Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cherry Blossom 10-Miler Race Report

This morning I ran my 4th Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I'm really happy to be able to say that because if you asked me on Friday if I was planning on running this race, I would have said no.

Crappy Runs & Re-paying My Sleep Debt
Lack of sleep is cumulative. I've learned that I can race well if I don't get any sleep the night before a race, or even the sacred "night before the night before". With my most recent marathon, I learned that I can run well averaging less than 5 hours of sleep per night for the entire week leading up to the race. But eventually, it comes back to bite you.

I thought I would recover all my lost sleep in the week following the marathon, but that didn't happen. I took a business trip to Colorado Springs (two time zones behind me) and so I was going to sleep late and further exhausting myself through travel. Running was still going well and I was still feeling really great. The second week after the marathon, I was still feeling good and even incorporated some speed work back into my training. My paces were great and it felt as if I had never run a marathon or lost all that sleep the week before.

But then, last Saturday, I had a run that told me I needed some down time. I went for a 13-miler and while it wasn't horrible, it just didn't feel right. My legs felt heavy, my heart rate was on the higher side. It just felt harder than it should have. I prescribed myself two rest days in a row and was back at it on Tuesday of this week. But I still wasn't ready. I ran 7.5 miles easy, but it was the slowest "easy" run I've had in months. And I felt super exhausted by the end of it. I had actually planned for 8 miles, but cut it short.

I took another rest day and tried again on Thursday. Same scenario. I had to run slower than normal to keep my heart rate down. And 3 miles into it, I felt overly fatigued. I started to worry about over-training syndrome, which I have experienced once before. Friday was the worst. I woke up and felt so tired that I took a partial sick day from work so I could stay home and rest.

Sleep. That's really what my body needed most. This week, I slept about 9 hours a night, and slept straight through the night. Usually, I sleep for about 7 hours and it's rare that I sleep straight through. On top of that, I  took a nap on Friday and a nap yesterday. All that sleep, and I still felt like I needed more sleep. Even when I had mono, I did not sleep this much. With mono, I felt weak and I couldn't move around very quickly. This was different. I didn't feel weak or sick- I just felt exhausted and sleepy.

To Race or Not To Race?
I was so tired on Friday that I figured the race was definitely out. I knew the entire thing would probably be a struggle, I would be disappointed with my time, and my body would be even further worn down. I wasn't quite sure what was going on with me, but the more I think about it, I just think that I just needed to catch-up on sleep and let my body recover from the months of hard training.

I woke up on Saturday morning and felt a definite improvement from Friday, but still abnormally tired. Greg and I went into the city to pickup our bibs, so I would have the option on Sunday morning of racing or not racing. Greg, who is just coming off of an injury, didn't really care if we ran the race or not. He didn't think he was in great shape and was only doing it because he had registered.

When we got home from packet pickup I felt completely drained. I took a nap and was amazed at quickly I fell asleep. Afterwards, I felt a little better and started to think that I would do the race.

I think I would have regretted it if I didn't at least try. Even if the race didn't go well, at least I would have known that I tried. If I didn't even attempt to run it, I think I would have wondered if I would have been okay and regretted missing one of my favorite races of the year.

It was simply a matter of setting the appropriate expectations. I didn't want to sell myself short and dismiss the idea of a PR.  But at the same time, I knew that I was in this overly-tired and possibly over-trained state. I decided I was just going to go out there and do my best and get satisfaction that I pushed hard and did the best I could given the circumstances.

Everything had gone so smoothly for Greg and me the last time we ran this race, so we knew exactly what our routine would be. We drove to the metro, parked, and were at the race site about an hour ahead of time. We didn't check any bags, but we both had throwaway tops to keep us warm in the 45-degree weather.

Last time we found a set of porta potties that nobody knew about and Greg remembered where they were. Just as expected, there was no line. We couldn't believe that at a race with over 15,000 runners, we could find porta-potties with no lines! And no, I will not reveal in this blog where they are! :-) I probably couldn't explain it even if I wanted to.

We lined up at the front of corral two and met up with some Capital Area Runners teammates. If I had been feeling 100%, I would have planned to stay with them, but instead I told myself to run my own race and not worry about what the others were doing. They said they were going to go out at a pace of 7:40, which sounded good to me, so I figured it would be nice to at least start with them.

The weather was almost as good as last year. Last year, the race was in the upper 40's and completely overcast. No wind. This year it was in the mid 40's and mostly sunny-- but with some wind. Last year, March had been so warm that the Cherry Blossom had already come and gone. This March, it had been so cold that the blossoms were just starting to bloom-- I didn't really notice them very much unfortunately.

