Friday, May 27, 2016

How I Ran the Boston Marathon

I wanted to write this post about a week after the Boston Marathon, but I was on vacation at a resort in Mexico. The Saturday following the race, Greg and I flew to Mexico and spent a week doing nothing but relaxing: eating, drinking, reading, sleeping, and soaking up the sun. It was just what I needed, both mentally and physically. We purposely planned this vacation for right after Boston as somewhat of a celebratory trip, and so that I wouldn't be training for a race while we were there. It was also a great opportunity for me to take a step back from the Boston experience and truly reflect on it.

Rest and relaxation

Still in a Boston state of mind!
As I was running the race, everything felt surreal. It was hard to believe that I was actually running THE Boston Marathon after all these years. And it was hot! And even though I've DNF'ed several marathons due to the heat, I actually embraced the heat and found myself determined to enjoy the race no matter what. What a difference from my former self!

This may sound a bit cheesy, but it almost feels like I was somehow changed by the Boston Marathon-- "initiated" into the world of Boston Marathon runners. Between the time that Greg said goodbye to me at the busses in Boston Common and the time I saw him again in our hotel room, I felt like a different person. Of course, I was the same person, but now I was on the other side. In my book I talk "the haves" and the "have-nots" of marathon running, and I had always seen myself as a "have-not." Of course, that was not a healthy attitude, but now that I was a "have" it kind of felt different.

Another topic I discuss in my book is separating myself as a person from myself as a runner. I, Elizabeth Clor, am not defined by my running or anything I do for that matter. I'm definitely by how I do things. How did I run the Boston Marathon?
  • Boldly. I know that I struggle more in the heat than the average runner, especially when it comes to long distances, but I only adjusted my goal pace by 20 seconds per mile. I had no idea if that would be enough, but I wanted to find out. Turns out, I probably should have adjusted my goal down by 40-45 seconds a mile, but now I know and I don't regret that decision.
  • Passionately. Never once did I take for granted that this was Boston and I had earned it. I soaked up as much of the experience as I possibly could, and kept my eyes wide open to everything that was around me.

  • Neutrally. Even though I ran the race with passion, my emotions were actually fairly neutral the whole time. I've learned to temper my emotions during races so that I don't judge any curve-balls that could get thrown at me. I simply accept what happens without judgement and do my best to adapt if need be. When I started to slow down later in the race, I wasn't upset, scared, or angry at the weather. I just thought to myself "ok" and kept running.
  • Strategically. I had a pacing strategy for this race, and I executed it until I couldn't execute it any more. Once I couldn't execute the original plan, I developed another strategy, which was simply to focus on getting to the finish without stopping or walking. Aside from pacing, my strategy also involved using cooling towels at the start line, pouring water on myself at every possible moment, running with ice in my sports bra as it became available, and taking my UCAN fuel as I had in training. 
  • With Gratitude. As I mentioned in the "passionately" bullet, I was constantly aware of the magnitude of what I was doing. In addition, I was thankful for so many things. Thankful that I had overcome so many obstacles in order to qualify. Thankful for my loving husband and all of my friends and family tracking me. Thankful that I was healthy enough to train and run marathons. Thankful for my coach and how he's helped me get to a level I never thought possible.
I've been asked by several people why I don't try and qualify for Boston 2017 by running another marathon by early September. My response is that I want to spend the summer focusing on getting faster at shorter distances so that I can really crush a marathon in the fall. I'd rather run a really solid fall marathon with a proper training cycle than jump back into marathon training so soon to try and run an early September marathon. I don't want to get injured or burned out, and I find it difficult to do long runs in the heat. 

Plus, I've already achieved my goal of running Boston, now I want to try and run a really fast marathon-- somewhere in the 3:20-3:25 range. I think I can do it if the weather is right, but not in early September temperatures. So, I have registered for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. It's been on my list for awhile and some of my friends are doing it, so I figured it would be a great year. Part of what I loved about training for Boston was "meeting" other local runners on Strava and virtually training with them. We encouraged and supported each other and it will be great to have that for Indy in the fall, too.

Having the vacation immediately after the race and then launching my book prevented there from being a "low" after the race, thankfully! I might not run Boston again for two more years, but there are a lot of wonderful things to enjoy and achieve in the meantime.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Soaking Semper Five K

Rain, rain, go away!
The actual name of this race is the Semper Fi 5K, but I took the creative license to change it to Semper Five K in the blog title for the fun of it. I had never run this specific race before, but I had run this course a number of times. It's an out-and-back course that's pancake flat with no other turns aside from the turnaround point.

