Saturday, September 16, 2023

Zebra Dazzle 5K

I've been waiting my entire 20-year running career for a race like this. A zebra-themed 5K! A dazzle is group of zebras, so "Zebra Dazzle" was an appropriate name. 

This race was held in Washington DC to benefit the Amyloidosis Foundation. It was organized by the sister of a woman who passed away from this rare disease.

Team ACE of Stripes
My friend Cheryl discovered this race when she was searching for local races. When she shared it with me, I knew it was something I had to participate in. I'm extremely fortunate to have two good friends, Cheryl and Allison, who were willing to dress in zebra print and run this race with me!

We planned our matching outfits in advance. We each bought the same pair of zebra shorts, which Allison and Cheryl later told me would be their spectating gear for the Marine Corps Marathon! I love how they are so zebra-spirited! 

We registered as a team. There were no team awards, but in the results our team name showed up next to each of our names, which was cool. We settled on ACE of Stripes: A for Allison, C for Cheryl, and E for Elizabeth. 

Before the Race
I was so excited about this race! I got dressed in my zebra shorts and matching crop top. The crop top was actually a gift from Cheryl before we even got the matching shorts. Of course I had my Zensah Zebra socks and matching adidas Adios Pro shoes. 

It took us about 45 minutes to drive to the race in Rock Creek Park. When we got there, we noticed they had fun signs along the course. Each sign had a zebra on it with a motivational message. I was loving it so much. The shirt also had a photo of a zebra on it next to a runner. Best race shirt ever!

Course signage

We warmed up for about 20 minutes and then we were ready to go. It was 57 degrees and sunny with low humidity. Unseasonably cool for this time of year! We definitely lucked out. I would normally give this a 6 out of 10 on my race weather scale but since it's only mid-September I will bump that up to an 8. You actually couldn't ask for anything better this time of year, but that does not automatically make it a 10! In my world, it's not possible to get a 10 unless it's October through April. 

My main goal was to look like a zebra and I think I accomplished that.  I got so many compliments on my outfit. And of course another key goal was to have a fun morning with my friends. I also thought that the awards might have zebras on them so I was hoping to win an award. I didn't have a goal pace or time because I was mainly doing this as a workout. I have a 20-mile run on tap tomorrow so I didn't want to go all out. I decided I would run as hard as I could to feel like I got a good workout in.

Course Elevation Profile

Mile 1
The race started and two little boys ran out in front. I think they were about 10 years old. I decided to run with Cheryl until we saw Greg for our photo opp. Allison stayed back as she is just getting back into running.

I sped up to where one of the kids was and I said "there's a zebra chasing you!" and that really motivated him to go faster. But it wasn't long before he realized he couldn't keep up. That's when he quickly developed a new plan: block my path so I couldn't run faster than him. I would run around him and get ahead, and then he would sprint and cut me off, and get right in font of me and walk. This was quite dangerous because we were on a steep downhill, I was running at around a 7:15 pace and he kept cutting me off and stopping in front of me. 

He was only 10, so he didn't know any better and I was nice about it. I told him he shouldn't right in front of me because I might run into him. But he did not listen. This happened for about 2 minutes until he finally gave up. The stopping and starting was definitely annoying on the steep downhill, but thankfully it didn't last long. By mile marker 1 I was leading the race; there weren't even any men ahead of me.

I had't been looking at my Garmin because I really didn't care about my time, but mile 1 clocked in at 7:13. Effort wise I was probably running slower than marathon effort since the whole mile was downhill and it was nice and cool. Granted, I was primarily focused on a photo opportunity and not running over a child - so I have an excuse!

Mile 2
It was an out-and-back course. When my Garmin reached 1.55 I saw a woman sitting in a chair and I assumed she was the person manning the turnaround station. Since I was the first runner she wasn't quite prepared. I asked her if I should turn around and she said yes.

The course was part of a popular running route in DC so there were many other runners around, but none of them were part of the race. Many of them cheered for me! It was really awesome to have so many runners cheering for me when they saw my bib. This was SO MUCH fun!  I was so focused on being a zebra and everything around me that I didn't pay attention to my pace. I was running around tempo effort by this point, though. Mile 2 clocked in at 6:57.

Mile 3
It was time to go back up the hill. According to my Final Surge training log, there was 159 feet of ascent in mile 3. I think that's probably the most ascent I have had in a single mile during a race, ever. Second would probably be the Sugarloaf Marathon followed by the DC half marathon. 

I knew I was in the lead by a healthy amount based on the turnaround so I didn't have a ton of motivation to really push. A mile-long steep hill at the end of a 5K is far from ideal! I got to the top and then booked it to the finish line. My final mile was 7:33.

After the Race
I crossed the finish line as the overall winner - there were no men ahead of me. My official time was 22:07. Could I have pushed harder? Yes. Did I have the motivation? No. Do I care that I didn't push harder? No.

Cheryl followed a minute later as the second overall finisher. The final runner of our dazzle, Allison, came in a little bit later, finishing 10th overall. The awards were cash prizes, and I will probably have to buy myself something zebra with the winnings! We cooled down for just over a mile and then headed to brunch. 

I was really impressed with the organization of this race. The zebra mile markers, the zebra signs, the shirt and medal-- and all for a great cause. It was definitely a fun morning and all of my goals were met! ACE of Stripes will have to defend our title next year. This takes "Racing Stripes" to a whole new level!

Tomorrow I plan to run a 20-miler and thankfully the weather will still be on the cooler side for this time of year. My next race is a half marathon and I am not sure if I am going to race that at full effort or use it as a marathon pace training run. It might be warm and humid enough that marathon pace = half marathon pace with the weather. Fall racing season is officially in full gear!

Friday, August 18, 2023

5K at the Beach

Greg and I are in the Outer Banks of North Carolina this week on vacation. We often come here in the summer and I have been coming here since childhood. They have a race series that's held every week so naturally I take part! 

Most recently I ran this race in 2021. (We were in Africa last summer). One of my friends was coincidentally staying less than a mile from us so I persuaded her to sign up and run it with me. Greg also ran it in 2021. 

This year my friend is not at the beach and Greg is STILL suffering from his groin injury. So I was on my own. 

I figured this would be a good "cutback" week for Marine Corps Marathon training. In my previous post, I showed how I have been steadily building for multiple weeks, so it was time for a cutback. I ran my long run on Friday last week because we left for the beach early on Saturday morning. Saturday was my rest day. 

On Sunday, I ran on a track here at the beach for my final "tune-up" workout. It was crazy warm and humid (80 degrees!) but I managed to hit all of my paces anyway. This gave me confidence that I was in good shape for the race. It was three sets of 3 x 400m, getting progressively faster with each set but extending the recovery jogs in between reps. 

Monday through Wednesday were all easy days with low mileage. Even though it's significantly warmer and more humid here than it is at home, I don't mind it because I enjoy the change of scenery. And the ocean air feels much fresher than the suffocating DC swampy air.

I wasn't consciously nervous for the race yesterday morning but my stomach indicated otherwise. I must have gone to the bathroom nearly 10 times before the race. I had a handful of almond butter pretzels at around 6:15 and then a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the start of the race. I had been hydrating all week, drinking over 70 ounces each day with added electrolytes. 

Before the Race
As we drove to the race it was pouring rain. I did not bring a running hat with me because I didn't consider the possibility that it would rain. But thankfully the rain stopped shortly after we arrived. I picked up my bib at 7:15 for an 8:00 start time. The person who parked next to us recognized me from Instagram so we chatted for a bit.

It was 78 degrees with a dew point of 74. Not as hot as last year because it had just rained and the sky was overcast. There were a few windy parts along the course but nothing unmanageable. 

I warmed up for 1.7 miles. My legs and body felt good but I felt slightly nauseous. It felt a lot like pre-race jitters but I honestly was not nervous about such a low-key beach race. I guess my mind was anticipating the pain cave I was about to enter!

Goals and Strategy
My only goal was to beat my 2021 time. I am in about the same spot I was in my training back then so I figured that was a realistic goal. I wouldn't have my friend Meredith to push me at the end, but I told myself I would try to channel that energy anyway. My 2021 time was 21:12 with splits of 6:57, 7:03, 6:47. This morning, I decided I would try and run it at a pace of 6:50 for the first two miles and try to hang on at the end as best as possible.

Mile 1: 6:51
I thought I started out fast off the line but yet about half the runners blew by me. There were 58 runners total but it was a competitive field. Still, I knew I would be passing many of them because it was unlikely that so many people could maintain a sub 6:40 pace. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw I was running a 6:45 (target was 6:50) so I held back even more and told myself to be patient. 

