Sunday, September 10, 2017

Parks Half Marathon: Race/Workout/Experience/Lesson

Written on Saturday, September 9th
This morning I woke up prepared to run my scheduled 18-mile training run. I looked at my weather app to confirm that yes, the weather was in fact nearly perfect for running. And tomorrow morning was forecast to be even cooler. I then looked at next weekend, when I'm scheduled to run the Navy-Air Force half marathon. Even though it was eight days out and not to be trusted, it was forecast to be warm and humid. UGH.

When I registered for the Navy Air-Force race I knew there would be a good chance of it being warm and humid as it's in the middle of September. But I also thought I would be acclimated. However, over the past two weeks I think I have lost a fair amount of my heat acclimation. It's been in the 50's or low 60's most mornings, with low humidity. This has been a nice treat, but it's not great for staying acclimated to warmer weather.

I started to wonder if it would be possible for me to run my half tomorrow instead of next Sunday. It wasn't long before I realized that the local Parks Half Marathon was scheduled to run tomorrow, with a 6:45 start time. I'd heard great things about this race over the years but I had never done it because it fell so early in the season. It turned out they still had a "handful" of bibs left, but I would need to go to the packet pickup (a 40-minute drive) to register in person.

I emailed my coach (who's on Pacific time) and decided I would run 30 minutes easy this morning and await his reply. If he told me no, I would do the 18 tomorrow. If he told me yes, I would do the half. He texted me and essentially told me it was up to me. The obvious benefit of waiting until next weekend was that he had planned a taper, with easy running only from Wednesday-Saturday, so my legs would be fresh and ready to race.

Thursday: 10 x 1000m w/200m recovery jogs
As it was, I had just run 10 x 1000m at on the track on Thursday, so my legs would likely still be fatigued from that effort. I ran the the workout at my current 10K PR pace (6:44) for an entire 10K, but with 200m recoveries in between. Sounds like a grueling workout, but it didn't really get hard until the last 3 intervals, and I was able to speed up during those. This leads me to believe I am probably in better shape than when I ran that 10K PR.

We went back and forth and he told me to choose the option that would give me the biggest mental boost. If I were to run the half tomorrow, I would have to realize that my legs will not be 100% and I shouldn't expect a particularly fast time, but rather focus on running a hard effort.

This was such a tough decision. I had also previously consulted Greg, Rochelle, and Hannah. Greg told me to go for it if I wanted, but he was sticking with our original plan. Rochelle said she typically favors sticking to the plan, but low 50's with a 6:45am start was pretty attractive. If I did it, I would just have to realize that my legs would be tired. Hannah advised me to stick to the plan because the potentially humid run would make me stronger. She also reminded me that the marathon was what was most important, and my plan was designed to optimize for that.

Lots of opinions, but after going back and forth with my coach, I gained some clarity. Finally, it all solidified in my mind. I could either run a half on tired legs in pleasant racing conditions, or have rested legs in potentially warm/humid conditions. I chose tired legs. I've had a lot of success running hard workouts on tired legs, but that exhausted feeling I get from warm/humid running really takes it out of me and has been demoralizing in the past. For example, I PR'ed my 10K last February without having tapered, and that was a hilly course. The Parks Half Marathon should be relatively flat, with an overall (slight) elevation loss, as the course is point-to-point. So I think as long as I go into the race tomorrow with eyes wide open, realizing that my legs might me screaming at me and I might not be as fast as I would like, then it's all good. I'd prefer that over a warm race. This isn't to say I couldn't run well in a warm half, I just historically haven't done so.

But if the weather for the original Navy-Air Force half turns out to be cool, THEN I will be kicking myself! Ha. It's a gamble, really, but one I've become comfortable with ever since I picked up my bib.

I decided to write this portion of the blog now, so that my actual race experience doesn't influence my description of my original mindset. Until tomorrow!

Written today, September 10th, at 4:30am
While I thought I was confident in my decision, my sleep indicated otherwise. I lay awake most of the night, simply not able to fall asleep. I wasn't consciously worried about the race, but I must have subconsciously been. I haven't had sleep issues the night before a race in a long time. I tried not to judge myself for not being able to sleep and I tried not to think about how it would impact the race. I'd say I was about 85% successful. All in all, I would guess I got about 3 hours of sleep. Two of them from 1:30 to 3:30, and the other one at various intervals from 9:00-11:00.

It's not too late to change my mind, but I'm still going to go for it.

Written today after the race
Okay, I will fully admit that that was not the world's greatest idea! But I made the best of it and I learned the value of sticking with a plan, as my friends encouraged me to do.

We drove 40 minutes to the race site, found parking pretty easily and I began my warm up. I ran a 1-mile warmup and everything felt pretty good. My strategy was to start at a pace of around 7:10 for the first few miles, and then take it from there.

Miles 1-5
Shortly after the start
The first thing I noticed: this race was, in fact, hilly. The elevation profile made the course appear flat because of the scale and I was not prepared for a rolling course with my tired legs. I came upon the first major hill at the end of mile two and even at that early point in the race, my legs had very little to give. By the time I got to mile 5, I realized that I likely wouldn't be speeding up, but I felt like I could maintain what I was doing for awhile.

The entire course is run through parks, which meant 100% shade, but also an inability to pace with the Garmin. My splits were all over the place. I decided to start manually splitting at one point, but then I missed some mile markers, so that didn't work out either. I think I stayed at my 7:10 for the good part of these miles, so let's go with that.

Miles 6-10
I made a concerted effort to be mindful of my surroundings, to take in the scenery, and enjoy the fresh air. Weather conditions were truly ideal, and I was running in a beautiful park-- which is a huge reason why I wanted to do this race to begin with. I wanted to have an enjoyable race experience, and this race certainly delivered on that.

I was beginning to tire, but stayed strong regardless. I knew my pace was slipping but I didn't mind. The important thing was the effort. But then the 1:35 pace group passed me during the 9th mile. I had been running on the park path in pleasant solitude when I heard a group of footsteps gradually approach from behind. I knew they must be the 1:35 pace group and I tried to stay ahead of them for as long as possible, which only ended up being about a quarter of a mile. And then they all passed me one-by-one, which was definitely a mental blow. No longer could I ignore the fact that I was slowing down. But I pressed on. And then came another massive hill. They even had a name for it: high-five hill, I think. A bunch of people were out with big white hands that we were supposed to high-five. It took all the energy I had to power up the hill that I couldn't spare any to high five.

When I got to the aid station at mile marker 10, I stopped and regrouped. I suddenly realized how horrible I felt and the volunteers repeatedly asked me if I needed help. I instantly thought I should borrow someone's phone and call Greg and just shut it down. What would be the point of finishing when I was feeling so awful? But then I reminded myself that I wanted the practice of pushing through when things got tough, not giving up. So I made a comprise and decided to view this race as a 10-mile hard effort with a 3.1-mile cool down.

Miles 10-13.1
My only goal was to get to the finish time, and I will admit that I took a few short walk breaks on the hills. Loads of people were passing me, including the 1:40 pace group during the 12th mile. I tried my best to not focus on the other runners and remember that this was not my goal race but the end of a long, hard workout. And believe it or not, I was still having fun and enjoying the course.

I'm not sure what my pace was during this stretch, but I think it was probably around 8:20. And I got a little zippier during the last mile knowing it was almost over. I was elated to see Greg snapping photos of me at the end of mile 13. I made it back to him without having to call him! Small victories.

