Friday, February 5, 2016

Mizuno Wave Catalyst Review

I typically don't review products on my blog. I don't have relationships with particular brands, and I
Mizuno Wave Catalyst, released February 2016
am usually not offered free stuff. But when it comes to something I am passionate about, like my beloved but discontinued Mizuno Wave Elixir shoes, I need to speak out. Today I offer a Mizuno Wave Catalyst Review, which is supposed to be a replacement for the Elixir.

About two years ago, Mizuno discontinued the Mizuno Wave Elixir, arguably one of the best running shoes ever created. This shoe had it all. It was supportive enough to run a half marathon in (and some people even ran marathons in them) but also lightweight and fast-feeling. The shoe molded to my foot perfectly and had just enough cushion to be comfortable, while still feeling the ground beneath me.

I wasn't alone in my love for this shoe. It had a cult-like fan base who are all in strong agreement that it was a huge mistake for Mizuno to discontinue the shoe. Online forums and discussion groups exploded with heated comments about the decision. And whenever I wear my Elixirs to a race, other runners tell me how much they loved those shoes, and how disappointed they are that they are no longer available. Whenever I post a photo of myself racing in the Elixirs, people comment asking me where I got them. Fortunately, I stock-piled about 10 pairs of them, so I still have two of them new-in-box, and one of them with about 2/3 life left.

When Mizuno discontinued the Elixir, they came out with the Wave Sayonara. I liked this shoe quite a bit, but the drawback was that it didn't have as much cushion as the Elixir, so I was afraid to wear it in a half marathon, when my feet begin to hurt at mile 10. I added the Wave Sayonara into my rotation, using it for races shorter than a half marathon, and shorter, faster speed workouts. I continued to use my Elixirs for half marathons and longer workouts, like 5-6 mile tempo runs. I should also note that I wear the Nike Lunarglide for long runs and the Mizuno Wave Inspire for easy runs.

Mizuno Wave Catalyst
After two years, Mizuno realized its error, but instead of simply putting the Elixir back on the market, or making the Sayonara more similar to the Elixir, it came out with a new shoe--the Mizuno Wave Catalyst. I pre-ordered my pair on RunningWarehouse and expected it to arrive on Feb. 19.  The shoe unexpectedly arrived early, however, and I received it this week.

My first order of business when I received the Wave Catalyst was to weigh one of the shoes, and compare it to that of the Wave Elixir.

Top Left: Inspire 11, Top Right: Catalyst, Bottom Left: Sayonara 2, Bottom Right, Elixir 8. All shoes size 6.5
A few things to note about my shoe-buying habits. For some reason, I only get about 180-200 miles out of my shoes. After that, my legs begin to ache and I feel a distinct lack of support. So to save money, I always buy the previous year's shoe model on sale. I've gotten year-old Inspire models for as low as $45!  In the photo above, the Mizuno Inspire is last year's model, as is the Mizuno Sayonara. I have not yet tried this year's models and I will not try them until they go on sale! I will be basing my review and comparisons off of these models.

Before I even put the Catalysts on my feet, I made some observations based on their weight, and what I know about their specs from RunningWarehouse. My first question is, why does Mizuno have three
Mizuno Wave Catalyst, fresh out of the box
pairs of shoes that are so similar in terms of weight, stack height, and support? Apparently, the new model of the Sayonara, Inspire, and Catalyst all weigh almost the exact same amount! The only real difference is the amount of stability, but even the Sayonara, which is supposedly neutral, has enough stability for me.

I think the biggest disappointment, though, is that the Wave Catalyst is 1.3 grams (about half an ounce) heavier than the Elixir. And RunningWarehouse rates it as a shoe for "standard" running-- not for "performance" like the Elixir was. And the Sayonara 3 (not pictured here) supposedly weighs more than the 2. Meanwhile, the Inspire keeps getting lighter. In other words, they are making their lightweight performance shoes heavier, and their supportive everyday shoes lighter. That makes no sense to me.

Test Run
I figured I would try out the Wave Catalysts on an easy 60-minute run. I didn't want to experiment with a new shoe during a workout, for fear that they wouldn't support me properly.

When I first put the shoes on and walked around I was optimistic. They felt comfortable and they fit pretty well (as all Mizuno shoes tend to do with my narrow feet). The first two miles of the run were promising. The shoes seemed to have more bounce/spring than the Sayonara and the Elixir, and they felt more cushioned as well. In fact, they seemed most similar to the Inspire.

But as I got further into the run, I determined I didn't like the shoes as much. They actually started to feel more like the Elixir in that I could feel the ground beneath my feet a bit more. But the downside was that my feet started to hurt a little, and the shoes became uncomfortable. I felt like my left big toe was hitting the top of the shoe (and I've been wearing 6.5 in Mizuno for years without that problem) and on the right, the shoe seemed to get tighter around the forefoot, and the ball of my foot began to hurt. Sometimes these issues resolve themselves once the shoe is more broken in, but I never had to break-in the Elixir.

The Verdict
By the time I hit mile 6, I was ready to take the shoes off. They didn't feel as good as the Elixir, and they certainly weren't as fast/light as the Sayonara 2. And they weren't as supportive as the Inspire. My overall impression: mediocre. I think Mizuno is trying to "please everyone" with this shoe, and they make a ton of compromises to do so. It's basically a slightly less supportive version of the Wave Inspire, potentially for people who love the Inspire but are ready to "graduate" to a little less support, and a slightly smaller heel-toe offset.

I will note, however, that my average pace for this 60-minute run was 8:46 (6.8 miles total). Typically, I run my easy runs at a pace of 8:55-9:10, and I wasn't trying to run any faster today. So maybe the shoes were "faster" or maybe it was just a coincidence.

I think I am going to return the shoe to RunningWarehouse for store credit. Initially, I was going to trade it in for the Sayonara 3 to see how that felt, but apparently that shoe weighs even MORE than the Catalyst, so why would I do that? I have enough Elixirs to last me another year, and I'm going to start stockpiling the Sayonara 2 as well. Once those run out, maybe Mizuno will have released a version of the Catalyst that's lighter, that fits better, and is a true Elixir replacement.

Mizuno- PLEASE stop messing with your customers' favorite shoes!

Mizuno Wave Elixir- Bring back these shoes, please!

I hope you enjoyed this Mizuno Wave Catalyst review, and I welcome your comments and experiences.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sleepy "Snowzilla" Blizzard of 2016

The Washington DC metro area was hit with a huge blizzard last weekend. Known as "Snowzilla," "Storm Jonas," and "The Blizzard of 2016," this system dropped about 28 inches of snow onto my neighborhood, and similar amounts around all of Northern Virginia and DC. The storm began at around 1:00pm on Friday, Jan. 22, and continued until about 10:00pm the following day. Regardless, I still managed to keep up with my training plan. Here's how.

Friday, 1/22: 16-mile Long Run
View from my window on Saturday
Instead of doing my regularly planned 60-minute easy run, I did Saturday's 16-mile long run, starting at sunrise. This was challenging because I had done a 5.5-mile tempo run the evening before, which meant I only had about 15 hours to recover from that before doing the long run. I was supposed to run the second half of the 16-miler 20 seconds per mile faster than the first half. Miraculously, I was able to do this, even on very tired legs. The trick was to keep the first 8 miles slow (9:16/mile) so that I could run the last 8 miles at an average pace of 8:56/mile.

Saturday, 1/23: Blizzard Peak
There was definitely no way to run on Saturday. The snow was coming down heavily with "whiteout" conditions. I spent the day inside with Greg, just relaxing and doing housework. We had stocked up on good food, so we had a really nice dinner with wine. It was nice having the long run behind me and not having to worry about it. Saturday night, I slept for 9 hours and 41 minutes, without waking up at all. It was truly amazing because I usually get about 7 hours and 30 minutes. I guess the blizzard totally relaxed and de-stressed me!

