that I’d seen throughout the race. I didn’t kick at the end, I just tried to focus on staying smooth and relaxed while running hard to the finish.

Atlanta 10 miler10 mile race

Official time: 1:28:31 (8:52/mile)

Not quite good enough for a PR, but still a solid effort that I’m proud of, especially the almost-even split between the first and second halves of the race. I’m glad to have gotten out of my comfort zone before my upcoming half marathons.

First race in the 30-34 AG.

Post-Race & Swag

medal photoI was dazed after crossing the finish line – this photo was taken while I was trying to be cute and wave to the camera (why do I look annoyed?).

At the finish, instead of a Mylar blanket, the volunteers were handing out what appeared to be a reusable grocery bag, but turned out to be a zip-up poncho made of reusable grocery bag material. Even though it wasn’t cool enough to need them, I hope more races go to these ponchos instead of Mylar blankets, especially windy ones.

All I wanted after the race was a banana, but I grabbed a PowerAde from a volunteer and started drinking it while I looked for a banana. I realized that there were no bagels or bananas, just a box of packaged foods that didn’t sound appealing.

I did a cool-down jog to the car – not quite 1.5 miles – nice and slow. I think I feel better after doing a little jogging post-race, but it’s so hard to be motivated to do it.

The swag for this race is pretty good. The shirt was a long-sleeve Mizuno half-zip with thumbholes that ran surprisingly large. I ordered a women’s small, and it’s baggier than I’d like. The medal is nice too – I like that it’s simple without any glitter.

Bottom Line

This race is mostly very scenic and runs through a really pretty neighborhood of Atlanta. The hills don’t make it a PR friendly race, but it’s a good time of year and distance for a tune-up race, or even a goal race if hills are your thing.

The race was very well organized. There were volunteers and police all over the course, and it felt very safe. Atlanta Track Club puts on excellent races, so this is no surprise to me. The parking logistics, had I parked at the race, were also very good – there is a garage at Atlantic Station that was open for race participants (I believe it was $5).

The race is a nice size: about 6,000 participants. It’s big enough to have good amenities, but small enough to run efficiently. It’s also reasonably priced – I registered for about $50 earlier in the year, and October pricing (before the race sold out) was about $80.

I have to nitpick to think of ways to improve this race. I mentioned the packet pick-up difficulties and the really large race shirt. I was also disappointed by the food at the end of the race. None of these items were significant enough to impact my decision to run this race again in the future.

Do you have a go-to race warm-up/cool-down routine? How do you structure a warm-up with race logistics in a larger race?

Do you prefer to race with or without a Garmin? Why?

Does anyone have the secret to running hills faster? I’m tired of being the slowest hill runner.

RnR Savannah / St. Jude Half Marathon Training: Weeks 12-13

After having a couple of months of a training slump, in week 11 I began cautiously using an approximation of the 10% rule to get my training (specifically my weekly mileage) back where I planned for it to be. Here’s a quick snapshot from my super-cool Excel training log showing how my weekly mileage looked up to this point:

average weekly mileage

In my last post, I mentioned these three guidelines I’m using to tweak my plan until I get caught up:

  1. Cut mileage from recovery runs first, then easy medium-distance runs
  2. Run at a ridiculously easy pace for all runs except fast workouts
  3. Be hyper-sensitive to listening to my body and be willing to cut back at the first sign of anything wonky

And here’s how it went:

Week 12: 35 miles

Monday, 10/5

You know the drill, rest on Mondays. I also woke up at a time suitable only for vampires so I could fly to Houston for work. Very sleepy. All day.

Tuesday, 10/6

  • Plan: 8 miles; 3-5 @ tempo + 6 x 1:00 @ 10k pace (2:00 recovery); core; strength training
  • Actual: 4 miles easy

I switched my Wednesday recovery run with my Tuesday workout because I was pretty tired from the travel, and I’m trying to be really cautious as I increase mileage. We had a really busy work week, so I got up way before the sun and ran with a coworker. I did three sets pushups after my run/before work – I’m trying to get better at them – but not a full blown strength session.

