Saturday, August 1, 2015

Crime Solvers 5K

This morning I ran the Crime Solvers 5K, a race organized by Capital Area Runners benefiting a local charity.

This is my last 5K of the summer, and I'm really pleased with my decision to dedicate my summer training to speed and shorter distances. My past few weeks have training have been all about hills, and I have more hill work coming up this week. In addition to workouts that consist solely of hill repeats of various lengths, I've inserted hill sprints into tempo runs and mile repeats. This is a new challenge for me, particularly in the heat, and I have been embracing it. I've even found new terrain to train on, as my traditional hill wasn't long enough for the new workouts, nor was it near an area where I could run a tempo without having to cross intersections.

Needless to say, I've never been more prepared for a warm, hilly 5K race. This Crime Solvers 5K course is almost identical to the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase course that I ran 9 weeks ago, with the only difference being that Crime Solvers was measured correctly. A slight course modification brought the race down from 3.17 miles (according to my Garmin) to 3.12 miles (according to my Garmin). I had actually talked to one of the race directors about this beforehand, who said she was working on getting the course USATF certified.

Because the course was virtually the same, I knew what to expect in terms of pacing, and I had a good benchmark. I ran a 6:57 pace at the previous race, with the second mile being the slowest due to elevation gain. My splits were 6:50, 7:08, 6:57, and the weather was 56 and sunny. The biggest difference in today's race was the weather. Instead of 56 and sunny like it was in May, it was 71 and sunny.

Before the Race
Having run so many short local races this summer, I've become a pro at my pre-race routine. I arrived at the race, pinned my bib on my shorts, warmed up, and lined up at the start line. My friend Chad was also at the race, only he was running it with a double jogging stroller carrying 5-year-old twins! I can't even imagine how hard that must be! Greg was there too, of course, and unfortunately he is still not able to run because of his ankle break from March. This is how I've ended up with so many race photos for all of my spring and summer races! He's a great photographer and cheerleader.

Chad lined up at the back with his stroller and I lined up toward the front. Before I knew it, we were off!

Mile 1: 6:47
I knew this mile would be mainly downhill and the fastest mile of the race. The first mile of a 5K is often challenging due to all of the weaving. Quite a few runners shoot out at a pace for the first half
mile that is much faster than they can sustain, so I usually spend the first mile passing a lot of people.

Mile 2: 7:08
My strategy for the race was to push hard through mile 2 because it's the toughest mile of the race. I remembered back to the Reston 10 Miler from March when the whole race was hilly and the uphills were similar to the hills in mile 2. I kept repeating over and over again that if I did it during the Reston 10 miler, I could do it now. Chad also caught up to me with his jogging stroller at the beginning of this mile. I was super impressed that he was able to weave his way through all of those people and run so fast.

Mile 3: 7:03
I was relieved to reach mile 3 because I remembered that it was more downhill than up. I fully expected to break 7:00 based on my memory of the previous race, but somehow that just didn't happen. I was tired, the heat was getting to me and no matter how much I pushed, I wasn't able to squeeze a sub 7:00 mile, but I was close.

Last 0.12: (6:40 pace)
The race finishes on a bit of an incline, and as I turned the corner to see the finish line, I was really surprised to see that the clock was well under 22:00. I knew I was running almost exactly the same pace as I had in the previous race, so my time would be similar. Seeing that I would finally officially break 22:00 in a summer 5K motivated me to gun it for the finish.

My official time was 21:46, making this my 3rd fastest 5K ever, and the only "hot" 5K under 22 minutes. According to my Garmin, my pace was almost identical to Fair Oaks Ambulance chase, but because that course was slightly long for a 5K, my time there was 22:00.

When I compare the two races, I can see significant progress over the past 9 weeks of training. I ran the same pace on the same course in weather that was 15 degrees warmer. And I think I am more sensitive to the heat than the typical person.

I placed 2nd in my age group and was the 8th overall female.

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid
 Crime Solvers, 8/1 
 71, sunny, a little humid

When I compare this race to the Firecracker 5K from 4 weeks ago, my pace was almost exactly the same, but it was slightly warmer today, and the sun was out. It's hard to compare them as closely as the Ambulance Chase one, though, because the Firecracker course is different.

I'll continue to focus on hills next week and then move into half marathon training. My next planned race is the Columbus half marathon, but I will probably run a 5K or 10K as a tune-up for it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Firecracker 5K: Fired up for a downpour

This morning, I ran my 4th Firecracker 5K in the Reston Town Center. I've registered for this race every year since it started in 2010, but I've only been able to race 4 of them.

2010-- 23:21 (3rd place AG)
2011-- 22:41
2012-- (mono - ran it very easy because I thought I was recovering)
2013-- Injured
2014-- 22:54

There are three holiday races that I like to run every year as part of a tradition. It's a fun way to celebrate a holiday with Greg, and it's also nice to compare year-over-year performance. This Firecracker 5K, the Turkey Trot 5K, and the Ringing In Hope 10K on New Year's eve are the three that I always run, provided that I am not injured.

This is the first time I've ever trained specifically for a 5K. Usually my training revolves around marathons and half marathons. I might spend 4-5 weeks dedicated to shorter stuff, but usually no longer than that. You'll see my progression of results across multiple races at the bottom of this post.

Relatively low mileage, no tempo runs, lots of interval work

Before the Race
I went into this race pretty relaxed. I've been doing short races regularly so it's not like putting all my "eggs" in one basket. I know that some races will go really well, and others won't. That's just the nature of the sport. All signs, however, pointed to this race going well. I was well rested, my recent workouts had been strong, and I had no lingering soreness anywhere.

Greg (who has just begun the long journey back into running after breaking his ankle in March) once
End of mile 1
again came with me to the race to cheer me on and take photos. We arrived at the race, and walked around for a little while until it was time to start my warm up.

