Sunday, October 17, 2021

Richmond Marathon Training

Things have kicked into high gear since the half marathon two weeks ago. The mileage has increased, the workouts have gotten longer, and the weather has gotten warmer! After a divine 4 days at the end of September with crisp, cool weather, the first half of October has been unseasonably warm and humid, by about 10-15 degrees daily. The marathon is four weeks away and I am just now starting to feel like I might be ready by then!

I typically choose a later fall marathon so I don't have to do long runs and long workouts in these conditions. It's not that I can't tough it out- but my body has revolted in the past by getting sick. I've managed to stick with the training, however, by staying super hydrated and running my easy runs very slowly. I have been drinking a packet Liquid IV nearly every day and I have been running my easy runs in the 9:00-9:20 range (as opposed to my usual 8:30-8:45). 

I don't train in Carbon Fiber plated shoes unless I am doing my test run in them pre-race, but I have used them twice in the past two weeks to offset the humidity. The boost that I got from them meant that I didn't get completely discouraged with my paces. For example, I was able to run a 5.25-mile tempo run at an average pace of 6:59 in the humidity, which I don't think I would have been able to attain in normal shoes.

Because I've been extending myself to my limit in the humidity, I have avoided hills. This is probably not a smart approach because my marathon is somewhat hilly with about 650 feet of total gain. This isn't to say I only run on flat surfaces (impossible near me), but I always opt for the least amount of hills possible because it's already so much of a struggle to get the run done, let alone with hills. I plan to start running hillier routes over the next four weeks, now that it's supposed to be cooler and less humid.

Running Form
I mentioned at the end of my last blog post that I didn't think my new running form was working out for me. It wasn't making me more efficient and it didn't feel natural. So, after 4 months of spending every single run focused on my stride length and cadence, I threw in the towel. My coach was on board with this. You can't force "ideal form" - it has to come to you naturally. And my form will improve over time with drills, plyometrics, improved balance, and strength training.

On the day I decided I was going to run naturally, I listened to music for the first time since last March! I had been avoiding my headphones because I wanted to be totally dialed into my running and my stride. It was so liberating to zone out a little, enjoy the music and just go with the flow. 

And for the first time since coming back from my injury, I felt like my "old self" at my "old pace" - which was faster and more relaxed feeling. 

I have experimented with multiple fueling strategies, and I honestly feel my best when I incorporate UCAN. I had been trying to switch to 100% Maurten products, but I think you need to take the gels every 30 minutes to avoid a crash. And using the Maurten drink mix doesn't seem to provide enough pep. This could have been part of why I didn't perform as well as I hoped at my marathon last March.

At the Harrisburg Marathon last fall, I had major digestive issues and I blamed the combination of UCAN + too much food pre-race. I think the solution could be a smaller breakfast (English muffin instead of bagel), and drinking a less concentrated UCAN mixture. And probably drinking the UCAN 45 minutes pre-race. UCAN does make a gel now, but I am allergic to one of the ingredients, which is not contained in the energy powder.

I should also keep in mind that I have successfully used UCAN at many marathons and half marathons over the past 5 years and the only time I had an issue was at Harrisburg. 

Overall Mindset
I don't know if it's because of the warm weather or because I've spent so much time focused on my stride, but I haven't felt great about my progress this training cycle. My runs have felt ok, for the most part, but have rarely felt really good. Every long run has been a struggle, and the two times I set out for 20 miles I ended up with 19.22 and 19.33. From a training standpoint, that's almost as good as a 20, but the fact that I just couldn't make it to the finish line doesn't bode well for my confidence.

I am not as fit as I was last spring, so I won't be going for a sub 3:10 in Richmond, but I think I could likely get a modest PR (sub 3:15:34). 

I also need to remind myself to STOP comparing myself to other runners. I often feel like I am the only one who struggles in the humidity. When I scroll through Instagram, it seems like everyone else is running their normal paces and I am the only one who has slowed down. I'll come back from a humid long run feeling totally exhausted and having run a mediocre pace, and then runners who are about my same level will have run father, faster, and felt amazing (in the same conditions). It's definitely NOT helpful to have these thoughts, but I can't help it - I have them and then I have to fight them off.

