Sunday, December 27, 2020

2020 Hindsight

Despite most races being canceled, I had a decent running life in 2020. In fact, I've logged 2,855 miles this year, which is 160 more than last year, making it my highest mileage year ever. And there are still four more days left to add some mileage! Below is a graph of my mileage starting in 2012. I'm not sure if I will ever have a year of higher mileage than this year, so this could be a lifetime PR. Part of the reason I was able to log all of these miles was lack of recovery from live marathons, lack of illness, and lack of injury.

Longest run streak
Along with my highest mileage year ever came my longest streak ever: 181 days. From January 14 to July 12 I ran every day, totaling 1,461 miles! The streak started after taking time off from Posterior Tibialis

Tendonitis in January, and ended when I felt run down from the heat and humidity in mid July. I will likely never again have such a long streak because I would typically not go for 6 months without running and recovering from a marathon, necessitating time off. 

If you decide to start a streak, the most important thing to remember is that you control when the streak ends and not vice versa. In other words, the streak will have to end at some point and you want to have it end because you choose to end it, and not because you are forced to end it due to injury or illness. 

I had another long streak between July 17 and November 6: 112 days. This streak ended when I took a rest day two days prior to the Harrisburg marathon. The combination of these two streaks (181 days and 112 days) helped me reach that high yearly mileage total. 

Highest mileage week
My coach challenged me to run a 90-mile week in April. This included the virtual Boston Marathon on April 20, which I ran at my easy pace. I was able to log 7 miles the next day and continue on with about 10 miles a day for the rest of it, including a 19-miler. 

Because I have been working from home since March, I have had more time to devote to running and recovering from my runs. Not having a commute and not having to do my makeup has been a big time saver. I'll admit that I am now spoiled and once I return to the office, it will take me a while to get back into that rigid schedule. 

Virtual races
I'm not a huge fan of virtual races, but when real races simply don't exist, virtual races are better than nothing. I also thought it was important to support our local running store by registering for a few of these. 

  • Cherry Blossom 10-Miler: 1:09:46.  Since the race was canceled and I was already trained, I figured I would get credit for it and appear in the results by running a virtual race with Greg.
  • Boston Marathon: 3:40:02. I ran this race on April 20, which was the originally scheduled date of the Boston Marathon. Their official virtual race took place in September, but they allowed me to use
    Virtual Boston Marathon
    my April race. I was thankful to receive the medal and the shirt!
  • Mother's Day 4-Miler: 26:27. Greg and I raced this one for the primary purpose of supporting Potomac River Running, our local running store. Plus, when races started getting canceled in March, we all thought that by May things would be back to normal! So in my mind I had planned on running this race as a real race.
  • Indianapolis Monumental Mile: 5:58. I ran this one on a track. I had actually run a faster mile in 5:52 two weeks before, but on the morning of the virtual race I felt a little stale and the weather was warmer (it was late June)
  • Firecracker 5K: 20:19. No race report for this one. This is the fastest 5K I've ever run in the summer so I was thrilled with that. We lucked out with lower-than-normal humidity for July 4th and because it was a virtual race, we were able to start it an hour earlier than the live race would have started. It wouldn't have felt like July 4th without a race, so we did it!
I also was a virtual finisher of the Lucky Leprechaun 5K (tempo run) and the Run with Stride virtual 5K (tempo run). The virtual races were an interesting experiment, but I hope to never run one again. 

New PRs
Do you count a virtual PR as a PR? I think so! After all, the "P" stands for personal. Also, if the answer to that question is "no," then what motivation do you have when running a virtual race? If you don't consider the result to be legit, it will be hard to motivate yourself to push hard. Repeating "it matters, it matters, it matters" over and over again helped me get through all of my virtual races. That said, I make a mental note of whether or not my PR was run in a live race or a virtual race. In my Race History, I have all the virtual races in italics. 
  • 1-Mile PR of 5:52 (time trial) and 5:57 (live race)
  • 4-Mile PR of 26:27 at the Virtual Mother's Day 4-miler
  • 10K PR of 41:33 at the live Christmas Caper 10K
  • 10 Mile PR of 1:09:46 at the Virtual Cherry Blossom (although I have run faster 10-milers in live half marathons, so this one is tricky).
That's a good amount of PRs in a year where most races were canceled and I'm 42 years old, either at my peak or approaching my peak.