I warmed up for about 12 minutes (cut short due to an unexpected bathroom trip) and felt decent. It was 69 degrees with 100% humidity and very light rain. For a summer race with an 8:00am start, we could have been dealing with much hotter conditions, so I consider this good weather for the time of year.

My goal was a course PR, but I also would have loved to break 22:00. I knew that breaking 22:00 on a hilly course in 69-degree humid weather would be HUGE, but I felt like it was within my reach. My fastest 5K in warm weather (above 60 degrees) was a 22:24 back in 2012 before I got mono.

As I approached the start, I saw quite a few of my friends from Capital Area Runners. A lot of people come out for this race, and there were nearly 2,000 total finishers. It's always a competitive field-- except for that first year when I won an age group award!

Mile 1: 6:57
Having run this race multiple times in the past, I knew that the first and last miles were uphill, and the middle mile was downhill. I decided to just run by feel, making sure I didn't blow all my energy on that first mile. Everything felt pretty good, and the first mile went by quickly. I was pleased to see a 6:57, knowing that my second mile would almost certainly be faster.

Mile 2: 6:45
The sky opened up and it suddenly started to rain very heavily. I had brought a hat to keep the water off of my face, but I left it with Greg because it wasn't raining at the start line. It was challenging to focus on pushing hard when water kept getting in my eyes. This resulted in my looking down, which I know isn't ideal, but it was the only way I could see without wiping my eyes constantly.

Gunning for the finish
Mile 3: 7:10
Now it was time to really work hard and remember all the training I had done. I glanced down at my Garmin at the beginning of the mile and saw an average 6:53 pace for the first two miles. That's a faster pace than my all-time PR of 21:29! I knew that if I just pushed really hard I'd be able to break 22:00. I felt stronger than I ever have at the end of this race, but that last hill was so long! I increased my effort substantially, but my pace still dropped.

Last 0.16: 7:10 pace
I kind of don't trust my Garmin here. I had a really fast finishing kick, which felt like 6:20 or something. But, there were a lot of tall building around and with only 0.16 of a mile, there wasn't a lot of time for the Garmin to self-correct. I bolted for the finish line and was so happy to be done!

I watched some of my friends come in, found Greg and chatted with my friends for a bit. It was pouring heavily so I cooled down and didn't even stay for the awards. I was pretty sure I didn't win an age group award, simply because it was such a large competitive field.

Garmin time and pace: 22:03, 3.16 miles, 6:58 pace
Official time: 22:05
Placing: 5 out of 133 in my age group (35-39), which puts me in the top 3.75%!

Lately, the official time hasn't been matching up with when I start and stop my watch. I know I hit the button exactly when I cross the start, and almost immediately after I finish. But for my past 3 races, the official time has been a few seconds slower than my Garmin time.

Focusing on shorter, faster workouts has definitely resulted in faster times. Comparing this race to the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase 5K that I ran on May 23 in much cooler, less humid weather, I see huge gains. My Garmin pace and official time were extremely close, and yet today's race was 13 degrees hotter, in a downpour with 100% humidity.

Comparing this race to Angel Kisses from May 10, the weather was similar (although it didn't rain at Angel Kisses) and the course was similar. Yet I ran 34 seconds faster today, shaving off over 10 seconds per mile!

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid

While I didn't get my desired sub-22:00 officially, my pace was the equivalent of that, and I set a course PR by 36 seconds, and a "warm weather PR" by 19 seconds. Now it just needs to cool down so I can start crushing those "overall" PRs!

Running isn't always flattering. . . 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Very Hot 4-Miler

Yesterday evening I ran the Potomac River Running Twilight Festival 4-miler. I've run this race twice before-- in 2007 and 2008.

When planning my summer race schedule, I heavily debated between this race and the Lawyers Have Heart 5K occurring in the morning. Initially I was leaning toward the 5K because it would be cooler in the morning and there'd be less distance. Plus, I could compare it to all my other 5Ks this summer. But then I thought I might do the 4-miler for a "change of pace" because it's closer to home, logistically easier, and the "festival" atmosphere is fun. Both races attract a competitive field, so the opportunity to win an age group award wasn't part of the decision.

I knew the 4-miler would be more challenging because it's a longer distance, it would be hotter, and I'm very much of a "morning runner". This challenge was actually part of the appeal. Instead of shying away from difficult racing situations, I am seeking them out. It's not always about the time on the clock-- it can be about pushing through tough conditions and staying mentally strong.

The weather forecast was for 85 degrees, with a "real feel" of "90". I knew that these conditions could potentially be unsafe for me, as I had nearly passed out on several occasions in cooler temperatures. I decided I would be conservative and run the first two miles on the slow side-- so that they didn't feel like a race. And then, at the halfway point, I'd turn it on and try to pass as many people as possible.

I thought that 7:45 would be a safe starting pace for the first two miles, and then I would see if I could speed up from there. I figured I would be lucky to run it at pace of anything under 7:45.

A few weeks ago, I ran a workout of 5 x 1000m in hot weather. The first rep felt easy. I tried to maintain that pace for the the rest of them, but the 4th one was 10 seconds slower than the first and then I was completely beat, unable to do the 5th. This is just one example of how a pace can feel really easy for the first 5-10 minutes, but then quickly become unmanageable in the heat.

Given my desire to not pass out or completely bonk, I thought I had a solid plan.

Before the Race
Figuring out what to eat during the day for an evening race is challenging. I ate bland food all day long and then my dinner at 5:15 consisted of a banana and a bagel with peanut butter. I drank A LOT of water throughout the day and took a salt tablet.

As expected, it was around 85 degrees, sunny and humid. I did a very short warm up (only 0.9 miles) because I didn't want to go into the race too hot, and the first two miles would be a bit of a warm up anyway. Greg and I brought a cooler full of ice, and I was holding the ice cubes on my wrists and on my neck before the race started to stay cool.

Even just standing around doing nothing, it was ridiculously hot, so I had no idea what to expect from the race. At the Lawyers Have Heart 10K that morning, people were running up to a minute per mile slower than they would on a cooler day, and I was wondering if that would be the case for me for just 4 miles.

