Sunday, March 24, 2019

The race day countdown: why NOT to do it

With something like marathon training, where you are working toward a specific event on a specific date, it's easy to lose focus on what's happening in the present. As runners, we begin counting down to the marathon months in advance. I often post on Instagram: "Just 5 more weeks until race day!"  We are always very aware of how far away this event is, and it's easy for race day to become the day we are waiting for.

When I was training for Shamrock, I was often overwhelmed with how much I had to juggle. Not only did I have to fit the training into my busy life, but the weather threw in some curve balls, so I would have to adjust for that-- sometimes running after work or using a treadmill. During the past few months, I found myself thinking "after the marathon I will do x, y, and z".  I think I do this with most marathon training cycles, but I was more aware of it this time. It felt like certain things in life just needed to wait until I no longer had 70-80 mile weeks on my plate.

Now that the race is over, and I am getting to some of the things I pushed off, I realize I need to work on not focusing so much on that marathon date. A very simple example is taking a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to purchase some kitchen items that needed to be replaced. Sure, I could have bought them online, but I wanted to go to the store, browse the items in person, and use all my 20% off coupons! Although I enjoy shopping, this task just seemed like too much to do while I was running all those miles.

One of my friends wanted to run with me the weekend before the marathon and I told her no. My only reason was that I didn't want to have to schedule or coordinate something. I was feeling stressed out (as I blogged about previously) and I didn't want something else that I had to plan for. I didn't want to have to be somewhere at a certain time.

In reflecting on these two examples, and my overall mindset in the four weeks leading up to the race, I was feeling really over-scheduled and wanting to put everything off until after the race. I want to avoid this in the future for a number of reasons:

1. I don't want to wish my life away
The countdown to race day is always exciting, but it can be a slippery slope. If I have six weeks to race day, then that's six weeks of quality living I have to do and I want to savor and enjoy those weeks. Whether I am running, going to work, spending time with friends and family, blogging, or playing the piano, I want to be happy in the moment. If I were to live from marathon to marathon, then the rest of life would pass me by!

2. I don't want to feel stressed out by my training plan
I think this is mainly an issue during winter months when I have to adjust when I train due to snow and ice. Or if there isn't enough light in the morning to do the whole workout and get into work at a reasonable time. As I posted previously, the running itself isn't the issue-- it's the logistics. I think this will continue to be a challenge in future winters, so I will need to figure out a way to be more relaxed and accepting about moving runs around. I think that the planning and scheduling of runs got to be so much, that I didn't want to make any other plans that weren't absolutely critical. So I kept thinking "after the marathon I want to do x, y, and z."

3. The marathon isn't that important
I work really hard to prepare for a marathon. I spend 8-10 hours a week training. It's important, but it's not THAT important. I don't want to be constantly thinking to myself, "March 17th is THE day!" All days are important. Some days are more exciting than others. Some days are easily forgotten and others are extremely memorable. And yes, marathon day is really exciting and fun, and it's great to look forward to it! But I think it's a mistake for that date to be a shiny object when I think about the months and weeks ahead of me.

As runners, we need to balance the excitement of looking forward to race day with the reality that we live in the present. I need to work on this. Running is not life; running is a part of my life.

Monday morning recovery run
After I DNF'ed the marathon on Sunday, I stayed in Virginia Beach and just chilled out. Greg and I
had dinner with one of my best friends from college who lives there and it was really nice. The next morning, we did a 3-mile recovery run on the boardwalk at sunrise. It was beautiful and calming.

My coach and I both thought I was ready to dive back into training, as if this had been a half marathon. Typically after a half marathon I don't need much recovery time and I am running hard again four days later. On Tuesday I ran for 90 minutes at an easy pace and everything felt really smooth and good. Wednesday was an easy 70 minutes, and on Thursday morning I went to the track. I was scheduled for five mile repeats but I quickly realized that my legs were not as recovered as I thought so I cut it off after just two, and those two were much slower than the target. Friday was 75 minutes easy, and I noticed my legs were really dragging.

