Sunday, July 30, 2017

Running in Stanley Park, Vancouver

The trail run in Ketchikan, Alaska was the last official event of the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. The cruise ship was "at sea" the following day (Thursday) with no stops or excursions.

The cruise winds down
Just as these running events were winding down, my body decided it was a good time to get sick. It all started with a mild sore throat on Tuesday evening but after finishing the trail run and getting back onto the ship, I began to experience all the traditional cold symptoms: cough, sore throat, pressure behind the ears, and waves of being hot or cold. Thankfully, the ship had a medical station which was well stocked with cold meds.

Because of my previous experiences with mono, I take illness seriously and I'm very careful not to overdo it. I assume I got sick because of the time zone change, lack of sleep, being on an airplane, the movement of the ship, and participating in several strenuous running events. Taking Thursday off was a no-brainer, especially since it would have meant running around the cruise ship deck again, which wasn't exactly the most fun thing in the world. My marathon isn't until November, so I'd rather take a little bit of time off now than regret it down the line.

This running cruise was an incredible experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys running, traveling, and meeting new people. Everything was extremely well organized by our hosts Jenny Hadfield and John "The Penguin" Bingham. There were no surprises and we knew exactly what to expect. Greg and I really enjoyed meeting other runners from around the world. Most people were from the U.S. and Canada and had run numerous races all over the country.

The cruise ship, named The Radiance of the Seas, is one of the older Royal Caribbean boats, and while it was nice, it didn't impress me nearly as much as the ship from our 2010 Royal Caribbean cruise, or the Viking River cruise. The food was mediocre, which kept us from overeating, but the room was relatively comfortable, given its small size. For a trip like this, the cruise ship's main purpose is transportation, lodging, a viewpoint for the Alaskan scenery.

View from the cruise ship as we sailed from Alaska into Canada

So what did we do on Thursday with no port stops? Jenny Hadfield invited me to be a guest on her podcast! She had her equipment with her, so we found a quiet area of the ship and recorded it. We mainly talked about my book and all the struggles I went through to qualify for Boston. After the podcast was over, we chatted for awhile longer about running, careers, and life in general. I really connected with her and it seemed like we had a lot in common. The podcast should be live within the next week or so.

The ship arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia early Friday morning. Greg and I made our way to our downtown hotel and checked in. Our hotel suite felt like a mansion in comparison to our ship stateroom. Physically I felt better than I had on Thursday, but I was still coughing, experiencing bouts of hot and cold, and my nose was running more than I usually do! Once again, it was a no-brainer to take another day off from running. I was thankful that the illness held off until all of the official events were complete, and now it was time to focus on enjoying Vancouver and relaxing.

The weather was ideal for walking around: 70 degrees and sunny with no humidity. One of the best things about this vacation was being able to escape the Washington, DC heat and humidity in late July. We walked from our hotel to Granville Island, which earned me about 12,000 steps on my FitBit. I love exploring new places, especially when the weather is nice and there are so many beautiful and interesting things to see.

Vancouver, BC
We had lunch there and walked around the Granville Island Public Market, which is a massive food hall filled with fresh foods. The fruits and vegetables looked incredible, but of course we ended up with the fresh doughnuts! We took a cab back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and napping until it was time for dinner. We had dinner at the Water St. Cafe, and the seafood was unlike anything we typically get back home. I had a halibut dish, and Greg had sockeye salmon.

Stanley Park Running
Our flight on Saturday wasn't until 12:45 in the afternoon, so we had time to run through Stanley Park. I had a two-hour long run on the schedule, but I still wasn't feeling all that great. That said, there was no way I was missing out on this run. I had heard amazing things about running in Vancouver and it was one of the things I had been most looking forward to. I decided I would go out and see how it felt. If I felt horrible, I could always turn around and come back. I figured that two full hours was probably not realistic, but hopefully I could manage at least 5-6 miles.

We had to take a five-minute walk through the city to get to the water where the path started. One of the coolest things about running in Stanley park is that there is a dedicated path for runners and walkers, and a separate path for bikers. And no cars allowed!

When we started, it was about 58 degrees and sunny. I can't even describe the views, so I'll let the photos do the talking:

This run was amazing and I was thankful to be healthy enough to enjoy it. I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have if I hadn't been sick, but you take what you can get. We decided to turn around after 4.5 miles, making it a 9-mile run. I figured that was plenty long, and we were able to see over half of the park. We kept the pace easy and stopped several times to take photos and videos.

After we finished, it was time for the long journey home. We had a direct flight and we were back in our house by 9:30pm eastern time.

Today I am feeling pretty good except for some pressure behind my ears and some mild dizziness. Greg is also feeling dizzy, and we think it could have something to do with the flight and time zone change. I was able to get out for 6.5 miles this morning, and it felt decent. I ended up logging 31.8 miles this week, which is really low for me. But given that I was sick and on vacation, it's actually a decent amount. Hopefully I'll wake up feeling 100% tomorrow morning and ready to resume normal training and life!

