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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rock 'n Roll DC "Dress Rehearsal"

A few weeks ago, when I received my training plan for the month leading up to the marathon, I noticed that there was a half marathon "time trial" scheduled for Saturday, March 14. My coach told me it would be ideal for me to run a half marathon at marathon pace so that I could practice hydration, nutrition, and pacing. The race would be great "mental" and "strategy" training-- with less of a focus on the physical training.

I tend to focus very heavily on the physical aspects of training, and it's important for me to remember that things like strategy and mental preparedness are also key elements of the equation.

So Greg and I registered for the Rock 'N Roll DC half marathon that was occurring on the day of the "dress rehearsal" run. Greg was excited because he recently bought a GoPro, and he was going to wear it during the race to film everything that happened. (Scroll down to the bottom to see the final product!)

My strategy for the marathon will be to go out at a pace of around 8:20 and then gradually speed up from there. I'd like my marathon pace to be somewhere around 8:10. Therefore, my strategy for this race would be the same. Of course, it's not's apples to apples because the RnR DC course is hillier, curvier, and more crowded than my marathon will be. I'm also not tapered, so my legs aren't as fresh as they will be for the marathon.

Before the Race- We almost missed the race
We left our house 15 minutes later than planned. And my original plan didn't leave much time for wiggle room. Normally in a situation like this my anxiety would rise tremendously, but since this wasn't a goal race, I stayed pretty calm.
We drove to the metro and parked, and realized that we might not have time to check our bags, as the gear check closed 10 minutes prior to race start. We had packed a set of dry clothes and towels because we knew we'd want to get out of our wet clothing as soon as possible. It was in the mid 40's and raining. I know from experience that this type of weather can feel colder than temps in the 20's and even cause hypothermia. We decided to leave our more valuable clothes in the car, and just bring our towels and dry t-shirts.

We arrived at the metro station just in time to see the train depart. We literally missed it by 20 seconds. The next train wasn't scheduled for another 12 minutes! This definitely meant that we wouldn't have enough time to check our bags, and we could potentially miss the start of the race. We started chatting to another couple who was in the same boat, only the woman wasn't running (she was spectating her husband) and she offered to hold our bags for us. We figured we'd probably never see her again, but at least we could contact her in the future to get our t-shirts and towels.

I didn't even want to think about getting to the finish line completely cold and drenched, with nothing dry to change into!

We boarded the metro, and by the time we arrived in DC, it was 7:25. We had only 5 minutes to get into our corral! We got there just in time for the National Anthem. I've only cut it this close two other times, and both were half marathons.

Miles 1-4
Mile 2, Memorial Bridge
It was crowded! We were in corral 5, which I was happy with because I didn't want to go out too fast. However, it was so crowded that we weren't able to go as fast as planned initially. As I started running, a former co-worker of mine spotted me and started chatting with me. It was nice to catch up with him and we ran together for almost the entire first mile. Greg stayed behind us for most of the time, capturing us on the GoPro.

Eventually we parted ways and I recognized the course as part of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. My main focus was passing people because the race was still quite crowded throughout these early miles and it seemed as if most of the group was going at a pace of about 8:30.

Mile 1: 8:48
Mile 2: 8:17
Mile 3: 8:08
Mile 4: 8:10

Miles 5-9
Greg stopped to go to the bathroom during mile 6. We typically don't race together but since this was technically a training run, I was fine to stop and wait for him. It was hard not to cringe as I saw all the runners go by and I was just stopped, but I kept reminding myself it was just a training run! I stopped my Garmin so that I'd have an accurate record of my pace. 1 minute and 14 seconds later, he emerged from the porta potties and we were on our way again.

This was the hardest part of the course. The first four miles were flat, and there was a steady climb for a good chunk of mile 6 and mile 7. Mile 7 had a very steep hill. It was so steep I think I was running at an 11:00 pace at one point. I almost had to walk it. My legs definitely felt it and I was glad that I wasn't trying to go at half marathon effort!

Mile 5: 8:08
Mile 6: 8:10
Mile 7: 8:58 (the hill!!!)
Mile 8: 8:06
Mile 9: 8:05

Miles 10-Finish
Once I got to mile 10 I decided to turn on the gas. I had just finished my second Honey Stinger gel
Approach the finish, photo by C. Young
and I felt energized. Plus, that meant I was able to toss my water bottle (I always run with a disposable hand-held) and it felt great to not have to hold it anymore.

This part of the course wasn't nearly as scenic as the first part. I actually ran this half marathon back in 2007 before Rock 'N Roll took it over. Back then, the entire race was run in southeast DC, which isn't the nicest area of the city. Anyway, my main focus on this point was passing people. I wanted to run faster than goal marathon pace, because I had started out slow. This will be my strategy in the marathon: first 6 miles slower than marathon pace, middle miles at marathon pace, last 6 miles, faster than marathon pace.

Mile 10: 7:46
Mile 11: 7:54
Mile 12: 7:59
Mile 13: 7:31
Last 0.23: (7:22 pace)

My Garmin finish time was 1:47:50, with an average pace of 8:10 for 13.23 miles. This equates to a 3:35:40 marathon at 26.46 miles, or 3:34:07 for 26.2 miles.

Based on how I felt, I think this is totally within my reach. As long as I don't have digestive issues and the weather isn't ridiculously windy or hot, then I should be okay. Hopefully, on a flatter course with fewer curves and people to dodge, I will do even better!

After the Race
The walk from the finish line to the metro was over a mile! We were cold and soaking wet. It was so uncomfortable that we even started running! We didn't have any towels or anything dry to change into, so it would be a very cold metro ride.

As we entered the metro, we were very surprised and very happy to see Lara coming toward us! Lara is the woman who we left our bag with. She said she decided to wait in the metro where it was dry and she figured she'd see us. We were so grateful! We never thought we'd see her at the finish, given that this race has over 20,000 runners and probably twice as many spectators.

We hurried to dry ourselves off with the towels and I changed into my dry t-shirt. It felt so good to get out of that wet long-sleeved running shirt! Did I mention we were drenched and it was only in the 40's? After a 15-minute metro delay due to a track issue, we finally made our way back to the car where we cranked up the heat as high as it could go.

We're both very glad we ran this race as a training one. It was definitely fun and it was great to practice my race strategy and nutrition on a course that was more difficult than my marathon. Check out the GoPro video below. I would have loved to have stayed for Better Than Ezra, but it was just too cold and rainy to stick around outside.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Reston 10 Miler Report: Hilly, Snowy, and Fun!

I just posted a post a few hours ago about Greg and my crazy adventure yesterday in the search for a half marathon that wouldn't be canceled because of the weather.

