Sunday, May 21, 2017

20:17 in 2017

This morning I ran the Semper Fi 5K in Washington, DC.  Over the past six weeks, I've been focused on increasing my speed at shorter distances and this race was one in a series of several that I had signed up for.

I had run this race last year, and even though the weather was miserable, the course itself was flast: flat and fast! In terms of a time goal, I was hoping to shave about 10 seconds off of my 20:38 PR from the GW Parkway Classic three weeks ago. I thought it would be a nice milestone to be in the lower half of the 20's.  This seemed like realistic goal because when I ran the Parkway Classic, I felt a bit "off," and for whatever reason, I didn't have the usual pep in my step that I typically do. This morning, I knew I would have to work really hard, but I thought I would be able to PR.

My goal for the year was to run a 20:17 5K in 2017, and I had been targeting my fall Turkey Trot as the race to do it. These spring/summer races would give me an opportunity to work on my pacing and the mental aspect of pushing really hard. I had also developed an entirely new respect for the distance. My 10K PR pace was only 4 seconds per mile slower than my 5K PR pace. I also started reading up more on 5Ks and coming to the realization that maybe I just couldn't push my body as hard as other people could. I could run for a long time at a hard pace, but trying to run even faster was a hurdle.

Being a data junkie, I conducted some predictive analytics prior to the race. Last year, I ran the Mother's Day 4-Miler followed by the Semper Fi 5K. I did the same thing this year. My average pace for the 4-Miler last year was 6:58 and my average pace for the 5K was 6:47. A difference of 11 seconds per mile. This year, I ran the Mother's Day 4-Miler at an average pace of 6:44, and subtracting 11 seconds per mile "predicted" a pace of 6:33. I realize this method isn't foolproof because you would need to look at as a percentage and not raw seconds. But the times are close enough that I was able to avoid more complicated math.

Last year's race in the pouring rain
Of course there are all sorts of other considerations to keep in mind like the weather, the possibility of an "off" day, and the fact the races were only one week apart this year, but two weeks apart last year. Even still, I had a ballpark pace to target.

Speaking of being a data junkie, the company that I work for, MicroStrategy, had a team at this race. (The company sells enterprise analytics software.) It was awesome to see some of my co-workers before the race and get a team picture afterward.

Before the Race
Greg and I woke up, ate breakfast, and left the house at 6:50 for an 8:30 start time. We drove into the city, parked easily and jogged to the start line. I generally prefer to pick up my bibs in advance, but that hadn't been feasible for this race because packet pickup was in DC, which would have eaten up a good portion of our day. The line to get our bibs was quite long, but I figured it would probably move quickly. As I stood in line, I drank my UCAN while anxiously watching the time get later and later. The line wasn't moving.

They were assigning bib numbers through a computer system and I heard that they had lost their internet connection, which is why the line wasn't moving. There were actually four lines in total, and everyone had already registered; they were simply picking up their bib and shirt. Thankfully, they opened up more lines with more computers, the system seemed to be working again, and Greg and I were able to get our bib just in time to pin the bib on and warm up. I hate cutting things that close on race morning, and a huge sense of relief came over me once I had my bib in hand.

Greg and I warmed up for two miles and returned to the start line at 8:20. But nobody was lined up. We found our friends Allison and Cheryl, who told us that they had announced a delayed start. I was definitely annoyed by this, as were the other runners who had timed their nutrition and warm-ups for an 8:30 start, but there wasn't anything we could do. My plan was to get back on the course and run some strides, but before I knew it, the Marines had lined up and were doing something special with the flags. And it didn't feel right to run by them. Then the national anthem came, and it didn't feel right to be doing strides during that. So I settled on jogging in place at the start line and hoping that would keep my legs loose.

There was a man standing about 10 feet away from the start line on the other side who said in a conversational voice, "are you guys ready?" And a few seconds later he blew the horn. I had been ready, but expected there to be a countdown or something. Regardless, we were off!

Mile 1: 6:32
Because this course is flat, it's easy to get pulled out really quickly and typically I do. I tried my best to start at what felt like 5K pace would be. About halfway through the mile, I looked at my Garmin, which told me that I had averaged a pace of 6:40 from the start until now. This worried me a little. The effort felt hard, and I was trying to run that first mile at a pace of 6:32. I briefly considered that this might just be an off day, but then I quickly told myself to just push harder and try to run that 6:32 mile. And voila! I did! Often times in a race when I wish I was running faster, I try and I try and I just can't do it. But this morning, pushing a little harder in the second half of that first mile worked. During this mile, I also saw my friend, Cristina, cheering for me (and others) on the side of the course.

Mile 2: 6:35
Even though this mile is flat, I had slowed down substantially during it last year. So I told myself not to worry if I slowed down a little, as long as I maintained the effort level. At the turnaround, I could see that only two women were ahead of me. Unfortunately, though, I remembered the website said that only the "top 2" finishers would be recognized in the awards ceremony. I cruised through this mile and it wasn't nearly as painful as I remember it being last year. I should mention that last year, it was 50 degrees with very, very, VERY heavy rain. Torrential downpour. Those conditions were challenging, but today I was dealing with an abnormally wind-free, rain-free, sun-free day. It was a tad bit warm for me to call it the "race weather jackpot" of last weekend, but it was pretty darn close.

Mile 3: 6:25
Once I knew I had only a mile left to go, I started putting on the gas. As the mile progressed, I ran faster and faster and faster. It was as if the closer I got to the finish, the more motivated I became. It
was extremely painful however. It felt as though someone were scooping out my guts, scoopful by scoopful. I had to constantly fill my brain with words of encouragement. During the last mile of a 5K, your brain is receiving LOTS of signals from your body to decrease the effort. The muscles, the heart, the lungs-- they are all telling the brain to stop running so hard. So that's why the mental strategy becomes so important. You have to fill your brain with messages that combat what the body is saying. I felt insanely strong during the last mile but it hurt so, so, so much.

The Last 0.13: 5:45 pace
I love the finish line of this race and others that are held in this park in DC. You can see the finish line from about a 1/3 of a mile out, and it's pancake flat. I saw Greg finish with the clock reading 19:xx. Yes! He ran his first sub-20:00! And as I approached I saw that I had the opportunity to run under 20:20. I gave it everything I had and crossed the line in 20:17.

I was absolutely exhausted as I walked toward Greg and then we watched for our friends to come in. I cheered loudly for them when they did, and they both looked strong and focused.

After the Race
Greg and I cooled down with one of my co-workers who I actually had just met at the race (it's a large company). And then we waited for the awards ceremony. I turns out that I was the third female finisher, but they only recognized the top two finishers overall. So instead I placed first in my age group, winning a certificate with photos of the 2015 race on it! And a towel with the race logo. It was actually nice to have a towel to wipe my face with!

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
The biggest takeaway from this race is that truly, some days you "have it" and some days you don't. When I ran the GW Parkway Classic 5K three weeks ago, I didn't have it. Even though I set a PR, I knew that I was in shape for a faster time. The fact that I was able to shave 21 seconds off of that time in just three weeks is telling. I should note that the GW Parkway course had two hills and a modest
headwind, but nothing that would account for a 21-second difference. My sports psychologist told me many times that "performance is dynamic." I had seen this concept in action before, but never exactly like this. This lesson makes it easier to accept when you don't run a race as fast as you expected to. It may not be an indicator of fitness or how hard you pushed, it could just be an off day.

After reflecting on the first mile, I think it felt hard right out of the gate because my warm up had been over 20 minutes earlier. A 6:40 pace felt like a 6:20, and that was probably because my body had to adapt to moving again, unlike an ideally-timed warm up which ends 5-10 minutes before race start. Hopefully I won't encounter another late start anytime soon, but if I do, I should try to do an additional warm up so it won't feel as hard at the beginning.

I was confident in my ability to PR this morning, but I didn't think it would be by more than 10 seconds. Even though my special analytic formula predicted a 20:21, it would have been quite a leap from my 20:38. I honestly thought that the 20:17 would be a fall goal. And now, of course, I am eyeing a sub-20:00 for the Turkey Trot. That said, I will have just come off of a marathon training cycle, which doesn't necessarily correlate to a faster 5K.

