Monday, March 26, 2012

1 + 1 = 3

I realize that I am beating a dead horse with this topic, but I'm both frustrated and fascinated by what happened during my 13 miles two weekends ago. It is what it is, but WTF is it?

Series of Events
I went into the race well trained, rested and confident. I ran 13.1 miles at an average pace of 8:38 and then pulled off the course because I didn't feel like I could continue running. The race started to get hard for me at around mile 8. (Note: this was not a half marathon, I was actually attempting to run a full marathon here. My half marathon pace is somewhere around 7:35-7:45). By mile 11, a 9:00 pace felt like tempo effort. By mile 12, I wanted to stop.

When I pulled of the course, my coach asked me about my legs, and I said that they felt 100%. It was purely a fatigue thing. I was actually amazed at how good my legs felt, given how wiped out I was.

The next day, I realized I was wrong. My legs were extremely sore, much more so than most half marathons I've raced at full effort.

Last week, I naturally wanted to resume training, but my legs wouldn't have it.

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Swimming for 30 minutes + 20 minutes easy pool running
Thursday: 2.7 miles easy
Friday: 4.5 miles easy
Saturday: 80+ minutes of very easy pool running + swimming
Sunday: 8.6 miles

On Sunday, I had hoped to run at least 12 miles, but my body wouldn't have it. I felt extremely tired and my legs started to feel tired seven miles into it. Then Greg and I went to the mall (after 8.5 miles) and my legs were so tired, that I just wanted to leave after going to one store. Walking around was killing my legs.

It feels like I am recovering from a full marathon. The inability to run more than 8 miles a full week later is frustrating and fascinating.  13.1 miles at 8:38 requires over a week of recovery!?!?!?!

Unless I am just getting older and I should just accept a slower recovery, this makes no sense at all. I only ran 13.1 miles at my easy pace. Last May, I ran the Alexandria Running Festival half marathon in 72 degree heat + humidity at a faster pace, and was fully recovered just three days later. I can't think of any half marathon I've ever run (except for maybe my first) where recovery took so long. And this wasn't even my half marathon pace. Heck, this wasn't even my marathon pace!

Does not compute. 1 + 1 does not equal 3.

Some Technical Stuff
I almost always wear a heart rate monitor when I run. However, I rarely wear it in races because I know my heart rate will be elevated due to adrenaline, and I don't want that the psych me out. However, I will wear a HR monitor the next time I attempt a marathon.

I know what my heart rate zones are based on a VO2 max test. When I train, my paces fall in line with my zones in this way:

145-155 Zone 1 (Recovery/Very easy): 8:55 or slower
156-165 Zone 2 (easy): 8:10-9:05
165-174 Zone 3 (no official name, but this is where marathon pace should be): 7:35-8:25
174-183 Zone 4 (lactate threshold/tempo): 6:55-7:45

The above paces are what I can almost always expect to see during training. There is some overlap.

Last 10 miles of a 20-mile run on Feb. 11, 2012. Left column is pace per mile, right column is avg. HR for that mile.

However, effort level isn't measured by pace. Your body doesn't know the difference between a 7:00 mile and a 9:00 mile-- your body just knows the effort level required. You can't assume that because you are running a particular pace that your HR is going to be at a certain level. Even though 99% of the time an 8:38 pace means zone 2, it's not a guarantee based on other factors.

So while I was running a pace that normally corresponds with a Zone 2 HR, on race day, I'm guessing that my HR was probably in high Zone 4. WHY? I don't know. Probably a combination of the heat and me freaking out about the heat. And it was just a viscous cycle.

In terms of my recovery, it's probably taking so long because of the effort level I put out. Once again, it doesn't matter what my pace was. It was that my body had to work SO HARD-- harder than half marathon effort. I don't think I could expend that much effort during a half marathon if I tried!

Now what?
I continue to be both depressed and curious and I wonder what the future of marathoning holds for me. Next time I plan to gear up with some music and a heart rate monitor. It might mean starting the race at a pace of 9:30 if that's what I need to do to keep my heart rate down. I just need to zone out, let the music relax me, and keep that heart rate down-- no matter how slowly I have to run to do it.