My finish time was a respectable 1:41:33, and I was really proud that I didn't give up. Especially since this race has amazing swag. We got a medal, a hat, and this bright orange towel thing that made a great nose wipe just when I needed it!

After the Race: Final Thoughts
This race was simultaneously enjoyable and painful. Even though I believe myself to be in PR shape, running isn't always about that. Sometimes it's just about getting out there and putting out a solid effort. And sometimes it's about savoring an experience. So even if I blew my shot at a PR next weekend, I'm okay with that because I got something different.

That said, if I knew how this race would play out, I would have opted for the easy 18 yesterday and the half next weekend. But hindsight is 20/20. I think I would have had a much better day if I had slept even semi-normally. I conquered my sleep demons several years ago, but I'm not perfect.

Greg put the race in perspective for me: "It's not like you did anything bad. You ran a half marathon because you wanted to." True. I wanted to run this race, and so I did.

My legs are pretty beat up right now, so I'm going to focus on foam rolling, massage, healthy eating, and hopefully sleep. I think that today was a great training stimulus for the marathon (both mentally and physically) and I'm anxious to get back into the groove of training. Total weekly mileage: 60.7.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Training: 9 Weeks to Go

All of a sudden training got really hard! My coach has begun to pack on the miles and add some long workouts into the mix. The marathon is nine weeks away and I feel like my endurance is already pretty strong, so as long as I can stay healthy then I should be in peak shape come November 4th. My
coach is excellent at having me peak at just the right time by not starting the long runs too early in the cycle and giving me a relatively short taper.

My energy level has been great during my runs and throughout the day. I've been getting plenty of sleep and good nutrition. My legs have felt tired for most of this week and I've been doing a lot of foam rolling and calf massaging. I went to the sports chiropractor about my Achilles to be proactive about the issue and to ensure that I was doing the proper calf exercises. It turns out that I should not be stretching my calf and that I was doing the wrong exercise! He showed me what I needed to do and also performed ART (Active Release Technique) to help loosen things up. I typically only feel the Achilles during the first five minutes of the run, and after I'm done with the run and it stiffens up. I almost felt a bit ridiculous seeing the sports chiropractor because when I walked into his office I was 100% pain free. So right now it's manageable and I don't want it to progress into anything worse.

We've had an abnormally cool week and I'm not complaining. Morning temperatures have been in the upper 50's and lower 60's. Rain has been the major annoyance, and it was really only a factor during the Saturday long run, when the remains of Harvey came through.

Monday: 8 miles at 8:48 average
This was a prescribed 70-minute easy run. For some reason it was slower than my typical easy run, but I didn't judge it or question it. Some days are just slower than others and I usually don't try to force any particular pace on easy days. It's just whatever feels easy.

Tuesday: 6 x 1600m (400m recovery jogs), 3 x 200m (200m recovery jogs)
I was surprised to see this workout so early in the cycle. Last time I was prescribed 7 x 1600m was two weeks before the marathon. It was raining during this workout, but at 62 degrees the rain actually felt really good and it wasn't too heavy. My splits were 6:48, 6:43, 6:43, 6:44, 6:45, 6:41, 0:42, 0:42, 0:43. I felt really strong during this workout. My legs felt powered and I had a good amount of energy. I was expecting to break 6:40 on at least one of them, but it never happened. I probably could have done it if I exerted more effort, but with 6 of them, I didn't want to push too hard too soon. I was disappointed that the last one wasn't under 6:40 but my coach told me not to worry about it because my legs are likely still adjusting to the higher mileage. Someone on Instagram commented that he thinks my half marathon pace is probably 6:45 based on this workout, but I'm not sure if I agree! I ran 12 miles total, including the warm up and cool down.

Wednesday: 7.1 miles at 8:30 average
My legs felt peppy on Wednesday, which was super encouraging after all the mile repeats from the day before.

Thursday: 11.2 miles at 8:04 average
My coach prescribed 90 minutes at a pace of around 8:00. I wasn't quite sure why, and I assumed that he wanted me to get a lot of mileage in at a decent effort, without the hard effort of a workout. I later learned that the purpose of this workout was to see how I felt at a pace of 8:00 so that I could start
running more of my easy runs at that pace. My coach says he's seen athletes make significant gains by running at the faster end of their easy range. According to the McMillan Calculator, my easy runs should be in the 7:37-8:37 range. This has always seemed fast to me, as my range tends to be more like 8:20-8:50. As I said above, I simply run what feels "easy".

So I did this workout. The first two miles were 8:58 and 8:08 because it always takes me awhile to "get into it" and then I spent the rest of the run right around 8:00. So how did it feel? Miles 1-3 felt hard. It's difficult for me to run quickly out of the gate. Miles 4-8 actually did feel easy. I ran up a hill at mile 9 and maintained the pace, which tired my legs. My legs were tired for the remainder of the run, but I still felt like I was working within my aerobic range at an easy effort level.

I believe that easy days are meant to help you recover from hard days and you shouldn't push it. But if I'm feeling good and I can run a little faster while still having it feel "easy" then I will do it. My mileage is really high right now so my legs probably won't like it all that much, but I can see running an 8:00 pace for my easy runs more often if I am not logging 60+ miles per week.

Friday: 6.8 miles at 8:53 average
Speaking of tired legs, they were tired on Friday. Knowing that I had a long run the following day with marathon pace miles, I ran this one as a recovery run.

Saturday: 17 miles with 6 at marathon pace
Harvey's rain hit the DC metro area on Saturday and this run was a soaker. Greg and I ran together for the first 10 miles and got absolutely drenched. It was only 54 degrees, which is crazy for this time of
year, and I was actually cold. The first 10 miles averaged 8:48 on a hillier-than-normal route. Then it was time for six miles at marathon pace, so I ran ahead of Greg while he maintained an easy effort for the rest of his run. 17 miles is the threshold at which I carry UCAN with me in addition to having it beforehand. So I practiced making a UCAN gel and stored it in my skirt pocket, taking it at mile 8.

The transition from easy to marathon pace was tough. I increased the effort and it felt hard, but I was still about 25 seconds slower than my goal pace. It was basically a shock to the system after spending 90 minutes running at an easy pace, to shift gears to race pace. After about 10 minutes, though, I got into the groove of marathon pace and it didn't feel as hard. The rest of the marathon pace miles felt good. I had to work hard, but I wasn't hurting or straining. I finished off with one final easy mile in 8:20.  Marathon pace miles were 7:38, 7:29, 7:23, 7:18, 7:24, 7:18. They averaged 7:25 (which was the target) and the entire 17 miles averaged 8:14.

Sunday: 3.3 miles at 9:04 average
A true recovery run after a long week!

Total mileage: 65.3

I have another hard week coming up and then I'll get a bit of a taper before my half marathon on September 17th.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

5 Recovery Tools That Work for Me

Before I begin this post, I need to knock very hard on a piece of wood. I haven't had any major injuries in over four years, so this is me officially knocking on wood that I am not jinxing myself by writing about this topic.

I often get asked about how I prevent injuries and how I've managed to avoid them for so long. My last major injury, with "major" being defined as having to miss over a week of training, was in July of 2013. I had a stress reaction in my shin and it sidelined me for about six weeks. Prior to that, my injury history was as follows:
  • December 2011: Strained/pulled calf muscle
  • January 2011: Three tibial stress fractures 
  • August 2009: Peroneal Tendonitis
  • May 2008: Patellar Tendonitis
  • January 2008: Pinched Peroneal nerve
Of course my immune system is a different story, as I have suffered from mono-like viruses twice in the past five years. I also was knocked out by a virus for over 4 weeks in the summer of 2008. But the musculoskeletal system has held up pretty well.

