Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I had pretty much decided that I was going to sign up for the Philadelphia marathon as soon as registration opened on April 1.  I know that there are frequently discounts for signing up for races at expos, so I was hoping that they might have a booth at the National Half expo last Friday.  Fortunately they did, and I headed over as soon as I had picked up my packet and shirt.

Not only did I save $17 ($5 off race registration and no $12 processing fee), but I was the fifth person in the country (world?) to sign up for the race!!  The ladies working at the booth took my picture and said that I would be receiving a little something special in the mail.  I jokingly asked if I actually would get to be number five, but it didn't sound like that would be the case. :) 

Interestingly, this is actually the fifth marathon that I have signed up for, but it will be the fourth that I will run (my fifth will end up being Disney 2012).

Monday, March 28, 2011

National Half Marathon Race Report

I had an interesting week leading up to the race, filled with random pain (and added stress).  On my easy run on Wednesday I had pain in my right shin/calf and had a lot of pain when walking that afternoon.  I began an obsessive routine of icing and foam rolling and although it felt a bit better on Thursday I was still had pain when walking around.  I was hoping that it was just the taper talking, but I couldn't help but worry that it might potentially be something more serious.  I felt a lot better by Friday and, fortunately, had no issues during the race.

I was more nervous about this race than I have been for a race in a while.  I don't think I realized it until Friday and I'm sure that was likely a contributing factor to the pain issues (and my totally stressed reaction to that pain).  The only other time I can remember feeling this nervous the night before a race was before my first marathon (when I wasn't 100% sure that I could run that far!).  I'm assuming it was because this is the first longer race where I was actually plan to race and not just run to finish at a moderately hard pace.

Since my mom and I were both racing, my dad was nice enough to drop us off at RFK.  Last year we barely made it out of the porta-potty line before the race started, so I was determined to avoid that stress this year.  I insisted that we get dropped off at 6:00 and it was definitely the right decision.  I've heard other people faced major delays and backups getting into the parking lots, but we had no problem.  There was a slight slowdown on the access road, but nothing serious.  We had plenty of time to check out bags, use the bathroom, and make it to the proper corral (last year we just jumped in after the race had started).  
My plan for the race was to start out at a comfortable pace and pick it up throughout.  As I mentioned in my goals post, I was hoping for a negative split.  I hit the first mile in 9:35, which was a bit slower than I was shooting for, so I tried to pick up the pace after seeing that time.  I went into the race thinking that I would try to stay in the 9:20-9:30 range for the first few miles, but after a 9:10 in mile 2, I instead ended up staying in the 9:00-9:10 range for several miles.  I felt strong in the first few miles, even as we more or less headed uphill after leaving Constitution Ave and heading through Dupont Circle.  My pace definitely dropped off (more than I would have liked) as we ran up the biggest hill in the course on Connecticut Ave.  I felt pretty tired coming off the hill and heading into Adams Morgan and took my one GU just before the water station at mile 7.

I felt much better after taking the GU and from miles 8-10, I was cruising along at an 8:40-8:45 pace.  I came through 10 miles in what was probably a new PR and then hit a bit of a wall.  Miles 11 and 12 were pretty tough.  My legs felt heavy and my calves had that "pre-crampy" feeling.  Fortunately they didn't end up cramping up, but my pace definitely dropped off.  I dropped back into the upper 8s in mile 11 and despite using all of my mental energy to keep my turnover up in mile 12, I ran a 9:12.  I think I really could have benefited from another GU during this stretch, but I had only brought one with me.  I figured eating once in the middle would be enough, but, clearly, it wasn't.  I guess this was an example of my relative inexperience in the half and I will be more prepared next time!

I thought that the course was a lot more crowded than it was last year.  It never opened up for me and on some of the narrower streets, I had a hard time getting around people and had to slow down a bit more than I would have liked.  Part of the problem was that I caught up to the 4:00 marathon pace group and they had a pretty significant group running with them.  I managed to pass them when I was feeling strong somewhere around mile 8, but they caught up with me again as I was struggling in mile 11-12.

