Author Archives: Runner Under Pressure

Year In Review: 2018

2018 wasn’t one of my better running years. I started off a little overcooked with the Absite and a tough rotation and just when I got my mojo back, I tore my MCL. The second half of the year, however, I started to get some more of my fitness back and finally built the consistency I’ve been missing.

Residency has been significantly harder on training than I anticipated. Our time is so limited that I can get 30 minutes in almost every day but finding time for more than that is much more difficult. When I’m on a rotation with a post call day, I can guarantee a long run or a workout (or a combination thereof), but on others, it’s a complete toss up when I can find an hour or longer to run.

2015 to 2018, compared month by month

2015: 2,654 miles
2016: 2,216 miles
2017: 1,695 miles (End of Med School to first 6 months of intern year)
2018: 1,070 (second half of intern year, MCL, first half of second year)

My total mileage for 2018 was my lowest in ten years. When you consider the chart above, it’s clear that the biggest difference in mileage comes during the summer months. I always naturally run fewer miles in the winter because of snow, ice, and skiing. The weather issue doesn’t really apply here in the winter, although we’ve had our share of ice and flooding recently.

One of the benefits to come out of a year of running where I didn’t accomplish a ton, however, was a boatload more gratitude for running in all its forms. After tearing my MCL, I found myself far more grateful for even a 20-minute run when before, I considered it almost a waste of time to do. I also found myself running with more grace, at least in recovery. Instead of being fixated on specific running times, I honed in on effort and was able to keep a fairly positive mindset throughout workouts. By the end of December, I was starting to run times in workouts that were approaching “old Sarah.”

I haven’t set any time or performance goals for 2019; I’m still working on building a base before I do that. My only quantitative goal so far for 2019 is to run at least 1,500 miles. I am registered for the San Diego half, for Grandma’s Marathon, and for the RocknRoll Savannah marathon next fall. I’m sure that more will get added in as time goes on and my work schedule gets finalized.

My PROCESS goal, however, is to 1) work on consistency and 2) do yoga once a week. Although I’ve been getting better, I do still sometimes skip a run because I’m short of time to do my whole planned run when I could still get a couple of miles in. Two miles is better than zero! With regards to yoga, that’s all about trying to improve the flexibility and mobility of my hips and back. These are perennial issues for me but with more and more time in the operating room, I’m finding them even more uncomfortable than normal.

What goals do you have for the New Year? How do you reflect upon your last year of training?

Race Report: JCC Hanukkah 8K

For a rare distance, I’ve done my fair share of 8Ks lately. I’m actually rather beginning to enjoy the rare hell of a 5K effort for almost a 10K…

This race was a week later than scheduled, courtesy of our annual early December snowstorm here in Asheville. Initially, it was timed such that it came at the end of a cutback week and micro-cycle and was the end of my casual training and beginning of training for San Diego. With the reschedule, however, it came at the end of a regular week of training.

The race start is not far from my house and part of it is my usual easy weekday route, so I knew the course would be hilly. What I didn’t quite anticipate is HOW hilly it would be. I got to the race about an hour early, picked up my bib, peed, and headed out on a longer warmup. I ran the first three miles of the course because I wanted to see the first hill and was admittedly a little intimidated. The first mile is entirely uphill, first gradual and then a serious climb up the aptly named Sunset Drive. After my preview, I made the decision to go out VERY cautiously and hope I could pick up some people after the first mile.

Just a few turns…too bad this isn’t a topographic map. For reference, the portion to the right is up the side of Town Mountain.

Unlike the Greenville 8K, where I wanted to go out slowly and had to contend with a downhill first mile instead, I was very successful at going out cautiously during the first mile. I was still near the front but didn’t fight the hill at all. I was still working hard but felt like I had plenty of “extra” in me. In potentially the slowest first mile I’ve ever run of any race ever, I ran an 8:18.

The second mile levels out, then screams downhill. I tried to press on the flats and then just relax on the bigger downhills so as to not take my quads off with 3 miles to go. Around mile 2, I found myself in 5th place with one woman in striking distance and one still in sight but probably 30 seconds up. Both of them were flying down the downhills, but I chose to hang back in hopes I could get them on the later hills.

Mile 3 starts with a great climb and then another downhill and then another gradual climb up towards the Grove Park Inn. I caught and passed the woman in fourth on the gradual climb and started to feel really good. At the beginning of mile 4, there was another steep climb and turn back onto Kimberly Avenue, and I started to reel in the woman in third. We hammered down Kimberly Ave, turned into another neighborhood then hit the bottom of Murdock Avenue, which was just over 4 miles into the race.

And a miracle occurred. I felt strong through the whole race but not particularly smooth. When we turned onto Murdock, however, everything clicked into gear. My knees were lifting, I was cranking down the street and closing the gap on third rapidly. With a half mile to go, I went by her and never looked back. My last 0.9 of a mile was the fastest of the whole race by 21 seconds and was uphill. I crossed the line in third in 35:27.

