Sunday, March 18, 2018

Boston Marathon Training: 4 Weeks to Go!

With just four weeks to go until the Boston Marathon, I'm feeling really good about my training. My coach is really pushing me with this cycle and I'm running higher mileage and more intense workouts than ever before. It's really no one single workout that builds fitness; it's the consistency of workouts over time and how they are strung together. I've been working with my coach for nearly four years now, so he knows how to push me in a way that safe. When I received my most recent block of training, I was intimidated by the volume and intensity. But as I've gone through it I have managed quite well!

The most difficult thing about this week was daylight savings time. Even though I started going to bed an hour early on the Friday before, my body clock was messed up all week. I was up for at least an hour in the middle of the night each night, which is rare for me. Thankfully, I allowed myself enough time in the bed to still get nearly 8 hours each night. The darkness was admittedly depressing. I feel like we "worked" our way down to a 6:30 sunrise, and now it was back to square one with most of my runs being in the dark again. Since Greg is done with his marathon (Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans) he's had the time in the morning to make me "care packages" with healthy lunches, snacks, and vitamins. That has helped me feel energized throughout the day.

Monday: 14.2 miles including 10 tempo.
This was a tough workout to have on the Monday after daylight savings! I warmed up for 2.1 miles and then followed that with 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile tempo, all with 4 minutes recovery jog in between. My coach prescribed paces for these that seemed impossible, but I tried my best and came relatively close.
  • 4 miles in 7:01, 6:56, 6:51, 6:44 (6:53 average)
  • 3 miles in 6:49, 6:57, 6:47 (6:51 average)
  • 2 miles in 6:50, 6:50 (6:50 average)
  • 1 mile in 6:39
Even though I didn’t quite hit the paces my coach prescribed, I worked really hard and am pleased with how I held up. The 10 miles averaged out to 6:50, which is a faster pace than my 10-mile PR. Afterwards, I ran a 1-mile cool down.

Tuesday: 11.6 miles at 7:44 average
Instead of running easy the day after the massive tempo, my coach challenged me with 90 minutes at a pace of 7:45. After how hard I worked my legs on Monday, I did not think this would be possible, but I went for it anyway. It was 30 degrees and very windy but I used a route that looped around enough times that I was never running into a headwind for more than five minutes at a time. Miraculously, I felt great and this 7:45 didn't seem all that hard. My legs weren't even tired.

Wednesday: 8.5 miles easy at 8:50
I really needed an easy day! It was dark and windy again, but I didn't care because I got to run very easy, which was such a treat after Monday and Tuesday.

Thursday: 8.5 miles including 20 x 200m
Thursday, March 15th

When I saw this workout on the schedule I freaked a bit. I've never done more than 12 x 200m in a workout and the paces that my coach wanted me to hit (38-41) were fast. I ran 200m recovery jogs between each interval. I warmed up for 2.4 miles and then got into it.
  • Reps 1-10: 42, 42, 40, 40, 39, 39, 39, 39, 38, 38 
  • Reps 11-20: 39, 39, 38, 39, 38, 39, 39, 39, 39 
I cooled down for 1.1 miles. For reference 39 seconds = 5:14 pace and 38 seconds = 5:06 pace. Removing the recovery jogs, this is 2.5 miles at a pace of around 5:14. This workout was great practice in pushing really, really hard. In fact, once I hit the straight-away section of the track, I imagined I was approaching a finish line in a race and really gunning for it. I focused on my form and my breathing in order to stay strong throughout the entire workout. Even though I’m super focused on the Boston Marathon right now, I have to admit I would still LOVE to break 20 in the 5K. This workout gave me the confidence that I will be able to do that at some point.

Friday: 8.4 miles easy at 8:57 average
Ouch! My legs were sore. I had spent a good amount of time on the foam roller on Thursday night and Friday morning before the run, but my legs were definitely sore from those 200 meter sprints. I wanted to call it quits after an hour, but I hung in there for the entire 75 minutes that my coach prescribed.

Saturday: 19 miles with 15 at marathon pace
I was skeptical that this workout would be possible given that my legs still felt a little sore from the 20 x 200m. But I've had successful long runs in the past on sore legs, so I figured I would go for it anyway. I ran 2.5 miles easy, 15 miles at marathon pace, and 1.5 miles easy for a total of 19. My coach prescribed 7:24 as my marathon pace because that is what my recent half marathon in Houston indicates. However, I know I am fitter now than I was in January. This proved itself when I actually had to hold myself back to stay in the 7:20s throughout the workout.
  • 2.5 miles at 8:27 average
  • 15 miles at 7:21 average!
  • 1.5 miles at 8:20 average
My splits for the 15 miles were: 7:28, 7:23, 7:22, 7:20, 7:25, 7:21, 7:21, 7:21, 7:21, 7:23, 7:18, 7:20, 7:19, 7:21, 7:18. I drank half a packet of Generation UCAN before the run, and then during mile 8 I took a homemade UCAN gel, which contained nearly an entire packet of UCAN. That was all the fuel I had and it was plenty. I was aiming for 7:24 but my body felt like going a bit faster. The pace felt relatively comfortable for the first 11 miles and then it started to get a little harder during the last four. But it still wasn't that bad- not nearly as hard as the workout I did on Monday. The entire run averaged out to 19 miles at a pace of 7:35. According to Strava, I got a new 30K PR!

Sunday: 5.6 miles recovery at 8:54 average
My legs felt better on this recovery run than they did the day after the 200m intervals.

Total Mileage: 75.9 at an average pace of 8:04!
This is a new weekly mileage PR for me. I am also on day 65 of a run streak, averaging 9 miles a day.

Past 8 weeks' mileage

I'm really excited about how much I have progressed this cycle. I'm not really associating any of this with a goal time because if Boston is hot, then that goes out the window. I think that in perfect weather on a flat course I could run a 3:13ish. That might have to wait until the fall, but I can be patient.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stripes! Stripes!

About 99% of my blog posts are related to running and racing, and I rarely post about the "stripes" part of Racing Stripes. As I mentioned in my previous post, the day after running the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, Greg and I headed about 90 minutes outside of the city to go visit a zebra and her family.

Zee's owners, Jennifer and Alan, greeted us with all sorts of goodies. There were zebra cookies, zebra napkins, zebra candies, and zebra plates for our delicious lunch. Living on the gulf, they own a shrimp processing business so we were also treated to some of the best shrimp I've ever tasted. It doesn't get any fresher.

They have a zebra, a bull, a horse, a peacock, some chickens and a dog. They plan on getting two more zebras next winter. They let us feed Zee and really get to know her:

She generally didn't want us to pet her, unless we were feeding her with one hand, and petting her with the other hand. It was fun to meet all of their animals and learn some history about the shrimp business. Even though my race didn't go as I planned, it was totally worth the trip to Louisiana just to meet this zebra and her owners!

Training Update
As for my training, things continue to go really well. I recovered remarkably fast from the half marathon, which is typical when I can't run to my full potential in hot weather. I did a short recovery
jog in New Orleans on Monday morning and I couldn't even tell that I had raced the day before. My legs didn't seem to take a beating at all! On Tuesday (just two days post race), I was able to run 12.5 miles at an average pace of 8:15. And I felt peppy doing it. It's truly amazing how much easier it is to run when it's cool out. On Wednesday, I ran easy again: 8.4 miles at an average pace of 8:30.

On Thursday, I ran a set of really quick intervals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, minutes hard, all with 2-minute recovery jogs in between. My coach typically gives me very short and fast intervals during marathon training because it's important to not only develop endurance and lactate threshold, but also VO2 max and speed. Plus, I still have that goal of a sub-20 5K at some point! I warmed up for 2.4 miles and then did the workout. My paces were:

1:00 at 5:48
2:00 at 6:14
3:00 at 6:18
4:00 at 6:24
5:00 at 6:33
4:00 at 6:27
3:00 at 6:16
2:00 at 6:16
1:00 at 5:52

I was happy with how everything felt. My Achilles has not been bothering me at all, and if anything would aggravate it, it would be this type of workout. On Friday, my coach tacked on an extra 5 minutes to my typical 70-minute easy run, resulting in 8.7 miles at an average pace of 8:39.