Wednesday, 10/7

  • Plan: 4 mile recovery run
  • Actual: 8 miles; 3-5 @ tempo (9:03, 8:34, 8:38) + 6 x 1:00 @ 8:40/mile average

My Garmin acted up a little on this run; I think the first mile in the tempo run and some of the 10k pace repeats registered a little slow, but maybe it was the humidity. Either way, it felt like a good workout. After that workout and a long day at the office, I was pretty beat.

Thursday, 10/8

  • Plan: 7 miles + 4 strides; hips/glutes; strength training
  • Actual: 6 miles easy; quick strength circuit

I ran with my coworker again and didn’t adhere to my running-super-easy plan. I also totally forgot to do the strides. My team worked hard this week and finished our work early, so we left the office early enough for me to squeeze in a 25 minute strength session at the hotel gym – I did three sets of dumbbell squats, bench dips, Romanian deadlifts, pushups, and planks.

Friday, 10/9

REST DAY. I HAVE MISSED YOU, MY LOVER. Sadly, my flight was delayed.

Saturday, 10/10

  • Plan: 14 miles
  • Actual: 14 miles

I joined my pal Amanda for 14 miles of her 18 mile training run – in the rain, again. It happened to be her “worst long run” of this training cycle, so we had some walk breaks sprinkled in the run. Amanda wouldn’t have minded if I’d run on without her, but since I’ve had such a bad training cycle, I wanted to stick around and tough it out with her. She was really strong and never gave up. Having the experience of gutting out a tough run is, in my view, an underrated component of the mental aspect of training. She did great, and I know she’ll be tough in the late miles of Richmond.

Because of the walk breaks, I approximated that this run counted as about 12 miles of running toward my weekly total. It’s a rough guess, and probably a conservative one.

Sunday, 10/11

  • Plan: 5 mile recovery run
  • Actual: 5 mile recovery run

I didn’t feel nearly as fatigued as I normally do after a long run, so I set out for my recovery run on the flattest route that’s close to my house. A mile into my run, I ran into my old neighbor Kat, who is a part of our annual Savannah half marathon group. We started running together and catching up – did I mention that she is pretty fast? – so I did a couple miles in the high 8:00s, which is decidedly NOT a recovery pace for me. Still, worth it.

Week 13: 37 miles

Monday, 10/12

Rest day. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.

Tuesday, 10/13

  • Plan: 9 miles: 3-5 @ tempo; 6 x 1:00 @ 5k pace (2:00 recovery); core; strength training
  • Actual: 9 miles: 3-5 @ tempo (8:41, 8:55, 8:36); 6 x 1:00 @ 8:17/mile average; strength training

Holy hard workout. It finally stopped raining in Atlanta, but it was about 100% humidity. The half-mile gravel loop I chose for the workout had a couple of giant mud puddles for extra fun! (Sarcasm intended.) The workout itself went fine – I ran by feel and came pretty close to hitting the paces I wanted to, but the two hilly miles home for the cool-down were so hard. I ended up walking up the steeper uphills because otherwise there was nothing cool-down-ish about it.

Crosswalks at 10th & Piedmont, rainbow striped for Pride weekend

This was my first day deadlifting since I had the SI joint issue a couple of months ago (although deadlifting wasn’t the cause of the issue, it is a similar movement to many of the things that were aggravating my SI joint). I stuck to a relatively easy 105 lbs for 5 sets of 5 and really focused on form, specifically keeping my core strong throughout the movement.

Wednesday, 10/14

  • Plan: 4 miles recovery
  • Actual: 3 miles recovery

I just barely got three miles in. I ate an ill-advised pre-run snack and my stomach was having none of it.

Thursday, 10/15

  • Plan: 7 miles + 4 strides; glutes/hips; strength training
  • Actual: 7 miles + 4 strides; strength training

I returned to basking in the calm gloriousness of easy running, then had a really good time at the gym that evening. It was one of my favorite workouts in a while.

  • Squats: 3 sets of 10 @ 110 lbs
  • Circuit 1: 12 minutes of clean, squat, lunge (ladder up 1/3/5) – I used two 26 lb kettlebells – it was pretty challenging.
  • Circuit 2: 10 minutes of 10 TRX rows, 12 kettlebell rows, 1.5 Turkish get-ups (the half get-up is just getting your hips off the floor then going back down)

Friday, 10/16

REST SWEET REST DAY.

