Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ringing in Hope 10K Report: A 2016 Grande Finale!

For the 7th year in a row, Greg and I ran the Ringing In Hope New Year's eve race. This race offers both a 5K and a 10K option, and typically we do the 10K. This year, I'm registered for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday, January 7th-- just one week later. I'm also in the thick of marathon training. So, I figured I would simply ask my coach what to do. I sent him the following note a few weeks ago:

"I would like to participate in either the 5K or the 10K, but I don't want it to impact my half marathon. I also don't want it to impact my marathon training, because Myrtle Beach is fast approaching and I know I need to get my long runs up. Can you think of a creative way of incorporating either the 5K or the 10K? Perhaps I could run at a tempo effort, and/or as part of my long run? Maybe the long run can be moved to January 2nd because I don't have to go to work that day? In any event, I'm open to whatever you think is best, given that my top priority is the marathon, followed by the half marathon. This New Year's eve race is more of just a fun thing."

I figured he'd probably tell me to run it as part of my long run, or do the 5K as a tempo. The response I received was not what I expected:

"That’s no problem at all. The 10km will fit in nicely as you’ll get your legs spinning quickly the week before the half marathon. You could run a few miles afterwards also but I’ll think about it more once you get through this week."

So, it was on! I hadn't run a 10K since this race last year, when I ran a 44:18. My PR was from October of last year: 43:56. The good thing about this year's race was that they moved the course to a different location. So even though I had technically run the race six times, I had never run this new course. I had heard good things about this course, which is used for a 5K/10K Turkey Trot as well. I wasn't a fan of the previous course at all, so this change was very welcome.

Most of my gripes about the previous course were resolved, although two minor annoyances still remained. First of all, they placed cones in the middle of the road and forced you to run outside of them, which made it impossible to run the measured tangents. This resulted in a Garmin distance of 6.29. Last year's course measured 6.27. I overhead many runners complaining about the cones and how at the Turkey Trot race, they don't use these cones.

My other complaint was that the 10K runners had to weave around 5K runners for a good portion of the race last year. This year, we only had to weave around slower 5K runners during the last half mile. It was still annoying and made the finish more difficult, but it was an improvement over the previous year's setup.

Race Week: Workout and Goals
On Monday of this week, I ran a set of 4 x 1600m repeats on the track, followed by 3 x 200m. I always run track workouts based on feel and I don't look at my watch until the rep is complete and
I've hit the lap button. My splits were 6:48, 6:43, 6:35, 6:30, 0:40, 0:41, 0:40. My previous fastest 1600m rep time had been 6:38, so during this workout, I ran two miles faster than that. And honestly, it didn't feel all that hard.

This workout made me re-think my goal for the 10K. I had originally hoped to run somewhere in the low 43's, but now I figured I would probably be able to run the race sub-43:00, somewhere around a 6:50-6:52 pace. My revised goal was to run a 42:55 or faster and beat my PR by over a minute.

For the remainder of the week, I only did easy runs so that my legs could recover for today's race. I continued my run streak, which started on December 1. I've now run for 31 days in a row, averaging 7.6 miles a day! That's 234 miles in December.

Before the Race
The race started at 9:00, so I ate half a bagel with peanut butter at 6:30am. I then drank one serving of UCAN at 8:15 as Greg and I were driving to the race. It was 30 degrees, partly cloudy, with winds at about 8 MPH. After much debate, I decided to wear CW-X capri tights and a short-sleeved shirt with arm warmers. I figured I could remove the arm warmers if I got hot. Yes, it is possible to get hot in 30-degree temperatures if the sun is out.

We warmed up for two miles and I decided to ditch the arm warmers before even starting. This ended up being a good decision because I felt comfortable throughout the race in short sleeves, arms exposed.

Miles 1-2
I had studied the course elevation profile and tangents pretty carefully. Even though the cones made it impossible to run the true tangents, I did my best while staying on the correct side of the cones. My plan was to run the first mile at pace of 7:00 because it was a 71ft net elevation gain.

The race started and a bunch of runners flew past me. I didn't let this faze me as I knew I would be passing many of them later in the race. I counted the number of women ahead of me. My friend Rochelle was in first place, and I was pretty sure she would win, and there were 4 other women ahead of me as well. I picked off the first of these women about halfway through the first mile, which put me in 5th place.

Mile 2 was also a net uphill, and my plan was to run this at a pace of 6:57, but I ended up going slightly faster in 6:54. During this mile, I gradually passed the other two women who were ahead of me so that by the end of this mile, I was the third female. I knew there was no chance of passing the second place female, as she looked to be about a full minute ahead of me.

Mile 1: 7:00
Mile 2: 6:54

Miles 3-4
I was relieved to be done with mile 2 because I knew that the next two miles were a net even elevation gain, with some gentle rollers. Now that I had the two slowest miles behind me, I gained the confidence to really turn on the gas. And that's when I started passing some men. Probably about 3-4 of them during this part of the race. I also still had Greg in my sights, although he was way up ahead. I had predicted that Greg would run the race about a minute faster than me, but at this point I could still see him, which was nice.

I pretty much just cruised through these miles. The wind was a little bit of a factor during the third mile, but it wasn't too horrible. I felt really strong and I had a nice pep in my step. I also felt like I had a really good rhythm going in my head. Whenever I looked down at my Garmin, I was shocked to see my paces.

Mile 3: 6:49
Mile 4: 6:40

Miles 5-6.29
At this point, my Garmin was showing an average race pace of 6:50, which was my stretch goal. The exciting thing was that the last two miles were a net downhill, counter-balancing the first two miles which had been net uphill. So I knew at this point I was setup for a huge PR and that I was going to crush my goal.

I excel at downhill running and I actually ran my fastest-ever mile during this race. Kind of crazy to set a one-mile PR during a 10K.

The most challenging part of the entire race came at the very end. The 5K runners merged back onto the course with the 10K runners, and because that race had started 10 minutes later, there were quite a few of these runners, going at about a 10:00 pace. I focused on the man who was running in the 10K about 30 feet ahead of me and tried to follow his path. The course narrowed, 5K runners were all over the place and you really had to pay attention to where you were going. In fact, one of the 5K runners decided he was finished about 10 feet before actually crossing the finish line so he started to walk at that point!

In any event, I knew I was actually close to breaking 42 minutes, so I gave it everything I had and sprinted to the finish.

Mile 5: 6:37
Mile 6: 6:21
Last 0.29: 6:08 pace

My official finish time was 42:09. A PR by 1 minute, 47 seconds! WOW!

My Garmin average pace was 6:43, and according to Strava, my actual 10K time was 41:42. A big difference! Which is why the cone placement irks me so much. 6:21 is the fastest mile I've ever run, and I also set an unofficial 5K PR as well: 20:13. Although I should note that the 20:13 was the second half of the course, which was net downhill. All that being said, my current 5K PR pace is 6:39, and I just ran a 10K at a pace of 6:43.
My medal for winning 3rd place

I was the third overall female finisher, and that came with a $100 prize package of gift certificates. Rochelle, who was the first female finisher, won gift certificates to the same places, so we can all go there together to celebrate!

Up Next: Disney
I'm really looking forward to the Disney World Half Marathon next weekend. I think I will be able to run a solid race, in spite of the possibly unfavorable weather conditions. The last time I ran Disney (in 2013) it was 63 degrees and very humid. It was tough, and the extended forecast shows similar conditions, but I'm mainly going to focus on running a hard effort.

After a difficult summer of being sick with mono, I'm thrilled to end the year on such a high note. I'm looking forward to 2017 and hoping to stay healthy.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Let the Marathon Training Begin!

