Monday, May 28, 2012

Ringing In Hope 5K: Heat, Hills, Humidity

This morning I ran my 4th Ringing In Hope race (I've run both the summer and the New Year's race ever since the Inaugural race on New Year's Eve, December 2010.) They always offer a 5K and a 10K, and this year I chose the 5K. Last summer, I ran the 10K and it was a truly miserable experience because of the heat. My pace slowed by over a minute per mile during the last two miles and it took everything I had not to walk. Afterwards, I was really out of it and kept feeling like I was about to pass out.

I didn't want a repeat performance, so I decided to stick to the 5K. With a start time of 9:00, I knew it was going to be brutally hot once again, well before the forecast even came out.

I just had to laugh when I received an email on Friday with a subject line of "Weather Looking Great for Monday's Race."  Ha! It was 80 degrees and very humid at the start line. Not exactly great, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up.

Going into this race, I was worried about dehydration. Although I had drunk plenty of water the day before, I had either food poisoning or just a really upset stomach. I was in serious pain for several hours and all my hydration work went down the toilet, literally. This morning, the stomach pains were still there, and I just had to hope that my stomach would behave for the duration of the race.

When Greg and I arrived at the race, there was a very long line for getting our bibs. We got there just before 8:30 and it took about 20 minutes to get through the line and pin our bibs on. I still needed to go to the bathroom again, so there wasn't much time to warm up.  We ran for about one minute, and considered ourselves warm. We didn't get shirts because we didn't have time to wait in the shirt line and then go back to put them in our car. Oh well.

At the start line, they announced that the start would be delayed by five minutes due to the number of people still in line to get their bibs. Seriously? UGH. I was getting so hot just standing there. And then when 9:05 rolled around, that's when the pre-race rituals started, meaning the actual start didn't happen until 9:10.

My strategy for this race was to go out slowly and not push until the end. I didn't have a time goal-- I was more hoping to win an age group award of some sort. I figured just getting sub-23:00 would be a nice achievement, given the heat.

It was hot!
The race starts on an uphill, and I am very familiar with the course. My first mile was 7:21. I told myself that if I could hold on to that pace, I'd be golden. Well, it got really hard after the first mile marker. I was so hot, and there was no shade anywhere. High humidity, 80 degrees, rolling hills-- the 3 H's that can really test a runner's mental resolve! I decided not to look at the Garmin and just keep the effort level constant. I don't know if I could have pushed harder, or if I just didn't push harder because I was afraid of passing out in the heat. Either way, the tempo effort was as much as I could muster, and I told myself just to keep going, and the race would be over soon. Mile 2 was 7:39.

During the last mile, I came upon a 10-year old being paced by a woman who looked to be in about her 40's. I wasn't sure if she was the mother or the coach. I was about 10-15 seconds behind them. Normally I would try and catch up, but I thought "neither of them in my age group, it's okay if they stay ahead". All I cared about during the last mile was maintaining my placing and not letting anyone pass me. I had slowed down significantly, but it looked like a lot of other people were, too. In fact, I saw quite a few people walking during the last mile. I remember the one time I walked in a super hot 5K. I wasn't pleased with myself afterwards, so I told myself to just keep running no matter what. I ended up with an 8:01 for that last mile, which included a long uphill at the end. I didn't let it phase me, I just focused on keeping the effort level up and hoping that no one would pass me. I had a super fast downhill finish to 23:39. Far off of my time goal, but I finished in one piece without stomach problems or feeling dizzy at the end.

This is the second 5K in a row that a 10-year-old has beaten me by 10 seconds. I need to watch out for those little ones!

I was the 8th overall female out of 382 and I won 2nd place in my AG. My award was a gift certificate to a local running store. Yay! This puts me in the top 2%, so even though my time was really slow for me, my placing validated how tough it was out there.

It's hard to believe that I can run a 10-miler at a faster pace than I ran today's 5K. Heat is serious business!

Afterwards, Greg and I were chatting with our friend Chad, talking about the potential for age group awards. While doing that, I nearly missed getting my award! I noticed they were giving them out, so I ran over there, and the announcer (who knew me) said "Elizabeth did you get your award?" Ha-- I feel like I crashed the whole order of things. Turns out she thought I was in my 20's and had won first place age group, but then quickly realized I was in my 30's, which was a more competitive grouping.

Anyway, I'm happy about the award, pleased that I didn't stop and walk, but obviously not thrilled with the major slowdown and slow overall time. Is it fall yet????

