Friday, March 22, 2013

Resort Running: Colorado Springs

I am currently on a flight home from Colorado Spring, CO where I attended a conference at the Broadmoor. The Broadmoor is an expansive, breathtaking resort, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I had never been there before and I was blown away by how beautiful the property and surrounding area was.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and I had a few hours to myself before the networking reception and dinner. I used this time to visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which was located on a mountain about 2 miles away from the resort. I hadn’t researched the area beforehand so I was very pleasantly surprised when I learned that there was a zoo so close by.

The zoo’s main attraction was the giraffes. There were about 8-10 of them, and visitors were allowed to
Zebras at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
feed them. After spending a few minutes admiring the giraffes, I made a bee line for the zebras. There were two of them and they were adorable. At first they didn't do much other than stand there, but then they started running around and playing, which was fun to watch. I think I hung out there for about 20-30 minutes. I loved watching all the little kids come up and say “zebra!”

After procuring a plush zebra from the zoo gift shop, I returned to the resort.  I scoped out my running route for the following day. It would be laps around the resort lake. I wasn’t going to be too adventurous and leave the resort for safety reasons. But had I been there longer, and able to run in daylight, I probably would have tried to tackle some hills.

I’ll pause here and take a moment to recap my marathon recovery. I woke up on Sunday and my legs didn’t hurt. There was some minor soreness in the left quad, but it felt as if I had run a 10K or a 10-miler. I was more sore after the Love Rox half marathon from the hills and staircases, and I’ve even been more sore after some 10Ks. On the one hand, I was glad because this meant I could probably jump right back into training. On the other hand, it indicated that my legs could have carried me much faster than they did during the marathon, and I didn’t run it to my full physical ability.

I had a massage scheduled for Sunday, and the therapist spent the entire hour on my neck and back.  The original intent was for this massage to help speed recovery of my legs, but I didn’t feel like I needed that.  What I needed was to relieve the tension that I had built up over the past week due to pre-race anxiety.

By Monday, I felt like my legs were good to go, but to be on the safe side I waited until Tuesday to run. I did 4 easy miles, and it was as if I had never raced. When I think about it, my average marathon pace of 8:45 is my easy run pace, so it wasn’t much different than doing a 26.2 mile training run.  Wednesday was another easy 4, and everything still felt good.

Thursday morning, I set out for my run around the lake. According to my Garmin, each lap around the lake was 0.7 mile. The resort is at about 6,000 feet of elevation so I expected it to be hard from a breathing perspective. It was 36 degrees, completely dark out, with a little bit of wind.

I would have loved to have started my run later so that I could enjoy the beautiful sunrise over the mountains, or so that I could even see the mountains. But I had to be on a call at 7:00am before my conference started, so I had no choice but to go early.  During the first five minutes, I found that I wasn’t able to breathe as deeply as I could at home. But I either quickly got used to that feeling, or it was all in my head to begin with. Once I got going, I didn’t even notice the altitude affecting me.

I ended up running a 10K around the lake, which was 9 laps. During the last lap, I stopped in at the fitness center to foam roll and stretch. How convenient! This was one of those runs that felt better and better the
The lake at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs
more I got into it. During the final lap, I was finally able to see a bit of light on the horizon and I could start to see the mountains around me. The resort has an outdoor heated pool, so there were some people swimming outdoors, in the 36-degree weather in this heated pool. That was fun to run by.

There were a few people walking around the lake while I was running around it. At one point, I came right up behind a group of 3 walkers and announced myself as I passed. One of them said “You were so quiet I didn’t even know you were coming!” That was a real compliment to me because I use to be a foot-slapper. You used to always be able to hear me coming. My coach observed my foot slapping the first time I went running with him and he told me to not do it. Of course it wasn’t instantly corrected by him telling me that, but over the past two years, I have become a midfoot striker without really trying, and it’s softened my stride significantly. And since then, I’ve only had one injury (knock on wood) which was a minor calf strain.

