Friday, November 25, 2022

The Turkey Trot is Sacred.

When others were suggesting that I run the Philadelphia marathon after Indianapolis and Richmond were a bust, I gave a firm "no." I will probably never run the Philadelphia marathon. Why? It's only 4 days before Thanksgiving! That would mean no Turkey Trot. And the Turkey Trot is Sacred.

I have been trotting since 2006. From 2006-2018 I ran the same 5K race. It holds so many memories for me. In 2019, they didn't have enough volunteers so they didn't hold it. I was saddened by this, after having run the race for 13 consecutive years. But I found another one that I liked and ran it. It offers both a 5K and a 10K. I ran the 5K in 2019 and the 10K in 2021. There was no Turkey Trot in 2020.

Aside from tradition, the Turkey Trot is sacred because it almost always has good weather. I have only experienced "bad" Turkey Trot weather maybe twice. My ideal racing temperature is around 35 degrees, and late November mornings in this area average around 35 degrees. In addition to good weather, I am usually coming off of a marathon training cycle so my fitness is sharp. Nearly all of my 5K PRs have been set at Turkey Trots, and I rarely expect to PR that distance outside of a Turkey Trot.

This year, I didn't run my goal marathon due to abnormally warm weather. That meant that my fall goal race was actually the Turkey Trot. 

Goals and Strategy
I really didn't have a great indication of my fitness. I knew I was in good marathon shape because I had logged several marathon pace runs, with marathon pace averaging 7:15. But as for my top speed - I wasn't quite sure. I ran a track workout one week before the 5K, and it didn't give me a ton of confidence. I was supposed to run 1600m at 5K pace, and then 1200m also at 5K pace, followed by 800, 400, 200.  Well- the 1600 was 6:38 and the 1200m was a pace of 6:34. This did not bode well for setting a PR, which would require a pace of under 6:26. 

I figured my ultimate goal would still be sub 20:00 (and maybe a sub 19:58 PR) but more realistic was something around 20:20.

The first mile of this course is uphill. The middle mile is mostly flat. The last mile is downhill. It's fast if you know how to pace it properly.

Because I ran this race in 2019, I had Strava data to refer back to. My splits back then were 6:35, 6:41, 6:12. And I had just run a half marathon PR two weeks earlier in 1:30:58. So my strategy was to try and make that second mile faster and keep the first and third mile the same. That middle mile is basically flat, but I ran it slowly in 2019 because of a sustained 20mph headwind. Without the wind, I had a decent chance of being faster there. 

Before the Race
I had a Maurten Solid about 2 hours before race start along with some water. I didn't have insane urges to keep going to the bathroom like I normally do on race morning. I went once, and that was enough. Maybe it was because I felt pretty chill about this race, I didn't have "butterflies" in my stomach. 

We left the house at 7:10 and arrived at 7:35.  The race started at 8:25. I started my warm up at 7:55, with a plan of running for just over 20 minutes. I took a caffeinated Maurten gel at 8:10 (15 minutes before the race start). My feet were going numb during the warm up and things felt a little stiff. But after some faster running, everything started to feel decent. 

I wore my adidas Adios Pro 2 shoes. I had been wearing the ASICS Metaspeed Edge for my summer 5Ks due to the lower stack height and that close-to-the-ground feel. But I noticed that those shoes make me heel strike while watching a video of a track workout. They also don't feel as bouncy as the Adios Pro 2. Another option was the New Balance Super Comp Pacer. I wore this shoe for the track workout I mentioned above. Clearly they weren't doing me any favors and the fit was sloppy around the heel. I did enjoy the ride and the lightweight feel, but I needed something more locked in for racing. 

After the warm up, I put my jacket in the car and headed to the start line. Greg is recovering from his groin injury, so during this time he was figuring out the best place to take pictures. At the start line, I said hi to my friends Hannah and Cheryl. 

On my race weather scale, this gets a 10 out of 10. I would actually give it an 11 if I could. And I can because it's my scale, so it gets an 11 out of 10. I couldn't dream up anything more perfect. 35 degrees, partly sunny, no wind. Not even a hint of any kind wind. I wish I could put this weather in a bottle and save it for all races!

