Sunday, January 14, 2018

Houston, we have a PR!

If I didn't PR, the alternate title of this blog would have been, "Houston, we have a problem!" But thankfully, no problems were encountered.

I made the decision to run the Houston half marathon about a week after the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Prior to that, I had been considering running the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona half this weekend, which would have been in close proximity to a conference I'm attending in Las Vegas. But upon further research, I wasn't able to get a hotel in Arizona within walking distance to the start line, and the course didn't seem PR-friendly.

So I decided I would stop off in Houston en route to Las Vegas. The race was sold out, but charity entries were available, and I figured that helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey was a worthy cause, so I signed up for the "run for a reason" program. The program simply required a donation (which was great, since I don't love fundraising) and I was set with a bib. What's better, this would be my 10th anniversary of running the Houston Half. I ran the race in 2008, setting a big, unexpected PR in 1:50:43, and learned that I performed best when I just chill out.

I wasn't looking at Houston as a redemption race, but rather an opportunity to use the fitness I had built up in my Indianapolis training cycle to run a fast half marathon. I knew that I had reached a new level of fitness and I felt that my half PR was soft at 1:33:36.

I took two full weeks off of running after Indianapolis Monumental, and then resumed training. The time off allowed my Achilles Tendonitis to heal and my body to recover from the strain of the marathon. It wasn't long before my coach started prescribing intense workouts, and I continually surpassed my expectations of how fast I would run them. For example, I ran a 3-mile tempo at a pace of 6:44, and then followed it up with a long series of very short intervals, feeling great the whole time. My weekly mileage for the six weeks of training was in the mid 50's, hitting 60 for one of the weeks.

Originally, my time goal was to run this race at a sub-7:00 pace. But as the race approached I started feeling more confident based on my workouts and modified that to a 6:55 pace, which would yield a time exactly 20 minutes faster than my 2008 time. My coach emailed me two days before the race and told me to approach the race with a clear head in terms of goals. He didn't want me to limit myself by trying to hit certain paces on the Garmin and that I should run by feel. Which is exactly what I did. No real race strategy- just run strong, push hard, and let the splits be what they were.

Before the Race
Even though Greg wasn't racing, he lovingly accompanied me to Houston. After all, I'd be away at a conference in Las Vegas for an entire week, so it was good to spend the weekend together first. We flew in on Saturday morning and arrived in plenty of time to do a shakeout run and go to the expo. I really wanted to meet up with fellow blogger Gracie, but I was communicating with her through Instagram messenger, and she was thinking I was going to text her. I had forgotten she'd given me her number. Unfortunately that never happened, but I did see her cheering for me during the race.

I wasn't at all anxious for this race. In fact, I felt like I was mentally more hyped up for the 5K I ran on New Year's Day. I was confident in my ability, so I just had to wait until race morning arrived and run hard. I slept relatively well, and didn't have any anxiety dreams about missing the start of the race, or having the race be an obstacle course, or anything like that. I actually woke up in the middle of the night with a nightmare that seemed totally unrelated to the race.

Race morning arrived and the weather was beautiful. 35 degrees, clear skies, and just a little bit of wind. I decided I would wear shorts, a singlet, and arm warmers. After reading my 2008 race report, in which I got stuck at the back of the corral and had to do a lot of weaving, I decided it would be best to head out for the start earlier than planned. The corral closed at 6:45, so I decided I wanted to be in the corral at 6:30. This meant that I didn't really get to warm up, but I had throw-away clothes that helped me stay warm until I shed them a few minutes before the start.

I said goodbye to Greg at 6:30 and he ran out to mile marker 2. At this point, the corral was fairly empty so I was able to jog around a bit. The Houston Marathon calls them "corrals" but they are more like waves, in that there are only four of them. Even though I was in the first corral, so were over 5,000 other runners. As the corral started to get crowded, I positioned myself towards the front. At 6:50, I shed my throwaway clothes and at 6:58, they called our group to approach the start line. (We were all surprised that they didn't call us up sooner, as the front of the corral was nearly a block away from the start line.)

Miles 1-4
The race started and I decided I would simply run the pace of the runners around me. I knew from my shakeout run the day before that the Garmin wouldn't be reliable for at least the first mile due to all
2 Miles into the race
the tall buildings. The street was about twice as wide as Indianapolis, so crowding wasn't an issue. Plus, I hadn't even really warmed up so I decided to look at mile one as my warm up and used it to get into a rhythm,

My feet had gone numb while waiting to start, and I had the sensation that my shoes were not tied tightly and that they would come undone at any moment. In fact, I looked down at my feet a few times just to be sure. I had to remind myself multiple times that I triple checked the tightness of the knot before the race, and this was all in my head. The shoes were fine.

About a mile into the race, I saw Gracie. And then at mile marker 2, I saw Greg. I was super excited to see him and he was cheerly loudly for me. By this point the crowd had thinned out and I was free to go at my own pace. I had the 3:00/1:30 pace group in my sights and I planned to keep them in my sights as long as possible, although I wasn't going to try and catch up.

I noticed that my splits were faster than expected (as my coach said they might be) but I simply continued on at an effort that felt like half marathon pace.

Mile 1: 7:23
Mile 2: 7:01
Mile 3: 6:53
Mile 4: 6:48

Miles 5-8
I continued to cruise along, feeling great and enjoying the race atmosphere. The course was very well supported, and the volunteers were particularly spirited. I had consumed a full packet of Generation UCAN before the race and didn't plan to take any more fuel. This worked well for me at the Shamrock Half, and I assumed it would again. I carried a water bottle for the first three miles and then ditched it. I've learned that I really don't need to drink much during a half if I hydrate well beforehand.

My official 10K split was 43:29, which put me on track for 1:31:44 (6:59 average pace). And I was still feeling really good. By this point I was thinking that I was going to get my goal of a 6:55 average pace, if not faster. I was continually seeing splits in the low 6:50s and the effort seemed completely maintainable. Nothing much remarkable happened during these miles, other than that I had gotten the feeling back in my feet, I had ditched the water bottle, and was in full-on race mode. I passed a good number of people, and few people passed me. At mile 8, the half marathon turned off from the full, which meant I knew who I was competing against.

Mile 5: 6:51
Mile 6: 6:52
Mile 7: 6:54
Mile 8: 6:55

Miles 9-11
I kept running along my merry way, when I started to notice my Garmin was in the 7's now. I thought that it must be wrong because I hadn't slowed down. The effort and pace was the same as it had been.
And the course was flattish and even downhill so it wasn't like there was a hidden hill. Weird. But I didn't worry too much, I just kept on going.

I felt strong, but this was when the race really started to get challenging. My legs felt good, but despite all my best effort, I couldn't get the Garmin to go back down into the 6's. I had to accept that I was running my hardest, but the Garmin wasn't budging. What I didn't realize until later (when I looked at a course map in relation to my splits) was that I had been unknowingly aided by a tailwind for the first half of the race, and now there was a headwind. It wasn't all that strong, but it was noticeable. My tailwind was gone, and now I had some wind resistance to combat.

A little bit after I passed the 10-mile marker, I realized that I had set a 10-mile PR. I didn't know exactly what it was, but according to my Gamin elapsed time, it was 1:09:46. My official split for the 15K was 1:05:14, which tracked me to a 1:31:45.

If I didn't have a Garmin, I never would have known that I had slowed down. The fact that I saw my slow down motivated me to push even harder, and at this point I knew I was giving my absolute max.

Mile 9: 7:02
Mile 10: 7:03
Mile 11: 7:04

Miles 12-Finish
Mile 13, running into the sun
At this point, it was all about hanging on. I knew that my goal was slipping away, but if I just held on I could still set a decent PR. Mile 12 was uphill. Mile 13 was the most challenging mile of the race, and it wasn't because it was the last mile. The sun glare was practically blinding. I couldn't see what was ahead of me, I couldn't see the other runners, and I had to be careful not to trip on the changing road surface. Apparently there was a 20K timing mat that I was completely unaware that I ran over. You can see the sun glaring on my body in the photo!

The headwind went from being a gentle breeze to a force to be reckoned with, likely due to all the tall buildings. I passed Greg with about half a mile left to go, and I told myself that I only had to push for a little bit more.

