Tuesday, April 6, 2021

My First Chess Tournament

Last weekend, Greg and I played in our first chess tournament. It was called the Colonial Open and it was held at a hotel about 10 minutes away from my house. For all the background on how I decided to join a tournament, read my previous post.

Goals
I had several goals for this tournament. My #1 goal was to not embarrass myself! What does it mean to not embarrass myself? I didn't want to get checkmated in less than 20 moves. I didn't want to blunder my queen away. I didn't want to come in dead last. I didn't want to break any of the rules.

Other goals were:

  • Have fun
  • Get the feeling of a real chess tournament
  • Try hard and stay focused
I had no expectations of winning or losing games; this was my first time out there and I was doing it for the experience.

Tournament Overview
The tournament started at 10:00am sharp. We arrived to the hotel about 30 minutes beforehand so we could get situated. When we arrived, we looked at the wall posting to see which board to go to and who

My chess dress
our opponent would be. There were 100 total players and several different divisions. Greg and I had never played in a tournament before, which meant we did not have a rating. So we played in the least competitive division, called U1300, which meant players rated under 1300 or players without a rating. Chess ratings go from 100 to 3000, but no one has ever achieved 3000. 

As Mike Wardian told me in advance, many of the players were small children. In my division about half of the players were children and most of them were ages 7-10.  The older children tended to be in the higher divisions. Mike played in the U1700 division, which was the next level up. In my room, I would guess about 75% of the players were men and 25% of them women. I played all men: two adults and four children. 

Mike introduced me to one of the players he knew who lives in Virginia Beach who is also a runner. He told me that he had read my book and really enjoyed it. WOW - a small world that I go to a chess tournament and someone has read my book. Yes, I have sold a lot of copies, but not that many!

The First Game
My first opponent was a cute little boy, I am guessing around age 7. I played as white and he played as black. The tournament began and the clocks started. We each had 45 minutes to play our moves. But if you make your move within 15 seconds, you get a bonus 15 seconds added to your total time. As I said in my previous post, these tournament rules were all new to me. For the first game, I wasn't even aware of the extra 15 seconds.

The game ends when one of these things happen:

  • One player checkmates the other
  • One player has no legal moves (this is called "stalemate" and its a draw)
  • One player resigns
  • One player's clock runs out of time
When play began I could feel my heart pounding! I did not want to mess up in the opening moves! My first few moves of the first game of my first tournament. What a rush.

My first opponent
This first opponent took a long time to make his moves. Usually the first 3-4 moves do not require much thought and are made within 15 seconds. But he was taking at least a minute per move and I followed suit. 45 minutes seemed like it would be a long time because that's 90 minutes total (more if you add 15 seconds for the fast moves), and usually my chess games with Greg lasted an hour or less. 

I was extremely careful with how I played. I thought about every move very carefully, tried to plan my attack, and tried to understand what he was planning against me. He was solid and he made no mistakes that I could exploit. At one point, I had about 8 minutes more time than he did (28 minutes vs. 20 minutes) and I figured if I played a steady thoughtful game, I would win on time. 

The other players in the room started leaving as their games ended and soon it was just our game and one other game. It was getting down to the wire. The score was even (score is determined by how many pieces are taken) and our positions seemed to be about even. I was happy with how I was playing. 

But he had caught up to me on time and suddenly we both had about the same time left on our clocks. Anxiety set in and I went into panic mode. I did not want to lose on time. I also did not want to be rushed but if I took to long to move, I would lose on time. We started playing quicker and quicker and as a result of this I made a mistake that I felt ended the game for me, and I resigned. 

Had I known about the extra 15 seconds, I might have been a little less nervous, knowing that I didn't have to play it like a 5-minute "blitz" game. Afterwards, he said the position we had been in would have been a draw due to the material and the position. It turns out that this kid came in third place out of the 44 players in our room! So, I got paired with a really strong player right out of the gate and I held my own. I was pleased with how I played but of course bummed that I made a mistake when the time was running low. 

I actually think this was my strongest showing of the entire tournament. I didn't make any mistakes until that very last move, we played over 40 moves and it was a draw position, and this kid ended up coming in third. Lesson: it's not about winning or losing but how you play the game.

After I lost to this child, I was then paired with players who were rated lower than him for the remainder of the tournament. And sure enough, I did not encounter another opponent who was as solid as my first. 

Games 2 and 3
After the first game, Greg, Mike Wardian, and I went to grab a quick lunch. My game had lasted about two hours and was the longest of all three of us. We shared stories and it was really exciting to hear how their games had gone. Greg won his game and Mike lost his. We all learned valuable lessons and I was excited to try again. Game 2 started at 1:00 and Game 4 started at 4:00.

I do not remember these games as well as I remember my first. Of course, I can always refer back to them as I wrote down all of my moves and all of my opponent's moves. 

My second opponent was another child, perhaps a year older than the first. He was the polar opposite of my first from a technique standpoint. He moved very quickly, always had something up his sleeve, and he was a little reckless. He made a mistake early on, which won me a piece. But I also made an early mistake, and he won material back. (Pieces are referred to as "material.").  I set up a battery which would have checkmated him in one move, but he saw what I was up to and successfully defended against it. That game was pretty wild and I ended up resigning after making a mistake. It did not last nearly as long as the first game. I wasn't as happy with how I played that game.

My third opponent was about the same age as my second, but not nearly as skilled. He always made the safest move and never planned any strong attacks against me. I setup a strong attack against him but I wasn't about to "close the deal." I'm fairly certain I was the stronger player and I was in a stronger position until the time was running low, and I blundered away a piece. To "blunder" a piece means to put it where your opponent can capture it with no repercussions. 

I had actually thought about my move for at least two minutes before I made it. But the problem is, I was considering multiple moves, and the actual move that I made I maybe only gave about 10 seconds' thought to. This is what happens to me in online chess. When the time starts ticking down, I get anxious and I make stupid mistakes. It's my biggest weakness in chess and if I could figure out how to avoid mistakes with little time on the clock, I would win much more frequently. 

I ended up losing the third game due to this blunder (I resigned) and I was not happy about it. I played the entire game really well, but then lost because of a very obvious mistake.

Greg, me, Mike Wardian, Adam (the runner)
Day 1 Recap
So, I lost all of my games. I wasn't down about it though. I was frustrated with myself for that final game, but at least I know what I need to work on. On the other hand, Greg won all of his games! Amazing! I was so happy for him. He was absolutely crushing it. We were mentally exhausted after all of that and treated ourselves to a nice dinner out.

Game 4
The tournament started at 10:00 again on Sunday and I finally got to play an adult! It was nice to play an adult because they aren't so serious about it, at least not at my level. He had me in a compromising position early in the game, but I found my way out of it and won material doing so. I continued to win more material as the game went on and he ended up resigning. My first win!!!! It felt so good!  I was worried I would lose all of my games but now at least I had a win under my belt.

Game 5
Another kid, this one was maybe 10 years old. He was similar to my third opponent in that he made safe moves and never set up a strong attack. And, exactly like I did with my third opponent, I blundered away a piece as time was getting low. We each had about three minutes left on the clock. Because it was so close, losing a piece at that stage meant losing the game so I resigned. Once again I was super frustrated with myself for losing focus. I actually thought I had that game won because I had more time than him, I had a better position, and all I needed to do was to keep putting him in check. And I was putting him in check every move, but one of those moves happened to be a square where the piece could simply be captured. 

Game 6
Another adult! Yay! Before we started playing, we chatted about the tournament so far. We both had one win under our belt. In this game, I immediately found his weakness, exploited him, and checkmated him in 12 moves. It took me about six minutes. Way to end on a high note!  Since our game was so quick, we went into the lobby and I showed him how I did it: how I spotted his weakness and took advantage of it, setting it up several moves in advance. Here is how the game went. I played as white.

My final game: a 12-move checkmate!


Greg's Tournament
After winning his first 3 games, Greg had two losses followed by a final win.  So he won four games and lost 2. I lost 4 games and won 2. Because of this, he ended up winning the "unrated" bracket, which equated to prize of $100. We had no idea there would be prizes at our level so this was an unexpected benefit. Greg joked, "It only took me 9 hours to earn $100!"

