Sunday, September 24, 2017

Boston Marathon Acceptance + Training Update

Last Sunday I received my official Boston Marathon acceptance for 2018! I registered on Wednesday the 13th, and when I hadn't heard anything by Friday, I started to get antsy. I wasn't worried about being rejected with my 18-minute qualifying buffer, but the fact that other Wednesday registrants had received confirmations and I had not was unsettling. Needless to say, when the email confirmation finally arrived on Sunday evening, I was elated.

For those of you unaware of how the Boston Marathon registration process works, runners who qualified by 20 minutes or more were able to register on Monday the 11th, by 10 minutes or more (my group) on Wednesday the 13th, and by 5 minutes or more on Friday the 15th. They then reopened registration on Monday the 18th for those who qualified by less than 5 minutes, and those runners will not receive confirmation until next week, once they determine how much the "cutoff" will be. Many of those runners will be rejected because their qualifying buffer wasn't large enough, so they are eagerly waiting the news that will come next week. My prediction: 2 minutes and 14 seconds. Not based on anything scientific, just my gut!

I wonder why they don't handle registration similar to college admittance-- you can apply at any time, giving the admissions office time to review applications at their leisure, but then have an application deadline and send out notifications after the deadline. Of course it wouldn't work exactly the same way, but something like this:

Registration is open for an entire year. Hopefuls would be able to register at their leisure (instead of a two-day window which could easily be missed) and the B.A.A. would be able to verify their qualifying times as they were submitted. Verify--not accept.  Registration would close in September, and at that point the B.A.A. would have all the data that they needed, fully verified, to calculate a cut-off. They would not be scrambling to verify thousands of qualifying times in less than a week's time. They would know exactly how many people qualified in each age/gender group, and by what margins.

The B.A.A. could make the announcement about the cutoff time the day after registration closed, and notify all registrants at the same time of their acceptance or rejection.

I think this approach would save time, frustration, and anxiety for both runners and for the B.A.A. without altering the acceptance criteria. Also, qualifiers wouldn't have to worry about missing the two-day period; they would potentially have months to register. But who knows-- maybe the B.A.A. likes all the hype that happens in mid-September!

Onto my training update!

Monday: 8.6 miles at 8:45 avg.
This was a warm and humid run, which set the tone for the entire week: unseasonably warm and humid. It was such a tease to have nice cool mornings in the low 50's in early September.

Tuesday: 5 x 2000m with 3-minute recoveries
This is a tough workout. 5 x 2000m is 10,000m: aka a 10K on the track! It was 66 degrees with 95% humidity. I went into the run expecting it to be pretty brutal. It ended up not being all that bad, though. My splits were 8:29 (6:48 pace), 8:25 (6:45 pace), 8:22 (6:43 pace), 8:22 (6:45 pace), 8:22 (6:45 pace). I was pleased with how this workout felt, given how humid it was. When I added up the time of the intervals it was only 10 seconds slower than my 10K PR pace, which was set in ideal weather conditions. I hope this means I am making good progress. This workout was much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. 5 laps at a time is hard! Including warm up and cool down, I logged a total of 11 miles.

Wednesday: 6.9 miles at 8:48 avg.
I took this one nice and easy to ensure recovery from the monster track workout.

Thursday: 10.5 miles at 8:37 avg.
This run was all about cranking out the mileage. Typically I have another hard workout on Thursdays, but I assume my coach gave me an easy run so that I wouldn't be completely exhausted for the marathon pace run on Saturday.

Friday: 8.1 miles at 8:39 avg.
Another easy run in unseasonably warm/humid conditions.

Saturday: 16.7 miles with 12 at marathon pace of 7:27
I went into this workout with one strike against me because I didn't sleep well the night before. In fact, I only got 4 hours of sleep, and I don't think it was deep sleep. Admittedly, I had some anxiety
about this workout. How would marathon pace feel? Since the majority of my workouts this cycle have been in warm weather, it's difficult to know if I am any fitter than I was for my Myrtle Beach training cycle. My times for the workouts are almost identical, if not slower. But I don't have a tuneup race or a workout that has made me think "wow- I've made a jump in fitness." Rather, the theme has been trusting the process, cranking out the workouts as prescribed, and hoping that my 7:27 goal marathon pace is realistic without any evidence.

