Sunday, March 28, 2010


Now that it's been a week since the Shamrock marathon attempt, I've really started to contemplate my running philosophy. I don't have a single regret about the DNF because there was no way I could have finished given the state that I was in. Even if I had been able to run/walk to the finish, I would have gotten one of my slowest times ever, after putting in one of my best training cycles in ever.

A lot of runners say "take what the day gives you" and make the most out of unfavorable racing conditions. I agree with this if you are going for an age group award, or if it's a shorter race where you can bounce back quickly and then enter another one. However, I have a very specific marathon goal. I've woken up at 5:00am or earlier nearly every day for the past two years in pursuit of this goal. I've made a lot of sacrifices so that I could put in the training time necessary to run a good marathon. Throwing it away on a day when the weather makes it impossible to meet this goal would just be stupid.

As I said in my last blog, the warm weather affects me much more than most runners, so I just have to accept that and lower my expectations for warm/hot races.

I am faster now than I ever have been. I just ran a 5-mile race at a pace of 7:26, which is faster than my 5K PR. And I've run quite a few 5Ks. Furthermore, my "easy" pace has sped up from 9:45 from last summer down to about 8:55. "Easy" pace for me correlates to a HR of 155-165. Additionally, when I run an 8:55 pace now on my easy runs, it feels like 9:30 used to feel.

If I had actually been able to run all the marathons I have trained for over the past two years (without the illness, injury, and weather situations) then I am sure I would have set a few PRs. Every time I "miss" a marathon, the training doesn't go away so I just build on that for the next one. So I have about 5 training cycles built up-- so my goal for my next one is going to be faster than my goal for the fall 2008 marathon that I had to pass on because I was sick.

As for my next marathon, I have decided to not run the New Jersey marathon. The main reason is because of the 9:00am start time. Last year, the race started at 8:00am, but it was delayed by 30 minutes because their shuttle system wasn't efficient. So instead of addressing the shuttle system, they are simply starting the race an hour later. Not only does this translate into warmer weather, but it's also off-schedule with what my body is used to. I typically begin my long runs at 8:00 or earlier, and my weekday runs at 5:00.

Instead, I found a marathon that's only a 20-minute drive from my house-- the Potomac River Run Marathon on May 2. This marathon is an out-and-back twice, on a dirt/gravel trail. It starts at 7:00am, it's mostly shaded, is limited to 300 runners, and is chip timed. My fiance will be able to position himself on the course so that he will see me four times, and that support will really help me. Plus, we won't have to invest in a hotel room and another road trip. This will be low-key and I'm not putting the pressure on myself that I did for Shamrock. Over the next 5 weeks, I will be moving to my new house, so there is a lot of other stuff that needs to be dealt with.

This morning, my fiance went out to the C&O canal towpath where the marathon is going to be held. I figured I should do a long run on the course so I would be better prepared for the terrain. I ended up running 17 miles at an average pace of 9:01. Average heart rate was 158. Of course, it was nearly perfect running weather today. Completely overcast and mid 40's. Where was this weather last weekend!!???

Anyway, I have been a bit depressed this past week, but I have made peace with my situation. I know I have a BQ (actually more like a 3:35) in me. I just need to get out there and do it!

Monday, March 22, 2010


4 weeks ago I ran 18 miles at an average pace of 8:45. Miles 9-17 (8 miles total) averaged a pace of 8:13. This was my projected marathon pace. The 8 miles felt only slightly challenging and I truly believed that I could have continued on at that pace for awhile. It was 35 degrees and sunny. The next day, my legs felt great and there were no signs of soreness or fatigue.

Yesterday, I ran 13.5 miles at an average pace of 8:30 and did not feel like I could run any farther. Today, my legs feel like I put out a major race effort and I'll probably need a week to recover fully.

The difference? About 25 degrees.

When I realized that the weather for the Shamrock Marathon in VA Beach was going to be sunny and in the 60's, I pretty much knew that a BQ wasn't going to happen. I posted this on my Facebook and on Runner's World online. The reaction was that I needed to think positively and have confidence. However, I wasn't being negative. I was simply being realistic. I ran the Rock 'n Roll Arizona marathon in similar conditions and I bonked. I had to run/walk from mile 15 to the finish and then it took me three weeks to recover fully. The experience was miserable, I was disappointed with my time, and I was left completely beat up and not able to train at my normal capacity for another month.