We left the tournament and Mike Wardian was still playing. Because he was in a higher division, he was playing a game where each player got 2 full hours! We learned that our 45-minutes-per-player games were considered "fast games". If I had two hours, I feel like I could play so much better!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm officially hooked and I want to hire a chess coach! I really need the coach to teach me mental strategies for not blundering. I know all I need to do is think about each move very carefully before I make it. But when my clock is running down, I feel like I have to move quickly so I don't take the time to ensure that my move isn't a huge mistake. I think I'm being careful, but I am actually not.

Here are the things that went well:
  • I did not embarrass myself, as I was able to hold my own for at least 35 moves each game
  • I learned so much, particularly how tournaments "go" and what to expect in the future
  • I had a lot of fun and it was cool to watch Greg and Mike Wardian play when my games ended
  • I can officially say I played in a chess tournament
  • I won two games
  • I checkmated someone really quickly
  • I met some really nice and smart people
  • I won against all the adults I played
Here are the things that didn't go well or where I need to improve:
  • Study openings more so that I can move quicker in the beginning and save time for the end
  • Be more careful about my moves when the clock runs down
  • Relax, try not to get so anxious
  • Be more confident in my abilities, but do not underestimate my opponents
  • I lost against all the children I played
I got a chess mask!
Official ratings are updated once per month so I will soon have a rating, now that I have played in a tournament. I think it's going to be pretty low, like 600 or something. I am guessing Greg will be around 1100. But who knows, I could be higher. I'd rather start out with a low rating and improve with each tournament than have a high rating to start and go in the opposite direction. Plus, this probably means I will play easier opponents, increasing my chances of winning. 

As with anything, we all have to start somewhere. Having an official chess rating is a step up from not having a rating, no matter how low. (Okay, I will admit part of me doesn't want a low rating. . . but that's just my ego.) I have decades ahead of me to get better at this game. I will not be able to run at the level I do now once I'm in my 50s, so here begins the transition to a mental sport that doesn't require physical ability!

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my next tournament, which will be memorial day weekend. And thanks again to Michael Wardian for encouraging me to bring my chess skills to a live tournament.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Marathon recovery and chess tournament preparation

I spent last week recovering from the Two Rivers marathon. I experienced a sleep nirvana like no other. For four nights in a row, I slept straight through the night, with loads of deep sleep (according to my FitBit), and for 1-2 hours longer than usual. I would have expected that with no running, I wouldn't need so much sleep, but it was like my body knew it was recovering from a major event and the sleep was phenomenal. FitBit even gives you a sleep score, and one night I got a 90, which is the highest I have ever seen, followed by a 91! This tells me that I really did leave it all out there on the course and that perhaps I didn't have enough rest going into the race. 

Mentally, I feel much better about the race. I wrote my blog when I was still processing all of my emotions. Of course, that is the main reason I keep a running blog - for reflection and closure on my race experiences so I can move on in a productive manner. My main takeaway is that I ran a solid race on a tough course without having as much of a taper as I needed, given the extended training cycle. I'm proud of my execution and my BQ cushion of over 20 minutes. 

Also, running is just one aspect of my life; not my whole life. When I was training at 75+ miles per week it felt like my whole life because I didn't have the time of energy for much else. But getting 10+ hours back last week with no running made me realize just how much of a commitment I made to that training cycle. Unlike with past marathons, I didn't jump to sign up for future races. I only have one race on the calendar (a half marathon in May) and I give it a 50/50 chance of getting canceled. So everything is up in the air with my future race plans, which is a first for me!

Additionally, I have a mild injury, which I am fairly certain stems from the bike accident I had in 2019. While vacationing in Norway, my tire got caught in a rail track, stopped the bike, and I fell onto the bike with my pelvis hitting the bar with a massive amount of force. The area never completely recovered. It was about 95% there and then I ran CIM 4 months after the accident and that aggravated it again. When I started strength training in May 2020, I started feeling it again with lower abdominal exercises. And I noticed that engaging my lower abdomen in any way made the area feel a little sore.

It was extremely mild so I didn't do anything about it. I trained for Harrisburg with no issues. But as I ramped up for Two Rivers in February, I noticed that the pelvic area would get tender from running. During the marathon, it was a little achy, but nothing major enough to even mention in my race report. When I finished the marathon, I did experience some nasty pain throughout the groin and pelvic region, which continued for the rest of the day.

Ever since the marathon, it's been a little achy when I have to use my lower abdominal muscles or when I move my legs in a certain way. I had an X-ray done today and was diagnosed with mild inflammation of the pubic synthesis, which means I need to cut back on running for four weeks, and I am totally fine with that.

Now onto the exciting stuff: I competed in a chess tournament last weekend!

Background
I started playing chess when I was six. I loved it so much that I asked for an electronic chess set for my 7th birthday and I played that thing all the time. It wasn't long before I could beat my dad. Then came the teenage and college years, followed by my 20s when I rarely played. I beat my boss at a job I had in my early 20s and he was just as competitive as me, and he didn't like that I beat him. And so as a general rule of thumb, I learned never to play my boss in chess. It's more important for your boss to like you and respect you for the work you do on the job, not because you can outdo him or her in some other game.

Chess on vacation in 2018
Fast forward to around 2011, the year after Greg and I got married. We took a trip to visit his parents who lived in Albuquerque, NM at the time. His father had a chess set and the three of us played many games because there really wasn't much else to do! This chess binge got Greg, his father, and me all "into" chess again. We set up accounts on chess.com and continued playing each other long after the visit to New Mexico. And then my father also joined chess.com and the four of us would play each other frequently. And then I started playing random people on chess.com.

But back then, I didn't have the mental toughness that I learned through running and through working with a sports psychologist. I would be extremely hard on myself for making a mistake. On chess.com you have a rating and when you lose, your rating goes down. And at some point in 2012 I think, I lost a few games in a row, became super frustrated, and stopped playing on chess.com. Greg and I also stopped playing on the board. We would only play on vacation when the place we were staying had a board. Greg got his rating so high that he stopped playing because he didn't want it to get any lower. 

A New Beginning
Fast forward to January 2020, when I saw a Facebook post from Michael Wardian, a professional ultra runner who lives in the DC area. He posted that he was getting into chess and that he was playing games on chess.com. I thought it would be super cool to play him, so I re-installed the app on my phone, logged into an account I hadn't been in for eight years, and challenged him. There are different types of games you can play on Chess.com with regards to how much time you get to make a move, and we played where you have an entire day to make a move. That way you don't have to be on the app at the same time. 

My favorite checkmate ever: two equines!
Whenever one game ended, we would start another one so that we always had a game going. I started to explore all the features of the chess.com app and I loved doing the puzzles. I even started playing "blitz"games that only gave each players 5 minutes total to finish the game. You win by either checkmating your opponent or having their clock run out faster than yours. I was absolutely horrible at this because it requires you to think fast under pressure.

Before I knew it, I had caught the chess bug again and upgraded my Chess.com subscription so I could play more puzzles, analyze more games, and take more lessons. And Greg got more into it as well. He started doing the puzzles and we started playing more games against each other. He also started watching chess videos on YouTube, which he used to watch years ago, but of course now there are like 100 times more of them available and they are of much higher quality. 

Upping My Game
A few months ago, I started talking more with Michael Wardian about chess, and I asked him how he was able to get his blitz rating so high. Of course, he is a naturally "fast" person so he is gifted when it comes to competing at speed. I asked him to share some of his games with me and he did. 

I started providing feedback on his games and his desire to improve fueled my desire to improve even more! He totally inspired me to become a better player and also to bring my game to a live, in-person tournament. 

Of course all of this did coincide with the release of The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, and even though I loved that series, it is not what heightened my interest in chess. And it's not what made me want to sign up for a live tournament. All credit goes to Mike Wardian. He had competed in several tournaments and had an official US Chess rating. He was also a member of a chess club.

So I found a tournament just 15 minutes away from my house, which occurred last weekend (one week post marathon). Greg, Mike, and I all signed up for it. Back in 2011, I wanted Greg to sign up for a live tournament because he was getting really good at online chess. But he never did, and then our interest in the game waned.

