Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coronavirus Timeline: A personal day-by-day recap

Because I use this blog as my journal, I wanted to document the timeline of the events that have unraveled over the past two weeks. As I have said many times before, the primary audience for this blog is me and my future self, but I think others might find this timeline interesting as well.

I am not trying to be a reporter or a historian; I am trying to capture my own personal experience in the midst of this apocalyptic time. I'll start with Wednesday, March 11 because I last addressed this topic on Tuesday, March 10.

Wednesday, March 11: Anxiety and uncertainty
March 11 was the first day when I experienced physical signs of anxiety. Rapid heart beat, shakiness, sweating, etc. The anxiety was coming from multiple angles. First, I received some "you have no right to say this" comments in response to Tuesday's blog post. Some were posted in the comments section of the blog and some were posted on Facebook. I had stepped out of my comfort zone and written about something controversial, and was quickly reminded why I don't write about controversial topics or engage in political conversations.

These comments had me on edge and I tried to shut them down by being respectful of their opinions but not engaging in any further back-and-forth. I noticed a big shift in social media in general. Everyone seemed to be jumping down each other's throats and there were many heated debates. I tried to avoid Facebook and the news in general, but to no avail.

Wednesday: 12 x 200m
This was the day when many of the huge cancelations started. Several states declared a "state of emergency" as soon as they got their first confirmed case of the virus. All of this upheaval made me anxious and I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I was not okay.

I was also anxious because the St. Pat's 10K that I was scheduled to run on Sunday was canceled. I think this race would have had over 1,000 people and it was to occur in Washington D.C. I was upset, but not heartbroken. I registered for a smaller race that would maybe have 400 people in a suburb 20 miles outside of the city. I figured there would be no way that a small local race would be canceled. It took me a long time to fall asleep that night and I was not able to do so until after taking a Tylenol PM.

Keep in mind, Daylight Savings Time had started on Sunday, and that always messes with my sleep for the next 3-4 days, so I had that to deal with as well.

Thursday, March 12: Everything gets canceled, markets crash
I woke up after having gotten little sleep, and the sleep I got was thanks to the Tylenol PM. I was jittery on my run, and I decided that I needed to work from home because my anxiety was at an all-time high.

March 12: some stocks I own
I soon realized that working from home only made things worse. I was less focused on work than I should have been and I could not stop looking at the news and social media. Everything was getting canceled. Sporting events, concerts, conferences, you name it! I must have read at least 20 articles about the virus itself and scoured all the data, but there was so much conflicting information. Everything from "it's not as bad the flu" to "we will all be quarantined for the next 12-18 months".

I'm the Chief Marketing Officer and so for work, I did what all CMOs did last week: I sent an email to all of our customers addressing our coronavirus response! My company sells outsourced IT services and managed web hosting, so we wanted to reassure our customers that we were still able to support them if our teams worked remotely. In fact, the majority of our employees work remotely full-time so it would not be a big shift for us. With everything going on, I still had the ability to do my job.

At some point, my 5K race was postponed, with a new date in June. Less than 24 hours earlier, I was certain that this race would happen, and now, I was not at all surprised by the cancelation. Looking at my investment accounts was a horror show. I was losing thousands of dollars a day in the market, but I did not pull out because I kept thinking that it couldn't possibly go any lower. In fact, I consistently bought into mutual funds every day, and even some stocks. Buy low, sell high, right?

Then word came that the Boston Marathon would be announcing its plans the following day. This irked me a little bit because originally they were going to wait a few more weeks to make a decision. Surely they would be able to make a more informed decision in a few weeks? But because the situation was escalating at lightening speed, the B.A.A. was forced to communicate their plan earlier than originally stated.

I had also planned to celebrate my friends' 40th birthday at a party at a restaurant in D.C. They texted Greg and me and asked us if we were still planning to come. We said yes, but apparently most people said no, so that was canceled. With a completely blank slate in place of what was otherwise a busy weekend, I found the need to make backup plans. That's when I organized the 10K track race with my friend Amber.

Having the track race to look forward saved my sanity that day. I needed something I could count on. Sleep was an issue once again, so I popped another Tylenol PM. I don't typically rely on sleeping pills, but in the rare circumstances when I know it's my only chance of sleeping, I do it.

Friday, March 13: Boston Marathon postponed
I woke up and I still felt anxious and shaky. I decided that going into the office would help keep me focused on work and my mind off of everything else. I told myself not to look at Facebook and to limit the number of news articles I read. Before leaving the house, I took a Kava Kava supplement. I hadn't taken one of these in several years. It's a natural supplement to calm anxiety and I have found that it really works. It's not recommended for consistent or long term use, though.

This was the first day that Loudon County schools were closed. I live in Fairfax County, but Loudon is our neighboring county and my sister's children go to those schools.

I had a 9:15 meeting, and I was focused for that, but then the B.A.A. live press conference came on at 10:15. I had no doubt the race would be postponed (it had already been leaked to the media), but I wanted to find out what the new date would be. When they announced September 14th, I wasn't surprised because that's what I had heard from the rumor mill. That date wouldn't be possible for me, but I had my 2021 BQ, so I would just have to wait.

I have a lot of experience in waiting to run the Boston Marathon! I waited 8 years to run my first, so what's one extra year. Due to my history with mono, triggered by running in the heat, I realized it would not be safe for me to train in the summer. Furthermore, the average high in Boston at that time of year is 71, and since the race starts so late, that's the temperature we would be running in. No thank you! I ended up in the medical tent in 2016 from running the race in 71-degree temps, and I was not looking for a repeat. Finally, we have a trip to Africa scheduled and we won't return until September 5th, so turning right around to run a marathon is not really feasible with work commitments.

Greg has been training for the Providence Marathon for the past two months, so I figured I would register for that in the hopes that it would not be canceled. The Providence Marathon date is May 3, and even though I thought it had a high likelihood of being canceled, I didn't want to risk not getting a spot, should the race actually occur. We had secured our air fare and hotel a month ago. I realized I was probably throwing money down the drain, but I was already losing so much money in the stock market, what was an extra $100?

Thankfully, I had a number of meetings and conference calls to occupy me for the next several hours at work. Lots of emails to reply to, things that needed to get done. When everything was in a good place, I felt like I needed a pick-me-up. So at around 2:00, I left my office and went to Home Goods. Why Home Goods? We had just moved into a new office at work, and my office needed some personality. I ended up buying a funky lamp, some wall art, some cool knick-knacks, and a decorative plant. Doing this kept me away from social media and the news, and let me focus on something fun and peaceful, like a newly decorated office. I got back to my office, and my co-worker helped me place everything. It was a nice little escape from reality.

When it came time to sleep, I found that my anxiety had finally calmed down, thanks the the Kava Kava and the Home Goods trip. I slept well.

Saturday, March 14: Preparing to be homebound
My run was short because I was tapering for the 10K track race. Greg ran his long run and then went into the office where he would work the entire day. Throughout all of this, Greg was working extra long hours (70 hour week) because of a proposal.

I received an email from the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, stating that the race was canceled. I had no emotional reaction to this because I knew it would simply be a matter of time before they would officially cancel. That's when I decided I would probably plan a 10-mile time trial, but my first focus was on the 10K track race scheduled for the next day.

I spent the day deep cleaning the kitchen, which including cleaning all of the stainless steel appliances that had not been cleaned in over a year. I organized things, did all the dishes that had piled up over the past two days, and it felt great. I did several loads of laundry. I also updated my iTunes music library in an effort to replace some of the songs that had gotten lost when my computer crashed last year.

