September 28, 2014

Altitude Training

Week -2 before Chicago was very eventful.  A big busy work week (end of the quarter), tons of chaos in the house remodel (extra bathroom remodel?  Sure, why not?), and a quick trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park for a wedding.

We flew in to Denver Thursday night, spent the night in an airport hotel and woke Friday AM to work and work out before hitting the road.  I was pleased to find that the Mile High City didn't seem to negatively affect my strength intervals (which I did on a treadmill).

After we'd cleared our email inboxes as much as possible, we set our out of offices and headed to lunch.  We officially started our Colorado adventure with lunch at Ted's Montana Grill (neither of us had ever had the pleasure):

Open-Faced Chili Buffalo Burger (Swiss Mushroom Buffalo Burger in the background) -- 'MERICA!
  From there, we enjoyed a gorgeous 1.5 hour drive out to Estes Park, Colorado.

The Rockies are beautiful.

We checked in to our "haunted floor" at the historic Stanley Hotel (which inspired Stephen King to write The Shining).

There was a "Shining" channel, which played the movie on a loop.

Climbing the stairs to our 4th floor room, I could feel the elevation.  Denver didn't really affect me, but Estes Park had me winded.  It had been a while since I'd been in air this thin:

The rehearsal dinner and wedding were both at this beautiful venue, and the weather could not have been more cooperative.

View from the ranch house, where the extended family stayed.

The ceremony was here.

Saturday AM, after a night of well-behaved designated driver activities and typically fitful first-night-at-elevation sleep, I headed out for a "long" run with trepidation.  My scheduled called for 8 miles and my plan was to do at least 80 minutes of cardio, hopefully closer to 100 minutes, and to run/walk as much as necessary to make that happen, without worrying too much about the distance.  I was pleased to find that I could run without walking and it felt reasonably okay in the low 11s/mile, I did 3.2 on my own and then doubled back for 4 with MS around Lake Estes, which truly could not have been more picturesque.

Reward for the big climb.

Seriously.  This.

Just out for my Saturday AM run in Estes Park, it's kinda pretty.

Sunday, after the wedding, I woke with great intentions to do 10 miles, but found I had developed a cold!  Annoying.   So, I started out slow and settled for 5.  Also, I marveled at the difference a day could make in the weather.  The lucky couple obviously had people pulling weather for them:

Sunday: Overcast.  Not ugly.  But nothing like Saturday.

Overall, it was a great week.  I cut my scheduled mileage quite a bit due to life constraints, but when all axes are evaluated, it was wonderful.  Friends enjoyed, life milestones celebrated, much work and house stuff accomplished, beautiful nature of this wonderful country enjoyed, and 31.5 miles, including several high effort speed and/or elevation workouts.

Just 2 weeks to go to CHI, wish me luck!

September 21, 2014

Ragnar Napa -- Success!

All photo credits go to my teammates.  My one photo attempt over the weekend killed my phone battery.

I follow a bunch of running bloggers who've posted all sorts of pictures and race recaps about relays.  They look so fun that when some local running bloggers asked if anyone was interested in joining their Ragnar Napa team (Golden Gate park to Calistoga via Sonoma), I did.

And in doing so this weekend, I earned so-called "eternal glory" (or at least a headband proclaiming the same) for running the longest leg as my final performance.

I ran 11.4 miles and climbed 500 ft in the Napa Afternoon Heat for this headband!
First of all, I'd like to thank all the awesome folks who were on our team (You're the Wine That I Want -- voted into the top 25 team names by Ragnar!).  11 semi-random people plus a driver and yet no drama or assholery despite sleep deprivation, runger, and serious human and agricultural funk (stink-y!).  If you're looking for cool running folks to follow online, I highly recommend @milfrunner @just_plodding @CathrynTheBrit @RunOnWaffles @dine_and_dash and wonderjess (DailyMile).  These folks are nice, competent, organized, friendly, funny, and just generally great.

