Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blood From a Turnip

"Setting a PR in the 5K is like squeezing blood from a turnip," one of my wise runner friends once told me. Back in June 2007, I squeezed two seconds out of it, down to 23:30. I hadn't squeezed anything since. . . until today!

I ran the 20th annual Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K in Centreville, VA. This is a large 5K with about 3,000 participants. This is my third consecutive year running this course, and my course record was 23:32 from 2006. Last year's race was a disaster.

I was really hoping for and expecting a PR today. By how much, I had no idea. All of my training is targeted towards a January 18th marathon, which means that the bulk of my speedwork is only just beginning. Up until now, most everything has been focused on endurance and lactate threshold. A 5K is mainly a test of your VO2 Max, and I haven't been doing that kind training.

The weather was sunny with no wind, and the temperature was a frigid 33 degrees. I wore tights, and actually put my skirt over my tights for the first time ever. It was surprisingly comfortable. I wore my lightweight Mizuno Elixirs which are simply awesome for short races and speedwork. The course was rolling hills, with two longer/steeper hills (but that weren't terrible).

My strategy for this race was to not go out too fast (I ruin almost all my short races this way) and to not look at my watch. I wanted to wear a watch so I would know my time immediately, but I didn't want to look at it. I lined up toward the front, but not the very front. I didn't want to go out too fast so I made sure I was back some. The people around me were talking about running a pace of 8:30, and I was hoping for about 7:30, but I didn't move. The race started and it was really crowded. I didn't want to expend energy weaving through too many people, and I didn't want to go out too fast, so I just tried to stay relax and go with it.

I came to the first mile marker and hit the split button. I wanted to record my splits but not look at them. Well, I "accidentally" saw that I ran a 7:54. Not good. (I would later learn that this was more like a 7:50 because I started my watch too soon). I told myself not to worry and that I could easily run the rest of the race at a pace of 7:20. And that's exactly what I did.

I gave myself a bit of a push and I told myself to just maintain that faster pace. I passed a bunch of people at this point, weaving through them left and right, but I was determined to run at my pace and not let the crowd stop me from getting a PR. I zoned out. I focused on the music in my iPod. There were two long hills. I told myself that I had been training on hills so not to be intimidated.

All of a sudden, I noticed that I was turning back onto the main "drag" that meant that the race was almost over. I didn't even see the second mile marker. I looked at my watch and it read 19:04. Where did all that time go!? It just went by soooo fast because I was so focused, or perhaps I was zoned. Whatever I was doing, it worked.

Someone on the Runner's World forums said that you are supposed to feel like you are on the verge of vommiting during a 5K. So, I reminded myself that the pain I was feeling was normal and good, and that I could survive just a few more minutes of it. I told myself that I could NOT slow down and that I would sprint to the finish. I was grunting loudly. Every 15 seconds or so, I would let out this loud grunt that was totally incontrollable and really embarassing!

As I approached the finish line, I looked at the clock, which read 23:35. I knew I had a PR so I just did this sprint, and passed a few runners in the last 50 meters or so.

My official time was 23:22, with an average pace of 7:31.
This is a 5K PR by 8 seconds, and a course PR by 10 seconds.

I placed 5 of 136 women aged 30-34, beating 96.3% of them.
I placed 56 of 1421 total women, beating 96.1% of them.

After the race, I ran another 5 miles at a pace of about 8:50. Including the warmup and the race, I ran 9.1 miles today.

I'm very pleased with my performance, especially since this is the ONLY 5K where I have ever run negative splits. Maybe the crowd at the beginning was a blessing in disguise.

Time for Turkey! Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog readers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Half Marathon PR, Long Overdue!

Going into this race, I felt like a PR was pretty much a guarantee, provided that the weather didn't interfere. I set my half marathon PR of 1:50:43 (8:27 pace) back in January in Houston, and I hadn't even been running in the three weeks leading up to it due to an injury.

