Sunday, May 29, 2011

Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon

I ran the Alexandria Running Festival half marathon this morning. It wasn't a fast race due to the weather conditions, but I am happy with my execution.

I decided to run this race back in March. I was just coming off of three stress fractures and I wanted a goal race to train for. I knew when I signed up that the race would likely be hot, but I still wanted to be able to run a half marathon this season.

My training mileage for this half marathon was lower than it has been for any half marathon over the past three years due to the injury. However, I supplemented it with swimming, pool running and the elliptical. Here is a graph of my land mileage leading up to the race:

Weekly Running Mileage (land)
My longest run was 12 miles, and I did two of those on the two weekends leading up to the race. I had done one 11-miler and everything else was in the single digits. One victory for today was actually completing the 13.1 miles, a distance I haven't run since early January.

My training included two 5K races and one 8K, two of which were PRs. But because these races had much cooler conditions, there was no way I could expect a half marathon PR. My goal was just to run my best without bonking.

Earlier this week I think I suffered from dehydration. I attempted a 7-mile progression run at modest paces, and I bonked. Afterwards I felt weak and on the verge of passing out. The next day, I woke up and the room was spinning. I was planning to run again, but I was far too dizzy. I even waited a few hours before I felt safe to drive to work. Since then I have been drinking LOTS of water. It was a scary reminder that not drinking more water than you think you need can be dangerous when it's so hot and humid out! It also forced me to do more of a taper than originally planned. This week, I ran 7 miles on Tuesday and 5 miles on Friday, and that was it. I went swimming on Monday, but there was no other cross training involved. I think I was very well rested and hydrated by the time this morning rolled around.

Race time was 7:15, so that meant that my husband and I had to leave our house at 6:00.  We woke up at 5:00, I ate 2/3 of a salt bagel, drank a cup of water and we were off.  About 5 minutes into our drive, I realized that I had forgotten my Garmin at home. I told Greg that I would just have to deal, but he encouraged me to turn around and go back for it. I remembered Amy's race report where she ran a fantastic marathon without looking at her watch. I also remembered the Houston Half marathon from 2008 when my watch failed and PRed. I thought it might be good to experiment, but I decided to go back for the Garmin, because I wanted to monitor my heart rate. I was afraid that I would go out too fast and overdo it if I ran by feel.

Now I was worried about us being late to the race, but everything turned out okay. The race was even delayed by 10 minutes (grrrrr) so we were definitely fine. They had run out of shirts by the time we got there, but I think you can email the race director and he'll order more.

I carried my own bottle of G2 with me because I know that doesn't upset my stomach and I would know exactly how much I drank. I also planned to take one honey stinger energy gel at mile 7.

The Weather
It was forecast to be 71 degrees at race start, and that felt pretty accurate. It was very humid, but thankfully it was overcast. In fact, we really lucked out with the clouds. The forecast was for it to be sunny but the sun didn't come out until after I finished. If it had, I think I would have been a few minutes slower. I feel like I just bake when it's sunny.

The Course
This was a challenging course. There was an area that had a park as part of it that we had to circle three times. It was a loop of about 2 miles. There were quite a few twists and turns and ups and downs. At times, the course was very narrow and it was impossible to pass anyone. I felt bad for the really fast runners who had to spend their third lap weaving through people who were still on their first lap, or second lap for that matter. Because of how the course was, there was no space in many cases to pass people on the grass or on the side. This frustrated me at a few points, but I wasn't trying to race it competitively like the front runners.

Miles 1-4
I figured I would start out at a pace of about 8:40 and try to run the race as a progression- maybe landing somewhere around 8:00. During the first few miles there were quite a few people who passed me. It was hard  not to let this affect me, but I stuck to my plan. I stayed in tune with how I felt and monitored my heart rate. I was in the "recovery" zone for the first mile and clocked an 8:22. This was faster than anticipated, but the heart rate was happy with it, so I decided I would do a very gradual progression from 8:22 down to 8:00.