One of the reasons I chose to run this race was because I wanted to run three locally "ranked" races before the end of June, and prior to the Boston Marathon, I had not run any. Three races in the first half of the year is the minimum requirement to be officially ranked by Washington Running Report. The first of these was the  Mother's Day 4-miler just two weeks ago.

It was a very, very, VERY wet morning in Washington, D.C. Rain was coming down in buckets and at only 55 degrees, it felt more like early April than May 21st. My race weather so far in 2016 has been a bit extreme:

  • A 5K in February that was only 14 degrees and windy (unseasonably cold for Virginia)
  • The Shamrock Half Marathon in March that had 22 mph sustained winds and heavy rains
  • The Boston Marathon which was unseasonably warm at 72 degrees and sunny
  • The Mother's Day 4-Miler was the first race with seasonable, non-extreme weather
By contrast, almost every race I ran last fall had perfect weather, so I can't really complain- I was due for some weather-related challenges!

Before the Race
The parking for this race is about 3/4 a mile from the race start, so Greg and I couldn't just wait in the car for the race to begin. We needed to get our bibs and warm-up, and I made the mistake of leaving the car too early. The race started at 8:30 and we left the car at 7:40, which meant 50 minutes of being out in the pouring race before we even started. Even though Greg and I both had light jackets for the warm-up, they didn't really stand up to the heavy amount of rain that was falling.

We ran to the starting area, got our bibs, and then ran for another 20 minutes. This resulted in a 3.1-mile warm-up, which is longer than I usually do for a 5K. However, it was necessary to keep moving to avoid shivering in the cold. During the warm-up, I decided that my goal was to run the race at a pace of around 6:40. My PR pace is 6:42 from last fall and is on a hillier course. Given that this was a flat course and I was still in excellent shape from my Boston training, I thought I had a shot at shaving a few seconds off of my PR. During my training for Boston, I had done a workout of 4 x 1600, and all of those miles were sub-6:42. So, naturally I thought that in a race, a 6:40 pace was reasonable.

Mile 1-- 6:40
Thankfully, the race started shortly after our warm-up so we didn't have to wait around too long. I noticed at the start line that it looked like a competitive field. Last year, the female winner ran a 22:04, so I assume that some of the faster runners saw that result and showed up in an attempt to win. This year, over 10 females ran faster than last year's winner!

Anyway, I placed myself toward the front of the pack and as a result, shot out at a pace of around 6:10. It didn't feel like I was running that fast so I had visions of crushing my PR right from the beginning. But I backed off the pace after realizing how fast it was. Greg, on the other hand, did not back off the pace and ran his first mile in around 6:27. This first mile felt really good and I was optimistic about how the rest of the race would go.

Mile 2-- 6:50
I maintained the effort, I was pushing really hard, and was therefore surprised to look down at my Garmin halfway through the second mile to see that I was running a 6:55 pace. I run tempos at
Heading for the finish line
around a 7:00 pace, and this felt way harder than that! Once I saw that number, I pushed harder and harder but I realized that my body couldn't go much faster and I started to feel tired. I didn't have the same amount of energy to push as I did in the 4-miler two weeks ago. I realized that I was less peppy and no matter how much I told myself to push and that I knew I was capable of faster, my body just wasn't cooperating. I was able to pick it up to the extent that I ran a 6:50 for the second mile, but I was definitely off of my goal. I was able to close the gap between Greg and me slightly, I had him in my sights the entire time, and he was about 10 seconds ahead of me by the end of mile 2.

Mile 3--6:47
I felt like I was really out of gas during this mile. I was giving everything I had in me, but my Garmin just wasn't showing the paces that I thought would have corresponded to that effort level. I really wanted this last mile to be faster than mile 2 so toward the end, I made myself hurt even more than I thought possible and I think I ran the last quarter of that mile at around my 6:40 target pace.

Last 0.13-- 6:18 pace
I could see the clock at this point and I really wanted to break 21:00. I've only ever broken 21 minutes once before, and that was my PR race. Based on where the clock was and where the finish line seemed to be, I was certain I would do it! But I guess I mis-judged things because the clock turned 21 just seconds before I crossed. I have to admit I was disappointed.

My official time was 21:05, which is 14 seconds slower than my PR. But, it was my second-fastest 5K ever, and I've run many, many 5Ks!