Happy holidays to all of my blog readers! While this season "downtime" for many runners, I'm just ramping up. I'm planning to run the Myrtle Beach marathon on March 4th, so training is now in full
swing.  I chose the Myrtle Beach marathon because:

  • The weather should be cool in South Carolina that time of year, especially with a 6:30am start time.
  • The course is fast/flat.
  • It's early enough in the season for me to also run a late spring marathon, in case I don't BQ.
  • It's also early enough in the season for me to recover in time for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.
  • It's on the east coast, so I don't have to worry about changing time zones
  • I'm pretty sure I will be able to meet The Tiny Terror, who has been following my blog for about three years now.
The only downside of running this marathon is having to run the bulk of my hard miles during the most logistically challenging time of the year: January-February. I don't mind cold weather, but when there is ice on the ground, I refuse to run, which means opting for a treadmill or running after work when the ice has melted and I can see better. Neither of these are attractive options, but I've been able to train through this nastiness in years past, so hopefully I can do it again. The only thing I can imagine I would have to sacrifice would be speed work if the ground is icy-- because speed work on a treadmill has historically resulted in injuries. 

Current streak vs. longest streak
I've been running 7 days a week since December 1. If all goes well, I will keep this streak alive for the remainder of the month, and then I have a scheduled rest day in early January. I won't be streaking as long as I did during my Boston Marathon training, but I imagine after my one scheduled rest day, I won't have many more until the race. 

Week of December 5: 52.8 Miles
Once I finished my series of three 5Ks, my coach started to pile on the mileage. My key workouts this week were a steady state run and a fast-finish 90 minute run. My long run was 2 hours, which equated to 13.9 miles.

Week of December 12: 55.2 Miles
Another solid week on the books! On Tuesday, I ran a 90-minute progression run with the first 30 minutes at easy effort (8:54 pace) the middle 30 minutes at medium effort (7:48 pace), and the last 30 minutes hard (7:03 pace). I've done this workout several times in the past, but I've never done it as fast as this. My total distance was 11.45 miles at an average pace of 7:51. That's definitely a tough workout to complete before heading into the office!

On Thursday, I ran 7 hill sprints, lasting 75 seconds each, with the jog back down as recovery. Greg joined me for this one. It was only 22 degrees with sustained winds of 20-25mph! Thankfully, the hill we used was situated in the best possible direction: a tailwind on the way up, and a headwind on the
December 16 long run
way back down. Honestly, the most challenging part of this run was the cool down back to our house. The entire 15 minutes were plagued with a nasty headwind, and it was like getting slapped in the face constantly until we reached home.

I almost had to move Saturday's long run to Sunday because of an ice storm we had on Saturday morning. The roads were coated with ice until about 1:00pm, when the sun came out and melted everything. I took a nap at around that time, and when I woke up, I started the run at 2:30pm. This is really late for me, but my body responded well, and I managed 14.15 miles at a pace of 8:33. The great thing was that this 8:33 was truly my easy effort. I always run long runs based on feel and/or heart rate. I keep them truly easy so that I am able to execute my hard workouts during the week. I've never run an "easy" long run this fast so this workout is evidence that I'm starting to get into marathon shape.

Week of December 19: 60.4 Miles
My coach warned me that I would start to feel tired all-around with the increased mileage and he was right. This week was tough, and here's why:

Monday: 70 minutes easy (8 miles @ 8:46 pace)

Tuesday: Road intervals in 5-minute blocks. 1 minute hard (6:16 pace), 4 minutes easy. 2 minutes hard (6:21 pace), 3 minutes easy. 3 minutes hard (6:23 pace), 2 minutes easy. 4 minutes hard (6:45 pace), 1 minute easy. 5 minutes hard (6:37 pace), 3 minutes easy. 4 minutes hard (6:38 pace), 1 minute easy. 3 minutes hard (6:21 pace), 2 minutes easy. 2 minutes hard (6:20 pace), 3 minutes easy. 1 minute hard (5:55 pace), 4 minutes easy. The toughest thing about this workout is that after running 4 minutes hard, you only get one minute to recover! So I ran the 4-minute segments a little more conservatively, which is why they are slower than the 5-minute segments. Including warm up and cool down, I ran a total of 9.6 miles. 

Wednesday: 50 minutes easy (5.7 miles @ 8:51 pace)
December 22 track workout

Thursday: 8 x 1000m cruise intervals with 200m recovery jogs. My coach told me that the goal was to get progressively faster with this workout, and to make sure I didn't go all out on these-- they were supposed to "cruise intervals" which is slightly faster than tempo pace. My plan was to run the first couple in 4:20 (6:58 pace), and get down to 4:10 by the end. I ran these intervals by feel because my Garmin pace gets all messed up on the track. I was incredibly surprised to see what my times were, based on how they felt! What felt like a 7:00 pace was actually a 6:45 pace. I love it when that happens. My splits were 4:14, 4:11, 4:08, 4:07, 4:04, 4:07, 4:06, 4:04. This comes out to an average pace of 6:38 for all of them! That's faster than my 5K PR pace, and I actually ran 8K, with minimal recovery time. This truly felt like a breakthrough workout. Including warmup and cool down, I ran 9.7 miles total.

Friday: 70 minutes easy (8 miles @ 8:42 pace)

Saturday: 16 miles @ 8:33 pace. Once again, I was not able to run first thing in the morning as I like to do. It was pouring down rain for most of the morning, and at only 38 degrees, it was a recipe for hypothermia. I started the run at 10:00am, just as the rain was tapering off, and the weather ended up being pretty decent, with the exception of some windy spots. I have to admit that this run really took it out of me, and I think it was the cumulative effect. Last weekend's 14 miler was a breeze and I didn't feel tired or sore afterwards at all. But yesterday, the last three miles were a struggle. I managed to hold it together, and even speed up, but I felt extremely tired. Afterwards, I napped for about 45 minutes, even though I had slept for nearly 9 hours the night before. And then, even after having a 45-minute nap at 3:00 in the afternoon, I fell asleep at 8:15 last night, and slept another solid 9 hours. I woke up feeling really tired, and so I'm hoping this is just my body adjusting to the mileage. 

Sunday: 30 minutes recovery (3.4 miles @ 8:56 pace) Just a recovery jog to polish off a very hard week.

I really love the variety of my training plan: hill repeats, cruise intervals, road intervals, progression runs, steady state, and more! Interestingly, there has been no tempo running. And that's because research has shown that running slightly faster (cruise intervals) or slightly slower (steady state) than tempo pace is better for your lactate threshold than running at your tempo pace. I'm hoping that my training continues to go well and that the weather doesn't throw too many curve balls.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Running after Mono: Comeback in Review

I like to review things. I like to review my individual races, workouts, training weeks, training cycles,
and years. It helps me gain closure and ensure that I've taken everything I need from the experience,
First race post-mono
whether that's learning, celebration, or analysis.

I wrote a review of my 12-week layoff with mono, detailing the timeline (June 30-September 20) and how I handled the situation. I've had mono three times as an adult, and if I ever have it again, I will be even better prepared to handle it, both physically and mentally. But now onto the fun part-- how I made my comeback and was able to PR the 5K just 2 months after starting to run again.

For anyone who is coming off of an injury or illness, my best advice is not to rush it, no matter how tempting it may be. Taking it slow in the short term will really pay off later down the road. It does not take long to rebuild your fitness. You have a baseline level of fitness that your body will naturally return to once you have some solid training weeks behind you. Always try to train at one step behind your fitness level, not one step ahead of it. What I mean by that is-- when you finish a run, you should always feel like you could have pushed a little harder, run one extra rep, gone a little longer. Always leave a little bit out there, and that applies for most workouts (not races).  As Greg McMillan says- don't chase fitness; let it come to you.

