Sunday, February 28, 2021

Miles, Miles, Miles!

Sooooo many miles. I'm officially training for the Tidewater Striders BQ Invitational Marathon on March 27. That's four weeks away! I had been targeting Myrtle Beach, but they postponed the race, so thankfully I had a backup. This meant three extra weeks of training, which I think ended up being for the best. Typically when I train for a marathon I spend 3-4 weeks in the 70's and that's about it. But with this cycle, I've been running high mileage ever since the start of the year. 

Here's a graph of my training since the year started.

This past week, I logged 79 miles, which is my third highest week of all time. My highest week of all time, 90 miles, was not during marathon training, but was done as a special challenge last spring just to see if I could hit it. 

Current Run Streak
I'm on day 66 of my current streak, which started after I took a rest day on Christmas Eve. This run streak has averaged 9.8 miles per day!  

I don't streak for the sake of streaking. Rather, my body can handle running every day without getting injured, and if I feel like I need a day off, I take it. I've been working with the same coach for over six years now, and he knows me pretty well. He knows how to push me without breaking me, and that's always a fine balance to strike.

I logged 302 miles in February, which is more than I get in most months with 30+ days! Thankfully, everything is feeling good, although my legs have been feeling heavy these past few days. 

Why, tho?
I often get asked why I run so many miles, and is it really necessary? If I want to run a 3:10 (or faster) marathon, then yes, it's necessary for me. Some women can run a 3:10 on 40 miles a week because they have natural talent. To get to the next level and have another breakthrough, I believe I need to run high mileage combined with strength training. This is all about seeing what I am capable of and getting to my lifetime peak. I'm 42 years old, so I'll probably start slowing down or plateauing soon. Now is the time to see what I can do in the marathon!

Key Workouts
Typically my weeks look like this:

  • Monday: Hard workout
  • Tuesday: Medium-long run (usually around 11 miles)
  • Wednesday: Easy Run
  • Thursday: Hard workout
  • Friday: Easy Run
  • Saturday: Long Run (often with fast miles at the end)
  • Sunday: Recovery run
I've had to navigate around snow storms and icy roads quite a bit in February so I've adjusted my schedule almost every week! I don't mind doing easy runs on the treadmill, but I really think I need to be on the road to get the full benefit of some of these long, hard workouts. Here are a few breakthrough workouts I am super proud of.

8 x 1-mile with 2-minute recovery jogs (January 21). I had never done 8 mile repeats before; 7 was the
most I had ever tackled! I decided that the only palatable way to approach it would be to avoid the track and run on the road. There is a 1.4 - mile loop near me that has slight inclines and declines throughout which I thought would be a good substitute. That way, I would never pass the same spot during one rep, and all reps would start and end in different places.  I knew that the small hills would mean it wouldn't be as fast as the track but this wasn't a vanity workout—it was about doing the work and making it through the entire 8 reps.

Pacing wise, my coach told me to shoot for 6:30-6:45, ideally at the faster end for most of them. For reference, I had just set a 10K PR at a pace of 6:37. So I was now going to run 8 miles at around 10K pace, with very short recovery jogs. Not walks, not rests, but jogs. It was 28° with very little wind, and I consider this to be very good weather. 

I pretty much wanted to quit after the first two reps. They were long and hard. But after the 3rd rep, things didn't seem so bad and I flew through the rest of them quite nicely. It was difficult to rally for that final 8th rep, so I started out on the slower side but then sprinted the second half to get my average pace down:  6:40, 6:42, 6:34, 6:35 6:35, 6:34, 6:30, 6:42. This is an average of 6:37, which is exactly my 10K PR pace. 

12 x 800m with 400m recovery jogs (February 11).  It was 34°, 7 mph winds and wet snow! I had never run more than 10 x 800m so this was a new challenge. It took me 4 full reps to get my legs turning over at top speed but then I settled into it: 3:32, 3:22, 3:15, 3:14 3:10, 3:09, 3:08, 3:09 3:08, 3:07, 3:07, 3:09

According to Bart Yasso, the average of 10 x 800m predicts your marathon fitness. I averaged the last 10 reps and got 3:09.6, which is exactly what I’m aiming for at my marathon. I was happy to finish strong.

30 mins at marathon pace, 30 mins at threshold (February 17). This was an hour-long run: 30 minutes at marathon pace, 30 minutes at 6:50. My coach prescribed marathon pace at 7:18 but I ran by feel and ended up being slightly faster. Plus, if I want to run a sub-3:10, then I’ll need to be just under 7:15.

It was 31° with 8-10 mph winds which were brutal in some portions. It was originally scheduled for Thursday but I moved it forward a day to avoid the snow storm. This meant just one easy day since my hard effort on Monday. I warmed up for 2 miles and then started the work:

30 minutes, 4.16 miles: 7:15, 7:13, 7:12, 7:11 (7:14 for the 0.16)
30 minutes, 4.39 miles: 6:50, 6:50, 6:50, 6:50 (6:46 for the 0.39)

This was one continuous run, no stopping, which ended up being the 8.54 miles at an average 7:01 pace. I kept thinking I would have to stop early because it got hard during the last 15 minutes. But I kept saying “just one more minute” until I reached 60. I can’t believe I hit those paces so perfectly and I do think I have the fitness for a 7:14 marathon pace!

Hopefully these hard workouts, high mileage, and strength training will get me to 3:10 level. I just need some decent weather on race day. I think I have addressed my digestive issues so I don't run into the same problems I had during my last marathon. The Maurten Drink Mix and gels have been amazing and so far I have had no issues with them. Greg will also be running this race, and I would love to see him have a major breakthrough as well. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Let's Talk About Food

On Instagram, my followers frequently ask me about my eating habits and nutrition. I have answered this question so many times that I figured I should write a blog post with all the details.

Why I rarely post about food
While I often write about my race nutrition strategy, I almost never talk about my typical "diet" or eating habits. This is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. It's not intentional because the topic of food is not all that interesting to me and I'd rather talk about my training. It is intentional because I don't really have a plan or guidelines I follow that I think are worthy of being shared.

In my early 20's, I developed anorexia. I restricted my calories down to about 800-1200 per day and then I also burned about 600 of those at the gym. It had nothing to do with being thin or my physical appearance. I was simply trying to eat more healthfully and all the articles I read in SHAPE and other magazines told me that the fewer calories the better. I received a free body fat assessment at my gym and even though I was at a healthy weight, I was told that my body fat was too high.

I could write many, many blog posts on eating disorders, but that is in my past and I have little interest in

Post-race ice cream in 2015
it now. I gradually recovered in my mid to late 20s as I got into long-distance running. This shifted my focus away from food and weight and towards training for a goal. Much of the anorexia was driven by perfectionism and the desire to achieve, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't bring that same mentality towards my running initially.

It wasn't until my mid 30s when I started working with a sports psychologist (which I have blogged about extensively and written a book about) that I truly freed myself from perfectionism and addressed the other issues that were fueling the eating disorder. The two therapists I saw when I was in the depths of my anorexia were not at all helpful and likely did more harm than good.

Because I was obsessed with food, nutrition, calories, and weight for many years, I no longer have an interest in it and so it's not something I talk about on my Instagram or in this blog. 

My mindset regarding food
It's pretty simple: I eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full. I try to eat healthy foods by having them around the house, but not everything needs to be healthy. I obey my cravings, especially for sweets, so I am by no means the model of perfect nutrition. I snack frequently. I have breakfast, lunch and dinner. I sometimes eat out. I don't track/monitor/record my food intake like I did in my early 20s. I rarely weigh myself (maybe once a month). I don't try to gain weight or lose weight. I don't follow any specific diet or plan. 

Overall, I grade nutrition a "B". Some days a B+ and other days a B-.  It's pretty good but it definitely could be better. I could eat more fruits and vegetables. I could limit my sugar intake. But I'd rather have a healthy mindset about food instead of being super rigid. 

