Monday, December 31, 2012

Ringing In Hope 10K: Strong, Not Clumsy

I ran the Ringing In Hope 10K this afternoon at 1:00pm. Definitely a weird time for a race, but it worked out great.

Ringing In Hope offers a New Year's Eve race and also a summer race. Greg and I have run every New Year's Eve race and summer race since they began in December 2010. We like this race because it's relatively close to our house (20 minutes), the parking is easy, and the course is decent. It's not flat as advertised-- however the hills are manageable because they aren't steep. They are quite long, though.

It was time to put my sports psychology stuff to work. My past few races have all been mono comeback races, so there was no PR on the line. No pressure to perform. Going into today's race, I knew I was in excellent shape but I wanted to keep the same relaxed mindset I had at the Turkey Trot and the Richmond Half Marathon. I wanted to focus on my race strategy as opposed to a time goal. Here are the things I was super focused on in the days leading up to the race:

  • Run the first half relaxed, and then really hammer it home in the second half. Note: the course is two loops, so the first 3 miles are the same as the second 3 miles.
  • Do not look at the Garmin until after crossing the finish line.
  • Instead of looking at the Garmin, focus on running strong, pushing your hardest and trusting that you will run the best race you have in you that day.
So, this race was really all about trusting myself and my ability to pace myself while also pushing hard. Lately, I have been running all of my interval workouts without looking at the Garmin until after I am done with each interval. I've been hitting (and even beating) all of my target paces, so I had every confidence that if I run by feel, I would be able to pace it appropriately. By doing my intervals on the track without looking at the Garmin, I know that it's a more "freeing" way to run. I am focused on getting around the track, looking ahead of me, and focusing on my form. I cannot focus on all of that stuff when I am looking at the Garmin and thinking about that number. 

Usually I consider the Garmin an important part of restraining myself in the beginning of a race and not going out too fast. But today I was going to trust myself. I had no idea what I was capable of, and I didn't want to restrain too much. I also didn't want to have negative thoughts going through my head if my paces weren't as fast as I had hoped for.

I've been told many times over the past few years to try racing without the Garmin. I've actually run some 5Ks that way, and they turned out pretty well. Last May, I ran a 5K on a very hilly course without looking at the Garmin. I knew I was running at my absolute maximum effort. My time wasn't even close to my PR, but I  won my age group and walked away feeling confident that I gave it everything I had. If I had been looking at the Garmin, I think I might have gotten discouraged and let negativity creep in, which is never good during a race. 

This non-Garmin thing was somewhat of a risk. But my sports psychologist is always telling me that I need to "try stuff" and if it doesn't work out, then I need to see it as valuable learning. I was willing to risk going out too fast or poor pacing in order to see if this approach would work. 

So there were many reasons for not using the Garmin. This is not to say that a successful race would cause me never to look at my Garmin again during a race-- I'm not trying to make rules for myself. But it would be nice to have it as a potentially helpful option.

Alright, enough about the Garmin or lack thereof. I had to come up with a fueling strategy for a 1:00pm race. Typically I eat a bagel with peanut butter for breakfast two hours before a race and that works well. But now, I would need to be eating more than once beforehand. I decided I would stick with my bagel and peanut butter at 10:30, so that I would have just over 2 hours to digest it. And then I would also have a bagel (sans PB) for breakfast, as well as a banana, at around 8:00. I also drank plenty of water.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race and began our warmup with one of our teammates, Cristina. The warmup ended up being 2.5 miles, which was good because it was cold out. 37 and overcast. But after the warmup, I felt hot. I went to my car and changed from my long-sleeved shirt into my singlet. I knew I might be cold, but cold was better than hot. 

During that process, I accidentally left my gloves in the car. There was still about 15 minutes until the race and Greg went to the bathroom, I chatted with my coach, we did some jogging around to stay warm. All of a sudden, I realized I didn't have my gloves. Instead of panicking, I just booked it back to the car. There was only 5 minutes until race start but I knew I could not run this race without gloves. I have reynaud's syndrome and my hands get numb and start to feel frostbitten very easily. I sprinted back to the car, which was almost a quarter mile away. I didn't want to panic about being late to the start, but I did need those gloves. I worried that running so fast just 3 minutes before the start was wasting precious energy, but the gloves were worth it. I did a jog back to the starting line, and arrived just as they were finishing the national anthem. 

Mile 1
Mile 1, Photo Courtesy of G. Buckheit
Greg and I started a little further back in the crowd than I would have liked, especially with lots of kids in front of us. It was a weaving game for most of the first mile, and I tried not to expend too much energy doing so. The first 2/3 of the first mile is uphill. It's a very long hill, but not that steep. I focused on my effort level and not my speed. It's tough to know what pace to start a 10K. Everything of course feels great at the beginning, but you never know how you will feel a few miles into it. 

Miles 2-3
It wasn't until the second mile that I had passed most of the kids and felt like I had my own area to run in. I noticed a teenage kid who was running very sloppily and clumsily. I wondered how I looked. I told myself, "run strong, not clumsy" and that became the mantra that I repeated over and over again for the rest of the race. These mantras just come to me in the middle of races and they are always different! Somewhere in the third mile there was a photographer with a "smile" sign. It was the professional race photographer. I smiled and tried to get a nice photo.

Mile 4
During this mile, I had two women in my sights-- both looked younger than me. One was about 4-5 seconds ahead of me, and the other was about 10 seconds ahead of me. I caught the first one and we were neck-and-neck for awhile. I encouraged her by saying "we got this" but at the end of the forth mile she had fallen behind. The other woman was running really steady and I used her as a bit of a pacer. 

Something that I noticed that was very annoying was the cone placement. I have run this course many times in the past and there never have been cones. They essentially had us running the widest part of the course, so that it was impossible to run the tangents without feeling like we were cheating. In the past, there were never any cones, so I could run the tangents of the neighborhood streets, and the distance ended up being pretty close to 6.2 miles. I kept hearing my Garmin beep well before I passed the mile markers, so based on that, and the fact that the cones prevented us from running the tangents made me suspect that the course would be long. 

Mile 5-6
Running by feel sometimes means closing your eyes!
This was when things really started to hurt and I really had to hang in there. I just kept pushing and pushing at the same effort level and refused to back off.  That last mile seemed to last forever and I kept wondering when that final hill would come because I knew that would mean the end was close.

I passed the photographer with the "smile" sign again. This time I did not smile- I was pushing too hard!

I saw some of my teammates who had finished the 5K during the last mile. They cheered loudly for me and that helped perk me up. The final hill came, it seemed to go on forever, but I powered up it focusing on my form-- strong not clumsy!!! And then there was a nice downhill finish and I really picked up the pace for a very strong final kick. As I approached the finish line, I saw the clock was reading 45:xx. As I crossed it had just turned into 46:00, but since I started a little far back, I was pretty hopeful that I broke 46:00.

After the Race
I saw my teammates and Greg and everyone was all giddy. Most of them had run the 5K, but a few of them had done the 10K. Greg set a new PR of 43:22, which is about a minute faster than his previous PR from the summer. He's getting super fast!

My teammates and I after the race. Can you tell who ran the 10K?

I looked at my Garmin and realized I had averaged a 7:18 pace for the run. This is the exact same pace as my PR from last November when I ran a 45:19.  However, this course was 6.3 miles according to my Garmin (and 6.33 according to Greg's Garmin) so instead of tying my PR, I ended up with a 45:57. I don't want to get hung up on the fact that I could have potentially PRed this race had the course been a true 10K, but it is a little bit frustrating to not "get credit" for the pace you actually ran. It seems that the course was measured properly for the tangents but the new addition of the cones made everyone run really wide.

I was super excited to see my splits and find out how my pacing was after the race. Here's what the Garmin said:
Mile 1: 7:23
Mile 2: 7:17
Mile 3: 7:19
Mile 4: 7:24
Mile 5: 7:07
Mile 6: 7:26
Final 0.3:  6:38 pace

Since this course was 2 laps around the same loop, I find it interesting that I ran the 5th mile 10 seconds faster than the 2nd mile. 

