Sunday, September 28, 2014

Running in the Outer Banks: 60-mile Week

After running the Rock 'N Roll Philadelphia half marathon last Sunday, Greg and I drove down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week-long vacation.

Even though the race hadn't gone as planned, my spirits were high and I was excited to enjoy a week of relaxation with my husband. With just four weeks to go before the marathon, this would also be an intense week of training. Greg and I visited the Outer Banks last summer, and I had a really successful week of training.

Priority one was a proper recovery from the race. At the hotel in Philadelphia, Greg and I took ice baths and then donned calf compression sleeves for the 7-hour drive. When we finally arrived at our beach condo, it was after 9:00 and we were both dead tired.

We awoke to humid, 70-degree windy weather, which would be the norm for almost every morning of our vacation. I can't remember ever running the day after a half marathon, but my coach had a 60-70 minute recovery run on the schedule, so I complied.

Most runs were on the road closest to the ocean
We stayed at milepost 10 in Kill Devil Hills, which is where the beach road begins to have a running
path along the side if you head south. The wind was forecast to be coming from the north each day, which meant a tailwind for the first half of the run, followed by a headwind.

Monday: 6.5 miles recovery
My legs were not as nearly as bad off as they normally are after a half marathon. My initial thought was that I didn't have the opportunity to really wear them down in the race because the heat beat down my energy level so much. Another theory was that I was so well trained that my legs could handle running the day after a half marathon. Greg came with me and was hurting more than me, but we both were in favor of going very slowly.

Tuesday: 10.5 miles easy
Again we faced humidity, warmth and wind. This run was more about building aerobic capacity than anything else, so we didn't push the pace.

Wednesday: Rest
It was very fortuitous that I had a rest day on Wednesday because we had quite the storm! It was pouring down rain and winds were 30 mph! We spent the day inside putting together a puzzle and enjoying the fact that we didn't have to do anything but relax.

Thursday: 10 miles, including intervals
There was a high school track located about 2.5 miles from our condo. This workout is actually supposed to be done on a hilly route, but given that we weren't going to find that anywhere, we figured a track would be a good option as it would be a softer surface away from cars. We warmed up and cooled down by running to and from the track.

The workout was 3 x 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00, with 90-second recovery jogs in between each. It was 71 degrees with 96% humidity. Thankfully, the wind wasn't as noticeable as it was on other days. I basically just ran these intervals by feel and afterwards looked at my paces. They ranged from 6:15-6:40, which was encouraging in that weather.

I was completely beat by the end of this workout and I just slugged my way back to the condo during the cool down.

Friday: 6 miles easy 
This run was extremely humid and I didn't feel at all energized. It must have been a combination of the hard workout the day before and the lack of sleep from not having my own bed. But, I got it done!

Saturday: 21.5 miles
My plan had 20-24 miles on it and my original goal was 22. I must have mapped out our route a half a dozen times, but we ultimately ended up winging it! I even had some anxiety dreams about how hot this run would be, and worried that I'd get sunburn. Before heading out, I applied SPF 75 sport sunscreen everywhere.

Greg and I got a relatively early start at 6:30. We couldn't start much earlier because the roads are not well lit and the sun rose at 6:50.

Partially shaded bike path in the Outer Banks
The first 10 miles were an out-and-back along the beach road. South, and then north. We refilled our water bottles at the condo and then headed south for the track. We figured it might be nice to run a few laps around it. When we got there, we realized the track was the worst place we could be. The wind was more noticeable, there was no shade and the sun was getting high in the sky. After two laps, we abandoned the track and headed for a path that led to the Wright Brothers memorial. The plan was to run around the memorial (about a mile loop) but we realized that we were on a 3-mile bike path, indicated by signs, so we followed that instead.

Great choice! The bike path was partially shaded and led to an area where we got a nice view of the bay. We ended up running on some neighborhood roads and it was a nice change of scenery. We turned around at mile 16 and headed back to the beach, stopping at a gas station to by new water bottles. Miles 16-19 were by far the hardest of the run, and I was completely out of water by mile 18.

We made our way back to the condo and the sun was in full force. I decided it would be okay to stop
Me in the ocean, post long-run
at 20 or 21, since the plan had 20-24. I was getting really hot, but I dug deep, found some mojo and actually picked up the pace. Greg and I ended up with 21.5 miles at a pace of 9:49.  It took us 3 hours and 30 minutes, and I expect my marathon time to be around 3:35. The goal was "time on my feet" and this was certainly accomplished. After the run, I took nature's ice bath in the ocean!