I was running directly behind a woman for most of the first mile but then passed her as we approached the 1 mile mark. I was pretty sure there were only two more women ahead of me, but they were WAY ahead so I knew I wouldn't catch them. 

Mile 2: 7:00
This was my slowest mile in 2021 and I knew there would be a few small hills. Plus, mile 2 is always really difficult mentally in a 5K. I passed a few guys during this mile but I didn't feel all that strong. The humidity was zapping my energy even though I had only been running for 10 minutes. I ran this mile 10 seconds slower than my 6:50 target but I knew I could speed up at the end and make that time back.

Mile 3: 6:54
I really didn't think I would be able to hold on. It was hard to motivate myself to push because I was on vacation and this was a beach race! I had to convince myself that I actually cared and that I seriously wanted to beat my time from two years ago. I passed a guy toward the end of the mile which really perked me up. I remembered back to literally racing my friend Meredith and tried to draw motivation from that.

Last 0.7: Unknown
I stopped my Garmin as I crossed the finish line but then realized a little later that it didn't actually stop. So I have no idea how fast my final kick was. But it was pretty fast. I saw the clock ticking closer and closer to the dreaded 21:12 and I did everything in my power to get under it.

After the Race
I ended up coming in 3rd place out of the women and 8th overall. There were a bunch of speedy women not far behind me either. Lots of women ran under 22:00 minutes, which is impressive given there were only 58 total participants. My official time was 21:09, which is 3 seconds faster than my time from two years ago! 

And if there was any doubt, this race is also a Strava segment and Strava agreed that I had, in fact, set a PR on that segment. I know it's super small, but when you work so hard for every second, the seconds matter!

Of course my inner skeptic is telling me that it was slightly cooler this year with more cloud cover. So I should be faster just based on race conditions. But in actuality it was still humid as f*ck. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I am happy with my performance but I'm not analyzing this one too much. I didn't have a ton of motivation since I am in "beach mode" and I didn't feel all that great at the start line. If I really want to test my fitness I will have to wait until the dew point is much lower. 

It feels great to have placed third and to have run faster than I did in 2021. This was a good, hard tempo that will add to my marathon training bank. I had fun racing and meeting new people and Greg was amazing with his camera work. 

My next race is a 5K in September and I may be more excited about this next 5K than any 5K I have ever run in my lifetime. Why?! You will just have to wait and see, but are welcome to guess in the comments.

Monday, August 7, 2023

I'm Training for the Marine Corps Marathon

I officially announced on my Instagram that I am training for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) but I am not sure how formal of an announcement I made here. Even though I live 25 minutes from the start line and I love this marathon, I have only run it one time! Out of 33 marathons, only 1 of them was my hometown marathon.

Marine Corps Marathon 2006
I ran the MCM back in 2006. It was my second marathon. I loved every moment of the race and finished in a time of 4:24:39, which was a PR by over 20 minutes from marathon #1 in Delaware. This was before I had a Garmin. Before I had an Instagram following. Before I had a husband. Before I had adidas carbon fiber plate running shoes. A different world, indeed!

The reason I never returned was twofold. 1) I wanted to experience a variety of marathons and locations. 2) I typically prefer later fall marathons so I don't have to train in the heat as much, and there is a greater likelihood of cool weather. The Richmond marathon is two weeks after Marine Corps so if I was going to run something close to home, that race always seemed like a better target. 

But now that I have successfully run a warm marathon (Houston in 65-degree weather) I know I can be okay if we have an unseasonably warm day in late October. Plus, I have always wanted to run MCM again and it feels long overdue.

I do consider Richmond a fallback if the MCM weather is forecast to be over 65 degrees or if I get sick. I am going on a cruise two weeks before the marathon, which is just a breeding ground for germs. Not to mention the flights. The timing of the cruise isn't ideal, but a few family members had already booked it and invited me. I don't often have the opportunity to vacation with family. I'll do whatever I can to prevent getting sick, but if I do, I'll deal with it and then run Richmond.

My goal is to run a faster time than I ran in Houston so I can have a lower bib number in Boston next Spring. I feel like that's such a superficial, petty goal-- to care about a bib number and a corral. But it's motivating for me! A sub-3:26 is also a low bar for me given that I have run many marathons faster than that. So ideally I would run faster than 3:20. It will mostly depend on how training goes and how cool the weather is. 

Training Progress
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am coaching myself for this one. So far it's been going really well. I have written myself a plan that goes all the way to race day and making minor adjustments here and there. I am always asking myself "does this workout make sense for where I am in training?" and twice the answer has been "no" so I made modifications.

I turned a six-mile steady state run into a 2-mile tempo followed by 2 x 1 mile at 10K effort. A six-mile workout seemed like a big jump and I think I generally get more benefit of running at 10K effort than steady state, which is slightly slower than Lactate Threshold. Self coaching involves knowing what works for me, being aware of the stage of training I'm in, and adjusting for the weather if needed.

It wouldn't be a training update without a graph. So here's mine:

As you can see, I have steadily increased my volume this summer. I am planning a "down week" for the week of August 14th to allow my body to recover and absorb all the work I've been doing. So far, my longest run has been 14 miles and I plan to run a 15-miler this weekend.

One of the foundations of my plan is that I don't want to do a lot of runs that are longer than 16 miles. When I was training for Indianapolis/Houston at the end of last year, I started to dread my long runs. I felt burnt out on them. I was perfectly fine to run speed work or easy runs - but long runs felt treacherous. And looking back on my training log, I have found that I don't need a ton of long runs to run a fast marathon as long as I have high volume. It's preferable to spread the mileage out over the week instead of lumping it all into one run. 

My first 16 miler will be 9 weeks out. And then I will run longer for all the subsequent weekends, except for the week in which I race a half marathon. With only two months of 16+ milers I think I can run a strong marathon and avoid the mental fatigue of too many long runs. Another benefit of this approach is that by the time I get to 16 miles, the weather should be a bit cooler, even if just by a few degrees.

Injury watch-outs
At my age, injury prevention is more important than ever. I am doing strength training twice per week and having physical therapy appointments as needed. Here are the three areas that I am watching closely:

  • Achilles. I'm pleasantly surprised that my Achilles tendinopathy has not flared up. Even after some pretty intense hill workouts my Achilles felt okay. And the long runs haven't been irritating it too much. I always have some tenderness when walking downstairs, but overall my Achilles feel better than they did throughout all of 2022. I hope this continues!
  • SI Joint. I somehow got out of alignment (probably by squatting or deadlifting weights) and for about two days my SI Joint was irritated. I went straight to physical therapy to get it adjusted and that worked wonders. I didn't have to take any time off for it! If only I had gotten an adjustment sooner in the spring of 2022, I wouldn't have had to take 9 days off, get an MRI, freak out right before Boston, etc. The pain is now completely gone.
  • Morton's Neuroma. This problem reared its ugly head again for the first time in five years. I didn't waste any time. As soon as I started to feel pain I went to my podiatrist to get alcohol shots, which have shrunk the neuroma in the past. That pain has also gone away. 
Aside from these minor issues, I have been feeling great. My runs have felt energized despite the steamy weather. I've been getting plenty of high-quality sleep and I've been tracking my daily water intake. I drink anywhere from 55-70 ounces of water a day. Often with Uppermost hydration mix.

So, that's my update! I am really excited about running the MCM for the first time in 17 years! It will be interesting to see how 44-year-old Elizabeth compares to 27-year-old Elizabeth.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Call me "Coach"

I am now a certified running coach! I received my certification from McMillan Running in June by taking a course online and passing the exam.

I always thought I would eventually want to coach other runners, once I was less focused on my own running career. I saw it as my retirement job-- when I was retired from running and from my full-time job as a marketing executive. Coaching definitely wouldn't fit into my busy schedule of marathon training, producing my Instagram content, and working full-time. And if I was going to coach someone, I would want to be attentive to their needs without being pulled in a million different directions. 

But I got the certification anyway. There were a few reasons why:

I wanted to gain the knowledge to apply to my own running.
I've been with McMillan running for nearly 10 years now. I've read countless articles by Greg McMillan and his perspective has always resonated with me. I wanted to learn more about the science of running and how he uses that to pull together his training plans.

I wanted to engage on Instagram with some level of authority.
I've always been very careful to not give blanket advice in my Instagram posts. Since I was not a coach, I didn't view myself as someone who was "qualified" to be guiding others. Instead, I mostly shared how I trained, my opinions, and what worked for me. I always included the caveat "this is what works for me" so that followers wouldn't blindly apply my approach to their running. But I often get questions via DM or in in the comments section, so I figured it would be good to have some level of certification to respond authoritatively. In other words, I didn't want to be some random Instagram runner spewing advice when I had no basis upon which to do so.

