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!

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Pre-Houston Marathon Thoughts

The Houston Marathon is one week away. Yikes, how did we get here so quickly?

2022 Review
I didn't even have time to do a 2022 recap on the blog. I'll do it quickly right now and then we can move on to Houston.

2022 was a pretty good year for running. Not my best in terms of yearly mileage or a PR-setting, but after dealing with Covid and an SI Joint issue in the first half of the year, I gained major momentum starting in June. Working with Greg McMillan has introduced a new training approach and by the end of the year I was feeling WAY stronger and fitter than at the beginning. My biggest highlights were:

  • Running the Boston Marathon in a respectable 3:33 after dealing with an SI Joint issue that sidelined me for 10 days prior to the race.
  • Setting a 5K PR in 19:41 in November.
  • Setting a 5K course PR at my summertime 5K which is a big deal because I run that same race every summer. My time was 20:57.
  • Winning Run The Greenway 5K (the largest race I've ever won), and then getting hypothermia.
  • Placing 5th at a competitive 15K race in DC.
I ran 2,298 miles in total which is more than 2021, although not as much as 2019 or 2020. With Covid in January, the SI Joint problem in April, and the Africa trip, I had my fair share of breaks from running. 

Houston Training: Mileage
Now, onto Houston. Looking at my training log, my mileage for this cycle was on the lower side for me. But, given that I have been marathon training since late August, it was definitely a long cycle. Not running Indianapolis meant no extended break in November, although I did take a few down weeks around that time. 

Just looking at the graph objectively, it seems that I didn't train all that hard for Houston. Typical marathon training cycles for me include multiple weeks in the 70s and I didn't hit 70 even once. I only went over 65 three times! But mileage is just part of the story. In exchange for this mileage I ran some really intense workouts and I'll share what I consider to be my best four.

Top Workouts For Houston
When I was training for Indianapolis in September and October, I was discouraged because I didn't have any workouts that made a PR (sub-3:15) seem realistic. I was putting in the work but my paces were slower than I would have liked. And then there was the Hartford Half marathon, which was anything but confidence building! But once the weather was cooler on a more consistent basis, starting in mid-November, things started to change. 

It all started with the 19:41 I ran at a Turkey Trot in late November. That race indicated that I was faster than I had realized, and it motivated me on future runs. I ran a 20-miler a few days later and once I hit mile 20, I felt like I had plenty of gas left in the tank. My legs had so much pep at the end of that run. And then, throughout December, the quality of the workouts increased significantly. 

9 x 1000m with 90-second recovery jogs (Nov. 29)
My coach gave me this workout because I had been struggling with this effort level in previous workouts. I had done this workout in September and in October, and both times I wasn't thrilled with my speed. I decided to get off the track and take this workout to the roads. With that 5K PR behind me, I decided to really push on this one, and my splits were very consistent around 3:59-4:01 which is a pace of 6:25-6:28. During prior sessions on the track, I had been around 4:09-4:10.

19 Miles with 12 at marathon pace (Dec. 2)
This run was 5 miles easy, 10 miles at marathon pace, 2 miles easy, 2 miles hard. The 10 marathon-pace miles averaged 7:12. WOW. But even more of a surprise were those final two miles which were 6:58, 6:48. Running a 6:48 mile at the end of 19 was huge for me! If only the marathon had been on December 2nd, with that perfect weather in the high 20s. I definitely think I could have run a PR marathon that day, even un-tapered. 

6 x 2 miles at marathon pace with 2:00 recovery jogs (Dec. 22)
For whatever reason, I was more intimidated by this workout than any other workout of the entire cycle. Two-mile repeats just sounded hard, and there were a lot of them. Plus, I did this workout on a Wednesday which was before a work day. Splits were 7:30 | 7:26, 7:18 | 7:12, 7:22 | 7:11, 7:13 | 7:10, 7:10 | 7:06, 7:10 | 7:06. Yes- the last two sets were the exact same! Once again, if the marathon had been on December 22 with temps in the 20s, I am pretty confident I would have PR'ed!

3 x 5K at Half Marathon Pace with 5:00 recovery jogs  (Dec. 29)
This was another intimidating workout, so I told myself not to focus on pace - just effort. I ended up running the 5Ks in 22:11 (7:07), 21:32 (6:56), 21:34 (6:56). With this workout I was most proud of my ability to stay strong during that final mile when I was sooooo ready to stop! This was a killer workout and I handled it well, both mentally and physically.

In addition to these workouts, I did many 20-milers. I think it just feels like more 20-milers than normal because I ran my first 20 in September and I continued on with them through the end of December. I'm mentally burned out on the long runs, at this point and I don't think I could do another one unless it was the actual race! 

Houston Goals
If my workouts are any indication of goal race pace, I'd be targeting 7:12. But adding a bit of realism onto that, I'd bump it to around 7:18. The marathon is always harder than training. Adding even more realism, we have the weather forecast, which is problematic as of right now. If this forecast holds, it will be 55 degrees at the start and 65 at the finish. With a good amount of humidity to boot. 

I'm committed to running this race and finishing it, no matter what the weather is. But I'm not willing to risk my health and I must do so safely. So goal pace for me is looking like 7:50-7:55 (3:28 finish time). It may seem like I'm selling myself short, but I know what happens to my body when the temperature gets above 55 in a race and it's not pretty. So I will be thrilled if I can finish that race in under 3:30, without risking my health to do so. 

Am I bummed about the weather? Yes and no. Yes - for obvious reasons. I won't be able to showcase the fitness I have worked to build over the past four months with a new PR. But no because I'm excited just to get to the start line healthy, knowing that I crushing this training cycle. That's really what's most important and as long as I stay healthy and finish the race I will have a good day. I won't be running another marathon this spring, so I'll need to embrace whatever the day gives me.

I don't train for marathons and build fitness for the sole purpose of setting PRs. I train so I can test my limits, practice mental toughness, and get fitter - no matter what the time on the clock ends up saying. I know that I am in the best marathon shape of my life, or at least the equivalent to what I was in March 2021. And at 44, that's a major accomplishment. 

Onwards to Houston. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Jingle All The Way 15K

This morning I ran the Jingle All The Way 15K in Washington, DC. The 15K is a fun distance, but rather uncommon. The 10-miler is much more popular here in the DC area with the Army Ten Miler, the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and the GW Parkway 10-miler. As such, I had only run one 15K previously!

