Sunday, October 29, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon: Pre-Race Thoughts

And just like that, another marathon training cycle is nearly complete!

I ran two hard workouts this week, and now I am officially in "just get to the start line healthy" mode. Because I took three days off to let my Achilles tendons calm down, my schedule shifted so that last weekend's long run was actually on this week's Monday.

Training Wrap Up
The prescribed long run was 16 miles, with the last six starting at marathon pace, and then speeding up depending on how I felt. Now that it was October 23rd, my patience for continued warm and
Still warm and humid in late October
humid training conditions had run out. There is only so long I can "embrace the suck" of this weather when it's late October! It was 62 degrees with 99% humidity, and I could even see the droplets of moisture in the air with my headlamp.

The first 10 miles felt good, so I was optimistic about the last six. But I found that goal marathon pace felt a lot harder than expected. I hit the first one in 7:30, and then even though I pushed harder for the next mile, all I got was a 7:32. Knowing that my goal marathon pace was 7:27, this was disheartening. Determined to speed up as my coach advised, I pushed really hard for the next two miles and was able to pull out a 7:21 followed by a 7:20. With just two miles left to go, I realized I was nearly at my limit. How could 4 miles at goal marathon pace feel so hard?! The 5th mile was slightly downhill for 7:15, and then I really fell apart. My last mile clocked in at 7:28, but I was running at 100% effort level to reach that pace. Afterwards, I felt frustrated and discouraged. With the marathon in two weeks, I could barely run six miles at marathon pace! I'd like to think that this is due to the humid weather, but of course I don't really know for sure.

During my Myrtle Beach training cycle, I ran several marathon pace workouts that gave me the confidence I needed to execute on race day. During this cycle, I have not successfully run my goal marathon pace during a workout.

BUT! I have run much faster than expected during cool weather tempo runs, and even during a warm one. Thursday's workout restored my confidence that 7:27 is a realistic marathon pace. The prescribed run was 3 tempo miles, 2 tempo miles, 1 tempo mile, all with 4 minutes recovery jog. I was supposed to start at the slow end of my tempo range and speed up throughout the run. And I did it!  7:07, 7:02, 6:55, 6:48, 6:46, 6:41. It felt "comfortably hard" like a tempo should feel, and none of these miles felt like race effort.

Friday was an easy 60 minutes and yesterday was an easy 90 minutes. My legs still felt a little sore from Thursday's workout while I ran the 90 minutes, and I am hoping that they will bounce back to 100% in time for the marathon.

Here's a snapshot of my full cycle:

My coach actually prescribed seven additional miles for this week (two 30-minute recovery jogs on Tuesday and Sunday) but in the spirit of letting my Achilles Tendons calm down, I skipped them.

Race Goals
As I mentioned above, I really wish I had been able to execute more successful marathon pace runs during this cycle. I also wish I had run a tune-up race that had indicated where my fitness was at. But alas, I have neither of these, so I will have to rely on my speedy tempo runs as confidence.

The fact that my legs felt sore during yesterday's run was, admittedly, a bit discouraging as well. Typically in training I can run a six-mile hard workout on Thursday and follow it up with a 16+ mile run two days later and feel fine.

My "A" goal time is sub-3:18 because I think I am capable of it. So does my coach. However, I would be elated to simply break 3:20. Right now the forecast is looking decent, although not ideal. (Ideal for me is high 30s). It's about as warm as I'd want for it to be so if it trends any warmer between now and race day, I will not be a happy camper.

In terms of non time-based goals, I want to run a smart race where I don't go out too fast, but I go out fast enough so that I'm not having to run ridiculously fast during the last 10K. I also want to focus on enjoying the race, executing my nutrition and hydration plan, and pushing as hard as possible during those final miles, even though I know it will hurt.

I'm not really nervous or anxious about this race. And it actually doesn't even feel like a taper. I'm just excited to get to Indianapolis and kick off race weekend. I'm also really looking forward to having more free time once I'm not marathon training so my life in general doesn't feel as rushed.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Listening to Your Body Actually Works

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about my Achilles tendonitis and how I decided to take some time off to allow it to heal. Of course, this was not ideal timing at all, as I was planning to run one more
high-mileage week before tapering for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I know many runners prefer a three week taper, but my coach traditionally gives me a two week taper, or even as short as 10 days, and I've found it works better for me. My training cycles tend to be shorter than average as well. I do some pre-marathon prep work, and then the intensity really ramps up 10 weeks before the marathon.

