Saturday, January 24, 2009

Regrouping

After many sleepless nights and after giving it much thought, I finally have a "Plan B".

I figured that at the very least, I would set a PR in Arizona, because my training had been so much more intense than it was for my 3:51. So even if I didn't BQ, my PR would "tide me over" until the next marathon attempt. But now I feel like I am in the best shape of my life, with no marathon PR to confirm it.

My first thought was to run the Shamrock Marathon on March 22, where I set the PR last year. But then I realized that it was too soon to fit in a solid training cycle, but too far to simply rely on what I've built up over the past seven months.

So, after much research, I discovered a marathon just outside of Columbus Ohio on February 15: The "Last Chance For Boston" Marathon. Ironically, the Boston marathon is now full and registration is closed. But the original intent of this marathon was to give runners one "last chance" to qualify, if their fall marathon didn't go as they had planned.

Even if I had BQed in Arizona, I still would not have been able to run Boston 2009. I have a whole year to BQ, so I am not necessarily trying to do that on February 15. Really, all I want is to shave some time off of my PR and salvage some of the intense training I've been doing for the seven months leading up to Arizona.

The "Last Chance For Boston" Marathon will likely be very cold. February 15 in Ohio with an 8:00am start time should be in the upper 20's or lower 30's. But it could be much colder, and there is always the possibility of a snow storm or freezing rain. I've decided to drive to the race (actually, Brent is going to drive!) so if the weather is really unfavorable, I won't lose money on air fare. After that cold, windy 4-mile race on New Year's Eve, I am confident about running in the teen's, but single digits would probably be a deal-breaker for me. As would any kind of winter precipitation.

One more thing to note about the course. It's only one-mile long. I'll run this loop 26.2 times for a full marathon. The race is chip-timed, and every time you cross the timing mat, someone tells you how many miles you have completed. There are many advantages to this. First, the course has a 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 mile marker. This should make pacing a lot easier, considering I don't use a Garmin. Secondly, it's flat, so there are no hills to contend with. Finally, it makes it easy to layer up and throw away clothing, because you come to the same point each mile. I know that this will be "boring" and very mentally challenging, but since I am used to doing lon runs on the treadmill, I think I can easily handle to monotony of a 1-mile loop.

Thankfully, the marathon is run counter-clockwise, so faster runners can pass on the inside of the loop and run the tangent. During the the 4-mile race, which was run clockwise, I had to pass runners on the outer edge of the loop, lengthening my course.

February 15: Last Chance for Boston Marathon
March 22: Shamrock Half Marathon
April 5: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler
May 3: New Jersey Marathon


It's more races than is really ideal to train optimally for a marathon, but I really enjoy the Shamrock and the Cherry Blossom, so I am sacrificing an ideal training schedule to do some races that I really want to participate. And if I miss my BQ in New Jersey because of this, I can always try for it in the fall.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Melting in the Arizona Sun

To train for my 3:51 marathon:
- Seven weeks of consistent training
- Average 40 miles per week
- Peak mileage was 48

To train for yesterday's marathon:
- Six months of consistent training
- Average 50 miles per week
- Peak mileage was 56


I ran the P.F. Chang's Rock 'N Roll marathon yesterday. I awoke at 2:00am the morning of the race. That's 4:00am EST, when my body always wakes up naturally. I could not get back to sleep, so I just played around on the internet and watched TV until it was time to get dressed.

I started to realize how thankful I was that I would be running this race with a perfect training regime behind me, without any injuries, and without having gotten sick in the past few months. I had been plagued by injuries and illness a lot during 2008, and finally I felt awesome, and ready for my BQ. I got dressed in my running skirt,sports bra, visor and sunglasses. I headed out the door and walked to the area where the shuttle would take me to the race start.

I got on the shuttle bus and arrived at the race nearly two hours before it started. Better to be safe than sorry! It was dark and in the lower50's. My feet went numb because I wasn't wearing my "warmer" socks. The weather prediction was for a much hotter race than I had originally anticipated so I wore my lightest pair of socks.

Miles 1-5
I lined up in the start corral and one of my friends from the Runner's World forums found me. We had eaten dinner together the night before along with Yulyia. We chatted for a bit and then the race started. We didn't plan onrunning together, so I let her pull ahead while I stayed back. The 3:40 pace group was in the corral behind mine, so I let them pass me in the first mile.

I've always walked through the water stations because I am a believer in Galloway's theory that just a 10-second walk isenough to help preserve your legs. On the plane, I sat next to a woman who consistently ran about 3:20, and she told me she did the water station walk breaks always.

