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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

I'm turning 40. Here are my thoughts.

In one week, I will be 40 years old! It's taken me about a year to accept this, but I have finally not only accepted it, but I am embracing it.

39 and 11 months old
Because this is my running blog, I don't write much about my life outside of running. But every once in a while, I think it's appropriate, and this is one of those occasions. I want to capture my reflections about this point in my life, and compare them to where I was 10 years ago. 10 years ago, in this blog post, I wrote this:

I started thinking about how I'll be 30 in less than two months and I'm just not happy with how I spent my 20's. I know that you're not "supposed to" have regrets. I don't know what I would have done differently, but I just feel like my life has been going in circles and circles for the past 10 years. I'm learning a lot, and I'm growing and changing. But yet my actual lifestyle is the exact same. I don't feel like I am maximizing my potential, and that I am far too "comfortable" in my lifestyle. Being comfortable makes it very difficult for you to want to make any dramatic changes to your life.

I became much more focused on my marketing career in my 30's. I switched jobs a few times, and I am now at the executive level. Am I any better at marketing now than I was at 29? Not particularly. But I've learned much more about general business strategy, how to develop productive relationships, how to motivate others, and how to navigate sticky political situations. My tolerance for dealing with "crap" (so to speak) has increased, and I've learned that the higher up the ladder you get, the less actual work you do and the more "stuff" you have to deal with. People skills have become way more important, as has understanding the business strategy; not just the marketing strategy.

I've accomplished a lot career-wise. I typically get hired to build programs and frameworks that hadn't previously existed. Everything from structuring the back-end databases and processes, to launching conferences, advertising campaigns, and web properties. What I enjoy most about my career is coming into a situation where something didn't previously exist, and then building it for the good of the company.

Finally, I've learned that for me, the people are what make or break a job experience. I left my previous company because the culture wasn't the right fit for me. At my current company, I most enjoy the relationships I've built with my colleagues, and it makes going into the office fun.

Best marketing team ever!
Right Now: VP of Demand Generation at a large software company
10 Years Ago: Head of Marketing at a small software company

Speaking of relationships, I've now been happily married for just over 8 years. Greg and I met a few months after my 30th birthday. When I turned 30, I was depressed about still being single. I wanted,
more than anything else in the world, to find my life partner. I lived alone and I didn't have many friends that I interacted with regularly. In fact, a few of my close friendships were on the rocks at that time. I had always envisioned getting married in my 20's, and when that didn't happen, I seriously started to wonder if it would ever happen for me.

Over the past ten years, I've become more aware of what I need in a friendship. Above all, I value friendships that are genuine. I want to be around people who make me feel like I can be myself. And I want to feel like they are being their true selves. Shortly after my 30th birthday my best friend and I had a "break up." We went our separate ways and did not speak for nearly 5 years. And then I realized that she had been one of the most genuine, truest people in my life and so I reached back out to her and we reconciled. Even though I don't see her as often as I'd like, I know that I can count on her for anything, and there is nothing I can't tell her.

As for new friendships, I've made many new friends through running! Some of them have come and gone, and others have stayed. The ones who have stayed are the ones who appreciate me for the person I am, quirks and all. I have no interest in petty games (I'm 20+ years out of high school). I want to be around people who are straightforward and genuine.

Right Now: Happily married and invested in friendships with people who want me to be "me".
10 Years Ago: Lonely, and invested in some friendships that weren't fulfilling.

Running: Mental
Running has been a large focus of mine for the past 10 years, and I hope it continues to be. I've made huge mental and physical gains in this area. Here's an except from my blog when I was 29:

I run because it keeps me motivated and it gives me something to look forward to. I feel like I am working toward something every day! There are always new frontiers to reach. New races to experience, new PRs to set. When I can't do that, my whole world feels so pointless.

Running was the ONLY thing I had when I was 29 and I knew it. And because of that, when running
Richmond Half, Nov. 2008
didn't go well, my whole world would seem to collapse. I even used the word pointless! Cringe! Here's another one:

My mother and many others have reminded me that my overall health is much more important than running. Somehow, this concept isn't so easy for me to grasp. Really, the main reason I want to be well is to be able to run. I'm more passionate about running than anything else in my life. I don't have a husband or a family like most people my age, so this is what I have devoted my heart to. It's probably hard for non-athletes to understand this passion, but for me, it's been the organizing principle of my life for a long time. My personality suits me perfectly for running. I'm extremely motivated, goal-oriented, passionate, perfectionistic, with a strong belief in the "effort-result" system. I have a need for structure and control in my life, and running every day provides me with that. 

