Fantastic February

What's in a month? For me, the second month of the year this year was all about getting back on track ... and then some. When January ended, I was really doubting myself and how I could get ready for next month's race. Twenty-nine days later, I say: Bring it on.

I finished the month with 86.5 miles, about 9 miles more than February 2007, brining my yearly total to 128.8 miles. If all goes as planned this weekend, I will pass the 100-mile mark in a 31-day span. Not a bad way to kick off March. Now that I've gotten away from my lousy January, I realize now how important it was for my body to get some rest and recover from last year. I'm ending this month feeling the best I've felt in a long time.

If I knew then ....

My friends over at the Runner's Lounge often post some interesting subjects. They also have an awesome Web site connecting runners with runners, but time just isn't on my side to get involved as I would like. That all being said, this week's "Take-It-and-Run Thursday" topic is very interesting, and like many things with running, it is very challenging. So here's my take on "If I knew then what I know now."

What have you stubbornly resisted learning or trying? Speed work. I've always been scared to push my body to its limits. I always impressed myself with races, but never did interval training at all until I ran with a group. I definitely suggest doing it with a group first, then your confidence will come around to trying it by yourself.

What has led to breakthroughs in your running? Lots of little things. Finishing my first race made me realize that I can do anything I set my mind to.

What lesson about running has taken you too long to figure out? Injuries. I wouldn't say it's taken too long to figure out ... it's just frustrating to figure out.

What 1 or 2 factors have made your running most successful and enjoyable? Finishing my first race ... and four years later finishing my first marathon.

What training or racing blunders have set you back? In training for my first "long" race - a 10 miler - I increased my mileage too quick and suffered from knee problems. I know now to stop when something hurts.

What 1 or 2 pieces advice would you pass along to a beginning runner? It gets easier each day ... then it gets hard all over again. I also suggest to push yourself a little farther every day. Start at a mile ... then 1.25 miles, then 1.5 miles, then 1.75 miles. A little bit goes a long way.

What advice would you pass along to a veteran runner who is stuck in a rut? Try a different route. I know too many people who have the same route, or same neighborhood. You need different scenery at least once a week.

What has kept you from achieving your running goals? Injuries, but I've been lucky to only have two and neither have been major. But they're frustrating.

What is one mistake that has made a significant difference in your running that would you like to reverse? Instead of using the work mistake, I like to say lessons learned. And, I think the biggest lesson learned came 10 years ago when I stopped running. I missed out on a lot by stopping and gaining weight.

Things just keep getting better

In the past few weeks I've had a lot happen to put my mind at ease when it comes to running -- a good race, a good mile time by myself, hitting double digits, etc. But I can't just be content with what I've done. Running is a never-ending process, and don't ask me why it's taken me five years to really realize that.

Today was one of those days that I could have easily turned my alarm clock off and slept until noon. But I got up on the first alarm and didn't sleep an extra 9 minutes like I usually do. I got up ... and went running. As usual, I didn't have much of a plan, but I knew I wanted to do some sort of speed work. So after a little more than a mile, I did some intervals -- two quarter miles and two half miles, with a quarter mile break in between everything. My first quarter mile was 2:06, and it felt like I was dragging through mud. The second quarter mile was 1:57. Better, but I wasn't fully satisfied. I still felt tired, but no worn out. It was just an odd feeling really. The first half mile went better with a time of 3:46; my last half mile was a bit slower at 3:55.

When I ran about a mile to cool down, I was thinking about what I just did. A year ago I didn't have enough confidence to attempt speed work by myself. It had to be with a group. And a year ago I would've never attempted this in a neighborhood -- I would've wanted complete flatness on a track. I was also very happy at keeping my pace under 8-minute miles while feeling like I could run even harder.

I keep getting mad at myself for a few pounds I can't seem to lose, but I am feeling great heading into the last two weeks of getting ready for the Shamrock Half Marathon. I have to keep reminding myself, too, that it's still February and most people are still in "off season" not thinking about running hard. And I'm doing much of this own my own. Yes, I'm running with a group on Saturdays, but it doesn't focus on speed or longer distances that I'm at now. I've been lacking some confidence for a while, and it's nice to be back.

A Return to Double Digits

For the first time since the marathon, and for the first time since late October as a training run, I hit double digits today with 10.1 miles. For the most part, everything felt good. It was a bit cold at first, but by mid-way any feeling of cold went away. I hit 25.5 miles for the week - my third straight week of 20-plus miles.

Today also brought me to only two miles away from passing last year's February total with five days remaining, but my January miles were much less. Even though I've ran fewer miles so far this year than I had last year at this time, I've been more consistent with creeping my mileage up leading up to the next race. This 10-mile run also surpasses my longest run from last year leading up to the same race. I'm pretty much on track with some training plans I've seen for a half marathon, although I'd like to be running a little bit more. Right now, I'm just happy to be running as much as I am.

