Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Scorecard

January was like a roller-coaster, both physically and emotionally.  I started the month injured.  I had a minor hamstring strain, and I was also recovering from the wear and tear of running 100 miles at the Across the Years 48-Hour Run.  Then I came down with a cold.

For the next week, training was difficult.  My left hamstring forced me to run much slower than usual, and my cold left me too tired to run very far at a time.  To keep up my mileage, I sometimes did a short run in the morning and another short run in the late afternoon.  It wasn’t quality training, but it was something.

My first two races of the month were a weekend double.  I ran the Mississippi Blues Marathon on January 10 and the First Light Marathon on January 11.  I wouldn’t normally schedule a double so soon after a 48-hour run, but it was the annual reunion for Marathon Maniacs.  I knew I wasn’t 100 percent, so I set conservative goals.  My goal was to run each race under four hours.  I finished Mississippi Blues in 3:40:55 and First Light in 3:51:46.  I was happy with those times under the circumstances.  More importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many friends at both races.

The next week, my training improved slightly.  I had one run where I briefly got up to my normal race pace.  Eight minute miles still felt way too fast to sustain for a more than about a mile, though.  My longest training run that week was 5.25 miles, but I had two days with both morning and afternoon runs.

On January 18, I ran Marathon Bahamas.  This was another reunion race.  This time it was the annual meeting of Marathon Globetrotters.  It was pretty cool to recognize every fifth runner at a race in a foreign country.  I was over my cold and ready to attempt a fast time.  I was now defining 3:30 as fast.  Knowing temperatures would be in the 70s from the start, I considered breaking 3:30 to be a long shot, but I was determined to try.  I surprised myself by sustaining my pace through the second half of the race, even as the temperature was climbing.  I was rewarded for my effort with a time of 3:29:08, good for a top 10 finish and first place in my age group.

In the week that followed, I finally had a 10 mile training run.  I also had two workouts that included a few miles that were faster than my marathon race pace.  I also added a few small hills.  Quality was gradually returning to my workouts, but I longed for the days when I could effortlessly run eight minute miles for 10 or more miles.

My last race of the month was the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon on January 25.  This is a flat course, and the temperature was nearly ideal.  After running 3:29:08 in the Bahamas, I expected to do at least as well in New Orleans.  I didn’t.  I faded badly in the late miles, finishing in 3:31:48.  I probably wasn’t recovered from my all-out effort a week earlier.  It was disappointing to be slower than 3:30 in such an easy race.  That left me feeling discouraged about my current fitness.

This week, I had four quality workouts.  Only one was my customary 10 miles, but two were faster than race pace, and the other two included hills.  I may have overdone it in my last workout.  I was using the treadmill to simulate one of the long hills of the Comrades Marathon.  I tried to take the whole hill at an 8:00 pace.  After three quarters of a mile, I backed off to an 8:30 pace, but that was still somewhat intense.  Last night I woke up at 2:30 and never got back to sleep.  I felt wired.  That may be a symptom of over-training.

Today is a rest day, but I have a race tomorrow.  It’s another flat race, where I’ve run as fast as 3:09 in the past.  I’m hoping I didn’t sabotage my race by overdoing it yesterday.  I’ll be disappointed if I have times slower than 3:30 two weeks in a row in races that are tailor-made for fast times.

Including the races, I ran 205 miles in January.  That’s down sharply from recent months, but it’s actually the most miles I’ve ever run in January.  I have a habit of finishing the year banged up and starting slowly the next year.  I’m happy with my mileage.  I established some consistency, running at least 50 miles each week.  From here, I plan to ramp back up gradually.  Hopefully, the quality of my workouts will also keep improving.

My hamstring is no longer inflamed, but it’s still tight.  Improving my flexibility will take time.  In the meantime, I have to train somewhat cautiously.  It’s a balancing act.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Weigh-in Wednesday: 1-28-15

Primum no nocere” is a latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.”  It’s one of the precepts of bioethics.  It’s also how I’ve viewed my diet lately.

My dietary habits tend to be schizophrenic.  When I’m at home, I eat a vegan diet.  I keep track of what I eat, I count calories, and I make sure I’m getting enough of certain nutrients.  When I travel, I’m less strict about what I eat, and I don’t keep track of how much I eat.  That works if I’m home more than I’m traveling.  Lately, that hasn’t been the case.