Here's a snapshot of my comeback:

The first five weeks consisted solely of easy running. This was the toughest part. I grew bored of easy runs and longed for some variety. That said, my paces for these runs dropped significantly each week, without upping the effort level. By the time I ran my first race on November 13, I had regained a good deal of my speed, much to my surprise. My goal for that Veteran's Day 5K was to run 22:30 or lower, and I ended up running 21:31.

My endurance wasn't in as good of a spot. I paced a new friend to run a 1:58 at the Indianapolis half marathon, and my legs were pretty beat up the following day, even though the pace felt easy from a cardio perspective.

Mentally, the first seven weeks were the hardest. I didn't really know how much fitness I had lost or regained, and seemingly everyone around me was PRing at their fall races. I had to constantly remind myself that I would be setting PRs myself soon enough-- I just had to be patient and trust my coach's training plan.

Once I got over the hump and was able to begin racing and running faster workouts, I felt like my good ol' self again. I even had the confidence that I could set a PR in the 5K distance, which I did at the Virginia Run Turkey Trot by running a 20:50. Granted, it was only a one-second PR, but it meant that I was back in business from a speed perspective. I followed that up with a 20:58 at another 5K just 10 days later, winning my age group.

Fun Stats
Run With Santa 5K

Three 5K races:

  • 21:31 (second place age group)
  • 20:50 (first place age group)
  • 20:58 (first place age group) 

Average training paces:

  • September average training pace: 10:44
  • October average training pace: 9:08
  • November average training pace: 8:41
  • December average training pace: 8:28 (so far)

Monthly Mileage:
  • September: 18.3
  • October: 135.4
  • November: 163.1

Up Next: Marathon Training
I am now officially training for the Myrtle Beach Marathon on March 4th. I chose this marathon because I wanted to also run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, which takes place the first weekend in April. I definitely didn't want to wait until after Cherry Blossom to run a marathon due to the potential for warmer weather, so Myrtle Beach fell on a good date. The only downside is that it will be a 7-hour drive (with no direct flight options) but it has a great reputation and it's supposed to be a
fast course. I've heard that it can be windy, but I've been known to set major PRs in windy conditions, so long as I have a strategy for managing it.

After today's 30-minute run, which I haven't done yet, I will have logged a 52-mile week. I'm now running 7 days a week. My current streak, which started on December 1st, has lasted 10 days so far, which contains 70.7 miles.

On Tuesday, I completed a 90-minute run, with the last 15 minutes "hard." I ran the last two miles in 7:08, 6:48. On Thursday, I ran for 75 minutes, with the middle 45 minutes at steady state pace. Steady state is somewhere between half marathon pace and marathon pace. I surprised myself by averaging 7:22 for 6.1 miles. Everything felt really good. My long run for the week, which I ran yesterday, was two hours, which equated to 13.9 miles at a pace of 8:38.

I'm hoping that I continue to be healthy for the remainder of the training cycle and that the winter weather doesn't throw too many curve balls. I know I will need to be creative about moving workouts around depending on snow and ice.

Overall, I'm extremely thankful that I'm healthy and that I've come back so strong, and that the whole mono incident is far behind me.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Run With Santa 5K: Hello Hill!

This morning I ran the Run With Santa 5K. I typically don't run so many 5Ks back to back, but I needed to squeeze in three "ranked" races before the end of the year. Previously, I ran the Veteran's Day 5K on November 13 (21:31), and the Virginia Run Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving (20:50). I am
now officially qualified for the 2016 RunWashington rankings.

This race definitely crept up on me because I was still basking in my 1-second PR when it came time to prepare mentally. There wasn't much time do any quality workouts between the two races, but I did manage to squeeze in 6 x 800m + 3 x 200m on the track this past Monday. I surprised myself with my speed, running a series of 3:18, 3:17, 3:15, 3:13, 3:12, 3:10. The 200's were also speedy: 41, 42, 41.

The rest of the week was all easy running. Typically I do a tune-up workout the Thursday before a Sunday race, but for whatever reason, that was not on the schedule this week. I didn't question it and just ran easy until today's race.

Before the Race
I must have gone back and forth a hundred times trying to figure out what to wear. I originally had planned to wear CW-X compression capri tights, but yesterday I noticed a slight ache in my shin. Given my history of stress fractures in my shins, I thought it would be best to wear compression socks to this race instead of capri tights, which only come down to my knees. I'm not terribly worried about this ache because it is extremely minor. But the location has put me on guard.

With 34 degree temps (and an overcast sky) I knew a long-sleeve shirt would be in order with shorts. There was no wind, so conditions were ideal. I've generally lucked out with the weather for all three of my 5Ks this fall.

At 7:45, I drank my UCAN and I was ready to warm up at 8:00 with my friend Hannah for an 8:30 race start. I really like warming up with other people because it gets me out of my head so I am less antsy about the race. Greg had decided to rest on his laurels with his 44-second PR from Thanksgiving, so he was on cheer squad duty. My step mother also came out to watch, which was awesome. My friend Alison was also there spectating, so it was great to have a full support crew.

I gave my warmup pants to Greg a few minutes before the race started and lined up close to the front with my friends Lisa and Hannah. My main goal for this race was to stay strong during the last mile. The last mile of this race is killer- it's uphill and it's so hard to push when you're spent from the first two miles. Given that this course is more challenging than the Turkey Trot, I did not expect to PR. Although I didn't rule it out either. I really wanted to go sub-21:00, which would put me within 10 seconds of my PR.

I've run this course 4 times in the past as the "Firecracker 5K" in the summer. I've never run it under cool conditions so I was curious to see what it would be like to not be dying of heat exhaustion.

Mile 1: 6:42
I focused on staying strong but relaxed during this mile. It's a net uphill which is good because you
The start of mile 2: downhill!
don't get pulled out too fast. But it also means you are working hard right from the start. I was very focused on running the tangents because my Garmin typically measures this course at 3.16, and I thought I could get that down if I ran the tangents.

Mile 2: 6:23
My favorite mile. All downhill! My plan had been to really use the downhill nature of this mile to bank some serious time, and I did that. I saw my step mother and Greg during the beginning of this mile, and that pepped me up. I also found myself running with Lisa for the first half of this mile. She was amazing. She kept cheering for me and encouraging me. I'm not able to talk during 5Ks so I was not able to return the favor! I surged ahead about halfway through and she yelled at me to go get a PR. At this point, I thought a PR was definitely possible. I just had to hold it together during the last mile. I'll also note that this is my fastest ever mile! I've never raced the mile, so this is my fastest ever recorded time for a single mile.

Mile 3: 6:58
Given how much effort I pumped out here, I was surprised to see how much I had slowed down. The hill isn't particularly steep but it's so long. Pretty much starting at 2.5 and going to 3.1 it's all uphill and some parts are steeper than others. I continued to focus on the tangents and I told myself that I could do anything for seven minutes. I gave it all I had, but clearly I was slowing down. Nevertheless, I was able to pass two women, and nobody passed me.

Last 0.14: 6:22 pace
That last bit of this course continues to be up an incline. As I approached the finish line, I could see the clock tick closer and closer to 21 so I gave it everything I had. I was able to squeak under in 20:58. Goal attained!
Heading toward the finish line

After the race, I re-united with Greg, Alison, my step mom, Hannah and Lisa. I started my cool down and ran into my friend Cheryl so we were able to cool down together. I also really enjoy cooling down with other runners because I find cool down runs to be extremely boring and it's nice to be able to talk about the race with someone.

I checked the race results and to my surprise, I won first place in my age group! Out of 96! I was the 13th female out of 838, and I was actually beaten by an 11-year old girl, and a 14-year old girl.

I was proud of myself for running 3.14 instead of 3.16 like I typically do on this course in the summer. Yay for tangents! If I had run 3.16, I would not have broken 21:00.

