Sunday, March 26, 2017

Feeling Fresh

It's now been three weeks since the Myrtle Beach Marathon, and my legs are finally feeling fresh after some rest and reduced mileage weeks.

Saturday, March 25th
This recovery period has come at just the right time because work has gotten extremely crazy lately. I've been meeting with our CEO multiple times a week, and preparing for those meetings has resulted in long hours and additional stress. I'm not complaining-- I truly enjoy my job and the challenge that it brings. But suffice it to say, I'm grateful that I haven't also been trying to run 70+ mile weeks for the past three weeks.

My next race is the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, which is one week from today. My focus has been recovering 100% from the marathon and doing just enough speed to keep the legs moving. I will essentially rely on my marathon fitness as my training for this race. I qualified for a special "seeded" bib, and I'm excited to be lining up at the front of the race. Here's a recap of the past few weeks.

Week of March 6th
Mainly rest, with three runs that equated to 7 miles total. It was nice to have some time off running, and I indulged in good food and sweets! I see the week after a marathon as a week to chill out physically and mentally, and I certainly did that as much as possible. It was also a great opportunity to get more focused on my friends' running as I wasn't at all focused on my own.

Week of March 13th
This week was all easy running, and I even gave myself an extra rest day which wasn't in the schedule. The snow and high wind advisory made it an unappealing week to be outside, and combined with the long hours I was putting in at work, it was a mentally exhausting week.

Tuesday, March 14th
Monday's run (30 minutes) felt fine, but Tuesday's run (40 minutes) wasn't all that great. My hip was tightening up and I definitely could feel that something wasn't right. On top of that, we had 20+ mph sustained winds, so the run wasn't at all enjoyable. Because of my hip, and the fact that the wind got even worse on Wednesday-- strong enough to tear some of the siding off of our house-- I took an unscheduled rest day, and pushed everything back by one day. On Thursday, I was back at it with 50 minutes, which yielded 5.8 miles. By the time my "long" run of 90 minutes rolled around on Sunday, everything felt 100%. My total mileage for the week came in at 34.9

Week of March 21st
This week felt like an actual training week again. I'm hoping that the really cold/windy weather is behind us and I'm grateful that it's getting light in the mornings again. When there's ice on the ground like there was last week, I won't start my run until it's light enough to see the icy patches. Which makes it challenging to get into work on time. Last week I had to sacrifice drying my hair. I guess something's gotta give sometimes!

Monday: 5.8 miles easy at 8:41 average

Tuesday: 6.4 miles, including 15 x 30-second strides. This was my "foray" into faster running post marathon. My first few strides were kind of a shock to the system, but by the end of the workout I was down to a pace of about 6:25. This is actually a bit slow for me, since I usually run 30-second intervals at a sub 6:00 pace. But I wasn't worried. The point was just to get my legs moving quickly, not to set any records.

Wednesday: 5.2 miles easy at 8:42 average

Thursday, March 23rd
Thursday: 7.7 miles, including 4 at tempo effort. This was my first actual workout post marathon and I had no idea what to expect. Greg came with me and said he would simply try and keep up with whatever pace I set. I figured I probably lost some fitness and my legs might still be tired from the marathon, so a good target would be 7:00 or slightly under. During this past training cycle, I ran my first ever tempo run at a sub-7:00 pace, so I figured being right at 7:00 would be good. But as always, I run these things by feel and my Garmin paces were quite shocking: 6:52, 6:51, 6:52, 6:40. This is an average of 6:49! I had plenty of gas in the tank at the end, and I could have kept going at that pace.

This gives me a huge amount of confidence for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Provided it's not too warm or windy, I think I can run a pace of 6:50-6:55 by my Garmin. Anyway, it feels great have a "new" tempo pace and to know that I've gotten to another level with my running. For about 4 years (2010-2014) my tempo pace was 7:25. And it's steadily gone down since I started working with Coach Andrew.

Friday: 5.2 miles easy at 8:29 average

Saturday: 10.7 miles at 8:26 average. Greg ran with me and kept telling me that I was pushing the pace. I honestly was not pushing the pace at all and I felt really strong. It was only 19 degrees on Thursday morning for my tempo, but it was 55 and sunny for Saturday's run. Spring in the Washington DC Metro area is so unpredictable!

Sunday: 3.4 miles easy at 8:43 average.

Total mileage for the week: 44.4

Future Plans
I'm registered for the New Jersey half marathon on April 30th, but I'm leaning toward not actually doing it. Mainly because it involves a 4-hour drive, a hotel stay, and it would take up the entire weekend. I typically love weekends like these, but I feel like I have been SO busy lately and I might just prefer to stay home. I think that setting a large marathon PR and then running a 10-miler four weeks later makes for a solid spring season-- not to mention the 5K I am doing in mid-April. It might be nice to focus on shorter stuff after Cherry Blossom.

But I am not making any final decisions until after Cherry Blossom. It will just depend on how I feel physically and mentally. Usually I'm such a rigid planner and I like to have all my races scheduled out months in advance (which is why I am registered for New Jersey).  But I'm starting to see more value in simply "rolling with the flow."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Recovery Reflections

Now that I've had some time to truly process the race, I have a few additional thoughts I'd like to share.

First of all, this week has been a shock to my system. I took Sunday-Wednesday off completely and I don't think my body knew what to do with all the energy it would have spent on running. Without fail, I woke up between 2:00-3:00am each of these mornings, and was awake for at least an hour. In fact, on Monday morning, I woke up at 2:30 and never went back to sleep.

Physically, I haven't been feeling the affects of this lack of sleep, but I've been moody and cranky.
The combination of little sleep and zero running is not something I'm used to, and I've found that my tolerance for "annoying" things this week was close to zero.

I ran for 20 minutes on Thursday morning, which seemed to nudge my body back to normalcy in terms of its regular rhythm. Of course, all of this will go to hell now that we've lost an hour of sleep to daylight savings time.

PR Cake for Greg and Me
In spite of all of this, plus the busiest week at work I've had since I started this job last September, I was able to reflect more on my performance at the Myrtle Beach Marathon last Saturday. Greg and I made ourselves a PR cake to celebrate our achievements when we returned home, and I began to think more about how a 3:21:54 "tasted." I've been wanting to experience this for so long, and I finally had a taste of running a super fast marathon. What did it mean to me? Let me back up a bit.

Before the Race
When Greg and I sat down for dinner on the Thursday evening before the race, I noticed how at ease I felt. This was such a huge contrast to how I used to feel in the days leading up to a marathon. I used to feel like there was a monkey on my back, or something hanging over my head. I wasn't at peace mentally. It's moments like these, when I truly feel like a more relaxed, peaceful person, that inspired me to write my book. Overcoming race anxiety was a life change for me, and I didn't realize just how negatively it was affecting my sense of well-being until I was able to move past it.

I mentioned in my race report that I slept well the night before the race, and that was mainly due to the fact that I had a peaceful, relaxed state of mind. Sure, I was excited, but excitement is a feeling, whereas my previous anxiety was a state of being. It was all-encompassing.

One of the most important mental skills I've learned in racing is to stay emotion-neutral. It's helpful to stay focused on the task at hand and not be impacted by things outside of my control. Anything can happen during a race, especially if it's as long as marathon, so I've found it helpful to be "immune" to my surroundings and completely focused on my race execution. This includes my pacing strategy, focusing on the mile I am in, my nutrition/hydration schedule, and being aware of the course. Some people take the approach of feeding on external things like crowd support, scenery, etc. Greg is like this. He likes to be distracted. I, on the other hand, find it mentally taxing to think about anything other than running.

When I reached the halfway point, a thought briefly crossed my mind: I'm doing it. For several years, my anxiety would cause me to slow down as early as mile 8, and by the halfway point I would drop out or simply give up because I knew I wouldn't reach my goal. Once I started working on my issues, I would approach miles 8-13 hoping that this stretch wouldn't be the end of my race. The thought came and went very quickly. As I said above, I was emotion-neutral throughout the entire race. But I did take a mental note that I was at the halfway point, running a 7:40 pace, still feeling like I had plenty of energy in the tank.

