Sunday, March 25, 2018

4 Boston Marathon Training Reflections

My training for the Boston Marathon isn't over yet, I have one more hard week ahead of me before I start to taper. But as this cycle draws to a close, I want to highlight some discoveries I've made along the way. I've been able to safely run significantly higher volume and more difficult workouts than ever before (76 miles last week, 77 miles this week) and I've felt great the whole way.

1. The cold weather is my friend.
Even though running in cold isn't always fun (particularly when you throw in rain, snow, and wind) but it agrees with me. When I was training for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, the summer heat and humidity lasted all the way through October and I think it took a toll on me, physically and mentally.

At this point in my cycle last time, I was craving my taper and was mentally ready to be done with the hard work. Now, after having run a series of higher-mileage and higher intensity weeks, I am not craving a taper and I'm ready to take on the final week of hard work. I'm now three weeks out from the Boston Marathon, and I ran a 22-mile training run yesterday at an average pace of 7:59. It wasn't easy but everything felt great during the run and afterwards. When I was three weeks out from Indianapolis, I also ran 22 miles, but it was in the 60s and humid. I averaged a pace of 8:29 and was totally spent. My Achilles was in bad shape and I ended up taking a few days off.

By the time the marathon arrived last fall, I just didn't feel good. My body wasn't up to the task. I have several theories on why, but my strongest one is that so much training in the heat tore me down over time. My two bouts with mono were also the result of running at high intensities in the heat. With this cold weather, I was able to run 15 miles at a faster pace last weekend than my half marathon three weeks ago in the heat.

2. The training is worth it, period.
Someone recently commented on my Instagram that it would "all be worth it" on race day. When I saw that comment I had a mini revelation-- it was already all worth it. Sure I would love to run a fast time in Boston, but if I don't, this training cycle has been worth every hour I've logged. I enjoy waking up in the morning with an intimidating workout on the schedule and seeing what I can do. I love that my coach is really testing my limits and every week I get to discover what I am capable of.

My coach sends me four weeks of training at a time. When I received the most recent four-week block, I thought that he'd gone a bit crazy. High volume, most all long runs with fast paces plus two hard workouts a week. "Easy" runs at 7:45 pace for 90 minutes the day after hard tempo runs. Being able to juggle all of this running with a full-time job, a long commute, and eating healthy has been an accomplishment. So if, for some reason, Boston doesn't go well and I don't PR, at least I will know that I have progressed to the next level. I plan to give it everything I have in Boston, which is all I can ever really ask of myself. All of that being said, I'm really hoping that the Boston weather isn't hot again!

3. This cycle is the exception, not the rule.
Week of March 19
My sports psychologist always told me that PRs at my level were the exception, not the rule. I look at training cycles the same way. Typically you would expect to miss at least one run on the schedule (probably more) and not be able to complete everything as prescribed. Particularly if you are trying to run a string of intense workouts that you've never done before. But with the exception of bailing on a few 1600 meter repeats because of an unbearably windy track, I have been able to run everything as prescribed, and sometimes a few seconds per mile faster.

I need to make sure I don't look at this training cycle as the new standard, because that would be my perfectionism rearing its ugly head. I'm approaching 40 and I might not be able to handle this load in the future. And, aside from having cold weather, I'm not exactly sure how I've been able to run all of this volume and all of these crazy workouts and still feel energized. But. . . I'll take it!

4. Recovery doesn't have to be fancy.
When my coach tells me to "recover well" after a hard run, I interpret that as eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, get quality sleep, and use the foam roller. On top of that, I take a few Epsom salt baths each week and get a massage. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, so I am hesitant to try recovery tools that I am not familiar with. Ironically, though, TheraGun reached out to me asking me to test out their G2PRO massage product, and I said yes. I've only had it for two days and so far I like it. I'll write a more extensive review once I've had more time with it. I probably won't use it too much before the marathon though because. . . if it ain't broke, don't fix it! 

