Tuesday, December 6, 2016

And we have a winner! plus training log

In my last post I considered two race strategies for next year, and after deep contemplation and much soul-searching ('do I really WANT to run two marathons next year?' 'No') we have a winner. I'll be doing the Providence half in May and the Baystate full marathon in October. Maybe one or two 5ks or 10ks thrown in there somewhere, but nothing terribly serious. My focus is on trying to PR the half and remind myself that I can in fact still train for a marathon.

Since half training doesn't start till January, my goals for this block till the end of the year are simple:
- Build my base to about 25-30 miles a week with no concern for speedwork or pace
- Get in at least three strength sessions (MYRTLs, squats, core) a week
- Try some new classes (ballet, yoga, etc) while I don't have to worry about soreness taking too much out of my training

11/21 to 11/27 

Monday - 4 miles
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 5 miles as warmup, 5x1200 w 3min active recovery in between, starting at 8:30 pace and working down to <7:30, cooldown
Thursday - Thanksgiving break

Thanksgiving family time. My heart is full. Actually, so is my stomach. So, so very full. Perhaps the third slice of pie was unwise.

Friday - Friendsgiving leftover shenanigans
Saturday - 4 miles with stroller; 3 miles walking home later in the afternoon to let kid take a lengthy stroller nap
Sunday - 6.2 miles

11/28 to 12/4

Monday - 2.5 miles
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 3 miles
Thursday - 4.5 miles
Friday - rest
Saturday - 3 miles with stroller
Sunday - 8.1 miles in the no-man's-land between tempo and easy because it was freeeeeezing

Dusk on the Charles River (3 miles, Wednesday) 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Racing 2017, two ways

I'm starting to plan my 2017 race calendar and my grand return to marathon running. Sounds crazy until you realise that 2017 is in five weeks! But I've run into a dilemma and need to pick between the wiser of two strategies.

Strategy 1: Do two marathons next year: Providence in May and Baystate in October, with the first as a dust-the-cobwebs-off warmup and the second as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal Race. That's two 18-week cycles with nearly two months of #runwhatever in between.

- Cost. If I sign up early for each race, 2 marathons = less than $100 apiece. Sure, we'll probably be overnighting in town for at least one or the other, but the non-race hours are all family time and we'll spend that time exploring the area.
- Providence gives me the chance to remind myself how to run a marathon. I used to know this. I don't necessarily want my goal marathon to be my first marathon in three years!

- Time: do I have the time to train for a spring marathon? I suppose I'll have to bite the bullet and do it one way or another. I'm going to have to find the time to train for a fall marathon, anyway. For us back-of-the-pack folks, a 20-miler takes more than three hours. THREE HOURS. In what universe do I have three uninterrupted hours on a Saturday morning? Do I want to inflict this on myself and my family TWICE?

Strategy 2: Develop some speed: Race a bunch of 5ks (Craicfest, Spring Classic, BAA 5k etc) in winter and early spring, 10ks, and a half (Providence or Run to Remember) in spring. Then train through summer for Baystate in October.

- I'm really bad at finding that extra racing gear on my own. I'm sh*t at time trials. If I don't have a hare and a free t-shirt, I'm the most unmotivated runner you'll ever meet.
- I reckon I have a couple of short-distance PRs in me, aided (ahem) by the good old cold-weather discount. My 5K PR is almost three years old. My 10K PR is so old it's ready for kindergarten. A little short sharp racing might give me a few more things to feel smug about.

- Time. Part of the reason I don't race much is all the downtime. You have to get to the start line, wait around for the race start, finish, pick up a drink and a snack, extricate yourself from the crowd, and get home. In a 5K the downtime generally turns out to be longer than the actual time spent running.
- Cost. If I'm late or lazy, all those registrations add up. $$$
- I have a sneaking suspicion that to train for a marathon, I have to train for a marathon. In other words, my training should be distance-specific.

Other stuff:
I'm actually thinking of using a 50K plan for the October marathon, as I always wind up slightly undertrained - so if I pretend to train for a 50K I might actually be properly trained for a marathon?

My biggest problem, in the past, has been cramping in the same muscles every single time, at or around the 35k mark. Is that a strength or imbalance issue? An undertraining issue? I doubt it's a pacing issue as my pacing has always been pretty conservative (10:00 miles during a marathon, on track for a 4:30 finish). Believe me, I've already been faithfully doing my MYRTLs. #teamgluteusmedius

What do you think? Do I have any alternatives to these two strategies?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

All the Things I Knew: a Baystate Half Marathon race report

A version of this race report is cross-posted on Salty Running

Two seconds: that's all that separates 1:59:59 from 2:00:01. In between, 2:00:00. There's nothing fundamentally different about each of those times. Yet two hours, or any other pleasantly round time goal, seems such an insurmountable barrier.

At least, it did to me. Once upon a time (2008 - I'm not that old), I ran my very first half marathon in 2 hours and 43 minutes. Since then, I'd slowly whittled my time down. Fifteen minutes. Ten minutes. Five. If there was a Zeno's paradox for PRs, this surely was it. And then in May this year, on a misty morning in Pittsburgh, a breakthrough: 2:06.

Could I finally break two hours? I knew I could do it - in theory. My brain knew that other runners with the same 5K and 10K PRs had run sub-2 handily. But did my body understand that too? Did I know it in my bones? In my heart?

Both feet off the ground! I'm telling you - purple is my lucky colour.


The Baystate Half Marathon in Lowell, MA, has a reputation for being fast and relatively flat along a river through the former mill town. Close to a quarter of its 2,000 marathon runners qualify for Boston each year. The October race date generally comes with great weather. And it has good food (chicken noodle soup, frozen yogurt bars), a long-sleeved unisex-ish tech shirt, and fun bling, all for $65 fed back into the local economy.

