Saturday, September 24, 2016

S.M.A.R.T. Training - How I broke a 5 year old half marathon PR

For the past couple of days, as I’ve attempted to process the race and contextualize it with my larger arc of years of running, I’ve reached a couple of conclusions. If I had to categorize my training this summer, leading up to this half marathon PR, what facilitated it?

This was what worked well in 2011, when I reached my old PR while following a very regimented training schedule:
High mileage – I was regularly running at least 50 miles per week
Track workouts – I ran one intense track workout per week
Tempo runs – 1 road workout once per week
Consistent cross training – At least 1-2 days of elliptical/swimming, along with 2-3 times per week weight training

Almost all of that went out the window this time. I simply could not devote that much attention and time to training – with the end of my graduate program in sight (!!!), this had to be a secondary hobby. My mileage was not as high, nor as consistent – I hit 40+ miles probably at least 5 times throughout the summer, but also had a couple weeks below 20 miles per week. I only did 3 track workouts, I didn’t really do tempo runs. My cross-training decreased (but I did add on a weekly barre class, and now walking my dog gives me probably at least 10 extra miles per week of walking around). So, how did it work? It was S.M.A.R.T. training.

Sensible. I learned how to be flexible. If it was 90 degrees, I wasn’t always going to get a long run in – that wasn’t safe. If I was close to getting a chapter done, that needed the priority – not my running.
Manageable. I was not going to overdo my training. This was going to be a reasonable training cycle, both to take in the pressures of writing and the heat of the summer.
Accumulative – These legs have at least 10,000 miles in them, and I was able to draw from the strength and consistency from years of regular running.
Regular. Consistency is both key and king. I've tended to always aim for a double digit run once on the weekend, and to run at least 4 days a week, sometimes 5. This consistent running over the years has built up strength in my legs.
Tactical. If I was feeling good on a particular long run, I would try to make it an effective workout and press the pace. I was getting really good at starting my long runs slow (sometimes at 9:00 pace for the first mile) and progressively increasing my speed throughout the run (cracking into 7:50s) without blowing up.

Really, those five words are virtually synonymous, but I truly believe that this approach and attitude brought me this PR. For the past couple of years, when people asked about my running, I always couched it with “Yes, I’m still running a lot, but not really training. I’m just trying to focus on finishing my dissertation.” What I should have said, and what I will say in the future is, “I’m running consistently and do have some long-term goals. While my running schedule isn’t as regimented as it was a few years ago, I’ve learned how to manage my training and make my running time as effective as it can be.” Less can be more! Now, this wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t accrued years of training – you need to build a base that comes with years of regular running and taking the steps necessary to prevent injury. Yes, there are some great workouts that can really help make a runner stronger, but I do believe that this broader, more holistic approach made a different and will continue to do so for years to come.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rise - Racing the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon

Sunday was the Navy-Air Force Half, and I came into it thinking that it would be great to be within shouting distance of my PR (1:32:35), and maybe, maybe if everything came together, a PR was a possibility. As I was doing my shakeout run yesterday (3 miles), I did a couple of sprints at 7:00 pace, and it felt fast. I was hesitant whether this would happen or not, but sometimes you just have to take the risk and go for broke. 

I got a good night's sleep, and got to the start with plenty of time to spare. My warm-up loosened me up, and I got to the start line in plenty of time. I had to laugh as the gun went off, because the song they played at the start was "September" by Earth, Wind, and Fire (that was the song we walked into at our wedding reception - not to be confused with our first song). With a smile on my face, I took off, hoping to hit around 7:00 pace (knowing that 7:02-7:03 pace would net me a PR). The first few miles I hit 7:00, or even a few seconds faster pretty consistently. So brings up the eternal question, "is this a reasonable pace or will it eventually blow up in my face?" I hoped for the former, and pressed on. 

When Katy Perry's Olympic song Rise came out, I liked it, but it didn't quite stick with me like roar and firework did. However, last week I was looking to get some new music for my runs, and opted to get it. On one of my runs, I think I listened to it 3 or 4 times in a row. I think part of it that stuck with me was
Oh, ye of so little faith
Don't doubt it, don't doubt it
Victory is in my veins
I know it, I know it
And I will not negotiate
I'll fight it, I'll fight it

I will transform 
I would say that what gets in the way of my success the most is doubt. The fear of failure can be so gripping and so hard to shake. This applies to both my running and my writing - doubt in myself. We are our own worst enemies, right? I am. So, the song really resonated with me. Throughout a lot of the race, when spots of the course were quiet with few spectators, I drew on the song and played it in my head on repeat.

Things had spread out within a couple of miles, so it was nice to have a lot of room and not feel crowded. There were still enough people around to work on picking off other runners throughout the course. Every time I hit the mile marker up through mile 10 was 7:00 pace or better. Those first few miles were clicking off so easily, that I was worried that my excitement over this would lead me to blow up. By mile 7 or 8, however, it started to feel like a lot more effort to hit this pace, and the exertion was definitely taking its toll. I was wondering if I should try to slow down to recover, but feared that if I did, I wouldn't be able to get back my momentum. So, I pressed on with the fast pace, with fingers crossed.

