Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Glass is Half Full, Not Fully Empty

It's times like these that truly challenge me to think about the type of runner I am: Why do I run? What am I hoping to accomplish? What does my running say about me as a person?

I'm faced with this mysterious injury that was diagnosed as IT Band Syndrome, but I think it's some other sort of knee injury. It's my left knee, and my upper calf/outer shin is somehow also involved. Whatever it is, it forced me to cut back my mileage last week, including reducing a 17-miler down to 7.5 miles. I have not run since Saturday, and the chances of me completing a 20-mile training run this coming Saturday are slim to none.

It's not so much painful as it is awkward, and I can tell that something is strained or pulled or out of alignment. (They are draining my pool this week, so swimming is not even an option. . . but that rant is for another blog!)

So what to do about the Houston Marathon on January 13? Unfortunately, the race's deadline for switching to the half marathon is tomorrow-- over three weeks prior to the actual race. I would think that they would at least give us until Monday because then we could make a decision based on our last long run. When I ran the Miami marathon, you could actually decide to switch to the half during the race, and you could be scored as a half-marathon finisher, complete with a half marathon medal. With Houston, not only must you make up your mind so far in advance, but you are also charged a fee of $10 to switch, even if you are downgrading. So, switching to the half means paying the price of the full marathon, plus an additional $10.

But once again, I digress. . . The bottom line is that I had to make a decision before tomorrow's deadline. And this decision made me think about my core beliefs and goals as a runner. The likelihood of me setting a PR at Houston would be very low. Considering my only long run between Richmond and Houston would have been a half marathon on December 1, a PR would definitely be a stretch. So how important is a PR to me? Is it worth putting out all the effort to run a full marathon if I know, in advance, that I have almost no chance of attaining that goal? Would I be happy if I revised my goal? How much of marathoning is about setting and attaining goals, and how much is about the experience and the fun? Or knocking another state off my list so I can be one step closer to 50 marathons in 50 states?

I was faced with a similar decision for Chicago. I really wanted my next marathon to be sub 4:00, and I knew that I had missed so much training that it wouldn't be possible in Chicago-- well before anyone knew about the heat wave. I decided not to run Chicago because I didn't want to "half-ass" it. I like to put 100% of myself into everything I do, and I knew that Chicago would not be my best effort. I know that my streak of PRs at marathons has to end eventually. They can't all be PRs. But when that streak ends, I don't want it to be because I ran a marathon just for the sake of it-- fully knowing that a PR wasn't realistic. I still want to be able to say that I gave it my all.

I know that many runners would disagree with me, and would be happy just to have another marathon under their belt. I think that if I ran the Houston marathon, I would struggle in the last 6-10 miles, I would not be happy with my time, and it would lower my confidence as a marathoner. I don't want to run this marathon just because I can, I want to run it because I've trained properly for it and "earned" a finish time that reflects my hard work.

Therefore, I have decided to run the Houston Half Marathon. If my knee gets better within the next week or so (which is very optimistic) then I at least have a shot of getting a PR, or at least running a solid race. And I won't have the pressure of a full marathon looming over my head for the next few weeks, when I know that I am not prepared. I am typically excited and happy about upcoming marathons, but I think this time, I would be more scared than anything. This way, I can take it easy for the next week, allow my knee some recovery time, and then ease back into training.

If I am lucky, maybe I can work in a 10 or 11 mile training run two weeks prior. Just like Chicago, the Houston marathon isn't disappearing anytime soon. If I really want to run it, I can do so at a later date. That said, I wish this race was organized like Miami, where I didn't have to pay extra to switch to a shorter race, and make that decision so far in advance. Considering that Houston bibs are selling for over $200, I could have actually made money on this, had I dropped out completely!

After a great deal of reflection, I'm confident in my decision. I plan to continue to only run "quality" marathons. Other distances can be for fun and training, but until my marathon PR streak breaks, I will only run them when I think I can put forth my best effort. (I might revise this if I am somehow injured for London- I have to run that one no matter what!) I'm still looking forward to Houston, but more because I will get to see my friends than for the actual race.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Frozen All The Way 10K

The name of the 10K I ran today was actually "Jingle All The Way" 10K, but I wasn't doing much jingling, as I opted not to wear the bells on the shoes that they gave me. The weather was about 36 degrees and misting rain. This race sets the record for the coldest race I have ever run. The windchill at the half marathon last week made that race seem colder at times, but when it wasn't windy, it wasn't that cold. And it's different when it's sunny and you're dry-- like last weekend. Today was a very dreary, cold, wet day. In spite of all this, I toughed it out in my red snowflake skirt.

Carlton and Michael Hayden came up to run the race with me this weekend. We're quite a team! Carlton was hoping to set a new personal record, and Mike wanted to run his fasted 10K of the year. My goal was to break 49 minutes. I definitely thought this was an attainable goal, given my current fitness level and my past races. However, the 10K has always been my worst distance. I am never sure how to pace myself. I can run negative splits at marathons and half marathons, and I can gun a 5K pretty well (usually) but I am still uncertain what the best 10K strategy is.

My PR for the 10K was a 49:55, which would have been a lot faster, if there hadn't been such a huge hill during the last mile. I can't ever seem to catch a break with the 10K distance. It's always too hot, too windy, too hilly, or too cold!

Mile 1
I think I went out too fast. Carlton disagrees, but a 7:35 pace was way too ambitious. I felt good during that first mile, but then slowed down shortly afterwards. I was thankful that I had warmed up because my legs were freezing and so was my face. If it hadn't been for the run from the car to the start, I would have been frozen solid!

Mile 2
There was a very slight hill here, but nothing really noticeable. Otherwise, the course was flat. And I had run most of this course during the Marine Corps Marathon. My nose was freezing. I managed to run a 7:46. Perfect! This was the pace I was hoping to maintain for the rest of the race.

Mile 3
During mile 3, I saw Carlton on his way back toward the finish line. I was really surprised to see him, because I fully expected Michael Hayden to be ahead of him. I was excited for Carlton, but wondering what happened to Mike. I saw Mike shortly after, and he was very focused. I felt like I was maintaing my pace, but I actually slowed down to a 8:00 pace for this mile.

Mile 4
I passed the 5K mat at 24:24. However, when I looked at my watch, I misread it to say 24:12, which was

faster than my Turkey Trot 5K! I was psyched! After that, I think I got over-confident and felt like I didn't have to run as hard to do well. I slowed down again to yield a 8:07.

Mile 5
I was uncomfortably cold and I was struggling to maintain pace. People started to pass me. I was getting sick of the race at this point and I just wanted it to be over. I just wanted to maintain my pace and "survive" here. Pace for this mile was 8:08. I started to get mad at myself for slowing down so much. I really wanted to break an 8:00 average pace. I needed to gun the last mile.

Mile 6
Carlton came back to run with me at about mile 5.7. He told me to run faster and I screamed that I couldn't. Carlton was running ahead of me and I tried hard to catch up with him. He kept telling me to run faster and push harder, so I sped up at the end of the mile to get a 8:03. The first part of the mile must have been really slow!

The last 0.2
I decided to really give it my all at this point and makeup for my slower running earlier in the race. I felt like I was sprinting, but according to my watch, I was only going at a pace of 8:25.

Looking back on this race, I really wish I would have pushed harder. I pushed as hard as I could while Carlton was there, but I think I lost a lot of motivation and enthusiasm once I saw how much time I "banked".

My finish time was 49:23, an average pace of 7:57.

I placed 25 of 357 in my age group.
I placed 124 of 1291 women

I feel lukewarm about this. I was happy to PR, but I thought that my 10K PR was really not reflective of my running abilities at all. According to most running calculators, I should be able to come in well under 49 minutes. Baby steps, right? I don't know when my next 10K will be, but it might not be until June, when I run the Lawyer's Have Heart 10K.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Too Hot to Trot

Okay, so not really too hot, but it was a lot warmer than expected. And it made a cute title.

Today I ran a Turkey Trot 5K. It was 60 degrees, with 75% humidly and some winds. I ran this same course last year, and it was in the low 30's with misting rain. Last year, I wore three layers on top, pants, two pairs of gloves and a hat. This year, I wore just my running skirt and a tank top. 

A year ago, I would have LOVED this weather. But as other runners have told me, I would learn to appreciate colder temperatures because they make you run faster. However, I don't blame the weather for my poor performance today. I blame the fact that I am still recovering (cardio-wise) from my marathon. I didn't expect a PR, but I also didn't expect to be this slow.

