Friday, July 21, 2017

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise: Anchorage

Greg and I flew across the country from Virginia to Alaska yesterday to take part in the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. What is a running cruise? It's a normal cruise, Royal Caribbean to be specific, that includes special running excursions and events. Not everyone on the cruise is part of the
running group; there are about 150 of us. The cruise departs from Seward, Alaska and finishes in Vancouver, Canada.

We booked this trip back in February. It was actually my Valentine's Day gift to Greg because I knew that he had always wanted to go to Alaska. We actually got in off of the waiting list, as this cruise booked up about nine months in advance.

Alaska Bound!
We arrived in Anchorage yesterday afternoon and we will board the cruise ship this afternoon after a three-hour bus ride to Seward. We had some weather delays yesterday because we flew through Chicago, which had severe thunderstorms. We boarded the first plane, and then deplaned, and then boarded it again, and arrived in Chicago about two hours late. Thankfully, our connecting flight was also late. We got a nice tour of O'Hare International Airport as they changed our gate number several times (picture us booking it from concourse to concourse). Ultimately, we flew out of a gate that was very close to the gate we flew into, so we got some extra exercise yesterday.

View from the plane
Once we were on board the flight to Anchorage, everything went smoothly. Of course, everything was made much more tolerable with our first class tickets, which we got for a steal. I had never flown first class before because it's usually prohibitively expensive and I don't have any sort of status to qualify for free upgrades. But for 8+ hours of flying to only pay $300 more-- we thought it was totally worth it. Especially since it included free checked luggage and we needed to check two bags.

Speaking of bags, packing for this trip was quite the challenge. We each needed three outfits per day (four if you count pajamas). A running outfit, a daytime outfit, and a dressy dinner outfit. Cruise ship dinners require that men wear long pants, collared shirts, and dress shoes, so planning for that took up almost half our luggage space. Furthermore, the weather in Alaska in July ranges from the low 50's to the upper 60's, and it could be rainy or sunny on any given day. It's kind of like packing for a marathon, a wedding, a beach vacation, and a touristy vacation, and you're doing each of those things every day.

Anchorage Welcome
We arrived only one hour late, which was pretty incredible due to all of the delays. We had about an hour to get situated in our hotel and then we were off to the packet pickup and welcome meeting. The Skinny Raven running store was just two blocks from our hotel, and it was the largest running store I had ever seen! It was probably five times as big as the running stores we have in northern Virginia.

We met the other people who would be on our cruise. As expected, it was a diverse group with a wide range of ages. We were given a name tag and three bibs: one for each of the timed events. The first event would be a 5K fun run, which wouldn't be timed, followed by beer and pizza. This started about an hour after we received our packets.

I had informed my coach of all of the planned running events on the cruise and he wrote me a
Greg and me on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage
schedule that included them. For the welcome 5K, he suggested that I run it as a tempo, and then run 10 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) afterward if I had time. Because Alaska is four hours behind the eastern time zone, it already felt like 8:00pm, and my normal bedtime is around 9:00! Plus, we had been traveling all day.

Greg and I decided to get the 1-minute intervals out of the way first because we had about 30 minutes to spare before the welcome 5K. And once we were done with the 5K, we would want to eat dinner and get to bed pretty quickly. We warmed up for one mile, and the began the 1-minute intervals, We ran up and down the residential streets near our hotel, staying close to where we'd meet back up with the group for the 5K. I felt pretty good, considering I had been traveling all day long.

The Moosehead 5K
Once we were done with our short workout, our group headed down to the water, where we ran on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The 5K fun run was simply an out and back on the trail. The views from the trail were amazing! And at 68 degrees with low humidity, the weather felt heavenly.

Our focus during the 5K was to soak it all in and enjoy the experience. We knew we'd be visiting the trail again the next morning, when we would stop for photos and capture everything. We had gorgeous views of the water, the mountains and the forests. Our splits were 7:42, 7:27, 7:04, and 6:45 for the last bit, which yielded a 22:57. It felt really invigorating to run fast on this trail and we were both really excited to finally be in Alaska. Especially after having spent 8+ hours on a plane.

After the run, we all went back to the running store where we had pizza and beer. I was starving. It
was after 10:00 my body time! I finally got to meet fellow blogger Zenaida, whose blog I have been reading for over five years! We didn't stay very long because we were so exhausted. It felt really great to finally get some sleep.

Easy Run Along the Coast
This morning, Greg and I had some time before our transfer to go running. Of course, we woke up at around 3:00am, and the sun rose really early. We were out on the trail by 5:00 and it was pretty much deserted. This time, we went for an hour-long easy run. We went father on the trail than we had the day before and it was absolutely stunning. And at 51 degrees, the air felt marvelous. We're used to it being in the low 70's with insanely high humidity!

After our run, we went to a small coffee shop for breakfast. What a perfect way to start the day.

Today, our cruise adventure begins. More posts to follow!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Erase This Word From Your Running Vocabulary

Lately, I have been seeing this word all over the place in the running community. Particularly in blogs and on Instagram. And when I read it or hear it, it's like nails on a chalkboard to me.

The word? Excuse.

Here are some (not verbatim) examples of how I have seen this word used:
  • I'm not trying to make excuses, but it was 85 degrees out.
  • There was a headwind for 5 miles of the race. It's not an excuse, but it slowed me down.
  • Not making excuses, but I got a stomach cramp at mile 9.
  • The weather was perfect, so no excuses. 
These types of lines leave me scratching my head. What? Why would you need an excuse? Did you not just go bust your butt in a race or a workout while most people are sitting on a couch? What would you be excusing yourself for? Even though these runners are saying that they are NOT making excuses, they are implying that they might, in fact, need one by virtue of calling it out.

Let's back up here. In trying to figure out why this word bothers me so much, I've broken it down to the basics. What is an excuse? When would you use one? 

An excuse has two components.

1. You didn't do something you were supposed to do; you failed to meet a commitment
  • You didn't get into work on time.
  • You didn't attend an event you RSVPed yes to.
  • You didn't do your homework.
  • You didn't call or text someone when you said you would.
2. You didn't actually intend to do it, so you manufactured an explanation.
  • You didn't get into work on time because you slept in, so you blamed it on the traffic.
  • You didn't attend an event you RSVPed to because you didn't feel like going, so you said you weren't feeling well.
  • You didn't do your homework because you just didn't make time for it, so you said your dog ate it.
  • You didn't call or text someone when you said you would because it wasn't all that important to you, so you said you were too busy with work.

Both 1 and 2 need to be present in order for an excuse to come into play. If it's just #1, then there could be a very simple reason why. Maybe there was a major accident that prevented you from getting into work on time. Maybe you truly were sick so you couldn't attend the event. Maybe you couldn't do your homework because you had a headache. In this case, none of these would be excuses, they would be reasons.

Now let's apply it to running. It's almost never the case that 1 OR 2 exists, let alone both. When runners say they "aren't trying to make excuses" my question is, excuses for what? What didn't you do that you should have done? You missed a PR? You ran slower than your goal time? Well, that happens all the time. It's part of running. It's nothing that needs an excuse, an apology, or even an explanation. That said, explanations are helpful in understanding what went wrong, and if it was something you could control, how can you improve for next time? If it was something you couldn't control, then it's important to note it and then move on.

