Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Windy 10K: A "Process" Race

This afternoon I ran the Ringing In Hope 10K.  I ran this race last year and it was my second-fastest 10K ever (aka a hilly 10K PR). This year, I knew I wasn't going into it as well trained. Last year, I had been
Ringing In Hope 2012
logging 50-mile weeks throughout December, and this year I have averaged in the upper 30's. I would love to be in the same shape now that I was back then, but recovery from back-to-back marathons took awhile so I didn't have time to ramp up like I did last year.

I call this race a "process" race because it wasn't going to be about speed or time. It was going to be about pushing myself, running based on feel (not looking at the Garmin) and finishing strong. I also focused on hydration in the days leading up to the race and nutrition the day of-- which was a challenge for a 1:00pm race. Most importantly, I was running this race for the sake of fun and tradition. Greg and I have been doing this race since it started back in 2010. 

I didn't really know where I was fitness-wise but I was hopeful that I could break 47:00 and fall within a minute of my time from last year.

Before the Race
I kept going back and forth about what to wear. Shorts or capris? The forecast was for 43 degrees and 16 MPH winds, with a "real feel" of 35. If it hadn't been for the wind, I would have gone with shorts. But I didn't want my legs to be too cold and stiff, so I opted for the CW-X capri pants with a short-sleeved Capital Area Runners shirt. 

I looked back at last year's blog to see what I ate and when. This is where keeping a blog really comes in handy! Since I had raced so well last year, I figured I would eat the same thing at the same time. A bagel when I woke up, and then another bagel with peanut butter about 2 hours before the race. Lots of carbs-- maybe too much. But it worked.

Greg and I arrived at the race, picked up our bibs and warmed up. We noticed that the race seemed smaller than in previous years, which was good. The 5K started 10 minutes before the 10K. In all of the email correspondence we received beforehand, the 10K was scheduled to start 15 minutes after the 5K. But they must have realized that this could result in the 5K winner running into a finish line that was packed with 10K starters, since the start line and finish line are the same. In any event, we started 10 minutes after the 5K.

We did a quick warmup, lined up and were running a few minutes later.

Miles 1-2 (7:26, 7:25)
My plan was to not look at my Garmin and race by feel. Since I didn't know what kind of shape I was in and because it was so windy, I didn't want to be married to a particular pace. I know this course like the back of my hand. I knew to expect a long (about 1/2 mile) hill in the first mile and then a fast mile 2. The race started off well, I felt strong and I felt like I was putting forth the appropriate amount of effort. During the second mile, I started running into 5K walkers and joggers. This was annoying, but I knew to expect it. Weaving through small children and walkers was mentally exhausting disrupting to my rhythm, but I did my best to just plow through, keeping my eye on other 10K runners who were going at the same pace as me.

Approaching the finish line
Miles 3-4 (7:44, 7:45)
Mile 3 was tough. This was directly into a headwind and up a hill. Dirt and gravel and stuff came flying at my face and I wasn't wearing sunglasses. It was definitely a physical and mental battle. I knew I was slowing down, but it didn't bother me. I just focused on doing the best I could, knowing that I would soon turn around and not have the strong wind gusts. During the 4th mile, things really thinned out and there were only two other people in my vicinity- both men. Usually I try to pass women in the second half of races as they are my competitors, but there were no women to be seen.

Miles 5-6 (7:26, 7:54, 6:33 pace for the 0.22)
Me and the two guys leap frogged these miles. I kept expecting that they would pull ahead because they were guys, but they didn't. I held my own with them until that last final hill, once again into a headwind. I just couldn't push through it as fast as they could and I let them finish about 5-10 seconds ahead of me. I kept wishing that a mantra would pop into my head like it normally does, but it didn't. I was having a conversation with myself instead, which is fine, but I think I do better if I repeat a mind-numbing mantra over and over. Anyway, the last thing you want at the end of a 10K is a long hill with a 15 MPH headwind. I slowed down, but I stayed strong.

The finish and beyond
In retrospect, I wish I would have looked at my Garmin leading up to the finish line. I was right on the
verge of 47:00 and if I had known that, I think I could have motivated myself to be a few seconds faster. I definitely ran the race as fast as I could until that point, but seeing numbers towards the end of a race always motivates me to pull out every last drop of strength. 

Official finish time was 47:03 (avg. 7:34 pace), which was good for 12th overall female out of 202. I usually win an age group award at this race, but this year my age group was particularly competitive. If I was in my 20's I would have gotten first place, or in my 40's I would have gotten second place. But that's okay- I can't control who shows up and how old they are!

I'm kind of neutral about this race. I am not thrilled, but I am not disappointed. I am satisfied that I ran the best race I could in windy conditions. And it's always fun to keep with traditions. In terms of "process" I did everything right except for maybe I should have peaked at the Garmin at the end. If I can repeat this process when I am better trained and the conditions are more favorable, I know I'll be racing extremely well. I performed to the best of my ability given my preparation (training) and the windy conditions. And that's really all I can ever ask for!

As I look ahead to 2014, I see a lot of question marks. The year feels very uncertain to me for some reason, and I guess I am okay with that. I don't know the extent to which this newish job and long commute will affect my marathon training and how I will be able to balance running, commuting, working, and spending time with Greg. Running used to be front and center in my life and in my mind. And now it's taking up much less space. Supposedly that's a good thing in terms of being more well-rounded and ironically performing better. I guess I'm just adjusting the change.

Happy New Year to my blog readers! I've thankfully had time over the holidays to read some of your blogs, and I hope the continue following them in the future.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nike LunarGlide, San Francisco, Turkey Trot

I haven't been able to blog as much as I would like lately, so this post covers three separate topics.

Nike LunarGlide 5
In May, I decided to re-visit my running shoe situation. Thanks to the 90-day return policy of RoadRunner Sports, I was able to experiment with quite a few different shoes:

  • New Balance 870: I liked the shoe, but I my arches started to hurt after running just one mile.
  • Saucony Mirage: Low heel-to-toe ratio. This shoe bugged my Achilles area
  • Brooks Ravenna: Felt way too bulky. Like running with bricks.
  • Asics 2000: I liked this shoe, but it gave me blisters after 4 miles. 
  • Mizuno Wave Inspire: Too stiff, started to give me a bad pain after 10 miles
  • Brooks Adrenaline: Had been my go-to shoe for years, but the new model made my feet hurt after about 8 miles
With all these changes and experiments, I ultimately ended up getting injured. As I started running again, I posted on the Runner's World forum and asked for advice. I am a mid-foot striker with a narrow foot and mild pronation, looking for a shoe that won't hurt the bottoms of my feet. I was worried that I would not have a shoe to run the Chicago marathon in and I was starting to get nervous. Someone recommended the Nike LunarGlide 5, so I went to RoadRunner Sports and asked to try it.

I ran around the store and immediately fell in love. My feet felt like they were getting a massage. The fit was good, and I absolutely loved the way they felt. I bought them and started wearing them for my long runs. I
I designed these shoes on Nike.com.
was absolutely amazed. When the runs were over, I didn't feel a need to immediately take my shoes off. My feet felt great! I ran the Chicago marathon in them and my feet felt great, and I didn't get injured. 

Best of all, if you go to the Nike.com website, you can customize this shoe and get it in whatever color combination you want. You can even customize the words on the tongue. My shoes say "Zebra" on one foot and "Power" on the other. They are red, white, and black to match my Capital Area Runners gear. It only costs about $35 extra, so I figured it was worth it to get the shoes to look exactly how I wanted.

I will still wear the Mizuno Wave Elixir for speed work and races that are half marathons and shorter. Don't get me wrong, the Nike would probably serve this purpose fine, but I have been a faithful Elixir wearer for years and I like having two types of shoes I rotate between. The Elixir is actually being discontinued so I purchased a fairly large stock that should last me about 3-4 years.

San Francisco
I went to San Francisco for business in the middle of November. I was there for almost two weeks, so Greg flew out and joined me over the weekend. I'd run in San Francisco a few times before, so I knew exactly how to run to the flattest area of the city-- the Embarcadero. 

The Palace of Fine Arts. We ran through this!
For my birthday, Greg had reserved us a semi-private wine tour of Napa Valley. On the way there, the driver showed us a few of San Francisco's key landmarks. We were blown away by the Palace of Fine Arts, which I had never seen or heard of, even though I had been to San Francisco a number of times in the past. Greg, being more adventurous than I am, was determined to find a way for us to run there the next day. I told him it would be impossible for us to get there without running on some very steep hills (so steep, you can't even run on them) or taking this long route that would be 10 miles. 