Dietary restrictions
While I don't have a ton of rules around food, there are plenty of foods I avoid for various reasons:

  • Beef and Pork. I eliminated these at the onset of my eating disorder and never added them back in because they simply don't appeal to me. 
  • "Impossible" meat. I once had one of those synthetic burgers and it tasted way too much like a normal burger, which grosses me out. And it did not sit well in my stomach for the following 3 hours.
  • Heavy cream sauces. I am slightly lactose intolerant and Alfredo sauces or mac 'n cheese cause me major digestive distress. I once had a whole milk latte by mistake and that was very painful. I eat ice cream in small portions and I'm generally ok, but not always.
  • Spicy foods + pepper. Yes, even table pepper burns my mouth. I have been trying to work on this. I can do horseradish but crushed red pepper makes me cough and I'm super sensitive to Asian spices. If a restaurant coats my fish in pepper (but I didn't ask them not to) I have to eat around the pepper. 
  • Hazelnut. Makes me nauseous just thinking about it. I must be the only person in the world who will not go near Nutella.
My eating schedule
I wakeup at around 5:00-5:30 and I am not hungry. I start running between 6:30-7:15 depending on the season, and I do not eat before I run. If I am running a workout that has 5 or more miles of speed, then I have half a scoop of UCAN energy powder. This usually only happens during marathon training. For long runs, the same holds true, although now I am experimenting with Maurten as opposed to UCAN. 

They say that you are supposed to have protein shortly after a hard workout but I typically am not hungry. Running suppresses my appetite and I usually don't want anything to eat until about an hour after I finish my run, which is about 9:00. If I run an extraordinarily hard workout and put a major strain on my body, I have some cottage cheese immediately afterward for a quick dose of protein to help in recovery.

I usually have a small snack between my 9:00 breakfast and my 12:00 lunch. Then I will snack once or twice after lunch before having dinner at around 6:30. I usually have some form of dessert at 7:30 and then I am done eating. 

I recently realized that this means I do not eat for about 14 hours, between 7:30pm and 9:00am, and this is what they tell you do in intermittent fasting. It's supposed to be good for you, but I don't know how much I believe that. My dinner is usually pretty big, I don't wake up hungry, and then running suppresses my appetite, so it's just a matter of not wanting food during that 14-hour stretch. I never get hungry while running, and I can't imagine wanting food while running. 

Rarely, I have to use the bathroom mid-run and I hate it when that happens. I won't need to go to the bathroom before the run, but suddenly my stomach will hurt and if I don't find a bathroom within 15 minutes I am in big trouble. Thankfully I know where they are around my most common routes. Thankfully this hasn't happened recently but it can happen as often as twice per month. Our track has porta-potties which I have definitely taken advantage of.

My most common breakfasts are:
  • Bagel with cream cheese or butter
  • Cottage cheese with nuts (Friendship brand lowfat cottage cheese)
  • Steel cut oats
  • Cream of wheat
  • Grits
  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit, soy milk and yogurt (in the summer)
  • Yogurt and granola (Siggi's brand of yogurt)
  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Kodiak Cakes pancakes (usually on the weekends)
My most common lunches are:
  • Turkey and cheese sandwich with tomato and avocado on whole wheat bread
  • Tuna melt on whole wheat bread
  • Pizza, usually topped with chicken and veggies
  • "Bowl" from Cava (mediterranean) or Moe's (Mexican)
  • Poke Bowl
  • Soup with a side of crackers or bread - I like chicken noodle and minestrone
  • Salad with some kind of protein (tofu, chicken, egg and/or turkey)
  • Leftovers from last night's dinner
Greg cooks dinner in our house and there are a few meals that we eat regularly, like 2-3 times per month. Typically we aim for a protein, a vegetable, and a carb. We love getting freshly baked bread and having that as an appetizer with a gourmet cheese. Here are the meals we eat frequently:
  • Turkey burgers with tomato and avocado
    Greg making eggplant parm
  • Chicken thighs: either baked or on the grill with a side of veggies
  • Baked fish: salmon, halibut, and rockfish are most common with a side of veggies
  • Scallops with a side of spinach and/or fennel
  • Chicken parm or eggplant parm
  • Pasta with ground turkey meat balls
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Mushroom risotto
  • Oven-baked turkey or chicken, usually with a side of butternut squash
  • Chicken stir fry with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and broccoli
  • Chili made with ground turkey, topped with light sour cream and cheese
  • Homemade chicken noodle soup with veggies
  • Pasta with chicken, spinach, sun-dried tomato in pesto sauce (common before long runs)
  • Pasta with ground turkey and tomato basil sauce
  • Crab cakes or crab legs
Common vegetables accompanying our dinners are Cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, peppers, squash, fennel, leeks

Cottage cheese, mango, dolmas
I often have dessert after dinner which is typically something we bought from the grocery store like a pie or cake. Cookies and ice cream are also common.

As I mentioned above, I snack a lot. Common snacks that I keep in the house, or that I used to bring to work when I went into the office:
  • Trail mix
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pretzels, chips or crackers, sometimes with a dip
  • Granola
  • Fruit (apples, grapefruit, mangos, strawberries, grapes)
  • Olives
  • Cheese
  • Cookies
  • Dark chocolate bar (not the whole thing, just a few pieces) 
I mostly drink water because it's easily available and I need to stay hydrated for my runs. Here are some other things I drink:
  • Decaf latte made with soy milk or coconut milk, usually flavored. I probably have 3-4 of these per week with my breakfast. There is a Peet's and a Starbucks very close to my house and I alternate. I
    Lemon martini at a fancy restaurant
    don't want to become caffeine dependent so I make it decaf always. 
  • Caffeine-free tea, during the workday or at night before bed. I love lavender and camomile.
  • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice: I've really gotten into this over the past six months. I get it from the grocery store and it's a good way to replenish calories in a healthy and refreshing way.
  • Soda. I usually have 1 soda per week. I love a Pepsi or a Dr. Pepper after my long run! When I worked in an office and soda was free, I had one almost every day. I'm glad I cut back.
  • Alcoholic beverages. If we go out to a nice dinner I typically order a mixed drink. One of the sugary ones! I rarely drink wine because I don't like the way it makes me feel. I drink beer more than any other alcoholic beverage. I like craft beers and I have one with dinner several times per week. Usually I have about 3/4 of the beer which is enough to satisfy me without making me tipsy.
Dining out & ordering in
Greg and I do not eat out nearly as much as we used to, but we still do on occasion. In an average week, we cook 5 meals, and the other two are takeout/delivery or going out. We have sushi a few times per month and have Thai food delivered about once a month. 

When we go out to eat, we usually order an appetizer and/or dessert, plus the main course. I typically order fish, seafood, or chicken. I absolutely love French fries, so I treat myself when we go out! I'm a picky dessert eater in that I do not like tiramisu, anything hazelnut, whipped cream, or cheesecake. Nor do I like the chocolate/peanut butter combo. I go for ice cream, cakes, and pies. Greg and I always share the dessert. 

Post-race and post long-run
As I said above, I usually do not want to eat anything until at least an hour after I am done running. Sometimes as long as two hours. I always follow my cravings, and my most common cravings for after the run are:
  • Tacos
  • Pizza
  • Pepsi or Dr. Pepper
  • Chicken fingers/fried chicken sandwich
So. . . that's it! Nothing too complicated or fancy. I tend to think that I'm a generally healthy eater who enjoys her daily (or twice daily) dose of sweets. I will say that being married to Greg has helped a lot. I don't know how to cook most things, and when I was single I lived on boca burgers, veggie nuggets, and cereal. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

10 Fast Miles

Yesterday morning I ran the Tidewater Striders Distance Series 10 Miler in Chesapeake, VA. I'm so happy I did!

Spring Race Planning
A few days after the Harrisburg Marathon last November, I registered for the Myrtle Beach Marathon, which would occur on March 6. In December, I began plotting out the rest of my spring race schedule. This was no easy task. Ideally I would run a half marathon sometime in late January or early February as a tune-up. And also because I thought I would have the fitness to go sub-1:30.