Saturday's long run was also a success. Since it was too cold to wear my skirt with the large pocket for my UCAN gel, I decided that I would not fuel during the run; only beforehand. Typically for a 20-miler I take a packet (1.5 scoops) of UCAN before the run, and then a homemade UCAN gel about halfway through. But since I wore tights instead of my skirt, I figured it would be a good day to experiment without the additional fuel. I had felt so good during my last 20-miler and wondered if that UCAN gel at mile 10 had truly been necessary. I like to practice my fueling strategy during training, but I also like to practice not using as much fuel so my body isn't entirely dependent on it.

Saturday, March 10th
Greg dropped me off on the W&OD trail in Ashburn and I ran home. For those of you who are local, I ran 7.5 miles on the W&OD, 7.5 miles on the Fairfax County Parkway trail, and then six miles through neighborhoods to get home. Point-to-point runs make me feel like I have a true purpose and I am actually going somewhere. Plus, the W&OD and the parkway provided good hill practice. I ran the first half of the run at an average pace of 8:23, and the second half at an average pace of 8:03, finishing it off with a last mile in 7:43. I was happy that I was able to run 20 miles at an average pace of 8:13 without any fuel during the run. I felt great during the run and afterwards.

Today I ran 4.9 miles recovery at 9:09 average, wrapping up the week with 68.0 miles. Pretty good considering I was "recovering" from a half marathon.

I'm ready to tackle next week, which (if all goes well) will be my highest ever mileage week!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Race Report

There's a zebra named Zee who lives about 90 minutes outside of New Orleans. Not at a a zoo, but at a house. I discovered this zebra just over a year ago on Instagram and quickly made friends with her
owners. Greg and I received an open invitation to visit any time we wanted, so we figured, what better time than the weekend of the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Marathon?

This race had been on my bucket list for years and Greg had never been to New Orleans. We decided that I would run the half as a tune-up for Boston and Greg would run the full. When we registered, I knew there was the potential for this race to be warm, but the average overnight low for early March is  50 degrees, so I thought that could still be manageable. Plus, I don't like ruling out races just because they could be warm. New Orleans is a fun city and with a zebra nearby, this seemed like a win-win.

Before the Race
Greg and I flew into New Orleans on Saturday morning, aided by a very strong tailwind out of the north east. The wind storm back home actually worked in our favor! Upon arrival, we had Po' Boys for lunch and then proceeded to the expo. At the expo, Greg needed to buy two gels. But much to our surprise, the expo did not sell gels! He uses the Gu brand, and they didn't have that; only one gel was for sale and we had never heard of it. We looked at the course map to see what types of gels would be offered on the course, and it didn't say. We could tell there would be one gel station at mile 9, but that wasn't sufficient.

When we got back to our hotel, I went on the Gu website, found the nearest dealer, and then walked to a nearby bike shop while Greg rested his legs. Mission accomplished! I'm essentially writing this as a pubic service announcement: do not count on Rock 'n' Roll race expos to sell the last-minute items you need. The expo had a large Brooks display but it was slim pickings aside from that.

Bourbon Street
For dinner, we met our friends Anna and Amber at a seafood restaurant. I had waited until the weekend before to make dinner reservations and all the pasta places were fully booked. But the seafood place, GW Fins, was delicious and they had plenty of options. I had salmon with cornbread and a side of sweet potatoes. Plus a beet salad. Plus a dessert. I might have gone overboard with the yummy New Orleans food. I should also mention the Pralines I had. Yum!!!

After dinner, we walked down Bourbon street and it was really something else. It was like a huge party with music and people doing all sorts of crazy things.

Greg and I went to bed at 8:00 (which was 9:00 east coast time) and slept relatively well. I had like six dreams in a row about missing the start of the race, and was relieved to wake up to find it was only 4:15. I had my typical banana and bagel with peanut butter. 30 minutes prior to the race I drank a packet of Generation UCAN. If I do this, I do not need any fuel during the race.

We made our way to the start line, which was just a few blocks from our hotel and I warmed up for about a mile. The race started at 7:30, which I didn't understand. They had a 10K that started at 7:00, and I would have loved to start half an hour earlier. Houston started at 7:00. Other Rock 'n' Roll races start at 7:00, so why not this one? It mattered because instead of 30 minutes running in 57 degree temperatures, we had 30 minutes of running in 67 degree temperatures at the end of the race. Just some feedback in case the race director is reading this!

Depending on which app we looked at, it was anywhere from 55 to 58 degrees at the start. There was not a cloud in the sky and there was a bit of wind to boot. When I ran Boston, it was 70 degrees at the start and I held up really well for the first 13 miles, so I just remembered that. If the weather had been cooler, I would have tried to run a 6:55 pace and PR by about a minute. But since it was warm, I decided to go out at a 7:00-7:05 pace. This is really not much of a pace adjustment at all, but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to PR, on the off chance that the heat didn't impact me.

Miles 1-4
The race started and everything felt good. The first mile ticked off at 7:04 and it didn't feel hard at all. Yay. Same with the second mile. It felt relatively easy and my split was 7:02. The third mile was also quite pleasant in 7:04. But something happened shortly after mile marker 3. My legs suddenly felt heavy. My energy was still good but my legs were now tired and didn't have any pep. I thought this could be the first sign of the heat affecting me, so I made the executive decision to back off. I decided I would back off to a pace of 7:15, hold that until mile 10, and then run faster at the end if I could. On the one hand, I didn't want to "give up" so early, but on the other hand, I knew that if I didn't make an adjustment soon, I would pay for it later.

Mile 1: 7:04
Mile 2: 7:02
Mile 3: 7:04
Mile 4: 7:16

Miles 5-8
People started to pass me, and even though I didn't like that, I knew I was doing what I could. Amber passed me during the 5th mile, looking really strong and peppy. My friend Aaron also passed me. I was pouring water on myself like crazy, but made sure not to over-hydrate like I had done in previous races.

When I got to mile six, I realized the rest of the race would be a struggle. I wasn't able to hold onto 7:15 and I doubted my ability to even finish the race without walking. But I promised myself that no matter what, I would not walk. I would keep the effort level the same for as long as possible and just push, push, push through it.

Mile 5: 7:21
Mile 6: 7:27
Mile 7: 7:36
Mile 8: 7:37

Miles 9-13
At this point, my main goal was not to have Greg catch up to me. I knew that he'd be running the first half of the race at a pace of 7:55, and I didn't want him to catch me and see me walking. The crazy and amazing thing is that I felt like I was running so slowly and I was in so much pain, and yet I was able to hold onto my 7:30's. Usually when I "bonk" I have to slow down into the 9's. This is why I thought Greg could potentially catch me.

I started to get a cramp in my stomach and I felt anything but strong. I just kept plodding away, determined not to let Greg catch me. The sun was so strong and there were no trees or cloud cover. We even had a bit of a headwind to contend with from miles 7-10.

Whenever I looked at my Garmin, I kept expecting to see 8:30's or something but I was actually running in the 7:30's. I had no clue how I was maintaining that pace because I felt like I was on the verge of walking for the entire last five miles of the race. Maybe it was all of those 90-minute runs my coach had me do at a pace of 7:30. Those runs weren't very hard. So the good news is that I can hold the 7:30s for a long time, in the heat. If Boston is hot, hopefully I can run in the 7:30's there too! Although I probably would start off slower.