I think I paced this race very well without the Garmin and I'm glad I didn't use it. I was super excited that I ran pretty much the same pace as my PR, only for a little longer and on a hillier course. As suspected, my training over the past two months has put me in excellent shape, and I'm excited to continue the streak of strong, relatively high mileage. I was very process-focused for this race, I didn't have a specific outcome goal in mind although I wanted to break 46. I slept very well in the days leading up to the race and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

Greg and I stuck around to see if perhaps I won an age group award. It was a decently competitive field with 10-year age groups, so I thought my chances weren't particularly great. However, you never know! I took them a long time to get the results together and it was very cold. I had changed back into my long sleeves and jacket, but I was still freezing in the 36-degree weather. The announcer was rushing through the awards as fast as she could and I caught a glimpse of her paper to see that my name was listed! I won third place for the 30-39 age group with a time of 45:57. I was so excited about this. It was kind of anti-climatic claiming the award since they were rushing through them and so few people were left, but I was happy I stayed to get my $15 gift certificate.

Edit: I just looked at the results and it seems they gave me the award in error. I was actually 4th place. I hope they give whoever they left out their proper award!

End of Year Totals
No December 31 blog would be complete with my end-of-year running stats. Considering I had mono this year, which took me out for about three months, I think I fared pretty well mileage-wise. November and December were definitely my strongest months and I hope to carry the trend into 2013.

Total Miles Run: 1,584
Average Training Pace: 9:00/mi
Total Miles for December: 217.3
PRs: Just 1 PR this year. 10-mile PR in April at 1:15:52

Could have had a 10K PR today without those darn cones, but we won't go there. . . 

Happy New Year to all my blog readers. Wishing you healthy and happy running in 2013!

Racing hurts.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Young

Monday, December 24, 2012

Setting The Bar

As a "recovering perfectionist" I am learning that I tend to set the bar too high. Previously, I would go into the majority of my races expecting PRs. Unless I was coming off of an injury, or the weather was warm, then I would shoot for a PR and then be disappointed when I didn't get it. I always thought this was a good thing because I wanted to set the bar high. I wanted to push myself. But now I am realizing that pushing oneself doesn't mean setting the bar high for every race in terms of a time goal.

There are three "levels" of performance, according to my sports psychologist. You can run the best race you have in you on race day, and end up in any one of these three areas.

1. You have your "bottom line" which is the range of times you would get if things didn't really go your way. You might expect to fall your bottom line range if the weather were hot, if you were coming off of an injury, if you just didn't "feel it" that day, if your nutrition or hydration were off. There are many reasons why you might run in your bottom line range. 

2. You have a "mid-range" area where if things went well, that's where you'd land. You felt good, the weather was decent, you had trained well, etc.

3. You have an "upper end" area where the PR and beyond lives. This happens when you have an amazing day, everything comes together. You're feeling great, you've trained well, you're well rested going into it, etc.

Of course, there are always the out-liers on the bottom end, like if you injure yourself during the race, or have major digestive issues, etc. That wouldn't be considered part of #1, that would just be an extenuating circumstance, which happens to everyone from time to time.

In a given year, how often can I expect to be at #3? Previously, I was expecting more than 50% of my races to be at #3. This isn't realistic-- at least not for someone who has been running for as long as I have been. For experienced runners who have been running for awhile and are past the point of setting PRs at each race, it's realistic to be at #3 about 20% of the time. My sports psychologist told me that "normal" and "realistic" for experienced runners is 50% at the bottom line, 30% in the mid-range, and 20% at the upper end. He said if you ask elite marathon runners how often they run a marathon that they think is a very strong performance, they will say about 1 in 5. At the end of 2013, if half of my races are at my bottom line, and 30% are in the mid-range, and 20% are at the upper year, then it's been a good year. If I exceed that, then it's been a great year. 

He also said that if he were to interview the first 1,000 finishers of a large race, that probably 20% of them would have set PRs, 30% would have been in their mid-range, and half of them would have been at their bottom line. This was an eye opener for me. I don't think he's lying-- he's been in this profession for over 25 years. So I've been digesting this concept for awhile now and trying to apply it to myself.

This is not to say that I should only try to get a PR in 20% of my races. Rather, to understand that PRs are the exception, not the rule. And I also think the point is that I need to go into a race not trying for a particular time, but to do my best and focus primarily on how I will run the race, not what the result will be. This "setting the bar" is not so much about goal setting, but being realistic about how I review my performances afterwards. The key is that you can run to the best of your ability and land in any one of these three areas. Running the best race you can on a particular day does not necessarily equal a PR, even if you are in the best shape of your life.

In the past, I've always expected my marathons to be at the upper end.  My first six marathons were all PRs and everything went perfectly smoothly. In fact, I exceeded my expectations with every single one of them! Since I know I am capable of running fantastic marathons, I have always expected it out of myself. I figured that if I set the bar any lower than how I performed at my first six, then I would be doing a dis-service to myself. 

This is simply unrealistic and it creates a great deal of pressure, resulting in exactly the opposite of what I want. Going into each marathon, I knew I wouldn't be satisfied unless I was in that "upper end" of performance range, just like I had been for my first six. And as the years went by, I just felt more and more pressure to prove myself. Thus, my marathons have been a very long string of anxiety-related blow ups.

My sports psychologist wanted me to think about what specific ranges of times I would put in each bucket for 2013. The ultimate goal of training is to lower all of the ranges, but this doesn't happen overnight. I shouldn't be revising these buckets every time I race-- I need to be focused on more of the big picture of my running as opposed to any one specific race. Will I run a 3:30 marathon? Absolutely, I know I will. Will it be the next marathon I run? I don't know. I'm focusing now on the bigger picture of my running, and I won't let one race, one day, be the judgement of weeks and months and years of hard work and dedication. 

One of my many new year's resolutions is to set the bar high for myself in a completely different way. Instead of always trying to set PRs with my running I will have extremely high expectations in the areas of:

- Believing in myself and my ability to work hard
- Taking good care of my body
- Keeping running separate from other areas of my life
- Conducting constructive post-race reviews and weekly training reviews
- To have patience
- To compare only to myself-- not to other people
- To just let myself run without judgement

These are by no means easy for me, but they are all within my control. The bar is set for 2013, and I'm looking forward to a happy, healthy year!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Q&A for 2012

Before I answer this questionnaire that I am stealing from MCM Mama's blog, I have a few updates to share.

First, I hit my first 50 mile week in over a year. Looking back at my training log, I noticed that ever since my stress fractures in January 2011, I have shied away from higher mileage, even though it wasn't high mileage that got me the stress fractures. I had been substituting one run a week with a pool run and swim for the sake of injury prevention. I think I'm ready to return to the 50's, where I used to regularly train in 2009 and 2010.

This week was a scheduled "cutback" week, with the intent of giving my body the opportunity to properly recover from the past few weeks of build-up, so that I am ready to keep building safely.

I also recently caught the stomach flu, which I haven't had since high school. The stomach discomfort wasn't all that bad, the main thing that sucked was getting a fever that steadily rose to 102.7 throughout the day. My body was burning up and yet I was shivering. I laid in bed all day long, watching my fever rise and feeling less and less able to function. I finally took a Tylenol PM, feel asleep and spent the entire night sweating out the fever. I lost 3 pounds overnight just from sweating and kept waking up and changing my t-shirt. Surprisingly, I woke up feeling semi-normal again. It truly was a 24-hour bug. However, I continued to have zero appetite for the next few days with occasional nausea. 

Surprisingly, I was able to return to running very quickly, and my runs post-stomach flu felt pretty good! I drank tons of Pedialyte and G2, so I think that played a huge part.

Greg never caught it-- just like he never got my mono. That man has an immune system of steel!  

And now, onto the questionnaire for 2012.

Best Race Experience: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler
I hadn't originally planned on doing this race and I approached it with a very casual attitude, which is probably what led to my success. I totally enjoyed myself and set a huge PR. It was perfect weather for a race and many of my CAR teammates were there. 

Best Run
I had some pretty kick-ass track workouts, but in terms of what I look back on and think of as the best--- probably my last 21-miler before the Shamrock marathon. I ran it with my CAR teammates, and we did a very scenic route through Rock Creek Park, with a fast finish. It was really, really windy that day, but I toughed it out and finished strong.

Best New Piece of Gear
I'd probably have to say the "Be Cool Bands" which are little wrist pouches that keep your wrists cool. They only last for 30 minutes if it's really hot out, but you can go back to your house mid run and swap out the ice packs, giving you another 30 minutes. I only got to test these out once because I was unable to run for most of the summer. But the time that I did use them, they seemed to help and they felt really good!

