Sunday, December 10, 2023

Going the Extra Mile

"Going the extra mile" is one of the most popular running cliches/puns out there. Never has it been so applicable to my running career as it was during yesterday's 10K. 

I registered for the Jingle All The Way 15K a few months ago which was scheduled to occur today, Sunday. But as the race drew closer, the weather started looking miserable. Rain, wind, humidity, and warm temps. That's just not fun for me. So on Wednesday I made the decision to pivot and run the Ringing In Hope 10K which was scheduled for Saturday. The Saturday race was forecast to have perfect weather.

I love racing in December. There are so many festive races to choose from and the cold weather suits me. I didn't do too much to prepare for this race. The Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving served as a good workout and a way to "wake up" my legs after the marathon. Aside from that, I did one track workout which was a down ladder of 2000m, 1600m, 1200m, 800m, 400m - all with 400m recovery jogs. I ran that workout about halfway between the Thanksgiving 5K and yesterday's race.

Before the Race
I decided to try my adidas Adios Pro shoes again. I had abandoned them for the marathon because they felt too big. But with thicker socks for the cooler weather, they worked.

I went back and forth on my outfit a few times, but eventually settled on CW-X capri tights instead of shorts. I feel like compression tights give me a boost of speed so if it's cool enough for them, I wear them.

It was 34 degrees and mostly sunny, rising to about 37 by the end of the race. No wind. Hence we have a 10/10 on my personal race weather scale. I could not have asked for more favorable conditions. 

I arrived at the race 45 minutes before start time, got my bib and went to the bathroom. The race started and finished at a church, and that church was open for the race participants. It was a nice perk to have a warm prep area with real bathrooms!

Before I started my warm up, Greg and I tried to figure out where he would stand to take photos. We quickly looked at a course map and determined a spot that we thought would work. The only reason we had a course map is because my friend Cheryl had run this race last year and shared her Strava data with me. There was no course map on the website. [Edited to add: There are 5K and 10K course maps on the website but the links are not obvious. I am just seeing the maps today and did not see them prior to the race.]

Another thing to note about the map and Greg's position: this race also has a 5K. The finish line is the same for both races. We didn't want him too close to the finish line because I would be weaving through 5K runners at that point. So we also looked at the 5K course to see where they split apart and met up. The 5K course consisted of two out-and-backs in two directions. The 10K course was a large loop. They were only the same at the very beginning and end.

As I said above, I could not find either map on the race website. I had to search for Strava data from last year's runners to locate the 5K map. The 10K started at 9:00am and the 5K started at 9:10. This meant I would be finishing with 5K runners who ran around 30-35 minutes. I wouldn't have to do too much weaving because the courses joined up about 0.2 mile before the finish.

I warmed up for just over 10 minutes and took my Maurten caffeinated gel 5 minutes before race start. I didn't think I was in PR shape but I thought I was in pretty good shape. I decided to target a pace of 6:40 which would be about 30 seconds slower than my PR and I thought that might even be a bit aggressive. But I also decided NOT to look at the Garmin to pace this one. I just like having a neighborhood pace in mind.

Shortly after the start
Miles 1-2
The race started and it wasn't long before I saw Greg snapping photos and videos. He was standing at an intersection where I thought we would be turning left according to the course map. But as I said, I wasn't 100% sure I was aligning the map to reality when looking at it. So when we turned right I was surprised but I didn't think it was wrong. 

It was wrong. We were, in fact, supposed to go left as I originally thought! Nobody realized this until we all found ourselves in a parking lot. There was major confusion. A police officer was there and he didn't know what to tell us - he was not a course marshal. Eventually we realized that we ran the 5K course and had reached the first 5K turn around. We were over half a mile into it at that point. (I later found out that the was actually the second half of the 5K).

The leaders turned around and started running toward the rest of us, so we all turned around. At one point I just stopped and looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. The urge to stop my Garmin was strong, but I did not!

As we were all turning around, we were bunched together tighter than we had been previously, so I found myself running in a pack of 5 women. We were chatting about the situation and realizing that we had run the 5K course. Our attitude was positive and we started making jokes about the situation. I said I was going to stop my Garmin at 6.2 and walk it in! (Just kidding of course). And then we realized we wouldn't really know how long the course would be. 

I saw Greg (again!). I was only supposed to see him twice, but this course mishap meant a bonus sighting of my husband. Silver linings abound!

The amazing thing about this situation was that a pack of 5 women were running together at a relatively small, local 10K. All at a 6:30 pace. I was enjoying the company and not looking at my watch, so when it finally did beep for mile 2, I was shocked to see a 6:24 mile split. I think the pace was probably too fast for all but 1 of us but we kept going with it because it was so fun to be racing in a pack

Miles 3-4
I have run over 200 races of varying sizes and never once have I "raced" in pack of women like this. I should mention that none of us would win the race. The winner would be Perry Shoemaker, an Olympic

Marathon qualifier and holder of all sorts of records at the age of 50+. She was WAY out ahead, but we were all contenders for 2nd, 3rd, and so on. 

It was an entirely different racing experience. The camaraderie and the ability to feed off of each other's energy was amazing. And the fact that we were all sharing this odd experience of a super long 10K made it all the better. We took turns uttering short sentences to keep the vibe strong. 

My Garmin beeped for mile 3 (6:36 pace) and shortly after that the pack begin to spread apart. We went from 5 runners down to 4 down to 3.  We stayed a pack of three for a while longer and then one of the ladies pulled ahead. So then it was me and one other runner. The other runner (Lauren) told me to go with the woman who broke away, but I could not. Shortly after I pulled slightly ahead of Lauren and it seemed like the places might be solidified.

But none of us really knew what we were getting into. What would mile 7 of a 10K feel like? It was anyone's race. Except for Perry - there was no doubt she would win!

Mile 4 clocked in at 6:34. I wasn't keeping track of my pacing and as I type this, I am now realizing that miles 2, 3, and 4 were 6:24, 6:36, and 6:34. That's a FAST 5K right there. As for mile 1 - my data says 6:53 but that includes standing around trying to figure out what was happening.

Miles 5-6
I should note that the course had no mile markers. No course marshals. No directional signage. At one point a car pulled out right in front of me and I had to slow down for it. I have run the Ringing In Hope races many times in the past and the organization has always been excellent. I do not know what happened yesterday but it was certainly well below the standard I expected from them. 

I reasoned that mile 5 was the mile 4 I had studied in the course elevation profile. Which meant it was time for a big long hill. Mile 5 sucked the soul out of me! It had me seriously questioning my life choices. After running a sub 20:30 5K I was now expected to run three more miles, the first of which was a huge hill. Why did I do this to myself!?

The only thing that motivated me was reminding myself that I was not a quitter and the fact that I was in 3rd place. I guess those are pretty strong motivators, as they worked. But at the time it was very hard to stay in it! I still had the 2nd place runner in my sight. The gap between her and me stayed pretty much the same throughout mile 5. My split was 6:55 which was pretty miraculous because I felt like I was slugging by at an 8:00 pace.

Mile 5 or 6, waving to Cheryl.
Mile 6 was a similar story. There was not much respite from the hills, although I knew from the elevation profile that the worst was behind me. It hurt so much. It would have been easy to fall into the thought pattern of resentment. Resenting that this would not be the final mile. That my 10K was derailed by course mis-management. But none of those thoughts popped into my mind. I acknowledged the pain. Embraced the suck. I didn't look at my watch. I stayed focused on the woman ahead of me and reminded myself that the woman behind me could be very close. 

