Sunday, July 31, 2011

Injury Sleuthing

One of the worst things about being an injured runner is the guilt that comes with knowing that you ignored the early warning signs and are now sidelined because of it. I refuse to let that happen to me.

Warning Signs
About a week ago, as I was laying in bed before going to sleep, I noticed something very faint in a small area of my foot. When I went to go feel for the area, I immediately recognized it as the same area that I used to massage when I had Peroneal Tendonitis back in August of 2009. That was a horrible injury. I ended up having to take five weeks off of running and I missed my fall marathon because of it. I didn't know about pool running back then so when I returned to running, my fitness had gone out the window.

I wouldn't describe what I felt last week as a pain-- more of just a sensation. Throughout the week I continued to run, but I iced the area just to be on the safe side. I didn't feel a thing while running or walking. But when I was completely at rest and trying to fall asleep, there was that nagging little feeling in my foot.

My Peroneus Longus is Irritated
After Thursday's tempo run, the area was more tender during the day, so I iced it off and on a few times while at work. On Friday morning, I actually did start to feel something while walking. Still not a pain, but it was in the exact same area of my previous peroneal tendonitis injury so I was particularly attentive. Friday was a scheduled pool running and swimming day, with no planned land running to irritate it. I also coincidentally had an appointment to get my gait professionally analyzed by a sports doctor (more on that in another blog). I told the doctor that I had a sensation in my foot that felt like the beginnings of peroneal tendonitis. He confirmed that the tender spot was the attachment of the peroneal tendon, thankfully not a 5th metatarsal stress fracture.

Emotional Roller Coaster & Denial
Friday can best be described as an emotional roller coaster. For 15 minutes, the area would be 100% silent, but then 15 minutes later, I'd feel something again. I'd walk around without any sensation in the area at all, but then a short while later I would feel something while walking. I kept going back and forth on whether or not I should do my 18-miler the next day. Eventually, I shook myself out of denial: If you are wavering this much, the answer is no long run. How much would it suck to truly injure myself on a long run when my body was giving me warning signs of a previous injury? An injury that sidelined me for five weeks!!!!

I made the sensible decision to spend 2 hours and 40 minutes pool running. Thankfully, I had the company of some of my CAR teammates. Ironically, Tara and I had planned to meet at 6:00 that day to run 18 miles, and when Saturday rolled around, we were both pool-bound. Even though my foot didn't actually hurt-- I definitely felt something in that peroneal tendon attachment area and I was taking it seriously. No denial!

Detective Work
My most important question was why I was getting this injury. My mileage increase has been extremely gradual and I even had a "cutback" week two weeks ago. I'm only running four days a week, as opposed to the six I used to run during typical marathon training cycles. So it's not overtraining. My first question in my sleuthing: what has changed in my training recently?

I can think of three things: core work, hills, no foot slapping. At first, I thought that the side bridges (core work) were the culprit. Putting weight right there on the side of my foot might have been irritating the area. Good theory, but I ultimately didn't think it was the true culprit. I didn't think it was the hills because I only do them once a week, and the hill isn't that steep. So. . . foot slapping?

When I went on my first long run with CAR, my coach told me that I was a "foot slapper" and that I needed to be lighter on my feet to prevent injury and be more efficient. Foot slapping is when the ball of the foot hits the ground and makes a slapping noise, rather than being quiet. When I asked him how to not do it, he told me to just focus on not doing it. And so I did. I found it easy to correct and since that day in late June, there was no more foot slapping.

So, foot slapping was one piece of the puzzle. Question number two: what causes peroneal tendonitis in runners? I consulted Dr. Google and found that a strained peroneus longus muscle is often the culprit. As soon I read that, I remembered back to earlier in the week when I noticed my outer lower leg was sore. This just felt like the standard muscle ache so I didn't pay any special attention to it at all. But suddenly the pieces were coming together. I massaged around the peroneous longus muscle and voila: a tight and tender area.

Question #3: Why is my peroneus longus muscle strained? To answer this one, I had to figure out which motion stresses that muscle. The answer was easy-- plantar flexation of the foot. This would explain why my foot doesn't hurt at all when I walk, but I definitely feel something while driving. My drive to and from the pool hurt my foot more than anything else because my foot was in a flexed position the entire time.

