Sunday, April 23, 2017

GW Parkway Classic 5K: Slower, but "Faster"

This morning I ran the GW Parkway Classic 5K. I had only run this race once in the past back in 2008, when I ran a 23:58. This race also offers a 10-mile race (which is what the event is known for) and I had run that three times, although two of them had been marathon-pace training runs. The 5K is
GW Parkway Classic
the last 5K of the 10-mile course, which runs along the scenic Potomac River.

The GW Parkway Classic is a point-to-point course. Shuttle busses drop runners off at the start line and they run back to the finish line in Old Town, Alexandria. The last bus leaves at 7:00, and the race starts at 8:00. Greg and I didn't think it made sense to arrive at the race an hour an a half before the start and take the bus, so we parked about 2 miles away from the start and simply ran our warmup to the start.

Let me back up a bit.

Last Friday, I ran the Crystal City 5K Friday, in a time of 20:44. It was an evening race and I felt remarkably fast and strong for a warm (70-degree) race that was held at a time when I am usually getting ready for bed! My Garmin clocked an average pace of 6:34 for 3.16 miles, which yielded an official time of 20:44. This was a six-second PR.

I figured that the GW Parkway course, which only has two turns, would be much faster, simply because I wouldn't lose momentum with so many turns and I'd be able to run the tangents, for a Garmin distance of closer to 3.1 miles. Not to mention, the weather was forecast to be much cooler (49 degrees at the start). I figured with all of this in my favor, I would be able to take at least 10 seconds off of my official time; probably even more.

My week of training in between the two races looked like this:

Saturday: 10.2 miles easy @ 8:50 avg.

Sunday: 3.5 miles easy @ 8:39 avg.

Monday: 4 x (600m hard, 200m recovery, 200m hard, 3 minutes recovery). My splits were 2:20, 0:42, 2:16, 0:41, 2:16, 0:41, 2:15, 0:41. So the 600's were between a pace of 6:00-6:20, and the 200's were around 5:30.

Tuesday: 8.6 miles easy @ 8:37 avg.

Wednesday: 2 miles at "steady state" and 1 mile hard. The company I worked for hosted a 5K race at
5K Race to benefit STEM for Her at MicroStrategy World
its annual conference, which just happened to be occurring a few miles from the GW Parkway Classic finish area. I didn't want to race it at full effort, given the 5K from the previous Friday and the 5K on the upcoming Sunday. My splits were 7:16, 7:15, 6:43.  Including warm up and cool down, I ran 5.8 miles.

Thursday: 7.5 miles easy @ 8:21 avg. I was still at the conference, so I had the opportunity to run across the Wilson Bridge, which connects Maryland (where the conference was) to Virginia (where the GW Parkway Race is). I scoped out the course on the Virginia side and figured out where we could park. This was a beautiful run, and it made me think that I should do my long runs in more scenic locations instead of my local neighborhood routes.

Friday and Saturday were both easy low-mileage days, and I felt strong and ready for the GW Parkway race.

Before the Race
Greg and I ran to the start line, and much to Greg's dismay, the porta potty line was extremely long. I, thankfully, did not need to use one, so I continued my warm up. About ten minutes later I found Greg still in line! And he had quite a few people in front of him. There were only 5 porta potties and this race had over 1,300 runners. Definitely not enough, especially since most runners arrived at the start line over an hour in advance.

It was getting late, and Greg wanted to stay in line and wait, so I made my way alone to the start line. Annoyingly, there was a group of about 5-10 children, who looked to be about six years old at the very front. They had an adult with them and the adult was telling them not to line up in the first row, but it was okay for them to be in the second row. I knew they would go out blazing fast and then I'd have to weave my way around them during the first quarter of a mile. With two minutes to go, there was still no sign of Greg. But finally he appeared, with only about 30 seconds to spare.

Mile 1: 6:35
My plan was to run the first mile at 6:31-6:32. The first mile is flat, and I wanted to run my goal pace for the first mile. Much to my surprise, the pace on my Garmin did not match my effort level. I thought I was running really hard, and for most of the mile, I was barely below 6:40. But, I didn't
The bib even matched, and I had orange socks.
judge it, and I didn't do anything foolish like try and surge that early. The race started going south on the parkway, and after a quarter of a mile, we turned around and ran north. We would run north for the remainder of the race, and I'm not sure what the reason was for the turnaround at the start. I noticed there were about 5-6 women ahead of me. I passed the first one about half a mile in, and I passed the second one at the first mile marker. Greg was not very far ahead of me. Typically he goes out really fast in 5Ks and I can't even see him; that's how it was in Crystal City. But I figured I was in good shape if I was only running about 4-5 seconds behind him.

I had to keep reminding myself not to adjust my shorts, which kept riding up. I had fallen in love with a pair of Nike Pro shorts because they matched my McMillan racing gear so perfectly. But they were not comfortable, and probably looked more like briefs by the end of the race. I kept wanting to adjust them throughout the race, but I knew that would take energy away from running so I resisted the urge.

Mile 2: 6:42
This mile was really tough. There was a hill (which didn't look that long or steep) but I really slowed down on it. I think the issue was the headwind. Based on the Crystal City race, I really thought I should have been able to run faster, but I couldn't. I was working really, really hard and I felt pretty good; but my pace simply wasn't as fast as I expected. Most of this mile actually hovered around 6:50 until the downhill, when I really surged and passed a guy, and brought my average pace down significantly.

Mile 3: 6:35
This mile started up a hill that was steeper than the previous one, but shorter. I worked my way up the hill and couldn't even bring myself to look at the pace on my Garmin. We turned a corner and the rest of the mile was one long straightaway to the finish line, on a road offered a slight decline. One of my colleagues who lives in Alexandria was cheering for me shortly after the turn. I knew to expect her and it gave me a burst of energy to hear her call my name. I was hurting pretty badly by this point and I wondered how I would ever make it to the finish line without slowing down. I noticed that Greg had widened the gap substantially. He was going for sub-20:00 and I wondered if he would make it.

I really liked this part of the course because it was mainly flat with a slight decline, and it was really wide with plenty of space to run. But the headwind made it challenging. I can't complain too much about it because it was 10 mph, which is not that strong, and the overall weather was fantastic. But, it definitely made that last mile (and actually the whole race) more challenging than anticipated. I was running slower than I had hoped for, but I was still motivated to get a PR because I knew this course would end up being "shorter" than the one from last Friday.

As I approached the finish line, I was able to slightly increase my speed, and I approached a woman who I had in my sights for the entire race. I was really closing the gap on her, and when I passed the mile 3 mark, I really surged to try and pass her.

The last 0.12: 6:11 pace
She noticed me, though, and she pushed harder and ended up beating me by two seconds. After the race, she thanked me for showing up because she said it motivated her to push even harder. She motivated me to push as well, so it was mutual!

My official time was 20:38, which is a PR by six seconds! Interestingly, the Crystal City 5K was also a six-second PR from my previous time of 20:50. So in the last 9 days, I have shaved 12 seconds off of my 5K PR. This also means that I have set THREE PRs in the month of April: one at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, one at the Crystal City 5K, and another one today.

After the Race
I found Greg and he told me he ran a 20:02. This was a PR for him by seven seconds, although it wasn't the sub-20:00 he had hoped for. We walked around looking for race results to see where we ranked. I thought I was either the 4th or 5th woman overall. We couldn't find results posted anywhere, so we ran about a mile to where my friend/colleague had been cheering-- which was right in front of her house. She had fresh muffins in the oven and offered us fruit, waffles and coffee. Before indulging, we checked the results on her computer (we don't run with our phones) and as it turned out, I was the first woman in my age group, and 5th overall female finisher out of 871.