I went to the dry cleaners because we had a month's worth of clothing that needed to go. Plus, I wanted to support that business. Then I went to the grocery store and got some essentials: dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, fresh produce, cookie dough, salmon burgers, buns for the burgers, yogurt, milk, and eggs. Unfortunately, they were out of butter and we were down to just two sticks. They also didn't have the laundry detergent that I normally use, but I found another kind that I thought would be fine.

Sunday, March 15: The Social Distance 10K
I woke up and headed for my local track to race a 10K with my friend Amber. Greg was the photographer and official timer. I wrote a blog post to capture that experience.

The 10K was the highlight of my week. A truly bright spot in an increasingly dark world. Unfortunately, I was reprimanded by a few people on Facebook for doing this. The criticism was that Amber looked to be running too close to me in the photo. Couldn't we have waited two weeks?  Shouldn't we have run farther apart? I basically ignored those comments. Emotions are at an all-time high and if it makes people feel better to criticize me, then let them. But I will not engage with them. In this blog, I have posted a less controversial photo of the race: Amber pulled ahead, and to do so, she had to pass me!

That 10K was exactly what Amber and I both needed on that day, and we plan to run a 10-mile time trial soon.

Monday, March 16: The last day in the office
I went to Starbucks on my way to work, and there was a sign on the door that said "Grab-and-Go only." That was fine with me because I was planning to grab my mobile order and go. But it dawned on me that not being able to hang out at a Starbucks was now a reality. It was eerie. Greg worked from home on Monday, and planned to work from home for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, Fairfax County schools were closed for the first day. There was no traffic on the way to work, no cars to dodge during my run.

I met with the senior leadership team at my company first thing Monday morning. Even though three of us were in the same office location, we took the meeting from different rooms to avoid being in the same room. We decided to highly recommend that employees to work from home. Unless they absolutely had to be in the office, they would be discouraged from coming in.

As I said earlier, we had just moved into our new office two weeks ago and I was enjoying it quite a bit. It would be sad to leave the office and not have face-to-face interaction with my colleagues, but I accepted it. If I remember correctly, the financial markets dropped sharply again, and employees across the country were starting to get laid off.

Tuesday, March 17: St. Patrick's Day
There was no buzz around this holiday at all, but I was determined to be festive. At a time like this, it was important to cling to any tradition I could find. I wore a green tank and green shorts for my run. Greg wore green shorts, too.

Before starting my run, I drove to Bagel Buddies, my favorite local bagel shop and got a dozen bagels and a tub of cream cheese. They had green bagels, which are so much fun! I know the owner, and I really wanted to support that business. They are my go-to for bagels and by far the best bagels in Northern Virginia! Probably in the whole state of Virginia! I also popped into the Walmart next door and grabbed butter, pasta, and rice. They were pretty well stocked compared to the Wegman's.

I got home, grabbed my husband and we went for a run. He ran 13 miles, and I ran 12.6 (my schedule had 1 hour, 45 mins). Lots of people were out walking their dogs or simply walking. We got many compliments on our green outfits and people seemed friendlier in general.

Sticking to a schedule and routine had become extremely important to me. One of the reasons I love running so much is that it provides a structure. Something I can do every day that makes me feel good. My coach has been amazing through all of this and he has adjusted my training several times with all the cancelations.

I worked from home on Tuesday, which would be the first of many days to come. I kept busy and my spirits were generally higher than they had been a week ago. I was adjusting to the new normal, which meant new closings, cancelations, market swings, social media drama, and more. Meal planning with our "rations." Dressing up to work from home so I didn't feel like a bum. Making lunch every day instead of going out. Not making plans.

On Tuesday evening I got a pedicure. Greg didn't love this idea, but the technician's face was about six feet away from my face. I am 5'5, and her face was about 2 feet away from my feet, so that's more than 6 feet. She also wore a mask, as nail technicians tend to do. I typically get a pedicure every four weeks, and it was time, but I also wanted to support the salon because it would probably be forced to close soon. The dry cleaners. The bagel shop. The nail salon. These are all local businesses that I appreciate so much more now.

Wednesday, March 18: Feeling Zen
By this point I had accepted everything and I was starting to feel more zen-like on my runs. I ran 8 easy solo miles, using my Aftershokz headphones. It was weird running around my normal areas with no school busses to get annoyed at. I decided to run to the track to make sure it was still open. Fairfax County schools had shut down, and I wanted to see if I'd be able to use the track the next day for my workout. Thankfully, it was open and there was another runner on it.

We ran two laps together (he was going a lot faster than I should have been going on my easy run) but I briefly learned that his spring marathon (Charlottesville) had been postponed to October, but he was still keeping up with the training. I had seen this guy at the track before and we always waved but never chatted. Afterwards, I found him on Strava so now I have a new running connection in my local community.

Wednesday, March 18
I wore an outfit that matched really well. The adidas Ultra Boost 20 was white with navy stripes, which perfectly complemented my top. And even the headphones were navy blue. These little things are what I am clinging too, trivial as they may seem. I like having nice running outfits that match.

Again I worked from home and Greg and I ate the meals that we had planned out. I was staying on top of the laundry and the dishes, so things felt controlled in my world. At work, we started having conversations about how the coronavirus would impact us. Thankfully we deliver a vital service (keeping websites up) and I don't imagine our customers would want to shut down their websites or switch to a different provider at this time. It might be challenging to acquire new business, however, with many companies putting their projects on hold and budgets likely being slashed. As a marketer, it will definitely be challenging, but everyone in my profession is learning together.

Even though our investments were tanking, Greg and I both felt relatively secure in our jobs. Although we realized that feeling of security could change in a heartbeat. Nothing is guaranteed. Anything can change at a moment's notice.

One Day at a Time
I think this blog post is now longer than a marathon race report so I will stop here. I might continue on, or I might not. Right now, my attitude is to take things one day at a time, and to not speculate about the future. Nobody knows what will happen next week, next month, next year and this situation is rapidly evolving. All I can do is stick to my routine and take it a day at a time.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bib

When you really think about it, it doesn't take much to have a race. You really don't need t-shirts, medals, chip timing, age group awards, online race results, course certification or any of that. Sure, all that stuff makes the races feel important and celebratory and they are important, but they are not essential.

What do you need:
  • At least two runners
  • A measured course
  • Someone timing the race
Think about two children: "Race you to the end of the street?"  "Sure, Kelly can be the judge!" And boom- you have a race.

I was originally scheduled to run the St. Pat's 10K in DC this morning, but since that was canceled, I realized that I could still run a 10K on a measured course: the track. 25 laps around the track is exactly 10,000 meters. Greg agreed to be the timer (and photographer, and cheerleader) so all that was needed was at least one other runner.

I texted my friend Amber who is of similar ability to me (just slightly faster, so she keeps me on my toes). I knew that her half marathon this weekend had been canceled and she's often up for doing things like this! She agreed and suddenly, a 10K race as back on the calendar. We called it "The Social Distance 10K" as a play on the word "distance". I thought about calling it the Quaranten-k, but preferred social distance.

Before the Race
Greg and I met Amber and her friend at 7:30 at the local track with the goal of starting around 8:00am. The runner-to-spectator ratio was 1 to 1! The track even had porta-potties to make it feel like the bigger races. 

It was 39 degrees with a light mist and 7mph winds. On my weather scale, I would give this an 8 out of 10. Wind can be more brutal on a track than in a regular race, so if this had been a road race, I would have rated the weather a 9. We really lucked out.

We warmed up for two miles and discussed our race strategy. Thankfully, Amber was okay with running clockwise around the track, which is technically "backwards" because my left hip can act up with too many turns going the other way. The target was a pace of 6:40, which is super easy to pace on the track. It's 1:40 per lap. Using my Garmin as a stop watch, this meant that I was looking to see 1:40, 3:20, 5:00, and 6:40 every four laps. Then I would hit the lap button and aim to see those numbers again. I told her I would pace us like that for the first two miles, and then whatever happened, happened!