I knew I would eventually want to coach others.
As I said above, this would be something that would come in handy once I no longer had a full-time job and/or wasn't so dedicated to my own running. 

I wanted to self-coach.
I generally think self-coaching is not a good idea, now matter how experienced you are. I think runners always need an objective eye over their training-- someone to advise when things need to be tweaked. I also think accountability is important. Someone you have to go back to and explain why you didn't do that final rep. When you are your own coach, it's too easy to say, mid-workout: "Well, I scheduled you for 8 intervals, but I can just push that back to 6."

In the long term, I likely will not be my own coach. But I wanted to give it a try for at least one cycle (Marine Corps Marathon) to see how it went. I figured it would give me the flexibility to move workouts around in the summer heat and run more or less based on how I felt. Of course I could have done this with any coach I have ever worked with, but my perfectionist self didn't like going off plan. As my own coach, I can switch days around and run a little longer or shorter than what's written based on how I feel. It requires being VERY honest with myself about how I am feeling. 

I've coached my husband for all of his marathons. He started out with a 4:08 and made his way down to 3:18. I enjoyed creating plans for him and watching him get faster. So in that respect, I have some experience under my belt. 

Call me "Coach!"
Once I completed the certification, I felt differently. I wanted to coach right away! I didn't want to wait. But I had to balance that urge with the reality of everything else I have going on in my life. 

So I figured I could ease into coaching by starting small. Instead of offering a full-blown coaching service where I was available via email and text 24/7 to analyze the workouts of multiple athletes, I would simply write custom plans. I think there is a large number of runners who don't want to pay for a coach but they want something that's more tailored than what they would find on the Internet or in a book.

From a time management perspective, I have enough time to look at an athlete's history, experiences, preferences, strengths, weakness, and write a custom plan that also advises on areas to work on (like fueling, injury prevention, mental strategies, pacing, etc.).  And then send them off with the plan, giving them the option to check in with me on a monthly basis to potentially tweak the plan.

With this model, the athlete doesn't have to pay the cost of full-time coaching, but they are still getting guidance. And I am not over-extending myself in terms of my commitments. 

Introducing All Stripes Coaching
I am pleased to announce the formation of All Stripes Coaching! I created an LLC and I'm ready to start working with athletes. All the details are at

I chose the name "All Stripes" to represent that my plans take into account all aspects of running and are more than just numbers on a calendar. Athletes complete a comprehensive intake questionnaire that allows me tailor a plan specifically to their needs and preferences. Plus, the name "All Stripes" fits in nicely with the name of my blog, Racing Stripes.

Because I am just starting out, availability will be limited at first and I am not going to announce this on Instagram quite yet. In marketing we call this a "soft launch." If any of my blog readers are interested in a custom training plan, head on over to for more details and complete the interest form.

I look forward to coaching runners and helping them achieve their goals. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Firecracker 5K: More Fashion Than Fit

Fashion was the goal in yesterday's Firecracker 5K! I've run this race almost every year since it started in 2010.  The only years I have missed were 2012 (illness), 2013 (injury), and 2016 (illness). In 2020 I ran the "Virtual" race which was a much flatter course and had an earlier start time!

If it weren't for tradition, I would not have signed up for this event. I hadn't been doing much speed work and my mileage had been low. Even though I wasn't fit, I could still have two other F's: Fashion and Fun. And for the "Firecracker FiveK" the F's made a lot of sense. This is just how I see the world- one big poem and play on words. Plus, I knew I'd probably be uttering the real "F" word a few times up that last hill!

Before the Race
I bought a new tank for this race to up my level of looking like an American flag. (Ooooh: Flag. Fashion. Fun. Firecracker. FiveK.) I matched it with flag shorts and flag socks. About two hours before the race I had a small handful of almond butter filled pretzels and some water mixed with Uppermost Hydration. This is my new favorite hydration mix because it also contains B vitamins and zinc. It has no sugar but yet tastes really good.

We arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start. I already had my bib so I didn't have to worry about picking that up. Greg left his camera at home because I wanted him on video duty with my phone. I have so many race photos and I knew that Cheryl would be there taking them. I wanted to document the experience with videos. Greg is unfortunately still dealing with his groin injury and unable to run.

I brought my new ice vest with me in the hopes of lowering my core body temperature before the race. This had been recommended to me by my coach years ago and Oro Sports sent me this vest last winter to try out. It sat in my closet until yesterday. If I had been truly committed, I would have worn the ice vest in the car on the way there and made sure I had it on for at least 30 minutes for maximum impact. But instead I used it during the warm up only. It was cooling but also heavy so not something I would run with on a regular basis. But the pre-cooling is what's supposed to bring your core temperature down for 45 minutes. Verdict: I will definitely be using it for pre-cooling for 30 minutes before hot races and long runs if I get up early enough.

I took a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the race and a few chugs of water. I warmed up for 1.7 miles and felt ready to go. Because I wasn't going to race hard, I decided not to line up towards the front. I lined up about 20 rows back figuring that would be about right.

I made sure to double knot my shoes and tuck in the loops. This worked and my shoelaces did not come untied during the race like they had during my previous two races. 

Race Weather
The temperature was 75 degrees and it was mostly sunny. It was also quite humid although I don't remember the exact dew point. There were a few shaded portions of the course but otherwise the sun was probably the biggest culprit. On my race weather scale I give it a 3 out of 10, and that somewhat takes the time of year into consideration. If this had been an early fall race I would have downgraded it to a 2 out of 10. As I said earlier, I have run this race many times in the past and yesterday's weather was typical. We lucked out in 2021 and 2022 with lower humidity- those were probably the two coolest years. 

Goals and Mindset
The main goal here was to keep up with the Fourth of July tradition. I had nothing else going on yesterday, so why not go out there and have some fun? I could have chosen to race at 100% effort to get a "baseline" level of my current fitness, but it wasn't worth it in the heat. Instead, I decided to run it as a "tempo" run around half marathon pace effort. I didn't have any target pace or time in mind and I decided not to look at my watch. (Of course whenever I decide not to look at my watch, I hear people around me yelling out their paces to the people they are running with. "Okay Katie, we are running a 7:15 pace, right on target!")

Mile 1:
I know this course very well and I was prepared for this uphill mile. I had underestimated where I should have lined up because I found myself passing people left and right. I did not want to go out too fast, but if I didn't pass other runners, I would have been stuck at my easy run pace. 

Mile 2:
This was the beautiful downhill mile! And finally I was where I wanted to be in the pack and there was no more crowding. Part of this mile was shaded and it felt drastically different from the first mile which was mostly sunny. I stayed relaxed and reminded myself to maintain tempo effort. I did feel like I could have tapped into a higher gear, but with an up-hill final mile I did not want to crash and burn.

Mile 3:
This mile was killer! I told myself to maintain my pace and rhythm, which meant I would have to increase my effort on the long hill. But that last hill is fun. I love passing people on it. So many runners lose loads of time during the last half mile of that race, but I had started conservatively so I had lots to give.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 23:15. I was not surprised by this and didn't care at all that it was 2nd my slowest time ever on this course! I had zero ego going into this race and I had accomplished my goals of staying strong, having fun, and being fashionable. 

My splits were 7:23, 7:11, 7:24, and 7:24 pace for the final 0.17.  Nice and consistent!

After the Race
I cooled down for just over 5 minutes which was shorter than intended. But it was so hot! I then checked the results and learned that I placed second in my age group. That was quite a shocker because this is a competitive race and I didn't expect to place at all. We stayed for the awards and I won $20 to Potomac River Running store. Then we chatted with our friend Kathy for awhile. That's the best part about local races - the social aspect and getting to see friends.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
My main takeaway is that I love being able to check my ego at the door and race "for fun". This does not mean that I am going to stop training and stop trying to race at my full potential. It just means that I will embrace all the seasons of my running and not shy away from experiences just because I'm not in race shape. This race was all about maintaining a tradition, doing something fun on the fourth and seeing my friends. 

I also learned something that I plan to experiment with in the future. Usually when it's above 55 in a race I wear a sports bra only (no tank). The thinking was that the less material, the better. But I couldn't resist this flag singlet so I wore it anyway. Before the race I had gotten the tank top went by shoving ice into my bra. So the tank top was wet around my core area. While running, it felt nice to have the cool wet material against my skin. This could mean that running in just a sports bra is not as "cooling" as running in a wet tank top. I will have to play around with this in training to see if I want to do it more in races. I'll also experiment more with the ice vest beforehand.

