Saturday, November 21, 2020

Quick Li'l 5K

13 days post marathon and I jumped into a 5K this morning. This is pretty much unheard of for me. It usually takes me about two weeks to feel "normal" again, and the soonest I have ever raced post-marathon is 3 weeks later. 

Marathon Recovery
I wasn't very sore from the marathon. It felt like I had done a hard long run, but definitely not a marathon. The race was on a Sunday and by Wednesday, I felt no lingering soreness while walking around the house. Things continued to feel good on Thursday so I decided to test out a run on Friday. I felt abnormally good. Usually my first post-marathon run is full of little "reminder aches" that I ran a marathon. No such feeling

Birthday photo, 11/11/2020

on Friday. And the next day, Saturday, I ran for 40 minutes at a pace of 8:36, which is on the speedier side of easy!

While my legs had made a miraculous recovery in record time, my digestive system was another story. As soon as I started running on Friday, I felt the same chest tightness I had felt during the marathon. And there was the urge to burp. My primary care doctor had referred me to a GI specialist, but that appointment wouldn't be for two more weeks. After the run, my stomach made weird noises and I burped very frequently for the rest of the day. 

I continued to ramp back up: 40 minutes Saturday, 50 minutes Sunday, 60 minutes on Monday-- all with very fresh-feeling legs. With each run, the chest pressure lessened, which was encouraging. However the burping continued during running and all day every day. My best theory is that I do have an ulcer. The marathon aggravated it. It bled a little, and turned my vomit black. And now the continued irritation is causing the burping. I was a little concerned about racing a 5K while this GI issue was going on, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

Race Cancellation Navigation
Every year starting in 2006, I have run a Turkey Trot. It's one of my favorite running traditions if not my most favorite tradition. This year, all the local trots went virtual. Here in Northern VA, we typically have about 6-7 to choose from. But none of them would be held. I did some research and found one in Fredericksburg about three weeks ago. That would be a one-hour drive on Thanksgiving morning, but it was worth it to keep up with tradition. 

However, the governor of VA announced new restrictions on Friday the 13th which resulted in the Fredericksburg race being canceled the next day. What to do? I realized I would have to either run a virtual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving (not desirable) or run a race the following weekend. So I did more research and found a 5K on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. But before registering, I emailed the race director and asked him if it was at risk for cancelation. He said he needed to check with the venue (The W&OD trail), so I did not register without having a final confirmation. 

Lo and behold! That race ended up going virtual due to the new restrictions put in place by our governor. I didn't have any more options unless I wanted to drive over 3 hours or run a trail race (not my thing). However, there was a small 5K happening in Washington DC today, Saturday the 21st. I had known about this race for a while, but I didn't even consider it due to the proximity to my marathon, and the fact that Greg was planning on running a semi-virtual marathon today (Richmond). 

On Thursday, Greg decided against the marathon for various reasons, and my legs were feeling 100%, so I registered for this Cranberry Crawl 5K. There used to be so many races to choose from that the challenge was picking the best option. Now, there are so few races that it's a struggle just to find anything!

Before the Race
Instead of eating a full English muffin with peanut butter for breakfast, I had half an English muffin with a very small amount of peanut butter. I did not want to upset my stomach. This probably amounted to
around 100 calories, which isn't very much, but I also planned on taking a Maurten gel 30 minutes prior to the race.

I considered wearing my adidas Adios Pro-- the same shoes I wore during the marathon. I found them to be really fast and springy and I think they would have helped in a 5K. But I ended up not wearing them and going with the adidas Adios (regular edition, not the Pro), which is a standard racing flat with no carbon plate. Why? I really wanted to see what I could do un-aided by a shoe. I think that if I had PR'ed while wearing them, I would have wondered if I would have PR'ed without them. I don't have these same thoughts regarding the marathon distance, because a marathon is more about endurance than speed. I may be totally illogical here, but that's my thinking. Plus, once I believe I have reached my peak 5K fitness and can no longer PR. . . then out come the faster shoes!

Pre-race with a mask

It was a smooth ride into DC. We hadn't been into the city since May, before the political unrest. It was nice to see it again and things were calm at 7:00 in the morning. We parked easily and got my bib. I warmed up for about 15 minutes, which included some strides. This was a low key race with no chip timing. It was a 5K and a 10K, and I think the total number of runners for both races was around 50. The 5K started at 7:50 and the 10K started at 8:00.

It was 49 degrees, partly cloudy, and no wind. Pretty much ideal, so I give it a 10/10 on the weather scale. Usually it needs to be colder for me to give it a perfect 10, but since it was only a 5K and there was literally no wind and it wasn't very sunny, it gets a 10. The course was flat, so it would be a perfect day to set a PR. And that's what I really wanted. 

Could I run a PR just 13 days after a marathon with a potential ulcer, or some other un-diagnosed digestive issue? Normally I would have thought not, but since my legs had felt so peppy over the past few days and since the weather was perfect, I figured it was an excellent opportunity. 19:58 was the time to beat and my strategy was to do it by being 100% positive 100% of the time and always, always keeping that effort level up. I think that a 5K is really all about the effort you put in and how much pain you can tolerate. And even if the fitness wasn't there, I would be mentally stronger than ever.

Mile 1
Mile 1: 6:29
I didn't bolt out as fast as I normally do in a 5K. I had a decent warm up, but I still thought it best to ease into my pace. According to my Garmin pace chart, I ran the first half of this mile slower than the second half, which is consistent with my effort. Once I got going, I made sure to crank up the effort. I kept repeating the same mantras over and over again: Let your fitness shine. Use your fitness. Relax and push forward. Challenge yourself. You are strong. Keep that effort up.

Mile 2: 6:35
I knew that with a first mile of 6:29, I could definitely PR. That pepped me up. I continued to push just as hard, but my watch pace was slipping slightly. I was not discouraged by this. I continued on with my mantras. There were two women ahead of me. One of them was so far ahead I couldn't even see her. The other one was about 20 seconds in front of me. I figured I probably wouldn't catch her, but it might be possible if I surged at the end and she was fading. I slowed down slightly during this mile, but I refused to let that impact my mindset.

