First PB since kids!

It’s true. I just posted my first Personal Best time in running since having my first baby over six years ago. I ran 1:21:43 in the Scotiabank Toroton Waterfront Half-Marathon last weekend, which is sixteen seconds faster than I’ve ever run that distance. In fact, since I’m writing about it I just did a little bit of research and discovered that despite having been fairly consistent in the racing scene for over fifteen years, I hadn’t posted a personal best time in the last nine!

Last few meters in the STWM Half

Last few meters in the STWM Half

Since I’m comparing, I thought I’d take a look at what I do now vs. what I did nine years ago:

Interval workouts:

Nine years ago I did interval workouts twice a week with a competitive group of runners. We showed up after work, and began the ritual of warming-up, doing drills, and preparing our minds and bodies for the workout to come. After completing the workout we would do some more running at a relaxed pace, and often included core work. The entire process could easily take two hours.

Today, I do interval workouts at 5 a.m. I have somehow managed to convince a group of similarly time-pressed parents from my neighbourhood that this is a fun activity and a good idea. We have a group of around seven people, ranging from run-walkers to competitive runners who meet every Wednesday at 5 a.m. prepared to take on whatever hills or intervals I have planned that day. They are amazing, inspiring, dedicated, and definitely get me out there! However, there is no waiting for stragglers, not much of a warm-up and no time for drills. The entire process takes no more than an hour.

A loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5 a.m. in January

A loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5 a.m. in January



Long runs:

Nine years ago I often did my long-runs with my boyfriend (now husband). We would run once we’d eased into our day, had breakfast and read the paper. After the runs the rest of the day was often spent relaxing and recovering.

Today my husband and I coordinate schedules around kids and various activities for me to plan my long runs. They do sometimes still include him, but those ones involve a baby-sitter. Sometimes they involve a baby-sitter and not my husband, and on those runs I tend to break down how much I’m paying per-minute to run and work my hardest to get my best value!

Races:

Nine years ago when I raced I focused on nothing but how to set myself up to run my best times. I made sure my logistics and warm-up were timed perfectly for the start, and during the race I was completely focused on my performance.

Today, I often manage my kids’ support-crew experience (food, warmth, transportation) in cheering me on as much as my own race logistics. It’s important to me that they see my running and racing as enjoyable experiences for them as well as for me. During a race I know they’re looking for me, and I’m just as keen to see them. When I do, I make sure I have a smile and wave – whether I’m feeling good or not.

Typical mid-race pose - regardless of how I'm really feeling!

Typical mid-race pose – regardless of how I’m really feeling!

Post-Races:

Nine years ago after a race I would treat myself to a nice meal, bath, relaxed reading, and usually a nap.

Today that is one thing I’m trying to maintain! I’m part-way there. After my half-marathon the kids built me a “relaxation fort” and proceeded to take turns massaging me. See? It’s all about training them along with you. And I feel like I’m finally getting there.

Relaxation Fort

Relaxation Fort

The next two challenges: a 10K PB and teaching my kids to clean up after fort/playtime. Wonder which will come first??

Dealing with doubts

I’m suddenly feeling insecure about my ability to reach my racing goal in four weeks (1:21 in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon). Normally I’m pretty confident with my training and the effort I’ve put in, but I’ve had a few set-backs which have made me start to doubt myself.

The first was a required change of “tempo” pace from what was prescribed by my coach. My tempo pace turned out to be my flat out 5 km racing pace, so once the runs got longer than that distance it was not a pretty sight. We ended up revising my tempo pace to something more manageable, but they still feel tough – I guess they’re supposed to.

The second confidence buster was a completely failed attempt at a quality long run the other week. I was supposed to run a portion of my long run at my revised tempo pace and then move onto race pace. Then I was supposed to go “hard”. I made it two-thirds of the way through the tempo before bonking and calling it quits. I barely made it home and just managed to limp into a Starbucks at the bottom of my street where the barista took one look at me and immediately said “Water?” I could have kissed him. Refueled with ice water I was able to drag myself the final two blocks home.

Thank-you Starbucks!

Thank-you Starbucks!

