Sunday, August 18, 2019

Hot, hot, hot 5K!

The Leesburg 5K/20K race is notorious for having warm, sunny, humid weather. After all, it's in the middle of August, when the DC Metro area is at its steamiest. Last year I ran the 20K as a training run as I was coming back from six weeks with mono. I registered for it as a training run again this year, simply hoping to beat my time from last year.

Photo by Cheryl Young
On Wednesday, I looked at the forecast and saw that the starting temperature would be around 72, heating up to 80 by the end, with the dew point being 72-73. And sunny to boot. Yikes! When I realized that I wouldn't even run a training run in that weather, I decided to drop down to the 5K. Earlier this summer, I ran 10 miles "easy" in similar weather, and shortly after that I purchased my treadmill. Given my immune system issues which are triggered by running hard in warm weather, I didn't think running this 20K was worth the risk.

Even the weather for the 5K was forecast to be miserable, so I told my coach I was going to run it as a workout. He pushed back on that, and told me I should race it all out. He said it would be a good opportunity to run hard and test my fitness. I don't really think I can test my fitness with a dew point of 72, but I agreed that I would run it as a race and give it my all.

As for my bike injury and hematoma, that's mostly cleared up. I no longer have pain with running. The bump is still there in my groin, but it has shrunk down significantly, and at this rate should be gone in another week. I saw the last of the bruise yesterday, too.

Before the Race
Greg and I were a little late leaving our house (6:15) so we were more rushed than we would have liked, but it all worked out okay. I picked up our bibs while he used the bathroom. I ran into my friend Amber, who I had met at the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon just over a year ago. One of the reasons I like to do this race, despite the crappy weather, is that a lot of people come out for it. It's a good way to see friends and socialize. It's a fairly competitive race, too, as many local runners use it as a tune up for fall goal races.

Greg and I put our bibs on and I drank my Generation UCAN. I also had an Energice ice pop, which would have been better to have after my warm up and immediately before the race, but the logistics of going back to the car made that impractical.

I started my warm up and Greg headed for the start line of the 20K. The 20K started at 7:30 and the 5K at 7:48. Weird timing, but I liked the precision! I had run the 5K back in 2017, and I knew there was a coffee shop on my warm-up route where I could go to the bathroom. However, the coffee shop was no longer in business, so I found a gas station instead. I like to go to the bathroom 15-20 minutes before I race just to make sure everything is "out" that is coming out. 

On my way back, I was able to see the 20K runners, including Greg, shortly after they had started. Given how hot I already was on my warm up, I was relived that I was not among them. Finally, 7:48 arrived and it was time to get going.

Mile 1
I did not have a goal time for this race. I thought I would be happy to go sub-22:00 in these conditions, but I didn't really have a goal in mind. I knew that the first two miles were mostly uphill and the last mile was downhill, so I made sure not to go out too hard in the beginning.

I knew that Amber was in much better shape than I was, and yet I found myself near her for the first half mile. I looked down at my Garmin and I wasn't going all that fast, and I felt fine, so I just maintained that effort.

Except-- it was definitely way too fast. I clocked in at 6:52, and even though that seems conservative for me, it was not given that there was 40+ feet of gain and it was very warm and humid.

Mile 2
This mile has a lot of turns and I knew to expect them. We ran around a large school and it was mentally exhausting. Even though this mile wasn't as hilly as the first mile, I was running out of steam already! I only glanced at the Garmin a few times and I wasn't surprised to see how slowly I
was running. I didn't have any pep and I was exhausted. I was not feeling this race at all.

Shortly into this mile, I passed a high school cross country guy. A number of them had lined up at the start wearing the same jersey, so it was obvious that their team had come out for the event. As a 40-year old woman, it did feel good to pass a high school cross-country male! That perked me up mentally.

After that, I needed something to motivate me to maintain my effort, so I reminded myself that I wanted to be the first Master's Female. I didn't know if they had an official Master's award, but if they did, I wanted it to be mine. And if not, I wanted to win my age group. There was a turnaround which allowed me to see who was ahead of me. I knew 3 out of 6 of them, and they were all younger. And it's really hard to tell how old someone is when they are in running clothes, especially when you are trying to race at full effort. I just assumed they were all younger than me so that I would still be motivated to push hard. My Garmin beeped at the end of the mile in 7:06. Not pretty, but I was still maintaining my placement.

Mile 3
I knew this mile would be downhill, and I needed that badly. If you execute this race properly, your last mile should be your fastest. Probably by at least 10 seconds. This was not the case for me. I tried my best to simply hang on to the effort level, even though I felt like I was running through molasses and I was dead tired.

The only thing I cared about was making sure no women passed me, and I was confident that they wouldn't if I simply maintained the effort. My time for this mile was 6:55. Not what I would have expected for a downhill mile! Keep in mind, I have run faster miles than this at the end of half marathons.

The last 0.18
As I turned onto the final stretch, which is uphill, I saw that there was a woman about 8-10 seconds behind me. That motivated me to start my final kick early. I didn't want her trying to pass me. It worked and I was surprisingly able to run a pace of 6:32 up that hill. Amazing what I can do when I'm threatened by competition!

My final time was 22:05 according to my Garmin, and 22:08 according to the official results. I know that the distance of my Garmin will usually not match the official results, but the official time should be the same or faster. I always start my Garmin before I cross the start line mat, and I stop it after I cross the finish line. So I don't know how they added an extra 3 seconds, unless they didn't get my net time, just my gun time. This has happened a few times in the past, and even happened at the last 5K I ran through this same race series. But last time, I wasn't even listed in the results at all so I had to talk to them. Since this isn't a PR for me, I didn't care enough to talk to them about it, but it's annoying.

After the race
Once I regained my ability to speak, I congratulated Amber who had finished over a minute ahead of me! I then cooled down and waited for Greg to finish his 20K. I figured I would run him in the last 0.2 miles, but when I tried, he was too fast for me, and I couldn't keep up. Turns out, his last mile was faster than my last mile! He's in excellent shape right now and does much better in the heat than I do.

Shortly after Greg finished, they started handing out the 5K awards and I won first place in my age group, which was the main goal. I do not think I would have placed in my age group at all if I had run the 20K, so I made the right choice.

Final thoughts and takeaways
I kind of bonked today, and I'm okay with that. I think it was a combination of going out too fast, not being in 5K shape (had to take 9 days off after the bike accident), and obviously the heat/humidity. I ran 4 miles at an average pace of 7:05 just over a week ago in cooler weather and on a flatter route.

Prior to this race, I had assumed that my max heart rate was around 190. This was based on running with my new Garmin + HR monitor for the past two months, and seeing it get up to 187 at the Firecracker 5K in July. Well, today it got up to 196!  And it averaged 186 for the last 0.18. This definitely shows that I ran the race to my fullest effort level and I was not slacking.

I ran this race over 40 seconds faster in 2017, but I was in really excellent 5K shape back then, and it wasn't quite as warm that year. It's not a helpful or relevant comparison, so I'll stop there.

I was the 7th overall female and it was a competitive field. The Leesburg 5K is a popular local race and the first two females ran 18:xx.

I'll be running two more 5Ks before I settle into marathon training, and I am excited to see how those go. Hopefully, much cooler!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

I will never be a cyclist.

Just hours after I published my "Running in Oslo" post last Saturday, my international running adventures came to an abrupt stop.

Greg and I had signed up for a group bike tour of Oslo on Saturday afternoon. There were 14 of us, and we were led by a local guide who worked at the rental bike shop. We had signed up for this "Oslo
By Bike" excursion a few months ago, and it was my idea. Greg was actually shocked that I wanted to ride a bike. I hate bikes! The last time I rode a bike was in 2007 when I rode 11 miles through Tuscany. And prior to that, I hadn't ridden a bike since around 1994.

But biking is always the analogy people use to talk about things you never forget how to do. It's like riding a bike, they say. If this had been a mountain bike ride, or a really long ride, I wouldn't have signed up for it. But it was only seven miles and it was two hours long. I figured it couldn't be that difficult. I could run, or even walk, that distance faster.

When I first got on the bike, it wasn't a familiar feeling. I had to remember how to balance, steer, etc. Unfortunately, there was no clear area in which to do this. The bike rental place was in the middle of the city and there were swarms of people everywhere. In, fact, we had learned yesterday on our boat tour that this was the busiest time of year in Oslo because many people had time off from work and it was a very popular tourist spot. Plus, the weather was warm and sunny which is not typical for Oslo.

I spent the first part of the bike tour frustrated and scared. We were led through crowded plazas, over speed bumps, up and down curbs, weaving through masses of people. This photo shows one of the areas we rode through, as seen from the boat the day before at the same time of day.

One of the crowded areas we biked through
We all had to keep stopping and starting and everyone was really frustrated with it. If I were a pedestrian in that area, I would have been annoyed by such a large group of cyclists plowing through the crowds.