I'll cut to the chase. I ran my slowest 5K ever. Here is a history of my 5Ks:
  • 24:17 in September 2006
  • 23:32 in November 2006 (same course I just ran)
  • 23:30 in June 2007 (first place in age group!)
  • 24:07 in July 2007 (lots of hills here)
  • 24:19 in November 2007
I got faster the first few times, and then I started to get slower. I am not sweating this too much because I know that my body is still recovering from the marathon and I know that I did give 100% of myself today. It's not like in the MCM 10K where I just gave up halfway through. I pushed as hard as I could all the way to the end, but my body simply couldn't go any faster.

I came across the first mile marker at 7:27. I knew I was in trouble because I felt like I had just run a7:15. I knew there was no way I would be able to keep this pace up, but I decided I was going to try my hardest. There was a big hill in mile 2. I'm much better at hills now than I was last year, but it still took a lot out of me. I passed mile 2 at a pace of 8:07. I was a bit disheartened by this, but I didn't let it affect me.

I knew that a PR was probably not possible, but I still planned to give the race my all. I felt this huge knot in my chest. I feel this pain whenever I run fast. I felt it at the beginning of the MCM 10K, and at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. It's this sharp pain, but I always tell myself that it's not a big deal-- I can run through it. So, I had this knot the entire time. I just didn't feel good.

When I was getting close to the finish line, I ran as fast as I could to try to get in under 24 minutes, but the finish line was simply not close enough! I ended up running my slowest 5K ever, but I did push as hard as I could, so I am not disappointed with myself. I know I am in better shape now than I was last year at the time. However, I am better trained for longer distances, and not the short ones.

I placed 102 out of 1257 women
I placed 14 out of 185 in my age group.

I'm okay with this-- but I can't help but figure out how I would have placed if I ran the 23:32 from last year. I had planned on going to the gym afterwards and running some additional miles, but I wasn't in the mood. I did about a 1.5 mile warmup and a good stretch beforehand. I'm already satisfied with my 5K PR so I didn't have a huge desire to set one. However, I am not at all happy with my 10K PR, so I need to change that on December 9. Time to go enjoy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Breaking the 4-Hour Barrier

I am member of the sub-4:00 marathon club.

On Saturday morning, I ran the Suntrust Richmond Marathon. The race was celebrating its 30th anniversary, having started in 1978-- the year I was born. It would have been cool if the first marathon was on my birthday, but they actually used to have it in October.

Before the Race
I had a major snafu happen at work that I was trying to control regarding the web site. It's still not fixed. This left me stressed for the entire day, and I tried not to stress over it. I was still trying to resolve the issue in my
hotel that evening, calling my Web team, my boss, and our IT person. I'm still stressed about this, but there is nothing I can do other than to urge my IT person to work with my Web team to fix it.

I slept surprisingly well that night, woke up early the next morning (as usual) and prepared for the race. I was so gidddy! I excitedly ate a pumpkin-flavored stalker bagel. I had a close eye on the local weather station, praying for no rain.

I knew it was going to be cold, so I bundled up well. On top of this outfit, I had a hoodie, and then a heavy ski vest. I wore two pairs of gloves. I also used hand warmers in between the gloves.

These worked really well. In fact, they were still warm at the end of the race. You simply open the packet, shake them a little, and they provide constant heat. If it weren't for those hand warmers, I know I would have had numb hands the entire time. Additionally, I put heat warming insoles inside my shoes. I knew I couldn't run in them, so I wore them to the start line, and removed them about 5 minutes prior to race start. They were amazing! When I took them out, my feet immediately started to go numb, but I bounced around as much as possible to prevent that. Both the hand warmers and the foot warmers were a lifesaver, so I recommend them to anyone who runs or races in very cold weather.

The Start Line
Brent and I made our way over to the start line. I didn't want to start with him, because he goes out much faster than I do. We were anticipating finishing around the same time, but his strategy was to go out at an 8:00-8:30 pace and then do some walking in the last 6 miles. Whereas I wanted to keep a steady 9:00 pace the entire time. So Brent walked up closer to the start and I stayed behind. I was praying that the race would start on time, because I had already gotten rid of my foot warmers, and every minute without them, just standing there was torture. It was in the upper 30's and cloudy.

Miles 1-5
After only half a mile, I threw off my hoodie. I didn't think I would warm up so quickly! I didn't see a mile marker at mile 1. But, having learned from the MCM 10K, I could not let a missing mile marker phase me. I just kept on going, hoping to see a mile marker 2. Brent later said that he saw this mile marker, so I don't know how I missed it. It was unfortunate because I never know quite how fast I am going when I first start. I need to know my starting pace and then speed up or slow down from there to hit my target. I hit the Mile 2 marker at 18:11, so I knew I was good. I figured I should speed it up a little, because I wanted to bank some time in the beginning- before the hills started. Fortunately, I saw every other mile marker on the course. I decided that I would eat 4 packs of sports beans in this race instead of my usual 3. So, I ate my first pack at mile 4.

Mile 1: 9:06
Mile 2: 9:05
Mile 3: 9:08
Mile 4: 8:44
Mile 5: 8:44

Power Songs: Lifehouse-- "First Time, Seether-- "Fake It", Foo Fighters-- "Long Road to Ruin"

Miles 6-10
This was the best part of the course by far. When I reached mile 7, I knew that the entire thing would be
downhill. It was fantastic! I held myself back a little bit so as not to tear up my quads too much. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I was so pumped! There was a "party zone" there with tons of people, music, and I felt like such a rock star. After the party zone, the course went by the James river. It was extremely scenic here. It was woodsy and peaceful. I love looking at water when I run. I ate another pack of sports beans at Mile 10. My hands were still holding up pretty well with the two pairs of gloves and the hand warmers.

The downhill hurt my left foot. This is not the bone spur, or the neuromas. Both of those injuries were fine! But my shoe digs into the muscle of my left foot a bit and it hurts. I was so temped to stop and re-adjust, but I didn't. And the pain passed after a mile or so.
Mile 6: 8:52
Mile 7: 8:38
Mile 8: 8:46
Mile 9: 9:01
Mile 10: 8:57

Power Songs: Jason Mraz-- "Unfold", Jimmy Eat World-- "Here it Goes", Fall Out Boy-- "Bang the Doldrums"

Miles 11-15
I knew I had banked so major time, so I was prepared to get some slower mileage here. One of the course's nastiest hills is Mile 11. I decided that I wouldn't exert any extra effort to get up the hill. I would keep my effort level constant, and just go a little slower. I knew I could afford it. I was really happy that I finished the mile in 9:15. It was slower than my target pace, but not that much slower, considering how big of a hill it was. I took my hat off at the halfway point because I was actually getting a little warm. I tucked it into my pants because I like that hat and didn't want to throw it away.

My halfway goal was 1:57, and I was so excited to cross the halfway mat at 1:56:55. I was excited that I could be so exact about meeting there- only 5 seconds faster than expected! This was extremely motivating for me. I told myself that all I needed to do was to run a 2:00 half marathon and I would be golden! During marathons, I tend to get really pumped right before and after the halfway mark. I'm far enough into the race to be comfortable with pushing the pace, but not so far into it that I am hurting and exhausted.

Mile 11: 9:15
Mile 12: 8:54
Mile 13: 8:43
Mile 14: 8:35 Fastest Mile of the Race
Mile 15: 8:50

Power Songs: Jimmy Eat World-- "Feeling Lucky", Fall Out Boy, "Don't You Know Who I think I am?", Maroon 5-- "Kiwi"

Miles 16-20
I had my third pack of beans at mile 16. This was the hardest part of the course. Miles 16 and 17 were mainly uphill. It wasn't very steep, but it was long. We crossed a bridge where the winds were strong. There was no crowd support. To get through this part of the race, I just looked at the river on my left and the Richmond skyline on my right. Tori Amos' "Bouncing Off Clouds" was playing, so I looked up at the sky to distract myself from the uphill.

There was a party zone at mile 18, and the crowd support was very much appreciated. At mile 19.5, there was a very steep, nasty uphill. This was probably the steepest incline of the entire race. Not really happy to have that at mile 19.5. I had been warned about it, so I was prepared. I wanted to cross the 20-mile timing mat at 3:00. I was very happy to be there at 2:59. This is faster than my 20-mile race! I was also excited because I knew that the major hills were done with.
Mile 16: 9:33
Mile 17: 9:09
Mile 18: 9:04
Mile 19: 8:51
Mile 20: 9:09

Power Songs: Tori Amos-- "Bouncing Off Clouds", Fuel-- "Not This Time", Jimmy Eat World-- "Let It Happen"

Miles 21-25
After passing the 20-mile marker, I told myself that I just had to run a 10K in under an hour to get my sub-
4:00. Easy, right? I had plenty of energy and I wasn't tired. However, my legs really started to hurt me at mile 21, after all those hills. I just kept telling myself that my legs were going to hurt if I ran or walked, so I might as well run. These miles were hard. The hills were gently rolling, but my legs hurt so much. I just thought back to the Miami marathon where these miles were such a breeze. I also thought about New Jersey and what I did to get through those. They say a marathon really begins at mile 20! I told myself that it was okay to slow down a little bit (I had so much time in the bank), but not okay to stop or walk. I was still strong!