Because of that fiasco, I decided I needed to run a race to see where I really was fitness-wise. I found a local 10K for the next weekend and registered. The race felt good. I ran almost solo the whole way and finished in 37:29 – a time I was very happy with given the effort I felt I’d put in. Then, after noticing a discrepancy between the 10 km distance and what my GPS watch said I’d run, and after speaking with some other top finishers, it was generally agreed upon that the course was about 400 m short. Ack! One time in my life I’ve run a 400 m in about 65 seconds, but I think it’s safe to assume I should add a little more than that to my 10 km time. Suddenly my “time” was a confidence buster.

10K Results
Place – 1 Top Fin
Name – Seanna Robinson
Gender – F
Bib No – 12
Chip Time – 37:29.6
Gun Time – 37:29.6
Actual 10K time – sub-39???

Then, in my last two workouts I made slight modifications at the end because I was physically incapable of keeping up the pace. I turned longer intervals into a few shorter ones at the same pace in order to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Good enough? I doubt it.

Finally, I’ve been advised by my coach that my mileage is too low. Granted, I haven’t been focusing on overall weekly mileage as I’ve been trying (and failing) to hit my times. I wonder if I can count running 800 m to my kids’ school three days a week (average number of days I’m late) dragging along a bike on training wheels as extra mileage? Probably not.

Now for the good news: I still have four weeks to pull it all together. Time to pull up the bootstraps and get down to business. No more wimping out part-way through workouts, no more excuses, and no more making up my own workouts on the fly. This is why I have a coach! Time to trust her, put my head down and get ‘er done. I will not modify my goal or listen to my self-doubts. Time to see what I can do!

Going public with my goals

I go through varied phases in running where sometimes I need a racing goal and sometimes I don’t. I’ve just come out of a long phase of running with no specific racing goal in mind. As often happens, I just got the “racing bug” again and want to see how fast I really can go if I train with one goal race in mind. So that is what I am doing, and I’m going to do something differently this time: I’m giving myself a goal-time and I’m going to tell people what it is.

For some reason, I haven’t often done this. It is hard to state a goal – to yourself or publicly. It makes it real, and if it’s a hard goal, that can make it stressful. I could just train, and then show up at the start line and say “well, I’ll just see what happens”. In fact I’ve done this a lot. However, this gives my training a bit of a lack of specific purpose, not to mention, it’s hard to know when I should be happy with a race result and when I shouldn’t. For example, I came across a typical log entry from my training log from 2000:

"race - Docks 5km - 17:48 -okay"

“race – Docks 5km – 17:48 -okay”

Was I happy with that result? It’s hard to tell from my entry and I have no idea what I was aiming for.

Here’s one from 2002:

"Scotiabank 1/2 Mar 1:22 - okay - not feeling great"

“Scotiabank 1/2 Mar 1:22 – okay – not feeling great”

Again, I had no goal stated, so I had no idea whether to be satisfied with the result or not.

Fast-forward thirteen years, and the wiser me knows that whether it is in running, my career, my personal life or simply accomplishing daily tasks, I am way more likely to succeed if I have a goal, write it down, and tell it to others.

There are a few reasons for this:

1. Knowing your goal helps you to direct your energy. It is possible to work extremely hard, but if it’s not moving you towards your goal it could be effort wasted.
2. Telling it to others gives people in your life the opportunity to help you towards your goals, or remove obstacles which might stand in your way. If friends and family know and support your running goals, they’re more likely to say “I’ll watch the kids while you get your run in” than “come on, stay and have another beer”.
3. Once your goal is written down, you can’t constantly modify it on the fly or push it to an undefined time in the future. Yes, it brings on a bit of stress and nervous butterflies, but that’s how you improve.
4. You will know when you’ve achieved it. If you have, you can celebrate along with everyone who supported you along the way, and start looking forward to new challenges.

Now the toughest part: potential failure. What if you don’t reach your goal? And everyone knows? I think this is what has held me back from being specific about my goals in the past: fear of failure. It is always a possibility. I think the best thing you can take from failure is to actually recognize that you didn’t reach your goal so that you can re-evaluate and refine either your process (ie. add more speed-work) or your goal itself (ie. time to look at masters’ times rather than PB’s when you were 20!)