Maybe once the weather finally cools down I will feel like a whole new person. Four weeks is still a long time in the world of marathon training and I believe I can still gain a good amount of fitness between now and race day. In the past I have had amazing training cycles where I have PR'ed my workouts but then didn't reach my marathon goal. So maybe I'll outperform my expectations. I remain optimistic despite my feelings of "blah" over the past month.

Weekly mileage, last 8 weeks

Monday, October 4, 2021

Wineglass Half Marathon Race Report

I've been slacking on blog title creativity lately. I ran the Wineglass Half Marathon yesterday morning in Corning, NY. This was one of those bucket list races that many runners have told me to do over the years. I had heard that the course was fast, scenic and well organized. I had been registered for the half marathon in 2018, but that was the fall after a mono episode so I wasn't ready to race in early October. 

The Wineglass marathon and half marathon are known for being net downhill courses, although the half marathon is just barely net downhill. It only loses 60 feet of elevation over the course of 13.1 miles and there are a few notable up hills as well. I think the full marathon is much more of a true net downhill, with most of the elevation loss occurring in the first half.

I would have happily traded the 60-foot elevation loss for a straight course without so many twists and turns in the last five miles. I found those to be momentum-stealing, and I think they offset any benefit I might have gotten from the net elevation loss. But we will get into that later.

Training and approach
Normally at this point in a full marathon training cycle (six weeks out) I'm in excellent shape and ready to run a PR half or close to a PR time. But my training ramp up has been gradual due to my injury, and I didn't have as much training under my belt as I would like. And based on my training paces I could tell I wasn't close to being in PR shape. Yes, it's been warm and humid for the majority of my training runs, but I still feel like I was much faster pre-injury. 

This has been frustrating for me because usually I come off of a break very quickly. The three mono incidents have all had very quick comebacks. Maybe I'm just getting older so it's harder to regain my speed. Here is what my training has looked like:

As you can see, I only had 3 weeks of training above 50 miles. This is nowhere near where I usually am when I run a half marathon. Usually I have at least 3 weeks of training above 60 miles, approaching 70. This was a conscious decision due to needing extra rest days because of the heat and dealing with Achilles tendinitis. It wasn't like I was slacking; I was being smart about my training and doing what I could.

Given all of this, I decided I would be happy to run within 3 minutes of my PR (1:30:58). I set my sights on 1:33:xx, which is a pace of around 7:05.  My true goal race is the Richmond marathon in six weeks. So I didn't care nearly as much about Wineglass as I did Richmond - I just wanted to practice running hard for a long time.

On the race website there was a little blurb about "Elite Runners" and how to apply. No qualifying standards were published, they simply asked you to email them with your recent race times and where you placed in the field. As a master's runner, I figured I had a shot at this so I applied. I was accepted, which meant my registration was free. Sweet!  Outside of free registration, there was no other information published about what it meant to be in the "elite" field. 

Expo and Museum of Glass
Greg and I drove to Corning on Friday. It was about a 5-hour drive, but it was scenic so we didn't mind it. We arrived at the expo at 3:00. The expo was at the Corning Museum of glass which was probably the coolest expo venue I've ever been to, and I have been to a lot of expos. We started out in the gift shop,

At the expo with my "elite" bib
where I bought a zebra made out of glass beads. We then retrieved our bibs and swag. Included was a medium-weight, long sleeved half zip running shirt, a wine glass, and a small bottle of champagne. Some of the best swag ever!

My bib said "Elite" on it. I asked the person who gave it to me what benefits that included (I hadn't received any email communication on this and nothing was on the website). She exclaimed quite loudly, "WOW- you're an Elite!?" and my immediate response was "No." I don't see myself as an elite athlete so it was weird to say yes. But after saying no, I realized she might think the bib was a mistake so then I said, "well, yes. Well, sort of of yes." She told me to ask the information desk about what benefits that included.

I went to the information desk and the person said "I have no idea." Okay, so I guess there were no other benefits aside from the free registration, and I was totally fine with that, but normally they have special aid stations, tents, etc. And if that was the case, I would have wanted to take advantage of them. In any event, I don't believe myself to be an "elite" even when I am at my fittest, and I certainly wasn't at my fittest for this race. But hey, they had accepted me!

