Monday, March 11, 2013

Bright Beginnings 5k race report

Last weekend I continued my 5k adventures with the Bright Beginnings 5k. I signed up for this race a while ago, shortly before my coach decided that it should be a team race. At first I joked that I was annoyed that the "small" race I had found was going to be filled with all of my speedy teammates (who would take all the age group awards), but really I was excited to have the chance to race with everyone.

With all the short races on my schedule this spring, I'd been debating buying a pair of racing flats. When I came across a great deal on the Nike LunaRacer+ (because of the release of the LunaRacer+3), I decided to give them a try. They arrived just in time for me to test them at a track workout before wearing them for this race.

It was pretty cold on Saturday morning, but I'd rather that than unseasonably warm. In the first half of the warm-up someone in my group commented that it seemed to be less windy than normal. On the way back to the start area we realized that wasn't true, the wind had just been at our back. This meant that we'd have a tailwind in the first half of the course and a headwind on the way back. Not ideal, but not much anyone could do about it.

I decided before the race that I would follow the same strategy that I had used at the Have a Heart for Hoffman Boston 5k the week before. Run hard and don't look at my watch. Also, if possible, avoid falling down!

The race start was delayed for a few chilly minutes as people finished picking up packets, but soon we were off. I took off and tried to run at an effort level that seemed hard, but not all out. I was with several of my normal training partners for the first half mile or so and then found myself ahead of them.

My plan of not knowing my pace was foiled by my coach, who was out at the first mile marker yelling splits. I heard 6:30-something and tried to immediately forget what he said. It was definitely an ambitious pace, but at that point the only option I had was to keep pushing. My Garmin was set on auto-lap, so it has mile 1 at 6:29.

Mile 2 was the best section of the race. I felt strong and was passing people on the way to the turnaround point. I went around the cone without falling down, though I did slow a bit more than I would like. The wind didn't feel too bad when I first headed back and I got a boost from knowing that I was halfway done. 6:39

Mile 3 was more of a struggle. The effort of the first two miles was hitting me and it seemed like the wind picked up (which probably isn't actually true). We had to go back over a small overpass, which really was hardly an incline at all, but it seemed like a giant effort at that point in the race. There was a very long straight away to the finish, which meant that I could see the finish line for a long time. This was both a good and bad thing since for a while it didn't seem to be getting any closer. 6:52

Finally I passed our cheering squad and saw the mile 3 sign. My coach started yelling the time and I did my best to pick it up for that last stretch. 49 sec. (6:17 pace for .13)

Final time - 20:47

I was definitely doubled over at the finish line, trying to catch my breath. I've yet to push myself to the point of vomiting (which seems like some kind of significant hard effort benchmark), but I was extremely happy with how hard I worked and my big new PR. Sub-21:00 was definitely a goal of mine for the spring, but I wasn't expecting to achieve it just a week after I broke 22:00 for the first time. I have no plans to stop here. There is definitely still room for plenty of improvement.

Thanks Cheryl for the race photos!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Have a Heart for Hoffman Boston 5k race report

I'm way behind on race reports. Maybe I'll get to them all eventually, but I figured I'd start with the most recent one.

Saturday was cold and rainy. Not exactly ideal running weather, but the race must go on. I signed up for this 5k a few weeks ago because of the small size and convenient location. There was no course map posted online, but I run along the trail where it was being held relatively frequently, so I knew it was pretty flat.

I tried to time my warm up so that I'd have about 10 minutes after I finished to make a quick trip to the bathroom, get rid of my jacket and switch to a dry pair of gloves. Unfortunately right as I was getting back to my car the race organizers were announcing a 10 minute delay. So I sat in my car (to get out of the rain) and checked my phone and found an exciting surprise! Cheryl and Dash had just arrived to spectate! We chatted for a bit and then it was time to get going.

At the suggestion of some of my wise running friends, I decided not to look at my watch at all during this race. At first I thought about looking at it during the first mile to keep myself relatively controlled, but I realized that during a 5k there was really no point in "control." The risk of it having a negative effect on me was greater than the potential for a positive boost. I thought I would just focus on running hard and pushing myself the whole way. I also decided to leave my watch on autolap to really take the watch completely off of my mind.

