The week before the half marathon

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I'm kicking off the fall racing season by running the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half-Marathon this weekend. I'm feeling confident but tempered.  A little nervous, but in a good way. Some of my track club team mates are also running; the camaraderie helps. 

As the poetic military "5-P" adage goes: "Poor Planning leads to Piss-Poor Performance" Actually, I prefer to phrase it a tad more positively: "Proper Planning leads to Paramount Performance."  I am well-prepared. I've been training hard all summer. I've completed grueling workouts which have tested both my physical and psychological limits. I've been consistent, and my Training Peaks reports are looking good.

But if there's one lesson I've learned after almost 6 years of racing as a masters runner, it's that there are things you can and can't control. (This applies to all things in life :) 

Prepared or not, we are all subject to Mama Nature's whims. Case in point, the dangerously hot conditions my team and I raced in during the Philadelphia Mayor's Cup. So far, Sunday's forecast looks good – relative to, say, running during a 100+-degree heat index. But you never know. It could rain, become super windy, oppressively humid, etc. I'm thankful there's room for a little bit of magic in this data-driven life. 

So I finished my last week of hard training fairly stoically. I set A, B and C goals for my race which I will keep superstitiously to myself and my coach until after the event. For some reason, I'm not superstitious about anything but race goals; I will walk under ladders, travel on Friday the 13th, and pet any and all black cats who cross my path.

Training recap

Bucolic post-run scene in the Endless Mountains in upstate Pennsylvania.

Bucolic post-run scene in the Endless Mountains in upstate Pennsylvania.

Now this is what a rest day should look like. Adrift on Lake Winola.

Now this is what a rest day should look like. Adrift on Lake Winola.

I like to run higher mileage, but during this training cycle, I've been concentrating on quality over quantity – an interesting change. Instead of doing my customary one or two challenging sessions per week, (usually a tempo run or hills plus a long run), I've been doing two challenging runs plus one kick-ass-hard session that stretches my mind, body and/or spirit – usually all three. Happily, my body has adapted well to withstand the stress – though I've taken a few rides on the struggle bus in the process. 

Last week's workouts included:

MONDAY – LABOR DAY

  • 4-mile recovery run in the Endless Mountains. I love to run on vacation and experience new sites. During this run, I encountered plenty of hills, but the pastoral vistas, rooster calls, and mist rising from the mountains made running them seem easier. 
  • 20 minutes of relaxing kayaking –  Saw turtles, bass, lily pads and a grey heron. My scrawny arms were sore the next day.

TUESDAY

  • 7.25 mile specific endurance intervals – Original goal: 2-mile warm up, 5 x 1K (goal pace @7:35-7:25, descending last 2) with a :90 recovery, then easy miles home. My legs were tired from the previous day's hills, but I felt zippy and my splits for the intervals were decent, considering I was not trying all that hard –  7:17 / 7:24/ 7:18 / 7:21 / 7:00. The splits were not exactly the perfectly paced descent my coach was looking, for but you learn something from every workout. From this one, I learned that I had more gas in the tank than I realized and that I don't always have to run in 5th gear. Sometimes 3rd gear gets the job done more efficiently.
  • 40 minutes of strength training. I focused on core and stabilizing muscles. I usually do 2 weekly sessions, but I cut down to just one this week before the half.  

WEDNESDAY 

Ice, ice, baby

Ice, ice, baby

  • 3-mile recovery run. The mini-taper began this week. It almost felt like a joke to run 3 miles easy, instead of 5-6 or doing a hard run. My right medial gastrocnemius was lit up, so I iced it and took some Tylenol (more on that in a sec).

THURSDAY

  • 4-mile easy run. By Thursday, yet another heat wave was in full force. I usually do my runs in the cool of the morning. Plus, I'm a morning person, in general. But I had promised to meet a track club team mate for an evening run. She got stuck in traffic on her way home from work and wasn't able to make it, so I ended up doing the run solo, at 7pm, heat index: 98-degrees. Needless to say, it was a slow run. I wanted to save myself for the next day's hard workout. I felt thankful for the opportunity to run in the heat, because I knew it was just one more condition for which I could learn to prepare. 

FRIDAY

  • 8.11-mile threshold run – Original goal: 2 miles easy, 2x15:00 @ 7:35; 2 miles easy. When I got out at 6:30am, the heat index was 87 degrees. For a moment, I thought about slowing the pace slightly for the intervals on account of the heat. Mmmm.....no. Had I done so, the only person who would have lost out would have been me. The first 15:00 segment clocked in at 7:29 and second at 7:25. Boom.

SATURDAY

  • Rest day! Slept in. Cleaned my loft. KonMaried my closet. (#NotExactlyRest). Sports massage.  

SUNDAY

Time to make the donuts. Pre-early-morning run. Bed-hair, don't care. 

Time to make the donuts. Pre-early-morning run. Bed-hair, don't care. 

  • 10-mile long run with a fast final 20:00  Woke up with my right calf still aching a bit. Heat index was 85 by the time I got out at 7am. Muggy. I figured I would speed up at around mile 7.5. Alas, math is not my forte – especially pre-coffee. In my caffeine-deprived state, I started kicking it home at mile 6.5. After a half-mile, I realized my error and slowed a bit. I stopped for water, but basically ended up picking up the pace for the last 25-30 minutes home. A great confidence booster, especially in the heat and humidity. (True confession: thinking about coffee and my favorite chocolate Protein and Greens Smoothie [with banana, bien sûr] helped me run faster ;)

Countering fatigue and combatting "niggles"

I'm not a huge water drinker, but I've become addicted to seltzer. The bubbles in LaCroix are subtle – almost champagne-like. 

I'm not a huge water drinker, but I've become addicted to seltzer. The bubbles in LaCroix are subtle – almost champagne-like. 

A few weeks back, at the peak of my training's intensity and mileage, I was feeling a bit fatigued. I did everything in my power to counter it. I dialed back my miles and intensity just enough. I foam-rolled, went to yoga, took vitamins including iron, and upped the nutritional content of my diet. (Even more plant protein and veggies. Less sweets – my weakness.) Although I don't tend to get thirsty, I made a point of drinking more water.

Sports massage: the calm before the storm

Sports massage: the calm before the storm

In addition, I indulged in cat naps whenever possible. I'm a great napper and I can sleep anywhere, lucky me. It's amazing how a 15-minute nap can revive you. Especially important for masters runners or anyone running high mileage. Napping = nirvana.

As I mentioned, I had a sports massage on Saturday, since I was experiencing some niggles near the Iliosacral (IS) joint which I had injured after coming back too fast after the 2015 New York City Marathon. I was also feeling some pain in my inside calf and IT band – nothing game-changing but I knew these niggles needed tending. So to the massage therapist I went.

When I tell non-running friends and family that I'm getting a massage, they exclaim, "Oh, enjoy! How relaxing."

Nope. Nope. Nope. Sports massages are NOT relaxing. No cucumbers on your eyes. No scented essential oils. No Sheila Chandra station on Pandora. No aromatherapy. 

Getting a sports massage, aka a clinical massage, is more like having your teeth scaled and cleaned – painful but necessary maintenance work done by a trained professional. Some of the session actually does feel great. But having a massage therapist dig in and knead your knots, frankly, hurts. The next day, though, you're invariably looser.

Christina at PhilaMassages did a great job of helping me work out the kinks. She diagnosed my shin issue as an inflamed medial gastrocnemius – a first for me. (Interestingly, calf injuries tend to show up more in older runners, as this article does a good job of explaining. ) 

All this helped. I am feeling good. I'm counting down the days. Wish me luck!

Do you have any running superstitions?

What is your next goal race?