Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Heart rate, hills, and other stuff

I'm officially done with my 5K racing season and have moved into base building for my fall marathon. I ran four 5Ks this spring/summer and their purpose was mainly to get my running heart rate back to "normal" after Covid had made it abnormally high for months.

Heart Rate
My resting heart rate was elevated for about 2-3 months post Covid, and my running heart rate was elevated for about 5 months. I got sick in the middle of January and recovered at the end of January. From January-May, my running heart rate was consistently 10-15 BPM higher than it was before the illness. 

I started to notice it come down in early May and by the first week of June it was completely back to normal. All of the track workouts and 5Ks had served their purpose of reminding my autonomic nervous system that it didn't need to beat so quickly.

By early June, I was able to run further, faster, and in warmer weather with a lower heart rate than I had in April. It's unfortunate that my Boston Marathon time was a casualty of this lingering symptom, but at least I eventually overcame it. And interestingly, I think my heart rate is even lower than it typically is for summer runs in the heat.

5K Reflections
Here is what I took away from my four 5Ks:

  • Run The Greenway, May 7: My fastest 5K of all four (20:43) due to the cool weather, flat course, and lack of tangents (3.12 on the Garmin). I raced this at only 90% effort per my doctor's guidance and I felt really strong, despite hypothermia afterwards. It was nice to walk away with the win!
  • Feed Fairfax, May 14: The first warm/humid race of the season in a time of 21:06. I was happy with my execution and my mental strength during the final mile.
  • Lawyers Have Heart, June 11: I was disappointed with my performance here. I felt crappy the entire time, the humidity felt extra suffocating, and I don't think my head was really in it. 21:09.
  • Firecracker 5K, July 4: The most satisfying race of the four, even more satisfying than winning the Greenway race. Running a time of 20:57 on a difficult course in the heat and setting a course PR in a race I do every year felt amazing. According to my Garmin, my pace was faster than the 20:43 Greenway due to lack of tangent running (3.16 miles). 

Overall, I think it was a strong 5K season for me and I had a lot of fun with this distance. I think by the 4th one I really got the hang of having a good mental strategy. I probably won't run another one until the Turkey Trot in November. 

Hills & Mileage
I've been running weekly hill workouts for the past 4 weeks, and those will continue for another 2 weeks. This will be my longest string of hill workouts ever and I think it will really pay off. I like running hills in the summer because I don't care about my pace. The track can be brutal in the summer: un-shaded, slower times, endless laps. But hills are more forgiving. They work on both speed and strength and are a nice compliment to my weekly strength training sessions. 

The hill workout is my only significant workout each week. My long runs have been around 11-12 miles at an easy pace, and one of my other easy runs is a fast finish (ex: last 5 minutes at 10K effort). 

In the summer I typically run about 50 miles per week, but this summer my coach has kept me in the low to mid 40s. I was worried I would lose fitness because of it, but now I realize it has enabled me to run really strong workouts because I'm not as exhausted from high miles in the humidity. 

Heat and Humidity
This summer I've learned that I was probably dehydrated almost every previous summer! I am drinking twice that water that I normally do in the summer with added electrolytes as well. I drink one UCAN Hydrate or Liquid IV every day and it's made a big difference in my daily energy levels. 

I also think we've had a relatively mild summer, with "relatively" being the key word. It's July 20 and there have only been a few mornings when the dew point has been higher than 70 at 7:00am. If the dew point is above 70, that's when I use my treadmill. One of the high dew point days was a hill workout day, so I did my warm up on the treadmill and used the hill next to my house. I did the minimum number of reps per the plan but I ended up feeling decent afterwards. 

Looking Ahead
My goal races are the Hartford Half marathon in October and the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. . . followed by the Houston marathon in January. There are only 10 weeks between Indianapolis and Houston which is atypical for me, but I want to give it a shot, so I can spend the spring focused on the half marathon distance. 

I having been working directly with coach Greg McMillan since May which has been amazing. He's a strategic thinker and we had a long conversation about the "big picture" before he gave me any specific guidance. We have a general roadmap that we are following, and he fills in the specifics as we go along based on my feedback. I'm on the cover of his latest book, Run Faster Marathons, which contains really useful advice for marathoners of all levels. 

For the next few weeks, I am trying to be very consistent with my running with a slight bump as I prepare for marathon training. That way, when I take time off running to go to Africa, it will be easy for me to jump right back in when I get home. Based on where we are going and treadmill availability, I think I will be able to run about 20 miles a week for the two weeks I am there. I don't think it will impact me too much. . . I took 3.5 weeks off completely for Covid and hardly lost any fitness at all. I'll take the opportunity to do more strength training because body weight exercises can be done anywhere!

My immediate goal is to stay healthy for this Africa trip, which will involve a self-imposed quarantine before we leave. When I return, I plan to blog about it and share many zebra photos!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Firecracker 5K Report: STRENGTH!

Sometimes in racing, things work out better than expected, and that was true for me today!

I ran the Reston Firecracker 5K, which has become an annual tradition for Greg and me. We ran the inaugural race in 2010 and most every race since. One reason I love running the same 5K year after year is to see improvements and set course PRs - even in the heat!

Since 2010, I have run this race every year except for the following:
  • 2012 (mono)
  • 2013 (stress reaction in shin)
  • 2016 (mono)
  • 2018 (mono)
  • 2020 (we did the virtual, which was a different course)
Looking at this makes me realize that mono has interfered with this race 3 times! And last summer I was coming off of an injury so it was more of a tempo run. So before I go any further I will say how thankful I am not to have mono this summer.

Why don't I have mono? I have cut back my weekly mileage into the low 40s. This is low for me, even in the summer. I am only running one hard workout a week and my long runs are no longer than 12 miles. I have been super focused on hydration and drinking water + electrolytes all day long. As a result, my immune system has been happy. 

Given that my weekly mileage has been lower than it usually is in the summer (I tend to be in the low 50s) and I have not been running as many speed workouts, I was not too optimistic about running my fastest ever Firecracker 5K. I was definitely going to TRY, but similar to the 10K I ran last fall, I knew that if I was going to PR, it would mean recruiting a ton of mental strength. Being stronger mentally could mean a faster time, even if I wasn't as physically fit.

The time to beat was 21:16 from 2017

Before the Race
I woke up at around 4:30 without an alarm, after having slept a solid 8 hours. My sleep was really great both last night AND the night before. My FitBit indicated that I got a high amount of deep sleep and REM sleep. 

Two hours pre-race, at 6:00am, I had a Maurten Solid and some almond butter filled pretzels. Maurten Solid is a good pre-race breakfast because I am usually not hungry for much real food at 6:00am. I must have gone to the bathroom like 8-10 times (not an exaggeration). It's just amazing how my digestive system always knows that it's race morning and easily empties everything it has!

Greg and I got dressed in our matching outfits and left the house at 6:50. I wore my adidas Adios Pro shoes instead of the ASICS Metaspeed Edge that I had worn in my previous three 5Ks. Why? Because the Adios Pro was white and red, and the ASICS was bright orange and yellow! Matching was a priority for me today! We had picked up our bibs on Saturday so that was one less thing to worry about. We arrived at the race and started our warm up at 7:25. 

