Sunday, October 14, 2018

Lower Potomac 10-Miler

If you've been chomping at the bit for my Army Ten Miler race report, don't worry-- you didn't miss anything! I was a no show and decided instead to wait a week and run the Lower Potomac 10-Miler.

The weather for the Army Ten Miler was nearly as horrible as last year: 73 degrees with 100% humidity. Since I had already run that race in those conditions, and I know that my immune system issues are triggered by running hard in the humidity, I decided it would be best to skip it. There was really no point in over-taxing myself just because I was registered.

My friend Cheryl found a 10 mile race the following weekend (today) in Maryland and I decided I would register for that if the forecast was looking good 5 days out. We both registered on Tuesday of this week and were delighted with the prospect of running in the low 50's after 5+ months of 70-degree mornings.

Before the Race
Cheryl arrived at my house at 4:40am. Greg, who wasn't running the race, volunteered to drive. How nice of him! It took us about two hours to get to the race site in Southern Maryland. On the way, we were passed by a high-speed police chase on the Capital Beltway. A car sped by us at what seemed like 100mph, weaving in and out of traffic, and was shortly followed by the cops, going almost just as fast. It was scary but exciting.

Piney Point Sunrise, photo by Greg Clor
When we arrived, we picked up our bibs, went to the bathroom and then went to look at the gorgeous sunrise over the Potomac River. The view was incredible and I fell in love with the race before it even started. I love running by the water because it's calming and beautiful.

The start area was pretty simple. There was no mat because it was not chip timed. There was a clock, however, which meant they would be tearing off the tags on our bibs as we finished and manually recording the time. I knew this going into the race and was fine with it due to the small size of the race.

I drank my Generation UCAN and then Cheryl and I ran a warm up mile on the course. It was nice and flat, as expected and I felt pretty good.

Race Strategy and Goals
My coach advised me to start the race in the low 6:50's. My goal was to run 1:08:xx, which is a 6:54 pace or faster. How did I arrive at this goal?
  • I ran the Houston Half Marathon in January at a pace of 7:03
  • Then I trained for Boston and advanced to a new level of fitness with 75+ mile weeks during training and one run that included 10 miles at an average pace of 6:50: (4 miles, 3 miles, 2 mile, 1 mile) with 3-minute recovery jogs in between
  • I figured back then I could have run a sub-6:50 ten-miler
  • I did take six weeks off over the summer due to illness, but I've been working my way back
  • Some of my recent workouts had gone really well, despite the heat and humidity
My coach was on board with my goal and said not to limit myself, indicating that I could potentially run faster. If I didn't run 1:08:xx, I thought that breaking 1:10:00 was definitely attainable. And although not a given, breaking my PR of 1:10:24 from April 2017 was likely. I was very confident that I would be eating PR cake.

Furthermore, this would be the first "big" race since Houston that had decent weather. I was in tip-top shape for RNR New Orleans, but I melted in the heat. And then, of course, there was Boston. Followed by illness and a series of warm or rainy 5Ks. I hadn't had the opportunity to run a really fast time since January and I had worked so hard since then. Surely I was faster now, even if I had to take off six weeks in the middle of the summer. Finally I was able to test my theory and see if I had, in fact, made substantial fitness gains since January. 

Miles 1-4
There were about 70 participants in this race, so Cheryl and I lined up toward the front. Last year, the
Mile 1
women's race was won in 1:12:xx, so I figured I had a shot at winning this year. But of course, you never know who is going to show up.

I felt good right off the start line. About half a mile in Greg was taking photos, and I was in high spirits when I saw him. Oddly, my Garmin was not reflecting my perceived level of effort. Even though my coach said to start out in the low 6:50's, I figured I would run the first mile in about 7:00 just to be conservative and warm up a bit more. Well, I ran a disheartening 7:09. Sure, I could have run a 7:00 pace if I was running strictly based on the Garmin, but I actually race more by feel-- using the Garmin for feedback periodically. And I guess a 7:09 pace felt appropriate for the first mile. I didn't judge it and I didn't get discouraged. I knew that the first mile is never an indicator of how the race will go and I felt energized, which was more important than watch time.

Two women had shot out ahead of me at the start line, which meant I was in the third position. Based on their distance ahead of me during the first mile, I didn't think it was likely I would catch them. 

During the second mile, I found myself running with two men who were clearly running together. I passed them, and then they passed me, and then I passed them. It was nice to be running with other people since the race was so small, but the leap-frogging was exhausting. They asked me where I was
from and I grunted "DC". Clearly this was their conversational pace, but it was not mine.

I was running in the mid 6:50's which is right where I wanted to be and I was feeling strong. I definitely felt like this was maintainable for the rest of the race, I just needed to continue to push. The course was flat with a few inclines and declines. It offered a nice view of the water and I appreciated the lack of a loud crowd. It was serene. Every time I thought I had sped up enough to pass the two guys for good, they would pass me. This was perhaps the longest leap frogging session of any race ever, and it wasn't until the 6th mile that they pulled ahead for good.

Mile 1: 7:09
Mile 2: 6:56
Mile 3: 6:54
Mile 4: 6:54

Miles 5-7
At the halfway point, I was still feeling good, but I definitely couldn't speed up anymore. I realized it would be challenging to simply maintain the pace, but I thought I could do it. I thought my 1:08 was probably not feasible, but I was still in the running for 1:09. I kept working hard.

There was an unexpected bridge (hill) during mile 6 and I welcomed the change. In fact, powering up that hill made me feel strong and energized. It forced me to find a different gear and it pepped me up. The two men were a good ways ahead of me at this point and I enjoyed the solitude of running alone. I was still in third place at this point, and after the turnaround, some of the others cheer for me, telling me I was going to be "on the podium." I didn't care all that much about my placing, as this race was all about testing my fitness and seeing what I could do in good weather conditions.

Somewhere after the turnaround (mile 6) my left foot started to go numb. And before I knew it, the entire foot was numb and tingling. I couldn't feel it as I ran. I was already exerting max effort so having another obstacle was not good. I knew why it was happening, at least. Three weeks ago, after the 5K, I was diagnosed with a Morton's Neuroma in my left foot. I didn't have pain, but it felt like there was a lump of something in the ball of my foot. I had a Morton's Neuroma in my left foot 11 years ago, and this felt similar, so I went to the podiatrist, and an ultrasound confirmed I had a Neuroma. A Morton's Neuroma is a thickening of the nerve tissue below the toes. The toe next to my big toe is swollen, and so is the area directly underneath it. 11 years ago, this was treated by receiving a few rounds of alcohol sclerosing injections. This injection essentially shrinks the Neuroma down so that it no longer becomes an issue. My doctor told me I could continue to run on the foot, and gave me an injection after he received the ultrasound results, and then again on Thursday.

I was a little worried that getting a shot in my foot on the Thursday before a Sunday race was a bad idea. I even considered moving it to Wednesday, but I just didn't. When I got my first shot two weeks prior, I didn't have any lingering effects so I figured it would be fine. What could happen, right?!

The ball of my foot was numb for about 12 hours after the shot and then returned to normal. My foot felt fine all day Friday and Saturday. So now, at mile 6 of a 10-mile race, it all of a sudden decided to go numb. And not just the neuroma area, the entire foot! I couldn't feel the bottom of my foot at all.

