Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Boston Marathon 2018: Soaking It All In

Yesterday’s Boston Marathon brought an entirely new meaning to the expression “soaking it all in.” The trifecta of cold temperatures (upper 30s), a strong sustained headwind (25 mph) with heavier gusts, and pouring rain made the experience simultaneously miserable and thrilling.

Race Weekend
I was planning on writing an entirely separate post on all the festivities that I took part in Friday-Sunday, but instead I spent that time figuring out my wardrobe strategy. I’ll provide the Cliff’s Notes version instead. I went on a shopping spree at the expo, I cheered for Greg as he ran the 5K on Saturday morning, I met up with some friends who I knew from Instagram, I attended a pre-race clinic with Greg McMillan, I had two book signings, and I spent several hours trying on different variations of a race outfit.

The big topic for discussion over the weekend was wardrobe. When I finalized my packing on Friday morning, the forecast was calling for temperatures in the high 40’s to low 50’s. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to wear and I wasn’t stressing about it. But as the weekend progressed, the forecast became more severe. Every time I opened my weather app, the temperature had dropped a few degrees, the rainfall totals increased, and the headwind became stronger.

Everyone was scrambling to purchase extra “supplies” for Athlete’s village and modifying their originally planned race attire.

What I wore 
For better or worse, I have experience in running in similar conditions so I was able to rely on that to inform my decisions. I suffered from hypothermia back in 2009 when I ran a marathon in pouring rain. It was in the high 40’s that day, but I was wearing a tank top, a skirt, and no gloves or arm warmers. I was rushed to the medical tent by finish line staff and I had no clue what was going on. It was a scary experience. At the Shamrock half marathon in 2016, the weather as almost as bad as predicted for Boston, and my arm warmers + short-sleeved shirt worked well. However, being out there for 5+ hours (including waiting for the race to start) is entirely different from a 93-minute half marathon.

Race outfit:

  • Smart Wool socks with lots of body glide on the feet 
  • Nike LunarGlide shoes 
  • Lightweight capri tights, which I purchased at the expo
  • Sports bra 
  • Tight fitting, long singlet 
  • Short sleeve shirt 
  • Thick arm warmers made of a wool-like material 
  • Very thin/light water-repelling rain jacket 
  • Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves 
  • Convertible mittens over the gloves 
  • One pair of hand warmers in each mitten (front and back of fingers) 
  • Shower cap 
  • Hat 
  • Vaseline on my face to keep the water off and protect against the wind 
  • Waist pack to hold my Generation UCAN gel 
Over-layers for Athlete’s Village:

  • Mid-weight rain jacket 
  • Poncho 
  • Sweatpants 
  • Throwaway socks 
  • Throwaway shoes with toe warmers inside
I wrapped my race shoes in shower caps and tied them around my waist and kept them under my poncho until it was time to walk to the start line. Another challenge was figuring out where to pin the bib. I wanted the option of throwing off the lightweight rain jacket, so I didn’t want to pin my bib to it. But I needed to wear my bib on the outermost layer so that the chip would register and I would be identifiable in photos. I ended up pinning the bib to the very bottom of my long singlet, and making the short-sleeved shirt shorter with safety pins. I spent my Sunday afternoon figuring all of this out instead of blogging.

Bus & Athlete’s Village
My friend Lisa met me at my hotel and then we went to meet some of my other friends to all board the bus together. There were 9 of us total. It was already raining steadily as we approached the buses
Before boarding the buses; I'm in the dark blue
and the gusts were blowing my poncho around like crazy. Greg was there to see me off and I gave him my final wet hug. We decided that it would be best for him to simply track me from the comfort of the hotel room instead of getting drenched himself. Last time, he went to mile 20 and I didn’t even see him. Our plan this year was to meet at a spot shortly after the finish line chute.

Once we boarded the bus, I got hot and didn’t want to sweat, so I undid my layers to the best of my ability. The bus ride took about 50 minutes (longer than I remember it taking two years ago) and I ate a bagel with peanut butter on the ride while chatting away with Lisa.