Mile 22
I didn't write much about miles 22-26 in my race report. I slowed down by about 10-15 seconds per mile, which I think is to be expected during a marathon. In retrospect, I wonder if I could have pushed a little harder and endured a little more pain. But I actually had a thought during mile 24: "If, after the race, I question if I could have pushed harder, the answer is no. I am pushing as hard as I can right now and everything hurts so much." It's always easy to go back and wonder what you could have done at a certain point in the race, but remembering that thought re-assures me that I did leave it all out there and perform to my full potential.

At that point, I knew I was going to set a huge PR and BQ, but I refused to let myself think about that. Even though those are very motivating thoughts, I felt like I needed every ounce of mental energy to convince myself to keep pushing hard. I couldn't afford to think about anything else other than maintaining the effort because if I stopped thinking about it, I would surely succumb to my body's desire to slow down.

As I approached the finish line, I didn't feel any more or less excited than I would at a 5K. Like any other race, I was focused on my final kick and getting every last bit of speed out of my legs. Afterwards, I was excited about my performance and my time, but not as excited as I have been about previous races. I think I "neutralized" myself so much that the positive emotions just weren't as strong as I would have expected them to be. Maybe it just took awhile to process. Maybe it still feels surreal.

Just yesterday, I saw someone on Strava run a 3:25 marathon and I thought to myself "wow- that's so fast." And then I realized, "wait a minute-- I just ran a 3:21." So maybe the process of realizing I'm at a whole new level as a marathoner is just taking its time to settle in. Maybe part of it is that I don't define myself by my running like I used to. I can run a fast time and have it be just that- a fast time. It's not life-changing. It's not like I'm a new person.

I was far more emotional when I crossed the finish line of the Shamrock Half Marathon last year, and I think it's because I realized how much I had to overcome to run the race that I did. In 2010, I DNF'ed the full marathon. In 2011, I couldn't run the race because I was injured. In 2012, I DNF'ed the marathon for the second time. In 2014, I was the only person on my running team who didn't set a half marathon PR, because I let the wind slow me down substantially. Everyone was getting faster. Everyone else conquered the wind. I was slower and I couldn't handle the wind. So I was literally holding back tears when I crossed the half marathon finish line in 1:33:36, in even windier conditions, setting a PR by over two minutes. That was the ultimate redemption.

Even though I'm pleased with my performance, my age group win, and my large BQ, this week
Post-race with my medal
seemed like a normal week. I didn't do a ton of "basking" and at times I had to remind myself to relish in my accomplishment. It could be because work was extremely demanding and I had to prioritize my mental space on that.

The Sky's The Limit
My next marathon will the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. I was registered for it last fall, but due to having mono all summer, I was unable to run it. My coach thinks, and I agree, that I can still run faster in the marathon. I'm not sure what I will be targeting there. Definitely sub 3:20, but how much "sub" is to be determined.

Greg informed me this morning that he'd like for Indianapolis to be his first BQ attempt! I'm so excited because I really enjoy coaching him and watching him improve. I definitely think he's capable of qualifying and I hope they don't change the standards for 2019.

The Cherry Blossom 10-miler is my most immediate goal. The last time I ran this race was in 2014, with a PR of 1:15:26, which is only 10 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace. I'm really excited to see what I can do coming off of this training cycle, particularly since the 10-mile distance is probably the most "enjoyable" in my mind. You get to run it hard, but not for as long as a half marathon, and not quite as painful as a 10K. A happy medium.

As for my recovery, I ran on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week, each for 20 minutes. My total weekly mileage is 7! My legs feel mainly recovered, with just some minor lingering soreness in my right lower hamstring. Next week I will be running a bit more, but everything will be easy. I won't get back into speed work until the week after next. Do I miss marathon training? No. I'm happy to have a break from it. I think I'll be ready to be back in full force come August, though. In the meantime, shorter races will be the focus.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Faster than I could have dreamed of

About four years ago, when I was working with my sports psychologist, he asked me what I thought my fastest possible marathon time ever would be. I told him that I believed I was capable of a 3:30, which seemed fast at the time, and the notion of running even faster than that didn't seem realistic. For years, I had plateaued at around 3:50 and even though I believed I was physically capable of
Myrtle Beach Marathon 2017
faster, I knew I had some mental roadblocks to overcome.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015 when I finally qualified for Boston and ran a time that truly reflected my physical abilities, now that the mental barriers were gone. I was elated with a 3:35, and thought I was very close to, if not at, my lifetime peak.

But once I learned how to relax and not put pressure on myself, I opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The following summer, my coach had me work on speed and I trained for a half marathon instead of a full. Over the course of six months, I dropped my half marathon PR from 1:41 to 1:37 to 1:35 to 1:33. And the following spring, while training for Boston 2016, he upped my mileage 60-65 miles per week, running seven days a week, which built my endurance.

Boston ended up being a different kind of victory. With its 70 degree sunny weather, I was happy to finish the race in one piece and I realized that running a "fast" time wasn't realistic in those conditions. However, it did leave me wondering what I could have done. So I registered for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, which would take place in the fall.

But God had different plans for me. I ended up spending 12 weeks with mono, unable to run or do much of anything. It was a difficult time for me, despite all my best efforts to stay positive, but I resolved that once I recovered, I would get back out there and start training for a marathon ASAP. My coach was conservative about my comeback and I spent about five weeks doing nothing but easy running. It bored the crap out of me, but I trusted my coach. By November, I was finally back to racing and doing harder work outs.

My coach finally agreed to me running the Myrtle Beach marathon. I chose it because it was known for being a fast course with good weather. And it was early in the spring, which would allow me four weeks to recover and then run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. So I trained through December, January and February, averaging about 65 miles a week, with 3 weeks above 71 miles. I ran seven days a week and from the start of the year until the race, I only had two rest days. I never thought I would be capable of training at this level without getting injured. And I never thought I would be starting a marathon at a 7:45 pace. But here I am!

Training Cycle

The taper went pretty well except for Wednesday, when I felt like I was getting sick again. I was having trouble focusing at work, I felt like my head was in a haze, and my throat was a little sore. It took me over an hour to drive home from work, and I found myself getting abnormally angry at the situation since I was so tired and just wanted to get home. I told myself not to freak out, but part of me was convinced that I was getting sick again and I wouldn't be able to race. Turns out this was just taper madness, or a possible result of the decreased mileage. My body is so used to running lots of miles each morning, and I had only run for 40 minutes on Tuesday, and 30 on Wednesday. Thursday was a rest day and that's when Greg and I drove down to Myrtle Beach.

We had all day Friday to go to the expo and check out the course. We drove most of the course and discovered that there was a mini-golf course at mile 20 which had zebras! I would get to run by zebras!

Before the Race
Race morning went like clockwork for Greg and me. Greg was running the half, with a goal of a sub-7:00 pace. The race had a 6:30am start time (another reason I chose it -- get it done before it gets too hot!) so we were up at 4:00am eating our bagels and bananas with peanut butter. I had decided to take a different approach to hydration with this race. I hypothesized that I had a tendency to over hydrate
Everything is ready to go!
during races and it would cause issues. I did my training runs this cycle on less water, but made sure to keep myself much more hydrated on a day-to-day basis. This really worked for me, and it was kind of liberating to not feel like I had to be drinking so much water the day before the race and during the race.

Thankfully, I had slept relatively well the night before the race and the previous night. I actually fell asleep with my head on Greg's chest at 7:30 on Friday night. I was up for about an hour in the middle of the night, but then went back to sleep for another restful 2 hours.

The weather was forecast to be nearly ideal: sunny and 36 at the start, warming to 46 by the finish. We'd have a headwind from miles 8-18, but the forecasts all disagreed about how fast it would be. The most I saw was 15 mph, which I thought would be annoying, but manageable.

