Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Facts Friday: 2011 Facts

To finish off 2011, here are some not-so-random Friday facts about the year.

1. I ran five 5Ks, two 8Ks, three 10Ks, three half marathons and one marathon.

Veteran's Day 10K
2. Per the above, I ran 14 races total.

3. Believe it or not, I swam exactly 26.2 miles this year, completely unintentionally. I just looked at my swim log, and boom! Right in front of me was the 26.2!

4. I spent 88 hours pool running this year.

5. The race performance I am most proud of this year is the Veteran's Day 10K with a time of 45:19. The 10K has historically been my hardest distance to run well and I finally did it.

6. I spent all of February and March recovering from 3 stress fractures in my tibiae.

7. My biggest lesson learned this year is that higher mileage doesn't necessarily equal faster running.

8. My top three running items purchased are my Saucony PE Revival shorts, my CW-X capris, and my CEP compression sleeves.

9. My worst race performance was ironically the race I trained the hardest for-- the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon.

10. I ran 70.7 tempo miles in 2011, which was 5.4% of my overall training mileage. I ran 43.8 tempo miles in 2010, which was 2.0% of my overall training mileage.

Alexandria Half Marathon
11. My average training pace this year was 8:49. Coincidentally my PR marathon pace from over three years ago is also 8:49.

12. The hottest race I ran was the Lawyers Have Heart 5K, which was supposed to be a 10K, but got downgraded on race morning due to the heat. A close second was the Alexandria Festival Half marathon.

13. In addition to my stress fractures, I also dealt with hip bursitis, early signs of peroneal tendonitis, and a calf strain.

14. I met a ton of cool people through running this year. And I started blogging more.

15. I won three age group awards: 1st AG at the Patriot's Cup 8K, 2nd AG at the Ringing In Hope 10K, 2nd AG at the Run Geek Run 8K.

16. I think I experienced my first-ever official "overtraining" after the Turkey Trot. I recently read a description of technical overtraining symptoms, and I had most of them. It took me nearly three weeks to get my energy back.

17. I do not have any running goals for 2012 other than to run smart and stay healthy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

I've already received most everything on my Christmas list:
  • Wonderful husband
  • Nice home
  • New job
But if I could ask Santa for just one more thing, I'd ask for a healthy calf. No, not a baby cow, but that muscle in the bottom part of your leg known in medical circles as the Gastrocnemius.

I was really hoping I'd be 100% today and ready for a long run. But unfortunately, my calf still needs more time. I've now missed my first two long runs of the training cycle, and that's the one type of run that you just can't substitute on an elliptical or in the pool-- although I will certainly try. 

I went back to my sports chiropractor (aka Santa?) in hopes of getting a healthy calf yesterday and even though his treatment helped, he told me that I wasn't ready to run anything longer than two miles at this point.

And since I'm making a wish list, I might as well add this:

And since I was born Jewish, I guess that means I can create a Hanukkah wish list too, which would include this item:

That's all for now. I'm looking forward to spending the holidays with family and relaxing. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 2011 Training

With the year coming to a close, I took a look back on my training in 2011. Thanks to the RunningAHEAD training log, I was able to make some pretty cool charts.

December is looking pretty wimpy-- mainly because I felt worn out/run down for the first half of the month. But I still have 10 days left to crank out some good workouts! My calf might be ready for a long run on Saturday. Apparently it was a mild strain and the Graston that I had done on Monday has already helped. I won't attempt a long run unless I am 100%, but I am hopeful that I will be. If not, there is always the pool. 

Looking only at land running and the specific workouts themselves, 2011 looks like this:

I worked really hard over the summer and was prepared to crank out a killer marathon on Oct. 2. But alas, it wasn't my day. Instead of getting a new marathon PR, I ended up with PRs in the shorter distances, which I am very happy about. 

My land mileage for 2011 is the lowest its been since I started tracking miles back in 2008. However, with the introduction of pool running, I haven't lagged behind too much. I'm also training smarter now, so I am able to get better results with fewer miles. 

I don't plan on beating my 2010 mileage in 2012 because I don't think I need to go that high to see results. I do hope, however, that I don't get injured in 2012 and I can keep up with the mileage I want. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

WTF Calf?!

I wrote this blog in my head while waiting on a street a corner for 25 minutes in 35 degree weather for my husband to come pick me up because I decided to stop mid-run. My calf was hurting and I knew that I was risking serious injury if I didn't stop right then and there.

Let's back up.

The first hint I had that anything was wrong with my calf was immediately after the Turkey Trot just over three weeks ago. My left shin was achy, and I remember telling my husband that I thought the cause of the shin was a tight calf. I didn't run for two days and then I ran 10 miles pain free. Afterwards, however, I did notice that my calf felt tight.

I started stretching and foam rolling the calf regularly but nothing seemed to make the tightness go away. It didn't hurt, I could just tell it was tighter than it should be. I ran the Memphis Half Marathon with no issues, and then I took five days off because I felt sick/run-down. And then I took things very easy-- only running 4-5 miles every other day because I just wasn't feeling well. It had nothing to do with my calf. You would think with such a light running schedule that it would be nearly impossible to get an injury.

And then on Friday (two days ago) I decided to do the speed work that my coach prescribed. But instead of going to the track, I did it in a somewhat hilly neighborhood with a 15-mph sustained wind. My calf felt tight during the run, but it didn't actually hurt until afterwards. I stretched, iced and then went about my day. Yesterday, however, while walking around I noticed that I could feel my calf. With every step I took, my calf "spoke" to me. Probably a 2 out of 10 on the pain scale, so I wasn't freaking out, but I was worried that I could feel it at all.

This morning, my husband asked me if I was sure my calf was okay for a long run, and I said I thought it was, and that I would stop if it hurt. But deep down I knew he was right and that I shouldn't have attempted it. Considering my calf did not feel 100% to even walk on, the idea of going for a long run was ridiculous. But I really wanted to do it, given that it was definitely time to start training for my the Shamrock marathon.

I started running and immediately "felt" my calf with each stride. I thought maybe it was just tight and needed some time to warm up. But it just got worse and worse until I forced myself to stop after just three miles. My husband offered to run home, get the car and drive me home. I told him that I could just walk, but didn't think I should walk. He's so sweet!!!! (And he knows that I can be miserable to be around when I have an injury.)

I felt horrible for ruining his run, but he told me it wasn't ruined-- his top priority was making sure I didn't get injured. Even though we had run three miles, we were only two miles from home (we had taken a round-about route). So I waited there for 25 minutes with nothing to think about other than how frustrating this was and how stupid I was for attempting a long run when my calf wasn't 100%. I don't even have time to go pool running today because of a family commitment!

I don't know what's wrong with my calf. I doesn't hurt in one particular spot, but rather all around the inside of the leg.  I had scheduled an appointment with my sports chiro last week, thinking it was just tight and needed some ART. I see him tomorrow and maybe he will have an idea about what's going on. It's probably a muscle strain of some sort, but how on earth could I have strained a muscle on such little running!!!!

The good news is that the calf is completely pain-free while at rest and I only feel it when I walk on it. I know I did what I needed to do by stopping, but it's frustrating because I already feel like I am behind on my Shamrock training. I just spent two weeks of very little running because I felt sick and now I will probably be out for at least another week, unless my sports chiro can work some kind of magic.

WTF, calf?!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Frontier

Yesterday I turned in my resignation letter to a company that I have been working for since October of 2005. It was a huge step for me, but there is no doubt that I made the right decision. I accepted a position with a larger company where I will be doing the same type of work, but on a much broader scale and in a different industry.

In my previous post, I talked about believing in yourself and taking risks. I do not consider my new job to be a risk, but I'll definitely be stepping out of the comfort zone that I have been in for the past few years. This job will present me with new challenges and I am excited to tackle them. 

Professional Me.
The interview process for this new position was extensive. I have been speaking with the company since September, and I was even asked to give a 30-minute presentation. I took a relatively relaxed approach to interviewing, so the bulk of the stress was around the idea of making such a major change in my life. As I said earlier, I have been with my current employer for over six years. What would life be like outside of that world?

What does this mean for my running? I'm giving up a job that allows me to work from home in exchange for one with an actual commute and longer hours. My coach said "why would you do that!?" Instead of being able to go for a run at pretty much any hour of the day, it's now back to waking up before 5:00 and running in the cold dark weather. Of course followed by the shower, putting on makeup, doing my hair and then commuting. Not as fun as what I have now, but it's worth it for a fantastic career opportunity. (The working-from-home thing just started a month ago and while it was great for flexibility, it wasn't helping me grow my career).

