Saturday, April 20, 2019

PVTC Easter Classic 5K: Hopping Along

I haven't blogged about my racing plans for the rest of the spring, but I do have them! With only 4-6 weeks of potentially cool mornings left, my coach and I decided I should sign up for some shorter races. Today, April 20, had the potential to be cool given that it's still early spring. So I had registered for a 5K. But alas, it was 67 degrees and humid as hell.

A few weeks ago, I registered for the BEST Kids 5K-- a race that two of my friends were running. This is a small race that I have won in the past on a very fast course. As the race approached, the
forecast started to look worse and worse. On Thursday I determined that it would be too warm and humid to race it at full effort, given my immune system issues. I have struggled with a mono-like virus for 3 out of the past 6 summers and I am almost positive the virus comes on as a reaction to racing in the heat. So I made the decision to run it as a tempo run, and I figured I still could potentially win the race at that.

Which race to run?
The evening before the race, my friends and I realized that the course was flooded. There had been no word from the race director about cancelling the race, but it seemed suspect. One of the two friends, Cheryl, decided to sign up for the PVTC Easter Classic 5K, just 10 minutes away from the original race. So, I followed suit and registered for it too. This race does not offer on-site registration, so we needed to sign up the night before. The other friend, Allison, decided to stick with the BEST Kids race no matter what. She said she would come cheer for us if it was cancelled.

When I woke up this morning and checked my weather app, there was a flood warning for the exact area of the course. It sounded like the course would not be run-able based on the description in the warning. But yet, we hadn't gotten a cancellation email from the BEST Kids race director. So, about 90 minutes before the race start, we finally decided to run the PVTC Easter Classic. We would meet up with Allison for brunch afterwards.

Before the race
Once Cheryl and I settled on PVTC via text message, Greg and I drove down to Arlington. Greg would not be running the race, but cheering and taking photos. Once we arrived, we found Cheryl and began the warm up. Cheryl, Allison, and I all had the exact same running outfits so we all matched. It was too bad Allison wasn't there, but Cheryl and I represented the red shorts with rabbits along the waistband. Perfect for easter!

These PVTC races are small and not chip-timed, but sometimes they can be competitive. I thought I could still potentially win, but I obviously wasn't sure. This was a crowd of "runners" who run races often, whereas the other race was a charity event that was most participants' only race of the year. I decided I would still try to win, unless some woman or women went speeding ahead of me at the beginning.

We warmed up on the course, which was the W&OD trail. I was familiar with it, as I had run this portion of the trail before work one morning back in January. On that day, the roads near my house were covered in snow and ice, but just 15 miles closer to the city, on this section of the trail, it was clear for running.

Two other fun goals: 
1. Run faster than my 5K split for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler (21:35)
2. Run faster than the New Year's Day 5K, which was also warm and humid, and on a different portion of the same trail. (21:35)

My hope was that I could win, run under 21:35, and get negative splits all while running no harder than tempo effort, to protect my fragile immune system.

Mile 1: 7:02
Mile 1
The race started and I decided to ease into it. I ran right next to Cheryl so that Greg would be able to snap photos of us in the same shot. He was standing about 1/4 mile past the start line. Once we passed Greg, I turned on the gas a little bit. I knew that the first half of the race was net uphill and the second half was net downhill. I wanted to conserve my energy for the second half so I could run a negative split and feel good running faster. This is not my normal 5K approach as I typically go out hard.

Mile 2: 6:55
After the first mile, I was already feeling the impact of the humidity. I felt suffocated and like I wasn't breathing clean air. I guess allergies are really bad right now, too, with several types of pollen and ragweed out. And we were running on trail surrounded by trees. At the turnaround, I saw that Cheryl was in second place and nobody was tailing me closely, so I continued to run conservatively. It was mentally a relief to be heading back toward the finish, knowing the second half was mostly downhill.

Mile 3: 6:50
My original plan was to really gun it and try to be around 6:40 or faster, but as I was doing it, I saw no need! I was working hard, I was winning, and I was by no means "comfortable". I was running solid tempo effort so I knew this workout would help in future races. 

Last bit: 6:17 pace
As I approached Greg and the finish line, I sprinted in with a big smile on my face.  

I watched as Cheryl finished in second place, looking really strong! After we recovered, we cooled down for about a mile and a half.

My official time was 21:33, so I officially met all my goals. The good news is that this race felt much better than New Year's Day-- although I was on the verge of getting sick on New Year's and I started out much faster there. My award was a chocolate Easter bunny! 

After Cheryl and I gathered our awards, we (plus Greg) met up with Allison for brunch. We celebrated with mimosas, like we usually do. Allison ended up winning her race, and we were thrilled for her!

Next weekend I will be running the MUCH more competitive Pike's Peek 10K. At this point, I am going to try and run a PR because the weather is looking decent (mid 50s). My 10K PR is my oldest PR and I think I can beat it if the weather is favorable. I'll take on the 5K distance again in May!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

It's a bonk. It's a PR. It's Cherry Blossom!

I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler this morning in Washington DC. I was really excited about this race for a number of reasons. First and foremost, since I DNF'ed the Shamrock Marathon, this had become my "goal race" for the spring season. With a soft PR of 1:10:24, I figured I could beat that by at least a minute, and probably dip under 1:09. All of my workouts indicated that a goal pace of 6:50 was appropriate and I was prepared to crush it.

In the days leading up to the race, I felt awesome. My legs felt strong and peppy, with no lingering fatigue from high mileage marathon training. I slept well and I had a relaxed mindset. The life stress that I had mentioned prior to Shamrock had somewhat subsided, so I was in a good spot both physically and mentally.

The only question was the weather. The forecast called for 54-58 degrees with around 90% humidity. Thankfully the skies were overcast. I decided that I wasn't going to adjust my pacing or strategy for the weather. I was still going to shoot for a 6:50 average pace. However, any warmer or sunnier and I would have likely made an adjustment.

For many runners, these conditions would be ideal. For me, I run best when it's in the upper 30's. In fact all of my current PR's were set in temperatures below 40 degrees! I always say that if I'm not wearing gloves, I'm not PRing. BUT, once again, today's conditions were by no means "bad". They just weren't ideal for me. I knew this, but I still wanted to shoot for a 6:50 average pace because I didn't want to set limitations on what I could do. I didn't want the weather to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Before the Race
Even though I love the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, I do not love the packet pickup situation. In years past, the expo opened at 1:00pm on Friday, and I was able to go during my lunch break. But this year, it didn't open until 3:00pm, which meant trying to leave the city during Friday rush hour. And that could take well over an hour.

So Greg and I drove into the city yesterday to get our bibs. It took us about an hour to get in, maybe 30 minutes to get the bibs, and about 45 minutes to get out. Not horrible, but if the expo had opened earlier on Friday, we would have saved a lot of time and hassle the day before the race.

I slept relatively well last night and woke up refreshed this morning and ready to race. Greg and I ate our typical bagels + peanut butter, and brought Generation UCAN with us to drink 30 minutes before the start of the race. We left the house at 6:00am, and arrived in the city by 6:35. Not bad at all!

We parked about a mile from the start line, warmed up, went to the bathroom and got into the corral about 10 minutes prior to race start. Large races in DC can be logistical nightmares, so it was a relief that everything had gone smoothly with regards to parking and getting to the start on time.

My pace goal was 6:50. Greg didn't really know what to shoot for. He just PR'ed his marathon 5 weeks ago, but then took some time off and hadn't done much speed work since. He also didn't do a ton of speed work during his marathon training cycle due to an ankle issue. We knew his endurance was solid, but we weren't sure where his speed would land him.

Miles 1-3
The race started and I felt amazing. Of course, the first half mile is mostly downhill, so it's easy to start off really fast and feel good doing it. I fell into this trap and noticed I had been running a pace of 6:41 for the first half mile, and needed to dial it back some. The mile then ends on an uphill, so that brought my average pace in line with where I wanted it to be. At the same time, I didn't want to be a slave to the watch. I've run enough 10-milers to know how it should feel, so I wanted my body to be my guide.