This past week I had four “on the road” days and only three “at home” days.  The “on the road” days were in New Orleans, where the food is part of the experience.  My hope was to limit the damage.  I think I succeeded.  On Friday, we had a big restaurant dinner, but didn’t have any lunch (unless you count airline snacks).  On Saturday, we had a big lunch, but had hors d’oeuvres in place of dinner.  On Sunday, we had a big dinner, but it was our only real meal of the day.  Monday would have been fairly restrained, but I slipped into my habit of snacking too much in the evening.

This morning, I weighed in at 120.2 pounds.  That’s only a fraction higher than the 119.8 pounds I weighed last week.  Under the circumstances, I'm happy with that.

The last three weeks have included one international trip and two longer trips, where I was away from home for more than two nights.  During that time, I had a net loss of 0.4 pounds.  That’s about the best I could hope for.  For the next two months, I don’t have any more trips that are longer than two nights.  I also don’t have any international trips until April.  I weathered the storm.  Now I have a chance to make progress.

Progress comes at home.  The more healthy, low calorie foods I add to my diet, the less I’m tempted to eat fattening foods.  On that note, I’m making more smoothies.  I like to combine unsweetened coconut milk with frozen bananas or berries and then add chia seeds and/or protein powder.

Deb bought a new blender recently.  It has an attachment for making smoothies.  It also has a smoothie program that automatically pulses and varies the speed.

We also found a new protein powder that I really like.  This was a product that we saw at the expo in New Orleans.  It’s a low-fat peanut butter powder.  I’ve started using it in smoothie recipes that call for peanut butter.  It’s easier to measure, and it has fewer calories.  The smoothies still have the same taste and texture.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon

On January 25, I ran the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon.  This was the third time I ran this race.  For Deb, it was her third try at a New Orleans vacation.  Three years ago, we planned to go to New Orleans together, but Deb had to cancel at the last minute.  We went to New Orleans together last year, but Deb got sick in the middle of the trip and had to stay at the hotel for the next day and a half.

This is one of my favorite races.  I like the course; I always see a few friends here; and New Orleans is a nice place for a mid-winter vacation.  Last year, Deb and I took a city tour on the first day of our trip, but had to interrupt our plans the next day when Deb got sick.  This year, we picked up where we left off.

We had a non-stop flight, arriving in New Orleans Friday afternoon.  We stayed at the Hilton Riverside, which is centrally located between the convention center, the start of the race, and the French Quarter.  Everything was within walking distance, so we didn’t need a car.

The Hilton was the host hotel for the marathon, so we were able to get a discounted room rate.  Sometimes I can get room upgrades at Hilton when I check in.  They didn’t have any executive room available, but we did get a room with a river view.

After checking in, we walked to the expo at the New Orleans Convention Center.  Doing packet pick-up on Friday freed up the rest of our trip for shopping, dining and sight-seeing.  Although the convention center and the French Quarter were both within a mile of the Hilton, they were in opposite directions.  Neither of us got enough sleep Thursday night, so we were both tired.  After the expo, we stayed in the downtown area for dinner and went to bed early.

Saturday, after having breakfast at the Hilton, we walked into the French Quarter.  To me, the French Quarter never gets old.  Maybe it’s because it’s always lively.  Maybe it’s because it feels like visiting a European city.  Maybe it’s because Deb loves shopping at French Market.  Or it could be that we really like stopping at Café du Monde for beignets.

We spent the morning shopping and looking at the artwork around Jackson Square.  Then we went shopping at French Market.  After a not-so-nutritious lunch of beignets and hot cocoa at Café du Monde, we took a carriage tour of the French Quarter.

Our tour included a stop at St. Louis Cemetery No.1, the oldest cemetery in the city.  After walking alongside the river, we went shopping at Riverwalk.  Riverwalk is a fairly new mall that’s connected to the Hilton.

After spending all morning and afternoon on our feet, we both had sore legs and tired feet.  We spent the evening at the hotel and organized our clothes for the race.

The race was on Sunday.  Deb was volunteering in the start area, so we both had to be up early.  The starting line was about five blocks from the Hilton.  The race didn’t start until 7:30, but Deb had to be there at 5:30 to check in for her volunteer shift.  I got up shortly after Deb left.

