Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sleepy "Snowzilla" Blizzard of 2016

The Washington DC metro area was hit with a huge blizzard last weekend. Known as "Snowzilla," "Storm Jonas," and "The Blizzard of 2016," this system dropped about 28 inches of snow onto my neighborhood, and similar amounts around all of Northern Virginia and DC. The storm began at around 1:00pm on Friday, Jan. 22, and continued until about 10:00pm the following day. Regardless, I still managed to keep up with my training plan. Here's how.

Friday, 1/22: 16-mile Long Run
View from my window on Saturday
Instead of doing my regularly planned 60-minute easy run, I did Saturday's 16-mile long run, starting at sunrise. This was challenging because I had done a 5.5-mile tempo run the evening before, which meant I only had about 15 hours to recover from that before doing the long run. I was supposed to run the second half of the 16-miler 20 seconds per mile faster than the first half. Miraculously, I was able to do this, even on very tired legs. The trick was to keep the first 8 miles slow (9:16/mile) so that I could run the last 8 miles at an average pace of 8:56/mile.

Saturday, 1/23: Blizzard Peak
There was definitely no way to run on Saturday. The snow was coming down heavily with "whiteout" conditions. I spent the day inside with Greg, just relaxing and doing housework. We had stocked up on good food, so we had a really nice dinner with wine. It was nice having the long run behind me and not having to worry about it. Saturday night, I slept for 9 hours and 41 minutes, without waking up at all. It was truly amazing because I usually get about 7 hours and 30 minutes. I guess the blizzard totally relaxed and de-stressed me!

Sunday, 1/24: 41 minutes + 41 minutes
A plow came by our neighborhood relatively early in the day, so by about 10:30, my neighborhood road had a clear path of packed snow. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to try out my Yaktrax (which I had bought last winter but never wore) to run in the snow. They worked really well-- no slipping or falling! But because there was still quite a bit of snow, my gait was not normal, and I
In front of my house after run #2. Greg shoveled this snow.
found myself using extra stabilizer muscles. My original plan was to run the 60 minutes that had been scheduled for Friday, but I stopped after 41 because it just felt weird and I didn't want to strain myself running in the snow. However, later in the day, the sun came out and the road looked better, so I Yaktraxed my way out of my neighborhood, removed the Yaktrax and ran on the completely snow-free road. There were almost no cars out, although I did have to dodge the snow plows. I ran another 41 minutes, giving me 82 minutes total for the day (8.7 miles). This gave me 52.7 miles for the week.

Monday, 1/25: 6 x 800m, 3 x 200m
I woke up on Monday morning in amazement. According to my FitBit, I had slept for 10 hours and 16 minutes, uninterrupted. This was completely unheard of! I had no clue why I was sleeping so much. I didn't feel sick, but I guess my body needed it.

My office was closed, which meant I could run at whatever time of day I wanted. Given this flexibility, I figured it would be best to get Tuesday's speed work out of the way on Monday, in case I had to go into the office on Tuesday. Obviously the track was not an option so I programmed the workout into my Garmin and ran a half-mile stretch of the street just outside of my neighborhood. I could not run in my neighborhood without Yaktrax, so I simply walked on the snow until I reached the edge of my neighborhood before and after the run.

As for the workout itself, yes, I had to share the road with cars. And yes, this was a little dangerous. But this street was fully plowed and wider than the typical road, so there was enough room for me. My paces were slower than if I had been at the track, but I chalked it up to being an incline/decline instead of a smooth track. After warm-up and cool-down, I logged a total of 9.1 miles for the day.

Tuesday, 1/26: 60 minutes
And AGAIN I woke up after an insanely long and uninterrupted night of sleep! One theory is that there's a constant noise of construction or trucks near my house that goes on at all hours of the night, and I'm guessing it stopped with all this snow. So maybe I finally had the quiet I needed to sleep well. 9 hours, 19 minutes.

I did Monday's 60-minute easy run on Tuesday. My office was still closed, which gave me the flexibility to run in the middle of the day again, with a reduced number of cars. I still had to walk through my neighborhood instead of run, but once I got out of it, I was able to run on clear roads. Once again, this was a little bit dangerous because I was sharing the road with cars, but I saw other people walking/running as well. Further, the roads were wide, so if two cars had to pass each other, there would still be room for me!

Wednesday, 1/27: 30 minutes
By Wednesday, I was finally back on my normal schedule and my office was open. My neighborhood had been plowed thoroughly by this point, so I simply ran in circles around the 0.6-mile loop. Boring and hilly, but safer than venturing out onto the main road during the morning rush hour.