Here is a graph of my training since January 1st. According to my coach, marathon training didn't officially start until February, which is when the volume really picked up. I've now run for 72 days straight and I feel really good. It's taken four years of working with the same coach to get to this level and as I said above, I'm proud of this regardless of my race time.

The highlight of this past week was my 22-mile long run, which I started out at 8:20, and progressed down to 7:40 by the end. I ran the hilliest route I could map out from my house and it was definitely a great training stimulus for my legs.

As I said earlier, my training cycle is not complete yet. If all goes according to plan, I should log another 77 miles next week. I'm looking forward to less severe winter weather and maybe I'll even get to wear shorts.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Boston Marathon Training: 4 Weeks to Go!

With just four weeks to go until the Boston Marathon, I'm feeling really good about my training. My coach is really pushing me with this cycle and I'm running higher mileage and more intense workouts than ever before. It's really no one single workout that builds fitness; it's the consistency of workouts over time and how they are strung together. I've been working with my coach for nearly four years now, so he knows how to push me in a way that safe. When I received my most recent block of training, I was intimidated by the volume and intensity. But as I've gone through it I have managed quite well!

The most difficult thing about this week was daylight savings time. Even though I started going to bed an hour early on the Friday before, my body clock was messed up all week. I was up for at least an hour in the middle of the night each night, which is rare for me. Thankfully, I allowed myself enough time in the bed to still get nearly 8 hours each night. The darkness was admittedly depressing. I feel like we "worked" our way down to a 6:30 sunrise, and now it was back to square one with most of my runs being in the dark again. Since Greg is done with his marathon (Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans) he's had the time in the morning to make me "care packages" with healthy lunches, snacks, and vitamins. That has helped me feel energized throughout the day.

Monday: 14.2 miles including 10 tempo.
This was a tough workout to have on the Monday after daylight savings! I warmed up for 2.1 miles and then followed that with 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile tempo, all with 4 minutes recovery jog in between. My coach prescribed paces for these that seemed impossible, but I tried my best and came relatively close.
  • 4 miles in 7:01, 6:56, 6:51, 6:44 (6:53 average)
  • 3 miles in 6:49, 6:57, 6:47 (6:51 average)
  • 2 miles in 6:50, 6:50 (6:50 average)
  • 1 mile in 6:39
Even though I didn’t quite hit the paces my coach prescribed, I worked really hard and am pleased with how I held up. The 10 miles averaged out to 6:50, which is a faster pace than my 10-mile PR. Afterwards, I ran a 1-mile cool down.

Tuesday: 11.6 miles at 7:44 average
Instead of running easy the day after the massive tempo, my coach challenged me with 90 minutes at a pace of 7:45. After how hard I worked my legs on Monday, I did not think this would be possible, but I went for it anyway. It was 30 degrees and very windy but I used a route that looped around enough times that I was never running into a headwind for more than five minutes at a time. Miraculously, I felt great and this 7:45 didn't seem all that hard. My legs weren't even tired.

Wednesday: 8.5 miles easy at 8:50
I really needed an easy day! It was dark and windy again, but I didn't care because I got to run very easy, which was such a treat after Monday and Tuesday.

Thursday: 8.5 miles including 20 x 200m
Thursday, March 15th

When I saw this workout on the schedule I freaked a bit. I've never done more than 12 x 200m in a workout and the paces that my coach wanted me to hit (38-41) were fast. I ran 200m recovery jogs between each interval. I warmed up for 2.4 miles and then got into it.
  • Reps 1-10: 42, 42, 40, 40, 39, 39, 39, 39, 38, 38 
  • Reps 11-20: 39, 39, 38, 39, 38, 39, 39, 39, 39 
I cooled down for 1.1 miles. For reference 39 seconds = 5:14 pace and 38 seconds = 5:06 pace. Removing the recovery jogs, this is 2.5 miles at a pace of around 5:14. This workout was great practice in pushing really, really hard. In fact, once I hit the straight-away section of the track, I imagined I was approaching a finish line in a race and really gunning for it. I focused on my form and my breathing in order to stay strong throughout the entire workout. Even though I’m super focused on the Boston Marathon right now, I have to admit I would still LOVE to break 20 in the 5K. This workout gave me the confidence that I will be able to do that at some point.