Not being able to see the finish line was hard. Usually in a race you can see the finish line and it's very motivating as a target to run to, but this time I just had to have faith that yes, this race would come to an end at some point!

Mile 12: 7:08
Mile 13: 7:16
Last bit: Unknown because of all the tall buildings!

My official time was 1:32:24, which is a PR by one minute, 12 seconds!

After the Race
The finish line area of this race is a well-oiled machine. Shortly after finishing, they route you into the
He's such a great supporter!
convention center, giving you a medal, a finisher's shirt, and post-race food. I was eager to simply get to Greg at the reunion area, but I stopped in the food hall for some hot chocolate. It was exactly what I wanted right at that time.

I met up with Greg and got my medal engraved. In over 12 years of racing, I've never once had my medal engraved, usually because I never wanted to stand around waiting. But there was no line, and it was right in front of me, so I did it!

When Greg asked me how I felt about the race, I said "so-so." I was disappointed that I didn't run my goal time, but the more I thought about it in the following hours, the more pleased and excited I got about it. We walked back to the hotel, showered, and then made our way to the airport where I would fly to Las Vegas and he would fly home. The PR cake will have to wait until next weekend.

Stats, Takeaways, and Thoughts

  • I was the 100th female finisher out of 6,100. The top 30 women all ran 1:15 or faster!
  • I placed 11th in my age group out of 1,007
  • Given how competitive this race is, I'm happy with my placement
  • Between the 15K mark and the finish line, I lost 39 seconds. It felt like a lot at the time, but it's really not all that bad
  • I took a leap of faith and didn't let the Garmin rule my pace. Even though I wasn't aiming for the low 6:50s, I ran them as they came without holding back. Being "bold" with my racing is a new thing for me, and even though it resulted in a slow down at the end, I'm glad I wasn't overly cautious.
  • Looking at the McMillan calculator, this race predicts a 5K time of 19:57! I want a sub-20:00 5K so badly I can taste it. My finish time also predicts a faster 10K, 10-mile, and marathon time than what I have ever attained, so in relative terms, this is my fastest race ever.
  • If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I would come back to Houston 10 years later, I would have thought that I would have slowed down with age. I would never have guessed I would have run a 1:32!
  • I do think I have a 6:55/pace half in me, and I'll have the opportunity to do that at RNR New Orleans in 7 weeks.
While initially I had hoped to run at least a minute faster than I did, I now realize that this race demonstrates a new level of fitness and performance, and I'm thrilled with it.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, Cold Day 5K

In 2017, there existed a young (well, maybe middle-aged) woman with stars in her eyes, eager to approach the new year with dreams of breaking 20 minutes in the 5K. With hope in her heart and speed in her legs, she eagerly anticipated the first day of 2018 when she would say "goodbye 20:17"-- both the year, and her 5K PR.

She would pace it perfectly. The first mile (uphill) would clock in at precisely 6:37, and from there, she would cruise downhill for the rest of the race at a pace of 6:20. Completely feasible for someone who just ran a 6:44 pace for a 3-mile tempo, and didn't even push that hard to do it. And definitely possible for someone who just ran 5 miles on a track at an average pace of 6:54, feeling like she could have run harder. She was primed for 5K excellence! While it wouldn't be easy, this middle-aged young woman was determined to give the race absolutely everything she had, glide across the finish line in 19:59, and then bake herself a PR cake.

Me and the finisher's blanket!
But then the reality of 2018 sunk in. January 1st arrived, windy and bitterly cold, with near record-breaking low temperatures. Despite these brutally harsh conditions, the young woman refused to back down on her goal of saying goodbye to 20:17 and PRing her 5K. She arrived at the race an hour before the start to pick up her bib and warmup, with her loving husband at her side. Prince Charming actually retrieved bibs for the both of them while the young woman waited in the comfort of the heated car. Once their bibs were affixed to their shirts, it was time to exit the car and warm up.

But suddenly, the young woman looked down and read the name on her bib. This bib did not belong to her! The volunteers had handed Prince Charming the wrong bibs. So the loving husband went back out in the sub-freezing cold and wind to retrieve the correct bibs.

Once everything was in order, it was time to warm up. They ventured out into the 11-degree weather, the young woman wearing an extra jacket over her race attire. They warmed up on the course, which they had scouted out the day before, just to get the lay of the land. After all, when every second counts, it's critical to know where the tangents are and get a sense of the elevation profile. The young woman had been warned by her coach, with whom she had shared the elevation profile, that this wasn't necessarily a PR course. And perhaps she could find another 5K later in the winter that had a flatter profile. But the young woman was still determined to go for it on this New Year's Day, in the cold, wind, and hills.

The 11-degree temperature wasn't so bad when running in the sunlight with the wind at their backs. But the young woman and her husband had a rude awakening during the warm up to discover that the first half mile of the course was shaded, into a headwind, and up a sizable hill.

And finally. . . it was time to start the actual race. Telling herself that she could endure anything for 20 minutes, the young woman approached the start line with all the confidence in the world. Here is her race report:

Mile 1
It wasn't a surprise that the first mile was uphill, into a headwind, with a "feels like" 1 degree temperature in the shade. I intended to run up the hill at a strong effort, but without killing myself completely. I didn't look at my Garmin as I climbed the hill, which was only about 1/3 of a mile long. But it was relatively steep. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me (literally) and I welcomed the downhill tailwind portion that ensued.

I glanced at the Garmin and up until that point, I had run a pace of 6:55. Not exactly what I wanted, but the mile wasn't over and so if I kept pushing, I could still make up enough time to bring that down. My Garmin beeped but I didn't hear it because the Forerunner 630 is much quieter than the 220 I am used to. And I didn't feel the pulse on my arm because the Garmin was over two layers of clothing. Afterwards, I learned that I ran the first mile in 6:52.

Speaking of wardrobe, here's what I wore, from bottom top top:

  • Mizuno Wave Sayonara shoes
  • Smart Wool socks
  • CW-X Insulator compression tights
  • Moving comfort underwear
  • Sports Bra
  • Compression arm sleeves
  • Mizuno mid-weight half zip top
  • Gloves
  • Mittens
  • "Little Hotties" hand warmers between the gloves and mittens
  • Ear warmers
  • Sunglasses
So essentially I only had one mid-weight layer on my core, which I kept most of the way un-zipped. When it's windy, I find that my arms get extraordinarily cold, so that was the reason for the arm sleeves. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't change anything about my outfit. I was obviously very cold running into the headwind in the shade, but for the tailwind sunlight portions, I was comfortable.

Mile 2:
I didn't look at my Garmin much during this race because I needed to pay close attention to icy spots and also running the tangents. But by mile 2 I felt recovered from the torture that was mile 1 and ready to run two very fast miles. And things were going well! I was cruising right along, enjoying the tailwind and the downhills and the sunshine. I put out a strong effort, and ended up running a 6:24 mile. I was pleased with this, and figured I could still PR if I ran another mile at that pace, although sub-20 was probably out.

Mile 3:
The goal here was to maintain my 6:24 pace. I felt like I could keep that effort level up for an entire mile. But the bad news was that the course went uphill again, and the last 0.4 mile was directly into a headwind. I felt like I was running at my absolute max. It felt like I was putting out a sub 6:20 pace. But after awhile I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that I had slowed down significantly. It was crazy that just one week ago I ran a 3-mile tempo at a pace of 6:44 and I wasn't pushing all that hard. And now, a 6:44 pace was the absolute hardest I could run. I logged a 6:41 for that final mile.

The finish
I still had little ways to go before the finish and at this point I knew that my goals were not happening. I still pushed hard to to the finish, but I didn't have my typical spirited kick. I gave up a
Post race: Trying to get my hands un-numb
little bit during that last part but I'm okay with that. My pace for the last 0.18 was 6:57. Uphill. Headwind. Real Feel of like 1 degree.

When I had mapped out the course using "map my run" it gave me a distance of 3.15. So I wasn't surprised that the course was long. Afterwards, Greg and my other friends who had ran the course reported that their Garmins read abnormally long for a 5K. The course was not actually USTAF certified, and it was the "backwards" version of the standard course run in that area, so the cones could have prevented runners from hitting the tangents. But in any event, I don't really care about the course being long because I wasn't going to PR anyway. It just means I got to extend the workout!