It was about 46 degrees, but it was a little bit windy, so I waited until closer to the start before leaving the hotel.  I allowed about 45 minutes to walk to the start, check a gear bag and get to my start corral.  Half an hour would have been plenty.

I wore the same Mardi Gras mask, hat and beads that I wore last year.  I resisted the temptation to wear tights.  Although there was a cold wind before the race, I knew it would get into the upper 50s by the time I finished.  It was also a sunny day.

My goal was to break 3:30.  That’s my default goal.  While I’m not in peak shape, I felt I should be able to do that in New Orleans, since I did it in tougher weather conditions last week in the Bahamas.

I was in corral 2, which is the same corral where the 3:30 pace group lined up.  As I entered the corral, I saw Deb holding the corral 2 sign.  I knew her volunteer assignment was start corrals, but I didn’t know she would be in my corral.  That was cool.

I started out running next to the 3:30 group, but got ahead of them in some of the early turns as the course wound its way through the downtown area. My first mile was 7:47.  After that, I settled down.  I stayed in front of the 3:30 group, but I was never more than about 30 seconds ahead of them.

The next six miles were an out-and-back through the Garden District.  Right away, we passed a stage with a nice lively jazz band.  That was my favorite music on the course.  Later, there was one block where construction forced us to one side of the street.  By then the packed had thinned out enough that it didn’t seem to cause any noticeable congestion.  On my way back from the turn, I saw some friends who were still on their way out.

After the Garden District, we ran through the Warehouse/Arts District and back through the Central Business District.  This is the easiest place for families staying in the downtown hotels to come out and watch for their runners.

Next, we entered the French Quarter on Peters Street, running past landmarks such as Jackson Square, Café du Monde, and French Market.  At the 10 mile mark, we turned left onto Esplanade, which would take us to City Park.  At this point, I was about 30 seconds ahead of the pace for 3:30, but I was having to work harder to maintain the pace.

Around 12.5 miles, the marathon and half marathon courses split.  The marathon course turns left, while the half marathon proceeds straight toward the finish in City Park.  Just before the split, I saw two guy in costumes standing on the median to our right.  I remembered them from last year.  They were handing out Jell-O shots.

Up until the split, the course was the same as in previous years.  The second half of the course had a few changes this year.  The first difference came shortly after the split.  Instead of turning right onto City Park Avenue, we continued straight to begin an out-and-back.

Toward the end of the out-and-back, I saw a table with a sign that said “Beer.”  As I got closer, I also saw someone in the middle of the street holding a tray.  He had martinis in small plastic martini glasses.  I don’t usually drink martinis, but it’s a tradition in this race.

At 14 miles, I noticed that I was only ahead of a 3:30 pace by 18 seconds.  I picked up my effort.  I was able to stay on pace, but I was working too hard.  At this point in the race, it should have felt easier.

We turned left onto City Park Avenue, but it wasn’t long before I noticed another difference in this year’s course.  Instead of running along the west side of City Park, we entered the park.  While we were in the park, we reached another beer stop.  It might not have been wise to have a Jell-O shot, a martini and a beer in the space of three miles, but this is a party race.  I wanted to break 3:30, but I wasn’t going to take myself too seriously.

After running through the park, we followed the east side of the park until we reached Lake Ponchartrain.  Then we turned right to do an-out-and-back alongside the lake.  By now I was hot.  There was a breeze, but it was at our backs.  I realized I was paying a price for the hat I was wearing.  It was making me hot.  Last year, I was similarly overdressed, but I was in good enough shape to overcome that.  This year I wasn’t.

Many of the runners around me were beginning to slow down.  I worked hard to keep up with the runners who looked strongest.  As I made the turn between 20 and 21 miles, I was almost a minute ahead of schedule.  Then it got difficult.

Coming back we were running into the wind.  I had mixed feelings about that.  On one hand, the cool breeze would keep me from overheating.  On the other hand, running into it was more tiring.  It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was enough to require a little extra effort, and I didn’t have anything left.

I was still passing the slower runners, but the faster ones were now pulling away from me.  I was curious to know my pace, but I missed the sign for 22 miles.  A while later, I realized I had also missed the sign for 23 miles.