Loudon Street Mile in July

Real, live races
I did manage to run two live half marathons this year and a live full marathon. The first live half marathon was before all of this started, the first weekend of March. The other was in October in Hanover, PA. That one didn't go so well because of the hill profile, but it was still nice to be in a live race setting. 

I ran the live Harrisburg Marathon in November. Just two weeks later, the state introduced new restrictions which would have made the race a no-go. I am so relieved I had the opportunity to run it, even though digestive issues made the race a slow slog.

An of course, setting a PR at the live Christmas Caper 10K earlier this month was a huge mental boost. Especially at a distance that I had struggled with since 2017.

Predictions for 2021
Of course we all expected things would be back to normal in 2021, right? Not happening. There's no clearly defined goal post for a "return to normalcy" as we know it, which to me means that things will not return to normal within the next year, two years, three years, or maybe ever. I know that sounds pessimistic, but once you set a precedent of closing businesses, canceling events, closing schools for the sake of public safety, then it suddenly becomes acceptable to close/cancel them again.

I don't think large marathons like Boston, New York, or Chicago will occur in 2021. If they return in 2022, I imagine they will be different from how we know them. 

Thinking about the timeline of things, here is what we all thought would get us back to normal:
  • Flattening the curve (March-April)
  • Slowing the spread (May-June)
  • Vaccines become available (July-October)
  • Everyone is vaccinated (November - ?)
  • Everyone is vaccinated from all mutations and new strains (future)
While my outlook for things in general may seem bleak (and I hope I'm wrong), I mainly just focus on what I can control and I do believe that I can have an active running and racing life in 2021, just like I did in 2020. It will mean spending more time doing research, having less flexibility over when I race, running on courses that might not be ideal (gravel, etc), and having a plan B, C, D, E and F. 

We do hope to go to Africa for our postponed safari in August. Right now I am 50/50 on whether or not that will happen. 

Final Thoughts
This year has been stressful for all of us, but I was fortunate to have a stable job that allowed me to work from home, and so was Greg. I didn't get sick at all this year -- no mono -- which is always a win for me. Thankfully I don't have children to worry about and never have we been more confident in our decision to not have children. Running has helped me keep my sanity and if it weren't for my running I don't think I would be in as good of a spot mentally. It has provided me structure, routine, purpose, and excitement. 

Happy new year to all my blog readers. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Caper 10K: Happy all the way!

This morning I ran the real, live Christmas Caper 10K in Washington, DC. This was the same course as my 5K from November, only doubled. It's a no-frills race series. No chip timing, no shirt. Just a race on a fast course with fast runners. 

I had run this race before, 12 years ago in 2008! I had to consult my race history in my blog to find the report and sure enough, I have a report from the 2008 race. In 2008, I ran 10 miles with hills two days before the race, 5 miles the day before the race, and then stayed up past midnight the night before the race at a holiday party. And then I was upset that I didn't PR. Hahaha! Back then I thought I was invincible and should be able to PR in any circumstances. My time was a "disappointing" 49:36. And then I ran 17 miles the following day. (Insert facepalm emoji here).

Race Approach
This year, my goal was to PR. The conditions were perfect (I give them a 10/10 on my race weather scale) and I was in outstanding shape. My 10K PR was my longest standing PR from 2017 at 41:51. I really had no idea how I ran that fast because that course was insanely hilly. And ever since that 2017 race I thought, "If I get good weather and an easier course, a PR should be no problem".  I had run six 10k races since setting that 41:51 PR, and none of the six were faster. Four of them were humid, one of them was coming off an injury, and one was on a track.

Even if I hadn't been in the best shape ever, a flat course with perfect conditions meant a shot at a PR. I told my coach I wanted to PR and his response was "yeah, let's just do it" as if it was no problem! I liked having the mindset that it was really a matter of getting it done. I had the fitness and the conditions, all I needed to do was to execute. 

