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.

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!