I have to hope that if I keep my heart rate down initially, I will be able to run at my actual fitness level later in the race.

As for now, recovery continues to be a priority. No running for me today or tomorrow, although tomorrow I  plan to go to the pool.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DNF Aftermath

I've gotten a lot of feedback on my Shamrock experience and since my recap was rather grim, I feel the need to address some of the comments.

I'm not feeling much better about the situation, but I am going to continue running and training and doing what I love to do. I'm upset about this and I am going to allow myself to be upset until time makes it all better.

Most of the comments fell into three buckets:

Figure out what you do differently on marathon day so that you can address the issue and run great marathons.
My coach is in this camp. My response is that I'm fresh out of ideas. I don't do anything different on race day. Really the only difference is that I hydrate more, but I get plenty of electrolytes too, so I don't think I am over hydrating. I have the same shoes, the same nutrition, the same fitness level, the same sleep. I can't pinpoint anything, which is why I think there could be a subconscious mental aspect.

You had a bad day-- don't over analyze it. Just get back out there.
I could have said this in 2010. But it's happened so many times that there has to be something going on.

Focus on shorter distances (aka don't run marathons).
Shorter distances are great and I focus on them quite a bit. But I will continue to believe in myself and my ability to run a great marathon. I have done it many times before and I will be able to do it again.

I don't have any real solutions. I think the next time I run a marathon I'm not going to try and relax, I'm not going to try and "work" on my attitude. I am just going to be me. I am going to let myself feel whatever I feel-- anxiety, excitement, fear, longing. I'm just going to go with it.

And I'm going to wear headphones next time. All of my good marathons were with headphones. All of my bad marathons were without them. Somewhere along the way I told myself that it wasn't good to wear headphones during a marathon. Maybe I just need that music to get outside of my head and pull me along. I don't train with headphones because I am usually running with others. But when I run alone, I have headphones and I like it.

Time to get some sleep.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Same Sh*t, Different Day

I'm going to save myself some time here and ask you to read my 2010 Shamrock Race Report for a summary of what went on during yesterday's race. The link opens in a new window, so go ahead, click the link, and then come back.

Instead of Greg at the halfway point, substitute Coach George, who was waiting for me with a fresh bottle of G2. And substitute my desire for a BQ with a desire simply to run a strong race. There you have my 2012 Shamrock Marathon race report. Too sunny, not acclimated, felt tired at mile 9, wanted to stop at mile 11, pulled off course halfway.

And just like in 2010, those 13.1 miles took a lot out of my legs, even though my average pace was the equivalent of my "easy" long run pace (8:38). I'm left with no medal, no finisher's hat, just a pair of sore quads that will require at least three days of swimming before I will attempt to run again.

I'm through with analyzing why this happens to me over and over and over. Sleep, hydration, being relaxed, starting slowly, not obsessing over my goal time-- I've addressed all of these issues. My coach tells me I need to figure out what I am doing differently on race day, but I don't have any answers. It is what it is.

I want to quit running marathons, but both my coach and my husband tell me that I need to keep at it-- that one day it will all come together for me. One day, my 4-year streak of bonks and DNFs will come to an end. I don't know if I believe them, but I really enjoy training for marathons so I guess I'll keep doing it. I used to be a good marathoner. But that was over four years ago and maybe I just don't have it in me anymore.

I don't have much else to say about this. Same sh*t, different day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Taper Song: Last Thursday Night

To be sung to the tune of Last Friday Night by Katie Perry (or the cast of Glee)

There's a flu bug at my job,
People coughing will not stop
Germs are all over the room
Like an elementary school
Gotta keep my distance far
Staying healthy’s just so hard
I can’t get the stomach flu
Staying far away from you

In my taper now
Germs are everywhere
I'm screwed
Oh well
Marathon to run
Wanna do my best
It’s true.

Last Thursday night
Yeah we ran 3 tempo miles
Pushed it hard while coach just smiled
It was hard but I survived
Last Sunday morn
We did our last longish-run
Kept it easy, kept it fun
Just 10 miles, training’s done
Last Friday night
And now that our taper’s here
Gotta hydrate, not drink beer
Marathon is coming near
Last Monday night
Yeah I slept a full eight hours
Dreamt of speedy running powers op, whoa
This Sunday morn
Race a marathon!
This Sunday night
Marathon is done!