Even during the last mile, I kept thinking that at any moment my body would just give out and I'd be walking. Or that I would look down at my Garmin and see a 9:00 pace. It was kind of surreal to feel like I was running a snail's pace but still be in the 7:30's. These thoughts kept me going all the way to the finish line. I did not have a final kick, but I was very steady.

Mile 9: 7:31
Mile 10: 7:38
Mile 11: 7:42
Mile 12: 7:36
Mile 13: 7:30
Last 0.18: (7:23 pace)

After the Race
I clocked in at 1:37:40, and was pleased with that. A "hot weather" PR for sure! My previous fastest half marathon in weather above 50 degrees was 1:43 at the Walt Disney World Half in 2013. Immediately after finishing I found a table to lean on. The volunteers asked me if I was okay and I nodded yes, unable to speak. I walked about 100 feet and saw Amber waiting for Anna and me. She asked me how I felt and I was still not able to talk. Instead, I walked to a nearby garbage bin and vomited. A lot! I couldn't believe it. I didn't really feel nauseous while running, but I did have a mild stomach cramp.

I don't typically throw up after races; I've only done it one other time. Ironically, the only other time I did it was when I ran a 1:37 half in Columbus, but that was in the low 30s. I guess my body likes to throw up after exactly one hour and 37 minutes of running and then stopping. Ha! It felt good to vomit and I actually felt like this validated the struggle I was in for the second half of the race. My #1 goal was to push as hard as I could for as long as I could, and I know I did that. In retrospect, I would have started out at that 7:15 pace instead of waiting until mile 4, but these are things you can never know at the start line.

Anna finished and the three of us went to take photos in the park. As we are all avid Instagrammers, the photos were super important. Afterwards, I took a shuttle bus back to my hotel. This ended up taking about 20 minutes so I barely had time to shower and head back out to the finish line to catch Greg. I took an Uber to the finish line and just as the car was about to let me out, I got a notification that Greg had finished. Hooray! But since I had expected to watch him finish, I had no idea how to find him. Ultimately he borrowed someone's cell phone and called me and we met up. Greg ran a 3:27:34, which is a PR for him by over a minute! That's a huge accomplishment, considering temperatures were in the 70's by the end of the full marathon.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
Me, Anna, and Amber
Am I disappointed that I didn't PR? Nope. Today was not the day for it, at least not for me. I've historically struggled when racing long distances in the heat, especially on sunny days like today. For example, I was 20 minutes off of my goal when I ran Boston in 2016. Most runners seemed to be about 10 minutes of their goals. At least I think I managed my hydration correctly this time: I didn't over hydrate during the race or beforehand, and I had a good electrolyte balance. At least I did before vomiting!

  • I was the 46th female finisher out of 5,145 women.
  • I placed 9th in my age group out of 836 and was thrilled to be in the top 10.
  • I was really pleased with my mental endurance; I insisted on pushing as hard as I could and I never once eased up on the effort.
  • I can run in the heat in the 7:30's for a long time.
  • My "this feels so slow pace" is in the 7:30's.
  • This was excellent training for Boston in six weeks, particularly if Boston is hot and sunny like it has been the past two years. 
  • I loved the course. It was beautiful and flat and not crowded. 

I highly recommend the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, I just wish it had an earlier start time and that the expo sold gels. Tomorrow Greg and I take a road trip to see Zee! It doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Boston Marathon Training: 7 weeks to go

I haven't blogged about my training in awhile, but it's been going really well. My coach has decided to push me even further than he has in the past to see what I can do.

My marathon-specific training began two weeks ago, which is nine weeks out from the race. My coach typically gives me about a month of prep work (which was hill-intensive this time) and then two months of high volume including longer workouts.

Monday 2/12: Marathon training kicked off with an easy 70 minutes on Monday.

Tuesday 2/13: I followed it up with 90 minutes on Tuesday, and my coach told me to run it at a 7:30 pace. I'm using 7:24 as my target marathon pace this cycle, based on my Houston Half marathon time, and it seemed a bit premature to be running so far at close-to marathon pace, but I went for it. And. . . much to my surprise it wasn't hard. It felt "moderate" the entire time. My last two miles were actually around 7:20! I felt amazing and was really pleased that running 12 miles at a pace of 7:30 wasn't all that taxing.

Wednesday 2/14: 8.3 miles easy at 8:40 average, including strides.

Thursday 2/15: My workout on Thursday was 6 miles, alternating between 10K pace and marathon pace each mile. I've done this before and I really like it: 6:40, 7:19, 6:35, 7:26, 6:37, 7:20. I was targeting 7:24 as marathon pace but every time I looked at my watch, I found myself going faster. I guess that's good?! This averaged out to 6 miles at a pace of 6:59.

Friday 2/16: 8.3 miles easy at 8:41 average, including strides.

Saturday 2/17: I ran the first 10 miles with Anna and Greg
Saturday 2/17: My first marathon pace long run of the cycle! The run was 18 miles, with the last 8 at marathon pace. I picked a challenging route for this, and 3 of my marathon pace miles were uphill and into a headwind. I was not able to hit 7:24 on those, so my 8 marathon pace miles averaged out to 7:28. The effort was there, though, so I'm not bothered by this. The entire 18 miles averaged out to 8:05.

Sunday 2/18: 5 miles recovery at 8:58 average. I've been running 30 minutes recovery every day for the past three years. Now my coach has bumped this up to 45 minutes! I handled it well, although my legs were definitely tired during the last mile.

Total Weekly Mileage: 69.3. My legs were tired on the Sunday recovery run, but otherwise I was very pleased with how this week went. My energy levels were high and my legs were peppy.

Monday 2/19: I started off the week with some speed work: 15 times (1 minute at slightly faster than 5K effort, 1 minute easy) then 15 times (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). All in all, this is a 45-minute workout. And it's tough. I've done it many times before and it's always really hard because you have to keep shifting gears and the effort level for the hard portions is quite hard! I think I've finally figured out how to execute this one, though. I used to go really hard on the one-minute segments and I would have to walk the first few seconds of the easy portion. Now I go at truly "slightly" faster than 5K effort, so there is no walking needed, and the easy jogs are faster. This also allows me to really sprint on the 30-second segments.

Tuesday 2/20: 90 minutes at 7:30 pace again! I was surprised to see this the day after a hard workout. But again, if you don't push yourself every once in awhile, you won't know what you are capable of. I gave myself permission to truly ease into this run so I spent the first mile progressing from 9:30 down to 7:30, which yielded and average 8:30 for the first mile. But after that, the rest of the miles were right around 7:30. And I felt really strong. I honestly did not expect to be able to do this, and I would have been happy if everything averaged out to 7:45, but I hit my 7:30 for all the miles except the first, which resulted in 11.88 miles at a pace of 7:34.

Wednesday 2/21: 8.2 miles easy at 8:51 average, including strides.

Thursday 2/22: My body finally started showing some signs of fatigue. My prescribed workout was 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile tempo with a 4-minute recovery jog in between each. The goal was to start at the slower end of my tempo range (7:00) and progress down to the faster end (6:40). I've done this workout in the past and nailed it, so I know what it should feel like on a good day. After the first 3 miles, I knew it was not a good day. Those three miles felt much harder than my paces indicated and I had to walk during portions of the recovery jog. I rallied for the next two miles, but it started to feel like 5K effort and I wasn't even hitting the paces I had planned, so I shut it down after that. I figured that doing that last mile wouldn't really get me any additional fitness benefit, and that I risked over-doing it based on how I felt. My first 3 miles averaged 6:59, and my second two averaged 6:56. A very solid effort and over 10 miles for the day including warm up and cool down.

Friday 2/23: 8.4 miles easy at 8:39 average, including strides. I was relieved that this run felt as good as it did. I think Thursday must have just been an off day.

