Take Two: Run a Faster 5k

Running has not yet been a competition sport for me. Some runners feel like they’re competing with themselves when they push to a new distance or a new time, but I don’t feel that way. I feel a little bit of something to prove on race day, but training hasn’t ever felt like that for me. I run primarily for the feeling when I’m done, that elusive runner’s high, and the pride that came with completing longer distances.

Lauren Fleshman’s article in June’s Runner’s World has me fired up though. Fleshman is a professional runner, who first came to my attention through her sponsor, Oiselle. In her piece, she challenges our commonly held belief that the runner challenges herself by running further distances. I know that feeling! All I could think about mere hours after the half-marathon was what would be next: Well, now that you’ve run a half – when are you going to run the full thing?

Fleshman talks up the competitive nature of shorter races. The 5k race, she writes, “is freaking awesome,” and her arguments are compelling. It’s not a question of if you’ll finish, but how fast can you run the race. It’s not as time-consuming to train for the 5k and you can race more often. Consistent and shorter runs are better for overall health than long distance training, as well. And, ultimately the most persuasive for me, there is less risk of injury.

Look, it took me two full weeks to recover from my half-marathon. The race was simply too hard on my body. While this is likely overwhelmingly due to under-training, there is something just punishing about running for two hours and forty minutes. (If I were faster, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad…) And that recovery was painful and time consuming. Walking slower (some may call it “hobbling” around the city), so much icing and resting. Today, 17 days later, is the first day I did any real running since the race.

It was a great run though – just look at that view!

Of course, the half-marathon was worth it. I don’t regret any of it and I will do it again. But maybe running can be more fun that it has been in the last few months. If there’s any way to it, I think Fleshman’s advice will get me there: find the competition in the 5k.

What are your running goals? Any upcoming races?

Half-Marathon Recap and Reflections

I’ve been running for a year. That’s really it, just one year.  My first run was in May of last year, 3.16 miles in 34:28. I regularly use RunKeeper, and I was surprised to see that I have only gone out on 53 runs in the last year. My races have been few: a handful of 5ks, two 10ks, and, as of May 25th, one half-marathon. I headed into this year’s Boston’s Run to Remember already pretty proud of myself: to go from a 5k to 13.1 miles in a year, a year which included no running between November and March at that, was something to celebrate. And the race was really just that: a celebration.

A very tough and at times painful celebration. This was not an easy race for me. I don’t expect anything of this distance to ever be “easy” for me, but I certainly learned some lessons this year that will hopefully make the next half-marathon easier.

1. Follow your training plan. I used this Hal Higdon half-marathon training plan, with a couple tweaks from my trainer. Most weeks, I shuffled runs around. Or had extra rest days. Or skipped my rest day. I ignored speed work almost completely. The only thing I did semi-faithfully was build up my distance by hitting my 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 mile runs.

After my 10 mile run, I was hurting. I was unsure if I was going to be able to run the half. My whole taper week was RICE-ing my (likely) tendinitis and extra yoga classes. I felt very pessimistic about how my body would hold up during the half-marathon and those worries were realized around mile 11 on race day. Indeed, it wasn’t even halfway through the race when my left knee began to bother me, and by the last few miles, my left ankle and right knee joined in.

I actually ran the last two miles more quickly than the previous six though — definitely because I knew the next time I stopped, I was not going to be able to start again. So I wouldn’t be stopping until the finish line!

Next time, I will do better. I will give myself more time to train more slowly for a longer-distance race. Training plans are there for a reason, and building up mileage slowly is a critical aspect of training for most of us. Be patient.

2. Nutrition matters. Every trainer and athlete has some version of this saying: you can’t out-train a poor diet. I completely believe this to be true now. I was perhaps skeptical before; I did not faithfully adhere to this tenet. I will never train for a long-distance race again without making this a visible part of my plan.

Reflecting on how hard this all was, training and the race both, has made diet considerations a matter of practicality actually. Eating for fuel has become more of a natural consideration in my life. Did I have ice cream on vacation in Bar Harbor? Of course. Is it a daily indulgence? No.

3. Go into the race with a goal and a plan. My goal and plan were the same for this first race, actually: to only walk through water stations. It’s pretty typical for a new runner’s goal to be to simply finish, especially when tackling new distances. However, this plan-goal’s specificity gave me something on which to focus my race. There were also ten water stations, fairly evenly spaced, in this race; this plan then guaranteed short bursts of intense focus followed by brief reprieves.

I also carried with me a super-secret pie-in-the-sky goal of running the race in 2:30:00. To do that, I would need to run with just under an 11:30 mile pace, which was about thirty seconds faster than my long runs had been in training. I used my RunKeeper app during the race, and according to that, ran 13.82 miles (wide race!) in 2:42:30, for an average pace of 11:46 per mile. My official time was 2:40:55 over 13.1 miles for an average pace of 12:17 per mile.