My goal was to go out at a pace of 8:30 and then speed up to goal pace (8:24) by about mile 4. I missed the first mile marker, so I had no idea what pace I was at. During the third mile, the 3:45 pace group passed me. I knew that there was no way they were going at a 3:45 pace. They had to have been going much faster. This is the reason I don't run with pace groups. But it annoyed me that they were now in front of me and I felt like I was on target for a 3:42 at that point.

I passed the mile 4 marker, and my split was a 7:48. I was sort of pissed because I only sped up due to the fact that the 3:45 group passed me so quickly. And even after the 7:48 mile, I was still behind them. I knew that a 7:48 was way too fast, so I slowed down substantially.

I didn't really feel good during these first miles. My stomach felt kind of heavy (I drank a ton of water) and I felt BLAH. But I reminded myself that I typically don't feel "right" about a run until mile 5 or 6.

Miles 6-10
These were probably the best miles of the race. I averaged about 8:25 during this time and felt relatively strong, despite the stomach tightness I was having.

At about mile 7, I passed the 3:45 pace group and I told myself I would not let them get ahead of me again.

I debated how much water I should drink. It was starting to heat up and the sun was beating down on me. And yet my stomach cramp seemed to begetting worse and worse, and I was beginning to have some upper back pain.

Miles 11-15
This is really where the race fell apart for me. I wanted to cross the halfway point at 1:50 or 1:51 because I knew that a lot of people were tracking me and I wanted to give the impression that I was right on target. But as soon as I crossed over the halfway point (1:51:5x), I dramatically slowed down. Little did I know that my stupid D-Tag wasn't even registering my splits. So it didn't even matter.

Igot to the mile 14 marker and I hunched over in pain from my stomach cramp. My back was also really hurting. Additionally, I had major foot pain. I had felt this same foot pain before in a hot half marathon, so I wasn't terribly worried. I think it was from my foot swelling so much in the heat and then pushing against the top of my shoe. But it only hurt when I ran on it, so it almost felt like a stress fracture. I just reminded myself that I had felt this before and it turned out to justbe pain from the shoe.

The 3:45 pace group paced me at about mile 14, and I realized that there would be no way I could BQ. The bestI could hope for would be a PR.

Miles 16-20
I've never hit "a wall" during a marathon, but starting at mile 16, the whole race felt like one big brick wall. And I knew it wasn't my fault.I know I had trained better than I had for any other marathon. And I didn't go out too fast with the exception of the one mile that was7:48. I was even giving myself walk breaks.

The foot pain started to get really bad. I sat down on a curb and removed my shoe.The top of my foot was red and swollen, and my big toe felt weird and numb-like. I eventually put the sock and shoe back on and continued. At this point, I could still feasibly PR if I miraculously got my speed back.

Miles 20-25
After crossing the 20-mile mat about 10 minutes off of my target pace. I realized that a PR was not going to happen for me. At about mile 21 I sat down on a park bench for about a minute and watched the 3:50 pace group speed by me. I remembered how easy it felt to run at a 3:50 pace for most of the Shamrock marathon. I remembered how awesome that felt. And now, despite the fact that I had trained 500% longer and with much greater weekly mileage, I couldn't get my butt off that bench. The heat was just zapping me.

I guess I am just really sensitive to the sun. I do fine if it's upper 60's and overcast (Miami Marathon, Richmond half marathon) but if it's at all sunny, I feel it. My face always gets bright red after speed work and stays that way for over an hour. The red face even happened to me as a child and teenager after 4minutes of doing a dance routine all-out. At this point, it was about 62 degrees and very sunny. My body didn't feel hot in the traditional sense beause it's a dry heat that I am not used to. But it was reacting the same way it did when I ran the really hot VA Beach half in 2006, and also some 10Ks as well. I totally bonk in the heat, always.

I got up from the bench and I realized that I simply couldn't run. Butthen I reminded myself that this was all mental, so I just told myself"yes, you can run". So I did.


I had a friend waiting for me at mile 25. I didn't want him to leave or think that he missed me, so that was really all that was motivating me. I kept making bargains with myself: "Just run to that water station up ahead, then you can walk."It was a run/walk from there out. My running pace was actually about9:00/mile, but there was so much walking that my splits were about 10:30's.

I started to hear the songs on my iPod that I was hoping to finish to, so I just turned the damn thing off and took my headphones off of my head. It was too depressing to be at mile 22 and hear my finish line songs.