For more information about the Great Alaskan Running Cruise and other running cruises visit

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trail Running in Ketchikan, Alaska

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I am not a fan of trail running. I detest bugs, I'm paranoid about falling or twisting an ankle, and I'd rather be chasing my road racing goals. But this trail run in Ketchikan, Alaska was an exception.

Icy Strait Point
Running in Hoonah, Alaska
The day before arriving in Ketchikan, we stopped at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, Alaska. There were no planned running events, but Greg and I decided we would run along the water anyway. There was a 1.5-mile long path along the water with breathtaking views of the mountains. At 55 degrees and overcast, this was an incredible run. The fresh air, the scenery, and just being able to take it all in. Our legs were tired from the Juneau Half marathon followed by the Skagway run, so we just took it easy and ran 4.5 miles at a relaxed pace. Exploring new places to run is one of my favorite things to do. And I love running near water.

After our morning run, we got showered and returned to the town for fresh Alaskan crab legs. What a treat! Next up was our whale watching excursion. A tour guide took us out on a boat to a humpback whale feeding area, where we were guaranteed to see whales (or get our money back!). When the boat stopped, we hung out in the area for awhile without seeing any whales. But finally, a whale decided to make an appearance. It was very cool. These things are 40 feet in length and eat about a ton of food per day. We saw the whale come out of the water multiple times and show its tail. I took some video of it, but I don't have any photos. I also really liked being out on the boat surrounded by the mountains, breathing in the fresh air.

Whale watching excursion
Ketchikan Trail Run
On Wednesday, it was time for our final running event of the cruise: the trail run in the Tongass National Forest. We could choose to run a 5K or a 10K I had decided before the cruise to do the 5K-- enough to experience it, but minimizing the amount of time I had to spend on the trail. However, our cruise director Jenny Hadfield convinced me that the trail wasn't very technical and I would really enjoy the course. She said it was one of her most favorite places to run in the entire world! Greg wanted to do the 10K, so I bit the bullet and decided to go for it.

Finishing the lake loop
This was not a timed race; the objective was simply to go out an enjoy the trail. It also wasn't measured as exactly 10K. Jenny told us to expect about 7 miles. When we arrived at the lake, it was raining lightly and I debated if I should wear my light rain jacket. But a few minutes before the start, the rain stopped so I took the jacket off.

I spent the first mile getting used to running on the surface. I immediately realized that I liked it. It wasn't at all like the (few) trails I had run on back home. It was much more groomed. The first mile or so was around a lake. It was difficult to pass people because the trail was narrow in many parts, which forced us to keep our pace slow.

It wasn't long before Greg and I found our groove and started cruising along. We passed a few runners and I was having so much fun that I decided to up the effort a bit. And then came the massive hills. One of them was a 200ft climb over the course of a mile. And the downhills were tricky too because they were steep and we had to watch our footing in some of the areas. The trail was marked with arrows and it was pretty easy to follow. There was even an aid station!

Greg and I caught up to another runner who was going at about our pace, and we let him set the pace for the last two miles. He was running really strong, particularly on the hills, and every time we got to the top of a hill I would say something like "nice job".  Greg and I were definitely putting out a solid effort on the hills, but we were careful not to fly down them as fast as we would on the road.

All of a sudden we were at the finish. My Garmin only clocked 6 miles instead of the expected 7, and Greg's Garmin actually got pretty close to 6.2. Everyone cheered for us as we ran into the finish.

When we finished, we received a finisher's medal for all four events: the Moosehead 5K fun run, the Glacier Half Marathon, the Skagway Amazing Race, and this Rainforest Trail run.

Ketchikan, Alaska

With our finisher's medals
Here are our splits:

Mile 1: 10:05 (+14 ft)
Mile 2: 9:43 (+ 42 ft)
Mile 3: 9:25 (+119 ft)
Mile 4: 8:59 (+171 ft)
Mile 5: 8:50 (-172 ft)
Mile 6: 8:20 (-194 ft)

We then enjoyed beer and a "salmon bake" with salmon wraps. It was really exciting to watch the runners finish. We totally lucked out with the weather too. It's a rainforest and we barely got any rain!

All in all, I had much more fun than expected. I was actually a little scared about this run just because I'm really not used to trails. But the trail ended up being easy to run on and I felt like I got an excellent workout on the hills. Coincidentally, I'm in the "hill phase" of my marathon training cycle, and I'll be running hill workouts for the next three weeks.

All of the official running events are now complete and our next stop is Vancouver, Canada. I plan to write my final post on the flight home.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise: Skagway Scavenger Hunt

After running the half marathon in Juneau as part of the Great Alaskan Running Cruise, Greg and I quickly showered and were off on our next adventure. For lunch, we had fish and chips at a little shack on the waterfront. We then proceeded to take a bus out to a park which offered spectacular views of the Mendenhall Glacier.