Final Thoughts and Takeaways:
I'll admit it was probably too ambitious of me to think that I could PR in these weather conditions and on this course. 12ish degrees with 10-15 mph winds is not a recipe for a first-time sub-20. But I wanted to at least give myself the opportunity because I truly believe my fitness is there. I've run some really strong workouts over the past few week with paces that indicate a sub-20 is within my reach. I just need a good certified course and favorable weather.

The positive:
  • This was a good VO2 Max workout for the upcoming Houston Half marathon
  • It was fun to see my running friends including Cheryl, Cristina, and Rochelle
  • I did push really hard, and I know that I couldn't have run any faster, except for maybe the last 1/4 mile
  • I won first place in my age group and was the 4th overall female finisher
  • Greg ran a 20:18, which is a super cool way to start 2018
  • I tried to be smart with my approach by scouting out the course the day before and having a pacing strategy
The not-so positive:
  • I lost my mental toughness with about 1/4 mile to go, running a 6:57 pace to the finish line
  • I ran much slower than I expected to-- this is one of my slowest 5Ks in the past year
  • My official race time was 21:13 (6:50 pace) even though my Garmin pace was 6:40.
  • I tapered for this race which meant I lost the opportunity to do a long run prior to the Houston half in two weeks
  • The weather is going to be even colder than this for the next 5 days, which means I will have to either train on a treadmill (not fun) or be ridiculously uncomfortable while running (also not fun) 
  • No photos for the blog or Instagram- photos don't happen when it's a "real feel" of 1 degree.
At least the temperature for this race was in the double-digits. We're looking at single-digit temperatures in the mornings for the upcoming week, and if I run outside, I'll have to be very careful about icy patches, with only my headlamp as a light source. So, that's all kind of depressing. I love running and it brings joy to my life. It doesn't exactly bring joy to my life when it's like this.

And so the young woman, feeling mildly defeated by the day's events, proceeded on to the rest of 2018 with-- still with stars in her eyes, and hoping this will be the year of the sub-20 5K. After all, Prince Charming ran a 20:18 on the first day of 2018, so this year was bound to be magical.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

19,000 miles in 10 Years

On January 1, 2008, I started an online training log at RunningAhead. Every day for ten years I have religiously logged my mileage, pace, route, and shoe. I have loads of data, and for a data junkie like me, this means I get to crank out some fun stats. As for my sentimental side, I get to reflect back on ten years of running and racing.

I've logged exactly 18,997 total miles in my training log as of today, which means I will be just over 19,000 come December 31. This has taken me 2,845 hours with an average pace of 9:00. That is 118.5 days of nonstop running!

Here are the averages from this 10-year period:
  • 1,900 miles a year
  • 36.5 miles a week
  • 5.2 miles a day
This chart tells the story:

In 2011, I was injured twice, but I also logged many miles in the pool (not shown here) just to be on the safe side. My slump in 2016 was due to having mono, and I also had mono in 2012.

Over the past ten years, my PRs have dropped as follows:

  • 5K from 23:22 to 20:17
  • 10K from 48:54 to 41:51
  • Half marathon from 1:50:43 to 1:33:36 (hoping to make that 1:30:43 next month)
  • Marathon from 3:51:49 to 3:21:54
Some people can make this kind of progress in five years, but I plateaued from 2011-2014. Also, I started racing in 2005, so these are not my slowest times. 

107 pairs of shoes! All of which have at least 100 miles on them. My shoe that got the highest mileage before retirement was the Nike Air Structure Triax +12. And that mileage was 247! I typically retire my shoes at around 180 miles, because that's when I start to feel them break down and my legs begin to hurt.
  • 39 Pairs of Brooks Adrenaline
  • 27 Pairs of Nike Lunarglide
  • 16 Pairs of Mizuno Wave Elixir
  • 15 Pairs of Mizuno Wave Inspire
  • 8 Pairs of Nike Air Structure Triax
  • 5 Pairs of Mizuno Wave Sayonara
Long Runs
I've completed 43 runs that were 20+ miles in length (but not actual marathons).
  • Slowest: 21.5 miles at an average pace of 9:49 in September 2014
  • Fastest: 20 miles at an average pace of 7:55 in February 2017
  • Longest: 24 miles at an average pace of 8:47 in April 2016
  • Hottest: 22 miles at an average pace of 9:05 in 76 degrees in August 2011
  • Coldest: 20 miles at an average pace of 8:57 in 23 degrees in February 2015
My hottest run ever was the Potomac River Running Twilight Festival 4-Miler in June 2016, when it was 91 degrees. Shortly after this race, I came down with mono. My coldest run ever was a 6.3-mile training run in 9 degrees in February 2015. 

I thought it would be cool to include my favorite photos from each year:

2008: Shamrock Marathon. The look of joy and pain as I approach the finish line toward a new PR of 3:51:49.

2009: New Jersey Marathon. Running in a torrential downpour killed my spirit and my time, resulting in hypothermia.

2010: The GW Parkway Classic 10-miler. I ran this race as a training run, and I love how happy I look.

2011: The Run Geek Run! 8K. I surprised myself during this race running much faster than expected, and this photo makes me look tough.

2012: The Potomac River Marathon. I DNF'ed due to race anxiety, but I tried my best to be relaxed before I bonked.

2013: The Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. I was disappointed that I didn't run a PR at this race, but I definitely gave it 100%.

2014: Boo! Run for Life 10K. This was a huge PR for me shortly after starting to work with my new coach: 43:56. I was still wearing the singlet of my former team, however.

2015: The Richmond Half Marathon. I ran this race in 1:35:08, which was much a PR by over two minutes from the PR I had set just four weeks prior!

2016: The Boston Marathon. No explanation needed!

2017: Semper Fi 5K. A new PR of 20:17!

It's been an amazing ten years. Running has added so much to my life with all of its ups and downs, but mainly ups. Hopefully I will be healthy enough to generated another 10 year's worth of data!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Houston Half Marathon Training Update

As I casually mentioned in my previous blog post, I'm running the Houston Half Marathon on January 14th. I knew I had built up a good deal of fitness for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, even though my finish time didn't show it. So I figured that I could build on that fitness to run a speedy half marathon by mid-January. I've also been itching to race a half marathon. Of course my priority was healing my Achilles tendonitis, so I took two weeks off before jumping back into training. A few other reasons why I chose to run Houston:
Houston Half Marathon 2008
  • I ran the Houston Half Marathon in 2008, so this will be my ten-year anniversary. During that race, my watch stopped working so I had to run completely based on feel. Because I had been injured for the first two weeks of December, I was expecting to be much slower than my PR. However, I really surprised myself and walked away with a two-minute PR! And I attributed that to my relaxed attitude about the race: no pressure, not watching my splits, just running by feel and having fun. My time was 1:50:43.
  • This is an excellent opportunity to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. I can't even imagine what it must be like to lose your home. I'm running as a charity runner for the Salvation Army, specifically aimed at helping the Harvey victims.
  • It's "on my way" to Vegas. I need to be in Las Vegas on Monday the 15th for work, and I actually saved money by doing a stop-over in Houston on Southwest Airlines.
My original goal for Houston when I registered was to run a sub-7:00 pace, but based on recent workouts, I think I could possibly swing a 6:55 pace and run it exactly 20 minutes faster than I did in 2008. That's an average of two minutes a year! So, my revised goal is 1:30:43. Last year Houston was hot, so hopefully this year the weather cooperates and I have an "on" day. This goal time would be a PR by nearly three minutes.

In terms of training, my weekly mileage has been in the low 50's for the past three weeks, and this week it will be 59 after I do my 30-minute recovery run tomorrow. Here's a recap of this week.

Monday: 6.6 miles easy at 9:08 average
This is the slowest I have run in a long time. I received an email from my coach on Sunday night telling me that I would have a big week of training and that I should run the easy runs very easy. I took that to heart and ran very easy!

