Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saving Time, Gas, and Money with a 20-miler

Last night, Greg and I celebrated the five-year anniversary of our first date! And the first time we met in person (we met online a few weeks prior).

To celebrate he took me out to a nice dinner in the city. I work just minutes outside of Washington DC, and he works about 30 miles outside of it. When he left work, he drove to the metro, parked, and took the metro to my office. From there, we took the metro into the city. Dinner was wonderful. He surprised me with a beautiful pair of earrings and a necklace. I certainly had not been expecting a gift!

Afterwards, we took the metro back to my office, where my car was parked and drove home. We figured we'd pick up his car the next day since we were both so tired and wanted to get home as soon as possible.

This morning, a thought popped into my head and I said to Greg: "Do you want to find a way to run to your car?" He immediately and enthusiastically replied "Yes!" I knew that the car was actually only 10-11 miles away, but we could surely find a way to get there in 20.

I logged onto MapMyRun, hypothesizing that taking the W&OD trail into Vienna would yield about 20 miles. Greg and I used to do all of our runs on this trail before we moved to our house. Now, our house is about 9 miles away from the nearest trail entrance, so in order to run on it, we have to drive to it. However,
Running all over Northern Virginia to retrieve Greg's car at the end
since we wouldn't be returning back to the house, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to run to the trail and take it to our final destination.

Sure enough, the route was almost exactly 20 miles. The only challenge was making sure that the connection from the Fairfax County Parkway to the W&OD trail  had a sidewalk. Greg used the street view feature of Google maps to inspect the road we needed to take and with just a few alterations to my original route, found a way that was completely accessible via sidewalk.

This was going to be such an adventure! All we carried with us were our water bottles, energy gels, $20 cash, a credit card, and the keys to Greg's car. If anything happened, we'd be prepared! It was going to be sunny and on the warmer side, so we'd rely on water fountains and fast food joints to re-fill our water bottles.

Miles 1-4: From our house in Chantilly to the Fairfax County Parkway
This was very familiar territory. We usually do the entirely of our long runs through these neighborhoods and were thankful for a change. We stopped at a McDonald's at mile 3 to refill our water bottles. There wasn't much to refill but since we knew we wouldn't have another opportunity for awhile, we took it.

Miles 5-9: The Fairfax County Parkway, from Fairfax to Reston
Most of these miles were shaded, and the terrain was rolling hills. There is basically a path right next to a major high-way like road.

Miles 10-12: Reston Parkway
This was completely new to us. We'd run on the Fairfax County Parkway path before, but never through these Reston neighborhoods and the Reston Parkway. It was hilly! This entire route was actually far more challenging than what we typically train on. We found a shopping center with a Subway where we refilled our water bottles.

Miles 13-18: W&OD Trail from Reston to Vienna
We were back on familiar ground on this trail. The first portion was a nice, steady downhill, but the last 2-3 miles were on a slight incline, directly into the sun. That's when it started to get hard. Greg and I were both pretty happy with how well our legs were holding up, but the sun and the rising temperatures was something we hadn't acclimated to yet. This part seemed to go on forever and we were anxious to get to the end where we knew a water fountain would be.

Miles 19-20.5: 123 and Nutley Street, from downtown Vienna to the metro station
We ran on the sidewalk of 123 in Vienna which was a welcome change of direction from the sun. It was so exciting to finally turn onto Nutley street and be so close to the metro. As we approached the metro, we ran through its overpass to cross highway 66 and when we came out on the other end, our Garmins read 20.5. It was quite the finish line!

This run was great for so many reasons!

  • It was nice to be running to a destination instead of running around in circles like we typically do
  • It was exciting to explore areas where we had never run
  • It was cool to run from our house to the W&OD trail where we used to always run
  • We saved the time and hassle of having to get Greg's car later
  • We also saved energy and gas money of using my car to get his car
  • We both stayed strong, even when it got hot and sunny at the end
  • Our legs held up great, coming off of the Cherry Blossom last weekend
  • This run brought me to 54.5 miles for the week (and I plan to run tomorrow!)
  • I practiced my nutrition/hydration strategy for the marathon and my stomach held up great!
We don't have any more 20-milers this season, but once we start training for our fall marathon, we plan to do this again, complete with a nice dinner in the city the night before!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Trusting and Pushing: Cherry Blossom 10-miler Report

This morning I ran my 5th Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I used this race to practice some of the things I mentioned in my post about pushing past limits in order to get myself to the next level.

Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite race distance is, I say "the 10-miler". It's short enough so that
the pain isn't horribly prolonged, but it's long enough where you don't feel like you are about to die for the entire duration of the race. I've also raced consistently well at the 10-mile distance and I feel like it's my "sweet spot" in terms of performance. In my first few years of running, I would set 10K PRs during 10-mile races.

I had a few goals for this race. The primary one was to see how much I could push myself. The weather was going to be ideal (low 40's and sunny), so there would be no unknowns there, and I knew the course, so this would be the perfect chance to really test my limits in terms of pushing. Of course, I always go into races
wanting to push my hardest, but I've never really focused on it so heavily beforehand. I've usually focused more on the time goal and not my effort level. In the two weeks leading up to the race, I thought a lot about the mental strategies I would need to use to push hard when things got tough. I remembered all the mantras I have used in past races to keep strong and I visualized myself during the last 3 miles pushing hard instead of giving in.

Cherry Blossom 2013
My other goals were to go into the race relaxed and well-hydrated and run the tangents. In terms of a time
goal, I wanted to beat my PR of 1:15:52 from 2012 and ideally get under 1:15. I tried to do this last year, but it was extremely windy during miles 7-9, so I ended up with a 1:16:10. This year, I was fairly confident in my ability to run a sub-7:30 pace, but just barely, and I know that this course always runs long on my Garmin. I suspected I would be able to run a sub 7:30 pace, but I didn't know if that would necessarily equate to a 1:14: xx.

My training in the week leading up to the race was solid. I ran 10 easy miles on Monday, 6 x 800m on Tuesday (7 total), rested on Wednesday, and then did some easy running on Thursday and Friday. My running felt good all week and I felt ready. Even though I am in the middle of marathon training, I prefer to look at my training as not just centered around one race. If I do, it puts too much pressure on me for that race. I didn't see Cherry Blossom as a tune-up for the sake of marathon fitness, but a race in and of itself to be prepared for and raced to my full ability.

Before the Race
I slept about as well as can be expected the night before the race. I woke up several times during the night wondering what time it was, but overall, I think I got about 6-7 quality hours. Greg and I woke up at 5:15 with a goal of leaving the house at 6:00. It turns out that this wasn't enough time to eat our breakfast, go to the bathroom, get dressed, and get all of our stuff together. I'm including this so that I know to wake up earlier next year! We ended up leaving the house at 6:15, and we were so rushed that Greg didn't bring his driver's license and neither of us brought money. We had our metro cards, but I wasn't even sure how much money was on mine.

Normally a situation like this would have made me a bit anxious, but instead I found it thrilling. We drove to the metro station knowing that we'd end up in DC without money or ID and only the metro cards to get back. It actually helped distract me from thinking about the race. We were also later than I wanted to be, so I was worried that we wouldn't have enough time to use the porta potties.

It turns out, we did not have enough time for that, but it was fine because we didn't need to anyway, which is a first. We got into our corral with about 15 minutes to spare, which is what I planned for, since the corrals get really crowded.

Miles 1-4
As the race started, I felt really relaxed. I was excited to finally be there as I had been anticipating this race for the past few weeks. In the spirit of pushing hard, I didn't want to look at the Garmin too much initially. I told myself to trust my experience with the 10-mile distance, and that I would know what the appropriate pace felt like. Trust. I repeated that to myself over and over during the beginning. Trust your training. Trust you can push hard for the whole race. Trust that you won't blow up. Trust your experience. I didn't look at my Garmin until it beeped for the first mile. 7:37. A little slower than planned, but better too slow than too fast. I figured I had 9 miles to get the pace down.

Mile 2 was over a bridge which included a slight uphill and then slight downhill, and then repeated as we turned back around on it. The pace was feeling challenging, but I told myself that it should feel hard for the entire 10 miles. It's not like a marathon that feels easy during the first hour or so. Again, I avoided the Garmin because I didn't want to be discouraged by a slow pace, or freaked out by a fast pace.

