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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