Tuesday, January 18, 2022

2022: A Shaky Start

This is my 500th blog post! And it's the first blog post of 2022.

The year is off to a shaky start. On New Year's Eve, I had some major digestive issues that left me feeling

January 5 snowy run
quite fatigued and unsettled. So when it came time for my annual New Year's Day race, I made the decision to run it as tempo run, not a full-out race.

New Year's Day 5K
I didn't write a blog post about this race because it wasn't really a "race" for me. Greg and I were planning to leave for our vacation in Mexico on January 7, and I didn't want to get sick beforehand because I raced a 5K when feeling worn out.

Backing up slightly. . . I received the J&J booster shot on December 19, which meant I would be fully boosted by the time I departed for Mexico on January 7. Greg and I also decided to do a self-imposed quarantine after Christmas. . . aside from the 5K race. This meant no going out to eat, curbside pickup groceries, and no going into the office. No socializing with family or friends. 

So with the vaccine booster, the self-imposed quarantine, and the decision to not race the 5K full out, I thought I was being pretty smart. The goal was to make it to vacation and back while staying healthy.

Back to the race. It was 57 degrees with light rain. I decided against my carbon fiber plate shoes because those have no traction, and I am not convinced they make me any faster in the 5K distance. So I stuck with my adidas Adios 4. 

Greg and I warmed up for about 2 miles beforehand. I had a Maurten caffeinated gel, which I hoped would sit will with my still recovering stomach. I felt decent during the warm up but definitely not good enough to want to race at 5K effort.

The first mile was downhill. I went out conservatively and was passed by about 4-5 women. By the end of the mile however, I had passed all but two of them. (6:49 split) 

I decided to increase the effort slightly in mile 2, however it ended up being my slowest mile. I passed one of the two women who were ahead of me, but then there was a slippery path we had to run on followed by another slippery wooden surface. At this point, I was passing 10K runners on a narrow path so even though I had increased my effort for the first part of the mile, I slowed down quite a bit on the slippery surface while passing other runners. (7:10 split)

The last mile was up hill and I had just one woman to catch, but I didn't have the motivation to go any faster than my strong tempo effort. (7:01 split).

I ended up with a time of 21:18 and second place. The course was short and the first place woman was 19 seconds faster than me. I am confident I would have won the race if I had given 100% effort, but there will be other races to win in the future. It wasn't my day to push hard and I was happy with my decision.

Vacation in Mexico
After the race, there was just six days left until our Mexico departure. Flights were being canceled all over the place due to Omicron and the weather. So each day I monitored the flights from Dulles to Cancun and all but one of them were on time. 

Greg and I hadn't flown since the California International Marathon in 2019. We had driven to all of our races and vacations because we wanted to avoid sitting next to strangers in close proximity. I've always viewed airline travel as having a high potential of making me sick. 

Our flight was on time, our plane was only 1/3 full. We had the entire row to ourselves and nobody sat in the row behind us either. The airport wasn't crowded. We had just recently secured Global Entry/TSA Pre and we breezed through an empty security line. 

When we arrived in Mexico, the customs line was ridiculous. It took nearly an hour to get through it and people were packed in there like sardines. Some people were coughing. Sure, everyone was wearing masks, but I don't think the cloth masks do much to stop a virus. I'd personally be more comfortable with people truly staying six feet apart.

We finally made it out of customs, got our transfer to the resort and we were there! We arrived healthy and on time, after two years of wanting to visit our favorite vacation spot: Excellence Playa Mujeres. This was our 5th stay at this Cancun resort. We love it so much that we don't want to go elsewhere. 

I asked my coach to leave my schedule blank and I would "play it by ear". I decided beforehand that I wasn't going to run all that much because the only option is the treadmill, and I didn't want to spend a ton of vacation time on a treadmill. It's not safe to leave the resort and there's really no place to run around the resort. I ran Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with workouts on Saturday and Tuesday. 

The treadmill was in kilometers so I did a 7K progressive tempo on Saturday and then 4 x 2K on Tuesday. Given that the gym was hot and I was on a treadmill, I was pleasantly surprised at how strong I felt running around 7:00-7:20 for these workouts. 

My favorite workout was on Sunday, when I swam in the resort pool. It was nearly twice the length of a traditional lap pool so it was a nice challenge to have to swim more before turning at the wall. Normally I swim the lazy river pool, which winds around the resort and you don't have to ever stop! But that water was way too cold. The water in the long pool was warmer and I had no issues swimming in it. I did 7 out-and-backs, which I am guessing is around 500m. 

I swam 14 lengths of this!

The goal of our Cancun vacation is always relaxation so we spent our days lounging at the beach and/or pool, and we didn't do any excursions. Unless you count going to the spa for a couples massage an excursion! The staff hands you drinks, the food is amazing, everything is all-inclusive and it's just the best place to go!  

Leaving Mexico
In order to enter the United States, anyone traveling by air must have a negative Covid 19 test taken

within 1 day of traveling. This does not apply if you are traveling by sea or land--only by air. So on Thursday, Greg and I were tested at the resort. (The resort offers free on-site testing the day before you leave.) This was actually my first-ever Covid test! I never had a reason to be tested before. 

Greg and I were slightly nervous because we had heard that Covid was going around the resort and 30-50 people were in quarantine after positive tests. Also, I started to feel a sore throat on the day of the test so I was worried I actually had Covid. Thankfully we both tested negative so we would be allowed back into the United States. If we tested positive, they would have quarantined us in a guest room for free, and allowed us to order room service from any restaurant. This would not have been so bad, but it wouldn't have been ideal. If only one of us had tested positive, we would both be allowed to stay, but one of us would be in quarantine while the other continued to enjoy a free vacation. 

We flew home on Friday and everything went smoothly. When we checked in for our flight, they did ask us to show proof of vaccination, even though it's not a requirement. Thankfully we both had photos of our cards on our phones and that was acceptable. They really should not have asked for that because all you need is a negative test, but since we had the vaccination proof, we didn't question it too much.

My Blog was Down
On Saturday, I realized that my blog was completely offline. It wasn't Blogger (my blogging platform) but the service I used to register my domain. They had an outage which resulted in all of their domains being completely down for 3 full days! I wasn't too irked by this because I wasn't trying to write a blog over the weekend, but it was unsettling to type my URL and have nothing come up. Also, it can impact search engine rankings if you are down for too long. There was nothing I could do but wait, and I'm thankful I was able to figure out the source of the problem relatively quickly. Not knowing why it was down would have driven me insane. (I never received any kind of notification, I went into my Google console and figured it out for myself. Some communication would have been appreciated!)

Post-Vacation Illness
My sore throat got worse and worse and on Saturday I found myself physically fatigued, which hadn't been an issue previously. One of my friends happened to have an extra at-home Covid test so Greg went to her house to retrieve it. (She left it on the front doorstep for a non-contact exchange). I tested negative on Saturday night.

Having had two negative Covid tests, I was pretty sure I didn't have Covid, but I definitely was ill. My main symptoms on Saturday were sore throat, loss of voice, dry cough, body aches, weakness. I didn't have a fever.

Given my history with mono, I was worried that this could turn into mono. Mono is not a virus, but a syndrome that is caused by a virus. So any virus could bring about mono. This has been my main Covid concern from the beginning: if I got Covid, would it turn into mono, taking me months to recover? Perhaps my body doesn't recover from viruses normally - it takes WAY more time. 

Not much changed on Sunday. I still couldn't talk and I still felt totally wasted. Greg, meanwhile, felt completely normal. And he was taking great care of me. I couldn't eat solid foods because my throat was so sore, so he made me soup and oatmeal. 

On Monday, I decided to take the second test from the BinaxNOW kit that my friend had given me. And this time it was positive. Yikes. Well, I guess if I was going to be this sick it might as well be Covid to give me some natural immunity in the future. So much for the J&J booster! Greg got the Moderna booster, and that is supposed to be more effective. 