Mile 5: 6:56
Mile 6: 7:04
Mile 7: 7:00

Miles 8-10
Mile 8 is where my "B" goal of sub-1:10 slipped away. I had to stop. I could not continue running on a numb foot. I banged my heel into the ground and tried doing things to restore the feeling, but nothing was working, and I didn't want to be stopped for too long. So after about 5-10 seconds, I resumed running, at a slower pace than before, and just dealt with it. It was sucking my mental and
Heading toward the finish line
physical energy out of me and it was so hard to push at 100% effort when I couldn't even get the feedback from my toe-off. But I was so close to the end of the race and I wanted a success story so badly. The average pace on my Garmin was 7:01, so I could still PR if I maintained it.

But I couldn't return to my previous pace once I started running again, and logged a 7:20 mile (including the stop). Mile 9 was 7:10, but did not include a stop so both of those were probably the same running pace.

With just one mile left, I told myself to run as hard as I possibly could. And I started to get feeling back in my left foot. Thank goodness. It wasn't 100% back, but at least it was something and it enabled me to focus on pushing hard instead of the numbness. I logged a 7:02 on my Garmin, and then sprinted the last 0.05 to the finish at a pace of 5:49. I was happy that I pulled it back together for the last mile, but it was not enough for a PR.

Mile 8: 7:20
Mile 9: 7:10
Mile 10: 7:02

Final Thoughts
I finished in third place and my official time was 1:10:45, which is 21 seconds slower than my PR. And I blame my foot for not PRing! But, even without the foot issue, I still don't think I would have run 1:08:xx or even 1:09:xx. I think I could have salvaged a small PR if it weren't for the foot, but otherwise, I have to admit I'm not in as good of shape as I was last January.

It all depends on how you look at training. In December of last year, I was running long, hard workouts. Much longer and harder than what I've been doing the past six weeks. My coach is very gradually building me back up, and my longest workout has been 5 miles, which is short compared to what I was doing last December. So in that sense, I haven't been putting in the same work that I was putting in before the Houston half.

Looked at another way though, I think the Boston training cycle brought me to another level. Take my Houston half marathon fitness and then add 3 months of daily training (90 days with no breaks), 65-80 miles per week, 3-4 hard workouts per week. I was in the shape of my life in April and I think that training gave me a new "baseline" so even without all those intense workouts, I felt like I still should have been in the same shape (if not better) than I was in January.

I have to admit that I am discouraged by this race. I was energized, I felt good, I pushed to the best of my ability, the weather was nice, but my time wasn't where I thought it would be. I have the Richmond half marathon in 4 weeks and I was hoping for a big PR there, but that's looking less likely, but I won't rule it out. How much fitness can be built in four weeks? And will my foot get numb again? At least I know not to get a shot 3 days beforehand.

I'm more optimistic about setting a marathon PR in December because I still have 8 weeks to train. At this point, I would still like to shoot for 3:15, but that's TBD.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed and frustrated. Yes, there are some positive take aways here. And I'm trying to focus on them. I need to focus on them. At the same time, it's been almost a year since I set a PR and I'm turning 40 in a month. I had high hopes of crushing it this season after a spring plagued by bad weather, and now I have to accept that it might not be possible. I won't stop trying though.

After the Race
Cheryl finished shortly after me and reached her goal, running her third-ever fastest 10-miler. I was so happy for her. We stayed for the awards ceremony and then drove to Solomon's Island for a delicious brunch. My spirits were high, because all in all, it was a good experience. I enjoyed the course, the relaxed atmosphere, and I had fun. It was good to spend time with Cheryl and Greg and a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

As for my foot, it became tender after the race. On the bottom of my foot, where the neuroma is, it feels like I'm walking on a bump and it's not comfortable. It should calm down by tomorrow because it felt the same way after the 5K three weeks ago and then calmed down. I really hope this doesn't become a bigger issue.

It was a two-hour drive home (no police chases this time) and it felt so wonderful to hop into an Epsom salt bath. I'm more motivated than ever to work hard toward my goals and show some sort of running progress this fall!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Boston Qualifying Times Are Now 5 Minutes Faster

On Thursday of this week the Boston Athletic Association (B. A. A.) announced that they have changed the qualifying standards for the 2020 race. Each age/gender group must now run 5 minutes faster to qualify. They made this change due to the increasing demand for the race, with 2019 qualifiers have to run 4 minutes and 52 seconds faster than their qualifying standard to gain entry.

I'm not surprised by this change, and since the "buffer" has been increasing each year for the last three years, it is doubtful that anyone running less than five minutes faster than their standard would be accepted anyway. With these new standards, the B. A. A. won't need to turn down as many applicants. They turned down about 7,200 qualifiers for 2019. If I were in that group, I think I would be pretty disappointed. My prediction is that for the 2020 race, runners will still need to run faster than their qualifying standard, but maybe only by a minute or so.

My personal experience
I didn't register for the 2019 race, despite having qualified by over 18 minutes. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I plan to run Boston every two years so that I have the opportunity to experience other spring races. When I first started trying to BQ at the age of 29, I needed to run 3:40. When I turned 35, instead of getting an extra five minutes, the qualifying times were lowered so my target remained 3:40. Now that I am turning 40, they times have again been lowered, and so my BQ target remains 3:40. Thankfully, I have gotten faster with age, so I don't need the extra 5-10 minutes.

Age groups in the race results vs. age groups in qualifying
I ran in the 18-39 division; there is no 34-39 division
One thing I find odd is this: in the official Boston Marathon results, and on my finisher's certificate, the youngest division is 18-39. It is not 18-34. So if 35-39 year-olds are competing against the 18-34 year olds, why does that group get an extra five minutes on their qualifying time? For the 2020 race, 18-34 year old women will need to run 3:30 or faster, and 35-39 year-old women will need to run 3:35 or faster. So on one hand, the B. A. A. is saying that 35-39 year olds should compete in the same age group as the younger ones, but on the other hand, they are saying that they can gain entry into the race by running 5 minutes slower. I think that they should either eliminate the extra 5 minutes that the 35-39 age group receives, or create an age group category for 35-39 year olds in the race results.

BUT, if the B. A. A.'s rationale is that they want to "throw a bone" to the 35-39 age group or increase participation in that demographic, I guess that's a different story. A common misconception that runners have is that the B. A. A. bases their standards on fairness. I'm sure they consider that, but there are many other factors at play beside them trying to create "fair" standards. For example, older runners tend to have more disposable income and likely spend more money in Boston on race weekend. I'm not saying that the B. A. A. is catering to these runners, because the data shows that an approximately even number of people qualify in each age group. However, it would be within their right to do so.

Is it fair?
Take a look at the 18-34 men's standards vs. the 18-34 women's standards. For the 2020 race, the men's time decreased from 3:05 (185 minutes) to 3:00 (180 minutes). The youngest men’s group now need to run 2.7% faster than they did in 2019 because 5 minutes is 2.7% of 185 minutes. The women's time decreased from 3:35 (215 minutes) to 3:30 (210 minuets). So the women only need to run 2.3% faster in 2020. A 5 minute decrease is 2.3% of 215 minutes. This is not exactly fair and equal, but as I said above, fairness is not the B. A. A.'s only consideration.

Why are so many people BQing now?
Marathons have become more popular over the years and people are running them faster than ever. World records are still being set. I think this is due to a number of factors:
  • More easy-to-access online training resources
  • The increasing prevalence of downhill courses (like the Revel series)
  • Improved technology (Nike Vaporfly 4%)
  • Social media - people sharing their training online and inspiring others
  • Social media - people being motivated to tout their accomplishments online 
  • The marathoning population has more experience
There was a sharp increase in the popularity of the marathon around 2010. All the people who started running marathons around that time have now been running them for 8 years, which is what some say is when you peak at the marathon distance. Think of those people as the "baby boomers" of running and now many of the baby boomers are fast enough to BQ.

