Saturday, September 12, 2020

Fort Hunt 10K Race Report

This morning I ran the Fort Hunt 10K in Alexandria, Va. Although government officials in Northern Virginia are still denying permits to race directors, this race was a go because it took place in a park and didn't require any road closures. And it was super small. The 10K had 18 finishers and the 5K had 51 finishers. 

Small as it was, this race was not without stiff competition. Some pretty serious athletes lined up at the start line.

Before the Race
This race had been on the calendar for about a month. I ran a 5K exactly one month ago in the Outer Banks, and I typically like to do one race per month. My training volume has picked up and I've logged some solid workouts, so I felt like I was in shape to run a solid 10K. My average pace for that 5K was 6:59 due to the extreme heat. I thought it would be a good accomplishment if I could turn that into my 10K pace today.

Greg and I got a late start. Typically I wake up between 5:00 and 5:30 without an alarm. I set my alarm clock to 5:45 as a backup on the off chance that I would sleep late. And sure enough, the one morning I sleep late, that's when the alarm goes off! Realistically, I thought I would be awake at 5:30 and have nearly an hour to get ready. But that was not the case.

We quickly got dressed, ate our English muffins with peanut butter, went to the bathroom, got our water bottles ready and off we went. The plan was to leave the house at 6:25, but at 6:20, Greg had just started making his coffee! Thankfully we were pretty quick about everything and left the house at 6:35, only 10 minutes later than planned. That said, I had underestimated how long the drive would be. I had assumed 35 minutes but it was actually 45 minutes. 

With a 7:45 race start, we were cutting it very close. We arrived at 7:15 and immediately headed for the park bathrooms. If you ever run in Fort Hunt, I do not recommend you use the indoor bathrooms. There were mosquitos everywhere. And moths and spiders. And the bugs were in the toilets, on the stalls, flying around. It was disgusting. 

After using the bathroom, we picked up our bibs and shirts. It was now 7:25, which meant we had 20 minutes to pin on our bibs, warm up, and use the bathroom a final time (I opted for a porta-potty and it was far more pleasant). For this reason, my warm up was only 0.8 miles. I wasn't too worried about it though, because I typically opt for a much shorter warm up when it's warm/humid.

Race weather and strategy
Speaking of weather, it was 70 degrees with 94% humidity, overcast, and a little bit of wind. Typically I do not run any longer than a 5K in conditions like these. I usually wait until October to run a 10K, but I couldn't find any 10Ks in October as my usual options were canceled. Given that I got mono two days after a 5K in similar conditions back in 2018, I was a little apprehensive about this situation. The last thing I needed was to end up sick with mono again after having avoided it all summer.

So my strategy was to run by effort. I threw all my time goals out the window. Humidity is deceptive, especially with overcast skies. It doesn't feel oppressive at first but then it sneaks up on you. I have many examples of humidity related bonks; both in workouts and in races. I did not want a repeat. Top of mind was a 10K I ran in February of 2019 out in Arizona. That race as 58 degrees and very humid and I crashed and burned my way to a time of 44:29, which was 3 minutes off of my goal!

I approached this race very cautiously for those two reasons: not wanting to get sick, and not wanting to crash and burn. The goal was even splits or negative splits. Even slightly positive splits would have been fine as long as it wasn't a total bonk. Anyway, the race course was 5 loops of Fort Hunt Park. It was a completely paved road with gently rolling hills throughout. This struck me as a very fast course because none of the hills were too long or too steep. Just enough to get some good variation and that wonderful downhill relief from time to time.

Miles 1-2
The race started and I noticed a woman bolt out ahead of me at lightening speed. I definitely did not try to follow her. Given what I know about the deceptiveness of humidity, I thought I could possibly catch her later on if she had mis-judged the impact of the conditions and gone out too fast. Greg had also gone out like a lightening bolt. So fast I thought he might even lap me!

I had not run at Fort Hunt park since January 2010 during the epic blizzard we had that winter. Fort Hunt Park was the only plowed surface I knew of that was run-able so I had gone there twice for my long runs. It's a loop of about 1.25 miles and as I said earlier, it's gently rolling with the hills being short and not terribly steep. I suspected that running 5 laps around would be mentally exhausting but it turned out not to be. I liked knowing what to expect each lap.

I started at what felt like half marathon effort. I viewed this as a long tempo run. In fact, I didn't even wear my fastest shoes. I didn't wear the Nike Vaporfly and I didn't wear the adidas Adios. I wore the adidas Tempo 8, a shoe that has been discontinued, because it's a good half marathon shoe and I wanted to approach the race as. . . a Tempo!

I lost sight of the woman ahead of me after only 3-4 minutes. And by the end of the first mile, I had given up all hope of catching her. She had such a large lead that I'd have to really speed up and/or she would have to really slow down. 

Mile 1: 7:11
Mile 2: 7:12

Miles 3-4
I was pleased that I was holding steady for the first two miles. I would have liked the splits to have been faster, but I knew that I was going at a pace that would set me up for success later in the race. Thus, when my Garmin beeped 7:02 for the 3rd split, I was really excited. In fact, that third mile went by so quickly I could hardly believe it when my watch beeped. 

I didn't consciously increase my effort level, but I definitely did. When I run long runs, I usually don't try to speed up, but I do so naturally if I'm having a good day. The same thing was happening here. Without even trying to put any more effort into the race, my pace was getting faster. I was shocked when mile 4 beeped in 6:54.

Mile 3: 7:02
Mile 4: 6:54

Miles 5-6
Could I hold onto this pace? I didn't think I could but once again, my focus was not on pace but on effort. I started to tire in the 5th mile, but I reminded myself that this was a race and I needed to press on and keep working hard. I told myself to relax and focus on my form. I thought back to all my strength training sessions and I told myself that even though I was tired, my legs were the strongest they have ever been so they would power me through.

About halfway through the last lap, I saw the leading woman up ahead. And I realized I was closing the gap. I tried to think of a strategy for passing her, but my mind was too busy convincing myself to push hard to come up with a sound plan. The easiest thing would simply be to maintain my pace because at this rate, I would catch her and pass her. The unknown was if she was crashing or if she had a second wind in her.

I maintained my pace, which was around 7:00 and that allowed me to catch up to her and run beside her with about half a mile to go. As soon as she noticed me she pulled ahead. With a half a mile to go, I wasn't ready to surge yet, so I hoped that she would fade and then I would surge ahead in the last 0.2. But she pulled farther ahead and as much as I tried to keep up with her, I could not. And admittedly, I didn't have my usual motivation to win. Mentally I was in "hard workout" mode and I couldn't easily shift into race mode.

So she ended up winning by 4 seconds! So close!

Mile 5: 7:07
Mile 6: 6:59
Last 0.2: 6:26 pace

After the Race
My official time for the race was 43:37. This is an average pace of 7:02. The winning time was 43:33. Given that there were only seven female competitors, I'm not loving that I placed second. But, that first place female was a force to be reckoned with for sure! And she was under 40, so I technically won my age group.

Greg set a PR in 40:20. This is a PR by about 30 seconds. I am not surprised because he has gotten WAY faster over the past year. The key to his success has been consistency and volume. I'm his coach, and by prescribing him more mileage with less speed work, he is less prone to injury. If he can run a time of 40:20 in these conditions, I definitely think he can qualify for Boston later this fall if the conditions align. He placed 4th overall. There were only 11 male competitors, but they were all really fast.

