Sunday, April 23, 2017

GW Parkway Classic 5K: Slower, but "Faster"

This morning I ran the GW Parkway Classic 5K. I had only run this race once in the past back in 2008, when I ran a 23:58. This race also offers a 10-mile race (which is what the event is known for) and I had run that three times, although two of them had been marathon-pace training runs. The 5K is
GW Parkway Classic
the last 5K of the 10-mile course, which runs along the scenic Potomac River.

The GW Parkway Classic is a point-to-point course. Shuttle busses drop runners off at the start line and they run back to the finish line in Old Town, Alexandria. The last bus leaves at 7:00, and the race starts at 8:00. Greg and I didn't think it made sense to arrive at the race an hour an a half before the start and take the bus, so we parked about 2 miles away from the start and simply ran our warmup to the start.

Let me back up a bit.

Last Friday, I ran the Crystal City 5K Friday, in a time of 20:44. It was an evening race and I felt remarkably fast and strong for a warm (70-degree) race that was held at a time when I am usually getting ready for bed! My Garmin clocked an average pace of 6:34 for 3.16 miles, which yielded an official time of 20:44. This was a six-second PR.

I figured that the GW Parkway course, which only has two turns, would be much faster, simply because I wouldn't lose momentum with so many turns and I'd be able to run the tangents, for a Garmin distance of closer to 3.1 miles. Not to mention, the weather was forecast to be much cooler (49 degrees at the start). I figured with all of this in my favor, I would be able to take at least 10 seconds off of my official time; probably even more.

My week of training in between the two races looked like this:

Saturday: 10.2 miles easy @ 8:50 avg.

Sunday: 3.5 miles easy @ 8:39 avg.

Monday: 4 x (600m hard, 200m recovery, 200m hard, 3 minutes recovery). My splits were 2:20, 0:42, 2:16, 0:41, 2:16, 0:41, 2:15, 0:41. So the 600's were between a pace of 6:00-6:20, and the 200's were around 5:30.

Tuesday: 8.6 miles easy @ 8:37 avg.

Wednesday: 2 miles at "steady state" and 1 mile hard. The company I worked for hosted a 5K race at
5K Race to benefit STEM for Her at MicroStrategy World
its annual conference, which just happened to be occurring a few miles from the GW Parkway Classic finish area. I didn't want to race it at full effort, given the 5K from the previous Friday and the 5K on the upcoming Sunday. My splits were 7:16, 7:15, 6:43.  Including warm up and cool down, I ran 5.8 miles.

Thursday: 7.5 miles easy @ 8:21 avg. I was still at the conference, so I had the opportunity to run across the Wilson Bridge, which connects Maryland (where the conference was) to Virginia (where the GW Parkway Race is). I scoped out the course on the Virginia side and figured out where we could park. This was a beautiful run, and it made me think that I should do my long runs in more scenic locations instead of my local neighborhood routes.

Friday and Saturday were both easy low-mileage days, and I felt strong and ready for the GW Parkway race.

Before the Race
Greg and I ran to the start line, and much to Greg's dismay, the porta potty line was extremely long. I, thankfully, did not need to use one, so I continued my warm up. About ten minutes later I found Greg still in line! And he had quite a few people in front of him. There were only 5 porta potties and this race had over 1,300 runners. Definitely not enough, especially since most runners arrived at the start line over an hour in advance.

It was getting late, and Greg wanted to stay in line and wait, so I made my way alone to the start line. Annoyingly, there was a group of about 5-10 children, who looked to be about six years old at the very front. They had an adult with them and the adult was telling them not to line up in the first row, but it was okay for them to be in the second row. I knew they would go out blazing fast and then I'd have to weave my way around them during the first quarter of a mile. With two minutes to go, there was still no sign of Greg. But finally he appeared, with only about 30 seconds to spare.