These miles were crowded. Only at Cherry Blossom and Boston do I find myself running in such a crowded pack! I tried not to weave through people and focused on running the tangents. Because there are so many people, it's difficult to know where the tangents are, but I think I did a great job of finding them.

These miles felt great, and I knew I was tracking toward a major PR. I had a smile on my face and I was enjoying the experience. I knew that Greg was tailing me pretty closely because I could hear him. Since we run together so much, I know exactly what he sounds like when he's working hard. He even caught up to me during an uphill portion, but then I sped ahead on the subsequent downhill. I tend to slow down a bit when going up hills and then charge back down.

Mile 1: 6:50
Mile 2: 6:51
Mile 3: 6:46

Miles 4-7
Mile 5, photo by Cheryl Young
The race started to feel like "work" starting at mile 4. But the "work" felt completely sustainable. I stayed focused and cruised through mile 4 and 5 pretty easily. I knew that mile 6 would be the toughest of the race. There's a hill that's not too steep but every time it just seems to take something
out of me. I think it's because of where it is during the race.

Greg caught up to me right around the mile 6 marker and then passed me just before we crossed the 10K timing mat. I was really impressed with how well he was doing, given that he had only done speed work twice since his marathon five weeks ago. And. . . it was a bit demoralizing too. As I said, mile 6 is tough, and at the same time, I started to feel less peppy and more fatigued. I told myself "just wait until you get to Hains point-- it will be all flat with no turns and you will feel much better." But that didn't happen. In any event, my official 10K split was 42:43, and I was really excited about that. It's my third fastest 10K ever.

Mile 7 felt WAY harder than mile 6, and this was not a good sign. And even though the forecast showed virtually no wind, I still noticed a bit of a headwind during miles 7 and 8 as we went around Hains Point. It was minor, but given how I felt, it really drained me.

Mile 4: 6:54
Mile 5: 6:52
Mile 6: 7:02
Mile 7: 7:04

Miles 8-10
All I wanted during mile 8 was to turn around and not be running into the wind. I know, I know, the wind was VERY LIGHT, but it felt so hard. In actuality, the problem was not the wind, but the rising temperature. It was probably around 57 degrees by this point and humid, and my body does not like even a hint of warmth. Regardless, I pushed and pushed and pushed.

I wondered how I would even finish. I kept feeling like "OMG I need to stop right now!" but then I would convince myself to keep going no matter what. I seriously entered a pain cave and I was in a world of hurt. I was barely looking at my watch because I didn't want to get discouraged. All I wanted to do was to finish and be done with the torture.

I had to constantly remind myself, "You're still in the game!" Because it honestly felt like my race was over and I was no longer in control of the pace. I was just hanging on for dear life. My "You're still in the game!" mantra helped me so much. It meant that I could still PR, even though it would be modest. I knew that I would be not be happy if my "spring goal race" was a flop so I just told myself I was still in the game and I gave it all I had when I felt like I had nothing.

During mile 9, I noticed that my chest was starting to hurt. OMG- was I having a heart attack? Was I pushing myself into the danger zone? I wasn't sure, but I kept doing it!

People were passing me, but I vowed not to let that get to me. I was doing great. I was going to finish.
Mile 10, Photo by C. Young
I was still in the game and I could still PR. I remembered the 10 mile race I ran last October. I literally stopped for 20 seconds during the 8th mile because my foot was numb. And yet my time was still pretty decent. So today there would be no stopping and my time would be even better.

Finally, we were out of Hains Point and there was about half a mile to go. And it was pretty much all uphill! But I knew that if I let myself fall apart now, I wouldn't PR. And I was NOT going to fall apart in the last half mile of the race. I was too close. Not only did I have to push hard to stay on track to PR, but I had to push hard UP HILL.

So, I did what I always do when I'm racing up hill. I focused on a point about 20 feet ahead of me up the hill, and I ran as had as I could until that point, and then found another point 20 feet ahead of me and ran as hard as I could until that point. And another, and another. This way, I didn't have to look up to see how steep/long the hill was and I just focused on the next 20 feet. It works for me every time and it worked today.

At last, I was at the top of the hill, and then I sprinted my heart out on the downhill finish. The finish line clock read 1:09:23 and since I had started about 15 seconds after that I knew that if I gunned it, I could get under 1:10:10. According to my Garmin, the last 0.02 of the race was a pace of 4:47.

Mile 8: 7:09
Mile 9: 7:11
Mile 10: 7:07

After I crossed, I felt soooooo bad. I met up with Greg (who finished about a minute ahead of me) and it took me about five full minutes to be able to communicate properly. I was a wreck. I was dry heaving. But, I had my sub-1:10.

Official time: 1:09:54.
I placed 17 out of 1,249 in my age group (40-44)

After the Race
I saw a few friends at the finish line but I could barely talk to them. I was in such bad shape. But ultimately, I started to feel more normal and Greg and I walked back to our car and drove home. I immediately got into an Epsom salt bath and Greg made us coffee. Usually racing suppresses my appetite, so I wasn't hungry for lunch until about two hours after finishing.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
To simultaneously bonk and PR in the same race speaks volumes about my fitness. And also about my mental strength. So, I'm pretty happy with that. My coach said this:

You're amazing Elizabeth! Most athletes would have given up when your body was starting to turn against you, but you fought so hard and came away with a PR... in conditions that normally destroy you! You should be so proud of yourself; I actually think this is one of your best races because you fought against the thought of stopping but continued to get a PR.

He's right! This is one of best races. Racing is not about running the absolute fastest time in ideal conditions. It's about getting the best out of yourself no matter what and I got the best out of myself. This race was very close to becoming a disaster, but I refused to let it end that way.

Part of me feels like it's not a "real" PR because I ran the first 10 miles of the Houston Half Marathon faster. Of course, it was 35 degrees! All that means is that if I ever encounter a cold 10-miler, I can shave a good chunk of time off what I ran today. I know I had a 1:08:xx in me today, but the weather unfortunately didn't cooperate. Again, today's weather was ideal for many runners, but not for me.

With only six seconds under 1:10:00, I really owe it to rallying during that last half mile, reminding myself that I was still in the game, and believing in myself. If I hadn't done all that, I definitely would have not run under 1:10:00, and I wouldn't be nearly as satisfied.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The race day countdown: why NOT to do it

With something like marathon training, where you are working toward a specific event on a specific date, it's easy to lose focus on what's happening in the present. As runners, we begin counting down to the marathon months in advance. I often post on Instagram: "Just 5 more weeks until race day!"  We are always very aware of how far away this event is, and it's easy for race day to become the day we are waiting for.

When I was training for Shamrock, I was often overwhelmed with how much I had to juggle. Not only did I have to fit the training into my busy life, but the weather threw in some curve balls, so I would have to adjust for that-- sometimes running after work or using a treadmill. During the past few months, I found myself thinking "after the marathon I will do x, y, and z".  I think I do this with most marathon training cycles, but I was more aware of it this time. It felt like certain things in life just needed to wait until I no longer had 70-80 mile weeks on my plate.

Now that the race is over, and I am getting to some of the things I pushed off, I realize I need to work on not focusing so much on that marathon date. A very simple example is taking a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to purchase some kitchen items that needed to be replaced. Sure, I could have bought them online, but I wanted to go to the store, browse the items in person, and use all my 20% off coupons! Although I enjoy shopping, this task just seemed like too much to do while I was running all those miles.

One of my friends wanted to run with me the weekend before the marathon and I told her no. My only reason was that I didn't want to have to schedule or coordinate something. I was feeling stressed out (as I blogged about previously) and I didn't want something else that I had to plan for. I didn't want to have to be somewhere at a certain time.

