Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Trotting: Massive 5K PR

This morning I ran my 10th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. That's right- my 10th year in a row! I'm thankful that I have never been injured on Thanksgiving and I have always been able to participate in this race since I discovered it.

After running the Richmond Half Marathon 12 days ago, I took a full week off from running. I made the mistake of not stretching or foam rolling during that time. After two days, my legs felt fine just walking around, but I didn't realize how tight my left IT band and calf were. When I returned to running, my entire left leg was tight and and everything felt like it was pulling on everything else. I started foam rolling twice a day and eventually my hip/hamstring/IT band felt better, but my calf was still an issue. It had seized up and was tender to the touch. I was actually worried that I wouldn't be able to run this race, but I went for it anyway.

I aggressively treated my calf by having Greg massage it twice a day, foam rolling it, stretching it three times a day, using Salonpas patches, taking Aleve, and wearing a compression sleeve. Instead of running yesterday as originally prescribed by my coach, I took the day off entirely.

Compression socks for my calf, and matching shoes!
I had this race planned down to the second. Since I had 9 of these Turkey Trots under my belt, I knew the course profile like the back of my hand. Last year, I ran the first two miles at the same pace, and then the third mile was about 10 seconds faster. The first two miles are a net uphill, with a significant hill in the second mile, and the last mile is a net downhill.

The McMillan calculator predicted a pace of 6:37 for my 5K. I wasn't sure I wanted to go for that, though, given I had taken a full week off of running and I was optimally trained for the half marathon, not the 5K. My plan was to run the first mile at a pace of 6:43-6:45, and then run the second mile at the same pace as the first. My plan for the last mile was a 6:35, and then an even faster final kick for the last 0.1. This would give me an average pace of about 6:40, putting me comfortably below 21 minutes.

My previous PR was a 21:29, and I was hoping to smash it, just as I had done to my half marathon PR just 12 days prior.

Before the Race
I think I set a PR for the most amount of quality sleep the night before a race. I slept for a full eight hours, and then woke up extremely gradually. I was so relaxed and rested that it took me about 45 minutes from coming into consciousness to actually feeling awake. I also slept insanely well two nights before the race. I think I have this no-anxiety thing down pat!

Greg and I did our normal pre-race routine: bagels, bathroom, and bib affixing! We arrived at the race 35 minutes before the start, with just enough time to warm up and then line up. We warmed up for 20 minutes, and I felt ready.

The weather was absolutely perfect. 40 degrees, mostly sunny, with 0 mph winds. Usually this race is in the low 30's, so it's rather chilly at the start. But this year, I was rather comfortable at the start line in my shorts and short-sleeves after having warmed up.

Mile 1: 6:43
I hate the first mile of this race. There are so many slower runners who start at the front, go out at a pace of 6:30, and then slow down to an 8:00 mile shortly thereafter. This equates to quite a bit of passing and weaving. I knew to expect it, so I managed as best I could. At one point, there was a group of 3 people running side-by-side and it was difficult to pass them. I tried to not let it fluster me. When I saw my Garmin beep at 6:43, I was pleased. I was executing on the faster end of my narrow 3-second window!

Mile 2: 6:43
This mile features a significant hill. I've gotten much better at hills over the past year, and was able to pass quite a few runners on this hill. Regardless, I was happy to be over it and running down the hill on the other side. I stayed focused, and tried my best to run the tangents. The good thing about mile 2 is that the course opens up with a wider road, so it's easier to pass people. I was pleased to see that I logged another 6:43, exactly as planned.

Mile 3: 6:35
I knew my PR and sub-21 was in the bag if I just continued to execute the plan. The last mile is a net downhill, but of course I was getting tired, so I had to really work for this. Since I've never run a 1-mile race, this 6:35 is also a 1-mile PR for me.

The last 0.14: (6:03 pace)
I gunned it to the finish and was happy to see the clock was still in the 20's.

My official finish time was a 20:51. This is a PR by 38 seconds from my 21:29 that I ran at the 2011 Turkey Trot. Last year, I ran a 21:30, missing my PR by just one second.

I was slightly annoyed that even though I was trying to run the tangents, my Garmin measured 3.14 miles. Greg's Garmin was closer to 3.1, and in the past mine has been closer to 3.1 as well, but I think all of the weaving during the first mile was the culprit. Anyway, according to Garmin, it was an average pace of 6:39 for 3.14 miles, which is very close to what the McMillan calculator had predicted.

Even though Greg hadn't done any speed work since the Columbus half marathon nearly six weeks ago, he ran a 22:01, which pleasantly surprised us both.

After the race, we found one of our friends and cooled down with him for about 15 minutes. The cool down was really important. When I first started running, my left leg was extremely tight. I was worried I had done some serious damage. But after a few minutes, it started to feel better, and by the end of the cool down, my left leg felt semi-normal again.

Final Thoughts
I think that having a well-defined plan was critical to my success. I knew exactly how I wanted to race this one, and my execution matched my expectations perfectly. Could I have run it faster if I set a more aggressive goal? I think maybe by just a few seconds. I was feeling really exhausted by the end of it, so I don't think I could have squeezed out more than 2-3 seconds extra. I'm trying to move away from "playing it safe" in races so I can run at my full potential. I don't think I played it safe here, but on the other hand, I wasn't quite as risky as I was in Richmond. There was also my tight calf to consider, and I definitely didn't want to pull it or tear it.

In any event, a 38-second PR in the 5K is HUGE, and I am super excited that I have reached a new level of fitness and I can run a race without anxiety.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Being Bold: The Richmond Half Marathon

I spent the past week visualizing the race I wanted to run this morning in Richmond. Four weeks ago, I considered the Columbus Half Marathon to be my breakthrough race of the season, and Richmond would just be “gravy.” I ran a 1:37:33, which was PR by over 4 minutes, so I was extremely satisfied. My first thought after I finished Columbus was that I ran so well, I could just pass on Richmond completely and be satisfied.

But I quickly dismissed that thought and realized that Columbus was really just a build-up to Richmond. At least, that's how my coach had planned it out. Thanks to an amazing training cycle, I’ve reached a new level of fitness that I had never imagined attaining.

I realized that I wasn't afraid of bonking. I intended to start this race at a pace that used to be faster than my 5K PR. I told myself that I was going to push harder earlier and make the tough part start sooner. I was mentally prepared for it to get really, really hard and I intended to push my way through it. I decided that I wasn't going to be intimidated by paces on my Garmin that were faster than I thought I was capable of.

Coach Greg McMillan says, “Going to a new level is scary even if workouts show you're there. In races, be committed and brave. That's where the PRs live.”

Training Plan
I had a pretty aggressive training schedule in between Columbus and Richmond. Thankfully, I recovered quickly and was able to return to speed work the following Thursday. The mileage was the same as it  had been (in the low to mid 40's) but the workouts were intense. Some of the more challenging workouts were:
  • 3 mile tempo, 3:00 recovery, 4 x 30-second hill repeats, 3:00 recovery, 2-mile tempo
  • 2 miles at half marathon pace, 3:00 recovery, 4 x 1-mile at 10K pace 
  • 5 x 1600m with 400m recoveries, 3 x 200m with 200m recoveries
I ran the 1600's at an average pace of about 6:53, which is faster than my 5K PR pace. The last one was 6:47 and I didn't feel like I was overdoing it. The combination of these three workouts gave me an immense amount of confidence. Not only were the paces much faster than I anticipated, but I felt strong throughout each workout. I recovered well from them, and was able to log some "quality" long runs with speed incorporated as well.