Mile 1: 6:35
My plan was to run the first mile at 6:31-6:32. The first mile is flat, and I wanted to run my goal pace for the first mile. Much to my surprise, the pace on my Garmin did not match my effort level. I thought I was running really hard, and for most of the mile, I was barely below 6:40. But, I didn't
The bib even matched, and I had orange socks.
judge it, and I didn't do anything foolish like try and surge that early. The race started going south on the parkway, and after a quarter of a mile, we turned around and ran north. We would run north for the remainder of the race, and I'm not sure what the reason was for the turnaround at the start. I noticed there were about 5-6 women ahead of me. I passed the first one about half a mile in, and I passed the second one at the first mile marker. Greg was not very far ahead of me. Typically he goes out really fast in 5Ks and I can't even see him; that's how it was in Crystal City. But I figured I was in good shape if I was only running about 4-5 seconds behind him.

I had to keep reminding myself not to adjust my shorts, which kept riding up. I had fallen in love with a pair of Nike Pro shorts because they matched my McMillan racing gear so perfectly. But they were not comfortable, and probably looked more like briefs by the end of the race. I kept wanting to adjust them throughout the race, but I knew that would take energy away from running so I resisted the urge.

Mile 2: 6:42
This mile was really tough. There was a hill (which didn't look that long or steep) but I really slowed down on it. I think the issue was the headwind. Based on the Crystal City race, I really thought I should have been able to run faster, but I couldn't. I was working really, really hard and I felt pretty good; but my pace simply wasn't as fast as I expected. Most of this mile actually hovered around 6:50 until the downhill, when I really surged and passed a guy, and brought my average pace down significantly.

Mile 3: 6:35
This mile started up a hill that was steeper than the previous one, but shorter. I worked my way up the hill and couldn't even bring myself to look at the pace on my Garmin. We turned a corner and the rest of the mile was one long straightaway to the finish line, on a road offered a slight decline. One of my colleagues who lives in Alexandria was cheering for me shortly after the turn. I knew to expect her
and it gave me a burst of energy to hear her call my name. I was hurting pretty badly by this point and I wondered how I would ever make it to the finish line without slowing down. I noticed that Greg had widened the gap substantially. He was going for sub-20:00 and I wondered if he would make it.

I really liked this part of the course because it was mainly flat with a slight decline, and it was really wide with plenty of space to run. But the headwind made it challenging. I can't complain too much about it because it was 10 mph, which is not that strong, and the overall weather was fantastic. But, it definitely made that last mile (and actually the whole race) more challenging than anticipated. I was running slower than I had hoped for, but I was still motivated to get a PR because I knew this course would end up being "shorter" than the one from last Friday.

As I approached the finish line, I was able to slightly increase my speed, and I approached a woman who I had in my sights for the entire race. I was really closing the gap on her, and when I passed the mile 3 mark, I really surged to try and pass her.

The last 0.12: 6:11 pace
She noticed me, though, and she pushed harder and ended up beating me by two seconds. After the race, she thanked me for showing up because she said it motivated her to push even harder. She motivated me to push as well, so it was mutual!

My official time was 20:38, which is a PR by six seconds! Interestingly, the Crystal City 5K was also a six-second PR from my previous time of 20:50. So in the last 9 days, I have shaved 12 seconds off of my 5K PR. This also means that I have set THREE PRs in the month of April: one at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, one at the Crystal City 5K, and another one today.

After the Race
I found Greg and he told me he ran a 20:02. This was a PR for him by seven seconds, although it wasn't the sub-20:00 he had hoped for. We walked around looking for race results to see where we ranked. I thought I was either the 4th or 5th woman overall. We couldn't find results posted anywhere, so we ran about a mile to where my friend/colleague had been cheering-- which was right in front of her house. She had fresh muffins in the oven and offered us fruit, waffles and coffee. Before indulging, we checked the results on her computer (we don't run with our phones) and as it turned out, I was the first woman in my age group, and 4th overall female finisher out of 870.

So back we ran to the finish line area. We asked when and where the 5K awards would be, and they told us they weren't going to happen for another hour, and that my prize would be a medal. I didn't really want to wait that long, and I decided I would much rather go back to my friend's house and relax. I later learned I can pick up my medal at the running store in Alexandria.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
One thing that I learned in sports psychology is that it's useful to look at both metrics: official race pace and Garmin pace. The difference between these two is the inability to run perfect tangents, or running a course that is not USATF certified.

Arguably, the Garmin pace is more important. Why? Unless you're a professional athlete, your race time actually doesn't matter. It's important because it shows your personal achievement. But in that case, wouldn't a more accurate measure of personal achievement be to use the same timing system/device across all runs?  I'm sure many runners would disagree with me, especially in this day and age of social media where you don't want to be accused of inaccurately representing your ability. Official is official is official.

