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.


Friday, January 1, 2021

New Day New Year 10K

The long awaited 2021 is here. And what will it bring?

For starters, the first race in the Northern Virginia area (that I am aware of) held on closed roads: The New Day*New Year 10K. All the local races that I ran in 2020 starting in March were either in Washington DC or on roads open to traffic (Fort Hunt 10K). Here's a quick recap:

  • Outer Banks 5K (in North Carolina)
  • Fort Hunt 10K (open road in a park area)
  • Hanover Half Marathon (in Pennsylvania)
  • Harrisburg Marathon (in Pennsylvania)
  • Cranberry Crawl 5K (in Washington DC)
  • Christmas Caper 10K (in Washington DC)
This is great news because it sets a precent of Loudon County being on board with live races and road closures. Hopefully we will start seeing more races come back to Northern Virginia.

This race offered a 5K and a 10K option. I wasn't sure which one I wanted to do, but looking at the course made it an easy decision. The 5K course ended on an uphill and part of it was on a neighborhood path. The 10K course ended on a downhill and there was no neighborhood path; it was all road. 

However, the day before the race, we received an email letting us know that the 10K would now be two laps of the 5K. Definitely a bait-and-switch. I am assuming that it's less expensive for them to use the 5K course for both races because they don't have to pay for as many police officers and close as many roads. I could be wrong, but that's my best guess as to why they would change it at the last minute.

My heart sunk upon reading this. What I had thought would be a decently fast course on 100% roads was now going to be more challenging with part of it run on a neighborhood path, times two.  I briefly considered switching to the 5K. That way I would only have to run on the path once. But I ultimately decided to just stick with the original plan. It was not the end of the world, of course, and 2020 has taught me to be flexible and roll with the punches. So I tried not to focus on it too much and just accept the change. But I think it got into my head a little when it was time to execute. 

Before the Race
The race started at 9:30 so it was easy to take my Maurten Drink Mix 3 hours beforehand at 6:30. I used the same fueling strategy that I used in the Christmas Caper 10K from two weeks ago when I set a PR. 

I decided to wear my Nike Vaporfly Next % shoes, for a few reasons:
  • I wanted to save my adidas Adios Pro for my next marathon, as I will likely not be able to obtain another pair before then. (Due to my high cadence, I wear through shoes very quickly).
  • There was a chance of rain, and there is no traction on the Adios Pro, whereas the Nike Vaporfly has decent traction. 
  • I have two pairs of the Nike Vaporfly, which each cost me $260 after tax, so I figured I should probably use them at some point.
  • I thought it would be good to get a true comparison of the shoes. I never thought the Nike Vaporfly Next% made me any faster than normal shoes, but now that I had the Adidas Pro to compare them to, I wanted to try again.
Greg and I arrived with ample time to pick up our bibs and warm up. It started to rain lightly as we were warming up, which was supposed to hold off until after the race. Thankfully the rain ended after about 10 minutes and it wasn't enough to make the roads slippery.

In fact, the weather ended up being nearly perfect. 34 degrees, 3mph winds, overcast. The forecast kept changing all week and originally we were looking at a torrential downpour and 38 degrees! At one point, winds were forecast to be 13-15mph. We definitely lucked out in terms of weather, so I probably should not be complaining about the course change.

We warmed up for a little over 2 miles, finishing at the start line. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that many runners were already lined up on the designated spots, so we wouldn't be among the first to start. To maintain social distancing, two runners were released at a time, with sets going about 5 seconds apart. And there were multiple waves. We wore masks in the start corral and took them off once we started the race. There were about 50 runners in the 10K (which started first) and 100 runners in the 5K. 

Miles 1-2
As the race started, I felt really good. I thought that this would be a strong race for me and I had plenty of pep. I now realize that this is because the race started downhill! There were about 4 women ahead of me, all of whom I passed in the first mile. I thought to myself, "Wow, this could be my day to win the race!" Greg lined up behind me at the start line so he was in the set of runners that started 5 seconds after me. He passed me about half a mile into the race, looking strong. 

I got through mile 1 in 6:40. This was faster than my first mile from two weeks ago, so I was pleased with it. (Sure, it was a downhill mile, but it didn't seem to be that much of a downhill). Shortly after finishing the first mile, a woman passed me from behind. She had started after me and passed me and some of the guys in front of me. I later learned that she ended up being the first overall finisher, for both men and women! Very impressive.

Things started to feel hard during the second mile, but I still felt strong and energized. I believed that I was crushing it and running very quickly, but the 6:45 split on my Garmin was a bit disheartening.

Miles 3-4
The neighborhood path was at the start of mile 3. There was a downhill stretch, but then that momentum was killed by having to get up onto a curb and make a sharp turn onto a path, and then another sharp turn onto a wooden bridge/boardwalk type of surface. I was very thankful that it wasn't raining because this had the potential to be slippery. And then a few more turns through a parking lot before we were back onto a road. Annoying, but manageable.

