Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Perfect 10: Perfectly Wet!

I was supposed to run the Susquehanna River Half Marathon yesterday, but it was cancelled due to a tropical storm. This did not come as a surprise to me as the course runs over a mile-long bridge and the forecast called for gusts of over 35 mph. Thankfully I was able to cancel my hotel room with no penalty and the race offered a 50% voucher towards next year's event. I was really excited about the course so I hope to do it next year.

So instead of running the half marathon yesterday, I ran a local ten-mile race day called "The Perfect 10." Runners choose between a 10K or a 10 miler. I had run this same course back in 2015, also as a backup race for a half marathon that was canceled due to weather. My time was 1:15:31 back then. I reviewed my Strava data to get re-acquainted with the course profile and I remembered running a really strong race.

Why is this race always my backup and not my goal race? Mainly because it's not in a particularly exciting location, or a location that's new to me. It's also quite hilly. And I prefer half marathon tune-up races over 10 mile races. But I do enjoy races put on by our local running store, Potomac River Running. I knew the race would be well managed and I'd probably know other runners.

I received the cancellation email when I woke up on Friday morning. I registered for the 10 miler that same day and went to pick up my bib. On Saturday morning the storm was in full swing so I did my shakeout run on the treadmill: an easy 30 minutes.

Before the Race
I was quite indecisive about my outfit. On the one hand, it was forecast to be 62 degrees, which meant shorts and a sports bra. On the other hand, it was supposed to be rainy and windy which meant it would feel colder. I remembered the Firecracker 5K from July when I raced in a wet tank top and the cooling effect it had. So I figured I would wear a form-fitted tank top and longer-than-normal compression shorts. The hope was that these clothes would feel cool against my body and be tight enough not to be flapping around.

On the topic of weather, I give this weather a 6 out of 10 on my race weather scale. It was 62 degrees with 100% humidity and a light steady rain. Thankfully the wind was light at around 8 mph. If it had rained any harder, I would have given this a 5. If it didn't rain at all, I would have given this a 4. But it was the PERFECT amount of rain to keep me cool without being a heavy downpour. So, yay for the perfect rain!

We arrived about an hour before the race started. I drank a serving of UCAN Energy Powder in the car. I have been using this more and more before my long runs and it's been working well. There was a time when I had stopped using it due to stomach distress but I think that was a one-off incident. After that was done, I used the bathroom and started my warm up. 

The original plan was to run at least 13 miles so I would have the distance of a half marathon, but then I realized that 1 or 2 extra miles would not make a difference in the grand scheme of things so I warmed up for 2.3 miles. 

Greg played the role of cheerleader and videographer for this race. His injury is finally starting to heal but he's not ready to run quite yet. He wore a big poncho that was the same shade of red as the demons in the movie The Village. We had just watched this movie a week prior so it was fresh in our minds. Those demons where referred to "Those of Whom We Do Not Speak" so we kept making jokes about how Greg was one of Those of Whom We Do Not Speak. If you saw the movie and Greg in the poncho, you'd get it.

Miles 1-3
The 10K and 10 mile runners started together. After 6 miles the 10K runners would turn off towards the finish line and the 10-mile runners would run a 4-mile loop to get to the same finish line. I didn't really

Mile 1, photo by Cheryl Young
have a time goal for this race. It was too hilly for it to be a true predictor of my Marine Corps Marathon time, so I decided it would be nice to beat my 2015 time (1:15:31) by at least two minutes, and ideally run under 1:13. If I was having a good day, maybe I could squeak under 1:12.

The race started and I realized it was on the small side for a Potomac River Running race. I think a lot of people must have bailed due to the weather. My physical therapist was supposed to run it and I didn't see him. I am guessing his absence was not weather-related though. 

The roads were soaked and I didn't even try to dodge the puddles. I did have to be extra careful with the potholes and there were places with a lot of fallen acorns that were also challenging. 

I took a caffeinated Maurten gel about 5 minutes into the race. It didn't sit well and I had a nauseous feeling for the next 10 minutes.  

I remembered my 2015 splits and and pacing. I paced it really well in 2015 so I tried to mimic that strategy. The first three miles were hilly but they were mostly equal parts uphill and equal parts downhill.

Mile 1: 7:03
Mile 2: 7:05
Mile 3: 7:18

Miles 4-6
As you can see, my pacing wasn't exactly going in the right direction. But I wasn't discouraged because I knew I was keeping the effort steady. In 2015, mile 4 was my slowest mile. So I gave myself some grace here. I knew, however, that I would be rewarded with a very fast mile 5. As I was giving myself grace, two runners passed me. One of whom was a female. I glanced at her bib to see if she was running the 10K or the 10 mile. I could see that the corner of it was a darker shade of blue which meant she was in the 10 miler. I told myself not to get too competitive at this stage in the game. I could catch up later.

She was ahead of me for maybe half a mile and then as we started descending the hill I was able to pass her. 

