Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Johnny's Running of the Green 2014

Holiday runs are a lot of fun: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Fourth of July - all are a blast. They involve a lot more festivities, costumes, drinking (yes, a blood mary always goes down the best after a race), and fun! Now, I do love all races, but some extra Irish music always amps up the race by a few points, and just the extra sense of spirit/fun. But before I got to Rochester for my St. Patrick's Day race, it was a different world in DC.
DC was finally getting a burst of spring, including sun and the temperatures getting in the 60s. I was excited to ditch the tights and wear shorts instead, and get in a warmer workout. Tuesday's track workout wasn't a race-week workout. It was 4 x1 mile, starting at 6:45 pace and getting faster. It went well: 6:44, 6:35, 6:26, 6:20. Woo! My legs were moving (and not on a treadmill) and it just went well. Even though I didn't have a good night's sleep before, this was the moment that I was doing well. All of my little stresses of the day that had been building up were gone, like someone had loosened up the pressure valve.
Meanwhile, a storm was brewing in Rochester, literally. My flight out to Rochester got cancelled on Wednesday, so I didn't get home until Thursday. Welcome back to winter - 10 degrees! With the windchill, it was about 0, so my last run on Thursday was a cold one for sure. And we had lots of wedding planning to do (2 months to go!), so Saturday morning was here before we knew it.
Johnny's Running of the Green 5 mile race is Rochester's Rite of Spring - although the weather begged to differ. It was about 30 degrees, gray, with 15mph winds. Not perfect conditions for a race, but this isn't a season for goal races, just to go out and have a good time. It was my goal to go under 33 minutes, but knew that wasn't a firm goal. My mom and I were doing it, and we would be joined by many friends and Rochester runners looking forward to this annual event.
Running into the wind, I went through the first mile in 6:30, and I felt like I was flying - too fast for today. My legs were just tired - was it the flight? The workout? Who knows - I just knew it wasn't my best day. Rather than getting caught up on time, I was just going to try and place high and not fall off the pace too much, even though I went through the second mile at 13:10 - 6:40 pace. I was really happy to hit the turnaround (2.5 miles) and see my friends and mom running by - that was a brief boost. By mile 3, I was starting to feel like I could push the pace more - at least in terms of effort. I was starting to both pass people, but have a couple of girls blow by me too. But at least I was feeling like I was making progress, and with a mile to go, hovering around that 33 minute goal time.
No chance at beating the girl in green

With half a mile to go - CRAMP! Oh my gosh, big big side stitch/cramp that totally slowed me down. I actually had this happen in another 5 mile race in September - what a bizarre coincidence. Anyways, it reduced me to a shuffle, and with 100 yards to go, this girl in green blew by me: I couldn't respond: I finished in 33:11 - not a PR at all, nor did I hit my A or B goals. Still, it was good enough for third place in my age group - which was rewarded with a bottle of wine! Not too shabby. My mom did well too: 46:38.
It was great to be home and great to do another race with my mom. Not my best, admittedly, but we don't always get the A goals/results. Time to go back to the drawing board...aka the road!
Me, my mom, and my booze prize

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top 10 Tips for your first marathon