Although my time was over a minute slower than Greenville, the race was MUCH better. I respected the course, I was mentally tucked in and I was able to close with a very fast (in context) last mile. In short, this race felt like a tiny bit of progress back to the runner I used to be!

  • Mile 1: 8:18
  • Mile 2: 7:08
  • Mile 3: 7:13
  • Mile 4: 7:21
  • Mile “5”: 6:47

Week in Review 11.19.18 to 11.25.18

All aboard the HalloweenThanksgivingChristmasValentine’s Day Express…

Monday: 7-mile tempo run. 4 by 5 minutes at tempo with 1 minute between.

(I love this workout because the benefit is the same as a 20-minute continuous tempo but somehow is mentally much more approachable)

Tuesday: 4-mile recovery run. Found a decent option for dark winter nights that isn’t the treadmill. Carrier Park has lights on until 10 pm and I fashioned a 13-minute loop. Not glamorous, but I suspect I’ll be there a lot to save myself from death by treadmill.

Wednesday: Intended to do a shakeout run but unfortunately, operated until 8 pm. Came home and crashed instead.

Thursday: Greenville Turkey Trot 8K. Full race report on Instagram.

Friday: 4 easy miles. Felt pretty darn good after the race, which was encouraging.

Saturday: First real efficiency run back! Jogged to the track then 5 by 200 at R pace. I’m SURE I wasn’t moving as fast as I thought in my head, but I worked hard. Total 5.25 miles.

Sunday: Slow paced 10 miles at the Biltmore. With two workouts and a race in a week, thought I’d better entice myself to take this very slowly so opted for the Biltmore where the gravel roads naturally slow me down.

Total Miles: 38.3. 

Starting to get into a rhythm, which is reassuring. I’m also starting to notice that my stride feels more like my stride than it has in a while. Still struggling a bit with frustration that things aren’t coming back as fast as I want them to, but working to remind myself that I haven’t been fast (for me) since 2015 so I need to be patient in this build up.

One more week up at my current normal workload then a cutback week and another crack at the 8K!

Race Report: Rock’n’Roll Savannah

Short Version

9th female (what?!?!) (also was 10th until they finalized results)

Long Version

This race was one of those great ideas I had about ten minutes after tearing my MCL. I am blessed to have three incredible girlfriends that I met in Chapel Hill and we have worked tirelessly to maintain our friendship over the past decade. I ran my first marathon because of these women and have done countless half and full marathons since then with them. So with half a knee, I convinced KC to register for the half with me. Emily and Lindsey were, as always, up to spectate and come play in Savannah for the weekend.

The last month before this race was really fantastic. My knee started to feel almost 100%, my stride felt normal for me again and I finally experienced a glimpse of past fitness. Despite this, I was nervous about any kind of race because I’d done only early season workouts and my longest long run was 10 miles. Going in, my goal was to be under 1:35 and to run a smart, smooth race.

Travel to Savannah was a breeze. Lindsey flew into Asheville on Thursday night and then we started our journey to Savannah on Friday morning after a Trader Joes stop. The drive flew by as we solved all the world’s problems AND listened to Dirty John. We grabbed KC at the airport, picked up the keys to our rental house and unpacked all our groceries and clothes. KC and I had initially planned to run to the expo but it was raining HARD so we drove instead and did our shakeout run after. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my legs felt amazing. Forgot about the sea level effect!

Before and After.

As luck would have it, our house was a quick jog from the start line so we got up at 6, ate breakfast and had some caffeine then jogged over a little before 7. The weather was PERFECT. I wore a throwaway jacket and gloves and jogged around the corrals until about 7:10. This was the first place I noticed that Competitor has done a LOT to improve their starts. If you remember my Las Vegas experience where I couldn’t warm up OR get to my corral without crying to an official, this was the complete opposite. The start was a BREEZE and next year, I would leave our house even later.

The first mile of the race was mentally hard. People went out fast and I felt like half the field passed me. I was resolute to not go out too fast and just kept backing off. Even with a bridge and fairly significant climb, my first mile was a 7:24. Despite this, it felt like a jog so I didn’t fight it. Once we were over the bridge, I just tried to settle in until mile 6. The course was mostly flat but I did try to pay attention to not pressing too hard over the back of hills or getting caught up in racing.

At about mile 6, we got back into town and the crowds picked up. I started to use some tactics here as there were some windy stretches and I didn’t want to just work alone on this. There were also people coming back to me here so I started picking off people ahead of me one by one. I took my first gel a little before 8 and despite some awkwardness at the water stop, got the gel down without too much of a mess.

