Monday, April 30, 2012

Watch me go: Pike's Peek 10k

The Pike's Peek 10k, has been my goal race for a while.  My old 10k PR (41:26) had stood since November, and given all of the speed work I've done this spring, I was due to smash it.  This race sounded awesome: one turn in the first mile, and then straight the rest of the way with a net downhill!  The weather was perfect - 45 at the start, with the sun coming up.
I really got to relax last night.  I had given a paper at a conference earlier in the day, and then came home to a nice dinner and got to unwind - a very nice treat.
Now, it is very difficult to get everything to go to plan - on any given day, and certainly race day.  I've forgotten stuff, didn't sleep well, etc.
And here's what happened on Sunday:
I lost my watch.  I had a party at my apartment Friday night, and my guess is that in my attempt to put everything away, it got misplaced.  I ransacked (probably negating the cleaning) my entire place last night, and could not find it.  So, I made my peace with it, and decided today, I would run watch-less and run by feel.  I knew that they would have a timer at each mile, so I could estimate my splits fairly accurately.  I resigned myself to that, and went to bed.
I felt good when I got up, had a nice trip up to Rockville, and got situated at the site.  I did my warm up, checked my gear, did a couple of strides and positioned myself in the back of the first wave of runners  I told myself that when the gun would go off, I would count the number of seconds until I crossed the start, and then use that to check my pace at mile markers.
And then the gun went off - I counted, and estimated it was about 7 seconds for me to cross.  I was off and running, running by feel and just trusting the training.  I ran through the first mile in about 6:23, based on my estimate.  Phew, ease up a bit, you are not going to keep this pace.  I hit 2 miles in 13:07, which meant I had only slowed down a little.  Careful, careful, you don't want to blow up with over 4 miles to go.  But I felt so good and comfortable.  The road was clear, the air was perfect and I felt great.  3 miles in  19:38 ish and at this point, I felt myself slowing down, not out of my control, but out of fatigue - and hitting the 5k mark meant that I was halfway done, but that still felt like a long way to go.  The course was great - we were running on the Pike, and things had thinned out enough that I had ample room and really settled into a good rhythm.  Until I got a side stitch at mile 4 - this had never happened in a race.  Shoot - what to do I do?  Slowing down helped, but I didn't want to have to can my whole race.  I just tried to breathe deeply and relax, and hope that it would work itself soon.  At mile 5, it finally disappeared, and I felt like I could pick things up again, which was good as I was running somewhat ignorant of the time and not completely sure how I was going to finish.
Have you ever heard bad breathing during a race?  That labored, pained, panting/gasping that really makes it hard to focus?  A man next to me at mile 5 sounded like he was going to throw up, and I was finding it really hard to concentrate.  And unfortunately, he was running the same pace as me - it took a while for me to pull away and get far enough from him not to hear that.  Yikes!  Finally, before I could even see the mile 6 marker, I could see the big balloon arch that signaled the finish - finally!  The last part of the course was all downhill, so I just used gravity as best as I could, and plummeted to the finish, watching the clock click on.
40:55 (6:35 pace)
35/1445 women
9/203 age group
Yes!  A 31 second PR, and I broke 41 minutes!
But I'll admit that initially, I wasn't completely thrilled.  We had a goal of 40:45-40:30, and I didn't accomplish that.  After I finished, I did my cooldown, where I could still feel the lingering side stitch, and tried to analyze the race.  I was excited about the PR, but I thought it was going to be more.  Was it the lack of the watch?  The cramp?  Did I blow up because I went out too hard?  All of these thoughts were swirling around, and while I was proud of what I did, I didn't have that "yeah, I nailed it" smile or feeling that I have experienced regularly.
It wasn't until the drive home that things clicked, and I had a positive shift in attitude.  I was driving on the Pike (now re-opened), and Frankie Valli and the Four Season's "Dawn" came on.  I have a distinct memory after one of my 10k PRs last fall, walking around the National Mall, with that playing on my iPod, grinning from ear to ear over the joy of my triumph.  That then-PR for the 10k was 42:48 - almost 2 minutes slower than what I accomplished on Sunday, and I had been ecstatic. And I remembered a similar reaction when I ran 41:26 - I didn't think I could run under 42.  And here I was, less than celebratory after cracking 41 minutes.  Are you kidding me?
The old me - from 6 months ago, a year ago, would have died to know that sub 41 was a possibility.  And then another thought drifted in - I am running faster than I ever thought possible.
I didn't grow up a runner who thought of all of these benchmarks.  This is still only a lifestyle I've had for 3.5 years, and I am just learning now what I can do.  So, how dare I not celebrate my big victory.
Whoosh - 180 degree change in attitude.  My PR is what it is - a personal record achieved through hard work.  It is a benchmark of progress, but I think it is also just a temporary one - with others waiting to emerge down the road.   I ran as hard as I could (no one can say now that I don't go out hard), I readjusted mid race when difficult conditions came down the pike, and I accomplished my sub 41 goal.
Totally worthy of celebration.  A few hours later, an email came in from Sarah, not just of congratulations, but with a new schedule for my next cycle of training - because there's always another new dream race and dream goal that awaits.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pep in my step: Race Week Ready