One thing I learned from the Lawyer's Have Heart 5K that I ran a few weeks ago was that I needed a substantial warm up. That race felt super hard to get into at the beginning, so we warmed up for 2.3 miles + a few extra strides. (The warm up for the previous 5K had only been 1.5 miles). 

At 7:45 I took a Maurten caffeinated gel. I like to take these 15-minutes pre-race so the caffeine hits just when I need it. 

Race Weather Scale
As for my race weather scale, this one is tricky. It was 71 degrees, sunny, with low humidity + a light breeze. Objectively, any race that is over 70 degrees would get a no more than a 3 out of 10. BUT - given that we are in the middle of the summer and it's almost always humid, we really lucked out. We couldn't have asked for much better weather on July 4th, so maybe it would be a 9 out of 10 given the time of year. So, balancing the 3 and the 9 - I give this race weather a 6 out of 10. At 71 degrees, it felt much better than my previous two 5Ks that were very humid with temps in the 60s. 

Race Goals
My goals were:
  • Set a course PR (sub 21:16)
  • Run the last mile faster than 7:00 (I had never done that before)
  • Focus on actually running- not the Garmin
  • Stay mentally strong up that final hill
Greg and I finished the warm up about 10 minutes before the race start. That gave us enough time to grab a sip of water.

Mile 1: 6:40
My plan was to go out hard, but not too hard. Since I wasn't planning on looking at my Garmin, I didn't have a particular goal in mind for this split. I wanted it to feel hard, but not all-out. I told myself before the race that in a 5K, mile 1 is supposed to feel really hard, so don't worry about bonking.

Thankfully, there was less weaving in this mile than I expected. It's a large race and usually people bolt out of the start line like crazy, and then I am passing tons of people halfway through the first mile. That didn't happen - most people seemed to be able to maintain the pace they started at with a few exceptions. Greg was way ahead of me, but that was no surprise. When my watch beeped at 6:40 I realized it was much slower than my first mile in 2017, but I didn't judge. 

Mile 2: 6:28
This is a fast mile. The first and last miles of the race are net uphill, which means nearly all the decline in the race is during this mile. I was really good about not looking at my watch during this mile. I knew that a pace that looked too fast would freak me out and a pace that looked too slow would discourage me. And I didn't have a target. I just ran. 

Mile 3: 6:44
Now it was time to rally. It already hurt so much, but I told myself I had less than 8 minutes to go and I could do anything for that amount of time. I had practiced this moment in my head several times throughout the past week. When you get to mile 3, be super strong. Run hard even when it hurts really badly. Since I had pre-conditioned myself to think these thoughts, they came easily. There wasn't any negativity.

I glanced down at my watch about a quarter of the way into this mile, before the hill started. The pace was 6:50. And that was on a flat surface. The goal was to run a sub 7:00 mile and the rest of the race would be uphill so I told myself that I could do it. I needed to rally. So I drew energy from the runners around me. As I ascended the final hill, which is about half a mile long, I repeated over and over again "strength, strength, strength!" I thought about all my strength training sessions and really focused on using everything my body had to push up the hill. I looked down at my feet and noticed I was "bounding" up the hill, so that also felt like a good work to repeat: Bound, Bound, Bound! 

And before I knew it, I had run my fastest final mile ever on that course - a 6:44 up the hill!

The finish
As I approached the finish line, I could not believe my eyes. The clock read 20:xx. NO WAY! Could I actually get under 21:00? In the Firecracker 5K? Seriously? I ran my heart out once I saw the clock, finishing in an official time of 20:57. A course PR by 19 seconds! HUGE! 

This is the feeling that motivates me every day in training. To feel the satisfaction of all that hard work paying off. Going into a race, giving it everything I have physically and mentally, and having it all come together. I would have been elated to shave just a few seconds off of the course PR, but a sub 21:00 on this course was not something I would have thought attainable today.

Greg ran a time of 19:50. He still had his marathon fitness in him and he ran a really smart race. We paced our races similarly, with the first and last miles being about the same, and the middle mile being significantly faster. I came in 3rd place in my age group and 22nd out of all the women. This race is super competitive. The top seven women finished under 19:00. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I am really, really happy about this! After having been disappointed with my previous 5K performance, this was a nice comeback. It's also a testament to going into a race really fresh. Low mileage, only one speed workout a week, lots of hydration . . . sometimes less is more. Particularly in the summer.

I was really happy about my final mile, too. I had never run that last mile quicker than 7:00 because of the hill profile. And when I looked at my Garmin early on in the mile, the pace had been 6:50, so I must have sped up as I went up the hill.

This course PR will be hard to beat in future years because we lucked out with the weather. But I was happy that I could take advantage of a nice summer morning to run really fast! 

Firecracker 5K History

 Year   Mile 1   Mile 2   Mile 3  Final Kick  Time
 2010  7:30  7:06  7:437:3723:21
 2011 7:12 7:037:20 6:3422:41
2014 7:14 7:027:266:3722:54
 2015 6:576:457:107:1622:05
 2017 6:27 6:327:046:3921:16
2019 6:43 6:277:027:0721:26
 2021 7:15 7:077:06 6:5822:37
  2022   6:40   6:28  6:44 6:31 20:57 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Running Home with Michael Wardian

Exactly 14 years ago, in late June of 2008, I met Michael Wardian for the first time. He was attempting to break the world record for the fastest treadmill marathon and I was there to support him. My friend Michael Hayden had introduced me to Mike and we went to the event together. Details about that day are in this blog post. I was creating videos long before Instagram Reels were even invented!

Fast forward to last weekend, I once again found myself supporting Mike Wardian. (There were definitely some chess tournaments in between these two events!)

Michael Wardian is currently running across the United States. He started in San Francisco on May 1st, and by last weekend, he had made it all the way to West Virginia. He averages 50+ miles each day and is raising money for World Vision, which provides clean water to those who need it.  At the time if this posting he has raised about $73,000 on a goal of $1000,000.

Greg and I decided to drive out to West Virginia on Sunday and run with him. We could have waited until he was closer, but we figured he would have plenty of support near home. We wanted to run with him when he might otherwise be alone. 

The day before, we prepared everything we needed, making sure we didn't arrive empty handed. We had a
list of Mike's favorite things, which included ice packs, cold wet towels, coconut water, dill pickles, and fresh fruit. We even bought a new cooler for the occasion!

We left our house at around 6:00am, knowing that it would take us around 2 hours to meet up with him. Mike has run the majority of his miles on Rte. 50, and that is the road he took through WV. As we got closer, we noticed that there was hardly any shoulder space to run on. And the curves were tight with cars driving quickly around them. Yikes- this did not seem like a safe thing to be doing!

We found Mike running with a friend in Romney, WV. I hopped out of the car and joined them. The plan was for Greg to drive eastbound, stopping every mile or so to take photos/videos, and then we'd switch. I was not surprised to find that the route was quite hilly. West Virginia is known for its hills. Thankfully, Mike walked up the steep hills, and ran the downhills. Overall we averaged a pace of around 12:00.

It was so amazing to chat with Mike and hear all about his journey. I had so many questions for him:

  • How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?  3 - 4 pairs of Hokas.
  • Do you shower in the RV? Yes.
  • Do you sleep in the RV each night? We had been, but lately have been staying at hotels.
  • What percent of this have you run alone vs. with others? 85% of the time alone.
  • How are you feeling? Pretty decent
Many of my other questions had been answered by following his journey on social media and reading his daily posts. 