Part of my success there was due to the fact that I told myself to relax and have fun with it. I learned that the less pressure I put on myself while racing, the better. I expected a half marathon PR back in August when I ran the VA Beach half marathon, but due to the wicked humidity, and the fact that I was coming down with a nasty virus (that the race worsened, like 10 fold), I ended up with a disappointing 2:03, and I felt like death when the race was over.

On Friday night, I arrived at the hotel that I had booked last-minute. They had forecasted major thunderstorms for Saturday morning, so I figured I would rather face rush-hour traffic with no thunderstorms on Friday than have to deal with that on race morning. The hotel was really nice, and it was located about 15 minutes away from the race. I found a small Italian restaurant nearby and I ordered ziti marinara for carry out and ate it in my hotel room. I am not sure how an Italian restaurant can mess up something so simple, but this pasta was awful.

I also realized that this was the first race that I had ever traveled to where I was alone. Usually I go to races where I know someone who lives there, or I travel with somebody. But for the first time, I was carb-loading alone.

Race Morning 
I looked out my window and there was no rain. All the weather web sites were still forecasting a 100% chance of rain during the race with 100% humidity. Temps were supposed to be in the lower 60's. I ended up wearing a sports bra (no shirt to cling to me if it got wet) and a hat to keep the water off of my face.

I drove to the site of the race and calmly told myself not to panic as I could not find parking. So many roads were blocked off, that I couldn't get to the lots that the race web site said to use. At one point, I found myself going down a dark alley under the stadium and I was all freaked out. I finally found a lot that was really close to the start line, but that the web site hadn't mentioned.

Miles 1-4 
The race started and memories of the marathon from last year came flooding back. The first two miles were on the same streets and I just reminded myself of how it took a while to get into my "groove"
Mile 1
back then, so it was okay to not feel great at the beginning. I really didn't want to go out too fast, or waste energy weaving through people, so I let the crowd set the pace. It felt like a pace of 8:45, and I told myself that any pace was acceptable for mile one, but it ended up being 8:15 and I was pleasantly surprised. All I had to do was to maintain that exact pace for the remainder of the race.

I carried a small water bottle with me for the first few miles. I was mentally prepared for a somewhat steep hill at the end of mile 3, which during the marathon, was the end of mile 19. I was thankful that it was only mile 3 and so glad that I wasn't having to conquer that hill at mile 19 again. After that, we ran on a track through a stadium and then around a large parking lot. This was cool because I could see a very long stream of runners behind me and ahead of me. Everyone was sprawled out around the track and the parking lot. I must have slowed down here, although it didn't feel slower.

Mile 1: 8:15
Mile 2: 8:14
Mile 3: 8:10
Mile 4: 8:23

Miles 5-10
During this whole time, there was not a single drop of rain. The temperature was in the mid 60's and
very humid. I tried not to get freaked out by the humidity, and just told myself to push through. I had my first pack of sports beans during mile 5 and my second pack (with caffeine) during mile 10. I ate about 3/4 of each pack.

Somewhere around mile 10
The course wound through some neighborhoods, and this was not part of the full marathon course. There was no mile marker 5, (or at least I didn't see it) and I told myself not to worry about it and just keep going. I crossed the 10K timing mat at 51:03, which was perfect! This was a pace of 8:13, and exactly on target with where I wanted to be. I wondered if my friends were getting the text messages they signed up for. I would later find out that the timing system was completely messed up.

Mile marker 9 was misplaced and this messed me up. According to my watch, I ran a 6:43 mile, which I knew was not correct. However, there was a downhill during that mile, and I did feel fast, so I figured there was a good possibility that I had run a sub-8:00 mile. I told myself to slow down so that I wouldn't hit the wall during the last few miles. This was a mistake. I came to the next mile marker in 10:21. I had no idea what those two miles averaged at the time, but it ended up being the slowest part of my race.