Mile 1
Mile 1: 6:34
I had studied this mile closely in my Strava data from 2019 and I had run it during my warm up. As I said above, this course can be very fast if you pace it properly. I went out very quickly, probably around 6:15 because I knew that once the hill started, I would be slowing down. About a quarter mile in, it was time to run uphill. I kept my effort level hard and powered up that hill. I focused on engaging my glutes swinging my arms, and getting to the top. It's not a very steep hill, but it does last for most of the first mile. I kept telling myself that the race would get much easier once I was at the top. 

I saw my split was 6:34 and this was perfect. I wanted my split to be about the same as 2019, and I had run this one second faster. Yes!

Mile 2: 6:29
I should mention that I was not at all focused on where I was in the field of women. I saw my friend Hannah at the start line and knew she was ahead of me but other than that I wasn't sure how many women were ahead of her. There was even a turnaround point and I didn't even think to look at the runners on the other side - I just stayed focused on pushing really hard.

I told myself that this was the most important mile because I had the opportunity to shave some time from my 2019 split. The final mile would be downhill and I would rely on gravity. But this mile- this mile required focus, the ability to push really hard and tolerate discomfort. I think many runners are afraid to push really hard during the middle mile of a 5K because you still have over a mile to go. But if you know that the last mile is going to be all downhill, you have the confidence to push super hard in the middle mile, and that's what I did. I passed a few people during this mile.

I was so excited when I saw that my split was 6:29, which was 12 seconds faster than my 6:41 from 2019. WOW. 

Mile 3: 6:07
At this point, I knew I was likely to PR. And I had to keep telling myself not to get emotional, not to get too excited. I still had work to do. If I let myself get too happy about this, I would coast along. And it's not a PR until you cross the finish line so I actually had to get there, and get there fast. I'm an excellent downhill runner and I flew by quite a few runners. I could really feel the shoes propelling me along too- this is where the carbon fiber plate really shines. 

Mile 3
The Finish and Beyond
I ran the final kick at a pace of 6:07 which shows I was happy to keep things steady versus finding another gear. As a result, I didn't have to dry heave at the end. I think my dry heaving comes not from the overall effort of the race, but the fact that I go 100% balls-to-the-wall during the last few minutes and then suddenly stop. With my pace steady, didn't have the urge to dry heave.

But my first thought was "I could have run that race faster". Is that true? Maybe I could have pushed even harder on the final mile. It sort of felt easy because it was all downhill. I guess that's' the beauty of a course that starts uphill and finishes downhill. You get the hard part out of the way without killing yourself and the rest feels easier than it should for race effort.

Greg looked up my result online and found that I ran an official time of 19:41. Well, this was surreal. This was not something that should have been possible! I couldn't even run a sub 6:35 mile on the track last week. Imposter syndrome immediately kicked in. It was the shoes. It was the fast course. It was the weather. It was everything BUT me because I am not a 19:41 5K runner. Nope. That time is too good for me. Was the course short? My Garmin had 3.09 but on Strava, other people who ran the race had distances of 3.1.  And my average pace according to Garmin was 6:23, so this would still be a 19:50 at 3.1. So yes, I did PR. How did that even happen when I felt like I could have run a faster last mile!? Wow.

I guess this is what happens when you train for a marathon for 3 months and then instead of the marathon, you run the 5K. So yes, I deserve this time. Yes, I earned it. (I'm slowly starting to convince myself that this time isn't "too good" for me). 

The results had me listed as 4th female, which was a bit of a bummer because there was prize money at this race. But then my friend Hannah and I realized that there was only one female ahead of her, and she should have been second. Unless we somehow missed her? This is still under investigation, but it's possible I was the third overall female. I don't care all that much, a 17-second 5K PR is enough of an award for me.

Does this make bib number 69 my lucky number?!  Maybe!!

Later that day, my friend Meredith texted me and told me she ran the Virginia Run Turkey Trot (the race I ran for 13 straight years). WHAT!? I thought that race was not being held. I'm on their email list and never received an email about it. I'm in the community Facebook group and it was never mentioned! But apparently, yes, it happened. So next year it's back to my traditional Turkey Trot race. I can't believe I broke my streak and missed it this year. Would I have run a time of 19:41? Maybe not, but there's something really special about that race.