Thursday, 1/28: 6-mile tempo
Thursday was tricky because temperatures got down to 16 overnight, which meant a refreeze of all the water/snow on the ground. Therefore, I had to wait until after work to do my tempo. The good news is that it was a warm and sunny day, so by the time I started my tempo at 4:15pm, everything had melted. I got into work at 7:00am and left at 3:15, which gave me an hour to drive home, change, and drive to the tempo location. Thankfully, my tempo route was ice-free and mostly dry, so I could run without worrying about slipping. I averaged a pace of 7:08 for the six miles, which was very encouraging. Including warm-up and cool-down, I ran 9.5 miles for the day.

Friday, 1/29: 60 minutes
The road outside of my neighborhood was coated in ice in the morning, so I resorted to doing laps around my 0.6-mile neighborhood loop! Very boring (and hilly) but I got it done.

Saturday, 1/30: 17 miles
Because sidewalks were still not clear, Greg and I decided to run the entire long run on neighborhood roads. We drove to this neighborhood (which is also my tempo location) and parked our car at the Starbucks at the end of the neighborhood. We challenged ourselves to run on as many of the neighborhood streets as possible. The result looked like this:

I missed most of Pennerview and all of Midstone!
All in all, the storm did not affect my running too much. Thankfully, I was able to adjust my schedule. One of my neighbors had offered me her treadmill as a back-up plan, but thankfully I didn't need to use it. I much prefer to run outdoors whenever possible. I logged 54.7 miles this week, and managed to do all workouts as prescribed by my coach.

It's hard to believe I still have 11 weeks until Boston. I already feel like the training is pretty intense, and it's only going to get more challenging!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

How I got faster in 2015

2015 was the best year of running I've had since I started racing 10 years ago.

10K PR, October 2015
It’s easy for beginning runners to improve. Usually runners see major gains during the first several years, but then the law of diminishing returns kicks into effect, making PRs less frequent and smaller in size. This is particularly true for racing at shorter distances, where shaving just a few seconds off of one’s time becomes challenging. Therefore, I see 2015 as "the exception" and not the rule. It's highly unlikely that I will have another year like this again, so I wanted to document what worked for me.

This year, I set six PRs:
  • 20:51 in the 5K (38 seconds PR)
  • 30:08 in the 4-miler (8 seconds PR)
  • 43:56 in the 10K (17 seconds PR)
  • 1:37:33 in the half marathon (4 minutes, 7 seconds PR)
  • 1:35:08 in the half marathon (2 minutes, 25 seconds PR)
  • 3:35:29 in the marathon (4 minutes, 31 seconds PR + BQ)
With the exception of the marathon and the 4-miler, all of these PRs occurred within the October/November timeframe. What did I do differently in 2015 as opposed to prior years of running? 2015 was not my highest mileage year-- in fact both 2010 and 2014 were higher in overall mileage. Here are what I consider to be the key factors.

I trained differently.
After having spent years and years doing the same tempo runs and the same interval workouts, I finally broke out of that patten and gave my body new training stimuli. While different training approaches work for different people, I think that one thing is true for everyone: variety is key! Not only did my training approach change in 2015, but I rarely repeated workouts. There were a few workouts that I did maybe 4-5 times this year, but that's it.

Here is a comparison of my training log from 2014 vs. 2015. Note that in 2014 I ran two marathons, but in 2015 I ran only one marathon in the spring.

2014 Training
2015 Training
The overall training volume is almost the same. The difference is how I ran the miles. In 2014, I focused more heavily on tempo runs and long runs. In 2015, I focused more heavily on intervals and hill sprints. Particularly in July, there was a 4-week period that was very hill intensive, sometimes combining hill repeats with mile repeats and tempo runs. The major differences in 2015 I see are:

  • Lower weekly mileage during the second half of the year allowed for more quality speed work
  • Shorter intervals at a faster pace (e.g. 1 minute, 2 minute as opposed to 800's and 1200's)
  • More varied workouts
  • Fewer tempo runs
  • Lots of 5Ks in the heat-- one per month from April to September
  • More combo runs (e.g. hill/tempo, hill/interval, tempo/interval)
  • More consistency in monthly volume, even though overall volume is slightly lower

I trained consistently, without illness or injury.
I was able to train consistently throughout the entire year without any time off for illness or injury. In the past, I have never been able to keep up with injury prevention exercises because there were too many of them, and they took too much time. So in 2015, I focused on my left hip. It's my weakest area, and the first thing that starts to hurt. I did strengthening exercises for my left hip only about 3 times per week, lasting about 3 minutes. I didn't do any core work this year or anything else. I find that if I take on too much, I end up getting overwhelmed and ultimately ditching the exercises altogether. 