So back we ran to the finish line area. We asked when and where the 5K awards would be, and they told us they weren't going to happen for another hour, and that my prize would be a medal. I didn't really want to wait that long, and I decided I would much rather go back to my friend's house and relax. I later learned I can pick up my medal at the running store in Alexandria.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
One thing that I learned in sports psychology is that it's useful to look at both metrics: official race pace and Garmin pace. The difference between these two is the inability to run perfect tangents, or running a course that is not USATF certified.

Arguably, the Garmin pace is more important. Why? Unless you're a professional athlete, your race time actually doesn't matter. It's important because it shows your personal achievement. But in that case, wouldn't a more accurate measure of personal achievement be to use the same timing system/device across all runs?  I'm sure many runners would disagree with me, especially in this day and age of social media where you don't want to be accused of inaccurately representing your ability. Official is official is official.

I can say with complete confidence that I ran the Crystal City 5K faster than I ran this race, even though my official time says otherwise. I am actually more pleased with my performance last week than with my performance this morning. I think that the course from last week was harder, and I ran it faster. But does that mean I can't celebrate my new official PR? Nope! 20:38 it is, and I'll be having PR cake this evening with a time of 20:38. (Come back later for photos).

I'm looking forward to hitting the track pretty hard over the next few weeks so that I can try and chip away even more at my 5K pace. I'd love to be able to run a 20:17 at some point in 2017. Probably in the fall, but I'll try my best over the summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Crystal City 5K: Chipping Away at It

Last night I ran the Crystal City 5K Friday. I know, that sounds weird, but "Friday" is actually part of the race name. This race occurs every Friday evening in April, and I ran the second race in the series. Now that the marathon and the 10-miler are done with, I'm going to spend the next few months focusing on speed. I haven't done much speed work since the marathon, and I decided that the Crystal City race would give me a nice baseline from which to start.

I've run this race several times in the past:
  • 2010 (22:21) - A PR by over a minute!
  • 2011 (22:40) - Coming off of stress fractures
  • 2011 (22:18) - Coming off of stress fractures + 2 extra weeks of training
  • 2012 (22:00) - Pretty good race
  • 2014 (22:11) - I just wasn't "feeling" it after a business trip earlier in the week
In February, I ran a 10K on a hilly course during which my pace was only two seconds per mile slower than my 5K PR pace. In fact, I tied my 5K PR (20:50) at the 5K split. And at a 10K on New Year's Eve, I ran a 20:13 5K during the second half, which was all downhill. So, I was confident in
my ability to set a PR last night.

But it wasn't a given. Even though my 5K PR could be considered "soft," both of those 10K races had ideal weather: 20 degrees for the February race and 32 degrees for the New Year's Eve race. The Crystal City race was 70 degrees and sunny. I've never set a 5K PR in anything above 55 degrees.

Before the Race
I changed out of my work clothes into my running clothes in the locker room at my office and drove to Crystal City. When I arrived, I picked up my bib and met up with Greg, who also had come straight from work. I was given bib number 2028, and so I determined that 20:28 would be my goal time. I drank my UCAN and then Greg and I warmed up together. Greg thought that mile marker 1 was in the wrong spot based on previous races, but it seemed right to me. It was only later that I realized Greg was right and they had totally changed the course.

It was 70 degrees and sunny, so I poured water over my head before the start and drank a cup of water. My plan was mainly to run by feel, with the goal of running a pace of around 6:33-6:35. That's very precise, I know, but when you are racing a 5K, it takes a lot of effort just to get your pace down
Crystal City 5K Friday
even by one second a mile. I wasn't sure if I could trust my Garmin because Crystal City has a lot of tall buildings. My Garmin pace seemed accurate during the warmup, so decided I would keep an eye on it, but focus on just running hard instead of the exact pace.

I thought I knew what to expect: a mostly flat course with a few inclines and a few turns, which tends to be windy. However, they changed the course at some point between 2014 and now, and I was caught off guard. 

Mile 1
We started off, running in the opposite direction of how the course used to go, and I restrained myself a bit because I tend to go out way too fast in the first few minutes of a 5K. Plus, this was a relatively competitive field with quite a few fast runners given the overall size of the race. I would characterize this first mile mainly as annoyance. I try to stay emotion-neutral when racing and not let stuff get to me, and I generally succeed. However, there were times when I was annoyed by the constant twists and turns of the course, the uneven running surface, and the grates we had to run over. Right off the bat, the course twisted and turned, and it was hard to establish a rhythm. 

Despite all of this, I felt really good. I felt more energized than I did at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler two weeks ago, when I had felt "off." This was surprising given that it was an evening race and I always run in the morning. Not to mention the warm weather compared to the cool weather from the 10-miler. Typically when it's hot I feel like I am being zapped by the sun. But last night I didn't feel that way; I felt strong. My Garmin logged a 6:32 for the first mile, and that was only 2 seconds before coming to the first mile marker (6:34 official). So I figured I could probably trust the Garmin. I was actually surprised, though, because I had not been at all close to the tangents. There were so many people and so many turns and not a lot of room, so I usually had taken the most clear path instead of the most direct.

Mile 2
Things got easier during this mile. The running surface improved (no grates, not as angled) and there were fewer turns. There was one hairpin turn and a few others, but it felt more fluid than the first mile. I later saw on Strava that this mile had a net elevation loss of 28 feet. Which isn't a hill, but explains why it felt easier and why I ran faster. I actually passed several people during this mile which felt good. I was actually really surprised to see how fast I was running and how strong I felt, given the fact that it was warm and I wasn't acclimated. My Garmin logged a 6:26 mile, but I didn't actually hit the mile marker for another 10 seconds.

Mile 3
This mile was painful. There is no other word for it. I later learned that it was a net elevation gain of 28 feet - essentially running up the incline that I had just run down. There were also a few surprising and unwelcome wind gusts that came along. I knew a PR was in the bag, I just had to maintain my effort level. I saw my average race pace on my Garmin slide from 6:30 to 6:32 to 6:34 over the course of the mile and that motivated me to keep pushing hard. I managed to pass a few people during this mile, and nobody passed me, so I knew I was running strong. It took every mental trick in the book to keep pushing at that effort level. I ended up with a split of 6:42.

The Final 0.16
To get to the finish line, you make a left turn, and then run around a curve on a brick surface. This killed my momentum and my finish line kick wasn't as powerful as it usually is, but even in years past this was always the case with the finish. My pace for this was a 6:42.

I crossed the finish line and was so glad to be done with the race! I looked down at my Garmin and
Garmin pace: 6:34. Official pace: 6:41. 
saw that I had run a 20:44. A PR by 6 seconds!

After the race, I met up with Greg and my friend Allison, who had been cheering for me and taking photos. Greg ran a 20:13 and explained how he went out way too fast. Allison went to get us a table at a restaurant for dinner while Greg and I went to our cars to change. She texted me and said that my official time was a 20:47. I couldn't help but be annoyed by that. Even though you can't trust your Garmin distance and pace all the time, you can trust when you start and stop it and the overall finish time. When the finish line video was posted this morning, I can see that 20:47 was my gun time, not my chip time. Greg's finish line video shows him crossing at 20:16, and yet his official time was 20:13. Greg and I started at the exact same time. I looked at other runners who finished around the same time with me, and their official time is faster than when they crossed. So it seems like some people got a chip time, and some people got a gun time. The race results do not list chip/gun, they only have one time listed for each runner.

Kevin, Greg's friend, mentioned something about receiving only gun time the previous weekend instead of net time. I guess I have no choice but to accept the 20:47 and be happy with an official 3-second PR: 20:47. Just makes it easier to set another PR at the next 5K!

Edited to add on April 16th:
I emailed the race director to see if they had my chip time in their database. They said that my chip did not register when crossing the start line, so the 20:47 was, in fact, my gun time. He told me that used Greg's start time as my start time, and adjusted the results accordingly: 20:44. Thank you to Pacers Running and RunWashington Timing.