I am not a physical therapist, doctor, or running coach. But over the past four years, I've found the following recovery tools to be helpful in preventing injuries.

1. My Bed
I believe that sleep is the #1 factor in recovering from training runs. Without enough of it (or without high quality sleep) your body doesn't have the opportunity to recover from hard workouts, so you end up feeling fatigued when you do your next workout. And the cumulative effects of this can cause injury. Not coincidentally, I stopped getting injured at the precise time that I had my mental breakthrough in sports psychology. 

Prior to the summer of 2013, I suffered from insomnia. It was difficult for me to sleep straight through the night and my sleep was not restful. I would wake up in the middle of the night and my mind would race with all kinds of random thoughts. So despite my best efforts of falling asleep early and allowing 8+ hours of sleep time, I rarely got a truly restful night of sleep. That all changed once I learned to have a more relaxed mindset. None of the remaining items on this list compare to the importance of sleep, as I believe sleep is the foundation of staying healthy.

2. Massage Therapy
When I'm training for a marathon, I typically get a professional massage once every 2-3 weeks, for 75 minutes at a time. I'll go once a month if my training load is lighter. Yes, this is expensive, but it's cheaper than having to go to physical therapy for an injury and it's also enjoyable. My massage therapist is excellent at helping the muscles relax without inducing pain. So not only do my muscles enjoy it, but it's a great way to wind down from a busy week of running, going to work, and doing lots of other things.

3. Salonpas Patches
Whenever something starts to ache or feels particularly tight, I apply a Salonpas patch. I absolutely LOVE these things. They're basically small rectangular patches that stick to you and stimulate blood flow to the area. I've been using them for about ten years and I truly believe they help in recovery. Greg was skeptical at first and thought that they were just designed to make the area feel good, but I think I've converted him into being a believer as well. I particularly like sleeping with them as I find them to be relaxing. I sometimes wear them to work, even though other people can smell the chemicals in the patches. I have a weak sense of smell so I never smell them on me. 

Over the past six weeks I've been experiencing some tenderness and stiffness in my Achilles tendons. On the nights when I sleep with the patches on, the tendons feel great in the morning. Just saying! They're also great post marathon, and I think I was wearing up to four at a time after Boston last year.

4. Protein Smoothies
After my hard workouts, I typically drink a Naked smoothie boosted with protein. I love these drinks because they don't take any time to make-- I just grab one out of the refrigerator post run. One smoothie has 420 calories and 30 grams of protein so it's an easy way to replenish the calories and give my muscles the protein they need to recover. I've noticed, however, that they are becoming more and more scarce at the grocery store so I wonder if they will soon be discontinued. They have already stopped making the "green" flavor, which is a shame. Another quick post-run snack is cottage cheese, which is protein-packed and also takes no work to prepare. In the mornings, I am all about convenience. 

5. The Foam Roller
No recovery post would be complete without mentioning the foam roller. I primarily use this on my quads, hips and IT bands. I use it regularly so usually it's not painful. However, if I am recovering from a particularly hard race or workout, then I've been known to scream while foam rolling. If I wake up and my muscles feel tight, I will foam roll before running. Usually I foam roll for about 3-4 minutes at a time, which I think is shorter than what most people do. But I don't seem to need any more than that.

In additional to using all of these recovery tools, I also do preventative hip strengthening exercises and calf strengthening exercises. In the past, I have struggled with an achy hip when the mileage increases above 55 miles per week. But doing the hip exercises three times a week has left me pain-free for years now. My left hip is the trouble maker, and it can flare up if I make too many left turns. This is why I run on the track "backwards" or clockwise. 

Training Update
I'll finish off with a quick training update. After the race last Sunday, I made up for the missed long run by running 14 miles easy on Tuesday of this week. My legs felt surprisingly good for having raced a 5K on Sunday, and I was able to pick up the pace a bit during the last three miles. 

Saturday, August 26th
On Wednesday, I ran easy for 60 minutes. On Thursday, I did a hill workout that I had never done before: 3 x 10 minutes of continuous hills at 10K effort. I ran up a hill that was about 40 feet in elevation gain over the course of 75 seconds at 10K effort, and then ran back down the hill at a slightly faster pace to keep the heart rate up. I did this for 10 minutes at a time, with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. Each segment was long enough for almost four full ascents. 

Friday was another easy 60 minutes and Saturday was my first "longer" run of the cycle at 16 miles. Greg and I drove to the W&OD trail and ran together. We were treated with low-humidity and temperatures in the low 60's, so the run felt amazing. The W&OD trail (paved trail) is a hillier route than my normal neighborhood running options, so it was a confidence booster to run strong on it.

Total mileage for the week: 61.4

The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is in 10 weeks, and I feel like I have a solid foundation for a strong training cycle.

Finally, as I mentioned in a previous post, I was interviewed for Coach Jenny's podcast while I was on the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. You can listen here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Leesburg 5K: Coming back for more

This morning I ran the Leesburg 5K. Even though I had raced plenty of 5Ks this summer, I was still craving another one. I think I still have some work to do in terms of finding the right pacing strategy for me, and really dialing into 5K race effort. Plus, I knew a lot of my friends would be running the corresponding 20K and I thought it would be fun to cheer for them after I finished.

I'm in the process of transitioning my training from the 5K to the marathon. The Firecracker 5K was my most recent 5K, and after that I took some down time. Then I went on the running cruise, and then I got sick. Now I am building a base for marathon training, which means a slight increase in weekly mileage and a good bit of hill work. I haven't done any marathon-specific workouts yet, and I also haven't done any 5K-specific workouts in over six weeks. I guess you might consider my half marathon at marathon pace in Alaska to be a marathon specific workout, but I still have not begun high-mileage weeks with marathon focused workouts.

Thus, I did not know what to expect in terms of my 5K fitness. I went into the race with a framework of a strategy, but no specific time goal. I was actually more focused on my placement, because I wanted to win =PR= race series points. You win points for placing in the top 10 of your gender, as well as for placing in your age group. I also hadn't run this race in the past, so I had no benchmark. It used to be a 10K, and I ran that in 2009. But I had no recent memory of this race.

Before the Race
As I mentioned above, this race also offers a 20K option. That distance would have been more appropriate for marathon training, but I have sworn off long distance races that I know are going to be hot. It's one thing if a race I'm registered for happens to be unseasonably warm, but I don't choose to knowingly subject myself to the torture of a long distance race in the heat. I've had problems in the past with seeing black spots and feeling confused/dizzy afterwards, so I leave long distance racing to
the cooler months.

The majority of my friends were running the 20K, and Greg was running it as a workout. I advised that he run the first 30 minutes easy, the next 30 minutes medium, and the rest of the race hard.

Greg and I arrived at the race, got our bibs, and headed for the porta potties. At this point, I think most of my friends were already warming up for the 20K, which started 18 minutes earlier than the 5K. Yes, the official start time of the 5K was 7:48. Very precise! I warmed up on my own, and as I was on my way back I saw the 20K runners coming down the road. I cheered for my friends and for Greg, and then went into a nearby coffee shop to go to the bathroom one last time.