As for the run itself, it wasn't the safest thing I have ever done, but thankfully there were no close calls. There were three of us during the most dicy parts and Mike had two poles he was carrying that helped draw attention to us. There was a police officer who had seen us and decide he would help by flashing his lights and getting the traffic to drive slowly around the curves. He had no idea what we were doing. We told him several times that Mike was running across the country. It took a few times to finally register, and when it did - his eyes popped out of his sockets!

Police car in the background

When Mike stopped at his RV, we gave him the strawberries, pickles, etc. He says he takes in about 5,000-7,000 calories a day.  Our food wasn't very caloric, but at least it was refreshing. It had started to get warm and many sections of the road had no shade. 

At the RV, Greg and I decided to switch. He would run and I would drive. I had run a total of 5.2 miles with Mike, with an elevation gain of 761 feet. Which is about the same amount of climbing in the entire Boston Marathon. So 5.2 miles in the sun on hills was plenty for me. My goal this summer is to take it easy and stay healthy.

Greg ran with him and I drove, stopping the car every two miles to take videos and cheer them on. I had brought my crossword puzzle book, thinking there would be no internet out there and that I would be waiting for a long time, but there was actually internet, and I didn't spend long waiting.

Mike's other friend stopped running with him so it was just Mike and Greg. Mike said most people come out in the mornings when it's cool and few people want to do the afternoon shift. After they had run for 10 miles, Greg called it a day. While I was waiting for them, I figured out that we were only 12 miles away from Virginia. Mike would be sooooo happy to get to his home state! I later saw his photos of the Welcome to Virginia sign and he was a little teary eyed!

Mike reached Winchester that evening and the next day, loads of people came out to run with him. He was interviewed by our local morning show, Elliot in the Morning, which I thought was so cool. I am a longtime listener to that radio show.

When I went to upload my run to my training log, I realized that I had run my 30,000th mile with Mike! I started my training log in 2008, and getting to 30,000 logged miles felt pretty cool.

It was so much fun to be a part of his epic journey! I'll end with one final plug for his charity, World Vision, which works to provide clean, safe water for communities worldwide.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Lawyers Have Heart 5K: A Muggy Slug

I ran the Lawyer's Have Heart 5K in Georgetown, Washington DC this morning. I have a very long history with this race. It used to be a 10K, and now they have both 5K and 10K options. It was my first race ever back in 2005 (unless you count the 2-miler at my college reunion). I had a streak going every year from 2005-2012, but then a beach trip came up in 2013, which ended the streak.

I ran the 5K most recently in 2017, back when I had been solely focused on the 5K for months. That season, I was able to gradually get my PR down from 20:50 to 20:17. My Lawyer's Have Heart time was 20:24, which was just 7 seconds off of my PR at the time. I was very pleased with it because this race is almost always hot, so being close to a PR is a major achievement. 

This year, I had my sights set on a time of 20:30. Have run 20:43 at the Dulles Greenway 5K just 5 weeks ago, this seemed totally attainable. Yes, this race would be warmer and hiller, but I didn't run that Greenway 5K at full effort. Why not shoot for a course PR of 20:24? I just didn't think that I was in the same kind of 5K shape that I was back in 2017. 

Before the Race
I didn't sleep well last night or the night before. I am not sure why, but both nights I got between 6-7 hours of sleep and it wasn't restful sleep; I kept waking up. Also, I had a minor cold which lasted 3 days about a week ago. It started on Friday morning with a sore throat and my symptoms lasted for 3 days. I took Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off from running. I felt better by Monday, but I probably wasn't 100% until Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm thankful it wasn't a major illness, but it was annoying because I keep having these breaks in my training, and I just want to be consistent.

Anyway, I woke up at around 3:30 this morning and didn't fall back asleep. I had an anxiety dream about Greg being at the start line of the Chicago Marathon. I was going to run it with him, but I was somehow on the other side of a mountain. I had to climb over the mountain to reach him at the start line. Other people were climbing over it just fine, but I could not. I woke up with my heart racing and then there was no falling back asleep. Sigh.

For breakfast, I had a small banana and a Maurten SOLID. "SOLID" is a new Maurten product that can replace a pre-run meal. I felt very well hydrated and I had been doing an excellent job at staying on top of my water and electrolytes. 

Greg and I left the house at 5:30. He was not running the race, having just raced a marathon less than two weeks ago. I wore my Zensah heart socks, because they totally matched the theme of the race. Lawyers Have Heart benefits the American Heart Association. If there had been an award for best socks, I would have won it. 

We arrived at the race site, parked, and picked up my bib. It was raining lightly, and I debated if I should wear my visor or not. I decided I would wear it because it was lightweight, and if it started raining harder, I would want to keep the water out of my eyes. I warmed up for about 1.5 miles + strides and drills, which probably wasn't enough. When it's warm/humid, I usually opt for a shorter warm up so as not to get overheated. But as I age, I feel like I need more and more time to really get those legs moving. 

The weather did not match the forecast. As of last night, my Wunderground app was saying 70% humidity, 66 degrees with no rain. That's not too bad for June. In reality, it was slightly warmer (I'll call it 67) but with 90% humidity and light rain. On my race weather scale it gets a 3 out of 10. 

During the warm up, the rain started to lighten up, so I found a place to stash my visor, as Greg was already at his first photo location. I took a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the start of the race. 

Mile 1
The race started and I decided to be relaxed at first. I had read my 2017 race report last night and based on that, I planned for my first mile to be my slowest. The first quarter mile of the race is underneath a freeway, so you can't rely on the Garmin to tell you what pace you are going. 

As I started running, I immediately felt suffocated by the humidity. I felt sluggish and I just could not get going. There was a hill up ahead, and I did what I could to get up it, but that was really, really rough.  Once I was up the hill, I finally got into a rhythm, but I felt exhausted. I could tell it wasn't my day but I immediately dismissed that negative thought and was determined to give it everything I had. 

I ended up running the first mile in 7:03. That was definitely a disappointment, and I felt like I was running much faster than that. 

Mile 2
This mile went by pretty quickly and I started to feel a little better than I had during the first mile. This is why I think I really need a longer warm up, even for hot/humid races. It's difficult for me to move fast until I've been moving fast. I need that momentum. It didn't used to be this way, but it could be a product of getting older and everything feeling stiff and rigid. 

Anyway, I passed a good amount of people during this mile, which made me happy and I averaged a 6:48, which still wasn't great, but far better than the 7:03 from mile 1. 

Mile 3
I knew from my 2017 race report that this mile would be super fast. I ran it in 6:24 back in 2017. And at the Dulles Greenway 5K, my last mile was 6:20. (And that was flat!)  With this mile being downhill, there was no reason why I couldn't run in the 6:20s. So I gunned it early on in the mile and I kept that effort level up the entire way. Could I have run at this effort level earlier in the race? Maybe. But it didn't feel like I could have at the time. 

I noticed that there were no women runners around me during this mile. I had no idea how many women were ahead of me because the 5K and the 10K start together. I guessed it was a lot because many fast women had shown up! So there was no woman for me to chase down, but I had fun racing the guys. 

I made the final turn, and clocked in at 6:31 for the final mile. 