Finally we were on a bike path and I felt more comfortable, and like I was starting to get a handle on the steering, the gears, etc. The guide then took us through a wooded area on a gravel path. It was hilly and curvy and there were roots sticking up, so it was much more difficult than anticipated. Finally I didn't feel like the worst cyclist in the group because I was able to go up the hills just fine and my athleticism kicked in.

We stopped at a beach for about 15 minutes (this is why the tour was long--we kept stopping). Greg snapped a photo of me and I posted it to my Instagram Story, saying that this was the last time anyone would see me on a bike. At that point, I knew that I had no desire to ride one ever again, That said, I was proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and getting on a bike. I wasn't looking forward to the way back, though, knowing we'd have to bike through that busy plaza. I also thought it was kind of a miracle that I didn't have an accident and wondered if I should take the bus back and end it on a high note.

Instagram Story mid-ride
We got back on the bikes and rode through the woods again. Only this time, I wasn't able to maneuver the bike as well I should have been able to. Since the path was wide, we were not riding in a straight line, and people were riding next to me. There was a fairly steep hill that curved around, and as it curved, I wasn't able to properly steer while also getting up the hill, so my bike hit the back of another rider's wheel, and I went tumbling. Nobody else fell, but I was on the ground with just a minor scrape. It was really scary, but since I wasn't hurt, I got back on the bike, vowing to stay away from the other riders.

We got back onto the bike path, which was great, but then it was time for the crowded plazas again. I don't know why I simply didn't get off the bike and walk it back to the shop. We were close enough at that point. If I really stopped to think about it, I would have done that, but instead I felt like I had to keep following the group over the curbs, the speed bumps, and the train railways.

There were actually two tour guides-- one in front and one in back. The one in the back told the one in the front that she needed to slow down on multiple occasions (every time we stopped), but she didn't slow down. At one point, the tour guided us to drive in the middle of the train railway. This area was clearly for trains only- not pedestrians or cyclists. To do this, I needed to cross over one of the railways to get in between them, as there was no room left on the right side of the railway. As I did this, my tire got stuck inside the rail and the bike stopped. I fell onto the bike, ramming my pubic bone directly into the bar. I screamed in pain and in fear. It was maybe the worst pain I had ever experienced.

I walked away from the train track full of fear, and Greg and the tour guide from the back of the group came toward me. The other riders and the guide in front had no idea that I had fallen. Since we were so close to the bike store and the cruise ship, the tour guide from the back took our bikes from us and we walked back to the ship to get an X-ray. It hurt to walk, but thankfully, I was able to walk.

Back on board, I found that the entire left side of my groin was hugely swollen. They did an x-ray and found that nothing was broken. I was in extreme pain, but they weren't able to give me anything except for Advil and an ice pack. I really liked the nurse and the doctor, but they weren't specialists in this kind of thing and weren't able to give me stronger pain medication. That night, Greg and I ordered room service as I continued to ice the area.

4 days post accident
The swelling and the bruising were severe over the next five days. Today, one week later, the bruising is still dark blue over much of that entire area, and looks worse than this photo, extending all the way down to almost my knee. Seeing so much swelling and bruising made matters worse, as it was a constant reminder of how harsh the blow was.

I tried my best to enjoy the rest of the trip, which included stops along the coast of Norway, ended in Bergen. I was in constant pain, and walking wasn't easy, but it didn't seem to aggravate the issue. The worst part was not knowing the extent of the damage. All I knew was that the area was very swollen and painful, and I had a sizable hematoma. Regardless, Greg and I had paid a lot of money for the trip and been looking forward to it for over a year, so I wasn't about to let this accident ruin it for me. As I wrote about in my previous two posts, I love running around new areas on vacation. So it was definitely a bummer to not be able to run in the port stops during the rest of the trip.

We returned home on Thursday evening, and I saw a doctor yesterday. The swelling is gone, but I have a big bump on the left side of my pubic bone, which is the hematoma itself. Even at rest I have a small level of pain, and running definitely aggravates it. My doctor was able to isolate the muscle group that was impacted, and it's the lower abdomen. Thankfully, all of the adductors are in great shape. I never realized that the lower abdomen was used so much in running, but it is painful with each toe-off, so I guess it's pretty critical.

So as of now I have the constant pain of the hematoma, as well as an inflamed/irritated lower abdominal muscle that is painful to run on or to move in certain ways. I do not know when I will be able to run again.

I think this injury is difficult for me on a number of levels, mostly because it feels like something was taken from me.

1. I wish I would have followed my gut instinct and gotten off the bike instead of following the group over the rail tracks.

2. I have been taking it easy all summer with running and had planned my race schedule around being able to start training more seriously after this trip. Instead, I'm digging my hole deeper and will need to rebuild before progressing. I really thought I'd be able to crush a 10K in early October, but now I'm doubtful.

3. I don't know when I will be able to run again, so I am dealing with uncertainty and things being up in the air. And even if I am able to run, I don't know how long it will take to be completely pain-free.

Now that I've gotten that off of my chest, I do have the perspective that I am lucky the accident wasn't worse. I wasn't seriously injured and I can walk. Nothing is broken. This isn't as bad as having mono because I am still able to walk around, go to work, and live my non-running life.

I do blame myself for not trusting my instincts and for following a group of people who were riding in areas that I felt unsafe in. (Later, the other people on the bike tour said that they felt unsafe, too, and didn't find the ride enjoyable because of all the obstacles. One person also got their tire stuck in the railway, but he was able to stabilize himself and not fall.) But, on the other hand, I am not beating myself up too much because I was just trying to get the most out of our time in Oslo, even though it meant hopping on a bike.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Running in Oslo

Wednesday, July 24: Alborg, Denmark
After leaving Warnemunde, Germany, our cruise ship headed for Alborg, Denmark. We were sailing for the first half of the day, which meant it was impossible to run outside. We could have opted for the treadmill, but neither of us were interested in that and we had planned a few days off on this trip, too.

Alborg (or Aalborg) was fun. We had signed up for a Danish Beer Walking tour, but due to low registration, the excursion was cancelled. This ended up being a good thing because we got our money back and discovered we could easily do the exact same thing on our own for less money.

We paid about $20/each and that got us 6 drink tickets and small souvenir glasses that say "Aalborg Beer Walk" on them. Totally a tourist thing to do, but hey-- we are tourists! There were 8 participating brew pubs of which some were closed at that time of day (2:00). We ended up visiting three different pubs and getting two beers at each. Don't worry- they were small pours in the souvenir glass!

It was a fun way to explore the town while also tasting different beers. One of the brew pubs was an actual brewery that brewed their own beer and that was awesome.

Thursday, July 25: Gothenburg, Sweden
Our next stop was Gothenburg, Sweden. We docked at 8:00am, which meant we couldn't get off the boat until 8:00am. . .  which meant the sun was already really high in the sky. I didn't mind too much; at least I was staying acclimated to the heat!

Gothenburg, Sweden
We didn't really have a plan for where we were going to run in Gothenburg, which I liked. We just followed a running path along the water, and occasionally veered off it into parts of town. We encountered a few steep hills whenever we went away from the water, and wandered into some small residential areas. My favorite part of this run was going through a small park area that was well shaded. Overall, I felt energized and strong. We ran for 75 minutes, as prescribed by my coach, and ended up with 8.5 miles.

The cruise offered a free excursion called "Gothenburg Panorama" which we learned was simply a bus ride around the town. We decided we would rather explore by foot, so off we went! I wasn't overly impressed with Gothenburg, to be honest. It was nice, but there wasn't anything particularly distinguishing about it. We mostly walked through the park along the canal. It was enjoyable, although we were struggling with how hot it was. It's been about 10 degrees above average here for the entire duration of our trip. I don't mind it so much, but I had been expecting highs in the 70's, not highs in the 80's.

There isn't too much else to say about Gothenburg. I would have much preferred to visit Stockholm, which is still on my bucket list, but the cruise didn't travel there. We were hot and tired from walking around in the sun so we returned to our ship at around 4:00. That allowed us to use the ship's free self-service laundry before dinner! What a great amenity, given how long the cruise is and how sweaty the clothing has been getting. Of course, I don't trust my running clothes in those machines with their soap, but we washed pretty much everything else. We then ate dinner, walked around the ship and went to bed. Before we move on to Oslo, here is another photo of the Gothenburg run:

My favorite part of the Gothenburg run

Friday July 26th: Oslo, Norway
We arrived in Oslo on Friday morning. We cruised through the Oslofjord to get there and the views were stunning. The Olsofjord is absolutely gorgeous there we watched from the top deck of the ship as we slowly pulled into the port.

We were able to get off the ship at 8:00am. There was another runner waiting to get off right away too--and he was wearing a Boston Marathon hat! Turns out, this guy had run over 60 marathons, and many of them were Bostons. Given that most people on this cruise are in their 60's and 70's, and the boat only holds 900 passengers, we did not expect to meet another runner, let alone such an avid marathoner!