My friend Cheryl was cheering for me and taking photos at some point during this stretch. It was a huge pick-me-up right when I needed it. I was so happy to see her! 

Mile 6 was 6:52. Another surprise because I felt like I had faded to something in the high 7:00's!

Mile 7 and final 0.34:
At this point, I was truly going "the extra mile". Never had that phrase resonated with me so much! Thankfully it was a net downhill and I knew the end HAD to be near. I just wasn't sure how near. In my head I kept wondering when that turn would come. Would this be 7 miles? 7.5 miles? 8 miles? Who knew!? And with no mile markers, the course wasn't giving any hints. 

At this point I did feel like I could have pushed harder. I knew it in the moment, but I had no motivation to go deeper into the pain cave. 

Finally I saw Greg and I knew the finish line was in my reach. Mile 7 was 6:38 and the final 0.34 was a pace of 6:31. I maintained my third place position but the 4th woman was not far behind! Interestingly, the only time I saw a male during this race was during the first mile mix-up. I was either running with the women or running solo for the rest of the race.

After the Race
Our pack of women reunited and instantly started talking about all-things running. Neither of us knew each other but we all lived locally and we were all similarly matched. At least yesterday we were!

I also had the opportunity to talk with Perry, the Olympic trials qualifier and 1st female finisher. Interestingly, she had also been registered for the 15K on Sunday, but switched to this 10K for similar reasons. I had always known about her but had never chatted with her, so it was really amazing to get to know her a bit!

The theme of this race was definitely bonding with other female runners. And honestly that FAR overshadowed the fact that the distance was totally messed up. If anything, the messed up distance was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me throw caution to the wind and run with a fast pack of ladies and embrace the experience. I had been planning on a 15K originally, so I got more bang for my buck with this race! In kilometers, this race was 11.8K.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
As I said above, the local women's running community was the real focus yesterday. From my conversation with Perry to the pack of 5 women to Cheryl taking photos of me in the middle of the race. We all support each other and have a shared love of sport. I'm so grateful to be a part of this. I've found "my place" so to speak and it's exactly where I belong.

Other takeaways and stats:

  • My official time was 49:08, which is an average pace of 6:41
  • My Garmin logged 7.34 miles or 11.8K
  • According to the Jack Daniels VDOT calculator, the 10K equivalent is 41:12, which would have been a small PR for me, despite not believing myself to be in PR shape
  • Strava says I ran a 20:17 5K during the race, which is over 10 seconds faster than my Turkey Trot
  • My award for 3rd place was a free two-topping Domino's pizza, available for carry-out only
  • I am considering this a PR and having PR cake
  • Not only is it a PR because it's a new distance, but it also does equate to a 10K PR
  • I do not feel robbed of a 10K PR, but I am motivated to go run another one soon
  • The course mishap makes for a much more interesting blog post
  • I'm not sure how the lead runner was expected to know which way to turn. With no lead biker and no course marshal, there was no way for him to know. Everyone else simply followed him.
For the past two months I have been of the mindset that I am not in the best shape of my life. Today's race proves that wrong. I am in the best shape of my life. And I believe I could have run a faster final mile if I had more motivation. I truly did go "the extra mile" yesterday and I love that I encountered a new challenge and made new friends while doing so.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Turkey Trot- I Winged It!

I did not have any goals or this year's Turkey Trot due to its proximity to the Richmond Marathon, just 12 days prior. I knew that I would still have my marathon fitness, but my legs were still recovering.

I took 8 days off after the marathon and resumed the Monday before Thanksgiving, with a very short run of only 15 minutes. In addition to recovering from the marathon, I had caught a cold two days post race. By Monday it had been a full week since I got sick and I had all of my energy back. The congestion lingered, however. I ran short and easy runs on Tuesday and Wednesday and both of those runs confirmed that my legs were still in recovery mode.

My plan for the race was to "wing it" with no goals or pacing strategy. I had run this course 13 times in the past, so I knew what I was getting myself into. This is NOT the course I ran last year that holds my 19:41 PR. It is the course where I ran my first sub-20:00 back in 2018. The elevation profile is gently rolling hills with a larger hill at around the halfway point. 

I had not run this course since 2018 because they did not hold the race in 2019, 202, or 2021. It came back in 2022 but I was not aware of it. Instead I ran a different Turkey Trot.

Before the Race
I had a super casual attitude about this race, which meant I didn't have my normal digestive system clean-out when I woke up. I ate half of a Maurten solid and drank some water, and that got things going a bit!

The weather gets a 9 out of 10 on my personal weather scale. It was 43 degrees, mostly sunny with 8-9 mph winds. It would have been a 10 out of 10 without the wind. I wore fitted shorts, a tank top, arm sleeves, sunglasses and lightweight gloves. I wore the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 shoes, which makes this my very first time ever racing in Saucony. I had run a few speedy workouts in them during training, and my adidas Adios Pro shoes remained too big, so Saucony it was!

I met up with my friend Meredith at the start line 30 minutes before race start. We warmed up with another friend, Nancy for nearly two miles. I had a caffeinated Maurten gel 15 minutes prior to race start. I didn't have the chance to use the porta potty, but that ended up being ok.

Greg, who is still recovering from his injury, moved to his cheering spot during our warm up. I would see him twice during the race. 

Mile 1
I didn't want to limit myself by looking at my Garmin, so I decided I would only look at it when it beeped for each mile split. After the first few minutes of runners getting out on the course, I settled into a groove. Meredith was in my sights and I figured I would roughly pace off of her. The first mile is gently rolling hills with a net uphill. I saw Greg about 2/3 the way into mile 1. Things felt hard, but I didn't feel like I was running at 5K effort; it felt more like 10K effort during the first mile. The Garmin clocked me in at 6:43. I would have guessed something closer to 7:00, especially since it felt like 10K effort, so I was happy with that.

Mile 2
The first mile has no turns; it's a straight road. The first turn is around mile 1.3. At the turn I found myself closing in on Meredith. This was not intentional, but I was simply "rolling with it" and that's where I found myself. Not that I am usually super-focused on my watch, but the fact that I didn't look at my watch at all allowed me to really be present and focus on my surroundings and effort level. 

The big hill came and it was not as steep as I had remembered it. The hills in the first mile were steeper than I had remembered, but this one seemed more tame. I caught up with Meredith and ran with her for about a minute. Then I started to really open it up on the downhill and told myself it was time to hammer it home at 100% effort with whatever my legs had. Mile 2 clocked in at 6:37.

Mile 3
I was pleasantly surprised with my mile 2 split, given that it contains the big hill. I could tell my legs were really starting to hate me. At that point, I realized I could be drawing power from my arms. I
decided to engage them more and really use them to propel me forward. I focused on my arm swing and forward lean. From an energy standpoint, I had plenty of it - the limiting factor was definitely my legs. If I had 4-5 more days to recover from the marathon I probably would have tried for sub 20:00. But the legs were still cranky. 

I was expecting to see Greg as I ran it in, but he was standing much closer to the finish line than expected. At that point I was too focused on sprinting to see him, but he saw me and snapped some photos. Mile 3 clocked in at 6:23.