After 8, we wound our way out of the historic district towards a neighborhood to the east. With 5 miles to go, I wanted to pick it up and see how fast I could close but this is exactly where my knee started to smart. I don’t know if it was just the time on my feet or trying to push my pace, but it definitely didn’t seem worth it to get injured for 10 seconds a mile in a non-goal race. I was frustrated but focused on just holding on to my pace for the last few miles.

I actually found the last mile the hardest of all of them from a topographic perspective. The previous 12 miles had been reasonably flat but the last mile had some legitimate rollers back to the turn towards the fitness and it was hard to keep momentum. I did pass a woman during this mile, which apparently took me from 10th to 9th. We rounded the corner towards the finish and I saw the clock at about 1:32 and pushed enough to get in under 1:33 by a hair.


1: 724
2: 717
3: 708
4: 705
5: 705
6: 705
7: 655
8: 702
9: 658
10: 704
11: 709
12: 701
13: 711
0.1: 630

Overall, I couldn’t ask for more from this race. The organization and course was incredible, the weather was optimal and I had an even and solid performance as my first race back from my MCL. In comparison to other Rock N Roll events, this one was a very reasonable size and was easy to navigate as a runner and as a spectator. I had such a good experience that I already registered for 2019! I registered for the full marathon because I think the course is that fast, but we’ll see what the next few months bring.

Weeks in Review 10.23.18 to 11.4.18

Last two weeks going into Savannah…

10/23: Fartlek workout. 5 by 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off plus stabilizer legs. 7 miles total.

10/24: Early AM 3 mile recovery run.

10/25: 5-mile regular run plus PT.

10/26: AM tempo run with 2 miles continuous at tempo effort. 6 miles total.

10/27: No run, romping around the State Meet.

10/28: Last long run on the Thermal Rail Trail. 65 minutes. Very excited to find this resource. It will definitely feature prominently in my build-up for Grandma’s!

10/29: 2 miles easy with core.

10/30: Last workout. 1 mile at half marathon pace then 5 by 1 minute on, 1 minute off. 4 miles total.

10/31: Off day.

11/1: 2 miles in the pouring rain with striders built in.

11/2: 2.5 mile run through Savannah with KC.

11/3: RockNRoll Savannah Half Marathon. Full race report coming, but Gun 1:33:00, Chip 1:32:56 good enough for 10th overall.

11/4: Core and stretching only.

Training definitely kicked up over the last couple of weeks and in the week before my mini-taper, I was starting to feel like my old self. Now that I see what my race effort came out to be and the equivalent VDot (49), I have some paces to aim for as I move forward through my transition season and onto the San Diego Half.


Week in Review 10.15.18 to 10.21.18

Monday: 4 early am recovery miles plus back strength training.

Tuesday: Interval workout in the rain (for which I was totally unprepared). 10 by 1 on, 1 off for 5.25 miles total.

Wednesday: 5 miles easy plus PT.

Thursday: Much needed rest day with some core.

Friday: Early am tempo run. 4 by 5 minutes at tempo pace. 6-mile tempo. Arms strength training.

Saturday: Easy 5 miles run plus core.

Sunday: 11-mile long run in absolutely perfect running weather.

Total Miles: 36.3

Grateful to have another good week of running in the bank. Both of my workouts and long run went well and I did a reasonable job of getting my strength workouts in. Best of all, I’m starting to feel a tiny bit like my old self when I’m running. The beginning of this next week will be the same volume and intensity and then it’s on to taper for the ten days before RockNRoll Savannah.

Filling the Balloon

I saw an Instagram post by Kyle Merber the other day that talked about regaining fitness being akin to blowing up a balloon. The first time you do it, it’s extremely difficult but after a balloon has been inflated the first time, the subsequent efforts aren’t as hard. His point was that if you’ve been fit once, getting back there the second, third and tenth times aren’t as bad.

While I don’t entirely agree (aging, for example, makes for a worn out balloon more prone to pop than expand), I found his analogy comforting. It has been extremely humbling over the past couple of years to find myself considerably slower than before. Thinking of this as a temporary situation rather than a new normal has helped enormously. Overall, I would say that my acceptance of this setback has been way better than in years past. I have been generally positive and although I’ve had runs where I’ve wished to be back at my normal fitness level, I haven’t really given into beating myself up for slower paces. For this, I am incredibly proud. I don’t know if it’s age or experience, but I’ll take it!

Continuing with the balloon imagery, I feel like the last few weeks have been a proverbial exhale and expansion of the balloon. I’ve had workouts that, although slow, have been smooth and strong. This morning, for example, I floated through 4 by 5 minutes at tempo with 1 minute rest at paces that were difficult two weeks ago.

What do you think about the balloon analogy? How else do you conceptualize the return to fitness?

Gulp. I Chose a Spring Marathon.