Tuesday: 3-mile tempo + intervals
The prescribed workout was: 3 miles tempo, 3-minute recovery jog, 2 x 90 seconds hard, 4 x 60 seconds hard, 4 x 45 seconds hard, 4 x 30 seconds hard, 6 x 15 seconds hard, all with equal duration recovery jogs. I programmed this workout into my Garmin so that it would beep at the start/stop of each interval, and then give me exact lap paces for each. I couldn't believe how fast my tempo was! The miles were 6:51, 6:42, 6:36. That's an average pace of 6:44! And even after that was done, I still had gas in the tank for the short intervals, which started at a pace of 6:25, and ended at 5:48. Last year at this time, 6:44 was my 5K PR pace, and now it's my 3-mile tempo pace. Including warm up and cool down, I ran a total of 9.8 miles.

Wednesday: 7.8 miles easy at 8:57 average
Thursday, Dec. 21

Another easy run that I took very easy.

Thursday: 2 x 3 miles at HMP + intervals
Another workout combining lactate threshold work and VO2 max! The exact workout was 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace with a 4-minute recovery jog in between, followed by 6 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy). This is the workout that makes me think I can run a 6:55 pace in Houston. My half marathon pace miles, which I ran based on effort, averaged 6:50, and the pace felt controlled. I could have definitely run faster. Exact splits were 7:00, 6:52, 6:48, 6:50, 6:49, 6:45. The 1-minute "hard" paces averaged out to 6:10. Including warm up and cool down, I ran a total of 11.4 miles. It was 30 degrees with no wind, which is ideal weather for me. My route was not pancake flat-- it was a series of small inclines and declines with two little hills, similar to how Houston is.

Friday: 6.7 miles easy at 8:43 average
A little faster than my other easy runs, but it felt like I was going much slower, surprisingly.

Saturday: 13.8 miles at 8:40 average
I kept this run nice and easy, with the first half averaging 8:53 and the second half averaging 8:29. My legs actually felt pretty good but I didn't want to push it too much.

Tomorrow I'll do a 30-minute recovery run and finish off the week with just over 59 miles.

Overall, I feel really good about this short training cycle. I'm basically just building a bit of extra fitness on top of my marathon fitness and seeing how things play out on race day. I haven't run a solid half marathon in nearly two years, so I'm itching to get out there and race one that I'm really well prepared for. 1:30:43, here I come!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Time Crunch

I spend the majority of my life feeling pressed for time.

I wake up, get dressed to go run, run for an hour or more, spend 45 minutes getting ready for work, commute for 40 minutes, work all day long, commute home for 50 minutes, and then I have about two hours to relax before it's time to clean up from dinner (which Greg cooks) and go to bed. And this is a life without having kids!

I usually feel like I am running behind and I'm always rushing around to get stuff done or go somewhere. I have often thought that I would love the option to work 4 days a week and get paid 80% of my salary. I value my time above all else. But of course, full-time salaried jobs don't work that way in the United States. Having a job means that you're all-in. Don't get me wrong-- I love my job. But the commute + all the running I do puts me in constant time-crunch mode.

I totally recognize that I am choosing to be this busy and I could opt for a job closer to home. I could move. I could run less. Or, I could find ways to make sure that the little "free" time I do have is not also occupied with things like running errands, cleaning the house, etc.

Over the summer, Greg read an article that showed how spending money on things that save time leads to the most happiness. I totally agreed with the article, which is how I justify spending up to $10/day in tolls to take the "fast" lanes. (Yes, a 40-50 minute commute is "fast" when compared to what it would take without the toll lanes.) After reading the article, he promptly hired a lawn service to take care of mowing our yard. He told me I should hire a cleaning service if I wanted. I didn't do this though, as that would require time to research, and I would want to be home while cleaners were at the house.

Instacart: 1.5 hours a week saved
Over the past month, however, I've really felt the time crunch with all of the additional "things" to do for the holidays. Holiday shopping, holiday gatherings, holiday cards, and holiday everything! On Thanksgiving, my sister told me about a grocery delivery service she uses to avoid having to go shop. It's called Instacart and for $149/year, you can have a groceries delivered to you from virtually any near by store: Wegman's, Giant, Harris Teeter, Costco, Whole Foods, CVS and more. There's also a 10-15% up-charge on the food, plus any tip you decide to leave the delivery person.

When Greg and I heard about this, we thought it would be life-changing and so far it has been. Each weekend, we typically spend 15 minutes driving to the grocery store, 45-50 minutes shopping for a week's worth of food, and then 15 minutes driving home. We prefer to shop at Wegman's and the closest one is about a 15-minute drive. In August, we will have a Wegman's within one mile of our house! But that's a long way off. When you include unpacking all the groceries, this ends up being about an hour and a half of time over the weekend, which we'd rather spend relaxing. Another benefit is being able to get groceries in the middle of the week instead of having to wait. This will cut down on eating out, thus indirectly saving us money. But as I said above, I'm at a point in my life where I'd rather save time than save money.

Dyson Hair Dryer: 1 hour a week saved
I've been eying the Dyson hair dryer since it came out about a year ago. It's supposed to dry your hair much faster, eliminate frizz, and be much healthier for your hair. For someone who spends 15-20 minutes each morning drying her hair, this sounded amazing-- if these claims were true. With a $400
Smooth, frizz-free hair in no time!
price tag, I simply couldn't justify buying this hair dryer for the longest time. But finally, when a 20% holiday sale came about, I pulled the trigger. And I was not disappointed! This hair dryer is twice as fast as my previous one, but not as hot! And it leaves my hair feeling as smooth as it does after I go to a salon, and without all the frizz. I love, love, love it!

House Cleaning Service: 1 hour a week saved
To be honest, I actually don't even spend a full hour a week cleaning. I only clean our shower once a month, and I never touch the guest bathroom. I vacuum about once a month, and I hardly ever dust. I've never cleaned the inside of our microwave or our ovens. I've mopped the kitchen floor about 3 times this year. Yup, my blog is all about honesty! Generally speaking, I do clean the house, but usually "cleaning the house" is an event that can take several hours. Our house always "looks" okay, but I have always felt a little guilty for never investing the time in truly deep cleaning it.

After years and years of wanting a cleaning service, but never enough to allow strangers to touch my stuff, I finally bit the bullet. My friend Rochelle told me that she hired a really good cleaning service who totally deep cleaned her home. Greg told me that if I wanted to have them come on Friday, he'd be home from work to supervise. Perfect! Greg actually gets every other Friday off work because his company has an alternative work schedule of 9-hour days.

Not only did I not have to worry about researching a good service, but I also didn't have to worry about trying to be home when they came. I still didn't like the idea of them touching my stuff, but I moved enough things out of the way beforehand that I felt okay with it. Rochelle was right- the cleaners did an amazing job, and we've reached a level of "clean" I never thought possible!

Time Savings
Now that I don't have to go to the grocery store, clean the house, or spend 20 minutes drying my hair in the morning, what am I going to do with all of this extra time? Probably nothing other than simply feeling like my life is less hectic, less stressful, and more enjoyable.

Quick Running Update
Track workout at sunrise

I realize I haven't updated this blog with my training lately, but things are are going really well. I've been posting my workouts on Instagram almost every day. My weekly mileage has been in the low 50's for the past several weeks, and I'm gearing up to run the Houston Half Marathon in mid-January.

I've been doing a lot of workouts focused on speed, and I think my fitness is in a good spot right now based on my paces. I'll run a 5K on New Year's Day with the hopes of a modest PR, and then make my way to Houston two weeks later. My Achilles tendonitis is practically gone, and I've only felt it about 3 times this entire week! For just a few minutes at a time.

With all the actual racing I do, hopefully my life will feel like less of a race with these small time-saving strategies.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Insertional Achilles Tendonitis Recovery

If you've been following this blog you'll know that I have been struggling with insertional Achilles Tendonitis for the past few months. I'm delighted to say (and I hope I am not speaking too soon) that I have made a near-full recovery, or at the least have experienced a dramatic improvement. I'm writing this blog primarily for my own records, and also in the hopes that it helps someone else out there. I am not a medical professional, but I thought I would share my experience and what helped me recover.

This all started in mid-July when I noticed stiffness on the backs of my heels when waking up in the morning and taking those first few steps. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time because it wasn't painful (stiffness is the best term for it) and I really only felt it when I first got out of bed. After a few weeks, the issue became more noticeable while on the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. It still wasn't painful, but I felt the stiffness more frequently, like after running.