Mile 1: 7:30
When the race started, a ton of people passed me. I probably lined up too close to the front for my
Gunning toward the finish line
planned starting pace, and it took a lot of restraint to stay back and not get pulled out too fast. My plan was to start at a pace of 7:45-8:00, but it was a net downhill mile so I ended up logging a 7:30. It felt surprisingly easy to be running that pace (about half marathon effort) but I know that what starts out feeling easy gets hard really quickly when it's 85 degrees!

Mile 2: 7:45
I kept my effort level about the same for this mile, but it was a net uphill right into the sun so it was harder. I started to pass some of the people who passed me at the beginning of the race. I told myself that once I hit mile marker 2, I'd turn on the gas and pass even more people.

Mile 3: 7:21
I didn't look at my Garmin much during this mile, so I was really shocked to see how much I was able to speed up. It actually felt great to be pushing and working hard. Finally I felt like I was racing! Even though it was super hot, I had saved up energy from the first two miles and I was able to run really strong.

Mile 4: 7:01
With just one mile to go, I felt like I could push even harder, so I did. I passed a lot of people during this mile. I was hoping to pass a bunch of women, but mainly they were guys. As I approached the finish line I had one woman in my sights who I passed during the last 0.05 mile. According to my Garmin, I ran a 6:04 pace for that last 0.08 mile.

Average pace: 7:23 for 4.08 miles

I was really, really surprised by this. Granted, 7:23 was also my "Garmin" pace for the Reston 10 miler last winter, but I thought there would be no way I could run that in the heat, and I've never negative split anything in the heat. It's always been bonk, bonk, bonk!

I also regularly run 4-mile tempo runs at a pace faster than 7:23, but that's in temperatures below 50 degrees.

Knowing how well I did, I think I probably could have run this race faster if I started out a little faster. At the end, I felt like I could have maintained my pace for another half mile or so. Of course, there was no way to know that before actually running the race, which is why "experience" like this is so valuable. Now I know what I am capable of.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that I won 2nd place in my age group. This race attracts a competitive field so an age group award was unexpected. I won a Mizuno running visor!

My official time was 30:08. A little annoying that it wasn't sub-30 when my Garmin pace was 7:23 (and I did run the tangents) but that's what happens in races. It's technically a PR, but I have run faster 4-milers in training and also as part of a 10K.

This week will bring a continued streak of abnormally hot weather, so I'll manage through it the best I can as I continue to build my speed.

An ice cream truck at the finish?!  Yes, please!!!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

UVA Stumblefoot Derby: 10-Year Raciversary

It's my 10-year raciversary!  I ran my very first race 10 years ago at my 5-year college reunion.

I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2000. Shortly after graduation, I joined a gym primarily to take step aerobics classes, which I loved. Because the class was only offered twice a week, I got into treadmill running as a way to workout more frequently. I remember my first few treadmill runs vividly. It was a struggle to run a mile, and my pace was about 10:30. I  kept with it though, and soon my typical workout was 5-6 miles on the treadmill, at a pace of about 8:20. I did this consistently for 5 years and almost never ran outdoors.

At the 5-year reunion in 2005, my friend noticed a 2-mile race in the program and told me I should do it. I had brought workout clothes with me, so I decided, why not? I showed up to the race, and as I started running, one of my college friends started chatted with me. He said he married one of my sorority sisters. We chatted the whole time, running at a pace that was challenging for me. At the end, I was shocked to learn that I was the first female finisher, and was awarded a special Jefferson cup.

My friend told me he was running the Lawyers Have Heart 10K the following weekend, and that I
Lawyer's Have Heart, June 2005
should do it too. I didn't even know what a 10K was, but when he said it was 6.2 miles, I knew I'd be able to do it. I ran the race in full-on cotton attire without using a porta-potty first. Lots of rookie mistakes! However, I put out a strong effort and my success at that race made me want to run other races, and longer distances.

Since then, I've run over 100 races, including 19 marathons. I've logged somewhere around 17,000 miles. I've had injuries-- both severe and minor. I've run in everything from 15 degrees to 90 degrees. Rain, wind, snow. San Diego, London, Memphis, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Miami, San Francisco, Phoenix, and many other places. It took me 10 attempts, plus 3 DNFs, but I finally qualified for the Boston Marathon. This is proof that if you work at something long and hard enough, if you have true passion and perseverance, you can do anything.

2-Mile race report
Yesterday, I returned to my 15-year college reunion and I ran that same 2-mile race, officially called "The Stumblefoot Derby." Due to construction, the course was different, but it still had the same feel. My friend Stacy was there and that made the experience even more special.

Greg (who is now finally able to walk without crutches) and I arrived at the race in time to get my bib
and warm up. It was a very small field, which surprised me given how popular running has become and how many people attend the reunion. I guess most people are primarily focused on drinking the night before!

After a short warm up, I lined up at the start line, which was a line on the sidewalk drawn in chalk. The course was two laps around Scott Stadium. I didn't have a time goal in mind because I wasn't sure how I'd perform on those hills. My main goal was to win it like I did back in 2005.

In front of Scott Stadium
The race started and one young-looking girl immediately got ahead of me. She was probably in the class of 2010 (UVA holds reunions every year, so participants were in the class of 2010, 2005, 2000, etc.). She was wearing a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, even though it was in the high 60's. I thought it had to be one of two things: she was a super fast runner and would win the race even though she'd be hot in that shirt, or she was just really confident and didn't have much experience racing in the heat.

I had her in my sights for the entire first lap, so my primary focus was when I would make my move to pass her. She was running the tangents (which was the sidewalk around the stadium) but I was running in the road because I much prefer asphalt. This made my distance longer, but it was worth it not to kill my legs by racing on a sidewalk. I started closing the gap shortly after the first lap, so I passed her on a downhill, and then surged up a hill with everything I had to widen the gap definitively. I continued to push my hardest and used every mental trick in the book to stay strong up the hills.