Finally, I came to mile 25 and stopped to chat with my friend Steve. I told him that I was having the worst marathon of my life and how much pain I was in. He said "you're almost done. . . just go run to the finish now!" And I said that I wanted to just stop and chat with him for longer. So that lasted for about two minutes and then I finally made my way to the finish. If it weren't for him being there, I would have had no motivation to run at all during that last portion.

He took this photo of me:


26 and the Finish
I did a run/walk to the finish, but did run that last 0.2 very strong and smiled for the camera as I crossed the finish line in about 4:10.My gun time and net time are identical on the web site, but I was a 4:10 according to my watch. A few years ago, I would have been elated with this time. But now, I realized I was 30 minutes off of my goal.


My friend, Eric, found me and I started bawling my eyes out the moment I saw him. My foot was killing me, I was so exhausted. And I just felt like such crap. They were handing out popsicles and mine tasted amazing at that point.

Final Thoughts
I just find it highly ironic that I have never had a bad marathon until now. And I had run 7 previous marathons. Each marathon had been better than I expected, and I had always exceeded my goal by 2-5 minutes. And yet, I never had a training program that was so strong. I did everything "right" this time around. I trained for a full 18 weeks (actually more if you consider everything I was doing in July and August before I got sick). And I averaged about 50 MPW. I did multiple 20 milers and in the past, the most I had ever done was just one.

I definitely don't think I was over trained. I think I was optimally prepared to BQ, or at least set a significant PR. But I don't deal with heat well. The foot pain and the stomach cramping also really played a factor before the heat started to kick in. Last summer, I ran a 4-mile race at a pace of 8:56 because it was so hot and sunny. Slower than my marathon PR pace!

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have changed anything. However, if I knew that the heat was going to be this bad, I would have changed to the half marathon at the expo and not even run the marathon to begin with,

I was really lucky to have gotten through this training without any injuries, but extremely unlucky when it came to race-day weather.

Now I am trying to think about my next marathon I want to redeem myself ASAP because I know I am in such great shape! But I also don't want to rush recovery. Today my legs feel better than they typically do after a marathon, probably because I did so much walking. And yet, I ran the London marathon in about the same time, and recovery only took me a few days. (It was a fun run, and I didn't exert myself the way I did yesterday). I will either do the Shamrock Marathon on March 22, which might be too soon, or the NJ Marathon in early May, which seems like too far away!

I just have to say that the best thing to come out of this was all the support from all of my friends. The RWOL BQ girls especially! Not to mention all the support I have from my three friends who live here in Phoenix. They were so amazing to help me with everything. What's most important is that I have an incredible support network.

In a way, I feel like I let you all down because Iknow you were all rooting for me. And then I just ended up with this epic failure. But ultimately, I know I did the best I could in those circumstances, and I'll just have to pull myself back together and crank out the next one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patience is a Virtue!

Calm, patient, relaxed, centered. . . these are words that really need to describe me at the moment but totally do not. I am totally on edge about this marathon on Sunday, which is natural during the final stages of the "taper". I am not questioning my training or my athletic ability, but just hoping that all the logistics go well-- I arrive on time, I don't forget anything, I don't get sick between now and then, etc.

Aside from those elements, the only thing that could possibly stand in the way of my 3:40 Boston Qualifying time is the weather. The first half of the race should be in the 50's and sunny. It's not ideal for me (I prefer overcast) but it's manageable. The temperature will probably hit 60 degrees by the time I get to the 20 mile marker, but with "brilliant" sunshine and no clouds, that will be a real-feel 68, which ends up feeling like 88 when you are running. Ouch.

I ran London and Houston in similar conditions. The temperature never got above 60, but I was still a bit too hot for ideal performance.

As of now, I am anticipating that the heat could slow me down by as much as 3-4 minutes, which are critical when I am trying to reach a lofty goal of 3:40 to begin with. I might have to bank some time in the first half in antipication of the second, although not too much as I need to avoid "bonking". I'll be wearing sunglasses, drinking plenty of water, and possibly running in just a sports bra (no tank).

Looking back on my training, I have all the confidence in the world in my ability to perform well:



You can see the Shamrock Marathon as the first long red vertical bar. Not nearly as much training behind it as what I have now.

My average weekly mileage was 51, excluding the month of September when I was sick. Peak mileage was 56. In my speed sessions, I have been hitting all the proper paces that correspond with a 3:40 marathon, and typically on a treadmill, where it's much more humid than it will be on race day. And a few degrees warmer, too!