Another challenge that this weather presented was that I wouldn’t be able to carry a water bottle. Typically I carry a bottle for the first 15 miles of a marathon so I can drink enough water when I want it. However, I suffer from Reynaud’s syndrome and so my hands were a huge concern. Carrying something cold and wet would not be ideal, so I decided to drink water from the aid stations.

We were not surprised that Athlete’s village was a mud pit. The mud was thick, cold and slippery and every step was more unpleasant than the one before it. My toe warmers were my savior, as well as the fact that I would be changing my shoes before the race. We waited in line for the porta-potties as ice pellets fell steadily upon us. There was slush on the ground in some places, and I witnessed several people slip and fall. Once inside the porta-potty, I had to remove my glove/mitten/hand-warmer ensemble and then wade through all of the aforementioned layers to be able to go to the bathroom. I likened it to being a bride and having to use the bathroom in my wedding dress.

Afterwards, Lisa and I approached the tented area, and it was jam-packed full of runners. I found a small corner to stand in and decided I did not want to sit on the muddy ground. If you add the walk to the porta-potty, the wait to use it, standing in the tent, and then walking to the start, I was on my feet for over an hour before I started running. Not ideal, but that’s Boston for you. It’s a logistical challenge even in the best of weather conditions.

When they called wave 2, I exited the tent and headed for the corral. There was a little hill to climb up before exiting the grassy area, and it was so muddy and slippery that I couldn’t get up it without falling. The fall caused my gloves and the plastic bag I was carrying to get muddy and it was not pleasant, but I cleaned it off quickly.

The next step would be to find a good area to change my shoes. As I walked toward the corral, there was a group of three runners standing in a covered alcove of a building entrance. I asked them if I could duck in to change my shoes. And these three people were so remarkably helpful. One of them held my bag, another one held my gloves, and another one helped me keep my balance as I made the switch. I had to un-tie the shoes from around my waist and then take them out of their shower caps to put on my feet. I use Yankz laces, so thankfully I didn’t have to worry about lacing the shoes— I just put my foot in and I was set.

The walk to the corral felt long and by the time I got into my assigned corral #5, there was only 10 minutes until race start. In 2016, people were offering sunscreen and cold towels along the walk. Yesterday they offered Vaseline. Same event, but under entirely different circumstances from the heat wave of two years ago.

Mindset and Strategy 
Before I get into the race itself (see. . . you have to wait awhile just like I did) I want to share my mental approach to this race. I was basically a mixed bag of emotions, but at the same time neutral accepting of the circumstances as I knew I couldn’t control them. Nobody runs Boston for its good weather. The race has a history of extreme weather (hot and cold) and according to one report, this was the coldest Boston Marathon in 30 years.

I went into this cycle with the attitude that my training would build me as an athlete, take me to the next level, and prepare me to run fast at a fall marathon. As I logged the 75+ mile weeks, I wasn’t doing so with the expectation of a PR in Boston. The focus was pushing myself as an athlete, working hard, and seeing what I could handle.

My attitude toward the race was, in many ways, completely divorced from the training cycle. I knew I was really prepared to run 26.2 miles physically, so I didn’t worry about my fitness level. Instead, I focused on staying positive, “soaking it all in,” and sticking to my race plan.

I attended a pre-race clinic with Greg McMillan on Sunday, and he walked his athletes through a
Greg McMillan and me
strategy that he had seen work really well in Boston: The first 16 miles should be at “cruise” effort, and if you feel like you are having to push into the wind, then you need to back off the pace. At no point should you be straining. When you get to the hills, you need to “engage” and work harder than you have been for the last 16 miles of cruising. Once you get over the hills at mile 21, then you rely on your determination to get you through to the finish.

To clarify, my coach is Andrew Lemoncello, who works with Greg McMillan. Andrew had given me a similar race strategy earlier in the week before we realized how bad the wind would be. Hearing it frm Greg was just the reinforcement I needed.