I carried a water bottle for the first four miles, and it felt great to finally toss it aside and have my hands free. I also didn't want to over-drink. I think I've made the mistake of drinking too much during races, resulting in cramping. I had hydrated well beforehand and I drank a good amount during miles 1-4, so I felt confident tossing the bottle and not having any more water for the last six miles.

Mile 1: 7:37
Mile 2: 7:26
Mile 3: 7:19
Mile 4: 7:15

Miles 5-7
I only looked at my Garmin when it beeped for the mile. I wanted to run by feel and not slow down or speed up based on my pace. I looked at the overall time when I crossed the 5-mile mark, and it was 37:24. I was on track for my sub-1:15 and feeling great.

There was also a timing mat for the 10K mark, which I hit at 46:33. That's a good 10K time! I thought to myself that I probably could have set a nice PR in the 10K distance today.

Mile 6 is always challenging in this race because there are a few hills and things start to hurt a lot more-- and yet you aren't really close to the finish. I always dread mile 6 of this race, but things tend to get easier when we reach Hains point at mile 7. We ran around a lot of curves during the 7th mile, and I was longing for the road to just be straight so I wouldn't have to focus on tangents. I started repeated "run to mile 7" over and over again to myself. This got rid of the negative thoughts that were starting to enter my mind. It worked so well that when I passed the mile 7 marker, I kept repeating it! I laughed at myself a bit, but the mantra was working.

Mile 5: 7:24
Mile 6: 7:36
Mile 7: 7:24

Miles 8-10
I couldn't believe I still had three miles to go. It seemed impossible and I was ready for the race to be done. I started envisioning myself dropping out at various points, which is a thought that always crosses my head
Photo by Cheryl Young
during races. I told myself to push and trust. I kept reminding myself that this was my chance to really see how hard I could push. After thinking about this for weeks, here it was-- the time when I wanted to push hard despite how tired I was feeling.

During the 9th mile there was a bit of an unexpected headwind. It wasn't horrible, but definitely noticeable, given that I was already feeling so worn out at that point. It also felt like a slightly uphill mile. But maybe I was just really tired. I glanced down at the Garmin a few times and noticed my pace was significantly slower and I was at risk for not meeting my goal. I told myself that the pain was just temporary, it would be over soon. Now was not the time to give in, after pushing so hard for the first 8 miles.

We finally hit mile 9 and had just one mile left! It was so hard! The last mile includes the biggest hill of the race and I used every ounce of energy I had to push up it. I finally reached the top, my Garmin beeped 10 miles, and then I ran a downhill stretch to the finish line.

Mile 8: 7:31
Mile 9: 7:40
Mile 10: 7:47
Last 0.7: (5:51 pace)

The Finish and Beyond
I felt like death immediately after crossing and knew that I did push past limits. I beat my PR from 2012 by 26 seconds, with an official time of 1:15:26. According to my Garmin, my average pace for the run was 7:29, which is pretty much what I predicted-- with the official race pace being a 7:32.

I found Greg about a minute after crossing, but I wasn't able to speak to him for a few minutes. We went immediately to the metro station without stopping for food or socializing, as we were both eager to be home. Fortunately, we made it back to our car without needing money or IDs! I have to say that one of the accomplishments of the day was how efficient we were at getting in and out of the city. No baggage check, no post-race food, no socializing- just the race and back home.

I placed 377 out of 10,548 women.
I placed 41 out of 1,597 in my age group (F 35-39).

I was excited to be in the top 2.5% in my age group!

Getting super data-focused, I could see this as my second "fastest" race ever. Looking at the McMilllan running calculator, the only distance where I have run a faster equivalent is the 5K.

McMillan pace equivalents

I was really pleased with my performance on this one. I achieved all of my goals: I went into the race feeling relaxed, I pushed hard when things got tough, and I ran a sub-7:30 pace. I know that my previous 10-mile PR was pretty solid, so at this stage in my running career, I don't expect to be setting huge PRs. I'm thankful to be getting faster slowly but surely, and that the 10-mile distance continues to be one where I excel.

Photo by  Cheryl Young

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pushing Past Limits

I've heard the phrase "pushing past limits" over and over again throughout my running career. Whether it comes up in the blogs I read, on Facebook posts, in running magazines or during in-person conversations with other runners, it's a very common theme.

I've never given the phrase much thought and honestly it's always seemed cliche. But now I am starting to really think about what it means to push beyond one's limits.

Shamrock half marathon 2014
I'm at the stage in my running where PRs will be few and far between. I've run 100+ races over the course of 8 years, with over 10,000 training miles and I'm starting to question if I am at my peak, or if I still have the potential to run faster.  Greg pointed out that it's only within the past year that I have truly addressed my mental pillar and I'm finally starting to arrive at races well rested and relaxed. Mental limits can be the most difficult to identify and break through, and I think I am making great strides there.

I think my next challenge is pushing past my pain tolerance during races. I always think I push myself as hard as possible, because racing always hurts so much, but then I wonder if there is a certain amount of pain that is familiar to me during races, and if I push past that, I would fear blowing up and not being able to sustain it. And therefore, I am afraid to run past a certain pain threshold.  I think most runners (well, I guess all runners) have this threshold, but I think I can push mine farther.

I know that Greg's tolerance and pain threshold far exceeds mine because he races much faster than he trains and it takes him a few days longer than me to recover. A common line of his is "I had no business running that race as fast as I did." We often wonder that if it was his mind running in my body, how fast I would be.

No matter how a race goes for me, my final kick is always very strong (usually over a mile per minute faster than average race pace).  I almost always have plenty of gas left for that last quarter mile or so. I'm just afraid to turn it on until the very end, when I no longer fear a blow-up.

I am making progress here, as I have been thinking about this topic for the past several months. When I ran the Shamrock half marathon and the GW Birthday 10K, I could see the finish line from about half a mile away. In both cases, I pushed hard early and was in that "I know I can't sustain this" zone longer than I usually am.  One of my goals for my next few races will be to push past my pain tolerance without the fear of a blow-up. To truly trust my training and realize that my limiting factor is my mind, not my body.

Peak Week
I haven't posted any training updates this year, and I typically blog about my "peak week" of training for a marathon. This Missisauga Marathon is on May 4, and this past week was my peak in terms of mileage.  Next week I will taper for and run the Cherry Blossom, and the week after that will include some recovery time.

I've gotten my hip under control with daily foam rolling and strengthening exercises. I've been extremely diligent about this and as a result my hip is now pain free. I did take 5 days off pre-Shamrock earlier this month to rest the hip, but since then, I have been running on it consistently with no additional time off.

Monday: 10 miles
10 Miles easy on the Mt. Vernon trail before work. It was in the mid 20's and windy, which made for a very cold run. I think record low temperatures were set that morning. Can't winter just end already!?

Tuesday: 8 miles with intervals
It started snowing about halfway through this workout, but I kept going. I knew it would probably start snowing on me, but I've had to miss quite a few track workouts this season due to a snow-covered track, and I really wanted to get this one in before anything accumulated. I warmed up for just over two miles and ran the following intervals, with 1/2 distance recovery jogs:
1600m (6:56)
1200m (5:05)
800m (3:17)
800m (3:17)

These are pretty typical paces for me. I followed it up with a cool down run for 8 miles total.

Wednesday: Rest day
Rest days are important! I still did my foam rolling and hip exercises.

Thursday: 9 miles with 5 tempo
Greg and I warmed up for 2.5 miles, ran 5 at tempo pace, and then cooled down for 1.5 miles. I think record low temperatures must have been set again, as it was only 20 degrees with a "real feel" in the teens.
Mile 1: 7:30
Mile 2: 7:35
Mile 3: 7:26
Mile 4: 7:17
Mile 5: 7:12

This is an average pace of 7:24.  I would love to run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler at that pace next weekend! I try to run my tempos at 10-mile race pace, so we'll see if I can execute on this.

Friday: 8 miles
An easy 8-miler with Greg, and finally the temperature was above freezing.

Saturday: 16 miles with 10 at marathon pace
This is a workout that my coach recommends and that I have done several times before, although none during this cycle. Considering I ran a 5-mile tempo on Saturday, I knew that I would need to keep the marathon pace miles at marathon pace and no faster. So how do I determine marathon pace for a workout like this? Based on my recent race times and paces for other workouts, marathon pace ends up being between 8:10-8:15. Do I actually think I will run the marathon at that pace? Maybe. It's workouts like these that help give me the confidence to believe I can execute.