Now it's Tuesday and I have made progress. My throat is less sore, although it's still tender and swallowing hard foods makes me cough. I still woke up coughing multiple times in the middle of the night last night. I can talk again, although it's a strain to talk at my normal volume level. To summarize:

Main Symptoms:

  • Severe sore throat
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Dry cough - coughing fits lasting 5 minutes at a time
  • Inability to eat solid foods and loss of voice
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue/weakness (although not tiredness)
  • Bumps on the skin of my back and butt
No Sign of:
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nasal conjestion
  • Runny nose/sneezing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of taste or smell
I am making progress and I feel like I will either be running again by Monday or it will be another 4-6 weeks. I am optimistic because I don't have the typical dizziness that comes with my mono and I feel like I am starting to regain strength. But time will tell! My spirits have been high and I am in a good place mentally. 

We had a bed on the beach!
A few people asked Greg and me before Mexico if we were sure we still wanted to go with Omicron surging? Our answer was yes because something is always surging. It's almost like the boy who cried wolf. When you live in a constant state of fear, and there's always a new variant to worry about, then you become de-sensitized to it. You realize there will never be a "good" time to go, so you just do it. 

I also have no regrets. I enjoyed my vacation and I probably would have gotten Covid at some point in my life anyway, so why not now? 

Running Plans
I am registered for the Shamrock half marathon, which was supposed to be a PR attempt. Now that is looking less likely so it might be a Covid Comeback race instead of a PR. I am also planning to run Boston, but I kind of don't care that my training for that has been interrupted. I know I can run a solid marathon on as little as 8 weeks of training and with Boston I don't care about how fast my time is.

For blog #500, that was pretty eventful!

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Marathons & Mandates: A New Era of the Sport

I'm going to tackle a controversial topic: marathons and their vaccine requirements. 

Last November, the Boston Marathon announced that all runners for the 2022 race must be fully vaccinated. Other marathons, like New York City, have made similar announcements. 

2021 Races: Vaccines not Required
For the large 2021 marathons, the vaccine was not a requirement. Participants must have either shown vaccination proof OR tested negative for Covid-19. A May 2021 article in the New York Times stated:

"The marathon announcements share something with seemingly every other major race that is set to return — there is no requirement for all runners to have a vaccination. Instead, runners have been asked to produce either proof of a completed vaccination series or a negative Covid test close to race day, even though health officials acknowledge that the safest environment would be a fully vaccinated field. . . Erin McLaughlin, a labor and employment lawyer specializing in health care, said running organizations might not want to require vaccinations because the nature of their operations might qualify their races as a place of 'public accommodation.' That would prohibit them from discriminating against people who may be medically unable to get a vaccine, and establishing eligibility for those exceptions could prove onerous and open the door for litigation."

Obviously much has changed since this article came out in May 2021. Vaccine mandates have since been established for many everyday activities including going to work. 

My Vaccine Decision
I am vaccinated and boosted. I am not sharing this to convince others to do the same and in fact, one of my pet peeves is those Facebook profile picture frames that say "I'm vaccinated". Well, good for you!

I am not a vaccine expert. I am not a health expert. I am not an expert in other people's lives. So I am in no position to persuade others to get vaccinated. Furthermore, since I am vaccinated, I shouldn't have to worry about catching the virus from others. 

That said, these Covid vaccines are not "vaccines" as we know them. I have always understood a vaccine to provide full immunity from a disease whereas these shots do not provide full immunity. Vaccinated individuals can still get the virus and spread it. 

I chose to get the vaccine because I do not want to get Covid-19. I realize I could still get the virus. But the vaccine should make any infection less severe. I realize there is no guarantee, but I believe that the side effects from the vaccine are not as severe as the illness could be. I could take my chances with the shot, or take my chances with Covid. I chose to get the shot.

It's important to keep in mind that every individual is unique. Some people have no reaction to the shot. Some people get very ill. Some have allergic reactions. The same goes for Covid. Some people will have mild symptoms resembling a common cold. Others will have life-threatening symptoms. So while we can look at data and statistics to see general patterns, every individual is still unique in terms of how their body reacts to vaccines and viruses. Because we are all unique, I don't think I am in any position to tell other people what medical choices to make.

To sum up, I believe that the vaccine was the right choice for me. It may not be for other people, and I respect that.

2022 Marathon Mandates
As I said earlier, these mandates are highly controversial. When Boston announced its mandate, there was an eruption of backlash on social media with many runners saying they would not apply. Thus, the number of applicants for the 2022 race was much lower than in previous years. Is the vaccine mandate the only reason for this? No, there are are many reasons why runners might not be interested in the 2022 race. But based on the number of people who signed a petition against the mandate, it's apparent that this mandate contributed to the decreased number of applicants. 

I have several thoughts on the mandates. First, it is not a human right to be able to run a marathon. The B. A. A. manages this event and they can put whatever rules in place that they want. This is not the first time they have been accused of being unfair; they are continually under attack for their qualifying standards and policies being unfair. So we need to remove the notion of "fairness" from the equation. It's their race. They can do whatever they want. It might not be fair, but that's how it is.

That said, the New York Times article above indicated that these mandates could be viewed as discrimination against those individuals who cannot get vaccinated. While the B. A. A. has created an exception for these cases, it has not been published what medical exemptions are acceptable.

It's not unheard of to require vaccines to participate sports. I had to have certain immunizations to be part of my high school dance team.

The New York Times article that I quoted above stated: "health officials acknowledge that the safest environment would be a fully vaccinated field." I am not a health official so I am in no position to disagree. BUT, as a logical thinker I do not see how a negative Covid test would not also provide the safest environment.

  • The 2021 race with test option was not a super-spreader. 
  • Vaccinated individuals can still transmit Covid
  • Without a test there is no way to know if runners have the virus, regardless of vaccination status
I have heard examples of vaccinated runners who had Covid while running Boston. But since they were not tested beforehand, they were not aware of this. Once again, I am not a health official or a health expert, but it seems that the safest environment is not a fully vaccinated field, but a field that has tested negative for Covid-19.

Personally, I would rather share a seat on the bus with someone who I know is not currently ill versus someone who has a vaccine but could be ill. 

One thing that surpasses all of this is the fact that you cannot Covid-proof an event like a marathon. Volunteers and spectators line the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people come out to cheer for the runners on Marathon Monday. The crowds are thick and many people are standing closer together and for a longer period of time than the runners. So if the objective is to have a Covid-free event, it's not going to be possible with the number of spectators who gather around the race course. 

But there are other valid objectives. Optics, for one. Making the runners feel safe. On social media, many runners have thanked the B. A. A. for their decision and said the mandate makes them feel safer. Another objective could be satisfying the requirements of the small towns that the marathon runs through. While this decision is coming from the B. A. A., we don't know if it was truly their decision or if it was required by town officials in order to gain permits. Or it could simply be for liability purposes. 

All marathon runners take risks when we line up at the start line. This is why most marathons require a waiver that acknowledges these risks. I believe it is the responsibility of the runner to be aware of the risks, and if he/she is uncomfortable with those risks, then it's probably best not to race. If I was afraid of getting Covid from a race then I wouldn't run it; I wouldn't expect the organizers to enforce a mandate just so I could be comfortable. 

In closing, I don't agree with the mandates because I think that athlete testing is a safer approach, and we've seen evidence of its safety from the 2021 races (Boston, Chicago and New York). The mandates seem to be in place for optics and compliance with local towns. As someone who is vaccinated and boosted, I believe that vaccines are generally effective. However, they might not be the right choice for everyone.

The Future of Marathons and Mandates
Are these mandates here to stay for future years? If Covid is somehow eradicated within the next year, will vaccines still be required? Have we set a precedent for vaccination requirements regardless of what the threat level is? Will the supreme court rule on the constitutionality of mandates? It's hard to know the answers to these questions. 

