Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Sugarloaf Marathon: Wet and Wild!

Oh wow. That was a crazy experience.

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

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

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

Sugarloaf Marathon Elevation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Life changes

I got a new job.

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will remember that I DNF'ed (did not finish) the Shamrock Marathon due to "life stress" occurring in the week leading up to the race. That life stress was actually GOOD stress, but it definitely demanded quite a bit of mental energy. I was exploring two opportunities at the same time (one early stage, one late stage), and there were a lot of unknowns. On top of all that, I was still performing at my current job. So when race day came, my body wasn't up for the task. This is why I wasn't too upset about it. I had other things on my mind.

I wanted to write a blog post to memorialize my experience at my current (now former) job. Just like writing a race report gives me closure on a race, I feel the need to express my thoughts and feelings about the job I just left.

What I did
I was the "Vice President of Demand Generation" at a large enterprise software company. My job was to run marketing programs that would generate brand awareness and leads for the sales team. I was responsible for digital advertising, email marketing, events, social media, content strategy and more. I was there for nearly three years and I managed a team that varied in size over the years from 10-25 people.

I was an executive, but I was not responsible for the entire marketing function. Communications and product marketing, for example, were run by other executives. My boss, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), was responsible for the entire marketing organization, reporting into the CEO. This CMO position was the role I eventually wanted to have, although at a smaller company. My career plan was stay at my current (now former) company for 3-4 years, and then become the CMO of a smaller technology company. And that's what ultimately happened.

On Halloween, I delighted the CEO with this costume
Some key accomplishments were launching a multi-million dollar digital advertising campaign across the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Financial Times, and the New York Times, in addition to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I also built the internal process flow for how the inbound leads would be scored, routed, and contacted. I created the company's first marketing dashboard and reporting framework. I managed an advanced implementation of a marketing automation platform with sophisticated lead nurture streams. If you're not in marketing, you might not know what all this stuff is. It was important, but to me, my most important accomplishment was helping my team advance their careers.

Being someone's boss is not a role I take lightly. That person's career is in my hands as well as their day-to-day contentment. They do need to take personal responsibility for this, but as everyone knows, if you don't like or respect your boss, then your work life becomes stressful and unpleasant. As a leader, I strive to provide enough guidance for my team to succeed, while empowering them to truly own their work. I'm also there to remove roadblocks, help them be as efficient as possible, and make critical business decisions (i.e. accept the risk). If someone is not performing, then my role is to set clear expectations, understand why they aren't being met, and work with the employee to turn things around.

I leaned on these women so much!
I've been managing people for about 15 years now, and no matter what my role or title has been, leadership has always been a top priority. If my team is successful, I am successful. And there was nothing more fulfilling at my previous job than helping my employees be successful.

Making a difference in someone's life is far more important to me than any job title. In part, it's how I define career success. If my team is failing, then I am failing. As a marketer, I am there to drive business growth. As a human, I am there to make a difference in the lives of other people.

This week, as I was saying goodbye to everyone, a number of people told me that I really made a difference. People told me that they appreciated my attitude, or that I helped them, and there is nothing I'd rather hear. I was well liked and well respected, and I take pride in that because I liked and respected all of them!

The relationships I built made it very difficult to leave my company. In fact, I've never felt so emotional about leaving a job. And I've left quite a few! Not only was did I have an amazing team, but my colleagues were equally as awesome to work with.

They threw the best holiday parties
I've worked in environments where my relationships have not been as positive and I think the key difference is authenticity. I am a genuine person and it's difficult for me to put on my "game face" and not be my weird, quirky self. My colleagues were all similar. Within the marketing department, people weren't trying to undermine each other or point fingers. We all worked really well together and it was a FUN place to work. The commute was treacherous at times but it was worth it because I enjoyed being in the office. Whenever it was birthday, I would find my office decorated from top to bottom with zebras and stripes. Being surrounded by supportive, friendly, like-minded people is what made my company so special, and so hard to leave.

My colleagues came to my 40th birthday party. They were supportive when I was sick with mono last summer and had to take a month off. No matter what, I knew I could always count on them. And that's hard to give up. Of course we will all stay friends; the relationships don't end because I am leaving. But it's sad because I won't be seeing them every day.