Quick stats:
  • I placed 3rd out of 402 women
  • I beat my time from last year by 48 seconds
  • My Strava 5K time was 20:06 
  • This is my third 5K PR of 2017
  • This is my seventh PR of 2017 (the three others were the 4-miler, 10K, 10-miler, and marathon)
I'll be running a 5K three weeks from now, and I am not sure what my goal will be for that race. It's almost certain to be a scorcher, and the course is slightly more challenging. I'm really just enjoying doing new types of workouts and seeing how I handle them.

But YAY! I ran a 20:17 5K in 2017. That's pretty damn cool.

Team MicroStrategy

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Boston Bound's Birthday and the Story Behind the Story

Exactly one year ago, I published my first book, Boston Bound. I never expected it would sell so many copies; I simply thought it might be helpful for someone to read so I put it out there.

How It Started
I had wanted to write a book since the age of 10. I was actually quite serious about being the youngest novelist ever. I asked my parents to buy me the Writer's Market book so that I could send my
manuscript around to publishers. As I child, I was a prolific writer. I kept a diary, but I also wrote many short stories, which were actually more like sagas.

In college, I majored in English with the goal of becoming a professional writer of some sort. I initially explored journalism through an internship after my second year of college, but I quickly realized that it was too boring for my taste. I often didn't care about the stories and I wanted to be more creative. The following summer, I interned at a public relations firm, which I found far more strategic and interesting. When I graduated college in the year 2000, my first full-time job was a Marketing Communications Associate for a technology company, MicroStrategy. In this role, I wrote web site copy, brochure content, press releases, and other marketing materials.

The notion of writing a book was always in the back of my head, but I never felt "ready." I continued to keep a detailed diary of my life, which turned into a less private MySpace blog, which transformed into a very public running blog. When I started to go through the process of changing my mindset toward running by working with a sports psychologist, I kept track of everything on this blog, Racing Stripes. I began to think about my races differently, and my race reports became less about attaining a time goal and more about the process of running the race. I blogged about everything I was learning, and writing it all out helped solidify the ideas in my head.

I had a breakthrough moment in 2013, and from there, everything started to change for me. With the help of a sports psychologist I transformed myself from a highly obsessive perfectionist who was always worried about how other people me, to someone who was more relaxed and truly confident. I became a happier person in all aspects of my life-- all because I learned to change my mindset toward running.

Greg noticed a huge change in me, and he was the one who encouraged me to write a book shortly after I qualified for Boston in the spring of 2015. For a while it was something that I was going to do at some point, but then we had a serious conversation about it during our European cruise the following August. We talked about how I could actually make the book a reality, and I thought about how I might structure the story. On that cruise, I decided I would start working on the book when we returned home. Boston was less than nine months away, and I figured I could write the book as the marathon drew nearer, like a reflective crescendo to the big day. So at the end of August, I sat down at my computer and began writing.

The Writing Process
I didn't tell anyone I was writing this book except for Greg and my mother. It wasn't that I was trying to be secretive, I just wasn't sure if I would actually publish it or if it would go anywhere. Also, I wanted it to be my own private, personal project. Writing the book was extremely therapeutic; it was my "me" time to solidify the seven-year transformation in my own head. The act of writing it was a deeply personal experience and I wasn't ready to talk about it.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the writing process was determining how to structure the story. I ultimately settled on six parts, with three chapters each. I wanted the book to be approachable-- something that could be read in quick, digestible pieces, just like a blog. But I also wanted to take the time to lay out the entire story so that the reader would feel like he or she was "with" me. From being so active in the running community, I knew that I wasn't the only one struggling with race anxiety and the feeling of having to "prove" myself in running. I wanted to reach people who were holding themselves back without even realizing it, just like I had been doing.

While writing the book was a personal experience, I kept my audience in mind with every word that I wrote. And to me, that's the fun of writing. The ability to tell a story or communicate an idea in a way that truly touches people is a beautiful thing. I wanted to connect with my readers on a personal level.

Once I had finished writing the book, I gave the first three chapters to five trusted friends and asked for honest feedback. They all came back to me with similar comments regarding the chronology of events. Some were confused by the timeline and others had ideas on how the first chapter could be more impactful. I spent a good amount of time determining the best way to incorporate their feedback, and I ended up restructuring the first chapter completely. This was a hugely important part of the process because the first chapter is what draws the reader in.

Once I was comfortable with the manuscript, I drafted up a pitch and shopped it around to a small number of select publishers. They all turned me down. One of them told me that there are so many running books out there, that publishers will only accept books written by professional athletes. As a marketer, I knew that this actually created a huge opportunity for me. If the only running books being published today are by elite athletes and coaches, then my book would stand out as being different and probably more relatable. Winning the olympics is a goal that few people have. Running the Boston Marathon (or simply getting faster) is a goal that hundreds of thousands of people have.

"Go" Time
So I set out on the self-publishing path which really wasn't all that difficult. I learned how to format the pages in good ol' Microsoft Word and I had a cover professionally designed. I researched stats on self-published books and I found that on average, a self-published book only sells 150 throughout its life. To me, the largest benefit of having a professional publisher is that they market the book for you. But I had been in marketing for over 16 years, so I didn't really need help there. I figured I could do all the marketing and PR myself.

As I ran the Boston Marathon in April 2016, I thought about the book. It was fully written at that point, except for the last chapter, which would be a recap of the race itself. What would the final punctuation mark of the book look like? I actually wasn't even sure if I wanted to include my Boston experience. One of the major lessons of my book is that the journey is more important than the destination, so Boston as a destination really doesn't matter. But then I realized that it did matter, particularly since my experience of Boston was made 1,000 times more special because of all the struggles I had to overcome to get there.

When everything was ready I asked myself if I truly wanted to put the book out there. After all, it contained many personal details about my life that could be ready by anyone. And maybe the book sucked. I didn't know! I couldn't be an objective judge. Greg and my mother told me they thought it was good, but those were obviously biased opinions.

Once it was out there, I wouldn't be able to "undo" it so I needed to be sure. Ultimately, I realized I had nothing to lose, so why not publish it and see what would happen? I sent everything to Amazon and within just a few days, the book was available in paperback and on Kindle. The official launch date was May 16th, 2016-- exactly one year ago!

I announced the book's launch on my blog and posted about it on my personal Facebook page. Almost everyone was surprised, as I had only told about 10 people about it prior to publishing. I also created a Facebook page for the book and built a website for the book. Perhaps the biggest promotion channel was Instagram, where I had been trying to grow my following in anticipation of publishing the book. I think I had around 900 followers at the time, most of whom were runners.

The first person to purchase the book and read it (to my knowledge) was my friend Rochelle. She downloaded the Kindle version and sped through it within 24 hours. Her feedback was glowing and she found the book to be relatable and honest.

Life As an Author
The sales started to trickle in. I had a dashboard that reported how many books were sold, but I had no idea who was buying them or how they had heard of the book. A few weeks after publishing, a stranger reached out to me on Facebook telling me how the book changed her life, and that she had highlighted certain portions of the book and was planning to read it again. I was deeply touched. Knowing that I had made a difference in someone's life was extremely rewarding.

The book started to gain momentum and within one month the book had sold over 150 copies, which is more than most self-published books sell in their lifetime. Before I knew it, I was scheduling book signings and being interviewed for podcasts and magazine articles. Of course, I was doing all of this on top of having a full time job and training at high intensity in the heat. That's when the mono struck and my body shut down for three months.

Even through my illness, I continued to promote the book on Instagram and Facebook. People started reaching out to me on social media telling me that the book really helped them, not just in terms of running, but in terms of other things they were going through.

To date, Boston Bound has sold well over 2,000 copies. The book is still being purchased on a daily basis and has taken on a life of its own. As I said earlier, I would have been happy just to reach the 150 mark, with half of those being my friends. I never expected the book to be so popular. I definitely plan on writing another book, but I am not sure when or what exactly the topic would be.

