Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Comeback Continues

Today's post is brought to you by easy running! I'm at the point in my comeback where I'm itching for speed work and variety in my schedule but my coach is focused on building my mileage base back up before adding that stuff in. I agree that this is the best approach, and it's probably good that I
am craving speed and not getting burnt out (or sick again). Last week, my legs got tired on some of my runs but this week they felt much stronger. I actually had an easier time with the 90 minute long run yesterday than I did the first time I ran for 60 minutes. This is great progress!

Next week, my plan re-introduces speed work with some 30-second strides. I've been doing strides at the end of some of my runs, but only 4-6 of them for about 10-12 seconds each. Those have helped my legs "wake up" so they will be ready for fast running. The really hard workouts won't begin until September, which is great because running at max effort in the heat is what compromised my immune system. I realize it can still be warm in September but hopefully we get some relief.

Last week I ran 35.5 miles, and this week I ran 47.4 miles. That's a significant increase, but all of my runs this week have felt energized and strong. Thanks to my Boston training cycle, which wasn't that long ago, my body is used to daily running and high volume-- it's not like I am starting from scratch. Two years ago when I came down with a similar illness, I had to take 12 weeks off from running. This time, I was much smarter about not pushing it too soon, so I only had to take 6 weeks off. I'm optimistic that my fitness will come back quickly once I start training at full capacity.

Here is an overview of my running for the last month:

The runs prior to July 23rd included walk breaks, and if you're wondering, I generally define recovery as "slower than easy pace". That 5K training run I did on the 23rd basically told me I was out of the danger zone with the illness and I could begin to ramp up without fear of relapse.

That medium-long run from yesterday went really well. I started slowly (9:20 for the first mile) and eased my way into a rhythm. By the end of the run, I was at a sub-8:00 pace without even trying to be fast. Everything felt great and I had got into such a groove that the progression felt natural. I ended up running 10.6 miles (90 minutes) at a pace of 8:27. It was 73 degrees and very humid, which are challenging conditions for me so I was particularly pleased with how well my body handled it. My legs didn't tire either, which I think shows that the week day runs have helped build my endurance.

Next weekend I plan to run the Leesburg 20K as a training run with my friend Allison. Stay tuned for a post on that. My first "race effort" race will be a 5K on September 23rd, which I'm hoping isn't too warm. Now that I have identified running at max effort in the heat to be the culprit behind my immune system going crazy, I'm extra cautious about racing in the heat. My thinking is that the 5K will be a rust-buster to practice the mindset of competing/pushing to my limits and the Army Ten Miler two weeks later will be the target. My full schedule is posted here.

I'm more motivated than ever to get out there, follow my coach's plan and stay healthy. It won't be long before the fall racing season kicks off!

Week of August 6th

Monday, July 23, 2018

Birthday Bash 5K

I did it! I ran a 5K.

I registered for the Birthday Bash 5K several months ago before getting sick. I got sick on May 31st, didn't run at all for five weeks, and then slowly eased my way back into running through a gradual progression of run-walks.

This week, I was able to run/walk every day with progressively more running and less walking. I did this for about 30-35 minutes each day, and by the end of the week (yesterday) I felt confident in being able to run nonstop for a 5K, and not experience and adverse effects.

The tricky thing with recovering from this illness is that it's difficult to know how much is too much. Overdoing it will cause a setback until I am 100% recovered and out of the woods. I may feel completely fine while running, only to realize the next day that it was too much. That's why I have been very gradually testing the waters and it seems as if I have finally reached 100% recovery and I won't need to worry about setbacks anymore. That said, I'm not going to start running 40+ mile weeks yet; I will continue with my gradual approach.

Before the Race
Greg and me at the start line
Because I planned to run this as an easy run with Greg, I was "out of sorts" with my normal pre-run routine. I forgot my sunglasses and sunscreen, so we had to go back for them. We later realized that Greg forgot his wallet. Thankfully I had a credit card attached to the back of my phone. When we went to pick up our packets, we learned that Greg had never actually registered, so he had to do so on site.

Once we pinned on our bibs, we headed for the starting area where we met up with our friends Allison and Cheryl. It was an unseasonably cool morning at 64 degrees and lowish humidity. Typically this race is 75+ degrees and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the coolest Birthday Bash in the history of the race. I was bummed that I wouldn't be able to take advantage of the weather and race full-out, but I know I'll have plenty of cool races in the coming months. Plus, if it had been really warm, I would have worried about my body rebelling since heat running seems to be what weakened my immune system in the first place. We chatted for a bit and then the race started.

Mile 1
The plan was to simply run our easy pace and maintain it for the duration of the race. Greg and I didn't warm up so we used the first mile to establish a rhythm. The first mile is mostly downhill so I wasn't too surprised that our first mile clocked in at 8:42.

Mile 2
At this point, I observed that the effort level was still light, but any harder and I would have classified it as medium. Although we weren't gasping for air like those around us, we were definitely working and it felt good. Occasionally the sun would poke out from behind the clouds which made things harder, but then it wouldn't be long before the cloud cover returned. We held steady and logged our second mile in 8:41

Mile 3
The last mile of this race is almost entirely uphill. I expected that we would slow down here, but maintaining the pace didn't feel like a strain. We even passed a few people, which seemed to give me more adrenaline and energy. We were having a blast and I was so thankful to be out there and feeling good. We ran the third mile in 8:33.

The last bit
Since I was feeling good, I thought it would be fun to pick it up a bit for the last stretch. Cheryl and Allison cheered us in and I wore a huge smile on my face. According to our Garmins, we ran a pace of 7:52 for 0.17 miles. Pretty exciting! After writing this, I just realized that my Boston Marathon pace was faster. . . gulp! I'll get back there.

We both ran official times of 27:16. With this time, I placed 12th out of 42 in my age group and 53rd out of 300 women.

After the race
Cheryl and Allison (who both ran very speedy races) ran a few cool down miles while Greg and I changed into dry clothes in the car. The plan was to meet them at a nearby restaurant for brunch, but when we tried to leave, the car wouldn't start. We ended up getting a jump start from a friendly runner nearby, and then driving the car to a mechanic to get the battery replaced before having brunch. Finally the four of us enjoyed a celebratory meal at an outside table. I can't believe it was still cool enough to be eating outdoors!

I'm absolutely thrilled that I was able to participate in this race and feel good for the duration of it. Better yet, 24 hours later, I am still feeling good and without any lingering fatigue or dizziness, which were my most common symptoms. I'm taking this as a sign that I am fully recovered and that I don't have to be fearful of relapse. Phew!

In four weeks, Cheryl and Allison are running the Leesburg 5K/20K. I plan to participate in that event too, but not at race effort. I have given up all-out racing in the summer, but it's fun to be part of a running event with friends. My next race-effort race will be in late September.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Getting There: Recovery from post-viral syndrome

I haven't provided an update on my running (or lack thereof) in a few weeks, so here it is.

I came down with a virus on May 31st, so it's now been 6.5 weeks since the onset of this whole thing. A few days after getting sick, I realized that it could take me a long time to recover, because I had a similar illness in 2012 and 2016. Both occurred in the summertime. Both were the likely result of too much physical exertion in the heat. Being the planner that I am, I made a comeback strategy, which I outlined in a previous blog. Below is the same plan, with actual dates:
  • Return to about 90% of my healthy energy level: June 25
  • Ease my way back into work by going in for half-days: June 28
  • If I tolerate the half-days and feel 100%, start working full days: July 2nd
  • If I tolerate full days and feel 100%, wait a few days and then start taking walks around the neighborhood: I started walking sooner, on June 21st, because my doctor advised to. 
  • If I tolerate the walks around the neighborhood, wait a few days and then run: July 4th
All of this worked out fine, but I think I made a mistake by increasing my running volume by too much too soon. For my first run back, I ran 11 minutes non stop. Two days later, I ran 25 minutes nonstop. And the next day, I ran 27 minutes, plus a 2-mile walk. Apparently this was too much too soon, because by Sunday July 8th, I felt tired most of the day and didn't do any running or walking.

This frustrated me greatly because I had thought the illness was completely behind me. But then I chose to look on the positive side, remembering that my doctor quoted a 6-8 week recovery time, and I wasn't quite yet at 6 weeks. I also remembered that recovery is not linear, and just because I felt bad last Sunday, didn't mean I wasn't progressing overall.