In short, my goal yesterday was to finish strong and to NOT regret my starting pace. I knew that if I bonked like I did in Indianapolis, my chances of hypothermia would increase significantly and the fastest way to warmth was to run the whole way. The idea of feeling like crap physically while also having to endure the punishing winds and rain was so unappealing that I decided to start conservatively, about 20-25 seconds per mile slower than the “marathon pace” I used in training.

In 2016 I underestimated the impact the heat would have on my race and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Particularly not at Boston. The goal was to have a strong Boston. My #1 goal was a safe, strong finish and that meant a ridiculously easy feeling start.

Miles 1-4: Hopkinton and Ashland
I ditched my poncho and mid-weight raincoat about 100 feet before the start line and it felt amazing to finally be running. Athlete’s village was the worst part of the day and as we started running, one guy even said to me, “if we got through Athlete’s Village, we can get through this.” He was right. Running and doing what I love most was so easy compared to standing in that wet mud in 5 layers of clothing.

I qualified last spring with a time of 3:21:54, which is a pace of about 7:40. The runners in my corral all qualified within a few minutes of that time, but most of them shot out so fast and I was getting passed like crazy. But I remembered what Greg McMillan had said: let everyone pass you at first, and then you pass them later in the race.

It was raining steadily during these miles but it wasn’t long before I got into a groove, my feet became un-numb, and I settled into the reality of a very wet, cold and windy journey into Boston. 

Mile 1: 8:07 (-108 ft)
Mile 2: 7:47 (-52 ft)
Mile 3: 7:44 (-55 ft)
Mile 4: 7:43 (-66 ft)

Miles 5-8: Framingham 
It was during the 5th mile that I realized my hand warmers were soaked through and no longer providing warmth. Instead, they were like heavy bricks inside my mittens over my wool gloves. I debated tossing them, but I am glad I did not. Even though they weren’t providing warmth, it was an extra layer of insulation. My hands went numb very quickly, and I decided to simply ignore it because there was nothing I could do to change it.

I knew from experience that I didn’t need to drink much water in cold temperatures. I was well hydrated going into the race and I figured that stopping every 5-6 miles for a substantial drink would suffice. At mile 5, I grabbed a cup of water with two hands from a volunteer, jogged to the side of the course, stopped and drank. Since I wouldn’t be drinking often, I figured I should make sure I got enough water when I did drink instead of running with it and spilling it all over my face. My hands were numb so I had to be careful about it, and I figured it was worth the 10-second stop to get proper hydration.

The wind was not too bad during this part of the course. The crowd was still thick and it was protecting me from the headwind. However, the occasional gust would come slap me in the face, and I just had to laugh if off. Everyone was in good spirits and the runners seemed to be helping each other out more than usual. We were all in it together and shared an unspoken bond that made us all a little nicer and more compassionate.

Mile 5: 7:46 (+15 ft)
Mile 6: 7:35 (-18 ft)
Mile 7: 7:39 (-12 ft)
Mile 8: 7:38 (+1 ft)

Miles 9-12: Natick
These miles flew by and it was more of the same. Portions of the course were completely puddle-ridden and there was no avoiding getting my feet completely soaked. My socks did an excellent job of not holding the moisture so I became comfortably with puddle running, knowing that my shoes wouldn’t feel soaked for longer than a few minutes post-puddle. The pack of runners was just as thick as it had been at the beginning and I was grateful that I was mostly shielded from the headwind.

My plan was to take my UCAN Gell at mile marker 11 and then drink water at the station located shortly after. I could not unzip the waist pouch because my hands were numb. After multiple attempts to unzip the pouch, I used my teeth, which worked. The gel itself was easy to open after I got it out of the waist pocket, and thankfully it went down well without being accompanied by the usual water. I finished it just in time for 11.2 where I stopped and had a cup of water. After that, I threw the waist pouch off of my body as it had been annoying me for 11 miles and interfering with my bib.

