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