My other 15K was in January 2015 in pouring rain. Part of the course was flooded and I ended up running 9.5 miles according to my Garmin. My main goal there ended up being to survive without getting hypothermia. I was underdressed for it being in the mid 30s with rain, and I was happy just to finish in a time of 1:12. 

I did run this Jingle All The Way race back in 2007 when it was a 10K. But never since! 

I chose this race for a few reasons. First, I had a free entry. Well, not exactly free - I had registered for a 10K in March of 2020 that got cancelled. The race management company didn't start up racing again until 2022, and the choices for deferral were a 4-miler in March, or this race. So I chose this race. Seems crazy to finally be using a registration fee from nearly three years ago!

This race was also my tune up for the Houston Marathon, which will take place in 5 weeks. I typically prefer to run a half marathon as a tune up, but those are difficult to find this time of year and I didn't want to travel. 

Before the Race
I slept very well last night. We recently bought a new mattress from WinkBeds. And it makes such a difference. I didn't find my old mattress to be uncomfortable, but I think the memory foam trapped too much heat. So both Greg and I have been sleeping better than ever for the past two weeks!

For breakfast I had some almond butter pretzels and a Maurten Solid, along with plenty of water. We left the house at 7:10 for a race start of 8:30. There was no race day packet pickup, and one of my friends had gotten my bib from DC yesterday. I had driven to her house to get it. She ran the 5K so I didn't end up seeing her on the course.

We parked and then I got a text from my friend Anna saying she was also running the race. Perfect! Greg and I walked to where she was parked and we warmed up together. Greg is unfortunately still injured so he was on photo duty. 

I somehow got the timing wrong and didn't have enough time to run my full warm up of two miles. When it's cold I typically need at least two miles to get the legs to move fast. I only ran 1.1 miles, but I included strides. I also jogged in place at the start line. I took a Maurten CAF gel 10 minutes before the start. 

The weather was really nice. I give it a 10/10 on my race weather scale. 42 degrees, completely overcast and almost no wind. I debated giving this a 9 because with the overcast sky, it was extremely cold when I finished and I could not wait to get warm. It was like 42 with a "feels like" of 32! But for running, I think it does get a 10 out of 10. 

Strategy and Goals
My goal was to run a sub-6:50 pace. My 10-mile PR is a pace of 6:47, so I figured if I could do that today, I would be very happy. I think my 10-mile PR is my strongest PR out of all of them. And the McMillan Calculator agrees. The 10-mile distance is truly my sweet spot. 

I would count this race as a PR if I was able to beat my 6:47 pace from that 10-miler. My strategy was to run even pacing and just hold on to the sub 6:50 as long as possible. The course was pretty much flat, so I didn't have to factor in hills. 

Miles 1-3
The race started in a pretty narrow area, which was surprising. But after about a minute of running things really opened up. I felt amazing at the race start. I was running a pace of 6:50 and it felt totally manageable. Almost like half marathon pace! I was very encouraged. Sometimes the first mile feels stale, especially with a shorter warm up. But this mile felt amazing and it flew by.

Miles 2 and 3 also felt really good. I couldn't tell exactly how many women were ahead of me, but it didn't look like too many. Historically there have been many fast women at this race, so I thought I would be lucky to place in the top 10. I definitely knew I was in the top ten during these early miles. 

Mile 1: 6:50
Mile 2: 6:48
Mile 3: 6:42

Miles 4-7
I was pretty shocked by that 6:42, but I had told myself in advance not to let a fast split psych me out. Who knew what I was capable of? I took a Maurten gel at 4.5 and it went down easily. It was around this time when I passed a woman who had been ahead of me. I had been gaining on her for the past mile and I finally passed her. I was feeling energized and confident! I don't have too much to say about these miles, other that I tried to hold a steady pace and think positive thoughts. 

Mile 4: 6:47
Mile 5: 6:49
Mile 6: 6:50
Mile 7: 6:51

Miles 8- Finish
After mile 7 things suddenly got very hard. My energy level was high, but my legs started to feel heavy. All of a sudden, they just didn't want to move at the same pace they had been. I tried to fight it and really lean in, but I had to work much harder to maintain my pace. And I wasn't able to run as fast as the first seven miles. 

This is when I started to regret my tempo workout from Thursday. On paper, it hadn't seemed like that big of a workout, but when I was finishing it, I realized my legs were getting tired, and that was not a great sign for a Sunday race. That workout was 15 minutes at marathon pace (7:12), 10 minutes at half marathon pace (6:51), 5 minutes at 10K pace (6:32) and 1 minute at 5K pace (6:21). All with 2 minute recovery jogs. This ended up being just over 5 miles, which was pretty long! 

So during the 8th mile, I was regretting that workout as my legs did not want to move. Regardless, I stayed positive and focused on retaining my place in the field. I knew my goal of a sub-6:50 pace was slipping away, but placing well in a competitive field would be a nice confidence boost. 

Things went from bad to worse after I hit 9 miles. It was only 0.4 to go, but my legs were not having it. I didn't have any final kick and that was my slowest portion!

Mile 8: 7:01
Mile 9: 6:57
Last 0.41: 7:11 pace

After the Race
I met up with Greg and we looked up the official results. I ran a time of 1:04:35 and was the 5th overall female. A top five finish at this race? I'll take it!

We watched Anna finish and then I wanted to leave pretty quickly. I did not want to stick around for my award because it was really cold and my Achilles were hurting. Racing sometimes causes a flare-up, and sometimes not. They feel decent now, but they were definitely on fire after finishing. All I could think about was getting home to my new bath tub.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm happy with how this race went. I definitely think I could have run a sub 6:50 pace for the whole race if my legs had been fresher. They were the limiting factor, not my energy level. And I had averaged a pace of 6:48 all the way up through mile 7! 

Mentally I stayed positive and I kept pushing hard even when my body wanted to slow down. Great mental toughness training for Houston. 

Most importantly I had fun. This was a festive race with a scenic course in DC. It was a unique distance and a great challenge. Now back to training for Houston!

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Turkey Trot is Sacred.