It was in the upper 60's, sunny, with about 90% humidity. This was relatively decent weather compared to the very humid weather we've been having lately. On Friday morning, it had been 79 degrees with 98% humidity at 7:30am. All in all, I couldn't complain.

It wasn't long before they were calling the 5K runners to the start line. I scoped out the competition and I knew at least two of the women would beat me. It was hard to tell with the others since I didn't know who they were.

Mile 1
The race started on a downhill that lasted just under 0.1 mile. Of course this brought everyone out way too fast, and I noticed I was running a 6:11 pace early on, so I dialed it back. The rest of the first
Moments after the start
mile was uphill. Since I was more focused on my placement than my finish time, I counted the number of women ahead of me. It seemed like there were about 10 of them, and I was the 11th.

As I powered up the hill I focused on my form and staying relaxed. I didn't want to go out too hard like I did at the Firecracker 5K and have nothing left for the end, so I gave a strong effort without going all out. I wanted to have gas in the tank for the last mile, which I knew would be all downhill. There was no shade and the sun was getting higher in the sky. I felt okay, but not as peppy as I have felt in previous 5Ks. It became clear that I wasn't used to running at this effort level because I simply didn't have the power that I had earlier in the season.

I didn't judge it though, and I focused on picking off the runners who had gone out really fast. By the time I reached the first mile marker, I had passed four of them, which would have made me 7th. My split was 6:52, which was a bit cringe-worthy, considering my 10K PR pace is around 6:43. I also had run the first bit pretty quickly down the hill, which meant I was running up the hill even slower than a 6:52 pace. But once again, I didn't judge it, I just kept on going.

Mile 2
There were lots of twists and turns in mile 2, which I knew to expect from the course map. I had to really focus on where I was going because now there were 20K runners around and I didn't want to miss the 5K turn off because I was following the 20K'ers. There was a split second when I wasn't sure which way to turn, so I said to the volunteer "5K?" and he pointed me in the right direction. I instantly recalled all the blogs I had read where runners made a wrong turn and screwed up their race. But those thoughts passed once I was certain I was following the correct course.

I passed another woman at some point during the first half of this mile, which helped boost my confidence. From the elevation profile, this mile is a net 5 ft decrease in elevation, but it felt mainly up hill, at least in the beginning and all the twists and turns made it even more challenging to dial in a strong and steady pace. My split was 6:49, which still seemed really slow given the effort level I was exerting, but I tried to keep positive by reminding myself that it was faster than the first mile.

Mile 3
Finally! I knew this was a fast downhill mile and parts of it were even shaded! We ran on the W&OD trail (paved trail) and while it was still mostly sunny for that last mile, it felt amazing when the shaded portions came. I began to close the gap with the next woman ahead of me. I decided to really
Running for the finish line
surge when I passed her so that she wouldn't attempt to stick with me. I had lost track of counting the women and was focused on gunning as hard as I could. Finally I felt good and I felt like I was really racing. I just wish I would have been able to go that hard earlier on. When I run downhill, I feel like I am in control of the pace and I can run harder and go faster. This is not the case for running uphill.

The trail portion finished and we were back on the road by the time we got to mile marker 3. My split was 6:25. Yes! Now all that was left was that original hill that we ran down for the first 0.1. It definitely was cruel to put such a hill immediately before finish, but I was really motivated to give it all that I had, and was pleased to run a 6:31 pace up the hill. I crossed the finish line and the announcer called out my name. I was relieved that the race was over.

After the Race
After catching my breath and getting some water, I met up with one of my friends, Kathy, who had run the 5K. Before the race, we had planned to do our cool down together. The results were already posted and I was excited to see that I had won first place in my age group, and was the 5th overall female. This would equate to lots of points for the =PR= race series! My placement made up for what I considered to be a mediocre (for me) finish time of 21:18.

Kathy had also won her age group, so we were both pleased. We cooled down for two miles and then I retrieved my bag and cell phone so I could take photos of the 20K finishers. Unfortunately, the 5K age group awards were being given away at the same time my friends were finishing the 20K. I prioritized cheering for them instead of getting my award. I knew I could always pick it up later. It was really exciting to see them come through looking strong and working hard. Hannah set a 4-minute PR and Greg executed his workout exactly as prescribed.

Once everyone was finished, I retrieved my award, which was a cowbell and a gift certificate to Potomac River Running. And then we waited for the 20K awards to be presented. Finally, it was time for brunch. I indulged by having a latte, lemonade, fries, a chicken sandwich, and ice cream!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I have mixed feelings about this race, but my overall sentiment is that I got a solid workout in, earned a nice allotment of race series points (and a cowbell), and had a fun morning with my friends.

I did feel somewhat stale at the beginning and I was surprised that my paces weren't faster during the first two miles. My finish time was 2 seconds slower than the Firecracker 5K, which was a little disappointing. I think I was in better 5K shape for Firecracker, but given the lower humidity in today's race, and the fact that I didn't execute Firecracker well, I thought I'd at least be able to break 21:00. It's hard to say which course is more challenging, as they both have their share of hills. But as I said earlier, I didn't have any experience with this course whereas I had run the Firecracker course many times in the past.

I was encouraged by my speed during the last mile, and I think my stamina is pretty solid right now. I feel prepared to start tackling 60+ mile weeks, which will start in the very near future.

Hannah and I with our age group awards: cowbells!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Marathon Training: Back at it

Things have (somewhat) returned to normal after having returned from the Alaskan running cruise. I spent most of the week dealing with lingering symptoms from the virus I picked up while traveling. I was well enough to run, but I was still coughing quite a bit, and on Thursday morning I woke up with
half of my face swollen. Greg fell victim to the virus on the flight home with a sore throat, and he was knocked out for a few days with the same fatigue and chills that I experienced early on.

It seemed that I had brought the Alaska weather home with me for the first few days back. But then the DC humidity came back with a vengeance midweek. On the one hand, I do want to stay acclimated to the weather because my upcoming races are likely to be hot and humid. On the other hand, its just so much nicer to be running in lower humidity.

Monday: 5.8 miles @ 8:37 average
I was relieved to see that I only had a 50-minute run on the schedule. I woke up with the area under my tongue very red and swollen and the back of my mouth was burning. Energy wise, I felt fine, so I did the run, but I was glad it was relatively short. Afterward, I went to the doctor to make sure my swollen tongue thing wasn't an infection. The doctor said that this wasn't abnormal with the virus I had caught. She told me that this was a 10-day bug (I was on day six), and the cough would likely last for 2-3 weeks. Lovely!

Tuesday: 8 x 75-second hill repeats
I told myself I would attempt this workout and if I felt bad during it, I would cut it off. Thankfully the humidity was still low and the temperature was 66. Definitely manageable. My coach told me to run these at 5K effort, and typically I end up running them closer to 5K pace. On Tuesday, I was very disciplined about running by effort and not pace. In fact, on the first one, I ran what felt like half marathon effort. And then 10K effort on the second one. And then for the final six I was at my 5K effort. I made it through and I actually felt decent, given I was still fighting off the illness. The hill was about 35 feet of elevation gain over 75 seconds, and I used the jog back down as recovery. With warm up and cool down, I logged a total of 6.6 miles.

Wednesday: 7.1 miles @ 8:29 average
Wednesday was the first day I felt good. My throat/mouth no longer hurt and I felt like I had returned to 100% energy. This happened just in time for the heat and humidity to come back. 8:29 is a little bit too zippy for an easy run in warm weather, but I was happy to be feeling energized, so I went with it.