In the meantime, I will continue to promote Boston Bound and capture my ongoing running journey here on this blog. Special thanks to Greg for encouraging me to make the book a reality, to my mother for editing the book three times, and to everyone who has allowed me to touch their lives through my words.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

I Hit The Racing Weather Jackpot

That's right. This morning I, along with about 800 other people, were given the gift of perfect racing weather in Mid-May for the Mother's Day 4-Miler. It was unseasonably cool (50 degrees), there was no wind or rain, and it was mostly sunny with a few clouds.

Greg and I had run this race last year for the first time. We decided to return because the course offered a unique pacing challenge. The first mile features a net incline of 70 feet, and most of the rest of the race is downhill, with a few hum-dinger up hills for extra thrills. The Washington DC metro area actually offers a few four-mile races throughout the year. If I'm counting correctly, I had run 7 four-milers prior to today's race. So while it's not a widely common distance, I've run enough of them for a PR to be meaningful.

Before I get into this race report, I'd like to give a shout out to blog reader Kate. Hello Kate! I went to the Reston Town Center yesterday to pick up my race packet, when I was approached by someone who asked me if I was Elizabeth Clor. I replied yes, and she told me that she read my blog. We didn't talk long, but it was a nice surprise to meet a blog reader and Instagram follower.

Goals and Strategy
Greg and me
Last year I ran this race in 27:51. The weather was also seasonably cool (in the 50's) but quite humid. Not the "racing weather jackpot" that we had this morning, but pretty good considering the time of year. This year, my goal was to break 27:00, but I wasn't sure by how much I could do it. On one hand, my 10K PR from February is a 6:42 pace, and that was on a hilly course. On the other hand, my most recent 5K PR is a 6:38 pace on a flat course! My stretch goal was to average a 6:38 pace or faster, but that would mean beating last year's time by over a minute, and it assumes that I wasn't running to my full potential two weeks ago at the 5K. My strategy was focused on not going out too fast on the first hill so that I could really hammer the last three miles.

Before the Race
Race morning went smoothly. Greg and I had retrieved our bibs the day before, which meant one less logistical thing to worry about. We arrived 45 minutes in advance of the start time, drank our UCAN and warmed up for two miles. We warmed up on the course, which was a good reminder of the tricky hill profile. The first mile is a net 70 ft climb, but there is also some downhill, which means that the total climb is actually greater than 70 feet. I felt good during the warmup and I was ready to run fast.

After the warm up, I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom, but I'd never make it through the porta-potty lines in time. So Greg and I found a path that led into a secluded woody area, and I was able go pee there among nature! We then met up with our friend Hannah and chatted with her for a bit at the start line. Just by looking around I thought that Hannah would probably win the race. She had just run Boston and she didn't want to over-do it, but regardless, I thought she was poised for first. My father and step-mother had come to the race to cheer us on, and Greg told them where to go to get the best viewing.

Mile 1: 6:58
Race start
The race started inside of a park, and we ran down a hill to get out of it. As I exited the park, I ran by my dad and step mom and began to settle in. As I ran up the long hill, I repeated over and over again, "Relax up the hill. Relax up the hill." I wanted to run strong, but without straining myself.  There were five women ahead of me, one of whom I passed at the top of the hill. I was optimistic about passing at least one more of them, but I knew I needed to be patient. Greg was also still within my sight, which was encouraging. I had planned to run this mile in 6:55, and ended up with a 6:58 which I was fine with. Last year I had run this mile in 7:04, so I was already on track for a PR.

Mile 2: 6:38
Now that the hill was over, it was time to start racing. After so much uphill, I felt like this mile was all downhill, even though it was only a -7 decline. I was neck-and-neck with two other women and there were a few men around us as well. I didn't want to surge too soon, so I reminded myself to run my own race. I also reminded myself that I had been running 50+ mile weeks and that even though this pace felt hard, I would be able to maintain it for the rest of the race. I'm pretty sure I passed one of the women at the end of this mile, but I was still very close to the other one. I thought that there were only two women ahead of me, but I couldn't be entirely sure. Last year I ran this mile in 6:54, so I was now way ahead of 2016 Elizabeth, which was what was most important.

Mile 3: 6:47
This mile is deceiving. Before the race, I had looked back on my Strava data and noticed that mile 3 was a net 21 ft elevation decrease. So it should be fast-- faster than mile 2. But last year I had slowed down substantially, and had run a 7:04. As I started the mile, I surged on a long downhill. This is when I passed the woman who was next to me and didn't expect to see her again. I looked at my Garmin halfway through the mile and it read 6:35. But with about a quarter of a mile to go, there was a huge hill. I had remembered this, but I thought that since most of the mile was so fast, it wouldn't cost me too much time. Wrong. This hill took so much out of me and it took all the mental and physical strength I had to keep pushing. When my Garmin beeped 6:47 it was a little disheartening, considering I had banked so much time early on in the mile.

Mile 4: 6:33
Approaching the finish line
Once I got to mile 4, I expected everything to be rainbows and unicorns to go along with my perfect racing weather. I remembered this mile as having been mainly downhill, and my Strava data from last year supported that. I had totally forgotten that there was still quite a bit of uphill in this mile. At this point, I was letting out quick screams like I do when I'm struggling for oxygen. There was a guy next to me who heard me and encouraged me on. It hurt soooo much and I was so exhausted from all these hills. It seemed like the actual downhill that I remembered would never come. But finally it did, and I milked it for all it was worth. I think I'm a good downhill runner and I was able to really nail it during this last quarter mile. But. . . the race was not over. I saw my dad and step mom again as I turned back into the park. I ran up a hill, with several speed bumps to watch out for, and approached the finish line. I looked at the clock: 26:54. . . 26:55. . . 26:56. Seeing how close I was to NOT getting my 26:xx, I gave a final surge and crossed before the clock struck 27 minutes. As I crossed, the announced called out "And our Third Place female is Elizabeth Clor!" I threw my hands up in the air when I heard that and I was so thrilled!

My official time was 26:57, and I was so relieved that I managed to get in just under the wire. Third overall female was a nice surprise, too, as this race tends to draw a competitive field. Last year I was the 12th female, and second place in my age group.

After the Race
I met up with Greg and Hannah and we started our cool down. Hannah had won the race and Greg had set a PR in 26:21. I had to stop twice during the cool down because of a side stitch, that was actually more like a front stitch. This usually never happens to me, and I was extremely thankful it didn't happen during the race. Ultimately the cramping subsided and I was able to do a proper cool down jog.

Top 3 Women: Me (3rd), Hannah (1st), Meredith (2nd)
When we returned to the finish line area, I ran into my co-worker's husband, and he told me that she had run the race. This was the same couple who lived in Old Town Alexandria and who had cheered me on during the 5K two weekends ago. It was a nice surprise to "run into" them again. We chatted for a bit and then I met back up with my dad and step mother. The sun was now high in the sky and perfect for just standing around as opposed to running.

Finally, they began the awards ceremony. I won a $50 gift certificate to Potomac River Running. Being third overall also gives me lots of points for the =PR= Race series. Greg won third place in his age group.

Final Thoughts and Stats
  • I'm very pleased with my performance in terms of my pacing strategy and my mental toughness at the end. 
  • I set a PR by 54 seconds; my previous PR was from last year on this course.
  • There were 634 women in this race, but only 220 men. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Mother's Day theme.
  • Both Greg and I find it odd that neither of us were able to run this race at a faster pace than our 10K from February. Even though I am not in marathon shape anymore, I've been consistently running track workouts since February with only a few weeks of post-marathon. I have a new respect for people who can run really fast in the short distances. 
  • I enjoy the experience of new races, but it's also nice to run the same ones each year to see year-over-year improvements.
  • I'm running a 5K next weekend and it's supposed to be a hot one! Running yet another PR will be a challenge, but I'm going to go for it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Training Update: Springing Ahead

It's been awhile since I posted a training update. My current focus is building speed for shorter distance races. To recap, I set a PR in the 5K in mid-April (20:44), and then beat that PR a week later (20:38). Over the next two months, I plan to run three 5Ks and two 4-mile races. I really enjoy
training for speed, and in many ways it's more challenging than marathon training. The time commitment is less, but the effort level of the workouts is more intense. I'll write more on that idea in a bit.