The Finish
I was really surprised to see Greg taking photos so close to the finish line, because I thought I had already seen him a bit further back! Apparently there was someone else in a blue jacket with a nice camera. That shows how focused I was just getting to that finish line. I had a decent final kick and finished in a time of 21:09.

I retrieved my visor from its spot and then met up with Greg.  I then cooled down for about 12 minutes before we returned to the car.  

I was the 9th female finisher out of 582. And I didn't even place in my age group because many of those 8 women ahead of me were in their 40s. Tough competition! 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. I didn't even come close to my 2017 time, and I didn't beat my 21:06 from the 5K I ran 4 weeks ago. And I ran a 7:03 mile - which is slower than my half marathon PR pace. 

My final mile at the Dulles Greenway 5K was 6:20. It was not downhill and I didn't feel like I was running at 100% effort. Today, my final mile was downhill and it was 6:30 and I definitely felt like I was running at 100% effort! Just shows what 15 extra degrees can do to you in a race!

My overall feeling about this race is that I didn't have a ton of energy and the humidity seemed to impact me more than it typically does. And it typically impacts me a lot! I was probably a combination of:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Recovering from being sick a week ago
  • The humidity
I am not trying to make excuses, but rather identify why I didn't have as much energy as I typically do. 

This was all validated by my heart rate. My heart rate was much lower than expected! My heart rate averaged 168, and it usually averages in the high 170s to low 180s for a 5K. If it's humid, that's more like the mid 180s. So according to my heart rate, I simply wasn't working very hard. And I would agree with that. I didn't push as hard as I was physically capable of during the first two miles because I felt crappy.

As I mentioned earlier, I think a longer warm up would have helped too. If I could run a 3.6 mile race, with a timing mat at the 0.5 marker to measure the final 5K, that would be ideal! In workouts I always feel like that first half mile is so hard, and then I settled in. 

On the positive side, any time you negative split a 5K is a good day, even if the last mile is downhill! I had a ton of fun out there and I'm proud that I showed up and worked hard. Plus, I have things I can work on for the next 5K!

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Guest Post: Greg's Vermont City Marathon

Please enjoy this guest blog post written by my husband Greg!

Choosing Vermont City

I ran the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in December. At dinner that same night, Elizabeth was already asking which one I wanted to run in the spring. She and I are different in that way – I wanted to continue reveling in my recent accomplishment, whereas she wanted to know, ‘what’s next?’. More than once we’ve had similar conversations where my answer is, ‘I’m not ready to think about that yet’.

However, on that particular night my answers were influenced by my Rehoboth Beach experience. As I detailed in that blog post, the race itself was not my fastest, but I felt good about it and I really enjoyed the entire trip, including the destination, race, dining, etc.

So, I was happy citing vague desires like, ‘I want to go somewhere new and exciting’, ‘I want a good experience’, ‘I want nice scenery’, ‘Not too big’, ‘Not too small’, ‘It’d be nice if we had friends there’, ‘I like mountains’, ‘Not too too hilly’, etc. She, on the other hand, was readily presenting actual options that satisfied my criteria. I would be participating in detailed planning, whether I was ready for it or not.

We ultimately settled on the Vermont City Marathon, in Burlington, VT. Burlington was supposed to be nice, it would add a new state to my running list, and one of my best childhood friends lived nearby. We also later learned that our friends from Virginia, Chad and Maria, were also coming. Chad would run while Maria and their 11-year old twins would cheer us along.

Training and Recovery
A May 29th target gave plenty of time for a healthy recovery and training cycle. After maintaining a base between 20-30 miles per week plus some rowing, the real training began mid-February.

Elizabeth created a 15-week training plan that steadily increased the weekly mileage from the high-40’s to the mid-60’s, including three cut-back weeks. I ran 6 days per week, including one medium-long run, one speed workout, one long run, and one recovery run.

Instead of just doing another training cycle, as I’ve done before, I wanted to challenge myself to be better this time. For me, that doesn’t mean running more miles, or working harder. It’s actually quite the opposite – my biggest area for improvement was getting better sleep. My sleep quality has steadily deteriorated over the years. I estimate it went from fair to poor over the past 4-5 years. Since sleep is one of the most important things for both physical and mental health, it was clearly the smartest focus.

Unfortunately, in this case, identifying the problem is way easier than fixing it. 12 weeks before the race, I eliminated alcohol. According to everything everywhere, alcohol is 100% bad and 0% good for sleep. This helped in certain ways, but it wasn’t a magic bullet. It was one variable removed, and resulted in a more regularly identifiable set of issues. 4 weeks before the race, I eliminated desserts. This helped a little more, but I still struggled. The final fix was eliminating screens after I finished working for the day. This seemed to be the final puzzle piece. My sleep got much better by doing this. Unfortunately, this was the hardest of all, so I didn’t end up doing it until the week before the race. I could say a lot more about all this, but it’s too much for this blog.

I was surprised with how much weight rapidly shed after quitting the deserts – I went from 173 lbs on February 19th to 162 lbs on May 20th with a sharp acceleration in those final weeks. So, sleep or no sleep, my efforts had many other benefits.

Travel, Arrival, and Impressions
Because Elizabeth already blogged about our experiences traveling to Burlington and the activities prior to the race, I’ll abbreviate this section.

Shakeout run on Saturday
I loved the view from our hotel room window. Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains in New York on the other side was very pretty. This more than satisfied my scenery requirement. I also really liked Burlington itself. The shops and restaurants on the walking-only Church street were quite nice. It was sad to see the many homeless and mentally-ill seeming people that were ever-present, however.

Goals and Strategy
My main goal is always to run a good race. That means pushing as hard as I can without giving up, but not so hard that I’m forced to give up. There’s obviously a lot that goes into that. Because my training cycle went so well and my physical fitness was good, I believed a personal record (PR) was realistic given the course and conditions.

Elizabeth was running the first half with me. I asked her to pace us for a 3:17:something. We decided that meant a ~1:40:00 first half and a ~1:37:30 second half. Planning for some extra distance, that meant averaging about 7:35 for the first half and 7:25 for the second.

The Race
Fortunately, I slept relatively well both Friday and Saturday nights before the race. Despite having a bib that allowed me to start in the first corral, at 7:00am, I started with Elizabeth in the 2-person marathon relay corral, which was the last corral, at 7:12am. This wasn’t a big deal; for me it was much more important to run with Elizabeth than to have the 12-minute earlier start.

Elizabeth had written the mile-by-mile pace plan on her left arm, incorporating adjustments for the hill profile and a gradual acceleration from a slower start to a faster finish. My job was to stick with her. The race was two laps of the same course. So, I knew to pay attention during the first half so I’d know how to pace the second half by myself.

Miles 1-5
Even though we started slowly, we rapidly caught up with the slower racers from the marathon corrals that started ahead of us. We were going a few minutes per mile faster than ~80% of the people on a fully-crowded course. The other 20% were having the same struggle we were.

It’s not easy staying with a pacer while weaving through so many people going such a significantly different pace. It meant accelerating to get through a gap before it closed, or going around the outside, etc.

At one point Elizabeth had to slow me down. I have a tendency to accelerate to pass and then fail to slow back down. At other points, Elizabeth was assertively clearing the way for us by announcing ‘Passing!’ as she squeezed through a small gap. I’d follow with a ‘thanks’.