After the run, I jumped on my 7:00am call and then spent the rest of the day at the conference. At the conference, I met four other marathon runners. This was an education conference with nothing to do about running, but it just shows how popular marathoning has become.  Everyone had a different story. There was
Introducing myself and my company at the conference
the guy who was trying for all 50 states, the trail runner, the highly competitive marathoner, and the “I run St. George every year” marathoner. I was the “I just ran a marathon on Saturday and six miles this morning” runner!  I ended up leaving the conference a day early (today) due to a storm forecast for Colorado Springs which was disappointing. I highly recommend the Broadmoor for anyone who is looking for a luxurious getaway.

Speaking of 50 states, it’s not a goal of mine to run or race in all 50, but I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of all the states I have run in, not counting the hotel treadmill. Plus I’m on a plane and there isn’t much else to do:

- Arizona (Phoenix, Scottsdale)
- California (San Diego, San Francisco)
- Colorado (Colorado Springs)
- Delaware (Wilmington)
- Florida (Miami, Orlando)
- Maryland (Bethesda, Annapolis)
- Massachusetts (Boston)
- New Jersey (Jersey Shore)
- New Mexico (Albuquerque)
- New York (New York)
- North Carolina (Nags Head)
- Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, York)
- Illinois (Chicago)
- Tennessee (Memphis)
- Texas (Houston)
- Washington DC
- Virginia (Northern, Richmond, VA Beach)
- Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

- London, UK
- Sienna, Italy
- Toronto, Canada

Saturday, March 16, 2013

B & A Trail Marathon Report: Adversity, Anxiety, and Attitude

This morning I ran a marathon! And I finished! It was my 14th marathon since I started running them in 2006.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I have struggled with the marathon for the past five years. Heat, hypothermia, stomach issues and most recently anxiety. In fact I wasn't even able to finish my past two marathons because my anxiety levels were so high. My heart rate soared and my body started to break down before I even got to the halfway point.

Given all of these past struggles, I reset my expectations. Even though I had the most amazing training cycle ever, and I am in the best running shape of my life, I wasn't pushing for a specific time goal. All the "signs" pointed to 3:30-3:35, but being too focused on time has played a major role in my anxiety, so I learned that I had to focus on other things. Primarily- simply running my best race possible in whatever circumstances were handed to me on race day.

Hell Week
(I realize that a good percentage of this "race report" focuses on the pre-race, but for me, that's the biggest challenge in a marathon. Not the race itself, but the buildup. )

Most marathoners are very familiar with the "taper madness" that occurs in the 2-3 weeks before the race. Training volume is down, pre-race jitters settle in and we have all this extra time on our hands. Last week, when I was two weeks out, I had the most relaxed taper week ever. I was actually sleeping 8-9 quality hours a night (my normal is 7 hours, and usually not straight through the night). I felt super relaxed and it didn't feel as if a marathon was approaching.

But then last Sunday night, I suddenly wasn't able to sleep. I've since identified many reasons for why this might have been (daylight savings time affecting my circadian rhythm, the house being too warm, the fact that I bought a new car that day, and the fact that I had slept so much the previous week that my body wasn't tired). Anyway, I tried to just brush it off on Monday and figured I would just make up for lost sleep on Monday night. Well, no, that didn't happen either. I only got 3-4 hours of off and on sleep and during that time I just felt so tortured. I woke up feeling like crap and I started to worry that this was becoming a pattern.  I went to see my sports psychologist, and that helped me a lot.

Finally, on Tuesday night, I slept. It was 7 hours and while I was hoping to make up for Sunday and Monday, I was happy to not have had another tortured night. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I had this huge knot in my chest. I tried to ignore it, but the more I tired to ignore it, the tighter it got. Greg and I went on a 4-mile run, and my heart rate was elevated by 15 beats per minute. I was running a 8:45 pace, but my heart rate was as if I was running a 7:30 pace. And of course this freaked me out even more, and then I had a downward spiral from there, freaking out about the fact that I had a knot in my stomach and that I was experiencing physical anxiety.

