Sunday, February 25, 2018

Boston Marathon Training: 7 weeks to go

I haven't blogged about my training in awhile, but it's been going really well. My coach has decided to push me even further than he has in the past to see what I can do.

My marathon-specific training began two weeks ago, which is nine weeks out from the race. My coach typically gives me about a month of prep work (which was hill-intensive this time) and then two months of high volume including longer workouts.

Monday 2/12: Marathon training kicked off with an easy 70 minutes on Monday.

Tuesday 2/13: I followed it up with 90 minutes on Tuesday, and my coach told me to run it at a 7:30 pace. I'm using 7:24 as my target marathon pace this cycle, based on my Houston Half marathon time, and it seemed a bit premature to be running so far at close-to marathon pace, but I went for it. And. . . much to my surprise it wasn't hard. It felt "moderate" the entire time. My last two miles were actually around 7:20! I felt amazing and was really pleased that running 12 miles at a pace of 7:30 wasn't all that taxing.

Wednesday 2/14: 8.3 miles easy at 8:40 average, including strides.

Thursday 2/15: My workout on Thursday was 6 miles, alternating between 10K pace and marathon pace each mile. I've done this before and I really like it: 6:40, 7:19, 6:35, 7:26, 6:37, 7:20. I was targeting 7:24 as marathon pace but every time I looked at my watch, I found myself going faster. I guess that's good?! This averaged out to 6 miles at a pace of 6:59.

Friday 2/16: 8.3 miles easy at 8:41 average, including strides.

Saturday 2/17: I ran the first 10 miles with Anna and Greg
Saturday 2/17: My first marathon pace long run of the cycle! The run was 18 miles, with the last 8 at marathon pace. I picked a challenging route for this, and 3 of my marathon pace miles were uphill and into a headwind. I was not able to hit 7:24 on those, so my 8 marathon pace miles averaged out to 7:28. The effort was there, though, so I'm not bothered by this. The entire 18 miles averaged out to 8:05.

Sunday 2/18: 5 miles recovery at 8:58 average. I've been running 30 minutes recovery every day for the past three years. Now my coach has bumped this up to 45 minutes! I handled it well, although my legs were definitely tired during the last mile.

Total Weekly Mileage: 69.3. My legs were tired on the Sunday recovery run, but otherwise I was very pleased with how this week went. My energy levels were high and my legs were peppy.

Monday 2/19: I started off the week with some speed work: 15 times (1 minute at slightly faster than 5K effort, 1 minute easy) then 15 times (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). All in all, this is a 45-minute workout. And it's tough. I've done it many times before and it's always really hard because you have to keep shifting gears and the effort level for the hard portions is quite hard! I think I've finally figured out how to execute this one, though. I used to go really hard on the one-minute segments and I would have to walk the first few seconds of the easy portion. Now I go at truly "slightly" faster than 5K effort, so there is no walking needed, and the easy jogs are faster. This also allows me to really sprint on the 30-second segments.

Tuesday 2/20: 90 minutes at 7:30 pace again! I was surprised to see this the day after a hard workout. But again, if you don't push yourself every once in awhile, you won't know what you are capable of. I gave myself permission to truly ease into this run so I spent the first mile progressing from 9:30 down to 7:30, which yielded and average 8:30 for the first mile. But after that, the rest of the miles were right around 7:30. And I felt really strong. I honestly did not expect to be able to do this, and I would have been happy if everything averaged out to 7:45, but I hit my 7:30 for all the miles except the first, which resulted in 11.88 miles at a pace of 7:34.

Wednesday 2/21: 8.2 miles easy at 8:51 average, including strides.

Thursday 2/22: My body finally started showing some signs of fatigue. My prescribed workout was 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile tempo with a 4-minute recovery jog in between each. The goal was to start at the slower end of my tempo range (7:00) and progress down to the faster end (6:40). I've done this workout in the past and nailed it, so I know what it should feel like on a good day. After the first 3 miles, I knew it was not a good day. Those three miles felt much harder than my paces indicated and I had to walk during portions of the recovery jog. I rallied for the next two miles, but it started to feel like 5K effort and I wasn't even hitting the paces I had planned, so I shut it down after that. I figured that doing that last mile wouldn't really get me any additional fitness benefit, and that I risked over-doing it based on how I felt. My first 3 miles averaged 6:59, and my second two averaged 6:56. A very solid effort and over 10 miles for the day including warm up and cool down.