Here's where I think the last minute course change got into my head. Similar to mindset at Harrisburg, I got annoyed at the awkwardness of the course. I let it bother me and I allowed it to give me an excuse for slowing down. To run well you need to be 100% positive or neutral, and I let some negativity seep in. Mile 3 was mostly uphill so I wasn't too surprised to log a 6:49 for that mile. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but I figured I could make it up during the 4th mile, which would be downhill again as the course repeated itself.

At this point, a new challenge emerged: passing the 5K runners. As one would expect, there were packs of them running 2-3 abreast and weaving around them was difficult at times. Additionally, there were 10K runners coming back on on the same route. So I was trying to weave through 5K runners and make sure I didn't have a head-on collision with the 10K runners. 

I was able to get some advantage from the downhill of mile 4, but not as much as I needed to make up for the slow down of mile 3. I logged 6:42 which, on a downhill mile, wasn't that fast for me. I was expecting to be running closer to 6:30 and I still felt decent, but I just couldn't bring myself to push any harder. It's like I knew I could run faster. Just two weeks ago I was running 6:36 flat miles and now my downhill pace was 6:42. 

A 5K runner in the background
Miles 5-6
I was so ready to be done with the race at this point. There would be no more fast downhill miles, just the long uphill stretch to the finish and another run through the neighborhood path. Thankfully I passed some 5K runners shortly before getting onto the path, so I didn't have to pass anyone while on the narrow path. I was encouraged with my 6:43 for mile 5, but I simply didn't have the gas in the tank I needed to run uphill for the long stretch.

At one point I felt so bad I told myself I would be happy with anything under 7:15. Usually I can totally rally during the last mile of a race, but not today. I observed that it's hard for me to run uphill in the Vaporflys. They are bulky and I felt like if I had more contact with the ground at that point, I could have engaged my muscles more to help out. Mile 6 ended up being 6:57, and in hindsight I feel like I could have run that faster. But at the time I was in so much pain, I was hoping just to be under 7:15! 

The finish and beyond
I came through the finish in 41:44, which pleasantly surprised me. I had been projecting 42:xx. I felt like this race was so much slower than 10K from two weeks ago, and yet this time was only 11 seconds slower - my second fastest 10K ever! 

If you look at the distance on my Garmin, this race course measured 6.18 miles at an average pace of 6:45, and the Christmas Caper measured 6.28 miles at a pace of 6:36. So, while there is a notable difference between a 6:36 and 6:45 pace, the "shorter" course today meant there was only 11 seconds difference in the official time instead of 54.

Greg was waiting for me at the finish and I was thrilled to learn that he broke 40:00 for the first time by running 39:38. Amazing! I knew he could do it. He absolutely crushed it. He was the 4th overall finisher and I was the 6th. As for the women's race, I came in 2nd. I was pleased with this. I think that the awards are coming in the mail. 

This race had amazing swag: hat, gloves, and a neck warmer. Overall the organization was strong and I was thankful to be able to continue with my New Year's tradition of racing. The only areas for improvement would be not changing the course at the last minute, better traffic control of the two-way stretch, and certifying the course. Some of the 5K runners logged 3.06 miles on their Garmins. The 10K was closer to the true distance because we ran an extra little stretch that wasn't part of the 5K. Knowing this, I am happy that I decided to stick with the 10K because I believe it was more accurately measured. I don't think the courses were USATF certified. 

Greg and I did a short cool down during which the rain came back. All in all, we really lucked out with the weather!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
There are positive and negative ways to look at my race today. I guess instead of negative, I should say "constructive" lessons I learned to improve on for next time. 

  • Officially my second fastest 10K ever
  • Fast time on a hilly course, with a half-mile uphill stretch at the end of the race
  • 2nd place female
  • Pushed really hard, got a great workout in
  • My heart rate didn't get all that high, I believe I had the fitness to go faster
  • I let negative thoughts seep in; I shouldn't have let the course annoyances bother me
  • I was only 11 seconds off of my PR, if I had just pushed harder I could have beat it
  • My Garmin pace was 6:45, and I have run about 5 other 10Ks at this pace, so it's not like this race shows a big fitness gain
As for the Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes, I think I am done with them. Yes, I paid $260 a pair and I have two pairs of them. But I don't believe they make me faster than my normal speed training shoes (Adidas Boston or adidas Adios non-pro). They also irritated my Achilles so I am hesitant to wear them again when they aren't a fast shoe for me. Do I think I would have been faster in the adidas Adios Pro? Yes. But I don't regret not wearing them because I had valid reasons for wanting to give the Vaporflys another shot. At least now I know and I won't feel guilty about spending all that money but not using them.

At the end of the day, racing is really just one big experiment. You have to try different strategies and see what works. Nutrition. Shoes. Pacing. Warm up. Mental approaches. I think this race fueled my fire to get back out there and push really hard on the next one.