That honestly sounds like an entirely different person. I can't believe I wrote that and it makes me wonder what I will be writing on my 50th birthday! What function does running serve in my life now? It's still a passion, but I recognize it as one thing I do. It's not the only thing I am. I do many things in life, and running is just one of them. It's something I DO- not something that I am. It's still frustrating to deal with setbacks, like illness, but I realize that my overall health is way more important than this sport.

I no longer have a need to prove to myself and the world that I can run fast. I simply enjoy the training, and I like sharing my journey with others-- all the while documenting it so I can look back on it.

Right Now: Running is a hobby that I am passionate about.
10 Yeas Ago: Running was all I had in my life.

Running: Physical
I believe that my lifetime PRs will be set in my 40's. I have no idea how fast these PRs will be, but I believe I can keep getting faster, at least for the next few years. In 2008, I ran the Houston Half marathon in 1:50:43. This year, I ran it in 1:32:24. I don't expect to bring it down another 18 minutes
in my 40's but I think sub-1:30 is something I can definitely look forward to. I ran the Richmond Half
Houston Half, Jan. 2018
in 2008, too, in 1:48:43, so it will be fun to see what I run on Saturday.

I believe what will fuel my PRs is the ability to train consistently, without illness or injury. Illness has been a major roadblock for me over the past 10 years, and I think I've finally learned how to avoid (or at least shorten the duration of) the mono-like virus that I get in the summers. I'm working with an excellent coach, who has gotten me to a point where I can run 70+ miles a week in marathon training, while feeling strong and energized throughout. At least in the cooler months.

Overall, my health seems to be about as good as it was when I turned 30. The only difference is that now I am much more sensitive to the heat and cannot recover as well from hard workouts in heat/humidity. I never tolerated the heat particularly well, but it's gotten worse over the past decade.

I anticipate that at some point in my 40's, I will slow down. And when that happens, I may become a 50-state half-marathon runner, or I may create a list of "experience" races to go and do, like Big Sur, or Capetown.

Right Now: Training for a 3:15 marathon, running 70+ miles a week with the help of a coach
10 Years Ago: Training for a 3:40 BQ using plans from books

Blogging and Social Media
Social media has truly evolved over the last 10 years, and so has this blog. What hasn't changed is that I do blog a lot, and I interact with people on social media frequently. I used to be active on MySpace and the Runner's World forums, and I met a lot of runners that way. Over time, things transitioned to Facebook Groups, Instagram, and Strava.

Since I published my book, Boston Bound, my audience has grown. I never used to actively promote my blog or social media presence, but when the book came out, I made stronger effort to reach more people. The main reason is that I never really thought people would care about my journey. If they did, then great, but I wasn't going to try and build an audience. However, the feedback I received on my book was so positive, and so many readers reached out to me about how the book helped them, that I decided to be more proactive about sharing my ongoing journey.

In 10 years, I'm certain the social media landscape will have changed again. But I plan on my blog still being here. And I will continue to write in it whether or not I am running.

Right Now: Blogging 2-3 times per month, posting on Instagram 5-6 times per week
10 Years Ago: Blogging 2-3 times per month, posting on forums daily

Because Greg and I both work full-time, and we don't have children, we are in a good spot financially. In my 20's and early 30's, I was really frugal and typically had buyer's guilt about everything. Anything I bought that wasn't a huge bargain was like a guilt trip.

I remember once when I was 28, walking around New York City in uncomfortable, $30 shoes, with my feet aching. I went into a store and tried on a pair of $100 super comfortable sandals. I bought them because my feet hurt so bad, but the guilt lasted for weeks! Unless it was running shoes, I had never spent more than $50 on a pair. I didn't consider myself particularly frugal or miserly. Instead, I thought that if you can buy shoes and handbags and shirts for less than $50, why on earth would you pay more? It wasn't until I was in my mid-30's that I ever spent more than $100 on a handbag.

Over time, I have let go of the buyer's guilt with the help of Greg, and learned that it's okay to buy something that isn't the least expensive option. Potentially, I have swung the other way with luxury vacations, a few pieces of zebra artwork, and the money I spend on my wardrobe. But I want to enjoy life while I'm healthy enough to do so; Greg and I are of the same mindset here.

Right Now: Financially comfortable, with a more relaxed attitude about spending
10 Years Ago: Less financially comfortable, but way more uptight about spending

Final Thoughts
As I approach 40, and look back on my 30's, my mind is more open than ever. I'll reach the peak of my career and my physical fitness, and maybe even publish another book. I think the biggest change in the "me" now vs. the "me" from 2008 is that I am way more relaxed. I don't care as much about what people think of me, I have a higher tolerance for putting up with BS in the work environment, and I'm focused on positive relationships, and I prioritize taking care of my physical and mental health. I think that's a good place to be.

September 2008

September 2018