Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lesson learned: slow, easy, rest

"You'll sleep when you're dead."
"Pain is weakness leaving the body."
"If you're not first, you're last."
"Go hard or go home."

These are things that we tell ourselves, quite foolishly, as a way of talking ourselves into stupid behavior.  I remember vividly in high school and college, getting into pseudo bragging contests with friends and classmates:
"I didn't go to bed until 1.  Oh yeah?  I went to bed at 2 and then got up at 5 to finish my homework."
"I have 2 tests this week. Oh yeah?  Try 2 tests, a paper, and singing in a concert."
And the list goes on and on.  We would try to outdo each other in terms of difficult challenges and throw our bodies into this relentless contest that ultimately...meant not a lot of sleep and a lot of stress.  When I think back on it, it was a really unhealthy form of competition - our way of trying to assert who could handle the most under pressure and less than desirable living patterns.  Thankfully, I've grown up a bit now and realize that that sort of attitude is not ideal and now opt for more healthy, sensible living patterns.
This year, I have made a conscious goal to get more sleep.  This was part of my 8 + 4 = 12 in 2012 (8 hours of sleep and 4 bottles of water per day) resolution.  And while I have not been perfect about it, I have on average at least 4 days a week gotten between 7-8 hours of sleep.  That is a major improvement.  I had grown accustomed to about 6 hours of sleep most nights, and only on the weekends could I dream of a full night's sleep.
In reviewing March, I had 3 tough races back to back to back, which culminated in my 5k PR.  I can attribute my success to a couple of things:
 *Consistent sleep.  Each week leading up to a race (and after), I got 8 hours of sleep most nights, and only had 2 nights a week when that proved otherwise.  I will no longer make apologies or feel guilty for getting a full night's sleep.  That is not me being weak or less of a hard worker - that is me knowing that I perform best with optimal conditions.
* Easy running on easy days.  When my schedule says easy, I run easy.  Yes, I am sure I could crank out a 4 mile run in 28 minutes and be done with it quickly at 7:00 pace.  Or, I could take it easy, and run about 8:45 pace.  Additionally, while I really went to the well and worked very hard to push during my track workouts in February, I backed off in terms of pace this month.  So, instead of super hard and long workouts, the workouts were geared to spark some speed, but not leave me depleted for my races.  After Sunday's race, I got the following message from Sarah,
I hope that you are noticing how sometimes conservative workouts (even if you feel held back) can led to breakthrough races.  It's all about having it on the day you want to have it rather than worry about times in a workout.  It can be a hard thing to do sometimes, but look how fast "slow" workouts have gotten you ;)
And she hit the nail on the head.  It doesn't matter how great or impressive a workout is if it doesn't translate into a good race.  So, while there are hard workouts that I want to really smash great times in, I am now throwing in some caution as well.  Sarah always lists reasonable times for me to hit, and this month, I didn't go out knocking 5-10 seconds off of her goals.  No, I generally came within a second or two of her recommendations, and look - 19:39 speaks for itself.
I just had an easy week of training.  My 4 week cycles are hard for 3 weeks, and then a recovery week to wrap it up - which I definitely needed after a month of racing.  And that meant only running 29 miles this week, and I'll make no apologies for that either.
Slow, easy, rest: these are not terms of weakness.  These, when mixed with harder days, show strength and possibility.  It's a funny coincidence that the Runner's World online poll asked this week:
So, in a way, I am currently resting on my laurels this week with an easy training week and still a big smile from last week's race.  But next week, when cycle 4 starts up, I'll be coming back swinging!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Crack! Breaking through the mythical barrier at Scope It Out 5k