This type of weaving consumed the first five miles. I can’t imagine trying to race at half-marathon pace through all that. This was definitely poor race planning.

Mile 1 – 7:44
Mile 2 – 7:43
Mile 3 – 7:48
Mile 4 – 7:45
Mile 5 – 7:30

Miles 6-8
Mile 6 was still very crowded but quite nice because it was on a path directly next to the lake. The scenery was serene and there was a beautiful cool breeze coming off the water. It was the most enjoyable section of the entire race.

Mile 7 was the least enjoyable of the race; It included a ~200 foot climb up the pedestrian Church street area I mentioned earlier. The surface was brick, so it was also necessary to watch your footing. Mile 8 started with a short and steep climb and ended with a long gradual climb. I knew the next time I’d be enjoying this hilly section was miles 20-21.

I had pulled ahead of Elizabeth on the hills. Partly because I’m stronger up hills, but also because she steps gingerly when the footing is questionable. She caught up though and we carried on together.

Mile 6 – 7:34
Mile 7 – 8:02
Mile 8 – 7:41

Miles 9 – 10
These miles took us through an out-and-back detour through a residential neighborhood. The crowd support in this section was fun – people had sprinklers and hoses they’d spray you with if you seemed so inclined. There was an impressive 80’s-style hair-rock band playing in one front yard. The singer had on quite the outfit with a wig and makeup. I didn’t look closely enough to see if they were trying to impersonate KISS, or if it was just similar. Either way, it was fun.

This section was made challenging by the turns and potholes. I noticed that I had pulled ahead of Elizabeth again, but this time she was on pace, and I was going too fast. I welcomed the throttling – there is no surer way to ruin a marathon than to go too fast too early.

Mile 9 – 7:31
Mile 10 – 7:43

Miles 11-13
Early during mile 11 I started pulling ahead of Elizabeth again. This time she told me she was falling behind and that I should go ahead. She told me the prescribed paces of 7:20, 7:30, 7:15. With that info, I was off. It was exciting to be responsible for my own pacing. The paces were fast too, which meant I’d be running downhill. These would also be the final three miles of the entire race once I had come around the loop again, so it was of particular interest to envision that. These miles were also on a different section of the path by the lake. This time we were higher up, so the view was more majestic.

With all this excitement and newfound purpose in mind, I overdid it by a little bit, but not too much. It felt good and I was ‘easily’ able to crank out some fast paces.

Mile 11 – 7:16
Mile 12 – 7:17
Mile 13 – 7:13

One more time around
I hit the half-way point at 1:40:18 with a Garmin distance of 13.2 miles. 0.1 was more than I had expected to run extra, but time-wise, I was spot-on. My pacing strategy was to average 7:25 for the second half. I figured I could adjust the mile-to-mile pace around that based on what I remembered from the first half. I knew the first couple miles were slower. I knew there would be the glory mile by the lake followed by the hilly section, which I’d endure until the start of mile 22. Then I knew it was time to run the neighborhood hose and rock band gauntlet. And finally, I had those wonderful fast finish miles where I’d give it everything I had.

Having this segmented picture in mind really helped me with my mental game.

Segment 1 – the slower miles
The course wasn't crowded this time. I’m glad I knew they had a challenging hill profile or I may have gotten discouraged with how difficult this section was. I felt my legs starting to ache and thought it was too early for that. The hills that I had such power on during the first half were much harder this time around.

Somewhere around mile 17 or 18 I passed my friend Chad. I was sad to see him because he had a 9-minute head start. So, I knew it meant he was having a hard time. I encouraged him to run with me, but he wasn’t having it.

Mile 14 – 7:29
Mile 15 – 7:32
Mile 16 – 7:32
Mile 17 – 7:25
Mile 18 – 7:24

Segment 2 – the lake and the hills
The lake mile lived up to my expectation. It was incredible. The hills however had gotten bigger since I last left them. The sun was stronger. The day was warmer. Everything was harder, but I had two things going for me – first, I knew to expect that it’d be hard, so, no big deal. Second, I knew Elizabeth would be waiting for me at the top. We planned that as the ideal spot where she could come spectate as a way to help me get through it. It worked well. I was very happy to see her and it gave me a good boost. 

Mile 19 – 7:15
Mile 20 – 8:05
Mile 21 – 7:36

Segment 3 – the neighborhood
Generally marathon miles 22 and 23 are among the hardest for me, mentally. They’re quite far, but not far enough as to where I believe myself when I try thinking that I’m ‘almost done’. If the race is going well, they’re like the boring part of the movie where it’s hard not to just turn it off. If the race is going poorly, it feels like being stranded in the middle of the desert or on the moon. Nothing is close enough and everything is too far away and there’s no hope in sight.

However, this time they were nothing like that. This time they were just that one last little thing to do before the fun begins. This was a first for me. If Yogi Berra ran marathons, he’d agree it’s 90% mental and the other half is physical.

Mile 22 – 7:35
Mile 23 – 7:17 

Segment 4 – the finish
I had been looking forward to these miles since mile 11. I was now living my prior vision for myself. It felt great.

I knew I was in really good shape because I was able to calculate that I would PR if I ran better than xyz pace based on the time on my watch and the distance left to go. Being able to do such calculations so late in a race, gave me even more confidence.

As I confirmed the pace on my watch was better than I needed, I had a positive feedback loop going on mentally and it carried me through to the finish. I gave it all I had for the final ~1.5 miles.

Mile 24 – 7:17
Mile 25 – 7:20
Mile 26 – 7:04 
Final 0.41 – 6:57 

Final time – 3:18:15 

This is a PR by 1:36. 

Post Race
Chad stayed strong and finished the race. He was beat up some, but felt well enough to join us for a celebratory dinner that night. It was great to spend time with them after not seeing them in person since the start of the pandemic.

Also, I really appreciated Maria and the kids cheering me on at four different points throughout the race. It was so much fun seeing them on the course. On Monday we had lunch with my childhood friend Jim, his wife Rae, and their son, Andy. We haven’t seen them since our wedding, and we’d never met Andy. I really enjoyed our time together.

I accomplished everything I set out to with this race. Both the journey and the destination provided life-enriching experiences which I treasure and am proud of accomplishing. After all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s got me asking myself, ‘what’s next?’.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Vermont City Marathon: Pacing Greg

Yesterday morning I ran the Vermont City 2-person relay, which enabled me to run the first half of Greg's marathon with him. 

Greg chose this marathon because he wanted to experience a new city/state, and he wanted a late Spring marathon, having run Rehoboth Beach in December. Even though I am not a certified coach, Greg and I agree that I am qualified enough to be his coach, so I created a training plan for him. I have been his coach for his past 4-5 marathons, and it has worked out well in the past. 

We flew to Vermont on Friday. Our flight was delayed by about 90 minutes, which wasn't too bad considering the massive thunderstorms and tornado watch that came through the area during our originally scheduled departure time. We had dinner outside at a restaurant on Church Street, which is part of the marathon route. 

On Saturday morning, we did a shakeout run along the course. We identified where the big hills would be and we scoped out the start/finish area. Then we met up with Chad and his family for brunch. We've run a few marathons with Chad including Sugarloaf, B&A Trail, and New York City. Chad's goal is to complete a marathon in all 50 states. Chad's wife and twin children (11 year-olds) would be our cheering squad for the marathon. 