Now for the really important part: the cake. I settled on a Dairy Queen Blizzard cake. I know it's cold out and ice cream isn't as appealing as it would be in the summer. But let's face it, I will never PR when it's warm out so if I ever want a PR Blizzard cake, now is the time. We haven't gotten this cake yet, but we plan to get it tomorrow and decorate it with 19:41. 

Cheryl and me after the race

Monday, November 14, 2022

Towpath Revenge

I've got the fall marathon blues! As in, I did not race a fall marathon or half marathon. But at least this decision was all mine and wasn't forced upon me by injury or illness. So I can still train happy and and healthy for the next marathon in Houston. 

Plan A, B, C and D
After I bailed on Indianapolis due to the forecasted warmth and humidity, I had hoped that Richmond would be a different story. Unfortunately it was even warmer in Richmond than it was in Indianapolis. What are the chances of that happening on two November weekends in a row!

I was also considering running the Outer Banks Marathon on Sunday, which initially looked to be cooler. But as the race approached the temperatures started to rise on that one as well. So, that meant I wouldn't be running a fall marathon, despite months of training. I accepted it and knew it was the smart decision, but it did leave me feeling a little sad. 

To top it all off, I had originally been planning a birthday celebration for Friday the 11th (my actual birthday), but then I moved it to Saturday when I thought I would run Richmond, and then I cancelled it altogether when I thought I would run the Outer Banks. So no birthday gathering with friends, but I did get to see my sister, brother-in-law and nieces! And Greg and I made a cake. 

After scouring every race directory I could find for a Sunday option (Sunday was much cooler than Saturday), I did find a local half marathon on the C&O canal towpath. The towpath is a gravel/dirt trail and not a surface I am comfortable racing on. Too many puddles and rocky areas for me to feel confident going full out. Plus, my Achilles doesn't enjoy when I can't land totally flat-footed. But my desire to pin on a bib and do SOMETHING was overwhelming, so I signed up for it and decided to run it as a workout.

I had run the course twice in the past, both as part of marathons that I did not finish. In 2010, I never intended to finish and hadn't brought enough fuel to finish. The goal was to use it as a training run. In 2012, I had planned on running the marathon at my easy pace, but still dropped out due to anxiety. 

I hadn't run that course in over 10 years and I didn't remember it very well. I remembered that it was decent enough to run on, but not something that I would do at max effort. As for the elevation, I knew it was a net downhill on the way out and a net uphill on the way back.

Half Marathon Workout 
This race was called the "Freedom is Never Free" half marathon, put on by Bishop's Events, which hosts low-key races each weekend in DC, MD and VA. Most of their races are on unpaved surfaces, although there are a few that are paved. I've run several 5Ks and one 10K put on by them and they are always well organized, fun and friendly. During Covid, they continued to hold most of their races because they did not require road closures. 

Running on a rocky surface removed the pressure of trying to hit a certain pace or time goal. I wasn't racing this as an all-out half marathon. I was shooting for marathon pace or maybe a bit slower. I thought somewhere between 1:37-1:39 would be a good range. My primary goal was to have fun, get in a good workout, and experience the race environment. Even though it was a workout, having a timing mat would provide accountability so I wouldn't quit if things got hard. I would also be getting "revenge" on a course that I DNF'ed on twice.

The temperature was a wonderful 45 degrees, which felt so amazing after "Summer's Revenge".  But the cold front unfortunately came with wind, sustained at 14 mph, which would be a headwind during the second half. And that's also the net uphill part. So the way out would be a net downhill tailwind and the way back would be a net uphill headwind. On my race weather scale, this gets a 7. The same as the Hartford Half. By way of comparison, I would have given Indianapolis and Richmond both 2's. I decided to wear lightweight arm sleeves to protect against windburn, which I have gotten in the past from running directly into a high headwind for miles at a time. 

Before the Race
I drank half a serving of the Maurten 160 drink mix during the 2 hours leading up to the race and a Maurten Solid. I decided not to carry a water bottle because I don't need much water for a half marathon if I'm pre-hydrated (and I was) and it's cool weather. I would take water from the water stations. 

The race was only a 25-minute drive from our house. No hotel or flight needed! Greg and I arrived, parked, and I got my bib. 