Trying to connect the dots
Don't know what to tell my boss
Leaving work now in my car
Avoiding germs is just so hard
People coughing everywhere
Germs are all throughout the air
Think I need to wash my hands
Can’t let sickness kill my plans

In my taper now
Germs are everywhere
I'm screwed
Oh well
Marathon to run
Wanna do my best 
It’s true.

Last Thursday night
Yeah we ran 3 tempo miles
Pushed it hard while coach just smiled
It was hard but I survived
Last Sunday morn
We did our last longish-run
Kept it easy, kept it fun
Just 10 miles, training’s done
Last Friday night
And now that our taper’s here
Gotta hydrate, not drink beer
Marathon is coming near
Last Monday night
Yeah I slept a full eight hours
Dreamt of speedy running powers op, whoa
This Sunday morn
Race a marathon!
This Sunday night
Marathon is done!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Throwback Race Report: Shamrock 2008

I've written quite a few posts lately about my growth and change as a runner over the past few years. It's been a fantastic journey and even though I am stronger now (both mentally and physically) than I ever have been in the past, I would love to race a marathon that felt as awesome as Shamrock 2008.

Exactly four years ago I ran the best marathon of my life. Here's how I did it.


March 17, 2008

I ran the Shamrock Marathon yesterday morning in Virginia Beach.

The Start Line
I was optimistic as I approached the starting area. The winds didn’t seem to be as heavy as forecasted. I was expecting constant winds of 20 mph, but it was more of an occasional breeze, at least at the start line. It also wasn’t as cold as I had expected.

As I was walking around the start area, a photographer asked to interview me for his TV newscast. He asked me about my marathon experience, and my expectations for this race. I basically said that there were a lot of unknowns due to the wind, but that I was prepared and ready.

Miles 1-6
I started the marathon at a pace that felt relaxed and comfortable. Starting at mile 2, my shin began to hurt. I tried not to panic. I tried to ignore it. I was not about to let this muscle strain affect my running. I held steady. At around mile 3, I realized I was running around the 3:50 pace group. I was running a bit faster than them, though, and passed them after about half a mile. I wasn’t going for a sub-3:50, but I figured I would try to stay ahead of them for as long as possible, in case there was any shot of a 3:49. By mile 4, my shin stopped hurting. Or, I stopped noticing it. There was a timing mat at mile six, and my split was 52:46, for an average pace of 8:48 for the first six miles.

Mile 1: 8:41
Mile 2: 8:41
Mile 3: 8:52
Mile 4: 8:38
Mile 5: 8:44
Mile 6: 9:11

Miles 7-13
I started to feel really good, and I started to have hope that maybe I would run a good race and PR. A stretch goal was sub-3:50, because the 3:50 pace group still had not passed me by mile 13. There was a two-mile stretch on the boardwalk where the wind was just awful. There were headwinds at probably 15-25 mph (my estimate) and I tried drafting off of other runners. It helped, but then the person would either speed up, or I would want to go faster than the person I was drafting off of. I reached the half marathon marker in 1:54:50, averaging a pace of 8:46 for these miles.

Mile 7: 8:34 (fastest mile)
Mile 8: 8:40
Mile 9: 8:43
Mile 10: 8:51
Mile 11: 8:39 (I toughed it out through the wind!)
Mile 12: 8:54
Mile 13: 8:41

Miles 14-20
Just before mile 14, the crowd thickened. I found it hard to maintain a pace because the course had gotten really thin, with only room for 4 people across. I realized that it thickened because the 3:50 pace group had caught up with me, and it was a large group. The winds were still heavy from mile 13-17, so I used this to my advantage to draft off of these runners. The problem with running in such a tight pack was the water stations and being able to get water when I needed it. I hit the mile 18 timing mat at 2:37:42, for an average pace of 8:46. Things started to hurt at mile 16, and I started to worry a little. Usually in a marathon, nothing bothers me that much until mile 20 or even mile 21. I wondered how I would make it 10 more miles, but I quickly stopped that line of thinking. It’s much easier to take the race mile by mile. Just focus on getting to the next mile marker.

