Off these feet (Part 5): Take-home prize

The eight weeks in Truckee were magic. The improbable occurred: I became a better runner by being less of a runner.

In four years of long distance running, I just assumed that to run better, one had to run. I ignored the occasional nuggets of wisdom from my trainer and triathlete friends that one should also spend time doing other things like strength and cross-training. The longer my distance goal, the more I ignored that advice. When I trained for marathons, literally all I did was run, because I simply had no time to do anything else. It was an unfortunate catch-22.

This summer proved without a doubt that you can’t be a solid runner without also being generally fit. After all, the body does not operate in isolation. There were also psychological benefits to scattering my focus a bit. It prevented me from getting bored and burning out.

My take-home prize from the summer up in the mountains was running superpowers. I could bang out an 8:30 pace anywhere, anytime without trying — a full minute per mile faster than 8 weeks prior. For anyone who is skeptical about the benefits of proper training, I tell you once again: training is a beautiful thing.

I was fully primed for Hood to Coast. I nailed my pace targets for all three of my legs, did not let my team down, did not bonk. I had never felt so comfortable in a race. I kept thinking, “Wow, this is how it feels to be perfectly trained!” but in truth I was probably overtrained. My track coach friend would have told me that if I felt that good in a race, then I wasn’t pushing a real race pace. I thought of that too on my first two legs, but having never done a relay before, I erred on the side of caution. I decided not to go guns ablazin’ at the beginning so I could avoid crashing and burning in the end. But in the end, I wasn’t fully tapped. I had held back too much. It was just too hard to believe that I could run in the 8’s repeatedly without coming close to sucking wind.

My superpowers lingered for a good month beyond Hood to Coast, but something strange happened. I lost my desire to run. Instead of capitalizing on my fitness and signing up for a slew of races to set new PRs, I ran one race (got a shiny new 10K PR) and otherwise felt very little motivation to run. I felt no hunger to achieve any goal. Ho hum.

What happened? Hood to Coast. I had reached the pinnacle of my running adventures. I had finally run the illustrious H2C and executed it to the best of my ability. And I guess the aftermath of all that is feeling the need to close the book on my running story. I guess when you finally get to the top of the mountain after a long journey, the last thing you want is to go back down and make the same trek back up. You put a notch on your belt and move on. You embark on a different trek, strive to reach a different summit.

In the past I’ve experienced how failure drives us to succeed. Now I’m learning that success is a short-lived thrill. Getting the prize is nice, but what makes me feel most alive is fighting for it.

Taking a minute to enjoy my improbable 50:50 12K PR...and then moving on

Taking a minute to enjoy my improbable 50:50 10K PR…and then moving on

Advertisements

Off these feet (Part 2): Lean mean Hood to Coast machine

That title was penned in jest.

In truth my biggest fear while up in Truckee was that I would blow my training for Hood to Coast because of the cards stacked against me: the altitude (6000-6600 feet), the hilly terrain and the usual distractions of summer in paradise. Here I was finally going to experience the Hood to Coast relay. I didn’t know how serious of a runner my teammates were but I refused to become the deadweight. So I set out to be 100% ready to do my share. Lean and mean was never the goal. Just in shape to give a solid effort.

My preparation can be best summarized as “opportunistic training loosely based on the Ryan Hall Half Marathon plan.” It was summer, and I have kids, so things had to be fitted in on whatever days they could. The plan provided clear targets. I adapted purposefully around them.

There were a few key elements that I knew, based on prior experience with the training plan and my own quirks, were non-negotiable. One, I had to adhere to the prescribed paces — no faster and no slower. Two, I could not skip the speed work. And three, I had to cross- and strength-train.

Within those boundaries, I began tinkering. The first big switch-up was to focus more on speed than distance. A running coach friend said that for relay racing it was more important to get used to running fast each time you run than to run long. The same point was made in various articles I found online. They all concurred that to train optimally for a relay, specificity is key. This meant practicing the individual distances and target paces, if possible on the same (or harder) type of terrain for each leg.

