Sunday, January 31, 2010

Caratunk Track Workout

Welcome to the Caratunk, Maine track.

I know, it looks like a road to you, but up here in Caratunk, you have to be a little creative.   So this is what my track looks like.  When I think of intervals, I think of this view of Route 201.

You may be wondering what has me interval-obsessed lately.  It all started when I saw an article using the FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) method in Runner's World a few years back (August 2005).  The idea of combining cross-training with running to make you a better athlete overall made perfect sense to me.  Although I wasn't yet a triathlete, I really wanted to be one someday. Except that swimming thing kind of was freaking me out.

A few years later, I bought the book Run Less, Run Faster.  Then I put it on the shelf for a year or so, unopened. Still a wanna be triathlete, still kind of freaked out by the swim. I probably should have bought a swimming book.

Flash forward to December 2009.  Now a triathlete, fully slaying my swimming demons, I have decided to run another marathon to really get a strong running base for the 2010 triathlon season.  Remembering the book I never opened, I dug around and found it.  After reading for a few minutes, I remembered why I loved the idea.  The program consists of three running days a week - one interval, one tempo, one long - along with 2 other non-running workouts of fairly high intensity - swim, bike, rowing, etc. 

The only downfall I could see was that the interval days were all track workouts.  The closest track to me is 40 miles away.  These track workouts are a key part of the program, and consist of about a half hour of torture. I mean interval sets of specified distances, really set up for a 400 meter track.  Not a chance of me driving almost an hour to get to a track for some self torture, I would much rather do that closer to home. 

So I sent the FIRST guys an email, telling them about my challenge, along with my plan to do a Half Ironman in August, lamenting the fact that I didn't have a track, asking for alternatives.

I almost fell out of my chair when I actually received a reply within a day from both Bill Pierce and Scott Murr, two of the authors of the book.  They offered excellent advice and encouragement, Scott even sent me a version of his training plan when doing a spring marathon followed by a fall Ironman. Their suggestion for doing the track workouts was to line a flat section of road in 400 meter intervals up to 1600 meters.  OK, well that is kind of an obvious solution I should have come up with.  This would enable me to do virtually every track workout.  So I went out on Route 201 and marked the road. 

See, those sneakers rock, you know you are jealous.

Oh yeah, intervals.  So I have been doing these things, as specified by the FIRST book and website.  I want to say that yes, absolutely, intervals, tempo, and distance running teamed with cross training make you a faster and stronger runner.  Seeing an improvement in my long runs as a result of pushing myself harder is so gratifying.  I can't wait to see how my marathon in May goes - I hope I smash my PR. 

And yes, before you ask.  Intervals are hard.  Tempo can be kind of uncomfortable at times.  Deal with it.  Nothing really worth it is ever all that easy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Baxter Park Bound!

I am heading off for 5 days to ski from the north end of Baxter State Park, starting in the north end at Matagamon Lake and skiing through to the south end, finishing our trek at Abol Bridge.  We are going around 42 miles or so in total, it should be a blast!

Most people like to go to Baxter Park in the summer.  I think the park is magic in the winter, it is quiet, uncrowded, and serene.  This picture is one of my favorite I have taken while there.

I have a blog entry scheduled for release on Sunday, I hope you all enjoy it.  Don't get too excited, I am talking about intervals again.  But I have another great picture of my new running shoes in Sunday's blog, so put on your sunglasses when you open it.

I promise to have lots of funny, inspiring, and entertaining blogs when I return!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remember When Running Was Simple?

So, do you think my new sneakers are obnoxious?

I kind of love them.

I was thinking about how awesome my sneakers were while getting ready for my afternoon run.  Today was an interval day, I hadn't run since Friday, and I just got my new sneakers - so I was ready to roll.

After I grab my iPod.  Cool.  Now I am ready.  Fiddle with the ear piece.  Untangle cord.  OK time to run.

OH! I forgot my heart rate monitor.  Crap.  Where did I put that.  Wet it, strap it on.  Brr. Two watches on wrist because I haven't figured out the timer on the heart rate monitor, which I need for my intervals.  Out the door. 