After getting our race packets, we took a quick (25 minute) stroll through the museum of glass. It was incredible and I really wish we had more time to spend there. 25 minutes was nowhere near long enough to appreciate everything. We needed to be on our way because our hotel was still 20 minutes away and we had dinner reservations that were further away from the hotel.

We went to a restaurant called "Lib's Supper Club" in Elmira. It was the only place around where I could find a chicken parmesan, which is my favorite pre-race dinner. I actually get it without the cheese so it's just chicken in a red sauce with pasta. Bland, but effective.

Before the Race
I slept about six hours: straight through from 9:00 to 12:30, awake from 12:30-2:00, and then asleep again from 2:00-4:30. I awoke to the alarm, which was set extra early since we had a long journey to the race start. I wasn't hungry for breakfast at 5:00am, so I had just half an English muffin with a little bit of almond butter. I had half of a Maurten Drink Mix 160 with breakfast at 5:00, and gradually drank the rest of it during the next two hours. 

adidas Adios Pro 2 + Zensah socks
We left our hotel at 5:30 and drove to Corning. We arrived at 5:45 and waited in a line of cars to park near the bus pick-up. After parking the car, we used the porta potties and then stood in line for the buses. By the time we got on the bus, it was around 6:10. Masks were required on the bus, but they were not required at the race start line. Since this race is a point-to-point course, the only way to get to the start line is by taking a bus. The last bus was scheduled to leave at 6:30, with a race start of 7:45. 

The bus ride was about 25 minutes and we arrived at the start line just after 6:30. Which meant slightly over an hour until the race start. I continued to sip my Maurten Drink mix until about 7:00. I was double fisting it and had a bottle of water + electrolytes in my other hand. I didn't drink from this bottle until the race started. We went to the bathroom twice during this period of time and waited in the school gymnasium. Outside, it was about 54 degrees with light rain. Very humid.

We ran a 1-mile warm-up which included some strides. I also did leg swings and other drills to get my body into racing mode. It started raining more heavily during the warmup which I was grateful for. When it's humid, there is a certain amount of rain that is ideal to keep you cool. Any less than that and you are hot, any more than that and you get cold and your shoes get heavy. I was hoping we would have a very light rain throughout the race. 

Greg and I lined up at the start line and started chatting with other runners. One of them asked me what pace I was planning to run and I was embarrassed to tell her I would be starting at a 7:15 pace while wearing a bib that said "elite". I justified it by saying that I had been injured and unable to train at peak capacity, which was entirely true. The plan was to start at a pace of 7:15 for the first mile and gradually make my way down to 7:00 or even sub 7:00 by the end. 

Before I get into the race, I want to note how eerily similar this race was to the California International Marathon from 2019. Both races were point-to-point. Both races were "on the bucket list" because of their reputation for being fast and scenic. Both races required a bus ride to the start. Both races had the same weather: mid 50's at the start, 97% humidity, occasional rain, high 50's to low 60s at the end.

On my race weather scale, this race gets a 5 out of 10. Not "PR" weather unless I suddenly had a huge breakthrough in fitness, which is unlikely after 20 years of running. But also not horrible- not bad enough to sabotage a race. I have run a few races with mild temps, occasional rain and high humidity. None of them have been PRs but none of them have been total bonks either.

Miles 1-4
The race started and Greg and I leap frogged each other a little bit as we weaved through the crowd and the crowd weaved through us. The first mile was tricky with the slippery pavement (that was also uneven in places) and all the runners bolting out, filled with adrenaline. You had to watch your footing and be very aware of what was going on around you.

I carried a bottle of water and Scratch Labs electrolyte mix. I have been training with this mix because it has electrolytes and carbs and is easy on my stomach. 10 minutes into the race, shortly after mile marker 1, I took a Maurten caffeinated gel. Prior to the race, I had gone back and forth on when to take my gels since this was my first half marathon in a long time without using UCAN. I ultimately decided that 10 minutes and 50 minutes would be perfect in combination with having had the Drink Mix earlier in the morning. 