Second of all, I'd like to say that there were definitely routes on this relay that I'd *never* run on my own if I didn't have a team counting on me.  My first leg was scary -- on a curving two-lane road with lots of traffic including RVs and essentially no shoulder except weeds, ditches, and occasionally blackberries.  Also, I started at 4:11 PM in the afternoon heat and attacked this fun elevation profile:

But, for the sake of the team, I did it and each time I felt that I had to jump into a ditch to avoid danger, I chalked it up to an adventure.  I was totally proud of my 11:15 average pace -- I felt like I made a huge effort but was also smart re: safety.  Finally, at the exchange, as Jess requested, I arrived ready to slap that slap bracelet like no-one's business:

Note the sweat on my hat, I was *hot* on every leg of this relay

My night leg was relatively uneventful, although I took off with the mistaken impression that it would be flat (the 1,000 foot y-axis in the leg map misled me) and colder than it was (61F, approximately 100% humidity):

8.3 miles of climbing (462 ft says garmin) after 3ish hours of interrupted sleep in the dark at 10:45/mile pace was all I could manage, but I was happy as it was a solid effort.  The strangest part was the fog -- wearing a headlamp and running in the fog in the dark means that you see individual water droplets suspended in the air in the illuminated circle for the entire run!

I told myself not to think about leg 34 during the earlier parts of the race, so I didn't.  Unfortunately for me (but good for the team) we made up quite a bit of time, so I ended up heading out at 2:53 PM in the height of the heat and direct sun for 11.4 miles and 501 ft. of climbing (says Garmin).

At the exchange to take off for my last leg, JL told me to take it easy (slapping the slap bracelet after her 9 miler in the early afternoon heat and speaking from experience), and I really tried.  I hit mile 5 at a 12:00/mile average pace and felt proud of myself for being reasonably conservative.  But, shortly after that, the direct sun and heat combined to undo me.  I stopped to use a porta-john at the second water station and realized that despite the 1-2 minute break my heart rate hadn't dropped much at all.  I was very concerned about heat sickness and didn't want to ruin my marathon training, so I slowed to run/walk intervals, initially trying to keep them below 14 min/mile and then, finally, texting the team to let them know that I would be late and settling on 15 min/mile.

The best thing that happened to me on this leg was around mile 7 -- I tried to start running once I crested the hill, but I was just too heat exhausted.  So I returned to a walk, dejectedly.  A car on the other side of the Silverado Trail screeched a u-turn and stopped on the side of the road in front of me.  As I approached, he popped his trunk, dunked a sponge into a cooler full of ice water and handed it to me.  AMAZING!  He also let a woman who was gaining on me (and passed me) take advantage.  As we thanked him, he simply said, "you're lucky -- you're roughly my wife's pace."  I took two full sponge squeezes and was able to use the coolness to run at least 3/4 of a mile without a break -- the farthest I'd go without a walk break for the remainder of the leg.  Mental note -- the next time I go to support runners at a hot race, I'm definitely taking a cooler full of ice water and a sponge -- it's like magic.

Also, his actions confirmed to me what our team had suspected -- the prohibition on runner support on some legs (all of my legs) due to traffic issues was definitely not being enforced.  Because of the lackadaisical rule enforcement, I felt a bit penalized for being on a team that followed the rules, as those who didn't were obviously at an advantage.  But, then again, I *really* enjoyed the folks on my team.  In fact, I was probably one of the biggest rule-breakers on it (which, if you know me, should give you some perspective, these were some *rule* *observant* *folks*). 

This AM, I had 6 miles on the schedule.  I woke, slightly tight, but really, feeling pretty darn good after 26.49 miles in the last 25h20.  But... I had a blister from my last leg.  I'd soaked and wrapped and put on compression socks last night, but it had only half absorbed.  So I took it as a sign to move my off day this week to today, slept in, aggressively treated the blister, and just generally had a wonderfully lazy day (including an unexpected visit from @CathrynTheBrit and her family, which was so fun).

Total mileage for the week: 42.91.  Total below 10/mile -- 15-20%.  Last "long run" for marathon training done on a relay experiment?  I think it worked well for me.  I feel very confident that between the sleep deprivation, climbing, and heat I got just as much out of the relay as I would have on a long last solo long run weekend.  And, OBVIOUSLY, I had way more fun.

We were not the best photographers, but we had so much fun!

September 15, 2014


I headed to my childhood hometown this weekend for yet another memorial service.  The frequency of memorial services in my life as of late is something with which I'm struggling.

This one was a family cousin, who was in the Autumn of his life and had lived a big, full life working full-time 'til 82 years old -- living at home 'til just six weeks before his death at 85. It was sad, but also joyful.  My mother couldn't come, so I acted as the family ambassador and interacted with many relatives I hadn't seen in 5 or 10 years.  I felt so welcome and loved.

I felt so alive.  (I also interacted with members of my mother's family in a way that made me question much of the family lore I've been fed, but that's a thought for another discussion...)