Fueling Strategy
If you have been following my blog you know that I have been experimenting with different fueling strategies since my digestive nightmare at the Harrisburg Marathon in November. I am using Maurten products, and for a 10k, their website recommended having their Drink Mix 160 three hours prior to a 10k, and then a caffeinated gel 30 minutes before race start.

I had only tried the Drink Mix once before on a training run, so I decided that instead of drinking the entire serving (500ml) I would drink about half. And instead of my normal English Muffin with peanut butter, I would have half an English muffin with Almond butter. To summarize:

  • Almost half of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 packet three hours before race start
  • Half of an English muffin + almond butter 2.5 hours before race start
  • One caffeinated Maurten gel 30 minutes before race start
This worked really well and I had no digestive issues before, during, or after the race. 

Before the Race
Greg and I left the house at around 6:30 for a race start of 8:00. He ran the 5k, which started at 7:50. We arrived at the race, got our bibs, and used a wonderfully warm indoor bathroom at the nearby golf course. It was 28 degrees, so I decided I would warm up for a little longer than usual. 

I wanted to dress festively but also appropriately for the weather. I wore green capri tights, a red short-sleeve shirt and arm warmers. I find that a short-sleeved shirt plus arm warmers is better than long sleeves for racing because it lets some air into the core. When I ran the Indianpolis Half Marathon last
Photo by Cheryl Young
year, it was 28 degrees, overcast and windy. I wore a long-sleeved shirt, and I regretted it.

Some people wear shorts in this weather. I find that tights do not slow me down or weigh me down, and my legs don't overheat. And if my legs are too cold, they won't move as quickly. So I will race in capris if it's 35 degrees or cooler. I overheat in my face and chest area, so wearing a lightweight short-sleeved shirt was perfect, with the arm sleeves keeping my arms warm. I wore convertible mittens with hand warmers inside of them.

I wore my new adidas Adios Pro shoes that I wore in the Marathon. I really wanted to wear my green Nike Vaporfly Next% because they matched the outfit so perfectly, but those shoes simply don't work as well for me as the adidas.

After putting on my bib and using the bathroom, I warmed up for 3 miles. I paused to watch Greg start his 5k. He looked strong! I made sure to include strides and faster running in my warm up. At 28 degrees, it can be difficult to get moving and I wanted my legs nice and warm starting at mile 1.

After the warmup I lined up at the start line in my mask. The 10K race had only 15 runners total! Very small. Of those 15 runners, 5 were female. I did not know this at the time, I only know because I looked at the race results afterwards. There was no chip timing so I wanted to line up close to the starting line. However there were other serious-looking runners up there and I didn't want to crowd them (social distancing and all).  So I lined up about 10 feet back. 

Miles 1-2
As the race started, three women were ahead of me. One of them was Cristina, a long-time friend and fellow blogger. So I started out in 4th place. For a race with 15 total runners, that's quite the competitive field!

I eased into my pace during the first mile and focused on Cristina. She's a great pace setter and even though I knew she would be faster than me (the goal wasn't to keep up with her) I knew her start would be strong and controlled. As I said earlier, I knew that all I had to do to PR was execute and stay mentally strong. I had the fitness. This race would be all about my mindset.

I focused on finding a rhythm and establishing a flow. During the first mile, I saw Greg running on the opposite side of the course in the final stretch of his 5k. I could tell he was working hard and that motivated me to increase my effort level. I also saw my friend Cheryl in the 5k, which was a nice pick-me-up.

Mile 1: 6:45
Mile 2: 6:37

Miles 3-4
In terms of pacing, I knew I needed to average 6:40 to PR. But I didn't want to just PR, I wanted to run my fastest race possible. So I reminded myself that the Garmin was for informational purposes only, and I shouldn't slow down if I saw a pace that I thought was beyond my ability. Miles 3 and 4 were the hardest, and I think this is true of any 10K. By the time you reach the 3rd mile, you are already tired and
Just before the turnaround
 you have been running hard for awhile. And yet you still have over half the race to complete. So it can 
be really discouraging.