Springtime in DC
The weather has been all over the map (typical for the Washington DC metro area) and oddly, it hasn't impacted me much. When I ran the back-to-back 5K races, I observed that I felt stronger and more energized during the warmer race: 70 degrees and sunny as opposed to 50 degrees and windy. This is a first for me. Historically I have felt drained by the heat, as most runners do, and I had always viewed it as my #1 running obstacle. It's premature for me to say that the heat is no longer problematic for me, but over the past several weeks, my best runs have been in the warmest and most humid weather. On the cooler days, I have struggled a bit. SO ODD!

One thing's for sure, I absolutely love how early the sun rises. It gets me out the door earlier and I don't have to rush as much in the mornings.

One of my goals this year is to be included in the RunWashington Runner rankings again. I was ranked 6th in 2015 and 5th in 2016. To qualify, I need to run 3 "ranked" races in the first half of the year and 3 in the second half. After my bout with mono last summer, I struggled to get 3 in the second half, but I managed to squeeze them all into November and December. Currently, I have already met the requirement for the first half of the year: For the Love of It 10K, Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, Crystal City Friday 5K, and GW Parkway Classic 5K. But they only use your best three times to determine your rank, so I have an opportunity to run a faster 5K to influence my ranking.

I've decided that by the end of 2017, I would love to run a 5K in 20:17 or faster, and for the summer, I'd like to get it down below 20:30. Here is a snapshot of my training for the past month. I've run every day since April 1st (at least 3 miles) so I am on a 37-day streak.

Week of April 24th: 52.3 Miles
Because I had run a 5K race on Sunday, I didn't have a track workout on Tuesday. Instead, I did a medium long run. Whenever I race on a Sunday, I typically use that as the following week's speed work and then run long and slow on the following Tuesday.

Monday: 5.9 miles @ 8:28 average. I was amazed at how recovered my legs felt from the 5K. It didn't feel like I had raced at all. I think this could be because the headwind was my biggest obstacle, not my legs. In Crystal City, my legs were dead afterwards.

Tuesday: 10.5 miles @ 8:35 average.

Wednesday: 7 miles @ 8:31 average.

Thursday: 10 x 300m with 2-minute recovery jogs + warmup and cool down. This workout was fun, as I am not used to running 300m intervals. My splits were: 1:06, 1:06, 1:03, 1:03, 1:02, 1:03, 1:02, 1:02, 1:03, 1:03. This was much faster than expected; these paces are in the 5:30-5:45 range, which is the same pace I run my
Thursday, April 27th
200m intervals at. I think it may have to do with the fact that I am much faster on the straight portions of the track, and with these 300's, I had 2 straights and one curve. Whereas with a 200m interval, 50% of the rep is a curve. But who knows, maybe I could be running faster 200's. I'll also note that it was a "soupy" morning with 98% humidity.

Friday: 5.8 miles @ 8:31 average.

Saturday: 12.4 miles @ 8:30 average. This was the magical run! It was 67 degrees and very humid, and yet I felt extremely energized. The entire run felt peppy and refreshing, and I felt like I could have kept going and going. My paces even dropped below 8:20 during the last few miles, unintentionally.

Sunday: 3.6 miles @ 8:26 average. This was supposed to be my recovery run after the medium-long run on Saturday. And typically I am very good about keeping those super easy. But for some reason I inadvertently kept speeding up. It didn't feel that fast but my paces said otherwise. I ended up with 52.3 miles for the week.

Week of May 1st: 50.6 miles

Monday: 5.8 miles @ 8:38 average

Tuesday: 1600m, 1200m, 800m, 400m, 200m, all with 400m recovery jog, + warmup and cool down. I set some track PRs! I ran the 1600m in 6:35, which was right where I wanted to be. I then ran the 1200m in 4:49, which was a PR. I don't run 1200's often, but I think my PR had been a 4:58, so I was happy to see something much faster. I couldn't believe my eyes at the end of the 800m: 3:06! I was amazed! My previous fastest had been 3:09, and I definitely wasn't trying to beat that. I ran the 400m in 1:29, and the 200m in 0:41. I was very pleased with how this workout felt, and once again, it was really humid and 65 degrees. When thinking more about this workout, I realized that because it was so much shorter than my workouts during marathon training, I pushed harder during the intervals than I otherwise would. During marathon training, my focus was to ensure that I would be able to complete the entire workout, whereas now, my focus was to run really fast.

Wednesday: 7 miles @ 8:35 average.

Thursday: 1600m, 1600m, 6 x 300m with 1-minute recovery jogs, 1600m. This workout started strong but didn't end well. I ran the first two 1600's in 6:44, 6:40.  My plan said to run them at "slightly faster than 10K pace" which was difficult for me to interpret because my 5K pace is only 4 seconds faster per mile than my 10K pace at the moment! So they ended up averaging 10K pace. Then came the 300's. I was supposed to run these at 1-mile race pace. I don't know what that would be, so I tried to shoot for a 6:00 pace. I ended running 1:09, 1:08, 1:06, 1:07, 1:06, 1:06. Then I realized that I didn't know if I should recover for 1-minute or 3 minutes, so I ran for 200m, which ended up being 1:38. So, after not having had much recovery, I went into the next 1600m and went
Saturday, May 6th
way to fast. I think the point of this workout is for the last two 1600m's to be faster because the 300's turned on another gear. But because I started out so fast on the first two laps, I pretty much crashed during the final lap, and my split was 6:44. After that, I was toast and decided not to run another 1600m as prescribed. My legs were dead and I was completely wiped out. Ironically, it was "perfect" running weather- 50 degrees and low humidity.

Friday: 5.1 miles @ 8:34 average. When I woke up, I realized I wouldn't be able to run outside because of the thunderstorms. So I had to wait until the evening. By then, it was 73 degrees and sunny. But low and behold, the run felt really good!

Saturday: 13.4 miles @ 8:38 average. This run was very blah. My legs were tired from Thursday's workout and having had run the evening prior instead of the morning before. I also slept poorly on Friday night. I had a packet of UCAN before I started and so my energy level ended up being decent. But my legs didn't have their usual pep. This run wasn't nearly as glorious as the warm and humid one from the weekend before.

Sunday: 3.7 miles @ 8:40 average. A true recovery run!

Overall, my training has been going well. I'm looking forward to some challenging track workouts and seeing how I perform in my upcoming races.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

GW Parkway Classic 5K: Slower, but "Faster"

This morning I ran the GW Parkway Classic 5K. I had only run this race once in the past back in 2008, when I ran a 23:58. This race also offers a 10-mile race (which is what the event is known for) and I had run that three times, although two of them had been marathon-pace training runs. The 5K is
GW Parkway Classic
the last 5K of the 10-mile course, which runs along the scenic Potomac River.

The GW Parkway Classic is a point-to-point course. Shuttle busses drop runners off at the start line and they run back to the finish line in Old Town, Alexandria. The last bus leaves at 7:00, and the race starts at 8:00. Greg and I didn't think it made sense to arrive at the race an hour an a half before the start and take the bus, so we parked about 2 miles away from the start and simply ran our warmup to the start.

Let me back up a bit.

Last Friday, I ran the Crystal City 5K Friday, in a time of 20:44. It was an evening race and I felt remarkably fast and strong for a warm (70-degree) race that was held at a time when I am usually getting ready for bed! My Garmin clocked an average pace of 6:34 for 3.16 miles, which yielded an official time of 20:44. This was a six-second PR.

I figured that the GW Parkway course, which only has two turns, would be much faster, simply because I wouldn't lose momentum with so many turns and I'd be able to run the tangents, for a Garmin distance of closer to 3.1 miles. Not to mention, the weather was forecast to be much cooler (49 degrees at the start). I figured with all of this in my favor, I would be able to take at least 10 seconds off of my official time; probably even more.