Saturday Feb. 24th: 20 miles in Central Park
Saturday 2/24: 20 miles at 8:14 average. I did this run in Central Park! I had travelled to NYC on Friday for a business trip, and stayed overnight. Greg came up with me and we ran the first 8 together. We were trying to start slowly, but my Garmin kept ticking off splits in the 8:20s. I felt amazingly good and I think being in Central Park really pepped me up. The weather was perfect: upper 40s and partly sunny. I ran at what felt like normal long run effort and ended up running an 8:14 average pace! The crazy thing is that the first 10 miles averaged out to 8:30, which meant the second half of the run averaged out to 8:00 or slightly faster. And central park is hilly! My splits were: 8:54, 8:26, 8:31, 8:17, 8:41, 8:47, 8:27, 8:27, 8:17, 8:05, 8:23, 8:13, 8:02, 7:58, 7:59, 7:50, 7:57, 7:50, 7:46, 7:57. Based on this run, I think my fitness has really jumped up.

Sunday 2/25: 5.1 miles recovery at 8:47 average. My legs felt pretty good on this run and it wasn't as hard as last Sunday's recovery.

Total Mileage: 73.4. A new weekly mileage PR. My previous highest was 71.7 last February.

I'm really optimistic about how my training has gone and what it will mean for future races. I am running the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon in one week. My time goal for that will be somewhat weather dependent, but if conditions were ideal, I think I could PR. Boston, of course, is always a crapshoot in terms of weather but regardless of what happens there, I'm thrilled to be taking my training to the next level.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What I DON'T Want in a GPS Watch

A runner's watch and its settings are a personal thing. With the massive variety of GPS watches on the market, we have options not only for which device we use, but how we personalize it.

Houston Half Marathon Finish
One on extreme, there are the runners who always want the latest and most sophisticated technology. They want to track all the possible data and they want their watch to be able to receive text messages, play music, track their sleep, predict their marathon time and more. On the other extreme, there are the runners who may not even want to wear a watch, let alone a GPS device.

As for me, I'm pretty basic, with one exception. And the one exception makes it difficult for me to find a simple GPS watch that meets my needs. When I started racing in 2005, I bought a Timex stop watch with a lap button. That worked well for awhile, until I decided to get a Garmin in 2009. I went with the Forerunner 405. I loved being able to run anywhere and know how far I had gone. Before the Garmin, I would typically run on the W&OD trail, which had mile markers, or I would use a treadmill. Those were my options if I wanted to track my distance.

After five years, the battery died and I moved to the Garmin Forerunner 220. This watch was slimmer and more comfortable, but otherwise it wasn't all that different from my previous one. At least in terms of the features I used. When that started acting strangely (not uploading to my phone, cutting workouts short) I bought the Garmin 630 on Black Friday sale last fall. And I hate it. Alright, hate is a strong word, so I'll revise my statement to "I find the watch highly frustrating and I wish I had not purchased it." Greg got the same deal, but he's not as tortured by the device as I am.

As I said above, a runner's watch is a personal thing, so here is everything I want, and don't want in a GPS watch.

The Basics
The reason I use a Garmin instead of my stop watch is because I like to track my speed and distance.
Garmin Forerunner 630
I need my watch to track and display:
  • Total Distance
  • Total Running Time
  • Average Pace of the Run
  • Lap Pace
The first three of these I like to have on one screen, in that order. As I run, I want to know how far I have gone, how long I've been going, and what my average pace has been so far. On a separate screen, which I have set to auto-rotate, I display the lap pace only. I like this to be large and take up the entire face of the screen so I can quickly glance down and see what pace my current mile (or split) is. This helps me slow down or speed up when needed.

I used to want to see heart rate, but I have stopped training by heart rate. That got its own screen too.

Data and Integration
I will always be loyal to the Garmin brand because it integrates with my training log (RunningAhead) as well as Strava and Final Surge (my coach's app). So my second requirement, in addition to the basics, is that the watch can upload to the Garmin database and instantly update all those other sources. 

Programmable Workouts (loudly, please)
7:59 lap pace, big and bold!
If it weren't for this one feature requirement, I'd be able to get away with a much simpler GPS watch. But it turns out, if you want to program workouts into your Garmin, you have to buy a fancier model. If it weren't for programmable workouts, I would have a tough time with many of my training runs.

For example, this morning I ran 15 times (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) followed by 15 times (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). I programmed that into my watch so that it beeped, letting me know when the intervals were starting/stopping. And then it recorded my distance, pace, time, etc. for each of the laps. Now I know exactly what pace I ran for each of the 1-minute segments and each of the 30-second segments. 

With the Garmin 630, the beeps are so quiet, I can barely hear them. And even though this watch has a zillion options for everything (I can even put a photo of a zebra on it), there is no volume adjustment for the beeps. Because of this, if I need to do a pre-programmed workout, I use my 220. The alert beep for the auto-lap function is also quiet, and I often don't hear it when I'm doing my easy runs, especially if I am running near traffic.

Touch Screen
I do not want this! I purchased the Garmin 630 fully knowing it was a touch screen, but I thought it would be as easy to use as my iPhone. But it's not. navigating the touch screen is not intuitive. I always end up pressing the wrong thing. And when I go to put the watch on my wrist before my run, I inadvertently touch the screen so that it tries syncing my iPhone contacts. WTF? Why do I want my iPhone contacts synced to my Garmin device?!? No thank you. Plus, in the winter I wear gloves, so I usually need to remove them to use the touch screen, whereas I don't have to worry about that with plain ol' buttons.

Auto Upload
My feeling about the Garmin auto-uploading to my phone is similar to my feelings about automatic flush toilets. Let ME decide when please! I do not want my workout to upload to my phone until I say so. Maybe this is a setting I change, but I haven't found it. Because it integrates with Strava and my coach's Final Surge app, I don't want to publish my run until I am ready to say something about it. Otherwise, it's just hanging out there as "morning run" for people on Strava to view with (gasp) no context on what it was!!! But in all seriousness, sometimes if I am running near my phone, (I don't run with my phone, but sometimes it's in my car and I pass it), the Garmin will try to upload the workout still in progress. And if I'm doing a cool down, it will automatically upload the warm up and the workout itself, which I log as three separate activities.

I often run in the dark so I need a backlight so I can see my Garmin. I use the "stays on" feature so the watch is always lit once I turn it on. With the Garmin 630, if you select the "stays on" feature, but do not un-select the default "backlight is part of an alert" then every time you lap, your backlight will come on and stay on. This drains the battery. I discovered this one day on a treadmill run when I realized the backlight kept coming on and staying on.

Activity Profiles
I look at lap time instead of lap pace on the track
I'll end on a positive note with the Forerunner 630. This watch offers different activity profiles, and I use three of them: run outdoors, run on a track, and run indoors. For running outdoors, my settings are as I described above. If I select track running, instead of my lap pace showing, it shows my lap time. Because GPS watches are not accurate on tracks, I pace the workout using the elapsed time of the lap rather than lap pace. And for those rare occasions when I run on a treadmill, the watch turns off the GPS and using my cadence (I assume) to measure distance. And it's fairly consistent with what the treadmill says.

Even though I'm not a fan of the 630, I'm using it for most of my runs. Ultimately I'll probably buy the 230 which does not have a touch screen or a lot of the fancy features I don't use. My 220 works well enough, so until that dies completely, I will probably hold off on getting a new one. I wore the 220 in Houston because I didn't want the 630 doing anything funky. I'm carefully considering which watch comes with me to New Orleans in two weeks.

I'd love to hear from my readers on this: 
  • What features do you need?
  • How is your watch face configured when you run?
  • Do you log your warm up and cool down as separate activities, or put them all into one?
I'll post a training update next weekend, but that's going really well. I just wrapped up 69.3 miles last week and I'm feeling strong.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Kiss My Asphalt 5K

After missing my sub-20:00 5K goal by a fair bit on New Year's Day, I decided to make another attempt at breaking the barrier.

