Saturday, September 14, 2019

Dulles Day 5K on The Runway

I ran the Dulles Airport Runway 5K this morning, which was my 3rd 5K in six weeks. I ran the Leesburg 5K on August 18 and the Great American Labor Day 5K on September 2. Each of these races was faster than the one before it, and I am now done with the 5K until my Turkey Trot.

Before the Race
The race started at 7:30, and is only 4 miles from our house. I expected it would take no longer than 10 minutes to get there so I planned to leave the house at 6:35. We ended leaving at 6:40, which I thought was still okay, since I already had my bib. All I needed to do when I got there was to warm up for 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, there was crazy traffic as we approached the Air and Space Museum parking lot. This Dulles Day race has both a 5K and a 10K, which were sold out at 2,500 runners. That's a lot of cars all trying to get to the same place at the same time.

At 6:50, I started to get nervous because we were still stuck in traffic. At 7:00, I hopped out of the car, and ran to the race start while Greg (who wasn't running the race) parked. We were only half a mile from the parking lot, but I wanted to start my warm up at 7:00, so it was a good opportunity to run. One of the traffic cops said "it's better running than it is driving!"

I was wearing my Brooks Ghost shoes and carrying my Nike Vapofly shoes in a bag. To get through security faster, I took the shoes out of the bag, scrunched up the bag in my hand, and went through the "no bags" line. After security, we had to walk through the Air and Space Museum to get out to the race course. I continued to jog slowly, but a museum official told me I needed to walk. Bummer! Oh well, it wasn't long before I was outside again and I continued my warm up.

I didn't know when I would see Greg, especially since he would have to wait in the longer bag line.
He had a cooler with ice and my Energice pop. After about a mile, I waited in a porta potty line as I changed into my Nike Vaporflys. Then, I warmed up for a mile in them. I heard the announcer say that they were delaying the start by 10 minutes. I'm pretty sure this was because of all the traffic.

Based on my last 5K, I determined that I prefer the Adidas Adios Boost for the 5K distance. However, the runway is concrete, so I figured the bounce of the Nike Vaporfly would be advantageous. I plan to return to my Adidas for the Turkey Trot.

I still hadn't seen Greg, so I hid my Brooks shoes behind a car parked on a grassy area and lined up. Just a few minutes before the start, I saw Greg and he offered me the Energice pop, which had since melted. I drank about half of it. I lined up in the second row, and I heard the man in front of me say, "my plan is to walk, and then run, and then walk." (He's not shown in the picture).

My goal for this race was to beat my Labor Day time by 20 seconds, which meant sub-20:50. I thought that was reasonable, given that I'd have two extra weeks of training under my belt, and the runway is flatter than the Labor Day course. The reason why I haven't been trying to come close to my 19:58 PR is primarily the weather. All of these races have been very humid, which equates to slower times. This morning, it was 67 degrees with 90% humidity.

Mile 1: 6:43
Mile 1, photo by Cheryl Young
The race started and the man in front of me, who was in the first row, literally walked off the start line. I bumped into him a little bit. I knew he would be slower, but I didn't think he would actually start off with the walking! Anyway, once I got going, I focused on the number or women ahead of me. There were four of them. At first, it seemed like maybe I would be in a position to win the race, but towards the end of the mile, the first two women had pulled ahead quite a bit. I passed the two other women, putting me in third, but then another woman passed me, leaving me in 4th place at mile marker 1.

My plan was to run this mile in 6:40. Based on my race report from 2015, and my Strava data, I knew that the first mile had an incline with a gain of 25 feet. My goal pace was around 6:37, so I planned to run negative splits, speeding up during the last "down hill" mile. My actual split was 6:43 and it felt really hard. I didn't have a lot of "pep" and I wasn't sure if that was because of the concrete, the humidity, or if I was just having a blah day. I pushed on.

Mile 2: 6:48
I really struggled here. I ran this mile next to a kid who looked to be about 10 or 11 years old. He was strong and he pulled me along. I had been planning to run this mile at goal pace of 6:37, but that was not happening. I just did my best to stay strong and not let any women pass me.

I think this course is mentally exhausting. There is not much to look and you can see almost the entire course. There is no variation to keep you engaged, so it's easy to coast. I don't consider myself a particularly strong hill runner, but I think I got some power from those hills two weeks ago that I wasn't finding today.

Mile 3: 6:42
I kept pushing on, just trying as best as I could to maintain the hard effort level. The kid I was with
Mile 3, photo by Greg Clor
dropped back so I was on my own. With about a quarter mile to go, I saw Greg taking photos. That coincided with the downward slope of the runway, so I was able to pick up the pace. I knew I had secured 4th place female, so now it was just a matter of what my finish time would be. I had originally envisioned this mile being sub-6:35, but that didn't happen.

The last 0.13: 6:02 pace
I saw the clock and I thought I could get under 21:00, so I sprinted as hard as possible.

I ended up with an official time of 21:02.

Although this race was faster than my Labor Day race, I wasn't as happy with it. I know I gave all I had to give, so I'm not disappointed in my performance. It was simply a "meh" day with "meh" energy levels on a "meh" course. I don't think it's an indication of my fitness level, and I'm still confident in my ability to run a 10K at a faster pace than I ran today in early October.

After the Race
I reunited with Greg, we chatted for a bit, and then I ran 1.4 miles to cool down. The awards were wonky. Instead of age groups of 20-29, 30-29, etc. they were 21-30, 31-40, 41-50. Since I'm 40, this meant I was one of the oldest women in my age group, instead of the youngest like I have been for the past year.

I had read my 2015 blog post a few days before the race, and as a 36 year old, I missed getting an age group award because a 40-year old beat me. I was annoyed by that. This year, I was that 40 year old who took first place in the 31-40 category. And, one of three women who beat me was 42! So if they had done normal age group brackets, I would have placed second. So this age group thing screwed me over in 2015, but worked to my advantage this year. Also, I was inspired by a 55-year old woman
who beat me. She ran 20:30 and was the third female. When I am 55, I hope to be running that fast!

I won a $25 gift certificate to the Dulles Airport Marriott restaurant. Yay! Thankfully, we live close to the airport so it will be easy for us to use this.

Official results:
  • I placed 1 out of 232 women in my age group, 31-40.
  • I placed 4 out of 772 total women
  • I placed 22 out of 1,446 total runners

Final Thoughts
  • I ran 4 5K races this summer: Firecracker, Leesburg, Labor Day, and Dulles Runway. Of those races, I think I ran to my full potential at Firecracker (21:26) and Labor Day (21:09). Leesburg was a total bonk, and today was "meh". It's a good reminder that you can't always feel 100% at every race.
  • My average heart rate today was 168. For my previous three 5K races, it had been 172. I am not sure if the hills in those races forced me to a higher heart rate, or if today I simply didn't have the energy needed to run at that effort level.
  • To the above point, my heart rate suggests that if I had been feeling more peppy, my fitness supports a faster time. . . probably in the realm of my original goal of sub-20:50.
  • I've now run this race twice and I don't think I like it that much. The concrete is hard on the legs and the lack of variation makes it difficult to stay engaged. 
  • In 2015, I ran 21:35, which I think was a much better performance given my fitness level at the time. You can read the full 2015 report here.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Great American Labor Day 5K Report

This morning I ran the Great American Labor Day 5K in Fairfax Corner, VA. This course is used for several races throughout the year, and I have run it about five times in the past. Last year, I ran this exact race as a tempo run in 22:25. I was just coming back from mono at that time, so I didn't want to push it too hard. It's not known for being a fast course with its constant hills, but since I've run it so much, I find it to be a good benchmark.

This year, I decided to run it because I wanted to get a few 5Ks under my belt right before marathon training started. My last 5K, Leesburg, was one of my slowest 5Ks in a long time (22:08). Partially due to the weather, and partially due to the fact that I hadn't regained all the fitness I lost from taking time off post bike accident. And I went out too fast. I came into today's race looking for some redemption. 