Sunday, 1/24: 41 minutes + 41 minutes
A plow came by our neighborhood relatively early in the day, so by about 10:30, my neighborhood road had a clear path of packed snow. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to try out my Yaktrax (which I had bought last winter but never wore) to run in the snow. They worked really well-- no slipping or falling! But because there was still quite a bit of snow, my gait was not normal, and I
In front of my house after run #2. Greg shoveled this snow.
found myself using extra stabilizer muscles. My original plan was to run the 60 minutes that had been scheduled for Friday, but I stopped after 41 because it just felt weird and I didn't want to strain myself running in the snow. However, later in the day, the sun came out and the road looked better, so I Yaktraxed my way out of my neighborhood, removed the Yaktrax and ran on the completely snow-free road. There were almost no cars out, although I did have to dodge the snow plows. I ran another 41 minutes, giving me 82 minutes total for the day (8.7 miles). This gave me 52.7 miles for the week.

Monday, 1/25: 6 x 800m, 3 x 200m
I woke up on Monday morning in amazement. According to my FitBit, I had slept for 10 hours and 16 minutes, uninterrupted. This was completely unheard of! I had no clue why I was sleeping so much. I didn't feel sick, but I guess my body needed it.

My office was closed, which meant I could run at whatever time of day I wanted. Given this flexibility, I figured it would be best to get Tuesday's speed work out of the way on Monday, in case I had to go into the office on Tuesday. Obviously the track was not an option so I programmed the workout into my Garmin and ran a half-mile stretch of the street just outside of my neighborhood. I could not run in my neighborhood without Yaktrax, so I simply walked on the snow until I reached the edge of my neighborhood before and after the run.

As for the workout itself, yes, I had to share the road with cars. And yes, this was a little dangerous. But this street was fully plowed and wider than the typical road, so there was enough room for me. My paces were slower than if I had been at the track, but I chalked it up to being an incline/decline instead of a smooth track. After warm-up and cool-down, I logged a total of 9.1 miles for the day.

Tuesday, 1/26: 60 minutes
And AGAIN I woke up after an insanely long and uninterrupted night of sleep! One theory is that there's a constant noise of construction or trucks near my house that goes on at all hours of the night, and I'm guessing it stopped with all this snow. So maybe I finally had the quiet I needed to sleep well. 9 hours, 19 minutes.

I did Monday's 60-minute easy run on Tuesday. My office was still closed, which gave me the flexibility to run in the middle of the day again, with a reduced number of cars. I still had to walk through my neighborhood instead of run, but once I got out of it, I was able to run on clear roads. Once again, this was a little bit dangerous because I was sharing the road with cars, but I saw other people walking/running as well. Further, the roads were wide, so if two cars had to pass each other, there would still be room for me!

Wednesday, 1/27: 30 minutes
By Wednesday, I was finally back on my normal schedule and my office was open. My neighborhood had been plowed thoroughly by this point, so I simply ran in circles around the 0.6-mile loop. Boring and hilly, but safer than venturing out onto the main road during the morning rush hour.

Thursday, 1/28: 6-mile tempo
Thursday was tricky because temperatures got down to 16 overnight, which meant a refreeze of all the water/snow on the ground. Therefore, I had to wait until after work to do my tempo. The good news is that it was a warm and sunny day, so by the time I started my tempo at 4:15pm, everything had melted. I got into work at 7:00am and left at 3:15, which gave me an hour to drive home, change, and drive to the tempo location. Thankfully, my tempo route was ice-free and mostly dry, so I could run without worrying about slipping. I averaged a pace of 7:08 for the six miles, which was very encouraging. Including warm-up and cool-down, I ran 9.5 miles for the day.

Friday, 1/29: 60 minutes
The road outside of my neighborhood was coated in ice in the morning, so I resorted to doing laps around my 0.6-mile neighborhood loop! Very boring (and hilly) but I got it done.

Saturday, 1/30: 17 miles
Because sidewalks were still not clear, Greg and I decided to run the entire long run on neighborhood roads. We drove to this neighborhood (which is also my tempo location) and parked our car at the Starbucks at the end of the neighborhood. We challenged ourselves to run on as many of the neighborhood streets as possible. The result looked like this:

I missed most of Pennerview and all of Midstone!
All in all, the storm did not affect my running too much. Thankfully, I was able to adjust my schedule. One of my neighbors had offered me her treadmill as a back-up plan, but thankfully I didn't need to use it. I much prefer to run outdoors whenever possible. I logged 54.7 miles this week, and managed to do all workouts as prescribed by my coach.

It's hard to believe I still have 11 weeks until Boston. I already feel like the training is pretty intense, and it's only going to get more challenging!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

How I got faster in 2015

2015 was the best year of running I've had since I started racing 10 years ago.

10K PR, October 2015
It’s easy for beginning runners to improve. Usually runners see major gains during the first several years, but then the law of diminishing returns kicks into effect, making PRs less frequent and smaller in size. This is particularly true for racing at shorter distances, where shaving just a few seconds off of one’s time becomes challenging. Therefore, I see 2015 as "the exception" and not the rule. It's highly unlikely that I will have another year like this again, so I wanted to document what worked for me.

This year, I set six PRs:
  • 20:51 in the 5K (38 seconds PR)
  • 30:08 in the 4-miler (8 seconds PR)
  • 43:56 in the 10K (17 seconds PR)
  • 1:37:33 in the half marathon (4 minutes, 7 seconds PR)
  • 1:35:08 in the half marathon (2 minutes, 25 seconds PR)
  • 3:35:29 in the marathon (4 minutes, 31 seconds PR + BQ)
With the exception of the marathon and the 4-miler, all of these PRs occurred within the October/November timeframe. What did I do differently in 2015 as opposed to prior years of running? 2015 was not my highest mileage year-- in fact both 2010 and 2014 were higher in overall mileage. Here are what I consider to be the key factors.

I trained differently.
After having spent years and years doing the same tempo runs and the same interval workouts, I finally broke out of that patten and gave my body new training stimuli. While different training approaches work for different people, I think that one thing is true for everyone: variety is key! Not only did my training approach change in 2015, but I rarely repeated workouts. There were a few workouts that I did maybe 4-5 times this year, but that's it.

Here is a comparison of my training log from 2014 vs. 2015. Note that in 2014 I ran two marathons, but in 2015 I ran only one marathon in the spring.

2014 Training
2015 Training
The overall training volume is almost the same. The difference is how I ran the miles. In 2014, I focused more heavily on tempo runs and long runs. In 2015, I focused more heavily on intervals and hill sprints. Particularly in July, there was a 4-week period that was very hill intensive, sometimes combining hill repeats with mile repeats and tempo runs. The major differences in 2015 I see are:

  • Lower weekly mileage during the second half of the year allowed for more quality speed work
  • Shorter intervals at a faster pace (e.g. 1 minute, 2 minute as opposed to 800's and 1200's)
  • More varied workouts
  • Fewer tempo runs
  • Lots of 5Ks in the heat-- one per month from April to September
  • More combo runs (e.g. hill/tempo, hill/interval, tempo/interval)
  • More consistency in monthly volume, even though overall volume is slightly lower

I trained consistently, without illness or injury.
I was able to train consistently throughout the entire year without any time off for illness or injury. In the past, I have never been able to keep up with injury prevention exercises because there were too many of them, and they took too much time. So in 2015, I focused on my left hip. It's my weakest area, and the first thing that starts to hurt. I did strengthening exercises for my left hip only about 3 times per week, lasting about 3 minutes. I didn't do any core work this year or anything else. I find that if I take on too much, I end up getting overwhelmed and ultimately ditching the exercises altogether. 