The bottom line: if you’re a results-oriented person, having a specific goal, committing to it by sharing it with others and working towards it is a process which will lead you to improve – whether you attain it every time or not.

So here we go:

My goal race is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. My goal time is 1:21.

Wish me luck!

Sharing my addiction

I love running. I know, it sounds so nerdy and cliche, but I really, really do. And like most things that I love, I want to share it with everyone who I care about. Actually, I even like sharing it with absolute strangers. However, I am aware that what works for me does not necessarily work for everyone, and that it can be annoying to have someone preaching to you all the time that you just HAVE to try something. So I wait for my moments.

About ten years ago, a perfect moment presented itself with my mother who was then in her early sixties. Although my mother is genetically athletic (and I believe has a lot of potential as a runner), running for the sake of running had never been her thing. She did sports “for fun”. In fact, this was one of her main sports throughout her university years:

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(not an actual picture of my mother, but a picture of what she actually did)

My theory is that my mother never thought running sounded challenging enough. If it didn’t involve adrenaline and wasn’t a bit crazy, she wasn’t into it. Oh, and she had also been a pack-a-day smoker for decades, although she had recently given it up.

That summer ten years ago, a group of her colleagues said they were getting together to do the Run for the Cure 5K , and not being one to turn down an invitation in the moment, my mother signed on. It then dawned on her that she would likely have to train to complete this since she had never really run before. Luckily, she knew ME, a lifetime runner who is always trying to get people to join me in my passion. So she asked me for a training program to get her through the event. Oh, and as an added bonus, she signed my father up as well – also a newbie runner in his sixties.

I was SO excited to get them running I nearly burst. I think I even screamed: “This is going to be so much FUN! FUN, FUN, FUN!” in a high-pitched voice. I may have looked like this:
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I wonder if they found that annoying?

Anyway, I went on to write them both a program which got them from walking to progressively more running. My dad did well, but I got the feeling he was just taking his medicine. My mother on the other hand seemed to get more out of it. She got a renewed sense of energy and well-being. Running seemed to “fit” her. I was so excited that I’d had a hand in creating a new runner in the world.

Both of my parents ended up running the 5K in under thirty minutes. It was a very rewarding accomplishment for all of us.

Then we all got busy, I had kids, jobs got demanding, and we forgot to set new goals. Now, it’s ten years later, and I’m making the hard pitch on my mother, now in her seventies, to do the event again (I’m leaving my dad alone for now – he’s gotten into bicycling so I’ll let him do that). I brought it up softly a few weeks ago, but have been following up consistently. Her responses have gone from vague “maybe’s” to more and more positive commitments. I’ve now presented her with a program which starts in a week and a half. My final strategy is my most brilliant: I’ve enlisted both of my sisters to run the event so she can run with all three of her daughters. Now THAT is a pitch no mother could turn down. Wish us luck and fun!

Race Report – Feeling the “Aloha” in Maui

One of my favourite things to do if I can when I travel is to jump into a local road race. It’s such a great way to experience being part of the local community as opposed to viewing it from the outside as a regular tourist. I had this opportunity recently in Maui, Hawaii. I was there with my family on vacation, so I randomly looked up local races. It turned out there was a 5 km not far from where we were staying. The race was the 2nd Annual Kraig Vickers Honor Run. That’s all I needed to know. I’d work out the details of registering, getting there, getting my family there, fitting it into my formal training schedule later. I was going to do this race.

As the race day approached, I started to look more closely at the details. It took place at 7:30 a.m. I had missed the preregistration so I would have to register on the day. Registration started at 6:00 a.m. That was sounding pretty early to get my four-year old and six year-old there happily with my husband. I also noticed that the race day fell on my prescribed workout day of “fartlek long run up to 20 km”. Then my mind started turning … YES! The perfect solution: I would run the 9 km to the start and my husband could join an hour and a half later with the kids.

I jogged slowly over at 5:30 a.m. enjoying the sunrise. I got there in plenty of time to register and hang out and soak in the atmosphere. Kraig Vickers had been a highly decorated Naval Special Warfare Operator whose helicopter had been shot down over Afghanistan. His friends and family were all at the event with his father giving an opening prayer which made it extremely emotional. Then the taiko drummers started playing and I got serious goosebumps. If you’ve ever seen and heard a taiko drumming performance you know it’s a very powerful experience.

