Sunday, December 4, 2016

Run With Santa 5K: Hello Hill!

This morning I ran the Run With Santa 5K. I typically don't run so many 5Ks back to back, but I needed to squeeze in three "ranked" races before the end of the year. Previously, I ran the Veteran's Day 5K on November 13 (21:31), and the Virginia Run Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving (20:50). I am
now officially qualified for the 2016 RunWashington rankings.

This race definitely crept up on me because I was still basking in my 1-second PR when it came time to prepare mentally. There wasn't much time do any quality workouts between the two races, but I did manage to squeeze in 6 x 800m + 3 x 200m on the track this past Monday. I surprised myself with my speed, running a series of 3:18, 3:17, 3:15, 3:13, 3:12, 3:10. The 200's were also speedy: 41, 42, 41.

The rest of the week was all easy running. Typically I do a tune-up workout the Thursday before a Sunday race, but for whatever reason, that was not on the schedule this week. I didn't question it and just ran easy until today's race.

Before the Race
I must have gone back and forth a hundred times trying to figure out what to wear. I originally had planned to wear CW-X compression capri tights, but yesterday I noticed a slight ache in my shin. Given my history of stress fractures in my shins, I thought it would be best to wear compression socks to this race instead of capri tights, which only come down to my knees. I'm not terribly worried about this ache because it is extremely minor. But the location has put me on guard.

With 34 degree temps (and an overcast sky) I knew a long-sleeve shirt would be in order with shorts. There was no wind, so conditions were ideal. I've generally lucked out with the weather for all three of my 5Ks this fall.

At 7:45, I drank my UCAN and I was ready to warm up at 8:00 with my friend Hannah for an 8:30 race start. I really like warming up with other people because it gets me out of my head so I am less antsy about the race. Greg had decided to rest on his laurels with his 44-second PR from Thanksgiving, so he was on cheer squad duty. My step mother also came out to watch, which was awesome. My friend Alison was also there spectating, so it was great to have a full support crew.

I gave my warmup pants to Greg a few minutes before the race started and lined up close to the front with my friends Lisa and Hannah. My main goal for this race was to stay strong during the last mile. The last mile of this race is killer- it's uphill and it's so hard to push when you're spent from the first two miles. Given that this course is more challenging than the Turkey Trot, I did not expect to PR. Although I didn't rule it out either. I really wanted to go sub-21:00, which would put me within 10 seconds of my PR.

I've run this course 4 times in the past as the "Firecracker 5K" in the summer. I've never run it under cool conditions so I was curious to see what it would be like to not be dying of heat exhaustion.

Mile 1: 6:42
I focused on staying strong but relaxed during this mile. It's a net uphill which is good because you
The start of mile 2: downhill!
don't get pulled out too fast. But it also means you are working hard right from the start. I was very focused on running the tangents because my Garmin typically measures this course at 3.16, and I thought I could get that down if I ran the tangents.

Mile 2: 6:23
My favorite mile. All downhill! My plan had been to really use the downhill nature of this mile to bank some serious time, and I did that. I saw my step mother and Greg during the beginning of this mile, and that pepped me up. I also found myself running with Lisa for the first half of this mile. She was amazing. She kept cheering for me and encouraging me. I'm not able to talk during 5Ks so I was not able to return the favor! I surged ahead about halfway through and she yelled at me to go get a PR. At this point, I thought a PR was definitely possible. I just had to hold it together during the last mile. I'll also note that this is my fastest ever mile! I've never raced the mile, so this is my fastest ever recorded time for a single mile.

Mile 3: 6:58
Given how much effort I pumped out here, I was surprised to see how much I had slowed down. The hill isn't particularly steep but it's so long. Pretty much starting at 2.5 and going to 3.1 it's all uphill and some parts are steeper than others. I continued to focus on the tangents and I told myself that I could do anything for seven minutes. I gave it all I had, but clearly I was slowing down. Nevertheless, I was able to pass two women, and nobody passed me.

Last 0.14: 6:22 pace
That last bit of this course continues to be up an incline. As I approached the finish line, I could see the clock tick closer and closer to 21 so I gave it everything I had. I was able to squeak under in 20:58. Goal attained!
Heading toward the finish line

After the race, I re-united with Greg, Alison, my step mom, Hannah and Lisa. I started my cool down and ran into my friend Cheryl so we were able to cool down together. I also really enjoy cooling down with other runners because I find cool down runs to be extremely boring and it's nice to be able to talk about the race with someone.

I checked the race results and to my surprise, I won first place in my age group! Out of 96! I was the 13th female out of 838, and I was actually beaten by an 11-year old girl, and a 14-year old girl.

I was proud of myself for running 3.14 instead of 3.16 like I typically do on this course in the summer. Yay for tangents! If I had run 3.16, I would not have broken 21:00.

Final Thoughts
I was pleased with my performance this morning. I would have liked to have run that last mile a bit faster and set a new 5K PR, but I just wasn't able to give any more than I gave. I do think that running a 20:58 on this course is more impressive than running a 20:50 on the Turkey Trot course, but that's just my opinion. Some people love this course (like my friend Hannah who set a PR by over 30 seconds and broke 19 minutes) and Lisa. Others find it extremely challenging. I'm somewhere in the middle- I think it's a tough course, but not as tough as the Veteran's Day one. It really requires that you push hard through the end and if you went out too fast then that will be difficult to do. Overall, I just had a really fun time. Lots of my friends were there and it was awesome that my step mother came out too. I also enjoyed donning my brightly colored outfit.

I'm not sure when my next 5K will be, as I am now officially starting to train for my next marathon. Greg and I have a tradition of always running the Ringing In Hope 10K/5K on New Year's eve, but that's the weekend before the Disney World half, so I am not sure if I can squeeze in a 5K while also running high mileage. Another interesting tidbit is that Strava tells me I ran portions of this course faster in the summer of 2015, when I ran a 22:05. I must have started more conservatively back then and had more in me for that final mile.

Finally, the shin behaved itself and I didn't feel it at all during the race or afterward. Phew. I'll continue to monitor it because I would hate to get an injury so soon after coming back from mono.

Oh, and public service announcement: if you are looking for a holiday gift for a runner, check out my book Boston Bound. It's appropriate for runners of all abilities, and addresses the mental aspects of running.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Every Second Counts: Turkey Trot 5K Report

This morning I ran my 11th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. That's right, I have an eleven-year streak, which is impressive, considering I have never been ill or injured on Thanksgiving. Knock on wood! I discovered the race in 2006, and have been back every year since. I met Greg in 2009, so this was Turkey Trot #7 for him.

Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I spent 12 weeks over the summer with mono. Zero running, zero exercise. I started running again on September 20, but I didn't resume speed work until about four weeks ago. And even at that, it wasn't very intense.

On November 13, I ran the Veteran's Day 5K, where I smashed by goal by nearly a full minute, finishing in 21:31 on a hilly course. There wasn't too much time for speed work between that race and this one, but on Thursday, I ran road intervals of 2 x (1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00), all with 90-second recovery jogs. I was pleased with how the run felt, and it seemed as if I was getting close to hitting the paces I was last spring. The follow Saturday (last Saturday) I ran for 80 minutes, with the first 70 minutes being easy, and the last 10 minutes "hard." The hard minutes averaged a pace of 6:51, which helped boost my confidence. And then on Monday of this week, I did a little tune-up workout with 4:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00, 1:00. So now that I think about it, my coach was able to squeeze in a decent amount of speed between the Veteran's Day race and today.