Final Thoughts
I was pleased with my performance this morning. I would have liked to have run that last mile a bit faster and set a new 5K PR, but I just wasn't able to give any more than I gave. I do think that running a 20:58 on this course is more impressive than running a 20:50 on the Turkey Trot course, but that's just my opinion. Some people love this course (like my friend Hannah who set a PR by over 30 seconds and broke 19 minutes) and Lisa. Others find it extremely challenging. I'm somewhere in the middle- I think it's a tough course, but not as tough as the Veteran's Day one. It really requires that you push hard through the end and if you went out too fast then that will be difficult to do. Overall, I just had a really fun time. Lots of my friends were there and it was awesome that my step mother came out too. I also enjoyed donning my brightly colored outfit.

I'm not sure when my next 5K will be, as I am now officially starting to train for my next marathon. Greg and I have a tradition of always running the Ringing In Hope 10K/5K on New Year's eve, but that's the weekend before the Disney World half, so I am not sure if I can squeeze in a 5K while also running high mileage. Another interesting tidbit is that Strava tells me I ran portions of this course faster in the summer of 2015, when I ran a 22:05. I must have started more conservatively back then and had more in me for that final mile.

Finally, the shin behaved itself and I didn't feel it at all during the race or afterward. Phew. I'll continue to monitor it because I would hate to get an injury so soon after coming back from mono.

Oh, and public service announcement: if you are looking for a holiday gift for a runner, check out my book Boston Bound. It's appropriate for runners of all abilities, and addresses the mental aspects of running.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Every Second Counts: Turkey Trot 5K Report

This morning I ran my 11th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K. That's right, I have an eleven-year streak, which is impressive, considering I have never been ill or injured on Thanksgiving. Knock on wood! I discovered the race in 2006, and have been back every year since. I met Greg in 2009, so this was Turkey Trot #7 for him.

Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I spent 12 weeks over the summer with mono. Zero running, zero exercise. I started running again on September 20, but I didn't resume speed work until about four weeks ago. And even at that, it wasn't very intense.

On November 13, I ran the Veteran's Day 5K, where I smashed by goal by nearly a full minute, finishing in 21:31 on a hilly course. There wasn't too much time for speed work between that race and this one, but on Thursday, I ran road intervals of 2 x (1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00), all with 90-second recovery jogs. I was pleased with how the run felt, and it seemed as if I was getting close to hitting the paces I was last spring. The follow Saturday (last Saturday) I ran for 80 minutes, with the first 70 minutes being easy, and the last 10 minutes "hard." The hard minutes averaged a pace of 6:51, which helped boost my confidence. And then on Monday of this week, I did a little tune-up workout with 4:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00, 1:00. So now that I think about it, my coach was able to squeeze in a decent amount of speed between the Veteran's Day race and today.

Going into this race, I made the following assumptions:
  • I would be fitter than I was for Veteran's Day, because when you are coming back, you make gains quickly
  • The course would be slightly easier, with the last mile being a net downhill instead of up a huge hill
  • The course would measure shorter on my Garmin
Garmin distance is important because when I am trying to project a finish time, I know that my Garmin will read something longer than the official race distance. I like comparing apples to apples, and I use my Garmin to pace myself when running. For Veteran's Day, my Garmin showed an average pace of 6:46. I knew that if I ran the exact same pace today, I'd end up with a 21:14 (or thereabouts) instead of a 21:31. I also got a FitBit for my birthday that tracks my resting heart rate, and in the past 10 days, my resting heart rate had gone down from 51 to 47. Not surprising, given that you make gains quickly when coming back from downtime.

So given these three elements of being fitter, having an easier course and having a shorter course, I thought I would land somewhere around 20:55. And that got me thinking. My all-time 5K PR was 20:51, set on this course last year. So, why not try to push it a little and go for a modest PR this morning? Which is exactly what I did.

My pacing strategy was to take the first mile at 6:38, which was 4 seconds faster than last year, and then try to run around the same paces I did last year for the rest of the race. Another important aspect of my plan was the tangents. Usually when I run this course, my Garmin measures 3.13. But last year it was 3.14. I know I am thinking about seemingly insignificant things here, but hey-- when you are trying to PR by a matter of seconds, it all matters! So this year, I told myself to pay very close attention to the tangents and to not waste energy weaving around kids during the first mile.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived at the race, parked in our usual spot at a nearby church, and went to the bathroom in the church. There was a man standing outside the church who seemed very happy to let us in and use the bathroom. He kept emphasizing to us where the bathrooms were and he gave us a huge smile. I think he was literally there that day for the sole purpose of letting use the bathroom. He even said "that's what I'm here for." It was really awesome.

We warmed up, with a plan to be in the start corral about 5 minutes before the race started. A little bit of panic set in when the course marshal told us we couldn't cross the street to get into the corral-- we had to walk all the way around, which meant weaving through a huge crowd. And when we finally crossed the street, we were at the very back of the corral, so we had to weave through another crowd to get up to the front. This happened to other people who wanted to be close to the front and they were annoyed as well. This race has over 2,000 people, and many of them are small children, so getting stuck in the back was not an attractive option!

The weather was perfect. Low 40's and overcast with just a very slight breeze. I had actually debated between wearing CW-X compression capris and shorts. I feel like the compression helps my legs move quickly when it's cold out. But ultimately I settled on shorts because they weighed less! I needed every possible advantage if I wanted a shot at a PR.

Mile 1: 6:38
Unlike most years, there were not a ton of 8-years olds lined up right at the front. This meant I didn't have to do a lot of weaving like I usually have to do in the first mile. I got pulled out pretty quickly on a slight downhill and when I looked at my pace halfway through the mile, it said 6:20. Oops! Time to slow down a bit, which was easy because the rest of the mile was a slight incline. I also noticed a tangent in the first mile that I had never noticed before, so I made sure to run to the inside of the curve. When I hit the first mile marker, I was pleased that I had executed according to plan, but I did not feel good. I was already tired. 

Mile 2: 6:49
I didn't have the same "pep in my step" that I did at the Veteran's Day race. I felt tired and a little sluggish. There's a sizable hill in this mile. It's not terribly long, but it's on the steep side, so getting up it is always a challenge. It wasn't this hill, however, that slowed me down. It was the first part of the mile, which was flat-ish. I was just tired and not able to maintain that 6:38 pace. During this mile, someone yelled "Go Elizabeth!" at me and I wondered who it was.

Mile 3: 6:38
As I continued on, people kept yelling "Go Elizabeth" at me, at which point I realized that the girl next to me must have been named Elizabeth. Whatever- I'll take it! I knew this mile was a net downhill, but that it ended on an incline-- the same incline that was a decline and pulled me out too fast. I was hoping to really kill it during the mile like I typically do on this course. Usually my last mile is significantly faster than the first two. But today, I was pushing as hard as possible, but my Garmin pace was stubbornly refusing to budge. During the last half mile, I started to think that I wouldn't get my PR. It would be close, but likely wouldn't happen at this rate. Regardless, I still pushed with everything I had.

Last 0.13: 5:49 pace
Amazingly, I did have another gear in me, which I hit as I passed mile marker 3. I revved and revved and revved. Someone passed me at lightening speed and it motivated me to kick even harder. I saw the clock as I crossed and I stopped my Garmin: 20:50.

I knew this feeling. It was like being at the Columbus Marathon with a Garmin time of 3:40:00 and hoping the official time matched, which would mean a BQ. Greg and I made our way to the results area and typed our bib numbers in the computer. I held my breath. And the official time was. . . 20:50!  I did it! I PR'ed by one second!

Back in 2014, I ran this race in 21:30. I had missed my then-PR of 21:29 by one second. I wasn't terribly disappointed, but it's much better when it goes the other way!