He insisted that we could and found a way for us to get there in just over 3 miles. Minimal hills. It was so thrilling to run through this dome. It was almost like being in the Disney World half marathon again. It was also fun running around that general marina area. I had always stuck to the Embarcadero, because it was what I knew. 

I was also lucky to be in San Francisco while we were having unseasonably cold weather back home. It felt good to be running consistently again, after about two months of no training. I tapered for Chicago, recovered from Chicago, ran New York City, and then recovered from that. While in San Francisco, I ran a two-mile tempo run, and it was tough. It was definitely an indicator that I hadn't done speed in a long time!

Turkey Trot 5K
I ran my 8th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K yesterday morning. I suspected that this would be my slowest Turkey Trot in a long time because I was so out of shape. I did a short track workout on Monday, but aside from that, I hadn't run intervals since the end of September. And my overall mileage had been low. 

But this didn't stop me from giving it everything I had!  

It was 25 degrees with a light breeze. The forecast the night before had been for 22 degrees, 16 mph winds, which equated to a "real feel" of only 8 degrees. So I was actually quite thankful that it wasn't as cold or windy as it could have been. And with the sun, I actually felt warm in parts of the race!

Greg and I parked, and warmed up for 1.5 miles. I was worried that we parked my new car in too tight of a spot, and that the two mini vans next to me would certainly ding my car. Greg told me that we'd just have to run really fast and get back to our car before they did! 

We got to the start line, where, as usual, a ton of kids were lined up right at the front. One of the challenges of this race is that so many kids and slower runners start at the very front, and it's annoying trying to pass them all. This race had over 3,000 runners, so it was definitely sizable. I felt very relaxed going into this race, probably because I didn't have any expectations or self-imposed pressures to run a specific time. I was hoping to get sub-23:00, but I just didn't know what I was in shape for.

Greg was also out of shape, and he predicted that I would beat him because I had two short tempo runs and a track workout under my belt, whereas he didn't have anything. He got ahead of me as we started, and I remained about 5 seconds behind him for the whole first mile. I wondered if I would be able to pass him, but I didn't make it a focus. Mile 1: 7:26

Due to the nature of the course, I know that the second mile is always the slowest. I didn't look at my Garmin during this mile and just kept the effort level the same. It felt so hard, and I didn't feel like I was running fast. Yup. Out of shape! I still passed a few people in the second mile, but it's amazing how that
crowded race totally clears out after mile 1. Mile 2: 7:30.

At the start of the third mile, I still had Greg in my sights. But by this time, he was about 15 seconds ahead of me. He turned a corner and really sped up, so I didn't see him again until I finished.  In my head, I briefly wondered if I would be able to go under 23:00 with these paces. I wasn't sure, but I know that the last mile of this race is always my fastest. This is where knowing the course and having run it 7 times in the past comes in handy. I gunned it. It hurt, but I told myself I it would be over soon. I pushed and pushed and passed a few people during the last stretch, netting a zippy 7:03 mile.  Mile 3: 7:03.

I kicked it into my highest gear for the last 0.12. It took me 45 seconds.  6:25 pace.

My overall finish was 22:46

Last year, I ran this race in 22:18. However, this year, my last mile was faster.  Last year's splits were 7:12, 7:15, 7:05.

It's interesting to experiment with different pacing strategies. Last year I knew what kind of shape I was in, whereas this year I didn't. I therefore started far more conservatively this year for fear of not being able to sustain a fast pace. 

I am pretty happy with these results.

I'm definitely glad I did this race, and the plan is to spend the next five weeks building my speed back so I can be more competitive at the New Year's Eve 10K. I was noticing that even though it hurt a lot during that final push, it also felt really good and empowering to be running so strong. It felt "bad ass" as Greg says. (His last mile was in the 6:40's). Most importantly, I was thankful to be un-injured and healthy enough to race.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NYC Marathon: VIP Style!

A few weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to run the New York City Marathon for free, courtesy of Asics!

I would receive a free, legitimate bib into the marathon, plus VIP transportation to the start line, VIP bag check, and "head to toe" Asics NYC Marathon gear. It was through their "Celebrate Running" contest, and my friend Chad and I were both selected as winners. Score!!! Greg refers to it as the "Cadillac" of NYC Marathon experiences.

Not only does a NYC marathon bib typically cost around $250, but it's also extremely hard to get in through their lottery system. In 2010, I didn't get in through the lottery, so I raised $3000 for Central Park to gain entry. Plus the cost of the bib.

Even though New York City would be just three weeks after the Chicago Marathon, this opportunity was too amazing to turn down. I didn't think I would ever run New York again, and now I had the chance to run it for free, with VIP treatment!

During the three weeks between Chicago and New York, I ran a grand total of 5 times. Most runs were only 4 miles, and my longest was 7 miles. I wanted to make sure I was as recovered as possible for NYC, and didn't want to risk delaying recovery by putting more strain on my body.

For various reasons, Greg opted to stay home and track me remotely. Given that NYC is so crowded that you might not even see your spectator or vice versa, I was totally fine with this, although I definitely missed him.

VIP Expo Treatment
Chad and I drove up to NYC on Saturday morning. We met up with our Asics rep, and his driver drove us from the hotel to the expo. Once there, we were allowed to choose pretty much whatever we wanted from the Asics NYC merchandise section, including shoes! I loaded up: a hat, an ear warmer, gloves, arm warms, socks, a long sleeved shirt, 2 short-sleeved shirts, a pair of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, and a jacket.

Free NYC Marathon Gear. Thanks, Asics!

It was so much fun getting to pick all this stuff out. I decided I would wear the arm warmers and the white shirt to run the race in. I would have worn the shorts, but it didn't have enough pockets for all of my gels the way my skirt does.

After the expo, Chad and I went back to the hotel, relaxed, and then went back out to dinner. We met up with his cousin and her friends, as well as the Asics rep, who paid for everyone's dinner. Asics was definitely very generous and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity! After dinner, the Asics rep gave chad and me special wrist bands that would allow us to access the VIP tent at the start line. This was a warm tent with tables and chairs, and plenty of food. Much preferable to the 3-hour wait that Greg and I had back in 2010 sitting on the ground, freezing our butts off!

Before the Race
Race morning came and I found that I didn't have my typical nerves. This was actually a bad thing because those nerves combined with the bagel that I eat first thing in the morning allow me to empty my digestive system fully before the race starts. And since the start wasn't until 10:05, I had to wait until I was on the bus to the start line to eat my bagel. Unfortunately, that did not get my digestive system going like it usually does.

Anyway, we took a special VIP bus to the starting area and promptly found our tent. I only stayed in there for a short time because I had to drop my bag off and then make my way to my corral. Chad and I separated because he had a different color bib, which meant a different starting location.

I was in the second of four waves, which equated to a 10:05 start time. The one benefit of being in the second wave, as opposed to the first, is that there were plenty of warm clothes left over from the wave 1 starters that I could sit down on. I had en entire pile of jackets to relax on, which made the wait inside the corral much more bearable. I was surrounded by a bunch of French guys and I felt like I was the only American there! Luckily, I speak French.

I was fortunate to get an orange bib, which meant I got to run above the bridge instead of below it like I did in 2010. So my first three miles were different from the 2010 race, which was cool. The forecast called for a sustained 15 MPH headwind for the first 21 miles, with temps in the high 40's to low 50's. I was told that the wind would be especially chilly on the bridges. I decided I would start off the race wearing arm warmers, and then ditch them if I got too hot.

Finally, they moved our corral out of the staging area and up to the start line. It was an amazing view of the bridge.

Miles 1-8
The first two miles took us over the Verazzano-Narrows bridge. My plan for this race was to start at a pace of 9:15-9:30 and then try to speed up if at all possible. My primary goal for running this race was simply to have fun and enjoy the experience, so I wasn't hung up on time. But I also wanted to practice strong execution.

My stomach started to feel off starting at around mile 3. I experienced some mild stomach cramping, but I did my best to ignore it and run through it. I was seriously hoping that my inability to go to the bathroom before the race wouldn't come back to haunt me.

This part of the course wasn't particularly scenic, but it did have a good atmosphere, as does the entire race. I took my first gel at mile 5 and even though my stomach had been bothering me, it seemed to go down fine.

I wore my headphone like I did in Chicago, and they seemed to enhance the experience rather than detract from it. I could still hear what was going on around me, but with the added benefit of inspiring music. Five For Fighting and Panic At The Disco were the two prevalent artists, quite an interesting mix!