If I was able to achieve a 6:40 pace for the entire run, it would be a PR. An official PR, because this race had everything required to be a "real" race. There would be no disputing the distance or the time, or the fact that I had competition. I even wore a bib! It was important for me to feel like this was a real race. Amber brought a bib but accidentally left it in the car, and I hadn't noticed.

Miles 1-2
We were all warmed up and ready to go at 7:59. We told Greg we were ready and he counted down for us and when he said "Go!" we went. Music was playing through a bluetooth speaker, and we had it turned up as loud as possible. It was only audible for a small portion of the track, but it was still nice to have. I can't even begin to tell you what songs we heard because I was so focused on my running.

Everything went exactly to plan for the first two miles. Amber later told me that I was the perfect metronome to run behind. I hit the 1:40, 3:20, 5:00, 6:40 with precision each time. These miles felt comfortable and controlled and the pain had not yet set in. 

Mile 1: 6:41
Mile 2: 6:41

Miles 3-4
After about two miles a soccer team walked onto the field. It was an adult team and I had seen them before. I highly doubted they would try to kick us off or had any more right to the track than we did, so I didn't worry too much. I think they could tell it was an intense event, given that I was wearing a bib and we were running very close to each other.

After about 11 laps, Amber pulled ahead of me slightly. It was nice to have her in the lead because there was a windy stretch of the track and she helped block that. Greg was taking photos and going "live" on Instagram for my followers to watch in real time. 

Mentally, I kept repeating the lap number over and over in my head. It gave me a mini-goal to shoot for and kept me laser focused. Amber started to pull ahead of me after about 15 laps. I tried to stay as close to her as possible but she definitely began to widen the gap.

Mile 3: 6:45
Mile 4: 6:44

Miles 5-Finish
Keeping my social distance.
By this time, I had stopped trying to pace and just started running as hard as I could. Of course the urge to stop was tempting, as it always is in a race, but I kept the effort level up and keep running the laps. The further ahead Amber got, the harder it was to stay positive and push hard, but I kept reminding myself that this was truly my race and I needed to be strong.

Amber was about 30 seconds ahead of me (almost halfway around the track ahead) when she finished lap 24 and stopped. I saw her stop and I realize she had miscounted. I ran past Amber and Greg with no energy to say anything at that point. I ran the final lap in 1:37, which is a pace of 6:30.

Mile 5: 6:49
Mile 6: 6:57
Final lap: 1:37 (6:30 pace)

After the race
Greg was live on Instagram during this whole ordeal, and got a video of Amber realizing that she didn't run the 25th lap. Thankfully, she was able to laugh about it, and call it a six-mile PR and her longest track race ever. 

My time was 42:16, which is 25 seconds off of my PR. I definitely think I am in PR shape right now and capable of faster, but that's hard to do on a track with just one other competitor. So, I'm mainly just happy with my effort level and the fact that I played the role of race organizer so I could still race. Nothing will stop me from racing if I can help it.

It was definitely a fun morning and Amber and I plan to do another one of these soon, since the Cherry Blossom 10-miler was canceled. Greg has been training for the Providence marathon in Rhode Island on May 3rd, and so far that race has not canceled. Right now, the plan is for me to run that race too, and I will train for it until I hear word that it is canceled. Part of me hopes they wait as long as possible to cancel it because I really like marathon training and having a goal. The longer I can continue to train with a goal in sight, the better. Even if, in the end, the goal race evaporates. The opposite attitude would be "I did all that work for nothing!" My attitude is "I want to do all the work, and believe in something, while being aware that the something might become nothing."

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
  • I'm not in AS good of shape as I had believed, but I am in pretty good shape.
  • This was my 3rd fastest 10K.
  • This was my first ever race on a track.
  • I have a new appreciation of the simple ability to race, and in the future I won't be so annoyed by things like misplaced mile markers, bad race weather, a delayed start, etc. At least the race exists.
  • I am internally motivated and rewarded--  I don't need all of the hoopla surrounding a race to run really hard and feel accomplished. 
  • But big races with all the fanfare are really fun!
  • No future track workout will ever be as hard as this was, so I can have that perspective for future track workouts and be confident in my ability to stay strong.
  • I do not consider this a time trial; it was a race and did not lack any race essentials.
Up next will likely be a time trial the weekend that Cherry Blossom was scheduled for (April 5th). The distance and location is still TBD. It could be a repeat of this track 10K, or potentially we could shoot for 10 miles on a the towpath or W&OD.  My coach is definitely in favor of this approach.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Coronavirus and the Boston Marathon

Today, the New York Road Runners (NYRR) announced that its half marathon, which was scheduled to be held on Sunday, March 15, is now canceled. The New Bedford Half Marathon in Massachusetts was also canceled due to fears of spreading the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles marathon was held as planned last weekend.

Nearly all large races occurring in March and April have announced that they are closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and are working with health officials on the appropriate course of action. The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) has provided guidelines for communications regarding race cancelations due to the fear of spreading the virus. New developments and cancelations are occurring daily as the fear of COVID-19 rises.

I've ready plenty of articles and seen loads of data regarding the coronavirus. To me, it seems like we should be concerned, but we shouldn't be taking such drastic measures to contain the virus and it shouldn't be causing the state of panic that we are now in. Just look at what's happening:

  • Schools are sending their students and teachers home
  • Major events (concerts, South by Southwest, conferences, races, and more) have been canceled
  • The stock market crashed
  • Schools of all levels are being shut down; college students are being sent home.
  • There are major shortages of hand sanitizer, medical masks, and even toilet paper in some places
  • Travel bans are in place and people are canceling their trips
  • Businesses are telling employees to work from home
  • If you sneeze in public you will be treated like you have the plague
To me, the virus doesn't seem so deadly that its worth sacrificing our economy, our freedom, and the things that bring us joy. We have 709 known cases of the virus so far in the U.S. and 25 deaths. The flu kills way more people. Yes, I know the percentage of people who die from coronavirus is much higher than that of the flu, and there are likely many more infections that we do not yet know about. However, there is no (published) evidence that COVID-19 will kill more people than the flu, and there is no evidence that it can be contained. And at what point will enough be enough? When will it be okay to start living our normal lives again?

I spent my wedding anniversary sick with mono
If you've been following my blog for awhile, you know that I have immune system issues. I have gotten mono three times in the past 8 years, and I have been sick for months at a time. Greg is worried that if I catch the coronavirus I could die, given my immune system. That's possible, but I could also die in a car accident. Because of my immune system issues, I wash my hands about 5-10 times per day. I don't touch anything in a public place-- I use my sleeve or my knuckles instead of my fingertips. If I have to shake someone's hand, I immediately go to the bathroom and wash my hands. I don't use hand sanitizer; I use soap and water because you don't necessarily want to kill the germs; you want them off your hands. I sometimes hold my breath in elevators. I do not like people breathing near me. When the barista hands me my coffee, I make sure she's not touching near the part where my mouth would go.

I like that the general public is now taking these same precautions and that I won't be forced to shake hands, or looked at oddly for not touching door handles. And yet I still think this virus is over hyped. I have not done anything differently and I don't intend to.

I'm registered for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and the Boston Marathon, both of which are now at risk for cancelation. I had hoped that the LA marathon set a precedent for NOT canceling races, but now that NYRR has canceled its half marathon, that could be the new precedent. I strongly disagree with the decision to cancel races because:
  • It should be an individual's choice whether or not to "risk" getting sick
  • The virus cannot be contained
  • People are going to run in groups no matter what
  • Some runners will still run the planned race route, which is very dangerous without road closures
  • It contributes to the mass hysteria and panic
  • We cannot live in fear; life must go on
If I were advising the Boston Marathon officials on whether or not to cancel their race, I would not use any of the above arguments because they are mostly my opinion and there's room for disagreement. I would tell them to analyze the population of runners and spectators of the Los Angeles marathon. 