Friday 2/23: 8.4 miles easy at 8:39 average, including strides. I was relieved that this run felt as good as it did. I think Thursday must have just been an off day.

Saturday Feb. 24th: 20 miles in Central Park
Saturday 2/24: 20 miles at 8:14 average. I did this run in Central Park! I had travelled to NYC on Friday for a business trip, and stayed overnight. Greg came up with me and we ran the first 8 together. We were trying to start slowly, but my Garmin kept ticking off splits in the 8:20s. I felt amazingly good and I think being in Central Park really pepped me up. The weather was perfect: upper 40s and partly sunny. I ran at what felt like normal long run effort and ended up running an 8:14 average pace! The crazy thing is that the first 10 miles averaged out to 8:30, which meant the second half of the run averaged out to 8:00 or slightly faster. And central park is hilly! My splits were: 8:54, 8:26, 8:31, 8:17, 8:41, 8:47, 8:27, 8:27, 8:17, 8:05, 8:23, 8:13, 8:02, 7:58, 7:59, 7:50, 7:57, 7:50, 7:46, 7:57. Based on this run, I think my fitness has really jumped up.

Sunday 2/25: 5.1 miles recovery at 8:47 average. My legs felt pretty good on this run and it wasn't as hard as last Sunday's recovery.

Total Mileage: 73.4. A new weekly mileage PR. My previous highest was 71.7 last February.

I'm really optimistic about how my training has gone and what it will mean for future races. I am running the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon in one week. My time goal for that will be somewhat weather dependent, but if conditions were ideal, I think I could PR. Boston, of course, is always a crapshoot in terms of weather but regardless of what happens there, I'm thrilled to be taking my training to the next level.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What I DON'T Want in a GPS Watch

A runner's watch and its settings are a personal thing. With the massive variety of GPS watches on the market, we have options not only for which device we use, but how we personalize it.

Houston Half Marathon Finish
One on extreme, there are the runners who always want the latest and most sophisticated technology. They want to track all the possible data and they want their watch to be able to receive text messages, play music, track their sleep, predict their marathon time and more. On the other extreme, there are the runners who may not even want to wear a watch, let alone a GPS device.

As for me, I'm pretty basic, with one exception. And the one exception makes it difficult for me to find a simple GPS watch that meets my needs. When I started racing in 2005, I bought a Timex stop watch with a lap button. That worked well for awhile, until I decided to get a Garmin in 2009. I went with the Forerunner 405. I loved being able to run anywhere and know how far I had gone. Before the Garmin, I would typically run on the W&OD trail, which had mile markers, or I would use a treadmill. Those were my options if I wanted to track my distance.

After five years, the battery died and I moved to the Garmin Forerunner 220. This watch was slimmer and more comfortable, but otherwise it wasn't all that different from my previous one. At least in terms of the features I used. When that started acting strangely (not uploading to my phone, cutting workouts short) I bought the Garmin 630 on Black Friday sale last fall. And I hate it. Alright, hate is a strong word, so I'll revise my statement to "I find the watch highly frustrating and I wish I had not purchased it." Greg got the same deal, but he's not as tortured by the device as I am.

As I said above, a runner's watch is a personal thing, so here is everything I want, and don't want in a GPS watch.

The Basics
The reason I use a Garmin instead of my stop watch is because I like to track my speed and distance.
Garmin Forerunner 630
I need my watch to track and display:
  • Total Distance
  • Total Running Time
  • Average Pace of the Run
  • Lap Pace
The first three of these I like to have on one screen, in that order. As I run, I want to know how far I have gone, how long I've been going, and what my average pace has been so far. On a separate screen, which I have set to auto-rotate, I display the lap pace only. I like this to be large and take up the entire face of the screen so I can quickly glance down and see what pace my current mile (or split) is. This helps me slow down or speed up when needed.

I used to want to see heart rate, but I have stopped training by heart rate. That got its own screen too.

