See you next year

I’ve either acclimated to the humidity of Taipei, or the weather started cooperating, or both. Regardless, runs #3 and #4 in Taipei have been a lot better than the first 2.  For comparison, my first run was 5.2 miles averaging 11:37/mile, whereas today I ran 9 miles averaging 11:06/mile.  Not to mention, today was my longest run since October 5th!

It’s been raining the past few days and the clouds finally parted this morning, which meant that the scenery during today’s run was especially pretty.  As a result, I stopped a bunch of times to take photos.  The frequent stops and aesthetically pleasing surroundings certainly helped me to quicken my pace!

Without ado, here are some photos from today’s run:

Sunrise over the river.

Sunrise over the river.

The Chungyang Bridge with Yangmingshan (mountain) in the background.

The Chungyang Bridge with Yangmingshan (mountain) in the background.

Badminton foursome.

Badminton foursome.

Fishermen on the Tamshui River.

Fishermen on the Tamshui River.

Flying to SFO tomorrow!  See you next year, Taipei!

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Posted in Travel

Humidity Training

Greetings from Taipei!  Maybe some of you remember the post I wrote about running in Taipei last year, maybe you don’t.  Either way, I’m not going to rehash anything from that post, except for the photo below, since I have yet to run with my phone.  Also: it looks *exactly* the same.

the path

The Tamshui River multi-use path: nothing fancy, but it’ll do.

One big change that I’ve observed this year is more women running compared to last year, which is awesome.  On Sunday’s run, I saw 3 women running and this morning, I saw 7(!).  I saw about 50 runners altogether, men and women.  The women runners have been mostly ~ 45+ years old and also almost exclusively clad in red or pink.  A majority of them have been friendly and said hi or waved, compared with less than 50% of the men.

I was curious about the gender breakdown of Taiwanese racers, so I looked up the results from last year’s Fubon Taipei Marathon, the largest running festival on the island.  There were only 340 women among the 4897 marathon finishers, or 7%.  The half marathon distance had 2891 women racing out of 15340 finishers (19%).  The 9k was the most popular amongst women, with 5098 participating out of 11613 runners (40%).  Comparing these stats with other marathons, the 2014 Tokyo Marathon had 20.3% female participants, whereas this year’s NYC Marathon saw 20,414 women crossing the finish line out of 50,511 runners (40%).  Clearly, there’s a lot of room for growth, but I’m optimistic that running will become more popular among Taiwanese women.

As for this Taiwanese-American woman, I’ve run twice and both of those times, I’ve been surprised at how humid it is.  Why, I don’t know – I should know better by now.  As a result of the humidity, I’ve been running pretty slowly, especially because I’ve been abiding by MAF training.  My average pace for these runs (11:37 and 11:42/mile) are 45 seconds slower per mile than my Bay Area runs from the last couple of weeks.  I’ve heard that humidity is “poor man’s altitude training” (not sure where the “poor” part comes from).  Today, I noticed how difficult it was to take a deep breath, which I think is also true in areas of high altitude?  Anyway, I’m hoping that struggling through these conditions will translate to improved fitness when I go home next week, but I’m not sure I’ll be here long enough to obtain any actual benefit.  Either way, it will be good for my mental strength to deal with less than ideal conditions.  We really are spoiled in the Bay Area in terms of running weather!

Regardless of whether I actually improve my fitness, there’s definitely one immediate benefit to running while in Taiwan: preventing me from having to buy a brand new wardrobe due to relentless consumption of lots and lots of my favorite foods.  I’ve been unable to say no to pastries, dim sum, soup dumplings, at least 7 different kinds of fruit, ramen, cake, etc.  Even though I’ve only been here for 4 days, my pants are considerably tighter than even a week ago.  Running allows me to have my cake and eat it too. :)

Speaking of food, here are some photos from my meals so far…

Ramen!

Ramen!

Indulging at Din Tai Fung: me and my sister PY splitting a black sesame bun (top), shrimp wontons in Szechuan oil (bottom left), and the house specialty xiaolungbao (bottom right).