When others were suggesting that I run the Philadelphia marathon after Indianapolis and Richmond were a bust, I gave a firm "no." I will probably never run the Philadelphia marathon. Why? It's only 4 days before Thanksgiving! That would mean no Turkey Trot. And the Turkey Trot is Sacred.

I have been trotting since 2006. From 2006-2018 I ran the same 5K race. It holds so many memories for me. In 2019, they didn't have enough volunteers so they didn't hold it. I was saddened by this, after having run the race for 13 consecutive years. But I found another one that I liked and ran it. It offers both a 5K and a 10K. I ran the 5K in 2019 and the 10K in 2021. There was no Turkey Trot in 2020.

Aside from tradition, the Turkey Trot is sacred because it almost always has good weather. I have only experienced "bad" Turkey Trot weather maybe twice. My ideal racing temperature is around 35 degrees, and late November mornings in this area average around 35 degrees. In addition to good weather, I am usually coming off of a marathon training cycle so my fitness is sharp. Nearly all of my 5K PRs have been set at Turkey Trots, and I rarely expect to PR that distance outside of a Turkey Trot.

This year, I didn't run my goal marathon due to abnormally warm weather. That meant that my fall goal race was actually the Turkey Trot. 

Goals and Strategy
I really didn't have a great indication of my fitness. I knew I was in good marathon shape because I had logged several marathon pace runs, with marathon pace averaging 7:15. But as for my top speed - I wasn't quite sure. I ran a track workout one week before the 5K, and it didn't give me a ton of confidence. I was supposed to run 1600m at 5K pace, and then 1200m also at 5K pace, followed by 800, 400, 200.  Well- the 1600 was 6:38 and the 1200m was a pace of 6:34. This did not bode well for setting a PR, which would require a pace of under 6:26. 

I figured my ultimate goal would still be sub 20:00 (and maybe a sub 19:58 PR) but more realistic was something around 20:20.

The first mile of this course is uphill. The middle mile is mostly flat. The last mile is downhill. It's fast if you know how to pace it properly.

Because I ran this race in 2019, I had Strava data to refer back to. My splits back then were 6:35, 6:41, 6:12. And I had just run a half marathon PR two weeks earlier in 1:30:58. So my strategy was to try and make that second mile faster and keep the first and third mile the same. That middle mile is basically flat, but I ran it slowly in 2019 because of a sustained 20mph headwind. Without the wind, I had a decent chance of being faster there. 

Before the Race
I had a Maurten Solid about 2 hours before race start along with some water. I didn't have insane urges to keep going to the bathroom like I normally do on race morning. I went once, and that was enough. Maybe it was because I felt pretty chill about this race, I didn't have "butterflies" in my stomach. 

We left the house at 7:10 and arrived at 7:35.  The race started at 8:25. I started my warm up at 7:55, with a plan of running for just over 20 minutes. I took a caffeinated Maurten gel at 8:10 (15 minutes before the race start). My feet were going numb during the warm up and things felt a little stiff. But after some faster running, everything started to feel decent. 

I wore my adidas Adios Pro 2 shoes. I had been wearing the ASICS Metaspeed Edge for my summer 5Ks due to the lower stack height and that close-to-the-ground feel. But I noticed that those shoes make me heel strike while watching a video of a track workout. They also don't feel as bouncy as the Adios Pro 2. Another option was the New Balance Super Comp Pacer. I wore this shoe for the track workout I mentioned above. Clearly they weren't doing me any favors and the fit was sloppy around the heel. I did enjoy the ride and the lightweight feel, but I needed something more locked in for racing. 

After the warm up, I put my jacket in the car and headed to the start line. Greg is recovering from his groin injury, so during this time he was figuring out the best place to take pictures. At the start line, I said hi to my friends Hannah and Cheryl. 

On my race weather scale, this gets a 10 out of 10. I would actually give it an 11 if I could. And I can because it's my scale, so it gets an 11 out of 10. I couldn't dream up anything more perfect. 35 degrees, partly sunny, no wind. Not even a hint of any kind wind. I wish I could put this weather in a bottle and save it for all races!

Mile 1
Mile 1: 6:34
I had studied this mile closely in my Strava data from 2019 and I had run it during my warm up. As I said above, this course can be very fast if you pace it properly. I went out very quickly, probably around 6:15 because I knew that once the hill started, I would be slowing down. About a quarter mile in, it was time to run uphill. I kept my effort level hard and powered up that hill. I focused on engaging my glutes swinging my arms, and getting to the top. It's not a very steep hill, but it does last for most of the first mile. I kept telling myself that the race would get much easier once I was at the top. 

I saw my split was 6:34 and this was perfect. I wanted my split to be about the same as 2019, and I had run this one second faster. Yes!

Mile 2: 6:29
I should mention that I was not at all focused on where I was in the field of women. I saw my friend Hannah at the start line and knew she was ahead of me but other than that I wasn't sure how many women were ahead of her. There was even a turnaround point and I didn't even think to look at the runners on the other side - I just stayed focused on pushing really hard.

I told myself that this was the most important mile because I had the opportunity to shave some time from my 2019 split. The final mile would be downhill and I would rely on gravity. But this mile- this mile required focus, the ability to push really hard and tolerate discomfort. I think many runners are afraid to push really hard during the middle mile of a 5K because you still have over a mile to go. But if you know that the last mile is going to be all downhill, you have the confidence to push super hard in the middle mile, and that's what I did. I passed a few people during this mile.

I was so excited when I saw that my split was 6:29, which was 12 seconds faster than my 6:41 from 2019. WOW. 

Mile 3: 6:07
At this point, I knew I was likely to PR. And I had to keep telling myself not to get emotional, not to get too excited. I still had work to do. If I let myself get too happy about this, I would coast along. And it's not a PR until you cross the finish line so I actually had to get there, and get there fast. I'm an excellent downhill runner and I flew by quite a few runners. I could really feel the shoes propelling me along too- this is where the carbon fiber plate really shines. 

Mile 3
The Finish and Beyond
I ran the final kick at a pace of 6:07 which shows I was happy to keep things steady versus finding another gear. As a result, I didn't have to dry heave at the end. I think my dry heaving comes not from the overall effort of the race, but the fact that I go 100% balls-to-the-wall during the last few minutes and then suddenly stop. With my pace steady, didn't have the urge to dry heave.