What can be done in 20 minutes?  You can cook one of Rachel Ray's dinners.  Maybe you can dust and vacuum (at least, that's how I do it).  You can't even watch a sitcom in 20 minutes.  But for the emerging runner, breaking 20 minutes in the 5k is a big achievement.  And until recently, the 20 minute barrier was a magical, mythical barrier that has stood more of a point of awe - it was not an attainable goal.  But last fall, I ran 20:23 for the 5k and 41:25 for the 10k, and wondered if perhaps breaking 20 minutes was actually a reasonable goal now.
Going into 2012, Sarah and I had lined up a number of races in preparation for this 5k (Scope it Out), which was to be my goal 5k of the spring season:
Love the Run You're With 5k: cold and windy: 20:40 - good effort in hard conditions
Four Courts Four Miler: super hilly and because of an oops on my part, ran in training shoes, not flats: 27:02
RNR Half Marathon: 1:34:03 - tempo run
I was really nervous going into this 5k.  1) I had such a lofty time goal in mind and I was worried how hard it was going to feel.  2)  I was worried that the back to back races (this was my third race in 3 weeks) was going to take its toll and hit me during this race.
But Sarah had structured the workouts in-between to be such that they weren't too hard or taxing, but would leave me fresh and ready.  And on my part, I was doing my best to rest and relax.  I even got a massage on Saturday (which I haven't gotten one in almost a year), and it felt terrific.  I was relaxed and loose, and good to go!
Look for the pink and blue in the middle...
I know many people enjoyed the warm temperatures this week, but I was very relieved that things had cooled down this weekend.  When I got to the race (at Freedom Plaza in downtown DC), it was 50 and cool and sprinkling just a little.  After sweating it out all this week, this felt like heaven!  I did my warm up and ran a good chunk of the course, so I had a good idea what the first and last mile would look like - pretty flat and straight.  I got myself into a good position at the starting line in the 2nd row.  If you look carefully for the pink hat and blue top, you can see me at the start.  All systems were a go: I had remembered everything and taken care of everything this time.  And after the long pause, there was that famous G word - GO!
Sarah said to just go out as hard as I can and try to bank some time.  I got through the first mile in 6:15, and felt really solid, and I had now 10 extra seconds in the bank.  There were a couple of women who were ahead of me, and I wasn't planning on making a move until later in the race, but I realized that they were slowing down, so I passed them decisively.  Then, another woman passed me, but I passed her right back.  We then hit mile 2 in 12:40, which meant that I had slowed to 6:26.  Now, that was goal race pace and I did have 10 seconds "in the bank," but I did not want to finish in 20:01, so the final 1.1 was all about pushing hard.  The woman in pink passed me again, and I thought I was letting her go.  Yes, I was out there to race, but I was racing against the clock more than anything else.  Start at about 15:00, I kept looking at my watch - I was definitely feeling tired, but was so fired up about PR-ing and breaking 20 minutes that nothing, even fatigue, was going to slow me down.  The woman reappeared in front of me, only a few steps ahead, as was another woman with about 800 meters to go. I could tell that one of them was breathing heavily, and I just went for it at the 3 mile mark - 19:02.  I knew at that point I had almost a minute to play with and had enough of a kick to pass these two, and I just went for it.  I had the biggest smile on my face and they announced my name as I came in, "Here comes Vanessa ___, one of our top female finishers!"
19:39 (6:20)
5th woman/1454
Oh my gosh, I broke through 20 minutes with room to spare!  I had my hands on my face in disbelief and joy, and I knew that I would remember it forever: the first time I cracked 20 minutes in the 5k.  And that may sounds overdramatic, but it's true.  This was a huge mental and physical barrier, and standing on the other side of it felt absolutely tremendous.  I am very happy and excited for what this means for my running future.  I even broke out the champagne to celebrate - it was a big moment to remember.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks...

