Sunday, July 27, 2014

Training Refresh!

July marks the official start of marathon training. Greg and I are running the Columbus Marathon on Oct. 19, and that's just 12 weeks away! We're also running the Rock 'N Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon four weeks prior.

I've been using roughly the same training plan for about three years now, and I decided I was ready for a change. The problem was-- I didn't know any other way to train. I knew that I needed to have a tempo and interval workout each week, and then a long run that got longer each weekend, ideally with three 20-milers total. But this started to get boring and I didn't think my fitness was improving that much. Even though I just shaved 4+ minutes off of my marathon PR in May, I think that was more due to improvements in the mental aspect of racing rather than physical gains. I think I've had the physical ability to run a 3:43 for the past four years, and I finally got my head into a spot that would allow it.

My training was beginning to feel stale and I wasn't really excited about jumping into a new cycle doing the same thing. So I got a new coach! While I am still a member of Capital Area Runners, and I have total respect for coach George, I wanted something more personalized, new and different. So I have been working with my new coach since mid-June and I've been having a blast with my training. Even if the new plan doesn't help me break through a physical plateau, just having something new and different to do every day makes training more exciting. His credentials are pretty impressive, including a 2:13 marathon PR.

Core Strengthening
The first component is core work. I used to be very consistent about this, but over the past year or two, I just got lazy and stopped. I decided that I needed to be doing core work consistently (at least 4 times a week) and other exercises to strength my hips. I really do not want to get injured and if it means waking up 10 minutes earlier every morning to fit this in, I will do it.

One of my struggles with core work and supplemental strengthening was always when to do it and how to progress. My coach gave me six different exercises to do and told me how to progress them over time as I got stronger. I've noticed a huge difference. At first, there was one exercise that I was simply unable to perform, but now I can do 10+ reps of it.

Side plank with leg lift

Side plank with leg lift, better lighting!
Seeing a little bit of definition
I've noticed that my runs have felt stronger and I feel less flabby. Also, I am hoping to stay injury free. My nagging hamstring tendonitis is almost 100% recovered, and I hope to continue to move in the right direction there.

New Workouts
Instead of just interval workouts and tempo runs, I am doing progression runs, fartleks, steady state runs, stride workouts and shorter intervals (200's and 400's). I've never run 200's before or done a stride workout, so it's fun to have a new challenge and figure out the pacing. Also, most of the workouts are time-based rather than miles based, so it's a new way of thinking about things. I never know what my weekly mileage will end up being until I am done with the week, so that's refreshing.

So far, I think my two favorite runs are the "steady state" run and the faster/slower tempo (not sure of the official name). The steady state run is slower than tempo pace but faster than marathon pace. I love running at this pace because I like I am working hard without it feeling uncomfortable. Last week, I ran a 45-minute steady state run at average pace of 7:51. That's 5.7 miles. It felt great!

The week before, I ran this six mile workout, with every other mile being 10K pace/marathon pace. I have to admit I was intimidated by doing six miles worth of speed work so early in the cycle with three miles at 10K pace, but the run actually ended up being fun and I executed it very well. I actually ran it faster than I thought I would, especially considering how hot and humid it was. The miles were 7:29, 8:16, 7:27, 8:23, 7:25, 8:16.

These workouts are fun, challenging, and I think they are making me a lot stronger.

I spent last week in San Francisco for work, and I was in Fort Worth, Texas for part of the week before that.

Greg and I were visiting his sister in Texas for the weekend, and then I stayed on Monday for a business event. We had a 12-mile long run on tap and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to survive the Texas heat in the middle of July. Prior to going there, I asked my Dallas/Ft. Worth running friends where a good place to go was, and someone recommended the Trinity Trail. The entrance was very close to where Greg and I were staying, so we did that. This was one of the more enjoyable long runs I had. I survived the heat just fine, and we got to see new scenery. People in Texas are more friendly than in the DC area, so lots of people were saying hi. There was even a promotional water station setup where we stopped and to fill up our bottles. I'll never be great at running in the heat, but I think I am pretty well acclimated.

In San Francisco, I did a 90-minute progression run and a Fartlek run, both on the Embarcadero. I had the
Not the Embarcadero, but close enough!
Fartlek intervals programmed into my Garmin. The only problem was that the Embarcadero gets really crowded, so dodging people when you are trying to surge can be difficult. The progression run was really invigorating. I started out feeling sluggish and tired due to the time zone change, but once I started to speed up, I felt awesome and by the end, I was running a sub-8:00 pace comfortably.  The funny thing is that when I was done with my 10.3 miles, I took a cab back to my hotel, which was less than a mile away! My hotel was located in the city, and you have to keep stopping for the lights. So, I didn't want to finish my progression run by stopping every minute and waiting. So I finished it on the Embarcadero and then got a cab back.

I don't have any work travel scheduled for August, but Greg and I will be going to NYC for a few days so I think a Central Park run is in my future.