Yet another reason why I chose this race: easy logistics. Our hotel was literally two blocks from the start line. This allowed us to stay in our hotel room until 20 minutes prior to the start, with the ability to use the bathroom. We took our UCAN at 6:00 and by 6:15 we were approaching the start line. The race has about 5000 combined participants. The 1:45 half marathon pacer was standing at the very front of the race, and there was no corralling system, so there were many slower runners who started farther forward than they should have.

It took us a little longer than expected to get to the start line, but I stayed calm as we literally approached the corral during the National Anthem. I felt relaxed, confident, and ready. It also felt a little bit surreal. I had been thinking about this race every day since November, and it was finally here!

Miles 1-5
I settled into a comfortable pace pretty quickly, and it was only crowded for the first three miles. It amazed me how many conversations were going on around me. I can understand a little dialog, but when running at marathon pace or half marathon pace, the last thing I want to do is talk. These miles went by pretty quickly. My plan was to start at a pace of around 7:40-7:45 and just take it from there. The paces felt really easy, so even though I'd never started a marathon any faster than 8:20, I was confident. Greg zoomed off ahead after the first half mile, and I noticed he was having trouble weaving through the crowd.

Mile 1: 7:47
Mile 2: 7:42
Mile 3: 7:41
Mile 4: 7:42
Mile 5: 7:37

Miles 6-10
Everything was still feeling really good, and during mile 7, I ran past two people who recognized me
from my blog and my Instagram. One of them is someone who I follow on Strava, but I didn't know who the other person was, so please comment and identify yourself! I chatted for about a minute with the person from Strava, Bronwen, and she told me she was going for a 3:30. It would have been nice to have run with her longer, but she mentioned wanting to dial it back and I was actually in the mood to get a little faster.

At mile 8, we turned into a headwind. I knew to expect this, as I had studied the course map and wind direction beforehand. I knew that miles 8-18 would all be directly into a headwind, and I just had to hope it wasn't too bad.  I would estimate (and Greg agrees) that it was a sustained wind of 10-12 mph. Nothing horrendous, but definitely challenging. Unfortunately, the crowd had thinned out too much to be able to draft off of anyone. And I kept passing people, which was good for my race, but not good for trying to draft.

Mile 6: 7:40
Mile 7: 7:40
Mile 8: 7:35
Mile 9: 7:41
Mile 10: 7:37

Miles 11-15
I hoped I wasn't screwing myself royally by running in the 7:30's so early in the race, but I was keeping the effort steady. Plus, I knew that the last 8 miles would have a tailwind, so hopefully it would get easier.  (Okay, the last 8 miles of a marathon are never "easier"!)
Mile 12, just took my UCAN

The half marathon runners turned off and the course really emptied out. There were now even fewer people to draft off of, and I suspected I'd be running alone for most of the rest of the race.

I took my UCAN gel at mile 11 and it went down pretty well. I had been carrying a bottle of water the entire time and I was drinking from it about once per mile, but only in very small amounts that would be easy on my digestive system. Most of this section of the course was shaded, which was good because even at 40 degrees, direct sunlight can feel too warm. With the wind, though, my hands were starting to get really cold. I was having trouble holding onto my water bottle with my nearly numb hands, so I tossed it at mile 14.

I hit the "half marathon" mark at 1:39:17, which is a pace of 7:34. I put "half marathon" in quotes because this was actually mile marker 13, not halfway. According to my Garmin, I hit the halfway mark at an average pace of 7:40.

When I got to mile 15, I still felt good, but running was noticeably harder than it had been at mile 5!

Mile 11: 7:41
Mile 12: 7:36
Mile 13: 7:36
Mile 14: 7:38
Mile 15: 7:35

Miles 16-20
Okay, enough with the headwind! Miles 16-17 were tough. The wind was picking up, there weren't many runners around and these miles were actually slightly uphill. On the plus side, we had a really
nice view of the ocean, and I used that to distract me from the discomfort I was beginning to feel.

Finally, at mile 18, we turned around. It felt great both physically and mentally because now I just had to run straight to the finish, with a tailwind most of the way. It also energized me to be able to see runners on the other side of the course.

Now that I was no longer carrying my own water, I had to remember to take water from the stations. I could probably only take in 3 ounces at each station, but that was enough to get me through. At mile 20, I came upon the zebras! It was such a nice pick-me-up. I also took six honey stinger chews, which I thankfully was able to take without water. Those went down well and I knew I'd be be good from a fueling standpoint for the remainder of the race. Nothing left to do but focus on running.

Mile 16: 7:40
Mile 17: 7:40
Mile 18: 7:39
Mile 19: 7:30
Mile 20: 7:32

Miles 21-Finish
Even though the race was starting to feel hard, I didn't feel like I was going to crash, and I knew I had enough time "banked" to run a really great time even if I slowed down. But I didn't want to use that as an excuse to slow down, I just used that as a way to stay positive about the race.

At mile 23 there was a small out-and-back, and as I was coming out of it, I saw Laura, who I had met on Instagram. We had followed each other's training every day and I was so excited to see her just a few minutes behind me. This meant that she was at least 5 minutes ahead of her goal! It totally energized me to see a friendly face, and it made me smile. Being in a good mood that late in the game is so important. It's easy to get stuck in your own head, thinking about how hard it is.

At mile 23, I realized that I was slowing down a little bit, but I told myself just to maintain the effort as much as possible. As with all marathons, 3 more miles to go seemed like an eternity. Everything in
Approaching mile 26
me wanted to stop, but of course I knew that would be a horrible idea.

Finally, I approached the intersection where Greg said he'd be, and I saw him jumping up and down and cheering for me. He snapped some photos and then ran with me for about 30 seconds. It was nice to have him there so close to the end. He pulled off as I approached the final turn and I was able to find a faster gear and pick up the pace a little. We had suddenly merged with the half marathon runners so I had to weave around a few of them, which was an unwelcome challenge at that point. As I approached the finish line, I glanced at my watch and saw that I could run 3:21 if I gunned it. I gave it everything I had, and finished with a time of 3:21:54.

Mile 20: 7:32
Mile 21: 7:42
Mile 22: 7:45
Mile 23: 7:51
Mile 24: 7:52
Mile 25: 8:05
Mile 26: 7:55
Last 0.2: 7:29 pace

After crossing the finish line, I felt a little like death. I very slowly walked through the finish line chute and my Instagram friend, Laura, was close behind. I used her boyfriend's phone to call Greg and it wasn't long before we were re-united.

Once he got me settled on a grassy knoll with my space blanket, he headed over to the results tent and came back to told me that I had won my age group! I was elated! I thought I might win an age group award, but I never expected to come in first.

Finisher Certificate
After the awards ceremony, Greg ended up carrying me back to the hotel. I was able to walk, but because my hip was killing me so much, we were going at a snail's pace. Everyone we passed told Greg what a great guy he was! If it hadn't been for that, we might still be walking back.

Greg crushed his goal of a sub-7:00 pace and ran a 1:29:49. He's gotten so fast lately!

I'm still processing this race, so I don't think I've gotten as excited yet as I will be! On the one hand, I'm shocked that I set a PR by over 13 minutes. But on the other hand, this was the time I was going for and I was confident I could do it, so I shouldn't be all that surprised! I qualified for Boston with an 18:06 cushion. And to think that I spent 7 years of my life agonizing over getting a 3:40. Just letting go of the obsession and enjoying racing is so much easier!

I'm pleased that:
  • I had a generally healthy training cycle with only a minor cold and an infected blister to cope with
  • I found a new hydration strategy that works for me (more water is not always better)
  • I got lucky with the weather
  • I was able to execute on my race strategy, including my nutrition plan
  • I left it all out there on the course. At the end of the race I had absolutely nothing left in the tank!
  • I placed first in my age group, out of 105 runners.
  • I'm elated with my huge PR and BQ!
Myrtle Beach Marathon Medal

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who wants to run a fast marathon. It's logistically very easy with hotels within close proximity to the start/finish, the beach area itself is really nice, and the race is well organized.