Mile 1: 8:22
Mile 2: 8:20
Mile 3: 8:17
Mile 4: 8:16

Miles 5-9
Everything had been going smoothly when all of a sudden I noticed that my heart rate was well into the tempo/LT zone. This was to be expected. It is a half marathon after all, but it's like it just suddenly jumped up and I was now working hard. Soon after, I found myself slowing down. Miles 4-10 were the ones that went around the park area 3 times. I couldn't wait to get out of the park. I kept getting stuck behind runners/walkers who were still on an earlier lap and it was hard to maintain a "groove".

At around mile 5, I found myself running behind the woman I had met at the 8K last month who runs tons and tons of races. I said hi to her, and that I saw her photo in Washington Running Report. Her insane number of races is her claim to fame, and I was guessing she probably ran a race yesterday. She said she was taking it easy, and I thought I'd stick with her for awhile, but then shortly after I found myself running ahead. No doubt that if there is a local race tomorrow- she will be there!

I took my Honey Stinger energy gel at mile 7, as planned. I figured the calories from the G2 would fuel the first half of the race and then the honey would fuel the second half. This worked out well and I had no stomach issues.

Mile 5: 8:13 (fastest mile of the race)
Mile 6: 8:43
Mile 7: 8:37
Mile 8: 8:55 (slowest mile of the race)
Mile 9: 8:40

Miles 10-13
By mile marker 10, I was finally out of the park! Now it was just road running. Everything thinned out because I was no longer running with people who were on their second lap. There weren't many people around me. By this point, I wasn't really looking at my Garmin, but every time it beeped, I continued to be surprised. After I saw that 8:55 for mile 8, I was sure that all subsequent miles would be in the 9's. I was pleasantly surprised that they weren't!

According to my Garmin, my heart rate stayed in the tempo zone the entire time, but yet I wasn't really pushing. I was afraid to push too hard, and I saw no reason to kill myself during this race. It was that magical "comfortably hard" feeling that a tempo is supposed to be so I thought it must be great training.

I saw my husband at a turnaround point and he seemed to be about a minute ahead of me. Mile 12 was all downhill which made things easy. Mile 13 seemed to last forever and there was a huge hill. (Anyone familiar with the races run near the AMC Hoffman Theaters should be familiar with this hill). It's a monster to deal with at the end of any race, but a real treat once you get to the top and start running back down. Once I got to the bottom, I decided it was finally time to really push and finish strong. And I did-- a 7:20 pace!

Mile 10: 8:37
Mile 11: 8:39
Mile 12: 8:20
Mile 13: 8:29 (this included the hill!)
Last 0.1: 7:20 pace.

My official finish time was 1:50:50. Greg was waiting for me at the finish line-- he ran a 1:49:18.

I placed 222 out of 998 runners (male and female)
I placed 28 out of 178 women ages 30-39.

As I expected, my ranking is a lot lower than it typically is for races because I think I am more affected by the heat than the average runner.

I am happy with how this race turned out. Given the forecast, I was expecting something along the lines of a 1:55. I realize that I ran the race over 9 minutes slower than my PR, but given that I am typically nearly 1:00/mile slower in the heat, this was a win for me. A new "hot weather" PR in the half marathon. The last hot half marathon I ran was in 2:03. Most importantly, I kept a fairly even effort and did not bonk! I think I could have pushed harder and ran a little faster, but it just wasn't worth it for me.

My shins were perfect. Not even a hint of awareness. My feet felt achy and sore for most of the race, but that may have been because my shoes only had 12 miles on them prior to the race. And I think I should have broken them in more. No post-race soreness either, although that could change tomorrow morning.

Looking Ahead
This was a great training run for the Laywer's Have Heart 10K in two weeks. I run that race every summer, so I use it as a benchmark. Thus, it's super important for me to do well!

I will "officially" start training for Milwaukee at the end of June, and in the meantime, keep my weekly mileage in the 30's plus cross training. Thanks for reading if you made it this far!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful

As is typical in the Washington DC metro area, we have transitioned from winter to summer with about 2 weeks of spring in between. I try not to gripe about the weather too much because I can't control it, but it was just a few weeks ago when I was setting PRs for tempo runs and such in the cool mornings, and now my training pace has slowed by at least 30 seconds per mile.