Mile 1: 9:55
Mile 2: 8:53
Mile 3: 9:22
Mile 4: 9:01
Mile 5: 9:02
Mile 6: 8:57
Mile 7: 8:53
Mile 8: 9:18

Miles 9-13
This was when my race took a turn for the worse. During mile 9, I really had to go pee and there were no porta potties in sight. I saw a few guys go off the course into a parking lot and pee in between cars, so I did the same thing. Not something I am proud of, but I didn't have any other options at the time.

I felt a little bit better after that but soon realized that my stomach problems were much greater than originally expected. During the 10th mile, I was lucky enough to find an open bar, and they let me use their bathroom. It was such a major relief and I am very fortunate that I found that bar when I did. I don't think I could have waited another few minutes.

I felt much better afterwards and it was technically time to take my next gel. I figured that even though my stomach had been acting up, I should still take my gel because I didn't want to run out of energy later in the race. A mile later, I was paying for this decision, and found myself in the Meatball Shop in Brooklyn. After my previous bathroom stop, I didn't think it was possible that I would have anything left in me, but I was very wrong. Sorry if that's too graphic! But once again, I was very lucky that this place was open and that they were more than happy to let me use their bathroom. In fact, after I was done, everyone in the place was very encouraging, telling me to go out there and finish the race!

I got back into the race and felt pretty good. Usually after I have major stomach distress, the rest of my
Not sure what mile this is.
run is killed. I think that because I found restrooms exactly when I needed them and didn't have to run in pain while waiting to find a bathroom, that helped a lot. This is the advantage of big city marathons!

By this point, I was coming up on mile marker 12. I decided that I should just take the rest of the race easy and not try and speed up at all. I actually couldn't believe I still had 14 miles ahead of me, so I figured the best approach would be to relax, run slowly, and take in the experience.

I was also thinking about Greg tracking me at home and what he must think. Obviously there was a major slowdown between the 15K and 20K marks, and I was hoping that he wasn't thinking I was hurt.  Part of my motivation to keep running strong was to not worry him!

I crossed the halfway mark in 2:13:09. My original plan had been to cross it at around 2:02, but that was obviously out the window. It seems as if the bathroom stops cost me about 10-11 minutes. But I wasn't trying to run a particular time, so it didn't bother me. I just focused on running my best for the second half of the race.

Miles 14-20
These were the glory miles. I felt better at this point than at any other time during the race. The stomach issues were gone, I felt energized and excited to be running the race. I consider miles 15-16 to be the toughest miles of the course-- the Queensboro bridge. It's a mile uphill and a mile downhill, similar to the very first bridge. But by this point, your legs feel it a lot more.

Many people were stopped on this bridge to stretch. I remember how tough this was for Greg and me in 2010 and how I couldn't wait to get over it.  During the uphill mile, I stayed strong and focused, running at a very conservative pace. During the dowhill mile, I made sure not to go crazy fast, and was looking forward to being on First Ave. where the huge crowd was.

After we got off the bridge, we were finally in Manhattan. Miles 17-20 are a straightaway along first avenue and there are loads and loads of people lining the streets. This is when my favorite Panic! At the  Disco album started to play on my iPod and the timing couldn't have been better. The music and the crowds pumped me up so much and it was a definite high. I was smiling and waving at all the spectators, having the time of my life. I glanced at my Garmin from time to time and noticed that I was back down to a pace of around 9:00 for these miles.

Because the Garmin reception wasn't great during the covered bridge portion, I don't have accurate splits for those miles. But I would guess that my average pace for the "glory miles" was somewhere around 9:00-9:15.

During mile 18 I had some Honey Stinger Chews. I hoped those would be better for my stomach than the gels, and I knew I needed more calories to take me through the end of the race. Thankfully, I did not regret this decision!

Miles 21-Finish
During these last five miles, my legs told me that they didn't want to be running anymore. This is where I could tell I wasn't fully recovered from Chicago, and/or the NYC course just took a toll on my legs with all of the bridges and hills.

Slow, focused run to the finish.
My energy level and spirits were actually really high. Overall I felt very strong. It's just that my legs didn't want to move anymore. I decided that I would run to mile marker 21, and then allow myself a 1-minute walk. I did that, and then ran to mile 22, where I got another 1-minute walk. I did this all the way to the finish and it worked.

At this point about half the people were walking and half the people were slowly jogging. I didn't see anyone who looked particularly strong. It's just a brutal course, and the headwind had also taken its toll.  There were times when I thought I would never make it to the finish.

One motivator for me was that one of my best friends was in town that weekend, and she was leaving that evening. We had tentative plans for an early dinner, so I knew that if I wanted to keep those plans, I'd better keep moving and not walk my way to the finish. (Of course, this is based on the experience of knowing it would take me well over an hour to get back to my hotel post race).

I also noticed that when I was running, my pace was around a 9:30, which is decent. Sadly, when combined with my 1:00 walk breaks, the slows down to a 10:30. I was just relieved that I was in the home stretch and that I hadn't hit "the wall" in terms of my energy. Just in terms of my legs giving out on me. I did run the entire last mile (no walking) and found the energy to do it at a pretty decent clip. My official splits show my average pace steadily declining over those last five miles, but with the final run to the finish, it actually got very slightly faster. I love the feeling of finishing strong. This also shows how much of a mental thing marathon running is.

After The Race
I finished in 4:28:29, which makes this my 2nd slowest marathon of 16, and my slowest marathon since I started running them in 2006. I am totally fine with this, as NYC was meant to be about the experience and
About to finish
the fun, and not about running a particular time. I just PRed in Chicago three weeks ago, so I was by no means hungry for a fast race.

One of the reasons I had decided that NYC was a 1-time marathon was because the post-race experience is so miserable. Even with my VIP bag check (which means you can avoid the mile-long walk through the park to get your bag, and it takes 45 minutes because it's so crowded) it still took me nearly two hours after I crossed the finish line to get home. It was in the 40's and overcast, and I was freezing. One of my fingers even went numb. This put me in a really bad mood because I was tired and cold and I just wanted to be back at my hotel. Instead, I probably walked an additional two miles at a snails pace because all of the runners were going the same way.

Eventually I made it back to my hotel with enough time to shower and meet my friend for dinner. Chad actually waited in the VIP finish area for them to find his bag. They lost my bag and his too, but mine didn't have anything in it that I cared about. Just some food and a warm throw-away jacket (which would have been nice-- but not worth a wait).

Final Takeaways
I'm very glad I took advantage of this opportunity. I ran the race to the best of my ability, kept positive even when my stomach was acting up, and focused on the experience rather than the time on the clock. I ran the second half only 2 minutes slower than the first half, which shows that despite all of the stomach drama and leg stuff at the end, I was overall pretty consistent with my pacing.

Because I was injured for six weeks this past summer, this fall season has been a great opportunity to focus on the mental aspects of racing-- the area where I struggle most. Now that I have two "positive" marathon experiences under my belt, I am beginning to see the marathon as something to enjoy, and not something where I have to go out and prove to the world that I am a great runner. Of course I will ultimately want to run faster and set PRs, but in order to do that, I first needed to establish that it's not just about the finish time. Marathoning can offer a great deal of personal satisfaction even if the time on the clock isn't as fast as I would like, or as fast as I think it "should" be based on training. It's taken me 16 marathons to figure this out, but I'm glad I finally did.

I think this fall racing season has set me up to continue marathoning in a much more positive light than ever before, and I look forward to being able to train consistently and tie the whole package together at some point!

My name in the NY Times. I placed 27,627th. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chicago Marathon Race Report

Greg and I ran the Chicago marathon yesterday, and it was truly an unforgettable experience.

Background and Training
I was injured for the entire month of July and was unable to run. I did, however, cross train by using the elliptical, pool running, and swimming. I spent the first two weeks of August run-walking as my shin recovered from its stress reaction. It wasn’t until the third week of August that I was able to resume somewhat normal training.

For me, a normal training cycle would be twice as long, and the mileage would go up to about 55-60.

My weekend long runs were as follows: 12, 16, half marathon, 20, 16, 12.

I knew this wasn’t an ideal marathon training cycle, and if I wanted to run a fast time, I should wait to run Richmond in November. However, I was already registered for Chicago and I’ve learned that running a satisfying marathon doesn’t have to mean setting a PR. I knew I would be able to train enough to get me to the finish line, so I decided to go for it.

Chicago has been on my marathon bucket list for awhile, Greg was running it, and I didn’t want to miss out just because I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. Plus, I knew from experience that I could run well on a short cycle and relatively low mileage. In 2008, I ran the Shamrock marathon on 7-8 weeks of training and set a five-minute PR. Chicago would be a fantastic opportunity to focus on goals other than a finish time, and still feel satisfied and accomplished.