I say I had no training plan. I mean I had no 'official' training plan, no coach, no Hal Higdon or Pfitzinger or RLRF or Hansons, nothing but my calendar and my own experience and intuition. Nothing, really, but common sense.
I started training in July, after a month and a half of casual running. The bread and butter of my untraining plan, as with any training plan, were one speed ('speed') workout, one tempo-ish run, and one long run. Each week I'd throw in one to three more easy runs, and every 3-4 weeks I'd pencil in a cutback week. Each of those easy runs was 3-5 miles, and if I had time for only two miles, so be it.

Here are the things I knew going in:
I knew from a previous marathon cycle using Hansons that I was physically capable of running six days a week if I wanted to. I did not, eventually, run six days a week any week of this cycle; a typical week was 4-5 days of running with 0 to 1 cross-training session. Honestly, I was in *zero* danger of overtraining.
I knew from experience that it's very, very hard for me to nail solo speed work. So I committed to my local running group once again for Monday night track sessions.
I knew there were things I was not willing to sacrifice. Time with family, for one. That meant few early morning workouts, lots of weekday lunchtime or mid-afternoon runs in the full heat of summer. On weekends, it meant sneaking out the door early for my long run and leaving my husband to deal with toddler separation anxiety till I got back.

And here are the things I knew coming out: 
That I had a new 'Garmin PR' from one of my long runs, and that I could handle a long run without carrying water and drinking only from local water fountains.
That, from my tempo runs, I could handle being a little uncomfortable for five miles.
That fall PRs are forged in the summer heat.

Race day
We stayed overnight at the Radisson in Chelmsford, 3 miles from the start line, and there were shuttles to the start so I didn't have to drag my lovely fan club with me. The start line is next to the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, a big hockey arena and concert venue, and runners were able to huddle in there (and use the bathrooms, in addition to a whole bank of portapotties!) before the race start.

Race weekend weather was 39 (7C) at the start and high 50s (about 15C) at the finish - perfect weather for running. Not so perfect for standing around in a t-shirt, shorts, arm warmers and gloves. I knew I'd have to eat and drink more to make up for what I'd shiver off at the start line. With that in mind I had leftover spaghetti at 5am, a packet of instant oatmeal at 6am, and an energy bar at 7.15am before the race start at 8.

The one thing my body did not know going in was how to race a half marathon, so I consulted some more-experienced Saltines. The consensus, and my eventual race strategy, was to run the first 5 miles easy, up the pace for the next few, and 'just barely hold on for the last 3'.

When you're racing for a PR you don't really have a lot of spare mental bandwidth to take in the sights. I remember the three frigid extra minutes we waited after 8 for the race to start. I remember the scuffed-up bridge crossings on the two-loop course. I remember roadkill on what must have been the busiest main road (don't step on the dead raccoon - that'll really put a dent in your race day). I remember water stops staffed by high school students. I remember fall foliage, and getting glimpses of the river along which we ran. I remember small children giving high-fives. I remember seeing my husband with our son on his shoulders at the end of the first loop: "Go mama!".
Fall foliage from an earlier training run.

Here are my splits, rounded to the second. 

Miles 1-5. Remember overall sub-2 goal pace is 9:10.
9:18. Small rollers, very crowded as we started with the marathoners, lots of crowd support. I stepped in a pothole almost immediately and my ankle wobbled. I heard someone next to me say, "That's what I'm afraid of." Further behind us there was an anguished gasp. "Oh man, everyone is finding the potholes."
9:15. Sign on course: IF TRUMP CAN RUN, SO CAN YOU. A voice behind me bellowed, "HE ISN'T JUST RUNNING, HE'S GOING TO WIN." I ran a little faster.
9:15. I pulled the arm warmers down, covering my Garmin.

Miles 6-10. A little over my usual 10K/ tempo pace (8:30).
8:39. We began the second loop of the course. I unearthed my Garmin face from beneath the arm-warmer.
8:28. At this point I began to feel like I was working. Not hard - just pushing the pace.
8:52. "Everything hurts," said a nearby woman to her friend, giving voice to what I was thinking. "It could be worse," her pacer friend responded. "You could be doing the marathon." I passed them.

Miles 11-13.1 'just barely holding on'.
8:42. In theory it was time for BIG ENGINES and 5k pace. After 10 miles, this is all I could do. Still passing people.
9:09. I felt my quads and calves twanging, juuuust on the verge of cramping, and slowed down in order to make it to the finish cramp-free.
0.1 - 0:48:19 (8:04 pace. Did I mention I am not a sprinter?)

Final official time: 1:56:21, net time. Overall, it felt...not easy, but not hard, either. Not hands-on-knees breathless. I knew I'd worked for it and would pay in soreness, but my legs weren't trashed. I'd say this result is probably a good gauge of my current level of fitness. I did not scream. I did not cry. Going in, I was fairly confident I would at least PR, if not go sub-2, and so I was not all that astonished by the result.

There’s a saying, credited to an indigenous Indonesian group, that knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle. You could say my heart knew what I could do before the rest of me did. Is that, in some way, a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you’ve done enough work to build your confidence, can that confidence carry you the rest of the way?
From top left: shivering my a** off at the start; official results; and a drive up to NH after the race for foliage, apples, friends, and fun. 

So, what's next?

Well, for starters, I've come down with a cold. I swear there's something about racing, compared to a mere long run, that shatters your immune system. So I have to get over that. Yuck!
I did a lot of rolling, stretching, and hip/ glute and core strength work this past week. It's almost more important for me to have a recovery plan than a training plan, otherwise I'll either vegetate on the sofa and feel awful because of all the inactivity, or try to do workouts way too soon and feel awful because of all the overactivity (not a risk this time round!).

Over the next few weekends, I'll head out for some longish meanders, and see if I can't get a couple of friends to run with me. I'm kind of excited for proper tights weather...but ask me again in February.

On November 13 I'm running the Cambridge Half strictly as a fun run. If I feel good that day I might see if I can go under 2 hours again, but I'm not going to stress out about it if I don't. New England fall weather is totally unpredictable. It might be raining on race day. There might be sleet. It might be 80 degrees. Who knows?! Several friends are running, and there's beer and pizza at the finish. And that'll round me out for the season.