At about mile 22, I ran into my former co-worker and that gave me a burst of energy. We chatted for a bit and then I proceeded on. He was actually there just coaching people and not running for himself. Josh "Flash" Gordon had told me that Richmond was like a 25-mile marathon followed by a big downhill. I pushed so hard to get myself to mile marker 25, and then I knew it would get easier.
Mile 21: 9:05
Mile 22: 9:10
Mile 23: 9:00
Mile 24: 9:12
Mile 25: 9:46 Slowest mile of the race

Power Songs: Finger Eleven-- "Paralyzer", Fall Out Boy-- "Fame Infamy"

Mile 26 and 0.2
It wasn't one big downhill, as I expected. Rather, it was a downhill followed by flatness, then another downhill, followed by flatness, etc. I was so excited by this point, but my legs were killing me. There was no crowd support until about mile 25.5, which surprised me. The last time I looked at my watch was at mile 25.5, and then I decided to just really focus on moving forward and stop looking at my watch. I knew I was on target for a 3:57. When the finish line was in sight, I was so happy! I gunned it across the finish line, and stopped my watch shortly after to discover that I actually got a 3:56!
Mile 26: 9:27
Mile 0.2: 1:47 (8:20 pace)

Power Song: Incubus-- "Light Grenades"

After the Race
Brent greeted me at the finish line. He had finished in 3:53-- a PR for him by 6 minutes! I had this inner chill and my teeth were chattering like crazy. We finally found Michael Hayden (3:01) and walked back to the car. I was soooooo cold! On the way, we passed a Funnel cake stand. I was ecstatic. I told the funnel cake vendor that he was an angel sent from God above. OMG- this funnel cake was amazing. So warm, so fresh, so tasty. I warmed up almost instantly. 

First half marathon: 1:56:55
Second half: 1:59:46
Finish time: 3:56:41 - average pace of 9:01

This was completely in line with my race strategy! I finished 86 out of 296 in my age group.I finished 366 out of 1470 women I shaved 9:02 off of my Personal Record, set in April 2007, from 4:05:43.I shaved about 50:00 off of my first marathon in May 2006, from 4:46:28.

Thank you very much to all of you who supported me throughout training and during my race. It means so much to me, and it really motivated me yesterday. Next up: Houston!

Monday, October 29, 2007

MCM 10K: 6 Ways to Screw it up!

I ran the Marine Corps Marathon 10K on Sunday while my friends were running the full marathon. I had a great time-- but my actual race performance was awful. I thought that I was pretty much guaranteed a Person Record (PR), and a significant one, going into this race.

My 10K PR is not in line with my other ones, and I know that I am capable of covering 6.2 miles in about 48 minutes and change. Hitting a 7:45 pace should have been a breeze (considering I ran a 5-miler at this pace in March, when I wasn't as fast as I am now), but instead the breeze overtook me and did murder to my race.

1. Delay the start by 20 minutes.
There was some barricade in the road and it took them awhile to remove it and so the race was delayed. Carlton (a Big Cat) told me to be sure I warmed up for at least half a mile prior to this race, which I did. But I stood at the start line for about 25 minutes in the cold, windy weather. By the time the gun went off, I was very stiff, and I found it hard to put one leg in front of the other. The first mile was 8:15, and I was aiming for a 7:45. My legs felt so heavy and stiff, and I had lost all the benefits of my warmup.

2. Race in breezy weather.
The Marine Corps Marathon was windy last year, but since I was running the marathon at a slower pace than my 10K pace, it didn't really affect my performance. But it's very hard to run a 10K pace directly into the wind. I wasn't mentally prepared for it to be so windy, and I had a hard time running through the wind resistance and it shot down my morale.

3. Have the Wheel Chair racers from the marathon PLOW through the race.
After about two miles, I heard loud sirens. I moved all the way over the the left and kept racing. There were three motorcycles with sirens, one police car, and about 2-3 wheelchair racing participants following them. This was a huge distraction for me. I was trying to race a 10K and I had to be sure I
wasn't plowed over by motorcycles, the police car and the wheelchair racers. This threw me off, as did the weather and the delayed start. I finished mile 2 in 7:48, but I knew that wasn't fast enough to make up for the first mile.

4. Put the mile markers in the WRONG location.
Mile markers are the most basic necessity of the race. Who would suspect at the Marine Corps Marathon they would get the mile markers wrong???? I was waiting for mile marker 4, and it never came. As my watch said 8:00 and then 8:15 and then 8:30 with no mile marker in sight, I started to get worried. Was I THAT slow? I kept running, and finally came upon mile marker 4 after my watch said 10:30. I was really, really, thrown off! I thought there was no way that the mile marker could be wrong, so maybe they re-routed us somehow during mile 4, either accidentally or for some sort of safety purposes. At that point, I realized that this was not a 10K race, it would be longer by about 1/4 mile.

5. Get a calf cramp.
I have never gotten a calf cramp in the race before, so I am not sure what caused this, except for maybe starting out after having been standing still in cold, windy weather for so long at the start. Once I realized I wasn't going to get my PR after mile 4 (and that the course probably wasn't a real 10K) Ifigured it would be okay to stop and stretch, so I did. Twice, for about 15 seconds each time. Normally, I would never have stopped-- especially in such a short race. But I figured I wasn't going to get my PR, so I might as well not run the rest of the race in pain from my calf.

6. Lose all motivation.
After passing mile marker 4 in 10:30, my morale was shot. The fact that I thought the course was messed up, my slowish times from the previous splits, the wind, the lack of warm up, and my calf cramp. I knew early on that my PR was lost so I figured "why even try?" I usually don't take this attitude. Even though I know I'm not going to PR, I still like to put forth my best effort. This was not my best effort. I stopped and stretched, as I mentioned above, and I didn't feel like running my fastest. I was not motivated to push myself.

It turns out, that the mile 4 marker was misplaced, because the mile 5 marker came up when I was only 6:15 into it. And I knew I hadn't run a 6:15 mile. This means that the course would be a true 10K, just with a misplaced mile-marker, and whatever time I got would reflect 6.2 miles. I tried to average the two mile splits in my head, but I knew they were slower than 8:00, so my PR was still shot.

During the last mile, the only thing that kept me going was the realization that I was in front of the majority of runners. I really felt like I was at the head of the pack! I wanted to at least preserve my placing so I finished fairly strong, with a time of 51:23. I was wishing I hadn't stopped to stretch, because then at least I would have been sub-51. But my mentality throughout the race was that if I wasn't going to be in the 49's, then I didn't care how slow I was. I didn't even stop my watch when I crossed the finish line! That's a first. I stopped it about 20 seconds after, and had to wait until I got home to know my real time.

Now for the good news. Despite the fact that this was my slowest 10K in the past year (and I ran a 10-miler at a faster pace! ) I placed extremely well! I'm guessing that everyone was struggling with the wind and the delayed start.

I placed 17 of 342 women in my age group
I placed 70 of 1675 women
I placed 242 of 2692 overall runners
I placed 1 out of 25 Elizabeths! Do I get an award for winning my name?????

So even though I am disappointed in my performance and my finish time, I am pleased with how I placed. But, of course, I can't help but thinking how awesome it would have been to have placed in the top 10 for my age group, if I had done in the 48's or 49's. I'm trying not to let this race discourage me from my upcoming marathon. My training over the past month has indicated that I have become quite a bit faster. I'm doing speed workouts faster and tempo runs faster. But I guess that it just wasn't my day yesterday. I honestly stopped caring and "gave up" for all intents and purposes about halfway through. We all have bad races.

It was a good training run for Richmond, with all the rolling hills. I am not sore at all today, because I didn't run at full effort. And most importantly, I had a lot of fun!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Marathoning as a Deadly Sport

On Sunday evening, and all day long on Monday, I had many people call, email or ask me in person if I had heard about what happened at the Chicago marathon on Sunday. Of course I heard! I was tracking 6 runners online (including my friend Randi who I was originally planning on being there with). I was glued to my computer all morning, virtually "watching" my friends cross each 5K split mark.

It was hot. Record-breaking heat, actually, and the temperature was said to have gone up to about 93 degrees. Most of my friends ran about 30 minutes slower than expected, except for Randi, who lives in Texas and is used to running in hot weather. Congrats to Randi for finishing her first marathon and keeping a steady pace throughout!

My cousin Brian even called me on Sunday night to make sure I was okay. (Thanks Brian!!!) He wasn't sure if I ran the race or not, be he also heard about the runner dying at the Army Ten Miler on the same day.

