Saturday, October 24, 2020

Harrisburg Marathon Training Recap

And just like that, my marathon is two weeks away! I still have two long, hard workouts remaining, plus two shorter workouts and that will be it. My coach typically doesn't give me much of a taper which always scares me but it ends up working out. Here is a snap shot of the past few months:

Weekly Mileage by type

I've been very consistent, except for the weeks that I tapered for the half marathon and the 10K. I did not include the current week because it's not finished yet, but if everything goes as planned tomorrow, I should finish off with the exact same mileage as last week: 76.7.

In addition to all of this running, I have also been consistent with my strength training. Once a week I have a session with my strength coach, Angela, over Zoom. And then one other time per week I do a lighter routine on my own. Admittedly, I don't always do the routine on my own; I was better about it over the summer when my mileage was lower. I've also been battling Achilles tendonitis again, but just this week I noticed a big improvement, thanks to my eccentric heel drop exercises. It's great to know that this nagging injury can be improved while running 70+ miles per week. 

Typically I like to throw in one final race; a 10K or a 5K before the marathon. But all of the local races have been canceled so I don't have any options. I've also started looking at races for after the marathon because I like to be signed up for my next race when I run a marathon. But it's slim pickings and it's looking like Greg and I might have to drive an hour to run a Turkey Trot.

My half marathon was too hilly to be a good indicator of what I could do in a flat marathon, so I started to look to other workouts to start to gauge my fitness and pick a goal pace.

Key Workout 1: Tempo
On October 14, I ran the following workout: 2 times (2 miles, 2 x 1 mile) all with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. My coach wanted me to target 6:40 for all the miles. That seemed like a tall order since my 10K PR pace is right around 6:40 and I would be running 8 miles! He wanted to challenge me and instead of dismissing his advice and running by feel, I made every effort to hit the 6:40. My splits were:

2 miles in 6:47, 6:37
2 x 1 mile in 6:34, 6:32
2 miles in 6:43, 6:41
2 x 1 mile in 6:42, 6:39

I definitely had to dig deep at the end and it felt like a race for the last half mile. Those are not easy paces for me to hit, but I did average 6:39 so I was thrilled. My recoveries were slow jogs at a pace of around 10:30.

Key Workout 2: Long Run with Speed
Just three days later, on October 17, I ran a long run prescribed as: 9 miles easy, 3 miles of (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy), 3 miles tempo, 1 mile easy, 3 miles all out, 3 miles easy. 

I had done this workout before but my coach threw me a curve ball. He wanted me to run the easy miles at a sub 8:00 pace. He suggested 7:30-8:00. That's not easy for me; I would consider it medium. In the past when I have nailed this workout, I ran the first 9 miles at an average pace of 8:20. A truly easy pace. Here's how it played out. 

9 miles at 7:58 average (started out at 8:30 and then was around 7:50 for most miles)

3 miles of 1 min hard, 1 min easy: my "hard" paces ranged from 6:40-7:17

When I have done this workout in the past, I have been able to run the "hard" portions in the 6:30's to 6:50s, and pretty much steered clear of the 7's. That did not happen on this run. It was difficult to get my legs moving that quickly.

That did not bode well for the next 3 miles which my coach prescribed at 6:45. My legs were already beat down from the first 12 miles, so I ended up running each of the 3 tempo miles at 7:11 as opposed to 6:45. The good news is that 7:11 is around my marathon pace and I was able to hit it.

Then came the easy mile in 8:26, followed by the 3 "all out" miles in 7:34, 7:23, 7:21. I have to admit these paces were a disappointment. I felt energized but I simply couldn't run faster. And then I finished it off with 2.7 easy miles, because that's when I wanted to stop, just shy of the prescribed 3.

This working ended up yielding 21.7 miles at an average pace of 7:50 with about 3 total minutes of stopping to drink water from the bottle that I had stashed near my car tire. It's an impressive distance at that pace, but I wished I could have hit the paces I had hit in the past. But then I remembered that exhausting my legs early on from non-easy miles was the culprit. Just like how in my half marathon I wasted my legs on the early hills and they never could get up to full speed after that. I was annoyed that my coach made me start so fast, but I understand why he did. If I want to break through to a new level I have to get outside of my comfort zone and try something that I might not succeed at.

Key Workout 3: Marathon Pace Run
I was really looking forward to nailing this run to get the confidence I needed for the marathon and hone in on that marathon pace. The date was October 21, just a few days ago. My coach prescribed a pace of 7:15, but realistically if I want to run sub 3:10, I think I'll probably need a pace of 7:12 because I won't hit the tangents perfectly. In other words, I'll likely end up running slightly more than 26.2 miles, so I'll need to be a little quicker to reach my goal.

I was unpleasantly surprised to see that it was 63 degrees with 100% humidity when I woke up. The forecast from the night before had said 57, which is a big difference. I figured that at 57 and high humidity, that would just barely allow me to maybe hit my goal pace. But now that we were 6 degrees warmer, I felt like I would need to adjust to 7:30-7:35. 

adidas Adios Pro
I wore a brand new pair of the just-released adidas Adios Pro. This is the Adidas competitor to the Nike Vaporfly Next%. As I have said in previous blog posts, I never ran a race in the Nike Vaporflys that made me think "oh wow, that's a fast shoe." My times and paces were always in line with what I trained for. When I ran the One City Half Marathon in March in non-Vaporflys, my time was within one minute of the PR I had set 4 months prior. And of course, I got injured from running CIM in the Vaporflys. So enter the adidas Adios Pro. A shoe that fit me much better and that felt faster than the Vaprofly.

This would be my only run in the adidas before race day. As I said, it was 63 degrees and muggy. My target was 7:30-7:35. The prescribed workout was 90 minutes at marathon pace plus warm up and cool down. 

This was one of those workouts where I could not believe what was happening. The paces on my Garmin did not line up with what I felt like I was doing in a good way. I never tried to speed up during this run but each mile was faster than the one before it! Here are my mile splits:

7:37 - Okay, that's a good starting pace
7:33 - Great! You're at your goal pace, just stay there
7:28 - A little faster than I want, but just hold it here and don't go faster
7:23 - How is this possible? Must be a downhill mile.
7:20 - This actually feels sustainable. I'll be able to hold onto this pace.
7:17 - All right, this is as fast as I am going to go. I don't want to bonk in this humidity.
7:13 - How the heck?
7:08 - This actually doesn't feel that hard!
7:03 - What am I doing? I'm now WAY faster than goal pace.
7:01 - Welp, that was it, the next two miles will probably be the bonk.
6:56 - No. Friggin. Way.
6:51 - What just happened?
(Last 0.4 mile) - 6:57 pace - I guess I'm almost done!

This averaged out to a pace of 7:13 over 12.45 miles, no stopping. Including warm up (2.65 miles) and cool down (1 mile) I ran a total of 16.1 miles. All before work on a muggy Wednesday. I kept thinking that it must be the shoes. They were amazing. But somehow I managed to stay strong in conditions that would normally be very challenging for me.

Looking Ahead
I still have a 22-miler ahead of me tomorrow, but thankfully without any speed. I will try to speed up at the end, but my coach hasn't prescribed anything specific so it will be based on feel. I do think that if I'm having a good day I can run a 7:12 marathon pace. But I am going to start out in the 7:20s and just let my body speed up as it naturally does.

Between now and November 8 my goals are:

  • Do not get COVID.
  • Do not get any kind of sickness.
  • Do not get injured.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Continue the Achilles exercises.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
If I can do all those things, I will be good to go because physically I am well trained for this race.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A real, live half marathon!

They DO exist!

