Friday, August 18, 2023

5K at the Beach

Greg and I are in the Outer Banks of North Carolina this week on vacation. We often come here in the summer and I have been coming here since childhood. They have a race series that's held every week so naturally I take part! 

Most recently I ran this race in 2021. (We were in Africa last summer). One of my friends was coincidentally staying less than a mile from us so I persuaded her to sign up and run it with me. Greg also ran it in 2021. 

This year my friend is not at the beach and Greg is STILL suffering from his groin injury. So I was on my own. 

I figured this would be a good "cutback" week for Marine Corps Marathon training. In my previous post, I showed how I have been steadily building for multiple weeks, so it was time for a cutback. I ran my long run on Friday last week because we left for the beach early on Saturday morning. Saturday was my rest day. 

On Sunday, I ran on a track here at the beach for my final "tune-up" workout. It was crazy warm and humid (80 degrees!) but I managed to hit all of my paces anyway. This gave me confidence that I was in good shape for the race. It was three sets of 3 x 400m, getting progressively faster with each set but extending the recovery jogs in between reps. 

Monday through Wednesday were all easy days with low mileage. Even though it's significantly warmer and more humid here than it is at home, I don't mind it because I enjoy the change of scenery. And the ocean air feels much fresher than the suffocating DC swampy air.

I wasn't consciously nervous for the race yesterday morning but my stomach indicated otherwise. I must have gone to the bathroom nearly 10 times before the race. I had a handful of almond butter pretzels at around 6:15 and then a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the start of the race. I had been hydrating all week, drinking over 70 ounces each day with added electrolytes. 

Before the Race
As we drove to the race it was pouring rain. I did not bring a running hat with me because I didn't consider the possibility that it would rain. But thankfully the rain stopped shortly after we arrived. I picked up my bib at 7:15 for an 8:00 start time. The person who parked next to us recognized me from Instagram so we chatted for a bit.

It was 78 degrees with a dew point of 74. Not as hot as last year because it had just rained and the sky was overcast. There were a few windy parts along the course but nothing unmanageable. 

I warmed up for 1.7 miles. My legs and body felt good but I felt slightly nauseous. It felt a lot like pre-race jitters but I honestly was not nervous about such a low-key beach race. I guess my mind was anticipating the pain cave I was about to enter!

Goals and Strategy
My only goal was to beat my 2021 time. I am in about the same spot I was in my training back then so I figured that was a realistic goal. I wouldn't have my friend Meredith to push me at the end, but I told myself I would try to channel that energy anyway. My 2021 time was 21:12 with splits of 6:57, 7:03, 6:47. This morning, I decided I would try and run it at a pace of 6:50 for the first two miles and try to hang on at the end as best as possible.

Mile 1: 6:51
I thought I started out fast off the line but yet about half the runners blew by me. There were 58 runners total but it was a competitive field. Still, I knew I would be passing many of them because it was unlikely that so many people could maintain a sub 6:40 pace. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw I was running a 6:45 (target was 6:50) so I held back even more and told myself to be patient. 

I was running directly behind a woman for most of the first mile but then passed her as we approached the 1 mile mark. I was pretty sure there were only two more women ahead of me, but they were WAY ahead so I knew I wouldn't catch them. 

Mile 2: 7:00
This was my slowest mile in 2021 and I knew there would be a few small hills. Plus, mile 2 is always really difficult mentally in a 5K. I passed a few guys during this mile but I didn't feel all that strong. The humidity was zapping my energy even though I had only been running for 10 minutes. I ran this mile 10 seconds slower than my 6:50 target but I knew I could speed up at the end and make that time back.

Mile 3: 6:54
I really didn't think I would be able to hold on. It was hard to motivate myself to push because I was on vacation and this was a beach race! I had to convince myself that I actually cared and that I seriously wanted to beat my time from two years ago. I passed a guy toward the end of the mile which really perked me up. I remembered back to literally racing my friend Meredith and tried to draw motivation from that.

Last 0.7: Unknown
I stopped my Garmin as I crossed the finish line but then realized a little later that it didn't actually stop. So I have no idea how fast my final kick was. But it was pretty fast. I saw the clock ticking closer and closer to the dreaded 21:12 and I did everything in my power to get under it.

After the Race
I ended up coming in 3rd place out of the women and 8th overall. There were a bunch of speedy women not far behind me either. Lots of women ran under 22:00 minutes, which is impressive given there were only 58 total participants. My official time was 21:09, which is 3 seconds faster than my time from two years ago! 

And if there was any doubt, this race is also a Strava segment and Strava agreed that I had, in fact, set a PR on that segment. I know it's super small, but when you work so hard for every second, the seconds matter!

Of course my inner skeptic is telling me that it was slightly cooler this year with more cloud cover. So I should be faster just based on race conditions. But in actuality it was still humid as f*ck. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I am happy with my performance but I'm not analyzing this one too much. I didn't have a ton of motivation since I am in "beach mode" and I didn't feel all that great at the start line. If I really want to test my fitness I will have to wait until the dew point is much lower. 

It feels great to have placed third and to have run faster than I did in 2021. This was a good, hard tempo that will add to my marathon training bank. I had fun racing and meeting new people and Greg was amazing with his camera work. 