On Monday, I did a short walk (1.5 miles) with two 3-minute jogs thrown in, and decided that run/walking would be a better way to get back into it instead of trying to run for 15-20 minutes at a time. I still didn't feel all that great, but I remembered how walking in the earlier stages of my illness made me feel better. I went to work, but came home feeling so exhausted that I got into bed at 7:00, immediately following dinner.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling totally wiped out, even though I had slept for 9 straight hours. I did not run or walk. I debated going to work. It was a difficult morning for me emotionally because it was a reminder that I was not done with this illness yet. But, after taking a shower and getting dressed for work, I felt better. And by noon, I was feeling almost back to normal. What a relief!

Saturday, July 14th: Run/Walk
Because of this setback, I decided that I needed to stop running and return to walking only. I did that and felt energized for the next few days, so on Friday, I did 4 x (4 minutes walk, 4 minutes jog). I took the jogs very easy, all at a 10:00 pace or slower. By contrast, when I had tried to run initially the week prior, I was running in the low 9's, and not taking walk breaks. This 32-minute "workout" left me feeling good, so I repeated it yesterday, and again today. There's no need to increase the distance/time every day. It's better to find something that works, stick with it for a short while, and then make a very small increase. It's all about finding the right balance between giving the body enough stimulation to continue to recover, but not so much that it causes a strain.

If I continue to feel good, I plan to run-walk for another week, with slight increases in the run time. I'm registered for a 5K one week from now, and it would be nice to jog the whole thing without taking walk breaks, but I am not going to do that if it's too hot or I don't feel ready. At the very least, I would like to run/walk it with Greg. Hopefully one week from now I will be blogging about how well the 5K went and how great it felt, regardless of the run/walk proportions!

Even though I've felt like my normal, healthy self for the past five days, I don't think I'm out of the danger zone. There's a small part of me that worries I will never be out of the danger zone and that running for an extended period of time will always cause extreme fatigue. My running career could be over. I don't believe this will happen, and I don't worry about it happening, but I realize it's a possibility, called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The difference between Chronic Fatigue and Post-viral Fatigue, is that Post-viral fatigue goes away.

In any event, I'm still very grateful that I'm healthy enough to go to the work and do the "everyday" things that I couldn't do during the first four weeks of illness. I have my life back now, all except for the running piece of it. 

Weekly mileage: Week of July 9th

Sunday, July 8, 2018

From great to good: How I changed my life for the better

About six years ago, while discussing my running goals, I was asked why these goals were so important to me. Couldn't I simply be happy by being "a good person doing good things," he asked.

This question saddened me greatly at the time. It was as if I was being asked to settle.  I interpreted "a good person doing good things" as being ordinary and mediocre. Anyone can be a good person doing good things, but few people could qualify for Boston or win awards for their running accomplishments. I loved running so much because I believed it made me special. I wanted to be a someone who did great things, not just good things.

What I heard was "you shouldn't be so focused on this running stuff; give it up and just live a plain old normal life." It was like he was telling me I shouldn't try to be so special. I should just focus on being like everyone else. It was a hard pill to swallow.

This was six years ago and during those six years, I have thought extensively about this topic. I've opened my eyes to the world around me and I've had encounters with people who did not do good things. Who, based on the way they treated me and others around me, I believed to be morally corrupt. The more I observed the actions and motives of these people, the more I realized that being a good person, doing good things is the essential foundation for my self-worth. Not my accomplishments, running or otherwise. I work hard and I'm nice to people. I'm passionate about what I do. I try to bring positivity to challenging situations. I could win a dozen races, and it would be meaningless without this core foundation.

Accomplishments are easy to hang your hat on. They are tangible, measurable, and shareable. But they are meaningless if you don't value yourself for the way in which you live your life. Because I was never really taught what true self esteem was, it was easy to point to my accomplishments and feel proud. I think I've always been a good person doing good things, but I vastly undervalued it. I didn't realize that I should be loving myself for it, instead of focusing so much on what I could achieve. I'm probably a late bloomer in all of this, as I didn't come to this realization until my mid 30s. But once I did, it was life changing.

Now, as I go about my days, I am much more aware of how I'm approaching situations and not simply the end goal. I prioritize acting with dignity and I admire others who do the same.

I'm currently coming off of a five-week break from running. Many people have said to me, "it must be killing you to not run!" But truthfully, it didn't kill me. It was (and still is) hard, but I didn't focus on it all that much because I knew I would recover and eventually I'd be out there running every day again.

In closing, what this person was asking me to do was anything but ordinary and mediocre. He was asking me to start thinking about my values and who I was as a person. Was I a good person? Did I treat others with respect? Was I honest, caring, and genuine? I've come to realize that I pride myself most on my authenticity.

Great things aren't great if they aren't fundamentally good. If we all focused more on being good rather than great, the world would surely be a better place.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Future Race Planning

When you are sick or injured, do you start planning your comeback races, or do you refrain from any planning until you are able to resume training?

I'm now on day 26 of this mono-like illness and things are finally looking up. The official diagnosis is idiosyncratic post-viral syndrome, which is a fancy way to say that I caught a virus, and it's taking the immune system a while to calm down to normal levels. The result is that I am excessively tired, weak, and dizzy. I have a history of this illness, and it always occurs in the summer months when I am training and racing hard.

Because I've dealt with similar illnesses in the past, lasting up to three months, I knew that running too soon would cause regression and delay full recovery. So for the first three weeks, I was averaging only 500-1000 steps a day. After three weeks, my doctor advised that I begin to take 15-30 minute walks, and I've now been doing that successfully for six days. I now feel about 90% "normal" and so I plan to return to work full time next week (provided I don't regress). I don't have a specific return-to-running date in mind, but I think I should be able to resume easy running by mid July.

Going back to my original question, and the topic of this post, there is a spectrum of mindsets that runners have when it comes to planning during forced time off. I'm at one end of the spectrum and my husband Greg is at the other! I actually think that both of our mindsets are healthy; they are just different and highlight different personality types.

Mindset 1: Plan as much as possible; it gives you something to look forward to.

Mindset 2: Don't plan anything until you are healthy and able to to train.

You can probably guess that I fall into mindset 1. I already have the next 12 months of races figured out. I definitely need races and vacations on my schedule to give me something to look forward to. Even though I am not guaranteed to resume running by mid-July, I think it's highly likely, and I had already registered for 2 major fall races before getting sick. I'm keeping those races on the schedule, but I also wanted to plan even further ahead to a time when I am much more confident I will be able to race at full effort.

Another reason why I planned out the next 12 months is because I need a long-term solution to not getting these summer viruses. I think the only solution is to not train hard or even race in the summer. That will be tough for me, but I think that going forward I will only run 1 race each summer, and that will be a 5K and by no means a "goal" race or PR attempt. Just something to keep me in the practice of racing and avoiding going stale.

I had actually planned to avoid summer training this year by registering for a December marathon,
but I need to also stop training for 5Ks in the summer. I'll talk more about my solution after addressing the second mindset.

Greg has mindset #2 and doesn't like to think about future races when he is injured. He's been dealing with pain between his achilles tendon and his ankle. As a result, he's only been able to run a few miles here and there for the past month. He's been focused on trying to address his foot issue and is not thinking about when his next marathon will be. He's registered for Wineglass at the end of September but that's starting to look less and less realistic.

Greg and me at the start of a race
Since he'll be going with me to all of my planned races, chances are that he will be running them too. I like it when I'm running the half and he's running the full and vice versa. That way the half marathoner gets to cheer for the full marathoner and take care of them afterwards. If we both run the full, then we are both destroyed afterwards.

I've learned that it's always best to take one day at a time and enjoy the process. So from that perspective, it seems like Greg's mindset would lead to more peace and happiness. However, my mindset and planning is working for me because it reminds me of past comebacks that I've made and keeps me positive. I'm not really enjoying this whole sick thing, so I need things that will help my positivity. "This too shall pass" is the mantra I am using, and for it to work, I need to envision my future healthy self.

It's also interesting to note that Greg and I run for different reasons. He runs as a way to stay active and healthy, while not having to worry about how much he eats. He enjoys races and is happy to get PRs, but those are secondary to simply reaping the physical benefits. On the other hand, I run because I enjoy the act of running. Unless it's horrible weather, I always look forward to my runs in the morning. Equally as important, I like to challenge myself and see how fast I can be.

What did I decide on? Here's my plan and the rationale.

