No Expectations, No Regrets?

As the flashing graphic on the website reminds me, I’m now only three days away from the Big Sur Half Marathon.  My training is all behind me at this point, and I’m so excited to hit the starting line.  Part of the reason for my excitement, I think, is a very conscious lack of time goals for this race.  My last couple of races have been tough, mostly because my expectations were super high, and I managed to totally psych myself out.  For this race, I’m expecting nothing other than a finish.  

It’s been surprisingly hard to keep myself from assigning a goal time.  I’ve had some long runs that felt great, and at the end I’d look at my watch and think, “Yeah, I could totally beat that on race day – I still feel awesome!”  And then I’d have to remind myself that I’m not setting time goals for this race.  Honestly, it feels a little wrong.  It feels like a waste of training somehow.  It feels like saying, “I don’t care”.  And I do care.  But for this race, I care about something other than time.  I care about keeping my pace even on the first half of the race.  I care about high-fiving my dad at the turn-around.  I care about pushing hard on the second half.  

Look, ultimately a race is about time.  That’s the whole point; who can do this the fastest.  And I believe in time as a goal and a motivation to race.  But I’m not mentally there yet.  I don’t have the confidence or experience for my own expectations.  So I’ll dial them back a little until I am ready.  In the meantime, though, I’ll cap off a lovely weekend with my parents and husband in Monterey with a 13 mile run with 8,000 other folks.  And hopefully this finish line will find me a whole heck of a lot happier than the last two have.


Racing the End

You don’t race in practice.  You can’t win a workout.  Every runner knows these things (or has a coach teach them pretty quickly), but occasionally everyone ends up pushing the pace with teammates at one time or another.  At the JC where I spent the first two years of my college career, we had a particularly bad time of it.  Most of our training runs took place on the trails of a cow pasture about half a mile from the school.  We’d meet at the track, get our workout for the day, take off along a housing sub-division, through an opening in a fence, and onto the trails.  Most of the run we kept at a normal, target heart-rate pace.  But, on the way back, we knew that once we hit that gate, there was a mere 800 meters left of our work out.  Even better, that last 800 was downhill.

Needless to say, there were more than a few practices when we came thundering onto the track where we would end, gasping for breath, with our heart-rate monitors beeping way above our target rate.  Though he issued stern warnings the first few times it happened, he eventually decided that, as long as we kept the rest of the run within the parameters of the workout (meaning no holding back on the workout for the sprint at the end) and as long as no one was getting injured, he wasn’t going to worry about it.

In some ways, those final pushes in workouts are my favorite memories of that team.  There’s an exhilaration in running fast when tired, especially in practice which doesn’t carry with it the pressure of a race’s final kick.

I’ve been thinking of those days lately at the end of my weekday runs.  My route around the lake means that I end up another setting perfect for a fast finish:  I round a corner, usually have a change of terrain (from gravel to pavement) and I’m suddenly only a few hundred meters from the end of my workout.  I start picking up the pace, pumping my arms a little harder.  Pedestrians move out of my path a little more quickly.  I keep my eyes focused on my finish line, push hard through, immediately stop and hit my watch.  I stand on the corner waiting for the light to change with my hands on my hips, breathing hard, with the feeling of another run, finished well.

My New Nail Color for Fall

I am about to lose my first toenail to this training cycle.  I am unreasonably excited by this objectively disgusting and worrisome event. 

Start and stop and flow

So, my work schedule has totally been interfering with my training schedule.  I’ve been working on a big project, which hit its apex last weekend, when I ended up working 45 hours over a 60 hour period (including a stint from 9 AM Sunday morning until 3:30 PM Monday afternoon!).  Needless to say, when I headed out for my run on Tuesday, I was wrecked.

“Wow, that was a great run!”, I thought at the end.  Then a moment later: “Wait, really? Great?”  How could it have been great?  The tension and exhaustion from work was still camped out in my muscles, giving me back spasms that I had to stop and stretch out three separate times.  I stopped to walk twice, which at least somewhat explains the 8:53 pace I averaged for my four miles.  I was dehydrated from days of eating salty take-out food and spent the entire run fantasizing about the strawberry agua frescas at the local Mexican restaurant.  I haven’t felt so awkward about the movement of my arms since my first debate speech in college.  Basically, I was a mess.

But, my legs were shuffling along, almost of their own accord (maybe because my exhaustion had hit some sort of dissociative state?).  It didn’t occur to me once to check my watch (usually a good sign that I”m running in flow).  I could feel my breath flowing, my blood pumping, and I was happy.  I’m not sure what this means for my half marathon training, but I’m pretty sure it’s a good sign for my running in general.