By mile 12 I began to wonder if I had sold myself short. I felt like I was out for an easy run. I didn’t feel like I was exerting marathon pace effort. I wasn’t straining and I was very relaxed. I felt my way through the course by cruising, but also keeping my pace in check. Up until this point, I didn’t want to go below 7:35, but I started to wonder if I should up the effort a bit.

Mile 9: 7:35 (-16 ft)
Mile 10: 7:35 (+19 ft)
Mile 11: 7:44 (+26 ft)
Mile 12: 7:37 (-52 ft)

Miles 13-16: Wellesley
The Wellesley scream tunnel was just as loud as I remembered, only the woman who was essentially naked last time wearing only a sign wasn’t there. I usually don’t care all that much about crowd support in races and sometimes prefer less noise so I can focus. But in this case, I fed off of the energy of the crowd. I needed as much positivity as possible.

At the halfway point, I wondered if I could negative split. I had never felt so great at the halfway point in marathon in all the 22 I have run. I still felt like I was out for an easy run! I allowed myself to speed up a little bit, but once again, I made sure I wasn’t straining into the wind.

For the majority of the race, the rain was a steady pour, but there were a few times when it came down in buckets. When that happened people would clap and relish in it. What else could you do? The roads were getting flooded and I was now accustomed to running in water and having other runners kick water onto me.

I did notice that my quads were a little sore despite the easy pace, but I guess that was to be expected in Boston with all the downhill. I didn’t let it bother me and I knew I was much better positioned for success at mile 16 this year than I was in 2016. I took another cup of water at mile 16 because I knew I would not want to stop on the Newton hills.

Mile 13: 7:31 (0 ft)
Mile 14: 7:37 (-6 ft)
Mile 15: 7:36 (+25 ft)
Mile 16: 7:30 (-121 ft)

Miles 17-21: Newton Hills
At the bottom of the first hill, I kept remembering what Greg McMillan had said the day before about engaging on the hills. The goal wasn't to kill myself, but I felt like I had plenty of gas in the tank to up the effort. This is where I fell apart in 2016 and I was thrilled to be feeling so much stronger.

My general strategy for hills is to focus on my form, and to not look up to the top of the hill, but rather about 25 feet ahead, get to that point, and then look another 25 feet ahead, so I am doing it in manageable chunks. I also remembered all the hills I had run on my long runs and got a nice boost of confidence. I ran over the first 3 without too much strain. After the first hill, I was at mile 18 and I told myself I had three hard miles ahead and one easy (19 is downhill). And I that's all I had to do and I would be done with the hills.

This mental approach worked and finally I came upon Heartbreak Hill. It wasn't "labeled" like it was in 2016, and if it was, I didn't see it. But I knew where I was and I knew this was the defining moment of the race. If I could get to the top in one piece the rest of the race I would simply fly home. Heartbreak hill felt very, very long. But I was determined to run up it at a good clip. I knew I had gas left in the tank and I used it here.

Mile 17: 7:44 (+74 ft)
Mile 18: 7:38 (+50 ft)
Mile 19: 7:29 (-34 ft)
Mile 20: 7:42 (+ 22 ft)
Mile 21: 8:07 (+86 ft)

Miles 22-25: Brookline and Boston
Feeling strong
I was elated to be in the home stretch and still feeling strong. I knew that it was technically time to take my chews, but my hands were completely useless so I wasn't able to get to them in my pocket. In hindsight, I should have waited a little longer to take my UCAN gel because that would have helped me more in the later miles without the additional chews. Mile 22 was a downhill breeze and I remembered how much pain I had been in two year ago during this section. It felt great to fly down the hill and be so close to finishing.

Mile 23 also felt strong but I noticed my pace started to slip. The field of runners was spreading out across the wider course and the wind seemed to be picking up. I was still able to power through it feeling good, so I didn't concern myself with my pace too much. I remembered Greg McMillan saying that the last few miles are all about determination and that is what I was going to channel. Plus, I was passing a lot of people. I was loving the fact that I felt so strong this late in the race and was still energized enough to be passing through the crowd of runners.