I'm happy I did this race and I am proud of my effort and my mindset. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Spontaneous Fiesta 5K

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am taking an off season from racing this spring. Thus, my blogging frequency has declined. 

My reasons for taking an off season were to focus on strength training, to give myself a mental break, and to fully recover from Covid. I haven't taken an optional off season since I started racing in 2005!  It's been nice not having to adhere to a rigid schedule and feeling more free with my runs in terms of pace and distance. My goal has been to maintain a base of around 30 miles per week with a maximum of one harder effort per week. 

Of course this is probably the nicest spring I've ever experienced in terms of running weather. In February and March it was unseasonably warm which meant I didn't have to layer up. In April and May it's been unseasonably cool with low humidity. Almost every morning in May has been below 60 degrees, which is unheard of.  The past few mornings have even dipped into the 40s. I could have raced almost any weekend and had great weather! 

I succumbed to my temptations a few weeks ago when my friend Cheryl was racing the Fiesta 5K. The forecast was looking amazing, it was a flat course, and I didn't have plans for that morning. So I made the decision the day before the race to run it with her and I registered on site. 

The race was on Saturday May 6 and held in honor of Cinco de Mayo. I didn't have a goal time or a goal range or a pacing strategy or anything. I didn't come up with a race plan until about 15 minutes before the race. So unlike me! But that's the fun of having an off season.

The one thing I knew was that I did NOT want to run this race at 100% effort. I hadn't done enough hard workouts to prepare for that mentally and I wanted to keep this fun - not painful! Once again, the complete opposite of my usual race mentality.

Before the Race
The plan was to have a banana at home and then take a UCAN gel 30 minutes before race start. After eating half of the banana, I realized I shouldn't be doing that. I recently starting taking thyroid medication for mild hypothyroidism and you are supposed to take it first thing in the morning and then not eat anything for an hour. Otherwise it doesn't get absorbed. This will definitely impact race morning going forward. If I want to take my medication correctly, I will have to wake up even earlier to be able to take the pill, wait one hour, and then eat breakfast 2 hours before race start.

I am not sure if I blogged about it but I was treated for hypothyroidism back in 2019 using desecrated pig thyroid hormone. It was an over the counter supplement and it really worked to get my labwork numbers looking strong. However, I didn't notice any difference in how I felt so I stopped taking it six months later, thinking it wasn't that important. Back in January, my levels spiked with Covid and when they came back down they were still a little high, so my doctor decided to treat me with the prescription meds. 

I was reluctant to this because I don't have symptoms of hypothyroidism except for fatigue during the day.  I always attributed that fatigue to running 50+ miles a week but it's possible that my thyroid could be contributing. I generally don't like taking medication unless absolutely necessary, but I agreed to try it. After having been on it for over a month, I realized (through internet articles) that it wasn't like a vitamin/supplement. Once you are on it, you likely need to be on it for life. It's the same thyroid hormone your body makes naturally and you become dependent on the pill for that hormone. Yikes. Thankfully I haven't had any adverse side effects and I am feeling really good. So for now I will continue with it.

Back to the race. I arrived an hour before race start because I still had to register. I registered and then got in line for the porta potties. The line was not moving at all. After standing there for about 5-10 minutes, someone realized that nobody was coming out of the porta potties and they were actually locked with zip ties! And then it took awhile to find someone who could cut the zip ties. I was happy I got in line when I did because the line behind me was massive. 

I then went back to my car and pinned on my bib and took my UCAN gel. I texted Cheryl and she said she was headed my way. She had picked out green shorts and a red sports bra due to the Cinco De Mayo theme. I matched with the exact same green shorts and red bra! We looked so cute together! 

We warmed up for just under a mile. Normally I would warm up for at least 15 minutes, but I wasn't taking this race very seriously! We did some strides and that got the legs moving. I decided to wear my adidas Adios Pro running shoes because I needed whatever boost in speed I could get. And those are my fastest shoes. 

Race Purpose
So if I wasn't going to be racing at 100% effort, why was I there? Lots of reasons:

  • Could not resist the perfect 50-degree low-humidity low-wind weather
  • Wanted to spend time with Cheryl
  • Missed the racing atmosphere and wanted to be part of it
  • Wanted run my first tempo since the Houston Marathon
At the start line I decided my goal would be to let Cheryl set the pace and try to keep up with her. I had no idea what kind of speed I had in me, and I had no idea if I would be able to keep up! But I decided I would try to keep up so long as I wasn't killing myself to do it.

Mile 1: 6:55
Cheryl went out harder than expected! My initial thought was that there was NO WAY I would be doing this for 3.1 miles. This was probably because I didn't have a sufficient warm up so it was really a shock to my system. But after a few minutes I settled in and felt decent. The best part about this race was that our outfits matched! We got a lot of comments on our outfits and it was fun trying to keep up with someone who was wearing my same gear. 

Mile 2: 6:55
She was so consistent with her pacing. The course was mostly flat with some minor inclines and declines. Nothing that I would consider a "hill" -- just some gentle slopes. It was not easy keeping up with her, she was running really strong. But I felt like it was manageable. 

Mile 3: 7:15
The headline here is a bit misleading. About a quarter into this mile, my shoelace came undone, just like in Houston! They came untied despite the double knot. This was a different pair than the Houston pair and I tied them super tightly. But I really should have tucked the loops under. Never before has this happened to me in a race and now it has happened twice in a row. 

So I stopped to tie my shoe. It was annoying and Cheryl would now be way ahead of me. Once the shoe was securely tied, I slowly closed the gap between Cheryl. Strava credits me with a 7:02 mile, meaning I spent 13 seconds tying my laces: PRETTY FAST LACE TIE!

Last 0.18: 6:19 pace
While I had been gradually closing the gap during the last mile, I really hammered it during the final stretch in order to be able to finish with Cheryl. It was fun to kick it really hard at the end, and I finished one second behind her. 

After the Race
Cheryl finished in 22:16 and I finished in 22:17. This meant we were 2nd and 3rd overall females! I won a $40 Visa gift card which was exactly the cost of the race registration, so it all evened out!  And then we went out for brunch afterwards. 

This race reminded me why I love racing so much. It's the atmosphere, my friends, the outfits, the energy, and winning age group awards!

I was pleasantly surprised that I could run as fast as I did an have it feel like a tempo, not a race. This means that my "off season" has not been detrimental to my fitness and I've still got it!

Greg, aka my race photographer, was unable to come because he had to work. He's on a new project and he's been working weekends. I think things should be easing up soon for him though!

Monday, April 24, 2023

Marathon Survey: Super Shoes & Training Plans

About a month ago, I sent out a survey to runners asking them about their most recent marathon. 562 runners completed the 14-question survey. I have to admit that I did this mainly for my own curiosity, but I also wanted to share the results with my followers and blog readers. In this post, I will cover two areas of the survey: super shoes and training plans. 

For the purpose of this survey, I defined a "super shoe" as any shoe with a carbon fiber plate. Some runners responded that they didn't know if their shoes were considered "super" or not. When analyzing Personal Records (PRs), I removed responses from runners who had only run 1 marathon from the data set.

Super Shoes: how many runners actually wear them?
The short answer: roughly 30% of respondents said they wore super shoes in their most recent marathon (29.5% to be exact). I would fall into this category as I wore the adidas Adios Pro in my most recent marathon. I've been racing in adidas running shoes for about 7 years - well before super shoes were invented!

In my Instagram story, I ran a quick poll, asking people to guess the percentage of runners who wore super shoes. Only 41% of runners in my story poll correctly guessed that less than half of the marathoners wore super shoes (903 people responded). So most people think that super shoes are more popular than they actually are. 

The most popular shoes in this survey were the Nike Vaporfly and Alphafly. I wore the Vaporfly for one marathon and it resulted in posterior tibial tendonitis, so it definitely was not the right shoe for me. I also didn't find it to be particularly fast - my marathon time was consistent with my training paces, and I had trained in non-carbon fiber plate shoes. Like the adidas adizero Boston running shoes and the adidas adios (non-pro).

But enough about me, let's get to more results and analysis!

Of the super-shoe wearers:

  • 72% ran a sub-4:00 time
  • 58% set a Personal Record (PR) 
The runners who did NOT wear super shoes reported the following:
  • 37% ran a sub-4:00 time
  • 42% set a PR 
Key takeaways: runners who opt for super shoes tend to be faster and are more likely to run PRs. This doesn’t prove definitively that super shoes make you faster; it could be that faster runners prefer those kinds of shoes. Also, there was a recent study that showed super shoes provide more benefit to faster, more economical runners. 