I can say with complete confidence that I ran the Crystal City 5K faster than I ran this race, even though my official time says otherwise. I am actually more pleased with my performance last week than with my performance this morning. I think that the course from last week was harder, and I ran it faster. But does that mean I can't celebrate my new official PR? Nope! 20:38 it is, and I'll be having PR cake this evening with a time of 20:38. (Come back later for photos).

I'm looking forward to hitting the track pretty hard over the next few weeks so that I can try and chip away even more at my 5K pace. I'd love to be able to run a 20:17 at some point in 2017. Probably in the fall, but I'll try my best over the summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Crystal City 5K: Chipping Away at It

Last night I ran the Crystal City 5K Friday. I know, that sounds weird, but "Friday" is actually part of the race name. This race occurs every Friday evening in April, and I ran the second race in the series. Now that the marathon and the 10-miler are done with, I'm going to spend the next few months focusing on speed. I haven't done much speed work since the marathon, and I decided that the Crystal City race would give me a nice baseline from which to start.

I've run this race several times in the past:
  • 2010 (22:21) - A PR by over a minute!
  • 2011 (22:40) - Coming off of stress fractures
  • 2011 (22:18) - Coming off of stress fractures + 2 extra weeks of training
  • 2012 (22:00) - Pretty good race
  • 2014 (22:11) - I just wasn't "feeling" it after a business trip earlier in the week
In February, I ran a 10K on a hilly course during which my pace was only two seconds per mile slower than my 5K PR pace. In fact, I tied my 5K PR (20:50) at the 5K split. And at a 10K on New Year's Eve, I ran a 20:13 5K during the second half, which was all downhill. So, I was confident in
my ability to set a PR last night.

But it wasn't a given. Even though my 5K PR could be considered "soft," both of those 10K races had ideal weather: 20 degrees for the February race and 32 degrees for the New Year's Eve race. The Crystal City race was 70 degrees and sunny. I've never set a 5K PR in anything above 55 degrees.

Before the Race
I changed out of my work clothes into my running clothes in the locker room at my office and drove to Crystal City. When I arrived, I picked up my bib and met up with Greg, who also had come straight from work. I was given bib number 2028, and so I determined that 20:28 would be my goal time. I drank my UCAN and then Greg and I warmed up together. Greg thought that mile marker 1 was in the wrong spot based on previous races, but it seemed right to me. It was only later that I realized Greg was right and they had totally changed the course.

It was 70 degrees and sunny, so I poured water over my head before the start and drank a cup of water. My plan was mainly to run by feel, with the goal of running a pace of around 6:33-6:35. That's very precise, I know, but when you are racing a 5K, it takes a lot of effort just to get your pace down
Crystal City 5K Friday
even by one second a mile. I wasn't sure if I could trust my Garmin because Crystal City has a lot of tall buildings. My Garmin pace seemed accurate during the warmup, so decided I would keep an eye on it, but focus on just running hard instead of the exact pace.

I thought I knew what to expect: a mostly flat course with a few inclines and a few turns, which tends to be windy. However, they changed the course at some point between 2014 and now, and I was caught off guard. 

Mile 1
We started off, running in the opposite direction of how the course used to go, and I restrained myself a bit because I tend to go out way too fast in the first few minutes of a 5K. Plus, this was a relatively competitive field with quite a few fast runners given the overall size of the race. I would characterize this first mile mainly as annoyance. I try to stay emotion-neutral when racing and not let stuff get to me, and I generally succeed. However, there were times when I was annoyed by the constant twists and turns of the course, the uneven running surface, and the grates we had to run over. Right off the bat, the course twisted and turned, and it was hard to establish a rhythm. 

Despite all of this, I felt really good. I felt more energized than I did at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler two weeks ago, when I had felt "off." This was surprising given that it was an evening race and I always run in the morning. Not to mention the warm weather compared to the cool weather from the 10-miler. Typically when it's hot I feel like I am being zapped by the sun. But last night I didn't feel that way; I felt strong. My Garmin logged a 6:32 for the first mile, and that was only 2 seconds before coming to the first mile marker (6:34 official). So I figured I could probably trust the Garmin. I was actually surprised, though, because I had not been at all close to the tangents. There were so many people and so many turns and not a lot of room, so I usually had taken the most clear path instead of the most direct.