At this point, I consulted with Dr. Google and diagnosed myself with Achilles tendonitis in both feet. What I didn't realize, though, is that there are two types of Achilles tendonitis: insertional and midpoint. The treatment for each of these is different. However, without knowing this fact (and that's the danger of Dr. Google) I started doing the exercises that had proven to heal midpoint tendonitis.

I did these exercises every day throughout the month of August. The exercise was standing on the edge of a step, and doing heel drops so that my heel fell below the step. This was slightly painful to do, but the article I read said that these exercises should feel painful. I also stretched my calves thoroughly each day.

The pain gradually worsened in that I would feel it after almost every run. My runs were completely pain-free (with maybe a hint of stiffness at the beginning), but then I would spend 40 minutes driving to work, which resulted in them stiffening up substantially. I would get out of my car and the first few steps would be really painful. The pain would last for the first hour of the day and then subside. This pattern continued for a month before I finally decided to see my sports chiropractor.

Rehab Exercises
My sports chiropractor told me that by stretching and doing those exercises, I was treating midpoint Achilles tendonitis, not insertional tendonitis. He told me that stretching my calves and sinking my heel below the step was putting additional strain on the tendon and making things worse! Oops! He told me that I should do eccentric heel drops on each foot, but on a flat surface. He told me that I should use as much weight as tolerated because the added weight would stimulate healing.

Ideally I would back off of the training, but given that I had a marathon approaching, he told me I could continue running, as long as I did the exercises every day. And once the marathon was over, he advised that I take a few weeks off to let the tendons completely recover.

I was very good about doing the exercises and I saw a notable improvement within just a few days. What a relief! I wore a backpack with 20 lbs worth of weights inside while I did the heel drops. I did 3 sets of 15 on each side, as prescribed, twice a day. As prescribed, I did these very slowly (lasting 3 seconds for the full drop) starting from half the height of full tippy-toes.

I continued training, running 60-70 miles a week, and sure enough, the pain worsened again a month later. Even though my actual runs were pain free, my heels really hurt afterwards. After a 22-miler, they hurt all day long, so I ended up taking 3 full days off from running. The most worrisome part about this was that my heels hurt when I was at rest, whereas typically they would only hurt when walking. The time off worked, with the pain diminishing significantly, and I was able to resume training, with just three weeks left to go.

The Smith Machine
I lower the bar and hold it in a relaxed position
The marathon came and went. My heels were mostly pain-free during the race, but they were extremely painful afterwards. With every step I took I could feel a burning sensation! I took two weeks off from running and spent this time focusing on recovery. After doing more research on insertional Achilles Tendonitis, I realized that my backpack-with-weights approach was not allowing me to add enough weight to stimulate tendon recovery. These exercises didn't hurt at all, and apparently they were supposed to hurt a little bit.

So, I discovered the Smith Machine at gym in my office building. This machine allows me to do the heel drops with a lot more weight, as it is easier to use the bar than wear a backpack. I simply hold the bar with my arms in a relaxed position down at my thighs. I started off with 25 lbs + the weight of the bar and after about a week, upped it to 30 lbs + the weight of the bar. I started doing the exercises twice a day, 15 reps on each side. And I am still doing them at this level.

Doing the heel drops with this machine has helped me more than anything. As soon as I discovered it, my Achilles felt dramatically better within just two days. I've now been using this machine for three weeks, and I am close to 100% recovered. By that I mean that most days are completely pain free, and on the days I do feel it, it's only for a minute at a time, like once or twice during the day. This injury developed gradually so I imagine it will take awhile to become 100% pain free 100% of the time. But I am very close to being there.

Here are some questions I had about this injury, and the answers I discovered. Once again, I am not a medical professional so take this as one runner's experience and opinion!

Shoes I wear to avoid additional tendon strain
Q: What type of shoes should I wear when not running?
A: My sports chiropractor advised me to wear a backless shoe with a chunky 1-2 inch heel, and that the heel height would relieve the strain on the tendon. While high heels are not a good long-term solution, they did allow me to be pain-free while walking around, and in order to recover fully, it's necessary to reduce strain on the tendon as much as possible.

Q: How do I know how much weight to use for the heel drops?
A: I started with a low weight (15 lbs in the backpack) and worked my way up. I think it's supposed to slightly hurt in the area of pain, but not horribly so. All of the articles I've read say "once you can do this without pain, then up the weight." So I assume there should be a little bit of pain or you aren't using a heavy enough weight. I saw the most improvement when I discovered the Smith machine and used 25 lbs plus the weight of the bar.

Q: How do I know if I should run?
A: This is a tough question, especially if you are pain-free while running. I think it really depends on how bad the situation is, and you should consult a medical professional. When my Achilles started to ache all the time (even when not walking) I knew it was time to stop running altogether until they calmed down. Recovery is not linear-- some days are better and some days are worse. It's important to look for a trend towards improvement and if you aren't seeing that, then it means you should reduce your mileage or stop running.

Q: What causes insertional Achilles tendonitis?
A: In my case, I think it was a change in footwear. I had been using a 10mm drop firm shoe for my speed work for the past decade, and then I changed to an 8mm drop cushy shoe in June. Even though this is only 2mm difference, my heel was getting even closer to the ground because of the cushiness of the shoe. My sports chiropractor cautioned me that those heel drop numbers can be deceiving because you have to take into account how stiff/firm the shoe is. I have limited ankle mobility, so I am not a candidate for a low heel drop shoe. Generally speaking, a high heel-to-toe ratio is best for preventing Achilles tendonitis.

Q: Should I ice or heat the tendon?
A: I've gotten conflicting guidance on this from multiple trusted sources. I tried icing my heels once after a run and 5 minutes in, they started burning really badly. So I nixed ice. Tendonitis means that the tendon is inflamed, so heat isn't a great idea either. However, heating the lower calf to get blood flow to the area is a good idea before runs.

Q: What's the best form of cross training?
Getting ready to go deep water running!
A: I was reluctant to use the elliptical machine or the bike because those machines can place strain on the tendon by forcing the foot to flex upwards. Swimming and pool running were a good option for me because I don't move my feet much when I do those activities. A more skilled swimmer might potentially move his/her feet more and thus irritate the tendon. I am not all that skilled!

Q: What about a night splint?
A: My podiatrist gave me a night boot/splint thing to wear while sleeping, but my sports chiropractor thought this was a bad idea. What to do? Since the boot didn't fit me anyway, I never used it, but I know some people have had relief with it. It basically keeps your foot in a neutral position overnight (not allowing the tendon to shorten/relax) so that when you get up and start walking around, your tendon has adjusted to being lengthened.

Q: Can the tendon rupture?
A: My sports chiro and my podiatrist both told me that this would not happen from long distance running. A rupture occurs from sudden force, which is more likely to happen in soccer or basketball. I ran a marathon with insertional Achilles tendonitis and it didn't rupture.

My best advice to anyone struggling with insertional Achilles tendonitis is to see a doctor, PT, or sports chiropractor. It's important to have a correct diagnosis and to pinpoint what caused the issue. It's also important to have a medical professional watch you do the exercises so that you know you are doing them correctly.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Turkey Trot Magic

Yesterday I ran my 12th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot. I first ran this race in 2006 in a time of 23:32. It was my second ever 5K. It is now my longest standing running tradition together with Greg, who ran his 9th consecutive trot.

This race fell at an inopportune time. I had taken two full weeks off from running post-marathon to let my Achilles tendonitis heal, and when I resumed, my legs felt extremely stiff and heavy. I went pool running and swimming four times during those two weeks in an effort to maintain my cardiovascular fitness. Plus, I simply enjoy exercising and this was the most Achilles-friendly exercise I could think of.

I also continued to do my rehab exercises, which are simply heel drops using as much weight as tolerated. I discovered that I could add even more weight using the Smith machine at my office gym, and once I started doing that, I saw rapid improvement. In fact, I was 100% pain-free before, during and after my run on Monday. I wish I had discovered this machine months ago! I'll write another post soon about my Achilles tendonitis experience including what helped, and what set me back.