Going into this race, I made the following assumptions:
  • I would be fitter than I was for Veteran's Day, because when you are coming back, you make gains quickly
  • The course would be slightly easier, with the last mile being a net downhill instead of up a huge hill
  • The course would measure shorter on my Garmin
Garmin distance is important because when I am trying to project a finish time, I know that my Garmin will read something longer than the official race distance. I like comparing apples to apples, and I use my Garmin to pace myself when running. For Veteran's Day, my Garmin showed an average pace of 6:46. I knew that if I ran the exact same pace today, I'd end up with a 21:14 (or thereabouts) instead of a 21:31. I also got a FitBit for my birthday that tracks my resting heart rate, and in the past 10 days, my resting heart rate had gone down from 51 to 47. Not surprising, given that you make gains quickly when coming back from downtime.

So given these three elements of being fitter, having an easier course and having a shorter course, I thought I would land somewhere around 20:55. And that got me thinking. My all-time 5K PR was 20:51, set on this course last year. So, why not try to push it a little and go for a modest PR this morning? Which is exactly what I did.

My pacing strategy was to take the first mile at 6:38, which was 4 seconds faster than last year, and then try to run around the same paces I did last year for the rest of the race. Another important aspect of my plan was the tangents. Usually when I run this course, my Garmin measures 3.13. But last year it was 3.14. I know I am thinking about seemingly insignificant things here, but hey-- when you are trying to PR by a matter of seconds, it all matters! So this year, I told myself to pay very close attention to the tangents and to not waste energy weaving around kids during the first mile.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race, parked in our usual spot at a nearby church, and went to the bathroom in the church. There was a man standing outside the church who seemed very happy to let us in and use the bathroom. He kept emphasizing to us where the bathrooms were and he gave us a huge smile. I think he was literally there that day for the sole purpose of letting use the bathroom. He even said "that's what I'm here for." It was really awesome.

We warmed up, with a plan to be in the start corral about 5 minutes before the race started. A little bit of panic set in when the course marshal told us we couldn't cross the street to get into the corral-- we had to walk all the way around, which meant weaving through a huge crowd. And when we finally crossed the street, we were at the very back of the corral, so we had to weave through another crowd to get up to the front. This happened to other people who wanted to be close to the front and they were annoyed as well. This race has over 2,000 people, and many of them are small children, so getting stuck in the back was not an attractive option!

The weather was perfect. Low 40's and overcast with just a very slight breeze. I had actually debated between wearing CW-X compression capris and shorts. I feel like the compression helps my legs move quickly when it's cold out. But ultimately I settled on shorts because they weighed less! I needed every possible advantage if I wanted a shot at a PR.

Mile 1: 6:38
Unlike most years, there were not a ton of 8-years olds lined up right at the front. This meant I didn't have to do a lot of weaving like I usually have to do in the first mile. I got pulled out pretty quickly on a slight downhill and when I looked at my pace halfway through the mile, it said 6:20. Oops! Time to slow down a bit, which was easy because the rest of the mile was a slight incline. I also noticed a tangent in the first mile that I had never noticed before, so I made sure to run to the inside of the curve. When I hit the first mile marker, I was pleased that I had executed according to plan, but I did not feel good. I was already tired. 

Mile 2: 6:49
I didn't have the same "pep in my step" that I did at the Veteran's Day race. I felt tired and a little sluggish. There's a sizable hill in this mile. It's not terribly long, but it's on the steep side, so getting up it is always a challenge. It wasn't this hill, however, that slowed me down. It was the first part of the mile, which was flat-ish. I was just tired and not able to maintain that 6:38 pace. During this mile, someone yelled "Go Elizabeth!" at me and I wondered who it was.

Mile 3: 6:38
As I continued on, people kept yelling "Go Elizabeth" at me, at which point I realized that the girl next to me must have been named Elizabeth. Whatever- I'll take it! I knew this mile was a net downhill, but that it ended on an incline-- the same incline that was a decline and pulled me out too fast. I was hoping to really kill it during the mile like I typically do on this course. Usually my last mile is significantly faster than the first two. But today, I was pushing as hard as possible, but my Garmin pace was stubbornly refusing to budge. During the last half mile, I started to think that I wouldn't get my PR. It would be close, but likely wouldn't happen at this rate. Regardless, I still pushed with everything I had.

Last 0.13: 5:49 pace
Amazingly, I did have another gear in me, which I hit as I passed mile marker 3. I revved and revved and revved. Someone passed me at lightening speed and it motivated me to kick even harder. I saw the clock as I crossed and I stopped my Garmin: 20:50.

I knew this feeling. It was like being at the Columbus Marathon with a Garmin time of 3:40:00 and hoping the official time matched, which would mean a BQ. Greg and I made our way to the results area and typed our bib numbers in the computer. I held my breath. And the official time was. . . 20:50!  I did it! I PR'ed by one second!

Back in 2014, I ran this race in 21:30. I had missed my then-PR of 21:29 by one second. I wasn't terribly disappointed, but it's much better when it goes the other way!

As for Greg, I knew he was in great shape and I had predicted a huge PR for him. Well, he got a 44-
First place AG award: a hat!
second PR, which is massive for the 5K. He clocked in at 20:09, which means sub-20:00 is clearly within his grasp.

I won first place in my age group, which earned me a hat identical to the one I won in 2014.  I was the 13th female out of 1164, which I was thrilled with. Not to look a Gift Turkey in the mouth, but they were giving away Ninja blenders and restaurant gift cards as raffle prizes, but the winners only walked away with hats! That's okay. I'll be back again next year and hopefully keep adding to the hat collection.

Key takeaways
Even though you don't want to over-think things, the small things matter. If I hadn't been as diligent about the tangents, it could have cost me a second or two, and I would not have PR'ed. According to Strava, both this race and last year's race had a 5K effort of 20:41. I was able to run a faster "official" time this year because of the tangents.

I am running yet another 5K next weekend. I think all of these 5K's now will set me up with a nice base speed to begin marathon training. Next weekend we are back to a longer, hillier course, so I don't anticipate a PR. But you never know!

And for fun, here is my Turkey Trot history for the past 7 years:

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog readers!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Things Runners Remember from 10 Years Ago

I celebrated my 38th birthday on November 11. It seems like just yesterday I was 28 and just starting to get into long distance running.

I ran my first marathon in 2006, and even though running still involves simply putting one foot in front of the other, quite a few things have changed. If you've been running for 10+ years, enjoy this bit of nostalgia. If you haven't, then maybe you'll learn a bit of history!
Stopwatch, white shoes, sports beans!

1. Stopwatches with lap buttons
If I remember correctly, the Garmin GPS watches were just starting to come out in 2005, and it took them a few years to go mainstream. Back in 2006, I was using my trusty Timex stop watch in races and for long runs. I did all of my long runs on the W&OD trail, which has mile markers, so I would press the lap button at each milepost. The same was true for races. I had no idea what pace I was running until I approached the mile marker and hit the lap button on my watch.

2. Mainly white running shoes
If you walked into a running store 10 years ago, all the shoes would be white with small pops of color accents. The more popular models offered a choice of up to 4 color accents, but the shoes looked pretty much the same: all white. Nowadays, the walls of running shoe stores are covered in bright colors and you'll be hard-pressed to find anything that's mainly white. It used to be that runners were cautioned not to buy shoes based on color, but now runners actually have a good range of colors for any given shoe.