Mile 2
Things got easier during this mile. The running surface improved (no grates, not as angled) and there were fewer turns. There was one hairpin turn and a few others, but it felt more fluid than the first mile. I later saw on Strava that this mile had a net elevation loss of 28 feet. Which isn't a hill, but explains why it felt easier and why I ran faster. I actually passed several people during this mile which felt good. I was actually really surprised to see how fast I was running and how strong I felt, given the fact that it was warm and I wasn't acclimated. My Garmin logged a 6:26 mile, but I didn't actually hit the mile marker for another 10 seconds.

Mile 3
This mile was painful. There is no other word for it. I later learned that it was a net elevation gain of 28 feet - essentially running up the incline that I had just run down. There were also a few surprising and unwelcome wind gusts that came along. I knew a PR was in the bag, I just had to maintain my effort level. I saw my average race pace on my Garmin slide from 6:30 to 6:32 to 6:34 over the course of the mile and that motivated me to keep pushing hard. I managed to pass a few people during this mile, and nobody passed me, so I knew I was running strong. It took every mental trick in the book to keep pushing at that effort level. I ended up with a split of 6:42.

The Final 0.16
To get to the finish line, you make a left turn, and then run around a curve on a brick surface. This killed my momentum and my finish line kick wasn't as powerful as it usually is, but even in years past this was always the case with the finish. My pace for this was a 6:42.

I crossed the finish line and was so glad to be done with the race! I looked down at my Garmin and
Garmin pace: 6:34. Official pace: 6:41. 
saw that I had run a 20:44. A PR by 6 seconds!

After the race, I met up with Greg and my friend Allison, who had been cheering for me and taking photos. Greg ran a 20:13 and explained how he went out way too fast. Allison went to get us a table at a restaurant for dinner while Greg and I went to our cars to change. She texted me and said that my official time was a 20:47. I couldn't help but be annoyed by that. Even though you can't trust your Garmin distance and pace all the time, you can trust when you start and stop it and the overall finish time. When the finish line video was posted this morning, I can see that 20:47 was my gun time, not my chip time. Greg's finish line video shows him crossing at 20:16, and yet his official time was 20:13. Greg and I started at the exact same time. I looked at other runners who finished around the same time with me, and their official time is faster than when they crossed. So it seems like some people got a chip time, and some people got a gun time. The race results do not list chip/gun, they only have one time listed for each runner.

Kevin, Greg's friend, mentioned something about receiving only gun time the previous weekend instead of net time. I guess I have no choice but to accept the 20:47 and be happy with an official 3-second PR: 20:47. Just makes it easier to set another PR at the next 5K!

Edited to add on April 16th:
I emailed the race director to see if they had my chip time in their database. They said that my chip did not register when crossing the start line, so the 20:47 was, in fact, my gun time. He told me that used Greg's start time as my start time, and adjusted the results accordingly: 20:44. Thank you to Pacers Running and RunWashington Timing.

Resume non-edited portion of blog:
Speaking of the next 5K, I plan to run one next weekend. It should be cooler and that race will have only one turn. It will feel glorious!

The frequent dips in my pace from all the turns!

Takeaways, Stats and Final Thoughts

  • I now have a baseline for my spring/summer 5K races
  • This is my first time PRing in warm weather, that's typically unheard of in my book!
  • This is my 4th PR of 2017
  • I placed 7th out of 710 women
  • There were no official age group awards, but I placed 3rd in the 30-39 age group.
  • This was my 2nd best 5K effort according to Strava, in 20:21
  • I felt really strong and energized, as opposed to the Cherry Blossom when I felt "blah"
  • This was a good workout for my next 5K
  • I'm pleased with how hard I pushed at the end. My last mile was the slowest, but given the elevation profile, this makes sense
  • I'm also pleased with my pacing and ability to run based on effort
  • I'm chipping away at my 5K time: my most recent PRs are 20:51, 20:50, and now 20:47
I'm super excited to see what I can do next weekend. I won't be any fitter, but I think that if I run the same effort, the lack of twists and turns and the ability to run the tangents will help bring down my PR by a few more seconds. To be continued. . .