I remember a few years ago at the start of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, the announcer said, "It's a beautiful day at 45 degrees and 5 mph winds. We call this no-excuses weather." So, if the weather were hot or rainy, would that be "excuse weather"?  Could you imagine if the announcer of the Boston Marathon said "Well, it's going to be 75 degrees and sunny today. It's excuses weather, so go on and make excuses for your poor performance."

If you ran a race, you don't need an excuse. It doesn't matter how fast or how slow you ran it. It doesn't matter if you achieved your goal or not. You showed up. You gave your best effort. Period. If you went on any kind of run, actually, you don't need an excuse. You would only need an excuse if you intended to train for a marathon, but didn't do any of the work. Or if you registered for a race and just didn't feel like showing up on race morning. If you put miles on your running shoes, then #1 above doesn't exist. So an excuse would never come into play. 

I also really hate the phrases "what's your excuse?" and "no excuses" when it comes to running. I see those so often on Instagram and Facebook. And even in advertising. Those phrases might apply to non-athletes who may legitimately want to start running, but don't make it a priority. But for people who regularly go out and run, the word "excuse" is completely irrelevant and potentially self-defeating. It's a negative word, and it's poisonous to a healthy mindset. So erase it from your vocabulary. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Firecracker 5K: Testing My Limits

Ouch. That was definitely a humbling experience!

This morning I ran my 5th Firecracker 5K in Reston, VA. This race is always brutal with the heat, humidity, and hills. I missed running it last year because I had just come down with mono (or some mono-like virus), and this year I was thankful to be running it. I also missed this race in 2012 because of mono, and in 2013 because of injury, so the most important thing was that I was healthy enough to race. My time in 2014 was 22:54, and in 2015 I finished in 22:05.

The timing of this race was not ideal. I flew to London last Wednesday for business, and then flew back on Friday. This definitely threw my body off schedule and resulted in a lack of sleep. However, I woke up on Saturday morning feeling refreshed, and I cranked out a set of 8 x 400m at 5K effort at paces that were faster than expected. I had been targeting 1:35-1:37 (6:20-6:28) and my splits averaged 1:33 (6:12). It felt like 5K effort and the fact that the temperature was in the low 70's and very humid was a sign that I was acclimated.

As for goals, I wanted to run sub-20:30, and ideally beat my time from Lawyers Have Heart last month (20:24), which was a flatter course.

I got another solid night of sleep on Saturday night, and felt great during the day, so I determined that jet lag would not be a factor in my race. I decided that I was really going to go for it. I am not racing again for another seven weeks, and after this race I have some scheduled recovery time built into my schedule. I decided that I would run the race based on effort (as opposed to pacing with my Garmin) and I wouldn't be afraid to go out hard. I was confident in my fitness and my ability to execute, so I was going to try and race this one really hard.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived 45 minutes prior to race start. We drank our UCAN and met up with a group of friends for a warmup. I felt pretty good during the warmup, but I could tell the humidity was pretty serious. It was 75 degrees, and I think the dew point was around 70. I was thankful for the mostly cloudy sky, and even decided I didn't need sunglasses. After a 2-mile warmup, Greg and I went back to our car.

Just like we did for the Twilight Festival 4-miler, we brought a cooler of ice to the race. The plan was to soak ourselves with ice cold towels just before the race. I threw a handful of ice into my sports bra, poured ice cold water over my head, and felt ready to race. We walked to the start line area, and I did a few strides. I've definitely improved my running economy and leg turnover during this training cycle, and the strides felt really fluid.

I reconnected with my friends at the start line, where we all sang the National Anthem, due to the PA
Hannah, Perry and Me before the race.
system not working properly. I waved to my dad and stepmother, who had come to cheer me on. Looking around the start line, I could tell this would be a very competitive race. It always is, and I had no expectation of breaking into the top 10 women. I lined up farther back than I typically do, considering how many elite athletes showed up and people who I knew were faster than me.

Mile 1
This fast crowd pulled me out pretty quickly, and I told myself to have the confidence to run by feel. This mile has a rolling elevation, but it's net uphill. If I were being conservative, I would have probably paced it for a 6:35, but that wasn't my goal today-- I wanted to take a risk and see what would happen. It was pretty crowded the first mile, as it always is during this race. I was feeling pretty good as I polished off the mile in 6:27. A little fast, but I didn't judge it as I glanced down. Maybe today would be the day that I totally surprised myself and even PRed on a hot, hilly, humid course!

Mile 2
While mile 1 and 3 are net uphill, mile 2 offers a nice long stretch of downhill. Whenever I have run this race in the past, my second mile has been the fastest. For the first half of the mile, I just cruised along down that hill at the same effort I had run the first mile. But about halfway through I hit a wall pretty hard. My legs felt good, but a wave of fatigue came over me and suddenly I lacked the energy to continue to push. I knew that if I didn't back off the effort a little bit, I would crash and never make it up that final hill. So I eased up ever so slightly so that I would have enough energy to surge during the last mile. Even still, I felt exhausted and tired and I wanted to quit so badly. When I clocked a 6:32 split, I knew that this was not going to be the day I had hoped for. Mile 2 was always much faster than mile 1. But I knew not to speculate and to simply focus on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Mile 3
Thankfully, I was able to devote all my mental energy to powering through the last mile. I think that the "former me" would have sulked about the mile 2 split and potentially given up mentally. Instead I simply thought "ok" and focused on my form as I powered up the first hill. I knew I had slowed down significantly, but I still had enough energy to push and run to my max. My split was 7:04, which shows that I had very little left to give.

The Last 0.18
Photo by Cheryl Young

I wasn't surprised that when my watched beeped for three miles, I still had what seemed like forever to go. This course always measures long on everyone's Garmins, it's just something to expect. Even with the finish line in sight, all I could muster was a pace of 6:39. For the past six races I've run, they've all had a final kick at sub-6:00 pace. But not this one. I crossed the finish line, bent over with my hands on my knees, feeling like I might pass out. But I got over it quickly and was able to move on.

My finish time on my watch was 21:16. Ouch. I haven't run a 5K that slow since my mono comeback in November. This is almost a full minute slower than the PR I set in May. I don't question my fitness-- I do think I'm in excellent 5K shape. But I definitely underestimated how much the humidity would impact my race, and that was a mistake. It just goes to show how much execution matters in a 5K. Fitness will only take you so far.

After the Race
I caught up with Greg, my friends and my family and we briefly exchanged race stories before going back to the car for more ice cold towels and ice cold water. We all cooled down together, and I struggled through that immensely. I felt completely gassed. This race took more out of me than any other race this season. Including the 4-miler in 81 degree temps.

I looked to see if the results were posted anywhere but I couldn't find them. Greg found them just before the awards ceremony began and took a photo of them with my phone. My official time was 21:21, the same as my gun time. Crap! My chip must not have registered at the start line. The person who won 3rd place in my age group was just one second faster than me based on chip time, so I went over to the timing tent to get it sorted out. Sure enough, they told me that my chip didn't register at the start line. This is the second time this season that I've had this happen to me. This time, however, we couldn't use Greg's start time because I actually started two rows behind him.

Photo by Cheryl Young
I showed them my watch and they changed my start time accordingly. This happened just in time for a race official to walk me over to the awards ceremony and present me with the 3rd place age group award. I do feel badly about coming in at the 11th hour and taking the age group award, but I did rightfully earn it and I couldn't find the results posted earlier in the morning.

As I said earlier, this was a competitive field. The 10th place female ran a time of 19:06 and the winner ran 16:56. I was the 23rd female.