So, what would success look like for me?  Here is what I mapped out:

  • Have fun
  • Sleep well in the week leading up to the race
  • Start slow, finish fast
  • Prevent stomach issues
  • Have a good nutrition/hydration plan and stick to it
  • Create a marathon playlist for my iPod that would get me in “the zone”
  • Soak up the full Chicago marathon experience
  • If something didn’t go well, learn from it and not beat myself about it
  • Get through the taper without feeling like a crazy person
  • Not compare my performance/time to other people’s
  • Run somewhere between 3:40-4:00, adjusting for the weather if necessary.

While some of these things seem basic (and were never on my goals list before) I’ve realized that these things are true challenges for me. Having fun is actually an accomplishment, and so is sleeping well. Someone else’s goals list might look completely different. These were my goals because they have historically been a challenge for me and I knew I needed to work on them to become a better runner.

Before The Race
Greg and I flew out on Saturday morning and arrived in Chicago just after lunch time. We headed to the hotel, which was conveniently located just 3-4 blocks from the start/finish line. We were looking forward to a logistically easy race, in comparison to New York, where you have to wake up over 4 hours before the race starts to get to the start line, and sit there freezing for 2 hours before the race even begins. It was nice to be so close to the start/finish and not have to worry about finding transportation to and from the race.

Chicago offered free shuttle bus service to the expo from four different locations throughout the city. One of
Chicago Marathon Expo
these locations was a half mile from our hotel and gave us the opportunity to walk through millennium park. The buses were running frequently, so we didn’t have to wait for one to arrive. The expo was also a huge improvement over New York. The NY expo was so crowded that you couldn’t enjoy it, and there was definitely no free transportation to get there. In NY, I ended up with a men’s medium race shirt, since they had run out of my size, whereas in Chicago, they handed me a bag with the shirt size I registered for already inside of it.  I was super impressed with how organized the whole process was, and there were no lines at any time.  Greg and I didn’t spend too much time at the expo, as we knew it wasn’t a good idea to do a lot of walking the day before the race.

We had dinner at Petterino’s- a restaurant just a few blocks away in the theater district that had some local flare. I ordered my standard—pasta with chicken and marinara sauce and it was really good! The place was swarming with runners and theater goers. On the walk back to our hotel, we noticed theaters and shops that we would be running past the next morning.

During the course of the day, I had about 5 SaltStick Caps and a lot of water. This was new for me and Greg was worried that it would mess me up because you aren’t supposed to do new stuff the day before a marathon. But I had used those pills during training and they only seemed to help—not hurt. The ingredients were pretty mild and each pill contained less than 5% of the daily recommended amount of sodium, potassium, etc. I’ve had heat exhaustion issues in the past and seeing black spots after races has become the norm for me. My hypothesis was that I was drinking enough water, but not getting the electrolytes to go with it. And when I would try drinking coconut water, G2 or pedialyte—these just didn’t work. And the G2 upset my stomach during the B&A marathon. So, these SaltStick caps seemed like the answer.

We got back to our hotel, relaxed, and went to sleep. In terms of the sleep goal, I had slept really well in the week leading up to the race. This hasn’t happened for me in years. Last March, I slept horribly before B&A and it impacted my race. I’ve actually been sleeping really well for the past few months, despite starting a new and very stressful job. I think it’s because at some point in July I realized that it was ME who was putting all this pressure on myself, and it was totally un-necessary. It seems pretty simple, but coming to the realization that I can do whatever I want with my life and run whatever races I want in whatever times I want was completely liberating. I’ve felt like a different person ever since.

Race morning arrived and Greg and I did our standard routine. Ate our standard meal, got dressed, pinned
On the way to the start corrals
on our bibs, got our gels situated etc. We both decided to carry water, and fill it up periodically throughout the race.  As for nutrition and hydration, my plan was as follows: 1 SaltStick cap with breakfast and 4 during the race, starting at mile 3 and every 6 miles after with plenty of water. For nutrition, I would take 3 Honey Stinger gels starting at mile 5.5 and then switch to the chews for the end, because I thought they would be easier on my stomach at that point. (I guess I could write an entire blog on this topic, so I’ll stop there!)

I wrote on my arm the miles when I planned to take the SaltStick caps and the gels/chews, so I wouldn’t have to think about it during the race. When you are hurting at the end of a marathon, it can be difficult to remember the simplest of things!

The weather was sunny and in the mid to upper 50’s. Even though many were saying that this was "ideal weather," I’ll admit that this forecast made me a little nervous. If there is no cloud cover and the sun is directly on me, I've found that anything above 55 will feel hot and make me feel less energized. Earlier this year I bonked in a 10K that was in the low 60's and sunny. However, I ultimately knew there was nothing I could do about the weather, so I tried to think positive and not "expect" that this would hurt my race.

Greg and I left our hotel about 40 minutes before the start of the race and made our way to our starting corral. For Chicago, you have to “qualify” for the first 4 corrals- A, B, C and D.  Greg and I were in corral C thanks to some speedy half marathons we had run earlier this year. When we got there, we chatted with some other runners, and before we knew it, it was time to start.

Miles 1-5
Greg and I ran the first mile together and the experience of starting out with all those people in the city of Chicago was so cool. One of my goals was to soak it all up and enjoy the experience, and I made this my focus for these early miles. Instead of focusing on my pace and finish time, like I would previously do, I was instead focused on the race atmosphere, which relaxed me.

The marathon is the only race distance where I listen to music. It helps get me out of my head, and I find that good music can get me into a “zone” and enhance the adrenaline high. I carefully selected the songs and playlist order for this race, and I did the same for Greg.

I knew that my Garmin wouldn’t be working during these miles because of all the tall buildings, so I manually pressed the lap button at the mile markers to track my splits. I needed to make sure I wasn’t starting to quickly. My plan was to start at around an 8:55 pace and speed up from there.

Mile 1: 8:55
Mile 2: 8:54
Mile 3: 8:56
Mile 4: 8:37
Mile 5: 8:49

Miles 6-10
This is where I settled into the race and my confidence began to build. I wasn't planning on speeding up all that much, but I just naturally started going faster and it felt great. I didn't look at my Garmin that much-- mainly just when I saw a mile marker.

The music contributed to my elevated mood. Panic! At The Disco released a new CD on Tuesday, and so I put the entire thing on my playlist, starting at around mile 6. "Miss Jackson" is my favorite song from the CD so I played it four times in a row, thinking this song is working for me, might as well just keep it going. I looked at the numbers on my arm and at my water bottle. I planned to take my second honey
stinger gel at mile 11.5, so I needed to fill up my bottle. I stopped at a water station and started pouring cups into my bottle. The cups were literally only 1/4 full, so this took much longer than I wanted. Ultimately, I didn't fill the bottle up completely and decided I would just stop again when the bottle got low.

This didn't really feel like a race to me. It felt like I was just running in a big city with a ton of other people,

and with people all around me cheering. It was semi-surreal. I could hear the cheering, but I could also hear my music, so the whole thing just gave me this runner's high. Having fun? Check!

Mile 6: 8:39
Mile 7: 8:40
Mile 8: 8:51
Mile 9: 8:48
Mile 10: 8:52 (filled up the water bottle)

Miles 11-15
I actually think these miles were my favorites. It was at this point that I knew I wasn't going to have anxiety issues, and that the heat hadn't gotten to me (so far). I had imagined that the course wouldn't be shaded but thankfully, about 3/4 of it was shaded. When I got to the halfway point I recognized it as the area I used to stay in when I worked at my previous company. I used to go to Chicago regularly for business so it was cool to be in a familiar area at the halfway point.

I sped up unintentionally because I was feeling so good. I remembered back to the 3 marathons I ran in 2007, and how they were all very well executed. I remembered that my legs didn't hurt at the halfway point and everything felt pretty good up until mile 17-18. I started comparing this race to those races and realized I felt exactly how I wanted to.

When I crossed the halfway mark in 1:55:06, I realized that I could probably negative split and finish under 3:50. I wasn't sure by how much, but I told myself that the warmup was over and now it was time to race a half marathon. I wanted to see how fast I could do it.

I continued to execute my hydration and nutrition plan, drinking water about once a mile, and taking my SaltStick caps at the pre-determined times. During mile 15, I decided I would have one of the volunteers fill my water bottle from the big jug to make things go faster. Unfortunately, he was a very slow pourer, so I only had him fill it up 2/3 before moving on.

Mile 11: 8:34
Mile 12: 8:34
Mile 13: 8:15
Mile 14: 8:24
Mile 15: 8:46 (filled up the water bottle)

Miles 16-20
I still felt great during these miles. I was so excited because I knew the race was going to end well for me.

At this point, I had all the confidence in the world that I would finish strong, as long as I remembered to keep pushing during those final miles. I had plenty of energy, the sun wasn't bothering me and I was passing people like crazy.