Why I left
As I said above, my career plan was to stay 3-4 years and then become the CMO of a smaller technology company. Even though I hadn't been at my company for quite 3 years, the business environment was changing. I felt like I had learned all I could learn there and gained all of the experience I needed to get to the next level.

Recruiters regularly reach out to me, but a few months ago, I decided it was time to start exploring these opportunities. I knew exactly what I was looking for in my next role:
  • Role: Head of marketing, ideally with the CMO title
  • Size: Small to medium-sized (200-500 employees) with at least $15M in revenue
  • People: Authentic, friendly, intelligent, down-to-earth
  • Maturity: Marketing already in place, but a lot of potential for growth and optimization
  • Location: No further away than my current job
I interviewed for two roles, one of which checked all of these boxes, and the other checked most of them. Part of my "life stress" a few months ago was figuring out which (if either) of these opportunities would be the right move for me. I ended up accepting the offer which checked all boxes, and I start next Wednesday, May 22nd. 

It would have been easy to stay at my job, which had become really comfortable. I had a good work-life balance and it wasn't too stressful. But above all else, I want to be challenged and I want my work to make an impact. I was making an impact on the people, but it wasn't always clear if I was making an impact on the business because it was so big. I strive to do both and I believe I will be able to do both in my new job. I also want to use my full range of marketing skills, not only demand generation. I worried that if I stayed too long in a demand-generation only role, my communications and branding skills would get rusty.

To be able to walk away from my beloved colleagues shows just how phenomenal of a career opportunity this move is for me. Chief Marketing Officer is a big step. Not only will I run marketing, but I will also have a seat at the executive leadership table. I know that I will be able to use my skills and experience to their fullest extent and form strong relationships with the people there.

This weekend I will run the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine, and then return to my new job!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Race Done Right: Semper Fi 5K

As the title of this post indicates, I had a good morning at my 4th consecutive Semper Fi 5K. Unfortunately, this race will not be put on in future years, so it was also my last. Here's some history:

2016: 21:05 (Heavy rain, 55 degrees)
2017: 20:17 (Cloudy, 60 degrees)
2018: 20:40 (Very humid, 68 degrees)

I didn't have a lot of confidence going into this race. Even though I have been running well on cool, non-humid days, the humidity has been killing me on other days. I ran 19 miles last Saturday in very
humid conditions, and it resulted in me feeling completely drained for the next three days. I had to take off work on Monday because I felt so tired.

I did not run at all on Monday, ran a very easy 4 miles on Tuesday, and was feeling better again by Wednesday for 8 miles. But after that, it was time to taper down for the 5K. Suffice it to say, I went into this race very well rested and recovered. I got plenty of sleep this week and did not run very much.

Yesterday morning, I was still unsure of how I would approach the race. I was seriously paranoid of getting sick again by over-doing it in the humidity. But, the forecast was calling for 75% humidity, which isn't that bad. My coach suggested that I race it full out and see what I could do. So I told myself, okay, go ahead and race it!

Before the Race
I woke up at around 5:00, had my usual bagel and peanut butter and headed out the door with Greg at 7:00. Greg did not run this race because he's resting up for a marathon next weekend. (I'm running the same marathon, but wanted to do the 5K anyway. More on that later!)

Our plan was to meet up with Cheryl at 7:45 at the start line, but fortuitously she ended up driving directly behind us on the highway! She followed us to the parking lot, where we prepared for the race. The parking lot is almost a mile away from the start line, so we jogged there for our warm up, and I drank my Generation UCAN along the way. At the start line, we met up with some other friends and then continued the warm up. All in all, I warmed up for 2.5 miles. Then, I did some drills: high knees and B skips. As I was doing the drills, I told myself that while I was running, I needed to focus on quick turnover and pushing forward.

At the start line, I started to size up the competition. In 2017 and 2018, I was third place female. This year, it looked like it would be hard to keep that title. It seemed like a lot of fast women were lined up near the front. In particular, a woman named Kimi, who I met a few months ago, who I knew was running 5Ks really fast right now. I didn't have a goal time in mind, but I wanted to push myself hard, and I figured I would be happy with anything in the low 6:30's for a pace. It ended up being 64 degrees with higher than forecast humidity, so I thought a PR (sub-19:58) would be unlikely. Plus, the sun was coming out and warming things up. That wasn't supposed to happen!