You better run, better run, faster than my Sauconys!  (here's the link to the Foster the People song if you didn't get the title reference)
5k weekend is here and I am AMPED!  Seriously, I don't think I've ever been so pumped for a 5k, but this is my race and I am ready to fly!  After last Saturday's RNR Half workout, I had Sunday off completely, which was nice.  Monday, I was back in the pool and weightroom for a normal workout.  On Tuesday, I had my favorite race-week workout, which covers almost the 5k distance in the speed section:
Kara, I can only dream to follow in your footsteps!
Resemblance is uncanny, right?
2.5 mile warm up, 1 x 1200, 1 lap jog, 2 x 800, 1 lap jog after each, 4 x 400 (200m jog after each), 2.5 mile cooldown - total of 9 miles.  I ran the 1200 in 4:57, the 800s in 3:12, 3:11, and the 400s ranging from 90-92 seconds.  I felt great - not sore from the half, and ready to take it out hard.  But I obeyed Sarah's orders of not pushing too hard and really did my best to hold myself back.  I hope harnessing all of this energy will really help when the gun goes off on Sunday!  I also wore my compression sleeves during the workout (and I think 60 degrees is probably my max temperature for wearing them), and while I don't know if they made a difference, I felt cool (cool awesome - I felt hot - it was pretty humid) in them and my new shorter racing shorts.  And I was at least pretending to be like Kara Goucher in them...somewhat close (this picture was before I got them - from the Four Courts Four Miler 2 weeks ago), right? I just need to grow a few inches and knock almost an hour off of my marathon time...
And Friday, I had a 5 mile run, followed by 5 x 300 at 67-68 seconds a piece.  It was so hot today - while that wasn't a long workout by any means, I was just drenched by the time I got to the track!  By the 300s, albeit short, were at roughly 6:00/mile pace, so I am hoping that when Sunday comes along, the pace that I am aiming to run (6:25) won't seem as much of a sprint.  We'll see.  I met with Sarah on Wednesday (we were co-presenting at a history function), and she said to just take it out hard in the first mile and hang on until the end!
I did my 20 minute shake out today with 6 sprints thrown in - getting ready for my finish kick.
I slept in this morning, and it was nice not to have an alarm to wake up to.  I do have some work to do today, but I am also going to relax.  Even going out to see 21 Jump Street, which looks like it will be funny.  Anyways, light and easy today, and hard and fast tomorrow!

Monday, March 19, 2012

National Rock and Roll Half Marathon: Awesome Workout

On Saturday, I ran the Rock and Roll National Half Marathon.  In many ways, this is my homecoming race. The National Marathon in 2009 was my first marathon ever (3:52).  I then ran the half in 2010 (1:39) in preparation for Boston, and in 2011, I ran the half again as a NYC Marathon Qualifier (1:34:34).  And so I returned yet again to the half this year, but not as a race, but as a very long, drawn out workout.  It was not a goal race, I did not want to run a PR, and I was here to follow Sarah's very specific (and helpful instructions).  