But given that my main objective is always to get to the start line healthy, I had to sacrifice half of this week to Achilles tendonitis. After Sunday's 30-minute recovery jog, I took Monday off as an unscheduled rest day. My Achilles ached for most of the day, even at rest. I was extremely relieved when I woke up on Tuesday morning and it had improved substantially. However, I didn't want to test my luck so I gave myself another unscheduled rest day.

I was checking in with my coach daily and letting him know how everything felt. On Wednesday morning, I woke up to an email from him that advised me to take yet another rest day. I was disappointed, but I didn't question his guidance. One of the main benefits of having a coach is that I don't have to make these decisions for myself-- I simply defer to his expertise. The Achilles had improved even more by Wednesday morning, but I still felt hints of it here and there. I also went to my sports chiropractor and a podiatrist on Wednesday. Both said it was okay for me to continue training and to run the marathon. My biggest fear was that it would rupture and I was assured that a rupture would not occur from distance running. They both agreed that it wouldn't clear up 100% until I really backed off the training, which will happen post-race.

My coach also cleared me to run on Thursday. But instead of rushing to do a hard workout, he advised me to run easy and then if it felt okay I could do a hard workout on Friday. I thought this made total sense. I would test the waters with an easy run (70 minutes) and only perform the fast workout on Friday if everything felt good.

Ironically, after I ran on Thursday morning my Achilles felt better than they had all week! I guess the run must have loosened them up and got the blood flowing. I was completely pain free during the run and after the run. And for the rest of the day I could barely feel anything at all! Even though it was hard to sacrifice three days of training, I knew I had made the right decision. I don't think that I lost any fitness, but I also didn't have the opportunity to make a final gain, which I'm okay with.

Finally, on Friday, I did the workout that was originally scheduled for Tuesday. And I had been itching to do this workout for weeks! I was excited that my coach put something on my schedule that I had never done before. And this would be my first workout in cool weather that could provide some indication of my fitness level. Of course, I would be nice and fresh for it, not having run hard since the 22-miler 6 days prior.

The workout was 3 times 3 miles at half marathon pace, with 4-minute recovery jogs in between. I don't really know what my half marathon pace is right now, but I made an educated guess of a 7:00/mile. I decided I would aim for that, starting off a little slower just in case I was being too ambitious. And that I would also run by feel, allowing myself to go faster if it felt okay. I warmed up for a little over two miles and started the workout. I can't even begin to say how amazing it felt to be running in cooler (50-degree) weather!

My first three miles were 7:10, 7:04, 6:52. They felt comfortable, and I knew I had hit the right effort level because I jogged my recovery at a pace of 9:06. If it had been really hard, I would have needed to jog my recovery closer to 10:30, like I do during track intervals.

Friday, October 20th
The next three miles were 7:03, 6:58, 6:56. I was working hard, but everything still felt great. My legs were fresh. My Achilles were silent. And I had loads of energy thanks to a good night of sleep and my Generation UCAN, which I had consumed pre-run.

My did my 4-minute recovery jog at a pace of 9:19, and was ready to hammer it home. My splits were 7:04, 6:59, 6:56. I was so excited! I felt so strong and fast, and the workout didn't take as much out of me as some of the other ones this cycle. For example, I found the 20 x 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy + 20 x 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy to be much more challenging. With this half marathon pace workout, I settled in, cruised my way through it and felt awesome. Including warm up and cool down, my total mileage for the run was 13.

My average pace for the 9 miles was 7:00 and if you included the recovery jogs, I ran a total of 9.9 miles at an average pace of 7:11, which is faster than my Army Ten Miler pace! Cool weather makes a big difference. Thankfully, the Achilles did not flare up after the run and I continued to feel good throughout the day.

Lesson learned: listening to your body actually works! And so does listening to your coach. I'm glad I played it safe and gave my Achilles tendons the time they needed to calm down.