I ran 2.6 miles at my easy pace and then started the marathon pace miles. I was prescribed 90 minutes at marathon pace. I paced it as I plan to pace it on race day by starting out slower than goal pace and finishing faster. My splits were 7:39, 7:37, 7:27, 7:28, 7:21, 7:24, 7:23, 7:22, 7:24, 7:20, 7:18, 7:30. I ran 12.09 miles in 90 minutes-- an average pace of 7:27. Weather wise, it was about 60 degrees at the start of these miles, and 65 by the end, with sunny skies.

The first 11 miles felt amazing. They weren't easy but I felt strong and in control. But once I hit the final mile, things started to go downhill, and quickly! All of a sudden I felt completely gassed and I was no longer able to maintain the 7:20's. It felt like race effort just to run that final mile in 7:30. I kept bargaining with myself because I so badly wanted to end the workout five minutes early. When it was done, I had to walk for awhile before I could begin the final cool down miles. And during the cool down, I was cramping pretty badly in my abdomen. I had to stop every half mile because the stomach cramping was so bad.

I'd like to think that in cooler weather, I would have been able to hold it together better during the last mile, and I wouldn't have had the cramping issues during the cool down. I'm at my best when it's 35 degrees. My coach told me that this was exactly what the workout should feel like at this point in the training cycle. He said that I should have been on "my hands and knees" at the end, as this workout was designed to drain the tank. And that it did. So while I was initially discouraged about having a goal marathon pace of 7:27, I'm a bit more optimistic now.

I did complete 90 minutes at a pace of 7:27 in the middle of a high-mileage week, on only 4 hours of sleep. So that's good! The weather just needs to be cooler so I can see what I can do when my body doesn't have the additional strain of the heat.

Sunday: 3.6 miles at 8:56 avg.
I was even more encouraged by how quickly I seemed to recover from the marathon pace run. This morning I didn't feel any lingering soreness! In fact, my legs felt a little peppy! I do think my legs are capable of a 7:27 marathon pace, I just need to get my aerobic system there.

Total mileage for the week: 65.5
I'm pleased with how the week went. My Achilles tendons have been doing pretty good, too. I did my exercises every day this week, and the marathon pace run didn't seem to aggravate them. This is my 5th consecutive week at 60+ miles, and even though there hasn't been that *one* workout that makes me think I've gotten fitter this cycle, I know that I have been following my training plan to the letter and feeling good doing it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Parks Half Marathon: Race/Workout/Experience/Lesson

Written on Saturday, September 9th
This morning I woke up prepared to run my scheduled 18-mile training run. I looked at my weather app to confirm that yes, the weather was in fact nearly perfect for running. And tomorrow morning was forecast to be even cooler. I then looked at next weekend, when I'm scheduled to run the Navy-Air Force half marathon. Even though it was eight days out and not to be trusted, it was forecast to be warm and humid. UGH.

When I registered for the Navy Air-Force race I knew there would be a good chance of it being warm and humid as it's in the middle of September. But I also thought I would be acclimated. However, over the past two weeks I think I have lost a fair amount of my heat acclimation. It's been in the 50's or low 60's most mornings, with low humidity. This has been a nice treat, but it's not great for staying acclimated to warmer weather.

I started to wonder if it would be possible for me to run my half tomorrow instead of next Sunday. It wasn't long before I realized that the local Parks Half Marathon was scheduled to run tomorrow, with a 6:45 start time. I'd heard great things about this race over the years but I had never done it because it fell so early in the season. It turned out they still had a "handful" of bibs left, but I would need to go to the packet pickup (a 40-minute drive) to register in person.

I emailed my coach (who's on Pacific time) and decided I would run 30 minutes easy this morning and await his reply. If he told me no, I would do the 18 tomorrow. If he told me yes, I would do the half. He texted me and essentially told me it was up to me. The obvious benefit of waiting until next weekend was that he had planned a taper, with easy running only from Wednesday-Saturday, so my legs would be fresh and ready to race.