Training Plans
I also asked these 562 marathon runners how they trained for their most recent marathon? Results were as follows:

  • 25% Used a free plan from the Internet
  • 23% Worked with a personal coach
  • 20% Didn’t follow a plan; they did their own thing. 
  • 8% Used a plan from a book 
  • 6% Trained with a group/club and followed that plan. 
  • The remaining 18% was a mix of “other” training approaches (purchased online plan, purchased custom plan, used an app, etc)
Which group had the greatest percentage of Personal Records?
  • Personal Coach: 40% PR
  • Book Plan: 35% PR
  • Free Internet Plan: 31% PR
  • No Plan/Own Thing: 31% PR
  • Group/Club: 23% PR 
The personal coach was the most effective way to set a PR. This isn’t surprising because a coach tailors
your training to your individual needs and adapts the training as you go along. 

Boston Marathon 2022
I was surprised that runners who didn’t follow a plan had more PRs than those who trained with a group. It’s possible that group runners tend to run more for the social aspects and many might not care about setting a PR. But group runners can also be very competitive and the group atmosphere can push runners harder than they would push alone. On the flip side, sometimes runners who train in groups end up running too quickly in order to keep up. This can lead to injury, burnout, or less effective workouts.

I’ll also hypothesize that the book plans are effective because they come with a book! 🤓 And the more educated someone is about marathons, the better prepared they will be. My favorite marathon book is called Run Faster Marathons by coach Greg McMillan.

These responses show that many training approaches are used for marathons and the distribution is fairly even. Ultimately, you should use the approach that works best for your schedule, budget, and mindset!

If you're willing to shell out the dough for super shoes and a personal coach, you could be on your way to a marathon PR!

Thursday, March 30, 2023

UCAN Edge Gel Review

UCAN Edge energy gels. When I last did a review of UCAN vs. Maurten, I did not include my thoughts on the UCAN Edge gel because it was so new. In this blog post, I will give my thoughts on UCAN Edge, what I like about it, what I don't like about it, and how I use it in my training.

UCAN Edge Energy Gel
Before UCAN released this Edge gel, I used to make my own gels out of the UCAN Energy Powder. For years I would mix the powder with water in a bowl and scoop it into a disposable baby food squeeze pouch.  This approach worked well for me. My marathon PR (3:15:35) was set using my own UCAN gel back in 2018. I even made a YouTube video on this because so many people asked me about it! 

When the UCAN Edge Gel was released in 2020, I was excited to try it. The first flavor was orange. My excitement dwindled when I read the ingredient list. Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, was the third ingredient. I am allergic to sugar alcohols so this was a non-started for me. But when the Strawberry Banana Edge was released, I noticed it did not contain any sugar alcohols. Hooray!

The Benefits of UCAN Edge Gels
My favorite thing about the Edge gels is that they prevent your blood sugar from spiking. Just like the energy powder, the energy source is "LIVSTEADY" corn starch. It's their slow-release energy which means you don't have to fuel as often. From a physiological standpoint, the LIVSTEADY energy allows your body to use fat as fuel instead of pumping it with a ton of easy-to-use sugar all at once. For endurance athletes, consuming sugar every 30-45 minutes doesn't allow the body to get the message that it should be burning fat for fuel. 

To quote my coach, Greg McMillan, from his book Run Faster Marathons,  "I personally use UCAN in my Marathons. This carbohydrate has been manipulated by heat and water so that it is absorbed more slowly to avoid the spike and crash. . . because you feed less frequently and it's easier on the GI tract, you avoid the GI upset that can occur late in the race."

Here are the main reasons why I use UCAN Edge Energy Gels:

  • Fuel less often
  • Train the body to burn fat for fuel
  • Easy on the digestive system
  • Tastes good (the strawberry banana ones tastes like a watery smoothie)
  • Does not need to be consumed with water
The Drawbacks of UCAN Edge Gels
As much as I love these gels, there are a few drawbacks. I don't always use UCAN gels; I sometimes use Maurten ones. I will explain in more detail later in this post. The drawbacks of these gels are:
  • The orange flavor contains erythritol, which can bother sensitive stomachs
  • They are messy; they have a watery consistency and I have sometimes gotten it all over my face, hands, clothes, etc.
  • They are larger than most gels and may not fit into traditionally sized pockets
  • There is no caffeine (which I find to be beneficial during a race)
How I use these gels
My primary use of UCAN Edge gels is for long runs during marathon training. For a 20 miler, I drink the energy powder before hand, and then consume 2 gels during the run.

UCAN Gel fits in larger pockets
Again quoting my coach Greg McMillan, "No-Fuel/Slow-Fuel training, also called low glycogen training, results in greater fat burning, more muscle fiber recruitment, a boost to the aerobic system, a lot of mental toughness training and greater storage of muscle glycogen post-run. All of these adaptions are extremely helpful for a faster marathon." I attribute my use of UCAN to the endurance gains I made around 2015-2016 when I got significantly faster. 

However, when it's time to perform on race day, I turn to Maurten as my primary fuel source. I drink the UCAN energy powder before the race, but I find that the Maurten gels give me that sugar high burst that I need. Maurten gels come in both caffeinated and caffeinated, so I switch between them. They are much more compact and less messy than the UCAN gels, so I can easily stash 4-5 of them in my shorts. 

Because it's important to practice fueling before race day, I do some of my harder long runs (the ones with speed) using Maurten so my digestive system knows what to expect on race day.

That said, I do think the Edge energy gels are a great choice for marathon fueling, and it's what Greg (husband Greg, not coach Greg), used for his most recent marathon PR last spring. Because he didn't need to fuel as often, he went from his typical 6 Gus down to 4 Edge gels. According the the UCAN Website, each gel provides up to 75 minutes of steady energy. I have found this to be true, whereas traditional gels need to be taken every 30-45 minutes. 

Save 10% on all UCAN products by using this link. If you'd like a free sample pack of UCAN, use this link and code ECSAMPLE.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Spring Break

I have not updated my blog in over a month! That is a long time for me to go without blogging. That's because my running life has been pretty uneventful. I haven't run any races and I am not training for anything at the moment. I'm fully recovered from Covid and I am not injured; but I have decided it would be a good idea to take an "off" season. 

Even though I only ran one marathon, I trained for two marathons, starting in August of last year. This meant way more long runs than I ever want to do again in a 5-month period! I was only doing 1-2 hard workouts a week and the mileage was low for me. But the long runs gave me a bit of mental burn out. Maybe if I had been running my normal 65-75 mile weeks, the long runs would have felt shorter because they would have been a smaller percentage of overall volume. Because I was averaging 55-65 miles a week, the 20s really started to take their toll. Toward the end of the cycle I was starting to dread them and I usually look forward to my long runs!

Strength training in my home gym
I had been registered for the One City Half Marathon the first weekend in March, but I didn't have enough time to train given marathon recovery followed by Covid. I am sure I could have finished the race, but I didn't want to do it without proper training. Of course the weather that day was perfect! 

After One City, I didn't have anything on the schedule so I kept it that way and decided to prioritize strength training. Instead of doing 1-2 sessions a week, I am now doing 3. One of those sessions is an hour-long workout with my strength coach Angela, and the other two are about 25 minutes each on my own. I think I have reached the limit of how much running I am able to do in a training cycle, so the gains I make in the fall will come from being stronger. 

I had planned on taking up swimming again to change things up, but it's difficult to motivate to drive to the pool, change, swim, shower, change, and drive back. If it weren't so logistically involved, I would do it every day. But now that I have a gym in my basement, it's so much easier to work out there. 

This spring break has been nice. I've been keeping most of my runs easy, throwing in a few strides here and there just so my legs remember how to turn over quickly. It's a good mental break and it's freed me up to focus on other areas of my life that I typically de-prioritize. 

The good thing about having had so many bouts of mono is that I know I can quickly ramp up training and get into race shape. I only need about 6-8 weeks to get myself to a good place and a few more to be in "race shape". 

Right now the plan is to focus on strength training, mobility and stability. And then I will begin training for my annual July 4th 5K. I might do a few tune-up 5Ks before then. I suspect that this break from racing will leave me super hungry to get out there and grind when the time comes. 

In the meantime, I will continue to blog. I have a few ideas of posts that I have been meaning to write!

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Post-Viral Fatigue Part 5

If you've been following my blog, you may remember that I decided not to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last fall because of the warm forecast. I wasn't concerned about running a slow-for-me time. I was concerned about getting sick. Racing in the heat kills my immune system and I have a history of getting sick for extended periods of time following warm races.

