Oh, no…not again!

I was awakened around 3 o’clock this morning by the crashing of thunderstorms, the atonal accompaniment to a stupid amount of rain. I wasn’t too upset about being up, since my alarm was set for 3:30 anyway; and generally I enjoy crazy weather – the raw, unfocused power of nature is very compelling.  But this morning the sound of falling water did nothing good for me.

I was up that early because Runner’s High had an option for the weekly long run: either meet at Memorial Park and run as usual, with a substitute coach (14 miles this week);  or register for the club-sponsored Alaina Dixon Trick or Trot 10K, meet early at the start line for 8 miles before, and then do the race at marathon goal pace. Both groups were starting at the same times (each pace group leaves at different times so we all finish roughly together), on two totally different courses. It was a brilliant piece of planning and organization, many kudos to all involved. (My own small role is to set up and take down the water stops along the route. It means I get up a little earlier, but I love being able to contribute to the group – nothing in the running world would ever get done if not for volunteers!) And then came the rain…

After last week’s cancellation of the Houston Half Marathon, you can believe that there was a certain determination in the air with this race – we were going to do this unless something made us stop, dammit. I was all over Facebook at way-too-early-in-the-morning, and most of the coaches were messaging us to keep everyone in the loop. By 5am the first wave had passed, and the next was expected around 9, so we were golden :) I did my SAG duties, made it to the start, and 5 of us from the mighty 4:15 pace group set out at 5:45 to get the easy part out of the way. Three miles from being done, the skies opened up on us, and we splashed our way back to the race area to see what would happen. The downpour stopped as soon as we got there (naturally), and the sky actually brightened; so with 15 minutes until gun time, the race director made the call: let’s run!

Being in a race always stirs my competitive side, even if I’m doing it as a training run and not a PR attempt, so I was very glad that my coach and a few friends agreed to run race pace together; some decided to run easy, others wanted to make a good showing, we didn’t judge…it’s hard to be critical when your shoes are full of water.

The gun went off, and we moved out of the gate nice and easy, letting the crowd stretch out so we could run in formation and be able to talk – this is the chattiest bunch I’ve ever laced up with! The rain came and went during the first of two loops, and the lack of a breeze caused the humid air to just hang there and make you pull it in. As soon as we turned for the second loop, everything changed… the wind arrived, chill and gusting, and driving the rain at a 45 degree angle across the road. Perversely, this made me start picking up the pace – I was finally able to breathe, and I just wanted to be done, grab some free food and beer (breakfast of Champions) and get dry and get home. Coach held out for a while, but once I figured out that a sub-60 finish was in my reach, I opened up a little more and went on my own. The finish clock is visible the last 0.2 miles on this course, so I was smiling as I made that last turn and saw 57:00 – one last push got me over the mat at 58:22, which is why I’m glad I removed the timing chip from my bib before the race – it would have been awkward to place second in the women’s 40-44 age group! Wait, let me explain…

I had not registered for this race, my original plan was to lead the other group running from the park. But at the last minute, one of the other coaches offered to take my group with hers, and give me her bib; most of hers were not racing, and most of mine were, so we made the switch, with the agreement that I’d ditch the chip. (Had I run under my own name, I would have been top 5, still not too bad; there are some fast old dudes in this city.)

All in all, despite the weather, I call it an excellent day of running, a fine day of racing, and a great time with friends – where else can you have all that before 9 am on a Saturday?

Are you training for any fall/winter races? How is it going?

Is the weather having a big effect on you yet? How are you coping with it?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Five minutes on a Friday

Hey y’all, I haven’t gone awol again, it’s just been a hectic week. Training is going well, my race in the morning might rain out (2 weeks in a row is not fair! ), and I still owe you a Spartan story… so keep an eye out this weekend. See ya!

Rainy days and cancellations make me cry…

I was supposed to run the Houston Half Marathon this morning;  in fact went out of my way on Thursday to go directly to packet pick up and register the moment I put my paycheck in the bank. But, thanks to Hurricane Patricia, the weather turned against us to the point that the Mayor’s Office of Special Events asked the RD yesterday to preemptively cancel the race. I’m sure it was not an easy decision, but around 4 pm the word went out, the race was off.  The Houston Striders, sponsor and organizers of the race (full disclosure: this was the first running club I ever joined, and I am a current member) have been in contact with all registered runners, and on social media,  promising more information in just a few days;  perhaps they will be able to reschedule, I hope so. I belive they made the best decision…parts of Houston got 5 inches of rain, and it doesn’t take that much in the wrong place to strangle this city. It is still raining as I write this; I gave up on it stopping and did a 3 mile shake out run this evening in driving rain and gusting winds (which really sucked but I am glad I did it).

