Sunday, March 20, 2016

Shamrock Half Marathon: A PR in Wicked Weather

Today's Shamrock Half Marathon was truly a breakthrough experience for me, in many ways.

At the expo
The weather conditions have been described by many as "brutal," "torturous" and even "horrendous." But in spite of that, I still managed to set a significant PR, after just having set a massive half marathon PR last fall at the Richmond Half. The weather for Richmond was near ideal-- low 40's very light winds and party sunny, and when I ran it, all of my training was geared specifically to the half marathon distance.

With Shamrock, the race came in the middle of Boston Marathon training, on semi-tired legs and a marathon-specific workouts as the buildup. I did have a mini-taper, but considering I had come off of a 68-mile week (my highest-mileage week ever) I wasn't sure how my legs would fare.

I had high hopes, however, and set my sights on running Shamrock 5 seconds per mile faster than Richmond, at a pace of 7:10. My workouts indicated that this pace was realistic for me, so I went into the race with a good bit of confidence. Earlier in the week, I had run a set of 6 x 800m + 3 x 200m. The 800m's averaged 3:12, and I felt like I could have done a few more of them.
Daily runs leading up to the Shamrock Half Marathon

The Day Before the Race
Pot of gold!
Greg and I drove down to Virginia Beach yesterday morning, encountering quite a bit of traffic on 95 due to spring break. I had half a pack of Sweet Tarts and some Skittles on this road trip, which I am including as a note to myself: it's okay to have candy the day before a race! When we arrived, we had lunch with one of my best friends who lives there, and then headed to the expo. At the expo, I purchased one of those medal racks with hooks to display race medals. I currently keep all of my medals on a shelf, but it's starting to look cluttered. This one is a chalkboard with a place to write all of your PRs, and also to clip your bibs to! Once it's up and running, I will share a photo.

I must have checked the weather about 30 times yesterday! But it wasn't with the same attitude/mindset of my former self. I wasn't stressing. I wasn't getting anxious. I wasn't feeling cheated. I knew that I was going to run the best race I possibly could in preparation for Boston. I kept looking because the temperature kept changing (from 42-48) and the amount of rain kept changing. These types of things would determine my wardrobe decisions.

The below screen shot shows the forecast as of 4:00pm yesterday, and it ended up being somewhat accurate. The actual temperature was 45 and with the rain, it felt much colder. Greg and I met up with some friends at dinner, and my friend Lexi and I debated over our outfits. Long sleeves? Or short sleeves with arm warmers? Hat? No hat? It would be a game-day decision.

Race weather

When I awoke on race morning, I checked the weather one final time and decided I would go with short sleeves + arm warmers. My long sleeve shirt was a bit bigger and I didn't want it to be flopping around all wet. The short sleeve shirt had a tighter fit, and the arm warmers were much more substantial than sleeves. Note: there is no need to pay for expensive running arm warmers. Mine were $3 socks from Walmart and I cut off the toe area to turn them into arm warmers. This meant I could toss them at any point in the race. They were super comfortable the entire time, and kept my arms relatively warm and dry.

I was a little bit worried about my hat flying off in the wind. I wanted to wear a hat with a brim to keep the water off of my face, but I've been in windy races where the hat keeps flying off and it's annoying. So I used about 8 bobby pins to keep the hat securely on my head and it didn't budge.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I have been training exclusively with Generation UCAN. I am now an official UCAN ambassador, so if anyone wants a 10% discount code, be sure to use this link and the discount will apply.

Two hours before the race, I had about 3/4 of a bagel with peanut butter. 30 minutes before the race I drank one packet of lemonade flavored UCAN mixed with 8 oz of water. I brought some chews with me in case I started to feel low on energy, because I have never raced a half marathon with just UCAN. But, I never needed them! UCAN was truly a savoir here because my hands were numb for pretty much the entire race, which would make taking a gel or chews rather difficult. So, I didn't have to take in any additional fuel during the race. The pre-race drink was all I needed to feel energized throughout.

As for hydration, I filled a water bottle halfway with warm water because I knew the bottle would soon become to cold to  hold.

I had my strategy all mapped out, and I was focused on executing it more than anything. My plan was to start with the 1:35 pace group and stay tucked in with them for the first half, which would be a headwind. Then, once the headwind was gone, my plan was to speed ahead of them and come in somewhere in the 1:34:xx range.

Start Line
Greg and I left the hotel 20 minutes before the race started. When we got outside, it was a rude awakening. It was pouring rain, the wind was slapping us in the face at 23+ MPH, and it was really cold. Instead of focusing on that, I focused on executing my plan. I immediately began my warm up which included running 7 blocks to the start and then back and forth on the course a little bit. I ran for 10 minutes, and then got into the corral. During the warm up, I had to keep my head down to avoid rain flying in my face, and I tried not to think about the fact that I would be racing in these conditions. It was also dark, which made things even more difficult.

With 5 minutes to go, I handed my jacket to Greg. Brrrrr!!! It did not feel good getting rid of that jacket. I found the 1:35 pacer and I asked him if he was planning on keeping an even pace throughout, or running slower through the wind. He said he was going to try to run an even pace. That's exactly what I wanted!