Ideally, the new job wouldn't impact my training for the Shamrock Marathon in March, but I'm accepting the possibility that it may. I'm also taking a vacation to Mexico in late January which will definitely disrupt the cycle, but in a good way! My goal will be to train to the best of my ability, while realizing that it won't be a "perfect" cycle and that Shamrock might not be the type of performance I would hope for. After so many bonks, there is only so much of emotional investment I can make in marathons, anyway. 

Runner Me.
What I'm trying to say is-- I don't care as much about my marathon time as I used to. I'm burnt out on thinking about those numbers. I'll always be motivated to train to the best of my ability because I enjoy the challenge. But with the new job, the vacation, and the stress that comes with making such a huge transition, I can only expect so much. Maybe I'll care more when Richmond rolls around next fall. But maybe not.

I'm really, really happy with the PRs I set this fall in the 5K, 8K, and 10K and I've proven to myself that I can take my running to the next level. In fact, I'm so content with those times that I have satisfied my PR "bug" for awhile, and I am okay with taking a more relaxed approach. 

So, what's been going on with my running lately? For the past two weeks I've felt run-down and lethargic, plus my coach told everyone on the team that we should be taking a bit of a break from running. That was a formula for very little running, but I think my body needed the rest.

Week of Nov. 28: 23.6 miles running (including a half marathon), 20 minutes pool running, 1/2 mile swim
Week of Dec. 5: 9 miles of running (all of them very slow and fatigued), 50 minutes pool running

So aside from that half marathon, I haven't been doing very much. I have been keeping up with my core strengthening, but even my planks were shorter and fatigued. Yesterday, I went for a six-mile run and I finally felt like I had some energy. I still plan on keeping the training very light this week and start my "official" Shamrock training next week. 

I don't have any upcoming races planned aside from the marathon, although my husband wants to do the same race we did last New Year's Eve. I haven't decided if I'll race that one or if I will just be his cheerleader. He thinks I should just do it as a fun run, which I may. 

It's an interesting time for me, to say the least. I've had a great year and a great "run" at my current company, and now it's time to explore a new frontier.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Running, Empowerment and Finding Yourself

I often get asked why I run. I could honestly write a novel on this topic because there are so many reasons why I run as much as I do. I sometimes even find myself asking why I care so much about a race goal, but I usually can't articulate an answer.

I'll circle back to the topic of why I run, but to do so I'm going to first provide some context.

As I have mentioned in previous posts over the past 6-8 months, I have had a lot of stress in my life recently. Not the type of stress that I had in 2010 when I was planning a wedding, buying a new house and making all kinds of life changes. I'm talking about internal stress. I've been spending a lot of time inside my own head, asking myself some challenging questions and searching for the answers.

The word "stress" has a negative connotation, but stress can be good too! It's how we grow, change and learn about ourselves. My life hasn't changed very much over the past year, but my perceptions have changed drastically. I apologize for speaking in vague terms, but the specifics aren't appropriate or even relevant to this blog. The important point is that our perception of our world IS our world and when our perception changes, WE change. Or more likely--  as we change, so does our perception. I'm getting very philosophical now.

As humans we all need external validation and we all struggle with self-worth in some form of another. No one is exempt from this need. However, understanding this need for approval from others and how it plays into our self-worth requires a great deal of introspection.

For me, the transition from college to the "real world" was a difficult one. Looking back, I think it was the lack of structure that presented the biggest challenge. Until that point, I always knew what I was supposed to be doing, and it was very easy for me to get the external validation I needed. Study. Get good grades. Participate in extra-curricular activities. Have an active social life (ie. go out drinking with friends frequently). I was able to do all of these things relatively well, so my life was easy.

Once I graduated, things weren't as black and white. I needed a goal-- something tangible that was mine and that I could succeed at. Having a job wasn't enough because of stability issues that came with the burst of the DotCom bubble. I also wasn't used to living alone and having to "commute" through traffic to see my friends. This is when I turned to exercise and fitness. It was a very simple solution to filling that need.

About five years later, I discovered racing, which presented me with another opportunity to succeed at something tangible and measurable. I won't go as far as to say that running defined my self-worth, but it was by far the biggest element. It's not that I didn't think there were other valuable aspects about me-- it's just that those other qualities weren't objective. It didn't matter how great I thought I was, because I didn't see myself as a qualified judge. Was I truly intelligent? Was I truly a good person? I thought so-- but I had no way of really knowing that because such things aren't measurable.

When you have something measurable providing you with your sense of self worth, then you don't have to do the real "work" of truly believing in yourself. It's HARD to believe in yourself. It sounds easy, but to truly believe in yourself, you often need to defy what others think. You have to go out on a limb and know your worth even when you think other people might disagree. People who dream big and accomplish great things don't get there by setting "reasonable" goals. They go out on a limb, believe in themselves, and don't listen to people who tell them they can't do something.

I run because it's where I find my power. When I feel that other people are dragging me down and walking all over me, I go for a run and I feel strong again. With running, it's somewhat "safe" to dream big, because there will always be another marathon, another chance to achieve my goals if one race doesn't go my way. And when I do set a new PR or meet a specific race goal, then there's no doubt that I succeeded and nobody can take that feeling away from me by giving their opinion.

Many runners say that they have found themselves through running. I find this to be very true of myself. But it's not an endgame. In fact it's just an opening into many other possibilities for me to unlock my potential.

What's changing in my life is that I'm starting to find power within myself that isn't necessarily measurable. Don't get me wrong-- running is amazing and wonderful and I love it. But I'm finding my own power in terms of knowing what I am truly capable of, even when people around me think I am not. It's one thing when there is just one negative voice among the many other voices of encouragement and praise. But it's another story when it seems like you are the minority in thinking you can succeed at something.

I apologize for the vague nature of this blog post. I do plan to continue to run/train with the same passion and motivation as always. I'm not suggesting that I shift focus away from running, but rather toward how running fits into the bigger picture of my life, who I am, and what I stand for.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon: Race Report

Yesterday morning, I ran the St. Jude Memphis half marathon. This is my third consecutive year participating in this race. In 2009 I ran the half marathon and in 2010 I ran the full marathon. The full marathon went very badly for me last year due to stomach distress, but the half marathon in 2009 was a very good race for me.

The company that I work for is a gold sponsor of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon weekend. Several years ago, we chose St. Jude as our official charity partner and we made a commitment to donate $1 million to the research hospital over a period of time. St. Jude Children's Research hospital was created to find cures for childhood diseases and provide first-class treatment to sick children.

As an avid runner, I knew that St. Jude organized a marathon and half marathon, so I looked into how my company could be a part of that. It turns out that all sponsorship money goes directly to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and that if we sponsored the race, it would help us fulfill our $1 million commitment. As such, I was easily able to convince my CFO to sponsor the event in 2009, and we have been doing so ever since.

Expo Experience
St. Jude Marathon Expo
The company I work for provides software to manufacturing companies. It has nothing to do with running, however, our sponsorship came with an expo booth. My husband and I traveled to Memphis on Thursday to staff the booth. Special thanks goes out to Greg for taking vacation time to come to Memphis with me and keep me company at the expo.

As you may imagine, we got very little traffic, except for the fact that we were giving away pens and people were happy to take those. There was one runner who was a user of our software and I had a great conversation with him.Otherwise, we were there primarily for the brand recognition. It was really cool to see our logo on the race shirt and have our signage on the course. After all, I run the marketing department (and therefore manage the brand) so it was exciting to see people wearing a shirt with my company's logo.

The only other employee from my company who participated was my CFO, but the CEO sent his wife and two of his kids, along with his sister and her husband. I had also invited my friend from Atlanta and her husband to join our team.

Race Goals and Strategy
This was not a target race for me. I was actually much more interested in doing well at my recent 10K and 5K then I was for this half marathon. My mileage had been relatively low and I hadn't done many long runs since my marathon two months ago, so I didn't have any specific training dedicated toward this race. I was mainly looking forward to having a fun time and running a decent race.

Time-wise, I would have liked to go sub-1:40, which would have meant a PR by a bit less than two minutes. On the one hand, I know I am in much better shape now then when I ran my 1:41:40 last October. On the other hand, 1:41 is a very solid half marathon time, so I'd have to push myself to beat it.

My strategy was to take it easy during the first 5K and then just run the race by feel, without looking at my Garmin too much. I've run enough of these that I know what half marathon pace should feel like.

