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.