I decided I wasn't even going to run the race. It wasn't worth all this physical anxiety. I was just going to call it quits before I even started. I hadn't expected I would feel like this in the week leading up to the race, and it upset me. I had worked so hard over the past nine months addressing my "perfectionist" attitude about marathons, and yet I was still getting knots in my chest and not sleeping.

After the run, Greg talked me down from my state of distress and I felt much better. Slowly, the knot in my chest went away. The key thing he told me was that my goal wasn't to eliminate anxiety, but to know how to manage it and react when it hit.

Back to the sports psychologist I went and he gave me some great advice on how to focus my thoughts during the next few days.

By Thursday I was feeling better. During my run, my heart rate was elevated by only 5 beats per minute. Still not ideal, but it proved that I was able to lower it from the previous day. Knowing that I had the power to lower it gave me hope and made me feel more in control. I wore the heart rate monitor while running, but I didn't look at the numbers until post-run, which was a good idea. During the run, I stayed focused on the music I was listening to and did everything I could to keep myself positive.

Thursday's run was perhaps just as big of an accomplishment as the marathon itself. Yes, running a marathon is very hard. But for me, being able to manage my anxiety and stay positive when all signs pointed to me having yet another bad marathon experience was huge. I had overcome a major hurdle. Even though it seemed like my anxiety would cause me to have yet another bad marathon experience, I did not let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I fought hard against it and insisted on staying positive.

I had a horrible start to my week, but I was getting back on track instead of continuing the downward spiral.

I slept decently Thursday night, and woke up feeling good on Friday morning.

Packet Pickup, Dinner, Etc.
Once Greg and I left the house, I started to feel excited and even more relaxed. Yes! We had a nice trip to Annapolis, got our bibs, browsed around a few stores and had dinner. I was living in the moment and not stressing or obsessing about the next day.

I met up with a friend and her running club after dinner, and it was awesome to get to chat with her for awhile.

Finally, it was time for bed. I kept waking up every hour and didn't sleep well, but by this point, I didn't think it really mattered. I was in an "I'll take what I can get" mode in terms of sleep. (I'm down by about 15 hours for the week at this point- I sure do hope I sleep tonight!)

I felt pretty calm before the race. Greg and I got up, I had my typical breakfast, went to the bathroom a lot, and we were off. I kept going back and forth between long sleeves and a singlet with arm warmers. I eventually decided on long sleeves since it was supposed to be 43 and raining for most of the race. There was a 100% chance of rain starting at 11:00 and I didn't want to get hypothermia like I had at a previous rainy marathon. I also wore a hat to keep the water off of my face.

We got to the race about 30 minutes before it started and I went in search of a bathroom, as per usual. The bathrooms were located inside the fitness club that was hosting the race. The line was long, but it moved quickly. My sports psychologist pointed out that I get un-necessarily anxious when the lines are long and I fear not being able to use a bathroom. He told me that I can't control the bathroom line, so instead of focusing on it, I should really just think about whatever I would be thinking about if I weren't in line. So, I started talking to the woman behind me and asked her a bunch of questions about where she lived, where she worked, etc. The time went by quickly and before I knew it, I had only 5 minutes left and I was still in line. Well, instead of letting it bother me and throw me off my game, I just accepted it and headed to the start line without getting to pee.

Greg, who is coming off an injury, was running the first 5 miles with me. Since I know that my anxiety is at its highest early in the race, this was the best time for him to be there. The plan was for us to treat it like a training run and talk as we normally do.

Miles 1-5
Greg and I started slow. I didn't even bother looking at the Garmin for the first mile because I knew it was super slow and was good with that. During mile 2, I found a porta potty and stopped to use it. I didn't worry about how it would affect my time, I just knew it was something that had to be done, so I did it and moved on.

Greg and I really enjoyed these miles. The weather was perfect-- overcast and 43. It was nice to be running in a new area. We even joked about how there were water stops on our training run. And how people on our training run were wearing race bibs. Laughing and chatting away made the miles tick by fast and distracted me from what I was really doing. Greg held my water bottle for me (filled with G2), which was a huge help. I took a Honey Stinger gel at mile 5.

