Last year, after running my sixth marathon — in Death Valley of all places — my doctor gave me a sobering look during my annual physical and asked how many more marathons I planned on running. I told him maybe a few more and he proceeded to tell me about a study he had recently read that was undertaken by a doctor and his son, both marathon runners. They loved running and wanted to study how running a marathon effected runners’ hearts.
They were surprised by their findings. Apparently, at least in the people they studied, in the days following a marathon the runners’ hearts showed just as much damage as if they had suffered a heart attack. Sobering findings indeed. Even worse, people who had run ten or more marathons showed increased blockage and calcification in their arteries. My doctor, who has known me for 22 years, quietly told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on running that many marathons.
I laughed and agreed. I had, after all, just run 26.2 miles in Death Valley! In the back of my mind, however, I was rolling my eyes and thinking there was no way running could be bad for you. Data can be manipulated.
Today a friend posted a link to an article in The Wall Street Journal about two new studies on the effects of running, especially in older athletes. The news is, once again, not very good. Here’s the part that stood out the most to me:
What the new research suggests is that the benefits of running may come to a hard stop later in life. In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.
It’s that last sentence, emphasized by me, that makes me cringe. In my circle of running friends, 20 to 25 miles a week is small potatoes. Especially now that I’m training for a 50 mile race in nine weeks, and regularly hit weekly mileage of 50-60 miles, I often run 20 to 25 miles in one run.
This sentence from the article calmed me down somewhat:
Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.
It would take about a 7:30 minute pace to run 8 miles per hour, and I’m far from ever achieving that pace for longer than, oh, ten seconds, maybe? I’m a solid middle of the pack runner. I like an occasional good, fast tempo run, or a race where everything comes together and I surprise myself with a faster than expected pace, but I don’t train for speed. If it’s a byproduct of hills and distance, all the better, but it’s just not that important to me anymore. I guess I’m starting to mellow in my old age.
I’m all about distance. Nothing makes me happier than spending a few hours on a Saturday morning running a 20 mile route around the city with my friends. Even better, spending five or six hours on a trail, pushing just hard enough to enjoy the experience and still have enough energy to make it back to the car and the drive home, is what fills me with the deepest sense of accomplishment I’ve ever known. Nothing else in my life has ever made me feel as satisfied with myself as running.
I like to think I run intuitively and listen to my body. I’m pretty good about taking rest days and not being a slave to the training plan. I don’t race half as much as others I run with, and I don’t push myself as hard either, especially on long runs.
It seems like common sense that running really hard, day in and day out, over fairly long distances, will eventually wear out your heart faster than if you did nothing but sit on the couch. Moderation is the key. Maybe speed is the culprit, and the studies don’t give us all the variables.
I have a deep down feeling that our bodies were made to run. The only thing more natural than running would be walking, something I plan on doing more of when I get much older. And I don’t intuitively feel that running long distances, at a comfortable, conversational speed, can really be the same — or worse than — doing nothing at all. Someone will need to show me the data on that to make me a believer.
For me, at this point in time, I’m in the best shape of my life. It took me 52 years to get here, and nothing beats the feeling of power and strength I’ve gained from running these past seven years. I love being able to go out for a 10 mile run on a cold autumn morning and have it feel easy. I feel energized the rest of the day, it keeps me in a great mood, and I sleep better and deeper than when I’m not running.
But, honestly, if I had to, I could be happy with 20 to 25 miles a week. If someone could prove to me that I would be able to have an extra five or ten years of running if I cut my current mileage in half, and have the same physical and psychological benefits I garner with 50 mile weeks, I could do it.
Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being healthy and staying alive, and being able to appreciate the gift of running — even if it’s “only” 25 miles per week.
Besides, we all know that anything done to excess can be bad for you, and that includes something as healthy as running. Just keep it simple, and listen to your heart.
I ran for three years before I had any desire to run a marathon. I thought people who ran 26 miles were crazy. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to put themselves through that much pain.
Six marathons later, I’m training for a 50K.
Training for a marathon and a 50K trail race are similar, but there are differences. I’m new to trail running, and it’s definitely not the same as running on pavement. Other than the obvious difference of concrete versus dirt (and roots, rocks, and stumps), I’ve been surprised to discover a few things I’ve never experienced in marathon training.