The course was an out and back on a local bike path/trail and it was slightly uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back. This wasn't a chip timed race, so I tried to place myself pretty close to the front. Not right at the front though, as the majority of the members of a fast local racing team were also there. Fortunately it was a small race, so even though the path is relatively narrow, I only felt crowded for the first 100 yards or so. I settled into a good rhythm and focused on running hard. I went back and forth with an older gentleman early on (he kept surging as I would pull even with him), but had pulled clear of him by the time I passed the first mile marker.

From mile one to the turnaround point, I thought about staying steady and was looking forward to using the slight downhill on the way back to my advantage. The field was pretty spread out, but had my eye on a woman in a bright pink hat who was not all that far ahead of me. The turnaround was a cone in the path. I didn't want to lose all my momentum turning around, so I swung a little wide, started to turn and then I was hitting the ground. Hard. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I must have hit a particularly slick spot and my foot slipped out from under me.

I have no idea how long as I was down, but as soon as I processed what had happened, I was scrambling to get up. Fortunately I didn't take anyone else out, but the guy behind me slowed to ask if I was okay. I nodded that I was and he said something like "you were looking strong" and took off. I was running again pretty quickly and tried to get back on pace. I tried to keep up with the guy who had just passed me, but he was flying.

I figured that at this point a PR was probably out of the picture, but I still wanted to finish strong and keep running hard. So I did. My right knee took the brunt of the fall and it hurt when I first got started up again, but after a minute or two I didn't notice it. In some ways the fall was a good distraction. I was pretty relaxed with any pressure for a PR gone and all I could think was, "I just fell down. In a race. How ridiculous is that?" I was laughing at myself more than I was upset or disappointed. During the last half mile or so I started to close on a guy in front of me and conveniently passed him right in front of my photographer.

I felt strong in the homestretch and was shocked when I could finally see the finish clock and it showed a low 21. That was just the motivation I needed to really kick it in to the finish. Despite my wipe out, I finished with a 35 second PR!

21:27 (6:59/6:59/6:43/.12 in 6:05 pace)

I've got a couple more 5ks in the next few weeks, so I'm excited to get another shot at this distance. Preferably without a fall in the middle. Still, regardless of how it happened, this was my first race with a sub-7:00 average pace. And I'm pretty excited about that. It's definitely a goal that's been in the back of my mind for a while.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Three Things Tuesday

1. Back in November, I mentioned that I had put my name in the lottery for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge swim. Unfortunately, although there were four lottery rounds before the race filled, I was not selected. This leaves a rather sizeable hole in my early summer race schedule and means my spring training schedule is somewhat up in the air. One of the reasons that I decided to focus on short running races this spring was that I knew I'd need to leave myself plenty of time for swimming. Even a half marathon seemed like it would require too much running time if I needed to swim 3-4 times a week. So the question becomes, what to do now? Do I look for a replacement swim in the 5k range or add to my running schedule?

2. My swim motivation is currently MIA. This is obviously in large part because I won't be doing the bay swim. I had also tentatively planned to make the trip to Indianapolis in May for USMS spring nationals, but now that isn't going to happen either. With no big swimming events on the horizon, I have absolutely zero motivation to go to the pool and get myself back in shape. Last spring, with the SWIM OF THE YEAR on the horizon, I had no problems sticking to a 2x a week schedule. I loved being in reasonable swimming shape and competing again. Yet despite that knowledge, I can't get myself in gear. It also doesn't help that many of my swim buddies have moved away. :( I know, I know. Excuses.

3. I could blabber on for a very long time about my love of marathon training. I love the high mileage, long track workouts and 18-21 mile long runs. I look forward to doing it again in the fall, but right now I couldn't be happier to NOT be marathon training. It's nice on easy days to run 4-5 miles and be done. No need to cram in 8+ miles before work or to double up. Instead of miles, I'm focusing on challenging myself in workouts and getting more experience racing. There will be lots and lots of racing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shooting Starr 6k race report

On Saturday I headed up to Silver Spring for what was advertised as a 4 miler. However, I noticed earlier in the week that the website wasn't exactly sure what distance the race was going to be.

Given that last year's race was a 6k, I figured that was the more likely distance, but that wasn't confirmed until race morning. It didn't really matter to me what the actual distance was, I just wanted to know ahead of time so I could plan properly. Also, it was a double loop course so I figured that in a worst case scenario I would know by halfway!

I had convinced Dash to join me for the race, and we ran into Caroline in the middle of our warm up. I knew that it was probably going to be a hilly course and this was confirmed as we ran through the neighborhoods around the school where it started and finished.

