Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Running Home with Michael Wardian

Exactly 14 years ago, in late June of 2008, I met Michael Wardian for the first time. He was attempting to break the world record for the fastest treadmill marathon and I was there to support him. My friend Michael Hayden had introduced me to Mike and we went to the event together. Details about that day are in this blog post. I was creating videos long before Instagram Reels were even invented!

Fast forward to last weekend, I once again found myself supporting Mike Wardian. (There were definitely some chess tournaments in between these two events!)

Michael Wardian is currently running across the United States. He started in San Francisco on May 1st, and by last weekend, he had made it all the way to West Virginia. He averages 50+ miles each day and is raising money for World Vision, which provides clean water to those who need it.  At the time if this posting he has raised about $73,000 on a goal of $1000,000.

Greg and I decided to drive out to West Virginia on Sunday and run with him. We could have waited until he was closer, but we figured he would have plenty of support near home. We wanted to run with him when he might otherwise be alone. 

The day before, we prepared everything we needed, making sure we didn't arrive empty handed. We had a
list of Mike's favorite things, which included ice packs, cold wet towels, coconut water, dill pickles, and fresh fruit. We even bought a new cooler for the occasion!

We left our house at around 6:00am, knowing that it would take us around 2 hours to meet up with him. Mike has run the majority of his miles on Rte. 50, and that is the road he took through WV. As we got closer, we noticed that there was hardly any shoulder space to run on. And the curves were tight with cars driving quickly around them. Yikes- this did not seem like a safe thing to be doing!

We found Mike running with a friend in Romney, WV. I hopped out of the car and joined them. The plan was for Greg to drive eastbound, stopping every mile or so to take photos/videos, and then we'd switch. I was not surprised to find that the route was quite hilly. West Virginia is known for its hills. Thankfully, Mike walked up the steep hills, and ran the downhills. Overall we averaged a pace of around 12:00.

It was so amazing to chat with Mike and hear all about his journey. I had so many questions for him:

  • How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?  3 - 4 pairs of Hokas.
  • Do you shower in the RV? Yes.
  • Do you sleep in the RV each night? We had been, but lately have been staying at hotels.
  • What percent of this have you run alone vs. with others? 85% of the time alone.
  • How are you feeling? Pretty decent
Many of my other questions had been answered by following his journey on social media and reading his daily posts. 

As for the run itself, it wasn't the safest thing I have ever done, but thankfully there were no close calls. There were three of us during the most dicy parts and Mike had two poles he was carrying that helped draw attention to us. There was a police officer who had seen us and decide he would help by flashing his lights and getting the traffic to drive slowly around the curves. He had no idea what we were doing. We told him several times that Mike was running across the country. It took a few times to finally register, and when it did - his eyes popped out of his sockets!

Police car in the background

When Mike stopped at his RV, we gave him the strawberries, pickles, etc. He says he takes in about 5,000-7,000 calories a day.  Our food wasn't very caloric, but at least it was refreshing. It had started to get warm and many sections of the road had no shade. 

At the RV, Greg and I decided to switch. He would run and I would drive. I had run a total of 5.2 miles with Mike, with an elevation gain of 761 feet. Which is about the same amount of climbing in the entire Boston Marathon. So 5.2 miles in the sun on hills was plenty for me. My goal this summer is to take it easy and stay healthy.

Greg ran with him and I drove, stopping the car every two miles to take videos and cheer them on. I had brought my crossword puzzle book, thinking there would be no internet out there and that I would be waiting for a long time, but there was actually internet, and I didn't spend long waiting.

Mike's other friend stopped running with him so it was just Mike and Greg. Mike said most people come out in the mornings when it's cool and few people want to do the afternoon shift. After they had run for 10 miles, Greg called it a day. While I was waiting for them, I figured out that we were only 12 miles away from Virginia. Mike would be sooooo happy to get to his home state! I later saw his photos of the Welcome to Virginia sign and he was a little teary eyed!