This is going to be tough for you because you are going to feel awesome and you will have to run slow, at least to start.  Don’t become impatient.  This is going to be like a very long progression run that ends much faster than I usually ask you to.  Err on the side of going a bit to slow in the beginning because I’d rather have you feel strong and run fast the last couple miles.  So, run a 10 minute or so warm-up to loosen yourself up a bit.  Aim to run 7:30-7:40 pace for the first 3 miles.  It will feel easy.  It should.  From miles 3-6 hold your pace to about 7:20 or so.  From 6-9, start cutting down more aggressively, so go from about 7:20 pace down to 7:00 minute pace.  Hold this until mile 10.  I now want you to aim to race your last 5K of the half.  These last three miles should all be under 7:00 pace.  Aim to run 6:55, 6:50 and then let it all out the last mile.  This will be hard by the end but if you err on the side of caution the first half of the race and don’t push the pace  more than you are supposed to, this will be a good strength workout but overall, not an all-out effort.  2 mile cool-down.  Total: 16 miles
So, I had my instructions in hand - I copied my expected range of splits onto an index card which I kept in my pocket. I had been taking it easy all week in preparation for this. I was excited about the race - like seeing an old friend again, and yet, the National Marathon/Half had turned into a Rock and Roll race and I was very curious to see what was going to be.
And the people just kept on coming...
The race has grown considerably in size since I first started running it.  Last year, there were 10 corrals and I think I was in the 2nd.  This year, as the race has turned into a RNR, there were 27 corrals, and when I got off the metro, I was blown away by how long the corrals were.  And I got seeded in the 1st, which I was very excited about.  I was standing in about the 10th row, with comfortable room, and tens of thousands of people stretched out behind me. The picture doesn't even do justice, but you can tell it was a very big race.
These are from running downtown
When the gun went off, I did all I could to just trot it out and not take it out hard.  I went through the first mile just as planned in 7:30 and felt really comfortable.  Weather was good: sunny and about 50 degrees - much cooler than its been this week!  I couldn't believe how comfortable it felt.  I got through the 5k in 22:40, which was a little faster than the 7:30 pace, but I was really trying to just hold back.  There were also these cool Japanese drummers around mile 2, and it is so hard to control yourself when you're hearing steady drums - maybe it's just me, but I always want to beat out time alongside of them.  Anyways, I felt good, and was readying myself for the series of hills that was going to come between miles 6-9 (the hardest part of the church).  I had maintained about 7:20 pace through the 10k, and at that point, didn't feel tired, but wasn't quite ready to pick up the pace.  But even though that section of the course is the hardest, it is also filled with the best crowds.  The sheer volume of people cheering as we made our way up the hills was just super encouraging, and I made moved into 7:10 range.  You know the crowds are awesome when you are climbing hills, sweating like crazy, but then get chills form all of the excitement.  I felt fantastic - this was not an all out effort, and I was just itching to turn on the gas.  There was even a hilly mile that I got a 7:00 mile in!  The miles had all passed so quickly, and I was ready for the next gear.  At mile 9, once I got through the hardest part of the hills, I knew I only had 4 miles left, and as Sarah said, I was to race that last 5k.  I was getting ready to really race - this was really my time to shine, to pass people who I had "let go" earlier, and to turn on the heat!  The moment I passed the mile 10 marker, it was like a second gun went off in my head - it was on!  I was flying and I knew that this was why I had been easing myself into this race - game on!  And I just started passing people - it felt great, and I was dipping in under 7 minute pace.  I could not believe how fast the time went by, and I only had a 5k to go.  I just felt like I was motoring, and I knew this course so well, and those final turns were very familiar to me.  I was going going, felt great, and that finish line just stretched out before me.  They announced my name as I was coming down the line (which just feels...well, like I was a rock star), and I was grinning from ear to ear.
1:34:03 (7:11 pace)
  • Overall: 364 out of 16291
  • Division: 22 out of 3025
  • Gender: 73 out of 10707
  • I was really blown away with how well I placed overall - I've really made great progress in just 3 years.  This was my second fastest half (Philly - 1:32:34), and a course PR by 30 seconds.  And a terrific workout!  I cutdown my pace according to plan, and it went really well!  Sarah was pleased with the effort, and it should mean that things are going to go well for the 5k next Sunday.  

Me in my new compression socks and medal

    When I got home, I did my cool down (ouch - was definitely sore by then), and then cleaned up.  Check out the compression sleeves I bought at the expo!  I was really happy with the race - it was probably the best non-PR race I've ever run. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

It's All Uphill from Here: Four Courts Four Miler

I have always been confused by the phrase, "It's all uphill ( or downhill) from here."  What does that mean?  Does uphill mean that we are climbing to a peak and things are going to get better?  Or does it mean that as we go uphill, it's going to get harder?  Likewise, does downhill mean that it's easy?   Or is downhill mean bad, like heading into a valley?
On Saturday, I ran the Four Courts Four Miler in Arlington as part of my short distance racing series.  It is an out and back course - check out the hills.  I did a lot of practicing with hills in preparation for finishing with a 2 mile climb: lately, all of my long runs have finished going uphill.  Yet, Sarah also referred to that last hill as "soul crushing."  Yikes!  Still, I was rested from my trip to Florida, I was excited, I was ready.
Although on race morning, I was lucky I made it to the start in one piece:

  • I dropped one of my lucky "V" earrings on the carpet as I was getting ready and it took 20 minutes to find.
  • I realized a few blocks after I left my apartment that I left my pocket rosary at home and had to run back to get it.
  • I dropped off my bag before my warm-up.  Normally, when I finish my warm-up, I strip down to my race outfit and change into my racing flats.  But on Saturday, when I went to pick it up, all of the bags were just tossed in a giant heap with no sense of organization.  1500 people were running this race: I tried to sort through the bags to find mine, but after 10 minutes, gave up.  
  • Not only was I running without my facing flats (which I know I've only been using for 6 months, but now I absolutely love them), but I was running without my trusty pink visor - something I've worn in every race for almost 3 years.  
So, needless to say, I was a little unnerved at the start.  I knew I was going to take out the first two miles (the downhill) really hard, and then just do my best to hang on as I made my way back uphill.  It was sunny, windy and a little chilly.  I hopped and jumped around, ready to go.  And with the gun, we were off!  I just did my best to fly down the hill.  I used to be really bad with downhills, and really just "brake" and slow down.  Now, I am learning to be more aggressive on them.  I went through mile 1 in 6:08 - what?  Sarah told me not to freak out with that first mile split, so I just went with it.  I got through 2 miles in 12:40, and was pretty pleased.  But, at the turnaround, we were running into the wind, and it immediately became evident how hard that climb back up would be.  Luckily, at the turnaround, I bumped into an old MCM buddy of mine, Brian, who I haven't seen an a year.  We yelled and waved, but that was it.  And it was all uphill from there.  I am pretty good on hills, but this was a whole other beast.  I could not believe how tired I felt as I was going up the hill.  I managed to pass some people, but I was just going all I could to move forward and upward.  Seriously, this was more challenging than the Newton Hills and Heartbreak Hill in Boston.  In that final mile, my sense of pushing for a goal time went out the window, and the only goal was to just cross that finish line.  And I did, but it didn't feel pretty.
27:03 (6:46 pace - talk about a positive split)
8th woman (out of 873)
3rd in age group
45/1511 overall
I was exhausted when I finished, but I still went and did my 2.5 mile cool down (ended up running with the girl who came in 7th, and we commiserated about how hard that race was).
Cheers!  Happy St. Pacers Day!
There was a big after party, which I decided to go to, even though I was a little bummed.  I was so glad I did, because I found out I came in 3rd for my age group!  They gave me a Pacers pint glass, which is cool.  And, I bumped into my friend Brian, so we were able to catch up.  At that point, Sarah (my coach) texted me to see how it went.  I wrote back, explained the racing flat debacle and how hard the race was.  She texted me back and said that the winner (who is a 2 time Olympic Trials qualifier and a teammate of hers) ran this race at a pace slower than a 10k last month.  That was actually a big relief, because I also ran this slower than my 10k pace.  It was a hard race!  And Sarah concurred, saying that it was important for me to get out and race, but the time was not indicative of my current fitness, and that there was a reason why we hadn't made this a goal race.  
So, in the end, I was pretty pleased with my performance, once I was reassured that this was a hard race for everyone.  Additionally, I do tend to get so caught up in the numbers, that I need to remember that yes I am doing a great job, and that not every race is perfect.  We don't always get perfection or dream races.  If that was the case, the ones that went really well wouldn't feel as significant.  And, I need to remember that a lot of people only dream of that time, and I am fortunate to have already reached that kind of pace.  Yet, I will not be complacent.  I am harnessing all of my energy for the Scope it out 5k in 2 weeks.  If I can take out a couple miles under 6:30 pace, I am looking hopefully at cracking that magical/mythical 20 minute barrier.  
So, it looks like it is all uphill from here - in a good way!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My running partner