Race gear laid out
Having just run the Columbus Half Marathon four weeks ago, I knew that my pre-race routine would work well. I ate bland pasta with chicken and tomato sauce the night before, and the morning of the race I ate a salted bagel with peanut butter, along with a good bit of water.

In terms of feeling rested, I had slept really well all week. This had not been the case for Columbus, so I was determined to not "sweat the small stuff" this time. The issues that caused me to lose sleep prior to Columbus didn't affect my sleep whatsoever this past week.

When I pack for races, I usually bring two of everything, just in case something is wrong with one of the items. I packed two pairs of socks, and I was very glad that I did because one of the pairs ended up belonging to Greg. And it was actually the pair that was my first choice. Phew!

Speaking of Greg, he decided to sit this race out. He broke his ankle back in March, made a strong comeback in Columbus, but felt that he needed more recovery before running another half marathon so soon.

I also learned from Columbus that leaving the hotel 25 minutes before the race start is not a good idea. So we left 45 minutes before the race start, which left plenty of time for me to get a short (7-minute) warm up in-- something I did not do in Columbus. I got into the corral, and handed my jacket to Greg.

Waiting at the start line
The weather was in the low 40's and sunny with a 5-10 mph sustained wind. My plan was to start the race at a pace of around 7:20, maybe a tad slower because the first two miles were slightly uphill. This is what my coach advised and at first the concept seemed scary. Given that my average race pace in Columbus was 7:24 according to my Garmin, starting out at a faster pace with a plan of speeding up was ambitious. But I spent the past week building the confidence to do it and mentally preparing to push really hard.

In terms of a time goal, I wanted to go sub-1:37 (with a PR by over 33 seconds) and a stretch goal was to go sub-1:36. I fully expected that my time would fall somewhere in the 1:36's but my sports psychologist told me not to rule out the possibility of the 1:35's. Lately he's been encouraging me to not set limits for myself and the more we've talked about it, the more aware I've become on the limits I set for myself. He told me I was in a "purple period" of training-- an extended period of successful training without illness or injury with continued fitness gains. So this was a huge opportunity for me to take advantage of. As I stood at the start line, I went over my race plan in my head a few times. I was prepared to run really hard and really fast.

I lined up just a few rows back from the 1:35 pacer and before I knew it, the race started.

Miles 1-4
The race started and it was really crowded during the first mile. I wanted to be running faster than I was during the first half mile, but there was no way to weave around people. Ultimately, I gave up on trying to weave through people and I told myself that this was actually working in my favor because there was a noticeable headwind.

After the second mile, things spaced out a bit and I knew that mile 3 would be slightly downhill. So I decided to run a bit faster. During mile 4, I finally started to feel comfortable. I rarely feel comfortable during the first 3 miles of a half marathon. I just need to settle in and establish a rhythm. I usually feel like I am kind of all over the place initially, until I settle into a nice even rhythm and effort.We also turned a corner during the 4th mile, which meant there was no more headwind.

Mile 1: 7:26
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:18
Mile 4: 7:11

Miles 5-8
I think the "old me" would have been intimidated by a 7:11 mile, especially so early in the race, but I told myself ahead of time that I would not ease up on the effort based on what my Garmin was saying. I've run over 20 half marathons-- I know what the effort level should feel like.

I continued to press on, fully confident that I could maintain these faster-than-planned paces. Miles 6, 7, and 8 were in a park. I had run this race in 2012 and I remembered the park being the most challenging section of the course. It was hilly and windy and a bit of a roller coaster. And the terrain isn't as smooth as the rest of the roads.

I crossed the 10K timing mat in 45:25, at a pace of 7:18. I knew that Greg was tracking me and it
made me happy knowing he would be getting a status update on me.

The most difficult part of the race came during mile 7 when I had my Honey Stinger gel. I learned in Columbus that I only need one gel in a half marathon, so I took it during the 7th mile, at the same time that I was running up and down hills and trying to follow tangents. The process didn't quite go as smoothly as I hoped. I spilled some water on me and the honey didn't go down all that well, but I took a few seconds to slow down, and "reset." In spite of all this, I still logged a 7:10 for mile 7.

I've learned that when you hit a rough patch in a race, a mental "reset" really works. It's an opportunity to remind yourself that it was just a tough patch, and you can continue on just as you had before.

Mile 5: 7:11
Mile 6: 7:16
Mile 7: 7:10
Mile 8: 7:24

Miles 9-12
I was so happy to be out of that park. It was mentally easier to run in a straight line and be back on

normal asphalt. Mile 8 had been mainly uphill, too, so I was relieved to be just 4 miles from the finish line, heading directly toward it.

I hit the 10-mile timing mat at 1:12:xx. My 10-mile PR  is 1:15:26, so it felt amazing to set a 10-mile PR in the midst of a half marathon.

During mile 11 I saw a friend of mine cheering. I worked with this guy back in 2005 and he since moved to Richmond and is very active in that running community. I knew he would be there and as I ran by him, I said, "I'm going to run a 1:35." I was amazed at how conversational I was, given how hard I was pushing. But I wanted to say it aloud. Saying it aloud made it real, and made me commit to it. I knew that I was on track for a 1:35:xx, but that I would need to continue to push hard to make it a reality.

When I got to mile marker 11, I was ready for the race to be over. It was the first feeling of "oh my God this hurts so much." I fought back and reminded myself that my mind would give out before my body would and I just pushed with everything I had. I knew that once I got to mile marker 12, there would just be one more mile left, and half of that mile would be a huge downhill.

Mile 9: 7:06
Mile 10: 7:09
Mile 11: 7:17
Mile 12: 7:16

Mile 13 and the last 0.14
Mile 13 seemed to go on forever until the downhill finally came. I saw Greg just before the hill and then just let gravity carry me. The hill was so steep that I was afraid I'd fall if I went as fast as I could possibly go, so I had to put on the breaks just slightly.

Headed for the finish
As I approached the finish line, I saw the clock turn from 1:34:59 to 1:35:00. And I was really close to it! I hadn't been looking at the cumulative time on my watch so I had no idea how close I was to 1:35:00. I crossed the finish line, and looked down at my Garmin to see a pleasantly unexpected 1:35:08.

Mile 13: 6:58
Last 0.14 (6:30 pace)

Ironically, I think I could have run that last 0.14 closer to a 6:00 if the downhill hadn't been so steep.

After the Race
I was really in shock at the fact that I ran a 1:35:08. Sub-1:36 was a stretch goal, and I was really close to sub 1:35! If someone had told me at the beginning of this training cycle that I would run this kind of time, I never would have believed them. After all, my PR at the time was 1:41:40.

I found Greg and we walked back to the hotel. I was simply beaming. I was so pleased with my performance. I did everything I set out to do and more!

I think it was a combination of the following:
  • Injury and illness free training cycle
  • Training specifically targeted the half marathon distance
  • I had the confidence to run boldly and without fear of bonking
  • The weather was conducive to fast running (not too hot, humid, or windy)
  • I went into the race well slept and recovered from previous workouts
  • I had the recent experience of a half marathon to learn from and build on
This race really shows that I am in an entirely new league. My original thought was that I would target a 3:30 for Boston but now I am thinking that something around 3:20-3:25 might be doable. I'll just have to see how training goes. 