Greg and I cooled down together and we went to visit the horse that we saw along the way. What a beautiful animal! Our cool down was 1.5 miles, and I wasn't dying.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
My heart rate data shows that I worked really hard today and supports my assertion that my body does not tolerate humidity. Here are the average heart rates for each mile: 144, 168, 172, 176, 181, 192, (195 for the last 0.2). Normally my heart rate would be more steady. 

To compare, here is heart rate data from a 10K that I ran earlier this year in cold weather: 145, 170, 174, 174, 174, 172 (172 for the last 0.2). Looking at other athletes' heart rate data from today on Strava, they do not have the same heart rate drift that I do. I know I shouldn't need to validate my humidity/heat sensitivity this way, but it's always nice to have data that supports why I run so much slower in these conditions.

I think I had a really good day! Normally in these conditions I feel like I lack energy and like I am running through molasses. But today I felt strong and I ran a solid race and I achieved my goal of a negative split. I do think that if I had gone out at a pace of 6:55 the story would have been different. Here's why I think I managed the humidity well:

  • I drank plenty of water and UCAN Hydrate in the days leading up to the race
  • I slept well the night before the race, as evidenced by the alarm waking me up at 5:45
  • I was acclimated to the humidity, but not run down by it due to using the treadmill on the worst days.
  • Pacing, pacing, pacing. The conservative start was critical.
  • Attitude. I didn't put any pressure on myself to run a certain time. Instead, I had a process and a strategy and I executed it.
  • Strength training. I believe I run more efficiently now, so I didn't tire as easily as I otherwise would have.
My next race will be a half marathon in three weeks. If conditions are good, I can turn this 7:02 pace into my half marathon pace. Funny enough, that still wouldn't even be a PR! I'd need to run a 6:54 pace to PR a half marathon. Onward!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

471 Runners Weigh In on Virtual and Live Racing

Do runners want to return to racing? Are virtual races a viable substitute? What type of runner is the most likely to run a virtual race? My hypothesis: it all comes down to why we race.

I surveyed 471 runners to find the answers. The respondents are my social media followers and members of a Facebook racing group. I think this is a large enough universe to be statistically significant. This will be a long blog post so I have summarized the key points below:

1. The top reason that runners race is because it motivates them to train for something and stay active. Over half of the runners surveyed cited this as one of their top two reasons for racing. 

2. Of the runners who typically run 6 or more races per year, 46% of them have not registered for a virtual race. Within this same group, the top reason they race is the atmosphere (spectators, cheering, volunteers, etc).

3. Of the runners who are most motivated by the opportunity to set a PR, 59% of them have not registered for a virtual race. One could infer that they would not view a PR from a virtual race as legitimate. 

4. Of all runners surveyed, 50% of them have not registered for a virtual race.

5. Of all runners surveyed, 12% (57 runners) believe that nobody should race a live event until there is a vaccine. Ironically, of these 57 runners, only 17 of them said they would choose the virtual option over the live option if a race offered both options. 14 of them said they would definitely race the live event, and 26 said it would depend on the size of the live event. I guess there is ideology, and then there is reality! 

6. 22% of all runners surveyed do not agree with race cancelations, while 12% believe that nobody should race without a vaccine. The remainder fall in the middle.

The decision to run a virtual race is generally not correlated to motivation for racing.
My hypothesis was that certain types of runners would be more inclined to register for a virtual race than others, based on why they raced. This survey did not find any such correlation except for those whose primary reason was to set a PR. Within that group, the majority of them (59%) have not registered for a virtual race. Among the entire population of runners surveyed, 50% have registered for a virtual race.

I had suspected that the following primary racing motivations would equate to less virtual racing, but I was wrong. Within these groups, it's about 50/50 for virtual vs. not registered for a virtual race:

  • The feeling of accomplishment and crossing a finish line
  • The competition against other runners
Only 43 respondents (9%) listed the medal and the shirt as one of their top two reasons for racing. Within this group, 63% registered for a virtual race. This indicates that those runners who care most about the medal and the shirt are more inclined to run a virtual race than other runners. This is no surprise because you get the same medal and shirt from a virtual race that you would get from a live race. But race directors offering virtual-only events should keep in mind that over-promoting this SWAG won't necessarily be a strong marketing point. Only 9% of runners really care about the medal and the shirt as a reason to race.

As I mentioned above, the top motivator for people to race is that it motivates them to train for
something and stay active. Over half (52%) of respondents listed this reason in their top two. The second most common motivator is the feeling of accomplishment & crossing a finish line. Arguably, you do get a feeling of accomplishment from a virtual race, but you do not get the feeling of crossing a finish line. Well, unless you created a DIY finish line and had a few people there cheering. 44% of runners indicated that this feeling of accomplishment was one of their top two motivators.

Some of the write-in responses were:
  • To try to pull out the best in me
  • Trying to run a marathon in each state (multiple people stated this)
  • To stay healthy and sane; lower anxiety
  • To qualify for Boston
  • A day to compete and get away from life
Live races turned virtual: most runners won't run virtually
82% of respondents were registered for a live race that turned into a virtual race. For the purpose of this section, I am referring to only those runners within the 82% (386 runners). 

Only 17% of these runners responded that they always ran the virtual race whenever this happened to them. This leaves us with 83% of runners registered for a race that became virtual, that they didn't end up running at least once. Why not? I didn't ask that question but I can think of a number of reasons:
  • The race was a half marathon or full marathon and they didn't want to cover it without support
  • They had no interest in a virtual event
  • They signed up for the race as a backup to a live race, but then that race also became virtual
  • They didn't have the motivation
  • Their primary motivation for registering was not going to be met with a virtual event
For the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, only 12% of registrants ran the 2020 virtual race, myself included. That's lower than my survey suggests as typical. I suspect, however, that a 10-miler might fall into the category of being too long to run as a virtual race, whereas a 5K and a 10K are more manageable distances.

Virtual races are not as popular as live races
This shouldn't surprise anyone, but how much less popular are they? In this context, I am referring to runners registering for virtual races, knowing that they are virtual. NOT participating in a virtual race that they had originally registered for as a live race.

Only 28% of all respondents registered for 2 or more virtual races knowing they would be virtual. And yet, 97.5% of respondents typically run 2 or more live races per year. This shows that runners are racing much less and are less willing to pay to run a virtual race.

I'll stray from the data a moment to add my own perspective on this one. I have paid to run 3 virtual races: the Mother's Day 4-miler, the Firecracker 5K and the Indianapolis Monumental Mile. In the case of the 4-miler, I did it to support the local running store. For the Firecracker 5K, I also did it to support the local running store and for a sense of maintaining tradition. For the Mile, I wanted the shirt! And I wanted to have an official mile race to train for. However, now that some live races are coming back, I do not think I will register for a virtual race again.

Most runners think that small races can return safely
Of all runners surveyed, 12% (57 runners) believe that nobody should race a live event until there is a vaccine. The rest of the respondents think that small races can return safely, or they flat out do not agree with the cancelations. 103 runners responded, "I don't agree with the cancelations; let runners choose if they want to participate." 

This was a higher number than expected. On social media, I see so many people saying "it was the right decision" to cancel a race. But not everyone believes that. Rarely do I hear runners speak out against cancelations. The more vocal crowd seems to be the smaller number of people who believe we need a vaccine for races to return. 