Mile 3: 6:30
The race was so hard at the point. I kept telling myself to focus on my form, to keep the effort up, that I could do anything for 7 minutes. I felt strong and I do believe I was giving it my all, but unfortunately I couldn't get that pace back into the 6:20s. The good news is that I felt good, I was pushing hard, and it felt exactly as it was supposed to feel. I think that not having done any 5K-specific work in about a month just meant my top speed wasn't in place.

Last 0.13: 5:49 pace
I had a really strong final kick, which of course always makes me wonder if I could have run faster! I looked at the clock as I ran through the finish line and it read 20:20. This also matched my Garmin time.

Finish line.
I guess if you can't go sub-20:00, might as well run a poetic 20:20 in 2020. I was the 3rd overall female, which isn't that impressive for a race that had less than 40 people total. But with so few races being held, live, the competitive runners show up!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways:
For a race that I decided to do somewhat spontaneously, I think this went well. Of course I would have loved to get that PR and be eating the cake tonight. The course and the weather presented an ideal opportunity. But I am not in my best 5K shape ever coming off of a marathon taper and recovery. The fact that I could run within 22 seconds of my PR less than two weeks post marathon isn't too shabby. So I'm pleased. Most importantly, I really wanted to be mentally strong today and I was. I constantly repeated my mantras over and over and I didn't get discouraged or let the effort slip. 

If I had it to do over again I probably would have warmed up for longer and gone out a little bit harder. I think that if I had run a really hard first mile, I could have hung in there for the next two without too much of a fade. But I think ultimately it would have only made a difference of a few seconds. I also think the faster shoes would have helped, but I am glad I didn't wear them. Now I have a true baseline for my 5K fitness. 

I'm still rather sour about not having a Turkey Trot, especially since the indoor bars and restaurants are open. Clearly I found a race and I fulfilled my own personal desires, but the principle of canceling small races that have gone to great lengths to develop new socially distant protocols is maddening. These are not super-spreader events. That's been proven time and again. If someone doesn't feel safe racing, they can choose to not participate. 

I don't want to end this blog on a negative note. I'm a positive person and I don't waste mental energy focusing on things that I can't control. But I'm not going to ignore it either and pretend it doesn't bother me. It bothers me, but I'm primarily focused on finding races that continue to be held and training for them. Training and racing is a lifestyle for me and I will maintain it as long as I am able and have the desire.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Harrisburg Marathon Race Report

This morning I ran the Harrisburg Marathon in PA. I registered for this race back in July after the Marine Corps Marathon was canceled. This was my goal race for the season and I was hoping to run 3:10 or just under. 

This was marathon #27 (28 if you count the virtual Boston, which I do, so okay, 28) but I had never run Harrisburg before. This year, they changed the course to be Covid-friendly. That means no road closures and only paths and sidewalks. It's still unclear why road closures are deemed a Covid hazard, but potentially they didn't want to use police resources. I think cramming runners onto a narrow path seems like it would actually be worse in terms of social distancing, but in many areas of the country, that is all that race directors can get permits for.

In any event, this course was USATF certified as a Boston Qualifier so I was very grateful to have the opportunity to run it. It was well organized and I know the race director went to a great deal of effort to make modifications that would get the race approved. One of those was splitting the race into two days: both Saturday and Sunday. Instead of 600 runners all on one day, 300 runners ran on Saturday and 300 runners ran today. Another was having waves that went off every 10 minutes, and pre-assigning runners to those waves. 

Previewing the start
Saturday Adventures
Greg and I drove just over two hours to get to Harrisburg and arrived at around noon yesterday. Packet pickup was located on site at the race so I was able to preview the start/finish area. This was also the halfway point as the course was two loops of the same route. It was good to get a sense of how things would work and talk to some of the finishers about their experience.

We then headed to our hotel for lunch. We had lunch with our friend Aaron, who we met just two months ago at the local track. He actually ran the virtual Boston marathon on the track while we were doing a workout and we stayed to watch him finish. A fun way to meet a local runner. I suggested he run Harrisburg and so he signed up a few days later! 

Then we walked to the state capital building which was just a few blocks from the hotel. I heard there was a protest going on and I had never been to a protest so this was my chance. I was not going to be a protestor, I simply wanted to observe. There were not many people there (the main event had been two hours earlier) and it seemed like there was an equal amount of supporters for both Trump and Biden. "Stop the Steal" for Trump and "Count Every Vote" for Biden. 

On our way back to the hotel, we were approached by a reporter from a prominent news source. The reporter asked us if he could interview us and of course I immediately said "sure!" I love being interviewed for things! And then, after years of being mostly silent on social media about my political views, I just spewed it all to this reporter! I laid it all out there, didn't hold back one bit, and Greg joined in. And then the reporter asked for our names we provided them. So. . . . yeah that was definitely an impulsive move. Now my political views would be published on this prominent news outlet with my first and last name! DOH!

What had I been telling myself the past two months? Do not let election anxiety interfere with your race! And the day before the race, I go to a protest and tell a reporter all my beliefs. Lovely!

I told myself I would not check that news outlet until after the race and I would think no more about it. But then of course I kept replaying over and over what I said. (Note: I found the article after the race and thankfully none of our comments were used. Phew. Life is just easier when you don't discuss politics.)

We had dinner with our friend Aaron at an Italian restaurant and I ordered my standard chicken parm without the parm. Chicken, sauce, and pasta. Very bland, but it works for me. I should also mentioned that I hydrated with UCAN hydrate during the day yesterday, as I always do the day before a race. I am a firm believer that if you pre-hydrate with water and electrolytes, you do not need all that much water during the race. 

I did not sleep well last night. I got some quality sleep from 11:00-2:30, but aside from that I was awake for most of the night. This is pretty standard for me, so I wasn't too worried about it. But I did feel shaky and I noticed I truly was a little shaky when I started looking at my phone. Pre-race nerves are a normal thing, and I have had them before. 