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Pretty soon it was time to line up at the start. I love 5 km’s in the U.S. because they always have them counted in miles as well and three sounds so easy. Just three little miles. Well, as usual, time and distance are relative based on how much you’re hurting. Luckily I knew my family was waiting at the halfway point, so I put on a happy face at mile 1.5.

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The last mile felt tough because my brain always thinks that a mile and a kilometer are not that different and then it takes so much longer to run a final mile than a final kilometer! I finally reached the finish line in a time of 18:41 and was the first woman. This event had a lot of what they call “Aloha spirit” meaning basically kindness and generosity. Although most people seemed to know each other, they were very friendly and welcoming to outsiders. They made me feel part of the community which is such a welcome feeling when you’re traveling.

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The race bibs all had food tickets on them which were supplied by local services. They had hot dogs, fruit, shaved ice and ice cream.

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One runner upon seeing that I had two kids with me, immediately gave me his shaved ice and ice cream tickets. That is called “Aloha”.

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Feeling the Aloha post-race

The race was followed by a day spent surfing and swimming at the beach and was capped off with a 5 km jog at sunset (I had to get in my 20 km for the day – not sure if that’s exactly what my coach meant by “20km fartlek”).

So remember to share the spirit, and when you see strangers at your local races, be sure to spread the “Aloha”!

Race review – from a different perspective

It is not often that I go to races to cheer.  Simply because often it is a bit of an effort and coordination to get to a race, and if I’m going to be at the location for the duration of the race, most of the time I just race it.

This time was different.  I had no need or desire to race due to still recovering from Around The Bay and the Catalina Marathon, and my sister (and loyal 5 a.m. training partner) was racing – along with a number of other friends.  The race was the Harry’s Spring Run Off 8 km.  A great course around High Park, and viewing it as a spectator allowed me to appreciate many different experiences than usual.  Here are a few things I noticed as a spectator which I don’t tend to as a racer:

  • The mellow vibe of those there to complete, not compete.  As I finally found a parking spot a few miles away from the start with under half an hour to go, I was already getting slightly panicky about getting to the start in time to watch it.  And I found myself walking towards the start along with quite a number of other people who were going to run it.  Who are these laid back people who get to the start just in time to go???  I assume they have way less stress and adrenalin coursing through them on race day than I normally do.  Very different and very cool.
  • I would like to say I enjoyed not getting nervous (most spectators probably would), but for some reason the sights and sounds still brought forth my physical gut response of fight-or-flight.  Luckily I was able to channel my adrenalin and had one of my best runs in a while later that afternoon.
  • I got to enjoy the crowds, booths, announcing and ceremonies which are there to make the runners feel welcome.  Normally all of this is just background noise as I find my space to warm-up and get into my “racing zone”.  This was the first time I’ve ever followed the piper to the start.

Piper leading the runners to the start

  • I saw many familiar faces before the race, and was able to wish them a heartfelt “good luck” and cheer them on throughout (instead of being focused on me, me, me).

Friend and running mate Ali Drynan pre-race

  • I was able to watch the actual race play out as the winners flew by (the course was a great spectator’s course as we could watch the races pass by four times)

Lead woman and eventual winner Krista DuChene

Lead man and eventual winner Sami Jibril staying ahead of second place finisher Josephat Ongeri

  • I could pour all of my energy and emotions into cheering as loudly as I could to try to help runners find a little extra strength and speed which might net them a couple of extra seconds in time.  I really do think cheering makes a difference in this.  It better – I sure felt exhausted enough afterwards!!

My hero of the day Tanis Feasby as she crested the brutal hill at the finish for a PB time (I screamed very loudly here)

  • The final thing I was really able to observe differently and more completely was the coordination and efforts of all of the volunteers.  Standing near them at a table for minutes allowed me to appreciate their duties a lot better than when I just run by over the course of a couple of seconds.  They are amazing, spend a lot of time and effort, and probably don’t get nearly enough thanks.  My next resolution is to volunteer at a race sometime in the coming season to get an even better perspective and appreciation for their roles (and to give back of course!)

Congratulations to all runners, racers and volunteers who took part in this event – it was by far my favourite sporting entertainment event of the year so far.