Miles 1-2 (easy)
Miles 3-6: 8:11, 8:12, 8:17, 8:15
Mile 7 (easy)
Miles 8-10: 8:08, 8:04, 8:16
Mile 11 (easy)
Miles 12-13: 7:54, 7:40 -- I got a little carried away here.
Mile 14 (easy)
Mile 15: 8:01
Mile 16 (easy)

I felt really strong at the end and went faster than planned.  The average pace for the "marathon pace" miles was 8:06.  I felt strong throughout and my legs didn't get tired.

Sunday: 6 easy
It was 40 degrees, rainy and windy. Just miserable weather! However, I had a few friends running marathons and half marathons, so I didn't feel too badly for myself. I am in total awe of anyone who raced this morning.  Anyway, my legs felt great this morning, and I didn't have any noticeable affects from the marathon pace run.

Total mileage for the week = 57.

I'm feeling great about my training and I need to remind myself that training is just one piece of the marathon puzzle. It's the preparation. It's me doing my best to be prepared for whatever race day brings. It won't guarantee me a particular time. It will, however, give me the confidence of knowing that if I decide to push past my typical pain threshold, my body will not give out on me.

In the meantime, I've been taking this training cycle "one week at a time" focusing on immediate goals and not looking at everything as training for just one thing. Cherry Blossom is my current focus and I'm excited to see what happens next weekend.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shamrock Half Marathon: Breezy, Brutal, Beautiful

This morning I ran the Shamrock half marathon in Virginia Beach. And it was hard.

I had fond memories of this race from 2009, where I surprisingly smashed my PR by over 4 minutes. I was hoping for some Shamrock magic this year too.

I went into this race well-trained and optimistic. I had been logging 45-55 mile weeks for the 2 months or so, with some quality tempo run thrown in there. Due to weather and travel, I hadn't been able to access a track so my intervals were lacking, but I figured those weren't as important as tempos for half marathon prep. Based on some of my workouts, I was very confident in my ability to PR, and hopefully even break 1:40.

The biggest unknown going into the race was my hip. For the past three weeks, it has felt sore toward the end of long runs, and finally last weekend it really kicked in. I felt it just three miles into a recovery run and decided I needed to rest it. I did zero running Monday-Wednesday, and did a 2-mile test run on Thursday. It was fine on Thursday, but then it acted up again on Friday's 2-miler. So going into the race I didn't know a) if my hip would be okay or if it would hurt and b) if missing a whole week of training directly before the race would impact my fitness.

My mental preparation was fairly strong. I got plenty of sleep in the week leading up to the race (well. . .except for two nights before-- but that wasn't due to pre-race jitters). I felt calm, cool and collected at the start line. I didn't even check the weather every day leading up to the race like I used to do.  Only a few times, and I certainly didn't worry about the forecast. The morning of the race, Greg's weather app indicated 15 MPH winds, but I chose to ignore it and I told myself it wasn't going to be that bad. Thus, I wasn't mentally prepared for wind.

I used to go into obsessive mode the week before a race, but this week, I just felt normal. I made sure to eat well (with the exception of the large piece of s'mores pie on "pi day" at work) and hydrate, but I didn't obsess over these things.

Before the Race
On Friday, when I went for my 2-mile "test run" my Garmin stopped working. It had been acting up for a few days with the battery indicating a full charge, but then going to 0% by the end of the run. Classic symptoms of a dead battery. So on Friday, I stopped into my local running store to purchase the Garmin 220. I know you aren't supposed to do anything new on race day, but I wanted to have a functioning Garmin, and I figured I had enough time to learn how to use this new model. Previously, I had the 405.

I played around with it, and adjusted the screens to the data I like to see when running. I like the "lap pace" to be displayed largely, because I think that's the most important metric when racing, so I gave it its own screen. On the other screen I displayed distance, total time, and total average pace.

Greg I drove down to Virginia Beach on Saturday morning and got to the expo just after 10:30. This race is
At the expo in my bridal shower attire.
notorious for never having the shirt size I reserve. I always request an XS, and it's always gone by the time I get there. And they are not gender specific, so a men's small tends to be too large for me. Anyway, when I walked up to get my shirt, they said "the XS shirts are running small, so would you like a Small instead?" I said no, and looked at the shirt, and it was plenty big. Greg then later theorized that they probably realize that they always run out of XS, so they try to get XS selectors to take the Small size instead. Ha. Didn't work on me. :-)

One of my friends who lives there was conveniently having her bridal shower that day, so after the expo, I dropped Greg off at the hotel and headed to her shower. I found myself fully engaged in the conversation at the shower and focused on the bride-to-be and not at all thinking about the race. I think that previously I would have been so nervous that I might not have enjoyed the shower as much.

The morning of the race, things went as they always did. Bagel with peanut butter, plenty of water, bathroom, getting dressed, attaching the bib, etc. We left the hotel about 30 minutes before race start, and walked just a few blocks to the start line.

It was windy and cold (45 degrees) at the start line. Greg and I shivered in the corral and ditched our throwaway shirts a few minutes before the start. I still wasn't worried about the wind. I knew that the wind would be coming from the northeast, which meant it should be easy for the second half. What I didn't realize was that there would be a 2-mile portion of the course at the curvy turnaround that headed directly into the northeast. I saw a few of my teammates on the other side of the corral but decided to stay put as I like to run my own race.

Miles 1-4
My race strategy was to start out in the low 7:40's for the first three miles and then speed up from
Happy first mile, photo by Cheryl Young

there. However, I didn't want the Garmin to run the race for me-- I wanted to run based on feel. The first mile was a little slower than expected, but I didn't worry. I figured that I didn't have a warm up, so it would be good to ease into the race.

Everything felt great, as it tends to do at the beginning of a half marathon. I was confident in my plan and my preparation. The hip was pain-free, and I was so relieved that I didn't have to deal with that. It was unfortunate that I missed a week of training, but at least I was able to run without it hurting.

The course was flat and not windy. The temperature felt good. Everything was going according to plan and I was excited. The new Garmin was working great and I was happy with my choice of display screens! I took my first gel at mile 4 and it went down well.

Mile 1: 7:54
Mile 2: 7:49
Mile 3: 7:43
Mile 4: 7:39

Miles 5-9
I had this nice, gradual acceleration going and I felt like I could keep accelerating and feeling strong. Mile 5 was faster than mile 4, and mile 6 was pretty good. Mile 7 started out great. But then-- boom! At the end of the 7th mile we turned directly into a 15 MPH headwind, with 25 MPH gusts. I figured I would just draft off of other people, but they kept running too fast for me. I noticed that my pace had slowed down significantly and most people around me were passing me. I think that's what was mentally the most difficult thing about this race. Nobody else seemed to slow down here, or at least not to the extent that I did. I didn't have anyone to draft off of because there were going to fast. I tried and pushed hard, but it was a really tough battle.

I just felt like this tiny little body, fighting this huge force and failing. I tried to keep a positive mindset. I told
LOL- people drafting off of ME!!!
myself to just keep running, no matter what, keep pushing, and that it would eventually end. I started feeling like I was just going to bonk and they wave of "I feel horrible" overcame me. Which is not good news during mile 8!  I decided to take my second honey gel, mainly so I could drink water with it and then toss my water bottle (I always carry a disposable hand-held during races). With my water bottle gone, I figured I would feel more "free" to push and really exert myself.

Slowing down to take the honey was a bad idea. I lost my momentum, I didn't get all of the honey in my mouth, my hands got all sticky. I was jut in a bad place. I poured water on my hands, wiped them on my skirt, ditched the water bottle, and realized that a curve was coming that would hopefully put an end to the wind.

Another thing that just sucked was that my foot fell asleep. It didn't go numb like it has in the past, but it had that tingling-falling-asleep feeling. And it was very difficult to run like this. I was hoping that it was just because of the cold wind hitting it, and that once I got out of the wind, my foot would wake up. My foot was asleep for just over a mile until it finally returned to normal.

Mile 5: 7:36
Mile 6: 7:40
Mile 7: 7:53
Mile 8: 8:07
Mile 9: 8:08

Miles 10-Finish
Once I turned a corner and was out of the wind, I resolved to stay strong and run my fastest. I refused to believe I was "bonking" and that I was just going to get progressively slower. I knew that a PR was probably unlikely, but I was going to salvage this race and run the rest of the miles as close as possible to goal pace.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Young
I was really proud that I turned things around mentally and my speed picked up. I kept reminding myself that I had many high-mileage weeks behind me which meant I could endure at a decently fast pace for a long time. I kept reminding myself that I was physically capable of running in the 7:30's or 7:40's for the rest of the race, so I should do that.

