Monday, October 16, 2017

Better Safe Than Sorry

With the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon less than three weeks away, my only goal is to get to the start line healthy. I am writing this not so much for my blog readers, but more to reinforce it in my own mind. In fact, the purpose of my blog as a whole isn't to write for others, but rather to keep a personal record of my running journey. I find it useful to look back on previous race reports as well as descriptions of illness and injury. More importantly, I use my writing as a way to solidify my thoughts and find clarity. Most of my readers probably don't care about my exact placement in a race or what distance my Garmin reported. But those details and that level of analysis is interesting to me, so I include it.

Back to the purpose of this particular post-- my Achilles tendons. I've been dealing with stiffness and aches post-run since the middle of July on both feet. The stiffness is at the point of insertion at the bottom of the back of the heel. I think it was caused by wearing the Nike Zoom Elite, which has an 8mm heel-to-toe ratio as opposed to 10+ mm, which I am accustomed to. I have limited ankle mobility, so those two millimeters made a difference, particularly since I only wore the shoe during intense 5K speed workouts. That must have caused an additional strain that my tendons weren't used to. I stopped wearing the shoes in early August, but it was too late at that point. It got progressively worse through early September, when I made an appointment to see my sports chiropractor. He gave me exercises to do, and they worked. My Achilles tendons started to improve over the next several weeks. At one point, the pain was completely gone for almost an entire week. I kept up with my exercises, but the pain started to get worse again after the Army 10-Miler.

On Monday of last week, I went for a 70-minute recovery run and while I could feel some minor irritation in my Achilles, but nothing too alarming. The next few days were easy running and I was recovering well from the race. On Thursday, I ran a workout of 20 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) followed by 20 x (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). My sports chiropractor had warned me that short sprints were the worst thing for my Achilles, but I proceeded with the workout anyway because everything had been feeling fine. I made it through the workout pain-free, and I felt pretty good afterwards too. I was actually encouraged because if I could sprint for a full hour without having my Achilles hurt, then I must be in the clear!

On Friday I ran for 70 minutes at an easy pace, and then on Saturday it was time for my 22-miler. I heated the area around my Achilles with a heating pad before starting the run to loosen them up. The run ended up being more difficult than expected. I've run 22-milers in previous cycles and all of them had felt better than this one. This could be because it was 62 degrees and very humid on Saturday, as opposed to the cooler, less humid conditions I've had for my other 22-milers. I felt fit and strong on the run, but I could tell the humidity was making me extra tired and my legs were also tired from the 60 minutes worth of on-and-off sprinting on Thursday.

Saturday, October 14th
I finished the run successfully, but once I was done, I was done. I was completely wiped, my legs were sore and achy, and my Achilles were not happy. I didn't really feel any pain in my Achilles during the run; if I had I would have stopped. I found it hard to walk around for the rest of the day, which was a contrast to my previous 22-milers. My prescribed run on Sunday was a 30-minute recovery run. My legs felt decent, and I told myself I would cut it short if my Achilles hurt. I took it slow (9:36 average pace) and as the run progressed my Achilles felt better and better. I was able to check the box on a 69 mile week. But something told me that I needed to take this Achilles thing more seriously.

It's now escalated to the point where I can feel a slight burning sensation even when I am at rest. And it never used to be this way. It used to only hurt when I got up from a chair, and only during the first few hours after a run.

I ultimately realized that I needed to stop running until my Achilles no longer hurt while at rest. An Achilles tendon could tear, and then I wouldn't be able to run (or walk) for months. It's better to be safe than sorry.

In an ideal world, this week would be my final week of high-mileage, intense marathon training. A two-week taper works best for me. But unfortunately I am starting the taper a week early, and resting completely. I think the elliptical would probably irritate it, and I just don't have the motivation to go pool running. I hate pool running and it's logistically difficult to do in the morning before work.

Week of October 9th
I'm going to take things one day at a time and hope for the best. I took today off and I will take
tomorrow off. I continue to do the exercises that my sports chiro gave me. I'd like to run my prescribed workout on Wednesday, but I'm not going to do it unless the Achilles dramatically improves between now and Wednesday morning. It's not worth the risk and I don't run through pain.

My sports psychologist said that injuries were like stop lights. Green means "train as normal - not to worry!" Yellow means "train with caution and be aware of how things feel" - which has been this entire training cycle. Now I'm at a red light and I won't be on the road again until it turns yellow.

How do I feel about all of this? It sucks, but I've accepted it. The tendons just need to hold out for three more weeks. They've held out this long! I'm also bummed that I haven't even gotten to experience the cool fall weather for a tough workout yet. All of my harder workouts have been in warm, humid conditions, and I think I could really see significant progress in cooler temps. I really want the opportunity to see what I can do and I don't want to be sitting on the sidelines on November 4th. This could be a flare up that goes away tomorrow, or it could persist until I've taken a more significant chunk of time off of running. If it's the latter, I probably will go pool running, which is a depressing thought.

The good news is that I haven't yet torn my Achilles. (If I had, I wouldn't be able to stand on my toes.) I'm going to a podiatrist on Wednesday just to make sure there isn't anything else going on. Better safe than sorry. I'd rather take some time off running with tendons that are intact than have to wear a boot or cast or get surgery or something. I also hate running in fear, and not really knowing if running is okay. The idea that I could be hurting myself it the worst feeling ever. I want to run the marathon on November 4th with pain-free heels, and not worried that something is going to snap mid-race. That's my priority and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it means losing some of my hard-earned fitness over the next few weeks.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Army Ten-Miler: Running in a Sauna

At the start of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler this year, the announcer said, "We have 'no excuses' weather this morning," because it was in the low 40's. At the Army Ten Miler this morning, I was waiting for the announcer to say that we had "excuses" weather because it was so hot, but that never happened!

Needless to say, we approached record heat and humidity this morning here in DC. According to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang: Dew points are on the rise as a tropical air mass rushes through the region. Temperatures will be quite warm and uncomfortable. . . in the low 70s downtown with comparable dew point values. Warm record lows for Sunday are in jeopardy of being broken.

At several points throughout the week, I debated not racing. I had bailed on the Navy Air-Force half
Army Ten-Miler, Post-race
marathon three weeks prior due to similar weather conditions, and not wanting to subject myself to a death march. I have a history of heat exhaustion and I've found that the heat and humidity seem to impact me more than the typical runner.

I ultimately decided to stick it out and try to make the best of it. I really only had one goal (aside from avoiding heat exhaustion), and that was to run my last mile faster than my first mile. Ideally, I would run negative splits and pass people during the second half. Instead of running by my watch, I would run by feel.  Before the forecast came out, I was thinking that I might be able to manage a 6:50 pace for 10 miles. But with the heat, the race ended up being all about the effort level, and not trying to test my fitness.

I slept particularly well during the week leading up to the race, and I could tell that my body was starting to recover from the past six weeks of hard training. My coach gave me a taper for this race, allowing my legs to regain their pep, and I took full advantage of it. As a result, my mileage for this week was only 52, compared to my typical 65+, but I think it was good for me to have a cutback week in terms of mileage. Knowing that my only goal would be to pace the race for a negative split and run a hard effort, the pressure to PR was non-existent.

Before the Race
My alarm woke me up at 5:30, which is atypical of race morning. Usually I am up in the 4:00 hour on my own because I am so excited about the race. I'll be honest-- I was not excited about racing in 76 degrees, which was the current temperature in DC according to Wunderground.

Greg and I had reserved a parking spot about one mile from the race start. We left the house a little later than we wanted to, and the drive took longer than expected, so we both started to get a little nervous. But thankfully, we found street parking on the way to our reserved garage spot, so we just took it. The "reserved" spot was actually the parking garage of a hotel, and I was worried there wouldn't be availability despite a reservation, due to the hotel being booked for the race. The street parking was free and easy. As we jogged to the start, we passed a hotel and used the bathroom. This was a lifesaver. We were already on the later side of things, and we didn't have time to wait in line for a porta potty.