I have to hand it to the volunteers at the water stations. First of all, it is such a selfless way to spend a Sunday morning, and such a helpful and friendly group of people to have along the way. I must give a shoutout to the folks at the mile 7 and 11 (same station - part of the out and back route), who were whooping and cheering like it was the end of the Boston Marathon. It was such a thrill, and their enthusiastic cheers really offered a shot of adrenaline when I really needed it.

I was running through Rock Creek Park (where I do a lot of my running), and at mile 8 or 9 (when I was really starting to hurt and feel like my pace goal would go out the window), a man sidled up next to me. He said, "You ladies are all so fast! There are like 4 of you in front of me - I don't know how you do it." I just smiled (I didn't really have the extra oxygen to explain that yes, some of us can run with the big dogs), and he moved forward. I ended up passing him for good a mile later at mile 10, which I hit at 1:10:05.

I knew that my husband would be waiting for me at mile 11, and that gave me such a push to slog through what would be the final 5k. I was getting so tired (pace slowed down a few seconds per mile), and some of the race pictures really highlight that. But at mile 11, there was Pat, cheering, yelling, and putting a smile on my face. I could handle 2.1 more miles - it would all be over in less than 15 minutes. There was one turn around a cone around mile 12, which I did ungracefully, but was able to catch a glimpse of a running buddy of mine. People kept yelling, "last mile! So close!" but the final mile of a long race feels so much longer than the first one. The finish was at the Washington Monument, which felt like it loomed ahead, both within my grasp and just out of reach. But as I hit the final turn and could finally see the clock, I knew a PR wasn't a far-off dream, but a reality. I pumped my first and had a huge smile on my face as I crossed the finish line.

1:32:17 (7:02 pace)
35/2,849 (women)
10/474 (30-34 age group)

I couldn't stop smiling, because this really felt like a big victory. Ultimately, it was one of the most evenly paced runs I've done, particularly in the longer distance. I slowed down a few seconds per mile towards the end, but it was not a total crash and burn. My husband was impressed with how closely I managed to predict my time, but I guess at this point, with so many races under my built, and so much experience with longer runs, it's become a lot easier to be consistent. It didn't occur to me until afterwards, that I hadn't PRed in almost 3 years (October 2013 at the Army 10 Miler). I didn't realize it hadn't been that long. Nor did I think that I had said goodbye to PRs - it's just that those extra hours of running have shifted into writing time, as they should. So it made this victory all the more sweet - that I managed to gut it out, run both hard and smart, follow through on my training, and achieve a quietly-set goal with a flourish.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Roosevelt 5k and 17 miles - which is better?

As I'm writing this, I have less than 2 weeks to go until the Navy-Air Force Half marathon (9/18). I've put together some really good weeks, with at least four or five weeks of at least 40 miles, and over the summer, put in some consistent long runs between 11-15 miles. While my training hasn't been as solid as it was 5 years ago, it has been much more consistent than it was 2 years ago. I've been making up my own schedules, becoming much more flexible than I used to be (mentally - beyond touching my toes, I'm not that flexible). I don't quite have a firm idea of how the half will go. My PR is almost 5 years old: 1:32:35 from the 2011 Philadelphia Half Marathon. A few months later (March 2012), I ran 1:34:03 as a workout in the Rock and Roll DC Half, and that was the last time I ran a half marathon. Based on how my training has been going, I think these are my following goals:
A Goal - break my PR of 1:32:35 (7:03 pace)
B Goal - somewhere under 1:34:00 (7:10 pace)
C Goal - under 1:35 (7:14 pace)
When I was racing ten milers and averaging below 6:35, I always felt that the half PR was in reach, and I do wish I had tried to go for it back then. But I think this upcoming half will be a good benchmark, and if I don't quite nab the PR this time, it means with a few more months of consistent training, I'll be able to get it in the spring. But I digress.

