Sunday, September 25, 2011

Training Cycle in Review: This is the Journey

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is just one week away! It's hard to believe it's here already. I think it's really important to reflect back on all my hard work because the journey is what it's all about. Regardless of what time I actually run, I know that I have put in a solid training cycle and that I am a stronger, faster runner because of it. With so much that is out of my control on race day, I have to focus on controlling the things I can, and that's the training.

As I've written in past blogs, there have been some major changes with this training cycles compared to others in the past:

  • Regular core strengthening (I used to do nothing)
  • Working with a coach/team
  • Lower weekly mileage (avg. low 40's as opposed to low 50's)
  • Pool running and swimming twice per week (I used to never go to the pool)
Weekly Mileage For the Past Three Months
I've run two 20-milers and one 22-miler. Each of these were on brutally hot and humid days. At the end of July, I was worried I was developing peroneal tendonitis so I stopped running for six days and substituted pool running. During the taper, I was dealing with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) because I didn't allow enough recovery from the half marathon, so I ran less than I would have liked to.

Here are more cross training details from the past eight weeks.

10 minutes of pool running = 1 mile
10 minutes of elliptical = 1 mile
Swimming distances are actual distances

Week of Aug. 1: 22 miles running, 12.5 miles pool running, 12 miles elliptical, 1.4 miles swimming
Week of Aug. 8: 37 miles running, 7 miles pool running, 6.5 miles elliptical, 0.9 miles swimming
Week of Aug. 15: 45.3 miles running, 5 miles pool running, 1.2 miles swimming
Week of Aug. 22: 51 miles running, 0.8 miles swimming
Week of Aug. 30: 43.7 miles running (includes half marathon)
Week of Sept. 5: 44 miles running, 9 miles pool running, 0.6 miles swimming
Week of Sept. 12: 23.2 miles running (includes 8K race), 8 miles pool running, 1.4 miles swimming
Week of Sept. 19: 27.6 miles running, 8.5 miles pool running, 0.5 miles swimming

This week I have planned about 16-18 miles before the marathon on Sunday. I'm not sure if I will pool run or just rest.

My two tune up races went according to plan. The Rock 'N Roll Virginia Beach half marathon was on the slower side, due to the heat and humidity, but it was well executed with negative splits and an amazing final kick. The Run! Geek! Run! 8K last weekend proved that my mental game is "on" and the colder weather allowed me to run a very speedy race, predicting a marathon finish time of much faster than I actually expect.

I still don't have any details on live race tracking. The website mentioned that they might use a Facebook application, but I haven't heard any more about it. 

I feel very prepared and cautiously optimistic for my race next weekend. Even if the unexpected occurs and I have yet another bad marathon, I think this training cycle has prepared me for an overall strong racing season. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This is a Test. No Problem. (Run Geek Run 8K Report)

This morning I ran the Run! Geek! Run! 8K in Washington DC. With my marathon just two weeks away, I wanted to do a tune-up race in cooler weather to see where my fitness level was and "practice" the race mentality.

I had three levels of goals for this race.

  • My "A" goal was a 36:15. 
  • My "B" goal was a PR (faster than 36:45). 
  • I also had a "stretch" goal, which was sub-36:00. I wasn't sure if I could make that happen, but I thought it might be possible.

Race Week
My mileage this week was very low. Prior to the race I had run a grand total of 14.2 miles. This wasn't because of my taper but because my right quad was sore from last Saturday's 20 miler. It was a chain reaction of not enough recovery post-half marathon and then doing 20 miles on dead legs. As a result, this week suffered because I didn't want to pull or strain anything so close to the marathon. I was even worried about aggravating it through pool running. I did go pool running twice, though, and swam a total of 2200 yards.

Naturally, I was worried about my right quad being recovered enough. I rigorously foam rolled, stretched and massaged it, which I think aggravated the situation even more. When I woke up this morning my quad was a bit tender to the touch, but it felt okay walking on. I told myself I would pull off the course and walk to the finish if I felt any quad pain at all during the race.

On race morning, I continued in my new tradition of half a bagel with peanut butter about 2 hours before the race. I drank plenty of water and Pedialyte, and I had hydrated with Coconut water the day before.

Greg was not running the race because he didn't want to sacrifice his last opportunity for a long run. He's been struggling with Plantar Fasciitis throughout this training cycle, and speed work aggravates it more than anything. Therefore, I had my own cheering section.