3. iPods--not iPhones
10 years ago, many people were running with iPods, myself included. I used the iPod Mini for awhile, but then the shuffle came out and I loved how compact it was. Nowadays, I see some people still using Shuffles (which is what I use on the treadmill) but the majority of runners who run with music seem to be using their phones to do so. Oh, and also using the phones to track their route, take pictures, and a number of other things that could not be done with a simple iPod.

4. The Boston Marathon didn't fill up
You could BQ in February and then run Boston just two months later! What's more, you could BQ in the fall of 2005, and that time would be good for Boston 2006 AND Boston 2007. There were no "cut-off" times because there didn't need to be. 10 years ago, running marathons was not nearly as popular as it is today. It was a lot easier to get into Boston back then because there simply wasn't as much competition as there is today. Part of me wishes it would go back to being the way it used to, but another part of me enjoys the fact that it's more challenging now.

5. The ChampionChip
Back in the day, most all races were timed using a chip that you would affix to your shoe. That chip was replaced by the D-Tag somewhere around 2009, which I absolutely hated because it was so bulky and it had accuracy issues. But then the B-Tag that attaches to the race bib came along in the past 3-4
My ChampionChip collection
years which is both accurate and convenient.

Some races still do use the D-Tag and a shoe chip, but they are few and far between. Also, I'm only familiar with races in the Washington DC metro area and large-scale marathons. There may be races in other parts of the country that still rely heavily on the timing chip. I had my own personal ChampionChip that I purchases from the Rock 'N' Roll Virginia Beach half. I used this to register for local races and it would save me $2 on registration. Some races also provided souvenir chips that would not work for future races. I have these from the Houston Half Marathon, the New Jersey Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. Before the ChampionChip, there was the ankle strap, and I ran several marathons with that. Super uncomfortable!

6. Social Media wasn't mainstream
Some people were on MySpace, but not nearly as many people were on MySpace talking about running as there are today on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Strava, and numerous forums. So chances are, if you went for a training run, the only person who knew about it was you and maybe the people you lived with. There wan't as much "inspiration" going around so runners had to be more intrinsically motivated to get out there and run.

7. Sports Beans or gels?
Fueling options were limited 10 years ago. There were only a few brands of gels and the alternative to that was Jelly Belly Sports Beans. Today we have plenty of options available: UCAN, Shot Blocks, Tailwind, Honey Stinger Waffles, and probably a bunch of others I don't even know about.

8. Lottery? What Lottery?
Races used to be easy to get into. Chicago, Marine Corps, Houston, Cherry Blossom -- just to name a few. None of these races used to have lotteries and you could register for them as late as a few weeks prior! It was nice because you didn't have to commit to a race so far in advance. You could basically just wait until you felt ready to race and then go for it. Also, if you were injury-prone (like I used to be) it made sense to wait until a month or so before to register.

9. The Philadelphia Distance Run and the National Marathon
The Philadelphia Distance Run 2006

In 2006, the Rock 'n' Roll series had like 4 or 5 races to choose from. I remember San Diego, Arizona, and Virginia Beach. What we know as Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia used to be called the Philadelphia Distance Run. Today's Rock 'n' Roll DC used to be the National Marathon. As part of the Rock 'n' Roll series, these races are now more expensive and commercialized, but you know that the race will be well-organized.

10. Brightroom Event Photography
It used to be that a company called "Brightroom" dominated the race photo industry. You could preview your photos online at a decent size (see photo to the right) without the huge word PROOF over your face. You could buy printed copies of your photos for a reasonable price. At some point, Marathonfoto emerged onto the scene and gained a monopoly over the industry. They are now able to get away with charging and arm and a leg for race photos, while sending horribly-formatted marketing emails. While their prices have gone down ever so slightly over the past two years, I predict that they will soon either need to reduce their prices more or face new competition. Smaller race photography companies exist, they just aren't mainstream yet.

Who knows what running will look like 10 years from now? Overall, I like the technological advances that we've made and the fact that more people are running marathons. But it is nice to reflect on "back in the day" when things were much simpler.

Well, not everything was much simpler! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mono Comeback Race: Crushed It!

Apologies for the spoiler in the headline, but I destroyed my goal for today's 5K race.

After 12 weeks of no running, no cross training, and virtually no physical activity, I finally resumed running 7 weeks ago. The first four weeks of training were boring, with no speed work except for
some strides at the end of my easy runs. The next three weeks incorporated some speed work, but nothing super intense. I was frustrated that I didn't have any sense of how fit I was and what to expect from this 5K, but I was also excited to run it and then have a baseline for my workouts moving forward.

I chose this Veteran's Day 5K race because it's one of the "ranked" races by RunWashington. Last year, I was ranked 6th in my age group and to qualify for the rankings, you have to run 6 races from their list. I only had 3 for the year, so I decided I would run this race, a Turkey Trot and another 5K in December. When I started to run again, I figured I would be happy to break 23:00 on this course. It's one of the more challenging 5K courses in the area and my Garmin always logs 3.18 miles, versus other 5Ks which my Garmin thinks are shorter. As I started getting back into the swing of things, I determined that I wanted to break 22:30, with an average "Garmin pace" of sub-7:10.

In preparation for this race, I looked at my splits from the Run Your Heart out 5K, which I ran last February on the same course. They were: 6:39, 6:47, 7:05 and a 6:36 pace for the last 0.17. This yielded a 21:40. I thought this was a well executed race given that the first mile is almost entirely downhill and the last mile is almost entirely uphill. So, I concocted a pacing strategy of 6:50, 7:05, 7:20 for this morning's race, which I thought was appropriate for my fitness level.

Before the race
I slept pretty well last night and the night before so I went into this race feeling energized. 45 minutes before the race, I drank my UCAN and felt ready to go. The weather was perfect: low 30's and sunny. I warmed up for 2.5 miles and I could feel my lungs burning from the cold air. I wondered how they would feel when I was actually pushing, but I didn't think about it too much. After I warmed up, I
went to the bathroom for a final time and I passed my jacket off to Greg. My father and stepmother had also come out to cheer for me, which was really nice!

Even though it was only 32 degrees, it felt warm at the start line in the sun. I chatted with my friend Lisa, who had just run the Indianapolis Monumental marathon last weekend. I was super impressed that she was able to race a 5K so soon after a marathon! I noticed that my friend ReBecca was also there, who I had met after having run the Boston Marathon.

Mile 1: 6:45
Staring out
The race started, and the first mile felt relatively easy. The downhill is fairly significant and I ran 5 second faster than planned, which I didn't worry about because the race felt effortless. During this mile, my friend Rochelle (who is an elite runner) joined in beside me for encouragement. I had told her my race strategy in advance, and that I didn't need pacing help per se, but that I would be grateful to have her alongside me when the race got tough. Lisa and ReBecca both passed me during this mile, and I figured I would not see them again until after the race.

Mile 2: 6:49
I didn't look at my Garmin too much during this mile, which was probably a good thing. I had "planned" it to be a 7:05 and if I had seen my actual pace I might have made myself slow down. But instead I just focused on keeping the effort level hard. Rochelle knows this course really well, and even though I knew it too, it was good to have her remind me of when the hills were so I could focus on the process of running, and not on the pain. This mile is net flat, but it actually starts off with a large uphill, followed by a down. I typically run downhills very quickly and I'm slower on the ups. So when this downhill came, I surged and passed ReBecca. Lisa was coming closer into view as well. When my Garmin beeped 6:49 I could hardly believe it, but I contained my excitement and focused on pushing hard.