Final Thoughts
There are two ways to look at this race. I could look at it as failed execution. I went out too fast, underestimating the humidity, and paid for it later in the race. If I had started out slower, I probably could have run an overall faster time. My execution in 2015 was much stronger, with splits of 6:57, 6:45, 7:10. Based on the course profile, I think this type of pacing is ideal.

Or, I could look at it as taking a risk, and having it not pay off. I did take a risk because I wanted to test my limits and see what I was capable of. And the 5K is a good distance to test things, particularly when it's not "PR weather." So, now I know that if it's 75 degrees and really humid, I should go out slower. I also know that it's useful to look at the Garmin during the first mile to ensure that I don't get pulled out too fast. I've always thought this, but I figured I would take the opportunity to try not using it and see what would happen.

I had a really fun time getting to see so many of my friends, and I feel like this was a good learning experience for me. It definitely was not the experience I hoped for, but I think it will help motivate me in future races. Even though the humidity hasn't seemed to affect my workout paces this season, a race is a different ballgame, and I need to respect that. And as I said earlier, I am thankful that I was healthy enough to run this race, as I've had to miss it multiple times in the past. I also fully realize that not every race can be a stellar performance, and I have had my share of strong performances this year.

I have some scheduled down time this week and a very easy week next week with no hard workouts. I specifically requested this from my coach because I really don't want to overdo it in the heat and be burnt out before marathon training even starts. I'll begin marathon training the week of July 17th, with a target of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon the first weekend in November.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Twilight Festival Four Miler Race Report

Last night I ran the =PR= Twilight Festival Four Miler. This was my 5th time running this race, I had run it before in 2007 (31:18), 2008 (time unknown), 2015 (30:08), and 2016 (28:36). This race is known for being very hot, and I like it because it's a good mental challenge.

I'd had two weeks of training since the Lawyers Have Heart 5K, with some pretty intense workouts in ridiculously warm weather. I ran a set of 8 x 200m sprint intervals, in which the recovery was long enough to go "all out" on them, yielding times of 38-39 seconds for all of them. That's a sub-5:30
Before the =PR= Twilight Four Miler
pace! I also had a mixed workout of a 2-mile tempo run followed by 4 x 400m, 4 x 200m. That was good practice in shifting gears.

Going into this four-mile race, my "A" goal was to run the lower half of the 27's, so sub-27:30. My "B" goal was simply to break 28:00, because I had never done that on this course before. This year, the temperature was 81 degrees with a sunny sky. Last year, it was 91 degrees, which was suffocating. Given that I ran the Mother's Day Four miler in 26:57 not too long ago, these might seem like easy goals. But the Mother's Day race has much cooler weather (30 degrees cooler).

Before the Race
I'm not a huge fan of nighttime races, but I do them occasionally because it's a different challenge. I wasn't really sure what to do with myself on Saturday, or how to eat. I hydrated A LOT, alternating between water, and water mixed with UCAN Hydrate. And for some reason, I found myself really hungry all day long. My plan was to have a bagel with peanut butter two hours before the race, which started at 7:30. But at 4:00, I felt like I couldn't wait until 5:30, so I just ate early.

Similar to last year, Greg and I brought a cooler of ice, in which we put small towels to keep ourselves cool before the race. On the way to the race, I had a minor freak out because I wasn't sure where to go. I took the address from the email confirmation and plugged it into Waze, but quickly realized that we were going to a part of Ashburn that was not where the race was. Greg was driving so I checked the website, which said they had a new course. And then I realized the website had a
different address from the email, so I had no idea where to go! I texted my friend Rochelle, who was already there and she confirmed that the race hadn't moved. Then I realized that the address from the email confirmation was the location of packet pickup. Ugh. And the course had not changed. The term "new course" language must have referred to several years ago when they changed it.

When we got to the race, we retrieved our bibs and beer glasses (very cool SWAG item) and chatted with some of our friends. Before we knew it, it was time to drink the UCAN and warm up! It was actually a beautiful night if you weren't racing. Low 80's and sunny and the humidity wasn't even that bad. Considering that the past two years have been much hotter, this felt manageable. Plus, I knew
Warming up with Greg and Lisa
that part of the course would be shaded. Of course we were sweating like crazy after the warmup and I was dying for water. I can't believe how much water I drank on Friday and Saturday but still was thirsty immediately before the race. And I didn't even have to use the bathroom.

I did some strides and then lined up at the starting line. I knew that this would be a competitive field, and I wasn't going to be among the top five women like I had been for my previous four races, but I was hopeful about placing in my age group. From having run this race the past two years, I knew that the best approach was not to go out too fast during the first mile because you don't feel the effects of the heat until later in the race. According to last year's blog post, my start pace felt like marathon pace, which then started to feel like 10K pace in the second mile, but race pace for the last two miles. So my plan was to run the first mile in 6:45, then 6:55 for the second mile (uphill), and then as hard as possible for the last two miles.

Mile 1
Even though my plan was to be conservative with this mile and not get pulled out to fast, it felt super
Mile 1
easy. I knew I was running faster than planned but it felt good and I didn't want to limit myself so I just went with it. Even though I typically have a very precise race plan, I often toss that out the window if things feel different than expected. Unless, of course, it's a marathon when you can't really know at mile 2 how it will feel at mile 22. So, I ended up running a 6:35 mile. Okay, time in the bank!

Mile 2
This is the only net uphill mile of the race. All the other miles are a net down. So I told myself to just get up the hill, just get through the mile and everything would be fine. Now, relatively speaking, this hill isn't terribly steep. I think it was like a 30 foot gain or something, but with the heat it just always feels much steeper than that. The Mother's Day 4-miler starts out with like an 80 foot climb or something crazy. But yet this second mile with its modest ascent felt tougher than that. It was during this mile that I did most of my passing. I picked off about three women, and by the time the mile was over, there were only two women left in my sights who I wanted to pass. I also grabbed a cup of water from a water station and poured it over my head. It felt good, but the sun was still beating down on me. My split for this mile was 6:58. A little slower than I wanted, but maybe that meant I would have more energy for the end.

Mile 3
The course was now mostly shaded and I knew that the worst of it was behind me. In the early part of the mile, I passed one of the two women I had in my sights. That gave me a brief confidence boost before I started to feel really bad. For the rest of the mile, I felt like I had zero energy or pep in my step. I went into "just hang on" mode. I was no longer in control of the race-- I felt like the race was in control of me. I had fantasies of pulling off the side of the course and DNFing. I started to worry that maybe this race would cause me to get mono again like last summer. Admittedly, I was not mentally tough at all. I was still running at a decent pace, but it felt really slow, like I was out for an easy run or something. I didn't feel like I had the energy to actually put effort into the race. Hopes of passing that woman who was still in my sights faded. On the plus side, she wasn't widening the gap, but I also wasn't closing it. My Garmin beeped at 6:49 and I wondered how I would be able to
Finish Line!
survive this agony for another mile.

Mile 4
Last year I really sped up during this mile. It was my fastest mile of the race, so part of me was just waiting for that magic to happen. But last year, I went out more conservatively so I had the energy to push. This time, it wasn't until about halfway through the mile when things turned around and it started to feel less like a death march and more like the 4th mile of a 4-mile race. I really rallied and told myself to just hang in there for a few more minutes. I could do anything for a few minutes. I didn't pass anyone and no one passed me. I was focused on getting to the finish line in a respectable time, thinking that my goal time was probably way out of reach. My Garmin beeped for a 6:38 split, and I caught a glimpse of the total time at 27:00. But I knew to expect from the past two years that my Garmin would measure this as a long course so I just kept gunning at a pace of 5:56 until I reached the finish line. Thank God that was over!!!