Data and Integration
I will always be loyal to the Garmin brand because it integrates with my training log (RunningAhead) as well as Strava and Final Surge (my coach's app). So my second requirement, in addition to the basics, is that the watch can upload to the Garmin database and instantly update all those other sources. 

Programmable Workouts (loudly, please)
7:59 lap pace, big and bold!
If it weren't for this one feature requirement, I'd be able to get away with a much simpler GPS watch. But it turns out, if you want to program workouts into your Garmin, you have to buy a fancier model. If it weren't for programmable workouts, I would have a tough time with many of my training runs.

For example, this morning I ran 15 times (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy) followed by 15 times (30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy). I programmed that into my watch so that it beeped, letting me know when the intervals were starting/stopping. And then it recorded my distance, pace, time, etc. for each of the laps. Now I know exactly what pace I ran for each of the 1-minute segments and each of the 30-second segments. 

With the Garmin 630, the beeps are so quiet, I can barely hear them. And even though this watch has a zillion options for everything (I can even put a photo of a zebra on it), there is no volume adjustment for the beeps. Because of this, if I need to do a pre-programmed workout, I use my 220. The alert beep for the auto-lap function is also quiet, and I often don't hear it when I'm doing my easy runs, especially if I am running near traffic.

Touch Screen
I do not want this! I purchased the Garmin 630 fully knowing it was a touch screen, but I thought it would be as easy to use as my iPhone. But it's not. navigating the touch screen is not intuitive. I always end up pressing the wrong thing. And when I go to put the watch on my wrist before my run, I inadvertently touch the screen so that it tries syncing my iPhone contacts. WTF? Why do I want my iPhone contacts synced to my Garmin device?!? No thank you. Plus, in the winter I wear gloves, so I usually need to remove them to use the touch screen, whereas I don't have to worry about that with plain ol' buttons.

Auto Upload
My feeling about the Garmin auto-uploading to my phone is similar to my feelings about automatic flush toilets. Let ME decide when please! I do not want my workout to upload to my phone until I say so. Maybe this is a setting I change, but I haven't found it. Because it integrates with Strava and my coach's Final Surge app, I don't want to publish my run until I am ready to say something about it. Otherwise, it's just hanging out there as "morning run" for people on Strava to view with (gasp) no context on what it was!!! But in all seriousness, sometimes if I am running near my phone, (I don't run with my phone, but sometimes it's in my car and I pass it), the Garmin will try to upload the workout still in progress. And if I'm doing a cool down, it will automatically upload the warm up and the workout itself, which I log as three separate activities.

I often run in the dark so I need a backlight so I can see my Garmin. I use the "stays on" feature so the watch is always lit once I turn it on. With the Garmin 630, if you select the "stays on" feature, but do not un-select the default "backlight is part of an alert" then every time you lap, your backlight will come on and stay on. This drains the battery. I discovered this one day on a treadmill run when I realized the backlight kept coming on and staying on.

Activity Profiles
I look at lap time instead of lap pace on the track
I'll end on a positive note with the Forerunner 630. This watch offers different activity profiles, and I use three of them: run outdoors, run on a track, and run indoors. For running outdoors, my settings are as I described above. If I select track running, instead of my lap pace showing, it shows my lap time. Because GPS watches are not accurate on tracks, I pace the workout using the elapsed time of the lap rather than lap pace. And for those rare occasions when I run on a treadmill, the watch turns off the GPS and using my cadence (I assume) to measure distance. And it's fairly consistent with what the treadmill says.

Even though I'm not a fan of the 630, I'm using it for most of my runs. Ultimately I'll probably buy the 230 which does not have a touch screen or a lot of the fancy features I don't use. My 220 works well enough, so until that dies completely, I will probably hold off on getting a new one. I wore the 220 in Houston because I didn't want the 630 doing anything funky. I'm carefully considering which watch comes with me to New Orleans in two weeks.

I'd love to hear from my readers on this: 
  • What features do you need?
  • How is your watch face configured when you run?
  • Do you log your warm up and cool down as separate activities, or put them all into one?
I'll post a training update next weekend, but that's going really well. I just wrapped up 69.3 miles last week and I'm feeling strong.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Kiss My Asphalt 5K

After missing my sub-20:00 5K goal by a fair bit on New Year's Day, I decided to make another attempt at breaking the barrier.