That didn't last long; mile 24 was the first mile that felt hard. My quads were aching and the pain was getting difficult to ignore. The wind was whipping around in all directions and water was splashing into my face. I was also annoyed at any uphill I came upon. The last 5 miles are supposed to be "all downhill" but there are a few pesky uphill portions that slowed me down. I realized I would not be negative splitting, but that I could still run a really respectable time.

Waving to the photographer
In the 25th mile, I felt that familiar marathon pain. I was now working as hard as I could and I was tired. I wished I had taken my chews but I still couldn't get them and it was too late now. I was running out of steam and I lacked the energy to push against the strengthening headwind. I was tempted to walk up some of the hills, and to prevent myself from doing so I said aloud, do not walk! I knew that walking would only prolong the experience and make things worse so I kept plugging away at a pace that was much slower than all the previous miles.

In many ways, this was a good thing. If I felt like a million dollars crossing the finish line then I would have regretted not running harder. But given the way I felt during mile 25, I knew I had run my best possible race because I was quickly fading. Throughout all of this, I always remembered to soak it all in and have fun. I worked hard to be here, and had spent loads of time preparing. This was my moment!

I realized that I should be seeing a Citgo sign and looked up and made out a faint image of the sign in the distance. The air was so cloudy and rainy that the sign wasn't very visible. In fact, if I hadn't made it a point to look, I probably wouldn't have seen it until I was practically at the sign.

Mile 22: 7:36 (-72)
Mile 23: 7:57 (-55)
Mile 24: 8:10 (-45)
Mile 25: 8:29 (-41)

Mile 26 and the Finish: Hereford and Boylston
Before making the final turn onto Boylston, I noticed the road was littered with ponchos and jackets. I later realized that people were shedding their outer layers for good finish line photos. It felt like this mile went on and on. Of course, I ended up running about 26.5 miles according to my Garmin due to not running the tangents and trying to draft off of various runners. I wasn't surprised by this and my focus yesterday wasn't running the tangents, it was running where I was most protected from the wind.

Shortly after making the final turn onto Boylston I looked at the total elapsed time on my watch, which I hadn't done in several miles. I often do this at the end of races to motivate myself to get under the next minute. I saw that I could still get a 3:26:xx if I ran fast so I mustered every bit of energy I had to get myself to the finish line. That run down Boylston is so exhilarating that it's easy to find the power.

I crossed the finish line in 3:26:53 and was so elated to be done. But before getting too excited, I knew that I needed to quickly exit the finish line chute, get to Greg and then walk to the hotel. Even though I was exhausted I forced myself to walk quickly through the chute and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was moving, as compared to how I typically feel post-marathon.

Mile 26: 9:05
Last 0.48 on Garmin: 8:14 pace

I made my way to Greg relatively easily and quickly. I had been concerned about that walk over the weekend because hypothermia can set in quickly once you stop moving. I was so relieved to see him and that Epsom salt bath at the hotel was like heaven.

Later that evening, I met up with my friends Lisa and Jenna for dinner. I was walking around quite well and in much better shape than I was in 2016, when I ended up in the medical tent. Today, my legs are sore, but again, nothing like 2016. I'm so happy that I executed well on a difficult course in challenging conditions, and that's more important than getting a PR in my eyes.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I had a great day in Boston and I think the crappy weather may have been a blessing in disguise. I didn't go into this cycle seeking a PR in Boston; I went in to build myself up as an athlete. Success on a day like yesterday was dependent on staying warm with the right wardrobe strategy before and during the race, running conservatively, and keeping a positive outlook on the situation.