After the Race
It took me several minutes to recover and it wasn't long before I was reunited with Greg and my friend Lisa. We walked back to the car where the ice cold towels and water were waiting for us. We
Lisa and me at a nearby brewery post-race
exchanged war stories of how hard the race was.

We then proceeded to the results table, where I learned that my official time was 27:32, and 7th overall female. I placed second in my age group. I was really happy with this placement, considering how competitive the field was. I never was able to catch that one woman, who finished about 8 seconds ahead of me, but I was fine with that, seeing as I went into survival mode for about a full mile. Greg placed third in his age group in a blazing 26:30. We cooled down for about a mile and then I went in search of the ice cream truck. I was disappointed when it wasn't there, as that's one of the best things about this race. After getting our awards, we went to a local brewery with Lisa, her husbands and some other runners.

This morning, I had a medium-long run scheduled. I took it nice and easy and it took about 7 miles of running to work out all the kinks. I ended up with 11.6 miles at an average pace of 8:56. Afterwards, I showered and went back to sleep! I got a massage later in the day. I ended up with 46.4 miles for the week, which is about what I have been doing for the past month.

4 x 4 Analysis
I am a numbers junkie, so I couldn't resist performing this analysis of four 4-mile races.

2016 Mother's Day: 27:51     2016 Twilight Festival: 28:36
2017 Mother's Day: 26:57     2017 Twilight Festival: 27:32

  • Year over year, I improved my Mother's Day time by 54 seconds, and my Twilight time by 64 seconds. However, the weather for this year's Twilight race was 10 degrees cooler than last year, so if it were hotter, I might have only improved by 54 seconds. 
  • In 2016, my Twilight time was 45 seconds slower than my Mother's Day time. In 2017, my Twilight time was 35 seconds slower than my Mother's Day time.
  • My Garmin measured 4.01 miles for the Mother's Day race in 2016 and 2017. My Garmin measured 4.09 for both Twilight races. 
  • In Garmin Land, my average pace for both races this year was the same at 6:44/mile. 
Next up is a 5K on July 4th! After that I will take a little break and then start training for my fall marathon. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lawyers Revenge!

In June 2005, I ran my first "big" race: the Lawyers Have Heart 10K in Washington, DC. It was only the weekend before that I had discovered road racing when I participated in a two-mile race at my college reunion. One of my classmates told me about the Lawyers race, so I signed up.

Since then, I had run the race every year through 2012. That's eight consecutive years! But then in 2013, Greg and I went to the beach that week so the streak ended. And I realized I had no desire to start it back up again because the race is always so brutally hot. In fact, when   I ran it in 2011 it was so hot that they turned the race into a 5K for safety reasons. And in subsequent years, they began to offer a 5K option.
Lawyers Have Heart 5K

My friend Chad is a lawyer and he was assembling a team for his firm. He asked Greg and me if we would run the 10K on his team. Greg agreed, but I declined. I really want to focus on 5Ks right now, and I've always struggled running this particular 10K in the heat. So I decided to run the 5K, even though it wouldn't count for Chad's team.

In the past, I have rarely been happy with my performance at this race. I've usually always fallen short of my goal, and felt miserable doing it. In fact, one of the few times I was happy with my performance was when the race was a 5K in 2011, and I ran a 22:43. So even though I probably won't try to get "revenge" on the 10K, I figured that running a fast 5K would give me almost as much satisfaction.

Earlier in the week, I had run a workout of 4 x 800m, 3 x 200m. My coach told me to run the 800's hard because there were only four of them. And I ended up setting three new personal records, one right after the other: 3:03, 3:02, 3:01. This was a huge confidence booster for the 5K. My previous fastest 800 was 3:06, which I had only done once.

A few weeks ago, I got a pair of the Nike Zoom Elite. I had been looking for a replacement for the Mizuno Wave Saynora for quite awhile, and I had yet to find one that I liked. I loved the Sayonara 1 and 2, but when they came out with the 3, it was a completely different shoe. Much heavier and bulkier. The 4 was better than the 3, but still not nearly as good as the 1 and 2 had been.

I've gradually transitioned into the Zoom Elite for speed work over the past few weeks and I really like them. I'm not sure if I would say I like them better than the Sayonara 2-- I think I like them the same. But they are very different shoes. The Sayonara doesn't have a lot of cushion so my feet are in close contact with the ground. I like being able to feel the ground beneath my feet and pushing off of it. The Zoom Elite has a lot of bounce. So while I don't get the sensation of close contact with the ground, I feel like I am gliding along the track or road. In terms of weight, they are almost identical with the Zoom Elite being just a wee bit lighter according to my kitchen scale. I decided I would race in the Nike's this morning, as I had run several really strong workouts in them. I only have one pair left of the Sayonara, so I need to get used to racing in the Nike's at some point.

Before the Race
Greg and I woke up at around 4:30am in order to leave the house at 5:20. We wanted to arrive no later than 6:00 so that we'd have time to park, get our bibs, use the porta potties, and warm up. We ate a small breakfast at home (half an English muffin and peanut butter) and then we each had a serving of UCAN pre-race.

The logistics went smoothly for the most part. The only annoying thing was having to go back to the car to feed the meter 30 minutes before the race, which dug into our warm up time. We warmed up for about 15 minutes and then took our place at the start line. I was raring to go when the announcer said that the race would be delayed by 10 minutes. Ugh. This totally messed up the timing of my warmup and I didn't want to get out of the corral to try and run more, as it seemed like the race could start at any moment. This happened to me during my last 5K and the result was a first mile that felt harder than it should have for the pace I was running.

The 5K and 10K races started together, but split apart shortly before the 5K finish line (which was also the 10K finish line-- they just had to run an additional out and back). The 5K course was the same as it had been in 2011, but since that was six years ago, I didn't remember where exactly the hills were. I also couldn't find an elevation profile or Strava data anywhere. I wish I had known going into it that the first two miles were a net uphill and the last mile was really fast. I was a little discouraged seeing my paces for the first two miles and had I known that the last mile was going to be all downhill, I would have been more confident.

It was 68 degrees and sunny, but thankfully the humidity was low. I've run this race in much warmer conditions, so this wasn't too bad.

Mile 1: 6:40
The race starts underneath a bridge, so the Garmin is totally unreliable. I decided I would run by feel, putting out a hard effort, but not killing myself on the hill to get on top of the bridge. We made our way up the hill, and did a U-turn. From there, it was smooth sailing until the turnaround at the
Mile 1
halfway point. I was expected to see my friend Allison at the mile 1 mark, which I did. Thanks for cheering me on, Allison! She had suggested to me earlier that I manually split my watch due the inaccuracies of being under a bridge, and I was going to take her advice, but then my Garmin auto-lapped at just the right moment, so I didn't have to do that. Although I would have liked for my first mile to have been closer to 6:30, I didn't let it faze me. I'm pretty good at staying emotion-neutral while racing and focusing solely on putting out a hard effort. Greg had been directly behind me for the entire first mile, which meant that he was going out too fast or that I was going out too slow. I tried not to think about it too much.