Saturday, 10/17

  • Plan: 15 miles
  • Actual: 3 mile recovery run

I planned to move my long run to Sunday because Jeff threw a party for his grad school classmates Friday night. A really big group came out, representing 10 or so countries. A few of them said they’d never been to an American party. It was a lot of fun.

Saturday morning, I went to Tom Foreman’s book signing at the Georgia Tech bookstore. (If you haven’t read my interview with Tom, or my review of his book My Year of Running Dangerously, check them out!) Tom and his wife Linda are wonderful people. After chatting with them at the signing, I felt like I’d known them for years. Tom is really funny, interesting, and easy to talk to; and I could have talked to Linda for hours. If you have the opportunity to meet Tom at an event, DO IT! Follow him on Twitter and/or Facebook to see if he’ll be in your area.

  
One of my favorite parts of meeting the Foremans (besides Tom’s stories from his time in ABC’s Moscow bureau), was when Tom and Linda found out that my friend Amy is running the Marine Corps Marathon, they found out exactly what she’d be wearing so they could look out for her and cheer. This gesture perfectly represented the running community at its best: supporting each other, no matter how famous, fast or slow, old or young. I love it!

I was planning for 4 miles, but by the time I got out for my run, I had friends coming over in less than an hour, so 3 it was. Oops.

Sunday, 10/18

  • Plan: 5 mile recovery run
  • Actual: 15 miles @ 10:15/mile

I went back to the Silver Comet Trail, where I did most of my long runs last year training for the St. Jude Marathon. This run was less challenging and a bit faster than most of my long runs from the last cycle, so I think(hope?) this is a sign of progress.

What’s your favorite strength or cross-training exercise? Can you work it in while traveling, or do you cut yourself some slack?

Have you read My Year of Running Dangerously yet? If so, let me know what you thought of it!

RnR Savannah / St. Jude Half Marathon Training: Week 11

My travel season has (mostly) come to a close, so I suppose it’s a good time to update the blog with recent training.

In my last training post, I mentioned that I completely skipped a tempo run – on purpose, not because I didn’t have time or was injured. I was sick of dreading them, sick of struggling with them: I needed a break. Doing this let me focus on the fun of training (I was in Boston, my absolute favorite city for running) and put the struggle out of mind for a bit.

In hindsight, I wish I’d done this sooner, because it had a really positive impact on my mindset.

Another issue I needed to tackle was reconciling where I actually was with my training vs. where my plan had me. While I’d been adhering to the plan with regard to long run mileage, and I was mostly on track with midweek workout mileage (which is my second-longest run of the week), I hadn’t been getting in the total weekly mileage that my plan called for.

 weekly mileage

With my training being ALL OVER THE PLACE, partially due to my recent habit of moving long runs, I did some averaging to figure out what the “big picture” looked like. My two- and four-week rolling average mileage was 29 and 28 miles, respectively. I think that gave me a good idea of the weekly mileage on which to anchor the coming weeks.

average weekly mileage

My plan for week 11 called for 38 miles – probably not a smart jump in mileage for me, since it’s been nearly a year since I ran that kind of weekly mileage. Looking at my plan, I realized that with approximate 10% increases in weekly mileage, I could get back on track in about 4 weeks.

Because there’s nothing magical about the 10% rule, I still wanted to exercise caution. We all know that being undertrained and healthy is so much better than getting injured trying to hit an arbitrary mileage goal. So in a nutshell, here’s how I planned to approach these weeks:

  1. Cut mileage from recovery runs first, then easy medium-distance runs
  2. Run at a ridiculously easy pace for all runs except fast workouts
  3. Be hyper-sensitive to listening to my body and be willing to cut back at the first sign of anything wonky

Without further ado, here’s how week 11 went:

Week 11: 32 miles

Monday, 9/28

  • Plan: Rest
  • Actual: Rest

Tuesday, 9/29

  • Plan: 8 miles; 3-5 @ tempo + 6 x 1:00 @ 10k pace (2:00 recovery); core; strength training
  • Actual: 8 miles; 3.5 miles tempo (8:49, 8:41, 8:36, 0.5 @8:31/mile) + 5 x 1:00 @ 8:20/mile average; strength training

I started the tempo slow because I’ve been starting tempos too hard and derailing the whole workout. This time – go figure – it felt too easy, so I tacked on another half mile at tempo pace for a little confidence boost. The strength session focused on chest and triceps. I skipped my quick core routine…again [insert blushing face emoji).

