Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Insertional Achilles Tendonitis Recovery

If you've been following this blog you'll know that I have been struggling with insertional Achilles Tendonitis for the past few months. I'm delighted to say (and I hope I am not speaking too soon) that I have made a near-full recovery, or at the least have experienced a dramatic improvement. I'm writing this blog primarily for my own records, and also in the hopes that it helps someone else out there. I am not a medical professional, but I thought I would share my experience and what helped me recover.

This all started in mid-July when I noticed stiffness on the backs of my heels when waking up in the morning and taking those first few steps. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time because it wasn't painful (stiffness is the best term for it) and I really only felt it when I first got out of bed. After a few weeks, the issue became more noticeable while on the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. It still wasn't painful, but I felt the stiffness more frequently, like after running.

At this point, I consulted with Dr. Google and diagnosed myself with Achilles tendonitis in both feet. What I didn't realize, though, is that there are two types of Achilles tendonitis: insertional and midpoint. The treatment for each of these is different. However, without knowing this fact (and that's the danger of Dr. Google) I started doing the exercises that had proven to heal midpoint tendonitis.

I did these exercises every day throughout the month of August. The exercise was standing on the edge of a step, and doing heel drops so that my heel fell below the step. This was slightly painful to do, but the article I read said that these exercises should feel painful. I also stretched my calves thoroughly each day.

The pain gradually worsened in that I would feel it after almost every run. My runs were completely pain-free (with maybe a hint of stiffness at the beginning), but then I would spend 40 minutes driving to work, which resulted in them stiffening up substantially. I would get out of my car and the first few steps would be really painful. The pain would last for the first hour of the day and then subside. This pattern continued for a month before I finally decided to see my sports chiropractor.

Rehab Exercises
My sports chiropractor told me that by stretching and doing those exercises, I was treating midpoint Achilles tendonitis, not insertional tendonitis. He told me that stretching my calves and sinking my heel below the step was putting additional strain on the tendon and making things worse! Oops! He told me that I should do eccentric heel drops on each foot, but on a flat surface. He told me that I should use as much weight as tolerated because the added weight would stimulate healing.

Ideally I would back off of the training, but given that I had a marathon approaching, he told me I could continue running, as long as I did the exercises every day. And once the marathon was over, he advised that I take a few weeks off to let the tendons completely recover.

I was very good about doing the exercises and I saw a notable improvement within just a few days. What a relief! I wore a backpack with 20 lbs worth of weights inside while I did the heel drops. I did 3 sets of 15 on each side, as prescribed, twice a day. As prescribed, I did these very slowly (lasting 3 seconds for the full drop) starting from half the height of full tippy-toes.

I continued training, running 60-70 miles a week, and sure enough, the pain worsened again a month later. Even though my actual runs were pain free, my heels really hurt afterwards. After a 22-miler, they hurt all day long, so I ended up taking 3 full days off from running. The most worrisome part about this was that my heels hurt when I was at rest, whereas typically they would only hurt when walking. The time off worked, with the pain diminishing significantly, and I was able to resume training, with just three weeks left to go.

The Smith Machine
I lower the bar and hold it in a relaxed position
The marathon came and went. My heels were mostly pain-free during the race, but they were extremely painful afterwards. With every step I took I could feel a burning sensation! I took two weeks off from running and spent this time focusing on recovery. After doing more research on insertional Achilles Tendonitis, I realized that my backpack-with-weights approach was not allowing me to add enough weight to stimulate tendon recovery. These exercises didn't hurt at all, and apparently they were supposed to hurt a little bit.

So, I discovered the Smith Machine at gym in my office building. This machine allows me to do the heel drops with a lot more weight, as it is easier to use the bar than wear a backpack. I simply hold the bar with my arms in a relaxed position down at my thighs. I started off with 25 lbs + the weight of the bar and after about a week, upped it to 30 lbs + the weight of the bar. I started doing the exercises twice a day, 15 reps on each side. And I am still doing them at this level.

Doing the heel drops with this machine has helped me more than anything. As soon as I discovered it, my Achilles felt dramatically better within just two days. I've now been using this machine for three weeks, and I am close to 100% recovered. By that I mean that most days are completely pain free, and on the days I do feel it, it's only for a minute at a time, like once or twice during the day. This injury developed gradually so I imagine it will take awhile to become 100% pain free 100% of the time. But I am very close to being there.