Original Plan
We were supposed to run the Cowtown half marathon this morning, but the weather there was very questionable, so we decided not to fly out there and risk getting stuck in an ice storm. We quickly developed a backup plan of registering for a half marathon in Roanoke and driving 3.5 hours to get there.  Once we got there and picked up our bibs, the forecast turned, and that race became a cancelation risk, plus we were worried that we wouldn't be able to safely drive home afterwards. So we drove another 3.5 hours back home.

Decisions, decisions
Yesterday was full of tough decisions. All of them based on a forecast that was "50/50" and varied among forecasters. This morning I woke up and immediately looked at the local weather. The revised plan from last night was to run a 20-miler before the snow/sleet arrived. It looked like the nasty weather would start at around 9 or 10, so I thought 20 miles would be unlikely. Plus, I wanted to run a race! I was tapered and raring to go.

So I decided to run the Reston 10 Miler and register on site. I had known about this race yesterday and that had been one of our options, but we really would have preferred a half marathon to a 10-miler.

I asked Greg if he wanted to run it and he said he was mentally settled on a 20-miler, like we had discussed the night before. He had missed a few runs due to the weather and really wanted to get in the added mileage as part of our marathon training. So we went our separate ways.

Before the Race
Things went very smoothly. Before leaving the house I had a banana and the last of yesterday's bagels. (That's 4 bagels in 24 hours!)

I arrived at 6:45 and registered on site, and the race was scheduled to start at 8:00. I warmed up for about 20 minutes and realized that even though it was only 25 degrees and overcast, I was too hot in my fleece-lined shirt.

I had planned a slightly longer warmup but cut it short so I would have time to go to the bathroom and change into the other shirt I brought, which was lighter. This of course involved un-pinning and re-pinning the bib, and the announcer was counting down the minutes to race start. I stayed calm and focused on making the change and arrived to the start line about two minutes before the race started.

Miles 1-3
It wasn't until I started running that I began to think about my target pace and finish time. This was a first! Not having thought about my goal time at all!  I had a plan for my half marathon pacing, so I just adjusted it for a 10-miler.

I had heard that this race was very hilly, so I wasn't going to run it at my tempo pace (7:15). If the course had been flat like the Cherry Blossom, I would have gone for that because I have been running long tempo runs at that pace and it's felt good. I figured I would shoot for 7:25/mile which would give me about a minute PR.

So yes, the race was hilly and I wasn't surprised. I didn't have the chance to look at an elevation map before hand, so I didn't know when the ups and downs were. I just decided I was going to put out a very hard effort and see what I could do.

I eased into it and I felt very strong. I thought about everything that had led me to this moment, doing this particular race and I wanted to make it all worth it by giving 100%.

Mile 1: 7:30
Mile 2: 7:24
Mile 3: 7:28

Miles 4-7
Okay, mile 4 was just insane. According to my Garmin, that mile had a 112-foot climb. It wasn't a particularly steep hill, but the entire mile was just all up hill. This was truly a test of mental will. It
Mile 6, Photo by =PR= Races
got so hard on those hills it felt like I couldn't possibly maintain that effort for the whole race. But as soon as I was over the hills, I felt better.

I attacked the downhills because I wanted to make up for lost time on the uphills. I focused on having a really fast turnover, and letting gravity do its thing. Sometimes when running fast on a downhill, I put the brakes on and don't lean forward enough. So I focused on really just flying down those hills. I think my quads will hate me tomorrow.

Just after mile marker 5, I ran right by my office! I was so excited! That really pumped me up for some reason. Yes, I love my job, but I had this overwhelming feeling of pride to be running right next to where I work. This was also right around the time when it started snowing. Fun!

I hit the 10K timing mat at around 45:55. Not a bad 10K time!

Mile 4: 8:08
Mile 5: 7:06
Mile 6: 7:23
Mile 7: 7:47

Miles 8-Finish
Mile 7 and 8 were both uphill. I was really, really, hoping that the finish would be downhill to make up for it. The hills were physically and mentally exhausting. Every time I got discouraged, I just did a mental reset and told myself it was going to get better and to keep pushing at 100%.

Photo by =PR= Races
I was very pleased with the energy I had during that last mile. 6:55 pace!!! In fact, I feel like I could have run another 3 miles at the same effort that I had been giving, but I couldn't have run any faster up those hills. This shows that my high mileage training has paid off.

Thankfully, the last mile was very much downhill. The actual finish was tricky, though. We ran past the finish line, down a hill, hairpin turn, and then up a hill. And this part had speed bumps on it and was beginning to get icy.

I was also monitoring my Garmin and I thought I was on track for a PR (sub-1:15:25) but the race ended up being 10.08 according to my Garmin, so I came in just six seconds shy of it.

Mile 8: 7:50
Mile 9: 7:28
Mile 10: 6:55
Last 0.08: (6:25 pace)

After the Race
Official finish time was 1:15:31, which is only six seconds off of my Cherry Blossom PR from last spring. Given that the Cherry Blossom course is pancake-flat, and that my PR was set in ideal weather conditions, I would say this result shows major improvement!

I placed 5 out of 121 in my age group. It was actually a very competitive field, with a good number of the =PR= running athletes showing up. I was pleased with this, and happy to have not won an award so I wouldn't have to stay there! I wanted to drive home before the roads got bad, so I nixed my cool down too.

Just thinking about everything I went through to get to this race and run such a hard effort is an accomplishment in and of itself. Everything that happened yesterday was mentally exhausting, but I stayed cool and ended up getting a good night's sleep without stressing over things. Two years ago, I think I would not have handled things nearly as well.

What I'm most proud of isn't my race result, but my strong will to get out there and give 100% on a tough course, even when the situation was nothing like what I had planned for.

I think I'm well prepared both physically and mentally for a marathon in four weeks!

The crazy things we did to run 13.1

Well, not exactly crazy. They seemed logical at the time, and even in retrospect they were. I think I learned a lot yesterday in my quest to run a half marathon.

Greg and I registered for the Cowtown half marathon a few months ago. The plan was to visit his sister and her family while also running a race we'd never done before. We found the idea of going to Texas in late February very appealing, and this was even before we knew how extraordinarily cold and miserable the month would be.

Training had been going amazingly well. Despite all the crappy weather, I had found creative ways to get all my runs in. I had three 60-mile weeks in a row, the last week of January and the first two weeks of February. I even ran after work when the mornings were icy or in the single digits. And I am not a fan of running after a hard day of work. I'm a morning person, and that's usually when I have the most energy.

