Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Peace on foot

Merry Christmas, everyone!  We had a very nice Christmas in Spencerport.  It was just me, my parents, and my brother for Christmas Day, and it was a great day.  After my brother got on the train to go back to NYC, I laced up for a Christmas Day run.  I've never run on Christmas Day.  My dad and I went bike riding last year because it was 50 degrees, but I've never run.  I didn't run twice, like Mo Farrah, but I did head out to run 8 miles.
In a cold, weary world, and in a chilly little town, there is still peace on foot.  Hardly anyone else was outside as Old Man Winter yawned and the last winter rays of sun vanished from the sky.  Lights from the houses illuminated my path, as I meandered through my hometown.  There weren't many cars to dodge.  I had no pace expectations to hit.  My head was clear, my legs weren't too heavy.  It was just me and the run - nothing more.
Christmas on the Erie Canal
Near the end of the run, it had grown dark, and I unplugged my headphones to just enjoy the silent night.  But after moments of quiet, what did my perked-up ears hear?  Christmas carols.  From a nearby church, a classical version of "Frosty" was playing and could be heard from blocks away.  So beautiful and simple on Christmas Night.
I am neither ignorant nor delusional.  I know that life is not perfect, and that our world is flawed and can be cruel.  But on one night, the holiest night of the year, in the sleep town of Spencerport, there was peace on foot.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Racing on tired legs: Jingle All the Way 2012

A bit behind in my blogging.  The end of the semester meant writing went on the back burner, and grading papers and exams instead.  And after last Friday, I just needed some time for prayer and reflection - not the time for quasi-narcisistic blogging.
But I did race in December, and as part of my foray into mega mileage, I did want to occupy a bit of digital space recapping the Jingle All the Way 8k.  This is my raceiversary.  It was my first race in 2008, and I had no idea what I was doing.  I was jockeying for positions, wearing a Mickey Mouse watch, and when the race was a 10k distance, pleased to finish in 55:04.  2009 - 46:01, then in 2010 - 44:45. A lot has changed!  The race has been shortened to an 8k (4.97 miles) and moved from West Potomac Park to downtown DC.  In 2011, I ran 33:31 for the 8k.
This year, I was just racing for fun.  That week, I had already run 58 miles in what would be my highest-mileage week ever.  I did not plan to PR, as most of my runs felt slow (as expected) - I just wanted to go out and have fun.  I even went to a Christmas party the night before and got into the Christmas spirit(s) too...
It was pouring race morning - not exactly ideal weather.  But I didn't care - I was nearing the end of my big week, and I wanted to culminate it with this race.  I got to meet British Olympian Claire Hallisey - who lives and trains in Arlington.  I've seen her at this race before, and last year I even stood near her at the start, but I told myself that if she was back to defend her title, I would say hello.  I did, and said I was a big fan, and she was very gracious.  It is very cool that in the DC area, the competition is deep enough to include not just Olympic Trial Qualifiers, but Olympians!
A very well-dressed and speedy runner
Get this - I forgot my watch.  Which, for a race that ultimately didn't matter, it truly didn't matter.  I decided to just run by feel, and not sweat it out.  When we started, I could really feel the weeks of high mileage in my legs.  Not sore - just heavy.  Now, get a look this guy, who ran alongside me for most of the race.  At first, I just thought the dude was intercepting the race and crossing the street, but no, he was running 8k dressed like this.  I later found out that he was promoting his new line of minimalist dresswear for men.  Who knew?   A lot of people swarmed to the front, and I just let them go - might as well just wait until later to pick them off.
But really, I just wanted to lock in on a reasonably comfortable pace, which ended up being alongside fancy pants man.  I had no idea what the pace was, but I was having fun watching everyone (there were almost 5,000 runners, and a lot of costumes).  When I got past mile 3, I started to work at picking off some girls.  Honestly, this is probably one of my favorite parts of racing.  Often referred to as being the hunter, when you come from behind and pick off people.  Ir is much better to be the hunter than the hunted, running scared (which I've also done).  It makes me not think about the pace or distance left - my sole charge becomes working to pass each one.  It's a great distraction.
A really fast elf
This course has a few hairpin turns that are a bit challenging.  I thought I had completed all of them, and I could see the finish line. But nope, we got diverted to the left (very misleading) for one last mini out and back.  And look who was in front of me now!
Yes, a big costumed runner who I just could not pass.  I was doing everything I could to kick, but the legs weren't having it.
I finished in 33:13 - techinically a 20-second 8k PR.  6:41 pace.
A couple of points to keep in mind - I've run both 10ks and a 10 miler at a faster pace.  But not on such mileage.
And I was reflecting about this too, because in my first week of mega-mileage, I ran a 40:24 10k.  That's 6:31 pace - how come I was running 10 seconds per mile slower for a shorter race?  Well, 3 weeks in, and that cumulative mileage began to set in.  Instead of just a few days of high mileage, these legs had covered 182 miles in under 3 weeks - no wonder I was running slower.
Running happy and light in my 10k PR
That afternoon, I ran 7 miles, to bring the day's total to 14 miles and ending my highest mileage week ever - 70 miles.  Wow!  Sarah was right, it wasn't too hard to get up to that high volume.  Sure, I was tired and sore, but it was in fact doable.  It did make me pleased about my 8k effort.  I've often read about elite athletes doing races "on tired legs" and for the first time, I got it.  I've also commented before in some of my PR races that I felt light and easy.  This was not the case, and I offer the following photo comparison from my 10k PR (left) and the Jingle All the Way (right).
Tired legs
This was not a light and easy feeling.  However, I was rewarded the following week with a "light" week of 42 miles for the week.  Running almost 30 miles less gave me back some spring in my step.  It even meant that on a 10 mile weekday run, I covered 12k on 12-12-12 in 59:55 (8:02 pace) - good enough for 12th place in a virtual run 12k challenge.  I generally don't do my easier runs that fat, but with a bit of rest, amazing what the legs can do.
This week, we are back to a 68 mile week as I begin cycle 2 of mega mileage.  Happy to have arrived home today - where I'll certainly get good home cooking to fuel those runs!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Running is like Jenga

Say what?
Those who know me well know that I love extended analogies.  Hear me out on this one.
Running and training, as I have learned over the past few years, is not a house of cards.  When you build a card house, you have to use total concentration and perfectly align the cards at the precise angles.  Otherwise, one false move, and boom, the whole things falls apart.  I used to think this way about training.  I wanted to make sure every single run that was scheduled, happened, and that I hit every single time split and expectation.  This is not healthy, nor is it the correct approach.  It ultimately makes an inflexible runner, unwilling to bend or adjust to anything.  It made me neurotic, obsessive, and probably not that much to be around.
I've learned more and more (particularly this season), that running is more like the game Jenga.  You have a huge stack of wooden blocks, and the challenge is to delicately pull out the blocks, one at a time, and make a higher structure than you ultimately started with.  There is a lot of creativity with this game, and a lot of strategy. If you pull out too many blocks in one area, it will topple over.  However, you can really stack the tower very high if you play it smart.  And this is the kind of approach you need to have with running.  A fixed, rigid approach and mentality will not pay off.  In Jenga, if you pull out the middle block every time, you've built a sturdy structure, yes, but you won't be able to get that high.  But if you manipulate smart, you can accomplish a lot in the game.
I have had seasons where I never missed a run, nailed or exceeded every workout.  This fall, particularly during a challenging end of August/early September, I had training weeks of missed runs, shortened runs, and workouts that did not meet expectations.  Now granted, I settled into a good rhythm and then had 2 months of very consistent training, plus cumulative years of training to boot.  But it culminated in some big PRs - in part probably because I didn't freak out and try and run (or run hard) on the days when my body was less than willing to do so.
I am halfway through my highest mileage week ever.
Monday: 8 miles in the AM, 6 in the PM = 14
Tuesday: 4 miles in the AM, 6 in the PM = 10
Wednesday: 8 miles
Thursday: 10 miles
Working my way to 70 miles!
Yesterday's run was proof that running helps me think and makes me a better student.  I had a big dissertation meeting with my advisor, and my run beforehand cleared my head.  I planned out my major talking points during the 8 mile run, and then sat down and wrote out a mini agenda/outline.  When we met, she said I had made good strides this semester (I found the term "strides" to be quite fitting) and that had developed a clear project.  Progress!  Encouragement!  Just what I needed to hear - that this cumulative work had been paying off.
Maybe getting a PhD is like Jenga too...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Easy Does It