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around I was no longer worried about my Achilles tendonitis. Instead, I thought that my heavy legs might make it impossible for me to run fast, and there would be huge "bonk" potential. My legs felt like they were at mile 21 of a marathon during Tuesday's easy 4-miler, and I'm not exaggerating. I foam rolled and took Epsom salt baths after Tuesday's run in an effort to revitalize my legs, and hoped that they were just heavy from not having been used in so long.

Race Goals
Race morning arrived and I was excited to be racing. Given how horribly my marathon turned out, I wanted another shot at running hard, pushing myself, and staying mentally strong. Over the summer when I was doing specific 5K workouts, my goal was to be able to break 20:00 in the Turkey Trot. It was simply too hot to do that in the summer, but I thought that if I increased my 5K fitness in the summer months, it would stick with me during marathon training.

Many marathon training plans focus primarily on Lactate Threshold work and endurance, but my coach throws a healthy amount of short, high-intensity intervals as well. For example, I ran 15 x 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy, followed by 15 x 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy. And then a few weeks later I did that same workout but with 20 sets. Which comes out to a solid hour of constant on-and-off sprinting. With workouts like these frequenting my marathon training schedule, I thought that I had not only maintained my 5K fitness, but increased it.

I knew that I was in the best shape of my life in the weeks leading up to the marathon, and if I had raced a cool 5K back then, I think sub-20:00 would have been highly likely. So, on the one hand, I knew I was in excellent shape. On the other hand, I had taken two weeks off, and my legs had felt like bricks just 48 hours prior.

Ultimately, I decided I would run the race by feel, with a stretch goal of sub-20:00, but a more realistic goal of simply setting a course PR (under 20:50). If I had to predict my time, I would have guessed 20:30 if things went well, and closer to 21:00 if they didn't go well.

Before the Race
Greg and I have our "before the race" down pat! We know exactly when to leave the house, where to park, where to go to the bathroom, where to warm up, etc. We ran the warm up at a pace of around
Virginia Run Turkey Trot Start Line
8:35 and it felt more like 8:00. I actually felt really good, but I wondered if I was in for a slap in the face given that my easy pace felt "harder than easy"!

It was 32 degrees and sunny, so we warmed up with an extra layer over our long-sleeved racing shirts and then hung those clothes on a fence near the start/finish This was perfect racing weather for me, particularly since there was no wind whatsoever. What a contrast to all the crappy weather we had all fall!

Greg and I both planned to go out at around 6:30, but I knew that was highly subject to change based on how I felt. This course can be very fast if you know how to pace it. The first two miles are net uphill, and the last mile is net downhill. However, the first mile is gently rolling hills (starting with a downhill), whereas the second mile has a single large hill. And even though the third mile is mostly downhill, there are a few ups to keep you on your toes! In an ideal world, I like to run the first two miles at around the same pace, and then really hammer it home on the last mile.

Mile 1: 6:36
During this mile, I focused on just staying relaxed. Running so fast was definitely a shock to my system. I hadn't run at this pace in over four weeks, so my objective was to try and get into a groove that felt natural. Being a turkey trot, I had to pass a lot of kids during the first half mile-- the ones that go out at a pace of 6:00 for the first minute and then blow up. I'm so used to this now that I don't even see it as an obstacle.

Mile 2: 6:34
I was pleased with my pace for the first mile and feeling good, so I resolved to run the second mile at the same pace or faster. I was on track for this until the big hill came at the end of the mile. I told myself that a slow down on the hill was NOT inevitable, and I was going to maintain my pace no matter what. I decided to make myself hurt as much as possible, and do whatever it took to not slow down on that hill. Typically, my strategy is to run an even effort in races, not an even pace, but at this point, I wanted to push myself up the hill because I knew I'd be able to recover on the downhill. Plus, I was highly confident in my endurance. If I could just not lose any time up the hill, I'd be golden. And voila! I did it! It really hurt like hell the closer I got to the top, but I refused to back off the pace and it paid off.

Mile 3: 6:27
Now it was time to really gun it. I knew that I'd have to conquer two small pesky inclines, but aside from that, everything would be flat or downhill. When I was about 3/4 of the way through the mile, I glanced at my Garmin and it read a 6:34 average pace for that mile. This was not acceptable to me so I pushed even harder. I know that many people race better when they don't look at their watches, but for me, when a race is almost over, I find that looking at my pace can be a huge motivator.

The Last 0.14: (5:37 pace)
With the realization that I was going to run a really strong time, I gave it all I had to make it as strong as possible.

I finished in an official time of 20:21.

Usually during races, I am aware of the other runners and where I am relative to other women. But during this race, I was solely focused on myself. I had Greg in my sights the entire time (he ran 20:03) but otherwise, I wasn't overly aware of who I was passing or the people passing me. Because I was initially so uncertain about what would happen, I wasn't viewing this as a competition.

Anyway, even though I didn't break 20:00 I was pretty excited. My course PR was significant and I was delighted that I managed to maintain so much fitness. I titled this post "Turkey Trot Magic" because on Tuesday I felt ridiculously sluggish and heavy, but then I went out an ran a 5K at very close to my overall PR (20:17). It just goes to show you that running is truly dynamic-- some days you have it, other days you don't. It was also "magic" in that my Achilles were completely pain free before, during, and after the race. And running fast is pretty much the worst thing you can do with this injury. After the Leesburg 5K in August, I was in a lot of pain shortly after the race.

In terms of overall results, I placed 4th out of 989 women. This was a large turkey trot, so I was very happy with my placing.

Final Thoughts and Stats
I learned a lot from this race. From a physical standpoint, I think that running Monday-Wednesday really helped my legs get back into the groove of running. I'm at my best when I run 7 days a week, and take long breaks in between cycles. If I miss a day of running, I feel stale the next day. I run 30 minutes at a recovery pace every Sunday, which is enough to give my legs a rest, while keeping them used to moving. I also learned that even if my legs feel like garbage one day, they can bounce back quickly, provided I get enough sleep and do things like foam roll. Other thoughts and stats:
  • I was 1st place in the 30-39 year age group, and I am 39 years old. During the past 8 years that I've been in this age group, I have been slower. 
  • This is a course PR by 29 seconds. My previous fastest was last year in 20:50
  • I ran 4 seconds slower than my overall PR of 20:17
  • I think I paced this race perfectly
  • Given that I ran a pace of 5:37 for the final stretch, I do think I could have run the entire race slightly faster, but trust me- I was pushing really hard the whole way!
Within the course of just two days, I went from being discouraged about my running to very optimistic about kick starting the new cycle. My next race is a 5K on New Year's day, and I am now confident that I will be able to start training again without my Achilles plaguing me, and with my marathon fitness mainly intact. 

More Stats!
If you don't care about data, you can stop reading here. But I geek out on this stuff, and one of the best things about having an annual racing tradition is to compare the splits year over year. Here's a fun chart:

 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 
 2017  6:36 6:34 6:27  5:3720:21

Splits from 2006-2008 are unknown because I didn't have a Garmin back then.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Nobody Cares About Your Marathon Time

Other people don't care about your race times. And that's a good thing.

They may be interested in how you do. And they may even track you during a marathon! And if you have a coach, he/she is likely personally invested in your performance. But your race time is not going to change the lives of other people. Other runners care about their races times. Any interest
they have in your race time is just that-- an interest. And a fleeting one, as they will likely not be focused on your race time the next day.

But what about the elite athletes who get press coverage? Or what about the runners who have tens of thousands of social media followers? People care about those race times, right? Not really. It's cool to scroll through the Instagram feed and see how people's races went. And it may be worthy of a conversation or two. But that's about the extent of most people's caring. I have nearly 10,000 followers on Instagram, and I don't think any of them lost sleep over my Indianapolis time. While I received an overwhelming amount of support from the running community, I know that my failure to meet my goal isn't going to change anything in their lives. And that's such a relief! Phew.

I'll caveat all of this with the statement that some people will judge you. In fact, people are probably judging you all the time for lots of things. And admit it-- you sometimes judge other people too. It's human nature to judge and to make comparisons. You can't stop people from judging you, especially if you put yourself out there. What you can stop is how you let those judgments effect you. Are you going to make decisions based on how you might be perceived? Or are you going to make decisions based on what is truly right for you. Do you value yourself based on other people's perceptions? Or do you value yourself based on your own standards?