After the Richmond half marathon, a lot of stuff hurt, so I was diligent about foam rolling and I got two massages. I also took an entire week off, as prescribed by my coach. I also finally have a shoe system that works. Nike Lunarglide for long runs, Mizuno Elixir for long speed work, Mizuno Sayonara for short speed work, and Mizuno Inspire for short easy runs.

I focused on the process, not the outcome.
Even though I of course love setting PRs, I was more focused on the process of racing than I was the result. I learned to take risks, to experiment, to be bold, and to have a more relaxed attitude about racing in general. I used to get extremely anxious and uptight whenever a race approached, and now a race is "what I'm doing this weekend" and not something to get all worked up over! During races, I was more focused on pushing hard than on what my watch said, and I didn't spend mental energy focusing on things I didn't like. I embraced training and racing in the heat. I focused on running by effort instead of by pace, so I was never upset about being slower during summer races.

I had the help and support of great people.
The combination of having two great coaches-- a McMillan coach to help me with the physical side of things and a P.h.D in sports psychology to help me with the mental side of things--has really helped me succeed. And of course, having Greg support me all year even when he was unable to run was hugely valuable. I had all of these people in 2014 as well, although I didn't start working with the running coach until July.

I'm hoping to squeeze out a few more PRs in 2016, particularly at the marathon distance where I think I have the most room for improvement. I look forward to more healthy, happy running this year!

B & A Trail Marathon - a BQ by 4:31

PRR Festival Twilight 4-miler in 80+ degrees!
The Richmond Half Marathon

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ringing In Hope 10K: Keeping Up With Tradition

Yesterday afternoon, I ran the Ringing in Hope 10K. The inaugural event was held in 2010, and Greg and I have run it every year since it started. Even though I have quite a few issues with how this race is managed, I continue to run it each year to keep up the tradition. Along with the Firecracker 5K and the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K, it's nice to have races that I run year after year, for both the sake of tradition, and for benchmarking. I'm pleased to say that I have set course PRs in all three races this year!
Ringing in Hope 2014

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. I may suggest these changes to the race director, but I don't want to come across as ungrateful. I know that managing a race is difficult, and I will continue to participate in this race even if nothing changes.

The time of this race changes almost every year. I think the first year it was at 4:00pm, and then it's moved between morning and afternoon. I think it was 10:00am last year, and this year it was at 1:00pm to accommodate government workers' schedules. But people who work for the federal government (in Washington D.C.) even for a half day, will not be able to drive 30 miles out to Ashburn in time for a 1:00pm start. So, either move the race to 3:00 or 4:00, or keep it in the morning. I personally prefer morning races because it's what I'm used to, but I don't shy away from races that start at odd times. Particularly since I will be running the Boston Marathon in April, which I think starts sometime around 10:00am. My biggest challenge with the later start this year was the warmth. It was 58 degrees and sunny. There were times when I could feel myself baking, and I even ended up with a nice suntan!

The race offers a 5K and a 10K. The 10K course is the same as the 5K course, times 2. The 5K started at 1:00pm, and the 10K started at 1:15pm. This means that the 10K runners have to weave through all the 5K walkers (with their strollers, walking in large groups) and the slower runners starting at mile 2. This requires a lot of additional energy to be expended and prevents runners from running tangents. There'd be some trouble if a 15:00-16:00 5K runner showed up. At 1:16pm, I'm guessing that 10K runners were still moving through the start line, which is also the finish line. I can just imagine a super speedy 5K runner coming toward the finish line, with all the 10K runners lined up.

Speaking of tangents, cones are placed seemingly randomly throughout the course. It's never clear what side of the cones you are supposed to run on. The course is USATF certified without any cones at all, so I just ignore the cones and try to run the tangents. Even still, the course always measures at least 6.27 miles on my Garmin. On the last turn before the finish line, they had a row of cones blocking the path to the finish line. You're supposed to run through the cones (which are meant to block cars) but many people were confused and didn't see the finish line. The only reason I knew to turn right was because I've run this race so many times.

Okay, I'm done griping. My attitude toward this race is that I do it because it's a tradition and it's close to my house. I don't run it for its superior management. I mentally prepare to weave through 5K walkers and I don't let it upset me while I'm running.

In terms of a time goal, I wanted to set a "Garmin PR" by running faster than a 7:02 pace according to my Garmin-- ideally somewhere around 6:55-6:58. Comparing this race to the Boo Run For Life 10K where I set my current PR isn't really apples-to-apples because that race is flat with only one turn, and therefore always comes out to exactly 6.2 miles. This means that I could technically run 6.2 miles faster at the New Year's Eve race than the Boo! race and still not PR according to my official time. I also wanted to beat Greg's PR on this course of 43:20, but I thought that might be a stretch.

I also used this race to experiment with Generation UCAN fuel. I'd ideally like to switch from Honey Stinger gels to UCAN for the marathon, but I need to make sure it works for me. I was introduced to UCAN when I won a huge prize package of it by being McMillan's "Athlete of the Month." I had used it before long runs and it seemed to work well for those. The Honey Stingers are hit or miss-- sometimes my stomach tolerates them, sometimes it doesn't. UCAN is supposed to be the easiest-to-digest source of fuel, and it's supposed to last longer than a gel.  I mixed one packet of the UCAN powder with water and drank it 30 minutes before the start of the race. Greg and I warmed up for about two miles, and then lined up at the start.

Miles 1-2
My original plan was to run the first mile at a pace of around 6:55, but instead I just ran it by feel and logged a 6:47. Even though this mile starts with a huge uphill, there was a significant tailwind, and then there's a downhill afterwards which actually makes the mile a net downhill. After I turned a corner and started mile 2, I found myself running directly into a headwind and I was unable to maintain my speedy starting pace. I instead ran a 6:57, which was more in line with my goal anyway. It was during the second mile that I had to start weaving through the 5K walkers, but I didn't let it bother me.

Miles 3-4
The third mile was tough. The headwind continued and there was a sizable hill to run up, while continuing to dodge 5K walkers, and even those who were running, but then who would suddenly stop to walk. One guy who was running in front of me stopped dead in his tracks to look behind him for his daughter. Sigh. I felt myself losing some major steam, and the race started to get really hard. Mile 3 is supposed to feel really hard in a 10K, but this mile just took a lot of out me. I logged a 7:07, which I thought was pretty good, given the big hill. Mile 4 was a repeat of mile 1. The biggest challenge of this mile was the heat. I was running directly towards the sun, high in the sky, and I felt my energy level waning. Thankfully, there was a tailwind to help push me up the hill again, but I'd pay for it with a headwind later. I ran mile 4 in 7:02.

Miles 5-6
My goal was still attainable by the time I reached mile 5, but I was completely spent. I had zero energy left to fight through the headwind. I poured water over my head to keep cool, but it didn't do much good. I also had worn heavier socks (mistake) and my feet were burning up. Even though I was losing steam, I still managed to pass some runners during this mile, which was encouraging. I logged a 7:13. The sixth mile was pure torture. A woman whom I had passed earlier in the race passed me about halfway through the mile and I tried to keep up with her as best as I could. I even tried to draft off of her. "That's fine if you run ahead of me," I thought. "I'll just run directly behind you and draft." I knew my goal was slipping away from me, but I was mainly focused on just hanging on. That final hill was killer, as it always is, and I was happy to see that I didn't lose too much time going up it. I actually was slower at the beginning of the mile with the headwind than I was at the end of the mile, running up the hill with less of a headwind. That last mile was a 7:22, which is slower than my half marathon pace!

The Finish
Accepting my award- it got cloudy after I was done racing!
After the hill during mile 6 there were a few more turns to get to the finish line. Thankfully, everything was downhill for the last 0.27 miles. The woman in front of me made an incorrect turn, and I almost followed her, thinking it was time to turn. But I quickly realized she had made a mistake so I didn't follow her. People behind me were yelling "go straight." Once again, it really wasn't clear where you were supposed to turn, so some volunteers would have been nice to have at that point. The only reason I didn't follow her was because I had run the course so many times in the past, otherwise, I would have made the same mistake. I continued toward the finish line, and I ran through the confusing cones at a pace of 6:35.