Thursday: 10 x 1000m w/200m recovery jogs
As it was, I had just run 10 x 1000m at on the track on Thursday, so my legs would likely still be fatigued from that effort. I ran the the workout at my current 10K PR pace (6:44) for an entire 10K, but with 200m recoveries in between. Sounds like a grueling workout, but it didn't really get hard until the last 3 intervals, and I was able to speed up during those. This leads me to believe I am probably in better shape than when I ran that 10K PR.

We went back and forth and he told me to choose the option that would give me the biggest mental boost. If I were to run the half tomorrow, I would have to realize that my legs will not be 100% and I shouldn't expect a particularly fast time, but rather focus on running a hard effort.

This was such a tough decision. I had also previously consulted Greg, Rochelle, and Hannah. Greg told me to go for it if I wanted, but he was sticking with our original plan. Rochelle said she typically favors sticking to the plan, but low 50's with a 6:45am start was pretty attractive. If I did it, I would just have to realize that my legs would be tired. Hannah advised me to stick to the plan because the potentially humid run would make me stronger. She also reminded me that the marathon was what was most important, and my plan was designed to optimize for that.

Lots of opinions, but after going back and forth with my coach, I gained some clarity. Finally, it all solidified in my mind. I could either run a half on tired legs in pleasant racing conditions, or have rested legs in potentially warm/humid conditions. I chose tired legs. I've had a lot of success running hard workouts on tired legs, but that exhausted feeling I get from warm/humid running really takes it out of me and has been demoralizing in the past. For example, I PR'ed my 10K last February without having tapered, and that was a hilly course. The Parks Half Marathon should be relatively flat, with an overall (slight) elevation loss, as the course is point-to-point. So I think as long as I go into the race tomorrow with eyes wide open, realizing that my legs might me screaming at me and I might not be as fast as I would like, then it's all good. I'd prefer that over a warm race. This isn't to say I couldn't run well in a warm half, I just historically haven't done so.

But if the weather for the original Navy-Air Force half turns out to be cool, THEN I will be kicking myself! Ha. It's a gamble, really, but one I've become comfortable with ever since I picked up my bib.

I decided to write this portion of the blog now, so that my actual race experience doesn't influence my description of my original mindset. Until tomorrow!

Written today, September 10th, at 4:30am
While I thought I was confident in my decision, my sleep indicated otherwise. I lay awake most of the night, simply not able to fall asleep. I wasn't consciously worried about the race, but I must have subconsciously been. I haven't had sleep issues the night before a race in a long time. I tried not to judge myself for not being able to sleep and I tried not to think about how it would impact the race. I'd say I was about 85% successful. All in all, I would guess I got about 3 hours of sleep. Two of them from 1:30 to 3:30, and the other one at various intervals from 9:00-11:00.

It's not too late to change my mind, but I'm still going to go for it.

Written today after the race
Okay, I will fully admit that that was not the world's greatest idea! But I made the best of it and I learned the value of sticking with a plan, as my friends encouraged me to do.

We drove 40 minutes to the race site, found parking pretty easily and I began my warm up. I ran a 1-mile warmup and everything felt pretty good. My strategy was to start at a pace of around 7:10 for the first few miles, and then take it from there.

Miles 1-5
Shortly after the start
The first thing I noticed: this race was, in fact, hilly. The elevation profile made the course appear flat because of the scale and I was not prepared for a rolling course with my tired legs. I came upon the first major hill at the end of mile two and even at that early point in the race, my legs had very little to give. By the time I got to mile 5, I realized that I likely wouldn't be speeding up, but I felt like I could maintain what I was doing for awhile.

The entire course is run through parks, which meant 100% shade, but also an inability to pace with the Garmin. My splits were all over the place. I decided to start manually splitting at one point, but then I missed some mile markers, so that didn't work out either. I think I stayed at my 7:10 for the good part of these miles, so let's go with that.

Miles 6-10
I made a concerted effort to be mindful of my surroundings, to take in the scenery, and enjoy the fresh air. Weather conditions were truly ideal, and I was running in a beautiful park-- which is a huge reason why I wanted to do this race to begin with. I wanted to have an enjoyable race experience, and this race certainly delivered on that.