I was able to rally after hitting 12 miles and knowing that I only had a little over a mile left.  I knew it was going to be more than 1.1 since I had done a fair amount of weaving early on and my watch had been lapping ahead of the few mile markers that I actually saw.  It was also at this point that I switched my watch display over from current lap pace to overall time.  I saw that I had a good chance of finishing in under two hours and tried to push the thought of the last two hard miles out of my mind and give it everything I had until the finish.  I managed to get back into the 8s for mile 13 (8:49) and dropped to a 8:30 pace for the last .29.

Final time: 1:59:03!  A 10 minute PR!

I'm not sure if it was just because the race has increased in size, but I thought the finish chute and food area could have been better organized.  I was actually given a marathon medal, which I didn't realize until I had walked for a few minutes.  I then had to turn around and fight against the crowd to get back to the volunteers and exchange it for the right one.  When I got back to the food area, the lines were so long that I decided it wasn't worth my time.  Fortunately I managed to grab and water and then I headed back over to the Armory to get my extra layers.

We headed home on Metro and after getting cleaned up, I spent the rest of the day (until much later than my normal bedtime) celebrating my friend G's upcoming wedding with all of my closest friends from college.  Needless to say, I'm glad that I had already planned to take it easy this week. :)

It was also a good running day for the rest of my family.  Although I managed to beat my mother's time from last year, she still finished ahead of me (which was not a big surprise).  In another impressive race, she improved her time by four minutes and placed in her age group!  And my brother's relay team also had a great race and finished near the top of the standings.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Three Things Thursday

1. I haven't mentioned my mother yet on this blog, but she is a speedy runner.  I have yet to beat her in a single race and she regularly places in her age group.  She is also running the half marathon on Saturday.  Last year she finished 10 minutes ahead of me, but I have improved significantly in the last year.  Will this be the race that I finally finish ahead of her?  I think it will be a lot closer, but she may still get the win.  After saying that she didn't feel like she was running as fast this year, and wasn't sure if she could do the same time in the half, she went out and had a great race at the St. Patrick's Day 8k.  Not only did she beat her goal pace by almost 30 seconds a mile, she also got second place in her age group!  Slowing down?  I don't think so. :)

2. Saturday is going to be a LONG (but fun) day.  After the race I have to head home quickly and get ready for a bridal shower for my good friend G.  There is also a bachelorette party Saturday night.  While I am really excited for these events, and to see all of my college friends who are coming to town, I am a bit concerned that there is no time in my schedule for a nap.  I already have problems staying up late and if I run as hard as I want to run in the half, I could be struggling to keep my eyes open by the time the evening festivities even start!   Hopefully I don't fall asleep in a booth in some dark corner of the bar and get left behind.  I have, of course, planned my outfits for both events so that I can wear compression socks.  Cute dress with tall boots?  Yes, please!

3.  I was very happy to see Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs on the shelf when I was at Target last weekend.  Why is it that all of the holiday versions taste so much better than the regular peanut butter cups?  It has to be something about the difference in the peanut butter/chocolate ratio.   I would have to say that the "holiday" Reese's are probably my favorite candy. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thoughts on pacing and National Half Marathon goals

I think the best word to describe my running in 2011 would be surprising.  I have had a string of races (and training sessions) that have far exceeded my expectations and belief in what was possible for me as a runner.  I have definitely turned a corner this year and I'm not exactly sure why.  Interestingly, this all started about the same time as I started this blog, though I have yet to see any scientific studies that prove blogging improves running times. :) 

I know that the addition of interval and tempo workouts has probably played an important role.  I think, however, that it is probably all of the miles that I logged in 2010 that have made the biggest difference.  In 2009, my first "real" year as a runner, I ran just under 600 miles and completed the Marine Corps marathon running three times a week.  When I signed up for my second marathon in 2010, I decided I wanted to increase my intensity and transitioned to running five times a week.  I totally blew up in marathon two, but it was not because I wasn't prepared.  I started about 30 seconds too fast per mile and was dead by halfway.  At the time I was devastated, but now I wouldn't trade it for a good (or even average) race.  I learned so much about myself and about race strategy, lessons that I wouldn't have learned if things hadn't been so bad.  This also led me to sign up for marathon 3 just 8 weeks later, a race (and training cycle) that provided so many other valuable lessons.  Since I was worried about my legs and injury, I used a modified FIRST plan and got my first taste of speedwork.  I figured that I had enough of a running base that I would be fine replacing my easier runs with cross-training sessions.  The race itself went far better than I could have imagined.  I started slow, picked up the pace as I went along, spent the whole second half of the race passing people, and ended up with a 15 minute PR.  Another valuable lesson about race strategy and bit of redemption.  I ended 2010 with just over 1100 miles, almost twice what I ran in 2009.