Overall, this is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and I'm so happy I was able to share it with Greg.  Up next is the Cherry Blossom 10-miler!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Taper Tips: Taking my own advice

It's taper time and my body couldn't be happier! After my most intense marathon training cycle ever, I'm definitely ready for a little down time before I race 26.2 miles in Myrtle Beach. Now it's time to focus on mental preparation: my pacing strategy, my plan to get through the difficult parts, and my

I'm taking some pages out of my own book and using this time to focus on "the process" of the race instead of the outcome. Although I'm highly motivated to run a fast time, I know that the only way I'll get there is by breaking the race down into manageable chunks, and focusing on one mile at a time. Here are some key points that I need to remember during the race:

  • Energy and "feeling good" comes in waves. Just because you don't feel good at a certain point, or if it gets really hard, doesn't mean the rest of your race is doomed. Just power through it and trust that it's truly a rough patch that will pass. Marathons are full of ups and downs, and it's important to stay positive during the downs.
  • It's going to be hard. It's going to hurt. I need to be prepared for this, and when it happens, I should remind myself that this is what I've trained for. I'm physically prepared to run hard for a really long time, I just need to mentally be able to endure a lot of discomfort.
  • The course profile and wind direction is similar to my PR/BQ from two years ago. 5-6 miles in one direction (tailwind), turn around and run in the other direction until mile 19 (headwind), turn around and run straight to the finish (tailwind). Once I make that final turn, the run to the finish will be difficult, but there should be a nice tail wind propelling me forward -- just like there was two years ago. 
  • Don't drink too much water. I'm going to start the race well hydrated so there is no need to drink more frequently or with more volume than I do during my training runs. (I tend to over-drink when I run marathons).
  • I've set many PRs in windy conditions. The wind is not a major obstacle for me-- it just makes things a little more uncomfortable.
  • The most important thing is that I run my absolute hardest. My personal satisfaction with this race will not be based on my finish time; but rather the effort level I put out.
  • Don't worry about missing a BQ. I can run the whole race at my easy pace and BQ, so I have a huge buffer zone.
  • Run a good story. I'm going to write a blog post afterwards, so I should think about what I want it to say and make that a reality.
Week in Review
I've read many articles about how it's helpful to review your training cycle in its entirety during the taper as a way to build confidence. I've been doing that on a weekly basis with this blog. First I'll recap this past week, and then I'll focus on some highlights of the training cycle.

This week was definitely all about recovering. My blister has dramatically improved, and now the
Tuesday, Feb. 21
wound is completely closed. I've been wearing Injinji toe socks all week and leaving it open during the work day. I finished my antibiotics so this whole incident is behind me. My cold has passed completely, and I've felt energized all week.

Monday: 8.1 miles easy @ 8:32 average

Tuesday: 9.3 miles, including 4 x 2000m at the track. The 2000m intervals were at paces of 6:47, 6:38, 6:41, 6:38. This was the fastest I have ever run 2000m intervals-- faster than my 5K PR pace! I felt really energized throughout the entire workout.

Wednesday: 6.8 miles easy @ 8:31 average

Thursday: 7.9 miles, including road intervals. The intervals were 2 x (1 minute, 2 minute, 3 minute, 2 minute, 1 minute) all with 90 second recovery jogs. It was 52 degrees and humid, so I actually worked up a good sweat! I kept everything under a 6:30 pace, with the faster 1-minute intervals averaging around 6:10. 

Friday: 7 miles easy @ 8:30 average

Saturday: 10.7 mile easy @ 8:24 average. I consider this to be a heat acclimation run because it was
Saturday, Feb. 25: Unseasonably warm
sunny and about 60 degrees. 

Sunday: 3.5 miles easy @ 8:18 average. The best thing about this run was that I logged an 8:04 mile that felt really easy, running directly into a headwind. 

Total mileage: 53.3

I've now been running for 51 days straight, averaging 9.2 miles per day. My longest streak is 58 days, which I won't surpass, but I may end up logging more overall volume. We'll see how things shake out next week. 

Training Cycle Highlights and Stats
  • Average training pace this year: 8:24
  • Miles logged this year: 502.5
  • Days run this year: Every day except January 6th
  • Hardest run: 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile at tempo effort, with 3:00 recovery jogs- run in 21 mph sustained wind + wet snow and darkness
  • PRs set: 10K in 41:51 on un-tapered legs, 5K in 20:13 (set un-officially during a 10K)
  • Longest run: 22.3 miles at an average pace of 8:27
  • Fastest long run: 20 miles at an average pace of 7:55
  • Number of 20+ milers: 3
  • Slowest run: 3 miles at a pace of 10:04 when there was ice on the road
  • Hottest run: Either of my 2 treadmill runs in Miami while on a business trip
  • Longest marathon pace run: 12 miles @ 7:31 average
  • Highest mileage week: 71.7 (week of January 16th)
Weekly mileage for the last 12 months

I'm ready. Very, very ready.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Few Curve Balls

This final week of intense training has been rather complicated. But I guess if there was ever a time for things to go awry, it would be once most of the training is over, but not close enough to the marathon to affect the race. So, now!

Monday: 8 miles easy @ 8:48 average
Running during a "high wind watch"
If you read my previous post, you'll know that I was struggling with an odd pain in my right foot after my last long run. Also on Monday morning, we were experiencing a "high wind watch" which meant that "sustained winds of at least 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or stronger may occur." Given these conditions and the fact that I wasn't sure about my foot, I didn't think it would be a great day to run my prescribed track workout. So, I did an easy run instead and pushed my track workout to Tuesday. The winds ended up being not all that horrible-- the worst of it occurred over night, resulting in quite a few down trees and power outages. I typically run easy on Mondays anyway, but this week my coach wanted me to do the track on Monday, presumably to give me sufficient recovery time for a harder workout later in the week.

Tuesday: 11.1 miles, including 7 x 1600m
The foot ended up being just fine during Monday's easy run and the weather was practically perfect on Tuesday morning-- 30 degrees with no wind. When I saw 7 x 1600m on the schedule, I almost fell backwards in my chair! 5 x 1600m is the most I've ever done, and that's really intense. So we skipped right past 6 and moved onto 7!

Given that I'd never done 6 or 7 mile repeats, I figured I would start conservatively so as to not be dead by the end. Also, I had been waking up in the middle of the night every night for the past week with a sore-ish throat, so I didn't want to kill myself. My Garmin is not accurate on the track so I have to run all of my intervals by feel. My splits were: 6:57, 6:52, 6:47, 6:47, 6:43, 6:37, 6:39. Surprisingly, this was not as tough as I expected. I probably could have started out quicker and been sub 6:50 for the whole thing, but better safe than sorry. Afterwards I didn't feel tired or have any lingering soreness. This was such a great sign of my endurance! To have run such a long hard track workout and not even feel tired or sore afterwards!

Blister on Monday: Didn't hurt while running!
There was one nagging, problem, however, in addition to the low-grade sore throat: a blister. The blister started as a small bump on my big toe after having worn ill-fitting high heels to work one day. It had been there for over a week, not causing problems, but I researched it and foolishly believed it to be a corn. So during last weekend's long run, I put a corn comfort pad on it, and it blew up in size to be about 5 times bigger!  Thankfully, it didn't hurt while running because I could put band-aids on it and wear Injinji toe socks. I wasn't quite sure how to deal with it during the day and prevent it from rubbing the toe next to it, so I just left it open.

Wednesday: 5.2 miles easy @ 8:34 average
The plan called for 70 minutes, but I cut that back to 45 because my sore throat had gotten a lot worse. Even though I felt like crap when I woke up, the run actually felt good. But then I felt horrible again after the run. I went into the office for an important meeting at 9:00am and went home shortly after. This allowed me to take two naps, which were extremely helpful.

Thursday: 3.6 miles easy @ 8:29 average
Thursday's workout called for road intervals, but I figured that I should play it safe and run short and easy. I probably could have done the road intervals, but it was cold and windy and I didn't want to put my immune system through that while it was trying to fight off this cold/sore throat. The good news is that I felt quite peppy during the run. But afterwards, I was back to feeling blah.