Needless to say, I was definitely looking forward to escaping the miserable weather and seeing what I could do in a half marathon after my training had been so solid.

Weather in Texas: Worth the Risk?
Fort Worth had some bad storms early in the week, but everything was supposed to clear up by the weekend. But on Friday, a huge ice storm hit them, paralyzing the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth area. In
Crews preparing for the Cowtown marathon on Saturday night
Texas, they don't have the infrastructure and resources that we have in the Washington DC metro area to deal with snow and ice. They don't treat the roads, and so any amount of frozen precipitation is highly problematic.

On Friday, they called off the Cowtown race events for Saturday. I looked at numerous different forecasts and all of them said that the temperatures would rise above freezing on Saturday afternoon, and everything would melt and be perfectly fine for Sunday's races.

I woke up on Saturday continuing to believe that everything would happen as planned. Thankfully, we had booked a later flight (landing in Dallas at 2:00) so I wasn't too worried about it based on the forecast. They extended the expo to Sunday morning, so even if our flight was delayed, we could get our bibs on Sunday morning.

Greg, however, was worried. The weather app that he was looking at showed the temperatures hovering around 34 with continued rain all throughout Saturday into the evening. His main concern was the drive from Dallas Love Field airport to Ft. Worth, which is about 45 miles. The last thing he wanted to do was to wreck a rental car, or be sitting in 3 hours of traffic because of ice on the roads. "It's not like the ice instantly melts as soon as the air temperature gets above freezing," he said, and he had a good point. We figured we could potentially be looking at a very bad situation. Stuck at Dallas Love Field airport, or even major flight issues.

One person posted to the Cowtown Facebook page that her flight got her halfway to Texas and then turned around and brought her right back home!

Plan B: We'll Fly Anywhere!
Greg and I spent several hours that morning going through all of our options. We were willing to be spontaneous and fly to somewhere like Florida to escape the cold and run a different half marathon.
We looked at doing the Little Rock half marathon, but there were no direct flights, so we couldn't get there in time. There was a very small race in New Jersey, but it looked questionable because it didn't even have its own website. There were some in Florida that we could have flown to, but the race weather was for high 60's, which I don't do well in. There was one in California that looked amazing, but no direct flight, so we wouldn't have made it in time.

Roanoke Half Marathon Course
Finally, we found one in Roanoke Virginia, which was about 3.5 hours southwest of us by car. We briefly researched it and it looked legit. We looked at their Facebook page and they said the course was free and clear of ice. They even posted a picture of it, with all the ice and snow removed. The hourly forecast was predicting freezing rain, but that wasn't supposed to start until later in the day. We registered online at $90/each and reserved a hotel room.

Road Trip to Roanoke
We had to completely re-think our packing strategy. Instead of weather in the high 30's, this race was going to be in the mid 20's. So we packed warmer running clothes (well, actually I packed everything I had originally, plus 4 additional shirt options-- you just never know!)

We left our house at about 10:00. We stopped to get some bagels and bananas for the trip and for our race morning breakfast. It was fun. It was going to be an adventure. We were both very happy and confident with our decision. I followed the Cowtown's Facebook page and they ultimately decided to cancel the full marathon and the ultra marathon and only run the half marathon. I wasn't sure how I felt about this, but our decision had been made, so it was pointless to think about what could have been.

3.5 hours later, we arrived in Roanoke and picked up our bibs. We overhead one of the race directors on his cell phone saying how he was nervous about the weather the next day, and that it could be freezing rain before or during the race. I looked at the forecast again on my phone and it was iffy. 50/50 chance of freezing rain at race start.

Greg and I checked into our hotel room and I started to feel really discouraged. We drove all the way there, and now the race might not even happen! Greg suggested that we just go run a 20-miler while it was still nice out. I didn't feel up to it as I was exhausted (mentally and physically). Plus, I didn't want to ruin our chances of running the half marathon. So we went out and ran for 30 minutes as planned.

Plan C: Let's not get Stuck Here!
When we came back from our run, we saw that a winter weather advisory had been issued and freezing rain was to start as early as 4:00am. And in fact, the entire I-81 corridor that we would be driving home on was under an advisory for all day on Sunday.

Once again, we worried that we'd be stuck on I-81 for hours and hours, or that we'd get into an accident since there are so many large trucks on that road.

We called the race officials to get an update, and they said they weren't going to make a call until tomorrow morning at 6:00am. We thought "how awful would it be if we stayed overnight, the race was canceled, and then we wouldn't even be able to drive home?" If I hadn't been training for a full marathon, I would have probably been willing to stay two nights in Roanoke. But I wanted to be able to do some form of long run or race on Sunday. I had already tapered and I wanted to keep my fitness up.

Ultimately, we decided it wasn't worth the risk of the race being canceled. At least by driving home then and there, we'd get home safely and in time to do some form of run on Sunday morning before freezing rain hit the DC metro region.

So we checked out of the hotel room, and thankfully they didn't charge us because of the weather advisory. Now I can officially say that my husband and I rented a hotel room for just a few hours!

Homeward Bound
This whole day had been a true test of my mental toughness. There were so many times when I just wanted to break down and cry, but I didn't. I cannot control the weather, and all I could do was make the best decisions I could with the information I had. No one would ever be able to say I didn't try to run a half marathon on Sunday.

Every time I thought about the 7 hours in the car, the wasted race entry fees, and the fact that we could have maybe done Cowtown, I just stopped my thoughts, and refocused on looking ahead.

To pass the time on the way home, I found that New York Times article about "36 Questions That Make You Fall In Love" which was a psychological experiment. Apparently, if you and a stranger have a date and ask each other these 36 questions and answer honestly, you fall in love. So Greg and I fell in love all over again. That list of questions took well over an hour to go through and it was nice having some quality time with Greg, rather than thinking about how our plans got ruined.

In order to get home at a reasonable hour, we decided not to stop for dinner, but to eat the rest of the bagels and the bananas. Not ideal, but we just wanted to be home.

After driving 400 miles that day and running just 3.5 in Roanoke, I was very ready to just collapse into bed. And I did.

I fell asleep in Greg's arms feeling completely at peace. My mental stamina had been tested, and I believe I passed.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frostbite 15K: Sticking it out


I'm still thawing out from this morning's Frostbite 15K in Richmond, Va. This was a tough one.

I had never run a 15K race before, and I ran this one due to the lack of local races in the late January/early February timeframe. I wanted a tune-up race before my half marathon, at the end of February and this was the only race I could find within driving distance. It's been going on for 30 years and has a good reputation, so I figured I'd check it out.

