Sunday, February 28, 2016

Boston Marathon Training Update: 7 Weeks To Go!

The end of a 20-miler on the W&OD
I can't believe that I will be running the Boston Marathon in just seven weeks! This has been a dream of mine for over eight years and it's finally coming true. So far, my training cycle has gone well. I've had to make a few adjustments due to weather, like changing workout days around, or running after work instead of the morning, but I'm extremely grateful that I have not yet missed amazingly any runs!

I've been getting plenty of sleep, taking ice baths after hard workouts, foam rolling religiously, eating plenty of protein and carbs immediately following my runs, and regularly doing my hip exercises. All of this is simply part of my lifestyle, and it hasn't felt like it's taken over my life. I've been eating a ton, but my weight is the lowest it's been in over 8 years. My coach says this is normal when you change up your training. I've lost about 10 pounds since I started working with him nearly two years ago.

My coach has gradually built my weekly mileage, and removed my one rest day at the end of January. As such, I have run every single day in February, which is new territory for me. Ever since I've started running I've always had at least one rest day per week. On Sunday, my prescribed run is "30 minutes recovery or rest," but I've found that my long runs don't beat up my legs too much and I can easily manage those 30 minutes. As the race gets closer and I really want my legs to be sharp, I might opt for the rest option.

The last 9 weeks of training

Tempo Intervals
Above is a snapshot of my weekly mileage. One of the interesting things is the lack of tempo runs during the past four weeks. This is because my coach has prescribed tempo intervals instead, which I log as intervals. The great thing about tempo intervals is that you run faster than tempo pace, which is designed to build your lactate threshold more than simply running at lactate threshold.

One example of this was on Tuesday, when the workout called for 5 x 8 minutes at medium-hard effort, with 3-minute recovery jogs. Followed by 3 x 40 seconds to keep the legs sharp. My paces were 6:58, 6:57, 6:53, 6:53, 6:52 for each of the 8-minute segments (1.15-1.16 miles each). Another example was two Thursdays ago when the workout called for 8-10 x 1000m with 200m recovery jogs. I polished off 9 of those at paces from 6:45-6:50/mile. I think that workouts like these will make my marathon and half marathon pace faster.

I've changed my fueling strategy and it's worked really well. I used to use Honey Stinger gels every 45-60 minutes, but those sometimes upset my stomach. I was able to run my Boston Qualifying marathon with them fine last spring, but during my previous marathon, my stomach revolted and I could only have two of them.

I started experimenting with UCAN when I received a prize pack of it from McMillan Running, including all the flavors and pretty much every product they offer. Not once has this fuel upset my stomach, and it lasts much longer than  honey, so I don't need to take it as often. It comes as a powder, and I drink it before my long runs, and make a gel out of it to take mid long run. That way I can carry water and put the gel in my skirt pocket. Because the Boston Marathon starts mid-morning, I'm going to start my next long run at 10:30 and eat exactly as I plan to on race day.

Long Runs
Whenever I start training for a marathon, I find the first few long runs really hard, and then my body adjusts. I ran 20 miles yesterday and it didn't feel as challenging as some of my earlier long runs, which were 15-16 miles. I'm trying to incorporate hills into my long runs and easy runs so that my legs will be ready for those on race day. When I ran my 20-miler yesterday, the last 5 miles were at marathon pace, and the last two miles had an elevation gain similar to some of the Newton hills.

Here are my splits from yesterday's run, with my average heart rate in the middle of my Zone 2 (aerobic zone). This was extremely encouraging.

My training plan for the next several weeks looks really, really intense. I hope I am able to continue to crank out these runs as well as I have been for the past nine weeks.

After 19 miles on the W&OD Trail

Monday, February 15, 2016

Run Your Heart Out 5K

I plan my race schedule for each season far in advance. As I train for the Boston Marathon in April, my coach and I agreed on two tune-up races: the GW Birthday 10K on February 14 and the Shamrock half marathon in mid-March. I may also squeeze in a Crystal City 5K, but I'm not sure about that yet.

I've seen another jump in fitness lately and I was excited about the possibility of crushing it in a 10K. I think my 10K PR is soft, and I was planning on going for a 30-40 second PR in the 10K yesterday. BUT. . . the race was cancelled. The race director's email said that it was too cold and unsafe to run, but I disagreed and so did other area race directors. Two other 5Ks took place as scheduled, and as well as a local marathon. Unfortunately, there were no other 10K races to choose from so I settled doing one of the 5Ks-- the "Run Your Heart Out" 5K in Fairfax Corner.

The weather itself was really not that bad-- 14 degrees, sunny, with 8-10 MPH winds. I've done quite a few training runs in really cold weather and I've raced in worse. Far worse, in fact. Last winter, I ran a 15K in a torrential downpour, and at only 39 degrees, I was feeling pretty close to  hypothermia by the end. Yesterday's weather was a walk in the park compared to that 15K, and compared to most races in the summer when I overheat!
Race start, I'm in the pink. Photo courtesy of =PR= Races

Overheating was actually a concern of mine. I overheat very, very easily, particularly if it's sunny. For me to perform well in sunny weather, the temperature needs to be below 45. I qualified for Boston on a 25-degree day with plenty of sun, and I felt great in just a lightweight top. I decided I would wear a very thin short-sleeve shirt as a base layer, and then wear a medium-weight half-zip top over that. I also wore heavy tights-- Saucony "Siberius" tights that are rated for temperatures far below freezing.