269 runners responded, "I think small races can return safely, but we need a vaccine for larger ones." This is where the majority fell, and it's not surprising. I think this is where we are as a society. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes a race safe. It truly depends on who is making the decisions. It is typically the government officials who are the ones denying race directors the permits. But in some cases, the race directors don't want the responsibility.

I don't know of any races of more than 500 people that have occurred since March. Marathons and half marathons are more likely to be canceled than shorter races, likely due to the number of volunteers required.

Some runners wrote-in responses. Here are some interesting ones:

"I personally am not comfortable with live racing, but if runners want to safely participate in small events with guidelines, then let them."

"I think we need to learn more about the virus before we return to large races."

"If races use smart safe precautions then let's have them. Both large and small races. As long as they
take every precaution."

"I don't think a vaccine needs to be in place. Start small and with distancing."

"I think right now we have figured out how to do small races and we could be having more of them."

"If a race doesn't want the responsibility/burden/guilt of potentially spreading a deadly virus, I'm not going to disagree with them."

"I wouldn't go so far as to say a vaccine has to be available for large races to happen, but I would need to see what steps were being taken to minimize risk."

"Have runners bring their own fuel and sign a waiver."

"I think races of any size can be held with planning. Split participants into smaller groups and stagger start times. Require wearing a mask at the start line."

"Frustrating but understandable. My distance and pace PR goals don't stop because events stop."

"I think running is fine because everyone is spread apart most of the time. The only issue is the start and finish."

Final thoughts and Key takeaways
I think the return to racing is a "we have to walk before we can run" approach. Small live races are happening today with precautions in place. Even though it's truly arbitrary, many see January 2021 as when things will start getting back to normal. That's most likely because people can't envision these cancelations continuing into another calendar year. 

After reading through 471 survey responses, the overwhelming sentiment is that runners want to race. Not all runners, but most runners. They do want to race safely, of course, but most of them believe that we are ready to do that today. Even some of the runners who believe that nobody should race until a vaccine is available said that they would run a live race if given the opportunity.

Many runners are participating in virtual races, but they are not running nearly as many virtual races as they would live races. While virtual races offer runners the ability to train for something and gain personal satisfaction, they are not a replacement for live races.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this survey.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Outer Banks Lighthouse 5K

I did it again. . . I ran a real, live race in the midst of the COVID-19 cancellation era! (My first race back was a 1-mile race in Winchester). But this race wasn't something that I searched far and wide for, it just happened to be occurring during Greg and my vacation

to the Outer Banks. The Lighthouse 5K is a series that is held every Wednesday in the summer in Corolla,  North Carolina. Even though we've been to the Outer Banks many times before, we've always gone before or after "busy season" so the race wasn't going on. This year, we went during the height of the season to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary.

The original plan was to go to Africa to celebrate our anniversary. We had a trip planned that started in Victoria Falls, then onto two safari locations in Botwana, and then to Zebras Crossing Lodge in South Africa. All four properties we booked were prime zebra viewing locations. In one of them, it's not uncommon to see 100+ zebras outside of your window. But alas, we had to postpone our trip to August 2021. I seriously hope we can go then, and that the places we are staying haven't gone out of business.

Because Africa was postponed, we decided to head down to the Outer Banks to celebrate our anniversary. We arrived on Saturday to a beachfront condo. On Sunday morning, we did a "sharpening" workout of 8 x 400m on the track with 200m recovery jogs. Luckily, there was a track in close proximity to our condo which we had run on during previous trips. It was 78 degrees with high humidity, so we were thankful that the prescribed pace was 10K effort increasing to 5K effort by the end: 1:39, 1:40, 1:39, 1:38, 1:39, 1:37, 1:37, 1:37.

On Monday morning, we ran short and easy: just 40 minutes. Thank goodness for that because once again we were faced with 78 degree weather and high humidity. Of course we had all day to recover and I was really good about drinking plenty of water + UCAN Hydrate every day. Not only did we sweat off pounds of water during our runs, but laying on the beach in the sun is also dehydrating.

On Tuesday, we did a short set of 3 x 200m strides just to get the legs moving, plus warm up and cool down. And then we were ready for race day!

Before the Race
We woke up at 5:40 and I had my standard English muffin with peanut butter. We packed the car with a cooler of ice, water, and towels for afterwards. Greg unfortunately forgot his Garmin, which we realized about 3 minutes into the drive. We could have possibly turned around for it, but then we would have been cutting it very close. He decided to run without it.

When we got to the race, I picked up our bibs and searched for my Instagram friend Heidi. We met nearly two years ago on Instagram and we just happened to both be in the Outer Banks on vacation. It was really

Heidi and me pre-race
cool to see a friendly face and get to know her and her family a little bit. I took a gel about 20 minutes prior to race start and did a very short warm up of only 0.6 mile, which included strides. My coach had advised to keep the warm up short (although he probably meant more like 1 mile) because it was hot. 

Officially it was 79 degrees with a "real feel" of 90 due to the humidity. And sunny! One of the hottest races I have ever run. I can only think of one that was hotter, and that one was not as humid. I totally did not care. I was just happy to be racing. I didn't have a time goal - I was going to try and win an award of some kind. There were no age group awards but there was a Master's award and then the top 3 men and women.

The race had about 150 runners. I had looked at the results from past weeks and it was competitive for a vacation race. It seemed as if families came out with their cross-country high schoolers and college students. If I recall correctly, nearly all of the races had been won in 19:xx for the women. I knew that sub 20 would not be possible in these conditions, so I was going for the Master's win or maybe third place.

The race was delayed by 8 minutes so that runners could finish packet pickup. They started the runners in waves containing about 30 people each. I lined up in the first wave because the awards would be based on gun time, not chip time. Greg was in the second wave.

Mile 1: 6:56
The race started on grass but we quickly transitioned to pavement. Most of the race was on a concrete sidewalk. This wasn't ideal, but whatever- I will take what I can get! The race was mostly flat with a few inclines/declines. Interestingly, there was another small race series in a different part of the Outer Banks (Nags Head) that was canceled due to COVID. This shows that there are not hard-and-fast rules about racing in these times. Some race directors and/or town officials are canceling races while some are holding races with safety modifications. It really just depends on who is in charge.

Anyway, I ran this mile based on effort and I slotted into 3rd place pretty early on. I hoped to maintain that position for the entirety of the race but I knew Heidi was behind me, and she was fast. Greg blew by me and I knew he'd end up having a really strong race.

Average heart rate for mile 1: 160

Mile 2: 7:00
I was not using the Garmin to pace myself-- I glanced at it a few times to know how far I had gone because the race was starting to hurt pretty badly. The sun was beating down on me and I had to exert so much effort just to run at a pace that is slower than my half marathon pace from March! At the turnaround point, the female leader cheered me on and I did the same for her. I also realized that the 4th and 5th place females were tailing me pretty closely. Darn it- this meant I had to work hard to maintain my position!

Average heart rate for mile 2: 178

I'm dying here at the end.

Mile 3: 7:04
This mile was all about hanging on and not backing down. There was no way I could give anymore (see heart rate below). I told myself to hold steady and maintain my position no matter what. The 2nd place female was visible but there would be no catching her. Finally we reached the grassy area and I sprint toward the finish line. (6:24 pace for the last bit). I was actually surprised at how fast that was for being on the grass. I never run on grass.