I was trying to be positive about Shamrock, so I even made a list of things that were going to be different from Arizona. For example, I was better rested and there was no time zone change. I was also in much better shape and down about 5 pounds. I thought that maybe with these things going for me I had a shot, but ultimately I knew that a BQ simply wasn't realistic.

The Race
On race morning, I headed to the start with a positive outlook. I was calm and I was determined to do my best. I wore sunglasses, a visor, my sports bra and a running skirt. No headphones.

I started off at a pace of 8:25 and it felt ridiculously easy. It felt like "marathon pace" felt when I did my best performance ever back in 2008. It was short lived, however, once we came to an area that was unshaded and the sun was rising higher in the sky.

Things started to get tough at mile marker 9 but I held the pace anyway. At mile marker 10 I felt like I was racing at half-marathon effort but I still maintained the pace. At mile marker 11, I knew that my race was over. It all happened very quickly. I didn't feel uncomfortably hot. I just got extremely tired and exhausted. I had no choice but to slow to a 9:00 pace, and then to a 9:15 pace. Swarms of people started passing me and I just couldn't keep up. I wanted to stop after mile 11 but I knew that my fiance was waiting for me at mile 13.5.

I continued on and I saw some friends from the Runner's World forums after mile 12. I stopped running to hug them and I realized how horrible I felt. I don't think I could even communicate properly at that point. I felt like I might pass out. I told them that I had to run to mile 13.5 where my fiance would be. I continued on, running at about a 9:30 pace and my friend Lindsay passed me. I told her that I was struggling really bad and that I wasn't going to finish. I wanted to keep up with her pace (8:50) until I reached 13.5, but I couldn't.

Lindsay was running with the 3:50 pace group. Back in 2008 when I ran this marathon, I ran with the 3:50 pace group from about mile 13 to mile 22. And now, two years later, after much more training than I ever did for the 2008 race, this pace group was passing me at the halfway point. In fact, when I ran the race in 2008, my peak mileage was 45 MPW and my average was in the upper 30's. In preparation for yesterday's race, I had averaged 50 MPW, peaking at 57. I knew that I was in substantially much better shape, and yet I just felt so extremely drained. (Note: the weather in 2008 was low 40's and overcast).

When I reached mile 13.5 I stopped and I just felt horrible. I could barely even talk to my fiance. He pulled me over into a shaded area and sat me down on the ground. He had water, a bag of ice, a cookie and a granola bar with him. I hung out there for about 30 minutes before I felt ready to walk back to the hotel.

This is the first marathon out of 10 that I Did Not Finish (DNF). At mile 11, when I was coming to terms with the fact that my race was doomed, I asked myself if I would regret it if I stopped. And the answer was an immediate no. I knew that one of these three things would happen:
  • I would continue to push at an 8:25 pace and pass out.
  • I would run/walk to the finish like I did in Arizona with a mediocre time and then not recover for 3-4 weeks.
  • I would stop at mile 13.5 and cut my losses.
I chose the third option and I have no regrets. If it hadn't been for Arizona then perhaps I would have continued. But I learned a valuable lesson in Arizona and that's that my body has limitations in sunny weather. Even in the 50's and 60's where many runners are absolutely fine. I simply don't tolerate it. If I had Arizona to do over again, I would have stopped at the halfway point. I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice.

The tough thing for me is that I am so much less heat tolerant than the average runner. No one was slowing down at mile 11. I heard of people having to slow down at mile 18 or 20, but not at mile 11. I even "bonked" at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler (at mile 6) last year when it was sunny and 55. When I told my runner friends that it was too hot and sunny for me, it was hard for them to believe. Sunny and 55 are the ideal race conditions for a lot of people.

As I was slowing down, another runner encouraged me to keep going. I said that I was not going to finish. He said "Walk if you have to. Just do whatever it takes to finish the race." I completely disagree with this. Granted, he didn't know me or my marathon history. But why would I kill myself to make it to the finish line of a marathon that I have already completed, just to do it slower and then be beat up for the next three weeks? What would I gain? I would have hated myself for making such a poor choice. And this is if I even made it that far and didn't pass out before getting there.

The bottom line is that I know what my body can and can't handle. My limitations with regards to sunny/warm weather are greater than most runners. I should not attempt to run a marathon in conditions that make it impossible to meet my goal. Especially considering how much time and effort I put into training. I really thought I would be safe with a March 21 marathon, but apparently I was not.