Sept. 23rd: 5K
As much as I would love to run a race sooner, I'm not going to race in the heat and risk getting sick again. It could be warm for this 5K, but chances are that it will be less humid with temperatures in the low 60's. I'm not going to train specifically for this race, but I should be in decent shape because training for my full and half marathons will have already started-- provided I can start running again by mid-July!

Oct. 7th: Army Ten Miler
This race was already on the schedule before I got sick. I'll have to see where my fitness is when I race this, but I think that sub-1:10 is very doable, and possibly sub-1:09. I'll be celebrating the fact that I am healthy enough to run it, whereas in 2016 I couldn't run it since my mono lasted so long.

Richmond Half Marathon 2015
Nov. 10th: The Richmond Half Marathon
My last race before I enter the Master's division. I turn 40 the next day. This was always part of the plan, but I didn't pull the trigger on registration until two weeks ago when I needed a pick-me-up.

Nov. 22nd: Turkey Trot 5K
I have a feeling this is the sub-20!!! My first race as a Masters runner!

Dec. 8th: Rehoboth Beach Marathon
I chose this one because it's almost guaranteed to not be hot. It could be windy and/or rainy, but I'll take that over heat. Also, I wanted to make sure that the hardest training runs 2-8 weeks out had cool weather. My leading theory on why I crashed so hard in Indianapolis is that I did all my training in abnormally humid/warm weather and it had a cumulative effect of wearing me down. I didn't feel energized at all on race day. I think I am capable of running a 3:15 marathon or faster, and I will use this race to find out if that's true!

March 2nd: Myrtle Beach Half Marathon
I'll probably run a 5K on New Year's eve to keep up tradition, and then Myrtle Beach will be my next big race. If all goes according to plan, I'll be shooting for a sub 1:30, which would be a huge milestone. I ran the full marathon here in 2017 and I liked it so much that I want to go back for the half.

April 7th: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler
This is my favorite 10-miler and it's part of the reason I'm not running Boston. I like the idea of doing Boston every two years so that I have the opportunity to experience other races.

At this point, I am thinking I will run a May marathon way up north (and DNS if it's above 65) and then be done with racing for the summer. I might not even train that hard for it but use it as a way to force myself into easy running for the two weeks afterward and lessen the desire to race in June. Because. . . I'm not racing in June! I'll take it easy the rest of the summer including a 12-day vacation in Europe. Hopefully, this will all keep me healthy and minimize hard running in the heat.

So, that's my schedule. I realize that there are many things that could happen to prevent me from running any or all of these races, but I'm choosing to stay positive. I'm raring to go!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Seriously Sick Again

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have a tendency to get mono or a "mono-like" virus that lasts up to three months.

I officially got mono when I was in college, so I think that all the subsequent illnesses have been re-activated mono or a mono-like virus. The problem is-- my immune system has issues. When most people get a viral infection they are able to kick it in about a week. That's not the case with me. According to the doctors, my immune system goes into high gear when I get a virus and then doesn't calm down for a long time.

Previous episodes with long-lasting post viral fatigue:
I thought that maybe presidential elections or summer olympics had something to do with this but now that it's 2018, that theory is shot! And it would have been nice if this was on a four-year schedule so I could plan accordingly.

All joking aside, it seems like this immune system issue is triggered by running hard in the heat. My doctor told me last week that after you run a race, there is a short period of time in which your immune system is really weak, and if you happen to catch a virus during that time, you won't be able to fight it off. For me, I don't seem to have this issue in cooler temperatures. I was handling 75+ mile weeks last March and felt great. I ran the Boston Marathon in that crazy hypothermic weather and didn't get sick. I've always known that the heat impacts my running performance to a greater extent than most people, but now I also see that it really takes a toll on my immune system. Summer arrived about a month early this year, so instead of getting sick in late June, I got sick on June 1. I'm now on day 12.

This sucks. I mean, this REALLY sucks! Not only does it set me back in terms of my running but I also can't go to work, I feel like complete crap, and I don't have a life aside from sitting at home and resting. 

So what, exactly, am I sick with? The best way to describe it is an over-reaction of the immune system triggered by a viral infection. I had a sore throat for the first three days and now my symptoms are:
  • Dizziness when standing up from a seated position
  • Weakness in the legs and an inability to walk at a normal pace
  • General fatigue, and low energy levels, requiring about 1-2 hours of extra sleep per night
  • Varying degrees of body aches
Progress with this illness is not linear. Some days, I feel almost normal as long as I stay seated. Other days (like yesterday) all I can do is lay in bed and even moving the slightest bit feels like a huge effort. Because I've had this illness in the past I know not to get too discouraged when I have one of the really horrible days. I basically just see it as a message that I need to continue to take it easy. 

Taking it easy means doing no physical activity other than moving around the house as needed. Since getting sick 12 days ago, I've been pretty much homebound. I went to the doctor's office twice and Greg took me to the new Wegman's that opened a mile from our house. I sat in the cafe and ate lunch while he shopped for groceries. Other than that, I haven't gone anywhere.

The second time I went to the doctor was to get blood drawn for tests. They needed 5 vials, and I passed out after just 2. It was a bad scene and I couldn't move or talk properly for a good five minutes after I passed out. To make matters worse, 2 vials wasn't enough blood, so that whole ordeal was for nothing.

I haven't been to work since getting sick, and thankfully the people there have been understanding and supportive. I'm doing some work from home, but I'll probably end up on short term disability. I can tolerate a loss of income but I cannot tolerate the stress of feeling like I have to go back before I'm ready.

As far as my mindset, I'm taking it one day at a time. Yesterday was simply miserable because I felt so weak. I wear a FitBit and I logged a whopping total of 550 steps-- the minimum to go from the bed to the bathroom a few times! The last few times I've had this illness I tried to return to work and running too soon. And I think that's why it lasted 3 months. My plan now is as follows:
  • Return to about 90% of my healthy energy level
  • Ease my way back into work by going in for half-days
  • If I tolerate the half-days and feel 100%, start working full days
  • If I tolerate full days and feel 100%, wait a few days and then start taking walks around the neighborhood
  • If I tolerate the walks around the neighborhood, wait a few days and then run.
I have no idea what the timeline would be, but BEST case scenario, I am running by July 1st. Worst case, end of July.  I've pretty much accepted this. I'm good at accepting it because I've been through it so many times before. I know that I am capable of coming back even stronger and faster than before. And I'm still targeting a 3:15 marathon in December as well as a half marathon PR in November.

Every runner has their strengths and weaknesses. I've always known that the heat was my biggest weakness and now I realize how true that is. Comebacks are exciting. But they aren't exciting until you can actually start coming back. I will need to channel all the patience I have and trust that it will be worth the wait.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Competitor In Me

Lately I've been thinking about how I don't run to compete against others. I want to see progress in my own journey, I want to get faster and stronger, and if I happen to place well, that's just icing on the cake. I like passing people in races, but I'm typically more focused on my own race and pacing strategy. I won a 5K last February and I was disappointed because I didn't perform as well as I had hoped. The win was a nice consolation prize, but it hadn't been my main goal.

But today I realized that I am more competitive than I thought. I ran the Ringing In Hope 5K in Ashburn, VA. This was my second 5K of the season, with the first having been two weekends ago. Since I ran the Semper Fi 5K in 20:40, I've run 4 hard track workouts and a long run of 14.4 miles. I knew going into today's race that I was more "used to" running fast than I had been two weeks ago.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race about 50 minutes before it started, got our bibs and I drank my Generation UCAN. It was about 64 degrees and drizzling and I hoped that the light rain would stick around during the race. When it's that humid, I'd rather have the rain cooling me down. As we started our warm up, the rain tapered off and we realized it would be really humid for the race. I can't complain about the weather though. On Saturday and Sunday it was into the 70's by 8:00am, so overcast and 64 was relatively good considering the trend we've been on.

After our 2-mile warm up, we approached the start line and waited for the race to kick off. After the 5-minute early start at the Semper Fi 5K, I wanted to be sure I was at the start line in plenty of time. There were about 10 kids lined up at the very front. I would guess they were around 7-8 years old. By contrast, there weren't many adults lined up at the start and that's when I started sizing up the competition. I didn't see any women at the very front, but there were several a few rows back from me. I lined up behind the children, as there wasn't much choice.

