Sunday, November 5, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Race Report: Riding the pain train

I'm going to kill the punch line by saying up front that this marathon went poorly for me. I wasn't even close to reaching my goal and I felt miserable for nearly half of the race.

Race Weekend
Greg and I flew into Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon. We arrived at our hotel, relaxed for a little bit, and then headed to the expo. One of the things I love about Indianapolis is that everything is so close. The expo was a five-minute walk from our hotel, and then dinner was a five-minute walk from the expo.

For dinner, we met up with my friend Anna, and spent the entire meal talking about running! Afterward, we retuned to the hotel and I was fast asleep by 8:15. The following morning, Greg and I did a 20-minute shakeout run through a park and ended at Au Bon Pain, where we procured bagels for race morning.

Throughout all of this I was oddly calm. The race was "just something we were doing" the next day. It didn't really feel like the big event was finally here. There are plusses and minuses to this. Basically, my sports psychologist has taught me to be emotion-neutral when it comes to running. While he definitely wanted me to experience all the positive emotions that come with pursuing and attaining goals, he also wanted me to temper it by acknowledging that running is just one aspect of my life, and it doesn't define me. And going into this race, I almost felt too neutral. Maybe I've mastered the art of being zen-like. Or maybe now that I've run a 3:21 marathon, I feel like I've already run faster than I ever dreamed, so running even faster is kind of redundant. I don't know.

Anyway, Greg and I had lunch with Anna, and we reviewed our race plans in detail. Greg and Anna decided they would start off together because they had similar goals. Anna wanted to break 3:26 and qualify for NYC, and Greg wanted to run somewhere in the low 3:20s. I was sticking to my plan of starting out in the low 7:30's for the first 10K, and then speeding up from there. After lunch, we walked through the hotel lobby, where I discovered that they were serving free hot apple cider. This apple cider really hot the spot. (Remember this for later!)

A few hours later, I had major digestive distress. And after going to the bathroom, I felt like I needed to lie down because I felt a little spacey. I was somewhat worried that this would impact my race, but I tried to push it to the back of my head. I ultimately began to feel more normal, so Greg and I went to dinner where we had our normal pre-race pasta with chicken.

Before the Race
My sleep was pretty typical of night-before-the marathon sleep. Solid for the first 4 hours, and then fragmented for the rest of the night. When I woke up for good, I was eager to start preparing for the race. I ate my bagel with peanut butter, put my outfit on, pinned my bib on, made my Generation UCAN gel, etc. Finally it was time to leave for the race.

After a short 3-block walk, Greg and I arrived at the start line. I did a quick jog to get my legs moving and then we entered the first corral. Everything felt good. I was ready! We met up with Anna just after the national anthem finished.

It was 46 degrees, overcast and damp/humid. Near-perfect running weather! I shed my throwaway jacket and a few minutes later, the race began.

Miles 1-5
I was not happy with how these miles went. The race was extremely crowded, the streets were narrow, and three pace groups were all merged together. The 3:15, 3:20 and 1:40 half marathon pacer were all within about 10 seconds of each other and I was stuck behind this huge mass of runners. It was more crowded than Boston for the first five miles. It was extremely frustrating because I wasn't able to pace my own race-- I was at the liberty of the crowd. And because there were so many runners blocking my view, I couldn't see where the turns and tangents were. I couldn't even get ahead of Greg and Anna for the first two miles.

We also ran under a few bridges during these miles, so my Garmin got messed up. I couldn't even see the mile markers to calculate my pace because there were so many people. Finally at mile 3, I saw the marker, and I looked down to see 23:03 on my watch. I figured that an 8 minute pace would be 24:00, so take away 3 x 20 seconds would be 23:00. Okay, that meant I was running about a 7:40 pace. Slower than planned, but not significantly. I tried not to let the crowding and inability to pace affect my mindset and mood, but it was frustrating.