Best Piece of Running Advice You Received
I would say "focus on the process, not the outcome" but that's a bit vague. I've received so much great guidance from my sports psychologist, it's hard to just pick one thing. Probably the idea of constructive post-race reviews and post-workout reviews to build confidence. As a perfectionist, I tend to get upset if a run doesn't go well. I especially do this for races. But I've learned how to make my post-race reviews constructive and I've learned to temper my emotions. 

I've written numerous blog posts on all the great stuff I am learning about myself and the progress I am making from a mindset perspective. There's no running/training advice nearly as valuable to me at this point in my journey as advice on how to keep myself relaxed and how to build my confidence.

Most Inspirational Runner
My friend Kathy. I met Kathy about two years ago when we both had stress fractures, and were spending a lot of time in the pool. Kathy, similar to me has struggled with marathons for the past few years. She's had bad luck with weather, primarily, and has never felt she's been able to run a time truly reflective of her training. She's also had injuries from time to time. I instantly bonded with her because we had a lot in common, and she was just a lot of fun to be around. 

I had the opportunity to go on a long run with her a few weekends ago. This past fall, she set huge PRs in the 5K, 10-mile and marathon distances. She was just on fire with every race she ran. I said "your training must have really been amazing!". Her response was that she didn't do anything much differently from what she had been doing in years past. The thing that had changed was her mindset. Without revealing too much about her personal journey in my blog, she explained to me how she just changed her perspective on things and suddenly things just fell into place. Her story inspired me so much, because this is exactly the type of change that I have been trying to make in my life over the past six months. She seemed so happy, so relaxed, and it inspired me that I could do the same.

Sum Up Your Year in a Couple of Words
Overcoming obstacles. 

Primarily, I am referring to the obstacles that I tend to put in my own way. Obstacles that create a great deal of anxiety and frustration. Secondarily, health obstacles. I spent most of the summer with mono and then it took me about three months to get my fitness back to where it had been. I still don't know if I am entirely there yet, but I am pretty close.

I'm sure there will be more obstacles to overcome in 2013, but I hope my year isn't all about that. 2012 kind of sucked from a running perspective, but it kind of needed to in order for me to really grow.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Learning From Workouts, Not Judging

I'm really embracing this whole "process focus" thing, and I am loving it. Being process-focused means that you strive to learn from each of your runs, be it a training run or a race. The more you learn, the more confidence you have, the more you can improve, and the more rewarding and enjoyable the whole thing becomes. You have to be willing to try new things and to be looking for the learning-- not the success or the failure.

In this week alone, I've done some solid learning. If I wasn't looking for it, I might have missed it and not felt as good about my training as I do currently.

Intervals: Maybe I DO let the Garmin hold me back
On Tuesday, I ran an interval set of 1600, 1200, 800, 800, 400. On the second 800, I realized that I hadn't pressed the "lap" button on my Garmin, so it was including the recovery jog from the previous 800. This means that I had no idea of what my pace was. I told myself to just push hard and I would be good. Well, at the end of the interval, the coach called out "3:12". Wow. Don't think I have ever run an 800 that fast. Usually I aim for around 3:20.

Maybe my Garmin does hold me back. I never thought it did.

I look at my Garmin during races, but not very often, maybe 2 times per mile. And I usually just take it in as information and I don't make any changes to my effort level. And if I'm going slower than I want to be, I don't let it affect my mindset, I just do the best I can. When I ran the Memphis Half Marathon last December, the Garmin was reading slower than expected for most of the race, but that didn't stop me from putting forth my strongest effort I could muster. In other words, too-slow paces don't psych me out. But maybe too-fast paces do.

I think that with my next race, which is a 10K, I will look at my Garmin only during the first mile, to ensure I don't go out too fast, and then stop looking and focus on running! I might just surprise myself.

Tempo Run: Trust the process
This morning, I ran a 4-mile tempo. Tempo runs are my least favorite training run because you have to push hard and you don't get breaks like you do with intervals. Tempo runs are also where I have the most room for improvement. I haven't done many of them over the past two months, mainly because I have been racing instead. But partially because I wanted to regain my speed quickly and I think intervals produce faster short-term gains.

Well, now I'm focused on long term gains so more tempoing it is. Based on the VO2 max test I had in May, I know that my Lactate Threshold heart rate zone is 172-179. All I need to do is keep my heart rate steady in that zone for the run to be effective. I don't need to hit a certain pace. I just need to complete the planned distance while keeping my heart rate in that range. For longer tempo runs, my heart rate would be at the lower end. For shorter tempos, my heart rate would be at the higher end.

Going into the tempo run this morning, I didn't have a pace goal. My only goal was to keep my heart rate in my LT zone. And hooray for me, I didn't even speculate on what that pace would be. I did my warmup and then started the run. Knowing that I wasn't trying to hit a certain pace took so much pressure off of me. This wasn't a test of my fitness level. This was just part of the "process" that will get me to where I need to be. As a result, I felt more relaxed on this run-- less stressed than when I used to run tempos.

I've always known that workouts aren't "tests" but I would still use them to gauge my fitness level, and be either disappointed or satisfied based on the average pace. Now I know that judging should play no part here. This isn't a test of my fitness level-- it's a workout.

When coming back from mono, I ran in the 10's and even the 11's for the first six weeks. That's where I was fitness-wise and I accepted it. I knew that if I just kept doing it, I would get faster. I didn't push too hard because I was impatient or frustrated. I just did my workouts at a level appropriate for my current fitness level and had faith it would work if I kept at it. Process.

I don't think I trusted the process as much before, or maybe I just wasn't as patient. I ran my tempos by heart rate previously, but there was also a pace that I really wanted to hit. When I did hit it, I would feel awesome all day long. When I didn't hit it, I would get frustrated and question myself. Wondering if I could have run it faster, or maybe I just wasn't in as good of shape as I thought.

The most important thing about a tempo run simply doing it. Greg has always thought that and now I am really embracing it myself. Yes, I knew that doing it was the important thing, but there was also a lot of judgement, speculation, etc. along with it. And now, it's just part of the process. I trust the process. I have proof that running 10-minute miles can lead to 9's which lead to 8's. Even though my tempo run wasn't as fast as where it's been previously, I know that I am getting there-- I'm on the right path.  And that is extremely satisfying.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey Trotting Along

This morning I ran my 7th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. I love this race, know the course like the back of my hand, and it's only 10 minutes away from my house. As usual, the weather was perfect for racing-- mid 30's and sunny. I wore long sleeves, CW-X Capri pants, sunglasses, gloves, and my trusty Mizuno Wave Elixirs.

I really didn't know what to expect time-wise out of this race. I had a general idea of where my speed was from some track workouts and my recent half marathon. Usually I try to run a PR, but I knew this year that was highly unlikely. Even if I was in peak condition fitness-wise, beating my 21:29 from last year would have been challenging.

I decided I would try to run the first mile at 7:15 and then take it from there. My goals were to run strong up the hills, stay mentally focused, and have a very strong final kick. Ultimately, I wanted to run the best race I had in me today.

Finding motivation to push hard in a 5K is tough when you aren't going for a PR. Typically, the goal of a new PR is what makes me dig deep and push myself to my limits. Today, I kept reminding myself that the goal was to run the best race I could. Staying strong at the end of a 5K is a skill I know I have, regardless of what the clock says, and I would demonstrate that skill this morning.

Greg and I warmed up for just under 2 miles. As is typical for my warmups, I felt winded for how slow we were going and so did Greg, but for some reason, that's always the case during my warmups. We lined up in the starting area, and were ready to go. Although this is a neighborhood race, it's a rather large Turkey Trot. Over 3,000 show up for it, and for the past two years the race has actually sold out. There are a lot of kids who like to line up at the front which I have come to expect. This morning I heard a kid say "last year, I was in first place for 10 seconds!!!"  Haha. Now I realize the goal of many of the kids is just to see how long they can be in front before getting passed by the 15:xx runners.

The race started, and I felt good. I went out too fast on the initial downhill and had to reign myself in again during the remainder of the mile. I clocked in at 7:12 for mile 1.  "Now own it," I told myself. Own that 7:12 pace and this effort level and you will be golden. Just two more miles.

I knew that there was a large hill during mile 2 and my pace would likely get slower. But for some reason, the hill didn't seem as steep this year as it has in years past. It did seem as long, though. I told myself to stay strong, and I focused on just clearing portions of the hill at a time. Breaking it up into smaller sections. When my watch beeped at 7:15 I was pleased that I didn't let the hill slow me down too much.