As for Greg, I knew he was in great shape and I had predicted a huge PR for him. Well, he got a 44-
First place AG award: a hat!
second PR, which is massive for the 5K. He clocked in at 20:09, which means sub-20:00 is clearly within his grasp.

I won first place in my age group, which earned me a hat identical to the one I won in 2014.  I was the 13th female out of 1164, which I was thrilled with. Not to look a Gift Turkey in the mouth, but they were giving away Ninja blenders and restaurant gift cards as raffle prizes, but the winners only walked away with hats! That's okay. I'll be back again next year and hopefully keep adding to the hat collection.

Key takeaways
Even though you don't want to over-think things, the small things matter. If I hadn't been as diligent about the tangents, it could have cost me a second or two, and I would not have PR'ed. According to Strava, both this race and last year's race had a 5K effort of 20:41. I was able to run a faster "official" time this year because of the tangents.

I am running yet another 5K next weekend. I think all of these 5K's now will set me up with a nice base speed to begin marathon training. Next weekend we are back to a longer, hillier course, so I don't anticipate a PR. But you never know!

And for fun, here is my Turkey Trot history for the past 7 years:

 Year   Mile 1   Mile 2   Mile 3  Final Kick  Time
 2009  7:25  7:44  7:37 7:1323:40
 2010  7:19 7:197:07  6:1322:33
2011  7:00 7:05 6:42 5:5721:29
 2012 7:127:157:056:1022:18
 2013  7:26 7:30  7:03 6:3822:46
2014  7:01 6:54 6:45 6:1521:30
 2015  6:43 6:43 6:35  6:0320:51
  2016     6:38    6:49   6:38  5:49 20:50 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog readers!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Things Runners Remember from 10 Years Ago

I celebrated my 38th birthday on November 11. It seems like just yesterday I was 28 and just starting to get into long distance running.

I ran my first marathon in 2006, and even though running still involves simply putting one foot in front of the other, quite a few things have changed. If you've been running for 10+ years, enjoy this bit of nostalgia. If you haven't, then maybe you'll learn a bit of history!
Stopwatch, white shoes, sports beans!

1. Stopwatches with lap buttons
If I remember correctly, the Garmin GPS watches were just starting to come out in 2005, and it took them a few years to go mainstream. Back in 2006, I was using my trusty Timex stop watch in races and for long runs. I did all of my long runs on the W&OD trail, which has mile markers, so I would press the lap button at each milepost. The same was true for races. I had no idea what pace I was running until I approached the mile marker and hit the lap button on my watch.

2. Mainly white running shoes
If you walked into a running store 10 years ago, all the shoes would be white with small pops of color accents. The more popular models offered a choice of up to 4 color accents, but the shoes looked pretty much the same: all white. Nowadays, the walls of running shoe stores are covered in bright colors and you'll be hard-pressed to find anything that's mainly white. It used to be that runners were cautioned not to buy shoes based on color, but now runners actually have a good range of colors for any given shoe.

3. iPods--not iPhones
10 years ago, many people were running with iPods, myself included. I used the iPod Mini for awhile, but then the shuffle came out and I loved how compact it was. Nowadays, I see some people still using Shuffles (which is what I use on the treadmill) but the majority of runners who run with music seem to be using their phones to do so. Oh, and also using the phones to track their route, take pictures, and a number of other things that could not be done with a simple iPod.

4. The Boston Marathon didn't fill up
You could BQ in February and then run Boston just two months later! What's more, you could BQ in the fall of 2005, and that time would be good for Boston 2006 AND Boston 2007. There were no "cut-off" times because there didn't need to be. 10 years ago, running marathons was not nearly as popular as it is today. It was a lot easier to get into Boston back then because there simply wasn't as much competition as there is today. Part of me wishes it would go back to being the way it used to, but another part of me enjoys the fact that it's more challenging now.

5. The ChampionChip
Back in the day, most all races were timed using a chip that you would affix to your shoe. That chip was replaced by the D-Tag somewhere around 2009, which I absolutely hated because it was so bulky and it had accuracy issues. But then the B-Tag that attaches to the race bib came along in the past 3-4
My ChampionChip collection
years which is both accurate and convenient.

Some races still do use the D-Tag and a shoe chip, but they are few and far between. Also, I'm only familiar with races in the Washington DC metro area and large-scale marathons. There may be races in other parts of the country that still rely heavily on the timing chip. I had my own personal ChampionChip that I purchases from the Rock 'N' Roll Virginia Beach half. I used this to register for local races and it would save me $2 on registration. Some races also provided souvenir chips that would not work for future races. I have these from the Houston Half Marathon, the New Jersey Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. Before the ChampionChip, there was the ankle strap, and I ran several marathons with that. Super uncomfortable!

6. Social Media wasn't mainstream
Some people were on MySpace, but not nearly as many people were on MySpace talking about running as there are today on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Strava, and numerous forums. So chances are, if you went for a training run, the only person who knew about it was you and maybe the people you lived with. There wan't as much "inspiration" going around so runners had to be more intrinsically motivated to get out there and run.

7. Sports Beans or gels?
Fueling options were limited 10 years ago. There were only a few brands of gels and the alternative to that was Jelly Belly Sports Beans. Today we have plenty of options available: UCAN, Shot Blocks, Tailwind, Honey Stinger Waffles, and probably a bunch of others I don't even know about.

8. Lottery? What Lottery?
Races used to be easy to get into. Chicago, Marine Corps, Houston, Cherry Blossom -- just to name a few. None of these races used to have lotteries and you could register for them as late as a few weeks prior! It was nice because you didn't have to commit to a race so far in advance. You could basically just wait until you felt ready to race and then go for it. Also, if you were injury-prone (like I used to be) it made sense to wait until a month or so before to register.

9. The Philadelphia Distance Run and the National Marathon
The Philadelphia Distance Run 2006

In 2006, the Rock 'n' Roll series had like 4 or 5 races to choose from. I remember San Diego, Arizona, and Virginia Beach. What we know as Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia used to be called the Philadelphia Distance Run. Today's Rock 'n' Roll DC used to be the National Marathon. As part of the Rock 'n' Roll series, these races are now more expensive and commercialized, but you know that the race will be well-organized.

10. Brightroom Event Photography
It used to be that a company called "Brightroom" dominated the race photo industry. You could preview your photos online at a decent size (see photo to the right) without the huge word PROOF over your face. You could buy printed copies of your photos for a reasonable price. At some point, Marathonfoto emerged onto the scene and gained a monopoly over the industry. They are now able to get away with charging and arm and a leg for race photos, while sending horribly-formatted marketing emails. While their prices have gone down ever so slightly over the past two years, I predict that they will soon either need to reduce their prices more or face new competition. Smaller race photography companies exist, they just aren't mainstream yet.

Who knows what running will look like 10 years from now? Overall, I like the technological advances that we've made and the fact that more people are running marathons. But it is nice to reflect on "back in the day" when things were much simpler.

Well, not everything was much simpler! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mono Comeback Race: Crushed It!

Apologies for the spoiler in the headline, but I destroyed my goal for today's 5K race.

After 12 weeks of no running, no cross training, and virtually no physical activity, I finally resumed running 7 weeks ago. The first four weeks of training were boring, with no speed work except for
some strides at the end of my easy runs. The next three weeks incorporated some speed work, but nothing super intense. I was frustrated that I didn't have any sense of how fit I was and what to expect from this 5K, but I was also excited to run it and then have a baseline for my workouts moving forward.

I chose this Veteran's Day 5K race because it's one of the "ranked" races by RunWashington. Last year, I was ranked 6th in my age group and to qualify for the rankings, you have to run 6 races from their list. I only had 3 for the year, so I decided I would run this race, a Turkey Trot and another 5K in December. When I started to run again, I figured I would be happy to break 23:00 on this course. It's one of the more challenging 5K courses in the area and my Garmin always logs 3.18 miles, versus other 5Ks which my Garmin thinks are shorter. As I started getting back into the swing of things, I determined that I wanted to break 22:30, with an average "Garmin pace" of sub-7:10.