Finish line

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Graduating Sports Psychology

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know about my work with a sports psychologist. A few weeks ago, Greg asked me if I had been to see him lately. And I realized that it had been over four months since my last appointment. I hadn't intentionally chosen to stop going, but things had been pretty hectic over the past few months with the holidays, marathon training, and my new job, and I hadn't felt the need to see him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was probably time for me to "graduate" from sports psychology. Just as I write race reports to gain closure on my races, I think it's a good idea to close out the sports psychology chapter of my life with a "report" of sorts as well.

Why I Sought Help
On my way to a DNF in May 2012
In May 2012, I had hit rock bottom with my marathon running and my feelings associated with it. I had DNF'ed three marathons, and had hit the wall hard in five of them over the course of several years. Most of this was due to race anxiety, as I had been well trained for each of these races. Every time I failed, I sank lower and lower into a depressed state about my running, which eventually overtook my entire state of being. I wanted to rid myself of the race anxiety and resulting inability to cope. I wasn't happy about my running and I realized that I wasn't happy, period.

It's not like I didn't know what my issues were. But I had no clue how to solve them:
  • I took my running way too seriously
  • My sense of self was wrapped up in my running
  • I was a perfectionist
  • I couldn't help but compare myself to other people
  • I didn't cope well with things outside of my control
I felt like I had no choice BUT to seek help from a sports psychologist. I had tried to simply chill out and relax, but the more I tried, the harder it became.

The First 15 Months
I saw my sports psychologist, Neal, every week. I decided that if I was going to invest the time and money in this process, that I needed to trust him fully. 

Neal typically did about 75% of the talking, which I liked. After our initial session, in which I walked him through not only my racing history but struggles that I had experienced before I began running (which running seemed to solve), he had a structured approach to working with me on all the pieces of the puzzle. I always left his office with "homework" and several items to think about in preparation for our next session. This was work, and it required that I be an active participant.

In terms of what we discussed, it's too much for me to get into in a single post; I have it all laid out in my book. But suffice it to say, there was a lot of ground to cover. He essentially educated me on what the most effective and healthy mindset looked like and challenged me frequently on things I said that demonstrated an unhealthy mindset. As I said above, it took a great deal of trust. After all, I didn't develop my beliefs and attitudes overnight, so I couldn't simply change them overnight. 

Over the course of these 15 months, I had races that I would initially consider to be failures, but Neal
Did I PR?
showed me how to re-examine my judgements. Who was to say if a race was a failure or success? Why was setting a PR the only metric of success? Why did I devote so much time to running if my single goal was to PR, when in reality, PRs are the exception not the rule? Neal likened a race to a buffet with many different food options. Sometimes a PR was one of the items, but sometimes it wasn't. And if a PR wasn't available, why not enjoy the other items from the buffet? 
  • Did I have fun?
  • Did I learn anything?
  • Did I challenge myself to push really hard?
  • Did I have a new experience?
  • What did I do well that I can apply in the future?
It was extremely challenging to run what I considered to be a "bad" race but find ways in which I succeeded. To not let the race eat away at me for days. To not let it impact future races. Neal encouraged me to always find the positives in my running and if I ultimately determined I wasn't happy with a race, to shrug it off as quickly as possible and focus on something else.

Having this healthy mindset was not automatic and I constantly had to re-program my self-talk as Neal guided. It didn't take too long to learn what I needed to learn. But connecting emotion to it and truly owning/believing it was a different story.

The Breakthrough
My biggest breakthrough happened about 15 months later when I was injured. I was still seeing Neal every week and at this point we were working on coping with injury.

It was August of 2013 and I was in the locker room after an elliptical session. I was registered to run Chicago in October, and I started thinking about whether or not I would run it. I was confident that I would be recovered by then and physically able to complete a marathon, but I also knew that my time would be on the slower side. I went back and forth on whether or not it was worth even trying. I thought to myself that I could run a slow time, but then people would think I was slower than I knew myself capable of. That's when epiphany struck. I realized that I was actually considering denying myself of an experience I wanted to have (Chicago) simply to avoid being judged by other people. I realized that I was making a decision based on how other people would potentially perceive me. And why on earth would I live my life for anyone other than ME? 