But my first thought was "I could have run that race faster". Is that true? Maybe I could have pushed even harder on the final mile. It sort of felt easy because it was all downhill. I guess that's' the beauty of a course that starts uphill and finishes downhill. You get the hard part out of the way without killing yourself and the rest feels easier than it should for race effort.

Greg looked up my result online and found that I ran an official time of 19:41. Well, this was surreal. This was not something that should have been possible! I couldn't even run a sub 6:35 mile on the track last week. Imposter syndrome immediately kicked in. It was the shoes. It was the fast course. It was the weather. It was everything BUT me because I am not a 19:41 5K runner. Nope. That time is too good for me. Was the course short? My Garmin had 3.09 but on Strava, other people who ran the race had distances of 3.1.  And my average pace according to Garmin was 6:23, so this would still be a 19:50 at 3.1. So yes, I did PR. How did that even happen when I felt like I could have run a faster last mile!? Wow.

I guess this is what happens when you train for a marathon for 3 months and then instead of the marathon, you run the 5K. So yes, I deserve this time. Yes, I earned it. (I'm slowly starting to convince myself that this time isn't "too good" for me). 

The results had me listed as 4th female, which was a bit of a bummer because there was prize money at this race. But then my friend Hannah and I realized that there was only one female ahead of her, and she should have been second. Unless we somehow missed her? This is still under investigation, but it's possible I was the third overall female. I don't care all that much, a 17-second 5K PR is enough of an award for me.

Does this make bib number 69 my lucky number?!  Maybe!!

Later that day, my friend Meredith texted me and told me she ran the Virginia Run Turkey Trot (the race I ran for 13 straight years). WHAT!? I thought that race was not being held. I'm on their email list and never received an email about it. I'm in the community Facebook group and it was never mentioned! But apparently, yes, it happened. So next year it's back to my traditional Turkey Trot race. I can't believe I broke my streak and missed it this year. Would I have run a time of 19:41? Maybe not, but there's something really special about that race.

Now for the really important part: the cake. I settled on a Dairy Queen Blizzard cake. I know it's cold out and ice cream isn't as appealing as it would be in the summer. But let's face it, I will never PR when it's warm out so if I ever want a PR Blizzard cake, now is the time. We haven't gotten this cake yet, but we plan to get it tomorrow and decorate it with 19:41. 

Cheryl and me after the race

Monday, November 14, 2022

Towpath Revenge

I've got the fall marathon blues! As in, I did not race a fall marathon or half marathon. But at least this decision was all mine and wasn't forced upon me by injury or illness. So I can still train happy and and healthy for the next marathon in Houston. 

Plan A, B, C and D
After I bailed on Indianapolis due to the forecasted warmth and humidity, I had hoped that Richmond would be a different story. Unfortunately it was even warmer in Richmond than it was in Indianapolis. What are the chances of that happening on two November weekends in a row!

I was also considering running the Outer Banks Marathon on Sunday, which initially looked to be cooler. But as the race approached the temperatures started to rise on that one as well. So, that meant I wouldn't be running a fall marathon, despite months of training. I accepted it and knew it was the smart decision, but it did leave me feeling a little sad. 

To top it all off, I had originally been planning a birthday celebration for Friday the 11th (my actual birthday), but then I moved it to Saturday when I thought I would run Richmond, and then I cancelled it altogether when I thought I would run the Outer Banks. So no birthday gathering with friends, but I did get to see my sister, brother-in-law and nieces! And Greg and I made a cake. 

After scouring every race directory I could find for a Sunday option (Sunday was much cooler than Saturday), I did find a local half marathon on the C&O canal towpath. The towpath is a gravel/dirt trail and not a surface I am comfortable racing on. Too many puddles and rocky areas for me to feel confident going full out. Plus, my Achilles doesn't enjoy when I can't land totally flat-footed. But my desire to pin on a bib and do SOMETHING was overwhelming, so I signed up for it and decided to run it as a workout.

I had run the course twice in the past, both as part of marathons that I did not finish. In 2010, I never intended to finish and hadn't brought enough fuel to finish. The goal was to use it as a training run. In 2012, I had planned on running the marathon at my easy pace, but still dropped out due to anxiety. 

I hadn't run that course in over 10 years and I didn't remember it very well. I remembered that it was decent enough to run on, but not something that I would do at max effort. As for the elevation, I knew it was a net downhill on the way out and a net uphill on the way back.

Half Marathon Workout 
This race was called the "Freedom is Never Free" half marathon, put on by Bishop's Events, which hosts low-key races each weekend in DC, MD and VA. Most of their races are on unpaved surfaces, although there are a few that are paved. I've run several 5Ks and one 10K put on by them and they are always well organized, fun and friendly. During Covid, they continued to hold most of their races because they did not require road closures. 

Running on a rocky surface removed the pressure of trying to hit a certain pace or time goal. I wasn't racing this as an all-out half marathon. I was shooting for marathon pace or maybe a bit slower. I thought somewhere between 1:37-1:39 would be a good range. My primary goal was to have fun, get in a good workout, and experience the race environment. Even though it was a workout, having a timing mat would provide accountability so I wouldn't quit if things got hard. I would also be getting "revenge" on a course that I DNF'ed on twice.

The temperature was a wonderful 45 degrees, which felt so amazing after "Summer's Revenge".  But the cold front unfortunately came with wind, sustained at 14 mph, which would be a headwind during the second half. And that's also the net uphill part. So the way out would be a net downhill tailwind and the way back would be a net uphill headwind. On my race weather scale, this gets a 7. The same as the Hartford Half. By way of comparison, I would have given Indianapolis and Richmond both 2's. I decided to wear lightweight arm sleeves to protect against windburn, which I have gotten in the past from running directly into a high headwind for miles at a time. 

Before the Race
I drank half a serving of the Maurten 160 drink mix during the 2 hours leading up to the race and a Maurten Solid. I decided not to carry a water bottle because I don't need much water for a half marathon if I'm pre-hydrated (and I was) and it's cool weather. I would take water from the water stations. 

The race was only a 25-minute drive from our house. No hotel or flight needed! Greg and I arrived, parked, and I got my bib. 