Miles 10 and 11 were smooth sailing, but I started to feel a bit like death during miles 12 and 13. The last mile had some turns where we ran directly into the headwind again, and I felt like it stopped me dead in my tracks. I did not feel good during these miles and I just couldn't wait for the race to end.

About half a mile before the finish, we turned onto the boardwalk. The turning point featured a very strong wind gust, but once I was on the boardwalk and could see the finish, the wind was no longer there and so I gunned it. I was so determined and I felt very strong. I was fighting back for the time I lost in the windy section. I only had about third of a mile left and it wasn't windy so I figured I needed to make the most of this time.

Mile 10: 7:39
Mile 11: 7:38
Mile 12: 7:47
Mile 13: 7:48 (this mile started out in the 8:20's!)
The last 0.1: 6:45 pace

The finish and beyond
My final kick was pretty hard, so I felt destroyed after crossing the finish line. I easily found Greg and some other friends of ours. I ended up crossing in 1:42:24, which was better than I had expected at mile 8!

Greg and I took a very cold walk back to our hotel where we looked up our times, showered, and talked about our races.

Once I started thinking about my time, I felt a pang of disappointment. I really thought I was going to PR. And probably break 1:40. I was in great shape, the weather wasn't hot, I had slept well, and I felt relaxed. Meanwhile, most everyone I know who ran it set a PR. I know, I KNOW I am not supposed to compare myself to other people. But the notion that PRs are extremely rare at my level was totally proved wrong. And, most all of them had negative splits. I felt like I was the only one with a positive split. Everyone else had sped up throughout the race, but I slowed down. And on the windy part, I was passed by tons of people-- it just didn't seem to affect them the way it did me.

I felt very discouraged. I do realize that wind can be tough, and without seeing other people's PRs or the people passing me during the windy sections, I would have been very satisfied with my performance. But I wasn't. I felt like most everyone was able to push through and PR except for me.

My half marathon PR is over three years old. I've done SO much training since October of 2010-- and I
Photo by Cheryl Young
know I am in better shape now, both physically and mentally. Very frustrating that my time isn't budging.

I later had a text message exchange with a friend of mine who totally understood where I was coming from, and reminded me that yes, it can be tough when everyone you train with out-performs you. But she helped me focus on what was important-- that I ran a strong race and pushed through after having that whole hip issue to deal with.

Greg was also very supportive, reminding me that the "old me" probably would have gotten so discouraged by those 8:08 miles that I would have given up. And that previously, if I had run the race with the same level of fitness, I might not have gotten as much sleep, or been as relaxed, or had the mental strength to keep pushing after the wind had taken so much out of me.

Ultimately, yes, I do realize that I have a lot to be proud of. And now, 10 hours after the race, I am "over it" and no longer feel that sinking feeling of disappointment. I know I am capable of running faster, I just didn't do it today. There will be other races, other opportunities.

Here is what I did do:

- After years of not being able to sleep well in the week leading up to the race, I slept straight through the night almost every night.
- I didn't obsess about the race or the outcome beforehand. It was just "what I was doing" that weekend.
- I didn't give up after the windy miles. I pushed hard and got my pace back down to goal pace for the next two miles.
- I had a nice final kick.
- I enjoyed the race. I high-fived someone during the last mile, which I usually never do. I laughed (internally) at a funny spectator comment.
- I ran my second fastest half marathon ever.
- I finished 163rd out of 5,500 women, putting me in the top 2.9% of female finishers.
- Even though most everyone I knew PRed, and it made me feel badly about my race, I worked through the feelings (relatively quickly) and resolved to not let it overshadow everything else. This was probably the hardest part about the day. Harder than the wind even-- overcoming that automatic feeling of disappointment when others around you seemingly out-perform you. It's not easy, and I will continue to work on it.

The "beautiful" from the blog title comes from my custom-made shoes matching my singlet perfectly. And the bib matching the "zebra" verbiage of the shoes.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Casual, Confidence-building 10K

Due to the major snow storm we received on Thursday, I was unsure if I was actually going to run the GW Birthday 10K this morning. I thought the race might get cancelled, or they would hold it anyway but I would be too scared of icy patches to try and run it. The forecast was for 20 degrees with a "real feel" of 13, so I wasn't looking forward to it. And I certainly wasn't expecting any kind of super fast time. I viewed the race as "something I might do this weekend that was probably going to suck because it would be cold and potentially icy."

In the past, a situation like this-- the uncertainty-- would have stressed me out all week. But instead, it was just a "wait and see" type attitude, and I had a plan for what my running schedule would be with or without the race. Zero stress. I'm still new to the "races aren't the most important thing in my life" mentality and I just find it so refreshing that I can focus on so many other things during the week and not have running dominate my mental space. 

I ran this race back in 2009 and I thought it was pretty good. There was a cone placement error that year,
which made the course long, and I think they actually tried to adjust everyone's times to account for it. Back then it made me mad because I didn't have a fully accurate result, but if that happened today I think I would
just shrug it off. I remembered it fairly well (and I actually ran the same course once during a summer race) so I didn't expect any surprises. The benefits of the course is that there are no turns-- it's just a straight out and back, and it's basically flat except for a large hill at the beginning/end and a medium hill at the turnaround. 

My training going into the race had been pretty good. I don't think I am in the best shape of my life like I was last year at this time, but I think I am in a good spot. I was consistently logging 50+ mile weeks last January, and this past January I was in the mid 40's. I ran a really strong 17-miler last weekend and a good set of 8 x 800's on Tuesday, so I felt ready! In terms of a time goal, I thought a PR was possible, although not likely. I was hoping to be somewhere in the 45's and would have also been happy with the 46's. I particularly wanted to beat my Ringing In Hope time from New Year's eve (47:03). 

Before the Race: Wardrobe Conundrum
I think I changed my mind about my outfit about 20 times this morning. The forecast was really messing with me. The actual temperature was 27 degrees at 6:00am, but the hourly forecast for 8:00am said 20 degrees. There's a big difference between 20 and 27, wind or no wind, sun or no sun. So I layered up preparing for 20 degrees and a real feel of 13, but left myself options of taking layers off before the race. In the car on the way there, I realized it would be sunny so I decided to not wear any of my base layers, and just wear one top layer and tights. And during the warmup, I actually wished for a lighter top! I don't know about other people, but the sun makes a huge difference for me. I had my half zip all the way down (just s sports bra underneath) and my sleeves partially rolled up at 27 degrees.  

Greg arrived at the race 45 minutes before the start time, got our bibs, went to the bathroom and warmed up. Everything went smoothly and I felt relaxed. It wasn't until I actually had my bib pinned on that I had the "I'm about to race" feeling. Up until then the race just seemed like a very casual activity. Like going to the park or something. But with my bib on, I felt the adrenaline starting to pump. 

We warmed up for about a mile and a half and I was very interested in checking out the state of the course. Would there be icy patches? And if so, would they be easy to avoid? Turns out that there were icy patches, but they were easy to just run around.

Greg asked me what my pacing strategy was, and I didn't really have one. I wanted to start slow and finish fast, and not look at my Garmin. That was pretty much it.

Miles 1-3
The first half of this race was discouraging. I know I said I wasn't going to look at the Garmin, but I checked it about half a mile in to make sure I hadn't gone out too fast and then since I broke the rule once, it was easy to break again. My friend Allison had told me that the "out" portion was slightly uphill and the "back" portion was slightly downhill. But it seemed pretty flat to me, so I was getting a little discouraged at the paces on my Garmin. However, I didn't let it stop me from putting forth what felt like 10K effort. I didn't try to push harder and then blow up in the second half, so I just stayed steady. 

The icy patches were easy to avoid, except for one where I actually slowed down almost to a walk because there was no way around it. It went straight across the road with no good area to cross. I noticed I was doing a lot of weaving to avoid the other patches, but I figured I would rather have the extra distance than fall flat on my face! 

The first half of the race was definitely hard-- I felt like I was putting forth a lot of effort but not really going very fast. 