Run, don’t walk:
The biggest surprise happened this past Sunday, when my friend Hari and I ran 23 miles on trails. We started slower than usual. Complete darkness, no moon, and huge spiderwebs–with spiders–spanning the trail forced us to slow down. Later on we took walk breaks and walked the steeper uphills. The last few miles of the run, when I was bone tired, I was surprised to discover something I had never experienced before.
For the first time ever, even when I was exhausted and ready to be done, running actually felt easier and less painful than walking.
This was huge. My brain normally begs me to walk those last few miles of a 22 miler or a marathon–and walking feels good. This time I was not only able to start running again, it actually felt physically better. I’ve read about this from ultra-distance runners but never experienced it myself before Sunday.
Something salty, please:
I alternate drinking water and Gatorade in a race, but only because it’s there. I’ve never craved Gatorade in a race, even when it’s humid and warm, and I’ve never noticed it having any effect on my performance. On the trail, however, especially this summer in the extreme heat, Gatorade is like an elixir that brings me back to life. I keep it in a cooler with ice, and crave it’s salty sweetness until I get back to the car. It seems to make a difference in my running and energy level, so it must be replenishing my salt levels. Potato chips after a run are good, too, but not like an ice, cold Gatorade.
I’ll take dolmas with that pizza:
My stomach tends to shut down on both very long runs and marathons. I completely lose my appetite, so figuring out what to eat is a big concern of mine. On the trails, I’ve discovered that real food gives me much more energy, before and after the run, than GU’s, gels, and Honey Waffle Stingers. My best run so far was when I bought dolmas at the Greek pizzeria the night before and brought them on the run. They were easily digestible, tasted delicious, and seemed to give me much more energy. I had a sandwich after the run (my friend Susan’s post-run meal of choice) and felt great the rest of the evening.
Last week I didn’t bring real food and had the opposite experience. I ate only chocolate GU’s and Honey Waffle Stingers and could barely choke them down by the end of the run. I brought a sandwich for afterwards and barely made it through the first bite. Not eating enough made me feel sluggish and spent the rest of the day and evening.
Eating real food seems to give me the most energy, but it’s hard to force myself to eat when my appetite is gone. Maybe I should try pizza next time.
Rainy days and trail runs always get me down:
I never “zone out” on my long trail runs like I do on the streets. I focus so intently on the trail, and on not tripping, that it’s mentally exhausting. My legs feel amazingly great the day after my Sunday long trail runs, but my mind seems to take a beating. My Mondays, and sometimes Tuesdays, too, can be kind of gloomy. I feel like I have nothing left in the tank. My first run on the road after a long trail run always feels so easy, mainly because I don’t have to concentrate so hard.
I have to wonder if this is also tied in with figuring out the best nutrition for these long runs, or if it’s nothing more than extreme tiredness. I know it’s common to feel somewhat down after a marathon, so I’m wondering if it’s a similar syndrome. Any post-marathon depression I might have experienced in the past was merely a result of accomplishing a goal, and feeling somewhat aimless until I jumped into training for the next race.
Running is running, right? One foot in front of the other and just keep moving. Not quite. It’s not that simple, and moving up to a new level is teaching me that this old dog still has a lot of new tricks to learn.
Last Friday my running group had the opportunity to do a fun run with the Ultramarathon Man himself, Dean Karnazes, who was in town representing a sponsor for a local 5K race. I’m not a celebrity hound or star-struck kind of person, but it was such an honor meeting one of my first running heroes.
As I stated in my last post, Dean’s book Ultramarathon Man was one of the first running books I read when I began running six years ago. Dean is an undeniably talented runner, running distances I will never attempt. To meet him in person, and discover what a down-to-earth, genuinely nice guy he is, was a real treat.
My running group, the White Rock Running Co-op (WRRC) is a group of friends I’ve run with for the past five years. A core group of us met while training, pacing, and coaching with a local running group, and eventually branched off and created our own group. There’s no charge, no politics, no games–just a group of people who love to run. We run together each Wednesday evening and Saturday mornings (long runs), and we generally follow a marathon or half-marathon training plan.
This weekend about 30 of us are flying to Eugene, OR to run the marathon and half-marathon there.