Here are some questions I had about this injury, and the answers I discovered. Once again, I am not a medical professional so take this as one runner's experience and opinion!

Shoes I wear to avoid additional tendon strain
Q: What type of shoes should I wear when not running?
A: My sports chiropractor advised me to wear a backless shoe with a chunky 1-2 inch heel, and that the heel height would relieve the strain on the tendon. While high heels are not a good long-term solution, they did allow me to be pain-free while walking around, and in order to recover fully, it's necessary to reduce strain on the tendon as much as possible.

Q: How do I know how much weight to use for the heel drops?
A: I started with a low weight (15 lbs in the backpack) and worked my way up. I think it's supposed to slightly hurt in the area of pain, but not horribly so. All of the articles I've read say "once you can do this without pain, then up the weight." So I assume there should be a little bit of pain or you aren't using a heavy enough weight. I saw the most improvement when I discovered the Smith machine and used 25 lbs plus the weight of the bar.

Q: How do I know if I should run?
A: This is a tough question, especially if you are pain-free while running. I think it really depends on how bad the situation is, and you should consult a medical professional. When my Achilles started to ache all the time (even when not walking) I knew it was time to stop running altogether until they calmed down. Recovery is not linear-- some days are better and some days are worse. It's important to look for a trend towards improvement and if you aren't seeing that, then it means you should reduce your mileage or stop running.

Q: What causes insertional Achilles tendonitis?
A: In my case, I think it was a change in footwear. I had been using a 10mm drop firm shoe for my speed work for the past decade, and then I changed to an 8mm drop cushy shoe in June. Even though this is only 2mm difference, my heel was getting even closer to the ground because of the cushiness of the shoe. My sports chiropractor cautioned me that those heel drop numbers can be deceiving because you have to take into account how stiff/firm the shoe is. I have limited ankle mobility, so I am not a candidate for a low heel drop shoe. Generally speaking, a high heel-to-toe ratio is best for preventing Achilles tendonitis.

Q: Should I ice or heat the tendon?
A: I've gotten conflicting guidance on this from multiple trusted sources. I tried icing my heels once after a run and 5 minutes in, they started burning really badly. So I nixed ice. Tendonitis means that the tendon is inflamed, so heat isn't a great idea either. However, heating the lower calf to get blood flow to the area is a good idea before runs.

Q: What's the best form of cross training?
Getting ready to go deep water running!
A: I was reluctant to use the elliptical machine or the bike because those machines can place strain on the tendon by forcing the foot to flex upwards. Swimming and pool running were a good option for me because I don't move my feet much when I do those activities. A more skilled swimmer might potentially move his/her feet more and thus irritate the tendon. I am not all that skilled!

Q: What about a night splint?
A: My podiatrist gave me a night boot/splint thing to wear while sleeping, but my sports chiropractor thought this was a bad idea. What to do? Since the boot didn't fit me anyway, I never used it, but I know some people have had relief with it. It basically keeps your foot in a neutral position overnight (not allowing the tendon to shorten/relax) so that when you get up and start walking around, your tendon has adjusted to being lengthened.

Q: Can the tendon rupture?
A: My sports chiro and my podiatrist both told me that this would not happen from long distance running. A rupture occurs from sudden force, which is more likely to happen in soccer or basketball. I ran a marathon with insertional Achilles tendonitis and it didn't rupture.

My best advice to anyone struggling with insertional Achilles tendonitis is to see a doctor, PT, or sports chiropractor. It's important to have a correct diagnosis and to pinpoint what caused the issue. It's also important to have a medical professional watch you do the exercises so that you know you are doing them correctly.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Turkey Trot Magic

Yesterday I ran my 12th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot. I first ran this race in 2006 in a time of 23:32. It was my second ever 5K. It is now my longest standing running tradition together with Greg, who ran his 9th consecutive trot.

This race fell at an inopportune time. I had taken two full weeks off from running post-marathon to let my Achilles tendonitis heal, and when I resumed, my legs felt extremely stiff and heavy. I went pool running and swimming four times during those two weeks in an effort to maintain my cardiovascular fitness. Plus, I simply enjoy exercising and this was the most Achilles-friendly exercise I could think of.