After the Richmond half marathon, a lot of stuff hurt, so I was diligent about foam rolling and I got two massages. I also took an entire week off, as prescribed by my coach. I also finally have a shoe system that works. Nike Lunarglide for long runs, Mizuno Elixir for long speed work, Mizuno Sayonara for short speed work, and Mizuno Inspire for short easy runs.

I focused on the process, not the outcome.
Even though I of course love setting PRs, I was more focused on the process of racing than I was the result. I learned to take risks, to experiment, to be bold, and to have a more relaxed attitude about racing in general. I used to get extremely anxious and uptight whenever a race approached, and now a race is "what I'm doing this weekend" and not something to get all worked up over! During races, I was more focused on pushing hard than on what my watch said, and I didn't spend mental energy focusing on things I didn't like. I embraced training and racing in the heat. I focused on running by effort instead of by pace, so I was never upset about being slower during summer races.

I had the help and support of great people.
The combination of having two great coaches-- a McMillan coach to help me with the physical side of things and a P.h.D in sports psychology to help me with the mental side of things--has really helped me succeed. And of course, having Greg support me all year even when he was unable to run was hugely valuable. I had all of these people in 2014 as well, although I didn't start working with the running coach until July.

I'm hoping to squeeze out a few more PRs in 2016, particularly at the marathon distance where I think I have the most room for improvement. I look forward to more healthy, happy running this year!

B & A Trail Marathon - a BQ by 4:31

PRR Festival Twilight 4-miler in 80+ degrees!
The Richmond Half Marathon

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ringing In Hope 10K: Keeping Up With Tradition

Yesterday afternoon, I ran the Ringing in Hope 10K. The inaugural event was held in 2010, and Greg and I have run it every year since it started. Even though I have quite a few issues with how this race is managed, I continue to run it each year to keep up the tradition. Along with the Firecracker 5K and the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K, it's nice to have races that I run year after year, for both the sake of tradition, and for benchmarking. I'm pleased to say that I have set course PRs in all three races this year!
Ringing in Hope 2014

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. I may suggest these changes to the race director, but I don't want to come across as ungrateful. I know that managing a race is difficult, and I will continue to participate in this race even if nothing changes.

The time of this race changes almost every year. I think the first year it was at 4:00pm, and then it's moved between morning and afternoon. I think it was 10:00am last year, and this year it was at 1:00pm to accommodate government workers' schedules. But people who work for the federal government (in Washington D.C.) even for a half day, will not be able to drive 30 miles out to Ashburn in time for a 1:00pm start. So, either move the race to 3:00 or 4:00, or keep it in the morning. I personally prefer morning races because it's what I'm used to, but I don't shy away from races that start at odd times. Particularly since I will be running the Boston Marathon in April, which I think starts sometime around 10:00am. My biggest challenge with the later start this year was the warmth. It was 58 degrees and sunny. There were times when I could feel myself baking, and I even ended up with a nice suntan!

The race offers a 5K and a 10K. The 10K course is the same as the 5K course, times 2. The 5K started at 1:00pm, and the 10K started at 1:15pm. This means that the 10K runners have to weave through all the 5K walkers (with their strollers, walking in large groups) and the slower runners starting at mile 2. This requires a lot of additional energy to be expended and prevents runners from running tangents. There'd be some trouble if a 15:00-16:00 5K runner showed up. At 1:16pm, I'm guessing that 10K runners were still moving through the start line, which is also the finish line. I can just imagine a super speedy 5K runner coming toward the finish line, with all the 10K runners lined up.

Speaking of tangents, cones are placed seemingly randomly throughout the course. It's never clear what side of the cones you are supposed to run on. The course is USATF certified without any cones at all, so I just ignore the cones and try to run the tangents. Even still, the course always measures at least 6.27 miles on my Garmin. On the last turn before the finish line, they had a row of cones blocking the path to the finish line. You're supposed to run through the cones (which are meant to block cars) but many people were confused and didn't see the finish line. The only reason I knew to turn right was because I've run this race so many times.

Okay, I'm done griping. My attitude toward this race is that I do it because it's a tradition and it's close to my house. I don't run it for its superior management. I mentally prepare to weave through 5K walkers and I don't let it upset me while I'm running.

In terms of a time goal, I wanted to set a "Garmin PR" by running faster than a 7:02 pace according to my Garmin-- ideally somewhere around 6:55-6:58. Comparing this race to the Boo Run For Life 10K where I set my current PR isn't really apples-to-apples because that race is flat with only one turn, and therefore always comes out to exactly 6.2 miles. This means that I could technically run 6.2 miles faster at the New Year's Eve race than the Boo! race and still not PR according to my official time. I also wanted to beat Greg's PR on this course of 43:20, but I thought that might be a stretch.