This was a character-building experience and now that I know I can run well in these conditions, it will make most all other weather feel easy. Even though the headwind was a force to be reckoned with and the conditions were far from "comfortable" I honestly believe I would have done worse in the heat. I overheat easily when I run, so I tend to be more successful in the cold, even if it means putting up with downpours, puddles, numb hands, muddy falls, ice pellets and the rest of it.

Stats
  • I placed 1,474 out of 11,604 female runners, putting me in the top 12%.
  • I BQ'ed by 18 minutes and 7 seconds.
  • I set a course PR by over 21 minutes compared with 2016.
  • I ran 4:59 slower than my marathon PR, which I'm pleased with due to the course and conditions.
Random things I bought over the weekend to help with this race
  • Shoe laces to tie my race shoes around my waist
  • Bobby pins to secure my hat to head
  • Extra safety pins
  • Toe warmers
  • Vaseline
  • Epsom Salt
  • Newspaper to sit/stand on in Athlete's village
  • Shower caps (provided by the hotel)
Huge thanks go out to my husband Greg, my coach Andrew, my family and all my friends who supported me throughout this training cycle and on race day. I had the most fun I've ever had in a marathon yesterday, and I look forward to going back, probably in 2020.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Boston Bound. . . and a 5K

My Boston Marathon training is officially tapering off, and the race is just one week away! Everything feels great, taper madness has not set in, and I just need to power through a likely-to-be-stressful work week before flying out to Boston next weekend.

For my last hard workout, I decided to run the Crystal City 5K Friday last Friday night. I've run this race many times in the past, including last year. The weather is never great for this race and I'm typically exhausted on Friday evenings, but the race has such a fun vibe that I can't resist it.

Friday was probably one of the most mentally exhausting days I've had since I started my job a year and a half ago. I won't get into the details here, but suffice it to say I would have rather gone home to a bottle of wine rather than a windy 5K, but I was already committed. Sub-20 is an eventual goal of mine for the 5K, but I wasn't necessarily going for it on Friday. I wasn't overly excited about the race and for some reason didn't think a PR was in the cards either. My plan was to run a somewhat conservative start so I would have enough energy for the final mile (directly into the headwind) and hopefully get a course PR.

Before the race, I ran into my friend Hannah. We had no idea that each other were running the race so it was a pleasant surprise. I had already warmed up and with just 5 minutes until the 6:30 start we lined up. But then they announced that the race would be delayed to 6:35. And then 6:40. I can only guess this was due to the long line at packet pickup. Normally this would have annoyed me because of how I timed my warmup, but since it was 70 degrees, I didn't feel like my legs were getting cool or stiff just standing around. Plus, I had Hannah to chat with and the time passed quickly.

Mile 1: 6:34
I started out on the easy side and let a bunch of people pass me off the line. The first half mile of this race includes a number of turns and curves so there was really no reason to gun it. Instead, I focused on the tangents. As the mile progressed I started to ease into a faster pace, passing people one at a
time. I saw Greg and my friend Allison just before mile marker one, which motivated me to pass a guy who otherwise would have photo bombed the picture Greg was taking of me!

Mile 2: 6:23
I knew from experience that this mile was slightly downhill, and that there was also a tailwind. I cruised along at a hard effort, but I still didn't feel like I was at my max. I would be saving that for the last mile. There were a few turns in this mile as well, but they didn't bother me as much as they did last year. Aside from a dry mouth, everything felt great.

Mile 3: 6:58
Yeah, I was shocked at that too! I was totally ready to push really hard during this last mile and I knew to expect uphill headwind. I increased my effort level, but my Garmin was reading in the low 7's. Yikes. I tried to up the effort another notch, but I couldn't. All of a sudden everything was so hard and I felt like I didn't have any "fight" in me. I was tired and mentally drained and there wasn't much motivation or drive to make myself hurt. I think this is a general weakness of mine with the 5K-- an inability to make myself feel that level of hurt. I can tolerate a lower level of pain for a long time, but I haven't figured out how to really dial in that hard effort and tell myself it's just for one last mile. So, even though I felt like I had saved up for that last mile, I didn't have what I needed to close it out strong.