Yesterday I ran the Hanover YMCA Runfest half marathon. Hanover is about two hours from my house, which means it's closer than most half marathons I run. I had heard about this race on Facebook. I was

looking to run a live half marathon this fall, before my full marathon, so the timing of this one worked out

I knew in advance that the course would be hilly and challenging. It wouldn't be a PR attempt, but beggars can't be choosers when it comes to live races. You take what you can get. And in this case it was a race with twice the elevation gain of the Richmond half marathon, over 500 feet. Due to the elevation profile, my coach advised me to run this as a workout and therefore gave me less of a taper than I am used to.

Before the Race
Greg and I stayed at a hotel that was less than a mile from the start line. Packet Pickup was done via drive through. They had all the bags setup under a tent outside and you simply drove through like how you would do curbside pickup at a restaurant. It was quick and efficient and the goody bag had actual goodies in it, which most races had stopped doing years ago (a water bottle, nerf football, keychain, pack of mints, a pen). 

We then decided to drive the course. When you are driving, hills don't look nearly as steep as when you are running. I thought to myself, this isn't all that bad! There were quite a few turns and you never ran straight for more than a mile. About 1.5 miles of the course was on a gravel path and we obviously were not able to drive on that to check it out. After the course preview, I thought to myself that maybe I could set a PR after all! The hills didn't seem that steep.

Driving the course, at around mile 1.3

We had planned to eat dinner at the local Olive Garden, but due to the wait we opted for the Longhorn Steakhouse next door. I had salmon and rice (a common pre-race dinner for me). Greg had a steak.

I slept well the night before the race. The advantage of driving to a race vs. flying is that I get to bring my own pillow. The pillow makes all the difference and my pillow is a firm memory foam one.

I had been debating my shoe choice all week. The contenders were the Nike Vaporfly Next%, the adidas Adizero Adios, and the adidas SL20. With my Achilles being tender and this not being a PR course, I decided it wasn't worth the risk of using the Vaporfly Next%. So then it was down to the two adidas shoes. I ended up going with the SL20, a shoe that I had never raced in before. It's just a tad heavier than the Adios (which I wore at One City last spring) but it has more spring. I chose the SL20 because I wanted my legs to feel as peppy as possible.

Race morning was pretty straightforward. I had a bagel with peanut butter, went to the bathroom a million times and got dressed. 45 minutes before the start, I drank 3/4 of a serving of UCAN. Since vomiting post-half marathon has become a thing for me, I decided to back down on my UCAN serving size, but bring a caffeinated Maurten gel to take at mile 7.

We left the hotel at 7:30 and warmed up to the start line and then ran around the start area. It was 40 degrees and sunny. About 5 minutes before the start of the race we got into the corral with our masks on. The race organizers told us that we needed to wear masks while in the corral, but we could throw them off once we started running, and they would pick them up. I personally wouldn't want the job of picking up used masks, but maybe they had those trash picker-upper-stick things.

Before the race. 

Weather Analysis
The start temperature was 40 degrees but that rose to 52 by the end. I wore shorts, a crop top, sunglasses and gloves. I was comfortable the whole time and never felt too warm or too cold. I tossed the gloves during mile 4. My app said 1 mph wind, but there were portions of the course that felt somewhat windy, maybe 8-10 mph which is just enough to be annoying. On my official race weather scale, I give this a 9 out of 10. In order to get a 10 we would have needed more cloud cover. I am obviously not complaining and frankly we lucked out for an October 3 race. Low 50s would have been more seasonable so we got abnormally cool weather.

Miles 1-4
The race started and everyone threw off their masks immediately. It felt awesome to be in a real, live race setting! I knew that the big hill would be the third mile with some elevation gain the the first two miles. I went out at a pace that I thought was rather conservative for a half marathon: 7:13. My PR pace is 6:55 and my pace from One City this past spring was 6:59. After the first mile, the crowd thinned out. Greg got ahead of me and I had him in my sights for the first 3 miles, but then I lost him. 

I knew that the huge hill would happen during the 3rd mile, and it was even harder than expected. According to the elevation profile, we climbed 167 feet in just 1.3 miles (from 1.5 to 2.8). The big hill was immediately followed by a short downhill and then two 40-feet hills that only lasted 0.1 each, which means they were very steep. And then a quad-burning steep downhill. So by the time we reached mile marker 4, we had climbed a steep long hill and two steep short hills and then run a steep downhill. 

On the downhill section, I managed to pass the woman who was leading me up the hills for most of the way. I'm an excellent downhill runner but I struggle to run up hills, so this is not uncommon for me. My hope was that she would not in turn pass me when the next hill arrived.

Mile 1: 7:13
Mile 2: 7:15
Mile 3: 7:57
Mile 4: 7:14

Miles 5-8
Now that the worst of the hills was over, I expected to get into a groove, hit a 7:00 pace and stay there for the rest of the race. My legs were not on board with this plan, though. Imagine running 250+ feet of

Around mile 7
elevation in 2 miles at a hard effort and then running a 9-mile race. It's not going to go well unless you are a seasoned trail runner or you live in the mountains and that's your thing. But I still had hope and I was going to try for that 7:00 pace.

The course did get easier during these miles and I coasted. But as I said above, my legs were not having it and this section still had hills to contend with. Another challenge was the abundance of turns. Every time I felt like I might be hitting my stride and getting into a rhythm, a turn would come and maybe a strong breeze with it. I did not pass anyone during these miles and no one passed me. I had no idea how many women were ahead of me but I wanted to win the Master's award. 

I had my gel 50 minutes into the race, but it didn't seem to give me any extra pep.

Mile 5: 7:01
Mile 6: 7:12
Mile 7: 7:24
Mile 8: 7:51

Miles 9-12
As you can see, miles 5-8 got progressively slower and I vowed to end the vicious cycle. Since the 8th mile had a lot of elevation gain, I knew that the coming miles had to be easier. I was right in the sense that we were coming to a downhill section, but any hopes of it being easier were squashed by the loose gravel surface. We ran on a gravel trail during miles 9 and 10. Shortly after getting onto the trail, I was passed by a guy who told me that I had been pacing him the whole race. Wow! That felt great to hear. Even when I was not having my best day I was still able to be steady enough to pace other runners. We exchanged a few words which made me realize I was not running at full effort. It was way too easy for me to gut out a sentence during the 9th mile of a half marathon.

He passed me but I vowed to keep him in my sights for the rest of the race. It would be helpful to have someone in front of me to follow because otherwise, I was simply following the arrows and the volunteers, which were not always 100% clear. 

I was able to keep him in my sights all throughout the gravel, which was nice because the gravel path was full of twists and turns so it was good to see ahead of me what would happen. This gravel was not the firmly packed gravel of the Rehoboth Beach Marathon-- it was looser and harder to run fast on. I thought to myself "too bad the fast downhill section is all gravel" but then I realized that if it has been in uphill it would be far more painful, so I decided to be thankful for what I got!

Every time I thought the gravel was ending, it was just to cross a road and then get back on the gravel. We ended up spending nearly two full miles on the gravel and I was so happy to be done with it.

Just like at mile 5, I vowed to run the rest of the race at a really fast pace now that the gravel was done with. BUT. . . my legs would not cooperate and I could only squeak out a 7:30 pace. I saw Greg during the 12th mile at a turnaround and he looked so strong!

Mile 9: 7:33
Mile 10: 7:29
Mile 11: 7:36
Mile 12: 7:26

Mile 13 and the finish
At least I was steady. And I still had that guy in my sights. I did not feel like I was running full race effort until the final mile, and that's because I just didn't have it in my to give that kind of effort. I was able to pick up the pace for the last mile (7:13) and ran the uphill bit to the finish line at pace of 7:06.

I was so happy to be done! My official time was 1:37:47.

Shortly after crossing the woman who I had passed came up to me and told me I had been pacing her the whole race. I had no idea! And boy was she close behind too, finishing just 15 seconds after me. Greg finished in 1:30:20, which was very close to his PR. 

It turns out that there was no Master's award, but I would have won it if there had been. Instead, I won my age group (40-49) and was awarded with a HUGE tin of UTZ snacks, individually wrapped. Greg won second place in his age group and won a tin of UTZ chips that was almost as large as mine. For those of you who don't know, Hanover is the home of UTZ.