As advertised, the course was a double loop, with an extra out and back section the first time around. I figured this was an excellent opportunity to experiment with pacing and decided to stay controlled the first time around and really try to pick up the pace for the second loop. Unlike the New Year's Day 5k, I didn't want to go out as fast as possible at the start. I do a pretty decent job of starting slow and finishing fast when doing tempo workouts at the track and I hoped to do that here. I don't know if it reminded me somewhat of being at the track, but the double loop really helped with this mentally.

Dash, Caroline and I lined up together near the start, but were quickly separated when the race started. The first section was a relatively steep downhill on a sidewalk (low-key race means no closed roads!) and then a short section across grass to get onto a paved trail. It was definitely crowded early on and I spent most of my time on the trail trying to weave around people. This got a bit more complicated when we reached the out and back section and fast runners were already coming back.

Despite the weaving, I felt pretty good in the early going. Somewhere shortly after mile two we headed up off the trail and ran up a pretty long hill through a neighborhood. During this section we were able to run on the street which was nice after the crowding earlier. I could see the "top" of the hill where everyone was turning and was disappointed when I finally got there, turned, and saw that we were still going up. We were also back on the sidewalk, which lead to a few close encounters with rogue bushes. Then there was a nice downhill before a short hill back up to the school.

I was feeling strong as I started the second loop and used the downhill to pick up my pace. It was also encouraging to know that the second time around wasn't quite as long as the first. I did a good job of speeding up until hitting the long hill a second time. Fortunately, I managed to stay relatively steady and didn't slow down all that much. Amazing what a slower start can do for you at the end!

For much of the race I was jockeying back and forth with a woman dressed all in black (not the woman in the picture above) and I surged past her on our second time up the big hill. I kept waiting for her to come back, but I stayed ahead ahead on the downhill. Unfortunately, she went flying ahead of me in the last 200 meters and I just didn't have the kick to keep up with her. I congratulated her after I crossed the finish line and she thanked me for pushing her. I love the camaraderie of runners!

Final time: 26:37
Splits: 7:12/7:11/7:02/5:10 (7:11 pace for .72)

This spring is all about racing and I plan to experiment a lot and test out lots of different strategies. The goal for this race was to use the double loop course to my advantage for pacing and hold back a little bit the first time around. I'm very happy about how I executed this strategy and I think it worked out really well. It's crazy how much better you feel in the middle and the end when you haven't broken yourself with a 6:30 something first mile!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 Goals revisited

It's probably not a good sign when the only time you revisit the goals you set for the year is at the very end of December (or, um, early January). So, let's see if I managed to meet any of them even while I had no real idea what they were.

It turns out, my 2012 goals were:

1. Run more
This is the one goal I remember setting. Perhaps because it was first on the list?

I wasn't too concerned about mileage early in the year as I came back from my lazy glute issue and then struggled with energy issues (eventually discovering I was anemic). But after I sorted out the anemia and took a break after my May half, I really made an effort to ramp up my weekly mileage. I had very solid running months in June and July and that base helped me head into marathon training in August feeling strong. I decided to attempt to peak at 60 miles a week (after a previous weekly high of 51) and was able to achieve this by making Wednesday a double day. I actually really liked this routine and came through those high mileage weeks feeling good. I also had my first months over 200 miles in September and October. I set a rough goal of 1400 miles, but ended 2012 with 1648.

2. Pick up the pace on long runs
I actually vaguely remember setting this goal as well. This was another success. During marathon training my average pace was generally about a minute faster than it had been when I trained for Philly in the fall of 2011. Unfortunately I didn't have a similar drop in pace between long run average and actual marathon pace this year, but I think that will come with time. I'm a lot more comfortable running miles that start with an 8 during long runs and I think it will only become more routine with time.

3. Get back to swimming
Definitely didn't remember this goal, but I did actually do it! I was very consistent about getting to the pool through the winter and early spring as I prepared for my leg of the triathlon relay and some other open water races. I didn't swim quite as much after that, but I did maintain a pretty good routine through the summer and early fall. Unfortunately, once marathon training really heated up, swimming fell off my schedule. I didn't swim once from early October until mid-December.

4. Core/weight training
Since I know myself, I labeled this an optimistic goal from the beginning. And then promptly forgot about it. This is still something that I know I should do, but struggle to find time to fit it. Or, more accurately, I sit on the couch and watch TV at night instead of a short core routine. There's time, I'm just not using it.