Before the Race
I ate my typical pre-race bagel with peanut butter and banana. I always have this two hours before race start so there is plenty of time to digest this. I have eaten this same breakfast for every marathon and half marathon I have run since 2006! I've never had a problem with it. I got dressed, put my bib on, applied sunscreen, and mixed my UCAN. 

We left the hotel and during our walk to the race start, I sipped my UCAN. The plan was to have this one serving of UCAN pre-race and then use Maurten gels starting at around mile 12. This is what I had done in training and it worked well. (Although in training I didn't also have the bagel and banana with peanut butter). For hydration, I would carry my own bottle of water mixed with UCAN Hydrate and then ditch it about an hour into the race. Again, something I always do on training runs that works well.

About 15 women in the start corral
We arrived at the start line at 6:35 for a 7:00am start. I ran around the parking lot a little bit to warm up and used the porta potty.  The "elite" men started at 6:50 and the "elite" women started at 7:00. There were about 12-15 women in the 7:00 wave. Before entering the corral we had to answer a few questions and get our temperature taken.  Masks were required. Once in the corral, they spaced us out and then they sent one runner off every 15 seconds. We were allowed to remove our masks once we approached the start line.

It was about 40 degrees. I had a jacket that I would set aside before starting and that Greg would grab after he took my photo. The forecast was 40 degrees at the start, 59 degrees at the end, sunny skies, no wind. What a big warmup in less than 4 hours! I was somewhat worried about overheating during the last half hour, but I also wasn't TOO worried. By that point, the fate of my race would be decided and a little heat for a few miles shouldn't have a big impact. I definitely would not have wanted to start in the 8:00 wave though. On my weather scale, I give this a 9 out of 10. To get a 10 out of 10 we would have needed some cloud cover, as the sun was blinding in places.

Miles 1-5
I was the third female to start. I took my mask off as I approached the start line and began running. Greg was there and snapped a few photos. Then it was time to run the first mile around City Island. I was prepared for a lot of turns and uneven pavement. The uneven pavement was particularly challenging because of the shoes I wore. 

I wore the newly released adidas Adios Pro. This is a fast shoe and I love everything about it but the high stack height and lack of tread on the bottom makes it unstable and slippery. Thus, uneven pavement posed more of a challenge than it would in regular shoes. I am a very cautious runner and I did not want to fall in the first mile. Plus, I had only worn the shoes once before so I wasn't quite used to how they felt in the first mile. All of this caution and uneven pavement resulted in an 8:03 first mile. I had planned for 7:25-7:30, but I wasn't too concerned. The first mile is all about establishing a rhythm and getting the legs moving. 

I failed to establish a rhythm, though, due to all the turns and my cautious approach to any abnormality in the pavement. During that first mile, the two women who started ahead of me stayed ahead of me, and one really speedy woman passed me from behind.

After a mile around the City Island, we ran over a bridge. And then we turned left and ran for a very short while on a path, and then turned again to go onto another bridge. We ran across that bridge, had a few hairpin turns, and then back across the bridge to make an out-and-back. Turning on and off these bridges was definitely momentum stealing, so I still wasn't able to get into a groove during the second mile, which yielded a 7:40. I felt okay, but not great. My UCAN wasn't sitting well and I felt like I needed to keep burping. I didn't judge it though because it was still very early in the race. 

Mile 4
Coming back off of the bridge, we turned onto a path. Greg was waiting there for me and took my photo and that perked me up. I was excited to finally have the consistency of a path with no turns and hopefully even pavement. I really needed to find my groove and I had not yet. And my chest still felt tight-- like I needed to burp. At this point, I passed one of the runners who was ahead of me, so now I was the third female. Keeping in mind, though, I was also competing against the elite Saturday runners, whose times were not published.

Mile 1: 8:03
Mile 2: 7:40
Mile 3: 7:33
Mile 4: 7:22
Mile 5: 7:18

Miles 6-10
I did feel like I was exerting a little too much effort for still being in the first hour of the race, but I trusted my training. I knew I was fit and I knew I could put out a hard effort for a long time. Once I finally established a rhythm at around mile 5, I stopped looking at the Garmin and just went with it. Miles 5 and 6 felt like they were mostly downhill and there weren't any hairpin turns which was a relief. The pavement was bumpy in some places and I had to weave around runners and walkers who started in the 6:30 wave (those requiring 6-8 hours to finish). 

I noticed that my mood was not great. I felt nauseous, like I needed to vomit or burp, and the course was annoying me. So many turns and bumps and I just wanted to cruise on a wide road. I started getting mad at the whole Covid situation and the cancelation or alteration of so many races. I knew that I needed to be positive so I stopped being negative and focused on enjoying the race. Yes, it was annoying, but here I was doing what I loved to do! I had trained hard for the race and I was going to make the best of it. To be clear, the race organizers did a great job and I applaud them for finding a way to make this race possible. But as I was running, I was annoyed at the altered course. 

I ditched my gloves somewhere around mile 7, and I ditched my water bottle about five minutes later. As I said earlier, I believe that pre-hydrating and drinking plenty of water early in the race reduces the need for water later in the race. This is important for me because I often have a hard time taking in water after the halfway point. My stomach rejects it.

And now, a shout-out to AID STATION 3! The volunteers cheered for me by name and one of them said they had my book! They were so awesome and it really perked me up to be recognized. They requested the shout-out too, so THANK YOU aid station number three for being so amazing and just what I needed.

Mile 9.5: my favorite part!
At around mile marker 8, we ran down a hill onto a lovely stretch of flat, even pavement! I was so excited to be on this even pavement and it was well-shaded as the sun was still low in the sky. I just cruised. I finally felt good. I was optimistic about setting a PR. I finally was having the race I wanted to have. The nausea and chest tightness was still there, but it was manageable now that I could just cruise along. Mile 9 was 7:18 and mile 10 was 7:19. Perfect!

I saw Greg during the 10th mile, still on that nice stretch of the course. I gave him a big smile! Greg was able to see me many times during this race without having to move around too much. Because of the two-loop and out-and-back nature of this course, we kept running by the same areas. 