I'll take the next week off from running entirely so that my body can recover fully and I can lay the foundation for Boston. Oh, and run a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving!

Final Stats and Fun Facts
  • In just four weeks, I took my half marathon time down from 1:37:33 to 1:35:08
  • This is a PR by 2:25
  • I ran the first 10K at a pace of 7:18, and the rest of the race at a pace of 7:12
  • I was the 72nd female finisher out of 5,350, putting me in the top 1.3% 
  • According to Strava, my best half marathon effort during this race was 1:34:52. This number is based on a 7:14 pace for 13.1 miles. (The official time is slower because my Garmin had 13.14)
  • According to the McMillan Calculator, this performance predicts a 10-mile race at 1:11:19, and a full marathon of 3:20:13.

Photo by Greg Clor

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Columbus Half Marathon: Determined!

I had three new race experiences today:

1. Stopping immediately before hitting the start line
2. Running in cotton underwear
3. Throwing up after a race

The tagline for this year's Columbus half marathon was "determined." For me, this was very appropriate, given that I was determined to break my five-year-old half marathon PR of 1:41:40.

That Stubborn 2010 PR
Even though I've set multiple PRs at every distance since 2010, I was never able to PR the half, primarily due to weather. Here's a brief recap:

  • Jan. 2012 (Disney) warm/humid weather: 1:43
  • Nov. 2012 (Richmond) had mono the whole summer: 1:46
    October 2010: Heritage half marathon
  • Feb. 2013 (Love Rox) the race had six staircases and was actually 13.5 miles: 1:43
  • Sept. 2013 (RnR Philadelphia) coming off of an injury: 1:46
  • March 2014 (Shamrock) really windy, gave up mentally: 1:42
  • Sept. 2014 (RnR Philadelphia) warm and humid: 1:47
  • March 2015 (Cowtown) didn't make it to TX because of an ice storm: 00:00 

I think I've been fit enough to run faster than 1:41:10 for years, but it's just never worked out. I was kind of okay with it though, because my main focus has been the marathon and qualifying for Boston.

Aside from running my very first half marathon, this is the only half marathon that I've trained specifically for. Once I discovered marathons, half marathons became tune-up races on the way to marathon "A" races. This didn't mean that I didn't care about half marathons. It's just that you are fit enough to run a half marathon when training for a marathon, but not the other way around. Therefore, marathon training has always taken priority.

After qualifying for Boston last spring (actually last fall, but that 3:40:00 wasn't fast enough to actually gain entry) I decided to take a season off from marathoning. I wanted to be really fresh going into Boston, and my half marathon PR was soft.

I assumed that my coach would have me running at least 50 miles per week, with long runs in the 14-16 mile range. This is how I've seen other runners train for half marathons, although I never really researched various plans. So I was pretty surprised that my average weekly mileage was in the mid 40's. Further, my typical long run was only 1:45, which equated to about 11.5 miles at a pace of 9:00-9:30. I only had one long run that was 2 hours, which was 12.8 miles. It was surprising to me that the plan didn't have any runs of 13 miles or longer, but I trusted my coach 100%.

Instead, the focus was speed work. There were quite a few long workouts that had me running really quickly with minimal recovery between intervals. The chart below shows all the interval work I did, and two long progression runs. Basically, I just got really fast, with enough mileage to support me being able to sustain my speed over a half marathon distance.

Sleep woes
Unfortunately, the Thursday night before the race, I slept horribly. I slept for 2 hours, woke up from a nightmare and then I didn't fall back asleep at all. I think that the "old me" would have freaked out about not getting enough sleep so soon before the race, but I wasn't too worried, given that I had slept immensely well every single night previously. But then on Friday night, I had another bad night. After not being able to fall asleep for nearly three hours, I resorted to taking a Melatonin and an Advil PM, which I haven't done in over a year, because I simply couldn't afford to lose so much sleep.

I've come a long way in dealing with my anxiety over running/racing, but I still have some work to do when it comes to stress in other areas of my life. I am too easily bothered and stressed by small things and I need to work on it. I used to get this level of anxiety leading up to a marathon, and I've successfully battled that demon. Now I just need to make sure that I don't allow other stressful situations to cause me to lose sleep.

I still didn't let this become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I refused to worry about lack of sleep causing me to race poorly. I ran a 10K last year and I got like 1 hour of sleep two nights before the race and I ended up running a PR. Last month, I ran a set of 5 x 1600's very quickly after not having slept for even a minute. So, I know that I can run well on little sleep, even though it's  not the ideal situation.

Finally, Saturday night arrived and I slept reasonably well in the hotel room. If I had to average my hours of sleep for the past three nights, it would probably be about 4.5. But I wasn't too worried.

Before the race
The forecast ended up being cooler than initially expected. Cold enough for me to want to wear CW-X capri tights instead of my skirt. I had thrown the capri tights in my bag at the very last minute as a safety net, but I had forgotten to pack running underwear to go with them.

I had this huge dilemma of skirt vs. capris w/cotton under vs. capris with no underwear. I asked a
Getting ready in our hotel room
bunch of my female running friends what they do and I got a variety of answers. Interestingly, none of them wear running underwear. I thought all women wore running underwear with pants/tights. They all wore cotton underwear, or no underwear.

Race morning came and I was still undecided. Greg's phone said it was 29 degrees, so I decided I really wanted to wear the capris. When it's too cold, it's hard for me to get my legs moving quickly. I BQ'ed in this exact same pair of capris so I figured I could run a half marathon well in them too. I decided to go with cotton underwear instead of no underwear, because it felt more like what I was used to.

Greg and I left the hotel room just 25 minutes before race start because our hotel was so close. Greg broke his ankle in March, and this was his comeback race. I put together a plan for him which he started at the end of August. In nine weeks, he went from not running at all to half marathon shape!

We hurried to the corrals, and made it with just a few minutes to spare. It didn't feel as cold as I was expecting so I ditched my throw-away pants, hoodie and arm warmers. I expected to wear the arm warmers for the first few miles, but decided that I felt okay without them. The gun went off and I approached the start line. Just before crossing, I looked down at my Garmin to start it and it had already started! Shit! When I pulled the arm warmer off it must have started it. I pulled over to the side and tried to restart the Garmin. My brain was toast and my fingers were numb, and I couldn't get the darn thing to restart. The Garmin kept asking me if I was SURE I wanted to delete that activity, and it defaulted to no, and I had the hardest time getting it to say yes.

Finally I saw that 0:00 and crossed the start line. I was extremely flustered but told myself it was okay. Heck, one of my friends tripped and fell during the first mile of her marathon, and ran the whole thing with a bloody knee. This wasn't bad at all. Just a rocky start.

Miles 1-4
So, here I was starting the race in cotton underwear, with the past three nights of sleep averaging only 4.5 hours, and a flustered Garmin start. But I was taking it all in stride. I was just going to do my best and roll with it.

In terms of a pacing strategy, the plan was to start at a pace of around 7:40 and speed up from there. The first two miles are uphill, so that prevented me from starting too fast. It was kind of tough to get into the groove of the race for the first three miles. I didn't warmup (like I had planned) so running that fast out of the gate is just a shock to the system.

I had two Honey Stinger energy gels and a hand-held water bottle. I took the first gel 25 minutes into the race. It went down easy and I had no issues getting it open with my numb hands, because I had cut a small slit in it beforehand.