In reflecting on these two examples, and my overall mindset in the four weeks leading up to the race, I was feeling really over-scheduled and wanting to put everything off until after the race. I want to avoid this in the future for a number of reasons:

1. I don't want to wish my life away
The countdown to race day is always exciting, but it can be a slippery slope. If I have six weeks to race day, then that's six weeks of quality living I have to do and I want to savor and enjoy those weeks. Whether I am running, going to work, spending time with friends and family, blogging, or playing the piano, I want to be happy in the moment. If I were to live from marathon to marathon, then the rest of life would pass me by!

2. I don't want to feel stressed out by my training plan
I think this is mainly an issue during winter months when I have to adjust when I train due to snow and ice. Or if there isn't enough light in the morning to do the whole workout and get into work at a reasonable time. As I posted previously, the running itself isn't the issue-- it's the logistics. I think this will continue to be a challenge in future winters, so I will need to figure out a way to be more relaxed and accepting about moving runs around. I think that the planning and scheduling of runs got to be so much, that I didn't want to make any other plans that weren't absolutely critical. So I kept thinking "after the marathon I want to do x, y, and z."

3. The marathon isn't that important
I work really hard to prepare for a marathon. I spend 8-10 hours a week training. It's important, but it's not THAT important. I don't want to be constantly thinking to myself, "March 17th is THE day!" All days are important. Some days are more exciting than others. Some days are easily forgotten and others are extremely memorable. And yes, marathon day is really exciting and fun, and it's great to look forward to it! But I think it's a mistake for that date to be a shiny object when I think about the months and weeks ahead of me.

As runners, we need to balance the excitement of looking forward to race day with the reality that we live in the present. I need to work on this. Running is not life; running is a part of my life.

Monday morning recovery run
After I DNF'ed the marathon on Sunday, I stayed in Virginia Beach and just chilled out. Greg and I
had dinner with one of my best friends from college who lives there and it was really nice. The next morning, we did a 3-mile recovery run on the boardwalk at sunrise. It was beautiful and calming.

My coach and I both thought I was ready to dive back into training, as if this had been a half marathon. Typically after a half marathon I don't need much recovery time and I am running hard again four days later. On Tuesday I ran for 90 minutes at an easy pace and everything felt really smooth and good. Wednesday was an easy 70 minutes, and on Thursday morning I went to the track. I was scheduled for five mile repeats but I quickly realized that my legs were not as recovered as I thought so I cut it off after just two, and those two were much slower than the target. Friday was 75 minutes easy, and I noticed my legs were really dragging.

In the meantime, the "life stress" that I mentioned in my previous post has not gone away yet, but the end is in sight. When I woke up on Saturday morning, just rolling around in bed, my legs felt a little achy. I had a long run on schedule and I decided to bag it and take a rest day. I guess I didn't initially realize how much the 13.8 miles took out of me on Sunday. I figured that doing a long run on dead legs would only put me deeper into a hole, and wouldn't provide much training benefit. My coach suggested I take Sunday off as well based on this feedback, so it's been a weekend full of relaxation and catching up.

Greg and I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond yesterday and got the kitchen items we needed. I got a massage which further emphasized that my legs were not in great shape. Today I am tidying up some clutter in the house and getting a pedicure. I might go for a walk this afternoon just to get the blood flowing to my legs. My hope is that these two days off will restore my legs and I can have a quality week next week before tapering for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

As for right now, I am not going to focus too much on that race. I need to get my legs revitalized and enjoy my weekend!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

When the third time is not a charm: the Shamrock Marathon

Despite a spectator literally throwing lucky charms on me as I ran, my third attempt at the Shamrock full Marathon was not at all lucky. DNF #3 is on the books. But surprisingly, I'm not all that upset
about it. Considering my primary goal today was to finish strong, and I didn't do that, I'm handling the disappointment quite well.

For those of you who haven't been reading this blog for the past 9 years, I DNF'ed this race in 2010 and in 2012. I was registered for it in 2011, but was injured so that was a DNS (Did Not Start). I chose this particular marathon to get revenge on those DNFs.

My time goal was in the neighborhood of 3:12, which would be a PR by 3 minutes, at a pace of around 7:20. My training indicated that this was realistic.

Race Week
Even though we do everything in our power to make race week go well, it's not always possible. I was focused on eating healthy, avoiding germs, hydrating, and getting plenty of sleep. And while I thought I did all of that stuff well, I was unable to avoid stress in my life. This week was particularly stressful for reasons I won't address right now. I think I handled the stress well, but suffice it to say I had a lot on my mind, not related to running. And admittedly, I started to worry that the non-running stress would affect the race, so then maybe it became a little bit of a vicious cycle.

Greg and I drove down to Virginia Beach yesterday (Saturday). I wore my Boston Marathon jacket to the expo, which was significant to me. I remembered back in 2010 and 2012 when I went to the marathon expo, seeing people in their Boston jackets, wanting so badly to BQ. And simultaneously
feeling so wound up and anxious about the race because on both occasions, the weather was warm.

And now, here I was, with my 2020 BQ already in hand, and two Boston Marathons under my belt, showing up to the Shamrock expo. It was a good feeling. The Shamrock Marathon has great SWAG and a tempting selection of race apparel for sale at the expo. I couldn't resist a Brooks half-zip with the Shamrock logo since I am always looking for mid-weight half-zips. I was kind of worried that if the race went poorly then I wouldn't want to wear it afterwards. But then I decided if the race went poorly, I would associate the half-zip with the 2016 Shamrock half (a PR) since it didn't have a year on it!

After the expo, Greg and I went to check into our hotel. Since we are Gold members of Marriott, we were given a free upgrade to a large suite. This suite had a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen area, and two oceanfront balconies. A sweet suite! As such, I had plenty of room to stage all my nutritional items in the kitchen and my race outfit in the living room.

We then went out to dinner with our friends Hannah and Alex at the restaurant we ate at in 2016. It was fun catching up with them, and they announced that they were expecting their first child in October! I ordered the same meal I had the night before Rehoboth Beach-- chicken parmesan without the cheese. I felt calm, relaxed, and in a good mindset. I wasn't anxious or nervous about the race at all-- I was mainly excited.

Before the Race
I slept for about 7 hours, but it wasn't very restful. It was nice from about 8:30-midnight, and after that, I kept waking up. This is somewhat normal for the night before a marathon, so I didn't stress about it.

Our hotel was only 3 blocks from the start line. This is one of the reasons I love this race-- super easy logistics. We left our hotel room at 7:05 and then hung out in the hotel lobby until 7:15, allowing me to use the bathroom just 15 minutes before the race, which was ideal. I warmed up for about half a mile by jogging to the start line, and then around the start line. At this point, Greg left me so he could walk up a bit to stage his photo shoot.

At the start line, there were two separate Instagram runners who recognized me. It was really cool to connect with people "in real life" instead of just online. I felt pretty good and I knew I was ready to run a strong race. With three minutes left to go, I tossed my throw-away hoodie and watched the clock tick slowly to 7:30.

Miles 1-5
In a marathon, I always allow myself to run the first mile at whatever pace feels right. It's all about finding a groove and establishing a rhythm. I think I did pretty well here, as I was running around 7:35 without really trying. A 7:35 pace felt more like 8:15, so I took that as a sign that this was going
Mile 1
to be a great race. After the first mile (where I passed Greg taking photos), I ditched my throw-away arm warmers. It wasn't all that cold at 41 degrees and sunny, so I didn't need them. They were actually a $2 pair of Walmart socks that I cut the feet seams out of.

It was a little windy during the first two miles, but then we made a slight turn and it was fine. I just focused on staying relaxed and enjoying the race atmosphere. I didn't want to get too much into my head, so I observed the runners around me, and remembered when I ran the half in 2016, and it was pouring down rain with high winds.

The plan here was to be in the high 7:20's, but I wasn't going to force it. I wanted the effort to feel moderate for the first 10K, and I wasn't going to be a slave to the watch. A runner recognized me from Instagram and said hi. And I found myself running with her for this entire stretch. Sometimes she would take the lead, and then sometimes I would be in the lead.