Indulging at Din Tai Fung: me and my sister PY splitting a black sesame bun (top), shrimp wontons in Szechuan oil (bottom left), and the house specialty xiaolungbao (bottom right).

Mountain feast

Mountain feast, clockwise from top left: braised tofu, mountain greens, boiled salty chicken (my favorite, and way better than the name makes it sound), kung pao green beans and eggplant, and baby corn.

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Posted in Travel

MAF Test #4

Yesterday, I did my 4th MAF Test as part of my MAF Experiment.  A brief recap: I started doing MAF (or Maximum Aerobic Fitness) training in August as a way to come back from injury and to build my running base.  The idea behind MAF training is to do all of your runs at or below the aerobic threshold so as to build your aerobic base and also prevent the breakdown that happens with faster running.  As part of this training, I’ve been doing a “test” every 4 weeks to track my progress.  Each test consists of 2 warm-up miles, followed by 4 MAF test miles at my maximum aerobic heart rate (HR), which is 138, and ending with 1 mile of cool-down.  The idea is to run the same course every 4 weeks and see what pace I can run at my MAF HR, with the goal/hope of seeing the MAF pace get steadily faster as my aerobic fitness improves.

After seeing some big gains after the first month of MAF training, my progress slowed down in the second month.  I knew that this third cycle of MAF training would be a challenge, as I was starting a new job with a full-time schedule and a long, daily commute.  As many successful MAF-trainees will attest, the secret to success is training volume.  Some suggest that 4-6 hours of running a week is optimal for MAF training.  Well, I definitely didn’t get anywhere close to that over the past 4 weeks.  My weekly training volume has been (in miles): 22, 8, 15, and 18 for a total of 63 miles.  Compare this to the cycle before that, where I ran 21, 23, 20, and 28 miles for a total of 92 miles.

So, going into yesterday’s test, I had very modest expectations.  With the cooler weather, I thought I could at the very least run about the same average as Test #3 (10:26/mile), if not a tiny bit faster.  What was more important to me than pace, though, was consistency — in my last MAF test, I ran mile splits of 10:15, 10: 21, 10:26, and 10:43.  I don’t know why, but that big jump between the 3rd and 4th miles really bugged me.  It made me feel like the first 3 miles were a fluke.

Anyway!  On to Test #4.  The weather was cool and overcast (yay!), but also windy (boo!).  After a somewhat shaky warm-up, featuring not one, but two pit stops, I tentatively began the test.  I felt pretty good throughout and logged the following splits: 10:17, 10:22, 10:15, 10:25, for an average of 10:20/mile.  That’s only 6 seconds faster than Test #3, but I’ll take it!  I was really happy to see consistent, tight splits.  It definitely feels like I’m still improving with MAF training, slowly but surely.  Hopefully, as I continue to adjust to my new schedule, I’ll be able to increase my training volume in this next 4-week cycle.  Before I can adequately test that idea out, however, I’ll be leaving for Taiwan later this week for about 11 days, so that’s going to mess with training a little.  While I’ll be able to run more consistently, I won’t be doing any long runs while I’m there.  Plus it’s going to be warmer and more humid, so I’ll have to adjust my expectations as far as pace goes.

Without further ado, here’s my favorite aspect of MAF training — the numbers!

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 7.28.51 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-02 at 7.29.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-02 at 7.29.48 PM

And here’s a non-MAF photo, just for fun:

Halloween shenanigans!

Halloween shenanigans!

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Posted in MAF training

Race Recap: LMJS 4th Sunday 5K (October 2014)

I decided to run this past Sunday’s Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders 4th Sunday race only 3 days beforehand.  KP and I were texting back and forth, trying to decide when our next running date would be.  We were having some trouble coming up with a day when she suggested running at Lake Merritt, to which I replied, “Well, I was actually thinking about doing the 4th Sunday race…”  Then JT hopped on the last-minute 5K train, and the 3 of us decided to do the race and then eat brunch afterward.  Perfect!