Mike reached Winchester that evening and the next day, loads of people came out to run with him. He was interviewed by our local morning show, Elliot in the Morning, which I thought was so cool. I am a longtime listener to that radio show.

When I went to upload my run to my training log, I realized that I had run my 30,000th mile with Mike! I started my training log in 2008, and getting to 30,000 logged miles felt pretty cool.

It was so much fun to be a part of his epic journey! I'll end with one final plug for his charity, World Vision, which works to provide clean, safe water for communities worldwide.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Lawyers Have Heart 5K: A Muggy Slug

I ran the Lawyer's Have Heart 5K in Georgetown, Washington DC this morning. I have a very long history with this race. It used to be a 10K, and now they have both 5K and 10K options. It was my first race ever back in 2005 (unless you count the 2-miler at my college reunion). I had a streak going every year from 2005-2012, but then a beach trip came up in 2013, which ended the streak.

I ran the 5K most recently in 2017, back when I had been solely focused on the 5K for months. That season, I was able to gradually get my PR down from 20:50 to 20:17. My Lawyer's Have Heart time was 20:24, which was just 7 seconds off of my PR at the time. I was very pleased with it because this race is almost always hot, so being close to a PR is a major achievement. 

This year, I had my sights set on a time of 20:30. Have run 20:43 at the Dulles Greenway 5K just 5 weeks ago, this seemed totally attainable. Yes, this race would be warmer and hiller, but I didn't run that Greenway 5K at full effort. Why not shoot for a course PR of 20:24? I just didn't think that I was in the same kind of 5K shape that I was back in 2017. 

Before the Race
I didn't sleep well last night or the night before. I am not sure why, but both nights I got between 6-7 hours of sleep and it wasn't restful sleep; I kept waking up. Also, I had a minor cold which lasted 3 days about a week ago. It started on Friday morning with a sore throat and my symptoms lasted for 3 days. I took Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off from running. I felt better by Monday, but I probably wasn't 100% until Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm thankful it wasn't a major illness, but it was annoying because I keep having these breaks in my training, and I just want to be consistent.

Anyway, I woke up at around 3:30 this morning and didn't fall back asleep. I had an anxiety dream about Greg being at the start line of the Chicago Marathon. I was going to run it with him, but I was somehow on the other side of a mountain. I had to climb over the mountain to reach him at the start line. Other people were climbing over it just fine, but I could not. I woke up with my heart racing and then there was no falling back asleep. Sigh.

For breakfast, I had a small banana and a Maurten SOLID. "SOLID" is a new Maurten product that can replace a pre-run meal. I felt very well hydrated and I had been doing an excellent job at staying on top of my water and electrolytes. 

Greg and I left the house at 5:30. He was not running the race, having just raced a marathon less than two weeks ago. I wore my Zensah heart socks, because they totally matched the theme of the race. Lawyers Have Heart benefits the American Heart Association. If there had been an award for best socks, I would have won it. 

We arrived at the race site, parked, and picked up my bib. It was raining lightly, and I debated if I should wear my visor or not. I decided I would wear it because it was lightweight, and if it started raining harder, I would want to keep the water out of my eyes. I warmed up for about 1.5 miles + strides and drills, which probably wasn't enough. When it's warm/humid, I usually opt for a shorter warm up so as not to get overheated. But as I age, I feel like I need more and more time to really get those legs moving. 

The weather did not match the forecast. As of last night, my Wunderground app was saying 70% humidity, 66 degrees with no rain. That's not too bad for June. In reality, it was slightly warmer (I'll call it 67) but with 90% humidity and light rain. On my race weather scale it gets a 3 out of 10. 

During the warm up, the rain started to lighten up, so I found a place to stash my visor, as Greg was already at his first photo location. I took a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the start of the race. 