Mile 1
The race started on time, and as soon as it did, one of the kids fell flat on his face as the other kids were trampling on him. I barely missed tripping over him and it wasn't pretty. I know that when you are a kid it's exciting to be at the front and all, but it's dangerous and it would probably be good for kids to learn pacing and patience. I was beaten by one boy in the 11 and under age group, but the rest of them fell behind pretty quickly.

I had never run this course before, even though I had run the race before. They've had this race at a number of different locations and since they moved it to this course I hadn't run it. I knew to expect gently rolling hills throughout and I was relieved that none of the hills were too steep. In cooler temps, this could be a fast course.

There were two women ahead of me, one of whom was wearing a long-sleeved sweat shirt. I don't like to judge a book by its cover but something told me she wouldn't be ahead of me for too long. When I got to the first mile marker, both women were still ahead of me, and I clocked in at 6:33.

Mile 2
Because I wasn't too familiar with the course profile, I didn't have an exact pacing strategy. That meant I wasn't looking at my Garmin often, and I was running more based on feel. The first mile felt comfortable and I knew I had set myself up for a strong finish by not going out too hard.

I passed the woman in the sweatshirt shortly after the first mile marker, and then I crept up on the other woman and passed her right around the halfway point. When I did, I felt like she sped up too and was going to put up a fight, but eventually I didn't hear her anymore. Meanwhile, I was still ahead of Greg. I had gone out faster than him and he hadn't passed me. I saw him at the turnaround and he looked to be about 20 seconds behind me. That's when I had just passed the other woman and had taken the lead, so he could see I was winning at that point.

My split for mile 2 was 6:36.

Mile 3
As I said earlier, I wasn't paying much attention to my Garmin. I was in the lead and all I could think about was how awesome it would be to win. I've run this race multiple times in the past and I never dreamed I could actually win it.

I was still feeling strong and confident as the mile progressed. But somewhere around 2.6 I could hear someone close behind me and it sounded like a woman. I did a quick glance back and sure enough there was a woman right on my tail. It wasn't either of the two women I had passed earlier; this woman had started out slower than me and had been gradually gaining on me throughout the race. And that was scary. I increased my effort slightly and I continued to hear her.

My desire to win became so strong that I found a new gear I didn't realize I had. At around 2.8 I started to surge until I could no longer hear her behind me. Right around the mile 3 marker I heard someone yell that she was really close behind me and that motivated me to run even harder. My mile 3 split was 6:33, and I didn't even look at my watch or notice the time.

The Finish
I heard someone say on a walkie talkie "First female coming through" and I knew they meant me. I was NOT going to lose it now. I turned a corner and saw a guy finish, and then they put up tape for me. I ran toward it like my life depending on it, and broke the take in complete ecstasy and agonizing pain. I did it. I won!

Turns out I ran the last 0.15 miles at an average pace of 5:35. That was fast enough to bring my overall Garmin pace down to 6:32, which is faster than any of my three mile splits!

I felt like I was about to pass out for the first minute so I didn't see Greg finish. It actually took me a good five minutes to be able to speak. It's never taken me so long to recover from a 5K. I felt like death for the next 15 minutes. And even though I was chatting away with the second place female, I felt like I could pass out at any moment. Finally I sat down on a bench and fully recovered.

The results were announced and I ran an official time of 20:30. But the results that were posted online after the race had me at 20:32. Not a big deal, I just don't understand why there would be a discrepancy. My Garmin had 20:32, but I stopped it a little late given that I was busy breaking tape when I crossed! :-) I found out that the second place female was only four seconds behind me. What a close race! I am so happy I didn't ease up the effort. When I won the 5K in February I was a good bit ahead of #2, so it didn't feel like as much of a competition.

I walked away with gift cards to three different restaurants, as well as a gift card to Wegman's. And they are opening a Wegman's a mile away from me next weekend, so that was appropriate.

I definitely would not have run this race as fast if I didn't have competition. I think I would have been more focused on my Garmin and I wouldn't have had the motivation to push as hard during the last
half mile.

In terms of progress, I ran this race 10 seconds faster than I ran Semper Fi two weeks ago, and this course was hillier. I also executed it better in that I had even splits instead of slowing down at the end. I think I am starting to adjust to the humidity and my workouts have helped me transition from marathon fitness to 5K fitness.

And of course, I realized that I can be competitive when it comes to winning. I didn't think I would be so motivated when I felt another runner on my heels, but it did motivate me.

This was a fun race and I enjoyed the course and the atmosphere. I will likely do it again next year! Hopefully I will get the breaking tape photo soon so I can add it to the blog.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Respect the 5K!

Now that I have run over 50 5K races I can confidently say that it does not get any easier. In fact, it feels like it's getting harder for me.

Am I saying this because I'm just coming off of a marathon training cycle and I'm not used to running hard and fast? Maybe. I think that today's race gave me a new perspective on the 5K distance. I'm not discouraged by this perspective, but I think I have a bigger challenge ahead of me than I previously believed if I ever want to run under 20 minutes. Today marks the 1-year anniversary of my official fastest 5K time: 20:17. I've run about 7 5Ks since then and have not been able to go any faster. Granted, I have spent most of that time training for marathons, but at some point I really want to breakthrough this plateau.

Meanwhile, I haven't even raced a 10K in over a year. My fastest 10K and fastest 5K paces are only about 10 seconds apart, so I feel like I have much more opportunity in the 5K. But then. . . it's always harder than I expect.

This morning I raced the Semper Fi 5K in Washington DC. This is my third time running this race. As I said above, I ran my fastest ever time on this course exactly one year ago. The two big differences between today's race and last year's race are the fact that I haven't been training for the 5K distance (last year I had 6 solid weeks behind me), and the weather. It was about 10 degrees warmer this year than last. But still, I was hopeful that I would set a PR. I thought sub-20 was probably a stretch with the heat and humidity, but I really thought I could squeak under 20:17 based on how fast my track workouts were during marathon training.

Before the race
This race did not have race-day packet pickup like it has in years past, so luckily my friend Allison was able to get the bibs for Greg and me. Greg and I met up with Allison and Cheryl, pinned on our bibs, and warmed up to the start line. The race started at 8:30 which annoyed me slightly. If you aren't offering race day bib pickup, then can't you start at 7:30? I guess the race organizers wanted to offer the option of using metro as transportation.

We warmed up for just over two miles and returned to the start line at 7:20. We lined up, in the corral and starting chatting among ourselves. I noticed that it looked like the race was getting ready to start, even though it wasn't even 8:25 yet. And suddenly. . . HONK! The horn went off, catching everyone off guard and the race started five minutes early.

Thankfully, we were lined up and ready, but I can't say the same for some of the other runners who were still finishing their warm ups. Starting a race late is annoying, but starting a race early can really screw things up for people who are finishing their last-minute preparations.

Mile 1
Still in shock by the early start, I realized I was thankful for even 5 minutes of slightly cooler weather. It was 70 degrees and humid, with partly cloudy skies. I went out at a pace of 6:25 and it felt really good. I thought to myself, this feels really comfortable and I will definitely be able to run this pace the whole time! I could tell that Greg was right behind me and I thought it would be great if we could stick together for the whole race.

Initially, there were two women ahead of me, but I passed one of them about 3/4 of the way through the first mile. I was now in second place. But then, a woman came up from behind and passed me as we approached the mile 1 marker. I assume she must have been one of the people who missed the start of the race and had to work her way up in the pack. I was once again the third female. My 1-mile split was 6:25.

Mile 2
Shortly after the mile marker, I felt myself slowing down, even though I was keeping the effort level
steady. And then I got a cramp in my chest. It was uncomfortable but I was able to still run through it. The race suddenly became very difficult. I pushed harder in order to try and maintain my pace but it was not happening. I was getting slower and slower but pushing harder and harder.

Greg was a few feet ahead of me at the turnaround point, and then he widened the gap even farther as we made our way back toward the finish line. I kept reminding myself that it was supposed to hurt and that hurt = happy, but it wasn't helping. I wanted to stop so badly. And I momentarily told myself I would never run another 5K again. I didn't think there was any way I would make it to the finish line. It took every ounce of mental strength I had to not stop and walk. And yes, this was still during mile 2! My split was 6:42.

Mile 3
I tried to rally for the final mile, as that was part of my original race strategy. I wanted the final mile to be my fastest as it has been in years past. The best way to describe mile 3 is torture. I was in so much pain and even though I knew I wasn't going to PR, I told myself I had to "practice" the feeling of pain so that when my PR day arrived, I would be able to take full advantage of it.