Mile 1: 7:37
Mile 2: 7:34
Mile 3: 7:33
Mile 4: 7:26
Mile 5: 7:24

Miles 6-9
Everything had been going beautifully up until this point. And then we hit a strong headwind. I would estimate maybe 12-14 mph sustained. I was not expecting more wind until about mile 19 when we ran north again, since the forecast showed the wind coming from the north. But the wind was actually more eastwardly than it was northerly so those three eastbound miles were unexpectedly hard. I wish I had been more mentally prepared, but I adapted pretty quickly.  And by adapted, I mean I mentally adapted and didn't get frustrated. I did not physically adapt by slowing down. My plan was to start hitting marathon pace (7:20) at around mile 7, and I didn't want to back off that plan, despite the wind.

I really didn't want the wind to slow me down, and I told myself I could push through it. In hindsight, maybe that was a mistake because I was probably exerting too much effort too soon. You don't want to be straining at miles 7-8 in a marathon, and I was straining. Wind be dammed! I had a target pace to hit!

I was still running with my new friend during these miles. She looked really strong, so I told myself I must be just as strong if I am running that same pace. Ultimately, she she sped up and passed me in the 9th mile, but she was running the half and really going for it at that point.

Mile 6: 7:29
Mile 7: 7:26
Mile 8: 7:38
Mile 9: 7:34

Miles 10-13
Finally we were out of that wind. So now it was time to recover. I told myself that races have their hard stretches, but then you can recover and move on and feel good again. I took my UCAN shortly after passing the mile 10 marker and it went down okay. The great thing about that was that after drinking water with it, I could toss my bottle and not have to carry it any more. Surely that would make everything feel better.

So no more headwind, no more water bottle to carry, just nice and strong running. Well, it still felt unsustainably hard. Mile 11 felt more like mile 22, and no matter how positive I tried being, my body just wasn't cooperating. So. . . how to salvage the race? I thought to myself that it wasn't a PR day, but I could get my backup goal of 3:17:19. That's the date of the race! That would still be within my reach if I could hold a pace of around 7:32. Yes, new goal!

But by the time I got to mile 12, I started doubting that goal. And then I told myself not to even think about my finish time, but simply focus on finishing to the best of my ability. My main goal here was to finish strong, so all I needed to do was to keep running and keep doing my best.

And by the time I got to mile 13, I started to wonder what would motivate me to get to the finish line, since I was already feeling so beat up. I know. . . it would be my fastest "bonk" ever! When I crashed at Indy Monumental, I still ended up with a time of 3:43, so if I beat that, it would be a bonking PR! I saw my friend Cristina (who had run the half) cheering for me at this point, and that really perked me up. For like 20 seconds, things were really good.

Mile 10: 7:30
Mile 11: 7:40 (taking my UCAN)
Mile 12: 7:33
Mile 13: 7:51

Mile 14
And then I crossed the halfway point in 1:39:25. This was about 3 minutes slower than my target. Not a big deal, but I knew there was no way I could run another 1:39:25. Should I drop out? Absolutely not.  I've DNF'ed this race twice and my whole purpose here was to not DNF. I was going to finish
Mile 14
come hell or high water. Yes!

I knew I would see Greg just before mile marker 14, and I wondered if I should stop and consult with him. After all, I wasn't worried about my time anymore, so I could afford to stop for a brief conversation. Somewhere between the halfway point and mile 13.8 I began to wonder why I would be putting my body through the torture of a "bonk". What for? I already know I can run a 3:15 marathon, so I don't have anything to prove. And then it would take two weeks to recover and I wouldn't be in a great spot for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in 3 weeks.

Hmmm. . . drop out and have a shot at a nice PR at Cherry Blossom, or keep going, have a miserable experience, and then sacrifice two weeks of training for Cherry Blossom. That made my decision clear: I would rather have one strong race than two mediocre ones. I had a marathon PR that I was really happy with, but I felt like I could really smash a 10-mile PR. So, once I got to Greg, we chatted about it, going back and forth.

I actually told him, "Wait here for 20 minutes while I attempt to run again and I will see how I feel." But after going maybe 1/10 of a mile, I realized what horrible shape my legs were in. It was as if I ran a half marathon at half marathon effort. It was pointless to continue. As much as I wanted the medal, and the hat, and the towel and the finish line glory; I knew that today wasn't the day for it.

After the Race
So, within a matter of about 30 minutes, my race took a turn for the worse and ended. After weeks and weeks of hard training, it all came down to 30 minutes that just didn't go my way. But that's how the marathon works and that's the allure of it.

When I think about what went wrong, I think it was probably a combination of the stress I had this week and fighting too hard against the wind so early in the race. Mile 8 is not a time to be fighting in a marathon. It's crazy because I feel like on any given day in training, I could have run this distance at this pace and not have felt so beat up. So potentially there was some mental aspect at play too.

And crazy though it may sound, I haven't done a long run in shorts and a tank since October, and maybe my body wasn't "used to" the low 40s. Sure, it's an ideal race temperature, but maybe it was a shock to my system since I am used to running in the low 30s? Unlikely, but possible.

Greg and I made our way back to the hotel. He didn't have my jacket or long-sleeved shirt because he was planning to grab that from the hotel before I finished. We had over a mile to walk, so to avoid being cold, I jogged back to the hotel at a pace of 10:30. As I did this, I saw all the marathoners running toward me. It was sad to see them all still in the game, and I had given up so early. But I stayed strong in my head and knew that I made the right decision for me.

Kind of an anti-climatic weekend after all this build up and planning. It's disappointing, but I knew going into Shamrock that it was a quick turnaround from Rehoboth. Potentially there wasn't enough down time in between but it was worth a shot. All along, I saw Shamrock as just "gravy" after how well I did at Rehoboth. I have my 2020 BQ and a marathon time that I'm super proud of. So I am not dissatisfied. I think I will be dissatisfied, though, if Cherry Blossom doesn't go well. I'm PR hungry, just not marathon PR hungry!

All in all, it was a fun morning. It just wasn't MY morning. And there are many other mornings to come.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Logistics of Running

One of the biggest challenges of marathon training is the logistics. How, when, and where do you fit in all the miles? For such a simple sport, the logistics can get pretty complex.

I ran 15+ miles before work on Tuesday, and it required a fair bit of planning. I'll use this run to share how I managed to execute it successfully in terms of being fueled, hydrated, safe, and able to go to work afterwards.

The Workout
This was one of my biggest workouts of the training cycle:
  • 15-30 minutes warm up
  • 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile tempo (getting progressively faster)-- all with 4 minute recovery jogs
  • 15-30 minutes cool down
I had done this workout once before, when I was training for Boston last spring. I totally nailed it last time, and I was hoping for the same this week.

One of the first logistical things to consider was the weather. This workout was originally scheduled for Monday, but we had a severe wind advisory with 30 mph sustained winds and gusts up to 60 mph. Not only was this weather ill-suited for a tempo run, but it was downright unsafe. So I asked my coach if I could swap my Tuesday and Monday runs, and he said yes. I ended up running on a treadmill on Monday for the sake of safety, and moved the run to Tuesday. Tuesday's weather was delightful: 29 degrees with low winds.

The night before I had selected my outfit. Tights, socks, a sports bra and a half-zip. I actually narrowed it down to 2 half-zips, and made the final determination in the morning based on the actual temperature. I often find that the forecast hourly temperature can change by as much as 5 degrees to the actual, and that is enough to change my wardrobe decision. I decided to wear my adidas Adizero Tempo 8 shoes. I've worn them in half marathons so I knew they had enough cushion to power through something long and fast.