The virus has an incubation period of up to 2 weeks. So, wait two weeks (until March 22) and then determine how many of the LA marathon participants and spectators contracted the virus. If the percentage of that population has a higher than normal rate of infection, then it would make sense to correlate it to the marathon. If not, then there is no evidence that large marathons perpetuate the spread of the illness any more than living one's daily life.

Since the spread of this virus is being extremely closely monitored, it should be apparent in two weeks if LA marathon participants represent a larger-than-normal contingent of infected people. I'm not a medical professional or a public health professional but to me, it seems like this would be the only data-driven way to determine if a cancelation would help prevent the spread of the virus. 

Let's take it a step further and say that yes, LA marathon participants and spectators contracted the virus at a higher rate than the rest of the US population. Should Boston be canceled? They would have a data-driven case for doing so, but I still think that it should be left up to individual choice. Cars are dangerous but they aren't banned. Jumping off a bridge is dangerous but bridges exist. Furthermore, Boston Marathon runners are fanatics. They will still run the course on April 20, with or without the support of volunteers and medical professionals. That could pose a far more dangerous situation. 

It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks. The number of daily reported infections in the US has declined over the past few days according to several sources, and if that trend continues, maybe we can all stop panicking and get back to living. . . but still not shaking hands.

Edited to add:
I am not a medical professional and this post is not meant to be a medical one. It's about how our society is collapsing under the fear. Let's all take precautions but not create one disaster after another, after another.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The One City Half Marathon: The Royal Treatment

This morning I ran the Newport News One City Half Marathon. I had never run this race before, although last year, Greg ran the full marathon. He had a good experience (fast course, good organization, etc.) so I figured it would be a good race to target as my spring half.

Running in the Elite Field
As a master’s runner (40+ years of age) I qualified to run as part of the elite field by having run a previous half marathon faster than 1:35:00. The benefits of running as an Elite were:
  • A free race entry
  • The ability to place a bottle of fluid along the course
  • A VIP finisher’s tent
  • VIP parking for Greg at the finish line
  • Really low bib number (1001, which was the first half marathon bib number)
Training for the Race 
In my previous post, I detailed my past four weeks of training. They were solid weeks, but prior to those weeks, I had been dealing with posterior tibias tendonitis and running much less. Four weeks ago, I raced a 10K in 43:43, which is an official pace of 7:02.

Today, my goal was to run the half marathon at a pace of 6:52. Yes, it was ambitious of me to think I could run over twice the distance at a pace that was 10 seconds per mile faster with just 4 weeks of
training. However, the 10K was very hilly and I had hardly done any speed work leading up to that race due to my foot. Furthermore, 10 days out from the half marathon, I ran a workout of 3 x 3 miles at half marathon pace (3 minutes recovery jog in between) at a pace of 6:52. So that workout indicated I was in 6:52 half marathon shape.

My goal pace was 6:52 because that is what it takes to run sub-1:30. . . IF you run exactly 13.1 miles and perfect tangents. Realistically, I knew I would probably have to run a pace of 6:50 by my Garmin to get that elusive 1:29:xx. But I was up for the challenge. My PR was 1:30:58 and I had faced a stiff headwind in the final miles to achieve that. With the perfect weather that we had today, I thought I had an excellent opportunity to shave 59 seconds off of that time.

As for footwear, I decided to wear the adidas Adios 4. I had worn the Nike Vaporfly Next% in my previous two half marathons (1:31:55, 1:30:58) so I figured it would be a good experiment to see what I could do without that carbon fiber plate advantage.

Before the Race
Greg and I drove down to Newport News yesterday morning, in time to have lunch with my friend Trish, get my race packet, and watch the Olympic Marathon Trials. Everything went according to plan. It was great to meet Trish (she was an Internet friend whom I had never met in person before) and talk about her race goals. She was running the full marathon and trying to break 3:30.

Trish and I at lunch
We picked up my packet at the elite table, and I handed them my special bottle. I filled it with plain ol’ water, nothing special. It’s much easier to drink water from a bottle instead of the cups so the plan was for that to be my water for the race. I have found that when I have pre-hydrated really well, and the weather is cool, I don’t need to drink much water during a half marathon. I decorated my bottle with zebra duct tape so it would be easily visible.

We then watched the Olympic Marathon Trials on our hotel TV. It was great inspiration for the next day, and when it came time to actually race, I pretended I was running the trials with an announcer commentating on my performance! I slept reasonably well— 7 hours total.

When I woke up I felt ready to race. I had a bagel with peanut butter at 5:00am, got dressed, and then we left the hotel at 6:00am. Greg drove me to the start line and I hung out in the car with him until 6:20. This course is point-to-point, so he dropped me off and drove to mile 3 where he would be taking photos. The race started at a high school. I went inside and headed straight for the bathroom. Then I hung out in the gym for 10 minutes, drank my Generation UCAN and made sure my shoes were tied the way I wanted them to be.

At 6:40, I decided to use the bathroom one last time and then warmup. As I walked into the school bathroom, the smell was so bad that it triggered my gag reflex, so I promptly walked out to use an outdoor porta potty. Ironically, the porta potty did not smell, whereas the indoor bathroom was horrendous.

I then warmed up for 1.2 miles. I felt good. The weather was ideal. I give it a 10 out of 10 on my new personal weather scale that I recently launched inside my head! For me, the ideal weather for a race is 28-38 degrees if it’s sunny, of course with no wind. It was 28 degrees at the start line, sunny, and we had a 2-3 mph wind. Perfect for me!

I lined up at the front of the race, if you can’t do that with what was essentially bib #1, then when can you? I was also competing for first place female master which would be based off of gun time, not chip time.

Miles 1-4
My plan was to run the first 3 miles at a pace of 6:56-6:58 and then gradually speed up. This meant I would need to be in the 6:40’s by the end. But shortly after crossing the start line, the 1:30 pacers caught me. I decided I would stick with them, but keep an eye on my Garmin and hold back if they went out too quickly.

I’ve found that race pacers have a tendency to start much faster than what I would like so I avoid running with them. However, these pacers seemed to be going at pace that was only slightly faster than what I had planned anyway. I’ve heard others say that it really helps to have the motivation of a pace group. I figured, okay- so I will be just a bit faster in the beginning. I’d be compromising slightly on my race strategy in exchange for the benefit being in a pack. In my mind, this was a small risk, but I was confident in my ability to go sub 1:30. And if I couldn’t, well, then at least I would know that I tried.

Mile marker 3
Everything flowed well and felt smooth. At mile 3, I saw Greg. I realized he might not be able to get great photos of me being in that 1:30 pack with so many runners around, but I didn’t veer out of the pack just for a better photo opp.

Mile 1: 6:56
Mile 2: 6:53
Mile 3: 6:49
Mile 4: 6:49

Miles 5-8
Normally, this is where a half marathon starts to feel good. The early miles are tough because I know I still have a long way to go and I haven’t settled into a groove. Usually miles 4-8 flow really well and everything feels sustainable. These miles felt a little harder than I would have liked. Mile 5 had quite a few turns and curves and speed bumps so I wasn’t “flowing” as well as I normally would have been.

I stuck with the pacers and during the 6th mile they asked “how is everyone doing,” and I replied back “the woman is still here!” I was the only female in the pack of about 8-10 guys. I normally wouldn’t have expended the energy to do that, but it was a mental pick-me-up to say it out loud and the fact that I still had the energy to yell something gave me confidence that I had plenty of gas in the tank still.

