Still Running Long

running until i can't


Training Update: Weeks Seven & Eight

At the beginning of week seven, the ground was still largely uncovered by snow. There were a few patches here and there from some scattered small storms we had had, but nothing significant. This isn’t to say that winter hadn’t arrived. Most days in January had been cold, some of them bitterly. But the ground was bare.

By the end of week eight, I was running closer into the center of the streets, pushed there by three feet of snow that lay on the ground. Piles at corners and intersections had reached 8 and 10 feet, making it difficult to see and be seen. And it seemed like new snow was coming down just about every day, slowing down my pace, raising my heart rate, and making footing unsure.

I run for that feeling of flow that comes about during some, but not all runs, when everything seems to meshing perfectly together. My entire body–feet legs, arms, back–along with my breath and all of the outside world. Seamless. One. It’s more difficult to get there when the drivers are brushing just past you on the much narrower road (half of them exasperated to see you there to begin with). But it still happens, every once in a while, if you just keep running.

Week Seven & Eight: I won’t try to go day-by-day through two weeks. I began week seven anticipating the long run that was to conclude it. Eighteen miles, my longest since hip surgery, and probably even since my 2003 knee surgery. I started the week with my usual 8 miles on Tuesday, but took a much flatter route. In part, this was to make sure my heart rate was all the way settled back after my elevated runs a few weeks back. And it was. The other reason was to prepare for this 18, to make sure there was something in the tank by the end of the week.

By the time the week got too far, it became clear that Saturday would not be a good day for 18. The forecast for snow started looking more and more menacing, so I moved the my long run to Friday. This meant two days of running after that run, instead of my usual recovery run and then rest day. But the Friday was beautiful and it felt like a good move.

Screenshot 2015-02-07 20.54.27

By the time Monday and Week Eight rolled around, though, it became clear that Tuesday of that week would be lost to an even bigger storm. So that meant a fourth consecutive day. Which all felt fine. Until the middle of Week Eight, when it was clear that stretch had dipped a bit too far into my reserves. But Week Eight was a low-intensity week, which allowed me to get my 36 miles in over four days instead of five, and build in a double rest day.

A few months ago, I would have felt like a double-rest day was cheating. Now I know what it means to my body, how my body uses that rest to get stronger. So I loved it… And finished the week with a just about 15 miler.

Where I did something pretty dumb. I wore a brand new pair of shoes. Exact same model, but still a brand new pair. I know. I know. I really do. But I couldn’t help myself (separate shoe post to come…). And ended up with a decent amount of soreness on my right foot, at the end of a week when I should have been feeling re-charged and ready. I know.

Eats & Drinks: Tailwind! I finally got over to our local running & triathlon store and picked up some Tailwind, which I had used a few times in Costa Rica. I love this stuff. It tastes good, it has a nice high sodium content, and it just, for lack of a better explanation, feels simple in my body. I used it on my 18 miler. Even though part of their pitch is that it is all you need, I also took along some Honey Stinger Chews. I feel like every once in a while, I need something to actually chew. Plus if all I do is drink? I mean, I have to pull over on the side of the road often enough as it is…The combination was fantastic.

Milestones (All post-hip surgery, April 2011):

  • Longest run: 18.2 miles
  • Highest mileage week: 44.2 miles
  • Fastest pace on a 12+ mile run: 8:45 min/mile

Next Week’s Targets: Run the same 18 mile loop, but in a higher mileage week. I’ll kick the Tuesday hills up to 10 miles and hope to top 45 miles.

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Training Update: Week Six

I started week six mostly worried, yet anxious to get going after two consecutive days without running. I had taken those two days after my heart rate had been spiked (well, hovering too high, anyway) during my aborted long run the Saturday before.

It was a tough two days. Just waiting, essentially, to see what would happen when I hit the pavement again. When I reached the end of my street and looked down at my watch, what would I see? Would I see the same elevated number as Saturday? Or something more normal?

Sometimes I catch myself thinking that, as a Zen student, I shouldn’t worry so much about this. My heart rate is my heart rate. Zen isn’t about always being calm, as is the popular conception; it’s about a basic friendliness with whatever arises. It’s about accepting anxiety when it is present, and not looking for it when it isn’t there.

There’s a sign on the wall just outside the zendo in our Temple that says (in Japanese), No Merit. And yet much of my fear about my heart rate last week was connected to achievement. I want to see things unfold in a certain way. And, for a time, they were unfolding in decidedly the opposite direction. Which made the basic friendliness difficult. But that, too, is something I can accept, something I can sit with. Or run with.