Onto mile three. I remembered last year when I nailed this mile in 6:42. I knew that wasn't realistic for me now, but I still wanted it to be my fastest mile, and I knew it could be. There was another small hill, and then a long straight away to the finish. I know many people say that looking at the Garmin too much is a bad idea, but it's very motivating for me. I glanced down and saw a 7:14 pace at one point during that mile and it truly motivated me to give more effort. I dug deep and pulled out a 7:05.  And then, all bets were off. I hit a 6:10 pace for that last 0.1 mile. Kind made me wish I started kicking it earlier, but nevertheless- that was some crazy speed at the end.

I was immediately happy with my performance in that I hit all my goals of finishing strong, running the hills well, and staying mentally focused. And, this was my 2nd fastest Turkey Trot ever! Did I run the best race I had in me today? I think so! Maybe could have shaved a few seconds off if a PR was on the line (just based on how strong my final kick was) but hindsight is 20/20! Ultimately, I ran very well and I did everything I set out to do.

Official time: 22:18
I placed 9th out of 424 in my age group (Female 30-39)
I placed 30th out of 1,972 women

It's encouraging for me to be getting my speed back after having spent the summer so sick. I think that the "old me" would be more focused on where I would be if I hadn't gotten mono. But I've fully accepted my illness and that it set me back a lot. It's given me the opportunity to realize that I can be happy and satisfied with my performances even when they aren't PRs.

Speaking of PRs, Greg got a new one-- 20:56. He broke 21 for the first time!!!! He was so casual about this race and didn't even want to get out of bed this morning. I am very happy for him. Now, we have two great performances to be thankful for and much, much more.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Richmond Half Marathon: Work for it!

Today is my birthday! I am 34 years old now. As my father pointed out to my last night, that's mid-30's now, not lower 30's like I had been when I was 33.

I ran the Richmond half marathon yesterday, and it was awesome! The weather was in the low to mid 40's, sunny, with no wind. It was a gorgeous day out, and I was happy to spend a good portion of it outside, running the half marathon and then cheering for Greg in the full marathon.

I ran the Richmond marathon back in 2007, and the half marathon in 2008. I loved both races, but for various reasons, hadn't been back since. My favorite things about this race are that it's a great size-- not too big, but large enough for good crowd support and not to feel like you are racing alone. I also love the variation of scenery-- urban, parks, and neighborhoods. The course is a little hilly, but still fast in spite of that.

In my last post, had set out some goals for not just the race itself, but for the whole weekend. They were:

  • To not compare myself to others-- only make comparisons to myself and my very recent past.
  • To stay focused on the present, enjoying the pre-race dinner and post-race cheering without obsessing about my run.
  • To execute my race strategy, including start slow, finish fast, and focusing on form up the hills.

I had only been training for this race for 5 weeks. It was only 5 weeks ago that I felt recovered enough from my mono to be seriously training, as opposed to jog-walking. I had two 13.1-mile training runs under my belt as well as a 14-miler. All of these runs were fast-finish runs, speeding up to tempo effort in the last 3-4 miles. I also threw in some track intervals. I packed a lot of hard work into those 5 weeks, and I felt ready.

Before the Race
On Friday night, Greg and I attended the pre-race dinner with about 30 Capital Area Runners teammates. We know the risk that we run with large group dinners is our food not coming out on time. In the case of this dinner, we arrived shortly after 6:00 and I wasn't eating dinner until almost 8:00. The other tables in our group got their food pretty quickly, but ours took a long time, and when my food came out, I discovered that they put cheese on all pasta dishes without saying so on the menu, so I had to send it back. I cannot eat cheese the night before a race.

The dinner was a lot of fun. I got to talk to a lot of teammates who I hadn't seen in awhile. Three teammates had come down to Richmond for the sole purpose of spectating and cheering. These teammates in particular are so sweet and supportive, and it was awesome having them cheer for me. One guy at my table really wanted to talk about the race the next day and the times people were going to run, so I took the opportunity to visit other tables and talk about other things. At the end of the night, on the ride home, I noticed how relaxed I felt and how much fun I allowed myself to have by really staying focused on "being present" at the dinner.

In hotel room pre-race
On race morning, I woke up, had my typical breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter, got dressed, and was ready to set out. Our hotel was only two blocks from the start line, so we didn't have to worry about porta potty lines. Although, Richmond does an excellent job with that and there seemed to be so many porta potties, that there were no lines. I went over my race strategy in my head and remembered that I wanted to run this race very strong.

One new thing I was trying in this race was wearing lightweight trainers-- the Mizuno Elixir. I wear these shows for speed work and short races, but I have never worn them in a half marathon. I wore them during the Cherry Blossom 10-miler earlier this year and my legs and feet felt great, so I figured I would try them in a half marathon. I had broken out a new pair earlier in the week for a track workout, so I was confident they'd be fine in the race.

We checked my bag and then headed for my corral. I found about 4 other teammates there, and they were all very pumped for the race. Greg wasn't allowed in the corral (kudos to the race organizers for checking bibs and only allowing those with proper corral assignments to enter the corral.) I gave Greg a final good luck hug and then the race started shortly after.

Miles 1-3
The first mile, photo by Cheryl Young
My race strategy was to take these miles slower than the rest of the race. My coach advises that in a half marathon, the first 5K should be slower than goal pace, and in a marathon, the first 10K should be slower than goal pace. I was targeting around 8:20 for these miles. I was focused on staying relaxed and enjoying the race. During the first mile, I spotted my coach, and the three teammates who had come to cheer. These miles were basically flat, with a few inclines here and there.

Mile 1: 8:19
Mile 2: 8:25
Mile 3: 8:16

Miles 4-6
It was time to pickup the pace, but just slightly. My original thought was that I would keep all the rest of the miles around 8:10, but I was feeling good so I decided I would try for slightly faster than that.  Before the race, I really didn't know what to expect in terms of my fitness level. Recovering from mono, I am making large gains on a weekly basis, so I knew I was in better shape yesterday than the at the 10K I had run just two weeks ago. I've run a bunch of half marathons, so I just relied on knowing what half marathon pace should feel like.

These miles were flat and through some nice residential areas. It was probably the easiest part of the course. I took my first Honey Stinger gel just before the 4th mile marker, and I also ditched my gloves.

There was a turnaround and I saw 4 of my teammates on the other side of it at various points. I cheered for them each individually as they passed.

Mile 4: 8:05
Mile 5: 8:00
Mile 6: 8:01

Miles 7-9
I hit the 10K mat at 50:50 (average 8:10 pace). But this is when the race started to get hard. They had changed the course since my 2008 race and this part was entirely new to me. We ran through a park that was hilly. Up and down and up and down, and around lots of curves. I paid very close attention to running the tangents. In a race where the course curves a lot, it's so important to always run to the inside of the curve.

Aside from the hills, the annoying thing about this part of the course was that the road was somewhat narrow and I got stuck in the 1:45 pace group. I didn't want to speed up to be ahead of them, but I also didn't want to purposely slow down to be behind them. Unfortunately, they were running the exact pace that I was running, so there as no escaping. Normally I wouldn't have minded so much, but with so many people around me, it made it challenging to run the tangents. Also, I slow down on uphills and speed up on downhills because I like to maintain a constant effort. Most people don't do this, so it becomes like leap frog on hilly courses, and I find that to be annoying. I had my second (and final) gel during the 9th mile.

Mile 7: 8:04
Mile 8: 8:07
Mile 9: 8:00

Mile 10-Finish
The last mile, photo by Cheryl Yong
I was so happy to be out of that park. The hills wore me out a lot and I had no idea how I would maintain my pace for another three miles. It was then I reminded myself that I needed to work for it. Strong performances aren't easy, and you have to really push. I had forgotten how long a half marathon truly is, and how difficult it can be during those last three miles to hang in there. I just kept telling myself to work for it. To truly earn it. Greg and I had watched the movie "The Help" earlier in the week, so I also kept repeating to myself "You is Strong. You is Important." That made me chuckle to myself and kept my spirits high.

I saw my friends Nicole and Dan who had come down just to cheer for Greg, me and their other friends. They were very encouraging and gave me a huge boost.

My legs felt great. No tiredness or hurting there. The Mizuno Elixirs were doing great for me! It was just difficult to sustain that level of effort from an energy standpoint. I had to try really hard to hang in there and not fall off pace.