In the end, does there have to be a 'next'? Why not some downtime, some casual running, and expending my energies on family and work? Running, after all, is supposed to deliver balance - to fit in with the ebb and flow of life. Then: a big hairy audacious goal a year or two away, punctuated by a series of smaller, intermediate steps. There's no shame in casual running, and there's no shame in striving - I know.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A very special announcement

Dear all three readers of my blog, 

I'm interrupting your Game of Thrones marathon, bike trainer session, or compulsive election-news-perusing to bring you a rather exciting announcement: I'm now officially a contributor over at Salty Running

Here is a #seenonmyrun photo thrown in to make this announcement look pretty on social media.
I actually predate Facebook but have learned a thing or two.

Salty Running has a special place in my heart. It's a really, really comprehensive site about women's running, started to fill a gap: the lack of gender-specific information for women who are serious about running and looking to improve. Its community embraces everyone from people with only a year or two of running experience, to others chasing an Olympic Trials qualifying time. And boy, do we all have a lot to learn from each other. (Let no one tell you running is not a broad church.) It has been a cheerleader for women's competitive running in all its forms, from chronicling the Olympic Trials to this terrific series about a high school cross-country team. 

We also laugh at ourselves. A lot

Here's how to get the most out of Salty Running: 
1. Subscribe for regular updates, whether it's by email or feed reader.
2. If you're looking for something specific, check the index and the tags, or search the site. 
3. And finally, talk to us! You can comment (or even have a lengthy conversation) on the posts, chat in the Facebook group, contact us individually, or submit a reader question. The best part of the internet running community is the community; when I've put myself out there and reached out to strangers I've made all sorts of great friends and found new sources of motivation and support for my running*.

* Fellow runners will also listen to you moan about plantar fasciitis, talk about poop, completely understand how you can dread your tempo run so much but feel so damn good afterwards, and also virtually kick your butt out the door to do said tempo run. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On Boston, big hairy audacious goals, and planning paralysis

1. It's Boston Marathon registration season, which always sparks discussion about how many qualifiers are actually going to be able to register. 

Let's say that again, another way: for several years now, a small percentage of people who qualified for Boston have not actually been able to get in. That's because the fastest qualifiers get to register first in the first week, then it fills up and the squeakers-in have to wait and find out if they have squeaked in by enough. 

Should the qualifying standards be tightened (again)? (A brief history is here.) 

Lots of great discussion over at Salty Running. Obviously there's no such thing as an infinitely large race, and as running's popularity grows, so does the number of people training to qualify. How to deal with the problem of more qualifiers than spots? Some think the standards should be tightened once again to shrink the field to a manageable size. Others feel that the fastest-get-in-first system works best. And then there's some discussion about whether some of the standards are too soft. 

I have approximately as much chance of BQing as I have of performing successful brain surgery - if anything, I'll probably perform the brain surgery sooner - so I gave up commenting because I don't feel I'm really Boston-qualified to comment on this particular issue. (I can literally see the Citgo sign from my apartment and it taunts me whenever I remember: "Too bad, GCA! You'll never perform brain surgery!") But I'd love to know what you, my dear readers, think! 

Image result for citgo sign boston

What do you think about Boston standards? Should they be tightened? Too difficult? Too soft? What to do about the gap? 

2. I am going to talk for a moment, however, about big hairy audacious goals. 

I do have a big hairy audacious running goal in mind; it's a time goal that I'm not going to reveal other than saying that it involves a marathon, it's not BQing, and not quite as much of a stretch as brain surgery. (More on a par, say, with becoming an astronaut.) But it is still a big hairy audacious goal that is quite far away. Probably a couple of years or more. 

Except that I haven't thought about the plan, other than the first two steps ('run a half, preferably in less than 2 hours' and 'run another'). Beyond that? Get a coach? Hire a personal trainer? Eat better? Reduce other life commitments so I can devote more time to said BHAG? I'm kind of paralysed about what to do next or what this big hairy audacious multi-year plan contains. Sort of like, "You don't even have a pilot's license, how will you become an astronaut?" I don't even know if steps 1 and 2 are doable.

I don't have an easy solution for the doubt, but I am pretty sure almost every runner has been through this at one point or another. My mantra when I need a confidence boost about a long-term goal is 'look where you go, and go where you look'. But motivation is one thing. Figuring out a workable plan is another. What's your method? 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pick 3: Notes from 1+ year of running, working, parenting, and life.

This entry was originally composed as a comment on Outside Time, but it began to take on a life of its own, and I reckoned I ought to give it the space it deserves. 

There's certainly some truth to the oft-heard lament: "After all my favourite running bloggers had babies, they all quit their jobs and started selling BeachBody!"
I have nothing against BeachBody. (Fine, I might, but let's leave the direct sales for another post.) But I do have a 16-month-old, and I work roughly 9 to 5, and seriously, it is [family, work, hobbies/ self-care (including running and blogging), keeping it all together (cooking, cleaning, other quotidian tasks), sleep]: pick 3. It *is* possible to work, spend time with your family, and run, but as you can see I blog roughly once a month...

So what is the relationship between running, momming (i.e. physically carrying and caring for a small child - which is why I'm focusing on mothers here), and work? It's not an easy one. At various times you are going to have to give up two and focus on one. For serious.

The first days - 0 to 4 months. Pregnancy and giving birth really does a number on the body. I don't care what bloggers say. I am not a professional athlete who trained through pregnancy and bounced back to run in the Olympics. (99.9% chance - neither are you.) I went stir-crazy and ran/ walked a mile at a couple weeks postpartum; this was better for my mental health - also essential! - than my physical health. If there is a next time around I'll probably err even more on the side of caution.

I had the luxury of being able to stay home with the little squirt for just over 4 months, but even that was a mental and emotional challenge: daytime isolation, going stir-crazy, mentally wanting to get back to work, feeling guilty about wanting to get back to work, taking on more freelance mini-projects than I really should have, while at the same time being physically tired, not getting enough sleep, etc.