There was definitely a unique camaraderie at this start line as we were all getting pelted with cold rain. The speaker system kept going in and out, and we were worried we'd end up with no announcer. During the National Anthem, the sound kept cutting out, which was kind of cool because at the end, when it cut out, the entire crowd sang "and the home of the brave!" The energy was contagious. My spirits were high and I felt ready.

Miles 1-4
The race started and I told myself to stick with the 1:35 pace group. It was dark and quite crowded, so the actual pacers got a little bit ahead of me, but I was still well shielded. I realized that I have not run in a "pack" like this since I was a much slower runner and the pack was due to crowding. I realized liked "pack" running. It's like what you see at the NYC marathon or Boston when there's a pack of elites running closely together for the first half. I just pretended that was me and enjoyed it!

Even though I had filled my water bottle with hot water, it got cold very quickly, so I decided to ditch it during the third mile. I figured it would be good practice drinking from cups later in the race.

The wind was the worst during these early miles because it was a direct headwind. But due to being in a pack, I didn't feel all that much resistance. We were also running a pace that was slower than what I would have otherwise started at, so it felt relatively easy. We turned a corner after the first three miles, and the wind was no longer as brutal. The pacer sped up, and I heard someone behind me yell out that it was too fast as we hit the mile 4 mark.

Mile 1: 7:15
Mile 2: 7:17
Mile 3: 7:16
Mile 4: 7:04

Miles 5-8
During the 5th mile I wanted to hit a tangent, which required me to break away from the pace group. It came at the perfect time because the pace group pace was feeling a bit too easy for half marathon pace and I was ready to pick up the pace. I didn't notice much wind during miles 5-6, I think it must have been to our sides or our backs. It allowed me to dial in a nice, strong, pace.

Mile 8, brutal winds!
I felt awesome! When I hit the halfway point, I realized that it wasn't even feeling hard yet! My spirits were high, I felt light on my feet and I kept passing people. I knew that miles 7-8 would be back into the headwind, so I was mentally prepared for that. And when I got to those miles, I was amazed at how well I managed. I drank a tiny bit of water from cups during this portion. I knew I needed the water, even though I wasn't thirsty, and I really did not want to slow down.

I ran this race in 2014 and the wind during miles 7-8 kicked my butt. Not only did I slow down significantly, but I also got really upset and had a negative mindset. I was determined that no matter what, I would keep strong and stay positive! This was partially a revenge race for me. Two years ago, pretty much everyone I knew running the race set a PR except for me. I hadn't set a half marathon PR in 4 years and I was frustrated and upset. I got over it pretty quickly, but I didn't want any of that negativity today.

During the windy part, I encouraged other runners, and I got outside of my own head. I was running with one girl for about half a mile and just having someone next to me was energizing.

Mile 5: 7:12
Mile 6: 7:07
Mile 7: 7:10
Mile 8: 7:17

Miles 9-13
Mile 13
I knew that these last 5 miles should be a tailwind, or least not such a nasty headwind. With that in mind, I executed on my plan of really gunning it home. I started passing a lot of people and I felt like I was flying. I remembered feeling like death two years ago at this point and I was so happy to be feeling strong!

At mile 9, my Garmin read 7:11 for the average race pace. I wanted to bring that down to 7:10. So I told myself to try and run 7:07 or faster for the rest of the race. Turns out I had even more than that in me! As I got closer to the finish line, and saw my average race pace slide under 7:10, and I knew that I could break 1:34.

Many runners say that they do better when they don't look at the Garmin and just run by feel. For me, it motivates me to run faster if I'm feeling good.

Mile 9: 7:05
Mile 10: 7:01
Mile 11: 6:58
Mile 12: 7:02
Mile 13: 6:56
The last 0.14: 6:03 pace (thanks tailwind)

The Finish
Once I realized what I had just accomplished, I could feel tears coming to me as I walked through the finish line chute. I had overcome my demons. I did not let the wind get me down. I ran a half marathon at a pace of 7:09 and I qualified for the New York City marathon. I DNF'ed the Shamrock full marathon in 2010 and 2012. That's two DNFs at the same race. And here I was, on a day when the weather was arguably as bad as it's ever been for this race, with a huge PR by one minute and 32 seconds.

I'm so happy with these results! I was elated when I ran Richmond in 1:35:08, but to pull this off in the middle of such an intense marathon training cycle with bad weather is not something I expected. I knew I had the fitness for a pace of about 7:10, but I wasn't sure if it would actually happen.

I think so much of my success today was mental. Of course I wasn't thrilled about the weather conditions, but I took them in stride, and accepted them. I had a strategy for dealing with the wind, which worked, and focusing on that made the race seem a lot more approachable.

Up Next: BOSTON!!!
I'm feeling more and more confident about my ability to run well in Boston. Even if it's windy, I think I can manage. I do hope it's not hot though, particularly with that 10:50 start. According to the McMillan Calculator, this race predicts a 3:16:59 marathon. I would be happy with anything under 3:35, and I'm planning to shoot for somewhere around 3:25. (Boston is just a wee bit hillier than Shamrock.)