I am registered for the Alexandria Running Festival  half marathon on Sunday. When I signed up, I knew that it would likely be a hot race, but I wanted to run it anyway because I wasn't able to race anything longer than an 8K this spring due to injury. Humidity typically doesn't become an issue until mid-June, so I thought I might get a pass on that. But the forecast is calling for hot, sunny, humid weather. 

This morning, Greg and I attempted a 7-mile progression run. It was about 69 degrees and extremely humid. We choose a relatively hilly route and I bonked during the 6th mile, while running up a hill at an 8:30 pace. I was running at paces that felt "easy" in San Francisco but now with the humidity I was in my tempo zone. My heart rate was skyrocketing and I knew I was overdoing it, so I decided to really back off the pace and just take it very easy for the last mile and a half. I completed the 7 miles, but felt weak and spacey afterwards. I don't think I could have run much further. So, if this is how I felt after 7 miles at an average 8:51 pace, how am I going to manage a half marathon in weather that's predicted to be even hotter? Granted, I will take more care to pre-hydrate and there shouldn't be as many hills, but it will still be hot and humid.

So now I'm wondering if I should take this half marathon really easy (as if it were just another long run) or if I should try and push for something maybe in the 8:20 range. (Note: my PR pace is about 7:43). Should I wear a heart rate monitor to make sure I'm not overdoing it? And let that guide my pace? What if I ran it as a really long progression run? I am completely torn on what approach I should take. I think I am much more sensitive to these types of conditions than most runners. While others can still be competitive in hot weather, I usually cannot be, and my placement falls well below what it usually is. 

Really my only goal here is not to bonk. I've bonked in hot half marathons before and it's not pretty. I got a taste of bonking this morning and even for a mile and a half it was miserable. We'll see what happens. . .

As for my training leading up to the race, I ran 34 miles last week, but I backed off the cross training. This week will be a slight taper week with 7 miles today, 6 tomorrow and then 6 on Friday. I also swam 1100 yards yesterday. I'll focus on pre-hydrating and getting enough sleep so that none of those things are a contributing factor to a potential bonk.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Scenery: San Francisco Running

This morning I had the opportunity to run in San Francisco because I am here for a business conference. I've never been to this city before, but I'd heard nothing but wonderful things.

I knew that it was going to be hilly, but when I saw how extreme the hills were, I thought that there was no way I could realistically go for a run. My hotel is in Union Square, and there is a hill next to it that has like a 25% grade. I probably would have to walk up this thing and it's long. I thought that using the hotel treadmill might be easier and safer, but my Facebook friends convinced me otherwise.

Prior to coming to San Francisco, I had scoped out this route. Some of my friends assured me on Facebook that once I got down to the water it wouldn't be hilly, so I decided to go for it. I am SO glad I did! What a beautiful run. It was so exciting to be in a brand new city, running through areas I had never seen before but had read about.

The Bay Bridge (I didn't take this photo, but this was my view)
The weather was amazing. Mid 50's and not humid. If it's truly like this all the time, then the people who live here are spoiled. I left my hotel started running in the direction indicated by the map. The sun had just come up and there weren't many people around, so I was a bit scared. But it was a nice area, so I just made sure to keep my wits about me and look strong. The first mile was all downhill. Not as dramatically steep as most of the hills seem to be here, but it was still a hill. I logged a 7:23 pace, which felt easy, so I am not sure if my Garmin was off or if it was the downhill + awesome weather that accounted for this.

At about 1.2 miles, I was at the Embarcadero. I could see the water and a massive bridge. It was so beautiful and amazing. I thought it was the Golden Gate Bridge but I later realized it was the Bay Bridge. Still it was amazing. I soon realized I was in my element as plenty of other runners started to show up. This must be where everyone in San Fran runs because it's not so hilly. I followed a man in an Ironman shirt for awhile because I figured he'd keep me on the right route and prevent me from veering off accidentally. I felt like I was in a race. There was always at least one other runner in sight-- usually like 4 or 5 others, and we were all running the same route. Plus, the scenery was completely new to me.