Wednesday, 9/30

  • Plan: 4 mile recovery run
  • Actual: 45 minutes easy spinning

I replaced this recovery run with an easy spin session to reduce my overall weekly mileage while keeping the “quality” sessions unchanged. WHY DO I HATE THE $%@&ing SPIN BIKE SO MUCH? I love competitive spin classes, but easy spinning is my personal hell. Le sigh.

Thursday, 10/1

  • Plan: 7 miles + 4 strides; hips/glutes; strength training
  • Actual: 6 miles SOOO EASY + 4 strides; strength training

Not to get all hippie on you guys, but I missed the near-meditative state I get into when I run really really really easy. Why is it so hard to run easy? It’s the best! I skipped the hip/glute stuff (stuff like bridges, banded clams/leg raises/lateral walk) because I am lazy and didn’t feel like it.

Friday, 10/2

  • Plan: Rest
  • Actual: Rest

It’s so easy not to work out on a Friday. I really love the Monday/Friday rest day plan. I’m going to keep it. Jeff and I left for a quick trip to Chicago to celebrate my 30th birthday. We a great trip – Chicago is such a fun city.

The most unique thing we did on our trip was the architecture boat tour on the Chicago River. This was a really interesting tour, especially hearing Jeff’s perspective as an architect himself.

View from the mouth of the Chicago River

Saturday, 10/3

  • Plan: 14 miles
  • Actual: 4 miles easy

I wanted to run along Lake Michigan, but it was raining and I hadn’t packed any running gear for cold rain. When we got back to Atlanta that evening, Jeff and I went to a friends’ house for a cookout. It was already kind of late (7ish), so I decided the best way to both run and hang out was to run to their house. I was a little damp from sweat and rain, but I was glad I got to both run and grill out with friends.

Sunday, 10/4

  • Plan: 5 miles recovery
  • Actual: 14 miles @ 10:27/mile

I ran the first 6 miles with my friend Amanda, who is training for the Richmond Marathon and was running 6 as a recovery day. It was raining and gross – the run wasn’t exceptionally great, but it wasn’t bad either. Considering how this cycle has gone, I’ll happily take a not-bad run.

Have you ever fallen off the wagon and had to alter a training plan?

What do you think of the 10% rule? Abide by it or ignore it?

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chicago?

An Interview with Tom Foreman

Tom Foreman’s new book, My Year of Running Dangerously, has been getting a lot of positive attention since its release last week. I was thrilled to get to preview his book (see my book review). Once I read the book and felt like I already knew Tom, I was even more excited to get the opportunity to ask him a few questions about topics ranging from his most recent running adventures, to the public figure he’d most like to go for a run with (the answer surprised me!).

Don’t forget that if you’re in Atlanta this Saturday, you can meet Tom at the Georgia Tech Barnes & Noble! The event begins at 10:30 am – see the event page for more details.

Sarah: Let’s start by picking up where your book left off. Where has running taken you since the Stone Mill 50?

Tom: Since the first Stone Mill in late 2011, I have run numerous half marathons, several more full marathons, (most recently completing the Chicago Marathon yesterday, October 11, 2015 – my lifetime marathon count is now at 12) and I have completed two more ultra marathons, each over 50 miles.

Sarah: My job isn’t nearly as visible or exciting as yours, but it does require me to travel and keep some unpredictable hours. A moment in the book that I particularly related to was when you wrote about your long run in the dark near Las Vegas. What advice can you give to those who want to train around their busy lives or travel schedules?

Tom: Making priorities is not a catch phrase. It requires serious thinking and planning about what matters to you. You have to look at the clock honestly, imagine all the blocks of time you have committed in your day, and figure out when you can make running work. That may mean running early or late. It may mean grabbing a quick bite and running while the rest of your co-workers enjoy lunch or dinner. That said, I think we have to work just as hard at our jobs and relationships as we do at running so that those who rely on us don’t grow jealous of our road time and turn something positive into a negative.