I won the race in a time of 12:35. The course was "officially" two miles, but my Garmin read 1.78. I tried making eye contact with her afterwards and chatting with her, but she seemed to avoid me.

I was awarded two Jefferson cups. I now have a collection of 5 cups from the races in 2015, 2010, and 2005. After the race, Stacy and I visited some of our favorite places on UVA's "corner" and reminisced.

I plan to continue to train for short races for the next two months before getting serious about half marathon training. I can tell that the speed work is paying off and that I've gotten a lot better at hills over the past year.

Stacy and me in front of Scott Stadium
UVA Stumblefoot Derby

Monday, May 25, 2015

Getting Zippy: Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase 5K

Continuing my series of 5K races this summer, I ran the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase 5K on Saturday. I ran this race back in 2009 and I remember it being extremely hot and hilly, winning my age group but not getting any kind of award.

I decided to do this one again because it seemed like it would be better organized with =PR= managing it and the weather was forecast to be seasonably cool. 

My friend Chad also ran it, as the race goes right by his house. Greg is still on crutches (although he's not wearing the boot anymore) so he came to cheer us on. I'm really looking forward to being able to run with my husband again!

Before the Race
At the race, we found Chad and I did a 15-minute warm-up with him. I noticed that the mile 3 marker
Chad and I at the start line
was definitely farther than 0.1 mile away from the finish line. I could tell just by eyeballing it. To me it looked like there was at least 0.2 mile between the final marker and the finish line. But, I didn't worry about it-- it was more of an observation than anything else.

We lined up at the start line and there was an actual ambulance there that had "Chase Me" written on the back of it.

Based on a recent training run of 3 x (1600m, 3:00 recovery, 400m, 1:00 recovery), I estimated my 5K pace to be about 7:00. That the 1600m intervals were supposed to be run at 5K pace and the 400m intervals at mile pace. My splits for the 1600m intervals were 7:03, 7:01, 7:01. Even though this workout was flat and the 5K was hilly, I figured I would be pushing much harder in a race and could still probably be around 7:00.

Using that workout and my previous 5K time of 22:39 as a benchmark (which was on a very similar course, but with hotter weather) I was targeting a time of 21:55-22:20. 

Mile 1: 6:50
The course started with some uphill, but then there was a very long downhill for the the second half of the first mile and I flew down it. It was the same downhill that I ran during the Angel Kisses 5K two weeks ago, so I knew I could take it quickly and not ruin the rest of my race.

Mile 2: 7:08
Even though it was only 56 degrees, the course was not shaded and the sun was pretty high in the sky. I could feel myself heating up a little, but it was nothing like the Angel Kisses 5K from two weeks ago where it was so humid I felt like I couldn't even breathe. To make up for the downhill in mile 1, this mile was primarily uphill. According to my Garmin, this mile had a net elevation gain of 57 feet, which in my mind makes it the strongest mile of the race. I don't remember too much of this mile other than just pushing really hard on the uphills. I ran faster them than expected.

Mile 3: 6:57 
I recently had a conversation with my sports psychologist about the final mile being the one that
counts. You run the first two hard so you set yourself for that final mile, which is the true test of mental toughness. I just powered through this one, reminding myself of how strong I was.

Last 0.17: 1:04 (6:19 pace)
I passed mile marker 3 and that final bit of the course was definitely longer than 0.1. And when you are pushing that hard, every bit makes a difference. I think I got a lot of my energy from knowing that
I could go sub-22:00 if I pushed really hard.

After I crossed the line I looked at my Garmin, and it read 21:59! I was super excited! But part of me knew there was a chance that the official time would be 22:00. This happened to me once at a Crystal Run 5K Friday (I got a 22:00 and was hoping for sub-22:00). I know that it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it just feels like a much bigger accomplishment to run a 21:59 than a 22:00.

It turns out I was the third overall female, and I won a Dunkin Donuts mug with a $10 gift card for Dunkin Donuts. Fun!

Race Comparison
It's nearly impossible to do an apples to apples comparison with different course profiles, weather, distances, etc. So here is one way to look at my progress over the past six weeks:

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 

I've been doing some really challenging workouts that make me feel as if I am pushing past limits and going beyond what's comfortable. I think my progress over the past six weeks shows that my work is paying off, and I plan to continue down this path throughout June and July. I've never run a sub-22:00 5K in anything warmer than 40 degrees, so it would be a huge accomplishment to be able to run this fast for my July 4th race, when it's bound to be hot!

Other Notes
I've been wearing the (relatively) new Mizuno Wave Sayonara for my past few races. This shoe supposedly replaces the Mizuno Wave Elixir (one of my all-time favorites), but it's not a stability shoe, doesn't have as much cushion, and it's lighter. To me, it's not really comparable to the Elixir, but I am running comfortably in them and I'm enjoying their light weight. I'll need to save my last few pairs of Elixirs for half marathons, because I can see my feet hurting if I wore the Sayonaras for a longer race.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

5K Extravaganza: Angel Kisses 5K

 Now that I'm done with my marathon and the weather is heating up, I'm focusing on racing shorter distances until the fall. The heat is a real challenge for me, and I've nearly passed out on several occasions after hot races.

April: Marathon recovery (easy running)
May: Lower mileage, high intensity speed work
June: More challenging speed work
July: Speed work, and begin to add mileage

Greg and I have a long European vacation in August, so that will represent a break in the hard
training, and once I return, I'll get serious about training for my two fall half marathons.

I ran the BEST Kids 5K three weekends ago, and I have a series of 5Ks coming up over the next two months.

Before the Race
I actually wasn't in a racing mood this morning. I didn't feel the typical excitement and adrenaline. I kind of just felt "blah." But once I got to the race site in Fairfax Corner, I started to get more excited. The whole race atmosphere with people in bibs, the big start/finish line, etc-- it all kind of put me into race mode.