I also used this race to experiment with Generation UCAN fuel. I'd ideally like to switch from Honey Stinger gels to UCAN for the marathon, but I need to make sure it works for me. I was introduced to UCAN when I won a huge prize package of it by being McMillan's "Athlete of the Month." I had used it before long runs and it seemed to work well for those. The Honey Stingers are hit or miss-- sometimes my stomach tolerates them, sometimes it doesn't. UCAN is supposed to be the easiest-to-digest source of fuel, and it's supposed to last longer than a gel.  I mixed one packet of the UCAN powder with water and drank it 30 minutes before the start of the race. Greg and I warmed up for about two miles, and then lined up at the start.

Miles 1-2
My original plan was to run the first mile at a pace of around 6:55, but instead I just ran it by feel and logged a 6:47. Even though this mile starts with a huge uphill, there was a significant tailwind, and then there's a downhill afterwards which actually makes the mile a net downhill. After I turned a corner and started mile 2, I found myself running directly into a headwind and I was unable to maintain my speedy starting pace. I instead ran a 6:57, which was more in line with my goal anyway. It was during the second mile that I had to start weaving through the 5K walkers, but I didn't let it bother me.

Miles 3-4
The third mile was tough. The headwind continued and there was a sizable hill to run up, while continuing to dodge 5K walkers, and even those who were running, but then who would suddenly stop to walk. One guy who was running in front of me stopped dead in his tracks to look behind him for his daughter. Sigh. I felt myself losing some major steam, and the race started to get really hard. Mile 3 is supposed to feel really hard in a 10K, but this mile just took a lot of out me. I logged a 7:07, which I thought was pretty good, given the big hill. Mile 4 was a repeat of mile 1. The biggest challenge of this mile was the heat. I was running directly towards the sun, high in the sky, and I felt my energy level waning. Thankfully, there was a tailwind to help push me up the hill again, but I'd pay for it with a headwind later. I ran mile 4 in 7:02.

Miles 5-6
My goal was still attainable by the time I reached mile 5, but I was completely spent. I had zero energy left to fight through the headwind. I poured water over my head to keep cool, but it didn't do much good. I also had worn heavier socks (mistake) and my feet were burning up. Even though I was losing steam, I still managed to pass some runners during this mile, which was encouraging. I logged a 7:13. The sixth mile was pure torture. A woman whom I had passed earlier in the race passed me about halfway through the mile and I tried to keep up with her as best as I could. I even tried to draft off of her. "That's fine if you run ahead of me," I thought. "I'll just run directly behind you and draft." I knew my goal was slipping away from me, but I was mainly focused on just hanging on. That final hill was killer, as it always is, and I was happy to see that I didn't lose too much time going up it. I actually was slower at the beginning of the mile with the headwind than I was at the end of the mile, running up the hill with less of a headwind. That last mile was a 7:22, which is slower than my half marathon pace!

The Finish
Accepting my award- it got cloudy after I was done racing!
After the hill during mile 6 there were a few more turns to get to the finish line. Thankfully, everything was downhill for the last 0.27 miles. The woman in front of me made an incorrect turn, and I almost followed her, thinking it was time to turn. But I quickly realized she had made a mistake so I didn't follow her. People behind me were yelling "go straight." Once again, it really wasn't clear where you were supposed to turn, so some volunteers would have been nice to have at that point. The only reason I didn't follow her was because I had run the course so many times in the past, otherwise, I would have made the same mistake. I continued toward the finish line, and I ran through the confusing cones at a pace of 6:35.

My overall finish time was 44:18 for 6.27 miles, a Garmin pace of 7:05. I was the 4th overall female
finisher, and I won 1st place in my age group. I won a substantial gift certificate to Potomac River Running, which was nice.

I told Greg about the woman who made the wrong turn and I said I felt badly for her--and a little guilty for beating her because of it. But he reminded me that part of racing is knowing the course. It's about more than having physical ability, you also have to have "situational awareness" he said. He told me I beat her fair and square, which I guess is true. But I still feel badly that she made a wrong turn.

The Analysis
Even though I technically didn't meet my goal, I accomplished a lot!
  • I ran this race faster than last year by 1:09, and I think it was windier this year, and definitely hotter. 
  • I ran very close to my PR pace, on a hiller, hotter and "longer" course.
  • I experimented. I tried a new fuel and I tried going out at pace that was faster than my goal (but that felt sustainable), without being afraid to bonk. 
  • I avoided making a wrong turn because I knew the course well.
  • I won my age group and was the 4th overall female.
I don't have any photos of me actually racing because my personal photographer is now able to race himself! Greg finished in 45:50, which I think is amazing for spending 5 months of last year injured with a broken ankle. 

I definitely plan on running this race again next year-- at whatever time of day it may be! Happy New Year to my blog readers!