Based on my spring race schedule, this weekend was the best option. Races in February are slim pickings, and not really PR courses, so I found one in Fredricksburg (about an hour south) that seemed like it would be a good candidate for sub-20. The elevation profile on MapMyRun made the course appear like it was gently rolling the whole time with no major climbs. Even though the race would be small, the course was USATF certified.

MapMyRun elevation profile

On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling abnormally tired and not like my peppy self. I observed that my resting heart rate (which I track with my FitBit) had been on the upswing for the past few days and was now at an all-time high of 50 bpm. Typically it's around 45. With the flu going around, I made sure to be extra careful about coming into contact with germs, started drinking more water, and taking more vitamins.

Thursday morning was the same story, but I ran in the evening by which time I was feeling more energized. On Friday, I woke up with an upset stomach and my 30-minute easy run felt really sluggish and heavy. Greg was also waking up with a dry throat and not feeling his best. I told myself that everything was fine, and I didn't speculate any impact on my race.

Before the Race
We arrived at the race site about an hour before the start. Greg was running the 10K, which started at 9:45, and I was running the 5K, which started at 10:00. We picked up our bibs and scoped out the course. Most notably, we could not find a start line. We found the finish line, but we knew that the race did not start and finish in exactly the same spot. This made the course net uphill, but not by a lot.

We knew that the race director would be providing instructions immediately before the race, so Greg and I warmed up and made it back to the start area shortly before 9:45. There were about 50 runners doing the 10K and 100 runners in the 5K. My weather app had said "rain starting at 10:30" so I expected that the rain would hold off until we were done. I debated wearing my hat anyway, but there wasn't even a drop in the sky so I left it in the car.

There was no actual start line. The race director told everyone where to stand and then he ran about 30 feet ahead and started counting down from 30 seconds. He had his phone in his hand, seemingly to communicate with the person starting the clock. At the end of his countdown, he yelled "go!" so that both the timer and the runners could hear him, hopped on his bike and led the pack of runners up a steep hill, out of the park and onto a paved path. The race was chip timed, but based on gun time as opposed to net time. However, with only 50 runners in the 10K and 100 runners in the 5K, everyone started within five seconds of the race director yelling "go."

This was definitely not the traditional start that I was used to, but the course was certified, my Garmin ended up reading 3.13, and my gun time was accurate, so it all worked out.

I watched Greg immediately take the lead and I cheered for him as he passed by. I spent the next ten minutes continuing to warm up while waiting for the 5K to start. The race director returned to the park on his bike and then briefed the 5K runners about what to expect. I was glad I had watched the 10K first so I knew exactly how it would go. As he was giving his briefing, it started to rain. It was too late to grab my hat, and I hoped it would just be a light drizzle and not soak the course. But, as if on cue, as soon as the race director yelled "go," the rain began to fall in full force and I quickly became drenched.

Mile 1: 6:41
Note to self: courses with steep hills in the first half mile are not conducive to sub-20. I learned this on New Year's Day, only this hill was steeper--almost to the point of needing to walk. Once we got out of the park onto the bike path, I was relieved. But within just two minutes, there was another big hill which curved up and around. Totally unexpected. I did warm up on the course, but I had gone in the other direction on the trail. At the top of the hill we turned around and headed back toward the park. Now that these two hills were done with, I figured the rest of the course would be a lot easier.

I think I took these initial two hills too quickly and then paid for it later. Because I thought the course would be relatively flat, I assumed I would be able to recover from my hard pushes. But I never really recovered. It was also pouring. There was no mile marker, but my watched beeped 6:41 and I didn't judge it.

Mile 2: 6:44
From this point on, the course, which was a paved bike path was up and down and up and down. I'm used to road races where you might have a quarter mile stretch of up hill and then a long stretch of downhill. But in this case it was constantly undulating, with some longer stretches of up and down. There was not a single flat section. I'm not sure why I thought this would be a good sub-20 course. Clearly, it was not.

The rain compounded issues and I started running out of gas. I felt like I had nothing to give. I wanted to push hard, but I didn't have it in me to go any faster. I did, however, pass one of the three men that was ahead of me, which was a good feeling. No women were ahead of me, which seemed to be the only positive thing. There were a few bridges to run over which were slippery due to the rain. I slowed down a bit because I was paranoid about falling. There was no mile marker 2, but my Garmin beeped and showed a disappointing 6:44. A few weeks ago I had run a 3-mile tempo run at a pace of 6:44 and it felt awesome. Now, I felt totally gassed.

Mile 3: 6:52
The finish line: flattering photo, right?
At this point, the only thing that was motivating me was that I was in the lead. The second place woman seemed to be about 30 seconds behind me at the turnaround, and if she had a good kick it was possible she could catch me. I repeated to myself, keep winning the race, keep winning the race. I was mentally and physically defeated at this point and all I wanted was to keep my first place position through the finish.

And I did! I won the race in 21:08. I was the 3rd overall finisher, with just two men ahead of me.

I crossed the finish line and the race director handed me a plaque and a wine glass for winning. Normally they would do an awards ceremony type of thing, but it was pouring rain. I thanked him and then waited for Greg to finish the 10K. I knew I'd only have to wait about five minutes.

I saw a fast-looking man cross the line, and glanced down to see that he was wearing a 10K bib, and then Greg crossed just seconds behind him. Apparently Greg had been neck-and-neck with this guy the entire time, and he out-kicked Greg at the very end for the win. Greg ran a PR in 40:51. His 10K pace was faster than my 5K pace!

Final Thoughts
We were drenched and tired and decided to drive straight home instead of eating lunch in Fredericksbug as originally planned. I was happy that I won the race, but not pleased with my performance. With 131 feet of gain over just 3.1 miles, that course wasn't conducive to sub-20. I also think I am fighting off some kind of bug. If I had to do it over again, I would have been more conservative on those first two hills. The downpour was another unwelcome factor.

My Garmin's Elevation Data
I'm not sure I would have chosen this course if I had accurately interpreted the MapMyRun elevation profile; which looked a lot less intimidating than the actual Garmin data. There's a local 5K tomorrow on a course that I've run many times before that I probably would have chosen. That course is also quite challenging, but I'm familiar with it and probably could have set a course PR. On the other hand, I did end up with an overall win, which is rare for me.

Looking at the bigger picture, I am a bit discouraged about this whole sub-20 thing. I think it's going to only get harder for me as I get older (I turn 40 in November) and usually you don't hear about women who have been running for 15+ years finally breaking 20 once they turn 40. But we'll see. I'll try and train for it again this summer and hope that I can find a good course with good weather conditions.

My half marathon pace four weeks ago was 7:00, and this race averaged a pace of 6:45, which seems totally off. In fact, several of my miles in the half marathon were in the 6:40's. I've heard many runners say you can't be in shape for a 5K and also for the longer distances at the same time, but I haven't really started the bulk of my marathon training yet. So I'm not sure exactly what I am in shape for, if anything. Or maybe I am, but I'm truly fighting off some kind of illness.

In any event, I won. So I'll just be happy with that and focus on my next race, which is the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon in three weeks.

This made it worth the trip!

Even though the race had no mile markers or actual start line, it was well organized for a small, local race. The course was certified, there were aid stations, it was clear when to turn around, they took photos, and I liked the plaque that I won. If you're local, check out Bishop's Events.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Vegas, Awards, and Hills

Since running the Houston Half Marathon, life has been a bit of a whirlwind. A few hours after running the race, I flew to Las Vegas for a work event. Upon returning, my training really ramped up with intense hill workouts, and I attended two awards celebrations for 2017 running.

