Winter running in Salt Lake City

I’m about to start training for half marathon number 5. And of course that means planning out my running schedule. Sometimes this can be complicated by winter weather but in Salt Lake City we have an added complication -> our air quality.

Before I moved here I never really thought about air quality. That is a Beijing problem, right? Well it turns out due to a combination of geography (valley), poor planning (oil refineries in said valley) and bad luck (low sun angle) we have really bad air in winter – mostly January but it can sneak into December and February. So before I plan my weekly running schedule I need to check these:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 15.41.48

Green is good!

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And yes – these are our typical January highs.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 15.42.01Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 15.41.37Lucky I’m a scientist, right? The main bummer is that when it’s sunny with no snow – that is when the air is likely to be bad. And by bad I mean – your throat is scratchy and in some cases physicians recommend that you refrain from exercising outside especially if you have any medical conditions that might make you sensitive to pollutants. Storms are great at clearing the air out but that means snow and icy conditions. It’s a Catch-22.

For the last couple of years I’ve been doing low (or no) mileage for January and this is the first year that I’ve done longish runs this month. Luckily, I’ve managed to do all of my weekend runs outside and even snuck in a weekday trail run. This has made me so grateful that my body is cooperating so that I can run and I really appreciate any outside run. Although, I have been using my treadmill runs to catch up with Scandal.

The bad air – or inversion as the locals refer to it – is a constant topic of conversation here in SLC in the winter but I can’t complain too much. If I can make it through January then things settle back to normal – and our air is pretty good for the rest of the year, and our winters are relatively mild (sorry Midwesterners and East coasters). Plus, if we really need to escape the air we can just drive 30 minutes and be at 9000ft enjoying the fresh mountain air!


But on clear days it’s amazing!

Training: T-1 week

Monday: 6.2 miles at 8:29 pace

A much needed day off work (MLK Day), no big plans and some great weather meant an unmissable opportunity to run outside. In sunshine. And with almost clear sidewalks. Win! This run felt so great – and I even managed to surprise myself with a sub-8 mile.

Tuesday: 2.45 miles (to and from the gym)

Another chance to run outside and some strength work.

Wednesday: 5.5 miles. Tempo day! 1.5 miles at 9.13 min/mile pace with 3 tempo miles (7:24/7:19/7:13) and a 0.5 mile cooldown. I tried this workout last week and it was a struggle – I only managed 2 of my 3 tempo miles. This week I felt like a different person.

Thursday: Rest day.

Friday: 3.05 miles on the trail at 10:18 pace. Packed down snow and beautiful view on a lunchtime run. Perfect.

Saturday: 9.1 miles at 8:47 pace. I’ve been doing all of my recent long runs blind. My watch vibrates to let me know when I’ve done a mile but I don’t check my pace until I’m done. I want to practice running by feel and not doing these longer runs too fast so I need to protect myself from myself.

Sunday: 2.6 miles with Sophie. We had a small storm roll through on Saturday night and it dropped 5 inches of new snow. So I brought our pup out with me and it went – well what’s a word between terrible and frustrating? We need to work on our leash skills!

Weekly total: 28.9 miles

Base building is done! Now sh*t gets real. Half marathon training is on. It actually started with my Sunday snow run. This allows everything to fit better with my current work schedule and basically breaks down into:

Sunday: Short, easy run

Monday: Workout. Hill repeats or intervals

Tuesday: Short, easy run

Wednesday: Tempo

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Short run – easy or race pace on alternate weeks.

Saturday: Long run

With as much strength training as I can fit in. The only downside is a slight twinge in my right calf that I’m keep a close eye on, but I’m hoping my body can hold it together for the next 12 weeks.

My thoughts on the Garmin 235

I was lucky enough to get a new Garmin for Christmas. The Garmin 235 replaced my old Garmin 110 which had been with me since I started taking running more seriously at the start of 2013. It was a great watch and did everything I needed. I have to admit here that I never used a lot of the functions such as training modes, but it tracked my distance, splits and pace and that was enough for me. The 110 also came with a chest heart rate monitor that I used twice. I hated wearing it and decided I would just have to run by feel and forgo heart rate measurements.

When I heard about the 235 I thought it was awesome. It could measure heart rate via the wrist strap and I decided it would be my next watch. Well, my husband decided that would be happening much sooner than I had planned, and I’ve been wearing it for the last month or so.

Heart rate:

This is what really sold it for me. It can measure your heart rate but you don’t have to wear an annoying (at least to me) chest strap. Because this is the first time I’ve ever monitored my heart rate while exercising (and because I am a huge nerd), I am completely obsessed with all the new data. You can probably find other reviews that talk about the accuracy of the HR monitor, but personally I take it as a pretty good but probably not perfect estimate of my HR.

