Sunday, December 9, 2018

Rehoboth Beach Marathon Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Sunday, December 2, 2018

How I trained for the Rehoboth Beach Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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