I also continued to do my rehab exercises, which are simply heel drops using as much weight as tolerated. I discovered that I could add even more weight using the Smith machine at my office gym, and once I started doing that, I saw rapid improvement. In fact, I was 100% pain-free before, during and after my run on Monday. I wish I had discovered this machine months ago! I'll write another post soon about my Achilles tendonitis experience including what helped, and what set me back.

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around I was no longer worried about my Achilles tendonitis. Instead, I thought that my heavy legs might make it impossible for me to run fast, and there would be huge "bonk" potential. My legs felt like they were at mile 21 of a marathon during Tuesday's easy 4-miler, and I'm not exaggerating. I foam rolled and took Epsom salt baths after Tuesday's run in an effort to revitalize my legs, and hoped that they were just heavy from not having been used in so long.

Race Goals
Race morning arrived and I was excited to be racing. Given how horribly my marathon turned out, I wanted another shot at running hard, pushing myself, and staying mentally strong. Over the summer when I was doing specific 5K workouts, my goal was to be able to break 20:00 in the Turkey Trot. It was simply too hot to do that in the summer, but I thought that if I increased my 5K fitness in the summer months, it would stick with me during marathon training.

Many marathon training plans focus primarily on Lactate Threshold work and endurance, but my coach throws a healthy amount of short, high-intensity intervals as well. For example, I ran 15 x 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy, followed by 15 x 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy. And then a few weeks later I did that same workout but with 20 sets. Which comes out to a solid hour of constant on-and-off sprinting. With workouts like these frequenting my marathon training schedule, I thought that I had not only maintained my 5K fitness, but increased it.

I knew that I was in the best shape of my life in the weeks leading up to the marathon, and if I had raced a cool 5K back then, I think sub-20:00 would have been highly likely. So, on the one hand, I knew I was in excellent shape. On the other hand, I had taken two weeks off, and my legs had felt like bricks just 48 hours prior.

Ultimately, I decided I would run the race by feel, with a stretch goal of sub-20:00, but a more realistic goal of simply setting a course PR (under 20:50). If I had to predict my time, I would have guessed 20:30 if things went well, and closer to 21:00 if they didn't go well.

Before the Race
Greg and I have our "before the race" down pat! We know exactly when to leave the house, where to park, where to go to the bathroom, where to warm up, etc. We ran the warm up at a pace of around
Virginia Run Turkey Trot Start Line
8:35 and it felt more like 8:00. I actually felt really good, but I wondered if I was in for a slap in the face given that my easy pace felt "harder than easy"!

It was 32 degrees and sunny, so we warmed up with an extra layer over our long-sleeved racing shirts and then hung those clothes on a fence near the start/finish This was perfect racing weather for me, particularly since there was no wind whatsoever. What a contrast to all the crappy weather we had all fall!

Greg and I both planned to go out at around 6:30, but I knew that was highly subject to change based on how I felt. This course can be very fast if you know how to pace it. The first two miles are net uphill, and the last mile is net downhill. However, the first mile is gently rolling hills (starting with a downhill), whereas the second mile has a single large hill. And even though the third mile is mostly downhill, there are a few ups to keep you on your toes! In an ideal world, I like to run the first two miles at around the same pace, and then really hammer it home on the last mile.

Mile 1: 6:36
During this mile, I focused on just staying relaxed. Running so fast was definitely a shock to my system. I hadn't run at this pace in over four weeks, so my objective was to try and get into a groove that felt natural. Being a turkey trot, I had to pass a lot of kids during the first half mile-- the ones that go out at a pace of 6:00 for the first minute and then blow up. I'm so used to this now that I don't even see it as an obstacle.

Mile 2: 6:34
I was pleased with my pace for the first mile and feeling good, so I resolved to run the second mile at the same pace or faster. I was on track for this until the big hill came at the end of the mile. I told myself that a slow down on the hill was NOT inevitable, and I was going to maintain my pace no matter what. I decided to make myself hurt as much as possible, and do whatever it took to not slow down on that hill. Typically, my strategy is to run an even effort in races, not an even pace, but at this point, I wanted to push myself up the hill because I knew I'd be able to recover on the downhill. Plus, I was highly confident in my endurance. If I could just not lose any time up the hill, I'd be golden. And voila! I did it! It really hurt like hell the closer I got to the top, but I refused to back off the pace and it paid off.