Based on my knowledge of the course, my plan was to run a race with splits that looked like this: 6:28, 6:54, 6:54. I wasn't trying to PR, given that this course is much hillier than the one I PRed on, but I thought that a 6:45 average pace was within my reach.

Before the race
Greg decided to sit this race out and do a long run later in the day once it warmed up. He drove me to the race and waited in a coffee shop while I warmed up. I knew that starting the race warm would be really important to avoid muscle cramping, so I ran the full course, and then went into the coffee shop to ditch my jacket. I then went back outside and jogged around the parking lot until one minute before the race start.

Mile 1: 6:39
I've run this course before so there were no surprises. I planned on the first mile being my fastest because it's mainly downhill, and I had actually planned on it being in the 6:28-6:30 arena. But it's difficult for me to start running fast right out of the gate (even if I've already warmed up) so a 6:39 was the best I could do. Whenever I run intervals, my first rep is always significantly slower than the rest of them, which I am okay with, but when racing short distances like the 5K, I need to learn how to turn on the gas ASAP.

Mile 2: 6:47
I actually started to feel warm during this mile as I ran directly into the sun, so I unzipped my top
Heading for the finish line.
down as far as it would go, and I un-tucked my base-layer shirt. I spent this mile focused on keeping the effort level strong, and I even passed a few runners.

Mile 3: 7:05
This last mile was brutal. I was mentally prepared for it, but it was a huge hill directly into the headwind and I had to push so hard just to maintain my 7:05 pace. I think my effort level here was significantly higher than it was during the first mile, but the hill and the wind were working against me.

Last 0.17: (6:36 pace)
Usually I have a stronger final kick in the 5K, but this one included 2 turns and I was so beat from that last mile that I didn't have a lot left in me to give. As I approached the finish line, I was disappointed to see that the clock read 21:40. I knew I hadn't run as fast as I had planned, but I thought for sure I'd at least be in the low 21's. And then I realized that my Garmin measured 3.17 miles, which equates to a 21:41 at my average pace of 6:50.

After the race
Instead of having an awards ceremony, they gave the awards away inside of the running store immediately after the race. This meant that we didn't have to wait around in the cold. I ended up in 4th place for the women's race, winning 1st place in my age group. Having just watched the Olympic Trials the day before, Greg told me I was the Kara Goucher of the race. Which isn't too shabby!

After I got my award, Greg and I made our way back to the car where I changed into a heavier running top and swapped out my racing shoes for a more cushioned pair of Nike Lunarglides. Greg drove the car home and I ran home! My coach wanted me to run an additional 90-120 minutes after the race, but given that I had warmed up for about 4 miles beforehand, I thought that 80-90 was more realistic.

My run home felt really great, and it didn't even feel like I had just raced a 5K. With only 3 miles left to go, I ran into Greg who had driven home, changed into running clothes, and started his long run. (I had told him what my route would be so that we could meet up.)

My total mileage for the day was 16.1, which includes a 5K at a pace of 6:50, and a first place age group award! Not too shabby for a day that some race directors consider "unsafe" weather. I would have liked to run that race about 30 seconds faster "officially," although I was only off my pacing strategy by 5 seconds per mile.

I'm looking forward to some nicer weather toward the end of this week!

Photo courtesy of Greg Clor.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mizuno Wave Catalyst Review

I typically don't review products on my blog. I don't have relationships with particular brands, and I
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Mizuno Wave Catalyst, released February 2016
am usually not offered free stuff. But when it comes to something I am passionate about, like my beloved but discontinued Mizuno Wave Elixir shoes, I need to speak out. Today I offer a Mizuno Wave Catalyst Review, which is supposed to be a replacement for the Elixir.

About two years ago, Mizuno discontinued the Mizuno Wave Elixir, arguably one of the best running shoes ever created. This shoe had it all. It was supportive enough to run a half marathon in (and some people even ran marathons in them) but also lightweight and fast-feeling. The shoe molded to my foot perfectly and had just enough cushion to be comfortable, while still feeling the ground beneath me.

I wasn't alone in my love for this shoe. It had a cult-like fan base who are all in strong agreement that it was a huge mistake for Mizuno to discontinue the shoe. Online forums and discussion groups exploded with heated comments about the decision. And whenever I wear my Elixirs to a race, other runners tell me how much they loved those shoes, and how disappointed they are that they are no longer available. Whenever I post a photo of myself racing in the Elixirs, people comment asking me where I got them. Fortunately, I stock-piled about 10 pairs of them, so I still have two of them new-in-box, and one of them with about 2/3 life left.