The Mendenhall Glacier
After having run over 13 miles at a solid clip, it felt good to keep the legs moving on a scenic walk down to Nugget Falls. At this point, my FitBit had logged over 30,000 steps for the day. As with the Hubbard Glacier, words can't do Nugget Falls and the Mendenhall Glacier justice, so here are some photos of the area.

Nugget Falls

Mendenhall Glacier
We walked back to the shuttle bus area, took the bus back to downtown Juneau and then had dinner and beers at a brewhouse on the waterfront. It was a great ending to a day filled with excitement and experiences that we will remember for a lifetime.

In terms of running, I had just completed my first "official" week of marathon training with 54.5 miles. The fact that I was able to run that half marathon workout so quickly without any kind of taper or rest beforehand was encouraging. I'm very excited to kick off a new training cycle!

The Skagway Amazing Race
The next morning, we arrived in Skagway for our next running event. The Skagway Amazing Race was described as a 4-mile navigational run through the town of Skagway. In reality, it was a one-hour photo scavenger hunt to find as many of the named landmarks as possible and take selfies at them.

At the pre-race briefing, we received a list of landmarks, valued at 1, 2, 3, or 5 points. There was one landmark that was worth 5 points, and it was the farthest away. The race had a 1-hour time limit, and even if you arrived just a few seconds late, you were disqualified. Greg and I decided to be ambitious and go for the 5-point landmark, and then hit the others on our way back.

The town of Skagway was very quaint and fun to run through. We ran down Main street, crossed a bridge, and then headed for a scenic viewpoint that was worth 5 points. As we got closer, we realized that the landmark was still a full mile away, and we had already run over 2 miles. This meant that we probably wouldn't get there and make it back in time unless we ran quickly, and at that-- we would miss all the other landmarks. So we had a decision to make, continue on and hit the viewpoint, or turn around and get as many of the lower-point landmarks as possible. We thought it would be more fun to go for the landmarks, so we did. When we turned around, we saw other runners going for the far-out landmark, and we think the decided to turn around too. The map wasn't drawn to scale, so we had no way of knowing it was as far as it actually was.

Eagles Hall, the mandatory landmark in the Skagway Amazing Race
We visited a graveyard, a school, a church, and some other landmarks in the short amount of time we had left. There was even one mandatory landmark, which was the last one we hit.

We realized that we were running short on time, and we would have to book it to get back before our one-hour limit. Greg picked up the pace and I followed. I really didn't want to be running faster than an 8:30 pace, but given the fear of being disqualified, I found myself running close to an 8:00 mile at the end. Finally we came upon a cruise ship just as the one-hour mark hit. And. . . it wasn't our cruise ship! Oops! We had gone the wrong way. So, we realized we were disqualified. A few other teams had followed us to this ship and we all admitted defeat and walked back to the actual ship. All in all, we ended up running just over six miles.

Trying to make it back in time!

After the Skagway Amazing Race

The White Pass Scenic Railway
After the run was over, we showered and got ready for our next excursion. We had originally debated between horseback riding and the scenic railway, but had settled on the scenic railway. We were so tired that we knew we had made the right decision with the more relaxing excursion. All we needed to do was board a train and view the scenery.

I was so tired that I actually napped for about 20 minutes on the way up! But we saw the same exact views on the way back down the mountain, so I didn't miss out on anything. This train took us up the White Pass trail, which is over 3,000 feet in elevation. We saw beautiful views of rivers, waterfalls, forests and mountains along the way. The tour guide gave us a complete history of the area. It's amazing how many people died in this area while searching for gold.

View of the train from the train

Greg and me on the White Pass Scenic Railway
The train ride took over three hours and when it was over, I was looking forward to boarding the cruise ship and relaxing. I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone visiting Skagway. The landscape is truly breathtaking and there is a lot of interesting history there.

So far, this running cruise has been absolutely incredible. The weather has been ideal for running (overcast and mid 50's) and the scenery is amazing. We've met runners from all over the world, each with their own story. And the cruise is only half over! More blog posts to come.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alaska Half Marathon: A Run to Remember

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise has officially set sail! This vacation has been amazing in so many ways.

Cruise Ship Running
On Saturday, the ship was at sea all day long. I woke up feeling dizzy and I realized that the boat was rocking quite a bit-- more so than previous cruise ships I had been on. Nonetheless, Greg and I started off the day by running on the ship's deck. The ship has a running/walking track with 6.3 laps equaling one mile. My coach had prescribed a 45-minute easy run, so that's what we did. The boat was noticeably moving the entire time and it was not easy to adjust to. In fact, my Garmin logged over 1,000 feet of elevation change! It was a beautiful morning and we were able to watch the sunrise, and so the awkwardness was worth it. 