The 3:50 pace leader was amazing. He kept encouraging me and helping me along the way. He was entertaining and got my mind off the race.

Mile 14: 8:39
Mile 15: 8:42
Mile 16: 8:43
Mile 17: 8:36 (not sure how I pulled that off!)
Mile 18: 8:51
Mile 19: 8:44
Mile 20: 8:56

Miles 21-26
I reached the 20 mile marker in 2:55. This was about 5 minutes faster than Richmond. I told myself that if I stayed on pace, I could get a 5 minute PR or even better. I started to fade. As I approached mile 21, the 3:50 pace group started to get ahead of me. I could still see the 3:50 flag in the distance, but I was no longer with the pack, and I was running alone.

I came up with two new mind games on the spot. The first one was to visualize the mile marker pulling me toward it. I thought "the mile marker wants to get me. The mile marker needs me! I have to get to it! It’s tugging at me!" And that really helped as I convinced myself not to stop running in my pursuit of marker 23, 24, and 25.

It was tough. I had to dig really, really deep. Another thing that I started telling myself was that this pain was temporary. It wouldn’t last long. The race glory would last forever, but this pain and this situation was very, very temporary. And if I stopped, it would only prolong it. So, I just kept repeating to myself over and over "temporary. temporary. temporary." And it really helped! I persevered. I allowed myself to slow down a little bit, but I would not let myself walk. At this point, it was mainly just a mental struggle of stopping versus continuing. My legs were killing me!

Mile 21: 8:53
Mile 22: 9:02
Mile 23: 8:52
Mile 24: 9:03
Mile 25: 9:34 (slowest mile)
Mile 26: 9:21

The last 0.2This was the best part of the race. This is where I surprised myself and became my strongest racer. Maybe ever. I looked down at my watch as I passed the mile 26 marker and looked ahead at the finish. I told myself if I picked up the pace, I could sneak in under 3:52. I said "Your job, is to get to that finish line before your watch reads 3:52. Go for it now!"

My eyes were on the Finish Line arch. I kept my running form strong. I told myself that I really, really wanted a 3:51 and not a 3:52. And I did it!

I finished the race in
3:51:49. A Personal Record by 4:52 off of my Richmond time in November. This is an average pace of 8:51.
First half:
1:54:50Second half: 1:56:59

Out of all of the races I have ever run in my life, I would have to say that my final sprint for the last 0.2 was the toughest effort I have ever put out. I was in so much pain, and I didn’t think I could go any further, but I told myself that I had to get in under 3:52, and I did so comfortably.

I have now set a personal record in each of my six marathons. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Goggles, Granite and Ghosts

I'm up bright and early on this Wednesday morning (4:30am) in preparation for daylight savings time this weekend. I'm gradually going to bed earlier and earlier, and waking up within the 4:00 hour so that the time change won't mess with my body clock during my final taper week.  But alas, today is a rest day, so what does one do at 4:30am? Blog!

There is a phenomenon that occurs during the taper known as "phantom pains". It's minor aches and pains that suddenly show up during the taper, but then quickly vanish for no known reason. Some folks say it's purely psychological and that you are just more paranoid about stuff, making you more aware of your body. Other folks say that that reducing your training volume causes things to in the body to settle and that there is a physiological reason for it.

On Saturday, I ran my last long run of 15.5 miles and it went well. Nothing fancy, just a progression run starting at a pace of about 9:15 and speeding up to just under 8:00 for the last bit. For the rest of the day, everything felt fine. I woke up the next morning, and my legs still felt good. My husband and I went to the grocery store, and during checkout I noticed that the inside of my knee was hurting. It was whenever I put weight on the leg. On the car ride home, I kept trying to feel exactly where it hurt, but I couldn't really pinpoint anything. I would think that I found a spot, but then it would move.

I didn't freak out, because I knew that logically injuries didn't just appear after a walk through the grocery store. But I did ice the area, which kept moving. Was it the inside of my knee? The back of my knee? My upper calf near the knee? My shin? All of these areas were suspect. But then 5-6 hours later, it vanished completely, never to be felt again.