This Sunday is the Pike's Peek 10k (note the spelling, not Peak) - my goal race of the month.  I have spent all of 2012 so far putting all of my running energy into 2 races: the Scope it out 5k, which resulted in a PR, and this, the Pike's Peek 10k.
For someone who started off as a marathoner and has since focused on shorter distances (certainly the reverse of the normal plan), it is odd to have the big race, the goal race to be a 10k, not a half or a marathon.  But, this is my big moment of the spring racing season, and I've put a lot of time, and about 150 miles in the past month alone getting ready for this race, plus ample cross training, strength, and core training.  I have about 16 weeks of consistent training under my belt, and I've done a lot of other races getting ready.
I had 2 good workouts this week that really clinched everything.  Last week, I had a cold that didn't have the best timing - it was my peak week of training.  I was supposed to get in 50 miles, and I got in 48 instead.  Pretty good.  But I took a lot of time to just focus on resting.  This semester, even though schoolwork has been so busy, I have really tried to make it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  Sometimes it is hard - there is always more work to be done, but I know my running has benefitted from it.  It is just much easier to knock out these hard workouts (and recover from them) on more sleep.  Now, I understand that I am lucky to be able to do this - I am not a mom who has a baby or young kids, and I only answer to me.  But I may as well take advantage of this opportunity to sleep more while I can!
On Saturday, I had my last run on the Capital Crescent Trail.  I haven't run there since the end of February (since most of my Saturday runs in March were turned into races), and it felt great to be back on it.  This was the workout, known as the "In and out:"
  2.5 mile warm-up;  “In and Out” Miles; On a marked trail (of course!), run your first mile about 6:55, immediately turn around and start running back at about 7:45 pace; go out for the third mile in about 6:50, run back to the start in about 7:35; run your fifth mile in about 6:45 and run the last mile back in about 7:25; 2.5 mile cool-down.  Total= 11 miles
 This is a really neat workout, because the out miles, the slower ones, are not actually that slow, so you don't really recover, but it gives your legs a chance to work on switching gears.  I found a nice shady (as in cool, not shady creepy) part of the trail, and really just locked in on the run.  I wasn't sure how good I would feel, because I was still getting over this cold, and I had just felt like I was running on 85%.  But Saturday's run was the best run I had had in about 10 days.  6:52, 7:40, 6:45, 7:31, 6:39, 7:27 for the in and out.  I felt so good, 100%, and like I had more in the tank, which was the goal.  I texted Sarah all excited about it, and she was glad to here it.  Sunday was a 12 mile long run that was fine, but the other workout was my Tuesday track workout.
 2.5 mile warm-up; 2K cut-down; 1x 1200, 2 x 800, 4x400.  Start the 2K at 7:15 pace and cut down 3-5 seconds per lap, jog 2 laps; aim for 4:55 for the 1200, jog a lap; aim for 3:12 and 3:09 for the 800s ( 1 lap jog in between); aim for 89-92 for the 400s (200 jog between);  2.5 mile cool-down; Total=10.5 miles
I ran the 2k in 8:08 (6:30 pace), 4:52 for the 1200, 3:10, 3:09 for the 800s, and 91, 90, 89, 89 seconds for the 400s!  Sarah said I had pep in my step, so taking things easy last week and readjusting means I am ready!
This is a busy academic time of year, though, with the semester wrapping up.  Lots of grading to do, and I am even presenting a paper at a conference on Saturday.  So, while physically, I am trying to take it easy this week, this is a mental race too.  
While my goal time seems a bit scary, my training shows that I am ready.  I need to not think about the pace that seems fast, but know that my running says yes, I am ready.  I've got pep in my step, I am amped, and I cannot wait to run!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Recognize your victories

Recognize your victories.  - Joan Benoit Samuelson

That is one of my favorite quotations, because yes, while we often do live in a world over saturated with praise and inflated self-esteem and egotism, we sometimes also hold ourselves to such ridiculously high standards, that we lose sight of the victory, the gold medal, the atta boy (or girl) that is right in front of us.