I had originally considered doing the LMJS 5K as an indicator of how MAF training was going, in addition the usual gamut of MAF Tests.  It would be a good trial of the “run slow to run faster” paradox that’s often referenced by MAF devotees.  Since I ran a 5K at the end of August, only a couple of weeks into MAF training, I had a nice baseline/reference.  In that race, I finished in 27:23 (8:51/mile) — though my Garmin read 8:39/mile for 3.17 miles.  (Despite the title of this blog, I’m apparently horrible at running tangents.)

My goals were to run hard and see if I could PR (26:16).  In the days leading up to the race, I tried as hard as I could to prepare myself mentally to hurt, as 5Ks often do.  In retrospect, I wish I had had more time to visualize and work on mental strength, because I think that was my biggest issue. (*Foreshadowing*)

I won’t write too much about the logistics of the race, since I’ve recapped several of them previously (e.g., here).  I will say that I love these low-key races for their community vibe and low entry fees.  I do not love the fact that it’s an open course around a popular, multi-use path that is often narrow and crowded.

Sunday morning was cool and a tiny bit windy.  I met up with KP and JT, did a short warm-up, and listened to the pre-race instructions.  Just minutes before the race, we discussed race strategies.  I declared that I was going to try to PR.  KP and JT both said they were going to take it easy, having (separately) run hilly trail miles the day before.

Before I knew it, the race director started counting down from 10 and then we were off!  I ignored my logical side and went out fast, carried forward by the momentum of the college cross country team that dominated the front of the pack.  After a minute or so, I looked down at my Garmin to see 7:3x.  Woah, nelly!  Time to slow it down.  I found a few people around me who looked like they were going about the “right” pace and tried to stay with them.  For about a mile, I followed 2 young girls, about 10 years old, until they fell back due to cramping.  I also kept leap-frogging with a woman in a tank top and pink shorts – in a friendly, not annoying way.

Eventually, I got “strollered” (the equivalent of getting “chicked”?) by a young dad who, to be honest, did not look particularly fit.  He passed me about 1.5 miles into the race and even though I was struggling, I was determined to stick with him.  Just then, he had a stroller malfunction where the stroller wrist strap came loose and caused him to trip up, which also shook me out of my rhythm.  Almost simultaneously, KP and JT came up and passed me.  I was shocked – I thought they were going to take it easy?!?!  But there they were, effortlessly gliding along and pulling farther and farther ahead.

I’m sad to say that this unexpected turn of events broke me mentally.  I was already struggling, and to see my friends, whom I had thought would be tired and taking it easy, run past me was a big blow.  For about a minute, I thought about giving up, and I began to feel even more deflated to see my pace slow down to almost 9:00/mile (I ran my first 2 miles in 8:12 and 8:20).  Then, I began berating myself for even thinking about quitting and also for allowing myself to be so rattled by KP and JS passing me.  What a crazy, counterproductive cycle to be caught in!

Fortunately, I eventually fought my way out of this downward spiral.  With about half a mile to go, I came back to the race and focused on finishing strong.  There were 2 teenage girls ahead of me and I told myself just to hang on to them and to try to pass them if I could.  I managed to stay with them and even had a little bit of kick at the end to finish in 26:30 (8:32/mile).  (For what it’s worth, my Garmin read 8:22 for 3.16 miles.  Stinkin’ tangents!)  It wasn’t a PR, but it was still 53 seconds faster than August!  Honestly, I think I could’ve done better if it wasn’t for that mental lapse in the last mile.

As for the HR stuff, here’s the data from the 2 races:

HR and pace data from the 5K By the Bay in August.

HR and pace data from the 5K By the Bay in August.

HR and pace data from the LMJS 5K this past Sunday.

HR and pace data from the LMJS 5K this past Sunday.  Note the difference in HR toward the end of both races.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 8.56.01 PM

Data from both races. The bottom number in the “Max HR” column is not the average — it’s the actual maximum.