Ramping Up
I actually don't know exactly what my weekly mileage will look like for the rest of this cycle. This week was my first week at 50 miles and I imagine it's just going to keep increasing. The great thing about having a coach customize a plan is that he will adjust it based on the feedback I provide, and he gives me about 4 weeks at a time. Most of the runs also have ranges (75-90 minutes, for example) so I can run more or less based on how I am feeling that day.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the training evolves over the next few months!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Firecracker 5K: A Summer Rust-buster

This morning I ran my 3rd Firecracker 5K in Reston. I've been registered for this race every year since 2010, but I wasn't able to race it last year or the year before due to injury/illness. So making it to the start line healthy was a great feeling.

For the past year, I've been sleeping really well before races and my anxiety levels have decreased significantly. However, last night, at 1:00am, I awoke to the sound of my doorbell. As yes, kids doing the ding-dong-ditch thing. In the 4+ years that I have lived in my house, this has never happened. And of course it has to happen the night before a race. Needless to say, Greg and I were pretty pissed off, but eventually we fell back to sleep.

My spirits were high as I ate my pre-race breakfast and got ready for the race. I actually didn't even think much about the race until the warm-up, when I started to wonder how the race was going to feel for me.

I haven't raced since my marathon on May 4, and two months is a long time for me to go without racing. I had a few goals for this race:

  • Do not look at the Garmin during the race
  • Stay strong on the hills and try to pass people at the tops of hills
  • Practice the mental strategies I've been working on to stay positive and focused
I actually did not have a time goal. I was interested in seeing where I was fitness-wise, but a time goal wasn't top of mind. I thought I would probably run somewhere between a 7:10-7:20 pace. 

It was about 67 degrees and overcast (not bad for July 4th!). But on the flip side, it was also quite windy and very humid, coming off the tails of thunderstorms that just passed through. I decided I would trust my experience of knowing what 5K effort felt like and just run whatever I had in me.

Mile 1: 7:14
Mile 1, photo by G. Buckheit
The first mile was primarily uphill and very crowded. This race had over 2,000 runners and the course was not very wide. I started close to the front, and I expected that the crowd would thin out after the first mile, but that never happened. During the first mile, I told myself to relax and stay in control. Relax, control. That was my mantra to begin with. My running team's coach was there at the first mile marker taking photos and cheering me on. That helped energize me.

Mile 2: 7:02
I started to really feel the effort during the second mile, so I shifted my focus to just maintaining a constant effort level. Mile 2 was a net downhill, hence the increase in speed. It was nice to get a break from the uphill running, but I knew that the worst of the hills was yet to come during mile 3. I successfully passed a few runners during this mile, but not a ton.

Mile 3: 7:27
This mile is tough. The second half is up a long hill, and there is one curvy hill that's relatively steep. I did slow down a bit on the steep hill, but I refused to let the long, less steep hill take anything from me. As I ran up the final hill, I remembered back to my marathon from two months ago and how I tackled those hills. I broke the hill down into small sections mentally and I got myself into a rhythm. It made the hill seem less daunting and before I knew it, I was at the top. Oh, but then we made a turn and there was another hill leading up to the finish!

Last mile
Last 0.18 Miles (6:37 pace)
As I made the final turn and approach the finish, I gunned it. I was actually quite surprised by how much I had in me! And in fact, this is common for me: a very strong final kick that makes me think I could have started kicking earlier, or that I could have run the whole thing a little faster. Ah well, better than bonking and doing the survival shuffle to the finish line!

This course is always long according to my Garmin. I know all of the arguments against using your Garmin distance as the actual race distance, but I still think this race is slightly long. I made sure to run the tangents and minimize my weaving through the crowd. Greg also ended up with 3.18 miles.

According to my Garmin, my average pace was 7:13, which was on the faster end of my expected range. Given the humidity and the wind, I am pleased with this and I think I ran a smart race. I accomplished all of my goals, except for maybe not passing as many people at the tops of hills as I would have liked. 

My official race time was 22:54, which is my slowest 5K in a few years. But I also haven't run a hot 5K in over two years. 

I ran a much faster time at the Crystal City 5K this past April, but I wasn't at all happy with my effort there so I didn't even bother to write a blog about it. I really like how I am thinking about my race performances in terms of effort and not outcome. 

I placed 9 out of 183 in my age group (top 4.9%)
I placed 53 out of 1212 women (top 4.4%)

It was a large, competitive field and it's hard to believe I placed third in my age group when I ran this race back in 2010. And had a slower time than today!  Also worth noting is that the female 35-39 age group was by far the largest age/gender group at the race. The top 3 women in my age group all finished under 20 minutes, and the top 3 women in the 30-34 age group all finished slower than 20 minutes. I found that really interesting.

Anyway, it was good to be out there racing again and putting out a hard effort. My next race will be a 10K in Reston in about 8 weeks, so I better get used to hills!

Capital Area Runners Post Race