 I've seen conflicting views on easy miles.  Many look at these as recovery days.  Some call easy days "junk miles," meaning that they don't really count or add to training.
Easy days, where the pace doesn't matter, just getting the distance in, are very important.  Moreover they are not bad - they do help.  During my training cycles, I'll have 3-4 days of easy runs.  They range from 5-9 miles most days, and most days I don't even wear a watch for them.  It'll all about just getting cumulative miles.  Sure, it would be nice to push a 5 miler a little and get it done in under 40 minutes, but I'll take my time, and maybe run 9 minute pace.  Or 8:30.  Or 9:15.  It really doesn't matter.  I've had days leading up to a PR race where I've done my runs at a pace 2 minutes slower per mile than race pace.  And it can be a bit unsettling - during a taper or easy week, you feel like you should have a little more spring that whole week.  But easy does it - ease the mind and not worry about times.
This is coming from someone who can be neurotic about times.  Easy does it.
All my runs now are easy runs, and the pace really has varied.  Almost nothing has been faster than about 8:10 per mile for my runs since the mega mileage segment started.  I finished November with 161 miles - not too bad since that also included a week of no running!  I was supposed to hit 65 miles last week, but a busy weekend cut shortened Sunday's run, and so it 58 miles instead.  A missed run here or there isn't going to make or break the next few months, so I'm not sweating it.
Really!  And even though the next few days are a bit mild, this cooler weather has been nice.  I ran 10 miles after work Thursday afternoon, and scarcely broke a sweat!  Plus, I love that brisk feeling of stepping out into the cold - very exhilarating.
The photo company from the Veteran's Day 10k - when I broke 40 minutes - just uploaded their race pictures.  I have to say, Swim Bike Run Photography does the best job taking race pictures, and they let you download the pictures for free.  I had written on this race that I felt "light" - and for once, the picture captured that too.  This was coming in toward the finish, and I knew I was going to break 40, and I could not stop smiling.  And that sub 40 came after speed work, yes, but also a lot of days of easy-does-it running too.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How do the elites do it?

Yesterday marked the beginning of week 2 of mega mileage.  I ran 68 miles last week - a new weekly mileage PR by 8 miles.  Other than the Thanksgiving Day 10k, which I raced at 6:31 pace, all of the runs have been slow.  But slow does not necessarily mean easy.  I'm trotting it out like no other.
How do the elites do it?  70 miles per week is maybe what someone running the 5k distance at a professional level may do, and those doing the marathon may even do double that distance.  I am fully aware that the professionals have the following advantages:

  • This is their full time job. 
  • They have access to therapists and masseuses 
  • This is their main focus per day.  
  • They have sponsors who help supply them with proper nutrition
  • They have access to world-class facilities
And here I am, not even at sub-elite status yet, trying to wrack up considerably high mileage, certainty high for an amateur.  It can be very exhilarating, knocking out that kind of mileage.  On the other hand, it is friggin' tiring too!  My legs definitely feel it, and while a singular 8 or 13 mile run wouldn't accrue that much soreness, doing then in back-to-back succession does the trick!  Sunday morning I ran 13.5 miles, and that was definitely a shuffle.  It's so funny how you can have speed on one day, and then just a few days later struggle to run 2 minutes slower per mile than race pace.

Aptly timed, Kara Goucher posted a video about her life as an elite marathoner:  Way different than mine!  

Today was a single day of running: 8 miles, which I waited until the end of the day to do.  It was nice and cold, but not raining (which it had been doing all day), that I knew I wouldn't get too hot.  My legs felt a little tired, but not as much so as they had in the past few days.  I've lately been doing a lot of my runs around campus, rather than the Mall.  They are much hillier that way, and I have a lot less traffic to deal with.  Anyways, I was at mile 5, going up a very steep hill, and then there was that magic moment.  My legs "unglued" - you may know the feeling - where all of the soreness evaporated and I felt like I could go on forever.  It's moments like that when I know I am a distance runner - that it takes over 40 minutes/5 miles to warm up and feel good to go.

Anyways, I always love trying new things in regards to running, and I am enjoying the mega mileage experiment.  I don't think I'll ever run out of new things to experiment with.  I've been at this for four years now, and still am learning new things each season.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Race with Grace 2012: Mother/Daughter Race

Happy Thanksgiving!  I got home Wednesday afternoon, and promptly threw on my shoes for my second run of the day.  6 miles in DC, 4 in Rochester.  This weather is beautiful - perfect fall running weather!  The mileage is racking up: 12 on Monday, 6 on Tuesday, 10 on Wednesday.  I signed up for the Race with Grace 10k, which is my annual Thanksgiving Race in Hilton - this is the fourth year I've done it.  And more exciting was that my mom was going to do it too!  She was sidelined with ITBS last  year, but has been running strong since her big half marathon in September, so we were good to go.
While I would be donning my racing flats, I wasn't aiming for anything big.  Particularly with the volume of running, having run 10 miles the day before on Wednesday, I was not concerned with hitting a big PR.  Still pretty stoked about my 39:50, and with this course being a little hilly, it was my goal just to beat my course record (42:15) from last year.
But I wasn't going to take myself too seriously.  A friend of mine who I worked with in Santa Cruz lives in Rochester, and we got together last night and had a couple of glasses of wine.  Was nice and relaxed - no problems falling asleep this time!
It's funny how different my race morning in DC looks compared to Rochester races.  In DC, it's just me up early - it's very quiet, and I go to my races alone.  I'm very much just in the zone.  At home, it's more of a family affair.  We have breakfast together, drive to the race together, etc.  I kissed my mom good luck, and took my spot near the start.  Last year, I was the 15th woman, and I was sure that even with tired legs, I could advance a bit.  I didn't really know how my legs would feel - they seemed a bit heavy during my shuffling warm up.  But when the air horn went off, I just took off.  The pace felt fast, and it was - the first mile was 6:09.  Whoa, back off lady, this is not a 5k.  By mile 2, the pack had thinned out a bit - I was running with a few guys.  I figured I should ease up a little, and came through the second mile in 6:20.  Still fast, but it felt like I could sustain something closer to this pace for 4.2 more miles.  This course is pretty quiet when you get going, so I was just trying to focus on my breathing and staying even.  I came through the 5k in 19:58 - was clearly slowing down, but I still felt in control.  There were more hills in this race than my PR one, and so I was trying to save a little for each of those.  At this point, I had passed a few women and had my eye on another.  It's hard to tell when someone is 50 yards ahead of you how long it could take to pass them.  It took about a mile to finally pass her, and then I wasn't sure how much of a gap I had left between us.  But the breathing and footsteps I could hear sounded like men's, so I was hoping that I had definitively passed her.  I was starting to feel tired around mile 4 - 25:50ish, and was trying to assure myself that it was just 15 minutes left.  I was torn between trying to pick it up - I could see another woman about 100 yards in front of me - or just holding steady.  Each of my mile splits had slowed by a few seconds, and I was completely okay with that.  I picked off a few more guys, and was just trying to hold steady.  That last .2 is heading into a parking lot, and then a sharp last turn.  I could see my dad waiting close to the finish, and was very happy when my time flashed up.
6th woman (out of 537), 2nd in age group
61/1133 overall
A course best by almost 2 minutes, and only 34 seconds off my PR.  Yesterday's 10 miles and 2 glasses of wine didn't really hold me back!
The winning mother/daughter team
And now it was time to wait for my mom to come in.  She finished in 56: 35 - a big PR from her 1:04 at the NY Mini 10k in 2011!  She was pleased and ran a very strong race.  We hung around afterwards (since it is local race, we know a lot of participants), and not only did I place 2nd in my age group, but we won the mother/daughter category!  That was the first time my mom ever won something.  So, it was a big morning overall, and a lot of fun.  My brother just came home in time for dinner, and then the whole family will be reunited.  A fun day, and lots to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Drawing back the curtain on the new plan