I continued to be shocked by my pace given my easy effort level. I assumed that after the downhill it would go back to my "easy" pace of about 8:40-8:45 but it remained on the fast side. Maybe the Garmin was off, or maybe I was just so excited to be in a new area that I had extra adrenaline.  My intention was to run 7 miles, but I missed the road I had to turn on to get back into the city (Market St.) so I ended up running 7.5:

Mile 1: 7:23
Mile 2: 8:30
Mile 3: 8:09
Mile 4: 8:20
Mile 5: 8:15
Mile 6: 8:25
Mile 7: 8:51 (back up the hill)
Last 0.5: 8:57

7.5 miles, 8:19 average pace. It felt easy and the scenery was amazing. Afterwards I just felt so invigorated and I was overcome by feelings of "I love running so much!" I sometimes don't get that feeling when running the same routes over and over near my house.

I'm registered for the Nike Women's marathon in October, so I will be running here again this fall. I'm planning on that race being a "fun run" without caring about my time. And now I am more excited than I was before!

Tomorrow I'm planning to run again, and then I fly back tomorrow evening. I'm so glad I didn't go for the treadmill option!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Running Controversies (Part I of III)

Welcome to my three-part controversial blog series!

My husband suggested I write another poetic blog about running in the humidity, but the creative juices aren't really flowing that way. So in this three-part series (to be written over the course of the next several weeks) I'll share my thoughts on what I perceive to be the most highly debated running topics among runners.

The debate: Some runners insist on always racing with headphones, while other runners get annoyed with the headphone wearers because they can't hear what's going on around them.
10K from 2007 after removing my headphones.
My personal preference: I used to always train and race with headphones and music was a large part of my running. I stopped racing with them just over two years ago when I wanted to be "free" of equipment. Also, sometimes the songs would get on my nerves when it was late in the race and I just wanted peace. Then I met my husband and we started doing most of our runs together, which meant no headphones so we could chat. So now the only time I would ever listen to music on the run would be if Greg wasn't with me and the run was on the longer side. I enjoy racing without them, but I do sometimes think that the extra "pick me up" might help motivate me.
My stance: I don't agree that safety is a valid reason for banning headphones in most races. The exception is if it's a smaller race and the road is not blocked off from cars. Then safety does become an issue. Otherwise, it might be annoying for others trying to pass you, but you aren't at a high risk for being trampled on. . . I don't think! I think there are things that people do in races that are much more "unsafe" than using headphones, such as jogging strollers in the front or middle of the pack, suddenly stopping to walk without pulling over to the side, throwing your cup on the ground where someone else can easily slip on it, etc. As for the rules, people are going to break the rules and wear headphones, which is why I don't agree with banning them. The fact of the matter is, A LOT of people like running with headphones, so banning them isn't really practical.

Minimalist Shoes/Barefoot Running
The debate: Minimalist shoes, designed to mimic barefoot running, are becoming increasingly popular because it's seen to be more natural. Many runners believe that barefoot running will make them faster and less injury prone.
Vibram Minimalist Running Shoe
My Personal Preference: I've never been tempted to do this. I like my running shoes. When I wear less supportive shoes or worn-out shoes I definitely feel it in my legs. I tried running in the Kinvaras (which aren't even minimalist-- just a lot lighter than most shoes) at an expo once. I only made it about 5 or 6 strides until my legs and feet started to feel unhappy. I do realize that minimalist running is something you have to work your way up to, but it's just not a goal of mine.
My Stance: My husband brought up a good point: although humans were meant to run barefoot, we were not meant to run marathons on asphalt or concrete. Maybe if all races and runs were in the grass or a dirt surface, I might be more open to the idea of it. I also think that the amount of research that has been put into making today's running shoes what they are far outweighs the theory that barefoot is best.

