Sunday, July 14, 2019

The No-Dread Tread(mill)

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

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

This is the love-hate story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

High-tech Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I didn't love:
Garmin Forerunner 45s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Sugarloaf Marathon: Wet and Wild!

Oh wow. That was a crazy experience.

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

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

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

Sugarloaf Marathon Elevation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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