I was the 4th overall female, and it felt good to place so highly. My coach had told me to focus more on my placement and less on my time, due to the nature of the course.

After the Race
Greg and I walked back to our hotel, which was no easy task carrying the huge bins of UTZ snacks. After showering, we drove to Gettysburg for lunch and then we visited a small zoo on the way home. The zoo had a safari ride where you got to see three zebras up close! We definitely made the most of the weekend.

We both won UTZ snacks

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways

  • I was 7 minutes slower than my PR, so it's hard not to be a little disappointed.
  • I knew at the time I wasn't giving 100% race effort, but I just didn't have anything in me to give after those hills.
  • I really wanted to quit after just six miles but I toughed it out and ran all the way to the finish.
  • Two people told me I paced them for most of the race, which feels awesome.
  • It's always nice to win your age group.
  • I need to remember that my PR marathon had a net elevation gain of about 150, so this was nearly 4 times as many hills.
  • If the big hill had been at the end of the race it would have slowed me down for sure, but I would have been able to run fast for the majority of the race leading up to that. In the case of the early hill, I was never able to recover fully.
  • The SL20 worked out well. It's hard to know if the Adios would have been better but I was good with my choice.
  • The strength training is helping, but I definitely need to keep at it so I can dominate on hills.
  • This race isn't reflective of my fitness but that wasn't really the point. I got a solid workout in and I was able to recover much better than if I had given 100%.
  • The race was well organized and the precautions worked well. Water stations had 2-3 volunteers filling water, but not handing out water; you grabbed it from the table yourself.
  • I had fun. It was a painful fun, but fun nonetheless! 

Zebras at the safari park on the way home.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Fall Marathon Plan "C"

What to do about a fall marathon?

Plan "A" was to take a trip to Africa during the last two weeks of August and then begin training for the Rehoboth Beach marathon, occurring the first weekend in December. The trip got postponed, which meant I would want to postpone the late fall marathon with it. (I'll run Rehoboth Beach in 2021 to correspond with the 2021 Africa trip, since I'll need a late fall marathon next year). Bring on Plan B.

Plan "B" was to run the Marine Corps Marathon. As recently as July 19 (just two months ago) I believed that I would be running the Marine Corps Marathon. While many believed the race would be canceled, I thought it would go on because the city officials would be using the most current data to make their decisions. But the mayor squashed that and extended DC's state of emergency into October. 

Sept. 19, 2020
When that was canceled, I moved onto Plan C, but also devised a Plan D, E, and F. All of which I tracked in a spreadsheet, because this was getting complicated. Plan C was to run the Harrisburg Marathon in Pennsylvania on November 8. I registered, told my coach about it, and mentally adjusted to that being my race. As of now, Plan C is a go; more on that in a bit.

Plan D was to run the New Jersey Marathon, which was later canceled. Plan E is to run the Rehoboth Beach Marathon (not yet canceled), since I'm already registered for it. That's one month later than my target but I can adjust my training to stay in shape for it. Plan F is to run a small marathon in Maryland, near the Baltimore area the last weekend of November. I have a spreadsheet of others, too, but those are the top contenders. If all else fails, my last resort is the Richmond Marathon, which they are having on a USATF course, but you can run it any time over a period of about two weeks. And you get an official time with your bib/chip. Greg is planning to run the Rehoboth Beach Marathon with Richmond as his backup.

As of now, Plan "C" is happening: The Harrisburg Marathon in PA. A few days ago, the race director announced that they had received approval from city officials to hold the race. They are altering the course, but they are submitting that course to USATF for official certification so it will be a Boston Qualifier. This same organization just successfully held a half marathon on this same course (it will be doubled for the full) last weekend, so there is no reason to believe they would cancel the marathon. COVID counts would have to go way up within the next seven weeks and the city officials would have to get cold feet. Neither of which is out of the question.

The state of PA just ruled it unconstitutional to shut down businesses. You could look at a race organization as a business (I don't know the legality of how this particular race is set up) but as long as safety measures are in place, it's unconstitutional to keep a business shut down. Remember, races and other events were initially canceled for the primary purpose of not overwhelming the hospitals. COVID counts were on the rise. We didn't have enough PPE for hospital workers. We knew very little about how the virus was transmitted. It made sense to cancel events and have everyone stay at home.

We are now in different place. Numbers are lower, the death rate is down, hospitals are not being overwhelmed, large outdoor gatherings have occurred without causing major outbreaks, and yet some government officials (like the ones in my county) are still making decisions based on circumstances from March/April. Why couldn't you hold a 300-person 5K that went off in waves of 30 people every 5 minutes? But you can have more than 30 people in a restaurant in closer proximity for longer? It doesn't make sense.

In any event, I am thankful that this Harrisburg Marathon has received government approval to take place and I am looking forward to getting back out there.

Training Update
Training has been going really well. Typically, the entire month of September is still very warm and humid with temperatures rarely falling below 60. But this past week has been unseasonably cool and I was able to log 69 miles while still feeling good. Here's a snapshot of the past few weeks:

I would like to be above 70 miles per week for the remainder of the cycle, except for the week that a taper for and run a half marathon. As for long runs, I ran 18 miles yesterday and 16 miles two weeks ago (last weekend was the 10K race). I tend to believe that volume is more important than running a ton of 20-milers, but I will be running some 20-milers over the next month.

I've been strength training regularly with a coach over Zoom. We have a weekly 1-hour session which can be pretty intense, and then I do a lighter session on my own one other day per week. We focus on balance, alignment, core strength, hips and glutes. All of the exercises are compound exercises requiring balance, stability, and coordination. I think this strength training could bring me to the next level. I have been doing it since early May, but since the weather has been so hot, I don't really know how fast I've gotten. I can say that my legs do not tire as easy at the end of long runs and I feel like I have more power.

This whole COVID thing has me more motivated than ever to train really hard and "go the extra mile". You never know when you'll have the opportunity to race and when it will be taken away, so you'd better be as prepared as possible for the limited chances you get. If I actually get to race my marathon on November 8, I want to be able to say that I was really well prepared and that I absolutely crushed it. I always want to say that, of course, but it's more important if you realize you might not race a marathon again for a long time.

My goal is to run around 3:10. Of course I would like to squeak under that, but it's too soon to be able to tell if that is in the cards. It's more likely to happen if I wear the Nike Vaporfly, but considering I got injured from that shoe during my last marathon, I don't know if it's worth the risk. The most important thing is showing up to a live race and giving it everything I have.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Fort Hunt 10K Race Report

This morning I ran the Fort Hunt 10K in Alexandria, Va. Although government officials in Northern Virginia are still denying permits to race directors, this race was a go because it took place in a park and didn't require any road closures. And it was super small. The 10K had 18 finishers and the 5K had 51 finishers. 

Small as it was, this race was not without stiff competition. Some pretty serious athletes lined up at the start line.

Before the Race
This race had been on the calendar for about a month. I ran a 5K exactly one month ago in the Outer Banks, and I typically like to do one race per month. My training volume has picked up and I've logged some solid workouts, so I felt like I was in shape to run a solid 10K. My average pace for that 5K was 6:59 due to the extreme heat. I thought it would be a good accomplishment if I could turn that into my 10K pace today.

Greg and I got a late start. Typically I wake up between 5:00 and 5:30 without an alarm. I set my alarm clock to 5:45 as a backup on the off chance that I would sleep late. And sure enough, the one morning I sleep late, that's when the alarm goes off! Realistically, I thought I would be awake at 5:30 and have nearly an hour to get ready. But that was not the case.

We quickly got dressed, ate our English muffins with peanut butter, went to the bathroom, got our water bottles ready and off we went. The plan was to leave the house at 6:25, but at 6:20, Greg had just started making his coffee! Thankfully we were pretty quick about everything and left the house at 6:35, only 10 minutes later than planned. That said, I had underestimated how long the drive would be. I had assumed 35 minutes but it was actually 45 minutes. 