Mile 2: 6:31
I settled into the race and focused on getting to the turnaround. I knew that once I turned around things would be mentally a lot easier. I also focused on running the tangents of the curves and trying to stay in the shaded side of the course. Sometimes these two things were at odds with each other. I could still hear Greg behind me, and I was really hoping that he was going out too fast and that I wasn't abnormally slow. I remember running this race years ago and seeing all the fast women at the turnaround. Wondering what it was like to be them. I imagined that I was one of those women right after I turned around, and that I needed to "look strong" and that thought helped me to continue to push.

Mile 3: 6:24
Mile 3, photo by Cheryl Young

I was in the home stretch but the finish line still seemed so far away. I could hear the announcer congratulating the first finishers underneath me, as I was still running above the bridge. It really seemed like I would never make it there. For some reason, I was sure that it would be a left turn to go back under the bridge, so I was prepared to turn left. But then the signs appeared which pointed the 5K runners to the right, so I had to alter my path. I was caught off guard but once I was on the right track, I really started to pick up the pace. During the final turnaround I saw that there was a women not too far behind me, which motivated me to push really hard during the final segment so that she couldn't pass me. With the finish line in sight, I imagined myself being pulled toward it and gave it all that I had.

The last 0.13: ??
This portion was under a bridge, so I don't trust my Garmin pace at all. All I know is that I ran it really hard. I could see from the clock that I would be very close to my PR (although not under) and I wanted to be within striking distance. Thankfully, nobody passed me during that last stretch.

After the Race
I stopped my watch a few seconds after crossing the finish line in 20:24, so I figured my official time would be a few seconds faster. But it wasn't. This could be another case of them using my gun time, but I will need to see the finish line photos to confirm. So as of now I am going with 20:24. Since it's not a PR for me I don't care as much, but it will be interesting to see if my clock time from the photo matches my finish time.

I started chatting with the woman who I had seen at the turnaround. She's also trying to break 20 minutes in the 5K, so we had a lot to talk about. We cooled down together and then I went back to the finish line to watch for Chad and Greg. I saw Chad first and then Greg about 20 seconds later in 41:39.

We quickly made our way to the awards area, as they were announcing the 5K awards at 7:45 (well, maybe now 7:55 with the 10-minute late start). It turns out that only the top 3 male and female finishers got an award, as well as the top first place master in each gender. I was the 5th female finisher, and if there had been age group awards, I would have won mine.

In any event, I placed 5th out of 933 women, which I was very happy with. Especially considering that historically I have never come close to this placement at this race. In 2011, I was the 111th female out of 1633. Granted, this was when everyone ran the 5K due to the heat (instead of there being two races) but that's still quite an improvement. This is where the revenge/redemption feeling comes in. I never used to place so well in this race.

In terms of my current fitness level, it's 7 seconds slower than my PR from three weeks ago, but considering that this course had more hills, heat, sun, etc, I am pleased. I think that sub-20:00 will come in the fall, but I will continue to use the summer races to practice running at a hard effort. I actually only have one more 5K this summer, and that course is hillier than today's course. Today's course was actually pretty easy, it just wasn't the cool pancake that I ran three weeks ago!  I might do one in late August, but that is TBD.

Next up is a four-mile race, which is known for being in the high 80's to low 90's. Heat acclimation, here I come!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

5K Training with Geese

Success (or failure) in running is never based on one workout alone. Like notes played on a piano, you need all of them at different times and different intensities to make a rich song. A single note all on its own does not make a song.

With that disclaimer, this focus of this blog is a single workout that I performed on Thursday. 

The track that Greg and I typically used has been closed for maintenance for over two weeks. They're installing what appears to be a new football field, and it's taking a long time. We first learned about it when we showed up for a workout and they told use we couldn't use the track. Thankfully, the workout was 400's, so we found a flat section of low-traffic neighborhood road and measured out 0.25 miles on the Garmin and used it.

But since then we've been using a different track-- one that's home to a gaggle of about 25 geese. The first time we used the track, the geese started out on the field in the center of the track, and migrated to the outside during our workout. We managed to avoid them, and they managed to avoid us during this process. But Thursday was a different story. When we arrived, the geese were congregated at the center of the track again, and we thought they might just stay there since they didn't look too anxious to go anywhere. 

The prescribed workout was 7 x 800m at 5K pace with 30-second rests in between. The 30-second rests were a new curve ball. Usually, 800m intervals come with 400m recovery jogs, or at the very least 200m jogs. But this time, my coach instructed me to simply rest (not run) for 30 seconds and then start up again. He also told me that he wanted me to try and run a little faster than my 5K pace so I could practice running at a sub-20:00 pace. So, looking at this workout, it's 3.5 miles (which is longer than a 5K) at faster than 5K pace, with 30-second rests thrown in every half mile.

Before the Workout
I'll admit that I was intimidated by this workout. It was almost like racing a 5K in training but with some small breaks. But, there have been quite a few workouts over the past few years that looked intimidating on paper but weren't so difficult in execution. I took half a serving of UCAN before the run just to be sure I had enough energy to get through it.

Greg and I warmed up for about two miles before starting the workout. The geese were moving around on the field but they didn't seem to be trying to cross the track yet. The plan was for me to pace the workout, with Greg running behind me. This is how we typically run workouts because I like to set the pace and it takes the guesswork out of it for Greg. Even though he's faster than me, we're close enough in speed that my workout paces still work for him.

Reps 1-4
I told Greg that my plan was to run between 3:14-3:16 for each of them. This would equal my 5K pace. I thought to myself that if I felt really good, I would push a little harder, like my coach advised, for slightly faster than 5K pace.

Part of the challenge was timing the rests. When I finished each 800, I hit the lap button on my watch to record the split. The watch face then shows the split for about 5 seconds before transitioning back to its normal mode. So I would stare at the watch until I could see the total elapsed time, and then add 25 seconds onto whatever it said. The first 2-3 seconds were spent slowing down and stopping after crossing the line, and the remaining time was spent walking back to the line and waiting. So I'm guessing I only got about 20 seconds of actual complete (non-walking) rest.

The first rep came in at 3:16. This was exactly what I wanted, and I was happy I was able to pace it by feel. My Garmin is completely inaccurate on the track, so I always pace these runs based on how they feel. I upped the effort a little for the next one, finishing in 3:12. But I thought that might be too fast, so I backed off the pace for the third, finishing in 3:14. Rep 4 was 3:15.

Reps 5-7
Being over halfway done was immensely helpful from a mental standpoint. So I must have turned on the gas a lot during the 5th rep, which clocked in at 3:09. OR. . . it could have been the geese. As I approached the 200m mark, the geese were starting to cross the track. They were in lane 1 & 2 so I moved into lane three to avoid them. Same thing at 600m. So it was either the geese or the fact that I was over halfway done that I was able to up the effort.

Rep 6 was challenging and I was really ready to be done with the workout at this point. My legs were tired and I was tired (3:13). The geese were in full-fledged migration mode so it was a game of geese dodging at the 200m and 600m point. I mentally recollected myself during that final rest, and finished off the last 800m in 3:12.

After the Workout
Greg and I were happy to be done with the workout. It was a tough one for sure, but not as hard as I anticipated. When I got home, I averaged out the splits, and they came out to 3:11 and some change. My training log allowed me see my pace without the rests and it ended up being 3.5 miles at an average pace of 6:24. This pace would squeak me under 20:00 but just barely. And of course, this was a flat track, and the weather was relatively nice.