Passing was fun, but also exhausting. I had to focus on where I was going to pass so as to not run into people. The race was still very crowded so I had to carefully maneuver around people. Ultimately, this would result in a Garmin distance of 26.47 miles, which I knew, but I wanted to keep running at the pace I felt good at, and that meant a lot of weaving. I actually saw some of the people who had passed me during the first few miles of the race. I also easily passed the 3:50 pace group and felt excited to have done so. Usually when I see the 3:50 pace group it's because I have hit the wall and they are passing me.

It's a flat course, so in looking at the splits, you can tell which miles were shaded and which were not!

Mile 16: 8:36
Mile 17: 8:18
Mile 18: 8:30
Mile 19: 8:17
Mile 20: 8:30

Miles 21- Finish
I was in the home stretch! I noticed that my stomach felt really good, which is rare for this late in the game, and if I had brought another honey stinger gel, I would have taken it. But since I packed the chews in anticipation of stomach distress, I had 4-5 of those instead. It was nice having everything written on my arm. I remember looking down at one point thinking do I have any gels or caps I need to take soon? All the math had already been done so I could just relax and focus on running.

I started thinking how happy I was to finally be running a solid marathon. I hadn't felt this good at mile 22 since 2008. I kept on passing people, feeling strong. My quads started to hurt at around mile 20, but my energy level was good. I told myself to just deal with the quad pain and that it would be over soon. During these miles, I had my favorite Panic! At The Disco CD going-- A Fever You Can't Sweat Out. I have been obsessed with this CD lately and I played some of these songs multiple times during that last stretch.

I finally ditched my water bottle during mile 24 and decided that if I needed more water I would just drink from a cup. I really wanted the marathon to be over at this point and realized this was a sign that I was running an optimized race. You don't want it to feel easy at the end-- it's supposed to hurt. I took this as a good sign and continued to push past people as I made my way to the finish.

I think I hit 26.2 miles at around 3:45-3:46, but due to all of my weaving, the finish was still a ways off in the distance. As I approached it, I noticed that I would be on the border of 3:47 and 3:48. I wanted that 3:47 so badly! This is where looking at the Garmin can be very motivating. I gave it everything I had at the very end, but there was a surprise hill just before the finish line, so it wasn't fast enough to get me my 3:47.

Mile 21: 8:37
Mile 22: 8:47
Mile 23: 8:42
Mile 24: 8:36
Mile 25: 8:52
Mile 26: 8:39
The last 0.47: 8:01 pace.

Looking at these numbers, I wish I would have kicked it into that higher gear sooner and shaved 10 seconds of off my time to get down to 3:47, but it doesn't change the fact that I still kicked butt and set a PR!

Official Results
The Garmin read 26.47 at a pace of 8:37. Here are the official results and splits:

I'm very proud that from the 40K mark to the finish, I ran some of my fastest paces. This is a negative split of just over two minutes, which is what I think is ideal for marathon performance.

First half: 1:55:06
Second half: 1:53:04

After the Race
Greg and I found each other shortly after the race, which was a relief because we didn't know if we would be able to do that among the large crowd of people. He struggled in his race, but still ended up with a very solid 3:43. I wasn't too far behind him! We hobbled back to our hotel and relaxed for awhile before going back out for our celebratory Chicago pizza.

Final Thoughts
This was a very good race for me on many levels. I would actually consider it a landmark race, as I haven't run this well since 2008, and I have run 8 marathons since then (not to mention the 3 I started, but did not finish).

The most important aspect of this marathon was that I went into it with the right attitude. I knew that I wasn't in as good of shape as I had been for most of my previous marathons, and yet I still had the confidence that focusing on "the process" of running would yield a favorable outcome. I didn't speculate as to what my time would be, and time wasn't really the focus here.

It's a valuable lesson because the next time I run a marathon with a solid training cycle under my belt, I will know that the feeling of accomplishment can come from so many areas other than a time. And I won't think that my training was wasted if something goes wrong and I don't do well.

While it may seem that I lowered my expectations for this race, I actually raised them. I was focused on areas that were traditionally a challenge for me and I truly embraced the process. I "expected" that I wasn't going to come down hard on myself and I was determined to make Chicago a great experience for myself no matter what.

I started this race conservatively, and didn't force myself into a narrow window of finish times that I had to hit. I went into the race with the attitude that I would try my best, stick to my plan, and enjoy the ride. And in the process of doing all of that, I just happened to run my strongest marathon since 2008, setting a PR of 45 seconds. An unofficially, I actually set a 26.2-mile PR of about three minutes.

Once I changed my mindset about my expectations, the rest was easy. Sleep was easy. Having fun was easy. Enjoying the entire weekend with Greg was easy. And yet this was major progress for me, so I consider them huge wins.

In terms of what I would do differently for next time, the only thing I can think of is just being more strategic about passing people, so that I don't weave myself into a 26.5-mile marathon.

I couldn't have asked for a better experience and I have a renewed love of marathon running.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

10,000 Miles

I started using the RunningAhead training log on January 1, 2008. During the Philadelphia RnR Half Marathon last week, I logged my 10,000th mile.

I figured now would be a good time to reflect on these miles, and the past 5.75 years it took me to run them.

From January 1, 2008 to September 15, 2013:

  • I've run 10,004 miles
  • Time-wise, this equates to 63 days, 6 hours, 29 minutes and 9 seconds
  • I've run 72 races, for a total of 661.5 miles raced
    • This means my average distance raced is 9.1 miles
  • The 10,004 miles were spread across 1743 runs
  • My average run distance is 5.7 miles
    • Note: I breakdown interval warm ups and cool downs into separate runs, so this data is a little off!
  • 586 runs were done on the treadmill, which equates to 2,956 miles (29% treadmill)
    • 73% of these treadmill miles were run in 2008-2009, before moving into my house 
    • Since January 1, 2011, I have only run 200 treadmill miles.
  • I have logged 25 runs that were 20-22 miles, in preparation for marathons.
    • That's a total of 511.8 miles worth of 20+ milers!
  • I've logged 112 tempo runs for a total of 476.5 miles
    • 4.25 miles is the average distance of my tempo runs
  • Here is the yearly breakdown of miles:
Can you tell which year had no injuries?
  • 2013 is on track to have more miles than 2012, but not as many as 2009.
  • I've gone through 67 pairs of shoes. Some of these shoes have logged less than 20 miles, since they didn't work for me. Sadly, this is an average of 149 miles per pair.
  • Within the past two years, I have spent $1,412 on running shoes, apparel and gear.
  • My fastest mile logged was 6:49, which was run during a 5K in 2011. I am anxious to run a 1-mile race!
I'm looking forward to the next happy, healthy 10,000 miles!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rock 'N Roll Philly Half Marathon

I've taken an unintentional break from the blog world. I haven't been writing in my blog or reading other blogs. I've been busy with work (yes, even on the weekends) and in my free time I've been more interested in playing Candy Crush Saga relaxing with my husband.

This weekend, however, I'm back to report on my experience at the Rock 'n Roll Philadelphia half marathon. I've run this race twice before-- in 2006 and 2007. The weather has always been pretty good and the course is relatively flat. It's well organized and about 25 people from my team were also running it, as well as a few other friends. Greg unfortunately was unable to run it this year due to a hamstring pull on Wednesday of this week. Thankfully, it's much better now and he'll be running again next week, but it was far too much of a risk for him to race on it. Last year, I enjoyed cheering him on, as I had just recently recovered from mono.

The stress reaction in my shin took me out for the entire month of July. The first two weeks of August were spent run-walking my way back to normalcy and I only resumed "real" training in the third week of August. I only had three weeks of solid running under my belt going into this race. Mileage totals had been 26, 31, 37 (and 38 this week). So this race was going to be primarily about the experience of it all, including practicing my pacing, my ability to push myself, and my hydration.

Unlike my most recent half marathon last April, where I got a sum total of 2 hours of sleep the night before the race and ended up barely hanging on at the end, I felt very well rested for this one. Even though I wasn't in peak physical condition, I had done a great job with my sleep, my nutrition, and most importantly, keeping my anxiety levels down. I had a strategy and my goal was to execute it well. I was so wrapped up in work this week that it didn't even feel like a race was approaching.

Greg and I opted out of the team dinner to meet my friend, Sara, who had flown in from Boston to run the race on my recommendation. We had a great time, and then walked back to our hotel. Before going to bed, Greg and I played Candy Crush Saga relaxed and I read to him from the book that we've been reading together.