Training to BQ
If Boston didn't exist, would people be running as fast? Let's talk about time goals for a minute. Should you train by effort, to the best of your capacity, and then run the fastest time you can? Or should you target a specific time (potentially driven by the BQ standard) when it might not line up
with your fitness level? I'm of the opinion that runners should choose a goal time based on their abilities, and that goal would probably be more clear about 4-6 weeks out. And then you'd have a long-term goal of qualifying for Boston or hitting some other milestone.

Part of the reason it took me 7 years to qualify was because I always thought the very next marathon had to be the BQ race. I didn't allow myself to gradually chip away at my time, so I stalled out in the 3:50's for years. I fared much better when I decided to train to my fullest capacity and let the time be what it would. I learned to have patience. My marathon time came down from 3:48 to 3:43 to 3:40 to 3:35. And then down to 3:21! Instead of chasing the unicorn, I let the unicorn come to me. I think long-term "big goals" are great, but that with each cycle, we need to be in tune with our current fitness level and capacity to train.

I think many runners disagree with me here. They set their goal times based on the BQ standard-- "I'm training to run a 3:29 because I want to BQ". And I get that. My point is that you can encounter a slippery slope if you train for an externally-set milestone rather than what your fitness indicates.

My next BQ
As I said above, I hope to run Boston in 2020. I need to run slightly faster than 3:40 to do so. Considering I do many of my easy runs at a pace that would yield a 3:40, I am fairly confident about my ability to BQ. However- nothing is guaranteed and if the weather throws me a curve ball or if I am having an off day, I could bonk and not attain the 3:40.

I'm running the Rehoboth Beach Marathon on December 8. As of now, I am targeting a time of 3:15. If all goes as planned, I think that time is well within my reach. If it doesn't happen then, I am running another full marathon in May. 

This week I ran 59 miles, and looking at my schedule, I will be running 60-70 miles a week throughout October. (Except for next week, because I am tapering for the Army Ten Miler). The "real" marathon training will begin on October 28th, just 6 weeks out from the marathon. I anticipate running very high mileage during those six weeks combined with 3-4 high-intensity workouts per week.

April 2020 seems like a long way off, so I'll definitely be enjoying my journey there.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Run! Geek! Run! 5K Race Report

After having run three races as training runs this summer, I was itching to race something full-out. Since getting sick for six weeks last June (combined with my history of summer illness) my new rule is to not fully exert myself in warm and humid weather. But today it was finally cool enough to race!

This race has been on my schedule since July. I knew I would want a "comeback" 5K once the weather got cooler, basically just to practice racing again, so this was it. This race used to be an 8K in
Washington DC. Now it's a 5K in Alexandria, VA. I ran the 8K back in 2011 and really enjoyed it, so I figured I would check out the 5K.

On Monday of this week, the weather for the race was looking iffy. The forecast called for 70 degrees with 95% humidity. I briefly contemplated bailing out, but decided I wouldn't make any decisions until the forecast solidified. As the week progressed, the temperatures dropped, and rain crept its way in.

In terms of goals, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. On the one hand, I hadn't been doing any 5K-specific workouts. I had two hill sprint sessions under my belt and a few short fartlek sessions (timed road intervals). But that was it. My hard workouts had been primarily focused on building lactate threshold, running between marathon pace and half marathon pace. None of these workouts were good race predictors, particularly at the 5K distance. My best-case-scenario goal was to be very close to my PR (20:17), but realistically I expected somewhere around 20:30. I definitely wanted to be sub 20:45, and probably would have been disappointed if I didn't hit that goal.

Before the Race
Race morning arrived, and I had everything set out as usual. I ate my typical english muffin with peanut butter, and mixed my UCAN with water to take 30 minutes before race start. Greg decided not to run this race, so he went as my cheerleader and photographer. When we were about 10 minutes
Warming up
into the drive, I realized I had left my UCAN on the kitchen counter. I had had it in my hand, but had briefly set it down and didn't pick it back up again. I was really frustrated with myself for this because I literally had the bottle in my hand right before we were about to leave. Oh well, I had run plenty of 5K races without UCAN before, and at least I had eaten my breakfast.

It was raining pretty heavily when we arrived. I didn't bring a top layer to warm up in and I was soaked waiting to get my bib. I pinned it on inside the car and soon it was time to warm up. Once I started running, I literally warmed up. It was about 62 degrees with a slight breeze. The rain let up slightly during my warm up and I hoped it would remain light throughout the race and not be coming down in buckets. I've raced two 5Ks in pouring rain and it definitely added an extra layer of challenge. I've also raced half marathons and full marathons in pouring rain, and I think it posed less of a challenge at those distances, because you're not going so fast that you worry about slipping on something.

I warmed up for 2.5 miles, which included some strides and drills. I then met up with my friend Cheryl, who was running, and Allison, who was spectating. We headed to the start line and started scoping out the field. Cheryl and I were the only two women up front, but we were soon joined by a woman in a Boston Marathon shirt.

Mile 1: 6:34
The race started and things felt pretty good. The course is mainly flat, with the first mile being a slight decline of 14 feet, according to Strava. I didn't have my normal "pep" off of the starting mat, so I
Mile 1
figured I would ease into my pace and just focus on staying relaxed. The woman in the Boston shirt shot out ahead and was probably about 10 seconds ahead of me. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking at the photos, I learned that I was running alongside another woman. About half a mile in, I realized that the Boston-shirted woman was running about my same pace, and wasn't widening the gap any further. When my Garmin beeped a 6:34 mile, I didn't really have any emotional reaction. Initially I had planned to go out at a pace of 6:28-6:30, but things felt hard enough.

Mile 2: 6:39
It was during this mile that I realized that I didn't have a lot of pep. I had a positive mindset and I was telling myself to push and reminding myself that I could run faster, but my body was locked in at the pace it was going, and I couldn't convince it to move any quicker. This course is an out-and-back and I slowed almost to a walk at the hairpin turn, due to the pavement being wet. Thankfully, the rain was pretty light, and not the downpour I had feared. I remained in second place throughout the mile and believed that my position was locked in.

Mile 3: 6:36
Heading toward the finish
Shortly after the second mile marker, the Boston-shirted girl ahead of me stopped running. She pulled off to the side for some reason. I continued on at my steady pace, still not able to convince myself to push any harder, and she resumed running about five seconds later. The gap between us was now a lot smaller-- probably 4-5 seconds. Still, I doubted I could catch her because I felt like I couldn't go any faster. I really wanted to catch her, but I didn't think it possible. But about half a mile later (about 2.5 miles into the race) she stopped again. I hated to be opportunistic since she was obviously hurting, but I figured since I was going to pass her, I might as well do it so quickly that if she were to start up again, she wouldn't believe that she could catch me. I somehow found another gear and pushed harder and ran faster as I passed her. She said something encouraging to me and I grunted back, as that's all the energy I had for communication.

I held a steady pace until about a quarter mile from the finish line. At that point, a spectator yelled that another woman was right behind me. Shoot! That meant I had to push harder, I simply had to! I wasn't going to lose the win in the last quarter mile. So, I somehow found it in me to rally more energy, which had previously been lacking, and I sprinted my way to a win in 20:34. I later learned that the second place female finished 8 seconds after me, and was not the woman in the Boston shirt who had stopped. According to my Garmin, I ran the last 0.13 at a pace of 5:52.

After the Race
I watched Cheryl finish about 30 seconds after me and then re-united with Greg and Allison. I then approached the Boston-shirted woman and asked her if she was okay. She said that she had just run the Berlin Marathon the previous weekend and was fighting an illness. She ended up placing third, which is a huge accomplishment considering she had to stop!