In any case, I suspected it might happen this way, so I made sure to make it to lead the Saturday long run with RHC.  We had 13 miles on tap, with 5 of that at marathon goal pace. It was warm, it was stupid humid, and we got a little lost at the turn around and added about 1/4 mile, but that just made sure we all got our Strava half marathon achievement  :)   The miles flowed along, everything worked like it was supposed to,  and I an feeling more and more confident in being able to reach my goals this year… quite a change from a year ago.

This time last year, I had just spent truly amazing weekend at Flat Rock Ranch with a group of friends both old and new, running my first relay race at Ragnar Trails Hill Country. (There was a schedule push this year, Ragnar was this weekend, and I couldn’t join, but my friends’ team placed first overall -yay for them! ) I was tired and sore from 15 miles over the hills and rocks, but felt like I owed the Half a decent run, and maybe a new course PR; the previous year’s 2:15 in the rain seemed ready to fall. I was also mindful of the looming Spartan Beast, now less than one week away. Not that any of that would hold me back – I ran my guts out – and my knees, as I would soon discover – and I got my course PR, and my second sub-2:00 half…so what if I was limping out of the chute and would not be able to bend my legs the next morning – I had a whole week to recover!

I’ll let you imagine how well that went. (Spoiler: not so much) Next time, we’ll talk about Spartan, and about some things going in in my real life during this period, and how the one affected the other. See you soon!

Catching up is hard to do…

One thing that had held me back from returning to this blog was not knowing how to fill in the gap between where I was and where I am today.  I won’t try to get there all in one lump; that is far too big a bite to savor the flavor.  So, let’s take it a few steps at a time…nibble away until the time lines merge and we can move on, shall we?   Let’s go!

Around this time last year, I was well on my way to achieving several of my race goals: I had already completed Ragnar Trails Hill Country; was just about to attempt a PR at the Houston Half Marathon; and only one week away from the final piece of my Spartan Trifecta, the Glen Rose Beast. I was also well on the way to an over training crash-and-burn…but I didn’t know that, woe would be unto me.

This year, I have erred (perhaps) on the side of caution, and avoided nearly all racing. Everything has been built on and around carefully following the marathon training plan set forth by my coaches at Houston’s Runner’s High Club. My last two efforts at Chevron were lackluster, to say the least, and I can point to failures during training that led directly to my results (5:35 in 2014, 5:45 in 2015; goal both times was 4:30). So this time around, no distractions, no excuses, just follow the plan and see what an honest attempt looks like…assuming I survive this weekend :)

Somehow inevitably I ended up volunteering to lead the 4:15 group on Saturday, for 13 miles, with 7 of that at marathon goal pace, and registered for the Half on Sunday. The race day weather is supposed to be horrible, with rain and possibly thunder storms, so I’m doing it only as my first long back-to-back run to begin getting ready for another attempt at that 50 miler (but more about that another time).

As long as I do not actually die, next time I’ll update you on how it went, and maybe a better recap of that triple crown from last year. Until then, good running to you all!

I’m still here, I’m still running… let’s try this writing thing again.

Hello, and thank you for clicking to read this post. It’s been over a year since I checked in here, and that should not have happened.  So much of what I’ve gone through would have been easier to handle with the help and support of the friends I made in the blogging world;  instead I turned inward and struggled alone.

But that is finished. I am taking the difficult and costly lessons I’ve learned over the last year, and I am using them to learn and grow and thrive – and I want to share this with you.

As I write, I am just over three months from my third running of the Chevron Houston Marathon.  I am feeling strong and confident, no injuries,  and training has proceeded surprisingly well. I am focused on my goals,  and no distractions are allowed. Life still happens, of course,  but can be dealt with by looking at the bigger picture and making adjustments. None of this is new or groundbreaking, you can find endless sources that claim they can teach you the secret… it’s up to you to learn how to do it.