I think success in the 5K is largely dependent on how much pain tolerance you have. I can be moderately uncomfortable for a long time in a half or full marathon. But I struggle to allow myself to feel so much pain, even for a short period of time. I decided I would salvage the race by practicing the act of continuing to give, give, give even when I felt like I had nothing to give. I logged a 6:47 split for the final mile. This was followed by a 6:25 paced run to the finish line.

After the Race
I felt like I needed to collapse after I crossed the finish. I found a nearby tree to lean on. And then it took 2-3 minutes to be able to talk to Greg, who had finished in 20:18. Thankfully, I was able to see Allison and Cheryl finish although instead of cheering I just waved my arms.

That was a MASSIVE amount of effort and quite torturous. And it got me a time of 20:40. Sigh. I have to admit I'm little bit discouraged but in a positive way. I have even more respect for the 5K distance so when I do finally break 20, it will feel like more of an accomplishment. I think that going sub-20 this summer will be a long shot, although not entirely impossible.

I'm pleased that I had so much "fight" in me this morning, as compared to the Crystal City 5K I ran in early April. During that race the last mile was into a headwind and uphill and I just didn't have the motivation to fight for it.

Me, Allison, and Cheryl
In hindsight, do I think I should have gone out slower? Actually, no. I think that the best pacing strategy is probably to go out hard and try to hang on. It was very difficult to hold on during the second half of the race so if I had started slower, it would have been even more difficult to motivate myself to run faster. I think I am going to have to keep doing that if I want to test my limits. It would be one thing if I totally crashed and burned like I did in Crystal City. But I held it together just well enough to not be crawling at the end.

After the race, we got our awards and did a cool down jog back to the car, followed by brunch.

To sum up the key takeaways:

  • Sub-20 or even setting a PR will be more difficult than I expected; I have a lot of work to do
  • This race was excellent practice for pushing through the pain and suffering
  • I have this experience to channel when I run future races
  • I had fun! I got to hang out with Allison, Cheryl, and of course Greg
  • It's not a warm-weather PR but it's a warm-and-humid PR!

Two more weeks of training and then I'll put myself through this whole ordeal again!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Keep the P in PR

Personal Record. Or, Personal Best if you are in most places outside of the United States. This concept of a PR or PB (we'll use PR for the sake of this blog post) is what motivates many runners to do what they do. We want to see progress. We want that feeling of knowing that we're fittest and faster than we ever have been before. The feeling that all those early mornings and hard workouts somehow "paid off" and we have proof of it.

Now that social media is intertwined so heavily into our lives as runners, and real-life running communities are developing and growing, I think we've lost the P in PR. A personal record is just that, personal.

When I was working with a sports psychologist and heavily frustrated over my lack of PRs, he encouraged me to be less rigid in what I define as a PR. He told me I could have as many PRs as I wanted:
  • Hot weather PRs
  • Hilly course PRs
  • Windy weather PRs
  • Garmin PRs
  • Training PRs
When you've run over 100 races like I have, and have been doing it for 12+ years, you'll probably only set a distance PR when the race has ideal weather, the course is relatively flat, and you're able to run the tangents (26.2 miles instead of 26.4, for example). Should you be robbed of all the PR glory I talked about above just because the weather sucked? Or the course was difficult?

The great thing about a truly personal record is that you define the criteria. I'm a data junkie so I like to track pretty much everything. I have a list of official records (if you're on a desktop PC you can see it in the right column) but I also track personal records for varying circumstances. Let's take the recent Boston Marathon for example.

Comparing last month's Boston to my official PR marathon of Myrtle Beach, I quickly realize this is a case of apples and oranges. I ran Boston in 3:26:53 and Myrtle Beach in 3:21:54. Let's break it down:

Myrtle Beach
 Hills  4 large uphills late in the race  Flat
 Wind  20-25 sustained headwind the whole way  10-15 mph headwind for miles 8-20 
 Air Temp  High 30s Low 40s
 Precipitation   Heavy downpours throughout None
 Logistics  55-min bus ride + 90-min wait outside Leave hotel 30 mins before race start
 Tangents   Curvy road, a few turns (26.48) Straight road, a few turns (26.23)

Officially, my record for fastest marathon is 3:21:54 at Myrtle Beach. What do I consider my personal record for best marathon performance? Boston. There were so many more obstacles and the race was less about fitness and more about strategy. I had a strategy for what I would do in athletes village. I had a strategy for my outfit and for changing my shoes before the race start. I had a pacing strategy that was specific to the course and the windy conditions. Boston was also more about attitude. It's easy to run fast when you leave your hotel room 30 minutes prior to race start with near perfect weather and the course is flat. I didn't need my mental toughness skills as much on that day.

Personally, I think my best marathon accomplishment is Boston. And, it's actually my fastest BQ margin, considering I am aging up for the 2019 race. My former self would have speculated on what I could have done if the weather weren't so horrible. But the time for that speculation was when I was training and setting goals; before the forecast came out. I had been targeting a 3:15-3:17, but I was able to accept my new reality once I learned what I would be facing. I got over it pretty quickly.

Army Ten-Miler 2017
Another example is the 10-mile distance. My official 10-mile race PR is 1:10:24 and when I ran that I was slightly disappointed. I had been trying to break 1:10:00, and I believed I had the fitness to do so. Weather conditions had been perfect but for whatever reason I just wasn't able to run what I believed I could have. On the other hand, when I ran a 1:13 at the Army 10-Miler in 74-degree, humid weather, I was elated with my performance. I typically don't run well in the heat, but I started out really conservatively and was able to run a huge negative split, passing loads of people in the second half.

Another great thing about personal records is that you can have them for training runs. I used to get frustrated when I would run really fast paces in training and then my official results wouldn't line up. I needed to learn to embrace the training PRs, and to have patience that the fast race times would naturally follow. I was really excited when I ran 19 miles with 15 at marathon pace, and marathon pace averaged 7:21. I didn't feel like I was straining at all! I felt like that run showed me that I had brought my fitness to a new level.

My former self would have been really upset that my actual marathon pace was much slower, but I'm not upset at all. I know what I am capable of and that's super rewarding. Would I like an official race pace of 7:21? Sure! But I need good weather, a flat course and easy logistics. Only 2 of those 3 are in my control.

As the summer approaches, I am gearing up to run a bunch of 5Ks. Most will be hot. Some will be flat, others will be hilly. I'll be able to run the tangents at some of them, for others, I won't. The coolest, flattest, and most direct 5K is going to be the first one, when I am least conditioned to race that distance. And the hilliest, curviest, hottest and humid 5Ks will come once I've had a few months of 5K training behind me. So, as I embark on this journey I need to keep the personal in personal record. I define the criteria. What I'm trying to accomplish might be completely different from what someone else is trying to accomplish. I may technically be racing hundreds of other women, but I know that each of us has our own purpose.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Boston Marathon 2018: Soaking It All In

Yesterday’s Boston Marathon brought an entirely new meaning to the expression “soaking it all in.” The trifecta of cold temperatures (upper 30s), a strong sustained headwind (25 mph) with heavier gusts, and pouring rain made the experience simultaneously miserable and thrilling.

Race Weekend
I was planning on writing an entirely separate post on all the festivities that I took part in Friday-Sunday, but instead I spent that time figuring out my wardrobe strategy. I’ll provide the Cliff’s Notes version instead. I went on a shopping spree at the expo, I cheered for Greg as he ran the 5K on Saturday morning, I met up with some friends who I knew from Instagram, I attended a pre-race clinic with Greg McMillan, I had two book signings, and I spent several hours trying on different variations of a race outfit.

The big topic for discussion over the weekend was wardrobe. When I finalized my packing on Friday morning, the forecast was calling for temperatures in the high 40’s to low 50’s. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to wear and I wasn’t stressing about it. But as the weekend progressed, the forecast became more severe. Every time I opened my weather app, the temperature had dropped a few degrees, the rainfall totals increased, and the headwind became stronger.

Everyone was scrambling to purchase extra “supplies” for Athlete’s village and modifying their originally planned race attire.