Shortly after passing mile marker 7, I took my caffeinated Maurten gel. I knew my water would be coming up soon so I’d have something to wash it down with, even though you really don’t need to have water with the Maurten gel. I slowed down as I took the gel, which is natural. When I was done with it, I saw that the pace group had gotten out ahead of me by about 5 seconds. I decided they were still close enough to be helpful and that I didn’t need to be tightly in the pack.

At mile 8, I saw the table of elite fluids and took my zebra water bottle. I took a few swigs and tossed it off. I had to slow down to grab it, which meant my pace group got even farther ahead.

Mile 5: 6:54
Mile 6: 6:55
Mile 7: 6:55
Mile 8: 6:55

Miles 9-12
I couldn’t catch up with the pace group, but I still was running at a decent clip and I felt okay. I figured I might not be getting my sub-1:30 but I could still PR. At this point, it would have been really easy to ease up on the effort. That’s what my body wanted. But I had mentally prepared for this moment. I used all my mental persuasion tricks to keep myself pushing hard. I felt strong and energized and but the pace my Garmin was slipping.

Mile 10 had a hill that really did me in and my pace slowed quite a bit. I logged a 7:12 mile. After that hill, I was not able to fully recover and get my pace under 7:00 again. I still had the pace group in my sights, but I knew I’d never be able to catch them. The last three miles were rough. I told myself It would be just 21 minutes (which is easier mentally than 3.1 miles) and I could tolerate anything for 21 minutes.

I felt like I was pushing to my absolute max, but in reality maybe I was just doing what I could to hold on. I looked at my heart rate data post race, which showed that during miles 10, 11, and 12, my average heart rate when down by 2 beats. My legs felt good, but I felt tired and it was so hard to push. I can’t help but think I wasn’t as mentally strong here as I could have been, and I could stand to improve here.

I think that during the last four miles of a half marathon I start to get the attitude of “just do whatever you can to hang on and finish” instead of “do you have more to give right now?” I always make sure that I “hang in there” and “don’t stop” even though my body is screaming at me, forgetting that I not only want to hang in there— I want to give more. It’s like I’m afraid to give more because that would hurt more and then surely I would have to stop.

I should also note that as my watch beeped for 10 miles, the time was 1:09:21, which is faster than my official 10-mile PR. This is my 3rd half marathon with a faster 10-mile time than my official 10-mile race PR! I think it was 1:08:xx in Indianapolis.

Mile 9: 6:59
Mile 10: 7:12
Mile 11: 7:06
Mile 12: 7:06

Mile 13 to Finish:
As I said earlier, I was hoping to win the female master’s race. Once I knew that my sub-1:30 and PR were both not happening, I stayed motivated by the idea of winning and trying not to be passed. I had no idea if I was the first woman over the age of 39, but I ran the race as if I was and as if the Master’s win was on the line.

Mile marker 13
I could hear someone coming up behind me in the last mile. Spectators cheered, “let’s go ladies” so I knew it was a female. I told myself that she could be in the Master’s race and I needed to stay ahead of her. She passed me at mile 12.6 and encouraged me, and I noticed she looked really young. Phew- not another master! But then as I got even closer to the finish, I heard yet another person approaching. I vowed not to let her pass too. I ran the last 0.21 miles at a pace of 6:20 and did not let her pass me. If I had lost the master’s win in the last 400 meters of the race I would have been so disappointed in myself.

Mile 13: 7:03
Last 0.21: 6:20 pace

After the race
I finished with an official time of 1:31:56. I missed my PR by 58 seconds, and my second fastest time by 1 second. This was officially my third fastest half marathon. But I wasn’t wearing Vaporflys so let’s call this a PR for non-Vaporfly shoes.

In all seriousness, I never thought the Vaporflys made me that much faster; rather they made it easier on my legs to recover. The two PRs I set in them were times that my training indicated I could hit wearing adidas shoes. I know that the Vaporflys definitely offer an advantage to many runners, but I am not one of them. Maybe it’s my gait, or maybe it’s because my weakness is not being able to push when I’m tired, and no shoe will help with that.

Anyway, back to the race. I found Greg and did my traditional vomit (only it was dry-heaving because my stomach was empty). I’ve vomited or dry heaved at the past 5 half marathons I have run. I don’t do it in marathons or 10Ks. Just the half for whatever reason. We checked the results and sadly I learned that I was not the female master’s winner; I was second place. The winner ran over two minutes faster than me. Even sadder, there was no award for the second master, but if I had been the second master in the full marathon, I would have won an award. I am not sure why they award a second place master in the full and not the half, but it’s okay.

I then proceeded to get a massage and hang out in the heated VIP tent where I met the other elite runners. Most people PR’ed given the ideal weather conditions and the fast course. It was nice to meet the other women and exchange stories about the race and our training. Greg and I then went out to cheer for the marathon finishers. Trish came into sight right when we expected her and ran a blazing fast 3:28:15. She was elated and I was so happy to see her so happy.

Trish and me post race
One thing I have learned over the past few years is how to truly be happy for others even when my race doesn’t go as planned. Today was her day and I was genuinely happy that she got to experience the joy and satisfaction of a huge PR. I think the “old me” would have felt bad that I wasn’t the one with the good race, but that’s not at all how I felt. How did I feel? Read the Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways!!!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I think it’s pretty simple: I was not in shape to run sub 1:30 today. I took a [slight] risk by running with the 1:30 pace group. They did not go out too fast; I simply couldn’t hang with them after 8 miles.

My coach and I agree that I had a faster race in me today, which I would have run if I had started out slower. If I had been around 6:58 for the early miles, I probably could have progressed down and been faster at the end, but it still wouldn’t have been a sub-1:30, and it still might not have even been a PR.

We have no regrets though. I had my sights set on 1:29:xx, I tried and now I know I’m not there yet. It’s disappointing but not the end of the world.

My heart rate data indicates that I physically was capable of pushing harder in the later miles. So I know I need to improve my mental game. I need to change “hang in there and keep it up” to “push harder”.

In any event, the McMillan Running Calculator predicts PRs at every other distance based on this time, so I know have some of those in my future. Particularly in the 10-miler. To put things in perspective, 4 weeks ago, I ran a 10K at the same pace as this half marathon. So in four weeks, I was able to more than double the distance I could run at a pace of 6:59. I think that’s pretty good!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Boston Marathon 2020: 8 weeks to go

Since recovering from my posterior tibialis tendonitis injury, my training has really taken off. I kicked things off with a 10K on February 2, and then I got back into the full swing of marathon training. Boston is now 8 weeks away and my training for the past four weeks looks like this:

From a weekly mileage standpoint, the ramp-up looks like this:

Week of Jan 20: 35.1
Week of Jan 27: 44.7
Week of Feb 3: 58.0
Week of Feb 10: 61.9
Week of Feb 17: 73.5

This might seem like I ramped up too quickly but in late December and early January, I had been logging substantial mileage. It took me a full month to get back to where I had been before the 5 days off I took.

Training Highlights
My two most recent long runs have been very encouraging. As I discovered during my 10K, my endurance didn't seem to suffer from the time off. Therefore, when it came time to run 15 miles and then 19 miles, my legs performed really well. 

Last weekend, I was prescribed 2 hours at a pace between 7:55-8:05. It was a perfect-weather morning and Greg and I ran together on the W&OD. We ended up doing a progression run from 8:25 down to 7:33, with an average pace of 7:53. I was very pleased with that. My legs felt energized the whole way through and there were some notable hills, too!

On Thursday of this week, I was prescribed 3 x 3 miles at half marathon effort with a mere 3 minutes recovery jog in between. The splits were:

6:57, 6:50, 6:50
6:52, 6:48, 6:50
6:52, 6:52, 6:55

I was very pleased with how everything felt and that I didn't feel like I was REALLY pushing until the last two miles. Including warm up and cool down, this was 13.6 miles on Thursday.

