Saturday, July 25, 2020

Loudon Street Mile Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elevation in Gray, pace in blue

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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Marine Corps Marathon Hopeful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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