With a 7:45 race start, we were cutting it very close. We arrived at 7:15 and immediately headed for the park bathrooms. If you ever run in Fort Hunt, I do not recommend you use the indoor bathrooms. There were mosquitos everywhere. And moths and spiders. And the bugs were in the toilets, on the stalls, flying around. It was disgusting. 

After using the bathroom, we picked up our bibs and shirts. It was now 7:25, which meant we had 20 minutes to pin on our bibs, warm up, and use the bathroom a final time (I opted for a porta-potty and it was far more pleasant). For this reason, my warm up was only 0.8 miles. I wasn't too worried about it though, because I typically opt for a much shorter warm up when it's warm/humid.

Race weather and strategy
Speaking of weather, it was 70 degrees with 94% humidity, overcast, and a little bit of wind. Typically I do not run any longer than a 5K in conditions like these. I usually wait until October to run a 10K, but I couldn't find any 10Ks in October as my usual options were canceled. Given that I got mono two days after a 5K in similar conditions back in 2018, I was a little apprehensive about this situation. The last thing I needed was to end up sick with mono again after having avoided it all summer.

So my strategy was to run by effort. I threw all my time goals out the window. Humidity is deceptive, especially with overcast skies. It doesn't feel oppressive at first but then it sneaks up on you. I have many examples of humidity related bonks; both in workouts and in races. I did not want a repeat. Top of mind was a 10K I ran in February of 2019 out in Arizona. That race as 58 degrees and very humid and I crashed and burned my way to a time of 44:29, which was 3 minutes off of my goal!

I approached this race very cautiously for those two reasons: not wanting to get sick, and not wanting to crash and burn. The goal was even splits or negative splits. Even slightly positive splits would have been fine as long as it wasn't a total bonk. Anyway, the race course was 5 loops of Fort Hunt Park. It was a completely paved road with gently rolling hills throughout. This struck me as a very fast course because none of the hills were too long or too steep. Just enough to get some good variation and that wonderful downhill relief from time to time.

Miles 1-2
The race started and I noticed a woman bolt out ahead of me at lightening speed. I definitely did not try to follow her. Given what I know about the deceptiveness of humidity, I thought I could possibly catch her later on if she had mis-judged the impact of the conditions and gone out too fast. Greg had also gone out like a lightening bolt. So fast I thought he might even lap me!

I had not run at Fort Hunt park since January 2010 during the epic blizzard we had that winter. Fort Hunt Park was the only plowed surface I knew of that was run-able so I had gone there twice for my long runs. It's a loop of about 1.25 miles and as I said earlier, it's gently rolling with the hills being short and not terribly steep. I suspected that running 5 laps around would be mentally exhausting but it turned out not to be. I liked knowing what to expect each lap.

I started at what felt like half marathon effort. I viewed this as a long tempo run. In fact, I didn't even wear my fastest shoes. I didn't wear the Nike Vaporfly and I didn't wear the adidas Adios. I wore the adidas Tempo 8, a shoe that has been discontinued, because it's a good half marathon shoe and I wanted to approach the race as. . . a Tempo!

I lost sight of the woman ahead of me after only 3-4 minutes. And by the end of the first mile, I had given up all hope of catching her. She had such a large lead that I'd have to really speed up and/or she would have to really slow down. 

Mile 1: 7:11
Mile 2: 7:12

Miles 3-4
I was pleased that I was holding steady for the first two miles. I would have liked the splits to have been faster, but I knew that I was going at a pace that would set me up for success later in the race. Thus, when my Garmin beeped 7:02 for the 3rd split, I was really excited. In fact, that third mile went by so quickly I could hardly believe it when my watch beeped. 

I didn't consciously increase my effort level, but I definitely did. When I run long runs, I usually don't try to speed up, but I do so naturally if I'm having a good day. The same thing was happening here. Without even trying to put any more effort into the race, my pace was getting faster. I was shocked when mile 4 beeped in 6:54.

Mile 3: 7:02
Mile 4: 6:54

Miles 5-6
Could I hold onto this pace? I didn't think I could but once again, my focus was not on pace but on effort. I started to tire in the 5th mile, but I reminded myself that this was a race and I needed to press on and keep working hard. I told myself to relax and focus on my form. I thought back to all my strength training sessions and I told myself that even though I was tired, my legs were the strongest they have ever been so they would power me through.

About halfway through the last lap, I saw the leading woman up ahead. And I realized I was closing the gap. I tried to think of a strategy for passing her, but my mind was too busy convincing myself to push hard to come up with a sound plan. The easiest thing would simply be to maintain my pace because at this rate, I would catch her and pass her. The unknown was if she was crashing or if she had a second wind in her.

I maintained my pace, which was around 7:00 and that allowed me to catch up to her and run beside her with about half a mile to go. As soon as she noticed me she pulled ahead. With a half a mile to go, I wasn't ready to surge yet, so I hoped that she would fade and then I would surge ahead in the last 0.2. But she pulled farther ahead and as much as I tried to keep up with her, I could not. And admittedly, I didn't have my usual motivation to win. Mentally I was in "hard workout" mode and I couldn't easily shift into race mode.

So she ended up winning by 4 seconds! So close!

Mile 5: 7:07
Mile 6: 6:59
Last 0.2: 6:26 pace

After the Race
My official time for the race was 43:37. This is an average pace of 7:02. The winning time was 43:33. Given that there were only seven female competitors, I'm not loving that I placed second. But, that first place female was a force to be reckoned with for sure! And she was under 40, so I technically won my age group.

Greg set a PR in 40:20. This is a PR by about 30 seconds. I am not surprised because he has gotten WAY faster over the past year. The key to his success has been consistency and volume. I'm his coach, and by prescribing him more mileage with less speed work, he is less prone to injury. If he can run a time of 40:20 in these conditions, I definitely think he can qualify for Boston later this fall if the conditions align. He placed 4th overall. There were only 11 male competitors, but they were all really fast.

Greg and I cooled down together and we went to visit the horse that we saw along the way. What a beautiful animal! Our cool down was 1.5 miles, and I wasn't dying.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
My heart rate data shows that I worked really hard today and supports my assertion that my body does not tolerate humidity. Here are the average heart rates for each mile: 144, 168, 172, 176, 181, 192, (195 for the last 0.2). Normally my heart rate would be more steady. 

To compare, here is heart rate data from a 10K that I ran earlier this year in cold weather: 145, 170, 174, 174, 174, 172 (172 for the last 0.2). Looking at other athletes' heart rate data from today on Strava, they do not have the same heart rate drift that I do. I know I shouldn't need to validate my humidity/heat sensitivity this way, but it's always nice to have data that supports why I run so much slower in these conditions.

I think I had a really good day! Normally in these conditions I feel like I lack energy and like I am running through molasses. But today I felt strong and I ran a solid race and I achieved my goal of a negative split. I do think that if I had gone out at a pace of 6:55 the story would have been different. Here's why I think I managed the humidity well:

  • I drank plenty of water and UCAN Hydrate in the days leading up to the race
  • I slept well the night before the race, as evidenced by the alarm waking me up at 5:45
  • I was acclimated to the humidity, but not run down by it due to using the treadmill on the worst days.
  • Pacing, pacing, pacing. The conservative start was critical.
  • Attitude. I didn't put any pressure on myself to run a certain time. Instead, I had a process and a strategy and I executed it.
  • Strength training. I believe I run more efficiently now, so I didn't tire as easily as I otherwise would have.
My next race will be a half marathon in three weeks. If conditions are good, I can turn this 7:02 pace into my half marathon pace. Funny enough, that still wouldn't even be a PR! I'd need to run a 6:54 pace to PR a half marathon. Onward!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

471 Runners Weigh In on Virtual and Live Racing

Do runners want to return to racing? Are virtual races a viable substitute? What type of runner is the most likely to run a virtual race? My hypothesis: it all comes down to why we race.