Thursday: 10-mile progression run @ 7:54 average
This run was not pretty. I woke up with the right side of my face swollen and painful. It was as if
someone had removed my wisdom teeth while I slept. I did my run anyway, but I was torn between
pushing hard and not wanting to make myself sick given the state of my mouth/face. I later researched it and it seemed like it was a swollen parotid gland. This was likely caused by having used so many antihistamines and also dehydration- since I had been having severe night sweats all week (another fun symptom).

Anyway, the workout called for 30 minutes easy, 30 minutes medium, 30 minutes hard. I've done this workout about 3-4 times in the past and I've always executed it well. But on Thursday I think I underestimated the humidity so I was not able to complete it. I ran the first 30 minutes at 8:34, and the second 30 minutes at 7:41. This felt like "medium" effort when I started, but as the half hour went on, it started to feel more like hard effort. I began the hard portion and I wasn't able to speed up as much as I typically have in the past. My pace was 7:19 and I cut it off after 19 minutes (when I reached 10 miles) instead of the full 30. Back in January, I had run 11.6 miles at an average pace of 7:42 during this workout. But I guess I can't compare summer weather to winter weather. Humidity is tricky. It doesn't feel that bad when you start out, but it hits you like a ton of bricks later on.

Friday: 7.1 miles @ 8:28 average
Just like Wednesday's easy run, this was perhaps a tad too fast. But the pace felt easy and I was really enjoying it. I think once the miles really start to pack on I will need to be better about slowing these easy runs down. The swelling on the right side of my face had gone down, although it was still tender, so I decided not to go to the doctor again.

Saturday: 14 miles @ 8:32 average
This was a pretty typical long run. Greg and I ran together for the first hour (8:42 pace) but then he decided that he wanted to slow it down a bit, and I wanted to do more of a progression, so we parted
ways. He is about 4 days behind me with the illness, so I totally understand him wanting to keep it really easy. I ran the second hour at a pace of 8:22 and everything felt pretty good. I felt myself getting pretty tired around miles 9-11, but then I pepped up for the last three. Amazing how you can go through "rough patches" in a long run and if you wait it out you can suddenly just feel better. That's important to remember during races too. You can feel awful, and let that get into your head. Or you can feel awful and tell yourself that things will likely turn around if you stick with it.

Sunday: 3.5 miles @ 8:41 average
I polished off the week with a recovery run this morning. The humidity was lower than normal, so this run felt really nice.

Total mileage: 54.1
Based on my upcoming training schedule, I think I will probably stay in the mid 50's throughout the rest of August, and then really start to ramp things up in September. The marathon is on November 4th, so I have 13 more weeks of training ahead of me.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Running in Stanley Park, Vancouver

The trail run in Ketchikan, Alaska was the last official event of the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. The cruise ship was "at sea" the following day (Thursday) with no stops or excursions.

The cruise winds down
Just as these running events were winding down, my body decided it was a good time to get sick. It all started with a mild sore throat on Tuesday evening but after finishing the trail run and getting back onto the ship, I began to experience all the traditional cold symptoms: cough, sore throat, pressure behind the ears, and waves of being hot or cold. Thankfully, the ship had a medical station which was well stocked with cold meds.

Because of my previous experiences with mono, I take illness seriously and I'm very careful not to overdo it. I assume I got sick because of the time zone change, lack of sleep, being on an airplane, the movement of the ship, and participating in several strenuous running events. Taking Thursday off was a no-brainer, especially since it would have meant running around the cruise ship deck again, which wasn't exactly the most fun thing in the world. My marathon isn't until November, so I'd rather take a little bit of time off now than regret it down the line.

This running cruise was an incredible experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys running, traveling, and meeting new people. Everything was extremely well organized by our hosts Jenny Hadfield and John "The Penguin" Bingham. There were no surprises and we knew exactly what to expect. Greg and I really enjoyed meeting other runners from around the world. Most people were from the U.S. and Canada and had run numerous races all over the country.

The cruise ship, named The Radiance of the Seas, is one of the older Royal Caribbean boats, and while it was nice, it didn't impress me nearly as much as the ship from our 2010 Royal Caribbean cruise, or the Viking River cruise. The food was mediocre, which kept us from overeating, but the room was relatively comfortable, given its small size. For a trip like this, the cruise ship's main purpose is transportation, lodging, a viewpoint for the Alaskan scenery.

View from the cruise ship as we sailed from Alaska into Canada

So what did we do on Thursday with no port stops? Jenny Hadfield invited me to be a guest on her podcast! She had her equipment with her, so we found a quiet area of the ship and recorded it. We mainly talked about my book and all the struggles I went through to qualify for Boston. After the podcast was over, we chatted for awhile longer about running, careers, and life in general. I really connected with her and it seemed like we had a lot in common. The podcast should be live within the next week or so.

The ship arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia early Friday morning. Greg and I made our way to our downtown hotel and checked in. Our hotel suite felt like a mansion in comparison to our ship stateroom. Physically I felt better than I had on Thursday, but I was still coughing, experiencing bouts of hot and cold, and my nose was running more than I usually do! Once again, it was a no-brainer to take another day off from running. I was thankful that the illness held off until all of the official events were complete, and now it was time to focus on enjoying Vancouver and relaxing.

The weather was ideal for walking around: 70 degrees and sunny with no humidity. One of the best things about this vacation was being able to escape the Washington, DC heat and humidity in late July. We walked from our hotel to Granville Island, which earned me about 12,000 steps on my FitBit. I love exploring new places, especially when the weather is nice and there are so many beautiful and interesting things to see.

Vancouver, BC
We had lunch there and walked around the Granville Island Public Market, which is a massive food hall filled with fresh foods. The fruits and vegetables looked incredible, but of course we ended up with the fresh doughnuts! We took a cab back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and napping until it was time for dinner. We had dinner at the Water St. Cafe, and the seafood was unlike anything we typically get back home. I had a halibut dish, and Greg had sockeye salmon.

Stanley Park Running
Our flight on Saturday wasn't until 12:45 in the afternoon, so we had time to run through Stanley Park. I had a two-hour long run on the schedule, but I still wasn't feeling all that great. That said, there was no way I was missing out on this run. I had heard amazing things about running in Vancouver and it was one of the things I had been most looking forward to. I decided I would go out and see how it felt. If I felt horrible, I could always turn around and come back. I figured that two full hours was probably not realistic, but hopefully I could manage at least 5-6 miles.

We had to take a five-minute walk through the city to get to the water where the path started. One of the coolest things about running in Stanley park is that there is a dedicated path for runners and walkers, and a separate path for bikers. And no cars allowed!

When we started, it was about 58 degrees and sunny. I can't even describe the views, so I'll let the photos do the talking:

This run was amazing and I was thankful to be healthy enough to enjoy it. I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have if I hadn't been sick, but you take what you can get. We decided to turn around after 4.5 miles, making it a 9-mile run. I figured that was plenty long, and we were able to see over half of the park. We kept the pace easy and stopped several times to take photos and videos.

After we finished, it was time for the long journey home. We had a direct flight and we were back in our house by 9:30pm eastern time.