So I played it safe and continued training for Houston. I stayed healthy and had a very strong training cycle. I even PR'ed my 5K in November.

Then came Houston. It was warm. Even though I ran a conservative pace, running 26.2 miles at any pace in the heat is a strain on my immune system. Then we went to Mexico for 8 days, where I did nothing but relax in the sun. I did not have any alcoholic beverages because I was concerned about my immune system and I made sure to eat plenty of healthy foods. I had a few sips from Greg's drinks, but that's all. 

We flew home on a Tuesday. I ran for the first time post-marathon on Wednesday (30 minutes). On Friday, I noticed a mild sore throat and fatigue. No surprise I caught something on the way back from Mexico-- the airports were very crowded. 

On Sunday I took a Covid test and it was negative. On Monday I took another Covid test and it was positive.

I've heard that Covid round two is milder than round one, and that was definitely the case for me. The first time I had Covid (January of last year) my sore throat was extremely painful. I couldn't talk for two days. I took 25 days off from running. This time would be milder, I would be back out there in a week, maybe 10 days max.


Even though my Covid symptoms were mild, there is a huge difference between this illness and last year's illness. Last year I recovered like a normal person. Sure, it took three weeks, but that's not abnormal for this virus. I never felt weak. Walking around always felt normal. The lingering symptoms were the sore throat, cough, and some tiredness. 

This time, with a warm marathon still impacting my immune system - I am not recovering like a normal person. I have my FIFTH case of post-viral fatigue. This means I am weak, my body aches, and it's hard to move around. 

The most accurate description I have seen comes from Medical News Today: "Post-viral syndrome, or post-viral fatigue, refers to a sense of tiredness and weakness that lingers after a person has fought off a viral infection. It can arise even after common infections, such as the flu. People may experience post-viral symptoms, such as fatigue, for weeks or months after fighting off the infection."

Some doctors say that the Epstein-Barr virus plays a role and can be re-activated during these times. I was tested for this in 2012 and I was positive. (I first had Epstein-Barr/mono in 1999). Not sure if that's the case for me now;  the "Post Viral Illness" diagnosis seems to be the most accurate.

I've had these exact symptoms 4 times in the past: 2008, 2012, 2016, 2018. Here's a description that I wrote in my blog post from 2018:

So what, exactly, am I sick with? The best way to describe it is an over-reaction of the immune system triggered by a viral infection. I had a sore throat for the first three days and now my symptoms are: 

  • Dizziness when standing up from a seated position
  • Weakness in the legs and an inability to walk at a normal pace
  • General fatigue, and low energy levels, requiring about 1-2 hours of extra sleep per night
  • Varying degrees of body aches 
Progress with this illness is not linear. Some days, I feel almost normal as long as I stay seated. Other days (like yesterday) all I can do is lay in bed and even moving the slightest bit feels like a huge effort. Because I've had this illness in the past I know not to get too discouraged when I have one of the really horrible days. I basically just see it as a message that I need to continue to take it easy.

So all of this from 2018 applies to me right now. It doesn't matter what kind of virus it is, what matters is the state of my immune system when I catch it. Last year when I had Covid I was not running in the heat because it was January. So I wasn't impacted by this post-viral fatigue. So while it was a far more severe Covid case, recovery was shorter.

I've never had post-viral fatigue that was not preceded by a hot race. This is why I avoid racing anything longer than a 5K in the heat. Although hot 5Ks can cause this same issue, as can consistently running hard workouts in the heat. Last summer I limited myself to only one hard workout a week, and I would choose the coolest day of the week.

The good news is that I now work from home full-time so I don't need to worry about taking short-term disability like I did in 2018. When I was sick in 2016, I actually quit my job because they were not understanding and the stress of the situation was making things worse. I easily found another one. 

There's nothing that I can do to speed up recovery, but there are plenty of things I can do to lengthen recovery. I've learned from past experiences and from doctors that it's best to be mostly sedentary. Even though I could manage a short walk (and I had started walking a few days after the Covid test), walks cause setbacks. Even housework can cause setbacks. 

My primary physical activities are doing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking showers, and going from room to room in my house. A lot of online shopping has occurred. Kate Spade just so happens to have a zebra line out right now, and thus my bank account took a hit! You can see the photo of the zebra bag, with the tassel being the zebra's tail. Other items were purchased as well!

New Kate Spade handbag
Mentally I am trying to distract myself and not think about the fact that I am sick. Because I work from home anyway, the only day-to-day thing that has changed about my life is that I can't be physically active. And yes, that's a big deal, but I've dealt with it before. I had been planning to run the One City Half Marathon in early March but that is clearly out. Thankfully, I don't have any other races on the calendar. You can bet a comeback race is in my future - however distant that may be!

I had my first symptoms on Friday, January 27, so I am officially 2 weeks and 1 day into this.  I have no idea how long it will last, but if I stay patient and don't push myself, it should be about 4 more weeks. Seems like an eternity, but it's the hand I've been dealt. 

Everyone has their strengths and weakness as runners. My greatest weakness is running in the heat. It slows me down more than most and then my immune system suffers. This is why I adjusted my Houston Marathon goal to be 15 minutes slower than the time I trained for. And, as I said earlier, it's why I didn't run Indianapolis last fall. It's not ideal, but that's my weakness and I've learned to manage it to the best of my ability. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Houston Marathon: Smart and Steady

I ran the Houston Marathon yesterday! It was a huge event and I'm happy I was able to experience it. I had run the half marathon twice (2008, 2018) but never the full marathon. This was marathon #32 for me. Wow- I have run so many marathons!

I registered for this race exactly one year ago while I was sick with Covid. I was inspired by seeing so many fast times! Granted, the weather last year was perfect and I knew that Houston weather could be hit-or-miss, but I decided to pull the trigger anyway.

The plan was for both Greg and me to run the marathon and then fly directly from Houston to Cancun and stay at our favorite resort. Since both of us would have just completed a marathon, there would be no need to worry about training while in Mexico and it would be a wonderful way to relax and celebrate. In the past, I have gone to this resort in April after the Boston Marathon. But I have never flown directly from a race to a vacation. So this race-to-vacation plan was a bucket list item!

Race Weekend
We flew into Houston on Friday afternoon. I made sure to hydrate very well before, during and after the flight. Given the forecast, I knew that hydration would be key. I refilled my 24oz sports bottle 4 times on Thursday, twice with liquid IV and twice with regular water. I had about the same amount of fluids and electrolytes on Friday. 

We met my friend Randi for dinner, who I had not seen in 14 years! We had met through running and the last time I had seen her was the NJ marathon in 2009. This was definitely a highlight of the weekend. As we were leaving dinner, a man at the table next to us said, "Did you write the book Boston Bound?" I answered "Yes," and he told me that my book was on his list. So cool!

The next morning, I met up with my friend Carrie for a quick shakeout run. Carrie would be racing the half marathon. The weather on Saturday morning was such a tease. It was 43 degrees with no wind! It was hard to believe it would be 15 degrees warmer the next morning. I kept hoping for a miracle that somehow the weather would just stay cool. But alas, it did not!

Greg, unfortunately, is still injured and is not currently doing any running. We suspect it's a hernia, and we will know more after his ultrasound later this month. Greg and I picked up my bib from the expo and then took an Uber to Whole Foods to get my race morning breakfast and a few other items. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch where we met Carrie again. For lunch I had a chicken panini with pesto sauce. Breakfast was a crepe with bananas and walnuts. (I like to document what I eat the day before a race). I also did a lot of snacking on pretzels and almond butter filled pretzels. And I continued to hydrate with water and Liquid IV.

For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant where I had my standard chicken parm without cheese! It has always worked well for me in the past and it's what I had the night before my fastest ever marathon. Soon it was bedtime and I slept relatively well. I went to bed at 8:00, which was 9:00 east coast time. I was awake for about an hour in the middle of the night, but then slept solidly until around 4:15. I felt rested and ready to go. 

It's much easier to be relaxed about a race when a PR isn't on the line! I was confident in my fitness and my ability to run smart in the heat and humidity.

Before the Race
Two hours before the race started I ate an English muffin with almond butter and I drank about 18 ounces of water with liquid IV. I mixed a full 24-ounce bottle of water with 1.5 scoops of Skratch Labs Hydration drink mix. That equates to about 140 calories + electrolytes. It would be a great way to stay hydrated and get extra carbs to supplement my gels. I also mixed a packet of UCAN energy mix with water and drank about half of that 30 minutes pre-race. The plan was to drink it all, but for some reason it didn't sit very well.