I then cooled down for two miles with Cheryl. We proceeded to collect our awards and then headed
Podium finish
for brunch. I won a bobble-head trophy and a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I really wish I hadn't left my UCAN fuel at home. I lacked "pep" in this race, despite a significant taper and I think that's the culprit. However, I don't know for sure, and my result could have been the exact same if I had taken the UCAN.

I think that unless I am training specifically for a 5K, then I don't have the ability to shift into a really high gear- both mentally and physically. If this had been a four-mile race, I think my average pace would have been exactly the same. I felt like I could have continued on at that pace for quite some time, but I just couldn't bring myself to go much faster. I often feel this way in 5Ks when I am not training specifically for them. According to the McMillan calculator, this race predicts a 1:11:23 10-miler, but I'm pretty confident in my ability to run sub-1:10:00 in two weeks.

I don't have any training runs or races that indicate a sub-1:10:00 is possible, but my gut tells me I am in better shape now than when I ran my 1:10 PR in the spring of 2017. The 10-miler is also my sweet spot and the distance that I think I race the best.

It was a really nice pick-me-up to get a win and to break tape. Particularly after having taken so much time off this summer. But I'm still hungry. I'm hungry for 60+ mile weeks and PRs and the cool weather that makes those possible. I feel like I've been on the verge of being back in full swing for a while now, and I'm anxious to actually BE back in full swing.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

My Week in Shoes

As I've mentioned previously, I am running the Rehoboth Beach marathon on December 8th. This means that I am not officially marathon training yet, rather I'm preparing to train for this marathon.  This means that I am building the strength and endurance to be able to handle 70+ mile weeks, with 3-4 quality workouts each week. That type of load is not sustainable for more than 6-8 weeks, so I
spend the weeks prior to that preparing my body for what's ahead.

I wore all of these shoes this week.
In this blog, I will recap my past week of training with a fun twist: I'll talk about the shoe I wore each day. Nike has discontinued the Lunarglide, my go-to long run and marathon shoe for the past 5 years, so I have had to make some adjustments. Additionally, I suspect that I no longer need stability shoes.

The Nikes are "light stability" and some of the shoes I wear for speed work are neutral, and I do just fine. I've looked at photos of myself running in neutral shoes and I see no pronation, so I am going to see if I truly need stability or not. There's nothing wrong with a stability shoe, but if I don't need the extra support, it makes the universe of wearable shoes much wider.

My main requirements for a shoe are:
  • Narrow fit without having to buy a narrow width (Mizuno and Nike are great for this)
  • Heel-to-toe ratio of at least 10mm due to my history with Achilles Tendonitis
  • Not heavy or bulky
I typically buy the previous year's shoe model because they are almost always on sale somewhere and it saves me a lot of money over time. The only time I buy the current model is if it's a newly released model, like the Nike Odyssey React or the Boston 7 with the beautiful design. I cannot wear any shoe made by Hoka, Altra or Saucony because all of their shoes have an 8mm drop or lower.

Monday: 10 miles (including speed) in the adidas Adizero Boston 7
The prescribed workout was 70-85 minutes with 50 minutes at steady state pace in the middle. My coach told me to shoot for 7:10-7:15 for the steady state portion, which is supposed to be faster than marathon pace, but slower than half marathon pace. Thankfully, this was the only cool morning we had all week, and it fell on the day I needed it most. I was questioning if I could hit the target pace in warm temps, but I was confident about my abilities in the cooler (63 degree) weather, even though it was humid and muggy. The 50 minutes at steady state averaged 7:11 for 7 miles with splits of: 7:22, 7:12, 7:10, 7:08, 7:07, 7:12, 7:03.  In total, the run was 10 miles long, average 7:40 pace.

I wore the adidas adizero Boston 7. The only reason I purchased this shoe is because it's so beautifully Boston. It's blue and yellow with a unicorn on the heel, and even the insides have the names of all the towns you run through. I bought three pairs of these shoes because I loved how "Boston" they were, and I figured when I was done running in them I would use them as walking shoes. Aside from the looks of the shoe, it performs well. It's designed to be a lightweight trainer for faster workouts than can stand up to longer distances. It worked well for me on Monday, but during the final cool-down mile, I noticed that my feet were starting to ache. Therefore, I probably would pick a different shoe with more cushion for a half marathon or full marathon race.

Note: the adidas has a stability version of the Boston, called the Tempo. I think I prefer the Tempo because it has a little more spring. I've worn them in two half marathons and my feet have felt great. I was disappointed, however, when they came out with the Tempo 9, which is noticeably heavier and bulkier than the Tempo 8. I haven't run in the 9 yet, but when trying it on, I didn't love it. Thankfully, I have two brand-new pairs of the 8 that I stocked up on. Here is another picture of the Boston 7 from the back:

Tuesday: 9 miles easy-ish in the Nike Odyssey React
During marathon training, my coach gives me a medium-long run on Tuesdays. Later in the cycle, he wants me to run this at a quicker pace (around 7:30-7:45). So he's starting to ramp up the distance already. I was prescribed 75 minutes easy, and I ran them easy-ish at an average pace of 8:20 for 9 miles total. I felt good and I figured I should start preparing for these Tuesday runs to get faster. Even though it was back up to 70 degrees and muggy, I felt energized.

9 miles in the Nike Odyssey React
The Nike Odyssey React is the supposed replacement for the Nike Lunarglide. I think they are entirely different shoes. The Odyssey React is much lighter and according to my kitchen scale, is the lightest shoe I own. Even lighter than the shoes I race 5Ks in (adidas Adizero Adios). I absolutely LOVE the ride of the Nike Odyssey React and how they feel. They are bouncy and soft and fun. I actually look forward to putting them on my feet. However, I'm not sure they are the workhorse of the long run. Even though my feet had enough cushion for 9 miles, I'm not sure how they'd feel at the end of a 20-miler. The Nike Lunarglide had more "stuff" between my foot and the ground. 

But. . . I am considering using them as my marathon race shoe since they are light and cushioned. My plan is to continue to use them on the Tuesday medium-long run, and then on some longer marathon-pace runs. If all goes well, then they will be my marathon race shoe. If not, then it's the Nike Lunarglide for Rehoboth and back to the drawing board for future marathons.

Wednesday: 6.8 miles in the Mizuno Wave Inspire 13
This was an easy day: 60 minutes at an average pace of 8:48. I kept it easy, given the two harder runs on Monday and Tuesday.

I've been wearing the Mizuno Wave Inspire for about 7 years. I've always liked the firm feel, but they have always hurt my feet after about 7 miles, so I have never worn them for long runs. Lately, they have been hurting my forefoot even more. My feet start to hurt about 45 minutes into the run pretty badly, and then continue to ache for the rest of the day. Not good. This has been going on for about three weeks, so I think I need to stop wearing the Inspire. Maybe I have a defective pair, but given the fact that they have never felt great on my feet past 7 miles and I don't think I need stability, I'm ready to part ways with them. They also keep changing the shoe each year. I think version 11 was my favorite because it was flexible and light, but the other versions haven't really impressed me.

I plan to replace the Inspire with the adidas Solar Glide. This is a neutral shoe with lots of cushion that I think could be a good candidate for both easy runs and long runs. It's a little heavier and wider than I would ideally like, but I'm going to give it a chance.