The three of us started our run together, and we decided it would be best to stick to the waterfront. I love running close to water, and it also makes it easy to find your way back! After about two miles, the other runner told Greg and I to go ahead and he stayed back. Even though it was once again very
Oslo, Norway
sunny and warm, I felt great. For me, 72 degrees usually equals 95-100% humidity, so anything less than that makes 72 feel tolerable. I loved this route. The path was easy to follow, there were plenty of other runners, and the views of the water were beautiful. There were definitely some hills, but nothing too crazy. Once again, we planned for 75 minutes, which ended up being 8.6 miles.

After finishing the run, we showered, had a quick breakfast, and went back out to explore the castle that was literally right next to our cruise ship. Running at 8:00am meant missing the "real" breakfast, which closed at 9:30, but there was a smaller cafe place open that served waffles. Anyway, we explored the castle for a bit, which was super cool, and then got ready for our afternoon excursion: a boat tour of the city.

This boat tour was AMAZING. Seriously the best thing we have done so far on this vacation. It was an old fishing boat built in 1940, which held about 150 passengers. Thankfully, the boat was only half full so there was plenty of space to move around and take photos. There was also a bar on the ship, and two included drink tickets for beer and wine. There was even a cover over part of the boat so we had shade. This was a lifesaver since it was 85 degrees out! Combined with the breeze from moving so quickly, the weather was close to ideal.

We passed by all of the Oslo landmarks that you can see from the water, and sailed down the Oslofjord and back. A tour guide explained everything over the loud speaker which was nice. It was
Oslo boat tour
so relaxing and beautiful and just perfect! During the boat tour, the guide mentioned that Oslo had an Ice Bar. I had heard about the Ice Bar in Stockholm, and had always wanted to go.

An ice bar is a bar that's made of ice, and it's supposedly 20 degrees to keep everything frozen: the bar, the sculptures, the tables, the seats, etc. After the boat tour, Greg and I headed into the city to check it out. They handed us heavy ponchos and gloves and in we went. Once again, this was a total tourist thing to do, and it's not a place that the locals hang out. But it was cool-- literally! I don't think it was 20 degrees, but it was cold, and the drinks were really good. I had a cocktail that was green, and Greg got a blue cocktail.

We were only in the Ice Bar for about half an hour, and then I got really cold, so we left. We took the scenic walk back to our ship, and I determined that Oslo is now one of my favorite cities. It's so beautiful with fountains everywhere and the architecture is a mix of old and new.

Saturday, July 27th: Oslo
The boat stayed docked in Oslo overnight, which meant we didn't have to wait until 8:00 to start our run. Ironically, this was the only day where my body naturally "slept in" and I didn't wake up until 6:15. I had thought we'd be able to start our run at 6:30, no problem! Anyway, I planned to fill my hand-held water bottle with one of the bottles that they give you as you exit the ship. But at 7:00am, the water bottles aren't available. So I went to the bar nearby, and asked the bartender to refill my bottle. I was (more than) slightly annoyed because before she could fill my bottle, she had to make someone an alcoholic beverage. At 7:00am! I selfishly believed my need for water to be able to start my run was far more important than someone's need to drink alcohol at 7:00am, so I became irked.

One thing I've learned about myself on this trip, which I kind of already knew, is that if I can't get my run started when I want to, I become irritable. I'm like a caged tiger, just raring to go.

The Oslo Opera House: we ran up that roof
Finally we were off. This run was a lot of starting and stopping for multiple reasons. First, my Garmin was acting funky. It's a brand new Garmin, but sometimes the buttons stick, which means it will randomly stop, and I won't even know it. In this case, we wanted to stop and take photos, but I couldn't get my Garmin to stop because of the sticking button. Second, there were a lot of great photo opportunities so we stopped on purpose. Third, we weren't exactly sure where we were going, so we stopped to look at the Google Map and get our bearings.

I hate stopping during my runs, and we probably stopped like 8-10 times. But, it was all for a good cause. We were exploring the city and take photos.

To start, we headed about half a mile from our cruise ship to the Opera House. This is a famous landmark here in Oslo, and we had learned from the boat tour that you could walk up on the roof. So, what did we do? We ran up the very steep roof until we reached the top! Once at the top, we took photos, and then ran back down to the bottom.

After that, it was time to find our planned route, which was up the canal path. Greg read that this was one of the best places in Oslo to run, and that it was flat. LOL! So not flat. The hills were so steep on this path that I had to walk at times. The surface of the ground kept changing: gravel, stone, dirt, concrete, wood, asphalt... pretty much anything you can imagine. I should also mention that it wasn't easy getting to the start of the path. We ended up having to run through a train station because we didn't see any other way to cross the tracks. Definitely an adventure.

Vigeland Park, Oslo
Finally, I told Greg that I was done with that path. It was really beautiful and interesting, but I couldn't handle all the hills and the changing of surfaces, etc. I think we ran about two miles on it, so we definitely experienced it. Fortunately, we stopped at a road that was a straight shot to Vigeland Park, which was also on the list of the top places to run. And we had seen this on a map previously and it looked nice.

We ran about two miles through the city to get to the park, and once we were there, it was totally worth it. Beautiful fountains, sculptures, monuments, flowers, etc. However, it wasn't very large. I would have been happy to run laps around the park, but it was unclear which way to go so we kind of just zig-zagged through the park until we found ourselves running on a gravel trail. The gravel trail became very hilly and all of a sudden we realized we were on a trail, and not in the park. So we stopped again and looked at the Google Map.

We quickly found our way off of the trail, back into the city, and headed for the cruise ship. We ran a total of 10.1 miles and made a huge loop around the city. I had been planning for a little more, but I was ready to be done at that point. I had not anticipated so many hills and it was also quite hot and sunny.

Stay tuned for more as we continue on the cruise up the coast of Norway.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Running in Copenhagen

Hello from Europe! This is my 400th blog post and I am writing it from the deck of the Viking Sky cruise ship, on the North Sea between Denmark and Sweden. We are sailing this morning, so I have some free time to write.

Sunday, July 21: Copenhagen arrival
Nyhavn, Copenhagen
We took an 8-hour overnight flight direct from Dulles to Copenhagen, arriving at 7:15am local time. Crammed in the back of economy class, neither Greg nor I were able to really sleep, and we estimate that we each got maybe a total of one hour.

We arrived at the cruise terminal at 8:00am, and we had to wait for two hours before we could board the ship. I took the opportunity to sleep more, since the cruise terminal chairs were more comfortable than the airplane seats.

We finally boarded the ship, took a quick tour, and then ate lunch before heading out to explore the city. We were both struggling pretty badly, given that we only had one hour of sleep, but walking around Copenhagen energized us. Neither of us had ever visited there, so everything was new to us. Our first stop was Nyhavn, the city's scenic and historic waterfront. Whenever you see a photo of Copenhagen, you likely see this waterfront. Of course, it was way more crowded and touristy in person than in the photos, but still really cool.

After Nyhaven, it was off to Stroget, a huge pedestrian shopping plaza. It was here that I broke my 5-week chocolate fast. My doctor recommended that I eliminate all caffeine from my diet, so I had not had an ounce of chocolate since early June. I didn't go crazy with the chocolate, but Greg and I shared an ice cream sundae that had chocolate candies in it. Afterwards, we returned to our cruise ship where we had an amazing gourmet meal. Once again, we found ourselves struggling due to lack of sleep, so we skipped dessert and proceeded to sleep for about ten hours.

Monday, July 22: Copenhagen
Our first order of business upon waking up was to go run! Sunday was obviously a day off from running, so I was excited to run in a new country and add Denmark to my list of countries I've run in.
The Viking Sky, Copenhagen
We didn't really know where we were going so we just winged it. We ran off the cruise ship, down a long stretch, passing by the famous statue of the Little Mermaid. We then ran through a park, which was a big loop, and returned to the boat. We had planned to run for an hour and 15 minutes, but in order to get back in time before breakfast closed, we cut it short a little. I ended up running 7.5 miles in 1 hour, 6 minutes, at an average pace of 8:55.

After breakfast, we left the ship to explore more of Copenhagen. Greg had our path all mapped out, so I just followed. To get into the city, we walked the same path that we had run on, but this time we were able to stop and take a photo of the Little Mermaid statue. There were also about 50+ Santa Clauses hanging around the statue, which I later learned was the annual Santa Claus World Congress, which occurs every July in Copenhagen. Some of the Santas formed a band to play Christmas music. It was quite a sight to see.

Then we walked through two parks, the second of which was King's Garden. King's Garden is perhaps one of the most beautiful parks I have ever been in. There are colorful flowers everywhere, and if you look up, you can see all the historic buildings surrounding the park. We then walked
King's Garden, Copenhagen
through the Stroget shopping district (further than we had been before) and that led to the Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Even though we had no interest in riding the rides, we bought tickets to enter the park to check it out.

We didn't spend long in Tivoli, but it was really fun and beautiful to walk around. Afterwards, we proceeded to Christiansborg Palace where Greg took photos. So many beautiful and historic sites all in one day!

We had explored all of this by foot, so by the time we got back to our cruise ship, I had logged 30,000 steps for the day, with only 13,000 of those being from running. It was exhausting but fun.

