Sunday, August 19, 2018

Leesburg 20K: The ups and the downs

This morning I ran the Leesburg 20K as a training run. I'm four weeks into my comeback after six weeks of being sidelined due to illness. Last weekend I ran 10.6 miles at a pace of 8:26, so I felt like I could definitely handle the 12.4-mile distance.

The plan was to run this race alongside my friend Allison. She wanted to run the first half (all uphill) at her goal marathon pace, and then speed up on the way back. It's nearly impossible to NOT speed up during the second half of this race unless you completely waste all your energy charging uphill. Her goal pace for the first half was between 8:15-8:30 which is well within my easy range. She wanted to practice setting the pace so the plan was to let her set the pace until the turnaround point at around mile 7 and then I would set the pace on the downhill.

I've only run this race once before, in 2008. (Yes, I have a blog post on that!) I ran a time of 1:44:26 at full effort, which was my PR, since it was actually the only 20K I have ever run. I was thinking it would be nice to beat that time and set a PR but that goal was secondary to sticking with the plan. This race also has a 5K, which I ran last last year.

Before the Race
Everything with my recovery had been going along really well until Thursday of this week. The combination of not sleeping well for several nights in a row, the heat/humidity, and my first speed work ended up setting me back a bit. I was able to hit my target pace during Thursday's workout (15 minutes at 7:07) but I felt like total crap for the rest of the day and into Friday. I ran extra easy on Friday and cut the run down from 60 minutes to 45. I took an unscheduled rest day on Saturday to be on the safe side. Thankfully, I was able to dig myself out of the hole by Saturday afternoon thanks to some solid sleep, hydration, and nutrition.

I woke up feeling like my normal healthy self so I decided I would do the race as planned. I figured I could always drop out if I started to feel bad mid-race. Greg was running it too, so we did our normal pre-race routine which included fueling with Generation UCAN.
Allison and me in matching shorts
(after the race)

We arrived at the race, retrieved our bibs, used the porta-potties, and then met up with Allison and some other friends. Allison and I had coordinated our outfits beforehand and wore matching yellow shorts. She is an ambassador for rabbit running gear, and has successfully roped me into enhancing my running wardrobe with more shorts and tanks than there are days in the week. Not to mention Greg, who was wearing a new rabbit tank and shorts. (Click on that link to get a 10% discount after you are done reading!)

It was about 68 degrees with 100% humidity and partly cloudy. Thankfully we didn't have to worry too much about the sun getting us with the majority of the course being shaded.

Miles 1-3
The race started and we got pulled out at a pace of around 7:30. I hadn't warmed up so this was a huge wakeup call to my legs. But it wasn't long before we got the pace under control and my legs thanked me.

This race is deceptively hilly. There are only a few noticeable hills but the entire course is run on steady inclines. The majority of the course is on the W&OD trail (a paved bike path), which is thankfully shaded but deceiving in its elevation profile. Thankfully, both Allison and I were prepared for this so we didn't freak out when the effort felt harder than it should for the paces we were running. Greg decided to stick with us initially so the three of us ran as a pack.

Mile 1: 8:27 (59 ft gain, 24 ft loss)
Mile 2: 8:24 (28 ft gain, 26 ft loss)
Mile 3: 8:36 (127 ft gain, 91 ft loss)

Elevation profile according to Garmin

Miles 4-6
Even though my easy pace is between 8:15-8:30, this is not my easy pace going uphill. Easy probably would have been more like 8:45 with my current fitness level. So the effort was more like "moderate" which I tolerated reasonably well. Had I been running this race on my own as a training run, I probably would have been more conservative up the hills, but Allison is really strong on hills so I kept up. Greg, on the other hand, decided to dial it back around mile 4 and told us he'd see us at the finish. This was a little bit of a relief for me because I knew if I wanted to dial it back, I would be able to run with Greg. But the plan was to stick with Allison and I was holding the pace well and didn't have any signs of fatigue.

Mile 4: 8:30 (192 ft gain, 105 ft loss)
Mile 5: 8:20 (94 ft gain, 24 ft loss)
Mile 6: 8:11 (138 ft gain, 148 ft loss)

Miles 7-9
We turned around on the trail shortly after we hit the 7-mile mark. This was an enormous mental relief. But it wasn't all downhill yet. There was still a sizable hill to tackle. Mile 7 provided some
downhill respite, which made mile 8 all the more punishing as we climbed back up.

As I said earlier, the race only has a few noticeable hills and this was one of them. To rub salt in the wound, this hill was not shaded and it was up a curve. At that point, I told Allison to run ahead and I might catch up with her on the downhill. I knew I needed to take it easy up that hill if I wanted to have any leg power to finish the race.

So now Allison was ahead of me and Greg behind me, and I was all alone to pace myself. On one hand, this meant less accountability, but on the other hand (the better hand) it meant less pressure to go fast in this race setting and potentially over-do it. The hill finally ended at mile 8.5 and I welcomed the rest of the downhill, shaded mile with open arms and was pleased to see my pace shoot down with no added effort.

Mile 7: 8:15 (37 ft. gain, 82 ft loss)
Mile 8: 8:21 (91 ft. gain, 30 ft loss)
Mile 9: 7:56 (124 ft. gain, 158 ft loss)

Miles 10-Finish
At this point, I was definitely ready for the race to be done. Even though I was running at a "moderate" effort, it was warm and a longer distance than I had run in three months. I gave myself permission to slow down and go easier, but I was in a groove that felt natural so I pressed on. Of course, my competitive mind was wondering what pace I needed to maintain to set a PR and beat my 1:44:26 from ten years ago. I didn't want to be foolish and relapse into illness just to set a PR in a race I wasn't even racing. But I also felt like it was attainable at my moderate effort.