Challenging Myself

A day after writing about perhaps running in the evening again, I made the switch for at least one day. It was colder than usual this morning and I was short on time, so a run was out of the question in the a.m. I usually take Thursday off anyway, but tomorrow's forecast is for snow and ice in the morning, so I had to adjust things. So I took a 36-hour break and ran after I got off work today.

About a mile into the run, I thought that I needed to do something different. The run was just boring and it was quickly getting dark. So, I thought since I hadn't done much speed work besides this past weekend's race that I'd see how fast I could run a mile. Since running in the evening is unlike me, why not throw my body for an even bigger loop? So after 2 miles, I hit the lap button on my Garmin and took off. And I felt like I was going nowhere! I managed a 7:40 mile, which I'm very pleased with -- it was nearly 12 hours later than I'm used to, it was after a busy day at work and I had Mexican for lunch. So yes, 7:40 is great. It just felt like I could've done better, and that's a great feeling to have.

With a little more than three weeks to go to the Shamrock Half Marathon, things really seem to be falling into place. I just have a few pounds I'd like to shed and I think I'm well on my way with that.

Craving Daylight

Running in the winter isn't necessarily a battle against the cold or the wind or the up and down temperatures Virginia gets. It's the daylight hours, or really, the lack of. I have trouble waking up when it's dark out. I manage, somehow, but it's not the same as the summer. Right now, I can really tell that the days are getting a bit longer. It's nice that it's not pitch black at 7 a.m. But thanks to our federal government, we'll be springing forward soon, and it'll be a good month or so before it's daylight when I would prefer it to be daylight.

However, there is the end of the day. I used to be an evening runner, but changed a year ago. Perhaps I'll have to reconsider soon. I'm flexible to some extent. I just had more "problems" at the end of the day when I ran.

Anyway, I really have no point. I guess it's those winter blues. I'm craving consistent temperatures in which I can run in shorts and short sleeves. Meanwhile, it's been a pretty good week so far. I'm a mile ahead of last week so far. I'm debating on hitting double digits for the long run this week. That's a decision that'll come that morning probably.

0.1 more than last week

With visions of yesterday's hill still fresh in my head, I woke up ready for a long run today. I thought maybe I'd be sore from the race and I might cut back a little bit, but I was feeling good, so I went out and hit 7.1 miles today. I added the extra tenth so I could pass last week's total to continue my streak of increasing my mileage every week this year. With a week of 20.5 miles, I'm 6.4 miles shy of hitting 100 miles for the year.

I'm feeling really good with being consistent with slowly creeping my miles up. Next week's goal again will be to run more than I did this week, with hopes of getting closer to 25 miles. I'd like to get to 25 or so in the next few of weeks to allow myself to get some rest the week of my race. Like I've been saying all along, I want to peak on race week.

Sweetheart 8k

No race should start with a steep uphill. It's just cruel. But that's the way today's race started. The initial incline wasn't too bad, but then within a tenth of a mile it was like running up a black diamond ski slope. It wasn't long, but it was hell. A young boy running with his father was repeatedly saying "I can't make it." I think he did make it up the hill, but I didn't seem them again. I've never seen a field of runners get so spread out so quickly as I did today.

About the first half mile of today's race was uphill before it flatten out a bit and started going downhill toward the end of the first mile. I happened to glance down at my watch when I hit one mile (there were no mile markers on the course) and was at exactly 8 minutes. Having battled that hill, I was pleasantly surprised, but I questioned whether or not I could maintain the pace. Thankfully there was a decent downhill to allow a recovery and to pick up the pace without trying too hard.

The rest of the race went well. There were several rolling hills that reminded me of my running days in Lynchburg. Richmond is a strange area -- my neighborhood and the surrounding few miles are relatively flat. But in the neighborhood five miles south, it's nothing but hills. Anyway, during the race I kept getting a feeling that my legs were going to cramp. It was cool - about 40 degrees - and quite windy in certain areas. At the half way point, I was screaming at myself in my head for wearing a long sleeve shirt. I took my thin gloves off, pushed up my sleeves, turned my hat around and kept rolling along near that 8-minute mile pace.

Near mile 3, I had one of those annoying people pass me who likes to just shout stuff out randomly. "MILE 3! WE'RE AT A SUB-8 PACE!" While it may come across as supportive, at this point I don't want to hear anyone talk, unless they're cheering us along. "THAT'S 3.5 MILES. ONLY A LITTLE MORE THAN A MILE TO GO!" At that point, the competitive side in me came out and I said to myself -- perhaps I should've shouted it -- I'm not going to let this guy finish in front of me. While running is often individual with racing against myself, I can't help but want to finish in front of know-it-all types. I think another woman near me felt the same.

As we rounded the corner to circle around a lake to the finish line, the woman passed by him, and with less than a tenth of a mile to go, I had enough in me to pass by him. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining about him. I like having people out there like that. It helps me maintain my pace, and it helps get my mind off the fact I would have rather stopped and thrown up at some point this morning.