Running during this time was...sporadic. Some mornings during the week, and on weekends, I'd be able to sneak out for a few miles. Mentally, I felt less guilt (why is it always mom-guilt? Why moms? I should've read Anne-Marie Slaughter earlier) about taking time out for self-care *because* I was still home with baby and thus able to spend hours gazing lovingly at him. In late August, 3.5++ months postpartum, I ran my first and only race of the calendar year - a 5k - to get a rough baseline of where I was. It was just that - a baseline.

The next few months - 4 to 9 months - were the early daycare months. I had a great deal of milk-related anxiety. Supply issues, pumping schedules, you name it. I am not one of those lucky overproducers, and struggled to get enough for daycare each day; you pump what you can, and the occasional bottle of formula is not poison.

Amidst all of this, how to run? What helped me was pumping then running at lunch, eating while working, and doing the working-mom split shift: a couple of hours at night after baby went to bed. I no longer pump, huzzah! But that's where my workday runs used to fit in. And my personal rule: if you have time for only two miles, do the two miles. As a working mom who would see baby for only a few short waking hours during weekdays, I was loath to take any time out before work to go running on my own.

Pumping and running can be a concern for overproducers, who may need to pump immediately pre-run for comfort. It's also a concern for people like me, who worry that running might affect milk supply. ('Always be drinking' is my motto. For reals.)

Around 6+ months, baby became sturdy enough to enjoy the jogging stroller, and for a few blissful months he would even consistently fall asleep in it, so I often scheduled runs for nap time on weekends! (Our BOB manual suggested a minimum age of 6-9 months and up; I understand the guideline is now closer to 12? Either way, he seemed to enjoy himself and was certainly comfortable enough to conk out.)

Other things that helped, mentally - I started texting back and forth with another running blogger whose baby is a month younger. She no longer blogs, alas, but we ran Pittsburgh together in May when our kids were around a year old. A half marathon a year postpartum is a pretty reasonable goal, though even that gave me milk anxiety. We might not live in the same area, but a support network of working running mothers is invaluable.

Baby on the move - 10 to 15 months, and beyond:
Around a year, a couple of things happened: at 10 or 11 months, baby was eating enough solids that we were able to give him two 5oz bottles instead of 3 4oz bottles at daycare. The extra two ounces went a long, long way towards preserving my sanity, let me tell you. I also went from pumping 3x to 2x (another time- and sanity-saver) and then 2x to 1 soon after. Suddenly I had an extra hour in my day.
I also started a full-time job, working mostly from home. That meant far less hustling and stress (if you haven't noticed, the journalism market is rapidly shrinking and there are so many freelancers competing for a smaller pie).

After PRing at Pittsburgh - yes, my half PR is post -baby; it was a pretty soft PR to begin with and I'm not surprised to see it go - I signed up for the Baystate half (goal race) and the Cambridge half (backup, or fun run) . That extra hour in my day from pumping once or no longer pumping? It goes straight to running. It's a hard hour, meaning not 'run for an hour' but 'decide to run, get changed, run, cool down, drink, stretch, shower'. That means, typically, 3 to 5 miles. But it's enough. Running at 3pm or lunchtime also means a lot of sunscreen and a gnarly shorts tan because I always wear the same 4 pairs of shorts.

The biggest thing is being able to set my own work hours, to a great extent. And I mean truly set my own hours, not work funny hours in response to something else. Of course I have days packed with conference calls and project work, but knowing the meeting schedule even two days in advance is a great luxury and enables me to run during the workday.

Something else that helped was meeting another local running and working mom (Connie), and going on run playdates - run to the playground, chase our respective toddlers, run on, repeat as needed! This strategy was key once baby no longer napped readily in the stroller.

I do carve out a couple of hours each weekend for a long solo run, but am still reluctant to make such a big commitment as marathon training. At my level, a 20-miler realistically would take in excess of 3 hours, and I'm just not willing to commit that kind of time away from my family just yet. But YMMV! I try to go early and spend the rest of the day with family. A 20-miler would also sap my energy in a way that 13 or 14 miles, which is where my half plan peaks, would not.

Right now, I've also just committed to rejoining my track group for Monday evening workouts. I don't know what took me so long!

Annnd...that's where I'm at now. It's taken a good degree of fortitude and much kindness to myself. And late-night stretching. And eating all the things.

So: which running bloggers have continued working, running AND blogging through their transition into parenthood? Here are some I've read:

Running Bun
A Case of the Runs 
Meals and Miles (alas, now more Disney/ mommy blog)
Chocolate Is My Life (currently kid-focused - I'd say having 2 under 2 is an excellent reason to fall off the running wagon for a season in one's life)
The Wannabe Athlete (now sporadic, and less focused on the eponymous 'athlete' bit, but extremely thoughtful when she does post)

Sadly missed:
Run Write Hike
Health On The Run 

Can you think of any others who have continued blogging while running, parenting, and working a regular job? I get it - it's HARD. Working, running parents are almost certainly going to have very little time to blog. List 'em here in the comments, please!

Monday, August 29, 2016

One mile at a time

We're now seven weeks out from the Baystate half and training is *supposed* to be kicking into a higher gear. I am not sure I have a higher gear in me, but I believe in miracles. After a summer of weekday lunchtime runs, I also have some gnarly tan lines and am tired all the time. How do you find time (but more importantly, energy) for anything more than 6 miles on a weekday? It's all I can do to just get the miles in, never mind stretching, foam rolling, or strength training. 

