Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringing in a PR

I ran the Inaugural Ringing In Hope 10K today at 3:30pm. I've done the Fairfax Four Miler as my New Year's Eve race for the past two years, but when I got an email advertising this race, I opted to do it instead. The main reason was that I really wanted a 10K PR that lined up with my other race times. My previous 10K (47:55) PR had been set on a very hilly course and I knew I could do at least a minute faster. Another bonus was that the race was at 3:30 instead of 6:30, so it would be lighter out and not as cold. The past two years the four miler has had a real-feel in the teen's, and it wasn't fun. I also liked that the proceeds went to charity.

3:30pm was an odd time for a race, so I wasn't quite sure what to do about eating. I decided to have a sandwich for breakfast and a bagel for lunch. I made sure to hydrate throughout the day and yesterday as well. The weather forecast was calling for a real-feel of 55, which is actually on the warmer side for me. I couldn't believe I was worried about a Dec. 31 race being too hot.

I wore my Pacers singlet and my red running skirt. It actually ended up being somewhat overcast and about 52 degrees, which was actually really nice. On Dec. 31, I could have been facing high winds, rain, really cold temperatures, but I think I lucked out.

My husband Greg and I got to the race, got our bibs and D-Tags, and did a 1.5-mile warmup on the course. I noticed that it was rolling hills, so I decided to use my tried and true strategy of even effort: faster on the downhills and conservative on the uphills.

Miles 1-2
The first mile was way too fast at 7:15. But the first quarter mile was all downhill. So the downhill combined with the adrenaline of a race start made for a fast start. However, I knew I'd be running that quarter mile uphill at the end, so I was glad I banked the time. For most of the first two miles, I was leap-frogging with one woman who was running a steady pace, but I eventually passed her for good.
Mile 1: 7:15
Mile 2: 7:33

Miles 3-4
There was a woman next to me who commented that we were doing a lot of downhill running, which worried her for the way back. I thought that it was about even with the ups and downs, and the only hill I was really dreading on the way back was that final one. At the water station, I took water and poured it all over my head. I was on the verge of getting too warm, so I figured the water would prevent that. Another interesting thing about this race was that it got cooler as the race progressed. Normally it's the other way around, but this time the sun was setting, and I actually did cool down during the last three miles.
Mile 3: 7:34
Mile 4: 7:23

Miles 5-6
Finish Line
Every time I run a race, I end up with some mantra that helps me through. I usually think of this mantra during the first few miles. Today it was: "It does matter". Sometimes when races are hard and I start to bonk, I tell myself that it doesn't matter, there will be other races. And that it's okay to slow down. So today I told myself early on that it does matter, and that I wanted a solid 10K PR that I could be proud of. I'm used to slowing down a lot during the last two miles of the 10K and I fully expected that to happen today, but I insisted that I would maintain a solid effort. And it worked! I actually ran the last two miles faster than expected:
Mile 5: 7:28
Mile 6: 7:28

I actually got a boost during mile 5 when I was running just behind a guy who smelled really bad. We were running at the same pace, and I didn't want to speed up, but it finally got so bad that I sped up to pass him and get a good distance ahead of him. If it hadn't been for that, I might have run a 7:32 mile 5.

The Finish
The quarter mile downhill that started the race made that last 0.2 really a killer. I stayed strong up the hill, and then there was a nice downhill for the last 0.05. I looked at my watch at the top of the hill and it was 45:55, and I told myself that I had better come in within the 46's! I was targeting a 46:30, but would have been happy with anything in the 46's.
Last 0.26 (according to Garmin): 7:26

My official time was 46:34 and I placed 4th out of 46 in my age group. There were some really fast runners there who I was eying at the start line. Simply based on what these girls looked like, I knew my chance of an AG award was slim. I placed 20 out of 225 women, which was nice-- but I am usually in a higher percentile.

Greg and I did a cooldown and then went home. He ran a two-minute PR of 44:51. He just keeps getting faster! Tonight we are going to celebrate all the wonderful things that happened in 2010 with a nice meal, Rock Band, strawberries in chocolate fondue, and of course champagne.

This was the best year of my life: I got married to the man of my dreams, we bought a beautiful home together, and I set major PRs at every distance except the marathon. Greg and I have so much to be thankful for. I'll miss all the excitement of 2010, but I know there are many things ahead of us.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Secret Sauce of Speed Work

During 2008-2009, I didn't see a significant improvement in my shorter race times. I set some major half marathon PRs, but the 5K-10K didn't budge much. (And I'm not even going to get into my back luck with marathons and lack of PRs there. . . )

In 2010, I experienced a major spike in my fitness level.

5K: New PR by 1:01 (from a 7:31 pace to 7:11 pace)
5 Mile: New PR by 2:30 (from a 7:56 pace to a 7:26 pace)

I also set a new 10K PR, but the jump there isn't as significant because the course was insanely hilly.

While there are many factors that I believe contributed to this, there is one key type of training that I think has made the most impact: interval training using a heart rate monitor to dictate the pace/effort.

In the summer of 2009, I had a few meetings with a running coach. She taught me about heart rate zones and suggested that I get a V02 Max test to determine my optimal training zones. Since then, I've based almost every training run on my heart rate. During one of our sessions, I told her that I couldn't get my heart rate high enough (zone 5b) for V02 Max improvement. I had been doing classic 400m and 800m intervals and my heart rate wouldn't get high enough for the training stimulus I needed.

She then gave me a workout that I have sworn by ever since. 3 minutes hard, 3 minutes recovery. It's that simple. She told me to start with 4 sets and that I could work myself up to 6 sets during a training cycle. She told me that my heart rate should reach zone 5b (187-189) during the second interval and all subsequent intervals, but that it probably wouldn't get up there on the first one. It took me a few tries to get this workout right. This was before I had access to a track, so I ran them on a running trail that was on a slight incline/decline. The first time, I did the first two sets too fast and ended up not being able to do the last two at enough effort. My coach told me that it was okay to walk during the 3-minute recovery jogs. She said that in order to get your HR high enough, you need to have enough recovery time to be able to get the speed you need. 3 minutes is also the magic number for the amount of time during the interval. With less time, then your HR isn't in the zone for long enough. With more time--- well-- I couldn't imagine keeping it up for more than 3 minutes!

I've been incorporating this workout into my training regularly for over a year now. Depending on where I am in my training, I will do 4, 5 or 6 sets. I almost always do them on a track, except for this week when the winds were sustained at 20 mph, so I did the treadmill. The distance usually ends up being about 0.45 mile and the pace is around 6:35-6:40 (when I started with this workout it was 6:55). This is much faster than 5K pace, which is what a lot of prescribed programs suggest for interval pace. It's extremely tough and I have to use all my mental strength to push through them. But knowing that my heart rate needs to be at 187-189 for the workout to be effective motivates me to keep the speed up and not stop. The splits of a workout from Sept. 22 can be seen here.

Endurance is my natural strength and I have always struggled to get my shorter race times to match up with the "equivalent" of their long distance counterparts (apparently this is true of only 10% of runners). But now I think that I am about equal in both speed and endurance, thanks to these 3-minute intervals.

Note: I highly recommend programming this workout into a Garmin using Garmin Training Center. The 3-minute segments are pre-loaded so that you hear a beep when it's time to start and stop the interval. Heart Rate, speed and distance for each interval is recorded without having to press any buttons. And trust me, 100% of the focus needs to be on keeping the effort level up- not fooling around with a timing device!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Altitude, Treadmill and Reindeer 5K

The only benefit of having stomach pains kill your marathon and walking the last four miles is that you recover faster than if you had expended all of your effort. As a result, I was able to run a record 24 miles in the week following the St. Jude Memphis marathon, and that number would have been higher if I hadn't taken a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. (By the way, I posted photos of my painful finish in the St. Jude Marathon blog entry.)

The Wednesday following the St. Jude marathon, my husband Greg and I flew out to New Mexico to visit his parents. This was my first time in Albuquerque, so I wasn't sure what to expect. His parents live on the top of a large hill, so the only option is running up and down a two-mile long hill. I thought this would be a great hill workout, but the 7,200 ft, altitude made it nearly impossible for me to run. As soon as we started running, I had a burning sensation in my throat. I did feel abnormally winded for the pace we were going, but the limiting factor was this painful burning in my throat. We ran half a mile out, turned around for the other half and called it a day after just one mile.