The twins were very excited about cheering for us in the morning. They wanted to wake up early to make sure that they were able to see us on both the first and second loop of the course. One of the twins, Nathan, was fascinated by my Instagram following and he got really excited about the opportunity to take a photo that could be seen by thousands of people. We told him that I got free shoes because of my Instagram following, and then he saw a sign at the restaurant that said "Follow us on Instagram". He asked if the restaurant would get free plates if people followed them on Instagram. Chad explained that it didn't exactly work that way. 

The expo was surprisingly not within walking distance of our hotel. The start/finish was very close to our hotel and many other hotels, and yet the expo was held at a hotel that was two miles away-- not even in the downtown area. Chad drove us there in his rental car and we met up with my relay partner, Emily. I met Emily on Instagram when I asked if anyone who lived in Vermont wanted to run the half marathon relay with me. She was very quick to reply and within 24 hours, we had signed up for the relay together. 

Even though I have run close to 200 races, I have never run a relay. I wasn't sure how the hand-off worked. Apparently you wear the bib on a belt around your waist. But Emily and I agreed that the belt felt awkward and we'd rather have it pinned to our chest, even if it cost us a minute at the transition. So we didn't take one of the belts and the plan was for me to start unpinning the bib as I approached the exchange area. The name of our relay team was Racing Stripes!

Before the Race
The alarm woke us up at 5:00, which rare because I am usually awake well before my alarm on race morning. We ate breakfast and got ready. We had outfits that matched each other and matched the colors of the race: forest green. We had the same shoes, too: the New Balance Fuel Cell RC Elite. This would be Greg's first time racing in "super shoes" with the carbon fiber plate. I recommended these shoes to him because I find them to be the most stable of all the super shoes I have tried. Chad knocked on our hotel door at 6:30 and we walked to the start line together. 

In the starting area, the announcer was very loud. No matter where you went, the speaker was blaring in our ears so we couldn't talk to each other. And the announcer spoke continually about how to line up in the corrals. So it was was 15 minutes of the announcer repeating the EXACT same thing over and over, really loudly. The funny thing was that he was telling some groups to go to the "left" and some to go to the "right" but of course, that could be either direction, depending on where you are facing! Chad lined up in his marathon corral and Greg lined up in my relay corral.

Even though Greg had a "preferred corral" bib enabling him to start at exactly at 7:00, I was not allowed to start with him as a relay runner. All of the 2-person relay teams started in the very last corral, which was released at 7:12. We had emailed the race director asking if I could be in the preferred corral with him, but he said that all relay teams had to start in the 7:12 corral, no exceptions. So Greg started with me. That meant 12 extra minutes of running in warmer weather at the end of the race and having to weave through the slower marathon runners. 

I asked the race director about the weaving in my email but he assured me that it wouldn't be a problem because the course was wide enough to pass people until you got on the bike path at mile 4. 

So Chad started the race at around 7:01 and Greg and I started at 7:12.

It was sunny with no cloud cover, a very light breeze and about 40% of the course was shaded. It was 58 degrees at the start and warmed up to 69 degrees by the time Greg finished. I would guess that it was about 63 when I finished. Thankfully the humidity was low. On my race weather scale, I give my race a 6 out of 10 -- too warm to run my fastest, but not detrimental either. If I had been running the full marathon, I would give it a 3 out of 10 because running in the upper 60s at the end of a full marathon would be extremely difficult for me. However, we knew that running in late May would likely be warm, so this weather was not unexpected and it was fairly decent relative to what it could have been.

Pacing Strategy
Greg races best when he runs a negative split. He has done this at most of his marathons and that was our plan for yesterday. He wanted to beat his PR of 3:19:51 from the Two Rivers Marathon (set in March 2021). So the plan was to run the first half in 1:40:00- or slightly under, and then for him to negative split by 2-3 minutes. 

We looked at the elevation profile of the course and I wrote down mile-by-mile splits on my arm based on

the elevation. 

Miles 1-4
I made the mistake of not warming up beforehand. We didn't have a ton of time, and we needed to be in our corral so I figured I would run in place as my warm up. Usually the first mile of any run I do is a pace of around 9:30-10:00. My Achilles in particular need to be warmed up.

So Greg started out as planned at a pace in the 7:40s and I struggled to keep up with him. It seemed like he bolted out WAY too fast and I was running at an extreme effort, but then I looked down at my Garmin and realized that I was running a pace of 8:30. And it felt ridiculously hard. I knew I needed to catch him but I would have to run even faster to do so! 

I caught him about a half a mile in and I felt like I was running a 5K! But eventually we settled into a rhythm and my body remembered that running in the 7:40's was not all that taxing. 

It wasn't long before we caught up with some of the marathon runners. At first it was just some weaving here and there and then we had the entire 5:30 pace group to run around. It's hard enough to weave around a huge pace group, but twice as hard when you are trying to stick with a running partner. I tried my best to run the tangents and have Greg follow me but that wasn't always possible. 

At some point during the 4th mile we passed the 5:00 pace group. There was so much weaving involved and it was very difficult to stay on pace with all the speeding up and slowing down to get around people. I think that having the relay runners start behind all the marathon runners was a bad idea. I think it should have been done by pace. No matter what race you are running, you should be lined up according to pace. We were running in the 7:40s around masses of people running in the 10:00's and 11:00's. It makes it hard for all runners - whether they are passing or the ones being passed. 

Mile 1: 7:41 (planned 7:45)
Mile 2: 7:41 (planned 7:50)
Mile 3: 7:42 (planned 7:45)
Mile 4: 7:46 (planned 7:40)

Miles 5-8
We were happily on pace by mile 5 and enjoying ourselves. The scenery was beautiful, and we really loved the bike path. At mile 6 it was time to get off the bike path and go back to the streets. This is when the hilly section started. During mile 6, we were pleasantly surprised to hear our names being called by the twins. They had woken up early to make sure they were out in time to see us. Nathan took a bunch of photos and Chad's wife got a video. It was a huge pick-me-up.

Photo by 11-year-old Nathan
The uphill section seemed to go on and on. Mile 7 was had over 80 feet of gain and some of it was on an uneven brick surface. Greg started getting ahead of me as we reached the top of the hill because he's better on hills than I am. He was running the planned pace, but I was a little slower. I think I had underestimated how hard the hill would be in my pacing plan. 

At one point Greg turned around and asked if I was going to fall off pace and not be with him anymore. But I just needed some time to catch up to him post hill. As soon as the hill ended I was right back with him. 

Another challenge of the hill was passing the 4:00 pace group. So not only were we running uphill on an uneven surface and trying to stay together, but we were weaving through a large group of people. Did I mention that I think it was a mistake to have the relay runners start at the very back of the race? And it's not just the pace groups that we had to weave around-- it was constant weaving throughout the entire race. The pace groups were most difficult, though.

Running uphill on brick surface

Mile 5: 7:31 (planned 7:30)
Mile 6: 7:34 (planned 7:35)
Mile 7: 8:09 (planned 7:55)
Mile 8: 7:35 (planned 7:45)

Miles 9- 13.1
We were able to make up for the slowness of mile 7 during mile 8. So we were still perfectly on pace by the time we reached the 9th mile. We had planned for mile 9 to be 7:15 because it was supposed to be all downhill, but it ended up not being as fast as I had imagined, so we only ran 7:31. 