Shortly after the 12 mile marker, I saw my coach. He was soooo helpful! He just told me to keep it strong, to "go, go, go" and that the finish was all downhill. This gave me such a burst of energy right when I needed it. I was very ready for the downhill finish that this course is famous for, but they changed it from the last time I ran. I was expecting the downhill to start at the 12th mile marker, but it actually didn't start until like 12.4, which seemed like forever. I was also expecting downhill, flat, downhill, flat. Instead, I was eventual greeted with this monstrous downhill that was so long and steep, I was worried I would fall flat on my face. I wanted to take advantage of it and not put on the brakes, but I had to restrain somewhat or I would have fallen down.

Mile 10: 8:04
Mile 11: 8:13
Mile 12: 8:06
Mile 13: 7:50
Last 0.1 = 6:06 pace

I finished in 1:46:19, average 8:06 pace.

I was so proud of myself for executing my strategy and for holding onto that pace at the end. My time was on the faster side of what I expected, and I couldn't have been more pleased with my performance.

After crossing the finish line, I needed about 15 seconds to put my hands on my knees and put my head down. I do this at the finish line of every race and after every hard workout. It's because I have a strong finishing kick, which kind of knocks the wind out of me, so I use that position to re-gain equilibrium. Well, these finish line attendants wouldn't have me doing that. Literally, the second I stopped they told me I had to keep going. I said I needed just a few seconds, and they still forced me to keep walking. I walked away and then got into my "recovery position" again, and another person told me I couldn't stop. UGH-- seriously guys. Just 15 seconds is all I need so I don't fall over!!!

After making my way through the finisher's shoot and food line, I found one of my teammates. We walked to the baggage check area together where we met up with about 5 other teammates. Everyone was very excited and sharing their times. I didn't say anything about my race but told them I needed to get my bag. My bag check line happened to be the longest one, with about 10 people ahead of me. It took about five minutes to get through, so my teammates went ahead to cheer for the marathoners, and one of them told me where they would be. I didn't have a map on me, so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to meet up with them again.

Bag in hand, I reached for my phone and called Nicole, who had been cheering for me during the race. She was so excited for me and told me how proud she was of my race. She and her husband Dan came and met me at the finish line, and from there we walked to mile 17 of the marathon.

Greg looks strong!
Let me take a moment to thank Nicole and Dan for their support yesterday. Not only were they there cheering for me, but after the race they both told me how amazing it was that I ran such a strong race after having been out for so long with mono. I thought it was a great accomplishment as well, but it's always nice to get support and recognition from others. Especially since I'm new to this "be happy about a race that isn't a PR" thing. I met Nicole back in 2010 at the airport after having run the NYC marathon. We were both in line to re-book flights that had been cancelled and became instant friends. She and her husband are about the same age as Greg and me, and they are both runners, too.

So, I hung out with Nicole and Dan at mile 17 of the marathon. When Greg ran by, Nicole handed him the water bottle I had for him so I could take a video. Greg looked so strong and based on Nicole's cell phone tracking, I knew he was on target for his goal. We stayed there for another 15 minutes as I cheered for my other CAR teammates and random runners. Nicole and Dan had to leave so I went back to the finish line, where I saw Greg cross the line with a 12-minute PR of 3:37:37.

I met all of the goals I set out for myself, and they weren't easy goals. I didn't compare myself to others, but I did compare myself to my recent past:

  • Two weeks ago, my 10K pace was 7:57. Today, my half marathon pace was 8:06.
  • Four weeks ago, I ran a half marathon as a "training run" in 2:00:58, and it was difficult at the end.
  • Six weeks ago, I was still jog-walking, with the jog portions being around a 10:30 pace
  • Ten weeks ago, I wasn't even able to walk around my neighborhood at a normal walking pace
I also was afraid I would never recover, or that I would never be the same runner I was before the illness. I've worked extremely hard over the past several months to stay positive, re-define what I see as an "accomplishment", and to physically get myself back into shape. It all came together for me yesterday, and I'm very proud of myself. 

I learned some things about myself yesterday that I didn't expect to learn. I won't elaborate here because I'd prefer to keep them private. Let's just say I have a renewed focus on what's truly important and what I truly value.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Investment Model Running

One of the common themes I am hearing from the various articles on the NYC Marathon cancellation is that runners have made a huge investment in their training. The word "investment" is interesting to me because I've been working hard to move away from "investment model" running.

Investment model running is the attitude that you put "x" amount of time and effort into training to receive "y" result on race day. I've held this attitude for years and years. In fact, ever since I started racing back in 2005. It's just always seemed logical to me. To set a PR or run a specific time, you need to invest the time and hard work. And on race day, it will all pay off.

But this notion of the race somehow "paying you back" actually is not all that logical when you really think about it. And it does a disservice to all your hard work. A race result speaks to how you performed on one day in one set of conditions. I'm not going to say race results aren't important-- they are very important. However, if you're training with the idea that "this will all pay off" then you risk huge disappointment if, say, the race gets canceled, and more importantly you're also missing out on the joy and satisfaction that comes with simply doing the training.

For years I've been going into races with the mindset that the race was going to pay me back. Oftentimes it didn't, and I was crushed. Although I have always gotten a great deal of satisfaction from my training, it was always secondary to the end result. "I trained hard and enjoyed my training BUT I bonked at the marathon." And the second part of that sentence was really where all my emotion was focused. No amount of telling myself that I worked hard and trained hard would make me feel better about performing poorly at a marathon.

Investment model running simply isn't effective or realistic. It can often lead to disappointment and you miss out on the stuff that truly matters in terms of your athleticism.

Keeping this in mind, I've developed some goals for the Richmond Half Marathon next weekend. What do I want to get out of this race if it's not payback for my training/comeback over the last 5 weeks? I think what I really want to do in Richmond is demonstrate that I can effectively do some of the mental stuff I've been working on. Although my performance anxiety issues only come with marathons and not half marathons, I want to go into all races with the same attitude-- no matter what the distance or the priority level.

1. Do not compare myself to others. This will be very challenging to me, especially since Richmond was supposed to be my fall marathon this year. I have a lot of friends/teammates running this race (including Greg!) so it would be very easy to fall into negative thinking about how they get to run the full marathon and set PRs-- but I was stuck with mono all summer.

I was able to stay positive at the Philadelphia half marathon earlier this fall (where a bunch of my teammates ran, but I wasn't able to), so I am going to remember that and do the same thing here. The "level of difficulty" has increased a notch because now I actually will have a half marathon time that I could potentially obsess over and compare with. But I have to remind myself that my mindset will be exactly as it was in Philly. No comparing.  Comparing to others will not only make me feel bad about myself, but it's also completely illogical. I don't know anyone else who got stuck with mono all summer, so why would I compare to them?  However, I fully plan on comparing to my recent half marathon, and looking at the progress I've made physically since I started training on October 1.

2. Focus on the present. The race starts on Saturday morning, and ends 13.1 miles later. The night before the race, I will be enjoying dinner with Greg and my teammates. During that dinner, I will not be thinking about my race performance. Talking about the race in terms of the course, the logistics, etc, is all good. But I want to be present with my teammates and not off in my own mind, worrying about the race.

When I'm done racing, I will do a quick review of it in my head and make some mental notes. Afterwards, I will be focused on cheering for Greg and the other marathoners. When Greg finishes the marathon, I will be focused on supporting him. We'll of course exchange stories of how it went, but my goal here is to not obsess over my performance. When I get home, I will write my race recap blog and do an official "review" in the style of what went well, what worked, what I learned, etc. And then, it's time to focus on celebrating my birthday!  My birthday is on Sunday, but the festivities will begin Saturday night.

3. Focus on my race strategy and execution. Here are the key areas where I want to be focused on immediately before and during the race:

2008 Richmond Half Marathon finish
  • Run the first 5K relaxed, and slower than half marathon pace.
  • Stay physically relaxed, don't tense up
  • Focus on form, especially on the hills-- remember what coach told you during hill training
  • Gels at mile 4 and 9
  • Looking at the Garmin once in awhile is fine, but stay focused on actually running!
  • You love this race-- be sure to enjoy the crowd support!
  • Stay mentally strong during the last 4 miles. You can do this! Don't back off.
  • Really kick it hard on that final downhill mile  
All that being said, I do have a target range of where I'd like to be in terms of time. This will guide my pacing during the first 5K and ensure that I don't go out too fast. 