Mile 6: 7:27
Mile 7: 7:17
Mile 8: 7:18
Mile 9: 7:18
Mile 10: 7:19

Miles 11-16
I continued on, and I knew to expect a gravel trail coming up. The gravel didn't worry me too much. My marathon PR of 3:15 was set on a course that was about 70% gravel. I wasn't sure how the shoes would fare, but the benefit of having them for the rest of the race outweighed any stability disadvantage they may have been on the gravel. The hardest part of mile 11 was running directly into the sun on the gravel. It was difficult to see and I needed to be able to see my footing. 

I had a caffeinated Maruten gel during the 12th mile. I have been using these during training and they have worked well. Even though I was still feeling nauseated, the gel went down well. At this point, I didn't think I could stomach water, but this gel was like swallowing a pill. The 12th mile was probably the hardest of the race because it was mostly gravel and had hills and turns in it. I clocked a 7:51 mile. 

For mile 13, we ran over a bridge back to the start/finish area, and then started the next loop. The footing on this bridge was tricky as there were steel plates every 20 feet or so and running over them was not

Mile 13, two runners gaining on me.

stable. At this point, I could hear two runners coming up behind me. They were running together and talking to each other. They were getting closer and closer and I could tell they wanted to pass me. But given that we were on a sidewalk next to an open road, they could not pass me and instead came up quite close behind me. One of them was a woman, so I was now in 4th place. 

I crossed the halfway mark at 1:39:05. I knew a PR was not in the cards at this point, but I was hopeful that I could maybe beat my 3:22 from CIM. And then it was time to run the entire course again. Mentally that was a scary thought. I already felt worn out and my nausea was getting worse. So around City Island with uneven pavement again, although this time I was more comfortable in the shoes so I was able to run faster. 

I entered a negative mind space again and wondered if I should just stop running marathons and be happy with a lifetime PR of 3:15. Would I ever have a marathon go that well for me again? But I always have these thoughts at some point during a marathon when it's not going well. I start feeling defeated and wonder why I even bother with all that hard training. 

The nausea was getting bad and I really wanted to vomit. I stopped during the 16th mile and dry heaved. I tried to get the vomit out but it was not coming. I didn't want to stop too long so after about 15 seconds I proceeded over the bridge. This obviously cost me some time and I ran 8:01 for that mile. 

Mile 11: 7:37
Mile 12: 7:51
Mile 13: 7:33
Mile 14: 7:31
Mile 15: 7:47
Mile 16: 8:01

Miles 17-21
This was getting exhausting. I felt like I was running an 8:00 pace, but I was still well under that and I have no idea how. I started thinking about CIM and how things got really tough at mile 17. I remembered that I stayed strong all the way until the end of that race. But then my negative voice chimed in to tell me that CIM was on nice even pavement and had no awkwardness. But then again, the weather today was much better. I had expected to feel warm by mile 17 but I still felt relatively cool. Mile 17 was 7:37 which was a pleasant surprise. 

I started to repeat to myself that I was doing what I love most and that I needed to keep doing it. The nausea was so bad and I was working so hard. Finally I reached the turn around and was headed back towards the start. I knew that my favorite flat/smooth pavement was coming up so that motivated me. "Just get to that part and it will be easier" I told myself. It seemed to go on forever, but eventually I reached it. 

During the 21st mile, I caught up with one of the women ahead of me. She had been the first to cross the start line. We ran together for a little bit and encouraged each other. But ultimately I pulled ahead. I really enjoyed having someone to run with for that bit. 

Mile 17: 7:37
Mile 18: 7:44
Mile 19: 7:43
Mile 20: 7:53
Mile 21: 7:44

Mile 22
Miles 22-Finish
I had to dig really deep here. My legs felt really good but it was heating up, the sun was directly in my face and I was still nauseous. I poured some water over my head during the 23rd mile, and that felt great. I  wasn't overheating (at least I don't think I was) but I did notice things get warm. I was able to get down about 3/4 of another Maurten gel at this point. I wasn't sure if I needed it or not but I figured if I could get it down it would only help.

That gravel part came and I knew that would slow me down on top of my already slowed pace. Mile 23 was 8:07 and I was starting to bonk, but I knew I could hang in there and finish. I was the third female (at least for the Sunday race) but unfortunately I was overtaken by another woman during the 24th mile. She passed me at a pace that was much faster than what I was doing and she looked so strong. No way would I be able to keep up.  So I was back in 4th. 

The last 5K was all about staying strong and keeping up the effort. I knew it wouldn't be long until the race was over and finally I would be able to vomit. At least my legs felt good!

Mile 25 was the same as mile 12, gravely, hilly, and curvy, but I made it through in 8:29. And then it was over the bridge again and down to the finish!

I finished strong at a pace of 7:11 for the last 0.33 according to my Garmin. This was partially because of the downhill. But it was good to have a final kick. I finished in 3:23:19. Not anything near what I wanted or I had trained for, but that's the marathon for ya. My 4th fastest marathon.

Mile 22: 7:58
Mile 23: 8:07
Mile 24: 8:36
Mile 25: 8:29
Mile 26: 8:09

After the Race
About a minute after crossing the finish line I vomited black vomit. It wasn't all that much and the medical people at the finish line gave me a vomit bag. I didn't think I would need it, but then as soon as I got it I vomited again-- quite a lot! And it was black. According to the Doctors at Google, this was blood and it's an emergency condition. But to me it just felt like normal post-race vomit. I didn't eat anything that was black, but my guess is that probably something was irritated in my GI tract for running so long with all that stuff in there.

I felt SO GOOD after vomiting. I really wish I had been able to do that when I stopped in the 16th mile. It made all the difference and I felt like I could have run more. It was such a huge relief and after that I felt maybe the best I have ever felt post race. I was walking easily and my energy level was good. I even tackled a flight of stairs to get back up to the bridge! This means that my legs certainly had a faster race in them. But my digestive system had other ideas. 