There is always a next great adventure.  Whether it’s a new job, moving to a new place, a new relationship, there’s always something new.  The day in and day out will change at some point, and it’s always healthy to shake the dust off of a routine and try something new. 
Soon after my Army Ten Miler, Sarah said that she had wanted to experiment with something new to my training routine.  It wasn’t going to be a part of my fall season race schedule, but in between the fall and spring seasons.  This was particularly because I’ve gone almost two years now with no ITBS problems – I had built up a lot more strength in my legs.  Last year, the Thanksgiving-New Year running was very much ad hoc – run or swim as I felt, but no speed, and no reason to get in more than 30-35 miles per week.  But now, we were going to experiment and do something that she has done between training seasons...
High mileage.  She said that I’d quickly get up to 70-75 miles per week.  I looked pretty startled, and told her the most I’d ever run was 60 mpw, and that as during marathon training.  Sarah said that it’s actually not that shocking to do a “strength segment” like this.  How can you get in that kind of volume without injuries?  You take out the speed component.  So normally, I run about 40 mpw, with 2 speed workouts thrown in a week.  There won’t be any speed, just high mileage.  Apparently, you can do one (speed or strength) but not both, at least not for a while, because that’s when injuries are most likely to occur.
So, I am diving into a very high mileage segment.  There will be lots of double days, when I’ll run in the morning and at night.  She said that the first two weeks are quite an adjustment “And you just feel like crap, but you’ll get past that.”  Ultimately, the point of doing this (other than clearly not having to worry about holiday pounds – right?) is to really build up strength during the “off season” and when I come back to the more cyclical training in the New Year, I’ll be read to switch gears and add back in the speed. 
Sure, I needed a little convincing, but really, I think it’s going to be very cool.  This is what I love to do, and a lot of times, I divide my cross training days into two workouts (swim in the morning, lift/core work at night) to simiulate that feeling.  May as well make it a reality!
Plus, there is something about going into the unknown – in this case, ramping up my mileage.  I have dreams someday of running 100 mpw training for a marathon.  The only way to get to that point is to start on a smaller scale for shorter-distance training.  
Today was day 1 of mega mileage.  8 miles in the morning, 4 miles in the afternoon for 12 miles for the day.  So excited.  Felt like a champ suiting up twice today.  I'll get up to 65 miles this week: half done in DC, half done in NY (going home for Thanksgiving!).  It's a good way to change things up, and I am looking forward to seeing how things pan out in this segment.

Friday, November 16, 2012

And now for something completely different

Sunday's 10k marked the end of my official fall racing season.  And with that came a directive from the coach that I've never had.  A brand new assignment for the week, unlike any other...

A whole lotta nothing.

Do nothing.  No running, no cross training, no gym, nothing.

Be a coach potato, catch up on sleep, have a life.

In the four years of running (and I've really just hit my steady 4 year runniversary this fall), I've never taken a week off from exercise.  Even after a marathon, or even dealing with injuries, there has always been some form of cross training or light jogging.  So, the 7 day stretch that I'm in the middle of is brand spanking new.

And I'm taking advantage of the free time.  Extra hours for the dissertation, for sure.  I would say I spend at least 10 hours of a week training, so putting that into the PhD is definitely an added bonus (and my advisor would surely agree).

Now, I will admit, there is part of me that is just itching to put on my kicks and bolt out the door.  It clears my head, it blows off steam, and hey, I just freakin' love it.  But I'm following the orders from the big boss, who has not steered me astray yet. I'm not going to cheat.  Monday will be back to normal.

Actually, it won't.  Monday is the start of something also brand-spanking new.  Definitely unchartered territory for me.  What will it be?  Only time will tell...aka next week's post.

Any guesses?

Monday, November 12, 2012

That Other Mythical Barrier: 2012 Veteran's Day 10k

While the Army Ten Miler was my goal race for the fall season, I still had one last race on the formal schedule: the Veteran's Day 10k.  I still did a few hard workouts to get ready for it, but mostly the hay was in the barn.  All of the training in preparation for ATM was going to carry over.  I had a good 4 mile tempo last weekend at 6:50 pace, and a race week workout on Tuesday to just get in some fast laps.  In compared to some of my most recent times, my 10k PR (40:55 from the Pike's Peek 10k in April) had been a little soft.  Sarah said to get ready to plan an "assault" on the 10k time, and aim for a 40:20 race.  I've done this race before, and I've run numerous other races on this course.  I had accumulated a lot of good runs and races this season, and it was time to wrap the season up with the 10k.
Saturday night, Pat and I cooked a gluten free pasta dinner together and just relaxed.  He even does foot  and back rubs!  All loosened up and ready to go.  I've tanked getting a good night's sleep the night before recently, and last night was similar.  I finally fell asleep around 2, and 6AM came all too fast!  But, I actually didn't feel too crappy waking up.  I had a little breakfast, and then ran my warm-up to the race.  The greenest way to travel, right?
Stolen from someone's instagram - it was really a gorgeous morning
It was a beautiful morning: low 40s, sunny, no wind, and lots of beautiful changing leaves on the trees of the National Mall.  I had cut things close a little bit with getting out the door (I needed to write my predicted mile splits on my hands), that all of the pre-race prep left me with just 3 minutes to the start, and I hadn't checked my jacket/pants/etc.  I followed the lead of a couple other runners and tucked them up in a tree (with fingers crossed).  I then took my place at the start.  I was in the 5th row - this is a super competitive race, and the local racing teams each had a bunch of runners competing.
We took off, and a ton of people really bolted out.  At this point, I'm just going to assume from here on out that other than a marathon or maybe a half, that it's always just going to feel fast from the get go.  I went through the first mile in 6:15, and knew I needed to just pull back ever so slightly - after all, this is not a 5k!  By mile 2 I was running closer to 6:25 pace, and while that was slightly faster than goal pace, I was going to roll with it.  That was the plan - take it out pretty hard, and not get too caught up in the splits.  I was feeling pretty strong, and while I wasn't going to pick things up, I was planning on being able to push more in the second half of the race.  What I like about the course is that the turns are pretty smooth - no turning around a cone!  You can sort of bend into them much easier.  I hit the first 5k in under 20 minutes, and was feeling good.  Could I keep this pace up for 20 more minutes?  I was in a good place, yes there were lots of people in front of me, but no one was really passing me at this point.  I was feeling a little tired (I forgot to take a GU beforehand, and I was a little bummed about that), but was just trucking along.  Mile 4 came along quickly, and at this point, I started to pick things up.  Or maybe just an effort to maintain the pace - I was determined not to blow up.  I kept checking my watch, and tried to not get too worked up about the times that there coming up - they definitely did not match the splits I had inked on my hands.  In Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman, she described her 2:51 marathon PR at the 1975 Boston Marathon and said "It felt like the road was rising to meet me."  Some of my best races have felt like that - that I was light and ready.  Those PRs were not easy to attain, yet in the moment, everything came together.  That's how I felt today.  I knew I had one more gear left, and started to accelerate as I hit mile 5.  There's one bridge to cross with three-quarters of a mile left, and I wanted to save a little for that, and I rolled through that, determined to just keep motoring.  And then came mile 6.  I could see the finish line, but you always have to remember that with the 10k, that .2 is almost a lap around the track - it takes time to do it.  I was pushing so hard, and I could finally start to see the clock appear with a time that was showing a time I have thought for years was unattainable, and could've started to cry as I crossed the finish line:
6:25 pace
I went sub 40 for the 10k!  The sub 20 minute 5k has a mythical nature to it, and I just broke that in March for the first time.  But to do 2 sub 20 5ks back to back seemed impossible at this point.  I could not believe it.  I did not think that within the same year of going sub 20, I'd also go sub 40.
The crazy thing about the results was:
94/1920 overall
20/1042 women
7/280 age group
This was a super competitive race!  The female winner won in 33:45.  And while yes, it is great to place really high or win an age group award, today I was going out with a time goal in mind.  And I had lots of people to key off of.  I did my cooldown with a big smile on my face - I was just stunned.
And then when I came home, pancakes and bacon for breakfast.  Yum!  The flowers in the background are from Pat (so sweet).
The first race I ever ran was the Jingle All the Way 10k in December 2008.  I ran it in 55:04 (8:52 pace), and was happy with that time.  In four years, I've chipped away over 15 minutes off of that time.  While there aren't many more minutes left in my threshold, I'll be curious to see what's left in the tank.  All I know for now, is that yesterday's race was beyond anything I could've dreamed of.
We broke out the bubbly last night - something I also did when I went sub 20.  There's something about the special milestones that just merit a little extra celebration.  They don't come along every day - those mythical barriers.  And they are just so important to hold onto during challenging moments - I know this will be my boost for a while.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Catching up on things