The next day, Greg's mother drove us to a running trail that was at about 5,200 ft. elevation and that was more flat. This was a beautiful run. The mountains were amazing and it was exciting to be running somewhere new. As we got moving, I thought it was really easy. I had no more burning in my throat and our pace was decent. We knew that we would slow down when we turned around because it was a very long, steady decline on the way out. After two easy miles we turned around and things changed dramatically. Not only were we going up hill, but we were running directly into the wind. We hadn't realized how windy it was when the wind was at our backs. After one mile of this uphill into the wind I was exhausted. But we kept going and finished back where we started. 4 miles, 9:19 pace.

When we returned home, we were disappointed to find that it was going to be unseasonably cold and windy all week, with the "real feel" in the single digits in the mornings. I was fully prepared to spend all of December running outside, expecting it to be in the 20's in the mornings. But we've been having weather that's more typical of January and February so I finally broke down and decided to go to the gym.

Before I moved into my house back in April, I did most of my runs on the treadmill. There was nowhere safe to run in my area because there was construction everywhere. When we moved into our house, I didn't even get a gym membership, because there were plenty of safe places to run. At the end of November, we finally got gym memberships, but I was hoping to use it very sparingly. But for the past week, all of my runs have been on the treadmill.

I have two main objections to the treadmill. Yes, it's boring, but I can live with that. The first is the temperature of the gym and lack of fresh air. This gym is about 70 degrees and unlike my previous gym, the treadmills don't have their own personal fans. I overheat easily so my workouts have to be slower and I don't think they are as effective. The other objection is that there isn't any variation of terrain. I know I could use the incline, but that feels completely un-natural to me and I've had friends who have gotten injured that way. So I keep it flat. Staying at a constant pace on a constant flat surface really tires my legs, so I feel like I can't run for as long as I'm more prone to injury. I do occasionally throw fast strides in, or put the incline up for a minute or so, but that's still not enough.

Unfortunately, there is no end in site to the treadmill. All of the paths I run on are now covered in ice and snow and since I run in the morning when it's dark, that's not at all safe. I really hope the stuff melts and doesn't come back for awhile, but the forecast isn't on my side. So treadmill it is.

Lifetime Fitness Reindeer Run 5K
I signed up for a 5K race at the last minute. One of my friends just completed "Couch to 5K" and she chose this race as her 5K. The race was only two miles from my house, so I just couldn't turn down the opportunity. Another reason why I wanted to run this race was to get a non-treadmill speed workout in. The roads are dry and free of snow and ice, but my paths are not, so this was an opportunity to run on the road. Greg decided not to run this one because my company's holiday party was the night before and he didn't want to have to think about racing the next day. I'm not a big drinker and I didn't care too much about my time, so the holiday party wasn't a big factor for me.

I would have liked to PR at this race, but given that I haven't been doing much speed recently, and I
just ran Memphis two weeks prior, I thought that might be a long shot. It was 18 degrees out, but there was very little wind, which made it tolerable. I wore my CW-X tights, my red snowflake skirt, a lightweight hat, white singlet base layer and Pacers long-sleeve half zip. I held "hotties" hand warmers in my hands, and put gloves over my hands like mittens. Using gloves like regular gloves doesn't keep my fingers warm enough. I only warmed up for one mile and then headed to the start area.

There was no chip timing so I put myself closer to the start line than I might otherwise have. The race director said "go" without giving us a warning or count down or anything so it was an abrupt start. I ran the first mile in 7:09 and was feeling great. The next mile had a long gradual incline, so I slowed to 7:18. After that hill, I never quite recovered to where I was on the first mile, so the third mile ended up being a 7:16.

This race did not do a good job of enforcing the cones. There were actually cars driving right next to the runners and you had to watch out for them. This didn't affect me as much as it did some other people. I was chatting with the female winner afterwards and she said that towards the end of the race, people were yelling at her to move out of the way of the cars! There were also two hairpin turns during the last 0.1 of the race, which killed my final sprint. Both of them were icy, so you had to be really careful about it. I think I lost 2-3 seconds because of those. There was no finish line timing mat, so it was difficult to tell where the finish line really was, but I think I crossed it at 22:37 according to the clock. Official results have not been posted online yet (and yes, it's been over 24 hours since the race). There were no age group awards-- just awards for the top 5 men and top 5 women.

When I walked into the high school cafeteria where the food was, someone came up to me and asked me what place I finished in. I said I didn't know, and Greg said he counted 4-5 women ahead of me. She got my name and wrote down my address because I might have won an award. This struck me as extremely poor organization. Were they just hoping to catch all the winners in the food area afterwards to find out who placed when? And shouldn't they already have my address from my registration?

We stayed for a little while and learned that I didn't get 5th place, so I was probably 6th. Darn it-- just one away from an award! But I did pass about three women during the last mile, so I was happy about that. And no one passed me during the last mile. Definitely a strong race, a good speed workout, and a chance to see my friend in her first 5K. Afterwards, Greg and I went to the gym to run 11 miles on the treadmill. I was already dressed in my winter running gear, but there was just nowhere safe to run with all the paths being snowy. They never even plowed our neighborhoods. Most neighborhoods around us weren't plowed.

My training plan for the Shamrock Marathon officially starts tomorrow. I hope I won't be stuck on the treadmill for most of it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Uphill Battle for an Important Cause

I ran the St. Jude Memphis marathon yesterday morning. The company that I work for is a gold sponsor of the race because St. Jude is our charity beneficiary. As the director of marketing, I was responsible for coordinating our sponsorship and our involvement in the race. The company is relatively small, so it was quite a "high" to see our logo on all the shirts and on the huge LED scoreboard in Autozone park at the finish line.

Tour of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
On Friday morning, my husband Greg and I got a private tour of St. Jude Children's hospital. This came as part of our sponsorship. We expected the tour to be depressing, but it was actually anything but. The hospital doesn't look, feel or smell like a hospital. The focus is on the quality of life for the children. They even continue to go to school while in the hospital. There is bright artwork all over the walls and ceilings and our tour guide told us how the hospital came to be. It's really a fascinating story of how Danny Thomas, a man who had almost no money, prayed to St. Jude (the St. of lost causes) and immediately things started to turn around for him. His vision for St. Jude would be a world-class facility to treat childhood diseases that would be funded strictly by donation. The operating costs of the hospital are $1.6 million per day, and that's all achieved through donations. Of course, they could choose to sell their research and become for-profit at anytime, but if they did that, then the research wouldn't be freely disseminated and there would be special interest groups controlling things. Greg and I were both so inspired by the hospital and the generosity of all the people and organizations who contribute money to make it all possible.

The Expo

Greg and I manned my company's booth on Friday and we got very little traffic. Even though there was no shortage of runners at the expo, no one was really interested in what our technology company did. Which is okay-- we were mainly there for awareness and to show support of St. Jude. The CEO of my company ran the half marathon with two of his sons, age 16 and 12. They all did very well, considering they didn't really train for the race. (Actually, the 12-year-old trained and he ran a 2:11:02).

Race Strategy & Goal
This was not a target race for me. In fact, I wasn't even sure if I would do the full marathon based on how torn up I felt after NYC just four weeks prior. But I felt strong enough to run the full, so I decided to go for it. I didn't have a goal in mind, but I felt like I was a shoe-in for a PR, given my recent half marathon and 10-mile times. Also, given the fact that I ran a 3:51 nearly three years ago, and I was in much better shape now, 3500 training miles later. I decided that I was not going to try and BQ, but go out at a pace of 8:40 (just 9 seconds per mile faster than my PR) and then speed up at the halfway point if I felt good. I figured I would end up with something around 3:45. I ran the half marathon last year, and I reviewed my half marathon splits, which were based on feel and the elevation profile. Miles 1-13 of the full marathon are the same as the half marathon so I knew what I was in for.

The Start

Unlike New York, where we had to wake up over five hours prior to race start, we only had four blocks to walk to the start line. We left the hotel at around 7:15 and ended up walking there with my company's CEO and his kids. The 5K race started at 7:15, so we were able to see our CFO and his wife participate in the walk.

The weather was 54 and overcast. I was really happy about the overcast, but 54 was about 10 degrees higher than I would have liked. Last year, it was 27 degrees at the start line and I was really happy about that. I thought that as long as the sun didn't come out, the weather shouldn't hold me back too much.

This race uses a self-corralling system. I think it works a lot better than the assigned corrals. Instead of assigning you a corral based on a predicted time from when you registered, runners could choose where to line up. This was also a wave start, and corrals were released every two minutes. Greg and I lined up in coral 4, which included the 3:40 and 3:45 pacers. He was going for a faster pace, but we lined up at the front of the corral so that he wouldn't have to weave through people. Very well organized, in my opinion.