We figured out our plan for meeting up after the race. Basically he was going to wait for me after the finish line chute and look for me as I walked through. He said that I should do the same for him if I finished first but I told him that was not going to happen. "It could happen," he said. "It is highly unlikely to happen," I replied, as I hadn't beat Greg in a race in over a year. "But if it does, I will look for you to finish."

It wasn't long before we reached the Pentagon, the starting point of the Army Ten Miler. There were 35,000 runners (more than run the Boston Marathon) and the announcer kept mentioning that it was the third largest 10-mile race in the world. We made our way to the first corral and it was packed. It was particularly warm in the corral with all the body heat and sweat radiating from the runners. Even on the hottest summer mornings, it wasn't 76 degrees! A typical summer morning in DC is around 70. This was almost comical.

Miles 1-4
The race started and it was very crowded. I decided that I would go with the flow and not waste energy weaving through people. I didn't have a target pace for the first mile, but my overall sentiment was that I'd be happy to run my goal marathon pace (7:25) for 10 miles in these difficult conditions. I thought that the crowd would thin out after a mile or two, but it didn't. In some cases I found myself behind people going much slower than I wanted to be, so I had no choice but to do some weaving.

Even though the Army Ten Miler has a wave start, with assigned corrals, it is not enforced. I passed quite a few people who probably weren't going any faster than a 10:00 pace.

It started to rain during the third mile and it felt amazing! Unfortunately, it didn't last long and we were back into the sauna by mile 5.

I carried a water bottle with me for these first four miles, and then ditched it. I poured the majority of the water on myself as I ran, and only drank about 25% of it. This was fine, though, because I had hydrated really well on Friday and Saturday, and knew that I wouldn't need to drink a lot during the race itself. In the past, I have had a tendency to drink too much water in warm conditions, and I've learned that I actually don't need to drink a lot during races if I hydrate properly beforehand.

I decided to be very conservative and take these miles easy. Typically when I run a 10-mile race, I feel like I am putting out race effort starting at mile 2. But today, the first four miles felt comfortable-- definitely not race effort. And that was by design.

Mile 1: 7:31
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:25
Mile 4: 7:15

Miles 5-7
Once I had tossed my water bottle, I felt free to up the effort level and start passing people. And I did. Even though there were still loads of people, I noticed that things opened up substantially during the 5th mile, and I was able to pass people without a ton of weaving. I felt strong and my spirits were high. I actually felt much better than I did at the Cherry Blossom earlier in the year, when I felt "off" throughout most of the race.

With six miles left to go, I felt like I still wasn't out of the "danger" zone. I increased the effort, while making sure to save something for the end. I hit the halfway mark in 37:11. Now, I had a goal. I wanted to negative split, which meant sub-1:14:22. This seemed very doable. There was a bit of a hill after the halfway mark, which was tough, but once I got to the top I felt good again and ready to crush it. As I ran through the sixth mile, I remembered last year's race, when I was a spectator cheering for Greg. Even though it was ridiculously hot, I was thankful to be strong and healthy instead of recovering from mono.

Mile 5: 7:15
Mile 6: 7:13
Mile 7: 7:10

Miles 8-10
After mile 7, we turned a corner and started running on a bridge. The bridge would span 2 miles and I was told it was the most difficult portion of the race. I had only run the Army Ten Miler once before,
Mile 10, photo by Cheryl Young
and it was seven years ago, so I didn't have a great memory of the course. As I made the turn onto the bridge, I was shocked to see Greg not that far ahead. This came as a huge surprise. I expected him to be at least two minutes ahead of me. And I was catching up to him!

After a few minutes, I reached him and I said something to the effect of "It was unlikely." He let me know that his Garmin had stopped working, so he didn't know what pace he was running. He gave me a few words of encouragement but after about a minute I took off ahead. Initially I thought that something might have been wrong with him for me to have caught up, but he seemed fine physically and was able to talk to me.

The fact that I had passed Greg was a huge mental boost. Greg's 10-mile PR is 1:07! And he just ran a 1:32 half marathon in the heat three weeks prior. And then the passing continued. I passed, and passed, and passed! I thought about the RunPix that races sometimes offer that show you how many people you passed and how many people passed you during the second half of the race. Cherry Blossom had those, and I hoped that this race would too. I was a passing machine!

The bridge was tough, but I felt great. I was having fun, enjoying the race atmosphere, and feeling giddy that I was actually negative splitting a 10-miler in 76 degrees. And finally I was able to put out true race effort without worrying about bonking. With just three miles left to go and feeling great, I knew I was in the clear.

Mile 8: 7:06
Mile 9: 7:08
Mile 10: 6:53
Last 0.13: 6:20 pace

The finish
I crossed the finish line feeling like a million dollars and the announcer called out my name. And I didn't double over with my hands on my knees like I typically do. I felt so good! I couldn't believe I
Photo by Cheryl Young
ran a 6:53 final mile when it was 76 degrees and humid. And I didn't have to kill myself to do it. No black spots. No dehydration. No dizziness.

Greg appeared shortly after, which was a relief. After exchanging race stories, we did a cool down jog back to the car. A few hours later I heard that they re-routed the course at some point after we finished due to the adverse weather conditions. Apparently there were quite a few runners collapsing. As mentioned above, this was record-breaking heat and humidity.

I don't have my official time yet, and because they downgraded this to a "recreational run" for the runners who finished after they re-routed the course, none of the results will be posted until tomorrow. I'll come back and update with my official time tomorrow. My watch said 1:13:10. I'm less curious about my time than how I ranked in my age group. This may be the first hot race where I was actually more competitive instead of less competitive.

Edited to add:
My official time is 1:13:08. I placed 23 out of 2,209 in my age group (35-39) which puts me in the top 1.0%. I was also the 96th female finisher out of over 11,000.

Final Thoughts
Since both of my tune-up races were in abnormally hot weather, I figured that the weather gods really wanted me to run a hot race. And if I didn't pay my dues now, I would have to on marathon day. So hopefully I have satisfied the requirement for a long hot race and it will be cold and overcast in Indianapolis in four weeks. I'm definitely glad I didn't bail on this race. Here are my final thoughts.
  • I once again learned that having a great race isn't always about setting a PR. It's truly about the process.
  • I didn't feel like I was running at true race effort until the last three miles, so I probably could have run an overall faster time. But I'm totally okay with that. I was purposely conservative, and I did what I set out to do.
  • Based on how an average "Garmin pace" of 7:13 felt in crappy conditions, I think a "Garmin pace" of 7:25 for the marathon is realistic. My coach even thinks it will feel easy!  
  • This was an excellent workout and because I ran it on the conservative side, I'll be ready to jump back into marathon training next week.
  • I was only 15 seconds per mile slower than Cherry Blossom from this past spring, and that race was in the low 40s. 
  • My Achilles' were 100% pain-free during the run, but upon getting out of the car after the ride home, they had really stiffened up and were painful for the first few minutes of walking. They are doing better now.
  • In 2010, I ran this race in 1:17:54, so I set a huge course PR this morning!
  • I could complain about how I am in PR shape and would have set a massive 10-mile PR, but I'm not going to. The 10-mile PR will come eventually; this race had its own rewards. 
I wore the Adidas Tempo for the first time in a race, and I was very pleased with how they felt. They are a great replacement for the Mizuno Wave Elixir and Mizuno Wave Sayonara. 

I'm looking forward to recovering from this race, having two more hard weeks of training, and then tapering for Indianapolis Monumental. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trusting the Process and Beating the Heat

In my previous blog post from last weekend, I wrote:

Since the majority of my workouts this cycle have been in warm weather, it's difficult to know if I am any fitter than I was for my Myrtle Beach training cycle. My times for the workouts are almost identical, if not slower.  I don't have a tuneup race or a workout that has made me think "wow- I've made a jump in fitness." Rather, the theme has been trusting the process, cranking out the workouts as prescribed, and hoping that my 7:27 goal marathon pace is realistic without any evidence. 

I didn't have to wait very long for my evidence. And it came on a day when I least expected it.