When over a week passes between blogs, usually there's some sort of explanation.  Not really this time, but I do have a few things to catch up on.  Key thoughts of the blog: fartlek, swim, track, hurricane
First of all, thank you all for the positive comments in the Army Ten Miler blog.  It felt like it was one of the best races of my (young) career so far, and I was on a big high for a while.  My legs were also so trashed for a few days after.  I'm used to some soreness for a couple of days after a hard race, but this was a new level.  I did have a workout to do 2 days after the race, and the warm-up for that was truly a shuffle, and I wasn't sure if the legs were going to be able to pick it up during the fartlek segment: 5 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy, 4 minutes hard, 2.5 minutes easy, 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes hard, 90 seconds easy, 1 minute harder, 30 seconds easy, 2 minutes harder, 90 seconds easy, 3 minutes harder, 2 minute easy, 4 minutes harder, 2.5 minutes easy, 5 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy, 2.5 mile cool down for a total of 11 miles.  And in case you wondered how I kept track of those numbers, I wrote them all on my hand.  I often need to do the same thing with my track workouts.  Anyways, I was able to get my legs moving during the workout, but certainly ran a mighty slow cool down too.  This is a nice speed workout to do on the roads - it takes about 45 minutes to run that middle segment - I start my watch and just go (find a trail though - you don't want to get held up with stop lights all of the time).
In my cross-training, I tend to rotate between swimming and biking.  There is no rhyme or reason behind it, but I'll generally spend about a month doing one sport, and then go back to the other.  I think both are complementary and offer different benefits.  Anyways, I had a killer swim last week.  In all of my swims, I cover 2000 yards, and it tends to range between 41-44 minutes on any given day.  There's no real change of pace - maybe the pace slows toward the end, but that's about it.  But on Friday, I swam broke 40 minutes for the 2k swim for the first time - 39:50!  I was super excited.  While speed in cross training is not really a huge factor, it is nice to see these improvements in a sport that is still relatively new to me.  And no, no thoughts of a triathlon yet.
October ended with 154 miles, which has been close to the norm for the past year.  My final big workout was on Halloween.  I even had on black and orange to match.  I've done this workout before, and it is a challenging one, designed to get you used to changing gears midway.  Now, most of my workouts involve accelerating the pace as the workout progresses, so that's not new.  
2.5 mile warm-up, 1.5 miles continuous on the track (alternating 800s 3:18, 3:08, 3:21), 2 lap jog, 1.5 miles continuous on the track (alternating 3:07, 3:30, 3:07), 2 lap jog, 2 x 800 (3:09, 3:03) with 1 lap recovery after each, 2.5 mile cool down for a total of 10.5 miles.  
It is very hard to have to kick and pick things up like that midway through an interval!  And recognizing how to shift back and forth from 6:48 to 6:19 pace is not easy.  And then those last 2 isolated 800s are just a good way to push really hard at the end (and at least mentally easy to know that is only 2 laps this time, instead of 6).  It was great to wrap things up with this hard workout.  I have 2 more smaller workouts on Saturday and Tuesday, but those are just geared toward staying sharp and fresh at this point.
The Veteran's Day 10k is a week from Sunday - my last big race of 2012.  I will do a couple of holiday races after that, but this is the last one on the official training calendar.  I am looking forward to going out and demolishing my old 10k PR.  At this point in the season, I've run a solid 5k, 5 miler, and 10 miler, but no good 10k.  Yet.  
And finally, a note on Hurricane Sandy.  We were fortunate in DC - never lost power or anything.  School was closed for 2 days, so I stayed up with BF's family in Keedysville, MD.  I feel terrible about all of the devastation in New York and New Jersey.  I'm also a bit conflicted about the fact that the NYC Marathon is still happening.  If I was doing it, I would be completely bummed if it was cancelled.  But the fact of the matter is that I'm not convinced that the energy and resources are worth going to the marathon when so much rebuilding needs to take place.  I think it's good that the NYRR is pledging to donate over $2.6 million to NY relief, and are going to use private resources to deal with transportation and other logistical issues.  But at least at the heart of it all are thousands of runners aiming to get there, toe the line, and hear "New York, New York" play as they cross the starting line of the largest marathon in the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Army Strong: Army Ten Miler 2012

I signed up for the Army Ten Miler in May with the plan of making it the big race for the fall.  After a rocky training month in late August/early September, things settled into a groove.  I've been really excited for this race for a while, and although I was nervous about my time goals (1:07:30/6:45 pace) and their feasibility, I was pumped about the race.
Again, a little too pumped - I was up for most of the night.  But unlike the last race, I chose not to be too worked about the lack of sleep and just roll with it.  I was happy this morning to bump into an old friend of mine, Brian, at the Pentagon - hugs and stories are always a good way to start a race morning. Much better than just navigating through everything also - friends make good company!  I got in my warm-up, although with all of the army and police blocking everything off, I trotted around in a small restricted area, and at least the shuffling around meant I wasn't going to use up any extra energy/effort then.  Also bumped into another running friend, Maggie, on the warm-up.  In a race with over 20,000 people, I always find it remarkable that you can find the people you had hoped to see!
I got into position - first wave, corral 2.  I was happy with my spot - close to the front, but within reason.  They did a very beautiful invocation, and it was good to have that moment of quiet reflection before the race started.  This was a day to get out and settle into a rhythm, and once the cannon blasted, we were off!  The weather was perfect - 50 degrees, sunny, and no wind.  The first mile was pretty straight, and while I had to jockey around a little bit, was feeling good.  Mile 1 was a little fast, but I wasn't going to be too worried about it.  Mile 2 was across the Memorial Bridge (which connects the Arlington Cemetery to DC) - something I've crossed a hundred times.  And on the other side of the bridge, just after the mile 2 marker was Sarah!  We had talked earlier in the week, and she said she was going to jump in and run a few miles with me.  The last time she did this in a race was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2009 (almost 3 years ago to the date!), and it led to a BQ.  She was going to run with me through mile 7, and if things felt good, we would push the pace after 5 miles.  She's good to have alongside: she would offer occasional words of encouragement, but I think there is something to be said about having someone beside you who is rooting for you.  So, instead of being surrounded by a pack of strangers, I was focusing on honing in on a consistent pace.  I looked at my watch a couple of times, but Sarah said "don't worry, you are doing great."  Someone even asked what pace we were running - I guess they could tell we were locked in a groove together.  Sarah said "Oh, we're aiming for 6:45s" but apparently was stretching the truth - we were running faster, but she didn't want me to worry about going fast.  We found gaps together, and it just felt so smooth.  Except for one very narrow water station, where it nearly became single file and we almost crashed into each other - at least it made for a good laugh.  I knew we were going faster than goal pace, but Sarah wasn't doing anything to slow things down, and frankly, I felt like we didn't need to.  It felt fast, but not so fast that I thought I was going to blow up or hit the wall toward the end.  We came through the 5 mile mark at about 33:23 - 6:40 pace.  I was nervous - this could either end very pretty or very ugly.
I dumped water on my head a couple of times, which helped to cool off.  I missed once and also spilled on my shoe - so cold!  But that actually dried off fast.  We hit the 10k mark in 41:22 - 6:39 pace.  It felt like we had picked things up a little, but just ever so slightly.  I felt like I had one more gear in me, but didn't want to surge too hard too early.  Sarah kept saying "looking good" or "looking strong," and while she could easily get away with saying that even if it wasn't true, I did feel strong.  I was tearing through each mile faster than I had in practice, but there was nothing on the horizon that indicated that that was problematic.  Right after mile 7, Sarah got ready to jump out - we were getting ready to leave DC.  She said I had to pass 10 more people before the end, shouted "you can do it" and then was out.
Running over the last bridge of the day
And I was prepared for that, knowing that I was going to need to push on my own the last few miles.  This was tough though - there were some hills and bridges that just were hard.  But, I still felt pretty strong, and was working my way through passing people.  And, I also saw a bunch of Wounded Warriors running - a lot of amputees who were trucking along - and it was very inspiring.  I hit the 9 mile mark at around 59 minutes, and it struck me - I was running 9 mph, not for a 5k or 10k, but for an actual hour.  It was also at that point, while I was on a highway bridge, that I knew I just had one more mile to go - this meant under 7 minutes left.  But that bridge was a bit lonely, and it wasn't until we got back close to the Pentagon that there were more people around cheering and pulling us in.  Including my boyfriend!  He was cheering me on, and giving me a great boost to finish strong - Army Strong.  I was grinning from ear to ear as I saw the big clock - showing numbers that were beyond what I expected for today.
About to cross the finish line
6:37 pace
52nd woman
19th in AG
672 out 21912 overall
Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  This was over a minute faster than the 1:07:30 goal Sarah and I had in mind, and I even ran a negative split.    I caught up with Pat, and he picked me up (literally) - he was so excited too.  He knew that this race was important to me (and I was so glad he came), and it means a lot that he is sharing in my running/racing experiences.
Later on, Sarah texted me to see how it went, and she said "Awesome! You were running faster than 6:45s, but you looked so strong, I saw no reason to say anything.  Now we need to plan an assault on your 10k in 3 weeks."  There is always a new goal in mind - our work is never done!
All smiles after the race
My cooldown was so slow - as it should be.  It certainly gave no indication of what had been done earlier in the morning.  I am so sore from the waist down, but you know, it is just a reminder of the race.  These are my favorite kinds of races - when it goes beyond what I could have expected.  Had anyone ever suggested that I could run 66 minutes for 10 miles, I would have laughed in their faces.  Funny how amazing the reality can even beat out the dream.
I had a long chat with Sarah yesterday, recapping the race.  After all, it's not as if we talked a lot during it.  She was very pleased, and reminded me of a few things that I think are ultimately good lessons to keep in mind:

  • A bad tune-up race doesn't mean a bad big race.  I ran that Run for the Parks 10k a few weeks ago in 41:10 - only 12 seconds faster than I covered the 10k within the Army 10 Miler.  
  • Not all speed work needs to be done on a track.  In previous seasons, I've been on the track weekly for a few months.  This season, I only did 4 track workouts leading up to this race.  I even missed a fifth one - no long term harm done.
  • Tempo pace is not race pace.  Last month, I averaged 6:55 pace for a 4 mile tempo, and opted to not freak out that that was 10 seconds slower than goal race pace (or in reality, 18 seconds slower).  
  • And this was the big one: you cannot "win" workouts in practice and expect to "win" in races.  I love doing tough workouts and crushing the times...but I am learning more and more that does not necessarily translate to great races.  I had never done a workout where I was running consistent 6:45s.  Sure, there would be a mile repeat or 2, or a few 800s where I went faster than that pace, but never a time when I pushed that hard.  And look, on race day, even though it hadn't been done in practice (even in an abbreviated form), I was ready to run 6:37s for 10 miles.
This whole thing is a learning process.  I've been under Sarah's tutelage for almost 3 years now, and I'm still figuring a lot of this out.  
This was a dream race for me, and will go down in the 2012 annals as one of the best of the year.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

All I do is...

It's currently a mix between the three.  Last week was the monster week in my training.  Not quite as mega mileage as I had initially planned.  Was supposed to get in 49 miles.  But last Monday night, I got a crappy night's sleep, and Sarah said to bag the 10 mile track workout and substitute it with an easy 5 mile run.  44 instead of 49, but still the highest mileage I've had in a while.  It was the weekend runs that ultimately made up the bulk of the week's running: 12 on Saturday, 14 on Sunday.
Saturday's run was probably the best training run I've had in my Army Ten Miler build-up.  It was a progression run, where the pace gets faster and faster.  My mile repeats workouts on the track are fairly similar to this, but those are accompanied with a recovery lap.  No recovering on the road - just keep going and going.  The weather was beautiful - about 40 degrees and sunny.  I did my 2.5 mile warm-up on the National Mall, and then headed to the Mt. Vernon trail for the progression part.  This is a beautiful trail, and I think I am going to do all of my bigger runs on there from here on out.  I have to metro to get there, but I think when you take the $4 round-trip metro and think about it as an investment for training, that's not too bad.  Anyways, I was dressed like it was race day, and raring to go.  I was supposed to start at 7:20 pace and knock off 7-10 seconds per mile.  But not wanting to blow up/burn out, I started a little slower (which is preferable to going out too fast in this workout) - 7:35 for the first mile.  The miles clicked off nicely.  Not necessarily the most even splits: 7:35, 7:22, 7:05, 6:55, 6:50, 6:39, 6:35, but I was able to keep going faster and faster.  The weather was great, and I loved this trail too.  I didn't bring any gatorade or GU for this run - things that would've provided a little boost (even mentally) towards the end of the run.  But, this was a no-muss, no-fuss run.  I told myself that I would even feel better, stronger, faster (right?) when I have those on race day.
My legs felt pretty beat up though on Sunday's run!  On these long runs, particularly when they follow a workout day, are not about pace, but just getting the mileage in.  And 14 miles just takes a while, no matter how you slice it.
Army Ten Miler is Sunday, and I am so excited.  Weather calls for sun and high 40s at the start.  On Tuesday, I had my last tune-up track workout of a 2k, 1200, 2 x 800, 2 x 400.  It was a great workout - I felt like I had a lot of pep in my step, and in the final 400s, ran 1:28 and 1:26 - sub 6 minute pace.  Wahoo!  Obviously, 400s are different than a 10 mile run, but it was a good feeling to know I could still pull that out at the end of the day.
And it does feel like lately all I do is run or write.  I'm starting to move in a good direction with my dissertation, so I've just been working on getting some of my ideas out from my head and onto paper...or screen.  It's mainly medieval, it's a little modern running, but it's all getting documented!
I am so so so excited for Sunday.  The Army 10 Miler (ATM) has been what this whole fall season has been geared toward.  I am not running with a place goal in mind, but strictly a time goal.  The winner will ultimately run it in about 56 minutes - I am aiming for 67 minutes and change.  Things are different going into this race.  The last half dozen races I've done, I've placed in the top 10, which is pretty cool.  I know that realistically, that won't happen in this race.  I'm aiming for top 60-70, and am putting more (really, all) emphasis on hitting my time goal.  That will be the big victory if it all comes together.  Winning can certainly mean different things, depending on the day.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

If I could talk to my 15 year old self...

Today is International Day of the Girl.  CNN asked famous women what they would tell their fifteen-year old self, and this ended up being my reflections during today's run around the National Mall.
*Your braces will eventually come off.  And all of the years of orthodontist visits and thousands of dollars your parents paid will be worth it.
*You will find love.  High school Valentine's Days of waiting for a carnation to appear suck, but real love awaits.  You will be kissed, and someone will think you are worth more than just a dollar flower.
*The things you hung your hopes on so much won't matter or be remembered.  I can think of numerous solo auditions and tryouts for music groups that didn't go the way I wanted them to.  In the end, it didn't do long-term damage.  I'm quite alright.
*Your life could be very different than it is now, and it is okay that not everything stays the same.  You'll move new places, meet new people, and learn that change is not always bad.
*But, some of your friends will stay the same.  I had already met 3 of my best girl friends by age 14, and they are still absolutely important to my life.
*The family, who you were mortified to be seen at the mall with, will now be the people you spend most of your time talking to on the phone. 

I was 15 years old 11 years ago.  So much drama in high school.  Life's a lot more fun now.  That's not to say it's easier, but it's definitely more fun.  But not knowing what is going to happen next is half of the adventure. 

Here's the official prompt:  "Looking back, what one piece of advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?" - any takers?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

So, when's your next marathon?

I've gotten that question...oh, a couple of times a month since my last marathon - Boston 2011, almost 18 months ago.  I vowed that I would not run a marathon in 2012, and would work on my short distance racing.  The last half marathon that I trained for specifically was Philadelphia 2011 - almost a year ago.  I am maxing out my race distance at 10 miles.  That is my plan for the spring too.  I haven't run more than 14 miles since...November?  I made marathoning my running life for 2.5 years, and now I have shifted gears completely.  Yet, it's still a question I get a lot, and it's still the way people introduce me, "This is Vanessa, she runs marathons."  Not so much lately, guys.
Don't think that I've forgotten about it.  Espeicallay on weekends like last once, with both the Chicago and Twin Cities marathons - so much news coverage on both.    People have been posting on Facebook about their long runs - hitting 18-20 miles on the weekend.  And I'm doing my own training too, it's not like I've stepped away from running completely.  But it a very different mindset.  I have a real racing calendar each season.  Instead of a marathon and maybe a half as a tune-up, I have 6 or 7 race per season, which is so much fun.  It takes some of the pressure off of each individual race.  Rather than having 4 months of training rest on one perfect day, golden opportunities are spread out - the odds for success go up.  Also, a long run of 12 miles on the weekend won't put me on the couch for the afternoon like a 20 miler would.
But I think about the marathon a lot.  Especially when people run great PRs after lots of training, and I think "I could hit those times too."  But, I've made a conscious decision to stay away from it, to focus on my speed, and eventually return to it.  My PR - 3:27:00 is now a bit "soft" compare to my other race distances.  And that was why I got into the shorter stuff to begin with - those times didn't match up to my work in the marathon, and I wanted to change that.  I know that when I return to the marathon, I'll be aiming for something close to 3:10.  I don't have an immediate desire to return to it, but maybe in 2014.  That way, I could get in a solid half marathon in 2013, and then train for the marathon in 2014.  Who knows.  That's the fun part of this whole life adventure.  If you had told me 5 years ago that I would run 1 marathon, let alone 6, I would have laughed.  So, when is my next marathon?