I warmed up for nearly two miles and thought about my approach to this race. I think I've run this course before, but it had been a long time. At least 4 or 5 years ago.This race used to be only two miles from my house, but for some reason they moved it this year so I could no longer run there as my warm up.

I could tell from my warm up that the course would be hilly, and I knew that going into it. I just didn't know when the hills were and what portion of the course I was warming up on, as the route makes a large circle around the shopping plaza.

It was 68 degrees, overcast and 99% humidity. I am not yet acclimated to heat or humidity, and I don't think I've had a single training run over 60 degrees yet. They've all been in the 50's at their warmest. At the 5K three weeks prior, I ran a 22:31, and that was a pancake-flat course, low humidity, and about 5 degrees cooler. Although that race was sunny. I figured with added hills, humidity and a few extra degrees, I would probably tack on about 25-30 seconds to my time.

My main goals were to practice pacing the 5K distance (it's tough to master it) and to continue to push hard throughout. I also wanted to see what the past two weeks of more high intensity training had gotten me.

Mile 1: 6:54
The first mile was a long downhill. I was cautious about taking it too quickly because I didn't want to run out of gas too early. If this had been the last mile, I certainly would have gunned harder. When my watch beeped 6:54, I wasn't surprised, but a little worried about what was to come. I knew there would have to be an equivalent uphill somewhere,

Mile 2: 7:10
Photo by Greg Clor
This mile seemed to be a mix of up and downhill. The race started to get really hard at the beginning of mile 2, and I thought to myself "wow- I still have two miles to be feeling like this". I didn't feel good. The humidity was really taking it out of me. I know that 5Ks are supposed to hurt, but with this one I felt zapped. In the BEST Kids 5K three weeks prior, it was hard, but I felt strong and relatively "good" for the entirety. I was quite surprised to see a 7:10 on my watch because I was really struggling and that mile had a lot of hilliness.

Mile 3: 7:28
At this point, I was just hanging onto the effort level. I was struggling so much, and this mile was mostly uphill. At certain points, I felt like I was going at a snail's pace. I was soaking wet from the sweat/humidity combo and life wasn't fun.

Last 0.16: (6:57 pace)
Usually I can bring my 5Ks and 10Ks home at a pace of 6:10-6:30. Not today. It was a flat finish, but I was completely spent. I guess this means I left it all out there, which means I met my goal! \

As I passed through the finish line, I was immediately handed a carnation. I probably would have preferred to have waited at least 10 seconds post-finish to be holding something, but I appreciate the sentiment. (And I think they were giving them to all the adult females who could have been moms.) I found Greg, who came to cheer me on and take photos, and was very happy to be done running. He's still on crutches due to his broken ankle, and won't be running again until June.

Photo courtesy of =PRR= Races
I cooled down for a mile and then waited for the awards ceremony. As it turns out, I won 1st place in my age group with a time of 22:39. I got a $20 gift certificate to Potomac River Running. Yay!

I actually surprised myself with how well I did in this race relative to the one three weeks ago that was flat, cooler and less humid. Officially, I was only 8 seconds slower (not my predicted 25-30 seconds). And according to my Garmin, today's race was actually faster, because this course measured longer.

BEST Kids: 7:14 pace for 3.12 miles
Angel Kisses: 7:11 pace for 3.16 miles

So in reality, I can tell that in just three week's time, I've made a good deal of progress. Speed is gained and lost quickly, so I am optimistic I can beat this time at my next 5K in just two weeks.

Also, I spent 2 of the past 3 weeks traveling for work, which always makes training harder. I was in London the week of April 20, where I ran in Hyde Park. I was in San Diego this past week, where I ran along the bay. It's a lot of time zones and air planes and stuff, but I still managed to train through it all.

Photo by Greg Clor

Photo by Greg Clor

Photo courtesy of  =PRR= Races

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Breaking Tape

Last Saturday, I won my first-ever 5K. Prior to this race, the only race I’d ever officially won was a 2-mile race at my college reunion in 2005.  And that was actually the first race I ever ran, period. (It was quite the foray into racing!)

One of my best friends, Allison, asked me to run this race with her shortly before my March 29 marathon. I was excited about it and I told her I would, provided that my recovery went smoothly.

Three weeks after the marathon, I felt mostly recovered and ready to go. I asked my coach how I should approach the race and he told me that since I was feeling good, I could run it hard and see where my speed was.

Before the race
This race was more of a social opportunity than anything else. I hadn’t seen Allison in a while and we planned to go out for brunch after the race. It’s become customary for us to meet for lunch or coffee or something shortly after one of us runs a marathon so we can hear all the details from the other one. Added bonus: our mutual friend Liz was also running the race.

I met Allison at her place in Arlington and she drove us to the race at Hains point. We met up with Liz, warmed up for just over three miles and we were ready to go. Allison’s plan was to run it as a tempo, as this race occurred in the middle of a very heavy training week. Liz was going to run it as an easy run, as part of a longer run she was doing that day. Since my coach told me I should run it hard, I figured I might as well use it as an opportunity to practice a 5K pacing strategy. I had nothing to lose, since this wasn’t a target race, so I figured I would risk going out too fast and then bonking.

It was sunny (although parts of the course were shaded) and about 63 degrees. I’m not acclimated to warmth yet, and I find that I typically race slower than my peers when the weather heats up. I wore a sports bra and poured cold water over my head before starting.

Race start

Mile 1: 7:12
Allison and I lined up at the front and noticed that there weren’t many runners up there with us. Most people were sticking to the back. I had never lined up right at the front of a race before, but since nobody else was, I figured why not.  The race started and I took off pretty quickly. 

I felt rusty because I hadn’t done any speed work since the marathon. I took a full week of complete rest post-marathon, and week number two was extremely light. The third week had one stride workout, but was otherwise all slow, easy running. 

I pulled ahead of the pack and I knew that there were no women ahead of me. I wasn’t sure how close behind me Allison was, but I assumed she was very close.