Resume non-edited portion of blog:
Speaking of the next 5K, I plan to run one next weekend. It should be cooler and that race will have only one turn. It will feel glorious!

The frequent dips in my pace from all the turns!

Takeaways, Stats and Final Thoughts

  • I now have a baseline for my spring/summer 5K races
  • This is my first time PRing in warm weather, that's typically unheard of in my book!
  • This is my 4th PR of 2017
  • I placed 7th out of 710 women
  • There were no official age group awards, but I placed 3rd in the 30-39 age group.
  • This was my 2nd best 5K effort according to Strava, in 20:21
  • I felt really strong and energized, as opposed to the Cherry Blossom when I felt "blah"
  • This was a good workout for my next 5K
  • I'm pleased with how hard I pushed at the end. My last mile was the slowest, but given the elevation profile, this makes sense
  • I'm also pleased with my pacing and ability to run based on effort
  • I'm chipping away at my 5K time: my most recent PRs are 20:51, 20:50, and now 20:47
I'm super excited to see what I can do next weekend. I won't be any fitter, but I think that if I run the same effort, the lack of twists and turns and the ability to run the tangents will help bring down my PR by a few more seconds. To be continued. . .

Finish line

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Graduating Sports Psychology

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know about my work with a sports psychologist. A few weeks ago, Greg asked me if I had been to see him lately. And I realized that it had been over four months since my last appointment. I hadn't intentionally chosen to stop going, but things had been pretty hectic over the past few months with the holidays, marathon training, and my new job, and I hadn't felt the need to see him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was probably time for me to "graduate" from sports psychology. Just as I write race reports to gain closure on my races, I think it's a good idea to close out the sports psychology chapter of my life with a "report" of sorts as well.

Why I Sought Help
On my way to a DNF in May 2012
In May 2012, I had hit rock bottom with my marathon running and my feelings associated with it. I had DNF'ed three marathons, and had hit the wall hard in five of them over the course of several years. Most of this was due to race anxiety, as I had been well trained for each of these races. Every time I failed, I sank lower and lower into a depressed state about my running, which eventually overtook my entire state of being. I wanted to rid myself of the race anxiety and resulting inability to cope. I wasn't happy about my running and I realized that I wasn't happy, period.

It's not like I didn't know what my issues were. But I had no clue how to solve them:
  • I took my running way too seriously
  • My sense of self was wrapped up in my running
  • I was a perfectionist
  • I couldn't help but compare myself to other people
  • I didn't cope well with things outside of my control
I felt like I had no choice BUT to seek help from a sports psychologist. I had tried to simply chill out and relax, but the more I tried, the harder it became.

The First 15 Months
I saw my sports psychologist, Neal, every week. I decided that if I was going to invest the time and money in this process, that I needed to trust him fully. 

Neal typically did about 75% of the talking, which I liked. After our initial session, in which I walked him through not only my racing history but struggles that I had experienced before I began running (which running seemed to solve), he had a structured approach to working with me on all the pieces of the puzzle. I always left his office with "homework" and several items to think about in preparation for our next session. This was work, and it required that I be an active participant.

In terms of what we discussed, it's too much for me to get into in a single post; I have it all laid out in my book. But suffice it to say, there was a lot of ground to cover. He essentially educated me on what the most effective and healthy mindset looked like and challenged me frequently on things I said that demonstrated an unhealthy mindset. As I said above, it took a great deal of trust. After all, I didn't develop my beliefs and attitudes overnight, so I couldn't simply change them overnight. 

Over the course of these 15 months, I had races that I would initially consider to be failures, but Neal
Did I PR?
showed me how to re-examine my judgements. Who was to say if a race was a failure or success? Why was setting a PR the only metric of success? Why did I devote so much time to running if my single goal was to PR, when in reality, PRs are the exception not the rule? Neal likened a race to a buffet with many different food options. Sometimes a PR was one of the items, but sometimes it wasn't. And if a PR wasn't available, why not enjoy the other items from the buffet? 
  • Did I have fun?
  • Did I learn anything?
  • Did I challenge myself to push really hard?
  • Did I have a new experience?
  • What did I do well that I can apply in the future?
It was extremely challenging to run what I considered to be a "bad" race but find ways in which I succeeded. To not let the race eat away at me for days. To not let it impact future races. Neal encouraged me to always find the positives in my running and if I ultimately determined I wasn't happy with a race, to shrug it off as quickly as possible and focus on something else.

Having this healthy mindset was not automatic and I constantly had to re-program my self-talk as Neal guided. It didn't take too long to learn what I needed to learn. But connecting emotion to it and truly owning/believing it was a different story.

The Breakthrough
My biggest breakthrough happened about 15 months later when I was injured. I was still seeing Neal every week and at this point we were working on coping with injury.

It was August of 2013 and I was in the locker room after an elliptical session. I was registered to run Chicago in October, and I started thinking about whether or not I would run it. I was confident that I would be recovered by then and physically able to complete a marathon, but I also knew that my time would be on the slower side. I went back and forth on whether or not it was worth even trying. I thought to myself that I could run a slow time, but then people would think I was slower than I knew myself capable of. That's when epiphany struck. I realized that I was actually considering denying myself of an experience I wanted to have (Chicago) simply to avoid being judged by other people. I realized that I was making a decision based on how other people would potentially perceive me. And why on earth would I live my life for anyone other than ME? 

I let that thought sink in and everything click. I was someone who lived her life to please other people. Who made decisions based on what other people thought. If I wanted true control over my life, then I needed to life my life for me. It was such a liberating thought. I had freed myself of other people's opinions.

With that followed an entire change of mindset over the next few months. I questioned why I was worried over certain things. So instead of Neal having to be the one to challenge my unhealthy, counterproductive mindset, I was able to do it on my own. 

The Other Side
Hills and freezing rain? Sure!
Neal welcomed me to the "other side" and I was so happy that I had experienced such a life-changing revelation. Greg started to notice a change in me and I began to feel like a new person. Things that used to bother me so much suddenly didn't seem as important. I definitely still cared about running and I was definitely still motivated to run PRs and qualify for Boston, but it was for entirely different reasons. 

I started to embrace challenges instead of shy away from them. I began to seek out hillier courses for my training runs. Instead of getting upset by warm race weather, I looked forward to seeing how I would handle it. Running was no longer a numbers game; it was about experiences, challenges, community, and being my "best" self. I learned that sometimes it was just about getting out there and doing it. I learned that some days I just didn't have a strong performance in me, and that was ok.

As a byproduct of all of this, my race anxiety started to slip away. Racing became "the thing I was doing that weekend" instead of this huge life event that I would obsess over all week. I was able to sleep well in the days leading up to my races. I stopped DNF'ing marathons and started PRing them. And when I didn't PR them, I was still proud of my achievement.

I reduced the frequency of my visits with Neal to every other week for next two years, and in 2016, I saw him about once a month, mainly to ensure I didn't slip back into old thought patterns.

Don't get me wrong, the journey from August 2013 through today certain has had hiccups and hasn't always been smooth. I've had my share of disappointing races and a three-month bout of mono. But my new perspective on life made these things much easier to cope with whereas previously they would throw me headfirst into depression. 

Looking Ahead
I'm 38 years old and I think I still have a few good years ahead of me before I start naturally slowing down. I want to continue to test my limits and see what I am capable of in terms of my training load and my speed. And when I do start to slow down, I'm confident that I will still find ways of challenging myself and enjoying the process of running.