The finish and beyond
My final kick was a pace of 6:12 for 0.14 miles, make this a Thanksgiving Pie run at 3.14 miles. 

My official time was 20:34, which earned me second place in my age group (out of 76) and 8th overall female (out of 392).

Meredith finished shortly after looking very strong. I had to sit down because that final kick really knocked the wind out of me! My legs were extremely tired and my body was not happy with me for running so hard!

I ran a half-mile cool down just to get some blood flowing to my muscles. Then I chatted with Meredith and her family before heading out. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Probably the best takeaway is that I run really well when I have a super casual attitude. I know that I am going to focus and push hard once the race starts, so there is no need to overthink things before hand. I also enjoy running so much more when I am not glancing at my Garmin to monitor my pace. That's necessary at the beginning of a long distance race, but not during a 5K. 

I really had no predictions or expectations for this race. At best, I thought I could break 20:00 if my legs were fully recovered. At worst, I thought I could injure myself and end up walking it in. I had no idea what was going to happen. The fact that I ran so well 12 days post marathon and 10 days post getting a cold says a lot about my fitness!

Most of all, I am always thankful for any year I am healthy enough to run a Turkey Trot.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Lessons Learned in Training

Even though I have now run 33 marathons, I learn something new each cycle. Sometimes I learn something I already knew, but yet forgot along the way. And often my training confirms what I already suspected, but wasn't 100% sure about. 

Disclaimer: these lessons are unique to me and might not be applicable to the running population in general.

There's nothing magic about a 20-miler
I only ran one 20-miler this cycle and nothing longer. During winter training it makes sense for me to run multiple 20's and even bump it up to 22. But when I am struggling in the heat, I need to run the shortest possible long run required to check the box.

Finishing my only 20-miler
I ran two 19-milers and one 20 miler. In the grand scheme of things, 19 is just as good as 20. One of those 19-milers was meant to be 22, but I was struggling with dehydration so I stopped early.

High mileage trumps a lot of long runs
You're probably noticing a theme here: I am not a fan of the long run. For this cycle, I kept all my long runs at 2:00 or less until 10 weeks out. (This ended up being 12 weeks because I ran Richmond instead of MCM, but the principle still holds). Instead, my focus was gradually building up the mileage so I would be able to run multiple weeks at 60+ MPW. I see some people running 20-milers when they are 12 weeks out and that might work for them, but I could not sustain that. 

Summer running doesn't have to be the death of me
Because I am so heat sensitive, I usually shy away from doing any kind of speed work in the heat. But now I know how to strike the right balance. I tracked my water intake every day and made sure to get at least 60 ounces daily. After every run, my sports bra and shorts would be dripping wet with sweat so I made sure to rehydrate ASAP. 

All of my workouts were effort based, which meant "marathon pace" was "marathon effort" which equated to 7:45-7:50. I really had to trust that my body was getting the benefit each workout even though my paces were nothing like they were when I was training for Houston. 

I can take two weeks off and not lose fitness
I learned this from my SI Joint debacle prior to Boston 2022. Once I've built up my marathon fitness, taking 1-2 weeks off before the race doesn't cause it go away. What this tells me is that I should be doing more of a taper. I previously believed that I didn't need much of a taper to run well, but now that I know that I won't lose fitness, I am more inclined to go all-in on that taper. Once I returned to running after my time off from my hip, all of my runs felt so much more energized and peppy. I think I needed that extended recovery period.

As I train for Boston 2024, I am going to create a similar plan for myself-- but with more hills. Hills are definitely a weakness of mine so I will likely start my training cycle with 4 weeks of hill work before diving into other types of workouts. Overall, this was a successful training cycle and I am excited to push myself a little bit harder in the next one. But not with more long runs or longer long runs! Likely with slightly more volume. 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Birthday Marathon: A celebration in Richmond

Yesterday I turned 45. And I ran a marathon. My 33rd marathon, but the only marathon (or race, for that matter) that I've ever done on the day of my birthday.

I was supposed to run the Marine Corps Marathon two weeks ago, but 16 days out I developed hip pain which resulted in two weeks of almost no running. Just some 2-3 mile runs here and there to "test" it out. Two visits to the doctor and cortisone shots eventually cleared things up but it wasn't 100% in the days leading up to the race, so I decided it wasn't smart to run it. Plus, the weather ended up being quite warm (so much so that they shut down the race early) and I would have likely switched to Richmond anyway. So it was going to be Richmond regardless, but the hip pain meant two straight weeks of nearly no running.

I had only run the Richmond one time before, in 2007. It was my 5th marathon and my first sub-4:00 marathon. I remembered it well, though, thanks to my detailed blog post. As my first sub-4:00 marathon, it carried good memories. I had also set PRs at the half marathon there in 2008 and 2015.

During the hip saga, I was headed down a dark path and I turned things around by truly letting go of any time expectation for a fall marathon. My goal became to simply run a marathon healthy and without hip pain, fully accepting that it might be one of my slower races. Letting go and truly embracing the marathon as an experience instead of a goal was mentally refreshing and really lightened my mood.

When I'm training for a marathon, much of the motivation to crank out the hard workouts comes from the desire to run a fast race. Otherwise, why would be I out there running hard tempos or long track workouts? Switching my mindset from "I am highly motivated to run a fast marathon" to "I just want to have fun" was a big shift in attitude, but one that had to happen.

Getting back at it
One of the benefits of taking so much time off was that I was really fresh when it came to do my last long run. Once my hip started to feel better, I was able to crank out 17.4 miles with some marathon pace work and have it feel totally manageable. However, this resulted in some serious DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) for the next 3 days since it was a shock to my system. I was familiar with this after my Boston Marathon fiasco last year. I took 9 days off shortly before Boston for an SI Joint issue and when I finally did a hard long run, my legs were really sore. So I knew this was no cause for concern.

11 days out from the marathon, on Halloween, I decided to run some mile repeats at 10K effort. I coached myself for this marathon, and I know that faster-than-lactate-threshold workouts are a weakness of mine, but extremely effective when I do them. I had just included marathon pace miles in my long run, so I thought this would be a good sharpening workout. I was targeting 6:45 for the repeats but didn't look at my Garmin for pacing. Running by feel, I ran 6:41, 6:34, 6:30 and they all felt like 6:45. This meant that I was in better shape than I had believed myself to be in. Wow. And my legs were still sore from the long run too.

7 days out from the marathon I did my last long run: 11.11 miles. I ran it as a progression run starting at the slow end of my easy zone and ending at the fast end of my easy zone. The entire run felt effortless with the first mile clocking in at 9:05 and the last 4 miles at 7:52, 7:47, 7:44, 7:50. I honestly couldn't believe how easy those paces felt. I was peaking for sure.

Shoe switch!
On Monday, 5 days out from the marathon, I decided to wear my race shoes for my final speed work, which would be 5 x 3:00 at half marathon effort. My plan was to wear the same shoes I wore in Houston (the adidas Adios Pro 2) as they only had 38 miles on them and they worked well there. However, I turned around and came home after running a mile out because my feet were slipping and sliding all around in the shoe. They were too big! How was that possible?