Mile 2: 7:22
As I got into the second mile, I thought that my Garmin was lying to me. I felt like I was running a sub-7:00 pace but my Garmin was reading in the 7:20’s. Throughout my marathon training cycle, in the cold, my tempo pace was 7:15. But now I was running in the 7:20s and it was my 5K pace! I felt strong and energized, but the pace on the watch just didn’t correlate with my perception of effort. Toward the end of this mile, I passed two guys. It felt great!

Mile 3: 7:09
Things started to suck here, and I was ready for the race to be over. The only thing motivating me was the possibility of being the first female finisher. It was pretty exhilarating. I basically repeated to myself over and over again to keep up the effort. I didn’t care about the pace, I just wanted to push hard and run my best.

Approaching the finish line. That black tape on my knee is "sunscreen."

Last 0.1 to The finish (6:30 pace)
I was so excited to see finish line tape! I only had a few seconds to figure out how to put my arms and how to make a good finisher’s photo, but that suddenly became my main focus when I saw the tape. I ran through it and turned around to watch Allison finish. I was 99% sure that she was right behind me and that there were no runners in between us.

She finished strong and executed according to plan, as did Liz.

The only photo they got of me was from behind!

After the race
The three of us cooled down for a mile and then returned back for the awards ceremony.

Post-race cool down. Beautiful day!

We received medals and a photo opp with Miss Teen District of Columbia. It was a beautiful day for easy running and an awards ceremony!

Awards ceremony. 1-2 finish!

Once we received our medals we walked back to the car and went out to brunch. It was awesome to catch up to talk about her upcoming marathon and my recently finished marathon.

Now that I know where my speed is, I'm hoping to improve on it over the summer. I have three 5K races planned between now and July, and my training will specifically target that distance.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Processing it.

It's now been one week since the B&A Trail marathon so I've had time to reflect more on the race.

In some ways, I feel like I got "the monkey off my back," but really I know that I had to have gotten rid of the monkey well before this race in order to be relaxed enough to run well.

Running a race like this is something that I thought myself physically capable of for the past five years. Based on the paces I was hitting in training, my times at shorter races, and the sheer volume of my training, everything indicated that a 3:35 was well aligned with my fitness.

Naturally, I was extremely frustrated because I worked so hard in training, but it never paid off at the marathon distance. I had to work hard to free myself of this frustration and re-focus on the bigger picture. When I was finally able to let go of "the monkey on my back," I was able to sleep better and stay calm during my taper. And even on race morning, I didn't feel as jittery as I have in years past.

I ran this race on auto-pilot. I knew exactly what I was going to do and when, so it was just a matter of executing. In fact, I don't even remember some of the songs on my iPod even playing. I had a purpose, which was to get to the finish line, and I knew how I would fuel, hydrate, pace, and mentally do throughout the race. I knew it was going to hurt during the last 5-6 miles, so when it did, it didn't phase me one bit. I just told myself to keep pushing and not let the pace slip.

Even when the race threw curve balls like icy patches, a windy detour off the trail, and dropping my Honey Stinger gel, I didn't have an emotional reaction. Being emotion-neutral while racing produces the best results. I didn't feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, excited, or anything like that. Just auto-pilot. So nothing phased me.

Post-race peace
This past week, I have been having the best sleep of my life. I am consistently getting around 8 hours a night. I fall asleep shortly after I get into the bed, and I sleep through the night. I wake up gradually and feel completely refreshed in the morning. I can't remember a time in my adult life where I have had consistently restful, uninterrupted sleep.

Even though I was in a really good mental place before the race, I have this renewed sense of calmness. I feel relieved too. I was stressed before hand, but in a good way. I had to be careful about not getting or injured or any of those things and I didn't know what race day had in store. And now that it's done with, I feel like I don't have a care in the world!

One step at a time
Occasionally I've had that thought "maybe I could have run it faster if I started out a little faster." My legs were sore this week, but they've been far more sore after other marathons. But whenever I have that thought, I always remind myself that I needed to run this race with this pacing strategy. I've been going out at an 8:20 pace for the past few years in my marathons, and I haven't yet run a negative split on it. So before trying to go out any faster than that, I needed to first prove to myself that I could start at 8:20 and run a negative split.

Now that I know I can do that, the next step is to try going out a little faster. Part of my problem in past races is that I would try to PR by 10 minutes or more. And that's not realistic. I'm now focused on the big picture of marathoning, taking it one step at a time. This particular race showed me that I can start out at 8:20, and negative split to 3:35:29.  Next time, I will feel more comfortable with a faster starting pace.

Could I have maybe run this race 1-2 minutes faster if I started out faster? Potentially. But that wasn't my plan. I had a plan to start out at around 8:20 and speed up, and I did it-- after 4 years of not doing it! Having a plan and executing it well is the confidence boost I need. And a PR by over 4 minutes is not a bad byproduct.

Boston bound
I think my next marathon will be Boston. I want to take the summer/fall off from marathon training so that I feel free when I start to train for Boston.

Instead, I am going to run two half marathons. I've never focused on half marathon training, and I think that I could run a 1:38 or faster with the proper focus. My 10K PR pace from last fall was a 7:07, so I think that running a half marathon at a pace of 7:25-7:30 is realistic.

Greg and I have a long vacation planned in Europe over the summer, and it will be nice not to have to worry about marathon training during that time.

Speaking of Greg, he's still on crutches and wearing a boot, and will be for the next 4 weeks. Here is the video footage that he took of me at various points along the course.

I don't have any immediate race plans. I am just enjoying having extra time on my hands without having a long run every weekend!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

B&A Trail Marathon Race Report: In the Zone

This morning I ran my 19th marathon at the B&A Trail marathon in Maryland. I had run this race once before in 2013 and I liked it quite a bit. I like to run marathons of all sizes-- big city races with millions of spectators like Chicago, medium-sized ones like Richmond, and of course really small ones like this one.

