Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 Lows & Lessons

This year was a mixed bag in terms of running. It started out well with a half marathon PR in Houston and my strongest-ever training cycle leading up to Boston. Boston went as well as could be expected given the high winds and heavy downpours, and I was happy with my performance. Then, I was sick for a good portion of the summer and unable to run. I was very cautious about returning to
running, and ultimately was able to resume normal training by mid-August.

My first few races back were flops (a ten-miler and a half marathon), and then I bonked my first long run in over four years! This put me in a little bit of a mental rut. I turned 40 in November, which meant entering the Master's division for most races. Then, things quickly turned around for me when I broke 20 minutes in the 5K, and then set a 6-minute marathon PR in 3:15. So the year started and finished on high notes, with some struggles in the middle.

That's the Cliff's Notes version. In my Instagram story, I posted the best 5 and the worst 5 running moments of the year, and I received quite a few messages from people telling me how much they appreciated me talking about the worst moments.

Often on social media, we tend to sugarcoat things and only post about positive experiences. So I decided to focus my year-end blog post on three "lows" and what I learned from them, and how they made the "highs" so much more rewarding.

March 4th: The Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon
Original race report is here.
In this race, I was hoping to set a new half marathon PR. I knew I was in better shape than I had been six weeks prior when I set my Houston PR, and I thought I would be able to shave about a minute off of that time. After the first three miles, though, I realized that the heat and lack of cloud cover was going to foil my plans, so I purposely slowed down. After another couple of miles, the slow down was no longer by choice-- I was bonking. Despite that, I was able to hold a respectable pace in the 7:30's.

This race confirmed, for the ump-teeth time, that my body doesn't tolerate heat. It was only 60 degrees, which most runners found to be pleasant, but without any acclimation or cloud cover, I was baking. When I ran the Rehoboth Beach marathon in December, I ran both the first half AND the second half in almost the exact same time as this New Orleans race. So even though I was bummed in March, it made my marathon achievement in December all the more sweeter-- knowing that I ran that I ran two of those 1:37:40's!

April 8th: The Crystal City 5K Friday
Original race report is here.
I was just finishing off the strongest training cycle ever, having run 320 miles in the month of March, 7 days a week, averaging 72 miles a week. This included VO2 max work each week, so I felt like had
both endurance and speed. The weather for this race was not ideal (a little windy and warm) but since it was a short distance and I was in such great shape, I thought I could PR. That didn't happen. I bonked, feeling like crap during the final mile, and ran a disappointing 20:47, which was 30 seconds slower than my PR at the time.

I was down on myself but my friend Allison (who is always able to offer me a new perspective) suggested that running a Friday night race after a long, stressful day at work wasn't the ideal circumstance to PR. Some of my Instagram followers pointed out that it's unlikely to PR a 5K during marathon training, but I disagreed with that. I still maintained it was possible to PR a 5K during high-mileage training if you had been working on speed.

About six months later, I not only PR'ed the 5K, but broke 20 for the first time during marathon training. In fact, When I ran the Crystal City race, I was about 16 days out from Boston. When I ran the Turkey Trot in November, I was 16 days out from Rehoboth. I was at the exact same point in my training for both races. I learned that Allison's theory of a weekday night race not being ideal was spot-on, and that it was possible to PR a 5K in the midst of high-mileage training.

November 16th: A long run failure
Original blog post is here.
This run hurt. It was meant to be 22 miles, starting at a pace of around 8:00 and progressing to 7:35 by the end. The snow we had gotten the day before screwed up my original route plan, and resulted in a much later start than anticipated, throwing off my fueling plan. To top it off, it was a very windy day.

I could tell by mile 11 that I wouldn't be able to keep up my pace for the remainder of the run. I felt
like I was exerting way too much effort for the paces I was running. I slowed down a lot in the 16th mile, and ran a very tortured 17th mile, culminating in me stopping completely. I walked a mile, and then did a very slow jog for another mile to get home. My legs were wrecked, and the next day I ran my slowest recovery run in years because my legs were in such a bad state.

The previous weekend, I had missed my goal at the Richmond half marathon. And four weeks prior, I had been way off of my goal at the Lower Potomac 10-miler. So, mentally I was feeling a little defeated. I did trust that I was putting in the work and that I still had a shot at a great marathon, but I didn't have any training runs to support that belief. Furthermore, the fact that this training cycle got a late start meant that I didn't have a lot of long runs under my belt. In fact, only an 18 miler and a 20 miler up until that point. And the race was three weeks away!

I learned a lot from this experience. First, bonking a long run doesn't equate to having a bad marathon. Although it certainly made me respect the distance and the effort level. Second, you don't need a lot of long runs if you are consistently running high mileage. I only had 3 runs over 15 miles leading up to Rehoboth Beach: 18, 20, 22.

I also learned that the treadmill is not my friend. The day before that long run, I had done my easy run on a treadmill. And even though I kept it to a pace of around 8:50, my legs started feeling sore and achy about halfway through it. I had run a very hard workout the day before, so instead of giving my legs the chance to recover, I beat them up even further on the treadmill, and then proceeded to tackle 22 miles the following day.

Other low moments and final stats
Getting sick over the summer with my mono-like virus was obviously a huge low. Thankfully (or not) I had come down with this summer illness multiple times in the past and I knew the quickest way to recover was to simply do nothing for a few weeks. No running, no walking, no going to work, no leaving the house. With this approach, I was able to go back to work after 4 weeks and I was able to resume normal running after 6 weeks. This is short compared to the 3 months I spent sick in 2012 and 2016.

My total yearly mileage as of today is 2,350. This is my second highest-mileage year ever, and it includes six weeks off due to illness. Last year I ran just over 2,500 miles.

Here are my weekly and monthly graphs for the year:

Weekly Mileage

Monthly Mileage 2018
Happy new year and thank you to my blog readers!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Up Next. . .

Before I start talking about my future race plans, I'll briefly recap my recovery and my final reflections on the Rehoboth Beach Marathon.

The Perfect Weekend
If someone were to ask me to describe the "perfect" weekend, I would say it would have to include the following:
  • Greg
  • Friends
  • Take place somewhere beautiful, like a beach
  • Plenty of good restaurants/food options
  • Nice accommodations with a comfortable bed
  • Good weather 
  • A marathon in which I PR, and feel good enough to celebrate afterwards
  • Blogging to capture it all
So when I think about two weekends ago, it was about as close to perfect as it gets. It was like a mini-vacation with Greg and friends that also involved a marathon in which I crushed my goals. The food
PR Cake
was amazing. The beach view was gorgeous. The three of us friends hadn't gotten together as a group in over ten years! I think it's important to take time to recognize all of this and be grateful for my health, my husband and my friends. And the fact that sometimes I luck out with the weather.

My shoulders, which hurt more than my legs after the race, felt more normal about 48 hours after the race. However, I think I strained them pretty badly, as it's harder than it should be to lift heavy things in certain ways. 

When walking around, all of the lingering soreness had disappeared three days after the marathon. But I stuck to my coach's plan and took 8 full days off. My first run back was on Monday of this week, and it was 30 minutes easy. It felt stiff and awkward and I had minor aches here and there, but nothing significant. I ran 30 minutes again on Tuesday and it felt much better.

I ran every day this week, with my longest run being 60 minutes at a pace of 8:30. That run felt pretty good, but I could feel my legs beginning to tire during the last five minutes. Somehow my coach magically knows exactly the right amount time for me to run!

I've slept really well for the past two weeks, and I've found that when I am not in marathon training mode, I have a ton of energy to do stuff around the house. So I cleaned out a bunch of closets, organized areas of the house that haven't been organized in over 8 years, and became super productive. Since it's the holiday season, there has been no shortage of sweets and alcohol, so I've been indulging pretty heavily! It's been a fun two weeks just basking in the joy of my race and having the time and energy to do stuff I've been "meaning to" do for a long time.