I still train with UCAN because I think it does a better job than Maurten at training your body to burn fat for fuel vs. Maurten which can cause sugar spikes and crashes. But on race day, UCAN does not agree with my stomach. Because I find benefits in both products, I fuel some of my long runs with UCAN and some with Maurten. That way I get the benefit of UCAN's slow release energy on some runs and the benefit of training my digestive system for race day on other runs. 

Anyway, after the first mile things calmed down a bit and I had more space to myself. I found myself ahead of Greg. I always knew about how far behind me he was because I know what he sounds like when he runs. At one point I nearly slipped on a muddy patch. My shoes (the Adidas Adios Pro 2) didn't have great traction and I am still learning how to properly stabilize myself when running at high speeds. 

These miles felt controlled and strong. I looked at my Garmin a few times, trying to run around 7:10 in these early miles. 

Mile 1: 7:13
Mile 2: 7:16
Mile 3: 7:03
Mile 4: 7:06

Miles 5-7
These miles were the glory miles. I felt strong. The pace felt totally manageable. I was working hard but I felt like I had a lot to give. I was energized. BUT, I was starting to get warm. There hadn't been any rain and it was now about 56 degrees with a dew point of 55. At a water station, I poured a glass of water over my head and it felt amazing. 

I passed quite a few people during these miles and hardly anyone passed me. The course was scenic and I was enjoying the fact that were not many turns - it was just a straight shot. It felt mostly flat with little inclines and declines here and there. Some were a bit bigger than others but nothing too daunting. 

Mile 5: 7:11
Mile 6: 7:06
Mile 7: 7:04

Miles 8-11
Shortly after the mile 7 marker I had my second Maurten gel (no caffeine in this one). It went down easily. This is about the same time when Greg caught me and passed me. I was hoping we'd be able to run the rest of the race together. 

I knew that mile 8 would be the slowest mile of the race based on the elevation profile. It was the only mile of the race that had a significant net uphill. Greg got ahead of me and I was shocked to look down at my Garmin and see that I was running in the high 7:20s. I knew to expect a slow down, but not this much of a slow down. Plus, it still felt like I was running just as fast as before. I still felt good, I still felt energized, but my Garmin was telling me I had slowed down. 

Once mile 8 was done (7:33 pace!) I told myself it was "go time" and that I should fly to the finish. But every time I started "flying" it seemed like the course would swerve or turn and with the wet pavement my momentum would be stolen. I felt like it was a game of run really, really hard, slow down to avoid slipping on a curve or turn, and then speed up again. We again encountered some uneven pavement that made me extra nervous with the roads being wet. 

We ran through a curvy park so we were no longer on roads anymore. Greg was getting further and further ahead of me. Even though I felt good, my Garmin was once again taunting me with a pace that was much slower than what I felt like it should be. During the 9th mile, the sky opened up and it started pouring heavily. I wasn't wearing a hat, so water got in my eyes. My shoes began to feel like bricks. And I went from being warm to very chilly in a matter of minutes!

And of course, other runners started to pass me. I wonder what they had that I didn't? I still felt good! I was still in this game and hadn't given up! Why was I getting so slow but they weren't? Greg was no longer in view.

Mile 8: 7:33 (uphill)
Mile 9: 7:22 (why tho!?)
Mile 10: 7:21 (faster than miles 8-9!)
Mile 11: 7:33 (there goes my goal)

Miles 12- Finish
I had no idea why I had slowed so much despite feeling good. The only thing I could think of was that I had to keep slowing down every time there was a turn or when I thought I had to be extra careful not to

slip. The adidas Adios Pro have almost NO traction! And then it was extra hard to get back up to speed after each slow down. In hindsight I think it could have been the quick drop in body temperature from being too warm to being very chilly in the downpour. As I said in the beginning, there is an optimal amount of rain in these temperatures and we started with no rain but then immediately switched to heavy rain. At the time, I didn't spend too much mental energy analyzing it. That wouldn't be helpful and I recognized that. I accepted that, for whatever reason, I had slowed down and decided I would give everything I had no matter what my watch said.