Thursday, Feb. 20
And then, just two days later, I went out for 19 miles. Yikes. Instead of hunting hills I ran a flatter route than usual to give my legs a break. I didn't expect this to be a progression and at the start of it I told myself the only goal was to get the miles done. I started at a pace of 8:37 and finish in the 7:40s, averaging 8:05 for the 19 miles. This was one of those runs that I just went on autopilot. At mile 12 I thought I would be in serious trouble come mile 16 based on how tired my legs were. But the run continued to be manageable, although uncomfortable.  I told myself I could stop at 17 miles-- that would be plenty considering I had only done 15 the weekend before. But then I got to 16 and bargained with myself to get to 18. And of course once I got to 18, I realized I would be able to run one more. So, 19 miles at an average pace of 8:05 just two days after 9 miles at half marathon pace!

I think that this type of thing will really build fitness so long as I can stay healthy. I did a recovery run today and even though my legs were dead, I was able to get through it without anything feeling off or painful. Including my foot!

And before moving on to the next topic, I would like to thank the weather gods for perfect weather during nearly all of my hard workouts this season. It has only snowed once, and it was a very small amount. I know many people are unhappy about this, but it has been great for my training. The irony is that I just got a treadmill over the summer and fully expected to get some use out of it this winter. But it has not been necessary. The worst I have dealt with is cold rain and wind, which isn't pleasant, but it's definitely manageable.

Up Next: The One City Half Marathon
I'm guessing my coach bumped me up to 19 miles yesterday because I have a half marathon next weekend, which is 7 weeks out from Boston. So after that, there won't be many weekends left for long runs. Especially considering I am also running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

I posted my half marathon pace workout to a running forum an the feedback I received from multiple experienced runners was that if I can average a pace of 6:52 for 9 miles in training, which I did, I should definitely be able to hold that in a half marathon race, and probably faster. That seems really intimidating to me, but logically it should be true. Especially since my legs were then able to handle 19 miles two days later. I didn't kill myself during that workout to get to those paces.

So that means I could likely run a sub 1:30 half marathon on Sunday. The weather is looking close to ideal (28 degrees at the start, 33 at the finish) so it really could be my day to crush it. I have an "elite" bib so I'm going to work hard to live up to that bib! Right now I think I will start the race at a pace of just under 7:00 and try to be in the high 6:40's by the end of the race.

I was recently interviewed on the Run Farther & Faster podcast about my experience with the Nike Vaporfly Next%. Given that I have two pairs of these shoes with only 45 miles each on them, will I
Saturday, Feb. 22
wear them again?

For the half marathon, I will be wearing the Adidas Adios 4. It's the same shoe I wore for the 10K and it's really light. I like to be able to feel the ground under my feet, and I can't do that in the Vaporfly.

As for Cherry Blossom and Boston, I am not sure. I think I will probably stick to the Adios for Cherry Blossom, and only use the Vaporfly Next% in Boston if my foot is feeling 100% recovered and the weather is good enough to PR in. I'm not going to risk injury unless I think I could run the race of my life!

After having run a 10K, 2 half marathons, and a full marathon in the Vaporfly Next%, I don't think the shoe made me faster than I would have otherwise been. However, I recovered very quickly from both of those half marathons and was able to jump right back into training. And one of the benefits of the Nike Vaporfly is that your legs recover faster. Also, I did a 16 mile run with 13 at marathon pace and I felt like the shoes did take about 5 seconds per mile off my pace during that run. It was unbelievably fast. Of course-- the only time I experience their super speed powers is a training run! So. . . I am not giving up on the shoe entirely. Just for the immediate future.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Bust the Rust: 10K Race Report

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been struggling with Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis. This injury was the result of wearing the Nike Vaporfly Next% during the California International Marathon in December. I did not have the issue at the start line, but my arch was killing me immediately following the race.

As a result, I only ran 159 miles in January, where I planned to run around 260-270. Most of these miles were run at any easy pace. I did spend a fair amount of time pool running and swimming, but
there is no true substitute for actual speed work. I have been religious about doing my physical therapy exercises twice per day and as a result, my foot is feeling a lot better.

I didn't want to miss out on the For The Love of It 10K that was on my schedule. My coach and my physical therapist told me I could go ahead and run it. It would be a good test of my fitness, although possibly a humbling experience.

This 10K course is hilly and challenging. It's one of the most challenging 10K courses in the local area, and yet it's my PR course from 2017. Back in 2017, I was just four weeks out from the Myrtle Beach Marathon and I was in excellent shape. I ran a surprisingly fast 41:51, which I could not believe at the time. I ran three 10K races last year, all on faster courses when I was in peak condition, and still failed to beat that time. None of those courses had great weather, though. The trick is to get good weather, a fast course, and to be in good shape all at the same time. That's when PRs happen.

We had lovely weather this morning but I was not in my best shape. It was 35 degrees with winds of around 8 mph and party sunny. Before the foot injury, my goal was to PR and I believed I could crush my 2017 time. My revised goal was simply to push hard throughout the race and be proud of my effort. I hoped to break 43:00.

Regarding footwear. I really wanted to wear the pink Vaporfly Next% because they were pink and it was a Valentine's themed race. But of course, this is how I got my tendonitis so those shoes were out of the question. I wondered if I should wear my bulky stability shoes to ensure my foot wouldn't hurt, but my physical therapist said that firm, low-cushioned shoes were good. Thus, I turned to my trusty adidas adizero adios. A lightweight racing shoe with a firm ride and a touch of bounce.

Before the Race
Everything went smoothly before the race. Logistics were extremely easy, as the parking lot was just steps away from the school where we got our bibs, and the start line was right there too. This race has a history of being very cold, so it's helpful to have a school at the start and finish line. When I ran it in 2017 it was in the low 20s. Last year (when I did not run it) it was around 10 degrees and there was ice on the ground.

Anyway, Greg and I arrived at 7:20, got our bibs, pinned them on, and I took a small swig of Generation UCAN before starting the warm up. We only had time to run 1.6 miles for the warm up because we also had to use the bathrooms. 15 minutes before race start, I took a caffeinated Maurten gel for some extra pep.

We found Hannah, did a bit more warming up with her and then arrived at the start line with just two minutes to spare.

Miles 1-2
Since I had no idea what kind of shape I was in, I had no idea what pace I should go out at. Back in 2017, my first two miles were both 6:48. Due to my lack of volume, I wasn't certain I could hold that kind of pace so I thought somewhere around 6:55 would be good.

As the race started, I noticed that the pace felt controlled and smooth, and more like half marathon effort. Even though the first two miles were net uphill, I felt strong and I didn't feel like I was straining too much. I reached the first mile in 6:58 and I thought that would set me up well for the rest of the race. I told myself not to compare my splits to my 2017 splits, but since I knew what they were, it was hard not to do that. So as of mile 1, I was 10 seconds behind.

Mile 2 was also mostly uphill and it was hard. I focused on my form, engaging my glutes, using my arms, and staying mentally engaged. I didn't look at my watch but I felt really good. When it finally beeped, I saw that I had run a 7:13 mile, which I simply accepted as my fitness level. I was running hard and doing my best, so I didn't get discouraged by my pace.

Miles 3-4
End of mile 3, photo by Cheryl Young
These miles are the fastest of the race. I was able to pass a woman during the third mile, but a different woman passed me during the fourth mile. I had no idea how many women were ahead of me but I knew it was a competitive field for a local race.

Back in 2017, these miles were in the low 6:30s, so I was expecting a full downhill ride. Nope! Even though they were NET downhill, they had their fair share of ups!