Miles 1-7
These miles were relatively crowded, given that both the half and the full marathoners were on the same course. My strategy was to walk through the water stations, Galloway-style, so as to preserve my legs. I did this in my marathon back in March of 2008, so I figured it would work again. I really didn't want to bonk and I wanted to play it conservatively. For these miles I was running in the 8:30-8:45 range, depending on the hilliness. I hit the 10K at 53:37, which is an 8:39 pace. There seemed to be an equal amount of uphill and downhill, and I ran based on effort. It felt very easy, but I kept telling myself that it should feel really easy.

Miles 8-13
I remembered miles 8-10 being the toughest part of the course last year, so I slowed up quite a bit-- to about 8:55. This portion was run through the woods and it's where Greg lost me last year in the half. The 3:45 pace group got way ahead of me, but I was okay with this. These miles were all uphill and I did not want to overdo it early in the race. I also remembered that the elevation profile showed miles 11-13 being downhill, but this wasn't the case. It was a net downhill, but those last few miles are all long rolling hills. It wasn't as if I was "out of the woods" when I got out of the woods. I didn't make up any time during miles 11 and 12, because they were hilly. Mile 13, on the other hand, was all downhill. I crossed the halfway mark in 1:54:30, which is a pace of 8:45. During all of my previous BQ attempt bonks, I had reached the halfway point in 1:50 or faster. So I knew I had set myself up for a smart race.

Miles 14-19
Greg finished the half marathon in 1:42:47 (a 5-second PR). He came to watch me just after I crossed the halfway point. It was really a mental boost to have him cheering for me. He also got everyone around him calling out my name.

According to the elevation profile, miles 14-20 were uphill. I figured this was a net uphill and that there would be downhills as well. I was wrong. It was just a steady climb, all the way to mile 20. I even said to someone running next to me: "Is this entire race uphill?" This was very disheartening to me because I was hoping that after a conservative first half, I'd be able to speed up during the second half, but I was still running in the 8:50-8:55 range on these hills. And by mile 18, I felt like I was running out of gas.

I had walked through almost every water station, pouring water all over my head (I felt hot, and the sun did start to peak through the clouds) and I knew I was well hydrated. I had taken my honey gels at the appropriate time, but by mile 18, I just felt like I couldn't handle the constant uphill nature of the race.

I also had to pee. I've only stopped to pee at one marathon out of the 11 I had done, but there was no avoiding it this time. Luckily, there were plenty of porta potties on the course so I didn't have to wait too long. Having to stop really killed my time for that mile and it made me realize that I was tired. This is why I hate stopping during marathons (except for the controlled waterstop walks). I never realize how tired I am feeling until I stop, and then it's so hard to get going again. But I did get going again, and I was still hopeful that I could gain back some time during the last 10K with the downhills.

Miles 20-Finish
Mile 20 was a nice downhill and I started cruising again. Suddenly everything felt good and I thought I could still PR, despite the bathroom break the slowness of miles 14-19. But I began to feel nauseated all of a sudden, and my stomach really hurt. I've been fortunate to never have an upset stomach during a race before. It happens to me a lot during long training runs, but never during races. So, I guess it was my day to finally join the ranks of the many runners who've had stomach issues during an actual race. I had to go to the bathroom really bad, and I started looking for places along the side of the road I could go. I really just didn't think I could wait for a porta-potty or a restaurant of some sort.

We were running through a residential area, and I asked someone standing outside of a house if he lived there. He said no and I said I really needed a bathroom ASAP. He told me that there were some porta potties up to the left. It hurt so much to run, but I needed to get to those porta potties, or I was just going to explode. Finally I got inside a porta potty and had a diarrhea attack. Ugh. It felt really good to finally go to the bathroom, but I realized how bad the situation had gotten. This was at mile marker 22.

The last four miles were just awful. Even though I had gone to the bathroom, the pain moved to the right side of my belly button and felt like a cramp. Every time I ran it was a sharp pain so I had to walk. It actually didn't hurt when I walked, but the moment I started running, it would cramp up. And as I expected, miles 20-26 were all downhill. It wasn't rolling hills like miles 10-12, this was just nice consistent downhill to makes up for 14-19. It was so frustrating. My legs felt good and I had a lot of energy. I didn't feel at all like I had hit "the wall" and yet my stomach hurt so badly when I ran. Other runners and cheerers told me "I could do it" and that's what you hear when you bonk. So even though I ran a smart race, and even though I wasn't bonking, I still had that embarrassing "I am walking the last four miles of this marathon" experience.

I really wanted to drop out. But I didn't drop out because I was doing this for St. Jude children. And I was also representing my company, a gold sponsor of the race. It would have been bad PR and I think I would have regretted it. The people I work with don't care how fast I finish, they just care that I do finish. Even a 5-hour marathon would have been better than stopping. If I had been doing this race just for myself, then I probably would have dropped out. But I was strong for my company and for St. Jude. Seeing the hospital and understanding the cause really helped power me through.

I was able to run for about 20-30 seconds at a time, but then the pain would get really bad. When I got to the last mile, I realized that physically holding the side of my stomach helped to some extent, so I was able to run for a minute at a time. Slight improvement.

In all 12 marathons I've done, I've never walked during that last 0.2. No matter how badly I felt, I have always run that final 0.2. But not in this case. I was in so much pain! But as soon as I entered the stadium and I knew that my co-workers and husband would be cheering, I held onto my stomach and ran through the finish line.

I finished in 4:14:38, which is my 3rd slowest out of 12 marathons.
I placed 57 of 188 in my age group, which is still respectable.

As I finished, the medical people swarmed around me, as they had seen me holding my stomach, I assured them I was okay. I felt nauseated and tired, but I knew I would be fine once I sat down for awhile. I made my way up to the suite that my company had in the stadium where everyone was waiting for me (I was the only one doing the full marathon). They were all very supportive and understanding. I was so happy I finished and didn't bail out.

Even though I am in the best shape I've ever been in (well, maybe I was in better shape in the weeks leading up to NYC) I ran my third slowest marathon ever. I went into this race with no expectations and I ran it conservatively, based on feel, and I still had a bad experience. I wonder when things are finally going to line up for me in and when I'll be able to run a marathon that truly reflects all the training I've been doing. The last time I ran a good marathon was in March 2008-- nearly three years ago. I only trained for 7 weeks, and I averaged about 35-40 MPW. For over two years now, I've been consistently running in the 40's and 50's, and my race times at other distances have dropped dramatically. Half marathon is down from 1:50 to 1:41. The 5K is down from 23:30 to 22:21.

After my experience with Bob Potts last may, I changed my perspective and I decided I wasn't going to use a BQ as a motivator. I was obsessing over it and it wasn't healthy. Since then, I've just wanted to run strong and put in good training miles. I feel wonderful about everything I've accomplished over the past two years, both in terms of my actual race times, and in terms of where I am mentally. I am much more relaxed about it now, although still as focused on training and racing to the best of my ability. So, I'm not really upset about this experience from yesterday. I'm not disheartened like I was after Bob Potts in May. I'm just wondering when I get to run a marathon when I say "Wow- I rocked it!" instead of "Oh, that was miserable." I remember how it feels to run a strong marathon. My first six were awesome. All of them PRs. The next six were plagued by injury, illness or bad weather.

I am just going to continue training and doing what I love to do-- run. My legs don't feel like I ran a marathon yesterday, because I didn't run a marathon. I walked most of the last four miles. I'm hoping to be back running by Tuesday.

If I can offer one piece of advice to marathon runners, it's that you need to love the training for the sake of the training and for the sake of it making you a stronger person. Your race might not reflect your hard work and dedication, but the important thing is that you know you've made yourself stronger.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K

I ran the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K this morning. It was my 5th consecutive year at this race. Here is a recap of previous races:

2006: My second 5K ever in 23:32
2007: Hot, humid weather, still recovering from a marathon in 24:19
2008: Nice cool day, set a distance PR in 23:22
2009: Just got engaged, 2 nights with no sleep in 23:40

So, there hadn't been much improvement over the four years of doing this race and I was getting frustrated with the 5K distance. But then in April of this year, I set a massive PR in 22:21, so it made up for everything.

Going into this morning's race, I was pretty laid back. I'm just coming off or the NYC marathon, so I am not 100% recovered. I haven't done any speedwork since the marathon, and my last "fast" run was the Army 10-miler, over a month ago. I didn't think I'd be able to PR, or even come close, so I decided to play it conservatively.