Please appreciate that all of my headings have started with "W" so far, as this will be the last one. While the 1-mile auto-lap feature on the Garmin would have sufficed for this run, I programmed the intervals into my Garmin the night before the run. That way, I wouldn't have to keep glancing down at my watch during the four-minute recoveries to see when it was time to run hard again. Instead, the watch would beep at me, alerting me that my recovery jog was over. I also made sure to charge the Garmin overnight so it would be ready for the long haul.

Route Planning
There's a neighborhood about 2.5 miles from my house in which I typically do speed work. It's a large neighborhood with lots of interconnecting roads that don't have thru traffic. There are definitely cars (especially as the morning rush hour kicks off) but they are relatively infrequent. Since I don't listen to music, I can always hear them coming from behind me, which makes me move closer to the side of the road. Otherwise, I run straight down the middle of the road without issue.

The neighborhood features gently rolling hills. There are no flat portions but the inclines are (for the most part) very gradual. In fact, I wouldn't even call them hills--they are inclines and declines. I don't think I ever gain more than 30 ft within one mile. 

Anyway, because the roads are all interconnected, I determined my exact route the night before so I wouldn't have to make decisions during the run itself. There's a loop I do which includes lots of turns and weaving through the streets that's 5.5 miles. I decided I would run that loop once, and then run a circular loop that's about 1.5 miles for the rest of it. I like to think of it as a 1.5-mile track.  

Sunrise and Start Time
I do not like to run speed workouts in the dark. Even with a headlamp, I am fearful that I will step in a pothole or uneven pavement and fall. When I have done speed work with a headlamps, my paces were slower than ideal because I kept such a close watch on my footing, and not stepping confidently. For an easy run, I'm good to go in the dark as long as I have my headlamp. The sun rose at 6:46, which meant it would be light enough to see starting at 6:26. And I didn't mind doing the warm up in the dark, so that meant I could leave the house as early as 6:05 and have enough light. I set my alarm for 5:40, which would give me 25 minutes to get ready. In reality, I woke up naturally at around 5:00.

I mixed one serving of Generation UCAN with water in my blender bottle and drank it pretty quickly. Technically, you are supposed to take it 30 minutes before you start exercising, but of course I didn't have time for that, and figured it would be 30 minutes before I started the fast portion. The run ended up being 15.6 miles total, but one serving of UCAN was enough to keep me energized throughout.

Because it was only 29 degrees, I knew I could get away with running the entire workout without drinking water, so long as I hydrated well the day before and drank water during the warm up. I filled
Water bottle I used before tossing
a disposable water bottle with piping hot water (so my hands wouldn't get cold holding it) and drank from it periodically throughout the 2.3-mile warm up. And then I tossed it in a garbage can just before starting the tempo miles. If it had been warmer, I would have driven my car to this neighborhood and planted the bottle next to the tire; making sure I was at my car during the recovery jogs. There are really no other hiding spots in this neighborhood to hide a bottle, and I've done this several times on other runs with no issues.

The point in the neighborhood where I wanted to start my run was over three miles from my house, so I drove to a location that was one mile away from my house, which meant I could run there in just two miles. Greg was also running that morning, so we left together in the car at 6:10, drove one mile together, and then I gave him the key. I knew I would be able to finish 2.5 miles from the house, and I figured that would be a good cool down distance.

Apple Watch
If, for some reason, the workout left me so exhausted that I couldn't run home, I wore my Apple Watch to enable me to call Greg so he could come pick me up. So I had my Garmin on my left wrist, and my Apple watch on my right wrist to use as a telephone if needed. I also told Greg I would call him when I was done with the tempo miles, just so he knew when to expect me back home.

Workout Recap
Having set myself up for a well-lit, well-fueled, safe run, I was excited to get going. Greg and I left the house a little later than planed at 6:10. We drove a mile and parked the car, and I gave him the key. We ran 2.3 miles to the tempo neighborhood at which point he continued on and I stopped briefly to throw away my water bottle. 

Then it was time for the work to begin. I remembered how the last time I ran this workout my paces were faster than expected, and I couldn't believe the paces I was seeing on my watch. But that was not the case this time. My coach wanted me to average a 7:00 pace for the first 4 miles, and that was not easy. I felt like I was exerting around a 6:50 effort, and yet my splits were 7:03, 7:01, 7:02, 6:55. So, I got the job done on the first four miles, but they were harder than expected.

Of course my mind automatically went to "OMG, how am I going to run 6 more miles faster than that?!" but I quickly shifted away from that line of thinking. I know from experience that it's never a good idea to project negatively onto what might happen later in the workout or race. It's always best to focus on the mile or interval I'm in currently and getting through that. 

The next three miles were prescribed at a pace of around 6:50. That seemed daunting so I told myself to just run by effort, which I did. It was hard. My legs did not have much pep and my energy level was so-so. I was now running the "1.5-mile track" loop of the neighborhood and I couldn't decide if that was mentally easier or tougher than running the route with all the curves. Splits were 7:04, 6:58, 7:03

I worked hard to hit the first 7:04, speeding up at the end of the mile, and then eased back off at the start of the next mile. Of course that meant I had to pay for it at the end of the mile, speeding up to hit 6:58, then backing off at the start of the next mile. So I would not call this a smooth run by any means, but rather half miles alternating 7:10 and 6:50. Needless to say, these three miles did not average out to the target 6:50, but I knew I had worked very hard, so I was fine with that.

With only 3 tempo miles to go, things got easier from a mental standpoint. Although physically I was starting to feel really beat up. I desperately wanted to stay in the 7:00 range, and worked my butt off to hit 6:59 for the first mile, but then was really wasted in the second mile, running 7:11

At this point (during the 4-minute recovery jog) I decided I was going to be content with how the workout was going and I would run that last mile hard, and not care about the pace. The last mile was 6:56, which (looking at my Garmin data) started out at like 7:20 and then progressed down to 6:35 at the end! Once I was nearing the end of that mile, I told myself to truly "empty the tank" so I really rallied.

Workout average: 11.2 miles at an average pace of 7:21.

I was SO HAPPY to be done with that workout! Now I just had to run home. I was about 2.5 miles away from my house so I started the slow jog back. I called Greg on the way back to let him know I had finished and that I didn't need him to come get me. I ended up running 2.1 miles for my cool down and walked the rest of the way home, which was actually a nice change for my legs. All in all, I ran 15.6 miles!

As soon as I got home, I popped open a Naked Protein smoothie. These juices have 30 grams of protein and 420 calories. It's a great way to refuel after a long run when you're short on time. I downed the whole thing in less than 3 minutes. 

Of course all I wanted to do was take an Epsom salt bath and crawl back into bed for a nap, but work awaited me! I did my hip exercises because I cannot afford to slack there, followed by a quick shower, no hair washing. I got dressed for work, put on my make up and was out the door by 9:15. Technically I was a little late to work but I didn't have any early meetings (on purpose) so it was okay.

Workout Analysis
While I would have loved to hit the pace targets that my coach prescribed, I was still happy with this workout. When I did this workout last spring I was faster, but I also wasn't in the midst of an 80-mile week. Plus, I had run on a treadmill the day before and that always makes my legs extra tired for the next run.  The tempo miles averaged out to 7:01, so running 10 miles at that pace is really strong. I think my endurance is really solid right now because I was able to maintain my pace even when I didn't have a ton of energy or leg power.

Most of all, I am happy that I stuck with it. Even though I wasn't running as quickly as I would have liked, I didn't get discouraged or throw in the towel. I focused my effort level and staying mentally strong. After all, workouts aren't about setting PRs and proving fitness - they are about making fitness gains. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

My Week In Shoes: Shamrock Marathon Training

Life has been crazy busy lately and I realize that I've only written two blog posts this year. That's about to change. It's time for a good ol' week in review + the shoes I wore.

The last time I blogged about shoes was in September. Since my Nike Lunarglide was being discontinued and the Mizuno Wave Inspire no longer worked for me, I was on the hunt for a new rotation. I've now settled into a shoe mix that works for me-- one that doesn't create injuries and allows me to maximize the benefit of my training runs.