Miles 1-3
This race has a downhill start so it's hard to go out slow. The first few miles were pretty uneventful, although
I do remember my feet being so cold/numb that it was weird to run on them for the first two miles. I had a
small bottle water with me that I tossed during mile 3 and I didn't have any more water after that during the race. Greg shot out at a pace way faster than me, which wasn't surprising. Even though he'd been sidelined
Noticing my coach cheering for me.
due to injury, he races extremely well and pushes really, really hard.

Mile 1: 7:35
Mile 2: 7:32
Mile 3: 7:13

Miles 4-6
I tried not to be freaked out by the 7:13. Everything felt good. I was definitely working hard early in the race, but I knew I had a great endurance base that could carry me through. Plus, that mile had a little bit of downhill.

There was an "incident" during mile 5 when there was some metal strip of something on the course and I stepped on it and it dug right into my ankle. I let out a scream and the people around me asked if I was okay. I was okay to keep running, but that definitely hurt. I didn't let it affect my running and I had forgotten about it within a few minutes.

I remember that miles 5-6 always seem to be the hardest in this race. And if I could just get past mile 6, I would be golden. Back in 2009, I gave up mentally at mile 5 and I have always regretted that.

According to my splits, I came through the 5-mile mark at an average 7:32 pace. And then the 10K mark at a 7:33 pace. I was on track to PR. I just needed to stay around 7:30 for the last 4 miles.

Mile 4: 7:26
Mile 5: 7:27
Mile 6: 7:38

Miles 7-8
I knew to expect wind here. The wind was out of the south at about 10-15 mph, and I knew that we would be running into a headwind. Hains Point is almost always windy-- even on non-windy days, so the slightest bit of real wind makes it tough. This part of the course is the same area where my windy 5K was last month, so I was very familiar with how much of a challenge the wind can pose.

Before I had looked at the wind forecast, I had been expecting the race to get easier at this point. Last year it got easier here because it's completely flat and straight with no turns or anything. But instead of getting relief, things just got tougher.

I pushed really hard through the wind and every moment was a battle. I kept looking ahead to see where the turnaround was but I couldn't see it.

Mile 7: 7:51
Mile 8: 7:47

Miles 9-10
Now that I had a tailwind, I thought I would be back down in the 7:20's again. But no such luck. I had exerted so much effort battling the wind on the way out, that I just didn't have much left to give. I knew that a
Just before the finish
PR was at stake and if I could just stay at around 7:30 I would probably get it. I also knew I was hovering around 1:15/1:16 and really wanted to get under 1:16. I was highly motivated, but also highly exhausted. I was giving everything I had and I acknowledged that I was. There was absolutely no way I could have gone any faster during this part of the race.

The last mile had a hill right before the finish. It was long. In actuality it was probably about 0.2 miles but it seemed very long and I remembered this hill from having run the race previously. I pushed and pushed and pushed, until finally there was a slight downhill to the finish. After I crossed I felt like death and once again confirmed that I gave 100% on that course.

Mile 9: 7:39
Mile 10: 7:36
Last 0.07: (6:00 pace)

I found Greg (1:13:25) and some other teammates. I couldn't even talk for like three minutes after finishing. I was so winded. My lungs hurt. I was very glad I had raced, and very glad it was over!

My final time was 1:16:10, which is 18 seconds slower than my PR. So close!!! However, it was a lot
windier this year than it was when I ran my PR, so I am pretty confident that I would have PRed if it hadn't been windy.

My sports psychologist likes to look at PRs in context and would probably argue that this is my best 10-mile performance because of how well I did in spite of the wind. It probably cost me 20 seconds in both mile 7 & 8 (40 seconds) and then left me too exhausted to get back down to my initial pace for the remaining two miles. So while I can't claim an official PR, It feels like a PR to me and I'm very proud of how I raced this one.

Prior to this week's sleep-fest, I was targeting a 1:14:xx for this race, so somewhere around a 7:25 pace. In training, I had recently run a 6-mile tempo at a 7:26 pace and definitely felt like I could have kept that going for 4 more miles. I don't think I have lost fitness since then, but I was very worn out going into the race and I also had the wind to contend with. My official average pace of 7:37 is something I think I could do in a half marathon.

All in all, I am glad I went to the race this morning. I was pleasantly surprised at how I performed, given how tired I had been all week, and I have a lot of great takeaways:

  • I got to run one of my favorite local races
  • It was nice to see so many teammates-- both on the course and as spectators cheering
  • I got to practice being mentally tough and pushing through windy conditions
  • I got to practice being mentally tough by hanging on at the end, when I felt completely spent
  • I enjoyed the scenic course
  • It felt great to be running strong, after three consecutive "crappy" runs in a row
  • My official time wasn't a PR, but I think I ran stronger today than when I got my PR
  • If I don't qualify for the Boston Marathon when I run Chicago this fall, I will get to run Cherry Blossom again next year! What a great consolation prize!
Now for some RunPix!

I was the 103rd women, ages 30-34. There were 2189 in my age group behind me, 4% ahead.