I surveyed 471 runners to find the answers. The respondents are my social media followers and members of a Facebook racing group. I think this is a large enough universe to be statistically significant. This will be a long blog post so I have summarized the key points below:

1. The top reason that runners race is because it motivates them to train for something and stay active. Over half of the runners surveyed cited this as one of their top two reasons for racing. 

2. Of the runners who typically run 6 or more races per year, 46% of them have not registered for a virtual race. Within this same group, the top reason they race is the atmosphere (spectators, cheering, volunteers, etc).

3. Of the runners who are most motivated by the opportunity to set a PR, 59% of them have not registered for a virtual race. One could infer that they would not view a PR from a virtual race as legitimate. 

4. Of all runners surveyed, 50% of them have not registered for a virtual race.

5. Of all runners surveyed, 12% (57 runners) believe that nobody should race a live event until there is a vaccine. Ironically, of these 57 runners, only 17 of them said they would choose the virtual option over the live option if a race offered both options. 14 of them said they would definitely race the live event, and 26 said it would depend on the size of the live event. I guess there is ideology, and then there is reality! 

6. 22% of all runners surveyed do not agree with race cancelations, while 12% believe that nobody should race without a vaccine. The remainder fall in the middle.

The decision to run a virtual race is generally not correlated to motivation for racing.
My hypothesis was that certain types of runners would be more inclined to register for a virtual race than others, based on why they raced. This survey did not find any such correlation except for those whose primary reason was to set a PR. Within that group, the majority of them (59%) have not registered for a virtual race. Among the entire population of runners surveyed, 50% have registered for a virtual race.

I had suspected that the following primary racing motivations would equate to less virtual racing, but I was wrong. Within these groups, it's about 50/50 for virtual vs. not registered for a virtual race:

  • The feeling of accomplishment and crossing a finish line
  • The competition against other runners
Only 43 respondents (9%) listed the medal and the shirt as one of their top two reasons for racing. Within this group, 63% registered for a virtual race. This indicates that those runners who care most about the medal and the shirt are more inclined to run a virtual race than other runners. This is no surprise because you get the same medal and shirt from a virtual race that you would get from a live race. But race directors offering virtual-only events should keep in mind that over-promoting this SWAG won't necessarily be a strong marketing point. Only 9% of runners really care about the medal and the shirt as a reason to race.

As I mentioned above, the top motivator for people to race is that it motivates them to train for
something and stay active. Over half (52%) of respondents listed this reason in their top two. The second most common motivator is the feeling of accomplishment & crossing a finish line. Arguably, you do get a feeling of accomplishment from a virtual race, but you do not get the feeling of crossing a finish line. Well, unless you created a DIY finish line and had a few people there cheering. 44% of runners indicated that this feeling of accomplishment was one of their top two motivators.

Some of the write-in responses were:
  • To try to pull out the best in me
  • Trying to run a marathon in each state (multiple people stated this)
  • To stay healthy and sane; lower anxiety
  • To qualify for Boston
  • A day to compete and get away from life
Live races turned virtual: most runners won't run virtually
82% of respondents were registered for a live race that turned into a virtual race. For the purpose of this section, I am referring to only those runners within the 82% (386 runners). 

Only 17% of these runners responded that they always ran the virtual race whenever this happened to them. This leaves us with 83% of runners registered for a race that became virtual, that they didn't end up running at least once. Why not? I didn't ask that question but I can think of a number of reasons:
  • The race was a half marathon or full marathon and they didn't want to cover it without support
  • They had no interest in a virtual event
  • They signed up for the race as a backup to a live race, but then that race also became virtual
  • They didn't have the motivation
  • Their primary motivation for registering was not going to be met with a virtual event
For the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, only 12% of registrants ran the 2020 virtual race, myself included. That's lower than my survey suggests as typical. I suspect, however, that a 10-miler might fall into the category of being too long to run as a virtual race, whereas a 5K and a 10K are more manageable distances.

Virtual races are not as popular as live races
This shouldn't surprise anyone, but how much less popular are they? In this context, I am referring to runners registering for virtual races, knowing that they are virtual. NOT participating in a virtual race that they had originally registered for as a live race.

Only 28% of all respondents registered for 2 or more virtual races knowing they would be virtual. And yet, 97.5% of respondents typically run 2 or more live races per year. This shows that runners are racing much less and are less willing to pay to run a virtual race.

I'll stray from the data a moment to add my own perspective on this one. I have paid to run 3 virtual races: the Mother's Day 4-miler, the Firecracker 5K and the Indianapolis Monumental Mile. In the case of the 4-miler, I did it to support the local running store. For the Firecracker 5K, I also did it to support the local running store and for a sense of maintaining tradition. For the Mile, I wanted the shirt! And I wanted to have an official mile race to train for. However, now that some live races are coming back, I do not think I will register for a virtual race again.

Most runners think that small races can return safely
Of all runners surveyed, 12% (57 runners) believe that nobody should race a live event until there is a vaccine. The rest of the respondents think that small races can return safely, or they flat out do not agree with the cancelations. 103 runners responded, "I don't agree with the cancelations; let runners choose if they want to participate." 

This was a higher number than expected. On social media, I see so many people saying "it was the right decision" to cancel a race. But not everyone believes that. Rarely do I hear runners speak out against cancelations. The more vocal crowd seems to be the smaller number of people who believe we need a vaccine for races to return. 

269 runners responded, "I think small races can return safely, but we need a vaccine for larger ones." This is where the majority fell, and it's not surprising. I think this is where we are as a society. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes a race safe. It truly depends on who is making the decisions. It is typically the government officials who are the ones denying race directors the permits. But in some cases, the race directors don't want the responsibility.

I don't know of any races of more than 500 people that have occurred since March. Marathons and half marathons are more likely to be canceled than shorter races, likely due to the number of volunteers required.

Some runners wrote-in responses. Here are some interesting ones:

"I personally am not comfortable with live racing, but if runners want to safely participate in small events with guidelines, then let them."

"I think we need to learn more about the virus before we return to large races."

"If races use smart safe precautions then let's have them. Both large and small races. As long as they
take every precaution."

"I don't think a vaccine needs to be in place. Start small and with distancing."

"I think right now we have figured out how to do small races and we could be having more of them."

"If a race doesn't want the responsibility/burden/guilt of potentially spreading a deadly virus, I'm not going to disagree with them."

"I wouldn't go so far as to say a vaccine has to be available for large races to happen, but I would need to see what steps were being taken to minimize risk."

"Have runners bring their own fuel and sign a waiver."

"I think races of any size can be held with planning. Split participants into smaller groups and stagger start times. Require wearing a mask at the start line."

"Frustrating but understandable. My distance and pace PR goals don't stop because events stop."

"I think running is fine because everyone is spread apart most of the time. The only issue is the start and finish."

Final thoughts and Key takeaways
I think the return to racing is a "we have to walk before we can run" approach. Small live races are happening today with precautions in place. Even though it's truly arbitrary, many see January 2021 as when things will start getting back to normal. That's most likely because people can't envision these cancelations continuing into another calendar year. 

After reading through 471 survey responses, the overwhelming sentiment is that runners want to race. Not all runners, but most runners. They do want to race safely, of course, but most of them believe that we are ready to do that today. Even some of the runners who believe that nobody should race until a vaccine is available said that they would run a live race if given the opportunity.