Miles 1-3: 7:41 average
Mile 4: 7:29
Mile 5: 7:28

Miles 6-10
Finally after five miles I had passed the 3:20 and the 1:40 pacers, and had enough room to see the course and pace the race according to my plan. I hadn't felt all that great during the first five miles,
and I assumed it was because I wasn't able to establish a rhythm. Surely now that I could run my own
Around mile 10
race, I'd find that groove and feel good.

For hydration, the plan was to take a sip of water every 15 minutes. When I took a sip of water at 45 minutes, just before the 10K mark, I felt my left ear clog up. This was a bad sign, a very bad sign! I starting cursing inside my mind.  This "exercise-induced eustachian ear dysfunction" only ever happens to me in races when I bonk. It happened most recently at the Parks Half Marathon and at the end of a warm marathon pace run that didn't go well. Deep down I knew that this symptom, particularly so early in the race, meant that I was in for a bad day.

But the only thing to do was to ignore it. I wasn't going to let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was going to keep executing my race strategy and just hope that this inner ear clogging wasn't indicative of a pending bonk.

Overall, I felt off. These paces should have felt easy this early in the race and they didn't. I briefly contemplated turning off course at mile 8 with the half marathon runners and then trying a full the following weekend in Richmond. But I quickly dismissed that thought because I didn't want another week of tapering. I wanted the marathon training cycle to be over today.

Mile 6: 7:24
Mile 7: 7:27
Mile 8: 7:25
Mile 9: 7:28
Mile 10: 7:34

Miles 11-15
I didn't worry about falling off pace during mile 10 because it was slightly uphill. But then the 7:30s became hard. I ended up taking my Generation UCAN gel about five minutes early, just so I could ditch my water bottle (I needed to drink the water with the gel). The bottle was getting really cold in my hand, and I knew it would feel better to run without the burden of carrying it. It had been a mistake to ditch my gloves at mile 5. It was getting colder instead of warmer, and this was probably a factor of being farther out from the city.

I tossed the bottle, but it didn't help matters. I was fading, and it was only mile 13. When I ran the Myrtle Beach marathon and the B & A Trail marathon (my previous two fastest) I felt really strong at the halfway point. I have enough experience to know how a marathon should feel at the halfway point, and this was not it!  I kept reminding myself that marathons have bad stretches and good stretches. You can feel bad one moment and good the next. I was trying to be as optimistic as possible, but the good stretch never came.

My half marathon split was 1:38:47, which was in line with my pacing strategy. So at least I know I executed the race according to my plan, and didn't let the crowding in the first five miles prevent me from hitting my halfway target.

Mile 11: 7:30
Mile 12: 7:33
Mile 13: 7:32
Mile 14: 7:45
Mile 15: 7:49

Miles 16-20
I was fading. And I started to feel like total crap. I got a cramp at the top of my left front ribs, below the breast bone. It hurt quite a bit. At some point, I knew Greg and Anna would catch up to me and pass me. And I knew that would upset Greg. So now it was just a guessing game on when I'd see them. They were targeting a pace of around 7:45, so I figured I'd probably see them during mile 18. When that didn't happen, I figured Greg must be running a little slower than planned.

Oddly, the point at which I would see Greg became my only focus, and I was no longer focused on my pacing strategy or my missed goal. I knew it was going to be a bonk, so I just tried to hang on as good as I could. My hands started to get really cold, and I felt chilled to the core. Either it was below 45 degrees out in the suburbs, or the fact that it was damp was making it extra chilly feeling. The forecast was for 48-50 degrees and I am never cold in those temps.

Hurting.
Finally I had to do it. I had to stop. I couldn't keep going. Somewhere in mile 19, a running club had put out a large jug of water and a few bottles of coke. I poured some coke into a cup because it actually looked good to me. The idea of water disgusted me, which is why I think I may have over-hydrated the day before the race. After ditching my bottle at mile 12, I didn't consume any water for the rest of the race. My stomach didn't want it and the clogged inner ear also didn't want it.

