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.