I let that thought sink in and everything click. I was someone who lived her life to please other people. Who made decisions based on what other people thought. If I wanted true control over my life, then I needed to life my life for me. It was such a liberating thought. I had freed myself of other people's opinions.

With that followed an entire change of mindset over the next few months. I questioned why I was worried over certain things. So instead of Neal having to be the one to challenge my unhealthy, counterproductive mindset, I was able to do it on my own. 

The Other Side
Hills and freezing rain? Sure!
Neal welcomed me to the "other side" and I was so happy that I had experienced such a life-changing revelation. Greg started to notice a change in me and I began to feel like a new person. Things that used to bother me so much suddenly didn't seem as important. I definitely still cared about running and I was definitely still motivated to run PRs and qualify for Boston, but it was for entirely different reasons. 

I started to embrace challenges instead of shy away from them. I began to seek out hillier courses for my training runs. Instead of getting upset by warm race weather, I looked forward to seeing how I would handle it. Running was no longer a numbers game; it was about experiences, challenges, community, and being my "best" self. I learned that sometimes it was just about getting out there and doing it. I learned that some days I just didn't have a strong performance in me, and that was ok.

As a byproduct of all of this, my race anxiety started to slip away. Racing became "the thing I was doing that weekend" instead of this huge life event that I would obsess over all week. I was able to sleep well in the days leading up to my races. I stopped DNF'ing marathons and started PRing them. And when I didn't PR them, I was still proud of my achievement.

I reduced the frequency of my visits with Neal to every other week for next two years, and in 2016, I saw him about once a month, mainly to ensure I didn't slip back into old thought patterns.

Don't get me wrong, the journey from August 2013 through today certain has had hiccups and hasn't always been smooth. I've had my share of disappointing races and a three-month bout of mono. But my new perspective on life made these things much easier to cope with whereas previously they would throw me headfirst into depression. 

Looking Ahead
I'm 38 years old and I think I still have a few good years ahead of me before I start naturally slowing down. I want to continue to test my limits and see what I am capable of in terms of my training load and my speed. And when I do start to slow down, I'm confident that I will still find ways of challenging myself and enjoying the process of running.

Aside from marrying Greg, seeing a sports psychologist was the best thing I've ever done for myself. It allowed me to do much more than overcome race anxiety. It enabled me to set myself free from the limitations and barriers I was unknowingly creating for myself. When I compare my current mindset/perspective/approach to life to that of just five years ago, I see a huge difference, and so do my friends and family. I'm far more laid back and I don't take myself as seriously. I make myself laugh more often, I'm at peace with who I am, and I sleep well at night.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Motivated by a Mug: Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race Report

Dear Fast Runner,

As part of the 45th Running Celebration of Credit Union Cherry Blossom, we are awarding mugs that read "I would have won this race in 1973" to all males who finish faster than 1973 winner Sam Bair's time of 51:22 and to all females who finish faster than Kathrine Switzer's winning time of 71:19. You are receiving this message because the seeded time you entered on your entry form for the 2017 race is within two minutes of these times. This means if you have a good day, you could win one of these mugs, so we wanted to let you know about these special awards.

I received this email three days ago, and determined that I HAD to have one of those mugs.

Today was my 6th time running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I first ran it in 2007 in a time of 1:21:23 and my current 10-mile PR was on this course from 2014: 1:15:26. I had beaten this time during three half marathons, and during a training run, but of course, these weren't "official" PRs. Therefore, I didn't think I was being presumptuous by buying PR Cake ingredients last weekend. (Greg and I have a tradition of making PR cake with our times written on it.)

Throughout 2009-2013, I struggled mentally with the marathon, but the 10-miler remained my sweet spot. Therefore, in 2014, when I ran a time that was very similar to my past two times, I realized I had also plateaued physically. That's when I decided it was time to hire a running coach. A few months later, I began working with McMillan Running coach Andrew and my times have steadily dropped ever since.