I went easy the last two weeks of December and then jumped right into my training plan for the National Half.  After my marathon success, I decided to follow the FIRST half marathon plan and modified it slightly to include four days of running a week instead of three.  I started to go to the track regularly and picked up the pace on my long runs.  During this training cycle I have set a number of PRs and shocked myself with the times that I have been able to run.  So where does this leave me for Saturday's race?  Very confident that I can smash my PR from last year's race, but unsure about how fast I can run and how to approach the race.

On Saturday I will be running only my third half marathon.  The first was last year's National Half which I ran after spending the first two weeks of March traveling around Spain.  The second was a night race in California last July that I ran while visiting a friend.  At last year's National I wasn't sure to expect after my extreme taper (and the fact that I was recovering from a two week cold), started strong and did my best to hold on at the end.  For reasons that I still don't really understand (maybe the time and temperature?), I just had no energy for the race in California and I walked significant portion of the second half.  So I don't have a lot of half marathon experience to draw on going into this race.

I know that a lot of people rely on McMillan for judging what are reasonable goals and the paces to shoot for in races of various distances.  I frequently enter my race times to see what the calculator says, but I don't really trust the predictions for longer distances.  I've never matched what my short races predict for distances of ten miles and up and I've assumed that's because I've always been a sprinter (both in swimming and running).  Or maybe I just haven't trained enough (or pushed hard enough) to put in an equivalent performance at a longer distance.  Based on my last few races, McMillan predicts at least a ten minute PR and shows me times that I have never thought it would be possible for me to run.  Do I think I have a sub-2 hour half in me?  Yes.  Is this the race where it will happen?  I'm not sure.

The last thing I want to do is take these predicted times, start out at a pace that I can't sustain for 13.1 miles, and blow up in a horrible, public fashion.  So my plan for Saturday is this: start out at a pace that is on the conservative side, force myself to stay in that range for the first few miles, pick up the pace through the middle, and give it everything I've got for the last couple of miles.  I've been plotting to meet up with Katie, ever since we discovered that we have similar race strategies, and I'm hoping that she is feeling strong on Saturday and we will be able to execute this plan to perfection.

So I'm not setting a time goal for this race.  (Well, that's not totally true, I do want to beat my 2:09 PR, but, barring unusual circumstances, I'm hoping that shouldn't be a problem)  There will be plenty of half marathons in the future when I can train (and race) for a specific time.  My goal for Saturday is to run a strong, smart race and to end at a significantly faster pace than I started.  I'm not sure what this means my average pace will be, but hopefully it will only be a pace I see on my Garmin for a short time in the middle.  If I puke at the end, even better.  At the very least, I should be approaching puke threshold and I want to leave everything I have out on the course.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A last bit of speedwork

I headed to the track last night for my final speed session before the National Half.  Unfortunately, when I got there it was closed for a high school lacrosse game.  I ran two weeks ago when there was a soccer game, but I guess that lacrosse has been deemed more "dangerous" than soccer.   I suppose it would hurt to be hit with a lacrosse ball that came flying off the field, but clearly I am too fast for that to happen. ;-)

At first I was just going to run around the large block that contains the school, track and playing fields, but then I decided to use the W&O trail instead.  I set up an interval workout on my Garmin and attempt to do the majority of my fast running on the one flat stretch near the track.  Fortunately I had 400s on the schedule, so I was able to avoid too much hill running.  I have commented before that I am a poor downhill runner and these 400s confirmed it!  The odd ones ended with a short uphill, while the even ones started with a short downhill, and the times showed no differences.  I was remarkably consistent throughout and all of them were within 2 seconds of each other.