I ended up winning second place Master's Female. The first place Master's winner passed me during the 24th mile. So close! I'm not sure what my award will be as they are going to mail them. 

Greg and I walked back to the hotel where I sat in a bath for over an hour and drank a coke. I wasn't hungry again for hours. But I felt pretty good, all things considered. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This race was bittersweet. It was wonderful to run a live marathon. That's more than most runners get. The weather was pretty good and I was able to push through some pretty bad nausea. A BQ with a cushion of over 16 minutes is pretty good, too. But it's upsetting to have missed my goal by so much, with a PR that is now two years old. I know I have a 3:10 in me and now I have to wait until the spring to try again. 

I think my biggest mistake was eating too much. As my friend Gracie pointed out, nutrition needs change over time. That bagel with peanut butter + banana is something I have been doing for 15 years. When I do my long runs I do not eat beforehand, I only take UCAN. And that works. I almost never have GI issues on my long runs. It's been years since I have. I do think that nerves and adrenaline are a factor, and that can never be practiced in training. I was feeling shaky and anxious when I woke up in the morning. 

I think that for my next marathon I might cut out the bagel entirely (especially for a 7:00am start) and just do the UCAN. I will take less UCAN and mix it with more water so it digests more easily. I don't plan to change my hydration. Of course, if it were cooler I do think I would have drunk less water and maybe that would have helped. I think I need to fuel and hydrate the same way I do on my long runs because I know that works. 

The vomiting has been a thing at most of my marathons and half marathons for the past two years and I think my nutrition needs are changing. I'm running a lot faster which is more strain on my system, but less time on the course so fewer calories are needed.

So, yeah, I am bummed but I guess what I love most about this sport isn't necessarily getting that goal, but chasing it. So there is more chasing to be done.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Harrisburg Marathon Training Recap

And just like that, my marathon is two weeks away! I still have two long, hard workouts remaining, plus two shorter workouts and that will be it. My coach typically doesn't give me much of a taper which always scares me but it ends up working out. Here is a snap shot of the past few months:

Weekly Mileage by type

I've been very consistent, except for the weeks that I tapered for the half marathon and the 10K. I did not include the current week because it's not finished yet, but if everything goes as planned tomorrow, I should finish off with the exact same mileage as last week: 76.7.

In addition to all of this running, I have also been consistent with my strength training. Once a week I have a session with my strength coach, Angela, over Zoom. And then one other time per week I do a lighter routine on my own. Admittedly, I don't always do the routine on my own; I was better about it over the summer when my mileage was lower. I've also been battling Achilles tendonitis again, but just this week I noticed a big improvement, thanks to my eccentric heel drop exercises. It's great to know that this nagging injury can be improved while running 70+ miles per week. 

Typically I like to throw in one final race; a 10K or a 5K before the marathon. But all of the local races have been canceled so I don't have any options. I've also started looking at races for after the marathon because I like to be signed up for my next race when I run a marathon. But it's slim pickings and it's looking like Greg and I might have to drive an hour to run a Turkey Trot.

My half marathon was too hilly to be a good indicator of what I could do in a flat marathon, so I started to look to other workouts to start to gauge my fitness and pick a goal pace.

Key Workout 1: Tempo
On October 14, I ran the following workout: 2 times (2 miles, 2 x 1 mile) all with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. My coach wanted me to target 6:40 for all the miles. That seemed like a tall order since my 10K PR pace is right around 6:40 and I would be running 8 miles! He wanted to challenge me and instead of dismissing his advice and running by feel, I made every effort to hit the 6:40. My splits were:

2 miles in 6:47, 6:37
2 x 1 mile in 6:34, 6:32
2 miles in 6:43, 6:41
2 x 1 mile in 6:42, 6:39

I definitely had to dig deep at the end and it felt like a race for the last half mile. Those are not easy paces for me to hit, but I did average 6:39 so I was thrilled. My recoveries were slow jogs at a pace of around 10:30.

Key Workout 2: Long Run with Speed
Just three days later, on October 17, I ran a long run prescribed as: 9 miles easy, 3 miles of (1 minute hard, 1 minute easy), 3 miles tempo, 1 mile easy, 3 miles all out, 3 miles easy. 

I had done this workout before but my coach threw me a curve ball. He wanted me to run the easy miles at a sub 8:00 pace. He suggested 7:30-8:00. That's not easy for me; I would consider it medium. In the past when I have nailed this workout, I ran the first 9 miles at an average pace of 8:20. A truly easy pace. Here's how it played out. 

9 miles at 7:58 average (started out at 8:30 and then was around 7:50 for most miles)

3 miles of 1 min hard, 1 min easy: my "hard" paces ranged from 6:40-7:17

When I have done this workout in the past, I have been able to run the "hard" portions in the 6:30's to 6:50s, and pretty much steered clear of the 7's. That did not happen on this run. It was difficult to get my legs moving that quickly.

That did not bode well for the next 3 miles which my coach prescribed at 6:45. My legs were already beat down from the first 12 miles, so I ended up running each of the 3 tempo miles at 7:11 as opposed to 6:45. The good news is that 7:11 is around my marathon pace and I was able to hit it.

Then came the easy mile in 8:26, followed by the 3 "all out" miles in 7:34, 7:23, 7:21. I have to admit these paces were a disappointment. I felt energized but I simply couldn't run faster. And then I finished it off with 2.7 easy miles, because that's when I wanted to stop, just shy of the prescribed 3.

This working ended up yielding 21.7 miles at an average pace of 7:50 with about 3 total minutes of stopping to drink water from the bottle that I had stashed near my car tire. It's an impressive distance at that pace, but I wished I could have hit the paces I had hit in the past. But then I remembered that exhausting my legs early on from non-easy miles was the culprit. Just like how in my half marathon I wasted my legs on the early hills and they never could get up to full speed after that. I was annoyed that my coach made me start so fast, but I understand why he did. If I want to break through to a new level I have to get outside of my comfort zone and try something that I might not succeed at.