The group met Dean at the American Airlines Center, home to the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars, on a cool, overcast morning. Some people managed to sneak away from work, others made a day of it.
After an introduction and a few photos, we ran the length of the Katy Trail, which is roughly seven miles total. The first half is gradually uphill, and I had a tough time keeping up with the group. After about two and a half miles, when I looked down at my Garmin and saw the pace was 8:05, I decided to walk until the group turned back around.
Having already done a race pace run on Wednesday night (which was nowhere close to an 8:05 pace!), and knowing I was doing a 12 miler the next day, it wasn’t a tough decision to make.
The group quickly came back down the trail and I jumped in behind everyone else. It started to rain lightly, and thankfully the back of the pack had slowed down to a more reasonable 8:45 pace.
As we made the turn back to the AAC, Dean graciously stood off to the the side in order to be the last one to finish. He said we could brag to everyone that we had run with Dean Karnazes and “beat” him.
Yeah, right, Dean.
A few observations about Dean:
- He has ZERO body fat. Zilch. His legs are incredible, with clearly defined quads and calves. Everyone was amazed at those legs. The men were envious and the women just wanted to touch them.
- Everyone was impressed at how nice he really is. He thanked us several times for coming out to run with him, and talked about his love of running. He was very down-to-earth and humble. He acknowledged how lucky he is that he gets to run for a living.
- He says he never sits down all day. He even has a special desk he uses at home that’s at waist height where he does all his writing. He says it’s one of the ways he stays in shape, and it helps train his body to stay on his feet for long periods of time. (I think it’s just natural for him.)
- He does a lot of cross training.
- He will run the Badwater Ultra again this summer. I asked how many pairs of shoes he usually goes through in Badwater, and he surprisingly said he hopes to use only one pair, which would be a full size larger than he usually wears. And he will run on the white line so the soles don’t melt.
- One of his favorite things to eat on his very long runs is a sandwich of bread, almond butter, banana slices, honey, and a packet of soy sauce drizzled on top of the bread. Genevieve made one the next day and said it was yummy!
Those of us who didn’t have to be back at work had lunch and post-run beers, and talked about running with Dean Karnazes. It was a good day of friendship, laughter, and doing what we love most: running.
Tomorrow my running group is running with Dean Karnazes. He’s in town for a local run and interview, and wanted to run with a local grassroots running organization. The group I run with, The White Rock Running Co-Op, is going to run six miles with him tomorrow on the Katy Trail, an old railroad line that’s been converted into a running/walking/biking path.
Karnazes was probably my first running hero. I remember coming across his first book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, after I had been running for about a year or so. I hadn’t even run my first half marathon at that time, and couldn’t believe there were people who ran the incredible distances he ran.
I’ve learned a lot since then.
Not only has he run the infamous Badwater Ultra in Death Valley, and Western States, but several years ago he ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days–and wrote a book about it.
I haven’t run an ultramarathon, but I do have six marathons under my belt. Even though a month long illness derailed my plans for marathon #7, I’m looking forward to running the half marathon in Eugene next weekend.
Being able to run tomorrow with my first running hero is going to be one of those milestones in my life I’ll never forget. I’ll keep you posted!
Running is just you, the work you put in, and the clock. You can’t cheat yourself. If you don’t put in the miles, you can’t go to the starting line thinking you’re going to pull a miracle out of nowhere. You get out exactly as much as you put in. — Desiree Davila
I didn’t know much about Desi Davila before I saw her run in the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston in January. I hadn’t read the Runner’s World article about her beforehand, but the name on her bib was slightly familiar as she powered past us three times to take second place. Shorter than either Shalane or Kara, Desi was all focus and grit. Very impressive.
Her quote is spot on, and it’s something we all know as runners. You can’t cheat on the miles and expect to have a good marathon. They don’t say respect the distance for nothing, and 26.2 miles is a long way to be miserable because you didn’t train the way you should have.
It’s why I’m having to bail on my second marathon in a row. Injury, sickness, and low mileage: a triple whammy of disappointment.
But that’s okay, I’m looking forward to another half marathon, and the bottom line is that I’m still able to run. Just being able to run is the prize, not the distance or the medal. And for me, getting to the starting line is what I enjoy the most.