Mile 1: 7:39
Mile 2: 7:43
Mile 3: 7:22
Mile 4: 7:30

Miles 5-8
Finally things started to feel good, and I got into a good rhythm. The pace felt like half marathon
Somewhere around mile 8
pace-- "comfortably hard" and sustainable. I soon encountered the same problem I had during the B&A marathon last spring-- the water bottle became too cold to hold. Even though I was wearing convertible mittens with "hot hands" hand warmers inside of them, I have really bad Reynaud's syndrome and my hands get numb very easily.

I didn't think I could hold onto the water bottle much longer. My watch read 55:00, and I had planned to take the second Honey Stinger at 70:00. But I couldn't continue to hold the water for that long, so I took the gel early, drank water and then tossed off the bottle 55 minutes into the race. I do not like to take gels with water station water. It slows me down too much and I'm not good at getting enough water. For about 5 minutes after that I was burping a lot, but then I felt better. This was also during the biggest hill of the race, mile 7.

Mile 5: 7:24
Mile 6: 7:25
Mile 7: 7:34
Mile 8: 7:24

Miles 9-12
Greg and I chose to run Columbus because we had done the full marathon last year and recalled the first half being extremely fast, even though it was a net 0 elevation change (start and finish in the same spot). The hills aren't very steep, but it's hilly enough to provide variation for your legs. And the toughest hills are miles 1, 2, and 7, with the later miles being mainly downhill, except for mile 12.

During this portion of the race, I decided to increase the effort. It had almost felt a bit too comfortable up until now and I was ready for it to get hard. So, I made it harder by pushing harder. When I got to mile marker 10, I couldn't believe how (relatively) good I felt. I've felt like death many times at mile 10 in a half marathon but I felt strong and ready to continue pushing through.

I told myself there wasn't much to risk in turning on the gas because I had run really fast up until now. If, for some reason, I couldn't maintain a higher intensity, it was okay because I had so many fast miles behind me.

Mile 9: 7:15
Mile 10: 7:19
Mile 11: 7:19
Mile 12: 7:24

Mile 13 and the last 0.19
As I had remembered from the full marathon, the last mile was downhill. I pushed and pushed and I saw the pace on my Garmin get faster and faster. I was totally on fire, plowing through lots of other runners. I could not believe how fast I was running!

I hit the mile 13 marker and my watch said 1:36:xx. This meant that I would be somewhere in the 1:37's! But the finish line still looked so far away that I didn't want to chance it, so I powered up the slight incline to the finish as the official clock still read in the 1:37's.

Mile 13: 7:01
Last 0.19: 6:20 pace

Official time: 1:37:33

I crossed the finish line, and felt like I typically do after a hard sprint to the end, completely wasted. I walked very slowly and got my medal. About two minutes later, I had the urge to vomit, and so I did. It was just honey and water, but I was shocked that I needed to do that. I've never vomited after a race in 10 years of racing. In fact, the last time I threw up was in college from drinking too much! It really surprised me, because I felt awesome during the race. I think that 2 Honey Stinger gels is probably overkill in a half marathon, especially when taken so close together. Lesson learned.

I waited for Greg to finish, and he came through in 1:49:26. Not bad for just 9 weeks of training after 5 months of no running!

I placed 15 out of 1,010 women in my age group!
My official average race pace was 7:27
My Garmin pace was 7:24 for 13.19 miles.

Final Thoughts
While this race definitely shows my increase of fitness, I wouldn't have been able to pull it off without some key mental skills I've been working on:

  • I didn't worry that my lack of sleep would affect my race time
  • I turned on the gas at mile 9, even when I wasn't sure I would be able to maintain a higher intensity for the last four miles
  • I wasn't focused on a time goal. I knew I wanted to be in the 1:38-1:39 range, but I knew there were many factors at play
  • I realize that part of my success was that "everything came together."  The weather was ideal (low 30's, no wind), the course was fast, and I was in the best shape of my life. I need to keep in mind that races like these are the exception, not the rule, and not to always expect things to be like this in the future.

I'm thrilled with my PR by 4:07. I earned every single second and I had a blast doing it!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Boo! Run for Life 10K - Like a Hurricane!

On Thursday of this week, I had pretty much decided that I was going to bail on my 10K this weekend. A hurricane on the order of magnitude of Sandy was coming through, and the forecast called for lower 60's, heavy rain, and 25 mile per hour winds, if not more. Several local races were canceled because of this forecast, including the Wilson Bridge half marathon.

I just didn't see the need to put myself through those kinds of conditions, so I was prepared to do a long run with some speed work inserted in it instead.

But on Friday, the forecast turned, and it was determined that Hurricane Joaquin would not be hitting the Washington DC metro area. Instead, we'd receive rain and wind throughout the weekend. Further, the temperature dropped down to a more reasonable 58 degrees, which was much more attractive. So I decided that I would run the race as originally planned.

In terms of weather, I was mentally prepared for wind and potentially some light rain. I've run in far worse conditions and Hains Point (where the race was held) is almost always windy anyway.

Last week, I ran a set of 5 x 1600m repeats on the track with 400m recoveries, with paces ranging
from 6:56 to 7:04. This workout made me optimistic that I could set a small 10K PR, and run the race at a pace of 7:00-7:05.

Before the race
I was pleasantly surprised to find my friend Vanessa before the race started. We'd been "virtual" friends for the past five years and hadn't really interacted in person since the days of us being Pacers Ambassadors together.

I warmed up for just under 2 miles, and before I knew it, it was time for the race to start. I noticed that there weren't nearly as many people running it as there were last year. Maybe some people decided to stay home because of the weather. I actually thought that the race might draw a larger crowd due to other local races being canceled.
Mile 1

Vanessa and I chatted at the start line, just up until it was time to take off.

Miles 1-2 (7:02, 7:03)
Last year, I ran the first half mile at a sub-7:00 pace which reminded me that it was really easy to start this race too fast. I intentionally held back and in doing so still ended up with a 7:02 first mile. I was really hoping that I could maintain that pace for the entire race, even with the wind. Mile 2 was 7:03, and while it wasn't easy, things still felt controlled and manageable. At some point during the second mile, a runner (who was running toward me on the course, but not a part of the race) told me that I was the second female, which I sort of knew, but wasn't entirely certain of. I was hopeful that I could maintain that spot throughout the entire race.

Miles 3-4 (7:08, 7:00)
I knew that mile 3 would be tough. The wind was coming out of the northeast, and the direction of the course was running directly into that headwind. Being mentally prepared for this helped me tremendously. I told myself that I needed to push harder because of the wind, but that things would get better once I turned around. And sure enough, when I turned around, things got a lot better and I had a tailwind to aid me to my fastest mile of the race in 7:00.

Heading toward the finish line
Miles 5-6 (7:06, 7:08)
At this point, I knew that I would PR if I just held onto what I had. My average pace so far was 7:04, and if I could just hang in there and not slow down, I knew I would do it. With just 2 miles to go, I reminded myself of how much I wanted this. I knew I would be thinking about the race all day, and I wanted my thoughts to be "I ran my hardest" not "I wish I would have pushed harder." With that in mind, I pushed even harder than I had been previously, which was needed due to the headwind. The wind didn't get really bad until the last mile, at which point it was like being slapped in the face. I was actually grateful that the wind hadn't been all that bad up until this point. I looked down at my Garmin and saw that my pace was slowing and I mustered everything I had to get that last mile under 7:10.