Thursday: 7 miles (including hills) in the Mizuno Wave Elixir
Hill workouts work wonders. I don't particularly enjoy them, but they have multiple benefits. First, they make your legs stronger and more able to handle a heavy training load. I don't do any strength training on my legs, so hills are particularly important. Running them hard for a short duration is also a great VO2 max workout. This workout was 10 x 1-minute hills with the jog back down recovery. My hill was about 30 feet over a distance of 0.15 mile. I performed this exact same workout last week and it didn't go that well. I was only prescribed 8 reps last week, and I was dead by the last one, having to go significantly slower. This week, my paces on average were 20 seconds per mile faster (6:30 vs. 6:50) and I was able to do 10 of them without feeling completely wiped out. On both occasions, the weather was hot and humid, although this week was 72 degrees and last week was 74. Both of which are unseasonably warm for an early September morning.

The Mizuno Wave Elixir is a lightweight stability shoe that was discontinued about 4 years ago. I was so in love with this shoe that I bought 8 pairs when I heard the news. I'm on my very last pair now. I still like them quite a bit, but I prefer the adidas Adizero Tempo 8.

Friday: 7.8 miles in the Nike Lunarglide 8
My coach bumped up my Friday run from 60 minutes to 70 minutes, and my legs were super tired from the hills the day before. I kept it super easy at 8:53 average. And of course, it was a steamy, muggy 72 degrees.

As I said above, the Mizuno Inspire begins to hurt my feet after 7 miles so I wore the Nike Lunarglide for this run. Now that the Lunarglide has been discontinued, I would ideally reserve this shoe for long runs only, and not "waste" the mileage on a shorter easy run. But it was my only option because the adidas Solar Glide shoes had not yet arrived, and I didn't want to wear a speed work shoe.

14.3 miles in the Nike Lunarglide
Saturday: 14.3 miles in the Nike Lunarglide 8
This week's long run was 2 hours. As usual, I started out really easy and gradually progressed to a moderate effort by the end. I ran the first hour at an average pace of 8:39, and the second hour at an average pace of 8:09. My overall average pace was 8:22. This run felt okay. Tolerable. Manageable, but not great. I wasn't hurting or counting down the minutes for the run to be over, but I also didn't feel peppy or energized. But, as my coach said, that's to be expected in this kind of weather. And, when I looked in my training log, I noticed that I had run over 58 miles in the previous 7 days, which is a big jump. Hopefully this is the last long run I will do in the 70's this season. At least it was overcast, and 8:22 was my long run pace in cool temperatures less than a year ago, so I've made progress.

I normally don't wear the same pair of shoes on back-to-back days, but as I said above, I didn't have much choice other than the Lunarglide for Friday. The shoe, which is nearing the end of its life, held up great. A light shoe that has plenty of cushion for the long haul and is super easy to run in. No extra bulk, and it fits like a glove. I will miss this shoe. The Nike Lunarglide replacement, the Odyssey React, also seems to be a great shoe, but I would put it in a different category. I don't think it has enough "stuff" to be my long run shoe.

Sunday: 4.4 miles in the Mizuno Wave Inspire 13
Easy recovery run at an average 8:56 pace. It was a chilling 67 degrees!

I wore the Inspire again, even though I dreaded it hurting my feet. After three miles, the ball of my right foot was aching and I later discovered a major callous forming there, which is good. My new adidas Solar Glide shoes should hopefully arrive early next week so that I won't need to wear the painful Mizunos again.

Final Shoe Thoughts
I'm excited to be transitioning to a neutral shoe, and I hope the adidas Solar Glide is everything I expect it to be. I'll review it once I've had it for a few weeks. I should have stopped wearing the Mizuno Wave Inspire a few years ago, but because I've been injury-free, I was hesitant to make a change. I'm sad to see the Lunarglide go, but happy to add the Odyssey React. I didn't wear the adidas Adios or the adidas Tempo this week, but those are nicely fitting lightweight shoes for speedwork and racing.

Final Training Thoughts
My total mileage this week was 59.5, which is quite the jump from the previous two weeks. I had been hovering in the low 50's. Everything has felt good, and I've been energized overall. I've been sleeping well and hydrating well, so that has definitely helped. I'm only three weeks out from the Army Ten Miler, and it's crazy that I really don't know what kind of shape I'm in-- on the off chance the race will actually be cool! I think sub-1:10:00 is not that aggressive of a goal, considering I have already run 1:09:45 in a half marathon. But it would be a nice official PR and milestone. If all the stars aligned, I think I would run somewhere around 1:09:00.

Training graph, August and September

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Great American Labor Day Tempo Run

Typically, Mondays are my tempo days. I've spent the past several Mondays running at "steady state" which is slightly slower than tempo pace as a way to ease myself back into it. So when there happened to be a local 5K on a Monday, I knew I wanted to use it as my tempo run.

I'm no stranger to this course. It's notorious for its punishing final hill, lack of shade, and always measuring slightly longer on the Garmin than a true 5K distance (3.17 every time!). But because I run this course so often, I don't compare it to other 5K courses, but only to itself. Just six weeks ago, I ran this course as an easy run, dubbed as "The Birthday Bash." And when I was coming back from mono in 2016, I ran it as "The Veteran's Day 5K." The Birthday Bash weather was what you might expect in early September-- mid 60's and low humidity. And, ironically, today's weather was what you might expect for mid-July: mid 70's, humid, and sunny.

When I asked my coach if I could run this race as a workout, he told me I could race it full out if I wanted. I told him it would depend on the forecast, because I have sworn off racing in the heat due to my immune system issues. And so when I learned it was going to be 75 degrees, sunny and humid, I definitely knew that doing it as a tempo run was the best decision.

I didn't taper for this run like I typically would for a 5K. I ran 11.4 miles on Saturday in the crazy heat, followed by 3.4 miles yesterday, also in the heat. Last week was a 53.5-mile week, which I was really happy with.

Before the Race
Greg's new camera in action during mile 1
Greg and I arrived at the race about an hour before it started. He recently purchased a new camera and he was going to use this race as practice for photographing me at the more important races-- like the Army Ten Miler and the Rehoboth Beach Marathon. His main intent with the camera, however, is to photograph our vacation in northern Europe next summer. He'll have a full year to experiment and I know he'll be an expert photographer by that point.

I retrieved my bib, pinned it on and began my warm up. It was HOT. There was no cloud cover and I was burning up just doing an easy warm up. I decided to run a little bit shorter than I typically would (1.7 miles) to preserve energy and try to stay cool. After warming up, I returned to my car where we had a cooler of ice. I put several cubes in my sports bra, held some against my wrists, and wiped my face with an ice cold towel. I also ran into my friend Hannah, who was volunteering.

My goal was to run based on effort, and ideally hit sub 22:00. During a steady state run two weeks ago, I had run 3.5 miles at a pace of 7:08, which equates to a 22:08. Surely I could run 3.1 miles at a pace of 7:00. However, that steady state run was in 60-degree, low-humidity conditions on a flattish route.

Mile 1: 6:56
The start of this race is a long and somewhat steep downhill. I never know how hard to take it. I obviously want to use it to my advantage but I don't want to blow up and not have anything for the hills at the end. I decided just to go by feel and run it at what felt like 10-mile race pace. I wasn't fast out of the gate and many runners passed me within the first quarter mile. But I gradually sped up and was able to pass many of these runners throughout mile one.

Mile 2: 7:03
Mile 2.5- going up the hill
The first half of this mile was directly into the sunlight. I had a good pair of sunglasses, but I longed for a visor to keep the sun off of my face. It was also uphill! So it was uphill, hot, and into direct sunlight. I was so relieved when we finally turned a corner and didn't have to face the sun anymore. After the turn, I was able to pass two women. My goal was to stay ahead of them and not let them pass me. I didn't see any other women within passing distance, which meant nobody else to chase down and pick off. I was happy to be on track for my sub 22:00, but I knew that the hardest mile was yet to come.