My goals for this race were as follows:
Photo by Cheryl Young
  • Run hard, get a good workout in on the hills
  • Test out the Nike Vaporfly
  • Set a course PR
Before the Race
I didn't sleep all that well last night. I attribute that partially to taking an hour-long nap yesterday. That wasn't really planned; I just fell asleep on the couch and didn't wake up for an hour. My sleep was restless, but I got a solid 6 hours, so I wasn't really worried.

Before leaving the house, I ate an English muffin with peanut butter and mixed up a serving of Generation UCAN with some water to take with me. Greg did not run this race-- he was playing the role of photographer and cheerleader. We arrived about an hour before the race started and picked up my bib. After pinning it on, I used the porta potty and then warmed up wearing my Brooks Ghost.

After about fifteen minutes of warming up in the Ghost, I switched to the Nike Vaporfly. I ran about half a mile in those, just to get a feel for them pre-race. They felt loose. I didn't want to tie them too tightly, though, because I did that on Saturday and my feet hurt afterwards. So I made sure they were secure but not too tight. My heel was slipping in them, but a lot of people said that was an issue with this shoe, so I accepted it as normal and didn't try to fix it.

After the second warm up, I returned to my car and had an Energice ice pop, and put a few ice cubes in my sports bra. I then headed for the start line with about five minutes to go.

It was 71 degrees with a dew point of 70. Thankfully it was overcast, unlike Leesburg. This weather wasn't abnormally warm for this time of year, but we had been treated to a full week of cooler weather leading up to the race. I had been spoiled. 

I thought that I could still get a course PR, beating my time of 21:31 from November 2016, when the weather was ideal. Since Leesburg two weeks ago, I had executed a number of really strong track workouts, all focused on speed. I even noticed my heart rate being lower in general, both during runs and my resting heart rate. I was in good shape, so it would all come down to execution and the impact of the humidity.

Mile 1: 6:39
Mile 1, photo by Greg Clor
The race started and swarms of runners shot out ahead of me. I remained patient, as I prefer to ease into a race instead of gunning it at the start. I wanted to keep my eye on how many women were ahead of me, and there seemed to be about 6 right from the beginning. I started to pass people at the bottom of the first hill, which was about 3/4 of the way into the first mile. 

I had planned for this mile to be around 6:40, if not slightly faster, so I was right on track. I didn't look at my watch too much, but this was naturally the pace I ran. I knew from past experience not to go out too fast on the first downhill. I also had fears of bonking like I did in Leesburg, so I was more cautious.

Mile 2: 6:46
The rolling hills continued throughout this mile, creating a net even elevation. I continued to pass the people who had taken that first down hill quicker than me. As I passed one man, who looked to be in his late 50's or early 60's, he said to me, "You are the one who was screaming. That's really annoying." I was shocked. I know I make loud noises when racing, but no one has ever complained to me about it. If anything, people ask me if I'm okay, or they encourage me along with "you got this" or other such phrases.

I let it sink in for a few seconds and then I looked at him and muttered, "that's really rude." And then I passed him. I took one last quick glance behind me to catch a glimpse of him, so I could make sure he didn't pass me later in the race. I was really surprised that someone would waste their energy in a 5K to tell someone else that they were annoying. It's pretty much impossible to talk when running 5K effort, so you really have to be obnoxious to expend the energy to make such a comment. 

Mile 3: 6:50
Mile 3, photo by Greg Clor
More rolling hills, with the final hill being super long. I was starting to get really tired, but I stayed strong. I did not want anyone passing me at this point, particularly not the guy who insulted me. The shoes were super bouncy. Even though I was low on energy and I felt like I was slowing down, my watch indicated otherwise. This final mile was all about staying strong mentally and continuing to push up the long hill.

Last 0.14: 6:00 pace
I gunned it to the finish and was elated when I saw the clock. That course PR was mine!

I finished in an official time of 21:09, which is a course PR by 22 seconds. It's 0:59 faster than my time at Leesburg two weeks ago! I was thrilled.

I re-united with Greg and changed back into my Brooks Ghost for a short cool down. During the cool down, I ran into my friends Hannah and Alex, who were run-walking the race. Hannah is 36 weeks pregnant, and Alex ran a marathon last weekend. Kudos to them for showing up and getting it done!

I ended up winning first place in my age group, and coming in 4th overall. I was very happy with this.

After the Race
Once I finished cooling down, I spotted the guy who had told me my noises were annoying. I had beaten him by 12 seconds.

Me: "Hello. Were you the person who told me I was annoying?"

Him: "Yes. It was so loud. It was like this:" screams right into Greg's face

Greg: "Don't scream in my face."

Him: "You were so loud the first half, but you were ok for the second half.  I was running with you during the second half and you weren't doing it then. It was so loud in the beginning that it affected my race. I actually pulled a hamstring."

Greg: "You're saying her screaming made you pull a hamstring?"

Him: "This conversation isn't going anywhere. Good luck in your future races."

Normally everyone I meet at races is so nice and exhibits good sportsmanship. This was certainly different.

I'll be the first to admit that I make loud noises when I race. They are like mini screams that kind of just come out when I am working hard. Particularly when I am going up hill. As I said above, nobody has ever insulted me for it, although they have sometimes expressed concern.

Vaporfly Thoughts
I had a really good race this morning. Was it because of the shoes? I don't think so. Even though the weather was crappy, I think I had built up a good amount of fitness post bike accident. I had been going to the track twice a week and really hammering it. I also executed the race well by not going out too fast and staying strong on the final hill.

Many runners were wearing the Vaporfly today. I looked down at the start line and probably one in every three runners had a pair. I liked the shoes but I didn't love them. I think I might love them for a 10K or longer. 

My biggest issue with them, aside from the loose fit, was that I didn't feel as engaged with the ground. When I'm running fast, I like to get feedback from the ground beneath me and derive power from that. In this race, I felt like I was getting power from the shoe and not from the road. I'm undecided if I will wear them in my next 5K. I will likely wear them in my next 10K. 

I'm glad I did this race. I think it's good to work on speed before entering marathon training and this race was a chance to do just that. Plus, it's also nice to have a top 5 overall finish and to win the age group.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Keeping up with the times: Nike Vaporfly thoughts

If you could run just a little faster without having to train any harder, would you? The Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes had me asking serious questions about why I run.

For those of you who have never heard of the Nike Vaporfly 4%, they are supposed to make you run faster. They were introduced in 2017 at a price of $250. When they first launched, they were nearly impossible to find because retailers would sell out of them immediately. There was a ton of hype around them and runners everywhere were trying to get their hands (or feet) on these shoes! A few months ago, Nike released the Vaporfly Next %, which is supposed to make you even faster.

Nike Vaporfly 4% 
Does the Nike Vaporfly actually make you faster? Many runners have supported this claim, saying that they believe the shoes helped them shave some time off of their PRs. My friends who wore them told me that they were really bouncy and had a lot of cushion. Supposedly, you also recover faster from long runs due to the extra cushion in the shoe. Normally a highly cushioned shoe does not equal fast, so I was intrigued. One major caveat about the shoes: they wear out faster than a normal trainer. If you normally get 300 miles on your shoes, you might only get 200 on your Vaporflys (Vaporflies?). They are not recommended for daily use and are mainly intended for the marathon and half marathon.

When they first came out, I decided they weren’t for me. If I set a PR, I didn’t want it to be because of the shoes. I didn’t think I would get as much satisfaction. It’s not cheating, but it’s an advantage that I wouldn’t have had previously. What motivates me most in running is setting goals and accomplishing them. Could I really feel accomplished if I thought that a special shoe was the reason I PR’ed?

So I didn’t go near the Nike Vaporfly and continued to race in the same shoes I had been racing in. But each time I showed up to a race, more and more runners were wearing the Nike Vaporfly! At Sugarloaf, for example, I looked down at the start line into a sea of Nike Vaporfly. And then another footwear brand released a shoe with similar technology: a carbon plate. I realized that this was the future of racing shoes, and they were only going to become more popular. Soon, each running shoe brand would have their own version.

At the same time, more and more runners are qualifying for Boston, which made the B. A. A. lower their qualifying times by five minutes last year. Runners are generally much faster than they were five years ago, and I do think the Vaporfly has played a role.