In the meantime, the "life stress" that I mentioned in my previous post has not gone away yet, but the end is in sight. When I woke up on Saturday morning, just rolling around in bed, my legs felt a little achy. I had a long run on schedule and I decided to bag it and take a rest day. I guess I didn't initially realize how much the 13.8 miles took out of me on Sunday. I figured that doing a long run on dead legs would only put me deeper into a hole, and wouldn't provide much training benefit. My coach suggested I take Sunday off as well based on this feedback, so it's been a weekend full of relaxation and catching up.

Greg and I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond yesterday and got the kitchen items we needed. I got a massage which further emphasized that my legs were not in great shape. Today I am tidying up some clutter in the house and getting a pedicure. I might go for a walk this afternoon just to get the blood flowing to my legs. My hope is that these two days off will restore my legs and I can have a quality week next week before tapering for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

As for right now, I am not going to focus too much on that race. I need to get my legs revitalized and enjoy my weekend!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

When the third time is not a charm: the Shamrock Marathon

Despite a spectator literally throwing lucky charms on me as I ran, my third attempt at the Shamrock full Marathon was not at all lucky. DNF #3 is on the books. But surprisingly, I'm not all that upset
about it. Considering my primary goal today was to finish strong, and I didn't do that, I'm handling the disappointment quite well.

For those of you who haven't been reading this blog for the past 9 years, I DNF'ed this race in 2010 and in 2012. I was registered for it in 2011, but was injured so that was a DNS (Did Not Start). I chose this particular marathon to get revenge on those DNFs.

My time goal was in the neighborhood of 3:12, which would be a PR by 3 minutes, at a pace of around 7:20. My training indicated that this was realistic.

Race Week
Even though we do everything in our power to make race week go well, it's not always possible. I was focused on eating healthy, avoiding germs, hydrating, and getting plenty of sleep. And while I thought I did all of that stuff well, I was unable to avoid stress in my life. This week was particularly stressful for reasons I won't address right now. I think I handled the stress well, but suffice it to say I had a lot on my mind, not related to running. And admittedly, I started to worry that the non-running stress would affect the race, so then maybe it became a little bit of a vicious cycle.

Greg and I drove down to Virginia Beach yesterday (Saturday). I wore my Boston Marathon jacket to the expo, which was significant to me. I remembered back in 2010 and 2012 when I went to the marathon expo, seeing people in their Boston jackets, wanting so badly to BQ. And simultaneously
feeling so wound up and anxious about the race because on both occasions, the weather was warm.

And now, here I was, with my 2020 BQ already in hand, and two Boston Marathons under my belt, showing up to the Shamrock expo. It was a good feeling. The Shamrock Marathon has great SWAG and a tempting selection of race apparel for sale at the expo. I couldn't resist a Brooks half-zip with the Shamrock logo since I am always looking for mid-weight half-zips. I was kind of worried that if the race went poorly then I wouldn't want to wear it afterwards. But then I decided if the race went poorly, I would associate the half-zip with the 2016 Shamrock half (a PR) since it didn't have a year on it!

After the expo, Greg and I went to check into our hotel. Since we are Gold members of Marriott, we were given a free upgrade to a large suite. This suite had a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen area, and two oceanfront balconies. A sweet suite! As such, I had plenty of room to stage all my nutritional items in the kitchen and my race outfit in the living room.

We then went out to dinner with our friends Hannah and Alex at the restaurant we ate at in 2016. It was fun catching up with them, and they announced that they were expecting their first child in October! I ordered the same meal I had the night before Rehoboth Beach-- chicken parmesan without the cheese. I felt calm, relaxed, and in a good mindset. I wasn't anxious or nervous about the race at all-- I was mainly excited.

Before the Race
I slept for about 7 hours, but it wasn't very restful. It was nice from about 8:30-midnight, and after that, I kept waking up. This is somewhat normal for the night before a marathon, so I didn't stress about it.

Our hotel was only 3 blocks from the start line. This is one of the reasons I love this race-- super easy logistics. We left our hotel room at 7:05 and then hung out in the hotel lobby until 7:15, allowing me to use the bathroom just 15 minutes before the race, which was ideal. I warmed up for about half a mile by jogging to the start line, and then around the start line. At this point, Greg left me so he could walk up a bit to stage his photo shoot.