So far, I knew that plantar flexation while running caused me to strain my peroneus longus muscle, which resulted in mild tendon inflammation near the foot-- felt primarily when driving. And I knew that I changed my gait to avoid foot slapping. Well, what muscle do you use to restrain that forefoot from coming down hard? The peroneous longus!!!! I realized that I was flexing my foot ever so slightly to keep it from slapping down, and in doing so, strained the peroneous longus muscle.

I can't be 100% sure that my foot issue was caused by this, but it makes a lot of sense. Changes in gait often lead to injuries, even if they are for the better.

The Solution
I plan to do strengthening exercises for the peroneous longus muscle as well as stretching and massage. I am also wearing my CEP compression sleeve to help speed recovery. I'm icing my foot A LOT. I also scheduled two ART (Active Release Technique) sessions with the sports doctor who did my gait analysis.

My coach told me to wait until my tendon felt 100% to return to running, and I plan to take that advice. My foot already feels much better today than it did yesterday. I have no pain with walking and I only feel it while driving or when pointing and flexing my foot. And even then, I would give it a 1.5 out of 10 on the pain scale. It's very minor and had I not experienced this injury in the past, I wouldn't be reacting this way. The earliest I see myself running again is Thursday (which would be six full days off) and that's only if I am pain free. My hope is to be able to run 18 miles on Saturday, but I won't do it unless I'm completely free and clear of any foot sensations.

Some of the best running advice I ever received was "sacrifice a day of training to save a week, sacrifice a week to save a month, sacrifice a month to save a year." So I am sacrificing a week to save a month. I'll continue to do workouts in the pool (today I did 40 minutes of pool running plus 1000yd swim) and hopefully get to the starting line of my marathon both healthy and well trained.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running Controversies (Part III of III)

And you thought I forgot! This post is a continuation of Part I and Part II of the controversial blog series, addressing topics that are often debated among runners. In the previous posts, I addressed headphones, barefoot running, junk miles, unauthorized bib transfers, BQ qualifying times, and weather-related race shutdowns. Here are a few more.

The Treadmill
The Debate: Does running on a treadmill train you as well as running outdoors? Can you train for a marathon solely on a treadmill? If not, what percentage can be on a treadmill?

My Personal Preference: I "grew up" running on a treadmill. I was a gym rat and that's how I got into running. Back in 2001, there were no iPods, so in order to listen to my music I needed to be able to rest my portable CD player on something. There were also no Garmins back then and I wanted to know my pace and distance. It wasn't until 2005 that I started running outside regularly, and even then it was only on the weekends. The more I ran outside, the more I loved it, so I gradually made the transition. Until April of 2010, I still did most of my Monday-Friday runs on a treadmill because they were doing so much construction in my area. There was no safe place to run. Sometimes I would drive to the trail, but that wasn't lit so I could only do it for three months out of the year. Fortunately my husband (fiance at the time) would go with me on the weekdays sometimes which would make it safer to run in the dark. When I moved into a residential neighborhood in April 2010, 100% of my runs were outdoors and I loved it! However, when all the snow and ice fell in December and January, I didn't think it would be safe to run on dark icy roads, so back to the treadmill I went. There was a two-week period when I did all of my runs on the treadmill and BOOM! Three stress fractures. Thankfully now I'm back to 100% outdoor running.

My Stance: I improved my race times quite a bit from 2005-2009 so the treadmill is definitely effective. But would I have seen even more gains had I not used the treadmill as much? I think that the treadmill is a great tool for parents who can't leave the house or for people who don't have access to a safe running area. It's great for business trips and when the roads get icy. However, I think that treadmill use should be minimized and that the workout will be stronger outdoors. It more closely simulates race conditions and unless you are on a track, the surface probably won't be completely flat. After my stress fractures, I am more anti-treadmill than I used to be and I think that during the winter I will limit the treadmill to just 1-2 times per week and go pool running if conditions are not run-able. I don't mind running in cold weather, but I won't run outdoors if there is snow and ice on the ground and it's dark (which it always is because I'm a morning runner). Also, I don't think the treadmill is boring. Yes, it's more boring than outdoors, but with a good music playlist I can totally combat the boredom factor.