Wait. Let me just find the right play list to get me going....What the??? I somehow erased all the music off of my iPod.  Unplug earpiece, throw it on the table, grab the camera (camera?  I must be losing my mind), head out the door, forgetting to turn on my heart rate monitor.

All of this made me start thinking about a time, way back when, that my run routine consisted of the following:
  1. Dress for the weather
  2. Try to find socks that match
  3. Put on sneakers
  4. Check watch (maybe set the Chrono).
  5. Run
I guess that I am a simple girl.  Sometimes I just want to get out and run, not take all of that time to accessorize myself.   I am mostly interested in good running shoes and warm clothes.

Even so, I try so hard to be cool, with an iPod and heart rate monitor - both of which I know very little about and hate to mess with most of the time.  I am no dummy, I understand that a heart rate monitor is an excellent tool to help you train and race at the best pace for you, among other things.  This does, of course, require that you remember to put it on.  And then turn it on.

As for the iPod, I will admit that I have had more than one long run that my iPod has helped me get through.  I think I am a long run iPoder (is that a word?) - I don't want to mess with it for any run less than an hour.

So I ran sans iPod, with the heart rate monitor (that I never turn on), two watches, and a camera in my pocket (I still haven't figured out why I grabbed that).  Without all of the stuff, (at least without all of the stuff turned on) I ended up having a fabulous run, one of my fastest ever (7:35 minute miles).

Adding interval training to my schedule is definitely paying off, so are the fancy new sneakers.  Next time, I will try to turn on the heart rate monitor and see what that can do for me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Hey, the off-season is all about cross-training, right? This weekend I ditched my traditional training for 2 days of skiing.  This was the best skiing at Sugarloaf in January I have ever had - the snow was soft, the sun was out, the lift rides were pleasant. 

I am not an alpine skier, but a telemark skier -  so my heel is free like a cross country ski, and I am basically doing a lunge with every turn.  Trust me, it is more work than alpine, and tonight, after two days on the mountain, my quads feel it.  My original plan was to take a bunch of pictures so I could fill this blog up trying to show you how much fun I had.  Well, I got two pictures.  One is the picture of my skis on the first lift ride, and a picture of my buddy Steph and I at the top of the mountain.

Then we started skiing.  The conditions were fabulous.  Forgetting my aforementioned intention to take pictures, we skied our butts off.  We had the typical running-into-random-people-you-haven't-seen-for-a-year-or-six Sugarloaf thing that just happens.  Something about that place is just magic for me.  We also had the weekend crowds of out of control crazies flying down the hill at mach 10, making me miss mid-week skiing.

The forecast for this week isn't good for snow-lovers in Maine.  Tomorrow is going to bring a late January thaw that includes a deluge of snow-eating rain.  Crappy.  I am happy I got to get on the mountain this weekend and enjoy great conditions, and I am hoping that we get a good dump of snow after these few days of rain to bring the conditions back to fabulous.

OK this week, back to training! I have a run, a bike ride, and a swim to make up for....

Friday, January 22, 2010


My re-occurring fight with temptation from my well-meaning friends reared its head this week.  Temptation kind of sort of won, but not completely.

I thought about the evening run I had planned as I arrived home from work.  As I threw my keys on the table, the phone rang.  It was a friend asking me to meet her at one of the bars in town (we may only have 150 people in three towns that makes up The Forks area, but we have 5 bars).  I stammered and started to decline (this screws up my plan for my evening run), she really wanted to see me, so in the end I relented and told her I would meet her in half an hour.  Crap.  I really wanted to run, but my friend really wanted me to meet her at the bar, and it would be cool to see her.  Damn my stupid need to make other people happy and socialize.  OK fine, I decide I will run early am tomorrow for sure.

So I go.  I think I am going to have one glass of wine and head back home - too much wine makes me sleep past 5am.  Maybe I could get a spin on the trainer when I get back, that would be cool.  The problems is that one glass of wine with my friends generally leads to two to four bottles, depending on the mood of the group.  I could tell my friend was in a two bottle mood. 