I searched high and low for a half marathon in that timeframe but the only ones available required getting on an airplane. Greg and I wanted to avoid air travel for the sake of our health but also because it would

complicate logistics. The half marathons within driving distance were all insanely hilly. I ran the Hanover Half Marathon last fall which totally destroyed me due to the hills, and I wanted a fast course this spring.

My friend Allison had the novel idea of seeking out a ten-miler instead. I love 10-mile races but they are far more rare than half marathons, so I didn't think I'd likely find one. But I did find one. It was pancake flat. Check. It was within driving distance. Check. It was the last weekend in January. Check. I snagged the very last spot and when I went to register Greg, there were none left! He didn't mind though, and was happy to play the role of cheerleader/photographer. 

On Tuesday of this week, Myrtle Beach announced that the marathon would be pushed to May. I would definitely not be running a marathon in South Carolina in May due to the heat. This news stressed me out because I had just logged three 70+ mile weeks in a row and I wanted to run a marathon on March 6. Now it was back to the drawing board for the marathon. Time for more research! But, on the plus side, it made me more motivated than ever to race the 10-miler because I knew that race was a sure thing.

OR WAS IT!? On Thursday, the Chesapeake area got a few inches of snow. And the race was held on a paved trail that does not get treated or plowed. The last thing I wanted was to try and race on a course with icy patches everywhere. But how would I know? The temperature wouldn't get above 36 in that area, and I wasn't sure how much sun exposure the course got. I posted a message to the Tidewater Striders Club Facebook page asking if any of the locals planned to run on that trail on Friday morning. Thankfully somebody said that they were going to scope it out. I should note that icy patches would be a deal-breaker for me whereas some people would be okay with dodging them. I am very timid when it comes to slippery surfaces so I would not be able to race confidently if I knew I might slip.

I canceled our hotel room to avoid a cancellation fee. (Chesapeake is a 4-hour drive south, so a hotel was required). I figured if the race was on, I could always re-book it. I went to bed Thursday night not knowing if I would actually run the 10-miler. Friday morning arrived and I still had not packed or laid out any of my race things. This was a first for me! Finally, at around 10:00, I heard back from Facebook that the trail was all clear and no black ice. 

I packed for the race and Greg and I left the house two hours later. 

Nutrition and Fueling
If you read my Harrisburg Marathon report, you will know that I had major digestive issues which prevented me from running hard. I need to figure out a fueling strategy before my next marathon. Here is what I ate on Friday:

  • Breakfast: A large bowl of grits
  • Lunch: Leftover chicken stir fry from the night before, included rice and veggies
  • Snack: On the drive down, peanut-butter filled pretzels and some sweet tarts
  • Dinner: Bread. Pasta with Pomodoro sauce and chicken 
  • I drank approximately 50-60 ounces of water. No additional electrolytes
  • 3 hours before the race: 2/3 of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 + and English muffin with almond butter
  • 30 minutes before the race: Almost all the rest of the Maurten Drink mix
  • 5 minutes before the race: A caffeinated Maurten Gel
  • During the race: No fuel or water. Probably could have used a gel at the halfway point.
Before the Race
I had one of my best nights of pre-race hotel sleep ever. I slept for over 8 hours and I only woke up once in the middle of the night. The sleep was restful and I didn't have anxiety dreams about the race. Why? I think I was so stressed about about my race schedule (both the marathon and the ice for the 10-miler) that once I knew the race would happen, I could rest easy. It used to be that the biggest challenge in racing was the race. Now, it's finding a race that will happen!

I woke up and I felt tired, but tired in a good way. When I ran my fastest-ever marathon I also woke up tired and I think that's because the quality of my sleep was so great. For Harrisburg, I woke up and felt jittery and edgy and not rested. I think that my digestive issues had a bit to do with that anxious state.

Warming up in my mask
The race started at 9:00 and we left the hotel at 7:50. It was a 25-minute drive to the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. Yes- it's actually called "Dismal Swamp". We arrived at the race and hung out in the car for a bit. At 8:25 we got out of the car to get my bib. They had a really smooth social distance process in place. First you stood in line to sign a waver. Then you took the waver to the temperature check station, where they signed your waiver if you didn't have a fever. Then, you took the signed waiver to the bib station where you got your bib. It was very smooth. Everyone was wearing masks and standing six feet apart in the lines. After getting my bib, I went to the indoor bathroom, which was a nice amenity.

Then I warmed up for one mile. It was 30 degrees with 7-8 mph winds and sunny. On the weather scale, this gets an 8.5 out of 10. It would have gotten closer to a 10 if it weren't for the headwind during the last three miles. 

At 8:50, they called us all to the start line where we waited in socially distant waves. I was in the first wave, so I handed my jacket to Greg and got ready. I wore the same type of outfit that I wore during the Christmas Caper 10K in December: capri tights, a short-sleeved shirt, and arm warmers. I wore a long sleeved shirt in Indianapolis when it was 28 degrees and I was hot during portions of the race. The short-sleeves allow more air into the core, while the arm warmers keep the arms warm. I wore my Adidas Adios Pro shoes, which I find to be very fast without any of the Achilles or ankle problems that the Nike Vaporfly Next% gives me.

Race Goals and Strategy
My 10-mile PR was ambiguous. There were three different PRs I could claim:
  1. Fastest 10-mile time in a live 10-mile race: 1:09:54 at the Cherry Blossom in 2019
  2. Fastest 10-mile in a virtual 10-mile race: 1:09:46 at the Virtual Cherry Blossom in 2020
  3. Fastest 10-miles ever run: 1:09:14 during the Indianapolis Half Marathon in 2019
Given that I knew I could run 1:09:14 in a half marathon, I thought I should definitely be able to break 1:09 in a 10-miler and probably even go sub 1:08. My fitness was really strong, I had recently PR'ed a 10K, the weather was cooperative, and the course was flat. It seemed like all the stars were aligning, which is rare. The plan was to start out in the low 6:50s and then speed up from there. 

Miles 1-4
The race started and I eased into it. I only warmed up for 1-mile because I had mis-judged the amount of time it would take to get my bib, pin it on, etc. But I wasn't too worried because there was nothing wrong with gradually easing into my goal pace and running a negative split.

There were three women ahead of me and two men. Additionally, there was a 15-mile race that had started at 8:30 on this same trail. The course was 5 miles out and 5 miles back. No mile markers, but my Garmin seemed to be very accurate on this course.

Mile 3.5
I passed one of the three women about a mile into the race. My split was 6:58. This was slower than goal pace, but that was by design. The course was as flat as they come-- no hills or inclines or anything. The only annoying thing was that there were many acorn-sized round thingees that had fallen from the trees. I don't know what they are called but they are brown and spikey and round. If you ran over one it would likely throw you off balance. I had to dodge those, but at least there wasn't any ice. 

After the first mile, everything started to flow and I increased my effort. My second mile ended up being 6:49, which was right on target so I was happy with my pacing. 

I passed one of the men during the third mile, as I had started to pick up my pace. Now there were only three people ahead of me: two women who seemed to be running together, and one man. I saw Greg at mile 3.5 and he snapped some photos.

Mile 1: 6:58
Mile 2: 6:49
Mile 3: 6:47
Mile 4: 6:42

Miles 5-7
I was running a little faster than planned, but I felt great so I didn't question it. That 6:42 split for mile 4 was certainly a surprise, but everything felt good. I could feel a slight headwind breeze on the way out, so I thought for sure it would be a tailwind on the way back. I was looking forward to that. 

Mile 6.5
At the turnaround, I could tell that the two women running together were no more than a minute ahead of me. I figured if they slowed down I could catch them but I probably wouldn't be able to catch them otherwise. These miles passed pretty quickly. I felt fluid and the effort was hard but not painfully hard. Part of me wondered if I should push harder, but I figured if I had extra energy I would surge during the last three miles, not now when I was just over halfway. I saw Greg again at mile 6.5 and I was feeling so strong! 