I got passed by more runners and every time I did I tried to hang with them but usually could not. This race was supposed to be a big negative split but it was going in the opposite direction. With just two miles left, I tried to salvage what I could and vowed to stay "in it". 

I got a little bit of a second wind and pushed hard all the way to the finish.

Mile 12: 7:19
Mile 13: 7:15
The last 0.19 on my Garmin: 6:29 pace

My official finish time was 1:35:38, making this my 8th fastest half marathon. I have run 7 half marathons faster than this, which is really hard to fathom! I did not even win an age group award. .  so much for being an "elite"!

After the Race
Greg finished nearly two minutes ahead of me in 1:33:45. Had I just stuck with him, I would have attained my goal. Oh well. It just wasn't in me yesterday. About 3 minutes after finishing I began to dry heave. Since there was literally nothing in my stomach except for the Maurten gels, nothing really came out. This

post-half marathon dry heave or vomit thing has plagued me for the past 3 years and I have no idea how to not do it. I guess it just comes from running really hard.

We were soaked and we proceeded directly to the car where he grabbed his camera for a few post race photos. We didn't stick around because we wanted to get out of our wet clothes. We drove back to the hotel, showered and then went to a nearby mall where we had Auntie Anne's Pretzels for lunch. There were really no better options near us!

After lunch we drove about an hour and a half north to the rural town where Greg grew up. This was one of the reasons we had been wanting to run Wineglass-- it was close to his hometown which I had never been to. I saw the house Greg grew up in, his high school, the places he worked and more. We went to his best friend's house who he rarely gets to see and hung out there for a few hours. It was fun! Afterwards we moved on to Rochester where we stayed the night. There wasn't anything particular in Rochester we wanted to do but it was the closest place to find a decent hotel. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm feeling okay about this race. It was one of my slowest half marathons within the past 5 years, but at least I was able to run it pain-free, which is honestly more than I would have expected last April. One of my doctors had told me that I might not even be able to start running again until October. So given that, I can't complain at all. 

As for my "reformed form" I am frustrated with it. It seems that even though I have been able to reduce my cadence by about 10 steps per minute (from 205 to 195 for a half marathon), my stride hasn't lengthened, which was kind of the point: reduce the number of steps and make them longer. It seems like I am now less efficient and less economical than I was with my ultra high cadence. Greg is encouraging me to stick with it and over time I will become more efficient but maybe I just do what feels most natural and work on my stride through drills and strength training; not on actual runs. Who knows? 

I'll start with some of the negative takeaways and then shift to the positives:

  • I failed to meet my goal of 1:33:xx
  • I feel like I am losing running economy by trying to lengthen my stride, not gaining it.
  • My comeback has been slow, I'm not gaining fitness as quickly as I used to
  • I didn't get an age group award, which I almost always do, even in larger races
The positives:
  • My 7 faster half marathons all had cooler weather
  • This is my fastest "humid" half marathon
  • I didn't totally bonk, I was able to pick it up a little in the last two miles
  • This race will hopefully make me fitter and count as a big "workout" as I build towards a full
  • I ran CIM in a time of 3:22 in the same conditions, when I was in shape to run around 3:12. So maybe I am fitter than I think!
  • This was good fueling practice for the full, my stomach behaved except for the dry heaving.
  • I was pain free in my Achilles and my groin!
  • I had fun, I crossed a race off the bucket list
I really, REALLY hope Richmond has better weather and I hope that I can cram in enough training between now and then to be in PR shape. I think my marathon PR is actually my softest PR. I wasn't even wearing carbon fiber plated shoes! And most of the race was on a gravel surface! I think I have been in shape to beat that PR on several occasions but weather, digestive issues, and other factors have prevented it. And maybe this is exactly where I need to be at this point in the cycle so that I will peak just in time for the marathon. I think I missed my peak by about two weeks when I ran Two Rivers last spring. Which makes sense, given my original marathon had been scheduled for 3 weeks earlier.

So even just a slight improvement in fitness combined with better weather could mean I get under 3:15. That is what I'll be working towards for the next six weeks. At some point I hope to have a breakthrough workout that will give me the confidence to go for it. Yesterday was not that workout, but hopefully it will come.