Tuesday, July 23: Warnemunde, Germany
On Tuesday, the plan had been to go to Berlin. The ship docks in the beach town of Warnemunde on the Baltic Sea, and then they transport you into Berlin, which is 145 miles away. This required waking up at 5:00am and meeting in the ship's atrium at 5:50.

It was hard waking up that early (which is like waking up at 11:00pm, east coast time) but we did it. Shortly after waking up, Greg started talking about staying in the town we were docked in and not making the journey to Berlin. With only 30 minutes to make a decision, we started Googling stuff, and we realized that the train ride into Berlin would be 3 hours each way, and it wasn't air conditioned. We wouldn't have a full day to explore the city (more like 4 hours) and the majority of our day would be spent on a warm train. So, we decided to skip it. Kind of crazy to miss a trip to Berlin, but we later learned that the train ride was actually 3.5 hours each way (best case) and we preferred to spend our vacation relaxing. Plus, we were docked in a really nice area!

It was now 6:00 and we realized we could get off the ship and go run. Originally we were planning for Tuesday to be another "off" day, but now we had the time and freedom to go run around the port. I decided we should do the tempo run that had been scheduled for Wednesday. On Wednesday, we would be sailing all morning, so we planned to run the tempo on the treadmill. Now, thankfully, we could run it outside in Germany.

We looked on Google Maps and the route we really wanted to take required getting on a ferry, so we
Warnemunde, Germany
settled for running on the boardwalk of the beach. We found a one-mile stretch that was pretty empty at 6:00am, so after warming up, we ran back and forth on that 4 times, until our Garmins reached 4 miles for the tempo.

It was 63 degrees, sunny and windy, so the run was somewhat challenging. But at least it was flat and not as humid as back home. I hadn't run a tempo run since the Sugarloaf Marathon in May, so I was definitely rusty. I guess the Firecracker 5K was a nice dose of speed, but still- I wasn't really in "tempo" shape.I set the pace and Greg kept up. Our splits were 7:05, 7:05, 6:57, 6:58. It was definitely hard, and I struggled mentally during the third mile, but I was determined to make it all the way through and not quit.

It was a huge sense of accomplishment when we finished. Best of all, this meant no treadmill tempo the following day! We did a cool down jog back to the ship where we showered and had a leisurely breakfast.

It was then time to explore Warnemunde. We had seen a good part of the town on our run, but now that we were back there, all the shops had opened and the place was bustling with visitors. We went down to the beach, which was gorgeous and full of people. However, the beach area between the boardwalk in the ocean was so wide that there was plenty of room for everyone. This beach was at least twice as wide as the beaches on the east coast that I've been to. Greg took some photos, we went
Chillin' in Warnemunde
into a few shops, and then returned to our ship to relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Even though Berlin would have been an adventure, we were content simply relaxing on the ship deck near the pool. We even took advantage of the afternoon tea service aboard the ship, which consisted of tea, scones, and all the little finger sandwiches.

After digesting our teatime snacks, we headed down to the gym for some strength work. I am doing the "Marathon Legs" strength training program which is available through McMillan Running and it requires doing the program twice per week. I've now been at it for a full month and I've really progressed. I am finally able to complete all the required sets and reps prescribed for week one, and ready to progress to week two.

We then had another gourmet dinner, and spent the rest of the evening hanging out on our state room balcony as the ship set sail. This morning, we are still sailing, headed toward Alborg, Denmark. I am not sure when I will check in again, but stay tuned to find out about our time in Alborg and Gothenburg, Sweden (Thursday).

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The No-Dread Tread(mill)

Treadmills and I go way back. To 2001, to be precise. I ran on a treadmill long before I even knew what a 5K race was or fully understood the concept of a marathon. Now, 18 years later, I am finally the proud owner of a treadmill for the first time.

This comes with a mixed bag of emotions, and more intense than I had expected. When I stepped on my very own treadmill for the first time on Friday after work, it felt surreal. This was mine. I had my
Using a treadmill while on vacation, 2016
own treadmill. In my house.
My mind rushed back to all the times I had run on a treadmill at a gym, and very quickly recounted the past 18 years' love-hate story with this type of machine.

This is the love-hate story.

2001-2005: Treadmill Addict
The first time I stepped on a treadmill with the serious intent of running on it was some point in 2001, at the age of 22, on a night when my step aerobics class was cancelled. I religiously attended step aerobics at my gym every Tuesday and Thursday night.  So when I found out the class was cancelled, I figured I should find some other form of cardio exercise to do that evening.

I decided I would run one mile. I set the treadmill to 5.5 mph (10:55 pace) and went. It was not easy, but I got through the whole mile without stopping or slowing down. The next time I went to the gym for step aerobics, I decided I would try to run a little faster. So I set the treadmill to 5.6 mph (10:43 pace) and ran the full mile. I loved this feeling of progress and accomplishment so I decided that I would come to the gym on non-step aerobics days to run on the treadmill and lift weights.

Every time I ran on the treadmill (which was about 2-3 times per week), I either increased my pace or my distance. By the end of 2001, I was able to run five miles non-stop at a pace of around 9:00. I was really proud of that. At some point, my step aerobics class was cancelled for good and I didn't mind too much, because that meant more time could be spent on the treadmill.

I loved the adrenaline rush that the treadmill gave me. I always ran with music and I enjoyed making mix CDs for my Discman. I was coming to the treadmill as a transition from step aerobics, which had been a transition from dance, so the music was critical. I loved being able to run faster and farther, and would sometimes mentally compete with runners next to me.

The dark side of this was that it became an addiction. While I enjoyed it, I also felt like I had to do it as a way to burn calories and keep my weight down. I was fearful that if I didn't run five days a week, I would gain weight. Some days, I didn't feel like going. In fact, I would sit in my car and just hang out there until I finally forced myself to walk into the gym and get started. Sometimes I dreaded being on the treadmill, but watching the "Calories Burned" gage go up and up and up was something that I needed.

When I moved out of my apartment that was right next to the gym, I joined the gym that was across the street from my office. I used that treadmill every night after work, and during that time, transitioned into a morning runner and so I started to go before work. As I mentioned earlier, I would also lifted weights every time I went to the gym, as that was part of my regime to stay fit and keep my weight down.

In 2005, I discovered racing. At my five-year college reunion, I discovered that they were holding a 2-mile race. I brushed it off as not long enough for me-- I needed to run 6-7 miles each time I ran. But
My first 10K, June 2005
my friend who I was attending the reunion with persuaded me to do the race, saying that I could run more miles on the treadmill afterwards. I did the race and ended up coming in first place female. I think my time was around 16:00. Back in 2005, races were not all that competitive! I won a silver cup and really enjoyed the experience. One of the other runners told me that he was planning on running a 10K the following weekend in DC. "What's a 10K?" I asked. When he told me it was 6.2 miles, I figured I could do that, since 6-7 miles was my treadmill standard.

So began my introduction to the racing world, and my gradual abandonment of the treadmill addiction.

2006-2009: The Transition to Training
During these years, I discovered marathons, learned how to properly train for races, read a ton of books about running, and started to run outside on the weekends.

I lived in an area that was surrounded by construction so I couldn't very well run out of my condo in the mornings before work. Plus, it was dark and I didn't think it was safe to run alone. So I stuck to the treadmill but took my long runs outdoors on the weekends, when I had the time to drive to the W&OD trail and could run in the daylight.

During the week, I would wake up at around 4:30, get dressed, drive 12 minutes to the gym, go
running, drive 12 minutes back home, take a shower and get ready for work, and then commute 30 minutes to work.  The lengths I went to just to access a treadmill! Finally, they built a brand new gym less than a mile from my condo, and that took only five minutes to drive to. By this point, I wasn't lifting weights nearly as much. I had a training plan to follow which often involved running for over an hour, so I didn't have the time.

The good news was that I no longer cared as much about the "Calories Burned" gage. My motivation was not to burn calories but to train for marathons and to become a faster runner.

Gym treadmill
As I stood on my very own treadmill last Friday evening, I thought about all those mornings before work when I would crank out as many as 12 miles on the treadmill. All the long runs I did on the treadmill when the weather was bad. And by "bad" I mean raining or below 40 degrees. At the time, some people in the running community criticized me for running on the treadmill too much. Telling me that treadmill running didn't count, and that I needed to get out into the elements. But I didn't really see that I had a choice, given that I had to leave my house at 7:30 to get to work on time, and I wasn't going to run alone in the dark in a construction zone.

2010-2013: Treadmills are Evil
In 2010, Greg and I moved into a house that allowed us to run outdoors in the morning before work. I was no longer surrounded by a construction zone, and I had a built-in running partner to run with in the dark. We moved into the house in April of 2010 and for the remainder of that year, I did not run a single step on the treadmill.

In January 2011, when winter became harsh, Greg and I joined a local gym that we used when the sidewalks were covered in snow and ice. Which was pretty much the entire month of January. As a result, I ended up with three stress fractures in my shins. My legs were no longer used to running on a treadmill, and 50+ miles a week on a "new" surface did me in.

