Saturday, May 14, 2022

Feed Fairfax 5K: Hello Humidity!

This morning I ran the Feed Fairfax 5K. This race was on my radar last year for the inaugural event, but I was injured and unable to run. 

This race starts about three miles from my house, making it the closest race to where I live. There used to be one that was a little closer, but they stopped running it five years ago. The coolest thing about this race

is that the course runs through a neighborhood that I am very familiar with. It's an expansive neighborhood with (relatively) little traffic so it's great for tempos and speed work. I often run a warm up to that neighborhood, do a workout, and then run home for the cool down. 

With the course map in hand, I knew exactly what I was in for. I have run those streets over a thousand times, so it was nice to feel 100% prepared from a knowing-the-course perspective. There aren't a ton of hills in that neighborhood, but depending on how you run it, it can be challenging with the little rollers and the longer inclines. 

Before the Race
Greg's marathon is now just two weeks away! He had his final long run on schedule: 18 miles with 9 at marathon pace. I am his coach, I felt like this workout would build his confidence and help him lock in that marathon pace feeling. Our plan was for him to warm up with me, stop to take photos of me during the first mile, and then meet up with me for a cool down post race. He would start his marathon pace miles after 8 easy miles. 

I didn't sleep well last night due to digestive issues that kept me up for over an hour. I woke up naturally at around 5:15. I often have pre-race dreams that my race course has obstacles like staircases, going inside of buildings, etc. Last night, I had a new one: the street was carpeted. It was a blue/grey carpet, and on the thinner side. I can still visualize it in my mind. As part of this dream, another race director (a female) had "stolen" the race from the actual director (a male) and therefore everything was messed up because the race had been stolen. It was an "imposter" race and the actual race would occur on Sunday because the Saturday one was stolen. My subconscious is fascinating!

Anyway, shortly after waking up I had a banana, water + electrolytes, and some almond butter pretzels. I have decided that almond butter filled pretzels from Wegmans are pretty much the best pre-race fuel. I snack on them in the days leading up to a marathon or half marathon, and I eat them for breakfast before shorter races. 

I prepared Greg's UCAN drink. Greg has switched from fueling with Gu to fueling with UCAN. For this run, he had the Energy Powder beforehand and two of the Edge gels during.

Even though the race was close to home, we drove there so we would have a place to stash our stuff. We arrived at 7:20 (for a race start of 8:00) and parked about half a mile from the start/finish. We thought that it would be a good spot for Greg to take photos. 

Pre-race warm up

We ran to the start area where I got my bib and pinned it to my sports bra. We then continued to warm up together until the race was about to start. I had a caffeinated Maurten gel 12 minutes before the start to give myself some extra pep. 

The Weather
As I said in my previous post, I much preferred the hypothermia-inducing pouring rain and wind to heat and humidity. At least from a performance standpoint. I ran a time of 20:43 at last week's race and was only working at about 85% effort to do it. I perform well when it's cold. 

This morning, it was 66 degrees with a dew point of 64. It was foggy and misty. There were even times of very light rain. This would be challenging weather even if I were acclimated. But I was definitely not acclimated so it was extra challenging. On my race weather scale, it gets a 3 out of 10. Last weekend's race got a 4 out of 10. That was probably a high 4. Today was probably a low 3.

Goals and Strategy
Time-wise I wanted to run sub-21 for this race. But more importantly, I wanted to execute well. The idea was to run around the same time as last weekend, but run the race much harder. At FULL 5K effort, rather than 85% effort. 

Mile 1: 6:34
This mile was downhill the entire way. It wasn't a steep down hill, but a nice, long gradual downhill aiding you the entire time. It would have been a dream to end with this mile! As I said above, this neighborhood can be super fast or relatively challenging depending how you run it. I expected a lot of the runners to sprint this (because there was a prize for the first male and first female to get to mile 1), but I held back. My strategy was to run this mile hard, but not to get carried away by the downhill. I wanted to save some gas for the rest of the race. 

Even though it was the first mile and it was downhill, it felt WAY harder than last weekend's mile 3 - which was flat, and was 6:20. It must have been a really magical final mile last weekend to run a 6:20 and have it be not all that hard. . . when it wasn't even downhill!