If you would like to follow my progress, go to www.rnraz.com on Sunday morning. There will be a link for live tracking. My bib number is 2465. The race starts at 7:40am local time, which is 9:40am Eastern. Splits are given at the 10K, half, 20-mile and finish. I expect my splits to be 52:xx, 1:50, 2:47, 3:40.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 Recap

2008 was a good year for me running-wise, with the exception of a knee injury in the Spring and a 5-week long illness in the fall. Since I started racing in 2005, I know that my "gains" will be less significant as time goes by, so having another year like 2008, with significant PRs at several distances, will be unlikely. While there are still many good things to come in my running career (or so I hope) I'd like to take a moment to reflect back on 2008.

Races & Places
The furthest I traveled for a race this year was the London Marathon in April. Other interesting locations were the Houston Half Marathon, Richmond and Virginia Beach (for the Shamrock marathon and the Rock 'N Roll Half). The other races were all in the Washington DC Metro area.

Marathons
Shamrock Sportsfest Marathon, March 16, 3:51
Flora London Marathon, April 13,
4:11:57




Training Miles
I ran 1746 miles in 2008. This is exactly 150 miles more than my total from 2007, which was 1596. I had injuries in both years, but the injuries in 2008 sidelined me more than in 2007. The total is less than what I had hoped for (I was going for 2000), but after my injury healed, I ran 1130 miles for the second half of the year. Had I been able to do this for the first part of the year, I would have exceeded my goal.

Highest Mileage Month: 225.5 (December)
Lowest Mileage Month: 39.9 (May)
Highest Weekly Mileage: 56 (December 1-7)
Lowest Weekly Mileage: 0 (A few times due to injury and illness)
Average Training pace: 9:25/mile

In 2007, my highest monthly mileage was 168, and highest weekly mileage was 48.

Injuries
For the first half of the year, it was one injury after another. But once I got smarter about training, my injuries vanished. Injuries included:
- Pinched Peroneal Nerve in early January
- Strained Tibialis anterior (outer shin muscle) in March, April, and May
- Outer Knee pain, from using the wrong shoe in March and April
- Patellar Tendonitis from April to July
- Virus throughout the entire month of September

Bad Racing Experiences
The worst race of the year (and perhaps my life) was the Rock 'N Roll VA Beach half marathon. I had been coming down with some sort of viral infection, and didn't realize it at the time. It was also 93% humidity and the upper 70's. I would have DNFed if I thought I could get a way back to the finish line. I have never felt so wasted during a race and immediately after. Following this race, I was sick for nearly five weeks.

I also attempted to run a 10K just as I was recovering from being sick, and I ended up really messing it up. It was so bad I didn't even post a blog about it. I felt like shit throughout the entire run, with a time that I was completely ashamed of. Not to mention that the 10K is already the most challenging distance for me.

PRs
I set a PR at every distance this year, except for the 10K. And I did not race a 10-miler, so there was no PR to be had. I also ran my first 20K, but I used it as a "marathon pace" training run.

5K: 23:22 (7:31 pace)
4-mile: 30:16 (7:34 pace*)
20K: 1:44:26 (8:25 pace)
1/2 Marathon: 1:48:43 (8:17 pace)
Marathon: 3:51:49 (8:51 pace)

*Course may have been 3.9 miles, but damn, it was hilly!

Running Buddies
Brent and I ran the Shamrock Marathon together (well, not together, but we drove together, etc) and a 10K. It was great to take a trip to Houston to visit one of my best running friends (and best overall friends!) Randi. She ran the full while I did the half. My friends in London, Zoe, Rosa and Charlotte were amazing when I went over there. They totally took care of me. Also a shout out to Lauren who ran the VA Beach half and the Leesburg 20K with me. And then there are the "usual suspects" who I often see at local races.

Also extremely important is my running support network. The Big Cat Race Team (especially George/La Lynx), the "Think Fast" ladies and the "RWOL BQ" girls have been incredible in supporting me.



Randi and me before the Houston Marathon



At a London restaurant after running the marathon with my British friends.