I think there are only 300 runners and the whole thing takes place on a paved trail. The race is extremely well organized, with chip timing, mile-markers, aid stations, etc. But it's definitely no-frills-- no bands, no cheering squads-- nothing fancy. Just a small marathon for those who want something low-key. It's a USATF certified course, which means it's a Boston Qualifier.

My training for this race had gone extraordinarily well, with just a few hiccups due to all the snow and ice storms. This was by far the toughest winter I've trained in, with record-breaking low temperatures on a regular basis, along with our fair share of snow and ice. I did a few treadmill runs, but ultimately the treadmill started to hurt my foot so I had to steer clear of it. I averaged 50-60 miles per week, which each week including two speed work sessions. Many of the workouts were completely new to me, which made things both fun and challenging.

Weekly Training Mileage

Thankfully, I avoided injuries because I was religious about doing my hip and hamstring exercises, my two biggest problem areas.

11 days before the race, Greg broke his ankle by playing basketball. He hadn't played basketball in years (not since I've known him) but his co-workers asked him to play, and so he did. He rolled his ankle going for the ball and it broke. I was extremely upset about this for obvious reasons, and it also meant that he wouldn't be able to run the marathon. I'm down a training partner for the next 6-8 weeks at least and he's in a boot and crutches.

Despite his broken ankle, Greg still wanted to support me during this race. I was extremely grateful for his support, and I knew it would be hard on him to get around on crutches.

In terms of my preparation, I felt ready. I've been working hard to reduce my pre-race anxiety for the past three years now and finally I feel "normal" during the week of the race. Every night I slept wonderfully--sleeping straight through the night with deep, restful sleep. For years I struggled with this and it's nice to finally have gotten past it.

Major drama on marathon eve
Ironically, the night before the race didn't go so well. We stayed in a hotel room, and at around 11:00, Greg and I were awoken by the sound of men yelling at each other outside of our hotel room. Doors were slamming (make a choice people-- in or out!) and two guys sounded like they were about to get into a fight. So I called the front desk and they sent up security. We heard the security person go into their room and both men said "everything's okay". After that, it got quiet and Greg and I tried to go back to sleep.

A short while later, the yelling resumed again. This time, it was just one man yelling and I heard the muffled scream of a woman. It sounded like this man was attacking her. So, once again I called the front desk, and they called the police. The hotel manager and the police arrived, entered the room, and we never heard a peep after that. I can only assume they were quietly escorted out.

This is not how I wanted to spend the night before the marathon. And once all the noise stopped, it took me awhile to fall back asleep because of the adrenaline rush. I can't believe I got them to call the police. All in all- I think I got maybe 4 hours of sleep. Ugh.

Before the Race
Finally, race morning arrived. I got dressed, had my bagel with peanut butter, and drove to the race. The race is located in a suburban town, so the nearest hotels are 10 miles away. I kept debating over what to wear. My original plan was compression capri pants, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and then a light jacket over it that I would throw off to Greg once I warmed up. But some of my friends were wearing shorts. I didn't want to get too hot! But it was 25 degrees with 10-12 MPH winds, so I stuck with my original outfit. I also had headphones. I don't train or race with music unless it's a marathon. I find that the music helps relax me and prevents me from over-thinking things.

Overall, I was pleased with the forecast. I'll take sunny and 20's over sunny and 60's any day. Heck, I'd probably even take it over sunny and 50's. The wind was going to be annoying, but I guess it could have been much worse. My friend Chad and I lined up at the start together 5 minutes before race start and it wasn't long before the gun went off.

Miles 1-6
My plan was to start the race at a pace of 8:20 for the first 6 miles and then gradually drop it down to 8:00 by the end. I wanted to average somewhere around 8:10. I treated these first six miles like a training run. It was easy to do because the race course was a trail, similar to one that I run on near my house, and there wasn't any fanfare. It was just chill and relaxed. I decided to focus on my music and just keeping things feel easy. I purposely chose music that wasn't too hyped up.

One thing that kinda sucked was that parts of the course were icy. I had to run around the trail on the grass to avoid the icy patches. This wasn't a huge deal, but it slowed me down because the grass was muddy and also icy. Just not easy to run through.

In terms of fueling, my plan was to take a Honey Stinger Gel every 40 minutes. I took my first one just after mile 5 and it went down well. I experienced digestive issues during my last marathon in Coumbus and I didn't want a repeat. I made sure to drink plenty of water with each gel.

Greg was waiting for me almost immediately after I finished my gel. He had brought our "game day" folding chair (which folds into something he can carry on his back) and was sitting along the side of the course. I ran past him and didn't say much, as I was in "the zone".

Mile 1: 8:21
Mile 2: 8:22
Mile 3: 8:27
Mile 4: 8:25
Mile 5: 8:14
Mile 6: 8:10
Power Songs: Rumors by Waking Ashland, Armageddon by Anberlin

Miles 7-12
Mile 8.2, grabbing a water bottle

This race has a few inclines, but only one major hill. I knew the expect it during miles 7-8. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. It was kind of long, but not all that steep. I was so thankful I had run the Reston 10 miler four weeks ago, giving my confidence to run hills strongly. Those Reston hills were steeper than this one, and it was a whole race of hills! So this hill didn't even affect my pace.

I saw Greg just after mile 8, and I took a water bottle from him along with a Honey Stinger gel. I always run marathons with a hand-held water bottle so I don't have to stop at the water stations. The challenge with this morning's race was that I wasn't able to hold onto a bottle for very long before my hands would go completely numb. I was wearing big gloves, with hand warmers inside the gloves (between my hand and the bottle) but it wasn't enough to keep them from going numb. So thankfully I was able to toss bottles and keep getting new ones every time I saw Greg. And I also didn't have to carry all 4 Honey Stingers, which was good because my capri pants don't have pockets. Usually I race in a skirt that has plenty of pockets!

I ended up taking the second gel at 1:20, right around the mile 10 mark.