Some notes from my training log, which does actually exist, albeit in a place that is not this blog:

August 14. Sunday morning longish run: Planned 10. Actual 8. Started late (8am) after horrendous night with feverish coughing teething child. High of 36C today plus humidity. 
If horses sweat, men perspire, and women glow, I was glowing very hard all over the place and the glow was running down my elbows and knees and getting into my shoes. I must have been positively radiant

August 20-21. Child now will not tolerate >3 awake miles in stroller with no playtime for HIM. Mr GCA away on work trip. Creative run-planning ensued:
Saturday - run 2m to next but one T stop, take T, run 1m to friends' place for playdate, shower there.
Sunday - AM: run 3m to playground with stroller and friend. Chase offspring around playground. Run 2m to pool. Take offspring swimming, shower there. PM: walk and walk and walk downtown: park, carousel in park, chase little dude round park, walk to/ around Children's Museum, corral wriggly offspring at Shake Shack for dinner-treat. At least 4m walking. 

August 27. Saturday morning long run. Planned 12. Actual 11. 22C, mega humid.
Started 7am off the back of 1.5 weeks solo parenting a child whose antibiotics have been causing nighttime tummy troubles. Scooted out the door with a handful of cereal and a package of shot blocks. I was exhausted even before I tied my shoelaces. Told self to take it one mile at a time, and this wasn't a figure of speech. 
Started at 9:30-10:00 miles (good). By mile 6 had disintegrated into 11:00 miles (not good). Shortly thereafter there was walking. Mile 7 going uphill: mystery, brand-new shooting pain through right knee. Mile 7 going downhill: pain vanished. Eventually made it through 11 miles as I had to get home anyway. Actually literally the worst run of the year to date. 

And a nutrition side-note: I need to start a food diary, but not for the conventional reasons. Not too long ago, I hopped on the scale at the doctor's to find myself a few pounds below racing weight* and still losing weight. I generally think of myself as a pretty intuitive, balanced eater - I'll eat when I'm hungry and get cravings for vegetables when I've had too many refined carbs, and vice versa! - but this clearly is not optimal. I still feel fine (just tired?) and my periods are present and normal. But I need to figure out what nutrients or how many calories I might be missing, and see if I have more energy if I replace those.  

*Not a weight I typically *strive* to achieve, just where I usually am after a full marathon or a triathlon training cycle. 

Let's start with today:
- 1.5 slices toast with butter and jam
- 1 egg, scrambled
- Coffee 
- String cheese 
- Handful of animal crackers 
((went rock-climbing with friends))
- Lunch buffet at Indian restaurant (full plate, piled high, mostly rice, naan, dal, and vegetable curry) 
- Chia bar 
- 1/2 peach
- Cereal and soy milk
- 1 small bowl pasta salad with olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, red onion
- 2 squares chocolate
- 2 toaster waffles and chocolate ice cream

I mean, I'm eyeballing this and thinking, but seriously, what I am not getting enough of? and plugged it all into the USDA food tracker thing and am freaking baffled.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer adventures 2016

There are few things that hold more promise than the summer weekend. The weather is excellent, the days are long, there's so much to do and see...

But it's way too easy (if boring, and tedious) to just stick to the weekend routine - pancakes for breakfast, newspapers, run a little bit with the little squirt, hang out at home and watch him play, read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to him for the nth time, figure out what to have for lunch, throw up our hands and get burritos, et.c et.c.

This year we thought we ought to, you know, actually plan some adventures. Fun-size ones. 

And adventure we did. 

We went to the children's farm.

And hiking in Colorado.

 Followed by a gondola ride.

We picked (and, ahem, ate) strawberries.

We cycled around Martha's Vineyard.

And ran to the local splash pad. 

Did some more hiking in New Hampshire. 

And went to the county fair. County fairs have the best food. (Not pictured: the TWO frozen lemonades I had.) 

Kid, meet kid.
We visited friends in Maine and went to the beach. (Twice! Never before have I been to a lake beach and an ocean beach in the same weekend. What a concept.) 

This view! I mean. 

Really, what I'm finding is a toddler does limit one's travels and activities in some ways (I can't remember the last time I went to watch a play, and forget about going to Patagonia or Kathmandu for the next decade), but in many other ways is a GREAT excuse to get out and go places. How often are you a tourist in your own region?  

The house is a mess, I haven't run as much as I wanted to, work has been loony, and people who ask me if I've tried Pokemon Go get a blank stare in response, but I'm pretty content with how summer has gone so far.

P.S. Yes, I signed up for the Cambridge Half Marathon. Bring it on. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A day in the life and half a dilemma

Oh look - I'm not too late to get a blog post in for July! Since I seem to be writing an average of one a month. Go me. 

A day in the life: weekday edition

5am - Wake up, run, stretch, roll, do a couple of strength exercises, start the coffee, prep breakfast, chug Nuun, and shower
6.30am - Little squirt wakes up (thus forcing everyone else to get up as well). Change, feed, entertain, and dress him. 
8am - Mr GCA carts kidlet off to daycare and heads to work. I finish my coffee and get going on work for the day, as I work from home.
12pm - Pump/ lunch break/ a bit of cleaning/ chores/ dinner prep. 
1pm - Back to work. 
4.30pm - Start making dinner
5pm - One of us retrieves kidlet from school, where he has been a delight, taken lovely naps, and refrained from walking over any of the infants in the infant room.
5.30pm - Playground time.
6.30pm - Dinner, bath, lots of reading and playtime (parent and kid), kid runs around the house being adorable and hilarious
7.45pm - Squirt bedtime
8pm - Sit down to work again with a nice cup of tea, work uninterrupted for an hour or two
9.30pm - Locate whatever book I'm reading from wherever child has stashed it, read a bit
10pm - Fall asleep. 