After the Race
I wasn't my typical happy self after this race. It was harder than expected to run the paces that I did, I was wiped out, and I was miserably cold and soaking wet. Because I knew there were quite a few fast
women ahead of me I decided not to wait around for the awards. I wanted to get out of there ASAP and into the warm car and dry clothes. I think I had gotten my hopes up about how fast my time would be, given that it was a flat course and cool weather, and thinking about how fast I had run while training for Boston.

When we got to the car, I looked at the official results on my phone, and it turns out that I had won first place in my age group! Most of the fast women ahead of me were in their 20's. That made me wish I had stayed to get my award, but I definitely didn't want to go all the way back there in the cold rain. 

In terms of the positives, this race was great practice in pushing myself. Looking at the Garmin and seeing slower-than-expected paces made me push myself harder than if I had run without looking because I have a good idea of my fitness level. I did run my second-fastest 5K ever, and won first in my age group. I also checked the box for another "ranked" race. Also, I wasn't really that far off of my goal. I just didn't think it would be so hard to run a 6:44 pace for three miles.

My plan for the next few months is to work on my speed. My coach has prescribed some tough
workouts that involve very short, quick intervals and I don't think it will be long before my speed is back to where it was during Boston training.  My next two races are ones that I ran last summer, so it would be really fantastic to set some course PRs on those.

In other news, my book has done really well during its first week on the market! Believe it or not, my very first sale came from the U.K. without me even having promoted it. If you have no idea what I am talking about, visit the Boston Bound website to learn more, or "like" the book's Facebook page.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Launching My Book: Boston Bound

As many of you blog readers know, I spent seven years of my life tortured by repeated failed attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

At first, my failure to qualify for Boston was simply a matter of bad luck, or so it seemed. But after four years of continued failures, I realized that anxiety and perfectionism were the root of the problem. I spent the next three years facing my demons head-on, with the help of a sports psychologist, and I ultimately qualified for Boston in March of 2015.

I'm pleased to announce that I have captured this entire journey in my new book, launching today:

Boston Bound tells the story of how I discovered that my own brain was the culprit, and explains the steps I took to completely overhaul my mindset about my running and my life. To push oneself to one’s physical limit is only possible when the mind permits it. The marathon itself—a demanding, unforgiving, and intimidating sport—offers an opportunity for its participants to truly test the boundaries of their physical and mental capabilities. Training for and racing a marathon is a tangible way to apply and measure mental fortitude.

Launching Boston Bound!
I realize that there are many books about running, and a few of them are centered around the Boston
Marathon. However, at its core, this book isn’t really “about” running. It’s a case study for overcoming anxiety and depression, told in a narrative format. Throughout the seven years of my struggle to qualify for Boston, I blogged extensively about my journey here on Racing Stripes. A large portion of this book is adapted from my blog, and therefore captures my voice throughout the years. The transformation is remarkable, and I juxtapose my current voice with that of my former self as I tell the story. Even if you've been following along for years, the book adds a new perspective on the journey and highlights the key lessons I learned along the way.

Who should read this book?
  • Runners who want to qualify for the Boston Marathon
  • Runners who have qualified for the Boston Marathon, and are interested in someone else's story
  • Athletes who have hit a plateau, and have become frustrated with their sport 
  • Athletes who struggle with performance anxiety
  • Anyone who has difficulty coping with perceived failures
  • Anyone who reads this blog and has found it interesting and/or helpful

What will you get out of this book?
  • Tips, tools, and strategies for dealing with disappointment
  • Tangible ways to cope with and minimize anxiety and self-doubt
  • A juxtaposition of how NOT to analyze your performance vs. how TO analyze it
  • A relatable story of mental and emotional struggle in the pursuit of a goal
Head on over to to order your copy of Boston Bound!

I'd love it if my blog followers would review the book on after you have read it. If you know of anyone who'd be interested in this book, please let them know about it. I've also created a Facebook page and website to help promote the book. Also, feel free to comment on this post and let me know your thoughts!

Want to learn more? Visit the book's website at

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day 4-Miler Race Report

This morning I ran the Mother's Day 4-Miler in Reston, VA. I had never run this course before, and typically I run the Angel Kisses 5K on Mother's Day, but that race no longer exists. Ideally, I would have had a few more weeks to recover from the Boston Marathon and get some speed workouts in before racing again, but my coach told me it was okay to race this anyway.
2015 Washington Running Report Rankings

In 2015, Washington Running Report ranked me #6 for women ages 30-39. That happened unintentionally, and so I looked into what I needed to do to qualify for rankings this year. There's a list of ranked races and runners need to participate in at least six of them-- with three of them being before June 30, and 3 being after. They're all local races, and the 5K that I ran in February was not on the list, leaving me with zero ranked races. So, I chose three of those races to run in the first half of the year, the first of which was today's 4-miler.