Mile 1: 8:53
Mile 2: 8:59 (includes bathroom stop)
Mile 3: 8:31
Mile 4: 8:36
Mile 5: 8:29

Miles 6-11
These miles were my favorite part of the race. I knew that I was over the initial hump and I was still feeling good, so all signs were pointing toward a strong race. I turned my music on and let it carry me. I got into a groove and everything felt awesome. During mile 6-7 I was chatting with this guy about his race history. I normally would never be so chatty during a race, but I needed all the distractions I could get. Ultimately I went ahead of him because my plan was to speed up after the 10K point. I didn't want the speed up to be like "Okay, it's been 6.2 miles, now is the time to start racing it!" I didn't even want to feel like I was getting faster, I just decided to give a little more energy.

I had a huge smile on my face. I high-fived the little kids, I said thanks to the volunteers, and I just soaked it all in. I just felt so, so happy to be in a marathon where my body was cooperating. The weather was perfect, the course was nice and it was just amazing. This is why I run marathons. I used to get this feeling back in 2006-2007 when I was new to marathons, but ever since I decided I wanted to BQ, I'd taken myself too seriously to high-five the kids or "waste" the energy to thank the volunteers.

Mile 6: 8:35
Mile 7: 8:20
Mile 8: 8:21
Mile 9: 8:26
Mile 10: 8:18
Mile 11: 8:26

Miles 12-18
I took my second gel at mile 11.5. I had been drinking a bottle of G2, and finished it at around this point. I threw the bottle away (actually found a trash can) and I knew I would be getting another one from Greg at mile 12.5. It felt awesome to not be holding a water bottle anymore.

Mile 12.5
Greg was waiting for me where I expected and I breezed by him, taking the second bottle of G2. It was completely full, and I knew I wasn't going to drink the whole thing, so I squirted some out so it wouldn't be as heavy. The music was still motivating me. I was still running strong. There were some minor inclines and declines on the trail, which I knew were subtly impacting my speed, so I didn't get hung up on the Garmin. I was looking at the Garmin about 1-2 times per mile, which is a lot less than I used to do. It was for informational purposes only, and I never let it change what I was doing. Even when it said 8:00 at one point, I just kept on going at the same effort level.

I realized that the paces I was running probably weren't going to get me to a BQ, but I wanted to play it safe given my lack of sleep that week. I wanted to avoid a crash at all costs. And I knew that if I was feeling good, I could just really turn on the gas during the last 10K.

The turn around was at mile 16.5, and there was a big hill. I knew that the course had one major hill, but I didn't know where. And this was it. It felt like a dream to go down the hill, but going back up didn't feel as good. I had actually ditched the water bottle at mile 14, so I was in search of a water stop. I felt myself craving water, which is never good in a race, but I figured one would show up soon enough. Mentally, it felt great to have hit the turnaround point, even though there was that huge hill still ahead of me.

Mile 12: 8:26
Mile 13: 8:31
Mile 14: 8:38
Mile 15: 8:22
Mile 16: 8:18 (fastest mile of the race)
Mile 17: 8:34

Miles 18-23
There was a long-awaited water station at mile 18. I was very thirsty so I quickly gulped down two cups of water. I took my 3rd honey out (which I had ideally wanted at mile 16, but there was no water there) and the minute I put it in my mouth, I felt like I was going to vomit, so I spit it out. After that, I still had the honey on my lips and when I got a taste of it, it made me feel sick.

I was at that water station for about a full minute. Stopping there for so long may have been a mistake because it made me realize that I no longer felt good. And now there was a pain in my chest and I felt like I needed to throw up.

Mile 20, Photo by Greg
The next few miles were just hellish. I went into survival mode. I didn't try to think about what caused it, I just did my best to power through it and prayed that it would go away soon. I kept burping, and each burp felt like a release, but the pain was still there. In retrospect I think a number of things could have contributed. It could have been anxiety-related because it was in the same area where I felt that knot in my chest earlier in the week, it could have been from drinking too much G2 early in the race, and no water. It could have been from gulping down the cups of water too quickly.