Junk Miles
The debate: One school of thought is that the best approach to getting faster is to run more miles. 50 miles a week is better than 40. 60 is better than 50. The other school of thought is that the quality of the workouts is more important than the quantity of the miles. Unless a workout has a specific purpose, then it's just "junk miles".
My Personal Preference: Before my recent injury, I took the "more is better" approach. I didn't consider any miles to be junk miles because if I wasn't doing speed work or a long run, I was simply building my aerobic capacity and training my legs to spend more time running. Usually I only did one speed session per week (alternating intervals and tempo runs) because I thought more than that would be too much, given my relatively high mileage. However, when I trained for my best marathon ever back in the spring of 2008, I was running fewer miles but with two speed sessions per week. Now I am not sure what's best. I still think you need high weekly mileage to succeed at the marathon, but I might be better off reducing my overall mileage in exchange for an extra speed workout each week. In thinking about how I will train for my next marathon, I know I'll be doing a lot more cross training than ever before, so it will be lower mileage, and some of the weeks will likely include two speed workouts.
My Stance: I don't really believe in "junk miles" unless you are running so many miles that you are over training and wearing yourself out. I think that running an 8-miler at an easy pace for the sake of "general aerobic" fitness is just fine. However, if this run comes the day after a 20-miler just to get some more miles in, then maybe it's moving toward "junk".

I'll cover more exciting and controversial topics in the next blog in this series. Meanwhile, I ran 33 miles this week, plus 80 minutes of pool running and 1500 yards of swimming. Half marathon in two weeks!

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Coming Back" Vs. "Being Back"

At what point do you cross the threshold from "coming off of an injury" to being "recovered" from an injury and back at normal training? It's a gradual process, and I don't think there is really any particular day I can cite as being "recovered". But I think I have finally crossed over to the other side!

Coming Back
What does it look like to come off of three stress fractures? Not that horrible. For the first few weeks, I followed Pfitzinger's post-injury plan which was specifically written for stress fracture recovery. At first it was run/walking a few times per week and the walking gradually disappeared. I continued to cross train consistently because I wasn't running enough to maintain my fitness level. In April, my focus was on gradually increasing the mileage (by about 10% each week) and introducing short races and speed work. Here's the run down:

April 4: REST
April 5: 4 miles (plus pool running intervals)
April 6: 6 miles (plus elliptical for 45 mins)
April 7: (pool running + swimming for 70 mins)
April 8: 4.1 (5K race @ 7:19 plus warmup)
April 9: REST
April 10: 6 miles (plus 90 mins pool running)
Land Miles: 20.1, Pool Miles: 22, Elliptical: 45 mins, Swimming: 800yd

April 11: (Elliptical for 50 mins)
April 12: 5 miles (plus pool running intervals)
April 13: 5 miles (plus pool running & 1200 yd swim)
April 14: (Elliptical for 40 mins)
April 15: 5 miles (inc. 3.5 @ 7:27)
April 16: (90 mins pool running)
April 17: 8 miles
Land Miles: 23, Pool Miles: 19, Elliptical: 90 mins, Swimming: 1200yd

April 18: REST
April 19: 6 miles
April 20: 5.5 miles
April 21: REST
April 22: 4.4 miles (5K race @7:11 plus warmup)
April 23: (pool running for 80 minutes)
April 24: 9 miles
Land Miles: 24.9, Pool Miles: 8

April 25: (Elliptical for 49 mins)
April 26: 4.5 miles (plus pool running intervals)
April 27: 9 miles
April 28: (1500 yd swim + 20 mins pool running)
April 29: 7 miles
April 30: REST
May 1: 6.5 miles (8K race @ 7:24 plus warmup)
Land Miles: 27, Pool Miles: 8, Elliptical: 49 mins, Swimming: 1500yd

During this time, I was careful to increase my land mileage by 10% each week, but I didn't have a goal for the other cross training. I just did what I felt was enough to keep me fit without tiring myself out too much. There's probably a lot of variation from week to week (like the week of the 18th when I purposely did less to "taper" for the 5K). I didn't have a plan-- I just took things week by week.

Being Back
After all that, I think I am officially back. I don't have any shin pain when running, although I will occasionally have an awareness of where the fractures were when just sitting at rest. This freaks me out a little bit, but it always goes away and hasn't yet affected any of my runs.

Last week was 30 land miles, 14 pool miles and 1700yd swimming. This includes an 11-mile run-- a distance I have not run since early January. I'm still doing track intervals in the pool, because I'm afraid to introduce another day of speed work into my routine. The pool intervals are extremely challenging and I am confident that they are doing their job, so I am not in a hurry to get back on the track.