I slept remarkably well. I typically have trouble sleeping the night before a race, but not last night. In fact, ever since my"Over It" revelation, I've been consistently sleeping well, so I wasn't even worried that I might not get a good night's sleep. The next morning, I ate my typical bagel with peanut butter and got ready for the race. Our hotel was just a five minute walk to the start, which was really nice.
Before the race

Once we got to the start area, we met up with some teammates and I made my way into the corral. I re-played my strategy in my mind. I would start out at a pace of around 8:05 for the first 3 miles and then try to run sub 8:00 for the remainder of the race. I had no idea if that was possible given my lack of training, but I thought it was a reasonable place to be.

Miles 1-4
The race started and the pace felt very easy. I wondered why it is that race pace feels so much easier on race day then it does in training. I guess there is something to that whole "race day magic" thing. I hadn't remembered that the sun would be shining directly into my face during most of this part. I suspected that the tall buildings would provide shade, but then again in years past I remember the race starting earlier. Today, it started at 8:00 which meant the sun was high in the sky from the get-go.

Mile 2 was when the sun was shining directly into my face and all the runners ahead of me looked like black silhouettes. I started to poor some water from my handheld bottle onto my head and thought that this would be a hot one. It was in the upper 50's, so it was by no means "hot", but I melt when it's sunny out so I told myself to just hang on until mile 6 when we'd run through a shaded park.

During the 4th mile, some of my teammates passed me. I knew that these girls would be running faster than me, but I tried to keep them in my sights at least for a little while. One of them asked me how I was doing and I told  her I was struggling a little bit, but I knew things would get better once I got into the shade.

I took my first gel at mile 4 and it went down easily. I used to always carry G2 sports drink in my handheld,
Mile 4
but after having stomach issues in my most recent marathon, I switched to water, and that worked really well for me today.

Mile 1: 7:57
Mile 2: 8:03
Mile 3: 8:10
Mile 4: 7:54

Miles 5-9
I saw Greg shortly after mile 4 and blew him a kiss. Some of my teammates were with him, cheering me on and it was a huge boost. At mile marker 5, I saw my coach and he told me to pay close attention to the tangents while running through the park. I heeded his advice, but ultimately ended up with 13.24 miles on my Garmin. The good news is that the discrepancy started with the very first mile marker so I think I did a decent job of not adding too much extra distance through the park.

Immediately after my coach was a good sized downhill and into the shade. Hallelujah! My race turned around almost instantly. I suddenly felt like I had hit my stride. The shade had a lot to do with this, but one thing I have always noticed about half marathons is that the race doesn't start to feel "good" until about mile 5-6. And then it gets hard again at mile 10. If my race goes well, then miles 5-10 are the glory period.

From mile 6 onward, I felt like this race was a net downhill. I felt like I kept running downhill and that sooner or later, I would pay for it with an uphill. The last mile was uphill and there was a short hill during mile 9, but otherwise, I didn't notice hardly any ups. This must have just been a mental thing, but I really felt like I was running downhill for most of the second half of the race. (This would actually be impossible because you finish very close to the area where you start.)

I really enjoyed this part of the race. I did look at my Garmin from time to time, but it was for informational purposes only. I knew I was running at the right pace for me.

Mile 5: 8:17
Mile 6: 7:57 (thank you, shade!)
Mile 7: 7:57
Mile 8: 8:02
Mile 9: 8:24 (this was the mile with the hill)

Miles 10-13.24
I was expecting it to get hard and I thought I would come out of the shade at mile 10. I was pleasantly surprised that the sun didn't hit until the last mile and that I actually felt really good! I think I could have pushed harder, but I was content with my pace and I didn't want to kill myself at this race and not be able to put a strong week of training in the following week. It definitely hurt, don't get me wrong, but I didn't have that death feeling that typically comes at the end of a half marathon. Maybe that's a good thing!

I actually surprised myself with my endurance. In training for this race, I had done a 12-miler and a 16-miler. And that was it for long runs. I was relying on my cross training and the long runs I had done in June before
Just before the finish line
my injury. I was able to hang onto my paces quite well, despite the minimal training and despite the rapidly rising temperature.

The last mile was uphill and in the sun, but I hung in there and pushed to a strong finish.

Mile 10: 8:05
Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 7:58
Mile 13: 8:12
Last 0.24: (7:59 pace)

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I liked this race and I thought I did really well! I was well rested, I didn't have stomach problems, I felt energized throughout, and I didn't let the negativity of how I felt during those early sunny miles determine my fate.

I enjoyed the experience of racing (although there were those hard times when I asked myself why I enjoyed putting myself through this!)

It was a good confidence booster for the Chicago marathon in four weeks. I will also be under-trained for that race but I am confident in my ability to execute well and have a positive experience, regardless of the finish time.

Oh, I should probably mention that my official time was 1:46:58. I slid in just under 1:47. I'm happy with it, given my minimal training and the fact that it was a sunny day in the upper 50's to low 60's. The cool thing is that I haven't even thought about my time much. It's just a number and it doesn't reflect how great I felt or how much fun I had!

I'm definitely glad I did this one and I look forward to going back next year.

My zebra loves my medal!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Over It.

Running didn't really happen for me in July due to a stress reaction in my left shin and some high hamstring tendonitis. For the month, I logged a grand total of 4 miles over the course of 3 runs-- all of them being "test runs". This morning I had a successful jog/walk session so I plan to start getting back into things next week.

I've been busy pool running, swimming and using the elliptical. I've been doing tempos and intervals on the elliptical, to the extent that I really feel it in my lungs and I am fairly certain that my VO2 max is being maintained. The effort is substantial and I am left feeling like I did a hard workout. I did a jog/walk this morning and the 9:30 pace felt like a 9:30 pace, so I am optimistic about where my fitness is. Definitely not obsessing over it since I know I will gain back eventually.

Where I've mainly been seeing progress is my mentality and attitude about running, and and about life in general. My primary goals for the year had little to do with training and running performance and mainly to do with mental strength. I think I've had a breakthrough. And the breakthrough is that I'm over it.

Worrying about what other people think of me-- I'm over it. Comparing my race times to others-- I'm over that too. Obsessing over getting every run in and following a training plan perfectly-- over that. Revolving my whole life and mental space around my next marathon and my training for it-- done with it.

I'm basically just sick of all the crap I put myself through in trying to improve my race times and it serves no
And if I don't run it perfectly, that's totally cool!
purpose. It's not going to make me a better runner. It's only going to undermine me and hurt me so why do I do it? It's okay that I took a month off of running. It's okay if I don't PR in Chicago. It's okay if I go for a year or two without setting a PR. Everything is my choice and nobody else cares about it to the extent that I do. Nobody is pressuring me to do any of these things except me. And I'm done with it.

That realization is so liberating and I can still remember the moment in the locker room of my building when it just kind of hit me. I had just finished an elliptical workout and I started to think about what my time off from running meant for me. But I just stopped short and realized that it doesn't matter to me the way it used to. It's my life and I can do whatever I want. I was exhausted from the elliptical. I was doing my best to maintain my fitness by doing activities that I didn't particularly enjoy and my best is good enough. Whatever happens in the fall is completely okay. And I honestly felt it, I didn't just force those thoughts into my brain because I know I'm "supposed" to be thinking along those lines.

One of my biggest roadblocks was that I never saw my line of thinking as being hurtful to me. In fact, I have always thought pretty highly of myself in terms of my hard work and motivation to accomplish things. It wasn't me who was hurting myself-- I was just reacting to the bad things that came my way.

When things didn't go well for me during a race, or really for most things in life, I would focus heavily on what went wrong and just wonder why I couldn't have what I wanted. This often led to post-marathon depression. I saw myself as sensitive and emotional about stuff, and that's just who I was. I couldn't help it if I got upset.

The breakthrough is that by focusing on these things that upset me-- I am hurting myself. Even though I'm not saying "Elizabeth you suck," by holding on to the disappointment and analyzing the situation over and over again, that's hurtful to me. If someone else had a race that didn't go well, I wouldn't spend hours talking them through all the details of how and why, and then comparing them to other people. That's not helpful. I'd want them to just move past it and get over it quickly.

Getting over it quickly doesn't mean you don't care or that you don't feel your emotions. It's just that you make the decision not to focus on things that hurt you. You make a decision to focus on things you can control and doing your best at those.

Many of my teammates ran a 1-mile race on a track a few weeks ago and I went to cheer them on. On the ride home, I started to feel a little sad that I was injured and unable to participate. And then I started wondering what my time would have been-- but very quickly I shut that down. I realized that I truly was "over it" and none of this mattered. I needed to focus on getting healthy again, period. And I drove all the way home feeling at peace with the fact that I didn't run and that I didn't speculate about what my time would have been. It was really nice.