Mile 1: 7:29
Mile 2: 7:29
Mile 3: 7:33

Miles 4-6.2
The turnaround was at the top of a hill and it felt so good to be going down the hill and headed straight for the finish. Things immediately turned around mentally. I felt great! Strong! Fast! I was enjoying the race so much more. Allison was right-- the course is definitely more downhill on the way back, despite appearing flat. 

Suddenly it felt like it was my day and a PR was within reach. I didn't calculate the math, but focused on running strong and pushing hard. I passed several people during these last few miles and nobody passed me. I glanced down at the Garmin a few times and the paces were very encouraging and I felt so fit and fast. 

The final hill was tough. Usually I run hills at an even effort level which means slowing down. But since this last hill was so close to the finish line, I tried to maintain my pace up it (or at least slow down just slightly). It was about a quarter mile long and I knew it was all a mental battle. I kept counting my steps in groups of three, focusing on form, staying extremely focused on what I was doing until I finally reached the top. And then I told myself to give it everything I had on the downhill and let the momentum carry me to the finish. 

Mile 4: 7:14
Mile 5: 7:10
Mile 6: 7:13
Last 0.23: 1:31 (6:42) pace 

Finishing Thoughts
After I finished, I found Greg and a few of my teammates. My lungs hurt! I pushed really, really hard at the end and I was super satisfied with that, but man-- my lungs were feeling it. Greg and I did a cool down run, checked the results and then went to Starbucks for a celebratory salted caramel hot chocolate.

I'm really glad I ran this race and I didn't let the weather or fear of an icy course stop me. Here's why:

- Great tuneup race for the Shamrock Half marathon 4 weeks from now
- Gave me an indication of where I am fitness wise so I can put a pacing strategy in place for Shamrock
- Good mental practice of staying strong at the finish and pushing up hills at the end
- Reinforcement that races that start out not feeling so good can transform themselves
- 2nd fastest 10K ever!
- I enjoyed the morning, it was really exciting for me
- I beat my New Year's Eve 10K time by 1:20, which shows a nice fitness gain

My official time was 45:44, which is my second fastest 10K ever, and just 25 seconds off of my PR, which was set on a flat course in 43 degree weather back in 2011.

I am really glad I went out there and raced this 10K. It confirmed what I had suspected-- I am in good shape, and have made significant gains over the past six weeks. I think I will be in even better shape once I consistently start running 50-mile weeks. Given that I haven't had any hint of impending injuries, I am very optimistic about the Shamrock half marathon and the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in April. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Balancing Act

Just over six months ago, I accepted a new job. Before I even started, I had everything planned out for how I would manage a long commute + long hours + high mileage. But then I actually started the job and realized that it wasn't always that simple.

Working from home once a week doesn't happen very often, leaving the office early enough to take the HOV lanes is hit or miss, and the hours are longer than expected. All that being said, I couldn't be happier with where I am in my career-- I don't regret my decision one bit. I love the challenge and the level of responsibility that this position provides. I just have to figure out where and when I can run on a day-to-day basis. I do have a schedule that I try to stick to, but I need to be flexible with it in case something comes up at work that changes things. Factoring in the icy/snowy weather is another variable to consider as well.

Here is what I try to have happen each week:

Monday: Leave my house at 5:20am to meet my friend Allison in Arlington for a 6:00 run. She lives just two blocks from my office, so we have been meeting up and running anywhere from 6-8 miles on Mondays. I don't have any traffic on the way to work, and my commute home just depends on when I can get out of there. Regardless of what time I leave, there is still plenty of work to do when I get home.

Tuesday: This one is easy: intervals with my coach/team. The track is just two miles away from my office, so I leave the house at around 5:30 and don't hit any traffic. It takes about 30-35 minutes to get there and my commute home can be as fast as 45 minutes or as long as 75 minutes, depending on traffic and when I leave.

Wednesday: Rest day, usually. I still wake up early and get into the office at around 7:15 to avoid traffic.
Thursday's tempo run. Feeling strong!

Thursday: Ideally, I would work from home. In reality, I either leave my house really early and do a tempo run on the track in Arlington, or I do the tempo run around my neighborhood, and arrive to work at 9:30, taking the HOV when it opens up at 9:00. The tricky thing is that even with the HOV, there is still a lot of traffic on Thursday mornings, so I could end up spending an hour commuting.

Friday: Easy run at home, leave the house at 8:30 and get into work at 9:15ish. There isn't as much traffic on Friday as there is during the rest of the week so I don't have the problems I have on Thursday.

With this schedule, it all fits in nicely. But it's stressful being on such a tight time table, and having to pack a bag every night and shower in the office locker rooms. Oftentimes I won't get home until after 7:00, at which point I unpack my gym back, repack it, have dinner, answer some emails, eat dinner and go to bed at 9:00ish. There's just not much time to relax or catch my breath. I have to plan out my outfits/jewelry/makeup the night before which doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's not what I want to do when I get home from a long day.

All of this being said- this is a typical schedule and I often have to switch workouts and times and places, depending on my work schedule, the weather, or other factors. Since starting the job, I have yet to run over 45 miles per week. Part of that is because I started the job injured, trained a little for Chicago, recovered from Chicago, ran New York, recovered from New York, and then haven't gotten my mileage up that high since. Running 35-40 miles per week in this framework is completely manageable. I hope that 50+ is manageable too.

Greg has been very supportive. He understands that when I come home from work I still have more work to do, but he misses running with me in the mornings like we used to. I haven't been able to read blogs as much as I would like, or even maintain my own blog to the extent I used to. But I'm okay with it-- I get more satisfaction out of my job than any previous job, so it's totally worth it.

I'll be running the Shamrock half marathon in March followed by the Cherry Blossom in April, and then an early May marathon. I've had some great speed workouts lately but I would like to get the mileage up and start building my endurance again.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

In Memory of James Reily, 100 Miles Strong

On the way home from my Ringing In Hope 10K on New Year's Eve, I received a very disturbing email from my former boss, informing me that that my former colleague and friend, James Reily, had passed away of cancer.

I worked closely with James for about a year at my previous company before leaving in July. He led the inside sales team and I led the marketing programs team. Together, we were responsible for filling the sales pipeline with new opportunities that would grow the business. We had a great mutual respect for each other and held each other accountable for our roles. I committed to generating "x" amount of leads, and he committed to having his team follow up on them within a defined timeframe, so that we would function as a well-oiled machine. We created dashboards to track our progress and we were both data junkies.

I've worked with many sales people throughout my career and he was definitely one of the most passionate and hard-working ones I have encountered. In many organizations, sales and marketing have a somewhat adverse relationship. But at my previous company, James and I were fully aligned and it made for a positive working environment.

My endorsement of James on LinkedIn

In addition to being an inspiring leader and sharp businessman, James was also a highly accomplished runner. Most recently, he completed a 100-mile race, where I tracked his progress on Facebook through the posts his family was making. He also had countless marathons under his belt and at age 39, was still getting faster and stronger.  Last spring, we both decided to run the Chicago marathon because the
James at an aid station during a 100-mile race
inside sales team was located there, and I figured I would make a business trip out of it. We registered at the same time, both experiencing the registration glitches that arose from a high demand of limited slots. We kept IMing back and forth to each other: "Are you in?" "Not yet, still getting this error message".  Eventually we both got into the race and were very much looking forward to it.

"What corral are you in?" I asked. "Corral F," he replied. "Why all the way back there? You should be up in B or something!" I exclaimed over IM. "I figure with Corral F I won't go out too fast," he explained. I thought it was admirable that he was trying something new in an effort to improve. Most runners, myself included, want to be in the fastest corral possible to ensure they don't get stuck behind a bunch of slow people. But not James. He was perfectly fine chilling in corral F and working his way up once he started running. He was also planning on running it with his identical twin brother, Matthew, so that probably played into his decision as well.

I left the company in July but maintained communication with James over Facebook. As the race got closer, he asked me how my training was going. I said it was okay, but I wasn't expecting a great race because I had been injured for 4+ weeks during training. He mentioned that he was just going to take it easy too, and focus on enjoying it. I didn't ask him why-- I just figured that maybe he had gotten injured or maybe didn't have enough time to train as much as he wanted. Chicago came and went and I noticed that James didn't run it. I really wish I had communicated with him about this, but I just assumed he was injured. I had no idea that he had cancer or that anything was wrong with him.  He wished me a happy birthday on Facebook in November and I thanked him and wished him well. That was the last communication I had with him.

