Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Return of the Spreadsheet

Alternate title: It Came From Excel...TO RULE THE WORLD. Or at least my running for the next 16 weeks.

I have known for a long time that I do my best running when I adhere to a schedule. There is something comforting about having each day's activity planned ahead of time, for weeks on end, culminating in a goal race. There is no guesswork. I do what I'm told and it works surprisingly well (Cleveland, New York).

When I do not use a schedule, the results are...debatable. I winged it for Boston last year, and while I finished the race in 4:11 without major difficulties (other than the predictable late-marathon "why the fuck am I doing this to myself again" thoughts), I still feel like I was undertrained. I attempted to train for Grand Rapids using a schedule, which fell by the wayside after I hurt myself in August, and I never really picked it back up. We all know how that turned out when I ran/death marched Thunder Road in December.

Even though I am not planning on doing a marathon this year (unless I succumb to temptation on February 1), I decided I needed to slide back into the embrace of a rigid training schedule. The goal: the Cleveland Half Marathon on May 15. The training plan: Hal Higdon's Intermediate Half Marathon, which I used 3 years ago when I wanted to run my first sub-2:00 half (which I did). It's a modest schedule compared to others I have put myself through. Having a 12-mile run as my longest run feels sinfully luxurious, almost epically lazy. However, it is exactly what I want-- nay, what I need-- right now. Low mileage, but running multiple days in a row. Strength training. Weekend runs that are primarily less than ten miles, meaning I won't lose half a day getting ready to run, running for two to three hours, and then recovering from running (i.e. sacking out for a nap, waking up at 5:00 and thinking, "oops...").

Thus, I sat down last night and put together one of my dearly beloved but long-neglected training spreadsheets. Oh, how I have missed those tidy black-lined boxes, each little square my taskmaster for the day, ordering me to get off my lazy butt, get out of bed, and GET OUT THERE.

Behold, THE SPREADSHEET (or part of it, anyway):

 Yes, master! I shall obey your every command!

What did my schedule tell me I had to do today? Run 3 miles, and because The Almighty Schedule said I was to run 3 miles, I set my alarm for 5:50, got up, and did it. No grumbling, no pushing my wakeup time back to 7:00 and skipping it, no rationalizations about weather, lingering aches and pains, being too tired, having cats on me whom I did not want to disturb, any of the array of excuses I have deployed over the past far-too-many-months to avoid running. That shit is so over. 

Not only do I believe that getting back on a schedule will improve my running and allow me to cruise through the half with ease (it is awful of me to think, "It's only a half marathon"), I hope it will reverse the creeping weight gain which has been plaguing me. I was perusing old pictures last night, circa first season of marathon training, and my god, people, I was so freaking skinny...I got angrier and angrier with myself for letting that awesomeness slip away. I suppose one could call it Last Straw Moment II, the first and most epic Last Straw Moment being my shock and horror at seeing the pictures of me from Hawaii in 2006 that kick started this whole thing. Cinderella (the hair metal band, not the fairy tale character) sagely said, "Don't know what you've got til it's gone," and that I did not, my friends.

Even before I found myself in a grumpy funk from looking at pictures of my vanished hotness, I went to the store and bought ingredients to make several of the menu items from my Athlete's Plate last week. I was eyeing my heap of groceries on the checkout belt and thought, "This is the food of a health nut. That, or someone with a boring diet." Flaxseed, whole wheat flour, Grape Nuts, bananas, apples, pears, onions, almonds, raisins, black beans, brown rice, chick peas...(and no beer, for once). Well, I am a health nut, or at least I am until I take delivery of this year's haul of Girl Scout cookies. And I don't think I have a boring diet. Yes, I need a shakeup in the breakfast realm (how does four straight years of plain yogurt with fresh blueberries and ground flax meal sound?), which is why my project tonight is homemade granola.

So. Three miles this morning. A quick check of my iPhone weather app (and, yes, I did so while lying in bed....I'm not renouncing all of my laziness at once) revealed that the current temperature was a near-heat-wave-worthy 23 degrees, an enormous improvement over the previous week of industrial-strength meat locker style weather. A meat locker in the Yukon Territory, at that. On the edge of the Arctic Sea. Not today! I was sweating before I finished my first mile. The road edges were free of snow, a rare treat at this time of year. The sidewalks, not as much...when I was forced to use them, it was hard going and I felt even slower and clumsier than ever. Nonetheless, I finished the run (3.18 miles) and, while hanging up my damp clothes, I realized I already felt better and more energetic than I have in far too long. 

Running...it's a wonderful thing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Thoughts: Let's Eat!

Some of you may be aware that in addition to my running blog I have a food blog, Una Buona Forchetta. After a flurry of posting when I started it in 2008, my updates became few and far between. I posted to my food blog twice in 2010; the last post was in April.

I have no excuse for neglecting to post more frequently, however, because I have received a boot to the rear, or, as my advisor from grad school would have put it, I've had "a fire lit under my ass," in the form of two externally-based motivators.

One is the Spice Rack Challenge, a monthly food challenge for 2011 organized by my friend and fellow Michigan Lady Food Blogger MK. I posted my response to this month's challenge ingredient, rosemary, earlier this week. My first food blog post in 9 months! Joining the Spice Rack Challenge will guarantee I have at least 12 posts to my food blog this year.

The second is my being featured on The Athlete's Plate today. I was nominated for this week's feature by the Redhead, who had her own menu last week. I now have six meals (both full and snack) created for me by Jason, who mined my blog for inspiration and ideas. It is not a surprise, then, to find I have "kitty litter" granola and pizza (and beer!) as two of my menu items. I will be making and posting recipes from my Athlete's Plate to my food blog, starting with the granola, because I have long suspected homemade granola will be better than anything store-bought, and my breakfast routine has suffered from same-thing-every-day disease. Thank you, Redhead and Jason, for the delicious honor!