Aside from marrying Greg, seeing a sports psychologist was the best thing I've ever done for myself. It allowed me to do much more than overcome race anxiety. It enabled me to set myself free from the limitations and barriers I was unknowingly creating for myself. When I compare my current mindset/perspective/approach to life to that of just five years ago, I see a huge difference, and so do my friends and family. I'm far more laid back and I don't take myself as seriously. I make myself laugh more often, I'm at peace with who I am, and I sleep well at night.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Motivated by a Mug: Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race Report

Dear Fast Runner,

As part of the 45th Running Celebration of Credit Union Cherry Blossom, we are awarding mugs that read "I would have won this race in 1973" to all males who finish faster than 1973 winner Sam Bair's time of 51:22 and to all females who finish faster than Kathrine Switzer's winning time of 71:19. You are receiving this message because the seeded time you entered on your entry form for the 2017 race is within two minutes of these times. This means if you have a good day, you could win one of these mugs, so we wanted to let you know about these special awards.

I received this email three days ago, and determined that I HAD to have one of those mugs.

Today was my 6th time running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I first ran it in 2007 in a time of 1:21:23 and my current 10-mile PR was on this course from 2014: 1:15:26. I had beaten this time during three half marathons, and during a training run, but of course, these weren't "official" PRs. Therefore, I didn't think I was being presumptuous by buying PR Cake ingredients last weekend. (Greg and I have a tradition of making PR cake with our times written on it.)

Throughout 2009-2013, I struggled mentally with the marathon, but the 10-miler remained my sweet spot. Therefore, in 2014, when I ran a time that was very similar to my past two times, I realized I had also plateaued physically. That's when I decided it was time to hire a running coach. A few months later, I began working with McMillan Running coach Andrew and my times have steadily dropped ever since.

Ever since I ran a 1:33:36 half marathon last spring, I set my sights on a sub-70:00 10-miler. I was going to shoot for this at the Army Ten-Miler last fall, but I wasn't able to run it because I had just recovered from mono. Part of the reason I chose to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon was that I would recover in time to run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

I was excited to receive a "seeded" bib for this race: Bib #344. For a race of about 20,000 people, I
At the Cherry Blossom Expo, studying the elevation
considered this to be a huge honor. It didn't come with too many perks, other than starting at the front of the race and being able to get an entry without going through the lottery. I wasn't sure if I would qualify for a seeded entry, though, so I got in through the lottery anyway and received the seeded bib afterward.

In 2014, my goal had been to run a sub-7:30 pace. And according to my Garmin, I accomplished that. However, my official pace ended up being 7:32 because my Garmin logged the course as being about 10.1 miles. Knowing this, I did some research on Strava. I looked at the Cherry Blossom 10-mile "segment" and noted that to run an official time of sub-7:00, I would need to run a 6:54 pace on my Garmin. So, my new "A" goal became 6:54 Garmin/sub-70 official. And my "B" goal was to win the mug.

Before the Race
Because the metro wasn't running, Greg and I decided to get a hotel room in DC the night before. We could have probably reserved a parking spot in the city, but we live about 35 minutes away and we didn't want to have this added stress on race morning. Plus, having our own dedicated bathroom within an hour of the start time was nice!

For both the Myrtle Beach Marathon and Indianapolis Monumental, we arrived at the start line with just a few minutes to spare. I wanted to be more conservative this time, so we were in the corral 15 minutes before the start. This caused me much less anxiety! Greg and I both drank UCAN at 6:50, and at 6:55 we left the hotel and headed for the start line.

My plan was to go out at a pace of 6:50-6:53 and see how long I could hold it. I wasn't as confident about my ability to reach my "A" goal as I had been the week prior. On Thursday of this week, I ran a set of 8 x 200m and I felt really stale. In fact, by the end of the day I felt as if I was getting sick. I felt completely run down with a hint of a sore throat. I took an un-planned rest day on Friday, got plenty of rest, drank loads of water and was feeling decent by yesterday. Perhaps it was allergies. Perhaps I was still feeling the after-effects of the marathon. But whatever it was, I wasn't feeling nearly as peppy as I had been the week prior.

Anyway, shortly before the race started I ditched my throw-away hoodie and prepared myself mentally. I knew that miles 7-10 around Hains Point would be extremely challenging, and I told myself to keep pushing, no matter how hard it hurt.

Miles 1-4
The race started, and I felt decent. Not great, but okay. It was about 46 degrees, sunny, with a breeze.
Mile 1
I wore sunglasses, but the parts of the course that ran directly into the sun were difficult for me. All the runners in front of me looked like dark shadows and I could feel my face getting really warm. The race was surprisingly crowded. I remember spectating Greg at the Army 10-miler and he ran about the pace I was trying to go. And it looked like he had plenty of room around him when he ran by during mile 7. I found myself constantly weaving through people and it was difficult to get into a rhythm.

I had studied the elevation provide and expected the second mile to be slow, but surprisingly, it was one of my faster miles. My coach had advised me to push hard from the beginning and that's exactly what I did. It felt harder than expected to run the paces I was running, but I trusted that my marathon endurance would enable me to maintain these paces for 10 miles.

Mile 1: 6:55
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:50
Mile 4: 6:53

Miles 5-7
From experience, I knew that there was a moderate hill during mile six and that I might feel crappy at this point, but that it would feel better once I got to Hains Point at mile 7. There was a huge cheering crowd and it really energized me. I hit the 5-mile timing mat in 34:46, which had me on pace to run a 1:09:31. I was pleased with this and told myself to simply keep up the effort and I would reach my goal. However, it felt harder than expected. Based on last week's tempo run (4 miles at 6:49 average), I actually thought I would be able to run a sub-6:50 pace for this race. Additionally, I ran a 10K eight weeks ago on a very hilly course at a pace of 6:41 on un-tapered legs. So I really didn't expect these paces to be feeling as tough as they did.

During mile 7, I grabbed water from a water station and poured it over my head. And I noticed that I was definitely more comfortable in the shaded portions of the course. Sunshine and I just don't jive when it comes to racing. Unless it's below 40 degrees like it was at Myrtle Beach. I felt much better during mile 7 than I did during mile six, which (unbeknownst to me) was due to a tailwind on Hains Point. I felt like I had gotten a "second wind" and that I had my goal in the bag!

Mile 5: 6:52
Mile 6: 6:59
Mile 7: 6:56

Miles 8-10.09
But then, we turned around and there was a headwind on Hains Point. According the forecast, this was supposed to be a 7 mph sustained wind. But it felt much stronger than that. I appreciated the cooling factor, but I felt like I was fighting a formidable opponent. I pushed harder and reminded myself that I needed to stay strong and give 100% effort. So I increased my effort level and gave it everything I had, and was unable to get my Garmin pace back down into the 6:50's. I wanted to stop so badly. I felt awful. Every part of me was in pain. Based on how I felt, I knew it was unlikely that I would come in under 70:00. But I wanted that mug! I knew that I would be super disappointed if I wasn't able to attain my B goal.

During these last few miles, all I could think about was the mug. I realized my sub-70:00 was unlikely but dammit, I was going to be drinking coffee out of that mug come hell or high water. Mile 8 clocked in at 7:02.

There was another timing mat at mile 9 and I cursed it. Now there would be an official record of how slow my last mile was. Mile 9 clocked in at a pace of 7:14, and at that point my official race pace was 7:01 (which I learned after the fact, but had some sense of at the time). I was now on track to run a 1:10:08. BUT- I thought I could still run a sub-7:00 "Garmin" pace, similar to what I did in 2014 with my sub 7:30 "Garmin" pace.

Get the mug! Get the mug! At mile 9.6 we turned off of Hains Point and there was a sizable hill that was about a quarter of a mile long. Knowing how close the finish was and that I no longer had to fight the wind, I found another gear that I didn't realize I had and gunned it. After Hains Point, I had been on track to log a 7:25 mile and I knew I could sprint up that hill and make up some time. Amazingly, I had a burst of energy and average a 7:21 pace for that final mile.