Truckee proved to be the perfect training ground for my H2C legs, which were 4.84 miles flat and paved, 4.18 miles rolling hills and paved, and 7.2 miles uphill mostly unpaved. The 6-mile tempos along Donner Lake and 5-mile tempos on the Legacy Trail strengthened my legs for rolling hills. The 800s at 5K pace – to the point of visibly gritting my teeth and feeling like I was about to puke and pee my pants at the same time – gave my neuromuscular system a jolt. The hilly roads in my neighborhood tested my resolve on hot afternoons to keep the legs turning and not stop or walk. And the trails familiarized me with the leg and lung burn associated with continuous climbing on uneven ground. Two weeks before H2C, my training peaked with a 6-mile, 2280-foot trot to the summit of Mount Pluto in Northstar. I had no fear of hills left in me after that.

The Legacy Trail

Other changes had to do with being flexible, listening to my body and not spoiling my summer. I would miss a workout (or two or three) because I had no childcare or made social plans, then have to decide whether to move the runs to another day or scrap the entire week and reattempt them the following week. I would listen to my body and err on the side of taking it easy. If I was struggling to complete workouts, I would repeat them rather than move ahead.

And by the way, I struggled a lot. If there was a phrase to be emblazoned on the tombstone of my summer training cycle, it would be: “Truckee Summer 2012, wherein Tita struggled.” I rarely felt good during a run. Even when I podiumed at a race, I did not feel like a winner. It took me four weeks to complete a prescribed speed workout on pace. I ended up falling permanently two weeks behind schedule. I sank to a very low place during the eight weeks. I found that the only way out of the doldrums was to accept struggle as a necessary part of training…and to indulge in diversions.

Diversions consisted of any and all other opportunities to be active. If someone invited me to run a trail on a tempo run day, I went on the trail run and called it tempo workout, figuring the effort was probably about the same. I played tennis with friends, biked with my kids and paddleboarded despite my fear of falling into frigid Donner Lake. I would jump at opportunities to do these things even if it meant working out twice in a day or skipping a run.

Even the cross- and strength-training became welcome diversions. Just when I thought I had seen plenty when it came to producing sweat while riding a spin bike, or tormenting one’s core, I was introduced to yet another plethora of instructor-led torture. The spin instructor was fond of simulating long, slow climbs (ouch). The core instructor’s MO was to do 25 reps of each exercise with no rest for 45 minutes (there was a day when I began to see stars in this class). But week after week I went, because I liked the instructors and the people in the class. Some were fellow moms, most were locals, and all were friendly down-to-earth folks. The classes were a counterpoint to my solitary running. I looked forward to my hour of catching up on local gossip and getting tips on fun things to do around town.

The beauty of these diversions was that they contributed to my fitness and, more importantly, gave me the mental balance to keep slogging through the training. They made me enjoy the experience as a whole. And who would have guessed that my favorite secret indulgence by summer’s end would be…swimming?

To be continued in Part 3: Chicken or fish?

H2C 2012

REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST LONG DISTANCE RELAY AND H2C ADVENTURE

20120826-194056.jpg

Team Sunny With a Chance of Pain 2012… before the pain

How do I love thee, team relay?  Let me count the ways…

ONE:  Camaraderie. Team relays teach the meaning of having someone’s back. It’s not about the running. It’s about the teamwork. Special mad props to the Van 1 runners for taking on the descent from Mt. Hood to Sandy. Shit is no joke. A serious quad grinding extravaganza.

TWO:  Misery loves company but lunacy does too. Wouldn’t be half as fun to do something completely wacky and somewhat masochistic alone.

THREE:  Running in the dark is the bomb. Truly one the greatest thrills in life. It’s like cheating death making your way through the blackness, feeling your feet hit the road and yet not being able to visualize the point of contact.

FOUR:  Oregon crowd love. Everyone everywhere came out to support us crazy runners. They cheered, they protected (cops and paramedics), they made us hot food and drinks.

FIVE: The Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood. A sweet, cozy little slice of the European Alps in the good ol’ US of A.

SIX: The Oregon countryside with its bucolic rolling green hills. Ah, summer…!

SEVEN: Sleep is overrated. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel after 1.5 hrs of sleep. The power of adrenaline is not to be underestimated.

EIGHT: Meals are overrated. Relaying teaches you how little food you actually need in a given day, even while burning calories running. There is a temptation to eat and drink more than necessary in between legs because of all the wait time and nervous energy. But you don’t actually need more than one square meal. In fact, real food is not exactly your friend in an all-day relay, unless you have a stomach of steel.

NINE:  Running 16 miles over 29 hours is easier to do and recover from than running 13.1 straight. My coach friend was right: it’s not really like a half marathon. In some ways it’s easier (you get periods of rest). In some ways it’s harder (you gotta dial in a 5 or 10K pace each time you run).