I warmed up for 1.4 miles which enabled me to get used to the surface. I was wearing the New Balance Fuel Cell Elite, which in retrospect was not the best choice. I probably should have stuck to something with a lower stack height to be closer to the ground. And the "bounce" of the carbon fiber plate is mostly wasted on this surface, at least in my opinion. If I had it to do over again, I would have worn my Nike Odyssey React, which is my typical long run shoe. It's lightweight, responsive, and lower to the ground. 

This was a small race with 87 runners. At the start line, one woman approached me and introduced herself as an Instagram follower! I love meeting Instagram runners in real life. After that, another woman said she recognized me from Instagram as well. She asked me what pace I was aiming for and I told her in the 1:30s and she said she was shooting for a 6:15 pace. I told her she wouldn't be pacing off of me! (She ended up running a time of 1:24 for her FIRST half marathon. Amazing!)

Miles 1-5
I decided to go out conservatively so I could mentally/physically acclimate to the surface. Even though I had warmed up on the trail, I had warmed up slowly. Now it was time to get comfortable pushing a little harder.

Even though this race only had 87 runners, I was leapfrogging with a group of about 3 other runners for the first 4 miles. I would fall way behind whenever we had to leap over a puddle! I have zero ankle mobility and an insanely short stride. Thus, I have no "leap" confidence. I would either stop and then leap, or walk around the narrow muddy edge of the trail to avoid the puddle. I'm also not great at drinking water from cups at aid stations, so I stopped and walked with my water. I took a Maurten gel at 15:00. 

Miles 1-5 consisted of me getting ahead of the pack and then falling behind at a water station or a slippery part of the trail. And then catching back up, passing everyone, and then falling behind again. Even though the first half of the course is net downhill, I didn't really notice it. It feels mostly flat. There were a few short uphill and downhill sections that stole momentum because they were so steep and short, but nothing too intense. 

Mile 1: 7:44
Mile 2: 7:19
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:27
Mile 5: 7:27

Miles 6-9
I saw Greg during the sixth mile. That was definitely a pick me up. At this point, I was leading the pack of three (including myself) and I felt strong. The pack included one woman and one man. The first place female was WAY ahead of us and there was another female between our group and her. So this other woman and I were females #3 and #4. That's another reason why races are so great to run as workouts - you have other people around you pushing you and motivating you to work hard.

The turnaround was a rude awakening, as I knew it would be. Hello headwind that I didn't feel when you were a tailwind! Only 6.55 miles to go!

I told myself that I definitely should be able to maintain my pace for the second half. I hadn't exerted that much effort on the way out. It would definitely be harder with this headwind, but I could do it.

I saw Greg again at around mile 8, only this time I was 3rd in the pack of three. But I intended to speed up. Being in this leap frog situation for 8 miles reminded me that we all have good patches and rough patches during races. Times when we feel strong when we think we can up the effort, even if it's small. Or times when we feel like we need a little breather and have to back off just a bit. I took another Maurten gel at 55:00. 

Once I got to mile 9, it felt like I was running harder than marathon effort, even though my pace was slower than marathon pace. I guess that's what happens when you are running on a rocky surface uphill into a headwind!

Mile 6: 7:23
Mile 7: 7:32
Mile 8: 7:34
Mile 9: 7:34

Miles 10-Finish
I found myself running side-by-side with the other woman so I decided it was finally time to say something. "We got this!" She replied with "You are making me run faster than I should be going!" I forget how I responded but then eventually she said "I know you are soon going to speed up and go rushing ahead and I won't be able to keep up." I said "We'll see," or something to that extent. 

It was during the 10th mile that I pulled ahead. I didn't know by how much but I decided to increase my effort level substantially. Unfortunately, a harder effort did not equate to a faster pace. I slowed down a little bit. But looking at the elevation and and the wind during the last four miles (that's where most of the uphill part was) it makes sense that it would be much harder to maintain the same pace I had been for the first 9 miles. 

So I pulled ahead and it got really hard. The last 2 miles felt like true race effort. It was such a battle and no matter how much I pushed I felt like I was running in place with that headwind, which had picked up since the race start and was now more like 16-17 mph. The good news is that I cared less about mud puddles and became much more confident on the trail. I didn't slow down as much during those slippery sections on the way back. 

I saw Greg right before turning off the trail and heading for the finish, which was about 30 feet off the trail. My official time was 1:39:35. The other woman finished shortly after me, 9 seconds to be exact. But she started after me, so her chip time was 3 seconds faster than mine. As such, she won the award for 3rd place female, and I won the award for 1st place in my age group. I'm totally fine with that! 

She told me that her goal was sub-1:40 and I helped her get there. She said she didn't think she would have run as fast if I hadn't been there. It was a PR for her and this made me so happy. I love pacing other people and helping them reach their goals. Honestly this was the highlight of the race for me. I was the unofficial sub 1:40 pacer! The guy who was running with us came in a 1:39:03.  He had pulled ahead of both of us somewhere around mile 9.

Mile 10: 7:38
Mile 11: 7:38
Mile 12: 7:46
Mile 13: 7:41
Last 0.18: 6:57 pace

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Initially I felt very "meh" about how this went. I didn't feel confident in my fitness because I had to run at race effort during the last 2 miles for a pace that was slower than goal marathon pace. It shouldn't have been that hard to run that pace. So I was kind of down about it.  

But after some reflection, I changed my mind. 

This was not a paved surface, I wasn't getting any "help" from my carbon plate, I had to fight a strong headwind, and it was a net uphill during those miles. So yes, the 7:40s felt like half marathon race pace. And I didn't get discouraged while I was running slower than I hoped - which is great practice for when I am running a goal race. 

I actually have to give myself credit for perfect pacing on this one. My splits indicate that I "fell off" when in fact I increased the effort into the headwind and up hill the last few miles. To be so consistent on a surface that I'm not comfortable on is really a big win for me. 

This race wasn't about testing my fitness or seeing what kind of half marathon shape I was in. It was a "celebration" of all my training. The fact that I can go run 13.1 miles on an unfamiliar surface on a windy day and stay strong throughout is a testament to my mental strength. 

I'm glad I did this because it was a nice "change of pace" from my typical weekend long run. It was a great workout and I got to experience the race atmosphere. I helped someone run her first sub 1:40. The alternative would have been my typical neighborhood long run and I think that would have been depressing given how badly I wanted to race. So, this was a great idea and I was happy to get some revenge on the towpath.