Needless to say, I was shocked to learn that he died of cancer so suddenly. He wasn't diagnosed until after I left the company, and I guess he wasn't the type of person to post his struggles on Facebook.

James was 39 years old, and is survived by his wife and two beautiful daughters.

I have decided that I will run the "Ringing In Hope" 10K in honor of him next New Year's eve, and every New Year's eve after that. The race benefits a variety of charities, and I will make a donation each year to a cancer charity in his memory.

To make a donation to benefit Sarcoma Research, visit this site.

James Reily, 1974-2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Windy 10K: A "Process" Race

This afternoon I ran the Ringing In Hope 10K.  I ran this race last year and it was my second-fastest 10K ever (aka a hilly 10K PR). This year, I knew I wasn't going into it as well trained. Last year, I had been
Ringing In Hope 2012
logging 50-mile weeks throughout December, and this year I have averaged in the upper 30's. I would love to be in the same shape now that I was back then, but recovery from back-to-back marathons took awhile so I didn't have time to ramp up like I did last year.

I call this race a "process" race because it wasn't going to be about speed or time. It was going to be about pushing myself, running based on feel (not looking at the Garmin) and finishing strong. I also focused on hydration in the days leading up to the race and nutrition the day of-- which was a challenge for a 1:00pm race. Most importantly, I was running this race for the sake of fun and tradition. Greg and I have been doing this race since it started back in 2010. 

I didn't really know where I was fitness-wise but I was hopeful that I could break 47:00 and fall within a minute of my time from last year.

Before the Race
I kept going back and forth about what to wear. Shorts or capris? The forecast was for 43 degrees and 16 MPH winds, with a "real feel" of 35. If it hadn't been for the wind, I would have gone with shorts. But I didn't want my legs to be too cold and stiff, so I opted for the CW-X capri pants with a short-sleeved Capital Area Runners shirt. 

I looked back at last year's blog to see what I ate and when. This is where keeping a blog really comes in handy! Since I had raced so well last year, I figured I would eat the same thing at the same time. A bagel when I woke up, and then another bagel with peanut butter about 2 hours before the race. Lots of carbs-- maybe too much. But it worked.

Greg and I arrived at the race, picked up our bibs and warmed up. We noticed that the race seemed smaller than in previous years, which was good. The 5K started 10 minutes before the 10K. In all of the email correspondence we received beforehand, the 10K was scheduled to start 15 minutes after the 5K. But they must have realized that this could result in the 5K winner running into a finish line that was packed with 10K starters, since the start line and finish line are the same. In any event, we started 10 minutes after the 5K.

We did a quick warmup, lined up and were running a few minutes later.

Miles 1-2 (7:26, 7:25)
My plan was to not look at my Garmin and race by feel. Since I didn't know what kind of shape I was in and because it was so windy, I didn't want to be married to a particular pace. I know this course like the back of my hand. I knew to expect a long (about 1/2 mile) hill in the first mile and then a fast mile 2. The race started off well, I felt strong and I felt like I was putting forth the appropriate amount of effort. During the second mile, I started running into 5K walkers and joggers. This was annoying, but I knew to expect it. Weaving through small children and walkers was mentally exhausting disrupting to my rhythm, but I did my best to just plow through, keeping my eye on other 10K runners who were going at the same pace as me.

Approaching the finish line
Miles 3-4 (7:44, 7:45)
Mile 3 was tough. This was directly into a headwind and up a hill. Dirt and gravel and stuff came flying at my face and I wasn't wearing sunglasses. It was definitely a physical and mental battle. I knew I was slowing down, but it didn't bother me. I just focused on doing the best I could, knowing that I would soon turn around and not have the strong wind gusts. During the 4th mile, things really thinned out and there were only two other people in my vicinity- both men. Usually I try to pass women in the second half of races as they are my competitors, but there were no women to be seen.

Miles 5-6 (7:26, 7:54, 6:33 pace for the 0.22)
Me and the two guys leap frogged these miles. I kept expecting that they would pull ahead because they were guys, but they didn't. I held my own with them until that last final hill, once again into a headwind. I just couldn't push through it as fast as they could and I let them finish about 5-10 seconds ahead of me. I kept wishing that a mantra would pop into my head like it normally does, but it didn't. I was having a conversation with myself instead, which is fine, but I think I do better if I repeat a mind-numbing mantra over and over. Anyway, the last thing you want at the end of a 10K is a long hill with a 15 MPH headwind. I slowed down, but I stayed strong.

The finish and beyond
In retrospect, I wish I would have looked at my Garmin leading up to the finish line. I was right on the
verge of 47:00 and if I had known that, I think I could have motivated myself to be a few seconds faster. I definitely ran the race as fast as I could until that point, but seeing numbers towards the end of a race always motivates me to pull out every last drop of strength. 

Official finish time was 47:03 (avg. 7:34 pace), which was good for 12th overall female out of 202. I usually win an age group award at this race, but this year my age group was particularly competitive. If I was in my 20's I would have gotten first place, or in my 40's I would have gotten second place. But that's okay- I can't control who shows up and how old they are!

I'm kind of neutral about this race. I am not thrilled, but I am not disappointed. I am satisfied that I ran the best race I could in windy conditions. And it's always fun to keep with traditions. In terms of "process" I did everything right except for maybe I should have peaked at the Garmin at the end. If I can repeat this process when I am better trained and the conditions are more favorable, I know I'll be racing extremely well. I performed to the best of my ability given my preparation (training) and the windy conditions. And that's really all I can ever ask for!

As I look ahead to 2014, I see a lot of question marks. The year feels very uncertain to me for some reason, and I guess I am okay with that. I don't know the extent to which this newish job and long commute will affect my marathon training and how I will be able to balance running, commuting, working, and spending time with Greg. Running used to be front and center in my life and in my mind. And now it's taking up much less space. Supposedly that's a good thing in terms of being more well-rounded and ironically performing better. I guess I'm just adjusting the change.

Happy New Year to my blog readers! I've thankfully had time over the holidays to read some of your blogs, and I hope the continue following them in the future.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nike LunarGlide, San Francisco, Turkey Trot

I haven't been able to blog as much as I would like lately, so this post covers three separate topics.

Nike LunarGlide 5
In May, I decided to re-visit my running shoe situation. Thanks to the 90-day return policy of RoadRunner Sports, I was able to experiment with quite a few different shoes:

  • New Balance 870: I liked the shoe, but I my arches started to hurt after running just one mile.
  • Saucony Mirage: Low heel-to-toe ratio. This shoe bugged my Achilles area
  • Brooks Ravenna: Felt way too bulky. Like running with bricks.
  • Asics 2000: I liked this shoe, but it gave me blisters after 4 miles. 
  • Mizuno Wave Inspire: Too stiff, started to give me a bad pain after 10 miles
  • Brooks Adrenaline: Had been my go-to shoe for years, but the new model made my feet hurt after about 8 miles
With all these changes and experiments, I ultimately ended up getting injured. As I started running again, I posted on the Runner's World forum and asked for advice. I am a mid-foot striker with a narrow foot and mild pronation, looking for a shoe that won't hurt the bottoms of my feet. I was worried that I would not have a shoe to run the Chicago marathon in and I was starting to get nervous. Someone recommended the Nike LunarGlide 5, so I went to RoadRunner Sports and asked to try it.

I ran around the store and immediately fell in love. My feet felt like they were getting a massage. The fit was good, and I absolutely loved the way they felt. I bought them and started wearing them for my long runs. I
I designed these shoes on
was absolutely amazed. When the runs were over, I didn't feel a need to immediately take my shoes off. My feet felt great! I ran the Chicago marathon in them and my feet felt great, and I didn't get injured. 

Best of all, if you go to the website, you can customize this shoe and get it in whatever color combination you want. You can even customize the words on the tongue. My shoes say "Zebra" on one foot and "Power" on the other. They are red, white, and black to match my Capital Area Runners gear. It only costs about $35 extra, so I figured it was worth it to get the shoes to look exactly how I wanted.

I will still wear the Mizuno Wave Elixir for speed work and races that are half marathons and shorter. Don't get me wrong, the Nike would probably serve this purpose fine, but I have been a faithful Elixir wearer for years and I like having two types of shoes I rotate between. The Elixir is actually being discontinued so I purchased a fairly large stock that should last me about 3-4 years.

