Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Confidence Booster

For most of the past 3 years I have been fortunate enough to have a perfect training partner. My husband Sean is a Mill Valley native, the love of my life and just fast enough to challenge me. We have logged thousands of miles together on trails and roads. As any runner knows, the biggest challenge can be the boredom of logging miles alone. Being married to your training partner is the perfect situation: you eat the same things, go to the same events and can prevent each other from hitting the bars until 2 am the night before a big race. Alas for the past couple months Sean has been side lined by a stubborn achilles injury that is healing ever so slowly. This might be a bit selfish, but I want him to heal quickly so I can have my training partner back! Aside from keeping each other in great shape, a good run together is over an hour of quality time spent talking about everything and nothing, bouncing ideas off each other and seeing gorgeous vistas.

Sean and I after the 2010 Napa Marathon
Luckily I have quite a few fast and friendly running buddies who are always ready to hit the trails with me. When my training hits 80-90 miles a week it's wonderful to have talkative company for as many miles as possible. My great coach Mark has also been a tremendous help for many long hard tempo runs and interval workouts. When we're on mile 9 of a tempo run at 6 minute pace and I am huffing and puffing, he's giving me pointers on my form and telling me to draft behind him because we're about to turn into a headwind. And did I mention the detailed splits every quarter mile? I know we've done a big workout when he finally admits to being just a little bit tired at the end.
A fun group run to the top of Big Rock Ridge
However some times schedules don't align, events intervene, the stars aren't crossed and I just have to hit the run alone. Yesterday, I had a long workout on the schedule and no training partners lined up. I was nervous about it because I some times have a hard time keeping a good pace when I'm running by myself. I spent the whole night before worrying about the weather, the light, the wind, the rain... I was almost wishing I would wake up to a hurricane so I could have some sort of excuse. When the day dawned bright and clear I knew there was nothing to do except get out the door and bang out the run. I took my running buddy for the day, my Garmin 410 and hit the bike path. The Garmin and I have a love/hate relationship. Some times he refuses to work and freezes just as I am getting out of the car at the trailhead. Some times all he wants to do is display my pace when I want to see what mile I am on. And some times he's just plain out of batteries. Talk about high maintenance! But when he's working perfectly, he's almost as good as a real life training partner.

During my 2 mile warmup I kept sneaking glances at the Garmin. I always get nervous during the warmup; when I'm all stiff and feel heavy and the adrenalin hasn't hit my muscles yet and the pace reads something closer to 8 minutes than 6 minutes. But after a couple of miles and a couple of strides things shake into place and I know I'm ready to go. I love to run mile repeats, tempos and long intervals on the Mill Valley - Sausalito bike path. It's a couple of miles long with no cars, great views and you can see pretty far ahead and get a nice gauge on how far you have to go. The wind can be challenging and yesterday morning it was swirling around in all directions. During my first 3 mile segment I was supposed to run it at 5:45 pace but the headwind kept changing and while it was not unbearable it threw my pacing off a little and I could see that my Garmin was all over the place: anywhere from 5:35 to 6:00 pace. But once I finished the three miles my average pace turned out to be 5:50. Close enough.

I then did my classic Cascade Park loop through Downtown Mill Valley for the next 6 miles. I love to run through the downtown area just to see what is going on, who's out and about and whether any cute new stores have opened. I don't think I've actually ever shopped at those little boutiques downtown but it's always nice to dream. Once I got back to the bike path, I'd already put 11 miles under my belt and felt ready to tackle the last part of the workout: three mile repeats with 1 minute rest. I downed a Gu Roctane and turned out 3 miles at 5:35 pace with nary a sore muscle. Hmm it turns out tapering and recovering actually works! I feel so ready for Napa, ready to run faster and harder than I've ever run before.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wether the Weather

Dear Climate Change,

I humbly request that you take us runners into consideration when altering the weather patterns of Marin County, California. I have noticed you experimenting the past couple of months and would like to offer some suggestions:

1. Winter temps between 50 and 60 degrees. It has been scientifically proven somewhere at some time by a couple of somewhat qualified exercise physiologists that optimal running performances occur at 55 degrees. For the sake of variety, give us a ten degree window.