My overall finish time was 44:18 for 6.27 miles, a Garmin pace of 7:05. I was the 4th overall female
finisher, and I won 1st place in my age group. I won a substantial gift certificate to Potomac River Running, which was nice.

I told Greg about the woman who made the wrong turn and I said I felt badly for her--and a little guilty for beating her because of it. But he reminded me that part of racing is knowing the course. It's about more than having physical ability, you also have to have "situational awareness" he said. He told me I beat her fair and square, which I guess is true. But I still feel badly that she made a wrong turn.

The Analysis
Even though I technically didn't meet my goal, I accomplished a lot!
  • I ran this race faster than last year by 1:09, and I think it was windier this year, and definitely hotter. 
  • I ran very close to my PR pace, on a hiller, hotter and "longer" course.
  • I experimented. I tried a new fuel and I tried going out at pace that was faster than my goal (but that felt sustainable), without being afraid to bonk. 
  • I avoided making a wrong turn because I knew the course well.
  • I won my age group and was the 4th overall female.
I don't have any photos of me actually racing because my personal photographer is now able to race himself! Greg finished in 45:50, which I think is amazing for spending 5 months of last year injured with a broken ankle. 

I definitely plan on running this race again next year-- at whatever time of day it may be! Happy New Year to my blog readers!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Trotting: Massive 5K PR

This morning I ran my 10th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. That's right- my 10th year in a row! I'm thankful that I have never been injured on Thanksgiving and I have always been able to participate in this race since I discovered it.

After running the Richmond Half Marathon 12 days ago, I took a full week off from running. I made the mistake of not stretching or foam rolling during that time. After two days, my legs felt fine just walking around, but I didn't realize how tight my left IT band and calf were. When I returned to running, my entire left leg was tight and and everything felt like it was pulling on everything else. I started foam rolling twice a day and eventually my hip/hamstring/IT band felt better, but my calf was still an issue. It had seized up and was tender to the touch. I was actually worried that I wouldn't be able to run this race, but I went for it anyway.

I aggressively treated my calf by having Greg massage it twice a day, foam rolling it, stretching it three times a day, using Salonpas patches, taking Aleve, and wearing a compression sleeve. Instead of running yesterday as originally prescribed by my coach, I took the day off entirely.

Compression socks for my calf, and matching shoes!
I had this race planned down to the second. Since I had 9 of these Turkey Trots under my belt, I knew the course profile like the back of my hand. Last year, I ran the first two miles at the same pace, and then the third mile was about 10 seconds faster. The first two miles are a net uphill, with a significant hill in the second mile, and the last mile is a net downhill.

The McMillan calculator predicted a pace of 6:37 for my 5K. I wasn't sure I wanted to go for that, though, given I had taken a full week off of running and I was optimally trained for the half marathon, not the 5K. My plan was to run the first mile at a pace of 6:43-6:45, and then run the second mile at the same pace as the first. My plan for the last mile was a 6:35, and then an even faster final kick for the last 0.1. This would give me an average pace of about 6:40, putting me comfortably below 21 minutes.

My previous PR was a 21:29, and I was hoping to smash it, just as I had done to my half marathon PR just 12 days prior.

Before the Race
I think I set a PR for the most amount of quality sleep the night before a race. I slept for a full eight hours, and then woke up extremely gradually. I was so relaxed and rested that it took me about 45 minutes from coming into consciousness to actually feeling awake. I also slept insanely well two nights before the race. I think I have this no-anxiety thing down pat!

Greg and I did our normal pre-race routine: bagels, bathroom, and bib affixing! We arrived at the race 35 minutes before the start, with just enough time to warm up and then line up. We warmed up for 20 minutes, and I felt ready.

The weather was absolutely perfect. 40 degrees, mostly sunny, with 0 mph winds. Usually this race is in the low 30's, so it's rather chilly at the start. But this year, I was rather comfortable at the start line in my shorts and short-sleeves after having warmed up.

Mile 1: 6:43
I hate the first mile of this race. There are so many slower runners who start at the front, go out at a pace of 6:30, and then slow down to an 8:00 mile shortly thereafter. This equates to quite a bit of passing and weaving. I knew to expect it, so I managed as best I could. At one point, there was a group of 3 people running side-by-side and it was difficult to pass them. I tried to not let it fluster me. When I saw my Garmin beep at 6:43, I was pleased. I was executing on the faster end of my narrow 3-second window!

Mile 2: 6:43
This mile features a significant hill. I've gotten much better at hills over the past year, and was able to pass quite a few runners on this hill. Regardless, I was happy to be over it and running down the hill on the other side. I stayed focused, and tried my best to run the tangents. The good thing about mile 2 is that the course opens up with a wider road, so it's easier to pass people. I was pleased to see that I logged another 6:43, exactly as planned.

Mile 3: 6:35
I knew my PR and sub-21 was in the bag if I just continued to execute the plan. The last mile is a net downhill, but of course I was getting tired, so I had to really work for this. Since I've never run a 1-mile race, this 6:35 is also a 1-mile PR for me.

The last 0.14: (6:03 pace)
I gunned it to the finish and was happy to see the clock was still in the 20's.

My official finish time was a 20:51. This is a PR by 38 seconds from my 21:29 that I ran at the 2011 Turkey Trot. Last year, I ran a 21:30, missing my PR by just one second.

I was slightly annoyed that even though I was trying to run the tangents, my Garmin measured 3.14 miles. Greg's Garmin was closer to 3.1, and in the past mine has been closer to 3.1 as well, but I think all of the weaving during the first mile was the culprit. Anyway, according to Garmin, it was an average pace of 6:39 for 3.14 miles, which is very close to what the McMillan calculator had predicted.

Even though Greg hadn't done any speed work since the Columbus half marathon nearly six weeks ago, he ran a 22:01, which pleasantly surprised us both.

After the race, we found one of our friends and cooled down with him for about 15 minutes. The cool down was really important. When I first started running, my left leg was extremely tight. I was worried I had done some serious damage. But after a few minutes, it started to feel better, and by the end of the cool down, my left leg felt semi-normal again.

Final Thoughts
I think that having a well-defined plan was critical to my success. I knew exactly how I wanted to race this one, and my execution matched my expectations perfectly. Could I have run it faster if I set a more aggressive goal? I think maybe by just a few seconds. I was feeling really exhausted by the end of it, so I don't think I could have squeezed out more than 2-3 seconds extra. I'm trying to move away from "playing it safe" in races so I can run at my full potential. I don't think I played it safe here, but on the other hand, I wasn't quite as risky as I was in Richmond. There was also my tight calf to consider, and I definitely didn't want to pull it or tear it.

In any event, a 38-second PR in the 5K is HUGE, and I am super excited that I have reached a new level of fitness and I can run a race without anxiety.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Being Bold: The Richmond Half Marathon

I spent the past week visualizing the race I wanted to run this morning in Richmond. Four weeks ago, I considered the Columbus Half Marathon to be my breakthrough race of the season, and Richmond would just be “gravy.” I ran a 1:37:33, which was PR by over 4 minutes, so I was extremely satisfied. My first thought after I finished Columbus was that I ran so well, I could just pass on Richmond completely and be satisfied.

But I quickly dismissed that thought and realized that Columbus was really just a build-up to Richmond. At least, that's how my coach had planned it out. Thanks to an amazing training cycle, I’ve reached a new level of fitness that I had never imagined attaining.

I realized that I wasn't afraid of bonking. I intended to start this race at a pace that used to be faster than my 5K PR. I told myself that I was going to push harder earlier and make the tough part start sooner. I was mentally prepared for it to get really, really hard and I intended to push my way through it. I decided that I wasn't going to be intimidated by paces on my Garmin that were faster than I thought I was capable of.