In preparation for this race, I looked at my splits from the Run Your Heart out 5K, which I ran last February on the same course. They were: 6:39, 6:47, 7:05 and a 6:36 pace for the last 0.17. This yielded a 21:40. I thought this was a well executed race given that the first mile is almost entirely downhill and the last mile is almost entirely uphill. So, I concocted a pacing strategy of 6:50, 7:05, 7:20 for this morning's race, which I thought was appropriate for my fitness level.

Before the race
I slept pretty well last night and the night before so I went into this race feeling energized. 45 minutes before the race, I drank my UCAN and felt ready to go. The weather was perfect: low 30's and sunny. I warmed up for 2.5 miles and I could feel my lungs burning from the cold air. I wondered how they would feel when I was actually pushing, but I didn't think about it too much. After I warmed up, I
went to the bathroom for a final time and I passed my jacket off to Greg. My father and stepmother had also come out to cheer for me, which was really nice!

Even though it was only 32 degrees, it felt warm at the start line in the sun. I chatted with my friend Lisa, who had just run the Indianapolis Monumental marathon last weekend. I was super impressed that she was able to race a 5K so soon after a marathon! I noticed that my friend ReBecca was also there, who I had met after having run the Boston Marathon.

Mile 1: 6:45
Staring out
The race started, and the first mile felt relatively easy. The downhill is fairly significant and I ran 5 second faster than planned, which I didn't worry about because the race felt effortless. During this mile, my friend Rochelle (who is an elite runner) joined in beside me for encouragement. I had told her my race strategy in advance, and that I didn't need pacing help per se, but that I would be grateful to have her alongside me when the race got tough. Lisa and ReBecca both passed me during this mile, and I figured I would not see them again until after the race.

Mile 2: 6:49
I didn't look at my Garmin too much during this mile, which was probably a good thing. I had "planned" it to be a 7:05 and if I had seen my actual pace I might have made myself slow down. But instead I just focused on keeping the effort level hard. Rochelle knows this course really well, and even though I knew it too, it was good to have her remind me of when the hills were so I could focus on the process of running, and not on the pain. This mile is net flat, but it actually starts off with a large uphill, followed by a down. I typically run downhills very quickly and I'm slower on the ups. So when this downhill came, I surged and passed ReBecca. Lisa was coming closer into view as well. When my Garmin beeped 6:49 I could hardly believe it, but I contained my excitement and focused on pushing hard.

Mile 3: 6:51
My coach had told me that when this mile came, I was supposed to repeat something rhythmic in my head and tell myself that it would only last 7 minutes. I ran past my family cheering squad about
Rochelle and me in the third mile
halfway through this mile and that totally pumped me up. Rochelle yelled out "go zebra" and that made me smile. The final hill hurt, but having Rochelle talk to me made me focus less on the pain and more on the effort. ReBecca passed me initially, but then I passed her again. Rochelle peeled off the course shortly before the end of that mile and it was up to me alone to bring it home.

Last 0.18: 6:02 pace
I came upon Lisa right before mile marker 3 and she was surprised to see me. I had told her I was hoping to average a 7:05 pace, and clearly I was way ahead of that. I started to pass her and she surged, which motivated me to surge as well. Ultimately, she finished 4 seconds ahead of me, winning our age group, but it was great that we both finished in the same ballpark to be able to push each other to our best!

 My official time was 21:31, which was a course PR of 9 seconds.

After the race, Lisa, ReBecca, and Rochelle and I cooled down together. We accidentally took a wrong turn and the cool down ended up being close to two miles! I ended up having to walk with Rochelle back to the race while ReBecca ran to get her car, drove to us, and took us back-- just in time for awards.

I was the 6th overall female finisher and 2nd in my age group.

This result was totally unexpected on a number of levels:

  • I did not think it would be possible to break 22:00 on this course with my fitness level
  • I was even more shocked to run this course faster than I did in February
  • I would never have imagined that I could take that final hill at a 6:51 pace. 
  • My splits were really close to each other, and the course lends itself to a massive positive split, not even splits.

I'm excited to have a baseline for future workouts and races, and it's also great to see my fitness come back so quickly. There was a time when I was worried that I'd never be as fit/fast as I used to be, and now I think I will be, if not even faster at some point.

It was also great to spend the morning with Rochelle, Lisa and ReBecca. My friend Chad was also there, and my family came out to support me. After the race, my dad and step mom took Greg and me to a birthday breakfast. I could not have asked for a better morning.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Monumental Day in Indianapolis

Yesterday, I ran the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon as a training run. I had originally registered for the full marathon last spring, before I came down with mono. But due to the nasty virus, I missed the entire summer of training so I was lucky to be able to run the half marathon as a training run. Greg ran the full marathon, and I cheered for him as he approached the finish line.

Amy and I post-race, cheering for marathoners
This race had been on "my list" for years and since quite a few of my friends were running it this year, I figured now would be a good time. It's just a short flight from DC, it's logistically easy with many hotels right next to the start/finish/expo, the weather is typically great for racing, and the course is flat. But before I write about my experience, I'll recap my past two weeks of training.

I've been making a smooth comeback from my 12-week training hiatus. For the past two weeks, I've been running seven days a week and feeling really good. There has been no sign of the illness returning.

Week of Oct. 24
This week was relatively boring, with easy runs every day except for Thursday, when I ran 12 x 30-second intervals with 1-minute recovery jogs. It felt really good to run fast again and most of the interval paces were between 5:55-6:30

My long run was prescribed at 80 minutes, and I surprised myself by running 9.1 miles at a pace of 8:51. The run felt wonderful. The weather was perfect and I had loads of energy. Based on this run, I knew I would be able to run the Indy Monumental half at my easy pace.  My total mileage for the week was 39.3, which is almost as high as it was right before I got sick. I think my coach's plan is to get my base mileage up before adding a significant amount of speed work. In June, my mileage was relatively low, but the speed was intense.

Week of Oct. 31
I was happy that my coach "approved" of my idea to run Indy as a training run, and I was looking
forward to it all week. I didn't have any kind of taper, though, since Indy would not be a race and my coach told me that I was supposed to take the whole thing easy- no speed whatsoever.

On Tuesday, I did the same workout that I had done the previous Thursday (30-second intervals) but this time I did 18 of them instead of 12, which yielded 3.3 miles worth of intervals. These were slightly faster than the previous week's intervals, with my last four intervals being sub-6:00 pace.

I started to get really frustrated with the monotony of the training again on Thursday. The plan called for 60-75 minutes, with 15 minutes at steady state in the middle of the run. Steady state is somewhere between your marathon and half marathon pace. I looked up my steady pace from January, and saw that I had run 8 miles at a pace of 7:26 for a steady state. Wow. I know that I am not in the same shape now that I was in January, but I figured I could pull off a pace close to that for two miles, and hope that it felt like steady state effort.

Well, as luck would have it, it was 60 degrees and very humid that morning. Usually when this happens I run by effort and dial back the pace. But because I had not run fast for more than 30 seconds at a time since June, I decided I was not going to back off the pace. I wasn't going to let the unseasonably warm and humid weather slow me down! So stubborn Elizabeth came out and over-ran the workout. The two miles averaged 7:28, but it felt like a tempo run instead of a steady state one. Usually I don't do this, but I was just super frustrated by the weather and my situation. Plus, I am running a 5K next weekend I have no baseline for what my pace might be. These 30-second intervals in no way predict what I can do for a 5K, so I used the steady state to test out what 7:28 would feel like!