With this realization, I figured I should hop on board and give the shoes a try! After all, running is a competitive sport, and I started to feel like I was at a disadvantage for NOT wearing the Vaporfly. How would I feel if someone in my division beat me wearing the Vaporfly? Annoyed! So I bought a pair and will race a 5K in them tomorrow. Watch this space for a race report and more thorough review.

I took them out yesterday for a test run and I liked them. Very springy and cushioned. I just wish the heel was more snug. The latest model, the “Vaporfly Next %” has a snugger heel, but it comes with a lower drop and that’s not good for my Achilles. If they work in the 5K, I’ll try them in a 10k, and all the way up. If they aren’t going to work for me, better to find out now.

Back to my original dilemma: will I feel less satisfaction from setting a new PR by wearing these shoes? No. I’ve accepted that the Nike Vaporfly 4% is one of the most popular racing shoes today, and I’m keeping up with the times. Literally.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Hot, hot, hot 5K!

The Leesburg 5K/20K race is notorious for having warm, sunny, humid weather. After all, it's in the middle of August, when the DC Metro area is at its steamiest. Last year I ran the 20K as a training run as I was coming back from six weeks with mono. I registered for it as a training run again this year, simply hoping to beat my time from last year.

Photo by Cheryl Young
On Wednesday, I looked at the forecast and saw that the starting temperature would be around 72, heating up to 80 by the end, with the dew point being 72-73. And sunny to boot. Yikes! When I realized that I wouldn't even run a training run in that weather, I decided to drop down to the 5K. Earlier this summer, I ran 10 miles "easy" in similar weather, and shortly after that I purchased my treadmill. Given my immune system issues which are triggered by running hard in warm weather, I didn't think running this 20K was worth the risk.

Even the weather for the 5K was forecast to be miserable, so I told my coach I was going to run it as a workout. He pushed back on that, and told me I should race it all out. He said it would be a good opportunity to run hard and test my fitness. I don't really think I can test my fitness with a dew point of 72, but I agreed that I would run it as a race and give it my all.

As for my bike injury and hematoma, that's mostly cleared up. I no longer have pain with running. The bump is still there in my groin, but it has shrunk down significantly, and at this rate should be gone in another week. I saw the last of the bruise yesterday, too.

Before the Race
Greg and I were a little late leaving our house (6:15) so we were more rushed than we would have liked, but it all worked out okay. I picked up our bibs while he used the bathroom. I ran into my friend Amber, who I had met at the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans half marathon just over a year ago. One of the reasons I like to do this race, despite the crappy weather, is that a lot of people come out for it. It's a good way to see friends and socialize. It's a fairly competitive race, too, as many local runners use it as a tune up for fall goal races.

Greg and I put our bibs on and I drank my Generation UCAN. I also had an Energice ice pop, which would have been better to have after my warm up and immediately before the race, but the logistics of going back to the car made that impractical.

I started my warm up and Greg headed for the start line of the 20K. The 20K started at 7:30 and the 5K at 7:48. Weird timing, but I liked the precision! I had run the 5K back in 2017, and I knew there was a coffee shop on my warm-up route where I could go to the bathroom. However, the coffee shop was no longer in business, so I found a gas station instead. I like to go to the bathroom 15-20 minutes before I race just to make sure everything is "out" that is coming out. 

On my way back, I was able to see the 20K runners, including Greg, shortly after they had started. Given how hot I already was on my warm up, I was relived that I was not among them. Finally, 7:48 arrived and it was time to get going.

Mile 1
I did not have a goal time for this race. I thought I would be happy to go sub-22:00 in these conditions, but I didn't really have a goal in mind. I knew that the first two miles were mostly uphill and the last mile was downhill, so I made sure not to go out too hard in the beginning.

I knew that Amber was in much better shape than I was, and yet I found myself near her for the first half mile. I looked down at my Garmin and I wasn't going all that fast, and I felt fine, so I just maintained that effort.

Except-- it was definitely way too fast. I clocked in at 6:52, and even though that seems conservative for me, it was not given that there was 40+ feet of gain and it was very warm and humid.

Mile 2
This mile has a lot of turns and I knew to expect them. We ran around a large school and it was mentally exhausting. Even though this mile wasn't as hilly as the first mile, I was running out of steam already! I only glanced at the Garmin a few times and I wasn't surprised to see how slowly I
was running. I didn't have any pep and I was exhausted. I was not feeling this race at all.

Shortly into this mile, I passed a high school cross country guy. A number of them had lined up at the start wearing the same jersey, so it was obvious that their team had come out for the event. As a 40-year old woman, it did feel good to pass a high school cross-country male! That perked me up mentally.

After that, I needed something to motivate me to maintain my effort, so I reminded myself that I wanted to be the first Master's Female. I didn't know if they had an official Master's award, but if they did, I wanted it to be mine. And if not, I wanted to win my age group. There was a turnaround which allowed me to see who was ahead of me. I knew 3 out of 6 of them, and they were all younger. And it's really hard to tell how old someone is when they are in running clothes, especially when you are trying to race at full effort. I just assumed they were all younger than me so that I would still be motivated to push hard. My Garmin beeped at the end of the mile in 7:06. Not pretty, but I was still maintaining my placement.

Mile 3
I knew this mile would be downhill, and I needed that badly. If you execute this race properly, your last mile should be your fastest. Probably by at least 10 seconds. This was not the case for me. I tried my best to simply hang on to the effort level, even though I felt like I was running through molasses and I was dead tired.

The only thing I cared about was making sure no women passed me, and I was confident that they wouldn't if I simply maintained the effort. My time for this mile was 6:55. Not what I would have expected for a downhill mile! Keep in mind, I have run faster miles than this at the end of half marathons.

The last 0.18
As I turned onto the final stretch, which is uphill, I saw that there was a woman about 8-10 seconds behind me. That motivated me to start my final kick early. I didn't want her trying to pass me. It worked and I was surprisingly able to run a pace of 6:32 up that hill. Amazing what I can do when I'm threatened by competition!

My final time was 22:05 according to my Garmin, and 22:08 according to the official results. I know that the distance of my Garmin will usually not match the official results, but the official time should be the same or faster. I always start my Garmin before I cross the start line mat, and I stop it after I cross the finish line. So I don't know how they added an extra 3 seconds, unless they didn't get my net time, just my gun time. This has happened a few times in the past, and even happened at the last 5K I ran through this same race series. But last time, I wasn't even listed in the results at all so I had to talk to them. Since this isn't a PR for me, I didn't care enough to talk to them about it, but it's annoying.

After the race
Once I regained my ability to speak, I congratulated Amber who had finished over a minute ahead of me! I then cooled down and waited for Greg to finish his 20K. I figured I would run him in the last 0.2 miles, but when I tried, he was too fast for me, and I couldn't keep up. Turns out, his last mile was faster than my last mile! He's in excellent shape right now and does much better in the heat than I do.

Shortly after Greg finished, they started handing out the 5K awards and I won first place in my age group, which was the main goal. I do not think I would have placed in my age group at all if I had run the 20K, so I made the right choice.

Final thoughts and takeaways
I kind of bonked today, and I'm okay with that. I think it was a combination of going out too fast, not being in 5K shape (had to take 9 days off after the bike accident), and obviously the heat/humidity. I ran 4 miles at an average pace of 7:05 just over a week ago in cooler weather and on a flatter route.

Prior to this race, I had assumed that my max heart rate was around 190. This was based on running with my new Garmin + HR monitor for the past two months, and seeing it get up to 187 at the Firecracker 5K in July. Well, today it got up to 196!  And it averaged 186 for the last 0.18. This definitely shows that I ran the race to my fullest effort level and I was not slacking.

I ran this race over 40 seconds faster in 2017, but I was in really excellent 5K shape back then, and it wasn't quite as warm that year. It's not a helpful or relevant comparison, so I'll stop there.

I was the 7th overall female and it was a competitive field. The Leesburg 5K is a popular local race and the first two females ran 18:xx.

I'll be running two more 5Ks before I settle into marathon training, and I am excited to see how those go. Hopefully, much cooler!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

I will never be a cyclist.

Just hours after I published my "Running in Oslo" post last Saturday, my international running adventures came to an abrupt stop.