So then I tested another pair of the Adios Pro 2, the ones I wore in Boston 2022, and those also felt too big. I had one pair that was a half size smaller, but those shoes had too many miles on them for me to want to race a marathon in them. I then pulled a brand new pair of the New Balance Fuel Cell Elite 2, which is last year's model of the shoe. I heard many people say that version 3 of this shoe had issues and everyone liked version 2 so much better. So I bought a pair of version 2 and stashed it in my closet so I wouldn't even need to try the 3.

I put them on my feet and they fit perfectly. I ran 3 sets of 3:00 at half marathon pace and I felt zippy. Compared to the Adios Pro, they have a much softer landing and the fit is more locked in. I generally prefer the Adios Pro because they are more responsive and seem to have more pickup. But then I remembered my reason for running: to have fun. So what if these shoes weren't quite as fast? They were still fast and definitely faster than the shoes I wore when I ran my 3:15 PR, which did not have a carbon fiber plate.

The fact that they matched my planned outfit perfectly was a sign that it was meant to be. And having comfortable shoes might trump having faster shoes during those later miles. Usually I like to break shoes in a bit more before using them in a marathon, but I didn't have time for that.

The weirdest expo ever
Greg and I drove down to Richmond the day before the race with my friend Laurena. Laurena and I worked together nearly 20 years ago and hadn't seen each other since. But we stayed in touch and she reached out when she saw I was running Richmond. The drive down 95 was traffic-laden but the time went by so quickly because Laurena and I had 20 years to catch up on.

Laurena and me after the expo
The expo location was new this year (or maybe new to me, I am not sure when they moved it) but it was several miles away from the downtown start/finish at a NASCAR race track. It was cold outside with light drizzle and the expo was partially outside and partially in a garage-like structure. We were freezing cold and the light drizzle was annoying. After getting our bibs and shirts from a concession-stand setup, we went into the garage and walked through the expo. It was one long hallway with vendors on both sides. It was extremely crowded, cold and generally unpleasant. We wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. 

I can't even imagine how uncomfortable the vendors must have been in the cold and if other runners were like us, they didn't want to spend a ton of time there visiting the various booths. They had some featured speakers too and they were in an outdoor, uncovered space. 

I do not understand why the expo wasn't held at the convention center that was literally right next to the start line and race hotels. That would have made so much more sense. A more convenient location, climate controlled, more space for the vendors. But for some reason (I have to imagine there is a reason) they haven't held the expo there in all the years I've been running it (2007, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2018).

Food and Fueling
I am making this its own section because I often get asked about my fueling strategy. So here it is, all in one place. (Feel free to skip if this stuff is boring to you!)

I have a history of not being able to get gels down during the later miles of a marathon so it has taken me years to figure out a fueling strategy that works for me.

In the 3 days leading up to the race I tracked my water intake to ensure at least 60 ounces of water each day. I would have aimed for even high if the race was forecast to be warmer. I have a smart water bottle that tracks my hydration on an app. I used two packs of Uppermost Hydration each day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I like the ways this hydration mix tastes and it has the added benefit of B and C vitamins. 

I did not carb load per-se, but I was mindful of what I ate and I made sure to eat carbohydrate-rich foods. Some examples are oatmeal, bagels, muffins, rice, pretzels. Pretty basic!

The day before the race I ate the following:

  • 2 hardboiled eggs
  • A medium-sized pumpkin muffin
  • A turkey sandwich on a plain bagel with goat cheese
  • A banana
  • Lots of almond butter filled pretzels (Wegman's brand) - seriously a lot of these!
  • Drank about 8 ounces of beet juice just before noon
  • Had a beet salad with dinner
  • Chicken parm (no cheese) with spaghetti and Pomodoro sauce at local restaurant
  • Bread basket at dinner

2 hours before the race start:

  • About 10 ounces of fluids (water + Skratch Labs Hydration)
  • About 6-8 almond butter filled pretzels
  • Half a banana
All the fuel I brought, actual intake outlined below.
This is not much food. I used to eat a bagel with peanut butter + a banana but I found that to be too much. I normally do not eat before I run in the mornings so my body isn't used to having a ton of food.

25 minutes before the race:
  • Strawberry banana UCAN gel with 5-6 ounces of water. UCAN is a slow release energy so if you take it 25-30 minutes before start time it kicks in when the race starts and slowly releases energy. Maurten gels, on the other hand, deliver a burst of energy right when you take them.

Once I started racing:

I carried a 24 ounce bottle of water + Skratch Labs Hydration mix. This mix has electrolytes + carbs. I used 1.25 scoops which equates to 100 calories. After each mile marker: I took a small (1-2 ounce) sip from my bottle. I drank the entire bottle and was finished with it after 16 miles.

At mile 20, I took water from a water station and drank that while walking for 4-5 seconds. I probably got a good 4 ounces in. I had no other fluids after mile 20, which was fine for a cool day. I used this same strategy in Houston with warm temps and I ended up dehydrated.

I timed my gels as follows:

  • 0:20- 2 Honey Stringer chews
  • 0:40- Maurten gel
  • 1:20- Maurten gel
  • 2:00- Maurten CAF gel (my only caffiene)
  • 2:40 - Maurten gel
  • 3:00 - One honey stinger chew

Everything went down easily. I estimate that I consumed around 600 calories including the UCAN gel, Maurten gels, chews, and Skratch mix.

This could have been its own blog post but I like to write novel-length marathon race reports, so it's here. 

It was 38 degrees at the start and warmed up to around 52 by the finish. Winds were 2-5 mph and there were only a few times I noticed wind, mostly over the big bridge. The sky was mostly cloudy at the start and the sun started peaking though towards the end. It was quite humid in the beginning so 38 degrees felt more like 45 degrees - and Kathy and Greg agreed with this "real feel. On my personal weather scale it gets a 9 out of 10. It would have been a 10 if it stayed under 45 degrees and it was less humid. But 9 out of 10 is pretty darn good weather!

Time Goal:
Based on how great my training runs felt leading up to the race I knew my fitness was still intact. So I did not revise my goal from what I had originally planned for MCM: sub-3:20. This would be a men's BQ for age 45-49. The last time I ran sub 3:20 was in the fall of 2021 so I figured I should try to do that again before going for a PR (3:15:34). My marathon pace runs had averaged 7:25 for marathon pace, but I'm not bold enough to go for the marathon pace I run in training as it has never worked out for me. I thought 7:30-7:35 would be more realistic. I figured if I had a good day, I would run my second fastest marathon ever and it would be 3:17-3:18.

Additionally, I am registered for Boston in 2024. I used my 3:26 from Houston as my qualifying time. I thought that time might put me in wave three, which has a later start time. I wanted to submit a faster time to get back into wave 2 like I usually am. If you run a time faster than the time you registered with, Boston allows you to submit it for a faster wave/corral assignment.

Before the Race
I hadn't slept particularly well all week due to my body clock being "off" from daylight savings. I have a very rigid circadian rhythm and if it gets disrupted my sleep suffers. Thankfully I learned from CIM that you can have epically horrible sleep and still run well, so I was not concerned. The night before the race I got about six hours of mostly peaceful sleep. I went to bed at 8:20, woke up at 9:30 to go to the bathroom, slept from 9:45 to 2:00. And from 2:00-4:00 I was mostly awake but had some brief periods of sleep. I did not have any anxiety dreams about missing the race or any dreams about the race at all, which is rare.

