Week 8: Running is Dumb

I had this idea this past week that I’d do this week’s post as a running diary throughout the week (which I’ve done before). Usually, when I do this, I just write it in notes on my phone over the week and then press publish at the end.

Well, here is as far as I got, before I promptly fell asleep and completely forgot:


9:02 a.m.

OK, OK, guys, I’m awake, stop meowing.

9:14 a.m.

God, I’m tired. I guess I really should get out of bed. I guess. I really do have things I need to do.

10:11 a.m.

Oh, look, the Olympics are on.

11:52 a.m.

I have put away all my stuff from L.A. organized my schedule and notes for the week, redone my calendar, sent some emails, and can’t delay getting started on these workouts any longer. How slowly can I gather my gear?

12:45 p.m.

Weighted backpack stair repeats. This is really a lot of days of ultra-training in a row. I am tired. On the plus side: zone out and put on a podcast. On the downside: my legs and brain hurt.

2:11 p.m.

Easy swimming post-stairs really shouldn’t be this hard. It’s just easy. Why does this sound impossible? Why am I sitting in the car about to cry? I am legitimately about to cry. I think I might be tired. Or hungry. Or both.

2:16 p.m.

Eat a Reeses to get the job done. #protip

2:44 p.m.

Everyone sucks. Everything is stupid. I should just quit everything.

2:48 p.m.

I might still be hungry. And tired. I should probably not make any life decisions right now.

3:05 p.m.

Or I should make all my life decisions because fuck it.

3:21 p.m.

The swim got done.

6:55 p.m.

I was about to get up and make dinner but now Tupac the Cat is sleeping on me. This has not been a wildly successful day.


It’s not that the fatigue is a surprise. You could have fairly easily looked at my schedule and known that right now I’d be at the end of the three week block of miles I’d need to put in to be 50K ready on March 3. Coming off the almost nothing of November/December, it was just a reality that I’d be constantly at the edge of my fitness and also the edge of how quickly I could really build that fitness.

But something can both be 100% predictable and logical, and still not be easy.

I haven’t really hit this kind of training wear and tear since…September? I remember that it happens. I know that it happens. Doesn’t mean I’m awake enough to care or to be polite to some random guy who wants to monologue at me about how he’s a really big deal at Stanford and here’s a list of all the renovations he’s done on his home and what he paid. And, anyway, when the majority of your volume is coming from running it’s The Worst.

Add to that the emotional seesaw of the Olympics and this morning I was glued to the TV for well over an hour of ski jumping, just because I couldn’t motivate myself to stand up and there was something strangely mesmerizing about them going down the hill and take off and land, over and over. That they get “style” points is bullshit though. Don’t argue with me about it, not this week.


Race Report: Kaiser Half-Marathon

Short version: I ran 1:26:27 according to my watch and 1:26:29 according to the official results. Apparently, I was so out of it at the end that I came to a complete stop as I pressed “stop,” and then it took me an extra two seconds to walk all the way across the second timing mat and have my chip register. Either way, it’s a significant PR over 1:27:58 (which itself was a significant PR back in 2013). Evidently, I’m not just making up this ‘I swear I’m training a lot and getting faster’ thing. Continue reading “Race Report: Kaiser Half-Marathon”

Ragnar Relay Utah Review

I was not super excited about doing Ragnar Utah this past weekend. 36 hours sitting in a van? With a bunch of sweaty people? Running when you weren’t sitting — with my right leg totally crippled last week? It was so not exciting to me that Steve and I were laughing last week, after I wasn’t able to run four miles without limping, that it was so bad it was funny. Here I was crippled after the Dipsea, dealing with injury and needing to train for Ironman, exhausted from traveling, and sick of people. Continue reading “Ragnar Relay Utah Review”

Getting Out of Your Head: The Mental Half of Everything

From the New Yorker
From the New Yorker

Happy 2015! Now, stop lying to yourself.

(Kidding. You can totally keep lying to yourself. I don’t care.)