Friday: 8.4 miles easy at 8:57 average
Ouch! My legs were sore. I had spent a good amount of time on the foam roller on Thursday night and Friday morning before the run, but my legs were definitely sore from those 200 meter sprints. I wanted to call it quits after an hour, but I hung in there for the entire 75 minutes that my coach prescribed.

Saturday: 19 miles with 15 at marathon pace
I was skeptical that this workout would be possible given that my legs still felt a little sore from the 20 x 200m. But I've had successful long runs in the past on sore legs, so I figured I would go for it anyway. I ran 2.5 miles easy, 15 miles at marathon pace, and 1.5 miles easy for a total of 19. My coach prescribed 7:24 as my marathon pace because that is what my recent half marathon in Houston indicates. However, I know I am fitter now than I was in January. This proved itself when I actually had to hold myself back to stay in the 7:20s throughout the workout.
  • 2.5 miles at 8:27 average
  • 15 miles at 7:21 average!
  • 1.5 miles at 8:20 average
My splits for the 15 miles were: 7:28, 7:23, 7:22, 7:20, 7:25, 7:21, 7:21, 7:21, 7:21, 7:23, 7:18, 7:20, 7:19, 7:21, 7:18. I drank half a packet of Generation UCAN before the run, and then during mile 8 I took a homemade UCAN gel, which contained nearly an entire packet of UCAN. That was all the fuel I had and it was plenty. I was aiming for 7:24 but my body felt like going a bit faster. The pace felt relatively comfortable for the first 11 miles and then it started to get a little harder during the last four. But it still wasn't that bad- not nearly as hard as the workout I did on Monday. The entire run averaged out to 19 miles at a pace of 7:35. According to Strava, I got a new 30K PR!

Sunday: 5.6 miles recovery at 8:54 average
My legs felt better on this recovery run than they did the day after the 200m intervals.

Total Mileage: 75.9 at an average pace of 8:04!
This is a new weekly mileage PR for me. I am also on day 65 of a run streak, averaging 9 miles a day.

Past 8 weeks' mileage

I'm really excited about how much I have progressed this cycle. I'm not really associating any of this with a goal time because if Boston is hot, then that goes out the window. I think that in perfect weather on a flat course I could run a 3:13ish. That might have to wait until the fall, but I can be patient.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stripes! Stripes!

About 99% of my blog posts are related to running and racing, and I rarely post about the "stripes" part of Racing Stripes. As I mentioned in my previous post, the day after running the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, Greg and I headed about 90 minutes outside of the city to go visit a zebra and her family.

Zee's owners, Jennifer and Alan, greeted us with all sorts of goodies. There were zebra cookies, zebra napkins, zebra candies, and zebra plates for our delicious lunch. Living on the gulf, they own a shrimp processing business so we were also treated to some of the best shrimp I've ever tasted. It doesn't get any fresher.

They have a zebra, a bull, a horse, a peacock, some chickens and a dog. They plan on getting two more zebras next winter. They let us feed Zee and really get to know her:

She generally didn't want us to pet her, unless we were feeding her with one hand, and petting her with the other hand. It was fun to meet all of their animals and learn some history about the shrimp business. Even though my race didn't go as I planned, it was totally worth the trip to Louisiana just to meet this zebra and her owners!

Training Update
As for my training, things continue to go really well. I recovered remarkably fast from the half marathon, which is typical when I can't run to my full potential in hot weather. I did a short recovery
jog in New Orleans on Monday morning and I couldn't even tell that I had raced the day before. My legs didn't seem to take a beating at all! On Tuesday (just two days post race), I was able to run 12.5 miles at an average pace of 8:15. And I felt peppy doing it. It's truly amazing how much easier it is to run when it's cool out. On Wednesday, I ran easy again: 8.4 miles at an average pace of 8:30.