Spring Race Plans
Holiday party: stayed up until 1:00am!
Last October, I signed up for the Sugarloaf marathon as my goal race. My initial thinking was to find the coolest possible marathon in mid-may so that I would be done with racing at that point for the season and then take June, July, and August as very easy months. Greg also signed up for it, and so did our friend Chad. It's supposedly a beautiful race in the mountains of Maine and the three of us are staying at a cute mountain condo.

But then, I had second thoughts as to if I really wanted that to be my goal race. Even though I was committed to doing it, I could drop down to the 15K option, or run the marathon as a "fun run." Initially when I had done my research, I learned that the average low for the day was 42 degrees. Pretty good! But then, last week, I did more research and realized that the sun rises at 5:00am, and the race starts at 7:00am, and is not shaded. So the average temperature at start time is actually around 50 degrees. And it just gets warmer from there.

Now, if it's overcast or rainy, that would be perfectly fine, and of course you can never truly predict the weather. But I realized that if it was sunny, or even partly sunny, I would probably be screwed with that 7:00am start. In Rehoboth beach, it was in the mid 30's and partly sunny, and I would not have wanted it to be much warmer. As I've gotten older, I have become more and more sensitive to the heat so my coach and I agreed that I should try and pick a goal race earlier in the season with a good chance for cool temperatures.

There were quite a few constraints. I didn't want to do a race that required a flight, since I'm already flying to Sugarloaf. We have a trip to NYC planned in mid-April, so that weekend was out. Greg is registered for the One City marathon in Newport News the first weekend in March, and I have a half marathon bib for that, so that was a factor too. Ultimately, I narrowed it down to these two options:

Option 1: B&A Trail Marathon the last weekend in March
With this option, I would be able to run the One City Half marathon as an all-out tune-up race, since it would be 4 weeks prior. I would have 16 weeks in between marathons, which would be plenty of time. The B&A Trail marathon is less than 2 hours away from my home, and I've run it twice before. I would not be able to run the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler, though, as it takes place on the following weekend.

Option 2: Shamrock Marathon on March 17th
With this option, I would run the One City half marathon as part of a longer run (20-22 miles) and have 14 weeks between marathons. I would be able to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler three weeks later, although I wouldn't be in peak condition.

I went back and forth between these options. I think that I have a better shot at a faster time at B&A because I'd have two more weeks to train, and there is less chance of that race being windy. It's also easier to get to than Shamrock, which is about a 3.5 hour drive. I would also have the opportunity to run a tune-up half marathon, and I wouldn't have that with Shamrock because there aren't any half marathon options in mid-February within driving distance.

So, I was leaning toward B&A because that seemed like the smarter option. BUT, I just couldn't get excited about it. And I felt kinda bummed that B&A meant no Cherry Blossom, when I already had my special seeded bib. And then I pictured myself registering for Boston and selecting my BQ race, and it would be "the B&A marathon" (provided that I PRed) just like it was for the 2016 race. And something about that just felt kinda "blah." Been there, done that.  I have already run a great race on that course.

I have unfinished business with the Shamrock Marathon, given my two DNFs in 2010 and 2012. And it would be exciting for me to run really well in that race. Ironically, I DNF'ed in 2010 due to the heat, and I'm now seeing it as an attractive option because of its low probability of being too warm. But, considering that the average race temperature is typically in the low 40's, I'm not going to worry about that. Any race can be unseasonably warm and the best I can do is look at the probability of that
Shamrock Marathon 2008 in 3:51
happening. The race will likely be windy, but I will take wind over heat any day.

So, Shamrock it is, because it's the more exciting option! If I was really dead-set on getting a PR I think I would have gone with B&A, but since I just got a big PR, now I want the satisfying feeling of running strong at Shamrock. For the record, though, I did run a great marathon at Shamrock in 2008-- it was a PR by 5 minutes! And that was the race that made me believe I could qualify for Boston if I trained hard enough. So, it's not all bad memories and mojo at that race. Plus, I set a huge half marathon PR there in 2016, so more recently the race has good mojo! And . . . if that weren't enough, the race falls on March 17th this year so I should have the luck of the Irish on my side.

Between now and then I have a 5K on New Year's Day (which I am using mainly as a way to get back into the feeling of pushing hard) and then a 10K in February. As I said earlier, I will run the One City half marathon as part of a longer training run. Regarding Sugarloaf in May, I will definitely be participating in that event in one way, shape or form.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Rehoboth Beach Marathon Race Report

I did it. I ran the Rehoboth Beach Marathon and I attained my goal! My first two races in my 40s have both been huge PRs, and they were both within a 3-week time period.

Before the Race
My longtime friends Jenna and Jenny both ran this race. Jenna in the full, Jenny in the half. The three of us used to race together all the time over ten years ago. I ran my first four marathons with Jenny, including the Miami Marathon back in 2007. In fact, it was Jenny who inspired me to run my very first marathon. So the fact that I would be sharing this experience with two long-time friends (who do not live locally) was special to me.

Greg and I drove to Rehoboth Beach on Friday morning. The drive took just over three hours. I made sure to hydrate well, which meant drinking a 24 oz bottle of water mixed with Generation UCAN Hydrate powder. And then another 24 oz bottle of water without anything in it, but plenty of salt in my meals. I know that I typically cannot take any water in the later miles of the race, so pre-hydration was key. I had drunk the same amount of water with UCAN hydrate on Thursday, too.

We arrived in Rehoboth Beach at around 1:00, ate lunch, got my bib and relaxed in our hotel with HGTV. We don't subscribe to cable at home, so HGTV is always a treat for us when traveling for races. We then met up with Jenna for dinner. Jenny arrived too late for us all to have dinner together. I had an appetizer of beats, garlic knots, and chicken parmesan (with spaghetti) without the cheese. I had never had chicken parm the night before a race because of the cheese, but I realized that if I removed it, I would have my ideal pre-race dinner: pasta with red sauce + chicken. Jenna and I chatted about our goals and our training. It was good to catch up with her, as we hadn't seen each other since Boston.

After dinner, Greg and I went back to the hotel and I realized I was really tired, and wanted to get into bed right away. It was only 7:30, but I was tired and I had been tired all day long. I fell asleep almost immediately. We stayed at the Boardwalk Plaza hotel and the beds were extremely comfortable. I'm very picky about my hotel beds, and this was one of the most comfortable mattresses ever.

Typically, I don't sleep well the night before a marathon. I wake up frequently and don't sleep deeply. But on Friday night, I slept shockingly well. I only woke up one time, and it was only for 20 minutes. I slept for 8 solid hours, with 1 hour and 30 minutes of deep sleep, according to my FitBit. This is pretty much unheard of! When I woke up, I was still tired. I wanted to stay in bed and I didn't want to get up and eat and get ready. This is so unlike me. Normally I am raring to go, and I can't wait to start the race morning ritual.

I didn't feel excited-- I felt sleepy and sluggish. I just wanted to relax in bed! The thought even crossed my mind that I could be getting sick. Instead of worrying, I just told myself I would perk up once I got into my race outfit. I wore CW-X capri tights, a singlet, arm warmers, convertible mittens with hand warmers inside them, and sunglasses. I made my UCAN gel, stored it on my hip pouch, and put my Honey Stinger chews into the front pocket of my pants. With about hour to go before race start, I finally started to feel a bit more energized.

Our hotel was less than half a mile from the start line. At 6:30, I went out on the boardwalk and did a quick jog to the start area and back. This gave my Garmin time to locate satellites (it can take up to 15 minutes in a new location) and it allowed me to get a sense for the weather. I wore a throwaway jacket over my outfit and was quite comfortable during the warm up.