Anyone who has read my blog long enough knows how much I love my track workouts.  They are long, hard, and challenging, but getting through them is such a victory and a joy for me.  The night before is always filled with anticipation.  The run itself is exhilarating, and I spend the rest of the day feeling like I achieved a little victory.  And this entire spring season, the track workouts have been going right on track, or even better than expected.  They have felt awesome and great, and have served as good benchmarks in my training.

After the Crystal City 5k last night, I came down with a cold, and while it wasn't that bad of a cold, it did wipe me out.  Plus with the heat we've had, I just slowed down on my runs.  My 13 mile run on Sunday was slow slow slow.  But really, I have no reason to complain.  I watched the Boston Marathon on Monday, and just ached for all of the runners (including a few of my friends out there).  I could not imagine what it would be like to run a marathon in that heat.  But, I also saw and read about a lot of great stories too - many people took the heat in stride and still took on the marathon.  Amazing.

Still, I was feeling less than stellar, and when I was getting ready to toe the track on Tuesday, I felt less than ready for this:

2.5 mile warm-up; 3 x 2 mile tempo repeats; First 2 mile, run 6:50 pace;
2 lap jog; Second 2 mile, run 6:40 pace; 2 lap jog; Third 2 mile, run 6:30 pace; 2.5 mile cool-
down. Keep the paces even within each 2 mile tempo. The goal is to be comfortable at a pace
and holding it. Total=12 miles
I did the first 2 mile in 13:44 (6:52 pace) and felt like I was really working hard - not a good sign.  During my recovery laps, I was a bit bewildered to see this in the sky (I had no idea until later that it was the Discovery Shuttle).

Anyways, I did the second 2 mile in 13:37 and felt like I was working way too hard.  And then I did something I am often reluctant to do...I walked away.  Or rather, I ran away.  I did not do the third set - I just did my cooldown instead, and turned the 12 mile run into 10 miles.  And it was the smart decision.  I was not going to push and end up blowing up - I knew my limit for the day.

It was not my usual victory, but as per usual, I sent the results out to Sarah.  Her response:
That was a great call not to do the third set.  Your body was clearly telling you that it needed more rest, and it was just not up to it today.  It's funny, sometimes the effects of traveling and racing don't always catch up with us right away, and I think in your case, you hit a bit of a delayed reaction.  You are not a machine (although sometimes we think we are--both for school and training), and you need rest.  I'll leave it up to you, but if you feel like you need an off day tomorrow to just catch up on sleep and give your body a full day to recharge, I would encourage you to do that.  You are not going to lose any fitness at this point,and you don't want to beat yourself up over a training day. It's always better to be under-trained!  Just take it easy and don't put too  much pressure on yourself for Saturday's workout either.  The goal should be to just not feel cashed in before you start!

I recognized both my limits and my victories.  I have not had an off track workout since last October - a very good streak.  And sometimes we get worn down.  The semester is ending, and I have been super busy.  And that is great, but I am sure it all has worn me out a bit too.  So, I am choosing to find the victory above anything else.

On Runner's World, someone suggested posting pictures from their middle school/high school running days.  Now, some people have had some really vintage pictures that look really awesome.  Mine made me laugh.  This was from 7th grade (1998) - before my big growth spurt.  First of all, those uniforms were something else - long sleeve shirts for cross country that appeared to have been made before I was born.  But I do have to smile looking at these -- look at that girl - I look like a midget next to her.  That was half of my life ago.  About 3 inches 35 more pounds, and 12 years later, I'm running again.  Almost half a lifetime ago, and I'm on the road again, in search of new victories.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Update on Training, Crystal City Friday 5k