Many runners are participating in virtual races, but they are not running nearly as many virtual races as they would live races. While virtual races offer runners the ability to train for something and gain personal satisfaction, they are not a replacement for live races.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this survey.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Outer Banks Lighthouse 5K

I did it again. . . I ran a real, live race in the midst of the COVID-19 cancellation era! (My first race back was a 1-mile race in Winchester). But this race wasn't something that I searched far and wide for, it just happened to be occurring during Greg and my vacation

to the Outer Banks. The Lighthouse 5K is a series that is held every Wednesday in the summer in Corolla,  North Carolina. Even though we've been to the Outer Banks many times before, we've always gone before or after "busy season" so the race wasn't going on. This year, we went during the height of the season to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary.

The original plan was to go to Africa to celebrate our anniversary. We had a trip planned that started in Victoria Falls, then onto two safari locations in Botwana, and then to Zebras Crossing Lodge in South Africa. All four properties we booked were prime zebra viewing locations. In one of them, it's not uncommon to see 100+ zebras outside of your window. But alas, we had to postpone our trip to August 2021. I seriously hope we can go then, and that the places we are staying haven't gone out of business.

Because Africa was postponed, we decided to head down to the Outer Banks to celebrate our anniversary. We arrived on Saturday to a beachfront condo. On Sunday morning, we did a "sharpening" workout of 8 x 400m on the track with 200m recovery jogs. Luckily, there was a track in close proximity to our condo which we had run on during previous trips. It was 78 degrees with high humidity, so we were thankful that the prescribed pace was 10K effort increasing to 5K effort by the end: 1:39, 1:40, 1:39, 1:38, 1:39, 1:37, 1:37, 1:37.

On Monday morning, we ran short and easy: just 40 minutes. Thank goodness for that because once again we were faced with 78 degree weather and high humidity. Of course we had all day to recover and I was really good about drinking plenty of water + UCAN Hydrate every day. Not only did we sweat off pounds of water during our runs, but laying on the beach in the sun is also dehydrating.

On Tuesday, we did a short set of 3 x 200m strides just to get the legs moving, plus warm up and cool down. And then we were ready for race day!

Before the Race
We woke up at 5:40 and I had my standard English muffin with peanut butter. We packed the car with a cooler of ice, water, and towels for afterwards. Greg unfortunately forgot his Garmin, which we realized about 3 minutes into the drive. We could have possibly turned around for it, but then we would have been cutting it very close. He decided to run without it.

When we got to the race, I picked up our bibs and searched for my Instagram friend Heidi. We met nearly two years ago on Instagram and we just happened to both be in the Outer Banks on vacation. It was really

Heidi and me pre-race
cool to see a friendly face and get to know her and her family a little bit. I took a gel about 20 minutes prior to race start and did a very short warm up of only 0.6 mile, which included strides. My coach had advised to keep the warm up short (although he probably meant more like 1 mile) because it was hot. 

Officially it was 79 degrees with a "real feel" of 90 due to the humidity. And sunny! One of the hottest races I have ever run. I can only think of one that was hotter, and that one was not as humid. I totally did not care. I was just happy to be racing. I didn't have a time goal - I was going to try and win an award of some kind. There were no age group awards but there was a Master's award and then the top 3 men and women.

The race had about 150 runners. I had looked at the results from past weeks and it was competitive for a vacation race. It seemed as if families came out with their cross-country high schoolers and college students. If I recall correctly, nearly all of the races had been won in 19:xx for the women. I knew that sub 20 would not be possible in these conditions, so I was going for the Master's win or maybe third place.

The race was delayed by 8 minutes so that runners could finish packet pickup. They started the runners in waves containing about 30 people each. I lined up in the first wave because the awards would be based on gun time, not chip time. Greg was in the second wave.

Mile 1: 6:56
The race started on grass but we quickly transitioned to pavement. Most of the race was on a concrete sidewalk. This wasn't ideal, but whatever- I will take what I can get! The race was mostly flat with a few inclines/declines. Interestingly, there was another small race series in a different part of the Outer Banks (Nags Head) that was canceled due to COVID. This shows that there are not hard-and-fast rules about racing in these times. Some race directors and/or town officials are canceling races while some are holding races with safety modifications. It really just depends on who is in charge.

Anyway, I ran this mile based on effort and I slotted into 3rd place pretty early on. I hoped to maintain that position for the entirety of the race but I knew Heidi was behind me, and she was fast. Greg blew by me and I knew he'd end up having a really strong race.

Average heart rate for mile 1: 160

Mile 2: 7:00
I was not using the Garmin to pace myself-- I glanced at it a few times to know how far I had gone because the race was starting to hurt pretty badly. The sun was beating down on me and I had to exert so much effort just to run at a pace that is slower than my half marathon pace from March! At the turnaround point, the female leader cheered me on and I did the same for her. I also realized that the 4th and 5th place females were tailing me pretty closely. Darn it- this meant I had to work hard to maintain my position!

Average heart rate for mile 2: 178

I'm dying here at the end.

Mile 3: 7:04
This mile was all about hanging on and not backing down. There was no way I could give anymore (see heart rate below). I told myself to hold steady and maintain my position no matter what. The 2nd place female was visible but there would be no catching her. Finally we reached the grassy area and I sprint toward the finish line. (6:24 pace for the last bit). I was actually surprised at how fast that was for being on the grass. I never run on grass.

Average heart rate for mile 3: 189.

Average heart rate the final 0.1: 197!!!!!!!

Official time: 21:31

My max heart rate was 200. I actually didn't think that my max heart rate was that high. I think the highest I have ever seen it in a race is 193, and that was at the July 4th 5K from last summer. So even though my paces were slower than my half marathon pace, it was clear that I was redlining based on my heart rate data.

After the Race
As the 3rd female, I wasn't sure if that would be my prize or if I'd win the Master's award. They ended up giving me the award for 3rd female and Heidi won the Master's award. It really doesn't matter anyway because all of the awards were the same: a medal. That was fine with me. I didn't need a prize, I just wanted the glory of winning an award of some kind.

I was totally gassed at the end and thank God for the icy cold face towels they gave us at the finish. That towel felt AMAZING on my blazing hot face.

The female winner introduced herself to me as someone who was reading my book, Boston Bound! Wow!

Cooling down with speedy Jenny.
What a small world. In fact, she had the book at her beach house! We instantly bonded and ran our cool down together. It was a longer cool down than warm up, which wasn't hard to do given the warm up was only 0.6 of a mile! We chatted about all things running and it's amazing how much two strangers can connect when they are both runners. Her daughter was the 2nd female finisher, and was happy to race given the cancelation of cross country.

This is what I love about racing. It's not just about the competition and the time on the clock. It's about the community, sharing experiences and making connections. 

Greg ran a blazing fast 19:27 which won him the Master's award for the men (he was the 4th male overall). Once the temperature starts to drop below 60 and we can find a 5K, I can see him breaking 19:00. So exciting!

After the awards ceremony we said goodbye to Heidi and Jenny and made our way to Duck Donuts for a celebratory treat!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Greg and I were happy to get our race "fix" in during vacation. It was a really relaxed experience as all the runners were pretty much on vacation. The energy was positive and many people hadn't been able to race since February. This was my first 5K since January, and I typically run about six 5Ks per year. 

I'm pleased with my effort level and based on my heart rate there is no question that I gave it my all. Given that I typically run 21:xx when it's in the low 70s, it was encouraging that I was able to do that in the high 70s with a real feel of 90!

Greg and I officially celebrate 10 years of marriage today! It's been a wonderful vacation with great weather, great running, and great food. I'm looking forward to the next 10.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Loudon Street Mile Race Report

I ran my first LIVE race this morning since March 1st! All of the races I had been registered for after March 1st were canceled, but the Loudon Street Mile marked my return to real racing. The race had 193 finishers, and was run in six waves that were spaced apart by 10 minutes.

This race typically occurs on Memorial Day, but they moved it July this year. I had heard really good things about it from fellow runners but I had never tried it. The race takes place in Winchester, VA, which is about an hour away from where I live. It was definitely worth spending two hours in the car to run a live event. In fact, one of the participants traveled all the way from North Carolina.