Because our bodies were still on east coast time, we were up bright an early and running before 5:00am. As it got later, several people from our running cruise group joined in. Of course there was always the treadmill option, but I try to avoid those if possible. 

After our run, we attended a race briefing and talk from the race organizers. This running cruise is put on by John Bingham, aka "The Penguin," who was a columnist for Runner's World and his wife, Jenny Hadfield, who also writes for Runner's World and has her own podcast. Jenny Hadfield gave a course preview along with some general tips for racing well and staying mentally strong.  John Bingham gave a humorous talk about the running boom and the rise of "back of the pack" runners. Both talks were fantastic.

The Hubbard Glacier
The highlight of the day was viewing the Hubbard glacier. The landscape was unreal! We spent nearly two hours looking out at the glacier and the surrounding scenery. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and is a contender for the most beautiful landscape I've ever seen.

We lucked out and had a perfectly clear day for viewing, which apparently is rare. I guess this makes up for when Greg and I went up into the Swiss alps and it was so cloudy that we couldn't see a thing. Words can't do it justice, so here are a few photos:

The Glacier Half Marathon: Race Morning
The next morning, our running cruise group ran a half marathon in Juneau. There was also a 5K option, but most people did the half. We had a special breakfast set up for our group which included anything a runner could possibly want pre-race. I had my go-to bagel with peanut butter and banana with peanut butter. 

The race directors told us how the day would unfold, including calling out the two runners, male and female, who were expected win the race. Both of them were on cross country teams, and the female had just graduated high school. They also called out the people who were completing their 50th state of the 50 States Half Marathon challenge. And finally, they recognized a woman who was running her 100th half marathon. 

The Zebra Couple
The ship docked at 8:45 and we immediately got off of it and onto four busses. It was a 20-minute bus ride out to the race start. The race would be held on a highway that was open to traffic, but that wouldn't have many cars. The course was an out-and-back twice, with one substantial hill. The hill was just over a 100 ft climb and we would run over it four times (out, back, out, back). Upon arrival, Greg and I drank our UCAN, which would be our only fuel for the race. 

The race was hosted by the local high school's cross country team, and the only participants were those in our running cruise group-- it was not open for public registration. The cross country team did an excellent job with their aid stations and their cheering. They were very excited to be hosting us. The weather was close to ideal: upper 50's, overcast, and 100% humidity. Apparently it rains most of the time in Juneau in July, so we lucked out with no rain. 

My coach advised me to run this at my goal marathon pace for the fall to see how it felt. I have no idea what that will be, but I put a 7:25 pace out there, which would probably be the best case scenario. My PR pace is 7:41, so I don't think it's unrealistic to try and shave about 15 seconds per mile off of that. But once again, this is just an estimate since the race is still over three months out-- it will really depend on how training goes. 

My strategy was to run the race as a progression run. Without a warm up, I knew it would be hard to hit a 7:25 pace right out of the gate. I also didn't know how I would feel given the time zone change, my lack of sleep, and my body's reaction to the boat's movement. I also thought it would be nice to pass other runners instead of having them pass me. Greg was on board with this approach, and we planned to run together, at least through mile 10.

Miles 1-5
The race started and the two young cross country runners took off at lightening speed, immediately creating a wide gap between themselves and the rest of us. I was not in any hurry to be running fast,
Around mile 5, photo by Zenaida Arroyo
and I considered mile 1 to be our warmup. We were passed by two women and about five men within the first three minutes. I made a note of it, as a progression-style race usually leads to passing other runners in the later miles. I had three targets to motivate me, but my main objective was to stick to my pacing strategy.

We reached the first hill toward the end of the first mile. Based on my Strava data, it was just over a 100ft and it was about 2/3 of a mile long. It was a longer hill than I am used to running, but I was able to handle it just fine. The water and the glacier were to our left. Greg was capturing everything by wearing his GoPro on his head. It was such a peaceful race with only 150 participants and just the three aid stations. Everyone was having a blast and cheering for everyone else.

Mile 1: 8:12
Mile 2: 7:36
Mile 3: 7:30
Mile 4: 7:39
Mile 5: 7:30

Miles 6-9
During the sixth mile, we picked off the first of three women. We had already picked off one or two of the men during the first five miles. The hill in mile 6 seemed much more difficult than it did on the way out and it seemed to go on forever. I had to really increase my effort but I knew I'd be able to recover once we got over it. 

We then ran down the hill and it wasn't long before we had completed the first out-and-back and were at the turnaround. I could tell that the gap between us and the cross country girl had shrunk, but she still had a solid lead, probably by about 3 minutes. We passed the woman who was in second place while going back up the hill during mile 8. I was feeling strong. Our pace felt easier than a tempo run, but at this point, a little bit harder than marathon pace. Which was to be expected, as this marathon goal pace probably won't feel like marathon pace until a few weeks out from the race. 