DC is great for many reasons, but one of my favorite things about DC is that it is such a phenomenal running city.  There are many races each weekend throughout the city, and in any given race, you have at least 1,000 runners, and some pretty fast one too.  Pacers Running Stores puts on an awesome racing series each year, with over 20 races a year, and I am proud to be a Pacers Ambassador for a third year.  This means I volunteer at some of their races (registration, packet pick up, handing out water, etc), wear their gear in races, and just get the word out about the stores and race series.  So, it is perfectly natural for me to have some of their races factored into my training.
This week, it was the Crystal City Friday 5k.  Every Friday night in April, there is a 5k in Crystal City, which is a lot of fun.  I have volunteered at this race about 10 times, but had never run it.  So, I was looking forward to seeing what the race itself was actually like.  But this race was a part of my larger 10k training, which I want to take a minute to talk about.
I was home last week for a week for Easter, which was really nice.  I hadn't been home since early January, so it was really nice to go home and see my parents.  I was able to relax a bit, enjoy the time away from commuting, and regroup for the last chunk of the semester.  I got some good training runs in, and even a bike ride too!  I hadn't been on a bike since Christmas, but got in an 18.8 mile bike ride in on Friday.  While the ride itself was fine, I was definitely sore on Saturday!  I had an 11 mile run on Saturday, with 6 miles at tempo (start at 7:15 pace and work down to 6:45).  When I trotted out for my warm up, I was moving really slow and wondering how successful the run was going to be.  Ultimately, I averaged 7:11 pace for 5.5 miles, and that was all I could do.  And you know, I will take it.  It was a bit unwise on my part to get on the bike the day before a hard workout and expect the run to exactly according to plan.  The plan is just that, a plan - it is nearly impossible to get every run and training session in perfectly.  I also got in a good 12 mile run on Sunday and averaged 8:25 pace.  I was pretty happy with that - I am starting to bring my easy run time down.  For the next month, my long runs are between 10-13 miles, and I really like that.  I love the marathon, I love marathon training, but it is nice to focus on these shorter distances and have that long run done in under 2 hours.  
But the big run of the week was my track workout on Tuesday.  It was 17mph winds, and man, when the wind hits every single lap, that is a hard workout. I think it is a challenging workout regardless of the wind: 
2.5 mile warm-up; 2 mile tempo, 1 mile, 2 x800, 4x400; run the 2 mile
steady and do not cut it down at all; aim to run it at 6:50 pace; jog 2 laps; aim for 6:40 in the
mile; jog 500 meters; aim for 3:15 and 3:12 in the 800s (400 jog between each); aim for 90-92
for the 400s, with a 200 meter jog between each; 2.5 mile cool-down. Total=11.5 miles
This was hard.  I did the 2 mile tempo in 13:36 (6:38 pace).  I did the mile in 6:38, and at that point, halfway through the workout, I really had to motivate to keep going.  I did the 2 800s in 3:12 and 3:08. This wind was not going to stop me!  By the time the 400s rolled around, I just had to tell myself that each one was going to be over in 92 seconds, so just get through it.  92, 92, 91, 90!  This was a hard workout, and even with the wind, I got through it really well.  During my cooldown, it started to HAIL!  Are you kidding me?  It was definitely the icing on the cake of a crazy workout.  Very hard, but also really rewarding to get through too.
Anyways, I was pretty psyched how it went.  And I had this 5k on tap for Friday, which came with the following instructions from Sarah (which made me laugh):

This race doesn’t matter. I repeat, this race doesn’t matter. You are doing it to get a simulated race/workout and to get another race in before the goal 10K. The course stinks, and there are lots of twists, turns, speed bumps and parking lots. Do not worry about your time. Whatever your time is on this course does not matter at all. Just worry about going out there and feeling aggressive. Did I mention the course stinks? 2.5 warm-up; race; 2.5 cool-down. Total=8 miles
So yes, while the race is fun, and a lot of people do it, it is a challenging course and not one that sets up well for a PR.  So, that was the attitude I went in with - just go out and run - push hard, but don't expect anything.
So, I actually volunteered with registration before the race started and was having fun chatting it up with my fellow Ambassadors and meeting new people.  But I realized about an hour before the race why I had felt a little sluggish for a couple of days - I was getting a cold, yuck.  But, better then than before my goal 10k.  I toed the starting line, ready to go, and just hoping to put a decent time out there.  While I knew I couldn't run a PR (19:39), I was hoping to run a good time.  The gun went off and off we went.  And yes, Sarah was right, there were lots of hard to maneuver turns.   I came through the first mile in 6:26, and felt like I was really working hard.  Funny, how when I ran my big 5k PR at 6:20 pace, it felt much easier than what I was doing Friday night.  It also seemed like a lot of people, including a decent number of women went out in front of me.  Oh well, it doesn't really matter - not a lot is on the line with this race.  I came through the second mile in 6:32 and felt tired, but at least locked into a good rhythm.  That was about the same feeling at mile 3, and had 2 90 degree turns to make in the final .1 - a bit hard!  I finished in 20:10 - my second fastest 5k, so pretty good!
10th woman out of 773
69 overall out of 1426
I staggered after for a moment, just feeling very spent.  It was very hard to do an evening race for me.  Just a weird thing to mentally prepare for.  The morning races, you conserve energy overnight, but I had spent the whole day working, and then had to toe the line.  Definitely a different kind of mentality. I then switched into my training shoes and ran my cooldown on the course, as it was still open.
I love running in DC, and was pleased that the Capitol even made it into this shot!
I was reflecting on the whole thing, and I realized, that even though this was more of a workout than a race, I was pretty proud.  This means that on a given Friday, I can go out, run around 20 minutes, come in top 10 in a DC race, even with a cold.  That is pretty good.  So, even though it was a low key race, it still went well, and is a good sign that 10k training is going well.  I rehashed the race a bit with Sarah at lunch, and she said that people rarely run times comparable to their PRs on that course, so I was glad to get her seal of approval on the effort.  And, while this isn't a picture from the Crystal City 5k, they finally posted pictures form my Scope it out Race - and I look just as happy as I felt!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Beast of a track workout - unstoppable