Mile 1
The race started and I decided to be relaxed at first. I had read my 2017 race report last night and based on that, I planned for my first mile to be my slowest. The first quarter mile of the race is underneath a freeway, so you can't rely on the Garmin to tell you what pace you are going. 

As I started running, I immediately felt suffocated by the humidity. I felt sluggish and I just could not get going. There was a hill up ahead, and I did what I could to get up it, but that was really, really rough.  Once I was up the hill, I finally got into a rhythm, but I felt exhausted. I could tell it wasn't my day but I immediately dismissed that negative thought and was determined to give it everything I had. 

I ended up running the first mile in 7:03. That was definitely a disappointment, and I felt like I was running much faster than that. 

Mile 2
This mile went by pretty quickly and I started to feel a little better than I had during the first mile. This is why I think I really need a longer warm up, even for hot/humid races. It's difficult for me to move fast until I've been moving fast. I need that momentum. It didn't used to be this way, but it could be a product of getting older and everything feeling stiff and rigid. 

Anyway, I passed a good amount of people during this mile, which made me happy and I averaged a 6:48, which still wasn't great, but far better than the 7:03 from mile 1. 

Mile 3
I knew from my 2017 race report that this mile would be super fast. I ran it in 6:24 back in 2017. And at the Dulles Greenway 5K, my last mile was 6:20. (And that was flat!)  With this mile being downhill, there was no reason why I couldn't run in the 6:20s. So I gunned it early on in the mile and I kept that effort level up the entire way. Could I have run at this effort level earlier in the race? Maybe. But it didn't feel like I could have at the time. 

I noticed that there were no women runners around me during this mile. I had no idea how many women were ahead of me because the 5K and the 10K start together. I guessed it was a lot because many fast women had shown up! So there was no woman for me to chase down, but I had fun racing the guys. 

I made the final turn, and clocked in at 6:31 for the final mile. 

The Finish
I was really surprised to see Greg taking photos so close to the finish line, because I thought I had already seen him a bit further back! Apparently there was someone else in a blue jacket with a nice camera. That shows how focused I was just getting to that finish line. I had a decent final kick and finished in a time of 21:09.

I retrieved my visor from its spot and then met up with Greg.  I then cooled down for about 12 minutes before we returned to the car.  

I was the 9th female finisher out of 582. And I didn't even place in my age group because many of those 8 women ahead of me were in their 40s. Tough competition! 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. I didn't even come close to my 2017 time, and I didn't beat my 21:06 from the 5K I ran 4 weeks ago. And I ran a 7:03 mile - which is slower than my half marathon PR pace. 

My final mile at the Dulles Greenway 5K was 6:20. It was not downhill and I didn't feel like I was running at 100% effort. Today, my final mile was downhill and it was 6:30 and I definitely felt like I was running at 100% effort! Just shows what 15 extra degrees can do to you in a race!

My overall feeling about this race is that I didn't have a ton of energy and the humidity seemed to impact me more than it typically does. And it typically impacts me a lot! I was probably a combination of:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Recovering from being sick a week ago
  • The humidity
I am not trying to make excuses, but rather identify why I didn't have as much energy as I typically do. 

This was all validated by my heart rate. My heart rate was much lower than expected! My heart rate averaged 168, and it usually averages in the high 170s to low 180s for a 5K. If it's humid, that's more like the mid 180s. So according to my heart rate, I simply wasn't working very hard. And I would agree with that. I didn't push as hard as I was physically capable of during the first two miles because I felt crappy.

As I mentioned earlier, I think a longer warm up would have helped too. If I could run a 3.6 mile race, with a timing mat at the 0.5 marker to measure the final 5K, that would be ideal! In workouts I always feel like that first half mile is so hard, and then I settled in. 

On the positive side, any time you negative split a 5K is a good day, even if the last mile is downhill! I had a ton of fun out there and I'm proud that I showed up and worked hard. Plus, I have things I can work on for the next 5K!