5am - Kid sits bolt upright in bed and fusses till 5.30. 
5.30am - Pull on running clothes and stagger out the door.
6.30am - Come home to offspring crying because he can't find mom, and dad Will Not Do. Hasty shower, breakfast, kidtertainment. 
8am - Mr GCA carts kidlet off to daycare and heads to work. I put coffee on for the day and set up for the first of 30628235 conference calls. 
12pm - Emerge from fugue of conference calls and untangle my brain. Work through lunch.
4pm - Contemplate a run, decide it is too late OR go for a run, take a hasty shower, retrieve kidlet at 5pm, and cook dinner while singing to a disgruntled kidlet who feels he's starved of parental attention
4.30pm - Start making dinner
5pm - One of us retrieves kidlet from school. His teachers claim he has generally been a delight. 'We're going to miss him when he goes to the toddler room next month,' they chirp. I suspect this is code for 'He is great but we are exhausted'.
5.30pm - Playground time.
6.30pm - Dinner, bath, lots of reading (parent and kid), kid runs around the house being adorable and hilarious
7.45pm - Kid runs around the house being adorable and hilarious
8pm - Kid still running around the house being adorable and hilarious, but it's getting old
8.30pm - Squirt finally asleep. Lose 30 minutes to Facebook, Instagram, and Spider Solitaire on phone 
9pm - Sit down to work again with a nice cup of tea. Tea goes cold as kid coughs himself awake and has to be put down again
10pm - Read ebook on phone and pass out with kid on our bed.  
2am - Squirt wakes up hungry and gets milk
2.30am - I get hungry and wander to kitchen for trail mix
3am - Fall asleep again


...I am still on the no-plan training plan. To run faster, I run faster. The idea is to get comfortable at slightly faster easy pace. Think 9:00-9:30, the faster end of which would frankly be my HM goal pace anyway - I should learn to run this pace by feel. 

Right now I'm training ('training'. Where are my laughing/crying face emojis?) for a sub-2:00 at the Baystate Half on October 16. If all goes well* this summer, I might even be able to make that goal.

BUT...an offer ('offer') for the Cambridge Half Marathon just landed in my inbox. It's $65 till August 1, including beer, cider, and a gender-specific long-sleeved tech shirt. The Cambridge Half is literally in my back yard - it's about a mile and a half from my front door, and I'd run to the start line as a warmup. And it's November 13 - a mere month after Baystate.

SHOULD I sign up? Could Cambridge Half be a backup (with potentially cooler, better weather...or possible pouring freezing rain...you know...New England) if I don't hit my arbitrarily selected time goal at Baystate? And if I do, could it be done as just another particularly well-supported long run?  

*Break out the laughing crying emoji. Last week I ran a grand total of 17 miles. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

New running life goals

One day I have really got to do a race in this lovely, warm giraffe suit. (Photo from Halloween 2015. What other occasions do we have to go out as a family of giraffes? Offer your suggestions!)

The giraffe suit is probably too small for the baby at this point so this year he'll just have to be Nibbler.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Pittsburgh Half: odds and ends

A few things!

1. I promise I actually ran this race.

I hate stealing race photos. But here is proof. I have no idea when this was taken, but I am still relatively vertical, so it must've been fairly early in the race.

2. Other highlights:
- Women's-specific, v-neck, long-sleeved, tech t-shirt that actually has the right race printed on the front. It's so embarrassing wearing a shirt that says 'marathon' when you did the half, or vice versa.
- Great big chunky solid metal finisher medal harking back to Pittsburgh's steeltown days. I thought our luggage might go over the weight limit from it.

3. Now I have to decide what my plan of attack is next. Another half - perhaps Baystate - to try and break two hours? I don't feel emotionally or physically ready to invest all my energy in a full marathon just yet. On the other hand, I want to keep chipping away at my marathon time...so perhaps Baystate. I've always done well in cool-weather races after training in heat. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

13.1 ways of looking at a half marathon

A Pittsburgh Half Marathon race report, with apologies to Wallace Stevens

1. In media res

Between the 2:10 and the 2:15 pacers, sometime between the elite start and the start of my very mortal Corral C wave, it begins to drizzle.
The first worry is: not enough calories. I am shifting from foot to foot, trying to stay warm in t-shirt and shorts. I've been vertical since 5.45am - one and a half hours - and awake since 4.45. Should've finished my second packet of instant oatmeal. Should've finished my coffee. Should've brought a bagel or Honey Stinger waffle to the start. Shouldn't have walked two miles to the start line. At least I have 20,000 new friends around me. We're all keeping each other warm with nervous energy.

2. Begin at the beginning

The starting gun pops. 30,000 people are running today, including full marathoners, marathon relayers, and half marathoners. It's crowded, wet, slippery unknown streets; I don't want to dodge. Instead I play games for a few miles: find someone wearing yellow and black, chase them down; find someone in red, follow them. I soon warm up.
"This is a lot of trouble to go to for a free banana," I hear someone say, as I pass.

3. It's mostly about me, but also about you

A lot of questions pass through one's head during a longish race. Questions like: Why do I run? and, as it rains harder, What possessed me to wear underpants?
The answer to the first is It wouldn't be fun if it wasn't challenging. The Tarahumara Indians consider running a game, jugando. I feel like I run in that ludic spirit.
As for the second, call me agnostic, but it is possible to be on the fence about underpants/ no underpants.
This is an excellent city race. The spectator support is huge. The Gatorade and water stands are hyper-efficient. The volunteers are on point. The bands are ear-splittingly encouraging.
At least one unofficial support station (run by hashers, of course) somewhere around mile 7 or 8 offers beer. It's Natty Light. I don't care how hydrating it is, I did not run 13.1 miles for Natty Light.
Pittsburgh is a fine city for a foodie, with beer and brunch at decidedly un-coastal price points. The night before, we carbo-load with face-sized sandwiches, stuffed full of fries. Later, we have a croque-madame and a bison-burger and a chocolate stout and a mango-salsa burrito and a chicken tikka rice bowl.
I do not take the Natty Light.

4. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it 

A quarter done already. (I can't say 'without thinking about it'. I've been thinking about it since before I even started.) I eat my first shot block.
Miles 3-6 contain three bridges. Look at this elevation map of the half marathon course.

If you also look at my Garmin, you can kind of infer where the bridges are. Mile 11-12 contains HILLS and is my slowest mile (10:44). Actually, just one hill. It's embarrassingly small, too. The tricky part was not knowing exactly where the hill was going to end - more proof that it really is a mental game.