Looking at the data, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that I was able to keep my HR more constant throughout the race on Sunday even at an overall faster pace, especially in the 3rd mile. This indicates an improvement in my fitness. The bad news is that the August data shows that I’m clearly capable of pushing myself physically to a very high HR late in a race, but I definitely didn’t do that this past Sunday (highlighted boxes)… which reconfirms my instinct that I could’ve finished faster.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with myself after the race, but I got over it pretty quickly.  That’s the nice thing about last-minute 5Ks – there’s not that much riding on it and there’s always another one just around the corner.  As for KP and JT, they both had big PRs — mostly because neither of them have raced a 5K in many years.  The 3 of us finished top 3 in our age group (out of 5 – haha).  Go us!

Post-race selfies!

Post-race selfies!

Official stats:
26:30 (8:32/mile)
47/90 overall, 3/5 AG

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Posted in Race Recap

Inadvertent Recovery Week

Good news and bad news.  The good news is that I survived my first full week of work.  Yay!  The “bad” news is that I only ran ~8 miles this week, despite my best intentions.  Here’s a breakdown of my internal dialogue this week:

Monday: “Should I run today? Nah, I never run on Mondays.  Let’s ease into early morning runs starting tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll run 4 times this week, 3-4 miles each time, for a total of 12-16 miles.  Yeah, that would be awesome!”

Tuesday, 6:00 a.m.: “Rise and shine! Let’s do this!! Hm, running in the dark is sorta weird, but kinda cool too.  These sidewalks are actually in better shape and more well-lit than I expected.  Do I even need this headlamp?  Or this reflective vest?  I feel like such a dork, but safety first, right??”
Total: 4.3 miles

Wednesday: “It’s probably better for me to run today than tomorrow, BUT my legs feel a bit tired (or is it just my whole body in general?).  Yeah, I think it’s a good idea for me to sleep in a little today and run tomorrow instead.”
Wed, 10:45 p.m.: “Ugh, I can’t believe I *just* got home from LT’s apartment in San Francisco!  I’m so tired!  If I run tomorrow, I’ll have to get up in 7 hours, and I’m so cranky when I don’t get my 8 hours of shut eye.  Sorry, running, you’ll having to wait.”

Thursday: “Sleeping in was the best idea EVER.”

Friday: “This morning running thing isn’t so bad, but I really need to make this run shorter than Tuesday’s run if I want to get to work on time.”
Total: 3.6 miles

Saturday, camping at Big Basin: “Well, I could run the 10-mile route that everyone else is hiking, but I’d have to do it solo.  Maybe I can sneak in a run tomorrow before we leave.”

Sunday: “My head doesn’t feel so great.  Maybe I should’ve drank more water last night.  Oh look, there goes RL going for a short run.  Should I go with her?  Nah… I’ve just made my breakfast and the Gypsy Runner is pouring the hot water for the coffee.  I’ll be better this coming week.  Tomorrow’s a new day!”

Total for the week: 7.9 miles of running, 10 miles of hiking.

I’m not too disappointed, mainly because I know that there will be a period of adjustment and also because this last week was an anomaly — it was my first full week of work, I don’t usually have weeknight social obligations in SF, and I’m not usually heading out of town on the weekends.  Thankfully, work itself isn’t that stressful, so it’s not like I’m super exhausted when I get home.  However, it’s a big adjustment to go from working part-time to being out of the house for 10-11 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

And that’s just running.  Don’t even get me started on meal planning… I didn’t cook ONCE this whole week.  So it should probably also go without saying that I’m way behind on blog reading and commenting. My apologies in advance!

I’ll leave you with some photos from yesterday’s hike.  It was so pretty that it made me consider running the Big Basin 50K next May!

Into the redwoods!

Hiking amongst the beautiful redwoods

The Golden Cascade (top) to the Silver Falls (bottom).  It was just a trickle, but at least there was some water.  I was afraid they'd be dry due to the drought.