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Guest Post: Greg's Vermont City Marathon

Please enjoy this guest blog post written by my husband Greg!

Choosing Vermont City

I ran the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in December. At dinner that same night, Elizabeth was already asking which one I wanted to run in the spring. She and I are different in that way – I wanted to continue reveling in my recent accomplishment, whereas she wanted to know, ‘what’s next?’. More than once we’ve had similar conversations where my answer is, ‘I’m not ready to think about that yet’.

However, on that particular night my answers were influenced by my Rehoboth Beach experience. As I detailed in that blog post, the race itself was not my fastest, but I felt good about it and I really enjoyed the entire trip, including the destination, race, dining, etc.

So, I was happy citing vague desires like, ‘I want to go somewhere new and exciting’, ‘I want a good experience’, ‘I want nice scenery’, ‘Not too big’, ‘Not too small’, ‘It’d be nice if we had friends there’, ‘I like mountains’, ‘Not too too hilly’, etc. She, on the other hand, was readily presenting actual options that satisfied my criteria. I would be participating in detailed planning, whether I was ready for it or not.

We ultimately settled on the Vermont City Marathon, in Burlington, VT. Burlington was supposed to be nice, it would add a new state to my running list, and one of my best childhood friends lived nearby. We also later learned that our friends from Virginia, Chad and Maria, were also coming. Chad would run while Maria and their 11-year old twins would cheer us along.

Training and Recovery
A May 29th target gave plenty of time for a healthy recovery and training cycle. After maintaining a base between 20-30 miles per week plus some rowing, the real training began mid-February.

Elizabeth created a 15-week training plan that steadily increased the weekly mileage from the high-40’s to the mid-60’s, including three cut-back weeks. I ran 6 days per week, including one medium-long run, one speed workout, one long run, and one recovery run.

Instead of just doing another training cycle, as I’ve done before, I wanted to challenge myself to be better this time. For me, that doesn’t mean running more miles, or working harder. It’s actually quite the opposite – my biggest area for improvement was getting better sleep. My sleep quality has steadily deteriorated over the years. I estimate it went from fair to poor over the past 4-5 years. Since sleep is one of the most important things for both physical and mental health, it was clearly the smartest focus.

Unfortunately, in this case, identifying the problem is way easier than fixing it. 12 weeks before the race, I eliminated alcohol. According to everything everywhere, alcohol is 100% bad and 0% good for sleep. This helped in certain ways, but it wasn’t a magic bullet. It was one variable removed, and resulted in a more regularly identifiable set of issues. 4 weeks before the race, I eliminated desserts. This helped a little more, but I still struggled. The final fix was eliminating screens after I finished working for the day. This seemed to be the final puzzle piece. My sleep got much better by doing this. Unfortunately, this was the hardest of all, so I didn’t end up doing it until the week before the race. I could say a lot more about all this, but it’s too much for this blog.

I was surprised with how much weight rapidly shed after quitting the deserts – I went from 173 lbs on February 19th to 162 lbs on May 20th with a sharp acceleration in those final weeks. So, sleep or no sleep, my efforts had many other benefits.

Travel, Arrival, and Impressions
Because Elizabeth already blogged about our experiences traveling to Burlington and the activities prior to the race, I’ll abbreviate this section.

Shakeout run on Saturday
I loved the view from our hotel room window. Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains in New York on the other side was very pretty. This more than satisfied my scenery requirement. I also really liked Burlington itself. The shops and restaurants on the walking-only Church street were quite nice. It was sad to see the many homeless and mentally-ill seeming people that were ever-present, however.

Goals and Strategy
My main goal is always to run a good race. That means pushing as hard as I can without giving up, but not so hard that I’m forced to give up. There’s obviously a lot that goes into that. Because my training cycle went so well and my physical fitness was good, I believed a personal record (PR) was realistic given the course and conditions.