Mile 3: 7:18
The inevitable final hill showed up and my focus was simply getting up it at a consistent effort level. I didn't look at my watch because I knew I had slowed down. Did I mention how friggin' HOT it was? I knew that I was physically capable of giving more, but I wasn't motivated to make myself work harder, given I was already running at tempo effort. Trust me, it wasn't hard to convince myself to hold back! Finally I reached the top of the hill and I knew I was in good shape for a strong finish.

Last bit (0.17 according to Garmin): 6:26 pace
So yes, I had some gas in the tank. This was good! This meant I had worked hard but was still able to sprint it in. I really enjoyed this last bit because I wasn't dying like I typically am during a 5K, but I was still working really hard. This meant I could soak it all in and appreciate the experience of running to the finish.

Heading for the finish
My official time was 22:25, which was good for the age group win and 5th overall female. It wasn't the sub-22:00 that I hoped for, but it was definitely a strong effort and I know I reaped the benefits of the workout. Plus, I am racing-racing a 5K in three weeks so that will be a true test of the current state of my fitness. Let's just hope it finally cools down.

After the Race
I got my water, met up with Greg and took three vitamins. I've never done this after a race but now that I know that running in the heat is bad for my immune system, I'm going to take every possible precaution to stay healthy post race. I then cooled down for 1.3 miles. I would have liked to have logged more mileage today, but it was 78 degrees by the time I cooled down, and I decided to play it safe and be short a bit.

We stuck around for the awards ceremony, where I won a $20 gift certificate to the running store that put on the race (Potomac River Running). We then headed over to a small crepe cafe where we met up with Hannah. I had a smoked salmon cream cheese crepe, followed by a banana maple cinnamon one. They were such a treat!

Final Thoughts
We need more Monday holidays with races. It was so nice to have the day off work to run my tempo in a race setting. I have similar love for the Turkey Trot, although that's always an all-out race for me.

Today was great practice in pushing hard, but keeping things controlled. I had a blast and I didn't over-tax my body. It also made me hungry for an actual race-- when I've done the hard work of training and I'm able to really push to my limits. Unfortunately it's going to be unseasonably warm and humid all week long (72-73 degrees each morning). I just need to slog through it and hope for some small hint of fall to show up. At this point, 65 would feel like a dream!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Best Sports Bra for D-Cup Runners

I'm very passionate about the topic of sports bras. As a size 30-32D, it's difficult to find a supportive, comfortable sports bra.

When I was in high school, my dance team coach informed me that my bouncing boobs were a distraction for the entire performance. "Nobody is watching the dance because they are all looking at your chest bouncing around," she said. "You need to get a more supportive sports bra before our next performance." Needless to say, she wasn't the nicest or most sensitive coach in the world.

Thus began my life-long quest for the perfect sports bra. My mom and I found one that worked quite well in terms of support, although it wasn't all that comfortable. And it was over twice the price of the one I had been wearing. But if it meant that my breasts wouldn't be the focus of the next dance team performance, (at least in my coach's mind) it was a necessity.

I learned that most sports bras came in small, medium, and large sizes, which roughly equated to 32A, 34B, and 36C. There was little thought given to women who didn't fit these sizes.

What I Want in a Sports Bra
The perfect sports bra, which does not seem to exist, meets all of the following criteria:

  1. No underwire
  2. Slim profile without bulk
  3. No chafing when used with Body Glide or 2Toms
  4. Comfortable and supportive
  5. Flattering
Bonus points if the bra is stylish, comes in a variety of colors, and looks good under a tank top. I have yet to find a sports bra that meets ALL of these criteria. My favorite sports bras come close, but nothing is truly ideal.

American vs. European Sports Bras
In the United States, it's difficult to find a D-cup sports bra that meets the first three criteria. Most all sports bras that support a larger breast are bulky, have underwires, and/or chafe. I tried on multiple Lululemon bras but didn't buy any of them. The ones that were designed for a D cup, like the "Speed Up" bra were too bulky. And the other ones were not supportive enough. Brooks and Under Armour both offer multiple options for D cup sizes, but I've found them to chafe, even with massive amounts of Body Glide. Most sports bras you find in the US are XS, S, M, L, XL which, as I said above, correlate roughly to 32A-38DD. It's like they assume that as your breasts get bigger, so does your width around, which we all know is not true.

When I first started running, I realized that I had to choose between a bulky underwire D-cup bra or cramming my breasts into an XS standard sports bra for compression. The underwire options were so uncomfortable that I typically opted for bras that were way too small for my breasts, but supported me nonetheless.

Berlei Sport Fit Crop Top (discontinued)
Then, in 2008, my sports bra world changed. I ran the London marathon which meant visiting the London Marathon Expo. In Europe, they treat sports bras the same way Americans treat shoes. They acknowledge that you need to be professionally fitted and they research and develop supportive technologies. The London expo had multiple booths solely dedicated to sports bras. There, I learned that my compression technique was really unhealthy for breast health. I also learned that you don't want to stop the bounce completely, you simply want to support it. Your breasts need to have enough room to move around freely, but the bra should incorporate features to support that movement.

I left the expo with three different sports bras-- all of which were above my budget, but something I never regretted for a minute. They were the Thuasne Force 3 (pictured above), the Shock Absorber B4490, and the ZSport. For the next 3 years I continued to buy those bras online until they were finally discontinued. Somewhere around 2014, I realized that those bras were breaking down and I needed new ones. At this point, I discovered two new favorites: The Berlei Sport Fit Crop Top and the Athleta Hulabraloo. Berlei is a European brand, and I was surprised that Athleta was able to design a bra that worked so well for me. Note: Athleta is great for D-cup swimwear, too!

D-Cup Sports Bra Reviews
This summer, I am once again on the quest for the perfect sports bra. Here are my reviews of the bras I have tried so far. Note: I have not received anything for free or for discount in exchange for these reviews. As I mentioned above, I am passionate about this topic so I am writing about it.

The Athleta Hulabraloo
Rating 9/10
It looks like this bra is being discontinued, but there are still a few left online. This bra tops my list as the best sports bra I have ever owned. I have 8 of them. It's not perfect, but pretty darn close. There's no underwire and no bulk. It's very lightly padded just for additional coverage, which I don't mind. This bra has never chafed me, even on 20-mile sweaty long runs. It's very comfortable and supportive and the racerback style makes it look good under tanks.

The only thing keeping this bra from earning a 10 out of 10 is that it's not totally flattering. It's not un-flattering, but I think because it's so low cut and then has some extra material on the bottom, it makes my breasts look lower on my body than I would like. The bra does not have adjustable straps. If it did, I think I could raise the boobs up a bit and get the look I wanted.  Here are some photos of the Hulabraloo in Action, size 32D:

The Anita Active Maximum Support Wire Free Sports Bra (model 5527)
Rating: 7/10
I like this bra quite a bit. It has no underwire, it's very supportive and comfortable, and it has an extremely slim profile with no padding. This bra also comes in multiple color options. However, it might not look great under a tank top because it's a classic bra style and not a racerback. The straps are adjustable which means I can make the breasts look higher on my torso. This bra keeps the breasts separate from one another, whereas many sports bras push them together. This is a good feature!

The bra does not chafe when used with 2Toms Sport Shield, but with Body Glide it does chafe. Anita bras can be bought online at They are fairly pricey (about $70 each) but HerRoom often has sales on particular colors. If the material were smoother, I would have given this bra 8/10, but it's a little coarse. It does not look like this bra is being discontinued any time soon, so get it while you can!