Fun fact: I was the first finisher over the age of 40 -- both male and female!

Up Next
My next goal race is a Turkey Trot 5K and then the Houston Marathon! I am thankful that I am healthy and in a good place to resume training. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

What's My Purpose?

I started working directly with coach Greg McMillan earlier this year. Something we focused on from day 1 was our strategic approach to my running. What were my long and short term goals? What would be the best way to achieve them? 

My primary sentiment was this: At the age of 43, I believe that I am at my peak or very close to it. The time so see what I am truly capable of is now. The past year has been rough with the torn adductor, getting sick with Covid, and then having that SI Joint issue right before Boston. Is this a sign that I can no longer train at the intensity of previous cycles? Or is it just bad luck?

I wanted to run both the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and the Houston Marathon (10 weeks apart) so I would have two shots at a fast race in the near future. And then I would focus on the half marathon in the spring of 2023.

Strategic Planning
Coach Greg heard me and came up with a plan. Since summertime running is very hard on my body and I have a tendency to get sick if I push too hard in the heat, he thought that "getting through the summer" would be the best approach. So over the summer, instead of running my typical off-season mileage of 50-55, I was averaging about 40 miles per week.

I was nervous that such a low training load wouldn't set me up for success in a fall marathon, but when I set a course PR at my annual Firecracker 5K, I realized that this approach was working for me. Even better, I had more energy than I typically have in the summer, and most of my runs felt strong. 

Then marathon training started. The training load increased, but it was still notably lower than what I had done for past cycles. Coach Greg's rationale was that after everything I had been through in over the past year, he wanted to get me to the start line of Indianapolis healthy. Indianapolis would be a "stepping stone" race for Houston and future marathons to see how much load I could safely handle. 

The theory was that I didn't need a huge fitness bump to set a marathon PR. I've actually been in shape to run faster than my my 3:15 PR for several marathons: CIM, Harrisburg, and Two Rivers. But each of those races had circumstances that prevented me from performing to my full potential come race day. In each of those training cycles, I had set PRs at other distances - just not the marathon. So all I really needed to set a marathon PR in Indianapolis was to re-build endurance, get to the start line healthy, and have favorable weather conditions.

Training for Indianapolis
My training for Indianapolis was uncomfortably low compared to what I was used to. I logged 55-65 miles per week as opposed to the 70+ weeks I was cranking out for the past 4 years. And instead of two hard workouts during the week, there was only one hard workout plus a long run. 

As the race approached and we were greeted with unseasonably cool temperatures throughout the first half of October, I cranked out some really impressed workouts. Notably, 18 miles with 12 at marathon pace of 7:15 average. And that run didn't even take too much out of me. I recovered very quickly from it.

So. . .  everything "worked" as planned!  With less mileage and fewer workouts, I was fit enough to run a marathon PR. I was not injured or sick, and I felt fresh on my final workouts.

Weather Woes
One week out from the race, the forecast was looking to be on the warm side. Starting in the low 50s and finishing in the low 60s. Moderately humid. This would be similar to the race weather I had at CIM in 2019. I knew a PR wouldn't be possible for me because I am hyper-sensitive to humidity, but I figured I would still run it with an adjusted goal. I would try to run faster than my CIM time and set a "humid PR". But every day the forecast got warmer and warmer until the starting temperature reached 60. At that point, I started to wonder: What would I be getting out of this race? Would would my purpose be?

I didn't have any good answers. Was I looking for a new experience? No - I had already run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Was I looking for another finisher's medal? No - I had plenty of those. Was I looking to test my fitness? No - I couldn't get an accurate gage on that with warm/humid temps. Was I looking to qualify for Boston? No - I have Houston for that. 

My purpose for running this race was for it to be my "stepping stone" that would kick off future training cycles. To build my confidence that I can run a strong marathon and not be recovering from an injury or illness. Could I still get that in warm and humid conditions? Probably not, considering the recovery time would be extended. Knowing my body and how it responds to humidity - I don't think it would be wise or responsible to put myself through that kind of stress. My risk of illness would skyrocket and then I wouldn't be able to bounce back and train for Houston. 

What about husband Greg? Greg is unfortunately still injured with something similar to my Osteitis Pubis/Adductor tear. He has not run in four weeks and therefore was not planning on running Indianapolis either. I am optimistic about him running the Houston marathon or at very least, the half marathon.

New Game Plan
Coach Greg and I discussed my options and he advised against me running Indianapolis. He agreed that there would be no point in doing it and that it would likely prolong my recovery. This goes against everything that we've been working towards: feeling good and fit when running a marathon. He reiterated that this was a stepping-stone race anyway, and not the main goal. 

The former version of myself (before I went through sports psychology, wrote the book, transformed my mentality) would have bailed on the race because it wasn't PR weather. And it's important that I make a distinction in my own mind that this is not what's happening here. It's not about a PR - it's about my health, about feeling strong, and getting back on the right track with marathon running. 

Not running Indianapolis saves me over $1200 in travel expenses, plus two vacation days I would have taken off work. The Richmond marathon is next weekend which is a relatively short drive, and just one night in an inexpensive hotel. So at the moment, I am eyeing that one. Coach Greg advised me to run the half marathon unless the weather was going to be really cool. Now that Houston will be a 9-week turnaround, I don't want to risk a prolonged recovery from warm temperatures. So the plan is:

  • If the weather is warm, I will run the half marathon as a fun run/training run
  • If the weather is in the high 40s to low 50s, I will race the half marathon full out
  • If the weather stays below 50 degrees for the entire race, I will run the full marathon
The possibility of the half marathon excites me. I had a bad day in Hartford a few weeks ago and I'd love to see what kind of half marathon I can run with full marathon training behind me. And that would make me even fresher for the Turkey Trot 5K. 

I am surprisingly not upset about any of this. I was definitely frustrated and bummed when the Indianapolis forecast first came out, but I got over it quickly and accepted my new reality! Coach Greg has given me a new perspective on my running and I'm happy to be healthy and to have had such a successful training cycle. If it doesn't end with me finishing a marathon, I'm totally fine with that. I'm looking at the bigger picture and enjoying the journey.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Hilly Hartford Half!