The race attracts a competitive field with top five females all finishing faster than 5:12. The master's winner ran 5:15. There is prize money for the top finishers, so it makes sense that the speedy runners would come out.

Having run 3 mile time trials on the track and the Virtual Indianapolis Monumental Mile also on the track, I was ready to take on a road race. I had never raced a mile on the road so I wasn't sure what I was in for. I knew to expect a hill for most of the first half, and I'd never run mile pace up a hill like that.

The race was originally scheduled to start at 8:00, but about two weeks ago, they pushed it back to 9:00. They wanted to allow more time for packet pickup. Originally, my wave (women under 7:00 pace) was scheduled to start at 8:00, but with the new plan, the fast men started first at 9:00 and then the fast women at 9:10. After that, the next fastest men and women combined, followed by the rest of the field. This meant Greg was in the 3rd wave, which started at 9:20.

Before the Race
I woke up naturally at 4:30, obviously excited about the race. I ate an English Muffin with peanut butter at 6:30 and we were out the door at 7:00. I had a dream last night that I forgot my race shoes. And what do you know, three minutes into the drive I realized. . . I had forgotten my race shoes. Thankfully we weren't too far from home and we didn't lose my time going back for them.

Speaking of race shoes, this is the first race ever that Greg has worn a lighter shoe! He's never raced in anything lighter than his daily trainers (Brooks Adrenaline and Mizuno Wave Inspire), but I convinced him to get a pair of the adidas SL20, which I had recently gotten and determined they were the perfect entry-level speed shoe. I wore the adidas Adios 4, which are lighter than the SL20 but have a nice spring to them. Also I should note that I much prefer the Adios 4 to the newer Adios 5 mile, which I find to be stiffer and less comfortable.

After our hour-long drive, we parked near the packet pickup, which was setup outside of a running store. There was only one other person picking up their packet at the same time as us. I know that packet pickup is a safety concern for many races, and one of the reasons they cancel. But if you allow runners to pick up their packets in advance and keep the field size small, and hold it outdoors, it's not an issue.

Warming up on the course
We then drove one mile to the start line so we'd have access to our cooler of ice beforehand. We parked, used the porta potties, and I took a caffeinated Maurten gel. I find that caffeine really helps in these short, hard efforts. Then we started our warm up. I saw a few friendly faces and it was so nice to be out in the community again! I noted that the course started on a downhill for the first 0.2 mile, and then was uphill to just after the halfway point. Then downhill, and then a flat finish through a brick-surfaced town center. No turns-- just a straight shot!

After the warm up, I put some ice in my sports bra and in the sides of my briefs. I poured water over my head. And then I did some strides before heading into the corral. It was 76 degrees with a "real feel" of 78. Humidity at 86%. Ouch. But thankfully it was only a mile. If this had been a 5K I would have deemed these conditions unsafe for me to go all out. Given my heat sensitive issues, I would have held back a little. But with (hopefully) less than 6 minutes of work, I figured my body could handle a full-out effort regardless of the heat.

My goal was sub-6:00. That doesn't seem very lofty given that my PR on the track is 5:52. But this race had a hill and I wasn't sure if asphalt, followed by brick, would be as fast as the track surface. Plus, when I ran the 5:52 it was only 55 degrees and not humid. My strategy was simply to run as hard as possible and see if I could squeak under 6 minutes.

The Race!
The gun went off. There were about 35-40 runners in my wave, all female. It's very rare that I am running with all women so this was a novel experience. Most of the runners flew out of the gate at lightening speed, but I held back a little bit. According to my Garmin data, I ran the 0.2 downhill at a pace of around 5:40, but as soon as the up hill started, I slowed to around 6:30.

As I was running, I tried not to look at my Garmin too much. But I did notice that whenever I did my average race pace kept slowing down. I think that by 0.4 I had averaged 6:13. Yikes! Sub 6:00 was not at all looking good.

Note: I uploaded my raw Garmin data to Strava to analyze my race, since Garmin is down.

We kept climbing the hill and as we approached the top, I started to pass other runners. Someone called out a time of 3:03 for the first half, which put me on track for 6:06. And then I just started tearing through the field. I sped up dramatically on the downhill and I felt like I was flying. I was passing people left and right. Here are some Garmin data points for "current pace":

0.5: 6:31
0.6: 5:55
0.7: 5:36
0.8: 5:28
0.9: 5:36
1.0: 5:24

I could see the finish line and even though I was totally red lining and making all kinds of noises, I just pushed and pushed and pushed. It was hard, it hurt, and it felt amazing! I love that kind of pain that you only get as you approach a race finish line. This cannot be replicated in a virtual race when there is no finish line or people cheering for you, or other competitors.

I knew that I would be cutting it very close to my goal of sub-6:00, but when I saw the clock as I crossed I was elated. 5:57.6 official!

First half: 3:03
Second half: 2:54

For those of you who doubt Garmin accuracy, I had my auto lap set to one mile. My Garmin auto-lapped at exactly 5:57.6 which is the same as my official time. Without weaving and turning, GPS devices are highly accurate!

After the Race
The Master's Winner is in the middle
It took me about two minutes to feel normal again after the race, but once I did I was so happy. I briefly chatted with some other runners before walking back a little ways to see Greg finish. Greg looked really strong and it was so cool to be able to cheer for him. He clocked in a 5:41.4. This was his second fastest mile.

Once he recovered, we chatted for a little bit and watched other runners come in. And then we jogged back to our car near the start line. There was no awards ceremony to prevent people from gathering together, but they will mail the awards.

I ended up winning first place in my age group, 40-44. I did not win the Master's Race, which was won in 5:15 by a 45-year old woman. For those of you unfamiliar with how age group awards work, if you win the Masters race (age 40+), you are not eligible for an age group award. This is how I was able to win my age group. My award will be mailed to me. We then drove an hour home, both very pleased with how the morning went.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm really happy with how well I ran. I did not expect to beat my 5:52 track PR, which was on a flat surface in cooler weather. That said, I wish I had gone out faster. I have said this about every one of the mile time trials I have run. I don't think it's a matter of needing time to get the legs going; I think
it's a confidence thing. The "start slow, finish fast" mentality has always served me well, which makes me fearful of gunning it early in the race. Even though the first half was uphill, I still think splits of 3:03, 2:54 indicate that I could have run a faster overall time if I had started quicker.

I wish I could try running this course again next weekend! Unfortunately I will have to wait until Memorial Day 2021. I love the idea of racing a mile in the summer because I don't have to restrain myself for fear of passing out or getting sick. The fact that I had ice in my sports bra and that I poured cold water into my hair beforehand really helped, too. Next year I will target closer to 5:50!

I cannot stress enough how amazing it felt to be out on the race course again. This experience confirmed how much I love racing and how badly I want races to come back. The race director set an excellent example of how a race can be put on safely in the midst of COVID, and hopefully set a precedent for road races occurring in Virginia.

Elevation in Gray, pace in blue

Here is a video. I can be seen starting at 1:00.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Marine Corps Marathon Hopeful

I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon. While the naysayers are convinced that this race will ultimately be canceled, I remain optimistic. Here is the race director's stance:

"Many other large events have cancelled but our Marine instinct is to lean in and fight for the possibility of hosting a live marathon in Arlington, VA on October 25, 2020. This means a major overhaul of how the MCM looks and operates so social distancing considerations may be incorporated. In short, our working solution is to break the 45th MCM up into 24 waves that will start over an expanded window of time on event morning. This plan will necessitate a smaller field of in-person participants."

To reduce the field size, they have offered a virtual option, which is particularly attractive to those who would have to travel by air, and they have stated that you have to run a 12 minute mile or faster. They have not provided an update yet on the actual size of the new field, but they said they might have to reduce the time requirement even further if the field remains too large.

It sounds like they are doing everything in their power to take precautions so that the race can be held as planned. After all, they are the marines, and at some point a large race needs to set the precent for how they can be done safely. A vaccine is not a guarantee in 2020, 2021, or even longer. If race directors and government officials can't find a way to resume racing, then many races will go out of business.