26.2 4 Life!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Perfect races aren't real: Run for the Parks 10k

Lesson learned: we cannot realistically expect perfection on race day.
This week's training went well - more of my attention now is devoted to the Army Ten Miler in 2 weeks.  Even my track workout was not a race-week workout.  11.5 miles with 5 x 1 mile repeats: 6:49, 6:47, 6:44, 6:40, 6:32.  That was tough - not necessarily the fastest iteration of that workout, but still, it takes a lot to keep pressing the pace.
This week's race was the Run for the Parks 10k in West Potomac Park.  I was excited, because the course was supposed to be very similar to a few other races I've been successful in, and I was excited to set a new PR.
Maybe I was too excited.  Or wound-up.  I always make a habit to not set the alarm 2 nights before a race, so that if the night before a race, I don't get enough sleep, I did the night before.  But even still, I try to get to bed at a reasonable hour, and aim for 7 hours of sleep pre-race.  I was wide awake though, and slowly the hours crept by, and I didn't fall asleep until 4AM.  I was so petrified that I wasn't going to fall asleep at all - I couldn't run on no sleep!  I ended up taking about a 2 hour "nap," and felt so tired this morning.  How was this race going to go?  They were calling for rain too, and I had no idea how this was going to pan out.  The packet pick-up line was long, further contributing to my nerves.  But I got everything done, bib pinned, warm-up done, personal business done, with just a couple of minutes before the start.  I added on a hat, since it was already starting to rain.  I stood pretty close to the front, as I was aiming for a top-10 finish.  Time to go!
I felt taking off that I had settled into a good pace, and mile 1 clicked off at 6:33.  Pretty close to goal pace (6:31)...although my watch and the mile marker begged to differ.  I've seen this course have the first mile marker be a bit short, but long?  Ok - maybe it will even out.  I was running between 6:33 and 6:34 for the first few miles.  I felt really in control, I had passed a few women, and I felt like I had another gear in me.  The mile markers were still very inconsistent with my watch.  At the 5k turnaround, I knew I was in the top 10, and that it would be hard for me to catch any other women.  I worked on passing a few men, and just holding steady.  I was also happy to see a friend of mine on the turnaround, which gave me a little boost and smile.
By mile 5, things had really spread out.  The next girl in front of me was at least 100 yards in front of me - impossible to catch.  Moreover, the next person behind me was far back too.  It was so spread out and quiet - it almost felt like I was running alone, not in a race.  I really aimed to take off in the last mile, and ran 6:26.  I could see the finish line coming up, thank goodness, I just wanted to be done. And yes, I am as tired as I look in the picture. 41:10.  Hmm.  But my watch read 6.3 miles.  Even if I hadn't run the tangents perfectly, it still seems like the course was long.  So, if you convert that time to a 10k time, it is 40:36 - a 19 second PR.  It's not going to officially count, of course, in my book.  But, I'm going to take it as a good effort in less than ideal conditions.  I came in 2nd for my age group and got a gift certificate to one of the local running stores (which was worth sticking around in the pouring rain for).  
This was a hard race.  The course was flat, but it was raining.  I was exhausted at the start.  It was probably the poorest I've ever felt going into a race, and yet I still ran my second fastest 10k time.  I've had a fairly consistent track record with racing.  I tend to have good weather conditions, and come to the race feeling good and ready to either PR or run close to it.  We don't all get perfect races all of the time, and this was proof of it.  This wasn't my goal race either.  I am putting my eggs in the Army 10 Miler basket.  Plus, I am running another 10k in November, in the hopes of truly catching that PR.  
I will say, there are few things better than a post race nap.  I came home, got cleaned up and warmed up with a nice hot shower, and then with Spirit of the Marathon on for the upteenth time, drifted off to sleep.  Felt so refreshing to wake up on my own, toasty in sweatpants, and just tired from the race.  But there was something almost delicious about it too.  I don't buy the phrase "sleep is for the weak," but it certainly is for the racer!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tempo pace is not race pace

After last weekend's 5k, Sarah and I were talking about training in general.  One of the things that we were discussing was how training and racing are two components, and how tougher training sessions don't always result in bad results.  Moreover, she was telling about some of her teammates (who are on the local racing team) who push too hard in training.  They have killer workouts and push hard in the tempo runs, but then don't necessarily see the results in a race.  As Sarah said, "No one cares if you have an awesome workout if it doesn't show on the road."  A lot of this was to say, don't freak out with training runs - a few tougher ones won't wreck anything.
Legs are weird.  They take a lot of pounding - when we run, when we walk, standing giving lectures, all day, they are put through some sort of turmoil.  Yet, on the big days, they know what to do.
I always look back at races with some sort of shock and admiration for the legs.  There really is something to be said for muscle memory and fast-twitch fibers.  I don't know how legs learn what kind of paces are feasible.  Moreover, most of the time, my legs are able to pull out all of the stops on the days when it really counts.
I had a good workout on Tuesday.  My hamstrings still felt mighty sore, and while it felt like a lot of work, I hit the times I wanted.  2.5 mile warm up, 2000m cutdown (starting at 7:20 pace and getting faster with each lap), 2 lap easy jog, then 4 x 1200 (5:05, 5:04, 4:58, 4:53), 2.5 mile cool down = 10.5 miles  It was hard, and legs felt so heavy, but it was a great run.  It was about 70 out, and the promise of fall weather was approaching.  And, I was pretty pleased for the rest of the day - nothing like a double digit run with some fast laps to encourage me to push hard and get my work (in that case, grading a class set of papers) done.
I had to laugh then on Thursday, when all I had was a 4 mile run.  Legs were tired, tired, tired.  I've had  people say that those 4 miles should be a piece of cake - I could bang 'em out under half an hour.  But nope, legs said otherwise, and 8:35 pace it was.  Why would it really matter if I could get it done 5 minutes faster?
Today's run was a 9 mile run with 4 miles at 6:55 pace.  I haven't had a good tempo run since early August? Late July?  I was hoping that this would be a good return.  Since I moved, the Capital Crescent Trail, where I did a lot of tempo runs last year is a bit far.  Last Sunday on my long run, I discovered the Mount Vernon trail, which runs along the Potomac on the Virginia side.  I decided to try that for the tempo run.  The weather was gorgeous - slightly cold in sleeveless - but felt great.  Mile 1 - 6:56, mile 2 - 7:00 - a little slow, but I hoped I could pick things up on the way back.  Grabbed some gatorade (Pacers - the local running store had a fuel stop there!), and then kicked it up for the second half.  6:55 for mile 3 - back on track!  And the 4th mile, it was easy to convince myself to push, knowing it was going to be over in under 7 minutes.  6:41 - wahoo!
The tempo runs are so interesting when you think about them.  They are faster than an easy run, but they are not race pace.  And that is an important thing to remember.  6:55 pace is slower than 5k and 10k pace, but it is still a fast pace.  And the more I thought about it afterwards, it felt good.  I could take the freak-out option and feel nervous that in 3 weeks, I am running the Army Ten Miler and hoping to run faster than tempo pace for 10 miles, not 4.  Or, I could remember that tempo pace is not race pace.  It would be absolutely ridiculous to run close to race effort in training.  What would you do, try to PR on any given Saturday?  Insanity!  If you tried to run at race effort full-on before the race, you wouldn't be ready on race day.  Before Chris Solinsky ran 26:59 in the 10k, did he do that in practice?  No.  Did Ryan Hall run a sub one hour half marathon at home before the 2007 Houston Half?  No.  So why should I get so caught up in simulating race pace?
I won't.  Lesson learned.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Double Header Racing Weekend: Me and my mom