Some people hate the training but love the race, and others love the training but hate the race. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, but I generally like the training much more than the actual race.
I do love the really long runs the most, the 16-20 milers with my running friends. My toughest runs are usually the midweek 4-6 milers, when I run alone.
Even running with one of my dogs makes a difference. Running with music has no effect on me, and I rarely run with my iPod. I run most of my miles on the streets in my neighborhood, and many drivers passing through tend to slow down rather than stop at stop signs, and music is just one more thing that could distract me from paying attention to the cars. I’ve almost been hit twice, and neither time was I listening to music, so I don’t want to press my luck.
In the summer, putting in the miles is the toughest for me. As the days get warmer and longer, I’m already starting to dread summer. No matter how hard I try to stay positive about running when it’s hot, no matter what game plan I come up with, no matter how early or late in the day I run, I still struggle.
My only consolation is knowing it will make me a stronger runner, both mentally and physically.
Five weeks out from Eugene I have to acknowledge that I haven’t been able to put in the miles like I wanted to. Rather than beat myself up, like I usually do, I have to focus on knowing that I will be able to complete the half, even if it won’t be my fastest time. I’m good with that.
Whenever I get to the tough part of an uphill during a run or race I say my hill mantra, over and over, until I reach the top: Just keep going. I think it actually applies to all aspects of my running, and it applies to pulling back from another marathon to the half as well.
It really is all about the running and nothing more than that matters.
One foot in front of the other, mile after mile, until you get to the end.
Just keep going.
Usually, five days before a marathon, I’m a mess. I’m checking the weather forecast every hour, obsessing over every slight twinge in my legs and feet, worrying about what to pack, wondering if I could’ve done anything differently in my training, not feeling like I’ve done enough, and having marathon nightmare dreams in my sleep. This time, since I’ve had to switch to the half marathon due to injuries, I keep having to remind myself that I’m actually running a race on Sunday.
What a difference minus 13.1 miles makes.
Running a half marathon when you’ve trained for a full is strange. I feel relaxed and not worried, knowing I won’t be alone. My plan is to help pace the friends I’ve trained with through the first 13 miles of their marathon, then I’ll peel off to the finish line and be done with my “race.” I’m not going to push the pace and race with the bum ankle and sore piriformis, and will try to stay with everyone around a 9:30 pace–which is about what we usually keep on our long runs.
Still, thirteen miles is nothing to sneeze at. Once you’ve run a few marathons you start to think in terms of “only” a half marathon. Ultra-marathoners probably say the same about marathons. It’s not snobbishness, it’s just that when you consistently do really long runs, half the mileage you’re training for really does seem like an “only.”
I can’t even say that I actually enjoy running marathons. They’re hard, really hard. And long. I think I prefer the training, especially the group long runs, to the race. At least that’s been my experience so far. I do feel an incredible sense of accomplishment when I’m done, and I love the total experience, no matter how miserable I am the last six miles, but I wouldn’t use the words “enjoy” and “marathon” in the same sentence.
Maybe this is because of the way I tend to race. Usually when I run a race of any distance, I start out too fast and try to hold on. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. This time, I’m looking forward to keeping a somewhat comfortable pace for half the distance I’ve trained for.
Who knows, maybe I’ll actually enjoy the race this time because of it–even if it is “only” the half marathon.
Things haven’t been going so well in my training these past three weeks. The Route 66 Marathon is next weekend and I’ve had to make the decision that I can’t run it. Disappointing, especially after running through the Hottest Summer on Record in Texas, but stepping back isn’t necessarily the end of the game. I think I still have enough training under my belt to run the half marathon instead of the full.
The reason for stepping back is the nagging ankle tendonitis, which I’ve had off and on this entire training season. Despite trying everything from RICE to lower mileage, it still comes and goes. In addition, always running on a sore left ankle has probably led me to change my gait, which has resulted in a sore piriformis muscle in my other leg. This new pain in the butt, literally, has been getting progressively worse, and makes any run over six or seven miles very uncomfortable.