Marathon Pacing
The Debate:
 Should you pace your marathon evenly, or try to aim for a negative split (start slow, finish fast)? According to Pfitzinger and Douglas, in the book Advanced Marathoning, "relatively even pacing is the optimal pace strategy." They continue, "If you ran negative splits for the marathon, chances are that you ran more slowly than optimally during the first half of the race and could have had a faster finishing time." They indicate that you should plan for a 2-3% slowdown in the second half due to physiological factors that I won't get into here. On the other side of the fence, negative splits ensures a strong finish and that you aren't bonking. If you start slowly, you can really give it everything you have in the last 10K and you aren't leaving anything on the course.

My Personal Preference: I plan on starting about 20 seconds per mile slower than goal pace in my next marathon. I've bonked far too many times (not solely because I've gone out too fast, but a slower start would have been helpful in all of those cases). I negative split 3 of my first 4 marathons before I had the confidence that I could really run faster and they were all wonderful experiences. I probably could have done them slightly faster, but I was happy that each race was a PR. My best marathon ever (Shamrock 2008) was run in the way that Pfitzinger and Douglas recommend: 1:54:40 first half and 1:56:59 second half for a 3:51:49. I had a two-minute negative split and I surpassed my goal by about three minutes. I ran a similar race at Richmond in 2007 with 1:56:55 for the first half and 1:59:46 for the second, yielding my first sub-4:00 marathon. Given that my two best marathons (not my two fastest, but my two best) had relatively even pacing strategies, it's going to be tough for me to abandon that. But my fear of bonking overrides it, so I plan to go out slowly at the next one.

My Stance: It really depends on how experienced you are. For first, second and even third timers, I really think the start slow, finish fast approach is best. If you're an elite or a very experienced marathoner, the even pacing does make more sense physiologically. You shouldn't feel "good" at the end of a marathon, but if you are able to significantly reduce your speed in the last 10K then you might have left something on the course. Both my husband and I agree that he could have run Shamrock faster, but he was happy with his time and he was happy that he had enough gas in the tank to really hammer those last six miles home.

"Take What the Day Gives You"
The Debate: If you're registered for a race, do you DNS (Did Not Start) or DNF (Did Not Finish) because of race day conditions-- usually the weather? I've heard many runners say that once they've registered for something they are committed to it no matter what. Nothing will stop them from getting to the start line, and of course the finish line. Other runners assess how they are feeling that week (or even on race morning), take the weather into consideration and may decide to not race something they or registered for. Or if they are feeling like it's not "their day" mid-race, drop out and DNF. The first group would be mortified by these two acts.

My Personal Preference:
 I'll take what the day gives me weather-wise if it's not an "A" race. And I have no shame in DNFing when it just doesn't feel right. I've done that twice and haven't regretted my decisions. There have been races that I wished I DNFed because the recovery from them was so brutal and my time was awful anyway. I wrote a blog post on this back in 2010 after I dropped out of Shamrock at mile 13.

My Stance:
 Think big picture. You've already spent the money on the race so that's not going to change. Why risk injuring yourself when you have a nagging pain or wasting your fantastic training cycle on a 75-degree day? There will always be other races. Don't get married to any particular race because it's what you registered for. It's more important to keep your "A" goals in mind and stay healthy. Sometimes it's just not your day. If your marathon is supposed to be abnormally hot (like Chicago 2007) then save it for a better day. Don't get me wrong-- it sucks because you've tapered, you may have already purchased airfare, and now you'll have to train for another marathon several weeks later. It's not ideal, but it's better than wasting all that hard work.

This concludes my controversial blog series. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm sure I'll be tackling other controversial matters on this blog as I experience them. Please weigh in on these topics by posting a comment!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

11 Weeks to Milwaukee Lakefront

There are exactly 11 weeks until I run the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon. I typically don't do weekly reports of my training, but because this was an eventful week and 11 is my favorite/lucky number, I'll recap it.

Monday: 8 Miles
My husband has plantar fasciitis, so he's been cross training at the gym and I've become reacquainted with my iPod.  Monday was a plain ol' 8 miler. Nothing fancy to speak of. Plus 41 seconds of the plank (x3).