Our hotel was located at the entrance to the start corral. I chose that hotel because of its proximity to the start line. I was able to leave my hotel at 6:35 and enter the corral immediately. I typically like to warm up for about half a mile before a marathon, and there was no doing that inside the corral. But since the weather was warm and I was planning on starting slowly, I figured it was fine. I kept the legs moving in the corral and did some dynamic stretching. 

In the corral, I was approached by several runners who follow me on Instagram. It was really awesome to chat with so many people before the race and it was a big pick-me-up. I also chatted with my friend Cris, who I have known for over 15 years! We communicate a lot online but hadn't actually had a real-life conversation in a long time.

As we approached the start line, I situated myself between the 3:25 and 3:30 pace groups. The goal was to not let that 3:30 pace group catch me. And if I had an awesome day, maybe I would catch 3:25. 

When I registered for Houston, I knew that there was a chance it could be warm. Even though I had fantastic weather in 2018 and the weather in 2022 had also been good, I knew that it was hit or miss. I was much more confident in Indianapolis being cool because that race is almost never warm. But the weather certainly didn't cooperate for Indy last fall (I didn't start because it was too warm).

On my race weather scale, I give this race a 3 out of 10. It was 57 degrees at the start and it rose to 67 by the finish. Skies were mostly cloudy with the sun peaking through here and there. The dew point was 54 at the start and 60 at the finish, which equates to around 75-85% humidity. Winds were 8 mph for most of the race, but picked up at the end to around 12 mph. The reason it gets a 3 instead of a 1 or 2 is because the clouds helped keep things feeling cool, and it could have easily been 65 at the start. For example, it was 68 degrees this morning at 7:00am. 

Race forecast plus my prediction of how it would go in emojis. 

Race Plan
When the forecast first came out, I was definitely disappointed. I had an amazing training cycle and I felt like I was in shape to run a time of 3:10-3:12. I was healthy with no injuries. And this would be a fast course. So the realization that I wouldn't be able to shoot for that time was disheartening. After feeling down for about a day, I got over it and accepted that the race would be about running smart-- not about running fast. The weather wasn't going to change and I couldn't change it. I had to adjust my expectations and strategy accordingly.

So the plan was to start in the 7:50s and take it from there! If I could speed up-- great! But I wasn't going to try and push the pace until the last 10K. 

Miles 1-5
These miles were crowded. And as much as I told myself not to spend energy weaving through people, I did end up weaving through people. Some runners started way too far in the front of the corral and were getting passed like crazy. When I told myself to be patient and not weave, I found myself running a very slow pace. The full and the half marathon were combined until mile 8, so this explains the crowding- very similar to Indianapolis where the half and full diverge at mile 8.

During the second mile, there was an amazing sunrise off to the left, and I almost missed it by not looking left. I took in the view of the sun peaking up through the buildings juxtaposed against the huge swarm of runners crossing the bridge. I took a moment to remind myself to have fun, to remember that "this is it" and to be thankful for the opportunity. 

I carried my own bottle of water + Skratch Labs Hydration mix, but I still went through each water station to pour a cup over my head. This had a nice cooling effect. 

During the fourth mile, I couldn't believe what I was seeing and feeling. My shoelace had come undone! Really?! At the start line I had checked multiple times that the shoes were double knotted and tied tightly. How in the world could they have come undone? I will note that these shoelaces on the adidas Adios Pro 2 were different than on my other pairs of 2's. It was a special edition of the shoe, and really the only thing that changed was the color of the shoe and the fabric of the laces. They must have been so slippery to come undone from that tight double knot!

The funny thing was that when I pulled off to the side of the course I stopped my Garmin out of habit. But then I instantly remembered I was in a race and re-started it! I made sure it was tied very securely.

Of course this incident made me believe that the shoe laces were super slippery and could come undone again, despite the knot. But then I told myself I shouldn't worry about that because there was nothing I could do about it and I didn't want to spend the entire race thinking about my laces. Thankfully, it did not happen again. I always name my shoes in my training log and I have decided to name these shoes after escape artist David Blaine for their ability to magically untie a double knot. Greg thinks I should call them "Shoedini" after Houdini. 

I made up for the lost time in the next mile. Because it happened during mile 4, I had plenty of gas in the tank to run a slightly faster mile 5 without it being a huge effort. 

Throughout these miles and the entire race, runners approached me to say, "I follow you on Instagram!" Some even told me that they enjoyed my content and that I inspired them. That was a huge pick-me-up throughout the race. Even some of the spectators cheered for me by name, "Elizabeth," which was not the name printed on my bib. The name on my bib was "Zebra". So if they yelled "Elizabeth" it meant they knew me. If they yelled Zebra. . . well that was just awesome!

Mile 1: 8:01
Mile 2: 7:52
Mile 3: 7:49
Mile 4: 7:57
Mile 5: 7:38

Mile 7, running with half marathoners
Miles 6-10
Things were going well. It felt like I was out for a long run and not pushing too hard. I timed my fluid intake. Two large swigs every 15 minutes. For a 24 ounce bottle, this meant that I had enough fluid to last me 2 hours. I also timed my gels. I took the first gel at 40 minutes (Maurten caffeinated) and then alternated CAF and regular every 40 minutes. That means I took 4 gels, with the last one at 2:40. I was also getting carbs/calories from my bottle. 

Greg had taken a train out to mile marker 7, so as I approached, I kept my eyes open for him in his fluorescent yellow jacket. The funny thing about him and that jacket is that he has a professional looking camera and he's in a bright jacket, so runners thought he was one of the official race photographers!

It was so great to see him! I wasn't 100% sure he would make it given the uncertainty of the train schedule but he's become a pro at navigating public transportation during races. After seeing him, I heard a voice from behind me yell "Greg Clor!" I figured it was someone who recognized him from my Instagram. Turns out it was a friend of ours- Nicole!

Nicole approached me and I was excited to see her. I had known she was running the race and I figured we might be running around the same pace. We stayed steady and exchanged a few words here and there. At one point, the 3:05 pace group came up from behind us and passed us. She said "I have so many questions!" Of course I knew exactly what she meant. I guess a portion of the 3:05 group started way in the back. Greg later told me he saw a 3:05 pace group in the location they should have been, and also where they should not have been, so I guess there were two of them. Same with the 3:10 group. They passed us a little later.

I really enjoyed these miles with Nicole. I've been following her running for over 12 years but we had never run together!

I saw Greg again at mile marker 10. Miles 7-10 looped around so he was able to walk from one spot to the other pretty quickly. He took photos and a video of me simultaneously. That's talent!

Mile 6: 7:51
Mile 7: 7:48
Mile 8: 7:51
Mile 9: 7:53
Mile 10: 7:46

Miles 11-15
After my second sighting of Greg I started to pull away from Nicole. I felt strong and energized, despite the weather. I trained for a marathon pace of 7:15 so I was optimistic that I would not crash and burn with my 7:50 average pace.

In the 11th mile, I heard a spectator calling out my name loudly. It was my friend Lindsey! Lindsey lives in Texas (about 90 minutes away) and had driven to the race to spectate and cheer. She ran on the side of the course with me for about 20 seconds and that was so fun. We had plans to meet up post-race so I knew I'd get to see her again.

At around mile 12, Cris (the friend I chatted with at the start line) caught up to me. She had started farther back in the corral. We exchanged a few words of encouragement briefly and then she proceeded to run ahead. This was the mile with the one major hill. It was early enough in the race not to be too bad, but it was definitely a change after running flat for 12 miles. I think I handled the hill pretty well - running up a little slower and down a little faster.

I had now seen two friends on the course + Greg twice + Lindsey. This is what made the race so much fun for me. And the fact that I wasn't running at max effort meant that I was able to really savor the experience without being too focused on my pace.

I crossed the halfway point at 1:43:36. I couldn't do the exact math in my head but I knew that put me on track for a low 3:27. My target range was 3:27-3:29, so I was executing as planned.

By this point everything was still feeling very easy and I began to wonder if I should turn on the gas a bit. But then I realized it was only going to get warmer and warmer, and a pace that felt super easy now might not feel so easy later in the race. So I continued on at my steady pace. I executed my fueling and hydration plan perfectly, and I was able to toss my water bottle at 2:00, which was around mile 15. I continued to dump water over my head at each station and I think it worked pretty well, especially when the wind gusted, making the water feel extra cool.