Ever since I ran a 1:33:36 half marathon last spring, I set my sights on a sub-70:00 10-miler. I was going to shoot for this at the Army Ten-Miler last fall, but I wasn't able to run it because I had just recovered from mono. Part of the reason I chose to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon was that I would recover in time to run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

I was excited to receive a "seeded" bib for this race: Bib #344. For a race of about 20,000 people, I
At the Cherry Blossom Expo, studying the elevation
considered this to be a huge honor. It didn't come with too many perks, other than starting at the front of the race and being able to get an entry without going through the lottery. I wasn't sure if I would qualify for a seeded entry, though, so I got in through the lottery anyway and received the seeded bib afterward.

In 2014, my goal had been to run a sub-7:30 pace. And according to my Garmin, I accomplished that. However, my official pace ended up being 7:32 because my Garmin logged the course as being about 10.1 miles. Knowing this, I did some research on Strava. I looked at the Cherry Blossom 10-mile "segment" and noted that to run an official time of sub-7:00, I would need to run a 6:54 pace on my Garmin. So, my new "A" goal became 6:54 Garmin/sub-70 official. And my "B" goal was to win the mug.

Before the Race
Because the metro wasn't running, Greg and I decided to get a hotel room in DC the night before. We could have probably reserved a parking spot in the city, but we live about 35 minutes away and we didn't want to have this added stress on race morning. Plus, having our own dedicated bathroom within an hour of the start time was nice!

For both the Myrtle Beach Marathon and Indianapolis Monumental, we arrived at the start line with just a few minutes to spare. I wanted to be more conservative this time, so we were in the corral 15 minutes before the start. This caused me much less anxiety! Greg and I both drank UCAN at 6:50, and at 6:55 we left the hotel and headed for the start line.

My plan was to go out at a pace of 6:50-6:53 and see how long I could hold it. I wasn't as confident about my ability to reach my "A" goal as I had been the week prior. On Thursday of this week, I ran a set of 8 x 200m and I felt really stale. In fact, by the end of the day I felt as if I was getting sick. I felt completely run down with a hint of a sore throat. I took an un-planned rest day on Friday, got plenty of rest, drank loads of water and was feeling decent by yesterday. Perhaps it was allergies. Perhaps I was still feeling the after-effects of the marathon. But whatever it was, I wasn't feeling nearly as peppy as I had been the week prior.

Anyway, shortly before the race started I ditched my throw-away hoodie and prepared myself mentally. I knew that miles 7-10 around Hains Point would be extremely challenging, and I told myself to keep pushing, no matter how hard it hurt.

Miles 1-4
The race started, and I felt decent. Not great, but okay. It was about 46 degrees, sunny, with a breeze.
Mile 1
I wore sunglasses, but the parts of the course that ran directly into the sun were difficult for me. All the runners in front of me looked like dark shadows and I could feel my face getting really warm. The race was surprisingly crowded. I remember spectating Greg at the Army 10-miler and he ran about the pace I was trying to go. And it looked like he had plenty of room around him when he ran by during mile 7. I found myself constantly weaving through people and it was difficult to get into a rhythm.

I had studied the elevation provide and expected the second mile to be slow, but surprisingly, it was one of my faster miles. My coach had advised me to push hard from the beginning and that's exactly what I did. It felt harder than expected to run the paces I was running, but I trusted that my marathon endurance would enable me to maintain these paces for 10 miles.

Mile 1: 6:55
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:50
Mile 4: 6:53

Miles 5-7
From experience, I knew that there was a moderate hill during mile six and that I might feel crappy at this point, but that it would feel better once I got to Hains Point at mile 7. There was a huge cheering crowd and it really energized me. I hit the 5-mile timing mat in 34:46, which had me on pace to run a 1:09:31. I was pleased with this and told myself to simply keep up the effort and I would reach my goal. However, it felt harder than expected. Based on last week's tempo run (4 miles at 6:49 average), I actually thought I would be able to run a sub-6:50 pace for this race. Additionally, I ran a 10K eight weeks ago on a very hilly course at a pace of 6:41 on un-tapered legs. So I really didn't expect these paces to be feeling as tough as they did.

During mile 7, I grabbed water from a water station and poured it over my head. And I noticed that I was definitely more comfortable in the shaded portions of the course. Sunshine and I just don't jive when it comes to racing. Unless it's below 40 degrees like it was at Myrtle Beach. I felt much better during mile 7 than I did during mile six, which (unbeknownst to me) was due to a tailwind on Hains Point. I felt like I had gotten a "second wind" and that I had my goal in the bag!