Iwo Jima Hill Workout
Tuesday: 7 Miles, including hills
Call me crazy, but I spent 90 minutes in the car before work on Tuesday to drive down to the Iwo Jima memorial to run hills with Capital Area Runners (CAR). 30 minutes to get there, an hour to get back, but it was definitely, definitely worth it. We ran up a hill that was about 1/4 mile long at about 5K pace then took it easy, did a stride back down part of the hill, and then easy down the rest of it. We did this six times. It was record-breaking heat on Tuesday. At the time of the workout (6:15am)it was about 78 degrees, sunny and humid.

Here is a link to the elevation profile. It actually looks a lot worse than it was.  It looks like my group was around a 7:15 pace for most of the laps. When I got home I did the plank for 42 seconds (x3) plus one on each side. Yes, it made me even later to work but I am committed to the core work.

Wednesday: 3 "miles" pool running + 1100yd swim
On Wednesday, I went pool running for 30 minutes (which I equate to 3 miles) and then swam for 1100 yards. I got new goggles over the weekend, and I spent the first 4 laps adjusting them so that no water would leak in. Apparently, my face shape/size is difficult for goggles to fit. My previous pair hurt so much that it would be a limiting factor in the workout sometimes. My new ones are more comfortable, but I have to pull them very, very tight so they don't leak. Every time I swim I feel invigorated and refreshed. I really enjoy it and I think that it's a fantastic workout. 43 seconds with the planks!

Thursday: 9 miles, including tempo
I did a tempo workout as prescribed by my coach. 1 x 3 miles at tempo pace, 1 x 2 miles at tempo pace, 1 x 1 mile at tempo pace. I did recovery jogs for 0.3 mile (about 3:00) and had a warmup and cooldown to get me to 9 total miles. We finally had some cooler temperatures (65) with lower humidity, so the results were fantastic:
3 miles: 7:33, 7:28, 7:22
2 miles: 7:23, 7:20
1 mile: 7:00
This equates to a 7:21 average for the six tempo miles, and a 7:47 average if you include the recovery jogs. Compare this to my 10K bonk of a few weeks ago at a pace of 7:58 and it speaks volumes about how the heat/sun can affect me.

I also had some new gear for this run. The first were my Saucony P.E. shorts. Yes, I am a huge fan of the skirt and rarely buy shorts anymore. But I wanted something really lightweight for my summer speed sessions and these had come recommended by Dorothy at MilePosts. I bought two pairs of them during an online sale and wore them for the first time on Thursday. They were so comfortable and lightweight. And I also thought they were flattering, too.

Garmin Soft Strap HR Monitor
The other item was the Garmin Soft Strap heart rate monitor. My HR monitor has been acting weird for quite awhile. I probably just needed to change the battery, but I thought the soft strap would be more comfortable. While that may be true, I had horrible chafing during this run, despite the gobs of body glide I used under the monitor. The chafing was so bad that I kept having to tuck my sports bra under the monitor so it wouldn't rub. And then when that wasn't working, I just kept putting my hand there, which is no way to run a tempo. I had it on the tightest setting and it wasn't falling down, but I realized that I needed to make it even tighter. With my previous HR monitor, I used a hair tie to bunch up the extra material and make it really fit me. So with this one I bunched up a lot of extra fabric, tied it with a hair tie, and was fine for the next run. Overall, this heart rate monitor is more comfortable, I just needed to fix the chafing. It was one of the worst chafing incidents I've ever had and wearing a bra to work that day was painful.

Thursday was also my husband and my 11-month wedding anniversary! I was pleasantly surprised that he celebrated this occasion by sending me roses to my office. Such a sweetie!

Friday: Rest day! (except core)
Friday was a well-deserved rest day and I even took the day off from work. I actually didn't "rest" too much because I cleaned the house and also did some planks. I took a core rest day on Thursday, so Friday I was back at it with 44 seconds for the plank x 3. Plus side planks and other exercises on the Bosu.

Saturday: 16 Miles
I kept going back and forth on if I wanted to join CAR for the long run or just do it on my own with my new iPod playlist. I eventually opted for going alone because we were having guests later that day and I had food to make and even more cleaning to do. Doing it on my own allowed me to start an hour earlier and when I was done, I didn't have to drive 30 minutes back home. It was also one of those days that was relatively cool in the morning, but the sun rose fast so a 7:00 start would have been a lot harder than my 6:15 start.