I really wish that the race website had indicated that the parking was metered. I've run races in West Potomac park in the past, but it's always been on a Sunday when meter fees aren't required. There was a two hour time limit (and we got there at 7:00am for an 8:00am start) and we had no way of getting change. Thankfully, they have this system where you can pay by phone using your credit card and they put your license plate on file as having paid. Greg was nice enough to figure that out while I ran about 3/4 mile to the race site to get my bib.

I got my bib and warmed up a bit more pre-race. I even did drills! It wasn't long before they were calling runners to the start line.

I always think it's important to have a race strategy. Mine was to go out at a pace of 7:15 and try to maintain it. If I felt like I could pick up the pace later in the race, then I would. I'll admit this was aggressive of me, given that my pace for my 5K PR is a 7:10. But based on my track workouts I thought it was definitely within my grasp. I had been training all summer in hot weather and this was my first actual run where it would be cool, so I had no idea how much faster I would be. It was about 56 degrees and overcast.

I also think having a mantra to repeat when times get tough is important. Earlier this week, I remembered two mantras that lead to some hefty PRs: "It's just temporary" (for a marathon) and "It does matter" (for a 10K). But coming up with the mantra in advance doesn't work. It has to be something that just comes to you during the race and that you stick with. This has always been the case with my mantras.

Mile 1: 7:13
I naturally shot out too fast (like a 6:45 pace) and had to find a good balance to yield my desired 7:15 split for mile 1. I eventually found my perfect pace and realized that it felt decent. It was a good effort, but it felt like something I could maintain for five miles. I told myself this race was a test of my mental strength. I knew I could maintain this pace for the entire race, I just had to stick with it and not allow myself to succumb to negativity. I told myself this pace was "no problem" for me.

Mile 2: 7:15
I tried to not look at my Garmin very much in this mile. I told myself to run with my core muscles (thank you planks!) stay relaxed and just maintain. I kept repeating to myself: "This is a test." And then immediately answering back "No problem", almost like military style.

Mile 3: 7:12
I didn't intend to speed up here, but I did-- ever so slightly. I felt strong. Once I reached the halfway point I told myself that all I had to do was to repeat what I just did. I could do that again. No problem!

Mile 4: 7:11
I was really starting to feel like I was in a race now. Miles 1-3 were tough, but not "race tough". Now it was race tough but I just focused on running with my core, looking straight ahead and picking off runners. I passed about 5-6 people this mile, most of them guys! "This is a test. No problem." I just repeated it over and over and over like a soundtrack and it soooo worked.

Mile 5: 7:01 (7:06 pace)
This guy wouldn't give me my personal space. :-(
I looked down at my Garmin about 1/4 mile in, and it said 7:22. I was not happy with this, but I knew I'd have a final kick to compensate for it. By the time the Garmin said 4.6, the pace was down to 7:17, and it just wasn't good enough for me. I told myself to start my final kick now. It was less than an 800 on a track, I do really well at those, it would be over soon, just go for it. So with 0.36 miles left to go, finish line in sight, I gunned it. As my coach said, acceleration should be gradual, so I gradually sped up until I was at my final sprint. I averaged a 7:06 pace for that last mile (or rather 0.96 of a mile). This means that I must have been running in the 6's for that last bit, and my Garmin data confirmed that. Looking at the "player" the paces read 6:56, 6:46, 6:40, 6:25, 6:11 for that last stretch.

As I approached the finish line, I noticed that the clock was reading 35:xx and that motivated me to give it all I had to cross before the clock struck 36.

My official time was a 35:53 at an average pace of 7:13. I placed 2nd in my Age Group (30-39).

This is a PR by 52 seconds, and I met my stretch goal!

Age Group Award
Afterwards, there wasn't too much time to hang around because of the parking meter situation. I started my cooldown and then ran my friend in who finished her fastest race ever! We needed to get back to the car, but I thought I might have won an age group award. I looked at the results sheet and I was second in my age group. Greg went back to the car while I stayed to get my award. It was this really cool bobble head thing!

My cute bobble head award!  Oh, and I guess more importantly that it's really important to have confidence,  stick with a strategy, and be mentally tough.

This is my "fastest" race ever when compared to my other PRs. If you were to translate all of my PRs to their equivalent 10K time, this race would yield the fastest result. It bodes well for my fitness level and it was a nice confidence-boost pre-marathon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Someone Who Thinks You Can't

Reason to exercise #101: Because there is someone out there who thinks you can't.