I got out of bed at 5:00 and started eating (see above). I got dressed, which included putting body glide everywhere to avoid chafing. I also used a body marker to write on my arms which miles had the most uphill and which miles had the most downhill. That way I knew not to worry if I was going slower on the uphill portions or seemingly "too fast" when running downhill. I ultimately ran the race based on effort/feel, but it was nice to have a little guide of what to expect.

It was my 45th birthday. So the birthday text messages were already rolling in! I tried to minimize the time I spent on my phone so I could focus on getting ready and ensuring I had everything I needed. All of my fuel fit in my shorts pockets. For the honey stinger chews, I removed them from their package and wrapped them in tiny pieces of plastic wrap. The chews were mostly meant to be a backup plan in case I couldn't get the gels down. But they would also serve as supplemental energy as tolerated. 

I made sure my shoes were tied to a good comfort level, and tucked the loops of the laces under the firm laces to ensure they would not come undone. I learned the hard way in Houston when I had to stop to tie my shoe. I spent a few minutes using a massage ball on my glutes to help with glute activation. This was recommended by my physical therapist.

I left my hotel room at 6:30 and met my friend Kathy in the lobby. We chatted and that's when I had my UCAN gel. Shortly after we left the hotel and headed towards the start line. I tried to run there for a warmup but that was short lived because it became too crowded. Oh well, I would use the first mile as a warmup.

I lined up in the corral between the 3:10 pacers and the 3:25 pacers. There was no pace group for 3:20 or 3:15. I was happy about that because I don't run with pace groups and I find it annoying to be caught up in the big pack of runners. Since I was trying to run a time of around 3:18, I figured I should never see a pace group during this race if things went well.

Miles 1-6
The race seemed to start quite suddenly but I was ready. Mile 1 is always about finding a rhythm, especially since I hadn't warmed up. I go out at what feels like easy run pace and then adjust from there. I was expecting to see Greg at the first mile marker but I ended up seeing him a lot sooner. No worries, I was able to gracefully weave through the runners to greet him on the side of the course. 

Mile 1
I had studied the elevation profile of the course and I knew that these first six miles were slightly net uphill. I like to start conservatively so knowing these miles were net uphill meant I wanted to go even slower to avoid expending too much effort. 

A lot of people have conversations early in the race so eavesdropping is unavoidable. It was a nice distraction for me as I focused on their conversations instead of thinking about all the miles ahead of me. I stayed in the present. 

Somewhere around miles 4-5 the 3:25 pace group came up from behind me and I found myself caught up in them. I definitely did not want to be in the middle of the pack and even though I was confident in my own pacing, it was still somewhat demoralizing to have a pace group catch you. A 3:25 marathon is a pace of 7:48, and they were running notably faster. I dealt with it by speeding up to get out of the pack and once I felt like I was a good bit ahead of them I slowed back down. 

I removed my arm warmers at around mile 5 which was sooner than expected and I ditched my hand warmers not longer after. With temps ranging from 38 to 52, that was my layering strategy.

Mile 1: 7:43
Mile 2: 7:37
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:35
Mile 5: 7:36
Mile 6: 7:36

Miles 7-13
By this point the crowd had thinned out and I knew that my favorite part of the course was coming up. This portion runs down by the James River and it's quite scenic with all the fall colors. It's peaceful and mostly flat. There were a lot of curves during this section and a small part of torn up pavement. I had to watch my footing and pay attention to the tangents. But thankfully the pavement got better after about half a mile. The shoes were still feeling really comfortable and soft. 

As I was running mile 11, I said to the person next to me: it's mile 11 on 11-11 which is also my birthday! Let's make it a good mile! We chatted briefly and he asked me what my time goal was. I said 3:18 and he said 3:20. I lost track of him somewhere around mile 16 an I don't know if that's because I passed him or if he passed me. I wanted to savor every moment of this race. This was my birthday marathon and I almost didn't get to run a marathon due to my hip. I was grateful. I ran the entire race with gratitude. 

My splits below reflect the profile of the course. "Gently rolling hills" is an accurate description. None of the hills here were too crazy, but it made of uneven pacing. 

Mile 7: 7:17
Mile 8: 7:26
Mile 9: 7:30
Mile 10: 7:43
Mile 11: 7:18
Mile 12: 7:37
Mile 13: 7:18

Miles 14-20
My half marathon split was 1:38:58, which is an average pace of 7:33. I knew Greg was tracking me and I had told him to expect me in the high 1:38s or the low 1:39s, so I was executing exactly as planned. He later told me that he got no text message or email alerts. The tracking did not work. Oh well, at least I believed it was working and that helped me mentally!

At this point, I was on track to squeak under 3:18. Perfect. I felt really good but I had no idea how I would feel by mile 20 so it was too early to predict if I would be able to get under 3:18 or not. I stayed present and thankful of the fact that I was feeling good now, so I continued on. 

I did not turn up the gas intentionally but I got faster anyway. There were a few downhill miles which got me into a faster groove so I ran surprisingly fast during the toughest part of the course which are miles 16, 17 and 18. Those three miles are net uphill and include a bridge that is always windy even on non-windy days. I can easily see how those miles could be the beginning of the end for many runners!

In fact, once we were running over the bridge I didn't even realize we were on the bridge until I looked on either side of the course and noted it was mile 16. By this point I had finished all the water in my handheld bottle. Fueling was going according to plan and so far everything was sitting well. 

Mile 18
Once we were over the bridge I knew there would be two more uphill miles. At mile 16 I still I had no noticeable leg fatigue. I still felt fresh. Again, surreal!

I knew that Greg would be somewhere in the 18th mile and I found him at 17.5. I was so excited to see him. Before the race he asked me if I could give him some indication of how it was going at that point. I told him I would give him a thumbs up if it was going well. And he got a huge thumbs up from me! I was absolutely beaming. I had never felt so happy during the 18th mile of a marathon. 

Mile 14: 7:16 
Mile 15: 7:15
Mile 16: 7:39
Mile 17: 7:31
Mile 18: 7:26
Mile 19: 7:20
Mile 20: 7:30

Miles 20-26
I honestly could not believe how fast I was running. Similar to my mile repeat workout from 10 days earlier, I felt like I was running 7:45s when in reality I was running under 7:30. I think I must have been peaking at exactly the right time. And apparently all that time off from my hip did me some good and left me feeling fresh. I coached myself this training cycle so I gave myself a nice pat on the back for a job well done!

My official mile 20 split was 2:30:16, which is an average pace of 7:31. The tracking system was not working but I didn't know that. It perked me up to know that Greg could see how well it was going. 

I hadn't had anything to drink since mile marker 16 so I decided to walk through the next water station. I didn't want to stop again after that so I made sure to drink the entire cup which was probably 4-5 ounces. If it were warmer I would have needed more stops, but thankfully it was a cool day. The sun was starting to come out but it didn't seem to bother me.

I still had no idea what to expect from the rest of the race. Supposedly the last six miles were mostly downhill. But I remembered running the half marathon back in 2018 and it felt like there was still plenty of uphill in the last three miles, which are the same last three miles of the full marathon. 

My energy level was high and my spirits were high. I couldn't believe I was still going strong. Every time I glanced down at my watch my speed would blow my mind. Even though I wasn't on track to PR, I was not running this fast at the end of my PR marathon, which had been a positive split.