Blister on Friday: Still didn't hurt while running
Meanwhile, the blister had worsened. I wasn't sure what the best approach was to get it to heal, so I kept alternating between band aids with Neosporin and just leaving it open. It was freezing out and I wore open-toed shoes to work!

Friday: 7.8 miles easy @ 8:35 average
I was finally starting to feel somewhat recovered from my cold, so I ran longer than I had on
Wednesday and Thursday. Greg, who had been on a business trip, came home and looked at my toe and was instantly worried. I emailed photos of the toe to Greg's parents, to my coach, and to my friend Stephanie who is a doctor. Everyone agreed that I should see a doctor ASAP because the blister looked infected.

Saturday: 20 miles @ 7:55 average
I planned to go to my doctor's walk-in clinic immediately after this run, so I was sure to get an early start. I put two band-aids on the blister with Neosporin, and secured them with a heavy-duty band aid over top. I put the Injinji toe socks over that and I was good to go. Didn't feel a thing during the run, believe it or not! In terms of the cold, I still had hints of the sore throat, but I felt mainly recovered.

This workout called for: 5 miles easy, 3 miles of (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy), 6 miles at marathon pace, 3 miles easy, 3 miles hard, 1 mile easy. It was only 28 degrees at the start but it would end up being 50 by the end. Greg ran the first 13 miles with me and we each parked a car on different parts of our 5-mile loop. This would allow us to shed clothing and get water. I wanted this to be a dress rehearsal so I wore my race outfit, plus a jacket over it for the first three miles.

Saturday, February 19th: wearing my marathon outfit
We tried to keep it slow and easy at the beginning, but since it was so cold, we couldn't help but going a tad faster than planned: 8:26, 8:28, 8:24, 8:25, 8:23. Then, I had my Garmin programmed for 3 miles worth of 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy. The "hard" portions ended up being around 6:45-6:50, and the easy portions at about 9:00. As luck would have it, we did not get an easy minute before transitioning directly into the six marathon pace miles. Marathon pace felt much easier than the 6:50's but once we settled in, it felt more challenging: 7:37, 7:31, 7:39, 7:33, 7:34, 7:22. Greg ended his run after 5 of these and I guess I must have gotten a burst of energy to finish up in 7:22. I took my UCAN gel during these miles and it definitely re-energized me. I had been struggling a bit before taking it.

I tried to take the next three easy miles nice and slow, but my Garmin kept reading out paces that didn't match what I felt! 8:37, 8:25, 8:30. These felt ridiculously slow, but hard since I had 16+ miles on my legs. Next it was time for 3 miles as hard as I could. I logged a 7:15 and a 7:11, and then decided to quit on the last one. Totally unlike me, but I just didn't want to overdo it. Turns out, after I ran a half mile easy, I had juice to hammer it home, so the final mile was 7:53-- a nice compromise between hard and easy!

It was a huge confidence boost to run 20 miles at an average 7:55 pace and not feel tired afterwards. I didn't have any lingering soreness in my legs either. In fact, I felt so great afterwards that I was able to shower, drink a smoothie, and be ready to go to the doctor's office in just 25 minutes to check out the blister.

The doctor told me that she thought the blister looked infected so she prescribed antibiotics. She told me to keep it open as much as possible and to make sure that the big toe wasn't hitting the toe next to it. I ended up concocting a solution of rolled gauze in between my two toes, held down with tape. She also told me to soak the blister in Epsom salt as much as possible.

Sunday: 3.4 miles recovery @ 8:49 average
Thankfully, everything felt great today. The blister continued to not hurt, the right foot didn't hurt, and I didn't feel impacted by my cold. Phew.

Total mileage: 59.1

If it hand't been for the sore throat, I probably would have been in the upper 60's, but I know I made the right choice. I've now been running for 44 days straight without a rest day, averaging 9.5 miles a day. I think this bodes very well for my marathon in just two weeks.

I'm  happy to have survived this week in one piece, and to have logged two very challenging workouts hitting my target paces. My mileage will gradually taper off over the next two weeks so I can go into the Myrtle Beach marathon feeling rested and ready to run hard.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Marathon Running: The Pressure to Succeed

In my book, Boston Bound, I address the idea of "expectations" when it comes to racing: what I expect from myself, what others expect from me, and how that impacts my performance. I've been thinking about this topic lately with the Myrtle Beach marathon just a few weeks away.

Saturday, February 11 on the W&OD Trail
I used to approach marathons with an enormous amount of pressure on my shoulders. I would have put in all the hard work of training, and then expect a certain outcome. What's more, I would feel pressured by other people to run a particular time. Whether they were my friends, my teammates, my coach, people I knew through social media -- I didn't want to let them down. I had to prove to myself and to them that I could run a certain marathon time.

My biggest breakthrough, which occurred after about 15 months of working with a sports psychologist, was the realization that I actually didn't care about what other people thought about my marathon time and my running. It was a huge epiphany, and it was liberating. Up until that point in my life (which was almost 4 years ago) I was intensely focused on how other people saw me.

It was the summer of 2013. I was registered for the Chicago Marathon, which was a bucket list race. I had been sidelined with an injury for most of the summer, and would likely only have six weeks to train for the race, after a six week layoff. When contemplating if I should actually attempt to run Chicago, I realized that my desire to have that experience surpassed my desire to run a fast time. And if I ran a "slow" time, I simply wouldn't care about what other people thought. I wanted to run Chicago, and so I decided I would. And that I would run it to the best of my ability on the training I was able to fit in, and be happy with my effort.

Fast forward to 2017, and I have many more people "following" my running. More friends who run. More people reading this blog. More followers on Instagram and Twitter. And many of them, over the past month, have told me "you're going to kill this marathon" or "I can't wait to see what you do!" Far more eyes are on me now than have ever been before. But I don't feel the pressure I used to feel.

I'm not running this marathon for anyone other than myself. And while I have a time goal in mind, my focus over the past few months has been on the training. Being able to log 70+ mile weeks consistently is a big deal. I'm proud of how I've approached this cycle, particularly after dealing with a 3-month illness last summer. Even if I totally bonk at Myrtle Beach, it will in no way diminish the achievement of waking up every morning and getting out there. As long as I give 100% of myself on race day, then I'm satisfied.

I, do however, reserve the right to be disappointed in my time if something goes wrong. Disappointment is natural and as long as I keep an overall positive outlook, then I'll be fine. As March 4th draws closer, I plan to focus on executing the rest of my training plan, staying healthy (nutrition, hydration, sleep, recovery), and visualizing my race plan. That said, here's how my week shaped up.

Monday: 9.8 miles, including road intervals.
After having raced the For The Love of It 10K just two days prior, I wasn't sure if I was ready for a tough workout so soon. This workout was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but I knew I would be

Monday, February 6th
stuck on a treadmill on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a business trip, so I got it out of the way on Monday. The workout was 12 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy), 12 x (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy).

I had actually run this workout about four weeks prior, but I didn't execute it all that well previously. I failed to look at my coach's notes to see that the 1-minute segments were supposed to be at "slightly faster than 5K effort" so previously I had run them at a pace of around 6:00. This made for very tired legs and snail-paced recovery jogs. So on Monday, I ran most the 1-minute segments at a pace of around 6:15, and I fared much better. The 30-second segments averaged about 5:55. So I was still quite fast, but not so much so that I killed my legs and had to run-walk the recovery jogs. As a result, I logged 4.8 miles in 36 minutes, as opposed to 4.7.

Tuesday: 7.2 miles @ 8:58 average.
After a horrible night of sleep in a Miami hotel room, I made my way down to the crappy basement gym. They only had 3 treadmills, so I had to wait awhile, which ultimately meant cutting my workout a little short. Unfortunately,  it wasn't possible for me to run outside because it was dark out and I didn't know where I was going. Miami isn't exactly the safest place for a woman to be running alone in the dark.