San Francisco
I went to San Francisco for business in the middle of November. I was there for almost two weeks, so Greg flew out and joined me over the weekend. I'd run in San Francisco a few times before, so I knew exactly how to run to the flattest area of the city-- the Embarcadero. 

The Palace of Fine Arts. We ran through this!
For my birthday, Greg had reserved us a semi-private wine tour of Napa Valley. On the way there, the driver showed us a few of San Francisco's key landmarks. We were blown away by the Palace of Fine Arts, which I had never seen or heard of, even though I had been to San Francisco a number of times in the past. Greg, being more adventurous than I am, was determined to find a way for us to run there the next day. I told him it would be impossible for us to get there without running on some very steep hills (so steep, you can't even run on them) or taking this long route that would be 10 miles. 

He insisted that we could and found a way for us to get there in just over 3 miles. Minimal hills. It was so thrilling to run through this dome. It was almost like being in the Disney World half marathon again. It was also fun running around that general marina area. I had always stuck to the Embarcadero, because it was what I knew. 

I was also lucky to be in San Francisco while we were having unseasonably cold weather back home. It felt good to be running consistently again, after about two months of no training. I tapered for Chicago, recovered from Chicago, ran New York City, and then recovered from that. While in San Francisco, I ran a two-mile tempo run, and it was tough. It was definitely an indicator that I hadn't done speed in a long time!

Turkey Trot 5K
I ran my 8th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K yesterday morning. I suspected that this would be my slowest Turkey Trot in a long time because I was so out of shape. I did a short track workout on Monday, but aside from that, I hadn't run intervals since the end of September. And my overall mileage had been low. 

But this didn't stop me from giving it everything I had!  

It was 25 degrees with a light breeze. The forecast the night before had been for 22 degrees, 16 mph winds, which equated to a "real feel" of only 8 degrees. So I was actually quite thankful that it wasn't as cold or windy as it could have been. And with the sun, I actually felt warm in parts of the race!

Greg and I parked, and warmed up for 1.5 miles. I was worried that we parked my new car in too tight of a spot, and that the two mini vans next to me would certainly ding my car. Greg told me that we'd just have to run really fast and get back to our car before they did! 

We got to the start line, where, as usual, a ton of kids were lined up right at the front. One of the challenges of this race is that so many kids and slower runners start at the very front, and it's annoying trying to pass them all. This race had over 3,000 runners, so it was definitely sizable. I felt very relaxed going into this race, probably because I didn't have any expectations or self-imposed pressures to run a specific time. I was hoping to get sub-23:00, but I just didn't know what I was in shape for.

Greg was also out of shape, and he predicted that I would beat him because I had two short tempo runs and a track workout under my belt, whereas he didn't have anything. He got ahead of me as we started, and I remained about 5 seconds behind him for the whole first mile. I wondered if I would be able to pass him, but I didn't make it a focus. Mile 1: 7:26

Due to the nature of the course, I know that the second mile is always the slowest. I didn't look at my Garmin during this mile and just kept the effort level the same. It felt so hard, and I didn't feel like I was running fast. Yup. Out of shape! I still passed a few people in the second mile, but it's amazing how that
crowded race totally clears out after mile 1. Mile 2: 7:30.

At the start of the third mile, I still had Greg in my sights. But by this time, he was about 15 seconds ahead of me. He turned a corner and really sped up, so I didn't see him again until I finished.  In my head, I briefly wondered if I would be able to go under 23:00 with these paces. I wasn't sure, but I know that the last mile of this race is always my fastest. This is where knowing the course and having run it 7 times in the past comes in handy. I gunned it. It hurt, but I told myself I it would be over soon. I pushed and pushed and passed a few people during the last stretch, netting a zippy 7:03 mile.  Mile 3: 7:03.

I kicked it into my highest gear for the last 0.12. It took me 45 seconds.  6:25 pace.

My overall finish was 22:46

Last year, I ran this race in 22:18. However, this year, my last mile was faster.  Last year's splits were 7:12, 7:15, 7:05.

It's interesting to experiment with different pacing strategies. Last year I knew what kind of shape I was in, whereas this year I didn't. I therefore started far more conservatively this year for fear of not being able to sustain a fast pace. 

I am pretty happy with these results.

I'm definitely glad I did this race, and the plan is to spend the next five weeks building my speed back so I can be more competitive at the New Year's Eve 10K. I was noticing that even though it hurt a lot during that final push, it also felt really good and empowering to be running so strong. It felt "bad ass" as Greg says. (His last mile was in the 6:40's). Most importantly, I was thankful to be un-injured and healthy enough to race.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NYC Marathon: VIP Style!

A few weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to run the New York City Marathon for free, courtesy of Asics!

I would receive a free, legitimate bib into the marathon, plus VIP transportation to the start line, VIP bag check, and "head to toe" Asics NYC Marathon gear. It was through their "Celebrate Running" contest, and my friend Chad and I were both selected as winners. Score!!! Greg refers to it as the "Cadillac" of NYC Marathon experiences.

Not only does a NYC marathon bib typically cost around $250, but it's also extremely hard to get in through their lottery system. In 2010, I didn't get in through the lottery, so I raised $3000 for Central Park to gain entry. Plus the cost of the bib.

Even though New York City would be just three weeks after the Chicago Marathon, this opportunity was too amazing to turn down. I didn't think I would ever run New York again, and now I had the chance to run it for free, with VIP treatment!

During the three weeks between Chicago and New York, I ran a grand total of 5 times. Most runs were only 4 miles, and my longest was 7 miles. I wanted to make sure I was as recovered as possible for NYC, and didn't want to risk delaying recovery by putting more strain on my body.

For various reasons, Greg opted to stay home and track me remotely. Given that NYC is so crowded that you might not even see your spectator or vice versa, I was totally fine with this, although I definitely missed him.

VIP Expo Treatment
Chad and I drove up to NYC on Saturday morning. We met up with our Asics rep, and his driver drove us from the hotel to the expo. Once there, we were allowed to choose pretty much whatever we wanted from the Asics NYC merchandise section, including shoes! I loaded up: a hat, an ear warmer, gloves, arm warms, socks, a long sleeved shirt, 2 short-sleeved shirts, a pair of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, and a jacket.

Free NYC Marathon Gear. Thanks, Asics!

It was so much fun getting to pick all this stuff out. I decided I would wear the arm warmers and the white shirt to run the race in. I would have worn the shorts, but it didn't have enough pockets for all of my gels the way my skirt does.

After the expo, Chad and I went back to the hotel, relaxed, and then went back out to dinner. We met up with his cousin and her friends, as well as the Asics rep, who paid for everyone's dinner. Asics was definitely very generous and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity! After dinner, the Asics rep gave chad and me special wrist bands that would allow us to access the VIP tent at the start line. This was a warm tent with tables and chairs, and plenty of food. Much preferable to the 3-hour wait that Greg and I had back in 2010 sitting on the ground, freezing our butts off!

Before the Race
Race morning came and I found that I didn't have my typical nerves. This was actually a bad thing because those nerves combined with the bagel that I eat first thing in the morning allow me to empty my digestive system fully before the race starts. And since the start wasn't until 10:05, I had to wait until I was on the bus to the start line to eat my bagel. Unfortunately, that did not get my digestive system going like it usually does.

Anyway, we took a special VIP bus to the starting area and promptly found our tent. I only stayed in there for a short time because I had to drop my bag off and then make my way to my corral. Chad and I separated because he had a different color bib, which meant a different starting location.

I was in the second of four waves, which equated to a 10:05 start time. The one benefit of being in the second wave, as opposed to the first, is that there were plenty of warm clothes left over from the wave 1 starters that I could sit down on. I had en entire pile of jackets to relax on, which made the wait inside the corral much more bearable. I was surrounded by a bunch of French guys and I felt like I was the only American there! Luckily, I speak French.

I was fortunate to get an orange bib, which meant I got to run above the bridge instead of below it like I did in 2010. So my first three miles were different from the 2010 race, which was cool. The forecast called for a sustained 15 MPH headwind for the first 21 miles, with temps in the high 40's to low 50's. I was told that the wind would be especially chilly on the bridges. I decided I would start off the race wearing arm warmers, and then ditch them if I got too hot.

Finally, they moved our corral out of the staging area and up to the start line. It was an amazing view of the bridge.