The last 0.2 (6:29 pace)
With the finish line in sight, I told myself to start my final kick early. I usually have an amazing final kick and then I wish I had started it sooner. I told myself that if I wasn't able to maintain that pace all the way to the finish, at least I would have gotten the benefit of that speed early on. When the clock came in sight, I saw that it still said 43:xx. I wanted so badly to break 44 and I could feel the adrenaline pushing me through the finish in 43:56.  

After the race
I met up with Vanessa, who had come in first. It was a great day for both of us! My coach wanted me to run an extra 60 minutes after the race, which was a tall order, but Vanessa agreed to run with me
Vanessa and me
which made it much more manageable. We ended up running just under 45 minutes so as not to miss the awards ceremony. Special thanks to Greg who came to cheer me on and take these photos, who had to wait an additional 45 minutes for me to do this extended cool down!

When we returned, the race organizers were breaking everything down and it looked as if we might have missed the awards. We asked about it and they said that they weren't doing an awards ceremony because they thought people wanted to leave due to the weather. This struck me as odd. It wasn't that cold (56 degrees) and yes it was windy-- but there have been far worse race conditions where the awards ceremony still went on! I didn't care all that much, but it was weird that they wouldn't give us our awards even when we asked for them. They didn't think anyone would stick around, but the top two female finishers certainly did!

Final thoughts
I'm so glad I didn't bail on this race because of the forecast! I ended up being pretty good race weather. I'll take some wind over hot and humid any day. The fact that I was able to break my already-solid 10K PR is a testament to both my fitness level and the mental skills I've been working on: don't set limitations for myself, don't create self-fulfilling prophecies, and don't shy away from racing in tough conditions.

Now that I know I can run a 10K at a pace of 7:04, I'm very confident in my ability to shatter my half marathon PR in two weeks. I'm so glad I did this race, pushed hard, and broke 44:00 in the 10K for the first time ever!

Photo by Gregory M. Clor

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dulles Runway 5K

It doesn't come much flatter than this.

I admit that I was hesitant to register for the Dulles Airport Runway 5K. It seemed a little wonky to hold a 5K on a runway, and I wasn't thrilled about running on a concrete surface. I also thought it could be warm since there would be no shade on the runway. That said, this race fit nicely into my overall schedule, and it was flat.

My coach was really impressed with my summer 5K progress. I had run several hot and hilly 5Ks at paces that were very close to my PR. He wanted to see what I could do on a flat course in cool weather. I am signed up for my annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, but he thought doing something
Near the start line, before the race
sooner would be good. I knew that this weekend still had the potential to be warm, but I am running a 10K in two weeks, followed by a half marathon two weeks after that, so this weekend seemed like the best choice.

Initially, I thought I had a decent shot at running a PR. I thought that a pace of 6:50 would be realistic, and I ran a workout on Tuesday morning that indicated 6:50 or faster was within my grasp. But it was over 10 degrees cooler on Tuesday.

Before the Race
One of the cool things about this race is that you walk through the Smithsonian Air and Space museum to get out onto the course. I had been to this museum several times in the past, but it was still nice to walk through it. I started my warm up shortly after arriving, which proved to be a challenge. Because of the high level of security, we were not allowed to warm up on the course, which meant running back and forth and back and forth on a quarter-mile stretch.

I used the warm up to get a sense of how running on concrete would feel and it definitely felt different. Not dramatically so, but I didn't feel as "bouncy" as I normally do when running. I even wore shoes that were slightly more cushioned than I would typically wear in a 5K to minimize the impact.(Elixirs instead of Sayonaras, for you shoe geeks.)

After warming up, I met up with one of my co-workers who was also running this race. She had run it in the past and I told her I was doing it this year, and suggested that she run it too. It was great to see her and she was in high spirits. After chatting with her for awhile, I did a little bit more of a warm up and then lined up fairly close to the front of the race. I started scoping out the competition.

In terms of award structure, this race was abnormal. It was being managed by =PR= from a course and timing perspective but I am guessing the race organizers (not =PR=) setup the award structure. There was a huge award for the first place male and female-- a round trip flight to anywhere in the
U.S. from United. And there was no award or recognition of the 2nd or 3rd overall finisher.  In terms of age groups, they were split up into groups of 19-30, 31-40, and 41-50. Typically, age groups are
20-29, 30-39, 40-49. This meant I was competing against 40-year-olds vs. 30-year-olds, which I didn't really care about, but was atypical.

The start line
In terms of age group awards, only the top two finishers were recognized, as opposed to the top three. So, not only were they cutting out awards for 2nd and 3rd place overall, but also for 3rd place age group. At the start line, I looked around and noticed at least two other women who looked to be competitive runners in my age group.

It was 64 degrees and sunny with 95% humidity. The course was only shaded for the first quarter mile and last quarter mile. The majority of the race was not shaded (it's a runway after all). I decided to continue with my plan of running a 6:50 pace, since I had been performing pretty well in the heat all summer.

Mile 1- 6:55
The race started and I eased into it. Usually I bolt out really quickly during the first minute with everyone else, but I didn't do that this time. The first time I looked at my Garmin, about three minutes in, I noticed I was running a 7:02 pace and told myself to pick it up. It kind of felt like we were running on a slight incline, and that suspicion was later confirmed by my Garmin data. It was one of those situations where it looked completely flat, but it was a slight incline which made it just a tad harder to run at goal pace. I used the first mile to settle into my pace. My main observations were that I did not at all like the concrete and that it was hot. I didn't feel like I had a bounce to my step and the humidity felt icky. I told myself to keep a positive attitude and to continue to push hard.

Mile 2- 6:55
It definitely was cool running on the runway, but more challenging than you might expect. Probably because I just wasn't used to it. I was used to hilly neighborhood roads with some shaded areas. It was kind of like running on a track, but with a much firmer surface. I was looking forward to the turnaround point because it's always mentally easier to be running toward the finish line and to know the race is halfway done. In terms of passing people, I had passed a few people in the first mile, but
Running toward the finish line
during the second mile I was holding a steady place. Nobody passed me and I think I may have only passed one person. There was a woman about 10 seconds ahead of me who I had my sights on for the entire race. I wasn't sure if I would be able to catch her or not because we seemed to be running a similar pace-- only she was up ahead of me.

Mile 3- 6:52
I was definitely ready for the race to be over at this point. I felt strong, but I also felt like the humidity was making things tough. One we reached the last quarter mile, which was shaded, I also started to feel like I was running a decline. This confirmed my initial suspicion that the course wasn't 100% flat. It was nice to have a little bit of relief in the shade and the decline, so I sped up slightly, simply by maintaining the effort level.

Last 0.13: 6:24 pace
My finish line kick was strong enough for me to feel great about it, but not so fast that I felt like I could have run the whole race faster. There's that window where you want to feel like you can really hammer it in, but if you go REALLY fast, then you start to think you had too much left. My pace for a 400m is 6:00, so this 6:24 was significantly faster than the rest of the race, but not to the extent of my 400 pace.

Progress Analysis
I stopped my watch just after crossing the finish line and it read 21:33. Just 4 seconds off of my PR! When I checked the official results, they had me at 21:35, which was a little annoying, because I know I started and stopped my watch exactly when I crossed.

According to my Garmin, my average race pace was 6:54, which is the fastest it's been all summer. Even though I was hoping to run a PR, I am still very pleased with how I did.
  • I paced the race well, with a slight negative split
  • My PR of 21:29 was set with temperatures in the low 40's-- ideal weather for me, so running within 4 seconds of that for a much warmer race is significant
  • Given that I'm not used to running on concrete and I think it felt harder (in both senses of the word) I stayed strong
I was the 5th overall female out of 785! Oddly, that won me no official awards. Two of the women who finished ahead of me were in the 31-40 age group, and one of them was a 40-year-old.

