Sunday, June 25, 2017

Twilight Festival Four Miler Race Report

Last night I ran the =PR= Twilight Festival Four Miler. This was my 5th time running this race, I had run it before in 2007 (31:18), 2008 (time unknown), 2015 (30:08), and 2016 (28:36). This race is known for being very hot, and I like it because it's a good mental challenge.

I'd had two weeks of training since the Lawyers Have Heart 5K, with some pretty intense workouts in ridiculously warm weather. I ran a set of 8 x 200m sprint intervals, in which the recovery was long enough to go "all out" on them, yielding times of 38-39 seconds for all of them. That's a sub-5:30
Before the =PR= Twilight Four Miler
pace! I also had a mixed workout of a 2-mile tempo run followed by 4 x 400m, 4 x 200m. That was good practice in shifting gears.

Going into this four-mile race, my "A" goal was to run the lower half of the 27's, so sub-27:30. My "B" goal was simply to break 28:00, because I had never done that on this course before. This year, the temperature was 81 degrees with a sunny sky. Last year, it was 91 degrees, which was suffocating. Given that I ran the Mother's Day Four miler in 26:57 not too long ago, these might seem like easy goals. But the Mother's Day race has much cooler weather (30 degrees cooler).

Before the Race
I'm not a huge fan of nighttime races, but I do them occasionally because it's a different challenge. I wasn't really sure what to do with myself on Saturday, or how to eat. I hydrated A LOT, alternating between water, and water mixed with UCAN Hydrate. And for some reason, I found myself really hungry all day long. My plan was to have a bagel with peanut butter two hours before the race, which started at 7:30. But at 4:00, I felt like I couldn't wait until 5:30, so I just ate early.

Similar to last year, Greg and I brought a cooler of ice, in which we put small towels to keep ourselves cool before the race. On the way to the race, I had a minor freak out because I wasn't sure where to go. I took the address from the email confirmation and plugged it into Waze, but quickly realized that we were going to a part of Ashburn that was not where the race was. Greg was driving so I checked the website, which said they had a new course. And then I realized the website had a
different address from the email, so I had no idea where to go! I texted my friend Rochelle, who was already there and she confirmed that the race hadn't moved. Then I realized that the address from the email confirmation was the location of packet pickup. Ugh. And the course had not changed. The term "new course" language must have referred to several years ago when they changed it.

When we got to the race, we retrieved our bibs and beer glasses (very cool SWAG item) and chatted with some of our friends. Before we knew it, it was time to drink the UCAN and warm up! It was actually a beautiful night if you weren't racing. Low 80's and sunny and the humidity wasn't even that bad. Considering that the past two years have been much hotter, this felt manageable. Plus, I knew
Warming up with Greg and Lisa
that part of the course would be shaded. Of course we were sweating like crazy after the warmup and I was dying for water. I can't believe how much water I drank on Friday and Saturday but still was thirsty immediately before the race. And I didn't even have to use the bathroom.

I did some strides and then lined up at the starting line. I knew that this would be a competitive field, and I wasn't going to be among the top five women like I had been for my previous four races, but I was hopeful about placing in my age group. From having run this race the past two years, I knew that the best approach was not to go out too fast during the first mile because you don't feel the effects of the heat until later in the race. According to last year's blog post, my start pace felt like marathon pace, which then started to feel like 10K pace in the second mile, but race pace for the last two miles. So my plan was to run the first mile in 6:45, then 6:55 for the second mile (uphill), and then as hard as possible for the last two miles.

Mile 1
Even though my plan was to be conservative with this mile and not get pulled out to fast, it felt super
Mile 1
easy. I knew I was running faster than planned but it felt good and I didn't want to limit myself so I just went with it. Even though I typically have a very precise race plan, I often toss that out the window if things feel different than expected. Unless, of course, it's a marathon when you can't really know at mile 2 how it will feel at mile 22. So, I ended up running a 6:35 mile. Okay, time in the bank!