I was really enjoying the weather, the flat course, and the fact that I felt so good. My left hip had been acting up earlier in the week, and I actually felt it during my warm up. But miraculously, there was not even a hint of hip tightness or soreness during this race. By the time I reached mile 7, I knew I was going to set a PR. The question was, how much of one? I was running faster than expected and everything felt good. This was my day.  I also really loved seeing the rest of the 10-mile runners on the other side of the course cheering for me. Everyone was so encouraging even when they were in the midst of their own race.

Mile 5: 6:41
Mile 6: 6:42
Mile 7: 6:40

Miles 8-10
Once I got to mile 8, the wind really seemed to pick up. I hadn't noticed it much during miles 6 and 7, but suddenly there was a stiff sustained wind. The race got much harder. I very quickly went from feeling awesome to entering the pain cave. Even though the plan had been to speed up, I had to give everything I had to maintain my pace. Speeding up would not be possible. It was time to start using some mental tricks.

After all the research and stress over finding this race, and then the worry about the ice, you finally made it here. It all comes down to three miles - about 20 minutes. You can stay strong for 20 minutes. You have trained for this. You have spent hours and hours preparing for this moment and you are on track to PR. You need to continue to push as hard as possible. This is the moment that is testing you. You spent four hours in a car yesterday to get here. You did so much research on this race. FOR THIS MOMENT.

It was so hard, but I knew I had to stay strong. It was a battle against the wind and I refused to let the wind win. I started counting down the minutes, which is very helpful instead of thinking about the distance. Soon I only had 15 minutes left, and then 10 minutes. 

During the 9th mile, I started to struggle. I was fading. This is why I think I probably could have used a gel at the halfway point. I needed more pep. My mile split was back into the 6:50s (6:51) which was not
Mile 9.8
 the end of the world but I knew I could run faster if I just gave more effort.

During the last mile, I knew the PR would be mine. Since the course was flat, I could see the finish line from about half a mile away. The two women were still running together and I tried to guess at what time they would cross. The first half of that mile was in the 6:50s, but I did some quick math and realized I was on the verge of sub 1:08. If I didn't run fast enough I would be 1:08:xx but if I gave it absolutely everything I had, I could run 1:07:xx. And that would be HUGE!

I started sprinting. It was now a race against the clock. I had to finish before it struck 1:08. I knew what was on the line, I knew how much I wanted it and even with the headwind, mile 10 was one of my fastest.

Mile 8: 6:44
Mile 9: 6:51
Mile 10: 6:42

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 1:07:47, third overall female and fourth overall runner. The two women finished ahead of the first place male, both in 1:06:xx. Next year I will be right there with them.

After the Race
That final sprint was very fast and according to my Garmin I was running a sub-6:00 pace at the very end. I think it was that final kick that led to the dry heaving. I definitely would have vomited if there was something to vomit, but there wasn't anything because I had no water during the race. I did not feel nauseous during the race like I did in Harrisburg, so that is definitely progress. I think the dry heaving is simply how my body reacts to a hard effort and if I have anything in my stomach, it's going to come up. I don't think it has much to do with what I have eaten.

After the dry heaving, we went straight to the car, relaxed for a few minutes, and then left. There was
really no need to hang around the finish line as there would not be an awards ceremony. We arrived back at the hotel where I showered, packed up, and then we met my college roommate and her husband for lunch. They live in the area so whenever I go there I try to see them. 

We then drove home, stopping at the grocery store along the way to pick up cake batter and the ingredients for frosting. It was PR Cake night! I settled on a butter cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Dinner would be shrimp scampi and there would also be beer!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm calling this a PR by two full minutes. Of course it depends on which time you use as my previous PR, but any way you slice it, I was solidly under all of them.

This is very encouraging for me because I was starting to feel that I had been plateauing. I had been setting some PRs but they weren't all that significant. It was like a few seconds here and there, but overall I wasn't convinced that I was becoming a stronger and faster runner.

Not only did I set a PR, but this is the fastest race I have ever run, relative to other distances. What do I mean by that? Well, if I plug this 1:07:47 into the McMillan Race Calculator, the equivalent times are: 5K in 19:32, 10K in 40:33, half marathon in 1:30:25, full marathon in 3:10:16.

I have never run any of those "equivalent" times, which means this 10-mile is my "fastest" race on a relative scale. My goal for my upcoming marathon is 3:10, so as long as my training continues to go well, I should have a great shot at that come March.

As for my spring marathon, the plan is to run this same course on March 27! The Tidewater Striders are holding a "BQ Invitational" marathon for 250 runners on this course and I'm obviously a fan of the Striders and this course. The marathon would be two out-and-backs on this paved trail. Boring, but fast. This means I have to extend my marathon training for three weeks, but I don't think that will be a problem. 

Nutrition-wise, I think what I ate generally agreed with my stomach. During the marathon I will follow a similar plan, except I will need to drink water during the race and have gels during the race. The question will be how many and when. Thankfully I have time to experiment. 

I'm so thrilled with how fast I ran this race, and particularly how I rallied in the end with the headwind and getting my time under 1:08. A lot of mental and physical work went into this one, and it was well worth it.


Friday, January 1, 2021

New Day New Year 10K

The long awaited 2021 is here. And what will it bring?

For starters, the first race in the Northern Virginia area (that I am aware of) held on closed roads: The New Day*New Year 10K. All the local races that I ran in 2020 starting in March were either in Washington DC or on roads open to traffic (Fort Hunt 10K). Here's a quick recap:

  • Outer Banks 5K (in North Carolina)
  • Fort Hunt 10K (open road in a park area)
  • Hanover Half Marathon (in Pennsylvania)
  • Harrisburg Marathon (in Pennsylvania)
  • Cranberry Crawl 5K (in Washington DC)
  • Christmas Caper 10K (in Washington DC)
This is great news because it sets a precent of Loudon County being on board with live races and road closures. Hopefully we will start seeing more races come back to Northern Virginia.

This race offered a 5K and a 10K option. I wasn't sure which one I wanted to do, but looking at the course made it an easy decision. The 5K course ended on an uphill and part of it was on a neighborhood path. The 10K course ended on a downhill and there was no neighborhood path; it was all road. 

However, the day before the race, we received an email letting us know that the 10K would now be two laps of the 5K. Definitely a bait-and-switch. I am assuming that it's less expensive for them to use the 5K course for both races because they don't have to pay for as many police officers and close as many roads. I could be wrong, but that's my best guess as to why they would change it at the last minute.

My heart sunk upon reading this. What I had thought would be a decently fast course on 100% roads was now going to be more challenging with part of it run on a neighborhood path, times two.  I briefly considered switching to the 5K. That way I would only have to run on the path once. But I ultimately decided to just stick with the original plan. It was not the end of the world, of course, and 2020 has taught me to be flexible and roll with the punches. So I tried not to focus on it too much and just accept the change. But I think it got into my head a little when it was time to execute. 

Before the Race
The race started at 9:30 so it was easy to take my Maurten Drink Mix 3 hours beforehand at 6:30. I used the same fueling strategy that I used in the Christmas Caper 10K from two weeks ago when I set a PR. 

I decided to wear my Nike Vaporfly Next % shoes, for a few reasons:
  • I wanted to save my adidas Adios Pro for my next marathon, as I will likely not be able to obtain another pair before then. (Due to my high cadence, I wear through shoes very quickly).
  • There was a chance of rain, and there is no traction on the Adios Pro, whereas the Nike Vaporfly has decent traction. 
  • I have two pairs of the Nike Vaporfly, which each cost me $260 after tax, so I figured I should probably use them at some point.
  • I thought it would be good to get a true comparison of the shoes. I never thought the Nike Vaporfly Next% made me any faster than normal shoes, but now that I had the Adidas Pro to compare them to, I wanted to try again.
Greg and I arrived with ample time to pick up our bibs and warm up. It started to rain lightly as we were warming up, which was supposed to hold off until after the race. Thankfully the rain ended after about 10 minutes and it wasn't enough to make the roads slippery.