Today I am feeling pretty good except for some pressure behind my ears and some mild dizziness. Greg is also feeling dizzy, and we think it could have something to do with the flight and time zone change. I was able to get out for 6.5 miles this morning, and it felt decent. I ended up logging 31.8 miles this week, which is really low for me. But given that I was sick and on vacation, it's actually a decent amount. Hopefully I'll wake up feeling 100% tomorrow morning and ready to resume normal training and life!

For more information about the Great Alaskan Running Cruise and other running cruises visit

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trail Running in Ketchikan, Alaska

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I am not a fan of trail running. I detest bugs, I'm paranoid about falling or twisting an ankle, and I'd rather be chasing my road racing goals. But this trail run in Ketchikan, Alaska was an exception.

Icy Strait Point
Running in Hoonah, Alaska
The day before arriving in Ketchikan, we stopped at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, Alaska. There were no planned running events, but Greg and I decided we would run along the water anyway. There was a 1.5-mile long path along the water with breathtaking views of the mountains. At 55 degrees and overcast, this was an incredible run. The fresh air, the scenery, and just being able to take it all in. Our legs were tired from the Juneau Half marathon followed by the Skagway run, so we just took it easy and ran 4.5 miles at a relaxed pace. Exploring new places to run is one of my favorite things to do. And I love running near water.

After our morning run, we got showered and returned to the town for fresh Alaskan crab legs. What a treat! Next up was our whale watching excursion. A tour guide took us out on a boat to a humpback whale feeding area, where we were guaranteed to see whales (or get our money back!). When the boat stopped, we hung out in the area for awhile without seeing any whales. But finally, a whale decided to make an appearance. It was very cool. These things are 40 feet in length and eat about a ton of food per day. We saw the whale come out of the water multiple times and show its tail. I took some video of it, but I don't have any photos. I also really liked being out on the boat surrounded by the mountains, breathing in the fresh air.

Whale watching excursion
Ketchikan Trail Run
On Wednesday, it was time for our final running event of the cruise: the trail run in the Tongass National Forest. We could choose to run a 5K or a 10K I had decided before the cruise to do the 5K-- enough to experience it, but minimizing the amount of time I had to spend on the trail. However, our cruise director Jenny Hadfield convinced me that the trail wasn't very technical and I would really enjoy the course. She said it was one of her most favorite places to run in the entire world! Greg wanted to do the 10K, so I bit the bullet and decided to go for it.

Finishing the lake loop
This was not a timed race; the objective was simply to go out an enjoy the trail. It also wasn't measured as exactly 10K. Jenny told us to expect about 7 miles. When we arrived at the lake, it was raining lightly and I debated if I should wear my light rain jacket. But a few minutes before the start, the rain stopped so I took the jacket off.

I spent the first mile getting used to running on the surface. I immediately realized that I liked it. It wasn't at all like the (few) trails I had run on back home. It was much more groomed. The first mile or so was around a lake. It was difficult to pass people because the trail was narrow in many parts, which forced us to keep our pace slow.

It wasn't long before Greg and I found our groove and started cruising along. We passed a few runners and I was having so much fun that I decided to up the effort a bit. And then came the massive hills. One of them was a 200ft climb over the course of a mile. And the downhills were tricky too because they were steep and we had to watch our footing in some of the areas. The trail was marked with arrows and it was pretty easy to follow. There was even an aid station!

Greg and I caught up to another runner who was going at about our pace, and we let him set the pace for the last two miles. He was running really strong, particularly on the hills, and every time we got to the top of a hill I would say something like "nice job".  Greg and I were definitely putting out a solid effort on the hills, but we were careful not to fly down them as fast as we would on the road.

All of a sudden we were at the finish. My Garmin only clocked 6 miles instead of the expected 7, and Greg's Garmin actually got pretty close to 6.2. Everyone cheered for us as we ran into the finish.

When we finished, we received a finisher's medal for all four events: the Moosehead 5K fun run, the Glacier Half Marathon, the Skagway Amazing Race, and this Rainforest Trail run.

Ketchikan, Alaska

With our finisher's medals
Here are our splits:

Mile 1: 10:05 (+14 ft)
Mile 2: 9:43 (+ 42 ft)
Mile 3: 9:25 (+119 ft)
Mile 4: 8:59 (+171 ft)
Mile 5: 8:50 (-172 ft)
Mile 6: 8:20 (-194 ft)

We then enjoyed beer and a "salmon bake" with salmon wraps. It was really exciting to watch the runners finish. We totally lucked out with the weather too. It's a rainforest and we barely got any rain!

All in all, I had much more fun than expected. I was actually a little scared about this run just because I'm really not used to trails. But the trail ended up being easy to run on and I felt like I got an excellent workout on the hills. Coincidentally, I'm in the "hill phase" of my marathon training cycle, and I'll be running hill workouts for the next three weeks.

All of the official running events are now complete and our next stop is Vancouver, Canada. I plan to write my final post on the flight home.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise: Skagway Scavenger Hunt

After running the half marathon in Juneau as part of the Great Alaskan Running Cruise, Greg and I quickly showered and were off on our next adventure. For lunch, we had fish and chips at a little shack on the waterfront. We then proceeded to take a bus out to a park which offered spectacular views of the Mendenhall Glacier.

The Mendenhall Glacier
After having run over 13 miles at a solid clip, it felt good to keep the legs moving on a scenic walk down to Nugget Falls. At this point, my FitBit had logged over 30,000 steps for the day. As with the Hubbard Glacier, words can't do Nugget Falls and the Mendenhall Glacier justice, so here are some photos of the area.

Nugget Falls

Mendenhall Glacier
We walked back to the shuttle bus area, took the bus back to downtown Juneau and then had dinner and beers at a brewhouse on the waterfront. It was a great ending to a day filled with excitement and experiences that we will remember for a lifetime.

In terms of running, I had just completed my first "official" week of marathon training with 54.5 miles. The fact that I was able to run that half marathon workout so quickly without any kind of taper or rest beforehand was encouraging. I'm very excited to kick off a new training cycle!

The Skagway Amazing Race
The next morning, we arrived in Skagway for our next running event. The Skagway Amazing Race was described as a 4-mile navigational run through the town of Skagway. In reality, it was a one-hour photo scavenger hunt to find as many of the named landmarks as possible and take selfies at them.

At the pre-race briefing, we received a list of landmarks, valued at 1, 2, 3, or 5 points. There was one landmark that was worth 5 points, and it was the farthest away. The race had a 1-hour time limit, and even if you arrived just a few seconds late, you were disqualified. Greg and I decided to be ambitious and go for the 5-point landmark, and then hit the others on our way back.

The town of Skagway was very quaint and fun to run through. We ran down Main street, crossed a bridge, and then headed for a scenic viewpoint that was worth 5 points. As we got closer, we realized that the landmark was still a full mile away, and we had already run over 2 miles. This meant that we probably wouldn't get there and make it back in time unless we ran quickly, and at that-- we would miss all the other landmarks. So we had a decision to make, continue on and hit the viewpoint, or turn around and get as many of the lower-point landmarks as possible. We thought it would be more fun to go for the landmarks, so we did. When we turned around, we saw other runners going for the far-out landmark, and we think the decided to turn around too. The map wasn't drawn to scale, so we had no way of knowing it was as far as it actually was.

Eagles Hall, the mandatory landmark in the Skagway Amazing Race
We visited a graveyard, a school, a church, and some other landmarks in the short amount of time we had left. There was even one mandatory landmark, which was the last one we hit.