I ran all seven days this week, which is typical for me, and I'm at the point in my training cycle where four of those days are harder, "quality" workouts, and the remaining three days are easy. The Shamrock Marathon is four weeks away, and even though this week was tough, the next two will be even tougher as I prepare to peak.

I wore all of the above shoes this week. You will notice that three pairs are Nike and three pairs are adidas. I like these brands because they fit my narrow foot. I've never been able to wear Asics or Saucony, and when I wear Brooks, I buy the narrow width.

On the top row, from left to right are the adidas Adizero Adios, the Adizero Tempo 8, and the Adizero Tempo 9. In the Nike row, from left to right are the Lunarglide 9, and two pairs of the Odyssey React.

These are the shoes I wore this week. Other shoes that are in the rotation that I did not wear this week are the adidas Adizero Boston 7, the Mizuno Wave Sayonara, and the Brooks Ghost.

Monday: 3 x 2 miles at 10K effort in the adidas Adizero Tempo 8
What a brutal day for a workout! In the morning, we were greeted with freezing rain, so I had to wait until lunchtime when the temperature rose from 32 degrees to 34 degrees. I ran from my office to a nearby track. Ideally, I would have done this workout on the roads, but since I am not as familiar with the good running roads near my office, I opted for the track. I was frozen to the core, even though I was dressed appropriately!

I warmed up for 2.4 miles and then ran 8 laps (2 miles) with splits of 6:43, 6:38. Then came a 400m recovery (3 mins), followed by another 8 laps with splits of 6:38, 6:36. Another 400m recovery (3 mins) and then 6:42, 6:40. Whew! I was so glad when that was over and it was perhaps one of the most mentally tough workouts I have ever done. The combination of it being on a track with the awful weather and in the middle of the day was rough. But, I was happy with my paces. Even if you include the two 400m recovery jogs, I ran 6.5 miles at an average pace of 7:05, which is FASTER than the Pancake Run 10K from a few weeks ago. Just goes to show that something was majorly off in that race. My average for the 10K effort miles was 6:39.

I love the adidas Tempo 8 for tempo runs! There's a good amount of cushion, yet I can still "feel" the ground under my feet for a controlled toe off. There's a bit of "bounce-back" but overall the shoe is on the firmer side in my opinion. I also wear the Tempo 8 for half marathons, and have raced a few 5Ks in them too. Unfortunately, they screwed it up with the Tempo 9, making that shoe heavier and bulkier. The Tempo 9 doesn't feel like a speedy shoe to me. Hopefully they come up with a newer model that is more like the 8. And yes, I have stocked up on the 8's!

Tuesday: 11.35 miles at 7:51 pace in the Nike Odyssey React (blue pair)
My coach likes to give me these medium-long runs at a moderate effort. He prescribed a target pace
Nike Odyssey React
of 7:45-7:55 for 90 minutes. In the past, it's been as fast as 7:30! The theory is that the more miles you run at the high end of your aerobic range, the more gains you make. So the effort here felt moderate or maybe I would call it a "hard" easy. Of course, this was all made more challenging with the pouring rain and a temperature of only 33 degrees. Brrr! But I wasn't as cold as I was on the track since I had layered up a bit more. I wore a shower cap to keep my hair from getting soaked. Nothing makes you cold like wet hair, so having this extra protection helped.

I wore the Nike Odyssey React. This blue pair was my first-ever pair of this newly released shoe, and it was nearing the end of its life. I like the Nike Odyssey react for long fast runs, like this one. It's also the shoe I wore at the Rehoboth Beach marathon and it worked great. It has a lot of cushion and loads of bounce and it's fun to run in. Probably the most "fun" shoe I have ever worn, if that makes sense. It's super light weight (even lighter than the adidas Tempo 8) but really supportive and fast. This shoe has it all.

Wednesday: 7.8 miles at 9:00 pace in the Nike Lunarglide 9
A much-needed easy day after two consecutive days of hard running in the rain. Thankfully the weather cooperated, because I don't think I would have tolerated another freezing wet run. When my coach saw this slower pace he asked, "were you tired?" Ummm . . . did you not see the workouts I did the past two days?! LOL. In all seriousness, my legs felt heavy and of course that's natural after so much hard running at a high volume.

Before they were discontinued, I stocked up on the Nike Lunarglide. I have this current pair (2/3 through its life) and one more remaining. Since I am using the Odyssey React for most of my long runs, I use the Lunarglide for my easy runs. It's nice and plush, but feels heavy in comparison to the Odyssey. I also wear the Brooks Ghost on easy days, but didn't wear it this week.

Thursday: Ladder Intervals in the adidas Adizero Adios 3
The workout was 2 x (1 min, 2 min, 3 min, 2, min, 1 min) hard—all with 90-second easy jogs in between. I was a little conservative on the way up the first ladder but then started pushing on the way
adidas Adizero Adios 3
back down. I determined I would really drive on the second set:
1 min: 6:25
2 min: 6:32
3 min: 6:35
2 min: 6:18
1 min: 5:50
1 min: 5:58
2 min: 6:11
3 min: 6:15
2 min: 6:01
1 min: 5:48
The easy jogs ranged from 8:45 to 10:15, depending on the elevation gain or loss. The elevation also factored into my paces above, as I ran a gently rolling course. Overall this run felt really good and I was lucky to have the day off and nap afterwards. Including warm up and cool down, I ran a total of 9.1 miles.

My coach recommended the Adios to me as a racing flat. That's a bit of a misnomer though because it's not exactly flat. I can't run in flat shoes because my Achilles tendon will flare up. The Adios, however, has a 10mm drop which is good for me. These shoes do not have a lot of cushion and they are good for really feeling the ground under your feet. They are super lightweight, which I love. I wore them in my recent 10K, and I have also wore them in 5Ks. I don't think I would wear them for anything longer because I like a little more cushion. I move up to the Tempo 8 for a 10-miler or half marathon. There are many runners who race marathons in these shoes, but I don't. 

Friday: 7 miles at 8:52 pace in the Nike Odyssey React (blue pair)
Nice and easy again as I recovered from Thursday's run and prepared for Saturday's long run. It was 52 degrees and I wore shorts and a t-shirt! What a change from Monday and Tuesday.

This pair Odyssey React was at the end of its life so I took them out for one final spin. Typically I don't wear these shoes on easy days because they are so light and bouncy that they make me want to run faster. But I knew I could squeeze 7 more miles out of them. I typically get 180-200 miles on my shoes, and then they start to break down. That's less than the average runner. I think it's because I have a high cadence (around 190 steps per minute) so I am taking more steps during each mile than the typical runner. Just a theory, but these shoes are now retired and I will be donating them.

Saturday: 16.2 miles w/12 at marathon pace of 7:17 in the Nike Odyssey React (orange pair)
The prescribed workout was 15-30 minutes warmup, 90 minutes at marathon pace, and 15-30 minutes cool down. It was super windy out; which was annoying but good practice for my marathon.
My splits were:

8:33, 8:26, 8:22
7:25, 7:22, 7:19, 7:16, 7:14, 7:12, 7:14, 7:13, 7:14, 7:15, 7:20, 7:18
8:47, 8:33 for the last 0.2

Nike Odyssey React
I was really happy with how comfortable and strong I felt during this run and my target was 7:20. I was really starting to feel it in my left leg during the last three miles, so those were a struggle, but I pushed through! A 7:17 marathon pace would be a time of 3:11!

I can't decide if these shoes are pink or orange. They look orange in the photo, but more pink in person. Anyway, these are the shoes I plan to wear in the marathon. I like to run marathon pace miles in the same shoes I will race the marathon in, so I took them out for their maiden voyage. They worked well for me, so I will probably just do one more long run in them before race day. As I said above, these shoes are light and springy, with plenty of cushion for 26.2 miles.