Chad (won 2nd place AG), me and Greg.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

VO2 Max Test Results

Three years after my first VO2 max test, I decided it was time for another one, so I had this done last night.

What is this test?
A VO2 max test tells you how your body consumes oxygen and burns calories during exercise. It also identifies your heart rate zones so that you can train at paces that are most beneficial for your body, as opposed to looking at standardized chart (which may or may not apply to you).

The test is not fun. You warmup for 15 minutes on a treadmill and then put on this mask that's attached to a computer. The computer is measuring your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output, and from that it can tell all sorts of things. You also wear a heart rate monitor, which is closely watched by the person performing the test. Once the warmup is complete and the mask is on, the person performing the test gradually increases your treadmill speed. In my case, it was 0.2 MPH for every minute. I started at 6.0 MPH and after 10 minutes, I was at 8.0 MPH. Eventually, he also ups the incline along with the speed. The test continues until you can't take it anymore.

The fact that you are running at a high intensity on a treadmill is bad enough. Add the mask in there for additional discomfort and you're really not having fun.

Why take such a test?
My heart rate during the test.
The test provides information that will help you tailor your training. Most critical are the heart rate zones. Using the standard "percentage of max" does not work for every athlete because every body is unique in its oxygen consumption. I've been training with a heart rate monitor since I took this test in 2009, and it's really helped guide my training paces. When it's super hot outside, the heart rate is higher, so I go slower. I'm also more in tune with my body. I can tell when I'm having an off day if my heart rate is abnormally high for the paces I am running. Or if my heart rate is telling me that I need to go much slower than on other days.

The test also provides information that can help with your nutrition plan and lets you know if you need to focus more on speed or endurance.

My results
I have to say, I left the testing location feeling discouraged. Three years ago, this guy told me that I was among the 10% of runners who are more built for endurance than speed, and that I would do better at marathons and half marathons. And I guess back then it was true. My half marathon PR at the time was 1:44:04, but I still had never broken 49:00 in the 10K or 23:00 in the 5K. Yesterday, I learned that the reverse is now true. I am currently in much better shape for short races than long ones. I have a high lactate threshold and I've increased my VO2 max. But my treadmill pace for "easy" was actually slower.

However. . . back in 2009, I did the majority of my runs on a treadmill so I was more comfortable on the treadmill. Last night, my feet hurt right off the bat, and my calves and hips were killing me by the end. In fact, it was my legs hurting me that was the limiting factor and that made me stop the test. So, I really can't compare a treadmill time from 2009 to now, when I do 100% of my running outdoors. But still- it was discouraging that my easy pace was 20 seconds per mile slower on the treadmill than it was three years ago.

Interestingly, Greg's results have also gone in the opposite direction. Back in 2009, he was better trained for speed, and now apparently he's much better trained for endurance. Far better than I am. We always thought that I was the endurance queen and he was the king of speed, but according to this test, the roles are now reversed. His easy pace is faster than mine. I hope he'll still do long runs with me!

The results do make sense. Greg hasn't PRed at a short distance in over a year, but is killing the long distances. I haven't PRed at a half marathon or marathon in over a year, but I'm doing well with shorter stuff.  The guy said that Greg didn't leave anything on the course with his 1:13 Cherry Blossom time. He said that my 1:15 time was soft, and I should have beat Greg. Ha!  This confirms what we've always known--  Greg can really redline it, and I am a wimp at pushing. :-)

It's great that I've increased my VO2 max because that's mainly a factor of genetics, and it decreases as you age. It's one of the hardest elements to change/control.  But hey, I'm three years older, the VO2 max is 3 points higher!

Of course, my heart rate zones have changed. This isn't really a reflection of fitness, but more of age and other physiological factors. Before the test, I actually predicted that the top of my Zone 2 (the "easy zone") was now 162 as opposed to the previous 165. Every time my heart rate gets above 162, I notice I am working harder. 162 and below is easy street, but it used to feel that way at 165 and below. Confirmation that I am in tune with what feels easy vs. slightly harder than easy. Long runs will now be in the range of a 150-162 heart rate.

Fat Burning
Finally, I learned that my body is not effective at burning fat as fuel. In fact, in 2009, my body was burning twice as much fat as it does now for the same paces. This might explain my recent weight gain over the past 4 months. This makes sense because in 2009 I would never eat anything before my long runs. For the past year, I have been having a bagel with peanut butter before each long run, and my body has been using that as fuel instead of fat. I think going forward I will rely on last night's dinner for my fuel, unless the run is 16+ miles, and I will eat a smaller bagel with less peanut butter. And be sure to eat it at least two hours in advance. Eating within 2 hours of a long run causes your insulin levels to rise, and so your body uses that glucose as fuel-- not the fat. It's important for the body to use fat because it's a better, more readily available source of energy than glucose-- especially in a marathon.