“Learning how to do it” – or at least my process –  is what I will be passing along to you, in the form of little stories about my “missing year”, and how they compare to where I am today. I hope you enjoy them, and if you feel moved to share your own stories, I’d be thrilled to listen.

Thanks again, see you soon!

Fall training update: Where the heck did a whole month go?


I guess I have to laugh at myself a little bit here…the title of my last post – remember that, a whole long 4 weeks ago? – spoke of “consistency” and my struggles with it; so I follow that with a total lapse of writing…at least it was a consistent failure, right?

Fortunately, my training has been progressing much better than my writing, in many ways. There have been some adjustments, caused by circumstances, but on the whole I am satisfied with how things are going. Let’s take a look:

1. Rather than doing most (or all) of my training alone, as I did last year, I have made a commitment to get coaching and support from a running club; three of them, in fact! I do track workouts and long road runs with the Houston chapter of Runner’s High; race/run roads and volunteer with the Houston Striders; and race/run trails and volunteer with Houston Area Trail Runners. The support and camaraderie is priceless…I don’t know how I managed without these wonderful friends!

2. I have established a regular, varied routine of workouts – speed work, tempo runs, long runs, recovery, rest days – and I am sticking to a written plan, which helps me build mileage gradually, avoid overtraining and injury, and allows me to see steady progress from week to week, which increases my self-confidence as well.

3. I have had to cut back on my cross-training, and drop my personal trainer, which I really regret – but I have plenty of resources to help me develop a decent strength-work routine on my own.

4. The reason for losing the trainer is that I lost something else as well: two weeks ago I became unemployed :( You may remember me talking about The Hero…the new manager at my office who appeared determined to send me down the road at the first opportunity? Well, he got his chance – I missed work a couple of days, and even though I did check in daily with my project manager, and the jobsite supervisors, and my foremen at the site; even though I was taking phone calls and emails from home, without pay; even though the job never lost forward momentum, but remained three weeks ahead of schedule; even though I was back at work first thing Monday morning; he chose to accuse me of not being a responsible team player, and had already assigned one of his people to take over my responsibilities; I was to merely “assist” him…which meant that I would continue doing exactly what I had been doing, but with no authority, and no credit for the work…also without the promotion, pay raise, and perks which had been promised to me. When I expressed my lack of enthusiasm about this new arrangement, I was Heroically informed that my time there was finished…four years of hard work, undone in fifteen minutes.

I can’t deny that I have enjoyed a respite from the stress of work, but of course that cannot last…bliss doesn’t pay the bills, after all :) I have some leads, and some friends who will help me out with temp work until I find something permanent. The hardest part is resisting the temptation to go “off schedule”…to keep my workouts on the normal routine, and keep my days available for work and work-related activities; even if that means filling the day with those nagging chores that I never had time to get done :) I have to admit – I will be glad when normal becomes normal again!

In the meantime, the calendar turns its pages, and my fall races approach…the first one is less than 4 weeks away! (I’m sure glad that all the major ones are already paid for; the extra ones that pop up have to be weighed carefully, as added expenses are not our friends right now.) I hope to be more regular about posting updates, as well…I hope that these little notes I send out encourage, inspire, or at least entertain someone – why else would I be doing this, if not for you, my dear readers?

Thanks for your patience and understanding!

How are you coming along with training, racing, and life?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments :)

Fall training update, New Hope Week 3 – Consistency (more or less)

The third week of what I am calling “serious” fall training had more ups than downs, more hits than misses, so I am counting it a victory by decision – here’s how the points tallied up:

Monday: Rest – Still loving that I start the week with “nothing” to do… can’t get easier than that!

Tuesday:  45 min weight training + track workout  – Another gym day of upper body/arms/chest…by the time I was done, I was having trouble changing shirts to head out to the track :) This was followed by the first real week of speed work and I have to call it a “win”! The workout was 8x300m w/ 100 m walking recovery, with a 2 minute rest and  1x800m final lap; I ran what felt like a good effort, and when I checked my data later, I found that most of my intervals were at 7:00 to 7:30 pace, much faster than I had imagined! I book-ended this workout with a 1 mile warm up and a 2 mile cool down, for a total of 5.5 miles for the day.