Pre-race in Indianapolis
We arrived in Indy on Thursday night and went to the expo on Friday morning. I loved how logistically smooth this race was. It was a big race but with a small race feel. Our hotel was literally a 4 minute walk to the expo, and we could even use a skywalk to walk indoors.

Throughout the day, I was able to meet up with several people who had read my book. It was so
Meeting up with a Boston Bound reader
wonderful to hear them tell me about how much the book helped them. I was glowing from knowing that my book had made a difference not only in their running, but in their overall outlook.

Meanwhile, I was experiencing some ROMO: Resentment Of Missing Out. The weather outlook was perfect: low 40's and sunny with no wind. The course would be mainly flat. Many people would set PRs and qualify for Boston. I would not be. I had already resolved to come back to Indianapolis next year and run this race, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I would be getting the freakishly warm weather that Indy experienced just two days prior to this year's race. This was the year I had planned to run it, and I was a little upset that I was missing out on a perfect PR opportunity. So close- but so far away.

I was also trying to figure out how I would approach the half marathon training run. I felt like I wanted more of a purpose than just for it to be a training run. More excitement. More meaning. Of course I was going to abide by my coach's guidance and take it easy, but how could I do that and still feel excited? I thought it would be cool to pace another runner to a sub-2:00. Sub-2:00 is a huge milestone for many runners and I knew that my easy pace would get me in just under two hours.

The night before the race, I met up with two friends who I had known virtually for over eight years. We had met years ago on the Runner's World forums and kept in touch through Facebook. One of these runners, Sara, had a friend with her, Amy, who was running the half marathon. I asked Amy if she was, by any chance, trying to run sub-2:00. And she said she would love to run sub-2:00, but didn't think her training supported it. She had been dealing with a nagging injury and her training runs didn't lead her to believe that a sub-2:00 was possible right now, even though she had done it in the past.  I offered to pace her and she accepted, so we agreed to meet in the hotel lobby before the race to run together.

The next morning, Greg and I woke up, did our pre-race routine and left the hotel 30 minutes before the start of the race. I met up with Amy and we walked to the corrals together. She said that it takes her a few miles to warmup, so she wanted to start at around a 9:40 pace and then speed up from there. I was totally on board because it takes me awhile to warm up as well.

Miles 1-4
The race started and excitement was in the air. It was really crowded at first, especially since I was
Amy and I at the start of the race
farther back in the pack than I typically am during races. Amy and I got into a groove. I told her that if she wanted to pass people, I would just follow her path through. A lot of passing happened, but even more would happen later in the race. I was really happy to be running with Amy because the pace felt too easy for me, and if I was on my own, I would have been sub-9:00 from the get-go, and I think I would have regretted that later on.

Mile 1: 9:42
Mile 2: 9:25
Mile 3: 9:18
Mile 4: 9:05

Miles 5-9
Amy told me she was starting to "feel it" during mile six, and I assured her that she was supposed to feel it at mile six of a half marathon. I asked her if the pace was okay or if she wanted to slow down and she said she was fine to continue at that pace. We got into a rhythm where, at each mile marker, I would tell her what the mile split was and what our average race pace was. I think she had a different display on her Garmin and she appreciated having this info.

The cool thing was watching the average race pace slowly tick down from 9:20 to 9:09 by the end of mile 9. We were chipping away at the average race by by 1-2 seconds with every mile we ran, so it was super exciting. At one point, a guy around us asked me what the pace was for sub-2:00 and I told him he should try for 9:03-9:04 on his Garmin, just to be safe, as many Garmins measure a long course.

The course was not at all hilly, but whenever we had slight ups and downs, she totally surged on the uphills and I was extremely impressed. I tend to slow down on hills but speed up on the way down. I was really impressed with her effort level and how she just powered through the miles.

Mile 5: 9:07
Mile 6: 8:53
Mile 7: 8:54
Mile 8: 8:58
Mile 9: 8:58

Miles 10-13.1
Before I asked my coach if I could run this race as a training run, he had prescribed a 90-minute easy run. This would equate to slightly more than 10 miles. Interestingly, just after mile marker 10, my legs started to tire and ache a little. I guess my coach knows his stuff!

So my legs were not all that happy about the extra distance, but the pace still felt really relaxed and easy. I guess it takes the muscles awhile to catch back up to where the cardiovascular system is.

At this point, Amy and I started to pass a bunch of people. I brought to her attention that we were passing people so that she'd get a nice confidence boost and continue to push. By mile 10, we knew that we were going to go sub-2:00, it was just a matter of by how much. The last three miles of this race are a slight downhill and we could see a long stretch of downhill so we used it to our advantage. Our average race pace dropped from 9:09 down to 9:00 flat as we pushed our way to the finish line. We were elated to cross it 1:58:41.

Mile 10: 8:54
Mile 11: 8:44
Mile 12: 8:50
Mile 13: 8:26
Last 0.19: (7:54 pace)

We executed the plan exactly as intended, and it felt amazing!

Cheering for Marathoners
Amy and I high-fived each other a bunch of times and walked back to the hotel which was only one block away. We didn't have much time to go back to the hotel, quickly change clothes, get our cell phones, and come back to cheer. But 20 minutes later, we were headed back out to the course,
Greg at mile 26
looking for our mutual friend Sara. But first, I was expecting my friend Rochelle to come in at around 2:52. And she did! Slightly under, in fact. She looked amazing and I was so happy for her to run so strong in her first marathon. I cheered loudly for her and snapped a bunch of photos.

Next came Sara, and after that, Amy went to go meet her at the finish line.

I had some other friends running, only one of whom I saw next, and then Greg. He was ahead of the 3:30 pace group and I was so excited to see that. I was thinking he would run between 3:25-3:30 and he finished in 3:28:47, which is a PR by five minutes. He ran a really smart race, and attributed it partially to the race strategy I prescribed.

It was an ideal day for racing, with many of my friends setting huge PRs. I was really glad I met Amy and that I helped her do something she didn't think she could do. It made the day so much more special to me.

I decided to take a rest day today and end my 17-day running streak.  Prior to yesterday, my longest run since June was 9.1 miles the weekend prior, so my legs really weren't happy about doing 13.1, even though I ran at my easy pace. I logged 40.1 miles for the week, which I'm pleased with.

Up Next
I'm running a 5K next weekend, which I am super excited about. My coach prescribed a progression run for Tuesday so hopefully the last two miles of that will give me some sense of how it feels to run "hard" and what my "hard" pace actually is. Then I will run a 5K Turkey Trot, followed by another 5K in early December.

My coach still hasn't given me the green light to finalize a spring marathon, but I think I will be ready to run strong by early March at the rate I am going. Thinking about my next marathon makes the ROMO of this weekend easier to cope with, so I'm looking forward to nailing it down!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Easing Back Into It

Since recovering from mono (or some mono-like virus that took me out for 12 weeks), I've now been running for just over four weeks. My coach determined it was best to re-build my aerobic base before working on speed, so easy running has been the name of the game.

While I'm extremely grateful to be running healthy again, I'm dreadfully bored. Usually I enjoy my easy runs because they are balanced out by harder runs. Variety is the spice of life! But for the past four weeks, my patience has truly been challenged and I have a strong desire to run fast. I've occasionally done very short (12-second) strides at the end of my runs, but those have done little to quench my thirst to push myself.

Meanwhile, I made an attempt to plan out my spring racing schedule. I chose a few target marathons and passed my ideas on to my coach. The thought of having a plan and a target race really energized me, but my coach warned that we should still be taking things one week at a time, and not making any decisions now on when to run a marathon. UGH. In an ideal world, I would run a marathon in early February, and then have all of March and April to run shorter distances, including the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. And if I didn't BQ at the marathon, I would have another shot in early May. But my coach thinks that early February could be too soon, so he doesn't want to make any decisions yet. I trust my coach whole-heartedly and I wouldn't want to run a marathon that I wasn't ready for, so if I have to wait until March, I will.