Race Morning
Greg and I met up with two of our friends and headed to the start line. Our hotel was just three blocks from the start line, and the self-corralling system was very clearly marked. I didn't see any obvious walkers in the faster corrals. Corrals are released one minute apart, leaving plenty of room on the course for the runners. At the same time back home, many of my friends were running the Hot Chocolate 15K and 5K, which was a logistical nightmare. Knowing what they were going through, I was very happy to have a short walk to the start and a course that was not overcrowded.

Greg and I started near the 3:25 marathon pacer, which would yield a half marathon time of 1:42:30. I thought that starting out near him would be perfect, and then I would gradually start to speed up and pass him-- hopefully catching the 3:20 guy toward the end of the race. Greg didn't have high expectations for this race because he hasn't been training much since our marathon two months ago. But we still started out together.

Miles 1-3
The race started and I was running about 20 feet behind the 3:25 pacer. It wasn't long before Greg sped up and got ahead of me, and I stayed steady. I glance down at my Garmin a few times and saw that I was running at about an 8:00 pace, which I was fine with.

Mile 2 came and I knew it would be faster because it had a long downhill. I decided to just keep the effort level steady. After the downhill, there was a bit of an uphill and that's when I realized that I didn't feel very well. I saw Greg wave to some people cheering on top of a hill, and I didn't want to expend the energy to do that. But this was mile 2! I didn't want to write the race off yet, but I could tell that my energy level was very low.

I just focused on staying relaxed and maintaining the pace (based on feel, not on the Garmin) and I didn't care that the 3:25 guy was no longer in my sight by mile 3.

Mile 1: 8:02
Mile 2: 7:43
Mile 3: 8:03

Miles 4-7
I took my first honey at mile marker 4, thinking that some calories might make me feel more peppy. But it didn't seem to make any difference at all. I started thinking about why I could be feeling so tired. I had gotten a decent amount of sleep that week-- but I had waken up quite a few times during the middle of the night on Thursday and Friday night due to the hotel bed being small.

I knew it was time to pick up the pace and start running at what felt like half marathon pace, but I didn't feel like I had the energy to do so. My pace of 8:00 didn't feel like half marathon effort, but I felt really tired doing that, and I didn't think I had the energy for faster. I glanced at my Garmin off and on, and was maintaining a pace of around 8:00, but I kept running by feel instead of letting the Garmin dictate my pace.

If this had happened a year ago, I think I would have been too focused on time to pay attention to my body. I would have sped up to my target 7:40 pace and probably crashed really hard.

I remembered when I ran this race in 2009 after coming off of a foot injury and being shocked that I held a pace of 8:00. I was very happy with that pace back then, so I was going to be content with it now. This wasn't a target race for me, so as long as I could just hang in there and not have a repeat of the full Memphis marathon in 2010, I'd be fine.

Mile 4: 7:38 (partially under a bridge, Garmin was off a bit)
Mile 5: 7:48
Mile 6: 7:58
Mile 7: 7:55

Miles 8-10
I was feeling so bad by mile marker 8, that I had to remind myself that I only had five miles left. During the recent Milwaukee Lakefront marathon, I started feeling bad at mile 13, and I still had 13 miles to go. But it was like being at mile 21 of a marathon, so that thought was encouraging.

At this point, I knew I was going to have to slow down, it would just be a matter of how soon and by how much. Mile 10 is probably the toughest mile of the race which has a lot of uphills, and that's when most of the people in my "group" started passing me-- including Greg. I felt like a snail going up the hills and I just wanted to collapse. I was so tired. Even though I ran an 8:22 pace for mile 10, my effort level was the same because of all the hills, but then I felt completely "done" after mile 10.

Mile 8: 7:56
Mile 9: 8:02
Mile 10: 8:22

Miles 11-13.1
Approaching the Finish
After mile 10, I wanted to walk. I was afraid I was going to have to run-walk to the finish and not even get a sub 1:50. Thankfully, mile 11 was mainly downhill. But there were a few uphills, and I did walk for a few seconds on those.

Mile 12 came and I walked a few times, about 5-10 seconds each time. But I told myself "you are only prolonging this experience by walking. It's not helping you at all. Just run and you'll be done with it faster." All I wanted to do was to lay down and just pass out. But I tried my hardest to tolerate it for two more miles.

The last mile was pretty much all downhill. It starts with an uphill, but then the last 3/4 of that mile is a nice downhill. I walked for a little bit on the uphill and then decided to really push hard on the downhill because the end would be there soon. I passed mile marker 13 and just cruised to the finish on the downhill and into the stadium at a surprising 7:03 pace. I guess I had some energy left in me.

Mile 11: 8:32
Mile 12: 8:43
Mile 13: 8:37
Last 0.2 (per garmin): 7:03 pace

The Finish
I crossed the finish line and saw Greg. I was so happy to be done! I starting coughing out air off and on, but that stopped after about 5-10 minutes. And then I felt okay. I probably could have pushed myself more during this race, but it really wasn't "my day" and it wasn't a target race so I just went with what I thought my body could tolerate without making myself feel completely sick and miserable.

Official time: 1:46:49

My time was far off from my goal, but it wasn't horrible given how tired I felt throughout the race, and I'm not beating myself up for my fitness level or making some big mistake. I seriously thought that I might not even get under 1:50. I know I'm in great shape, as evidenced by my recent 10K and 5K races-- yesterday was just an off day for me. I ran this race in 1:44:30 back in 2009, and I am in far better shape today.

What really does bother me, however, is that this type of thing just "happens". This same exact thing happened to me at the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon-- a lack of energy that left me run-walking starting at mile 14, despite going out at a pace that was "easy". It also happened to me at the 2009 Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I started feeling crappy at mile two, and then by mile five I pulled off the course and DNFed. No real explanation for why-- I just didn't have any energy in me.

My coach suggested that flying to races could be putting an extra strain on my body, or maybe I was coming down with a cold/flu. My allergies had really been acting up the day before the race, but overall I felt decent, so I thought they were just allergies-- like I was allergic to my "pet-friendly" hotel room.

Maybe I've been running too many races. I ran a 10K on Oct. 29, followed by another 10K on Nov. 13, and then a 5K on Nov. 24. I've also been doing speed work in between these races. Maybe I was burned out on racing. Who knows!?

I really don't have an explanation, and that's what bugs me. There isn't anything I can focus on to prevent this type of thing. There was no way for me to predict this was going to happen, and I can't pinpoint the cause. I wasn't anxious or stressed about this race, although I guess my restless sleep could have played a role.
I guess one good thing is that my legs feel 100% normal today. Absolutely no soreness. Because I ran the race at a relatively easy pace, there wasn't much strain on my legs. However, I do plan to take two days from running just to be on the safe side. And I plan to take the next two weeks very easy-- in case I was burned out from too many races and too much speedwork.

In any case, it was a fun weekend with my husband, my friends, and the rest of the runners on my company's team. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is an amazing organization, and it was wonderful to participate in an even that supported such a noble mission.
My corporate team (minus the 13-year old who was looking for his results)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My First Sub-7:00 Race

The title of this blog says it all. Well, most of it (otherwise I wouldn't need to blog). I was fairly confident in my ability to run a sub-7:00 average pace this morning in my 5K, but I if I did, it would be by the skin of my teeth. Maybe one of those annoying things when your Garmin says you rain a 6:59 average pace, but the official pace is 7:01.

This morning, my husband Greg and I ran the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. This was my 6th consecutive year running this race.

My main goal for this race was to run sub-22:00, but I thought that if I was having a really good day, I could run around 21:45, for a sub-7:00 pace. I had just ran my fastest 5K ever as the second half of a 10K race, so I was fairly certain I could PR at the very least. I actually couldn't really imagine a sub-7:00 average, but the McMillan Calculator indicated that it was possible based on my recent 8K and 10K races. However, those two races were flat and this course has a huge hill in the second mile and a lot of other rollers.

Other goals were to not look at my Garmin after the first mile and to push as hard as I could during the last mile.

The weather was 40 degrees and sunny, which usually means short sleeves and shorts for me. However, I had just purchased new CWX capri tights that felt awesome to run in, so I figured I would give those a try. Yesterday was ridiculously windy, so I chose long sleeves, a decision I would later regret. If it were any other race distance I would have certainly gone with short sleeves, but I figured, "how hot can you really get in 22 minutes?"