I'm excited and curious to see how this breakthrough will look as I return to running. The best way I can describe it is a feeling of freedom. I feel free to do whatever I want and it's just okay.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stuff Hurts

I was fully expecting my next blog post to be a race report from the Firecracker 5K on July 4th. I was going to talk about how my frozen lemonade experiment worked out, how focusing on even breathing helped to reduce all the noises I make, and how I ran my first "hot weather" sub-22:00 5K. But alas, I have nothing to report because I did not run the race.

Just two days after my mile repeat workout, I noticed some pain in the lower calf/shin area a few miles into the long run. I kept running, hoping that it would go away, but it didn't.  I know that shin pain is nothing to mess around with so I headed home and ran only 7 miles. I was able to get an appointment with my sports doctor just two days later and he told me it was a bone irritation, on its way to a stress reaction or stress fracture. Sure enough, this is exactly how my shin felt in the weeks before I was formally diagnosed with multiple stress fractures back in 2011. And it was in a similar spot.

In addition to this bone issue, he told me I had "high hamstring tendonopathy" which is inflammation of the hamstring where it inserts to the butt. I had been feeling this problem for about a week prior, but I thought it was just general soreness/tightness and I wasn't too concerned. I basically feel this when I bend over to pick something off of the ground, or when I put pants/shorts on and have to stand on one leg while bending down.

My theory on how I got the shin problem (left shin) is that the right high hamstring area was bothering me while running so I altered my gait to strain the left leg. And my theory on how I got the hamstring issue was
that I started running higher mileage (averaged 54 miles per week in June) with the Mizuno Inspire as opposed to the Brooks Adrenaline that I had been wearing for years. My sports med doctor looked at my shoes and told me they were not nearly flexible enough and that certainly could have played a role.

My feet don't like Mizuno Inspires
Potentially the source of everything is the fact that the Mizuno Inspire was killing the ball of my foot. Once I started to get past 10 miles in these shoes, the balls of my right foot would start to hurt as if there wasn't enough padding. It was actually quite painful and it would make the run unenjoyable for those later miles. At first, I figured I would just develop a callous and get used to it, but that never happened and the ball of my foot started hurting even without the shoes on.

This ball of foot issue was the first "thing" that hurt me when everything else was 100% so I am thinking there might have been some sort of domino effect.

Recovery Plan
My doctor told me that I should run 1 mile per day to "load" the bone and stimulate healing. I waited a few days before taking this advice because I could feel it while walking around, and I didn't want to run until I was pain free. Once I started my daily 1-milers, I felt like it made the shin worse, so now I am back to not running at all. (It's now been two weeks since I first noticed this shin issue and stopped my normal training). The good news is that bones heal and heal well- they aren't nagging injuries so if I just take the time off and let it heal and gradually get back into it, I should make a full recovery within the next 2-3 weeks. Will I be in the best shape of my life for Chicago? Probably not. But I am hoping to be in decent shape so that I can successfully complete it and be able to have that experience.

Exercises for High Hamstring Tedonopathy
As for the high hamstring tendonitis, the doctor said that could take a long time, on the order of months, to heal. And of course I have read internet horror stories of it taking over a year. This is something that you can run through, but it will just prolong recovery. So in a way, it's good that the shin problem happened when it did because it forced me to take time off for my hamstring. My doctor prescribed exercises for this, which I have been doing every day, and he is also performing A.R.T.

I'll need to maintain the strengthening exercises, and move up to weight bearing stuff to make sure I am strong and don't get this injury again. Also, I will not be wearing the Mizuno Inspire for long runs. I will still wear it for runs up to 10 miles, like I had been doing for years, but I need to find another long run shoe. I could go back to the Adrenaline, but that shoe also feels stiff and is still probably too much support. I bought a pair of Asics 2000 which are nice and flexible and provide more support than the Inspire, but less than the Adrenaline. Another reason I hesitate to return to the Adrenaline is because I had been wearing a size 6 for years and lately I have been getting numb feet and black toenails from them. However, the size 6.5 really feels huge in the forefoot, so I just don't like how it feels.

Cross Training
The first week of these injuries (last week) I went to the pool almost every day for pool running and swimming. I was very determined to minimize any loss of fitness. This week, however, I started my new job and have not been able to fit in going to the pool. My commute has been about 1 hour each way because I am driving at peak rush hour and not able drive on 66 inside of the Beltway during those times. In a few weeks I will start "flexing" and hopefully cut my commute in half. I have been able to devote time to strengthening exercises, though, and I am feeling much better in both the shin and the butt.

This weekend and next week I plan to spend more time in the pool, and possibly on the elliptical if it doesn't bug the hamstring too much. I had worked myself up to 57 weeks in June and was on a "cutback" week when this injury hit me. Greg had urged me to take the cutback week sooner but I didn't think I needed it and I wanted to get in as many high mileage weeks as possible before starting the new job. I hadn't been injured in a year in a half (except for the mono) so I was feeling pretty confident about staying that way.

Positive Takeaways
I stopped running as soon as I felt this shin problem, so it could have been a lot worse. I could be looking at a stress fracture, which would definitely rule out Chicago. I was smart and conservative, and put my health above my desire to keep training at a high intensity.

I don't really know when I will be able to run again and at what intensity but I am surprisingly okay with that! For the first time since I started running, I am okay with not knowing when I will get better and just taking things one day at a time and doing my best to cross train. I think it's because I'm not so hung up on my time at Chicago. I really just want to be able to run the race injury-free and have a strong finish.

Also, I realize that I have more "separation" from running than I have in the past, which has been a goal of mine for the past year. Separation means that I don't define myself as a runner. Running is something I do, not who I am. Before, when I was really wrapping a lot of my identity into running, it would be heart breaking to not be able to run. But now, when I am taking the time to appreciate all aspects of who I am and what I have in my life, running is just a piece. It sucks that I can't run, but I know I will get better eventually and I'm doing the best I can right now.

Although the timing isn't great because I'm supposed to be training for Chicago right now, it's good in the sense that I didn't have the added pressure of trying to run a ton of miles during my first week at the new job. In addition to the long commute times, there have been happy hours and dinners galore, so the days have been extremely long. Enjoyable and exciting-- but also long and tiring. I was thankful that I was able to devote 100% of my mental and physical energy to getting to know my colleagues and diving right into my role.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beating The Heat with a Frozen Drink Pre-run

I once read somewhere that quickly drinking a slushy-type beverage shortly before a race or workout in warm conditions can help performance by cooling the body's core temperature. I had always wanted to try this, but it's not always convenient to pop into a 7-11 immediately before a race or run.

Since you're not supposed to do anything new on race day, I figured I would try drinking a frozen beverage before this morning's workout. My coach recently started hosting workouts very close to my current office location. This is kind of ironic because I will be changing jobs in two weeks, which will put me only one mile away from the regular team workouts that have been going on for years.

The meeting spot for today's workout was in front of a Panera. I figured this would be a perfect occasion to drink a slushy just minutes before a warm weather workout. Not only that, but this meeting spot is also the exact same location as the 4th of July race I am running next week. So I will have access to that same Panera, and I confirmed that they will be open on the 4th. The plan would be to warm up for a mile or so, get the frozen drink about 15-20 minutes before race start, drink it quickly and then be ready to race.

My beverage of choice was the frozen lemonade. It seemed like it would be pretty easy on the stomach and
Panera Frozen Lemonade
that the consistency would be good-- not too heavy or too thin. I purchased it, and started drinking it as quickly as was comfortable. One of my teammates approached me and I told her what I was doing. I was really excited to finally try this out, after having heard of it a long time ago.

Shortly after I finished, I noticed that my teeth were chattering and I was getting goosebumps. Yes! I really did feel like my core body temperature had dropped. It was actually a bit uncomfortable waiting for the rest of the group to arrive while not moving around.

It was a small group today-- 5 runners plus the coach. We jogged out to the W&OD trail (a paved biking/running trail with mile markers) and did about a 2-mile warmup. And then we talked about the workout. It would be three 1-mile repeats, back and forth on the trail with about five minutes of recovery in between.

Our coach briefly discussed a pacing goal for each of us. Last week I had run a two-mile tempo run at a pace of 7:12, so this week he thought that 7:00 would be a good target for my mile repeats. I honestly hand't anticipating my pace being that fast. It was warmer and more humid than it had been last week, so I figured I would be lucky just to match my 7:12 pace.

Of the five of us runners, the coach decided to pace me for all three repeats. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing because that 7:00 pace sure was intimidating, and I didn't want to disappoint!  The trail is a little hilly, with the first mile being a net downhill, the second a net uphill, and the third a net downhill. But all three miles have their fair share of ups and downs!