Greg and I purchased an online chess course and it reinforced concepts we already knew, but also taught us new concepts. Chess is like any game or sport; it's a mixture of natural talent and the hard work of training or studying. While the lessons we purchased were a good start, they barely scratched the surface of the complexities of the game. We also purchased a chess clock and annotation books per Mike's recommendation.

Mike Wardian vs. Greg Clor
The day before the tournament (Friday) Mike came over to my house to play Greg and me live on the chessboard. Playing a live game on the board with an actual chess clock is completely different than playing online. When you can see the person in front of you the dynamic changes entirely, and when you have to manually tap a clock and record the moves on paper, it adds another dimension.

In a live tournament, you make your move, tap your chess clock, and then record your move on a piece of paper. You also record your opponents move. This enables you to go back and analyze your game afterwards. At higher levels of competition, it's mandatory and you need an accurate score sheet to claim a win. To record your move on paper you need to know how to annotate all the pieces and all the squares. This was actually something I picked up quickly, and the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. 

A huge thanks goes out to Mike for coming over and showing Greg and me the ropes of a live tournament. The score book, the chess clock, the rules, and everything would have been totally foreign to us otherwise.

How did it go? Stay tuned for the next blog in which I discuss how I applied the mental skills I acquired for running to the game of chess!


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Two Rivers Marathon Race Report

Yesterday morning, I ran the Two Rivers Marathon in Lackawaxen, PA. That's in the Pocono mountains in the northeastern part of the state, right on the New York border.

When the Myrtle Beach marathon was moved from March 6, I couldn't find another one that weekend within driving distance so I extended my training cycle by three weeks to March 27. I registered for the Tidewater Striders BQ Invitational Marathon in Chesapeake, VA, but I knew that at the end of March, there would be a 50/50 chance of warm weather. 

My backup plan was the Two Rivers Marathon. Instead of 4 hours south, this race was located 4 hours north and would be almost guaranteed to have cool weather in late March. As suspected, the forecast for Virginia was calling for temps in the low 60s and no cloud cover, which was a non-starter for me. I unfortunately have far too much experience bonking in weather like this at races of all distances. 

So I registered for Two Rivers and booked a hotel at the end of last week. I knew the course would be more challenging than the pancake-flat Chesapeake course, but as I said, warm weather is a non-starter for me. The Two Rivers course was two out-and-backs, up and down a long gradual hill. The net elevation gain was not all that high. Anywhere from 350-600 depending on which GPS mapping system you look at. In fact, this is similar, if not less than, what I run on my 20-milers.

I should note that this was a brand new course for 2021, USATF certified. The original course was point-to-point, net downhill, with a shuttle bus. But due to health concerns, they didn't want to use shuttle busses. I've found that in order for marathons to actually happen, the course has to change for various reasons. This was the case for the Harrisburg marathon last fall. 

Before the Race
Greg and I drove up to the Poconos on Friday morning. We picked up our packet outside at the race start and then drove the course. We realized that the course would not be closed to traffic, so we'd have to be careful not to get hit! As I said above, it was a long steady climb for 6.55 miles, and then back, and then out and back again.

Two Rivers Marathon Elevation

We met up with our friend Tricia for dinner where I had my standard eggplant parm without the parm. I made sure to eat enough so that I was content, but not to overeat like I may have done at Harrisburg. The wind on Friday was insane. The area had sustained winds of over 20mph with gusts that must have been about 50. The wind was loud outside of our room and I felt the whole building shake. The internet went out and there was no cell service, so it felt like we were in a horror film. I knew it was supposed to die down by morning, but it was a little unsettling going to sleep during a wind storm with a marathon on tap the next morning.

I slept relatively well and woke up feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready. This is definitely a contrast to my last two marathons. For Harrisburg I woke up with an anxious feeling. For CIM, I barely slept the night before the race AND two nights before the race! So I already knew I was a step ahead. 

I did have a dream that I was looking through the race results and I saw I ran a 3:26, but I didn't remember actually running the race. I woke up from that dream feeling relieved that I hadn't actually run a 3:26 and I still had the opportunity to reach my goal of sub 3:10. I woke up at 4:15 and before getting out of bed I played the chess.com computer at level 1600 (advanced) and I won. I was really excited about that! Off to a great start. 

Instead of my normal bagel with peanut butter and banana, I had an English muffin with a small amount of almond butter, and about 1/4 of a serving of Maurten Drink mix 160. I also had an entire serving the the Drink Mix 160 the day before the race to pre-hydrate. This drink mix contains carbs and electrolytes. Maurten also makes a Drink Mix 320, which has 320 calories per serving, plus electrolytes, plus 100 mg of caffeine. I mixed a serving of that to carry with me and sip on during the first half of the race. I had practiced all of this in training and was optimistic I would not face the digestive distress I had in Harrisburg.

In the hotel race morning
It was a 25-minute drive to the race start and we left the hotel at 6:15. The race offered a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon, all on the same course. There were 227 finishers in the marathon and 218 in the half marathon. The exact same race was held on Sunday for those wanting to run the marathon twice, or the half marathon and marathon. This was not a new thing due to health and safety concerns, this race always runs on both Saturday and Sunday. 

We arrived at the race, parked, met up with Tricia and used the porta potties. The start line was open starting at 6:30 and the marathon runners could start any time they wanted between 6:30 and 8:15 to allow for social distancing. This had both its benefits and drawbacks. The benefit was getting to start whenever you felt ready, so there wasn't any anxiety about being late. And since I prefer cold weather, I was able to start on the earlier side (7:00) and avoid the warmer temperatures later in the race. The drawback was that you had no idea who you were competing against. They offered an "elite" start at 8:00 for those wanting competition, but you didn't have to start at that time to be declared the winner. It also wasn't something you had to qualify for; just a group of fast runners wanting to push each other. Masks were required in the start line area, but we were free to remove them once we started running. 

Tricia crossed the start line, and Greg and I waited a few extra minutes to make sure I didn't have to go to the bathroom one final time. We crossed the start line at 7:02, which was set up on a grassy area. We only ran on grass for a few seconds before exiting the park and getting out onto the road. 

The weather ended up being even better than expected. The forecast had indicated 10 mph winds and sunny skies, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was very little wind, and we had about 50% cloud cover. It was 44 degrees to start and rose to about 50 by the end. On my race weather scale, I would give it a 9 out of 10. To get a 10, it would have needed to be slightly cooler. 

I wore shorts, a crop top, disposable arm warmers and disposable gloves. (Disposable meaning they were $1 from Walmart). I started out with sunglasses on my head and there were a few sunny sections in which I put them over my eyes, but they mostly stayed on my head.

Miles 1 - 6.55
I started out feeling like this would be my day. The weather was close to ideal. I had slept well, I didn't have any anxiety or any feelings of indigestion. It was hard to establish a rhythm during the first mile. I was still feeling out the course and how it would be. I immediately noticed that the road was slanted and I either wanted to run on the very edge of it, close the the gravel, or be in the dead center. Anything in between was uneven. But I also needed to pay attention to the tangents, because there would be quite a few curves on the course. 

The first mile was all about settling in and getting used to running smoothly. I ran a 7:54 mile which was WAY slower than goal pace of 7:15, but I didn't judge it. I knew I needed to go out slowly because these miles were uphill, and they were the early miles. If the course had been flat I would have started out in the low 7:20s, but with it being uphill, I figured the high 7:20s would be about perfect. 

Greg ran a faster first mile than me but I caught up to him and passed him in the second mile. He didn't have a goal time in mind, but I knew he wasn't planning to start as fast as me. I ran the second mile in 7:32 and settled into that pace. I knew I needed to be patient and I didn't freak out that this was nearly 20 seconds per mile slower than goal pace. 

At any given time, I had about 4 or 5 runners in my sight. There were also runners coming back in the

opposite direction, presumably half marathoners or 5K/10K runners. There were more cars than I expected and it while they generally wove around the runners, some of them were not as accommodating.  I tried running the tangents, but I knew I wasn't doing a good job because I was prioritizing running on a non-slanted surface. 

