Friday, March 15, 2019

Race Report: Rock-n-Roll DC 2019

The main problem with the Road to Gold race being a confidence buster was that the very next weekend I had the Rock-n-Roll DC half marathon on tap, which I originally hoped would be a PR attempt. It came a little earlier in the season than last fall’s half PR but in January, in my optimistic, goal-writing state, that didn’t matter. Road to Gold would be a stepping stone to tell me I could handle that pace at the half.

But when that race went south, I wasn’t left with much to go on. The first part of Road to Gold was the only time I held sub-6 minute pace for longer than a mile all season, and after that I completely fell apart. So going out faster than 6-minute pace for the half seemed dumb. I figured a decent plan was to start around 6:00 until the big hill just after mile 6, then try to cut it down or do whatever I could at that point. With that kind of start I’d need to run sub-5:50 from halfway to the finish to PR, and I couldn’t convince myself that was possible. (My PR is 1:17:26, 5:54 pace.) So “whatever I can do”  became the vague goal that let me off the hook a little. It was a telling sign my confidence was shot.

The trouble is, when I’m not going for a PR, my mental game suffers. I’m in this nebulous zone where I don’t know what would be a good effort on the day or whether I’m giving myself excuses from the start and cutting myself too much slack. And in the final miles of a race, it’s really hard not to have a tangible goal to grasp on to/to pull you forward. But without any real idea of where I was, I had no better plan.

The weather was basically perfect. Once again, a bunch of ladies passed me in the first mile. I tried to not care and let them go—do NOT start too fast—but still hit the mile in 5:52. I had thought top three was possible, but I was in maybe seventh or eighth place at that point. Let them go, maybe they’ll come back to me on or after the hill. A guy nearby asked his friend if a pack of ladies just ahead of me was going for the Trials standard. No way, I thought. But then my stupid doubts came up: could they be? (The standard is sub-1:13 and if they were I would definitely eat my Twitter words.) I definitely can’t stay with them then. Am I in over my head at this pace? (But no, they definitely were not. Rock-n-Roll DC has never had those kind of times.)

But I found a pack of two women I knew and we started hitting 6 flats, so I was running according to plan. I was still mentally questioning myself way too much for so early in a race, but I told myself to stay with the women and work with them. It’s early still. I’m not hurting, I’m just letting doubts and fear in for no reason.

I tried to relax until we got to the hill, which I felt like we crawled up: are my legs even moving?? But the two women I was with dropped back a bit so maybe I survived it slightly better. I passed another woman before the next mile marker and was starting to feel more positive. My split for the hill mile was 6:23, but I knew from the past that although I often lose 20-30 seconds in that mile, I make it up on the downhills later on.

The next section rolls a bit and I tried to embrace the hills. (I’m a strength runner! Hills are my jam!) I felt strong and saw my sister who told me in was in fifth. I saw a ponytail ahead and thought I could surely reel her in.

Around mile 10. Photo by Caitlyn Tateishi.
Just after mile 8, Shauneen, one of the women I had been running with earlier, caught me. We had run together on GRC so I knew how tough she is. I tried to stay with her and was shocked when I actually could. I was telling myself the hills were helping me more (not sure why I thought this, maybe because I originally dropped her on the biggest hill) and that bold assertion helped me stay with her. We dropped a 5:50 on a rolling ninth mile and were back on 6-flat pace. But just before the tenth mile marker and the biggest downhill, I let her go. I think I got scared of the pace or gave myself the excuse that the downhill would help her more. This is my biggest regret of the race, because I had been surprised when I didn’t immediately let her go at mile 8, that I was capable of staying with her and it wasn’t killing me. But eventually I let fear get the better of me. Mile 10 was a 5:42. (That mile has the most downhill, but that’s probably the fastest split I’ve run in any race ever.) I watched Shauneen reel in the woman in front of her and was confident I could get her too.

The countdown began: just get to the spot where Husband and Daughter are cheering (mile 10.5). Ok, big cheer, lots of love, check. Now get to Cowbell Corner (mile 11.5). Lots more love, lots more cheering (the Oiselle team is LOUD y’all), check. There’s a slight uphill there, as my Oiselle teammate Courtney had reminded me, and while I definitely felt it, I still felt strong. Until all of a sudden, I didn’t. I was tying up left and right and struggling to keep it together. My split for mile 12 (after four solid miles) was a 6:09, the second slowest of the day.