Greg and I had signed up for a group bike tour of Oslo on Saturday afternoon. There were 14 of us, and we were led by a local guide who worked at the rental bike shop. We had signed up for this "Oslo
By Bike" excursion a few months ago, and it was my idea. Greg was actually shocked that I wanted to ride a bike. I hate bikes! The last time I rode a bike was in 2007 when I rode 11 miles through Tuscany. And prior to that, I hadn't ridden a bike since around 1994.

But biking is always the analogy people use to talk about things you never forget how to do. It's like riding a bike, they say. If this had been a mountain bike ride, or a really long ride, I wouldn't have signed up for it. But it was only seven miles and it was two hours long. I figured it couldn't be that difficult. I could run, or even walk, that distance faster.

When I first got on the bike, it wasn't a familiar feeling. I had to remember how to balance, steer, etc. Unfortunately, there was no clear area in which to do this. The bike rental place was in the middle of the city and there were swarms of people everywhere. In, fact, we had learned yesterday on our boat tour that this was the busiest time of year in Oslo because many people had time off from work and it was a very popular tourist spot. Plus, the weather was warm and sunny which is not typical for Oslo.

I spent the first part of the bike tour frustrated and scared. We were led through crowded plazas, over speed bumps, up and down curbs, weaving through masses of people. This photo shows one of the areas we rode through, as seen from the boat the day before at the same time of day.

One of the crowded areas we biked through
We all had to keep stopping and starting and everyone was really frustrated with it. If I were a pedestrian in that area, I would have been annoyed by such a large group of cyclists plowing through the crowds.

Finally we were on a bike path and I felt more comfortable, and like I was starting to get a handle on the steering, the gears, etc. The guide then took us through a wooded area on a gravel path. It was hilly and curvy and there were roots sticking up, so it was much more difficult than anticipated. Finally I didn't feel like the worst cyclist in the group because I was able to go up the hills just fine and my athleticism kicked in.

We stopped at a beach for about 15 minutes (this is why the tour was long--we kept stopping). Greg snapped a photo of me and I posted it to my Instagram Story, saying that this was the last time anyone would see me on a bike. At that point, I knew that I had no desire to ride one ever again, That said, I was proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and getting on a bike. I wasn't looking forward to the way back, though, knowing we'd have to bike through that busy plaza. I also thought it was kind of a miracle that I didn't have an accident and wondered if I should take the bus back and end it on a high note.

Instagram Story mid-ride
We got back on the bikes and rode through the woods again. Only this time, I wasn't able to maneuver the bike as well I should have been able to. Since the path was wide, we were not riding in a straight line, and people were riding next to me. There was a fairly steep hill that curved around, and as it curved, I wasn't able to properly steer while also getting up the hill, so my bike hit the back of another rider's wheel, and I went tumbling. Nobody else fell, but I was on the ground with just a minor scrape. It was really scary, but since I wasn't hurt, I got back on the bike, vowing to stay away from the other riders.

We got back onto the bike path, which was great, but then it was time for the crowded plazas again. I don't know why I simply didn't get off the bike and walk it back to the shop. We were close enough at that point. If I really stopped to think about it, I would have done that, but instead I felt like I had to keep following the group over the curbs, the speed bumps, and the train railways.

There were actually two tour guides-- one in front and one in back. The one in the back told the one in the front that she needed to slow down on multiple occasions (every time we stopped), but she didn't slow down. At one point, the tour guided us to drive in the middle of the train railway. This area was clearly for trains only- not pedestrians or cyclists. To do this, I needed to cross over one of the railways to get in between them, as there was no room left on the right side of the railway. As I did this, my tire got stuck inside the rail and the bike stopped. I fell onto the bike, ramming my pubic bone directly into the bar. I screamed in pain and in fear. It was maybe the worst pain I had ever experienced.

I walked away from the train track full of fear, and Greg and the tour guide from the back of the group came toward me. The other riders and the guide in front had no idea that I had fallen. Since we were so close to the bike store and the cruise ship, the tour guide from the back took our bikes from us and we walked back to the ship to get an X-ray. It hurt to walk, but thankfully, I was able to walk.

Back on board, I found that the entire left side of my groin was hugely swollen. They did an x-ray and found that nothing was broken. I was in extreme pain, but they weren't able to give me anything except for Advil and an ice pack. I really liked the nurse and the doctor, but they weren't specialists in this kind of thing and weren't able to give me stronger pain medication. That night, Greg and I ordered room service as I continued to ice the area.

4 days post accident
The swelling and the bruising were severe over the next five days. Today, one week later, the bruising is still dark blue over much of that entire area, and looks worse than this photo, extending all the way down to almost my knee. Seeing so much swelling and bruising made matters worse, as it was a constant reminder of how harsh the blow was.

I tried my best to enjoy the rest of the trip, which included stops along the coast of Norway, ended in Bergen. I was in constant pain, and walking wasn't easy, but it didn't seem to aggravate the issue. The worst part was not knowing the extent of the damage. All I knew was that the area was very swollen and painful, and I had a sizable hematoma. Regardless, Greg and I had paid a lot of money for the trip and been looking forward to it for over a year, so I wasn't about to let this accident ruin it for me. As I wrote about in my previous two posts, I love running around new areas on vacation. So it was definitely a bummer to not be able to run in the port stops during the rest of the trip.

We returned home on Thursday evening, and I saw a doctor yesterday. The swelling is gone, but I have a big bump on the left side of my pubic bone, which is the hematoma itself. Even at rest I have a small level of pain, and running definitely aggravates it. My doctor was able to isolate the muscle group that was impacted, and it's the lower abdomen. Thankfully, all of the adductors are in great shape. I never realized that the lower abdomen was used so much in running, but it is painful with each toe-off, so I guess it's pretty critical.

So as of now I have the constant pain of the hematoma, as well as an inflamed/irritated lower abdominal muscle that is painful to run on or to move in certain ways. I do not know when I will be able to run again.

I think this injury is difficult for me on a number of levels, mostly because it feels like something was taken from me.

1. I wish I would have followed my gut instinct and gotten off the bike instead of following the group over the rail tracks.

2. I have been taking it easy all summer with running and had planned my race schedule around being able to start training more seriously after this trip. Instead, I'm digging my hole deeper and will need to rebuild before progressing. I really thought I'd be able to crush a 10K in early October, but now I'm doubtful.

3. I don't know when I will be able to run again, so I am dealing with uncertainty and things being up in the air. And even if I am able to run, I don't know how long it will take to be completely pain-free.

Now that I've gotten that off of my chest, I do have the perspective that I am lucky the accident wasn't worse. I wasn't seriously injured and I can walk. Nothing is broken. This isn't as bad as having mono because I am still able to walk around, go to work, and live my non-running life.

I do blame myself for not trusting my instincts and for following a group of people who were riding in areas that I felt unsafe in. (Later, the other people on the bike tour said that they felt unsafe, too, and didn't find the ride enjoyable because of all the obstacles. One person also got their tire stuck in the railway, but he was able to stabilize himself and not fall.) But, on the other hand, I am not beating myself up too much because I was just trying to get the most out of our time in Oslo, even though it meant hopping on a bike.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Running in Oslo

Wednesday, July 24: Alborg, Denmark
After leaving Warnemunde, Germany, our cruise ship headed for Alborg, Denmark. We were sailing for the first half of the day, which meant it was impossible to run outside. We could have opted for the treadmill, but neither of us were interested in that and we had planned a few days off on this trip, too.

Alborg (or Aalborg) was fun. We had signed up for a Danish Beer Walking tour, but due to low registration, the excursion was cancelled. This ended up being a good thing because we got our money back and discovered we could easily do the exact same thing on our own for less money.

We paid about $20/each and that got us 6 drink tickets and small souvenir glasses that say "Aalborg Beer Walk" on them. Totally a tourist thing to do, but hey-- we are tourists! There were 8 participating brew pubs of which some were closed at that time of day (2:00). We ended up visiting three different pubs and getting two beers at each. Don't worry- they were small pours in the souvenir glass!

It was a fun way to explore the town while also tasting different beers. One of the brew pubs was an actual brewery that brewed their own beer and that was awesome.