Anyway, the unfortunate thing was that I hadn't had any calories since I tossed the G2 at mile 14 and with the way I was feeling, I knew it would be nearly impossible to take any more in.

I knew to expect Greg shortly after mile 20 and I wanted to look good for him. I put on my best game face, but I walked as I approached him, threw down my gloves and my hat, and took a sip of water. The water made me feel like I needed to gag. I didn't even say anything to Greg other than that I couldn't drink the water. I didn't take the water with me, or the Honey Stinger chews. I walked away, and then slowly started to run again.

Meanwhile, the sun had come out! There had been a 100% chance of rain starting at 11:00, and instead of rain, we got sun. My hat had been completely un-necessary and my sleeves were rolled up. The weather was still nice-- I just wasn't dressed for it.

Mile 18: 8:24
Mile 19: 9:40 (includes water stop)
Mile 20: 9:10
Mile 21: 9:21
Mile 22: 9:40
Mile 23: 9:40

Miles 24-Finish
At this point, I told myself "You are going to run to mile marker 24. And then you will run to mile marker 25. And then, marker 26." I didn't think of it as three more miles. I thought of it as manageable chunks of distance. Thinking about it like this was very helpful and gradually, my chest/stomach problem started to dissipate. Instead of getting frustrated and discouraged about how this was impacting my time, I powered through it, determined to have a strong finish. In the past, I think I probably would have given up mentally and turned it into more of a catastrophe than it needed to be. Plus, even though I was struggling I was still passing people.

I don't think anyone passed me from about mile 10 onward. It makes sense because I started on the slow side and then sped up. I was thankful that nobody passed me as I slowed down, because that would have been discouraging.

I looked down at my Garmin and realized I could still PR. My average pace per mile was 8:44 and my PR pace per mile was 8:49. I was determined to get it.

With two miles left to go, I came upon someone who was hanging in there, but obviously going slower than me. I said something encouraging to him as I passed. Before I knew it, he was by my side and we were running together. Yay! I had someone to run with. I kept saying "we got this" and my big smile returned. I knew that things were only going to get better as I felt strong again and my chest pain was now just a minor annoyance.

I can't say enough how great it felt to be feeling strong at the end of a marathon. I haven't had a strong marathon finish since March of 2008. It's been five years. It was euphoric. It didn't matter that my time would be slower than what I was physically capable of. All that mattered was that I was going to finish happy and strong, and that I was pulling someone else with me.

"I see mile marker 26!" I said. I got pumped up, we ran to mile 26 and then I realized if I sprinted I could get under 3:49. I ran that last 0.2 like the end of a 10K and my final kick was awesome. It was so awesome that I felt like I could have kept going. In fact, I think that if the race had been 28 miles, my overall overage pace would have been faster. Ironic, but true, since I had plenty of energy and my legs felt good.

Mile 24: 9:01
Mile 25: 8:55
Mile 26: 8:23
Last 0.2: (7:43 pace)

After the finish
I was actually perfectly coherent and I felt great. I've never felt so good at the end of the marathon. And not once during the entire race did my legs get tired or hurt. This proves that my training paid off and I was truly in shape for a much faster marathon. It's just that I wasn't able to exert the energy I had when I was in so much discomfort. And it's amazing I had the energy that I did given that I hardly drank any water from mile 18 to the finish, and my last calorie intake was mile 11.5.

My time was 3:48:50, good for 3rd female, ages 30-39. It was a small race.

I found Greg and he said "You look much better now than when I saw you last!" I was so happy! I haven't felt so satisfied with a marathon in years!  And the funny thing is, if I would have run a 3:48 last year at this time, I would have been crushed. If I had the exact same race experience, I would have been so upset that I didn't qualify for Boston despite how great my fitness level was and how hard I trained. It wouldn't have mattered that I broke 3:50 for the first time, or that I beat my PR by over 2:00. It would have been a depressing day of "this is so unfair, why can't I just run a good marathon". But not today. I was fulfilled in so many ways. And as for that fitness I built up? It's not going anywhere! I still have the Cherry Blossom 10-miler ahead of me!