Based on my spring race schedule, this weekend was the best option. Races in February are slim pickings, and not really PR courses, so I found one in Fredricksburg (about an hour south) that seemed like it would be a good candidate for sub-20. The elevation profile on MapMyRun made the course appear like it was gently rolling the whole time with no major climbs. Even though the race would be small, the course was USATF certified.

MapMyRun elevation profile

On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling abnormally tired and not like my peppy self. I observed that my resting heart rate (which I track with my FitBit) had been on the upswing for the past few days and was now at an all-time high of 50 bpm. Typically it's around 45. With the flu going around, I made sure to be extra careful about coming into contact with germs, started drinking more water, and taking more vitamins.

Thursday morning was the same story, but I ran in the evening by which time I was feeling more energized. On Friday, I woke up with an upset stomach and my 30-minute easy run felt really sluggish and heavy. Greg was also waking up with a dry throat and not feeling his best. I told myself that everything was fine, and I didn't speculate any impact on my race.

Before the Race
We arrived at the race site about an hour before the start. Greg was running the 10K, which started at 9:45, and I was running the 5K, which started at 10:00. We picked up our bibs and scoped out the course. Most notably, we could not find a start line. We found the finish line, but we knew that the race did not start and finish in exactly the same spot. This made the course net uphill, but not by a lot.

We knew that the race director would be providing instructions immediately before the race, so Greg and I warmed up and made it back to the start area shortly before 9:45. There were about 50 runners doing the 10K and 100 runners in the 5K. My weather app had said "rain starting at 10:30" so I expected that the rain would hold off until we were done. I debated wearing my hat anyway, but there wasn't even a drop in the sky so I left it in the car.

There was no actual start line. The race director told everyone where to stand and then he ran about 30 feet ahead and started counting down from 30 seconds. He had his phone in his hand, seemingly to communicate with the person starting the clock. At the end of his countdown, he yelled "go!" so that both the timer and the runners could hear him, hopped on his bike and led the pack of runners up a steep hill, out of the park and onto a paved path. The race was chip timed, but based on gun time as opposed to net time. However, with only 50 runners in the 10K and 100 runners in the 5K, everyone started within five seconds of the race director yelling "go."

This was definitely not the traditional start that I was used to, but the course was certified, my Garmin ended up reading 3.13, and my gun time was accurate, so it all worked out.

I watched Greg immediately take the lead and I cheered for him as he passed by. I spent the next ten minutes continuing to warm up while waiting for the 5K to start. The race director returned to the park on his bike and then briefed the 5K runners about what to expect. I was glad I had watched the 10K first so I knew exactly how it would go. As he was giving his briefing, it started to rain. It was too late to grab my hat, and I hoped it would just be a light drizzle and not soak the course. But, as if on cue, as soon as the race director yelled "go," the rain began to fall in full force and I quickly became drenched.

Mile 1: 6:41
Note to self: courses with steep hills in the first half mile are not conducive to sub-20. I learned this on New Year's Day, only this hill was steeper--almost to the point of needing to walk. Once we got out of the park onto the bike path, I was relieved. But within just two minutes, there was another big hill which curved up and around. Totally unexpected. I did warm up on the course, but I had gone in the other direction on the trail. At the top of the hill we turned around and headed back toward the park. Now that these two hills were done with, I figured the rest of the course would be a lot easier.

I think I took these initial two hills too quickly and then paid for it later. Because I thought the course would be relatively flat, I assumed I would be able to recover from my hard pushes. But I never really recovered. It was also pouring. There was no mile marker, but my watched beeped 6:41 and I didn't judge it.

Mile 2: 6:44
From this point on, the course, which was a paved bike path was up and down and up and down. I'm used to road races where you might have a quarter mile stretch of up hill and then a long stretch of downhill. But in this case it was constantly undulating, with some longer stretches of up and down. There was not a single flat section. I'm not sure why I thought this would be a good sub-20 course. Clearly, it was not.