To play it safe, I went pool running and swimming on Monday and everything continued to be fine. I did a track workout yesterday, and everything still was fine.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I have goggle issues. When I first started swimming for fitness about five years ago, I was fit for a pair of petite women's goggles. These never worked well for me, but I lived with them. Usually, I would spend the first 5 or so laps stopping at the end of the lane, dumping the water out and re-adjusting. Then I would be able to swim nonstop for another 5-10 laps, but have to readjust again. It was weird because they were so hit or miss. Sometimes they would work better than others. Sometimes I just got so frustrated that I would cut the swim short.

About a year ago I got fitted for another pair. This was also a women's goggle, but I think the difference was the shape or the sealing technology. The Aqua Sphere Kaiman Lady-- for those of you who know your goggles. These goggles didn't work well either. Sometimes they did, it just took awhile for me to position them exactly right so that water wouldn't get in them.

TYR Swimple for Kids
Last weekend when my husband drove past the swim store, I thought I might try yet again for another pair. I thought I might need a junior pair, so I tried a few on. I didn't immediately ask for help because I had been to this store for my previous two pairs and neither of them works. But one of the saleswomen came up to me and said "those are too big on you" very decisively. She told me I needed kids goggles. I tried on the TYR Swimple for kids and she said they fit me perfectly.

I went for a swim on Monday and wow! It was as easy as putting the goggles on, swimming, and then more swimming. No stopping. No water in my eyes. Very comfortable. This has changed swimming for me. Now maybe one day I might enter an open water swim. With unreliable goggles, that idea had kind of terrified me before. I can't believe it took me so many years to try this.

On Monday afternoon, I came home to find new granite counter tops in my master bathroom. The only problem-- it wasn't the granite that my husband and I had ordered. And it didn't match the cabinets or the tile!

Let's back up. Greg and I are having our master bathroom remodeled. We're changing almost everything except for the basic footprint and the cabinets. Back in December, we had spent several hours going from granite warehouse to granite warehouse to select the perfect one for our bathroom counter tops. We wanted to make sure we were matching the color of the new bathroom tile. We put a slab on reserve and the remodeling job started on Monday of last week. (There was a back order on our tile).

Everything except for the glass surround and the granite counter tops was complete by the end of last week. My husband and I spent a large part of our weekend dusting, sweeping, mopping and vacuuming from all the demolition dust. Naturally, we were super excited that the granite would be coming on Monday of this week.
Granite that we ordered

Granite that was installed (dots are the lights reflecting)

Bathroom that the granite needs to match.
 The cabinets are white.

I was so angry about this! I know it's just a counter top and I know it can be fixed, but it just angers me so much that they got it wrong! And now we have to have more demolition, more mess, etc. Apparently, our contractor thought that the granite place had sold our slab to someone else (even though they did not) and decided to just pick a different piece that they thought would be close. I think they were hoping we wouldn't notice, but there is a huge difference! They are are going to re-do it, but they are claiming it's not much of a difference. It's a huge difference!

I refuse to let this stress me out. I was very angry on Monday night and lost a few hours of sleep, but the morning track workout made things all better and I'm much calmer about it now. The correct granite should be installed either Friday or Monday.

It's only 5:35am now. Maybe I'll got take a nap.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Timely Post

Ah time. What is the meaning of time? Okay, seriously, I am not trying to get all philosophical here, but I have been doing some self-therapy and self-exploring lately on this very topic. As I continue on my journey to transition from super obsessive, stressed-out runner to a calmer overall mental state, I've been thinking about where time fits in.

Pace Tattoo Targets a 3:40 for RnR Arizona 2009
To start, I began thinking about what my marathon time used to mean to me. I had to get a 3:40 or less. I had to! I knew that an 8:25 average pace would get me a 3:40:59 and an 8:23 would get me a 3:40:00 and I thought about these numbers constantly. I fantasized about crossing the finish line and seeing those numbers as I crossed. In training, whenever I got below an 8:23, I knew I was running faster than marathon pace. That was a magic number for me. During marathons, I wanted to start conservatively, but that usually meant a pace of 8:27, dropping to 8:20 by the end. You see, I had it all planned down to the exact pace of every mile.