Someone just e-mailed me: "Did you see what happened at the Chicago marathon this weekend -- someone actually died during the race, and I think someone also died at a race in D.C. this weekend, too. Who knew it was such a deadly sport?" It's not a deadly sport! That is, if you train properly and don't have a heart condietion.

I don't like how the media is handling this. The reactions of my non-running friends and family were "OMG- Did you hear someone DIED because of the HEAT!" Well, yes, but this actually is not all that uncommon, unfortunately. Someone died at the Virginia Beach half marathon when I ran it in 2005, and also at the Marine Corps marathon in 2006. These are just races that I ran, so I am sure there are plenty of other marathons, half marathons, and even shorter races where people have died. In each of these instances, the person had a pre-existing heart condition.

What really annoys me about this situation is that people are blaming the marathon for that guy's death, saying that the marathon should have been shut down earlier, or even cancelled altogether. He had a heart condition! You can't blame the Chicago marathon for that. Furthermore, after this weekend's incident, people are now viewing marathons as deadly and dangerous. Even my dentist yesterday was talking about this!

Marathons, in and of themself, are not dangerous. They are only dangerous if you have a pre-existing condition, or aren't properly trained. And if you feel like the marathon is hazardous to your health while running it, STOP! I know that runners are stubborn and they will get to the finish line if it kills them. I understand that mentality. But this is their choice, and the marathon, itself, is not to blame.

The first time I ran a marathon, my father thought that something horrible would happen to me. When he called me a few hours later, he said "ELIZABETH!!!!!! You're okay!!!!!" He was shocked. He was surprised that I was talking normally and was energized and had no injuries. He was almost just as worried after the second marathon, but I think by marathon 3, he realized that I wasn't going to die from doing this.

So this one guy's death is being sensationalized because the entire Chicago Marathon was such a fiasco with the heat. He had a heart condition, and very well might have died even if it weren't hot. During the Marine Corps Marathon, it was in the low 60's and someone died. I passed out after a half marathon in 90-degree, humid weather. But I definitely didn't blame the race organizers for that. That being said, The Chicago Marathon was not well prepared and they ran out of water and gatorade. That certainly was a mistake, but we can't blame this man's death on that.

So now, marathons are getting this reputation of being dangerous and potentially deadly. And it annoys me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

20-Mile Roller Coaster

I ran the National Capital 20-miler yesterday morning, a race coordinated by the DC RoadRunners Club, of which I am a member. I've been a member of this club since February, but I haven't been on any runs with them. My membership got me a $5 discount to this race. Only $35 for a 20-miler with a long-sleeved Brooks dry-weave shirt. Not too shabby! The shirt is nice and simple—navy blue with the name of the race in white lettering on the left chest. The shirt isn't overloaded with race sponsors or anything. They even had X-Small! Okay, enough about the great shirt.

I left my house at 6:15, stopped at Starbucks for a coffee, and I was on my way. I like to drink half a cup of their "tall" coffee on race morning, any more and I feel sick. Thanks to Yahoo! Maps, I got really turned around on the way to the race. It was in Mount Vernon, an area of Northern Virginia that I am completely unfamiliar with. In my 28 years of living in this area, I've never had to go there. After making several wrong turns and using the map I keep in my car for times like these, I made it to the elementary school where the race was starting. I got my lovely shirt, stretched, put my bib number on, and I was ready to go.

The race had 500 entrants and was not chip timed. I'm not sure how many people actually ran it because the official results aren't up yet, but I would guess about close to 500. Everyone I talked to was using the race as a training run for a fall marathon. Most of them were running the Marine Corps Marathon.

Goals & Strategy

I wasn't quite sure of my goal for this race. I thought it would be nice to finish in under 3:00 (a sub-9:00 pace) but I wasn't going to kill myself and sacrifice this week's training to do so. However, I did want to gage my fitness level for my November marathon. Prior to this race, my longest run had been 16 miles, three weeks earlier. Then there was the PDR, and last weekend I had the hike. I did run 17 miles before leaving for Italy, but that was before all my injuries, so I don't know if that training was still "useful" for today. I didn't really taper for this race. I took yesterday off, of course, and only ran 3.5 miles on Friday, but the rest of my week was training as usual. I say all of this because I want to be optimistic about my marathon, which I will have tapered for, and I will have had more training for.


Everyone gathered around the starting area and the race director spoke. I wasn't really listening until I heard "No headphones! If we see you with them on the course, you will be disqualified!" I was devastated. I had my playlist all prepared. I even deprived myself of those songs all week so I would be really pumped for them when I finally heard them (a musical taper, if you will). Someone in a DC RoadRunners shirt who looked like part of the race organizing team told me that I should run with them anyway! I was shocked. I folded my headphones up and put them in the back pocket of my shirt. I figured I would try to follow the rules, but if I really needed the music, I had the headphones with me.

The weather was about 65 at the start and sunny, and it rose to about 73 by the end of the race. Warmer than the Philadelphia distance run, but not by too much.

Miles 1-5: A fast start
I went out too fast in the first mile, but got on pace for the second mile, when I realized I had done a 7:58! This was because I started close to the start line. With no chip timing, every second before you cross the start line adds onto your time, and I wanted to minimize that so my clock time would be accurate. I was with the fast runners. We ran through a neighborhood for two miles, and then went onto a trail in the woods. It was extremely hilly. There were very long uphills followed by long downhills. I felt good. I didn't listen to my iPod for any of these miles.

Mile 1: 7:58 (oops)

Mile 2: 9:00
Mile 3: 8:45
Mile 4: 9:14
Mile 5: 9:08

Mile 6-10: Give me my music!
After passing a water station, I decided to put my headphones on. The course was through the woods on a path, and there were no cars in sight and no race personnel. I actually saw about 5-10 other runners with headphones, so I didn't feel too guilty. And I saw them wearing them at the start of the race too! I had to fumble with my playlist to get to where I thought I should be at mile 6. I ate my sports beans after passing the 7 mile marker. I recognized this course. It's the Mount Vernon trail (asphalt), and I ran a half marathon on it in July 2006. I had bad memories of that half marathon because it was in the 90's and humid. I literally passed out after that race. It was constant rolling hills. Hardly any part of this trail is flat! I train primarily on a treadmill with no incline, so this was very challenging for me. Richmond has some hills miles 15-18, but there is no way it can be as hilly as this trail was. At about mile 9 we came out of the woods and ran through neighborhoods for about a mile. I took off my headphones and ran without music for awhile.

Mile 6: 8:37

Mile 7: 8:48
Mile 8: 9:02
Mile 9: 9:04
Mile 10: 9:25

Miles 11-15: Yay! A Roller Coaster!
I felt like I really got into the "zone" at mile 11. We were back on another part of the trail, my music was back, and I was actually having fun with the hills! Not only was the path hilly, it was also windy. There were lots of twists and turns and ups and downs, and it felt a bit like a roller coaster ride. I really enjoyed this part of the course and it felt like I was driving a car or something with all the steering I had to do. "Boys of Summer" by The Ataris was playing on my iPod, and it was perfectly timed for September 30. I might have run these miles too fast, because I would pay for it later. On the other hand, the pace of these miles probably saved my race from being disastrous. I ate my sports beans at mile 14, and of course they made me feel nauseous.

Mile 11: 8:46

Mile 12: 8:46
Mile 13: 8:44
Mile 14: 9:04
Mile 15: 9:06

Miles 16-20: Okay, these hills are NOT fun.
It started to feel really hot and I was wishing for more water stations. This course had water stations about every 3-4 miles, which isn't really enough. There is only so much water I can drink at a time without cramping or feeling nauseous, so more frequent water stops would have been appreciated. I passed a water fountain and contemplated stopping, but I didn't. There was a turnaround point and I was back doing the same windy part of the course I did during miles 12 and 13. I tried to rally that same energy and enthusiasm of a roller coaster ride, but it wasn't there! What had been enjoyable earlier in the race was now extremely challenging and tiring. The hills were really taking a toll on me. I walked for about a minute through a water station, and that did murder to my time. There was this massive hill during mile 19 and I walked part of it. I just felt so dead. I told myself I would probably be walking most of mile 20. But Mile 20 wasn't quite as hilly and (headphones off now) there was actually some crowd support, encouraging me to keep running and telling me that I looked strong. It helped. I got back to the school and we had to do a lap around the track before finishing. I had a very strong finish, but I felt like I would die when I crossed the finish line.