Everything continued to feel good. The hill at mile 7 was a turnaround point, so miles 8-19 would be into the headwind. I was mentally prepared for it.

Mile 7: 8:03
Mile 8: 8:19
Mile 9: 8:18
Mile 10: 8:07
Mile 11: 7:56
Mile 12: 8:10
Power Songs: Miss Jackson by Panic! At the Disco, Favorite Record by Fall out Boy

Miles 13-19
Tossing my jacket to Greg at the halfway point
I knew I would see Greg at the halfway point or just before. I had a decision to make: should I toss my jacket to him? The headwind was making things very cold, but when the sun came through the trees, it felt hot. I told myself I wanted to start pushing at the halfway point and working harder. This meant I would get hotter, so I decided tossing off the jacket would be a good idea.

I tossed it off to him, and got a new water bottle and Honey Stinger gel. The wind was making things cold and my fingers started to get numb. I didn't let that phase me though, I just kept my hands in fists around the hand warmers inside the mittens, while still trying to carry the water bottle and the honey. Unfortunately, this didn't work and I dropped the honey. I decided not to pick it up because I had a spare tucked in my elastic waistband for an occasion just like this.

I crossed the halfway point in 1:48:30 which was in line with my plan. I was really pleased with how everything going, but I actually wasn't thinking too much about it. I was really just zoned out. I had my music, and I just needed to run straight. This course has very few turns, no distractions, and it's easy to just "go" on autopilot. I started running mainly by feel at this point. I was no longer worried about going out to fast and I had executed exactly as planned.

I knew that the other turnaround was at mile 19 and I was counting down the miles to get there. This entire section was into a headwind so that made running harder and it was making my hands numb. I'm not complaining because the wind could have been much stronger. I would guess this was a 10-12 mph sustained wind, so it was definitely run-able, just not necessarily pleasant. But marathons aren't supposed to be pleasant!

I saw Greg at mile 17 and took a water + Honey Stinger. This would be my last gel of the race. Holding that cold water bottle with my practically numb hand was nearly impossible. And it was definitely uncomfortable. I wanted to take my honey/water combo earlier than planned so I could toss the bottle. But I was very disciplined. I wanted to avoid digestive issues at all costs and I wanted my 2:40 fueling to be the last one-- hold me through those final miles. Finally, my watch read 2:40 just before the mile 19 turnaround and I took the honey.

Mile 13: 8:10
Mile 14: 8:19
Mile 15: 8:05
Mile 16: 8:03
Mile 17: 8:08
Mile 18: 8:01
Mile 19: 7:59
Power Songs: Half-Light by Vertical Horizon, Time to Dance by Panic! At the Disco

Miles 20- Finish
Mile 22

It felt so wonderful after the turnaround! The wind was at my back, I didn't have to carry the water bottle, and mentally I was running toward the finish instead of away from it.

I felt strong at this point. I was pretty sure a PR was in the bag, but I didn't want to think too much about it. I wanted to just focus on pushing and getting to the finish without slowing down. I saw Greg at mile 22 for the final time before the finish. I threw off my gloves to him since the wind was no longer making my hands cold and it had warmed up a few degrees. I took a water bottle and had a few sips and tossed it.

What they do to you during mile 24 of this race is just cruel. They veer you off the B&A trail to this side bike path. Not only are they taking you off your path to the finish, but that section was directly into a headwind, and this was the strongest wind of the race. It had to be at least 15 mph sustained. And it was up a hill. It. Sucked. This was much harder than the mile 7/8 hill. Having to deal with all that wind so late in the race and to be taken "off track". I didn't let it phase me though. I just let the music motivate and energize me to keep pushing.

Finally at mile 24 marker I was back on the trail and ready to hammer it home. Things were tough. My legs hurt. I was tired. I had to really dig deep to keep the effort up. It would have been so easy to slow down to a 8:30 pace and still PR. But I didn't want to do that- I wanted to continue to push to my max. Thankfully all the ice on the trail had melted, so I didn't have to run through the grass again.

When I saw the mile 26 marker, I turned off my music so I could hear the volunteers direct me where to go. Wouldn't that be horrible if I missed the finish line because I didn't her the course marshals and went the wrong way!

That last 0.2 was directly into a headwind, but I was so motivated to get there that I just tore right through it.

Mile 20: 7:52
Mile 21: 8:04
Mile 22: 8:11
Mile 23: 8:18
Mile 24: 8:27
Mile 25: 8:07
Mile 26: 8:09
Last 0.31: (8:00 pace)
Power Songs: Medication by Waking Ashland, Twin Skeltons by Fall Out Boy

The Finish and Beyond
I crossed the finish line in 3:35:29. This is a PR by 4:31 and a Boston Qualifier by 4:31. My previous PR had been a BQ on the dot, so these two numbers match!

When I finished, my spirits were so high! I was so happy to be finished and to have gotten my goal time. I can't wait to run Boston in 2016! I was iffy about it after my previous BQ time, but now I am pretty sure I will get in.

I found Greg and my other friends and everyone had PR'ed! It was such a great day. I looked at the
Age Group Award: A blanket!
results and assumed the age groups were 10-year, which means I didn't win one. We left the race pretty quickly because my legs hurt so much and I had no desire to stick around.

One of my friends later posted on Facebook that I won 2nd place in my age group (they were 5-year groupings) so we drove back to the race site and I picked up my award. It's a nice travel blanket with the race logo! I love winning "things" instead of gift certificates.

This was such a wonderful day for me. I have been working for a race like this for so long. Finally I had a race with good weather, no digestive issues, I slept well, and my training went well. It all came together for me and I executed flawlessly.

I had a negative split of 1:31. First half in 1:48:30 and the second half in 1:46:59.

A big part of my plan was just to get in the zone and stay there. I wasn't overly happy or chatting with Greg. I didn't really smile at him that much either! I was all business. Emotion-neutral.

And now, I am so elated! I am looking forward to some time off now. I might not even run a fall marathon and just wait until Boston 2016.