I crossed the finish line in 20:47, which was unfortunately not even a course PR. I tried really hard not to get down about this, since I am in much better shape now than I was last year. But Greg reminded me that last year I was training specifically for the 5K. And it wasn't as windy last year.

Takeaways
I'm just not sure I buy the whole "you've been training for a marathon so you don't have your 5K speed" perspective. I've been doing a lot of fast workouts: 20 x 200m, 20 x 1-minute hard followed by 20 x 30 seconds hard, just to name a few. I also feel like I could have run a 6:38-paced 5K tempo
run on almost any morning this cycle. For example, just two weeks ago I ran a four-mile tempo at a pace of 6:48, and followed that up with hill sprints and then another 4-mile tempo! So it was a little frustrating to not be able to go much faster in this (shorter-than-4-mile) race, but I'm not discouraged.

My key takeaway is that I simply didn't have the mental energy to make myself push harder through that wind. I didn't have a fight in me, but that's not surprising given that I had already put in a stressful day at work. I should also note that my official time is 20:51. Last year, the system didn't register my chip time, only my gun time and it looks like the same thing happened here. Last year I ran a PR so I investigated it and they adjusted my official time. This year, I don't care enough to contact them about it. It's just a 5K on my way to Boston!

In any event, I was the 6th female in a competitive field, and last year I was 7th. So I'll take it! I would have had to run over 30 seconds faster to come close to the 5th female, so it's not like I was neck-and-neck with anyone. Maybe a little more competition would have helped, or it could have just made me feel more dejected- ha!

Boston Bound
The next day, I ran my easy run (70 minutes) at a surprisingly zippy pace-- 8:17. I was truly trying to run my typical easy pace which is around 8:30 but my legs felt peppy and every time I looked down at my watch, my pace was faster than expected. I think this shows that I recovered well from the 5K and that things are starting to come together.

This week my top priorities are not getting sick, and not letting work stress impact my sleep. I will leave work at work and not think about it once I am out of the office. I also have to finalize my packing. I still am not 100% sure what I am going to wear during the marathon which is very unlike me.

My training cycle was very intense, averaging in the low 70's per week and maxing out at 78.5 miles two weeks out. As such, my coach has given me a really nice taper for the coming week. I'm most looking forward not having to coordinate logistics around the weather and trying to get into work on time. I'll have a lot of mental energy to apply toward my job so that when I leave each day I will be confident that I gave it 100%.

Book Signing
I will be doing two book signings on Sunday, April 15 for anyone who'd like to meet me. You can purchase a copy of Boston Bound on site, or I will sign a copy you already have.
  1. The lobby of the Ritz Carlton on Avery St. from 11:00am-noon. This is near Boston Common.
  2. The ShowPlace ICON from 5:30-6:30pm. This coincides with a showing of the Boston documentary. The address is 60 Seaport Blvd, near the Expo. You can still get tickets for the 6:30pm showing here
Race Goals
My primary race goal is to NOT regret my starting pace. I do not want a repeat of 2016 when I bonked and was miserable for the last 7 miles. I want to enjoy the entire race and feel strong throughout. My "A" goal for finish time is 3:16-3:17, but I would be elated with a PR of any kind. I'm in Wave 2, which starts at 10:25, so feel free to track me on Marathon Monday!

No days off this cycle!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

4 Boston Marathon Training Reflections

My training for the Boston Marathon isn't over yet, I have one more hard week ahead of me before I start to taper. But as this cycle draws to a close, I want to highlight some discoveries I've made along the way. I've been able to safely run significantly higher volume and more difficult workouts than ever before (76 miles last week, 77 miles this week) and I've felt great the whole way.

1. The cold weather is my friend.
Even though running in cold isn't always fun (particularly when you throw in rain, snow, and wind) but it agrees with me. When I was training for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, the summer heat and humidity lasted all the way through October and I think it took a toll on me, physically and mentally.