Week Six: I’m kind of surprised, in retrospect, that I didn’t begin the week with something easier, but I went out Tuesday for 8 miles of hills, and ramped up to my lactate threshold on repeats of the last one. It was bitterly cold and the streets were icy. But it was good to be out. And, yes, my heart rate was lower than Saturday. Not glance-at-my-watch-and-laugh low, but it felt like it was moving in the right direction.

Screenshot 2015-01-21 20.05.28

Wednesday was my typical recovery run. I wrote in my training log when I finished, Mostly meh. There was nothing wrong with the run, but I still had to stay fairly slow to keep my heart at a recovery rate. I kept thinking to myself, well, it’s better, but it isn’t all the way better.

I decided not to do any speed work on Thursday and just have an easy six. It was incrementally better. But I found myself anxious for my rest day, hopeful that it could move me another step closer to being back.

As the weekend approached, I watched the weather closely. The forecast high for Saturday was 13 degrees, while Sunday was supposed to be 33 and raining. Which would I rather run sixteen miles in?

I went for Saturday, and was so glad I did. The temperature managed to climb to 16, and the sun was bright, the air clear and dry. I left my hydration pack behind (it would just freeze anyway), layered up, and headed out. It was a this-is-why-I-run type of run. I felt like my performance wasn’t quite where I wanted still, but it was quiet on the streets, and the air felt, well, pure.

I wrapped up the week, as usual with a Sunday recovery run. I really had trouble getting going the first few miles, and ended up even slower than my Wednesday run. It was just about as slow as my all-time low-point when I had a dark and horrible morning recovery run in December. I could have been terribly discouraged, based on everything since the aborted long run, but somehow I wasn’t. It’s just the effects of yesterday’s sixteen, I told myself. And a rest day to follow.

Eats & Drinks: As I noted above, this week’s experiment was with not eating and drinking on my sixteen-miler. I made it fine and was well hydrated, but I could feel the lack of energy in my legs for the last couple of miles. It felt like a good learning experience that didn’t do me any harm.


  • Tied longest post-hip surgery (April 2011) run: 16.2 miles

Next Week’s Targets: Finding out if I really am all the way back. Oh, and a new longest run (post-hip surgery) of eighteen miles, wrapped into what should also be my highest mileage week (p.h.s., and perhaps even post-knee surgery (April 2003).


Training Update: Week Five [Ups & Downs]

I’m late on week five. I think it’s because I didn’t really want to talk about it.

It started as the best week in a long, long time. It ended with me wishing that the whole thing had never happened.

The beginning? Phoenix. I traveled out there for work on Sunday, just a couple of hours after the Sunday recovery run of my low-intensity week. Looking at a map of the area around my hotel before I flew out, I noticed a mountain park only a mile-and-a-half away. As far as I could tell, that park included trails. For someone who lives in the east and runs mostly on roads–but is always reading about glorious western trail running…well, I was excited to get there.

IMG_0515So, Monday morning, I headed out early for a run. Early on the day that is normally my rest day. Early on the day after I had had a long flight and gotten to bed very late, never mind the time change.

Man, was I thrilled. I had a chance to watch the sun rise from the top of Phoenix. I had the chance to push myself up and then down technical trails. A whole different running experience for me. All of it in dry warmth in the middle of January.

So I did it again on Tuesday. And then, for some reason, I got up early on Wednesday, too, to run on the hotel treadmill before my early flight. The forecast for home on Thursday looked brutally cold, so I thought I’d shoot for that as a day off.

Back home on Friday, the snow was coming down and I wasn’t looking forward to sharing the roads with all that snow and drivers trying to avoid it.

Inspired by my western trail adventures, I headed for some trails in town. I hadn’t run them much before, and never in the winter, but it seemed a perfect day for it. And, while I was out there, it was perfect. The snow and the trail itself made a little bit higher intensity than I was looking for, but it was beautiful. Peaceful.

And then it all fell apart.

I headed out Saturday morning for my planned 14 mile long run. By the time I hit the end of our street, a little more than a tenth of a mile, I knew I wasn’t right. My heart rate was already pushing 140, where usually it’s no higher than the high 120’s. As I ran up the first gentle hill, I had to go slower and slower to keep my heart rate down. A mile in, and I knew I’d be turning left at the first opportunity, making this a five-mile recovery run instead of a fourteen mile long run.

never cut runs short.

I knew also that it didn’t make sense to run the next day, and with a gymnastics tournament for my daughter, I wouldn’t be able to fit it in anyway. Combine that with my usual Monday off, and I would have two days to recover.