Sunday: 6.8 miles at 8:51 pace in the adidas Tempo 9
An easy recovery day for me! My legs felt decent post-marathon pace run, and I attribute that to the massage I got yesterday.

The adidas Tempo 9 is the latest version of the Tempo, and as I mentioned above, I was disappointed in it. It's heavier and bulkier than its predecessor, which makes it a poor choice for a speed workout, but a decent choice for an easy run. I don't plan on buying more of these shoes because I prefer the Nike Lunarglide and the Brooks Ghost for my easy runs. But since I had the pair, I figured I might as well use it. I really hope the next version of this shoe is more similar to the Tempo 8.

Total Weekly Mileage: 69
I would have loved to reach 70+ miles, but considering that 4 out of these 7 days were hard workouts, I’m good with 69! The next two weeks will be really tough, especially since we are expecting some wintry precipitation Wednesday-Thursday, but I'm feeling good and up for it!

adidas Adizero Tempo 9

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Pancake Run 10K in Phoenix, AZ

What could be better than a race that’s pancake flat with free pancakes afterwards? That was my thinking when I registered for the Runner’s Den Pancake Run 10K. I’m in Phoenix for business, so I figured it would be fun to check out a local race. Plus, I hadn't run a 10K in over two years! The last 10K I ran was my PR of 41:51.

I flew from Washington, DC to Phoenix yesterday afternoon. The flight was over five hours, which I know isn’t ideal the day before a race. But I wasn’t going to come in early for a 10K and pay for an extra night of hotel. Instead, I focused on drinking plenty of water and using UCAN Hydrate to ensure my electrolytes stayed balanced. I think I did a decent job of this, as my urine was a very light shade of yellow; not dark and concentrated like it would be if I were dehydrated.

We ran for pancakes.
I can’t explain it, but I had a sense of “doom and gloom” about this race. It was weird. I was super excited about this race, and I wasn’t being negative. But I had this strange premonition that it wouldn’t go well. Maybe it was because the last time I ran a race in Phoenix I bonked. Maybe it was because my legs had been feeling heavy due to treadmill running. Maybe it was because I had just been feeling out of my training “groove” for a while due to weather disruptions and random bouts of fatigue. But whatever it was, I just wasn’t feeling the good mojo around this race.

I arrived in Phoenix, relaxed in my hotel room for about an hour, and then went out to an Italian restaurant with a co-worker. I had a pretty standard meal: linguine with marinara sauce and chicken. And I continued to drink water. And then I was in bed by 7:00 (9:00pm eastern time) and I fell asleep almost immediately.

I usually don’t sleep well in hotels the night after a long flight, but last night I slept well. The bed and pillows were comfortable and I only woke up once in the middle of the night for a short period. Everything seemed to be in order. Hydration was good, sleep was good, and I had packed my standard English muffin and peanut butter to eat. As for the weather, I was worried it would be on the warm and humid side at 58 degrees with rain. But if it’s going to be 58, then rain is actually preferred to sunny skies.

Before the Race
The race was about 15 miles away from my hotel, so my plan was to take an Uber. But when I hailed an Uber, the closest one was 8 minutes away. And there were cabs waiting right outside the hotel. I didn’t want to be late to meet my friend Alyssa, so I cancelled my Uber request and hopped into a cab. Shortly after getting into the cab, I regretted it. The meter was going up like 2 dollars a minute. I started freaking out, thinking that this would be a $60 cab ride.

I asked the cab driver why the meter was going up so quickly and he said it was $3 per mile. WOW. This cab fare would cost me more than the race registration fee! This would be 2-3 times the price of Uber. The cab driver offered to exit the highway and drop me off so I could hail an Uber. But it was dark, I was alone, and in an unknown area. No thank you!!!

The race started and finished at a shopping mall. After paying $55, I got out of the cab and proceeded to pick up my bib. I got my bib and shirt (gender-specific Brooks t-shirt!) and found a covered area to pin on the bib so I wouldn’t get wet. The rain was medium-light at this point. Not a huge deal, but I did want a dry location for the bib pinning process. I texted Alyssa and told her where I was, and she arrived shortly after. I had met Alyssa on Instagram, and she was a fan of my book. She told me that she records all of her marathon times on the book’s inside cover!

Alyssa’s mom was with her, and just like her daughter, was super sweet. We hung out in the dry car for about five minutes, and then started our warm-up. Alyssa was truly a lifesaver for letting me stash my phone and warm-up shirt in her car. We ran around the mall twice, which yielded just over 2 miles. During this run, I drank my Generation UCAN and we chatted the time away.

Alyssa and I have almost the exact same PR’s for the 10K and the half marathon. She had run a 14-miler the day before and was thinking this would be a tempo for her. By contrast, I had tapered for this run and had only run 4 miles the day before. I was planning to run it at race effort. Alyssa said she might do that too, just depending on how things felt.

After the warm up, we used the porta-potties and then headed back to her car to ditch our outer layers. I did a few strides while she stretched, and then we lined up at the start line. It was there that I saw my friend Carlos, who I had met last summer at a local race in Virginia. Such a small world that we were both in Phoenix!

My plan was to go out at a pace of around 6:42 (my PR pace) and then speed up from there if I was feeling good. I didn’t study the course map or elevation. I knew it was one big square and it was flat. What else was there to know?

Mile 1
The race started and I felt okay. About 2-3 minutes in, I looked down at my wrist and saw I was running a pace of 7:10. That was a surprise, so I started pushing harder. This first mile felt like the first mile of a 5K, but I didn’t judge it too much and I didn’t speculate on what it would mean for the rest of the race. I’ve learned that the first mile is often NOT a good indicator of what’s to come. I later learned that the first mile was slightly inclined, so perhaps the best starting pace would have been closer to 6:50. But I ran a 6:40. So this was probably a mistake, but starting out 10 seconds per mile faster than goal pace in a 10K shouldn’t spell disaster. Plus, I was hoping my race pace would be around 6:37.

Mile 2
This is when things started to fall apart. My “don’t judge it by the first mile” mentality was gone because I was running very, very hard, yet my pace was getting slower and slower. Alyssa passed me early in this mile and pulled ahead quickly. She was with another woman who looked like she could be in my age group. Crap! My split was 6:55. 

Miles 3-4
I was in full-on “bonk” mode after having run just two miles. Yikes. I felt like I was running through molasses. My energy level was decent, but it was my legs that seemed to be the limiting factor. I simply couldn’t get them to go. They were heavy with zero pep. I kept trying to inject the pep into them by surging, but the surge would only last for about 15 seconds, and then I would slow down again. I tried to focus on the positive. I was running a new race in a new place and I could probably still win an age group award. That’s one of the perks of being 40! My splits were 7:18 and 7:13. I was now running slower than half marathon pace and creeping up on marathon pace. In a 10K. But I didn’t get emotional, I just ran. What else was there to do? That was the fastest way to get the darn thing over with.

Miles 5-6
This was weird. I felt like I had energy to give, but I couldn’t access it. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. And my legs were the horse. My upper body felt good and I wasn’t “hurting” like how I normally hurt when pushing to my max. This is why I was able to surge from time to time, but after surging, my legs would give out and I couldn’t maintain it. I was motivated by the idea of still winning an age group award, and not wanting any women to pass me. I was also motivated by the idea of Alyssa starting to worry about what happened to me after the race. I didn’t want her to worry. And I didn’t want Greg to worry, since he was tracking me from home. These little things helped me stay strong during these tough miles. Splits were 7:18 and 7:21.

The Finish
My “sprint” to the finish was a 6:56 pace. Yikes! I couldn’t run any faster than that for 0.25 miles. As I said, it was like running through molasses. Or, pancake syrup! At this race, you can see the finish line from half a mile away. And as I saw runners finish ahead of me, the announcer would say their name, and where they were from, and that made me super excited to cross. As I got closer, the announcer started promoting the events that were happening later in the morning. So my name wasn’t announced as I crossed. Kind of a bummer.