Average heart rate for mile 3: 189.

Average heart rate the final 0.1: 197!!!!!!!

Official time: 21:31

My max heart rate was 200. I actually didn't think that my max heart rate was that high. I think the highest I have ever seen it in a race is 193, and that was at the July 4th 5K from last summer. So even though my paces were slower than my half marathon pace, it was clear that I was redlining based on my heart rate data.

After the Race
As the 3rd female, I wasn't sure if that would be my prize or if I'd win the Master's award. They ended up giving me the award for 3rd female and Heidi won the Master's award. It really doesn't matter anyway because all of the awards were the same: a medal. That was fine with me. I didn't need a prize, I just wanted the glory of winning an award of some kind.

I was totally gassed at the end and thank God for the icy cold face towels they gave us at the finish. That towel felt AMAZING on my blazing hot face.

The female winner introduced herself to me as someone who was reading my book, Boston Bound! Wow!

Cooling down with speedy Jenny.
What a small world. In fact, she had the book at her beach house! We instantly bonded and ran our cool down together. It was a longer cool down than warm up, which wasn't hard to do given the warm up was only 0.6 of a mile! We chatted about all things running and it's amazing how much two strangers can connect when they are both runners. Her daughter was the 2nd female finisher, and was happy to race given the cancelation of cross country.

This is what I love about racing. It's not just about the competition and the time on the clock. It's about the community, sharing experiences and making connections. 

Greg ran a blazing fast 19:27 which won him the Master's award for the men (he was the 4th male overall). Once the temperature starts to drop below 60 and we can find a 5K, I can see him breaking 19:00. So exciting!

After the awards ceremony we said goodbye to Heidi and Jenny and made our way to Duck Donuts for a celebratory treat!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Greg and I were happy to get our race "fix" in during vacation. It was a really relaxed experience as all the runners were pretty much on vacation. The energy was positive and many people hadn't been able to race since February. This was my first 5K since January, and I typically run about six 5Ks per year. 

I'm pleased with my effort level and based on my heart rate there is no question that I gave it my all. Given that I typically run 21:xx when it's in the low 70s, it was encouraging that I was able to do that in the high 70s with a real feel of 90!

Greg and I officially celebrate 10 years of marriage today! It's been a wonderful vacation with great weather, great running, and great food. I'm looking forward to the next 10.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Loudon Street Mile Race Report

I ran my first LIVE race this morning since March 1st! All of the races I had been registered for after March 1st were canceled, but the Loudon Street Mile marked my return to real racing. The race had 193 finishers, and was run in six waves that were spaced apart by 10 minutes.

This race typically occurs on Memorial Day, but they moved it July this year. I had heard really good things about it from fellow runners but I had never tried it. The race takes place in Winchester, VA, which is about an hour away from where I live. It was definitely worth spending two hours in the car to run a live event. In fact, one of the participants traveled all the way from North Carolina.

The race attracts a competitive field with top five females all finishing faster than 5:12. The master's winner ran 5:15. There is prize money for the top finishers, so it makes sense that the speedy runners would come out.

Having run 3 mile time trials on the track and the Virtual Indianapolis Monumental Mile also on the track, I was ready to take on a road race. I had never raced a mile on the road so I wasn't sure what I was in for. I knew to expect a hill for most of the first half, and I'd never run mile pace up a hill like that.

The race was originally scheduled to start at 8:00, but about two weeks ago, they pushed it back to 9:00. They wanted to allow more time for packet pickup. Originally, my wave (women under 7:00 pace) was scheduled to start at 8:00, but with the new plan, the fast men started first at 9:00 and then the fast women at 9:10. After that, the next fastest men and women combined, followed by the rest of the field. This meant Greg was in the 3rd wave, which started at 9:20.

Before the Race
I woke up naturally at 4:30, obviously excited about the race. I ate an English Muffin with peanut butter at 6:30 and we were out the door at 7:00. I had a dream last night that I forgot my race shoes. And what do you know, three minutes into the drive I realized. . . I had forgotten my race shoes. Thankfully we weren't too far from home and we didn't lose my time going back for them.

Speaking of race shoes, this is the first race ever that Greg has worn a lighter shoe! He's never raced in anything lighter than his daily trainers (Brooks Adrenaline and Mizuno Wave Inspire), but I convinced him to get a pair of the adidas SL20, which I had recently gotten and determined they were the perfect entry-level speed shoe. I wore the adidas Adios 4, which are lighter than the SL20 but have a nice spring to them. Also I should note that I much prefer the Adios 4 to the newer Adios 5 mile, which I find to be stiffer and less comfortable.

After our hour-long drive, we parked near the packet pickup, which was setup outside of a running store. There was only one other person picking up their packet at the same time as us. I know that packet pickup is a safety concern for many races, and one of the reasons they cancel. But if you allow runners to pick up their packets in advance and keep the field size small, and hold it outdoors, it's not an issue.

Warming up on the course
We then drove one mile to the start line so we'd have access to our cooler of ice beforehand. We parked, used the porta potties, and I took a caffeinated Maurten gel. I find that caffeine really helps in these short, hard efforts. Then we started our warm up. I saw a few friendly faces and it was so nice to be out in the community again! I noted that the course started on a downhill for the first 0.2 mile, and then was uphill to just after the halfway point. Then downhill, and then a flat finish through a brick-surfaced town center. No turns-- just a straight shot!

After the warm up, I put some ice in my sports bra and in the sides of my briefs. I poured water over my head. And then I did some strides before heading into the corral. It was 76 degrees with a "real feel" of 78. Humidity at 86%. Ouch. But thankfully it was only a mile. If this had been a 5K I would have deemed these conditions unsafe for me to go all out. Given my heat sensitive issues, I would have held back a little. But with (hopefully) less than 6 minutes of work, I figured my body could handle a full-out effort regardless of the heat.

My goal was sub-6:00. That doesn't seem very lofty given that my PR on the track is 5:52. But this race had a hill and I wasn't sure if asphalt, followed by brick, would be as fast as the track surface. Plus, when I ran the 5:52 it was only 55 degrees and not humid. My strategy was simply to run as hard as possible and see if I could squeak under 6 minutes.

The Race!
The gun went off. There were about 35-40 runners in my wave, all female. It's very rare that I am running with all women so this was a novel experience. Most of the runners flew out of the gate at lightening speed, but I held back a little bit. According to my Garmin data, I ran the 0.2 downhill at a pace of around 5:40, but as soon as the up hill started, I slowed to around 6:30.

As I was running, I tried not to look at my Garmin too much. But I did notice that whenever I did my average race pace kept slowing down. I think that by 0.4 I had averaged 6:13. Yikes! Sub 6:00 was not at all looking good.

Note: I uploaded my raw Garmin data to Strava to analyze my race, since Garmin is down.

We kept climbing the hill and as we approached the top, I started to pass other runners. Someone called out a time of 3:03 for the first half, which put me on track for 6:06. And then I just started tearing through the field. I sped up dramatically on the downhill and I felt like I was flying. I was passing people left and right. Here are some Garmin data points for "current pace":

0.5: 6:31
0.6: 5:55
0.7: 5:36
0.8: 5:28
0.9: 5:36
1.0: 5:24

I could see the finish line and even though I was totally red lining and making all kinds of noises, I just pushed and pushed and pushed. It was hard, it hurt, and it felt amazing! I love that kind of pain that you only get as you approach a race finish line. This cannot be replicated in a virtual race when there is no finish line or people cheering for you, or other competitors.