My lazy glute and time in PT early in the year did force me into a good routine of glute and hip stretching and strengthening. I did a semi-decent job of continuing a simple routine for the rest of the year. I would be diligent for a while, feel good, get lazy, notice issues with my form and glutes, get back in a better routine and then repeat the cycle again. I'll count that as progress.

I did also start going to yoga in the late summer/early fall (motivated by an expiring Groupon). I noticed that that "forced" stretching really did make me a feel a whole lot better, so I tried to make to a class at least once a week during marathon training.

As for weight training, I can say that I didn't touch a single weight in 2012. I'd say, "maybe next year," but I know myself too well.

I'm undecided on whether or not to set any goals like these for 2013 (and we're already two weeks in). Clearly they didn't influence my behavior all that much since I forgot what they were almost immediately after writing them down.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reston New Year's Day 5k race report

The first half of 2013 is going to be all about working on speed, so it seemed appropriate to start the year with a 5k. I was interested to see what kind of turnover was left in my legs after marathon training. I knew that the last few lazy weeks hadn't really affected my fitness, but I had pretty low expectations for my speed. I was hoping to be within 45-60 seconds of my PR, which would have put me in the high 22/low 23 range. Since this was going to serve as a baseline race, I may have even joked beforehand that a poor showing would make improvement over the next few months just that much easier.

Given the relatively small size of the race, my teammate and I lined up close to the front to avoid getting caught in a bottleneck when we hit the W&OD trail. My strategy was pretty simple. Run hard from the beginning and don't hold back at all. I plan to race a lot this spring and I hope to blow up as much as possible. I need to figure out how to keep pushing when that happens and run in that uncomfortable zone without backing down. So I took off at the start and tried to settle in as much as is possible in a 5k.

I had my Garmin set to show current mile pace and distance, but tried not to focus on it too much. My goal of all these short races is to race and not worry about holding back. And if I need to a watch to tell me I should be picking up the pace later on, well, I'm not doing something right.

I had to do a bit of weaving in the early sections on the trail, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared it might be. I was feeling surprisingly good for not having done any speed work in at least a month and felt like I was cruising all the way out to the turnaround. Of course, just a minute or two after thinking "this feels really good," it started to feel a lot harder.

I knew I was slowing during mile 2, but it was never that "about to die" feeling. Hard to explain, but more like my turn over rate just gradually slowed because my legs weren't used to sustaining that kind of effort.

Mile 3 contained most of the uphill sections of the course as we came back up to the town center from the trail and did another loop around and up before a slight downhill to the finish. I continued to slow and was, unfortunately, passed by a number of people in this stretch. I tried to rally by attempting to catch back up to one guy in particular, but it didn't happen. I think I probably had it in me to make the final push a bit sooner, but I wasn't familiar with the course layout to know how much was left (and I never trust Garmin in these situations).

I did know enough to recognize when we were making the final turn onto the straightaway for the last .1 and was able to sprint in to the finish.

When I was finally close enough to see the clock, I was shocked to see that it still said 21. I had no idea that I was even close to a PR, and assumed that I wasn't given the progression of my splits. I was pretty sure that I hadn't snuck in under 22:00, but it was going to be very close to my PR. (22:02). Turns out it was about as close as you can possibly be.

Final time: 22:03
Splits: 6:37/7:08/7:36/:44 (last .13, according to Garmin) 
2nd in AG

This is probably the happiest I have felt after a non-PR race in a really long time. Perhaps it was because I entered with low expectations, but I was thrilled with this performance. While in most circumstances I would find those splits discouraging, I actually am extremely encouraged by them here. I know I faded because I'm not used to running fast (and am coming off a bit of break), not because I had bad race execution or fell apart mentally. I feel confident that with more speed work and consistent training under my belt, I can take it out like that and maintain that pace. I couldn't have asked for a better kickoff to my "spring of speed." Now it's time to get to work.

Thanks Dash for all of the photos!

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Pictures

2012 was a year filled with running and swimming (and, thankfully, not a single minute on the bike). More importantly, very few of these athletic adventures were solo. This year reminded me how great it is to have friends who share these interests and are always up for another crazy workout or race.



Lots of time in PT rehabbing a lazy glute.
You can understand why I felt no need to take a single picture.


Spectating National with Dash



Lots of swimming (and the discovery that I was anemic)

10 year college reunion
(with a trip to the pool to swim with my old teammates)


More swimming and a track mile


New half PR in Philly

5k PR in a marathon tune up race