Below is a recap of my 5K races year-to-date. This is my longest focused effort on the 5K, and hopefully when I run the Turkey Trot, the trend of progress will continue.

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid
 Crime Solvers, 8/1 
 71, sunny, a little humid
 Dulles Runway, 9/19 
 64, sunny, humid

Thanks to my husband, Greg, for coming to support me and taking all of the wonderful photos!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Viking River Cruise: Running on the Rhine

As summer draws to a close, I have a few interesting updates to share. I haven't been writing in my blog as much as I used to, mainly only when I race. I don't ever want blogging to feel like a chore, and since I do it professionally as well, I need to allow myself the freedom to blog or not to blog.

Cologne, Germany wearing Columbus Marathon shirts
To celebrate our 5-year wedding anniversary, Greg and I went to Europe for 10 days. We booked the trip nearly a year in advance, and when exploring our options, we found that a Viking River Cruise was the best way to see a lot of Europe. We opted for the "Rhine Getaway," starting in Amsterdam and ending in Lucerne. Because the boat acts as a hotel, it removes the hassle of constantly packing and un-packing bags and spending a lot of time on trains. And unlike a typical ocean cruise, Viking cruises are scenic for their entirety and the experience is much more personal, with only 180 passengers.

Instead of writing a full-on travel blog, I'll just focus on the running aspect of the trip.

It was extremely difficult to run on this vacation, and I had to be creative and flexible about my running schedule. I fully expected that I wasn't going to run my typical amount and I even told my coach this ahead of time. We were traveling for 10 days and I only brought 4 running outfits, and I never like to wear the same thing twice without washing it. I decided in advance that running would not be a priority. In fact, part of the reason I decided not to run a full marathon this fall was so that I could ease up on the training on this vacation. Nevertheless, I enjoy running, and I wanted to run as much as practical.

Working hard before playing hard
I ran a hard workout on the Thursday morning before departing for Europe that evening. It was 67 degrees and very humid, and the workout called for a 3-mile tempo run, followed by 4 x 30-second hill sprints, and then a 2-mile tempo run. Wow! It was somewhat intimidating because I had never done that workout before, but I made it through quite nicely, especially considering that it was warm and humid. The first three miles were 7:25, 7:19, 7:17. The hill sprints varied somewhat, but were all in the low 7:00's. I then wrapped things up with the final tempo miles at 7:20, 7:15.

Kinderdijk, The Netherlands: 6.2 miles easy
We took the red eye on Thursday night, and spent the day in Amsterdam on Friday. On Saturday, we arrived in the small town of Kinderdijk. There was enough time to go running before the windmill tour (this town is known for its windmills) so I found a path to run back and forth on. One of the challenges of running on this trip was that Greg was still recovering from his broken ankle! He had tried to run a few times before the trip and they didn't go well, so he decided he wouldn't run again until after the vacation. I didn't want to run too far away from him in these countries where I had no clue where I was, so he would walk while I would run. In Kinderdijk, I ran for half a mile to a mile back and forth while he walked on the same path so that I saw him every five minutes or so.

Rudesheim, Germany: Strides!
I quickly discovered the Kinderdijk would be the only location where there would be enough time to
run in the morning before the excursion. I thought I could just wake up at like 6:30 and have plenty of time for an excursion that started at 8:30, but the problem is that the boat didn't actually dock until it was time for the excursion, or maybe 30 minutes beforehand. It definitely wasn't enough time to run
Beautiful Scenery
and shower. And there was really no choice but to go on the excursion, because most of them started with a bus ride and if you weren't on the bus at the appointed time, then you missed it. There was no staying back and running at the boat, because the boat would move while the excursions were taking place. Tricky!

There was no running on Sunday in Cologne, Germany. And on Monday morning, it was also impossible to run. So I got creative and decided to run in the evening in the town of Rudesheim before having dinner. My coach had prescribed 20 x 0:30 strides and I ended up doing 16 of them so that the workout would end quicker and we wouldn't be so rushed to get to dinner. Also, since I had been indulging in sweets and German chocolates all day, my stomach felt bloated and full and like I was carrying a watermelon in there!

There was a nice path right along the river that I ran on. It was perfectly flat and the only challenge was that it was a little crowded near where the boat was docked. Greg walked back and forth on the same stretch of area where I did my strides.  Oh, and did I mention it was 84 degrees and sunny at that time of day!

Mannheim, Germany: 5.4 miles easy
We woke up on Tuesday morning and surprise! We were actually docked. We weren't supposed to arrive early enough to run before the excursion, but since we were docked, we seized the opportunity
Beautiful scenery!
to run (or walk, in his case). Even though I had just run the previous evening, it was nice to do an easy recovery run along the river.

I found a crushed gravel path that went through a park and it was really nice. Europe, particularly the area around the Rhine River, has so many running and biking paths! All wonderfully maintained. The irony of this vacation was that there was an abundance of extremely scenic running paths everywhere we went, but no logistical way to run on them (for the most part).

I continued to run along a half-mile stretch of the path so that I would see Greg frequently. I definitely didn't want to get separated from him. I should also mention that the demographic of the other cruisers was primarily 60-75 years of age. None of them were runners, and most of them were fascinated at Greg and my running experience and dedication to run on vacation. They were quite active, however, and many of them were out walking while I was running and actually cheered me on!

Breisach, Germany
Wednesday was our first day in France. It was a full day of activities in Strasbourg and the Alsace
Short tempo on the Rhine River
wine region. Running would not have been possible, but I hadn't planned on running anyway. On Thursday, we were back in Germany and we got to explore the Black Forest. We were pleasantly surprised with the ability to run in the morning (we arrived early and docked before they told us we were going to) so I was able to do some light speed work.

The workout was to run for 10 minutes at 5 seconds per mile slower than tempo pace, and then to turnaround and run back at as fast as possible. The running path by the river was absolutely perfect for this workout. There were other runners on it as well so I felt right at home. Just like the W&OD trail but with a river! Even better, most of this path was shaded! It was 69 degrees, sunny and humid, so the shade was certainly welcome.

I ran the "out" portion at a pace of 7:19 and the "back" portion at a pace of 6:56. Greg snapped photos of me during his walk. I got a nice warmup and cool down too, for a total of over 6 miles.

Wardrobe note: whenever I travel, I run in skirts. The skirts that I wear have multiple pockets that are perfect for a hotel room key. When I am running at home, I typically wear shorts because I don't need to carry anything. But skirts are ideal for travel and for marathons when I need to carry gels.

By the time we arrived in Basel on Friday, I was just too exhausted to run. The vacation was extremely active-- we walked 8-10 miles a day according to Greg's pedometer. It was pretty much go-go-go with the only rest being at meal times. I had gotten my four runs in as planned (and was actually hopeful for more) but was totally okay with not running again. I had intended on running around Lake Lucerne, because it's so beautiful, but we had an 8:30am excursion on Saturday morning into the Swiss Alps, and I prioritized sleep.

All in all, it was an amazing vacation. I got in enough running to maintain my fitness level and feel good, but I didn't stress about not being able to run at my normal level. Plus, it was probably good for my body to get a little break! I'd also like to mention how thankful I am to have been married to the most wonderful man in the world for 5 years! And I'm happy to report that he's now running consistently and has run for 30-35 minutes nonstop without pain on several occasions!