What I wore 
For better or worse, I have experience in running in similar conditions so I was able to rely on that to inform my decisions. I suffered from hypothermia back in 2009 when I ran a marathon in pouring rain. It was in the high 40’s that day, but I was wearing a tank top, a skirt, and no gloves or arm warmers. I was rushed to the medical tent by finish line staff and I had no clue what was going on. It was a scary experience. At the Shamrock half marathon in 2016, the weather as almost as bad as predicted for Boston, and my arm warmers + short-sleeved shirt worked well. However, being out there for 5+ hours (including waiting for the race to start) is entirely different from a 93-minute half marathon.

Race outfit:

  • Smart Wool socks with lots of body glide on the feet 
  • Nike LunarGlide shoes 
  • Lightweight capri tights, which I purchased at the expo
  • Sports bra 
  • Tight fitting, long singlet 
  • Short sleeve shirt 
  • Thick arm warmers made of a wool-like material 
  • Very thin/light water-repelling rain jacket 
  • Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves 
  • Convertible mittens over the gloves 
  • One pair of hand warmers in each mitten (front and back of fingers) 
  • Shower cap 
  • Hat 
  • Vaseline on my face to keep the water off and protect against the wind 
  • Waist pack to hold my Generation UCAN gel 
Over-layers for Athlete’s Village:

  • Mid-weight rain jacket 
  • Poncho 
  • Sweatpants 
  • Throwaway socks 
  • Throwaway shoes with toe warmers inside
I wrapped my race shoes in shower caps and tied them around my waist and kept them under my poncho until it was time to walk to the start line. Another challenge was figuring out where to pin the bib. I wanted the option of throwing off the lightweight rain jacket, so I didn’t want to pin my bib to it. But I needed to wear my bib on the outermost layer so that the chip would register and I would be identifiable in photos. I ended up pinning the bib to the very bottom of my long singlet, and making the short-sleeved shirt shorter with safety pins. I spent my Sunday afternoon figuring all of this out instead of blogging.

Bus & Athlete’s Village
My friend Lisa met me at my hotel and then we went to meet some of my other friends to all board the bus together. There were 9 of us total. It was already raining steadily as we approached the buses
Before boarding the buses; I'm in the dark blue
and the gusts were blowing my poncho around like crazy. Greg was there to see me off and I gave him my final wet hug. We decided that it would be best for him to simply track me from the comfort of the hotel room instead of getting drenched himself. Last time, he went to mile 20 and I didn’t even see him. Our plan this year was to meet at a spot shortly after the finish line chute.

Once we boarded the bus, I got hot and didn’t want to sweat, so I undid my layers to the best of my ability. The bus ride took about 50 minutes (longer than I remember it taking two years ago) and I ate a bagel with peanut butter on the ride while chatting away with Lisa.

Another challenge that this weather presented was that I wouldn’t be able to carry a water bottle. Typically I carry a bottle for the first 15 miles of a marathon so I can drink enough water when I want it. However, I suffer from Reynaud’s syndrome and so my hands were a huge concern. Carrying something cold and wet would not be ideal, so I decided to drink water from the aid stations.

We were not surprised that Athlete’s village was a mud pit. The mud was thick, cold and slippery and every step was more unpleasant than the one before it. My toe warmers were my savior, as well as the fact that I would be changing my shoes before the race. We waited in line for the porta-potties as ice pellets fell steadily upon us. There was slush on the ground in some places, and I witnessed several people slip and fall. Once inside the porta-potty, I had to remove my glove/mitten/hand-warmer ensemble and then wade through all of the aforementioned layers to be able to go to the bathroom. I likened it to being a bride and having to use the bathroom in my wedding dress.

Afterwards, Lisa and I approached the tented area, and it was jam-packed full of runners. I found a small corner to stand in and decided I did not want to sit on the muddy ground. If you add the walk to the porta-potty, the wait to use it, standing in the tent, and then walking to the start, I was on my feet for over an hour before I started running. Not ideal, but that’s Boston for you. It’s a logistical challenge even in the best of weather conditions.

When they called wave 2, I exited the tent and headed for the corral. There was a little hill to climb up before exiting the grassy area, and it was so muddy and slippery that I couldn’t get up it without falling. The fall caused my gloves and the plastic bag I was carrying to get muddy and it was not pleasant, but I cleaned it off quickly.

The next step would be to find a good area to change my shoes. As I walked toward the corral, there was a group of three runners standing in a covered alcove of a building entrance. I asked them if I could duck in to change my shoes. And these three people were so remarkably helpful. One of them held my bag, another one held my gloves, and another one helped me keep my balance as I made the switch. I had to un-tie the shoes from around my waist and then take them out of their shower caps to put on my feet. I use Yankz laces, so thankfully I didn’t have to worry about lacing the shoes— I just put my foot in and I was set.

The walk to the corral felt long and by the time I got into my assigned corral #5, there was only 10 minutes until race start. In 2016, people were offering sunscreen and cold towels along the walk. Yesterday they offered Vaseline. Same event, but under entirely different circumstances from the heat wave of two years ago.

Mindset and Strategy 
Before I get into the race itself (see. . . you have to wait awhile just like I did) I want to share my mental approach to this race. I was basically a mixed bag of emotions, but at the same time neutral accepting of the circumstances as I knew I couldn’t control them. Nobody runs Boston for its good weather. The race has a history of extreme weather (hot and cold) and according to one report, this was the coldest Boston Marathon in 30 years.

I went into this cycle with the attitude that my training would build me as an athlete, take me to the next level, and prepare me to run fast at a fall marathon. As I logged the 75+ mile weeks, I wasn’t doing so with the expectation of a PR in Boston. The focus was pushing myself as an athlete, working hard, and seeing what I could handle.

My attitude toward the race was, in many ways, completely divorced from the training cycle. I knew I was really prepared to run 26.2 miles physically, so I didn’t worry about my fitness level. Instead, I focused on staying positive, “soaking it all in,” and sticking to my race plan.

I attended a pre-race clinic with Greg McMillan on Sunday, and he walked his athletes through a
Greg McMillan and me
strategy that he had seen work really well in Boston: The first 16 miles should be at “cruise” effort, and if you feel like you are having to push into the wind, then you need to back off the pace. At no point should you be straining. When you get to the hills, you need to “engage” and work harder than you have been for the last 16 miles of cruising. Once you get over the hills at mile 21, then you rely on your determination to get you through to the finish.

To clarify, my coach is Andrew Lemoncello, who works with Greg McMillan. Andrew had given me a similar race strategy earlier in the week before we realized how bad the wind would be. Hearing it frm Greg was just the reinforcement I needed.

In short, my goal yesterday was to finish strong and to NOT regret my starting pace. I knew that if I bonked like I did in Indianapolis, my chances of hypothermia would increase significantly and the fastest way to warmth was to run the whole way. The idea of feeling like crap physically while also having to endure the punishing winds and rain was so unappealing that I decided to start conservatively, about 20-25 seconds per mile slower than the “marathon pace” I used in training.

In 2016 I underestimated the impact the heat would have on my race and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Particularly not at Boston. The goal was to have a strong Boston. My #1 goal was a safe, strong finish and that meant a ridiculously easy feeling start.

Miles 1-4: Hopkinton and Ashland
I ditched my poncho and mid-weight raincoat about 100 feet before the start line and it felt amazing to finally be running. Athlete’s village was the worst part of the day and as we started running, one guy even said to me, “if we got through Athlete’s Village, we can get through this.” He was right. Running and doing what I love most was so easy compared to standing in that wet mud in 5 layers of clothing.

I qualified last spring with a time of 3:21:54, which is a pace of about 7:40. The runners in my corral all qualified within a few minutes of that time, but most of them shot out so fast and I was getting passed like crazy. But I remembered what Greg McMillan had said: let everyone pass you at first, and then you pass them later in the race.

It was raining steadily during these miles but it wasn’t long before I got into a groove, my feet became un-numb, and I settled into the reality of a very wet, cold and windy journey into Boston. 

Mile 1: 8:07 (-108 ft)
Mile 2: 7:47 (-52 ft)
Mile 3: 7:44 (-55 ft)
Mile 4: 7:43 (-66 ft)

Miles 5-8: Framingham 
It was during the 5th mile that I realized my hand warmers were soaked through and no longer providing warmth. Instead, they were like heavy bricks inside my mittens over my wool gloves. I debated tossing them, but I am glad I did not. Even though they weren’t providing warmth, it was an extra layer of insulation. My hands went numb very quickly, and I decided to simply ignore it because there was nothing I could do to change it.