It's easy to understand this concept intellectually. Most people know that they shouldn't care about what other people think of them. For me, the real breakthrough came when I actually felt it.

Back in the summer of 2013, I was debating whether or not to run the Chicago marathon. I had been injured for five weeks, so I was deciding between doing it as a fun run, or just bagging the whole thing. Was I going to embarrass myself yet again with another relatively slow time? Would everyone think I was crazy for considering myself to be a BQ-caliber runner? But at that moment, I was able to "catch" myself and turn those thoughts in the other direction.I realized that I was making this decision primarily based on how other people (my running friends and teammates) would perceive my time.

And that's what caused the breakthrough to happen. I realized that my time was important to me, but it was really just a small point of interest to my friends. If I ran a slow time, they might think, "oh, Elizabeth didn't do all that well," but then they would go about the rest of their day, focused on other things. And if they thought "oh, Elizabeth didn't do all that well," would it impact my life? NO. Not one bit. Let them think it! Let them think whatever they want about me because it's not going to change the decisions I make, or how I feel about my running.

Nobody cares how crappy I look here!
I've often been asked what the single biggest "a-ha" moment was in my journey to overcome race anxiety. It was this realization, which felt like like a heavy weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. It made me feel free to do whatever I wanted with my running. I was no longer afraid to run a slow time because of what other people might think. And my anxiety levels plummeted.

The stakes were now lower on race day. Every race became about my individual goals and my own unique journey. I was no longer trying to prove anything to anyone. And while I still cared about my race times, I wasn't worried about embarrassing myself if I ran slower than expected.

Nobody cares about your race time. Nobody else has put in the work like you have, and nobody else has to live with the result. After all, how much do you really care about other people's times, relative to how much you care about your own time? You probably don't lose sleep over other people's running.

Learning to accept a missed goal is a skill in and of itself, but when you are ALSO worried about other people's judgments, acceptance is nearly impossible.

How does all of this relate to the marathon I ran two weeks ago?

  • I went into the race feeling relaxed, so I don't think that my bonk was the result of race anxiety.
  • When I started to struggle, I wasn't worried that the people tracking me would see I had slowed down; I was focused on trying to push through.
  • After the race was over, I was wasn't afraid to share my experience with other runners on social media and my blog.
  • I've spent the past two weeks focused on recovering and planning out my spring season-- not trying to justify what happened to anyone.
  • I'm not looking at Boston (my next marathon) as a redemption race to prove to the world that I can, in fact, run a fast marathon. It's simply my next marathon. 

It's easy to feel pressured on race day, particularly if you are active in the running community. But other people's judgments should be the least of your concerns. Because those people simply don't care as much as you may think.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Race Report: Riding the pain train

I'm going to kill the punch line by saying up front that this marathon went poorly for me. I wasn't even close to reaching my goal and I felt miserable for nearly half of the race.

Race Weekend
Greg and I flew into Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon. We arrived at our hotel, relaxed for a little bit, and then headed to the expo. One of the things I love about Indianapolis is that everything is so close. The expo was a five-minute walk from our hotel, and then dinner was a five-minute walk from the expo.

For dinner, we met up with my friend Anna, and spent the entire meal talking about running! Afterward, we retuned to the hotel and I was fast asleep by 8:15. The following morning, Greg and I did a 20-minute shakeout run through a park and ended at Au Bon Pain, where we procured bagels for race morning.

Throughout all of this I was oddly calm. The race was "just something we were doing" the next day. It didn't really feel like the big event was finally here. There are plusses and minuses to this. Basically, my sports psychologist has taught me to be emotion-neutral when it comes to running. While he definitely wanted me to experience all the positive emotions that come with pursuing and attaining goals, he also wanted me to temper it by acknowledging that running is just one aspect of my life, and it doesn't define me. And going into this race, I almost felt too neutral. Maybe I've mastered the art of being zen-like. Or maybe now that I've run a 3:21 marathon, I feel like I've already run faster than I ever dreamed, so running even faster is kind of redundant. I don't know.

Anyway, Greg and I had lunch with Anna, and we reviewed our race plans in detail. Greg and Anna decided they would start off together because they had similar goals. Anna wanted to break 3:26 and qualify for NYC, and Greg wanted to run somewhere in the low 3:20s. I was sticking to my plan of starting out in the low 7:30's for the first 10K, and then speeding up from there. After lunch, we walked through the hotel lobby, where I discovered that they were serving free hot apple cider. This apple cider really hot the spot. (Remember this for later!)

A few hours later, I had major digestive distress. And after going to the bathroom, I felt like I needed to lie down because I felt a little spacey. I was somewhat worried that this would impact my race, but I tried to push it to the back of my head. I ultimately began to feel more normal, so Greg and I went to dinner where we had our normal pre-race pasta with chicken.

Before the Race
My sleep was pretty typical of night-before-the marathon sleep. Solid for the first 4 hours, and then fragmented for the rest of the night. When I woke up for good, I was eager to start preparing for the race. I ate my bagel with peanut butter, put my outfit on, pinned my bib on, made my Generation UCAN gel, etc. Finally it was time to leave for the race.

After a short 3-block walk, Greg and I arrived at the start line. I did a quick jog to get my legs moving and then we entered the first corral. Everything felt good. I was ready! We met up with Anna just after the national anthem finished.

It was 46 degrees, overcast and damp/humid. Near-perfect running weather! I shed my throwaway jacket and a few minutes later, the race began.

Miles 1-5
I was not happy with how these miles went. The race was extremely crowded, the streets were narrow, and three pace groups were all merged together. The 3:15, 3:20 and 1:40 half marathon pacer were all within about 10 seconds of each other and I was stuck behind this huge mass of runners. It was more crowded than Boston for the first five miles. It was extremely frustrating because I wasn't able to pace my own race-- I was at the liberty of the crowd. And because there were so many runners blocking my view, I couldn't see where the turns and tangents were. I couldn't even get ahead of Greg and Anna for the first two miles.

We also ran under a few bridges during these miles, so my Garmin got messed up. I couldn't even see the mile markers to calculate my pace because there were so many people. Finally at mile 3, I saw the marker, and I looked down to see 23:03 on my watch. I figured that an 8 minute pace would be 24:00, so take away 3 x 20 seconds would be 23:00. Okay, that meant I was running about a 7:40 pace. Slower than planned, but not significantly. I tried not to let the crowding and inability to pace affect my mindset and mood, but it was frustrating.

Miles 1-3: 7:41 average
Mile 4: 7:29
Mile 5: 7:28

Miles 6-10
Finally after five miles I had passed the 3:20 and the 1:40 pacers, and had enough room to see the course and pace the race according to my plan. I hadn't felt all that great during the first five miles,
and I assumed it was because I wasn't able to establish a rhythm. Surely now that I could run my own
Around mile 10
race, I'd find that groove and feel good.

For hydration, the plan was to take a sip of water every 15 minutes. When I took a sip of water at 45 minutes, just before the 10K mark, I felt my left ear clog up. This was a bad sign, a very bad sign! I starting cursing inside my mind.  This "exercise-induced eustachian ear dysfunction" only ever happens to me in races when I bonk. It happened most recently at the Parks Half Marathon and at the end of a warm marathon pace run that didn't go well. Deep down I knew that this symptom, particularly so early in the race, meant that I was in for a bad day.

But the only thing to do was to ignore it. I wasn't going to let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was going to keep executing my race strategy and just hope that this inner ear clogging wasn't indicative of a pending bonk.

Overall, I felt off. These paces should have felt easy this early in the race and they didn't. I briefly contemplated turning off course at mile 8 with the half marathon runners and then trying a full the following weekend in Richmond. But I quickly dismissed that thought because I didn't want another week of tapering. I wanted the marathon training cycle to be over today.

Mile 6: 7:24
Mile 7: 7:27
Mile 8: 7:25
Mile 9: 7:28
Mile 10: 7:34

Miles 11-15
I didn't worry about falling off pace during mile 10 because it was slightly uphill. But then the 7:30s became hard. I ended up taking my Generation UCAN gel about five minutes early, just so I could ditch my water bottle (I needed to drink the water with the gel). The bottle was getting really cold in my hand, and I knew it would feel better to run without the burden of carrying it. It had been a mistake to ditch my gloves at mile 5. It was getting colder instead of warmer, and this was probably a factor of being farther out from the city.