Mile 11: 7:53
Mile 12: 7:48
Mile 13: 7:55
Mile 14: 7:51
Mile 15: 7:46

Miles 16-20
Things were going really well! There were times when the sun poked through the clouds and made me VERY thankful for the cloud cover we had. (Hence a 3 out of 10 and not a 2!) It felt about 5-10 degrees warmer during those short bursts of sunlight. But they were short lived and a good portion of the course was shaded.

These were the glory miles. I felt like I could safely accelerate a little bit and even if I crashed, I would still be very close to my goal range. So instead of targeting 7:50, I tried targeting 7:45. Cris was still in my line of sight and seeing her helped motivated me. She once wrote something in her blog about asking the question "can I give more here?" and seeing her reminded me of that question. The answer was yes! I could give more! And so I did, while trying to stay controlled.

Once my water bottle was gone, I drank water from a few water stations. I was really happy that my digestive system was cooperating. I was able to take all 4 gels easily and get down the water when I drank it. Typically, by this point in a marathon, my gag reflex kicks in and my body rejects fuel and water. But I think that gag reflex is caused by me running at race effort. I have no problem fueling when I train, and I had no problem fueling yesterday. 

Mile 16: 7:46
Mile 17: 7:42
Mile 18: 7:40
Mile 19: 7:47
Mile 20: 7:46

Miles 21-Finish
The race had felt relatively easy up until mile 20. Then my 7:40s started to feel hard, so I didn't attempt to run any faster. I would later look at my heart rate data, which does not display on my watch when I run, and realize that I could have safely run faster. But I had no way of knowing that at the time. My heart rate is usually through the roof in the heat and humidity, but I guess my training really paid off because it was in the low 160s for most of the race. Marathon effort for me is in the high 160s. 

Regardless, I stayed steady. I had found a groove and rhythm in the 7:40s. I think I could have maintained that pace for the final 10K had it not been for the rolling hills. I knew to expect hills during miles 22-25, but they had been described to me as minor. And they probably were minor, but nothing feels minor during the last 6 miles of a marathon. I'm not a strong hill runner, and these hills made me unable to maintain my 7:40s. 

I took three honey stinger chews at mile 22, still in awe at how easily my digestive system was handling all the fuel. I continued pouring water over my head which felt amazing with the wind gusts. The wind wasn't an obstacle for me until mile 25, when we were presented with a strong headwind on a hill. An uphill headwind during the 25th mile of a marathon isn't what anybody wants! I felt like I was hanging on for dear life, but my spirits rose again once I had gotten to the top and things flattened out. 

I think my last mile was really fast but my Garmin data didn't capture an accurate split because of all the tall buildings. I was passing people and I got a second wind out of nowhere. When there was only half a mile left to go I was flying! It was looking like it might be a close call between 3:26 and 3:27 so I sprinted very had to secure my 3:26:xx. I even remembered not to stop my Garmin immediately to make up for the few seconds it was stopped during the shoelace stop!

Mile 21: 7:43
Mile 22: 7:48
Mile 23: 7:52
Mile 24: 7:56
Mile 25: 7:59
Mile 26: 8:02 (but I think it was faster!)
Last bit- Garmin says 6:15 pace, but I'm skeptical with all the tall buildings. 

Garmin distance was 26.49, which is mostly due to weaving and not running the tangents, but partially to tall building interference. I briefly glanced down at my Garmin and saw 3:26:xx and was happy with that.

My official time was 3:26:48, which is a BQ by over 23 minutes! I'll be 45 in April 2024, so my qualifying standard is 3:50:00.

After the Race
I crossed the finish line and started walking. A few seconds later Cris was there next to me and we chatted for a few seconds, but then I quickly realized I might not be okay. Physically I felt fine, but mentally I wasn't all there. I was a little confused and delirious. Cris told me to talk to a medical person if I wasn't feeling well. Thankfully there was a medical person close by and I said, "I am not sure if I am okay, would you please have a conversation with me to make sure I can talk correctly?" And it wasn't long into our conversation that I started slurring my speech. I knew what I wanted to communicate, but I couldn't get the words to come out clearly. This is the exact same thing that happened to me when I had hypothermia in May. It must be the way my body likes to shut down- the ability to talk properly is the first thing to go.

They put me in a wheelchair and brought me inside the convention center to the medical tent. They wanted me to lie down on a stretcher, but I insisted on sitting up. I felt like lying down would really set me back. I still felt physically fine, but I felt mentally really weird. It was like I was high on something. I've never done drugs, so I have no first hand experience, but it felt like I was in this really happy place. I kept making jokes and I told the medical people that I was going to be the funniest patient they had all day. 

They fed me gatorade and took my vitals. They wanted to give me an IV for dehydration, but I said I wanted to try drinking first. My temperature was normal so I wasn't overheated, and I didn't feel dizzy like I have in the past with heat exhaustion. So it was plain ol' dehydration. I was so baffled as to why, though. I felt like I had done everything right with hydration. I've been running for over 20 years and I know how to hydrate. 

I called Greg from one of the nurse's phones. I told him I would be delayed because I was in the medical area, but that I was basically fine. They kept me there for what seemed like an eternity. I had to drink a certain amount of gatorade and they needed to make sure I could pee properly. And then they tested my waking and my cognitive abilities. My first attempt at walking gave me a bit of a panicky sensation mentally, but after some deep breathing I was fine. I felt undeserving of all the medical attention I was

Lindsey and me after the race
getting. Surely there were people who were worse off than me who they could have been treating. 

When I was finally cleared to leave, I walked out into the main hall to pick up my finisher's shirt. I then realized that I had to walk ALL the way back to the finish area to get a medal. It was so far away! And then it took forever to get out of the convention center. I was recognized by an Instagram follower and after a brief chat, I asked to borrow her phone. I called Greg and he told me where he was. It took me over an hour from the time I finished to the time I was reunited with Greg. Greg was with Lindsey and it was so awesome to have them both there. The three of us walked back to the hotel near the start line and then hung out at the rooftop pool. 

I drank two more bottles of gatorade and my pee was still a dark shade! But I think that by today I am finally back to a good electrolyte balance and hydration level. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Where to begin? If I could summarize the race in one sentence it would be this:

I ran a smart race in challenging conditions with even pacing and a slight negative split, and it was a BQ.

Here are some other thoughts:

Effort Level: My average heart rate was 160. Typically my average heart rate in a marathon is around 165-166. When I ran the Boston Marathon last spring it was 171. In Boston, it was elevated due to post-Covid heart rate issues. In Houston, it was low because I didn't run it at race effort. I think I could have been slightly more aggressive during miles 10-20 (maybe in the low 7:40s) and still held it together at the end. Physically I underestimated myself, but not by much. I probably could have eked out a 3:24, but in the grand scheme of things, two minutes is not a big deal- especially since it's not a PR. 

Hydration: As for the dehydration, I don't think it impacted my performance because I felt really strong until mile 25 with that uphill headwind. And then I felt strong again during mile 26. But if I had it to do over again, I am not sure what I would have done differently in terms of hydration. One clue is that whenever I have blood drawn, the blood doesn't flow about 80% of the time. Apparently I have big veins but once the needle goes in, they can't get blood to flow. I am often pricked in both arms, and in some cases multiple times in the same arm before they can get blood. I was recently told that they need to use the largest needle on me. So maybe my normal state of being is dehydration. Carrie suggested that this could be a vitamin D deficiency that prevents the electrolytes from being absorbed properly. I'll definitely look into it.

Negative Split: The last time I ran a negative split during a marathon was in 2015 at the B&A Trail marathon. So that's nearly 8 years and 12 marathons of positive splitting. And usually I try to negative

split! I ran the first half in 1:43:36 and the second half in 1:43:12. It's just a tiny negative split and might  be more accurately described as an even split, but I'm proud of it. My fastest portion of the course was miles 15-22, and for a warm race, I'm very happy with that.

Weather: The weather was challenging, but I had trained really hard so even my "medium" pace yielded a respectable time and sizable BQ. 

Community: Throughout the weekend, I met probably 20-25 people who follow me on Instagram. Everyone was so nice and supportive and told me that they really enjoyed my content. This was surreal to me because I never expected my Instagram account or my book to take off the way it has. I am fortunate to be part of such an amazing community of runners, and to have such great friends like the ladies I met up with throughout the weekend.

What's Next:
A vacation in Mexico and a week off from running! I'll definitely be swimming in the very long pools and maybe doing some light core work, but that's it. I am not running another marathon this spring and I haven't decided yet if I will try to run one in the fall. I'm definitely hungry to race another marathon because this one went so well, but I'm mentally done with the training. 

Thanks to everyone who supported me in this race, and it was really awesome meeting up with Carrie, Nicole, Cris, and Lindsey!