It takes a mile and a half to finish a single shot block, as I am incapable of running and chewing at the same time. This, coupled with trying to drink while running and also not choke on half-masticated shot block bits, keeps me occupied for many happy miles.
I like thinking about race distances in miles; that there are fewer of them than kilometres seems to help them tick by faster.


Mile 6 is a no-man's-land in which I largely blank out and keep putting one foot in front of the other. The thought dominating my head is 'Oh no, not another bridge.'
This race is not for the acrophobic.

7. A change of pace

More than halfway done! Ok, time to pick up the pace.
I attempt to pick up the pace.
My splits do not reflect my experienced reality. If a mile feels harder than you've actually run it, have you run it?
I see the 2:05 pace sign bobbing in the distance. I started so far behind them, I never even saw them for the first mile. I try to catch them repeatedly for the next six miles, and fail.

"Now we only have to hold this pace for an hour more," remarks a nearby runner to her friend.
"If you ran faster you wouldn't have to hold the pace so long," the friend replies.
"Whoa, good point."

8. Give me a sign...or else forget about it 

Chafing The Game
Toenails Are For Losers
Hey Eric, If You Think Running 13.1 Miles Is Hard...Try Waiting For You!
If Trump Can Run 4 President, You Can Run 13.1
Go Random Stranger (same people, same sign, seen twice)

9. Tick tock 

I flirted with the idea of running Garminless.
I did not run Garminless.
The half marathon is a distance where I feel like I have some room for improvement - but not much. Like, I'm not going to be chopping 15 minutes off my time anytime soon. So every minute counts. I run well aware of the beeps, and well aware of my effort, but take no steps to link the two by actually looking at the darn watch face until about mile 8. When I do look I discover that if I run 10:00 miles the rest of the way I will PR. This thought magically transports me up the next bridge.

10. Goodbye, separation anxiety

I run faster, because I ran down this way to get to the start and I know the terrain. Also, I really want to see my No. 1 Fan Club on the course. They're standing around at mile 10. I run over, kiss both of them, and dart off. According to the husband, baby bear howls for ten minutes after I vanish. Knowing this exact thing would happen, I run faster to finish sooner and get back to them. When I finish, little bear is asleep and snoozes in the carrier until I find them, whereupon he wakes up and grumbles till we get back to the apartment.

11. Oh, baby! 

Spectating is hard work. After we get home from lunch, little bear hibernates for two and a half hours. It's like he ran the half marathon instead of me. I briefly consider running a half every weekend so he'll nap.

12. I think I can, I think I can 

I'm giving it everything I have. My calves are starting to burn. What goes up must come down, right?
I think about Amy, whose virtual training partnership has been invaluable. I don't think I could have done this without her. There's a lot to be said for cheering each other on and being each other's reality check and commiserating about the joys of training while working/ living/ parenting. She's only halfway, and I wonder how she's doing on those full-marathon hills.

13. Lessons

I finish in 2:06. So, no 2:00. I knew that was a stretch goal going in. But 2:06 is a respectable five-minute PR on patchy training and a rolling course. Not bad for my first half marathon in almost two years.
Post-race resolutions are like New Year's resolutions. More strength work, glutes and core, will power me up hills and stave off cramps. Shoulda done a 14-mile long run at least once, instead of the 10s and 12s.
The challenge is putting the resolutions into practice. How to make myself get to the gym for strength work? How do I do speedwork alone? How badly do I really want it? Tell me how you do it.

0.1. Unique selling point

A good marketing slogan can be absurdly effective, people. In the near-bronchiospasm conditions of a sprint into the finish, one thing pops into my head over and over: 'I will what I want (and I want my PR)'.
Coming into the last half-mile I legit have tears in my eyes and am starting to have trouble breathing, knowing I'm going to PR - and more importantly, knowing I gave it my best effort today.

As I wobble through the exit chute, I give myself an extra free banana.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Now entering terra incognita

I hear visualisation is a great tool for athletes, so here's a short but totally realistic daydream:

"What do I WEARRRRR," she wailed, sitting on the floor clutching handfuls of quick-dry polyester and nylon. It was a moment of indecision unrivalled by any date night or job interview. Each time she glanced at the weather forecast the numbers and cloud cover icons seemed to shift - or was the scene swimming through tears? She settled on one outfit, with a backup for colder weather.

That night, her son woke up just twice and went right back to sleep straight away. At 5am, she stumbled to the AirBnB kitchen to gnaw on a cold bagel and rummage through the cabinet for something caffeinated. A warmup jog took her the mile and a half to the subway, and she emerged next to her race corral and got in line behind only two people for a clean porta-potty.

For once she refrained from starting too fast, despite the icy tickle of worry - every time! - that her legs would lock on to the pace and manage nothing more than snail-paced miles the rest of the way. As the course wound through the streets of Pittsburgh, she was entertained by a BLURP from a horn here, the crash of a steel-drum there, and for the final mile, an entire acappella chorus singing 'Rolling In The Deep'. 

The race plan went perfectly: slow for the first half, medium for the next quarter, and speeding up to outkick people at the end. She thought of it as Goldilocks pacing - not too slow, not too fast, just right...And with her finish time, she qualified for the Singapore Olympic Trials*. Best of all, the race photographers managed to snap photos of her between Shot Bloks. 

* There are no Singapore Olympic Trials for the marathon.

In three days I'll be running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, entering completely new territory for me.

- First half marathon for which I explicitly trained, or at least had a mental training plan tucked into one of the dusty drawers in my head. 
- Instant postpartum half-marathon PR. (My silly Type-A self is a little gleeful about this one, not gonna lie.) 
- I've never been to Pittsburgh (PGH native Amy is doing the full marathon and we have plans to meet up for all the food - YUM). 
- This will be my first half marathon in the US. (!)
- The weather forecast changes every time I blink. 

I'll be honest - I hit about 40% of that training plan and 60% was a trainwreck (I haven't done any speedwork or weights in weeks). My primary goal is to give it my best shot, finish happy in about two hours, based on long-run paces, and not blow up. My old half PR is 2:11 and dates back to 2012 because I just haven't run a whole lot of halfs, so I have no clue what to expect. 