Las Vegas
The last time I visited Vegas, I found it impossible to run outside because of the constant stopping for traffic and the fact that you have to go up and down staircases to stay along the strip. This time, my coach told me about a track that was about 1.5 miles off of the strip. It was the UNLV track and he said that it was open to the public.

UNLV Track in Las Vegas
Thankfully, I didn't have any hard workouts that week because I had just run the Houston Half. But nevertheless, I needed to maintain my mileage base because Boston Marathon training was fast approaching. I was able to go for a run every day before the conference started, and it was nice to get the fresh air. The weather was perfect: mid 40s and sunny every morning! I didn't have to worry too much about my safety, as one of my co-workers is an ultra-marathon runner, and he was happy to accompany me on my runs every day. On one of the days, we even explored the UNLV campus, which was a nice change of scenery.

The conference itself also offered an "Urban Fun Run" to benefit STEM for Her. This was an (approximate) 5K along the strip, complete with multiple staircases and overpasses! It was quite thrilling to run in at environment with all the lights. But as I said earlier, it's not ideal for continuous running so once that was over, my co-worker and I headed out for the track.

I had no trouble adjusting back to east coast time when I returned. I slept over 9 hours on Friday evening and felt fresh for my long run on Saturday. And then I napped for almost an additional 2 hours. I logged 54.6 miles that week, which I was happy with given I was recovering from Houston and on work travel. I also came home $200 richer from the Roulette table! Lucky 14 hit twice!

In the Washington DC area, there are two sets of rankings I pay attention to: the RunWashington rankings and the =PR= Trophy Series rankings.

RunWashington (formerly called Washington Running Report) is a quarterly magazine and website. They don't do subscriptions by mail anymore, but they used to. I remember back in 2006-2009 getting that magazine in the mail and reading through the rankings. All of the runners were so much faster than me and I never thought I'd make the list.

To qualify for the rankings, you need to run at least six local races (they have a list of the USATF certified ones), with at least 3 being in the first half of the year and 3 in the second half. I ran a total of 13 races and was ranked as the 11th female. In my age group, I was ranked 7th.

To celebrate, RunWashington hosted a party in DC on a Thursday night a few weeks ago. Greg and I went with our friends Hannah and Alex. Hannah was ranked as the 6th overall female! The party was held at a bar in DC and it was fun to see people dressed in normal clothes. As fun as the party was, the highlight may have been the ice cream place Hannah found for us afterwards. The place had some crazy unique flavors like goat cheese and sweet potato, and it was delicious.

Hannah, me and Lisa
The other set of rankings I pay attention to is the =PR= trophy series. This is a series of 20+ races primarily in Northern VA. They are all very well organized, easy to get to, fairly competitive, and offer generous awards. For these rankings, runners earn points for winning age group awards and overall awards. If you place in the top 10 overall at a race, you get a certain amount of points. And you can double dip if you also win an age group award at that same race. The more races you run and the faster you run them, the more points you get. Some of these races included For The Love of It 10K, the Mother's Day 4-Miler, the Twilight Festival 4-Miler, and the Leesburg 5K.

I didn't run as many races in this series as I had the previous year, so I was surprised that I won first place in my age group. My award was a long-sleeved zip tee with the =PR= logo on it. These awards were presented at a party at the =PR= headquarters last Saturday night. Greg and I once again went with Hannah and Alex, and also our friend Lisa. This party was centered around an awards ceremony with people's names being called, whereas the RunWashington party was more of a social gathering.

Before I start logging 65+ mile weeks for Boston training, my coach decided it would be best to prepare my legs with lots and lots of hills. All of these hill workouts build leg strength so I can handle the upcoming high volume, and are also great preparation for the race itself. I'm not a huge fan of hill work, but I do think it's beneficial for the reasons above.

Monday's Hill workout
After I got back from Vegas, the next two weeks of training included 2 hill workouts each week. So a total of 4 workouts. Here they are, in order:

  • 10 x 1-minute hill repeats at 5K effort, with the jog back down recovery
  • 5 x 3-minute hill repeats at 10K effort, with the jog back down recovery
  • 8 x 90-seconds hill repeats at 5K effort, with the jog back down recovery
  • 3 x 10 minutes of continuous hills: 75 seconds uphill at 10K effort, and running back down the hill at a slightly faster pace nonstop
The last of these workouts was by far the hardest. 10 minutes of hills at 10K effort without stopping for a recovery is tough. Once I got to the top of the hill, I would want to recover, but instead, I had to turn around and immediately run down at an even faster pace. For each 10-minute segment, I ended up running up the hill 4 times. 

For 3 of these workouts I used a hill that was about 0.25 mile, with an elevation gain of about 50 feet. For the workout that required a 3-minute hill, I used a different hill which was actually steeper at certain points.

The mileage has slowly begun to creep up with 61 miles this week, including a long run of 17 miles. I really hope the weather cooperates in February and I am able to continue training without interruption!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Houston, we have a PR!

If I didn't PR, the alternate title of this blog would have been, "Houston, we have a problem!" But thankfully, no problems were encountered.

I made the decision to run the Houston half marathon about a week after the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Prior to that, I had been considering running the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona half this weekend, which would have been in close proximity to a conference I'm attending in Las Vegas. But upon further research, I wasn't able to get a hotel in Arizona within walking distance to the start line, and the course didn't seem PR-friendly.

So I decided I would stop off in Houston en route to Las Vegas. The race was sold out, but charity entries were available, and I figured that helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey was a worthy cause, so I signed up for the "run for a reason" program. The program simply required a donation (which was great, since I don't love fundraising) and I was set with a bib. What's better, this would be my 10th anniversary of running the Houston Half. I ran the race in 2008, setting a big, unexpected PR in 1:50:43, and learned that I performed best when I just chill out.

I wasn't looking at Houston as a redemption race, but rather an opportunity to use the fitness I had built up in my Indianapolis training cycle to run a fast half marathon. I knew that I had reached a new level of fitness and I felt that my half PR was soft at 1:33:36.

I took two full weeks off of running after Indianapolis Monumental, and then resumed training. The time off allowed my Achilles Tendonitis to heal and my body to recover from the strain of the marathon. It wasn't long before my coach started prescribing intense workouts, and I continually surpassed my expectations of how fast I would run them. For example, I ran a 3-mile tempo at a pace of 6:44, and then followed it up with a long series of very short intervals, feeling great the whole time. My weekly mileage for the six weeks of training was in the mid 50's, hitting 60 for one of the weeks.

Originally, my time goal was to run this race at a sub-7:00 pace. But as the race approached I started feeling more confident based on my workouts and modified that to a 6:55 pace, which would yield a time exactly 20 minutes faster than my 2008 time. My coach emailed me two days before the race and told me to approach the race with a clear head in terms of goals. He didn't want me to limit myself by trying to hit certain paces on the Garmin and that I should run by feel. Which is exactly what I did. No real race strategy- just run strong, push hard, and let the splits be what they were.

Before the Race
Even though Greg wasn't racing, he lovingly accompanied me to Houston. After all, I'd be away at a conference in Las Vegas for an entire week, so it was good to spend the weekend together first. We flew in on Saturday morning and arrived in plenty of time to do a shakeout run and go to the expo. I really wanted to meet up with fellow blogger Gracie, but I was communicating with her through Instagram messenger, and she was thinking I was going to text her. I had forgotten she'd given me her number. Unfortunately that never happened, but I did see her cheering for me during the race.

I wasn't at all anxious for this race. In fact, I felt like I was mentally more hyped up for the 5K I ran on New Year's Day. I was confident in my ability, so I just had to wait until race morning arrived and run hard. I slept relatively well, and didn't have any anxiety dreams about missing the start of the race, or having the race be an obstacle course, or anything like that. I actually woke up in the middle of the night with a nightmare that seemed totally unrelated to the race.