My overall feeling is that I'm like a caged tiger. I want to plan my spring racing schedule. I want to do speed work. I want to run a race. I want to have some gage of where my fitness is. But instead, it's just easy running. Every. Single. Day.

Here is a recap of the details. Even though there is no variety in the runs, it's nice to see my easy pace getting faster and my distance increasing.

Week of October 10
Monday: 5.3 miles at an average pace of 9:17
Tuesday: 4.8 miles at an average pace of 9:11 (includes strides at the end)
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 6 miles at an average pace of 9:09 (includes strides at the end)
Friday: 4.7 miles at an average pace of 9:06
Saturday: 7 miles at an average pace of 9:11
Sunday: 2.3 miles at an average pace of 9:04

Total Mileage: 30.1

Monday, Oct. 17
Overall, last week went really smoothly. The weather was perfect every single day: in the 40s with no rain or wind. October is my favorite month of the year for running, and I savored every moment. I played around with the strides a little. I sometimes would use them to run a controlled even effort, at around 5K effort. And I used some of them more like traditional strides where you progress to a sprint.

Week of October 17
Monday: 6 miles at an average pace of 9:02 (includes strides)
Tuesday: 5.2 miles at an average pace of 9:04
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: 6.56 miles at an average pace of 9:09 (details about this below)
Friday: 4.7 miles at an average pace of 9:18
Saturday: 8 miles at an average pace of 9:05
Sunday: 3.1 miles at an average of pace of 8:35

Total Mileage: 33.6

On Thursday, the plan called for "60 minutes with the last 10 minutes harder." Because this was the only hint of speed on my 4-week plan (aside from strides) I had been looking forward to it for weeks. But as luck would have it, Thursday was also the hottest day of the month! It was 70 degrees and humid, which slowed my easy pace to 9:25, and my "harder" pace was around 8:00.  My average pace for the run didn't end up being faster than usual, but at least I had 10 minutes of "harder" effort, where I got to push a little more. I wish I could say that it felt great, but it doesn't feel great to push hard in the heat and humidity if you aren't acclimated.

Saturday's 8-mile run was ridiculously windy. Ever since I mastered the wind during the Shamrock Half Marathon last spring, though, I have noticed that even 20 mph sustained winds doesn't affect my pace all that much. Wind used to be a huge obstacle for me, but once I changed my mindset about it, then I realized that my speed doesn't have to be affected to such a great extent. Overall, I was pleased that I was able to run 8 miles at pace of 9:05 in the wind and have it feel easy. That's good progress for less than 5 weeks of running.

This morning, one of my friends was hosting a 5K at the elementary school she teaches at. Since I had 20-30 minutes on the schedule, I figured I would go support her and do it as a training run. Greg came we me and we ran slightly faster than "easy" pace at 8:35, finishing the race in 26:36. I later learned that this time won me third place in my age group, and 7th overall female! It was a small race.

I still have a long way to go to get back to where I was before I came down with mono. The below chart shows my running year-to-date. You can see the ill-fated attempts I made in August to start running again!

It's not easy being green, and I am hoping to add more "color" to my runs during the next few weeks. Overall, I am happy with my progress and thrilled to be healthy, and I know that variety and speed will eventually become part of my weekly schedule.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Everyone else is. . ."

One of the topics that I cover in depth in my book is making comparisons to other people. Little good
comes of comparing yourself to other people, and yet, it's part of human nature to do so. We all want to know how we stack up, and we tend to use other people to gage our own successes. With the rise of social media over the past 10 years, it's almost impossible to avoid these comparisons. There have been many articles written about how Facebook can cause depression-- when everyone else seems to have things that you don't.

When it comes to running, falling into the comparison trap is all too easy. We talk about our paces, the length of our runs, how many miles we trained, etc. There are so many numbers and data points that comparison just feels natural. If you're a perfectionist, then you'll likely look to find fault with your own running (potentially without realizing it) and noticing how someone else raced or trained compared to you just feeds into this counterproductive mindset.

It's difficult to not make these comparisons, especially if you are active on social media and have friends who run. My best advice for not doing it is to simply realize that focusing on other people will not help you with your own running. It could actually hurt your running if it results in you feeling like you have to run as fast as someone else. Then, you'll be putting additional pressure on yourself, which is not conducive to a strong performance. The best way to be successful is to simply focus on yourself and your own progress, independent of what others are doing.

Why am I talking about this now? At the Army Ten-miler last weekend, where I went to cheer on Greg and my friends, I found it difficult to not fall into the comparison trap: "Everyone else is running fast times and I can't even run 10 miles right now." When I registered for this race last spring, my goal was to run it at a sub-7:00 pace. But if you've been following this blog, you know that I spent the entire summer being sick and unable to train. Everyone who I went out to cheer for ran really well, and Greg broke 70 minutes with an average pace of 6:58. 

I had a great spectating spot to snap a photo of Greg.
My focus for the entire day was supporting Greg and my friends, but as the day progressed, I started to feel a sense of loss. I was perfectly fine the day before the race when we picked up Greg's packet, and even during the race when I was watching all the runners go by. But once the race was over and everyone started talking about their races, I felt a little sad. I didn't want to rain on anyone's parade so I did a good job of ignoring my feelings and focusing on being there for my friends. And yet, I still had a nagging feeling that I had missed out.

Later that evening, after all the celebrations were done, I started to reflect on my feelings. I was sad. It was hard to see everyone else have a great race when I was unable to run, and wouldn't be able to run the Army Ten-miler for another year. I then began to judge myself for falling into the comparison trap. For allowing other people's accomplishments to diminish my own. After all, I was recovering well, feeling healthy, and I had just run five miles the day before. So why was I back to my old ways of comparing myself to other people?

But then I realized something. I actually had not fallen into the comparison trap. Even though watching other people run this race really well (especially Greg, who ran the time that I had hoped to run) made me feel sad about my situation, I wasn't really comparing myself to them. Instead, I felt lonely. Lonely because everyone else was talking about their races, and I didn't have a story to share. Lonely because everyone else was talking about the upcoming Indianapolis marathon, which I wouldn't be running. Lonely because I was surrounded by my running friends and my husband, but not having a shared experience.

Countless runners have reached out to me to thank me for writing my book. Often, they tell me that they felt like they were reading their own story, and it was good to know that someone else out there experienced the same thing. It seems that readers are connecting with the book on an emotional level because it makes them feel less "lonely" for having feeling of disappointment, loss, injustice, and a slew of other negative emotions. They've thanked me for being so open and honest about my feelings. In a world dominated by social media where people typically only talk about their successes, it can feel lonely if you perceive yourself to be the only person who didn't set a PR or who didn't have a good race.

If you're trying to work on your mental toughness by steering yourself away from making comparisons to other people, then it's good to be aware of this loneliness component. You can be doing a great job of not comparing yourself to other people while still feeling disappointed, sad, or lonely about your own situation. It's important to separate the two. In my case, I have to be realistic in knowing that I am going to be a little sad about missing out on these fall races. It's harder to ignore those feelings when I'm actually attending the races and supporting my friends and my husband. But, overall, I'm in a great spot mentally and I am truly happy to see other people succeed. Especially Greg, who I have been coaching. The goal with mental toughness isn't to never feel sad or upset. The goal is to not dwell on those feelings and have them interfere with your overall state of being.

So when you feel like everyone else is. . . then, ask yourself if you are comparing yourself and your worth to those people (the comparison trap) or if you are lonely because you feel like you are the only one who feels a certain way. If you are lonely, then remember that you're actually not alone and that many other runners get down about their running from time to time. They just don't post about it on Facebook, usually, or even talk about it.