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.