I warmed up for 1.4 miles which enabled me to get used to the surface. I was wearing the New Balance Fuel Cell Elite, which in retrospect was not the best choice. I probably should have stuck to something with a lower stack height to be closer to the ground. And the "bounce" of the carbon fiber plate is mostly wasted on this surface, at least in my opinion. If I had it to do over again, I would have worn my Nike Odyssey React, which is my typical long run shoe. It's lightweight, responsive, and lower to the ground. 

This was a small race with 87 runners. At the start line, one woman approached me and introduced herself as an Instagram follower! I love meeting Instagram runners in real life. After that, another woman said she recognized me from Instagram as well. She asked me what pace I was aiming for and I told her in the 1:30s and she said she was shooting for a 6:15 pace. I told her she wouldn't be pacing off of me! (She ended up running a time of 1:24 for her FIRST half marathon. Amazing!)

Miles 1-5
I decided to go out conservatively so I could mentally/physically acclimate to the surface. Even though I had warmed up on the trail, I had warmed up slowly. Now it was time to get comfortable pushing a little harder.

Even though this race only had 87 runners, I was leapfrogging with a group of about 3 other runners for the first 4 miles. I would fall way behind whenever we had to leap over a puddle! I have zero ankle mobility and an insanely short stride. Thus, I have no "leap" confidence. I would either stop and then leap, or walk around the narrow muddy edge of the trail to avoid the puddle. I'm also not great at drinking water from cups at aid stations, so I stopped and walked with my water. I took a Maurten gel at 15:00. 

Miles 1-5 consisted of me getting ahead of the pack and then falling behind at a water station or a slippery part of the trail. And then catching back up, passing everyone, and then falling behind again. Even though the first half of the course is net downhill, I didn't really notice it. It feels mostly flat. There were a few short uphill and downhill sections that stole momentum because they were so steep and short, but nothing too intense. 

Mile 1: 7:44
Mile 2: 7:19
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:27
Mile 5: 7:27

Miles 6-9
I saw Greg during the sixth mile. That was definitely a pick me up. At this point, I was leading the pack of three (including myself) and I felt strong. The pack included one woman and one man. The first place female was WAY ahead of us and there was another female between our group and her. So this other woman and I were females #3 and #4. That's another reason why races are so great to run as workouts - you have other people around you pushing you and motivating you to work hard.

The turnaround was a rude awakening, as I knew it would be. Hello headwind that I didn't feel when you were a tailwind! Only 6.55 miles to go!

I told myself that I definitely should be able to maintain my pace for the second half. I hadn't exerted that much effort on the way out. It would definitely be harder with this headwind, but I could do it.

I saw Greg again at around mile 8, only this time I was 3rd in the pack of three. But I intended to speed up. Being in this leap frog situation for 8 miles reminded me that we all have good patches and rough patches during races. Times when we feel strong when we think we can up the effort, even if it's small. Or times when we feel like we need a little breather and have to back off just a bit. I took another Maurten gel at 55:00. 

Once I got to mile 9, it felt like I was running harder than marathon effort, even though my pace was slower than marathon pace. I guess that's what happens when you are running on a rocky surface uphill into a headwind!

Mile 6: 7:23
Mile 7: 7:32
Mile 8: 7:34
Mile 9: 7:34

Miles 10-Finish
I found myself running side-by-side with the other woman so I decided it was finally time to say something. "We got this!" She replied with "You are making me run faster than I should be going!" I forget how I responded but then eventually she said "I know you are soon going to speed up and go rushing ahead and I won't be able to keep up." I said "We'll see," or something to that extent. 

It was during the 10th mile that I pulled ahead. I didn't know by how much but I decided to increase my effort level substantially. Unfortunately, a harder effort did not equate to a faster pace. I slowed down a little bit. But looking at the elevation and and the wind during the last four miles (that's where most of the uphill part was) it makes sense that it would be much harder to maintain the same pace I had been for the first 9 miles. 

So I pulled ahead and it got really hard. The last 2 miles felt like true race effort. It was such a battle and no matter how much I pushed I felt like I was running in place with that headwind, which had picked up since the race start and was now more like 16-17 mph. The good news is that I cared less about mud puddles and became much more confident on the trail. I didn't slow down as much during those slippery sections on the way back. 