The weather was about 40 degrees and overcast. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, tights and a running skirt. I probably could have done without the tights, but I never feel like they slow me down. My plan was to go out at a pace of 7:20 and then try to see if I could push harder. I was thinking I would be happy with a 7:20 average. Greg and I did a 1.4 mile warmup and then found ourselves in the starting area. It was shorter than we had planned, but there were so many people mulling around that there was no clear path to run through.

Mile 1: 7:19
There was a great deal of weaving this mile, which I expected. But there was no way to avoid it. Even though I started fairly close to the start line, this is a family race with a lot of children who like to be at the front, 2300 runners total. Because of the weaving, I expected that this would be the slowest mile. In terms of elevation, it was gently rolling hills. Greg passed me about 1/3 of the way into the mile.

Mile 2: 7:19
There are two significant hills in this mile, so even though I ran it at the same pace as the first mile, I put in greater effort here. I eased up on the uphills and flew on the downhills. I told myself that even if I averaged a 7:19, it would be a huge course PR and a time I'd be happy with.

Mile 3: 7:07
I decided to give it all I had in the final mile. I was back to the gently rolling hills and I told myself that I could tolerate the pain for just one more mile. It still didn't hurt as much as it had in previous 5Ks, so I didn't think I was running at full effort, but I still pushed really hard. I think that in previous 5Ks, I had gone out faster than I should have so I was bonking at this point. However, I felt really strong during this last mile, due to a conservative start.

Last 0.1: 6:25 pace
I told myself that I run intervals on the track that are much longer than this 0.1, so I was going to push hard. I did push, and I ran faster than my interval pace (typically 6:35). The guy who I was trying to beat (a friend of mine who beats me every year at this race) finished about 4 seconds ahead of me. I just couldn't catch him!

My official time was 22:33 (7:16 pace). This is faster than I expected, and according to McMillian, predicts a 3:40 marathon. My recent half marathon and 10-miler time predict well under 3:40, so this was a relatively "slower" race. But considering that I don't think I'm fully recovered from NYC, I'm very pleased. I also think I could have pushed harder, but maybe only by about 5-10 seconds.

I placed 6 out of 372 in my age group (30-39), beating 98.4% of them
I placed 31 out of 1686 overall women, beating 98.2% of them

My next race is the St. Jude Memphis marathon on December 4. It's hard to believe I am doing another marathon so soon! My company is a gold sponsor of the race, and we have a booth at the expo. So I go down there and man the expo and organize our employee team of runners. (I work for a software company that has nothing to do with running, but they donate a great deal of money to St. Jude, so I suggested the marathon sponsorship). But I think I am jumping ahead to the next blog post!

Now it's time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my new husband and other family members!

Monday, November 8, 2010

NYC Marathon: Love in the Big Apple

My husband Greg and I ran the NYC marathon yesterday.

A year ago, Greg and I watched the NYC marathon streaming live on the computer. I told him how next year I wanted us to run that race together. At that point, however, Greg hadn't even run a half marathon so the idea of a full marathon seemed daunting to him. A few months later, we discussed the idea more seriously and although he wanted to run NYC, he was opposed to the fact that NYRR (the race organizers) charged $10 just to enter the lottery, so they were making about half a million dollars from people who didn't run the race. So I entered us both into the lottery with my credit card, without his knowledge. The next time the topic of a full marathon came up, I let him know that I entered us both in.

Lottery results were announced-- Greg got into the marathon and I did not. I wanted to run the race with him, so my only option was to pick a charity and raise money. I chose the Central Park Conservancy because it related to the marathon and because my dad's side of the family is from Manhattan. I often visited the park as a child. It wasn't easy, but I eventually raised the $3000 needed to meet my commitment.

Our Training
After my last failed BQ attempt, I decided to take a break from that goal and focus on training for NYC with Greg. However, I still ended up averaging 50-55 miles per week, with a peak of 58. Greg averaged about 45. We did most of our runs together, early in the morning before work. He followed the training plan to the letter, and the only time when we both slacked off was around our wedding and honeymoon in mid August.We didn't know what his goal should be. He'd never run a marathon before so we had no baseline. But as the training cycle progressed, Greg got faster and faster. He knocked out a 1:42 half marathon and a 1:14:00 Ten-Miler. Based on the various running calculators, these times indicated that he could run a 3:30-3:35 if he was well trained. Given that his training has been strong and that he'd run quite a few 18+ milers (including a 21-miler), we thought that 3:40 would be very realistic for him. I might have even encouraged him to shoot for faster if the course were flat. I ran a 3:51 back in 2008 after having averaged about 35 miles per week and only one 20-miler. Greg was definitely in better shape than I was back then!

As the race day got closer, I started to think that maybe I wouldn't be able to keep up with Greg. A 8:25 pace would be easy for him, and maybe I would break down, preventing him from running his best race. He thought the opposite. We both agreed that we didn't want to hold each other back, so we said that if one of us was struggling, the other one could go ahead and we'd meet up at the end. However, neither of us thought this would happen because we both thought that we were capable of a 3:40 based on training and recent race times.

The Expo
My uncle lives in Manhattan so we were fortunate enough to be able to stay with him. We flew into NYC on Saturday morning, made our way to his apartment and then to the Expo. As expected, there were no XS shirts left, nor were there and Smalls. This aggravated me to no end. I paid $185 for this race and they couldn't even guarantee me a shirt that fit! NYRR knows well in advance how many runners there will be and what sizes, so why can't they order the shirts accordingly and only give people the size they requested when registering? How hard can it be!? The NYRR representative told me that I should have gotten there on Thursday or Friday. I think that's ridiculous and I shouldn't have to miss a day of work to get my shirt size.

So I decided I would purchase a shirt that said "NYC Marathon," like I did when this happened to me at Shamrock. But no luck. All of the Smalls and XS's were sold out. Thankfully my Uncle found an XS shirt buried in a rack of mediums. And my friend George told me that the Nike booth had shirts that said NYC marathon, even though they were the official clothing sponsor. And then George proceeded to buy me the Nike shirt as a birthday present while I was off looking for Greg and my Uncle. Thanks George!!!!

Greg and I went to the "Niketown" store afterwards and got pace bands for our wrists that reflected the course's elevation profile. We figured we'd use this to pace ourselves for the uphills and downhills. The problem with the pace bands was that the font was so tiny and we had a hard time reading it while running. We agreed that I would set the pace and Greg would follow, since he has a tendency to get carried away and go too quickly. Ironically, when looking at our splits, he crossed the timing mats 1 second ahead of me each time for the first half of the race.

That evening, I put my D-Tag on my shoe, and was so excited to see that the D-Tag clip said "zebra" on it. So randomly wonderful!


The race started at 9:40 on Sunday, and yet Greg and I were assigned to a 5:45am ferry to take us to Staten Island. We took a car service from my uncle's apartment to the ferry, got on the ferry, and then got on a bus that drove us to the starting area. I can't believe what a process it was just to get to the start! When we got to the start village, we had about three hours to kill. This late start disrupted my typical race morning ritual. I had to eat more food than I otherwise would, and was hoping my stomach wouldn't rebel.

The good thing about the starting villages and the corrals are that they had plenty of porta potties (very short lines), water, coffee, and other amenities like Vasaline and handwarmers. Dunkin Donuts was even giving away hats. It was about 38 degrees so we were all very cold. I had several layers of clothing but my feet kept going numb.

The corrals opened at 8:20 and closed at 8:55 so you didn't have much time to get there. Greg and I were among the first in the corral. I was assigned to a different corral but I was allowed to join him in his corral because his bib number was higher. Unfortunately, that meant running underneath the bridge for the first two miles instead of above it. (There are three different starting areas: two above the bridge and one below).

Eventually they moved us toward the starting area where we waited about 30 minutes to start. There was a huge screen that was showing the elite men being interviewed, which helped to pass the time. This is where I shed most of my extra layers, except the arm warmers.

Miles 1-2: Staten Island and Verazzano-Narrows Bridge
This was actually my least favorite part of the race. We were running under the bridge so our Garmin didn't get an accurate signal. It's always difficult to determine how fast you are going when you first start a marathon so we just tried to keep pace with the runners around us. Wind was whipping
at us sideways, making it feel like it was in the upper 20's and there was no sun to warm us. I really think running on top of the bridge would have been much more pleasant. The worst part about it was that both of my feet were numb. Completely numb. My ankles started to feel very strained because they were trying to do the stabilizing work that my feet couldn't do. I was worried that I would injure my ankle and have to drop out early. Thankfully I got my feet back after two miles when we got off the bridge. I didn't realize it was a two-mile bridge!