I knew that once I stopped, I would be stopping again. But it was unavoidable. I could only run for a few minutes at a time and the pain got so bad I would be forced to stop. Even though I knew that stopping would simply prolong the pain, the situation was no longer in my control.

How was I going to go another 7 miles? That seemed impossible. This was not going to be pretty.

Mile 16: 8:03
Mile 17: 8:02
Mile 18: 8:33
Mile 19: 8:36
Mile 20: 9:28

Miles 21-Finish
We ran under a fancy "20-mile" inflatable archway. Shortly after, Greg and Anna caught me. Anna was looking strong and Greg encouraged her to run ahead to go get her goal. Greg said "Wanna bonk
Mile 25
with me?" And I said "Yes!" But then I realized he was going faster than me so I told him to go ahead because I couldn't run that fast, and he did. About a mile later, though, I caught up to him. He was walking. I told him to come with me, and he replied that he couldn't run. I kept going- I was feeling a little better. But that didn't last for long, and he caught up with me. At this point, we ended up just
sticking together. We ran a bit, and then we walked. And when it was time to run again, he said he couldn't. I really wanted to get this race over with as soon as possible, and he said he didn't care if I left him, so finally I left him for good and jogged most of the way to the finish.

I didn't take in any water or fuel because I felt too nauseous to do so, and my cramp continued to be painful. My inner ear continued to feel clogged. My hands were frozen and all I wanted to consume was that apple cider from the day before. I high-fived as many people as I could just so I could touch their gloves and mittens.

Mile 21: 10:09
Mile 22: 13:05
Mile 23: 11:10
Mile 24: 9:50
Mile 25: 10:28
Mile 26: 10:25
Last 0.2: 8:57 pace

I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. It wasn't a victorious smile, but rather "I am so glad this is over" smile. My official time was 3:43:38. Which is actually a BQ by 1:22, since I'll be 40 for the 2019 race. (I don't actually want to run Boston in 2019, but I think it's cool I still managed to BQ after such a "monumental" bonk.)

After the Race
I was shivering and was so relieved to be able to put a space blanket over myself. I waited for Greg to finish, and he didn't show up. I figured he'd be about 4-5 minutes behind me. When he didn't show up after 10 minutes, I started to get worried. Or maybe I somehow missed him? But eventually he turned up, crossing the finish line in 3:57. (Anna, by the way, had met her goal by running a 3:25). Greg's legs had totally given out and he walked for most of the last two miles.

All I could think about was that cider. I turned down all the food and water options at the finish line and Greg and I headed for the hotel lobby. But alas! There was no cider. It was the only thing I had an appetite for. My high hamstring kept seizing up during this entire walk. It was extremely painful. Meanwhile, my Achilles tendons had been silent the entire morning.

Reflections
I think I need some time to truly process this, and will likely write a separate post later. My main feeling right now is "oh well, onto the next race." I'm honestly not upset. Five years ago I would have been crying my eyes out and now I have swung to the other side. I'm numb to it. Maybe I just haven't had enough time to reflect yet, and maybe I'll feel more disappointed in the days to come. Or maybe not.

Approaching the finish, determined.
While a sub 3:20 would have been nice, and I truly believe I am capable of it, it's kind of an arbitrary goal. My true goals were qualifying for (and running) Boston, and also running a marathon that was representative of my fitness level and training. I did that at Myrtle Beach. It'd be nice to have it again, but the desire isn't as strong. So the non-attainment isn't as heavy of a blow. It may sound like I'm burnt out or bored with running, but I'm not. I am still really excited about my future races and goals. And I'm still very motivated to achieve my goals. I just realize that one race doesn't make or break me as a runner. I still have a few years ahead of me to push even further before slowing down with age.