Elizabeth was running the first half with me. I asked her to pace us for a 3:17:something. We decided that meant a ~1:40:00 first half and a ~1:37:30 second half. Planning for some extra distance, that meant averaging about 7:35 for the first half and 7:25 for the second.

The Race
Fortunately, I slept relatively well both Friday and Saturday nights before the race. Despite having a bib that allowed me to start in the first corral, at 7:00am, I started with Elizabeth in the 2-person marathon relay corral, which was the last corral, at 7:12am. This wasn’t a big deal; for me it was much more important to run with Elizabeth than to have the 12-minute earlier start.

Elizabeth had written the mile-by-mile pace plan on her left arm, incorporating adjustments for the hill profile and a gradual acceleration from a slower start to a faster finish. My job was to stick with her. The race was two laps of the same course. So, I knew to pay attention during the first half so I’d know how to pace the second half by myself.

Miles 1-5
Even though we started slowly, we rapidly caught up with the slower racers from the marathon corrals that started ahead of us. We were going a few minutes per mile faster than ~80% of the people on a fully-crowded course. The other 20% were having the same struggle we were.

It’s not easy staying with a pacer while weaving through so many people going such a significantly different pace. It meant accelerating to get through a gap before it closed, or going around the outside, etc.

At one point Elizabeth had to slow me down. I have a tendency to accelerate to pass and then fail to slow back down. At other points, Elizabeth was assertively clearing the way for us by announcing ‘Passing!’ as she squeezed through a small gap. I’d follow with a ‘thanks’.

This type of weaving consumed the first five miles. I can’t imagine trying to race at half-marathon pace through all that. This was definitely poor race planning.

Mile 1 – 7:44
Mile 2 – 7:43
Mile 3 – 7:48
Mile 4 – 7:45
Mile 5 – 7:30

Miles 6-8
Mile 6 was still very crowded but quite nice because it was on a path directly next to the lake. The scenery was serene and there was a beautiful cool breeze coming off the water. It was the most enjoyable section of the entire race.

Mile 7 was the least enjoyable of the race; It included a ~200 foot climb up the pedestrian Church street area I mentioned earlier. The surface was brick, so it was also necessary to watch your footing. Mile 8 started with a short and steep climb and ended with a long gradual climb. I knew the next time I’d be enjoying this hilly section was miles 20-21.

I had pulled ahead of Elizabeth on the hills. Partly because I’m stronger up hills, but also because she steps gingerly when the footing is questionable. She caught up though and we carried on together.

Mile 6 – 7:34
Mile 7 – 8:02
Mile 8 – 7:41

Miles 9 – 10
These miles took us through an out-and-back detour through a residential neighborhood. The crowd support in this section was fun – people had sprinklers and hoses they’d spray you with if you seemed so inclined. There was an impressive 80’s-style hair-rock band playing in one front yard. The singer had on quite the outfit with a wig and makeup. I didn’t look closely enough to see if they were trying to impersonate KISS, or if it was just similar. Either way, it was fun.

This section was made challenging by the turns and potholes. I noticed that I had pulled ahead of Elizabeth again, but this time she was on pace, and I was going too fast. I welcomed the throttling – there is no surer way to ruin a marathon than to go too fast too early.

Mile 9 – 7:31
Mile 10 – 7:43

Miles 11-13
Early during mile 11 I started pulling ahead of Elizabeth again. This time she told me she was falling behind and that I should go ahead. She told me the prescribed paces of 7:20, 7:30, 7:15. With that info, I was off. It was exciting to be responsible for my own pacing. The paces were fast too, which meant I’d be running downhill. These would also be the final three miles of the entire race once I had come around the loop again, so it was of particular interest to envision that. These miles were also on a different section of the path by the lake. This time we were higher up, so the view was more majestic.

With all this excitement and newfound purpose in mind, I overdid it by a little bit, but not too much. It felt good and I was ‘easily’ able to crank out some fast paces.