When I finished up the intervals, I noticed dark clouds rolling in and lightning in the distance.

It looked more intimidating in person, I swear! 

I wasn't sure when the sky was going to open up, so I cut my warmup a bit short and finished it out by running laps around the parking lot.  I figured that way I could jump in my car really quickly, rather than being blocks away.  Fortunately, no one else was in the parking lot or I might have gotten some strange looks.

Perfect spot for running, right? 

It was a  good workout to end this training cycle.  I know it's not technically over until Saturday's race, but I only have an easy run on Wednesday and easy cross training day on Thursday, so I feel like the work is done.  Or as my old college swim coach would say, "the money is in the bank."  I'm definitely ready to cash in on Saturday!

Sweaty, but done.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Mix

Life threw a curveball last week and all plans went out the window.  I still managed to get in some of my planned workouts and I'm going to assume that the extra rest will be good for my taper.  Though the benefits might have been negated by the fact that I got way less sleep than usual and had a bizarre/inconsistent eating schedule.  My goal for this week is to get my eating and sleeping back to normal, have some quality workouts, and head into Saturday's race physically and mentally prepared.

Since my brain is all over the place and there were things I was going to write about last week that I wasn't able to, it seems best to put all my random thoughts in bullet point form.
  • I have found the contrasting responses to my Goofy registration to be fascinating.  I have told a number of family and friends about it and almost everyone (even the runners in the bunch) told me they thought it was crazy (and not in a good way).  But everyone who commented on this post was very excited and has thought about doing it as well!  Apparently it is a good thing that I started this blog and found the online running community that supports my "crazy" running ideas!
  • You may have guessed from my Wordless Wednesday post last week, but I went to the NCAA tournament games at the Verizon Center on Thursday!  Even though most of the games were not very competitive, it was a lot of fun.
  • I managed to fit in my first two Cupcake Marathon runs and number 3 will be Saturday's National Half.  I'm hoping that I have a little leeway to get my results in because I have to head straight from the race to a bridal shower for my friend G and then bachelorette party, so I may not have time to pass them along until Sunday.
  • Speaking of the National Half, I can't believe that it is this Saturday!  I still need to figure out a race strategy and what to wear.  Advanced planning is overrated.
  • Tonight is my last track workout.  I've really enjoyed going to the track a lot more than I expected that I would and I think it has helped me to improve significantly since January.  Hopefully I can get my act together and write a recap of this training cycle.  I've learned a lot and I think I will want to have a record of it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm going to Disney World!!!

I've never been to Disney World.  So I figured that because I have waited more than 30 years to go, I might as well make the most of my first trip!

It sounded great in theory, but now that I am actually committed it is a bit intimidating. At least I have almost ten months to prepare!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Four Courts Four Miler Race Report

As any runner knows, the story of a race really begins the night before with the pre-race meal.  On Friday I enjoyed what may be perhaps the best carbo-loading meal ever created, spaghetti pizza.*  Straight from Lancaster, PA via my freezer.  This fueled many a swim meet in college, but this was its road race debut!

so yummy!

Since this was a St. Patricks Day race, I took more care in planning my outfit than I normally do.  It was clearly very important to wear as much green as possible.  I was so excited earlier in the week when I saw the weather forecast for Saturday - a high in the upper 50s.  I decided that I would definitely be wearing shorts.  I was also planning on wearing some type of green socks.  I had some knee socks from Target that I was all set to wear, until I heard about a BuyWithMe City Sports deal on Thursday.  $20 for $40 worth of merchandise.  This was all the incentive I needed to FINALLY purchase the lime green CEP socks that I have been coveting for months.  I stopped by City Sports on Friday after work and fortunately they had my size, so the last piece of my outfit fell into place!

Unfortunately, when I woke up on Saturday, it was in the upper 30s.  With predicted temperatures in the low 40s at race time.  I was committed to the shorts, but debated switching to a long sleeve shirt or adding arm warmers to my outfit.  I had the sleeves on when my brother showed up at my apartment (he was running the race too - love family runs!), but when I saw he was wearing just a t-shirt, and we discussed how it seemed to be warming up quickly, I decided to leave them behind.  This was perhaps not the wisest decision I have ever made (at least for pre- and post-race comfort).  We got up to the start area about 25 minutes before the race and I was very cold while waiting around.