Mile 1: 6:57
I didn't look at my Garmin here and just trusted the coach. It actually felt relaxed and somewhat easy until the final uphill, when I let out my gaspy scream that happens when I am working hard. My coach told me to  keep my breathing controlled and that wouldn't happen. Interesting revelation. I never thought I could control the grunts and screams that I let out, but apparently it's a product of my breathing not being even and it also causes uneven breathing- making it a cycle. Now I have a new "process" goal as opposed to always thinking about time goals!

Mile 2: 7:01
This was much harder than the first mile since it was a net uphill. If I had been pacing myself, it probably would have fallen closer to the 7:10-7:15 range. But the coach pushed me on the hills and we maintained the pace. I typically slow down a little on uphills and speed up on downhills, but instead I kept the pace even and it worked out well. By the end of this one, I was beat!

Mile 3: 6:50
This was the exact same mile as the first one, so I knew what elevation profile to expect. Since I pushed pretty hard on the second mile, I was worried I wouldn't have enough left here. But the first half of the mile felt nice and relaxed, and it wasn't until the second half that I felt like I was really working. I was shocked to see the 6:50 when we finished the mile.

Then we cooled down and jogged back to the Panera. I think that my coach pacing me here was the largest factor in my success. I wouldn't have been as motivated on my own. And I also think that the frozen lemonade kept me from overheating, which I tend to do in workouts like these (70 degrees, 99% humidity).

This workout proved to me that I am in better shape than I previously thought. To run these kinds of paces in such weather and on hills is a huge confidence booster. These are the types of paces I would expect from a 45-degree day on a flat surface!  I'm therefore pretty optimistic about my upcoming 5K. If the weather is similar to how it was this morning, then I think a sub-22:00 is in the cards, which would be a "summer race" PR for me.

I am also excited to have a new non-time goal to focus on: breathing. I will try my best to focus on that and see if it helps. Another process goal would be to get energy from other runners. To find a runner who is running the pace I think I can run and then stay close to them.

And of course, the frozen lemonade will be a must!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Career Opportunity and Fitting It All In

I was very fortunate to have an amazing career opportunity fall in my lap recently. At first I wasn't interested in pursuing it because I was happy in my current job and didn't see a need to make a move. However, the company changed my mind when they told me about how rapidly they were growing and how my role in marketing could really have an impact on that growth. I did some research and discovered that this was one of the "hottest" companies in the DC metro area and ranked across the board as a fantastic place to work. And they wanted me!

After a day of interviews with some of their senior leadership, I realized that this would be an amazing opportunity in so many ways. The people were all highly intelligent and driven, I would have a good sized team reporting to me, everyone seemed to really embrace the company's mission, and the company was a pioneer in its space. It's a young culture-- most of the employees are in their 20's, bringing a fresh perspective, and are eager to grow/learn.

Only this type of career opportunity could prompt me to change my lifestyle by exchanging my 20-minute,
no-traffic commute to one where I would potentially be sitting in traffic for over two hours each day. Thankfully, they have flex time and told me that I would be able to work from home once a week. It's definitely an office I would want to go into-- a fully stocked kitchen with organic fruits and veggies and juices. Catered lunches. A lounge area with couches where people hold meetings. Super casual attire. And a team of really energized people. I just needed to figure out how to best use the flex time.

Before I went into my interviews, I spent quite awhile "digesting" the possibility of this commute. Even though
This is typical traffic for the road I would need to take.
 the job is only 22 miles away, in rush hour, this would take 60-90 minutes each way, depending on how bad the traffic was. And actually, an hour-long commute wouldn't bother me too much if I was moving. But I have very little tolerance for traffic. I worked out all the various scenarios in my head of when I would come and go, which roads I would take, and when/where the running would occur.

Current Schedule
For the past few years, I have been waking up without an alarm at around 5:30, starting my runs at around 6:00, finishing at around 7:15, taking some post-run recovery time, showering, getting ready for work, and leaving at around 8:15. This gets me into work before 9:00. I work a full day, leave at a reasonable hour and have no traffic on the 20-minute drive home. Pretty simple and stress-free.

Monday: Medium long run (easy pace)
Tuesday: Intervals at the local track
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: Tempo run
Friday: Easy run
Saturday: Long run
Sunday: Easy run

Potential New Schedule
There won't be much "wiggle room" here and everything will have to be timed pretty precisely for things to work out. The goal is to get all my runs in, avoid rush hour traffic, and put in a full work week. I could not even imagine what I would do if I had kids!

Monday:  Easy run in the evening. Wake up at 5:00. Get ready for work. Leave the house at 5:40am, avoid most of the traffic, get into work at around 6:15. Work 9 hours (straight through lunch), leave at 3:15 to be able to take the HOV lanes inside of the beltway, get home at around 4:00. Run. Dinner. Relax. Bedtime at 8:30-9:00. 

For July and August, this evening run might need to be on a treadmill at a gym near my house. It can easily be in the 90's at 4:00, so I will have to seek out a treadmill for the summer months if that is the case. I would be done with the run and ready to have dinner with Greg by 5:30.

Tuesday: Intervals with my team in Arlington. Leave the house at 5:20am, avoid all of the traffic, arrive at the track just before 6:00. (The track is located close to my office). Run the intervals. Drive to my office, which has a locker room with showers, get ready for work, start the work day at 8:15. Work 7 hours (straight through lunch), leave at 3:15 and get home at 4:00. Work some more. Dinner. Relax. Bedtime!

I have now averaged 8 hours a day in the office, plus some additional time at home on Tuesday after work. Are we tired yet?

Wednesday: Rest day. Follow the same schedule as Monday (9 hours in the office), only no running in the evening. Instead, do some extra work when I get home while waiting for Greg to get home. 

Thursday: Medium Long Run & Work From Home.  Thursday is my day to really pack in the miles because I don't need to commute or even worry about doing my hair or makeup. I could run as many as 14 miles in the morning and still work a full day. From a work perspective, this would be the day when I focused on strategy and planning and documenting things that might be hard to do with my team around me. The office is one of those open environments where there are no cubicles and only the top 5-6 executives actually have offices. So it will be nice to have some quiet time for things that require a great deal of focus without interruption. I imagine I would be working more than 8 hours this day, too!

Friday: Tempo run with my team in Arlington. Repeat the Tuesday schedule. 7 hours in the office to balance out Wednesday's 9. 

Saturday: Long Run. I normally give myself an easy day between tempo and long run, but I have successfully run 20+ milers the day after a strong tempo, so I am not really worried. I do not want to become a Sunday long runner because I like to get it done with first thing and then relax for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday: Easy Run. If I am feeling good, I can maybe tack on the few miles that I missed from Monday's run because it was too hot to do the whole thing or I got bored on the treadmill. :-)

I think this schedule is completely workable. I know that there will be very little traffic to contend with on Tuesday and Friday mornings because I have done those workouts many times in the past. Hopefully leaving just 20 minutes later on the other days won't make things completely change. I also don't know what the commute home will look like. I think that my 3:15 departure will help me avoid most traffic and get me home by 4:00.  

The company's fully stocked kitchen will help in terms of me not having to worry about packing breakfasts and snacks and such. The locker room is also a huge help. Plus, there's a gym inside of the building in case I ever need a treadmill before or after work. This might come in handy in the winter.

In terms of the career opportunity, it's an amazing one and I plan to work really hard and put in extra hours at home when needed. I do believe that working more hours doesn't equate with better quality work, but I realize that sometimes longer hours are needed to get the job done. I prefer to be as efficient as possible during the workday so I can take full advantage of my relaxation time, and then be able to focus on working efficiently the next day. 

I'll end with a funny story. I had all of my interviews back-to-back in one single day. Within 30 minutes of leaving the office, they called me and told me they would be extending me an offer. I called Greg, told him all about it, and he was really happy for me. That evening, a pair of running shoes that I had ordered online arrived on the front porch in a white box. As I carried them inside, Greg asked me what the box was. I said, jokingly, "it's my job offer". He said something to the effect of "Really! Wow!" And then I told him I was totally kidding. How could they have mailed me something that fast? But Greg reminded me that this was a pretty innovative company.

Then a few days later, a white box of the same size arrived at the door step and Greg brought it into the house. "What's that?" I said. "It's your job offer," he replied. I totally didn't believe him. I thought it must be something else I ordered online and forgot about. But then he said "seriously, it's from them." I opened the box and it was a congratulatory bottle of champagne! How ironic! And what a nice touch from the company. 

The new job starts on July 8, so I am going to enjoy the last few weeks of my current job and the relaxed running schedule. And then, my new journey begins!