Training Volume/Mileage
In 2009, I was coming off a long training cycle averaging about 50 miles per week, peaking at about 60. Since my stress fractures in January of 2011, I have been keeping my weekly mileage in the 30's and 40's. My training for Shamrock averaged in the low 40's. I thought this was okay because I was supplementing with swimming and pool running. Also, I ran Shamrock in 2008 on low mileage and it was a great race for me. However, these results indicate that I probably need to pump up the volume, so to speak. More volume means my body will be better able to burn fat as fuel.

The test administrator also suggested longer tempos. My coach prefers 3-4 mile tempo runs and I can't remember the last time I went beyond 4 miles. They've gotten super fast, but  yesterday I learned that I would get more benefit out of 5-6 mile tempos at a slower pace (still staying within my LT heart rate zone).

So now what?
I gave these results to my coach and I am going to see what he recommends. I am also meeting with a sports physiologist to go through these results in more detail and see what ideas she has on nutrition and specific training must-haves. I have six months until my next marathon attempt, so that should be plenty of time to get  my endurance back to where it needs to be. It's exciting in a way because now I know I have a lot of room to improve.

I'm also working with a sports psychologist on the performance anxiety issue. Even those this test was helpful, it does not explain why I am exhausted at mile 8 of a marathon, but I have no problems with long runs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Best Bagels in Northern VA: Bagel Buddies

As a runner, I take my carb intake very seriously. But long before I ever laced up my running shoes, I've loved bagels. They've always topped my list of favorite foods.

So where is my favorite place to get bagels? Bagel Buddies in Fairfax. And you can win a free dozen bagels from there by following the instructions at the end of this blog post!

Their bagels are always, always fresh. To me, a good bagel is one that you can eat without having to toast it or put anything on it. You can simply enjoy the texture and the doughy inside. I prefer to eat my bagels by breaking off pieces rather than cutting them-- because I think that cutting them ruins the "chunky of dough" sensation that I love. Not to give the impression that these bagels are undercooked-- they are just nice and soft on the inside. Firm on the outside. Most other bagels are the same consistency inside and out and it's like eating a piece of thick bread. No thank you!

I'm a bagel snob. I refuse to eat a bagel that isn't fresh or that is too firm. When Panera is my only option for a bagel, I use their microwaves to make the bagels warm and chewy instead of hard. Because I love bagels so much, I've tried nearly bagel shop in Northern Virginia, but nothing comes close to Bagel Buddies. Even when I lived in Tyson's Corner, I would sometimes make special trips out to the Fair Lakes area, just to get some of these yummy bagels. I've been a loyal Bagel Buddies customer for over 10 years.

These bagels are so good that I actually brought them to New York city for the NYC marathon. I didn't want to risk there not being bagels in NY as good as these. Ironic, because NYC is bagel central, and Bagel Buddies has a NYC theme to it.

They offer a huge selection of bagels and homemade cream cheeses. They even have a fantastic selection of light cream cheese, where most bagel shops only give you the option of plain light or veggie light.

As for bagel flavors, they offer all the standards, but they also feature a bagel of the month where you can try flavors like carrot cake, strawberry, pumpkin and others. Offered every day are unique flavors such as Cinnamon Sugar, Peanut Butter, French Toast and Orange Cranberry. My personal favorite is the honey 7 grain. It's so wholesome and flavorful! Topped with Wild Berry Lite cream cheese, and you have the perfect breakfast or snack!

I also like going there for lunch because their sandwich selection is huge. They serve both hot and cold bagel sandwiches, and if you are trying to watch your carb intake, you can get a wrap.

The owners are super nice. I've actually known one of the owners since college and was so excited when she bought the bakery a few years ago. She graciously lets me fill up my water bottle and use the bathroom on long runs, as my route often goes by the shop.

Bagel Giveaway Contest
I've never given anything away on my blog before, so I hope this goes well. You can win a dozen free bagels from Bagel Buddies by doing the following things. Please leave one comment for each of these things you do, and that will be one entry for each:

Like Bagel Buddies on Facebook: Link to FB Page
Repost this contest on Facebook.
Follow Bagel Buddies on Twitter: @BagelBuddies
Tweet this contest on Twitter.

Be sure to mention that Bagel Buddies is located in Fairfax, Virginia.