Sarah: Do you follow a structured training schedule these days, or do you go out and run for fun and fitness? Which do you prefer and why?

Tom: I do both. When I am training for a specific race I find that a set training schedule is freeing. It allows me to focus on the quality of the runs rather than worrying about whether my plan is solid. However, when I don’t have a particular goal I like making it up day by day – some road time, some trail time -heedless of my watch or distances. A good mix between disciplined and casual running seems the best way for me to avoid staleness and excessive fatigue.

Sarah: What has been the most noticeable change you’ve seen in yourself since returning to running in your 50s, whether physical, mental or emotional?

Tom: Physically the most notable changes are lower weight, better sleep, a slower pulse, and far less concern about things like blood pressure. I need more recovery time after a hard run as I get older, but that is a small, pleasant price. Mentally running has made me more alert, productive and optimistic. In a word, I’m happier.

Sarah: I understand you’ve pounded some pavement in Atlanta. What’s your favorite neighborhood or route to run?

tom foreman route atlanta

An approximate map of Tom’s favorite route in Atlanta. The man loves his hills.

Tom: I enjoy starting at Georgia Tech near Bobby Dodd Stadium and heading east on North Avenue. I follow it up and down the hills, past the Masquerade, through the neighborhoods, past Freedom Park, and around the south end of Candler Park. Then I turn north on Clifton Road to catch Ponce De Leon west through Druid Hills, until I cut north to Piedmont Park for a quick loop before coming down Peachtree and across the Interstate on 10th to wrap up a nice ten miles back on GT’s campus. Oh, and I may stop for a doughnut at Krispy Kreme along the way.

Sarah: What public figure or celebrity would you most like to go for a run with? Why?

Tom: Prince. I think he runs. Anyway, he is a hugely talented and interesting guy, and you have such great conversations while running I think that would be a blast.

Many thanks to Tom for the interview! I really enjoyed getting to know him a little better after reading his book, and I’m looking forward to meeting him in person on Saturday. I hope to see many of you there. 

Book Review: Tom Foreman’s My Year of Running Dangerously

Running is about more than just pounding the pavement. It involves sliding into the proper state of mind. Getting into the groove. You have to reach far down to find that delightful slice of Zen that comes only when you breathe deeply, your thighs burn, and your heart thunders.

CNN correspondent Tom Foreman’s new book, My Year of Running Dangerously, chronicles his journey from occasional jogger to ultramarathoner over the course of the year. If this sounds crazy to you, you’re not wrong. 10% rule be damned!

Over that year, Tom ran the Mardi Gras Half Marathon, the Publix Georgia Marathon, the National Half Marathon, the Gettysburg Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, the Parks Half Marathon, and the Stone Mill 50. This book isn’t a how-to about the technical aspects of running and training, although Tom devotes plenty of pages to discussing road racing and trail running, all with a characteristic self-deprecating sense of humor.

Tom writes candidly about how his family life, relationships, and responsibilities as a CNN journalist covering the 2012 presidential election fit around his training and racing. He does all this with a sense of humor and honesty about his struggles and self-doubt. “Doubt,” he writes, “is a constant companion of distance runners.”

Tom’s inspiration to begin his year of running was his young daughter’s ambition. On Thanksgiving, his 18-year-old daughter Ronnie – then a freshman at Georgia Tech – asked him to train for a marathon with her.

Naturally, Tom’s relationship with Ronnie is central to his story. Tom writes about Ronnie as an admiring father: it is Ronnie, even more than Tom, who is the voice of wisdom in the book. Ronnie’s voice of wisdom becomes evident when she sets ground rules for marathon training with her dad: 1) be honest, 2) whatever the schedule calls for, we do, 3) no one gets left behind.

Tom’s work with CNN required him to train in unfamiliar places, and sometimes during odd hours of the day. He recounts a long run in the Las Vegas area when he got lost after dark. I couldn’t help but chuckle and nod my head with understanding as he described the apocalyptic scenarios that entered his head while he was unsure of his location or if he would ever make it back:

I gauged the angle of the asphalt by impact, and guessed where my next step should fall. I knew I could easily miscalculate, break an ankle, and tumble off into a ravine. If I went down out here I would not be found until the next day at the earliest, long after the cold and critters had done their worst.