Before the Race
I am pretty sure I set a sleep PR. I usually sleep pretty poorly the night before a race due to the excitement and anticipation. But last night I had a deep peaceful, sleep, only waking up once at 3:45 and falling back to sleep shortly after. I view this as huge progress because sleeping well pre-race has been a struggle for me in the past.

I woke up at 5:40 and got ready. It takes just under two hours to drive to Richmond, so my plan was to leave the house at 6:15. The forecast was 40 degrees and rain. To me, that sounded like shorts and long sleeves. However, I packed some alternatives just in case it felt warmer or cooler.

Greg decided not to run this race, so he drove me down there and was my cheering squad. I ate my banana and bagel in the car and kept checking the forecast on my cell phone hoping the rain would end earlier.

We arrived to the race at around 8:15. Plenty of time to go to the bathroom, get my bib and warmup. During the warmup, I realized that shorts were not enough, so I sacrificed 10 minutes of my warmup to change into compression capri pants. I had a running rain jacket with me, but at 40 degrees, I didn't think I would need it over my long-sleeved shirt.

Thankfully, the race "headquarters" was inside of an elementary school. The volunteers were really nice and I noticed that this race had more of a community feel than the ones I run in the DC area. Everyone's spirits were high, despite the crappy weather.

Strategy and goals
I have to admit I was very close to bailing on this race completely. I heard that there was a section of the race course that was flooded that even cars couldn't pass. I also heard that the course was open to traffic and we needed to watch out for cars. I was dreading a repeat of the Love Rox half marathon (also in Richmond) from 2013. I thought it might be better to just drive back home, wait for the rain to stop and the temperatures to rise and do a long run. I seriously almost just bailed, 5 minutes before the race start.

But then I decided to start the race, and if it turned out to be miserable, I would just stop at the 2-mile mark (which was close to the start line).

In terms of goals, my original goals had been to see what I could do at a new distance, stay strong on the hills, and run a 7:20 pace. Since I ran a 7:13 pace at my recent 10K, and that was windy, I thought a 7:20 was totally realistic. I planned to go out at a pace of 7:25 and speed up from there.

Once I realized that the course would be slippery and there could be some obstacles, I decided my main goal was just to stick it out and maintain a strong effort.

Miles 1-3
I started out, and my spirits were so-so. I had only warmed up for 5 minutes, which wasn't ideal, and there were huge puddles everywhere. I was cold right from the start. But, fitness-wise, I was running
Yes, it's cold and rainy!
pretty fast and my 7:25 pace felt more like a 7:40 pace, which was awesome. These miles were pretty uneventful, but I decided I would stick with it and run the best race I could, given the conditions. The rain was coming down very steadily, and I was completely soaked after just one mile.

I was told that the course had only one major hill, and it was somewhere in mile 2 or 3. But to me, the entire race seemed very hilly and there wasn't one hill that stood out as being "the hill".

Another challenge that I quickly realized was how curvy the course was. I had been warned about this, and had planned on running the tangents, but with so many puddles and with the road being slanted and uneven, I spent my energy watching my footing instead of running tangents. For most areas, there was only one area of the road that wasn't slanted or uneven, and given a lingering glute/hamstring issue, I didn't want to aggravate that.

Mile 1: 7:24
Mile 2: 7:25
Mile 3: 7:32

Miles 4-6
This is where things got dicy and I had to put on the brakes. Usually I run downhills pretty quickly, but I was afraid to go all out on this course due to how slippery it was. There wasn't ice, but the road wasn't always asphalt, there were potholes, and it just felt slick. My top priority was to finish the race safely and if that meant spending more energy on watching my footing and being careful, then that's what I would do.

I made a conscious decision here to back off the pace for the sake of feeling in control of my footing on the downhills and areas of the roads that were slick. I reached the flooded area during mile 5 and we were diverted onto the grass/mud. I am such a wimp with that stuff. I hate running in cold, wet mud. Ew! I slowed to my "easy" pace during this short portion because it was slippery and muddy and difficult to run on. But after that, my spirits lifted and I got back into race mode.

Mile 4: 7:42
Mile 5: 8:01
Mile 6: 7:24

Miles 7-9.5
At some point during mile 7 the rain really picked up, and so did the wind. It was a complete downpour and I was freezing. I had memories of the New Jersey marathon from 2009 when I was
taken to the medical tent afterwards for hypothermia.

My motivation was to finish quickly, without hypothermia and to warm up as soon as possible. Usually during a race I want the race to be over because I'm pushing so hard and I just don't want to be exerting that kind of effort. Here, my effort level was admittedly not race effort, and all I wanted to do was get out of the rain. Part of me was worried that if I went all out, I'd get sick and put too much a strain on my body in that kind of weather. And part of me was still holding back due to the slippery roads and uneven pavement.

But my mental state was relatively good. During Love Rox, I was angry and unhappy. During this race, I was "neutral" about the weather and focused on just getting to the finish line and putting out a hard effort.

During the last mile, the cold wet rain was really starting to weigh on me. At that point, I just didn't care about my pace anymore and I wanted so badly to get out of that weather.

Mile 7: 7:44
Mile 8: 7:27
Mile 9: 7:49
Last 0.5: 7:40 pace

After the Race
I was so happy to be done with that race! I went inside the school and found out my time and placing, but there was no way I was sticking around for my award. I needed to get out of those soaking clothes ASAP. Thankfully, one of my good friends lives less than a mile away from this school and I was able to shower at her place.

Get me out of this rain!
My time was 1:12:10. My "official" race pace is probably a lot slower than my Garmin pace, due to the course being 9.5 miles. It wasn't a long course, but there was no way to run the tangents and it was extremely curvy. And I don't think it's USATF certified, but I could be wrong.

My Garmin pace for the race was 7:37, which I think is pretty good given how hilly and slippery this course was. And although I definitely was working hard, it wasn't race effort. I was able to have a semi-conversation with this one guy at around mile 6-7, and normally that wouldn't be possible. So, fitness-wise I think I am in solid shape.

Although this race was intended to be a tune-up and "check-in" on my fitness level, it ended up being more about taking "what the day gives you" and toughing it out. I put out a solid effort, kept a positive attitude, didn't bail on the race, and placed 2nd in my age group. I didn't focus on the fact that the weather sucked. I focused on making sure my footing was good, that I was running on the most non-slanted area of the road, and that I pushed through to the finish.

And the good news is that I don't think I will be very beat up from this and I will be able to resume training.

And now I am drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace as I write this!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Year in Review

This morning, my "TimeHop" app showed me the blog I wrote 4 years ago, which was a recap of my 2010 year of running. I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of 2010 to 2014, and write the blog in the same style.