Mile 3 was also 7:32. The hills were not steep but they were unrelenting. There was almost nothing flat or downhill in the first "out" section. The entire thing was run up a very gentle incline. It was the type of thing that if you encountered this incline grade in a race you might not really notice it that much. But when it's an incline the whole way, you definitely do notice it. Or at least I did! 7:32 ended up being my happy pace and I kept hitting that consistently for most of the way out. I ditched the arm warmers at some point during the 3rd or 4th mile, but kept the gloves. 

I made a mental note that mile 5 was particularly challenging. The incline felt a little steeper, and I did the math and told myself that if mile 18 was slow, that would be okay. I caught up to Tricia during the 6th mile and we chatted briefly. It was definitely a pick me up to see her!

Mile 1: 7:54
Mile 2: 7:32
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:32
Mile 5: 7:37
Mile 6: 7:32
Mile 7: 7:32

Miles 8 - 13.1
My nutrition/hydration plan was to drink the Maurten Drink Mix 320 in my handheld bottle every 15 minutes. This would provide carbs, electrolytes, and caffeine. I had practiced it on two of my long runs and it worked well.

I turned around and was excited to finally start picking up the pace. I passed Greg in the other direction and he had his phone out and was snapping photos of me! Aww!! What a dedicated Instagram husband!

At this point, I felt decent, but not as good as I would have liked. At mile 8 of a marathon, things should be feeling very smooth and you shouldn't be straining all that much. I felt like I was probably working a little too hard, but I trusted my training. I assume that the elites are working VERY hard the entire race, but they are trained for that. Not to say that I am an elite, but I as push myself towards faster and faster marathon times, I know that I am going to have to be uncomfortable for a longer portion of the race.

I had no idea what pace the downhill miles would bring, and I didn't want to force it. So I glided down the mountain by feel and it was definitely a welcome change from the uphill. I also was able to see a lot of runners coming in the opposite direction. Runners were all over the place-- on both sides of the road and in the middle-- going in both directions. And the car traffic started to pick up. At one point, this huge vehicle decided it was not going to give me much room and I almost lost my balance and fell of the side of the road into a ditch. As the car kept going ahead of me, I noticed it was doing the same thing to the other runners. Not moving over at all, and coming very close to hitting them. 

While I was thankful to be running a real race, I started longing for the day when roads would be allowed to be closed to traffic for races once again. But I was also appreciative that this was not the Harrisburg course. That course had way too many hairpin turns and that path had a ton of uneven pavement. This was definitely an improvement. And it was really beautiful by the river.

I flew through this section and brought my pace down by a good amount. All of these miles were under 7:20 and I started to think that the 3:10 was within my grasp. Probably not a sub-3:10, but a 3:10 by the skin of my teeth if I could keep getting faster. 

Mile 8: 7:18
Mile 9: 7:16
Mile 10: 7:16
Mile 11: 7:18
Mile 12: 7:16
Mile 13: 7:12

Miles 14 - 19.6
When I reached the halfway point, which was back at the start-finish, nobody told me which way to go. So I started going the wrong way. Finally someone pointed me in the right direction of how to pass back through the start line. That annoyed me a little but I tried not to get too flustered. I passed Greg on his way to the start/finish turnaround point and that was another pick me up. He later told me that I was about two minutes ahead of him. 

By this point I was done with my drink mix, so I had a Maurten caffeinated gel and it went down well. I was mentally prepared for this second uphill stretch to be very difficult. I was eager to see Tricia and when I did, that perked me up. Things started to get noticeably harder during the 16th mile. At this point I realized my goal was out the window and I would be lucky to get a modest PR. Whenever I have set PRs, I have felt amazing at mile 16, and I was not feeling amazing at this point. I was very focused on simply getting to the turnaround so I could cruise downhill. 

The climbing was exhausting me. I felt like I would never get to the turnaround. The course just kept going and going uphill and miles 18-19 were a real challenge. 

Mile 14: 7:40
Mile 15: 7:28
Mile 16: 7:32
Mile 17: 7:43
Mile 18: 7:42
Mile 19: 7:52
Mile 20: 7:57

Miles 20 - Finish
Mentally and physically it felt way better to be cruising back down the hill. But I was so exhausted from pushing so hard on the way out. I tried taking another gel during the 21st mile but my gag reflex had me spitting it out immediately. Mile 21 clocked in at 7:41, and I was too exhausted to judge it or think about what my projected finish time would be. I just kept pushing. I really wanted to beat that 3:26 in my dream and I told myself that if that was my time I would be really disappointed. Not that 3:26 is a bad time, but it's far off of my goal and slower than my last two marathons.

I used every mental trick I had in the book to keep pushing. I told myself I "trained for the pain" and I repeated it over and over again. I didn't train for it to be easy. I trained to be able to handle the pain. THIS is what marathoning is about. This final stretch is the real test of true mental and physical stamina. But oh my goodness was it painful. It was not the sub 7:10 pace that I had planned and it took everything I had to maintain the effort. 

I don't remember much about these miles other than that they hurt. And I did not want to be passed by Greg. It's not that I didn't want him to have a good day; but I just felt like that would be demoralizing to be passed. At CIM he passed me during the 24th mile and while I really liked seeing him, I had the internal dialog of other runners are speeding up and passing you. So It didn't matter if it was Greg or anyone for that matter, I didn't want to be passed. It motivated me to try and stay ahead of him and I pushed and pushed so hard to not let him catch me. 

I came upon a man at around mile 23 who really carried me for the next two miles. He set a good pace and he was very encouraging. Every time he noticed me falling behind he would tell me to "come on" and I eked out "I'm coming" and I found a little extra effort to stay with him. He was truly a lifesaver. I had someone like that in Sugarloaf in 2019. This guy and I helped each other out during the last 3 miles and it was just what I needed. 

Usually at this point I am counting down the minutes until the race is over, but I didn't even have the mental capacity for that. Every once of mental energy was focused on pushing and staying strong. But as I neared the finish, I realized I could squeeze in under 3:20 if I pushed hard.

I went into all-out sprint mode for the final bit and managed to cross in 3:19:30. Phew. Even though I didn't get my "A" goal or a PR, it felt nice to break 3:20 for the second time. 

Mile 21: 7:41
Mile 22: 7:42
Mile 23: 7:48
Mile 24: 7:47
Mile 25: 7:45
Mile 26: 7:37
Last 0.33 on my Garmin: 7:07 pace

After the Race
I crossed the finish line, which I was thankful was on grass, because I was able to immediately sit down on the grass. I turned around and saw Greg coming through! Yes! He finished exactly 21 seconds after me in 3:19:51. This was a PR for him by 29 seconds. And even though he just finished a marathon, he was thoughtful enough to go back and get pictures of Tricia!

As I sat in the grass, I chatted with some other finishers and waited for Tricia to come through. I was so

excited to see her! We hung out for a little bit and collected age group awards. Because everyone started at a different time, and they didn't want to mail awards, you were able to pick up the award for whatever place you were in at the time you finished. Apparently they ordered lots of extra plaques. My plaque say 1st place age group, but I was actually 3rd. 

What's crazy is that for women in the 40-45 age group, a time of 3:19 at a small race only got me third. At Myrtle Beach, which is much larger, I won 1st place in my age group with a time of 3:21. I think that this is because there are so few marathons to choose from that all the fast runners are showing up to the same small marathons! At Harrisburg, the overall female masters winner was around 3:19.

We said goodbye to Tricia and drove back to the hotel. I spent about an hour in the huge bathtub of the hotel which also had jets. It felt amazing. The weather was gorgeous for the rest of the day so we sat out by Lake Wallenpaupack and relaxed. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This will actually require its own blog because I have a lot of feelings and reflections on how this went. The overwhelming feelings were relief that at least break 3:20, but disappointment that my training didn't produce a faster result. I ran 75+ mile weeks for 8 weeks in a row. I ran 800 miles in 80 days plus strength training and my body handled it really well. I crushed most of my workouts and hit paces I never dreamed of hitting. See training recap here. 8 weeks ago, I ran a 10-mile race that predicted a time of 3:10.