Greg and I parked, warmed up for 2.4 miles and then lined up. This race is notorious for slower runners and kids starting at the very front. As I was walking towards the start line, I saw a 12-year-old girl wearing the race t-shirt at the very front. Not one row back-- but at the absolute front. I later saw her walking halfway through the first mile. Every year I lose time in the first mile because of weaving and being blocked by slower runners, so I lined up in the 3rd row back. Next to me were two teenage sisters who looked to be about 12 and 15, both wearing the race-shirt. I figured that if they were going to be that close, so could I.

I was actually warm standing at the start line after having warmed up. I really wished I had gone with short sleeves but it was too late now. I rolled up my sleeves and kept them like that the whole race.

Greg and I were next to each other, and he said he was going to try and keep me in his sight the entire time. He hasn't been training very much lately so he didn't have high expectations for this race.

Mile 1: 7:00
Because of the course profile, you really have to run this race strategically. The first mile is rolling hills, with what seems to be a net downhill. So you have to go out faster than your goal pace, but not too much faster. You also need to do this while weaving around slower runners, who I inevitably found myself behind. (I'm not just talking about people running in the 8:00's, but people who were doing a very slow jog.) I was also entertained by people bonking in the first mile (mainly teenagers) because they completely ran out of breath by going out too fast. Anyway, I was planning for this mile to be around 6:55, but wasn't too discouraged when I logged a 7:00.

Mile 2: 7:05
I didn't look at my Garmin at all this mile, but I did look at it to see my split. I was sooo tempted to look at it during the long hill, but I forced myself to focus on nailing that hill. I imagined I was at a hill workout with my coach telling me to lean forward and pump the arms. I pictured him in my mind watching me and my form, and I wanted to make sure I was doing it correctly. Instead of looking at the Garmin and thinking about how this hill was slowing my pace as I have in years past, I focused on my form and using my arms and I was at the top before I even knew it!

Mile 3: 6:42
I did sneak a quick glance at the Garmin once during this mile and that reminded me exactly why I wasn't supposed to be doing that. This pace was extremely fast. I told myself to ignore that pace and keep putting out a strong effort. Just run! With about 0.3 miles left to go my stomach started to hurt. It was a good hurt though, like I was about to vomit. I think you're supposed to feel this way at the end of a 5K, otherwise you aren't pushing hard enough.

Last 0.1: (6:08 pace)
I kept my eyes on the finish line, got energized by the people cheering me in and gunned it.

Official time: 21:29 with an average pace of  6:56.

This is a PR by 49 seconds, which is very significant for a 5K. I still cannot believe I ran it that fast. And with hills. This is a course PR by 1:04 from my race last year in 22:33.

I placed 15 out of 1983 women
I placed 4 out of 369 women ages 30-39

I am just thrilled with how I raced this. I guess being a little slower than expected in the first mile really paid off in the last mile.

Greg finished shortly after me in 21:44. Not a PR for him, but considering his very light training over the past two months, it's fantastic.

Here is a fun Turkey Trot history grid:

Date  Mile 1 Mile 2 Mile 3 Finish Time 
 2008   Unknown Unknown  Unknown   23:22
 2009    7:25 7:44 7:37   23:40
 2010  7:19 7:19 7:07   22:33
 2011  7:00 7:05 6:42   21:29

The irony of all of this is that my fall training has been the lowest mileage of nearly all of my training cycles. My weekly mileage has been in the mid 30's for the most part, with some weeks in the 40's when I was training for Milwaukee Lakefront.

I can't pinpoint exactly what has caused this sudden speediness and massive PRs in the 8K, 10K, and 5K, but I'm guessing it's a combination of my core strengthening (which I do religiously), my swimming and my pool intervals. (I get my HR up higher in pool intervals than on a track). Of course, my coach has been encouraging these types of activities and the actual track workouts have contributed as well. But that is a topic for another blog post.

Right now, I am going to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family and be super excited about my massive PR!!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Zebra Doesn't Change Its Stripes

I was so excited to know my time that I ruined my finish line photos! I specifically tried NOT to do that this year, but I guess I wasn't as far away from the finish as I thought!

Veteran's Day 10K 2009
48:54 PR
Veteran's Day 10K 2011
45:19 PR

I've been taking it pretty easy this week in terms of running. I know I will need fresh legs for my Turkey Trot 5K next week!

I took a complete rest day on the Monday after the race, and on Tuesday I went for an easy pool run and 900 yd swim. On Wednesday I was back out on the road with an easy 7-miler. Thursday was another easy 7-miler, although the pace was a bit zippier. Today I subjected myself to 5 x 3:00 pool running intervals (harder than track intervals!) and tomorrow I plan to do a long run of 14-15 miles.

In other news, I jumped on the Richmond Marathon bandwagon and registered for the 2012 race at the low introductory price of $55. (Which means no Veteran's Day 10K). It will be the five-year anniversary of my first sub-4:00 marathon, and I'd like to beat my 2007 time by 30 minutes. It's a pipe dream at the moment, but I'm going to work hard all year to try and make it happen. It's not horribly unrealistic for someone to decrease his/her marathon time by 30 minutes over a 5-year period of consistent training.

I do regret that I am missing out on the opportunity to experience a new marathon, but Richmond is one of my all-time favorites. Let's just hope I can hold off a few seconds before hitting that "stop" button on the Garmin!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Birthday 10K PR

I love my birthday-- 11/11. Naturally, I was very excited on Friday when it was 11/11/11. I turned 33 (11+11+11=33). I felt so special!

11/11/11 was such a stripey day!
I took the afternoon off from work to have lunch with my mother, pickup my race packet and buy myself some new running gear. I bought my first pair of running capri pants ever-- CWX compression ones. I also bought two pairs of smart wool socks for when the temperature starts getting down into the teen's.

My husband surprised me that evening with tickets to the Foo Fighters concert. I was so excited. I used to have a tradition of going to a rock concert during my marathon taper. It would get my mind off the race and then I would listen to those songs in my iPod and they'd be "fresh" again. I haven't done that in awhile, so it was nice to have a concert during my pseudo 10K taper. He even hired us a car service so that we wouldn't have to drive, and there were a dozen red roses waiting in the back seat for me after the concert.

I didn't get much sleep on Friday night because no matter what, I wake up at 5:00am. It doesn't matter when I fall asleep-- 8:00pm or 1:00am. I always wake up around 5:00am. To compensate for this lack of sleep I took about an hour long nap on Saturday.

I've said this many times in my blog before, but I think that the 10K is my most challenging distance. The 5K and the 8K are short enough that you don't have to endure the pain for long. The half marathon and marathon are comfortable for at least the first half. But the 10K-- that is a long distance to be running that hard. You have to push hard the entire time and it just always feel like such a long time to be pushing that hard. For years, the 10K was my "slowest" distance according to all the calculators. All of my other race times, including the marathon, were equivalents of each other. But my 10Ks were always notably slower.

Race Morning and Goals
My friend Kathy came over to my house at 6:15 and my husband drove us to the race in Washington DC. My husband decided not to run this one because he's been training very lightly since the marathon. He instead played the role of bag check/photographer/chauffeur/cheering squad.

Kathy and I met up with Dorothy for a 15-minute warmup. Kathy and I decided that we were going to start together at a 7:20 pace and then see what happened. I was fairly confident that I could run the race at a 7:20 pace and was hoping to be able to speed up during the last two miles. But if I couldn't then I would still be happy with 7:20.

My "A" goal for this race was to break 46:00 and my "B" goal was to PR by beating 46:34. To accomplish this, I was going to use the mental toughness strategies I employed at the Run Geek Run 8K. The Veteran's Day 10K course is almost identical to that 8K course (they just add an extra 1.2 miles) so I was trying to mimic my 8K as much as possible. I knew I'd probably end up with a different mantra, but I just needed to be very confident that I could stay on pace and not give up the effort level.

Also, I was going to try to minimize the number of times I looked at my Garmin. I wanted to pay attention to my pace so that I didn't fall off, but I wanted the focus to be on running by feel and being strong.

The weather was ideal. Sunny and upper 40's with a slight breeze. The course was about as flat as they come.

Miles 1-2: 7:23, 7:22
Kathy and I didn't stay together for more than the first few steps. I ended up going a bit slower than the predicted 7:20 and she went slightly faster. About 3/4 of a mile into it, I saw my coach and he told me to relax for the first half and really pick it up in the second half. There was a very slight headwind that wasn't affecting my pace but it was making my 7:20's feel tougher than I would have liked.