I saw Greg right before turning off the trail and heading for the finish, which was about 30 feet off the trail. My official time was 1:39:35. The other woman finished shortly after me, 9 seconds to be exact. But she started after me, so her chip time was 3 seconds faster than mine. As such, she won the award for 3rd place female, and I won the award for 1st place in my age group. I'm totally fine with that! 

She told me that her goal was sub-1:40 and I helped her get there. She said she didn't think she would have run as fast if I hadn't been there. It was a PR for her and this made me so happy. I love pacing other people and helping them reach their goals. Honestly this was the highlight of the race for me. I was the unofficial sub 1:40 pacer! The guy who was running with us came in a 1:39:03.  He had pulled ahead of both of us somewhere around mile 9.

Mile 10: 7:38
Mile 11: 7:38
Mile 12: 7:46
Mile 13: 7:41
Last 0.18: 6:57 pace

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Initially I felt very "meh" about how this went. I didn't feel confident in my fitness because I had to run at race effort during the last 2 miles for a pace that was slower than goal marathon pace. It shouldn't have been that hard to run that pace. So I was kind of down about it.  

But after some reflection, I changed my mind. 

This was not a paved surface, I wasn't getting any "help" from my carbon plate, I had to fight a strong headwind, and it was a net uphill during those miles. So yes, the 7:40s felt like half marathon race pace. And I didn't get discouraged while I was running slower than I hoped - which is great practice for when I am running a goal race. 

I actually have to give myself credit for perfect pacing on this one. My splits indicate that I "fell off" when in fact I increased the effort into the headwind and up hill the last few miles. To be so consistent on a surface that I'm not comfortable on is really a big win for me. 

This race wasn't about testing my fitness or seeing what kind of half marathon shape I was in. It was a "celebration" of all my training. The fact that I can go run 13.1 miles on an unfamiliar surface on a windy day and stay strong throughout is a testament to my mental strength. 

I'm glad I did this because it was a nice "change of pace" from my typical weekend long run. It was a great workout and I got to experience the race atmosphere. I helped someone run her first sub 1:40. The alternative would have been my typical neighborhood long run and I think that would have been depressing given how badly I wanted to race. So, this was a great idea and I was happy to get some revenge on the towpath.

Fun fact: I was the first finisher over the age of 40 -- both male and female!

Up Next
My next goal race is a Turkey Trot 5K and then the Houston Marathon! I am thankful that I am healthy and in a good place to resume training. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

What's My Purpose?

I started working directly with coach Greg McMillan earlier this year. Something we focused on from day 1 was our strategic approach to my running. What were my long and short term goals? What would be the best way to achieve them? 

My primary sentiment was this: At the age of 43, I believe that I am at my peak or very close to it. The time so see what I am truly capable of is now. The past year has been rough with the torn adductor, getting sick with Covid, and then having that SI Joint issue right before Boston. Is this a sign that I can no longer train at the intensity of previous cycles? Or is it just bad luck?

I wanted to run both the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and the Houston Marathon (10 weeks apart) so I would have two shots at a fast race in the near future. And then I would focus on the half marathon in the spring of 2023.

Strategic Planning
Coach Greg heard me and came up with a plan. Since summertime running is very hard on my body and I have a tendency to get sick if I push too hard in the heat, he thought that "getting through the summer" would be the best approach. So over the summer, instead of running my typical off-season mileage of 50-55, I was averaging about 40 miles per week.

I was nervous that such a low training load wouldn't set me up for success in a fall marathon, but when I set a course PR at my annual Firecracker 5K, I realized that this approach was working for me. Even better, I had more energy than I typically have in the summer, and most of my runs felt strong. 

Then marathon training started. The training load increased, but it was still notably lower than what I had done for past cycles. Coach Greg's rationale was that after everything I had been through in over the past year, he wanted to get me to the start line of Indianapolis healthy. Indianapolis would be a "stepping stone" race for Houston and future marathons to see how much load I could safely handle. 

The theory was that I didn't need a huge fitness bump to set a marathon PR. I've actually been in shape to run faster than my my 3:15 PR for several marathons: CIM, Harrisburg, and Two Rivers. But each of those races had circumstances that prevented me from performing to my full potential come race day. In each of those training cycles, I had set PRs at other distances - just not the marathon. So all I really needed to set a marathon PR in Indianapolis was to re-build endurance, get to the start line healthy, and have favorable weather conditions.