On the first glass, I made it clear that I was only having this one glass of wine and then heading home.   My friend nodded, buying a second glass of wine for each of us.

OK two glasses, that is it though, I have to get up in the morning to run.

As I tried to decline the third glass, she asked me when my next big race is.  I stared at the wine, ordered a water, and told her really my first race is the Sugarloaf Marathon in May, but my big key race is the Timberman Half Ironman in August.

I put up some money to pay my part of the bill as I talked, wanting that third glass of wine, knowing I shouldn't take it because it will lead to a fourth glass, and eventually, sleeping in and missing my run. Again.  I tried to push the glass towards my friend.

She just looks at me, uncomprehending.  She says, "So you can't have another glass of wine with me tonight because you have a race in August?"

Um.  Well.  Yes. No.  Sorta. Not really.  It isn't that.  I tell her that I have a marathon in May, which really is only 16 weeks away.

"May?"  Again the blank stare.

I say that I am trying to form good habits and a strong base now in the off season.

Crickets.  I think I hear crickets.

What do you say to someone who thinks it is cool you are their friend Mandy the triathlete, but really misses the Mandy who was the life of the party?  Who finds this new Mandy kind of...well, boring?

See, my friends are all extremely supportive of my races - they go, cheer me on, if they can't come they always ask how things went.  I am so lucky for that.  Although they support me competing, I am not sure they are in support of me training.  I don't think many of them really understand why I do this, nor what it takes to get to the starting line ready to roll.  I want to do more than finish my key races, I want to finish them strongly.

I like who I am now much better than who I was a year ago.  Triathlon has made me more focused, stronger, and more sure of who I am and who I want to be.  But since I started triathlon, I quit going out, staying up late, drinking to excess - all of which means I quit being the life of the party.

I don't miss it at all.  The problem is, that is the Mandy who my friends all seem to miss so much, the one they are always trying to draw back out.  I sometimes think that in my friends eyes, they look at me now and think it is cool that I am a triathlete, but they feel like they just lost a good drinking buddy.

How do you balance the two?  I am still figuring that out.  I decided to take the dishonest route.  When all else fails deception and the bait and switch work. 

I held onto the third glass of wine while we talked and my friend finished her glass.  She got up to use the restroom, and I switched glasses with her.  When she got back, she smiled and thanked me for buying her a round.  I didn't tell her the difference...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gut Check

I had an awesome run today, one of the best I have had in a while.  My legs just moved, my mind and body just felt strong...I just felt...fluid.  It is really funny to me how on some days you can crank out 8 miles and feel great the whole time, while other times it seems torture to eek out 3.  I think today's great run was due to a number of factors:
  1. My roommate Albert and I split an entire 20" pesto pizza last night. That's right, we are pigs.  Snort.
  2. Bree Wee's blog last night was super inspiring and fun.  Maybe I was channeling that little girl I used to be who loved to 
  3. A fellow Timberman 70.3 entrant (who I met through a forum on Beginner Triathlete) gave me the heads up on a great podcast called Motion Traxx.  Wow, it was awesome.  If you haven't tried it, you should.
  4. It was warm, finally around 25-30 degrees.   Some of you may take issue with that being warm, but trust me, it that is warm for Caratunk in January.
Probably it was the combination of those things.  Well, maybe not the pizza.

I wish I could find that place every time I run, bottle it up and let it out just before I step out the door.  But really, a great run like I had today is something that you earn through toughing it out on some no-so-great runs (which in the end, are always good runs).  And if your runs were always great, what would you do when you run out of gas in mile 8 of the run portion of a Half Ironman? Or mile 20 of the marathon?  You might not know how to pull through.    Worse, you might not have the guts to pull through.

Runs like I had today are to be savored.  You have to put in quite a few runs that feel so-so to earn one of these babies.  Hard runs - runs that make you dig deep to go one more mile - those are equally important and teach us more than the runs that feel effortless.  We need the gut check in training so we can pull through when it comes to a race - or one of the other challenges life has to offer.

One more thing before I sign off.  No more pizza. Promise.  At least not half of a giant one anyway.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hey! I'm Running Here!