Greg and I were having the time of our lives. The scenery was gorgeous, the other runners were spirited and the 58 degree temperature felt amazing in comparison to what we've been training in for the past two months. 

Mile 6: 7:43
Mile 7: 7:24
Mile 8: 7:40
Mile 9: 7:06

Miles 10-Finish
As we approached the turnaround, I realized that this course would end up being longer than 13.1 miles. I actually didn't care because this was a training run for me, and Greg noted that it would actually work in my favor because it would give me more time to close the gap with the cross country runner.  At this point, she was maybe 1-2 minutes ahead of us. 

Once we turned around, I could tell Greg had a lot of energy left to give so I told him to go ahead. I wanted him to try and pass at least one of the men that was ahead of us, and I actually prefer to run alone when putting out a hard effort. It's almost like I need privacy because I am so focused and I don't want anyone "breathing down my neck" so to speak. 

Based on how quickly I seemed to be closing the gap with the cross country girl, I thought I could catch her by simply sticking to my race plan. Greg caught up to her and she asked "where's that girl" and Greg replied "she's coming!" This made her surge, so catching up to her wouldn't be as straightforward as I expected. 

The final hill came and I really powered up it, giving it everything I had, putting only about 20 seconds between the girl and me. Greg had already passed her. The runners who were coming in the opposite direction kept telling me to catch her! They were telling her that I was close behind, which probably motivated her to kick it up a notch as well. 

I consider myself to be a strong downhill runner, so I surged down the hill, making the gap tighter and tighter. As we approached the finish line I was almost nipping at her heels. I crossed just a few seconds after her, and we high-fived it. 

Mile 10: 7:24
Mile 11: 7:09
Mile 12: 7:14
Mile 13: 7:19 (and this was up the monster hill!)
Last 0.67: 6:42 pace

After the Race
I reunited with Greg and we chatted with the local cross country team for a bit. The runners who had completed the 5K were cheering everyone in, and it was exciting to watch the finishers. We then boarded the bus which took us back to our cruise ship. We spent the rest of the day exploring Juneau and visiting the Mendenhall Glacier. More on that to come in the next blog post.

All in all, this was one of the best race experiences ever. I had fun, I saw gorgeous scenery, I connected with other runners, and I got a good workout in. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bummed about not catching that girl, but at the same time, that really wasn't my primary goal. My average pace was 7:27, which is pretty much on target considering Indy Monumental is flat and this race was hilly. I haven't seen any official results yet, but I was 1:42:02 for 13.67 miles according to my Garmin. I ran the first half an an average pace of 7:40, and the second half at an average pace of 7:16.

From a training perspective, I think I already have a solid speed and endurance base from which to build. I just need to survive the August heat and humidity and I'll be ready to go for the fall racing season. Today my legs feel mostly recovered and ready for the next running adventure in Skagway.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Great Alaskan Running Cruise: Anchorage

Greg and I flew across the country from Virginia to Alaska yesterday to take part in the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. What is a running cruise? It's a normal cruise, Royal Caribbean to be specific, that includes special running excursions and events. Not everyone on the cruise is part of the
running group; there are about 150 of us. The cruise departs from Seward, Alaska and finishes in Vancouver, Canada.

We booked this trip back in February. It was actually my Valentine's Day gift to Greg because I knew that he had always wanted to go to Alaska. We actually got in off of the waiting list, as this cruise booked up about nine months in advance.

Alaska Bound!
We arrived in Anchorage yesterday afternoon and we will board the cruise ship this afternoon after a three-hour bus ride to Seward. We had some weather delays yesterday because we flew through Chicago, which had severe thunderstorms. We boarded the first plane, and then deplaned, and then boarded it again, and arrived in Chicago about two hours late. Thankfully, our connecting flight was also late. We got a nice tour of O'Hare International Airport as they changed our gate number several times (picture us booking it from concourse to concourse). Ultimately, we flew out of a gate that was very close to the gate we flew into, so we got some extra exercise yesterday.

View from the plane
Once we were on board the flight to Anchorage, everything went smoothly. Of course, everything was made much more tolerable with our first class tickets, which we got for a steal. I had never flown first class before because it's usually prohibitively expensive and I don't have any sort of status to qualify for free upgrades. But for 8+ hours of flying to only pay $300 more-- we thought it was totally worth it. Especially since it included free checked luggage and we needed to check two bags.

Speaking of bags, packing for this trip was quite the challenge. We each needed three outfits per day (four if you count pajamas). A running outfit, a daytime outfit, and a dressy dinner outfit. Cruise ship dinners require that men wear long pants, collared shirts, and dress shoes, so planning for that took up almost half our luggage space. Furthermore, the weather in Alaska in July ranges from the low 50's to the upper 60's, and it could be rainy or sunny on any given day. It's kind of like packing for a marathon, a wedding, a beach vacation, and a touristy vacation, and you're doing each of those things every day.