We waited around for the awards, which were given pretty quickly. Thankfully, they didn't wait for the 7-hour finishers before giving them out. Normally with a time like mine, I wouldn't expect an age group award. However, being an out-and-back race, I hadn't seen too many women ahead of me. I won a $20 gift certificate to National Running Center. I think I was supposed to get a plaque, too, but I didn't realize that until after I left so I hope they mail it to me.

Final takeaways
The age group award and the PR were just the gravy in this race. I am most proud of how I conquered my pre-race anxiety and got to the start line feeling relaxed. This resulted in a strong, happy finish and an affirmation that I have made some major fitness gains over the past few months. Especially coming back from Mono last summer.

I really hope I never have a "hell week" again during my taper. But if I do, I know now that I can manage the physical anxiety, and that a sleep deficit won't kill my race. I actually felt great physically during the first 18 miles, and again during the last 2.

In terms of lessons learned, I think I need to drink both water and G2 early in the race. Since G2 is a watered down version of Gatorade, I figured it was kind of the same thing, but it's probably not. And also- never trust the weather, even if there is a 100% chance of something! I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I pushed a bit more before the stomach issues. I'm not thinking about that in terms of what I did wrong, but just for next time I would like to have more confidence and be a bit less conservative. This race was not focused on speed or testing my fitness-- it was about refining the process. I've made huge progress and I now know what I need to do next time.

I'm really, really tired right now and I'm looking forward to a relaxing evening.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Hearty Appetite for What's On The Menu

One week from today, I will be running a marathon.  I have one goal for it: take whatever is available.

It used to be that the main thing I wanted out of racing was PRs. And then I realized I was selling myself short and missing out on a whole lot of wonderful things- simply because I wasn't looking for them and seeing that they were there for me. Here is a list of possible "menu items" for next Saturday, in no particular order:
  • Enjoyment of running a low-key race
  • Development and experience as a runner
  • Finishing the race
  • Having a strong finish
  • Pride in knowing that I ran my best race possible for that day
  • Feeling loved and supported by Greg who will be at several places on the course
  • Learning what works and what doesn't work, so I can refine my process
  • "Testing" where my physical and mental training have landed me so far
  • Camaraderie with other runners
  • PR
  • BQ
  • Excitement
  • Feeling of "solace" without much crowd support and very few other runners
  • That feeling of pushing through physical discomfort and enduring it until the end of the race
  • Checking a new state off of my marathon list (I'm not going for all 50, but would like to do a lot of states)
  • Getting into a "groove" in the early miles and finding a rhythm
What's going to be available? I don't know. But I fully intend to take as much as possible from what's on the menu next weekend! That's my only goal. I probably won't get all of these things, but I will definitely get most of them as long as I am looking for them. I don't want to miss out. Yes, I would love a new marathon PR, but that's just one thing on a very long list. 

I'm not going soft. I'm not lowering the bar. I will run this race to the best of my ability in whatever the circumstances may be. In fact, that's bullet number 4. It's just that I am really broadening my horizons on what I can get out of the event. 

Don't Over Think It!
Many people would say that somebody who is anxiety-prone like me shouldn't be over-thinking the marathon in this way and that I shouldn't think about it until race day. That approach didn't work for me last year when I tried it, so I'm not going to try it again. Avoidance is not a strategy to deal with anxiety-- instead, you have to think about things in a way that gives you assurance and confidence that you will be able to handle them.

Keeping in mind that my goal is to get as many bullet points that are available (I know that these are not all within my control) I know I will succeed. I think that a lot of my previous anxiety stemmed from not knowing how the race was going to play out. Was I going to bonk? Would I meet my goal time? What would my splits look like? 

Now I realize that: A) I can actually predict most of what will happen  B) For the things that I can't predict, I know how I will handle them, and that's actually what makes racing so exciting.