Unless someone is bleeding, don't stop me to talk when I am running. I am not sure how I draw people to me when I am bundled up like the kid in Christmas Story waddling out a 6 mile run, but it happens.  Here is the latest example:

I am running on Main Street, toward 201. It is -10, and I am just getting warm. A car pulls up. 

Crap. He wants to talk to me.

It is not that I am anti-social, but as Dustin Hoffman said in Midnight Cowboy, "Hey! I'm running here!" (go ahead, click the link, you know you want to.)

The guy in the car rolls down the window about an inch, probably to keep out the cold.

I struggle with my gloves, pull down my balaclava and say, "Hey."

The man stares at me a minute, then asks, "Aren't you cold?"

I think, "Well yes you jackass, especially since you just stopped me, I am a little sweaty and it is -10." but I answer, "Well, it isn't too bad if you keep moving." Hint. F-ing. Hint.

"Huh. Kind of cold for a run.  I didn't even want to go to my car this morning."

"Yeah. No kidding."

"What? Brr.." Widow rolls up a little, he reaches over and cranks the heat up a notch.  The chill must have been getting to him. "Why are you out here?"

I am obviously dealing with a genius here.

Pulling down my balaclava again and say, "I am training for a triathlon. It's cold. I should keep moving,"  I start to run off, sure I have ditched this guy.

The car keeps rolling with me as I run.

Are you serious?

""OH!" he says, "Well...good luck! When is it?  What is a triathlon?"

"August. Swim. Bike. Run. Half Ironman." I reply, still moving.

Big, empty stare and silence as I run away, free at last from the well-meaning neighbor.  I hear the car catching back up to me, and slowing as it neared.

You have got to be kidding me.

"Why are you running now?  You know it is January, right?"

I stop, dumbfounded, not really wanting to take the time to answer him.

"I don't understand why you are out here in this terrible weather training for a race that is 8 months away."

Smiling, I answer, "Because it is fun."

Head shaking, he looks at me one last time, this time with the "she is definitely crazy" eyes and finally drives away.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Intervals - Love to Hate Them

Intervals. I hate them.  I love them.  I have to do them today, and I am not into it right now. 

I know I know.  Intervals make you faster. In tech-speak, they improve oxygen delivery to muscles and therefore are a great way to be able to run faster and further.  I got it.  But they hurt, and since I train alone, are really hard to motivate for.  But having done them once a week for the past month, I have to say that I have seen an improvement in my speed and endurance.

I was looking for a little motivation to get me out there in the cold for my 6x 1 min fast, 1 min easy lunch run planned today.  Did I mention it is 10 degrees and the wind is howling? Hello excuse demon.  But I am sure I can shake him off.

I started doing a little research to try to get my lazy procrastinating butt out the door. Don't worry, I won't get too technical, but there is some great info out there.  I read a really great blog by The Running Man.  Intervals should be a key part of marathon training, but they should be run a little slower than if you were training to peak for a 5k or 10k.  I like that word - slower, I should have stopped reading there.  I read on to see he says you know, slower, like only 90% of your maximum heart rate. Ha. Great.  So you still need to run fast enough to hurt a little.

The Running Man is lucky enough to have been tutored for the New York City Marathon by Terrence Mahon, the coach of US running phenoms Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall, just to name a few.  I am not going to go on with a long, boring drivel filled with acronyms (MHR, AHR, LT) that I realize are important but I really am not interested in.  I will summarize what he says about some reasons to do intervals:
  1. It will teach your body to clear out the lactate acid (you know, that feeling in your legs that begs you to quit.running.please.) that builds up much faster than if you didn't do intervals at all. 
  2. Running at a higher effort makes the muscles work in different ways, so you are recruiting more muscle, which could be a nice bonus come mile 20 in the marathon.  It is sort of a plan to avoid bonking in those tough miles.
  3. When you run faster, you open up your stride.  I find that after a string of long slow runs, my hips, hams, and quads get super tight.  Yeah I know, I need to stretch more.  But, one interval training period a week (along with regular stretching) will help keep these muscles from getting quite as tight.
OK OK I get it.  Intervals are the key to me reaching my PR in the Sugarloaf Marathon this spring.  I guess I better get running.  One last word from Coach Mahon and the Mammoth Track Club, "Elevate your expectations."  I like that - I think I will.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Different Kind of Running Inspiration

In the middle of my last run I was struck by an overwhelming need to see my grandfather.  I am not sure where it came from, but it hit me, hard.  I don't see my grandparents as much as I should, I only live about 45 minutes away, but work and life just happen, and before I know it 2 weeks, or worse, 2 months have gone by, and I haven't taken the time I should to pay them a visit.