2. Wind speed below 8mph. Anything above 8 and we are expending too much energy!

3. Foggy and cloudy in the morning, sunny after 10am. I like it not too sunny for my workouts, wouldn't want to overheat after all. But we do need our vitamin D and nothing beats a sunny run around the lakes.

4. Summer temps below 80. I like a hot summer day as much as any other person but there's hot and then there's TOO hot.

Some things I wouldn't mind never seeing again:

1. Snow. I have experienced enough snow for a lifetime after 6 years of living in Boston. Keep it in the Sierras, please!

2. Pouring rain when it's under 40 degrees. I believe in the necessity of rain. As a gardener, I welcome it. But could you keep it to a light drizzle?

3. Gale force winds. It is very difficult to move forward into a 30mph headwind. However, if suddenly there were a 30mph south blowing wind on the morning of March 6th, 2011 I won't complain about it too much.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If ever you need an extra dose of carbon dioxide, don't hesitate to ask.

Very sincerely yours,


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Long Delayed Chores

My winter garden has been suffering from the effects of heavy marathon training. A long list of tasks piled up while I was throwing myself into the cycle of long tempo runs, tune-up races and interval workouts. But what are taper weeks for? Catching up on those neglected tasks of course! Since the Napa Valley Marathon is a week and a half away, I have been incrementally cutting back to let my body recover and absorb the hard training from the last few months. And cutting back on running means more energy and time to devote to my garden. But I have to not go overboard on the shoveling, digging and bending; otherwise I will be toeing the line at Napa with the back of a 90 year old arthritic.

First up on the list of garden tasks was to mulch the new blueberry and kiwi plants. They arrived a few weeks ago as spindly little bare root twigs from Bay Laurel Nursery. Sean and I planted them in the garden and the weather obliging dumped inches and inches of rain. I am eagerly awaiting the day when I can go into the backyard and pick a basket of fruit. However given my skill at blueberry consumption we should have ordered 400 bushes instead of 4. Apparently blueberry bushes take up to 5 years to mature but once they do, one plant will produce many pints of fruit. I selected a variety of kiwi called "Issai" which is supposedly self fertile and will produce fruit without a male plant. (Kiwis come in female and male plants and usually a male plant is required for pollination in order for fruit to form). I am hoping the vines will like having the wooden backyard staircase for a trellis.

Young kiwi vine next to the stairs
My shallot bed was also suffering from a lack of weeding and it was getting difficult to distinguish the shallot plants from the intruders. I could have saved myself much labor by being more proactive and pulling the weeds when they were tiny but weeding is probably the farthest thing from my mind after a hard run. A particularly stubborn plant had decided to call my raised beds home and it was quite satisfying to grab hold of the stem and pull 8 inches of tap root out of the ground! Now the shallots have plenty of room to grow and no rivals sucking up water and nutrients.

Shallots are happy!
Mulching and weeding are both quite pleasant tasks but the final item on my pre-marathon garden chore list was MUCKING OUT THE CHICKEN RUN. Shoveling out 3 month's worth of leaves, wood shavings and 9 chickens' worth of poop is tiring and, to put it politely, really freaking gross. I suited up: tall rubber boots, work gloves, hat and weather resistant jacket with old fleece underneath. Armed with a big shovel and a bucket, I entered the chicken run and was instantly mobbed by 9 hens expecting food. I threw a handful of sunflower seeds into their coop and they all ran inside to stuff their faces. I shut the chicken door behind them to keep them out of the way while I got to work on the run. After a couple of bouts of rain, the floor of the run had turned into a thick layer of half-composted leaves and droppings. It was a bit smelly because of all the moisture and was definitely ready to be removed to the compost bin and replaced with a fresh layer of leaves. It took me quite a few trips with a 5 gallon bucket to clear out most of the run. I left the last corner for Sean, it was so thick and compacted I couldn't make a dent into it without throwing out my back. I hope the chickens appreciate my efforts and respond with lots of eggs! If not, off with their heads! Even though it's dirty work, I love having our chickens and even their poop. It is so wonderful to get a half dozen fresh eggs every day and all that chicken manure has made my vegetables very very happy.
That's right chickens, you better appreciate it your clean run.