Wednesday: Rest – Needed this off day this week, delayed onset soreness was kicking my butt :(

Thursday: 30 min weight training + 3 mi tempo run (1 mi easy, 1 mi GP, 1 mi easy) – I had to squeeze this workout into the schedule, because I got a last-minute call to help with a city inspection at another jobsite at 7pm; so I told my trainer I would just “freestyle” it and get with him later in the week. I chose to focus on legs, so I did leg curls and extensions; hip abductions and adductions; leg presses and calf raises…whew!

I did this week’s tempo run on the treadmill (not my favorite, but expediency was the rule of the day). I cut it short, with a one mile warmup, one mile at GP, and one mile cool down. Next week I hope to extend to five miles total, with 3 at GP – got to get those numbers up there!

Friday: Rest – I woke up early with a terrible migraine, so there was no going to work; I spent the day in bed sleeping through the worst of it. By evening I was functional, but decided not to push it with a run.

Saturday: Rest – Since all of Friday was lost, and Saturday started off with me being light-headed and nauseous, I extended the rest interval another day – run away and live to fight another day :/

Sunday: 8.9 mi trails (13:20/mi avg) – I went out with the intent to atone for all my lost miles, and I think I did a pretty fair job of it! My first loop on the trails was kind of laid back, just enjoying being out in the dark, alone, with no one but the bunnies I kept scaring into the tall grass for company :) On the second and third loops, I made it my business to keep up with the “fast” runners in our group; I surprised myself by being able to keep up and hold conversation the whole way…maybe I need to start thinking of myself as one of the fast runners too!

The day’s total also includes a special event, the #HATR #beermile…for the uninitiated, a beermile is a run where each participant must consume a 12-oz can of beer, minimum 5% alcohol, at the start of each of 4 laps on a marked 1/4 mile course; if you “vent” once, you must run a penalty lap, the second time is a DQ. I certainly did not “win”, but I did finish all 4 beers and all 4 laps, and a great time was had by all!

Summary: Planned – 5 runs, 20-ish miles, 3 strength training days; actual – 3 runs,  17.3 miles, 2 strength training days

While none of the last three weeks has been letter-perfect in execution, I can say that I am very well satisfied with the level of consistency I am maintaining…I am getting out there on a regular basis, I am getting nearly the mileage I want, and I am getting a variety of workouts each week. I feel quite confident that I will be able to attain most, if not all, of my goals for the fall, and in any case, I know I will be further along in my overall fitness than if I had done nothing – and that counts for a lot!

 Do you struggle with “less than perfect”?

What tips do you have to share on coping with the balance between “what could have been” and  “what really is” ?

I’d love to hear from you!!

Fall training update, New Hope Week 2 – Getting better!

The second week of my training “reboot” was just as successful as the first – maybe even more so, as I was able to add some new elements..things that I had planned to introduce later on, but they seem to be fitting in well right now! Maybe my body hasn’t lost as much of that hard-won conditioning from earlier in the year as I had feared, maybe I am just being over-cautious; either way, here is the the way it was:

Monday: Rest – Having my rest day land on the first day of the work week is quite possibly the single most brilliant thing I have ever done! So many things go crazy on Mondays, just knowing it won’t interfere with my workout schedule is so freeing…work is stressful enough without creating more conflicts!

Tuesday:  45 min weight training + track workout  – After a hard-core return to activity last week, I have settled on a regular schedule with my trainer; this week we started with arms, shoulders, chest and back. (I’m starting to wonder if telling him that I am training for a Spartan Race was such a good idea :) ) I think have also got the scheduling down so I can get my gym time in, and still make it to the “new” track workouts I have added on Tuesdays.

The run portion was broken up into 3 segments – a 1.5 mile easy warn up (11:19/mi), a 1.5 mile cool down (10:33/mi) and in between, my first session of speed work with the Runner’s High coaches: a one-mile time trial to place me with the correct group. I kind of sand-bagged the trial, I must admit; but I was encouraged to discover that I was actually running at the pace I thought I was running at – I paced myself for what felt like a sub-8:00 mile, and I came in at 7:50, so I guess my sense of timing has developed pretty well over the last year! Next week I will be doing intervals, and I’m buying a stopwatch…I want to get all I can out of these workouts :)

Wednesday: Rest – Still keeping this extra day off in the rotation for now, probably until after the Capt’n Karl’s 30K in September; then I will up my weekly mileage with another “easy” or “recovery” run.