Anyway, many runners sprinted across the start line and I held back a little. Sure enough, about a quarter mile into the race, I was passing people. It was annoying to have to weave so much, but I didn't want to be stuck behind runners that were slowing down. It wasn't long before I saw Greg and that definitely pumped me up. When I saw him, there were three women ahead of me and I was in 4th place. 

Mile 2: 6:46
This mile was all about passing other runners. Shortly after the first mile marker, I realized that I was closing in on the pack in front of me. There were 4 runners: a boy who looked to be about 10 years old, two men, and one woman. We ran up a very gradual, long incline and I started to increase my effort. I first passed the boy, who said to me "You got this!" I replied back "You got this too!" That boy's energy was amazing! 

Next I passed the two men and the woman, which put me in third place. The other two women were way far ahead and I knew there would be no catching them. Having people to pass really motivated me and helped me stay strong mentally. 

Mile 3: 6:46
Another net uphill mile. I was really pleased with my execution, and that I had enough gas to keep my pace steady. This mile also had some gentle declines, and because I knew exactly where they would be, I took advantage of them. I passed a few more runners in this mile, too.

It wasn't long before I saw the elementary school which signaled the final turn would be coming up. Seeing that school made me realize how close I was to the finish so I was able to pick up the pace a little

Photo by Cheryl Young
with that thought in mind. 

I turned the corner and Greg was there, and cheered me on. He ran with me for a tiny bit, but obviously he wasn't looking to keep up with me!

The Finish
The last 0.16 was a pace of 6:25 according to my Garmin. Not a super fast final kick for a 5K, but it was all uphill. 

My official time was 21:06, and I was the third female finisher. I was totally gassed after crossing the finish line and I knew I had given it everything I had. After catching my breath and recovering, I found Greg and we did a cool down together. We then parted ways, I ran back to the car and drove it closer to the start/finish area. I put on a dry t-shirt and a light jacket over that. It was 68 degrees, but I was wet from the mist, and I didn't want a repeat of last weekend!

After the Race
My friend Cheryl was taking photos at the finish line, so I hung out with her there for a bit before the awards ceremony started. The awards ceremony was cool because they had a giant-sized check for the winners. Even though it was made it in the amount that the overall winners received, they wanted first, second, and third place runners to hold the check. So that was fun. I won $50 cash for coming in third!

The first and second place ladies both reported being slower than expected. I think by about a minute each, so that was validating! The humidity was pretty brutal. 

Top male and female finishers

This Feed Fairfax race helps feed Fairfax County residents. After the race, runners had the opportunity to assemble bags of food for those in need. I wanted to fill a bag but by the time I got there, the line was too long and I would miss the awards ceremony. I admit I still feel badly about not putting a bag together. Next year I will make a point of doing so. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
While I didn't get my goal time of sub-21:00, I was only 6 seconds off! And I was very pleased with how I paced and executed this race. I think I am most proud of having miles 2 and 3 be the same pace, and not THAT much slower than the first downhill mile. It was also nice to be able to pass so many runners in the second half of the race. 

It's crazy to think that running at 100% effort, I was about 20 seconds slower than when running 85% effort. The humidity was definitely a challenge and I guess this was my introduction to the many humid days ahead that await me!

My average heart rate for this race was 182, maxing out at 201. Last weekend, my average heart rate was 163, maxing out at 185. WOW. In terms of training my heart-rate back to it's pre-covid state, I think this race definitely helped. I definitely sent a message to my body that it needs to be able to handle high-intensity running. 

This race was very well-organized, benefited an amazing charity, and was super close to home!

Greg had a really strong marathon pace run. I told him to adjust "marathon pace" down by about 10 seconds per mile, and he did. Let's hope it's not this humid for his marathon in two weeks. I will be pacing him for the first half, officially running as a relay runner. 

I don't have any more 5Ks until June, which gives me some time to train and work on building more speed. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Run the Greenway 5K

Yesterday morning I ran the "Run The Greenway" 5K in Dulles, VA. They close down the Dulles Greenway (which is a major highway) so runners can run a 5K or 10K. This race is relatively new; last year was the inaugural event. It was on my radar last year but I was injured, so I was excited to do it this year.