These three goals will be far more challenging for me than attaining any particular race time. And I love a challenge! The good thing is that they are all within my grasp and control, so there is no reason why I can't achieve them.

Moving away from investment model running feels liberating, but it's not an overnight shift. To be completely honest, it's unfamiliar territory and scary at times. I've always clung so tightly to my race times to validate my training. The more I set these types of goals, and demonstrate that I can achieve them, the more natural it will become. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

MCM 10K- There's a First Time For Everything

Have you ever been running a 10K, and during that 5th mile really wanted the race to be over? Really just wanted to stop? We've all been there. 10Ks are tough, and they feel especially hard during mile 5 when you have been running for awhile, but aren't quite in the home stretch.

Well, today, that came true for me and about a thousand other runners during the MCM 10K. About 4.6 miles into the race and I came upon a crowd of people. Runners. Stopped. Blocked from running any farther. Was the race over? Would we be able to continue? A helicopter flew overhead and I thought something bad must have happened. The big decision-- to stop the Garmin, or to keep it going?

As most of my readers know, I had mono over the summer and had to take most of the summer off. I started running again in September with a "jog-walk" approach. I wanted to be on the safe side and avoid risking a relapse. It wasn't until October hit that I truly felt 100% all of the time and was ready to tackle true "training". No more walk breaks, and the addition of speed work.

Even though mono really, really sucks, there are some benefits. One of them is that when you come back, progress is quick. Although it will take me awhile to get back to my pre-mono fitness level, I get to see noticeable gains each week. It's like I am setting a PR each week with my average training pace and the pace that feels "easy" to me and for my heart rate. It's a bit upsetting to be slower, but it's also encouraging to see steady progress.

I've also been working a lot on focusing on "the process" of running. Instead of judging each run and race by my time, thinking about each run/race as a process and the steps I need to take. The half marathon I ran two weeks ago was a good example of this.

Today, my process was more about trying my best and staying strong. 10Ks hurt, and it's tough to hang in there at the end and keep pushing. I wanted to practice that today. I also had a strategy of starting at around a 8:10 pace, but then having all of my other miles be sub-8:00. I did go out a little faster than planned, but without knowing what I was capable of  and my starting pace feeling good, I just went with it.

I ran this MCM 10K in its inaugural year-- 2007. It wasn't a good race for me and there were many organizational challenges. The race didn't start on time by about 30 minutes. The wheelchair marathoners barreled right through all of us. The mile markers were off. But I figured that with 5 years of experience, maybe they had gotten their act together. To some extent they had, but their mile markers were still way off and they didn't have enough porta potties. The 2007 course was very different from today's course. It had mainly been a run on route 110 and through Crystal City. But today it started downtown, crossed over the 14th street bridge, went very briefly through Crystal City and then onto 110 and the finish.

Greg and I left the house at around 6:00 and drove to a metro station. We had already looked up what the fare would be online, so we knew that we needed $2.00/each. However, when we got there, the machine wouldn't let us purchase a card for less than $2.70. Thankfully, we had brought an extra $1 bill in addition to our $5, otherwise we would have been screwed. So, we each had to pay $0.70 extra for no apparent reason. Upon exiting the metro, the machine wouldn't let us exit because we didn't have enough money on our fare cards. It's then that we learned that metro fare cards now cost $1.00. Really??? What a rip-off? Since when did they start charging $1.00 for a tiny slip of paper?  We thankfully had just enough change to add the money and leave the metro.

Once out of the metro, we found the porta-potties. There were a lot of them, but this 10K also allows for 10,000 runners. A runner per meter! We waited in the line for about 30 minutes before we were able to use the porta potty. This meant no warmup. Extremely frustrating. When will large races learn that they need more than just 30 porta potties for 10,000 runners? We ran to baggage check, dropped off our bag, and then got into the starting corral just after they had finished the national anthem. We had cut it very close, but had about 3 minutes to spare in the corral.

Miles 1-3
I ran my first mile a touch on the faster side than had planned. But that was okay because I really didn't know what I was capable of. After the first mile, I noticed that I was hot. My face was sweaty and burning up. It was 58 degrees and while that's not "hot", I am affected by anything over 50 degrees. Especially since it had been in the 40's in the mornings for the past two weeks and most of my training had been in cooler temperatures. I wished I had drank more water before the race, but it was too late for that now. Miles 2-3 were over the 14th street bridge and it was hillier than I remember. It seems like the shorter the distance, the more noticeable hills are. I didn't even notice these hills when I ran the marathon in 2006.

Mile 1: 7:56
Mile 2: 7:57
Mile 3: 7:50

Miles 4-Finish
Once we got into Crystal city, the wind become very strong. With hurricane Sandy approaching, we had actually been pretty lucky that there was no rain the wind wasn't much of a factor for the first three miles. But then it started to pick up and I tried drafting off of some guys.

With two miles left to go I was feeling the affects of the race, but still had energy left. At mile 4.6, that's when the race just stopped. Everyone was standing around talking to each other. I found Greg and he told me that he heard something about a suspicious package up ahead that they had to clear out. I thought we'd be there for a long time. I had mixed emotions about this. I was immediately happy not to be running, but I had also worked really hard to get to that point at the pace I did and was disappointed that I wasn't going to get an official, valid time. I did stop my Garmin because I had run a strong race up until that point and I wanted to make sure that was recorded accurately. Plus, if we did get to finish the race, I would have a Garmin time that would reflect 6.2 miles.

Suddenly, after I had been stopped for about two minutes, we were allowed to finish the race. I got a nice 2-minute break, but faster runners were stopped for longer. Slower runners probably didn't even feel the effects of this.

Mile 4: 8:03
Mile 5: 7:42
Mile 6: 7:50

The last 0.2 of this race features an infamous uphill. When you run the marathon, there are tons of people cheering for you the whole way. When you run the 10K, not so much. I had nothing to give here. I didn't want to kill my legs on a hill when I knew I wouldn't even be getting a valid time. This race isn't worth missing a day of training next week because I killed my legs, so I just slowed down. Even after you reach the top of the steep hill, there is an incline to the finish. My team does hill repeats on this second incline during the summer, so the hill was very noticeable to me. My last 0.23 was a 9:20 pace. Yeah, I just gave in to the hill.

My Garmin time (which is more accurate than the official time) was 49:30. It was within my target range, although I was hoping for slightly faster-- based on my recent training runs in the cooler temperatures. I did get a 2-minute break, so who knows what my time would have been if I hadn't gotten to stop. Regardless, it shows huge progress from 4 weeks ago, and I was proud of the strong effort level I was putting out.

My official/unofficial time was 51:18. The female winner clocked in at 47:xx. It's really a shame that the race was messed up, but at least we didn't run into a bomb. I'd rather be alive with an inaccurate time than dead!

Greg and I ran back to our car (we had no more money for the metro!) He had been going for a PR and his Garmin time tied his PR. He says he doesn't know what he would have done without the stop. We then had a celebratory breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants near where we used to live before we moved. When we got home, we finished off with another 3 miles. That gave me 10.5 for the day.

Final Thoughts
I ran a race I was proud of, but not overly excited about. Lots of my friends set PRs today in the marathon- which is amazing given the windy conditions that worsened as the day went on. There is definitely a part of me that sees all of these PRs and feels sorry for myself. Not just for getting mono but for missing out on all the opportunities I had over the past 4 years to get a marathon PR.

I know that I need to separate myself from what other people are doing with their marathons. I will get my marathon PR. And not only that-- I will get a PR that actually reflects the fitness I have built up over the past 4 years of consistently running 40+mile weeks and logging tempo and interval workouts. More importantly, it will reflect all of the mental work I have done with regards to overcoming disappointment and learning how to put less pressure on myself.

Fall 2012 is not my season to set PRs. It's time to regain the fitness I lost while sick and use the races to "practice" the mental strategies I'm learning. I'm putting the pieces together now so that when the time comes, I will be ready for the marathon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Heritage Half Marathon: All About the Execution

As most of you know, I had mono for pretty much the whole summer and was unable run or do any kind of physical activity. It sucked, but it's over, and now my focus is on re-gaining the fitness I lost over three months.