Thursday: 45 min weight training + 4 mi tempo run (2 mi easy, 1 mi GP, 1 mi easy) – Today’s session was all about the legs: squats, bear crawls, box jumps, kettlebell carries, and then a crazy stability exercise, standing on the BOSU ball while my trainer threw a medicine ball at me from all directions – I only fell off twice, so not too bad!

I followed this with my first tempo run of this training cycle, running 2 miles at 11:15/mi, then one hard mile at 9:20/mi, then cooling down with one mile at 10:30. I was pretty well wrecked at the finish, but it felt great while I was going!  (Doing legs at the gym and tempo runs in the same day may not work for everyone, but if I can sustain it, how awesome is that?)

Friday: Rest and sports massage – Back in March, I met a guy who was doing massage demonstrations; he specializes in a mixture of Swedish and Thai massage techniques, particularly aimed at runners (he runs ultras himself, so he has the unique knowledge of runners need). We spent two hours working on my calves, ankles and feet, focusing on the lingering issues I have had with my Achilles tendons…it hurt, I cannot lie, but in that wonderful way that lets you know it was exactly what you needed! By the time I got home, I had such a sense of increased motion and flexibility, and such a relief from the “normal” pain and stiffness, that I wondered how I ever thought that was normal!! We will be seeing more of each other in the future, I guarantee that!

Saturday: Group long run (5.4 mi, 10:28/mi avg) + no weight training – This was my first time running with RHC on the regular Saturday group run. Road running with a group, at a set pace, is something entirely new for me, but I have to say it was really enjoyable! Our coach follows the “long slow run” philosophy, where you should go about 45 seconds per mile slower than goal marathon pace; since I am currently training with the 4:30 marathon group, that works out to 10:30-10:45 per mile, or slow enough to carry on a conversation. I took advantage of that, let me tell you! Many of the people I ran with are casual acquaintances from other races, especially Brazos Bend (where I volunteered at packet pickup in the morning, and also worked the finish line after I ran my 50K) so we had an immediate connection. Getting to know more about others, as well as promote trail running in Houston, is a welcome distraction from the monotony of long runs! I also tested myself just a little…when the 4:00 pace group passed us with about one mile to go, I decided to step up and finish with them,,it was a stretch, but I did it!

The rest of the day got away from me, between running errands for my dad, taking care of stuff around the house, and the unexpected thunderstorm that knocked out our power for several hours in the evening…so the gym workout went by the wayside :(

Sunday: 5.1 mi easy (55:32, 10:48/mi) – That power outage last night also caused all the cell phones to go dead, so we had no alarms to wake up with this morning, thus I missed the group trail run. But I will do my best to roll with the changes and not get derailed by things going “wrong” (read “according to my plans“) so I got out right as the sun went down and matched yesterday’s miles – score!

Summary: Planned – 5 runs, 20-ish miles, 3 strength training days; actual – 4 runs,  18.4 miles, 2 strength training days

So that makes two record-breaking weeks in a row where I met all my training goals – or at least the spirit of the goals…even the days where I was “off” I did something positive and fitness-related. I am learning that, for me at least, I need to have small one-step-at-a-time goals that give me a continuing sense of accomplishment…something to buoy me up and carry me through the times when it isn’t going quite so well.


Do you set “baby steps” along with the “big picture” goals?

If not, why? If so, how are you doing keeping up with them?

I’d love to hear from you!!

Fall training update, New Hope Week 1

I love this quote, because it stands behind a truth that I have often struggled with – sometimes you just have to accept that the only way to move forward is to go back to the beginning…a truth which applies in running just as it does in life. Sometimes it comes because you made bad assumptions going in (like trying to start a training plan with a project at work approaching a critical milestone, knowing that the demands of the job were likely to be overwhelming, but thinking I would find a way somehow); sometimes it comes because you realize that the price of the choices you would have to make is higher than you are willing to pay (like sacrificing my already scant family time or compromising my health just to keep a “schedule”); and sometimes it’s just the harsh light of reality that dispels an unrealistic image we are trying desperately to hang on to (like wanting to believe that I can string together 20-hour days indefinitely, and “catch up later”, but when exactly is “later” supposed to come?) Whatever the reason, for each of us there may come a time when we have to take a step back, heave a deep breath, and admit that we can’t get there from here, so we had better find a better way.