I did what I could today with what I had. And I didn't have a lot. That could be due to over-hydrating the day before, or it could be related to something I ate. It could be that I missed my peak. I know that I was in amazing shape the day of the Army Ten Miler. 10 Miles in 74 degrees + 100% humidity at a pace of 7:13 felt much better than the first 10 miles of this race-- in ideal conditions at a slower pace! This is a perfect example of an "on" day versus on "off" day. There is no way I lost fitness in the past four weeks, as I continued to train. But a 7:30 pace in ideal conditions for 10 miles hurt a lot more than a 7:13 pace in horrible conditions.

Performance is dynamic. No matter how well you prepare, you can't be guaranteed that your body will be up to task on any given day. I'm a human- I'm not a machine. That said, Greg suggested I test my over-hydration theory by drinking lots and lots of water the day before a medium-long run and seeing if my inner ear clogs as a result.

I am proud of myself for actually finishing. The thought of getting a cab to the finish crossed my mind at multiple times. I am amazed that I was able to finish given how horrible I felt when I stopped the first time during mile 19. I'm proud that I didn't freak out about the crowding in the beginning, and I didn't let the inner ear clogging affect my positive mindset. I would say that I'm proud of myself for not being upset, but it's not like I'm trying to not be upset. I honestly am just neutral feeling at the moment.

Ultimately, I know that this training cycle is part of a bigger picture. This cycle built on my Myrtle Beach cycle, and my Boston cycle will build on this cycle. I know my coach will continue to push me with higher volume and more challenging workouts. So maybe for the next one I will be in shape for a 3:10-3:15. When I bonked in Boston in 2016 (running a 3:48), my next marathon was a 14-minute PR. So I think that good things are in store for me. I need to be patient and I will be.

I'm now going to take some time off to let my Achilles tendons heal fully. They felt great during the race, and during the walk back to the hotel. But once I sat down and stopped moving for 20 minutes, and then got back up- OUCH! The left one continued to hurt pretty badly for the rest of the day. I'm not sure how long it will take, but if I am religious about doing the exercises, and avoid running, it shouldn't be more than two weeks. My three-day hiatus worked wonders, so I just need to extend that for this to hopefully permanently go away.

Thank you to everyone who's made it this far in the blog post! And who has followed my training over the past few months, or years even. I appreciate all of your support as I continue my journey.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon: Pre-Race Thoughts

And just like that, another marathon training cycle is nearly complete!

I ran two hard workouts this week, and now I am officially in "just get to the start line healthy" mode. Because I took three days off to let my Achilles tendons calm down, my schedule shifted so that last weekend's long run was actually on this week's Monday.

Training Wrap Up
The prescribed long run was 16 miles, with the last six starting at marathon pace, and then speeding up depending on how I felt. Now that it was October 23rd, my patience for continued warm and
Still warm and humid in late October
humid training conditions had run out. There is only so long I can "embrace the suck" of this weather when it's late October! It was 62 degrees with 99% humidity, and I could even see the droplets of moisture in the air with my headlamp.

The first 10 miles felt good, so I was optimistic about the last six. But I found that goal marathon pace felt a lot harder than expected. I hit the first one in 7:30, and then even though I pushed harder for the next mile, all I got was a 7:32. Knowing that my goal marathon pace was 7:27, this was disheartening. Determined to speed up as my coach advised, I pushed really hard for the next two miles and was able to pull out a 7:21 followed by a 7:20. With just two miles left to go, I realized I was nearly at my limit. How could 4 miles at goal marathon pace feel so hard?! The 5th mile was slightly downhill for 7:15, and then I really fell apart. My last mile clocked in at 7:28, but I was running at 100% effort level to reach that pace. Afterwards, I felt frustrated and discouraged. With the marathon in two weeks, I could barely run six miles at marathon pace! I'd like to think that this is due to the humid weather, but of course I don't really know for sure.