I also bought the Anita Active Air Control Sports bra (model 5533) This bra is very similar to the one above, only it has some light padding. I like both bras about the same. Once I have run in them more I might have a different opinion, but for now, I can't tell much of a difference in comfort, fit or style. Here is a photo of the Active Air Control Sports bra (size 32D), which retails for $74:

I also have the Active Air Control Sports bra model 5544, which is almost identical to the one above, but the band is wider and the cups are slightly more molded. I don't have a preference among any of these three Anita bras. I like how these sports bras come in multiple colors and support without underwire or a ton of bulk. I'm often jealous of the women who can wear the cute and colorful sports bras while the ones I like are typically limited to just a few plain colors. I highly recommend Anita, just watch out for the chafing and use 2Toms instead of Body Glide.

Nike Impact Strappy
Rating: 6/10
Even though this bra is sold in sizes XS-XL, it looked like it might work for me, given the adjustable straps and the coverage. My favorite thing about this bra is its looks. It has a slim profile with just a little bit of padding. It's stylish and the adjustable straps are great for getting just the right fit. This looks like a traditional sports bra with a strappy back, not some over-engineered device for a busty woman. And it comes in 5 different colors.

The reason I am only rating it a 6 out of 10 is that it's only somewhat comfortable. It's supportive, but just the way it sits makes me notice the bra while I run. Ideally, you wouldn't notice a sports bra was even there while running. It also chafed me a little bit even though I was using 2Toms. I would recommend this bra for shorter, non-sweaty runs. This bra retails for $55. I'm wearing a size Small:

Shock Absorber Ultimate Fly Sports Bra
Rating: 9/10
I'm no stranger to the Shock Absorber brand. It's a European brand that I discovered at the London Marathon expo. For years, I wore their B4490 model because it was supportive and fit really well. However, it was a chafing nightmare. I used to always run with a heart rate monitor, which stood between the bra and my skin, and that actually prevented the chafing. But without the heart rate monitor, the B4490 was a no-go. They also have an Ultimate Run Bra, but I tried that on at an expo once and didn't like the way it fit.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the Ultimate Fly Sports Bra and decided to try it. I love it! It has a fun design with a bright back and a grey front. Some of the color can even be seen under the grey overlay in front. There's no padding and it has adjustable straps. It will look great under tank tops because of the thin straps and racerback style.

When I ran, I loved how light the bra felt. It was like I was running "free" without a huge device on me. The only thing stopping this bra from being the ideal 10/10 is the chafing. It did not chafe me on a 6-mile run with 2Toms Sports shield, but the material looks and feels like it would probably chafe with just Body Glide, or potentially on a longer run even with 2Toms. I'll need to try it on a longer run to confirm, and if it does chafe me with 2Toms, that would be a deal breaker. It's sleeker, more stylish and more flattering than the Athleta Hulabraloo, but if it ends up chafing me on long runs, that won't be good. Here's the 32D Ultimate Fly Sports Bra in action:

Under Armour Balance Eclipse High Bra
Rating: 5/10
I ordered this bra online and when it arrived, I was surprised at how bulky it was. It has molded cups which make the bra heavy with a lot of material. The material is smooth and the bra is supportive, however there was a little bit of chafing with Body Glide. I have not tried this bra with 2Toms yet. It's not uncomfortable, but it's also not comfortable. In the future, I will probably use it for easy runs only. The bra is available in cup sizes and has adjustable straps, so here is the 32D:

Here is a list of the bras that I tried on but did not purchase:

  • Zensah Gazelle Sports Bra: supposed to provide support for D cups via compression (which we know is not ideal). This bra didn't fit properly and my boobs were spilling out the sides.
  • Nike Alpha High Support Bra: This bra was very, very bulky. I ordered it online because it looked sleek but this was a huge contraption that I had no interest in running in.
  • Lululemon Speed Up Bra: This bra did not fit well at all; it was very awkward feeling.

In closing, if you wear a size 30D or 32D bra, I highly recommend the soon-to-be discontinued Athleta Hulabraloo, the Anita wireless bras, and the Shock Absorber Ultimate Fly Bra. In the meantime, I will continue to be on the quest for a bra that's as smooth and as non-chafing as my discontinued Berlei, as supportive as the Hulabraloo, in as many colors as the Anita bras, and as flattering and weightless as the Ultimate Fly Bra.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Leesburg 20K: The ups and the downs

This morning I ran the Leesburg 20K as a training run. I'm four weeks into my comeback after six weeks of being sidelined due to illness. Last weekend I ran 10.6 miles at a pace of 8:26, so I felt like I could definitely handle the 12.4-mile distance.

The plan was to run this race alongside my friend Allison. She wanted to run the first half (all uphill) at her goal marathon pace, and then speed up on the way back. It's nearly impossible to NOT speed up during the second half of this race unless you completely waste all your energy charging uphill. Her goal pace for the first half was between 8:15-8:30 which is well within my easy range. She wanted to practice setting the pace so the plan was to let her set the pace until the turnaround point at around mile 7 and then I would set the pace on the downhill.

I've only run this race once before, in 2008. (Yes, I have a blog post on that!) I ran a time of 1:44:26 at full effort, which was my PR, since it was actually the only 20K I have ever run. I was thinking it would be nice to beat that time and set a PR but that goal was secondary to sticking with the plan. This race also has a 5K, which I ran last last year.

Before the Race
Everything with my recovery had been going along really well until Thursday of this week. The combination of not sleeping well for several nights in a row, the heat/humidity, and my first speed work ended up setting me back a bit. I was able to hit my target pace during Thursday's workout (15 minutes at 7:07) but I felt like total crap for the rest of the day and into Friday. I ran extra easy on Friday and cut the run down from 60 minutes to 45. I took an unscheduled rest day on Saturday to be on the safe side. Thankfully, I was able to dig myself out of the hole by Saturday afternoon thanks to some solid sleep, hydration, and nutrition.

I woke up feeling like my normal healthy self so I decided I would do the race as planned. I figured I could always drop out if I started to feel bad mid-race. Greg was running it too, so we did our normal pre-race routine which included fueling with Generation UCAN.
Allison and me in matching shorts
(after the race)

We arrived at the race, retrieved our bibs, used the porta-potties, and then met up with Allison and some other friends. Allison and I had coordinated our outfits beforehand and wore matching yellow shorts. She is an ambassador for rabbit running gear, and has successfully roped me into enhancing my running wardrobe with more shorts and tanks than there are days in the week. Not to mention Greg, who was wearing a new rabbit tank and shorts. (Click on that link to get a 10% discount after you are done reading!)

It was about 68 degrees with 100% humidity and partly cloudy. Thankfully we didn't have to worry too much about the sun getting us with the majority of the course being shaded.

Miles 1-3
The race started and we got pulled out at a pace of around 7:30. I hadn't warmed up so this was a huge wakeup call to my legs. But it wasn't long before we got the pace under control and my legs thanked me.

This race is deceptively hilly. There are only a few noticeable hills but the entire course is run on steady inclines. The majority of the course is on the W&OD trail (a paved bike path), which is thankfully shaded but deceiving in its elevation profile. Thankfully, both Allison and I were prepared for this so we didn't freak out when the effort felt harder than it should for the paces we were running. Greg decided to stick with us initially so the three of us ran as a pack.