Mile 3: 6:51
My coach had told me that when this mile came, I was supposed to repeat something rhythmic in my head and tell myself that it would only last 7 minutes. I ran past my family cheering squad about
Rochelle and me in the third mile
halfway through this mile and that totally pumped me up. Rochelle yelled out "go zebra" and that made me smile. The final hill hurt, but having Rochelle talk to me made me focus less on the pain and more on the effort. ReBecca passed me initially, but then I passed her again. Rochelle peeled off the course shortly before the end of that mile and it was up to me alone to bring it home.

Last 0.18: 6:02 pace
I came upon Lisa right before mile marker 3 and she was surprised to see me. I had told her I was hoping to average a 7:05 pace, and clearly I was way ahead of that. I started to pass her and she surged, which motivated me to surge as well. Ultimately, she finished 4 seconds ahead of me, winning our age group, but it was great that we both finished in the same ballpark to be able to push each other to our best!

 My official time was 21:31, which was a course PR of 9 seconds.

After the race, Lisa, ReBecca, and Rochelle and I cooled down together. We accidentally took a wrong turn and the cool down ended up being close to two miles! I ended up having to walk with Rochelle back to the race while ReBecca ran to get her car, drove to us, and took us back-- just in time for awards.

I was the 6th overall female finisher and 2nd in my age group.

This result was totally unexpected on a number of levels:

  • I did not think it would be possible to break 22:00 on this course with my fitness level
  • I was even more shocked to run this course faster than I did in February
  • I would never have imagined that I could take that final hill at a 6:51 pace. 
  • My splits were really close to each other, and the course lends itself to a massive positive split, not even splits.

I'm excited to have a baseline for future workouts and races, and it's also great to see my fitness come back so quickly. There was a time when I was worried that I'd never be as fit/fast as I used to be, and now I think I will be, if not even faster at some point.

It was also great to spend the morning with Rochelle, Lisa and ReBecca. My friend Chad was also there, and my family came out to support me. After the race, my dad and step mom took Greg and me to a birthday breakfast. I could not have asked for a better morning.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Monumental Day in Indianapolis

Yesterday, I ran the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon as a training run. I had originally registered for the full marathon last spring, before I came down with mono. But due to the nasty virus, I missed the entire summer of training so I was lucky to be able to run the half marathon as a training run. Greg ran the full marathon, and I cheered for him as he approached the finish line.

Amy and I post-race, cheering for marathoners
This race had been on "my list" for years and since quite a few of my friends were running it this year, I figured now would be a good time. It's just a short flight from DC, it's logistically easy with many hotels right next to the start/finish/expo, the weather is typically great for racing, and the course is flat. But before I write about my experience, I'll recap my past two weeks of training.

I've been making a smooth comeback from my 12-week training hiatus. For the past two weeks, I've been running seven days a week and feeling really good. There has been no sign of the illness returning.

Week of Oct. 24
This week was relatively boring, with easy runs every day except for Thursday, when I ran 12 x 30-second intervals with 1-minute recovery jogs. It felt really good to run fast again and most of the interval paces were between 5:55-6:30

My long run was prescribed at 80 minutes, and I surprised myself by running 9.1 miles at a pace of 8:51. The run felt wonderful. The weather was perfect and I had loads of energy. Based on this run, I knew I would be able to run the Indy Monumental half at my easy pace.  My total mileage for the week was 39.3, which is almost as high as it was right before I got sick. I think my coach's plan is to get my base mileage up before adding a significant amount of speed work. In June, my mileage was relatively low, but the speed was intense.

Week of Oct. 31
I was happy that my coach "approved" of my idea to run Indy as a training run, and I was looking
forward to it all week. I didn't have any kind of taper, though, since Indy would not be a race and my coach told me that I was supposed to take the whole thing easy- no speed whatsoever.

On Tuesday, I did the same workout that I had done the previous Thursday (30-second intervals) but this time I did 18 of them instead of 12, which yielded 3.3 miles worth of intervals. These were slightly faster than the previous week's intervals, with my last four intervals being sub-6:00 pace.

I started to get really frustrated with the monotony of the training again on Thursday. The plan called for 60-75 minutes, with 15 minutes at steady state in the middle of the run. Steady state is somewhere between your marathon and half marathon pace. I looked up my steady pace from January, and saw that I had run 8 miles at a pace of 7:26 for a steady state. Wow. I know that I am not in the same shape now that I was in January, but I figured I could pull off a pace close to that for two miles, and hope that it felt like steady state effort.

Well, as luck would have it, it was 60 degrees and very humid that morning. Usually when this happens I run by effort and dial back the pace. But because I had not run fast for more than 30 seconds at a time since June, I decided I was not going to back off the pace. I wasn't going to let the unseasonably warm and humid weather slow me down! So stubborn Elizabeth came out and over-ran the workout. The two miles averaged 7:28, but it felt like a tempo run instead of a steady state one. Usually I don't do this, but I was just super frustrated by the weather and my situation. Plus, I am running a 5K next weekend I have no baseline for what my pace might be. These 30-second intervals in no way predict what I can do for a 5K, so I used the steady state to test out what 7:28 would feel like!

Pre-race in Indianapolis
We arrived in Indy on Thursday night and went to the expo on Friday morning. I loved how logistically smooth this race was. It was a big race but with a small race feel. Our hotel was literally a 4 minute walk to the expo, and we could even use a skywalk to walk indoors.

Throughout the day, I was able to meet up with several people who had read my book. It was so
Meeting up with a Boston Bound reader
wonderful to hear them tell me about how much the book helped them. I was glowing from knowing that my book had made a difference not only in their running, but in their overall outlook.

Meanwhile, I was experiencing some ROMO: Resentment Of Missing Out. The weather outlook was perfect: low 40's and sunny with no wind. The course would be mainly flat. Many people would set PRs and qualify for Boston. I would not be. I had already resolved to come back to Indianapolis next year and run this race, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I would be getting the freakishly warm weather that Indy experienced just two days prior to this year's race. This was the year I had planned to run it, and I was a little upset that I was missing out on a perfect PR opportunity. So close- but so far away.

I was also trying to figure out how I would approach the half marathon training run. I felt like I wanted more of a purpose than just for it to be a training run. More excitement. More meaning. Of course I was going to abide by my coach's guidance and take it easy, but how could I do that and still feel excited? I thought it would be cool to pace another runner to a sub-2:00. Sub-2:00 is a huge milestone for many runners and I knew that my easy pace would get me in just under two hours.

The night before the race, I met up with two friends who I had known virtually for over eight years. We had met years ago on the Runner's World forums and kept in touch through Facebook. One of these runners, Sara, had a friend with her, Amy, who was running the half marathon. I asked Amy if she was, by any chance, trying to run sub-2:00. And she said she would love to run sub-2:00, but didn't think her training supported it. She had been dealing with a nagging injury and her training runs didn't lead her to believe that a sub-2:00 was possible right now, even though she had done it in the past.  I offered to pace her and she accepted, so we agreed to meet in the hotel lobby before the race to run together.

The next morning, Greg and I woke up, did our pre-race routine and left the hotel 30 minutes before the start of the race. I met up with Amy and we walked to the corrals together. She said that it takes her a few miles to warmup, so she wanted to start at around a 9:40 pace and then speed up from there. I was totally on board because it takes me awhile to warm up as well.

Miles 1-4
The race started and excitement was in the air. It was really crowded at first, especially since I was
Amy and I at the start of the race
farther back in the pack than I typically am during races. Amy and I got into a groove. I told her that if she wanted to pass people, I would just follow her path through. A lot of passing happened, but even more would happen later in the race. I was really happy to be running with Amy because the pace felt too easy for me, and if I was on my own, I would have been sub-9:00 from the get-go, and I think I would have regretted that later on.