Yearly Mileage: 2134
In 2014, I ran a total of 2134 miles. This is 422 more miles than in 2013, when I ran 1712 miles. This is primarily due to the fact that I was injured in 2013, and I was not injured in 2014. 

In 2010, I ran 2136 miles, so I missed setting a yearly mileage PR by two miles. I was aware of this, but decided to stick to my training plan, and not "find" an extra two miles in the last week.

In 2010, 580 miles were on a treadmill and the rest were outdoors (thanks to the blizzard of 2010) 
In 2014, 149 miles were on a treadmill and the rest were outdoors.

2014 Weekly mileage
My highest mileage month was August with 229 miles. My lowest mileage month was May with just 80 miles, due to marathon recovery and hoping to finally rid myself of a nagging hamstring issue.

I started working with a new coach in July, and he's helped me increase my mileage without getting injured. In the past, I never knew exactly how to spread the miles throughout the week for maximum benefit with minimal injury risk. But with my customized plan, everything has felt challenging, but not to the point of over training.

My yearly mileage is on the upswing, a trend I love to see:

Yearly mileage

Thanks to staying injury-free, I was able to do a good number of races this year. Four of these races were PRs (in bold).
  • February: George Washington Birthday 10K in 45:44
  • March: Shamrock half marathon in 1:42:24
  • April: Cherry Blossom 10-miler in 1:15:25
  • April: Crystal Run 5K Friday in 22:11
  • May: Mississauga Marathon in 3:43:44
  • July: Firecracker 5K in 22:54
  • September: RnR Philadelphia 1/2 Marathon in 1:47:14 (major heat bonk)
  • October: Boo! Run for Life 10K in 44:13
  • October: Columbus Marathon in 3:40:00
  • November: Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K in 21:30
  • December: Ringing In Hope 10K in 45:27
The turkey trot in November was just one second shy of my PR, and I am confident I would have PRed both my half marathons if the weather conditions hadn't been so unfavorable. 

My half marathon PR is now over 4 years old and I really think I can beat it by a significant amount if I get decent weather. 

I won 1st place in my age group at the Boo! Run for Life 10K, and 3rd place in my age group at both the Turkey Trot and the Ringing in Hope 10K.

This year, I was really focused on upping my mental game-- both on the race course and off.  On the race course, this meant being mentally prepared for the hard times as well as conserving my mental energy for racing and not wasting it on things I can't control.

Off the course, this meant having a more positive attitude about my running, keeping it fun, and not defining myself by my running achievements.  Specifically, here were some major wins:
  • Mental toughness during Cherry Blossom. I pushed extremely hard during that race after having felt like I didn't give it my all at the Shamrock half.
  • Keeping positive during the hot, humid Philadelphia half marathon. I pushed hard and ran the fastest race I could given the circumstances. When I bonked and ended up with one of my slowest times ever, I didn't let that upset me and ruin the week-long vacation I had after that
  • Stepping out of my comfort zone and working with a new coach. Having the confidence to approach new and challenging workouts, and valuing change for the sake of change.
  • Qualifying for Boston. 2014 was the year I finally did it! And I wouldn't have been able to do it if I didn't give it every ounce of power during those final few minutes.
  • Being less focused on time. I've gone into every race with goals that were non-time based, and as a result, the time hasn't mattered as much to me as achieving these other goals.
  • Staying injury free. Listening to my body and knowing when to back off or cut a workout short.
Shamrock half marathon, running through a headwind

Cherry Blossom 10-miler

Crystal Run 5K Friday

Mississauga Marathon

Firecracker 5K

Boo! Run for Life 10K
Columbus Marathon BQ!
Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K

Ringing In Hope 10K

My primary goals for 2015 are to run happy, healthy, and to continue to become a stronger running, both physically and mentally.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ringing In Hope 10K: A Windy Race Finale

This morning, Greg and I ran our 5th consecutive Ringing In Hope 10K. It's also the 5th year that the race has been put on, so we've never missed one. It's a tradition in our family of two to run this race every New Year's Eve.

I know this course like the back of my hand. Not only do I run this course regularly, but the course is two loops of the same thing, so it's easy to remember.

I had a few goals with this race:

  • Stay strong through the wind. Push through it, and don't let it affect my confidence or attitude.
  • Be prepared to weave through 5K walkers during the first loop. Don't let this less-than-ideal race setup annoy me.
  • Don't waste too much energy on the first big hill, but have the confidence to run it hard.
  • Minimize Garmin checks, focus on staying strong and pushing hard.
  • Set a course PR by beating 45:57 (from 2012)
  • Remember James Reily, my friend and co-worker who passed away a year ago. I raised nearly $500 for cancer research in his memory as part of this race.
Before the Race
Greg and I have this pre-race routine nailed, since we are so familiar with the location, organization,
Greg and I at the start line, 3 rows back.
Photo by Potomac River Running.
etc. We arrived about 35 minutes prior to the race start and warmed up for just over 20 minutes.That left us enough time to go to the bathroom and make final wardrobe adjustments.

It was 31, sunny, and windy. Although the wind did make this race tough, it was forecast to be worse. I wore CW-X compression capri pants, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, gloves and hand warmers.

Even though I generally like this race, the organization favors the 5K runners. The 5K starts 10 minutes before the 10K, and the 10K course is two laps of the 5K loop. This means that during miles 2 and 3, the 10K runners have to weave through slower 5K walkers and runners. And also at the very end, there are always a few stragglers finishing the 5K at the same time I am finishing the 10K. 

One of the things I am working on is de-sensitizing myself to things I can't control during races, and this is one of them. So I gave myself a goal of not getting annoyed by it and just navigating through the runners to the best of my ability.

Miles 1-3
The race started and I went out at a pace that felt pretty easy. I was feeling good right from the start and optimistic about my performance. The first 3/4 of the first mile is up a long hill. It didn't seem as steep as it had in years past, but it's just long and it's a great place to pass people once you get close to the top. 

Then comes a nice downhill, and then the course starts to roll. After the first mile, I began to focus on the other runners just ahead of me. I was hoping they might "pave the path" for me through the 5K walkers. But eventually I passed them all until I was left with just one other 10K runner. At one point, there was a someone with a stroller and my plan was to run in between the stroller and the cone, but I misjudged how fast the stroller was going and barely made it through the cone/stroller gap without getting hit. I met my goal of not getting mad, I just pressed on and forgot about it.

This course features quite a few turns, and there were some very challenging stretches directly into the headwind. I stayed strong, and reminded myself of how well I did on a recent windy tempo run. 

