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.