 

Around The Bay 30K Race Report (or The Big Bonk)

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that my goal race for the season was originally Around The Bay 30K. I love this race and have had numerous successes there. I was really hoping to run sub-2hrs as I have three times before in my prime fitness.

Then along came the plan to travel to California over March Break and in the process run the Catalina Island Marathon which happened to be two weeks before Around The Bay. Not a problem I thought: it could work in my favour. Run a long run and recover in time to race a brilliant 30K.

The only problem was the recovery. It’s hard to know mid-recovery if you actually have recovered from an effort without testing yourself (which would then need recovering from itself). So I just had to hedge my bets and go out at my planned goal pace.

Race Day was beautiful, sunny, and one of the warmest days in months.

I started out at my planned goal pace and ran the first 5 km in 19:40. It didn’t feel way too fast, but at the same time, I knew that it should have felt easier if I wanted to repeat another five of those in a row. I wasn’t sure if my legs just needed to wake up a bit and whether I’d get a second wind and start feeling more into it. I slowed down a bit to try to re-charge so I could get back into race mode. It felt like I had fallen way off the pace, but I went through 10 km in just over 40 minutes. Not too bad. But I knew at that point that I didn’t have a race in me. I could not summon any reserves of energy, so I thought I’d turn it into an “enjoyable long run”. Ha!

THE BONK:

By 15 km I was slowing down by the step. My head was fuzzy, I had no energy, and I sort of felt like stopping and crying. A tad dramatic and out of the ordinary for a mid-race experience. Must have been my plummeting glucose levels. I did have gels and had been taking Gatorade but it wasn’t enough. I was in too big of a hole. Now what?? My car was parked at 29 km. I couldn’t think of any way to stop and get home which was all I wanted to do. So I had to run the hardest 14 km of my life in order to stop. That is saying a lot. It was brutal kilometer to brutal kilometer. The pain of running is bearable when it’s leading you to a fast time or moving you towards your goals. When it’s nothing but pain and defeat it is magnified. Thank god for the crowds of other runners and supporters along the way. They really are amazing in this race. There were people with signs all along the course who made me smile numerous times despite my glum state of affairs.

I finally made it to my car at the 29th kilometer, stepped off the course and drove home. I don’t think it’s bad that I didn’t run into the stadium with the cheering crowds – it would have felt insincere.

So what did I learn from this? Not sure. Because it really could have gone either way, and knowing me, I’d try doing something similar again. I just hate missing opportunities and running the Catalina Marathon seemed like such a good one (and one I definitely do not regret). One thing I do know now is that I am currently very tired, very deep down. For the next week, instead of running at 5 a.m. I’ll be doing this.

Good night!

Catalina Island Marathon

Well, it’s been a week since I ran the marathon – sorry for the late re-cap but we “celebrated” by camping down the coast and I took the opportunity to take a bit of a web vacation as well.

So, THE RACE:

It began the day before with a ferry ride over to the island – Catalina Island is around 26 miles off the coast of LA – where we were going to set up camp and sleep before the 7 a.m. start.  It turns out I’m really not good with big waves as I seemed to be the only person on the ferry puking my all my carefully planned carbs out into the ferry toilets.  Meanwhile, my kids were huddling under the seats like small animals in search of shelter.  They may have gotten my poor sea-faring genes.  Luckily there was a pasta dinner at the other end, so I could re carbo-load up.

After dinner, we set up camp and tucked in for an early night.  At one point in the night my husband heard the breath of an animal outside our tent.  He went out with a flash light and I was woken by his shout.  While searching for a small rodent-like animal his flashlight landed on a massive buffalo munching grass 10 feet from our tent.  We had no idea there were Buffalo on the island.  I guess we could have checked a few things out with the locals beforehand, but we basically went in with optimistic ignorance. (Note the ominous foreshadowing.)

Race morning started with a half-mile hike out to the start – we just followed the crowds – and the usual pre-race rituals of taking sips of water and peeing behind cacti.  Seemed normal and familiar enough.