Anchorage Welcome
We arrived only one hour late, which was pretty incredible due to all of the delays. We had about an hour to get situated in our hotel and then we were off to the packet pickup and welcome meeting. The Skinny Raven running store was just two blocks from our hotel, and it was the largest running store I had ever seen! It was probably five times as big as the running stores we have in northern Virginia.

We met the other people who would be on our cruise. As expected, it was a diverse group with a wide range of ages. We were given a name tag and three bibs: one for each of the timed events. The first event would be a 5K fun run, which wouldn't be timed, followed by beer and pizza. This started about an hour after we received our packets.

I had informed my coach of all of the planned running events on the cruise and he wrote me a
Greg and me on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage
schedule that included them. For the welcome 5K, he suggested that I run it as a tempo, and then run 10 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) afterward if I had time. Because Alaska is four hours behind the eastern time zone, it already felt like 8:00pm, and my normal bedtime is around 9:00! Plus, we had been traveling all day.

Greg and I decided to get the 1-minute intervals out of the way first because we had about 30 minutes to spare before the welcome 5K. And once we were done with the 5K, we would want to eat dinner and get to bed pretty quickly. We warmed up for one mile, and the began the 1-minute intervals, We ran up and down the residential streets near our hotel, staying close to where we'd meet back up with the group for the 5K. I felt pretty good, considering I had been traveling all day long.

The Moosehead 5K
Once we were done with our short workout, our group headed down to the water, where we ran on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The 5K fun run was simply an out and back on the trail. The views from the trail were amazing! And at 68 degrees with low humidity, the weather felt heavenly.

Our focus during the 5K was to soak it all in and enjoy the experience. We knew we'd be visiting the trail again the next morning, when we would stop for photos and capture everything. We had gorgeous views of the water, the mountains and the forests. Our splits were 7:42, 7:27, 7:04, and 6:45 for the last bit, which yielded a 22:57. It felt really invigorating to run fast on this trail and we were both really excited to finally be in Alaska. Especially after having spent 8+ hours on a plane.

After the run, we all went back to the running store where we had pizza and beer. I was starving. It
was after 10:00 my body time! I finally got to meet fellow blogger Zenaida, whose blog I have been reading for over five years! We didn't stay very long because we were so exhausted. It felt really great to finally get some sleep.

Easy Run Along the Coast
This morning, Greg and I had some time before our transfer to go running. Of course, we woke up at around 3:00am, and the sun rose really early. We were out on the trail by 5:00 and it was pretty much deserted. This time, we went for an hour-long easy run. We went father on the trail than we had the day before and it was absolutely stunning. And at 51 degrees, the air felt marvelous. We're used to it being in the low 70's with insanely high humidity!

After our run, we went to a small coffee shop for breakfast. What a perfect way to start the day.

Today, our cruise adventure begins. More posts to follow!

Read the next post about the Juneau Half Marathon: Alaska Half Marathon

Friday, July 14, 2017

Erase This Word From Your Running Vocabulary

Lately, I have been seeing this word all over the place in the running community. Particularly in blogs and on Instagram. And when I read it or hear it, it's like nails on a chalkboard to me.

The word? Excuse.

Here are some (not verbatim) examples of how I have seen this word used:
  • I'm not trying to make excuses, but it was 85 degrees out.
  • There was a headwind for 5 miles of the race. It's not an excuse, but it slowed me down.
  • Not making excuses, but I got a stomach cramp at mile 9.
  • The weather was perfect, so no excuses. 
These types of lines leave me scratching my head. What? Why would you need an excuse? Did you not just go bust your butt in a race or a workout while most people are sitting on a couch? What would you be excusing yourself for? Even though these runners are saying that they are NOT making excuses, they are implying that they might, in fact, need one by virtue of calling it out.

Let's back up here. In trying to figure out why this word bothers me so much, I've broken it down to the basics. What is an excuse? When would you use one? 

An excuse has two components.

1. You didn't do something you were supposed to do; you failed to meet a commitment
  • You didn't get into work on time.
  • You didn't attend an event you RSVPed yes to.
  • You didn't do your homework.
  • You didn't call or text someone when you said you would.
2. You didn't actually intend to do it, so you manufactured an explanation.
  • You didn't get into work on time because you slept in, so you blamed it on the traffic.
  • You didn't attend an event you RSVPed to because you didn't feel like going, so you said you weren't feeling well.
  • You didn't do your homework because you just didn't make time for it, so you said your dog ate it.
  • You didn't call or text someone when you said you would because it wasn't all that important to you, so you said you were too busy with work.

Both 1 and 2 need to be present in order for an excuse to come into play. If it's just #1, then there could be a very simple reason why. Maybe there was a major accident that prevented you from getting into work on time. Maybe you truly were sick so you couldn't attend the event. Maybe you couldn't do your homework because you had a headache. In this case, none of these would be excuses, they would be reasons.