Mile 26
I didn't feel like I had faster gear, but the gear I was in was already plenty fast so I told myself to relax and hold it. I knew I had less than an hour to go and I could be mentally strong for less than an hour.

Miles 21-24 were magical. These are always the hardest miles of a marathon and they didn't feel nearly as hard as they usually do. Splits were 7:27, 7:13, 7:17, 7:19. UNREAL. I could not believe it.

The thought of getting a PR did cross my mind but I felt like I was very fragile at this point. Like I was so lucky to be doing what I was doing that any change in effort and it would all come crashing down. I was on a good path. No need to drastically shake things up. 

Mile 25 and 26 were the only truly hard miles of the race. My legs got achy and I was on autopilot. I didn't have much control over my speed, I just went with whatever I was given! I knew I was on track to crush my goal so I focused on taking it all in and remembering that marathons are what I love to do! I spend so much time and effort every day out of the year to prepare for this one day, this one moment. Mile 25 clocked in at 7:37 and mile 26 at 7:20.

I saw Greg just before mile marker 26. He snapped some photos and I knew the end was close!

The Finish
Richmond is known for its screaming downhill finish. Once you get to mile marker 26, the run to the finish line is a very steep downhill. I increased my cadence and let gravity do its thing. According to my Garmin, the last 0.31 miles was a pace of 6:11!

My official time was 3:16:04. This earned my 4th place in my new age group 45-49. 

It wasn't long before I vomited. For the past four years I have thrown up after every long distance race. It's inevitable. It doesn't mater how well the race goes, my digestive system shuts down. There was A LOT of vomit, but it was all liquid. It was a yellow-green liquid and I am not sure where that color came from. Once I got it all out I proceeded to find Greg. 

Before I did, someone stopped me and asked me to sign his copy of Boston Bound. Yes, it was another surreal moment. This person just happened to have his book with him at the finish line. I guess he brought it in hopes of seeing me. He ran a time of 3:10 so I guess he got his checked bag and then saw me. I signed the book for him and it made me so happy that someone brought my book to the finish line!

Greg and I were supposed to meet in the family meeting area, but I did not see that anywhere. I used someone's phone to call him and we eventually found each other. It was there that he told me he had no idea how I did because the tracking wasn't working. But he was able to zoom in on the photos he took of my watch to know it was going well.

We looked on his phone and found my official result. I was so happy with it! I was simply beaming and runner's high was in full swing.  Since tracking wasn't working I wasn't able to tell how Kathy or Laurena were doing. But I later learned that they both crushed their goals; they both qualified for Boston!

It was nearly a mile for us to walk back to the hotel. I was on Cloud 9 the whole time. My legs felt pretty good and nothing was hurting. Truly a rarity post-marathon. Back at the hotel I created my Instagram post and then took a shower. I read my splits to Greg and I was giddy with excitement.  45 was off to a great start. 

Here are some fun stats:

  • This was my 33rd marathon
  • This was my 14th BQ
  • I qualified by 33 minutes and 56 seconds
  • I qualified "like a man" by 3 minutes and 56 seconds
  • This is my biggest BQ cushion ever
  • I was 30 seconds slower than my PR of 3:15:34
  • This is my second fastest marathon ever
  • This is my fastest marathon on a hilly course
  • I placed 4 out of 164 women in my age group (45-49)
  • First half was 1:38:58, Second half was 1:37:08
  • This is a negative split by 1:40 
  • Miles 22, 23, and 24 were all sub-7:20 and they were relatively flat
  • I set a course PR by 40 minutes and 45 seconds; my time from 2007 was 3:56:41
  • I beat my Houston time from January by over 10 minutes
  • I will now be in wave 2 for Boston instead of wave 3
Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Everything worked out the way it was meant to. My hip injury was a blessing in disguise because the weather for MCM ended up being warm. And being injured on the cruise allowed me more time to enjoy the cruise instead of running on the treadmill. Once I flipped my mindset from a time goal to simply being grateful for the opportunity to run, then I was able to relax.

I missed two whole weeks of training and it didn't impact my fitness one bit! I expected it would, but I think it helped my body recover from all the hard work it did in August-early October.

I'm in excellent shape! This shows that I can coach myself successfully and I will continue to do so. I enjoy the freedom of switching things around to fit my schedule and I think I know what is best for my body at this point. Plus, I am a certified coach so I know how to build a plan. This will also save me money.

I coached myself with a few basic principles that I suspected would work best for me, given my history:
  • A short training cycle. No runs longer than 16 miles until 12 weeks out.
  • Focus more on high volume and less on long runs; no runs longer than 20 miles
  • High mileage doesn't wear me out - long runs do.
  • I get the biggest training benefit from running slightly faster than LT pace 
  • Easy runs should be no faster than 9:00 in the summer
In other words, pack very high volume over 6-8 weeks with 18 milers instead of 20 milers. That will have me peaking at just the right time. I do not think my training contributed to this injury because it was mostly nerve-based. I think running on the tapered brick boardwalk in Miami was the culprit because my hip started hurting about 5 hours later. 

There have been many marathons when I was in physically better shape than I am now, but other obstacles prevented me from running fast. I think I could have PR'ed any of these marathons:
  • Houston: 3:26 - Too hot and humid
  • Two Rivers: 3:19 - Injured during race, slightly overtrained
  • Harrisburg - 3:23- Digestive Issues
  • CIM - 3:22 - To hot and humid
  • Boston: 3:26: Torrential Downpour and 25 mph winds 

So much of it comes down to having a good day. Good weather, good fueling, good mindset, low stress other areas of life. It's admittedly been frustrating having had SO MANY cycles when I felt like I was in shape to PR but then the stars didn't align. Even though I technically didn't PR yesterday, I wasn't trying to do that. I still enjoyed that same magical feeling of exceeding expectations and having that race day magic. A PR is really just a technicality. It's my fastest race on hills and I am 45 years old, not 40. 

I'm encouraged by this race. I've shown that I can run really fast with self-coaching and through having a positive, relaxed mindset. I enjoyed every moment of this and I am glad I savored it.

Friday, October 27, 2023

TFL Trigger Points and Iliohypogastric Neuralgia

On Friday, October 13th, I noticed that my right hip was aching while climbing stairs. Ever since then, my hip has been the bane of my existence! 

All-brick boardwalk in Miami Beach
I'm going to include the timeline of the injury mainly so I can remember it in the future and for anyone else who has a sudden hip issue arise. But it will be quite boring for anyone who isn't me or anyone not suffering from a hip injury. So feel free to skim through or breeze past it to the next section. (Even the title of this blog post is boring in order to be searchable by anyone else suffering!)

Friday, October 13:
In the morning, I ran 8 miles on the all-brick boardwalk in Miami Beach. I was in Miami getting ready to board a cruise in the afternoon. We had flown in Thursday night so we'd have a night to "chill" in Miami before heading out the the Caribbean. 

I met up with another Instagram runner, Stephanie (@stephpiruns), for an 8-mile run. Originally I had put 18 miles on the schedule as my last long run before MCM. But then I decided to back that down to 14-16 given the heat. And then when the actual forecast came out for it to be unseasonably warm and humid even for Miami (dew point of 82) I backed it down even further to just 8 miles. 