In other news:

It's cold here. How cold? Well, how does a high temperature of 14*F tomorrow sound? Bleah. This is "scurry from office to car and car into house" weather for me.

Last Sunday I attended a recital performance in Ann Arbor by soprano Renée Fleming. I indulged in a single extravagantly-priced ticket which landed me seven rows from the stage and smack in the center. I could not have been more perfectly placed for optimum aural and visual satisfaction. The woman may be almost 52 years old and has been hammering on her voice for over 30 years, but she sounded fabulous. I soaked up every shattering high note and tender pianissimo like a dry sponge, choked up a little during one of the encores, and drove home while listening to (and singing along with) her Mozart arias CD. Ach ich liebte, wär so glücklich!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday Thoughts: You Know You're A (insert name of cold region here) Runner When...

You know you're a Michigan runner when 15 degrees and four inches of snow don't bother you.

This morning I actually got up and went for a run before work, which has not happened since before the Thunder Road debacle. It was about 15 degrees outside, so I dressed appropriately (thick Sugoi tights, Jacket of Wonder, gloves, earband). I knew I was going short and slow. Longer miles (and hopefully my erstwhile speed) will come in time. My goal for the rest of the month is to ease back into the routine of getting up to run multiple times during the week.

I have to admit, it was pleasant. Lovely, even. The cold temperature was bothersome for only a brief time; the new snow skritch skritch skritch-ed under my shoes. There was no one else around. A few lazy snowflakes spun down in the yellow glow of the streetlights.

I was forced to prematurely abort my run 0.04 short of 2 miles because I had to make a frantic dash for the bathroom at home. I was trying so hard not to let something unpleasant happen my toes were clenched into little toe-fists inside my shoes.

Speaking of shoes, I have pushed my current pair to the brink of 700 miles. They have endured two marathons with me, a distinguished career, and I believe it is time for them to retire with full honors. This means I will have to shoe-shop for the first time in ages, since I have been cruising with an unbroken string of Brooks Adrenaline 9s for over two years (I am on my fourth pair of the 9s). My last pair of 9s I ordered online almost a year ago. I highly doubt there are any unused pairs of a two-year-old model drifting around. This means I must...change shoes. I could take the easy way out and just make the leap to the current model of the Adrenaline, since my feet get along so well with them. Or at least they do until I wear them well past their retirement age, in which case unfortunate things occur such as nasty blisters which lead to bacterial infections and the falling off of toenails. Yes, while the paronychia has cleared up, my poor beleaguered little toenail, battered and insulted, went into its death throes a couple of weeks ago. I helped it commit assisted suicide.

My family is coming to visit for the weekend, which means running with Dad, a trip to IKEA, a fancy dinner, and the enjoyment of my favorite malty beverage. I was with the Engineer down in Indiana on Monday, and took the opportunity to pick up some brews from Three Floyds Brewing for my dad and I to sample.

Now it is time for me to pick up the lovely Redhead for lunch...stay warm out there, folks! (unless you're from somewhere in the South and claim anything under 40 degrees is "too cold." And you think I'm "nuts" for enjoying running in cold weather.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Year that Wasn't...Sort Of

This is how I felt at the beginning of 2010:
So full of hope and promise, ready to take off into the bright blue yonder! Wheeee!
By the end of December, this was me:

Out of air, out of gas, out of...ugh.

I ran two marathons, two half marathons, my cumulative mileage was 1,031 and yet I feel like I didn't accomplish anything. I didn't improve my performance at any distance, I gained weight, and my cavalier attitude toward training came back and bit me hard during Thunder Road in December. I limped and coughed my way into the holidays dispirited, demotivated, and bacterially infected. After three years of improvement and lofty goals realized, I suppose I was overdue for an "off" year. No one improves indefinitely.

As far as running goes, I did only one thing in 2010 that truly mattered:


Even if I never set another PR or run another marathon, I will always be a Boston Marathon finisher.

2010 is over. 2011 is here. Clean slate, fresh start. Now what?

I will be in Cleveland in May to see my dad and the Redhead run the marathon. The Redhead is aiming for a BQ, and y'all know how I feel about Cleveland and BQs because that's where I achieved my dream of BQing in 2009. This year, however, I will run the half marathon again. I registered on Friday, and now I have a goal. As much as I have been enjoying the past four weeks of directionless living, I need something to work toward. I'm hitting the reset button on running and starting over. I'm going back to a low-key training plan, my spreadsheet tacked to the wall in the closet, up and running when I'm supposed to. No more slacking off.

The best non-running-related highlight of the year was my vacation with my mom to Cape Cod in July. Seven days of reading, drinking, running, and sunning. If only life could be like this all the time.

One of those moments where I wouldn't have changed a single thing. Perfection. (Except maybe to have some fried clams at hand.) 

Enough moaning about what's over and done with. It's time to look ahead. Twenty-eleven, here I come!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

All You Really Need To Know About Me

Fact: I was in bed at 10:30 last night.

Conclusion: I am an old fart who prefers the comfort and safety of home over staying out too late and getting too drunk to drive home.

Fact: I received this from the Engineer for my birthday (it was December 28) and I am now utterly obsessed with it.

Conclusion: I am a HUGE bird nerd.

(My favorite call so far is that of the Common Eider. Oooooh!)

Happy 2011 everyone!

Aside: what will your moniker of choice be for the new year? Will you say "two thousand eleven" or "twenty eleven"? I'm going with "twenty eleven," myself. If we say "two thousand eleven" we will sound too French, á la "deux mille et onze," and we don't want to sound FRENCH, mon Dieu!