I knew I couldn't keep up with my brother so we split up almost immediately after crossing the start line.  I was hoping to keep him in my sights for a while since I was trying to finish only a few minutes behind him, but that's not very easy when almost everyone in the race is wearing the same color.   I focused on moving my legs quickly on the downhill and wasn't too worried about pace.  I let gravity do its thing and worked on weaving around other runners to find some open space.  At one point I narrowly missed stepping into a giant pothole and was much more focused on scanning the ground after that!  I was happy to note that there was a flat section in the middle of the hill (2-3 blocks long) and knew that it would be crucial on the way back up!

We came off the downhill right around the one mile mark.  That's right, despite all of my complaining about how the race was 2 miles downhill and 2 miles straight back up, it really was 1 mile down, 2 miles of more or less flat and 1 mile back up.  I tried to push it and keep a "comfortably" hard pace over the flat section.  I realized how much I have advanced as a runner recently during this part of the race when my Garmin told me that I was running in the 7:55-8:05 mile range.  To be honest, I still have a hard time believing it.  Even just a few months ago this is a pace that I would have thought was well beyond my capabilities, and now it is "comfortably hard."

The flat 2 miles passed all too quickly and before I knew it I was headed back up the hill.  The first section was the steepest and just tried to keep up my turnover and make it to the flat section.  Once I got there, it was tempting to relax a bit, but I knew that this was where I needed to get my pace back down.  Then I got to the second part of the hill and there was only about 0.2 left so I really tried to kick it in to the finish.  I'm not sure that I really got all that much of a kick, but I managed to pass a few people, so I feel like I did!

Final time - 32:24.  Going into the race, I had no idea how the hill would affect my pace and decided I would be happy as long as I finished under 36:00 and kept my average pace under 9:00.  So I was thrilled with the results.  I know this strong run of races (and PRs) will end at some point, but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts and see how long I can keep surprising myself!

And the killer uphill?  Not quite as bad as I was expecting!  It certainly wasn't easy, but I felt pretty strong on the way up and even managed to pass a few people.  It also really helped me mentally to have that short flat stretch in the middle.

Post-race I found my brother, as well as my friends G & C, and we enjoyed a hard-earned post-race beer.  I opted for Guinness and it tasted great!   Then it was home for a hot shower and lounging on the couch.  An excellent way to start a Saturday.

*spaghetti pizza - a food so amazing that it probably deserves a rambling post about its greatness

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Three Things Thursday

1. I am excited for the Four Courts Four Miler on Saturday.  I can walk to the start and there's lots of post-race beer.  What could be wrong with a race like that?  Oh, right, a giant hill.  As you may have noticed from my previous posts, I have been working on building up the awfulness of the hill in my head over the last few weeks.  I am hopeful that my strategy has worked and maybe, just maybe, the hill won't be quite as bad as I have pictured it in my head.  Or it will be, but at least by the time I know for sure I will be done!

2. I can't believe that the National Half Marathon is only a little more than two weeks away!  I feel like I have been thinking about this race for so long (I did sign up last July!) that it's strange to think that it is almost here.  I'm still figuring out pacing and how to approach the race, but I think I'm pretty close to deciding what my race plan will be.   I'll probably have a longer post about this in the next week or so, but any suggestions are welcome!

3.  I have also started thinking about my post-National Half schedule and realized that I have nothing on the calendar after the Broad Street Run on May 1.    I have a few other ones tentatively in my head, but nothing firm, and now I have major race registration itch.  Fortunately, a few of the ones I have been eyeing are opening registration soon, so I shouldn't have to wait too long for my fix.  I think I've narrowed my fall marathon choices to Philadelphia, Richmond, or Outer Banks.  They all fall in the time frame I am looking for (mid-November), are relatively easy for me to get to, and where I have friends to visit/stay with.  If you have run any of them, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

This time last year I was wandering around Spain...