Upon sitting at the ceremony, I realized that I hadn't been to a church service in the Lutheran Church in a very long time.  Catholic?  Yes.  Similar, but not the same.  And for the Lutherans, it's actually been so long that they'd changed the text of some of the prayers I'd had to memorize to be confirmed.  CRAZY.

I went up to the pastor after the service and asked him what had happened to the text, and, well, I'm pretty sure he was thrilled.  I think I made his year. 

Apparently, if you are a Lutheran pastor, it's a rare event when you officiate a funeral and someone comes up after the fact and wants to talk about the translations from the original Latin into American English and why it used to be "X" and now is "Y".  He was *extra* thrilled to learn that I was family of the deceased, raised in a not-too-far away Lutheran church that he was familiar with.  Interestingly, he didn't ask any questions or push when I self-identified as having been "raised Lutheran, but haven't been to church in at least a decade."  He just asked where I lived now without mentioning anything about the local Lutheran options and thanked me for coming to pay my respects, confirming that my cousin Sam is the bee's knees.

The whole service, the return to the Church of my childhood, the reciting of prayers and singing of hymns (which I did in honor of the deceased) and, of course, the soul-quieting incantation of Psalm 23, all combined to make me feel that all was right in the world.  Even in the midst of death.

Recently, I learned through facebook that a high school acquaintance of mine had overdosed unexpectedly.  I hadn't spoken with her since graduation, but apparently, the news was a shock to everyone.

And, due to the memorial in my hometown, I ended up near where I was raised at the same time as another best friend from childhood (R) as she came into town to mourn her grandfather.  A third best friend (D) lives there and hosted me for a much-needed girls' night dinner on Friday and then all three of us for a get-together with their kids on Saturday AM.  It was the first time we've all been together since R's wedding, 3+ years ago.  Magical.

So, yeah.  I'm feeling very alive.  Nothing like the presence of death to highlight your lack of it.

And, it was a step-back week, running-wise.  I drank too much, had a cigarette in solidarity, and ate skirt steak over marinated artichokes and cream on Friday night while catching up with D.  But, I still managed 35.87 miles total, and most of my assigned workouts.  Marathons will be happening.  So, here I am, feeling, very grateful to be so alive (if not very fast).

September 7, 2014

Small Progress Is Still Progress

Every time I think *my* part of the work on the remodel is done, something new comes up.  This experience is sort of like a treadmill, actually.  You do quite a bit of work, but you don't actually go anywhere.  It takes faith to believe that the effort on the treadmill will actually pay off in the real world. 

But, finally, we have some visible progress in the real world.  We have the rough electrical done, the drywall is up, and most of the cabinets are installed.  Ta-Dah!

I'm going to love using these cabinets!

This week's surprises involved a cabinet that was made incorrectly, an accidentally dropped hammer that chipped the top of one of the cabinet doors (they offered to replace it, but the effort to order a new door and wait to get it installed may not be worth it), and the complexity of our city's odd lighting requirements (much more than is required by Title 24, but if we want to pass inspection, it's what's required).

A big part of what I've had to do for the remodel is shopping.  I realize many people would not complain about this.  Many people love shopping.  But, I do not.  I actually hate it.  So, I try to do it as quickly and rarely as possible.  Only, when doing a kitchen remodel there are a million variables and details associated with each purchase and if you get a purchase wrong it won't work.  (Yes, I'm aware that there are remodel consultants who will manage much of this for you, but at the end of the day, we've still got to make the final decision, which means we need to feel comfortable with the information, which means a consultant wouldn't save us all that much time, and definitely would cost more money...)

I'd already spent quite a bit of time researching and purchasing countertops, tiles, appliances and cabinets.  Last week, between work and running commitments, I did still more shopping after learning more than I wanted to know about countertop polishing and installation on-site services, sinks, faucets, and water heaters.  The last step in the process is the fun of actually placing orders, and trying to devine how reliable the delivery estimates are, as well as how likely it is that yet another surprise will cause the schedule to slip -- essentially it's a big guessing game about how much extra time I needed to purchase.  If stuff arrives early, it's in the way.  If it's late, work can't happen until it arrives.  This, my friends, is a large part of why everyone complains that construction schedules are impossible -- there are *so* many dependencies, and very little is parallelizable!

The shopper-hater in me is happy to report that there is only one last detail that remains to be researched and purchased (until the next surprise, of course):  kitchen cabinet hardware.  Once they are picked out, I should be relieved of the shopping duties and will be solely left to managing the logistics of moving deliveries and timing of stays out of the home to match the ever changing schedule.