Mile 5: 8:09
Mile 6: 8:09 (both of these miles averaged 16:18)
Mile 7: 8:18
Mile 8: 8:15
Mile 9: 6:23 (probably around 8:15)
Mile 10: 10:23 (probably around 8:45)

Miles 11-13.1 
I was finally in the home stretch. I told myself that nothing could stop me now! Well, the wind did its best to stop me. By this point, the temperature had risen to about 68 degrees, with high humidity, and the winds were really picking up. I couldn't draft off of anyone because there was no one close
enough to me. I never felt like the wind was at my back-- it seemed like a strong headwind for these last three miles.

I was looking forward to that last mile because I knew that it was mainly downhill. It was mainly downhill, but I was also fighting wind, so it was a really weird sensation. The last quarter of a mile was a steep downhill and I wanted to make the most of it. I lengthened my stride farther than it's ever been and I felt like I was flying. I was afraid of slipping on the wet pavement, but I stayed focus and tried to really hammer it home with the help of that downhill.

I sprinted to the finish line and my legs were moving faster than I have ever felt them go, with the momentum of that hill. I don't know how fast the sprint was because I didn't stop my watch until a few seconds after crossing the finish line, and as of now, my chip time has not been recorded by the race.

Mile 11: 8:23
Mile 12: 8:29
Mile 13: 8:02
Last 0.1: ?

After the Race 
Because I have far too many race photos of me hitting my watch at the finish line, I waited until I was well beyond it to stop my watch. My watch time ended up being 1:48:45, but I'm going to call it 1:48:42 to account for the fact that I waited a few seconds to stop it. (Yeah, I am OCD that way).

Because of so-called weather issues, my chip time is the same time as my gun time in the official results. About half of the other runners have that as well, so I hope they correct it. I am really not a fan of the D-Tag. I think I have complained about it in every blog of every race I have run with it. My VA Beach half marathon splits were incorrect for about a week, and then they were finally fixed. I hope they are able to fix my official results, because this is a PR for me!

I drove back to my hotel, showered and checked out. I then went back to the race where I met some marathoners from the Runner's World web site for a beer and lunch. The marathoners suffered some major heat/humidity. It was actually sunny with temperatures rising to about 74. This was nowhere in the forecast!

Didn't Push Hard Enough? 
When I crossed the finish line, I felt amazingly good. I typically am out of sorts for about 5 minutes after a half marathon. I have never felt so good at the finish line! Nothing hurt, either. I had no
Crossing the finish
soreness or leg aches during the race. I felt like I could have kept going at that same pace for a few more miles, but it would have been hard to speed up. Once again, this is a testament to my endurance abilities over speed. I didn't feel sore or stiff for the rest of the day, and today, there is just some minor soreness.

The good news is that I won't have to sacrifice this week of training due to recovery. I will hopefully be able to log another 50-mile week instead of having to take extra days off for recovery. This was not my "A" race, so it makes sense that I didn't push it. On the other hand, I am really curious what I could have done if I had pushed harder. Or if there was no wind or humidity. I am planning on the half marathon this spring, so this just sets me up for even more PRs!

My time was 1:48:42, with an average pace of 8:17. This is a PR by 2:01. I have not set a PR since March, so it felt awesome!

Here are my rankings:

  • 25 of 334 for women ages 30-34, beating 92.5% of my age group. 
  • 126 of 2038 women, beating 93.9% of the women 
  • 423 of 3620 total finishers (male and female), beating 88.4% of all runners. 

I am very pleased with my rankings. Sure, I think I could have run faster, but maybe not because of the wind and the humidity. Next up is my annual Turkey Trot 5K.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Calm Before The Storm

I used to be relatively lucky with race weather. This year, it's been one weather disaster after another, for the most part! At the Shamrock marathon, I faced some strong winds, at the London marathon, periods of torrential downpour, at a four-mile, a 100-degree heat index, at the VA Beach half, 93% humidity.