I had registered for the Heritage Half Marathon back in the Spring. I ran this race and 2010 and I loved it. I actually placed third in my age group back then and it was really thrilling.  Anyway, this race is awesome. It's only a 20-minute drive from my house, it's well-organized, it's got an early 7:00am start, there is great course support, there are plenty of indoor bathrooms to use and it's not too big or too small. The only downside is that this race is all hills. Most of them aren't very steep, but extremely long. Although there are a few hills that are on the steeper side.

My PR for a half marathon is from this race in 2010. I've run some half marathons since, but most of them had hot weather, so I never went for another PR. I'll be on the hunt for another half marathon PR in 2013!

Strategy and Goals
I've only been "training" for about four weeks now. Actually, I think I was still run-walking four weeks ago at this time. My longest run since the mono had been 10 miles last week. Obviously, I was in no shape to race a half marathon, but I figured the race would provide a good opportunity to set some other goals:

  • Get a good workout
  • Plan a strategy and stick to it
  • Finish strong
My sports psychologist has really emphasized the importance of focusing on these things instead of my time. It was easy to not focus on my time during this race because I know that I am not in the best of shape. The real test will be if I can continue to focus on these process-type goals once I am back to my old self and looking to set PRs. Today was a perfect day to practice being focused on strategy and execution.

Since my longest run thus far had been only 10 miles, I knew that simply covering the 13.1-mile distance would be a good accomplishment. I went back and forth in the weeks leading up to this race on how I wanted to approach it, but Greg helped me realize that the best workout I could get would be to combine an easy run and a tempo run. I had thought I might race it at "half effort" but that wasn't going to really get me anywhere in terms of physical or mental training. I decided to run the first 9 miles at an easy pace, keeping my heart rate in zone 2, and then running a tempo for the last 4 miles. 

Before the Race
It was about 45 degrees, and I didn't remember 45 degrees being so cold. I was freezing at the start line. This race also has a 5K, so they let those runners go at 7:00am, and then the half marathoners went about 5 minutes later. I was wearing a skirt, a short-sleeved shirt and gloves, and I shed my hoodie to Greg about 2 minutes before the start. 

My coach will not like to hear this but I did not eat anything before the race. I had a good dinner last night, and I was planning on taking two gels during the race. My main reason here is that I am trying to teach my body to burn more calories from fat, so it will have better fat utilization in longer runs. Per my VO2 max test I took last spring, I know that my body is exceptionally poor at using fat for fuel, so I am experimenting with not eating before runs, and just relying on the gels during the run. However, once a long run turns into 16+ miles, I will eat breakfast because I know I need to train my digestive system.

Miles 1-7
The course started on a huge downhill. I probably took this too fast, but my heart rate was really low and it felt very easy. My splits for these miles don't look to great, but I did keep my heart rate in Zone 2, and some of it is a product of there just being a lot of hills. It's hard to keep a low heart rate up a hill.

Around mile 2, people started passing me. This was tough mentally, but I told myself I needed to focus on sticking to my strategy. I hoped I would pass these people later. A girl with a sweatshirt hoodie and spandex passed me. Oh man, I was just passed by someone wearing a hoodie, I thought to myself. But I stuck to my strategy, I didn't want to focus on other people-- just me and what I set out to do. 

The course website said that there would be water at mile 3.5, which is where I planned to take my first gel. However, just after mile 3, there was water and I realized I missed my chance. I love this race, but that waterstop definitely was not at 3.5. This meant I had to wait until 5.5 for my first gel, but I didn't worry too much. During mile 4, someone shouted out to me, "I read your blog!" OMG- wow!  So cool! I didn't think anyone read this blog aside from my friends. "You have the stripes blog!" he yelled out. Then, the guy next to me said "you have a blog?" and then I struck up a conversation with him. It was nice to have someone to chat with and I ran with this guy until mile 5.5, when I stopped to take in plenty of water and my gel.

Greg was at mile 5, cheering for me and taking video. It was great to have such awesome support!

Mile 1: 9:01
Mile 2: 9:30
Mile 3: 9:42
Mile 4: 9:50
Mile 5: 9:52
Mile 6: 9:46
Mile 7: 9:45
Mile 8: 9:39

Miles 8-Finish
There is a steep, long hill during the 9th mile known as "caterpillar hill". I took this thing very slowly, knowing that I was going to start my tempo at mile marker 9. I stopped at the 8.5 aid station for water and I took my second gel. After that, I was ready to go. I caught up with the guy who I had been running with earlier in the race but passed him pretty quickly. Shortly after, I passed the guy who reads my blog. Then I just started passing everyone. It felt great!

Mile 10 felt like an "easy" tempo. My goal was to keep my heart rate between 172-180, and I didn't have to run that fast up the hills to make that happen. The last three miles felt like a true tempo. It was hard. My legs were tired and the hills were just constant. At times, I wanted to back off the pace thinking that I didn't care about my time, but I told myself that this race was about execution and getting a good tempo in. I wanted to make sure I got that good tempo workout in-- I knew it would pay off in future races and really help me progress in regaining my fitness. I also just wanted to stay strong mentally. I have a 10K coming up and I wanted to practice staying focused and hanging on to a challenging effort level.

I maintained the effort level and even though the pace wasn't all that fast, I knew I was doing the "work" necessary to get my tempo pace back to where it used to be.

Greg was cheering for me at mile 12.5 as I approached the school where the finish line was. I didn't realize we had to do a lap around the track and I thought I was much closer to being done, so I had to dig deep to stay strong. Once on the track and off of those horrible hills, I just killed it. I passed like 10 people on track. Nobody passed me. About 50 meters before the finish, I whizzed by a pack of three so quickly they probably didn't know what hit them! (You can see it in the below video). And guess what-- one of them was the girl in the hoodie!!!! Yes!!  

I didn't realize how strong of a kick I had in me. I guess finishing on a track is great because I'm used to pushing myself there and kicking hard at the end of intervals, so I was well prepared.

Mile 9: 10:01
Mile 10: 8:52
Mile 11: 8:40
Mile 12: 8:44
Mile 13: 8:10

I was very pleased with my strong finish and passing of everyone on the track. My official time was 2:00:58, which was better than expected. I thought I would be somewhere around 2:05, but hadn't really done the math.

I felt nauseous immediately afterwards and my legs were really tired. But after awhile I started to feel better. As I started to reflect on my performance, I was very pleased. In fact the more I thought about it, the more proud I felt. If I can do this in all of my races, I will be golden. I had a very clear strategy and I executed it exactly as planned. When things got hard at the end, I stayed positive and continued to push. I had a strong finish really enjoyed the race atmosphere. I learned that random people read my blog, and I got to run with somebody interesting for 2 miles. This is what racing is all about!

Greg took this video:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fox, Milwaukee and Build Up

It's not Thursday, but I have three "things" to talk about, nonetheless!

It was about 6:45 last Wednesday morning and I was out for an easy six miler on my normal residential running route. I noticed an animal run across the street so I stopped running. I'm paranoid about being chased and bitten by a dog, so whenever I see an animal running near me, I stop dead in my tracks, so as not to provoke them. I quickly realized that this wasn't a dog or a cat, but a fox. I tried to slowly walk away from it, but it followed me. I walked in another direction, and it continued to follow me. I started getting scared. I almost screamed for help.

The fox looked a lot like this one.
There was a long driveway that had a car with its lights on, so I walked toward that, and waved at the car. The fox still followed. I motioned to the driver that I wanted to talk to him, so he rolled down his window. It was a 16-year-old kid on his way to school. "Is that a fox?" I asked? He said it was. "I'm scared. It's following me. Is it going to bite me?" The kid said it shouldn't bite me and that I had nothing to worry about. I almost asked him to drive me up the street, but I didn't. The car left and the fox was still there. I slowly put some distance between myself and the fox and then sprinted away as soon as I felt like I had a decent head start. The fox didn't follow, thank God.

My husband and co-workers later told me that foxes don't bite unless they have Rabies. And they should be afraid of humans unless they have a lot of human interaction and become domesticated. It seems like this neighborhood fox might have had a little too much human interaction because it certainly took an interest in me.

The Milwaukee Lakefront marathon is this weekend. I ran that race last year and it was disastrous. I was in the best shape of my life, fully prepared to run between a 3:30 and 3:35. All of my training runs had been solid, particularly the long runs. I had just run a 35:53 8K, so I knew my speed was there as well. The weather was great for racing and everything was in place for a huge success. And yet, at mile 9, I knew my race was over, despite a conservative start. I actually had to start walking shortly after the halfway point.