I can predict most of what will happen. I'll have a pretty good idea of what the weather will be a few days out. I know everything I'm going to do on race morning before the race starts. I know what the course is like-- I've studied the map. I know what pace I will start at and that I will evaluate that pace at the 10K mark to see if I should maintain it or speed up. I know that I will see Greg along the course and I know when I will take my gels. I know that at some point the race will start to feel hard and I will need to continue to push through it. I know that barring any stomach issues or injuries, I will finish the race. 

There are a few things I can't predict. I don't know how I will feel and at what point the race will start to get tough. I don't know if I will have stomach issues. I can't predict what my splits will be or what my finish time will be.  But these unknowns are okay! If I do have stomach issues or if the race starts to feel hard early on, I will deal with it. If I could predict my splits and if I did know my exact finish time in advance, well then-- where's the excitement of actually racing?

Other Thoughts
  • I trained so that I would be physically prepared to run this race. If I struggle during this marathon, it doesn't diminish my hard work-- my training will serve me well at future races this spring.
  • It's been 5 years since I've had a strong marathon finish, but I don't feel like I am "due". It will happen when it's meant to happen. And it hasn't happened within the past 5 years for a reason
  • A marathon time goal is far less significant than all the other goals I am working on this year. I'm working on overhauling a perfectionist mindset that I've had my entire life. Showing progress in that area is far more meaningful to me than a time. 
  • I have a great deal of evidence to show that I can be happy, proud, and satisfied when a race doesn't go as well as I would have liked. The Love Rox half marathon is perhaps the best example of that.
  • I also have evidence that focusing on doing my best will make me feel physically and mentally strong during a race.
I feel ready for this marathon. I've been sleeping well, feeling strong, and staying focused on "taking what's available" next Saturday.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bright (and windy) Beginnings 5K

A few weeks ago, my coach suggested that everyone on the team run the Bright Beginnings 5K that took place this morning. He was so keen on us doing it that he labeled it as the day's workout and there would be no scheduled long run. I wouldn't have opted to run a 5K two weeks out from a marathon because I think it's too short to be a good predictor of marathon fitness. However, I thought it would be fun to run a race with so many teammates and I'd get a good workout in. Plus if my coach is recommending it, there must be something to it!

I was in Chicago this week for work and I flew home last night. My flight was supposed to get in at 7:35pm but it was delayed by an hour. And the delay was while we were on the plane, waiting to take off so it's not like I go to walk around or even use my iPad for entertainment. By the time I got home, it was around 9:00. Considering that I'm normally in bed by 9:00, this wasn't exactly ideal, but I still ended up with a decent night's sleep.

I woke up feeling pretty good and ready to race. Usually during the days before any race and I very focused on the race. However, this time I was completely chill about it. I honestly just saw it as a hard workout with my teammates and I didn't get nervous or anxious. I was looking forward to the race, but I didn't have my normal "excitement" that I typically get when I race.

Greg is unfortunately injured so he played cheerleader/spectator again. He drove and dropped me off near the start line since we were running a bit behind schedule. I can't emphasize enough how much I appreciate all his support. He was feeling tired and cold this morning but he still drove me to the race, dropped me off, parked kinda far away and came back to stand in the cold, windy weather to watch me race.

It was about 35 degrees, partly sunny and breezy. Being familiar with this course in West Potomac Park, I knew that it was flat, but could get windier than other areas in the city being so close to the water.

I warmed up for about a mile and a half with some teammates and was ready to go.

The race started about 10 minutes late because people were still picking up their bib numbers. We were all freezing cold at the start line, ready to get going, but the wait seemed to go on forever. We danced in place and stayed close to each other, trying to stay warm. There were about six runners on my team who were in my "group"-- running approximately the same pace as me. Two of these women ran the epic Love Rox half marathon with me two weekends ago. My plan was to try and stick with them and work as a team.

In terms of a time goal, I thought I was in shape to set a PR, and that I could probably run an average pace of around 6:50.