I knew that I would be cutting it very close to my goal of sub-6:00, but when I saw the clock as I crossed I was elated. 5:57.6 official!

First half: 3:03
Second half: 2:54

For those of you who doubt Garmin accuracy, I had my auto lap set to one mile. My Garmin auto-lapped at exactly 5:57.6 which is the same as my official time. Without weaving and turning, GPS devices are highly accurate!

After the Race
The Master's Winner is in the middle
It took me about two minutes to feel normal again after the race, but once I did I was so happy. I briefly chatted with some other runners before walking back a little ways to see Greg finish. Greg looked really strong and it was so cool to be able to cheer for him. He clocked in a 5:41.4. This was his second fastest mile.

Once he recovered, we chatted for a little bit and watched other runners come in. And then we jogged back to our car near the start line. There was no awards ceremony to prevent people from gathering together, but they will mail the awards.

I ended up winning first place in my age group, 40-44. I did not win the Master's Race, which was won in 5:15 by a 45-year old woman. For those of you unfamiliar with how age group awards work, if you win the Masters race (age 40+), you are not eligible for an age group award. This is how I was able to win my age group. My award will be mailed to me. We then drove an hour home, both very pleased with how the morning went.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm really happy with how well I ran. I did not expect to beat my 5:52 track PR, which was on a flat surface in cooler weather. That said, I wish I had gone out faster. I have said this about every one of the mile time trials I have run. I don't think it's a matter of needing time to get the legs going; I think
it's a confidence thing. The "start slow, finish fast" mentality has always served me well, which makes me fearful of gunning it early in the race. Even though the first half was uphill, I still think splits of 3:03, 2:54 indicate that I could have run a faster overall time if I had started quicker.

I wish I could try running this course again next weekend! Unfortunately I will have to wait until Memorial Day 2021. I love the idea of racing a mile in the summer because I don't have to restrain myself for fear of passing out or getting sick. The fact that I had ice in my sports bra and that I poured cold water into my hair beforehand really helped, too. Next year I will target closer to 5:50!

I cannot stress enough how amazing it felt to be out on the race course again. This experience confirmed how much I love racing and how badly I want races to come back. The race director set an excellent example of how a race can be put on safely in the midst of COVID, and hopefully set a precedent for road races occurring in Virginia.

Elevation in Gray, pace in blue

Here is a video. I can be seen starting at 1:00.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Marine Corps Marathon Hopeful

I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon. While the naysayers are convinced that this race will ultimately be canceled, I remain optimistic. Here is the race director's stance:

"Many other large events have cancelled but our Marine instinct is to lean in and fight for the possibility of hosting a live marathon in Arlington, VA on October 25, 2020. This means a major overhaul of how the MCM looks and operates so social distancing considerations may be incorporated. In short, our working solution is to break the 45th MCM up into 24 waves that will start over an expanded window of time on event morning. This plan will necessitate a smaller field of in-person participants."

To reduce the field size, they have offered a virtual option, which is particularly attractive to those who would have to travel by air, and they have stated that you have to run a 12 minute mile or faster. They have not provided an update yet on the actual size of the new field, but they said they might have to reduce the time requirement even further if the field remains too large.

It sounds like they are doing everything in their power to take precautions so that the race can be held as planned. After all, they are the marines, and at some point a large race needs to set the precent for how they can be done safely. A vaccine is not a guarantee in 2020, 2021, or even longer. If race directors and government officials can't find a way to resume racing, then many races will go out of business.

Marine Corps Marathon 2006
I'm not a scientist, but we've had many mass outdoor gatherings over the past two months and none of them have been attributed to causing a spike or hotspot. Hotspots arose early in the pandemic from enclosed spaces, like that medical conference in Boston, nursing homes, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Once again, I am not a scientist, but I have done quite a bit of reading on this and I haven't seen any evidence of large outdoor mass gatherings causing a COVID 19 outbreak.

So even though many people think the Marine Corps Marathon will not happen, I choose to be optimistic. I'm also registered for Rehoboth Beach, which is about six weeks later. The race director recently emailed registrants telling us that it was too soon for them to know what would happen. As of now, they are still planning to proceed. I imagine we'll get more information in early fall.

My MCM History
Even though the MCM is my hometown marathon I have only run it once, back in 2006. It was my second marathon ever! I ran 4:24. I had a blast and I loved it so much. I ran the associated 10K in 2007 and 2012. The reason I haven't run the marathon again is because I have wanted to experience other fall races.

Plus, an October marathon requires long runs in August and that's not ideal with my heat sensitivity issues. But now that I have a treadmill, I think I can make it work. Lately I have been doing hybrid treadmill-outdoor runs. I run on the treadmill for 30-50 minutes and then immediately head outdoors for the remainder. Race day weather for MCM is hit-or-miss. It's been crappy the past few years but it had a streak of great weather the years before that. If it turns out to be too warm, I'll simply back off the pace and target Rehoboth Beach for a PR.

I'm also super excited about the charity I am raising money for. My donations website is currently broken, and once they fix it, I will announce what charity it is. It's an organization that I am passionate about supporting.

So, what's the plan?
July is an easy/recovery month and marathon training will officially begin in early August. Now is the perfect time to dial back the mileage and lay off the long workouts so I'm fresh when it's time to start the training cycle.

I have now done quite a few hybrid runs of treadmill/outdoor combo and it really works for me. The hotter it is, the longer I stay on the treadmill. If it's insanely hot then I simply do the whole thing on the treadmill. With the hybrid approach, I stay acclimated and reduce the risk of injury from 100% treadmill running. Having my own treadmill has been such a lifesaver!

If the starting temperature is 72+ combined with a dew point of 68+, then I do a hybrid run.  If the starting temperature is 75+ combined with a dew point of 70+, then I stay indoors for the entire run. I avoid speed work on the treadmill because I think it leads to injury (for me, not necessarily for others), so if it's too warm for speed work, I try to reschedule it for a different day, or ditch it altogether if there are no cooler options in the vicinity. I have to prioritize my health over trying to get all the workouts in.

Also, I should mention that I ended my running streak on Monday. I made it to 181 days. I think six months is a solid achievement and I could tell my body needed some rest days due to how high my heart rate was getting during easy runs. I only logged 31 miles this week, but I feel really good today, so the days off did their job. Now I just need to get through a few more weeks of very slow running in the heat and on the treadmill before I start training for Marine Corps!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Virtual Race Report: Indianapolis Monumental Mile

Yesterday I ran the Virtual Indianapolis Monumental Mile on the track with Greg. I had been training to run the mile distance for about 4 weeks.

Time Trial #1
On May 25th, I ran my first ever timed mile. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I've read many 1-mile race reports over the past few years and I even spectated a 1-mile track race about eight years ago. However, I never had the desire to race this distance. In the spirit of taking on new challenges during the Covid era, I decided now would be the time.

We decided that Greg would go first and I would time him using my phone's timer. I would collect his lap data and cheer him on. Then it would be my turn. He would take photos and videos and cheer me on. You could make the case that we would have been faster if we ran at the same time, but I wanted to "run my own race" and not be distracted by what he was doing.