I really haven’t had many serious running injuries these past six years. Like most runners at some point, I’ve had both ITBS and plantar fasciitis, but only once and they never reappeared. The ankle tendonitis is another issue altogether. I used to get it all the time before I ran, when all I did was walk and do yoga. It tends to come and go through the years, and this year it’s decided to stick around for awhile. I suspect the sore piriformis will be like the ITBS and plantars and leave on its own, never to return (hopefully).
In the meantime, I’ve been cutting back my mileage (which coincided with the taper), walking, and doing a lot of yoga.
There’s a part of me that wants to go ahead and run the marathon. I know I can do it, I can gut it out and finish, but do I really want to put myself through that when I know I can’t do my best? I used to tell runners I trained with to “respect the distance” of the marathon. Time to take my own advice and accept that there will be other marathons in the future (namely, New York City in 2012 or 2013).
If someone in this same situation asked me what they should do, I would tell them not to run the marathon. If I sound like I’m trying to convince myself I’m doing the right thing by stepping back to the half, you’re right. I am.
It’s been a year since I ran my last half marathon, so I’m looking forward to running a shorter distance. The best part of Route 66 is that the half and full marathon courses don’t split off from each other until just before mile 13, which means I’ll be able to run almost the entire length of my race with the friends I’ve trained with since July. It will be hard not to continue on with them and cross the line at 26.2, but I’ll be waiting for them at the finish line a couple of hours later.
We have one final long run tomorrow of 12 miles, which I’m looking forward to. It will give me an idea of what to expect next weekend and to see how the piriformis holds up, at least over 12 miles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t make it worse.
Have you ever had to step back from your original race plans and either switch to another race or bail completely? Did you ever decide to go ahead and run a marathon, even when you were injured or hadn’t trained well?
9/21/11 – HILL REPEATS
Wednesday night I had a fantastic run. We we ran Crazy 8’s, which are hill repeats on a 1.3 mile long route with three hills, the first of which is the steepest hill I’ve ever run up. It was only the second time I’ve run the Crazy 8’s route, and it kicked my behind. After the first one I thought I would be lucky to do two, then I told myself I would somehow make myself do three, then I felt great and decided to follow my new friend Rick’s lead and run an extra repeat. We talked Genevieve into sharing the punishment with us, and pulled off a bonus Crazy 8. In a grueling, gut-busting, glutton for punishment kind of way that only someone training for a marathon can appreciate, it was awesome.
It was very warm, 90 degrees at 7PM with no breeze. It was also very dark. I stumbled and almost fell at the very top of the first Loving hill when a car turned onto the road. I am determined these days to stay upright and scab-free. These knees have seen way too much trauma and I have the scars to prove it.
The first hill is to the top of Loving–which is anything but. It’s STEEP at the top, and the worst part is that when you reach the top and feel like you’re going to DIE, you turn the corner and it keeps going up. After that there’s a nice long downhill, then you turn left and run up a gradual incline, turn the corner again and run up another pretty steep hill, then the long downhill and back to the bottom of Loving.
It doesn’t look that steep in the photos, but it’s used for hill training by both runners and cyclists. Getting to the top of that beast, in addition to the other two hills, is definitely a good workout.
As always when I run hills, I had my hill mantra ready: Just keep going. I keep my head down and repeat those words, over and over. I don’t think about the pain, the difficulty, or anything else. I focus on those words and let them take me to the top. I used it a lot the other night, especially on the very steepest part of Loving, right at the very top before the turn. Every word was said with a footfall. Just. Keep. Going.
A very experienced marathon friend told me about hill mantras years ago, and I swear by them now. His hill mantra was: I love the hills. The hills are my friends. Sometimes I use that one as well, especially on smaller hills.
Another tactic I sometimes use when I run up a really long, tough hill is to talk to it: You’re not going to conquer me, I’m stronger than you, and so on. I probably get a fierce look on my face to go along with the words. Then when I crest the top I have a little celebration in my head: Yes! You couldn’t get the best of me. I was stronger than you! I’ve been known to throw a fist up in the air, even when I’m alone.
My other favorite mantra is one I borrowed from Kara Goucher and I use it any time I need a boost of strength, energy, or confidence: Fighter. Short and sweet, and it really makes me feel instantly stronger and more determined. Fighter.
I’m going to need that one for tomorrow’s 18 miler.
STATS: 7.67 miles @ 9:54 pace, 4 Crazy 8’s