During this portion of the race things got really tough and I started to wonder if I would be able to maintain this effort. I was giving so much of myself and I didn't know if it was sustainable. I refused to back off, though, because I knew that in that moment, I could do it, and I would do it as long as I could. These miles clocked in at 6:47 and 6:45.

Miles 5-Finish
I was mentally prepared for mile 5, which was my slowest mile back in 2017. I know-- I kept thinking about 2017! And I wasn's supposed to be doing that. But that was freakishly perfect execution and I was inspired by my former self! The hill was actually not as painful as I remembered it to be. I think I am generally a stronger hill runner now than I was back then, but it still created a slow down in my pace. 7:12. Okay, at least it wasn't slower than mile 2. This meant that I was maintaining my pace and not falling apart, as I feared I might.

The fact that I was definitely still holding on to both my effort and pace was a huge pick-me-up. I guess if you set the bar low and think you might bonk later in the race when it's mile 3, you get really excited to not be bonking at mile 5! I was exceeding expectations!

The final mile was painful. I gave it everything I had and did not back off. It started uphill but then had a nice downhill. And the last 300 meters were on the high school track. Oh the joy of a flat surface after constant rolling hills! I ran mile 6 in 7:04 and the final 0.26 (by my Garmin) at a pace of 6:36. Nobody was around me as I finished so I made sure to smile big for the photographer and really
Greg in the background!
take in that moment. There's nothing like that finish line feeling and I finished strong, knowing that I had given this race everything I had.

After the Race
My lungs were on fire for about 10 minutes after the race. I was so beat that I sat down on the field. It was a satisfying feeling, though! I reunited with Greg and Hannah. Greg ran 41:03 which was about 10 seconds slower than his time from 2017. No PR cake tonight, unfortunately. I also got to meet someone who I had been following on Strava for years, Bonnie. She introduced herself to me and it felt like we already knew each other! We all cheered Lisa in, and then we cooled down for 1.3 miles.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
My official time was 43:43, which is far off from my sub-43:00 hope and very far off from my 41:51 course PR. But I wasn't as discouraged about this as I thought I might be. If someone had told me before the race that I would run 43:43, I would have been bummed out. But the fact that I held it together so well and didn't fade makes me believe my endurance is somewhat intact.

I was first place in my age group (40-44) out of 32 runners. I was the 13th overall female, which shows you just how competitive this race was for a local 10K. I am almost always one of the top 10 women in this race series by Potomac River Running but not today. I'm 41 now, and it won't be long before some fast ladies start entering my division, so I need to take advantage of this while I can!

Based on how the race felt, I think my speed has suffered from the lack of workouts but my endurance not as much. I would have expected it to be the other way around because my mileage was low, but my deep water running workouts were really intense. I believed I was maintaining my VO2 max, but letting my endurance slip.

I think that regular speed work is important for getting the legs to turnover quickly. I had run a 5K tempo on Monday at an average pace of 6:54 and I felt like I could have maintained that for longer, but not necessarily have gone any faster. On Wednesday, I had done some 1-minute and 2-minute Fartleks and those were a big strain--much more than the tempo run. So I did have some indicators going into the race that my endurance was strong but my speed was lacking.

The good news is that I can get my speed back relatively quickly. 3-4 weeks of work should do the trick and today was an excellent workout.

My foot held up really well! There were times when I could feel there was something there, but it never "hurt". Toward the end of the cool down it started to get a bit unhappy, so we stopped running after 1.3 miles. That was a sufficient cool down anyway. I logged 9.2 miles for the day, which is more mileage than I had logged since January 6. A good step forward.

I am happy with my pacing, execution and endurance. I just wish I could have run faster. Next up: The One City Half Marathon on March 1st. My half marathon PR pace from November is 6:55 (faster than today's race) so if I can come anywhere close to that, it will be good progress. Thank goodness February has an extra training day this year. I'll need it!

Finishing on the track, photo by Bidong Liu

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Social Media or Controlled Media?

When I first started this blog on MySpace about 15 years ago, it was very much of a journal in which I let my closest friends into my thoughts, feelings, struggles, and more. At that time, I had an audience of about 30 people. But that audience was super engaged and interested in what I had to say, and MySpace made sure that all 30 people saw my blog posts.

When I moved it to blogger in 2009 without any privacy restrictions, I stopped writing personal details and kept it strictly to running. My audience was still limited, though, because I didn’t actively try to grow my blog following. I sometimes shared my blog posts on Facebook, but there was only a small number of people who cared to read my long and drawn out race recaps. I was fine with that. My primary audience was me, as I wanted to keep a record of all my running experiences. I was actually surprised when people read my blog and took interest in the details of my running.

Then, in 2016, I started writing daily posts on Instagram where I got even more exposure, mainly for the purposes of promoting my book, Boston Bound. And before I knew it, my audience there skyrocketed and within a year, I had over 10,000 followers. Those were the glory days, before Instagram had an algorithm that controlled the posts its users’ feeds. Posts were simply displayed in the order in which they were published.

I don’t know anyone who favors the algorithm over chronological order, but Instagram doesn’t even give users a choice anymore. In fact, I created a poll in my Instagram story and 95% of users said they would prefer pictures to appear in the order they were posted, and this poll had over 400 responses! Today, Instagram has become so corrupted with bots and fake followers, as well as its own penalties to punish bots and fake followers. Instagram claims its sole objective is to make the community a “safe space” to engage, but actually its sole purpose is to make money, and to do that, it needs to tightly control what people see.

I’m in marketing, so I get it. Instagram (owned by Facebook) is a business and the purpose of a business is to make money. That’s fine, but please just be honest about it! Don’t pretend that you are making changes to improve the user experience when in reality you are trying to maximize your profits from advertisers. As much as Instagram claims that it rewards great content by promoting it to a larger audience, it’s all a computerized algorithm and I’ve cracked the code on what Instagram does and does not like.

Instagram algorithm doesn't like the track
For example, my track photos consistently get fewer views, likes, and comments than my other photos. Even though those are some of the toughest workouts I do! Why? The algorithm sees the track and/or field and something about that pattern indicates the post is of lower quality. Keep in mind, I have been posting on Instagram almost every day for 3+ years, and my lowest performing posts are always the track workouts.

Instagram also doesn’t like colored blocks of text. Sometimes to make my posts more attractive, I use colored text vs. simple black and white. But without fail, any time I put a colored text box in my photo, it reaches a much smaller audience. Also, if I edit the caption after posting the photo, engagement numbers go way down. Editing is a big no-no.

Thankfully, I can still come here to my blog and express myself without the Instagram algorithm controlling who sees it. Now that I’ve given some background on where I’m coming from, I’d like to express two major gripes I have with Instagram.

Removing the Like Count
Instagram is removing like counts from photos. If you can still see like counts, chances are that you won’t be able to see them for much longer. My ability to see like counts was removed several months ago. This means that when I scroll through Instagram, I can’t see how many people have liked someone else’s photo.

I can still see how many people liked my photo, but I have to take an extra step by tapping on “and others” for the total number to come up. This confuses the heck out of me. Instagram says they are doing it to make the platform a “safe space” where users aren’t pressured by the number of likes their photos get. But I can still see my own likes! Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose? The only thing that’s changed is I can’t see other people’s likes, and I have to take one extra step to see my own likes.

My theory is that Instagram is doing this for . . . CONTROL. As I mentioned above, they need to maintain tight control over the platform for maximum profit, and that means control over data. If likes are no longer public data, then how will businesses know which influencers have the highest engagement rates? They won’t, which means they might lean more towards paid advertising with Instagram. Eventually, businesses will have to pay Instagram for access to engagement data. You want to run an influencer marketing campaign? Well, you’ll have to pay Instagram first to know which influencers to use. Today, businesses are bypassing paid advertising on Instagram by using influencers, and Instagram wants its cut.