The run felt great from a hip perspective, although I was absolutely drenched by the time we were finished. 

A few hours later, we boarded the cruise ship and then ascended a few flights of stairs to our room. It was at that point I noticed a slight ache in my hip. Something that I had not felt at all during the morning run or at any point in my training. When we got to the room, I moved my hips around and felt a deep ache when I moved my hips to the right. Weird!

Saturday, October 14
The next day, I foam rolled and did some gentle stretching before starting my treadmill run. I only made it
about two miles when I realized this might not be a good idea given the state of my hip. I felt it with every step. And even though it was only a 1.5-2 on the pain scale, it was one of those "I have nothing to gain by doing this but a lot to lose" moments with the marathon just two weeks away.

October 15-October 18
The cruise was a nice distraction from the hip. I was able to keep a positive mindset and enjoy the cruise with minimal hip obsession. I was comforted by the fact that I didn't "do anything" to injure my hip during that 8-mile boardwalk run, unless the brick surface really irritated something. 

In the mornings, I would do foam rolling and gentle stretching and a lot of Googling to figure out the source of the pain. Initially I thought it was an IT band issue, but towards the end of the cruise I had settled on TFL strain. I did not run on Sunday. I did 2-mile runs on Monday and Tuesday, both of which confirmed the pain was still there. On Wednesday I rested it again and that was the day we disembarked and flew back home.

What did this feel like at this point?
For anyone experiencing a similar pain, it felt like an extreme tightness and deep soreness all around the Iliac crest (pelvis bone that juts out). Both in front of the bone and behind it. The way I felt this pain was by putting all my weight on my right foot and cocking my hip out to the side/back. Otherwise, I had no hint of any issues at all. I had zero pain at rest. Zero pain walking. Mild pain while running. And a deep pain with that one motion. 

Thursday, October 19
I was miraculously able to see both my doctor and my physical therapist on my first full day back home. Usually my doctor has a 2-3 month wait, but he recently switched practices so his patients probably don't know how to find him! He's an amazing doctor and has a reputation for being one of the best in the area for sports medicine. 

He diagnosed me with "TFL Trigger Points" which are spasms at the muscle fiber level. He treated it by performing wet needling with an ultrasound, showing me where he was releasing the muscle. He also injected cortisone to near the surrounding nerves. He told me I should be 100% by the following Monday and if not, I should go back to see him again.

Saturday, October 21
This day was when the freakout finally happened! I had been calm, patient and positive up until Saturday. But when there was seemingly ZERO improvement on a 2-mile test run, I found myself down in the dumps. I threw myself a huge pity party. The sulking lasted all day. The doctor thought I would feel much better by Saturday and yet nothing had changed. Thus, I was discouraged. Defeated! DEFLATED!

I did not run on Sunday but tried again on Monday, because Monday was supposed to be the 100% day. The first two miles were mostly pain free but after that, there was no denying that the pain was still there. 

Tuesday, October 24
I returned to the doctor and he said that while there definitely were trigger points when he had seen me the previous week, he thought there could also be a nerve issue. He identified the nerve as the Iliohypogastric nerve, which runs right over the iliac crest. It was time for more injections! This time the goal was to get cortisone around that specific nerve at the specific spot where it was most painful. The nerve he targeted last time was a different one. Using an ultrasound, he found the nerve, I told him where the pain was most intense, and he injected it. 

The doctor was confident in his diagnosis and treatment and confirmed that the bone and tendons were in
The red arrow is where the nerve hurts!

good shape. We just needed time for the cortisone to work around the nerve. 

Per his direction, I rested on Wednesday and Thursday, making sure to ice the hip on a frequent basis.

Friday, October 27
With the doctor's green light to resume running, I tried running again today. And it was not 100% pain free, but the pain had changed quite a bit. Previously while running, there was a large area of soreness and tightness all around that TFL. Now, the area of pain was a quarter-sized area, concentrated right over the bone of the iliac crest. 

Imagine you bang your hip on something, it bruises, and whenever you touch it, it feels tender. That's what running felt like. Every step I took felt like I had a bruise that was being poked-- right over the bone. 

The good news is: 
  • The area of pain is smaller
  • The area of pain is quite superficial (close to the skin)
  • The pain didn't seem to worsen over the course of 4 miles 
  • The pain was never more than 1.5 out of 10 on the pain scale
  • I had no pain after the run, and I walked a full pain-free mile afterwards
The bad news is:
  • I am not 100% pain free
  • I am not sure what would happen if I did a long run or speed work
  • Definitely no Marine Corps Marathon (although would I have run it anyway in the 70-degree heat?)
What next?
In a situation like this, the only thing I can do is take it one day at a time. The doctor did a thorough exam and an x-ray and was confident in his diagnosis, so I have to believe it's just a nerve that needs to calm down and the cortisone will start to kick in over the next few days. 

In terms of running, my rule of thumb is to never let it go above a 2 on the pain scale. If it starts to do that, I will stop immediately and walk home or call Greg. 

I am eying Richmond and Philadelphia as possible backups. If I don't end up doing either of those, then I am not sure I want to keep marathon training this season. I'll just have to see how I feel.

I ended my pity party with acceptance, so now that I have reached that stage I am mentally handling things pretty well. I have accepted that a fall marathon might not be in the cards. It's frustrating and disappointing, but it's all part of running.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Boston Marathon Controversies Galore!

Last week the B.A.A. announced that 11,000 qualifiers would not be admitted into the Boston Marathon. The qualifier field was limited to just over 22,000 runners and the race had 33,058 applicants. Anyone who did not run at least 5 minutes and 29 seconds faster than their qualifying standard was denied entry.  A week later, Tracksmith announced that their BQ singlet would only be available to those runners who had been accepted (22,019 runners), not to all qualifiers. 

Everything in the above paragraph caused quite a bit of controversy. I'll provide an overview of the controversies along with my take on each.

Are the women's qualifying standards "softer" than the men's? I've heard this claim quite frequently: It's easier for women to gain entry into the Boston Marathon than it is for men. Support for this argument is that if you compare elite men to elite women, the top men are less than 20 minutes faster than the women. Instead of the women's qualifying standards being 30 minutes slower than the men's times, they should only be 20 minutes slower. 

There's no data to support the claim of the women's times being easier. Most notably, the Boston Marathon accepted 12,535 male qualifiers and 9,440 female qualifiers. If the B.A.A. made it harder for women to get in, there would be even fewer women in the race. 

Further, as the times get slower, the percentage of time difference shrinks. Here's an example. Let's say you have an elite male running a time of 2:05 and an elite female running a time of 2:25. That's a 20-minute difference, and 20 minutes is 16% of 2:05. So the elite female ran 16% slower than the male. Now let's look at an amateur male running a time of 3:10 vs. a woman running 20 minutes slower at 3:30. In this case, the woman has run only 10.5% slower than the man. The gap between a 2:05 and a 2:25 is therefore a larger gap than 3:10 and 3:30. If the percentage difference of 16 were to be maintained, the equivalent amateur woman's time would be. . . 30 minutes slower at 3:40.

So you cannot look at the elite field and say, "the men's and women's times are so much closer together than the 30-minute difference in BQ standards." It's true in terms of actual minutes on the clock. But not in terms of percentage difference. 