Mile 1
Mile 1, Photo by Cheryl Young
The race started and I felt great for about 2-3 minutes. And then the realization hit that this pace probably wasn't sustainable so I backed off and let my teammates get ahead of me. Never have I felt so crappy so early on in a 5K. At first I thought it was because I was pulled out too fast, but then once I backed off, I still felt sluggish. My coach was at the first mile marker calling of splits. It's always a great pick-me-up to see my coach in a race. I ran the first mile in 6:47, which was a little faster than my goal, but I knew there was a tailwind helping me out.

Mile 2
There's still two more miles of this? Oh my God, that seems like forever. I just didn't have "it" at this race. My sports psychologist refers to "it" as kinesthetic feel. He says that some days you have it and some days you don't. Performance is dynamic and some days you are in your groove, and on other days, you just can't find it. Well, I didn't have any kinesthetic feel. I typically have a mantra that goes through my head that keeps the rhythm steady and I feel energized. This morning, no mantra came to me and I just felt really "off". There was no rhythm to my running, I felt clumsy and tired, and I just wasn't really on. The turnaround was a rude awakening, because the nice tailwind was gone and I was running straight into a headwind. I hit the second mile in 6:53.

Mile 3
Mile 3, Photo by Cheryl Yong
The headwind during the last mile felt like it was pretty strong, but in reality it may have been like 10-15 mph.   Unfortunately I had lost sight of my teammates so there was no hope of running as a group to battle the wind.  I was just miserable during this mile. I used every mental trick I knew of to keep running strong, but I felt like I was running in place. I pushed as hard as I could and I gave everything I had- but it just wasn't there. The wind was coming directly at me, my face was freezing, I felt exhausted and I'm pretty sure my form was falling apart. Based on the two mile splits, I knew that all I had to do was run a 7:00 pace or faster and I would PR. I really wanted that PR but there was just nothing that could get me to go any faster. I ran a disappointing 7:20 which is slower than some of my half marathon miles from two weekends ago. I've run 6-mile tempo runs with faster miles in them. I think this speaks volumes to how crappy I was feeling during that last mile.

Final Kick
I almost always have a very strong final kick. Even in my crappiest races, I can almost always manage to find something left at the end. But not this time. I ran toward the finish line, looking at the clock and wanting to get under 22:00- so I pushed and pushed, but could only muster a 6:48 pace. In my past THREE half marathons, the last 0.1 was faster than this.

Final time was 21:47, average pace of 7:01.

I am not beating myself up over this and nor am I upset. In fact, I cannot believe I ran a 21:47 (just 18 seconds slower than my PR) feeling so crappy. And because I had nothing left to give in that final kick, I know I left it all out there and tried my best.

My key takeaways are:
Mile 3, Photo by Cheryl Young
  • I gave it all I had despite feeling crappy. My lack of final kick is evidence of that.
  • I didn't have "my groove" this morning (possibly because of my Chicago trip, or possibly for no particular reason at all)
  • I ran a significant positive split, but that had a lot to do with the tailwind on the way out and the headwind coming back in.
  • I enjoyed running a race that so many of my teammates were participating in
  • Fitness-wise, I think I am definitely in my best shape ever. I don't think I could have ever previously run as fast while feeling so blah.
  • I'm not upset or beating myself up-- in fact just the opposite-- which shows I've grown mentally.
  • I didn't compare myself to my teammates. It would have been nice to run with them, but I accepted early on that it wasn't going to happen and I stayed focused on doing my personal best.
  • I broke 22:00 for the second time ever.
My coach suggested I run 10-12 miles tomorrow, and I hope I'm not too sore! My primary focus for the next two weeks will be staying healthy from both an injury and illness perspective. I don't want to turn into a germ-phobe, but I do want to be mindful about washing my hands, taking vitamins and keeping a good distance between myself and co-workers who are sick. Thankfully I will not be getting on any more planes during the next two weeks. I plan to stretch and foam roll a lot, and if my legs are feeling too sore tomorrow, I won't sweat cutting the run short.

I'm glad to have another solid race under my belt this year!

Capital Area Runners post-race