Looking Ahead
I now have the option of throwing in the towel for Boston 2011 or attempting again at the New Jersey marathon in six weeks. I suppose I will try to preserve everything I have worked so hard for since October and try again in New Jersey. But if they are calling for sunny and a high of 60 or greater, then I just won't make the drive. I'm getting married in August so running an early fall marathon is out of the question. If it's not NJ, then my next attempt will either be NYC in November or Memphis in December.

What upsets me most is that I have not had a positive marathon experience in over two years. And the irony of this is that my fitness level has significantly improved during this time period. My last good marathon was at Shamrock in 2008. Ever since then there has been a major illness, an injury, two cases of heat exhaustion and one case of hypothermia. My first 6 marathons were so wonderful. I just want to experience that joy again.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Five Confidence-Boosting Miles

This morning I ran the Van Metre 5-Mile Run for Children's Hospital in Ashburn, VA. I had run this race back in 2007, but the course was mis-measured that year and was actually 5.2 miles so I didn't get an accurate time. My pace for the first 4 miles had been a 7:48, so I had some idea of how I performed. The purpose of the race today was to be a "tune-up" for the Shamrock marathon in two weeks. Pfitzinger recommends an 8K-10K tune-up two weeks out and that has usually worked well for me in the past.

I had no idea what to shoot for this morning. Based on my half marathon time from early December, I should have been able to run a 7:30 pace. However, I am in much better shape now, but I also can't run the shorter races as fast as McMillan predicts. I figured I would be happy with anything in the 7:35-7:45 range. My fiance, Greg, wanted to run a 7:30 pace so we started together.

The weather was sunny, windy, and about 35 degrees. The wind was a factor in certain parts of the race, but I have run in much worse. The course was rolling hills, except for there was a significant hill at the end of the first mile.

Mile 1: 7:39
This was the slowest mile of the race. Mainly because I wasn't sure what I was capable of and also because there was a big hill at the end of the mile. I think I had been averaging about 7:25 until that hill showed up. Greg was behind me until we got to the hill and he was able to take it faster than me.

Mile 2: 7:29
At the top of the hill, it took me awhile to recover. I think I was going at a pace of 8:30 for at least the first quarter mile. I caught up with Greg, who was also recovering, but then he sped ahead.

Mile 3: 7:29
Gently rolling hills.

Mile 4: 7:31
More rolling hills, trying to hang in there! I knew at this point that I would meet my approximate goal, so I just wanted to hang on.

Mile 5: 7:15
I was shocked at my ability to pull this off. The mile started off downhill and I just hammered on it. I was averaging a 7:05 pace for the first half mile and feeling awesome. Then there was a slight uphill to the finish. I tried to catch Greg, but he stayed about 10 seconds ahead of me for the entire race.

Time: 37:10
Average pace: 7:26

This race was HUGE for me in many respects.

1. I have never run a race at this pace. Ever. Not another 5-miler, not an 8K, not a 4-miler, not even a 5K! In fact, if I look at the last three miles, I beat my 5K PR. Part of me wishes this was a 5K or a 10K so I could have set a major PR in a more standard distance. So, my 5K PR will remain at a pace of 7:31, but I know I am capable of faster.

2. The running equivalent calculators, like McMillan and others, indicate that an "equivalent" marathon performance would fall below 3:40. For most people, this wouldn't necessarily mean much. But because I am stronger at longer distances, I believe I can run even faster than what these calculators predict. The reason why is because of reason 3. . . .

3. My heart rate stayed in my Lactate Threshold (LT) zone. This is tempo pace. I have a very hard time pushing past that threshold in shorter races. Greg's heart rate was far above his LT zone-- as it should be for a race of this distance. But I couldn't push any harder. It's very difficult for me to push beyond my LT zone, but I can stay it in for a long time. I definitely felt like I could have gone a few more miles at this pace. But I didn't feel like I could speed up. When it comes to a marathon, I will be running just under my LT zone. Now that I now that my true LT zone equates to about a 7:26 pace, running a marathon at the BQ pace of 8:23 should definitely be doable.

No age group awards today-- there were quite a few strong runners out there. But now my confidence has been sufficiently boosted for the marathon in two weeks. I just need to make sure that I don't get sick between now and then and hope for decent weather (not wanting to have rainy hypothermia again)!

Shamrock, here I come!!!!!!