For now, these mandates are a fact of life. Some people love them, some people hate them. The running community is definitely divided on this issue and I'm sure some people will un-follow me for my views here. Or they may tell me that I am not a health professional and therefore have no right to share my perspective. I hope that one day we can all come together again and be united by the sport we love.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Christmas Caper 5K: Chill but not too chilly

This morning I ran the Christmas Caper 5K in Washington DC. This was a low-key race with no chip timing and about 80 participants. This race has an accompanying 10K, which I ran last year, setting a PR. (This was the PR I just beat in my Turkey Trot). 

Because this race is so low key and I consider myself to be in the "off season," I wasn't overly excited about this race. It wasn't like the Turkey Trot where it was a tradition with hundreds of runners, a big awards ceremony, lots of SWAG, etc. So it was kind of hard to get super jazzed up about it. I was running it because I enjoy racing and I wanted to do a checkup on my 5K fitness.

Before the Race
I woke up naturally at 4:00am, having slept solidly throughout the night and having had gone to sleep at 8:45.  I had an English muffin with Almond butter, and about 1/3 a serving of the Maurten Drink Mix. I got dressed into my race attire, went to the bathroom about 5 times and then we were off. 

We left the house a little later than planned due to my having to go to the bathroom so much, but I wasn't too worried about it. It was a 30-minute drive into the city which was stress-free and traffic-free. I immediately needed to go to the bathroom again as soon as I got out of the car. The bathrooms that we typically use for this race were closed (they are located inside of a golf shop), and we were directed to other bathrooms that were also closed. 

This definitely worried me because I know I really needed to go one more time. I ran to get my bib and then headed back to the golf shop. Thankfully they let me in this time, knowing that the other bathrooms were locked. Once that was out of the way, I pinned on my bib and had a Maurten gel. It might have been overkill to have the English muffin, the drink mix, and the gel, but it worked well for the 10K. 

I only had 20 minutes left to warm up so I jogged around and did some strides for a total of 1.5 miles. 

Strategy and Goals
The weather was seasonably warm for mid-December: 52 degrees, overcast, with a light wind. If it had been sunny it would have bordered on too warm for me, but because it was overcast, it ended up being fine. I give it a 9/10 on my weather scale. Combined with a pancake flat course, these were PR conditions for sure.

I thought a PR would be possible based on my recent 10K time, so I decided I would go for it if I was feeling good. But I also felt like I might lack the motivation to push as hard as I did at the 10K because I wasn't as excited about the race. And with the small amount of participants, it felt more like a time trial than a race.

Another benchmark was my 5K from the November 2020 Cranberry Crawl, where I ran a time of 20:20 on the exact same course. I was hoping to beat that time, or at the very least, run the year again in 20:21. 

Mile 1, waving to Greg
Mile 1
The race started and it wasn't long before I settled into a groove. Two women had bolted out way ahead ofme and maintained a strong lead, so I was in third place. 

It was hard early-- like starting 3 minutes in. I reminded myself that I wanted it to hurt-- hurt was good. It was supposed to be hard and my job was to push even when it was really hard. I saw Greg early in this mile; he was taking photos. I noticed I was running a pace of 6:30 and it felt really hard. I was hoping to be closer to 6:25, but no matter how hard I worked, it wasn't happening. So I ran a 6:31 first mile. 

Mile 2
This course is an out-and-back so it was mentally nice to turn around and be heading towards the start/finish. I noticed some wind resistance here but I don't think it impacted me that much. I felt like I was giving 100% and I really wanted to get my pace down, but the Garmin was steady at 6:30, and my split was 6:30.

Mile 3:
Could I make this mile my fastest? As the mile started I felt like I was really running out of steam. I glanced down at my watch and it read 6:45. Yikes. I would have to push super hard to get that back down. So I pushed and pushed and pushed. I passed two people during this mile; both men. I passed one of them at around 2.8, but he came flying back by me at the very end and I couldn't out-kick him. Mile 3 ended up being 6:35.

The Finish
According to my Garmin, I ran the final 0.14 at a pace of 5:57 with a finishing time of 20:26. Good enough for third place female. (The first place overall finisher was a woman in a time of 17:xx).

A solid effort! I was proud of how I handled that final mile, which had started to go south, but then I rallied. I re-united with Greg, caught my breath and then did a 10-minute cool down. No vomiting!  Greg and I then drove to a coffee house in Vienna where we had breakfast (I guess I had two breakfasts!).

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I think I executed this race well, and the reason I wasn't able to run what my 10K predicted was because I haven't been doing many 5K- specific workouts. I have done a few of them, but not enough to be able to move into that higher gear for an entire 5K. My 10K pace from 3 weeks ago was 6:35, and my average pace today was 6:30. So I think it's a matter of getting my legs more used to moving quickly and tapping into that VO2 Max.

Interestingly, when I compare this race to the Cranberry Crawl from 2020, my splits were nearly identical, but in a different order: 6:29, 6:35, 6:30 last year. 6:31, 6:30, 6:35 this year. So this year, my middle mile was my fastest, and last year, my middle mile was my slowest. 

Note: My overall time was 6 seconds slower this year, with my Garmin reading 3.14 vs. 3.13. And I think when looking at something so minute there is definitely a margin of error, or maybe I ran a wider tangent. But it's close enough that I consider it to be pretty much the same result - I am not sweating it!

This brings up an interesting point about the carbon fiber plate shoes. I am still on the fence if I think they provide any advantage in the 5K distance. Last year I ran in regular racing shoes (adidas Adios 4), and this year I wore the carbon fiber plate version (adidas Adios Pro). Just looking at the data, it seems like the carbon fiber plate shoe provided no benefit. . . unless we think I was in better shape in November 2020 and would have been faster had I worn the Pro back then. 

That's the fun thing about running, you can never perform a true apples-to-apples test. So the jury is still out regarding my opinion of carbon fiber plate shoes in the 5K. 

In any event, I'd love to get to a point where I am consistently running my 5Ks closer to a pace of 6:20 rather than 6:30. I have many, many 5Ks that hit right around 6:30 average.

I'm running a 5K on New Year's day, but that's a hilly course and the weather is obviously TBD. All things being equal, I should run a slower time on New Year's day-- but now I have this experience under my belt so that will definitely help no matter what the day brings!

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Guest Post: Greg's Rehoboth Beach Marathon Report

I'm very excited to share my first-ever guest blog post!  This post is by my husband Greg, blogging about his experience at the Rehoboth Beach Marathon last weekend. He's an excellent writer and makes some insightful points about the challenge of running a marathon. Enjoy!

My Running Journey
Because my running journey is mostly unknown to this audience, I’ll provide a brief introduction. I started running in 2008 to combat the weight gain that came from not being in my early 20’s anymore. Running is one of the things that contributed significantly to meeting and establishing my relationship with my wife, Elizabeth.

My first Marathon was NYC in 2010. I paced it for a 3:40 but painfully bonked my way to a 4:08:xx. I had a decent amount of experience racing other distances prior to that marathon, but was unprepared for the special pain that is unique to the marathon distance. That experience has stuck with me and left me with what I consider to be an appropriate level of respect for (and some fear of) the Marathon.

Since 2010, I’ve run 17 marathons in 12 states. I’ve had a few rough experiences, like NYC, and I’ve had some great races. I’ve learned a few lessons – you have to be smart with pacing; don’t run too fast too soon no matter how good you feel; do just a little more than you think possible; be present in the moment; don’t forget to enjoy the experience; it’s going to hurt at some point; you gotta keep pushing; walking will only make it hurt for longer; no matter what, if you try your best, it’s a win.

The best way I can describe my mental approach to racing a Marathon is trying my best to optimize the competing priorities of the aforementioned lessons. That is the challenge that I find most rewarding.