Mile 3: 6:27
Now it was time to really gun it. I knew that I'd have to conquer two small pesky inclines, but aside from that, everything would be flat or downhill. When I was about 3/4 of the way through the mile, I glanced at my Garmin and it read a 6:34 average pace for that mile. This was not acceptable to me so I pushed even harder. I know that many people race better when they don't look at their watches, but for me, when a race is almost over, I find that looking at my pace can be a huge motivator.

The Last 0.14: (5:37 pace)
With the realization that I was going to run a really strong time, I gave it all I had to make it as strong as possible.

I finished in an official time of 20:21.

Usually during races, I am aware of the other runners and where I am relative to other women. But during this race, I was solely focused on myself. I had Greg in my sights the entire time (he ran 20:03) but otherwise, I wasn't overly aware of who I was passing or the people passing me. Because I was initially so uncertain about what would happen, I wasn't viewing this as a competition.

Anyway, even though I didn't break 20:00 I was pretty excited. My course PR was significant and I was delighted that I managed to maintain so much fitness. I titled this post "Turkey Trot Magic" because on Tuesday I felt ridiculously sluggish and heavy, but then I went out an ran a 5K at very close to my overall PR (20:17). It just goes to show you that running is truly dynamic-- some days you have it, other days you don't. It was also "magic" in that my Achilles were completely pain free before, during, and after the race. And running fast is pretty much the worst thing you can do with this injury. After the Leesburg 5K in August, I was in a lot of pain shortly after the race.

In terms of overall results, I placed 4th out of 989 women. This was a large turkey trot, so I was very happy with my placing.

Final Thoughts and Stats
I learned a lot from this race. From a physical standpoint, I think that running Monday-Wednesday really helped my legs get back into the groove of running. I'm at my best when I run 7 days a week, and take long breaks in between cycles. If I miss a day of running, I feel stale the next day. I run 30 minutes at a recovery pace every Sunday, which is enough to give my legs a rest, while keeping them used to moving. I also learned that even if my legs feel like garbage one day, they can bounce back quickly, provided I get enough sleep and do things like foam roll. Other thoughts and stats:
  • I was 1st place in the 30-39 year age group, and I am 39 years old. During the past 8 years that I've been in this age group, I have been slower. 
  • This is a course PR by 29 seconds. My previous fastest was last year in 20:50
  • I ran 4 seconds slower than my overall PR of 20:17
  • I think I paced this race perfectly
  • Given that I ran a pace of 5:37 for the final stretch, I do think I could have run the entire race slightly faster, but trust me- I was pushing really hard the whole way!
Within the course of just two days, I went from being discouraged about my running to very optimistic about kick starting the new cycle. My next race is a 5K on New Year's day, and I am now confident that I will be able to start training again without my Achilles plaguing me, and with my marathon fitness mainly intact. 

More Stats!
If you don't care about data, you can stop reading here. But I geek out on this stuff, and one of the best things about having an annual racing tradition is to compare the splits year over year. Here's a fun chart:

 Year   Mile 1   Mile 2   Mile 3  Final Kick  Time
 2009  7:25  7:44  7:37 7:1323:40
 2010  7:19 7:197:07  6:1322:33
2011  7:00 7:05 6:42 5:5721:29
 2012 7:127:157:056:1022:18
 2013  7:26 7:30  7:03 6:3822:46
2014  7:01 6:54 6:45 6:1521:30
 2015  6:43 6:43 6:35  6:0320:51
  2016     6:38    6:49   6:38  5:49 20:50 
 2017  6:36 6:34 6:27  5:3720:21

Splits from 2006-2008 are unknown because I didn't have a Garmin back then.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Nobody Cares About Your Marathon Time

Other people don't care about your race times. And that's a good thing.

They may be interested in how you do. And they may even track you during a marathon! And if you have a coach, he/she is likely personally invested in your performance. But your race time is not going to change the lives of other people. Other runners care about their races times. Any interest
they have in your race time is just that-- an interest. And a fleeting one, as they will likely not be focused on your race time the next day.

