dog days

My summer running season began the second I crossed the finish line at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon this May. After three hours and twenty-six minutes of giving everything I had to give, I was a wreck but fortunately not wrecked. I’ve learned the hard way that I have a bad habit of pushing myself one run too far and paying for it with an injury.  I planned, even before the race, to take time off for recovery. I would let my body tell me when it was time to come back. But my mind had a different idea.

Now, ten weeks later, I’m still having trouble getting back into my groove. My performance is ok and I’m not hurt, but dragging myself out of bed to go for my morning run is a big change from waking up ready to seize the day. Some mornings I turn off my alarm and convince myself to make it up later in the week. When I don’t run, I get stuck in traffic, doubling my commute. After a long drive to work with no run to loosen up, I start the day stiff and get home even stiffer.

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The American Tobacco Trail, Durham, NC: miles of forest and fresh air.

In retrospect, I spent over a year preparing for my race. I ran M2B in 2016 and crashed hard at mile 19. I was hoping to BQ and ended up missing the cut off by over twenty minutes. I vowed to return in 2017 and make my time. I turned my failure into motivation and a twenty-minute improvement became a gigantic goal. I lit a fire that continued to burn through my recovery, base building, training, and the race. When I finished, successfully, my year of motivation and hard work ended, instantly. I was left asking, “now what?”

My first week back was a smooth one since I put together my initial recovery plan before the marathon. The day after the race, I forced myself to walk. Just a mile or two at first, and eventually three miles by the end of the week. The movement helped untie the knots I felt through most of my body. One week later, I attempted a five-mile run and survived.

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Scrappy’s Peak, Griffith Park, CA.

In June, I focused on consistency regardless of pace or distance. I built my weekly volume to 25 miles and ran, with a little walking, three to five days a week. I tried a ten-miler but dialed back when I felt soreness deep in my quads. July was solid. I attempted to return to a routine. I ran consistently, hit my weekly mileage targets (40-45), and resumed my Saturday long runs. My final long run of the month was fourteen miles, pushing my weekly total to forty-seven. By the numbers, I was ready to begin a new training cycle.

At the same time, I was still suffering from a general lack of motivation. I expected some post-marathon blahs, but I was still having trouble getting up in the mornings and not looking forward to my runs. Usually, if I stay consistent and push through, my enthusiasm returns. But after eight weeks, nothing had clicked and I knew that I needed more work on my mental recovery. I kept to a schedule, continued grinding out my runs, and hoped that through daily repetition I would return to form.

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Blufftop Trail, Palos Verdes, CA.

I tried mixing up my runs. A work trip to North Carolina helped, especially since I stayed next to the American Tobacco Trail. Two mornings spent in the woods cleared my head and gave me a massive hit of fresh air.  When I returned to Los Angeles, I made sure to spend time running in our woods, Griffith Park, a much drier and browner experience. And I took to the Palos Verdes Bluffs for some of my long runs.

Last weekend, I ran “The Hills Are Alive,” 10K trail race. I planned it to bookend to my summer recovery. What’s nice about the race is that it is a fun run with no timing chips. With a dusty, hilly course, there’s not much of a chance to PR and a very friendly atmosphere. I ran well enough to top my time from last year and to feel optimistic for the fall season.

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Los Angeles River, flat and fast.

This week, I began training for the Manhattan Beach 10K and Palos Verdes Half Marathon. I ran my first speed workout: 5×1 minute repeats in the middle of a nine-mile run. I had not run repeats or a tempo run since May and I was not looking forward to the workout. I survived. In fact, it felt good to wake up my fast-running muscles. Later that day, I realized I was back to normal.  The summer grind added up to slow and steady progress. Coming back was not sexy- it took consistency, dedication and a lot of sweat. Now I’m ready for the fall. Time to focus on training and to set new goals.

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beach run with a kick

surf_festival_logoThe International Surf Festival Dick Fitzgerald 2-Mile Beach Run: that’s quite a mouthful for such a short race. I normally wouldn’t think to enter a two miler, except the event benefited my son’s high school cross-country team. In a show of support, I registered.coursemapThe Beach Run is an out-and-back that starts at the Hermosa Beach Pier, heads north to the Longfellow lifeguard tower, then doubles back to the start. With mile one in dry sand, and mile two in the surf, the course is uniquely challenging. Since it was such a short race, I decided to leave my training schedule intact and include the Beach Run as part of my Saturday long-run. I did not prepare or taper, and decided to race at my tempo effort.

Over 200 runners lined up for the start. Weather conditions were good, slightly overcast, not too hot. We set off at eight o’clock sharp, and that’s when my troubles began. My feet sank into the sand after every step and the loose footing prevented me from finding any rhythm. I had hoped to begin at my tempo pace- just under a 7:00 minute mile- but was already laboring. I checked my watch to make sure I did not go out too fast and it read 9:30. Crap. I had only covered a quarter mile. Double crap. The race was quickly becoming a salvage effort.start01With my shoes full of sand, I zig-zagged and stumbled to Longfellow, made the turn, and sprinted to the firmer wet sand. My feet found a bit of purchase and I began to recover. Unfortunately, the tide was in making the beach slope toward the ocean.  I was not aware of veering seaward until the first wave hit me, soaking my sand filled shoes. I course corrected but not before running into two more waves.DFBR_pace_blueOnly a half mile remained, and thankfully the race was about to end. I found myself running alone, in front of the pack but behind the runners who were better prepared to run on sand. I noticed only one person ahead of me but I was unsure if he was in striking distance. I decided to find out. Despite my earlier exertions, the short course left me with enough energy to kick. I began to close the gap. It was going to be a close finish, too close to call.

The last 100 yards were some of the most thrilling I’ve ever run. I had a chance to catch him, and it would go down to the wire. I didn’t realize until after the race that my opponent had the same name as me. His friends were cheering him so I heard, “C’mon John! Go! SPRINT!” That supplied the last bit of inspiration, and I surged and passed the other John inches before the finish line. It was electric. Never mind my overall poor race, all I could think about was the finish. My legs felt like they woke up and days later they still had some spring.

 

Turns out that John number two did all right. He placed first in his age group, a decade above mine. I came in 18th overall and fifth in my group. I ran my slowest race mile ever but also recorded my biggest negative split. If I race next year, I’ll need to practice running in the sand and maybe running barefoot. There’s a lot of room to improve my time but it will be tough to top this year’s finish.