Thursday, Sept. 28
It was 72 degrees on Thursday morning, and I was scheduled to run my hardest workout of the week. The workout was 2 miles at half marathon pace, 5 minutes recovery, 4 x 1-mile at 10K pace, with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. Not an easy workout by any means! Because it was so warm (at the end of September nonetheless!) I briefly considered moving the workout to Friday, when it was forecast to be 54 degrees. I've moved workouts around before due to weather conditions. Ultimately, I decided not to move it because I had a 20-miler scheduled for Saturday, and I wanted to give my legs a day to recover. It had also been almost a week since my last hard effort, so I felt like I really needed to put in some quality miles.

I woke up, drank a serving of Generation UCAN, got dressed in a sports bra and shorts, and was off to do the workout. My mindset was that I was going to run this based on effort and not stress about the paces. I had performed this exact same workout seven weeks prior in the heat, so hopefully I would be a bit faster and that would give me somewhat of a confidence boost. But effort was definitely the focus.

I ran the exact same route as I had run in early August-- the same route I typically use for hard efforts on the road. It's mainly flat, with some inclines and declines here and there. Nothing more extreme than 10 feet per mile gain or loss. I started out running, the first half marathon pace mile in 7:03. I remembered that I had run it in 7:05 last time, so I was tracking pretty similar. It felt tough to settle into this pace, but once I did, it was "comfortably hard." I settled in and ended up running 6:48 for the second mile. Wow!

As I jogged my five-minute recovery, I realized that I felt pretty good, and that my second mile was a lot faster than it had been in August- 6:48 as opposed to 7:00. Now it was time to crank out the 4 x 1-mile at 10K pace. I ran the first mile, which was the hardest because it was a net incline. 6:38. Wow, okay! Faster than expected. As I jogged my three-minutes recovery I was both delighted and worried that I had over-run it and would fall off at the end of the workout. But that didn't happen. The second mile at 10K effort was 6:30. And then 6:22! And 6:28 for the last mile. So, these miles averaged 6:30, and my 10K PR pace is around 6:43, and that's in cool weather. When I ran this workout in early August, my average pace for the 10K miles was 6:52.

The average of all six miles was 6:38, which is still faster than my 10K pace! In 72 degrees. This was the workout that I had been waiting for. The workout that was my "evidence" that the training was actually working. Up until this point, I felt like I was flying blind. I was unsure if my 7:27 goal marathon pace was realistic. And now I am thinking that 7:27 might actually be conservative.

Lesson learned: trusting the process works. And I'm so glad I didn't move the workout to Friday with cooler weather. Running those paces in the heat was exactly the confidence booster I needed, and it happened when I least expected it. Best of all, I didn't feel all that tired afterwards. I've felt a lot more beat up after other workouts than this one. I felt great, and ran my uphill cool down in the 8:30's.

Here's a snapshot of my week:

Monday: 8.2 miles easy at 8:34 average

Tuesday: 11.3 miles at 8:01 average. My coach advised me to run this at a pace of around 8:00, which is the fast end of my easy range. I had done this same run a few weeks back and my legs had begun to tire during the last three miles. This week, my legs felt strong throughout without tiring at all.

Wednesday: 6.9 miles easy at 8:41 average

Thursday: 11.1 miles
This was the workout detailed above, plus warm up and cool down.

Friday: 8.2 miles easy at 8:33 average
Amazingly cool weather, as was forecast!

Saturday: 20 miles at 8:15 average
Saturday, Sept. 30
My coach suggested that I run this at a pace of 8:15, and then speed up to around 7:50 for the last few miles. I ended up running an 8:15 pace without even trying-- it felt like my natural easy pace in the cooler temps! I ran the last three miles at 7:46, 7:53, 7:52. I faced a 20 mph sustained headwind for the final two miles, so the effort level was more in line with a 7:20 pace. But I was determined to keep pushing and run those miles as close to 7:50 as possible.

Sunday: 3.4 miles recovery at 9:21 average

Total Mileage for the Week: 69

Here is a snapshot of my marathon training so far. I've run 60+ miles every week for the past six weeks and I'm still feeling great. Fingers crossed that this continues and that the summer heat has gone away for good! Only five more weeks until race day!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Boston Marathon Acceptance + Training Update

Last Sunday I received my official Boston Marathon acceptance for 2018! I registered on Wednesday the 13th, and when I hadn't heard anything by Friday, I started to get antsy. I wasn't worried about being rejected with my 18-minute qualifying buffer, but the fact that other Wednesday registrants had received confirmations and I had not was unsettling. Needless to say, when the email confirmation finally arrived on Sunday evening, I was elated.

For those of you unaware of how the Boston Marathon registration process works, runners who qualified by 20 minutes or more were able to register on Monday the 11th, by 10 minutes or more (my group) on Wednesday the 13th, and by 5 minutes or more on Friday the 15th. They then reopened registration on Monday the 18th for those who qualified by less than 5 minutes, and those runners will not receive confirmation until next week, once they determine how much the "cutoff" will be. Many of those runners will be rejected because their qualifying buffer wasn't large enough, so they are eagerly waiting the news that will come next week. My prediction: 2 minutes and 14 seconds. Not based on anything scientific, just my gut!

I wonder why they don't handle registration similar to college admittance-- you can apply at any time, giving the admissions office time to review applications at their leisure, but then have an application deadline and send out notifications after the deadline. Of course it wouldn't work exactly the same way, but something like this:

Registration is open for an entire year. Hopefuls would be able to register at their leisure (instead of a two-day window which could easily be missed) and the B.A.A. would be able to verify their qualifying times as they were submitted. Verify--not accept.  Registration would close in September, and at that point the B.A.A. would have all the data that they needed, fully verified, to calculate a cut-off. They would not be scrambling to verify thousands of qualifying times in less than a week's time. They would know exactly how many people qualified in each age/gender group, and by what margins.

The B.A.A. could make the announcement about the cutoff time the day after registration closed, and notify all registrants at the same time of their acceptance or rejection.

I think this approach would save time, frustration, and anxiety for both runners and for the B.A.A. without altering the acceptance criteria. Also, qualifiers wouldn't have to worry about missing the two-day period; they would potentially have months to register. But who knows-- maybe the B.A.A. likes all the hype that happens in mid-September!

Onto my training update!

Monday: 8.6 miles at 8:45 avg.
This was a warm and humid run, which set the tone for the entire week: unseasonably warm and humid. It was such a tease to have nice cool mornings in the low 50's in early September.

Tuesday: 5 x 2000m with 3-minute recoveries
This is a tough workout. 5 x 2000m is 10,000m: aka a 10K on the track! It was 66 degrees with 95% humidity. I went into the run expecting it to be pretty brutal. It ended up not being all that bad, though. My splits were 8:29 (6:48 pace), 8:25 (6:45 pace), 8:22 (6:43 pace), 8:22 (6:45 pace), 8:22 (6:45 pace). I was pleased with how this workout felt, given how humid it was. When I added up the time of the intervals it was only 10 seconds slower than my 10K PR pace, which was set in ideal weather conditions. I hope this means I am making good progress. This workout was much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. 5 laps at a time is hard! Including warm up and cool down, I logged a total of 11 miles.

Wednesday: 6.9 miles at 8:48 avg.
I took this one nice and easy to ensure recovery from the monster track workout.

Thursday: 10.5 miles at 8:37 avg.
This run was all about cranking out the mileage. Typically I have another hard workout on Thursdays, but I assume my coach gave me an easy run so that I wouldn't be completely exhausted for the marathon pace run on Saturday.

Friday: 8.1 miles at 8:39 avg.
Another easy run in unseasonably warm/humid conditions.

Saturday: 16.7 miles with 12 at marathon pace of 7:27
I went into this workout with one strike against me because I didn't sleep well the night before. In fact, I only got 4 hours of sleep, and I don't think it was deep sleep. Admittedly, I had some anxiety
about this workout. How would marathon pace feel? Since the majority of my workouts this cycle have been in warm weather, it's difficult to know if I am any fitter than I was for my Myrtle Beach training cycle. My times for the workouts are almost identical, if not slower. But I don't have a tuneup race or a workout that has made me think "wow- I've made a jump in fitness." Rather, the theme has been trusting the process, cranking out the workouts as prescribed, and hoping that my 7:27 goal marathon pace is realistic without any evidence.