This was a progression run with the first 6 miles being very easy (9:05-9:10 pace), the middle third being easy (8:45-8:50 pace) and the last third at marathon pace (8:15). Mile 15 was uphill and not at all shaded, so I worked  really hard on that one, and then backed off slightly for the last mile. The overall average was 8:46 with an average heart rate in the middle of zone 2, so I was pleased. The heart rate monitor didn't chafe me because I tightened it using the hair tie. However, I did need to place it two inches lower on my chest so that it wouldn't rub against Thursday's red mark.

Oreo Cake
I spent the rest of the day on my feet cleaning and baking. And of course, planks for 45 seconds. My legs were just aching by 4:00 and I was glad when our friends came over and I could finally relax. I am not much of a baker, but there is one cake that I love to make which tastes as good as it looks. I crushed up actual Oreo cookies and baked them right into the cake. To accompany this cake, I made soft serve ice cream with a soft serve machine we got as a wedding present. It was delicious. I also made an artichoke dip, and helped Greg out with his Sangria recipe.

Sunday: Pool running and Swimming
I plan to go pool running and swimming in a few hours once all the swim lessons are done and there are more lanes available. I really prefer it when the pool isn't overly crowded. I'll probably do about 30 minutes of pool running and 1000-1400 yards of swimming, depending on how I feel. Greg is going to come with me and it will be nice to have him workout with me again. I've already done the planks-- 46 seconds x 3, plus side planks and other Bosu ball core work.

Running: 40 miles
Pool Running: 6 miles
Swimming: 2300 yards (1.3 miles)
Core: Six days. Advanced plank from 41 to 46 seconds by Sunday.

Next week is a cutback week with 36 miles planned and no speedwork (except for the hills). I'll take two full rest days. It comes at a perfect time because next week's forecast looks miserable, with lows around 75 every day.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Let The Training Begin!

My training for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon on Oct. 2 has officially started. I've been asked many times, why Milwaukee? I don't have any friends or family there, but it worked out for me schedule-wise and hopefully being so far north the weather will be cool. Read all the details here: Why Milwaukee?

There are quite a few changes I am making for this training cycle as opposed to my previous ones. Here are the highlights:

Capital Area Runners
Earlier this year, I met a group of women who train with Capital Area Runners (CAR). My friend Cristina joined them after getting injured last fall and spoke very highly of the coach, George Buckheit, and the group. A bunch of the CAR runners were part of a pool running meetup group that I belonged to, so I met quite a few of them that way.

I had known of the group since 2009, when I  was looking for a coach. I didn't join back then because they meet in Arlington for their runs and with a job in Chantilly, I couldn't make it fit into my schedule. Also, their red racing attire is hard to miss at races-- a group of really fast runners often leading the pack. George had been sending me the newsletter since 2009, and in early June, the newsletter indicated that you could get a "basic" membership which covered the production of the newsletter and the weekend long runs. I decided to go ahead an join officially, since I was friends with so many of the runners already and had heard such great things about George.

Hill workout at Iwo Jima with fellow CAR members
A few weeks ago, I took a random Tuesday off work and decided to drive down to Iwo Jima for the hill workout at 6:15am, just to try it out. And I loved it! I loved the team atmosphere and how we all worked together to power up that hill over and over again. Afterwards, I realized that it was worth it to me to go for the "marathon plan" membership, which would allow me regular access to the weekday workouts. It will make me about an hour late for work (as long as traffic isn't horrible), but my job is pretty flexible. I don't plan to go to all of them, just once every two weeks or so. And on the other days, I can do the same workouts that the group is doing on my local track. I think being part of a team and running with a group of strong runners will motivate me to push myself. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to tackle these hills on my own.

Of course I'm definitely still committed to my role as a Pacers Ambassador and will wear my Pacers gear for most races. Being a Pacers Ambassador is my way of giving back to the running community, while CAR is helping me become faster and stronger.

Fewer Weeks, Fewer Miles, More Cross Training
My best marathon ever, back in March of 2008 was run on just 7 weeks of training. I think that the longer cycles, especially in the summer wear me out too much so I cut back to a 13-week program for Milwaukee. As for weekly mileage, it used to be standard for me to peak at around 60, and average in the upper 40's or lower 50's. But this time, I'm going to peak at around 55 and average in the mid 40's. Instead of running 6 days a week I will run 5.