Sunday: 5.5 miles recovery
My legs felt surprisingly good during this run. However, about 3 miles into it, the sun came out in full force and I just felt drained. I was very happy to finish the run, capping off the week at an even 60 miles.

Overall, the vacation was wonderful. It was overcast nearly the entire time, and not really beach appropriate, until Saturday when the sun decided to make an appearance during our long run. We didn't get a lot of beach time, but we enjoyed watching movies, doing our puzzle, eating good food, and exploring the Outer Banks.

With just three weeks to go before the marathon, I am feeling super confident in my training. Here is a look at the past two months:

I'm back home now, and looking forward to some nice early fall running weather. Unfortunately, most of it will be in the dark before work, but it will be a nice change from the wind and humidity!

Monday, September 22, 2014

A race I am proud of

Yesterday morning, I ran the Rock 'N Roll Philadelphia half marathon. My primary focus of the race was as follows:

  • Practice staying mentally tough and pushing through the hard parts- no negative thoughts!
  • Running by feel, and not letting the Garmin control my pace
  • Gaging my fitness level for my upcoming marathon next month
About 10 days out from the race, I started thinking about what my time range goal was, and I realized that I wasn't sure what I capable of, given my training has been much more intense than any previous cycle. 

In fact, I ran one workout as follows: 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace, with a 4:00 recovery jog in that middle. The half marathon pace miles averaged 7:19, and I felt like I could have even gone faster. Based on this workout, my coach and I determined I should run the half marathon based on feel, not looking at the watch, because I could end up seeing much faster paces than ever before in a half marathon. And this made me giddy with excitement. The thought of finally breaking 1:40 and then some!

As the race approached, and the weather forecast solidified, I felt less confident about running a PR, but I didn't rule it out and decided I would still run based on feel. The weather forecast was for seasonably warm, humid weather, which was ironic after such a seasonably cool week. I did find myself looking at the forecast every morning, wondering what this meant for me, but by the Friday before the race, I had fully accepted it and was determined to run my best no matter what the weather was.

I felt very well rested and relaxed going into this race. I had slept an average of 8 hours per night for
I wore this same outfit during my fast tempo run!
the entire week leading up to the race, if not more. With my increased training volume, I have found myself exhausted and needing lots and lots of sleep. Thankfully, I've been able to get this sleep by going to bed early and managing my stress levels. 

Greg and I woke up on race morning, had our bagels, got dressed, pinned our bibs on and were off. I was happy that the race had a D-tag instead of a B-tag, which meant I could make the bib small enough to fit on my sports bra without bending any sensors. 

As we walked to the race, we were thankful that the sky was overcast, and hoping that it would stay that way. It didn't feel overly hot, maybe about room temperature. But as Greg later said-- it was deceiving. You don't feel "hot" but you sweat buckets and your body has to work extra hard to keep you cool. So far, everything was going according to plan. Sleep, check. Hydration, check. Low anxiety levels, check. Acceptance of weather, check. Race strategy, check. Injury free, check. Went to the bathroom, check.

Miles 1-3
My plan was to not look at my Garmin but to run by feel. Unfortunately, I ended up looking because my watched beeped on auto-lap well before the mile marker, so I looked at it. And then I hit the lap button again when I got to the mile marker so I would have an accurate split for this race report! I noticed I was running just under a 8:00 pace, which was very conservative. It felt like the race pace for a half marathon and after having running 25+ half marathons, I know what half marathon pace should feel like. 

I basically just stayed relaxed during these miles, making sure to drink water regularly and ease into things. Everything seemed to be going pretty well, and I wasn't worried about the slowish splits on my watch because I knew I still had a long way to go.

Mile 1: 7:55
Mile 2: 7:53
Mile 3: 7:43

Miles 4-6
I was looking forward to getting out of the city and running down by the water. I ran through a very
large cheering station at mile 5 (where the start line was) and realized that some runners hadn't even begun the race yet! I did not like the large crowd cheering at me. I've noticed this in past big-city marathons that the really loud crowds are jarring for me and I would much prefer to run in peace and quiet. I also didn't like the loud bands. I guess anything "loud" during a race annoys me!

I still felt good at this point and was confident in my ability to speed up and to execute as planned. I was definitely exerting a hard effort, but I felt like I had a lot of gas in the tank still. Mile 6 was a lengthy downhill and that felt great. I remember last year running down that hill and having it energize me for the next few miles.