My biggest fear was totally blowing up and running far slower than my capability. So I decided to start on the slower side and finish with a hard sprint.  My goal for the first time trial was simply to get a baseline for future time trials, but I decided I would shoot for 6:00.  My splits for each 400m lap were:

1:32 (1:32)
1:33 (3:05)
1:30 (4:35)
1:26 (6:01)

My time was 6:01.8. I was good with this time, although given how fast my last lap was, I wished I had gone out faster. Greg ran 5:46.

Time Trial #2
Our second time trial took place one week later on June 1. I should note that the weather for both the first and the second time trials was unseasonably cool. Mid 50s with low humidity.

Now that I had some practice under my belt, I decided I would try to go out more aggressively and run sub 6:00. I also knew that my mental game needed to be stronger. During the first time trial I kept having visions of stopping and not finishing the whole thing. For time trial #2, I vowed that I would stay positive the entire time and remind myself to push as hard as possible while staying relaxed.

1:30 (1:30)
1:32 (3:02)
1:29 (4:31)
1:25 (5:56)

My time was 5:56.0.  Over 5 seconds faster! Once again, I felt like I was flying during that last lap and I wished I had gone out faster. Greg ran 5:40, so we both shaved nearly six seconds off of our first attempt.

Time Trial #3
Once again, we waited one week and ran another time trial. It just so happened that Mondays offered the unseasonably cooler weather. It was in the upper 50s and sunny, but the humidity was low. I promised myself I would go out even faster and I would push, push, push all the way through. With two time trials behind me, I was much more confident in my abilities.

1:30 (1:30)
1:28 (2:58)
1:28 (4:26)
1:26 (5:52)

My time was 5:52.5, a PR by 3.5 seconds! I was so thrilled with this. And for the first time, I felt like I really gave the run everything I had in me. I was totally and completely spent by the end. After the first two time trials, I felt like I still had more to give. Greg had similar gains, running 5:37.

The Race
I wore briefs for the first time. Felt so free!
For the virtual race, we were allowed to run on any date between June 22 and June 30, so the race is still going on. We picked yesterday, which had the coolest weather. It was 62 degrees, compared to all the other days that were around 70. It was a humid 62, though, so it was definitely not as nice as any of the previous 3 attempts. I had no idea how much of a factor the weather would be for a race that lasted less than 6 minutes. I mean, how much can the humidity really get you in such a short time span?

Turns out, both Greg and I felt flat. I didn't feel like I had the power that I had during my previous attempts. My goal was to break 5:50 and run the first lap in 1:28. I think it was partially the weather but also partially that I just didn't feel great. Training in the heat has a cumulative effect so even if the actual race has good weather, if you've been training in crappy weather in the week leading up to the race, you likely won't feel your best.

Ironically, this is what happened at the Indy Monumental Marathon in 2017. I trained really hard during an unseasonably warm autumn. The race weather, however, was ideal. And yet I totally crashed and had a horrible race. My splits were:

1:31 (1:31)
1:31 (3:02)
1:30 (4:32)
1:26 (5:58)

My time was 5:58.0. When I saw my split for lap 3 I knew I needed to book it just to break six minutes! It seems like I am consistently able to run 1:26 in the last lap, but I can't seem to get myself to push harder earlier. I don't know if that's lack of confidence or that my legs need to warm up more. I was really, really hurting by the end and it took me a while to feel recovered after I finished. I felt like I pushed harder in this virtual race than the other time trials, and that is supported by the heart rate data below.

Before these time trials, I do drills and a few 100m strides, so I feel loose and ready to go.

In any event, I was happy that I ran sub-6:00 but disappointed that I didn't reach my goal of sub 5:50. And just like in the time trials, Greg was slower than his PR, too. He ran a 5:42. Both of us were faster than time trial #1, but slower than the other two trials. It was just not the day to PR.

Because I love charts:

 Lap 1 
 Lap 2 
 Lap 3 
 Lap 4 
 Average HR 
 May 25  
June 1
June 8
 June 26

As for my training, my has been relatively low, as it tends to be in the summer. I plan to take the month of July very easy and then start adding more volume in August.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

160 Days of Running

Today I hit day 160 of my run streak! Not having a marathon to recover from makes it possible for me to run every day and I am lucky that I can do so without injury or illness. I have no idea when I will end the streak, but I hope it's by choice when it happens. Here are some highlights of the past 30 days.

Training for the Mile
I'm training for the Indianapolis Monumental Mile. This is a virtual race when I can run at any time between June 22-30. I'm planning to run it on Friday or Saturday and will blog about it once I do. The beauty of training for a virtual mile is that I've never raced the distance non-virtually. So I am only comparing apples to apples where a PR is concerned. My goal is sub 5:50.

My coach has prescribed some high-intensity speed work on the track which has really helped build my confidence and ability to pace. I've done 3 time trials on the track, which I will write about in more detail when I recap the virtual race. I've managed to get faster and faster each time, which I mainly attribute to knowing how to pace it and gaining the confidence to start fast. My biggest fear with this distance is crashing and running far under my capability.

Strength Training
I started working with a running-specific strength coach at the end of April. We have weekly sessions over Zoom and in between those sessions I have a program I do on my own. I really like the accountability of a coach (since I always seem to have an excuse for not strength training) and I like having the feedback on my form. Plus, she has been able to identify my areas of weakness and build a personalized program.

Most of the exercises are compound exercises which require a very stable core while I am lifting a weight or pulling a band. Glutes and hips are a big focus, but also the lats and the shoulders of the upper body. I do feel like I have more power when running and that I can get my knees higher and drive forward more efficiently.

Snake in the Basement
My run streak almost ended on day 150. I woke up feeling abnormally tired. I felt lethargic and like I didn't have my normal energy. That was a "yellow light" for me, meaning that I might be on the verge
This snake was in our basement
of full-blown mono, so I decided not to run that morning. I figured that I could always run later in the day on the treadmill if my energy level improved.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had planned to run on the treadmill, but since I didn't, Greg went down to the basement first and he saw a snake! This prevented me from having to see the snake, or run on the the treadmill with a snake nearby. I was able to find a local snake expert to come by and help, but by the time he arrived, the snake was nowhere to be found.

The adrenaline of the snake situation really perked me up and by the end of the day, I felt completely normal. I decided to run just 2 miles outdoors to keep the streak going. No way was I going into the basement! Thankfully, Greg heard the snake moving around two days later, called the snake expert, and he was able to come over immediately and remove the live snake with his two hands! It was a lot larger than I had imagined. We think we identified how it could have gotten in and sealed up that area.

Poconos Mountains
The Lodge at Woodloch
We dealt with the snake just in time to leave for a mini-vacation to the mountains. We were so worried that we'd be gone for four days and that snake would just be hanging out. Greg and I booked a 4-night stay at the Lodge at Woodloch-- and all-inclusive spa retreat in northeastern Pennsylvania.

We really just wanted to get away, take some time off of work and focus on relaxation. We didn't do much while we were there other than relax, eat, and take in the beautiful scenery. The running situation was challenging. It was the mountains so all of our easy runs had insane elevation gains and losses. One of the runs was only 5.4 miles but had 540 feet of gain! I usually don't even run that much gain during a long run.

Thankfully, two of the four days were prescribed track workouts. We found a high school track that was relatively close to our resort and we were able to run on a flat surface. The weather was amazing. Each morning it was in the low 50s with low humidity. A dream come true! During the day, it would rise to the low 70s, still with low humidity. We were truly blessed, particularly because we had to eat all of our meals outdoors.

