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.