Coach Greg McMillan says, “Going to a new level is scary even if workouts show you're there. In races, be committed and brave. That's where the PRs live.”

Training Plan
I had a pretty aggressive training schedule in between Columbus and Richmond. Thankfully, I recovered quickly and was able to return to speed work the following Thursday. The mileage was the same as it  had been (in the low to mid 40's) but the workouts were intense. Some of the more challenging workouts were:
  • 3 mile tempo, 3:00 recovery, 4 x 30-second hill repeats, 3:00 recovery, 2-mile tempo
  • 2 miles at half marathon pace, 3:00 recovery, 4 x 1-mile at 10K pace 
  • 5 x 1600m with 400m recoveries, 3 x 200m with 200m recoveries
I ran the 1600's at an average pace of about 6:53, which is faster than my 5K PR pace. The last one was 6:47 and I didn't feel like I was overdoing it. The combination of these three workouts gave me an immense amount of confidence. Not only were the paces much faster than I anticipated, but I felt strong throughout each workout. I recovered well from them, and was able to log some "quality" long runs with speed incorporated as well.

Race gear laid out
Having just run the Columbus Half Marathon four weeks ago, I knew that my pre-race routine would work well. I ate bland pasta with chicken and tomato sauce the night before, and the morning of the race I ate a salted bagel with peanut butter, along with a good bit of water.

In terms of feeling rested, I had slept really well all week. This had not been the case for Columbus, so I was determined to not "sweat the small stuff" this time. The issues that caused me to lose sleep prior to Columbus didn't affect my sleep whatsoever this past week.

When I pack for races, I usually bring two of everything, just in case something is wrong with one of the items. I packed two pairs of socks, and I was very glad that I did because one of the pairs ended up belonging to Greg. And it was actually the pair that was my first choice. Phew!

Speaking of Greg, he decided to sit this race out. He broke his ankle back in March, made a strong comeback in Columbus, but felt that he needed more recovery before running another half marathon so soon.

I also learned from Columbus that leaving the hotel 25 minutes before the race start is not a good idea. So we left 45 minutes before the race start, which left plenty of time for me to get a short (7-minute) warm up in-- something I did not do in Columbus. I got into the corral, and handed my jacket to Greg.

Waiting at the start line
The weather was in the low 40's and sunny with a 5-10 mph sustained wind. My plan was to start the race at a pace of around 7:20, maybe a tad slower because the first two miles were slightly uphill. This is what my coach advised and at first the concept seemed scary. Given that my average race pace in Columbus was 7:24 according to my Garmin, starting out at a faster pace with a plan of speeding up was ambitious. But I spent the past week building the confidence to do it and mentally preparing to push really hard.

In terms of a time goal, I wanted to go sub-1:37 (with a PR by over 33 seconds) and a stretch goal was to go sub-1:36. I fully expected that my time would fall somewhere in the 1:36's but my sports psychologist told me not to rule out the possibility of the 1:35's. Lately he's been encouraging me to not set limits for myself and the more we've talked about it, the more aware I've become on the limits I set for myself. He told me I was in a "purple period" of training-- an extended period of successful training without illness or injury with continued fitness gains. So this was a huge opportunity for me to take advantage of. As I stood at the start line, I went over my race plan in my head a few times. I was prepared to run really hard and really fast.

I lined up just a few rows back from the 1:35 pacer and before I knew it, the race started.

Miles 1-4
The race started and it was really crowded during the first mile. I wanted to be running faster than I was during the first half mile, but there was no way to weave around people. Ultimately, I gave up on trying to weave through people and I told myself that this was actually working in my favor because there was a noticeable headwind.

After the second mile, things spaced out a bit and I knew that mile 3 would be slightly downhill. So I decided to run a bit faster. During mile 4, I finally started to feel comfortable. I rarely feel comfortable during the first 3 miles of a half marathon. I just need to settle in and establish a rhythm. I usually feel like I am kind of all over the place initially, until I settle into a nice even rhythm and effort.We also turned a corner during the 4th mile, which meant there was no more headwind.

Mile 1: 7:26
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:18
Mile 4: 7:11

Miles 5-8
I think the "old me" would have been intimidated by a 7:11 mile, especially so early in the race, but I told myself ahead of time that I would not ease up on the effort based on what my Garmin was saying. I've run over 20 half marathons-- I know what the effort level should feel like.

I continued to press on, fully confident that I could maintain these faster-than-planned paces. Miles 6, 7, and 8 were in a park. I had run this race in 2012 and I remembered the park being the most challenging section of the course. It was hilly and windy and a bit of a roller coaster. And the terrain isn't as smooth as the rest of the roads.

I crossed the 10K timing mat in 45:25, at a pace of 7:18. I knew that Greg was tracking me and it
made me happy knowing he would be getting a status update on me.

The most difficult part of the race came during mile 7 when I had my Honey Stinger gel. I learned in Columbus that I only need one gel in a half marathon, so I took it during the 7th mile, at the same time that I was running up and down hills and trying to follow tangents. The process didn't quite go as smoothly as I hoped. I spilled some water on me and the honey didn't go down all that well, but I took a few seconds to slow down, and "reset." In spite of all this, I still logged a 7:10 for mile 7.

I've learned that when you hit a rough patch in a race, a mental "reset" really works. It's an opportunity to remind yourself that it was just a tough patch, and you can continue on just as you had before.

Mile 5: 7:11
Mile 6: 7:16
Mile 7: 7:10
Mile 8: 7:24

Miles 9-12
I was so happy to be out of that park. It was mentally easier to run in a straight line and be back on

normal asphalt. Mile 8 had been mainly uphill, too, so I was relieved to be just 4 miles from the finish line, heading directly toward it.

I hit the 10-mile timing mat at 1:12:xx. My 10-mile PR  is 1:15:26, so it felt amazing to set a 10-mile PR in the midst of a half marathon.

During mile 11 I saw a friend of mine cheering. I worked with this guy back in 2005 and he since moved to Richmond and is very active in that running community. I knew he would be there and as I ran by him, I said, "I'm going to run a 1:35." I was amazed at how conversational I was, given how hard I was pushing. But I wanted to say it aloud. Saying it aloud made it real, and made me commit to it. I knew that I was on track for a 1:35:xx, but that I would need to continue to push hard to make it a reality.

When I got to mile marker 11, I was ready for the race to be over. It was the first feeling of "oh my God this hurts so much." I fought back and reminded myself that my mind would give out before my body would and I just pushed with everything I had. I knew that once I got to mile marker 12, there would just be one more mile left, and half of that mile would be a huge downhill.

Mile 9: 7:06
Mile 10: 7:09
Mile 11: 7:17
Mile 12: 7:16

Mile 13 and the last 0.14
Mile 13 seemed to go on forever until the downhill finally came. I saw Greg just before the hill and then just let gravity carry me. The hill was so steep that I was afraid I'd fall if I went as fast as I could possibly go, so I had to put on the breaks just slightly.

Headed for the finish
As I approached the finish line, I saw the clock turn from 1:34:59 to 1:35:00. And I was really close to it! I hadn't been looking at the cumulative time on my watch so I had no idea how close I was to 1:35:00. I crossed the finish line, and looked down at my Garmin to see a pleasantly unexpected 1:35:08.

Mile 13: 6:58
Last 0.14 (6:30 pace)

Ironically, I think I could have run that last 0.14 closer to a 6:00 if the downhill hadn't been so steep.

After the Race
I was really in shock at the fact that I ran a 1:35:08. Sub-1:36 was a stretch goal, and I was really close to sub 1:35! If someone had told me at the beginning of this training cycle that I would run this kind of time, I never would have believed them. After all, my PR at the time was 1:41:40.

I found Greg and we walked back to the hotel. I was simply beaming. I was so pleased with my performance. I did everything I set out to do and more!