Mile 11 – 7:16
Mile 12 – 7:17
Mile 13 – 7:13

One more time around
I hit the half-way point at 1:40:18 with a Garmin distance of 13.2 miles. 0.1 was more than I had expected to run extra, but time-wise, I was spot-on. My pacing strategy was to average 7:25 for the second half. I figured I could adjust the mile-to-mile pace around that based on what I remembered from the first half. I knew the first couple miles were slower. I knew there would be the glory mile by the lake followed by the hilly section, which I’d endure until the start of mile 22. Then I knew it was time to run the neighborhood hose and rock band gauntlet. And finally, I had those wonderful fast finish miles where I’d give it everything I had.

Having this segmented picture in mind really helped me with my mental game.

Segment 1 – the slower miles
The course wasn't crowded this time. I’m glad I knew they had a challenging hill profile or I may have gotten discouraged with how difficult this section was. I felt my legs starting to ache and thought it was too early for that. The hills that I had such power on during the first half were much harder this time around.

Somewhere around mile 17 or 18 I passed my friend Chad. I was sad to see him because he had a 9-minute head start. So, I knew it meant he was having a hard time. I encouraged him to run with me, but he wasn’t having it.

Mile 14 – 7:29
Mile 15 – 7:32
Mile 16 – 7:32
Mile 17 – 7:25
Mile 18 – 7:24

Segment 2 – the lake and the hills
The lake mile lived up to my expectation. It was incredible. The hills however had gotten bigger since I last left them. The sun was stronger. The day was warmer. Everything was harder, but I had two things going for me – first, I knew to expect that it’d be hard, so, no big deal. Second, I knew Elizabeth would be waiting for me at the top. We planned that as the ideal spot where she could come spectate as a way to help me get through it. It worked well. I was very happy to see her and it gave me a good boost. 

Mile 19 – 7:15
Mile 20 – 8:05
Mile 21 – 7:36

Segment 3 – the neighborhood
Generally marathon miles 22 and 23 are among the hardest for me, mentally. They’re quite far, but not far enough as to where I believe myself when I try thinking that I’m ‘almost done’. If the race is going well, they’re like the boring part of the movie where it’s hard not to just turn it off. If the race is going poorly, it feels like being stranded in the middle of the desert or on the moon. Nothing is close enough and everything is too far away and there’s no hope in sight.

However, this time they were nothing like that. This time they were just that one last little thing to do before the fun begins. This was a first for me. If Yogi Berra ran marathons, he’d agree it’s 90% mental and the other half is physical.

Mile 22 – 7:35
Mile 23 – 7:17 

Segment 4 – the finish
I had been looking forward to these miles since mile 11. I was now living my prior vision for myself. It felt great.

I knew I was in really good shape because I was able to calculate that I would PR if I ran better than xyz pace based on the time on my watch and the distance left to go. Being able to do such calculations so late in a race, gave me even more confidence.

As I confirmed the pace on my watch was better than I needed, I had a positive feedback loop going on mentally and it carried me through to the finish. I gave it all I had for the final ~1.5 miles.

Mile 24 – 7:17
Mile 25 – 7:20
Mile 26 – 7:04 
Final 0.41 – 6:57 

Final time – 3:18:15 

This is a PR by 1:36. 

Post Race
Chad stayed strong and finished the race. He was beat up some, but felt well enough to join us for a celebratory dinner that night. It was great to spend time with them after not seeing them in person since the start of the pandemic.

Also, I really appreciated Maria and the kids cheering me on at four different points throughout the race. It was so much fun seeing them on the course. On Monday we had lunch with my childhood friend Jim, his wife Rae, and their son, Andy. We haven’t seen them since our wedding, and we’d never met Andy. I really enjoyed our time together.

I accomplished everything I set out to with this race. Both the journey and the destination provided life-enriching experiences which I treasure and am proud of accomplishing. After all, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s got me asking myself, ‘what’s next?’.