Thursday, July 25: Gothenburg, Sweden
Our next stop was Gothenburg, Sweden. We docked at 8:00am, which meant we couldn't get off the boat until 8:00am. . .  which meant the sun was already really high in the sky. I didn't mind too much; at least I was staying acclimated to the heat!

Gothenburg, Sweden
We didn't really have a plan for where we were going to run in Gothenburg, which I liked. We just followed a running path along the water, and occasionally veered off it into parts of town. We encountered a few steep hills whenever we went away from the water, and wandered into some small residential areas. My favorite part of this run was going through a small park area that was well shaded. Overall, I felt energized and strong. We ran for 75 minutes, as prescribed by my coach, and ended up with 8.5 miles.

The cruise offered a free excursion called "Gothenburg Panorama" which we learned was simply a bus ride around the town. We decided we would rather explore by foot, so off we went! I wasn't overly impressed with Gothenburg, to be honest. It was nice, but there wasn't anything particularly distinguishing about it. We mostly walked through the park along the canal. It was enjoyable, although we were struggling with how hot it was. It's been about 10 degrees above average here for the entire duration of our trip. I don't mind it so much, but I had been expecting highs in the 70's, not highs in the 80's.

There isn't too much else to say about Gothenburg. I would have much preferred to visit Stockholm, which is still on my bucket list, but the cruise didn't travel there. We were hot and tired from walking around in the sun so we returned to our ship at around 4:00. That allowed us to use the ship's free self-service laundry before dinner! What a great amenity, given how long the cruise is and how sweaty the clothing has been getting. Of course, I don't trust my running clothes in those machines with their soap, but we washed pretty much everything else. We then ate dinner, walked around the ship and went to bed. Before we move on to Oslo, here is another photo of the Gothenburg run:

My favorite part of the Gothenburg run

Friday July 26th: Oslo, Norway
We arrived in Oslo on Friday morning. We cruised through the Oslofjord to get there and the views were stunning. The Olsofjord is absolutely gorgeous there we watched from the top deck of the ship as we slowly pulled into the port.

We were able to get off the ship at 8:00am. There was another runner waiting to get off right away too--and he was wearing a Boston Marathon hat! Turns out, this guy had run over 60 marathons, and many of them were Bostons. Given that most people on this cruise are in their 60's and 70's, and the boat only holds 900 passengers, we did not expect to meet another runner, let alone such an avid marathoner!

The three of us started our run together, and we decided it would be best to stick to the waterfront. I love running close to water, and it also makes it easy to find your way back! After about two miles, the other runner told Greg and I to go ahead and he stayed back. Even though it was once again very
Oslo, Norway
sunny and warm, I felt great. For me, 72 degrees usually equals 95-100% humidity, so anything less than that makes 72 feel tolerable. I loved this route. The path was easy to follow, there were plenty of other runners, and the views of the water were beautiful. There were definitely some hills, but nothing too crazy. Once again, we planned for 75 minutes, which ended up being 8.6 miles.

After finishing the run, we showered, had a quick breakfast, and went back out to explore the castle that was literally right next to our cruise ship. Running at 8:00am meant missing the "real" breakfast, which closed at 9:30, but there was a smaller cafe place open that served waffles. Anyway, we explored the castle for a bit, which was super cool, and then got ready for our afternoon excursion: a boat tour of the city.

This boat tour was AMAZING. Seriously the best thing we have done so far on this vacation. It was an old fishing boat built in 1940, which held about 150 passengers. Thankfully, the boat was only half full so there was plenty of space to move around and take photos. There was also a bar on the ship, and two included drink tickets for beer and wine. There was even a cover over part of the boat so we had shade. This was a lifesaver since it was 85 degrees out! Combined with the breeze from moving so quickly, the weather was close to ideal.

We passed by all of the Oslo landmarks that you can see from the water, and sailed down the Oslofjord and back. A tour guide explained everything over the loud speaker which was nice. It was
Oslo boat tour
so relaxing and beautiful and just perfect! During the boat tour, the guide mentioned that Oslo had an Ice Bar. I had heard about the Ice Bar in Stockholm, and had always wanted to go.

An ice bar is a bar that's made of ice, and it's supposedly 20 degrees to keep everything frozen: the bar, the sculptures, the tables, the seats, etc. After the boat tour, Greg and I headed into the city to check it out. They handed us heavy ponchos and gloves and in we went. Once again, this was a total tourist thing to do, and it's not a place that the locals hang out. But it was cool-- literally! I don't think it was 20 degrees, but it was cold, and the drinks were really good. I had a cocktail that was green, and Greg got a blue cocktail.

We were only in the Ice Bar for about half an hour, and then I got really cold, so we left. We took the scenic walk back to our ship, and I determined that Oslo is now one of my favorite cities. It's so beautiful with fountains everywhere and the architecture is a mix of old and new.

Saturday, July 27th: Oslo
The boat stayed docked in Oslo overnight, which meant we didn't have to wait until 8:00 to start our run. Ironically, this was the only day where my body naturally "slept in" and I didn't wake up until 6:15. I had thought we'd be able to start our run at 6:30, no problem! Anyway, I planned to fill my hand-held water bottle with one of the bottles that they give you as you exit the ship. But at 7:00am, the water bottles aren't available. So I went to the bar nearby, and asked the bartender to refill my bottle. I was (more than) slightly annoyed because before she could fill my bottle, she had to make someone an alcoholic beverage. At 7:00am! I selfishly believed my need for water to be able to start my run was far more important than someone's need to drink alcohol at 7:00am, so I became irked.

One thing I've learned about myself on this trip, which I kind of already knew, is that if I can't get my run started when I want to, I become irritable. I'm like a caged tiger, just raring to go.

The Oslo Opera House: we ran up that roof
Finally we were off. This run was a lot of starting and stopping for multiple reasons. First, my Garmin was acting funky. It's a brand new Garmin, but sometimes the buttons stick, which means it will randomly stop, and I won't even know it. In this case, we wanted to stop and take photos, but I couldn't get my Garmin to stop because of the sticking button. Second, there were a lot of great photo opportunities so we stopped on purpose. Third, we weren't exactly sure where we were going, so we stopped to look at the Google Map and get our bearings.

I hate stopping during my runs, and we probably stopped like 8-10 times. But, it was all for a good cause. We were exploring the city and take photos.

To start, we headed about half a mile from our cruise ship to the Opera House. This is a famous landmark here in Oslo, and we had learned from the boat tour that you could walk up on the roof. So, what did we do? We ran up the very steep roof until we reached the top! Once at the top, we took photos, and then ran back down to the bottom.

After that, it was time to find our planned route, which was up the canal path. Greg read that this was one of the best places in Oslo to run, and that it was flat. LOL! So not flat. The hills were so steep on this path that I had to walk at times. The surface of the ground kept changing: gravel, stone, dirt, concrete, wood, asphalt... pretty much anything you can imagine. I should also mention that it wasn't easy getting to the start of the path. We ended up having to run through a train station because we didn't see any other way to cross the tracks. Definitely an adventure.

Vigeland Park, Oslo
Finally, I told Greg that I was done with that path. It was really beautiful and interesting, but I couldn't handle all the hills and the changing of surfaces, etc. I think we ran about two miles on it, so we definitely experienced it. Fortunately, we stopped at a road that was a straight shot to Vigeland Park, which was also on the list of the top places to run. And we had seen this on a map previously and it looked nice.

We ran about two miles through the city to get to the park, and once we were there, it was totally worth it. Beautiful fountains, sculptures, monuments, flowers, etc. However, it wasn't very large. I would have been happy to run laps around the park, but it was unclear which way to go so we kind of just zig-zagged through the park until we found ourselves running on a gravel trail. The gravel trail became very hilly and all of a sudden we realized we were on a trail, and not in the park. So we stopped again and looked at the Google Map.

We quickly found our way off of the trail, back into the city, and headed for the cruise ship. We ran a total of 10.1 miles and made a huge loop around the city. I had been planning for a little more, but I was ready to be done at that point. I had not anticipated so many hills and it was also quite hot and sunny.