I ran 2.6 miles at my easy pace and then started the marathon pace miles. I was prescribed 90 minutes at marathon pace. I paced it as I plan to pace it on race day by starting out slower than goal pace and finishing faster. My splits were 7:39, 7:37, 7:27, 7:28, 7:21, 7:24, 7:23, 7:22, 7:24, 7:20, 7:18, 7:30. I ran 12.09 miles in 90 minutes-- an average pace of 7:27. Weather wise, it was about 60 degrees at the start of these miles, and 65 by the end, with sunny skies.

The first 11 miles felt amazing. They weren't easy but I felt strong and in control. But once I hit the final mile, things started to go downhill, and quickly! All of a sudden I felt completely gassed and I was no longer able to maintain the 7:20's. It felt like race effort just to run that final mile in 7:30. I kept bargaining with myself because I so badly wanted to end the workout five minutes early. When it was done, I had to walk for awhile before I could begin the final cool down miles. And during the cool down, I was cramping pretty badly in my abdomen. I had to stop every half mile because the stomach cramping was so bad.

I'd like to think that in cooler weather, I would have been able to hold it together better during the last mile, and I wouldn't have had the cramping issues during the cool down. I'm at my best when it's 35 degrees. My coach told me that this was exactly what the workout should feel like at this point in the training cycle. He said that I should have been on "my hands and knees" at the end, as this workout was designed to drain the tank. And that it did. So while I was initially discouraged about having a goal marathon pace of 7:27, I'm a bit more optimistic now.

I did complete 90 minutes at a pace of 7:27 in the middle of a high-mileage week, on only 4 hours of sleep. So that's good! The weather just needs to be cooler so I can see what I can do when my body doesn't have the additional strain of the heat.

Sunday: 3.6 miles at 8:56 avg.
I was even more encouraged by how quickly I seemed to recover from the marathon pace run. This morning I didn't feel any lingering soreness! In fact, my legs felt a little peppy! I do think my legs are capable of a 7:27 marathon pace, I just need to get my aerobic system there.

Total mileage for the week: 65.5
I'm pleased with how the week went. My Achilles tendons have been doing pretty good, too. I did my exercises every day this week, and the marathon pace run didn't seem to aggravate them. This is my 5th consecutive week at 60+ miles, and even though there hasn't been that *one* workout that makes me think I've gotten fitter this cycle, I know that I have been following my training plan to the letter and feeling good doing it.



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Parks Half Marathon: Race/Workout/Experience/Lesson

Written on Saturday, September 9th
This morning I woke up prepared to run my scheduled 18-mile training run. I looked at my weather app to confirm that yes, the weather was in fact nearly perfect for running. And tomorrow morning was forecast to be even cooler. I then looked at next weekend, when I'm scheduled to run the Navy-Air Force half marathon. Even though it was eight days out and not to be trusted, it was forecast to be warm and humid. UGH.

When I registered for the Navy Air-Force race I knew there would be a good chance of it being warm and humid as it's in the middle of September. But I also thought I would be acclimated. However, over the past two weeks I think I have lost a fair amount of my heat acclimation. It's been in the 50's or low 60's most mornings, with low humidity. This has been a nice treat, but it's not great for staying acclimated to warmer weather.

I started to wonder if it would be possible for me to run my half tomorrow instead of next Sunday. It wasn't long before I realized that the local Parks Half Marathon was scheduled to run tomorrow, with a 6:45 start time. I'd heard great things about this race over the years but I had never done it because it fell so early in the season. It turned out they still had a "handful" of bibs left, but I would need to go to the packet pickup (a 40-minute drive) to register in person.

I emailed my coach (who's on Pacific time) and decided I would run 30 minutes easy this morning and await his reply. If he told me no, I would do the 18 tomorrow. If he told me yes, I would do the half. He texted me and essentially told me it was up to me. The obvious benefit of waiting until next weekend was that he had planned a taper, with easy running only from Wednesday-Saturday, so my legs would be fresh and ready to race.

Thursday: 10 x 1000m w/200m recovery jogs
As it was, I had just run 10 x 1000m at on the track on Thursday, so my legs would likely still be fatigued from that effort. I ran the the workout at my current 10K PR pace (6:44) for an entire 10K, but with 200m recoveries in between. Sounds like a grueling workout, but it didn't really get hard until the last 3 intervals, and I was able to speed up during those. This leads me to believe I am probably in better shape than when I ran that 10K PR.

We went back and forth and he told me to choose the option that would give me the biggest mental boost. If I were to run the half tomorrow, I would have to realize that my legs will not be 100% and I shouldn't expect a particularly fast time, but rather focus on running a hard effort.

This was such a tough decision. I had also previously consulted Greg, Rochelle, and Hannah. Greg told me to go for it if I wanted, but he was sticking with our original plan. Rochelle said she typically favors sticking to the plan, but low 50's with a 6:45am start was pretty attractive. If I did it, I would just have to realize that my legs would be tired. Hannah advised me to stick to the plan because the potentially humid run would make me stronger. She also reminded me that the marathon was what was most important, and my plan was designed to optimize for that.

Lots of opinions, but after going back and forth with my coach, I gained some clarity. Finally, it all solidified in my mind. I could either run a half on tired legs in pleasant racing conditions, or have rested legs in potentially warm/humid conditions. I chose tired legs. I've had a lot of success running hard workouts on tired legs, but that exhausted feeling I get from warm/humid running really takes it out of me and has been demoralizing in the past. For example, I PR'ed my 10K last February without having tapered, and that was a hilly course. The Parks Half Marathon should be relatively flat, with an overall (slight) elevation loss, as the course is point-to-point. So I think as long as I go into the race tomorrow with eyes wide open, realizing that my legs might me screaming at me and I might not be as fast as I would like, then it's all good. I'd prefer that over a warm race. This isn't to say I couldn't run well in a warm half, I just historically haven't done so.

But if the weather for the original Navy-Air Force half turns out to be cool, THEN I will be kicking myself! Ha. It's a gamble, really, but one I've become comfortable with ever since I picked up my bib.

I decided to write this portion of the blog now, so that my actual race experience doesn't influence my description of my original mindset. Until tomorrow!

Written today, September 10th, at 4:30am
While I thought I was confident in my decision, my sleep indicated otherwise. I lay awake most of the night, simply not able to fall asleep. I wasn't consciously worried about the race, but I must have subconsciously been. I haven't had sleep issues the night before a race in a long time. I tried not to judge myself for not being able to sleep and I tried not to think about how it would impact the race. I'd say I was about 85% successful. All in all, I would guess I got about 3 hours of sleep. Two of them from 1:30 to 3:30, and the other one at various intervals from 9:00-11:00.

It's not too late to change my mind, but I'm still going to go for it.

Written today after the race
Okay, I will fully admit that that was not the world's greatest idea! But I made the best of it and I learned the value of sticking with a plan, as my friends encouraged me to do.

We drove 40 minutes to the race site, found parking pretty easily and I began my warm up. I ran a 1-mile warmup and everything felt pretty good. My strategy was to start at a pace of around 7:10 for the first few miles, and then take it from there.

Miles 1-5
Shortly after the start
The first thing I noticed: this race was, in fact, hilly. The elevation profile made the course appear flat because of the scale and I was not prepared for a rolling course with my tired legs. I came upon the first major hill at the end of mile two and even at that early point in the race, my legs had very little to give. By the time I got to mile 5, I realized that I likely wouldn't be speeding up, but I felt like I could maintain what I was doing for awhile.

The entire course is run through parks, which meant 100% shade, but also an inability to pace with the Garmin. My splits were all over the place. I decided to start manually splitting at one point, but then I missed some mile markers, so that didn't work out either. I think I stayed at my 7:10 for the good part of these miles, so let's go with that.