I knew from experience that I didn’t need to drink much water in cold temperatures. I was well hydrated going into the race and I figured that stopping every 5-6 miles for a substantial drink would suffice. At mile 5, I grabbed a cup of water with two hands from a volunteer, jogged to the side of the course, stopped and drank. Since I wouldn’t be drinking often, I figured I should make sure I got enough water when I did drink instead of running with it and spilling it all over my face. My hands were numb so I had to be careful about it, and I figured it was worth the 10-second stop to get proper hydration.

The wind was not too bad during this part of the course. The crowd was still thick and it was protecting me from the headwind. However, the occasional gust would come slap me in the face, and I just had to laugh if off. Everyone was in good spirits and the runners seemed to be helping each other out more than usual. We were all in it together and shared an unspoken bond that made us all a little nicer and more compassionate.

Mile 5: 7:46 (+15 ft)
Mile 6: 7:35 (-18 ft)
Mile 7: 7:39 (-12 ft)
Mile 8: 7:38 (+1 ft)

Miles 9-12: Natick
These miles flew by and it was more of the same. Portions of the course were completely puddle-ridden and there was no avoiding getting my feet completely soaked. My socks did an excellent job of not holding the moisture so I became comfortably with puddle running, knowing that my shoes wouldn’t feel soaked for longer than a few minutes post-puddle. The pack of runners was just as thick as it had been at the beginning and I was grateful that I was mostly shielded from the headwind.

My plan was to take my UCAN Gell at mile marker 11 and then drink water at the station located shortly after. I could not unzip the waist pouch because my hands were numb. After multiple attempts to unzip the pouch, I used my teeth, which worked. The gel itself was easy to open after I got it out of the waist pocket, and thankfully it went down well without being accompanied by the usual water. I finished it just in time for 11.2 where I stopped and had a cup of water. After that, I threw the waist pouch off of my body as it had been annoying me for 11 miles and interfering with my bib.

By mile 12 I began to wonder if I had sold myself short. I felt like I was out for an easy run. I didn’t feel like I was exerting marathon pace effort. I wasn’t straining and I was very relaxed. I felt my way through the course by cruising, but also keeping my pace in check. Up until this point, I didn’t want to go below 7:35, but I started to wonder if I should up the effort a bit.

Mile 9: 7:35 (-16 ft)
Mile 10: 7:35 (+19 ft)
Mile 11: 7:44 (+26 ft)
Mile 12: 7:37 (-52 ft)

Miles 13-16: Wellesley
The Wellesley scream tunnel was just as loud as I remembered, only the woman who was essentially naked last time wearing only a sign wasn’t there. I usually don’t care all that much about crowd support in races and sometimes prefer less noise so I can focus. But in this case, I fed off of the energy of the crowd. I needed as much positivity as possible.

At the halfway point, I wondered if I could negative split. I had never felt so great at the halfway point in marathon in all the 22 I have run. I still felt like I was out for an easy run! I allowed myself to speed up a little bit, but once again, I made sure I wasn’t straining into the wind.

For the majority of the race, the rain was a steady pour, but there were a few times when it came down in buckets. When that happened people would clap and relish in it. What else could you do? The roads were getting flooded and I was now accustomed to running in water and having other runners kick water onto me.

I did notice that my quads were a little sore despite the easy pace, but I guess that was to be expected in Boston with all the downhill. I didn’t let it bother me and I knew I was much better positioned for success at mile 16 this year than I was in 2016. I took another cup of water at mile 16 because I knew I would not want to stop on the Newton hills.

Mile 13: 7:31 (0 ft)
Mile 14: 7:37 (-6 ft)
Mile 15: 7:36 (+25 ft)
Mile 16: 7:30 (-121 ft)

Miles 17-21: Newton Hills
At the bottom of the first hill, I kept remembering what Greg McMillan had said the day before about engaging on the hills. The goal wasn't to kill myself, but I felt like I had plenty of gas in the tank to up the effort. This is where I fell apart in 2016 and I was thrilled to be feeling so much stronger.

My general strategy for hills is to focus on my form, and to not look up to the top of the hill, but rather about 25 feet ahead, get to that point, and then look another 25 feet ahead, so I am doing it in manageable chunks. I also remembered all the hills I had run on my long runs and got a nice boost of confidence. I ran over the first 3 without too much strain. After the first hill, I was at mile 18 and I told myself I had three hard miles ahead and one easy (19 is downhill). And I that's all I had to do and I would be done with the hills.

This mental approach worked and finally I came upon Heartbreak Hill. It wasn't "labeled" like it was in 2016, and if it was, I didn't see it. But I knew where I was and I knew this was the defining moment of the race. If I could get to the top in one piece the rest of the race I would simply fly home. Heartbreak hill felt very, very long. But I was determined to run up it at a good clip. I knew I had gas left in the tank and I used it here.

Mile 17: 7:44 (+74 ft)
Mile 18: 7:38 (+50 ft)
Mile 19: 7:29 (-34 ft)
Mile 20: 7:42 (+ 22 ft)
Mile 21: 8:07 (+86 ft)

Miles 22-25: Brookline and Boston
Feeling strong
I was elated to be in the home stretch and still feeling strong. I knew that it was technically time to take my chews, but my hands were completely useless so I wasn't able to get to them in my pocket. In hindsight, I should have waited a little longer to take my UCAN gel because that would have helped me more in the later miles without the additional chews. Mile 22 was a downhill breeze and I remembered how much pain I had been in two year ago during this section. It felt great to fly down the hill and be so close to finishing.

Mile 23 also felt strong but I noticed my pace started to slip. The field of runners was spreading out across the wider course and the wind seemed to be picking up. I was still able to power through it feeling good, so I didn't concern myself with my pace too much. I remembered Greg McMillan saying that the last few miles are all about determination and that is what I was going to channel. Plus, I was passing a lot of people. I was loving the fact that I felt so strong this late in the race and was still energized enough to be passing through the crowd of runners.

That didn't last long; mile 24 was the first mile that felt hard. My quads were aching and the pain was getting difficult to ignore. The wind was whipping around in all directions and water was splashing into my face. I was also annoyed at any uphill I came upon. The last 5 miles are supposed to be "all downhill" but there are a few pesky uphill portions that slowed me down. I realized I would not be negative splitting, but that I could still run a really respectable time.

Waving to the photographer
In the 25th mile, I felt that familiar marathon pain. I was now working as hard as I could and I was tired. I wished I had taken my chews but I still couldn't get them and it was too late now. I was running out of steam and I lacked the energy to push against the strengthening headwind. I was tempted to walk up some of the hills, and to prevent myself from doing so I said aloud, do not walk! I knew that walking would only prolong the experience and make things worse so I kept plugging away at a pace that was much slower than all the previous miles.

In many ways, this was a good thing. If I felt like a million dollars crossing the finish line then I would have regretted not running harder. But given the way I felt during mile 25, I knew I had run my best possible race because I was quickly fading. Throughout all of this, I always remembered to soak it all in and have fun. I worked hard to be here, and had spent loads of time preparing. This was my moment!

I realized that I should be seeing a Citgo sign and looked up and made out a faint image of the sign in the distance. The air was so cloudy and rainy that the sign wasn't very visible. In fact, if I hadn't made it a point to look, I probably wouldn't have seen it until I was practically at the sign.

Mile 22: 7:36 (-72)
Mile 23: 7:57 (-55)
Mile 24: 8:10 (-45)
Mile 25: 8:29 (-41)

Mile 26 and the Finish: Hereford and Boylston
Before making the final turn onto Boylston, I noticed the road was littered with ponchos and jackets. I later realized that people were shedding their outer layers for good finish line photos. It felt like this mile went on and on. Of course, I ended up running about 26.5 miles according to my Garmin due to not running the tangents and trying to draft off of various runners. I wasn't surprised by this and my focus yesterday wasn't running the tangents, it was running where I was most protected from the wind.

Shortly after making the final turn onto Boylston I looked at the total elapsed time on my watch, which I hadn't done in several miles. I often do this at the end of races to motivate myself to get under the next minute. I saw that I could still get a 3:26:xx if I ran fast so I mustered every bit of energy I had to get myself to the finish line. That run down Boylston is so exhilarating that it's easy to find the power.

