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!