Miles 6-10
I made a concerted effort to be mindful of my surroundings, to take in the scenery, and enjoy the fresh air. Weather conditions were truly ideal, and I was running in a beautiful park-- which is a huge reason why I wanted to do this race to begin with. I wanted to have an enjoyable race experience, and this race certainly delivered on that.

I was beginning to tire, but stayed strong regardless. I knew my pace was slipping but I didn't mind. The important thing was the effort. But then the 1:35 pace group passed me during the 9th mile. I had been running on the park path in pleasant solitude when I heard a group of footsteps gradually approach from behind. I knew they must be the 1:35 pace group and I tried to stay ahead of them for as long as possible, which only ended up being about a quarter of a mile. And then they all passed me one-by-one, which was definitely a mental blow. No longer could I ignore the fact that I was slowing down. But I pressed on. And then came another massive hill. They even had a name for it: high-five hill, I think. A bunch of people were out with big white hands that we were supposed to high-five. It took all the energy I had to power up the hill that I couldn't spare any to high five.

When I got to the aid station at mile marker 10, I stopped and regrouped. I suddenly realized how horrible I felt and the volunteers repeatedly asked me if I needed help. I instantly thought I should borrow someone's phone and call Greg and just shut it down. What would be the point of finishing when I was feeling so awful? But then I reminded myself that I wanted the practice of pushing through when things got tough, not giving up. So I made a comprise and decided to view this race as a 10-mile hard effort with a 3.1-mile cool down.

Miles 10-13.1
My only goal was to get to the finish time, and I will admit that I took a few short walk breaks on the hills. Loads of people were passing me, including the 1:40 pace group during the 12th mile. I tried my best to not focus on the other runners and remember that this was not my goal race but the end of a long, hard workout. And believe it or not, I was still having fun and enjoying the course.

I'm not sure what my pace was during this stretch, but I think it was probably around 8:20. And I got a little zippier during the last mile knowing it was almost over. I was elated to see Greg snapping photos of me at the end of mile 13. I made it back to him without having to call him! Small victories.

My finish time was a respectable 1:41:33, and I was really proud that I didn't give up. Especially since this race has amazing swag. We got a medal, a hat, and this bright orange towel thing that made a great nose wipe just when I needed it!

After the Race: Final Thoughts
This race was simultaneously enjoyable and painful. Even though I believe myself to be in PR shape, running isn't always about that. Sometimes it's just about getting out there and putting out a solid effort. And sometimes it's about savoring an experience. So even if I blew my shot at a PR next weekend, I'm okay with that because I got something different.

That said, if I knew how this race would play out, I would have opted for the easy 18 yesterday and the half next weekend. But hindsight is 20/20. I think I would have had a much better day if I had slept even semi-normally. I conquered my sleep demons several years ago, but I'm not perfect.

Greg put the race in perspective for me: "It's not like you did anything bad. You ran a half marathon because you wanted to." True. I wanted to run this race, and so I did.

My legs are pretty beat up right now, so I'm going to focus on foam rolling, massage, healthy eating, and hopefully sleep. I think that today was a great training stimulus for the marathon (both mentally and physically) and I'm anxious to get back into the groove of training. Total weekly mileage: 60.7.




Sunday, September 3, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Training: 9 Weeks to Go

All of a sudden training got really hard! My coach has begun to pack on the miles and add some long workouts into the mix. The marathon is nine weeks away and I feel like my endurance is already pretty strong, so as long as I can stay healthy then I should be in peak shape come November 4th. My
coach is excellent at having me peak at just the right time by not starting the long runs too early in the cycle and giving me a relatively short taper.

My energy level has been great during my runs and throughout the day. I've been getting plenty of sleep and good nutrition. My legs have felt tired for most of this week and I've been doing a lot of foam rolling and calf massaging. I went to the sports chiropractor about my Achilles to be proactive about the issue and to ensure that I was doing the proper calf exercises. It turns out that I should not be stretching my calf and that I was doing the wrong exercise! He showed me what I needed to do and also performed ART (Active Release Technique) to help loosen things up. I typically only feel the Achilles during the first five minutes of the run, and after I'm done with the run and it stiffens up. I almost felt a bit ridiculous seeing the sports chiropractor because when I walked into his office I was 100% pain free. So right now it's manageable and I don't want it to progress into anything worse.

We've had an abnormally cool week and I'm not complaining. Morning temperatures have been in the upper 50's and lower 60's. Rain has been the major annoyance, and it was really only a factor during the Saturday long run, when the remains of Harvey came through.

Monday: 8 miles at 8:48 average
This was a prescribed 70-minute easy run. For some reason it was slower than my typical easy run, but I didn't judge it or question it. Some days are just slower than others and I usually don't try to force any particular pace on easy days. It's just whatever feels easy.

Tuesday: 6 x 1600m (400m recovery jogs), 3 x 200m (200m recovery jogs)
I was surprised to see this workout so early in the cycle. Last time I was prescribed 7 x 1600m was two weeks before the marathon. It was raining during this workout, but at 62 degrees the rain actually felt really good and it wasn't too heavy. My splits were 6:48, 6:43, 6:43, 6:44, 6:45, 6:41, 0:42, 0:42, 0:43. I felt really strong during this workout. My legs felt powered and I had a good amount of energy. I was expecting to break 6:40 on at least one of them, but it never happened. I probably could have done it if I exerted more effort, but with 6 of them, I didn't want to push too hard too soon. I was disappointed that the last one wasn't under 6:40 but my coach told me not to worry about it because my legs are likely still adjusting to the higher mileage. Someone on Instagram commented that he thinks my half marathon pace is probably 6:45 based on this workout, but I'm not sure if I agree! I ran 12 miles total, including the warm up and cool down.

Wednesday: 7.1 miles at 8:30 average
My legs felt peppy on Wednesday, which was super encouraging after all the mile repeats from the day before.

Thursday: 11.2 miles at 8:04 average
My coach prescribed 90 minutes at a pace of around 8:00. I wasn't quite sure why, and I assumed that he wanted me to get a lot of mileage in at a decent effort, without the hard effort of a workout. I later learned that the purpose of this workout was to see how I felt at a pace of 8:00 so that I could start
running more of my easy runs at that pace. My coach says he's seen athletes make significant gains by running at the faster end of their easy range. According to the McMillan Calculator, my easy runs should be in the 7:37-8:37 range. This has always seemed fast to me, as my range tends to be more like 8:20-8:50. As I said above, I simply run what feels "easy".

So I did this workout. The first two miles were 8:58 and 8:08 because it always takes me awhile to "get into it" and then I spent the rest of the run right around 8:00. So how did it feel? Miles 1-3 felt hard. It's difficult for me to run quickly out of the gate. Miles 4-8 actually did feel easy. I ran up a hill at mile 9 and maintained the pace, which tired my legs. My legs were tired for the remainder of the run, but I still felt like I was working within my aerobic range at an easy effort level.

I believe that easy days are meant to help you recover from hard days and you shouldn't push it. But if I'm feeling good and I can run a little faster while still having it feel "easy" then I will do it. My mileage is really high right now so my legs probably won't like it all that much, but I can see running an 8:00 pace for my easy runs more often if I am not logging 60+ miles per week.

Friday: 6.8 miles at 8:53 average
Speaking of tired legs, they were tired on Friday. Knowing that I had a long run the following day with marathon pace miles, I ran this one as a recovery run.

Saturday: 17 miles with 6 at marathon pace
Harvey's rain hit the DC metro area on Saturday and this run was a soaker. Greg and I ran together for the first 10 miles and got absolutely drenched. It was only 54 degrees, which is crazy for this time of
year, and I was actually cold. The first 10 miles averaged 8:48 on a hillier-than-normal route. Then it was time for six miles at marathon pace, so I ran ahead of Greg while he maintained an easy effort for the rest of his run. 17 miles is the threshold at which I carry UCAN with me in addition to having it beforehand. So I practiced making a UCAN gel and stored it in my skirt pocket, taking it at mile 8.