My legs ended up being a little tired on Friday and during today's long run. But they still held up well, allowing me to run 14.1 miles at a pace of 8:30. My next 5K is just one week away and I'm excited for it. Will I actually attempt to run sub-20:00? And if so, will I do it? Come back next week to find out!!!

The fittest geese in the Washington DC Metro area

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Riding the PR Train, Eating PR Cake

I started racing almost exactly 12 years ago. I had been a treadmill runner for years, but I didn't discover racing until my 5-year college reunion in 2005, which had a two-mile race. I was the first female finisher and I had a blast. One of the other runners suggested I run a 10K the following weekend in DC, so I did it and once again loved it. I ran my first half marathon in September of 2005 and my first marathon in May of 2006.

I've been training consistently ever since, with my longest breaks being my two bouts with mono in 2012 and again in 2016. Throughout all this time, I've never had as much of a "breakthrough" season as this spring. Typically runners see the most improvements when they first start out-- during the first 3-4 years of solid training. While I did see improvements over that time, I pretty much plateaued from about 2009-2013. PRs during that period were few and far between. I think it was a combination of dealing with injuries, and doing the same type of training runs over and over. I didn't have a personal coach who was focused on developing me and tailoring a plan to my needs. 

The past two years have been a "running renaissance" for me, and the PRs have been fast and furious! I know that I will reach the law of diminishing returns and the PRs will become smaller and more rare. So I am savoring my PRs now. Literally savoring them:

10K PR in February 2017

Marathon PR in March 2017

10-Mile PR in April 2017

5K PR in May 2017
Greg has been PRing like crazy too. I'm extremely grateful that we are both healthy and able to train together. With all of this PR celebrating going on, I have maintained my mindset of running being about so much more than PRs. I'm enjoying the training and putting in the hard work. When I set a PR, it's not so much the time I am happy with, but it's that I'm learning how to execute on race day, and that my training has been consistent.

Here's a more technical look at my racing history, since I started using my training log in 2008:

10K Pace over time

5K Pace over time
Now that my spring races are officially over, my plan is as follows:
  • Run 3 short summer races between now and July 4th
  • Early July: Take a little time off so I am rested for marathon training
  • Late July: Go on a running cruise (more on that in future posts)
  • August: Kickstart marathon training the first week of the month
  • September: Run a half marathon
  • October: Run a 10-miler
  • November: Run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon 
Finally, here is a recap of this week's training.

Monday: 5.8 miles easy @ 8:38 average
This was the day after the 5K. My legs didn't feel sore or tired or anything! I credit that to the flat course and the fact that my legs are used to running fast from all the speed work I have been doing. I should mention that I got soaked on this run. I was completely drenched from the pouring rain.

Tuesday: 7 Hill Repeats
Cool down after the hill repeats
I asked my coach if he intended to put hill repeats just two days after a 5K. He responded yes, this was intentional to see how much my legs could handle. Ok! 

I warmed up for 2.1 miles, and then started the workout. The plan called for 6 to 8 hill repeats at 5K effort. Each repeat was 75 seconds each. Whenever my plan calls for a range I try to be right in the middle. If I am feeling absolutely amazing I will do the high end of the range. If it's a tough day I will do the low end. Anyway, I climbed about 30 feet during each 75-second repeat. My paces were: 6:53, 6:54, 6:41, 6:42, 6:48, 6:31, 6:32. So my legs ended up handling it just fine, but they were very tired at the end. And admittedly, I ran the last two repeats harder than 5K effort without intending to. I ended with a cool down of 1.9 miles.

Wednesday: 6.9 miles easy @ 8:40 average
Greg and I ran to the track to see if they were done with the maintenance that had prevented us from using it the week prior. Unfortunately, the track was still closed, so this meant we'd have to go to a different track for our upcoming workout.

Thursday: 5.3 miles easy @ 8:25 average
My plan had a track workout scheduled for this day, but the forecast was calling for thunderstorms so I figured I should stay close to home and do the track workout the following day. It poured heavily, and I was drenched again, but there ended up being no thunderstorms.

Friday: Track workout
Greg and I drove to a different track, which we immediately discovered was the home of a gaggle Canada geese. About 30 geese were lounging around in the center of the track while we were warming up. As we started our workout, they decided that it was time to migrate to the outside of the track!

The workout was 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1000m, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m, all with 90 seconds recovery jog. What made this workout difficult was the short recovery jogs, particularly during the 800-1000-800 stretch, where I typically get twice that amount of time to recover. Thankfully, the geese were smart about making their moves and there was only one close encounter as they walked across the track to the outer field. My splits were 0:42, 1:31, 2:18, 3:10, 4:01, 3:12, 2:18, 1:29, 0:41. It was a tough workout with the sun shining right into my face when turning the corner, and I wasn't wearing sunglasses. 

By the end of the workout the geese were safely gathered on the outside of the track. We cooled down for 1.3 miles, which included the jog back to the car.

Saturday: 14 miles @ 8:30 average
It took a while for this run to start feeling decent. The first three miles were a struggle in that my legs had no pep. My energy level was decent, thanks to taking a serving of UCAN before the run. The middle portion of the run felt okay, but not as good as previous long runs this spring. I became mentally exhausted during the last two miles and really wanted to call it quits at 12 miles. But I hung in there and was happy that I completed the full run. If I hadn't re-arranged the schedule on Thursday/Friday, my legs would have had an extra day to recover from the track workout. In the afternoon, I got a massage that was painful at times, but much needed.

Sunday: 3.4 miles recovery @ 8:46 average
Greg and I ran a different route than what we typically do for 30 minutes, and it ended with a huge hill. There's a monster of a hill very close to my house but we usually run in the opposite direction because it leads to more residential areas that are easier to run in. But since it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, there were very few cars going the other way.

Total mileage for the week: 49.4.

I'm on day 58 of a running streak, which makes me tied with my longest streak ever. If I run tomorrow, I will set a new streak PR.

I'm looking forward to another month of hard speed workouts and racing! The weather is certainly heating up, so I'm definitely not expecting any more PRs. Course PRs, however, are another story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

20:17 in 2017

This morning I ran the Semper Fi 5K in Washington, DC.  Over the past six weeks, I've been focused on increasing my speed at shorter distances and this race was one in a series of several that I had signed up for.

I had run this race last year, and even though the weather was miserable, the course itself was flast: flat and fast! In terms of a time goal, I was hoping to shave about 10 seconds off of my 20:38 PR from the GW Parkway Classic three weeks ago. I thought it would be a nice milestone to be in the lower half of the 20's.  This seemed like realistic goal because when I ran the Parkway Classic, I felt a bit "off," and for whatever reason, I didn't have the usual pep in my step that I typically do. This morning, I knew I would have to work really hard, but I thought I would be able to PR.

My goal for the year was to run a 20:17 5K in 2017, and I had been targeting my fall Turkey Trot as the race to do it. These spring/summer races would give me an opportunity to work on my pacing and the mental aspect of pushing really hard. I had also developed an entirely new respect for the distance. My 10K PR pace was only 4 seconds per mile slower than my 5K PR pace. I also started reading up more on 5Ks and coming to the realization that maybe I just couldn't push my body as hard as other people could. I could run for a long time at a hard pace, but trying to run even faster was a hurdle.