The backstory (come on - I'm a historian - there is always a backstory): Saturday was the Clarendon Day 5k and 10k - the 4th running it, and the 3rd time I've run it.  My first year (2010), I ran the 10k in 45:51.  It was a lot of fun and one of my first Pacers-affiliated events.  Last year, I ran the 5k in 20:23, which was a PR.  I came in as 7th woman, and just missed placing in my age group.  I returned this year to move up place wise and aim for another PR.  This summer in San Francisco, I PRed in 19:32.  I had lost some confidence when I returned to the East Coast, but regained it last week at the Navy 5 Miler.  This week, I worked on honing in and getting ready for this race.  Sarah had estimated roughly 19:20 for my finish time.
I had my boyfriend over for dinner the night before - something that is becoming a nice pre-race tradition.  Nothing like a good date to be relaxed.  And I managed to fall asleep so quickly - a good sign.  I even woke up two minutes before my alarm went off at 6AM this morning - an even better sign that I was ready to go.  Warm-up went well - I got to cover a good chunk of the course and enjoy some quiet before the hustle and bustle of the race.
I nestled into position - second row.  I craned around to see if I could find Sarah, who would normally be in the front, but couldn't see her.  Maybe she didn't show?  There was no time to get caught up in it, because then we were off!
This course has a huge net downhill, with the first 1.5 miles going downhill.  You have to just take it out hard in the beginning, with gravity on your side, and not be afraid when you see your mile splits come up in the beginning.  A ton of people surged around me, like bees, and I let them go.  Like most races, I would prefer to have people in front of me, and work throughout the race to catch them.  I went through the first mile in 6:02.  And I didn't freak out - I knew it was going to be fast.  It didn't feel like an all out sprint either, so I continued with a similar effort.  Wasn't really moving in on any women, but that was okay.  Mile 2 - 6:07.  Holy cow - if I can hold onto this, this will be a massive PR.  It was at this point that I started to work on passing women.  I had gotten through the turnaround and counted myself in 7th.  If I could just move up a few places, that would be great.  I caught one woman, and that gave me a little momentum to just keep working to move up.  And then another, and then another - I think.  Sometimes it all happens so fast.  Or not.  I looked at my watch at mile 3 - 6:45.  What?  I figured I would slow down a little, but since I was passing people, I didn't think it would be by that much.  As I looked down at my watch, trying to do math in my head (which is never a good thing to do while running), I started to wonder/worry if I was still going to hit my PR.  But, I didn't have much time to think, because then there was just that .1...
6:14 per mile pace
4th woman/612
46/1092 overall
1st in Age group
Wow!  Right on track with Sarah's prediction.  This was a great race.  I went all out, blew up a bit, but still managed to move up to the front.  I am sharpening up my speed and learning what it means to go all out.  I knocked over a minute off of my time from last year - showing what can be done in a year.  If there's anything that can give me confidence about improvement, it is running.  In my life, it has been the clearest way for me to track progress.  Work hard, and the times will speak for themselves.  
It is kind of crazy.  I broke 20 minutes for the first time in March, which was a goal I had had for a while.  After that, Sarah said that it would become a consistent thing.  My next 2 5ks, I did not do that.  However, the most recent 2, I have gone under 20 again.  The new normal?  The last 3 races, my place time have been first, third, and fourth overall.  Really?  This is beyond anything I could have ever conceived of as a runner.  I don't know exactly what lies ahead in my running future, but if things continue at this rate, it could be pretty sweet.
And in other running and racing news, yesterday was my mom's half marathon debut.  Last year, she had been training for the Rochester Half Marathon through August, when ITBS got to be so painful that she couldn't run again until March.  After rehab and easing back into the mileage, she trained all summer for this.  Training went well, and she got in all of her long runs in with no problems.  Her main goal yesterday was to finish, but I knew she was hoping to run maybe 2:20 or 2:15.  But she and her friend pushed really hard and ran...
Sue and my mom after the race
My mom and dad
I was so floored and excited when she called me.  That is an amazing time - I have friends my age who would be happy to run that kind of pace for a half marathon.  She was so happy and excited, and who wouldn't be?  So, clearly I inherited some endurance from her - and my dad too (a triathlete).
It was a great weekend of racing in the Medievalist household.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Like coming home

Still so pleased about Sunday.  But post-race celebrations have to end at some point.  You clean up the confetti, and go back to the drawing board.  Because there is always more work to be done.  There is always another race, another goal, another ___ to work on.  So Monday was back to normal.  And on Tuesday, I returned to the track for the first time since JUNE.  Over 3 months - the longest I've been off of the track since...early 2009? After my mile race in June, Sarah suggested time away from the track, to build up strength on the roads, and then eventually return to the track after a long hiatus.  And Tuesday was the day!  Time for the homecoming!
Now, if you live anywhere on the East Coast, you may recall that weather-wise, Tuesday was kind of insane.  20 mph winds, torrential downpours off and on - quite the setting for the return to the track.  This track, which is at my university, has hosted the majority of my track workouts since 2009.  It has hosted so many memories: mile repeats, 800s, cut downs, sprints, failed workouts, outstanding workouts, and everything in between.  And it felt so good to come back.  Even in the rain - especially in the rain.  If you've read my blog at all before, you know that I hate the heat.  I will take the rain, the rain that cools everything down, I will take that any day.  So, really, the weather had set up quite nicely for the big return.
All in all, this was not a record-setting or record-breaking workout.  I've done harder and longer iterations of it before:  2.5 mile warm up, 5 x 800 meters (w/ 1 lap jog in between), 2.5 mile cool down.    My times were 3:29, 3:24, 3:22, 3:18, 3:11.  The goal of the workout was to get the legs moving without being too taxing. Because...
I'm running another race on Saturday!  I am doing the Clarendon Day 5k - which I did last year, and the 10k there the year before.  Now that I know from Sunday's race that I still have a kick, I am much more excited about it.  It has a net downhill, and is a great PR course.  If I can go out in a 5 mile race and run the first mile in 6:18, I am sure I can take things out pretty hard in the 5k.  And, Sarah (my coach) is actually running this race too - the first time we've ever run the same race.  She'll be running at least a minute faster than I am, so I'll really be just watching her in the distance, but still good to be running the same race.  She has lead me through several time trials, and I've found that if I just do my best to hang on when it feels like we're playing a drawn out game of Crack the Whip, things go well.
And really, this is a race I've done for 2 years - time to come home again.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Beyond any expectations: 2012 Navy 5 Miler

Now that I have more of a traditional racing season, the first race is known as the "rust buster" - designed to shake off the rust and be the first time of testing out my fitness in a while.  The last couple of "rust buster" races I've had were in 2 distinct weather conditions:

  • Last fall, I ran the Arlington 9/11 5k - and it was in the 80s
  • Last February, my rust buster was the Love the Run You're With 5k - it was 20, snowed overnight, and 22 mph winds
This split the difference - 60, beautiful morning, no wind.  I was really excited about the weather - best weather we've had in DC since I got back.  And I had had a good day yesterday - my boyfriend and I hung out, and since the packet pickup was on the Air Force base in Anacostia, we hung out at the base (there is a beautiful park there across from Reagan Airport) for a bit.  There's nothing like a nice, quiet, relaxing day to get ready for a race.

This morning I did my warm-up to the race from my apartment (definitely a perk about my new apartment - exactly 2.5 miles away), and the weather felt nice and cool.  My warm-up always freaks me out - I know I'm running several minutes slower per mile than I ultimately will in a race.  But, I knew better than to get too wrapped up in it.  The start was at the Washington Monument, and I was able to hit the bathrooms twice (seriously? the body is a weird and amazing thing) and check my gear, and slowly inch my way to the start.  There were already a lot of people lined up, so I had to push my way to the front to get my spot.  And then, with the clang of the Navy bell, we were off!