During my Myrtle Beach training cycle, I ran several marathon pace workouts that gave me the confidence I needed to execute on race day. During this cycle, I have not successfully run my goal marathon pace during a workout.

BUT! I have run much faster than expected during cool weather tempo runs, and even during a warm one. Thursday's workout restored my confidence that 7:27 is a realistic marathon pace. The prescribed run was 3 tempo miles, 2 tempo miles, 1 tempo mile, all with 4 minutes recovery jog. I was supposed to start at the slow end of my tempo range and speed up throughout the run. And I did it!  7:07, 7:02, 6:55, 6:48, 6:46, 6:41. It felt "comfortably hard" like a tempo should feel, and none of these miles felt like race effort.

Friday was an easy 60 minutes and yesterday was an easy 90 minutes. My legs still felt a little sore from Thursday's workout while I ran the 90 minutes, and I am hoping that they will bounce back to 100% in time for the marathon.

Here's a snapshot of my full cycle:


My coach actually prescribed seven additional miles for this week (two 30-minute recovery jogs on Tuesday and Sunday) but in the spirit of letting my Achilles Tendons calm down, I skipped them.

Race Goals
As I mentioned above, I really wish I had been able to execute more successful marathon pace runs during this cycle. I also wish I had run a tune-up race that had indicated where my fitness was at. But alas, I have neither of these, so I will have to rely on my speedy tempo runs as confidence.

The fact that my legs felt sore during yesterday's run was, admittedly, a bit discouraging as well. Typically in training I can run a six-mile hard workout on Thursday and follow it up with a 16+ mile run two days later and feel fine.

My "A" goal time is sub-3:18 because I think I am capable of it. So does my coach. However, I would be elated to simply break 3:20. Right now the forecast is looking decent, although not ideal. (Ideal for me is high 30s). It's about as warm as I'd want for it to be so if it trends any warmer between now and race day, I will not be a happy camper.

In terms of non time-based goals, I want to run a smart race where I don't go out too fast, but I go out fast enough so that I'm not having to run ridiculously fast during the last 10K. I also want to focus on enjoying the race, executing my nutrition and hydration plan, and pushing as hard as possible during those final miles, even though I know it will hurt.

I'm not really nervous or anxious about this race. And it actually doesn't even feel like a taper. I'm just excited to get to Indianapolis and kick off race weekend. I'm also really looking forward to having more free time once I'm not marathon training so my life in general doesn't feel as rushed.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Listening to Your Body Actually Works

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about my Achilles tendonitis and how I decided to take some time off to allow it to heal. Of course, this was not ideal timing at all, as I was planning to run one more
high-mileage week before tapering for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I know many runners prefer a three week taper, but my coach traditionally gives me a two week taper, or even as short as 10 days, and I've found it works better for me. My training cycles tend to be shorter than average as well. I do some pre-marathon prep work, and then the intensity really ramps up 10 weeks before the marathon.

But given that my main objective is always to get to the start line healthy, I had to sacrifice half of this week to Achilles tendonitis. After Sunday's 30-minute recovery jog, I took Monday off as an unscheduled rest day. My Achilles ached for most of the day, even at rest. I was extremely relieved when I woke up on Tuesday morning and it had improved substantially. However, I didn't want to test my luck so I gave myself another unscheduled rest day.

Wednesday
I was checking in with my coach daily and letting him know how everything felt. On Wednesday morning, I woke up to an email from him that advised me to take yet another rest day. I was disappointed, but I didn't question his guidance. One of the main benefits of having a coach is that I don't have to make these decisions for myself-- I simply defer to his expertise. The Achilles had improved even more by Wednesday morning, but I still felt hints of it here and there. I also went to my sports chiropractor and a podiatrist on Wednesday. Both said it was okay for me to continue training and to run the marathon. My biggest fear was that it would rupture and I was assured that a rupture would not occur from distance running. They both agreed that it wouldn't clear up 100% until I really backed off the training, which will happen post-race.