Going to work on an average Wednesday just doesn't compare.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Getting back on track

So last week was kind of a wash.  I got the miles in that I had scheduled, but for the most part they weren't high quality.  I never realized how much difference there can be between treadmills until I ran on the ones in my hotel.  They were just uncomfortable.  The other problem with the hotel gym was that there were only three treadmills and one elliptical.  That doesn't seem like enough equipment to me (for a 12 story hotel), especially since every morning that I was working out, there were people waiting to use the machines.  Fortunately, I somehow managed to come in and grab the last treadmill more than once!  And forget about the one elliptical, it was always in use.  This meant that my normal cross-training on Tuesday turned into an easy run.   By the time I got to Wednesday's planned tempo run, I wasn't up for it.  It was my third day in a row running (which I normally try to avoid) and was tired from long hours at the office.  So I went with another easy run.   When the person using the elliptical finished and I was mid-way through my run, I hopped off the treadmill and finished my workout with some cross-training. 

If was definitely a struggle to get through the workouts last week, but I think in the end it was worth it.  I know I would have regretted taking several extra days off.  Although I may not have made any forward progress, I didn't lose ground either.  And that's probably all that I could really ask for given my schedule.

I'm looking forward to getting back to quality workouts this week and having a strong race on Saturday.  Things are already off to a good start after last night's workout at the track.  It was my longest track session to date, 2 x 2 miles.  It was a really tough workout for me, mentally and physically.  Immediately after I finished I was a bit disappointed that my individual mile times weren't faster.  After some reflection, I realized that I was right where I hoped to be and clearly shouldn't be comparing the splits to the mile repeats I did a few weeks ago.  Besides, had you told me a few months (or even weeks) ago that I would have been running these kind of splits, I probably would have told you that you were crazy!  Obviously I am my own worst critic and need to occasionally stop and remember how much progress I've made in a short time.

I also still need to figure out how to eat for evening running.  I know what works for me in the mornings, but at night I am lost.  I had a Luna bar before and I know I didn't really eat enough afterwards.  Certainly I didn't eat as much as I normally would for dinner and, if anything, I probably should have had a bit more.  But I wasn't all that hungry right away and exhaustion won out and I went to bed before fully regaining my appetite.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

February Recap

Miles: 105.55

X-Training: 12 (Elliptical - 5; Biking (outside!) - 2; Yoga - 3; Swimming - 2)

Rest Days: 3

Race(s): GW Birthday Classic 10k - 52:44 and GW Birthday Mile - 6:59.  Two new PRs!

New gear: A fun new red running jacket!

Workout goals: Keep going to yoga once a week - I made it 3 out of 4 weeks.
                           Get back in the pool (at least once - baby steps!) - I went swimming twice!
                           Keep up quality training for the National Half - Done.

Non-workout goal: Clean up the clutter in my apartment.  I've made good progress, but I'm still working on this.  I'm trying to tackle a manageable area each weekend so that I don't get overwhelmed.

Ice cream flavor of the month: Breyers Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

February was a good month.  I shook off the blah training mood I'd been in towards the end of February (with the help of my decision to return to outdoor morning runs) and put in my highest mileage weeks of National Half training.  I also managed to get two new PRs in one weekend at the GW Birthday races.  And I got back in the pool and rode a road bike for the first time ever.

March Preview

Workout goals: Yoga once a week
                           Biking and swimming at least 3 times (each)
                           Strong race at the National Half Marathon
                           Register for a a triathlon.  (I've started swimming and biking so it's time to actually
                           pick a race and register!)                          
Races: Four Courts Four Miler (March 12) and the National Half Marathon (March 26).

Non-workout goal: Clean up the clutter in my apartment!  This is a carryover from February, but hopefully I can finish this up in March.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Photo Friday

I've been working hard on the West Coast this week and am looking forward to returning home tonight and getting back to a regularly scheduled blogging, commenting and working out (the hotel gym was pretty bad).

Other than one fun night of touring around and eating sushi with my one friend who lives in LA, I've spent almost all of my waking hours in the office.  Here's the view:

this one's from the hotel