Mile 16: 9:30

Mile 17: 9:44
Mile 18: 9:27
Mile 19: 9:49
Mile 20: 9:12

Finish time: 3:01:20
Average pace: 9:04

After I crossed the finish line, it took me about 15 minutes to get "back to normal" I was really spacey, and I felt like I was going to pass out. I was also very nauseous and I wanted to vomit, but I can't induce vomiting. I was breathing extremely hard (like heaving) for about 10 minutes and a few people asked me if I was okay. No one else looked like they were having as much trouble as I was recovering. I saw a table with pizza and I couldn't imagine how anyone could be eating hot pizza at a time like this. Ewwww. I tried to have part of a bagel, but I felt too sick. I poured water over my head. I poured another cup of water down my shirt. Finally, after like 15 minutes, I felt "normal" again.

I am not really happy about how I ranked. But this isn't like a 5K or 10K where sometimes-runners come out. This race wasn't publicized very much, and 20 miles is no small feat. So it seemed like almost everyone who ran this race was somewhat of a "hard-core" runner. If I look at it that way, I feel okay about about my ranking:

12 out of 40 in my age group (number 11 passed me when I was about 50 meters from the finish line, and her time was only 2 seconds faster! ARGH!!!!!!)
62 of 180 women.

I typically rank in a much higher percentile in races, but I am trying not to be too discouraged by this. Oftentimes, I will run a race and not be pleased with my time, but my ranking is much higher than expected. This race was the reverse.

All in all, it was a good race, and I am pleased with my time—considering the nonstop hills. This morning I managed a recovery jog of 3.5 miles, so it's nice to know that I wasn't completely taken out by it!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Philadelphia Distance Run

This morning I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run. When I arrived at my start corral, I saw Abby, Kevin and Brent. We chatted and then realized it was actually getting warm. Abby and I decided to ditch our long sleeve shirts, so I ran them back to my gear check bag. I came back to the corrals and the four of us were chatting. I was wearing my knee brace because me knee starts to hurt after about 6-7 miles. So far, this brace has helped me on every long training run. I was hoping it would work today. In my shoes, I had Superfeet insoles, that I had begun to wear a few weeks prior, to help with my Neuroma pain.

I told the gang that I am not used to running with people, and that I tend to put my music on and just get into my own world. I'm not chatty. But we said we'd all start together, but we could feel free to go off at our own pace. I told Brent that I was targeting a 1:50 because I had done a 13.1-mile training run in 1:51. However, I only needed to get a 1:53 for a race PR.

Miles 1-3
It was very crowded during the first mile, so I knew I would lose some time there. I think we all
stayed together for about a mile, but I definitely picked up the pace after I saw that the first mile was 8:55, and I think that's when I lost Abby and Kevin. Brent, on the other hand, was still near me. These miles were extremely bright, and I remembered it from last year, so I wore sunglasses.

Even with sunglasses, the sun was directly in my face and made it hard to see. I also felt like it was zapping my energy early on, even though the temperatures were in the mid 50's at that point.

Someone yelled out to me. . . "Zebra? I thought you were a tiger!" Later, someone else said, "That's the best looking zebra I've ever seen!"

Mile 1: 8:55
Mile 2: 8:25
Mile 3: 8:35

Miles 4-6
These miles were the hottest of the whole race. I was so glad I wasn't wearing my long-sleeved shirt. It was around 60 degrees, but it honestly felt like 75 and sunny. I typically walk while I drink my water, but I was trying to make up time from the first mile, so I walked for maybe 3 steps with the water and jogged while I drank the rest of it. I need to master this skill because I kept getting water all over myself whenever I drank it. Brent was still nearby for these miles, and I was surprised he stayed with me for this long without going ahead.

I had to stop to tighten my shoelace at mile 5, and he waited for me. I felt guilty, but he told me that he wasn't going for a PR. Instead, he was going to make sure I got one! He had a Garmin on and was tracking the pace. We were trying for an 8:30 pace. He had been slightly behind me for the first 5 miles, but then I started trailing him a bit once we got to mile 6.

Mile 4: 8:38
Mile 5: 8:38
Mile 6: 8:26

Miles 7-10 
These were tough miles, but they seemed to pass pretty quickly. At mile 7, we finally got into the shaded area of the course. Once we hit mile 8, I really wanted to slow down, but Brent wouldn't let that happen! I told him I didn't think I could keep going at this pace, but he really pushed me. The biggest hill during this course is during mile 9. Brent put his hand on my back and gave me a slight push up the hill. WOW! It made such a world of difference. It felt amazing. I hate hills and just having him there to give me that little boost helped so much! I ate my sports beans (or most of them) and they made me feel nauseous. They always do, but I really hate the taste of sports drinks, gels, etc.

Mile 7: 8:40
Mile 8: (not recorded. Maybe I need a new watch.)
Mile 9: 8:37

Miles 10-13.1 
I was happy to pass the 10-mile marker at around 1:26. I knew we were in the home stretch, but I was feeling really tired. My legs felt great, my knee and my foot were behaving, and yet the pace was starting to feel really challenging. Brent told me that I would regret it if I slowed down. Someone overhead this and encouraged me not to slow down. She said it was just a few more minutes of pain for a really great time that would last forever!

We were back in the sun at mile 12, so I just listened to my music and zoned a little while staring into the sun. Mile 12 was actually the fastest mile, coming in at 8:16. Unfortunately, I couldn't maintain that 8:12 during the last mile, and slowed a bit. I knew I had given this race my all when I passed the 13-mile marker and simply couldn't sprint. I almost always sprint to the finish, but yesterday, I was physically not able to run any faster. That last 0.1 was actually the slowest part of my race.

Mile 10: 8:32
Mile 11: 8:40
Mile 12: 8:16
Mile 13: 8:33
0.1: 0:54

My official time was 1:52:43, for a PR of about 1:30. I also shaved 8 minutes off of my time from last year's race.

I was pleased. I felt like I was about to pass out when I crossed the finish line. Brent sprinted the last 0.1 but waited for me to cross. We got our medals, got our bags, and started looking for the food. They typically give you food as soon as you finish, but we ended up looking for the food for over half an hour. We finally found the food and then met up with our Big Cat friends.

What a great reunion!

 Priceless line of the day, when we are looking at our Liberty Bell-shaped metals, Michael says: "Mine has a crack in it. Do you know why?" Sorry Mike, I just have to get in a laugh about that one. I had such a great time at this race. Thanks to all of you who supported me during this, whether you were there or you tracked me live.

I placed 281 out of 1224 women in my age group.
I placed 1131 out of 5651 total women.
I placed 4055 out of 11629 total runners (beating over 60% of the men!)

My playlist wasn't that important this time, because I was mainly focusing on Brent's guidance for the second half of the race. However, the playlist was dominated by Fall Out Boy's latest CD, with only minimal Jason Mraz. The Foo Fighters' new song, "The Pretenders," is one of my favorites at the moment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

NYC 8.5

Sometimes the best race is the one you don't.

My friend, "Freaky McRunner" recently posted a blog about not going for a run, even though she wanted to, because her body was telling her not to. My body (as well as some friends and a few doctors) cautioned me against racing the NYC half marathon on Sunday, so I listened.

I arrived in NYC on Saturday afternoon without my timing chip. I own my personal race scoring chip, and I used it to register for the race. Therefore, I had made the decision when I left my home that I would not be timed during this race. The plan was to run part of the race for the fun of it, and then take the Subway or a cab to the finish line and meet up with my friends.

Jenna and I met up at Penn station in NYC. From there, we went to her father's apartment where we would be staying that night. Jenna and I were supposed to also be meeting up with our friends Randi and Kimberly. But Kimberly was injured and Randi (from Texas) had her travel plans fall through. So, it was just Jenna and me.

After a quick lunch, Jenna and I headed to the race expo where we picked up our bib numbers and t-shirts. It wasn't much of an expo because the race was sponsored by Nike, who didn't want any competing companies there. The race t-shirt, however, is now my favorite one of all time, which is saying a lot. They had both male and female versions, the material is dry wicking, and the design is great. Jenna and I met up with my friend George (whose MySpace name is "Runner- aka La Lynx") at NikeTown and chatted for while.

Afterwards, Jenna and I found an amazing Italian place to have dinner at, did a little shopping and then went back to her father's place to go to sleep. The next morning, Jenna and I woke up super early, because we had to be at baggage check no later than 6:00am. We took a cab to the start line, and then got into our assigned corrals. I was assigned to the 5th corral based upon my projected finish time, but I decided to run back in the 7th corral with George.

I realized that I forgot my iPod. And then I realized this was a blessing in disguise. Not having my iPod would allow me to chat with George, really take in the race scenery, and pay more attention to my body. Plus, the music's main purpose is a motivator, and I didn't want any motivation to run this race fast. At the start line, George told me that the best part of the race was mile 8. Running down 7th avenue and into Times Square. She said that in Times Square, there was a Subway that would take me directly to the
finish line. So, my plan was to run 8.5 miles at an easy pace and then stop.