The transition from easy to marathon pace was tough. I increased the effort and it felt hard, but I was still about 25 seconds slower than my goal pace. It was basically a shock to the system after spending 90 minutes running at an easy pace, to shift gears to race pace. After about 10 minutes, though, I got into the groove of marathon pace and it didn't feel as hard. The rest of the marathon pace miles felt good. I had to work hard, but I wasn't hurting or straining. I finished off with one final easy mile in 8:20.  Marathon pace miles were 7:38, 7:29, 7:23, 7:18, 7:24, 7:18. They averaged 7:25 (which was the target) and the entire 17 miles averaged 8:14.

Sunday: 3.3 miles at 9:04 average
A true recovery run after a long week!

Total mileage: 65.3

I have another hard week coming up and then I'll get a bit of a taper before my half marathon on September 17th.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

5 Recovery Tools That Work for Me

Before I begin this post, I need to knock very hard on a piece of wood. I haven't had any major injuries in over four years, so this is me officially knocking on wood that I am not jinxing myself by writing about this topic.

I often get asked about how I prevent injuries and how I've managed to avoid them for so long. My last major injury, with "major" being defined as having to miss over a week of training, was in July of 2013. I had a stress reaction in my shin and it sidelined me for about six weeks. Prior to that, my injury history was as follows:
  • December 2011: Strained/pulled calf muscle
  • January 2011: Three tibial stress fractures 
  • August 2009: Peroneal Tendonitis
  • May 2008: Patellar Tendonitis
  • January 2008: Pinched Peroneal nerve
Of course my immune system is a different story, as I have suffered from mono-like viruses twice in the past five years. I also was knocked out by a virus for over 4 weeks in the summer of 2008. But the musculoskeletal system has held up pretty well.

I am not a physical therapist, doctor, or running coach. But over the past four years, I've found the following recovery tools to be helpful in preventing injuries.

1. My Bed
I believe that sleep is the #1 factor in recovering from training runs. Without enough of it (or without high quality sleep) your body doesn't have the opportunity to recover from hard workouts, so you end up feeling fatigued when you do your next workout. And the cumulative effects of this can cause injury. Not coincidentally, I stopped getting injured at the precise time that I had my mental breakthrough in sports psychology. 

Prior to the summer of 2013, I suffered from insomnia. It was difficult for me to sleep straight through the night and my sleep was not restful. I would wake up in the middle of the night and my mind would race with all kinds of random thoughts. So despite my best efforts of falling asleep early and allowing 8+ hours of sleep time, I rarely got a truly restful night of sleep. That all changed once I learned to have a more relaxed mindset. None of the remaining items on this list compare to the importance of sleep, as I believe sleep is the foundation of staying healthy.

2. Massage Therapy
When I'm training for a marathon, I typically get a professional massage once every 2-3 weeks, for 75 minutes at a time. I'll go once a month if my training load is lighter. Yes, this is expensive, but it's cheaper than having to go to physical therapy for an injury and it's also enjoyable. My massage therapist is excellent at helping the muscles relax without inducing pain. So not only do my muscles enjoy it, but it's a great way to wind down from a busy week of running, going to work, and doing lots of other things.

3. Salonpas Patches
Whenever something starts to ache or feels particularly tight, I apply a Salonpas patch. I absolutely LOVE these things. They're basically small rectangular patches that stick to you and stimulate blood flow to the area. I've been using them for about ten years and I truly believe they help in recovery. Greg was skeptical at first and thought that they were just designed to make the area feel good, but I think I've converted him into being a believer as well. I particularly like sleeping with them as I find them to be relaxing. I sometimes wear them to work, even though other people can smell the chemicals in the patches. I have a weak sense of smell so I never smell them on me. 

Over the past six weeks I've been experiencing some tenderness and stiffness in my Achilles tendons. On the nights when I sleep with the patches on, the tendons feel great in the morning. Just saying! They're also great post marathon, and I think I was wearing up to four at a time after Boston last year.

4. Protein Smoothies
After my hard workouts, I typically drink a Naked smoothie boosted with protein. I love these drinks because they don't take any time to make-- I just grab one out of the refrigerator post run. One smoothie has 420 calories and 30 grams of protein so it's an easy way to replenish the calories and give my muscles the protein they need to recover. I've noticed, however, that they are becoming more and more scarce at the grocery store so I wonder if they will soon be discontinued. They have already stopped making the "green" flavor, which is a shame. Another quick post-run snack is cottage cheese, which is protein-packed and also takes no work to prepare. In the mornings, I am all about convenience. 

5. The Foam Roller
No recovery post would be complete without mentioning the foam roller. I primarily use this on my quads, hips and IT bands. I use it regularly so usually it's not painful. However, if I am recovering from a particularly hard race or workout, then I've been known to scream while foam rolling. If I wake up and my muscles feel tight, I will foam roll before running. Usually I foam roll for about 3-4 minutes at a time, which I think is shorter than what most people do. But I don't seem to need any more than that.

In additional to using all of these recovery tools, I also do preventative hip strengthening exercises and calf strengthening exercises. In the past, I have struggled with an achy hip when the mileage increases above 55 miles per week. But doing the hip exercises three times a week has left me pain-free for years now. My left hip is the trouble maker, and it can flare up if I make too many left turns. This is why I run on the track "backwards" or clockwise. 

Training Update
I'll finish off with a quick training update. After the race last Sunday, I made up for the missed long run by running 14 miles easy on Tuesday of this week. My legs felt surprisingly good for having raced a 5K on Sunday, and I was able to pick up the pace a bit during the last three miles. 

Saturday, August 26th
On Wednesday, I ran easy for 60 minutes. On Thursday, I did a hill workout that I had never done before: 3 x 10 minutes of continuous hills at 10K effort. I ran up a hill that was about 40 feet in elevation gain over the course of 75 seconds at 10K effort, and then ran back down the hill at a slightly faster pace to keep the heart rate up. I did this for 10 minutes at a time, with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. Each segment was long enough for almost four full ascents. 

Friday was another easy 60 minutes and Saturday was my first "longer" run of the cycle at 16 miles. Greg and I drove to the W&OD trail and ran together. We were treated with low-humidity and temperatures in the low 60's, so the run felt amazing. The W&OD trail (paved trail) is a hillier route than my normal neighborhood running options, so it was a confidence booster to run strong on it.

Total mileage for the week: 61.4

The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is in 10 weeks, and I feel like I have a solid foundation for a strong training cycle.

Finally, as I mentioned in a previous post, I was interviewed for Coach Jenny's podcast while I was on the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. You can listen here.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Leesburg 5K: Coming back for more

This morning I ran the Leesburg 5K. Even though I had raced plenty of 5Ks this summer, I was still craving another one. I think I still have some work to do in terms of finding the right pacing strategy for me, and really dialing into 5K race effort. Plus, I knew a lot of my friends would be running the corresponding 20K and I thought it would be fun to cheer for them after I finished.

I'm in the process of transitioning my training from the 5K to the marathon. The Firecracker 5K was my most recent 5K, and after that I took some down time. Then I went on the running cruise, and then I got sick. Now I am building a base for marathon training, which means a slight increase in weekly mileage and a good bit of hill work. I haven't done any marathon-specific workouts yet, and I also haven't done any 5K-specific workouts in over six weeks. I guess you might consider my half marathon at marathon pace in Alaska to be a marathon specific workout, but I still have not begun high-mileage weeks with marathon focused workouts.

Thus, I did not know what to expect in terms of my 5K fitness. I went into the race with a framework of a strategy, but no specific time goal. I was actually more focused on my placement, because I wanted to win =PR= race series points. You win points for placing in the top 10 of your gender, as well as for placing in your age group. I also hadn't run this race in the past, so I had no benchmark. It used to be a 10K, and I ran that in 2009. But I had no recent memory of this race.