Marine Corps Marathon 2006
I'm not a scientist, but we've had many mass outdoor gatherings over the past two months and none of them have been attributed to causing a spike or hotspot. Hotspots arose early in the pandemic from enclosed spaces, like that medical conference in Boston, nursing homes, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Once again, I am not a scientist, but I have done quite a bit of reading on this and I haven't seen any evidence of large outdoor mass gatherings causing a COVID 19 outbreak.

So even though many people think the Marine Corps Marathon will not happen, I choose to be optimistic. I'm also registered for Rehoboth Beach, which is about six weeks later. The race director recently emailed registrants telling us that it was too soon for them to know what would happen. As of now, they are still planning to proceed. I imagine we'll get more information in early fall.

My MCM History
Even though the MCM is my hometown marathon I have only run it once, back in 2006. It was my second marathon ever! I ran 4:24. I had a blast and I loved it so much. I ran the associated 10K in 2007 and 2012. The reason I haven't run the marathon again is because I have wanted to experience other fall races.

Plus, an October marathon requires long runs in August and that's not ideal with my heat sensitivity issues. But now that I have a treadmill, I think I can make it work. Lately I have been doing hybrid treadmill-outdoor runs. I run on the treadmill for 30-50 minutes and then immediately head outdoors for the remainder. Race day weather for MCM is hit-or-miss. It's been crappy the past few years but it had a streak of great weather the years before that. If it turns out to be too warm, I'll simply back off the pace and target Rehoboth Beach for a PR.

I'm also super excited about the charity I am raising money for. My donations website is currently broken, and once they fix it, I will announce what charity it is. It's an organization that I am passionate about supporting.

So, what's the plan?
July is an easy/recovery month and marathon training will officially begin in early August. Now is the perfect time to dial back the mileage and lay off the long workouts so I'm fresh when it's time to start the training cycle.

I have now done quite a few hybrid runs of treadmill/outdoor combo and it really works for me. The hotter it is, the longer I stay on the treadmill. If it's insanely hot then I simply do the whole thing on the treadmill. With the hybrid approach, I stay acclimated and reduce the risk of injury from 100% treadmill running. Having my own treadmill has been such a lifesaver!

If the starting temperature is 72+ combined with a dew point of 68+, then I do a hybrid run.  If the starting temperature is 75+ combined with a dew point of 70+, then I stay indoors for the entire run. I avoid speed work on the treadmill because I think it leads to injury (for me, not necessarily for others), so if it's too warm for speed work, I try to reschedule it for a different day, or ditch it altogether if there are no cooler options in the vicinity. I have to prioritize my health over trying to get all the workouts in.

Also, I should mention that I ended my running streak on Monday. I made it to 181 days. I think six months is a solid achievement and I could tell my body needed some rest days due to how high my heart rate was getting during easy runs. I only logged 31 miles this week, but I feel really good today, so the days off did their job. Now I just need to get through a few more weeks of very slow running in the heat and on the treadmill before I start training for Marine Corps!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Virtual Race Report: Indianapolis Monumental Mile

Yesterday I ran the Virtual Indianapolis Monumental Mile on the track with Greg. I had been training to run the mile distance for about 4 weeks.

Time Trial #1
On May 25th, I ran my first ever timed mile. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I've read many 1-mile race reports over the past few years and I even spectated a 1-mile track race about eight years ago. However, I never had the desire to race this distance. In the spirit of taking on new challenges during the Covid era, I decided now would be the time.

We decided that Greg would go first and I would time him using my phone's timer. I would collect his lap data and cheer him on. Then it would be my turn. He would take photos and videos and cheer me on. You could make the case that we would have been faster if we ran at the same time, but I wanted to "run my own race" and not be distracted by what he was doing.

My biggest fear was totally blowing up and running far slower than my capability. So I decided to start on the slower side and finish with a hard sprint.  My goal for the first time trial was simply to get a baseline for future time trials, but I decided I would shoot for 6:00.  My splits for each 400m lap were:

1:32 (1:32)
1:33 (3:05)
1:30 (4:35)
1:26 (6:01)

My time was 6:01.8. I was good with this time, although given how fast my last lap was, I wished I had gone out faster. Greg ran 5:46.

Time Trial #2
Our second time trial took place one week later on June 1. I should note that the weather for both the first and the second time trials was unseasonably cool. Mid 50s with low humidity.

Now that I had some practice under my belt, I decided I would try to go out more aggressively and run sub 6:00. I also knew that my mental game needed to be stronger. During the first time trial I kept having visions of stopping and not finishing the whole thing. For time trial #2, I vowed that I would stay positive the entire time and remind myself to push as hard as possible while staying relaxed.

1:30 (1:30)
1:32 (3:02)
1:29 (4:31)
1:25 (5:56)

My time was 5:56.0.  Over 5 seconds faster! Once again, I felt like I was flying during that last lap and I wished I had gone out faster. Greg ran 5:40, so we both shaved nearly six seconds off of our first attempt.

Time Trial #3
Once again, we waited one week and ran another time trial. It just so happened that Mondays offered the unseasonably cooler weather. It was in the upper 50s and sunny, but the humidity was low. I promised myself I would go out even faster and I would push, push, push all the way through. With two time trials behind me, I was much more confident in my abilities.

1:30 (1:30)
1:28 (2:58)
1:28 (4:26)
1:26 (5:52)

My time was 5:52.5, a PR by 3.5 seconds! I was so thrilled with this. And for the first time, I felt like I really gave the run everything I had in me. I was totally and completely spent by the end. After the first two time trials, I felt like I still had more to give. Greg had similar gains, running 5:37.

The Race
I wore briefs for the first time. Felt so free!
For the virtual race, we were allowed to run on any date between June 22 and June 30, so the race is still going on. We picked yesterday, which had the coolest weather. It was 62 degrees, compared to all the other days that were around 70. It was a humid 62, though, so it was definitely not as nice as any of the previous 3 attempts. I had no idea how much of a factor the weather would be for a race that lasted less than 6 minutes. I mean, how much can the humidity really get you in such a short time span?

Turns out, both Greg and I felt flat. I didn't feel like I had the power that I had during my previous attempts. My goal was to break 5:50 and run the first lap in 1:28. I think it was partially the weather but also partially that I just didn't feel great. Training in the heat has a cumulative effect so even if the actual race has good weather, if you've been training in crappy weather in the week leading up to the race, you likely won't feel your best.

Ironically, this is what happened at the Indy Monumental Marathon in 2017. I trained really hard during an unseasonably warm autumn. The race weather, however, was ideal. And yet I totally crashed and had a horrible race. My splits were:

1:31 (1:31)
1:31 (3:02)
1:30 (4:32)
1:26 (5:58)

My time was 5:58.0. When I saw my split for lap 3 I knew I needed to book it just to break six minutes! It seems like I am consistently able to run 1:26 in the last lap, but I can't seem to get myself to push harder earlier. I don't know if that's lack of confidence or that my legs need to warm up more. I was really, really hurting by the end and it took me a while to feel recovered after I finished. I felt like I pushed harder in this virtual race than the other time trials, and that is supported by the heart rate data below.

Before these time trials, I do drills and a few 100m strides, so I feel loose and ready to go.

In any event, I was happy that I ran sub-6:00 but disappointed that I didn't reach my goal of sub 5:50. And just like in the time trials, Greg was slower than his PR, too. He ran a 5:42. Both of us were faster than time trial #1, but slower than the other two trials. It was just not the day to PR.

Because I love charts:

 Lap 1 
 Lap 2 
 Lap 3 
 Lap 4 
 Average HR 
 May 25  
June 1
June 8
 June 26

As for my training, my has been relatively low, as it tends to be in the summer. I plan to take the month of July very easy and then start adding more volume in August.