The race started and George and I were off. Jenna was in corral number 4, so she was far ahead of us. George knows NYC like the palm of her hand and provided such wonderful commentary as we ran through central park. I told her that she didn't need to waste energy talking, but she was so proud of her city! And I was really lucky to have my own personal tour guide through the park. My foot felt pretty good, although there was some minor discomfort. My knee was also bugging me, from that bike ride in Italy a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful experience to be running in a race, but not racing it. I was doing this for pure enjoyment.

At one point, we passed my grandparents' old apartment. They are deceased, but for over 50 years, they lived in an apartment on Central Park West. We ran very close to it. My father grew up in that apartment and Central park was a huge part of his childhood. At around mile 5, I stopped to go to a porta-potty and George continued on. I re-adjusted my shoes, (thanks for the lacing advice, Josh!) and then continued to run at about a 9:30 pace, which was a minute slower than I would have raced at. (Based on my training, I would have tried to run at an 8:30 pace). It was a great feeling to cross the timing mats and just not worry about what my watch said!

At mile 7, I finally got out of the park. Don't get me wrong-- it's wonderful to run in Central Park. But it's rather hilly and it getting boring after awhile. At mile seven, the park opened up onto a huge street with a ton of fanfare. There were bands, balloons, cheering crowds, video cameras. I felt like such a celebrity. It was an amazing experience. Just running down that street toward Times Square was worth it. If I made my foot worse in the process, it was worth it to have that incredible experience.

I was running with my phone in my skirt pocket, so I started taking photos as I was running. As a result, they were blurry, but I think I captured the essence. Like George said, I saw a huge Subway sign at mile 8.5, just as I was finishing the Times Square portion of the run. I hated to do it, but I ran over to the side of the road, pulled the metal fence out a bit and walked off the course. I could have physically kept going, but the plan was to not complete the 13.1 miles and risk making my foot worse. Plus, my knee was really bugging me (and I am getting it checked out on Thursday). My knee actually hurt more than my stress-fractured foot, and it had been my that had prevented me from doing the long runs I had wanted to in previous weeks.

I kept reminding myself that I was doing the best thing for my body, and I had my sights set on the Chicago Marathon. Chicago is much more important to me than my other races, and I really think I am capable of running that race in under 4 hours. It would be a huge milestone for me.

So, I got on the Subway and rode down to Battery Park. It was a long Subway ride, and I kept thinking
how much I would rather be running that distance. When I run, it never "feels" like that long of a distance. I am always amazed that a marathon distance is like my commute to work and halfway back. It seems insanely long, but while I am running it-- it feels much shorter. I got off the Subway and saw people running toward the finish line. My heart sunk a little bit, because I know how amazing that feeling is! I saw people wearing the finisher's medal, and I knew that I wouldn't be getting one of those. 

I was hoping for a NY Bagel for post race food, but all I got was a disappointing bag of hard pretzels and a pear. I found Jenna, who ran the race in a super-quick 1:51. I didn't meet back up with George, but I later received a text from her with her time. Jenna and I walked nearly two miles to get to the Subway that would bring us back to her father's apartment. The walking actually hurt more than the running. Not quite sure why! NYC is definitely a walker's city, and I think the amount of walking I did over the weekend did more harm to my foot than the 8.5 miles I ran.

All in all, I had a fantastic experience and I knew I made a smart decision by not running hard, and not running the entire 13.1 miles. I didn't see the point of going all the way to the finish line if I wasn't going to put my best running foot forward. I really hope that this decision pays off for me and my stress fracture heals in time for me to adequately train for the Chicago marathon. As is, I have already missed two weeks of training, and several long runs. But many runners have said "better to be under-trained than over trained". In the meantime, I think I will hone my swimming skills.

I stayed in the city until Monday afternoon. I met up with my friend Austin and we explored the city as much as we could with my foot and knee bothering me. We saw the Simpson's movie, which we both really enjoyed. We went to a diner that I had gone to with my family the last time we were in NYC visiting my grandmother. I got my favorite multi-grain Belgian waffle topped with fruit and yogurt. Yum! And I finally got my NY bagel, which I had been craving since the end of the race. Special thanks to George (la lynx), Jenna, and Austin (all of whom read this blog) for a fantastic weekend! We missed you Jenny, Kimberly and Randi!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Cure Autism Now 5K

This morning I ran the Cure Autism Now 5K in Potomac, MD. I also ran the Elizabeth Goldman Treadmill 5K in Fairfax, VA. One race was hilly, painful, slow, and run without music. The other was pancake flat, fast, and featured some of today's best alternative rock hits.

I made a decision over the weekend to run the Cure Autism 5K without my headphones. There were several reasons behind this. The primary reason was that I really wanted a mental challenge, and to prove to myself I didn't need my music to run a strong race. Who knows, I might even do better!

I've been running toward the front of the pack and placing lately, and none of the runners around me are listening to iPods, so I figured I would ditch mine just this once. I told myself that I would not regret this decision during the race or afterwards, no matter what the result was. I've raced without headphones before (with slow times) and I wanted to experiment.

I felt really good about this race. Yesterday, my hip flexors had been hurting, but they felt fine this morning and I felt very prepared. I did a 15-mile training run on Saturday, and have taken it easy every day since in preparation for today.

My father and his wife came! This was the first race that they have ever expressed interest in attending, and they actually showed up about 10 minutes before the race start. I was very happy to see them and have my own cheering section that would be waiting for me near the finish. During the race, I kept telling myself to "make them proud" and do really well, since they had woken up early on a holiday to see me race.

The race began, and even though I started close to the front, I had to do a lot of weaving and passing slower runners. I'm sorry-- but if you have a 6-year-old with you, do NOT line up at the front! I told myself it was okay because I didn't want to go out too fast.

After 7 minutes, I started looking around for a mile marker. There was none. At 7:30, there was a tripod that looked like it could have held something like a timing clock. I didn't see any mile markers or anything after that. It was therefore hard to pace myself and determine if I was going too fast or too slow.

Since I didn't have my iPod, I was more aware of the physical noises I make while running, as well as other peoples' breathing and grunting. I think I am a very vocal runner. I actually uttered the word "shit" a few times when it really hurt and I was pushing myself to the limit. I didn't notice the lack of music so much as I noticed the new sounds around me. From a safety perspective, I don't see how this type of running is any safer. Although I could hear runners coming up from behind me, it's not like they were trying to ram themselves into me.

I felt "comfortable" until about the last mile when things started to hurt. The course was extremely hilly. Lots of uphills and not many downhills. Before the race started, people had been talking about how
difficult this course was. The last 0.1 was an extremely steep downhill. So steep that it really took a toll on my quads and hips. I like to sprint to the finish, and this was one painful sprint. It sucked having to run up constant uphills for one extremely steep downhill right at the end, when I would have had the adrenaline to sprint anyway. I waved and smiled at my dad and his wife as I was coming down this steep hill.

I was really pissed at my time: 24:06. I ran a hilly 5K in 23:30 just a month ago. This one was definitely more hilly, and the slow start certainly didn't help, but it didn't make sense that I would add so much time on. In fact, the 5-miler I ran in March was run at a faster pace than this race. And my 4-miler from a few weeks ago was also run at a faster pace.

After the race, I chatted with my dad and step-mother, and my father was getting impatient, so they left before the awards ceremony. I didn't win an award, but that was to be expected. The race had 850 runners, and a lot of them were super fast. I did meet a really awesome woman who was just getting into running. She complimented my zebra skirt and then we spent about 20 minutes chatting while waiting for the awards ceremony.

I have no idea how I placed with regards to my age group or gender, because results weren't organized
Just met Cris (in the background)
that way. I left the race and headed to the gym for a cool down run. I stretched out for about 10 minutes and then hopped on the treadmill. Ah-- a flat surface! Ah--- my iPod!

My recovery jog suddenly got a burst of energy and I jacked up the pace to 7:20, ran at that pace for a little, and then settled in at a pace of 7:45. I told myself I would just do a quick mile and then cool down, but I felt amazing! The music was really energizing and I had tons of adrenaline. I ended up running an entire 5K, and beating my race time! My treadmill 5K was 23:50, and I wasn't even running at 100% effort

Considering I had just raced a 5K, I thought this was pretty impressive, and my self-confidence was boosted to it's pre-race level. And hey-- I came in 1st place! My award: A Starbucks Frappuccino.