Mile 2
This is the only net uphill mile of the race. All the other miles are a net down. So I told myself to just get up the hill, just get through the mile and everything would be fine. Now, relatively speaking, this hill isn't terribly steep. I think it was like a 30 foot gain or something, but with the heat it just always feels much steeper than that. The Mother's Day 4-miler starts out with like an 80 foot climb or something crazy. But yet this second mile with its modest ascent felt tougher than that. It was during this mile that I did most of my passing. I picked off about three women, and by the time the mile was over, there were only two women left in my sights who I wanted to pass. I also grabbed a cup of water from a water station and poured it over my head. It felt good, but the sun was still beating down on me. My split for this mile was 6:58. A little slower than I wanted, but maybe that meant I would have more energy for the end.

Mile 3
The course was now mostly shaded and I knew that the worst of it was behind me. In the early part of the mile, I passed one of the two women I had in my sights. That gave me a brief confidence boost before I started to feel really bad. For the rest of the mile, I felt like I had zero energy or pep in my step. I went into "just hang on" mode. I was no longer in control of the race-- I felt like the race was in control of me. I had fantasies of pulling off the side of the course and DNFing. I started to worry that maybe this race would cause me to get mono again like last summer. Admittedly, I was not mentally tough at all. I was still running at a decent pace, but it felt really slow, like I was out for an easy run or something. I didn't feel like I had the energy to actually put effort into the race. Hopes of passing that woman who was still in my sights faded. On the plus side, she wasn't widening the gap, but I also wasn't closing it. My Garmin beeped at 6:49 and I wondered how I would be able to
Finish Line!
survive this agony for another mile.

Mile 4
Last year I really sped up during this mile. It was my fastest mile of the race, so part of me was just waiting for that magic to happen. But last year, I went out more conservatively so I had the energy to push. This time, it wasn't until about halfway through the mile when things turned around and it started to feel less like a death march and more like the 4th mile of a 4-mile race. I really rallied and told myself to just hang in there for a few more minutes. I could do anything for a few minutes. I didn't pass anyone and no one passed me. I was focused on getting to the finish line in a respectable time, thinking that my goal time was probably way out of reach. My Garmin beeped for a 6:38 split, and I caught a glimpse of the total time at 27:00. But I knew to expect from the past two years that my Garmin would measure this as a long course so I just kept gunning at a pace of 5:56 until I reached the finish line. Thank God that was over!!!

After the Race
It took me several minutes to recover and it wasn't long before I was reunited with Greg and my friend Lisa. We walked back to the car where the ice cold towels and water were waiting for us. We
Lisa and me at a nearby brewery post-race
exchanged war stories of how hard the race was.

We then proceeded to the results table, where I learned that my official time was 27:32, and 7th overall female. I placed second in my age group. I was really happy with this placement, considering how competitive the field was. I never was able to catch that one woman, who finished about 8 seconds ahead of me, but I was fine with that, seeing as I went into survival mode for about a full mile. Greg placed third in his age group in a blazing 26:30. We cooled down for about a mile and then I went in search of the ice cream truck. I was disappointed when it wasn't there, as that's one of the best things about this race. After getting our awards, we went to a local brewery with Lisa, her husbands and some other runners.

This morning, I had a medium-long run scheduled. I took it nice and easy and it took about 7 miles of running to work out all the kinks. I ended up with 11.6 miles at an average pace of 8:56. Afterwards, I showered and went back to sleep! I got a massage later in the day. I ended up with 46.4 miles for the week, which is about what I have been doing for the past month.

4 x 4 Analysis
I am a numbers junkie, so I couldn't resist performing this analysis of four 4-mile races.

2016 Mother's Day: 27:51     2016 Twilight Festival: 28:36
2017 Mother's Day: 26:57     2017 Twilight Festival: 27:32

  • Year over year, I improved my Mother's Day time by 54 seconds, and my Twilight time by 64 seconds. However, the weather for this year's Twilight race was 10 degrees cooler than last year, so if it were hotter, I might have only improved by 54 seconds. 
  • In 2016, my Twilight time was 45 seconds slower than my Mother's Day time. In 2017, my Twilight time was 35 seconds slower than my Mother's Day time.
  • My Garmin measured 4.01 miles for the Mother's Day race in 2016 and 2017. My Garmin measured 4.09 for both Twilight races. 
  • In Garmin Land, my average pace for both races this year was the same at 6:44/mile. 
Next up is a 5K on July 4th! After that I will take a little break and then start training for my fall marathon. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lawyers Revenge!