I have a few friends making their marathon debut this weekend. I made mine almost exactly five years ago (March 21, 2009) at the National Marathon (now the Rock and Roll USA Marathon) – and had a race beyond my wildest dreams.  One friend asked me for some last minute tips, and while I was writing back to her, I realized that I’ve been giving these tips more or less pretty much since I did run that first marathon. I’ve learned more along the way, and it is my hope that you can use this list as you prepare for your first half marathon or marathon. None of it is rocket science – just things that work. I wish you the best as you get ready for this big day.
    1)   Go to the expo early. You don’t want to spend too much time on your feet. Yes, there are great deals on shoes and clothes, but give yourself an hour (max two hours if you are going to a clinic/seminar/meeting an elite athlete) to walk around. If you do take advantage of those sales, don’t wear the new shoes/clothes for your marathon. Those hot shorts may be awesome, but if they happen to cause chaffing, you don’t want to find out on marathon morning.   
2)   Drink a lot of water in the days leading up to your race. You already carbo-load – why not hydro-load? This is you filling the tank. Don’t drink so much that you wake up in the middle of the night (which still may happen), but you want to be well-hydrated. At dinner, I have a bottle of Gatorade the night before. That morning, I just drink a cup of tea with my breakfast. I have carried Gatorade with me, but you can also just take in the water/Gatorade at the aid stations.
3)   Use the energy gels (GU, Jelly Beans, etc) that you’ve been using – don’t try anything new that they have samples of at the expo. Again, you don’t want to discover in sampling (or marathon morning) the new chews that it bothers your stomach.
4)   Leave early for the start, particularly for big city races. Yes, you have to get up earlier, but it is better to be chilling at the start than worry while you’re en route whether you’re going to make it or not.
5)   Bring a clean trash bag. After you’ve checked your warm-up clothes (pants, jacket, etc), you may still have some lag time before the start, and it can be chilly. This may seem weird, but you’ll actually see a lot of people do this. Cut a hole for your head, and your arms, and this will be your outer layer until the start. It blocks the wind, it’ll keep you warm, and then you can throw it out before you start.
6)   Go to the bathroom as soon as you get there. Particularly with races like Boston, where there are hundreds of porta-potties, there are long lines, so jump in one immediately. And then go again if you can – you spent all of that time filling the tank – just make sure you’re clear and ready to go.
7)   Go out SLOW. It will be crowded, but do not jockey around for a better spot once the gun goes off. It is a waste of energy – you will see people do this and it is not worth it. The excitement at the start is incredible and you will want to go out fast. Don’t. In my first marathon, I ran the first half in 1:52, and the second in 2:00. This is not advisable – I was too excited.
8)   Have a few goals (A, B, C) in mind – one of them should be to finish! This will allow you to not have an all-or-nothing approach, and will take into account numerous factors (GI issues, bonking, etc) and still will ensure that mentally you are working to reach those goals.
9)   Don’t think of 13.1 as the halfway point – mile 20 is halfway. Yes, the last 6.2 is hard, so start thinking of strategies to get through it. Maybe it’s thinking of someone you love for each mile. That’s what I did for all 26. And with each mile, I thought about them, and it helped me focus. I told each person in advance and I didn’t want to let them don’t on “their mile.”

10)                   Lastly, and most importantly, take it all in. Whether you decide to do another one or you are one-and-done, your first one is an amazing experience and it is a life-changing moment. It sill ranks as one of the best days of my life. Take in EVERYTHING. No matter how it goes, it will be amazing.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Blissful exhaustion - that old familiar feeling

The day after I ran my PR at the 2011 Boston Marathon, I remember talking to my pregnant with twins professor after class, and she said, there's something nice about being tired. And yes, when the time is right, blissful exhaustion is a good thing.
Last Saturday was 12 miles, with 7 hard ones. I was near the end of my big week 3 of my training cycle - just days before I would be rewarded with an easy week. On Sunday, I did my first group run with the Pacers team at Theodore Roosevelt Island. My plan was to run 13 miles. I didn't really know how the group runs would work - would it be broken down in terms of pace, distance? I figured I'd just wait and see. I imagined that there would be about twenty of us, but when I pulled into the parking lot, it was pretty sparse. It ended up being the coach, and three fit-looking guys. The coach apologized, saying there were usually more participants in these group runs. It turned out that these guys are all training for Boston, which, I've done before, but the times they were aiming for had a 2 on them...
I asked them what they were kind of pace and distance they were aiming for: 20 miles, starting at 7:30 pace, and then working their way down to marathon pace (5:30).
I was trying to run through my options in my head. I had driven all the way here for a group run - it would be kind of a waste to then just run alone. I knew I wasn't going to be running 20 miles, nor would I reach that kind of pace. So, I decided I would start with the boys, and hang on for 6.5 miles, and then turn around. And we took off at 7:30 pace, heading toward the C&O Trail (a dirt trail). My workout from the day before, when I worked my way down to 6:30 pace, was still fresh on my mind and fresh on my legs. This was not going to be easy. Yes, as my fiance said, I can run 7:30 pace, but a day after beating my legs up, not so easy to do. Thankfully, the first couple miles weren't too bad - I could feel some twinges as we progressed, but was doing just fine. The boys were at a comfortable pace, and as a result, could chat away about their training, races, and life stories. Okay, I can hang on. The pace started to quicken as we hopped into Maryland and on the Capital Crescent Trail - something I haven't been on in almost two years. Very pretty, and a good distraction as they picked it up, and I was just a step or two behind them. One of the guys turned around at mile 5 - he had a different workout to do. 1.5 miles to go with these guys, and I could feel myself working harder to keep up. I told myself I had about 10 minutes left, and was just trying to hang on. It was with much relief when I hit 6.5, thank the gentlemen for letting me hang on. I was tired, and then my now-solo run turned into more of a shuffle. I was tired, I was sore, and I just wanted to finish. I got back to the DC area...but geography is not my best friend. I had gotten off the route I knew, and couldn't figure out how to reroute back to Theodore Roosevelt Island. All in all, it added a couple of miles, so it ended up being closer to 16 miles - the longest I've run in years. I was tired, but relieved. Beyond races, I haven't had a long run wipe me out that much in years. Gold star for the weekend, coupled with a good shower and breakfast. And then, with that feeling of blissful exhaustion, nodded off wrapped up in a blanket next to my dog. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Old Workouts, New Pace(r)s, and New Balance