Mile 1: 9:42
Mile 2: 9:25
Mile 3: 9:18
Mile 4: 9:05

Miles 5-9
Amy told me she was starting to "feel it" during mile six, and I assured her that she was supposed to feel it at mile six of a half marathon. I asked her if the pace was okay or if she wanted to slow down and she said she was fine to continue at that pace. We got into a rhythm where, at each mile marker, I would tell her what the mile split was and what our average race pace was. I think she had a different display on her Garmin and she appreciated having this info.

The cool thing was watching the average race pace slowly tick down from 9:20 to 9:09 by the end of mile 9. We were chipping away at the average race by by 1-2 seconds with every mile we ran, so it was super exciting. At one point, a guy around us asked me what the pace was for sub-2:00 and I told him he should try for 9:03-9:04 on his Garmin, just to be safe, as many Garmins measure a long course.

The course was not at all hilly, but whenever we had slight ups and downs, she totally surged on the uphills and I was extremely impressed. I tend to slow down on hills but speed up on the way down. I was really impressed with her effort level and how she just powered through the miles.

Mile 5: 9:07
Mile 6: 8:53
Mile 7: 8:54
Mile 8: 8:58
Mile 9: 8:58

Miles 10-13.1
Before I asked my coach if I could run this race as a training run, he had prescribed a 90-minute easy run. This would equate to slightly more than 10 miles. Interestingly, just after mile marker 10, my legs started to tire and ache a little. I guess my coach knows his stuff!

So my legs were not all that happy about the extra distance, but the pace still felt really relaxed and easy. I guess it takes the muscles awhile to catch back up to where the cardiovascular system is.

At this point, Amy and I started to pass a bunch of people. I brought to her attention that we were passing people so that she'd get a nice confidence boost and continue to push. By mile 10, we knew that we were going to go sub-2:00, it was just a matter of by how much. The last three miles of this race are a slight downhill and we could see a long stretch of downhill so we used it to our advantage. Our average race pace dropped from 9:09 down to 9:00 flat as we pushed our way to the finish line. We were elated to cross it 1:58:41.

Mile 10: 8:54
Mile 11: 8:44
Mile 12: 8:50
Mile 13: 8:26
Last 0.19: (7:54 pace)

We executed the plan exactly as intended, and it felt amazing!

Cheering for Marathoners
Amy and I high-fived each other a bunch of times and walked back to the hotel which was only one block away. We didn't have much time to go back to the hotel, quickly change clothes, get our cell phones, and come back to cheer. But 20 minutes later, we were headed back out to the course,
Greg at mile 26
looking for our mutual friend Sara. But first, I was expecting my friend Rochelle to come in at around 2:52. And she did! Slightly under, in fact. She looked amazing and I was so happy for her to run so strong in her first marathon. I cheered loudly for her and snapped a bunch of photos.

Next came Sara, and after that, Amy went to go meet her at the finish line.

I had some other friends running, only one of whom I saw next, and then Greg. He was ahead of the 3:30 pace group and I was so excited to see that. I was thinking he would run between 3:25-3:30 and he finished in 3:28:47, which is a PR by five minutes. He ran a really smart race, and attributed it partially to the race strategy I prescribed.

It was an ideal day for racing, with many of my friends setting huge PRs. I was really glad I met Amy and that I helped her do something she didn't think she could do. It made the day so much more special to me.

I decided to take a rest day today and end my 17-day running streak.  Prior to yesterday, my longest run since June was 9.1 miles the weekend prior, so my legs really weren't happy about doing 13.1, even though I ran at my easy pace. I logged 40.1 miles for the week, which I'm pleased with.

Up Next
I'm running a 5K next weekend, which I am super excited about. My coach prescribed a progression run for Tuesday so hopefully the last two miles of that will give me some sense of how it feels to run "hard" and what my "hard" pace actually is. Then I will run a 5K Turkey Trot, followed by another 5K in early December.

My coach still hasn't given me the green light to finalize a spring marathon, but I think I will be ready to run strong by early March at the rate I am going. Thinking about my next marathon makes the ROMO of this weekend easier to cope with, so I'm looking forward to nailing it down!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Easing Back Into It

Since recovering from mono (or some mono-like virus that took me out for 12 weeks), I've now been running for just over four weeks. My coach determined it was best to re-build my aerobic base before working on speed, so easy running has been the name of the game.

While I'm extremely grateful to be running healthy again, I'm dreadfully bored. Usually I enjoy my easy runs because they are balanced out by harder runs. Variety is the spice of life! But for the past four weeks, my patience has truly been challenged and I have a strong desire to run fast. I've occasionally done very short (12-second) strides at the end of my runs, but those have done little to quench my thirst to push myself.

Meanwhile, I made an attempt to plan out my spring racing schedule. I chose a few target marathons and passed my ideas on to my coach. The thought of having a plan and a target race really energized me, but my coach warned that we should still be taking things one week at a time, and not making any decisions now on when to run a marathon. UGH. In an ideal world, I would run a marathon in early February, and then have all of March and April to run shorter distances, including the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. And if I didn't BQ at the marathon, I would have another shot in early May. But my coach thinks that early February could be too soon, so he doesn't want to make any decisions yet. I trust my coach whole-heartedly and I wouldn't want to run a marathon that I wasn't ready for, so if I have to wait until March, I will.

My overall feeling is that I'm like a caged tiger. I want to plan my spring racing schedule. I want to do speed work. I want to run a race. I want to have some gage of where my fitness is. But instead, it's just easy running. Every. Single. Day.

Here is a recap of the details. Even though there is no variety in the runs, it's nice to see my easy pace getting faster and my distance increasing.

Week of October 10
Monday: 5.3 miles at an average pace of 9:17
Tuesday: 4.8 miles at an average pace of 9:11 (includes strides at the end)
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 6 miles at an average pace of 9:09 (includes strides at the end)
Friday: 4.7 miles at an average pace of 9:06
Saturday: 7 miles at an average pace of 9:11
Sunday: 2.3 miles at an average pace of 9:04

Total Mileage: 30.1

Monday, Oct. 17
Overall, last week went really smoothly. The weather was perfect every single day: in the 40s with no rain or wind. October is my favorite month of the year for running, and I savored every moment. I played around with the strides a little. I sometimes would use them to run a controlled even effort, at around 5K effort. And I used some of them more like traditional strides where you progress to a sprint.

Week of October 17
Monday: 6 miles at an average pace of 9:02 (includes strides)
Tuesday: 5.2 miles at an average pace of 9:04
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 6.56 miles at an average pace of 9:09 (details about this below)
Friday: 4.7 miles at an average pace of 9:18
Saturday: 8 miles at an average pace of 9:05
Sunday: 3.1 miles at an average of pace of 8:35

Total Mileage: 33.6

On Thursday, the plan called for "60 minutes with the last 10 minutes harder." Because this was the only hint of speed on my 4-week plan (aside from strides) I had been looking forward to it for weeks. But as luck would have it, Thursday was also the hottest day of the month! It was 70 degrees and humid, which slowed my easy pace to 9:25, and my "harder" pace was around 8:00.  My average pace for the run didn't end up being faster than usual, but at least I had 10 minutes of "harder" effort, where I got to push a little more. I wish I could say that it felt great, but it doesn't feel great to push hard in the heat and humidity if you aren't acclimated.