Mile 4: 7:39
Mile 5: 7:45
Mile 6: 7:41

Miles 7-9
I ran through the 10K marker feeling confident and pumped for the rest of the race. I kept strong, putting out a hard effort and glanced down at my Garmin, and noticed I was in the 8's. Hmmm. I told myself to push more and try to get back down into the 7's. So I pushed harder. And harder. And no matter how hard I pushed, I didn't feel like I was going any faster.  Greg later told me that he thought this part of the course was uphill, but to me it didn't seem to be uphill, it seemed flat.

When I hit the 8-mile marker, I looked down at the split and it was well into the 8's. I was surprised. I didn't feel like I had slowed down that much and I was exerting a greater level of effort that I had been at the beginning of the race. I asked myself if I was truly giving 100% and the answer was yes. I told myself that my goal was to run a race that I would be proud of. I needed to make sure that I was always giving 100% at all times and never giving up. I didn't think I was particularly mentally tough during the last half marathon I ran and I wanted to make up for that here. No matter how bad I felt, no mater what the watch said, I was going to give 100%. I was truly going to leave it all out there.

I think my previous self would have gotten discouraged by the paces and given up mentally, perhaps taking walk breaks and not pushing as hard. But I vowed not to do that. I wanted so badly to feel good about this race! So I told myself, "run a race to be proud of".  After the race, Greg and I would be taking some vacation, and I didn't want to spend that vacation depressed or miserable because of a shitty race. So I kept reminding myself of how I wanted to feel about my performance afterwards, and that really kept me strong.

Mile 7: 7:50
Mile 8: 8:16
Mile 9: 8:44

Miles 10-13
Toward the end of the race
Mile 9 is an uphill mile, and once it was complete, I started to feel a bit better. I told myself that I could still try to get back in the 7's. With only 4 miles to go I told myself that it should be easy for me to run 4 miles at a sub-8:00 pace. I energized myself, I motivated myself, and I told myself I could do it. Unfortunately, reality kicked in after the first of those miles and I found myself really struggling. At that point, I was doing everything in my power to maintain my effort and not just quit. 

Physically, I just couldn't go any faster. 

I gave it all I had until the very end, and there was no final kick. I almost always have a very strong final kick, but this time I couldn't muster one extra ounce of energy. It took all I had to just maintain my pace during that last 0.1 mile. 

Mile 10: 8:08
Mile 11: 8:56
Mile 12: 8:28
Mile 13: 8:57

The Finish Line, and Beyond
I crossed the finish line and I saw Greg. At first, I was not able to talk to him. I tried to get words out, but they just wouldn't come. Then, I started to feel disoriented. I started having strange thoughts, like the thoughts you have just as you are starting to fall asleep and dream. I panicked because I thought I was going to pass out, which made things worse. But ultimately, I was okay. I just needed awhile to recover. And actually, I couldn't believe I was actually running just a few minutes prior, knowing how horrible it felt to be stopped. If I had stopped before crossing the finish line, there is a good chance I just wouldn't have crossed it. 

To pour salt in the wound, as Greg and I were walking back from the hotel, I tripped on the sidewalk, and nearly fell flat on my face. 

My official time was 1:47:14, and I had no idea what it was going to be until I finished and looked at my watch. 

Key Takeaways
Although this is one of my slowest half marathons in the past five years, I feel good about my performance. I didn't really have a time goal to begin with-- I was more focused on executing well and keeping mentally tough. 

While I know I'm not supposed to compare myself to others, I think this race confirms what I have suspected for years-- the heat and humidity affect me more than the average runner. I think that most runners probably ran a good 2-4 minutes slower than they would have in cooler, less humid weather. For me, that delta is more like 6-8 minutes. I trained all summer in the humid weather. And I actually ran pretty well in the humidity during training. But when I am putting out 100% effort (which I don't do in training) my body doesn't respond well. I remember when I was a teenager in dance class. When the class was over, my face would be beet red. Nobody else's would be and I was often asked if I was okay because of how red my face got. 

So, it's nothing to be upset about, but rather something to simply accept. Training in the heat and humidity will help me acclimate, but it will only go so far. The good thing about this race was that I didn't go into it "expecting" to bonk. I went into it with confidence and I ran it by feel. Unfortunately, my body just wasn't able to sustain a fast pace in those conditions.