And-- I felt entitled. I felt like I had done the training, I was in good shape, and therefore I deserved a specific time. If something went wrong on race day then I would feel like a huge injustice was done to me.

After the Bob Potts marathon in May of 2010, when I ran a disappointing 3:53, I started to realize how unhealthy this obsession with time was. I was tired of putting so much stock in a marathon time. It was just making me feel awful.

Next up was the NYC marathon which I ran for fun with my husband, followed by the Memphis Marathon four weeks later, which wasn't a target race. It wasn't until the fall of 2011 that I gave the marathon another serious try. Knowing how unhealthy my time-based thoughts were, and being a black-and-white thinker, I went in the complete opposite direction. Time doesn't matter at all. This is about enjoying the race and having fun. I don't have a time goal. I don't care about my time. I'm not stressed! I'm totally cool.

Lies, of course. And they will always be lies. Deep down, I didn't truly buy into that, and so I stressed about the race, didn't sleep well and wound up bonking shortly after the halfway point. Once again, I was making rules for myself about how stressed I was allowed to be. Rules about how I couldn't focus on pace or time. I definitely had made progress from 2010, but the absolutes were still there. I was lying to myself which made it even harder because I had to deny that my time mattered at all.

This left me wondering, so now what? I don't want to be obsessive about a time goal, but I don't want to lie to myself and say it doesn't matter.

I started to think about why it did matter so much to me for so long. For years, I would often ask myself why I cared so much about getting a specific time. And the answer was always "I just do!" When I really thought about it, I saw my marathon time is the validation of all my hard work. "Prove" that I was as fast and as capable of a runner as I believed myself to be. But at the same time, I knew I was working hard, so why the need for validation?

Looking back, I think it was insecurity. I needed that marathon time to proof to myself that I was capable. I also needed for everyone else to know that I was capable. I used to do the same thing with my weight. I needed the scale to read out a particular number to validate that I was thin. That I was "good" at being in control of my eating. And of course that's not a healthy attitude!

Back to my original question: what does time mean to me now? And what do I think it should mean to me? The second question is easier. I do consider myself an athlete and I am a competitive person by nature. I don't want to change who I am, so I think time should matter to some extent. I think I should set my sights on some kind of target range (as opposed to an exact time) and then on race day, focus more about the strategy/execution than that ultimate goal.

What does it mean to me now? And do I have a goal for my marathon in two weeks? I don't really know what time means to me now. Still thinking about that one. Maybe the answer is simply "it doesn't mean as much as before." I don't think I need it to validate that I've been working hard. I've had some fantastic workouts so I know that my fitness is solid. I haven't given much thought to my marathon time during this whole cycle, so I guess that's a step in the right direction. I also realized that I don't know how the paces line up with the times. I haven't spent any time on the pace calculator trying to correlate specific paces with finish times. Now that they've lowered the BQ standard, I actually don't know the specific pace of a BQ.

Why haven't I looked? Because it doesn't really matter based on what I am trying to do time-wise. I think I can run an average pace of anywhere from 8:00-8:20 so I'll start slower than 8:20, run conservatively the first half and then see how I feel. Our coach has a pace chart for workouts and I have been using the 3:30 paces as a guideline. I've never not been able to hit them, but at the same time, I don't expect a 20+ minute PR.

2008 Shamrock Marathon-- A Success!
Regarding PRs, it's been four years since I've run a good marathon (although I technically set a 40-second PR in May 2009). Shamrock 2008 was the last time a marathon went well for me and I have run plenty since then. I do believe that everything happens for a reason so I have let go of my anger around this. I think the purpose here is that I am being pushed to become mentally healthier. Just like I had to experience so many relationship failures in order to work on myself, and ultimately meet my wonderful husband.

My first seven marathons were all huge successes, so I know I'm capable of a strong marathon performance. I just need to make my marathon time less of a priority and my relationship with myself more of a priority.

I don't expect extreme taper madness this time, but it's definitely okay to get a little nervous and anxious. I think most marathoners get that way! I don't feel entitled to anything-- especially given my low-mileage approach. I am fully aware that anything can happen on race day, and I am prepared for whatever the day may bring. I just want to be okay. No matter what time I get, I want to be able to fall asleep the night after my marathon at peace with myself.