At the start line, there were two separate Instagram runners who recognized me. It was really cool to connect with people "in real life" instead of just online. I felt pretty good and I knew I was ready to run a strong race. With three minutes left to go, I tossed my throw-away hoodie and watched the clock tick slowly to 7:30.

Miles 1-5
In a marathon, I always allow myself to run the first mile at whatever pace feels right. It's all about finding a groove and establishing a rhythm. I think I did pretty well here, as I was running around 7:35 without really trying. A 7:35 pace felt more like 8:15, so I took that as a sign that this was going
Mile 1
to be a great race. After the first mile (where I passed Greg taking photos), I ditched my throw-away arm warmers. It wasn't all that cold at 41 degrees and sunny, so I didn't need them. They were actually a $2 pair of Walmart socks that I cut the feet seams out of.

It was a little windy during the first two miles, but then we made a slight turn and it was fine. I just focused on staying relaxed and enjoying the race atmosphere. I didn't want to get too much into my head, so I observed the runners around me, and remembered when I ran the half in 2016, and it was pouring down rain with high winds.

The plan here was to be in the high 7:20's, but I wasn't going to force it. I wanted the effort to feel moderate for the first 10K, and I wasn't going to be a slave to the watch. A runner recognized me from Instagram and said hi. And I found myself running with her for this entire stretch. Sometimes she would take the lead, and then sometimes I would be in the lead.

Mile 1: 7:37
Mile 2: 7:34
Mile 3: 7:33
Mile 4: 7:26
Mile 5: 7:24

Miles 6-9
Everything had been going beautifully up until this point. And then we hit a strong headwind. I would estimate maybe 12-14 mph sustained. I was not expecting more wind until about mile 19 when we ran north again, since the forecast showed the wind coming from the north. But the wind was actually more eastwardly than it was northerly so those three eastbound miles were unexpectedly hard. I wish I had been more mentally prepared, but I adapted pretty quickly.  And by adapted, I mean I mentally adapted and didn't get frustrated. I did not physically adapt by slowing down. My plan was to start hitting marathon pace (7:20) at around mile 7, and I didn't want to back off that plan, despite the wind.

I really didn't want the wind to slow me down, and I told myself I could push through it. In hindsight, maybe that was a mistake because I was probably exerting too much effort too soon. You don't want to be straining at miles 7-8 in a marathon, and I was straining. Wind be dammed! I had a target pace to hit!

I was still running with my new friend during these miles. She looked really strong, so I told myself I must be just as strong if I am running that same pace. Ultimately, she she sped up and passed me in the 9th mile, but she was running the half and really going for it at that point.

Mile 6: 7:29
Mile 7: 7:26
Mile 8: 7:38
Mile 9: 7:34

Miles 10-13
Finally we were out of that wind. So now it was time to recover. I told myself that races have their hard stretches, but then you can recover and move on and feel good again. I took my UCAN shortly after passing the mile 10 marker and it went down okay. The great thing about that was that after drinking water with it, I could toss my bottle and not have to carry it any more. Surely that would make everything feel better.

So no more headwind, no more water bottle to carry, just nice and strong running. Well, it still felt unsustainably hard. Mile 11 felt more like mile 22, and no matter how positive I tried being, my body just wasn't cooperating. So. . . how to salvage the race? I thought to myself that it wasn't a PR day, but I could get my backup goal of 3:17:19. That's the date of the race! That would still be within my reach if I could hold a pace of around 7:32. Yes, new goal!

But by the time I got to mile 12, I started doubting that goal. And then I told myself not to even think about my finish time, but simply focus on finishing to the best of my ability. My main goal here was to finish strong, so all I needed to do was to keep running and keep doing my best.

And by the time I got to mile 13, I started to wonder what would motivate me to get to the finish line, since I was already feeling so beat up. I know. . . it would be my fastest "bonk" ever! When I crashed at Indy Monumental, I still ended up with a time of 3:43, so if I beat that, it would be a bonking PR! I saw my friend Cristina (who had run the half) cheering for me at this point, and that really perked me up. For like 20 seconds, things were really good.