My week of training in between the two races looked like this:

Saturday: 10.2 miles easy @ 8:50 avg.

Sunday: 3.5 miles easy @ 8:39 avg.

Monday: 4 x (600m hard, 200m recovery, 200m hard, 3 minutes recovery). My splits were 2:20, 0:42, 2:16, 0:41, 2:16, 0:41, 2:15, 0:41. So the 600's were between a pace of 6:00-6:20, and the 200's were around 5:30.

Tuesday: 8.6 miles easy @ 8:37 avg.

Wednesday: 2 miles at "steady state" and 1 mile hard. The company I worked for hosted a 5K race at
5K Race to benefit STEM for Her at MicroStrategy World
its annual conference, which just happened to be occurring a few miles from the GW Parkway Classic finish area. I didn't want to race it at full effort, given the 5K from the previous Friday and the 5K on the upcoming Sunday. My splits were 7:16, 7:15, 6:43.  Including warm up and cool down, I ran 5.8 miles.

Thursday: 7.5 miles easy @ 8:21 avg. I was still at the conference, so I had the opportunity to run across the Wilson Bridge, which connects Maryland (where the conference was) to Virginia (where the GW Parkway Race is). I scoped out the course on the Virginia side and figured out where we could park. This was a beautiful run, and it made me think that I should do my long runs in more scenic locations instead of my local neighborhood routes.

Friday and Saturday were both easy low-mileage days, and I felt strong and ready for the GW Parkway race.

Before the Race
Greg and I ran to the start line, and much to Greg's dismay, the porta potty line was extremely long. I, thankfully, did not need to use one, so I continued my warm up. About ten minutes later I found Greg still in line! And he had quite a few people in front of him. There were only 5 porta potties and this race had over 1,300 runners. Definitely not enough, especially since most runners arrived at the start line over an hour in advance.

It was getting late, and Greg wanted to stay in line and wait, so I made my way alone to the start line. Annoyingly, there was a group of about 5-10 children, who looked to be about six years old at the very front. They had an adult with them and the adult was telling them not to line up in the first row, but it was okay for them to be in the second row. I knew they would go out blazing fast and then I'd have to weave my way around them during the first quarter of a mile. With two minutes to go, there was still no sign of Greg. But finally he appeared, with only about 30 seconds to spare.

Mile 1: 6:35
My plan was to run the first mile at 6:31-6:32. The first mile is flat, and I wanted to run my goal pace for the first mile. Much to my surprise, the pace on my Garmin did not match my effort level. I thought I was running really hard, and for most of the mile, I was barely below 6:40. But, I didn't
The bib even matched, and I had orange socks.
judge it, and I didn't do anything foolish like try and surge that early. The race started going south on the parkway, and after a quarter of a mile, we turned around and ran north. We would run north for the remainder of the race, and I'm not sure what the reason was for the turnaround at the start. I noticed there were about 5-6 women ahead of me. I passed the first one about half a mile in, and I passed the second one at the first mile marker. Greg was not very far ahead of me. Typically he goes out really fast in 5Ks and I can't even see him; that's how it was in Crystal City. But I figured I was in good shape if I was only running about 4-5 seconds behind him.

I had to keep reminding myself not to adjust my shorts, which kept riding up. I had fallen in love with a pair of Nike Pro shorts because they matched my McMillan racing gear so perfectly. But they were not comfortable, and probably looked more like briefs by the end of the race. I kept wanting to adjust them throughout the race, but I knew that would take energy away from running so I resisted the urge.

Mile 2: 6:42
This mile was really tough. There was a hill (which didn't look that long or steep) but I really slowed down on it. I think the issue was the headwind. Based on the Crystal City race, I really thought I should have been able to run faster, but I couldn't. I was working really, really hard and I felt pretty good; but my pace simply wasn't as fast as I expected. Most of this mile actually hovered around 6:50 until the downhill, when I really surged and passed a guy, and brought my average pace down significantly.

Mile 3: 6:35
This mile started up a hill that was steeper than the previous one, but shorter. I worked my way up the hill and couldn't even bring myself to look at the pace on my Garmin. We turned a corner and the rest of the mile was one long straightaway to the finish line, on a road offered a slight decline. One of my colleagues who lives in Alexandria was cheering for me shortly after the turn. I knew to expect her
and it gave me a burst of energy to hear her call my name. I was hurting pretty badly by this point and I wondered how I would ever make it to the finish line without slowing down. I noticed that Greg had widened the gap substantially. He was going for sub-20:00 and I wondered if he would make it.

I really liked this part of the course because it was mainly flat with a slight decline, and it was really wide with plenty of space to run. But the headwind made it challenging. I can't complain too much about it because it was 10 mph, which is not that strong, and the overall weather was fantastic. But, it definitely made that last mile (and actually the whole race) more challenging than anticipated. I was running slower than I had hoped for, but I was still motivated to get a PR because I knew this course would end up being "shorter" than the one from last Friday.

As I approached the finish line, I was able to slightly increase my speed, and I approached a woman who I had in my sights for the entire race. I was really closing the gap on her, and when I passed the mile 3 mark, I really surged to try and pass her.

The last 0.12: 6:11 pace
She noticed me, though, and she pushed harder and ended up beating me by two seconds. After the race, she thanked me for showing up because she said it motivated her to push even harder. She motivated me to push as well, so it was mutual!

My official time was 20:38, which is a PR by six seconds! Interestingly, the Crystal City 5K was also a six-second PR from my previous time of 20:50. So in the last 9 days, I have shaved 12 seconds off of my 5K PR. This also means that I have set THREE PRs in the month of April: one at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, one at the Crystal City 5K, and another one today.

After the Race
I found Greg and he told me he ran a 20:02. This was a PR for him by seven seconds, although it wasn't the sub-20:00 he had hoped for. We walked around looking for race results to see where we ranked. I thought I was either the 4th or 5th woman overall. We couldn't find results posted anywhere, so we ran about a mile to where my friend/colleague had been cheering-- which was right in front of her house. She had fresh muffins in the oven and offered us fruit, waffles and coffee. Before indulging, we checked the results on her computer (we don't run with our phones) and as it turned out, I was the first woman in my age group, and 4th overall female finisher out of 870.

So back we ran to the finish line area. We asked when and where the 5K awards would be, and they told us they weren't going to happen for another hour, and that my prize would be a medal. I didn't really want to wait that long, and I decided I would much rather go back to my friend's house and relax. I later learned I can pick up my medal at the running store in Alexandria.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
One thing that I learned in sports psychology is that it's useful to look at both metrics: official race pace and Garmin pace. The difference between these two is the inability to run perfect tangents, or running a course that is not USATF certified.

Arguably, the Garmin pace is more important. Why? Unless you're a professional athlete, your race time actually doesn't matter. It's important because it shows your personal achievement. But in that case, wouldn't a more accurate measure of personal achievement be to use the same timing system/device across all runs?  I'm sure many runners would disagree with me, especially in this day and age of social media where you don't want to be accused of inaccurately representing your ability. Official is official is official.

I can say with complete confidence that I ran the Crystal City 5K faster than I ran this race, even though my official time says otherwise. I am actually more pleased with my performance last week than with my performance this morning. I think that the course from last week was harder, and I ran it faster. But does that mean I can't celebrate my new official PR? Nope! 20:38 it is, and I'll be having PR cake this evening with a time of 20:38. (Come back later for photos).

I'm looking forward to hitting the track pretty hard over the next few weeks so that I can try and chip away even more at my 5K pace. I'd love to be able to run a 20:17 at some point in 2017. Probably in the fall, but I'll try my best over the summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Crystal City 5K: Chipping Away at It

Last night I ran the Crystal City 5K Friday. I know, that sounds weird, but "Friday" is actually part of the race name. This race occurs every Friday evening in April, and I ran the second race in the series. Now that the marathon and the 10-miler are done with, I'm going to spend the next few months focusing on speed. I haven't done much speed work since the marathon, and I decided that the Crystal City race would give me a nice baseline from which to start.