My Pop-Pop has always been extra special to me. When I close my eyes and think of Pop, I am sitting on his shoulders being carried down his fields through the woods to go play in the sandpits.  I see a giant garden big enough to feed a small town, overflowing with giant vegetables, each carefully tended by my grandfathers hoe.  Books piled high all around, on every subject from world religions, history, and psychology to biology, physical science, and geology.  Wooden hand made tables, cabinets, frames, bowls, and tools.  Strength, independence, caring, and capability, all rolled up into one. 

Pop was born in 1919, in West Virginia, a farm boy who had to walk 2 miles one way (always after chores were done) to get to his one room school house.  He was a Navy man who spent the majority of World War II in a PT Boat in the South Pacific, and he saw and experienced things that are hard to imagine sitting here safe and sound on US soil - a privilege we have thanks to men like him.  When he talks about those days now he gets misty eyed, hardly believing it has been almost 70 years.

This summer I stopped by the house, and he had just finished putting up his wood for next winter (that would be for 2011).  About 10 cord - that he cut down in the woods and hauled up with a tractor, then bucked, split, and piled it.  I couldn't speak for my shock at what he did, shame that I wasn't there to help, and admiration that he was able do it.  A 90 year old man, mad as hell it took him so much longer to put wood up than it did back when he was 70. 

He hates that he is getting older (ha, now who do you know that calls 90, "getting older"), and that things are not so easy for him as they once were.  He has scaled back his garden, now I think it could only feed a small village.  His joints are stiff from the years of hard work, his hands now shake from the beginning onset of Parkinson Disease - this problem in particular is his greatest frustration. This is the first serious physical degeneration I have ever seen in him, and it scares the hell out of me.

Last year when he was a mere 89, I pulled in the driveway to find my grandfather on the roof chopping ice from the eaves.  In horror, I asked him to come down.  In his wonderful West Virginia drawl, "Well, darlin, calm down now, I am almost done."  He finished his chopping, with me nervously watching and biting my nails, and worked his way down the ladder to embrace me in a big bear hug.

I needed one of his hugs today.  Just for a little while I wanted to be that little girl riding on her grandfather's shoulders, chatting away, not a care in the world.  He was excited to hear about work and about my training, his smile broadening as I told him about my last run of 7 miles, my plan for my garden this summer, and about my race plans and goals.

He smiled at me and said, "Darlin, do it now, do it while you can.  Don't give up on any opportunity.  Before you know it you are going to be as old as I am, remembering all the great stuff you used to be able to do.  You don't want to be sitting there wishing you had done it when you were younger."

One of my greatest inspirations, at 90 years old, he is still my rock.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Just Another Run on 201

Big. Heavy. Sigh.  That is how I felt as I tied up my laces and stepped out the door for my run. Here is the thing, around here, there really are only two options for running routes.
  1. You can go north on 201
  2. You can go south on 201
Running on 201 is a little different than anywhere else I have run regularly.  This road is the fastest, most efficient way to the more populated areas of Canadian Provence of Quebec, and it is how most freight passes between the two countries.  It is also one of the major travel routes for the forest industry, sending wood to mills in both the US and Canada.  So there are a lot of big trucks flying back and forth, carrying everything from wood, to windows, to windmills.  These trucks send up a breath-stealing (slush slinging) gust of wind as they pass you by laden with their wares.  In the winter, it is particularly...uncomfortable when one (or 4 in a row) passes you.