In fact, the weather ended up being nearly perfect. 34 degrees, 3mph winds, overcast. The forecast kept changing all week and originally we were looking at a torrential downpour and 38 degrees! At one point, winds were forecast to be 13-15mph. We definitely lucked out in terms of weather, so I probably should not be complaining about the course change.

We warmed up for a little over 2 miles, finishing at the start line. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that many runners were already lined up on the designated spots, so we wouldn't be among the first to start. To maintain social distancing, two runners were released at a time, with sets going about 5 seconds apart. And there were multiple waves. We wore masks in the start corral and took them off once we started the race. There were about 50 runners in the 10K (which started first) and 100 runners in the 5K. 

Miles 1-2
As the race started, I felt really good. I thought that this would be a strong race for me and I had plenty of pep. I now realize that this is because the race started downhill! There were about 4 women ahead of me, all of whom I passed in the first mile. I thought to myself, "Wow, this could be my day to win the race!" Greg lined up behind me at the start line so he was in the set of runners that started 5 seconds after me. He passed me about half a mile into the race, looking strong. 

I got through mile 1 in 6:40. This was faster than my first mile from two weeks ago, so I was pleased with it. (Sure, it was a downhill mile, but it didn't seem to be that much of a downhill). Shortly after finishing the first mile, a woman passed me from behind. She had started after me and passed me and some of the guys in front of me. I later learned that she ended up being the first overall finisher, for both men and women! Very impressive.

Things started to feel hard during the second mile, but I still felt strong and energized. I believed that I was crushing it and running very quickly, but the 6:45 split on my Garmin was a bit disheartening.

Miles 3-4
The neighborhood path was at the start of mile 3. There was a downhill stretch, but then that momentum was killed by having to get up onto a curb and make a sharp turn onto a path, and then another sharp turn onto a wooden bridge/boardwalk type of surface. I was very thankful that it wasn't raining because this had the potential to be slippery. And then a few more turns through a parking lot before we were back onto a road. Annoying, but manageable.

Here's where I think the last minute course change got into my head. Similar to mindset at Harrisburg, I got annoyed at the awkwardness of the course. I let it bother me and I allowed it to give me an excuse for slowing down. To run well you need to be 100% positive or neutral, and I let some negativity seep in. Mile 3 was mostly uphill so I wasn't too surprised to log a 6:49 for that mile. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but I figured I could make it up during the 4th mile, which would be downhill again as the course repeated itself.

At this point, a new challenge emerged: passing the 5K runners. As one would expect, there were packs of them running 2-3 abreast and weaving around them was difficult at times. Additionally, there were 10K runners coming back on on the same route. So I was trying to weave through 5K runners and make sure I didn't have a head-on collision with the 10K runners. 

I was able to get some advantage from the downhill of mile 4, but not as much as I needed to make up for the slow down of mile 3. I logged 6:42 which, on a downhill mile, wasn't that fast for me. I was expecting to be running closer to 6:30 and I still felt decent, but I just couldn't bring myself to push any harder. It's like I knew I could run faster. Just two weeks ago I was running 6:36 flat miles and now my downhill pace was 6:42. 

A 5K runner in the background
Miles 5-6
I was so ready to be done with the race at this point. There would be no more fast downhill miles, just the long uphill stretch to the finish and another run through the neighborhood path. Thankfully I passed some 5K runners shortly before getting onto the path, so I didn't have to pass anyone while on the narrow path. I was encouraged with my 6:43 for mile 5, but I simply didn't have the gas in the tank I needed to run uphill for the long stretch.

At one point I felt so bad I told myself I would be happy with anything under 7:15. Usually I can totally rally during the last mile of a race, but not today. I observed that it's hard for me to run uphill in the Vaporflys. They are bulky and I felt like if I had more contact with the ground at that point, I could have engaged my muscles more to help out. Mile 6 ended up being 6:57, and in hindsight I feel like I could have run that faster. But at the time I was in so much pain, I was hoping just to be under 7:15! 

The finish and beyond
I came through the finish in 41:44, which pleasantly surprised me. I had been projecting 42:xx. I felt like this race was so much slower than 10K from two weeks ago, and yet this time was only 11 seconds slower - my second fastest 10K ever! 

If you look at the distance on my Garmin, this race course measured 6.18 miles at an average pace of 6:45, and the Christmas Caper measured 6.28 miles at a pace of 6:36. So, while there is a notable difference between a 6:36 and 6:45 pace, the "shorter" course today meant there was only 11 seconds difference in the official time instead of 54.

Greg was waiting for me at the finish and I was thrilled to learn that he broke 40:00 for the first time by running 39:38. Amazing! I knew he could do it. He absolutely crushed it. He was the 4th overall finisher and I was the 6th. As for the women's race, I came in 2nd. I was pleased with this. I think that the awards are coming in the mail. 

This race had amazing swag: hat, gloves, and a neck warmer. Overall the organization was strong and I was thankful to be able to continue with my New Year's tradition of racing. The only areas for improvement would be not changing the course at the last minute, better traffic control of the two-way stretch, and certifying the course. Some of the 5K runners logged 3.06 miles on their Garmins. The 10K was closer to the true distance because we ran an extra little stretch that wasn't part of the 5K. Knowing this, I am happy that I decided to stick with the 10K because I believe it was more accurately measured. I don't think the courses were USATF certified. 

Greg and I did a short cool down during which the rain came back. All in all, we really lucked out with the weather!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
There are positive and negative ways to look at my race today. I guess instead of negative, I should say "constructive" lessons I learned to improve on for next time. 

  • Officially my second fastest 10K ever
  • Fast time on a hilly course, with a half-mile uphill stretch at the end of the race
  • 2nd place female
  • Pushed really hard, got a great workout in
  • My heart rate didn't get all that high, I believe I had the fitness to go faster
  • I let negative thoughts seep in; I shouldn't have let the course annoyances bother me
  • I was only 11 seconds off of my PR, if I had just pushed harder I could have beat it
  • My Garmin pace was 6:45, and I have run about 5 other 10Ks at this pace, so it's not like this race shows a big fitness gain
As for the Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes, I think I am done with them. Yes, I paid $260 a pair and I have two pairs of them. But I don't believe they make me faster than my normal speed training shoes (Adidas Boston or adidas Adios non-pro). They also irritated my Achilles so I am hesitant to wear them again when they aren't a fast shoe for me. Do I think I would have been faster in the adidas Adios Pro? Yes. But I don't regret not wearing them because I had valid reasons for wanting to give the Vaporflys another shot. At least now I know and I won't feel guilty about spending all that money but not using them.

At the end of the day, racing is really just one big experiment. You have to try different strategies and see what works. Nutrition. Shoes. Pacing. Warm up. Mental approaches. I think this race fueled my fire to get back out there and push really hard on the next one.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

2020 Hindsight

Despite most races being canceled, I had a decent running life in 2020. In fact, I've logged 2,855 miles this year, which is 160 more than last year, making it my highest mileage year ever. And there are still four more days left to add some mileage! Below is a graph of my mileage starting in 2012. I'm not sure if I will ever have a year of higher mileage than this year, so this could be a lifetime PR. Part of the reason I was able to log all of these miles was lack of recovery from live marathons, lack of illness, and lack of injury.

Longest run streak
Along with my highest mileage year ever came my longest streak ever: 181 days. From January 14 to July 12 I ran every day, totaling 1,461 miles! The streak started after taking time off from Posterior Tibialis

Tendonitis in January, and ended when I felt run down from the heat and humidity in mid July. I will likely never again have such a long streak because I would typically not go for 6 months without running and recovering from a marathon, necessitating time off. 