Stay tuned for more as we continue on the cruise up the coast of Norway.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Running in Copenhagen

Hello from Europe! This is my 400th blog post and I am writing it from the deck of the Viking Sky cruise ship, on the North Sea between Denmark and Sweden. We are sailing this morning, so I have some free time to write.

Sunday, July 21: Copenhagen arrival
Nyhavn, Copenhagen
We took an 8-hour overnight flight direct from Dulles to Copenhagen, arriving at 7:15am local time. Crammed in the back of economy class, neither Greg nor I were able to really sleep, and we estimate that we each got maybe a total of one hour.

We arrived at the cruise terminal at 8:00am, and we had to wait for two hours before we could board the ship. I took the opportunity to sleep more, since the cruise terminal chairs were more comfortable than the airplane seats.

We finally boarded the ship, took a quick tour, and then ate lunch before heading out to explore the city. We were both struggling pretty badly, given that we only had one hour of sleep, but walking around Copenhagen energized us. Neither of us had ever visited there, so everything was new to us. Our first stop was Nyhavn, the city's scenic and historic waterfront. Whenever you see a photo of Copenhagen, you likely see this waterfront. Of course, it was way more crowded and touristy in person than in the photos, but still really cool.

After Nyhaven, it was off to Stroget, a huge pedestrian shopping plaza. It was here that I broke my 5-week chocolate fast. My doctor recommended that I eliminate all caffeine from my diet, so I had not had an ounce of chocolate since early June. I didn't go crazy with the chocolate, but Greg and I shared an ice cream sundae that had chocolate candies in it. Afterwards, we returned to our cruise ship where we had an amazing gourmet meal. Once again, we found ourselves struggling due to lack of sleep, so we skipped dessert and proceeded to sleep for about ten hours.

Monday, July 22: Copenhagen
Our first order of business upon waking up was to go run! Sunday was obviously a day off from running, so I was excited to run in a new country and add Denmark to my list of countries I've run in.
The Viking Sky, Copenhagen
We didn't really know where we were going so we just winged it. We ran off the cruise ship, down a long stretch, passing by the famous statue of the Little Mermaid. We then ran through a park, which was a big loop, and returned to the boat. We had planned to run for an hour and 15 minutes, but in order to get back in time before breakfast closed, we cut it short a little. I ended up running 7.5 miles in 1 hour, 6 minutes, at an average pace of 8:55.

After breakfast, we left the ship to explore more of Copenhagen. Greg had our path all mapped out, so I just followed. To get into the city, we walked the same path that we had run on, but this time we were able to stop and take a photo of the Little Mermaid statue. There were also about 50+ Santa Clauses hanging around the statue, which I later learned was the annual Santa Claus World Congress, which occurs every July in Copenhagen. Some of the Santas formed a band to play Christmas music. It was quite a sight to see.

Then we walked through two parks, the second of which was King's Garden. King's Garden is perhaps one of the most beautiful parks I have ever been in. There are colorful flowers everywhere, and if you look up, you can see all the historic buildings surrounding the park. We then walked
King's Garden, Copenhagen
through the Stroget shopping district (further than we had been before) and that led to the Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Even though we had no interest in riding the rides, we bought tickets to enter the park to check it out.

We didn't spend long in Tivoli, but it was really fun and beautiful to walk around. Afterwards, we proceeded to Christiansborg Palace where Greg took photos. So many beautiful and historic sites all in one day!

We had explored all of this by foot, so by the time we got back to our cruise ship, I had logged 30,000 steps for the day, with only 13,000 of those being from running. It was exhausting but fun.

Tuesday, July 23: Warnemunde, Germany
On Tuesday, the plan had been to go to Berlin. The ship docks in the beach town of Warnemunde on the Baltic Sea, and then they transport you into Berlin, which is 145 miles away. This required waking up at 5:00am and meeting in the ship's atrium at 5:50.

It was hard waking up that early (which is like waking up at 11:00pm, east coast time) but we did it. Shortly after waking up, Greg started talking about staying in the town we were docked in and not making the journey to Berlin. With only 30 minutes to make a decision, we started Googling stuff, and we realized that the train ride into Berlin would be 3 hours each way, and it wasn't air conditioned. We wouldn't have a full day to explore the city (more like 4 hours) and the majority of our day would be spent on a warm train. So, we decided to skip it. Kind of crazy to miss a trip to Berlin, but we later learned that the train ride was actually 3.5 hours each way (best case) and we preferred to spend our vacation relaxing. Plus, we were docked in a really nice area!

It was now 6:00 and we realized we could get off the ship and go run. Originally we were planning for Tuesday to be another "off" day, but now we had the time and freedom to go run around the port. I decided we should do the tempo run that had been scheduled for Wednesday. On Wednesday, we would be sailing all morning, so we planned to run the tempo on the treadmill. Now, thankfully, we could run it outside in Germany.

We looked on Google Maps and the route we really wanted to take required getting on a ferry, so we
Warnemunde, Germany
settled for running on the boardwalk of the beach. We found a one-mile stretch that was pretty empty at 6:00am, so after warming up, we ran back and forth on that 4 times, until our Garmins reached 4 miles for the tempo.

It was 63 degrees, sunny and windy, so the run was somewhat challenging. But at least it was flat and not as humid as back home. I hadn't run a tempo run since the Sugarloaf Marathon in May, so I was definitely rusty. I guess the Firecracker 5K was a nice dose of speed, but still- I wasn't really in "tempo" shape.I set the pace and Greg kept up. Our splits were 7:05, 7:05, 6:57, 6:58. It was definitely hard, and I struggled mentally during the third mile, but I was determined to make it all the way through and not quit.

It was a huge sense of accomplishment when we finished. Best of all, this meant no treadmill tempo the following day! We did a cool down jog back to the ship where we showered and had a leisurely breakfast.

It was then time to explore Warnemunde. We had seen a good part of the town on our run, but now that we were back there, all the shops had opened and the place was bustling with visitors. We went down to the beach, which was gorgeous and full of people. However, the beach area between the boardwalk in the ocean was so wide that there was plenty of room for everyone. This beach was at least twice as wide as the beaches on the east coast that I've been to. Greg took some photos, we went
Chillin' in Warnemunde
into a few shops, and then returned to our ship to relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Even though Berlin would have been an adventure, we were content simply relaxing on the ship deck near the pool. We even took advantage of the afternoon tea service aboard the ship, which consisted of tea, scones, and all the little finger sandwiches.

After digesting our teatime snacks, we headed down to the gym for some strength work. I am doing the "Marathon Legs" strength training program which is available through McMillan Running and it requires doing the program twice per week. I've now been at it for a full month and I've really progressed. I am finally able to complete all the required sets and reps prescribed for week one, and ready to progress to week two.

We then had another gourmet dinner, and spent the rest of the evening hanging out on our state room balcony as the ship set sail. This morning, we are still sailing, headed toward Alborg, Denmark. I am not sure when I will check in again, but stay tuned to find out about our time in Alborg and Gothenburg, Sweden (Thursday).

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The No-Dread Tread(mill)

Treadmills and I go way back. To 2001, to be precise. I ran on a treadmill long before I even knew what a 5K race was or fully understood the concept of a marathon. Now, 18 years later, I am finally the proud owner of a treadmill for the first time.

This comes with a mixed bag of emotions, and more intense than I had expected. When I stepped on my very own treadmill for the first time on Friday after work, it felt surreal. This was mine. I had my
Using a treadmill while on vacation, 2016
own treadmill. In my house.
My mind rushed back to all the times I had run on a treadmill at a gym, and very quickly recounted the past 18 years' love-hate story with this type of machine.

This is the love-hate story.

2001-2005: Treadmill Addict
The first time I stepped on a treadmill with the serious intent of running on it was some point in 2001, at the age of 22, on a night when my step aerobics class was cancelled. I religiously attended step aerobics at my gym every Tuesday and Thursday night.  So when I found out the class was cancelled, I figured I should find some other form of cardio exercise to do that evening.

I decided I would run one mile. I set the treadmill to 5.5 mph (10:55 pace) and went. It was not easy, but I got through the whole mile without stopping or slowing down. The next time I went to the gym for step aerobics, I decided I would try to run a little faster. So I set the treadmill to 5.6 mph (10:43 pace) and ran the full mile. I loved this feeling of progress and accomplishment so I decided that I would come to the gym on non-step aerobics days to run on the treadmill and lift weights.