I ran the Hartford Half Marathon yesterday. I chose this race because it was four weeks out from my full marathon (I like to run a half marathon 4-5 weeks out) and I had never done it before. It was also a quick flight and I had heard good things about it. 

When looking at the elevation profile, I had been looking at the 2021 course on Strava. It looked a little hilly, but nothing crazy. I knew that it wouldn't be as fast and flat as my PR courses, but I was excited about visiting a new state; I had never been to Connecticut. 

My training leading up to this race had gone really well. Even though the mileage was less than what I typically do, I had run some fast workouts so I felt like my speed was coming along. Key workouts included:

  • A set of 8 x 800m (with 400m recovery jogs) which averaged 3:10, and the last 4 of them were all under 3:10 (3:08, 3:06, 3:07, 3:09)
  • An 18-mile run with 11 marathon-pace miles averaging 7:21.
  • 3 x 10 minutes at tempo pace with 2 minutes recovery jogs, and the tempo miles averaged out to 6:51.
Unlike last fall, this fall actually started in late September so we had some nice training weather. 

If this course had been flat, I would have tried to PR. I don't necessarily think I am in the best shape of my life, but close enough that I would have gone for it. My PR is 1:30:58 from 2019 and I have run two marathons that were 1:31:xx. So when I am at my fittest and the course is flat, right around 1:31:00 is what I can do. 

Elevation Profile
A few days before the race, I realized that the 2022 course was not the same as the 2021 course; It would be hillier. The 2022 course had 428 feet of elevation gain according to Strava, and 450 feet of gain according to FinalSurge (my training log). Depending on where you train and what you're used to, this could be perceived as very hilly or not that hilly. At least on paper. If you ran this course in person, there was no way you could not think it was hilly!

Elevation profile, according to Strava

Given the elevation profile, I decided I would aim for a time of 1:33 (a pace of around 7:05 for 13.2 miles). I figured I could probably run 1:31-1:32 on a flat course, and hills would add an extra minute. 

It was 49 degrees at the start, warming to 51 by the finish, mostly sunny, with 10 mph winds. Pre-race, I was going to give this an 8 out of 10 on my race weather scale. But there were portions that were super windy, and when you are running up hill into the wind, that just sucks. So while I was on course I downgraded this to a 7 out of 10. 

Before the Race
We flew to Hartford on Friday, landing at around 2:00. It was a very quick flight from Dulles; only 50 minutes in the air. Our hotel was next door to the race expo, which was super convenient. By 3:30, we had checked in, gotten our bibs and settled back into the hotel. I made sure to hydrate really well. I drank plenty of water + electrolytes all throughout the day.

Greg had been planning on running this race, but last weekend he injured his groin on a long run. It's similar to what I had in the spring of 2021 only I don't think his adductor tendon is torn. He hasn't run since and will probably take another week off. Unfortunately when it happened he was on the W&OD trail and had to walk back to the car for over 4 miles. He wasn't heart broken about not being able to race, but he's definitely not happy about the injury.

We went to Salute for dinner, which was about half a mile from our hotel. This was one of the best pre-race dinners I have ever had. The garlic bread was amazing. It was fresh from the oven and you could sink your teeth into it. . . and it was like heaven. I had pasta with red sauce and chicken. The pasta was freshly made and the service was wonderful. 

I slept really well. I didn't find the bed to be particularly comfortable, but they had nice pillows, which is rare in hotels. I slept straight through from 8:30-3:15. I had no pre-race anxiety dreams. (I often dream that I missed the start, or that the race is an obstacle course), I was awake from 3:15-4:00, but then fell back asleep for another hour. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go. 

For breakfast I had a banana, almond butter pretzels, and the Maurten Drink Mix 160. I got dressed in my McMillan singlet, Tracksmith Twilight Split Shorts, and adidas Adios Pro shoes. I went with the original version of the shoe for this race.

Star Spangled Banner at the start
We left the hotel at around 7:20 for an 8:00 start. I warmed up for just over a mile on what I thought was the half marathon course. When I was done with my warm up, I noticed that there were no corrals. And I couldn't find Greg, who said he would meet me at the entrance to the corral. As it turned out, I was at the start line of the 5K. I had a brief moment of panic, but then realized that the half marathon start line couldn't be that far away. 

I found the half marathon/marathon start and Greg was at the entrance to the corral. I handed him my gloves and my jacket and he wished me well.

I was in the corral for about 10 minutes before the race started. The National Anthem was sung and then the governor said a few words. I was in corral "A" which was the first corral behind the elite athletes. I felt relatively calm, but definitely excited to be at the start line of a race.

Miles 1-4
The marathon and half marathon started together and only stayed together for the first mile. So the first mile was pretty packed, and it was hard to get into a good rhythm. The unusual thing about Hartford is that the marathon course is not at all the same as the half marathon course. After the first mile, the courses split off and they don't merge together until the finish line. The half marathon goes through west Hartford and is much hillier than the full. The full marathon is mostly flat until the last few miles, or so I have been told.

I ran the first mile in 7:13 which was right where I wanted to be. The plan was to start out around 7:10-7:15 for the first 3 miles and then speed up to half marathon pace after that, hopefully 7:05. I knew that the biggest hills would be during miles 5, 8, and 11, so I wrote those miles on my arm. That way, if i was slower on those miles, I wouldn't worry. I would make up the time on the downhills.

Mile 2.2
After we split off from the marathoners, I figured I would get into my groove and things would start to feel more controlled. But I still felt like I was trying to find my groove. We had a 10 mph headwind, so I tried drafting, but that didn't work very well. Very few portions of this course were flat; it was either up or down for 90% of the time. 

I saw Greg shortly after mile marker 2. That was about the time I wanted to take my first gel, but I didn't want to be taking a gel in my photos, so I waited until I passed him. He was on the opposite side of the street so I sped up to pass a few people to get a good view of him. 

I felt flat, but I didn't worry because I figured my caffeinated gel would perk me up. The pace felt hard, so I decided to keep it steady. If I averaged a 7:10 pace instead of 7:05, that would be fine. My legs didn't seem to have their normal pep or power, which was weird. In workouts they had been feeling awesome, and I even allowed myself a taper for this race. I hadn't done a hard workout since Monday - and even that was only 30 minutes of work. So there was no reason for the 'dead legs' feeling. 