In June 2005, I ran my first "big" race: the Lawyers Have Heart 10K in Washington, DC. It was only the weekend before that I had discovered road racing when I participated in a two-mile race at my college reunion. One of my classmates told me about the Lawyers race, so I signed up.

Since then, I had run the race every year through 2012. That's eight consecutive years! But then in 2013, Greg and I went to the beach that week so the streak ended. And I realized I had no desire to start it back up again because the race is always so brutally hot. In fact, when   I ran it in 2011 it was so hot that they turned the race into a 5K for safety reasons. And in subsequent years, they began to offer a 5K option.
Lawyers Have Heart 5K

My friend Chad is a lawyer and he was assembling a team for his firm. He asked Greg and me if we would run the 10K on his team. Greg agreed, but I declined. I really want to focus on 5Ks right now, and I've always struggled running this particular 10K in the heat. So I decided to run the 5K, even though it wouldn't count for Chad's team.

In the past, I have rarely been happy with my performance at this race. I've usually always fallen short of my goal, and felt miserable doing it. In fact, one of the few times I was happy with my performance was when the race was a 5K in 2011, and I ran a 22:43. So even though I probably won't try to get "revenge" on the 10K, I figured that running a fast 5K would give me almost as much satisfaction.

Earlier in the week, I had run a workout of 4 x 800m, 3 x 200m. My coach told me to run the 800's hard because there were only four of them. And I ended up setting three new personal records, one right after the other: 3:03, 3:02, 3:01. This was a huge confidence booster for the 5K. My previous fastest 800 was 3:06, which I had only done once.

A few weeks ago, I got a pair of the Nike Zoom Elite. I had been looking for a replacement for the Mizuno Wave Saynora for quite awhile, and I had yet to find one that I liked. I loved the Sayonara 1 and 2, but when they came out with the 3, it was a completely different shoe. Much heavier and bulkier. The 4 was better than the 3, but still not nearly as good as the 1 and 2 had been.

I've gradually transitioned into the Zoom Elite for speed work over the past few weeks and I really like them. I'm not sure if I would say I like them better than the Sayonara 2-- I think I like them the same. But they are very different shoes. The Sayonara doesn't have a lot of cushion so my feet are in close contact with the ground. I like being able to feel the ground beneath my feet and pushing off of it. The Zoom Elite has a lot of bounce. So while I don't get the sensation of close contact with the ground, I feel like I am gliding along the track or road. In terms of weight, they are almost identical with the Zoom Elite being just a wee bit lighter according to my kitchen scale. I decided I would race in the Nike's this morning, as I had run several really strong workouts in them. I only have one pair left of the Sayonara, so I need to get used to racing in the Nike's at some point.

Before the Race
Greg and I woke up at around 4:30am in order to leave the house at 5:20. We wanted to arrive no later than 6:00 so that we'd have time to park, get our bibs, use the porta potties, and warm up. We ate a small breakfast at home (half an English muffin and peanut butter) and then we each had a serving of UCAN pre-race.

The logistics went smoothly for the most part. The only annoying thing was having to go back to the car to feed the meter 30 minutes before the race, which dug into our warm up time. We warmed up for about 15 minutes and then took our place at the start line. I was raring to go when the announcer said that the race would be delayed by 10 minutes. Ugh. This totally messed up the timing of my warmup and I didn't want to get out of the corral to try and run more, as it seemed like the race could start at any moment. This happened to me during my last 5K and the result was a first mile that felt harder than it should have for the pace I was running.

The 5K and 10K races started together, but split apart shortly before the 5K finish line (which was also the 10K finish line-- they just had to run an additional out and back). The 5K course was the same as it had been in 2011, but since that was six years ago, I didn't remember where exactly the hills were. I also couldn't find an elevation profile or Strava data anywhere. I wish I had known going into it that the first two miles were a net uphill and the last mile was really fast. I was a little discouraged seeing my paces for the first two miles and had I known that the last mile was going to be all downhill, I would have been more confident.

It was 68 degrees and sunny, but thankfully the humidity was low. I've run this race in much warmer conditions, so this wasn't too bad.