Mile 10: 7:30
Mile 11: 7:40 (taking my UCAN)
Mile 12: 7:33
Mile 13: 7:51

Mile 14
And then I crossed the halfway point in 1:39:25. This was about 3 minutes slower than my target. Not a big deal, but I knew there was no way I could run another 1:39:25. Should I drop out? Absolutely not.  I've DNF'ed this race twice and my whole purpose here was to not DNF. I was going to finish
Mile 14
come hell or high water. Yes!

I knew I would see Greg just before mile marker 14, and I wondered if I should stop and consult with him. After all, I wasn't worried about my time anymore, so I could afford to stop for a brief conversation. Somewhere between the halfway point and mile 13.8 I began to wonder why I would be putting my body through the torture of a "bonk". What for? I already know I can run a 3:15 marathon, so I don't have anything to prove. And then it would take two weeks to recover and I wouldn't be in a great spot for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in 3 weeks.

Hmmm. . . drop out and have a shot at a nice PR at Cherry Blossom, or keep going, have a miserable experience, and then sacrifice two weeks of training for Cherry Blossom. That made my decision clear: I would rather have one strong race than two mediocre ones. I had a marathon PR that I was really happy with, but I felt like I could really smash a 10-mile PR. So, once I got to Greg, we chatted about it, going back and forth.

I actually told him, "Wait here for 20 minutes while I attempt to run again and I will see how I feel." But after going maybe 1/10 of a mile, I realized what horrible shape my legs were in. It was as if I ran a half marathon at half marathon effort. It was pointless to continue. As much as I wanted the medal, and the hat, and the towel and the finish line glory; I knew that today wasn't the day for it.

After the Race
So, within a matter of about 30 minutes, my race took a turn for the worse and ended. After weeks and weeks of hard training, it all came down to 30 minutes that just didn't go my way. But that's how the marathon works and that's the allure of it.

When I think about what went wrong, I think it was probably a combination of the stress I had this week and fighting too hard against the wind so early in the race. Mile 8 is not a time to be fighting in a marathon. It's crazy because I feel like on any given day in training, I could have run this distance at this pace and not have felt so beat up. So potentially there was some mental aspect at play too.

And crazy though it may sound, I haven't done a long run in shorts and a tank since October, and maybe my body wasn't "used to" the low 40s. Sure, it's an ideal race temperature, but maybe it was a shock to my system since I am used to running in the low 30s? Unlikely, but possible.

Greg and I made our way back to the hotel. He didn't have my jacket or long-sleeved shirt because he was planning to grab that from the hotel before I finished. We had over a mile to walk, so to avoid being cold, I jogged back to the hotel at a pace of 10:30. As I did this, I saw all the marathoners running toward me. It was sad to see them all still in the game, and I had given up so early. But I stayed strong in my head and knew that I made the right decision for me.

Kind of an anti-climatic weekend after all this build up and planning. It's disappointing, but I knew going into Shamrock that it was a quick turnaround from Rehoboth. Potentially there wasn't enough down time in between but it was worth a shot. All along, I saw Shamrock as just "gravy" after how well I did at Rehoboth. I have my 2020 BQ and a marathon time that I'm super proud of. So I am not dissatisfied. I think I will be dissatisfied, though, if Cherry Blossom doesn't go well. I'm PR hungry, just not marathon PR hungry!

All in all, it was a fun morning. It just wasn't MY morning. And there are many other mornings to come.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Logistics of Running

One of the biggest challenges of marathon training is the logistics. How, when, and where do you fit in all the miles? For such a simple sport, the logistics can get pretty complex.

I ran 15+ miles before work on Tuesday, and it required a fair bit of planning. I'll use this run to share how I managed to execute it successfully in terms of being fueled, hydrated, safe, and able to go to work afterwards.

The Workout
This was one of my biggest workouts of the training cycle:
  • 15-30 minutes warm up
  • 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile tempo (getting progressively faster)-- all with 4 minute recovery jogs
  • 15-30 minutes cool down
I had done this workout once before, when I was training for Boston last spring. I totally nailed it last time, and I was hoping for the same this week.

One of the first logistical things to consider was the weather. This workout was originally scheduled for Monday, but we had a severe wind advisory with 30 mph sustained winds and gusts up to 60 mph. Not only was this weather ill-suited for a tempo run, but it was downright unsafe. So I asked my coach if I could swap my Tuesday and Monday runs, and he said yes. I ended up running on a treadmill on Monday for the sake of safety, and moved the run to Tuesday. Tuesday's weather was delightful: 29 degrees with low winds.