Mile repeats are such an interesting workout.  Each interval is long enough that you need to make sure that you are able to sustain the pace - you cannot go all out with mile repeats if you have 5 of them to do.  But the pace is also still fast enough to come close to race pace.
My next big race is at the end of this month - Pike's Peak 10k in Rockville, MD.  It is a point-to-point course that is supposed to be a fast race.  I looked at the winning times for the women, and the top 10 women ran between 32:05-34:04 - what?!  For 10k!  The winner gets $1000, so obviously there are going to be a lot of fast people running.  And that is great - I am aiming for a big PR (current 10k PR 41:26) and hoping to run around 40:30 at the end of the month.  While I am doing a 5k next Friday (Crystal City 5k), it is not a big race, and all training is in prep for this 10k at the end of the month...which brings me to Tuesday's beast workout.
Last August, I had a very tough workout of mile repeats, where in the heat I averaged 6:48 pace for 5 repeats.  Last September, this was my redemption workout, where I ran 6 repeats and averaged 6:42 pace.  Both of these workouts were in my mind as I laced up for Tuesday's workout: 2.5 mile warm up, 5 x 1 mile (500m recovery in between), 2.5 mile cooldown = 11.25 miles.  Sarah said to start at 6:55 and knock 5-7 seconds off her interval.  The weather was great: sunny and cool and no wind.  But it was about 38 when I started, and 50 when I ended, so while I started with pants over shorts, a hat and arm warmers, they all slowly came off.  After the warm up, the pants were gone, and it turned into a slow de-layering process all morning, which I thought was pretty funny.
1.  6:54 (arm-warmers came off) - this felt so easy, and I definitely felt like I was holding myself back.
2.  6:44 (this still felt easy, and while it was faster than the goal, I still felt comfortable
3.  6:36, (hat came off) - this was when I really felt like I was starting to push...and hoping that it wouldn't bite me in the end.  Took a GU after this one.  While I normally don't take a GU for a run under 2 hours, I have taken one during a long track workout and have found it to be helpful.  I could tell my energy was getting a little low, and even if it was in my head, I knew I was getting an extra boost of energy, which helped push me in the final two sets.
4.  6:26 - was really hoping that the GU would help me push in the final one - I have blown up so many times in the final interval, and did not want that to be the case this time around.  And to really get hot for the last one, the shirt came off.
5.  6:19 - last one, fast one!

I averaged 6:36 pace for this workout - and was completely psyched.
I am digging the new compression socks!
This was my best version of mile repeats I've ever done, and as I was finishing, I kept replaying the other workouts in my head.  They were fine, yes, they were my best back then, but in the here and now, I had reached a new level.  And I also knew that I would remember this version, the new version for a long time.  This was after I got back to my apartment (and put in a few of the layers).  If you can't see the Asics shirt, it says "unstoppable" 3 times, and it is one of my favorites.  And that's how I felt on the track - unstoppable, and I kept repeating it as I was going - I was going to do all I could to knock this one out of the park.  This cycle is going to be a hard one in preparation for the 10k, but I am ready to take the bull by the horns and meet it head on.