Wednesday: 8.6 miles @ 8:52 average.
Treadmill again, but this time I woke up about an hour earlier so I had plenty of time. Even though I arrived at the fitness room at 5:20am, I still had to wait for a treadmill. And I was thankful that nobody was waiting for a treadmill while I was using it. I noticed that this run made my legs tired and sore. I'm not used to the treadmill. And even though I was going at a slower pace than normal, my legs still suffered. I actually suffered through this entire run because that little fitness room was about 75 degrees with no fans.

Thursday: 14.3 miles, including a long tempo run.
As luck would have it, the hardest workout of the week (yes, even harder than the long run) fell on a morning with sustained 21 mph winds, heavier gusts, and wet snow. It was also dark when I started at
Thursday, February 9th
5:15. I briefly considered moving the workout to Friday, but I didn't want to subsequently move the long run to Sunday. So, I put on my big girl pants and just did it. I can easily say this was the hardest workout of the entire training cycle: 4 miles tempo, 3 miles tempo, 2 miles tempo, 1 mile tempo, all with 3 minute recovery jogs. Ouch!

The first four miles actually went according to plan: 7:18, 7:12, 7:08, 7:07. Portions of this were directly into a headwind, and portions were a tailwind, and there were plenty of turns which prevented me from running into a direct headwind for more than half a mile at a time thankfully. The next three miles also went well: 7:06, 7:07, 7:02. After I was done with those, I felt quite accomplished and also ready to be done. I had lingering soreness in my quads from the treadmill, so they were nearly dead, and the wind was starting to make things really mentally tough.

Things fell apart during the next two miles: 6:55, 7:22. The first mile was mainly tailwind, so that was nice, but then the second mile was directly into a headwind, and even when I tried to turn around, it was still hard. And I knew if I ran too far in one direction with the tailwind, that last mile would suffer. Because ultimately I needed to finish pretty close to where I started. I ran the last mile in 6:57 and was so happy to be done. I was actually surprised I had one more mile left in me at that pace.

Afterwards, I took an ice bath. And this was all before having to put in a full day at work! My coach told me he was glad that the weather was so challenging because I got a psychological workout.

Friday: 5.2 miles recovery @ 8:59.
The plan called for a 60-minute recovery jog, but I cut it short. After about 30 minutes, my legs were really feeling the combination of a hard tempo that was preceded by a treadmill beating. I knew I had a long run the next day, and I didn't want to be too beat up for that.

Saturday: 22.3 miles @ 8:26.
Long run! Another point-to-point long run with Greg for the first 9 miles, and then running all the way home. I had a lot more energy than I expected on this run, although my legs were not happy starting at mile 16. My training plan had prescribed 22-24 miles, and I had been shooting for 23, but I arrived home at 22.3 and thought that was plenty! My energy level was pretty good, but shortly after I took my shoes off I felt a sharp pain on the bottom of my right foot. WTF?!  I took an ice bath and an hour later it was still hurting.

I tried not to freak out. I had been 100% pain free during the run so I figured this was just a muscle spasm of some sort. Later that night, Greg and I went out for dinner and I noticed that I had the urge to walk on it (like walking helped) so that was a good sign.

Sunday: 3.7 miles @ 8:38
I waited until around 11:00am to run instead of doing it first thing. My foot was feeling about 70% better when I woke up so I figured giving it a little time would help. My coach suspected it was the beginnings of Plantar Fasciitis and recommended stretching and icing. I also decided that if it hurt while running I would stop. Thankfully, the run went pretty well. My legs were surprisingly not at all sore from the long run and I actually was going at a pretty zippy pace for a recovery run. My foot was noticeable, but not bad- like a 2.5 out of 10 on the pain scale. I think this is something that I can keep under control with regular icing and stretching. And I'm guessing it happened because of a blister on my other foot, which may have caused me to alter my stride. It just needs to hold out for three more weeks!

Total Mileage: 71.1

Overall, this has been my most challenging week yet. I think that having just one day to recover from my 10K plus two days of treadmill running really beat up my legs. That wind on Thursday didn't help matters, either. And I have a huge blister to deal with! Thankfully, my energy levels remained high and I feel healthy. The foot is definitely a "watch out" and I will be making a visit to my sports chiropractor early this week.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Racing a 10K During Marathon Training

This morning I ran the "For the Love of It" 10K.

I'm in the height of my training cycle for the Myrtle Beach Marathon, which means I've logged 70+ mile weeks for the past several weeks. The past seven days were no exception. From last Saturday through yesterday, I logged 71.3 miles.

Because the Disney World Half Marathon was cancelled, I wanted to run another tune-up race prior to the marathon on March 4th. But because it's February in the Washington DC metro area, there were no half marathons within a reasonable driving distance. Given that I had already taken time off work for Disney, I didn't want to take any more time off for a race that required a flight. So I had to settle for a local 10K. But that's not a bad thing! This 10K is part of the =PR= trophy series, giving me points that accumulate throughout the year. Plus, many of my friends were running it.

My coach didn't want me to sacrifice my mileage volume for this race, and he also wanted me to practice running hard on tired legs. So he intentionally gave me zero taper. Actually, I refer to it as the anti-taper.

The Anti-Taper
The anti-taper is running 71+ miles in the week leading up to the race, including a set of 10 x 800m on the track, a 21-miler, and a half marathon distance two days prior. Here's how it went down:

Saturday: 21 miles @ 8:18 average

Sunday: 3.4 miles recovery

Monday: 7.8 miles easy

Tuesday: 2.4 miles warmup, 10 x 800m with 400m recovery jogs, 1.5 miles cooldown. I averaged 3:13 for my 800's, which is supposed to predict a 3:13 marathon finish time, but I'm not convinced!

Wednesday: 8.1 miles easy

Thursday: 13.1 miles easy. I was actually prescribed a 2-hour run, but I cut it short at 1:52 once I reached a half marathon. My legs were tired, and I figured that was plenty.

Friday: 6.6 miles recovery. I took this one very easy at an average 9:01 pace.

Before the Race
In terms of my goals for this race, I knew I was in better shape than when I ran a 42:09 on New Year's Eve. And that was a "long" course according to my Garmin. So I had those two things going for me. Working against me, however, was that this course was more challenging and that I didn't have a taper. Given all of this, I hoped to run a sub-42:00, but I wasn't sure how my legs would hold up on the hills.

Race morning arrived and Greg and I did our usual routine. When we arrived to the race, we went to the bathroom and warmed up for about 20 minutes. It was about 20 degrees and sunny with a very slight breeze. I thought this was perfect racing weather and I figured I might even get warm with the sun being so strong. I wore CW-X compression tights and a light-weight half-zip.

The start line was not shaded and my friends and I were commenting that we were actually warm. Greg was particularly worried that he had overdressed. I ran a 5K last February in sunny 14-degree weather and I actually felt hot at times, so I wasn't surprised that 20 could feel warm with direct sunlight.

Miles 1-2
The race started and I noticed that quite a few women totally sped past me right out of the gate. It was hard to believe that such a small race could attract so many fast women, but it did. This was a competitive field, and I think it's because it's one of the few races in the DC area in February. I noticed that I was running a 6:35 pace, so I reminded myself to run my own race and not worry about what these other women were doing.

In terms of the elevation profile, I had studied one of my friend's Strava data from last year. I've run this course as a 10-miler, but as a 10K, I didn't know when the ups and downs were. I knew to expect that the entire course would be hills-- almost no flat sections. But it's nice to know when to plan for the ups and downs. Based on my friend's Strava data, I knew that the first two miles were net uphill, so I figured I'd aim for around 6:50, depending on how it felt. Both miles clocked in at 6:47 so I knew I had set myself up well.

Miles 3-4
I was leap frogging with another women during these miles. She was quite strong, but I think I passed her for good during the 4th mile. There were also several women in sight who I was trying to catch, but I couldn't quite reach them. I knew my endurance was solid and I was confident that I could hold a strong pace throughout the race. We ran over a timing mat at the 5K point, and the results later showed that my split was 20:50. The exact same time as my 5K PR!