I was the 387th women. There were 9897 women behind me, 4% ahead
I was ahead of 81% of the male runners.

What Next
Unfortunately, I think I aggravated a nagging ankle issue during this race. I have a pain about two inches above the outside of my left ankle. It only hurts when I run and isn't tender to the touch. Does anyone know what this is? It didn't affect my race, but when I was done, I really started to notice it in the finish line chute.

I'm not sure if this is a coincidence, but two weeks ago, I accidentally jammed the edge of my car door into my leg-- about 4 inches above the outside ankle. And now the area that's painful is somewhere between the gash mark on leg and the ankle bone. I'm not sure if the two are related, but it's not like I changed my gait or have been doing high-mileage training. I started to feel the pain when running about 9 days after the car door incident. 

This coming week, I plan to use the elliptical only and keep off the ankle. If it doesn't get better by the end of the week, I will see my sports chiropractor. I'm also traveling to San Francisco tomorrow so I won't be able to keep up this 9-hours-of-sleep per night thing. I will use this week to recover from any over-training and from a potential ankle injury and try to get back at it next weekend.  Nike Women's Half marathon is next on the schedule-- I want to make it to the start line healthy and ready to go!


  1. Nice race! That wind was brutal on miles 7-8. I managed to PR, but I didn't get the sub-1:30 that I was looking for. When I went back and looked at my splits, I was running consistently on pace for that time until I hit mile 7 and then the paces take a 30 second per mile nose dive. Just like you I had a hard time getting them back up to where they needed to be to get that time. It was still a fun race, but there were not enough cherry blossoms. I mandated myself a two week running break after B&A Trail, and I feel much better for having done that. I didn't get into Nike so I'll be doing Athleta Irongirl Half on that day. I'll be looking forward to your Nike race report.

  2. Glad to know I am not alone in my battle against the wind! I read JD's blog on this race, tried to comment, but it wouldn't let me. It's great that you both PRed! Way to go!

  3. hey elizabeth - you should be able to comment now...btw, great run today. Saw your husband did a 1:13 as well...Currently, I'm in taper mode but halfway thought I would press on and see if I could beat my 1:17 which is the only other time I have for a 10 miler. Yea, the wind was brutal from mile 6 to 7 as my splits do not lie.

    1. Great! I have subscribed to your blog so you can expect more comments from me. :-) Congrats on your race. That's quite a huge PR there. Best of luck on the ultra!

  4. Rock on, girl! I've learned so much from your blog over the past few months. Whatever your psychologist is doing to you is WORKING! I love your attitude and reflections in all your racing, and it is definitely paying off with your times. Keep up the good work!

  5. Great race!! You're so speedy!! 1:16 is an awesome time!! I hope your ankle stops feeling crappy!! I always hate running in wind, but you did AMAZING!! :)

  6. Way to go! The wind benefited me at the Atlantic City Half Marathon as it was an out and back course with the first half being a quartering headwind and the second half a quartering tailwind that increased throughout the race. I crushed my PR in 1:39:00 but was running very similar splits to you, and you were battling the wind! Nice work!

    1. Yeah, I thought I would feel the tailwind pushing me but I didn't. I have run windy races where the tailwind was a definitely help, but I guess here I was just too exhausted from miles 7-8 to notice. Nice job on that half!

  7. It was good to see you! I hope your ankle gets better - sounds weird.

    1. I thought to myself "this is the only time I will ever be racing next to Cris Burbach!" I really enjoyed having you there!

  8. Elizabeth, nice race! No worries! A week off is nothing in the scheme of things. Your fitness is not going to suffer. Your body will thank you:)

    I am happy to see you out there and look forward to racing with you in the summer months!

    1. Aww... thanks. Summer track workouts and races is where it's at!!!

  9. Great race Elizabeth! Way to work through the conditions. Regarding the ankle I would read up on peroneal tendonitis. I just 'irritated' my peroneal tendon along the base of my outside foot - but the pain usually shows up right where you are describing. I took a week and a half off - stayed off really cambered trails and did a lot of balancing stuff on a wobble board or bosu ball - I wear orthotics and I think my other foot muscles/tendons have weakened. My husband also massaged up along the outside of my leg to help loosen it up - and there are stretches you can do as well. I went to see a foot person and he said because it happened so suddenly it was probably just irritated rather than tendonitis and it sounds like it might be the same for you...Anyway I hope you feel better and again great race!

  10. I've recently discovered your blog over the past few months and you have some great stuff. Way to keep perspective in challenging conditions!

    The takeaways are great-all races are learning experiences and "little science projects".

    Keep on improving!

  11. I agree that this is like a PR considering the wind!! Wind is a beast! I think you raced smart and your experience with the course really helped you nail it. Way to go girl!
    Hope you get some answers to your ankle, gah, hopefully just a week off & ice will help.