Mile 3: 7:20
During the third mile, I started to seriously doubt my ability to go sub-46:00. I was just going to hope to PR. I was at a 7:20 pace and it was tough and there was no way I could speed up. I hit the 5K mark in 23:05 which meant I'd have to speed up to meet my goal.

Mile 4: 7:16
But I was right about that headwind. I turned around and things got much easier. Also, getting over that mental hump of being over halfway there helped. My 7:16 for mile 4 felt easier than my 7:20 for mile 3. My confidence was coming back.

Mile 5: 7:09
Not looking at the Garmin paid off here because I think I would have been freaked out to see how fast I was going. This mile went by pretty quickly. I didn't use a mantra, but I was singing an Incubus song to myself and repeating the same lyrics over and over. It was a good distraction. I also found myself getting closer to Kathy. This was a good motivator for me because she always runs strong and finishing anywhere in her league would be awesome for me.

Mile 6: 7:12
I tried to rally my final kick from the 8K as it was the exact same last mile. I had started out that last mile relatively slow, gone over a bridge, and then really just turned it on through the finish. I didn't look at my Garmin at all during this mile. I was 100% focused on running hard and staying strong.

The last 0.2: 6:30 pace
As I got closer to the finish line, I very quickly glanced down at my Garmin to see the time. I was only able to catch the seconds. It said :37. Dammit! The finish line was way too far away for me to cross in just 23 seconds. I wanted that sub-46:00 so badly! Maybe if I pushed really, really hard I could get it. Although I knew it would be useless because the finish line was still too far.  But as I crossed, I noticed that the clock was in the low 45's. OMG! My watch hadn't said 45:37. . . it had said 44:37. Holy smokes!  I looked at my Garmin data later and it shows a dramatic acceleration during the last 0.2 from a pace of 6:45 to a pace of 5:26. I only held that for a few seconds, but I was in the very low 6's for that final bit. The Garmin can be very motivating! Had I not looked at my Garmin when I did, I would have run the race about 4-5 seconds slower.

First half: 23:05
Second half: 22:14
Final time: 45:19

This was quite the negative split. Part of it was my race strategy, but I think the wind did play a small role. The awesome thing is that the second half of the race is a new 5K PR for me by 4 seconds!!!

Overall, this was a PR by 1:15, which is fairly significant.

I finished 12 of 242 in my age group
I finished 61 out of 1139 women

I ran this race in 2009, while coming back from an injury. I beat that time by over three minutes!

Final Thoughts
This PR was a wonderful birthday present. And now I am super excited about my 5K Turkey trot, given that I just ran my fastest 5K ever--- during a 10K. I am once again reminded of how much of this is mental. I honestly felt like it wasn't my day during the first half of the race, but as soon as I turned it on, I had all this extra energy and I ran the perfect race.

Kathy and Me After the Race

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

15 Minutes of Fame

Shortly after crossing the finish line of the Rock 'N Roll Half marathon in Virginia Beach, a reporter from Washington Running Report, DC's local running magazine, began to interview me.

I naturally thought I might be in the article, but when the online version came out, I realized that I wasn't mentioned. No big deal. (Except for this guy thought it necessary to comment on my race report with solely a link to the online article-- does he have nothing better to do with his time?)

On Monday, I received the print version of Washington Running Report in the mail. I started flipping through it, and much to my surprise, I found a picture of myself from that race!

I'm not crazy about the photo, or the time I ran that day, but nevertheless-- I was there, it was hot, and I carried my bottle of G2 with pride!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wicked Windy 10K

If you're ever considering running a 10K when the last 1.5 miles are directly into a 21 mph sustained headwind with 35 mph gusts, don't do it. Unless the race is the Blue Moon Wicked 10K in Virginia Beach. That race is wicked awesome.

Why Wicked?
The Expo was very festive!
There were many reasons for my decision to run this race. Unlike most races, I didn't announce that I was running this race on my Facebook page beforehand and I only told my husband, some co-workers and my friend who lives in Virginia Beach. I wanted this to be a no-pressure stress-free fun run. Here are some of the reasons I chose this race:

  • I've been getting emails about this race from J & A racing for the past few years and it's always looked fun to me. These are the same folks that organize the Shamrock marathon, so I knew it would be just as fun, only shorter.
  • This was a great way to gauge my fitness for my target 10K in two weeks
  • I wanted to do a race where the focus was on having a good time, not running a good time!
  • One of my best friends lives in VA Beach so this race was a great reason to visit her
  • I thought it would be fun to see all of the costumes.
  • Great swag! Just as much as if you ran the full marathon: a long-sleeve dry-wicking running shirt with an awesome design, a finisher's medal, a finisher's hat. I also bought the "J & A Brewing Company" pint glass and some black shorts that say "Wicked" on the back of them.
  • I wanted to wear all of my zebra running gear at the same time and be a zebra.
Weather & Outfit

This is actually post-race with my medal.
The hourly forecast predicted a 100% chance of rain-- and this was less than 24 hours to race start. I did not feel one drop during the race. Just goes to show you how forecasts can be completely wrong. The temperature was predicted to be about 50 and it ended up being in the low 60's. 

Based on the forecast, I decided to wear a hat to keep the water out of my eyes along with a pair of zebra print gloves and zebra print arm warmers. I have this wonderful GIM Headband in zebra print, but I didn't even pack that because I was so certain I was going to wear the hat. I ended up not wearing the hat and really needing the headband because my wispy hairs were flying all over the place in the wind. I didn't end up wearing my gloves at all and I got hot so I had to remove the zebra arm warmers mid-race.

My friend who I stayed with has a cat. I am very allergic to cats and typically cannot be in a house that has a cat for more than 10 minutes. However, with the help of some Allegra D, I was good to go. 

I made sure that I got a non-drowsy allergy medication because Zyrtec knocks me out and I didn't want to go into the race like that. Allegra D had the opposite effect. I fell asleep at 9:30 and woke up at 12:30. And that was my sleep for the night. I could feel my heart beating fast and I felt like I had a lot of caffeine in me. I wasn't at all anxious about the race and I didn't even think about the race. I might have slept for a little between 2:30 and 3:30, but I'm not sure. Essentially I ran the race on 3-4 hours of sleep. Fortunately I slept wonderfully two nights before the race, which is far more important than the night immediately before the race.

I got to the race super early because they said it could be hard to park. The convention center was open so most people were hanging out in there. I got to use a toilet with running water which was nice.

I warmed up for 1.2 miles and did a few drills. Then I headed for my corral. The announcer noted "not many people in corral one are wearing costumes!" Which was true. Only about 25% of the people in my corral had a costume. Most of the costumes were further back.

Miles 1-2 (7:27, 7:27)
I thought I'd go out at a pace of 7:30 and see where that took me. Ideally I would speed up later in the race but if not, that was okay. I had to keep reining myself in on the first mile. It felt so easy and I didn't trust that I was actually running in the 7:20's. It felt more like an 8:00 pace. But of course, things do feel super easy at the beginning of a 10K. The first mile ran east directly into the head wind (coming from the Southeast). However, there were plenty of people to draft off of so I didn't feel it that much.  Mile two was headed south, so I started to really feel the effects of the wind. People started to space out so it was harder to find a consistent runner to draft off of. And since the wind was coming at me from the side as well, I would have needed someone in front of me and on my side.  

Miles 3-4 (7:22, 7:15)
Bib Numbers had Names!
During mile 3 I started to notice I was getting hot. I could feel that burning sensation in my face and I knew I was probably getting a very red face like I do when I overheat. Ironically, 8:00am was the warmest time of day and then it started to fall throughout the day. I rolled down my zebra arm warmers and by mile 4 I had gone as far as to take one of them completely off. The good news was that there was a turnaround in mile 3 giving a slight tailwind, but the bad news was that we were on the boardwalk and the wind was still coming at us pretty heavily from the ocean. Throughout the race I could hear the rattling of paper bibs. Whenever a gust would come, I held my bib in place for fear it would fall off. This race used the B-Tag so I really didn't want anything happening to my bib.

Mile 4 was awesome. We got off the boardwalk and there was a slight tailwind. I swear though, the headwind seemed far more powerful than the tailwind. There was this nice woman who suggested I tuck right into her "pack" so that they could shield me from the wind. I was able to keep up with them until we turned around and were back into the headwind in mile 5.