Being a data junkie, I conducted some predictive analytics prior to the race. Last year, I ran the Mother's Day 4-Miler followed by the Semper Fi 5K. I did the same thing this year. My average pace for the 4-Miler last year was 6:58 and my average pace for the 5K was 6:47. A difference of 11 seconds per mile. This year, I ran the Mother's Day 4-Miler at an average pace of 6:44, and subtracting 11 seconds per mile "predicted" a pace of 6:33. I realize this method isn't foolproof because you would need to look at as a percentage and not raw seconds. But the times are close enough that I was able to avoid more complicated math.

Last year's race in the pouring rain
Of course there are all sorts of other considerations to keep in mind like the weather, the possibility of an "off" day, and the fact the races were only one week apart this year, but two weeks apart last year. Even still, I had a ballpark pace to target.

Speaking of being a data junkie, the company that I work for, MicroStrategy, had a team at this race. (The company sells enterprise analytics software.) It was awesome to see some of my co-workers before the race and get a team picture afterward.

Before the Race
Greg and I woke up, ate breakfast, and left the house at 6:50 for an 8:30 start time. We drove into the city, parked easily and jogged to the start line. I generally prefer to pick up my bibs in advance, but that hadn't been feasible for this race because packet pickup was in DC, which would have eaten up a good portion of our day. The line to get our bibs was quite long, but I figured it would probably move quickly. As I stood in line, I drank my UCAN while anxiously watching the time get later and later. The line wasn't moving.

They were assigning bib numbers through a computer system and I heard that they had lost their internet connection, which is why the line wasn't moving. There were actually four lines in total, and everyone had already registered; they were simply picking up their bib and shirt. Thankfully, they opened up more lines with more computers, the system seemed to be working again, and Greg and I were able to get our bib just in time to pin the bib on and warm up. I hate cutting things that close on race morning, and a huge sense of relief came over me once I had my bib in hand.

Greg and I warmed up for two miles and returned to the start line at 8:20. But nobody was lined up. We found our friends Allison and Cheryl, who told us that they had announced a delayed start. I was definitely annoyed by this, as were the other runners who had timed their nutrition and warm-ups for an 8:30 start, but there wasn't anything we could do. My plan was to get back on the course and run some strides, but before I knew it, the Marines had lined up and were doing something special with the flags. And it didn't feel right to run by them. Then the national anthem came, and it didn't feel right to be doing strides during that. So I settled on jogging in place at the start line and hoping that would keep my legs loose.

There was a man standing about 10 feet away from the start line on the other side who said in a conversational voice, "are you guys ready?" And a few seconds later he blew the horn. I had been ready, but expected there to be a countdown or something. Regardless, we were off!

Mile 1: 6:32
Because this course is flat, it's easy to get pulled out really quickly and typically I do. I tried my best to start at what felt like 5K pace would be. About halfway through the mile, I looked at my Garmin, which told me that I had averaged a pace of 6:40 from the start until now. This worried me a little. The effort felt hard, and I was trying to run that first mile at a pace of 6:32. I briefly considered that this might just be an off day, but then I quickly told myself to just push harder and try to run that 6:32 mile. And voila! I did! Often times in a race when I wish I was running faster, I try and I try and I just can't do it. But this morning, pushing a little harder in the second half of that first mile worked. During this mile, I also saw my friend, Cristina, cheering for me (and others) on the side of the course.

Mile 2: 6:35
Even though this mile is flat, I had slowed down substantially during it last year. So I told myself not to worry if I slowed down a little, as long as I maintained the effort level. At the turnaround, I could see that only two women were ahead of me. Unfortunately, though, I remembered the website said that only the "top 2" finishers would be recognized in the awards ceremony. I cruised through this mile and it wasn't nearly as painful as I remember it being last year. I should mention that last year, it was 50 degrees with very, very, VERY heavy rain. Torrential downpour. Those conditions were challenging, but today I was dealing with an abnormally wind-free, rain-free, sun-free day. It was a tad bit warm for me to call it the "race weather jackpot" of last weekend, but it was pretty darn close.

Mile 3: 6:25
Once I knew I had only a mile left to go, I started putting on the gas. As the mile progressed, I ran faster and faster and faster. It was as if the closer I got to the finish, the more motivated I became. It
was extremely painful however. It felt as though someone were scooping out my guts, scoopful by scoopful. I had to constantly fill my brain with words of encouragement. During the last mile of a 5K, your brain is receiving LOTS of signals from your body to decrease the effort. The muscles, the heart, the lungs-- they are all telling the brain to stop running so hard. So that's why the mental strategy becomes so important. You have to fill your brain with messages that combat what the body is saying. I felt insanely strong during the last mile but it hurt so, so, so much.

The Last 0.13: 5:45 pace
I love the finish line of this race and others that are held in this park in DC. You can see the finish line from about a 1/3 of a mile out, and it's pancake flat. I saw Greg finish with the clock reading 19:xx. Yes! He ran his first sub-20:00! And as I approached I saw that I had the opportunity to run under 20:20. I gave it everything I had and crossed the line in 20:17.

I was absolutely exhausted as I walked toward Greg and then we watched for our friends to come in. I cheered loudly for them when they did, and they both looked strong and focused.

After the Race
Greg and I cooled down with one of my co-workers who I actually had just met at the race (it's a large company). And then we waited for the awards ceremony. I turns out that I was the third female finisher, but they only recognized the top two finishers overall. So instead I placed first in my age group, winning a certificate with photos of the 2015 race on it! And a towel with the race logo. It was actually nice to have a towel to wipe my face with!

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
The biggest takeaway from this race is that truly, some days you "have it" and some days you don't. When I ran the GW Parkway Classic 5K three weeks ago, I didn't have it. Even though I set a PR, I knew that I was in shape for a faster time. The fact that I was able to shave 21 seconds off of that time in just three weeks is telling. I should note that the GW Parkway course had two hills and a modest
headwind, but nothing that would account for a 21-second difference. My sports psychologist told me many times that "performance is dynamic." I had seen this concept in action before, but never exactly like this. This lesson makes it easier to accept when you don't run a race as fast as you expected to. It may not be an indicator of fitness or how hard you pushed, it could just be an off day.

After reflecting on the first mile, I think it felt hard right out of the gate because my warm up had been over 20 minutes earlier. A 6:40 pace felt like a 6:20, and that was probably because my body had to adapt to moving again, unlike an ideally-timed warm up which ends 5-10 minutes before race start. Hopefully I won't encounter another late start anytime soon, but if I do, I should try to do an additional warm up so it won't feel as hard at the beginning.

I was confident in my ability to PR this morning, but I didn't think it would be by more than 10 seconds. Even though my special analytic formula predicted a 20:21, it would have been quite a leap from my 20:38. I honestly thought that the 20:17 would be a fall goal. And now, of course, I am eyeing a sub-20:00 for the Turkey Trot. That said, I will have just come off of a marathon training cycle, which doesn't necessarily correlate to a faster 5K.

Quick stats:
  • I placed 3rd out of 402 women
  • I beat my time from last year by 48 seconds
  • My Strava 5K time was 20:06 
  • This is my third 5K PR of 2017
  • This is my seventh PR of 2017 (the three others were the 4-miler, 10K, 10-miler, and marathon)
I'll be running a 5K three weeks from now, and I am not sure what my goal will be for that race. It's almost certain to be a scorcher, and the course is slightly more challenging. I'm really just enjoying doing new types of workouts and seeing how I handle them.

But YAY! I ran a 20:17 5K in 2017. That's pretty damn cool.

Team MicroStrategy

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Boston Bound's Birthday and the Story Behind the Story

Exactly one year ago, I published my first book, Boston Bound. I never expected it would sell so many copies; I simply thought it might be helpful for someone to read so I put it out there.