Now I am going to focus on recovery so that I can run a strong workout on Thursday, and 22 miles on Saturday.

News Headline

Greg made me a PR cake!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Boston Build-Up: 5 Weeks To Go

Boston is freakishly close! In five weeks I will be eating my "last supper" before running my first Boston Marathon.

Training has gotten super intense over the past two weeks. I never thought I would be able to train at this level--at least not without getting injured. Here's a snapshot of the training cycle so far:

This week was 68 miles and last week was 67 miles. Because I did this week's long run on a Friday, I actually had a rolling 7-day total of 80 miles as of Friday, March 11th. That's a 7-day record for me, and this 68-mile week is a "Monday-Sunday" record.

I've been running marathons for 10 years, and I've been training seriously (with a coach or plan) for the past 7. So why haven't I been able to run like this until just now? I think that I've built up to it properly. When I first started working with my coach in July 2014, he dropped my mileage and had me running faster, more intense workouts. Doing difficult workouts while keeping the overall volume low has prepared me to safely tack on miles.

Also, it used to be that I would run a lot of "junk miles" and my quality/speed workout days would have low mileage. For example, in the past, I might have run 10 miles easy on a Monday, followed by 5 x 800m on a Tuesday. The Tuesday workout, including warm up and cool down, might have only amounted to 8 miles. When I started working with my coach, I flipped that, making my easy runs only 4-7 miles (truly easy) with workout day mileage totaling 10+.

Essentially, I've been building up to this level over the past two years. So even though going from the low 40's in December to the high 60's in March seems like a huge jump, my body was prepared for it. One of my favorite all-time running quotes is "you do the training so you can do the training so you can do the training." And I've found that to be true.

Here's a look at my daily mileage for the past 30 days.

In addition to the high mileage, I've had some really fun/interesting/crazy workouts. I about had a heart attack when I saw this on my training plan last week (it's the purple tempo run above): "15 to 30 minute Warm-Up + 4 mile tempo run, 800m jog, 2 times 90 seconds, 4 times 60 seconds, 4 times 45 seconds, 4 times 30 seconds, 6 times 15 seconds all with the same recovery as the rep time + 15 to 30 minute Cool-down." I ended up with 45 splits on my Garmin! I felt really accomplished when the run was done, having stayed strong all the way through the finish. My tempo pace for the 4 miles was 7:02, and I kept all of the shorter intervals at a 6:35 pace or quicker.

On Tuesday of this week, I ran 10 miles at marathon pace, plus warm up and cool down. Thankfully, I had perfect weather (overcast and 44 degrees) and I felt amazing. I was able to average a pace of 7:39 and it didn't even feel hard until the last two miles. Do I plan to run a 7:39 marathon pace in Boston? I think it's possible if the weather is just right and I'm having a good day. But never having done it before, I'll probably start out slower and then speed up if I am able. My main goal with Boston is to have an amazing experience and to soak it all in! Part of that is running my best race possible, and I know I'll be prepared to do that.

Earlier I mentioned that I did this week's 20-miler on a Friday. That's because I spent my Saturday
At the start line of RNR DC
morning cheer for my husband and good friend Allison at the Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon. Greg broke his ankle one year ago, and it's been a long road back to running for him. He was in a boot for nearly two months, and then stayed on crutches for a few weeks after that. He wasn't able to return to running until the end of August. He ran the Columbus Half Marathon in October, and then began training for the marathon in November. I wrote his training plan for him, which was very conservative to make sure he came back safely.

Greg and Allison were planning on running similar paces, which made it easy for me to cheer and take photos. Even though they weren't planning to run together (and didn't actually "run together") they were always within about a minute of each other. I was able to take the metro around the city to see them at mile 7.5, 15, 17, and the finish. I had a lot of fun, and it was so exciting to see all of Greg and Allison's hard work pay off. Greg wound up with a 3:40, which is amazing given all the time off he took last year, and Allison with a 3:39 BQ! Both of them looked strong throughout and I plan to use them as inspiration during my next race!

Greg is always so supportive of me and my running that it was nice to be able to support him, give him his water bottle when he needed it, and take photos. I also just really love the "vibe" of a big race. So much excitement!

Allison in purple tank, Greg in blue shirt at mile 7.5

I ended up logging about 17,000 steps on my FitBit, which winds up being 7-8 miles of walking. It was definitely a tiring day of being on my feet, but I loved every second of it.

I hope the next five weeks of training continue to go well. My legs are definitely feeling the miles, particularly since I run my "easy" runs on very hilly routes, sometimes with downhill strides at the end. I want to be really prepared for all the hills in Boston so I am seeking them out on my training runs.

Oh- and my Boston Marathon jacket came in the mail! I tried it on to make sure it fit, but I won't wear it until I actually arrive in Boston. I was temped to wear it yesterday at the RNR DC marathon since the weather was perfect for it, but I didn't want to tempt fate! I'll probably end up being one of those people who wear the jacket to race expos even when it's like 70 degrees outside. . . :-)