I saw a few girls run up way in front of me, but I knew all too well that I could not get caught up in passing people in the beginning.  I felt great - for someone who hadn't gone under 7:00 pace for any run since mid August - amazing.  I went through the first mile in 6:18 - which was way too fast for a 5 mile race, so I dialed it back in.  The next couple of miles were in the 6:30s, I felt like I had locked into a good rhythm.  I love running on Haines Point - it is is flat and beautiful, and it is so easy to settle in.  It's also fairly quiet too.  While it can be great to have crowds to motivate you, it is also very nice to have the quiet as well to just focus. I looked down at my watch at 2.5 miles, and had run about 16:16.  Wow, if I can just hold onto this, I will be well under 33 minutes. I was just really surprised at how good I felt - I was blazing, but didn't have the sluggish feeling that had been a part of my runs lately. Ok, this is feeling good. At around the 3.5 mile mark, I started to pick up the pace.  I think at that point I was in either 7th or 8th.  I wasn't sure - it was hard to see who was up front.  But I passed 2 girls, and then saw that up ahead of me was another pack of 3.  I decided to wait a bit more before I picked up the pace again.  I told myself to just go for it during mile 4, I could really push - one more mile would be fine to shift into that final gear.  I then felt like I was winding up and could push, and I passed them decisively.  It felt great.  I was not going to turn my head at all to cheek, I was just going to keep going.  We headed back to the Mall, where people appeared, cheering and clapping.  I felt so good.  Someone even yelled, "there's only one woman in front of you!"  Really?  I couldn't even see any other girls.  Then, within 100 yards of the finish, this other girl blew by me, I could not react to her fast enough.  But I did not care, because on my watch read:
32:32 (6:30) pace, and I ran 6:10 for the last mile!  So beyond my A goal!
I was 3rd woman overall - the highest place finish I've ever had in a DC race.  I just had a big smile on my face - this was beyond anything I could have expected for the day.  And in some ways, that made it all the more special.  I totally know the feeling of gratification after months of hard work that demonstrated great potential.  But as of late, I haven't been able to see that, and so this was just a great delight.  I've already gotten some grief from my parents, who said they knew I was going to run fast.  But still - when you have week after week (after week - really, it's been like 6 weeks) of runs that are sub-optimal, why would you expect a good one after all of that?
They had an award ceremony after, and check out the trophy!  I've never gotten one that big before - pretty sweet.
What a great way to start the fall racing season.  Looking forward to the rest of the season (and to more fall weather!).

Friday, September 14, 2012

The view from here isn't too shabby

The Navy 5 miler is on Sunday - my rust buster for the fall season.  Haven't really done any speed work (nothing on the track since June), and so I am just looking at this as an early effort to see where my fitness is at. They finally put up the course map this morning, and I am excited, because a lot of it is running around Haines Point.  It is flat, only a couple of turns, and I have run a number of races out there.  The view is gorgeous (right by the mall and Tidal Basin), and you can really just settle in to a groove and go.  When it went up on the website, I got a wave of butterflies in my stomach.  Few things do that like an upcoming race.  I honestly don't know how it's going to go - I could really surprise myself, but it's not like I have a stack of recent workouts to take comfort in.  No matter what, I am confident I will PR, as the only other 5 miler I ran was in May 2010 (Aurora House 5 Miler in Spencerport) and ran 37:00.  If I had an "A" goal for this race, it would be sub 33 minutes, and I think my "B" goal is somewhere in the 33:xx zone.  Who knows!
I did have some good cross training this week.  I'm in the process of running 5 days a week and cross training 2, versus the old days of 4:3.  This is good, because not only do I love running more, but the cross training just takes more time to coordinate.  I biked 12.2 miles on the stationary on Monday in 50 minutes - one of the faster (and longer) rides I've had on the machine.  And on Thursday, I got in the pool for the first time since Santa Cruz and got in my 2000 yards in just under 43 minutes - at the high end of my average pace for that swim.  Felt so good to get in the water.  I'm grateful that I am able to retain a degree of fitness that even if I'm not doing that sport for a while, I can come back to it.  I often do this with my cross training: I either bike or swim.  But they come in phases - I'll get wrapped up with one usually for a couple of months, and then pick up the other one, etc.  I don't know if there is any benefit to rotating through biking and swimming, but I've been doing it for a couple of years now, so...if ain't broke, right?
School is going well.  I'm TAing for a medieval survey that I've done before and love, so I'm happy to get another go at that.  I'm also teaching a class at my university for the first time, which has been a great experience.  It's an upper level undergrad seminar, and I've learned a lot about how to keep a 2 hour class dynamic - it is a lot of work!  Makes a 50 minute freshmen discussion fly by in comparison!  Not to mention that I got slotted into a sweet office for the semester - they put me in a professor's office who is on sabbatical, and his office is awesome.  There's a table, a couple, a huge mac, and a view of the National Basilica, which is amazing.  The professor's regalia (doctoral graduation robes) are also hanging in the office, and it's a good reminder of what I'm working for - the PhD.  I've gotten a lot of good reading done this week for my dissertation proposal, and I'm hoping to get some good writing done as well.
So the view from here isn't too shabby.  Aiming for clear skies, cool runs, and good medieval thoughts!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It hadn't been ingrained yet/Different kinds of seasons

I was at the gym yesterday at my university, which is where I do my cycling on a stationary and all of my strength training.  While the gym is open to graduate students as well as the undergrads, it's mainly the undergrads there.  Which means:

  • The guys are all wearing white wifebeaters and grunting through their workouts
  • The girls have t-shirts from every college event possible, from orientation to pub crawls
  • Their conversations are...interesting to say the least
But all teasing aside, they are there: at the gym during their college years.  They've carved out time between classes and activities and parties to get there.  And I have to applaud that.  I went to the gym a little bit when I was in college - mainly to do the elliptical and some lifting of 5 pound weights, but not with any regularity.  I'd have those little spurts where I'd go 3 times a week...and then 3 weeks later, that stopped.  And picked up again 2 months later.  Or on Friday afternoons, my friends and I would play tennis or basketball (I was a real contribution to the team if you can imagine) for 2 hours and call it good.  Watching the undergrads made me flash back to my Holy Cross days when I spent 10 hours a week singing, not running.  A different time...and it was just over 4 years ago.
Anyways, I was thinking about all of this, and I was remembering that there used to be a time when I didn't have a regular exercise routine.  But it wasn't engrained yet to stick with an exercise routine.  If I missed a day, or two, or maybe a week, I didn't blink twice.  That was the old me.
The new a bit more neurotic.  Or organized - depending on your point of view.
And the new me has 2 races coming up!  I am doing the Navy 5 miler next Sunday - first race in a couple of months, and then on the following Saturday, the Clarendon Day 5k (one of my favorite 5ks). Very excited - racing is my favorite part of the running game.
Speaking of...running has been just okay.  I had a good 10 mile run on Tuesday with 10 x 90 second fartleks thrown in.  And it was in the 80s, and the effort felt great.  Thursday's 8 miler was also good.  Then Saturday was supposed to be 11 miles...and it was 5.5.  Too hot - was not going to push it.  It's been weird - there are no injuries, but the heat has just slowed me down.  Other than when I had ITBS, this is the hardest batch of running I've had in a while.  Not tough as in hard workouts, but I've just hit a bit of a lull, and that is hard to admit.  I don't know what it is, and it is my hope that when the weather cools, my mojo will come back.  It is just a weird feeling.  Santa Cruz running was fabulous, and this has been less than stellar.
Thankfully, today I had a good long run.  13 miles was the task, and I knew that especially since yesterday's run was a disaster, I needed some sort of redemption for the weekend.  The starting temperature was 69 - almost 20 degrees cooler than yesterday's run.  I wasn't drenched within the first half mile or anxiously looking at my watch.  Maybe I'll actually have success with this one.   Kept going, and then when I reached the National Mall I realized that this was the spot of the Nation's Triathlon, which was cool for 2 reasons.  1) A lot of the major roads were closed off to cars - yay! 2) It is just a lot of fun to watch people race.  When you have so many places to run at your feet, you can really see a lot.  I ran around the Mall, to Arlington, around the Tidal Basin (Jefferson Memorial), Potomac Park, pretty much anywhere downtown.  And I felt relatively good running!  Nothing spectacular - I was clicking off 8:15s at a medium effort, but I was not wilting either.  Now I just need to get my speed back yet.  The longest race I'll be doing this fall is the Army 10 Miler (10/21), so it's not right now a question of conquering the distance, but of speed.  41 days to go.  I need to remind myself that I've been able to do this before - pull out all of the stops when necessary.  Running and training is not a straightforward process.  There are easy parts, harder parts, peaks and valleys.  Sarah sent me an e-mail with the following advice,
You've put in so much good work since the beginning of the year, so don't let making adjustments or easing back on things here or there make you worry.  It's all part of the natural flow of things and serves as a reminder that each season is different, so we can't compare a workout that we did last year to this year--too many factors are different!  Trust me, it's a mantra I repeat to myself :)
I'll be holding onto that mantra for a while.