I tend to run alone, and that is usually fine.  Running is often really good "me time" and I do great thinking while I’m on the road.  I have rarely found someone who I can get into a running groove with, or someone who wants to run when I do.  And that is normally no problem, but since running is sometimes my favorite part of the day, it would be nice to share those precious moments with someone.
I do have a semiannual running partner, my dear friend Jenny, who just visited in Florida for a mini-vacation!  We met in 2009 and worked together for two summers.  When we met, she was a swimmer and I was a runner, and we managed to rub off on each other in a very good way!  Since then, I ran with her for her debut marathon (MCM 2010), and paced her for part of her BQ (MCM 2011), and she has got me swimming in the pool! 
She is now a very dear friend of mine, and aside from running she is just very important to my life.  So, I visited her and her family for a few days, and one of the greatest, purest delights was been the fact that we were able to get in some good runs in together.
            This was the trail that we did some of runs on.  Slightly sandy/gravely, no traffic to deal with, and just very pretty.  Very different structure from my DC runs.  My runs normally do go by fairly quickly, and I’m back before I know it, and returning to my busy life.  But these were runs of swapping stories and remembering distant (and distance) runs together.  We’ve run together up and down the East Coast: in NY, DC, and Florida.  I’m sure we’ll expand westward and perhaps even out of the US at some point in some sort of destination race.  But for now, we were content to have those little moments: an hour of sweat and stories.
            In some ways, we are an unnatural pair.  We are separated by over a decade, she has a family of her own, and I am just starting out in the professional world, she was trained as a swimmer, and I as a runner.  She is a Floridian and succeeds in the heat, whereas I, the Yankee, thrive in cooler weather.  But as polarizing as some of those opposites are, we are a pair that makes sense to us.
            I had a fabulous trip.  It felt like spring training.  Nice weather, a mini vacation with not much to do other than train and relax.  I have managed now for over a week to consistently get 8 hours of sleep, which is something I am finally learning how to do.  You would think it would be so easy to just do that: after a day of running around (literarily), grading, reading, driving, and everything else, sleep would come naturally.  But I’m not always good about it.  Either I stay up too late, or wake up in the middle of the night.  Yet lately, I have hit a groove in the sleeping realm, which I feel strangely proud of.  And given that I am entering a cycle of back-to-back-to-back races, good sleep is absolutely essential.  Race 1 is Saturday: Four Courts Four Miler.  I am so excited.  My last race, (my rust-buster Love the Run You’re With) was almost 4 weeks ago, and I am looking forward to getting out there in better weather conditions, with another month of good training under my belt, and testing out the wheels!
Me and Jenny in Jupiter, FL
            I’ve gone on and on for a while, so it is time for me to close.  But it’s a good sign – I am happy and have a lot to chatter about.  And I was sad to get on the plane today and hug my running partner goodbye.  I know it will be awhile before I see Jenny again, but another road awaits us, and the knowledge of another path will keep us running until we run into each other again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The gift of time

I am on Spring Break from Mount Saint Mary's this week, which is a relief.  I get 6 hours back just from not having to drive up there, plus all of the time spent into teaching, preparing for class, etc.  The time off has really been a gift.  My whole Tuesday and Thursday have been completely different, because instead of getting everything done in DC by 2:30 (when I leave), I have the entire day, plus, I am truing to get ahead in writing my lectures.
Now, today, March 1st, the weather is beautiful in DC (yesterday, it poured on Leap Day, so I think this was our reward for getting through that).  So beautiful that I actually have been working outside for most of the day.
I feel incredibly fortunate.  Among many other reasons, I really do think I was meant to work in the academic profession.  The flexibility of this job is tremendous.  I started grading this morning at 7AM - I didn't need to punch a clock or report to anyone.
Shannon Rowbury doing a nice job demonstrating what I did today
At 9, I mentally punched out and went for a 4 mile run.  I also did a bunch of drills too - something that doesn't always fit into my schedule, but today it did. High knees, grapevines, butt kicks, and even this hurdle walk thing (obviously, I am fortunate that the track I use has hurdles nearby).  And I was back at home by 10AM and back on track with grading.
Tonight, I did work later than 5, but I did it out of my home today.  And obviously there are drawbacks to this too.  Your work does come home with you, you never really feel "done," but there are many many advantages to this system too.
Sun, iced tea, and a good book - who could ask for anything more?
Exhibit A: the picture.  Being on break meant I could sit outside on my teeny porch and work outside.  Outside?  Fresh air?  Heck yes!  I was playing my Motown and grooving to the Supremes while reading about fifteenth-century Italy.  That's what everyone does on a sunny day, right?  I really was smiling - I just felt content.  The weather was terrific, I was getting good work done, and things just felt in sync.
There are some parts of grad school that are lonely and dreary - I will admit that.  But today, I definitely felt the perks - the independence, the good reading (which all reading is good reading, right?), and the flexible schedule.
And by the by: 158.5 miles for February and 174 for January.  I hit a new swim PR on leap day: 40:25 for my 2000 yard swim.  Now if I can get my 10k run to match that time, I'll be all set!