Halfway through his book, Tom begins training for the Stone Mill 50, a 50 mile trail race. Ultramarathoning, especially on trails, presents unique challenges. Describing the long miles and hours required to prepare for the race, Tom writes, “It was like making time to watch Gone with the Wind each morning before breakfast.”

After initially struggling with the cuts, bruises, falls, and hills that vexed him as a new trail runner, Tom draws inspiration from Thoreau. He learns to enjoy his daily date with the trails of Maryland, even if those days are occasionally interrupted by phone calls of breaking news relating to Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.

Besides the daunting mileage and technical trails, in his ultra training Tom encounters a struggle familiar to many of us in the distance running community: finding balance. He realizes that his wife Linda – while she is patient and encouraging – is really tired of his absence and his incessant running chatter. On a visit to Atlanta to see Ronnie, she provides this wisdom from her own marathon training experience and her aerospace engineering studies at Georgia Tech:

You can put the biggest engine you want into a rocket, but if the rest of the spacecraft can’t handle all that energy, it’s going to blow to pieces. You’ve got to have balance. I realized after I finished the marathon that running one is not so tough. Doing it without letting the rest of your life fall apart is the challenge.

Tom adds additional insight to this thought:

This is a thought that is often overlooked in all the inspirational running books and websites. Plenty of writers talk about mind over matter and about runners “willing” themselves to the finish line, but precious few address the possibility that maybe doggedly chasing a goal is not enough.

The last several chapters of the book are devoted to what I’ll call the best race recap I’ve ever read: Tom’s recap of the Stone Mill 50.

Before the race, Tom reflects on the experience of Edison Peña, a Chilean miner who was trapped in a mine in 2010 for 69 days during his marathon training. While underground, he continued training, and ran the New York City Marathon less than a month after being rescued.

Tom discusses the mental battle that is the 50 mile trail race, the camaraderie of the ultra community, his pacing errors, and a few notable characters he encounters. He contemplates a DNF, resolves to “forcefeed (himself) like a pet lizard,” feels pain down to his bones, falls in streams, and at 40 miles describes himself as looking like “Larry King emerging from the desert.”

I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil his account of the Stone Mill 50. When I read it, I felt concerned and a little nauseous at times. I laughed, I winced, and I felt the highs and lows of the experience as if I were there with him.

After the race, Tom’s younger daughter Ali asks him why he ran the Stone Mill 50. In his response he tells Ali, “I stopped getting through my days, and I started getting into them. I guess I ran this race because I didn’t want that to end.”

Through experiencing this year of running dangerously, Tom and his entire family gained a love of running – all four of the Foremans are now running distance races. Yet, from Tom’s experience with the Stone Mill 50, his family gained valuable perspective:

Running isn’t the dominant force in our household. We like it, but primarily because it helps us enjoy our lives more than we have for some years…We all do a better job of putting aside our daily challenges and frustrations to enjoy our fleeting moments together…We laugh more, hug more, and dance more…

This is the real reason I love running like an idiot against the miles, against the calendar, and against the odds. Running puts me in touch with the moment, and reminds me how each one is rare and precious…

I run to show my daughters that life is worth more than just living. It is worth living deeply and passionately, in a way that looks forward and sees an endless road – inevitable and ideal.

As much as Mr. Foreman’s book is about running, it’s also a book about relationships. Tom is candid about his struggles to find balance between running, work, and family/friends. Ronnie understands this struggle and often gives him advice based on her own perspective and relationships. Tom’s wife, Linda, perseveres in encouraging him even when she’s sick of all the time he spends training, and Tom works to find a balance that works for his marriage. Their youngest daughter, Ali, is the the clever voice of non-running wisdom. Her witty quips remind Tom that his training is his choice, and he should enjoy it!

If you’re a distance runner, an aspiring distance runner, love someone who is a distance runner, or enjoy inspirational stories with a dose of humor, I recommend that you check out this book.

Will you be in Atlanta this weekend (October 17)? If so, make plans to see Tom Foreman at 10:30 am at the Tech Square Barnes & Noble store for a discussion of his book + book signing! Event details here.

Note: Penguin Random House provided me with a review copy of this book. I did not receive any additional compensation for this review. All opinions about this book are my own.