The night before I had selected my outfit. Tights, socks, a sports bra and a half-zip. I actually narrowed it down to 2 half-zips, and made the final determination in the morning based on the actual temperature. I often find that the forecast hourly temperature can change by as much as 5 degrees to the actual, and that is enough to change my wardrobe decision. I decided to wear my adidas Adizero Tempo 8 shoes. I've worn them in half marathons so I knew they had enough cushion to power through something long and fast.

Please appreciate that all of my headings have started with "W" so far, as this will be the last one. While the 1-mile auto-lap feature on the Garmin would have sufficed for this run, I programmed the intervals into my Garmin the night before the run. That way, I wouldn't have to keep glancing down at my watch during the four-minute recoveries to see when it was time to run hard again. Instead, the watch would beep at me, alerting me that my recovery jog was over. I also made sure to charge the Garmin overnight so it would be ready for the long haul.

Route Planning
There's a neighborhood about 2.5 miles from my house in which I typically do speed work. It's a large neighborhood with lots of interconnecting roads that don't have thru traffic. There are definitely cars (especially as the morning rush hour kicks off) but they are relatively infrequent. Since I don't listen to music, I can always hear them coming from behind me, which makes me move closer to the side of the road. Otherwise, I run straight down the middle of the road without issue.

The neighborhood features gently rolling hills. There are no flat portions but the inclines are (for the most part) very gradual. In fact, I wouldn't even call them hills--they are inclines and declines. I don't think I ever gain more than 30 ft within one mile. 

Anyway, because the roads are all interconnected, I determined my exact route the night before so I wouldn't have to make decisions during the run itself. There's a loop I do which includes lots of turns and weaving through the streets that's 5.5 miles. I decided I would run that loop once, and then run a circular loop that's about 1.5 miles for the rest of it. I like to think of it as a 1.5-mile track.  

Sunrise and Start Time
I do not like to run speed workouts in the dark. Even with a headlamp, I am fearful that I will step in a pothole or uneven pavement and fall. When I have done speed work with a headlamps, my paces were slower than ideal because I kept such a close watch on my footing, and not stepping confidently. For an easy run, I'm good to go in the dark as long as I have my headlamp. The sun rose at 6:46, which meant it would be light enough to see starting at 6:26. And I didn't mind doing the warm up in the dark, so that meant I could leave the house as early as 6:05 and have enough light. I set my alarm for 5:40, which would give me 25 minutes to get ready. In reality, I woke up naturally at around 5:00.

I mixed one serving of Generation UCAN with water in my blender bottle and drank it pretty quickly. Technically, you are supposed to take it 30 minutes before you start exercising, but of course I didn't have time for that, and figured it would be 30 minutes before I started the fast portion. The run ended up being 15.6 miles total, but one serving of UCAN was enough to keep me energized throughout.

Because it was only 29 degrees, I knew I could get away with running the entire workout without drinking water, so long as I hydrated well the day before and drank water during the warm up. I filled
Water bottle I used before tossing
a disposable water bottle with piping hot water (so my hands wouldn't get cold holding it) and drank from it periodically throughout the 2.3-mile warm up. And then I tossed it in a garbage can just before starting the tempo miles. If it had been warmer, I would have driven my car to this neighborhood and planted the bottle next to the tire; making sure I was at my car during the recovery jogs. There are really no other hiding spots in this neighborhood to hide a bottle, and I've done this several times on other runs with no issues.

The point in the neighborhood where I wanted to start my run was over three miles from my house, so I drove to a location that was one mile away from my house, which meant I could run there in just two miles. Greg was also running that morning, so we left together in the car at 6:10, drove one mile together, and then I gave him the key. I knew I would be able to finish 2.5 miles from the house, and I figured that would be a good cool down distance.

Apple Watch
If, for some reason, the workout left me so exhausted that I couldn't run home, I wore my Apple Watch to enable me to call Greg so he could come pick me up. So I had my Garmin on my left wrist, and my Apple watch on my right wrist to use as a telephone if needed. I also told Greg I would call him when I was done with the tempo miles, just so he knew when to expect me back home.