I kept thinking about those amazing Phoenix climbs, how I made them a part of five days of consecutive running–something I’ve done only once before. What else could have fatigued me to bring this on? That trail run in the snow in the same week, meaning no easy runs in the week, probably didn’t help.

And I knew I had two days to think about it.

Screenshot 2015-01-16 20.19.15

nothing long about that…

Eats & Drinks: I had taken my hand-held bottle on the aborted long run, trying to get a feel for running with it, assuming that is what I’ll use for any ultra I run. The five miles it went didn’t quite constitute a test.


  • Climb in a two-day period: 1831 feet (I had to find something)

Next Week’s Targets: Really, just getting back on track. Running forty miles at decent, recovered, lower heart rates, with a sixteen mile long run.

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Training Update: Week Four

Week four took a lot of discipline. Not because I was taking a step up, or because the weather was horrible (though the weather did have its moments). No, the complicated part was intentionally taking a step back.

I loved the previous three weeks of my training–each week taking a step up in total mileage and distance of the long run, topping out a psychologically important more-than-forty-miles. But week four was a planned pause in that progression, an opportunity for my body to step back and recover. The idea was to cut back about 20% on the total and bring the long run back down to twelve miles.

Did I mention it was difficult? Two things stood out especially. Without a new target, a new milestone, the week felt, well, boring. Sure, I enjoyed some of the runs for their own sake. But I missed the feeling of stepping up, stepping forward. The other was that I actually felt more sluggish on most of my mid-week runs. This could easily mean that the lower-intensity week was perfectly placed in my training calendar. Or it could have all been in my head. But I felt like I was pulling myself around the loop sometimes.

Week Four: There’s not too much to tell about week four specifically. I swapped out my Tuesday hills for a run-of-the-mill five miles. I was pretty quick around the loop, clocking an 8:39 pace in my regular low heart rate zone (about 75% of maximum). That’s a significant improvement even of the last few weeks.

Screenshot 2015-01-07 18.49.29

Wednesday was New Year’s Day and a little more fun. My son again came with me on a brief run after I had finished my own. It was cold and very blustery that day, and I was worried he wouldn’t want to join me. As we were getting his shoes on, he said, “Can we do one that is shorter than last time?” Sure, I told him, whatever you would like. As soon as we hit the pavement, though, his smile grew. “Actually, maybe we can do longer,” he suggested. So we ran just under a mile-and-a-half together.

By Thursday I felt like I was losing a batter with the wind. I ran a decent clip again (8:33 for a 75% heart rate run), but the constant wind simply made it feel like I was running without any rhythm. It was as if, between the feeling of my body, my effort, and the road, everything was garbled. So it felt a little bit like putting in miles.

Saturday’s long run was day one of evidence that you can’t trust hourly weather forecasts. The 18 degrees when I left was supposed to be pushing 28, but I’m not sure it got a single degree warmer over the twelve miles, even as the sun managed to get a little bit higher. The run itself was simply…normal, though it was twelve miles almost nine minutes faster as when I ran the same route on my birthday three months back.

To wrap up the week, Sunday was a slog-fest and day two of why you can’t trust hourly forecasts. I awoke with an afternoon plane to catch (running in Phoenix to feature in next week’s update…) and so a small window for running in my last five miles of the week. While 10 am would have been ideal for our family’s schedule, the forecast said it would be raining hard at that time (after having snowed much of the night). So, I looked outside at about 7:45 and saw no precipitation. I looked inside at the forecast and saw only a 10% chance for that hour. I dashed outside.

I think I made it about an eighth of a mile before the freezing rain started. Then the snow mixed in, than the ice. And, really, it didn’t stop. But I didn’t either, and I think that might just be as miserable as it can get.

(Of course, at 10 am, the skies were clearing…)

Eats & Drinks: With travel coming, I was too busy to make it to the shop and stock up on anything. So let’s say it was a test of running without any fueling.

Milestones: Just one for the low-intensity week:

  • Longest run with my seven-year old boy: 1.41 miles

Next Week’s Targets: I’m excited about week five. One reason is that my total mileage will tick back up; my long run will still be only 14, so this will mean raising the mileage bar on some of the mid-week runs. The other reason, and really a much bigger one, is that my first runs of the week will take place in Phoenix, Arizona, and include technical mountain trails. I never get have this experience, to run this way, and am always reading about ultra runners I admire tackling this kind of terrain. I can’t wait to see what I find out about myself.


Training Update: Week Three

The best run of this week came at the very end. And despite my desire to run long, it was also the shortest run of the week; a mile-and-a-quarter to be exact. I had just returned from my Sunday recovery run when my seven-year old asked me to go for a run with him.