Sunrise before the race
It was 32 degrees with no wind. No wind! At the beach! Very abnormal, and perhaps a nice payback for the wind I endured at Boston last spring. I knew when I signed up for this race it would likely be windy, and there was a chance it could be very windy. But instead, it was abnormally still. Who's ever heard of only 3 mph winds at a beach? My body seems to run about 10 degrees warmer than the average person's, so 32 degrees was absolutely perfect for me.

I went back to the hotel lobby, where I finished drinking my Generation UCAN and went to the bathroom for a final time. Then, at 6:45, I set out for the start line with Greg. This race is relatively small, so there were no corrals, just a start line with pacers holding up signs. I lined up about 7-8 rows back, near the 3:15 pacer. I noticed that other runners were shedding their top layers, and many were in singlets and arm warmers. That inspired me to shed my jacket as well, which I thought I would wear for the first 4-5 miles.

Miles 1-6
The race started exactly on time at 7:00 and we were off! My plan was to stay in the low 7:30's for the first 6 miles, but I could run the first mile as a warm up, as slowly as I wanted. My goal in the first mile was to establish a rhythm, relax, and settle in.

Greg had positioned himself at around mile 2.5 and I knew to expect him there, taking photos. Of course everything was feeling great at that point, and I loved having him there to support me. After
Mile 3
about three miles, the half marathon runners turned around and the full marathon runners continued onto a gravel path. I knew that a good portion of this race would be on packed gravel, and I didn't love that idea, but I wanted to run a December marathon, so this was it.

The first mile on the gravel was discouraging. I had to watch my footing because it was uneven in places, there were lots of twists and turns, so I had to pay close attention to the tangents. It felt like I had to put out more effort to run the pace I had been running on pavement, and it didn't feel "smooth". I made these observations without judgement and accepted them. I wasn't sure how long we'd be on the trail until we hit road again. I stuck with my pacing strategy, and didn't run below 7:30 during the first six miles:

Mile 1: 7:43
Mile 2: 7:33
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:33
Mile 5: 7:39
Mile 6: 7:32

Miles 7-11
We came upon a bridge in the middle of the park. At first I thought it would be better than the gravel, but then I realized it bounced and was a little slippery. Thankfully it wasn't raining. The bridge only lasted about a quarter of a mile and it offered a nice view of the park and the ponds within in.

I noticed that there were no women anywhere around me. I was running with a few guys who seemed strong and I hoped I could stick with. Due to the size of the race, I suspected there could be times when I couldn't see runners in front of me. And I don't like that because I worry that I have gone off course. Since there were so many twists and turns in the park, it was even more likely that this could happen.

It was a little bit hilly during these miles, but I focused on keeping the effort consistent and not worrying about the pace. Even though I was now "allowed" to run under a 7:30 pace, I wasn't going to force it. I wanted the progression to feel natural, like how it does when I do my long runs. Now that I see my splits, I realize that the downhill mile got my legs turning over quickly and was the catalyst to faster splits.

We exited the park and returned to road running during the 10th mile. It was a relief and I was thankful to be off the bumpy gravel. The 10-mile timing mat was oddly situated in an area where we had to make several turns, on pavement, with sand all over the road. The sand was slippery, so I had to slow down a bit out of caution. The combination of sand and sharp turns was particularly annoying, but thankfully it was over quickly.

Then we passed a Dairy Queen, and there were little cups of soft-serve available for runners to take! I didn't have any, but perked up at the idea of having ice cream after the race.

Mile 7: 7:31
Mile 8: 7:09 (downhill)
Mile 9: 7:21
Mile 10: 7:21
Mile 11: 7:19

Miles 12-16
Throughout this race, I had been carrying a 24 oz disposable water bottle with a Koozie around it. I had initially filled it with piping hot water so it would be comfortable to hold, and hoped that adding the Koozie would shield my hands from the coldness of the water as the water cooled down. Every 15 minutes I drank from the bottle, getting 2-3 large swigs. By mile 10, it was getting really difficult to hold onto because it was so cold, but I figured out a way to hold it that (between thumb and forefinger, and squeezed) that allowed me to keep it until mile 12, when I would take my UCAN gel.

My plan was to take the UCAN gel one hour and 25 minutes into the race, and no sooner. I was tempted to take it sooner so I could drink the water with it, and then ditch the cold bottle. But I remembered that I did that in Boston and wished I had waited a little longer. The gel (which is the UCAN performance energy mixed with water, put into a disposable baby food pouch) went down well. I took it over the course of a half mile, and finally ditched the baby food pouch and the water bottle.

This meant that I didn't have to "do" anything else in the race other than run. What a relief. I didn't have to carry the water bottle, and I knew the only extra fuel I would need would be the chews at mile 20. And I don't need to drink water with those.

Somewhere in mile 11, runners from the other side of the course yelled out "Go Elizabeth!" They were Instagram followers, I assumed, and that perked me up. On Instagram, I had posted that I would love to run "Pi" - 3:14:15-- as my "Pi in the sky goal" and have PR pie. So there were a few points during the race when I heard "Go get that pie!"

I crossed the halfway point in 1:37:42. My plan was to hit it at exactly 1:38:00 (3:16:00 pace) and then negative split. But even if I ran a positive split, I would still be setup for a PR and fast time. So I was 18 seconds faster than planned. That was a little scary, but I had confidence in myself. I was now on track for 1:15:30.

Queen of the Gravel!
During the 13th mile, we had entered the park again, and ran the same gravel path as before. I realized that I had passed about 10 runners during the last mile or so (all men), and now there was nobody in front of me. I was happy to have passed all those people, but it was a little scary to not see any runners up ahead. Finally, I caught up to a guy running about my pace and we stuck together throughout the rest of the gravel portion. It was really helpful to be running with him, because there was no one else around. No one else in sight. We didn't talk to each other and I wish I had found him after the race.

That morning, my friend Allison had sent me a text telling me to "dominate that gravel." I wasn't a fan of the gravel, so I told myself I was Queen of the Gravel. Over and over again, I kept telling myself I was dominating the gravel and I was Queen, and that fun thought kept my spirits high until we finally exited the park at mile marker 17.

Mile 12: 7:26
Mile 13: 7:18
Mile 14: 7:21
Mile 15: 7:16
Mile 16: 7:21

Miles 17-21
Since I had ditched my water bottle, I figured I should take some water from the water station that came up as we were exiting the park. I drank a few sips and my stomach instantly revolted. This is why I use UCAN- my stomach doesn't want to take in anything at all after about 13 miles. Not even
Mile 18
water. I decided that I wouldn't attempt any more water throughout the race, and that I had pre-hydrated well enough to be fine through the end.

It felt amazing to be back on the roads again. I started looking for Greg, and it wasn't long before I spotted him with his camera. I was feeling really good and I wanted him to know it so I waved at him and gave him a big smile. I passed quite a few runners during this section of the race, all men, and I had yet to see a woman anywhere in my vicinity.

Up until mile 18, the pace had felt comfortably hard, and now it was beginning to become a little uncomfortable. I reminded myself that I could still maintain my pace even though it wasn't going to be easy. It was time for the mental toughness to come into play.

I had some Honey Stinger chews stashed in the front pocket of my tights. They were unwrapped, which made them easy to access given my numb hands. In Boston, I wasn't able to get to my chews so I ran out of gas during the last three miles. I reminded myself of that, which motivated me to expend the extra energy to get the chews out of my pocket and put them in my mouth. It doesn't sound like that difficult of a task, but at mile 20, you don't want to have to do anything other than run.

I sucked on them for awhile and finally chewed them slowly, and then digested them. My stomach was okay with this very slow consumption process, and I didn't need to take any water to help them go down (like a traditional gel).