I was at swim practice this morning and — as has happened many times before — I found myself wondering about the thought process going through other swimmers’ heads. I was at the back of the lane, largely because I have never done a warm-up fast in my entire life and I don’t (usually) cheat drills, so I always end up at the back before we start the main set and that’s fine. But, then, when we got to the main set, I was the only one who made all the intervals and followed all the instructions about negative splitting and descending, without “resting” any of the efforts or putting paddles on for the whole thing just so I could keep up. This is a little frustrating, but it’s mostly just mystifying.

Why would you consistently put yourself in a lane you can’t actually do the workout in? Does it make you feel better about yourself? If you have to cheat the workout, then aren’t you not really doing the workout? I totally understand pushing yourself sometimes and wanting to just see if you can hang. I’ve done it too. Sometimes it makes sense to do whatever you can to try to keep up with a lane that’s too fast for you. Sometimes that’s what you need. But, not every time.

There’s a weird mental thing that goes on in sports. I suppose it goes on in everything, in life. But, when there’s a time and a distance and a schedule, it’s impossible not to ignore what kinds of lies you tell yourself. Are they working?

As long as you can do the warm-up fast and make some of the intervals, even if you have to put on paddles and pull the whole thing, then you can still tell yourself you belong in that lane. You’re not slower than you’d like to admit; you’re just having an off day. Because I’m at the bottom end of fast when it comes to swimming, those lies are more prevalent around me. The people who aren’t close to the fast lane yet don’t care or maybe they just don’t know how far off they are. The people who are legitimately fast mostly can’t be bothered with the lies. But, those of us who are fast enough to know we’re not fast, we have the most emotional issues. We can see what we’re not.

I get in my own head a lot. It’s not my predilection for injury and accidents, or my inability to sustain large training volumes, that is my biggest problem. It’s my tendency to doubt myself, to question and worry, to see the lies for what they are.

Since I started training again for real in October and went on my racing binge, things have felt weirdly effortless. The races all hurt, but in a way that was possible to lean in to. I had my ‘this is the slowest I’ve ever gone’ and ‘I’m the worst ever’ moments, but I came back from them all. I was sure my mind had finally gotten on board. Then, the Christmas Relays were miserable and I wanted to do nothing so much as lie down on the side of the course. I started struggling in some workouts and cutting things short. Last weekend, I headed out for my hour run with four miles at goal marathon pace, following a bike ride, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I felt terrible and I couldn’t stop thinking about the last time I failed at this workout. I almost stopped.

But, then, instead of doing 30 minutes easy into the goal pace, I just started going faster and faster. It was hard, but at least it was hard because it was supposed to be hard. I kept waiting for it to feel effortless, to settle, for my mind to be convinced I was unconquerable again. And, finally, it did. All of a sudden 6:50s felt like I was just ticking off the miles, like I could go forever.

If I’m being honest with myself I know that I cut two miles out of the warm-up. I know that if I’d done those two miles, I would have struggled to drop down to pace. I know that half of my four miles at pace was on false flats downhill. I know that as soon as I finished the four miles, I was jogging 9:00 pace home. And, I know it hurt more than I let myself think about. I know that there were lies I had to tell myself about how easy it felt and how I killed it, but they worked. Sometimes, you do need to pretend you belong in this lane. Sometimes. But, you only get so many times saying that before you stop it. Don’t use them every swim workout.

The San Francisco Christmas Relays: Race Review

The Christmas Relays are miserable. Everyone knows it. And, yet, everyone still does them every year. I raced the relays again this past weekend, for probably the fourth or fifth time.

It’s hard to explain why it’s so miserable. It’s supposed to be a fun holiday relay race, but there’s something about it that’s slow and long and uphill both ways and it’s mid-December, so everyone’s out of shape in mid-December. It just hurts. Steve did the race for the first time this year — we did it with another couple — and I tried to explain why it sucks. “It’s only 4.5 miles,” he asked, “What’s so bad about that?” Yeah, but it’s a mysteriously slow, terrible 4.55 miles.

After he finished, he basically had to admit that it is mysteriously awful.

Still. It’s the only $18 race where the field will be evenly split between people in costume and Olympic hopefuls. It’s a classic. You have to do it at least once.