When Mizuno discontinued the Elixir, they came out with the Wave Sayonara. I liked this shoe quite a bit, but the drawback was that it didn't have as much cushion as the Elixir, so I was afraid to wear it in a half marathon, when my feet begin to hurt at mile 10. I added the Wave Sayonara into my rotation, using it for races shorter than a half marathon, and shorter, faster speed workouts. I continued to use my Elixirs for half marathons and longer workouts, like 5-6 mile tempo runs. I should also note that I wear the Nike Lunarglide for long runs and the Mizuno Wave Inspire for easy runs.

Mizuno Wave Catalyst
After two years, Mizuno realized its error, but instead of simply putting the Elixir back on the market, or making the Sayonara more similar to the Elixir, it came out with a new shoe--the Mizuno Wave Catalyst. I pre-ordered my pair on RunningWarehouse and expected it to arrive on Feb. 19.  The shoe unexpectedly arrived early, however, and I received it this week.

My first order of business when I received the Wave Catalyst was to weigh one of the shoes, and compare it to that of the Wave Elixir.

Top Left: Inspire 11, Top Right: Catalyst, Bottom Left: Sayonara 2, Bottom Right, Elixir 8. All shoes size 6.5
A few things to note about my shoe-buying habits. For some reason, I only get about 180-200 miles out of my shoes. After that, my legs begin to ache and I feel a distinct lack of support. So to save money, I always buy the previous year's shoe model on sale. I've gotten year-old Inspire models for as low as $45!  In the photo above, the Mizuno Inspire is last year's model, as is the Mizuno Sayonara. I have not yet tried this year's models and I will not try them until they go on sale! I will be basing my review and comparisons off of these models.

Before I even put the Catalysts on my feet, I made some observations based on their weight, and what I know about their specs from RunningWarehouse. My first question is, why does Mizuno have three
Mizuno Wave Catalyst, fresh out of the box
pairs of shoes that are so similar in terms of weight, stack height, and support? Apparently, the new model of the Sayonara, Inspire, and Catalyst all weigh almost the exact same amount! The only real difference is the amount of stability, but even the Sayonara, which is supposedly neutral, has enough stability for me.

I think the biggest disappointment, though, is that the Wave Catalyst is 1.3 grams (about half an ounce) heavier than the Elixir. And RunningWarehouse rates it as a shoe for "standard" running-- not for "performance" like the Elixir was. And the Sayonara 3 (not pictured here) supposedly weighs more than the 2. Meanwhile, the Inspire keeps getting lighter. In other words, they are making their lightweight performance shoes heavier, and their supportive everyday shoes lighter. That makes no sense to me.

Test Run
I figured I would try out the Wave Catalysts on an easy 60-minute run. I didn't want to experiment with a new shoe during a workout, for fear that they wouldn't support me properly.

When I first put the shoes on and walked around I was optimistic. They felt comfortable and they fit pretty well (as all Mizuno shoes tend to do with my narrow feet). The first two miles of the run were promising. The shoes seemed to have more bounce/spring than the Sayonara and the Elixir, and they felt more cushioned as well. In fact, they seemed most similar to the Inspire.

But as I got further into the run, I determined I didn't like the shoes as much. They actually started to feel more like the Elixir in that I could feel the ground beneath my feet a bit more. But the downside was that my feet started to hurt a little, and the shoes became uncomfortable. I felt like my left big toe was hitting the top of the shoe (and I've been wearing 6.5 in Mizuno for years without that problem) and on the right, the shoe seemed to get tighter around the forefoot, and the ball of my foot began to hurt. Sometimes these issues resolve themselves once the shoe is more broken in, but I never had to break-in the Elixir.

The Verdict
By the time I hit mile 6, I was ready to take the shoes off. They didn't feel as good as the Elixir, and they certainly weren't as fast/light as the Sayonara 2. And they weren't as supportive as the Inspire. My overall impression: mediocre. I think Mizuno is trying to "please everyone" with this shoe, and they make a ton of compromises to do so. It's basically a slightly less supportive version of the Wave Inspire, potentially for people who love the Inspire but are ready to "graduate" to a little less support, and a slightly smaller heel-toe offset.

I will note, however, that my average pace for this 60-minute run was 8:46 (6.8 miles total). Typically, I run my easy runs at a pace of 8:55-9:10, and I wasn't trying to run any faster today. So maybe the shoes were "faster" or maybe it was just a coincidence.

I think I am going to return the shoe to RunningWarehouse for store credit. Initially, I was going to trade it in for the Sayonara 3 to see how that felt, but apparently that shoe weighs even MORE than the Catalyst, so why would I do that? I have enough Elixirs to last me another year, and I'm going to start stockpiling the Sayonara 2 as well. Once those run out, maybe Mizuno will have released a version of the Catalyst that's lighter, that fits better, and is a true Elixir replacement.

Mizuno- PLEASE stop messing with your customers' favorite shoes!

Mizuno Wave Elixir- Bring back these shoes, please!

I hope you enjoyed this Mizuno Wave Catalyst review, and I welcome your comments and experiences.