Miles 3-7: Brooklyn
Once off the bridge, I hit the lap button on my Garmin to re-align it with the mile markers and get an accurate pace and ditched my arm warmers. These miles went by quickly. It was a lot to take in-- people were cheering everywhere and the course was packed. It was tough trying to run with Greg because people would elbow their way in between us, and whenever we wanted to pass someone, there were two of us who had to make our way through. Greg later told me that he couldn't hear a word I was saying because the crowd was cheering so loudly.

Miles 8-13: Brooklyn
At around mile 9, I ditched the water bottle I had been carrying. I brought my own bottle because it was easier to drink from than the cups. In the areas where it was sunny, I actually started to feel hot and sluggish, despite it being 45 degrees. At mile 10, I started to assess how I was feeling. It didn't feel as easy as it did when I ran my best marathon back in March of 2008. This worried me a little. It didn't feel hard, but I could also tell I was exerting some effort. I kept checking in with Greg and he was feeling about the same. There were a few times when I had to slow us down or make us go slower than what the pace band said because I wanted to do the uphills conservatively.

Miles 14-16: Queens and the Queensboro Bridge
The halfway point was on the bridge over to Queens. I once again assessed how I was feeling and I felt better than I had felt in New Jersey (when I bonked at mile 18). I took this as a good sign. I had been warned that the Queensboro bridge is one of the toughest parts of the course. When we got onto it, our Garmins lost signal again, so we just decided to take it very easy up the hill. At first, I was thankful to be in the shade. I couldn't believe that I was actually started to feel overheated in only 45 degrees. That sun was strong, though. That bridge seemed to go on forever. I remembered that there was a long bridge at mile 16 of the Richmond marathon and that felt easy to me. The fact that this felt so much harder set off warning bells in my head. I kept saying to Greg "we love this" over and over again. The more I said it, the easier it was to deal with mentally. It was such a long bridge-- almost an
entire mile of complete uphill. Once we hit the downhill, I though things would get a lot easier, but instead my quads just felt murdered. I wanted to go quickly down the hill to make up for the lost time, and we did. However, my quads paid the price for it.

Miles 17-19: Manhattan (First Avenue)
Several people had warned us not to go too quickly up first avenue due to the excitement of being in Manhattan. By this point, I had stopped looking at the Garmin and just focused on running strong. I think we were running in the 8:35-8:40 range at this point, which was slower than our 8:25 first half. We looked for my uncle on 64th street, where he said he would be, but we didn't spot him. Every so often, I noticed that Greg was dropping behind and I'd have to slow down. At around mile 19 he told me he was really struggling and that I should push forward. I was feeling good, and we had talked about this happening and where we'd meet afterwards so I (being on auto-pilot at this point) decided to keep running strong because I felt relatively good for mile 19.

Miles 19-21: The Bronx
Now that I was on my own, I started to think about the finish time that I was on track for. I thought I could set a PR, but I knew that a 3:40 BQ was out of the question. And then I just started to feel guilty for leaving Greg. I reminded myself that this marathon was supposed to be about him and me supporting him. And here I was, being selfish and running ahead. It started eating away at me so badly and all I could think about was him crossing that finish line alone, without me there by his side. After about a mile and a half, all I could think about was how much I wanted to be with Greg and how badly I felt for leaving him to fend for himself.

So I stopped and turned around, and watched all the runners go by. And I immediately felt guilty for stopping. I felt like a wimp. Half of me was berating myself for stopping and wasting time and the other half of me was berating myself for having separating from Greg to begin with. About a minute passed and there was no Greg. I didn't think he could have fallen that far behind me after just 15 minutes or so. I started to worry that maybe I missed him and would have to keep running again to catch him. But soon I heard my name being called-- he actually saw me before I saw him. I was so grateful that he called out for me, because I might have missed him otherwise. There were just so many runners!!!

Once I was back with him, I was so relieved and extremely thankful that I came to my senses.

Miles 22-24: Manhattan
This was the hardest part of the race. Greg wanted to run/walk, so I did that with him. But once I started walking, I started to realize how much my legs hurt. And then it really hurt to try and run. We walked a great deal during these two miles. I started to get chest cramps, which I had never experienced during a race before.

He told me that I shouldn't have felt guilty for running ahead, and that we talked about it beforehand. But he also said he didn't think he would hurt as much as he did, so he was glad I came back for him. I was so glad I stopped and waited for him. During those miles, I was just so happy to be there for him and to have him by my side-- and that was all that really mattered. I'd already had plenty of marathons to run my own race, and I would have plenty more in the future. This marathon was something that we were supposed to do together, as a team.

Miles 25-Finish (Central Park)
As we entered Central Park, there was a huge sign that said "The Central Park Conservancy Welcomes you to Central Park." And I had an enormous amount of pride for raising all that money for them. Central Park is such a wonderful place and I was happy that I was able to contribute to the well-being of the park. Greg and I decided we would just "get it done" and run to the finish line. I actually felt much better while I was running than when I was walking. The hard part was that wewere running uncomfortably slowly. I wanted to speed up, but every time I did, I noticed the Greg was falling behind. I think that going at this pace really did a number on my legs because they are extremely sore today. (My fastest, best marathons have left me the least sore, and my slowest, poorest-run races have left me the most sore. Probably from being out on the course longer).

As we approached the finish line, we held hands and smiled for the camera. It was a wonderful moment for both of us! Our finish time was 4:08:32. This was my 11th marathon finish and my 6th fastest (or 5th slowest, depending on how you look at it). Even though I might have been able to PR, a few minutes off of my marathon time wouldn't be worth the guilt I would have felt for leaving Greg. And it wouldn't have been as satisfying as helping the man I love get through a tough spot.

Greg and I really hated how NYRR set up the finish line chute The race brochure said that it takes runners an average of 45-60 minutes to exit the park. They basically keep moving you down the road (very slowly) for over a mile until you are free to sit down and have your own space. The baggage check trucks are all lined up, starting with truck 60, and we had to walk all the way down to truck 17, and there was a line when we got there. It started to get cold again and I was shivering and my fingers were going numb. I was very thankful to get our bag with my warm clothes inside it. The food was very unappetizing. There was a Power Bar recovery bar, which Greg and I both ate too quickly and then felt nauseous, a pack of hard pretzels and an apple. I wanted something warm and comforting!!!

Once we exited the park, we really didn't want to walk all the way back to the east side where my uncle lives, and there were no cabs or buses that were going that way. We found someone riding a bike that had a two-passenger seat attached with a blanket so we took that back to the east side and down to 64th. Finally, nearly two hours after having finished, we were back at my uncle's apartment.

Final Thoughts
I'm glad that I had the NYC Marathon experience, but I am not anxious to do it again. It's a very tough course, and the 4 hours it takes to get to the race and then wait for the race to start was annoying. I didn't like how the finish line chute was so long, and at times, the crowd support was too overwhelming. Although it's nice to have people cheering for you, when there are 2 million people cheering for you throughout the entire race, it starts to lose its impact. I think I just wanted some peace and quiet towards the end. I prefer smaller races when you have some time to yourself and there aren't tons of runners everywhere and the crowd support isn't overwhelming. What I love about Richmond and Shamrock is that crowd support comes in bursts and you're very thankful for it at those times. All the spectators with their cheering was sort of exhausting to me. But that's just my personal take on it.

Greg is happy just to have finished, but we both agree that we would have done better if we had gone out more conservatively. We underestimated how challenging the course would be. I feel some guilt about advising him to shoot for a 3:40, but he agrees that he, too, thought it was a realistic goal
given his training and other race performances. At least now he has a baseline for his next marathon-- Sharmock in March.

I think it's going to be a long recovery for me because my legs are pretty beat up, and my ankle feels inflamed from being overworked when my feet were numb. I don't really care what time I could have got, had I kept going. I have nothing to prove to myself and I got much more satisfaction from finishing with Greg.

Regarding the fundraising, there were 56 people running for the Central Park Conservancy. We raised a collective $166,609 for the charity. I just got an email (addressed to all 56 of us) that contained this: "Elizabeth Goldman Clor involved the greatest number of unique donors in her effort – 46 family members, friends, colleagues, and other loved ones made a contribution in support of her pledge." Wow! So even though there were other people who raised more money than I did, they had fewer donors, who donated larger amounts. I rallied the support of everyone I knew to reach my $3000 goal. Heck-- I don't even live in New York city and I got the most donations! :-) I will be receiving a signed copy of “Seeing Central Park – The Official Guide to the World’s Most Famous Urban Park,” by Sara Cedar Miller for the person who got the most donations. Thank you to all my readers who helped me reach my fundraising goal!