Thursday
My coach also cleared me to run on Thursday. But instead of rushing to do a hard workout, he advised me to run easy and then if it felt okay I could do a hard workout on Friday. I thought this made total sense. I would test the waters with an easy run (70 minutes) and only perform the fast workout on Friday if everything felt good.

Ironically, after I ran on Thursday morning my Achilles felt better than they had all week! I guess the run must have loosened them up and got the blood flowing. I was completely pain free during the run and after the run. And for the rest of the day I could barely feel anything at all! Even though it was hard to sacrifice three days of training, I knew I had made the right decision. I don't think that I lost any fitness, but I also didn't have the opportunity to make a final gain, which I'm okay with.

Friday
Finally, on Friday, I did the workout that was originally scheduled for Tuesday. And I had been itching to do this workout for weeks! I was excited that my coach put something on my schedule that I had never done before. And this would be my first workout in cool weather that could provide some indication of my fitness level. Of course, I would be nice and fresh for it, not having run hard since the 22-miler 6 days prior.

The workout was 3 times 3 miles at half marathon pace, with 4-minute recovery jogs in between. I don't really know what my half marathon pace is right now, but I made an educated guess of a 7:00/mile. I decided I would aim for that, starting off a little slower just in case I was being too ambitious. And that I would also run by feel, allowing myself to go faster if it felt okay. I warmed up for a little over two miles and started the workout. I can't even begin to say how amazing it felt to be running in cooler (50-degree) weather!

My first three miles were 7:10, 7:04, 6:52. They felt comfortable, and I knew I had hit the right effort level because I jogged my recovery at a pace of 9:06. If it had been really hard, I would have needed to jog my recovery closer to 10:30, like I do during track intervals.

Friday, October 20th
The next three miles were 7:03, 6:58, 6:56. I was working hard, but everything still felt great. My legs were fresh. My Achilles were silent. And I had loads of energy thanks to a good night of sleep and my Generation UCAN, which I had consumed pre-run.

My did my 4-minute recovery jog at a pace of 9:19, and was ready to hammer it home. My splits were 7:04, 6:59, 6:56. I was so excited! I felt so strong and fast, and the workout didn't take as much out of me as some of the other ones this cycle. For example, I found the 20 x 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy + 20 x 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy to be much more challenging. With this half marathon pace workout, I settled in, cruised my way through it and felt awesome. Including warm up and cool down, my total mileage for the run was 13.

My average pace for the 9 miles was 7:00 and if you included the recovery jogs, I ran a total of 9.9 miles at an average pace of 7:11, which is faster than my Army Ten Miler pace! Cool weather makes a big difference. Thankfully, the Achilles did not flare up after the run and I continued to feel good throughout the day.

Lesson learned: listening to your body actually works! And so does listening to your coach. I'm glad I played it safe and gave my Achilles tendons the time they needed to calm down.

Saturday
This morning I ran 7.8 miles at an easy pace and everything still felt great. The fact that my legs had pep and didn't at all feel achy from the workout was also encouraging. Even still, my coach wants me to have two days of easy running between the half marathon pace run and my next long run, so I will be doing that on Monday morning before work. It's going to be dark, warmer and rushed afterwards, but at least I'm not injured! In my last training cycle, I ran 20 miles two weekends out from the race. During the training cycle before that I ran 23 miles two weekends out. This training cycle I will only be running 16, but it is what it is. I know that one long (or shorter-than-long) run doesn't make or break a cycle.

I've worked hard this training cycle, although it's been frustrating because of the weather. As soon as it became consistently cool, I had to take three days off due to this injury. I haven't had weekly doses of confidence-boosting runs like I have in previous cycles, but I've had two solid workouts (including the one above) that have indicated that I am in the best shape of my life. The Army Ten Miler was a confidence booster in terms of execution, so a combination of race execution and fitness should lead to great things on November 4th.

Training Cycle Snapshot

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.