I love watching him run. He has beautiful form, such a still upper body and effortless gait. But perhaps I’m biased to see those things.

Anyway, we headed out in what was a cold drizzle. I asked him if he wanted to go a little bit farther than the nearly one mile loop we sometimes do; he laughed and skipped in response. So we ran to the Common and then halfway down one of the bigger hills leading up to the old town center. Of course, that then meant running back up the hill, which he did just as easily. And just like I wrote about myself last week, he was laughing a lot of the way.

Week Three: Week Three was a fun week. I wasn’t sure it was going to be as I watched the forecast. December has been warmer than usual in New England, but also much wetter and persistently overcast. It has felt like a twilight that lasted for weeks. My usual mid-week stretch was predicted to be wet, wet, wet. And, really, it was. But I’m really trying (borrowing from my Zen practice) to sink in to whatever the weather offers and have that be my run.

I found a few amazing runs in that rain; each day offered something different. On the Tuesday hills, I felt stronger than the week before, despite going just a little bit harder on the final repeats. On my Wednesday recovery run, I matched my fastest pace for a recovery run. I know pace isn’t the object on those runs, but it is exciting to see it rise as I keep my heart rate low–or even move it lower.

And then there was the Christmas Miracle run. I don’t believe in Christmas miracles, per se, but how else can I explain an 8:22 pace on an easy-effort run? Back before I started my low-heart rate (LHR) training, that’s the pace I would run at for a typical run, except then my heart rate then would have been anywhere from ten to fifteen beats higher. When I first started LHR training, my pace when keeping my heart rate under 139 was close to 10:00 minute miles. And now, at least for one run, 8:22. It is still hard to believe; I’m trying to avoid wishing I had discovered it sooner…

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.29.28

The week ended with a long run of just over 16 miles, a new distance record for me post-hip surgery (April 2011). The best part, really, is that those 16 felt better than some of my 12 mile runs from a few months back, especially in how my knees and hips are dealing with the downhill pounding of the roads. In contrast to the mid-week runs, it was a gorgeous day with early morning sunshine following me for most of those miles.

Eats & Drinks: Nothing truly new and different this week. I did take Gatorade (yup, old school Gatorade) on my long run in case it’s my only option sometime in the future. What I am most anxious to try is Tailwind. I used it in Costa Rica and loved it; I’m hoping my local shop carries the larger sizes and I can get some in the next couple of weeks.

Milestones: A good week for milestones (all of which are post-April 2011, post-hip surgery):

  • Longest run: 16.3 miles
  • Longest time on my feet for a single run: 2:27:11
  • Most miles in a five day week: 41.7
  • And, of course, an all-time milestone, my longest run with my seven-year old boy: 1.24 miles

Next Week’s Targets: This coming week is a down week in my training plan, another milestone in resting. After ramping up each of the last three weeks, I’ll ratchet the mileage down by about 20%, shooting for 33 or 34 miles. This will be done by replacing the middle distance hill run on Tuesday with a vanilla 5 miles, and my bringing the long run on Saturday down to 12 miles. I can’t wait to see how strong I feel after that


Training Update: Week Two

Every once in a while when I am running, I start laughing out loud. I had a moment like that on Sunday, nearing the end of my recovery run. I glanced down at my GPS watch as I headed up a short, but steep, little pop of a hill. I expected to see my heart rate creeping up to or past where I’d want it for a recovery run, as I was moving pretty well up the hill. Instead, I saw the number 129. My heart rate was 129.

I’ve written before about my move to lower heart rate running, and whether I should move my top end for low-rate training down from 139 to 138. And here I was staring at 129. I laughed out loud. I can actually see my body getting stronger and fitter in my early forties. Running and laughing out loud.

Week Two: Week two contained a companion moment for the one described above. It was on the same route and the same type of run, my Wednesday recovery run; this time, though, I wondered if my fitness was falling apart. It was 6:00 in the morning, pouring rain and pitch dark. I was struggling. I couldn’t find a rhythm. Whenever I managed a glance at my watch through the rain and dark, I couldn’t believe how slow my pace was and how easily my heart rate kept spiking over my target. I finished the run and wrote in my training log that I’d just as soon forget it had every happened. My pace was a hair over 10:00 minute miles, by far the slowest I had ever run anything. I couldn’t wait to get out the next day, just to change the feeling of the week.