Race morning arrived and the weather was beautiful. 35 degrees, clear skies, and just a little bit of wind. I decided I would wear shorts, a singlet, and arm warmers. After reading my 2008 race report, in which I got stuck at the back of the corral and had to do a lot of weaving, I decided it would be best to head out for the start earlier than planned. The corral closed at 6:45, so I decided I wanted to be in the corral at 6:30. This meant that I didn't really get to warm up, but I had throw-away clothes that helped me stay warm until I shed them a few minutes before the start.

I said goodbye to Greg at 6:30 and he ran out to mile marker 2. At this point, the corral was fairly empty so I was able to jog around a bit. The Houston Marathon calls them "corrals" but they are more like waves, in that there are only four of them. Even though I was in the first corral, so were over 5,000 other runners. As the corral started to get crowded, I positioned myself towards the front. At 6:50, I shed my throwaway clothes and at 6:58, they called our group to approach the start line. (We were all surprised that they didn't call us up sooner, as the front of the corral was nearly a block away from the start line.)

Miles 1-4
The race started and I decided I would simply run the pace of the runners around me. I knew from my shakeout run the day before that the Garmin wouldn't be reliable for at least the first mile due to all
2 Miles into the race
the tall buildings. The street was about twice as wide as Indianapolis, so crowding wasn't an issue. Plus, I hadn't even really warmed up so I decided to look at mile one as my warm up and used it to get into a rhythm,

My feet had gone numb while waiting to start, and I had the sensation that my shoes were not tied tightly and that they would come undone at any moment. In fact, I looked down at my feet a few times just to be sure. I had to remind myself multiple times that I triple checked the tightness of the knot before the race, and this was all in my head. The shoes were fine.

About a mile into the race, I saw Gracie. And then at mile marker 2, I saw Greg. I was super excited to see him and he was cheerly loudly for me. By this point the crowd had thinned out and I was free to go at my own pace. I had the 3:00/1:30 pace group in my sights and I planned to keep them in my sights as long as possible, although I wasn't going to try and catch up.

I noticed that my splits were faster than expected (as my coach said they might be) but I simply continued on at an effort that felt like half marathon pace.

Mile 1: 7:23
Mile 2: 7:01
Mile 3: 6:53
Mile 4: 6:48

Miles 5-8
I continued to cruise along, feeling great and enjoying the race atmosphere. The course was very well supported, and the volunteers were particularly spirited. I had consumed a full packet of Generation UCAN before the race and didn't plan to take any more fuel. This worked well for me at the Shamrock Half, and I assumed it would again. I carried a water bottle for the first three miles and then ditched it. I've learned that I really don't need to drink much during a half if I hydrate well beforehand.

My official 10K split was 43:29, which put me on track for 1:31:44 (6:59 average pace). And I was still feeling really good. By this point I was thinking that I was going to get my goal of a 6:55 average pace, if not faster. I was continually seeing splits in the low 6:50s and the effort seemed completely maintainable. Nothing much remarkable happened during these miles, other than that I had gotten the feeling back in my feet, I had ditched the water bottle, and was in full-on race mode. I passed a good number of people, and few people passed me. At mile 8, the half marathon turned off from the full, which meant I knew who I was competing against.

Mile 5: 6:51
Mile 6: 6:52
Mile 7: 6:54
Mile 8: 6:55

Miles 9-11
I kept running along my merry way, when I started to notice my Garmin was in the 7's now. I thought that it must be wrong because I hadn't slowed down. The effort and pace was the same as it had been.
And the course was flattish and even downhill so it wasn't like there was a hidden hill. Weird. But I didn't worry too much, I just kept on going.

I felt strong, but this was when the race really started to get challenging. My legs felt good, but despite all my best effort, I couldn't get the Garmin to go back down into the 6's. I had to accept that I was running my hardest, but the Garmin wasn't budging. What I didn't realize until later (when I looked at a course map in relation to my splits) was that I had been unknowingly aided by a tailwind for the first half of the race, and now there was a headwind. It wasn't all that strong, but it was noticeable. My tailwind was gone, and now I had some wind resistance to combat.

A little bit after I passed the 10-mile marker, I realized that I had set a 10-mile PR. I didn't know exactly what it was, but according to my Gamin elapsed time, it was 1:09:46. My official split for the 15K was 1:05:14, which tracked me to a 1:31:45.

If I didn't have a Garmin, I never would have known that I had slowed down. The fact that I saw my slow down motivated me to push even harder, and at this point I knew I was giving my absolute max.

Mile 9: 7:02
Mile 10: 7:03
Mile 11: 7:04

Miles 12-Finish
Mile 13, running into the sun
At this point, it was all about hanging on. I knew that my goal was slipping away, but if I just held on I could still set a decent PR. Mile 12 was uphill. Mile 13 was the most challenging mile of the race, and it wasn't because it was the last mile. The sun glare was practically blinding. I couldn't see what was ahead of me, I couldn't see the other runners, and I had to be careful not to trip on the changing road surface. Apparently there was a 20K timing mat that I was completely unaware that I ran over. You can see the sun glaring on my body in the photo!

The headwind went from being a gentle breeze to a force to be reckoned with, likely due to all the tall buildings. I passed Greg with about half a mile left to go, and I told myself that I only had to push for a little bit more.

Not being able to see the finish line was hard. Usually in a race you can see the finish line and it's very motivating as a target to run to, but this time I just had to have faith that yes, this race would come to an end at some point!

Mile 12: 7:08
Mile 13: 7:16
Last bit: Unknown because of all the tall buildings!

My official time was 1:32:24, which is a PR by one minute, 12 seconds!

After the Race
The finish line area of this race is a well-oiled machine. Shortly after finishing, they route you into the
He's such a great supporter!
convention center, giving you a medal, a finisher's shirt, and post-race food. I was eager to simply get to Greg at the reunion area, but I stopped in the food hall for some hot chocolate. It was exactly what I wanted right at that time.

I met up with Greg and got my medal engraved. In over 12 years of racing, I've never once had my medal engraved, usually because I never wanted to stand around waiting. But there was no line, and it was right in front of me, so I did it!

When Greg asked me how I felt about the race, I said "so-so." I was disappointed that I didn't run my goal time, but the more I thought about it in the following hours, the more pleased and excited I got about it. We walked back to the hotel, showered, and then made our way to the airport where I would fly to Las Vegas and he would fly home. The PR cake will have to wait until next weekend.

Stats, Takeaways, and Thoughts

  • I was the 100th female finisher out of 6,100. The top 30 women all ran 1:15 or faster!
  • I placed 11th in my age group out of 1,007
  • Given how competitive this race is, I'm happy with my placement
  • Between the 15K mark and the finish line, I lost 39 seconds. It felt like a lot at the time, but it's really not all that bad
  • I took a leap of faith and didn't let the Garmin rule my pace. Even though I wasn't aiming for the low 6:50s, I ran them as they came without holding back. Being "bold" with my racing is a new thing for me, and even though it resulted in a slow down at the end, I'm glad I wasn't overly cautious.
  • Looking at the McMillan calculator, this race predicts a 5K time of 19:57! I want a sub-20:00 5K so badly I can taste it. My finish time also predicts a faster 10K, 10-mile, and marathon time than what I have ever attained, so in relative terms, this is my fastest race ever.
  • If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I would come back to Houston 10 years later, I would have thought that I would have slowed down with age. I would never have guessed I would have run a 1:32!
  • I do think I have a 6:55/pace half in me, and I'll have the opportunity to do that at RNR New Orleans in 7 weeks.
While initially I had hoped to run at least a minute faster than I did, I now realize that this race demonstrates a new level of fitness and performance, and I'm thrilled with it.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, Cold Day 5K

In 2017, there existed a young (well, maybe middle-aged) woman with stars in her eyes, eager to approach the new year with dreams of breaking 20 minutes in the 5K. With hope in her heart and speed in her legs, she eagerly anticipated the first day of 2018 when she would say "goodbye 20:17"-- both the year, and her 5K PR.