We turned around near the start line and ran the entire course again to create the 10k distance. I saw Greg at the turnaround and he cheered for me and snapped some photos. The course was fast and flat, but there were 3 momentum-stealing hairpin turns. I personally think I need to work on my hairpin turn and I am not great at executing it. Partially because I am a cautious runner and I am afraid of falling or hurting myself if I do a movement that isn't straight forward. 

After I turned around it was time to run the entire course again. That thought was exhausting and intimidating so I started to break the race down into more manageable chunks. I knew this race would be all mental so I played little games of creating small goals. Usually that goal would be "stay strong until you reach that point up there on the road" or "run really hard until your watch beeps for the next mile." This was a good way of distracting myself so I didn't think about having to run that entire course again. 

Mile 3: 6:35
Mile 4: 6:40

Miles 5-Finish
That 6:40 mile was slower than the previous two but I was not discouraged by it. There was a slight headwind during that mile and once I got out of it I was able to pick up the pace a little. With just two miles to go I knew I was on track for a PR and so I needed to stay as strong as possible. I was
Approaching the finish line
successfully able to battle any negative thought just as soon as it arose. And most of the time I was too busy with positive, happy thoughts, that there was significantly less negativity to battle. I just had to constantly focus on pushing and staying positive.

As for my competition, the three women stayed ahead of me for the entire race. Cristina remained in my line of vision for most of the race. I didn't expect to catch her, but it was still nice to have the competition and be reminded that this was a race and not a training run. 

With just 1 mile to go I started getting really giddy and excited inside. I thought about the PR cake and I wondered if Greg had also PR'ed. I kept telling myself that if I gave up now, there would be no PR cake! The closer I got to the finish, the more excited I became. And the race was still hurting a lot. I am not a religious person but I somehow found myself praying to God to help me get to the finish. I sprinted it in while Cheryl and Greg cheered me on.

Mile 5: 6:35
Mile 6: 6:34
The last 0.28: 6:10 pace

After the Race
I stopped my Garmin at 41:33, which is a PR by 18 seconds! Of course, my Garmin measured 6.28 miles (as did other people's Garmins) so my official pace will not match my Garmin average pace of 6:36.  But wow, a 6:36 pace for a 10k?! That is way faster than I could have imagined!

I was so happy to finally break that PR. In a real, live race! I was the 4th overall female, but interestingly enough, there were only 5 women total. It's crazy that with a time of 41:33, I was the second-to-last place female. This just shows that placement is all about who shows up and it's never really in your control. 

Greg was very close to his 5k PR of 19:24. He missed it by a few seconds. 

We briefly chatted with Cristina and Cheryl and then ran a short cool down. Afterwards, we drove straight home and I got in my epsom salt bath. One of the best things about running in really cold weather is that the bath afterwards feels amazing. 

Cheryl and me after the race

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I was so excited to PR. . . have I mentioned that yet?  I hadn't set any PRs in 2020 that weren't virtual. And while I do count virtual PRs and real PRs, it's more satisfying to have the time be official.  Speaking of official times, I ended up with a time of 41:35, even though my finish line photo showed faster on the clock:

Based on this photo, it looks like my official time should have been 41:32. Or at least the 41:33 that my Garmin logged. But it ended up being 41:35 officially. Based on this photo, I am going to claim 41:33. After all, Personal Records are 'Personal' and there's no way this is a 41:35. I know I am splitting hairs but when you work your butt off for every little second, they all matter.

Other final thoughts:
  • I think the adidas Adios Pro shoes helped. I am not sure how they would be in a 5k but I did think that they were a fast shoe for the 10k.
  • Knowing that I can run 6.28 miles at an average pace of 6:36, I think I am also in shape to set a 5k PR
  • It's awesome to compare this race to my 49:36 of 2008. I've come a long way for sure.
  • I will be racing another 10k on New Year's Day. That race also offers a 5K, but I want another shot at this distance to see if I can go even faster. I needed to breakthrough that 41:51 plateau, and now that I have, I feel like I can keep going!
  • The fueling strategy worked perfectly. No issues during the race aside from some burps here and there.
  • I beat a guy who once gave me grief at a 5k for being too loud when I ran. He had told me that my sounds distracted him. I was over a minute ahead of him today.
  • PR cake tonight. I have not decided on a flavor yet.