Every time I ran on the treadmill (which was about 2-3 times per week), I either increased my pace or my distance. By the end of 2001, I was able to run five miles non-stop at a pace of around 9:00. I was really proud of that. At some point, my step aerobics class was cancelled for good and I didn't mind too much, because that meant more time could be spent on the treadmill.

I loved the adrenaline rush that the treadmill gave me. I always ran with music and I enjoyed making mix CDs for my Discman. I was coming to the treadmill as a transition from step aerobics, which had been a transition from dance, so the music was critical. I loved being able to run faster and farther, and would sometimes mentally compete with runners next to me.

The dark side of this was that it became an addiction. While I enjoyed it, I also felt like I had to do it as a way to burn calories and keep my weight down. I was fearful that if I didn't run five days a week, I would gain weight. Some days, I didn't feel like going. In fact, I would sit in my car and just hang out there until I finally forced myself to walk into the gym and get started. Sometimes I dreaded being on the treadmill, but watching the "Calories Burned" gage go up and up and up was something that I needed.

When I moved out of my apartment that was right next to the gym, I joined the gym that was across the street from my office. I used that treadmill every night after work, and during that time, transitioned into a morning runner and so I started to go before work. As I mentioned earlier, I would also lifted weights every time I went to the gym, as that was part of my regime to stay fit and keep my weight down.

In 2005, I discovered racing. At my five-year college reunion, I discovered that they were holding a 2-mile race. I brushed it off as not long enough for me-- I needed to run 6-7 miles each time I ran. But
My first 10K, June 2005
my friend who I was attending the reunion with persuaded me to do the race, saying that I could run more miles on the treadmill afterwards. I did the race and ended up coming in first place female. I think my time was around 16:00. Back in 2005, races were not all that competitive! I won a silver cup and really enjoyed the experience. One of the other runners told me that he was planning on running a 10K the following weekend in DC. "What's a 10K?" I asked. When he told me it was 6.2 miles, I figured I could do that, since 6-7 miles was my treadmill standard.

So began my introduction to the racing world, and my gradual abandonment of the treadmill addiction.

2006-2009: The Transition to Training
During these years, I discovered marathons, learned how to properly train for races, read a ton of books about running, and started to run outside on the weekends.

I lived in an area that was surrounded by construction so I couldn't very well run out of my condo in the mornings before work. Plus, it was dark and I didn't think it was safe to run alone. So I stuck to the treadmill but took my long runs outdoors on the weekends, when I had the time to drive to the W&OD trail and could run in the daylight.

During the week, I would wake up at around 4:30, get dressed, drive 12 minutes to the gym, go
running, drive 12 minutes back home, take a shower and get ready for work, and then commute 30 minutes to work.  The lengths I went to just to access a treadmill! Finally, they built a brand new gym less than a mile from my condo, and that took only five minutes to drive to. By this point, I wasn't lifting weights nearly as much. I had a training plan to follow which often involved running for over an hour, so I didn't have the time.

The good news was that I no longer cared as much about the "Calories Burned" gage. My motivation was not to burn calories but to train for marathons and to become a faster runner.

Gym treadmill
As I stood on my very own treadmill last Friday evening, I thought about all those mornings before work when I would crank out as many as 12 miles on the treadmill. All the long runs I did on the treadmill when the weather was bad. And by "bad" I mean raining or below 40 degrees. At the time, some people in the running community criticized me for running on the treadmill too much. Telling me that treadmill running didn't count, and that I needed to get out into the elements. But I didn't really see that I had a choice, given that I had to leave my house at 7:30 to get to work on time, and I wasn't going to run alone in the dark in a construction zone.

2010-2013: Treadmills are Evil
In 2010, Greg and I moved into a house that allowed us to run outdoors in the morning before work. I was no longer surrounded by a construction zone, and I had a built-in running partner to run with in the dark. We moved into the house in April of 2010 and for the remainder of that year, I did not run a single step on the treadmill.

In January 2011, when winter became harsh, Greg and I joined a local gym that we used when the sidewalks were covered in snow and ice. Which was pretty much the entire month of January. As a result, I ended up with three stress fractures in my shins. My legs were no longer used to running on a treadmill, and 50+ miles a week on a "new" surface did me in.

That's when I discovered pool running, and met bunch of women from Capital Area Runners in the pool. I joined this group, and the coach advocated highly for pool running in inclement weather. He believed that treadmills caused injuries and should be avoided as much as possible. In my case, that was true, so treadmills became evil in my mind. Pool running replaced treadmill running for days when it wasn't possible to run outdoors.

2014-2019: Treadmills are a Necessary Evil, and HOT
As I advanced in my running career, I no longer saw pool running as a replacement for actual running, so I began to use the treadmill again when needed. I didn't have a gym membership, but the companies I worked for during this time frame had gyms in their buildings. Or, if I wanted to be closer to home, I could use the treadmill at the county REC center, and pay $9 for each run.

The problem was. . . gyms are warm. If the gym had a big fan blowing in my face, I was good. But usually there were no fans and I would notice my heart rate spiking 30 minutes in to the run. I also noticed that if I had to do speed work on the treadmill, I couldn't hold my normal pace and my legs would be extra sore in the days to come.

Treadmill on vacation, 2018
The problem was that my use of the treadmill was so rare, that my legs weren't used to it, and I would overheat very quickly. If I wanted to keep my heart rate in the proper zone, I needed to run 30-45 seconds per mile slower. Furthermore, I wasn't used to the treadmill from a mental perspective. Each treadmill run bored the crap out of me and I needed to play all sorts of mind games from calling it quits.

I transitioned to a new coach in 2014 (who still coaches me today) and he is a strong believer in the treadmill for days on which running outdoors isn't possible. I would tell him about the lengths I would go to in order to avoid treadmill running, but he encouraged me to keep an open mind about the treadmill as a training tool.

2019: Treadmill Owner
As I have written about in my last few posts, my goal this summer is to stay healthy. I've had recurrent episodes of mono in the summers of 2012, 2016, and 2018. Back in May, my coach advised me to buy a treadmill.

I was conflicted about this, for all of the reasons above, but I knew he was right: if it was really hot out, it would be preferable for me to run on a treadmill than to be outside. And having my own treadmill would make that decision a lot easier. There would be no excuses to NOT use the treadmill.  Of course, treadmills are hot, too, but not nearly as bad as 75+ degree temperatures with very high humidity. With my own treadmill, I could have a huge fan pointing at me and set the thermostat to a lower temperature. I also wouldn't have to shower in a locker room and pack a gym bag.

The price tag was also a concern. Sure, I could afford it, but did I really want to throw $2,000 at something I would use so rarely? I would only use it in the winter and summer months, and probably only 25% of the time in the summer, and less than 10% of the time in the winter. Could I justify this cost?

I reached out to NordicTrack to see if they could offer me a free treadmill or a discount to promote their treadmill on my blog and on my Instagram account. I went back and forth with their social media manager, but ultimately I decided not to accept their offer. I won't go into the details here, but it takes a good deal of thought and effort to create good Instagram content, and even more thought and effort to build a following. I didn't feel like my level of effort was respected during the negotiation process, so I decided not to work with them.

So, I did nothing. Until last weekend when it was sweltering hot and humid for my long run and I
Test run in my work clothes!
struggled big time. My heart rate was higher on that run, for an 8:40 pace, than it was in during the 5K race. Once again, my coach encouraged me to buy a treadmill. I realized that my health needs to come first and I can't be running 10+ miles in that kind of weather. Plus, it would be super nice to have in the winter with icy road conditions. Or when it's 15 degrees with a sustained 15 mph wind. As I said above, I can afford it, so why not just pull the trigger?

I ordered it last Sunday and it was delivered on Friday. I paid extra for them to set it up in my basement, and thankfully Greg was home from work to let the delivery men in.

When I saw it for the first time, I could hardly believe my eyes. A treadmill! In my basement! After all these years. And it is sooooo nice. I had done my research and for a $2,000 price tag, this really is a sophisticated machine with a strong motor. I'm not going to review it too much because of my interaction with their social media team, but it's really beautiful and I love it.