But of course, there was the "extra." Strava logged my 10-mile time at 1:09:46, but officially, the sub-7:00 was a no go. Nevertheless, I was pleased to cross the finish line in 1:10:24.

Mile 8: 7:02
Mile 9: 7:14
Mile 10: 7:21
Last 0.09: 5:51 pace (downhill)

After the Race
Greg and I with our friends from the =PR= Race team
Due to my final kick, the first few minutes post-race were pretty brutal. I felt nauseous and totally knocked out. I caught up with Greg, who ran a 1:07:51. He's gotten so fast recently! And he was waiting with our friends Hannah and Alex. We met up with some other runners from the =PR= racing team and everyone seemed to have had really amazing races.

I had tossed my hand-warmers so my hands were quickly starting to get cold, so we hurried to the mug-retrieval area and I claimed my prize. On the walk back to our hotel, a random women asked if she could take a video of us talking about what we liked about the race. For me, it was the mug! Oh, and I guess the cherry blossoms, too. Greg and I then walked back to our hotel, showered, and had a nice brunch. I actually brought my mug to brunch and drank coffee out of it!

Now, time for some stats.

  • This race was a PR by 5 minutes, 2 seconds from my 2014 time.
  • I placed 26th in my age group out of 1,706 runners, running faster than 98.5% of them
  • My actual time was 1:10:23.84, but the official results rounded up to 1:10:24.
  • My 10K split was 43:18, which would have been a 10K PR as recently as last December.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I'm pleased with my performance. I did the best with what I had. Even though I kind of fell apart during the last two miles, it wasn't because I slacked. I think it was partially due to the wind, but primarily due to me just not feeling 100% for whatever reason. I honestly thought that sub-70:00 official would be well within my grasp, and I expected to be able to run about 8-9 seconds per mile faster. Stated differently, I didn't expect that I would blow up at the end given my paces for miles 1-8. Part of me wants to run the GW Parkway Classic 10-miler in three weeks for another shot. But at this point, I think I will just wait for the Army 10-miler in the fall. Which can be warm-- but I guess I will be acclimated and hopefully fitter!

The good news is that I ran a huge PR, shaving 30 seconds per mile off of my average pace. The PR cake will taste great this evening. I felt fast with my super-low bib, too! And I actually DID run 10 miles at a sub-7:00 pace, it just wasn't official. Or at least Strava thinks I did! And best of all, had this been 1973, I would have won the race outright.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Feeling Fresh

It's now been three weeks since the Myrtle Beach Marathon, and my legs are finally feeling fresh after some rest and reduced mileage weeks.

Saturday, March 25th
This recovery period has come at just the right time because work has gotten extremely crazy lately. I've been meeting with our CEO multiple times a week, and preparing for those meetings has resulted in long hours and additional stress. I'm not complaining-- I truly enjoy my job and the challenge that it brings. But suffice it to say, I'm grateful that I haven't also been trying to run 70+ mile weeks for the past three weeks.

My next race is the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, which is one week from today. My focus has been recovering 100% from the marathon and doing just enough speed to keep the legs moving. I will essentially rely on my marathon fitness as my training for this race. I qualified for a special "seeded" bib, and I'm excited to be lining up at the front of the race. Here's a recap of the past few weeks.

Week of March 6th
Mainly rest, with three runs that equated to 7 miles total. It was nice to have some time off running, and I indulged in good food and sweets! I see the week after a marathon as a week to chill out physically and mentally, and I certainly did that as much as possible. It was also a great opportunity to get more focused on my friends' running as I wasn't at all focused on my own.

Week of March 13th
This week was all easy running, and I even gave myself an extra rest day which wasn't in the schedule. The snow and high wind advisory made it an unappealing week to be outside, and combined with the long hours I was putting in at work, it was a mentally exhausting week.

Tuesday, March 14th
Monday's run (30 minutes) felt fine, but Tuesday's run (40 minutes) wasn't all that great. My hip was tightening up and I definitely could feel that something wasn't right. On top of that, we had 20+ mph sustained winds, so the run wasn't at all enjoyable. Because of my hip, and the fact that the wind got even worse on Wednesday-- strong enough to tear some of the siding off of our house-- I took an unscheduled rest day, and pushed everything back by one day. On Thursday, I was back at it with 50 minutes, which yielded 5.8 miles. By the time my "long" run of 90 minutes rolled around on Sunday, everything felt 100%. My total mileage for the week came in at 34.9

Week of March 21st
This week felt like an actual training week again. I'm hoping that the really cold/windy weather is behind us and I'm grateful that it's getting light in the mornings again. When there's ice on the ground like there was last week, I won't start my run until it's light enough to see the icy patches. Which makes it challenging to get into work on time. Last week I had to sacrifice drying my hair. I guess something's gotta give sometimes!

Monday: 5.8 miles easy at 8:41 average

Tuesday: 6.4 miles, including 15 x 30-second strides. This was my "foray" into faster running post marathon. My first few strides were kind of a shock to the system, but by the end of the workout I was down to a pace of about 6:25. This is actually a bit slow for me, since I usually run 30-second intervals at a sub 6:00 pace. But I wasn't worried. The point was just to get my legs moving quickly, not to set any records.

Wednesday: 5.2 miles easy at 8:42 average

Thursday, March 23rd
Thursday: 7.7 miles, including 4 at tempo effort. This was my first actual workout post marathon and I had no idea what to expect. Greg came with me and said he would simply try and keep up with whatever pace I set. I figured I probably lost some fitness and my legs might still be tired from the marathon, so a good target would be 7:00 or slightly under. During this past training cycle, I ran my first ever tempo run at a sub-7:00 pace, so I figured being right at 7:00 would be good. But as always, I run these things by feel and my Garmin paces were quite shocking: 6:52, 6:51, 6:52, 6:40. This is an average of 6:49! I had plenty of gas in the tank at the end, and I could have kept going at that pace.

This gives me a huge amount of confidence for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Provided it's not too warm or windy, I think I can run a pace of 6:50-6:55 by my Garmin. Anyway, it feels great have a "new" tempo pace and to know that I've gotten to another level with my running. For about 4 years (2010-2014) my tempo pace was 7:25. And it's steadily gone down since I started working with Coach Andrew.

Friday: 5.2 miles easy at 8:29 average

Saturday: 10.7 miles at 8:26 average. Greg ran with me and kept telling me that I was pushing the pace. I honestly was not pushing the pace at all and I felt really strong. It was only 19 degrees on Thursday morning for my tempo, but it was 55 and sunny for Saturday's run. Spring in the Washington DC Metro area is so unpredictable!

Sunday: 3.4 miles easy at 8:43 average.

Total mileage for the week: 44.4

Future Plans
I'm registered for the New Jersey half marathon on April 30th, but I'm leaning toward not actually doing it. Mainly because it involves a 4-hour drive, a hotel stay, and it would take up the entire weekend. I typically love weekends like these, but I feel like I have been SO busy lately and I might just prefer to stay home. I think that setting a large marathon PR and then running a 10-miler four weeks later makes for a solid spring season-- not to mention the 5K I am doing in mid-April. It might be nice to focus on shorter stuff after Cherry Blossom.

But I am not making any final decisions until after Cherry Blossom. It will just depend on how I feel physically and mentally. Usually I'm such a rigid planner and I like to have all my races scheduled out months in advance (which is why I am registered for New Jersey).  But I'm starting to see more value in simply "rolling with the flow."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Recovery Reflections

Now that I've had some time to truly process the race, I have a few additional thoughts I'd like to share.

First of all, this week has been a shock to my system. I took Sunday-Wednesday off completely and I don't think my body knew what to do with all the energy it would have spent on running. Without fail, I woke up between 2:00-3:00am each of these mornings, and was awake for at least an hour. In fact, on Monday morning, I woke up at 2:30 and never went back to sleep.