So, what are the key takeaways from this race?
  • I've come a long way in terms of reducing my race anxiety and being able to sleep in the days leading up to the race.
  • Although I initially got upset about the weather, I ultimately let it go and was very determined to run my best no matter what.
  • I executed my strategy as planned, starting out at a conservative 7:50's pace and then speeding up. 
  • I used positive self-talk to get myself through the tough parts, and I made sure that I was always running my best, no matter how crappy I felt, or how slow the pace
  • I know I ran my best yesterday
  • I know that the heat/humidity is not "all in my head" and that I truly am affected by these conditions to a greater extent than most people-- even if I train in these conditions and am well acclimated.
  • I know I have the mental toughness I need to get me through the marathon in a few weeks.
  • I'm still confident about my fitness, although I didn't get the gauge/confirmation I was hoping for.
All in all, this was not the race I hoped for, but it is a race I am proud of.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Put another "X" on the calendar

Summer's on its deathbed.  There is simply nothing worse than knowing how it ends.

(For those of you who are not Panic! At the Disco fans, those are lines from one of their songs.)

I'll continue my theme and breakdown this post with those lyrics.

Put another "X" on the calendar
I've been ticking off the miles like clockwork this month. I ran 229 miles in August, which is my second highest month ever. My highest was in March of 2009. It's easy to run high monthly mileage when the month has five weekends for five long runs.

But there was a setback week in August. My right calf started to get really tight during a workout and during the cooldown, every step hurt. At the same time, my high hamstring tendonitis flared up. I've had this injury since March, but it had gotten about 95% better. But after the workout, the pain flared up very noticeably.

The result was that I had to take two unplanned rest days, cut mileage back on another and bail on a 10K race. Interestingly, I was able to run 18 easy miles the day of the race, but I could tell my legs would not have wanted to run fast on hills. Now my calf and my hamstring feel just as good as they did at the beginning of the month, and I am very grateful for that.

July and August training

I'm continuing to love my new training program, and I've had some really great workouts:

  • 60-minute steady state run: 7.7 miles at an average pace of 7:47 (faster than MP, slower than tempo)
  • 3-2-1 tempo run w/4:00 recoveries: 3 miles at 7:35, 7:35, 7:25 then 2 miles at 7:24, 7:21, then 1 mile at 7:14
Summer's on its deathbed
This summer has been wonderfully mild and I'll be sad to see it go. As much as I have always hated hot weather running, I think I am really starting to embrace it. Proper hydration and heat acclimatization go a long way and I think that I'm much better equipped to handle heat than I was in previous summers, even though it hasn't been as hot.

Interestingly, I opted to do this past weekend's 20-miler on Sunday rather than Saturday. Sunday was noticeably hotter and sunnier than Saturday, but I just wasn't "feeling it" on Saturday. I decided to cut my would-be long run short at 8.7 miles, with the confidence of knowing that I could run a 20-miler in the heat. And not only could I do it, but that I'd be better off in the hotter weather with a little more rest under my belt. The hot, humid, sticky, sunny 20-miler was a success and a huge confidence boost for warm weather running. I paced it properly and my last mile was the fastest and most energized. 

Before I became a runner, summer was always my favorite season and I had a renewed appreciation for it this year after such a brutally cold winter. I always used to say that I prefer running in very cold weather to very hot weather. And while that's still true for racing, I would rather go out in a sports bra and shorts than spend all this extra time with layers of clothing and gloves, hat, hand warmers, etc. 

There is simply nothing worse than knowing how it ends
I was once asked: "If you knew how your races would go before you ran them, would you still want to run them?" It was a good question. In the past, I've had a lot of anxiety about racing because of the uncertainty. I wanted to be able to control how the race went. I didn't like that there were so many things about racing that were unknown and that were beyond my control. And as a result, I found it difficult to relax in the days leading up to a race.

But the more I thought about that question (and my outlook on running in general) the more I realized that a large part of the fun is seeing what happens on race day. You don't know what is going to happen or what time you will get. And that's cool! It's not something to worry about, but rather something to embrace as the excitement of the sport. 

The reason I bring this up now (other than that it fits my lyrical composition of this post) is because I find myself looking at my fall races with excitement instead of anxiety. In less than three weeks I will be running a half marathon and then a full marathon four weeks after that. I'm confident that my physical and mental prep will serve me well no matter what the outcome, so my focus has been primarily on this preparation and not the races themselves.