The Golden Cascade. It was just a trickle, but at least there was some water. I was afraid it would be completely dry due to the drought.

Berry Creek Falls.

Berry Creek Falls. There was a tiny rainbow where that bright spot is toward the bottom of the falls.

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Posted in Training

Short Term Memory

After my 3rd MAF test last week, I was really hoping to start seeing some improvements during my weekday runs.  I was also looking forward to maximizing my last week of funemployment.  As a result, I ran 3 days in a row – something I don’t usually do – and came up with less than stellar results.  For example:

Tuesday: 5.3 miles at 11:19/mile (vs. previous week, when I ran 5.4 miles at 11:07/mile)
Wednesday: 5.18 miles at 11:35/mile
Thursday (Lake Chabot): 4.94 miles at 12:09/mile (vs. previous week, 5.07 miles at 11:50)

This is not the trend I was hoping for.  I’m not sure if I’m truly plateauing or if I’m fatigued or what, but it definitely doesn’t look like I’m progressing.  After seeing significant improvement, especially in the first month of MAF training, I became pretty “addicted” to consistently seeing faster times each week.  I know it’s normal for the rate of progress to slow down, but I guess I felt like (and still feel like) I have quite a bit of ways to go before I plateau.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how, just a few months ago, I was run-walking and *hoping* to finish the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon before the cut-off.  I’ve come a long way since then, but I’m already taking my fitness for granted.  I got caught up in my ego and lost sight of the important things — that I’m back to running 1-2 hours at a time with no pain.  I wrapped up September with 93 miles of running, my highest total monthly mileage for the last 5 months.  I always say that I’m in this sport for the long run (pun intended), but instead I find myself focusing on the immediate payoffs.  When will I get faster? When can I PR? When will I get back to 10:00/mile easy runs again?

My point is that I was getting so caught up in my lack of progress that it was actually sucking the joy and fun out of my runs.  I had gotten very dependent on seeing weekly improvements that I forgot the important stuff.  And for what? Running is my hobby, not a career.  Yes, I’m dedicated to becoming a better runner, but at what cost?  And I don’t even have a race coming up! What’s the rush?  The answer goes back to my ego, my pride.  It’s time to focus on the long-term goals – running healthy for as long as I possibly can, at whatever pace that may be.

***

One bright spot in my running week happened on Saturday, when I met up with friends at the Chabot Staging Area to check out Ramage Peak Trail, part of the EBMUD propertyCathryn, Jess, Angela, and I planned to run, while Layla and Kristen (with baby E in carrier) hiked.  I had never been on this trail before and there isn’t much information about it.  I found a very informative post from Sarah Lavender Smith’s blog — and I have to agree with her, in that I hesitate to write about this trail because I’d like to keep it secret.  It’s so beautiful and isolated, yet easy to get to.  We didn’t see any other people out there, but we did see a snake and one very large cow!  Without further ado, here are the photos:

The hills of the East Bay

Cat checking out the hills of the East Bay

Blogger taking photos of bloggers taking photos (so meta!)

Taking photos of bloggers taking photos (so meta!)

The views weren't too shabby.

The views weren’t too shabby.

Never had a trail run stopped by a cow before...we were about to turn around anyway.

Never had a trail run stopped by a cow before! We were about to turn around anyway.

Did I mention that the trails were gorgeous?

Did I mention that the trails were gorgeous?

Action shot! (photo credit: Angela)

Action shot! (photo credit: Angela)

Running shots, continued. (photo credit: Angela)

Running shots, continued. (photo credit: Angela)

Another good one from Angela.  There were some steep hills, as you can see!

Another good one from Angela. There were some steep hills, as you can see!

Cathryn made me cupcakes for my birthday.  Here I am blowing out the imaginary candles. :)  (Photo credit: Angela)

Cathryn made me cupcakes for my birthday. Here I am blowing out the imaginary candles. :) (Photo credit: Angela)

Brunch at Doug's.  We worked up quite an appetite!

Brunch at Doug’s. We worked up quite an appetite!