My next race is a 5K in September and I may be more excited about this next 5K than any 5K I have ever run in my lifetime. Why?! You will just have to wait and see, but are welcome to guess in the comments.

Monday, August 7, 2023

I'm Training for the Marine Corps Marathon

I officially announced on my Instagram that I am training for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) but I am not sure how formal of an announcement I made here. Even though I live 25 minutes from the start line and I love this marathon, I have only run it one time! Out of 33 marathons, only 1 of them was my hometown marathon.

Marine Corps Marathon 2006
I ran the MCM back in 2006. It was my second marathon. I loved every moment of the race and finished in a time of 4:24:39, which was a PR by over 20 minutes from marathon #1 in Delaware. This was before I had a Garmin. Before I had an Instagram following. Before I had a husband. Before I had adidas carbon fiber plate running shoes. A different world, indeed!

The reason I never returned was twofold. 1) I wanted to experience a variety of marathons and locations. 2) I typically prefer later fall marathons so I don't have to train in the heat as much, and there is a greater likelihood of cool weather. The Richmond marathon is two weeks after Marine Corps so if I was going to run something close to home, that race always seemed like a better target. 

But now that I have successfully run a warm marathon (Houston in 65-degree weather) I know I can be okay if we have an unseasonably warm day in late October. Plus, I have always wanted to run MCM again and it feels long overdue.

I do consider Richmond a fallback if the MCM weather is forecast to be over 65 degrees or if I get sick. I am going on a cruise two weeks before the marathon, which is just a breeding ground for germs. Not to mention the flights. The timing of the cruise isn't ideal, but a few family members had already booked it and invited me. I don't often have the opportunity to vacation with family. I'll do whatever I can to prevent getting sick, but if I do, I'll deal with it and then run Richmond.

My goal is to run a faster time than I ran in Houston so I can have a lower bib number in Boston next Spring. I feel like that's such a superficial, petty goal-- to care about a bib number and a corral. But it's motivating for me! A sub-3:26 is also a low bar for me given that I have run many marathons faster than that. So ideally I would run faster than 3:20. It will mostly depend on how training goes and how cool the weather is. 

Training Progress
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am coaching myself for this one. So far it's been going really well. I have written myself a plan that goes all the way to race day and making minor adjustments here and there. I am always asking myself "does this workout make sense for where I am in training?" and twice the answer has been "no" so I made modifications.

I turned a six-mile steady state run into a 2-mile tempo followed by 2 x 1 mile at 10K effort. A six-mile workout seemed like a big jump and I think I generally get more benefit of running at 10K effort than steady state, which is slightly slower than Lactate Threshold. Self coaching involves knowing what works for me, being aware of the stage of training I'm in, and adjusting for the weather if needed.

It wouldn't be a training update without a graph. So here's mine:

As you can see, I have steadily increased my volume this summer. I am planning a "down week" for the week of August 14th to allow my body to recover and absorb all the work I've been doing. So far, my longest run has been 14 miles and I plan to run a 15-miler this weekend.

One of the foundations of my plan is that I don't want to do a lot of runs that are longer than 16 miles. When I was training for Indianapolis/Houston at the end of last year, I started to dread my long runs. I felt burnt out on them. I was perfectly fine to run speed work or easy runs - but long runs felt treacherous. And looking back on my training log, I have found that I don't need a ton of long runs to run a fast marathon as long as I have high volume. It's preferable to spread the mileage out over the week instead of lumping it all into one run. 

My first 16 miler will be 9 weeks out. And then I will run longer for all the subsequent weekends, except for the week in which I race a half marathon. With only two months of 16+ milers I think I can run a strong marathon and avoid the mental fatigue of too many long runs. Another benefit of this approach is that by the time I get to 16 miles, the weather should be a bit cooler, even if just by a few degrees.

Injury watch-outs
At my age, injury prevention is more important than ever. I am doing strength training twice per week and having physical therapy appointments as needed. Here are the three areas that I am watching closely:

  • Achilles. I'm pleasantly surprised that my Achilles tendinopathy has not flared up. Even after some pretty intense hill workouts my Achilles felt okay. And the long runs haven't been irritating it too much. I always have some tenderness when walking downstairs, but overall my Achilles feel better than they did throughout all of 2022. I hope this continues!
  • SI Joint. I somehow got out of alignment (probably by squatting or deadlifting weights) and for about two days my SI Joint was irritated. I went straight to physical therapy to get it adjusted and that worked wonders. I didn't have to take any time off for it! If only I had gotten an adjustment sooner in the spring of 2022, I wouldn't have had to take 9 days off, get an MRI, freak out right before Boston, etc. The pain is now completely gone.
  • Morton's Neuroma. This problem reared its ugly head again for the first time in five years. I didn't waste any time. As soon as I started to feel pain I went to my podiatrist to get alcohol shots, which have shrunk the neuroma in the past. That pain has also gone away. 
Aside from these minor issues, I have been feeling great. My runs have felt energized despite the steamy weather. I've been getting plenty of high-quality sleep and I've been tracking my daily water intake. I drink anywhere from 55-70 ounces of water a day. Often with Uppermost hydration mix.

So, that's my update! I am really excited about running the MCM for the first time in 17 years! It will be interesting to see how 44-year-old Elizabeth compares to 27-year-old Elizabeth.