I had not done any speed workouts since Boston, except for 13 x 30-second strides the Tuesday before the race. That workout got my legs moving quickly again, but they still felt a lingering tiredness from the marathon. I wasn't sure what to expect from the 4-miler. On one hand, I was in the best shape of my life on April 18. On the other hand, I hadn't really don't anything since then to preserve it. Also, I wasn't sure if my legs would be ready to race, particularly on a hilly course.

Pacing Strategy and Goal
I think I run my best when I have a ballpark idea of the paces I want to run for each part of the course. Even though I had never run this race before, I had done my homework and I knew that the first mile was the toughest. It was a net gain of 70 feet, with one of the hills being a 100 ft climb. I knew that the first mile would be the slowest of the race, and I determined I would push hard, and rely on my endurance to still have energy for the rest of the race.

As for a pace target, I looked to the last 4 miles of the Shamrock Half Marathon because those are the fastest consecutive four miles I have ever run: 7:01, 6:58. 7:02, 6:56. So I set my sights on sub-28:00, which would be a PR. My "official" 4-miler PR had been 30:08, set in 82-degree weather last
Mile 1
summer. It may sound like a soft goal to run a 4-mile race at faster than half marathon pace, BUT given that it was much cooler and flatter at Sharmcok with a tailwind during those final miles (and I hadn't just taken three weeks off to recover from a marathon), I thought that it was a challenging but realistic goal.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived about 40 minutes before the start of the race and warmed up with our friend Allison. I ran into a bunch of people that I knew, which made it more exciting. The sky was partly cloudy so I decided against wearing my sunglasses. It was humid, and about 56 degrees at the start. Given that it's May 8, that's pretty good! My previous Mother's Day races have always been warmer, with last year's race being close to 70. Greg, Allison, and I lined up close to the front and before we knew it, we were off!

Mile 1: 7:04
I originally estimated that this would be a 7:10 mile, but Greg was running very close behind me, so I wanted to keep the effort level up. I just told myself I was still really fit and even though I was expending a lot of effort to get up the 100 ft climb at this pace, that once I hit the downhills, it wouldn't be as much of a strain.

Mile 2: 6:54
Greg was still nipping at my heels. I could hear him breathing, and I really wanted to keep ahead of
him! I'm not competitive with him, but I still didn't want him getting ahead of me. Partially because I knew I had the fitness level to run at his pace. This mile had some gentle rollers, but was fairly flat for the most part. I continued to push really hard, and expected my pace to be a bit faster, given the flatness, but it wasn't happening.

Mile 2, photo by Cheryl Young

Mile 3: 7:04
Shortly after the mile two mark, Greg passed me. It was a strong move, and he quickly put about 5 seconds in between us. By that point, I was kind of just hanging on and hoping I could keep him in my sight! This mile was comprised with a large downhill, followed by an equally large uphill. According to my Strava data, it was a net downhill mile, but it certainly did not feel like it! I flew on the downhill, but afterward, my legs just didn't want to run uphill anymore. By the end of the mile, Greg was still about 5 seconds ahead of me, which made me feel like I was still running strong.

Mile 4: 6:44
Boston logo on shorts! Photo by Cheryl Young

Note: All of my mile splits end in "4" which is cute for a 4-mile race! I knew that this mile featured a nice long downhill to make up for the first hill we ran. I was desperately looking forward to it. After a small uphill, it came, and I flew! Up until that point, I was just barely on track for my sub-28:00 goal and I wanted a stronger margin on it. Greg was still ahead of me, but it didn't look like he had widened the gap. I gave it everything I had in me and turned the final corner to finish.

Official time: 27:51

Goal attained! I ended up taking second place in my age group, and it was definitely a competitive field. Greg ended up finishing in 27:43, which was 4th place in his age group. I'm happy to see him running so strong after his ankle break last year. It's great that we can finally train together again.

I was really pleased with how this went, mainly because I felt strong throughout. I ran about the time I expected and executed mainly according to plan, and my post-Boston legs held out through the end. They were screaming at me afterward, however.

Overall, this was a great experience! I saw many of my friends at this race, I checked off the first of my "qualifying" races to be ranked, and I met my goal of sub-28:00 on a hilly course. And it's always nice to get an age group award too!

New Boston Marathon shorts are a perfect match for the racing singlet!