The Big Sur Half Marathon

A few weeks ago I got a text from my mom while I was cooking dinner:

Would you be interested in running the Big Sur half marathon?

Sure, I replied, are you?

Your father is, she replied.

At which point the dog and the cat started fighting, my husband brought me a beer and I noticed I was about to burn the pork chops, which is all to say that I basically forgot about it until a few days ago, when I turned my phone back on after getting off an airplane and had a flurry of alerts from my dad, letting me know that he had registered us both for the Big Sur Half Marathon in November.

Guess I’m running a half!
Luckily, I have just about 12 weeks, which is exactly how long the Higdon half training program takes.  This is going to be interesting.


New Beginings

My hip injury was worse than I thought.  After taking a full week off (then running an abysmal 5k), I thought it was better.  And it was, for two whole days.  Then the pain and stiffness returned.  I was stupid and tried to run through it for a few more days, but I gave up, and took an entire three weeks rest.  It was so frustrating, not just because I knew it would pretty much destroy the fitness base I’d built the last few months, but because my times in trainings were inching closer and closer to my goal time.  My last three runs in early July were all under 7:20 pace, and I felt if I could just hang on for a few more weeks, I could get my 22 at the SF Marathon 5k, then take time off to rest my hip.  I tried to will my body on board with my (logical, well-reasoned) plan, until I realized that I was limping dramatically down the street on an easy weekend run, and I knew I had to call it.  No race, no 22.

So, three weeks (did I mention that?) of no running, of stretching and waiting.  Today I finally headed back out, tossed off two at 8:20 pace.  Hip felt fine, fitness didn’t feel too bad (I’m going to totally ignore the minute per mile difference for now).  Now, stretching, icing, and waiting to see if I can do it again tomorrow.  Fingers crossed.

Sore-ass Psoas

After spending last Thursday wallowing in my own laziness, I had three days of absolutely fantastic workouts.  Three days in a row of five mile days, at a pace faster than what my race pace was a month ago.  I was feeling great, and started to really look forward to the Run for the Kids 5K I have planned for Sunday.

Then I got out of bed on Monday, and my right hip was feeling not so fantastic.  Every step hurt, and I could feel a sort of catch in my stride that threw me off balance.   Since the pain was on the outside of my hip, I originally thought that my IT band was to blame, but a consultation with Dr. Google turned up some interesting information on the psoas, a muscle I had never even heard of, including an interesting Running Times article called “Runner’s Guide to the Psoas“.  According to the article:

The psoas is a rope-like muscle located deep in the belly, which runs obliquely from spine to the femur. The psoas is joined at the hip, literally, by the iliacus, which travels from hip to thigh. Together, the psoas and iliacus make up the iliopsoas–the body’s most powerful hip flexor… The psoas enables you to run. Every time you lift your knee, the psoas contracts. When your leg swings back, the psoas lengthens… The psoas also promotes good posture. Along with a coordinated team of core muscles–abs, obliques, lower back–the psoas helps stabilize your midsection and pelvis. Every time you stand, walk, or run, you’re engaging the psoas. If the muscle is compromised, either by injury or tightness, your running inevitably suffers.

According to the massage therapist quoted in the article, the biggest reason that runners experience tightness in their psoas is that most runners spend their days as office drones, sitting in chairs.  I am no exception.  I love my job, but generally the only time I get up from my desk during the day is to get another cup of coffee.  There’s nothing about my job that requires I sit, though, so on Monday and Tuesday I paid special attention to working standing periods into my day, popping my keyboard and monitor up so I could comfortably work while not in my chair (it helps that I’m short, so it didn’t require a lot of adjustment).   My hip feels fine when I’m standing still, so my hope is that the standing is acting as a gentle stretch and isn’t aggravating an already inflamed muscle.

Given how great I was feeling, the last three days off have been frustrating.  I’ve never been an injury prone runner, and to have this hit when I was getting ready to up my training for a late July goal race is annoying.  I had originally planned to run through my race this coming weekend and keep my training going for my goal race at the San Francisco marathon on July 29. With the rest and icing and stretching, I’m almost completely pain free now, and  I’m tentatively optimistic about my ability to run on Sunday.  I’m caught between wanting to be cautious and not injure myself, and wanting to be aggressive and run a great race on the 29th.  For now, I’m going to take the easy road, and do nothing.  I’ll see how Monday feels, and plan from there.

P.S. According to the Wikipedia page on the psoas “In less than 50 percent of human subjects[1] the psoas major is accompanied by the psoas minor.”  Apparently there are optional muscles that a huge minority of people just don’t have as a normal course of events?  I did not realize that was a possibility.  There is so much in this world I do not know.