Miles 5-6 (7:51, 8:16)
The last 1.5 miles of this course was the worst of both worlds-- on the boardwalk with no buildings to block the wind from the ocean and a headwind. There were a few times when the gusts were so strong I was literally running in place. Even after I finished and was walking around there were times when I struggled to maintain balance and not be pushed around by the wind. It was just very, very painful and difficult to be running into that kind of wind. I've had headwinds in races before, but nothing like this. I told myself to just stay strong and keep pushing. I knew that this last mile would ruin my chance of a PR but I told myself it was good practice for the Shamrock marathon finish. That race can be very windy as well so I wanted to have confidence going into that race in March. Even though the splits look like a bonk, I did not bonk. I stayed strong and pushed very hard.

Last 0.2
I think this really tells the story. Average pace of 7:50. It was all I could muster. I did have a final kick, but with the wind having tired me out so much and it still going, all I had in me was a 7:50 pace. 

When I finished, it took me my usual two minutes to feel "right" which meant the medical people were trying to help me. When I give a good final kick, which is pretty much always, I feel dizzy and out of sorts at the finish line and it's normal for me. I guess I'm unique because I'm always the prime target for the medical people. It's rare that I ever actually need their help-- I just always look like death from pulling out 100% effort at the end.

I got a medal and a finisher's hat which I was super excited about. In all honestly though, this race was much harder for me than the Shamrock half marathon in 2009. I pushed myself harder today than I did back then and fought a tough mental battle. "It's just a 10K" is BS. This 10K was harder than many of my half marathons and so the medal is very well deserved!

I AM the 1%.
If I haven't already mentioned how awesome this race is, they sent me my results in this virtual certificate-- just hours after the finish! Percentile wise, I finished in the top 1% of my age group and the top 1% of all females. Interestingly, this race had exactly 7000 total finishers.

It would have been nice to have been in the top 10 of my age group. But 11 is my favorite number, so I'm happy!

The race is exactly 1:00 slower than my PR. If it had been a bit cooler and less windy I think I could have shaved over a minute off of my time, so that leaves me optimistic about my fitness level and the potential for a PR at the Veteran's Day 10K. 

I had such a fun time, despite the wind, and I'm already thinking about how I can plan my 2012 fall marathon around this race!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nike Women's Marathon: The Non-Race Report

Here I am in San Francisco for a conference that my company is hosting. It's 4:00am here and I have been up since 3:20. My body clock is extremely rigid and it's very hard to get it to adjust to another time zone. I'm able to stay up until about 9:00pm here, but regardless of when I fall asleep, I wake up super early.

Even though this conference is important for my work and I was looking forward to seeing the event come together, I was not looking forward to the trip as a whole. Before I left, I was feeling depressed about my running and the fact that I don't get to spend much time with my husband this month because we both have work travel (but at different times, of course!)

In my last post, I mentioned that I was struggling with the mental issues that contributed to my bonk at Milwaukee. I've decided that I need to address these issues not because I want a good marathon time, but because I want to be a more balanced person. I want to be more laid back, I want to take life one day at a time and I want to be less obsessive about my running. At the same time, I can't jump back into running because my hip has been bothering me-- I think it's bursitis. My dear friend Cristina suggested that I use this "break" from running as an opportunity to work on all of the above challenges.

View of the bay from a Duck Tour
I had a choice to make. I could either be miserable for this entire trip and let it affect my mood at the conference. Or I could really try and work on being positive and letting go of some of my anxiety about my hip and my fall racing schedule. I chose the latter.

I registered for the Nike Women's Marathon back in April because I knew I would be in San Francisco at the same time. The start line is actually just one block from my hotel. Even though Milwaukee Lakefront was my target race, I figured I would do Nike as a fun run or even a fun run-walk and really enjoy the scenery. After all, I was going to be here anyway so it was a perfect opportunity to participate.

With everything that went on with Milwaukee and my hip not feeling great, I decided I would just run the half instead of the full-- but still at a very easy pace. But last week, my coach strongly advised against me running at all. He told me not even to start the race because I would be rationalizing with myself about how it was okay to keep running. Once again I had a choice-- do I run the Nike Women's half marathon and then take off a few weeks from running and put my fall racing schedule in jeopardy. Or do I skip the marathon completely and focus on recovering my hip. Many people would have chosen to run Nike because it's such a cool race with amazing scenery and course entertainment. Not to mention the Tiffany necklace you get at the end and the finisher's shirt. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity because I don't see myself coming all the way out to San Francisco on my own just to run this race. I chose to focus on recovering my hip. Now and not later.

On Saturday, I searched the Craigslist postings and found someone who was willing to pay $150 for a bib (that was how much I actually paid for mine). I am generally against unauthorized bib selling, but I figured if I removed the timing device from the bib then it wouldn't be someone else running under my name. The buyer was fine with that and he just wanted to run for fun anyway. So with $150 cash in hand, it made it a little easier for me to not run the race. Plus, I knew I wouldn't be tempted to just get out there on Sunday morning and ignore my previous decision.

My friend Meredith ran the half marathon
What made it even more difficult was that my co-workers were all asking me if I was running in the race and I had to keep saying no and explaining my hip injury. Since none of them are runners, this responses resulted in a lot of "so the running is finally catching up with you" and "hips are the first thing to go". Not helpful.

So on Sunday morning, I got dressed in my bathing suit and headed out the door of the hotel to the pool next door. At this point, it was 6:45am and the race started at 7:00. There were 22,000 people running this race and the start line was so long that runners were even lined up in front of my hotel. I loved the "vibe". And it felt great to be enjoying the pre-race excitement without being nervous about the race. I heard the National Anthem and a few other announcements. And then I headed into the building next door with the pool. Even the guy at the front desk asked me why I was swimming and not doing the race!

As I swam (I think pool running might be aggravating the hip, so I am sticking to swimming) I had a bit of a revelation. I thought to myself that there are 22,000 people out there doing the race. But only one person swimming in this pool. Well, actually there was one other person-- but you get the point.

One of the reasons I love marathons is the challenge. But wasn't it actually MORE of a challenge to be swimming alone in a pool when there was a super exciting race going on outside? For me, yes. And if we want to speak just physically, swimming laps is not easy.  No, I definitely was not slacking off. No, I shouldn't think I failed because I couldn't run Nike. Yes, I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. Yes, it is more of a challenge to NOT run the race than to run it. Kinda backwards thinking, but given what I know about my personality, I have to realize that I actually am challenging myself by not running. It's just a different kind of challenge. One that I actually think I need right now.

Yes, I will lose a lot of the fitness I built up over the summer. I simply need to accept that and be okay with that. It's not the end of the world! We can't always be at peak fitness all the time.

I don't know when I will attempt to run again or even pool run. My hip has actually never hurt that much, but it's one of those things you can just "feel". I've already taken a full week off of land running so hopefully it shouldn't be too much longer. But once again, the uncertainty and the lack of control is something I need to learn to just accept. Right now I am focusing on the bigger picture of my attitude, so my actual fitness level is taking the back burner.

Since I do acknowledge that I am losing some fitness, this provides me with another opportunity to race without any expectations. Once my hip is fully recovered and I think I am ready to race at full effort, I will honestly have no idea what to expect, so I'll get to just run by feel without being a slave to the Garmin.

Even though I never want to compete in a triathlon, it's nice that my swimming is getting stronger. I swam a full mile yesterday (all freestyle) and only stopped twice for water. I'm not trying to be fast with my swimming, I just want to be able to swim for a decent amount of time to keep my cardiovascular fitness up and maybe get some upper body strength.

I'm actually headed out for a swim now, and then I will be focusing on the conference all day. Hopefully the event goes smoothly and I continue to be positive about this challenge to re-frame my mindset.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I've spent the past week and a half trying to recover from the marathon, both mentally and physically. But more so mentally.

I'll start with the physical-- that's easier. My hip felt a bit sore going into the marathon. It started about a week prior to the race, and I'm not sure why because my mileage was super low from the taper. The marathon didn't seem to make it any worse. In fact, the hip wasn't even an issue at all during the marathon because my entire body just felt so horrible. 

For the most part, my legs recovered pretty quickly. I kept all my workouts in the pool until Thursday, when I did an easy 4-miler. My next run was an 8-miler on Sunday and that's all the running I've done post-marathon. I could feel my hip during the 8-miler but it wasn't bad-- just nagging. I saw Dr. Maggs (an ART provider) on Monday and he told me that I should focus on resting my hip. Even though it wasn't a big problem now, it could become a lot worse. 