I'm really sore now-- shin splint in the right leg, sore calves, hip flexors are killing me, but I am glad I did another 5K to redeem myself. I've been training hard lately and I've been sore a lot. The rest during my Italy trip is much needed. No more racing in July. The next race is the NYC Half marathon on August 5.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Familiar Ground

I ran the Ashburn 4-mile Twilight Festival last night at 6:30. The race started and finished in the parking lot of the building I worked in during 2003 and the first half of 2004. Next to my former office building is a Gold's Gym, for which my company haid subsized my membership to. Of course, I retained my Lifetime Fitness membership for the weekends. But during the week, I would workout at this Gold's gym during my lunch break or after work. I stated waking up earlier and earlier, so I began going in the mornings before work toward the end of my career at that company.

Before the Race
As I drove up to the race start, all the memories started flooding back. The company was bought by Sun MicroSystems shortly after I left, and most of the employees were told to work from home, and only come to the office occasionally. My sister still works there, and apparently nothing is the same anymore. I resisted the urge to look through the building window.

I had debated over which shoes to wear all week long. I have my standard Adrenalines, or my new Axioms, which I wore for the 5K. The Axioms are lightweight and designed for speed, but they provide very little support. They hurt my feet after two miles, and resulted in temporary shin splints after the 5K. I decided to go ahead and wear them, because I had done 4 miles worth of interval work earlier in the week, and I was fine afterwards. I knew I would probably regret it the next day, but it might be worth it to run faster.

There were quite a few people for such a local race-- there were over 750 finishers. I therefore had no hopes of placing, and was just aiming for a goal of under 31:00-- I wanted to average a pace of 7:45/mile or less. But when I got to the race, I wasn't expecting great things:
  • The race was at 6:30pm, and that's usually when I wind down my day. I am definitely a morning person.
  • It was still hot and sunny (about 75 degrees)
  • My left leg had been hurting all day for no apparent reason
  • I was still iffy about using my Axiom shoes. 
Given all that, I began to wonder why I even bothered. After all, I sacrificed my 14-mile training run this morning to do this. The only other person I knew at the race was my UPS delivery man from work. He delivers me all my shoes and running stuff, so he knew I was a runner. He had told me that he was running this race, and I said I was also registered. It was great to see him out there with his wife. He was aiming for a time of 32:00-- an 8:00/pace. It was his first race, so I was excited for him.

The Race!
This race was a two-loop course: 2 miles each. It was good because you knew what you were getting into for the second half. And there was a timing mat at the halfway point. The race started and I told myself to go slow. I wanted to start slow and finish fast. So, I ran at what seemed to be a fairly easy pace, but was shocked to discover that my first mile was 7:22. Shit! that was too fast. I told myself to slow down, and I did a little bit.

I took notice of my surroundings and I was running in a very familiar area, although it was much more developed since when I worked there 3 1/2 years ago. There was a whole new shopping center, and I ran on roads that didn't even used to exist.

My second mile was 7:54, and I passed the halfway point mat at 15:16. I passed my car and wanted desperately to change my shoes. The Axioms were killing my feet, and I could tell that shin splints were starting to form. I was mad at myself for wearing these shoes, and risking injury for a 4-mile race. I told myself I could just stop the race and walk, but my body kept on.

It was hot and the heat was slowing me down, even though I was well hydrated. My last two miles were about the same pace of 8:05, and I had a very strong finish.

Official time: 31:18
Pace: 7:49/mile 

I wasn't really pleased with this. I thought it was okay-- just mediocre. I missed my goal by 18 seconds, and my 5-mile race from March had been run at an average pace of 7:44. But then again, the March race was 30 degrees cooler, and in the morning.

Your bib ticket got you a pulled BBQ sandwich and a beer, but I passed on both and just opted for the bun. I wish there had been bagels. I went into the Gold's gym, where I flashed my old membership card at them and changed my shoes in the locker room.

After the Race
Inside the locker room, I remembered trying to shower and change as quickly as possible during my lunch break. I looked over at the scale. I remembered obsessively weighing myself on that scale, and I remember when it read 99 lbs. I didn't dare step on it now.

3 1/2 years ago, I was living for that number, and not much else. Had I run this 4-mile race back then, I probably would have averaged an 8:30 pace, which is decent, but definitely not as strong as I am today.

After changing into my more comfortable shoes, I decided to do a recovery jog on the treadmill for a mile. I wanted to keep the blood flowing through my legs, and I also wanted my mileage for that day to be at least 5, since I had taken the day before off.

After the treadmill run, I went back to my car and almost drove away. I felt some post-race depression/disappointment. The race was over, I missed my goal, and I knew my legs would be hurting for the next few days. BUT-- I wanted to see how the UPS guy fared.

I went back over to the Festival area and saw a free massage tent. I've never taken advantage of the free massages at races, but I did last night. The massage therapist was incredible. He knew exactly where I hurt, and really did a great job of getting the perfect spot. I've had quite a few massages in my life, and this 5-minute one was by far the best, so I am going to start using him now.

While standing in line for the massage, I received a comment that I typically get at races (and secretly love): "Do you run for school?" I reply with a smile, "I am 28!" I love that I can still pass for a 20-year-old, though.

After my massage, I started walking around, looking for the UPS guy. I didn't see him, but they were giving awards, so I decided to watch. When they started giving out awards for my age group, the 1st place winner had a time that was only one minute faster than me. So, my ears perked up for 2nd pace, and they called my name! I was shocked. As I said, this race had over 750 people, and I wasn't all that pleased with my performance. I went up to the announcer and I received a really nice Mizuno Duffle bag.

Anyway, the bag is really nice, and I'll probably use it for the NYC half marathon and VA Beach half marathon. I then saw the UPS guy and he was happy to see me with my award. He had averaged an 8:20 pace and was pleased with that.

I made my way back to my car and drove the familiar route home. When I got there, I took all the ice from my ice maker and put it in the bathtub along with cold water from the faucet. This ice bath lasted all of 4 minutes because it was so uncomfortable. I hope it helped! I looked at the results, which were already posted online.

I finished 2 out of 66 in my age group, which is twice the size of my age group when I ran the 8K a few weekends ago (also placing 2nd). Looking at the age group above mine, there were six runners who came in under 30:00. I am NOT looking forward to turning 30 and having to compete with that! On the plus side, maybe it shows that people get faster after they hit 30.

I fell asleep wishing I had done better in that race, but then, all of a sudden, I started laughing out loud. I brought home an award, and I was still not pleased? Damn! Talk about being a harsh critic. With that thought, I drifted off to sleep.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Running Reflections

Lately I have been thinking about my strategy for the next few months and training for the Chicago Marathon. I've always been hesitant to follow a formal plan (aside from getting those long runs in) because I like to train based upon how my body feels that day. I have enough motivation to run 6 days a week without a pre-formulated program in front of me.

But I want to get faster. So, I found this program in the July issue of Runner's World called the "Veteran" program. I made slight modifications based on my races and vacation, and then put the program into my own personal calendar. I'm going to stick to it so long as my body feels okay with what the program recommends on any given day.

My goal for Chicago will be 3:55. If my training runs indicate that I can do it faster as October 7 approaches, then I will aim for a 3:50. However, I will be very content with anything under 4 hours! My strategy for the past two months has been to recover from the NJ marathon and do shorter, faster races. I want to build a faster "base" so that when I add on miles to my long runs, those will be faster.

I've done two 10Ks, an 8K, and a 5K. I have a 4-miler coming up next Saturday and a 5K on July 4th. After that, my short races end and I will run two half marathons: The NYC half marathon on August 5 and the VA Beach half marathon on September 2. I'm still learning as I go along. I believe I have a lot more to learn.

One of my biggest challenges in training is to not go too fast! On Friday, I was supposed to take it easy and do 5 slowish miles. This was because I had been planning a long run for Saturday and wanted to conserve energy. But, I got carried away and 5 slow miles turned into 6 fast ones, so my legs were sore on Saturday. I opted out of the Saturday long run, took the day off from exercise entirely, and went for my 13-miler this morning.

I went shortly after sunrise at 6:00am. The temperature started at about 68 and rose to about 75. My route is hilly for the first half and flat for the second half, including two steep up/down hills. My goal was to run the 13 miles in under two hours, and to ideally keep the pace under 9:00/mile. I ended up really surprising myself by running much faster than expected, even though the pace felt very comfortable.

I had my iPod shuffle, and it played nearly all my favorite songs! And that shuffle has over 200 songs on it, so it was quite a coincidence. My first mile was 8:59, and I gradually sped up to a 7:51 for the last mile. I ran this training run faster than my half marathon PR, coming in at 1:51:53, with an average pace of 8:36/mile. I was truly surprised (especially with heat and hills), and the only explanation I can think of is that these shorter races have been very good for my speed. And the day off yesterday was definitely the right decision, although I felt so lazy. I have no idea what to expect for the NYC half marathon in terms of weather, and it could be a scorcher on August 5. But at least I know what I am capable of and what to shoot for in NYC.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Double Header!