How It Started
I had wanted to write a book since the age of 10. I was actually quite serious about being the youngest novelist ever. I asked my parents to buy me the Writer's Market book so that I could send my
manuscript around to publishers. As I child, I was a prolific writer. I kept a diary, but I also wrote many short stories, which were actually more like sagas.

In college, I majored in English with the goal of becoming a professional writer of some sort. I initially explored journalism through an internship after my second year of college, but I quickly realized that it was too boring for my taste. I often didn't care about the stories and I wanted to be more creative. The following summer, I interned at a public relations firm, which I found far more strategic and interesting. When I graduated college in the year 2000, my first full-time job was a Marketing Communications Associate for a technology company, MicroStrategy. In this role, I wrote web site copy, brochure content, press releases, and other marketing materials.

The notion of writing a book was always in the back of my head, but I never felt "ready." I continued to keep a detailed diary of my life, which turned into a less private MySpace blog, which transformed into a very public running blog. When I started to go through the process of changing my mindset toward running by working with a sports psychologist, I kept track of everything on this blog, Racing Stripes. I began to think about my races differently, and my race reports became less about attaining a time goal and more about the process of running the race. I blogged about everything I was learning, and writing it all out helped solidify the ideas in my head.

I had a breakthrough moment in 2013, and from there, everything started to change for me. With the help of a sports psychologist I transformed myself from a highly obsessive perfectionist who was always worried about how other people me, to someone who was more relaxed and truly confident. I became a happier person in all aspects of my life-- all because I learned to change my mindset toward running.

Greg noticed a huge change in me, and he was the one who encouraged me to write a book shortly after I qualified for Boston in the spring of 2015. For a while it was something that I was going to do at some point, but then we had a serious conversation about it during our European cruise the following August. We talked about how I could actually make the book a reality, and I thought about how I might structure the story. On that cruise, I decided I would start working on the book when we returned home. Boston was less than nine months away, and I figured I could write the book as the marathon drew nearer, like a reflective crescendo to the big day. So at the end of August, I sat down at my computer and began writing.

The Writing Process
I didn't tell anyone I was writing this book except for Greg and my mother. It wasn't that I was trying to be secretive, I just wasn't sure if I would actually publish it or if it would go anywhere. Also, I wanted it to be my own private, personal project. Writing the book was extremely therapeutic; it was my "me" time to solidify the seven-year transformation in my own head. The act of writing it was a deeply personal experience and I wasn't ready to talk about it.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the writing process was determining how to structure the story. I ultimately settled on six parts, with three chapters each. I wanted the book to be approachable-- something that could be read in quick, digestible pieces, just like a blog. But I also wanted to take the time to lay out the entire story so that the reader would feel like he or she was "with" me. From being so active in the running community, I knew that I wasn't the only one struggling with race anxiety and the feeling of having to "prove" myself in running. I wanted to reach people who were holding themselves back without even realizing it, just like I had been doing.

While writing the book was a personal experience, I kept my audience in mind with every word that I wrote. And to me, that's the fun of writing. The ability to tell a story or communicate an idea in a way that truly touches people is a beautiful thing. I wanted to connect with my readers on a personal level.

Once I had finished writing the book, I gave the first three chapters to five trusted friends and asked for honest feedback. They all came back to me with similar comments regarding the chronology of events. Some were confused by the timeline and others had ideas on how the first chapter could be more impactful. I spent a good amount of time determining the best way to incorporate their feedback, and I ended up restructuring the first chapter completely. This was a hugely important part of the process because the first chapter is what draws the reader in.

Once I was comfortable with the manuscript, I drafted up a pitch and shopped it around to a small number of select publishers. They all turned me down. One of them told me that there are so many running books out there, that publishers will only accept books written by professional athletes. As a marketer, I knew that this actually created a huge opportunity for me. If the only running books being published today are by elite athletes and coaches, then my book would stand out as being different and probably more relatable. Winning the olympics is a goal that few people have. Running the Boston Marathon (or simply getting faster) is a goal that hundreds of thousands of people have.

"Go" Time
So I set out on the self-publishing path which really wasn't all that difficult. I learned how to format the pages in good ol' Microsoft Word and I had a cover professionally designed. I researched stats on self-published books and I found that on average, a self-published book only sells 150 throughout its life. To me, the largest benefit of having a professional publisher is that they market the book for you. But I had been in marketing for over 16 years, so I didn't really need help there. I figured I could do all the marketing and PR myself.

As I ran the Boston Marathon in April 2016, I thought about the book. It was fully written at that point, except for the last chapter, which would be a recap of the race itself. What would the final punctuation mark of the book look like? I actually wasn't even sure if I wanted to include my Boston experience. One of the major lessons of my book is that the journey is more important than the destination, so Boston as a destination really doesn't matter. But then I realized that it did matter, particularly since my experience of Boston was made 1,000 times more special because of all the struggles I had to overcome to get there.

When everything was ready I asked myself if I truly wanted to put the book out there. After all, it contained many personal details about my life that could be ready by anyone. And maybe the book sucked. I didn't know! I couldn't be an objective judge. Greg and my mother told me they thought it was good, but those were obviously biased opinions.

Once it was out there, I wouldn't be able to "undo" it so I needed to be sure. Ultimately, I realized I had nothing to lose, so why not publish it and see what would happen? I sent everything to Amazon and within just a few days, the book was available in paperback and on Kindle. The official launch date was May 16th, 2016-- exactly one year ago!

I announced the book's launch on my blog and posted about it on my personal Facebook page. Almost everyone was surprised, as I had only told about 10 people about it prior to publishing. I also created a Facebook page for the book and built a website for the book. Perhaps the biggest promotion channel was Instagram, where I had been trying to grow my following in anticipation of publishing the book. I think I had around 900 followers at the time, most of whom were runners.

The first person to purchase the book and read it (to my knowledge) was my friend Rochelle. She downloaded the Kindle version and sped through it within 24 hours. Her feedback was glowing and she found the book to be relatable and honest.

Life As an Author
The sales started to trickle in. I had a dashboard that reported how many books were sold, but I had no idea who was buying them or how they had heard of the book. A few weeks after publishing, a stranger reached out to me on Facebook telling me how the book changed her life, and that she had highlighted certain portions of the book and was planning to read it again. I was deeply touched. Knowing that I had made a difference in someone's life was extremely rewarding.

The book started to gain momentum and within one month the book had sold over 150 copies, which is more than most self-published books sell in their lifetime. Before I knew it, I was scheduling book signings and being interviewed for podcasts and magazine articles. Of course, I was doing all of this on top of having a full time job and training at high intensity in the heat. That's when the mono struck and my body shut down for three months.

Even through my illness, I continued to promote the book on Instagram and Facebook. People started reaching out to me on social media telling me that the book really helped them, not just in terms of running, but in terms of other things they were going through.

To date, Boston Bound has sold well over 2,000 copies. The book is still being purchased on a daily basis and has taken on a life of its own. As I said earlier, I would have been happy just to reach the 150 mark, with half of those being my friends. I never expected the book to be so popular. I definitely plan on writing another book, but I am not sure when or what exactly the topic would be.

In the meantime, I will continue to promote Boston Bound and capture my ongoing running journey here on this blog. Special thanks to Greg for encouraging me to make the book a reality, to my mother for editing the book three times, and to everyone who has allowed me to touch their lives through my words.