Saturday's 8-mile run was ridiculously windy. Ever since I mastered the wind during the Shamrock Half Marathon last spring, though, I have noticed that even 20 mph sustained winds doesn't affect my pace all that much. Wind used to be a huge obstacle for me, but once I changed my mindset about it, then I realized that my speed doesn't have to be affected to such a great extent. Overall, I was pleased that I was able to run 8 miles at pace of 9:05 in the wind and have it feel easy. That's good progress for less than 5 weeks of running.

This morning, one of my friends was hosting a 5K at the elementary school she teaches at. Since I had 20-30 minutes on the schedule, I figured I would go support her and do it as a training run. Greg came we me and we ran slightly faster than "easy" pace at 8:35, finishing the race in 26:36. I later learned that this time won me third place in my age group, and 7th overall female! It was a small race.

I still have a long way to go to get back to where I was before I came down with mono. The below chart shows my running year-to-date. You can see the ill-fated attempts I made in August to start running again!

It's not easy being green, and I am hoping to add more "color" to my runs during the next few weeks. Overall, I am happy with my progress and thrilled to be healthy, and I know that variety and speed will eventually become part of my weekly schedule.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Everyone else is. . ."

One of the topics that I cover in depth in my book is making comparisons to other people. Little good
comes of comparing yourself to other people, and yet, it's part of human nature to do so. We all want to know how we stack up, and we tend to use other people to gage our own successes. With the rise of social media over the past 10 years, it's almost impossible to avoid these comparisons. There have been many articles written about how Facebook can cause depression-- when everyone else seems to have things that you don't.

When it comes to running, falling into the comparison trap is all too easy. We talk about our paces, the length of our runs, how many miles we trained, etc. There are so many numbers and data points that comparison just feels natural. If you're a perfectionist, then you'll likely look to find fault with your own running (potentially without realizing it) and noticing how someone else raced or trained compared to you just feeds into this counterproductive mindset.

It's difficult to not make these comparisons, especially if you are active on social media and have friends who run. My best advice for not doing it is to simply realize that focusing on other people will not help you with your own running. It could actually hurt your running if it results in you feeling like you have to run as fast as someone else. Then, you'll be putting additional pressure on yourself, which is not conducive to a strong performance. The best way to be successful is to simply focus on yourself and your own progress, independent of what others are doing.

Why am I talking about this now? At the Army Ten-miler last weekend, where I went to cheer on Greg and my friends, I found it difficult to not fall into the comparison trap: "Everyone else is running fast times and I can't even run 10 miles right now." When I registered for this race last spring, my goal was to run it at a sub-7:00 pace. But if you've been following this blog, you know that I spent the entire summer being sick and unable to train. Everyone who I went out to cheer for ran really well, and Greg broke 70 minutes with an average pace of 6:58. 

I had a great spectating spot to snap a photo of Greg.
My focus for the entire day was supporting Greg and my friends, but as the day progressed, I started to feel a sense of loss. I was perfectly fine the day before the race when we picked up Greg's packet, and even during the race when I was watching all the runners go by. But once the race was over and everyone started talking about their races, I felt a little sad. I didn't want to rain on anyone's parade so I did a good job of ignoring my feelings and focusing on being there for my friends. And yet, I still had a nagging feeling that I had missed out.

Later that evening, after all the celebrations were done, I started to reflect on my feelings. I was sad. It was hard to see everyone else have a great race when I was unable to run, and wouldn't be able to run the Army Ten-miler for another year. I then began to judge myself for falling into the comparison trap. For allowing other people's accomplishments to diminish my own. After all, I was recovering well, feeling healthy, and I had just run five miles the day before. So why was I back to my old ways of comparing myself to other people?

But then I realized something. I actually had not fallen into the comparison trap. Even though watching other people run this race really well (especially Greg, who ran the time that I had hoped to run) made me feel sad about my situation, I wasn't really comparing myself to them. Instead, I felt lonely. Lonely because everyone else was talking about their races, and I didn't have a story to share. Lonely because everyone else was talking about the upcoming Indianapolis marathon, which I wouldn't be running. Lonely because I was surrounded by my running friends and my husband, but not having a shared experience.

Countless runners have reached out to me to thank me for writing my book. Often, they tell me that they felt like they were reading their own story, and it was good to know that someone else out there experienced the same thing. It seems that readers are connecting with the book on an emotional level because it makes them feel less "lonely" for having feeling of disappointment, loss, injustice, and a slew of other negative emotions. They've thanked me for being so open and honest about my feelings. In a world dominated by social media where people typically only talk about their successes, it can feel lonely if you perceive yourself to be the only person who didn't set a PR or who didn't have a good race.

If you're trying to work on your mental toughness by steering yourself away from making comparisons to other people, then it's good to be aware of this loneliness component. You can be doing a great job of not comparing yourself to other people while still feeling disappointed, sad, or lonely about your own situation. It's important to separate the two. In my case, I have to be realistic in knowing that I am going to be a little sad about missing out on these fall races. It's harder to ignore those feelings when I'm actually attending the races and supporting my friends and my husband. But, overall, I'm in a great spot mentally and I am truly happy to see other people succeed. Especially Greg, who I have been coaching. The goal with mental toughness isn't to never feel sad or upset. The goal is to not dwell on those feelings and have them interfere with your overall state of being.

So when you feel like everyone else is. . . then, ask yourself if you are comparing yourself and your worth to those people (the comparison trap) or if you are lonely because you feel like you are the only one who feels a certain way. If you are lonely, then remember that you're actually not alone and that many other runners get down about their running from time to time. They just don't post about it on Facebook, usually, or even talk about it.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Running After Mono: Making Great Strides

It's comeback time!
I am thrilled to be healthy and able to run again!

My previous post, Running and Post-viral Fatigue Syndrome, summed up the timeline of the illness,
and my first few runs back. I officially consider September 20 as my first successful post-mono run, and since then I have been doing quite well. So it's been about 2.5 weeks, after having not run for 12 weeks.

Before I get into the specifics, I'm going to make some comparisons between this comeback and my comeback from mono 4 years ago. I'm a bit of a data junkie, and I love analyzing things based on the facts. Here are some key findings.

I'm running more frequently, but my distances are shorter.
For the first month or so back in 2012, I ran a pattern of 2 days on, 1 day off. With my current plan, I am running 5-6 days a week. In fact, I plan to run 6 days a week for the foreseeable future. But my daily mileage is much lower. At this point in my comeback in 2012, I was already running 7 miles!  I prefer this current approach because it keeps the legs moving with more consistency, and no single run is all that difficult.

I'm not taking walk breaks.
I used walk breaks for the first month of my 2012 comeback. It allowed me to do those longer runs without getting too worn out. I did walk breaks for my first week only this time, and I don't plan to go back to them. It's definitely more challenging without the walk breaks, particularly from a mental standpoint because there is nothing breaking the run up. As a result, my overall paces are faster. So, in 2012 at this point I ran 7 miles at a pace of 10:35, but now I am running 5 miles at a pace of 9:33.

I'm not using a heart rate monitor.
Part of my attachment to walk breaks in 2012 was to keep my heart rate down. I wanted to keep my heart rate in zone 2 to make sure I wasn't overdoing it. This time, I am pretty sure my heart rate is creeping into zone 3 by the end of my runs, but I don't want to be as scientific about it. It's good to keep the heart rate down on easy runs when you are logging loads of miles and also running speed workouts. But right now, all of my runs are easy, and if I don't get my heart rate up a little bit, I won't make as much progress. I'm primarily running by effort/feel.