I enjoyed the last bit of road before beginning on yet another gravel path. As I approached this other park, I saw my friend Jenny and her husband coming out of the park. They were running the half marathon. That was a huge pick-me-up. I knew I would be running about 2 miles out on the trail, turning around, and coming back. This allowed me to see the leading marathon runners, which was really motivating. Someone told me I was the second female, but I counted at least three ahead of me.

Mile 17: 7:17
Mile 18: 7:22
Mile 19: 7:18
Mile 20: 7:27 (on gravel)
Mile 21: 7:28 (on gravel)

Miles 22-finish
This gravel trail was more even than the previous one, thankfully. I didn't have to watch my footing as carefully, and there were no twists and turns. It was pretty much just straight out and back. My pace slowed slightly once I got on the trail, but it's hard to say if it was because of the gravel, or because it was so late in the race.

Mentally, it was difficult to be running out on the trail and away from the finish line. Watching the leading marathoners and the slower half marathoners on the other side of the trail was a good distraction. But if I focused on that for too long, I noticed I would slack on the effort, so I had to stay focused on maintaining my pace. It seemed like the turnaround point would never come. The trail just went on and on and on.

Mile 26
Finally, the turnaround came, along with a timing mat, so I knew that Greg and others tracking me would have another split. There hadn't been any timing mats since the halfway point. I noticed that the 3:15 pace group was still about a minute ahead of me. I thought I could possibly catch them, but that wasn't my goal. I wanted to run my own race.

It was now time to start counting down the minutes until I finished. Just 30 minutes left! That's not too long at all! Just stay strong and keep pushing for 30 minutes! When I reached the 24th mile marker, I started doing the math on when I would finish. I figured 15 minutes = 2 miles, and of course I had to factor in the 0.2.

I thought to myself that if I just "hung in there" instead of pushing hard, I could end up with a 3:17, which wasn't nearly as appealing as 3:16. Based on my math, I wasn't sure if 3:15 was in the cards, but then again, my math skills aren't so great when I am exerting 100% effort. So that motivated me to keep pushing and to not slack off. I knew that no matter what, I had a strong PR in the bag, and I could have just glided my way to the finish feeling comfortable. But instead I decided to continue making myself feel uncomfortable by pushing really hard. This resulted in me passing a good number of runners during that final stretch.

With about a mile and a half to go, we exited the park, and I was able to speed up. It was easier to run on road than gravel, and I was so close to being done! I started looking around for Greg, and I saw him about half a mile from the finish line. I waved to him, but was far more focused on pushing hard than smiling for the camera. Shortly after passing Greg, I came to an intersection filled with cones and barrels, and it was unclear which way to go. I was only 0.3 away from it, and I couldn't see it.
Heading for the finish
And there were no runners ahead of me to follow. I yelled out "Which way?!" and someone pointed me in the right direction.

Where was the finish line? I was still a little nervous that I was running off course, which distracted me from giving a final kick. But finally I was confident that I was on course, made a turn, and boom- the finish line was right there. I wish I had known how close it was, or had been able to see it further in advance. I think I could have had a faster kick at the end, but instead I actually ran a little slower than my pace for mile 26.  This is my only negative feedback about the race. The last half mile is confusing directionally, and I would have liked to have seen the finish line at least a quarter mile out.

Mile 22: 7:23
Mile 23: 7:37
Mile 24: 7:28
Mile 25: 7:39
Mile 26: 7:17
Last 0.2: 7:30 pace (wish that was faster!)

After the Race
As I crossed, I looked at the clock and realized I would be comfortably in the 3:15's. According to my calculations, I was thinking it would be on the borderline of 3:15 and 3:16, but I guess that last 7:17 mile solidified a mid 3:15's time for me. 3:15:34 official! This is a PR by 6 minutes and 20 seconds. It's a Boston Qualifying time by 24 minutes and 26 seconds. This means I'll be in the very first group to register for the 2020 race.

It's so crazy to think about the seven years it took me to go from 3:51 to 3:40 and get that first BQ. 3:40 seemed so hard for so long. But once I broke through, I was able to make significant gains.

Shortly after crossing, I was met by Jenny and her husband. And then Greg came and found us. It was such a wonderful reunion. I was elated that I had run such a strong, well-executed race. It was a lot to
Jenna, Jenny, and me
process and all I could think about was getting into warm clothes. After I got my jacket from Greg, we waited for Jenna to cross. She ran 3:37, which was a BQ for her. Meanwhile, Jenny's husband went to get a car to drive us all back to the hotel. It was only half a mile away, but none of us felt like walking it.

I noticed that my shoulders hurt a lot. In fact, my shoulders hurt more than my legs and I had no idea why. It couldn't have been the water bottle, since I was used to carrying that. Was I maybe relying on my arms to keep my balance on the gravel paths? That was the only thing I could think of. Both shoulders were in pain, and I couldn't raise my arms without them hurting.

We looked at the results, and saw that I won my age group! And I was the 6th female finisher.  They had a separate "Masters Winner" who ran 3:06, and therefore was pulled out of the age group awards. So, even though another 40-year-old beat me, she won the Master's award, and I won the age group award.

There was no awards ceremony, but Greg was kind enough to pick up my award for me while I relaxed in the hotel room in an epsom salt bath. Later that day, I felt well enough to walk around the boardwalk area, where we had a delicious lunch and some homemade ice cream. I think ice cream and french fries are my favorite post-race meal. My legs felt pretty good and I was able to walk at a normal pace. My shoulders, however, would hurt whenever I tried to move my arms in certain ways. So weird.

Final Thoughts and Analysis
I'm so, so, so very happy with my new PR!
  • My time of 3:15:34  is a PR by 6:20, and a BQ by 24:26
  • I ran the first half in 1:37:42 and the second half in 1:37:52. This is just 10 seconds slower in the second half, so almost perfectly even.
  • In March, I ran the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon in 1:37:41. Just goes to show that heat (60 degrees) is not my friend, and my body loves cold weather
In reflecting about how I was able to shave off so much time, I think it was because I have been building this fitness over the course of nearly two years. I ran 3:21:54 at the Myrtle Beach Marathon
Age Group Award
in March 2017. Then, in the fall of 2017, I had a pretty good training cycle for Indianapolis Monumental. I believed myself to have gotten to "the next level" and in shape for 3:18. But instead, my body just didn't show up and I bonked.

Then, I once again got to the next level with my Boston training cycle, running 75+ miles per week. I ran 3:26, which wasn't a PR on paper, but given those insane conditions, it was a PR performance. I would say the equivalent of 3:16. 

Because I had established a new baseline level of fitness with my Boston cycle, I only needed six weeks of true "marathon training" to get back into marathon shape this time. This allowed me to peak at just the right time. So, even though a marathon PR of 6 minutes seems huge, it's not that big of a leap when you look at the times I was physically in shape for in Indianapolis and Boston. If I didn't have such an amazing Boston training cycle, I don't think Rehoboth would have been as fast. Consistent training over a long period of time is what leads to fitness gains in the marathon.

Today, the day after the marathon, my shoulders are still in a world of hurt. My legs feel pretty good. In fact, they feel better than they did they day after I bonked my long run three weeks ago! How I managed to hurt my shoulders is a true mystery, but both of them hurt substantially when I move my arms. It's quite painful, and I have no idea how it happened. But my legs are totally fine!

I am beyond thrilled that everything came together for me. Less than three weeks ago I broke 20 in 5K for the first time. And yesterday, I broke 3:20 in the marathon. After nearly a year of PR draught and disappointing race times, it finally all came together for me at the end of the year, once I turned 40. Patience and trusting the process is very important in this sport. You can't get discouraged with races that don't go well-- just keep on doing the work.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

How I trained for the Rehoboth Beach Marathon

This has been an interesting training cycle. Up until about two weeks ago, I honestly wasn't feeling all that confident about my marathon fitness. I had "bonked" my long run and had two disappointing tune-up races, where I missed my goal by over two minutes each time. But then, things started to turn
The Richmond Half, by C. Young
around. I nailed a workout with 8 tempo miles in it, I ran my first sub-20 5K ever (PRing by 19 seconds), and I felt amazing during a 22 miler that included a hefty amount of speed work.