Physically, I haven't been feeling the affects of this lack of sleep, but I've been moody and cranky.
The combination of little sleep and zero running is not something I'm used to, and I've found that my tolerance for "annoying" things this week was close to zero.

I ran for 20 minutes on Thursday morning, which seemed to nudge my body back to normalcy in terms of its regular rhythm. Of course, all of this will go to hell now that we've lost an hour of sleep to daylight savings time.

PR Cake for Greg and Me
In spite of all of this, plus the busiest week at work I've had since I started this job last September, I was able to reflect more on my performance at the Myrtle Beach Marathon last Saturday. Greg and I made ourselves a PR cake to celebrate our achievements when we returned home, and I began to think more about how a 3:21:54 "tasted." I've been wanting to experience this for so long, and I finally had a taste of running a super fast marathon. What did it mean to me? Let me back up a bit.

Before the Race
When Greg and I sat down for dinner on the Thursday evening before the race, I noticed how at ease I felt. This was such a huge contrast to how I used to feel in the days leading up to a marathon. I used to feel like there was a monkey on my back, or something hanging over my head. I wasn't at peace mentally. It's moments like these, when I truly feel like a more relaxed, peaceful person, that inspired me to write my book. Overcoming race anxiety was a life change for me, and I didn't realize just how negatively it was affecting my sense of well-being until I was able to move past it.

I mentioned in my race report that I slept well the night before the race, and that was mainly due to the fact that I had a peaceful, relaxed state of mind. Sure, I was excited, but excitement is a feeling, whereas my previous anxiety was a state of being. It was all-encompassing.

One of the most important mental skills I've learned in racing is to stay emotion-neutral. It's helpful to stay focused on the task at hand and not be impacted by things outside of my control. Anything can happen during a race, especially if it's as long as marathon, so I've found it helpful to be "immune" to my surroundings and completely focused on my race execution. This includes my pacing strategy, focusing on the mile I am in, my nutrition/hydration schedule, and being aware of the course. Some people take the approach of feeding on external things like crowd support, scenery, etc. Greg is like this. He likes to be distracted. I, on the other hand, find it mentally taxing to think about anything other than running.

When I reached the halfway point, a thought briefly crossed my mind: I'm doing it. For several years, my anxiety would cause me to slow down as early as mile 8, and by the halfway point I would drop out or simply give up because I knew I wouldn't reach my goal. Once I started working on my issues, I would approach miles 8-13 hoping that this stretch wouldn't be the end of my race. The thought came and went very quickly. As I said above, I was emotion-neutral throughout the entire race. But I did take a mental note that I was at the halfway point, running a 7:40 pace, still feeling like I had plenty of energy in the tank.

Mile 22
I didn't write much about miles 22-26 in my race report. I slowed down by about 10-15 seconds per mile, which I think is to be expected during a marathon. In retrospect, I wonder if I could have pushed a little harder and endured a little more pain. But I actually had a thought during mile 24: "If, after the race, I question if I could have pushed harder, the answer is no. I am pushing as hard as I can right now and everything hurts so much." It's always easy to go back and wonder what you could have done at a certain point in the race, but remembering that thought re-assures me that I did leave it all out there and perform to my full potential.

At that point, I knew I was going to set a huge PR and BQ, but I refused to let myself think about that. Even though those are very motivating thoughts, I felt like I needed every ounce of mental energy to convince myself to keep pushing hard. I couldn't afford to think about anything else other than maintaining the effort because if I stopped thinking about it, I would surely succumb to my body's desire to slow down.

As I approached the finish line, I didn't feel any more or less excited than I would at a 5K. Like any other race, I was focused on my final kick and getting every last bit of speed out of my legs. Afterwards, I was excited about my performance and my time, but not as excited as I have been about previous races. I think I "neutralized" myself so much that the positive emotions just weren't as strong as I would have expected them to be. Maybe it just took awhile to process. Maybe it still feels surreal.

Just yesterday, I saw someone on Strava run a 3:25 marathon and I thought to myself "wow- that's so fast." And then I realized, "wait a minute-- I just ran a 3:21." So maybe the process of realizing I'm at a whole new level as a marathoner is just taking its time to settle in. Maybe part of it is that I don't define myself by my running like I used to. I can run a fast time and have it be just that- a fast time. It's not life-changing. It's not like I'm a new person.

I was far more emotional when I crossed the finish line of the Shamrock Half Marathon last year, and I think it's because I realized how much I had to overcome to run the race that I did. In 2010, I DNF'ed the full marathon. In 2011, I couldn't run the race because I was injured. In 2012, I DNF'ed the marathon for the second time. In 2014, I was the only person on my running team who didn't set a half marathon PR, because I let the wind slow me down substantially. Everyone was getting faster. Everyone else conquered the wind. I was slower and I couldn't handle the wind. So I was literally holding back tears when I crossed the half marathon finish line in 1:33:36, in even windier conditions, setting a PR by over two minutes. That was the ultimate redemption.

Even though I'm pleased with my performance, my age group win, and my large BQ, this week
Post-race with my medal
seemed like a normal week. I didn't do a ton of "basking" and at times I had to remind myself to relish in my accomplishment. It could be because work was extremely demanding and I had to prioritize my mental space on that.

The Sky's The Limit
My next marathon will the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. I was registered for it last fall, but due to having mono all summer, I was unable to run it. My coach thinks, and I agree, that I can still run faster in the marathon. I'm not sure what I will be targeting there. Definitely sub 3:20, but how much "sub" is to be determined.

Greg informed me this morning that he'd like for Indianapolis to be his first BQ attempt! I'm so excited because I really enjoy coaching him and watching him improve. I definitely think he's capable of qualifying and I hope they don't change the standards for 2019.

The Cherry Blossom 10-miler is my most immediate goal. The last time I ran this race was in 2014, with a PR of 1:15:26, which is only 10 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace. I'm really excited to see what I can do coming off of this training cycle, particularly since the 10-mile distance is probably the most "enjoyable" in my mind. You get to run it hard, but not for as long as a half marathon, and not quite as painful as a 10K. A happy medium.

As for my recovery, I ran on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week, each for 20 minutes. My total weekly mileage is 7! My legs feel mainly recovered, with just some minor lingering soreness in my right lower hamstring. Next week I will be running a bit more, but everything will be easy. I won't get back into speed work until the week after next. Do I miss marathon training? No. I'm happy to have a break from it. I think I'll be ready to be back in full force come August, though. In the meantime, shorter races will be the focus.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Faster than I could have dreamed of

About four years ago, when I was working with my sports psychologist, he asked me what I thought my fastest possible marathon time ever would be. I told him that I believed I was capable of a 3:30, which seemed fast at the time, and the notion of running even faster than that didn't seem realistic. For years, I had plateaued at around 3:50 and even though I believed I was physically capable of
Myrtle Beach Marathon 2017
faster, I knew I had some mental roadblocks to overcome.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015 when I finally qualified for Boston and ran a time that truly reflected my physical abilities, now that the mental barriers were gone. I was elated with a 3:35, and thought I was very close to, if not at, my lifetime peak.

But once I learned how to relax and not put pressure on myself, I opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The following summer, my coach had me work on speed and I trained for a half marathon instead of a full. Over the course of six months, I dropped my half marathon PR from 1:41 to 1:37 to 1:35 to 1:33. And the following spring, while training for Boston 2016, he upped my mileage 60-65 miles per week, running seven days a week, which built my endurance.

Boston ended up being a different kind of victory. With its 70 degree sunny weather, I was happy to finish the race in one piece and I realized that running a "fast" time wasn't realistic in those conditions. However, it did leave me wondering what I could have done. So I registered for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, which would take place in the fall.