I tossed the bottle, but it didn't help matters. I was fading, and it was only mile 13. When I ran the Myrtle Beach marathon and the B & A Trail marathon (my previous two fastest) I felt really strong at the halfway point. I have enough experience to know how a marathon should feel at the halfway point, and this was not it!  I kept reminding myself that marathons have bad stretches and good stretches. You can feel bad one moment and good the next. I was trying to be as optimistic as possible, but the good stretch never came.

My half marathon split was 1:38:47, which was in line with my pacing strategy. So at least I know I executed the race according to my plan, and didn't let the crowding in the first five miles prevent me from hitting my halfway target.

Mile 11: 7:30
Mile 12: 7:33
Mile 13: 7:32
Mile 14: 7:45
Mile 15: 7:49

Miles 16-20
I was fading. And I started to feel like total crap. I got a cramp at the top of my left front ribs, below the breast bone. It hurt quite a bit. At some point, I knew Greg and Anna would catch up to me and pass me. And I knew that would upset Greg. So now it was just a guessing game on when I'd see them. They were targeting a pace of around 7:45, so I figured I'd probably see them during mile 18. When that didn't happen, I figured Greg must be running a little slower than planned.

Oddly, the point at which I would see Greg became my only focus, and I was no longer focused on my pacing strategy or my missed goal. I knew it was going to be a bonk, so I just tried to hang on as good as I could. My hands started to get really cold, and I felt chilled to the core. Either it was below 45 degrees out in the suburbs, or the fact that it was damp was making it extra chilly feeling. The forecast was for 48-50 degrees and I am never cold in those temps.

Finally I had to do it. I had to stop. I couldn't keep going. Somewhere in mile 19, a running club had put out a large jug of water and a few bottles of coke. I poured some coke into a cup because it actually looked good to me. The idea of water disgusted me, which is why I think I may have over-hydrated the day before the race. After ditching my bottle at mile 12, I didn't consume any water for the rest of the race. My stomach didn't want it and the clogged inner ear also didn't want it.

I knew that once I stopped, I would be stopping again. But it was unavoidable. I could only run for a few minutes at a time and the pain got so bad I would be forced to stop. Even though I knew that stopping would simply prolong the pain, the situation was no longer in my control.

How was I going to go another 7 miles? That seemed impossible. This was not going to be pretty.

Mile 16: 8:03
Mile 17: 8:02
Mile 18: 8:33
Mile 19: 8:36
Mile 20: 9:28

Miles 21-Finish
We ran under a fancy "20-mile" inflatable archway. Shortly after, Greg and Anna caught me. Anna was looking strong and Greg encouraged her to run ahead to go get her goal. Greg said "Wanna bonk
Mile 25
with me?" And I said "Yes!" But then I realized he was going faster than me so I told him to go ahead because I couldn't run that fast, and he did. About a mile later, though, I caught up to him. He was walking. I told him to come with me, and he replied that he couldn't run. I kept going- I was feeling a little better. But that didn't last for long, and he caught up with me. At this point, we ended up just
sticking together. We ran a bit, and then we walked. And when it was time to run again, he said he couldn't. I really wanted to get this race over with as soon as possible, and he said he didn't care if I left him, so finally I left him for good and jogged most of the way to the finish.

I didn't take in any water or fuel because I felt too nauseous to do so, and my cramp continued to be painful. My inner ear continued to feel clogged. My hands were frozen and all I wanted to consume was that apple cider from the day before. I high-fived as many people as I could just so I could touch their gloves and mittens.

Mile 21: 10:09
Mile 22: 13:05
Mile 23: 11:10
Mile 24: 9:50
Mile 25: 10:28
Mile 26: 10:25
Last 0.2: 8:57 pace

I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. It wasn't a victorious smile, but rather "I am so glad this is over" smile. My official time was 3:43:38. Which is actually a BQ by 1:22, since I'll be 40 for the 2019 race. (I don't actually want to run Boston in 2019, but I think it's cool I still managed to BQ after such a "monumental" bonk.)

After the Race
I was shivering and was so relieved to be able to put a space blanket over myself. I waited for Greg to finish, and he didn't show up. I figured he'd be about 4-5 minutes behind me. When he didn't show up after 10 minutes, I started to get worried. Or maybe I somehow missed him? But eventually he turned up, crossing the finish line in 3:57. (Anna, by the way, had met her goal by running a 3:25). Greg's legs had totally given out and he walked for most of the last two miles.

All I could think about was that cider. I turned down all the food and water options at the finish line and Greg and I headed for the hotel lobby. But alas! There was no cider. It was the only thing I had an appetite for. My high hamstring kept seizing up during this entire walk. It was extremely painful. Meanwhile, my Achilles tendons had been silent the entire morning.

I think I need some time to truly process this, and will likely write a separate post later. My main feeling right now is "oh well, onto the next race." I'm honestly not upset. Five years ago I would have been crying my eyes out and now I have swung to the other side. I'm numb to it. Maybe I just haven't had enough time to reflect yet, and maybe I'll feel more disappointed in the days to come. Or maybe not.

Approaching the finish, determined.
While a sub 3:20 would have been nice, and I truly believe I am capable of it, it's kind of an arbitrary goal. My true goals were qualifying for (and running) Boston, and also running a marathon that was representative of my fitness level and training. I did that at Myrtle Beach. It'd be nice to have it again, but the desire isn't as strong. So the non-attainment isn't as heavy of a blow. It may sound like I'm burnt out or bored with running, but I'm not. I am still really excited about my future races and goals. And I'm still very motivated to achieve my goals. I just realize that one race doesn't make or break me as a runner. I still have a few years ahead of me to push even further before slowing down with age.

I did what I could today with what I had. And I didn't have a lot. That could be due to over-hydrating the day before, or it could be related to something I ate. It could be that I missed my peak. I know that I was in amazing shape the day of the Army Ten Miler. 10 Miles in 74 degrees + 100% humidity at a pace of 7:13 felt much better than the first 10 miles of this race-- in ideal conditions at a slower pace! This is a perfect example of an "on" day versus on "off" day. There is no way I lost fitness in the past four weeks, as I continued to train. But a 7:30 pace in ideal conditions for 10 miles hurt a lot more than a 7:13 pace in horrible conditions.

Performance is dynamic. No matter how well you prepare, you can't be guaranteed that your body will be up to task on any given day. I'm a human- I'm not a machine. That said, Greg suggested I test my over-hydration theory by drinking lots and lots of water the day before a medium-long run and seeing if my inner ear clogs as a result.

I am proud of myself for actually finishing. The thought of getting a cab to the finish crossed my mind at multiple times. I am amazed that I was able to finish given how horrible I felt when I stopped the first time during mile 19. I'm proud that I didn't freak out about the crowding in the beginning, and I didn't let the inner ear clogging affect my positive mindset. I would say that I'm proud of myself for not being upset, but it's not like I'm trying to not be upset. I honestly am just neutral feeling at the moment.

Ultimately, I know that this training cycle is part of a bigger picture. This cycle built on my Myrtle Beach cycle, and my Boston cycle will build on this cycle. I know my coach will continue to push me with higher volume and more challenging workouts. So maybe for the next one I will be in shape for a 3:10-3:15. When I bonked in Boston in 2016 (running a 3:48), my next marathon was a 14-minute PR. So I think that good things are in store for me. I need to be patient and I will be.

I'm now going to take some time off to let my Achilles tendons heal fully. They felt great during the race, and during the walk back to the hotel. But once I sat down and stopped moving for 20 minutes, and then got back up- OUCH! The left one continued to hurt pretty badly for the rest of the day. I'm not sure how long it will take, but if I am religious about doing the exercises, and avoid running, it shouldn't be more than two weeks. My three-day hiatus worked wonders, so I just need to extend that for this to hopefully permanently go away.

Thank you to everyone who's made it this far in the blog post! And who has followed my training over the past few months, or years even. I appreciate all of your support as I continue my journey.