Overall, a wonderful, unforgettable experience!

Monday, October 25, 2010

10 for the Army

It's 3:39a.m., and I can't sleep. I finally gave up on it and thought perhaps it was because I didn't write my Army 10-miler blog yesterday. Until I write a blog about a race, I don't feel proper closure. So here I am in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., at 3:39a.m. writing a blog on my laptop. I didn't write the blog yesterday because I was so busy with a work event that my company is hosting in D.C. More on that in a bit. . .

Yesterday, I ran my first Army Ten-Miler. This race accepts 30,000 registrants and is the largest 10-mile race in the country. I had never run it before because I had heard it was ridiculously crowded and that the crowds prevented you from running your best. Dealing with the metro system and the crowding didn't sound at all appealing, especially since I had a panic attack after the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006 due to crowding. But my husband really wanted to run this race, so I registered too. I registered part of team Pacers Ambassadors, and it would be my first time racing as part of a team. My husband was on the Lockheed Martin team (they actually had about 20 or so teams).

Before the Race
The day before the race, my husband and I spent several hours moving and unpacking boxes for my work conference. After getting our race packet, we made our way to the conference hotel in Georgetown where we met up with a few other employees to unload a truck full of boxes. I felt guilty that my husband was doing manual labor for my company the day before a race, but he was more than happy to help out.

Given the fact that I had been stressing about the conference all week and not sleeping well, and that the day before was spent on my feet moving and unpacking, I didn't expect a fantastic race. The weather forecast was for partly sunny and 58, which to me is too warm to run at my peak anyway. It's by no means disastrous, but for Oct. 24 in Washington D.C., at 8:00a.m., I expected temperatures in the mid to upper 40's-- that's what we had been having the past two weeks. I decided I would just go out there and try my best, despite the weather being a little warm and despite how tired and stressed I had been all week.

The Start
On Sunday morning, we took the metro from our hotel to the race. There were swarms of people. We knew we needed to be in our corral by 7:50, so we headed over there at 7:30. It wasn't a far walk, but due to the immense amount of people, it took almost the full 20 minutes to get to our spot. My husband and I were both in the Green Corral, which was the first corral behind the elites. We looked behind us and it was amazing to see the sea of people. I was amazing at how they didn't at all enforcing the corral system. Each year they say they are going to be strict about not letting people into corrals if they didn't have the proper wave, but there was absolutely no enforcement. There was also no enforcement of the headphones policy. I saw quite a few people wearing them. I stopped racing in headphones over a year ago, so this didn't affect me, but I know a lot of people really like wearing them in races.

My husband wanted to be toward the front of the corral and I wanted to be closer to the back of it. We ended up a lot closer to the front and I had a feeling I was going to be run over by faster runners. This was not the case, though, because the first half of my first mile was a lot slower than goal pace. Instead of a horn or a gun, they fired a cannon and we were off.

Miles 1-3
As I said earlier, I got a slow start due to crowding. I ran the second half of the first mile a lot faster than goal pace to make up for the first half. As for "goal pace" I was targeting a 7:40. I wanted to run the tangents, but it was impossible to see where they were given all of the people in front of me. The first few miles felt like a tempo run, and so I knew I was pacing myself correctly. The big question was weather or not I'd be able to hang on at at the end, as the sun got higher in the sky and the temperatures rapidly rose into the low 60's.

Mile 1: 7:41
Mile 2: 7:34
Mile 3: 7:40

Miles 4-7
These miles seemed to go quickly. I took a Honey Gel at mile 4.5, which I thought would be good timing. I had been carrying a small bottle of water with me, which I tossed right before taking my honey. Afterwards, I only stopped at one water station at around mile 8. This part of the course is mainly flat, but it did seem like mile 7 was an incline downhill, which we would turn around and run back up during mile 8.

Mile 4: 7:38
Mile 5: 7:43
Mile 6: 7:38
Mile 7: 7:42

Miles 8-10
I knew I was on track for meeting my goal of 7:40, but I also knew that the hardest part of the course was the rolling hills at the end. Mile 8 was my slowest mile. It was up an incline, and there wasn't much downhill to make up for it. I wanted to keep a solid pace, but I also didn't want to burn myself out before the last two miles. I logged a 7:54 mile, which I knew would put me off target, but I figured I'd try to really stay strong for the last two. It was getting warmer and the course was getting hillier. I tried to maintain my strong effort level, but my pace slowed a little bit.

Mile 8: 7:54
Mile 9: 7:46
Mile 10: 7:53

The Finish
According to my Garmin, I ran 10.11 miles. So even though my average pace was reading 7:42 by the end, I knew that my official pace would be slower. After my Garmin beeped for mile 10, there was still 0.11 to go and I sprinted as fast as I could. I saw that I was at risk for not even being in the 1:17:xx range so I gave it everything I had. The last 0.11 was a pace of 6:18. Wow! Just goes to show what a little adrenaline can do late in the game! I was excited that they called out my name and my city as I crossed the finish line. It was quite the high, considering the thousands of people there cheering.

My official time was 1:17:54
I placed 104 out of 2010 in my age group, finishing ahead of 95% of them.
I placed 441 out of 9481 women, finishing ahead of 96% of them.

This is a PR by over 3 minutes, but my last 10-mile race that I ran at full effort was over three years ago.

I'm pleased with my race, especially given that I had a hard, stressful week and that the weather wasn't as cool as my recent half marathon. My pace was pretty much what I expected, although I didn't factor in the extra distance you get when you can't run the tangents and you weave a lot, so I thought I'd get around 1:17:00. My husband ran a 1:14:00, which we were both amazed at. That's over 8 minutes faster than his time from last year! He's getting so fast so quickly!

There wasn't any time for relaxing after the race. My husband and I headed straight for the metro and back to the hotel. Our conference attendees were arriving and about 40 of them were taking a bus tour of Washington. I was the only person from my company on this tour, an as one of the conference organizers, I was in charge of making sure it went smoothly. My husband joined me for the tour, which was actually really nice and informative. Thankfully, we spent most of the time on a tour bus and there wasn't much walking involved (until we decided to walk home from the last stop. . . ) It was really interesting to learn about all the places I had just run by, and it gave me a greater appreciation for the race.

After the tour, my husband headed home and I attended a cocktail reception as part of the conference. Because of all of this, I didn't have the opportunity to write my blog yesterday. But now that I have completed this blog, hopefully I can return to sleep for a few hours before the conference begins.

Next up: The NYC Marathon!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

NYC Marathon Training: What I've Learned

My taper for the NYC marathon officially begins next week. I've changed my approach this cycle and really enjoyed it, and I've learned quite a few things.

1. Running outside is better than running on a treadmill. I've always known this, but since my living situation in the past had limited me to running on a treadmill Monday-Friday (except during June and July) I wasn't able to see for myself. I still believe that running on a treadmill is good training, and runners can certainly make large gains through treadmill running alone. However, by running outside you get the added benefits of the sensation of running in a race, the hills, the terrain, and the pacing. Plus, it's just more fun. I really dread going back to a treadmill for those freezing mornings in January and February. I've been doing all of my intervals on a track-- which I didn't have access to before I moved into my new house. And it really feels like a race when you are controlling your pace and forcing yourself to push.

2. Fundraising isn't easy. One final plea to my blog readers, please donate $10, or even $5 to Central Park by clicking here. I have raised 88% of my goal at $2641.20. Every little bit helps maintain the park for the millions who visit each year. I'm very thankful to my friends and family who have donated, and the company that I work for was especially generous with a $300 donation.

3. Having a balanced attitude is more important than a PR. I was obsessed with qualifying for Boston for two years. I ate, drank and slept Boston and the magical 3:40 that would get me there. Despite my strong training and multiple significant PRs in other distances, I haven't gotten my marathon time down in over two years. That's over 4000 training miles since my 3:51 in March of 2008 and I haven't run a marathon any faster. So, back in May, after my most recent failed attempt, I just said "F" it. I wanted to focus on my upcoming marriage and my life with my husband. So, this time I have taken a much more relaxed approach. I wrote my own training program and I have been very loosely following it. Usually re-arranging it based on how my body feels. Most of my runs have been with my husband. I wrote his plan as well (slightly lower mileage) and he's been following it practically to the letter. My goal in NYC is not to run the best race I can, but to enjoy the incredible experience that is NYC with my new husband-- supporting him in his first marathon.