But God had different plans for me. I ended up spending 12 weeks with mono, unable to run or do much of anything. It was a difficult time for me, despite all my best efforts to stay positive, but I resolved that once I recovered, I would get back out there and start training for a marathon ASAP. My coach was conservative about my comeback and I spent about five weeks doing nothing but easy running. It bored the crap out of me, but I trusted my coach. By November, I was finally back to racing and doing harder work outs.

My coach finally agreed to me running the Myrtle Beach marathon. I chose it because it was known for being a fast course with good weather. And it was early in the spring, which would allow me four weeks to recover and then run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. So I trained through December, January and February, averaging about 65 miles a week, with 3 weeks above 71 miles. I ran seven days a week and from the start of the year until the race, I only had two rest days. I never thought I would be capable of training at this level without getting injured. And I never thought I would be starting a marathon at a 7:45 pace. But here I am!

Training Cycle

The taper went pretty well except for Wednesday, when I felt like I was getting sick again. I was having trouble focusing at work, I felt like my head was in a haze, and my throat was a little sore. It took me over an hour to drive home from work, and I found myself getting abnormally angry at the situation since I was so tired and just wanted to get home. I told myself not to freak out, but part of me was convinced that I was getting sick again and I wouldn't be able to race. Turns out this was just taper madness, or a possible result of the decreased mileage. My body is so used to running lots of miles each morning, and I had only run for 40 minutes on Tuesday, and 30 on Wednesday. Thursday was a rest day and that's when Greg and I drove down to Myrtle Beach.

We had all day Friday to go to the expo and check out the course. We drove most of the course and discovered that there was a mini-golf course at mile 20 which had zebras! I would get to run by zebras!

Before the Race
Race morning went like clockwork for Greg and me. Greg was running the half, with a goal of a sub-7:00 pace. The race had a 6:30am start time (another reason I chose it -- get it done before it gets too hot!) so we were up at 4:00am eating our bagels and bananas with peanut butter. I had decided to take a different approach to hydration with this race. I hypothesized that I had a tendency to over hydrate
Everything is ready to go!
during races and it would cause issues. I did my training runs this cycle on less water, but made sure to keep myself much more hydrated on a day-to-day basis. This really worked for me, and it was kind of liberating to not feel like I had to be drinking so much water the day before the race and during the race.

Thankfully, I had slept relatively well the night before the race and the previous night. I actually fell asleep with my head on Greg's chest at 7:30 on Friday night. I was up for about an hour in the middle of the night, but then went back to sleep for another restful 2 hours.

The weather was forecast to be nearly ideal: sunny and 36 at the start, warming to 46 by the finish. We'd have a headwind from miles 8-18, but the forecasts all disagreed about how fast it would be. The most I saw was 15 mph, which I thought would be annoying, but manageable.

Yet another reason why I chose this race: easy logistics. Our hotel was literally two blocks from the start line. This allowed us to stay in our hotel room until 20 minutes prior to the start, with the ability to use the bathroom. We took our UCAN at 6:00 and by 6:15 we were approaching the start line. The race has about 5000 combined participants. The 1:45 half marathon pacer was standing at the very front of the race, and there was no corralling system, so there were many slower runners who started farther forward than they should have.

It took us a little longer than expected to get to the start line, but I stayed calm as we literally approached the corral during the National Anthem. I felt relaxed, confident, and ready. It also felt a little bit surreal. I had been thinking about this race every day since November, and it was finally here!

Miles 1-5
I settled into a comfortable pace pretty quickly, and it was only crowded for the first three miles. It amazed me how many conversations were going on around me. I can understand a little dialog, but when running at marathon pace or half marathon pace, the last thing I want to do is talk. These miles went by pretty quickly. My plan was to start at a pace of around 7:40-7:45 and just take it from there. The paces felt really easy, so even though I'd never started a marathon any faster than 8:20, I was confident. Greg zoomed off ahead after the first half mile, and I noticed he was having trouble weaving through the crowd.

Mile 1: 7:47
Mile 2: 7:42
Mile 3: 7:41
Mile 4: 7:42
Mile 5: 7:37

Miles 6-10
Everything was still feeling really good, and during mile 7, I ran past two people who recognized me
from my blog and my Instagram. One of them is someone who I follow on Strava, but I didn't know who the other person was, so please comment and identify yourself! I chatted for about a minute with the person from Strava, Bronwen, and she told me she was going for a 3:30. It would have been nice to have run with her longer, but she mentioned wanting to dial it back and I was actually in the mood to get a little faster.

At mile 8, we turned into a headwind. I knew to expect this, as I had studied the course map and wind direction beforehand. I knew that miles 8-18 would all be directly into a headwind, and I just had to hope it wasn't too bad.  I would estimate (and Greg agrees) that it was a sustained wind of 10-12 mph. Nothing horrendous, but definitely challenging. Unfortunately, the crowd had thinned out too much to be able to draft off of anyone. And I kept passing people, which was good for my race, but not good for trying to draft.

Mile 6: 7:40
Mile 7: 7:40
Mile 8: 7:35
Mile 9: 7:41
Mile 10: 7:37

Miles 11-15
I hoped I wasn't screwing myself royally by running in the 7:30's so early in the race, but I was keeping the effort steady. Plus, I knew that the last 8 miles would have a tailwind, so hopefully it would get easier.  (Okay, the last 8 miles of a marathon are never "easier"!)
Mile 12, just took my UCAN

The half marathon runners turned off and the course really emptied out. There were now even fewer people to draft off of, and I suspected I'd be running alone for most of the rest of the race.

I took my UCAN gel at mile 11 and it went down pretty well. I had been carrying a bottle of water the entire time and I was drinking from it about once per mile, but only in very small amounts that would be easy on my digestive system. Most of this section of the course was shaded, which was good because even at 40 degrees, direct sunlight can feel too warm. With the wind, though, my hands were starting to get really cold. I was having trouble holding onto my water bottle with my nearly numb hands, so I tossed it at mile 14.

I hit the "half marathon" mark at 1:39:17, which is a pace of 7:34. I put "half marathon" in quotes because this was actually mile marker 13, not halfway. According to my Garmin, I hit the halfway mark at an average pace of 7:40.

When I got to mile 15, I still felt good, but running was noticeably harder than it had been at mile 5!

Mile 11: 7:41
Mile 12: 7:36
Mile 13: 7:36
Mile 14: 7:38
Mile 15: 7:35

Miles 16-20
Okay, enough with the headwind! Miles 16-17 were tough. The wind was picking up, there weren't many runners around and these miles were actually slightly uphill. On the plus side, we had a really
nice view of the ocean, and I used that to distract me from the discomfort I was beginning to feel.

Finally, at mile 18, we turned around. It felt great both physically and mentally because now I just had to run straight to the finish, with a tailwind most of the way. It also energized me to be able to see runners on the other side of the course.

Now that I was no longer carrying my own water, I had to remember to take water from the stations. I could probably only take in 3 ounces at each station, but that was enough to get me through. At mile 20, I came upon the zebras! It was such a nice pick-me-up. I also took six honey stinger chews, which I thankfully was able to take without water. Those went down well and I knew I'd be be good from a fueling standpoint for the remainder of the race. Nothing left to do but focus on running.

Mile 16: 7:40
Mile 17: 7:40
Mile 18: 7:39
Mile 19: 7:30
Mile 20: 7:32

Miles 21-Finish
Even though the race was starting to feel hard, I didn't feel like I was going to crash, and I knew I had enough time "banked" to run a really great time even if I slowed down. But I didn't want to use that as an excuse to slow down, I just used that as a way to stay positive about the race.

At mile 23 there was a small out-and-back, and as I was coming out of it, I saw Laura, who I had met on Instagram. We had followed each other's training every day and I was so excited to see her just a few minutes behind me. This meant that she was at least 5 minutes ahead of her goal! It totally energized me to see a friendly face, and it made me smile. Being in a good mood that late in the game is so important. It's easy to get stuck in your own head, thinking about how hard it is.