For each run, I now get my elevation, pace, HR and cadence.

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You also get a measure of other aspects related to your heart rate. Here for example is what percentage of each run you spent in each zone (from easy to all out), which reminds me of the couple of workouts at Orange Theory Fitness. Basically, Z1 = warm-up, Z2 = easy, Z3 = aerobic, Z4 = threshold and Z5 = maximum. This particular run felt on the upper end of easy, sub-tempo but still working. This is also how my long run looked on Saturday.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 16.06.33One on my aims is to have my recovery runs all green.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 16.12.32And this is how my tempo looked.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 16.13.23I’m still figuring it all out but it’s a good reminder to keep easy days easy.

You 75also get a couple of other pieces of information related to HR. One is a training effect number. This can range from 1 to 5 and gives you some feedback on how that particular run affected your training as a whole. A number greater than 3 but less than 5 indicates that you are improving. A 5 means that you are probably over-reaching.

You also get a recovery time which is dependent on your training effect number i.e. a hard session needs a longer recovery time. Not rocket science but still interesting.

Because of the HR monitor you also get a better estimate of calories burned per run. This has actually shown a lower number for me (my old watch was guessing 90 calories per mile, but now it’s about 75).

The 235 can also act as an activity tracker and can continuously monitor your resting heart rate. This has shown me that I have a pretty low resting hear rate – about 45 bpm which I’ll probably mention to my doctor at my next annual checkup.

Activity tracker:

The 235 also tracks your steps (including those from running), which I didn’t know about before I got it. It will initially set your steps to 10,000 and then alter it for each day depending on your activity levels. It’s a nice reminder to move a little more each day. You also get a vibrating reminder to move if you’ve been inactive for more than an hour.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 16.34.01Can you figure out my rest days?

Other features:

I’ve found the GPS acquisition to be significantly faster than the 110. You can also sync your watch and phone so that you get text message and other alerts (these can be customizable) on your phone, and use bluetooth to upload your data via the Garmin connect app. It comes with a USB connector that I personally find to be easier and quicker for uploading data but the bluetooth seems to work pretty well.

The watch itself is more intuitive to use than the 11o and has a color screen. It is smaller and I’ve been happy to wear it as a normal watch.

You can get some interesting data too. For example, it gives a VO2 max score and uses this to predict your race times for 5K, 10K, half and full marathon. I have no idea how accurate this is but for me, the more numbers the better.

I’ve also been getting a measure of my cadence which I’ve never had before. This was something that I worked on with my PT who encouraged shorted strides and it’s nice to see that I’m usually close to 180 steps per minute.

One downside:

The 235 has two options for running: indoor and outdoor. In my opinion the outdoor works just fine. My usual routes are measured correctly and I feel the pace is pretty accurate too. But indoors all bets are off. The tracking is way off with a treadmill. For example, a treadmill run of 7 miles translates to just 6 with the watch. I know treadmills can be a little off but that seems a little too much. Also, a treadmill pace of 7:13 (8.3 mph) will only register as 8.33 min/mile using the watch. After using it a bunch of times inside I feel like this feature is just not accurate and you should just stick with the treadmill data.


I love this watch. I don’t think I’ve taken it off since I first got it and think it’s a great combination of GPS watch and activity tracker.




A running confession

So I have a running confession to share. I have run two full marathons and four half marathons, plus a bunch of trail races and never have I ever done speedwork. No 400s, 800s or 1600s. I’ve done tempo runs but never intervals. They always sound hard. But now I am starting my half marathon training plan next week and it calls for some speedwork. And the weird thing is that I am actually kinda looking forward to trying it out.

So I am looking for your help. I get the principal behind everything and I have a pretty good idea about what paces to start with but I have some newbie questions.

Do you do your speedwork on a treadmill or a track?

How much of a gap do you leave between intervals? A certain amount of time or a distance?

Do you walk or just run super slow between intervals?

Do you program it into a watch? Can you even do this? How do you get your run done without checking your GPS every two minutes?

How do you think speedwork has helped your running?



Training: T-2 weeks

November, December and January have been all about that base. Running base that is. A combination of injuries and burn-out meant I took a break from running for October and the first half of November. And let me tell you that running is a humbling hobby. Paces that previously felt easy now became a struggle. Ughhh. It was the first step (literally) in getting back into shape.

I started by running four times a week in the low 20 miles per week total. My long runs started at 5 and 6 miles, before plateauing at 7 miles for three weeks, followed by another 3 weeks at 8 miles. Since the start of the year I’ve been topping out at 25 miles with a long run of 9 miles.