This week, I went back to the beginning; I ran slow and easy, with the sole goal of spending time on my feet consistently. I talked with my trainer at the gym, and restructured my workouts to accommodate my current fitness level, instead of where I wish I was at this point :) . I spent some of the overtime money I made on some new shoes and other gear, so I am not adding unnecessary stress on my body (much as I did last year, when too many miles on my shoes nearly undid me completely). And, it appears like all of this is working, because I hit every workout, and while I may have missed my targets on mileage and duration, I did so for valid reasons which were smart choices based on facts, not feelings. Let’s see how it went –

Monday: Rest – I took this seriously, for a change, and instead of using the day to run a ton of errands or chores, I spent a quiet evening at home with The Wife, with my legs up and my mind at ease. Of course, having all the crazyness at work behind me was a big part of that, too!

Tuesday:  1 hr weight training + 3 mi easy run (37:14, 12:12/mi) – I made the all-out plunge to return to serious training by hitting up my trainer for a thorough thrashing (while he fussed at me for my eating and sleeping habits – or, more accurately, the lack of eating and sleeping); and then heading out for a leisurely 3-mle run…this being the first time I have laced up in over a week, I was not out to set any records :)

Wednesday: Rest – For now, I will keep this mid-week rest day on the schedule, but soon I will change it to another easy run day…this is the perfect place to add weekly mileage.

Thursday: 45 min weight training + 3 mi easy run (35:44, 11:47/mi) – My trainer had personal issues to attend to, so I went with my default circuit training on the machines; it’s not as intense, but there are benefits to low weight/high reps just as much as crashing the heavy stuff. My run wasn’t really as slow as it seems; I went out after dark, and on the way home I got ambushed by a fairly large pack of stray dogs…I had to spend several minutes standing still and walking slowly backwards to get away from them. Good thing I run at night with a Petzl Tikka-RXP headlamp, one of the brightest on the market – shining a strong light into a dog’s eyes will just about always cause it to stop dead, and confuse it enough to keep it from chasing you! (A flashlight works just as well, if you don’t have a headlamp.)

Friday: 3 mi easy run (30:46, 10:10/mi) – This is much more like what I expect my “easy” runs to be; the days of 12:00/mi on the roads as a rule are long behind me! It was also my first chance to run in the brand new Brooks Ghost 6’s I just bought on sale; I don’t mind running in “last year’s” shoe, if I can get it for less than half price!

Saturday: 1 hr Trail running (3.2 mi, 45 min moving time, 13:52/mi) + 45 min weight training – I had hoped to meet up with the HATR Nation early in the morning, but my body clock had other ideas; I slept right through three alarms and woke up about the time they were getting done :( But the trails won’t run themselves, and the results won’t come unless the work is put in, so I headed out on my own around mid-morning. I also took this opportunity to break in the other new shoes I just bought (because what good is piling up overtime cash if you aren’t going to enjoy it?) so I hit the ground running in my spanking new Altra Olympus. Now, zero-drop footwear is new for me, and so after the first 3-mile loop, when I felt my Achilles tendons beginning to complain a bit, I decided to call it good for the morning – there will be many more chances to work these bad boys out!

Sunday: 3 mi easy (31:43, 10:34/mi) – My plan for this fall includes one hallmark feature of ultra running: back-to-back runs (B2B’s for the fans of running lingo). I ran trails yesterday, so today was a matching turn on the roads. In weeks to come, I will be swapping this around, as I just joined up with Runner’s High Club, a running and training group here in Houston, because while I may have a pretty plan on paper, I know myself well enough that accountability is what will make or break me this season. So I will submit myself to some coaching, at least for track workouts and long runs, much as I have for weight training…and the results will tell whether it was a good choice or not, won’t they?

Summary: Planned – 5 runs, 20-ish miles, 3 strength training days; actual – 5 runs,  miles, 3 strength training days

I know it’s only one week, but it was a great week, and I am encouraged by how it went. I know that it is within my power to make another week like this one, or even better – up, up, and away!!

Train with a coach or a team, or train alone…

Which do you prefer, and why?

I’d love to hear from you!!