I need to remember that fitness gains aren't linear and performance is dynamic. It can feel like a plateau for months, only to see a large jump all at once. And you never never know if your body will be up to performing on race day, despite your fitness level.

The Rehoboth Beach marathon is now six days away, and I'm in full-on weather stalking mode as well as anti-germ mode. I check the forecast 3-4 times a day, and wash my hands about 7-8 times a day (I touch a lot of door handles at work).

A late start
My coach told me that he thinks that once you are in great 10K shape, it only takes six weeks to get into marathon shape. Because I had been so sick over the summer, he didn't want to ramp up the intensity too soon. Furthermore, our summer lasted through mid-October so I wouldn't have been able to handle much until that time anyway. I specifically chose Rehoboth Beach so that I would be training in cool weather and not risk getting sick.

My first long run was on October 27th-- just six weeks out from race day. It was an 18-miler at an average pace of 8:04. Prior to then, my longest run had been only 15 miles. Five weeks out, I ran 20 miles, and then came the Richmond Half Marathon. I'm not someone who likes to run more miles after finishing a half marathon, so I ran 14.1 miles that day if you include the warmup and no more. 3 weeks out was when I attempted a 22-miler, but bonked, having only made it to 17. And finally, 2 weeks out, I completed a 22-miler at an average pace of 7:59 (including 6 tempo miles and some intervals). As I said above, that final 22-miler restored my confidence in my fitness and my ability to run my goal time.

Faster-than-easy long runs
Speaking of long runs, I ran all of them at slightly faster than easy pace. I typically started at around 8:30 and then progressed to 7:45 in the final miles. I actually started doing this in early October, when my long runs were only 14 miles. It sounded hard on paper but every time I went out for a long run, the progression always felt really natural. And it made the average pace of 8:05 feel comfortable. This approach makes me want to start my marathon at 20 seconds per mile slower than goal pace and finish it at 20 seconds per mile faster, but I probably won't be that dramatic in my progression.

No marathon pace runs
Speaking of marathon pace, I haven't done any marathon pace work this cycle, which is a change from the past. Does that make me nervous? Not really. I think the main benefit of training at race pace is mental and getting your body used to how that feels. I think the other training I have done has benefitted me more from a purely physical standpoint. I can comfortably run in the 7:40's at the end of my long runs without feeling like I'm straining, so I think the 7:20's is still a good target.

Originally, my coach did plan for me to run marathon pace miles in my last 22-miler. However, he changed it to a run that included 6 tempo miles instead + 3 miles of intervals. All of that was faster than marathon pace.

High volume
The chart above shows my weekly volume. There are a few valleys due to tapering for tune-up races, and I was sick for three days in October. Even though I set a new weekly mileage PR, this volume is not as consistently high as my training for Boston. But, it's close. My Boston cycle was longer and my only tune-up race was six weeks out. No Turkey Trots, either! So I had more of an opportunity to log really high mileage.

Trial and (hopefully not) error
Optimizing a training plan is really just one large experiment. My coach changes things up each cycle to see how I respond, and I appreciate the variety. I was extremely happy with how my Boston cycle went, whereas this one had a few more hiccups. So, while this cycle didn't go perfectly and was on the shorter side, I do feel prepared for the marathon. The last three weeks of training went really well, so I just need some fresh legs to execute on race day. I'm still on Cloud 9 with my sub-20 5K, so I've already realized one really strong outcome.
Final track workout

Marathon goals
My exact goal and strategy is going to depend on the weather. Right now, I'm looking at sustained 13 mph winds out of the north with temperatures in the mid 30's. This means an extra slow start for the first 6 miles (maybe 15 seconds per mile slower than goal pace) and then being prepared for a difficult/slower patch during miles 20, 21, and 22. Combined with the crushed gravel trail that we run on during those miles, I need to mentally prepare for a tough stretch. But with wind from the north, I should get a nice tail wind during the last 4 miles.

My goal pace is 7:25 for a 3:15 marathon, in ideal conditions. If the wind is a noticeable factor, I might be looking at 3:17, which is still really strong. And, if I'm having the race of my life, I don't think 3:12 is out of reach. So. . . I expect (and hope) to run between 3:12:00 and 3:17:59. In other words, I want to PR by at least four minutes. I'd also like to place in the top 3 for the Women's Masters division. I think they only give an award for first place, but my personal goal is to be in the top 3.

I look forward to writing a detailed recap next week at this time!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

I PR'ed My First Masters Race

I really don't like to give away the punchline in the blog post title, but yes, I set a PR in my first race in my 40's.

I ran my 13th consecutive Virginia Run Turkey Trot this morning. I know this course like the back of my hand, and I think that knowing it is the key to running a fast race. The course profile is gently rolling hills, but if you know how to tackle it, it can be faster than many flat courses.

Up until today, I wasn't particularly happy with my fall racing season. The ten-miler I ran in October was well off my goal, and the Richmond half marathon was a struggle. In fact, I hadn't set a PR in any distance since January of this year, when I ran the Houston Half Marathon. Although, in many ways, I consider the Boston Marathon to be my PR because running a 3:26 in intense rain, wind, and cold on a difficult course is definitely a more impressive performance than running a 3:21 on a flat course in ideal conditions.

When the forecast came out for this turkey trot, I was admittedly frustrated. 12-14 mph sustained winds, which meant running directly into the wind for the first half of the race. And at 25 degrees, it would feel biting. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the weather has been my enemy this year. But when I woke up, I was pleasantly surprised that it was 30 degrees! Those 5 degrees of extra warmth meant I could wear a lighter top and be more comfortable. The wind, however, would still be a factor.

I figured I would go for a PR, but not necessarily sub-20. I wasn't going to rule it out, but I have learned that "going for sub-20" puts too much pressure on me, so that wasn't really the goal today. Plus, I am in the midst of marathon training, and ran 79 miles last week. I knew my legs wouldn't be fresh, however I still believed I could PR.

Before the Race
I'm going to include some details here that are mainly for my own benefit, so when I come back and read this post next year, I will know what worked. I had salmon, asparagus, and plain pasta for dinner last night. I ate a turkey/avocado sandwich for lunch and had a cookie for dessert. I slept for about 7 hours, and woke up once for 30 minutes. In the morning, I had an english muffin with peanut butter at 5:45, along with about 8 oz of water.

Since it was going to be a little warmer than forecast, I spent some time figuring out what shirt I would wear and ultimately settled on a t-shirt that was made of slightly thicker material than the standard running t-shirt. It was the Slim Sleeves shirt by rabbit. I likes that the sleeves were tightly fitted and the material seemed to be the right weight.

Greg and I left the house at 7:03 (yes, I remember this) and we arrived at the church parking lot at 7:15. At that point, I drank half a serving of Generation UCAN. We then used the church bathroom (they are always so generous letting us use it) and began the warm up at 7:30. My Garmin shut down and re-started during the warm-up, which was concerning. So I reminded myself that if it did that in the race it was okay. I do not need a functioning Garmin to race a 5K. We warmed up for 17 minutes (2.1 miles) and then I stashed my jacket on a fence near the start line.