I have a couple of races lined up for the start of 2016 with my goal race being the Salt Lake half marathon on April 16th. This means that my 12 week training program starts on January 25th so I have one more week to go before things get real. This time I am planning on following Hal Higdon’s advanced plan. Fingers crossed my body holds up. This race is my current PR, and while it would be nice to beat that time I’m more interested in figuring out where m fitness is right now. Before that I have a couple of tune-up races to get rid of the racing nerves.

Monday: 4.85 trail miles at 10:35 pace/570 ft elevation. Blue skies, not too cold and clean air. I couldn’t resist.

Tuesday: 1.5 miles easy on indoor track. I got a pair of Altras back in the fall and am trying to ease myself into wearing them. Strength workout afterwards.

Wednesday: 5.25 mile tempo. 2 miles at 9:13 pace, 1 mile at 7:19, 7.13, 1.25 mile cooldown at 9:13 pace. Was hoping for 3 fast miles (I did this workout the previous week) but my legs were not feeling it.

Thursday: Rest. Short strength workout.

Friday: Rest. Snowy day so decided to wait until the weekend to run.

Saturday: 9.15 miles at 8:40 pace. Best long run in a while.

Sunday: 3.1 mile hike; 4.5 mile recovery run at 9:14 pace. Surprised that this pace felt so easy.

Weekly total: 25.3 miles.

The first week of my plan calls for a little under 30 miles and I feel pretty prepared for it. Confession: My peak mileage for a half marathon has only ever been 35ish miles so this training period should up that a lot. Plus my first long run should be about 10 miles which is longer than what I’ve started with previously. I say about 10 miles because this plan sets long runs by time not distance, which is also new to me. Lots of new things and I’m excited to see if I see any improvements in my racing.

My weekly workouts also include my daily walks with Sophie. We usually go out for a little under an hour in the mornings and try to hike at least once per weekend. This Sunday we hiked up Thaynes Canyon. What a great way to spend a morning.


2015 in review – part two

July: July was not a highlight in my running year. It was full of frustration, crappy runs and crazy decisions. I took two weeks off from running and then decided to run a trail 10 K (57:40; 9:17 pace). And yeah………that went about as well as you’d expect. What added to the frustration was the fact that I in previous years I had placed in my age groups in these races and now I was definitely nowhere near those paces. It was hard not to feel down about it. So I did the only sensible thing – take another 10 days off and then ran 4 more times in the last two weeks of the month.

August: Finally things were looking up. My mileage was still on the lower side and I was mostly pain-free. I managed the trail series 15K (1:30:07; 9:36 pace) at the start of the month – although there were some walk breaks – and then we finally managed to have some vacation time. We spent a weekend camping near Navajo lake in southern Utah. A beautiful location for an epic trail run. About 11 miles for me circling the lake and crossing some lava beds, and a little longer for my husband who was training for his first 50 miler. In the evening we drove down to Cedar City and watched King Lear in their replica Shakespearean theater. Would definitely recommend. A couple of weeks later we saw the Book of Mormon in Salt Lake City. Such a great show and I can’t think of a better place to see it (literally a couple of blocks from the Temple). And finally, on the last weekend we headed towards Colorado.


September: September started in the Rocky Mountains. A wonderful night in Steamboat Springs enjoying great beer, great food, a random spring in the river followed by a morning run along the creek. Then it was on to Rocky Mountain National Park. What a beautiful place! A must-visit if you ever get the chance. My husband and I even managed a trail run despite the signs specifically warning not to run because of mountain lions. Whatever – we like to live dangerously! We also stopped in Boulder and got to explore the Flatirons. Running was getting back on track and I finally got to run the Park City Trail half marathon. This is the one race in the series that I hadn’t never run before. And it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I ran the whole thing – all 13.7 miles – in 2:13:17 (9:49 pace) – along single track in perfect weather. Definitely the best race of the whole series and one that I am itching to run again.

October: Burn-out month. It was official I was done with running for the year. I had no races left and no reason to run. Instead, October was all about this girl. We adopted her as a 7 month mutt and were immediately smitten.

November: Base building. After a month off I was ready to go. My goal was to work on building my base so that it would hit the low 20s by the end of the year. Slow and steady with no pressure on paces. No injuries. No pain. No little aches. I also started tracking my walks with Sophie. It turns out that having a dog really gets you walking. In November, I walked an extra 50 miles – including some beautiful hikes. The only hiccup was a week off after having all four wisdom teeth removed – at least it only happens once?