I've run this race several times in the past:
  • 2010 (22:21) - A PR by over a minute!
  • 2011 (22:40) - Coming off of stress fractures
  • 2011 (22:18) - Coming off of stress fractures + 2 extra weeks of training
  • 2012 (22:00) - Pretty good race
  • 2014 (22:11) - I just wasn't "feeling" it after a business trip earlier in the week
In February, I ran a 10K on a hilly course during which my pace was only two seconds per mile slower than my 5K PR pace. In fact, I tied my 5K PR (20:50) at the 5K split. And at a 10K on New Year's Eve, I ran a 20:13 5K during the second half, which was all downhill. So, I was confident in
my ability to set a PR last night.

But it wasn't a given. Even though my 5K PR could be considered "soft," both of those 10K races had ideal weather: 20 degrees for the February race and 32 degrees for the New Year's Eve race. The Crystal City race was 70 degrees and sunny. I've never set a 5K PR in anything above 55 degrees.

Before the Race
I changed out of my work clothes into my running clothes in the locker room at my office and drove to Crystal City. When I arrived, I picked up my bib and met up with Greg, who also had come straight from work. I was given bib number 2028, and so I determined that 20:28 would be my goal time. I drank my UCAN and then Greg and I warmed up together. Greg thought that mile marker 1 was in the wrong spot based on previous races, but it seemed right to me. It was only later that I realized Greg was right and they had totally changed the course.

It was 70 degrees and sunny, so I poured water over my head before the start and drank a cup of water. My plan was mainly to run by feel, with the goal of running a pace of around 6:33-6:35. That's very precise, I know, but when you are racing a 5K, it takes a lot of effort just to get your pace down
Crystal City 5K Friday
even by one second a mile. I wasn't sure if I could trust my Garmin because Crystal City has a lot of tall buildings. My Garmin pace seemed accurate during the warmup, so decided I would keep an eye on it, but focus on just running hard instead of the exact pace.

I thought I knew what to expect: a mostly flat course with a few inclines and a few turns, which tends to be windy. However, they changed the course at some point between 2014 and now, and I was caught off guard. 

Mile 1
We started off, running in the opposite direction of how the course used to go, and I restrained myself a bit because I tend to go out way too fast in the first few minutes of a 5K. Plus, this was a relatively competitive field with quite a few fast runners given the overall size of the race. I would characterize this first mile mainly as annoyance. I try to stay emotion-neutral when racing and not let stuff get to me, and I generally succeed. However, there were times when I was annoyed by the constant twists and turns of the course, the uneven running surface, and the grates we had to run over. Right off the bat, the course twisted and turned, and it was hard to establish a rhythm. 

Despite all of this, I felt really good. I felt more energized than I did at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler two weeks ago, when I had felt "off." This was surprising given that it was an evening race and I always run in the morning. Not to mention the warm weather compared to the cool weather from the 10-miler. Typically when it's hot I feel like I am being zapped by the sun. But last night I didn't feel that way; I felt strong. My Garmin logged a 6:32 for the first mile, and that was only 2 seconds before coming to the first mile marker (6:34 official). So I figured I could probably trust the Garmin. I was actually surprised, though, because I had not been at all close to the tangents. There were so many people and so many turns and not a lot of room, so I usually had taken the most clear path instead of the most direct.

Mile 2
Things got easier during this mile. The running surface improved (no grates, not as angled) and there were fewer turns. There was one hairpin turn and a few others, but it felt more fluid than the first mile. I later saw on Strava that this mile had a net elevation loss of 28 feet. Which isn't a hill, but explains why it felt easier and why I ran faster. I actually passed several people during this mile which felt good. I was actually really surprised to see how fast I was running and how strong I felt, given the fact that it was warm and I wasn't acclimated. My Garmin logged a 6:26 mile, but I didn't actually hit the mile marker for another 10 seconds.

Mile 3
This mile was painful. There is no other word for it. I later learned that it was a net elevation gain of 28 feet - essentially running up the incline that I had just run down. There were also a few surprising and unwelcome wind gusts that came along. I knew a PR was in the bag, I just had to maintain my effort level. I saw my average race pace on my Garmin slide from 6:30 to 6:32 to 6:34 over the course of the mile and that motivated me to keep pushing hard. I managed to pass a few people during this mile, and nobody passed me, so I knew I was running strong. It took every mental trick in the book to keep pushing at that effort level. I ended up with a split of 6:42.

The Final 0.16
To get to the finish line, you make a left turn, and then run around a curve on a brick surface. This killed my momentum and my finish line kick wasn't as powerful as it usually is, but even in years past this was always the case with the finish. My pace for this was a 6:42.

I crossed the finish line and was so glad to be done with the race! I looked down at my Garmin and
Garmin pace: 6:34. Official pace: 6:41. 
saw that I had run a 20:44. A PR by 6 seconds!

After the race, I met up with Greg and my friend Allison, who had been cheering for me and taking photos. Greg ran a 20:13 and explained how he went out way too fast. Allison went to get us a table at a restaurant for dinner while Greg and I went to our cars to change. She texted me and said that my official time was a 20:47. I couldn't help but be annoyed by that. Even though you can't trust your Garmin distance and pace all the time, you can trust when you start and stop it and the overall finish time. When the finish line video was posted this morning, I can see that 20:47 was my gun time, not my chip time. Greg's finish line video shows him crossing at 20:16, and yet his official time was 20:13. Greg and I started at the exact same time. I looked at other runners who finished around the same time with me, and their official time is faster than when they crossed. So it seems like some people got a chip time, and some people got a gun time. The race results do not list chip/gun, they only have one time listed for each runner.

Kevin, Greg's friend, mentioned something about receiving only gun time the previous weekend instead of net time. I guess I have no choice but to accept the 20:47 and be happy with an official 3-second PR: 20:47. Just makes it easier to set another PR at the next 5K!

Edited to add on April 16th:
I emailed the race director to see if they had my chip time in their database. They said that my chip did not register when crossing the start line, so the 20:47 was, in fact, my gun time. He told me that used Greg's start time as my start time, and adjusted the results accordingly: 20:44. Thank you to Pacers Running and RunWashington Timing.

Resume non-edited portion of blog:
Speaking of the next 5K, I plan to run one next weekend. It should be cooler and that race will have only one turn. It will feel glorious!

The frequent dips in my pace from all the turns!

Takeaways, Stats and Final Thoughts

  • I now have a baseline for my spring/summer 5K races
  • This is my first time PRing in warm weather, that's typically unheard of in my book!
  • This is my 4th PR of 2017
  • I placed 7th out of 710 women
  • There were no official age group awards, but I placed 3rd in the 30-39 age group.
  • This was my 2nd best 5K effort according to Strava, in 20:21
  • I felt really strong and energized, as opposed to the Cherry Blossom when I felt "blah"
  • This was a good workout for my next 5K
  • I'm pleased with how hard I pushed at the end. My last mile was the slowest, but given the elevation profile, this makes sense
  • I'm also pleased with my pacing and ability to run based on effort
  • I'm chipping away at my 5K time: my most recent PRs are 20:51, 20:50, and now 20:47
I'm super excited to see what I can do next weekend. I won't be any fitter, but I think that if I run the same effort, the lack of twists and turns and the ability to run the tangents will help bring down my PR by a few more seconds. To be continued. . .

Finish line

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Graduating Sports Psychology

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know about my work with a sports psychologist. A few weeks ago, Greg asked me if I had been to see him lately. And I realized that it had been over four months since my last appointment. I hadn't intentionally chosen to stop going, but things had been pretty hectic over the past few months with the holidays, marathon training, and my new job, and I hadn't felt the need to see him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was probably time for me to "graduate" from sports psychology. Just as I write race reports to gain closure on my races, I think it's a good idea to close out the sports psychology chapter of my life with a "report" of sorts as well.

