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