As the loop finishes, there is another hill. This one isn't quite as long as the one in the beginning, but it's steeper. As with the first hill, this one wasn't as bad as I remembered. I think I must be gaining leg strength from the high mileage and hill workouts. I could definitely feel that my training was kicking in when I powered up that hill.

Mile 1: 7:10
Mile 2: 7:11
Mile 3: 7:20

Miles 4-6
As I made my way up the first hill for the second time, I thought to myself "wow- I worked hard to get here, and now I have to run that whole thing again at the same pace." I tried to rid myself of that thought and see this next lap as just miles 4-6 and not a repeat of what I just did. 

Now that the 5K runners were gone, it was just me and this guy in a bright yellow shirt. We leap-
Photo by Potomac River Running
frogged up the hill, taking turns being in the lead. I think there must have been a tailwind, because when we turned around and ran the other way it was straight into a headwind. At this point, I drafted off of him. He was a good 6-7 inches taller than me and he was running my exact same pace, and it was perfect for drafting. At one point, I felt like I wanted to pass him, and when I made a move to do so, the wind got really intense, so I backed off and just let him shield me from the wind.

We turned and then I got slightly in front of him. The odd thing about this race was that there were no other runners anywhere in sight. I couldn't see anyone in front of me and I didn't hear anyone behind me except for yellow shirt guy. At one point I told myself that the faster I started to race, the more and more likely that there would be fewer people around. I was glad to have yellow shirt guy, because otherwise, there would be literally nobody in sight at all.

As we started the last mile, I got ahead of him, and then I think I lost him completely up that final hill. I didn't look at my Garmin until I was almost at the top, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my time hadn't slowed. The first half of the mile was into a headwind, and the second half was up a hill, but I felt strong throughout and my pace slowed only slightly. Usually I feel like death up that hill and it was so nice to feel strong and well trained.

Mile 4: 7:12
Mile 5: 7:16
Mile 6: 7:21

The Finish
Mile six closes out at the top of a hill, and then the last bit of the race is downhill to the finish.  I averaged a 6:30 pace for the last 0.3. (This race always measures long because the many turns and weaving). 

My official time was 45:27, which is a course PR by 30 seconds.

I turned around and waited for yellow shirt guy to come in so I could high-five him. He kept me going for a large portion of that race.

I found Greg, who had set a distance PR by 3 seconds! We did a cool down run for about 15 minutes and then headed over to the awards area.

As it turns out, we both won 3rd place in our age groups! We received gift certificates to Potomac River Running. I was the 7th female overall, and it was a pretty competitive field, given how small the race was.

Overall, I am really happy with my performance. It was a somewhat hilly, windy course with quite a few turns and some obstacles. I stayed positive the whole time and I could really tell that I was well trained. I think this race sets me up nicely for my longer races that I have planned in the first part of 2015.

Read the 2013 Ringing In Hope race report.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Every Second Counts: Turkey Trot Race Report

When I qualified for Boston last month with not a second to spare, I realized the importance of seconds while racing. Things like running the tangents, avoiding weaving, and being quick about water stations all really matter, no matter how short or long the race.

This morning, I ran my 9th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. I'm very thankful that I've been able to run this race since 2006 without injury. My fitness for this race usually depends on what fall marathon I ran, how well I recovered from it, and how much time I had afterwards to knock out some fast workouts.

This year, I was pretty confident in my ability to PR. I took 9 days off after the Columbus marathon, but then had nearly 4 weeks of training that included some interval work.Two weeks prior to the marathon, I shaved over a minute off of my 10K PR from 2011, so I figured I could probably take at least 10 seconds off of my 5K PR, which was also set in the fall of 2011.

Before the Race
Greg and I parked in our normal spot and did our normal warm up, just under two miles. The weather was perfect. Overcast and 33. I wore my CWX capri pants and a light weight long-sleeved shirt. The pavement was still wet with a few icy patches from yesterday's snow event, but safe enough to run on.

I know this course very well, and my splits are always very similar. The second mile has a large hill, so that's always the slowest mile. The last mile is slightly downhill, so that's usually the fastest mile, if I can hold onto my effort level.

When I PR'ed at this race in 2011, my splits were 7:00, 7:05, 6:42 with a time of 21:29. I wanted to run a similar pattern today, but with everything about 5 seconds per mile faster.

Mile 1
This race is notorious for being very crowded with kids and slower runners lined up at the front. Greg and I lined up close to the front, but the problem was that the people behind us went out at like a 6:30 pace for the first quarter mile and then slowed down, which meant a lot of people to pass. I didn't want to waste energy on weaving, so I wasn't as aggressive pace-wise as I could have been. I felt like I was putting out a hard effort and I didn't worry that I was slightly slower than planned.

My first mile clocked in at 7:01 and it felt tough. I was a little surprised that it felt as hard as it did. When I ran my 10K six weeks ago I ran some 7:03 miles that didn't feel nearly as hard, but I guess that course was flat and this one has hills. The thought crossed my mind that a PR wasn't likely but I immediately dismissed it and told myself that it was definitely still possible.

Mile 2
This is the mile with the big hill. One of my goals for the race was to stay strong on this hill and to not let it slow me down. This mile has always been my slowest of the race, but with a 7:01 first mile, I really wanted to speed up and not slow down.

Before the hill I developed a strong rhythm and cadence that was keeping me at about a 6:55 pace. I told myself to keep up the pace, and increase the effort. Typically my strategy is to run an even effort level, which means slowing down on hills. But today I told myself to run a steady pace, and just be mentally tough up the hill.

It worked, and for the first time ever, mile 2 was faster than mile 1 at 6:54.

Mile 3
I wanted to really drive it home here, but things were getting hard. 5Ks hurt. They hurt a lot. It's a
constant mental struggle to tell yourself to endure that kind of pain and not slow down.

Tights are never flattering in race photos.
I had a few women in my sights that I wanted to pass during this mile. I think I passed two of them and I'm not sure about the other one because the finish line is a bit of a blur. I had remembered this mile being mainly downhill, but there were some inclines that really hurt. I clocked a 6:45.

The last 0.13 + Finish
I usually have a very strong final kick and regret not starting it sooner. But that was not the case today. I stayed strong, with a 6:15 pace for that last bit, but there is no way I could have started it sooner. I know I gave 100% and no less.

My Garmin credits me with a 6:52 average pace and my official race time was 21:30. That's just one second off of my PR.

I placed 3rd in my age group out of 242
I was the 15th female out of 1,351

My first age group win at this race!  And with 10-year age groups too!!!  I wanted to stay for my award, but it was just too cold to hang around in such a lightweight shirt. Hopefully they will mail me whatever it is won.