I think it was a combination of the following:
  • Injury and illness free training cycle
  • Training specifically targeted the half marathon distance
  • I had the confidence to run boldly and without fear of bonking
  • The weather was conducive to fast running (not too hot, humid, or windy)
  • I went into the race well slept and recovered from previous workouts
  • I had the recent experience of a half marathon to learn from and build on
This race really shows that I am in an entirely new league. My original thought was that I would target a 3:30 for Boston but now I am thinking that something around 3:20-3:25 might be doable. I'll just have to see how training goes. 

I'll take the next week off from running entirely so that my body can recover fully and I can lay the foundation for Boston. Oh, and run a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving!

Final Stats and Fun Facts
  • In just four weeks, I took my half marathon time down from 1:37:33 to 1:35:08
  • This is a PR by 2:25
  • I ran the first 10K at a pace of 7:18, and the rest of the race at a pace of 7:12
  • I was the 72nd female finisher out of 5,350, putting me in the top 1.3% 
  • According to Strava, my best half marathon effort during this race was 1:34:52. This number is based on a 7:14 pace for 13.1 miles. (The official time is slower because my Garmin had 13.14)
  • According to the McMillan Calculator, this performance predicts a 10-mile race at 1:11:19, and a full marathon of 3:20:13.

Photo by Greg Clor

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Columbus Half Marathon: Determined!

I had three new race experiences today:

1. Stopping immediately before hitting the start line
2. Running in cotton underwear
3. Throwing up after a race

The tagline for this year's Columbus half marathon was "determined." For me, this was very appropriate, given that I was determined to break my five-year-old half marathon PR of 1:41:40.

That Stubborn 2010 PR
Even though I've set multiple PRs at every distance since 2010, I was never able to PR the half, primarily due to weather. Here's a brief recap:

  • Jan. 2012 (Disney) warm/humid weather: 1:43
  • Nov. 2012 (Richmond) had mono the whole summer: 1:46
    October 2010: Heritage half marathon
  • Feb. 2013 (Love Rox) the race had six staircases and was actually 13.5 miles: 1:43
  • Sept. 2013 (RnR Philadelphia) coming off of an injury: 1:46
  • March 2014 (Shamrock) really windy, gave up mentally: 1:42
  • Sept. 2014 (RnR Philadelphia) warm and humid: 1:47
  • March 2015 (Cowtown) didn't make it to TX because of an ice storm: 00:00 

I think I've been fit enough to run faster than 1:41:10 for years, but it's just never worked out. I was kind of okay with it though, because my main focus has been the marathon and qualifying for Boston.

Aside from running my very first half marathon, this is the only half marathon that I've trained specifically for. Once I discovered marathons, half marathons became tune-up races on the way to marathon "A" races. This didn't mean that I didn't care about half marathons. It's just that you are fit enough to run a half marathon when training for a marathon, but not the other way around. Therefore, marathon training has always taken priority.

After qualifying for Boston last spring (actually last fall, but that 3:40:00 wasn't fast enough to actually gain entry) I decided to take a season off from marathoning. I wanted to be really fresh going into Boston, and my half marathon PR was soft.

I assumed that my coach would have me running at least 50 miles per week, with long runs in the 14-16 mile range. This is how I've seen other runners train for half marathons, although I never really researched various plans. So I was pretty surprised that my average weekly mileage was in the mid 40's. Further, my typical long run was only 1:45, which equated to about 11.5 miles at a pace of 9:00-9:30. I only had one long run that was 2 hours, which was 12.8 miles. It was surprising to me that the plan didn't have any runs of 13 miles or longer, but I trusted my coach 100%.

Instead, the focus was speed work. There were quite a few long workouts that had me running really quickly with minimal recovery between intervals. The chart below shows all the interval work I did, and two long progression runs. Basically, I just got really fast, with enough mileage to support me being able to sustain my speed over a half marathon distance.

Sleep woes
Unfortunately, the Thursday night before the race, I slept horribly. I slept for 2 hours, woke up from a nightmare and then I didn't fall back asleep at all. I think that the "old me" would have freaked out about not getting enough sleep so soon before the race, but I wasn't too worried, given that I had slept immensely well every single night previously. But then on Friday night, I had another bad night. After not being able to fall asleep for nearly three hours, I resorted to taking a Melatonin and an Advil PM, which I haven't done in over a year, because I simply couldn't afford to lose so much sleep.

I've come a long way in dealing with my anxiety over running/racing, but I still have some work to do when it comes to stress in other areas of my life. I am too easily bothered and stressed by small things and I need to work on it. I used to get this level of anxiety leading up to a marathon, and I've successfully battled that demon. Now I just need to make sure that I don't allow other stressful situations to cause me to lose sleep.

I still didn't let this become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I refused to worry about lack of sleep causing me to race poorly. I ran a 10K last year and I got like 1 hour of sleep two nights before the race and I ended up running a PR. Last month, I ran a set of 5 x 1600's very quickly after not having slept for even a minute. So, I know that I can run well on little sleep, even though it's  not the ideal situation.

Finally, Saturday night arrived and I slept reasonably well in the hotel room. If I had to average my hours of sleep for the past three nights, it would probably be about 4.5. But I wasn't too worried.

Before the race
The forecast ended up being cooler than initially expected. Cold enough for me to want to wear CW-X capri tights instead of my skirt. I had thrown the capri tights in my bag at the very last minute as a safety net, but I had forgotten to pack running underwear to go with them.

I had this huge dilemma of skirt vs. capris w/cotton under vs. capris with no underwear. I asked a
Getting ready in our hotel room
bunch of my female running friends what they do and I got a variety of answers. Interestingly, none of them wear running underwear. I thought all women wore running underwear with pants/tights. They all wore cotton underwear, or no underwear.

Race morning came and I was still undecided. Greg's phone said it was 29 degrees, so I decided I really wanted to wear the capris. When it's too cold, it's hard for me to get my legs moving quickly. I BQ'ed in this exact same pair of capris so I figured I could run a half marathon well in them too. I decided to go with cotton underwear instead of no underwear, because it felt more like what I was used to.

Greg and I left the hotel room just 25 minutes before race start because our hotel was so close. Greg broke his ankle in March, and this was his comeback race. I put together a plan for him which he started at the end of August. In nine weeks, he went from not running at all to half marathon shape!

We hurried to the corrals, and made it with just a few minutes to spare. It didn't feel as cold as I was expecting so I ditched my throw-away pants, hoodie and arm warmers. I expected to wear the arm warmers for the first few miles, but decided that I felt okay without them. The gun went off and I approached the start line. Just before crossing, I looked down at my Garmin to start it and it had already started! Shit! When I pulled the arm warmer off it must have started it. I pulled over to the side and tried to restart the Garmin. My brain was toast and my fingers were numb, and I couldn't get the darn thing to restart. The Garmin kept asking me if I was SURE I wanted to delete that activity, and it defaulted to no, and I had the hardest time getting it to say yes.

Finally I saw that 0:00 and crossed the start line. I was extremely flustered but told myself it was okay. Heck, one of my friends tripped and fell during the first mile of her marathon, and ran the whole thing with a bloody knee. This wasn't bad at all. Just a rocky start.

Miles 1-4
So, here I was starting the race in cotton underwear, with the past three nights of sleep averaging only 4.5 hours, and a flustered Garmin start. But I was taking it all in stride. I was just going to do my best and roll with it.

In terms of a pacing strategy, the plan was to start at a pace of around 7:40 and speed up from there. The first two miles are uphill, so that prevented me from starting too fast. It was kind of tough to get into the groove of the race for the first three miles. I didn't warmup (like I had planned) so running that fast out of the gate is just a shock to the system.

I had two Honey Stinger energy gels and a hand-held water bottle. I took the first gel 25 minutes into the race. It went down easy and I had no issues getting it open with my numb hands, because I had cut a small slit in it beforehand.