Milwaukee Lakefront 2011, before the crash
This race was a turning point for me because it made me realize that my streak of marathon bonks were due to anxiety and stress. Physiologically, everything was great. But I put so much pressure on myself to perform well at a marathon, and I felt like so much was riding on it, that I would lose a ton of energy by stressing out the week before the race. I tried to addresses this issue at my next marathon, Shamrock this past March, but telling myself to " just relax" wasn't doing the trick. If you're anxious about something and feel that you have a lot riding on it, and you've had a lot of disappointment in the past, then you need to work through it rather than just saying "I'm not going to stress." That's the tough thing about self-fulfilling prophecies.

Shamrock was also a bust. I didn't even finish the thing. I dropped out at mile 13 and spent the rest of the week feeling as if I had expended the effort of a full marathon. I've run many half marathons faster than that pace and have only required 1-2 days of recovery. Again, a strong indication that something was seriously off.

Why am I dredging all of this up now? In addition to being the 1-year anniversary of Milwaukee, my sports psychologist is having me work on attaching emotions to the process, as opposed to the outcome. Ironically, I was in peak condition last year at this time, but didn't have it together mentally. Today, I feel like I've made huge gains in the area of mental strength, although physically I am very far off from where I used to be. Anyway, to help tie emotions to the process rather than the race result, he asked me to take a close look at my last four marathons and re-review them. He wants me to find sources of accomplishment, pride, excitement, happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment.

I won't go through this entire exercise on my blog, but I will point out a few things about Milwaukee that could have brought me these emotions.

  • Accomplishment: I finished the race. I wanted so badly to give up. Everything hurt and I was crushed emotionally. At one point I even lied down on the ground. But I pushed on, through run-walking, and endured it until I crossed the finish line. Finishing, in and of itself, was an accomplishment.
  • Pride: My training cycle was awesome. I was in fantastic shape, and all of my training runs indicated that. I was really proud of the hard work I put in on the track and on the weekend long runs. I had also incorporated pool running and swimming into my training, as well as core work. This was new for me, and I felt proud that I worked so hard.
  • Excitement: I don't really see anything to be excited about. Maybe the fact that I traveled to a new city.
  • Happiness: I wasn't happy. I was crushed. Where could have happiness come from? I just don't see it.
  • Satisfaction: I was anything but satisfied with this race and I don't see anything that could have made me feel satisfied.
  • Enjoyment: Even though I felt "off" early in the race, I enjoyed the first 8 miles. It was fun to be running somewhere new. I love the race atmosphere. I did enjoy the scenery during the last 4 miles. The weekend as a whole was enjoyable. 

If I were to run the same race again today, I don't know if I'd be able to focus on positive, process-oriented things. But I've committed to working on being more positive, so I would try to.

Build Up
I've now been running for about a month post-mono. I'm pleased to report that I feel 100% recovered. I think that the illness is behind me now and I no longer fear relapse like I did when I last posted two weeks ago.

I started by jog-walking and I've finally removed walk breaks. All runs (except one) have been "easy", endurance-building, zone 2 runs. I'm focusing on building endurance now, so that I can build speed on top of that later. In summary, here is a look at the last few weeks:

I didn't try to make it such a "perfect" progression, but I do love seeing this! As I said above, all of these were heart-rate based, zone 2 runs, with one exception.

On Tuesday, I decided it was time for an "easy tempo".  I know, an oxymoron! I did 2 x 1.5 miles at Lactate Threshold with 1/2 mile recovery. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain really hard, so I used a treadmill. I set the treadmill to 7.0 (8:34 pace) and did the workout. This felt tough, but not "tempo tough". It truly was an easy tempo. Had I been outside, I am sure I would have run faster, but I overheat very easily on a treadmill so I was conservative.

Yesterday, I ran 10 miles at an average 9:57 pace. I didn't take walk breaks, but I figured I'd have to stop for traffic lights anyway. Of course, on the one run where I want to stop at a light, they are all green. I don't think I ever have a run when all the lights are green. But they were yesterday, so I ran straight through and felt good the whole way. Huge progress from last weekend when I ran 9 miles and mile 9 felt like mile 20 of a 20-miler.

I'm not making any judgments about where I am at fitness-wise. As shown above, I'm progressing every week and I know that no one single run can determine what kind of shape I'm in. I'm going to run all my planned races this fall. I probably won't race them all at full effort (some I will), but I don't want to shy away from races that I am fully capable of participating in just because my time will be slow. It will be a true lesson in trying my best and having that be good enough.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Running After Mono Part II

My apologies for the rather generic, un-creative blog title. However, my previous "running after mono" blog brought a mono-inflicted runner here, and I made a new friend! She just started blogging and has had the misfortune of getting mono. When I was Googling "running with mono" all I found were horror stories. I figured I would post some encouraging stuff for people searching for the same answers I was. Of course everyone is different and the illness affects people in different ways. But here's a snippet from me.

It's been two weeks since my last update and three weeks since I took my first "jog". September 1 marked my official return to running. It did not go well, but things have improved since. One thing to keep in mind when returning to running post-mono is that it's not as if you simply took a break from running. The immune system is compromised, fatigue lingers, the entire body has been beat up and there is always the worry of getting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or never being quite the same. These last two are the horror stories I've read when searching Google for post-mono running. You have to be extremely careful, taking it day by day and  seeing what you can handle. The tough part is, even if you are responding well to increased physical activity, the illness can suddenly rear its ugly head without warning.

My approach here has been to rely heavily on my heart rate to indicate whether I am pushing too much.  Based on my recent VO2 max test, I know where my heart rate should be for the run to be "easy". 150-162 beats per minute. I've been extremely disciplined in this area, even though it feels like I am barely getting a workout. However, if I were to just run by feel I know my legs would take me faster than I should be going, and I would risk tiring too early and bonking at the end. Zone 2 training is also the best for building endurance, and that's where marathon training starts anyway. I don't plan to add any speed until early October and even then, it will be "lite" speedwork-- short tempo runs based on keeping my heart rate in zone 4.

September has been all about regaining my health so that I can return to proper training. I don't consider the running I am doing now to be actual training like it was before. Rather, this is what I need to do in order to recover properly, so that I will ultimately be able to train at full capacity sooner rather than later. My sports psychologist reminded me that I should be making comparisons only to my recent past, and not to my pre-mono self. Otherwise, every run would feel like a failure.

When I first started running again, I used the jog-walk approach. I found that I wasn't able to keep my heart rate in zone 2 for more than two miles, so I needed to take periodic breaks. Now, I am still jog-walking, but the jog portions are longer. I think I could keep my heart rate in zone 2 without the breaks now, but it's nice to let it come down a little every so often, so I'm not constantly having to back off the pace to maintain the desired heart rate. My paces have been gradually getting faster, but the lack of speed work means that I probably won't be anywhere close to my prior pace for a long time, and I am okay with that.

Here is a recap of my week. I'm including the paces so that I'll be able to come back a month from now and see some progress. A month ago, I was struggling just to walk at a normal pace, so I've made outstanding progress in the past month.

Monday: Rest. I had planned on running, but I decided not to because I expended a fair amount of energy cheering for Greg and my teammates at the Philly half marathon the day before.

Tuesday: 5.1 miles on the treadmill due to stormy weather. 10 minutes jogging, 2 minutes walking. Treadmill was set to 5.7 (10:30 pace)

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: 6 miles. 10 minute jog, 1 minute walk. Jogging portions averaged a pace of 10:30.

Friday: 5.9 miles. 12 minute jog, 1 minute walk. Jogging portions averaged a pace of 10:43.

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 7 miles. 12 minute jog, 1 minute walk. Jogging portions averaged a pace of 10:11.

Today's run showed some nice progress because the average pace of the full 7 miles was 10:30, and that includes the walking!  Also, it was a post-mono distance PR.

4 days of running, 24 miles covered (includes the walking).

In addition to this, I've been consistently doing strength training. I'm heavily focused on my hips and glutes because I know that's an area of weakness for me. But I'm also doing squats, lunges, planks, various forms of crunches, push-ups, and light weight lifting for the arms and shoulders.

I hope that I continue to feel good during my runs and throughout the day. My greatest fear is a relapse or setback. I think I'm being really cautious here, but it's hard to tell for sure. My body is responding well, so I take that as a positive sign. I'm also very focused on eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and loading up on vitamins. Health, you will be mine!