Before the Race
As I mentioned above, this race also offers a 20K option. That distance would have been more appropriate for marathon training, but I have sworn off long distance races that I know are going to be hot. It's one thing if a race I'm registered for happens to be unseasonably warm, but I don't choose to knowingly subject myself to the torture of a long distance race in the heat. I've had problems in the past with seeing black spots and feeling confused/dizzy afterwards, so I leave long distance racing to
the cooler months.

The majority of my friends were running the 20K, and Greg was running it as a workout. I advised that he run the first 30 minutes easy, the next 30 minutes medium, and the rest of the race hard.

Greg and I arrived at the race, got our bibs, and headed for the porta potties. At this point, I think most of my friends were already warming up for the 20K, which started 18 minutes earlier than the 5K. Yes, the official start time of the 5K was 7:48. Very precise! I warmed up on my own, and as I was on my way back I saw the 20K runners coming down the road. I cheered for my friends and for Greg, and then went into a nearby coffee shop to go to the bathroom one last time.

It was in the upper 60's, sunny, with about 90% humidity. This was relatively decent weather compared to the very humid weather we've been having lately. On Friday morning, it had been 79 degrees with 98% humidity at 7:30am. All in all, I couldn't complain.

It wasn't long before they were calling the 5K runners to the start line. I scoped out the competition and I knew at least two of the women would beat me. It was hard to tell with the others since I didn't know who they were.

Mile 1
The race started on a downhill that lasted just under 0.1 mile. Of course this brought everyone out way too fast, and I noticed I was running a 6:11 pace early on, so I dialed it back. The rest of the first
Moments after the start
mile was uphill. Since I was more focused on my placement than my finish time, I counted the number of women ahead of me. It seemed like there were about 10 of them, and I was the 11th.

As I powered up the hill I focused on my form and staying relaxed. I didn't want to go out too hard like I did at the Firecracker 5K and have nothing left for the end, so I gave a strong effort without going all out. I wanted to have gas in the tank for the last mile, which I knew would be all downhill. There was no shade and the sun was getting higher in the sky. I felt okay, but not as peppy as I have felt in previous 5Ks. It became clear that I wasn't used to running at this effort level because I simply didn't have the power that I had earlier in the season.

I didn't judge it though, and I focused on picking off the runners who had gone out really fast. By the time I reached the first mile marker, I had passed four of them, which would have made me 7th. My split was 6:52, which was a bit cringe-worthy, considering my 10K PR pace is around 6:43. I also had run the first bit pretty quickly down the hill, which meant I was running up the hill even slower than a 6:52 pace. But once again, I didn't judge it, I just kept on going.

Mile 2
There were lots of twists and turns in mile 2, which I knew to expect from the course map. I had to really focus on where I was going because now there were 20K runners around and I didn't want to miss the 5K turn off because I was following the 20K'ers. There was a split second when I wasn't sure which way to turn, so I said to the volunteer "5K?" and he pointed me in the right direction. I instantly recalled all the blogs I had read where runners made a wrong turn and screwed up their race. But those thoughts passed once I was certain I was following the correct course.

I passed another woman at some point during the first half of this mile, which helped boost my confidence. From the elevation profile, this mile is a net 5 ft decrease in elevation, but it felt mainly up hill, at least in the beginning and all the twists and turns made it even more challenging to dial in a strong and steady pace. My split was 6:49, which still seemed really slow given the effort level I was exerting, but I tried to keep positive by reminding myself that it was faster than the first mile.

Mile 3
Finally! I knew this was a fast downhill mile and parts of it were even shaded! We ran on the W&OD trail (paved trail) and while it was still mostly sunny for that last mile, it felt amazing when the shaded portions came. I began to close the gap with the next woman ahead of me. I decided to really
Running for the finish line
surge when I passed her so that she wouldn't attempt to stick with me. I had lost track of counting the women and was focused on gunning as hard as I could. Finally I felt good and I felt like I was really racing. I just wish I would have been able to go that hard earlier on. When I run downhill, I feel like I am in control of the pace and I can run harder and go faster. This is not the case for running uphill.

The trail portion finished and we were back on the road by the time we got to mile marker 3. My split was 6:25. Yes! Now all that was left was that original hill that we ran down for the first 0.1. It definitely was cruel to put such a hill immediately before finish, but I was really motivated to give it all that I had, and was pleased to run a 6:31 pace up the hill. I crossed the finish line and the announcer called out my name. I was relieved that the race was over.

After the Race
After catching my breath and getting some water, I met up with one of my friends, Kathy, who had run the 5K. Before the race, we had planned to do our cool down together. The results were already posted and I was excited to see that I had won first place in my age group, and was the 5th overall female. This would equate to lots of points for the =PR= race series! My placement made up for what I considered to be a mediocre (for me) finish time of 21:18.

Kathy had also won her age group, so we were both pleased. We cooled down for two miles and then I retrieved my bag and cell phone so I could take photos of the 20K finishers. Unfortunately, the 5K age group awards were being given away at the same time my friends were finishing the 20K. I prioritized cheering for them instead of getting my award. I knew I could always pick it up later. It was really exciting to see them come through looking strong and working hard. Hannah set a 4-minute PR and Greg executed his workout exactly as prescribed.

Once everyone was finished, I retrieved my award, which was a cowbell and a gift certificate to Potomac River Running. And then we waited for the 20K awards to be presented. Finally, it was time for brunch. I indulged by having a latte, lemonade, fries, a chicken sandwich, and ice cream!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I have mixed feelings about this race, but my overall sentiment is that I got a solid workout in, earned a nice allotment of race series points (and a cowbell), and had a fun morning with my friends.

I did feel somewhat stale at the beginning and I was surprised that my paces weren't faster during the first two miles. My finish time was 2 seconds slower than the Firecracker 5K, which was a little disappointing. I think I was in better 5K shape for Firecracker, but given the lower humidity in today's race, and the fact that I didn't execute Firecracker well, I thought I'd at least be able to break 21:00. It's hard to say which course is more challenging, as they both have their share of hills. But as I said earlier, I didn't have any experience with this course whereas I had run the Firecracker course many times in the past.

I was encouraged by my speed during the last mile, and I think my stamina is pretty solid right now. I feel prepared to start tackling 60+ mile weeks, which will start in the very near future.

Hannah and I with our age group awards: cowbells!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Marathon Training: Back at it

Things have (somewhat) returned to normal after having returned from the Alaskan running cruise. I spent most of the week dealing with lingering symptoms from the virus I picked up while traveling. I was well enough to run, but I was still coughing quite a bit, and on Thursday morning I woke up with
half of my face swollen. Greg fell victim to the virus on the flight home with a sore throat, and he was knocked out for a few days with the same fatigue and chills that I experienced early on.

It seemed that I had brought the Alaska weather home with me for the first few days back. But then the DC humidity came back with a vengeance midweek. On the one hand, I do want to stay acclimated to the weather because my upcoming races are likely to be hot and humid. On the other hand, its just so much nicer to be running in lower humidity.

Monday: 5.8 miles @ 8:37 average
I was relieved to see that I only had a 50-minute run on the schedule. I woke up with the area under my tongue very red and swollen and the back of my mouth was burning. Energy wise, I felt fine, so I did the run, but I was glad it was relatively short. Afterward, I went to the doctor to make sure my swollen tongue thing wasn't an infection. The doctor said that this wasn't abnormal with the virus I had caught. She told me that this was a 10-day bug (I was on day six), and the cough would likely last for 2-3 weeks. Lovely!

Tuesday: 8 x 75-second hill repeats
I told myself I would attempt this workout and if I felt bad during it, I would cut it off. Thankfully the humidity was still low and the temperature was 66. Definitely manageable. My coach told me to run these at 5K effort, and typically I end up running them closer to 5K pace. On Tuesday, I was very disciplined about running by effort and not pace. In fact, on the first one, I ran what felt like half marathon effort. And then 10K effort on the second one. And then for the final six I was at my 5K effort. I made it through and I actually felt decent, given I was still fighting off the illness. The hill was about 35 feet of elevation gain over 75 seconds, and I used the jog back down as recovery. With warm up and cool down, I logged a total of 6.6 miles.