Now let's apply it to running. It's almost never the case that 1 OR 2 exists, let alone both. When runners say they "aren't trying to make excuses" my question is, excuses for what? What didn't you do that you should have done? You missed a PR? You ran slower than your goal time? Well, that happens all the time. It's part of running. It's nothing that needs an excuse, an apology, or even an explanation. That said, explanations are helpful in understanding what went wrong, and if it was something you could control, how can you improve for next time? If it was something you couldn't control, then it's important to note it and then move on.

I remember a few years ago at the start of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, the announcer said, "It's a beautiful day at 45 degrees and 5 mph winds. We call this no-excuses weather." So, if the weather were hot or rainy, would that be "excuse weather"?  Could you imagine if the announcer of the Boston Marathon said "Well, it's going to be 75 degrees and sunny today. It's excuses weather, so go on and make excuses for your poor performance."

If you ran a race, you don't need an excuse. It doesn't matter how fast or how slow you ran it. It doesn't matter if you achieved your goal or not. You showed up. You gave your best effort. Period. If you went on any kind of run, actually, you don't need an excuse. You would only need an excuse if you intended to train for a marathon, but didn't do any of the work. Or if you registered for a race and just didn't feel like showing up on race morning. If you put miles on your running shoes, then #1 above doesn't exist. So an excuse would never come into play. 

I also really hate the phrases "what's your excuse?" and "no excuses" when it comes to running. I see those so often on Instagram and Facebook. And even in advertising. Those phrases might apply to non-athletes who may legitimately want to start running, but don't make it a priority. But for people who regularly go out and run, the word "excuse" is completely irrelevant and potentially self-defeating. It's a negative word, and it's poisonous to a healthy mindset. So erase it from your vocabulary. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Firecracker 5K: Testing My Limits

Ouch. That was definitely a humbling experience!

This morning I ran my 5th Firecracker 5K in Reston, VA. This race is always brutal with the heat, humidity, and hills. I missed running it last year because I had just come down with mono (or some mono-like virus), and this year I was thankful to be running it. I also missed this race in 2012 because of mono, and in 2013 because of injury, so the most important thing was that I was healthy enough to race. My time in 2014 was 22:54, and in 2015 I finished in 22:05.

The timing of this race was not ideal. I flew to London last Wednesday for business, and then flew back on Friday. This definitely threw my body off schedule and resulted in a lack of sleep. However, I woke up on Saturday morning feeling refreshed, and I cranked out a set of 8 x 400m at 5K effort at paces that were faster than expected. I had been targeting 1:35-1:37 (6:20-6:28) and my splits averaged 1:33 (6:12). It felt like 5K effort and the fact that the temperature was in the low 70's and very humid was a sign that I was acclimated.

As for goals, I wanted to run sub-20:30, and ideally beat my time from Lawyers Have Heart last month (20:24), which was a flatter course.

I got another solid night of sleep on Saturday night, and felt great during the day, so I determined that jet lag would not be a factor in my race. I decided that I was really going to go for it. I am not racing again for another seven weeks, and after this race I have some scheduled recovery time built into my schedule. I decided that I would run the race based on effort (as opposed to pacing with my Garmin) and I wouldn't be afraid to go out hard. I was confident in my fitness and my ability to execute, so I was going to try and race this one really hard.

Before the Race
Greg and I arrived 45 minutes prior to race start. We drank our UCAN and met up with a group of friends for a warmup. I felt pretty good during the warmup, but I could tell the humidity was pretty serious. It was 75 degrees, and I think the dew point was around 70. I was thankful for the mostly cloudy sky, and even decided I didn't need sunglasses. After a 2-mile warmup, Greg and I went back to our car.

Just like we did for the Twilight Festival 4-miler, we brought a cooler of ice to the race. The plan was to soak ourselves with ice cold towels just before the race. I threw a handful of ice into my sports bra, poured ice cold water over my head, and felt ready to race. We walked to the start line area, and I did a few strides. I've definitely improved my running economy and leg turnover during this training cycle, and the strides felt really fluid.

I reconnected with my friends at the start line, where we all sang the National Anthem, due to the PA
Hannah, Perry and Me before the race.
system not working properly. I waved to my dad and stepmother, who had come to cheer me on. Looking around the start line, I could tell this would be a very competitive race. It always is, and I had no expectation of breaking into the top 10 women. I lined up farther back than I typically do, considering how many elite athletes showed up and people who I knew were faster than me.

Mile 1
This fast crowd pulled me out pretty quickly, and I told myself to have the confidence to run by feel. This mile has a rolling elevation, but it's net uphill. If I were being conservative, I would have probably paced it for a 6:35, but that wasn't my goal today-- I wanted to take a risk and see what would happen. It was pretty crowded the first mile, as it always is during this race. I was feeling pretty good as I polished off the mile in 6:27. A little fast, but I didn't judge it as I glanced down. Maybe today would be the day that I totally surprised myself and even PRed on a hot, hilly, humid course!