Workout Recap
Having set myself up for a well-lit, well-fueled, safe run, I was excited to get going. Greg and I left the house a little later than planed at 6:10. We drove a mile and parked the car, and I gave him the key. We ran 2.3 miles to the tempo neighborhood at which point he continued on and I stopped briefly to throw away my water bottle. 

Then it was time for the work to begin. I remembered how the last time I ran this workout my paces were faster than expected, and I couldn't believe the paces I was seeing on my watch. But that was not the case this time. My coach wanted me to average a 7:00 pace for the first 4 miles, and that was not easy. I felt like I was exerting around a 6:50 effort, and yet my splits were 7:03, 7:01, 7:02, 6:55. So, I got the job done on the first four miles, but they were harder than expected.

Of course my mind automatically went to "OMG, how am I going to run 6 more miles faster than that?!" but I quickly shifted away from that line of thinking. I know from experience that it's never a good idea to project negatively onto what might happen later in the workout or race. It's always best to focus on the mile or interval I'm in currently and getting through that. 

The next three miles were prescribed at a pace of around 6:50. That seemed daunting so I told myself to just run by effort, which I did. It was hard. My legs did not have much pep and my energy level was so-so. I was now running the "1.5-mile track" loop of the neighborhood and I couldn't decide if that was mentally easier or tougher than running the route with all the curves. Splits were 7:04, 6:58, 7:03

I worked hard to hit the first 7:04, speeding up at the end of the mile, and then eased back off at the start of the next mile. Of course that meant I had to pay for it at the end of the mile, speeding up to hit 6:58, then backing off at the start of the next mile. So I would not call this a smooth run by any means, but rather half miles alternating 7:10 and 6:50. Needless to say, these three miles did not average out to the target 6:50, but I knew I had worked very hard, so I was fine with that.

With only 3 tempo miles to go, things got easier from a mental standpoint. Although physically I was starting to feel really beat up. I desperately wanted to stay in the 7:00 range, and worked my butt off to hit 6:59 for the first mile, but then was really wasted in the second mile, running 7:11

At this point (during the 4-minute recovery jog) I decided I was going to be content with how the workout was going and I would run that last mile hard, and not care about the pace. The last mile was 6:56, which (looking at my Garmin data) started out at like 7:20 and then progressed down to 6:35 at the end! Once I was nearing the end of that mile, I told myself to truly "empty the tank" so I really rallied.

Workout average: 11.2 miles at an average pace of 7:21.

I was SO HAPPY to be done with that workout! Now I just had to run home. I was about 2.5 miles away from my house so I started the slow jog back. I called Greg on the way back to let him know I had finished and that I didn't need him to come get me. I ended up running 2.1 miles for my cool down and walked the rest of the way home, which was actually a nice change for my legs. All in all, I ran 15.6 miles!

As soon as I got home, I popped open a Naked Protein smoothie. These juices have 30 grams of protein and 420 calories. It's a great way to refuel after a long run when you're short on time. I downed the whole thing in less than 3 minutes. 

Of course all I wanted to do was take an Epsom salt bath and crawl back into bed for a nap, but work awaited me! I did my hip exercises because I cannot afford to slack there, followed by a quick shower, no hair washing. I got dressed for work, put on my make up and was out the door by 9:15. Technically I was a little late to work but I didn't have any early meetings (on purpose) so it was okay.

Workout Analysis
While I would have loved to hit the pace targets that my coach prescribed, I was still happy with this workout. When I did this workout last spring I was faster, but I also wasn't in the midst of an 80-mile week. Plus, I had run on a treadmill the day before and that always makes my legs extra tired for the next run.  The tempo miles averaged out to 7:01, so running 10 miles at that pace is really strong. I think my endurance is really solid right now because I was able to maintain my pace even when I didn't have a ton of energy or leg power.

Most of all, I am happy that I stuck with it. Even though I wasn't running as quickly as I would have liked, I didn't get discouraged or throw in the towel. I focused my effort level and staying mentally strong. After all, workouts aren't about setting PRs and proving fitness - they are about making fitness gains.