My legs were feeling great at this point, but I was beginning to feel the effects of the sun and I was starting to get tired. We reached mile 10 and everything was still going well. Then we ran through a neighborhood that had a lot of turns and potholes. I ran gingerly over the uneven pavement and slowed down to avoid the potholes. This meant Greg was getting ahead of me. It was a combination of me slowing down due to the course and him being a little faster than what we had planned. And he needed to be going faster than planned to make up for our slow mile 9.

Photo by Nathan
At that point it seemed like it would be a huge task to catch up to him, especially since I was getting tired. In hindsight, I know I definitely could have surged to reach him and kept pacing him, but I wimped out. He was running really well and I figured he didn't need me anymore because we were almost at the halfway point. So somewhere during this 11th mile I yelled at him to go ahead and have a great race. 

I felt like a wimp, but I was also really tired and didn't have the drive to be pushing any harder. Once I was on my own, I ditched the pacing plan and just cruised in at a comfortably hard pace. I wasn't super motivated to go any faster once Greg had gotten ahead of me. I wanted a respectable relay time, but I wasn't going to kill myself over a minute or two. Somewhere around mile 12 I passed the 3:45 pace group. There were a few relay runners going my approximate pace, so I used them to help guide me through the pack.

During the last mile, someone recognized me from my Instagram and ran with me to take some selfies together. It was flattering, but given that it was the last mile of my race, it was difficult to focus on anything other than getting to the finish. I wasn't really in the selfie mood! Finally I came upon Chad's family and it was awesome to have a cheering squad.

Mile 9: 7:31 (planned 7:15)
Mile 10: 7:29 (planned 7:30)
Mile 11: 7:32 (planned 7:20)
Mile 12: 7:36 (planned 7:30)
Mile 13: 7:20 (planned 7:15)
Last 0.15: 6:56 pace

Relay Handoff
I stopped my Garmin at 13.15 and still had some more running to do after that. I knew that I would be running around 13.3 miles and my partner would be running a little less. And also there had been so much weaving that I probably ran even more than that. I stopped my Garmin because I planned to slow down significantly to unpin my bib while running. I wanted to be able to hand Emily the bib as soon as I saw her and not waste time unpinning the bib while stopped. So I ran slowly to the exchange point while unpinning the four safety pins. 

She spotted me and I handed her the bib. She quickly pinned it on, and I wished her a great race and she was off!

When I stopped my Garmin, I had 13.15 miles in 1:40:15.  Ironically, that was Greg's official half marathon split. Even though he was maybe 30-45 seconds ahead of me by that point, all of the weaving meant our Garmins wouldn't match the official time/distance, so it was good he sped up!

After the Relay
I went back to the hotel, which was close by, but I walked slowly because my SI Joint decided to act up. I wish that pain was completely gone, but sometimes I feel it on random occasions. At the hotel, I was able to freshen up a bit, change shoes, change tops, re-apply sunscreen, and grab my phone.

Greg at 25.5
The course was two loops, and I decided to go to mile 20, which was the top of the big hill we ran during mile 7. It was close to the hotel and it would be a good place to see everyone. I saw Greg come through exactly on schedule, and then Emily about 5 minutes later, followed by Chad. Apparently Greg had caught up to Chad and passed him. Once my three runners had come through the 20 mile mark, I proceeded to the finish line area and waited about half a mile before the finish line.

It was so much fun seeing all the runners come through, and Greg looked so strong! After he ran by me, I proceeded to the finish area.

I realized I hadn't had any water since finishing my half marathon, so I went to the finish line chute and asked a volunteer to hand me a bottle of water. She told me I wasn't able to have a bottle from the chute and I had to get a cup of water from a different location. I have to admit I felt like a second-class citizen at that point! When I finished the relay and passed the bib onto Emily, there had been no place to get water that was immediately visible. Otherwise, I would have grabbed a bottle then.

He ran a time of 3:18:15, which is a PR by 1:36. The pacing strategy was for 26.3 miles in 3:17:30, and he ended up getting 26.4 on his Garmin (due to all the weaving), so he probably did reach 26.3 in our projected 3:17:30. So Greg paced it exactly as planned! He is going to write a guest blog post, so I won't say any more about his race. 

Relay team Racing Stripes finished in a time of 3:28:17, which earned us 8th place in the women's open division. I can now officially say I have run in a relay!

Team Racing Stripes

We all reunited, and Chad's son was so excited to give me the pictures he had taken of us. His photos were excellent, and I posted one of them on Instagram. He caught us both smiling and looking at the camera, which is more than I can say for the official race photographers!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
All goals were achieved: Greg ran a PR. I ran my first relay. We experienced a new city/state. We had fun with friends. This was exactly the experience we were hoping for!

In hindsight I wish I would have pushed harder to stay with Greg during miles 12-13. I know I could have, but I just got tired and decided to be comfortable instead of uncomfortable. 

Since I wasn't yet acclimated to the warm weather, I wasn't even sure I would be able to run with Greg for as long as I did. I thought I might actually bonk at some point, but that never happened. 

My heart rate was seemingly back to normal. The mile paces lined up consistently with their corresponding average heart rates. And considering that it was warm at the end, my heart rate didn't even spike or drift higher! It was consistent throughout the whole race, which is a sign that I am fully recovered from my post-Covid heightened heart rate.  

There were many wonderful things about the race including the beauty of the course, the volunteers, and the free photos. But there were some things that I think they could improve for next year:

  • There was no runner tracking (unless the runner ran with a smart phone) and the results weren't posted in real time. Many races are now using the RaceJoy app, which doesn't provide official splits and is entirely reliant on the runner carrying a phone. Chad carried his phone so that his family would be able to know where he was, but he normally does not race marathons while holding an iPhone.
  • The expo was not within walking distance to where most of the hotels were, and Ubers aren't easy to get in this area. If it hadn't been for Chad, we would have had to take a taxi there. That's not the end of the world, but it seems like they would have bib pickup closer to the start/finish/hotels.
  • The 2-person relay teams were placed at the very back of the pack, which meant weaving through slower runners for the entire first half of the race. Passing pace groups was particularly challenging on the narrow bike path. I think this cost Greg nearly a minute in his finish time. If this had been a BQ, those precious seconds would have made a big difference in terms of having extra "cushion".
Despite the areas for improvement, I definitely recommend this race because it's a fun course and the city of Burlington is fun and beautiful. Overall it was a wonderful experience! We couldn't have asked for a better weekend. Greg even had the opportunity to see a close friend from childhood the day after the race.

Next for me: 5K training!

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Feed Fairfax 5K: Hello Humidity!

This morning I ran the Feed Fairfax 5K. This race was on my radar last year for the inaugural event, but I was injured and unable to run. 

This race starts about three miles from my house, making it the closest race to where I live. There used to be one that was a little closer, but they stopped running it five years ago. The coolest thing about this race

is that the course runs through a neighborhood that I am very familiar with. It's an expansive neighborhood with (relatively) little traffic so it's great for tempos and speed work. I often run a warm up to that neighborhood, do a workout, and then run home for the cool down. 