I was beginning to tire, but stayed strong regardless. I knew my pace was slipping but I didn't mind. The important thing was the effort. But then the 1:35 pace group passed me during the 9th mile. I had been running on the park path in pleasant solitude when I heard a group of footsteps gradually approach from behind. I knew they must be the 1:35 pace group and I tried to stay ahead of them for as long as possible, which only ended up being about a quarter of a mile. And then they all passed me one-by-one, which was definitely a mental blow. No longer could I ignore the fact that I was slowing down. But I pressed on. And then came another massive hill. They even had a name for it: high-five hill, I think. A bunch of people were out with big white hands that we were supposed to high-five. It took all the energy I had to power up the hill that I couldn't spare any to high five.

When I got to the aid station at mile marker 10, I stopped and regrouped. I suddenly realized how horrible I felt and the volunteers repeatedly asked me if I needed help. I instantly thought I should borrow someone's phone and call Greg and just shut it down. What would be the point of finishing when I was feeling so awful? But then I reminded myself that I wanted the practice of pushing through when things got tough, not giving up. So I made a comprise and decided to view this race as a 10-mile hard effort with a 3.1-mile cool down.

Miles 10-13.1
My only goal was to get to the finish time, and I will admit that I took a few short walk breaks on the hills. Loads of people were passing me, including the 1:40 pace group during the 12th mile. I tried my best to not focus on the other runners and remember that this was not my goal race but the end of a long, hard workout. And believe it or not, I was still having fun and enjoying the course.

I'm not sure what my pace was during this stretch, but I think it was probably around 8:20. And I got a little zippier during the last mile knowing it was almost over. I was elated to see Greg snapping photos of me at the end of mile 13. I made it back to him without having to call him! Small victories.

My finish time was a respectable 1:41:33, and I was really proud that I didn't give up. Especially since this race has amazing swag. We got a medal, a hat, and this bright orange towel thing that made a great nose wipe just when I needed it!

After the Race: Final Thoughts
This race was simultaneously enjoyable and painful. Even though I believe myself to be in PR shape, running isn't always about that. Sometimes it's just about getting out there and putting out a solid effort. And sometimes it's about savoring an experience. So even if I blew my shot at a PR next weekend, I'm okay with that because I got something different.

That said, if I knew how this race would play out, I would have opted for the easy 18 yesterday and the half next weekend. But hindsight is 20/20. I think I would have had a much better day if I had slept even semi-normally. I conquered my sleep demons several years ago, but I'm not perfect.

Greg put the race in perspective for me: "It's not like you did anything bad. You ran a half marathon because you wanted to." True. I wanted to run this race, and so I did.

My legs are pretty beat up right now, so I'm going to focus on foam rolling, massage, healthy eating, and hopefully sleep. I think that today was a great training stimulus for the marathon (both mentally and physically) and I'm anxious to get back into the groove of training. Total weekly mileage: 60.7.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Training: 9 Weeks to Go

All of a sudden training got really hard! My coach has begun to pack on the miles and add some long workouts into the mix. The marathon is nine weeks away and I feel like my endurance is already pretty strong, so as long as I can stay healthy then I should be in peak shape come November 4th. My
coach is excellent at having me peak at just the right time by not starting the long runs too early in the cycle and giving me a relatively short taper.

My energy level has been great during my runs and throughout the day. I've been getting plenty of sleep and good nutrition. My legs have felt tired for most of this week and I've been doing a lot of foam rolling and calf massaging. I went to the sports chiropractor about my Achilles to be proactive about the issue and to ensure that I was doing the proper calf exercises. It turns out that I should not be stretching my calf and that I was doing the wrong exercise! He showed me what I needed to do and also performed ART (Active Release Technique) to help loosen things up. I typically only feel the Achilles during the first five minutes of the run, and after I'm done with the run and it stiffens up. I almost felt a bit ridiculous seeing the sports chiropractor because when I walked into his office I was 100% pain free. So right now it's manageable and I don't want it to progress into anything worse.

We've had an abnormally cool week and I'm not complaining. Morning temperatures have been in the upper 50's and lower 60's. Rain has been the major annoyance, and it was really only a factor during the Saturday long run, when the remains of Harvey came through.

Monday: 8 miles at 8:48 average
This was a prescribed 70-minute easy run. For some reason it was slower than my typical easy run, but I didn't judge it or question it. Some days are just slower than others and I usually don't try to force any particular pace on easy days. It's just whatever feels easy.