That's when I discovered pool running, and met bunch of women from Capital Area Runners in the pool. I joined this group, and the coach advocated highly for pool running in inclement weather. He believed that treadmills caused injuries and should be avoided as much as possible. In my case, that was true, so treadmills became evil in my mind. Pool running replaced treadmill running for days when it wasn't possible to run outdoors.

2014-2019: Treadmills are a Necessary Evil, and HOT
As I advanced in my running career, I no longer saw pool running as a replacement for actual running, so I began to use the treadmill again when needed. I didn't have a gym membership, but the companies I worked for during this time frame had gyms in their buildings. Or, if I wanted to be closer to home, I could use the treadmill at the county REC center, and pay $9 for each run.

The problem was. . . gyms are warm. If the gym had a big fan blowing in my face, I was good. But usually there were no fans and I would notice my heart rate spiking 30 minutes in to the run. I also noticed that if I had to do speed work on the treadmill, I couldn't hold my normal pace and my legs would be extra sore in the days to come.

Treadmill on vacation, 2018
The problem was that my use of the treadmill was so rare, that my legs weren't used to it, and I would overheat very quickly. If I wanted to keep my heart rate in the proper zone, I needed to run 30-45 seconds per mile slower. Furthermore, I wasn't used to the treadmill from a mental perspective. Each treadmill run bored the crap out of me and I needed to play all sorts of mind games from calling it quits.

I transitioned to a new coach in 2014 (who still coaches me today) and he is a strong believer in the treadmill for days on which running outdoors isn't possible. I would tell him about the lengths I would go to in order to avoid treadmill running, but he encouraged me to keep an open mind about the treadmill as a training tool.

2019: Treadmill Owner
As I have written about in my last few posts, my goal this summer is to stay healthy. I've had recurrent episodes of mono in the summers of 2012, 2016, and 2018. Back in May, my coach advised me to buy a treadmill.

I was conflicted about this, for all of the reasons above, but I knew he was right: if it was really hot out, it would be preferable for me to run on a treadmill than to be outside. And having my own treadmill would make that decision a lot easier. There would be no excuses to NOT use the treadmill.  Of course, treadmills are hot, too, but not nearly as bad as 75+ degree temperatures with very high humidity. With my own treadmill, I could have a huge fan pointing at me and set the thermostat to a lower temperature. I also wouldn't have to shower in a locker room and pack a gym bag.

The price tag was also a concern. Sure, I could afford it, but did I really want to throw $2,000 at something I would use so rarely? I would only use it in the winter and summer months, and probably only 25% of the time in the summer, and less than 10% of the time in the winter. Could I justify this cost?

I reached out to NordicTrack to see if they could offer me a free treadmill or a discount to promote their treadmill on my blog and on my Instagram account. I went back and forth with their social media manager, but ultimately I decided not to accept their offer. I won't go into the details here, but it takes a good deal of thought and effort to create good Instagram content, and even more thought and effort to build a following. I didn't feel like my level of effort was respected during the negotiation process, so I decided not to work with them.

So, I did nothing. Until last weekend when it was sweltering hot and humid for my long run and I
Test run in my work clothes!
struggled big time. My heart rate was higher on that run, for an 8:40 pace, than it was in during the 5K race. Once again, my coach encouraged me to buy a treadmill. I realized that my health needs to come first and I can't be running 10+ miles in that kind of weather. Plus, it would be super nice to have in the winter with icy road conditions. Or when it's 15 degrees with a sustained 15 mph wind. As I said above, I can afford it, so why not just pull the trigger?

I ordered it last Sunday and it was delivered on Friday. I paid extra for them to set it up in my basement, and thankfully Greg was home from work to let the delivery men in.

When I saw it for the first time, I could hardly believe my eyes. A treadmill! In my basement! After all these years. And it is sooooo nice. I had done my research and for a $2,000 price tag, this really is a sophisticated machine with a strong motor. I'm not going to review it too much because of my interaction with their social media team, but it's really beautiful and I love it.

It's a conflicted love, however, due to my extensive history with these machines. I think I will feel differently now that I actually own the treadmill, as I tend to develop an emotional connection to my belongings! It basically just feels like a whole new chapter has opened up.

I plan to run on it for the first time on Wednesday, when the low temp will be around 72 degrees with accompanying crazy humidity. The heat wave will continue through Saturday, so it looks like it will get plenty of use in the second half of next week. More to come!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Firecracker 5K: Hot, Humid, Hilly. . . but Healthy!

Yesterday morning, I ran my 7th Firecracker 5K. For me, the biggest accomplishment at this race is getting to the start line healthy. I had mono in 2012, 2016, and 2018, and I had a stress reaction in my shin in 2013. I would love for this race to be a tradition, but my health issues have prevented me from running it multiple times in past years.

Staying Healthy
This year, I made a concerted effort to not get sick. That included seeing a "diagnostic specialist" doctor to get to the root cause of my heat sensitivity/immune system issues. It also included dropping my speed work down to just one day a week, and limiting the long run to 90 minutes. Typically, I run 2 speed workouts per week and my long runs are 2 hours, even when not training for a marathon.

The diagnostic specialist ran a bunch of tests on me and found that I have hypothyroidism. One of the tests also showed that my "Immunoglobin A" was outside of the normal range, which can indicate a sub-par immune system. Finally, two stress tests (blood + saliva) indicated that my cortisol levels are higher in the evening, which could be contributing to me waking up in the middle of the night, which I do almost every night.

So, I am taking supplements to treat all of this, including the hypothyroidism. I've also cut out all caffeine, including chocolate. And, I am drinking only one alcoholic beverage per week.

Finally, we had the benefit of May and June not being ridiculously hot and humid every day, and that has helped. In June, I adjusted my schedule so that the speed work would fall on the coolest morning. As a result, I've never done a speed workout in anything over 70 degrees. Until today.

Race Plan
The Firecracker 5K is known for always being really hot and humid. After all, it falls in the middle of summer! This year, it was in the high 70's, cloudy, with a dew point of 71. That means the humidity was somewhere around 95%. It was very muggy.

My plan for this race was to run it at about 90% effort, as opposed to the 100% I would typically strive to put out. I wanted to run strong, but without killing myself and putting my immune system at risk. A few days before I got sick last summer, I raced a 5K in 66 degree humid weather. I ran it extremely hard at the end because I was fighting for first place female. Afterwards, it took a full 10 minutes to feel somewhat normal again. I had been dizzy, my heart was pounding, and I had definitely over-exerted myself. I didn't want to make that same mistake again.

I decided I would run by effort, and look at the Garmin for informational purposes only! In terms of time, I had run 21:16 in 2017, back when I had three months of 5K-specific workouts under my belt, and I ran at 100% effort. I didn't expect to be anywhere close to that, so I was thinking I would be doing well to squeak under 22:00.

Before the Race
I wasn't at all anxious about this race in terms of running a particular time. I was more anxious about the potential of the race making me sick. Therefore, I hadn't even gotten my typical pre-race breakfast at the grocery store: a bagel with peanut butter. It just totally slipped my mind because it didn't feel like a race! I ended up eating some pretzels with peanut butter instead.

Greg and I arrived at the Reston Town Center at around 7:15 for an 8:00am start. I had already picked up our bibs because I work in the Reston Town Center, and bib pickup was right next to my office! We had a little time to spare, so I showed Greg around my office, which he hadn't seen yet.

We did a shorter than normal warmup (12 minutes) because it was so warm and humid. We then returned to the car where I stuffed my sports bra with about 10 ice cubes from a cooler. Greg and I also each got an Energice out of the cooler and brought it to the start line. Energice is like those Flavor Ice pops, only it has B vitamins and electrolytes. Normally, I would have this as a post-run treat, but I read somewhere that having a frozen drink right before a race cools your core.

I had never heard of Energice, but they reached out to me asking if I wanted to partner with them on an Instagram campaign and I agreed. They sent me a huge case of it, which I thought I would never use, but now I plan on having one every day. Anyway, the Energice is really tasty and refreshing and was a perfect way to keep my core cool right before the race started.

Mile 1: 6:43
The race started, and I focused on staying relaxed and keeping it easy. The first mile is mostly uphill, and my goal was to run the tangents and to keep the effort steady. Within the first few minutes, I had pulled in front of Greg. I could hear him breathing behind me for a bit, but I pulled away even more until I could no longer hear him.

Mile 1, waving to Cheryl Young
When I glanced down at my Garmin about four minutes into the race, I could hardly believe my eyes. I had imagined I was running a 7:00 pace, but I was way under that. As I said above, the Garmin was for informational purposes only and the effort only felt moderately hard, so I stuck with it. Usually in 5Ks I go out harder, but this felt one notch down from my usual effort.

Mile 2: 6:27
This mile is mostly downhill, so I maintained my effort and let gravity do its thing. I felt strong the entire time, and while I was working hard, I didn't feel like I was maxing out. When I felt my watch beep for 6:27, I was shocked. In my mind, I had thought this mile would be somewhere around 6:45. I was still ahead of Greg, but I knew the hardest part was yet to come.