I saw Greg at mile 6 as we approached the start/finish, which is where the 10K runners were turning off. At this point, he told me that I was in second place. I honestly had no idea where I was in the field because I couldn't tell which runners were in the 10K vs. the 10 miler. But second place, that was pretty awesome. I hoped I could hold onto that. 

Mile 4: 7:25
Mile 5: 6:55
Mile 6: 7:04

Miles 7-10
I knew to expect that miles 7 and 8 were net uphill and miles 9 and 10 were net downhill. Mentally I told myself I just had to get to mile marker 9 and then I would mostly be done with the uphill. It didn't exactly
go that way and the ups and downs weren't exactly where I expected. But I told myself just to roll with it. I had another Maurten gel at the start of the 7th mile - this time without the caffeine. I only had half of it though because I didn't need the whole thing to get me through about 30 minutes of work. It didn't sit well but thankfully I was only uncomfortable for a few minutes. 

My legs were starting to feel pretty beat up by this point. They had zero pep going up the hills. I did not feel like I had strong legs at all. From a cardiovascular perspective, I think I had a little more to give. But my legs didn't want any part of it!

Running to the finish!
My biggest focus now was to hang in there enough so that the woman I had passed earlier in the race didn't catch up. I wanted to solidify my second place position. 

Unfortunately mile 9 was not the big downhill I had expected based on the elevation data. But mile 10 had a nice decline. 

The finish of this race was not nice. They had us run through the high school parking lot, down a hill, and then do a hairpin turn to come back up that same hill! And then down a hill with a few turns onto a track. But we only got to run about 100 meters on the track. At the hairpin turn I saw my competition about 20 seconds behind me. If she had a good final kick she could maybe close the gap. This motivated me to give it all I had, while also minding the pot holes and bumpy pavement in the school parking lot.

Mile 7: 7:42 (yikes!)
Mile 8: 7:25
Mile 9: 7:27
Mile 10: 7:03
Last 0.06 on my Garmin: 6:38 pace

I sprinted through the finish line with an official time of 1:12:53. I was the second female finisher! The First place female was over 8 minutes ahead of me; there was no attempt to catch her. 

After the Race
I reunited with Greg and it wasn't long before my typical dry heaving started. This was never an issue in my 30s. But once I turned 40 it's happened at almost every race longer than a 10K. And if it's not dry heaving, it's actual vomit.

Instead of doing a cool down run I decided to prioritize getting warm. Even though it was 62 degrees I was soaked and I did not want to risk hypothermia. I learned my lesson on that last year! I changed into dry clothing immediately and waited for the awards to start. 

I won a gift certificate to the running store which more than made up for the registration fee. Then we drove home and I was quick to get into a nice warm bath.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
During the race and immediately after I wasn't too pleased with my performance. It got very hard in the last 4 miles and I slowed down. But the more I thought about it from all angles, the more I realized that this was a strong performance. 

  • Even though I had better pacing in 2015, it was 35 degrees cooler back then (the early March rendition of this same race).
  • Speaking of 2015, my original goal was to beat that time by two minutes, and I beat it by more than 2:30! In much warmer weather!
  • Speaking of weather, even though the rain made this manageable for me, the humidity still posed a
    challenge. Running these kind of paces in temps above 60 degrees is really good for me. Especially on hills.
  • Speaking of hills, I am sure I used extra muscles to stabilize myself on the downhills with the wet pavement. You have to be careful running downhill on wet pavement to not bite it! Especially in the adidas Adios Pro which has almost no traction.
  • This course is not a good predictor for what I will be able to accomplish at MCM. All things being equal, the McMillan Running Calculator has me at 3:24. But all things will not be equal because MCM is far less hilly, and should be cooler. I'll also have an additional 5 weeks of training under my belt. So my MCM goal of sub 3:20 seems realistic if the stars align.
  • Speaking of 5 weeks of training - I'm getting so close! I really only have two big weeks ahead of me and then I go on a cruise. During which I pray not to get sick. I know it's not the smartest idea to go on a cruise two weeks before a marathon, but my sister invited me and we haven't been on vacation together in a long time.
Provided that I don't get sick and that we don't have tropical weather on race day, I think I am good to go for Marine Corps. I have been having some minor high hamstring irritation, but I am keeping that under control with physical therapy. Today's race did not seem to make it worse; I hope I still feel this way tomorrow morning. 

Overall a fun morning and I am really glad I showed up!

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Zebra Dazzle 5K

I've been waiting my entire 20-year running career for a race like this. A zebra-themed 5K! A dazzle is group of zebras, so "Zebra Dazzle" was an appropriate name. 

This race was held in Washington DC to benefit the Amyloidosis Foundation. It was organized by the sister of a woman who passed away from this rare disease.

Team ACE of Stripes
My friend Cheryl discovered this race when she was searching for local races. When she shared it with me, I knew it was something I had to participate in. I'm extremely fortunate to have two good friends, Cheryl and Allison, who were willing to dress in zebra print and run this race with me!