Mile 2
While mile 1 and 3 are net uphill, mile 2 offers a nice long stretch of downhill. Whenever I have run this race in the past, my second mile has been the fastest. For the first half of the mile, I just cruised along down that hill at the same effort I had run the first mile. But about halfway through I hit a wall pretty hard. My legs felt good, but a wave of fatigue came over me and suddenly I lacked the energy to continue to push. I knew that if I didn't back off the effort a little bit, I would crash and never make it up that final hill. So I eased up ever so slightly so that I would have enough energy to surge during the last mile. Even still, I felt exhausted and tired and I wanted to quit so badly. When I clocked a 6:32 split, I knew that this was not going to be the day I had hoped for. Mile 2 was always much faster than mile 1. But I knew not to speculate and to simply focus on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Mile 3
Thankfully, I was able to devote all my mental energy to powering through the last mile. I think that the "former me" would have sulked about the mile 2 split and potentially given up mentally. Instead I simply thought "ok" and focused on my form as I powered up the first hill. I knew I had slowed down significantly, but I still had enough energy to push and run to my max. My split was 7:04, which shows that I had very little left to give.

The Last 0.18
Photo by Cheryl Young

I wasn't surprised that when my watched beeped for three miles, I still had what seemed like forever to go. This course always measures long on everyone's Garmins, it's just something to expect. Even with the finish line in sight, all I could muster was a pace of 6:39. For the past six races I've run, they've all had a final kick at sub-6:00 pace. But not this one. I crossed the finish line, bent over with my hands on my knees, feeling like I might pass out. But I got over it quickly and was able to move on.

My finish time on my watch was 21:16. Ouch. I haven't run a 5K that slow since my mono comeback in November. This is almost a full minute slower than the PR I set in May. I don't question my fitness-- I do think I'm in excellent 5K shape. But I definitely underestimated how much the humidity would impact my race, and that was a mistake. It just goes to show how much execution matters in a 5K. Fitness will only take you so far.

After the Race
I caught up with Greg, my friends and my family and we briefly exchanged race stories before going back to the car for more ice cold towels and ice cold water. We all cooled down together, and I struggled through that immensely. I felt completely gassed. This race took more out of me than any other race this season. Including the 4-miler in 81 degree temps.

I looked to see if the results were posted anywhere but I couldn't find them. Greg found them just before the awards ceremony began and took a photo of them with my phone. My official time was 21:21, the same as my gun time. Crap! My chip must not have registered at the start line. The person who won 3rd place in my age group was just one second faster than me based on chip time, so I went over to the timing tent to get it sorted out. Sure enough, they told me that my chip didn't register at the start line. This is the second time this season that I've had this happen to me. This time, however, we couldn't use Greg's start time because I actually started two rows behind him.

Photo by Cheryl Young
I showed them my watch and they changed my start time accordingly. This happened just in time for a race official to walk me over to the awards ceremony and present me with the 3rd place age group award. I do feel badly about coming in at the 11th hour and taking the age group award, but I did rightfully earn it and I couldn't find the results posted earlier in the morning.

As I said earlier, this was a competitive field. The 10th place female ran a time of 19:06 and the winner ran 16:56. I was the 23rd female.

Final Thoughts
There are two ways to look at this race. I could look at it as failed execution. I went out too fast, underestimating the humidity, and paid for it later in the race. If I had started out slower, I probably could have run an overall faster time. My execution in 2015 was much stronger, with splits of 6:57, 6:45, 7:10. Based on the course profile, I think this type of pacing is ideal.

Or, I could look at it as taking a risk, and having it not pay off. I did take a risk because I wanted to test my limits and see what I was capable of. And the 5K is a good distance to test things, particularly when it's not "PR weather." So, now I know that if it's 75 degrees and really humid, I should go out slower. I also know that it's useful to look at the Garmin during the first mile to ensure that I don't get pulled out too fast. I've always thought this, but I figured I would take the opportunity to try not using it and see what would happen.

I had a really fun time getting to see so many of my friends, and I feel like this was a good learning experience for me. It definitely was not the experience I hoped for, but I think it will help motivate me in future races. Even though the humidity hasn't seemed to affect my workout paces this season, a race is a different ballgame, and I need to respect that. And as I said earlier, I am thankful that I was healthy enough to run this race, as I've had to miss it multiple times in the past. I also fully realize that not every race can be a stellar performance, and I have had my share of strong performances this year.

I have some scheduled down time this week and a very easy week next week with no hard workouts. I specifically requested this from my coach because I really don't want to overdo it in the heat and be burnt out before marathon training even starts. I'll begin marathon training the week of July 17th, with a target of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon the first weekend in November.