On Thursday, I ran a set of really quick intervals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, minutes hard, all with 2-minute recovery jogs in between. My coach typically gives me very short and fast intervals during marathon training because it's important to not only develop endurance and lactate threshold, but also VO2 max and speed. Plus, I still have that goal of a sub-20 5K at some point! I warmed up for 2.4 miles and then did the workout. My paces were:

1:00 at 5:48
2:00 at 6:14
3:00 at 6:18
4:00 at 6:24
5:00 at 6:33
4:00 at 6:27
3:00 at 6:16
2:00 at 6:16
1:00 at 5:52

I was happy with how everything felt. My Achilles has not been bothering me at all, and if anything would aggravate it, it would be this type of workout. On Friday, my coach tacked on an extra 5 minutes to my typical 70-minute easy run, resulting in 8.7 miles at an average pace of 8:39.

Saturday's long run was also a success. Since it was too cold to wear my skirt with the large pocket for my UCAN gel, I decided that I would not fuel during the run; only beforehand. Typically for a 20-miler I take a packet (1.5 scoops) of UCAN before the run, and then a homemade UCAN gel about halfway through. But since I wore tights instead of my skirt, I figured it would be a good day to experiment without the additional fuel. I had felt so good during my last 20-miler and wondered if that UCAN gel at mile 10 had truly been necessary. I like to practice my fueling strategy during training, but I also like to practice not using as much fuel so my body isn't entirely dependent on it.

Saturday, March 10th
Greg dropped me off on the W&OD trail in Ashburn and I ran home. For those of you who are local, I ran 7.5 miles on the W&OD, 7.5 miles on the Fairfax County Parkway trail, and then six miles through neighborhoods to get home. Point-to-point runs make me feel like I have a true purpose and I am actually going somewhere. Plus, the W&OD and the parkway provided good hill practice. I ran the first half of the run at an average pace of 8:23, and the second half at an average pace of 8:03, finishing it off with a last mile in 7:43. I was happy that I was able to run 20 miles at an average pace of 8:13 without any fuel during the run. I felt great during the run and afterwards.

Today I ran 4.9 miles recovery at 9:09 average, wrapping up the week with 68.0 miles. Pretty good considering I was "recovering" from a half marathon.

I'm ready to tackle next week, which (if all goes well) will be my highest ever mileage week!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Race Report

There's a zebra named Zee who lives about 90 minutes outside of New Orleans. Not at a a zoo, but at a house. I discovered this zebra just over a year ago on Instagram and quickly made friends with her
owners. Greg and I received an open invitation to visit any time we wanted, so we figured, what better time than the weekend of the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Marathon?

This race had been on my bucket list for years and Greg had never been to New Orleans. We decided that I would run the half as a tune-up for Boston and Greg would run the full. When we registered, I knew there was the potential for this race to be warm, but the average overnight low for early March is  50 degrees, so I thought that could still be manageable. Plus, I don't like ruling out races just because they could be warm. New Orleans is a fun city and with a zebra nearby, this seemed like a win-win.

Before the Race
Greg and I flew into New Orleans on Saturday morning, aided by a very strong tailwind out of the north east. The wind storm back home actually worked in our favor! Upon arrival, we had Po' Boys for lunch and then proceeded to the expo. At the expo, Greg needed to buy two gels. But much to our surprise, the expo did not sell gels! He uses the Gu brand, and they didn't have that; only one gel was for sale and we had never heard of it. We looked at the course map to see what types of gels would be offered on the course, and it didn't say. We could tell there would be one gel station at mile 9, but that wasn't sufficient.

When we got back to our hotel, I went on the Gu website, found the nearest dealer, and then walked to a nearby bike shop while Greg rested his legs. Mission accomplished! I'm essentially writing this as a pubic service announcement: do not count on Rock 'n' Roll race expos to sell the last-minute items you need. The expo had a large Brooks display but it was slim pickings aside from that.