If you decide to start a streak, the most important thing to remember is that you control when the streak ends and not vice versa. In other words, the streak will have to end at some point and you want to have it end because you choose to end it, and not because you are forced to end it due to injury or illness. 

I had another long streak between July 17 and November 6: 112 days. This streak ended when I took a rest day two days prior to the Harrisburg marathon. The combination of these two streaks (181 days and 112 days) helped me reach that high yearly mileage total. 

Highest mileage week
My coach challenged me to run a 90-mile week in April. This included the virtual Boston Marathon on April 20, which I ran at my easy pace. I was able to log 7 miles the next day and continue on with about 10 miles a day for the rest of it, including a 19-miler. 

Because I have been working from home since March, I have had more time to devote to running and recovering from my runs. Not having a commute and not having to do my makeup has been a big time saver. I'll admit that I am now spoiled and once I return to the office, it will take me a while to get back into that rigid schedule. 

Virtual races
I'm not a huge fan of virtual races, but when real races simply don't exist, virtual races are better than nothing. I also thought it was important to support our local running store by registering for a few of these. 

  • Cherry Blossom 10-Miler: 1:09:46.  Since the race was canceled and I was already trained, I figured I would get credit for it and appear in the results by running a virtual race with Greg.
  • Boston Marathon: 3:40:02. I ran this race on April 20, which was the originally scheduled date of the Boston Marathon. Their official virtual race took place in September, but they allowed me to use
    Virtual Boston Marathon
    my April race. I was thankful to receive the medal and the shirt!
  • Mother's Day 4-Miler: 26:27. Greg and I raced this one for the primary purpose of supporting Potomac River Running, our local running store. Plus, when races started getting canceled in March, we all thought that by May things would be back to normal! So in my mind I had planned on running this race as a real race.
  • Indianapolis Monumental Mile: 5:58. I ran this one on a track. I had actually run a faster mile in 5:52 two weeks before, but on the morning of the virtual race I felt a little stale and the weather was warmer (it was late June)
  • Firecracker 5K: 20:19. No race report for this one. This is the fastest 5K I've ever run in the summer so I was thrilled with that. We lucked out with lower-than-normal humidity for July 4th and because it was a virtual race, we were able to start it an hour earlier than the live race would have started. It wouldn't have felt like July 4th without a race, so we did it!
I also was a virtual finisher of the Lucky Leprechaun 5K (tempo run) and the Run with Stride virtual 5K (tempo run). The virtual races were an interesting experiment, but I hope to never run one again. 

New PRs
Do you count a virtual PR as a PR? I think so! After all, the "P" stands for personal. Also, if the answer to that question is "no," then what motivation do you have when running a virtual race? If you don't consider the result to be legit, it will be hard to motivate yourself to push hard. Repeating "it matters, it matters, it matters" over and over again helped me get through all of my virtual races. That said, I make a mental note of whether or not my PR was run in a live race or a virtual race. In my Race History, I have all the virtual races in italics. 
  • 1-Mile PR of 5:52 (time trial) and 5:57 (live race)
  • 4-Mile PR of 26:27 at the Virtual Mother's Day 4-miler
  • 10K PR of 41:33 at the live Christmas Caper 10K
  • 10 Mile PR of 1:09:46 at the Virtual Cherry Blossom (although I have run faster 10-milers in live half marathons, so this one is tricky).
That's a good amount of PRs in a year where most races were canceled and I'm 42 years old, either at my peak or approaching my peak.

Loudon Street Mile in July

Real, live races
I did manage to run two live half marathons this year and a live full marathon. The first live half marathon was before all of this started, the first weekend of March. The other was in October in Hanover, PA. That one didn't go so well because of the hill profile, but it was still nice to be in a live race setting. 

I ran the live Harrisburg Marathon in November. Just two weeks later, the state introduced new restrictions which would have made the race a no-go. I am so relieved I had the opportunity to run it, even though digestive issues made the race a slow slog.

An of course, setting a PR at the live Christmas Caper 10K earlier this month was a huge mental boost. Especially at a distance that I had struggled with since 2017.

Predictions for 2021
Of course we all expected things would be back to normal in 2021, right? Not happening. There's no clearly defined goal post for a "return to normalcy" as we know it, which to me means that things will not return to normal within the next year, two years, three years, or maybe ever. I know that sounds pessimistic, but once you set a precedent of closing businesses, canceling events, closing schools for the sake of public safety, then it suddenly becomes acceptable to close/cancel them again.

I don't think large marathons like Boston, New York, or Chicago will occur in 2021. If they return in 2022, I imagine they will be different from how we know them. 

Thinking about the timeline of things, here is what we all thought would get us back to normal:
  • Flattening the curve (March-April)
  • Slowing the spread (May-June)
  • Vaccines become available (July-October)
  • Everyone is vaccinated (November - ?)
  • Everyone is vaccinated from all mutations and new strains (future)
While my outlook for things in general may seem bleak (and I hope I'm wrong), I mainly just focus on what I can control and I do believe that I can have an active running and racing life in 2021, just like I did in 2020. It will mean spending more time doing research, having less flexibility over when I race, running on courses that might not be ideal (gravel, etc), and having a plan B, C, D, E and F. 

We do hope to go to Africa for our postponed safari in August. Right now I am 50/50 on whether or not that will happen. 

Final Thoughts
This year has been stressful for all of us, but I was fortunate to have a stable job that allowed me to work from home, and so was Greg. I didn't get sick at all this year -- no mono -- which is always a win for me. Thankfully I don't have children to worry about and never have we been more confident in our decision to not have children. Running has helped me keep my sanity and if it weren't for my running I don't think I would be in as good of a spot mentally. It has provided me structure, routine, purpose, and excitement. 

Happy new year to all my blog readers. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Caper 10K: Happy all the way!

This morning I ran the real, live Christmas Caper 10K in Washington, DC. This was the same course as my 5K from November, only doubled. It's a no-frills race series. No chip timing, no shirt. Just a race on a fast course with fast runners. 

I had run this race before, 12 years ago in 2008! I had to consult my race history in my blog to find the report and sure enough, I have a report from the 2008 race. In 2008, I ran 10 miles with hills two days before the race, 5 miles the day before the race, and then stayed up past midnight the night before the race at a holiday party. And then I was upset that I didn't PR. Hahaha! Back then I thought I was invincible and should be able to PR in any circumstances. My time was a "disappointing" 49:36. And then I ran 17 miles the following day. (Insert facepalm emoji here).

Race Approach
This year, my goal was to PR. The conditions were perfect (I give them a 10/10 on my race weather scale) and I was in outstanding shape. My 10K PR was my longest standing PR from 2017 at 41:51. I really had no idea how I ran that fast because that course was insanely hilly. And ever since that 2017 race I thought, "If I get good weather and an easier course, a PR should be no problem".  I had run six 10k races since setting that 41:51 PR, and none of the six were faster. Four of them were humid, one of them was coming off an injury, and one was on a track.

Even if I hadn't been in the best shape ever, a flat course with perfect conditions meant a shot at a PR. I told my coach I wanted to PR and his response was "yeah, let's just do it" as if it was no problem! I liked having the mindset that it was really a matter of getting it done. I had the fitness and the conditions, all I needed to do was to execute. 

Fueling Strategy
If you have been following my blog you know that I have been experimenting with different fueling strategies since my digestive nightmare at the Harrisburg Marathon in November. I am using Maurten products, and for a 10k, their website recommended having their Drink Mix 160 three hours prior to a 10k, and then a caffeinated gel 30 minutes before race start.

I had only tried the Drink Mix once before on a training run, so I decided that instead of drinking the entire serving (500ml) I would drink about half. And instead of my normal English Muffin with peanut butter, I would have half an English muffin with Almond butter. To summarize:

  • Almost half of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 packet three hours before race start
  • Half of an English muffin + almond butter 2.5 hours before race start
  • One caffeinated Maurten gel 30 minutes before race start
This worked really well and I had no digestive issues before, during, or after the race. 