Lucky Leprechaun
When the St. Pat's 10K was canceled last spring, I signed up for a smaller race: Lucky Leprechaun. But 24 hours after registering, that race got postponed to June. And then at some point in May it turned into a virtual race.

I had pretty much forgotten about it, which was kind of a shame because we had unseasonably cool and non-humid weather on the morning when the virtual race was to occur (June 13th). Instead, I had a long run on the calendar. So I decided to run 11 miles at my easy long run pace, and then restart my Garmin for 3.1 at the end.

The 11 miles averaged 8:28 and then I ran a 5K in 22:41. Splits were 7:18, 7:19, 7:15 and 6:50 for the last 0.11. This was good for 5th female out of 190. Not to shabby, given my 11-mile warm up! I was encouraged that my endurance was still in a good spot if I could start hammering really hard at the end of a long run.

Fall Races
I am still undecided about my fall race plans. I originally signed up for the Rehoboth Beach Marathon because I wanted to run a late fall race. But now that we are no longer going to be in Africa at the end of August and into early September, I could start training earlier and run an earlier marathon. I am actually looking at running the Marine Corps Marathon for charity because it's local and I have not run it since 2006. As of now, the Marine Corps Marathon is not canceled so I am optimistic.

Another choice would be Philadelphia. That has been on my list for a long time and I've never done it. It would not require a flight and the weather is likely to be cooler than Marine Corps. Pennsylvania, however, is one of the the strictest lockdown states, so I am not as optimistic about that race occurring.

I do have a hotel reserved in Indianapolis. I ran really well there last year for the half marathon and was hoping to return. But it does require hopping on an airplane and it will not be a new experience. Indy Monumental is currently planning to have both a real race and a virtual race. Indiana is not as strict with their lockdown as other areas, so it could actually happen!

Rehoboth is still a possibility, but I might want to save that for 2021 because we are planning to go to Africa in August of 2021 and we will need a later fall marathon. I've heard that Rehoboth Beach is very strict with their lockdown, so that race might not actually occur.

We're coming up on a particularly warm and humid week here in the DC area, so I need to take it easy in preparation to race the virtual mile this weekend.

It's pretty humid here!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Boston Marathon: Canceled!

Earlier this week, the B.A.A. announced that it would cancel the marathon and instead have a virtual race. This did not come as a surprise to most people, myself included, as no large sporting events have returned yet. The cancelation did not affect me in the sense that I wasn't planning to run in September, but it did upset me.

Boston Marathon Expo 2018
Initially I believed that all of the cancelations and postponements were an over-reaction. We knew very little about the virus, so why would we close all the businesses, the schools, and the entertainment venues for something that might not even be a real threat? But then I started to understand as the "flatten the curve" articles came out. We simply couldn't overwhelm our healthcare system and we needed time to get more ventilators, PPE, tests, and more. Everything was uncertain so it was better to be safe than sorry and I was on board with that.

The lockdown was not supposed to be a long-term solution. The goal was to "flatten the curve" but once it was flattened everything was still closed and canceled. And now we find ourselves in a situation where we don't have an endgame. We might not get a vaccine, and even if we do, it might not be completely effective. We might not find a treatment. Coronavirus could be here forever with no cure or vaccine. So, we need to find a way to live with it, one in which individuals can choose the amount of risk they are comfortable with.

For my age group, the chance of dying from COVID-19 is about the same as dying from a car accident. I'm totally scared of car accidents, but I still drive. I make sure to do so safely. I'm also scared of the flu, but I'm pretty good about not touching things and washing my hands. Higher-risk individuals might choose to stay home and not attend public events or social gatherings. But that needs to be their choice. Source: Coronavirus: How Scared Should We Be.

Studies also show that the virus does not spread as easily outdoors, which is why restaurants in Virginia can now be open for outdoor seating but not indoor seating. Outdoor public spaces are also now open.

While I understand that we needed to flatten the curve initially, the time has now come for individuals to be responsible for their own health. If we don't start changing our thinking on this, we may never have races, sporting events, concerts, or conferences ever again.

Hopefully you made it this far and are still reading. I understand that COVID is a controversial topic and my beliefs may offend or annoy my readers. That's the risk I take with self expression.

April 20, 2020
Back to Boston, specifically. The B.A.A. is offering a virtual race in which you can earn your shirt and medal and submit results online and the race must be run between September 7-14. I probably will register for this so that I get my shirt and medal for the 26.2 miles I ran on April 20. I have reached out to them to ask if they would include virtual times from the weekend of April 20 in the results, as I know quite a few runners opted to run that weekend. I don't think it's safe for me to run 26.2 miles in the summer, no matter how slow. I have a history of getting mono (3 times now) in the summer, triggered by pushing myself too hard in the heat. Hopefully they will expand their timeframe to include the original Boston Marathon weekend in their virtual dates.

This is an example of a race being held that I do not think is safe for me to participate in, so I opt out.

Boston 2020 registrants will not be deferred 2021. They will have to apply again, only now they are competing against a larger pool of athletes, those who qualified between September 2019-March 2020. This means that the cut-off time will likely be steeper, and many runners who were registered for 2020 will not have the opportunity to run in 2021. Do I agree with this decision? Partially. If all runners were deferred then there would be no room for those who qualified in the fall of 2019 or the early spring of 2020.

 If I were running the show (and I'm not) here are the rules I would put in play:

  • Only registered runners from 2020 may apply to the 2021 race with a BQ time from September 2018-September 2019. 
  • If you were registered for the 2020 race, and you submit a BQ time between September 2018-September 2019, your BQ standard is based on your age on April 20, 2020. This would prevent 2020 registrants from gaining a larger buffer by aging up, which would be unfair to the 2021 qualifiers, and the rest of the 2020 qualifiers. You qualified originally based on your 4/20/2020 age, so that should not change.
  • If you were registered for the 2020 race but did not make the 2021 cutoff, you should be offered first dibs on a charity entry. You would still have to raise the money, but you'd be guaranteed this opportunity before non-qualifiers. Charities would still get their funds, and 2020 runners would still get their spots. (This does not take into consideration 2020 charity runners, but we don't yet know how those are being handled).
So those are my thoughts! I am sure everyone has their own opinions and they will vary widely. There is no perfect solution. 

My biggest concern at this point is the future of races in general. We are not guaranteed a 2021 Boston or a 2022 Boston. As I said above, if we are waiting for a vaccine or a cure to start things up, we have to face the reality that it may never happen.

I'd love to see some smaller races (200 people or less) start back up now with staggered starts and outdoor packet pickup, and then progress from there. I had always assumed that our annual July 4th 5K would take place and I was really disappointed when it was canceled.

As for my summer plans, I am currently trying to see how fast I can run a single mile. I will write a blog on that soon, as well as a recap of my spring "racing" season. I have been running every day and I am on day 138 of a run streak, which started on January 14. Not having to commute into work has given me extra time to run in the mornings and it has been the silver lining of the lockdown. More to come soon!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day 4-Mile Virtual Race

On Friday morning, I ran the Mother's Day Virtual 4-Miler, put on by Potomac River Running (=PR=). This was the first race I registered for as a virtual race, as opposed to registering for a real race and then having it turn into a virtual race.

=PR= sent out medals, bib number and race shirts about a week in advance of the race. We were told that we could run the race at any time on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. We could run it anywhere we chose, except for the official race course that had been used in previous years.