Even though I didn't PR, I wasn't disappointed. My immediate reaction was I qualified for Boston by one second, so if I miss a 5K PR by one second, it's really not that big of a deal. In other words, I am so thankful for that one second in my marathon, that I'm not going to get upset about not having that second today.

Plus, I ran this race hard. I don't think I could have found an extra second. I guess I'm a little surprised that I wasn't faster, given how much time I shaved off of my 10K. But I know I gave it my all.

Final thoughts & takeaways

  • I finally won an age group award at this race, after 9 years!
  • This was also the first time that the hill in mile 2 didn't slow me down
  • Next year, I will be more aggressive on that first mile and not afraid to weave if necessary.
  • Every second counts, and I need to remember that when things get tough
Now it's time to enjoy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy of a "Perfect" BQ

A Six-year Journey
March 2008. Upon completion of the Shamrock marathon in Virginia Beach, with a shiny new PR of 3:51:49 I set out to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My first six marathons were all PRs, and significant ones, and I had trained for them on relatively low weekly mileage. I figured I would bump the mileage up into the 50 mile range, follow a tried and true plan and qualify in the fall. Easy peasy.

But I got really sick that fall and wasn't able to race the marathon. And on the following attempt in January 2009, the weather was abnormally hot in Phoenix, and I ended up run-walking my way to a 4:10. I prayed for cooler weather for an April marathon of that same year, and got my wish, along with a dose of hypothermia and an unsatisfying 40-second PR. An injury prevented me from racing the Toronto Waterfront marathon that fall, and in the Spring of 2010, I was once again greeted with abnormally high temperatures and my first DNF. I tried to make up for it by running the Bob Potts marathon six weeks later, but I once again bonked at the end, finishing in a disappointing 3:53. Agony.
Potomac River Marathon, 2012

That fall, I didn't make a BQ attempt and instead ran with Greg during his first marathon in NYC. In the spring, I ended up with multiple stress fractures in my shins, which sidelined me from racing. By the time the fall of 2011 rolled around, I had put so much pressure on myself to finally qualify for Boston that my anxiety got the better of me. I ended up bonking big time at the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon for no other reason than an inability to arrive at the race rested and relaxed. At one point, I felt so defeated that I started crying and laid down in the grass somewhere near mile 19. Agony.

I once again attempted Shamrock in the spring of 2012, and had to drop out at the halfway point due to a combination of anxiety and heat exhaustion. I made another attempt six weeks later at the Potomac River Marathon, which also resulted in a DNF due to an elevated heart rate caused by anxiety. Agony.

That's when I started to see a sports psychologist to address my performance anxiety issues.

But then I got mono, crushing any hopes of a fall marathon. In the Spring of 2013, I was in excellent shape for the B&A trail marathon, but some stomach cramping and digestive issues landed me a very modest PR of 3:48. I took a few seconds off of that 3:48 in Chicago of the same year, running the race on a very short, 7-week training cycle due to a stress reaction in my shin during July/August.

Finally, I made some significant headway last spring at the Mississauga marathon where I pushed through a very windy course to get a 3:43. Ecstasy!

During this six-year period, a lot of other stuff happened. Boston qualifying standards became more difficult and I moved into the the 35-39 age bracket. I won age group awards at almost every distance, including the marathon. My times at the shorter race distances fell significantly. My half marathon time dropped by 9 minutes, my 10K time dropped by over 5 minutes, and my 5K time dropped by 2 minutes. But the marathon wasn't really budging.

Injuries, illness, anxiety, weather-- at least one of these factors seemed to be the rule rather than the exception when it came to my marathons. But my desire never waned. Nor did my will.

October 2014
In order to know what works for you in running, you have to try different approaches. For the first time in over three years, I changed my training program. I got a new coach, who built me a custom program with new types of workouts that I had never done before.

I was in the best shape of my life, and shaved over a minute off of my 10K PR just two weeks prior to the Columbus marathon.

I was also doing great from a mental perspective. I slept very well in the week leading up to the race, despite a major career change. I arrived at the race feeling excited, relaxed, confident and simply ready.

The only "watch out" on my list was that my right hip was not 100%. It had started aching about 10 days before the race, resulting in more of a taper than originally planned. I knew it would probably hurt during the race, but I didn't think it would stop me.

Before the Race
It was a very typical race morning for Greg and me. We ate breakfast, got dressed, walked to the start line and waited in the corral. Everything went smoothly and the weather was ideal. Low 40's and sunny.

My pacing strategy was to go out at a pace of 8:20, but then speed up slightly to run a half marathon of around 1:49:00. Then, I wanted to negative split, resulting in a time of around 3:35 (give or take 2 minutes in either direction).  I was in new territory with my fitness level and relaxed mental state, so I had no idea what I was capable of. It was exciting!

Miles 1-7
What an exciting race start! There were fireworks loud music, all sorts of lights. I felt like a rock star! I ran with Greg for the first mile and then turned my headphones on after he ran ahead. It was crowded. I think this race has over 15,000 participants if you include all the half marathoners. I knew that with so many people blocking my view, running the tangents would be impossible for the first half.

My hip started to hurt at around mile 5. Instead of worrying, I told myself "think of it this way, you don't have a bad hip--- you have one good hip!" I stayed really relaxed during these early miles and everything felt great, as it tends to do at the beginning of a marathon. I was really focused on my music during these miles, and that definitely helped me relax.

Mile 1: 8:41
Mile 2: 8:34
Mile 3: 8:14
Mile 4: 8:16
Mile 5: 8:10
Mile 6: 8:08 (downhill)
Mile 7: 8:23 (uphill)

Miles 8-14
These were the glory miles. Everything felt so wonderful. I was speeding up according to plan. Well, not exactly to plan. The second half of the first half of Columbus is mainly downhill. (This makes me
really want to go back there and run the half marathon). I was just cruising miles 8-13. I was going a little bit faster than planned, but it was downhill, it felt easy, and I had no idea what I was capable of.

I also realized that my Garmin was beeping well before the mile markers. About 0.2 mile before each marker. I was doing a miserable job at running the tangents simply because I couldn't see when the turns and curves were coming up. This meant that my Garmin pace would be faster than my actual race pace. I knew this wasn't something I should be focusing on, so I quickly got that thought out of my head.

I stopped during mile 11 to refill my hand-held water bottle. It took me about 20 seconds, which I hated, but I figure it made up for not having to stop at any stations prior to that point. According to the race results website, I passed 49 people during the first half of the course and 67 people passed me. Interesting stat. My half marathon split was 1:48:46, which was almost exactly what I had planned. It gave me a huge confidence boost that I was executing well. Ecstasy.