On Choosing Rehoboth
I have fond memories of the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon from 2018. On that day I was Elizabeth’s support crew, photographer, and cheering squad. And, as the readers of this blog know, that was a magical day for Elizabeth. It was also a great weekend.

Our hotel was awesome – the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel is right on the beach. The beds are comfortable. They’ve got Macaw birds to greet you in the foyer – “YHELLO!”. They have a pool that is more like a large hot-tub. The pub has a chess set. And, they’re a block away from the start line.

I enjoy the Rehoboth area. The dining options are great. The weather in December is likely to be cool. It’s a ~2.5 hour drive from our house. The course is flat. Logistics are simple. For me, it’s a no-brainer.

My preparation for Rehoboth was good. Really good. It wasn’t my hardest-ever training cycle and I didn’t think I was in the best shape of my life, but I had trained consistently. Following the Two Rivers Marathon in late March, I maintained a 30-mile per week base while introducing rowing into my regimen during May and June. My running mileage slowly ramped up starting in July. Ultimately, I ran seven weeks over 50 miles, two of which peaked over 60.

On the mental side of things, I had a couple doubts – some training paces felt harder than I’d wanted, I’ve struggled with sleep, and I was objectively ~5 pounds heavier than ideal. On the flip side, I had one confidence-building long-run, and, of course, I’m smarter and better able to optimize those competing priorities than ever before.

Overall, I think the stress associated with this training cycle and the race anticipation tipped net-negative. However, one thing I pride myself on is knowing that I will do my best regardless of the challenge, so the scales don’t ever tip too far.

For every race, you’ve gotta decide if you’re going to go for a PR or not. I knew a PR was a possibility, but not a given, so of course, I decided to go for it. My PR was the Two Rivers Marathon from March 2021. I ran a 3:19:51. For my fitness level, I regarded that as a solid PR. The pace for that race averaged 7:38.

Two Rivers was a 2x out-and-back with the out’s being uphill and the back’s being downhill. That made it tough to come up with an apples-to-apples pacing plan for besting it. Instead of contending with the long and slow inclines/declines of Two Rivers, Rehoboth offered a flat course with combinations of pavement and gravel. Quite different indeed.

I was disappointed with my ability to hold a specific pace during a few training runs this cycle. Also, I know that I have a proclivity to become overzealous during the glory-miles of a marathon and think that my 10K pace is perfectly reasonable. So, smart pacing became the focus.

Elizabeth is the best pacer I know. So, I was quite happy that she decided to register for the Half Marathon so she could pace me for the first ~4.5 miles, which is when the Half and Full Marathon courses follow the same path. Originally, I asked her to pace me at 7:45. She thought I was short-changing myself somewhat with that starting pace. So, given my respect for her opinion, I consulted my ‘do just a little more than you think possible’ lesson and revised that to a 7:40 pace. I understood that meant some of the other lessons may become more relevant, but I know that PRs come when you choose to prioritize optimism over doubts. Ultimately, there’s only one way to find out anyway, so, game-on!

The night before the race I slept like crap and that’s that. Fitbit gives me credit for almost 3 hours from 9:43 PM to 12:57 AM. The rest is unclear… :( 

The morning routine was standard – bagel, coffee, bathroom, outfit, bib. In that order.

The Race
We lined up between the 3:15 Marathon and 1:40 Half Marathon pace groups. The start was lackluster. No national anthem, no countdown, no cannons. Just ‘start’. 

Miles 1-4
Miles 1–4 toured the “downtown” Rehoboth area, including the boardwalk, ultimately ending up at the Henlopen State Park, which is where the Half Marathon course splits from the full.

Mile 4
Shortly after starting a spectator called out, “Elizabeth, I follow you on Instagram”! I thought it was cool to see her recognized, but I didn’t realize that was only the tip of the iceberg for this event. During the first mile, we talked with a guy named Steve who was going for a 3:19:00. We told him I was in that same ballpark and agreed that the two of us were the official 3:19 pace group.

The course narrowed as we entered the boardwalk at mile 2. At the same time, the 1:40 Half Marathon pace group enveloped us. I understand that many people benefit from pace groups, but I find them to be significant nuisances – like cicada broods descending upon a peaceful neighborhood. It’s just too many in too small an area. We had a hard time staying together and maintaining our pace because of all the crowding. We lost Steve completely.

The course widened around mile 3 and we cruised for the rest of our time together. Ultimately, Elizabeth did a great job hitting the pace, which helped me a lot.

Mile 1 – 7:43
Mile 2 – 7:39
Mile 3 – 7:38
Mile 4 – 7:38

Miles 5–7
At mile 4.5 the Half Marathon turned around while the Full Marathon entered Cape Henlopen State Park at Gordons Pond Trail. This section is gravel.

At this point in the race, I had a lot of things on my mind.

It was time to pace myself. I know that a Marathon can be lost in the first 10k but it cannot be won. So, with a first 4 miles right at my PR pace, my target was to be in the mid-7:30’s for the rest of the first half. My idea was that equaling or besting my best pace would produce a PR and the extent to which I was able to best the pace would dictate the magnitude of the PR.

I was excited to be on the same gravel trail that inspired Elizabeth to become the ‘Queen of the Gravel’ back in 2018. Loose gravel can ‘steal’ the energy that is meant to propel a runner forward in favor of sending stones backward, but I didn’t worry because it wasn’t that gravely. Instead I was hoping I’d benefit from the softer surface.

Mostly though, I am happy to say that I appreciated the scenery. It was a combination of pond, marsh, grasses, and dunes. There were hundreds of Canada Geese flying overhead honking for us (that’s how they cheer). It was the type of environment that brings me peace and I loved it.

Mile 5 – 7:32
Mile 6 – 7:31
Mile 7 – 7:41

Miles 8-14
Halfway through mile 8, we transitioned from gravel back to pavement. Mile 8 included a semi-significant hill up to the Fort Miles Interpretive Site where they had cannons and machine guns.

Running back down the other side of the hill inspired me to start going too fast, so I was happy to find Steve around mile 10. We re-established the 3:19:00 pace group of two. He told me he was targeting 7:35 miles, and I was happy to adopt the sensible structure. We ran together through the turn-around at mile 11 and beyond.

Around mile 13, I noticed Steve had fallen behind and I was running next to someone who was 69 years old. He said he told his wife he’d stop running marathons if he could break 3:20. We ran up the mile-14 hill together and he kept up, no-sweat. I hope to be able to run marathons at age 69!

I don’t usually talk to people during races. This one was different and I enjoyed it. There is an inherent bond because we’re all in it together. Enjoying race conversation was part of the ‘experience’ for me this time.

Mile 8 – 7:47
Mile 9 – 7:20
Mile 10 – 7:37
Mile 11 – 7:35
Mile 12 – 7:40
Mile 13 – 7:35
Mile 14 – 7:43

Miles 15 - 18
Mile 15 transitioned us back to the gravel. I had pulled ahead of both Steve and my other friend. No more conversations to keep my mind occupied. I was on my own. The gravel was harder than the pavement and I was tired enough to be sure of that fact this time. Things were starting to hurt.

The honest questions on my mind at this point were – Do you think it’s too early to be hurting? Have you felt like this at this point in any races that have gone well? Is this a clear bonk? Should you stop when you get to Elizabeth at mile 19.5?

Are those honest questions or are they negative self-talk creeping in? That’s an honest question too.

Most importantly, here’s the antidote that I employed - none of those questions matter. Right now, I’m able to maintain my goal pace and I’m doing so. So, that’s what I’m going to keep doing until I physically can’t do that anymore. That’s resolve.

I told myself that gravel sucks and I’ll feel better once I get back to the pavement. That’s hope.

Also, one important distinction I noted is that my energy levels were good. I felt good. It’s just that my leg muscles were getting sore. That’s important because I knew muscle fatigue was to be expected, so it could safely fall into the ‘suck it up buttercup’ category as opposed to the ‘I’m going to pass out’ category, which is much different and not something I’d ignore.