Initially, I thought I would run the race on Saturday. That would get it out of the way early and then I could still do a long run on Sunday. But as the forecast solidified it looked like it would be windy on Saturday, with Friday and Sunday being better options. Ultimately I went with Friday so that I could run my long run on Saturday, and not have to wait all weekend to do the race.

I have to admit, I am getting spoiled with virtual races and the option to choose the best weather day on a course I map out! I guess those advantages make up for the disadvantage of not having competition and a real finish line to run through.

In general, my thoughts on virtual racing are that they are the best option we have right now for racing, so we might as well do them. It's a great way to support local race organizers and increase the chances that they will still be in business once races are allowed again. The racing industry is getting hit HARD right now, so I will try to support race organizers as much as possible.

I would never choose a virtual race over a real race, but in the absence of real races, I would rather go virtual than not have any races at all. I enjoy pushing myself, having something to work towards, and the satisfaction of tackling a challenge. I'm honing my mental skills of pushing hard so that when real races come back, I will be in shape both mentally and physically.

Do virtual races count as PRs? Remember, the "P" in "PR" stands for Personal. So yes, if I run the distance faster than I ever have before, I am counting it as a PR. Plus, virtual racing is arguably more challenging than real racing because you don't have the race day adrenaline and the other runners to feed off of.

Before the Race
Greg and I woke up at 5:45 with the goal of leaving our house at 6:30. I wanted to start the race at 7:00 before it got too warm. I had half a serving of Generation UCAN Performance Energy, plus a Maurten gel with caffeine. The purpose of the UCAN was to ensure I had long-lasting energy, and the purpose of the gel was to get the caffeine.

We drove about two miles to the neighborhood where we would run the race. I had mapped out the course earlier in the week. The actual Mother's Day course starts up a big hill. So I designed a course
that started with a hill. From there, we would run down the hill and then it would be mostly flat to the end. The actual course continues to be very hilly until the end, so our course was definitely easier than the real thing.

In 2016, I ran a time of 27:51.
In 2017, I ran a time of 26:57.

Mother's Day 4-Miler 2017
My PR was 26:57, so that was the time to beat. I should also note that there used to be another popular 4-mile race that was held in the summer in the evenings. My PR for that course is 27:32. It's a flatter and much easier course than Mother's Day, but the 80+ degree weather makes it far more challenging overall. The race was discontinued last year and I don't think it will come back.

My goal was a sub-6:44 pace, which would be a PR. However, I really wanted to run an average pace of 6:36, which was the same pace as my 5K time trial a few weeks ago. I really feel like I could have pushed that race harder, so running a 4-mile race at the same pace as a recent 5K would be a nice win.

We warmed up for two miles. The weather was ideal. 48 degrees, mostly cloudy, and no wind. I give this a 10/10 on my weather scale, especially for May! Typically it needs to be in the low 40's to get a perfect weather score but for a short race like this, and with there being no wind, it was absolutely perfect.

Mile 1: 6:52
My plan was to run this mile conservatively because of the big hill and then go all out for the other three. When we started, Greg shot ahead as he tends to do in these races, and I had no expectation of catching him. He took the hill faster than me and was leading by about 15 seconds as we finished the first mile.

Mile 2: 6:36
Okay, now it was time to rally. I kept repeating to myself "It matters. It counts" as a way to push to my max and get the best out of myself. I don't think I gave it my all during the 5K time trial so this was my chance to prove to myself that I could push really hard in a virtual race setting.

Mile 3: 6:28
After hitting the halfway point and realizing that I had less than 15 minutes to go, I had the confidence to crank it up a notch. Often in races, I ease up in the second to last mile because it really hurts and I feel like I need to save some energy for the last mile. This time, I had the confidence to push really hard, knowing that I would still have energy left for the final mile.

I also noticed that Greg wasn't getting any father ahead of me. The gap was staying the same and it seemed like we were running the same pace. This was later confirmed by our splits. And I was thrilled to see that my 3rd mile was faster than his by a few seconds! One of my goals during this race was to push hard in the middle miles and my 6:28 split shows that I did just that.

Mile 4: 6:26
I flew during the last mile. I was hurting from the effort level but feeling so strong at the same time. I wish it always felt like this during the last mile of races. It wasn't that I had "saved" it all for the end either. If there had been a real finish line with a crowd, I probably could have run a little faster but since there was no finish line and I was waiting for my Garmin to beep, I didn't have a huge kick.

Final time: 26:27, a PR by 30 seconds from 2017.

And it counts! Greg ran 26:05, which was a PR for him too.

We cooled down for a little over a mile and then drove back home, where we began our work day. I didn't love having to go to work after a race; I would have rather basked in the satisfaction of my new PR. But it was worth it to race in non-windy weather.

As for the results, runners have until the end of the day today to submit their results, but as of 12:30pm on Sunday, I am in 3rd place out of 149 women. The results don't have age groups; just male and female divisions. I should mention that the 1st place female ran in the Olympic trials, so the competition here is pretty serious! Her time was 20:05 (average pace of 5:01).

Greg is currently the 4th male out of 39. I guess since this is a Mother's Day race, there are far more women participants!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I achieved all of my goals in this race:
  • Push really hard in the middle miles, don't ease up on the effort
  • PR by running faster than 26:57
  • Run the same pace as my recent 5K time trial: 6:36
I think that of all my virtual races, this is the one I am most proud of. Except for my "virtual" Boston marathon, which was not race effort, but was still extremely challenging due to the hills and the humidity. 

Looking Ahead
The summer is usually my "off season" for running because I can get really sick if I push hard in the heat and humidity. I need to be extra mindful of that with the coronavirus going around. So far, though, it's been unseasonably cool which has extended my hard training.

My next big challenge will be the mile. I have never raced the mile and I often get asked "what's your fastest mile?" To date, my fastest mile is 6:11. That was a downhill mile at the end of a Turkey Trot 5K with a tailwind. If I tried to run a mile right now I think I would be somewhere around 6:00. I would probably struggle to get under that. I think with some mile-specific training I could push it to 5:50 or 5:45. 

I've also started a strength training program with a strength training coach. This happens virtually over Zoom. We did an assessment about a month ago in which she identified the areas where I could gain running efficiency if I had more strength and stability. Based on the assessment, she wrote a program for me and we have sessions every week. I've had two of these sessions so far and I love them. Having a coach provides accountability because historically I have never been able to keep up with a strength training regime for more than 6-8 weeks before quitting. Also, now that I know I'm doing exercises that will help me be a faster runner, I'm more motivated. 

When do I think races will come back? There is an increasing amount of research and evidence showing that the virus does not spread as easily outdoors as it does indoors. Also, we haven't seen major outbreaks from the LA Marathon and other large races that occurred that same weekend-- when the virus was clearly in the US but we hadn't yet started social distancing. 

We've also flattened the curve to the extent that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed with patients. Does that mean races will come back? No. From everything I am hearing, the overwhelming objective is no longer to flatten the curve but to "prevent the spread" of the virus. And if that's the case, we will need to wait for a cure or a vaccine.

Back when it was "flatten the curve" I was optimistic about races coming back in the summer. Now that it's "stop the spread" I don't see races happening until 2021. At least not races with more than 1000 people. But I love running and racing so I will continue to do whatever I can to keep it in my life. 

Greg's PR and my PR