With Harrisburg, I didn't come close to my goal because of digestive issues. At CIM, it was lack of sleep and crazy humidity. But at this race, I don't really have anything to point to, except maybe the course profile. Most people I spoke with had a similar experience of missing their goal despite the great weather. Some people attributed to the bevel of the road, and others attributed it to the long uphill start. Maybe I went out too fast, but it's hard to imagine that 7:32 is "too fast" for a goal pace of 7:15.

I wish there was an easy explanation and something to point to, but aside from the course, there really

isn't. The obvious culprit could be my training and that I was over-trained. I could buy into that, but I was still hitting my paces just two weeks out from the race. But on the other hand, I did have to extend my training cycle by 3 weeks due to the Myrtle Beach cancelation. Maybe if the race was a week or two earlier it would have been a different story.

My coach attributes it to the hill profile and that the uphill start can really take a lot out of you early. I did experience this in the Hanover half marathon which had a very hilly start, and then I never really recovered from that once the race flattened out.

Greg made an excellent point about the margin of error being extremely small. When I first started marathoning, I would PR by huge amounts each time. But now I am approaching my lifetime peak. I'm 42, I've been running marathons for 16 years, and everything needs to align perfectly for me to reach a goal that is my absolute physical best possible time. The weather, the course, my sleep, digestive system, ALL of it. If I weren't so close to my lifetime peak (let's say I was in my 20s and had the physical ability to attain 2:45 at some point) then I wouldn't need everything to align to run a 3:09. I fall into the trap of comparing myself to other women who run sub 3:10- but they don't need to train as hard or have all the stars align. It's all relative to both 1)where you are in your journey 2) natural physical ability. 

When I ran my 3:15 in 2018, everything was perfect. The weather was a 10/10. The course was flat. I slept straight through the night. I had no digestive issues. And interestingly, I bonked my tune-up half marathon! That day in Rehoboth Beach was a unicorn and I need all those perfect conditions to get under 3:10 because I'm approaching the limit of what I am physically capable of.

My mind went to all sorts of dark places yesterday. And that's what made me challenge myself to probe deeper. Is the disappointment really about the race or is there something else going on with me? And I think there is something else going on with me mentally and emotionally. The lockdowns and cancelations have taken their toll on everyone. I am pretty sure I have been using this high-volume training as a coping mechanism to stifle feelings of despair about the state of the world. I think I expected this huge breakthrough race that would give me so much satisfaction that I would snap out of it and everything would feel okay again. 

Running is a healthy coping mechanism and I know it's provided many people with structure and purpose during this crazy time. And. . . post marathon depression is common because you work towards something for so long and then in an instant (or in 3 hours 19 minutes) it's done. I know that 3:19 is objectively an outstanding time and something I never would have though possible 5 years ago. It's a BQ by over 20 minutes. And I know I gave that race everything I had. I think once the dust settles I will have really happy, positive memories of this race and what I achieved. But in the spirit of total honesty, I feel unsettled and I know I have some work to do.

I'm extremely thankful to have made it to the start line healthy, and to have finished it healthy. The overall weekend experience was fun and much more exciting than if I had gone to Chesapeake. I do feel like I "conquered" something and I have yet another marathon experience to learn from.



Sunday, February 28, 2021

Miles, Miles, Miles!

Sooooo many miles. I'm officially training for the Tidewater Striders BQ Invitational Marathon on March 27. That's four weeks away! I had been targeting Myrtle Beach, but they postponed the race, so thankfully I had a backup. This meant three extra weeks of training, which I think ended up being for the best. Typically when I train for a marathon I spend 3-4 weeks in the 70's and that's about it. But with this cycle, I've been running high mileage ever since the start of the year. 

Here's a graph of my training since the year started.

This past week, I logged 79 miles, which is my third highest week of all time. My highest week of all time, 90 miles, was not during marathon training, but was done as a special challenge last spring just to see if I could hit it. 

Current Run Streak
I'm on day 66 of my current streak, which started after I took a rest day on Christmas Eve. This run streak has averaged 9.8 miles per day!  

I don't streak for the sake of streaking. Rather, my body can handle running every day without getting injured, and if I feel like I need a day off, I take it. I've been working with the same coach for over six years now, and he knows me pretty well. He knows how to push me without breaking me, and that's always a fine balance to strike.

I logged 302 miles in February, which is more than I get in most months with 30+ days! Thankfully, everything is feeling good, although my legs have been feeling heavy these past few days. 

Why, tho?
I often get asked why I run so many miles, and is it really necessary? If I want to run a 3:10 (or faster) marathon, then yes, it's necessary for me. Some women can run a 3:10 on 40 miles a week because they have natural talent. To get to the next level and have another breakthrough, I believe I need to run high mileage combined with strength training. This is all about seeing what I am capable of and getting to my lifetime peak. I'm 42 years old, so I'll probably start slowing down or plateauing soon. Now is the time to see what I can do in the marathon!

Key Workouts
Typically my weeks look like this:

  • Monday: Hard workout
  • Tuesday: Medium-long run (usually around 11 miles)
  • Wednesday: Easy Run
  • Thursday: Hard workout
  • Friday: Easy Run
  • Saturday: Long Run (often with fast miles at the end)
  • Sunday: Recovery run
I've had to navigate around snow storms and icy roads quite a bit in February so I've adjusted my schedule almost every week! I don't mind doing easy runs on the treadmill, but I really think I need to be on the road to get the full benefit of some of these long, hard workouts. Here are a few breakthrough workouts I am super proud of.

8 x 1-mile with 2-minute recovery jogs (January 21). I had never done 8 mile repeats before; 7 was the
most I had ever tackled! I decided that the only palatable way to approach it would be to avoid the track and run on the road. There is a 1.4 - mile loop near me that has slight inclines and declines throughout which I thought would be a good substitute. That way, I would never pass the same spot during one rep, and all reps would start and end in different places.  I knew that the small hills would mean it wouldn't be as fast as the track but this wasn't a vanity workout—it was about doing the work and making it through the entire 8 reps.

Pacing wise, my coach told me to shoot for 6:30-6:45, ideally at the faster end for most of them. For reference, I had just set a 10K PR at a pace of 6:37. So I was now going to run 8 miles at around 10K pace, with very short recovery jogs. Not walks, not rests, but jogs. It was 28° with very little wind, and I consider this to be very good weather. 

I pretty much wanted to quit after the first two reps. They were long and hard. But after the 3rd rep, things didn't seem so bad and I flew through the rest of them quite nicely. It was difficult to rally for that final 8th rep, so I started out on the slower side but then sprinted the second half to get my average pace down:  6:40, 6:42, 6:34, 6:35 6:35, 6:34, 6:30, 6:42. This is an average of 6:37, which is exactly my 10K PR pace. 

12 x 800m with 400m recovery jogs (February 11).  It was 34°, 7 mph winds and wet snow! I had never run more than 10 x 800m so this was a new challenge. It took me 4 full reps to get my legs turning over at top speed but then I settled into it: 3:32, 3:22, 3:15, 3:14 3:10, 3:09, 3:08, 3:09 3:08, 3:07, 3:07, 3:09

According to Bart Yasso, the average of 10 x 800m predicts your marathon fitness. I averaged the last 10 reps and got 3:09.6, which is exactly what I’m aiming for at my marathon. I was happy to finish strong.

30 mins at marathon pace, 30 mins at threshold (February 17). This was an hour-long run: 30 minutes at marathon pace, 30 minutes at 6:50. My coach prescribed marathon pace at 7:18 but I ran by feel and ended up being slightly faster. Plus, if I want to run a sub-3:10, then I’ll need to be just under 7:15.