Before the Race
Greg and I left the house at around 6:30 for a race start of 8:00. He ran the 5k, which started at 7:50. We arrived at the race, got our bibs, and used a wonderfully warm indoor bathroom at the nearby golf course. It was 28 degrees, so I decided I would warm up for a little longer than usual. 

I wanted to dress festively but also appropriately for the weather. I wore green capri tights, a red short-sleeve shirt and arm warmers. I find that a short-sleeved shirt plus arm warmers is better than long sleeves for racing because it lets some air into the core. When I ran the Indianpolis Half Marathon last
Photo by Cheryl Young
year, it was 28 degrees, overcast and windy. I wore a long-sleeved shirt, and I regretted it.

Some people wear shorts in this weather. I find that tights do not slow me down or weigh me down, and my legs don't overheat. And if my legs are too cold, they won't move as quickly. So I will race in capris if it's 35 degrees or cooler. I overheat in my face and chest area, so wearing a lightweight short-sleeved shirt was perfect, with the arm sleeves keeping my arms warm. I wore convertible mittens with hand warmers inside of them.

I wore my new adidas Adios Pro shoes that I wore in the Marathon. I really wanted to wear my green Nike Vaporfly Next% because they matched the outfit so perfectly, but those shoes simply don't work as well for me as the adidas.

After putting on my bib and using the bathroom, I warmed up for 3 miles. I paused to watch Greg start his 5k. He looked strong! I made sure to include strides and faster running in my warm up. At 28 degrees, it can be difficult to get moving and I wanted my legs nice and warm starting at mile 1.

After the warmup I lined up at the start line in my mask. The 10K race had only 15 runners total! Very small. Of those 15 runners, 5 were female. I did not know this at the time, I only know because I looked at the race results afterwards. There was no chip timing so I wanted to line up close to the starting line. However there were other serious-looking runners up there and I didn't want to crowd them (social distancing and all).  So I lined up about 10 feet back. 

Miles 1-2
As the race started, three women were ahead of me. One of them was Cristina, a long-time friend and fellow blogger. So I started out in 4th place. For a race with 15 total runners, that's quite the competitive field!

I eased into my pace during the first mile and focused on Cristina. She's a great pace setter and even though I knew she would be faster than me (the goal wasn't to keep up with her) I knew her start would be strong and controlled. As I said earlier, I knew that all I had to do to PR was execute and stay mentally strong. I had the fitness. This race would be all about my mindset.

I focused on finding a rhythm and establishing a flow. During the first mile, I saw Greg running on the opposite side of the course in the final stretch of his 5k. I could tell he was working hard and that motivated me to increase my effort level. I also saw my friend Cheryl in the 5k, which was a nice pick-me-up.

Mile 1: 6:45
Mile 2: 6:37

Miles 3-4
In terms of pacing, I knew I needed to average 6:40 to PR. But I didn't want to just PR, I wanted to run my fastest race possible. So I reminded myself that the Garmin was for informational purposes only, and I shouldn't slow down if I saw a pace that I thought was beyond my ability. Miles 3 and 4 were the hardest, and I think this is true of any 10K. By the time you reach the 3rd mile, you are already tired and
Just before the turnaround
 you have been running hard for awhile. And yet you still have over half the race to complete. So it can 
be really discouraging.

We turned around near the start line and ran the entire course again to create the 10k distance. I saw Greg at the turnaround and he cheered for me and snapped some photos. The course was fast and flat, but there were 3 momentum-stealing hairpin turns. I personally think I need to work on my hairpin turn and I am not great at executing it. Partially because I am a cautious runner and I am afraid of falling or hurting myself if I do a movement that isn't straight forward. 

After I turned around it was time to run the entire course again. That thought was exhausting and intimidating so I started to break the race down into more manageable chunks. I knew this race would be all mental so I played little games of creating small goals. Usually that goal would be "stay strong until you reach that point up there on the road" or "run really hard until your watch beeps for the next mile." This was a good way of distracting myself so I didn't think about having to run that entire course again. 

Mile 3: 6:35
Mile 4: 6:40

Miles 5-Finish
That 6:40 mile was slower than the previous two but I was not discouraged by it. There was a slight headwind during that mile and once I got out of it I was able to pick up the pace a little. With just two miles to go I knew I was on track for a PR and so I needed to stay as strong as possible. I was
Approaching the finish line
successfully able to battle any negative thought just as soon as it arose. And most of the time I was too busy with positive, happy thoughts, that there was significantly less negativity to battle. I just had to constantly focus on pushing and staying positive.

As for my competition, the three women stayed ahead of me for the entire race. Cristina remained in my line of vision for most of the race. I didn't expect to catch her, but it was still nice to have the competition and be reminded that this was a race and not a training run. 

With just 1 mile to go I started getting really giddy and excited inside. I thought about the PR cake and I wondered if Greg had also PR'ed. I kept telling myself that if I gave up now, there would be no PR cake! The closer I got to the finish, the more excited I became. And the race was still hurting a lot. I am not a religious person but I somehow found myself praying to God to help me get to the finish. I sprinted it in while Cheryl and Greg cheered me on.

Mile 5: 6:35
Mile 6: 6:34
The last 0.28: 6:10 pace

After the Race
I stopped my Garmin at 41:33, which is a PR by 18 seconds! Of course, my Garmin measured 6.28 miles (as did other people's Garmins) so my official pace will not match my Garmin average pace of 6:36.  But wow, a 6:36 pace for a 10k?! That is way faster than I could have imagined!

I was so happy to finally break that PR. In a real, live race! I was the 4th overall female, but interestingly enough, there were only 5 women total. It's crazy that with a time of 41:33, I was the second-to-last place female. This just shows that placement is all about who shows up and it's never really in your control. 

Greg was very close to his 5k PR of 19:24. He missed it by a few seconds. 

We briefly chatted with Cristina and Cheryl and then ran a short cool down. Afterwards, we drove straight home and I got in my epsom salt bath. One of the best things about running in really cold weather is that the bath afterwards feels amazing. 

Cheryl and me after the race

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I was so excited to PR. . . have I mentioned that yet?  I hadn't set any PRs in 2020 that weren't virtual. And while I do count virtual PRs and real PRs, it's more satisfying to have the time be official.  Speaking of official times, I ended up with a time of 41:35, even though my finish line photo showed faster on the clock:

Based on this photo, it looks like my official time should have been 41:32. Or at least the 41:33 that my Garmin logged. But it ended up being 41:35 officially. Based on this photo, I am going to claim 41:33. After all, Personal Records are 'Personal' and there's no way this is a 41:35. I know I am splitting hairs but when you work your butt off for every little second, they all matter.

Other final thoughts:
  • I think the adidas Adios Pro shoes helped. I am not sure how they would be in a 5k but I did think that they were a fast shoe for the 10k.
  • Knowing that I can run 6.28 miles at an average pace of 6:36, I think I am also in shape to set a 5k PR
  • It's awesome to compare this race to my 49:36 of 2008. I've come a long way for sure.
  • I will be racing another 10k on New Year's Day. That race also offers a 5K, but I want another shot at this distance to see if I can go even faster. I needed to breakthrough that 41:51 plateau, and now that I have, I feel like I can keep going!
  • The fueling strategy worked perfectly. No issues during the race aside from some burps here and there.
  • I beat a guy who once gave me grief at a 5k for being too loud when I ran. He had told me that my sounds distracted him. I was over a minute ahead of him today.
  • PR cake tonight. I have not decided on a flavor yet.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Quick Li'l 5K

13 days post marathon and I jumped into a 5K this morning. This is pretty much unheard of for me. It usually takes me about two weeks to feel "normal" again, and the soonest I have ever raced post-marathon is 3 weeks later. 