Mile 8: 8:12
Mile 9: 8:05
Mile 10: 8:08
Mile 11: 8:23 (water bottle filling)
Mile 12: 8:17
Mile 13: 8:06
Mile 14: 8:08

Miles 15-20
Mile 16 through a stadium
Ouch. I knew that this would be the toughest part of the course and was mentally prepared. Miles 17-19 are a net uphill, and there were some pretty large ones in there. I kept telling myself it was going to get better, and not to worry if I slowed down a little bit. I knew that a downhill section would be coming once I reached mile 19.

It was hard, and it took a lot out of me. More than expected. At mile 18, I ditched my hand-held water bottle even though I still needed it to take one more gel. It was just too exhausting to be carrying it and I needed to be pumping my arms on the hills. These hills were not as steep or as long as they were in Mississauga, but for whatever reason, they just hurt a lot more. And my left hip was in full-on pain mode. Agony.

Mile 15: 8:14
Mile 16: 8:15
Mile 17: 8:16
Mile 18: 8:40
Mile 19: 8:41
Mile 20: 8:20

Miles 21-25
These miles were advertised as the fastest of the course and my coach told me that this is where he really wanted me to speed up and hammer home. Well, I ended up just being happy to hang on to a decent pace rather than speeding up. My original plan was to be running these last miles at a sub 8:10 pace, but that just wasn't happening. Aside from my hip (which was really killing me at this point), my legs felt really strong and not as tired as they normally are at this point in the race. The limiting factor was my energy level and overall feeling of fatigue.

I think the problem in these last miles was my lack of nutrition and hydration. I had one more gel that I planned to take at mile 22, and I had to stop at a water station to do so since my bottle was gone. When I did that, my reflexes had me spitting the gu out of my mouth just as quickly as I squeezed it in. And then I tried having some water, and I spit that out as well. My stomach wasn't hurting me, but it clearly didn't want to take in anything.

I was super frustrated that I had wasted 15 seconds at a water stop where I failed to get any nutrition or hydration. Agony.

I pushed forward. I felt like death and every time I started to question why I put myself through this
torture, I immediately replaced those thoughts with "you can do it" and "stay strong". At this point, I had cut off the music in my headphones because it had come to be more like noise than anything else. At Mississauga, the music really helped me all the way through the finish, but that was not the case here.

I started to think about my finish time in hopes that it would motivate me to stay strong and keep pushing the pace even though it hurt so much. At this point, all I wanted was a sub 3:40 and a BQ. I knew my original 3:35 goal was out the door, but I told myself a BQ was still salvageable.

Mile 21: 8:22
Mile 22: 8:18 (including the water stop!)
Mile 23: 8:25
Mile 24: 8:38
Mile 25: 8:24

Mile 26 and the Finish
During the last mile, I started thinking about my finish time as motivation. I told myself I had to speed up if I wanted to qualify for Boston. I thought about all of the years of hard work I had put into this. All the tears and disappointments. Over 10,000 training miles logged. This was it. All I had to do was run fast for another mile and half. I channeled all of my resources and it wasn't until just before the mile 26 marker that the adrenaline truly set in. The runner next to me, "Sarah," had a huge cheering section and I fed off of her crowd support. She was staying strong, and I was going to stay strong.

Ecstasy: My Garmin showed 26.2 miles in 3:37:xx
Agony: I would not get "credit" for this, and I might not even qualify for Boston

I was so pissed at that. Dammit! Agony, agony, agony!!!! I wanted that BQ. I deserved it. Today was supposed to be the day. For real this time!

Somewhere deep within me, I found this hidden gear and I just bolted for the finish. According to my Garmin, the last half mile of the race was a 7:21 pace. Previously, I hadn't even been able to maintain an 8:21. My desire for this BQ was so great that I tore through those last 0.2 passing everyone in my sight. Blowing by people thinking "I am getting a BQ!"

The finish line was in plain sight. I could literally see my BQ potential slipping away by the second. I wouldn't let it happen. It would not get away from me.

I crossed the finish line.

Ecstasy: My watch read 3:40:01, which could mean an official 3:40:00 BQ
Agony: My watch read 3:40:01, which means I could have actually missed it by just 1 second.

I found Greg shortly after crossing the finish line. My hip was on fire. Physically, I felt horrible. Mentally, I was so proud of my final kick.

Agony: My hip hurts so much I can barely walk
Ecstasy: I might have qualified for Boston
Racing stripes!

The hotel was less than half a mile away, but it took us forever to get there. My hip hurt me so badly that I had to walk at a snail's pace. I even tried walking backwards.

One Milestone at a Time
As it turns out, I did qualify for Boston. With a 3:40:00. Not a single second to spare. I fought hard for every second, and I am owning every second. Sure I would have loved a sub-3:40, but this allows me to enjoy one milestone at a time. A 3:40:00 is the only non sub-3:40 time that is still an official qualifying time.

I think it suits me. It's kind of funny. And kind of appropriate. In the grand scheme of things, the Boston qualifying journey has been about so much more than running. It's been about perseverance, dedication, mental strength and most importantly, learning how to truly accept my imperfect self. I would not be the person I am today if I had qualified back in 2008.

The reality is that a 3:40:00 will likely not get me a spot in the 2016 Boston Marathon. Because the race doesn't have enough spots for all of its qualifiers, the new registration process only accepts the fastest of those who have met the official qualifying standards. This year, I think you needed to be over a minute faster than the qualifying time to actually get a spot in the prestigious race.

Ecstasy: I qualified for Boston
Agony: This time won't get me into Boston

As much as I want to run Boston, I don't feel like this diminishes the achievement in any way. I will try to get my time down next spring, but yesterday was my first official Boston qualifying finish. It's mine. The fact that it was the slowest possible BQ I could have possibly gotten is kind of special. And now that I've done it, I will have the confidence to know I can do it again.

I set a PR by 3:44, which is significant chunk for someone who has been running for over 10 years. According to the results website, I passed 140 runners in my age group over the course of the race, and was only passed by 20 people. So even though I didn't get my negative split, most people slowed down to greater extent than I did.

My coach tells me it's amazing that I was able to run as fast as I did during those last 5 miles without any hydration or nutrition. And with an injured hip. Before I run another marathon, I want to experiment with different hydration strategies, as I think that I would have been more successful at the end if I had more fuel and water.

Overall, I think I had a very strong performance yesterday. Even though I didn't hit my goal time, I still accomplished quite a bit and I'm ready to train even harder for the next one.  Boston I qualified for, and Boston I shall run. The journey continues.