4. I love my running clothes. I have acquired far more outfits than I need, and I could probably go running every day and not need to do laundry for three weeks. I was folding my skirts this evening after doing the laundry, and just noticed how pretty are the colors are.

And that's just a few of them. I also have the winter-themed red skirt with the snowflake on the back and a few "spare" zebra print ones. Oh, and some black ones! Now that I am married I have twice as much running clothing to wash, and it's amazing to see it all hanging up on the drying rack.

5. Stretching isn't that important. I know there are many people who will disagree with me here. I think that if you are having chronic problems in certain areas, then stretching is crucial to keep injuries at bay. But I have really slacked on the stretching this training cycle and I've felt better than I ever have. It's probably just a coincidence, but now that I don't belong to a gym anymore, it's not part of my "routine" to go to the stretching area afterwards. I just walk in my door and go upstairs to shower. I usually do some quad stretches and ITB stretches, but not to the extent that I had been doing.

6. It feels great to bring home the hardware! My husband recently pointed out that I have won an age group award at each of the past three races I have run: a 5K in July, a 10K in September, and a half marathon in October. Wow! I have a strange feeling that this will not continue when I run the Army Ten Miler.

A quick training recap for the past few weeks:
Week of Sept 20: 58 miles
Week of Sept 27: 48.5 miles (includes half marathon)
Week of Oct. 4: 43 miles (recovery from half marathon, includes 18-mile run)
Week of Oct. 11: 60 miles on schedule, including 21-miler-- then the taper begins.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Half of Nothing, 100% Race

I have to admit that I stole the title of this blog from The Gifted Runner but it's so true!

I ran the Heritage Half Marathon today in Gainesville, VA. The weather was perfect: low 50's with a 7:00am start so the sun didn't get too high in the sky. Many of my critics tell me that I am too obsessed with the weather, but I know that in my case I cannot come close to performing at my peak when it's hot and sunny.

I had originally been registered for the Wilson Bridge half marathon two weeks ago, but I opted out of it a few days prior because my legs hadn't fully recovered from the 10K. I didn't think it would take me so long to recover from a 10K, but the hills were very, very steep and I really flew on the downhills-- murdering my quads. So I watched my husband run the Wilson Bridge half and decided to do a half two weeks later, which was today!

Training has been going well. The week after the 10K, I logged only 37 miles because of the recovery. But then the following week, I logged 58 miles, including some intervals on the track and an 18-mile long run.

The day before the race I drove the course and was surprised at how hilly it was. I had used Map My Run to take a look at the elevation and it didn't seem like the hills would be too steep. But when I drove the course, I realized that the entire course was made up of constant rolling hills, some of which were steep, and most of which were long. I didn't let it bother me, though. I had been doing a lot of running on hills so I figured I could handle it.

My strategy was to run an even effort. This meant I would have to really push on the downhills and not over-exert myself on the uphills. The result was that my pace was all over the place. It seemed like most runners were running an even pace, so there were a few that I kept "leap frogging" with. They would pass me on the uphills, and I would pass them on the downhills. I thought that even effort was the best approach so that I could get into a "groove" of an effort level and just maintain. I also thought that negative splits would be a good approach, given that the first half was a net uphill and the second half was a net down.

A graphical illustration of my race is below. The blue represents my pace. Constantly speeding up and slowing down. And yet I was putting out a fairly even effort. The green represents the elevation. Notice that huge hill for the entire last mile. Not fun!

Click here for a larger image.

Miles 1- 4
The first mile was a huge downhill, so I really gunned it. I knew that it would mean an uphill in the last mile (the course was out-and-back) so I knew I had to "bank" some speed. The first mile was 7:30. Miles 2, 3 and 4 were a net uphill. There was a lot of up-and-down, but it was a net uphill, so those miles were slower. I took my honey energy gel earlier than planned at mile marker 3. This is because there was a small period of relatively flat ground and I didn't want to have to be taking honey while trying to push on a downhill, or while I was trying to focus plowing up a hill.

Mile 1: 7:30
Mile 2: 7:57
Mile 3: 8:02
Mile 4: 7:59

Miles 5-9
These miles were run on a bike path on the side of the road. Runners were going in both directions (out and back) so it was a little crowded, but I still managed. The last few miles had been slower than my goal pace, but I was completely fine with that because I knew there had been more ups than downs. I also remembered from the elevation profile that the first half had a net uphill, and that negative splits were the way to go.

The worst part was when we turned off of the bike path into this park. The park was crazy hilly and just as you think you're about to exit, there's a course Marshall telling you to run up this really steep hill (steepest hill of the race) and then back down. I thought to myself "why make us do this stupid hill" but then I realized they needed to add more mileage in the park because the turn around had to be before a major intersection.

I took my other honey gel at mile 9.

Mile 5: 7:40
Mile 6: 7:43
Mile 7: 8:05
Mile 8: 7:39
Mile 9: 7:55

Mile 10-Finish
Since miles 2-4 had been slow, I knew I was in for some downhill time before that last final climb. The sun was starting to really shine on me, so I told myself to run faster to "beat" the sun. I wanted to finish before the sun started to bake me and affect my time. Maybe I am crazy, but I feel the sun on me in a race and it just seems to zap energy away. I gave it all I had on the downhills. I was feeling tired, but not as bad as I have felt in many of my previous halfs. In fact, I was surprised at how strong I felt so late in the game.

Mile 10: 7:44
Mile 11: 7:49
Mile 12: 7:42
Mile 13: 8:05

My official time was 1:41:40, which is an average pace of 7:46. My Garmin showed that the race was 0.1 too short, and that my actual pace was a 7:51. However, my Garmin typically makes me run longer than the actual distance (at least based on the W&OD trail mile markers) and this race is a USATF Sanctioned course. Plus, all of my other PRs are on "long" courses, so I am going to take this one at face value- 1:41:40. It was really easy to run the tangents here because most of it was on a bike path, and there wasn't much choice.

I won an age group award! Third place!

I placed 20 out of 181 women.
I placed 3 out of 36 in my age group.

This is a PR by 2:24. The previous PR was from Shamrock in 2009- a pancake-flat course, also in ideal conditions.

I am very happy with my race today, and I think it really reflects all the running outdoors I have been doing since I moved into my new house last spring. I used to run most of my runs on the treadmill because I had no safe place to go in the mornings. But now I run outside all the time (I don't even have a gym membership or a treadmill), typically with my husband.

Up next: The Army 10-miler

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hilly 10K Victory

The 10K is my nemesis. Out of all the race distances from the 2-miler to the marathon, the 10K is the one race where my times don't line up with where they should be, fitness-wise. (Although the marathon is quickly becoming the nemesis distance-- but that's another blog.) According to the McMillan Calculator and my 5K from the spring, I should be able to run a 10K in about 46:26. I also have a recent 5-mile tempo run that averaged a pace of 7:42. I went into today's race hoping that I might finally get a 10K time that reflects my training and fitness level.

I lucked out weather-wise. Lower 60's and overcast with a drizzle is about as good as you can hope for in mid-September at 8:00am. I didn't study the course elevation profile before the race, but based on the max/min elevation from the map, I didn't think it would be too hilly. I was wrong.

This was the hilliest 10K I have ever ran, and perhaps the hilliest race of any distance.

My husband decided to sit this race out in favor of a long run yesterday. Since he's training for his first marathon, long runs are more critical to him. I felt like I could miss one this weekend, due to our training cycle being so long and already having completed two 20-milers. My father also came out to watch me.

This race, the South Fairfax Chamber Challenge, was small. There were only 108 people. It was very well organized. Chip timed, t-shirt available in my size, and high-quality running hat were included. I figured that with such a small turnout, I might be able to win an age group award, or even place in the top three overall females. I warmed up for 1.4 miles on the high school track and then lined up at the start.

Mile 1: 7:31
I went out fast and I knew it. My goal was a 7:40 pace, but the race started with a downhill, so I wanted to take advantage of that. There were no women in front of me until halfway through the first mile. Then, a woman passed me and I got the sense that I probably wouldn't be able to catch her.

Mile 2: 7:41
About 1/4 of this mile was a long, steep downhill followed by 1/4 mile of a long, steep uphill. When I got to the bottom of the downhill and looked up, I couldn't believe they were actually making us run that. I even commented to the guy next to me that this was the longest, steepest hill I have ever encountered during a race. And that includes Capitol hill. My heart rate skyrocketed at the top of the hill, and I had to run a bit slower afterwards just to recover. The turnaround point was at mile 2.5

Mile 3: 7:37
This was another hilly mile with plenty of rollers. And by this point I realized that I was going to have to repeat the whole 1/4 mile downhill, 1/4 mile uphill thing. When my Garmin showed 3.1, I looked down and saw 22:48. My second-fastest 5K ever. I was seriously hoping I wasn't going to bonk. But then I reminded myself that the bonking usually happens in hot, sunny races when I go out to fast. The weather was in my favor.