Miles 3-4 were net downhill, and my splits reflected that (6:30, 6:29) but it seemed as if there was much more uphill than down. In fact, it really felt like this race was net uphill. In the other popular 5K and 10K courses that I run, I usually notice long stretches of downhill. This was never the case- or so it seemed! I noticed long uphill stretches, but never fully rewarded with the reverse!

Miles 5-6
At this point, I knew I was on track to PR, I just had to keep it together and not fall off. But mile five
Mile 5: Ouch this hurts!
was brutal. So painful! I felt myself really slowing down and there was nothing I could do about it. The hills seemed to go on forever. They were so long. We would turn a corner and I would expect to see a downhill, but it kept being up. Up, up, up! I had to really rely on my mental toughness here. My legs were exhausted and I started cursing my coach for not allowing me to taper! I felt like I was going to totally bonk and miss my PR substantially. I logged a 6:52, which was definitely respectable given how awful I was feeling.

The last mile was supposed to be a net downhill, but that didn't happen until the very end of it. I looked down at my Garmin about a 1/3 of the way in and it read 7:11 for my pace. Oh man! I was running so hard and giving 100% of everything, but that Garmin would not budge out of the 7's! Finally I saw some Garmin movement about halfway through the mile back into the 6's. The last part of that mile was definitely downhill, but there were a lot of twists and turns as we made our way through a high school parking lot and onto a track. I ended up with a 6:40 for the 6th mile, which meant I must have been going super fast during the second half of it.

The last 0.26
This race finished on a track. We ran almost an entire lap, which was cool. It felt amazing (mentally) to be running on a flat surface, but it didn't feel much easier physically. Before arriving at the track, a woman passed me and I didn't have anything left in me to try and fight. I was spent. All I wanted was to try and squeak in a tiny PR at that point, which I realized was still possible.

With about just under 100 meters to go, I could see the finish line clock at 41:2X. I tried doing the math in my head to see if I could reach it under 42, but then I just told myself to give 110% and run my absolutely hardest possible. I was super motivated to get a sub-42 and it was right within my sights! I was able to find another gear and gun it for the finish line.

41:51 official! A new PR by 18 seconds. It was even a Garmin PR too!

Text with my coach

After the Race
Greg cheered me into the finish and told me that he ran a 40:58, which was a PR for him too. My friends Rochelle and Hannah also set big PRs, with Hannah going sub-40 for the first time and Rochelle winning the race. Hannah's husband also PR'ed with a sub-43. For a course that was so challenging, we certainly all pulled out some stellar performances. Greg and I cooled down for just over a mile and then went to check out the results.

I won first place in my age group and was the 11th overall female. The awards ceremony was thankfully held inside the school so we didn't freeze while waiting for the awards to be presented. A small group of us went out for a celebratory brunch afterwards. It was definitely a fun and proud morning for us all.

The crazy thing is that my 5K PR pace and my 10 PR pace are now almost the same. According to my Strava data, I ran a 20:24 5K during this race. My 3.1 split was 20:50- my official PR. After the marathon I plan to race a 5K so I can really see what I am capable of there.

Most of all, I'm really excited about what this means for the Myrtle Beach marathon in four weeks. The fact that I ran a 41:51 on such a hilly course on tired legs definitely indicates that my stamina and speed are at an all-time high. Combined with the rest of my workout paces, I now have the confidence that I can run a 3:20 or faster.

But there's more work to be done! I have another tough week ahead of me, and I'm guessing a relatively short taper for the marathon itself.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Running all the miles!

It would be an understatement to say that I've been running a lot lately. I'm at the height of my training for the Myrtle Beach marathon and things are pretty intense. I'm happy to report that I continue to have plenty of energy with a good amount of pep in my legs. I attribute this to:

  • Fueling my hard workouts with Generation UCAN
  • Getting plenty of restful sleep
  • Foam rolling almost every day
  • Staying hydrated (I even got a new smart water bottle)
  • Regularly doing my hip strengthening exercises (3-4 times per week)
  • Staying mentally relaxed and not obsessing about my running
  • Keeping my easy runs easy and not over-running the workouts
  • Getting massages every two weeks
In addition to all the running I did this week, I also spoke at a local marketing conference about marketing technology. It was a great opportunity to share my experience and network with other marketers. Even though my mileage is at an all-time high, I'm still very focused on my work and I find that having a work/running balance is really important in staying sane. Running clears my mind from work stuff. Focusing on work ensures I don't spend too much time thinking (or obsessing about) running. 

Monday: Easy
8.1 miles @ 8:39 average. It was insanely windy and rainy. And also dark. This run simply wasn't enjoyable but I got it done. I'd rather deal with wind than ice on the ground so I can't complain too much for late January.

Tuesday: Progression
11.7 miles @ 7:44 average. The plan called for a 90-minute progression run with the first 30 minutes easy, the middle 30 minutes medium, and the last 30 minutes hard. I've done this workout quite a few times now, so I know how each section should feel. Just six weeks ago I actually ran this same workout at an average pace of 7:51, so it was nice to see some progress. 30 mins easy @ 8:36 (3.49 miles), 30 mins medium @ 7:37 (3.94 miles), 30 mins hard @ 7:05 (4.23 miles). I struggled during miles 9-10 because they were uphill and into a headwind. Instead of worrying about my pace, I kept the effort strong and got the benefit of the workout.

Wednesday: Easy
8.1 miles @ 8:40 average.  Just an easy run!

Thursday: Tempo + intervals
11.8 miles. This included a really long workout: 4 mile tempo run @ 6:56 pace. Half mile recovery
Thursday, January 26
jog. 2 x 90 seconds with 90 second recovery jogs: (6:32, 6:24). 4 x 60 seconds with 60 second recovery jogs: (6:18, 6:17, 6:11, 6:10). 4 x 45 seconds with 45 second recovery jogs: (6:15, 6:13, 6:03, 6:02). 4 x 30 seconds with 30 second recovery jogs: (6:03, 5:55, 6:01, 5:58). 6 x 15 seconds with 15 second recovery jogs (6:18, 6:01, 6:18, 5:51, 6:19, 5:52). Including warmup and cool down I ran 11.8 miles total. This was a landmark run for me because it's the first tempo run I've done at a sub-7:00 pace. My coach gave me this workout five weeks out from Boston and my tempo pace was 7:02. I was also able to run the shorter intervals faster than I was last spring. At 50 degrees, I almost felt too warm at times!

Friday: Easy
7.1 miles @ 8:32 average. I was pleasantly surprised at how peppy my legs felt given the beating that they took on Thursday.

Saturday: Long Run
21.2 miles @ 8:18 average. Similar to last weekend, Greg parked his car at the W&OD trail and ran the first part of the run with me. He ran back to the car, I ran home. We started this run at a pace of around 8:27. I kept trying to get us to slow down, but we naturally kept logging fast miles. The
Saturday, January 28
slightly faster paces just felt natural and easy. It was also quite cold, so I think trying to keep warm was partially why these paces felt comfortable. It seems like my body is naturally inclined toward negative splits; the longer I run, the better I feel and the more energy I have. I definitely could have continued on at this pace or faster for another five miles, and BQ'ed the training run. I need a 3:40 to BQ, but I'll be looking to run somewhere around 3:20. I finished this run with plenty of energy and there is no residual soreness in my legs.

Sunday: Recovery Jog
3.4 miles @ 8:42 average. Everything felt good and I'm looking forward to another hard week!

Total mileage for the week: 71.4

As the marathon gets closer, I have started to think about my strategy and goals. All of my workouts make me think that marathon pace of 7:30-7:40 is realistic on a good day, but there's still a lot of work to be done. I have a 10K tuneup race next weekend which I will not taper for. It will be interesting to see how much speed I can get on tired legs. Regardless of how I run in the marathon, I am really enjoying the challenges of this training cycle and the progress I have made in terms of handling the heavy load.