I will announce the winner on Wednesday, May 23. The winner will be chosen at random.

Disclaimer: Bagel Buddies did not pay me to write this blog. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Run Around The Corner

Greg and I have lived in our house for just over two years. For the past two years, we have noticed a 5K race very close to our house. While we were out for a normal weekend run, we would see hundreds of people in a 5K, running on part of our route. This year we decided we would join in on the fun.

I'm pretty sure this Angel Kisses 5K is the closest race to our house, with the start line about 2.5 miles away. About 35 minutes before the start, we left from our front door and did a warmup run to the start. It was just so cool to be able to run to the race! No worries about parking or traffic or anything. Easy as cake!

This race benefits cancer research and is in its 9th year. It's a very family-oriented race so a huge swarm of kids lined up at the very front. Normally this bugs me, but in a small family-oriented 5K, you just have to expect it. Plus, they go out really fast anyway, so you don't have to start weaving around them until about half a mile in, at which point they are pretty spread out.

I decided to do a few things differently with this race. The first was to not look at my Garmin at all. I tried this approach on New Year's eve and it did not work for me. I wound up going out way too fast on an uphill and was just trying to hold on the rest of the race. I got my slowest 5K time in years. I was a bit worried this would happen again (especially since this race starts on a huge uphill), but I wanted to work on just "feeling" the race and not having a watch dictate what I do. Also, knowing that I wouldn't be able to look at the Garmin at all, I wasn't worried about what the next lap pace would be because I wouldn't see it.

Also different was the use of my iPod. I haven't raced with music in about three years, so I decided to experiment with it. This goes along with my whole "feel the race" approach. I decided I would let the music carry me and I would get into a rhythm with it. The only problem I have with headphones is my own vanity. All varieties of earbuds and behind-the-ear headphones fall off of me, so I must wear the old school over-the-head ones. I have a super skinny pair, but still, it's not the most athletic looking thing. I decided I just needed to get over myself and wear them anyway.

In terms of a goal time, I didn't have one. It was on the warmer side, and I knew how hilly the course was. 100% hills! My primary goal was to run really strong, feel the race, and hopefully win an age group award.

Mile 1: 6:58
This was too fast, but not so much that it killed my race. The race starts on a long, steep uphill. All the kids were just gunning up the hill and I was trying to hold back, but without the Garmin, I didn't know if I needed to hold back even more. After the uphill was, of course, a downhill.

Mile 2: 7:17
Not the most flattering, but hey- I'm pushing it hard!
More hills! There is no part of this course that is flat. The hills are long and steep in some places. I'm pretty sure this is the hilliest 5K I've ever run. I'm glad I wasn't looking at the Garmin because a 7:17 pace would have discouraged me. Even though I knew the course was hilly and it was warm, I would have let that number get into my head. Instead, I was free of it.

During this mile, I was side-by-side with a girl who was about 11. I enjoyed running with her, but kids don't really understand racing etiquette. Periodically, she would try to get ahead of me, and run right in front of my path. I had to dodge her multiple times. She'd get right in my way, I'd have to go around her. I'd be slightly ahead, and then she'd come up and cut me off again. I don't think she was trying to be rude, but maybe she thought that's what people did in races. It is a competitive thing, after all.

Mile 3: 7:18
This was so hard. I knew my effort level was at my max because I was constantly letting out my screaming sounds. In the Crystal Run 5K in April, I didn't let out many screams, and that's how I know that I wasn't giving it everything I had. In this run, I was just sighing and screaming and grunting throughout the entire last mile. I passed the 11-year old for good, but then came across a girl who looked to be around 12. I passed her on the final uphill, thinking I was in the clear, but then she passed me again, and I sped up. I did not want this girl to beat me!

Once we got to the top of the hill, the last 0.3 miles were all downhill, and that's when I just let it rip. I accelerated down to the 6:30's and ended up beating her by about 10 seconds.

Last 0.14: 6:10 pace
I really like the downhill finish to this race and the fact that you can see the finish line balloons from a ways off. I gave a really strong final kick to finish in 22:24. 

Although my time is nearly a minute slower than my PR, I was very happy with this race. My effort level exceeded what I did at Crystal City, and if I had pushed this hard back then, I would have been much closer to my PR. When I crossed the finish line, it took me over a full minute to be able to talk to anyone.

I was 5th place out of 220 women. I also won my age group (ages 30-39).

Afterwards, there was an awards ceremony and a ton of door prizes were also given away. I won a $20 Gift Certificate to VA Runner and also got a medal that said "1st place female, 30-39".  Greg placed second in his age group and won a $15 Gift Certificate to VA Runner! This was his first age group award ever! Greg also won a $25 Gift Certificate to a local restaurant as a door prize!