She would pace it perfectly. The first mile (uphill) would clock in at precisely 6:37, and from there, she would cruise downhill for the rest of the race at a pace of 6:20. Completely feasible for someone who just ran a 6:44 pace for a 3-mile tempo, and didn't even push that hard to do it. And definitely possible for someone who just ran 5 miles on a track at an average pace of 6:54, feeling like she could have run harder. She was primed for 5K excellence! While it wouldn't be easy, this middle-aged young woman was determined to give the race absolutely everything she had, glide across the finish line in 19:59, and then bake herself a PR cake.

Me and the finisher's blanket!
But then the reality of 2018 sunk in. January 1st arrived, windy and bitterly cold, with near record-breaking low temperatures. Despite these brutally harsh conditions, the young woman refused to back down on her goal of saying goodbye to 20:17 and PRing her 5K. She arrived at the race an hour before the start to pick up her bib and warmup, with her loving husband at her side. Prince Charming actually retrieved bibs for the both of them while the young woman waited in the comfort of the heated car. Once their bibs were affixed to their shirts, it was time to exit the car and warm up.

But suddenly, the young woman looked down and read the name on her bib. This bib did not belong to her! The volunteers had handed Prince Charming the wrong bibs. So the loving husband went back out in the sub-freezing cold and wind to retrieve the correct bibs.

Once everything was in order, it was time to warm up. They ventured out into the 11-degree weather, the young woman wearing an extra jacket over her race attire. They warmed up on the course, which they had scouted out the day before, just to get the lay of the land. After all, when every second counts, it's critical to know where the tangents are and get a sense of the elevation profile. The young woman had been warned by her coach, with whom she had shared the elevation profile, that this wasn't necessarily a PR course. And perhaps she could find another 5K later in the winter that had a flatter profile. But the young woman was still determined to go for it on this New Year's Day, in the cold, wind, and hills.

The 11-degree temperature wasn't so bad when running in the sunlight with the wind at their backs. But the young woman and her husband had a rude awakening during the warm up to discover that the first half mile of the course was shaded, into a headwind, and up a sizable hill.

And finally. . . it was time to start the actual race. Telling herself that she could endure anything for 20 minutes, the young woman approached the start line with all the confidence in the world. Here is her race report:

Mile 1
It wasn't a surprise that the first mile was uphill, into a headwind, with a "feels like" 1 degree temperature in the shade. I intended to run up the hill at a strong effort, but without killing myself completely. I didn't look at my Garmin as I climbed the hill, which was only about 1/3 of a mile long. But it was relatively steep. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me (literally) and I welcomed the downhill tailwind portion that ensued.

I glanced at the Garmin and up until that point, I had run a pace of 6:55. Not exactly what I wanted, but the mile wasn't over and so if I kept pushing, I could still make up enough time to bring that down. My Garmin beeped but I didn't hear it because the Forerunner 630 is much quieter than the 220 I am used to. And I didn't feel the pulse on my arm because the Garmin was over two layers of clothing. Afterwards, I learned that I ran the first mile in 6:52.

Speaking of wardrobe, here's what I wore, from bottom top top:

  • Mizuno Wave Sayonara shoes
  • Smart Wool socks
  • CW-X Insulator compression tights
  • Moving comfort underwear
  • Sports Bra
  • Compression arm sleeves
  • Mizuno mid-weight half zip top
  • Gloves
  • Mittens
  • "Little Hotties" hand warmers between the gloves and mittens
  • Ear warmers
  • Sunglasses
So essentially I only had one mid-weight layer on my core, which I kept most of the way un-zipped. When it's windy, I find that my arms get extraordinarily cold, so that was the reason for the arm sleeves. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't change anything about my outfit. I was obviously very cold running into the headwind in the shade, but for the tailwind sunlight portions, I was comfortable.

Mile 2:
I didn't look at my Garmin much during this race because I needed to pay close attention to icy spots and also running the tangents. But by mile 2 I felt recovered from the torture that was mile 1 and ready to run two very fast miles. And things were going well! I was cruising right along, enjoying the tailwind and the downhills and the sunshine. I put out a strong effort, and ended up running a 6:24 mile. I was pleased with this, and figured I could still PR if I ran another mile at that pace, although sub-20 was probably out.

Mile 3:
The goal here was to maintain my 6:24 pace. I felt like I could keep that effort level up for an entire mile. But the bad news was that the course went uphill again, and the last 0.4 mile was directly into a headwind. I felt like I was running at my absolute max. It felt like I was putting out a sub 6:20 pace. But after awhile I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that I had slowed down significantly. It was crazy that just one week ago I ran a 3-mile tempo at a pace of 6:44 and I wasn't pushing all that hard. And now, a 6:44 pace was the absolute hardest I could run. I logged a 6:41 for that final mile.

The finish
I still had little ways to go before the finish and at this point I knew that my goals were not happening. I still pushed hard to to the finish, but I didn't have my typical spirited kick. I gave up a
Post race: Trying to get my hands un-numb
little bit during that last part but I'm okay with that. My pace for the last 0.18 was 6:57. Uphill. Headwind. Real Feel of like 1 degree.

When I had mapped out the course using "map my run" it gave me a distance of 3.15. So I wasn't surprised that the course was long. Afterwards, Greg and my other friends who had ran the course reported that their Garmins read abnormally long for a 5K. The course was not actually USTAF certified, and it was the "backwards" version of the standard course run in that area, so the cones could have prevented runners from hitting the tangents. But in any event, I don't really care about the course being long because I wasn't going to PR anyway. It just means I got to extend the workout!

Final Thoughts and Takeaways:
I'll admit it was probably too ambitious of me to think that I could PR in these weather conditions and on this course. 12ish degrees with 10-15 mph winds is not a recipe for a first-time sub-20. But I wanted to at least give myself the opportunity because I truly believe my fitness is there. I've run some really strong workouts over the past few week with paces that indicate a sub-20 is within my reach. I just need a good certified course and favorable weather.

The positive:
  • This was a good VO2 Max workout for the upcoming Houston Half marathon
  • It was fun to see my running friends including Cheryl, Cristina, and Rochelle
  • I did push really hard, and I know that I couldn't have run any faster, except for maybe the last 1/4 mile
  • I won first place in my age group and was the 4th overall female finisher
  • Greg ran a 20:18, which is a super cool way to start 2018
  • I tried to be smart with my approach by scouting out the course the day before and having a pacing strategy
The not-so positive:
  • I lost my mental toughness with about 1/4 mile to go, running a 6:57 pace to the finish line
  • I ran much slower than I expected to-- this is one of my slowest 5Ks in the past year
  • My official race time was 21:13 (6:50 pace) even though my Garmin pace was 6:40.
  • I tapered for this race which meant I lost the opportunity to do a long run prior to the Houston half in two weeks
  • The weather is going to be even colder than this for the next 5 days, which means I will have to either train on a treadmill (not fun) or be ridiculously uncomfortable while running (also not fun) 
  • No photos for the blog or Instagram- photos don't happen when it's a "real feel" of 1 degree.
At least the temperature for this race was in the double-digits. We're looking at single-digit temperatures in the mornings for the upcoming week, and if I run outside, I'll have to be very careful about icy patches, with only my headlamp as a light source. So, that's all kind of depressing. I love running and it brings joy to my life. It doesn't exactly bring joy to my life when it's like this.

And so the young woman, feeling mildly defeated by the day's events, proceeded on to the rest of 2018 with-- still with stars in her eyes, and hoping this will be the year of the sub-20 5K. After all, Prince Charming ran a 20:18 on the first day of 2018, so this year was bound to be magical.