We lined up toward the front, since there are always so many kids at the very front that I have to weave through during the first half mile. About 1200 people run this race. It's a neighborhood Turkey Trot, which has been going on for 30 years now. There are typically a lot of fast high school and college students who you wouldn't see at most other local races. We lined up at 7:52 and the time ticked by so slowly. I jogged in place a bit to stay warm. The start was really weird. The announcer gave a speech about the charity and the sponsors, but didn't say "ready set go". Instead, this weird ambulance sounding thing went off (which hadn't been used in any of the previous 12 races) and everyone was confused for a second, but then we were off.

Mile 1
I had a pacing strategy and a mental strategy for this race. I was going to run a strong first mile, but without worrying too much about the pace on my watch. It was an uphill mile directly into the headwind so I focused on relaxing and easing into a rhythm. I wasn't trying to hit any particular pace. My goal was to relax, run strong, not spend too much effort weaving, and get to the first mile marker feeling good. Given that it was somewhat crowded at the beginning, I tried drafting briefly, but people's paces kept changing so there wasn't really a pack to stay behind. Finally, my watch beeped 6:33 for the first mile.

Mile 2
Mentally, I had achieved my first goal, so now the next goal was to continue on in that same fashion, and make it about a quarter mile to the first turn into a neighborhood. I knew once we turned, I would be done with the headwind for good. Sure enough, the turn came, and there was still a bit of a headwind, until we made another turn and the wind was gone. But now it was time for the biggest hill of the race. Every year this hill seems to get less and less steep, which is awesome. I don't even think I slowed down at all on it this year. Possibly because I had a tailwind assisting me. My plan was for this mile to be about 4-5 seconds faster than the first mile, and without really trying to hit a particular pace, I naturally logged 6:26 for mile 2. I noticed that the mile markers were misplaced this year. I auto-lap my Garmin during races so I don't have to worry about it, and it's a good thing too because the markers were misplaced by about a tenth of a mile.

Mile 3
I think this course is mentally easier than a flat out-and-back like the Hains Point courses. If you know the course well, you can break it up into small bits and take them on one at a time. I reached the top of the hill and then focused on really fast turnover to take advantage of the downhill. Now it was time for the quarter-mile stretch that always seems longer than it should to get back out onto the main road. This little portion of the course is uphill and it's annoying because I just want to be back on the main road with the finish line straight ahead. So I told myself to just get through that short part, and then the turn would come. I glanced down at my Garmin as I made the final turn onto the main road with about 0.7 left to go. It read 6:21, so I knew I was executing well, and I could make that last mile sub 6:20, which is what I had planned. I gunned it really, really hard, and logged 6:18 for the final mile.

The Last 0.13
As I approached the finish line, I saw the clock and thought I might be able to squeak under 20. With that in mind I ran as fast as I could, at a pace of 5:35.

After the Race
I finished, and I knew Greg would be a few minutes behind me because he was running it at an easy pace. My watch read 20:01, and I was dying to know if I had officially broken 20, because I always stop my watch a few seconds after crossing. I kept walking until I reached a nearby neighborhood. And then, it was time for. . . ANOTHER WORKOUT! Even though I had just PR'ed my 5K, there was still marathon training to be done! My coach wanted me to recover from the race for about five minutes and then run 4 x 400m with 3-minute recoveries.

Greg knew where I would be and he planned to meet me there with my jacket. So, I started doing these intervals and the first one felt pretty good. I hadn't allowed myself to become stiff, so I ran 1:35 (6:21 pace). The next one came in at 1:33 (6:12 pace), and then I saw Greg on my recovery jog. I ran the third one in 1:30 (6:03 pace) and was really ready to be done at that point. All I could think about was my time and if I had broken 20. I was going to stop out of impatience but I told myself I'd have better Karma if I did the last one. I did so in 1:31, and then my final recovery jog.

There was a line to check the computers for the results. And the computers weren't functioning properly at first. I was in so much suspense. At last, we were able to pull up the results and I found my name and it said 19:58! I screamed! I couldn't believe it. I was sure it would be 20:00 since that's just my luck, but I was elated. I think the people around me thought I was a freak.

I shed a few tears of joy, as this has been a goal of mine for two years and I have worked so hard and run so many 5Ks in pursuit of this goal. And to do it as my first race in my 40's makes it extra special. And to do it during marathon training makes it even more impressive to me! We will have PR cake tomorrow night.

This is a PR by 19 seconds, from my previous best of 20:17, set in May 2017.

I think my key to success today was having a really solid race plan for pacing and for how I would break the race into chunks. And also not pressuring myself to run sub-20. The windy forecast actually relieved some of the pressure, because if the conditions had been perfect, then I would have expected more out of myself. As for placing, I came in as the 4th female.

I'm so happy! I remember always thinking how fast those 19:xx people were. And now, I am one of them.

Turkey Trot history for the years I have data

 Year   Mile 1   Mile 2   Mile 3  Final Kick  Time
 2009  7:25  7:44  7:37 7:1323:40
 2010  7:19 7:197:07  6:1322:33
2011  7:00 7:05 6:42 5:5721:29
 2012 7:127:157:056:1022:18
 2013  7:26 7:30  7:03 6:3822:46
2014  7:01 6:54 6:45 6:1521:30
 2015  6:43 6:43 6:35  6:0320:51
  2016     6:38    6:49   6:38  5:49 20:50 
  2017   6:366:346:275:37 20:21 
  2018   6:336:266:18 5:35 19:58 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Weather craziness and a 79-mile week

It snowed and sleeted and ice-pelleted and freezing rained on November 15th. In Northern Virginia. What is going on with the weather this year? Because I run outside every day, I am keenly aware of all the weather records we have broken this year:

Un-forecasted heavy downpour
- We had significant snowfall (our largest of the season) on March 21: the first day of spring!
- Summer-like weather started in early May, and we set a new record on May 2nd, hitting 91 degrees
- Nearly the entire month of May was well above norms for heat and humidity
- July was one of the rainiest and wettest on record, with rainfall almost every day
- Early September gave us record-breaking heat, and I raced in 74-degree temps on Labor Day morning
- Summer-like weather persisted throughout September and into the first two weeks of October
- RAIN: By the middle of October, the DC metro area had already received more rain than it's annual average.
- On October 22nd, it was 30 degrees in the morning. Just two weeks prior, it had been 72 and humid.
- On November 15th, we had wintry precipitation all day long, making it the earliest snowfall in the region in 30 years.

I'm not trying to get political or make a case for climate change, but this is NUTS and it's made running extra challenging. I fully realize it's going to rain sometimes, but not all the time. I also expect it to be 72 degrees and humid in the morning-- in August, not in October or May. I can also accept a full day of wintry precipitation-- in January, not in November. Everything is so out-of-whack with the weather and it makes it difficult to plan for training and races. Case in point, the early arrival of summer in May this year was the major contributing factor to me getting so sick over the summer. And I haven't even mentioned the weather at the Boston Marathon yet!

And with that, I give you my week in training, and how I adjusted for the weather.

Monday: 14.4 miles, 8:15 pace
Just two days after the Richmond half marathon, I was ready to go for a medium long run before work. My legs were surprisingly not sore at all from the race. Of course this made me wonder if I
could have run it faster, but then I remembered how much I struggled, so, no.

Tuesday: 7 miles, 8:38 pace
Nice and easy recovery run

Wednesday: 12 miles, including speed intervals
Originally this workout was scheduled for Thursday. However, the wintry mix was supposed to start in the early morning hours on Thursday, so I figured I would bump it up a day since my legs felt good.

One of my least favorite workouts that my coach gives me every cycle!  It’s 20 x (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy), 20 x (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). That’s a constant changing of gears for an entire hour! No stopping or walking allowed- the recovery jogs must be actual jogs. Its impossible to pace with a Garmin, so the entire workout is effort based. Tempo runs and track intervals can provide a nice fitness gage, and if they go well I get excited about my pace. But with this workout, the confidence boost is simply grinding it out and trusting the process. In other words, it’s not a “glamorous” workout, but it’s great for speed and leg turnover.
  • 20 x 1 minute at slightly faster than 5K effort: ranged from 6:03-6:27, averaged 6:10.
  • 20 x 30 seconds hard: ranged from 5:34 -6:19, averaged 5:52.
I am very happy with how I executed this one. I’ve gone out too fast in the past and regretted it, and ended up walking the recovery jogs. 12 miles total, including warm up and cool down.