At this point in my cycle last time, I was craving my taper and was mentally ready to be done with the hard work. Now, after having run a series of higher-mileage and higher intensity weeks, I am not craving a taper and I'm ready to take on the final week of hard work. I'm now three weeks out from the Boston Marathon, and I ran a 22-mile training run yesterday at an average pace of 7:59. It wasn't easy but everything felt great during the run and afterwards. When I was three weeks out from Indianapolis, I also ran 22 miles, but it was in the 60s and humid. I averaged a pace of 8:29 and was totally spent. My Achilles was in bad shape and I ended up taking a few days off.

By the time the marathon arrived last fall, I just didn't feel good. My body wasn't up to the task. I have several theories on why, but my strongest one is that so much training in the heat tore me down over time. My two bouts with mono were also the result of running at high intensities in the heat. With this cold weather, I was able to run 15 miles at a faster pace last weekend than my half marathon three weeks ago in the heat.

2. The training is worth it, period.
Someone recently commented on my Instagram that it would "all be worth it" on race day. When I saw that comment I had a mini revelation-- it was already all worth it. Sure I would love to run a fast time in Boston, but if I don't, this training cycle has been worth every hour I've logged. I enjoy waking up in the morning with an intimidating workout on the schedule and seeing what I can do. I love that my coach is really testing my limits and every week I get to discover what I am capable of.

My coach sends me four weeks of training at a time. When I received the most recent four-week block, I thought that he'd gone a bit crazy. High volume, most all long runs with fast paces plus two hard workouts a week. "Easy" runs at 7:45 pace for 90 minutes the day after hard tempo runs. Being able to juggle all of this running with a full-time job, a long commute, and eating healthy has been an accomplishment. So if, for some reason, Boston doesn't go well and I don't PR, at least I will know that I have progressed to the next level. I plan to give it everything I have in Boston, which is all I can ever really ask of myself. All of that being said, I'm really hoping that the Boston weather isn't hot again!

3. This cycle is the exception, not the rule.
Week of March 19
My sports psychologist always told me that PRs at my level were the exception, not the rule. I look at training cycles the same way. Typically you would expect to miss at least one run on the schedule (probably more) and not be able to complete everything as prescribed. Particularly if you are trying to run a string of intense workouts that you've never done before. But with the exception of bailing on a few 1600 meter repeats because of an unbearably windy track, I have been able to run everything as prescribed, and sometimes a few seconds per mile faster.

I need to make sure I don't look at this training cycle as the new standard, because that would be my perfectionism rearing its ugly head. I'm approaching 40 and I might not be able to handle this load in the future. And, aside from having cold weather, I'm not exactly sure how I've been able to run all of this volume and all of these crazy workouts and still feel energized. But. . . I'll take it!

4. Recovery doesn't have to be fancy.
When my coach tells me to "recover well" after a hard run, I interpret that as eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, get quality sleep, and use the foam roller. On top of that, I take a few Epsom salt baths each week and get a massage. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, so I am hesitant to try recovery tools that I am not familiar with. Ironically, though, TheraGun reached out to me asking me to test out their G2PRO massage product, and I said yes. I've only had it for two days and so far I like it. I'll write a more extensive review once I've had more time with it. I probably won't use it too much before the marathon though because. . . if it ain't broke, don't fix it! 

Here is a graph of my training since January 1st. According to my coach, marathon training didn't officially start until February, which is when the volume really picked up. I've now run for 72 days straight and I feel really good. It's taken four years of working with the same coach to get to this level and as I said above, I'm proud of this regardless of my race time.



The highlight of this past week was my 22-mile long run, which I started out at 8:20, and progressed down to 7:40 by the end. I ran the hilliest route I could map out from my house and it was definitely a great training stimulus for my legs.

As I said earlier, my training cycle is not complete yet. If all goes according to plan, I should log another 77 miles next week. I'm looking forward to less severe winter weather and maybe I'll even get to wear shorts.

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.

Backlight
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.