With the course map in hand, I knew exactly what I was in for. I have run those streets over a thousand times, so it was nice to feel 100% prepared from a knowing-the-course perspective. There aren't a ton of hills in that neighborhood, but depending on how you run it, it can be challenging with the little rollers and the longer inclines. 

Before the Race
Greg's marathon is now just two weeks away! He had his final long run on schedule: 18 miles with 9 at marathon pace. I am his coach, I felt like this workout would build his confidence and help him lock in that marathon pace feeling. Our plan was for him to warm up with me, stop to take photos of me during the first mile, and then meet up with me for a cool down post race. He would start his marathon pace miles after 8 easy miles. 

I didn't sleep well last night due to digestive issues that kept me up for over an hour. I woke up naturally at around 5:15. I often have pre-race dreams that my race course has obstacles like staircases, going inside of buildings, etc. Last night, I had a new one: the street was carpeted. It was a blue/grey carpet, and on the thinner side. I can still visualize it in my mind. As part of this dream, another race director (a female) had "stolen" the race from the actual director (a male) and therefore everything was messed up because the race had been stolen. It was an "imposter" race and the actual race would occur on Sunday because the Saturday one was stolen. My subconscious is fascinating!

Anyway, shortly after waking up I had a banana, water + electrolytes, and some almond butter pretzels. I have decided that almond butter filled pretzels from Wegmans are pretty much the best pre-race fuel. I snack on them in the days leading up to a marathon or half marathon, and I eat them for breakfast before shorter races. 

I prepared Greg's UCAN drink. Greg has switched from fueling with Gu to fueling with UCAN. For this run, he had the Energy Powder beforehand and two of the Edge gels during.

Even though the race was close to home, we drove there so we would have a place to stash our stuff. We arrived at 7:20 (for a race start of 8:00) and parked about half a mile from the start/finish. We thought that it would be a good spot for Greg to take photos. 

Pre-race warm up

We ran to the start area where I got my bib and pinned it to my sports bra. We then continued to warm up together until the race was about to start. I had a caffeinated Maurten gel 12 minutes before the start to give myself some extra pep. 

The Weather
As I said in my previous post, I much preferred the hypothermia-inducing pouring rain and wind to heat and humidity. At least from a performance standpoint. I ran a time of 20:43 at last week's race and was only working at about 85% effort to do it. I perform well when it's cold. 

This morning, it was 66 degrees with a dew point of 64. It was foggy and misty. There were even times of very light rain. This would be challenging weather even if I were acclimated. But I was definitely not acclimated so it was extra challenging. On my race weather scale, it gets a 3 out of 10. Last weekend's race got a 4 out of 10. That was probably a high 4. Today was probably a low 3.

Goals and Strategy
Time-wise I wanted to run sub-21 for this race. But more importantly, I wanted to execute well. The idea was to run around the same time as last weekend, but run the race much harder. At FULL 5K effort, rather than 85% effort. 

Mile 1: 6:34
This mile was downhill the entire way. It wasn't a steep down hill, but a nice, long gradual downhill aiding you the entire time. It would have been a dream to end with this mile! As I said above, this neighborhood can be super fast or relatively challenging depending how you run it. I expected a lot of the runners to sprint this (because there was a prize for the first male and first female to get to mile 1), but I held back. My strategy was to run this mile hard, but not to get carried away by the downhill. I wanted to save some gas for the rest of the race. 

Even though it was the first mile and it was downhill, it felt WAY harder than last weekend's mile 3 - which was flat, and was 6:20. It must have been a really magical final mile last weekend to run a 6:20 and have it be not all that hard. . . when it wasn't even downhill!

Anyway, many runners sprinted across the start line and I held back a little. Sure enough, about a quarter mile into the race, I was passing people. It was annoying to have to weave so much, but I didn't want to be stuck behind runners that were slowing down. It wasn't long before I saw Greg and that definitely pumped me up. When I saw him, there were three women ahead of me and I was in 4th place. 

Mile 2: 6:46
This mile was all about passing other runners. Shortly after the first mile marker, I realized that I was closing in on the pack in front of me. There were 4 runners: a boy who looked to be about 10 years old, two men, and one woman. We ran up a very gradual, long incline and I started to increase my effort. I first passed the boy, who said to me "You got this!" I replied back "You got this too!" That boy's energy was amazing! 

Next I passed the two men and the woman, which put me in third place. The other two women were way far ahead and I knew there would be no catching them. Having people to pass really motivated me and helped me stay strong mentally. 

Mile 3: 6:46
Another net uphill mile. I was really pleased with my execution, and that I had enough gas to keep my pace steady. This mile also had some gentle declines, and because I knew exactly where they would be, I took advantage of them. I passed a few more runners in this mile, too.

It wasn't long before I saw the elementary school which signaled the final turn would be coming up. Seeing that school made me realize how close I was to the finish so I was able to pick up the pace a little

Photo by Cheryl Young
with that thought in mind. 

I turned the corner and Greg was there, and cheered me on. He ran with me for a tiny bit, but obviously he wasn't looking to keep up with me!

The Finish
The last 0.16 was a pace of 6:25 according to my Garmin. Not a super fast final kick for a 5K, but it was all uphill. 

My official time was 21:06, and I was the third female finisher. I was totally gassed after crossing the finish line and I knew I had given it everything I had. After catching my breath and recovering, I found Greg and we did a cool down together. We then parted ways, I ran back to the car and drove it closer to the start/finish area. I put on a dry t-shirt and a light jacket over that. It was 68 degrees, but I was wet from the mist, and I didn't want a repeat of last weekend!

After the Race
My friend Cheryl was taking photos at the finish line, so I hung out with her there for a bit before the awards ceremony started. The awards ceremony was cool because they had a giant-sized check for the winners. Even though it was made it in the amount that the overall winners received, they wanted first, second, and third place runners to hold the check. So that was fun. I won $50 cash for coming in third!

The first and second place ladies both reported being slower than expected. I think by about a minute each, so that was validating! The humidity was pretty brutal. 

Top male and female finishers

This Feed Fairfax race helps feed Fairfax County residents. After the race, runners had the opportunity to assemble bags of food for those in need. I wanted to fill a bag but by the time I got there, the line was too long and I would miss the awards ceremony. I admit I still feel badly about not putting a bag together. Next year I will make a point of doing so. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
While I didn't get my goal time of sub-21:00, I was only 6 seconds off! And I was very pleased with how I paced and executed this race. I think I am most proud of having miles 2 and 3 be the same pace, and not THAT much slower than the first downhill mile. It was also nice to be able to pass so many runners in the second half of the race. 

It's crazy to think that running at 100% effort, I was about 20 seconds slower than when running 85% effort. The humidity was definitely a challenge and I guess this was my introduction to the many humid days ahead that await me!

My average heart rate for this race was 182, maxing out at 201. Last weekend, my average heart rate was 163, maxing out at 185. WOW. In terms of training my heart-rate back to it's pre-covid state, I think this race definitely helped. I definitely sent a message to my body that it needs to be able to handle high-intensity running. 

This race was very well-organized, benefited an amazing charity, and was super close to home!

Greg had a really strong marathon pace run. I told him to adjust "marathon pace" down by about 10 seconds per mile, and he did. Let's hope it's not this humid for his marathon in two weeks. I will be pacing him for the first half, officially running as a relay runner. 

I don't have any more 5Ks until June, which gives me some time to train and work on building more speed.