We planned our matching outfits in advance. We each bought the same pair of zebra shorts, which Allison and Cheryl later told me would be their spectating gear for the Marine Corps Marathon! I love how they are so zebra-spirited! 

We registered as a team. There were no team awards, but in the results our team name showed up next to each of our names, which was cool. We settled on ACE of Stripes: A for Allison, C for Cheryl, and E for Elizabeth. 

Before the Race
I was so excited about this race! I got dressed in my zebra shorts and matching crop top. The crop top was actually a gift from Cheryl before we even got the matching shorts. Of course I had my Zensah Zebra socks and matching adidas Adios Pro shoes. 

It took us about 45 minutes to drive to the race in Rock Creek Park. When we got there, we noticed they had fun signs along the course. Each sign had a zebra on it with a motivational message. I was loving it so much. The shirt also had a photo of a zebra on it next to a runner. Best race shirt ever!

Course signage

We warmed up for about 20 minutes and then we were ready to go. It was 57 degrees and sunny with low humidity. Unseasonably cool for this time of year! We definitely lucked out. I would normally give this a 6 out of 10 on my race weather scale but since it's only mid-September I will bump that up to an 8. You actually couldn't ask for anything better this time of year, but that does not automatically make it a 10! In my world, it's not possible to get a 10 unless it's October through April. 

My main goal was to look like a zebra and I think I accomplished that.  I got so many compliments on my outfit. And of course another key goal was to have a fun morning with my friends. I also thought that the awards might have zebras on them so I was hoping to win an award. I didn't have a goal pace or time because I was mainly doing this as a workout. I have a 20-mile run on tap tomorrow so I didn't want to go all out. I decided I would run as hard as I could to feel like I got a good workout in.

Course Elevation Profile

Mile 1
The race started and two little boys ran out in front. I think they were about 10 years old. I decided to run with Cheryl until we saw Greg for our photo opp. Allison stayed back as she is just getting back into running.

I sped up to where one of the kids was and I said "there's a zebra chasing you!" and that really motivated him to go faster. But it wasn't long before he realized he couldn't keep up. That's when he quickly developed a new plan: block my path so I couldn't run faster than him. I would run around him and get ahead, and then he would sprint and cut me off, and get right in font of me and walk. This was quite dangerous because we were on a steep downhill, I was running at around a 7:15 pace and he kept cutting me off and stopping in front of me. 

He was only 10, so he didn't know any better and I was nice about it. I told him he shouldn't right in front of me because I might run into him. But he did not listen. This happened for about 2 minutes until he finally gave up. The stopping and starting was definitely annoying on the steep downhill, but thankfully it didn't last long. By mile marker 1 I was leading the race; there weren't even any men ahead of me.

I had't been looking at my Garmin because I really didn't care about my time, but mile 1 clocked in at 7:13. Effort wise I was probably running slower than marathon effort since the whole mile was downhill and it was nice and cool. Granted, I was primarily focused on a photo opportunity and not running over a child - so I have an excuse!

Mile 2
It was an out-and-back course. When my Garmin reached 1.55 I saw a woman sitting in a chair and I assumed she was the person manning the turnaround station. Since I was the first runner she wasn't quite prepared. I asked her if I should turn around and she said yes.

The course was part of a popular running route in DC so there were many other runners around, but none of them were part of the race. Many of them cheered for me! It was really awesome to have so many runners cheering for me when they saw my bib. This was SO MUCH fun!  I was so focused on being a zebra and everything around me that I didn't pay attention to my pace. I was running around tempo effort by this point, though. Mile 2 clocked in at 6:57.

Mile 3
It was time to go back up the hill. According to my Final Surge training log, there was 159 feet of ascent in mile 3. I think that's probably the most ascent I have had in a single mile during a race, ever. Second would probably be the Sugarloaf Marathon followed by the DC half marathon. 

I knew I was in the lead by a healthy amount based on the turnaround so I didn't have a ton of motivation to really push. A mile-long steep hill at the end of a 5K is far from ideal! I got to the top and then booked it to the finish line. My final mile was 7:33.

After the Race
I crossed the finish line as the overall winner - there were no men ahead of me. My official time was 22:07. Could I have pushed harder? Yes. Did I have the motivation? No. Do I care that I didn't push harder? No.

Cheryl followed a minute later as the second overall finisher. The final runner of our dazzle, Allison, came in a little bit later, finishing 10th overall. The awards were cash prizes, and I will probably have to buy myself something zebra with the winnings! We cooled down for just over a mile and then headed to brunch. 

I was really impressed with the organization of this race. The zebra mile markers, the zebra signs, the shirt and medal-- and all for a great cause. It was definitely a fun morning and all of my goals were met! ACE of Stripes will have to defend our title next year. This takes "Racing Stripes" to a whole new level!

Tomorrow I plan to run a 20-miler and thankfully the weather will still be on the cooler side for this time of year. My next race is a half marathon and I am not sure if I am going to race that at full effort or use it as a marathon pace training run. It might be warm and humid enough that marathon pace = half marathon pace with the weather. Fall racing season is officially in full gear!