My coach agreed. I had been planning on running the Nike Women's half marathon as a training run this weekend, but my coach thinks that's an "awful idea". I've been looking forward to running this race since March, just as a fun run, and now my coach is advising against it and my doctor isn't thrilled with the idea either. If my hip were really hurting me, it would be much easier for me to just abandon the race. But since it's just a small amount of soreness, it's very difficult for me to not still want to do it. I don't even have an official diagnosis, but it's probably something like bursitis. It' doesn't hurt in one particular area, though, it's like the entire hip area. 

As for the mental recovery, I'm trying to rid myself of the idea that my marathon PR is the ultimate indicator of how good a runner I am. My marathon PR does not define me as a runner or a person. It's just a number. I really hate it when I meet someone new and I tell them I run marathons and then they ask me what my best time is. It's like they want to know how fast I am and my marathon PR is how they are going to judge me-- without knowing anything about my training or other races. 

I know that I shouldn't care about what other people think. Especially strangers I just met. But I think my marathon PR from 2008 is a misrepresentation of who I am as a runner, so I hate that question. I've come so far since March of 2008 as a runner and yet I still answer the "what's your fastest time" question the exact same way.

It also annoys me when I hear about people who don't run much, and decide they want to run a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston. They run all their training runs at their qualifying pace. They go into the marathon, qualify for Boston and then move on to something else. And then there's someone like me, who should have been able to BQ over 2 years ago, who has read books about marathons, has a coach, wears a heart rate monitor, wins age group awards at all other distances, does everything "right" but then just can't pull it all together on marathon day. It doesn't seem fair, but as we all know, life is not fair.

I know this is happening to me because I'm supposed to be learning something that is a  lot larger than running. I need to work on being less anxious. I need to not be as perfectionistic. I have to be ok with the fact that many things are not within my control. I need to stop using numbers to validate my success. I need to be less uptight. These are all areas that I have tried to address in the past and I've made significant progress on. But apparently, I still have a ways to go. These are the areas that I need to focus on-- not my training or my marathon times. 

Not focusing on a particular marathon time is exactly what I tried to do with Milwaukee. I actually didn't have a goal time, but rather a large range where I expected I would fall. I had a strategy about how I would run the race and I was confident that my time would be good based on my fitness level.

But now I'm in a spot where I've been told to keep all of my workouts in the pool until my hip feels better and I just feel like all my hard work from over the summer is going down the drain. I won't even have access to a pool for an entire week when I am in San Francisco.

I think I just need to remove myself from being so immersed in running and so I apologize in advance for my lack of comments on the blogs I regularly comment on.

I don't feel burnt out. I love running and I have never dreaded going into a run. If I could go run 10 miles right now that would make me very happy! Even on days when my runs don't go well, I still enjoy them. Heck-- I even enjoyed Milwaukee. It was a miserable experience, yes, but I enjoyed that I was there and that I was taking part in the event. Running is "fun" for me, but I don't run for the sole purpose of fun. If "fun" was all I was after I would find something else to spend my time on. I enjoy the challenge. I love the personal fulfillment I get out of each run. I love setting goals for myself and attaining them. Whether the goal is to run an easy 5 miles or to pass as many people as possible in the last mile of a race.

While I'm far from burnt out, I'm definitely discouraged. I worked really hard all summer and now that the weather is finally nice, I am stuck in the pool with no marathon glory and no idea how the rest of the racing season will play out.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Milbonkee Lakefront Marathon

Yesterday morning I completed my 13th marathon-- the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. It was a huge disappointment for me, but I think I took away some valuable lessons.

I think it makes the most sense for me to write this blog backwards, starting with the race itself, then moving on to the taper, and then taking a look at my previous marathons.

The Race
Even though I was miserable for the majority of this race, I have nothing but words of praise for the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon. It’s a great course, extremely well organized, a highly competitive field, not too large or too small, and with plenty of runner amenities. Before the race started we waited inside a high school with access to bathrooms that had running water. We weren’t called to the start line until about 15-minutes pre-race, so there was minimal waiting around in the cold.

The weather was near perfect. Low 40’s and sunny at the start, mid 50’s at the finish. A 5 mph tailwind. Everything was in my favor. Training had gone well, I avoided injuries and illness, I had some good tune-up races. I was ready!

I didn’t have a particular time goal in mind for this race. My coach recommended that I go out at a pace of 8:20-8:30 for the first 10K, and then gradually speed up. I assume he based this starting pace on my training paces, successful training cycle, recent 8K race and half marathon PR. He’s a conservative coach with a “start slow finish fast mentality” and I agreed that a pace of around 8:25 was easy for me.

He told me not to over-think it or look at my Garmin too much. This sounded like a great plan. Before I got a Garmin, I ran all of my marathons on feel and I had a streak of 7 races that all went better than I hoped for. Somewhere along the way I got addicted to the Garmin’s feedback and stopped running marathons by feel.

My mentality going into the race was to “just do it” and let the race come to me. I wasn’t going to be constantly monitoring the Garmin. I was going to enjoy the marathon and I was confident in my fitness level. I know I tend to psych myself out over marathons, so this time was going to be different because I was just going to relax and run by feel—like how I used to do before my series of bonks.

Miles 1-13
During the first few miles I just focused on being relaxed and enjoying the scenery. I listened to other people's conversations and was trying to focus on my surroundings instead of the fact that this was my marathon. This was just like a long run.

It was a bit crowded and the 3:40 pace group was just ahead of me. I told myself that I shouldn’t try passing them until after the 10K mark, or even later if I didn’t feel comfortable speeding up soon.

It felt very easy. In fact, I could hear others around me breathing heavily. I knew I was in great shape because I felt like I wasn't exerting much effort at all.

After mile marker 6 I knew I had the coach’s ok to pick up the pace a bit, but I didn’t feel ready for that.  My official pace at the 7-mile split was 8:27 and I didn’t feel like I should be speeding up. I was okay with this. I thought maybe by mile 8, 9 or even 10 I would be ready to start picking it up. But instead, I just started to feel worse and worse. 8 miles into the race and I knew something was wrong.

Yup, something is wrong.
Once again, trying to stay mentally positive, I told myself it was okay if I couldn’t speed up. A 3:40 would be a great time for me, so just continue at this pace. By mile 10 I knew my race was not going to end well. I just felt exhausted. A bit nauseous. Lacking energy. I didn’t feel out of shape, I just didn’t feel physically well. I know that positive self-talk can go a long way, so I kept reminding myself that I was very well trained and that this feeling would pass. I would be able to maintain this pace for awhile. I was doing great!
I crossed the halfway point at 1:50:xx. I had planned on being there at around 1:48, so I wasn’t too far off, but the fact that the race was no longer in my control at the halfway point was not a good sign.

Normally bonking is a sign of going out too fast. A rookie mistake. And if I had felt this bonk at mile 19 or 20, then I would have thought that I went out too fast. But after just 8 miles at a pace of 8:27, I was feeling “off” so I think that there was a lot more going on here. After all, I recently ran 5 miles at a pace of 7:13 and felt fantastic at the end. Yesterday, I ran 8 miles at a pace of 8:27 and was feeling drained.

Miles 14-Finish
The bonk didn’t “officially” start until mile 15 when I went into a porta potty and then just couldn’t get going again. I thought I might just finish the race at a slower pace until I realized that I didn’t think I could run much further. I still had 11 miles to go and I wanted to stop completely.

Then, the all-too-familiar bonking things happened. I started getting passed by pace groups that were slower than my PR, and as they passed I remember how great I felt when I ran that 3:51 at Shamrock nearly 4 years ago.  I was reduced to a run-walk. My easy pace is now faster than my marathon PR pace. So when I was able to run, I was running at around an 8:50. But I could only run for about 5 minutes at a time before feeling just completely knocked out.

My husband had struggled with Plantar Fasciitis this entire training cycle, so he was in shape for somewhere around 4:00. I knew that eventually he would catch up with me, I just didn’t know when. We had joked before hand that he’d better not find me walking on the side of the course at mile 20, and that’s exactly what happened. He said his heart sunk when he realized it was me. He was running at about a 9:00 pace and I was able to run with him for almost a mile until I had to stop again. I told him to finish and that I didn’t want to ruin his race. He insisted on staying with me and I felt so guilty. At this point, I sat down on the grass, and then lied down on the grass. I just felt completely defeated. I could not go one step further. He told me that I shouldn’t lie down on the grass, got me to my feet again, and we began walking.

The last six miles were torture. I started getting side stitches, I felt like I needed to vomit. I was thirsty, but whenever I drank water, my stomach would revolt and I’d feel even more nauseated. I thought maybe I had overdone the hydration thing because my body didn’t like the water. I was crying, I was depressed and I was hurting. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me again and why it always happened to me.