It was 31° with 8-10 mph winds which were brutal in some portions. It was originally scheduled for Thursday but I moved it forward a day to avoid the snow storm. This meant just one easy day since my hard effort on Monday. I warmed up for 2 miles and then started the work:

30 minutes, 4.16 miles: 7:15, 7:13, 7:12, 7:11 (7:14 for the 0.16)
30 minutes, 4.39 miles: 6:50, 6:50, 6:50, 6:50 (6:46 for the 0.39)

This was one continuous run, no stopping, which ended up being the 8.54 miles at an average 7:01 pace. I kept thinking I would have to stop early because it got hard during the last 15 minutes. But I kept saying “just one more minute” until I reached 60. I can’t believe I hit those paces so perfectly and I do think I have the fitness for a 7:14 marathon pace!

Hopefully these hard workouts, high mileage, and strength training will get me to 3:10 level. I just need some decent weather on race day. I think I have addressed my digestive issues so I don't run into the same problems I had during my last marathon. The Maurten Drink Mix and gels have been amazing and so far I have had no issues with them. Greg will also be running this race, and I would love to see him have a major breakthrough as well. 



Sunday, February 7, 2021

Let's Talk About Food

On Instagram, my followers frequently ask me about my eating habits and nutrition. I have answered this question so many times that I figured I should write a blog post with all the details.

Why I rarely post about food
While I often write about my race nutrition strategy, I almost never talk about my typical "diet" or eating habits. This is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. It's not intentional because the topic of food is not all that interesting to me and I'd rather talk about my training. It is intentional because I don't really have a plan or guidelines I follow that I think are worthy of being shared.

In my early 20's, I developed anorexia. I restricted my calories down to about 800-1200 per day and then I also burned about 600 of those at the gym. It had nothing to do with being thin or my physical appearance. I was simply trying to eat more healthfully and all the articles I read in SHAPE and other magazines told me that the fewer calories the better. I received a free body fat assessment at my gym and even though I was at a healthy weight, I was told that my body fat was too high.

I could write many, many blog posts on eating disorders, but that is in my past and I have little interest in

Post-race ice cream in 2015
it now. I gradually recovered in my mid to late 20s as I got into long-distance running. This shifted my focus away from food and weight and towards training for a goal. Much of the anorexia was driven by perfectionism and the desire to achieve, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't bring that same mentality towards my running initially.

It wasn't until my mid 30s when I started working with a sports psychologist (which I have blogged about extensively and written a book about) that I truly freed myself from perfectionism and addressed the other issues that were fueling the eating disorder. The two therapists I saw when I was in the depths of my anorexia were not at all helpful and likely did more harm than good.

Because I was obsessed with food, nutrition, calories, and weight for many years, I no longer have an interest in it and so it's not something I talk about on my Instagram or in this blog. 

My mindset regarding food
It's pretty simple: I eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full. I try to eat healthy foods by having them around the house, but not everything needs to be healthy. I obey my cravings, especially for sweets, so I am by no means the model of perfect nutrition. I snack frequently. I have breakfast, lunch and dinner. I sometimes eat out. I don't track/monitor/record my food intake like I did in my early 20s. I rarely weigh myself (maybe once a month). I don't try to gain weight or lose weight. I don't follow any specific diet or plan. 

Overall, I grade nutrition a "B". Some days a B+ and other days a B-.  It's pretty good but it definitely could be better. I could eat more fruits and vegetables. I could limit my sugar intake. But I'd rather have a healthy mindset about food instead of being super rigid. 

Dietary restrictions
While I don't have a ton of rules around food, there are plenty of foods I avoid for various reasons:

  • Beef and Pork. I eliminated these at the onset of my eating disorder and never added them back in because they simply don't appeal to me. 
  • "Impossible" meat. I once had one of those synthetic burgers and it tasted way too much like a normal burger, which grosses me out. And it did not sit well in my stomach for the following 3 hours.
  • Heavy cream sauces. I am slightly lactose intolerant and Alfredo sauces or mac 'n cheese cause me major digestive distress. I once had a whole milk latte by mistake and that was very painful. I eat ice cream in small portions and I'm generally ok, but not always.
  • Spicy foods + pepper. Yes, even table pepper burns my mouth. I have been trying to work on this. I can do horseradish but crushed red pepper makes me cough and I'm super sensitive to Asian spices. If a restaurant coats my fish in pepper (but I didn't ask them not to) I have to eat around the pepper. 
  • Hazelnut. Makes me nauseous just thinking about it. I must be the only person in the world who will not go near Nutella.
My eating schedule
I wakeup at around 5:00-5:30 and I am not hungry. I start running between 6:30-7:15 depending on the season, and I do not eat before I run. If I am running a workout that has 5 or more miles of speed, then I have half a scoop of UCAN energy powder. This usually only happens during marathon training. For long runs, the same holds true, although now I am experimenting with Maurten as opposed to UCAN. 

They say that you are supposed to have protein shortly after a hard workout but I typically am not hungry. Running suppresses my appetite and I usually don't want anything to eat until about an hour after I finish my run, which is about 9:00. If I run an extraordinarily hard workout and put a major strain on my body, I have some cottage cheese immediately afterward for a quick dose of protein to help in recovery.

I usually have a small snack between my 9:00 breakfast and my 12:00 lunch. Then I will snack once or twice after lunch before having dinner at around 6:30. I usually have some form of dessert at 7:30 and then I am done eating. 

I recently realized that this means I do not eat for about 14 hours, between 7:30pm and 9:00am, and this is what they tell you do in intermittent fasting. It's supposed to be good for you, but I don't know how much I believe that. My dinner is usually pretty big, I don't wake up hungry, and then running suppresses my appetite, so it's just a matter of not wanting food during that 14-hour stretch. I never get hungry while running, and I can't imagine wanting food while running. 

Rarely, I have to use the bathroom mid-run and I hate it when that happens. I won't need to go to the bathroom before the run, but suddenly my stomach will hurt and if I don't find a bathroom within 15 minutes I am in big trouble. Thankfully I know where they are around my most common routes. Thankfully this hasn't happened recently but it can happen as often as twice per month. Our track has porta-potties which I have definitely taken advantage of.

Breakfast
My most common breakfasts are:
  • Bagel with cream cheese or butter
  • Cottage cheese with nuts (Friendship brand lowfat cottage cheese)
  • Steel cut oats
  • Cream of wheat
  • Grits
  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit, soy milk and yogurt (in the summer)
  • Yogurt and granola (Siggi's brand of yogurt)
  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Kodiak Cakes pancakes (usually on the weekends)
Lunch
My most common lunches are:
  • Turkey and cheese sandwich with tomato and avocado on whole wheat bread
  • Tuna melt on whole wheat bread
  • Pizza, usually topped with chicken and veggies
  • "Bowl" from Cava (mediterranean) or Moe's (Mexican)
  • Poke Bowl
  • Soup with a side of crackers or bread - I like chicken noodle and minestrone
  • Salad with some kind of protein (tofu, chicken, egg and/or turkey)
  • Leftovers from last night's dinner
Dinner
Greg cooks dinner in our house and there are a few meals that we eat regularly, like 2-3 times per month. Typically we aim for a protein, a vegetable, and a carb. We love getting freshly baked bread and having that as an appetizer with a gourmet cheese. Here are the meals we eat frequently:
  • Turkey burgers with tomato and avocado
    Greg making eggplant parm
  • Chicken thighs: either baked or on the grill with a side of veggies
  • Baked fish: salmon, halibut, and rockfish are most common with a side of veggies
  • Scallops with a side of spinach and/or fennel
  • Chicken parm or eggplant parm
  • Pasta with ground turkey meat balls
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Mushroom risotto
  • Oven-baked turkey or chicken, usually with a side of butternut squash
  • Chicken stir fry with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and broccoli
  • Chili made with ground turkey, topped with light sour cream and cheese
  • Homemade chicken noodle soup with veggies
  • Pasta with chicken, spinach, sun-dried tomato in pesto sauce (common before long runs)
  • Pasta with ground turkey and tomato basil sauce
  • Crab cakes or crab legs
Common vegetables accompanying our dinners are Cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, peppers, squash, fennel, leeks

Cottage cheese, mango, dolmas
Dessert
I often have dessert after dinner which is typically something we bought from the grocery store like a pie or cake. Cookies and ice cream are also common.