I was lamenting all of this as I was running down Main Street, jogged onto 201 (I went north), dreading the big trucks and wishing I had some more choices for running routes.  As I searched for my rhythm, I watched the Kennebec River float by, the big chunks of ice bobbing in the current. 

I always zone out watching the water, so I was lost in thought when I caught a movement above the river.  It was a bald eagle.  The angle of the sun was just right, and his feathers almost glowed as I watched him surfing on air currents, working back and forth, diving and rising.  He finally settled down on a tall white pine that overlooked the bend in the river.  He just sat there, head turning upstream and downstream, surveying the scene. 

I am not sure why, but seeing this eagle gave me a feeling of contentment that even the series of log trucks screaming by me could not shatter. It is funny what we take for granted, and how we are usually a lot luckier than we think we are.  We often look at what we are missing, instead of appreciating what we have.  I really think if we spent more time thinking about what we have instead of regretting what we are missing, we all would be a lot more content. 

For the rest of my run, I was just...happy.  I reached my turn around, braced myself for the inevitable wind from yet another oncoming truck and headed home.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Aren't Ya Afraid of Getting Hit By a Truck?

I really wasn't looking forward my run today.  It had snowed about 12" the night before, and I envisioned a slippery and slushy 8 miles on Route 201.  But I knew I would regret not getting these miles in, and as always, the hardest 5 steps were the ones out the door.  Within minutes, I was in Caratunk running bliss, enjoying the beautiful snowy Kennebec River and dodging the spray from the oncoming log trucks. 

As I neared mile 2.5, I checked out the parking lot of Northern Outdoors, a local sporting lodge and white water rafting outfitter.  I made eye contact with a little blond lady with her mouth open, holding her car door, blankly staring at me running by.  This isn't all that unusual for me, I get the same sort of look when I am swimming across Wyman Lake in May, although usually I have a friend in a safety boat to explain, "She is a triathlete."  This simple explanation seems to satisfy most who are curious.

Since none of my friends were around to explain my foolishness, I waved politely and said hello to the confused looking lady.  She hollered out to me in her sweet southern accent, "Honey, aren't you afraid you are going to get hit by a truck?"  I kind of laughed and hollered back, "I never really thought about it."  Her head followed me as I ran by, and the last thing I heard from her was, "Well, you should!"

This exchange entertained me for the rest of the run, and on my return I was disappointed that she wasn't still in the parking lot mouth agape, shocked that I survived so long running on Route 201.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Y'all are Jealous, Aren't Ya?

Just a quick post to brag about my newest item - I got a fabulous necklace from TriClique - handmade and just plain old awesome!

My picture doesn't do it justice, but really, head over to Tri Clique Jewelry and check out their goods.  Quality, fast shipping, and super awesome stuff.  I don't even know these guys, but had to give them a plug.

Off for a trainer ride and some weight training. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome 2010!

Some folks get nervous about a new year. Not me, I get excited - it is a time to start over and set new goals. With 2010 officially here, and I figure that now is a great time to reflect on 2009 and to lay out my 2010 goals.

I am happy with my 2009 training season. I got back on the horse after more than a full years hiatus following what I call the 2008 Goofy Challenge Debacle (GCD - that should be a blog entry in itself, the short version is a half marathon one day and a full marathon the next with bad nutrition and poor training leads to disaster. I finished, but it wasn't pretty!) I got over my dislike of running (burn-out that resulted from GCD), got stronger on the bike, and improved my swimming in technique, speed, and confidence.

Hopping back on the horse in May, I had my first tri under my belt in June. That is when my new obsession started. People in my small town think I am a freak because I run in the snow, bike in the rain, and swim across lakes, but at least I am giving them something to talk about.

Accomplishments for 2009:
Step into 2010, and I am happy to say that I still am happily training and improving, with a whole new set of training and race goals ahead of me.

2010 Goals:
Yeah, I am biting off a lot here, I know. If you don't aim high, you are missing out on opportunities you didn't know you had. I am trying to gear up for Ironman in 2011, and this type of schedule will set me up for it as long as I can stay healthy.

I wish you all a happy, healthy, year filled with happiness, laughter, and good times.
H2O Audio - Beat The Boredom