My first 10K and second race ever was the Lawyer's Have Heart 10K in 2005, which a friend of mine convinced me to run. I typically ran 5-6 miles on a treadmill, so I figured I could handle a 6.2 mile race. I finished in 53:08, which I wasn't particularly happy about because my treadmill times were often faster. But there is an obvious difference between running outdoors and running on a treadmill: hills and heat. 

This 10K only has two significant hills, and is pretty much flat otherwise. I would rate the course as "medium" in the difficulty scale. However, this race is notoriously hot. The runners I spoke with after the 2005 and 2006 race said that the heat made them run much slower than usual. I was really frustrated when I did not beat my 2005 time when I ran the race in 2006. It was partially due to a crowded first mile, the heat, and still recovering from my first marathon.

I went into this race thinking I could easily beat my PR from two weeks ago of 49:55. But once the race started, I thought twice. The race starts under a bridge, and then is sunny for most of the way. Parts are shaded, but most of the course is without shade.

As soon as I got out from under the bridge, I knew a PR was unrealistic. It was sweltering hot and I hadn't even started running. I think it was around 76-78 degrees, but it felt like it was in the 90s while running. The humidity didn't help, either. So, from the very beginning I decided I would enjoy the race and treat it like a good training run.

My first two miles were 8:00 and 7:40, but they felt comfortable. The second half of the race was
another story. The heat really started to take its toll on me and I slowed down dramatically. I was putting much MORE effort in during the last three miles, and yet going a lot slower. I hit the 5K marker at 25:15, pace of 8:07. I really wanted to stop and walk. I only actually walked twice-- at the water stations, but instead of walking, I did the "survival shuffle" just to get myself through those last two miles.

I was thinking I would just be happy to beat my 2005 time. Hell, I would be happy to come in in less than an hour! It was brutally hot. I won't say that this is the hottest race I've run, because I did a half marathon last July and passed out afterwards from heat stroke. This is probably number 2.

I finished in 50:59
I placed 79 of 601 in my division
I placed 168 of 1276 women
Average pace was 8:13

This was 1:04 slower than my 10K from three weeks ago, but over two minutes faster than my 2005 time. This pace is slower than my 10-mile pace. BUT-- I am actually really proud of myself, and I'm not beating myself up at all for this. It was so hot, and yet I kept going.

Ironically, 50:59 was my 10K time during the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. And afterwards, I sped up and run 4 more miles. I could not even imagine running 4 more miles on top of that 10K, especially at a faster pace. Just goes to show you how much the weather plays a role.

Enough analysis of that. There was an 8K (4.96 miles) this morning that I knew about, and I had been considering it, but I never registered because I am typically way too sore to run the day after a race, let alone run another race. But I woke up this morning, and my legs felt fine. There was some lingering soreness in my hamstrings, but nothing major.

Since I didn't run the 10K as fast as I could, my legs still had some "juice" in them to go running today, so I went to the race and registered on site. My friend Brianna was also running this race, but was doing it with her husband (who runs slower than she does). So we met at the race start, and then met up again afterwards.

I've never run an 8K before, but I have done a 5-miler, which is pretty much the same. Actually, scratch that. My 5-miler was 5.2 miles.

Anyway, I didn't have high expectations from the race this morning because I had just run the 10K yesterday. My goal was to just keep running at a strong, steady pace, and finish in a decent time. My pace during the Ashburn 5-miler was 7:44, and I didn't expect to beat that today. The weather for today's race was almost perfect. I really wish that today's weather had been at yesterday's race, because then I know I would have set a 10K PR. I would rather have one really strong race then two just so-so races. But because of the weather, that's how it played out.

This course was very similar to my other 5-miler. Constant rolling hills. No part of this course was flat. It was far more difficult than the 10K course from yesterday. Up and down and up and down. There was a nice down hill at the end, and I thought I was finished, but of course the race did end with a nice final uphill. I know my legs will be killing me tomorrow from the hills.

I basically just enjoyed the nice racing weather, tried to keep my pace steady, and did not walk once, not even for water!

Mile 1: 7:40
Mile 2: 8:02
Mile 3: 7:54
Mile 4: 8:04
Mile 5: 7:53

Finish time was 39:36, pace of 7:58. It's about what I expected.

Considering I did a 10K yesterday AND this race was so hilly, I think it's pretty good!

I placed 2 of 25 in my division (ages 25-29)
I placed 14 of 116 women

The woman who placed first in my division was about two minutes faster than me. Of course I am curious if I could have beat that time had I not done the 10K yesterday. But I'll guess I'll never know! Tomorrow will definitely be a rest day!

10K Playlist
Red Hot Chilli Peppers- The Zephyr Song
Tori Amos- Almost Rosey
30 Seconds to Mars- From Yesterday
Live- Meltdown (almost had one of these!!!)
Anberlin- There is no Mathematics to Love and Loss
Tori Amos- Secret Spell
Jason Mraz- Common Pleasure
Incubus- Anna Molly
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus- Face Down
Anberlin- Reclusion
Tori Amos- Bouncing off Clouds
Anberlin- Readyfuels
The Love Theme from Flashdance

8K Playlist
Sheryl Crow- Steve McQueen
Five For Fighting- Devil in the Wishing Well
Tori Amos- Almost Rosey
30 Seconds to Mars- From Yesterday
Jason Mraz- On Love, In Sadness
Anberlin- There is no Mathematics to Love and Loss
Tori Amos- Secret Spell
Fall Out Boy- This Ain't A Scene It's an Arms Race
Anberlin- Reclusion
Tori Amos- Bouncing off Clouds
Anberlin- Readyfuels

Special Thanks to Michael Hayden for providing the iPod Shuffle!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Winning my first 5K

I wanted to run a 5K because I had not run once since the Turkey Trot last November. 5Ks are torture because you are going extremely fast and pushing yourself really hard, but the pain is over quickly. It's basically 20+ minutes of torture, for a victory and a "high" that lasts for much longer.

This is my third 5K and none of them have been enjoyable. In fact, each one of them felt like pure torture and I have always wanted to stop after two miles, and I always question why I subject myself to this. But then my mindset does a 180 when I reach the finish line. Thus, the 5K is a unique challenge in enduring the torture and just pushing and pushing as hard and as fast as possible.

My Personal Record for this distance was 23:32, and based on my training, I was hoping to run this race in less than 23:00. But the course was more challenging than expected.I would consider this course to be the "Boston Marathon" of 5Ks. The first mile is a steep downhill, and the last two miles are a gradual uphill.

I had read an article in Runner's World where they did a study of 5K times, and the study found that a good strategy is to actually go out faster than your anticipated pace. The runners who did this actually held this pace throughout the race, even though they didn't expect to. So I went out fast, and the first mile was a steep downhill, resulting in a 6:48 mile. I could hardly believe it. The second mile was mainly uphill, resulting in a 7:58. I wasn't happy about this, but I figured it was okay because I had banked myself some time with the first mile.

By the third mile, I felt like I was about to die. I was sweating profusely, the humidity was really hitting me hard, and my lungs were killing me. I really wanted to slow down and I was so close to just chalking
the race up to a loss and walking. I knew I wasn't going to get under 23 minutes, and I probably wouldn't beat my time from November. But then I realized that I had not seen any women ahead of me the whole race. I started the race at the front of the pack, and gunned it with a bunch of men, but I was fairly certain that I was in the lead in terms of women. When I realized I could actually win the race, I was motivated to keep going.

As I approached mile marker 3, I realized I could get a new PR if I sprinted. I did my fastest sprint ever, and came in at 23:30-- beating my PR by 2 seconds!

I felt like death for about two minutes afterwards, as I was gasping for air. But eventually I caught my breath and was fine. About 20 minutes later, the results were posted on the wall in order of finish. I scanned down the list of names, and I didn't see any female names ahead of me. And there was a "1" next to my name. I could hardly believe it!

As I waited for the awards ceremony, they handed out some door prizes. I won one of those! I won these amazingly good Oatmeal Raisin cookies from the Great Harvest Bread Company. I sat down at a table with another girl who was by herself and seemed to be around my age. She was super nice and we started chatting.

Finally, they began the awards ceremony. I was surprised that I was actually not the first female finisher.
There was a 15-year-old by the name of Tomoka, who I had mistaken for a male in the results, who was actually the first female finisher. Time of 21:28. I was the 2nd female finisher, and 1st place for my division.

I finished 1st in my division
I finished 2 of 126 females
I finished 33 of 252 total runners (male and female)

My award is cool. It's this glass statue/plaque that says 1st place, Herndon 5K Festival. It was totally worth the pain and agony of mile 3!

My next race is a 10K on Saturday. I have minor shin splits at the moment because I wore lightweight racing shoes (non-supportive), but I hope they go away soon.