So, given all that, here is a recap of the past two weeks:

Week of September 26:
Monday: 5 x (6:00 jog, 1:00 walk) for at total of 3.3 miles at an average pace of 10:37
This is fun!
Tuesday: 2.0 miles at a pace of 9:49
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 2.2 miles at a pace of 10:21 (on a treadmill because of thunderstorms)
Friday: 2.5 miles at a pace of 9:48
Saturday: 4 miles at a pace of 9:26
Sunday: Rest

Total mileage: 14

I was honestly shocked that my Saturday run was as fast as that. I had planned to run it at a pace of around 9:50, but the faster pace felt more natural. All of the runs last week felt super easy and not at all challenging. By the end of the week, I was antsy to do more, and I didn't feel like I needed a rest day on Sunday. The rest of my training plan from here on out has me running 6 days a week instead of 5, and I think I will be able to handle that just fine.

Week of October 3:
The great thing about making a comeback is that progress happens quickly. So last week's "long run" of 4 miles became this week's easy run! On Monday, I ran a slightly hillier route than I had on Saturday, so it was more challenging.

Monday: 4 miles at a pace of 9:41

Tuesday: 2.9 miles at a pace of 9:32.  This run finished with 4 x 50 meter strides (that's about 10 seconds of running). My coach didn't want me to do any speed work for the first month, but I asked him if he could include some strides just to get my legs used to turning over quickly again. It felt so good to be able to run fast.

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: 3 miles at a pace of 9:17. This run also finished with 4 x 50 meter strides, but by this time, I was a pro at strides! I found my "stride" and ran them at the following paces: 6:17, 6:22, 6:31, 6:33.

Friday: 4.2 miles at a pace of 9:20. This was the same route as Monday, and the effort level felt
Feeling wonderful!
equivalent. How nice to be shaving 20 seconds per mile off of my easy pace in just four days. This is the best thing about making a comeback! Progress happens quickly at first.

Saturday: 5 miles at a pace of 9:33. During the last two miles, I started to feel some fatigue in my legs. This is to be expected, and I actually liked it because I want to feel like I am being challenged. Last week, I felt like the training was too easy and I flew through it. I felt the same at the beginning of this week, but now I feel like I am pushing myself to some extent, but without overdoing it of course. Throughout the run, I felt relaxed and my breathing was easy. I was able to easily carry on a conversation with Greg. But my legs were getting tired and I could feel the effort in my lungs a little.

Tomorrow: Planning for 2-3 miles before I go cheer for Greg and my friends at the Army Ten Miler. This will give me about 22 miles for the week. Which is awesome!

I have some 5Ks on the calendar, the first of which is in five weeks. With the Army 10-miler tomorrow (which I am registered for, but not running) and all of these other fall marathons going on, I am just dying to get back out on a race course. It's tough to be patient, and I need to make sure I focus on my own journey without getting caught up in what everyone else is doing. My day will come.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Running and Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome

Celebrating my recovery with a beach sprint!
I really wanted to title this post "Recovered!!!" but I'm hoping that this title will be more searchable for runners struggling with mono and/or post-viral fatigue syndrome. My "Running After Mono" posts from 2012 still receive quite a few hits and many readers have commented that the posts have been helpful for them.

Onto the important stuff: I'm 100% recovered from mono/post-viral illness! It's so wonderful to have my normal life back. I never took my health for granted, but I'm even more appreciative of being able to do everyday things than I was before.

I came down with this illness on June 30 and spent most of the last three months unable to do much of anything other than lay on a couch. I had good days and bad days, but if I did too much activity on the good days, I would pay for it. I had to bail out of all of the races I had registered for, including two summer 5Ks, the Army 10-miler, and the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. There's not enough time to train! Here's a rough timeline of how the illness went:

June 30: Initial illness with sore throat and extreme fatigue (no fever or nausea)

July: Extremely tired and weak, with occasional dizziness. I had a few good days sprinkled in, which enabled me to go into work and do the book signings that I had arranged prior to getting sick.

First three weeks of August: Showed signs of improvement, but whenever I felt like I was getting
better, I would try to run, and then I'd feel like crap for the next few days. I quit my job in the middle of the month, so that gave me the ability to focus 100% of my mental energy on recovery.

August 24 - September 2: THE WORST! I attempted a short run on August 23rd, and that was clearly a mistake. I spent these two weeks barely leaving the house. I colored in adult coloring books, watched Netflix, and read. I was dizzy, tired, and had zero energy. I took frequent naps and slept 8+ hours each night.
This run on 8/23 was a mistake.

September 3: After 10 days of feeling like a zombie, I finally woke up feeling like a human.

September 4-9: Daily improvements. I started tracking my sleep and my steps using a FitBit. I still was primarily inactive, as the doctor had told me that once I started to feel better, I should still take it easy. Here are my daily step totals, which show how extremely sedentary I was. The only movement I did was walking around the house!

  • Sept. 4: 1,340
  • Sept. 5: 1,394
  • Sept. 6: 1,567
  • Sept. 7: 1,219
  • Sept. 8: 3,095 (I went shopping)
  • Sept. 9: 1,874

September 10: I realized that I felt 100% normal for the entire day! I had been worried that my shopping trip on the 8th would set me back, but it didn't. Finally I had my health back and feeling like a "normal" person was such a welcome change.

September 11-19: I felt 100% recovered every day, but I knew I still needed to take it easy. There were times when I felt a little tired, but they were infrequent, and even before I got sick I was often tired. I started a new job on September 12, and part of me was scared that I wouldn't be able to handle working full time. But the job energized me and I was able to focus really well. Starting a new job naturally gave me more steps, but I also started taking some slow walks. 
  • Sept. 13: 1 mile walk (5,984 steps for the day)
  • Sept. 15: 1.4 mile walk  (7,444 steps for the day)
  • Sept. 16: 1.4 mile walk (6,519 steps for the day)
  • Sept. 19: Walk on the beach (didn't measure it, but 6,363 steps for the day)
Beach walk!
As for the new job, I am the Vice President of Demand Generation (marketing) for a tech company. It's an amazing opportunity working with a talented team and I'm really excited to dive in. The commute is a little bit longer, but I am sure I will adjust.

September 20-now: With 10 days of complete health behind me, I decided it was time to very gradually ease my way back into running. Greg and I were at the beach and it was in the upper 70's and humid every day. So my only run at the beach was more of a walk with 2-minute jog breaks! Greg and I drove home from the beach the next day (Wednesday), allowing me the opportunity to rest before going for another jog/walk.
  • Sept: 20: 4 times (3 minute walk, 2 minute jog)
  • Sept. 21: Rest
  • Sept. 22: 4 times (4 minute jog, 1 minute walk)
  • Sept. 23: 5 times (4 minute jog, 1 minute walk)
  • Sept. 24: Rest
Yes, it was my second week on the job and I took a vacation! Greg and I had planned the trip months ago, and it was nice to digest all the information I had learned in the first week.

I am confident that I am completely out of the woods now. On top of running yesterday, I attended my 20-year high school reunion in the evening, which involved a lot of walking (we took a tour of the school) and being outside in the heat to watch a football game. I didn't sleep all that well last night, but I still woke up feeling really good!

All in all, the illness lasted 11 full weeks, and then another week before I started to ease myself back into running. This is a 12-week training hiatus, which is the longest I've ever had since I started running. Even when I had mono in 2012, I didn't take this much time off from running because I had periods of feeling really good and was able to run. I even ran a 13-miler in 80+ degrees during my last bout with mono! That was before I realized it was mono, though.