Tomorrow, for the Richmond half marathon, they are forecasting thunderstorms, with rain heavy at times. Some forecasts predict that the storms will be over by 8:00am, leaving lighter rain, while other forecasts have the thunderstorms continuing on through the race. What this means for runners is:

- Wet, heavy shoes, with the potential to blister
- Lack of crowd support and entertainment
- Fewer volunteers
- Increased risk of slipping/falling
- Chafing, heavy clothing, etc.

I am worried about all of these things, plus straining my groin like I did in London because those muscles work overtime to help you maintain your balance on wet pavement. I am more worried about getting sick, given my experience at the VA Beach half marathon, which resulted in me being sick for about six weeks. And of course, I am agonizing over what to wear. I packed pretty much my entire running wardrobe! The key item, though, will be my hat with a visor to keep the water off of my face. I've proven on a few occasions that I race well in the wind, so I am not worried about that.

On the plus side, it won't be cold. It's supposed to be in the lower 60's, so I won't need gloves. I am seriously thinking that running in a sports bra without a shirt might be the best option to avoid a soaking garment just hanging on me the whole time. Body Glide will also be key!

My original plan was to drive down to Richmond (90-minute drive) at 5:00am and arrive at 6:30 for the 7:30am race. However, the storms are supposed to be quite severe during that period, which is not safe. Not only is it not safe, but it would take a lot more time than expected, and I wouldn't be able to "relax" and just cruise my way along. Upon hearing the forecast, I booked a hotel this morning, so I am leaving work at 3:30 to drive down there. There will still be rain and darkness to contend with, and a lot of traffic, but it will be safer, and I won't have to worry about that stress on race morning. I think that I would seriously be tempted to not even leave my house in those conditions!

My original goal was 1:47:xx, with an average pace of 8:10-8:13. Based on my speedwork sessions during the past few weeks, this goal seemed to be well within my reach. Heck, even a 1:46:xx was looking like it might be possible. But now, I am not so sure! My main objective will be to avoid slipping and injuring myself, and I am hoping that the weather doesn't dampen my mood. Being mentally "happy" and "excited" is a key element of racing. I likely won't have my iPod, either.

You can track me via text message alerts or emails by going here. I don't think you will need my bib number, but just in case, it's 5567. The race is using the D-Tag system, which is known for incorrectly recording splits. So if I seem to be running really fast or really slow, then it's probably just the D-Tag!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zipping Along

I gave myself some royal treatment this week. A pedicure on Monday, a hair cut on Tuesday (I have bangs again!) and a sports massage on Wednesday evening. Next Tuesday is my 30th birthday, so I am trying to really enjoy the last few days of my 20's.

Following my birthday, I'll be running the Richmond half marathon on the 15th, and then doing a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving.

Training has been going well. I ran my "first" 20-miler over the weekend at an average pace of 9:32. It's actually my 4th 20-miler, if you count the runs that I did in July, August and September. I have two more planned before the marathon in January, and hopefully one of those will be 22 miles.

I followed Saturday's 20 miler with 11 miles on Monday morning (including hills), 5 miles on Tuesday (including strides), and then 11 miles on Wednesday morning. That's 47 miles over a 5-day period! Wednesday's 11 miles was interesting:

- 2 miles warmup: 9:50 avg.
- 3 miles @ marathon pace: 8:29, 8:29, 8:28
- 4 x 800 Cruise intervals: 7:38 pace for each, 1:30 recovery jogs.
- 3 miles tempo: 8:03, 8:03, 8:00 (8:02 avg)
- Cooldown

The average pace over the 11 miles was 8:37.

I was surprised I made it through this workout as well as I did. I did not expect to be able to complete all three tempo miles at the end, but I did, and I even sped up on that last mile. I'm also seeing heart rate improvement in terms of my HR being lower than it used to be for the same paces.

All I need to do is steer clear of injuries and illness for the next nine days, and I will be ready to set a nice half marathon PR.