Mile 3: 7:02
This mile is hard. There's a huge climb just goes on and on and on. I knew to expect it, and I vowed not to look at my Garmin. This was when the race finally started to feel like 5K race effort. Within one minute, I went from feeling awesome at a moderately hard effort, to fighting hard to "hang in there".

I began to hear Greg coming up behind me, and I knew he would inevitably catch me and pass me. He's stronger up hills than I am, and so when he passed me at 2.8, I decided not to try and follow. It wasn't really a decision, though. I wouldn't have been able to keep up.

Last 0.17: 6:55 pace
As I made the final climb, I stayed strong, but did not push to my max like I typically would at the end of a 5K. I think I probably had another gear, and could have dropped down into the 6:30's and shaved a few extra seconds off my time, but I was satisfied with my effort level at 90% so I just maintained it until I crossed the line.

Official time: 21:27 (or 21:26 if you look at the list version of the results rather than the individual
Final Stretch, photo by C. Young

version!) Greg's time was 21:14, so he gained a full 13 seconds on me in that last quarter mile!

I should also note that my Garmin credited me with a 21:00 5K. I'm not saying that the course was long, but it's interesting to know what I would have done if I had hit the tangents perfectly.

After the Race
Greg and I waited for our friend Hannah to finish, and then we did a cool down jog for about 10 minutes. After that, I went to go check out the results. Much to my dismay, I was not listed. I went to the results tent, and they said they got me crossing the start line, but not the finish line, so they had to check their back-up records for me. They eventually found me, and added me to the results. I was relieved that they had a back up timer, because it sucks not to get listed in the results!

We stuck around for the awards, and I discovered that I won first place in my age group! I was really surprised because this is a competitive race. So many fast runners show up. If you had told me at the start line that I would be winning my age group, I would never have believed it, based on who was lining up. I placed 16 out of 695 total women.

We then proceeded to brunch with Allison and Hannah, where I devoured an omelette, grits, and a huge coconut pancake.

Final Thoughts
I'm pleasantly surprised with my result-- I certainly did not expect to run this fast. Given my effort level and how it felt, I would have guessed I was running a 7:00 pace the whole time, but according to my Garmin, I averaged a pace of 6:45. I think several things contributed:

  • I'm now acclimated to the heat and humidity (as acclimated as I can get. . . )
  • My fitness level is strong, possibly helped by my recent strength training addition
  • I didn't have cumulative fatigue from running a ton of workouts in the heat
  • The ice down the sports bra + Energice pre race kept me cooler than I would have otherwise been
  • The supplements I've been taking to help my Thyroid and reduce stress have been working
In 2017, I ran 21:16 at this race and I was disappointed with that time. Today, I ran 21:27 (or 21:26) and I'm thrilled. It's really all about perspective! I'm happy to be healthy and now I know I can run a strong race without maxing out at 100% effort level in the heat.

I won't be racing again until Labor Day, but I do plan to run a 20K in August as a training run.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

High-tech Running

It's been a really long time since I've posted a blog! My running life hasn't been that exciting lately, given that it's summer and I'm not training seriously for anything yet. I've been doing mostly easy runs, with speed work once per week. We were blessed with an actual spring here in the DC Metro area, so it didn't get consistently warm and humid until around mid-June.

I wanted to share my adventures in getting a new GPS watch! Last year, I wrote a post about what I don't want in a GPS watch. Emphasis on the "don't". GPS running watches are trying to be everything to everyone nowadays, and I really only need the basics.

Garmin Forerunner 45
Last month, Garmin launched their new line of the Forerunner series. I was really excited because it
Garmin Forerunner 45s
seemed like the Forerunner 45 had all the basic features I wanted, plus the ability to customize workouts, without all the extra fancy stuff. And at only $200, the price was right. They even offered an "S" model for smaller wrists, like mine.

My touch screen Garmin 630 was okay, and got the job done. But it annoyed me constantly, wanting to sync my contacts playing the music that was on my phone whenever I accidentally hit the wrong button. It also would re-start when I put it on the charger, and then turn back on with the wrong time of day. Finally, on pre-programmed workouts, the beeps were not loud enough to hear. So I couldn't tell when the intervals started and stopped, which is kind of the whole point of pre-programming the workouts.

I purchased the Garmin Forerunner 45s thinking it would be a less annoying watch, and I also like that it had a heart rate sensor. I haven't worn a heart rate monitor in over 5 years, and I thought it would be cool to analyze that data post run, but not show it during the run.

What I loved:
  • The optical heart rate monitor seemed accurate
  • The fit was sleek and more streamlined than my 630
  • I could turn off all the features for notifications, etc. during my runs
  • It was not a touch screen

What I didn't love:
Garmin Forerunner 45s

  • There was no auto-scroll feature, so if I wanted to switch data screens while running, I would have to do so by pressing a button.
  • The battery life seemed shorter than that of my 630
  • The "lap pace" was rounded to the nearest 5 seconds, so I couldn't get as precise of a reading on my pace as I wanted.
I didn't even realize the lap pace was rounding until I went on a long run and the pace kept jumping from 8:25 to 8:30 and nothing in between. And then I saw some 8:20's and 8:15's. But it was always a multiple of 5. That was a deal breaker for me.

I returned the watch, and since it was a brand-new model, they let me exchange it for the Forerunner 245, which is the next level up. Of course that was a $300 watch, but now I was hooked on the heart rate data and the sleek fit, and didn't want to go back to my old touch screen.

Garmin Forerunner 245
This watch solved all of the problems I had with the 45. It has an auto-scroll feature for the data screens, a long battery life, and it does not round the lap pace! I also love that I can customize activity profiles. The 45 offered this, but you couldn't name the profile. I created a "track" profile on my 245 that shows lap time rather than lap pace so I can pace my track workouts by elapsed time. 

It also has a heart rate monitor, which allows it to provide all the cool stats for VO2 max, the race time predictor, and effort level. The heart rate monitor seems accurate, but I don't necessarily think the other stats are; they are just fun to look at.

While I liked the idea of getting a very basic Garmin, the Forerunner 45s was missing a few key items, which forced me into getting the 245. Overall, it does seem like the 245 is a superior device and I'm happy with it. 

Aftershokz Trekz Air
Onto another high-tech topic: running with music. I used to run with music all time when I was a treadmill runner. For long runs outside before I met my husband, I used an iPod shuffle. I even raced with music until around 2010. The reasons I stopped running and racing with music are:
  • I started running with Greg, and I couldn't hear him with music playing
  • I started running outside more, in neighborhood streets, so I needed to hear the cars
  • My iPod Shuffle died, and they don't make them anymore
  • Headphones are so bulky and I didn't like having that long wire
  • I learned to focus on my running and my thoughts instead of the music
A few years ago, I noticed that you could now get headphones that were wireless (connected to your
Aftershokz Trekz Air
device via bluetooth) and that didn't sit in your ears so you could hear your surroundings. This appealed to me, but by that point, I was so used to running without music that I didn't get them.

But last month, I figured it would be cool to try them. Especially since I have an Apple Watch that holds music, so I wouldn't need to carry a phone or other device. In case you're wondering why I have an Apple Watch, I use it mainly as a safety device. If I'm running alone, I can make a phone call or get an Uber if something were to happen. Also, if I wake up before Greg and I'm out the door running before him, he calls me on the watch to find out where I am so he can meet me for the rest of my run.

Anyway, I reached out to Aftershokz to see if they would give me a pair of the Trekz Air in exchange for a review on Instagram, and they agreed.

I have small ears and earbuds always fall out, even when I am not moving. These headphones fit really well, though, because they didn't go inside the ear. They didn't move around a lot while I was running, and the sound quality was great. I was able to hear the music AND my surroundings which was a huge bonus. And no extra wires!

I have to admit I do really love running with music. I've decided to limit it to easy runs only so that I am not "addicted" to them for hard runs or long runs. And at that, I don't wear them on all easy runs. I view running with music as a treat, which I get 2-3 times per week.

The Garmin Forerunner 245 has a "music" version which stores music. This would eliminate the need for the Apple Watch. However, I did not get that version because I don't want to control my music from my Garmin. My Garmin is for tracking my run displaying run stats. I don't want to look down and see the name of the song or even have that as an option. My Apple Watch works just great, and I don't mind "double wristing" it, with the Garmin on one wrist and the Apple Watch on the other.

So, now I am all set with my new Garmin, my Aftershokz headphones, and my Apple Watch! It's important to me that all this high-tech stuff doesn't weigh me down and I refuse to run with my phone. I'm excited to have heart rate data again and I am interested to see how that data changes over time as I build fitness in the fall.

What headphones and GPS watch do you use? Comment below!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Sugarloaf Marathon: Wet and Wild!

Oh wow. That was a crazy experience.

Start line
I ran the Sugarloaf Marathon this morning in Maine with Greg and our friend Chad. We had registered for this race back in October, at which point I was targeting it as my spring goal marathon. But then, my plans changed (because I thought Sugarloaf might be too warm), and I decided to optimize my training for Shamrock instead, with Sugarloaf being "just for fun." But about three weeks out from Sugarloaf, I decided I wanted to actually race it, so my coach made some tweaks to my training.