Post-Covid Heart Issues
As I discussed in my last post, my heart rate has consistently been 10 beats per minute higher on all of my runs, but without any difference in effort. For example, a 7:00 mile still feels like a 7:00 mile, but my heart rate is 10 BPM faster. 

I saw a cardiologist and he explained that this was not a heart issue, rather an issue with the autonomic nervous system. This article explains it in depth. He said that I was in no danger of heart issues if I ran at 100% effort. And he advised me to train as usual and run 5K races to "train" my autonomic nervous system back to where it was pre-Covid. He advised that I run the first 5K at 85-90% effort and based on that, I could try to go 100% at the next one. 

My legs recovered relatively quickly from Boston, so I was able to jump into speed work just 10 days later. My first workout was 8 x 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy. I was surprised at how fast I was running by the end of the workout and I definitely got my heart rate up! My next workout (this past Tuesday) was 8 x 400m with 200m recovery jogs. With only 200m to recover, there isn't a ton of time for the heart rate to come down. I ran those at around 1:32-1:33 and definitely could have pushed harder. Once again, I was surprised at my speed because I had believed myself to be out of shape. 

Race Morning Logistics
Greg's marathon is in three weeks, so he had a 22-miler on the schedule. (I am his coach!). I assumed I would be on my own for this race. But last night we talked through multiple scenarios. I definitely did not want to wake him up because he needs all the sleep he can get right now. Thankfully the race was only a 15 minute drive from our house. So, the scenarios were:

  1.  He wakes up early enough to leave the house with me at 6:30. Watches me race, and then runs 22 miles back home. 
  2.  He wakes up early enough to leave the house by 7:15. Dives to the race in a separate car, in time to see me finish, and then runs the 22 miles from the race back home
  3. He doesn't wake up in time to leave the house by 7:15 and he runs the 22 miles starting from our house.
I woke up naturally at 4:00am and couldn't fall back asleep. I had a banana and some almond butter pretzels at 5:30. I got ready for the race and left the house at 6:30. Greg was still asleep when I left, so I doubted I would be seeing him. 

I arrived to the race, parked the car and sat in it for about 10 minutes. No text messages from Greg, so I was fairly certain he would not be coming to the race.

It was pouring down rain, 50 degrees, and windy. Brrrr! I decided it would be best to wear long compression shorts, arm warmers and gloves. When it's 50 and sunny (like it was in Boston) I am in a crop top, short shorts, no arm sleeves or gloves. Rain and wind make a huge difference. On my race weather scale this gets a 4/10. Most people would probably give it a 1/10 because the rain was so heavy. I actually preferred this weather to something like 60 degrees and 100% humidity. It was miserable before and after the race, but during the race, I appreciated the cool temps. 

I ran a rainy 5K on New Year's Day that was 55 degrees. Yes, my New Year's Day race was WARMER than a race in May! How odd!

Before the Race
I ran around the start area (you couldn't get on the course) for 1.8 miles, pausing to re-tie my shoes and go to the bathroom. I had a rain jacket on for the warmup that I planned to put in the gear check area while running. I would have just stashed it in my car, but I needed a place to put the car key, so gear check it was!

Someone commented on how they liked my shoes: the ASICS Metaspeed Edge. I had just received these shoes from Road Runner Sports on Tuesday, and I had only done 1 test run in them for half a mile. So, this race would be the true test run. I heard about these shoes from Cris, did some research, and realized they would be a great 5K shoe:
  • I like to feel the road beneath my feet in a 5K, and other carbon fiber plate shoes are too cushy for that; I wanted something firmer. The ASICS Metaspeed Edge is firmer than most carbon fiber plate shoes.
  • This shoe is designed for people with a naturally high cadence; it's supposed to increase your stride length as you speed up. I have an insanely high cadence and an insanely short stride length, so this seemed like a perfect match.
  • There is more traction on this shoe than the adidas Adios Pro, which was essential in a rainy race.
About 15 minutes before the start, I put my rain jacket in a plastic bag and left it at gear check. And I had a caffeinated Maruten gel. It was COLD without that jacket and I probably could have gone another 5 minutes before ditching it. 

I made my way to the start where people were gathered under an overpass to stay as dry as possible. The rain was coming down in buckets. 