Mile 4: 7:48
Time to go back up the huge hill again, although I was mentally prepared. I was hoping I wouldn't expend all my energy on it, so I tried to run it at a steady pace that was probably somewhere around 8:45. Meanwhile, I had flown down the downhill knowing that I needed all the speed I could get on the easier parts. I would guess that my downhill pace was somewhere around 6:45. So, even though my split for mile 4 was 7:48, I don't think I ever ran that pace.

Mile 5: 7:47
This mile was still hilly, but at least the worst was over. I was just trying to hang on to my pace, I knew I'd be able to PR. I was also still the second female. The woman who passed me was still in sight, about 45 seconds ahead.

Mile 6: 7:53
This mile started off slow but I really dug deep during the second half to get it down to 7:53. I wanted a PR and I wanted it to be significant.

Last 0.2: 7:11
After the 6 mile marker, I looked at my Garmin and thought that it would be impossible to break 48:00, so I maintained my pace and headed toward the finish line (which, of course, was all uphill). But as the clock got into my sight, I realized that if I sprinted, I could get it. I mustered everything I had and sprinted to the finish, breaking 48 with a
47:55. The first part of that 0.2 was probably 7:40 paced, but according to my Garmin, I was sub-6:00 for that last bit.

1st Place in Age Group!
I was second overall female (out of 49) and first place in my age group (30-39). The winner was 27. My 47:55 is a PR by 0:59, with a pace of
7:42. I'm not all that excited about my time, because I know I could do a lot better on a flatter course, but given how hilly it was, I was very pleased. The first place female finished exactly one minute ahead of me.

I was so happy to have my husband and my father there to support me. That meant the world to me.

I went back up to the track and cooled down for another 1.4 miles, to make an even 9 for the day. Then it was time for the awards. I didn't think I was going to get anything fantastic, but was pleasantly surprised at the $100 gift card to a spa. Free massage!!!! I'm guessing that the first place male got something different.

I was really impressed with this race. For being so small, it was extremely well organized, well timed, nice prizes, an awesome goodie bag with a t-shirt and a hat, and really friendly people.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Running-Themed Wedding (Sort of)

I married the man of my dreams on August 14. The wedding took place at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, VA- which is an event venue and restaurant at the top of a 17-story building about 10 miles outside of Washington, DC.

The day began as I woke up in an Executive Suite at the Ritz Carlton. I stayed there Friday night so that I could avoid seeing the groom the day of the wedding. We wanted to see each other for the first time that day when I was walking down the aisle. My maid of honor, Tara, had spent the night in the Ritz with me which was a lot of fun. When was the last time I had a sleepover with one of my best friends!?!

I thought that maybe I might run that morning, but ultimately I decided against it because I didn't want to pack the extra running clothes-- I already had so much to think about packing wise! Instead, I watched music videos that coincidentally revolved around weddings as Tara slept in the next room. I also saw an episode of "Married with Children". Definitely not glamorizing married life!

That morning, I had my hairstylist come to the Ritz and do everyone's hair, including my mother and the flower girls. It was a fun morning as we all got to hang out and see the hairstyles come together! We also had access to the Club Executive Lounge, which was basically an all-day buffet of food. The bridesmaids kept brining food down in little bits, so I did a good job not being hungry. When I had gone there for breakfast, one of the hotel employees informed me that pajama pants were not allowed in the Club Lounge. I politely told her that they were "lounge pants" as if it was an entirely different thing-- but she didn't buy it. When I returned, I made sure to wear my "Bride" T-shirt as a subtle way to tell her not to give me any more problems!

Finally it was time to make our way over to the Tower Club. This was the first time I started to get nervous. I had been surprisingly calm for the entire morning and just enjoyed spending the time with my bridesmaids. But because we were running about 10 minutes behind schedule, I got anxious and really wanted to just get over to the venue. As we left, we all had our hair done, I was not in my dress yet, but the veil had been affixed by the stylist. I also had my makeup professionally done. The makeup had been a saga, but it worked out well in the end.

We arrived at the Tower club, and my mother was waiting for us there. She had already met the florist
and had all the bouquets in the room where we would be getting ready. She also brought my dress and my shoes, so I wouldn't have to worry about transporting them. What a great mom! We had about an hour and a half until the ceremony was going to start. The photographer was taking tons of photos of us getting ready, and also of the Groomsmen.

The bridesmaids wore zebra print dresses. I am lucky that I got married when I did, with zebra print being so in style. The dresses were actually Greg's idea, and I think the ones that I picked out were really classy.

I started to get anxious. Not nervous-- just that excited anxious feeling you get at the start of a really important race. You start to think about all the preparation that went into this day, and more importantly, how much it meant to you and how much you wanted it. Everyone wanted to talk to me about one thing or another, and yet my mind was elsewhere-- focused on how this was such a huge step for me. Romantic relationships had always been such a struggle for me, and I never thought I would get married. And yet one day, out of nowhere, I met someone who far exceeded my expectations of what a good partner would be. I truly believe that Greg and I were made for each other, and that we met each other at exactly the right time-- once we had figured ourselves out and were able to love and respect each other fully.

During the week leading up to the wedding, I was also surprisingly calm. The week leading up to a marathon is typically a lot more anxiety-laden. I am super worried about what I am eating and drinking, and I am a huge germ-a-phobe. I stalk the weather forecast like crazy. But none of this happened the week leading up to the wedding. Everything was indoors, so the weather didn't really matter to me, and the thought of getting sick didn't even cross my mind. I think this is because I knew the outcome of the wedding: Greg and I would be married. However, with a marathon, you really don't know the outcome. And frankly, there is a lot more time invested in training for a marathon than in planning a wedding. I maybe spent 2-3 hours a week on wedding stuff, and time spent running far surpasses that!

Finally it was time for everyone to line up to walk down the aisle. It was almost surreal for me. These bridesmaids were the closet women in my life, and I had know them all for a very long time. My sister, my cousin, a friend from elementary school, a friend from high school, and a friend from college. All of whom had remained close with me and who had always supported me in everything I chose to pursue. They were all there for me on the most important day of my life!

I heard the piano music played and just waited, arm-in-arm with my father until it was our turn to walk. Everyone stood up and the pianist gave me my cue. This was actually happening! I was getting married! All eyes were on me and I felt like a princess. A magazine article somewhere had said that the bride should smile and make eye contact with guests, and not just look straight ahead. It was almost like a dream, seeing all my close friends and family there gathered in one spot to watch me get married.

When I made my way toward Greg, we held hands and the ceremony began. We hired a priest who specialized in performing marriage ceremonies. The ceremony was somewhat religious, but mainly in the sense that "God is Love" and I truly believe that God is an important part of our marriage. The ceremony seemed to go by so quickly. Both our mothers gave readings. We said our vows (we used the traditional ones) and then put the rings on each other's fingers. And suddenly, we were married! We hadn't rehearsed the kiss, but I think it went off just fine. :-)

We walked back down the aisle as husband and wife, and I was absolutely glowing. I love him so much!

As for the wedding itself, I already noted that the bridesmaids wore zebra print, in honor of my
obsession with zebras (I have been fascinated with them since I saw them at the zoo when I was seven). I didn't want to go overboard with it, so the zebra print was just represented in the dresses, the cake and the party favors.

As I alluded to in the title, we also wanted to personalize the wedding with regard to our love for running. Greg and I spend a great deal of time training together so we wanted to have that passion represented. We decided to take the bib numbers of the races that we ran together and get them laminated. Once they were laminated, they looked so good that many people were surprised that they were the actual numbers we wore! I was happy that they turned out as well as they did. I also had two tables worth of running friends, so they especially appreciated this detail.

The rest of the wedding went by very quickly, but Greg and I had been warned of this, so we took a few moments to ourselves to just remember how it felt and to tell each other how much we loved each other. It was so nice to see our closest family and friends all at the same time.

After the dinner, it was time for dancing. Our first dance was "Learn You Inside Out" by Lifehouse. We wanted to choose something original that people probably wouldn't have heard of. I then danced with my father to "100 Years" by Five for Fighting. That was a lot of fun-- we had actually practiced beforehand. The dancing continued for a few more hours and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. It was by far the best day of my life!