This morning I ran 7.8 miles at an easy pace and everything still felt great. The fact that my legs had pep and didn't at all feel achy from the workout was also encouraging. Even still, my coach wants me to have two days of easy running between the half marathon pace run and my next long run, so I will be doing that on Monday morning before work. It's going to be dark, warmer and rushed afterwards, but at least I'm not injured! In my last training cycle, I ran 20 miles two weekends out from the race. During the training cycle before that I ran 23 miles two weekends out. This training cycle I will only be running 16, but it is what it is. I know that one long (or shorter-than-long) run doesn't make or break a cycle.

I've worked hard this training cycle, although it's been frustrating because of the weather. As soon as it became consistently cool, I had to take three days off due to this injury. I haven't had weekly doses of confidence-boosting runs like I have in previous cycles, but I've had two solid workouts (including the one above) that have indicated that I am in the best shape of my life. The Army Ten Miler was a confidence booster in terms of execution, so a combination of race execution and fitness should lead to great things on November 4th.

Training Cycle Snapshot

Monday, October 16, 2017

Better Safe Than Sorry

With the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon less than three weeks away, my only goal is to get to the start line healthy. I am writing this not so much for my blog readers, but more to reinforce it in my own mind. In fact, the purpose of my blog as a whole isn't to write for others, but rather to keep a personal record of my running journey. I find it useful to look back on previous race reports as well as descriptions of illness and injury. More importantly, I use my writing as a way to solidify my thoughts and find clarity. Most of my readers probably don't care about my exact placement in a race or what distance my Garmin reported. But those details and that level of analysis is interesting to me, so I include it.

Back to the purpose of this particular post-- my Achilles tendons. I've been dealing with stiffness and aches post-run since the middle of July on both feet. The stiffness is at the point of insertion at the bottom of the back of the heel. I think it was caused by wearing the Nike Zoom Elite, which has an 8mm heel-to-toe ratio as opposed to 10+ mm, which I am accustomed to. I have limited ankle mobility, so those two millimeters made a difference, particularly since I only wore the shoe during intense 5K speed workouts. That must have caused an additional strain that my tendons weren't used to. I stopped wearing the shoes in early August, but it was too late at that point. It got progressively worse through early September, when I made an appointment to see my sports chiropractor. He gave me exercises to do, and they worked. My Achilles tendons started to improve over the next several weeks. At one point, the pain was completely gone for almost an entire week. I kept up with my exercises, but the pain started to get worse again after the Army 10-Miler.

On Monday of last week, I went for a 70-minute recovery run and while I could feel some minor irritation in my Achilles, but nothing too alarming. The next few days were easy running and I was recovering well from the race. On Thursday, I ran a workout of 20 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) followed by 20 x (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). My sports chiropractor had warned me that short sprints were the worst thing for my Achilles, but I proceeded with the workout anyway because everything had been feeling fine. I made it through the workout pain-free, and I felt pretty good afterwards too. I was actually encouraged because if I could sprint for a full hour without having my Achilles hurt, then I must be in the clear!

On Friday I ran for 70 minutes at an easy pace, and then on Saturday it was time for my 22-miler. I heated the area around my Achilles with a heating pad before starting the run to loosen them up. The run ended up being more difficult than expected. I've run 22-milers in previous cycles and all of them had felt better than this one. This could be because it was 62 degrees and very humid on Saturday, as opposed to the cooler, less humid conditions I've had for my other 22-milers. I felt fit and strong on the run, but I could tell the humidity was making me extra tired and my legs were also tired from the 60 minutes worth of on-and-off sprinting on Thursday.

Saturday, October 14th
I finished the run successfully, but once I was done, I was done. I was completely wiped, my legs were sore and achy, and my Achilles were not happy. I didn't really feel any pain in my Achilles during the run; if I had I would have stopped. I found it hard to walk around for the rest of the day, which was a contrast to my previous 22-milers. My prescribed run on Sunday was a 30-minute recovery run. My legs felt decent, and I told myself I would cut it short if my Achilles hurt. I took it slow (9:36 average pace) and as the run progressed my Achilles felt better and better. I was able to check the box on a 69 mile week. But something told me that I needed to take this Achilles thing more seriously.