TEN: Organized people make the world go ’round. Our team put its trust in a Team Captain Extraordinaire and Mama Bear named Shelley. She rocks. Thank you, Shelley.

MY STATS

Leg 11 @ 4:30PM — 4.82 miles in 40:02. Easy-peasy flat paved trail through Portland.

Leg 23 @ 3AM — 4.18 miles in 33:15. I hauled ass because it was freezing and pitch dark. Didn’t even stop to tie my left shoe laces so they flopped around the entire time. This leg was the most epic!

Leg 35 @ 12:30PM — 7.2 miles in 64:47. Uphill, part gravel in the heat of day. Damn. But I did it.

Off I go!

Off I go!

Done and done!

Done and done!

Chance run in with the inimitable Oiselle Sally!

Chance run in with the inimitable @OiselleSally!

What to wear for Hood to Coast: Oiselle for every occasion

I ran my first Hood to Coast relay last weekend. I have so much to say about that zany experience, but will start by documenting what I wore because it turned out that I had it down to perfection. If I were to do it again under the same weather variables, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I obsessively curated my H2C outfits. I tend to be picky about what I wear while running in the first place, because I dislike being constrained, pinched or uncomfortable in any way when I’m out there doing my thing. I am not the kind of person who can tune out the nagging itchy seam or the digging bra strap. Those types of things will get into my head and cause my entire workout to unravel. With H2C being an out-of-town race, my outfits needed to be dead on. Once I left my house for the airport there was no turning back. No chance of borrowing anything from a teammate, thanks to my lilliputian size. And no time to go buy something at a local store because of my Thursday evening arrival in Portland plus our team’s Friday morning start time.

Here are the 3 outfits I packed for the 3 legs. On top of this I had a hoodie, sweatpants, an extra shirt, a light shell, a fleece beanie and fleece gloves. Basically it was Oiselle apparel plus gear and accessories (#oisellelove):

Here is how it all played out:

Warm Up, Cool Down, Van Riding and Snoozing
1. Oiselle Green Lake Hoodie — This is an ultra comfy, easy-on-and-off, loose-fitting zip hoodie that was perfect for whenever I wasn’t running. The zip pockets were great for safekeeping things that I needed or picked up on the journey but did not want on me while running, like the Office Max temporary tattoo that I grabbed at the Start Line Expo, and cash for my morning coffee. And when it was time to tuck into my sleeping bag on the pasture, I added a down vest on top and was soon counting sheep.
2. Sweatpants — I had a pair that stayed on without tying any sort of drawstring. Again, easy on and off is key.
3. Oiselle Long Sleeve Run On Tee — This was my all-purpose extra shirt and that’s exactly how I ended up using it. It was the warm dry shirt I threw on after my night run. It was the shirt I slept in. It was also the shirt I tied around my waist at the beach in case the air got nippy.

LEG 11 — 4.84 miles flat, 5:30 PM, temps in the high 70’s
1. Oiselle Easy Run Cap Tee in Stripey — The light colored top deflected heat, and the cap sleeves protected my shoulders from the sun but was unobtrusive enough to ventilate the ole armpits (very important, you know).
2. Oiselle Stride Short — Simple and minimal. Given the short distance, there was no need to carry anything on me so the streamlined no-pocket design was ideal.
3. Cap and sunglasses — My doctors have made me neurotic about sun damage (to my skin and eyes), so I always cover up whenever there is even a hint of sunshine outside.
4. Feetures Elite Ultra Light Low Cut socks — These are my go-to socks except when temps fall below 50 degrees. They never bunch up, fit snug, feel smooth and comfortable, and do not interfere with ground sensation.

LEG 23 — 4.18 miles on gentle rolling hills, 3 AM, temps in the high 40’s
1. Oiselle Long Sleeve Renewable Tee — The pear green color increased visibility. Oiselle’s comfy cotton/poly blend kept me warm without causing me to overheat on this short jaunt. The cotton content was not a problem since I was done and out of the shirt within 35 minutes.
2. Oiselle Lesley Knickers — I do not wear shorts unless it is at least 50 degrees out, so these warm, wicking, compressive knee-length capris were the clear choice.
3. RoadNoise Vest — A reflective bib is a must-have during a night leg of H2C. This vest not only provides visibility, it discreetly pumps out tunes and securely holds your phone or iPod on your body…all in one sleek solution! The mesh body is thin and comfortable and allows moisture transfer. The velcro closures let you adjust the fit around your torso so that it sits just right. The flat thin slabs which are the speakers lie in place within earshot without poking your shoulder area or bouncing around. This vest was conceived as a solution to the no-headphones rule at H2C, but the visibility plus music feature makes it a must-have for all runners who like to rock out or listen to the radio while on the move, for the upcoming seasons of limited daylight.
4. Headlamp and fleece gloves
5. Smartwool PhD Run Light Micro socks — I needed the wool to keep my piggies warm.