Bourbon Street
For dinner, we met our friends Anna and Amber at a seafood restaurant. I had waited until the weekend before to make dinner reservations and all the pasta places were fully booked. But the seafood place, GW Fins, was delicious and they had plenty of options. I had salmon with cornbread and a side of sweet potatoes. Plus a beet salad. Plus a dessert. I might have gone overboard with the yummy New Orleans food. I should also mention the Pralines I had. Yum!!!

After dinner, we walked down Bourbon street and it was really something else. It was like a huge party with music and people doing all sorts of crazy things.

Greg and I went to bed at 8:00 (which was 9:00 east coast time) and slept relatively well. I had like six dreams in a row about missing the start of the race, and was relieved to wake up to find it was only 4:15. I had my typical banana and bagel with peanut butter. 30 minutes prior to the race I drank a packet of Generation UCAN. If I do this, I do not need any fuel during the race.

We made our way to the start line, which was just a few blocks from our hotel and I warmed up for about a mile. The race started at 7:30, which I didn't understand. They had a 10K that started at 7:00, and I would have loved to start half an hour earlier. Houston started at 7:00. Other Rock 'n' Roll races start at 7:00, so why not this one? It mattered because instead of 30 minutes running in 57 degree temperatures, we had 30 minutes of running in 67 degree temperatures at the end of the race. Just some feedback in case the race director is reading this!

Depending on which app we looked at, it was anywhere from 55 to 58 degrees at the start. There was not a cloud in the sky and there was a bit of wind to boot. When I ran Boston, it was 70 degrees at the start and I held up really well for the first 13 miles, so I just remembered that. If the weather had been cooler, I would have tried to run a 6:55 pace and PR by about a minute. But since it was warm, I decided to go out at a 7:00-7:05 pace. This is really not much of a pace adjustment at all, but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to PR, on the off chance that the heat didn't impact me.

Miles 1-4
The race started and everything felt good. The first mile ticked off at 7:04 and it didn't feel hard at all. Yay. Same with the second mile. It felt relatively easy and my split was 7:02. The third mile was also quite pleasant in 7:04. But something happened shortly after mile marker 3. My legs suddenly felt heavy. My energy was still good but my legs were now tired and didn't have any pep. I thought this could be the first sign of the heat affecting me, so I made the executive decision to back off. I decided I would back off to a pace of 7:15, hold that until mile 10, and then run faster at the end if I could. On the one hand, I didn't want to "give up" so early, but on the other hand, I knew that if I didn't make an adjustment soon, I would pay for it later.

Mile 1: 7:04
Mile 2: 7:02
Mile 3: 7:04
Mile 4: 7:16

Miles 5-8
People started to pass me, and even though I didn't like that, I knew I was doing what I could. Amber passed me during the 5th mile, looking really strong and peppy. My friend Aaron also passed me. I was pouring water on myself like crazy, but made sure not to over-hydrate like I had done in previous races.

When I got to mile six, I realized the rest of the race would be a struggle. I wasn't able to hold onto 7:15 and I doubted my ability to even finish the race without walking. But I promised myself that no matter what, I would not walk. I would keep the effort level the same for as long as possible and just push, push, push through it.

Mile 5: 7:21
Mile 6: 7:27
Mile 7: 7:36
Mile 8: 7:37

Miles 9-13
At this point, my main goal was not to have Greg catch up to me. I knew that he'd be running the first half of the race at a pace of 7:55, and I didn't want him to catch me and see me walking. The crazy and amazing thing is that I felt like I was running so slowly and I was in so much pain, and yet I was able to hold onto my 7:30's. Usually when I "bonk" I have to slow down into the 9's. This is why I thought Greg could potentially catch me.

I started to get a cramp in my stomach and I felt anything but strong. I just kept plodding away, determined not to let Greg catch me. The sun was so strong and there were no trees or cloud cover. We even had a bit of a headwind to contend with from miles 7-10.