Mile 1: 7:39
Mile 2: 7:43
Mile 3: 7:22
Mile 4: 7:30

Miles 5-8
Finally things started to feel good, and I got into a good rhythm. The pace felt like half marathon
Somewhere around mile 8
pace-- "comfortably hard" and sustainable. I soon encountered the same problem I had during the B&A marathon last spring-- the water bottle became too cold to hold. Even though I was wearing convertible mittens with "hot hands" hand warmers inside of them, I have really bad Reynaud's syndrome and my hands get numb very easily.

I didn't think I could hold onto the water bottle much longer. My watch read 55:00, and I had planned to take the second Honey Stinger at 70:00. But I couldn't continue to hold the water for that long, so I took the gel early, drank water and then tossed off the bottle 55 minutes into the race. I do not like to take gels with water station water. It slows me down too much and I'm not good at getting enough water. For about 5 minutes after that I was burping a lot, but then I felt better. This was also during the biggest hill of the race, mile 7.

Mile 5: 7:24
Mile 6: 7:25
Mile 7: 7:34
Mile 8: 7:24

Miles 9-12
Greg and I chose to run Columbus because we had done the full marathon last year and recalled the first half being extremely fast, even though it was a net 0 elevation change (start and finish in the same spot). The hills aren't very steep, but it's hilly enough to provide variation for your legs. And the toughest hills are miles 1, 2, and 7, with the later miles being mainly downhill, except for mile 12.

During this portion of the race, I decided to increase the effort. It had almost felt a bit too comfortable up until now and I was ready for it to get hard. So, I made it harder by pushing harder. When I got to mile marker 10, I couldn't believe how (relatively) good I felt. I've felt like death many times at mile 10 in a half marathon but I felt strong and ready to continue pushing through.

I told myself there wasn't much to risk in turning on the gas because I had run really fast up until now. If, for some reason, I couldn't maintain a higher intensity, it was okay because I had so many fast miles behind me.

Mile 9: 7:15
Mile 10: 7:19
Mile 11: 7:19
Mile 12: 7:24

Mile 13 and the last 0.19
As I had remembered from the full marathon, the last mile was downhill. I pushed and pushed and I saw the pace on my Garmin get faster and faster. I was totally on fire, plowing through lots of other runners. I could not believe how fast I was running!

I hit the mile 13 marker and my watch said 1:36:xx. This meant that I would be somewhere in the 1:37's! But the finish line still looked so far away that I didn't want to chance it, so I powered up the slight incline to the finish as the official clock still read in the 1:37's.

Mile 13: 7:01
Last 0.19: 6:20 pace

Official time: 1:37:33

I crossed the finish line, and felt like I typically do after a hard sprint to the end, completely wasted. I walked very slowly and got my medal. About two minutes later, I had the urge to vomit, and so I did. It was just honey and water, but I was shocked that I needed to do that. I've never vomited after a race in 10 years of racing. In fact, the last time I threw up was in college from drinking too much! It really surprised me, because I felt awesome during the race. I think that 2 Honey Stinger gels is probably overkill in a half marathon, especially when taken so close together. Lesson learned.

I waited for Greg to finish, and he came through in 1:49:26. Not bad for just 9 weeks of training after 5 months of no running!

I placed 15 out of 1,010 women in my age group!
My official average race pace was 7:27
My Garmin pace was 7:24 for 13.19 miles.

Final Thoughts
While this race definitely shows my increase of fitness, I wouldn't have been able to pull it off without some key mental skills I've been working on:

  • I didn't worry that my lack of sleep would affect my race time
  • I turned on the gas at mile 9, even when I wasn't sure I would be able to maintain a higher intensity for the last four miles
  • I wasn't focused on a time goal. I knew I wanted to be in the 1:38-1:39 range, but I knew there were many factors at play
  • I realize that part of my success was that "everything came together."  The weather was ideal (low 30's, no wind), the course was fast, and I was in the best shape of my life. I need to keep in mind that races like these are the exception, not the rule, and not to always expect things to be like this in the future.

I'm thrilled with my PR by 4:07. I earned every single second and I had a blast doing it!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Boo! Run for Life 10K - Like a Hurricane!

On Thursday of this week, I had pretty much decided that I was going to bail on my 10K this weekend. A hurricane on the order of magnitude of Sandy was coming through, and the forecast called for lower 60's, heavy rain, and 25 mile per hour winds, if not more. Several local races were canceled because of this forecast, including the Wilson Bridge half marathon.

I just didn't see the need to put myself through those kinds of conditions, so I was prepared to do a long run with some speed work inserted in it instead.

But on Friday, the forecast turned, and it was determined that Hurricane Joaquin would not be hitting the Washington DC metro area. Instead, we'd receive rain and wind throughout the weekend. Further, the temperature dropped down to a more reasonable 58 degrees, which was much more attractive. So I decided that I would run the race as originally planned.

In terms of weather, I was mentally prepared for wind and potentially some light rain. I've run in far worse conditions and Hains Point (where the race was held) is almost always windy anyway.

Last week, I ran a set of 5 x 1600m repeats on the track with 400m recoveries, with paces ranging
from 6:56 to 7:04. This workout made me optimistic that I could set a small 10K PR, and run the race at a pace of 7:00-7:05.

Before the race
I was pleasantly surprised to find my friend Vanessa before the race started. We'd been "virtual" friends for the past five years and hadn't really interacted in person since the days of us being Pacers Ambassadors together.

I warmed up for just under 2 miles, and before I knew it, it was time for the race to start. I noticed that there weren't nearly as many people running it as there were last year. Maybe some people decided to stay home because of the weather. I actually thought that the race might draw a larger crowd due to other local races being canceled.
Mile 1

Vanessa and I chatted at the start line, just up until it was time to take off.

Miles 1-2 (7:02, 7:03)
Last year, I ran the first half mile at a sub-7:00 pace which reminded me that it was really easy to start this race too fast. I intentionally held back and in doing so still ended up with a 7:02 first mile. I was really hoping that I could maintain that pace for the entire race, even with the wind. Mile 2 was 7:03, and while it wasn't easy, things still felt controlled and manageable. At some point during the second mile, a runner (who was running toward me on the course, but not a part of the race) told me that I was the second female, which I sort of knew, but wasn't entirely certain of. I was hopeful that I could maintain that spot throughout the entire race.

Miles 3-4 (7:08, 7:00)
I knew that mile 3 would be tough. The wind was coming out of the northeast, and the direction of the course was running directly into that headwind. Being mentally prepared for this helped me tremendously. I told myself that I needed to push harder because of the wind, but that things would get better once I turned around. And sure enough, when I turned around, things got a lot better and I had a tailwind to aid me to my fastest mile of the race in 7:00.

Heading toward the finish line
Miles 5-6 (7:06, 7:08)
At this point, I knew that I would PR if I just held onto what I had. My average pace so far was 7:04, and if I could just hang in there and not slow down, I knew I would do it. With just 2 miles to go, I reminded myself of how much I wanted this. I knew I would be thinking about the race all day, and I wanted my thoughts to be "I ran my hardest" not "I wish I would have pushed harder." With that in mind, I pushed even harder than I had been previously, which was needed due to the headwind. The wind didn't get really bad until the last mile, at which point it was like being slapped in the face. I was actually grateful that the wind hadn't been all that bad up until this point. I looked down at my Garmin and saw that my pace was slowing and I mustered everything I had to get that last mile under 7:10.

The last 0.2 (6:29 pace)
With the finish line in sight, I told myself to start my final kick early. I usually have an amazing final kick and then I wish I had started it sooner. I told myself that if I wasn't able to maintain that pace all the way to the finish, at least I would have gotten the benefit of that speed early on. When the clock came in sight, I saw that it still said 43:xx. I wanted so badly to break 44 and I could feel the adrenaline pushing me through the finish in 43:56.  