Look, honestly, I’m taking that RunKeeper data and sticking that in my brain.

I still consider myself a new runner and, as such, I am still figuring out how to both push myself and pace myself, trying to find that sweet spot of running a steady, “fast” race. I feel pretty good about my pacing in this race though; it seems to fall into a few chunks of steady running:

half-marathon splitsThis race was a success, a very important mark on my life’s timeline.

I set my goal to run this race late in 2013, when I hadn’t been running much and felt like I needed something to work towards. But I only signed up for the race after my job ended. Having this race to focus on, to train for, was an important part of my year. 2014 will always be the year I ran my first half-marathon.

Isn’t it wonderful to have something so grand be this year’s main memory? That’s what running gives me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.

this is not a cooking blog

This is not a cooking blog.

I am cooking more this year. It’s not a Resolution (with a capital R) but it is a surge of interest in creating food in my home on a regular basis that took hold as the calendar year flipped to 2014. I am resolved. But it is not a Resolution.

In the last half of a 2013 better off archived and just forgotten about, I have spent a lot of my time in Boston indulging in exceptional dinners and imbibing impressive and perfectly crafted cocktails.

Suddenly, it seems, I care about the way things taste. I find myself intrigued and eager to discover why I prefer certain dishes or drinks to others. What is it, beyond “sweet” or “salty” or “bitter,” that explains why I always taste a certain entree as if it’s the first time or gravitate to a specific cocktail on Friday nights?

Of course, I can (and well frankly, likely will) further my “education” by continuing to frequent these favorite bars and restaurants, and trying new things, and pressing my hosts for information on ingredients and flavors.

That’s not wholly sufficient though.

I want to explore, create, and host. I want to know what my next dinner will be based off of my reaction to tonight’s meal.

It’s simple. I want to be good at the kitchen things.

In some near future time, I am going to have a proper home: a space, not defined by size or location, where I create and foster all of those sentimental aspects of the places we call “home.” And in these rooms of warmth and love, I will fulfill the most imperative need for me (and my family, one assumes): to eat and to drink.

First, I needed a cookbook. I have spent enough hours on Tumblr and Facebook and with friends who already, you know, actually cook food in their homes to know that the only “beginner” home-chef cookbook for me is The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. And when it arrived, I spent hours paging through these recipes, using sticky notes to mark off everything that sounded delicious. After marking off a solid 80% of the cookbook, I took all those notes out and instead paged through for the simplest of those recipes.

It is always a good idea to start at the beginning.

The general idea is that I’ll start by making one new recipe each week. I expect (and even hope) that this will increase in frequency as I establish a habit of cooking in my kitchen and as I accumulate those necessary “background” ingredients, the procurement of which can make cooking a bit expensive at the beginning.

To that end, I chose to make leek fritters with garlic and lemon sauce last week. (The link will lead you to an adapted recipe. I will say it again: this is not a cooking blog. I am not likely to post many of the recipe details. I’m only here to talk about my experiences with cooking.)

I chose something simple, with many ingredients I already had on hand, but leek fritters does not make a meal. (Though, Deb does recommend pairing with a fried egg, and that would make a meal.)

leek fritter batter
beautiful fritter batter

As I was also going to have a dinner guest for this tepid adventure, I made a go-to chicken dish of mine (whoa: bake the chicken with a sauce of salsa + Dijon mustard + brown sugar, wow) and sauteed some kale with balsamic vinegar to round out the meal. With some hindsight, I wish I had thrown in some garlic and mushrooms (and then I did just that when I prepared the rest of the kale the next day). The idea was that there better be enough food I know will turn out acceptably if someone else is planning to consume that day’s experiment. Ordering pizza after ruining dinner would have been just too much of a cliche for me.

same dishes, next day
same dishes, next day

That night was everything I wanted it to be. I walked to the market (read: Whole Foods) after work and picked up the fresh ingredients. I tidied up my kitchen and started my prep work, with my first glass of wine on the counter, of course. As my guest arrived, I moved into cooking and slid into that remarkable but not at all unusual zen zone of the kitchen.

The wine made it feel casual. Preparing dishes I’ve made dozens of time built my confidence. Tackling one new recipe brought some necessary anxiety back in. Good conversation and a warm kitchen teased that ethereal glow of “home” to my house.

the first batch of leek fritters, frying
the first batch of leek fritters, frying

It was only my first new recipe of this nascent endeavor, but I took away from that night everything I could have wanted. Learning things! Flour and egg make a batter (check). Leeks are onion-esque (check) balanced perfectly with a tart sauce (check). The next time I want a carb-like side dishes but not as starchy, well, now I have an option.