Mile 15 – 7:30
Mile 16 – 7:29
Mile 17 – 7:31
Mile 18 – 7:35

Miles 19 – 21
We transitioned back to the pavement at the end of mile 18. I was eager to see if my hopes of an easier time would come true. Of course, it wasn’t a black-or-white type of thing. Instead, I found myself still hurting, but able to maintain the pace. So it was unclear if the leg-pain would progress more rapidly than I could finish.

Elizabeth planned to be at mile 19.5 cheering, which was a beacon of light for me. It was also a mental pivot-point in the race. After I saw her, I had an out-and-back to do to be done. So, I was able to look forward to seeing her, and then after that, it was just 3.5 miles out-and-back. These are the mental divisions that matter to me during races. . .

Elizabeth took this photo at 19.5
As expected, there she was. She was cheering so much that I couldn’t tell her how happy I was to see her, which somehow seemed more important to me than receiving her well wishes.

I now realize that I have a history of being fooled by the middle miles of previous marathons. I felt great during miles 15 – 20 of Indianapolis only to struggle it in. During Two Rivers however, I spent miles 15 – 20 worrying that I was overdoing it, and then turning around and rocking it in feeling relatively great.

After seeing Elizabeth at 19.5, I realized that I was going to be okay. Despite my legs and back being sore as shit, the fact that I was confidently maintaining my PR goal-pace so late in the race meant that things were going to be okay.

I had a PR in the bag – you know, you hit that point in a race where you finally just “know”. All the doubts and fears about problems are just gone because here you are; you’ve done so much; there’s not much left to do, and you know how you feel. This is it. You got it!

Mile 20, bang! Mile 21, bang! Five more miles? No problem. 

Mile 19 – 7:32
Mile 20 – 7:30
Mile 21 – 7:30

Miles 22 – Finish
Miles 22 – 24 were back on a different gravel section. This gravel was different. I think. There were more stones, more crowding, and more little hills and little turns. It was harder.

As soon as I hit the gravel, I lost my ability to keep my pace. I tried as hard as I could, but there was no willing that the clock would accept. I started doing math – if I can run 7:30 from now on I’ll still PR! I calculated every mile, realizing a slimmer margin as I consistently failed to run 7:30 each time. 

I’ve never transitioned from a late-race relief to a realization that I’m sunk before, so this race has that‘first’ for me.

Miles 25 and 26 were back on the pavement. My pace only continued to slow. My energy was good. My resolve was unbreakable. My legs, however, were just not moving like they used to. We’ve all had those dreams where we need to run, but can’t move fast enough. That’s how I finished this race.

Mile 22 – 7:49
Mile 23 – 8:01
Mile 24 – 7:48
Mile 25 – 8:05
Mile 26 – 8:24
Final 0.31 – 8:00

I finished the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon with a time of 3:21:34. That’s my 3rd fastest marathon to date.
Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I went for a PR and didn’t get it. If that seems significant then I haven’t communicated my mindset well enough yet.

I started running as a way to keep consistent focus on my fitness. Running is an interest I have shared with my wife for our entire relationship. The only expectation I have for myself is that I try my best. The point is to train and to race. Training is part of living life and races are significant experiences.

So, when I finished, I was happy for two reasons: I tried my best, and I earned a new experience that I am happy with because I did my best. I’m happy with the way I paced this race. I’m happy that I kept kicking despite how hard it felt. And, I have no doubts that I did as well as I could have, so this race is a ‘win’ for me.

Thanks to all the Racing Stripes subscribers for reading my guest blog. 


Monday, December 6, 2021

Pacing Greg at the Rehoboth Beach Marathon

I had the pleasure of pacing Greg for the first few miles of his marathon last Saturday! He ran the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon in Delaware. This course currently holds my marathon PR from 2018, and Greg wanted to experience it for himself. 

Rehoboth Beach, DE
People have asked us if we typically do the same races or different races and the answer is that it varies. Sometimes, like in the case of the Two Rivers Marathon or the Wineglass Half Marathon, we run the same race. Other times, he runs the full and I run the half, or vice versa. And sometimes one of us is running and the other is cheering. It just depends on our individual goals and what we want to experience. When looking at our race schedule for the fall, I had planned to run Richmond, but Greg didn't want to repeat that marathon, so he opted for Rehoboth Beach. I didn't want to repeat Rehoboth Beach because my 2018 race was a magical day and I didn't think it could get any better.

My original plan was to be a spectator and not participate in the race at all. But when I ran my marathon a week earlier than planned, it gave me an extra recovery week (4 weeks instead of 3). So I felt like I could run with Greg as a half marathoner until the two races split in different directions, and then finish off the half myself. So I registered for the half marathon two weeks before the race.

Greg and I would run together for 4.5 miles, I would proceed to finish the half marathon, run back to the hotel to change and grab my phone, then go back to the course in time to cheer him on at mile 19.5, and again at the finish. 

Before the Race
Even though I wasn't planning to "race" the half marathon at full effort, I made preparations as if I was racing. I figured I might as well get as much fueling and hydration as possible, and avoid foods that might upset my stomach.

We drove to Rehoboth the day before the race (Friday) and it was just under three hours. it was short
compared to our trip to Corning/Rochester in October and our trip to western West Virginia in November. We had dinner at DiFerbo's which was only two blocks from our hotel. They had a "pasta your way" and I ordered the rotini with marinara sauce and chicken.

The race started at 7:00am so we set our alarms for 4:49. I always like to set my alarm for a non standard time because everything else in life occurs on a standard time (4:30, 5:00, 5:30, etc). I had an English muffin with almond butter + the Maurten Drink mix 160. 

Greg and I got dressed in our matching Tracksmith outfits. Part of the fun of running together was letting people know that we were together based on our gear!

The race started right next to our hotel so we waited until the last minute to leave the hotel room. I was getting nervous because it was 6:40 and we were still in our hotel room, but Greg assured me that we had plenty of time. Ultimately this was good because I had not brought a throwaway shirt. I jogged around the boardwalk to stay warm, wearing just a tank top and shorts in the 45 degree weather. And it was windy on the boardwalk near the start.

I decided to wear the New Balance Fuel Cell RC Elite shoe. I don't like it as much as the Adios Pro because it doesn't feel as fast. But since I would be treating this run as a workout and not a race, it made sense to wear this shoe. 

They didn't have an official gear check, but you could toss your throwaway into a bin and the bins were brought to the finish. Greg had an old race t-shirt that he put in the bin, and we didn't care if he got it back again or not. I looked around for my friend Carrie, who was running the full marathon, but I didn't see her. I would also be cheering for her once I finished my half.

Miles 1-4
The race started without much of a warning. All of a sudden the gun went off and people started moving. Greg and I had positioned ourselves somewhere in between the 3:15 pacer and the 1:40 half marathon pacer (there was no 3:20 pacer). Greg's marathon PR was 3:19:51, which he had set earlier this year at the Two Rivers Marathon. His goal was to beat that, and I believed he could shave at least 5 minutes off of it. 

Now would be a good time to mention that I am Greg's coach. I have been writing his training plans for the past 3 years. I am not an RRCA certified coach but that doesn't matter to Greg! I create his plans by understanding his strengths and areas for improvement. I give him workouts that challenge him without burning him out. For this cycle, I had him running most of his weeks in the high 50's, with some of them into the low 60s.  He naturally has a lot of speed (he ran a sub-40:00 10K on New Year's day of this year), so if he developed his endurance, he should be able to run a sub 3:10 marathon. 

So I don't give him a ton of speed work. For this cycle, I gave him a medium-long run (11-13 miles) and a long run each week. I incorporated progression runs, marathon pace work, and lactate threshold work. He also needs needs a lot of recovery so I gave him a rest day each week and had him run no more than 5 miles the day after his long run.