Running feels great! 
The 2012 illness was more polarized. I either felt completely normal/healthy, or extremely ill. There were some days when I felt in-between, but typically it was one extreme or the other. This recent illness was more of a constant dragging fatigue. At no point could I have run 13 miles, and when I tried to run even one mile, my body revolted.

How does it feel to run again? Great! I can tell that I am out of shape, but the good news is that the motion of running still feels really natural to me. I don't care what my pace is, and none of my runs this week have felt strained or even challenging. I didn't feel like I was pushing myself at any time, which is good! 

I'm going to work with my coach to try and get back into shape. I know that it's going to be difficult at first because I won't be able to hit the same paces that I used to hit. But I'm really looking forward to the fact that I will see progress on a weekly basis! When you're super fit, the gains you make are small. But when you're coming back, there's way more room for improvement, so I'm just going to enjoy that aspect of it. 

In terms of races, I still want to be ranked by RunWashington for the 30-39 year old age group for 2016. To do this, I need to run at least 3 of their "ranked" races by the end of the year (You need 6 total and I have already run 3). The good news is that of the 6 races that you are required to run, only your best 3 times are used to determine your ranking. So as long as I cross 3 finish lines by the end of the year, I qualify to be included in the rankings. Slow times for these races won't affect my current ranking. Of course, I had been hoping to get faster and improve prior to getting sick, but now I will settle for just being able to use the times I have already logged. I'll definitely run the Turkey Trot that I do every year, and probably a Christmas-themed 5K in December.

Speaking of RunWashington, they wrote about my book Boston Bound in their fall issue. Here is the link to the article, which talks about three local authors who write about running.

In other book news, Bustle published an article that I wrote about how sports psychology helped me qualify for the Boston Marathon. I'm not a huge fan of all the animated gifs they added, but it's still nice to see my work in a high-profile publication.

My next few weeks will be focused on diving into my new job and gradually rebuilding my fitness.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Barriers to Boston: 4 Ways to Cope

As runners strived to qualify for Boston 2017 within just days of the qualifying window closing, two rather frustrating marathon mishaps occurred. On Sunday, August 28, runners were taken on a nearly 1-mile detour during the Santa Rosa marathon. At the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon in PA on September 11, runners were "derailed" by as much as 10 minutes due to a slow train crossing.

In both cases, runners who had trained to qualify for Boston missed their times due to circumstances beyond their control. The B.A.A. is not accepting adjusted times because they need to be able to maintain consistent standards, and there is no way to know who would or would not have qualified if the detour or train stop didn't happen.

My reaction to these incidents four years ago would have been something dramatic like "That's so unfair! How devastating! Those runners must be so upset!" And while I still see these incidents as unfortunate, I realize that shit happens, and if you run a lot of races, you are bound to experience something of this nature. Ideally it's not during your last-minute Boston attempt, but it shouldn't be all that surprising that mistakes happen occasionally. 

I've personally experienced both of these situations. In terms of the detour, I ran the Love Rox Half Marathon a few years ago and the leader took a wrong turn which added at least an extra half mile for those in the front of the pack. Not only did it add distance, but we actually had to run all the way up a staircase, and then back down it, which was not part of the course. There was actually a different staircase that was part of the course, but due to the detour, we ran an extra set. I was new to mental toughness and I initially let this really bother me, but as the race progressed and obstacles continued to pop up, I started taking them in stride and just focusing on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.

In terms of having to come to a complete stop, there was a bomb scare during the Marine Corps Marathon 10K a few years back.  Runners at the front of the pack had to stop for 10 minutes. I
The 2012 MCM 10K 
stopped for about 2-3 minutes. I was actually in the process of making a comeback from mono at the time, so I wasn't really focused on my finish time, but I think I would have been pretty upset if I was hoping to set a PR that day.

One of the benefits of being an experienced runner is that you're no stranger to mishaps on the course and you learn to deal with them. In light of these, here are my recommendations for how to handle these situation during the race, and how to cope with them after they've sabotaged your race goal.

During the Race

1. Ignore what doesn't matter. When racing, your focus should be on getting the finish line as quickly as possible. When unforeseen obstacles arise, make an immediate determination if they are something you need to pay attention to. For example, if you see ice on the course, you will need to pay attention to that by adjusting your footing or making sure you dodge the ice. If it starts pouring down rain, you may not like it, but there's not much you can do about it, so the trick is to ignore it and keep running. So when the unexpected happens in your next race, quickly determine if you have to make an adjustment, and if not, ignore it. Don't let it take any of your mental energy away.

2. Stay emotion-neutral. If the obstacle is big enough, like the two examples in recent marathons, you will realize that your time goal will be impacted. Tuck those emotions aside and save them for later. It's okay to be disappointed that you missed your goal, but don't let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You still want to run your best possible time in spite of the obstacle. When I was running Love Rox, I realized that a PR wouldn't be happening fairly early in the race. My initial reaction was to give up, but then I snapped into a tougher version of myself and set those emotions aside and continued to push really hard. Mentally strong athletes continue to work hard and do their best even when they know they aren't going to achieve their original time goal.

After the Race

3. Find satisfaction in your performance. While you may be bummed that an injustice was done to you, you can still walk away with a worthwhile experience and a performance you are proud of. Instead of focusing on the fact that you missed your goal (something you couldn't control) focus on the things that you could control, and that you did a good job of. It's not easy to mentally pull yourself back together after having to come to a complete stop. But if you are able to do that, that's a huge win, and something that you can pull on in future races. I'm really glad I had my Love Rox experience because now when a race throws something at me, I know I can deal with it.

4. Let go and move on quickly. The sooner you accept that you didn't make your goal, the sooner you will have more mental energy to focus on the next race. It's not productive to continue to feel "robbed" for days or weeks on end. Find some humor in it. Look at it as character-building. And realize that this type of thing does happen. It's rare, but it really is part of the sport. The fact that two mishaps happened within weeks of each other at these "last chance" marathons demonstrates that shit does happen. It's easy to think thoughts like: This is so unfair. I deserved to get into Boston. Realize that many people train hard and are physically capable of running a BQ time, but don't actually do it. Luck is involved and everything has to lineup on race day for an optimal result. Accept this as the nature of the sport.

These types of incidents all fall into the bucket of things you cannot control. I couldn't control the fact
Boston weather: not in my control!
that I came down with mono (or a mono-like virus) this summer. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't taking as good of myself as I could have been when the illness struck, but overall I see it as something that happened to me that I couldn't control. The weather is another big one. If Boston 2016 weren't so warm, I'm confident that I would have qualified for 2017. But I didn't and I was able to accept that and move on. 

Originally, I thought I would have two good chances at qualifying for 2018: Indianapolis Monumental this fall and then another marathon in the spring. Now, I only have one chance and I'll be going into the training cycle completely out of shape instead of in my best shape ever like I was in June. Even though an illness is completely different from being stopped by a train, both things fall into the same "cannot control" category, so it's no use focusing on it.  It is only natural to be disappointed, though.

What can we, as runners, control? We can control which races we choose to run. I never returned to Love Rox and I now avoid races that are in their inaugural year if I am trying to PR. Older, more established races, have a better chance of being well organized and these obstacles being minimized. But even still, some things are beyond the control of the race director. The Cherry Blossom 10-Miler ended up being 9.4 miles last spring due to a forced re-routing. And then there was the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. So, really, you have to go into every race prepared for whatever it could throw at you, and focused on getting to the finish line no matter what may occur.

Finally, this is why it's good to have "process goals" like executing the race strategy, nutrition, hydration, pushing hard, etc. Because you may miss your "outcome goal" for reasons beyond your control, but still run the best race of your life.