The rain compounded issues and I started running out of gas. I felt like I had nothing to give. I wanted to push hard, but I didn't have it in me to go any faster. I did, however, pass one of the three men that was ahead of me, which was a good feeling. No women were ahead of me, which seemed to be the only positive thing. There were a few bridges to run over which were slippery due to the rain. I slowed down a bit because I was paranoid about falling. There was no mile marker 2, but my Garmin beeped and showed a disappointing 6:44. A few weeks ago I had run a 3-mile tempo run at a pace of 6:44 and it felt awesome. Now, I felt totally gassed.

Mile 3: 6:52
The finish line: flattering photo, right?
At this point, the only thing that was motivating me was that I was in the lead. The second place woman seemed to be about 30 seconds behind me at the turnaround, and if she had a good kick it was possible she could catch me. I repeated to myself, keep winning the race, keep winning the race. I was mentally and physically defeated at this point and all I wanted was to keep my first place position through the finish.

And I did! I won the race in 21:08. I was the 3rd overall finisher, with just two men ahead of me.

I crossed the finish line and the race director handed me a plaque and a wine glass for winning. Normally they would do an awards ceremony type of thing, but it was pouring rain. I thanked him and then waited for Greg to finish the 10K. I knew I'd only have to wait about five minutes.

I saw a fast-looking man cross the line, and glanced down to see that he was wearing a 10K bib, and then Greg crossed just seconds behind him. Apparently Greg had been neck-and-neck with this guy the entire time, and he out-kicked Greg at the very end for the win. Greg ran a PR in 40:51. His 10K pace was faster than my 5K pace!

Final Thoughts
We were drenched and tired and decided to drive straight home instead of eating lunch in Fredericksbug as originally planned. I was happy that I won the race, but not pleased with my performance. With 131 feet of gain over just 3.1 miles, that course wasn't conducive to sub-20. I also think I am fighting off some kind of bug. If I had to do it over again, I would have been more conservative on those first two hills. The downpour was another unwelcome factor.

My Garmin's Elevation Data
I'm not sure I would have chosen this course if I had accurately interpreted the MapMyRun elevation profile; which looked a lot less intimidating than the actual Garmin data. There's a local 5K tomorrow on a course that I've run many times before that I probably would have chosen. That course is also quite challenging, but I'm familiar with it and probably could have set a course PR. On the other hand, I did end up with an overall win, which is rare for me.

Looking at the bigger picture, I am a bit discouraged about this whole sub-20 thing. I think it's going to only get harder for me as I get older (I turn 40 in November) and usually you don't hear about women who have been running for 15+ years finally breaking 20 once they turn 40. But we'll see. I'll try and train for it again this summer and hope that I can find a good course with good weather conditions.

My half marathon pace four weeks ago was 7:00, and this race averaged a pace of 6:45, which seems totally off. In fact, several of my miles in the half marathon were in the 6:40's. I've heard many runners say you can't be in shape for a 5K and also for the longer distances at the same time, but I haven't really started the bulk of my marathon training yet. So I'm not sure exactly what I am in shape for, if anything. Or maybe I am, but I'm truly fighting off some kind of illness.

In any event, I won. So I'll just be happy with that and focus on my next race, which is the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon in three weeks.

This made it worth the trip!

Even though the race had no mile markers or actual start line, it was well organized for a small, local race. The course was certified, there were aid stations, it was clear when to turn around, they took photos, and I liked the plaque that I won. If you're local, check out Bishop's Events.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Vegas, Awards, and Hills

Since running the Houston Half Marathon, life has been a bit of a whirlwind. A few hours after running the race, I flew to Las Vegas for a work event. Upon returning, my training really ramped up with intense hill workouts, and I attended two awards celebrations for 2017 running.

Las Vegas
The last time I visited Vegas, I found it impossible to run outside because of the constant stopping for traffic and the fact that you have to go up and down staircases to stay along the strip. This time, my coach told me about a track that was about 1.5 miles off of the strip. It was the UNLV track and he said that it was open to the public.

UNLV Track in Las Vegas
Thankfully, I didn't have any hard workouts that week because I had just run the Houston Half. But nevertheless, I needed to maintain my mileage base because Boston Marathon training was fast approaching. I was able to go for a run every day before the conference started, and it was nice to get the fresh air. The weather was perfect: mid 40s and sunny every morning! I didn't have to worry too much about my safety, as one of my co-workers is an ultra-marathon runner, and he was happy to accompany me on my runs every day. On one of the days, we even explored the UNLV campus, which was a nice change of scenery.