I know I’m getting back in shape anytime I find myself daydreaming about my next big race on a run. For a couple of weeks, I’ve been toying with the idea of a spring marathon. There are a couple of reasons for this crazy line of thinking. First, I don’t want to have all my eggs in one basket for a fall marathon when I essentially took a year off from racing. Second, I need to have a realistic fitness check before setting fall goals. Finally, scheduling in residency is bananas. We plan 6 months to a year ahead for even a weekend off, so if I was going to run a spring marathon, I needed to commit now.

Choosing a spring marathon was a whole other ordeal. At this point, there is no “safe” time of year for good weather but I could pretty much guarantee that anything after April in the South was a bad idea. Furthermore, I doubted by ability to be ready for an early spring marathon, so needed something in late May or June. Finally, I wanted a reasonably fast course. After much searching around, I settled on Grandma’s Marathon in late June in Duluth.

Grandma’s is point to point and has a reputation of being flat and fast. They’ve had their share of tough weather in the last few years but by late June, warm weather won’t be a shock to my NC system. Lodging in Duluth proved to be a bit more of a challenge; hotels anywhere near the area were already completely sold out for the weekend. I got very lucky and found an AirBnB in the area with two hosts who often have Grandma’s runners.

Obviously time is on my side for this race, despite still working actively on healing my knee. I’ll essentially train for the San Diego Half and Grandma’s independently, as there are 14 weeks between the two races. This allows me to work on speed through most of the winter and switch to a more endurance/marathon focus for Grandma’s AND have a week off after the San Diego Half.

I’m going into the whole thing with a light heart and my plan FROM Grandma’s to Fall 2019 is an epic “if-then” map. For example, if training doesn’t go well or I’m not able to put together a race faster then 3 hours, then I’ll reconsider my trajectory for fall. As long as my outcome is under 3, I’ll plan to register for Boston (ensuring a Spring 2020 goal race) but still likely plan a fall attempt at the OTQ.

Anyone else run Grandma’s? I keep hearing amazing things!

Week in Review 10.8.18 to 10.14.18

Back at “full” volume for the last few weeks heading into Savannah. This was another great week of training, helped by the arrival (FINALLY) of cooler temperatures. It’s hard not to hammer when the temperatures feel great so I spent some time in the second half of the week reminding myself to go easy on easy days. I also registered for a spring marathon! More on that coming tomorrow…

Monday: Had to do this on a treadmill because of scheduling and unfortunately, there was no wifi so I had to just zone out and run. Did a wave tempo with a one-mile warmup then 3 by (1 mile at T, 1 mile easy). Arms afterward.

Tuesday: Not my intended day off this week but got stuck in the OR until 9 pm so no run this day. Core workout when I got home.

Wednesday: Easy 5 mile recovery run. PT after which left me sore for the remainder of the week.

Thursday: Easy 4 miler. Very sore calf muscles!

Friday: Fartlek workout. Warmup then 3 by (30, 60, 90 at 5K effort with equal recovery). Felt good thanks to cooler weather but decided not to push it for a fourth set. 18 minutes of hard effort is enough right now.

Saturday: 4 recovery miles.

Sunday: 10-mile long run. Happy to get another one of these in but a bit humbled that this still isn’t “easy” by any means.

Total Miles: 36

I’ll take a similar approach to the next two weeks, with a goal of 30 to 35 miles with two workouts and a long run in each. Because of some scheduling conflicts, I am unfortunately on call next weekend as well which makes me a bit anxious about getting in my long run so I’ll just have to keep my eyes open for any opportunity towards the end of the week to do that.

Running Tips: Just Do 10 Minutes

I certainly don’t do everything right when it comes to running but one of my best qualities is my ability to get out the door when I don’t want to or my available time is short. When I am confronted with a day when I am exhausted or when my schedule gets messed up, I make myself a promise: just do 10 minutes. When I’m exhausted, this guarantees me at least a shakeout run, but 95% of the time, I end up doing more than the ten minutes. I recently shared this with a co-resident and she has fallen in love with the approach because it gets her out the door but also lessens the omnipresent guilt of residency to “do more.”

I’ve started to apply my “just 10 minutes” philosophy to other components of my life as well. As a resident, my time is exceedingly limited but I still have tons of commitments in addition to an 80 hour work week. For work, I have research requirements, ABSITE studying (our in-service exam that prepares us for our Boards) and administrative tasks (logging cases and hours). Beyond that, I have a house that can’t totally fall into the earth, two dogs, a husband, a sister, and parents. Needless to say, some days feel a bit thin on time. In general, I keep a regimented calendar and I have a task from each “category” for each day. Sometimes, I nail these things and even get a little bit ahead (we’re talking a load of laundry…) And sometimes, I fall behind. When I do, instead of getting overwhelmed, I apply the same 10-minute rule. 10 minutes of studying or cleaning or a dog walk is better than zero.

What are your tricks for consistent running? Have you ever tried a 10-minute rule or something similar when time is crunched?