Maybe I drank too much water the day before and the morning of. I don't measure my water, I just try to drink lots of it along with electrolytes. Maybe I struck the wrong balance. Maybe I shouldn't have force fed myself so much food the day before because I had very little appetite. My best marathons were all run under cloudy skies, maybe I can't handle the sun at all. I couldn't figure it out. There seemed to be no logical explanation for why I felt so horrible, and why it started so early in the race. One thing that I am certain of-- I did NOT go out too fast for my fitness level. I have far too many races and tempo runs and other factors that indicate that 8:25 is a very conservative pace.

I was crying off and on. I felt like I had ruined my husband's race and I had let everyone down. Why was this happening to me?

Greg told me that I had the rest of my life to think about that but for now I had to focus on finishing the marathon. I just wanted to wallow and cry and not finish, but Greg helped me run/walk.

The last three miles were actually easier than miles 20-23. The course was mainly downhill for those last three miles so we were able to run without too much effort. The scenery started to get really good with a nice view of the lake and some gorgeous houses. That actually helped. We finished the race holding hands and I was so relieved to be done with it. 4:18:51. My third slowest marathon out of 13 and my 6th bonk.

I got my medal, but I just wanted to throw it on the ground. I didn't feel like I deserved a medal and I didn't feel at all proud of myself. I didn't even want to take off my shoes (which is normally the very first thing I do post marathon). I just wanted to be miserable.

When we got back to our hotel I called my coach. I wanted answers and I knew he’d have them. He did. He said he had a feeling earlier in the week that this could happen to me, simply based on my Facebook wall. He said that the race got built up so much and that I had so many people tracking me that I likely caved under the pressure. He told me how he once won a half marathon in a time of 1:05 and was the favorite to win a subsequent marathon. But the pressure got to be too much and he ended up dropping out at mile 20. He said he’s seen this happen before, when the athlete gets too hyped up about the race beforehand.

I was really trying to NOT do this during my taper, but I just couldn’t help it. He told me I should have stayed away from Facebook the week before my race and relaxed more. Most importantly, he assured me that I was a good marathoner in great shape, and I should just brush this one off and get there and try again as soon as possible.

The Taper
I took what my coach said and then I combined it with what I knew to be true about my taper. Suddenly all the pieces started to fit. In the two weeks leading up to my marathon, I was a ball of anxiety.

For those of us who love the adrenaline high of running a lot, the taper is not a fun time. We're forced to cut back our mileage and simply rest up for the marathon. It sounds easy to non-runners: all you need to do is eat well, sleep well and just relax. I know that these things are critical to marathon performance, but my anxiety often gets the better of me and this was my worst taper ever.

Aside from the usual taper anxiety, I was also dealing with other stresses. Squirrels were getting into my house and my husband was out of town on business and unavailable to assist or help calm my nerves. Additionally, my job has been really stressing me out as the environment there is changing rapidly and we have a huge event coming up. In fact, one of the reasons I chose Oct. 2 as a target marathon date was because I didn't want that large work event to interfere with my training.

I was trying so hard not to think about the race, but by doing that, I think I made my physical anxiety worse. On a daily basis I was dealing with:

  • Night sweats: waking up at around 2:00am covered in sweat
  • Insomnia: Not being able to fall back asleep after waking up at 2:00am
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight Loss
You aren't supposed to lose weight during the taper. If anything, you gain it. I lost 4 lbs in the two weeks before my race, and that's a lot for a person of my height. I could just feel that my body was on overdrive and I'd wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding. 

To combat all of this, I used Advil PM on some nights and was able to get a reasonable number of hours of sleep. The quality wasn't great, but I was sleeping so I thought I'd be fine for the race. Even though I wasn't at all hungry, I ate anyway. Bagels are one of my all-time favorite foods and on Friday morning, it was just so uncomfortable for me to be eating one. 

Despite all of this, I never doubted that I would still have a great marathon. I thought I had done everything right in terms of training, nutrition, hydration, etc. I went into the race with a good attitude and I didn't feel stressed on race morning. I had a healthy mentality during the race, but by that time it was too late.

I had already worn out my body in the weeks before my race with physical anxiety. This was my mistake and this is where things went wrong. It's wonderful that I can identify what the problem was, but now I have no idea how to fix it. It's like when someone tells you not to think about an elephant, you can't help but think of an elephant. 

The more I tell myself to relax about the marathon and not to have anxiety during the taper, the more I will probably stress about it. And even if I shove it out of my mind, which I did during the taper, the anxiety is there under the surface. 

Previous Marathons & The Big Picture
I think I'm finally starting to see what's has been going on with my previous marathons. The first 7 marathons I ran went perfectly and I exceeded my goal each time. The next 6 marathons were all bonks. Yes, some were weather related. But I think weather was only part of the problem.

Here's my theory. During my first 7 marathons, I didn't use a formal training plan and I ran relatively low weekly mileage. I was just doing my own thing and enjoying PR after PR. I was doing so well with marathons, that I couldn't get my 5K and 10K times to be as fast as my marathons suggested. Physiologically, my V02 max test revealed that I work aerobically at a higher percentage of my max heart rate than most people, which means my body is more suited for distance than speed. I was a great marathoner. I always ran negative or even splits. It came naturally to me. 4:46, 4:24, 4:13, 4:05, 3:56, 3:51, and then a "fun run" in London of 4:11. 

So I thought to myself, if I can run so well with no formal plan, just imagine what I could do if I followed a plan and increased the mileage! I could probably qualify for Boston!

That's when I started following training plans and got my mileage up a lot higher. Along with this came huge PRs in other distances. My 2:00 half marathon PR gradually turned into a 1:41. My 53:00 10K shot down to a 46:34. Instead of a middle of the pack runner, I was winning age group awards on a regular basis and almost always in the top 5th percentile. And yet, the marathons started to go in the other direction.

In January 2009, I had my first shot at a BQ after a fantastic training cycle. I wasn't sure if I could run a 3:40, but if I missed that, I figured that a 3:45 was certainly realistic. Unfortunately, Arizona had an unexpected heat wave and I wasn't at all acclimated to the warm weather, so I bonked at mile 16. It was awful. It was my first marathon that did not go according to plan.

This race was a legitimate heat bonk and many others were having a tough time in the heat as well. Since then, I've been terrified of running a marathon in hot weather. Also, by the time the next marathon finally rolled around, over a year after my 3:51 PR, I felt like I was long overdue. I had been training to BQ since June of 2008 and now it was April of 2009, so it was definitely time to show off my hard work. But once again, it was a bonk. True, I ended up in the medical tent with hypothermia, but there could have been something else going on. So it was just bonk after bonk after bonk and I chalked it all up to being bad luck. Yes, luck was a huge part of it, but the common factor in all of these marathons was ME. I was the problem. 

I don't mean this in a negative way, but the problem is that with every bonk, the more and more determined I became not to bonk. The more and more anxiety would build up pre-race, and I couldn't perform. A good example of this is the Shamrock marathon 2010. That was a very hot race. However, I started feeling awful at mile 10 before it even got to be 65 degrees. I DNFed at mile 13.5 and I felt like I had run a full marathon I was so spent. 

Another interesting example was the Potomac River Marathon. That was my back-up race after my Shamrock DNF in 2010. However, when the forecast a week out was for 70's and 90% humidity, I found another back-up two weeks later. I still went to the Potomac River Marathon with the intent of having it be a nice training run of 13 miles. There was zero pressure on me because I wasn't racing it. However, I just felt so great, despite that heat and humidity, that I just kept running and running. All the way to 19. Stupidly, I stopped because I wasn't on pace for a 3:40. (I also had run 10 miles just two days before and was worried that I would be paying for that). But I felt pretty good at mile 19 and I am sure I could have run a 3:45. I performed SO WELL at that race in horrible conditions because. . . .I wasn't racing. I was relaxed.

The pieces are finally coming together for me and I know what the problem is. I know why I keep bonking. I have too much pre-race anxiety and it wears my body out. Unfortunately, this isn't something you can just fix overnight like a hydration issue. I'm probably going to see a sports psychologist and really find a way to let go. I'll probably do another marathon later in the season, but I'm skeptical that I will be able to solve the anxiety issue before then. This has just been snowballing for years.  

The good news is, I do know how to run a great marathon. I have seven of them that were well-executed and perfectly paced without the help of the Garmin. I just have to find some way to get back there.