The conference itself also offered an "Urban Fun Run" to benefit STEM for Her. This was an (approximate) 5K along the strip, complete with multiple staircases and overpasses! It was quite thrilling to run in at environment with all the lights. But as I said earlier, it's not ideal for continuous running so once that was over, my co-worker and I headed out for the track.

I had no trouble adjusting back to east coast time when I returned. I slept over 9 hours on Friday evening and felt fresh for my long run on Saturday. And then I napped for almost an additional 2 hours. I logged 54.6 miles that week, which I was happy with given I was recovering from Houston and on work travel. I also came home $200 richer from the Roulette table! Lucky 14 hit twice!

In the Washington DC area, there are two sets of rankings I pay attention to: the RunWashington rankings and the =PR= Trophy Series rankings.

RunWashington (formerly called Washington Running Report) is a quarterly magazine and website. They don't do subscriptions by mail anymore, but they used to. I remember back in 2006-2009 getting that magazine in the mail and reading through the rankings. All of the runners were so much faster than me and I never thought I'd make the list.

To qualify for the rankings, you need to run at least six local races (they have a list of the USATF certified ones), with at least 3 being in the first half of the year and 3 in the second half. I ran a total of 13 races and was ranked as the 11th female. In my age group, I was ranked 7th.

To celebrate, RunWashington hosted a party in DC on a Thursday night a few weeks ago. Greg and I went with our friends Hannah and Alex. Hannah was ranked as the 6th overall female! The party was held at a bar in DC and it was fun to see people dressed in normal clothes. As fun as the party was, the highlight may have been the ice cream place Hannah found for us afterwards. The place had some crazy unique flavors like goat cheese and sweet potato, and it was delicious.

Hannah, me and Lisa
The other set of rankings I pay attention to is the =PR= trophy series. This is a series of 20+ races primarily in Northern VA. They are all very well organized, easy to get to, fairly competitive, and offer generous awards. For these rankings, runners earn points for winning age group awards and overall awards. If you place in the top 10 overall at a race, you get a certain amount of points. And you can double dip if you also win an age group award at that same race. The more races you run and the faster you run them, the more points you get. Some of these races included For The Love of It 10K, the Mother's Day 4-Miler, the Twilight Festival 4-Miler, and the Leesburg 5K.

I didn't run as many races in this series as I had the previous year, so I was surprised that I won first place in my age group. My award was a long-sleeved zip tee with the =PR= logo on it. These awards were presented at a party at the =PR= headquarters last Saturday night. Greg and I once again went with Hannah and Alex, and also our friend Lisa. This party was centered around an awards ceremony with people's names being called, whereas the RunWashington party was more of a social gathering.

Before I start logging 65+ mile weeks for Boston training, my coach decided it would be best to prepare my legs with lots and lots of hills. All of these hill workouts build leg strength so I can handle the upcoming high volume, and are also great preparation for the race itself. I'm not a huge fan of hill work, but I do think it's beneficial for the reasons above.

Monday's Hill workout
After I got back from Vegas, the next two weeks of training included 2 hill workouts each week. So a total of 4 workouts. Here they are, in order:

  • 10 x 1-minute hill repeats at 5K effort, with the jog back down recovery
  • 5 x 3-minute hill repeats at 10K effort, with the jog back down recovery
  • 8 x 90-seconds hill repeats at 5K effort, with the jog back down recovery
  • 3 x 10 minutes of continuous hills: 75 seconds uphill at 10K effort, and running back down the hill at a slightly faster pace nonstop
The last of these workouts was by far the hardest. 10 minutes of hills at 10K effort without stopping for a recovery is tough. Once I got to the top of the hill, I would want to recover, but instead, I had to turn around and immediately run down at an even faster pace. For each 10-minute segment, I ended up running up the hill 4 times. 

For 3 of these workouts I used a hill that was about 0.25 mile, with an elevation gain of about 50 feet. For the workout that required a 3-minute hill, I used a different hill which was actually steeper at certain points.

The mileage has slowly begun to creep up with 61 miles this week, including a long run of 17 miles. I really hope the weather cooperates in February and I am able to continue training without interruption!