But what about the elite athletes who get press coverage? Or what about the runners who have tens of thousands of social media followers? People care about those race times, right? Not really. It's cool to scroll through the Instagram feed and see how people's races went. And it may be worthy of a conversation or two. But that's about the extent of most people's caring. I have nearly 10,000 followers on Instagram, and I don't think any of them lost sleep over my Indianapolis time. While I received an overwhelming amount of support from the running community, I know that my failure to meet my goal isn't going to change anything in their lives. And that's such a relief! Phew.

I'll caveat all of this with the statement that some people will judge you. In fact, people are probably judging you all the time for lots of things. And admit it-- you sometimes judge other people too. It's human nature to judge and to make comparisons. You can't stop people from judging you, especially if you put yourself out there. What you can stop is how you let those judgments effect you. Are you going to make decisions based on how you might be perceived? Or are you going to make decisions based on what is truly right for you. Do you value yourself based on other people's perceptions? Or do you value yourself based on your own standards?

It's easy to understand this concept intellectually. Most people know that they shouldn't care about what other people think of them. For me, the real breakthrough came when I actually felt it.

Back in the summer of 2013, I was debating whether or not to run the Chicago marathon. I had been injured for five weeks, so I was deciding between doing it as a fun run, or just bagging the whole thing. Was I going to embarrass myself yet again with another relatively slow time? Would everyone think I was crazy for considering myself to be a BQ-caliber runner? But at that moment, I was able to "catch" myself and turn those thoughts in the other direction.I realized that I was making this decision primarily based on how other people (my running friends and teammates) would perceive my time.

And that's what caused the breakthrough to happen. I realized that my time was important to me, but it was really just a small point of interest to my friends. If I ran a slow time, they might think, "oh, Elizabeth didn't do all that well," but then they would go about the rest of their day, focused on other things. And if they thought "oh, Elizabeth didn't do all that well," would it impact my life? NO. Not one bit. Let them think it! Let them think whatever they want about me because it's not going to change the decisions I make, or how I feel about my running.

Nobody cares how crappy I look here!
I've often been asked what the single biggest "a-ha" moment was in my journey to overcome race anxiety. It was this realization, which felt like like a heavy weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. It made me feel free to do whatever I wanted with my running. I was no longer afraid to run a slow time because of what other people might think. And my anxiety levels plummeted.

The stakes were now lower on race day. Every race became about my individual goals and my own unique journey. I was no longer trying to prove anything to anyone. And while I still cared about my race times, I wasn't worried about embarrassing myself if I ran slower than expected.

Nobody cares about your race time. Nobody else has put in the work like you have, and nobody else has to live with the result. After all, how much do you really care about other people's times, relative to how much you care about your own time? You probably don't lose sleep over other people's running.

Learning to accept a missed goal is a skill in and of itself, but when you are ALSO worried about other people's judgments, acceptance is nearly impossible.

How does all of this relate to the marathon I ran two weeks ago?

  • I went into the race feeling relaxed, so I don't think that my bonk was the result of race anxiety.
  • When I started to struggle, I wasn't worried that the people tracking me would see I had slowed down; I was focused on trying to push through.
  • After the race was over, I was wasn't afraid to share my experience with other runners on social media and my blog.
  • I've spent the past two weeks focused on recovering and planning out my spring season-- not trying to justify what happened to anyone.
  • I'm not looking at Boston (my next marathon) as a redemption race to prove to the world that I can, in fact, run a fast marathon. It's simply my next marathon. 

It's easy to feel pressured on race day, particularly if you are active in the running community. But other people's judgments should be the least of your concerns. Because those people simply don't care as much as you may think.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Race Report: Riding the pain train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon: Pre-Race Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a snapshot of my full cycle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Listening to Your Body Actually Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training Cycle Snapshot

Monday, October 16, 2017

Better Safe Than Sorry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Army Ten-Miler: Running in a Sauna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trusting the Process and Beating the Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a snapshot of my week:

Monday: 8.2 miles easy at 8:34 average

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

Wednesday: 6.9 miles easy at 8:41 average

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

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

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

Sunday: 3.4 miles recovery at 9:21 average

Total Mileage for the Week: 69

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