We realized that we were running short on time, and we would have to book it to get back before our one-hour limit. Greg picked up the pace and I followed. I really didn't want to be running faster than an 8:30 pace, but given the fear of being disqualified, I found myself running close to an 8:00 mile at the end. Finally we came upon a cruise ship just as the one-hour mark hit. And. . . it wasn't our cruise ship! Oops! We had gone the wrong way. So, we realized we were disqualified. A few other teams had followed us to this ship and we all admitted defeat and walked back to the actual ship. All in all, we ended up running just over six miles.

Trying to make it back in time!

After the Skagway Amazing Race

The White Pass Scenic Railway
After the run was over, we showered and got ready for our next excursion. We had originally debated between horseback riding and the scenic railway, but had settled on the scenic railway. We were so tired that we knew we had made the right decision with the more relaxing excursion. All we needed to do was board a train and view the scenery.

I was so tired that I actually napped for about 20 minutes on the way up! But we saw the same exact views on the way back down the mountain, so I didn't miss out on anything. This train took us up the White Pass trail, which is over 3,000 feet in elevation. We saw beautiful views of rivers, waterfalls, forests and mountains along the way. The tour guide gave us a complete history of the area. It's amazing how many people died in this area while searching for gold.

View of the train from the train

Greg and me on the White Pass Scenic Railway
The train ride took over three hours and when it was over, I was looking forward to boarding the cruise ship and relaxing. I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone visiting Skagway. The landscape is truly breathtaking and there is a lot of interesting history there.

So far, this running cruise has been absolutely incredible. The weather has been ideal for running (overcast and mid 50's) and the scenery is amazing. We've met runners from all over the world, each with their own story. And the cruise is only half over! More blog posts to come.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alaska Half Marathon: A Run to Remember

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise has officially set sail! This vacation has been amazing in so many ways.

Cruise Ship Running
On Saturday, the ship was at sea all day long. I woke up feeling dizzy and I realized that the boat was rocking quite a bit-- more so than previous cruise ships I had been on. Nonetheless, Greg and I started off the day by running on the ship's deck. The ship has a running/walking track with 6.3 laps equaling one mile. My coach had prescribed a 45-minute easy run, so that's what we did. The boat was noticeably moving the entire time and it was not easy to adjust to. In fact, my Garmin logged over 1,000 feet of elevation change! It was a beautiful morning and we were able to watch the sunrise, and so the awkwardness was worth it. 

Because our bodies were still on east coast time, we were up bright an early and running before 5:00am. As it got later, several people from our running cruise group joined in. Of course there was always the treadmill option, but I try to avoid those if possible. 

After our run, we attended a race briefing and talk from the race organizers. This running cruise is put on by John Bingham, aka "The Penguin," who was a columnist for Runner's World and his wife, Jenny Hadfield, who also writes for Runner's World and has her own podcast. Jenny Hadfield gave a course preview along with some general tips for racing well and staying mentally strong.  John Bingham gave a humorous talk about the running boom and the rise of "back of the pack" runners. Both talks were fantastic.

The Hubbard Glacier
The highlight of the day was viewing the Hubbard glacier. The landscape was unreal! We spent nearly two hours looking out at the glacier and the surrounding scenery. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and is a contender for the most beautiful landscape I've ever seen.

We lucked out and had a perfectly clear day for viewing, which apparently is rare. I guess this makes up for when Greg and I went up into the Swiss alps and it was so cloudy that we couldn't see a thing. Words can't do it justice, so here are a few photos:

The Glacier Half Marathon: Race Morning
The next morning, our running cruise group ran a half marathon in Juneau. There was also a 5K option, but most people did the half. We had a special breakfast set up for our group which included anything a runner could possibly want pre-race. I had my go-to bagel with peanut butter and banana with peanut butter. 

The race directors told us how the day would unfold, including calling out the two runners, male and female, who were expected win the race. Both of them were on cross country teams, and the female had just graduated high school. They also called out the people who were completing their 50th state of the 50 States Half Marathon challenge. And finally, they recognized a woman who was running her 100th half marathon. 

The Zebra Couple
The ship docked at 8:45 and we immediately got off of it and onto four busses. It was a 20-minute bus ride out to the race start. The race would be held on a highway that was open to traffic, but that wouldn't have many cars. The course was an out-and-back twice, with one substantial hill. The hill was just over a 100 ft climb and we would run over it four times (out, back, out, back). Upon arrival, Greg and I drank our UCAN, which would be our only fuel for the race. 

The race was hosted by the local high school's cross country team, and the only participants were those in our running cruise group-- it was not open for public registration. The cross country team did an excellent job with their aid stations and their cheering. They were very excited to be hosting us. The weather was close to ideal: upper 50's, overcast, and 100% humidity. Apparently it rains most of the time in Juneau in July, so we lucked out with no rain. 

My coach advised me to run this at my goal marathon pace for the fall to see how it felt. I have no idea what that will be, but I put a 7:25 pace out there, which would probably be the best case scenario. My PR pace is 7:41, so I don't think it's unrealistic to try and shave about 15 seconds per mile off of that. But once again, this is just an estimate since the race is still over three months out-- it will really depend on how training goes. 

My strategy was to run the race as a progression run. Without a warm up, I knew it would be hard to hit a 7:25 pace right out of the gate. I also didn't know how I would feel given the time zone change, my lack of sleep, and my body's reaction to the boat's movement. I also thought it would be nice to pass other runners instead of having them pass me. Greg was on board with this approach, and we planned to run together, at least through mile 10.

Miles 1-5
The race started and the two young cross country runners took off at lightening speed, immediately creating a wide gap between themselves and the rest of us. I was not in any hurry to be running fast,
Around mile 5, photo by Zenaida Arroyo
and I considered mile 1 to be our warmup. We were passed by two women and about five men within the first three minutes. I made a note of it, as a progression-style race usually leads to passing other runners in the later miles. I had three targets to motivate me, but my main objective was to stick to my pacing strategy.

We reached the first hill toward the end of the first mile. Based on my Strava data, it was just over a 100ft and it was about 2/3 of a mile long. It was a longer hill than I am used to running, but I was able to handle it just fine. The water and the glacier were to our left. Greg was capturing everything by wearing his GoPro on his head. It was such a peaceful race with only 150 participants and just the three aid stations. Everyone was having a blast and cheering for everyone else.

Mile 1: 8:12
Mile 2: 7:36
Mile 3: 7:30
Mile 4: 7:39
Mile 5: 7:30

Miles 6-9
During the sixth mile, we picked off the first of three women. We had already picked off one or two of the men during the first five miles. The hill in mile 6 seemed much more difficult than it did on the way out and it seemed to go on forever. I had to really increase my effort but I knew I'd be able to recover once we got over it. 

We then ran down the hill and it wasn't long before we had completed the first out-and-back and were at the turnaround. I could tell that the gap between us and the cross country girl had shrunk, but she still had a solid lead, probably by about 3 minutes. We passed the woman who was in second place while going back up the hill during mile 8. I was feeling strong. Our pace felt easier than a tempo run, but at this point, a little bit harder than marathon pace. Which was to be expected, as this marathon goal pace probably won't feel like marathon pace until a few weeks out from the race. 

Greg and I were having the time of our lives. The scenery was gorgeous, the other runners were spirited and the 58 degree temperature felt amazing in comparison to what we've been training in for the past two months. 