Mile 1: 6:44
The race started and a few women bolted out ahead of me. My plan was take it relatively easy during the first half of the race with the headwind and then speed up during the second half with the tailwind. I was running a relaxed and controlled effort and about halfway through the first mile I had passed all the women who had bolted out ahead of me. At this point I felt like I was running somewhere between 10K and 10 mile race effort. This mile was flat and there were no turns and the biggest challenge was the headwind (about 10-12 mph).

Mile 2: 6:55
I increased the effort slightly but due to some inclines my pace slowed. Also, at the turnaround I noticedthat there was at least 20 seconds between me and the 2nd place female so I wasn't entirely motivated to kick it into a high gear. I was feeling good and was now running at about 80% effort so I kept at it. The great thing about turning around was seeing all of the other people on the way out. This race had over 1,000 runners in the 5K and 10K and so many people were cheering for me, and telling me I was the first female. Normally when people cheer for me in races I don't have the energy to wave or acknowledge it, but this time I totally did.

Mile 3: 6:20
Somewhere around the third mile marker I passed a guy who I had been running directly behind for most of the race. I decided it was "go time" with just 1 mile left and the wind at my back. I would have guessed I was running around a 6:30 pace so I was surprised at how much I was able to pick it up. The outbound running group kept cheering for me and it felt like the final stretch of the Boston Marathon. I focused on enjoying my moment, remembering that this is the best part of running. This moment is what all that training is for! I was now running at about 90% effort; I still didn't feel like I was dying as I typically do at the end of a 5K. 

The final 0.12: 6:01 pace
As I approached the finish, I saw Greg's bright blue jacket, which I knew he'd be wearing. And I was waiting for finish line tape to appear, but it never did! I wanted to yell at them to get that tape up, but alas-- no tape! Greg took some great finish line photos, but they are no different from other finisher photos when I am not the winner. 

My official time was 20:43, which was about what I expected going into this race. I expected I would have had to work harder for it though. If I didn't have a Garmin and I had to guess my time, I would have tacked on about 20-30 seconds. So it means I am fitter than I thought, or that the shoes are really magical!

There were 458 women in the 5K, which means this is the largest race I have ever won!

First Place! Where's the tape!?

After the Race
I cooled down by running to my car with Greg. He put the camera away and we returned to the race area to get my award. As we were getting back to the race, we noticed that the 10K female winner got to break tape! 

I asked a race official when the awards ceremony would be, and they said it was going to be at 8:45. I asked if I could get my award sooner so I wouldn't have to wait that long, but they told me I needed to wait. I also asked about the finish line tape and they were surprised that there was none. "You didn't get tape?" they asked. So then they offered to hold up the tape while someone took photos. But I couldn't find Greg at this point (he was running around the parking lot as part of his long run). So the announcer took a video of me running through the tape, but there are loads of walkers in the background. . . so it definitely looks fake. But later I found the photos that the race photographer took of the staged breaking and they are pretty good:

Even though it was disappointing to not break tape, I didn't want that to overshadow the joy of winning such a large race. Many of my Instagram followers were outraged by this, and I agree that it definitely was a big oversight on the part of the race. I don't think it was intentional- I just think the tape holders didn't realize that they needed to be on the lookout for the first female, and then they corrected themselves for the 10K. But as I said. . . I wasn't going to let the lack of tape ruin my "high" of winning. I chose not to focus on it too much and I ended up photoshopping tape onto the picture I posted to my Instagram!

I found Greg after the staged tape breaking and he was worried that we wouldn't be able to leave his car in the parking lot for the duration of his run. So we both got into our cars and drove to a parking lot nearby. He parked his car, gave me the key, and began his 22-mile run home. I drove back to the race so I could get my award. 

I parked the car, left my phone in the car, and started walking to the awards area. I realized, though, that I was extremely cold so I should probably run there even though it was a very short distance- only a quarter of a mile. 

When I arrived to the site of the awards ceremony, I stopped running and asked someone for the time. She said it was 8:41. I knew the ceremony was going to start at 8:45 and somehow I felt like it would be impossible for me to wait until 8:45. I started to tell her that I needed my award now, even though she was a runner and not involved in race management. I wanted to explain to her that it was urgent that I get my award ASAP because I couldn't stand the cold any longer. That's when I stopped being able to talk. I wanted to talk, but no words would come out. 