Mile 1: 8:27 (59 ft gain, 24 ft loss)
Mile 2: 8:24 (28 ft gain, 26 ft loss)
Mile 3: 8:36 (127 ft gain, 91 ft loss)

Elevation profile according to Garmin

Miles 4-6
Even though my easy pace is between 8:15-8:30, this is not my easy pace going uphill. Easy probably would have been more like 8:45 with my current fitness level. So the effort was more like "moderate" which I tolerated reasonably well. Had I been running this race on my own as a training run, I probably would have been more conservative up the hills, but Allison is really strong on hills so I kept up. Greg, on the other hand, decided to dial it back around mile 4 and told us he'd see us at the finish. This was a little bit of a relief for me because I knew if I wanted to dial it back, I would be able to run with Greg. But the plan was to stick with Allison and I was holding the pace well and didn't have any signs of fatigue.

Mile 4: 8:30 (192 ft gain, 105 ft loss)
Mile 5: 8:20 (94 ft gain, 24 ft loss)
Mile 6: 8:11 (138 ft gain, 148 ft loss)

Miles 7-9
We turned around on the trail shortly after we hit the 7-mile mark. This was an enormous mental relief. But it wasn't all downhill yet. There was still a sizable hill to tackle. Mile 7 provided some
downhill respite, which made mile 8 all the more punishing as we climbed back up.

As I said earlier, the race only has a few noticeable hills and this was one of them. To rub salt in the wound, this hill was not shaded and it was up a curve. At that point, I told Allison to run ahead and I might catch up with her on the downhill. I knew I needed to take it easy up that hill if I wanted to have any leg power to finish the race.

So now Allison was ahead of me and Greg behind me, and I was all alone to pace myself. On one hand, this meant less accountability, but on the other hand (the better hand) it meant less pressure to go fast in this race setting and potentially over-do it. The hill finally ended at mile 8.5 and I welcomed the rest of the downhill, shaded mile with open arms and was pleased to see my pace shoot down with no added effort.

Mile 7: 8:15 (37 ft. gain, 82 ft loss)
Mile 8: 8:21 (91 ft. gain, 30 ft loss)
Mile 9: 7:56 (124 ft. gain, 158 ft loss)

Miles 10-Finish
At this point, I was definitely ready for the race to be done. Even though I was running at a "moderate" effort, it was warm and a longer distance than I had run in three months. I gave myself permission to slow down and go easier, but I was in a groove that felt natural so I pressed on. Of course, my competitive mind was wondering what pace I needed to maintain to set a PR and beat my 1:44:26 from ten years ago. I didn't want to be foolish and relapse into illness just to set a PR in a race I wasn't even racing. But I also felt like it was attainable at my moderate effort.

Meanwhile, Allison was no longer in view. Initially, we were talking about speeding up to around 7:50 once the downhill part came. But she was obviously running much faster than that and I didn't attempt to reach her.

The last portion of the race was actually flat, which felt difficult after nearly four miles of downhill running. And the shade went away. But with less than a mile to go, I knew I could hang in there and continue at the same pace, even though it meant increasing effort.

I rallied and pushed myself up one final hill, confident that I would PR.

Mile 10: 7:50 (67 ft gain, 143 ft loss)
Mile 11: 7:51 (130 ft gain, 178 ft loss)
Mile 12: 7:49 (0 ft gain, 85 ft loss)
Last 0.5: 7:54 pace (18 ft gain, 12 ft loss)

After the race
I crossed the finish line in 1:42:42, which is a PR by nearly two minutes! The official pace was 8:16. Maybe this warrants PR cake, which I have not had since January.

I placed 43 out of 334 women
I placed 10 out of 61 in my age group (35-39)

I am happy with these results given all the time off and the effort level.  Immediately after crossing, someone approached me and told me that my book helped her qualify for Boston. I was more happy to hear that than I was to be finished with that race. I LOVE it when people tell me that my book has helped them. I would have liked to have had more of a conversation with her, but I was still recovering from that final uphill push and in need of water.

And then I saw Greg cross the finish line in 1:43:58. So he wasn't all that far behind. Allison, on the other hand, smoked it! She crushed her goal in 1:40:32, and that wasn't even all-out race effort for her.

It was an exciting finish line with so many of my friends finishing shortly before and after me. We spent some time chatting and exchanging race stories. The theme for me was "am I okay, given how crappy I felt on Thursday and Friday" and the answer was yes. I had some minor dizziness and a slight nauseous feeling, but those are normal for me when I run long in the heat.

I achieved all of my goals except for the goal of staying with Allison. And I'm happy to NOT have achieved that since it means that she exceeded what she thought she would do. I should also mention that exactly 4 weeks ago, I ran a 5K training run at a pace of 8:46. And now I can run 4 times that distance at a pace of 8:16 at the same effort level. Comebacks are awesome.

The morning went even better than I could have hoped. I feel great, I didn't over-do it, I got to run with Allison, I had fun, and I even PR'ed! This means that I can continue training (with some caution, of course) and pushing toward my fall race goals.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Comeback Continues

Today's post is brought to you by easy running! I'm at the point in my comeback where I'm itching for speed work and variety in my schedule but my coach is focused on building my mileage base back up before adding that stuff in. I agree that this is the best approach, and it's probably good that I
am craving speed and not getting burnt out (or sick again). Last week, my legs got tired on some of my runs but this week they felt much stronger. I actually had an easier time with the 90 minute long run yesterday than I did the first time I ran for 60 minutes. This is great progress!

Next week, my plan re-introduces speed work with some 30-second strides. I've been doing strides at the end of some of my runs, but only 4-6 of them for about 10-12 seconds each. Those have helped my legs "wake up" so they will be ready for fast running. The really hard workouts won't begin until September, which is great because running at max effort in the heat is what compromised my immune system. I realize it can still be warm in September but hopefully we get some relief.

Last week I ran 35.5 miles, and this week I ran 47.4 miles. That's a significant increase, but all of my runs this week have felt energized and strong. Thanks to my Boston training cycle, which wasn't that long ago, my body is used to daily running and high volume-- it's not like I am starting from scratch. Two years ago when I came down with a similar illness, I had to take 12 weeks off from running. This time, I was much smarter about not pushing it too soon, so I only had to take 6 weeks off. I'm optimistic that my fitness will come back quickly once I start training at full capacity.

Here is an overview of my running for the last month:

The runs prior to July 23rd included walk breaks, and if you're wondering, I generally define recovery as "slower than easy pace". That 5K training run I did on the 23rd basically told me I was out of the danger zone with the illness and I could begin to ramp up without fear of relapse.

That medium-long run from yesterday went really well. I started slowly (9:20 for the first mile) and eased my way into a rhythm. By the end of the run, I was at a sub-8:00 pace without even trying to be fast. Everything felt great and I had got into such a groove that the progression felt natural. I ended up running 10.6 miles (90 minutes) at a pace of 8:27. It was 73 degrees and very humid, which are challenging conditions for me so I was particularly pleased with how well my body handled it. My legs didn't tire either, which I think shows that the week day runs have helped build my endurance.

Next weekend I plan to run the Leesburg 20K as a training run with my friend Allison. Stay tuned for a post on that. My first "race effort" race will be a 5K on September 23rd, which I'm hoping isn't too warm. Now that I have identified running at max effort in the heat to be the culprit behind my immune system going crazy, I'm extra cautious about racing in the heat. My thinking is that the 5K will be a rust-buster to practice the mindset of competing/pushing to my limits and the Army Ten Miler two weeks later will be the target. My full schedule is posted here.

I'm more motivated than ever to get out there, follow my coach's plan and stay healthy. It won't be long before the fall racing season kicks off!

Week of August 6th