It was obvious by now that I was slowing down significantly.  Runners I passed earlier were now passing me.  As I approached an aid station, I heard a voice behind me say, “Aid station, up ahead.”  I realized it had to be a pace leader talking to his group.  Then it occurred to me that it had to be the 3:30 group.  Although I was slowing down, I was still ahead of them.

The pace group passed me right at 24 miles.  I still had a nine second cushion, but I couldn’t keep up with them.  I tried to pick up my pace, but my legs wouldn’t respond.  They felt like they were made of lead.

Last week, I fought like mad to break 3:30 in Marathon Bahamas.  I’ve always viewed 3:30 as a line in the sand.  As much as I wanted to fight for it, there was no fight left in me.  I kept slowing down.

I ran the next mile in 8:36.  I was now off the pace, and there was no way I could make it up.  It was a struggle to keep moving.  Knowing I couldn’t break 3:30, I just wanted to finish.  As I got closer to the finish, I could hear the crowds.  We took a different route into the park, but still finished in the same spot as last year.

The 26 mile sign was right at the last turn.  I didn’t want to know, but I looked at my watch anyway.  I ran that mile in 9:36.  I pressed on for the last two tenths and finished in 3:31:48.  That’s not a horrible time, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t break 3:30.

There were a few differences in the finish area this year.  In the past, the finisher medal for this race was on a string of Mardi Gras beads.  This year, the medal was on a more traditional ribbon, but you could go to a tent in the finish area to get beads for your medal.  I think that was an improvement, as the string of beads sometimes breaks.

There was also a finisher jacket that you could pick up at another tent.  I just found out about that a week before the race.  I’m not sure, but this may be something new for all Rock N Roll marathons.

After getting some post-race food and my gear bag, I saw a sign pointing toward the shuttles that take us back to the start.  Last year, it took a while to get onto a bus.  This year, the loading was quick and efficient.  The buses dropped us off near the start.  From there, I had to walk about six blocks to get back to Hilton.

Deb finished her volunteer shift after all the corrals started.  While I was running, she was able to take a trolley into the French Quarter to do more shopping at French Market.

Later in the day, we had an early dinner with some friends from Augusta at Daisy Duke’s, a restaurant in the French Quarter.  I had their New Orleans sampler.  It had a little of everything, and it was all good.

This race was an indicator of how much fitness I’ve lost recently.  A couple years ago, I could break 3:30 even on a bad day.  Now I need a good race.  After my heroic effort in the Bahamas last weekend, I didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to do it again so soon.

My next race is the Surf City Marathon.  That’s another race with a fast course.  In 2012, I broke 3:10 there.  This year I’ll be happy if I can break 3:30.  I’ll need a better race than I had yesterday.

While my performance was disappointing, the race wasn't.  I like the changes in the course.  I also like the jacket.  My only complaint about last year's race was a long delay to board a bus back to the start.  They fixed that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Weigh-in Wednesday: 1-21-15

This morning, I weighed in at 119.8 pounds.  I’m about two pounds above my goal weight, but I’m happy to say that I’m moving in the right direction again.  Last week I weighed 121.2.

This week included a trip to the Bahamas.  I’m less apt to watch what I eat when I’m on an international trip.  Enjoying the food is part of the travel experience.  I had three fairly large meals while I was there.

In addition to allowing myself to enjoy a large dinner, I also give myself permission to eat food I wouldn’t eat at home.  At home, I’ve mostly switched to a vegan diet.  On a trip, I’ll usually eat pizza at least once, even though it’s loaded with cheese.  On this trip, I had a pizza that included bacon.  I had to try it, because this pizza also had slices of pumpkin.  I was at a restaurant that uses innovative combinations of ingredients.  I also had seafood with two my other meals.  After all, I was in the islands.

Where I made progress this week was on snacking.  It probably helped that my flight home on Sunday didn’t arrive until after 9:00 PM.  By the time I got home from the airport, it was late enough that I wasn’t tempted to snack.  I realized last week that I’m most prone to binge snacking on the day I come home from a trip.

This week, I’m going to try to improve my snacking habits by having some healthy snack foods in the house.  Yesterday, we went grocery shopping, so I picked up some seedless grades.  Grapes are sweet enough to satisfy my cravings for sweet foods, but they don’t have many calories.  Twenty grapes is a filling snack with only 30 calories.