I plan to supplement this with a pool running-swimming combo twice a week. I typically do pool running for 20-40 minutes, and then follow it up with a swim of 20-40 minutes. The total time in the pool is typically 60-80 minutes. I'd like to give myself one full rest day, so one of my pool days will be on the same day as one of my run days. So that's 4 days of running, 1 day of running + pool, 1 day of pool only, and 1 rest day.

I finished this week with 37 miles, and in previous training cycles I'd be up to 45 by this point. But I feel much stronger and I think I'm getting more of a benefit.

Core Strengthening
Coach George emphasized the importance of core work. Of course I've always known this, but since I'm really trying to improve my whole approach, I decided it was time to take core work seriously. My mother, who is 60, can hold the plank for well over a minute. For me, it was a challenge to make it to just 30 seconds. So I have been doing planks and other core exercises 6 days a week for the past two weeks, and I plan to continue to do so. I'm already up to 3 sets of 40 seconds on the plank! I have a BOSU ball which has literally been collecting dust, which I do a few things with as well.

Long Runs as Progression Runs
I used to do all my long runs in heart rate zone 2 (easy), with the exception of two of them, when I would throw some marathon pace miles in. Sort of like the Pfitzinger approach. But George really advocates breaking all the long runs up into thirds. The first third very easy, the second third, moderately easy, and the last third marathon pace to tempo pace. This isn't as challenging as it sounds if you start out slow enough. I'm actually logging sub-8:00 miles in my long runs which has never happened before. Today's long run ended with 5 miles that were: 8:29, 8:19, 8:11, 7:55, 7:57. And this was in 77 degrees and very humid weather. I did a 14-miler last week when it was much less humid and the last 5 miles were 8:30, 7:57, 7:55, 7:54, 7:42. These runs have been extremely confidence-boosting, which is part of the purpose for running them that way. I'm feeling a little bit nervous that my marathon is on Oct. 2 and my longest run has only been 14 miles, but I've done two of them and both were hard efforts.

No more racing for me until Labor Day weekend, when I may tackle the RnR VA Beach half marathon, depending on the weather. George asked me today what my goal for the marathon was, and I don't think I'll really be able to determine that until closer to the race. Right now I think that a 3:35 is realistic, and so does George, but I might adjust that faster or slower based on how training goes. And I didn't pick 3:35 because of Boston-- that's just the time that my training paces, heart rates and races suggest. I'm picking a goal based on what I think I can do, not based on the golden BQ standard that shaped my mindset for way too long and broke me down more times than I care to admit.

Anyway, I've been feeling strong and healthy lately and I hope it continues!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Firecracker 5K: An Over-Analyzed Race Report

This morning, my husband and I ran the Firecracker 5K in Reston, VA. It was about 76 degrees and very humid, but thankfully there was plenty of cloud cover. I was extremely grateful for the cloud cover, and this race further confirms that the sun is my real enemy. Last weekend I bonked during a sunny race, even though both the humidity and temperature were lower. Yes, that was a 10K, but I felt about 10 times worse at that race, not twice as worse.

I realize this was only a 5K, but I decided to take hydration very seriously. I've been reading a lot about NuuN and other electrolyte tablets, but it turns out that they all have Sorbitol in them, a sugar alcohol which I am allergic to. So instead, I pre-hydrated with Pedialyte. No fake sugars. If it's safe for babies, then it should be safe for me. Another hydration issue that I have is drinking too much on race morning. In the past, I have always drunk plenty of water the day before the race and maybe just a few cups on race morning. This is because I have a tendency to "leak" while putting out a hard effort, even if I use the porta potty right before the race. (Sorry if this is TMI!)

There were two obstacles that I thought might prevent me from running this race, or force me to DNF: my stomach and my calf. I'll start with the stomach. Without getting too graphic, let's just say that starting yesterday evening, I had frequent trips to the bathroom. And those continued into this morning. It was probably something I ate that didn't agree with me, but my stomach was not feeling good at all. On the way to the race, we drove though a neighborhood where all the street names were "Dairy" this and "Dairy" that, and it just made me feel nauseous. I used the porta-potty twice pre-race and hoped for the best. And thankfully, my stomach was fine during the race.