Why I Sought Help
On my way to a DNF in May 2012
In May 2012, I had hit rock bottom with my marathon running and my feelings associated with it. I had DNF'ed three marathons, and had hit the wall hard in five of them over the course of several years. Most of this was due to race anxiety, as I had been well trained for each of these races. Every time I failed, I sank lower and lower into a depressed state about my running, which eventually overtook my entire state of being. I wanted to rid myself of the race anxiety and resulting inability to cope. I wasn't happy about my running and I realized that I wasn't happy, period.

It's not like I didn't know what my issues were. But I had no clue how to solve them:
  • I took my running way too seriously
  • My sense of self was wrapped up in my running
  • I was a perfectionist
  • I couldn't help but compare myself to other people
  • I didn't cope well with things outside of my control
I felt like I had no choice BUT to seek help from a sports psychologist. I had tried to simply chill out and relax, but the more I tried, the harder it became.

The First 15 Months
I saw my sports psychologist, Neal, every week. I decided that if I was going to invest the time and money in this process, that I needed to trust him fully. 

Neal typically did about 75% of the talking, which I liked. After our initial session, in which I walked him through not only my racing history but struggles that I had experienced before I began running (which running seemed to solve), he had a structured approach to working with me on all the pieces of the puzzle. I always left his office with "homework" and several items to think about in preparation for our next session. This was work, and it required that I be an active participant.

In terms of what we discussed, it's too much for me to get into in a single post; I have it all laid out in my book. But suffice it to say, there was a lot of ground to cover. He essentially educated me on what the most effective and healthy mindset looked like and challenged me frequently on things I said that demonstrated an unhealthy mindset. As I said above, it took a great deal of trust. After all, I didn't develop my beliefs and attitudes overnight, so I couldn't simply change them overnight. 

Over the course of these 15 months, I had races that I would initially consider to be failures, but Neal
Did I PR?
showed me how to re-examine my judgements. Who was to say if a race was a failure or success? Why was setting a PR the only metric of success? Why did I devote so much time to running if my single goal was to PR, when in reality, PRs are the exception not the rule? Neal likened a race to a buffet with many different food options. Sometimes a PR was one of the items, but sometimes it wasn't. And if a PR wasn't available, why not enjoy the other items from the buffet? 
  • Did I have fun?
  • Did I learn anything?
  • Did I challenge myself to push really hard?
  • Did I have a new experience?
  • What did I do well that I can apply in the future?
It was extremely challenging to run what I considered to be a "bad" race but find ways in which I succeeded. To not let the race eat away at me for days. To not let it impact future races. Neal encouraged me to always find the positives in my running and if I ultimately determined I wasn't happy with a race, to shrug it off as quickly as possible and focus on something else.

Having this healthy mindset was not automatic and I constantly had to re-program my self-talk as Neal guided. It didn't take too long to learn what I needed to learn. But connecting emotion to it and truly owning/believing it was a different story.

The Breakthrough
My biggest breakthrough happened about 15 months later when I was injured. I was still seeing Neal every week and at this point we were working on coping with injury.

It was August of 2013 and I was in the locker room after an elliptical session. I was registered to run Chicago in October, and I started thinking about whether or not I would run it. I was confident that I would be recovered by then and physically able to complete a marathon, but I also knew that my time would be on the slower side. I went back and forth on whether or not it was worth even trying. I thought to myself that I could run a slow time, but then people would think I was slower than I knew myself capable of. That's when epiphany struck. I realized that I was actually considering denying myself of an experience I wanted to have (Chicago) simply to avoid being judged by other people. I realized that I was making a decision based on how other people would potentially perceive me. And why on earth would I live my life for anyone other than ME? 

I let that thought sink in and everything click. I was someone who lived her life to please other people. Who made decisions based on what other people thought. If I wanted true control over my life, then I needed to life my life for me. It was such a liberating thought. I had freed myself of other people's opinions.

With that followed an entire change of mindset over the next few months. I questioned why I was worried over certain things. So instead of Neal having to be the one to challenge my unhealthy, counterproductive mindset, I was able to do it on my own. 

The Other Side
Hills and freezing rain? Sure!
Neal welcomed me to the "other side" and I was so happy that I had experienced such a life-changing revelation. Greg started to notice a change in me and I began to feel like a new person. Things that used to bother me so much suddenly didn't seem as important. I definitely still cared about running and I was definitely still motivated to run PRs and qualify for Boston, but it was for entirely different reasons. 

I started to embrace challenges instead of shy away from them. I began to seek out hillier courses for my training runs. Instead of getting upset by warm race weather, I looked forward to seeing how I would handle it. Running was no longer a numbers game; it was about experiences, challenges, community, and being my "best" self. I learned that sometimes it was just about getting out there and doing it. I learned that some days I just didn't have a strong performance in me, and that was ok.

As a byproduct of all of this, my race anxiety started to slip away. Racing became "the thing I was doing that weekend" instead of this huge life event that I would obsess over all week. I was able to sleep well in the days leading up to my races. I stopped DNF'ing marathons and started PRing them. And when I didn't PR them, I was still proud of my achievement.

I reduced the frequency of my visits with Neal to every other week for next two years, and in 2016, I saw him about once a month, mainly to ensure I didn't slip back into old thought patterns.

Don't get me wrong, the journey from August 2013 through today certain has had hiccups and hasn't always been smooth. I've had my share of disappointing races and a three-month bout of mono. But my new perspective on life made these things much easier to cope with whereas previously they would throw me headfirst into depression. 

Looking Ahead
I'm 38 years old and I think I still have a few good years ahead of me before I start naturally slowing down. I want to continue to test my limits and see what I am capable of in terms of my training load and my speed. And when I do start to slow down, I'm confident that I will still find ways of challenging myself and enjoying the process of running.

Aside from marrying Greg, seeing a sports psychologist was the best thing I've ever done for myself. It allowed me to do much more than overcome race anxiety. It enabled me to set myself free from the limitations and barriers I was unknowingly creating for myself. When I compare my current mindset/perspective/approach to life to that of just five years ago, I see a huge difference, and so do my friends and family. I'm far more laid back and I don't take myself as seriously. I make myself laugh more often, I'm at peace with who I am, and I sleep well at night.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Motivated by a Mug: Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race Report

Dear Fast Runner,

As part of the 45th Running Celebration of Credit Union Cherry Blossom, we are awarding mugs that read "I would have won this race in 1973" to all males who finish faster than 1973 winner Sam Bair's time of 51:22 and to all females who finish faster than Kathrine Switzer's winning time of 71:19. You are receiving this message because the seeded time you entered on your entry form for the 2017 race is within two minutes of these times. This means if you have a good day, you could win one of these mugs, so we wanted to let you know about these special awards.

I received this email three days ago, and determined that I HAD to have one of those mugs.

Today was my 6th time running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I first ran it in 2007 in a time of 1:21:23 and my current 10-mile PR was on this course from 2014: 1:15:26. I had beaten this time during three half marathons, and during a training run, but of course, these weren't "official" PRs. Therefore, I didn't think I was being presumptuous by buying PR Cake ingredients last weekend. (Greg and I have a tradition of making PR cake with our times written on it.)

Throughout 2009-2013, I struggled mentally with the marathon, but the 10-miler remained my sweet spot. Therefore, in 2014, when I ran a time that was very similar to my past two times, I realized I had also plateaued physically. That's when I decided it was time to hire a running coach. A few months later, I began working with McMillan Running coach Andrew and my times have steadily dropped ever since.

Ever since I ran a 1:33:36 half marathon last spring, I set my sights on a sub-70:00 10-miler. I was going to shoot for this at the Army Ten-Miler last fall, but I wasn't able to run it because I had just recovered from mono. Part of the reason I chose to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon was that I would recover in time to run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

I was excited to receive a "seeded" bib for this race: Bib #344. For a race of about 20,000 people, I
At the Cherry Blossom Expo, studying the elevation
considered this to be a huge honor. It didn't come with too many perks, other than starting at the front of the race and being able to get an entry without going through the lottery. I wasn't sure if I would qualify for a seeded entry, though, so I got in through the lottery anyway and received the seeded bib afterward.