After the race
I met up with Vanessa, who had come in first. It was a great day for both of us! My coach wanted me to run an extra 60 minutes after the race, which was a tall order, but Vanessa agreed to run with me
Vanessa and me
which made it much more manageable. We ended up running just under 45 minutes so as not to miss the awards ceremony. Special thanks to Greg who came to cheer me on and take these photos, who had to wait an additional 45 minutes for me to do this extended cool down!

When we returned, the race organizers were breaking everything down and it looked as if we might have missed the awards. We asked about it and they said that they weren't doing an awards ceremony because they thought people wanted to leave due to the weather. This struck me as odd. It wasn't that cold (56 degrees) and yes it was windy-- but there have been far worse race conditions where the awards ceremony still went on! I didn't care all that much, but it was weird that they wouldn't give us our awards even when we asked for them. They didn't think anyone would stick around, but the top two female finishers certainly did!

Final thoughts
I'm so glad I didn't bail on this race because of the forecast! I ended up being pretty good race weather. I'll take some wind over hot and humid any day. The fact that I was able to break my already-solid 10K PR is a testament to both my fitness level and the mental skills I've been working on: don't set limitations for myself, don't create self-fulfilling prophecies, and don't shy away from racing in tough conditions.

Now that I know I can run a 10K at a pace of 7:04, I'm very confident in my ability to shatter my half marathon PR in two weeks. I'm so glad I did this race, pushed hard, and broke 44:00 in the 10K for the first time ever!

Photo by Gregory M. Clor

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dulles Runway 5K

It doesn't come much flatter than this.

I admit that I was hesitant to register for the Dulles Airport Runway 5K. It seemed a little wonky to hold a 5K on a runway, and I wasn't thrilled about running on a concrete surface. I also thought it could be warm since there would be no shade on the runway. That said, this race fit nicely into my overall schedule, and it was flat.

My coach was really impressed with my summer 5K progress. I had run several hot and hilly 5Ks at paces that were very close to my PR. He wanted to see what I could do on a flat course in cool weather. I am signed up for my annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, but he thought doing something
Near the start line, before the race
sooner would be good. I knew that this weekend still had the potential to be warm, but I am running a 10K in two weeks, followed by a half marathon two weeks after that, so this weekend seemed like the best choice.

Initially, I thought I had a decent shot at running a PR. I thought that a pace of 6:50 would be realistic, and I ran a workout on Tuesday morning that indicated 6:50 or faster was within my grasp. But it was over 10 degrees cooler on Tuesday.

Before the Race
One of the cool things about this race is that you walk through the Smithsonian Air and Space museum to get out onto the course. I had been to this museum several times in the past, but it was still nice to walk through it. I started my warm up shortly after arriving, which proved to be a challenge. Because of the high level of security, we were not allowed to warm up on the course, which meant running back and forth and back and forth on a quarter-mile stretch.

I used the warm up to get a sense of how running on concrete would feel and it definitely felt different. Not dramatically so, but I didn't feel as "bouncy" as I normally do when running. I even wore shoes that were slightly more cushioned than I would typically wear in a 5K to minimize the impact.(Elixirs instead of Sayonaras, for you shoe geeks.)

After warming up, I met up with one of my co-workers who was also running this race. She had run it in the past and I told her I was doing it this year, and suggested that she run it too. It was great to see her and she was in high spirits. After chatting with her for awhile, I did a little bit more of a warm up and then lined up fairly close to the front of the race. I started scoping out the competition.

In terms of award structure, this race was abnormal. It was being managed by =PR= from a course and timing perspective but I am guessing the race organizers (not =PR=) setup the award structure. There was a huge award for the first place male and female-- a round trip flight to anywhere in the
U.S. from United. And there was no award or recognition of the 2nd or 3rd overall finisher.  In terms of age groups, they were split up into groups of 19-30, 31-40, and 41-50. Typically, age groups are
20-29, 30-39, 40-49. This meant I was competing against 40-year-olds vs. 30-year-olds, which I didn't really care about, but was atypical.

The start line
In terms of age group awards, only the top two finishers were recognized, as opposed to the top three. So, not only were they cutting out awards for 2nd and 3rd place overall, but also for 3rd place age group. At the start line, I looked around and noticed at least two other women who looked to be competitive runners in my age group.

It was 64 degrees and sunny with 95% humidity. The course was only shaded for the first quarter mile and last quarter mile. The majority of the race was not shaded (it's a runway after all). I decided to continue with my plan of running a 6:50 pace, since I had been performing pretty well in the heat all summer.

Mile 1- 6:55
The race started and I eased into it. Usually I bolt out really quickly during the first minute with everyone else, but I didn't do that this time. The first time I looked at my Garmin, about three minutes in, I noticed I was running a 7:02 pace and told myself to pick it up. It kind of felt like we were running on a slight incline, and that suspicion was later confirmed by my Garmin data. It was one of those situations where it looked completely flat, but it was a slight incline which made it just a tad harder to run at goal pace. I used the first mile to settle into my pace. My main observations were that I did not at all like the concrete and that it was hot. I didn't feel like I had a bounce to my step and the humidity felt icky. I told myself to keep a positive attitude and to continue to push hard.

Mile 2- 6:55
It definitely was cool running on the runway, but more challenging than you might expect. Probably because I just wasn't used to it. I was used to hilly neighborhood roads with some shaded areas. It was kind of like running on a track, but with a much firmer surface. I was looking forward to the turnaround point because it's always mentally easier to be running toward the finish line and to know the race is halfway done. In terms of passing people, I had passed a few people in the first mile, but
Running toward the finish line
during the second mile I was holding a steady place. Nobody passed me and I think I may have only passed one person. There was a woman about 10 seconds ahead of me who I had my sights on for the entire race. I wasn't sure if I would be able to catch her or not because we seemed to be running a similar pace-- only she was up ahead of me.

Mile 3- 6:52
I was definitely ready for the race to be over at this point. I felt strong, but I also felt like the humidity was making things tough. One we reached the last quarter mile, which was shaded, I also started to feel like I was running a decline. This confirmed my initial suspicion that the course wasn't 100% flat. It was nice to have a little bit of relief in the shade and the decline, so I sped up slightly, simply by maintaining the effort level.

Last 0.13: 6:24 pace
My finish line kick was strong enough for me to feel great about it, but not so fast that I felt like I could have run the whole race faster. There's that window where you want to feel like you can really hammer it in, but if you go REALLY fast, then you start to think you had too much left. My pace for a 400m is 6:00, so this 6:24 was significantly faster than the rest of the race, but not to the extent of my 400 pace.

Progress Analysis
I stopped my watch just after crossing the finish line and it read 21:33. Just 4 seconds off of my PR! When I checked the official results, they had me at 21:35, which was a little annoying, because I know I started and stopped my watch exactly when I crossed.

According to my Garmin, my average race pace was 6:54, which is the fastest it's been all summer. Even though I was hoping to run a PR, I am still very pleased with how I did.
  • I paced the race well, with a slight negative split
  • My PR of 21:29 was set with temperatures in the low 40's-- ideal weather for me, so running within 4 seconds of that for a much warmer race is significant
  • Given that I'm not used to running on concrete and I think it felt harder (in both senses of the word) I stayed strong
I was the 5th overall female out of 785! Oddly, that won me no official awards. Two of the women who finished ahead of me were in the 31-40 age group, and one of them was a 40-year-old.

Below is a recap of my 5K races year-to-date. This is my longest focused effort on the 5K, and hopefully when I run the Turkey Trot, the trend of progress will continue.

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid
 Crime Solvers, 8/1 
 71, sunny, a little humid
 Dulles Runway, 9/19 
 64, sunny, humid

Thanks to my husband, Greg, for coming to support me and taking all of the wonderful photos!