Screenshot 2014-12-21 22.03.05I added a few elements to the week that I hope to carry through my ultra training. It’s generally fairly hilly where I live, or at least I think of it that way. But compared to courses like the Pineland Trails 50k or the Vermont 50 Miler, it doesn’t quite cut it for course-specific training. So I built in a Tuesday run that brings me over a few hills in the area and finishes on a good one near home where I can do some repeats. I got just under 1000ft of vertical in. Next week I’ll have to do one more repeat…

The other addition was just the smallest bit of tempo work, a little bit less than two miles in the middle of my Thursday run. The real change is thinking of my tempo pace at just under 90% of my max heart rate, whereas before I had used something around 80% as my tempo target. After so many months of mostly lower heart rate running, it felt good to let it fly a little bit.

The week ended with a long run of just over 14 miles and the recovery run that had me laughing. I enjoyed the long run, especially the ten minutes or so of sunshine I got at the beginning of it. I felt fluid for the duration, and my hip and knees felt strong the whole way, in contrast to the last time I ran most of this route and had soreness from around mile nine. As a weekend pair of runs go, well, it had me smiling and, yes, laughing.

Eats & Drinks: In trying new things on my long runs to eventually use in races, my new one this week was Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews. They went down and stayed down just fine. Heck, any chance to eat sugar (which I don’t in my normal diet) is a treat. I also determined this week that I really don’t like Hammer HEED. I do fine with maltodextrin, but there’s just something about the flavor that doesn’t work for me. I can cross it off my list.

Milestones: None this week. Unless I count “highest elevation gain in a non-Costa Rica week.”

Next Week’s Targets: A 16-mile long run will be my longest post-hip surgery.

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Training Update: Tropical Week, Rest Week and Week Zero

Fall has so quickly turned to winter here, with a cold November bringing a white Thanksgiving and some tricky footing on the roads.

Tropical Week

I spent a portion of November, though, far from that New England cold, running in Costa Rica. It wasn’t a trip just to run but when work brought me close to the equator for nearly a week, running was one of the things I was most excited about.

Before I left, I imagined soft breezes and beautiful sunshine carrying me for effortless miles…and instead found a fair amount of struggle running in the early morning heat and thick, humid air. It’s just as humid in New England in summer, but somehow this felt really challenging, and I could barely manage any low heart rate miles, my rate spiking fairly easily.

Screenshot 2014-12-09 20.56.54

And that was only halfway up!

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I loved the feeling of a hard sweat on a hot day, and not gearing up for winter before heading out was a real treat. And then there were the hills. Now, I live in fairly hilly area in Massachusetts. But in Costa Rica, I found a hill.

With gradients as steep as 49%, I probably shouldn’t have run this more than once…but I kept going back to it, trying to be faster each day. I suppose it’s a good thing I was only in Costa Rica for a week.

Rest Week

I’ve written before about the difficulty of taking rest days, and yet the growing appreciation that I have for them. As I looked to map out a training schedule for a spring 50k, I realized that I might have an opportunity for a little bit more extended rest.

I’ve often read about elite runners who take several weeks, even months off, from running after the end of a season. I decided that when I returned from Costa Rica, I would take one week off from running. I could rest my forty-something year-old joints and maybe given my muscles and heart time to reap the benefits of a solid six months of low heart-rate work.

I almost managed to pull it off. In the week after I returned, I ran only 3 times in a period of ten days, for a total of just under 14 miles.

I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like not running. And I really didn’t like when I started running again. My body felt stiff and out of sorts, and I didn’t immediately feel like my heart had benefitted. I feared that I had thrown some of my training away. The whole week after my rest week was a bit of a slog through 34 underwhelming miles.

Week Zero

And then I hit the week zero. Two weeks after my rest week, I set a schedule that was roughly equivalent to week one of my 50k program. I wanted to see if I was back from the rest week, if I could find a rhythm again.

And I sure did. It was a week filled with runs where I felt fresh. Runs where I kept looking at my watch and couldn’t believe the pace I was maintaining at such low heart rates.

I finished the week with a not-very-long run of 10 miles over my One Hill course. When I hit the bottom of the hill, about three miles from home, I accelerated. Or, at least I let my heart rate rise to take the hill.

When I got to the top, I didn’t slow down. I kept the pace and the cadence up, running at paces in the 6’s and 7’s that I hadn’t sustained in a long time (only touching them in downhill trainings). And it felt fantastic. It felt like I could have done the whole loop again.

And so I find myself a day into Week One, week One of my formal ultra training program. I’m already questioning the wisdom of not belonging to a health club as I look at the week’s forecast of icy rain and snow. But that will only make me stronger in the end.

That’s what I’m telling myself.