Mile 2, photo by Fredman
Given all of this, he wanted me to pace him at 7:40. His plan was to start the race as 7:40 and then speed up if he could. I told him not to look at his Garmin and not to get ahead of me, but just follow my lead and to trust me.

I was able to pace him fairly accurately and the only hiccup we ran into is when the 1:40 half marathon pace group passed us on the boardwalk, crowding the area and making it hard for us to stick together. Greg said he didn't like running near pace groups because of the crowding and I agree with him. The benefit, however, was that the boardwalk was windy and the large pace group helped block the wind.

I carried a water bottle for the first few miles and I took a Maruten gel 15 minutes into the race.

I had so much fun running with him and being his pacer! I was so excited for what lay ahead of him and I knew I was setting him up for a strong finish.

Mile 1: 7:41
Mile 2: 7:39
Mile 3: 7:35
Mile 4: 7:37

Miles 5-8
As we approached the break-off point at 4.5 miles, I said my final words of encouragement to Greg as he continued onto a gravel path I turned around with the half marathoners. My plan was to speed up just slightly after leaving Greg and then gradually get faster and faster, depending on how I felt. I didn't have a goal time, but I wanted to see how much my legs could give me after running a 10K PR just 9 days prior. 

Mile 7, photo by blog reader Megan
It had been a slow recovery from that 10K because I pushed myself harder than I typically do. It wasn't until Wednesday (6 days later) that my legs felt good again and on that day I ran a track workout. I was definitely asking a lot of my body!

As I started to speed up I began to wish for my adidas Adios Pro shoes. The New Balance Fuel Cell wasn't really responding to my increased effort and the shoes felt bulky. They were great when I was going at a more relaxed pace but trying to push the pace felt a little awkward.

It wasn't long until I caught the 1:40 pace group and then passed them. It felt awesome to be passing so many people and leaving the pace group in the dust. I've had many experiences when they have come up from behind me and left me in the dust! I took my second Maurten gel at 55 minutes into the race which would be enough to power me through to the finish. 

The gravel section started just before mile marker 8. Up until then the race had been on the road and the boardwalk. I wasn't too worried about the gravel. Even though the gravel in my most recent marathon posed a challenge, it didn't pose that much of a challenge when I did this marathon in 2018. 

Mile 5: 7:27
Mile 6: 7:22
Mile 7: 7:22
Mile 8: 7:21

Miles 9-13
One of the coolest things about this race was the fact that so many people recognized me from my blog and from Instagram. There must have been 10-20 people who called out to me while either running or while cheering for Greg. They also took photos of me and sent them to me.

The gravel was more challenging than I remembered. It could have been due to the leaves on the ground making the surface more slippery than in 2018. Regardless, I still continued to pass people on the gravel section. My legs were beginning to tire and I wasn't able to continue to speed up as planned. By mile 11 I was ready to be done with the race, but I kept pushing because I knew I needed to finish fast to have time to see Greg at mile 19.5. I honestly did not care about my time at all; I just wanted to make sure I would be there for Greg.

I continued to pass runners and nobody passed me. Finally, I could see that up ahead the gravel was ending and we would be back on the road.

As I came out of the gravel section, I noticed a group of at least 8 half marathoners joining the course from another direction. This confused the heck out of me. Where did they come from? They were fast too. I only had one runner in my line of sight, and there were way more of these other runners. Did I somehow miss a turn? I didn't think so! 

I continued to run hard but I was worried that I had run the wrong course. I kept thinking the finish line would be at 12.6 or 12.7 because I had taken a short cut, but no- that did not happen. I did, in fact, run the correct course but that group of runners made a wrong turn after coming off the trail and ended up having to double back. (I found this out later on Strava. Some of them ran 13.45 miles). 

Mile 9: 7:23
Mile 10: 7:24
Mile 11: 7:36
Mile 12: 7:36
Mile 13: 7:15
Final 0.21: 6:29 pace

Transition from Runner to Spectator
I gunned it hard to the finish line for an official time of 1:38:40. As I finished, the announcer said, "Elizabeth Clor finishing. She has a great Instagram! You should follow her!" I was shocked but also beaming with excitement. The announcer knew who I was! This race was so full of wonderful support from my followers!

I somehow finished next to a guy dressed similarly to me!

I collected my medal and my cape, walked for a minute to see if I was going to vomit, but did not vomit! I guess that only happens when I race full-out. The hotel was 0.6 mile away. I jogged for 0.5 mile and walked the last 0.1. It was not easy to go right into jogging after that hard effort! I totally felt like superman running with a cape around me and holding a medal!

At the hotel, my first order of business was to get my hands functional. I soaked them in a sink filled with warm water along with my wrists and lower arms. Because of my Raynaud's, my hands go numb in the cold even if the rest of me is warm (which it was in the 51 degree weather).

Once I had the use of my hands, I used a wet washcloth to wipe all the sweat off my body and changed into warm dry clothes. I grabbed my phone and headed back out. I realized that I had less than 10 minutes to get to my spectator spot to see Carrie. I expected her at around 9:20 and in order to make it there in time I had to once again jog. Ouch, that hurt! I wasn't exactly sure where I was going either so I had to keep checking the map on my phone.

Cheering for Greg and Carrie
With less than one minute to spare I reached my spot and Carrie came flying by looking strong! Five minutes later I saw Greg and cheered very loudly and enthusiastically for him! He said that it was already hard, but that's to be expected at mile 19.5.

After that, I posted an Instagram story about the race and cheered for other runners as they passed. Then I relocated to the finish area, which was close by, and cheered the for the finishers. I absolutely LOVE watching marathon finish lines. Everyone is working so hard and it's so exciting to watch them as they chase down that final stretch!

I cheered for every runner, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Carrie and Greg. Carrie came into view and I cheered her into the finish. Greg followed shortly after looking strong. 

I met up with them both after they had collected their medals and they were very happy to be done. Greg ran a time of 3:21:24, which makes this his 3rd fastest marathon, right behind CIM (3:20). Greg might write a guest blog here on Racing Stripes with more details! He was happy with his effort and I am very proud of my athlete!

After Greg finished, he wanted to go back to the hotel immediately. I needed food. I had not eaten anything after my race and the hunger was setting in. He walked back to the hotel and I ate a biscuit + gravy, a waffle and some mac 'n cheese. As I walked around, I ran into several people who introduced themselves as Instagram followers. One of them actually lives about 20 minutes away from me and she runs around my same pace! She's doing Boston in the spring too and suggested that we do a training run together. I love meeting new runners. 

Before heading back to the hotel I found Greg's "throwaway" shirt in the bin and wrapped it around my waist. Once I got back to the hotel, he napped while I enjoyed the heated pool inside the hotel, which is actually more like a large hot tub. A fun day for everyone and a really well-organized race. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This was harder than expected! It's crazy to think that I ran the full marathon on this course at an average pace of 7:25, and I couldn't even average that pace for a half marathon! (My average pace was 7:32). Granted, I wasn't racing it full out, but it still has me totally respecting my accomplishment from three years ago. And of course, wondering if I will ever beat that time!

  • I placed 31 out of 931 women.
  • I ran a negative split.
  • It's really fun to pass a lot of people at the end of a race.
  • Running a race as a workout is more fun than racing a race!
  • Doing a workout in a race setting makes you push harder than you otherwise would
Within a 4-week time period, I ran a marathon, a 10K, and a half marathon. WOW! That's definitely a lot and more than I typically do. But I am having a blast and I will run a few 5Ks before I start to train for Boston. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Running for PR Pie

Yesterday morning, I ran the Ashburn Farm Turkey Trot 10K. This race offers both a 5K and a 10K and back in 2019 I ran the 5K. Prior to 2019, I had run the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K every year since 2006, but they decided to discontinue the race in 2019 due to lack of volunteers. So, this was my first ever Turkey Trot 10K, as I had always run 5 in years past.