Mile 5: 6:52
Mile 6: 6:59
Mile 7: 6:56

Miles 8-10.09
But then, we turned around and there was a headwind on Hains Point. According the forecast, this was supposed to be a 7 mph sustained wind. But it felt much stronger than that. I appreciated the cooling factor, but I felt like I was fighting a formidable opponent. I pushed harder and reminded myself that I needed to stay strong and give 100% effort. So I increased my effort level and gave it everything I had, and was unable to get my Garmin pace back down into the 6:50's. I wanted to stop so badly. I felt awful. Every part of me was in pain. Based on how I felt, I knew it was unlikely that I would come in under 70:00. But I wanted that mug! I knew that I would be super disappointed if I wasn't able to attain my B goal.

During these last few miles, all I could think about was the mug. I realized my sub-70:00 was unlikely but dammit, I was going to be drinking coffee out of that mug come hell or high water. Mile 8 clocked in at 7:02.

There was another timing mat at mile 9 and I cursed it. Now there would be an official record of how slow my last mile was. Mile 9 clocked in at a pace of 7:14, and at that point my official race pace was 7:01 (which I learned after the fact, but had some sense of at the time). I was now on track to run a 1:10:08. BUT- I thought I could still run a sub-7:00 "Garmin" pace, similar to what I did in 2014 with my sub 7:30 "Garmin" pace.

Get the mug! Get the mug! At mile 9.6 we turned off of Hains Point and there was a sizable hill that was about a quarter of a mile long. Knowing how close the finish was and that I no longer had to fight the wind, I found another gear that I didn't realize I had and gunned it. After Hains Point, I had been on track to log a 7:25 mile and I knew I could sprint up that hill and make up some time. Amazingly, I had a burst of energy and average a 7:21 pace for that final mile.

But of course, there was the "extra." Strava logged my 10-mile time at 1:09:46, but officially, the sub-7:00 was a no go. Nevertheless, I was pleased to cross the finish line in 1:10:24.

Mile 8: 7:02
Mile 9: 7:14
Mile 10: 7:21
Last 0.09: 5:51 pace (downhill)

After the Race
Greg and I with our friends from the =PR= Race team
Due to my final kick, the first few minutes post-race were pretty brutal. I felt nauseous and totally knocked out. I caught up with Greg, who ran a 1:07:51. He's gotten so fast recently! And he was waiting with our friends Hannah and Alex. We met up with some other runners from the =PR= racing team and everyone seemed to have had really amazing races.

I had tossed my hand-warmers so my hands were quickly starting to get cold, so we hurried to the mug-retrieval area and I claimed my prize. On the walk back to our hotel, a random women asked if she could take a video of us talking about what we liked about the race. For me, it was the mug! Oh, and I guess the cherry blossoms, too. Greg and I then walked back to our hotel, showered, and had a nice brunch. I actually brought my mug to brunch and drank coffee out of it!

Now, time for some stats.

  • This race was a PR by 5 minutes, 2 seconds from my 2014 time.
  • I placed 26th in my age group out of 1,706 runners, running faster than 98.5% of them
  • My actual time was 1:10:23.84, but the official results rounded up to 1:10:24.
  • My 10K split was 43:18, which would have been a 10K PR as recently as last December.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I'm pleased with my performance. I did the best with what I had. Even though I kind of fell apart during the last two miles, it wasn't because I slacked. I think it was partially due to the wind, but primarily due to me just not feeling 100% for whatever reason. I honestly thought that sub-70:00 official would be well within my grasp, and I expected to be able to run about 8-9 seconds per mile faster. Stated differently, I didn't expect that I would blow up at the end given my paces for miles 1-8. Part of me wants to run the GW Parkway Classic 10-miler in three weeks for another shot. But at this point, I think I will just wait for the Army 10-miler in the fall. Which can be warm-- but I guess I will be acclimated and hopefully fitter!

The good news is that I ran a huge PR, shaving 30 seconds per mile off of my average pace. The PR cake will taste great this evening. I felt fast with my super-low bib, too! And I actually DID run 10 miles at a sub-7:00 pace, it just wasn't official. Or at least Strava thinks I did! And best of all, had this been 1973, I would have won the race outright.