Snacks
As I mentioned above, I snack a lot. Common snacks that I keep in the house, or that I used to bring to work when I went into the office:
  • Trail mix
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pretzels, chips or crackers, sometimes with a dip
  • Granola
  • Fruit (apples, grapefruit, mangos, strawberries, grapes)
  • Olives
  • Cheese
  • Cookies
  • Dark chocolate bar (not the whole thing, just a few pieces) 
Beverages
I mostly drink water because it's easily available and I need to stay hydrated for my runs. Here are some other things I drink:
  • Decaf latte made with soy milk or coconut milk, usually flavored. I probably have 3-4 of these per week with my breakfast. There is a Peet's and a Starbucks very close to my house and I alternate. I
    Lemon martini at a fancy restaurant
    don't want to become caffeine dependent so I make it decaf always. 
  • Caffeine-free tea, during the workday or at night before bed. I love lavender and camomile.
  • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice: I've really gotten into this over the past six months. I get it from the grocery store and it's a good way to replenish calories in a healthy and refreshing way.
  • Soda. I usually have 1 soda per week. I love a Pepsi or a Dr. Pepper after my long run! When I worked in an office and soda was free, I had one almost every day. I'm glad I cut back.
  • Alcoholic beverages. If we go out to a nice dinner I typically order a mixed drink. One of the sugary ones! I rarely drink wine because I don't like the way it makes me feel. I drink beer more than any other alcoholic beverage. I like craft beers and I have one with dinner several times per week. Usually I have about 3/4 of the beer which is enough to satisfy me without making me tipsy.
Dining out & ordering in
Greg and I do not eat out nearly as much as we used to, but we still do on occasion. In an average week, we cook 5 meals, and the other two are takeout/delivery or going out. We have sushi a few times per month and have Thai food delivered about once a month. 

When we go out to eat, we usually order an appetizer and/or dessert, plus the main course. I typically order fish, seafood, or chicken. I absolutely love French fries, so I treat myself when we go out! I'm a picky dessert eater in that I do not like tiramisu, anything hazelnut, whipped cream, or cheesecake. Nor do I like the chocolate/peanut butter combo. I go for ice cream, cakes, and pies. Greg and I always share the dessert. 

Post-race and post long-run
As I said above, I usually do not want to eat anything until at least an hour after I am done running. Sometimes as long as two hours. I always follow my cravings, and my most common cravings for after the run are:
  • Tacos
  • Pizza
  • Pepsi or Dr. Pepper
  • Chicken fingers/fried chicken sandwich
So. . . that's it! Nothing too complicated or fancy. I tend to think that I'm a generally healthy eater who enjoys her daily (or twice daily) dose of sweets. I will say that being married to Greg has helped a lot. I don't know how to cook most things, and when I was single I lived on boca burgers, veggie nuggets, and cereal. 



Sunday, January 31, 2021

10 Fast Miles

Yesterday morning I ran the Tidewater Striders Distance Series 10 Miler in Chesapeake, VA. I'm so happy I did!

Spring Race Planning
A few days after the Harrisburg Marathon last November, I registered for the Myrtle Beach Marathon, which would occur on March 6. In December, I began plotting out the rest of my spring race schedule. This was no easy task. Ideally I would run a half marathon sometime in late January or early February as a tune-up. And also because I thought I would have the fitness to go sub-1:30.

I searched high and low for a half marathon in that timeframe but the only ones available required getting on an airplane. Greg and I wanted to avoid air travel for the sake of our health but also because it would

complicate logistics. The half marathons within driving distance were all insanely hilly. I ran the Hanover Half Marathon last fall which totally destroyed me due to the hills, and I wanted a fast course this spring.

My friend Allison had the novel idea of seeking out a ten-miler instead. I love 10-mile races but they are far more rare than half marathons, so I didn't think I'd likely find one. But I did find one. It was pancake flat. Check. It was within driving distance. Check. It was the last weekend in January. Check. I snagged the very last spot and when I went to register Greg, there were none left! He didn't mind though, and was happy to play the role of cheerleader/photographer. 

On Tuesday of this week, Myrtle Beach announced that the marathon would be pushed to May. I would definitely not be running a marathon in South Carolina in May due to the heat. This news stressed me out because I had just logged three 70+ mile weeks in a row and I wanted to run a marathon on March 6. Now it was back to the drawing board for the marathon. Time for more research! But, on the plus side, it made me more motivated than ever to race the 10-miler because I knew that race was a sure thing.

OR WAS IT!? On Thursday, the Chesapeake area got a few inches of snow. And the race was held on a paved trail that does not get treated or plowed. The last thing I wanted was to try and race on a course with icy patches everywhere. But how would I know? The temperature wouldn't get above 36 in that area, and I wasn't sure how much sun exposure the course got. I posted a message to the Tidewater Striders Club Facebook page asking if any of the locals planned to run on that trail on Friday morning. Thankfully somebody said that they were going to scope it out. I should note that icy patches would be a deal-breaker for me whereas some people would be okay with dodging them. I am very timid when it comes to slippery surfaces so I would not be able to race confidently if I knew I might slip.

I canceled our hotel room to avoid a cancellation fee. (Chesapeake is a 4-hour drive south, so a hotel was required). I figured if the race was on, I could always re-book it. I went to bed Thursday night not knowing if I would actually run the 10-miler. Friday morning arrived and I still had not packed or laid out any of my race things. This was a first for me! Finally, at around 10:00, I heard back from Facebook that the trail was all clear and no black ice. 

I packed for the race and Greg and I left the house two hours later. 

Nutrition and Fueling
If you read my Harrisburg Marathon report, you will know that I had major digestive issues which prevented me from running hard. I need to figure out a fueling strategy before my next marathon. Here is what I ate on Friday:

  • Breakfast: A large bowl of grits
  • Lunch: Leftover chicken stir fry from the night before, included rice and veggies
  • Snack: On the drive down, peanut-butter filled pretzels and some sweet tarts
  • Dinner: Bread. Pasta with Pomodoro sauce and chicken 
  • I drank approximately 50-60 ounces of water. No additional electrolytes
  • 3 hours before the race: 2/3 of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 + and English muffin with almond butter
  • 30 minutes before the race: Almost all the rest of the Maurten Drink mix
  • 5 minutes before the race: A caffeinated Maurten Gel
  • During the race: No fuel or water. Probably could have used a gel at the halfway point.
Before the Race
I had one of my best nights of pre-race hotel sleep ever. I slept for over 8 hours and I only woke up once in the middle of the night. The sleep was restful and I didn't have anxiety dreams about the race. Why? I think I was so stressed about about my race schedule (both the marathon and the ice for the 10-miler) that once I knew the race would happen, I could rest easy. It used to be that the biggest challenge in racing was the race. Now, it's finding a race that will happen!

I woke up and I felt tired, but tired in a good way. When I ran my fastest-ever marathon I also woke up tired and I think that's because the quality of my sleep was so great. For Harrisburg, I woke up and felt jittery and edgy and not rested. I think that my digestive issues had a bit to do with that anxious state.

Warming up in my mask
The race started at 9:00 and we left the hotel at 7:50. It was a 25-minute drive to the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. Yes- it's actually called "Dismal Swamp". We arrived at the race and hung out in the car for a bit. At 8:25 we got out of the car to get my bib. They had a really smooth social distance process in place. First you stood in line to sign a waver. Then you took the waver to the temperature check station, where they signed your waiver if you didn't have a fever. Then, you took the signed waiver to the bib station where you got your bib. It was very smooth. Everyone was wearing masks and standing six feet apart in the lines. After getting my bib, I went to the indoor bathroom, which was a nice amenity.

Then I warmed up for one mile. It was 30 degrees with 7-8 mph winds and sunny. On the weather scale, this gets an 8.5 out of 10. It would have gotten closer to a 10 if it weren't for the headwind during the last three miles. 

At 8:50, they called us all to the start line where we waited in socially distant waves. I was in the first wave, so I handed my jacket to Greg and got ready. I wore the same type of outfit that I wore during the Christmas Caper 10K in December: capri tights, a short-sleeved shirt, and arm warmers. I wore a long sleeved shirt in Indianapolis when it was 28 degrees and I was hot during portions of the race. The short-sleeves allow more air into the core, while the arm warmers keep the arms warm. I wore my Adidas Adios Pro shoes, which I find to be very fast without any of the Achilles or ankle problems that the Nike Vaporfly Next% gives me.