Meanwhile, Allison was no longer in view. Initially, we were talking about speeding up to around 7:50 once the downhill part came. But she was obviously running much faster than that and I didn't attempt to reach her.

The last portion of the race was actually flat, which felt difficult after nearly four miles of downhill running. And the shade went away. But with less than a mile to go, I knew I could hang in there and continue at the same pace, even though it meant increasing effort.

I rallied and pushed myself up one final hill, confident that I would PR.

Mile 10: 7:50 (67 ft gain, 143 ft loss)
Mile 11: 7:51 (130 ft gain, 178 ft loss)
Mile 12: 7:49 (0 ft gain, 85 ft loss)
Last 0.5: 7:54 pace (18 ft gain, 12 ft loss)

After the race
I crossed the finish line in 1:42:42, which is a PR by nearly two minutes! The official pace was 8:16. Maybe this warrants PR cake, which I have not had since January.

I placed 43 out of 334 women
I placed 10 out of 61 in my age group (35-39)

I am happy with these results given all the time off and the effort level.  Immediately after crossing, someone approached me and told me that my book helped her qualify for Boston. I was more happy to hear that than I was to be finished with that race. I LOVE it when people tell me that my book has helped them. I would have liked to have had more of a conversation with her, but I was still recovering from that final uphill push and in need of water.

And then I saw Greg cross the finish line in 1:43:58. So he wasn't all that far behind. Allison, on the other hand, smoked it! She crushed her goal in 1:40:32, and that wasn't even all-out race effort for her.

It was an exciting finish line with so many of my friends finishing shortly before and after me. We spent some time chatting and exchanging race stories. The theme for me was "am I okay, given how crappy I felt on Thursday and Friday" and the answer was yes. I had some minor dizziness and a slight nauseous feeling, but those are normal for me when I run long in the heat.

I achieved all of my goals except for the goal of staying with Allison. And I'm happy to NOT have achieved that since it means that she exceeded what she thought she would do. I should also mention that exactly 4 weeks ago, I ran a 5K training run at a pace of 8:46. And now I can run 4 times that distance at a pace of 8:16 at the same effort level. Comebacks are awesome.

The morning went even better than I could have hoped. I feel great, I didn't over-do it, I got to run with Allison, I had fun, and I even PR'ed! This means that I can continue training (with some caution, of course) and pushing toward my fall race goals.


  1. Well done on the race! It sounded like a very controlled and good approach to a tough race. Sounds like you're comeback is doing well :)

  2. Congrats on the PR! Sounds like your body knew exactly what to do. See, it doesn't forget!

  3. Congratulations! Glad to see you getting stronger every day!

  4. Congrats on the 20k PR and you definitely have come full-around from Boston-Bound to truly recognize what you face, how to adjust, and be happy with the results! You stuck with the plan and it was not essential to fully fulfill your mission as "pacer" for helped her stay on and faster than goal through the toughest and last of the hills. What you did falling back is what I would refer to as "releasing the runner you pacing" to go their own way to an even faster than planned finish. So consider your plans complete with helping Allison hold back to some degree thru the hills, then she goes on her own. Your agreement was not to keep keep a reasonable effort thru the hills. Great thinking...great strategy...great decision-making on your part to end your race mentally and physically positive in many respects. What I see changed in you based on reading your that you have found the way to balance between the aspects of the end result in terms of time or PR, but rather judge your performance/success in how well you execute the plan and/or respond to the "sabots" or the uncontrollable aspects of life that the "Race Gods" will always throw at you. I know you now know how to chase the "Unicorn" (aka antelope) and it not about catching it...simply how you do your pursuit...if that makes sense.

    Finally...I noticed how elated you were with someone post-finish telling you how your Boston-Bound book helped them. Not sure if I ever made that comment to you, but I do know I explained why I joined your blog after reading your book. I was not only impressed by your drive ("obsession") to get to Qualify and run Boston...fully understood it...and more so...recognized thru your story of your my own journey to get to times with its struggles and at times to pull a "rabbit" out of the hat to get a time to go where as hard or as much mental and physical pain to go through as you experienced.

    So "Zebra" your book helped me...still does and I sometimes go back and re-read certain parts. And your blog site was a natural to sign-up for and I continue to discover insights in your posts, that indeed help view how you find the success in what you run...even if it doesn't go as planned.

    So let's conclude my post that, you and your Boston Bound book has helped me...even a veteran, aged old dude has run 10-straight of them, and going to sign up for #11 come August 28th! I don't think you running 2019 as I recall you referencing 2020. So if I alive still come 2020, just want to get a pic moment posed next to Boston-Bound zebra (Greg too) either at the Finish Line, or even somewhere in Runner Village.

    You know what it all about now...The pursuit is the essence, not catching the quarry! Get that little book by Mark Carrier, "Running After Antelope"...has quotes inside cover - "I don't like work - no man does - but I like what is in the work - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality - for yourself, not for other - what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means." Joseph Conrad (Marlow in "Heart of Darkness")...and my favorite, the 2nd quote - "The only logical response to an animal that lives obsessed with avoiding capture is to chase it." Jose Ortegaa y Gassett. Read that book someday and let me know if you recognize what the book all about. I see it in your book too!

  5. Sorry...a slight inaccuracy...the book Running After Antelope author is...Scott Carrier!

  6. Congrats on a great race and a PR! The Leesburg 20K is one of my favorites, but I was out of town this year and had to miss it.