I did another midweek race on Thursday night - the Roosevelt 5k in Arlington, which ran along the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia. This was another chance to get in some speedwork. Having run 20:15 in the NOVA 5k the week before, I was hoping to get within shouting distance of 20 minutes. I chatted with another woman named Jessie who looked fast, and we both said that we were hoping for similar time goals, and I was hoping to just draft off her.
Before the rain and the race!
It didn't quite work like that in reality. While the middle 2 miles of the race took place on smooth Mt. Vernon trail, the first and last .5 mile went down a corkscrew ramp that then spilled onto a wooden path. My warmup showed that I wasn't going to be able to run down this recklessly. I must add, about 2 minutes before the race started, it began to rain fairly hard. While it was refreshing, I was really worried about the wooden section of the course, and ended up holding back on the first mile, trying not to fall, and to make sure I had enough at the end that the corkscrew ascent that would be waiting for me would be manageable. I totally let Jessie, the other woman, go ahead, hoping to make up the distance between us later on. I never caught her. I did manage to blow by two guys, but I didn't quite have the fresh legs I needed to make that happen. I had run 15 miles on Sunday (race was on Thursday), and while I got through the first mile in 6:30, that would be the fastest mile I would run. I managed to pass a couple of guys, but Jessie was about 30 seconds ahead, and was never quite in my reach. Motoring up that last hill was hard, and I was just happy to get to the finish line. I ended up finishing 2nd woman in 20:53 - the slowest 5k I had run in almost 2 years. In running my cooldown with Jessie, I learned she was an 800m specialist who had tried to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the 800, but just missed the mark. With this in mind, knowing that she has the kind of speed that I just don't, it certainly softened the reality of my race. It was a race that I ran fine, and that's it - it was a B race, and just part of the building block leading up to my half marathon.

3 days later, I did my last long run - the longest run, in fact, that I had done all year. 17 miles on the Capital Crescent Trail at 8:40 pace. I saw this as a big improvement from the previous week's 15 miler (run at 9:10 pace - although it was about 10 degrees warmer then). While the last couple of miles felt more like a shuffle, it was actually a big confidence builder, particularly when compared to the 5k. Knowing I could put a few extra miles in my legs felt good, and next week I won't need to go as far in my last long run.

I think ultimately both the 5k and the long run are working together to help prepare me for the half. However, it is clear that I favor, enjoy, and succeed in the long run more than the short race. Looking forward to doing a few more solid workouts leading up to the 18th!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mary, Undoer of Knots, Pray for Me

 My dissertation "The Voice of Mary" examines medieval textual representations of the Virgin Mary speaking. For a woman who only spoke four times in the Bible (Luke 1:26-38 Annunciation, 1:46-56 Visitation, 2:41-52 Finding Jesus in the Temple, and John 2:1-11 Wedding at Cana), writers of many different genres: dramatic, contemplative, narrative, manipulated these 191 words and expanded them, assigning a stronger, more powerful voice for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's meant that for the last four years, I've been reading many stories about Mary - some famous, and some less familiar. 

Although the writing process is often tedious, I also have really enjoyed my topic. Mary is not a monolithic figure, and means different things to different people. This litany highlights just some of the many titles assigned to Mary, an aspect that I'm trying to investigate. How and why did different medieval authors construct various kinds of voices for Mary to appeal to different audiences and serve varying functions?

As I wrote in a previous post, I'm in the third lap of my dissertation, and in the early stages of drafting my last chapter. This chapter, which will examine Mary in Annunciation and Passion narratives, will actually appear as the first chapter of the dissertation, and will serve to highlight the contrasting dynamic of voices created for Mary. Although this is the first time I'm making a good effort on this chapter, I've had a Word document with some ideas for this chapter going for about a year. I have over 35 pages of material on it already. Which to some sounds like a lot, and it is close to chapter-length, but a lot of it is very messy. So, the past week or so, I've been sifting through it, cutting out the junk writing, organizing it, and trying to make it cleaner. I made a lot of progress this week, and some sections are starting to come together.

As my husband would come home at the end of the day, I would tell him how I untangled a bit more of the chapter, seeing some improvements along the way. Thursday night, it brought back a memory of one of the many titles of Mary - one that became popular centuries after the Middle Ages. This is a painting of "Mary, the undoer of knots," an early eighteenth-century German painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner. If you look closely, she's holding a rope with a series of knots, and she is untying each of them (a task many mothers are faced with!). The first chapel to be named "Mary, Untier of Knots," was built in Austria in 1989. Pope Francis really likes this imagery, noting that “All the knots of our heart, every knot of our conscience, can be undone.” As a Catholic, and as someone whose faith largely includes devotion to Mary, it would be nearly impossible to not think of Mary as a spiritual guide as I work on my dissertation. And as I run my third lap of my dissertation, trying to make it to the final lap and full draft, it is a comforting thought to pray to Mary to help untangle my mental knots. I'll close out with one of the prayers associated with Mary, Undoer of Knots.

Dearest Holy Mother, Most Holy Mary, You undo the knots that suffocate your children, extend Your merciful hands to me. I entrust to You today this knot and all the negative consequences that it provokes in my life. I give You this knot that torments me and makes me unhappy and so impedes me from uniting myself to You and Your Son Jesus, my Savior.
I run to You, Mary, Undoer of Knots because I trust You and I know that You never despise a sinning child who comes to ask you for help. I believe that You can undo this knot because Jesus grants You everything. I believe that You want to undo this knot because you are my Mother. I believe that You will do this because you love me with eternal love.
Thank you, Dear Mother.
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me. Amen.