Mile 1: 6:40
The race starts underneath a bridge, so the Garmin is totally unreliable. I decided I would run by feel, putting out a hard effort, but not killing myself on the hill to get on top of the bridge. We made our way up the hill, and did a U-turn. From there, it was smooth sailing until the turnaround at the
Mile 1
halfway point. I was expected to see my friend Allison at the mile 1 mark, which I did. Thanks for cheering me on, Allison! She had suggested to me earlier that I manually split my watch due the inaccuracies of being under a bridge, and I was going to take her advice, but then my Garmin auto-lapped at just the right moment, so I didn't have to do that. Although I would have liked for my first mile to have been closer to 6:30, I didn't let it faze me. I'm pretty good at staying emotion-neutral while racing and focusing solely on putting out a hard effort. Greg had been directly behind me for the entire first mile, which meant that he was going out too fast or that I was going out too slow. I tried not to think about it too much.

Mile 2: 6:31
I settled into the race and focused on getting to the turnaround. I knew that once I turned around things would be mentally a lot easier. I also focused on running the tangents of the curves and trying to stay in the shaded side of the course. Sometimes these two things were at odds with each other. I could still hear Greg behind me, and I was really hoping that he was going out too fast and that I wasn't abnormally slow. I remember running this race years ago and seeing all the fast women at the turnaround. Wondering what it was like to be them. I imagined that I was one of those women right after I turned around, and that I needed to "look strong" and that thought helped me to continue to push.

Mile 3: 6:24
Mile 3, photo by Cheryl Young

I was in the home stretch but the finish line still seemed so far away. I could hear the announcer congratulating the first finishers underneath me, as I was still running above the bridge. It really seemed like I would never make it there. For some reason, I was sure that it would be a left turn to go back under the bridge, so I was prepared to turn left. But then the signs appeared which pointed the 5K runners to the right, so I had to alter my path. I was caught off guard but once I was on the right track, I really started to pick up the pace. During the final turnaround I saw that there was a women not too far behind me, which motivated me to push really hard during the final segment so that she couldn't pass me. With the finish line in sight, I imagined myself being pulled toward it and gave it all that I had.

The last 0.13: ??
This portion was under a bridge, so I don't trust my Garmin pace at all. All I know is that I ran it really hard. I could see from the clock that I would be very close to my PR (although not under) and I wanted to be within striking distance. Thankfully, nobody passed me during that last stretch.

After the Race
I stopped my watch a few seconds after crossing the finish line in 20:24, so I figured my official time would be a few seconds faster. But it wasn't. This could be another case of them using my gun time, but I will need to see the finish line photos to confirm. So as of now I am going with 20:24. Since it's not a PR for me I don't care as much, but it will be interesting to see if my clock time from the photo matches my finish time.

I started chatting with the woman who I had seen at the turnaround. She's also trying to break 20 minutes in the 5K, so we had a lot to talk about. We cooled down together and then I went back to the finish line to watch for Chad and Greg. I saw Chad first and then Greg about 20 seconds later in 41:39.

We quickly made our way to the awards area, as they were announcing the 5K awards at 7:45 (well, maybe now 7:55 with the 10-minute late start). It turns out that only the top 3 male and female finishers got an award, as well as the top first place master in each gender. I was the 5th female finisher, and if there had been age group awards, I would have won mine.

In any event, I placed 5th out of 933 women, which I was very happy with. Especially considering that historically I have never come close to this placement at this race. In 2011, I was the 111th female out of 1633. Granted, this was when everyone ran the 5K due to the heat (instead of there being two races) but that's still quite an improvement. This is where the revenge/redemption feeling comes in. I never used to place so well in this race.

In terms of my current fitness level, it's 7 seconds slower than my PR from three weeks ago, but considering that this course had more hills, heat, sun, etc, I am pleased. I think that sub-20:00 will come in the fall, but I will continue to use the summer races to practice running at a hard effort. I actually only have one more 5K this summer, and that course is hillier than today's course. Today's course was actually pretty easy, it just wasn't the cool pancake that I ran three weeks ago!  I might do one in late August, but that is TBD.

Next up is a four-mile race, which is known for being in the high 80's to low 90's. Heat acclimation, here I come!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

5K Training with Geese

Success (or failure) in running is never based on one workout alone. Like notes played on a piano, you need all of them at different times and different intensities to make a rich song. A single note all on its own does not make a song.

With that disclaimer, this focus of this blog is a single workout that I performed on Thursday. 