Tuesday: 6 x 1600m (400m recovery jogs), 3 x 200m (200m recovery jogs)
I was surprised to see this workout so early in the cycle. Last time I was prescribed 7 x 1600m was two weeks before the marathon. It was raining during this workout, but at 62 degrees the rain actually felt really good and it wasn't too heavy. My splits were 6:48, 6:43, 6:43, 6:44, 6:45, 6:41, 0:42, 0:42, 0:43. I felt really strong during this workout. My legs felt powered and I had a good amount of energy. I was expecting to break 6:40 on at least one of them, but it never happened. I probably could have done it if I exerted more effort, but with 6 of them, I didn't want to push too hard too soon. I was disappointed that the last one wasn't under 6:40 but my coach told me not to worry about it because my legs are likely still adjusting to the higher mileage. Someone on Instagram commented that he thinks my half marathon pace is probably 6:45 based on this workout, but I'm not sure if I agree! I ran 12 miles total, including the warm up and cool down.

Wednesday: 7.1 miles at 8:30 average
My legs felt peppy on Wednesday, which was super encouraging after all the mile repeats from the day before.

Thursday: 11.2 miles at 8:04 average
My coach prescribed 90 minutes at a pace of around 8:00. I wasn't quite sure why, and I assumed that he wanted me to get a lot of mileage in at a decent effort, without the hard effort of a workout. I later learned that the purpose of this workout was to see how I felt at a pace of 8:00 so that I could start
running more of my easy runs at that pace. My coach says he's seen athletes make significant gains by running at the faster end of their easy range. According to the McMillan Calculator, my easy runs should be in the 7:37-8:37 range. This has always seemed fast to me, as my range tends to be more like 8:20-8:50. As I said above, I simply run what feels "easy".

So I did this workout. The first two miles were 8:58 and 8:08 because it always takes me awhile to "get into it" and then I spent the rest of the run right around 8:00. So how did it feel? Miles 1-3 felt hard. It's difficult for me to run quickly out of the gate. Miles 4-8 actually did feel easy. I ran up a hill at mile 9 and maintained the pace, which tired my legs. My legs were tired for the remainder of the run, but I still felt like I was working within my aerobic range at an easy effort level.

I believe that easy days are meant to help you recover from hard days and you shouldn't push it. But if I'm feeling good and I can run a little faster while still having it feel "easy" then I will do it. My mileage is really high right now so my legs probably won't like it all that much, but I can see running an 8:00 pace for my easy runs more often if I am not logging 60+ miles per week.

Friday: 6.8 miles at 8:53 average
Speaking of tired legs, they were tired on Friday. Knowing that I had a long run the following day with marathon pace miles, I ran this one as a recovery run.

Saturday: 17 miles with 6 at marathon pace
Harvey's rain hit the DC metro area on Saturday and this run was a soaker. Greg and I ran together for the first 10 miles and got absolutely drenched. It was only 54 degrees, which is crazy for this time of
year, and I was actually cold. The first 10 miles averaged 8:48 on a hillier-than-normal route. Then it was time for six miles at marathon pace, so I ran ahead of Greg while he maintained an easy effort for the rest of his run. 17 miles is the threshold at which I carry UCAN with me in addition to having it beforehand. So I practiced making a UCAN gel and stored it in my skirt pocket, taking it at mile 8.

The transition from easy to marathon pace was tough. I increased the effort and it felt hard, but I was still about 25 seconds slower than my goal pace. It was basically a shock to the system after spending 90 minutes running at an easy pace, to shift gears to race pace. After about 10 minutes, though, I got into the groove of marathon pace and it didn't feel as hard. The rest of the marathon pace miles felt good. I had to work hard, but I wasn't hurting or straining. I finished off with one final easy mile in 8:20.  Marathon pace miles were 7:38, 7:29, 7:23, 7:18, 7:24, 7:18. They averaged 7:25 (which was the target) and the entire 17 miles averaged 8:14.

Sunday: 3.3 miles at 9:04 average
A true recovery run after a long week!

Total mileage: 65.3

I have another hard week coming up and then I'll get a bit of a taper before my half marathon on September 17th.