I have no problem with this, but I DO have a problem with Instagram saying they are doing it to make it a “safe space”. If users can still see their own like counts, what is the point?

Finally, Instagram likes are basically the result of an algorithm. I see very little correlation between the posts I think are really great and how many likes they get. I know that certain elements will trigger a greater reach from the algorithm, and therefore more likes. I would never take it personally! I know that my track workout photos will get far fewer likes, but that doesn’t mean I am going to stop posting them or feel badly about it. It’s a computer.

Penalizing Valid Accounts
Instagram penalizes accounts that it thinks are violating its terms of use. That seems logical, right? Yes, but they are once again using a computer algorithm to determine which users should be penalized.

Last Saturday, when Greg was doing his long run and I was at home waiting for the pool to open, I decided to check out the Houston Marathon hashtag along with some other running hashtags. I ended up liking and commenting on more photos than I usually do. And I did it all within about 30-45 minutes.

No like count!
On Sunday morning, when I opened Instagram, they required me to provide my cell phone number for two-factor authentication before I was allowed to do anything. I didn’t want Instagram having my phone number. I Googled it and I found out that this means Instagram suspects me of being a bot, so the phone is required to confirm I am a human. UGH. Okay, so now Instagram has my phone number that it can sell to any number of advertisers.

Since giving my phone number to Instagram a few days ago, I have received several spam text messages, using my first name. I used to get spam texts, but never with my name being used.

Once I had access to my account, I started posting and interacting as I normally do. But my daily post had very little reach compared to my other posts. The same thing happened to me again on Monday, and I realized that my post wasn’t being shown for any of the hashtags I was using. I Googled this problem, and I learned that I was “shadow banned”. This is a 14-day ban for accounts that violate the terms of use. The only thing I can think of that caused this was that I liked and commented on more posts than I typically do on Saturday. Apparently users can only like 3 posts per minute over a 1-hour period.

Can’t we just go back to MySpace, when social media was about expressing yourself and not a numbers game?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis

In 18+ years of running, I certainly have made the rounds of all the different types of tendonitis!

Patellar Tendonitis: Spring of 2008
Peroneal Tendonitis: Fall of 2009
High Hamstring Tendonitis: Summer 2013
Achilles Tendinitis: Fall of 2017

I can now add to the list Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis. Here's how it happened.

December 8: CIM
Before CIM. No tendonitis!
Upon completion of the marathon I noticed a pain in my arch. It hurt as I walked back to the hotel, and when I took the Vaporfly Next% off of my foot- OUCH. It was a burning pain of about 6 out of 10 on the pain scale. It seemed as if the shoe had been rubbing against my foot in a certain way to cause this arch pain. It bothered me for the rest of the day and and into the following day.

December 9 - 15: Marathon recovery
The pain went away completely two days post marathon. So much so that I forgot about it.

December 16 - 20: Easing back into running
I resumed running with short, easy runs of 30-50 minutes. I didn't have any pain in my foot.

December 21: First post-marathon symptoms
I did an 11-mile long run and the arch of my foot started to hurt about halfway through. It was maybe about a 2 on the pain scale, so I wasn't concerned. As I walked around on it for the rest of the day, I noticed that it felt off, kind of like a tight muscle.

December 22 - January 9: Blissful Ignorance (or denial)
I continued to train, doing hard workouts on the track and long runs of 10-13 miles. I even ran a 5K on New Year's Day without any problems. My foot would bother me a little, but it was more of an annoyance than anything else, never getting above a 2 on the pain scale.

After my long run on January 4th, my foot hurt more than normal, which caused concern. It was mostly okay during the run, but afterwards it was about a 3.5 to 4 on the pain scale for the rest of the day. Very tender to the touch and I could feel it with each step. That's when I realized I would probably have to address it. I continued with my training plan and track workouts until I could get in to see my physical therapist on January 9.

It didn't take long for my PT to diagnose me with posterior tibialis tendonitis; I had classic symptoms. The two areas of pain were on the bottom of my foot, where the tendon connected, and on the side of the foot, about one inch forward from the ankle bone, and one inch below. He told me I would need to take some time off running to let it heal. Not the news I wanted.

Area of pain - feels like a sore ache
This issue wasn't caused by "overuse"-- it was caused by my shoe rubbing the wrong way during the race. So how does that result in tendonitis?!  My PT had a theory that it could have been because the shoe had an 8mm drop (as opposed to the 10mm I normally wear) and it was extra bouncy, causing my foot to pronate, where it normally does not pronate. Or, it could have been rubbing against my arch the wrong way, which irritated the tendon, and now it's going to take a while to calm down.

So. . . couldn't I just train through it like I trained through Achilles tendonitis? He said that this was different and I needed to ease up to give it time to heal. Of course, in addition to doing exercises. He was concerned that I took a week off post marathon and it came back. And he said that this is a nagging injury and tends to come back unless you treat it with the exercises over several months.

January 10 - 13: No running; pool workouts only
I took four full days off of running, but I went to the pool every day. I mainly did deep water running with a floatation belt, but I also added in some swimming to save myself from boredom. And I simply enjoy swimming. I would do it all the time if it were more convenient.

January 14 - now
After my four days off, I started running again, but only 3-4 miles per day. And that's where I am at now-- I just finished a 3.5 mile run in the snow. And of course, I have been religious about my exercises. Rest alone won't heal this; I need to load the tendon with weight.

I'm now at a point where I don't feel any symptoms while walking around during the day, which is a big improvement. However, after about two miles of running, I do start to feel some soreness on the bottom of my foot. Since I'm only running 3-4 mile easy runs, this pain has been about a 1.5 to 2 on the pain scale, and I am back to being symptom free five minutes after stopping.

I also bought a pair of the Mizuno Wave Inspire-- a shoe I stopped wearing over a year ago when I was told I was a neutral runner. I am a neutral runner, but the added stability will reduce the load on the tendon as I recover and the firmness of the shoe will help too. My PT told me that cushiony, bouncy shoes were bad for this injury.

Looking ahead
I'm trying not to look ahead and take this one day at a time. I have no idea how bad this is going to be. Once I start increasing my mileage (next week) will the pain come back while walking around during the day? Will it become more painful so that I can't run? My PT said that I can let it get to a "3" on the pain scale. But anything above that and I need to stop running and go back to a reduced load. Thankfully, I haven't felt a 3 or above since the day of my long run two weekends ago, and I want to keep it that way.

If this had happened a month out from Boston, I probably would have continued to train through it at full intensity and waited until after the race to rehab it. But since Boston is still over 12 weeks away, I feel like I can get away with easing up on the mileage now and still run a strong race.

How I feel
Of course, this sucks. I'm generally optimistic because as I said above, it wasn't like I was overtraining or anything. It was caused by the Vaporfly during a marathon, so once it calms down it shouldn't come back. I'd be discouraged if my normal running routine caused this.

I basically have some loathing of CIM, though. I tried to be positive about my experience there, but now I just look back on that race with regret. I had a perfect training cycle and I was in the best shape of my life. I went into that race healthy and with no issues. I ended up having a difficult race, missing my goal time, not getting a PR, and ending up with an injury.

My primary positive takeaway from that race was that I had such a great training cycle and it would set me up well for my Boston cycle. But now just the opposite is true. The race set me up to start my training cycle off with an injury. If CIM had been the race I had hoped to run, I wouldn't be as peeved about this. I would have been "worth it." I'm glad CIM is behind me, and I'm never going back there and I'm on the fence about ever putting my foot in a Vaporfly Next% ever again.

Phew! Glad to get that off my chest. I am sour, but I have been distracting myself with my pool workouts and focusing on the healing process. So generally, I am in a good spot mentally. I still think I will be able to run well in Boston, and at least participate (if not run fast) in the races I have signed up for this spring.