I can't take credit for this little gem of wisdom, I saw it on Twitter and re-tweeted. For each one of us athletes who trains hard to attain specific goals, there is likely someone, or several people, out there questioning us or doubting us. So instead of letting that person bring us down, let them fuel our fire to work harder and smarter in pursuit of our goals! 

Any psychologist will tell you that people who doubt you or who project negativity onto you are actually just exhibiting their insecurities. The ones who tell you that you can't attain your goals, or you'll get injured, or you're aiming to high-- instead of buying into their negativity, you have to question why it matters so much to them. Some of them may even be fellow athletes who disagree with your approach, your philosophy or even the statements you make about yourself. They put you down because underneath it all, they believe it invalidates their approach or their achievements.

Most of us already struggle with self doubt and our own negativity at times that we certainly don't need others questioning our goals and aspirations as athletes. (As a side note, I believe anyone who trains for a race is an athlete and I don't like categorizing runners vs. joggers or competitive vs. amateur.) We all need to respect each other as athletes no matter how different our capabilities are. Even the folks who run/walk their way to a six-hour marathon deserve respect because they have a goal. What they are doing in no way undermines what I am doing. 

Why do I bring this up now? I have personally encountered folks both online and face-to-face at races who have blatantly belittled me and scoffed at my goals. These aren't people I'm in direct competition with, but people who disagree with my philosophies on running. And it's often under the guise of them "just trying to be helpful," but sometimes it's less masked.  

Personally, I consider myself to be someone who takes a realistic and conservative approach to training. Even more so within the past two years. But there will always be someone out there who "thinks I can't" no matter how reasonable my goals may be. Maybe I'll attain my goals, and maybe I won't. But nothing is going to stop me from trying and putting myself out there and using this blog to do so. I started this blog as a way to document my reflections on my training and racing and I'm not asking anyone to agree with my assessment of these things. If someone doesn't agree, then they don't have to read. It was my decision to make this blog open to the public so I realize I have opened myself up to criticism and negative comments. Along with all the wonderful support I get from 95% of my readers, there will inevitably be those who "think I can't". 

Why blog about my races? A finish time at a race doesn't tell the story and I don't want that to be my only takeaway years later. For example, a 1:46 half marathon, which is 5 minutes slower than my PR, looks like a regression in my abilities, but it was actually on target with what I wanted to achieve in that race. By the same token, my marathon PR from 2009 was actually one of my worst races, as I ended up in the medical tent with hypothermia. As runners, we tend to get obsessed about numbers and times, but we must remember that the journey is far more important than the destination. 

Before I even started running marathons, I had a boss who ran them. He told me that he really liked looking through the race results and seeing everyone's splits. He could tell who had a good race and who didn't based on the difference between their starting and finishing paces. I didn't know much about running back then, but his thinking made a lot of sense. 

I apologize if this blog is vague, but I'll use this post to remind me of what's most important and not allow others to project negativity onto my running or diminish my achievements. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon Race Report

This morning I ran the Rock 'N Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon as a tune up for the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon in four weeks. I also ran this race in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Each time, I bonked because of the heat. The 2005 race was my first half marathon, so I was happy just to have finished. To give some perspective on my degree of suffering through these hot races, I have never broken 2:00 at this race, and yet my PR is a 1:41.

Thus, I was scared of this race. The forecast seemed like it could be as bad as 2008 and I was worried. I knew that when I registered for the race that it wasn't going to be anywhere close to my PR, but my coach said that running a half four weeks before a full marathon is good for practicing race strategy, and gauging your fitness. I can't really gauge my fitness from today's race, but I did "rehearse" my race day routine and execution of negative splits.

Race Goals & Strategy
I didn't really have a time goal for this race, more like a prediction. My plan was to go out at a pace of around 8:10 and gradually speed up if I could. I think that if I was dead-set on a particular goal I would have been more motivated to push, so in the future, I will try to actually aim for something. It's just that hot races, especially long ones, are such unknowns to me. So much can go wrong that probably won't go wrong in cooler temperatures.

My mom was tracking me, so I gave her a "guide" on how to interpret my results:

  • 1:43 or faster-- Awesome race
  • 1:44-1:46-- Good race
  • 1:47-1:48-- Okay race
  • 1:49-1:51-- Bad race
  • 1:52 or slower-- Horrible race

Realistically, I thought I'd be somewhere around 1:45-1:46.

Greg and I drove down on Saturday and got to the expo at around 10:30. The Brooks booth was amazing. As a marketer myself, I was truly in awe of the coolness factor of their booth. It must have cost them a small fortune, but it was obviously very much appreciated by the runners.