Race Goals and Strategy
My 10-mile PR was ambiguous. There were three different PRs I could claim:
  1. Fastest 10-mile time in a live 10-mile race: 1:09:54 at the Cherry Blossom in 2019
  2. Fastest 10-mile in a virtual 10-mile race: 1:09:46 at the Virtual Cherry Blossom in 2020
  3. Fastest 10-miles ever run: 1:09:14 during the Indianapolis Half Marathon in 2019
Given that I knew I could run 1:09:14 in a half marathon, I thought I should definitely be able to break 1:09 in a 10-miler and probably even go sub 1:08. My fitness was really strong, I had recently PR'ed a 10K, the weather was cooperative, and the course was flat. It seemed like all the stars were aligning, which is rare. The plan was to start out in the low 6:50s and then speed up from there. 

Miles 1-4
The race started and I eased into it. I only warmed up for 1-mile because I had mis-judged the amount of time it would take to get my bib, pin it on, etc. But I wasn't too worried because there was nothing wrong with gradually easing into my goal pace and running a negative split.

There were three women ahead of me and two men. Additionally, there was a 15-mile race that had started at 8:30 on this same trail. The course was 5 miles out and 5 miles back. No mile markers, but my Garmin seemed to be very accurate on this course.

Mile 3.5
I passed one of the three women about a mile into the race. My split was 6:58. This was slower than goal pace, but that was by design. The course was as flat as they come-- no hills or inclines or anything. The only annoying thing was that there were many acorn-sized round thingees that had fallen from the trees. I don't know what they are called but they are brown and spikey and round. If you ran over one it would likely throw you off balance. I had to dodge those, but at least there wasn't any ice. 

After the first mile, everything started to flow and I increased my effort. My second mile ended up being 6:49, which was right on target so I was happy with my pacing. 

I passed one of the men during the third mile, as I had started to pick up my pace. Now there were only three people ahead of me: two women who seemed to be running together, and one man. I saw Greg at mile 3.5 and he snapped some photos.

Mile 1: 6:58
Mile 2: 6:49
Mile 3: 6:47
Mile 4: 6:42

Miles 5-7
I was running a little faster than planned, but I felt great so I didn't question it. That 6:42 split for mile 4 was certainly a surprise, but everything felt good. I could feel a slight headwind breeze on the way out, so I thought for sure it would be a tailwind on the way back. I was looking forward to that. 

Mile 6.5
At the turnaround, I could tell that the two women running together were no more than a minute ahead of me. I figured if they slowed down I could catch them but I probably wouldn't be able to catch them otherwise. These miles passed pretty quickly. I felt fluid and the effort was hard but not painfully hard. Part of me wondered if I should push harder, but I figured if I had extra energy I would surge during the last three miles, not now when I was just over halfway. I saw Greg again at mile 6.5 and I was feeling so strong! 

I was really enjoying the weather, the flat course, and the fact that I felt so good. My left hip had been acting up earlier in the week, and I actually felt it during my warm up. But miraculously, there was not even a hint of hip tightness or soreness during this race. By the time I reached mile 7, I knew I was going to set a PR. The question was, how much of one? I was running faster than expected and everything felt good. This was my day.  I also really loved seeing the rest of the 10-mile runners on the other side of the course cheering for me. Everyone was so encouraging even when they were in the midst of their own race.

Mile 5: 6:41
Mile 6: 6:42
Mile 7: 6:40

Miles 8-10
Once I got to mile 8, the wind really seemed to pick up. I hadn't noticed it much during miles 6 and 7, but suddenly there was a stiff sustained wind. The race got much harder. I very quickly went from feeling awesome to entering the pain cave. Even though the plan had been to speed up, I had to give everything I had to maintain my pace. Speeding up would not be possible. It was time to start using some mental tricks.

After all the research and stress over finding this race, and then the worry about the ice, you finally made it here. It all comes down to three miles - about 20 minutes. You can stay strong for 20 minutes. You have trained for this. You have spent hours and hours preparing for this moment and you are on track to PR. You need to continue to push as hard as possible. This is the moment that is testing you. You spent four hours in a car yesterday to get here. You did so much research on this race. FOR THIS MOMENT.

It was so hard, but I knew I had to stay strong. It was a battle against the wind and I refused to let the wind win. I started counting down the minutes, which is very helpful instead of thinking about the distance. Soon I only had 15 minutes left, and then 10 minutes. 

During the 9th mile, I started to struggle. I was fading. This is why I think I probably could have used a gel at the halfway point. I needed more pep. My mile split was back into the 6:50s (6:51) which was not
Mile 9.8
 the end of the world but I knew I could run faster if I just gave more effort.

During the last mile, I knew the PR would be mine. Since the course was flat, I could see the finish line from about half a mile away. The two women were still running together and I tried to guess at what time they would cross. The first half of that mile was in the 6:50s, but I did some quick math and realized I was on the verge of sub 1:08. If I didn't run fast enough I would be 1:08:xx but if I gave it absolutely everything I had, I could run 1:07:xx. And that would be HUGE!

I started sprinting. It was now a race against the clock. I had to finish before it struck 1:08. I knew what was on the line, I knew how much I wanted it and even with the headwind, mile 10 was one of my fastest.

Mile 8: 6:44
Mile 9: 6:51
Mile 10: 6:42

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 1:07:47, third overall female and fourth overall runner. The two women finished ahead of the first place male, both in 1:06:xx. Next year I will be right there with them.

After the Race
That final sprint was very fast and according to my Garmin I was running a sub-6:00 pace at the very end. I think it was that final kick that led to the dry heaving. I definitely would have vomited if there was something to vomit, but there wasn't anything because I had no water during the race. I did not feel nauseous during the race like I did in Harrisburg, so that is definitely progress. I think the dry heaving is simply how my body reacts to a hard effort and if I have anything in my stomach, it's going to come up. I don't think it has much to do with what I have eaten.

After the dry heaving, we went straight to the car, relaxed for a few minutes, and then left. There was
really no need to hang around the finish line as there would not be an awards ceremony. We arrived back at the hotel where I showered, packed up, and then we met my college roommate and her husband for lunch. They live in the area so whenever I go there I try to see them. 

We then drove home, stopping at the grocery store along the way to pick up cake batter and the ingredients for frosting. It was PR Cake night! I settled on a butter cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Dinner would be shrimp scampi and there would also be beer!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm calling this a PR by two full minutes. Of course it depends on which time you use as my previous PR, but any way you slice it, I was solidly under all of them.

This is very encouraging for me because I was starting to feel that I had been plateauing. I had been setting some PRs but they weren't all that significant. It was like a few seconds here and there, but overall I wasn't convinced that I was becoming a stronger and faster runner.

Not only did I set a PR, but this is the fastest race I have ever run, relative to other distances. What do I mean by that? Well, if I plug this 1:07:47 into the McMillan Race Calculator, the equivalent times are: 5K in 19:32, 10K in 40:33, half marathon in 1:30:25, full marathon in 3:10:16.

I have never run any of those "equivalent" times, which means this 10-mile is my "fastest" race on a relative scale. My goal for my upcoming marathon is 3:10, so as long as my training continues to go well, I should have a great shot at that come March.

As for my spring marathon, the plan is to run this same course on March 27! The Tidewater Striders are holding a "BQ Invitational" marathon for 250 runners on this course and I'm obviously a fan of the Striders and this course. The marathon would be two out-and-backs on this paved trail. Boring, but fast. This means I have to extend my marathon training for three weeks, but I don't think that will be a problem. 

Nutrition-wise, I think what I ate generally agreed with my stomach. During the marathon I will follow a similar plan, except I will need to drink water during the race and have gels during the race. The question will be how many and when. Thankfully I have time to experiment. 

I'm so thrilled with how fast I ran this race, and particularly how I rallied in the end with the headwind and getting my time under 1:08. A lot of mental and physical work went into this one, and it was well worth it.