The track that Greg and I typically used has been closed for maintenance for over two weeks. They're installing what appears to be a new football field, and it's taking a long time. We first learned about it when we showed up for a workout and they told use we couldn't use the track. Thankfully, the workout was 400's, so we found a flat section of low-traffic neighborhood road and measured out 0.25 miles on the Garmin and used it.

But since then we've been using a different track-- one that's home to a gaggle of about 25 geese. The first time we used the track, the geese started out on the field in the center of the track, and migrated to the outside during our workout. We managed to avoid them, and they managed to avoid us during this process. But Thursday was a different story. When we arrived, the geese were congregated at the center of the track again, and we thought they might just stay there since they didn't look too anxious to go anywhere. 

The prescribed workout was 7 x 800m at 5K pace with 30-second rests in between. The 30-second rests were a new curve ball. Usually, 800m intervals come with 400m recovery jogs, or at the very least 200m jogs. But this time, my coach instructed me to simply rest (not run) for 30 seconds and then start up again. He also told me that he wanted me to try and run a little faster than my 5K pace so I could practice running at a sub-20:00 pace. So, looking at this workout, it's 3.5 miles (which is longer than a 5K) at faster than 5K pace, with 30-second rests thrown in every half mile.

Before the Workout
I'll admit that I was intimidated by this workout. It was almost like racing a 5K in training but with some small breaks. But, there have been quite a few workouts over the past few years that looked intimidating on paper but weren't so difficult in execution. I took half a serving of UCAN before the run just to be sure I had enough energy to get through it.

Greg and I warmed up for about two miles before starting the workout. The geese were moving around on the field but they didn't seem to be trying to cross the track yet. The plan was for me to pace the workout, with Greg running behind me. This is how we typically run workouts because I like to set the pace and it takes the guesswork out of it for Greg. Even though he's faster than me, we're close enough in speed that my workout paces still work for him.

Reps 1-4
I told Greg that my plan was to run between 3:14-3:16 for each of them. This would equal my 5K pace. I thought to myself that if I felt really good, I would push a little harder, like my coach advised, for slightly faster than 5K pace.

Part of the challenge was timing the rests. When I finished each 800, I hit the lap button on my watch to record the split. The watch face then shows the split for about 5 seconds before transitioning back to its normal mode. So I would stare at the watch until I could see the total elapsed time, and then add 25 seconds onto whatever it said. The first 2-3 seconds were spent slowing down and stopping after crossing the line, and the remaining time was spent walking back to the line and waiting. So I'm guessing I only got about 20 seconds of actual complete (non-walking) rest.

The first rep came in at 3:16. This was exactly what I wanted, and I was happy I was able to pace it by feel. My Garmin is completely inaccurate on the track, so I always pace these runs based on how they feel. I upped the effort a little for the next one, finishing in 3:12. But I thought that might be too fast, so I backed off the pace for the third, finishing in 3:14. Rep 4 was 3:15.

Reps 5-7
Being over halfway done was immensely helpful from a mental standpoint. So I must have turned on the gas a lot during the 5th rep, which clocked in at 3:09. OR. . . it could have been the geese. As I approached the 200m mark, the geese were starting to cross the track. They were in lane 1 & 2 so I moved into lane three to avoid them. Same thing at 600m. So it was either the geese or the fact that I was over halfway done that I was able to up the effort.

Rep 6 was challenging and I was really ready to be done with the workout at this point. My legs were tired and I was tired (3:13). The geese were in full-fledged migration mode so it was a game of geese dodging at the 200m and 600m point. I mentally recollected myself during that final rest, and finished off the last 800m in 3:12.

After the Workout
Greg and I were happy to be done with the workout. It was a tough one for sure, but not as hard as I anticipated. When I got home, I averaged out the splits, and they came out to 3:11 and some change. My training log allowed me see my pace without the rests and it ended up being 3.5 miles at an average pace of 6:24. This pace would squeak me under 20:00 but just barely. And of course, this was a flat track, and the weather was relatively nice.

My legs ended up being a little tired on Friday and during today's long run. But they still held up well, allowing me to run 14.1 miles at a pace of 8:30. My next 5K is just one week away and I'm excited for it. Will I actually attempt to run sub-20:00? And if so, will I do it? Come back next week to find out!!!

The fittest geese in the Washington DC Metro area