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!!!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

UVA Stumblefoot Derby: 10-Year Raciversary

It's my 10-year raciversary!  I ran my very first race 10 years ago at my 5-year college reunion.

I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2000. Shortly after graduation, I joined a gym primarily to take step aerobics classes, which I loved. Because the class was only offered twice a week, I got into treadmill running as a way to workout more frequently. I remember my first few treadmill runs vividly. It was a struggle to run a mile, and my pace was about 10:30. I  kept with it though, and soon my typical workout was 5-6 miles on the treadmill, at a pace of about 8:20. I did this consistently for 5 years and almost never ran outdoors.

At the 5-year reunion in 2005, my friend noticed a 2-mile race in the program and told me I should do it. I had brought workout clothes with me, so I decided, why not? I showed up to the race, and as I started running, one of my college friends started chatted with me. He said he married one of my sorority sisters. We chatted the whole time, running at a pace that was challenging for me. At the end, I was shocked to learn that I was the first female finisher, and was awarded a special Jefferson cup.

My friend told me he was running the Lawyers Have Heart 10K the following weekend, and that I
Lawyer's Have Heart, June 2005
should do it too. I didn't even know what a 10K was, but when he said it was 6.2 miles, I knew I'd be able to do it. I ran the race in full-on cotton attire without using a porta-potty first. Lots of rookie mistakes! However, I put out a strong effort and my success at that race made me want to run other races, and longer distances.

Since then, I've run over 100 races, including 19 marathons. I've logged somewhere around 17,000 miles. I've had injuries-- both severe and minor. I've run in everything from 15 degrees to 90 degrees. Rain, wind, snow. San Diego, London, Memphis, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Miami, San Francisco, Phoenix, and many other places. It took me 10 attempts, plus 3 DNFs, but I finally qualified for the Boston Marathon. This is proof that if you work at something long and hard enough, if you have true passion and perseverance, you can do anything.

2-Mile race report
Yesterday, I returned to my 15-year college reunion and I ran that same 2-mile race, officially called "The Stumblefoot Derby." Due to construction, the course was different, but it still had the same feel. My friend Stacy was there and that made the experience even more special.

Greg (who is now finally able to walk without crutches) and I arrived at the race in time to get my bib
and warm up. It was a very small field, which surprised me given how popular running has become and how many people attend the reunion. I guess most people are primarily focused on drinking the night before!

After a short warm up, I lined up at the start line, which was a line on the sidewalk drawn in chalk. The course was two laps around Scott Stadium. I didn't have a time goal in mind because I wasn't sure how I'd perform on those hills. My main goal was to win it like I did back in 2005.

In front of Scott Stadium
The race started and one young-looking girl immediately got ahead of me. She was probably in the class of 2010 (UVA holds reunions every year, so participants were in the class of 2010, 2005, 2000, etc.). She was wearing a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, even though it was in the high 60's. I thought it had to be one of two things: she was a super fast runner and would win the race even though she'd be hot in that shirt, or she was just really confident and didn't have much experience racing in the heat.

I had her in my sights for the entire first lap, so my primary focus was when I would make my move to pass her. She was running the tangents (which was the sidewalk around the stadium) but I was running in the road because I much prefer asphalt. This made my distance longer, but it was worth it not to kill my legs by racing on a sidewalk. I started closing the gap shortly after the first lap, so I passed her on a downhill, and then surged up a hill with everything I had to widen the gap definitively. I continued to push my hardest and used every mental trick in the book to stay strong up the hills.

I won the race in a time of 12:35. The course was "officially" two miles, but my Garmin read 1.78. I tried making eye contact with her afterwards and chatting with her, but she seemed to avoid me.

I was awarded two Jefferson cups. I now have a collection of 5 cups from the races in 2015, 2010, and 2005. After the race, Stacy and I visited some of our favorite places on UVA's "corner" and reminisced.

I plan to continue to train for short races for the next two months before getting serious about half marathon training. I can tell that the speed work is paying off and that I've gotten a lot better at hills over the past year.

Stacy and me in front of Scott Stadium
UVA Stumblefoot Derby