Training for Indianapolis
My training for Indianapolis was uncomfortably low compared to what I was used to. I logged 55-65 miles per week as opposed to the 70+ weeks I was cranking out for the past 4 years. And instead of two hard workouts during the week, there was only one hard workout plus a long run. 

As the race approached and we were greeted with unseasonably cool temperatures throughout the first half of October, I cranked out some really impressed workouts. Notably, 18 miles with 12 at marathon pace of 7:15 average. And that run didn't even take too much out of me. I recovered very quickly from it.

So. . .  everything "worked" as planned!  With less mileage and fewer workouts, I was fit enough to run a marathon PR. I was not injured or sick, and I felt fresh on my final workouts.

Weather Woes
One week out from the race, the forecast was looking to be on the warm side. Starting in the low 50s and finishing in the low 60s. Moderately humid. This would be similar to the race weather I had at CIM in 2019. I knew a PR wouldn't be possible for me because I am hyper-sensitive to humidity, but I figured I would still run it with an adjusted goal. I would try to run faster than my CIM time and set a "humid PR". But every day the forecast got warmer and warmer until the starting temperature reached 60. At that point, I started to wonder: What would I be getting out of this race? Would would my purpose be?

I didn't have any good answers. Was I looking for a new experience? No - I had already run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Was I looking for another finisher's medal? No - I had plenty of those. Was I looking to test my fitness? No - I couldn't get an accurate gage on that with warm/humid temps. Was I looking to qualify for Boston? No - I have Houston for that. 

My purpose for running this race was for it to be my "stepping stone" that would kick off future training cycles. To build my confidence that I can run a strong marathon and not be recovering from an injury or illness. Could I still get that in warm and humid conditions? Probably not, considering the recovery time would be extended. Knowing my body and how it responds to humidity - I don't think it would be wise or responsible to put myself through that kind of stress. My risk of illness would skyrocket and then I wouldn't be able to bounce back and train for Houston. 

What about husband Greg? Greg is unfortunately still injured with something similar to my Osteitis Pubis/Adductor tear. He has not run in four weeks and therefore was not planning on running Indianapolis either. I am optimistic about him running the Houston marathon or at very least, the half marathon.

New Game Plan
Coach Greg and I discussed my options and he advised against me running Indianapolis. He agreed that there would be no point in doing it and that it would likely prolong my recovery. This goes against everything that we've been working towards: feeling good and fit when running a marathon. He reiterated that this was a stepping-stone race anyway, and not the main goal. 

The former version of myself (before I went through sports psychology, wrote the book, transformed my mentality) would have bailed on the race because it wasn't PR weather. And it's important that I make a distinction in my own mind that this is not what's happening here. It's not about a PR - it's about my health, about feeling strong, and getting back on the right track with marathon running. 

Not running Indianapolis saves me over $1200 in travel expenses, plus two vacation days I would have taken off work. The Richmond marathon is next weekend which is a relatively short drive, and just one night in an inexpensive hotel. So at the moment, I am eyeing that one. Coach Greg advised me to run the half marathon unless the weather was going to be really cool. Now that Houston will be a 9-week turnaround, I don't want to risk a prolonged recovery from warm temperatures. So the plan is:

  • If the weather is warm, I will run the half marathon as a fun run/training run
  • If the weather is in the high 40s to low 50s, I will race the half marathon full out
  • If the weather stays below 50 degrees for the entire race, I will run the full marathon
The possibility of the half marathon excites me. I had a bad day in Hartford a few weeks ago and I'd love to see what kind of half marathon I can run with full marathon training behind me. And that would make me even fresher for the Turkey Trot 5K. 

I am surprisingly not upset about any of this. I was definitely frustrated and bummed when the Indianapolis forecast first came out, but I got over it quickly and accepted my new reality! Coach Greg has given me a new perspective on my running and I'm happy to be healthy and to have had such a successful training cycle. If it doesn't end with me finishing a marathon, I'm totally fine with that. I'm looking at the bigger picture and enjoying the journey.