It's now escalated to the point where I can feel a slight burning sensation even when I am at rest. And it never used to be this way. It used to only hurt when I got up from a chair, and only during the first few hours after a run.

I ultimately realized that I needed to stop running until my Achilles no longer hurt while at rest. An Achilles tendon could tear, and then I wouldn't be able to run (or walk) for months. It's better to be safe than sorry.

In an ideal world, this week would be my final week of high-mileage, intense marathon training. A two-week taper works best for me. But unfortunately I am starting the taper a week early, and resting completely. I think the elliptical would probably irritate it, and I just don't have the motivation to go pool running. I hate pool running and it's logistically difficult to do in the morning before work.

Week of October 9th
I'm going to take things one day at a time and hope for the best. I took today off and I will take
tomorrow off. I continue to do the exercises that my sports chiro gave me. I'd like to run my prescribed workout on Wednesday, but I'm not going to do it unless the Achilles dramatically improves between now and Wednesday morning. It's not worth the risk and I don't run through pain.

My sports psychologist said that injuries were like stop lights. Green means "train as normal - not to worry!" Yellow means "train with caution and be aware of how things feel" - which has been this entire training cycle. Now I'm at a red light and I won't be on the road again until it turns yellow.

How do I feel about all of this? It sucks, but I've accepted it. The tendons just need to hold out for three more weeks. They've held out this long! I'm also bummed that I haven't even gotten to experience the cool fall weather for a tough workout yet. All of my harder workouts have been in warm, humid conditions, and I think I could really see significant progress in cooler temps. I really want the opportunity to see what I can do and I don't want to be sitting on the sidelines on November 4th. This could be a flare up that goes away tomorrow, or it could persist until I've taken a more significant chunk of time off of running. If it's the latter, I probably will go pool running, which is a depressing thought.

The good news is that I haven't yet torn my Achilles. (If I had, I wouldn't be able to stand on my toes.) I'm going to a podiatrist on Wednesday just to make sure there isn't anything else going on. Better safe than sorry. I'd rather take some time off running with tendons that are intact than have to wear a boot or cast or get surgery or something. I also hate running in fear, and not really knowing if running is okay. The idea that I could be hurting myself it the worst feeling ever. I want to run the marathon on November 4th with pain-free heels, and not worried that something is going to snap mid-race. That's my priority and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it means losing some of my hard-earned fitness over the next few weeks.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Army Ten-Miler: Running in a Sauna

At the start of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler this year, the announcer said, "We have 'no excuses' weather this morning," because it was in the low 40's. At the Army Ten Miler this morning, I was waiting for the announcer to say that we had "excuses" weather because it was so hot, but that never happened!

Needless to say, we approached record heat and humidity this morning here in DC. According to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang: Dew points are on the rise as a tropical air mass rushes through the region. Temperatures will be quite warm and uncomfortable. . . in the low 70s downtown with comparable dew point values. Warm record lows for Sunday are in jeopardy of being broken.

At several points throughout the week, I debated not racing. I had bailed on the Navy Air-Force half
Army Ten-Miler, Post-race
marathon three weeks prior due to similar weather conditions, and not wanting to subject myself to a death march. I have a history of heat exhaustion and I've found that the heat and humidity seem to impact me more than the typical runner.

I ultimately decided to stick it out and try to make the best of it. I really only had one goal (aside from avoiding heat exhaustion), and that was to run my last mile faster than my first mile. Ideally, I would run negative splits and pass people during the second half. Instead of running by my watch, I would run by feel.  Before the forecast came out, I was thinking that I might be able to manage a 6:50 pace for 10 miles. But with the heat, the race ended up being all about the effort level, and not trying to test my fitness.

I slept particularly well during the week leading up to the race, and I could tell that my body was starting to recover from the past six weeks of hard training. My coach gave me a taper for this race, allowing my legs to regain their pep, and I took full advantage of it. As a result, my mileage for this week was only 52, compared to my typical 65+, but I think it was good for me to have a cutback week in terms of mileage. Knowing that my only goal would be to pace the race for a negative split and run a hard effort, the pressure to PR was non-existent.

Before the Race
My alarm woke me up at 5:30, which is atypical of race morning. Usually I am up in the 4:00 hour on my own because I am so excited about the race. I'll be honest-- I was not excited about racing in 76 degrees, which was the current temperature in DC according to Wunderground.