December: Base building continues. Plus snow. Turns out that two people in my house love snow. Lots of frolicking. Plus consistent running. Bring it on 2016!

2015 in review

Hi there! It’s been a while since my last post. More than a while. About 8 months………Eeeekkk! 2015 was a strange year. There were so many changes in my non-running life. Promotion at work. New job for my husband. We bought our very first home. And adopted our dog Sophie. All great and positive things. But summer 2015 sucked for running. Injuries, personal worsts, total lack of motivation. From a running standpoint it was totally forgettable. But it’s 2016 and things are looking up. I am getting ready to start training for my next half marathon and am excited to be running again so I’m back!

And here’s what I’ve been doing for the last year or so. Well, Part One.

And just so you know, I may have taken a break from posting but I have still been reading about everyone’s awesome running.

January: In retrospect, January is where the year of terrible running – AKA “Doing all of the stupid things” – started. I pulled my right calf not once but twice in the space of two weeks (would not recommend). And it was pretty painful – the hobbling around at work kind of painful. I stopped all running for one month and then started back slowly with a very gentle run-walk program.

Things I learned this month: Calf strains do not heal in a week. The walk of shame is a real thing in running.

February: I had signed up for a new race series in Salt Lake – a 5K, 10K and 15K in February, March and April respectively. I had to sit out the 5K this month which means that I have yet to run a road 5K (but that should change this year). February was all about the run-walk and I was starting to feel better. I also got to visit southern Utah and watch my husband run his first ultramarathon.

Things I learned this month: Volunteering is fun, especially when your job is to look after the donut holes.

March: My first race of the year – the RUNSLC 10K. I finished pain free in 49:15 (7:56 pace), which was pretty amazing considering how my running year started. This time is about 3 minutes slower than my PR and was the first of many PWs (personal worsts) of the year. But I remember just being happy that I could run again and eating all of the donuts that were waiting at the end of the race. After this, I decided that I would still plan to run my spring half marathon: the Canyonlands half marathon in Moab, UT. It’s still hard to know if this was a bad decision. I was still run-walking and severely undertrained but I couldn’t say no to running in Moab. If you’ve ever been there you know why. I was pretty nervous and tried to run by feel but it is still the only road race I’ve had to stop to take a walk break. I still managed to cross the line in 1:51:21 (8:26 pace), and enjoy a beautiful weekend in southern Utah. I felt a little achy afterwards but was definitely on the road to recovery, and by the end of the month I was able to run without any walk breaks.

Things I learned this month: Running a half marathon when you are undertrained is no bueno. I love the desert. Note: I also love dessert.

April: Things were finally back on track with my running. Now was the time to increase mileage so that I could still run the Ogden marathon. I ended up having 12 weeks to get ready for my 26.2 miles. And while SPOILER ALERT I was able to complete the marathon it wasn’t a plan that I would recommend/do again/give to my worst enemy. Some of the highlights of this month were travelling to Boston with my husband so that he could run the Boston marathon (in the rain!) and then have a week long vacation visiting Cape Cod, Portsmouth NH, and Portland ME. So I got to run in three new states. I also finished the RUNSLC trail series (which I am doing again this year) with the 15K in 1:13;18 (7:52 pace) and even managed to place third in my age group.

Things I learned this month: Sometimes you can surprise yourself. New England is pretty rad.

May: May was marathon month, and once the race was over I pretty much took the rest of the month off from running. You can read my recap here. This was my second marathon and although I’m pretty proud of my time (3:51:13 -8:50 pace) it was a race that I was not truly prepared for. I had originally signed up for this race in an attempt to train for a BQ. That hope pretty much died in January, and even now I have no real desire to run a marathon any time soon. The first half of 2015 made me realize that I need to develop a significant base before I think about running 26.2 miles again.

Things I learned this month: Never underestimate 26.2 miles.

June: I eased myself back into running in June. I had signed up for (another) race series. This time a 5K, 10K, 15K and half marathon on the trails in Park City. I have run these races before and they are super fun. This year though – I was majorly out of shape and it showed in the first race. 5k in 27:35 (8:53). Last year I ran this race over 4 minutes faster. Needless to say it was quite disheartening to know I had lost so much fitness. It seemed for me (and I’m sure that this is different for everyone) that marathon training had resulted in slower race times and a little more lbs than I would like. To top it off I finished the month with an IT band injury which turned summer 2015 into the summer of PWs, and I struggled to get motivated to keep going. But…………

June 2015 was the month that we bought our very first home!

Things I learned this month: Owning a home is the quickest way to drain your bank account. Running is a humbling hobby.