I crossed the finish line in 3:26:53 and was so elated to be done. But before getting too excited, I knew that I needed to quickly exit the finish line chute, get to Greg and then walk to the hotel. Even though I was exhausted I forced myself to walk quickly through the chute and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was moving, as compared to how I typically feel post-marathon.

Mile 26: 9:05
Last 0.48 on Garmin: 8:14 pace

I made my way to Greg relatively easily and quickly. I had been concerned about that walk over the weekend because hypothermia can set in quickly once you stop moving. I was so relieved to see him and that Epsom salt bath at the hotel was like heaven.

Later that evening, I met up with my friends Lisa and Jenna for dinner. I was walking around quite well and in much better shape than I was in 2016, when I ended up in the medical tent. Today, my legs are sore, but again, nothing like 2016. I'm so happy that I executed well on a difficult course in challenging conditions, and that's more important than getting a PR in my eyes.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I had a great day in Boston and I think the crappy weather may have been a blessing in disguise. I didn't go into this cycle seeking a PR in Boston; I went in to build myself up as an athlete. Success on a day like yesterday was dependent on staying warm with the right wardrobe strategy before and during the race, running conservatively, and keeping a positive outlook on the situation.

This was a character-building experience and now that I know I can run well in these conditions, it will make most all other weather feel easy. Even though the headwind was a force to be reckoned with and the conditions were far from "comfortable" I honestly believe I would have done worse in the heat. I overheat easily when I run, so I tend to be more successful in the cold, even if it means putting up with downpours, puddles, numb hands, muddy falls, ice pellets and the rest of it.

  • I placed 1,474 out of 11,604 female runners, putting me in the top 12%.
  • I BQ'ed by 18 minutes and 7 seconds.
  • I set a course PR by over 21 minutes compared with 2016.
  • I ran 4:59 slower than my marathon PR, which I'm pleased with due to the course and conditions.
Random things I bought over the weekend to help with this race
  • Shoe laces to tie my race shoes around my waist
  • Bobby pins to secure my hat to head
  • Extra safety pins
  • Toe warmers
  • Vaseline
  • Epsom Salt
  • Newspaper to sit/stand on in Athlete's village
  • Shower caps (provided by the hotel)
Huge thanks go out to my husband Greg, my coach Andrew, my family and all my friends who supported me throughout this training cycle and on race day. I had the most fun I've ever had in a marathon yesterday, and I look forward to going back, probably in 2020.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Boston Bound. . . and a 5K

My Boston Marathon training is officially tapering off, and the race is just one week away! Everything feels great, taper madness has not set in, and I just need to power through a likely-to-be-stressful work week before flying out to Boston next weekend.

For my last hard workout, I decided to run the Crystal City 5K Friday last Friday night. I've run this race many times in the past, including last year. The weather is never great for this race and I'm typically exhausted on Friday evenings, but the race has such a fun vibe that I can't resist it.

Friday was probably one of the most mentally exhausting days I've had since I started my job a year and a half ago. I won't get into the details here, but suffice it to say I would have rather gone home to a bottle of wine rather than a windy 5K, but I was already committed. Sub-20 is an eventual goal of mine for the 5K, but I wasn't necessarily going for it on Friday. I wasn't overly excited about the race and for some reason didn't think a PR was in the cards either. My plan was to run a somewhat conservative start so I would have enough energy for the final mile (directly into the headwind) and hopefully get a course PR.

Before the race, I ran into my friend Hannah. We had no idea that each other were running the race so it was a pleasant surprise. I had already warmed up and with just 5 minutes until the 6:30 start we lined up. But then they announced that the race would be delayed to 6:35. And then 6:40. I can only guess this was due to the long line at packet pickup. Normally this would have annoyed me because of how I timed my warmup, but since it was 70 degrees, I didn't feel like my legs were getting cool or stiff just standing around. Plus, I had Hannah to chat with and the time passed quickly.

Mile 1: 6:34
I started out on the easy side and let a bunch of people pass me off the line. The first half mile of this race includes a number of turns and curves so there was really no reason to gun it. Instead, I focused on the tangents. As the mile progressed I started to ease into a faster pace, passing people one at a
time. I saw Greg and my friend Allison just before mile marker one, which motivated me to pass a guy who otherwise would have photo bombed the picture Greg was taking of me!

Mile 2: 6:23
I knew from experience that this mile was slightly downhill, and that there was also a tailwind. I cruised along at a hard effort, but I still didn't feel like I was at my max. I would be saving that for the last mile. There were a few turns in this mile as well, but they didn't bother me as much as they did last year. Aside from a dry mouth, everything felt great.

Mile 3: 6:58
Yeah, I was shocked at that too! I was totally ready to push really hard during this last mile and I knew to expect uphill headwind. I increased my effort level, but my Garmin was reading in the low 7's. Yikes. I tried to up the effort another notch, but I couldn't. All of a sudden everything was so hard and I felt like I didn't have any "fight" in me. I was tired and mentally drained and there wasn't much motivation or drive to make myself hurt. I think this is a general weakness of mine with the 5K-- an inability to make myself feel that level of hurt. I can tolerate a lower level of pain for a long time, but I haven't figured out how to really dial in that hard effort and tell myself it's just for one last mile. So, even though I felt like I had saved up for that last mile, I didn't have what I needed to close it out strong.

I crossed the finish line in 20:47, which was unfortunately not even a course PR. I tried really hard not to get down about this, since I am in much better shape now than I was last year. But Greg reminded me that last year I was training specifically for the 5K. And it wasn't as windy last year.

I'm just not sure I buy the whole "you've been training for a marathon so you don't have your 5K speed" perspective. I've been doing a lot of fast workouts: 20 x 200m, 20 x 1-minute hard followed by 20 x 30 seconds hard, just to name a few. I also feel like I could have run a 6:38-paced 5K tempo
run on almost any morning this cycle. For example, just two weeks ago I ran a four-mile tempo at a pace of 6:48, and followed that up with hill sprints and then another 4-mile tempo! So it was a little frustrating to not be able to go much faster in this (shorter-than-4-mile) race, but I'm not discouraged.

My key takeaway is that I simply didn't have the mental energy to make myself push harder through that wind. I didn't have a fight in me, but that's not surprising given that I had already put in a stressful day at work. I should also note that my official time is 20:51. Last year, the system didn't register my chip time, only my gun time and it looks like the same thing happened here. Last year I ran a PR so I investigated it and they adjusted my official time. This year, I don't care enough to contact them about it. It's just a 5K on my way to Boston!

In any event, I was the 6th female in a competitive field, and last year I was 7th. So I'll take it! I would have had to run over 30 seconds faster to come close to the 5th female, so it's not like I was neck-and-neck with anyone. Maybe a little more competition would have helped, or it could have just made me feel more dejected- ha!

Boston Bound
The next day, I ran my easy run (70 minutes) at a surprisingly zippy pace-- 8:17. I was truly trying to run my typical easy pace which is around 8:30 but my legs felt peppy and every time I looked down at my watch, my pace was faster than expected. I think this shows that I recovered well from the 5K and that things are starting to come together.

This week my top priorities are not getting sick, and not letting work stress impact my sleep. I will leave work at work and not think about it once I am out of the office. I also have to finalize my packing. I still am not 100% sure what I am going to wear during the marathon which is very unlike me.

My training cycle was very intense, averaging in the low 70's per week and maxing out at 78.5 miles two weeks out. As such, my coach has given me a really nice taper for the coming week. I'm most looking forward not having to coordinate logistics around the weather and trying to get into work on time. I'll have a lot of mental energy to apply toward my job so that when I leave each day I will be confident that I gave it 100%.

Book Signing
I will be doing two book signings on Sunday, April 15 for anyone who'd like to meet me. You can purchase a copy of Boston Bound on site, or I will sign a copy you already have.
  1. The lobby of the Ritz Carlton on Avery St. from 11:00am-noon. This is near Boston Common.
  2. The ShowPlace ICON from 5:30-6:30pm. This coincides with a showing of the Boston documentary. The address is 60 Seaport Blvd, near the Expo. You can still get tickets for the 6:30pm showing here
Race Goals
My primary race goal is to NOT regret my starting pace. I do not want a repeat of 2016 when I bonked and was miserable for the last 7 miles. I want to enjoy the entire race and feel strong throughout. My "A" goal for finish time is 3:16-3:17, but I would be elated with a PR of any kind. I'm in Wave 2, which starts at 10:25, so feel free to track me on Marathon Monday!

No days off this cycle!