I also have to mention that the 4th place female was only 10 years old. That kid was on fire! She had actually come all the way from Maryland to run this one. She killed all the boys her age, too. The fastest boy in her age group was a 9-year-old at 23:49.

Loot in hand, Greg and I ran back home. We plan on making this race a yearly tradition.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Science Project

I did a little science project today. I attempted to run the Potomac River Marathon with the goal of simply finishing strong-- no matter how slow.

Back in 2010, I was registered for this same race, but since the weather was in the low to mid 70's with nearly 100% humidity, I decided to run it as a training run, and stop at the halfway point. I ended up feeling better than expected, so I actually ran 18.5 miles that day, and then stopped because it was just a training run.

As for my science project, here is a side-by-side comparison of these activities.

Weather  70-75 degrees, 100% humidity.  60-65 degrees, 85% humidity 
 Recent Crystal Run 5K Time   22:21 22:00
Goal  Training Run Finish Strong

In other words, I am in much better shape now than I was two years ago, and today's weather was cooler. Logically, one would expect my paces for today to be faster. Especially since today was technically a race and I wasn't trying to save my legs for anything else. Were they faster? Absolutely not.

 Mile    2010 Pace  2010  Heart Rate  2012 Pace  2012 Heart Rate
  1  8:42 145 9:05 152
  2  8:37 155 8:54 159
  3 8:42 162 8:58 163
  4  8:55 163 8:53 167
  5  8:44 165 9:02 167
  6  8:40 164 8:59 168
  7  8:36 165 8:59 170
  8  8:51 165 9:11 169
  9  8:34 168 9:34 166
 10  8:26 170 9:55 163
 11  8:48 171  8:52 167
 12  8:27 173 8:53 173
 13  8:21 172 9:10 172
 14  8:03 174 10:27 166
 15  8:18 174 9:13 169
 16  8:16 178 10:28 164
 17  8:31 178 9:44 167

When I stopped the run in 2010, the folks at the water station were asking me "Why are you stopping? You're in the lead! You look so strong!" I smiled and said back, "I feel great, but you know, I'm not on pace to BQ, and that's what I'm after. I'm registered for another marathon in two weeks, and I'll try to BQ there." Today, the people at that same water stop said "Are you okay? Can I get you some ice?" And it was hard for me to reply initially.

In case you didn't guess, I did not finish today's marathon. Really, what would the point be? I wasn't going to finish strong. I felt like death at a pace of 9:45. Three weeks ago, I ran a 21-miler at an average 8:58 pace in much warmer, sunnier weather. And my legs felt fine the next day-- no lingering soreness.

What I'm getting at here is that this is a very physical manifestation of something 100% mental. Mention the word "marathon" and something happens in my brain and subsequently my body that makes me incapable of even running at my easy training pace. It's not lack of sleep. It's not dehydration. It's not the weather. It's not my fitness level. It's not over-training. It's not nutrition. It's not going out too fast. It's in my head and whatever "it" is, I can't get it out.

It's not as easy as just trying to relax. The more I try that the worse it seems to be. In fact, today, I was in high spirits, completely just in it to have a good race. Time wasn't even an element here. I wasn't focused on time, I wasn't obsessively looking at my Garmin. I just listened to my music and treated it like a long run. But it didn't work.

I'm plenty nervous for races at other distances, and yet I can run those with no problem.

It's happened at every marathon attempt in the past 4 years and it's getting worse and worse. Seriously, my fastest mile was an 8:52?!?  I do many easy training runs where my slowest mile isn't even that slow.

2012, Photo by Cheryl Young
When I stopped at mile 18.5, I watched the runners go by. Almost every one was looking strong. I felt like death. I couldn't even communicate properly when I first stopped. Why me? Why can't I just be normal like everyone else? Why do I have to have this flipping complex about the marathon?

I think my next approach will be to come at this whole running thing with a completely different mindset. I need to make it about finding my power through running. It's not about the PR or the time on the clock. I am happiest when I am running strong and feeling the power within me. I kept trying to find that today and it wasn't there. I wanted to get into a groove with the running and it never came. In most of the photos, my form was completely off (I chose one of the few good ones for this blog). I just looked like I was struggling so much.

I won't stop running them. I'm not a quitter and I won't give up. I will figure it out. Maybe not in time for Richmond this fall. Maybe not in time for a Spring marathon. But eventually, one day, it will happen for me.