Greg and I had reserved a parking spot about one mile from the race start. We left the house a little later than we wanted to, and the drive took longer than expected, so we both started to get a little nervous. But thankfully, we found street parking on the way to our reserved garage spot, so we just took it. The "reserved" spot was actually the parking garage of a hotel, and I was worried there wouldn't be availability despite a reservation, due to the hotel being booked for the race. The street parking was free and easy. As we jogged to the start, we passed a hotel and used the bathroom. This was a lifesaver. We were already on the later side of things, and we didn't have time to wait in line for a porta potty.

We figured out our plan for meeting up after the race. Basically he was going to wait for me after the finish line chute and look for me as I walked through. He said that I should do the same for him if I finished first but I told him that was not going to happen. "It could happen," he said. "It is highly unlikely to happen," I replied, as I hadn't beat Greg in a race in over a year. "But if it does, I will look for you to finish."

It wasn't long before we reached the Pentagon, the starting point of the Army Ten Miler. There were 35,000 runners (more than run the Boston Marathon) and the announcer kept mentioning that it was the third largest 10-mile race in the world. We made our way to the first corral and it was packed. It was particularly warm in the corral with all the body heat and sweat radiating from the runners. Even on the hottest summer mornings, it wasn't 76 degrees! A typical summer morning in DC is around 70. This was almost comical.

Miles 1-4
The race started and it was very crowded. I decided that I would go with the flow and not waste energy weaving through people. I didn't have a target pace for the first mile, but my overall sentiment was that I'd be happy to run my goal marathon pace (7:25) for 10 miles in these difficult conditions. I thought that the crowd would thin out after a mile or two, but it didn't. In some cases I found myself behind people going much slower than I wanted to be, so I had no choice but to do some weaving.

Even though the Army Ten Miler has a wave start, with assigned corrals, it is not enforced. I passed quite a few people who probably weren't going any faster than a 10:00 pace.

It started to rain during the third mile and it felt amazing! Unfortunately, it didn't last long and we were back into the sauna by mile 5.

I carried a water bottle with me for these first four miles, and then ditched it. I poured the majority of the water on myself as I ran, and only drank about 25% of it. This was fine, though, because I had hydrated really well on Friday and Saturday, and knew that I wouldn't need to drink a lot during the race itself. In the past, I have had a tendency to drink too much water in warm conditions, and I've learned that I actually don't need to drink a lot during races if I hydrate properly beforehand.

I decided to be very conservative and take these miles easy. Typically when I run a 10-mile race, I feel like I am putting out race effort starting at mile 2. But today, the first four miles felt comfortable-- definitely not race effort. And that was by design.

Mile 1: 7:31
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:25
Mile 4: 7:15

Miles 5-7
Once I had tossed my water bottle, I felt free to up the effort level and start passing people. And I did. Even though there were still loads of people, I noticed that things opened up substantially during the 5th mile, and I was able to pass people without a ton of weaving. I felt strong and my spirits were high. I actually felt much better than I did at the Cherry Blossom earlier in the year, when I felt "off" throughout most of the race.

With six miles left to go, I felt like I still wasn't out of the "danger" zone. I increased the effort, while making sure to save something for the end. I hit the halfway mark in 37:11. Now, I had a goal. I wanted to negative split, which meant sub-1:14:22. This seemed very doable. There was a bit of a hill after the halfway mark, which was tough, but once I got to the top I felt good again and ready to crush it. As I ran through the sixth mile, I remembered last year's race, when I was a spectator cheering for Greg. Even though it was ridiculously hot, I was thankful to be strong and healthy instead of recovering from mono.

Mile 5: 7:15
Mile 6: 7:13
Mile 7: 7:10

Miles 8-10
After mile 7, we turned a corner and started running on a bridge. The bridge would span 2 miles and I was told it was the most difficult portion of the race. I had only run the Army Ten Miler once before,
and it was seven years ago, so I didn't have a great memory of the course. As I made the turn onto the bridge, I was shocked to see Greg not that far ahead. This came as a huge surprise. I expected him to be at least two minutes ahead of me. And I was catching up to him!