Marathon Recovery
I wasn't very sore from the marathon. It felt like I had done a hard long run, but definitely not a marathon. The race was on a Sunday and by Wednesday, I felt no lingering soreness while walking around the house. Things continued to feel good on Thursday so I decided to test out a run on Friday. I felt abnormally good. Usually my first post-marathon run is full of little "reminder aches" that I ran a marathon. No such feeling

Birthday photo, 11/11/2020

on Friday. And the next day, Saturday, I ran for 40 minutes at a pace of 8:36, which is on the speedier side of easy!

While my legs had made a miraculous recovery in record time, my digestive system was another story. As soon as I started running on Friday, I felt the same chest tightness I had felt during the marathon. And there was the urge to burp. My primary care doctor had referred me to a GI specialist, but that appointment wouldn't be for two more weeks. After the run, my stomach made weird noises and I burped very frequently for the rest of the day. 

I continued to ramp back up: 40 minutes Saturday, 50 minutes Sunday, 60 minutes on Monday-- all with very fresh-feeling legs. With each run, the chest pressure lessened, which was encouraging. However the burping continued during running and all day every day. My best theory is that I do have an ulcer. The marathon aggravated it. It bled a little, and turned my vomit black. And now the continued irritation is causing the burping. I was a little concerned about racing a 5K while this GI issue was going on, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

Race Cancellation Navigation
Every year starting in 2006, I have run a Turkey Trot. It's one of my favorite running traditions if not my most favorite tradition. This year, all the local trots went virtual. Here in Northern VA, we typically have about 6-7 to choose from. But none of them would be held. I did some research and found one in Fredericksburg about three weeks ago. That would be a one-hour drive on Thanksgiving morning, but it was worth it to keep up with tradition. 

However, the governor of VA announced new restrictions on Friday the 13th which resulted in the Fredericksburg race being canceled the next day. What to do? I realized I would have to either run a virtual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving (not desirable) or run a race the following weekend. So I did more research and found a 5K on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. But before registering, I emailed the race director and asked him if it was at risk for cancelation. He said he needed to check with the venue (The W&OD trail), so I did not register without having a final confirmation. 

Lo and behold! That race ended up going virtual due to the new restrictions put in place by our governor. I didn't have any more options unless I wanted to drive over 3 hours or run a trail race (not my thing). However, there was a small 5K happening in Washington DC today, Saturday the 21st. I had known about this race for a while, but I didn't even consider it due to the proximity to my marathon, and the fact that Greg was planning on running a semi-virtual marathon today (Richmond). 

On Thursday, Greg decided against the marathon for various reasons, and my legs were feeling 100%, so I registered for this Cranberry Crawl 5K. There used to be so many races to choose from that the challenge was picking the best option. Now, there are so few races that it's a struggle just to find anything!

Before the Race
Instead of eating a full English muffin with peanut butter for breakfast, I had half an English muffin with a very small amount of peanut butter. I did not want to upset my stomach. This probably amounted to
around 100 calories, which isn't very much, but I also planned on taking a Maurten gel 30 minutes prior to the race.

I considered wearing my adidas Adios Pro-- the same shoes I wore during the marathon. I found them to be really fast and springy and I think they would have helped in a 5K. But I ended up not wearing them and going with the adidas Adios (regular edition, not the Pro), which is a standard racing flat with no carbon plate. Why? I really wanted to see what I could do un-aided by a shoe. I think that if I had PR'ed while wearing them, I would have wondered if I would have PR'ed without them. I don't have these same thoughts regarding the marathon distance, because a marathon is more about endurance than speed. I may be totally illogical here, but that's my thinking. Plus, once I believe I have reached my peak 5K fitness and can no longer PR. . . then out come the faster shoes!

Pre-race with a mask

It was a smooth ride into DC. We hadn't been into the city since May, before the political unrest. It was nice to see it again and things were calm at 7:00 in the morning. We parked easily and got my bib. I warmed up for about 15 minutes, which included some strides. This was a low key race with no chip timing. It was a 5K and a 10K, and I think the total number of runners for both races was around 50. The 5K started at 7:50 and the 10K started at 8:00.

It was 49 degrees, partly cloudy, and no wind. Pretty much ideal, so I give it a 10/10 on the weather scale. Usually it needs to be colder for me to give it a perfect 10, but since it was only a 5K and there was literally no wind and it wasn't very sunny, it gets a 10. The course was flat, so it would be a perfect day to set a PR. And that's what I really wanted. 

Could I run a PR just 13 days after a marathon with a potential ulcer, or some other un-diagnosed digestive issue? Normally I would have thought not, but since my legs had felt so peppy over the past few days and since the weather was perfect, I figured it was an excellent opportunity. 19:58 was the time to beat and my strategy was to do it by being 100% positive 100% of the time and always, always keeping that effort level up. I think that a 5K is really all about the effort you put in and how much pain you can tolerate. And even if the fitness wasn't there, I would be mentally stronger than ever.

Mile 1
Mile 1: 6:29
I didn't bolt out as fast as I normally do in a 5K. I had a decent warm up, but I still thought it best to ease into my pace. According to my Garmin pace chart, I ran the first half of this mile slower than the second half, which is consistent with my effort. Once I got going, I made sure to crank up the effort. I kept repeating the same mantras over and over again: Let your fitness shine. Use your fitness. Relax and push forward. Challenge yourself. You are strong. Keep that effort up.

Mile 2: 6:35
I knew that with a first mile of 6:29, I could definitely PR. That pepped me up. I continued to push just as hard, but my watch pace was slipping slightly. I was not discouraged by this. I continued on with my mantras. There were two women ahead of me. One of them was so far ahead I couldn't even see her. The other one was about 20 seconds in front of me. I figured I probably wouldn't catch her, but it might be possible if I surged at the end and she was fading. I slowed down slightly during this mile, but I refused to let that impact my mindset.

Mile 3: 6:30
The race was so hard at the point. I kept telling myself to focus on my form, to keep the effort up, that I could do anything for 7 minutes. I felt strong and I do believe I was giving it my all, but unfortunately I couldn't get that pace back into the 6:20s. The good news is that I felt good, I was pushing hard, and it felt exactly as it was supposed to feel. I think that not having done any 5K-specific work in about a month just meant my top speed wasn't in place.

Last 0.13: 5:49 pace
I had a really strong final kick, which of course always makes me wonder if I could have run faster! I looked at the clock as I ran through the finish line and it read 20:20. This also matched my Garmin time.

Finish line.
I guess if you can't go sub-20:00, might as well run a poetic 20:20 in 2020. I was the 3rd overall female, which isn't that impressive for a race that had less than 40 people total. But with so few races being held, live, the competitive runners show up!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways:
For a race that I decided to do somewhat spontaneously, I think this went well. Of course I would have loved to get that PR and be eating the cake tonight. The course and the weather presented an ideal opportunity. But I am not in my best 5K shape ever coming off of a marathon taper and recovery. The fact that I could run within 22 seconds of my PR less than two weeks post marathon isn't too shabby. So I'm pleased. Most importantly, I really wanted to be mentally strong today and I was. I constantly repeated my mantras over and over and I didn't get discouraged or let the effort slip. 

If I had it to do over again I probably would have warmed up for longer and gone out a little bit harder. I think that if I had run a really hard first mile, I could have hung in there for the next two without too much of a fade. But I think ultimately it would have only made a difference of a few seconds. I also think the faster shoes would have helped, but I am glad I didn't wear them. Now I have a true baseline for my 5K fitness. 

I'm still rather sour about not having a Turkey Trot, especially since the indoor bars and restaurants are open. Clearly I found a race and I fulfilled my own personal desires, but the principle of canceling small races that have gone to great lengths to develop new socially distant protocols is maddening. These are not super-spreader events. That's been proven time and again. If someone doesn't feel safe racing, they can choose to not participate. 

I don't want to end this blog on a negative note. I'm a positive person and I don't waste mental energy focusing on things that I can't control. But I'm not going to ignore it either and pretend it doesn't bother me. It bothers me, but I'm primarily focused on finding races that continue to be held and training for them. Training and racing is a lifestyle for me and I will maintain it as long as I am able and have the desire.