I knew the course was hilly and that the course records were slow, but I hadn’t actually talked to anyone who had done it.  I thought “I’ll figure it out – I don’t want to be freaked out”.  Well, the first hill started pretty much immediately and never ended.  At mile three I thought “my legs are going to be sore tomorrow”.  Just 23 miles to go.  There was no rhythm to get into, and each hill was followed almost immediately by an even more leg-destroying downhill.  It wasn’t run up, across, and down as I’d thought, but up, down, up, down, up, up, up, up, down, down, down, down.  I’ll admit that I paced it completely wrong and when I saw some people flying down the first few hills I thought “hey, maybe that’s how you’re supposed to do it” and basically destroyed my downhill muscle fibers in the first few miles.  Here’s a snapshot which might give you an idea of the course:

It’s beautiful, yes, but OMG the hills!!!

The other unexpected thing I encountered was a return of our old campsite friend – the buffalo.  In the middle of the course!  I noticed it a few hundred meters out and thought it was an aid station.  As I got closer I couldn’t make sense of it, or why the few runners ahead of me were stopping.  Then I got closer and realized it was a BIG male buffalo who didn’t look to be too happy to have runners going by his hang-out.  Not knowing what to do I just followed the runners ahead of me by stopping, creeping up a grass embankment and tip-toeing by him.  I know surprisingly little about buffalo except that thankfully they’re vegetarians.  No idea whether they charge like bulls or moose.  One runner got too close and received an angry snort.  I wasn’t testing it.

(Side note. Apparently buffalo were introduced to Catalina Island for a movie shoot in the 1920s and were left there to live and breed happily ever since.)

In the end, I stopped “racing” and decided just to run as moving forward at any pace seemed all I could do.  I knew I was the first woman but it was impossible to tell where anyone else on the course was.  Although early on I had been looking forward to the four mile downhill finish, once there I found myself cringing at every jarring step and begging for an uphill.  I was passed by a woman with a mile and a half to go and I couldn’t do a thing about it.  I wasn’t bonking and I had the energy to go faster, but my poor quads felt like I was taking a hammer to them with every step.  I finished in 3:27, one minute behind first place and was happy with my effort.

Kudos to Ken Myers from Kingston who took the overall WIN!!!  We celebrated together Canadian style with a couple of beers.  (Thanks for the Advil Ken. Hope to see you back there next year!)

Speaking of Advil, I could have used a LOT more afterwards.  Walking was extremely difficult for three days as one leg would just give up on me and collapse sporadically.  Sidewalk curbs gave me a lot of trouble.  And here was my daily walk to the beautiful beach just outside our campground:

(My kids are way down there somewhere. Everyone gave up ever waiting for me.)

I did finally make it out for a surf once I figured I could pop up on my board.  Not pretty, but I’ll share my victories and my ugly moments:

Post-marathon surf

Now one more week to recover before my next race – Around The Bay!  Those hills will be a piece of cake 😉

To The Races!

So I’ve just registered for the Catalina Marathon on March 9th (off the southern coast of California).  Why this race?  Is it a fast course guaranteed for a fast time?  Is it a convenient location which is easy to get to?  Does it fit well into my training plan timing-wise?  None of the above.  I’m doing it because it fits well into my life.  My husband will get to surf/paddle in the area and my kids will be on March Break so we’re making it a family trip.  It will start with the marathon and end with a week of camping/exploring/surfing down the California coast.  I can’t think of a more fun sounding vacation!  I will be treating the marathon as a much needed (and exceedingly rare in my schedule) long run in the lead up to my main goal race – Around The Bay 30K on March 24th.  Is an uphill marathon three weeks out the ideal prep for that race?  Probably not, but as I said – it fits my life.

Here is a map of the Catalina Marathon course:

Here is the course elevation (YIKES!):

 

And just to confirm that I won’t be setting any PB’s, here are the course records:

Men: 2:39:58

Women: 3:07:00

So basically I’ll be doubling the amount of time I’ve spent on my legs in one running session up to that point.  Unless I get in some emergency long runs between now and then which I’m now planning on doing.  My overall mileage and consistency are good – I’m planning on hitting 70 miles this week and I’m on day three at 31 miles which includes a good quality session of mile repeats.  It’s just the long runs I’m having trouble fitting in.  They just take so much time!!!!  Hopefully this race registration is the kick in the pants I needed to make them happen.