LEG 35 — 7.2 miles on a seemingly never-ending ascent, 12 noon, temps in the mid 70’s
1. Oiselle Roga Short — I brought out the big gun for this arduous mid-day leg. The light-as-air stretch woven fabric always performs beautifully in the heat. The Roga does exactly what you want your running shorts to do on a hot day: wick and otherwise act like they don’t exist. I thought about stashing a gel in the back zip pocket but never ended up taking one along (I went with a handheld bottle of coconut water instead).
2. H2C Race Tshirt — This was a last-minute swap-out. I admit that wearing the race shirt at the race is a total dork maneuver, but it was the last leg and this was my first H2C and most of my van mates wore their race shirt…yadda yadda yadda. Anyway, it was made of a tech fabric and fit me decently so ’nuff said. My Oiselle race singlet graciously gave way.
3. RoadNoise Vest — This was a strategy solely to keep my motivation up. I needed tunes for my one-hour uphill journey. I can’t tell you how hilarious it was to come trucking along on an otherwise silent gravel fire road in the middle of Oregon’s Coastal Range and eke out Taylor Swift “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend she’s upset….” And I dare say my compadres on Leg 35 appreciated the comic relief. At one point this youngish, maybe late 20-something buff-looking guy (read: not the type to be a Taylor Swift fan) actually turned around as I came up on his tail and burst out in a chuckle because of my non-sequitor music choice. He kept smiling as I cruised past. I credit my RoadNoise vest for breaking the tension of a hot hilly run that nobody was enjoying with a dash of humor.
4. Feetures Elite Ultra Light Low Cut socks — Did I mention that the smooth dense knit of these socks was great for keeping fine dirt and sand off the skin of your feet while running? This feature came in handy on the gravelly path that we ran on for 2/3 of this leg.
5. Cap and sunglasses — Again, gotta protect from the sun.

There you have it: how to get through the Mother of All Relays on Oiselle and a shoestring. Kidding aside, we pretty much had ideal weather so it was easy to stay really pared down. Things like my light running shell and fleece beanie never got pulled out of the backpack. Had a rain storm or some cold front swept through, it surely would have been a different story. But this year, all we needed was the basics and I will definitely be using this formula as a baseline for future all-night running adventures.

Hood to Coast for newbies: some primers

Week 2 of my training for Hood to Coast.  I was supposed to get a good night’s sleep so that I could hit the track first thing in the morning and stay on schedule despite the summer travel coming up tomorrow.  Instead, what do I do?  Spend hours researching the Hood to Coast legs online.  I have been given the privilege of selecting my leg (instead of picking one out of a hat at a white elephant party, then stealing someone else’s if I don’t like what I get). Meanwhile I have no frame of reference, having never done this — or any other — relay.  I needed to get the scoop.

The good news is that there are tons of really great Hood to Coast race recaps on many people’s blogs.  The bad news is that I stayed up until almost 3 a.m. and now cannot fathom getting my butt out there in the damp cold to run intervals around the track, given the 4 paltry hours of sleep.  Then again, that would actually be good training for H2C, since the word on the street is that you pretty much don’t sleep for more than a couple hours between your legs.

Among the most useful summaries of the H2C legs are these primers by Jason Effmann (part of his On the Road to Hood to Coast series) that deserve special recognition because they had me just about falling off my chair laughing despite only 4 hours of sleep.

HOOD TO COAST PART I, VAN 1:
http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs068/1106633098899/archive/1106892221297.html#LETTER.BLOCK9
Don’t miss this hilarious video at the bottom of the post:
http://youtu.be/EL1hLU_LBvs

HOOD TO COAST PART II, VAN 2:
http://www.ohsusportsmedicine.com/2011/08/on-road-to-hood-to-coast-jason-effmann.html?m=1

Now, off to get me a cup of coffee.