We did an out-and-back on the Ramage Peak Trail for a total of about 6 miles at a very leisurely ~13-14 minute/mile pace — mostly due to the ~1300′ elevation gain on the way out, where we did a lot of hiking.  We also stopped a lot to take photos and chit chat.  Altogether, a very relaxing and fun morning!

Update: Cathryn also posted a recap of the run with more photos and info!

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Posted in random, Trail running

MAF Test #3

Here we are, 8 weeks into my MAF experiment, which means that I just did another MAF test this past Saturday.  I knew that going into the test, my MAF training has been very inconsistent, mostly due to Ragnar messing up my schedule for 2 out of the 4 weeks.  I did manage to get a few more data points, so here’s a pretty graph showing my run data from the last 8 weeks:

MAF runs

Ragnar Napa happened in week 6, coinciding with a plateau.  I’m not sure if this was due to the racing aspect (i.e., completely going over my MAF heart rate for 17+ miles) or if it just tired out my body.  Most likely, it was a combination of factors.   Just FYI – the runs on the graph were done on roughly the same courses, with the exception of a couple of runs done on the treadmill.  I used speed instead of pace on the Y-axis to show an upward trend, denoting improvement. #nerdalert  (Hey, at least I didn’t do any statistics!)  If you’re interested in pace instead of speed, here are the numbers:

  • 1 hour runs — Week 1: 12:11/mile; Week 8: 11:07/mile –> 1:07 faster per mile
  • 2 hour long runs — Week 1: 12:22/mile; Week 8: 11:29/mile –> 0:53 faster per mile
  • 1 hour Lake Chabot runs — Week 1: 12:22/mile; Week 8: 11:50/mile –> 0:32 faster per mile

So while I’ve definitely gotten faster at the same HR, the plateauing in the past 3 weeks is bit frustrating.  I’ve noticed that I’ve seen the most improvement after 2 hour long runs, and since I haven’t been doing those over the last couple of weeks, maybe that’s what’s holding me back?  It also took me over a week to recover from Ragnar.

Anyway, on to the nitty-gritty — results from the 3rd MAF test.  Briefly, here’s how to execute a MAF test:

  • warm-up for 2 miles, targeting 10 beats per minute (bpm) below aerobic max HR (for me, this is 128 bpm)
  • run 1-5 miles at aerobic max HR (4 miles at 138 bpm for me)
  • cool-down, during which I target 133 bpm

We’ve been having a bit of a heat wave, so I compromised between getting enough rest and waking up early enough to beat the heat.  Here’s the data from all 3 tests:

MAF Test table Oct 2014 copy

 

MAF Test resultsMAF mile splits

The good news is that I saw an overall improvement by almost 20 seconds per mile compared to Test #2 — which, while not as impressive as the drop between the first 2 tests, is still a step in the right direction.  The other thing I was happy about was running closer to my pre-injury easy pace for the first 2 miles, which makes me optimistic that MAF training will get me to where I was before I was injured — and hopefully even more fit than before.

The one piece of not-so-good news was seeing a huge drop between the 3rd and 4th miles, which really screwed up my average pace!  It could’ve been the heat or general fatigue, but something happened by the last mile to cause my HR to spike.  Even though the temperature was not that different compared to the first 2 tests, the lack of cloud cover made it feel enormously different.

Going forward, I’m hoping to be more consistent with my MAF training, though it will be difficult to get the hour long runs done before work — I start my new job on Friday!  I think the Lake Chabot runs will be nearly impossible, as it takes me about 25-30 minutes just to drive there and back.  I know I could get up at 5 or 5:30am to fit them in, but I love sleeping too much!  Most likely, I’ll scale down to 30-45 minute neighborhood runs 3x/week with maybe one short, hilly run during my lunch break.  We shall see!

 

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Posted in MAF training
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On the docket…

12/13/14 - Summit Rock Trail Half Marathon
2/1/15 - Kaiser Permanente SF Half Marathon
5/17/15 - Bay to Breakers

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