Mile 1: 6:31
The race started and I started to recite a mantra immediately: Relax and push forward. I hadn't
Mile 1: Photo by Greg Clor
planned on using this mantra, but during my warm-up drills, the idea of pushing forward really struck a chord with me. So I recited it over, and over, and over again. Kimi was about 5 seconds ahead of me, and I wasn't surprised. She had recently set a few 5K PRs so she was a fast one!

I learned from the Pike's Peek 10K last month that I definitely DO want to monitor the Garmin. In fact, when I do my training runs, I sometimes speed up during the last 0.1 of each mile, just to get that mile split down to "look" better on paper and give me confidence. I saw my friend Allison cheering for me, and that really pepped me up.

At 0.9 into the race, I told myself to push a little harder to get that first mile split down. Doing this allowed me to catch up with Kimi, so that at mile marker 1, we were right next to each other. My Garmin beeped 6:31 which I was thrilled with, because up until that point, my average pace had been around 6:35. My strategy worked.

Mile 2: 6:37
I passed Kimi and continued to tell myself, relax and push forward. It was hard, but I felt strong and I felt like I still had a lot to give. I told myself to just get to the turnaround running strong and then the way back would be mentally easier.
Mile 2, photo by Allison Rainey

At the turnaround, I was able to see that two women were ahead of me. The first one was way ahead of me. There would be no catching her. The second one was about 10 seconds ahead of me, wearing a long-sleeved shirt. I don't know how people can race in long sleeves when it's 64 degrees out. I figured I might be able to catch her, but I wasn't going to make a move quite yet. She was still a good bit ahead of me, and I'd have to speed up a lot.

This mile was fun because a few of my co-workers were running the race, and they all cheered me on from the other side of the course as they were running out. I also saw Allison again shortly before mile marker 2.

Once again, at 1.9 miles, I told myself to push a bit harder to get the split time down, and it worked: 6:37. Previously, I had been around 6:40. Mile 2 is always the slowest mile of this race, so I wasn't worried that it was slower than the first mile. Particularly since I still felt good.

Mile 3: 6:30
This last mile is when it started to get really, really hard! I kept repeating the mantra: relax and push forward. Every time a negative thought would creep into my head, I replaced it with the mantra. Racing is much more fun when you have a mantra instead of visualizing yourself stopping! Of course
The last 0.1
the urge to stop is strong in every race because I am always pushing hard and hurting.

With about half a mile to go, I realized I was closing the gap on the woman with the long-sleeves. I didn't want to surge too soon, so I told myself to simply stay strong because I was closing the gap at my current pace. With 0.3 to go, I was still uncertain if I was going to be able to pass her. With 0.2 to go, I made my move. I sprinted as hard as I possibly could. I told myself I could slow down later if I had to but as I passed, I wanted to do it so quickly that she would not try to come with me. And it worked. I passed her right before mile marker 3 and she didn't attempt to follow.

The Finish
According to my Garmin, I ran 0.13 miles at a pace of 5:25 as I made my way to the finish. My official time was 20:21, and second place female.

I was soooo happy to have finished second! And my time was faster than expected too! I saw Kimi come through and then I met up with Greg to watch Cheryl and Kristin come through. I also met up with a few co-workers, as I was officially part of my company's team. Then we cooled down for just over a mile before the awards ceremony.

Final Thoughts and Stats
If you read my Pike's Peek report, I listed a few things that I learned that I wanted to improve upon for next time. And thankfully, I took those learnings to heart and ended up running a race I was happy with today:
  • My mantra really worked, as it kept me focused and positive
  • I was happy with my strategy for passing that woman with just 0.1 mile left to go
  • I was able to break the race down into "chunks" making it mentally easier
  • I felt good afterwards - not beat up and broken down
  • This race is tied for my 3rd fastest 5K ever (and it was warm!)
  • I placed 2nd out of 449 women
Using the McMillan calculator, this 20:21 is almost the equivalent of the 42:20 10K I ran at Pike's Peek. But, Pike's Peek was 7 degrees cooler and the course was net downhill. And I didn't feel like I ever truly dialed into race mode at the 10K. Today, I was "on" and I had the fire! 