Part of the Brooks "Booth" at the Expo
Brooks had treadmills set up with video cameras for free gait analyses. I figured "what the heck" might as well get yet another opinion. I'd really like to be more of an efficient runner and run safely in a lighter shoe, so I wanted to see what they had to say. Well, they agreed with my previous video analysis completely. The right foot would be okay in a neutral shoe, but I definitely need the stability on the left. They recommended I stick with the Adrenaline, as I have been doing for over six years, and that I could also try the Ravenna.

I ended up buying both the Adrenaline and the Ravenna because they were 10% off and it would gain me access to the Brooks VIP Porta Potty with running water and supposedly shorter lines. The Rock 'N Roll races are notorious for not having enough porta potties and on numerous occasions I've not been able to use one pre-race because the wait is 30+ minutes.

Race Morning
Greg (who wasn't running the race in objection to the high cost of the entry fee) and I stayed at a hotel about 12 miles away from the start line. My college roommate has a condo just half a mile from the start line so we were able to borrow her parking permit and park in her spot. There was no way I was dealing with the shuttles like I did in 2006 when I was late to the start line. (Yes, this race holds a lot of bad memories for me!)

Waiting in Corral 3
I ate about 2/3 of a bagel with peanut butter and drank a lot of Pedialyte. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I usually don't eat anything except for a bagel on race morning, but I am trying to add peanut butter to get more calories in. We got to the race about 30 minutes before the start time and headed for the VIP Porta Potty area. Lo and behold. . . the line for that was just as long (if not longer) than the lines for the regular porta potties. I was so frustrated. I waited and waited until I realized it wasn't going to happen so I headed for my corral desperately needing to still use the bathroom.

I looked up at the sky and realized the sky was overcast. What a pleasant surprise! The forecast was for mostly sunny, which can be detrimental to me. The temperature was about 70 degrees and it was very humid.

Miles 1-3
I started out at what felt like a very easy pace. I was aiming for 8:10, and I achieved that for the most part. The first mile was downhill so it was faster. After the first mile, I started looking around for porta potties. Or even anywhere I could duck and hide. I really had to go to the bathroom and it was very uncomfortable for me. I couldn't focus on the race at all. My only goal was to find a place to go to the bathroom. Finally, during mile 3, I found a lone porta potty, which thankfully was unoccupied, and quickly did my business. I was back out on the course within a minute. I didn't want to speed up too much after that and get myself going too fast, but I did want to compensate somewhat. I think I struck a decent balance.

Mile 1: 8:04
Mile 2: 8:09
Mile 3: 8:25 (porta potty)

Miles 4 -7
I hit the 5K mark at 25:53, which I knew was on the slower side, but I couldn't help the fact that I needed to  make that bathroom stop. These miles were relatively uneventful. My goal was to stay between 8:00 and 8:10. Everything was feeling pretty easy and I was staying relaxed. I had my first honey at mile 3.5 and it went down well. It was very humid and I was sweating a lot, but I was extremely grateful for the overcast sky and I even put my sunglasses on top of my head because I didn't need them.

Mile 4: 8:12
Mile 5: 8:05
Mile 6: 8:02
Mile 7: 8:03

Miles 8-10
I had been carrying a bottle of G2 the whole time, but at mile 8 I ditched it-- still 1/3 full. I felt plenty hydrated and was tired of carrying it. My next honey came at mile 8.5 and that went down easy. This is my least favorite part of the course. It's just running around a military camp and it's boring and seems to go on forever. At one point, you can see runners about half a mile ahead of you and they seem so far away and it's mentally tough.

During this portion of the race, I stayed strong by remembered how horrible I felt in 2008 and that I was much stronger now. I was thankful that I wasn't bonking and everything felt pretty good. Things were getting a little harder for me at this point, but I didn't really start to feel like it was race effort until mile 10.

Mile 8: 8:02
Mile 9: 8:06
Mile 10: 8:02

Miles 11- Finish
I am afraid of this race!
I was happy that I was consistently in the low 8's and things finally started to feel tough. In hindsight, I probably could have started to push harder earlier, but I was so afraid of bonking. I could have probably picked up the pace at mile 11, but the finish line still seemed so far, so I just stayed steady and played it conservatively.

During the 12th mile there was a bridge with a notable hill. I remembered all the CAR hill workouts and could hear George's voice telling me to use my arms and keep of my form. I only slowed slightly on the hill and then I flew down it. Unfortunately the race course was still crowded, so I wasn't able to "fly down" as fast as I would have liked. I saw Greg at mile marker 12 and he got everyone around him (including the cheerleaders) to cheer for me.