Lake Lucerne on our 5-year wedding anniversary

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Crime Solvers 5K

This morning I ran the Crime Solvers 5K, a race organized by Capital Area Runners benefiting a local charity.

This is my last 5K of the summer, and I'm really pleased with my decision to dedicate my summer training to speed and shorter distances. My past few weeks have training have been all about hills, and I have more hill work coming up this week. In addition to workouts that consist solely of hill repeats of various lengths, I've inserted hill sprints into tempo runs and mile repeats. This is a new challenge for me, particularly in the heat, and I have been embracing it. I've even found new terrain to train on, as my traditional hill wasn't long enough for the new workouts, nor was it near an area where I could run a tempo without having to cross intersections.

Needless to say, I've never been more prepared for a warm, hilly 5K race. This Crime Solvers 5K course is almost identical to the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase course that I ran 9 weeks ago, with the only difference being that Crime Solvers was measured correctly. A slight course modification brought the race down from 3.17 miles (according to my Garmin) to 3.12 miles (according to my Garmin). I had actually talked to one of the race directors about this beforehand, who said she was working on getting the course USATF certified.

Because the course was virtually the same, I knew what to expect in terms of pacing, and I had a good benchmark. I ran a 6:57 pace at the previous race, with the second mile being the slowest due to elevation gain. My splits were 6:50, 7:08, 6:57, and the weather was 56 and sunny. The biggest difference in today's race was the weather. Instead of 56 and sunny like it was in May, it was 71 and sunny.

Before the Race
Having run so many short local races this summer, I've become a pro at my pre-race routine. I arrived at the race, pinned my bib on my shorts, warmed up, and lined up at the start line. My friend Chad was also at the race, only he was running it with a double jogging stroller carrying 5-year-old twins! I can't even imagine how hard that must be! Greg was there too, of course, and unfortunately he is still not able to run because of his ankle break from March. This is how I've ended up with so many race photos for all of my spring and summer races! He's a great photographer and cheerleader.

Chad lined up at the back with his stroller and I lined up toward the front. Before I knew it, we were off!

Mile 1: 6:47
I knew this mile would be mainly downhill and the fastest mile of the race. The first mile of a 5K is often challenging due to all of the weaving. Quite a few runners shoot out at a pace for the first half
mile that is much faster than they can sustain, so I usually spend the first mile passing a lot of people.

Mile 2: 7:08
My strategy for the race was to push hard through mile 2 because it's the toughest mile of the race. I remembered back to the Reston 10 Miler from March when the whole race was hilly and the uphills were similar to the hills in mile 2. I kept repeating over and over again that if I did it during the Reston 10 miler, I could do it now. Chad also caught up to me with his jogging stroller at the beginning of this mile. I was super impressed that he was able to weave his way through all of those people and run so fast.

Mile 3: 7:03
I was relieved to reach mile 3 because I remembered that it was more downhill than up. I fully expected to break 7:00 based on my memory of the previous race, but somehow that just didn't happen. I was tired, the heat was getting to me and no matter how much I pushed, I wasn't able to squeeze a sub 7:00 mile, but I was close.

Last 0.12: (6:40 pace)
The race finishes on a bit of an incline, and as I turned the corner to see the finish line, I was really surprised to see that the clock was well under 22:00. I knew I was running almost exactly the same pace as I had in the previous race, so my time would be similar. Seeing that I would finally officially break 22:00 in a summer 5K motivated me to gun it for the finish.

My official time was 21:46, making this my 3rd fastest 5K ever, and the only "hot" 5K under 22 minutes. According to my Garmin, my pace was almost identical to Fair Oaks Ambulance chase, but because that course was slightly long for a 5K, my time there was 22:00.

When I compare the two races, I can see significant progress over the past 9 weeks of training. I ran the same pace on the same course in weather that was 15 degrees warmer. And I think I am more sensitive to the heat than the typical person.

I placed 2nd in my age group and was the 8th overall female.

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid
 Crime Solvers, 8/1 
 71, sunny, a little humid

When I compare this race to the Firecracker 5K from 4 weeks ago, my pace was almost exactly the same, but it was slightly warmer today, and the sun was out. It's hard to compare them as closely as the Ambulance Chase one, though, because the Firecracker course is different.

I'll continue to focus on hills next week and then move into half marathon training. My next planned race is the Columbus half marathon, but I will probably run a 5K or 10K as a tune-up for it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Firecracker 5K: Fired up for a downpour

This morning, I ran my 4th Firecracker 5K in the Reston Town Center. I've registered for this race every year since it started in 2010, but I've only been able to race 4 of them.

2010-- 23:21 (3rd place AG)
2011-- 22:41
2012-- (mono - ran it very easy because I thought I was recovering)
2013-- Injured
2014-- 22:54

There are three holiday races that I like to run every year as part of a tradition. It's a fun way to celebrate a holiday with Greg, and it's also nice to compare year-over-year performance. This Firecracker 5K, the Turkey Trot 5K, and the Ringing In Hope 10K on New Year's eve are the three that I always run, provided that I am not injured.

This is the first time I've ever trained specifically for a 5K. Usually my training revolves around marathons and half marathons. I might spend 4-5 weeks dedicated to shorter stuff, but usually no longer than that. You'll see my progression of results across multiple races at the bottom of this post.

Relatively low mileage, no tempo runs, lots of interval work

Before the Race
I went into this race pretty relaxed. I've been doing short races regularly so it's not like putting all my "eggs" in one basket. I know that some races will go really well, and others won't. That's just the nature of the sport. All signs, however, pointed to this race going well. I was well rested, my recent workouts had been strong, and I had no lingering soreness anywhere.

Greg (who has just begun the long journey back into running after breaking his ankle in March) once
End of mile 1
again came with me to the race to cheer me on and take photos. We arrived at the race, and walked around for a little while until it was time to start my warm up.

I warmed up for about 12 minutes (cut short due to an unexpected bathroom trip) and felt decent. It was 69 degrees with 100% humidity and very light rain. For a summer race with an 8:00am start, we could have been dealing with much hotter conditions, so I consider this good weather for the time of year.

My goal was a course PR, but I also would have loved to break 22:00. I knew that breaking 22:00 on a hilly course in 69-degree humid weather would be HUGE, but I felt like it was within my reach. My fastest 5K in warm weather (above 60 degrees) was a 22:24 back in 2012 before I got mono.

As I approached the start, I saw quite a few of my friends from Capital Area Runners. A lot of people come out for this race, and there were nearly 2,000 total finishers. It's always a competitive field-- except for that first year when I won an age group award!

Mile 1: 6:57
Having run this race multiple times in the past, I knew that the first and last miles were uphill, and the middle mile was downhill. I decided to just run by feel, making sure I didn't blow all my energy on that first mile. Everything felt pretty good, and the first mile went by quickly. I was pleased to see a 6:57, knowing that my second mile would almost certainly be faster.

Mile 2: 6:45
The sky opened up and it suddenly started to rain very heavily. I had brought a hat to keep the water off of my face, but I left it with Greg because it wasn't raining at the start line. It was challenging to focus on pushing hard when water kept getting in my eyes. This resulted in my looking down, which I know isn't ideal, but it was the only way I could see without wiping my eyes constantly.