Miles 1-8
The first two miles took us over the Verazzano-Narrows bridge. My plan for this race was to start at a pace of 9:15-9:30 and then try to speed up if at all possible. My primary goal for running this race was simply to have fun and enjoy the experience, so I wasn't hung up on time. But I also wanted to practice strong execution.

My stomach started to feel off starting at around mile 3. I experienced some mild stomach cramping, but I did my best to ignore it and run through it. I was seriously hoping that my inability to go to the bathroom before the race wouldn't come back to haunt me.

This part of the course wasn't particularly scenic, but it did have a good atmosphere, as does the entire race. I took my first gel at mile 5 and even though my stomach had been bothering me, it seemed to go down fine.

I wore my headphone like I did in Chicago, and they seemed to enhance the experience rather than detract from it. I could still hear what was going on around me, but with the added benefit of inspiring music. Five For Fighting and Panic At The Disco were the two prevalent artists, quite an interesting mix!

Mile 1: 9:55
Mile 2: 8:53
Mile 3: 9:22
Mile 4: 9:01
Mile 5: 9:02
Mile 6: 8:57
Mile 7: 8:53
Mile 8: 9:18

Miles 9-13
This was when my race took a turn for the worse. During mile 9, I really had to go pee and there were no porta potties in sight. I saw a few guys go off the course into a parking lot and pee in between cars, so I did the same thing. Not something I am proud of, but I didn't have any other options at the time.

I felt a little bit better after that but soon realized that my stomach problems were much greater than originally expected. During the 10th mile, I was lucky enough to find an open bar, and they let me use their bathroom. It was such a major relief and I am very fortunate that I found that bar when I did. I don't think I could have waited another few minutes.

I felt much better afterwards and it was technically time to take my next gel. I figured that even though my stomach had been acting up, I should still take my gel because I didn't want to run out of energy later in the race. A mile later, I was paying for this decision, and found myself in the Meatball Shop in Brooklyn. After my previous bathroom stop, I didn't think it was possible that I would have anything left in me, but I was very wrong. Sorry if that's too graphic! But once again, I was very lucky that this place was open and that they were more than happy to let me use their bathroom. In fact, after I was done, everyone in the place was very encouraging, telling me to go out there and finish the race!

I got back into the race and felt pretty good. Usually after I have major stomach distress, the rest of my
Not sure what mile this is.
run is killed. I think that because I found restrooms exactly when I needed them and didn't have to run in pain while waiting to find a bathroom, that helped a lot. This is the advantage of big city marathons!

By this point, I was coming up on mile marker 12. I decided that I should just take the rest of the race easy and not try and speed up at all. I actually couldn't believe I still had 14 miles ahead of me, so I figured the best approach would be to relax, run slowly, and take in the experience.

I was also thinking about Greg tracking me at home and what he must think. Obviously there was a major slowdown between the 15K and 20K marks, and I was hoping that he wasn't thinking I was hurt.  Part of my motivation to keep running strong was to not worry him!

I crossed the halfway mark in 2:13:09. My original plan had been to cross it at around 2:02, but that was obviously out the window. It seems as if the bathroom stops cost me about 10-11 minutes. But I wasn't trying to run a particular time, so it didn't bother me. I just focused on running my best for the second half of the race.

Miles 14-20
These were the glory miles. I felt better at this point than at any other time during the race. The stomach issues were gone, I felt energized and excited to be running the race. I consider miles 15-16 to be the toughest miles of the course-- the Queensboro bridge. It's a mile uphill and a mile downhill, similar to the very first bridge. But by this point, your legs feel it a lot more.

Many people were stopped on this bridge to stretch. I remember how tough this was for Greg and me in 2010 and how I couldn't wait to get over it.  During the uphill mile, I stayed strong and focused, running at a very conservative pace. During the dowhill mile, I made sure not to go crazy fast, and was looking forward to being on First Ave. where the huge crowd was.

After we got off the bridge, we were finally in Manhattan. Miles 17-20 are a straightaway along first avenue and there are loads and loads of people lining the streets. This is when my favorite Panic! At the  Disco album started to play on my iPod and the timing couldn't have been better. The music and the crowds pumped me up so much and it was a definite high. I was smiling and waving at all the spectators, having the time of my life. I glanced at my Garmin from time to time and noticed that I was back down to a pace of around 9:00 for these miles.

Because the Garmin reception wasn't great during the covered bridge portion, I don't have accurate splits for those miles. But I would guess that my average pace for the "glory miles" was somewhere around 9:00-9:15.

During mile 18 I had some Honey Stinger Chews. I hoped those would be better for my stomach than the gels, and I knew I needed more calories to take me through the end of the race. Thankfully, I did not regret this decision!

Miles 21-Finish
During these last five miles, my legs told me that they didn't want to be running anymore. This is where I could tell I wasn't fully recovered from Chicago, and/or the NYC course just took a toll on my legs with all of the bridges and hills.

Slow, focused run to the finish.
My energy level and spirits were actually really high. Overall I felt very strong. It's just that my legs didn't want to move anymore. I decided that I would run to mile marker 21, and then allow myself a 1-minute walk. I did that, and then ran to mile 22, where I got another 1-minute walk. I did this all the way to the finish and it worked.

At this point about half the people were walking and half the people were slowly jogging. I didn't see anyone who looked particularly strong. It's just a brutal course, and the headwind had also taken its toll.  There were times when I thought I would never make it to the finish.

One motivator for me was that one of my best friends was in town that weekend, and she was leaving that evening. We had tentative plans for an early dinner, so I knew that if I wanted to keep those plans, I'd better keep moving and not walk my way to the finish. (Of course, this is based on the experience of knowing it would take me well over an hour to get back to my hotel post race).

I also noticed that when I was running, my pace was around a 9:30, which is decent. Sadly, when combined with my 1:00 walk breaks, the slows down to a 10:30. I was just relieved that I was in the home stretch and that I hadn't hit "the wall" in terms of my energy. Just in terms of my legs giving out on me. I did run the entire last mile (no walking) and found the energy to do it at a pretty decent clip. My official splits show my average pace steadily declining over those last five miles, but with the final run to the finish, it actually got very slightly faster. I love the feeling of finishing strong. This also shows how much of a mental thing marathon running is.

After The Race
I finished in 4:28:29, which makes this my 2nd slowest marathon of 16, and my slowest marathon since I started running them in 2006. I am totally fine with this, as NYC was meant to be about the experience and
About to finish
the fun, and not about running a particular time. I just PRed in Chicago three weeks ago, so I was by no means hungry for a fast race.

One of the reasons I had decided that NYC was a 1-time marathon was because the post-race experience is so miserable. Even with my VIP bag check (which means you can avoid the mile-long walk through the park to get your bag, and it takes 45 minutes because it's so crowded) it still took me nearly two hours after I crossed the finish line to get home. It was in the 40's and overcast, and I was freezing. One of my fingers even went numb. This put me in a really bad mood because I was tired and cold and I just wanted to be back at my hotel. Instead, I probably walked an additional two miles at a snails pace because all of the runners were going the same way.

Eventually I made it back to my hotel with enough time to shower and meet my friend for dinner. Chad actually waited in the VIP finish area for them to find his bag. They lost my bag and his too, but mine didn't have anything in it that I cared about. Just some food and a warm throw-away jacket (which would have been nice-- but not worth a wait).

Final Takeaways
I'm very glad I took advantage of this opportunity. I ran the race to the best of my ability, kept positive even when my stomach was acting up, and focused on the experience rather than the time on the clock. I ran the second half only 2 minutes slower than the first half, which shows that despite all of the stomach drama and leg stuff at the end, I was overall pretty consistent with my pacing.

Because I was injured for six weeks this past summer, this fall season has been a great opportunity to focus on the mental aspects of racing-- the area where I struggle most. Now that I have two "positive" marathon experiences under my belt, I am beginning to see the marathon as something to enjoy, and not something where I have to go out and prove to the world that I am a great runner. Of course I will ultimately want to run faster and set PRs, but in order to do that, I first needed to establish that it's not just about the finish time. Marathoning can offer a great deal of personal satisfaction even if the time on the clock isn't as fast as I would like, or as fast as I think it "should" be based on training. It's taken me 16 marathons to figure this out, but I'm glad I finally did.

I think this fall racing season has set me up to continue marathoning in a much more positive light than ever before, and I look forward to being able to train consistently and tie the whole package together at some point!

My name in the NY Times. I placed 27,627th.