Brent and me before a 10K

Power Songs
5. Fall Out Boy- Beat It
4. Paramore- Misery Business
3. Good Charlotte- I Don't Wanna Be In Love
2. Jason Mraz- The Dynamo of Volition
1. Counting Crows- Cowboys

2008 Races
January- Houston Half Marathon: 1:50:43
March- Shamrock Marathon: 3:51:49
March- Scope It Out 5K: Dropped out, Injured
April- Flora London Marathon: 4:11:57
April- GW Parkway Classic 5K: 23:55
May- Cascades Firechase 10K: 58:30 (injured, training run)
June- Lawyers Have Heart 10K: Too slow to mention!
June- PRR Twilight Festival 4-miler: 35:33 (100-degree heat)
August- Leesburg 20K: 1:44:26
August- VA Beach 1/2 Marathon: 2:03:xx

September- Hartford Marathon: Dropped out, Sick
November- Richmond 1/2 Marathon: 1:48:43
November- Turkey Trot 5K: 23:22
December- Christmas Caper 10K: 49:36
December- Fairfax 4-Miler: 30:16

Weather
Nearly all of my races this year have been in extreme weather. I have had horrible luck with weather. The Shamrock marathon was very windy. The London marathon had torrential downpours. The PRR Twilight 4-miler had a 100-degree heat index, and I actually had to walk part of the last mile. The VA Beach half marathon had 93% humidity, and we all know how that turned out. My 10K in December was extremely chilly with a headwind. My 4-miler last night was held during a wind advisory with 20-25 MPH winds, gusting up to about 40 MPH. The best weather was probably during the GW Parkway Classic 5K. But I was injured during that one!

2009 Goals
Basically, my main goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The 1130 miles that I ran from July-December will hopefully get me there when I make my attempt in a few weeks. If not, I may try again in early May, or just wait until the fall.

I'd also like to run 1978 miles, because that was the year I was born.

And most importantly, my goal is to remain injury free.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Eve 4-Miler

I ran the inaugural Fairfax Four Miler last night (New Year's Eve) in the midst of a high wind advisory.

When I got the flyer in my mailbox for this race, I was extremely excited. I didn't have plans for New Year's Eve yet, and I was scheduled for a speed workout of 4 x 1600m that day. (That's four 1-mile repeats for those of you who are not runners). Doing a 4-mile race in place of this workout would be a welcome change.

Because I am now tapering for my marathon on January 18, I didn't want to push it too hard. I decided that I wouldn't "race" it at full effort, but rather use it as a fast tempo run, aiming for a pace of 7:50/mile.

Race day arrived and there was a wind advisory. Winds were blowing at 20-25 MPH with gusts up to 50 MPH. In fact, there was so much wind, that a powerline went down on the certified race course, so they had to scramble at the last minute to design a new course. The new course was 4 laps there were just shy of one mile each. They mentioned that it was no longer certified, and I heard some people saying that it was only 3.9 miles instead of 4. However, being that this is a 4-loop course, I had to be on the ouside of the loop for the last two laps, because I was passing walkers and slower runners.

Perhaps the worst thing about this new course was that it was much hiller than the original. Each lap had about three hills, and at no point during the race was there a flat surface:


One lap of the 4-mile course.

Note the 6% grade! And we had to run up that thing 4 times. The toughest hill, in actuality was the last hill of the lap. It just seemed to go on and on. And during the last two laps, the course was crowded with walkers and slower runners, so I had to weave through them.

To add insult to injury, this was obviously an evening race (7:00), and we all know that I am very much of a morning person, and I am often in bed by 7:30!

I arrived at the race, got out of my car, and immediately started to warm up. I wanted to do a one-mile warmup, but it was so hilly around the race and I didn't want to wear myself out, so I only did a half mile warmup. The wind was making things extremely difficult and the windchill factor was in the teens. The coldest race I have ever run.

I decided to stick to my plan of 7:50's. This was going by feel, of course, as I don't have a Garmin. I ended up averaging 7:34/mile. I think because of all the hills, I knew I had to exert more effort to get up to 7:50. I have been doing A LOT of hill training over the past two months, so the hills didn't take as much out of me as expected.

My time was 30:16, average 7:34 pace. If the course was actually 3.9 miles, my pace would be 7:45. Given that I ran on the outer edge of the loop, I'd say my true pace probably feel somewhere between 7:34-7:45. I guess I will have to live with the ambiguity!

I placed 10th out of 163 in my age group, putting me in the top 6%, and beating out 94%.
I placed 142 of 1007 total runners, putting me in the top 14%, and beating out 86%.

Considering I did not race this at full effort, I am thrilled!!!! I feel very well prepared for my marathon in less than three weeks. I will continue to do shorter, faster runs to keep my legs fresh without the burden of high mileage.

After the race, all the finishers got Nike hooded sweatshirts. And they were gender-specific so mine fits quite nicely. I met up with my friend Brianna very briefly. And then I met up with Katharine and Mike. When we picked up our bib numbers, we got coupons for free food at the surronding restaurants. So the three of us made the rounds to get free hot chocolate and pizza. I had already redeemed my ice cream coupon before I met up with them. Yeah, I ate ice cream even though the temperature was in the teens!