No, not LSD speed.
But other than missing a tempo workout at the beginning of the month and a long run, I've been 90% consistent with getting my workouts in. A lot more on the treadmill than I would prefer, but at least they are happening. And I do have to testify to doing speedwork on the treadmill. I am notorious for going out too fast in workouts and then blowing up. I don't do it in races, but usually I have to save race during a workout and ease up two-thirds in. But there is definitely more of a science to the treadmill speed workout - you can be more precise. Yes, it's from an external machine and not myself, but it prevents (a degree of) stupidity and brazen behavior.
A couple of highlights and lowlights:
My apartment complex gym has 3 treadmills - I've never had to fight for one but all were occupied. I ended up doing my warmup outside around the complex. I came back in, and all were still being used, including a guy wearing Vibrams and walking holding a book. Grr. I ended up doing some core work on a mat while waiting for a spot to open up. Finally, I was able to get on one and did 5 x 1 k starting at 6:27 pace and working my way down to 6:11 pace. When I finished, the person next to me said, "Dang!" Yes, there was a reason I was clamoring for the treadmill! Was so hot and sweaty that I did my cooldown outside in a tanktop - to be fair, it was 48 outside. But with the snow on the ground, I must've looked ridiculous.
I also did a 6 mile cutdown workout during the Olympics on the treadmill and averaged 7:02 pace. Cross-country skiing was motivating enough to keep me going. 
This week was the crazy continuous 800s, arguably one of the most challenging workouts, but with the biggest rewards. 2.5 mile warm-up, continuous 1.5 mile with 800s at 3:17, 3:07, 3:17, 1/2 mile easy, then continuous 1.5 with 800s at 3:07, 3:17, 3:07, 1/2 mile easy, 2 x 800 3:06, 3:03, 2.5 mile cooldown.  I remember drawing on this workout at the end of the Army Ten Miler last year, when I was able to change gears in the last mile or so to clinch my PR.
Today was a 7 mile tempo cutdown, starting at 7:13 pace and worked my down to 6:27 pace, averaging 6:57 pace. No TV to occupy me, just the determination to get it done!
All of these have been going well - it just feels good to be really consistent with running. Even without big or many races on the horizon (a 5 miler in 2 weeks), it just feels good to get in great training and think about how it benefits long term.
And that's what matters - thinking about the picture. I've been working with Sarah for 4+ years now, and now, the schedules are tweaked just so and while there will be slight changes in the paces, but we've figured out what works and are sticking with it!
But in the name of progress, I am delighted to join the ranks of the Pacers Racing Team! Pacers, which has six great stores in the greater DC area, sponsors a major racing series each year, and has a racing team. They have a few different divisions, such as a National team that includes Olympic Marathon Trial qualifiers and top finishers at USA Championships, the regional division (that's the one Sarah is on), and the local team - and that's what I'll be on. It is actually the Pacers/New Balance team, which means they'll equip me with some new shoes and a racing uniform. 
I'll be matched up with some people who run at similar paces and will be able to participate in some of their group runs. On the elite level, the best do well when they train in groups. I'm just looking forward to experiencing that on a much smaller level. 
Now for March madness of all kinds to begin!