I chose the 10K this year because I felt like my endurance was strong from the marathon training, but my speed was lacking. Even though I had never run a turkey trot 10K before, I had run this course in 2016 as a New Year's eve race. In 2016, I had set a huge PR by running a time of 42:09. So I knew it was a fast course. 

The first mile of the course contains a long hill with 70 feet of elevation gain. And then miles 2-5 are gently rolling. The final mile of the course is downhill by 70 feet. The 5K version of the course is similar with mile 1 being up hill, 2 being rolling, and 3 being downhill. I looked at my Strava data from 2016 to remind myself of the elevation profile and analyze my pacing. 

Mindset and Goals
When I ran the marathon a few weeks ago, I was happy with my performance, but I felt like I could have pushed harder during the gravel sections. Those six miles on gravel were my slowest and it was because I was trying to "just get through them" rather than fight hard to maintain my pace. I felt like I could have run 1-2 minutes faster if I had pushed harder and had a different mindset. 

So with this Turkey Trot, my primary goal was to push as hard as I possibly could. To never "just hang in there" and to have the confidence to make it hurt more when it already hurt. In nearly every race I run I always have the desire to stop. But I decided that I would immediately combat any negative thoughts and seek out the suffering that comes with racing at max effort. Embrace the sufferings as what I needed to be feeling.

If I did this, I thought I could set a new PR. My current PR was 41:33, set in December of 2020 on a flat course in perfect weather. I did not believe myself to be in "PR shape" and I had not run any workouts since the marathon nearly three weeks prior. And I had no idea if I was fully recovered from the marathon. But, I had nothing to lose, so why not go for it?

Since I believed myself to NOT be in PR shape (and I still believe I was fitter back in December 2020) I thought that simply pushing harder could yield a faster time. Yes, I pushed very hard when I ran the 41:33. But what if I ran even harder, always asking myself to give more? 

Before the Race
The night before the race I had pasta with chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in an olive oil sauce. It's a pretty typical meal for Greg and me before our long runs. Speaking of Greg, he decided to sit this one out. He is running a marathon on December 4, and he thought the turkey trot would take too much out of him. So I had a cheerleader and photographer. 

I went back to my December 2020 race report to read up on how I fueled so I could do the exact same thing. An English muffin with almond butter 2.5 hours pre-race, and half a serving of the Maurten Drink Mix 160. And then 15 minutes before race start (during my warm up) a Maurten caffeinated gel. 

I had picked up my bib the day before so once we arrived, all I had to do was warm up and use the porta potty. Logistics were super easy and we parked literally 0.1 mile from the start line. I warmed up for just over 2 miles and did some drills and strides. 

The weather gets a 10 out of 10 on my race weather scale. Turkey trots almost always deliver favorable conditions. It was 32 at the start, rising to 35 at the finish. Winds at 1-2 mph, and about 70% cloud cover. This is my absolute favorite weather for racing!

The 10K runners started at 8:15 and the 5K runners started at 8:25. This meant that if I ran a 40-minute 10K, I would be finishing with people running a 30-minute 5K. Which is a very popular time! I knew to expect crowding during the final mile when we joined back up with the 5K. I knew I would be plowing through them all so I hoped that would go smoothly!

Mile 1, up hill
Miles 1-2
The race started and the big 70-foot hill awaited! In 2016 I had run the first mile in 7:00, so I was aiming to run it in the low 6:50s and then have all subsequent miles be much faster. The nice thing about this hill is that it's not super steep, it's just long. So it doesn't kill your legs; you just need to be patient and accept a slow first mile. My split ended up being 6:47, a little faster than planned. Instead of worrying that I had gone out too fast, I told myself that this was good, and I would continue to hold a high bar for myself.

The second mile was gently rolling and I was able to settle into a groove. There were two women who were both far ahead of me and I was third. I was running with a group of guys but over the course of the second mile I passed many of them. My split was 6:41, which was faster than planned.

Miles 3-4
Since both of my first miles were a good 5 seconds faster than planned, I did not allow myself to ease up for the third. Nope. I had set a high bar and I would continue to get faster and faster. I wanted my third mile to be 6:40 or faster and I was going to make it happen no matter what. And I did. I ran a 6:40.

You know what I didn't really think about? Was how the race felt. Which is a first, I think! Usually it's impossible for me to ignore how much discomfort I am in and I get scared that I will not be able to make it to the finish line. That's when the "just hang in there" mentality comes in. Usually my mindset is as follows. This hurts. I want to stop. But I never stop in the middle of races. Come on, just hang in there. 

I finally noticed I was getting really uncomfortable in the 4th mile but then I pushed that thought out of my head and replaced it with "push hard!" I focused on my form. Using my arms to power up the gently rolling hills. Not looking at my Garmin on the up hills because 100% of my focus was the climb. Getting to the top of the hill and knowing I would get some relief, but that I needed to still push. Mile 4 was 6:35.

Miles 5-6
This was it. These miles would determine if a PR would happen. I knew it was on the line. I knew how badly I wanted it. I knew that this pain would last for less than 15 minutes but I would have all day to bask in PR glory. I remembered the feeling of regret for not pushing harder on the gravel of my marathon and I vowed that would not happen today. Negative thoughts, not today! Just hanging in there, not today! Today was the day for pushing hard and it was what I had been mentally preparing for all week. Mile 5 was 6:40, which meant a PR would be possible if I ran my absolute hardest for the last 1.2.

Final kick to the finish
All I had was downhill left. And not a steep downhill that killed the quads, but a long gradual downhill to the finish as a final reward. (This is a really fast course!) So I kicked it into high gear and I gunned it. I joined up with the 5K runners, and there were plenty of them, but thankfully I was able to run on the outside of the pack and there were only a few close calls of running into people. Throughout this mile I ran like my life depended on it and just totally emptied the tank. My split was 6:19 and the final 0.25 on my Garmin was a pace of 5:59. A quarter of a mile at a 5:59 pace after running six very hard miles. WOW!

The Finish
I crossed the finish line and immediately went for the finish line shoot barrier to lean on as I hunched over. I was incoherent for a few minutes and I felt like I might pass out. I was pretty sure I wouldn't - it was jut the shock of the sudden stop after running my guts out for over 40 minutes. 

I stopped my Garmin and didn't look down at it immediately. Did I PR!? I had no idea! I had lost all track of math during the last two miles so I wasn't even sure how fast I needed to run, but I told myself it was possible regardless. 

And yes, I did PR with an official time of 41:17. This is 16 seconds faster than the 41:33 from last December! Not huge, but not small either! A healthy amount of PRing! I actually thought that if I was going to PR, it would probably be by only a few seconds and I would be lucky to run 41:2x. After all, I believed that I was not in as good of shape as last December, so a PR should not have been possible. 

After getting out of the finish line chute, I vomited, I guess I am doing this at short races now. It used to just be half marathons and full marathons. There's just no avoiding it and I think it has more to do with my gag reflex than my digestive system. Because even if nothing comes up, I still dry heave. 

I felt sooooo wrecked. I didn't even attempt a cool down. I seriously gave that race every ounce of what I had and I do not think I could have squeezed a single second more out of it. This tops the list as one of my mentally strongest races ever, with zero negative thoughts, 100% confidence and the desire to continue to push harder with every single step.

Top 3 ladies!
I was the 3rd female out of 140, winning a cash prize of $100. I placed 19 overall out of 320. The first and second place females ran 35:55 and 39:12. I also won a plaque that I can put with my 2nd place plaque from the 2019 5K.  After collecting my award, Greg and I drove home and enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving at my sister's house. 