Up Next
I'm running the Sugarloaf Marathon next weekend! I originally registered for it last October as my goal race for the spring, but then I pivoted to Shamrock. So it's not my goal race, but I am going to race it and see what I can do. Right now, the forecast shows the race being 57 degrees and sunny by the end (which is why it wasn't my goal race) but hopefully it gets cooler between now and next Sunday.

Finishing with a smile!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Pike's Peek 10K Race Report

This morning I ran the Pike's Peek 10K in Maryland. This is one of the larger and more competitive 10Ks in the Washington DC Metro area, but I had never run it. Approximately 2,500 runners
competed this morning.

I had always been turned off by the fact that this race was net downhill, and didn't think it was a "fair" course. Most people who had run Pike's Peek set PRs there due to the downhill profile. However, in recent years they changed the course so that it now starts uphill and the final mile is also net uphill (whereas it use to be a steep downhill). Looking at Strava data and reading race reports, I determined that the newer course was "fair" and I should go check it out.

Note: the course is still net downhill, but there are more uphills now to make up for it. Instead of a Revel race, think Boston or CIM.

Before the Race
The week leading up to the race did not start off well. For whatever reason, I was having trouble sleeping and I only got 5 hours of sleep both Monday and Tuesday night. I attempted to run a track workout on Wednesday, but I was so tired and it was 69 degrees, so I bagged it after only doing half of the reps. I think it was the right decision given how I felt and the fact that I wasn't even running close to my target pace.

But things started to turn around once my body remembered how to sleep. On Friday night, I had one of the best nights of sleep ever! I was super exhausted after work and I went to bed 7:15, but slept until almost 5:00. I also slept pretty well last night. Given that, I was optimistic about the race.

In general, I had a good feeling about the race. The weather was looking okay, although not ideal. But I figured the net downhill course profile would counteract any slowness caused by the temperature being above 50 degrees!

Greg didn't run this race so he played the role of race photographer. We left the house at 6:00am and
Before the Race
arrived at the start at around 6:45. The race start was scheduled for a 7:50 start time. Packet pickup went smoothly with no lines, and the race had plenty of porta potties. I drank my UCAN and started my warm up. Since this race is point-to-point, Greg drove to the finish line to take photos.

After finishing the warm up, I got into the corral with about 5 minutes to go before the race start. As we all waited at the start line, it began to rain. I was thankful for the rain because it would help cool me down. Since it was humid out, I figured it might as well be raining. I also noticed that my stomach was vibrating. It felt okay, and I had gone to the bathroom many times that morning. But for some reason, it was not happy.

The announcer told us that the police had not cleared the course yet, so there would be a delay. I figured it wouldn't be more than a minute or so, given that this race is very well organized, and has been going for over 20 years. But we waited, and waited, and waited some more. I was simultaneously worried about being both too warm and too cold! Too warm because the temperature would quickly rise between 8:00-9:00am, and too cold because I had warmed up so long ago, and was now getting rained on. I know- I'm such a Goldilocks! I realized the situation was not within my control, so I needed to just accept it and wait.

Finally, the race started, officially 16 minutes late.

Miles 1-2
The race starts on a steep uphill. I had lined up all the way to the left because I thought we made a left turn at the top of the hill, but it ended up being a right turn. So I basically ran a diagonal line up the hill. It was steep and crowded so I just relaxed and figured that once I got to the top I could gun it.  But then the road was narrow and it was still crowded so I couldn't run as fast as I wanted. I told myself to be patient and not worry about my pace for the first mile. I ended up running a 7:02.

Of course then I thought back to Cherry Blossom, when my first mile was 6:50. Not a good thought! But I knew the rest of the course would be net downhill, so there was plenty of time to make up for it. I thought the best approach would be to not look at my Garmin. I typically fly down hills and I didn't want my Garmin pace to freak me out. I decided I run by effort and just feel my way though the course. During the second mile, I was able to pass quite a few people and make my way closer to the front of the pack. My second mile was 6:30. I saw this and didn't flinch and was optimistic about what the rest of the race would hold.