Suddenly a bunch of people were all around me calling "medical!" and I was really embarrassed. I didn't want medical - I wanted my award so I could leave. But I wasn't able to talk so I couldn't communicate to any one. They tried sitting me down on a chair, which I later realized was a blanket on the ground. And then things got hazy, and then I was in the back of an ambulance. The entire time, I was hoping I would be able to get my award.

I was unable to talk and when I finally was able to get words out, I sounded like a mentally disabled person. I could only do one syllable at a time. It turns out I had hypothermia and the EMTs were taking my vitals and trying to determine how severe it was. They wanted to take me to the hospital but I refused. I knew I would be fine once I warmed up. 

This had happened to me twice before: at the NJ marathon in 2009 and the Sugarloaf marathon in 2019. In New Jersey, the medical people pulled me out of the finish line chute, sat me down in a wheelchair and rolled me off. The entire time I wanted to ask them why, but I couldn't talk. Apparently I looked hypothermic when crossing the finish line.

I was in the back of the ambulance for what seemed like forever. My blood oxygen was low and they couldn't get a read on my body temperature, despite trying multiple times in multiple locations. I kept refusing the hospital, and once I was able to talk more normally they were okay with my decision. Then I started shivering pretty violently, which was apparently a good thing because when you have severe hypothermia, you lose your ability to shiver. So I was shivering with blue hands and blue lips, but feeling better nonetheless. 

As for my award, the EMTs asked around, but couldn't find anyone who knew where it was. I had of course missed the awards ceremony and the EMTs were too busy treating me to get it during the ceremony. Oh well- I think they will mail it to me. I don't even know what it is, but I want it! I can't believe I got hypothermia and went through that whole experience, just for an award that is going to be mailed home anyway. 

After a while, I started feeling normal and the EMTs were okay letting me drive home once they saw me stand and walk normally. They drove me to my car, and I felt much better. I turned the heat up to 76 degrees and drove 15 minutes home. I promptly got into a warm bathtub, which felt like heaven. 

A few hours later, Greg returned home from his 22-miler and we had some interesting stories to exchange! (We later drove back to get his car. . . what a day!)

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
What a high to win a large 5K like that! But it was a quick comedown with no tape to break, no award and 30 minutes in the back of an ambulance. As for the race itself, it was a fast course, well-organized and lots of fun.

I didn't run at 100% effort. Miles 1-2 were 75-80% effort, and the last mile was about 90% effort. My average heart rate for the last mile at a pace of 6:20 was 176. In Boston, I was running a pace of 7:45 and I was at 176. So maybe I have started to normalize my heart rate. Or maybe the cold rain prevented the monitor from getting an accurate reading. It felt like my heart rate should have averaged in the high 170's, let's say 178, for the last mile. For the final 0.12 it averaged 175, and I would have expected that to be in the low 180s. Interesting, I am not sure what to make of all this. 

The good news is, I ran a 20:43 5K, won the race, and was definitely not running at 5K effort! I'm also really encouraged by how smooth and controlled that last 6:20 mile felt. It wasn't even a downhill mile- it was only aided by a tailwind. 

There was a timing mat at the turnaround, and my splits were 10:40 for the first half (6:52 pace) and 10:04 for the second half (6:29 pace). That's a 36- second difference! HUGE for a 5K. I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me wishes I had pushed a little hard in the first half, but the other part of me knows I ran the effort that my doctor had suggested and I executed as planned. I guess it just leaves me wondering what I could have done. And as I said earlier, both sections were equal elevation-wise; the big difference was the headwind and tailwind. 

I used Photoshop to add the tape!
I'll plan to run my next 5K harder, but chances are that the heat and humidity will begin to creep in and impact things. Even though today's weather was nasty, I don't think it slowed me down too much. Carrying extra water weight in my shoes and having a headwind maybe added a few extra seconds, but because I run so much faster in the cold, it was a net positive. I can see myself struggling more in a 60-degree humid race.

I don't think I would have gotten hypothermia if I had driven home immediately after my cool down. It was all the waiting around in wet clothes that did me in. If I had known I was going to wait so long post-race, I would have brought a warm, dry change of clothes and immediately shedded the wet running gear. Lessons Learned! 

I'm super optimistic about this result and more energized than ever to run another 5K!