Alyssa was waiting for me. She ran within about 20-30 seconds of her PR! The day after a 14-miler. I was super impressed with her performance.

After the Race
Alyssa and I went to the results tent and looked up our official times. She was the 8th overall female and won 2nd place in her age group. I was the 14th overall female, and won 3rd place in my age group. As I said, there are benefits to being 40 years old. My official time was 44:29. My slowest 10K in over four years. Ah well, this race is in no way an indication of my current fitness.

Alyssa and I with the big pancake!
There was no awards ceremony so we went to collect our awards from the awards tent. Alyssa got her silver medal, but I wasn’t able to get mine because they were still waiting to receive the results of the later finishers. And the salt-in-the-wound was that we kept going back there to get my award, and they still hadn’t received my result. I wasn’t THAT slow!

Alyssa and I cooled down by running one lap around the mall (1.1 miles) and then it was finally time to enjoy the pancakes. And they had crepes too. These were delicious and just what I wanted to warm me up after running in the rain. Finally my results were delivered to the awards tent and I was able to get my bronze pancake medal.

Alyssa then offered to drive me back to my hotel, which was super helpful. It also allowed us to spend more time together and talk about our races.

Final Thoughts
In the grand scheme of things, this is just one race that didn’t go my way, so I am not going to analyze it too much. (I know—SO UNLIKE ME!) Here are just a few things I learned and a few reasons why I think this race didn’t go well:

Always check the elevation. If there is no elevation chart, find someone on Strava who ran last year’s race to see the net elevation gain/decline. Yes, this race was flat, but knowing that it was a little uphill in the beginning would have prevented me from running harder than I needed to.

Don’t take a long flight the day before the race. I think a 2-3 hour flight is probably ok, but any longer and I should probably fly out earlier. I had been considering California International Marathon (CIM) in December, so I will have to think long and hard about that.

Focus on having fun. This truly was an “experience” race, and I enjoyed the new scenery and course. It was also cool to meet up with Alyssa after having gotten to know her a little on Instagram.

I regret tapering. I ran 4.3 miles on Friday and 3.9 miles yesterday. That’s a big cutback for me. Clearly, my legs weren’t fresh, and I think I could have run this time even if I had run 10 miles yesterday! My total mileage for the week was only 51, and that's low for me. And my weekly mileage had been on the lower side in January due to vacation and illness. Anyway, I sacrificed even more mileage for Shamrock marathon training and it didn’t even help my race. But of course, hindsight is 20/20.

I do not think the weather was a factor here. This was a flat course in pretty good conditions: 58 degrees, light rain, and light winds at 8-10 mph.

I had fun and this was a good workout and a new experience. Now it’s time to focus on getting marathon ready!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

New Year's Day 5K: A fun start

I ran the New Year's Day 5K in Reston, Virginia earlier this week. I've run a New Year's race every year since 2009, either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

Cheryl, Allison and me in our "rabbit" gear
I prefer New Year's Eve races because then you can have an indulgent meal and a drink or two on New Year's Eve. But my favorite race was discontinued, so New Year's Day it was. There weren't a ton of options to choose from, and I really didn't like the race I ran last year. So I decided to run this one because my friends were running it, and Potomac River Running races are always well organized with good awards. 

The reason I wasn't psyched about this course was because of its awkwardness, which I will describe shortly. It was also only three weeks after my marathon, so I knew I probably wouldn't be very peppy. To add to all of this, I had been battling and on-and-off sore throat for the previous two days.

Before the Race
A few days before the race I thought it would be cool to try and run 20:19. But when I woke up that morning, I revised my goal to 21:19. I had a dream that I ran 21:xx, and that felt about right based on my energy level. Greg woke up with a sore throat and didn't feel well, so he opted not to go to the race. What a bummer because we had matching outfits! And, of course, it would have been nice to spend that time with him too.

Given that I didn't feel 100% either, I questioned if I should even run the race. But, keeping in mind that my primary goal was to have fun and see my friends, I went anyway.  Potentially this was a stupid idea, since I knew my body was fighting off some kind of bug. Racing a 5K would only hurt my immune system, and not help it. But, like many runners, I was stubborn. Even though this wasn't a goal race and I honestly did not care about my time, I still wanted to do it.

I met up with my friends Allison and Cheryl and we ran a 2-mile warm up. It was unseasonably warm-- 60 degrees! Last year it was only 14 degrees for my New Year's day race. What a huge difference. During the warm up, we ran along the course. I had never run this course in a race before, but since most of it was on the W&OD trail, I was very familiar with it.

The Race
I had decided a few days prior that I would not look at my watch during the race and I would run by feel. Since I didn't care about my time, it felt like a low-risk thing to do. As such, I will not be providing a mile-by-mile recap, since that is not how I experienced the race. I experienced it as one big long chunk of hard running.

We started and I went out at what felt like 5K effort. Since I wouldn't be focused on my pace or my watch, I decided I would focus more on the people around me and just "be present". After running on the road for what felt like about half a mile, we made a hairpin turn onto a narrow downhill path. There was no passing on this path because it was so narrow, and there were also tree roots making the pavement uneven, so I had to be careful with my footing. At the bottom of the path, we made another hairpin turn onto the W&OD trail. 

I didn't mind the trail so much but it was rather hilly. It was a paved trail with no tree roots like the path, so it was easier to simply cruise. I thought I heard my Garmin beep at one point for a mile, but then I thought I heard it again like 3 minutes later, and I was confused. I hadn't seen the first mile marker, so I had no idea how far or how long I had been running. It was really disorienting!

Finally we came to the turnaround (another hairpin) so I knew I was about halfway done. But it felt like I was more than halfway done. My instincts turned out to be correct because this course was not a perfect out-and-back; there was more road running at the beginning than the end. So the turn around was probably like 1.75 miles. But I didn't realize that at the time. 

Things got really, really hard after the turnaround. We were now running in to a headwind and it was
mostly uphill. And then, of course, another hairpin turn, up the path with the uneven pavement, another hairpin, and then towards the finish. My goal during this time was to keep the effort hard and not to let any women pass me. Both goals were achieved, and I even passed one woman.

Once I was back on regular road, I got more peppy and accelerated toward the finish. I tried to catch a glimpse of the clock as I approached, but my view was obstructed. All I saw was the 21, which was not a surprise.

After the Race
It turns out I ran 21:35, which was good for first place in my age group and 9th overall female. I was pleased with this, given that the race had a relatively competitive field. I looked at my watch to see my splits. They were 6:54, 6:54, 7:16, and a 5:37 final kick. I was pleased with the consistency of these splits, and wasn't surprised that the last mile was the slowest, given the uphill/headwind. I do have to laugh that I had a few marathon miles faster than 7:16! And my average race pace is pretty close to my half marathon pace. Just goes to show that there are so many factors that impact a race time. 

Basically, my coach and I chalked it up to hard running on a difficult course and fun with friends! I wonder how my experience would have been different if I had looked at my watch. I think I would have been discouraged and spent a good portion of the race feeling like I wasn't running a strong race. So it's good that I just didn't look and ran the race without knowing how I fast I was going.

Ashely, me, Hannah, and Michelle (1st overall)
I cheered for Cheryl and Allison as they finished and then we did a cool down jog. Afterwards, we went to the awards ceremony and then we had brunch along with several other friends. We toasted with mimosas and celebrated the new year.

The day after the race, my easy run felt "off" and my sore throat came and went. But by Thursday, I ran a hill workout and felt really strong and energized. I was confident that I had finally beaten the bug. But by Friday at around noon, the illness came back in full force. On Saturday (yesterday) I had to skip my run entirely because I was so weak and tired feeling. Today I also skipped my run, but I think I feel a little better than yesterday. 

So, as I said initially, maybe this race wasn't the smartest thing in the world. But I could have ended up just as sick even without it. I'm optimistic that I will be fully recovered soon and that I can resume training for Shamrock.