And it made my kitchen feel like my home.

It was exactly what I’ll strive to create for the rest of the year my life.

Do you like to cook at home? What is your go-to dish for guests? Or tell me about a favorite cooking memory you have!

rabbit rabbit it’s september!

September is my favorite month! (December is a very very close runner-up, though.) This whole “back to school” thing still gets me. New pencils, fresh notebooks, clean calendar pages. Time to get after it!

Things I want to do this month:

Already scheduled events:

Month-long endeavors:

  • stock up on pumpkin beers for October (yep, I’ve pushed out pumpkin kickoff to October 1)
  • watch all the football
  • no sleeping in on weekends (how else will I get to do all of these fun things?!)
  • read more books!
  • relearn how to knit so as to be able to make [redacted] for [redacted]
  • all the running, yoga, spinning, lifting heavy things I can handle
  • resume working with Healthworks Community Fitness – summer vacation is over, time to work ya’ll

What’s missing from my list? What are you favorite things to do in September?

First You Run a Slower 5k

Late in July, I picked a new three-month project: Run a Faster 5k. Reminder: the time to beat is 33:15; the goal is sub-30.

The day after I wrote that post, Liz, Jaclyn and I ran the Urban Raid 5k here in Boston. Admittedly, it’s very trendy in running right now: Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, etc. I know, I know – but we had so much fun! Trendy things are popular for a reason – people like it! Liz and I had been working with Clayton at Healthworks Fitness between May and July, training for the obstacle aspect of this race. (Ok, that was a really good excuse to work out with a friend and with a great trainer!) We had already seen an improvement in the gym, so we were excited to test out if we were actually stronger “in real life.”

This race was really just a playground for adults. There were various hurdles obstacles, monkey bars, a cargo net climb (overlooking the harbor), rope climb, and the finishers wall. I would get out there and do that every weekend – except for the $50 average price tag on these events. Yikes!

Liz, me, and Jaclyn after the Urban Raid 5k.
Liz, me, and Jaclyn after the Urban Raid 5k.

Doing this race with Liz and Jaclyn (who I actually first met the morning of the race) was so nice – what a great group we were. I am definitely the slowest of the three, and unsurprisingly that made me feel incredibly guilty at first. Sure, it’s fun to run a race like this with your friends, but who wants their time impacted by someone slower? It wasn’t like that at all though – they were great cheerleaders and teammates. I can’t wait to take up a notch with them next year! We definitely have designs on the Warrior Dash race.

It’s a month later now though, and I’ve went out for a few runs (just 4). I have not really committed to this “get faster” thing in the way I thought I would. I didn’t run at all for three weeks after that 5k!

August Runs

  • 8/17, Vermont. Distance – 2.99 mi, Time – 34:45.
  • 8/24, Esplanade (Boston). Distance – 4.06 mi, Time – 50:33.
  • 8/25, Seaport (Boston). Distance – 2.83 mi, Time – 31:48.
  • 8/28, Marathon Sports Run Club. Distance – 3.66 mi, Time – 43:04.

But it’s ok! I needed a bit of a break. No big deal. Liz and I went to Marathon Sports run club last week and ran a slow 3.5 together. While it was slow and we were not pushing ourselves really at all (we were able to chat the entire time), it was definitely the first run of many this fall. It just felt like the beginning again, you know?

I’m still looking for an official, chip-timed 5k to run in late October or early November. I have signed up for a December 5k, but that is basically just a holiday-themed party. It absolutely will not fit into this plan – we have a team name; there will be costumes; there will be beer.

But… I signed up for another 10k, in October! My running plan for the next six weeks is essentially focused on distance then. It would be nice if those 6 miles felt a little easier this time around. In addition to running, I’ll keep training with Jason, try to fit in 2 spin classes per week. And I’m going to add in one evening yoga class per week for September as well.

So, each week I go out for 3 runs – one long run, one tempo run, and one set of speed work (usually on the treadmill). In order to also prioritize getting faster, my long runs will incorporate that attention as well: running one mile at my best pace, resting, and repeating for the full distance. Tempo runs will be treated as race day runs – the full distance at race pace. Speed work will continue to be the drudgery of training for a race, the type of running you need a playlist to get through and quickly uses up your entire day’s supply of grit and perseverance (which is why I do speed work on Fridays).

I know reading and talking about running is, at best, tedious for non-runners, so here’s a reward for making it to the end. My running playlist for the last two weeks is one of the more perfect (for me) playlists I’ve put together. Highlights include:

Ellie Goulding — “Burn”

M.I.A. — “Bad Girls”

Jay-Z — “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”

Jay-Z, Rihanna, Kanye West — “Run This Town”

I’m working on September’s running playlist – what music are you running to?