Since my training wasn't optimized for Sugarloaf, I thought a PR would be a stretch, but not impossible due to the net downhill nature of the course. Also, my 3:15 PR is really solid, and I think I need to be very specifically trained in order to beat that. I hadn't done much hill training either, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage. All of this being taken into account, I figured a sub-3:20 would be a great accomplishment, and if not that, then simply adding another BQ to my name would be fulfilling.

I wasn't giving myself an "out" or setting the bar low, but rather being realistic about what I thought I might run. I was still planning to race it at 100% effort. If I've learned anything from running over the past 10 years, it's that a race doesn't need to be a PR to be a success.

Sugarloaf Marathon Elevation

Before the race: Friday
I'll try to keep this section short, even though I could probably write a short novel on it. Chad, Greg, and I flew from DCA into Bangor, Maine on Friday. And that's when all the craziness started. It took 20 minutes for the Uber driver to arrive, and when he did, he managed to turn a 36-minute ETA into nearly an hour. At airport security, they were training a TSA agent on bag scanning, so our line was moving five times slower than the other lines. Every bag was inspected for what seemed like an eternity. But, finally, we reached out gate with enough time to grab food and water.

Because Bangor is an international airport, I assumed it would be large. Nope! It was tiny. We reserved an Enterprise rental car and every other rental car company had a kiosk in the airport except ours. We waited about 15 minutes for our shuttle to arrive to drive us to the rental car place.

Once we had the car, we decided to explore downtown Bangor, which was actually a very small town. I wouldn't classify it as a city, although I guess it technically is. It was a delightful little place and we got sandwiches at a small deli. Then, we went to the supermarket, assuming it would be the last one we'd see for a while, and stocked up on bagels, pretzels, water, bananas, and sliced turkey meat. I knew the pasta dinner we paid for didn't have a "chicken + pasta" option (and I don't eat beef or pork), so the turkey was going to be the protein for my dinner.

Then, we made the two-hour drive to Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, where we had reserved a condo. The resort was located at around mile 10 of the race, which meant we drove the last 16 miles of the course backward to get there. The hills didn't look too steep-- just really long. We drove past the resort so that we could get a sense of the monster hill at miles 8-10. And that was definitely a huge hill.

Once we got settled in the condo, we researched a place to have dinner nearby called Tufulio's. Most of the resort restaurants and shops were closed because it's no longer skiing season. Tufulio's was so good and reasonably priced, that we half-heartedly joked about eating there the on Saturday night too, instead of the pasta dinner we paid for.

Before the race: Saturday
On Saturday morning, Greg and I did a shakeout run of about two miles. I felt "blah" during it, and then felt super tired for the next few hours. We ate breakfast at a delicious place called The Kingfield Woodsman, which is where most of the carb loading happened. I had a massive banana pancake with warm Maine syrup. Plus a few slices of freshly baked cinnamon bread. Afterwards, I found myself in
Shakeout run at the Sugarloaf resort
a carb coma of sorts and fell asleep in the car, followed by a nap back at the condo. All of this sluggishness did not bode well for the race, but I put it out of my head.

We spent the day playing Yahtzee. To play a full 6-game card of Yahtzee with three people takes several hours, so it was a good way to pass the time. Chad had an "all or nothing" approach to the game, which is similar to his style of marathon running. Throughout the day, the race forecast kept changing. It was supposed to rain, but when it would start and how much was a mystery. One minute we'd be excited because the rain was going to hold off. And then, the next time we checked, the rain was forecast to begin at the start of the race and be quite heavy. I kept debating over which of my 4 pairs of gloves to wear, and which of my 3 pairs of arm warmers!

Finally, it was time to get our race packets. The packet pickup was only open from 3:00-7:00pm on Saturday. A very short 4-hour window. I had never heard of a race having such a small window for bib pickup, but this race also offered race morning pickup. We waited in line outside in the cold for about 25-30 minutes. As I expected, there was no "expo" or any running items for purchase. Just the bib and the t-shirt.

When packing for this race, I intentionally over-packed for every single scenario. I thought about bringing a bag for gear check but decided against it because races always give you a back that can be used for gear check, right? Wrong. The bag they gave us with our bib was tiny and would not fit more than a t-shirt or two. I asked them what bag we were supposed to use and they said "any bag you want." Not having a bag, Greg and I decided to use a trash bag from the condo. Chad used the race bag, but only brought a few small items.

Normally I don't even use gear check service at races. But for a point-to-point race with cold rain that requires a shuttle back to the condo, I knew I would want to get out of the wet clothes and into warm dry ones immediately. I had a hoodie, gloves, a poncho, and pants to check. The trash bag fit it all, plus Greg's stuff.

Onto the pasta dinner. The pasta dinner was $27/person, so I expected it to be pretty good. I knew that I wouldn't be having a protein with my meal, and I was fine with that (because I had gotten the turkey). Once again, we waited in a long line and finally got our dinner. The plain marinara sauce for my pasta was very spicy, which meant I couldn't tolerate it. So, I ended up having a bagel with almond butter back at the condo. If I do this race again (doubtful) I will eat at Tufulio's and not opt for the pasta dinner. We played our final round of Yahtzee and then went to sleep.

Before the race: Sunday
I slept pretty well, and my 4:30 alarm actually woke me up. I almost never need an alarm to wake me up on race morning! I had set the alarm for 4:30 because the shuttle buses to the start line were scheduled for 5:45. I quickly ate my bagel and peanut butter (same breakfast as last night's dinner!), got dressed and packed the gear bag. I wore a tank, shorts, gloves, a hat, and disposable arm warmers ($2 knee high socks with the toes cut out). Greg and I donned Ponchos over our clothes and headed out.

The trash bag that we were using for gear check had a huge hole in it, so I had to get another trash bag from the hotel lobby. I am probably abnormally irked by the lack of a good gear check bag, and that's because I thought to pack my own but intentionally did not!

Waiting in line for the busses
We arrived at the shuttle bus pickup location (a very short distance from our condo) at 5:45. Once again, there was a huge line of people and no busses. We waited, and waited, and waited. Thankfully there was a bathroom inside the building we were waiting in front of. Busses kept arriving to transport runners to the 15K, which was closer and started later, but marathon busses were nowhere in sight. With a 7:00am start, we were all getting antsy.

Finally, at 6:30, several busses arrived. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Standing in line for 45 minutes in the cold isn't ideal right before a marathon, but I stood in Boston's athlete's village for longer and survived. In the rain, nonetheless. On the bus, I drank my Generation UCAN.

At 6:51, our shuttle bus arrived at the start area, which was a camp ground. Greg hurried to check our bag while I used a porta potty- with just 3 minutes to spare! They ended up starting the race 10 minutes late due to the shuttle bus debacle. This race has been running for over 30 years, so I didn't understand why lines were so long and how the shuttles got messed up.

I don't like to be so negative about a race on my blog, but I was really annoyed with all of these issues. I knew I needed to go into the race with a positive mindset, so I let go of the negative emotions at the start line and started to get excited. It was in the low 40's with very light drizzle. The heavier rain was forecast to start about halfway in. They had an actual shotgun at the start line, and at 7:10, it went off.

Miles 1-7
I had studied the course profile so I knew exactly what to expect. These first 7 miles would offer gently rolling hills. My plan was to be in the 7:35-7:40 range. I figured, if the second half is really that fast with all the downhill, I could run 7:10-7:15 and PR that way. But I definitely didn't want to go out at my PR pace and risk trashing my legs. This 7:35-7:40 pace was comfortable for me and it felt like an easy run for the first 7 miles.

I knew that Chad was going to start out at BQ pace for him (7:15) with his all-or-nothing racing strategy. Greg was planning to start out slightly slower than me. Chad bolted out and was out of site immediately, while Greg and I stuck around each other for almost a mile until I got ahead.

I tossed off my throwaway arm warmers at mile 3 because the temperature was ideal at that point and it wasn't raining. A few miles later, I removed my gloves and tucked them in my sports bra. Throughout these early miles, the road was closed to traffic and the crowd was thick for such a small race.

I was running with a group of about 4 women. I think they were running together because they stayed together as a group for a long time. Usually I am surrounded by men in races so it was nice to have a pack of women. I decided I would remember their outfits and keep track of them during the race to fuel my competitive mindset and keep me on my toes.

Mile 1: 7:40
Mile 2: 7:37
Mile 3: 7:38
Mile 4: 7:38
Mile 5: 7:38
Mile 6: 7:32
Mile 7: 7:31

Miles 8-10
Up the big hill! My left foot went numb. I have no idea why, but this happened to me in a 10-miler last fall and it eventually went away so I decided to ignore it. There was really nothing to be done. It was annoying, but I lived with it for the full mile until the numbness gradually went away.

I noticed that the road was no longer closed off to traffic. We were running in the right hand lane, and traffic was going in the left hand lane, but going in the same direction as us. Most of the vehicles seemed to be associated with the race. I didn't love running right next to cars, vans, and trucks, but I knew I needed to get used to it. It also started raining more heavily now, which didn't help matters.