The last mile was when I decided to give it my all. I pushed hard and focused on getting to the finish. I ran through some misting stations on the boardwalk, which made my sunscreen get in my eyes. I had trouble seeing at this point, but I just pressed on. I knew where the finish line was so I looked straight ahead and pushed really hard. Now was the time to make up for that porta potty stop!

Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 8:05
Mile 13: 7:44
0.23: 1:37 (a 7:00 pace)

The Finish

I can't believe I held a 7:00 pace for nearly a quarter of a mile at the end of a hot half marathon! I felt awesome. Although, of course it makes me think I left a lot on the course and could have run the race faster. But it's always better to finish fast and strong than to bonk. And bonking in the heat was my biggest fear. Yay for playing it safe in the heat!

Shortly after crossing the finish line, the editor of Washington Running Report started interviewing me. She saw my Capital Area Runners top and immediately knew I was on George's team. She asked me a bunch of questions, and I wasn't all that coherent, so I hope I answered them well. She also took my photo, so I think I should be in the print magazine or the online site. I'll post a link to this blog post if  the article shows up online.

Greg and I reconnected and found a shaded area to relax in. The sun did make an appearance during the last mile, but thankfully no sooner.

Final Thoughts
I'm very pleased with how this race turned out. It wasn't my "A" race-- rather a tune up. I do think I could have run it a little bit faster and pushed harder earlier, but I'm glad I didn't kill myself because I still want to put in a solid week of training next week. My time is what it is. Nothing spectacular, but I put out a solid effort and executed my strategy as planned.

My official finish time was 1:46:44 with an 8:09 average pace. My Garmin clocked 13.23 miles at an average pace of 8:04.

I placed 51 out of 1097  in my division (top 4.6%)
I placed 230 out of 6385 women (top 3.6 %)

I have another tune up race in just two weeks-- and 8K. If the weather isn't too crazy I'll be going for a PR (sub 36:45) and ideally run a 7:15 pace.

Just four weeks until Milwaukee Lakefront!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One Of These Days Is Not Like The Others

The moment I have been anxiously waiting for over the past few months has arrived: the hourly forecast for the Virginia Beach half marathon has been published to

  • Temperature of 72
  • Dewpoint of 69
  • "Real Feel" of 75
  • Mostly Sunny
  • Winds at 9-10 MPH
I find it highly ironic that Sunday, Sept. 4 is the WORST possible racing weather out of any of the surrounding days. Although, I guess it falls in line with my "luck" because whatever race I decide to do usually gets abnormally hot weather. And on years when I don't do my favorite races, that's when the weather is nice. 

Why does Sunday have to be the hottest!?

I ran this race in 2005, 2006 and 2008-- all with very hot and humid weather. Ironically, 2007, 2009 and 2010 had below average temperatures. Now that I am racing again in 2011, the weather is forecast to be almost as hot and humid as it was in 2008, only sunnier. 

I had promised myself that I would never again do this race because I've always suffered from heat exhaustion and ended up bonking. But my coach said that racing a half marathon 4 weeks out from the goal full marathon is really a good idea. I knew when I registered for this race that I wasn't going to try and PR. But I've been running pretty well in the heat lately so I thought maybe I'd be able to do okay. And now it's looking like I'll have to target about 5-10 minutes slower than my PR, and I actually think I'm in better shape than when I was when I set this PR. 

So the next natural question is. . . is this race even worth it? Driving all the way down and back, spending the money on the hotel. Having to deal with all the race day logistics. Just so I can run a so-so race. Or worse, over-exert myself and not be able to resume training for awhile. 

At this point, I am seriously debating running the race. I'm feeling the beginnings of a sore throat, the forecast is scaring me, and I know that I'm not even going to come close to my PR. The reasons TO run the race are that I am really excited about it, it's a fun race, I get to see my friends who live there, and I have the racing bug. The original purpose, however, was to see where I was fitness-wise and hopefully get a good confidence boost leading up to the race. Those things will obviously not happen. 

If Sunday passes and there is no blog post, you'll know that I opted to stay home and swap in a 17-miler instead. If I do end up running the race, I'll start out very conservatively, and my goal will be a sub 8:20 pace (in other words, marathon pace for a half marathon). On Tuesday, my coach advised that I go out at a pace of 7:45, but that's definitely not sustainable in this kind of heat/humidity.