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.