Everyone was suffering. I'm leading the guys.

After a few minutes, I reached him and I said something to the effect of "It was unlikely." He let me know that his Garmin had stopped working, so he didn't know what pace he was running. He gave me a few words of encouragement but after about a minute I took off ahead. Initially I thought that something might have been wrong with him for me to have caught up, but he seemed fine physically and was able to talk to me.

The fact that I had passed Greg was a huge mental boost. Greg's 10-mile PR is 1:07! And he just ran a 1:32 half marathon in the heat three weeks prior. And then the passing continued. I passed, and passed, and passed! I thought about the RunPix that races sometimes offer that show you how many people you passed and how many people passed you during the second half of the race. Cherry Blossom had those, and I hoped that this race would too. I was a passing machine!

The bridge was tough, but I felt great. I was having fun, enjoying the race atmosphere, and feeling giddy that I was actually negative splitting a 10-miler in 76 degrees. And finally I was able to put out true race effort without worrying about bonking. With just three miles left to go and feeling great, I knew I was in the clear.

Mile 8: 7:06
Mile 9: 7:08
Mile 10: 6:53
Last 0.13: 6:20 pace

The finish
I crossed the finish line feeling like a million dollars and the announcer called out my name. And I didn't double over with my hands on my knees like I typically do. I felt so good! I couldn't believe I
Photo by Cheryl Young
ran a 6:53 final mile when it was 76 degrees and humid. And I didn't have to kill myself to do it. No black spots. No dehydration. No dizziness.

Greg appeared shortly after, which was a relief. After exchanging race stories, we did a cool down jog back to the car. A few hours later I heard that they re-routed the course at some point after we finished due to the adverse weather conditions. Apparently there were quite a few runners collapsing. As mentioned above, this was record-breaking heat and humidity.

I don't have my official time yet, and because they downgraded this to a "recreational run" for the runners who finished after they re-routed the course, none of the results will be posted until tomorrow. I'll come back and update with my official time tomorrow. My watch said 1:13:10. I'm less curious about my time than how I ranked in my age group. This may be the first hot race where I was actually more competitive instead of less competitive.

Edited to add:
My official time is 1:13:08. I placed 23 out of 2,209 in my age group (35-39) which puts me in the top 1.0%. I was also the 96th female finisher out of over 11,000.

Final Thoughts
Since both of my tune-up races were in abnormally hot weather, I figured that the weather gods really wanted me to run a hot race. And if I didn't pay my dues now, I would have to on marathon day. So hopefully I have satisfied the requirement for a long hot race and it will be cold and overcast in Indianapolis in four weeks. I'm definitely glad I didn't bail on this race. Here are my final thoughts.
  • I once again learned that having a great race isn't always about setting a PR. It's truly about the process.
  • I didn't feel like I was running at true race effort until the last three miles, so I probably could have run an overall faster time. But I'm totally okay with that. I was purposely conservative, and I
    did what I set out to do.
  • Based on how an average "Garmin pace" of 7:13 felt in crappy conditions, I think a "Garmin pace" of 7:25 for the marathon is realistic. My coach even thinks it will feel easy!  
  • This was an excellent workout and because I ran it on the conservative side, I'll be ready to jump back into marathon training next week.
  • I was only 15 seconds per mile slower than Cherry Blossom from this past spring, and that race was in the low 40s. 
  • My Achilles' were 100% pain-free during the run, but upon getting out of the car after the ride home, they had really stiffened up and were painful for the first few minutes of walking. They are doing better now.
  • In 2010, I ran this race in 1:17:54, so I set a huge course PR this morning!
  • I could complain about how I am in PR shape and would have set a massive 10-mile PR, but I'm not going to. The 10-mile PR will come eventually; this race had its own rewards. 
I wore the Adidas Tempo for the first time in a race, and I was very pleased with how they felt. They are a great replacement for the Mizuno Wave Elixir and Mizuno Wave Sayonara. 

I'm looking forward to recovering from this race, having two more hard weeks of training, and then tapering for Indianapolis Monumental. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trusting the Process and Beating the Heat

In my previous blog post from last weekend, I wrote:

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.  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 didn't have to wait very long for my evidence. And it came on a day when I least expected it.

