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
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 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.