I'm running higher weekly mileage than I did when I trained for Boston, but my overall training cycle will end up being about one month shorter. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that February doesn't bring any severe weather-- we were definitely spoiled in January with mild temperatures and no storms.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hidrate Spark 2.0 Review: Smart Water Bottle

Hidrate Spark 2.0 Water Bottle
As a goal-oriented person, I'm extremely motivated to achieve whatever it is I set out to do. But with one hang-up: I need to be able to measure my progress and my success. For example, if it weren't for my online training log, it would be difficult to motivate myself to run the mileage that I do. And if races weren't timed, it would be difficult to motivate myself to run fast.

One of my goals for as long as I can remember is to stay hydrated. I know that I don't drink nearly as much water as I should. And no matter how hard I try to remind myself to drink during the work day, I simply don't. I forget to drink or I don't make time to get water from the water cooler. I've always wanted to be able to track my water consumption, but that's hard. It's hard enough to actually drink the water, let alone take the time to figure how much I've had.

Typically during the work week, I drink a little bit of water before I run, and then chug a lot of water immediately afterwards. If it's warm out I may carry a water bottle with me. But then I go to work and drink little to no water. If I do drink, it's usually only one cup. Even my zebra striped water bottle does not motivate me to drink. I simply get caught up in whatever I am working on and going to meetings, so water is rarely prioritized. Enter the Hidrate Spark 2.0 bottle.

A few days after Christmas, I saw an ad for this smart water bottle pop up in my Facebook news feed: "Smart water bottle reminds you to drink water, syncs with FitBit." A-ha! My interest was immediately captured and I clicked through to the Hidrate Spark website. I learned that this water bottle tracks your water consumption and glows when you haven't been drinking enough. It syncs with FitBit and other health apps so that you can track all of your health data in one place. FitBit addict that I am, and knowing my personality, I instantly decided that I needed this bottle. If I could measure my intake, I would surely be motivated to drink more. I wished I had heard about it before Christmas so I could have put it on my list (or hinted to Greg about it), but I didn't.

I decided to purchase the bottle for myself, but hesitated due to the price. Could I justify spending
Hidrate Spark 2.0 Bottle
$54.95 on a water bottle when I already have at least a dozen water bottles that I never use? I gave it some more thought and I realized that hydration would be very important in the coming months of marathon training, and I needed to stay healthy. My recent bout with mono has made me focus more on taking care of my body, so I decided it was worth the investment.

Just as I was about to click on the purchase button, I thought that I could potentially procure a free bottle in exchange for a review on my blog. I only review 2-3 products a year on my blog, and I almost never receive free items; I only write reviews for products that I am passionate about and that contribute to my success as an athlete. I think that hydration is essential to staying healthy and running well, and I knew that whether or not I received a free Hidrate Spark bottle, I would blog about it. Sure enough, Hidrate Spark accepted my offer, and I received a free smart water bottle two weeks ago.

The Hidrate Spark 2.0 bottle comes in 6 different color choices. I chose aqua because it looked the most refreshing! When mine arrived, I opened it immediately and found it easy to setup. I downloaded the Hidrate Spark app, and entered my height, weight, birthday, bedtime and activity level. I also integrated the app with my FitBit. I then waited for the app to sync with my bottle. It wouldn't sync, so after some troubleshooting I realized that the batteries were dead. Bummer! I could have sent the bottle back and requested one with working batteries, but that would have been a hassle. Instead, I purchased batteries from Best Buy, replaced them (okay, Greg replaced them) and the bottle then paired with my phone just fine. A minor hiccup in the overall Hidrate Spark experience!

Once the bottle was paired with my phone, the app created a hydration goal. This goal changes every day based off of my FitBit steps and the local weather. Talk about being "smart!" My goal for the first day was 75 ounces. For the 10 days I've had the bottle, my goal has ranged from 67-76 ounces per day. That's a lot of water-- at least three bottles worth! I can use either the Hidrate app to track my consumption, or the FitBit app. I actually prefer using the Hidrate app because it contains a visualization that shows not only how much water you've had, but also if you are ahead or behind your goal, depending on what time it is.

The First 24 Hours
Lights up as a reminder to drink
All of a sudden, I found myself accountable for my water intake. The app would track it, and I knew I would be blogging about it. I had to drink water! This worked. I went to work on Monday feeling super cool with my new bottle. I told my colleagues that this wasn't just any water bottle, it was a smart water bottle! I was excited to see it light up and remind me to drink. By 11:00am, I still hadn't seen the bottle light up, so I actually decided not to drink any water until it lit up, so I could confirm it was working. Sure enough, the bottle lit up and I got really excited! I drank some water, my app showed that I was closer to goal completion, and the bottle stopped blinking.

I think the blinking feature is cool, but I'm more intrigued by the tracking aspect. Numbers motivate me, not lights. On Monday, I ended up drinking 50 out of 75 ounces. On one hand, I was surprised I couldn't meet my goal given how focused I was on it. But on the other hand, I realized that I drank probably three times as much as I would on a normal day. Now that I see how much water I am drinking, I think that my typical average probably used to be only 20 ounces a day. Pitiful for an endurance athlete, I know!

You can also manually add water consumption to the app if you drink water at a restaurant, for example. You just need to estimate how much water you drank and then key in the amount. For my long run on Saturday, I drank half of a 24 oz sports bottle, so I manually added 12 ounces to the app when I finished.

Daily Tracking
Does this smart water bottle help me drink more water? Absolutely. Do I meet my water goal every day? No. In fact, I usually only achieve half of my goal. But as I said earlier, I would guess that I
Hidrate Spark App
previously drank about 20 ounces of water per day on average. According to the Hidrate app, I have been drinking about 44 ounces of water per day since getting the bottle. And that's a huge increase.

Last week I ran over 71 miles and I found that I had plenty of energy throughout the day. More energy than usual, and I ran more miles than usual, so that's a win. All of my runs felt great, too. Oftentimes I worry in the morning that I didn't drink enough water the previous day to hydrate my workout, but that was not the case last week.

Looking at the graph, I notice that my water consumption gradually declined throughout the week. The novelty of tracking my intake definitely wore off, but I do want to continue to monitor this and try to get to 75% of my goal or more. So I think the bottle is going to be part of my daily life for the foreseeable future.

Pros and Cons
The benefits of the Hidrate Spark 2.0 bottle are:

  • An effective way to drink more water, particularly for competitive results-driven personality types
  • Sleek design that's easy to carry and is fun to drink from
  • A ridiculously smart app that calculates your goal for you, and also lets you setup competitions with friends (I haven't setup any friends yet)
  • The app allows you to customize how often the bottle glows, and what style of glow you want
  • Syncs with FitBit
  • An overall fun way to drink water 

The negatives of the Hidrate Spark 2.0 bottle:
On my way to work with Hidrate Spark
  • Mine came with dead batteries
  • You are not supposed to put hot water in the bottle, and sometimes I prefer hot water

Summary + Discount Code
Overall I am happy with this water bottle. I am actually slightly obsessed with it because it's so cool! I've probably never hydrated so well in my life except for maybe the week leading up to a marathon. In the past, Greg has suspected that I have over hydrated for my marathons because I essentially tripled or quadrupled my water intake in the days leading up to the race. But now I will have a precise way to measure how much I am actually drinking.

Given that I am at the height of my marathon training cycle, this bottle came at just the right time. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who struggles to stay hydrated. If you think of it as just another water bottle, the price tag may seem high. But when you think about the technology involved and the potential impact it can have on your health, then it's worth the cost. You're not just buying a water bottle; you are buying the ability to monitor your water consumption. Hidrate Spark is offering my blog readers a 15% discount with the code ECLOR. It expires on Wednesday, February 1st, so don't wait! Visit the Hidrate Spark website to use the code.

Thank you for reading this Hidrate Spark 2.0 review. Happy hydrating!

Hidrate Spark 2.0 Smart Water Bottle
Smart water bottle that tracks water consumption
Rating: 4