Thursday, Sept. 28
It was 72 degrees on Thursday morning, and I was scheduled to run my hardest workout of the week. The workout was 2 miles at half marathon pace, 5 minutes recovery, 4 x 1-mile at 10K pace, with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. Not an easy workout by any means! Because it was so warm (at the end of September nonetheless!) I briefly considered moving the workout to Friday, when it was forecast to be 54 degrees. I've moved workouts around before due to weather conditions. Ultimately, I decided not to move it because I had a 20-miler scheduled for Saturday, and I wanted to give my legs a day to recover. It had also been almost a week since my last hard effort, so I felt like I really needed to put in some quality miles.

I woke up, drank a serving of Generation UCAN, got dressed in a sports bra and shorts, and was off to do the workout. My mindset was that I was going to run this based on effort and not stress about the paces. I had performed this exact same workout seven weeks prior in the heat, so hopefully I would be a bit faster and that would give me somewhat of a confidence boost. But effort was definitely the focus.

I ran the exact same route as I had run in early August-- the same route I typically use for hard efforts on the road. It's mainly flat, with some inclines and declines here and there. Nothing more extreme than 10 feet per mile gain or loss. I started out running, the first half marathon pace mile in 7:03. I remembered that I had run it in 7:05 last time, so I was tracking pretty similar. It felt tough to settle into this pace, but once I did, it was "comfortably hard." I settled in and ended up running 6:48 for the second mile. Wow!

As I jogged my five-minute recovery, I realized that I felt pretty good, and that my second mile was a lot faster than it had been in August- 6:48 as opposed to 7:00. Now it was time to crank out the 4 x 1-mile at 10K pace. I ran the first mile, which was the hardest because it was a net incline. 6:38. Wow, okay! Faster than expected. As I jogged my three-minutes recovery I was both delighted and worried that I had over-run it and would fall off at the end of the workout. But that didn't happen. The second mile at 10K effort was 6:30. And then 6:22! And 6:28 for the last mile. So, these miles averaged 6:30, and my 10K PR pace is around 6:43, and that's in cool weather. When I ran this workout in early August, my average pace for the 10K miles was 6:52.

The average of all six miles was 6:38, which is still faster than my 10K pace! In 72 degrees. This was the workout that I had been waiting for. The workout that was my "evidence" that the training was actually working. Up until this point, I felt like I was flying blind. I was unsure if my 7:27 goal marathon pace was realistic. And now I am thinking that 7:27 might actually be conservative.

Lesson learned: trusting the process works. And I'm so glad I didn't move the workout to Friday with cooler weather. Running those paces in the heat was exactly the confidence booster I needed, and it happened when I least expected it. Best of all, I didn't feel all that tired afterwards. I've felt a lot more beat up after other workouts than this one. I felt great, and ran my uphill cool down in the 8:30's.

Here's a snapshot of my week:

Monday: 8.2 miles easy at 8:34 average

Tuesday: 11.3 miles at 8:01 average. My coach advised me to run this at a pace of around 8:00, which is the fast end of my easy range. I had done this same run a few weeks back and my legs had begun to tire during the last three miles. This week, my legs felt strong throughout without tiring at all.

Wednesday: 6.9 miles easy at 8:41 average

Thursday: 11.1 miles
This was the workout detailed above, plus warm up and cool down.

Friday: 8.2 miles easy at 8:33 average
Amazingly cool weather, as was forecast!

Saturday: 20 miles at 8:15 average
Saturday, Sept. 30
My coach suggested that I run this at a pace of 8:15, and then speed up to around 7:50 for the last few miles. I ended up running an 8:15 pace without even trying-- it felt like my natural easy pace in the cooler temps! I ran the last three miles at 7:46, 7:53, 7:52. I faced a 20 mph sustained headwind for the final two miles, so the effort level was more in line with a 7:20 pace. But I was determined to keep pushing and run those miles as close to 7:50 as possible.

Sunday: 3.4 miles recovery at 9:21 average

Total Mileage for the Week: 69

Here is a snapshot of my marathon training so far. I've run 60+ miles every week for the past six weeks and I'm still feeling great. Fingers crossed that this continues and that the summer heat has gone away for good! Only five more weeks until race day!