Miles 3-4
The race started to get hard somewhere around mile 2.5. I had basically been cruising up until that point and now it really felt like work. Which was good- but also hard! I passed a few more people during these miles and nobody was passing me, which felt great. I tried to use the competition to my advantage, focusing on passing people and pushing hard. I ran 6:41 and 6:44. I didn't want to think too much about my average pace or my PR potential. I just wanted to focus on pushing and running to the best of my ability. I wasn't feeling great, but I was feeling ok.

Miles 5-6
I was very pleasantly surprised to see my friend Anna handing out water during the 5th mile. It really perked me up as I was hurting a lot at that point. I was trying to fly down the hills as fast as possible, but that made the up-hills feel twice as hard, so I just tried to maintain the effort level there. I was closing the gap on a woman ahead of me, and I thought I was going to do it, but she got a second wind in the last half mile, just as I was getting close. I knew from studying the elevation profile that mile 6 would be slightly net uphill and that I would have to really push hard to not slow down. Mile 5 was 6:45, and mile 6 was 6:55.

The last 0.2
I started looking around for Greg before making the final turn, but I didn't see him. After turning, however, I saw him. I didn't have much left in me at that point, but I ran as hard as I could into the finish, at a pace of 6:26, which is kind of disappointing. Usually with just 0.2 to go I can kick it under 6:00 pace, but that didn't happen today.

I crossed the finish line, relieved to be done with the race, in a time of 42:20.

My sports psychologist taught me to find the joy and happiness in every race, no matter what. But my first reaction was a big fat MEH. Not horrible: I didn't bonk like I did at my previous 10K. But not great: I was 29 seconds off my PR when I considered myself to be in shape for 30 seconds faster than my PR.

After the race
I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Meredith at the finish line. And she told me she ran with our friend Kathy. I hadn't seen either of them at the start. It would have been nice to have them to talk to during that long wait. And also, Meredith and I currently running similar times, so it would have been good to run near her.

Greg, Kathy, Meredith and I ended up going to the Starbucks at the finish line. I didn't cool down because I prioritized hanging out with my friends. And I'm fine with that! Meredith had run this course several times in the past and said that she didn't think it was as fast this year as it had been in the past. Her PR is on this course and she wasn't entirely pleased with her finish time today either. At least there was someone else in the same boat as me! If all the other runners had been saying "perfect weather, super fast course, I got a PR" I would have felt worse about my situation.

I placed 19 out of 972 women.
I placed 5 out of 163 women in my age group.

I was surprised that I didn't walk away with an age group award, but I guess this race is very competitive.

I'll start with the positives:
  • My splits were consistent with the course profile; I did not crash and burn!
  • I passed quite a few people in the second half, and I don't recall anyone passing me.
  • I tried something new- not looking at my Garmin as much and running more on effort
  • I got to see Anna, Meredith and Kathy-- all of which were unexpected

And now the not-so-positives:
  • I was 30 seconds slower than my PR and 1 minute slower than my goal
  • Meredith, Kathy, and me
  • My Cherry Blossom time predicted 41:50, and that's a race I bonked at!

There are a number of reasons why I didn't run this race as fast as I expected and hoped. It's probably a combination of these:
  • The late start threw me off my game (timing of warm-up, nutrition)
  • I wasn't able to be as aggressive as I wanted to be in the first mile, so I couldn't establish my ideal rhythm out of the gate
  • The temperature was in the mid 50's + humidity, and I run my best when it's below 40 degrees
  • I didn't look at my Garmin enough. When I look at my Garmin and see I'm running slower than goal pace, I am motivated to push harder.
  • My fitness isn't as strong as I think it is; I could have peaked earlier in the season and now I am getting stale
No matter what the reason, I am now super motivated to train harder and get faster. So even if I am having an off day, my fitness can compensate for that. The bad news-- it will soon be time for me to back off training! I can't exactly chase that goal until September. I'm hungry and eager to work hard NOW, but my body needs an off season, which will pay off in the long run. Just like you have to run slower to run faster, you need to take breaks to make breakthroughs.

Running on the black and white stripes

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.