Key Workout 3: Marathon Pace Run
I was really looking forward to nailing this run to get the confidence I needed for the marathon and hone in on that marathon pace. The date was October 21, just a few days ago. My coach prescribed a pace of 7:15, but realistically if I want to run sub 3:10, I think I'll probably need a pace of 7:12 because I won't hit the tangents perfectly. In other words, I'll likely end up running slightly more than 26.2 miles, so I'll need to be a little quicker to reach my goal.

I was unpleasantly surprised to see that it was 63 degrees with 100% humidity when I woke up. The forecast from the night before had said 57, which is a big difference. I figured that at 57 and high humidity, that would just barely allow me to maybe hit my goal pace. But now that we were 6 degrees warmer, I felt like I would need to adjust to 7:30-7:35. 

adidas Adios Pro
I wore a brand new pair of the just-released adidas Adios Pro. This is the Adidas competitor to the Nike Vaporfly Next%. As I have said in previous blog posts, I never ran a race in the Nike Vaporflys that made me think "oh wow, that's a fast shoe." My times and paces were always in line with what I trained for. When I ran the One City Half Marathon in March in non-Vaporflys, my time was within one minute of the PR I had set 4 months prior. And of course, I got injured from running CIM in the Vaporflys. So enter the adidas Adios Pro. A shoe that fit me much better and that felt faster than the Vaprofly.

This would be my only run in the adidas before race day. As I said, it was 63 degrees and muggy. My target was 7:30-7:35. The prescribed workout was 90 minutes at marathon pace plus warm up and cool down. 

This was one of those workouts where I could not believe what was happening. The paces on my Garmin did not line up with what I felt like I was doing in a good way. I never tried to speed up during this run but each mile was faster than the one before it! Here are my mile splits:

7:37 - Okay, that's a good starting pace
7:33 - Great! You're at your goal pace, just stay there
7:28 - A little faster than I want, but just hold it here and don't go faster
7:23 - How is this possible? Must be a downhill mile.
7:20 - This actually feels sustainable. I'll be able to hold onto this pace.
7:17 - All right, this is as fast as I am going to go. I don't want to bonk in this humidity.
7:13 - How the heck?
7:08 - This actually doesn't feel that hard!
7:03 - What am I doing? I'm now WAY faster than goal pace.
7:01 - Welp, that was it, the next two miles will probably be the bonk.
6:56 - No. Friggin. Way.
6:51 - What just happened?
(Last 0.4 mile) - 6:57 pace - I guess I'm almost done!

This averaged out to a pace of 7:13 over 12.45 miles, no stopping. Including warm up (2.65 miles) and cool down (1 mile) I ran a total of 16.1 miles. All before work on a muggy Wednesday. I kept thinking that it must be the shoes. They were amazing. But somehow I managed to stay strong in conditions that would normally be very challenging for me.

Looking Ahead
I still have a 22-miler ahead of me tomorrow, but thankfully without any speed. I will try to speed up at the end, but my coach hasn't prescribed anything specific so it will be based on feel. I do think that if I'm having a good day I can run a 7:12 marathon pace. But I am going to start out in the 7:20s and just let my body speed up as it naturally does.

Between now and November 8 my goals are:

  • Do not get COVID.
  • Do not get any kind of sickness.
  • Do not get injured.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Continue the Achilles exercises.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
If I can do all those things, I will be good to go because physically I am well trained for this race.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A real, live half marathon!

They DO exist!

Yesterday I ran the Hanover YMCA Runfest half marathon. Hanover is about two hours from my house, which means it's closer than most half marathons I run. I had heard about this race on Facebook. I was

looking to run a live half marathon this fall, before my full marathon, so the timing of this one worked out

I knew in advance that the course would be hilly and challenging. It wouldn't be a PR attempt, but beggars can't be choosers when it comes to live races. You take what you can get. And in this case it was a race with twice the elevation gain of the Richmond half marathon, over 500 feet. Due to the elevation profile, my coach advised me to run this as a workout and therefore gave me less of a taper than I am used to.

Before the Race
Greg and I stayed at a hotel that was less than a mile from the start line. Packet Pickup was done via drive through. They had all the bags setup under a tent outside and you simply drove through like how you would do curbside pickup at a restaurant. It was quick and efficient and the goody bag had actual goodies in it, which most races had stopped doing years ago (a water bottle, nerf football, keychain, pack of mints, a pen). 

We then decided to drive the course. When you are driving, hills don't look nearly as steep as when you are running. I thought to myself, this isn't all that bad! There were quite a few turns and you never ran straight for more than a mile. About 1.5 miles of the course was on a gravel path and we obviously were not able to drive on that to check it out. After the course preview, I thought to myself that maybe I could set a PR after all! The hills didn't seem that steep.

Driving the course, at around mile 1.3

We had planned to eat dinner at the local Olive Garden, but due to the wait we opted for the Longhorn Steakhouse next door. I had salmon and rice (a common pre-race dinner for me). Greg had a steak.

I slept well the night before the race. The advantage of driving to a race vs. flying is that I get to bring my own pillow. The pillow makes all the difference and my pillow is a firm memory foam one.

I had been debating my shoe choice all week. The contenders were the Nike Vaporfly Next%, the adidas Adizero Adios, and the adidas SL20. With my Achilles being tender and this not being a PR course, I decided it wasn't worth the risk of using the Vaporfly Next%. So then it was down to the two adidas shoes. I ended up going with the SL20, a shoe that I had never raced in before. It's just a tad heavier than the Adios (which I wore at One City last spring) but it has more spring. I chose the SL20 because I wanted my legs to feel as peppy as possible.

Race morning was pretty straightforward. I had a bagel with peanut butter, went to the bathroom a million times and got dressed. 45 minutes before the start, I drank 3/4 of a serving of UCAN. Since vomiting post-half marathon has become a thing for me, I decided to back down on my UCAN serving size, but bring a caffeinated Maurten gel to take at mile 7.

We left the hotel at 7:30 and warmed up to the start line and then ran around the start area. It was 40 degrees and sunny. About 5 minutes before the start of the race we got into the corral with our masks on. The race organizers told us that we needed to wear masks while in the corral, but we could throw them off once we started running, and they would pick them up. I personally wouldn't want the job of picking up used masks, but maybe they had those trash picker-upper-stick things.