I'm seriously flirting with the idea of running sans watch, to get that competitive goal-oriented monkey off my back. Part of me thinks that's radical; the other part of me thinks that's radically daft, to pay good money for a half marathon and then not check the time - what?! Plus I want to know my splits. Plus I neeeeeed my watch in order to be on time to the race start. Argh. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Paddle furiously

The weather's alternately blowing hot and cold. Some parts of the river are still iced over, in the shallows and patches where the undercurrent drags the heat away. The other day I saw a gull walking on water, like an avian miracle, its knobbly knees poking up above the waterline. Then it stepped off the veneer of ice and looked really surprised, like it was thinking, Wait, I have to swim?

I feel like that as a runner. This mild winter has been terrific for running. I'll look at my Garmin and think, surely you're broken, timekeeper, because the numbers on the screen would have been plain old unimaginable in a former life of mine. Easy 4-milers at 9 minutes a mile. Long runs at 9:13. Too easy. It makes me suspicious.

All good things must surely come to an end. The winter spree is over, the cold-weather discount removed from the sticker price. I know full well I'm no fitter than I was before. I don't trust anything, not even myself. I don't dare to hope, knowing how hope is nothing to build a base on.

And so I judge not by the numbers but by the feel of my breath as it rushes through my lungs, the relentless drumming of my heart as I charge over a bridge or up a hill. The ache of my feet afterwards. The heat of blood returning to my numb fingers. Now I have to put in the work I've been putting off these lazy easy months. Now I have to swim.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Looking forward, again

Every year I claim I'm not the sort of person to do New Year's resolutions. Every year I give in to the temptation to make some anyway.

Here's a little look back at a few simple goals for 2015:

1. Produce, love, and look after a healthy, happy baby.

Mission accomplished! He seems to be doing fine... I think I'll keep him.

Hello, squirt!

2. Keep up my work projects and find a job in our new city.

After slacking off enjoying four and a half months of maternity leave, I got right back to work. It's sort of a part-time thing. I'm thinking that this is the year I really ought to try and crack the North American freelance journalism market. It's still a thrill to see my name in print - well, digitally, mostly.

I did not find a job. I'm not too torn up about that at the moment.

3. Reconnect with friends there.

Did I mention that my best friend from college lived here for about five years, and then moved to Maine for her fiance's work this very summer? /weeps
I did reconnect with a couple of friends, and made several new ones. There's an entire subset of friends here who have only ever seen me looking frazzled and dishevelled with a wiggly baby trying to leap out of my arms or eat my glasses.

Also, somewhere along the way, I found a virtual running tribe - one that's not purchased, but that has kind of organically sprung up around me by way of blogs, social media, and fellow (previously) pregnant runners. I don't think it's the sort of thing I could buy anyway - it has to be earned, by reaching out, taking some emotional risks, trusting people. When you reduce that sort of social interaction to a financial transaction (buy your way into the club! get a t-shirt!) the expectations and atmosphere just seem...different.

But I really would like some local running friends for long runs. Now taking applications...must like early wake-up calls. 

4. Slowly ease back into running by the end of the year; do at least one postpartum race of any distance.

At least one? Try 'just one': the Somerville Road Runners Race to the Row 5K. New (only) post-baby PR! Benchmark set! I finally know my speedwork paces!

It's been a hairy rollercoaster ride, though. I eased back into running and then fell off that wagon, clambered up on it again, fell back out, and ended the year clinging on to the wagon wheel for dear life as it thundered uncontrollably down a rocky, overgrown trail. I think I ran 11 miles the whole of last week. I might have run 11 miles the whole of the previous month, due to travel, work, sickness* and sleep deprivation.

*You get a cold! And you get a cold! And the baby gets a cold! Everyone gets a cold!

5. Complete my Coursera data science specialisation work, and actually practice it. 

Gulp. I have definitely been slacking off on this. Oops. The less said the better.

6. Learn to make something that isn't food. 

I made this Christmas tree from painter's tape and washi tape! Does that count? When you live in 400 square feet of grad student family housing and have no room for a tree... #tinyapartmentlife

Well, GC, what about 2016? 

Funny you should ask, I was just thinking about that.

Pittsburgh Half Marathon training is under way. This past week I've run thrice for a total of 11 miles. This morning I did a little speed workout concocted by the coach for my running group - sadly, the sessions coincide precisely with putting-the-baby-to-bed-time, and after that I tend to conk out, and I have never been a nighttime runner anyway. But what works for me right now is doing the set on my own. I don't have to overthink what I'm going to do. I don't have to make a plan to stick to. All I have to do is show up with the set written down and do it. That and convert treadmill mile measurements to meters in my head.

I'm cobbling together my own common-sense training plan. Speed Mondays. Easy 6 miles Tuesdays. Rest Wednesday. Tempo Thursday. Easy 3-5 or cross-training Fridays. Long run Saturdays. Rest Sundays.

At the end of a hard race I often tell myself, you can do anything for a minute. Why shouldn't the same apply to the scut-work of training, the stuff I personally find most tedious? Especially if it makes the difference between injured and healthy. You can do anything for a minute. Even if I have the attention span of a gerbil, I can commit to two minutes a side of hip/glute strength exercises after each run...one minute at a time. I can commit to two minutes of stretching...one minute at a time. You can do anything for a minute.

If Pittsburgh goes well - and that's a rather big if! - I'm eyeing the Baystate Marathon in October, which I hear is pretty well-organised. And I like to shop local.

Meanwhile. I have a friend who is remarkably talented in all kinds of ways, from running really, really fast to taking gorgeous trail photos. Recently she posted a photo of her New Year's treat to herself: a long, beautiful trail run. It reminded me to treat running as a reward - not a chore. Not even if I have to take an hour out of a day that's so busy I'm losing my mind. It's never a chore; it's never been a chore; it's a treat to myself, isn't it?

And those are my two main things in store this year. I'm looking forward to it.