Whenever I looked at my Garmin, I kept expecting to see 8:30's or something but I was actually running in the 7:30's. I had no clue how I was maintaining that pace because I felt like I was on the verge of walking for the entire last five miles of the race. Maybe it was all of those 90-minute runs my coach had me do at a pace of 7:30. Those runs weren't very hard. So the good news is that I can hold the 7:30s for a long time, in the heat. If Boston is hot, hopefully I can run in the 7:30's there too! Although I probably would start off slower.

Even during the last mile, I kept thinking that at any moment my body would just give out and I'd be walking. Or that I would look down at my Garmin and see a 9:00 pace. It was kind of surreal to feel like I was running a snail's pace but still be in the 7:30's. These thoughts kept me going all the way to the finish line. I did not have a final kick, but I was very steady.

Mile 9: 7:31
Mile 10: 7:38
Mile 11: 7:42
Mile 12: 7:36
Mile 13: 7:30
Last 0.18: (7:23 pace)

After the Race
I clocked in at 1:37:40, and was pleased with that. A "hot weather" PR for sure! My previous fastest half marathon in weather above 50 degrees was 1:43 at the Walt Disney World Half in 2013. Immediately after finishing I found a table to lean on. The volunteers asked me if I was okay and I nodded yes, unable to speak. I walked about 100 feet and saw Amber waiting for Anna and me. She asked me how I felt and I was still not able to talk. Instead, I walked to a nearby garbage bin and vomited. A lot! I couldn't believe it. I didn't really feel nauseous while running, but I did have a mild stomach cramp.

I don't typically throw up after races; I've only done it one other time. Ironically, the only other time I did it was when I ran a 1:37 half in Columbus, but that was in the low 30s. I guess my body likes to throw up after exactly one hour and 37 minutes of running and then stopping. Ha! It felt good to vomit and I actually felt like this validated the struggle I was in for the second half of the race. My #1 goal was to push as hard as I could for as long as I could, and I know I did that. In retrospect, I would have started out at that 7:15 pace instead of waiting until mile 4, but these are things you can never know at the start line.

Anna finished and the three of us went to take photos in the park. As we are all avid Instagrammers, the photos were super important. Afterwards, I took a shuttle bus back to my hotel. This ended up taking about 20 minutes so I barely had time to shower and head back out to the finish line to catch Greg. I took an Uber to the finish line and just as the car was about to let me out, I got a notification that Greg had finished. Hooray! But since I had expected to watch him finish, I had no idea how to find him. Ultimately he borrowed someone's cell phone and called me and we met up. Greg ran a 3:27:34, which is a PR for him by over a minute! That's a huge accomplishment, considering temperatures were in the 70's by the end of the full marathon.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
Me, Anna, and Amber
Am I disappointed that I didn't PR? Nope. Today was not the day for it, at least not for me. I've historically struggled when racing long distances in the heat, especially on sunny days like today. For example, I was 20 minutes off of my goal when I ran Boston in 2016. Most runners seemed to be about 10 minutes of their goals. At least I think I managed my hydration correctly this time: I didn't over hydrate during the race or beforehand, and I had a good electrolyte balance. At least I did before vomiting!

  • I was the 46th female finisher out of 5,145 women.
  • I placed 9th in my age group out of 836 and was thrilled to be in the top 10.
  • I was really pleased with my mental endurance; I insisted on pushing as hard as I could and I never once eased up on the effort.
  • I can run in the heat in the 7:30's for a long time.
  • My "this feels so slow pace" is in the 7:30's.
  • This was excellent training for Boston in six weeks, particularly if Boston is hot and sunny like it has been the past two years. 
  • I loved the course. It was beautiful and flat and not crowded. 

I highly recommend the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon, I just wish it had an earlier start time and that the expo sold gels. Tomorrow Greg and I take a road trip to see Zee! It doesn't get much better than this.