Thursday: 7.9 treadmill miles, 8:50 pace
I really didn't want to use a treadmill because it tends to beat up my legs rather than help them recover, but I had no choice. It was icy and dangerous out, and the precipitation didn't change into pure rain until about 4:00pm, at which point the streets were coated in slush, snow, and ice. I don't mind running on the treadmill, but I don't like how my legs feel afterwards. Even though I took it very slow and easy, my legs felt more sore and beat-up than they had following the hard workout on Wednesday! UGH!

Friday: 17 miles, 8:03 pace + 1 mile cool down
I had the day off work, and since I had moved the speed intervals up a day, I figured I would move everything up a day which meant doing my long run on Friday. And then I could add in an extra rest day before the Turkey Trot. My coach was on board with this plan. With strong winds out of the northwest, the plan was for Greg to drive me to the W&OD trail in Ashburn, drop me off, and then I'd run home. That way, I wouldn't have to deal with a headwind for most of the run.

We drove 25 minutes there, only to realize that Ashburn (being northwest of us) had much more snow and slush than we did. Most of ours had melted with the warmer rain that fell overnight. The trail was a slushy mess, and I figured there would be points that would be impassable, making it impossible to run home. So we drove all the way back home (in rush hour) having wasted a lot of time, and even $6.00 in tolls! This meant I would be starting my run later than planned which screwed up my nutrition plan and I'd have to deal with the 12-15 mph sustained winds.

Despite all of this, I tried to stay positive. My coach advised me to start at a pace of 8:00 and bring it down to 7:35 by the end. Oh yeah, and it was supposed to be 22 miles! About 9 miles in, I started noticing that my legs were already getting tired. I ignored it and just kept chugging along. I was able to hold on for 15 strong miles, with the 15th mile coming in at 7:46. But then mile 16 was super tough (8:12) and mile 17 was a major struggle (8:45), and then I simply couldn't run anymore. So the 17 miles averaged 8:03 (I also ran the first mile slowly at 8:55).

When I stopped I was two miles away from home so I walked a mile and then, being impatient, I mustered all of my energy for a very slow recovery jog home: 1 mile in 9:42. Everything hurt! I was in a world of pain since I had essentially "bonked" my long run. This hadn't happened to me on a long run in over three years! I've always been able to complete my long runs without issues. My legs hurt much more than they did after the Richmond half and I figured it would take me a days to recover from this. I took an Epsom salt bath, foam rolled, used the Theragun, and took an hour nap.

Saturday: 6.2 miles, 9:35 pace
My legs were still in a world of hurt on Saturday morning. I wasn't sure if my hour-long recovery run would be possible, but I went out and tried, and was able to complete it. Very slowly. Typically my recovery runs the day after a long run are in the 8:40-8:55 range. My legs usually don't feel very beat up. But on Saturday, I had to take things really, really, slowly and gently. Afterwards, I did more foam rolling and using the Theragun, and I applied Salonpas patches. I had them all over my legs and Greg was having a hard time with the Menthol smell!

Sunday: 13.5 miles w/9.4 at 7:30 pace
This workout was originally scheduled for Monday, but everything was still bumped up a day, so I got to do it on Sunday. This was another reason I wanted to bump up my schedule: doing a hard workout on a Sunday and getting to relax afterwards.

The workout was 2 miles at 7:00, 4 mins recovery jog, 4 x 1 mile at 6:40 with 3-min recovery jogs, 2 miles at 7:00. Given the state of my legs, I was naturally apprehensive about this one. But my coach encouraged me to try my hardest and said it was okay to push hard on sore legs. I tend to be super conservative so this worried me, but I decided to just go for it.

I ran 2.6 miles warm up and everything felt pretty good. The weather was perfect, finally. 33 degrees and no rain or wind. The first two miles were slightly uphill, which I ran in 6:58, 6:54. I wasn't trying
to over-achieve and given the uphill nature I told myself I would be happy with 7:05. But naturally I was able to run a little quicker. Then it was time for the 4 x 1 mile. The first two were slightly downhill, and the next two were slightly uphill. 6:39, 6:37, 6:39, 6:40. Yay!

For my last mile repeat, which was uphill, I told myself I would be happy with 6:45, but then I just gunned it anyway and was able to pull off 6:40. During the 3-minute recovery jog, I realized I was pretty tired, but I told myself I just had to make it through 2 more miles, at a slower pace than what I had just been running. I figured they would be slower than my first two, but I was amazed at how comfortable the pace felt! I guess after having run 4 miles at 6:40, the 7:00 pace felt easy, so I ended up running 6:56, 6:51. So basically, I nailed the workout on very sore and tired legs.

Weekly mileage: 79.2
This is a new weekly high for me. Granted- I moved everything up a day to avoid running the speed intervals on icy roads. But, I only ran 18 of my prescribed 22 miles, so I also cut back on something I was supposed to do. As a reward, I get that rest day that I asked for on Tuesday so I should be somewhat fresh for the Turkey Trot on Thursday.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Richmond Half Marathon - Goodbye 30's!

I'll be honest, I had high hopes going into this race. I truly believed myself to be in the best half-marathon shape I've ever been, and my recent workouts had been faster than those leading up to my PR half marathon in Houston last January. Even though I know anything can happen in a race, I was about 90% confident I'd set a PR. I hadn't set a PR in any distance since Houston in January and I knew I had come a long way with my fitness since then. I had run this race 3 times in the past: 2008, 2012, and 2015. My course PR was 1:35:08 from 2015.

The Richmond Half Marathon was my last race in my 30's, before entering the Master's division. At 39 years and 364 days, I was the oldest non-master in the race. So I figured I might as well live up my last day in my 30's and have it on my bib. When I posted photos of myself and my bib on Instagram, many people thought that the race automatically put everyone's age front and center on their bibs! Ha! So let me clarify up front that the Richmond Marathon allows you to put whatever words you want on your bib.

I'm training for the Rehoboth Beach marathon on December 8. And even though this half marathon was technically a tune-up, I still tapered for it and raced it to my full ability. I didn't run extra miles before or after (except for one warm up mile). I didn't view it as a workout. I viewed it as a race that I was well trained and well tapered for. Maybe that was a mistake.

Before the Race
I slept reasonably well the night before the race. I never sleep all that great in hotel rooms with a big race the next day, but I woke up feeling good. I ate my standard bagel + banana with peanut butter (more on this later) and had a serving of Generation UCAN 30 minutes before the race start.

Our hotel was only one block away from the start line, so it couldn't have been any more convenient or easier. I ran one mile as a warm up and then I headed for the start line. I said goodbye to Greg, who then walked about a mile down the course to get photos of me. At the start line, I found two runners who I knew and we chatted a bit.

It was 43 degrees and sunny with 10-14 mph winds. I could have done without the wind, of course, but otherwise these were pretty good conditions. My plan was to start at around 7:00 for the first three miles, and then speed up from there, ideally holding 6:55 for the rest of the race. I had run several workouts in recent weeks that made me confident in this approach.

Miles 1-3
Mile 1
I knew ahead of time that these miles would be uphill and into a headwind. The headwind didn't seem too bad, and nor did the hill. I stuck to my plan of running a 7:00 pace (it was just slightly slower) and everything felt really good, as it tends to feel during the first three miles of a half marathon.