In 2014, my goal had been to run a sub-7:30 pace. And according to my Garmin, I accomplished that. However, my official pace ended up being 7:32 because my Garmin logged the course as being about 10.1 miles. Knowing this, I did some research on Strava. I looked at the Cherry Blossom 10-mile "segment" and noted that to run an official time of sub-7:00, I would need to run a 6:54 pace on my Garmin. So, my new "A" goal became 6:54 Garmin/sub-70 official. And my "B" goal was to win the mug.

Before the Race
Because the metro wasn't running, Greg and I decided to get a hotel room in DC the night before. We could have probably reserved a parking spot in the city, but we live about 35 minutes away and we didn't want to have this added stress on race morning. Plus, having our own dedicated bathroom within an hour of the start time was nice!

For both the Myrtle Beach Marathon and Indianapolis Monumental, we arrived at the start line with just a few minutes to spare. I wanted to be more conservative this time, so we were in the corral 15 minutes before the start. This caused me much less anxiety! Greg and I both drank UCAN at 6:50, and at 6:55 we left the hotel and headed for the start line.

My plan was to go out at a pace of 6:50-6:53 and see how long I could hold it. I wasn't as confident about my ability to reach my "A" goal as I had been the week prior. On Thursday of this week, I ran a set of 8 x 200m and I felt really stale. In fact, by the end of the day I felt as if I was getting sick. I felt completely run down with a hint of a sore throat. I took an un-planned rest day on Friday, got plenty of rest, drank loads of water and was feeling decent by yesterday. Perhaps it was allergies. Perhaps I was still feeling the after-effects of the marathon. But whatever it was, I wasn't feeling nearly as peppy as I had been the week prior.

Anyway, shortly before the race started I ditched my throw-away hoodie and prepared myself mentally. I knew that miles 7-10 around Hains Point would be extremely challenging, and I told myself to keep pushing, no matter how hard it hurt.

Miles 1-4
The race started, and I felt decent. Not great, but okay. It was about 46 degrees, sunny, with a breeze.
Mile 1
I wore sunglasses, but the parts of the course that ran directly into the sun were difficult for me. All the runners in front of me looked like dark shadows and I could feel my face getting really warm. The race was surprisingly crowded. I remember spectating Greg at the Army 10-miler and he ran about the pace I was trying to go. And it looked like he had plenty of room around him when he ran by during mile 7. I found myself constantly weaving through people and it was difficult to get into a rhythm.

I had studied the elevation provide and expected the second mile to be slow, but surprisingly, it was one of my faster miles. My coach had advised me to push hard from the beginning and that's exactly what I did. It felt harder than expected to run the paces I was running, but I trusted that my marathon endurance would enable me to maintain these paces for 10 miles.

Mile 1: 6:55
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:50
Mile 4: 6:53

Miles 5-7
From experience, I knew that there was a moderate hill during mile six and that I might feel crappy at this point, but that it would feel better once I got to Hains Point at mile 7. There was a huge cheering crowd and it really energized me. I hit the 5-mile timing mat in 34:46, which had me on pace to run a 1:09:31. I was pleased with this and told myself to simply keep up the effort and I would reach my goal. However, it felt harder than expected. Based on last week's tempo run (4 miles at 6:49 average), I actually thought I would be able to run a sub-6:50 pace for this race. Additionally, I ran a 10K eight weeks ago on a very hilly course at a pace of 6:41 on un-tapered legs. So I really didn't expect these paces to be feeling as tough as they did.

During mile 7, I grabbed water from a water station and poured it over my head. And I noticed that I was definitely more comfortable in the shaded portions of the course. Sunshine and I just don't jive when it comes to racing. Unless it's below 40 degrees like it was at Myrtle Beach. I felt much better during mile 7 than I did during mile six, which (unbeknownst to me) was due to a tailwind on Hains Point. I felt like I had gotten a "second wind" and that I had my goal in the bag!

Mile 5: 6:52
Mile 6: 6:59
Mile 7: 6:56

Miles 8-10.09
But then, we turned around and there was a headwind on Hains Point. According the forecast, this was supposed to be a 7 mph sustained wind. But it felt much stronger than that. I appreciated the cooling factor, but I felt like I was fighting a formidable opponent. I pushed harder and reminded myself that I needed to stay strong and give 100% effort. So I increased my effort level and gave it everything I had, and was unable to get my Garmin pace back down into the 6:50's. I wanted to stop so badly. I felt awful. Every part of me was in pain. Based on how I felt, I knew it was unlikely that I would come in under 70:00. But I wanted that mug! I knew that I would be super disappointed if I wasn't able to attain my B goal.

During these last few miles, all I could think about was the mug. I realized my sub-70:00 was unlikely but dammit, I was going to be drinking coffee out of that mug come hell or high water. Mile 8 clocked in at 7:02.

There was another timing mat at mile 9 and I cursed it. Now there would be an official record of how slow my last mile was. Mile 9 clocked in at a pace of 7:14, and at that point my official race pace was 7:01 (which I learned after the fact, but had some sense of at the time). I was now on track to run a 1:10:08. BUT- I thought I could still run a sub-7:00 "Garmin" pace, similar to what I did in 2014 with my sub 7:30 "Garmin" pace.

Get the mug! Get the mug! At mile 9.6 we turned off of Hains Point and there was a sizable hill that was about a quarter of a mile long. Knowing how close the finish was and that I no longer had to fight the wind, I found another gear that I didn't realize I had and gunned it. After Hains Point, I had been on track to log a 7:25 mile and I knew I could sprint up that hill and make up some time. Amazingly, I had a burst of energy and average a 7:21 pace for that final mile.

But of course, there was the "extra." Strava logged my 10-mile time at 1:09:46, but officially, the sub-7:00 was a no go. Nevertheless, I was pleased to cross the finish line in 1:10:24.

Mile 8: 7:02
Mile 9: 7:14
Mile 10: 7:21
Last 0.09: 5:51 pace (downhill)

After the Race
Greg and I with our friends from the =PR= Race team
Due to my final kick, the first few minutes post-race were pretty brutal. I felt nauseous and totally knocked out. I caught up with Greg, who ran a 1:07:51. He's gotten so fast recently! And he was waiting with our friends Hannah and Alex. We met up with some other runners from the =PR= racing team and everyone seemed to have had really amazing races.

I had tossed my hand-warmers so my hands were quickly starting to get cold, so we hurried to the mug-retrieval area and I claimed my prize. On the walk back to our hotel, a random women asked if she could take a video of us talking about what we liked about the race. For me, it was the mug! Oh, and I guess the cherry blossoms, too. Greg and I then walked back to our hotel, showered, and had a nice brunch. I actually brought my mug to brunch and drank coffee out of it!

Now, time for some stats.

  • This race was a PR by 5 minutes, 2 seconds from my 2014 time.
  • I placed 26th in my age group out of 1,706 runners, running faster than 98.5% of them
  • My actual time was 1:10:23.84, but the official results rounded up to 1:10:24.
  • My 10K split was 43:18, which would have been a 10K PR as recently as last December.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I'm pleased with my performance. I did the best with what I had. Even though I kind of fell apart during the last two miles, it wasn't because I slacked. I think it was partially due to the wind, but primarily due to me just not feeling 100% for whatever reason. I honestly thought that sub-70:00 official would be well within my grasp, and I expected to be able to run about 8-9 seconds per mile faster. Stated differently, I didn't expect that I would blow up at the end given my paces for miles 1-8. Part of me wants to run the GW Parkway Classic 10-miler in three weeks for another shot. But at this point, I think I will just wait for the Army 10-miler in the fall. Which can be warm-- but I guess I will be acclimated and hopefully fitter!

The good news is that I ran a huge PR, shaving 30 seconds per mile off of my average pace. The PR cake will taste great this evening. I felt fast with my super-low bib, too! And I actually DID run 10 miles at a sub-7:00 pace, it just wasn't official. Or at least Strava thinks I did! And best of all, had this been 1973, I would have won the race outright.