Before the race. 

Weather Analysis
The start temperature was 40 degrees but that rose to 52 by the end. I wore shorts, a crop top, sunglasses and gloves. I was comfortable the whole time and never felt too warm or too cold. I tossed the gloves during mile 4. My app said 1 mph wind, but there were portions of the course that felt somewhat windy, maybe 8-10 mph which is just enough to be annoying. On my official race weather scale, I give this a 9 out of 10. In order to get a 10 we would have needed more cloud cover. I am obviously not complaining and frankly we lucked out for an October 3 race. Low 50s would have been more seasonable so we got abnormally cool weather.

Miles 1-4
The race started and everyone threw off their masks immediately. It felt awesome to be in a real, live race setting! I knew that the big hill would be the third mile with some elevation gain the the first two miles. I went out at a pace that I thought was rather conservative for a half marathon: 7:13. My PR pace is 6:55 and my pace from One City this past spring was 6:59. After the first mile, the crowd thinned out. Greg got ahead of me and I had him in my sights for the first 3 miles, but then I lost him. 

I knew that the huge hill would happen during the 3rd mile, and it was even harder than expected. According to the elevation profile, we climbed 167 feet in just 1.3 miles (from 1.5 to 2.8). The big hill was immediately followed by a short downhill and then two 40-feet hills that only lasted 0.1 each, which means they were very steep. And then a quad-burning steep downhill. So by the time we reached mile marker 4, we had climbed a steep long hill and two steep short hills and then run a steep downhill. 

On the downhill section, I managed to pass the woman who was leading me up the hills for most of the way. I'm an excellent downhill runner but I struggle to run up hills, so this is not uncommon for me. My hope was that she would not in turn pass me when the next hill arrived.

Mile 1: 7:13
Mile 2: 7:15
Mile 3: 7:57
Mile 4: 7:14

Miles 5-8
Now that the worst of the hills was over, I expected to get into a groove, hit a 7:00 pace and stay there for the rest of the race. My legs were not on board with this plan, though. Imagine running 250+ feet of

Around mile 7
elevation in 2 miles at a hard effort and then running a 9-mile race. It's not going to go well unless you are a seasoned trail runner or you live in the mountains and that's your thing. But I still had hope and I was going to try for that 7:00 pace.

The course did get easier during these miles and I coasted. But as I said above, my legs were not having it and this section still had hills to contend with. Another challenge was the abundance of turns. Every time I felt like I might be hitting my stride and getting into a rhythm, a turn would come and maybe a strong breeze with it. I did not pass anyone during these miles and no one passed me. I had no idea how many women were ahead of me but I wanted to win the Master's award. 

I had my gel 50 minutes into the race, but it didn't seem to give me any extra pep.

Mile 5: 7:01
Mile 6: 7:12
Mile 7: 7:24
Mile 8: 7:51

Miles 9-12
As you can see, miles 5-8 got progressively slower and I vowed to end the vicious cycle. Since the 8th mile had a lot of elevation gain, I knew that the coming miles had to be easier. I was right in the sense that we were coming to a downhill section, but any hopes of it being easier were squashed by the loose gravel surface. We ran on a gravel trail during miles 9 and 10. Shortly after getting onto the trail, I was passed by a guy who told me that I had been pacing him the whole race. Wow! That felt great to hear. Even when I was not having my best day I was still able to be steady enough to pace other runners. We exchanged a few words which made me realize I was not running at full effort. It was way too easy for me to gut out a sentence during the 9th mile of a half marathon.

He passed me but I vowed to keep him in my sights for the rest of the race. It would be helpful to have someone in front of me to follow because otherwise, I was simply following the arrows and the volunteers, which were not always 100% clear. 

I was able to keep him in my sights all throughout the gravel, which was nice because the gravel path was full of twists and turns so it was good to see ahead of me what would happen. This gravel was not the firmly packed gravel of the Rehoboth Beach Marathon-- it was looser and harder to run fast on. I thought to myself "too bad the fast downhill section is all gravel" but then I realized that if it has been in uphill it would be far more painful, so I decided to be thankful for what I got!

Every time I thought the gravel was ending, it was just to cross a road and then get back on the gravel. We ended up spending nearly two full miles on the gravel and I was so happy to be done with it.

Just like at mile 5, I vowed to run the rest of the race at a really fast pace now that the gravel was done with. BUT. . . my legs would not cooperate and I could only squeak out a 7:30 pace. I saw Greg during the 12th mile at a turnaround and he looked so strong!

Mile 9: 7:33
Mile 10: 7:29
Mile 11: 7:36
Mile 12: 7:26

Mile 13 and the finish
At least I was steady. And I still had that guy in my sights. I did not feel like I was running full race effort until the final mile, and that's because I just didn't have it in my to give that kind of effort. I was able to pick up the pace for the last mile (7:13) and ran the uphill bit to the finish line at pace of 7:06.

I was so happy to be done! My official time was 1:37:47.

Shortly after crossing the woman who I had passed came up to me and told me I had been pacing her the whole race. I had no idea! And boy was she close behind too, finishing just 15 seconds after me. Greg finished in 1:30:20, which was very close to his PR. 

It turns out that there was no Master's award, but I would have won it if there had been. Instead, I won my age group (40-49) and was awarded with a HUGE tin of UTZ snacks, individually wrapped. Greg won second place in his age group and won a tin of UTZ chips that was almost as large as mine. For those of you who don't know, Hanover is the home of UTZ.

I was the 4th overall female, and it felt good to place so highly. My coach had told me to focus more on my placement and less on my time, due to the nature of the course.

After the Race
Greg and I walked back to our hotel, which was no easy task carrying the huge bins of UTZ snacks. After showering, we drove to Gettysburg for lunch and then we visited a small zoo on the way home. The zoo had a safari ride where you got to see three zebras up close! We definitely made the most of the weekend.