It's a conflicted love, however, due to my extensive history with these machines. I think I will feel differently now that I actually own the treadmill, as I tend to develop an emotional connection to my belongings! It basically just feels like a whole new chapter has opened up.

I plan to run on it for the first time on Wednesday, when the low temp will be around 72 degrees with accompanying crazy humidity. The heat wave will continue through Saturday, so it looks like it will get plenty of use in the second half of next week. More to come!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Firecracker 5K: Hot, Humid, Hilly. . . but Healthy!

Yesterday morning, I ran my 7th Firecracker 5K. For me, the biggest accomplishment at this race is getting to the start line healthy. I had mono in 2012, 2016, and 2018, and I had a stress reaction in my shin in 2013. I would love for this race to be a tradition, but my health issues have prevented me from running it multiple times in past years.

Staying Healthy
This year, I made a concerted effort to not get sick. That included seeing a "diagnostic specialist" doctor to get to the root cause of my heat sensitivity/immune system issues. It also included dropping my speed work down to just one day a week, and limiting the long run to 90 minutes. Typically, I run 2 speed workouts per week and my long runs are 2 hours, even when not training for a marathon.

The diagnostic specialist ran a bunch of tests on me and found that I have hypothyroidism. One of the tests also showed that my "Immunoglobin A" was outside of the normal range, which can indicate a sub-par immune system. Finally, two stress tests (blood + saliva) indicated that my cortisol levels are higher in the evening, which could be contributing to me waking up in the middle of the night, which I do almost every night.

So, I am taking supplements to treat all of this, including the hypothyroidism. I've also cut out all caffeine, including chocolate. And, I am drinking only one alcoholic beverage per week.

Finally, we had the benefit of May and June not being ridiculously hot and humid every day, and that has helped. In June, I adjusted my schedule so that the speed work would fall on the coolest morning. As a result, I've never done a speed workout in anything over 70 degrees. Until today.

Race Plan
The Firecracker 5K is known for always being really hot and humid. After all, it falls in the middle of summer! This year, it was in the high 70's, cloudy, with a dew point of 71. That means the humidity was somewhere around 95%. It was very muggy.

My plan for this race was to run it at about 90% effort, as opposed to the 100% I would typically strive to put out. I wanted to run strong, but without killing myself and putting my immune system at risk. A few days before I got sick last summer, I raced a 5K in 66 degree humid weather. I ran it extremely hard at the end because I was fighting for first place female. Afterwards, it took a full 10 minutes to feel somewhat normal again. I had been dizzy, my heart was pounding, and I had definitely over-exerted myself. I didn't want to make that same mistake again.

I decided I would run by effort, and look at the Garmin for informational purposes only! In terms of time, I had run 21:16 in 2017, back when I had three months of 5K-specific workouts under my belt, and I ran at 100% effort. I didn't expect to be anywhere close to that, so I was thinking I would be doing well to squeak under 22:00.

Before the Race
I wasn't at all anxious about this race in terms of running a particular time. I was more anxious about the potential of the race making me sick. Therefore, I hadn't even gotten my typical pre-race breakfast at the grocery store: a bagel with peanut butter. It just totally slipped my mind because it didn't feel like a race! I ended up eating some pretzels with peanut butter instead.

Greg and I arrived at the Reston Town Center at around 7:15 for an 8:00am start. I had already picked up our bibs because I work in the Reston Town Center, and bib pickup was right next to my office! We had a little time to spare, so I showed Greg around my office, which he hadn't seen yet.

We did a shorter than normal warmup (12 minutes) because it was so warm and humid. We then returned to the car where I stuffed my sports bra with about 10 ice cubes from a cooler. Greg and I also each got an Energice out of the cooler and brought it to the start line. Energice is like those Flavor Ice pops, only it has B vitamins and electrolytes. Normally, I would have this as a post-run treat, but I read somewhere that having a frozen drink right before a race cools your core.

I had never heard of Energice, but they reached out to me asking if I wanted to partner with them on an Instagram campaign and I agreed. They sent me a huge case of it, which I thought I would never use, but now I plan on having one every day. Anyway, the Energice is really tasty and refreshing and was a perfect way to keep my core cool right before the race started.

Mile 1: 6:43
The race started, and I focused on staying relaxed and keeping it easy. The first mile is mostly uphill, and my goal was to run the tangents and to keep the effort steady. Within the first few minutes, I had pulled in front of Greg. I could hear him breathing behind me for a bit, but I pulled away even more until I could no longer hear him.

Mile 1, waving to Cheryl Young
When I glanced down at my Garmin about four minutes into the race, I could hardly believe my eyes. I had imagined I was running a 7:00 pace, but I was way under that. As I said above, the Garmin was for informational purposes only and the effort only felt moderately hard, so I stuck with it. Usually in 5Ks I go out harder, but this felt one notch down from my usual effort.

Mile 2: 6:27
This mile is mostly downhill, so I maintained my effort and let gravity do its thing. I felt strong the entire time, and while I was working hard, I didn't feel like I was maxing out. When I felt my watch beep for 6:27, I was shocked. In my mind, I had thought this mile would be somewhere around 6:45. I was still ahead of Greg, but I knew the hardest part was yet to come.

Mile 3: 7:02
This mile is hard. There's a huge climb just goes on and on and on. I knew to expect it, and I vowed not to look at my Garmin. This was when the race finally started to feel like 5K race effort. Within one minute, I went from feeling awesome at a moderately hard effort, to fighting hard to "hang in there".

I began to hear Greg coming up behind me, and I knew he would inevitably catch me and pass me. He's stronger up hills than I am, and so when he passed me at 2.8, I decided not to try and follow. It wasn't really a decision, though. I wouldn't have been able to keep up.

Last 0.17: 6:55 pace
As I made the final climb, I stayed strong, but did not push to my max like I typically would at the end of a 5K. I think I probably had another gear, and could have dropped down into the 6:30's and shaved a few extra seconds off my time, but I was satisfied with my effort level at 90% so I just maintained it until I crossed the line.

Official time: 21:27 (or 21:26 if you look at the list version of the results rather than the individual
Final Stretch, photo by C. Young

version!) Greg's time was 21:14, so he gained a full 13 seconds on me in that last quarter mile!

I should also note that my Garmin credited me with a 21:00 5K. I'm not saying that the course was long, but it's interesting to know what I would have done if I had hit the tangents perfectly.

After the Race
Greg and I waited for our friend Hannah to finish, and then we did a cool down jog for about 10 minutes. After that, I went to go check out the results. Much to my dismay, I was not listed. I went to the results tent, and they said they got me crossing the start line, but not the finish line, so they had to check their back-up records for me. They eventually found me, and added me to the results. I was relieved that they had a back up timer, because it sucks not to get listed in the results!

We stuck around for the awards, and I discovered that I won first place in my age group! I was really surprised because this is a competitive race. So many fast runners show up. If you had told me at the start line that I would be winning my age group, I would never have believed it, based on who was lining up. I placed 16 out of 695 total women.

We then proceeded to brunch with Allison and Hannah, where I devoured an omelette, grits, and a huge coconut pancake.

Final Thoughts
I'm pleasantly surprised with my result-- I certainly did not expect to run this fast. Given my effort level and how it felt, I would have guessed I was running a 7:00 pace the whole time, but according to my Garmin, I averaged a pace of 6:45. I think several things contributed:

  • I'm now acclimated to the heat and humidity (as acclimated as I can get. . . )
  • My fitness level is strong, possibly helped by my recent strength training addition
  • I didn't have cumulative fatigue from running a ton of workouts in the heat
  • The ice down the sports bra + Energice pre race kept me cooler than I would have otherwise been
  • The supplements I've been taking to help my Thyroid and reduce stress have been working
In 2017, I ran 21:16 at this race and I was disappointed with that time. Today, I ran 21:27 (or 21:26) and I'm thrilled. It's really all about perspective! I'm happy to be healthy and now I know I can run a strong race without maxing out at 100% effort level in the heat.

I won't be racing again until Labor Day, but I do plan to run a 20K in August as a training run.

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