I saw Greg just before the first mile-marker, as well as my former coach. I tried to stay behind groups of runners to be protected from the wind. I had no idea where the 1:30 pacer was. I was trying to run slightly slower than 1:30, and I know those pacers try to run slightly faster than their target so I wasn't trying to run with that group. I simply wondered where they were. They were near me at the start line and I never saw them during the first three miles, so I figured they must be behind me and starting really conservatively.

Mile 1: 7:03
Mile 2: 7:05
Mile 3: 7:00

Miles 4-7
Now that my "warm up" was done, I was ready to kick it into full gear. The wind was now hitting me from the side and it was no longer uphill. I had been eyeing a woman slightly ahead of me for the first
Photo by Cheryl Young, Mile 5
three miles, and she looked strong, so I was happy to keep her in my sights during these miles. She was wearing warm armers, a singlet, and loose shorts. Why do I note this? For some reason, it seems that in every race in which I don't do well, I start out following a woman wearing this exact outfit. And then she runs ahead and I fall back. I remembered this and vowed that I would stay with her and not fall behind.

I saw my friends Allison and Cheryl somewhere around mile marker 5, just as we entered the park. I ran this race in 2015, and I remembered the park well. It was the most challenging part of the course: hilly, and with very uneven pavement. You had to watch your footing and it was a constant up-and-down. However, I fared really well in 2015, and the park didn't slow me down that much at all. And I was able to speed up after it.

Yesterday was a different story. The hills felt harder than they should have. I lacked the energy to run up them at my normal pace, so I slowed down a little and tried to make up for it by running the down hills hard. I hit the 10K timing mat at 43:41, and I had planned to hit it at 43:20, so I was a little off. I didn't let it bother me and I told myself I would speed back up again once I was out of the park.

Mile 4: 6:51 (Now we're talking)
Mile 5: 6:55 (Still very strong)
Mile 6: 7:10 (That was the hardest mile of the race, so it's fine)
Mile 7: 7:05 (Okay, getting back on track)

Miles 8-10
The final two hills before exiting the park were brutal. I slowed down a lot running over them, and the group I was with started to get ahead of me, including that one woman. This was very demoralizing but I told myself I would get my energy back and catch up soon enough.

That didn't happen. I was relieved to be back on the roads with nice, even pavement but the energy was gone. I couldn't hold my pace any longer and I started to feel really bad. There was no one thing in particular that hurt, but I was struggling big time. At that point, I knew a PR wasn't going to be likely so I started to focus on trying to run a course PR, which would be sub-1:35:08.  I knew I would be really disappointed if I couldn't even do that.

I remembered how I felt at RNR New Orleans back in March when I bonked because of the heat. That started at around mile 5, but I didn't stop and I stayed in the 7:30s for the rest or the race. I was in the 7:20s now so, at least my "bonk" pace was faster. I was trying to think of ANY possible thing that would keep me positive about this race. I refused to allow myself to get upset or discouraged.

Mile 8: 7:22
Mile 9: 7:22
Mile 10: 7:26

Miles 11-Finish
Mile 13
I knew that the last three miles of this course would offer a tail wind and a net downhill. This thought perked me up a little and I was able to speed back up to around 7:05 for a short while. Lots of people had been passing me and I decided to set a new goal of not letting anyone pass me. I looked down at my Garmin and my average race pace was 7:11, so if I ran faster than that, then people shouldn't pass me unless they were running a negative split. Which of course, many people do, but the majority do not.

That burst of energy was short lived and I was back to just hanging on again. Now my motivation was simply to get to Greg at mile 12.5. I didn't want him worrying about me. At some point around mile 10 or 11, the 1:35 pacer passed me. I realized that the 1:30 pacer must have been way ahead of me the whole time, and probably went out so fast I never even saw them at the beginning. Having the 1:35 pacer pass me was no fun, but I told myself he was probably going to over-achieve, and I could still get a course PR even if he passed me.

I saw my previous coach again who gave me words of encouragement and finally I saw Greg, just before turning onto the final downhill stretch. I rallied hard at the end, and wanted to take full advantage of that long downhill finish.

Mile 11: 7:24
Mile 12: 7:29
Mile 13: 7:12
Last 0.16: 6:05 pace

The Finish and Beyond
I crossed the finish line and felt horrible. I felt like I needed to vomit, but there was nothing in my stomach so I kept dry heaving. I hadn't drank any water during the race because I didn't feel like I
needed to. And I typically don't need any fuel during a half marathon if I take a full serving of UCAN right before. I felt super nauseous and like I just needed to get something out of my system that wasn't even there.

Greg and I re-united and walked a back to our hotel. I wasn't nearly as upset as I was after the 10-miler from four weeks prior. In fact, I wasn't really that upset at all. I was just happy to be done with it.

My official time was 1:34:29, which is about two minutes slower than my PR from Houston, and 40 seconds faster than my course PR from 2015. It's a very respectable time and I was elated when I ran that 1:35 three years ago. So, to "bonk" and beat that time isn't too bad. Even my coach said that to have 1:34 be a disappointment means I'm really fit. He encouraged me to shake this off quickly and just focus on the upcoming workouts and the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in four weeks.

I could have stewed in disappointment, but instead I focused on my birthday and turning 40, and I vowed that I would set PRs at all distances in my 40s.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
So, what went wrong here? Why did I under-perform? I have three main theories.

1. I went out too fast.
Rookie mistake, but I think I under-estimated the effect of the wind and the uphill nature of the first 3 miles. If the course were flat and there had been no wind, THEN I would have wanted to start at a pace of 7:00. So, in hindsight, I think I was exerting way too much effort during those early miles, possibly the equivalent of a 6:50. I didn't want to use the wind as an excuse not to push hard, but you're not supposed to be pushing hard in the first three miles of a half marathon.

2. Digestive issues
Due to the dry heaving and the vomiting after my last half marathon in New Orleans, I suspect there is something going on with my digestive system. Since I started running marathons and half marathons I have always eaten a bagel with peanut butter and a banana exact two hours before the race start. And then been able to go to the bathroom afterwards, emptying my stomach. But, I never eat anything before my training runs. Even the long runs-- I just take some UCAN. And my training runs almost always go really well. So, I think that for the marathon I will eat half a bagel instead of a full bagel (I did that for Boston because that's all I was hungry for), and less peanut butter. I'll be sure to eat plenty the day before and continue to have my UCAN before the race. My suspicion is that my body is still working to digest all that food during the race (even though I ate it two hours prior) and that process is sapping energy from my running. Just a theory!

3. Insufficient Taper
When I looked at my training schedule, I actually thought my coach had given me too MUCH of a taper. Just 50 minutes easy on Wednesday, 40 minutes easy on Thursday, and 20 minutes easy on Friday. I felt like I didn't need to back off that much to be rested for a half. But then my friend Lisa pointed out that I had run 76 miles the previous week, and 68 the week before. I ran 10 miles on Tuesday. I was "in the thick" of marathon training, so to be fully rested I would have needed even more of a taper. I didn't think my legs were the limiting factor, rather my energy level, but a taper takes care of both of those things. Regardless, I wouldn't have wanted more of a taper because that would have impacted my marathon training cycle, which is already very short.

I still believe (as does much coach) that I am in very good shape and capable of running 1:30. But one of these factors, or some combination, likely contributed to me not being able to perform yesterday.

40th Birthday
So today I am 40! Greg surprised me with an amazing party last night, and so many of my friends were there. I'm really looking forward to being a competitive Master's runner. Even though I didn't get PR cake, I think my actual cake was WAY cooler:

The zebras are reading Boston Bound.

Greg surprised me with this cake!

Richmond 2008: 1:48:43
Richmond 2012: 1:46:19

Richmond 2015: 1:35:08

Richmond 2018: 1:34:29, photo by Cheryl Young