We both won UTZ snacks

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways

  • I was 7 minutes slower than my PR, so it's hard not to be a little disappointed.
  • I knew at the time I wasn't giving 100% race effort, but I just didn't have anything in me to give after those hills.
  • I really wanted to quit after just six miles but I toughed it out and ran all the way to the finish.
  • Two people told me I paced them for most of the race, which feels awesome.
  • It's always nice to win your age group.
  • I need to remember that my PR marathon had a net elevation gain of about 150, so this was nearly 4 times as many hills.
  • If the big hill had been at the end of the race it would have slowed me down for sure, but I would have been able to run fast for the majority of the race leading up to that. In the case of the early hill, I was never able to recover fully.
  • The SL20 worked out well. It's hard to know if the Adios would have been better but I was good with my choice.
  • The strength training is helping, but I definitely need to keep at it so I can dominate on hills.
  • This race isn't reflective of my fitness but that wasn't really the point. I got a solid workout in and I was able to recover much better than if I had given 100%.
  • The race was well organized and the precautions worked well. Water stations had 2-3 volunteers filling water, but not handing out water; you grabbed it from the table yourself.
  • I had fun. It was a painful fun, but fun nonetheless! 

Zebras at the safari park on the way home.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Fall Marathon Plan "C"

What to do about a fall marathon?

Plan "A" was to take a trip to Africa during the last two weeks of August and then begin training for the Rehoboth Beach marathon, occurring the first weekend in December. The trip got postponed, which meant I would want to postpone the late fall marathon with it. (I'll run Rehoboth Beach in 2021 to correspond with the 2021 Africa trip, since I'll need a late fall marathon next year). Bring on Plan B.

Plan "B" was to run the Marine Corps Marathon. As recently as July 19 (just two months ago) I believed that I would be running the Marine Corps Marathon. While many believed the race would be canceled, I thought it would go on because the city officials would be using the most current data to make their decisions. But the mayor squashed that and extended DC's state of emergency into October. 

Sept. 19, 2020
When that was canceled, I moved onto Plan C, but also devised a Plan D, E, and F. All of which I tracked in a spreadsheet, because this was getting complicated. Plan C was to run the Harrisburg Marathon in Pennsylvania on November 8. I registered, told my coach about it, and mentally adjusted to that being my race. As of now, Plan C is a go; more on that in a bit.

Plan D was to run the New Jersey Marathon, which was later canceled. Plan E is to run the Rehoboth Beach Marathon (not yet canceled), since I'm already registered for it. That's one month later than my target but I can adjust my training to stay in shape for it. Plan F is to run a small marathon in Maryland, near the Baltimore area the last weekend of November. I have a spreadsheet of others, too, but those are the top contenders. If all else fails, my last resort is the Richmond Marathon, which they are having on a USATF course, but you can run it any time over a period of about two weeks. And you get an official time with your bib/chip. Greg is planning to run the Rehoboth Beach Marathon with Richmond as his backup.

As of now, Plan "C" is happening: The Harrisburg Marathon in PA. A few days ago, the race director announced that they had received approval from city officials to hold the race. They are altering the course, but they are submitting that course to USATF for official certification so it will be a Boston Qualifier. This same organization just successfully held a half marathon on this same course (it will be doubled for the full) last weekend, so there is no reason to believe they would cancel the marathon. COVID counts would have to go way up within the next seven weeks and the city officials would have to get cold feet. Neither of which is out of the question.

The state of PA just ruled it unconstitutional to shut down businesses. You could look at a race organization as a business (I don't know the legality of how this particular race is set up) but as long as safety measures are in place, it's unconstitutional to keep a business shut down. Remember, races and other events were initially canceled for the primary purpose of not overwhelming the hospitals. COVID counts were on the rise. We didn't have enough PPE for hospital workers. We knew very little about how the virus was transmitted. It made sense to cancel events and have everyone stay at home.

We are now in different place. Numbers are lower, the death rate is down, hospitals are not being overwhelmed, large outdoor gatherings have occurred without causing major outbreaks, and yet some government officials (like the ones in my county) are still making decisions based on circumstances from March/April. Why couldn't you hold a 300-person 5K that went off in waves of 30 people every 5 minutes? But you can have more than 30 people in a restaurant in closer proximity for longer? It doesn't make sense.

In any event, I am thankful that this Harrisburg Marathon has received government approval to take place and I am looking forward to getting back out there.

Training Update
Training has been going really well. Typically, the entire month of September is still very warm and humid with temperatures rarely falling below 60. But this past week has been unseasonably cool and I was able to log 69 miles while still feeling good. Here's a snapshot of the past few weeks:

I would like to be above 70 miles per week for the remainder of the cycle, except for the week that a taper for and run a half marathon. As for long runs, I ran 18 miles yesterday and 16 miles two weeks ago (last weekend was the 10K race). I tend to believe that volume is more important than running a ton of 20-milers, but I will be running some 20-milers over the next month.

I've been strength training regularly with a coach over Zoom. We have a weekly 1-hour session which can be pretty intense, and then I do a lighter session on my own one other day per week. We focus on balance, alignment, core strength, hips and glutes. All of the exercises are compound exercises requiring balance, stability, and coordination. I think this strength training could bring me to the next level. I have been doing it since early May, but since the weather has been so hot, I don't really know how fast I've gotten. I can say that my legs do not tire as easy at the end of long runs and I feel like I have more power.

This whole COVID thing has me more motivated than ever to train really hard and "go the extra mile". You never know when you'll have the opportunity to race and when it will be taken away, so you'd better be as prepared as possible for the limited chances you get. If I actually get to race my marathon on November 8, I want to be able to say that I was really well prepared and that I absolutely crushed it. I always want to say that, of course, but it's more important if you realize you might not race a marathon again for a long time.

My goal is to run around 3:10. Of course I would like to squeak under that, but it's too soon to be able to tell if that is in the cards. It's more likely to happen if I wear the Nike Vaporfly, but considering I got injured from that shoe during my last marathon, I don't know if it's worth the risk. The most important thing is showing up to a live race and giving it everything I have.

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.