I'm now at a point where I can start thinking about summer races.  I've decided to not do any more short races in May. This was a tough decision to make because I feel like I was "robbed" of the nice cool March races and now in May it seems like we still are having some cool mornings.

However, I am focusing my training on the Alexandria Running Festival half marathon on May 29, and I need to prioritize longer runs over races. The longest I will probably do leading up to the race will be a 12-miler, which is a lot lower than my previous half marathons over the past few years. Typically I am in marathon training mode and I have at least one recent 20-miler under my belt prior to the half. As such, I am not expecting a PR at this distance. With a May 29 race, I'll have to adjust my time goal based on the weather, but my real goal will simply to be to run my best possible race and not bonk.

I'm both cautious and optimistic about my comeback. I think the time off was probably a much-needed break after years of high mileage and that the cross training will be a nice long-term supplement.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Patriot's Cup Corporate Challenge 8K

This morning I ran the Patriot's Cup Corporate Challenge 8K race in Fairfax. I had never heard of this race until my husband brought it to my attention. It's a race to benefit The Arc, which is an organization that helps individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Large corporations sponsor the event and form teams. Greg works at Lockheed Martin and they are very competitive about this race. Lockheed Martin had three teams with 5-8 people each. Two men's teams and a women's team.

My goal was a 36:45, which was predicted by the McMillan calculator from my 5K race last weekend. But I would have been happy with anything under 37 minutes.

Greg and I got to the race, took a team picture with his co-workers and then did a 1.5 mile warmup on the course. The course was fairly hilly. I would call it "rolling hills" for most of the race with a few larger ones tossed in there. There weren't any flat stretches. After the warmup, we lined up at the start line. The weather was surprisingly nice. It was overcast and 57 degrees. I think the overcast sky made all the difference because sunny and 55 can be tough on me.

Miles 1-2
These miles were smooth sailing. There were definitely hills, but I stuck to my tried-and-true strategy of even effort: flying on the downhills and running conservatively on the uphills. Mile 1 was 7:23, Mile 2 was 7:24. I was running very close to a woman who I thought I recognized from last week's 5K. In the 5K I remember running close to her for the first mile and then passing her. I wasn't positive it was the same woman, but it looked a lot like her.

Miles 3-4
This was the toughest part of the race. Both Greg and I had mile 3 as the slowest mile. 7:45 in my case. There was just this big long section of hill that didn't seem to end. I ended up passing the woman who I had been running behind, but I continued to hear her, so I know she must be close.  I was able to redeem myself slightly in the 4th mile (7:35) but I couldn't take full advantage of the downhill because I was trying to recover from all the previous uphills.

Last 0.97
There was a nice downhill for the first half of this mile and I was cruising along at a 7:15. But then, there was this really long uphill stretch that just really got me. I felt like I was crawling up the hill. I knew I was so close to the finish line, but I just couldn't make myself go any faster. According to my Garmin, my pace for the last mile was 7:26, but the Garmin also had the course measured slightly shorter than an 8K. But because the large majority of courses are longer than my Garmin distance (making my official pace slower than Garmin) I'm perfectly fine accepting a slightly faster pace than Garmin for this race.

Winning first place in age group 30-39.
My finish time was 36:46, and I won my age group!  I was the 7th overall female (not sure how many total there were). My Lockheed Martin Women's team won first place for the women's division. Greg ran a 34:31-- he's gotten so fast lately!

I also got to talk to the woman who I had been running near, and she won her age group (40-49). It turns out that she was the same woman from Crystal City and that she was running 4 races this weekend. Yes, 4 races in one weekend. WOW!!!!

My analysis of this race was that my "Garmin" pace was slower than I would have liked although my "official" pace was right on target. However, I was basing my goal off of a 5K that wasn't nearly as hilly as this course. So given all of that, I am very happy with my performance. I ran hard and got in a fantastic speed workout. This is a PR by about 3 minutes, but the last time I ran an 8K that wasn't in ridiculously hot weather was 2007.

In terms of coming back from my stress fractures, my longest run to date has been 9 miles (I've done two of those), and this race wraps up my highest mileage week post-injury at 27.  I'm also still swimming, pool running, and using the elliptical.