Mile 6: 7:43
Mile 7: 7:24
Mile 8: 7:40
Mile 9: 7:06

Miles 10-Finish
As we approached the turnaround, I realized that this course would end up being longer than 13.1 miles. I actually didn't care because this was a training run for me, and Greg noted that it would actually work in my favor because it would give me more time to close the gap with the cross country runner.  At this point, she was maybe 1-2 minutes ahead of us. 

Once we turned around, I could tell Greg had a lot of energy left to give so I told him to go ahead. I wanted him to try and pass at least one of the men that was ahead of us, and I actually prefer to run alone when putting out a hard effort. It's almost like I need privacy because I am so focused and I don't want anyone "breathing down my neck" so to speak. 

Based on how quickly I seemed to be closing the gap with the cross country girl, I thought I could catch her by simply sticking to my race plan. Greg caught up to her and she asked "where's that girl" and Greg replied "she's coming!" This made her surge, so catching up to her wouldn't be as straightforward as I expected. 

The final hill came and I really powered up it, giving it everything I had, putting only about 20 seconds between the girl and me. Greg had already passed her. The runners who were coming in the opposite direction kept telling me to catch her! They were telling her that I was close behind, which probably motivated her to kick it up a notch as well. 

I consider myself to be a strong downhill runner, so I surged down the hill, making the gap tighter and tighter. As we approached the finish line I was almost nipping at her heels. I crossed just a few seconds after her, and we high-fived it. 

Mile 10: 7:24
Mile 11: 7:09
Mile 12: 7:14
Mile 13: 7:19 (and this was up the monster hill!)
Last 0.67: 6:42 pace

After the Race
I reunited with Greg and we chatted with the local cross country team for a bit. The runners who had completed the 5K were cheering everyone in, and it was exciting to watch the finishers. We then boarded the bus which took us back to our cruise ship. We spent the rest of the day exploring Juneau and visiting the Mendenhall Glacier. More on that to come in the next blog post.

All in all, this was one of the best race experiences ever. I had fun, I saw gorgeous scenery, I connected with other runners, and I got a good workout in. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bummed about not catching that girl, but at the same time, that really wasn't my primary goal. My average pace was 7:27, which is pretty much on target considering Indy Monumental is flat and this race was hilly. I haven't seen any official results yet, but I was 1:42:02 for 13.67 miles according to my Garmin. I ran the first half an an average pace of 7:40, and the second half at an average pace of 7:16.

From a training perspective, I think I already have a solid speed and endurance base from which to build. I just need to survive the August heat and humidity and I'll be ready to go for the fall racing season. Today my legs feel mostly recovered and ready for the next running adventure in Skagway.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise: Anchorage

Greg and I flew across the country from Virginia to Alaska yesterday to take part in the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. What is a running cruise? It's a normal cruise, Royal Caribbean to be specific, that includes special running excursions and events. Not everyone on the cruise is part of the
running group; there are about 150 of us. The cruise departs from Seward, Alaska and finishes in Vancouver, Canada.

We booked this trip back in February. It was actually my Valentine's Day gift to Greg because I knew that he had always wanted to go to Alaska. We actually got in off of the waiting list, as this cruise booked up about nine months in advance.

Alaska Bound!
We arrived in Anchorage yesterday afternoon and we will board the cruise ship this afternoon after a three-hour bus ride to Seward. We had some weather delays yesterday because we flew through Chicago, which had severe thunderstorms. We boarded the first plane, and then deplaned, and then boarded it again, and arrived in Chicago about two hours late. Thankfully, our connecting flight was also late. We got a nice tour of O'Hare International Airport as they changed our gate number several times (picture us booking it from concourse to concourse). Ultimately, we flew out of a gate that was very close to the gate we flew into, so we got some extra exercise yesterday.

View from the plane
Once we were on board the flight to Anchorage, everything went smoothly. Of course, everything was made much more tolerable with our first class tickets, which we got for a steal. I had never flown first class before because it's usually prohibitively expensive and I don't have any sort of status to qualify for free upgrades. But for 8+ hours of flying to only pay $300 more-- we thought it was totally worth it. Especially since it included free checked luggage and we needed to check two bags.

Speaking of bags, packing for this trip was quite the challenge. We each needed three outfits per day (four if you count pajamas). A running outfit, a daytime outfit, and a dressy dinner outfit. Cruise ship dinners require that men wear long pants, collared shirts, and dress shoes, so planning for that took up almost half our luggage space. Furthermore, the weather in Alaska in July ranges from the low 50's to the upper 60's, and it could be rainy or sunny on any given day. It's kind of like packing for a marathon, a wedding, a beach vacation, and a touristy vacation, and you're doing each of those things every day.

Anchorage Welcome
We arrived only one hour late, which was pretty incredible due to all of the delays. We had about an hour to get situated in our hotel and then we were off to the packet pickup and welcome meeting. The Skinny Raven running store was just two blocks from our hotel, and it was the largest running store I had ever seen! It was probably five times as big as the running stores we have in northern Virginia.

We met the other people who would be on our cruise. As expected, it was a diverse group with a wide range of ages. We were given a name tag and three bibs: one for each of the timed events. The first event would be a 5K fun run, which wouldn't be timed, followed by beer and pizza. This started about an hour after we received our packets.

I had informed my coach of all of the planned running events on the cruise and he wrote me a
Greg and me on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage
schedule that included them. For the welcome 5K, he suggested that I run it as a tempo, and then run 10 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) afterward if I had time. Because Alaska is four hours behind the eastern time zone, it already felt like 8:00pm, and my normal bedtime is around 9:00! Plus, we had been traveling all day.

Greg and I decided to get the 1-minute intervals out of the way first because we had about 30 minutes to spare before the welcome 5K. And once we were done with the 5K, we would want to eat dinner and get to bed pretty quickly. We warmed up for one mile, and the began the 1-minute intervals, We ran up and down the residential streets near our hotel, staying close to where we'd meet back up with the group for the 5K. I felt pretty good, considering I had been traveling all day long.

The Moosehead 5K
Once we were done with our short workout, our group headed down to the water, where we ran on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The 5K fun run was simply an out and back on the trail. The views from the trail were amazing! And at 68 degrees with low humidity, the weather felt heavenly.

Our focus during the 5K was to soak it all in and enjoy the experience. We knew we'd be visiting the trail again the next morning, when we would stop for photos and capture everything. We had gorgeous views of the water, the mountains and the forests. Our splits were 7:42, 7:27, 7:04, and 6:45 for the last bit, which yielded a 22:57. It felt really invigorating to run fast on this trail and we were both really excited to finally be in Alaska. Especially after having spent 8+ hours on a plane.

After the run, we all went back to the running store where we had pizza and beer. I was starving. It
was after 10:00 my body time! I finally got to meet fellow blogger Zenaida, whose blog I have been reading for over five years! We didn't stay very long because we were so exhausted. It felt really great to finally get some sleep.

Easy Run Along the Coast
This morning, Greg and I had some time before our transfer to go running. Of course, we woke up at around 3:00am, and the sun rose really early. We were out on the trail by 5:00 and it was pretty much deserted. This time, we went for an hour-long easy run. We went father on the trail than we had the day before and it was absolutely stunning. And at 51 degrees, the air felt marvelous. We're used to it being in the low 70's with insanely high humidity!

After our run, we went to a small coffee shop for breakfast. What a perfect way to start the day.

Today, our cruise adventure begins. More posts to follow!

Read the next post about the Juneau Half Marathon: Alaska Half Marathon