Now onto my calf. On Saturday, I noticed that whenever I stood up and started walking, my calf was really tight. I stretched it and massaged it, but it simply wouldn't loosen. Yesterday it was even worse. Those first few steps would be painful, but the more I walked around the better it felt. I stretched it and used a warm towel to try and get it to loosen. I think what helped the most, though, was the CEP compression sleeves I bought last winter. I wore the right one around the house all day yesterday and I slept in it. When I woke up, the calf didn't hurt as much, but it was still noticeably tight.

I warmed up wearing the CEP compression sleeves and my calf felt decent. And luckily during the race I couldn't feel it being an issue at all. Dodged bullet number 2.

Greg and I warmed up for one mile, stretched a lot and then lined up at the start line. It looked like there were a lot of really fast runners there. The entire =PR= racing team and then just a bunch of people who looked super speedy. Last year I placed third in my age group but it looked like that would not be happening again. Greg and I situated ourselves about 15 feet back from the start line, but of course there was still plenty of weaving in the first mile to pass these folks.

I read my blog post from last year's race and remembered that the second mile was mainly downhill, and that the last half mile of the race was all uphill and felt torturous. My plan was to run the first mile at my goal pace, speed up for the second mile because of the downhill and then see what I could do in the final mile. On Friday, I spoke with my friend Dash about my strategy, and she suggested that I "enjoy" mile 2 instead of going all out so that I had more left for mile 3. I took her advice.

The Race
The race started, and there were a ton of people to weave through. I really hate weaving during the first mile of a 5K because it makes your distance longer and wastes energy, but I had no choice. As I said, I really think I lined myself up close enough to the front so that this shouldn't have been an issue. But of course, it was. I settled into what felt like 5K effort and logged a 7:12 for the first mile.

Now for the fun part. I wanted to "enjoy" this mile while staying strong and still pushing. I was still passing a bunch of runners during this mile and no one was passing me. I ended up averaging a 7:03 pace. I originally thought I should aim for a 6:50 during that mile, but I thought the effort level was appropriate so I didn't worry.

Now for the tough part. Mile 3. As I went into this mile, I remembered how hard it was last year and I was prepared for the worst. And of course, my "leaking" problem began. I drank too much pre-race and apparently my porta potty trips didn't matter. This was embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do about it so I just kept running the race. As I approached the final hill, I remember my husband saying last year that he actually sped up for the hill, and I thought I had enough in me to do the same. I didn't speed up, but I pushed a lot harder and ended up with a 7:20 average pace, which I was very happy with, especially compared to last year. Another thing that made me happy was that I passed quite a few people on that final hill, including the one girl who I had my eye on from the beginning as wanting to beat.

I glanced down at my Garmin and thought I could come in under 22:40 and so I really gunned it at the end, passing three more women in the final stretch.  I Averaged a 6:23 pace as I sprinted toward the finish. I was super excited when I looked at my Garmin and realized I ran a 22:39. But then bummed when I looked at the official results, and it was 22:41. Just a two-second difference, but I worked so hard for that sub 22:40!

I placed 5 out of 89 women in my Age Group
I placed 35 out of 447 women overall. (I said it was a highly competitive race!)

The top 10 women all finished in under 20 minutes. And even more amazing, the top 30 women all finished in under 22 minutes. What a field of strong runners! 

Going into the race, my goal was to beat my Lawyer's Have Heart time from 4 weeks ago (thus setting a new "hot weather" PR), but my B goal was to go sub 23:00. Both goals were accomplished.

Mile  Firecracker 2011  Firecracker 2010  Lawyers 2011 
 1     7:12  7:30 7:20
 2  7:03  7:06 7:27
 3     7:20  7:43 7:22
 Last Bit    6:23 for 0.16 mile   7:23 for 0.14 mile 5:59 for 0.1 mile
Time 22:41 23:21 22:43

I'm excited because I'm in much better shape than I was last year at this time, and I am fairly certain that if today's race was cooler I would have set an overall distance PR. According to my Garmin, I ran 3.16 miles at an average 7:10 pace, which is my PR pace. I blame the weaving. :-) I'm happy that I beat my Lawyer's Have Heart time. Officially, it's faster by only 2 seconds, but this was a hillier course and my Garmin showed me as running more distance so I consider it a more significant difference. Yes, I over analyze my times quite a bit.

Aside from the incontinence in mile 3, this race went really well. No digestive issues or calf problems, and I didn't feel like I was going to pass out afterwards. Now it's time for some 4th of July fun!