Wednesday: 7.1 miles @ 8:29 average
Wednesday was the first day I felt good. My throat/mouth no longer hurt and I felt like I had returned to 100% energy. This happened just in time for the heat and humidity to come back. 8:29 is a little bit too zippy for an easy run in warm weather, but I was happy to be feeling energized, so I went with it.

Thursday: 10-mile progression run @ 7:54 average
This run was not pretty. I woke up with the right side of my face swollen and painful. It was as if
someone had removed my wisdom teeth while I slept. I did my run anyway, but I was torn between
pushing hard and not wanting to make myself sick given the state of my mouth/face. I later researched it and it seemed like it was a swollen parotid gland. This was likely caused by having used so many antihistamines and also dehydration- since I had been having severe night sweats all week (another fun symptom).

Anyway, the workout called for 30 minutes easy, 30 minutes medium, 30 minutes hard. I've done this workout about 3-4 times in the past and I've always executed it well. But on Thursday I think I underestimated the humidity so I was not able to complete it. I ran the first 30 minutes at 8:34, and the second 30 minutes at 7:41. This felt like "medium" effort when I started, but as the half hour went on, it started to feel more like hard effort. I began the hard portion and I wasn't able to speed up as much as I typically have in the past. My pace was 7:19 and I cut it off after 19 minutes (when I reached 10 miles) instead of the full 30. Back in January, I had run 11.6 miles at an average pace of 7:42 during this workout. But I guess I can't compare summer weather to winter weather. Humidity is tricky. It doesn't feel that bad when you start out, but it hits you like a ton of bricks later on.

Friday: 7.1 miles @ 8:28 average
Just like Wednesday's easy run, this was perhaps a tad too fast. But the pace felt easy and I was really enjoying it. I think once the miles really start to pack on I will need to be better about slowing these easy runs down. The swelling on the right side of my face had gone down, although it was still tender, so I decided not to go to the doctor again.

Saturday: 14 miles @ 8:32 average
This was a pretty typical long run. Greg and I ran together for the first hour (8:42 pace) but then he decided that he wanted to slow it down a bit, and I wanted to do more of a progression, so we parted
ways. He is about 4 days behind me with the illness, so I totally understand him wanting to keep it really easy. I ran the second hour at a pace of 8:22 and everything felt pretty good. I felt myself getting pretty tired around miles 9-11, but then I pepped up for the last three. Amazing how you can go through "rough patches" in a long run and if you wait it out you can suddenly just feel better. That's important to remember during races too. You can feel awful, and let that get into your head. Or you can feel awful and tell yourself that things will likely turn around if you stick with it.

Sunday: 3.5 miles @ 8:41 average
I polished off the week with a recovery run this morning. The humidity was lower than normal, so this run felt really nice.

Total mileage: 54.1
Based on my upcoming training schedule, I think I will probably stay in the mid 50's throughout the rest of August, and then really start to ramp things up in September. The marathon is on November 4th, so I have 13 more weeks of training ahead of me.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Running in Stanley Park, Vancouver

The trail run in Ketchikan, Alaska was the last official event of the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. The cruise ship was "at sea" the following day (Thursday) with no stops or excursions.

The cruise winds down
Just as these running events were winding down, my body decided it was a good time to get sick. It all started with a mild sore throat on Tuesday evening but after finishing the trail run and getting back onto the ship, I began to experience all the traditional cold symptoms: cough, sore throat, pressure behind the ears, and waves of being hot or cold. Thankfully, the ship had a medical station which was well stocked with cold meds.

Because of my previous experiences with mono, I take illness seriously and I'm very careful not to overdo it. I assume I got sick because of the time zone change, lack of sleep, being on an airplane, the movement of the ship, and participating in several strenuous running events. Taking Thursday off was a no-brainer, especially since it would have meant running around the cruise ship deck again, which wasn't exactly the most fun thing in the world. My marathon isn't until November, so I'd rather take a little bit of time off now than regret it down the line.

This running cruise was an incredible experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys running, traveling, and meeting new people. Everything was extremely well organized by our hosts Jenny Hadfield and John "The Penguin" Bingham. There were no surprises and we knew exactly what to expect. Greg and I really enjoyed meeting other runners from around the world. Most people were from the U.S. and Canada and had run numerous races all over the country.

The cruise ship, named The Radiance of the Seas, is one of the older Royal Caribbean boats, and while it was nice, it didn't impress me nearly as much as the ship from our 2010 Royal Caribbean cruise, or the Viking River cruise. The food was mediocre, which kept us from overeating, but the room was relatively comfortable, given its small size. For a trip like this, the cruise ship's main purpose is transportation, lodging, a viewpoint for the Alaskan scenery.

View from the cruise ship as we sailed from Alaska into Canada


So what did we do on Thursday with no port stops? Jenny Hadfield invited me to be a guest on her podcast! She had her equipment with her, so we found a quiet area of the ship and recorded it. We mainly talked about my book and all the struggles I went through to qualify for Boston. After the podcast was over, we chatted for awhile longer about running, careers, and life in general. I really connected with her and it seemed like we had a lot in common. The podcast should be live within the next week or so.

Vancouver
The ship arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia early Friday morning. Greg and I made our way to our downtown hotel and checked in. Our hotel suite felt like a mansion in comparison to our ship stateroom. Physically I felt better than I had on Thursday, but I was still coughing, experiencing bouts of hot and cold, and my nose was running more than I usually do! Once again, it was a no-brainer to take another day off from running. I was thankful that the illness held off until all of the official events were complete, and now it was time to focus on enjoying Vancouver and relaxing.

The weather was ideal for walking around: 70 degrees and sunny with no humidity. One of the best things about this vacation was being able to escape the Washington, DC heat and humidity in late July. We walked from our hotel to Granville Island, which earned me about 12,000 steps on my FitBit. I love exploring new places, especially when the weather is nice and there are so many beautiful and interesting things to see.

Vancouver, BC
We had lunch there and walked around the Granville Island Public Market, which is a massive food hall filled with fresh foods. The fruits and vegetables looked incredible, but of course we ended up with the fresh doughnuts! We took a cab back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and napping until it was time for dinner. We had dinner at the Water St. Cafe, and the seafood was unlike anything we typically get back home. I had a halibut dish, and Greg had sockeye salmon.

Stanley Park Running
Our flight on Saturday wasn't until 12:45 in the afternoon, so we had time to run through Stanley Park. I had a two-hour long run on the schedule, but I still wasn't feeling all that great. That said, there was no way I was missing out on this run. I had heard amazing things about running in Vancouver and it was one of the things I had been most looking forward to. I decided I would go out and see how it felt. If I felt horrible, I could always turn around and come back. I figured that two full hours was probably not realistic, but hopefully I could manage at least 5-6 miles.

We had to take a five-minute walk through the city to get to the water where the path started. One of the coolest things about running in Stanley park is that there is a dedicated path for runners and walkers, and a separate path for bikers. And no cars allowed!

When we started, it was about 58 degrees and sunny. I can't even describe the views, so I'll let the photos do the talking:









This run was amazing and I was thankful to be healthy enough to enjoy it. I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have if I hadn't been sick, but you take what you can get. We decided to turn around after 4.5 miles, making it a 9-mile run. I figured that was plenty long, and we were able to see over half of the park. We kept the pace easy and stopped several times to take photos and videos.

After we finished, it was time for the long journey home. We had a direct flight and we were back in our house by 9:30pm eastern time.

Today I am feeling pretty good except for some pressure behind my ears and some mild dizziness. Greg is also feeling dizzy, and we think it could have something to do with the flight and time zone change. I was able to get out for 6.5 miles this morning, and it felt decent. I ended up logging 31.8 miles this week, which is really low for me. But given that I was sick and on vacation, it's actually a decent amount. Hopefully I'll wake up feeling 100% tomorrow morning and ready to resume normal training and life!

For more information about the Great Alaskan Running Cruise and other running cruises visit www.runningcruise.com.