So, I crossed the finish line in 38:26, a 7:44 pace. It's also a PR for that distance - my previous (and only) best in this distance was in 2006 (on a course nowhere near as hilly) at 39:17. With a month to go until my big race, what does all this mean?

Despite the fact I want to shed a few pounds, I think this is a great sign to get close to my time from last year. My goal, though, is to beat that time, even if by a second. There are a lot of things to keep in mind -- this course was hilly; the Virginia Beach course is basically flat. Today had wind often in my face; Virginia Beach is also windy, but last year it was more of a cross wind. Who knows what the weather will be. Today was close to 40; last year it was in the low 20s at the start -- in mid-March, anything can happen. Today was my first true speed workout in three months; I have four more weeks to get a few more speed workouts in. I want to beat 1:44:23, and today put it in perspective that it's possible. I just have to say focused.

For the first time in a while, I feel pleased with where I am with running. What I need to do is right there in front of me, and I can only blame myself if it doesn't happen.

Pre-race excitement

Tomorrow morning I'm running in my first race since the marathon. I'm pretty excited about it too. Having dealt with being sick, being injured and slowly getting back into shape, this will be a good test for me before the half marathon next month. It's an 8k, and I've only done one other 8k before (plus two 5 milers - close enough, right? Except I can have totally different PRs).

I'm not really setting up any specific goals -- I just want to be able to run a nice steady pace the whole time. Not having run a race for three months is a pretty big gap considering what I did last year, so I'm eager to test it all out. If I set a PR, that'll be nice, but I'm not really worried about that.

I weighed myself today and am mad at myself for letting a few pounds creep back. It's kind of odd with increasing my mileage and seeing the weight go up, too. I know that it's actually common for that to happen, but it's frustrating all the same. I've been doing great with getting focused on running, but no so good when it comes to food I guess. Plus I'm at this age where I can tell things are starting to change too. I know, I know, you're saying that I'm only 29, but I can really tell that my metabolism is changing and that I can't just eat what I used to. I'm mad at myself because I was so determined after the marathon not to gain weight back, but it's just like last year all over again. I guess I have to lay off the goodies at work and get back to eating apples instead. :)

Dandelions in February

For the second straight year, dandelions are coming out in February. While I enjoyed the nice warm weather recently, weeds aren't exactly what I want to see on a mid-February run. I want to run in blowing snow just to do it. Just once this winter. That'll all I ask for. I know you guys in the mid-west, northwest and northeast would gladly change your weather for dandelions, but you'd think differently if you lived in it!

The wind carried me past 20

For yet another week, I was able to increase my mileage with hitting 20.4 this week. I had planned to do 7 today, but it's so windy that I had to cut it to 6.1. It seemed no matter which way I ran I was somehow running into the wind. With 20-30 mph winds, I feel like I put in more than I did.

Like I said before, I think I'm setting myself up to peak at the right time for the Shamrock Half Marathon. Five weeks is a good amount of time to continue to slowly build my mileage. Last year at this time, my weekly mileage was slightly higher than where I am now, but I never really increased it too much last year. This year I'm planning to hit double digits for a long run beforehand -- last year my longest run was only 8 miles. It's tough training in the winter for a big race, but I like the challenge battling Virginia's up and down weather.

Speaking of the race, if you're participating in it, make sure to get a hotel room. I spent an hour yesterday finding a place. And if you want to run it, the half marathon is sold out. I believe there's still room in the marathon.

This weekend was the virtual "9 on the 9th" race -- I definitely hit the requirements (doing 9 total near the 9th), but it'll take me a while to figure out how to write a race report. Or maybe my race report is 3 miles on Friday, 4.1 on Saturday and 1.9 on Sunday ... or 4.1 on Saturday and 4.9 on Sunday. At least this month, I was able to do it. I can't say the same for the 8 on the 8th in December.

A good week so far

I've been slacking in the writing department lately. Work has been busier than usual (which is a good thing) and the time to write about running has dwindled. Plus things are going so well that I really don't have much to say. Through today I'm a tad over 10 miles for the week and should easily eclipse 20 miles for the week with a planned group run tomorrow of 4 miles and then my long run on Sunday in which I'm planning 7 miles.

Have a good weekend ... and make sure to pay attention to Virginia on Tuesday. We actually have a say in the presidential nomination process.

A good six miles

Simply put, 6 miles today felt great. The best feeling to have while running is to want to keep running once the planned mileage is over. That happened today and yesterday. I don't want to overdo it, so I didn't go any farther. All told for the week, I had 19 miles. A bad storm on Friday prevented me from running, but that's OK - this week was yet another increase in mileage for the week, something I've done every week so far in 2008 -- 2.5, 8.9, 10.1, 12.2 and 19. Next week's goal: 20+.