This hill was very long and very steep. It just kept going and going. You can see it in the elevation profile above. I purposely did not try to run quickly up the hill. I told myself to just relax and climb it at a comfortable pace so that my legs would be ready to attack the downhills.

Lots of people passed me. Including that group of women. I told myself I would pass them on the downhills. I tried to ignore all the people passing me and just focus on my own plan. As I said earlier, I hadn't been training on hills for this race, but I am naturally a strong downhill runner. I was expecting Greg to pass me. He's stronger on hills than I am and my average race pace had slowed to 7:48.

Mile 8: 7:45
Mile 9: 8:45
Mile 10: 8:05

Miles 11-16
I was so relieved once we got to the top of the big huge hill! Finally it was time for the fast downhill race start. At the top of the hill, I took my Generation UCAN gel so that I could focus all my effort on powering down the hill. I might have been more aggressive on dry pavement, but I was a little cautious going down the first steep hill. My coach told me not to put the brakes on, but to roll down the hill. That would preserve my quads. I did not fly down the hill as fast as I had expected (I was thinking 7:10 or faster) but it was still fast, and quite a relief from the uphill.

Another issue with the pavement was that it was uneven all over the place. Many spots were heavily slanted/angled, and the pavement in general was torn up. If we had been able to run straight down the middle of the road, it would have been better. But now, BOTH lanes were open to traffic! So we were relegated to the shoulder. At times, I would come off of the shoulder and run in the middle of the road, but then a car would drive up behind me, forcing me to move back over. This was rough on my lower calf area.

I felt strong running down these hills but it wouldn't be fast enough for a PR. At mile 15, I realized that it felt harder than it should, so I figured I would probably be slowing down at some point. At mile 15, if I am having a great race, the hurt should be minimal and I should feel like that pace is definitely sustainable for many more miles to come. But I could already feel my legs complaining and I knew that the only reason my pace was so fast was because I was going downhill.

Mile 11: 7:41
Mile 12: 7:24
Mile 13: 7:36
Mile 14: 7:33
Mile 15: 7:28
Mile 16: 7:32

Miles 17-21
As is typical in a marathon, these miles featured the transition from feeling good to hurting a lot and wanting the race to be over. The rain was coming down harder now and the cars were more frequent.
The noise was jarring. I was trying to enjoy the beautiful scenic course, but all the large vehicles around me made that challenging. I tried to ignore the traffic, but you really can't do that when it's forcing you onto the shoulder with the crazy broken up pavement. I knew I was working really hard to stabilize myself on the slippery, bumpy pavement, and that's not something you want to have to deal with in a marathon.

I knew that mile 20 would be difficult because it was the first non-downhill mile. There were a few notable up-hills and I missed the leisurely downhill jaunt. Running uphill at this point was extremely difficult. After the race, Greg mentioned that he didn't have any issue with running up hill at the end of the race, but that the downhills were challenging. I still wanted to be going downhill because my uphill pace made me feel like a snail. I had my Honey Stinger chews during mile 20 and they seemed to keep me going through the rest of the race.

I kept expecting Greg to catch up with me because I was slowing down significantly, but he didn't. I also thought there was a chance I might see Chad, because he admittedly goes out too fast. But our order stayed the same. Nobody passed anybody.

Mile 17: 7:18
Mile 18: 7:52
Mile 19: 7:53
Mile 20: 8:33
Mile 21: 8:16

Miles 22-Finish
I needed something to motivate me. I was struggling and the urge to walk was strong. I started to calculate what I needed to do to get a BQ. I already have my 3:15 BQ for 2020, but to me, any BQ time is a huge accomplishment. As a 40-year-old, I need 3:40 to qualify for Boston. So when I looked at my watch and it read 3:05, I told myself that I had 25 minutes to finish. Of course, that math is totally wrong, but I stuck with it for the rest of the race. When I was at 3:15, I told myself I only had 15 minutes left to BQ, when in reality I had 25. My math skills were completely gone.

BUT. . . this served me well because it forced me to stay in the game for the last four miles. These miles were painful and felt like an eternity. I kept reminding myself it was all mental. I knew my body could get to the finish line without stopping, so I had to just will myself to do it. "All you have to do is keep going, and no matter what, don't stop!"

At this point, the average race pace on my Garmin was 7:51. But I knew that a 3:40 pace was 8:23. And yet, I thought I was on the verge of not BQing. I thought to myself "It's crazy that someone with a pace of 7:51 this late in the race has to keep running in the 8's just to finish at a pace of 8:23". But it never dawned on me that my math was all wrong. All the while, I was still on the lookout for Chad ahead of me and Greg coming up from behind. Lots of people were passing me, but I tried not to let that bother me. I was doing great!

Slippery Finish
With 1 mile to go, I realized- HEY! I have 10 extra minutes!!! And I could go sub-3:30! That whole time I was projecting my finish time to be around 3:38-3:39. But suddenly I realized I was on track to break 3:30, which was an amazing thought. I was doing so much better than I had realized! With that in mind, I looked at the runner next to me and said "let's do this together". So we both encouraged each other to run the last mile in fast. As I approached the finish line, it was looking like I would be on the border of 3:28 and 3:29 so I gunned it really hard to ensure a 3:28 finish time. I was elated that the clock read 3:28:xx as I crossed.

Mile 22: 8:32
Mile 23: 8:49
Mile 24: 8:37
Mile 25: 8:51
Mile 26: 8:45
Last 0.31: 7:31 pace according to Garmin.

After the Race
Shortly after crossing, I found Chad, who had finished in 3:23. I was offered Gatorade and surprisingly I wanted it and was able to drink it. Normally my stomach is way too upset after a marathon or half marathon to take in any fluids. But I welcomed this Gatorade- odd! Thankfully, we didn't have to wait too long for Greg, who finished in 3:34.

Chad and Greg went to get our checked bags while I waited under a tent. Pretty soon, the medical people approached me and said I needed a blanket and to go into a warm van. They said I didn't look good and I had to get warm immediately. I didn't think I was any worse off than anyone else, but I guess when you have hypothermia, you don't think clearly. And I was acting like I was drunk. I was also screaming in pain. Literally screaming, because everything hurt.

Chad and Greg held up a heat sheet for me to be able to remove my wet tank top and sports bra. I then put on my hoodie and a pair of dry gloves with hot hands. The medical guy wrapped a warm blanket around me and helped me into a warm van, where 3 other runners were being warmed. I felt guilty leaving Greg and Chad out in the rain. . . was I really worse off than them? I guess so. I stayed in the van for about 15-20 minutes, and Greg brought me hot soup from the food tent.

Even though I have a lot of negative things to say about this race's organization, the medical people were really good and the warm van was a lifesaver.

Finally, I was warm enough to leave the van. Greg handed me a fresh poncho from our checked trash bag and it was time to find the shuttle busses back. That was not easy. We had to walk through muddy wet grass and uneven surfaces (not easy post-marathon) and the busses were not readily visible. I was rapidly getting cold again and the effects of that warming van were wearing off quickly. We found a sign that said "Sugarloaf Marathon Shuttle Bus Stop" and waited there for a bit, until we realized that the shuttle buses were even further away. Sigh. I was cold and in pain and overall so miserable.

Once we boarded a bus, it didn't take long for it to fill up and we were off. The ride back to the resort was about 25 minutes, and when we got to our condo, the shower felt like heaven.

When I finally got around to looking at my phone, I saw a race text message that had my official finish time of 3:28:51, and said that I placed 4th in my age group. I'm kind of bummed that I didn't get a top 3 age group placement, but I guess it was a competitive field. And I did sort of bonk a little. I later looked up the race results and found that the 3rd place female in my age group was 3:28:43. She beat me by 8 seconds! Bummer.

Final thoughts and takeaways
I'm not going to analyze this one too much. I think I raced really well all things considered: the crappy weather, the lack of marathon-specific training, the lack of hill training, the uneven pavement and having to run on the shoulder of the road.

My coach summed it up well: It seems like you can BQ on any day of the week now! It does look like it got harder over the last 6 miles but that's just down to the non marathon specific nature of the training you did. That's always going to be the tough part of the race without that. I'm so proud of you for getting yourself to a position where this kind of effort is something you just do and have no doubts about.

Even though I was hoping for a faster time as I entered the race, my 3:28 felt like a dream when I thought I would be running 3:38 due to marathon brain. It's all about perspective. Considering it took me seven years to qualify for Boston, and now I can qualify with 11 minutes cushion without a proper training cycle. . . I'll take it!

Do I recommend this race? It depends. I liked the course, but I didn't like running alongside all that traffic and on the bumpy wet pavement. Avoid the pasta dinner (eat at Tufulio's), bring your own gear check bag, and find a way to the start line that doesn't involve a race shuttle. And know that if you need medical attention at the finish- they have staff for that. Be sure to train on hills.

Although a painful and at times torturous experience (after the race was much more painful than during the race), I'm glad I did this marathon. It was a great way to cap off the spring racing season before taking some down time.