At mile 23, I realized that I was slowing down a little bit, but I told myself just to maintain the effort as much as possible. As with all marathons, 3 more miles to go seemed like an eternity. Everything in
Approaching mile 26
me wanted to stop, but of course I knew that would be a horrible idea.

Finally, I approached the intersection where Greg said he'd be, and I saw him jumping up and down and cheering for me. He snapped some photos and then ran with me for about 30 seconds. It was nice to have him there so close to the end. He pulled off as I approached the final turn and I was able to find a faster gear and pick up the pace a little. We had suddenly merged with the half marathon runners so I had to weave around a few of them, which was an unwelcome challenge at that point. As I approached the finish line, I glanced at my watch and saw that I could run 3:21 if I gunned it. I gave it everything I had, and finished with a time of 3:21:54.

Mile 20: 7:32
Mile 21: 7:42
Mile 22: 7:45
Mile 23: 7:51
Mile 24: 7:52
Mile 25: 8:05
Mile 26: 7:55
Last 0.2: 7:29 pace

After crossing the finish line, I felt a little like death. I very slowly walked through the finish line chute and my Instagram friend, Laura, was close behind. I used her boyfriend's phone to call Greg and it wasn't long before we were re-united.

Once he got me settled on a grassy knoll with my space blanket, he headed over to the results tent and came back to told me that I had won my age group! I was elated! I thought I might win an age group award, but I never expected to come in first.

Finisher Certificate
After the awards ceremony, Greg ended up carrying me back to the hotel. I was able to walk, but because my hip was killing me so much, we were going at a snail's pace. Everyone we passed told Greg what a great guy he was! If it hadn't been for that, we might still be walking back.

Greg crushed his goal of a sub-7:00 pace and ran a 1:29:49. He's gotten so fast lately!

I'm still processing this race, so I don't think I've gotten as excited yet as I will be! On the one hand, I'm shocked that I set a PR by over 13 minutes. But on the other hand, this was the time I was going for and I was confident I could do it, so I shouldn't be all that surprised! I qualified for Boston with an 18:06 cushion. And to think that I spent 7 years of my life agonizing over getting a 3:40. Just letting go of the obsession and enjoying racing is so much easier!

I'm pleased that:
  • I had a generally healthy training cycle with only a minor cold and an infected blister to cope with
  • I found a new hydration strategy that works for me (more water is not always better)
  • I got lucky with the weather
  • I was able to execute on my race strategy, including my nutrition plan
  • I left it all out there on the course. At the end of the race I had absolutely nothing left in the tank!
  • I placed first in my age group, out of 105 runners.
  • I'm elated with my huge PR and BQ!
Myrtle Beach Marathon Medal

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone who wants to run a fast marathon. It's logistically very easy with hotels within close proximity to the start/finish, the beach area itself is really nice, and the race is well organized.

Overall, this is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and I'm so happy I was able to share it with Greg.  Up next is the Cherry Blossom 10-miler!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Taper Tips: Taking my own advice

It's taper time and my body couldn't be happier! After my most intense marathon training cycle ever, I'm definitely ready for a little down time before I race 26.2 miles in Myrtle Beach. Now it's time to focus on mental preparation: my pacing strategy, my plan to get through the difficult parts, and my

I'm taking some pages out of my own book and using this time to focus on "the process" of the race instead of the outcome. Although I'm highly motivated to run a fast time, I know that the only way I'll get there is by breaking the race down into manageable chunks, and focusing on one mile at a time. Here are some key points that I need to remember during the race:

  • Energy and "feeling good" comes in waves. Just because you don't feel good at a certain point, or if it gets really hard, doesn't mean the rest of your race is doomed. Just power through it and trust that it's truly a rough patch that will pass. Marathons are full of ups and downs, and it's important to stay positive during the downs.
  • It's going to be hard. It's going to hurt. I need to be prepared for this, and when it happens, I should remind myself that this is what I've trained for. I'm physically prepared to run hard for a really long time, I just need to mentally be able to endure a lot of discomfort.
  • The course profile and wind direction is similar to my PR/BQ from two years ago. 5-6 miles in one direction (tailwind), turn around and run in the other direction until mile 19 (headwind), turn around and run straight to the finish (tailwind). Once I make that final turn, the run to the finish will be difficult, but there should be a nice tail wind propelling me forward -- just like there was two years ago. 
  • Don't drink too much water. I'm going to start the race well hydrated so there is no need to drink more frequently or with more volume than I do during my training runs. (I tend to over-drink when I run marathons).
  • I've set many PRs in windy conditions. The wind is not a major obstacle for me-- it just makes things a little more uncomfortable.
  • The most important thing is that I run my absolute hardest. My personal satisfaction with this race will not be based on my finish time; but rather the effort level I put out.
  • Don't worry about missing a BQ. I can run the whole race at my easy pace and BQ, so I have a huge buffer zone.
  • Run a good story. I'm going to write a blog post afterwards, so I should think about what I want it to say and make that a reality.
Week in Review
I've read many articles about how it's helpful to review your training cycle in its entirety during the taper as a way to build confidence. I've been doing that on a weekly basis with this blog. First I'll recap this past week, and then I'll focus on some highlights of the training cycle.

This week was definitely all about recovering. My blister has dramatically improved, and now the
Tuesday, Feb. 21
wound is completely closed. I've been wearing Injinji toe socks all week and leaving it open during the work day. I finished my antibiotics so this whole incident is behind me. My cold has passed completely, and I've felt energized all week.

Monday: 8.1 miles easy @ 8:32 average

Tuesday: 9.3 miles, including 4 x 2000m at the track. The 2000m intervals were at paces of 6:47, 6:38, 6:41, 6:38. This was the fastest I have ever run 2000m intervals-- faster than my 5K PR pace! I felt really energized throughout the entire workout.

Wednesday: 6.8 miles easy @ 8:31 average

Thursday: 7.9 miles, including road intervals. The intervals were 2 x (1 minute, 2 minute, 3 minute, 2 minute, 1 minute) all with 90 second recovery jogs. It was 52 degrees and humid, so I actually worked up a good sweat! I kept everything under a 6:30 pace, with the faster 1-minute intervals averaging around 6:10. 

Friday: 7 miles easy @ 8:30 average

Saturday: 10.7 mile easy @ 8:24 average. I consider this to be a heat acclimation run because it was
Saturday, Feb. 25: Unseasonably warm
sunny and about 60 degrees. 

Sunday: 3.5 miles easy @ 8:18 average. The best thing about this run was that I logged an 8:04 mile that felt really easy, running directly into a headwind. 

Total mileage: 53.3

I've now been running for 51 days straight, averaging 9.2 miles per day. My longest streak is 58 days, which I won't surpass, but I may end up logging more overall volume. We'll see how things shake out next week. 

Training Cycle Highlights and Stats
  • Average training pace this year: 8:24
  • Miles logged this year: 502.5
  • Days run this year: Every day except January 6th
  • Hardest run: 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile at tempo effort, with 3:00 recovery jogs- run in 21 mph sustained wind + wet snow and darkness
  • PRs set: 10K in 41:51 on un-tapered legs, 5K in 20:13 (set un-officially during a 10K)
  • Longest run: 22.3 miles at an average pace of 8:27
  • Fastest long run: 20 miles at an average pace of 7:55
  • Number of 20+ milers: 3
  • Slowest run: 3 miles at a pace of 10:04 when there was ice on the road
  • Hottest run: Either of my 2 treadmill runs in Miami while on a business trip
  • Longest marathon pace run: 12 miles @ 7:31 average
  • Highest mileage week: 71.7 (week of January 16th)
Weekly mileage for the last 12 months

I'm ready. Very, very ready.