On the running front, this week was a big one.  I hit 43.72 miles for the week -- a volume high for the year.  In doing so, I fit in 15% sub 10 minute miles, and, my 3-day high (F-Sa-Sun) hit 31 miles this week.  I'm particularly proud of the weekend, which included 7 miles at target pace (low 10s/mile) with a friend on Saturday and 19 long slow miles of hills today (1249 ft total ascent, 1100 descent) in 4h10min.

And just like that, I've crossed the psychological threshhold.  I know I can run the entire marathon in my current state of fitness and health, if extremely slowly.

I've learned over the years that this long run mental barrier is a big one for me.  I've had decent success with the Hanson's Brooks training plans in terms of fitness, but my one complaint about them is that I need at least one 19-20 miler to test my ability to continue running for the larger part of a marathon.  If I don't get that, somewhere around mile 17, I start to fall apart.  Knowing that there are 9 more miles and that I haven't run anything close to the total distance in training just destroys me.

So, I've modified my personal training plans to always include at least one run of that length.  Once I've confirmed that I can actually sustain the physical and mental effort of running for multiple hours, I'm in a much better mental place for the remainder of the training cycle.  And that's where I am today.  Excited about the possibility of how much I can improve between now and race day.  Which is pretty cool. 

September 2, 2014

CHI Week -6

A beautiful day for enjoying the views of the bridge, the bay, and the city.

We had a whirlwind week -- for the work-week we stayed in SF at a condo of our friends while our kitchen and house were destroyed even further.  Thursday, E flew out to Portland and I lived solo in SF 'til Friday night, when we spent one night at home before heading back north through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge (in mad traffic) to Sausilito for a weekend getaway for a friend's wedding.

This arrangement meant that for every meal from last Sunday AM through Labor Day lunch, we ate out (except for the one blessed home-cooked Indian food dinner our friends made for us in SF).  Did I mention I miss our kitchen? 

Despite the social and work chaos of living in SF and trying to deliver tomatoes to and cram in visits with everyone we can't see when we're down on the peninsula, I still managed to hit 36.62 miles (including 8 miles of city walking) plus an additional 92 minutes of gym cardio, *and* my scale informs me I was net neutral for the week.  This, my friends, is what successful marathon training looks like for me at this point.  It ain't pretty, but it's something. 

The main high quality miles of the week were in Sausalito, where I started at sea level and encountered steep climbs no matter which direction I ran (note the golden brown grass of California -- this is where the term "golden gate" comes from -- the mountains that make up the coastline that breaks for the San Francisco bay where the Golden Gate Bridge crosses are the traditional "golden hills of California").  

The balcony on the lobby at Cavallo Point Lodge -- not a bad place for a glass of wine.
Former Fort Baker viewed from the balcony at the Cavallo Point Lodge -- note the steep hills to the base of the bridge.
It was gratifying to do 10 miles on Sunday from Fort Baker out to the Sausilito harbor and back -- it was a slog to be in full sun on the hills the day after a wedding, but it was absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous and it was *only* 10 miles.  I love it when I get to the point in marathon training where 10 miles seems short.  Monday, I planned to do my 6 miler on the treadmill, but the resort had different plans for me -- the fire alarm went off after the first mile and I had to evacuate.  Not about to stop the workout, I headed up the steep hill to the Golden Gate Lookout point -- I didn't stop.  I ran the whole climb.  Without a Garmin or sunglasses.  Then I ran back to the gym, and thankfully, the fire alarm fiasco had been sorted and I could finish my run on the mill. 

Both days, I was rewarded with the satisfaction of passing cyclists who had to stop and walk on the climbs.  On the way back down to the hotel on Sunday, I was actually a bit shocked to realize just how long the descent was -- I didn't remember the climb being that brutal, and yet, there I was, just cruising down, down, down, enjoying the benefit I'd forgotten I'd earned.  On the way out, I'd run the whole thing without stopping, and, other than a few cyclists I passed who were cursing, it hadn't seemed that bad.

So, I guess there's that.  I may not be in the shape I'd love to be in for a marathon.  But, I am in decent climbing shape.  Which, frankly, at 6 weeks out, makes me feel pretty darn good.

In other news, the trail access from the touchdown point at the north end of the Golden Gate is insane.  If only I was an ultra runner with a desire to run all day in the exposed Sunday could have been so different...