Mile 1: 7:13
Mile 2: 7:11
Mile 3: 7:11
Mile 4: 7:15

Miles 5-9
Mile 5 was the first of the "big hill" miles. What surprised me most about this race was that it wasn't just the "big hills" - I think I could have handled those. It was all the smaller ups and downs that really wore me out, which I wasn't physically or mentally prepared for. As experienced as I am, I still find it hard to translate elevation profiles into knowing what it will actually be like when I am racing.

Back to the "big hill". According to FinalSurge, this hill had 79 feet of elevation gain and 5 feet of loss. Thus, my average pace was 7:46. I had assumed that I would probably run this at around 7:30, but it was much harder than I expected. And I didn't have a ton of energy to really push.

A hill like that early in the race can really kill your legs for the rest of the race. I ran the Hanover half marathon a few years ago, which had 150+ feet of climbing right at the the beginning. And after that my legs never recovered. I ran a time of 1:37:47. I didn't expect Hartford to be anything like Hanover, but the overall elevation gain was pretty similar.

I don't think the hills were the only reason I slowed down so much. It was a low-energy day for me, despite my good sleep, my proper fueling, the nice weather, and lack of digestive issues. I feel like I did everything "right" and yet I was running much slower than planned with little pep. Thankfully, I recovered during the 6th mile with a split of 7:08. That's more like it! 

I took my next gel at 1 hour into the race, and really hoped it would give me the energy I needed.

Mile 8 was the next big-hill mile. And I think it was around this point when the 1:40 pacer caught up to me. I knew I was not on pace for my original 1:33, but I also knew I was nowhere close to approaching 1:40 territory. This pacer must have been blazing fast for 1:40!

I ran mile 8 at a pace of 7:46 - the same as mile 5! At least I was consistent. 

Mile 5: 7:46
Mile 6: 7:08
Mile 7: 7:27
Mile 8: 7:46
Mile 9: 7:22

Miles 10-Finish
I didn't feel like the race was getting progressively harder like it normally does in half marathons. It was about the same level of hardness from mile 4 all the way to the finish. It was harder than it should have been early on. And then at the very end I didn't have the pain I normally feel. But yet. . . I couldn't go faster. "This doesn't hurt too much, but I physically can't give any more." 

This is a long winded way of saying I probably could have run a few extra miles at my average race pace, but I could not have gone any faster. 

Heading to the finish line
I kept a positive attitude, I had fun, I high-fived the spectators who had their hands up. I didn't get discouraged. I focused on keeping my form strong and powering through. There were a few people I leapfrogged with the entire race. They passed me going uphill and I passed them going downhill. I was happy that by the end of this game I was ahead of most of the leapfrogging squad. 

Just before the finish I finally passed that 1:40 pacer. I have to assume that he lost most of his group because he would end up running much faster than 1:40. It felt nice to be so strong at the end. Mile 12 was my fastest mile of the race in 7:04.  I said above, I wasn't "dying" out there or in a ton of pain. It was basically a lack of energy and with no pep in my step. It wasn't a bonk or a crash - it was a steady slog all the way through.

Mile 10: 7:16
Mile 11: 7:24
Mile 12: 7:04
Mile 13: 7:19
Final 0.27: 6:45 pace

After the Race
I had a nice sprint to the finish, and crossed with an official time of 1:37:14. That was a 7:20 pace on my Garmin - not sure of the official pace. I placed 10 out of 224 in my age group.

I walked through the finish line chute, got my medal and heat sheet, and then found Greg. I was exhausted and not in the best mood. All I wanted to do was get back to the hotel and rest. 

We walked just over half a mile to the hotel and it felt so good to get out of those clothes and into the tub. My hands had gone numb and my arms were cold. The rest of me was hot. My body is not good at distributing heat evenly. 

We had a 2:30pm flight out of Hartford, but it was delayed by nearly 3 hours. This really ate into our day because we didn't get home until 7:30. We grabbed take out on the way home, ate it quickly and went to bed. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This is obviously not the race I hoped for, but there are definitely some positives to take from it. There's really no way to know for sure why I felt so sluggish, but I have a few theories. It's probably a combination of all of them. 

1. I underestimated the difficulty of the course. Maybe this is actually a decent time for me on this course, given that I am not a strong hill runner. 

2. My legs were tired from marathon training. I don't really buy into this one too much, because I have PR'ed half marathons during marathon training cycles. But once again, a hilly course demands more out of your legs, so it could have played more of a role here than on my flat half marathons. 

3. Just an off day. We all have them, probably likely that this was my off day and I'd rather have it today than during my full marathon.

4. Post-covid heart rate issues. I was 99% sure my covid heart rate issues were behind me, but my heart rate during this race was really high for the paces I was running. My heart rate suggests that I could not have pushed harder, even if I had the energy. According to my heart rate, I ran this at an extremely hard effort. I REALLY hope this is not the case, because if it is, it will always limit my racing potential and I will never race long distances as fast as I used to.

Some people have suggested that it could be an iron deficiency of a vitamin deficiency, but if that were the case, I wouldn't have had such strong workouts leading up to this race. I felt great during those!

Now for the key takeaways, starting with the negative and then moving into the positive:

  • It was disappointing to be so far from my goal, and to place 10th in my age group. At large half marathons in the past (Wineglass, Columbus) I have won age group awards. 
  • My goal marathon pace is 7:20 and yesterday's average pace was 7:20. That doesn't bode well for it being my full marathon pace in 4 weeks.
  • Since this race didn't boost my confidence in my marathon abilities, I will work with my coach on workouts that will get me closer to my goal. I've had quite a few marathon pace workouts, but maybe I need more half marathon pace workouts to increase my lactate threshold
  • This race was a good workout for the marathon!
  • Not sure if this is good or bad, but my heart rate had me at half marathon effort or harder
  • I ran 13.27 miles according to my Garmin; I need to do less weaving
  • I got to experience a new race and a new state
  • I had fun
  • My effort level was consistent throughout the race; I didn't bonk or crash
  • I kept a positive attitude, and didn't give up mentally
  • My fastest mile was mile 12, which has never happened before in a half marathon
  • I am healthy and not injured
  • Objectively, 1:37 is a solid half marathon performance
  • I will be very thankful for a flat marathon course
I got it done. I ran a steady race. Now I am more hungry than ever for some fast times.