All that being said, it does "seem like" the women's times are easier. On a gut instinct level it just seems like it's harder for a man to run a 3:10 than it is for a woman to run a 3:40. And you could potentially say that there would be far more women qualifying for Boston if women trained as hard as men did. And that women, on average, do not train as hard because a certain percentage of them are pregnant or postpartum. But once again, all of this is based on gut feeling and I haven't seen any data to support this claim. 

To sum up, it may "feel like" the women's times are softer, but the data indicates that it is not easier for women to qualify for Boston than it is for men. And I believe the goal of the B.A.A. with their standards is to have a relatively equal number of runners from each group and not to make standards that are equally physically challenging. You'd almost never have an elite male beat the qualifying standard by over an hour, but there are older women who have beat their standards by over an hour.

Is the non-binary category fair?
44 non binary athletes were accepted into the Boston Marathon. I've heard all sorts of perspectives on this one. Before I get into it, the non-binary qualifying standards are the same as the women's standards. The B.A.A. says they do not yet have enough data to determine what the actual standard should be yet, so for 2024 they are going with the women's standards. 

At one extreme you have people saying that the non-binary category makes it easy for men to cheat their way in under the women's standards. And so the race is soon going to be full of men pretending to be non-binary. On the other extreme you have people saying that Boston is still not inclusive enough. I've also heard the argument "why do people care about the non-binary category-- it doesn't affect them." 

My thoughts on this issue are that it all goes back to the B.A.A. and their goals. If everything was 100% "fair" (which would be impossible anyway) then you probably wouldn't have a situation in which a woman in her 60s can beat her BQ time by over an hour but a young elite male cannot. With this non-binary category, their goal is to show inclusivity. The goal isn't necessarily to be fair, and that's their prerogative; it's their race. 

Remember the vaccine mandates from 2022? The goal was not to Covid-proof the race; that would be impossible. (There was no requirements for volunteers, etc.) The goals were to comply with local town ordinances and make runners feel safe. Many runners, myself included, didn't think the mandates were fair. But the B.A.A. is not obligated to be fair. 

To qualify as non-binary you must have qualified in another race in the non-binary category. Will there be runners who take advantage of this? Potentially, but that's really going to an extreme length to cheat your way into the race. What about the non-binary runners who have male genetics who can qualify under the same standards as the women? Yes, those runners have an advantage. The mere act of identifying as non-binary has not changed their physical abilities. 

The problem that the B.A.A. is running into is that they are trying to be as inclusive as possible while also being exclusive. And it's not possible to do both. And it's definitely not possible to do both 100% fairly. Someone is always going to have an unfair advantage.

The notion that they are going to look at non-binary data seems fruitless because identifying as non-binary has nothing to do with one's physical abilities as a runner. I am not sure what they are expecting to find. And even if they did end up making the non-binary standards the same as the men's standards, they would receive backlash for not being inclusive.

Finally, I'll address this position: "The non-binary category doesn't impact you - just focus on your own BQ." For the sake of one's own mental health, it's always best to focus primarily on the things you can control. But if everyone did that all the time on every issue, society would likely collapse. Healthy debate is good for all communities, including the running community. You don't want to be fully entrenched in social media debates about non-binary athletes running a marathon, but you also don't want to be completely blind and isolated from what is happening in the world around you. 

This debate should not be centered around the non-binary athletes themselves, but the policies of the B.A.A.

Should extreme downhill races be allowed as Boston Qualifiers?
Extreme downhill races like those found in the "Revel" series are often blamed for the increase in the number of Boston qualifiers. Are these courses fair?

Having never run one of these courses I am not in a position to weigh in authoritatively. But this is my blog so I will share my non-authoritative thoughts. 

The only marathon I ever ran that had a net downhill greater than Boston was Sugarloaf in 2019. That was not one of my faster marathons, but I was also suffering from hypothermia at the end. CIM might also fall into that camp, but CIM is nothing like the Revel races, which have thousands of feet of elevation loss.

I've heard that extreme downhill races come with their own challenges like beating up the quads. Aerobically it might be a walk in the park, but you still need your legs to carry you to the finish line. All of that being said, the data shows that these courses are notably faster than courses with a net-even elevation. Does that mean they should be excluded as qualifying races?

If it were up to me I would institute a limit on the amount of elevation loss permitted. It might be fair to say the Boston Qualifying race cannot have a net elevation loss that is greater than the Boston Marathon's own elevation loss. Not to discount the achievement of runners who participate in Revel, but to level the playing field for one particular race, which is Boston.

The reality is that these races would have far fewer participants if they were not eligible for Boston. If Boston axed them it would potentially put these races out of business. Are they going to do that? Unlikely. Plus, these races are open to all runners. Anyone who wants the advantage of the downhill can run a Revel race. 

What in the world is up with Tracksmith?
Less than one week after the B.A.A. announced that over 11,000 qualifiers did not gain entry into the Boston Marathon, Trackmith added insult to injury by releasing a BQ singlet only available to confirmed entrants. They would not sell the "BQ" singlet to runners who actually did the thing that the singlet says! 

Now, if the singlet said "BQ - 5:29" then, okay. Or if it said "I was accepted into Boston 2024" then, okay.  But that's not what the singlet says. If it's a BQ singlet it should be available to all qualifiers. I applaud Tracksmith for celebrating the accomplishment of a BQ, but they undermined their own celebration by talking down to those qualifiers that were not accepted into the marathon.

The backlash on Tracksmith was intense because their post on social media was about much more than the singlet. It began with the quote "This isn't a jogging race," as if the 11,000 non-accepted BQers jogged their way to the finish line. The tone of the post was elitist in several ways and Tracksmith finally took the post down and issued an apology post the following day. 

This social media post raised the following question by many - is Tracksmith an inclusive brand? What exactly does it mean to be "inclusive" anyway? I'd argue that it's an ideal which is impossible to attain in reality. Featuring runners of diverse ethnic backgrounds does not automatically make you inclusive. Especially not when you charge $48 for a pair of underwear

Putting on my marketing hat, this is a huge gaffe. You do not post something that feels elitist to a large percentage of your customer base. Especially after these runners worked hard to qualify for Boston, only to be turned away less than one week prior! Issuing the apology was definitely the right thing to do, but it will not be 100% damage control for the brand.

Will I still buy Tracksmith? I have a love/hate relationship with the brand. So sure, I will still buy their stuff from time to time. Thankfully they apologized, but I was never 100% sold on their messaging to begin with. Something about the brand has always rubbed me the wrong way in terms of being borderline pretentious.

I have noticed a decline in their service over the past year. They used to ship their items out immediately and for my last order it took them 5 days to ship the order, plus additional time for it to be delivered. Their prices have increased but their processing speed has decreased. I much prefer rabbit to Tracksmith; rabbit is a feel-good, happy brand with fun colors and styles. California-based rabbit has much better options for summer running, but Boston-based Tracksmith has better options for colder months.

Final Thoughts
The common theme with my take on these controversies is that you cannot be "inclusive" and "exclusive" at the same time; that's a losing battle. The notion of 100% fairness is unrealistic, especially when "fair" isn't necessarily the goal. It seems like the B.A.A. is opting for equal representation across ages and genders instead of making things equally physically challenging across the board. Tracksmith will continue to face backlash. Feel free to disagree. These are, after all, controversies. All I ask is that you keep it respectful!