Greg and I will be making PR Pie later today, and we are still deciding on the type. I feel like with a Turkey Trot, it's more appropriate to have pie than cake. Other times it would be appropriate is if the Garmin measured 3.14 miles in a 5K or if I ever run a 3:14:15 marathon. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
The biggest takeaway for me is that you don't have to be in PR shape to set a PR. Even if your previous PR was set on a pancake flat course in perfect weather. Don't get me wrong - I am definitely "fit" right now. All that marathon training has paid off. But this PR would not have happened if I didn't mentally prepare myself to have an "always push harder" mindset. It definitely goes to show how much of a factor the mind truly is when racing. 

Now, if a PR is truly not on the line because of weather or a tough course or me not being in the best shape, will I still have this same attitude? I'd like to, but wow- did that HURT! Greg has said on several occasions "I had no business running that race as fast as I did; it probably wasn't medically advisable." I know what he means now. 

Other final thoughts and stats:

  • Average cadence was 197.
  • I paid close attention to running the tangents and my Garmin distance was 6.25, which is pretty good, and better than the 6.28 from the 2016 race. 
  • I ran the first 5K in 21:00 and the second in 20:17
  • I think the fueling strategy worked, as I was energized throughout the entire race.
  • I can't believe I am still setting lifetime personal bests at the age of 43
  • I was so thankful to have Greg there cheering for me and taking photos!
  • I was thankful that Turkey Trots have returned. I missed running one last year. 
This time of 41:17 predicts a 5K time of 19:53 according to the McMillan calculator. So I think that will be my next goal before I start training for Boston. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

On Being an "Influencer"

I don't like the word "influencer". I don't think of myself as someone who influences other people. I like to share my stories and express my opinions. It does feel satisfying when that's helpful to others, but selfishly, I simply enjoy putting myself out there. I prefer the term "content creator" or simply "blogger". But at some point, someone came up with the term "influencer" to describe people on social media with large followings. And now we're stuck with it!

I wanted to write a post that briefly describes how I became an influencer (I'll stop using the quotes around the word), what it's like, and how I feel about it.

From MySpace Blogger to Instagram Creator
I started this blog in 2006 on MySpace. I transitioned it over to the Blogger platform in 2008 as MySpace was starting its decline. I think the world would be a better place if we had stayed on MySpace and hadn't transitioned to Facebook, but that's another post.

For 10 years very few people read my blog. In fact, when people told me they read my blog I was surprised. I had some limited analytics in the blogger platform which revealed a few really popular posts because of the search engines pointing to them. Most of my readers were other bloggers and for a while there was a close-knit blogging community. 

I never tried to attract a wider audience. I mainly wrote the blog for myself. I enjoy writing and journaling (I have kept a journal since I was 7), and the blog is the perfect outlet for that. Why not just keep a private diary? When I know that others will read it, it forces me to articulate myself clearly and make sure I am communicating my thoughts accurately. Otherwise, I might be left with a stream of consciousness.

To this day I still consider myself as my target audience for my blog. I go back and read race reports if I repeat a race. It's helpful to document the various pacing strategies and fueling strategies, and to see how I have evolved mentally. It's good to know what I wore in various conditions and if I was too hot or too cold. These are probably boring details for my readers, but they are helpful to me.

When I came out with my book in 2016, I decided I should promote it on social media. But I had a very small audience. Maybe 400 followers on Instagram. So, using my knowledge of how to grow an audience (I work in marketing full time) I started attracting more followers. It wasn't rocket science and the Instagram algorithm was much simpler back then. Really all I did was post photos of myself running every day with my time, distance and pace, and notes about how the run went.
Post from June 2016

I didn't consider my daily posts to be inspiring or particularly interesting, but they generated thousands of followers in a few months. I did write posts that talked about the content in my book, and I think that was follow-worthy. But of course I couldn't talk about my book every single day; that would have gotten repetitive!

And then the book really took off and people starting following me because they had heard about the book. I learned that my book was being used in book clubs all around the country and my book started to pop up in other people's posts. It was surreal. It's still surreal!

Brand Partnerships
In the spring of 2017, Under Armour sent me an email asking me to participate in the launch of their new line of shoes. They offered me two pairs of shoes, a ton of other gear (sports bras, tanks, tights, shorts) and a cash payment to wear this gear in a few of my Instagram photos. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! They were giving me so much and all I had to do was the same thing I did every day- post a picture with a caption. 

BUT. . . it actually wasn't all that easy. Since this would be an official post for Under Armour, I wanted to make it much better than my normal posts. I wanted to go above and beyond and as a perfectionist, I wanted it to be perfect. This resulted in multiple photo shoots with Greg, multiple video takes, time spent trying to find the best location, writing and re-writing the caption, and more. So it ended up being rather time consuming and suddenly I felt like I was, in fact, earning what I was receiving. 

Under Armour Campaign 2017
Did I love doing it? Yes! This was the definition of getting paid for doing something that I loved.  Did I
felt like I was "selling out" and posting something inauthentic? No, because I did actually wear that gear and I did write an honest review of it.

Since then, I have formed partnerships with multiple brands. Everything from sports detergent to recovery boots to electrolyte popsicles to sunglasses. Some of them have included cash payments but usually it's a simple exchange of free products for exposure on my account. I receive about 10 partnership offers each week. Who knew there were so many nutritional supplement companies and compression sock companies? I only accept about 5% of the offers I receive, and I have a few brands with which I have a longstanding relationship. 

I choose my brand partnerships very carefully because I do not want to cheapen my Instagram account, post anything inauthentic, or write a positive review of a product I genuinely don't like or wouldn't use. Occasionally, I go "shopping" by reaching out to brands that have products I want to try and asking if they partner with influencers. This happened last summer when I saw an ad for TRIHARD chlorine removal shampoo and conditioner and I was swimming every day.

TRIHARD Chlorine Removal
Influencer Haters
I know there are people out there who are against the whole "influencer" thing and I can understand that if the influencer is inauthentic and/or if every post is a commercial. Some people resent that we receive free stuff. Some people resent that we have so many followers even though we aren't elite athletes. The reason non-elite athletes attract so many followers is because people want to hear from runners who are relatable. With goals that might also be attainable for them. I once had a coach who would tell us all how one of his olympic level athletes trained for success. And that honestly wasn't helpful for me because I wasn't trying to go to the olympics. I would have preferred that he shared how the Boston Qualifiers trained, fueled, etc.

As for receiving free products, nothing is ever free. I have worked hard over the years to build my following and when I receive a free product it's not as simple as Greg snapping a photo of me holding it or wearing it. I have to figure out a good location for the photo, take multiple photos so I don't have a weird smile, make sure the lighting is good and then write a thoughtful caption. I have fun with it, but getting a good photo can take a lot of work. 

And let's not forget about the trolls. For every 50 positive comments there is usually one troll or one negative commenter. Usually I just ignore these people or I point out that they are the only unsupportive person out of hundreds of comments. It definitely takes a thick skin, and I'm glad I was able to stop caring about what other people think before I accumulated thousands of followers. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Even though this isn't a race report, I feel like it deserves some final thoughts and key takeaways! While my Instagram account began as a way to promote my book, it has become more than that. It's a way for me to document my running journey and share my experiences. I almost never offer advice (because I am not an expert) but I do share what works for me and hopefully it will work for others, too.

Coming up with a new photo and caption (or reel) each day isn't easy, but I enjoy it, and so does Greg. After all, I wouldn't be able to get any of these photos without Greg and his photography skills. Thankfully we run together most days, so it's simply a matter of him getting his camera out at the beginning or the end of the run. Other times it's more orchestrated, like if I'm posing for a giveaway or holding a product in my hands. 

One of the coolest things is when one of my followers recognizes me at a race. There were a few times during the Marshall University Marathon earlier this month when random strangers cheered for me by name and shouted out that they followed me. It also happened walking around Boston the day before the marathon and in NYC's Central Park during a long run. 

It's extremely rewarding to receive messages from followers about how my book has helped them or how my posts have helped them. It's always a little surprising because I don't see myself as particularly helpful, but the hope is always that someone, somewhere will benefit from what I have to say.