Gunning for the finish
Mile 3: 7:10
Now it was time to really work hard and remember all the training I had done. I glanced down at my Garmin at the beginning of the mile and saw an average 6:53 pace for the first two miles. That's a faster pace than my all-time PR of 21:29! I knew that if I just pushed really hard I'd be able to break 22:00. I felt stronger than I ever have at the end of this race, but that last hill was so long! I increased my effort substantially, but my pace still dropped.

Last 0.16: 7:10 pace
I kind of don't trust my Garmin here. I had a really fast finishing kick, which felt like 6:20 or something. But, there were a lot of tall building around and with only 0.16 of a mile, there wasn't a lot of time for the Garmin to self-correct. I bolted for the finish line and was so happy to be done!

I watched some of my friends come in, found Greg and chatted with my friends for a bit. It was pouring heavily so I cooled down and didn't even stay for the awards. I was pretty sure I didn't win an age group award, simply because it was such a large competitive field.

Garmin time and pace: 22:03, 3.16 miles, 6:58 pace
Official time: 22:05
Placing: 5 out of 133 in my age group (35-39), which puts me in the top 3.75%!

Lately, the official time hasn't been matching up with when I start and stop my watch. I know I hit the button exactly when I cross the start, and almost immediately after I finish. But for my past 3 races, the official time has been a few seconds slower than my Garmin time.

Focusing on shorter, faster workouts has definitely resulted in faster times. Comparing this race to the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase 5K that I ran on May 23 in much cooler, less humid weather, I see huge gains. My Garmin pace and official time were extremely close, and yet today's race was 13 degrees hotter, in a downpour with 100% humidity.

Comparing this race to Angel Kisses from May 10, the weather was similar (although it didn't rain at Angel Kisses) and the course was similar. Yet I ran 34 seconds faster today, shaving off over 10 seconds per mile!

Race, Date
Garmin Dist.
 Garmin Pace
 Official Time 
 BEST Kids, 4/18
 62, sunny, low humidity
 Angel Kisses, 5/10 
 69, overcast, very humid
 Fair Oaks, 5/23
 56, sunny, low humidity 
 Firecracker, 7/4
 69, heavy rain, humid

While I didn't get my desired sub-22:00 officially, my pace was the equivalent of that, and I set a course PR by 36 seconds, and a "warm weather PR" by 19 seconds. Now it just needs to cool down so I can start crushing those "overall" PRs!

Running isn't always flattering. . . 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Very Hot 4-Miler

Yesterday evening I ran the Potomac River Running Twilight Festival 4-miler. I've run this race twice before-- in 2007 and 2008.

When planning my summer race schedule, I heavily debated between this race and the Lawyers Have Heart 5K occurring in the morning. Initially I was leaning toward the 5K because it would be cooler in the morning and there'd be less distance. Plus, I could compare it to all my other 5Ks this summer. But then I thought I might do the 4-miler for a "change of pace" because it's closer to home, logistically easier, and the "festival" atmosphere is fun. Both races attract a competitive field, so the opportunity to win an age group award wasn't part of the decision.

I knew the 4-miler would be more challenging because it's a longer distance, it would be hotter, and I'm very much of a "morning runner". This challenge was actually part of the appeal. Instead of shying away from difficult racing situations, I am seeking them out. It's not always about the time on the clock-- it can be about pushing through tough conditions and staying mentally strong.

The weather forecast was for 85 degrees, with a "real feel" of "90". I knew that these conditions could potentially be unsafe for me, as I had nearly passed out on several occasions in cooler temperatures. I decided I would be conservative and run the first two miles on the slow side-- so that they didn't feel like a race. And then, at the halfway point, I'd turn it on and try to pass as many people as possible.

I thought that 7:45 would be a safe starting pace for the first two miles, and then I would see if I could speed up from there. I figured I would be lucky to run it at pace of anything under 7:45.

A few weeks ago, I ran a workout of 5 x 1000m in hot weather. The first rep felt easy. I tried to maintain that pace for the the rest of them, but the 4th one was 10 seconds slower than the first and then I was completely beat, unable to do the 5th. This is just one example of how a pace can feel really easy for the first 5-10 minutes, but then quickly become unmanageable in the heat.

Given my desire to not pass out or completely bonk, I thought I had a solid plan.

Before the Race
Figuring out what to eat during the day for an evening race is challenging. I ate bland food all day long and then my dinner at 5:15 consisted of a banana and a bagel with peanut butter. I drank A LOT of water throughout the day and took a salt tablet.

As expected, it was around 85 degrees, sunny and humid. I did a very short warm up (only 0.9 miles) because I didn't want to go into the race too hot, and the first two miles would be a bit of a warm up anyway. Greg and I brought a cooler full of ice, and I was holding the ice cubes on my wrists and on my neck before the race started to stay cool.

Even just standing around doing nothing, it was ridiculously hot, so I had no idea what to expect from the race. At the Lawyers Have Heart 10K that morning, people were running up to a minute per mile slower than they would on a cooler day, and I was wondering if that would be the case for me for just 4 miles.

Mile 1: 7:30
When the race started, a ton of people passed me. I probably lined up too close to the front for my
Gunning toward the finish line
planned starting pace, and it took a lot of restraint to stay back and not get pulled out too fast. My plan was to start at a pace of 7:45-8:00, but it was a net downhill mile so I ended up logging a 7:30. It felt surprisingly easy to be running that pace (about half marathon effort) but I know that what starts out feeling easy gets hard really quickly when it's 85 degrees!

Mile 2: 7:45
I kept my effort level about the same for this mile, but it was a net uphill right into the sun so it was harder. I started to pass some of the people who passed me at the beginning of the race. I told myself that once I hit mile marker 2, I'd turn on the gas and pass even more people.

Mile 3: 7:21
I didn't look at my Garmin much during this mile, so I was really shocked to see how much I was able to speed up. It actually felt great to be pushing and working hard. Finally I felt like I was racing! Even though it was super hot, I had saved up energy from the first two miles and I was able to run really strong.

Mile 4: 7:01
With just one mile to go, I felt like I could push even harder, so I did. I passed a lot of people during this mile. I was hoping to pass a bunch of women, but mainly they were guys. As I approached the finish line I had one woman in my sights who I passed during the last 0.05 mile. According to my Garmin, I ran a 6:04 pace for that last 0.08 mile.

Average pace: 7:23 for 4.08 miles

I was really, really surprised by this. Granted, 7:23 was also my "Garmin" pace for the Reston 10 miler last winter, but I thought there would be no way I could run that in the heat, and I've never negative split anything in the heat. It's always been bonk, bonk, bonk!

I also regularly run 4-mile tempo runs at a pace faster than 7:23, but that's in temperatures below 50 degrees.

Knowing how well I did, I think I probably could have run this race faster if I started out a little faster. At the end, I felt like I could have maintained my pace for another half mile or so. Of course, there was no way to know that before actually running the race, which is why "experience" like this is so valuable. Now I know what I am capable of.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that I won 2nd place in my age group. This race attracts a competitive field so an age group award was unexpected. I won a Mizuno running visor!

My official time was 30:08. A little annoying that it wasn't sub-30 when my Garmin pace was 7:23 (and I did run the tangents) but that's what happens in races. It's technically a PR, but I have run faster 4-milers in training and also as part of a 10K.

This week will bring a continued streak of abnormally hot weather, so I'll manage through it the best I can as I continue to build my speed.

An ice cream truck at the finish?!  Yes, please!!!