The Expo and Goodies

This is a running race classic. That means you better not expect the same kind of scene as at the super-fancy big marathons. There was a brunch truck this year that you could buy food from. And, there are always a few Gatorade containers with water in them. The big new perk in 2014 was the beer tent: everyone got two free beers from 21st Amendment. (I even got three. Don’t ask.) And, they were good beers. Since you have all this time to kill while you wait for the other runners in your relay to finish their 4.55-mile leg, the beer was a nice touch. Who cares that it’s 9:30 a.m.?

The other cool feature is that you can opt to pay less and not get a t-shirt with your entry — which is a nice option if you have too many t-shirts. Winners get mugs.

The Course

The course is what makes the race so miserable. Allegedly, all you have to do is a run a 4.55-mile loop around Lake Merced, but there’s something about that loop that is all uphill.

Actually, it starts out slightly downhill, so you go too fast and blow up. Everyone does. It can not be avoided. Then, it’s all false flat up — just a small enough incline that you don’t notice it; all you notice is that you’re going a lot slower and it’s a lot harder. And, the run is all on sidewalk around the lake, which can get sort of annoying, especially as you dodge dogwalkers and Sunday morning joggers.

The first year I did it, we all wore costumes (see above) and I went out hard — really hard. Within a couple minutes I was overheating and wheezing. Since I was the last runner in our foursome and the field gets really spread out over the full 18 miles, there weren’t many runners around me. I was sprinting down a sidewalk by myself, in a very non-breathable leotard, weaving through walkers, and I looked over at the cars driving down the busy road next to the park and realized that this whole thing must look ridiculous to the drivers.

The Organizational Details

It’s a four-person relay, with each person running one 4.55-mile lap around the lake. Being the Bay Area, there will be lots of disgustingly fast relays. There will be one women’s relay made up of Olympians and future Olympians. Then, there will be another ten women’s relays that all still average under six minute mile pace. Be prepared for this.

Also, be prepared for spending a lot of time hanging out. It’s usually cold and it’s often raining, so two hours standing around in a parking lot may not sound like the most fun idea ever. (This is why the beer tent was such a nice addition this year.) If you go first or second, then you’ll be done and can hang out — extra bonus: if you go first or second, then you’ll probably have more people around you to run with too.

Grade: B-/C+

Turkey Trot Race Report: On the Art of Returning

Steve won the Turkey Trot 5K we did on Thursday, which surprised everyone — including him. Since he hadn’t run in years until I made him do that Turkey Trot last year (at which he would like you to know he beat me) and now he runs just a couple times a week casually, I don’t think he thought it would go great. But, maybe none of us should have been that surprised that it did. After all, he is a very, very good athlete and that is always in there somewhere.

I won the women’s race too, but it was hard. (Here’s a video of me crossing the finish line, if you really want to see what I look like getting outsprinted by a 14-year-old boy.) It was a classic cross-country-style course. We ran across a field, over a hill, on a path, through a parking lot, down a trail, up another steep hill, and around a soccer field. I ran pretty fast at the start, but it felt easy. Then, it felt really hard. When Ilyce went by me around halfway, I was sure I was done. Mentally, I threw it in and figured this seemed like a good enough pace. Only, then I came back.

Having done three 5Ks in three weeks, among other races too, I think it’s probably time to stop now. But, one thing I have learned in this spate of racing off very little fitness is that it’s always in there somewhere. I’ve learned that I have more capacity to come back than I even realized.

After being a huge bum for August and some of September and then being sick for a month, I wasn’t sure how long it’d take me to come back or how out of shape I was. The answer is: not as much as I was worried.

It turns out the base I built training for Ironman this summer, the years of working out and getting just a little bit better at a time (and then a little worse and then nothing), the miles and miles are all in there. And, then, Friday, Steve and I went for a long bike ride to Marshall. It’s a ride that’s a Marin classic and litmus test — one of the first ones you do when you move here. For me, it used to be epic and take all day. I still think of it that way and so I wasn’t sure if I was in any shape to do it with Steve. But, we did and it was hard, but not that hard. The Marshall Wall didn’t even seem like a wall. It seemed easier and smaller. The Return was scarcely a return. It was just another day to add to the stores.