Mile 11.5. Photo by Caitlin Kovalkoski

I could hear cheers for Jenny, the other woman I had supposedly vanquished back on that big hill and knew she was close. She caught me but once again I surprised myself by not immediately letting her go. The tying up from the last mile eased a little bit and, while I can’t remember what exactly I was thinking during this section, it was basically just: don’t let Jenny go. Stay with her. We ran basically side by side for the last mile, until the final curve up a hill when I started sprinting and was surprised I could actually manage it. I held off Jenny, but didn’t catch the woman ahead. She seemed too far gone, but she was actually just 2 seconds ahead, the same distance I put on Jenny. My other regret: I should have started sprinting earlier. (My last 1.1 was 5:46 pace.)

I finished in 1:18:13 and sixth place. It’s my second fastest half and a course PR, but it felt… just okay. It was certainly better than the previous week’s race (I ran a faster pace for 5 miles longer) but it was far from where I wanted to be at this point. I had hoped to run the full marathon at close to that pace in just five weeks. That doesn’t seem possible now. Is a PR even possible? I’m not sure. Like I said above, I really struggle in the no-man’s-land of not going for a PR. I just have no desire to go into a marathon, having done all this work, without the intention of going for it. So the realization starting to dawn on me really began to bum me out.

But the weekend’s activities were far from over: there was brunch with the Oiselle team, dinner and drinks with GRC friends and babies, and on Sunday morning I got to go to an event at Summit to Soul, a woman-owned specialty store in DC. They recently launched a partnership with Oiselle which means you can now buy more #flystyle there than anywhere in the country, besides Oiselle’s flagship store in Seattle. (So if you’re in DC, I highly recommend you check it out. And if you live in DC, join them for their weekly Wednesday night runs!) I gave a talk about my running journey and how big I dared to dream, how much I had to believe in myself and how far I’ve come because of that dreamy ambition. I tried to stress that God has given all of us so more much potential than we know, because I truly believe that.

Talking at Summit to Soul. Photo by Samantha Giordano Kim.
… Maybe it was a talk I needed to hear myself. Maybe my early season goals were a little far-fetched (shocker, I know), maybe the odds are long, but all I can do is my best in the remaining workouts and then spend the taper as I always do: trying to shore up belief in myself, my training, and that it will all come together on April 15.

Dream big,

Friday, March 8, 2019

Race Report/Scouting Mission: Road to Gold

This past weekend I got to go to Atlanta to run Road to Gold, a test race on the 2020 Olympic Trials course. The Trials course will be four laps: a 6-mile loop run three times and a final lap covering most of that loop before heading south for the final 2.2 miles. Atlanta Track Club invited all qualified athletes to come run most of the last lap (an 8-mile race) to get a feel for what the course will be like. It was both a scouting mission and an opportunity for a tune-up race/hard workout.

First, the scouting mission. Here’s what we learned about the Trials.
1. The course is HILLY.
That’s been the main theme of the press since the route was revealed, but I was hoping it might be over exaggerated. IT IS NOT. Even the flat sections (the first out and back we’ll hit on every loop) don’t feel all that flat: it felt like we were always going slightly up (which is annoyingly grating) or slightly down (which is either imperceptible or not that satisfying). It turns out the best downhill is in this section (heading north from mile 1-2) but I didn’t really notice it. The locals kept saying it’s “Atlanta-flat” (they did remove sections of Piedmont Park to make it flatter), but I was comforted when other athletes agreed "Atlanta-flat" is actually crazy hilly. 

Men's winner Brogan Austin and
a photo that gives a good sense of the hills.
[Credit: Michael Scott]
In my opinion, the worst hill that we’ll hit on all four loops comes just after mile 4. The hardest hills of all though will be in that extra 2.2 we tack on the last loop; these were tough in an 8-mile race, they will be a serious challenge after 23 or 24 miles. The last section also has quite a few turns; even in an 8 mile race it felt like a lot. (Although I think two of these turns were added to circumvent current construction. The Trials course is slightly more straightforward.) But as others have speculated, this will make for an exciting finish as a lot could change in those final miles. And good luck to anyone who doesn’t take the warnings seriously and goes out too hard!

2. It will be an afternoon race.
The other news of the weekend was the men’s race is likely to start at noon, with the women starting a bit later. This is determined by NBC (not Atlanta Track Club) based on when they think they’ll get the most viewers. (This lines up with 2016, when the Trials were on the west coast and started at 10 am.) It will be tough on the athletes, as even in February it could be warm and sunny in the afternoon (it was in the 60s this weekend) and athletes training in much colder conditions won’t be acclimated to that. (Think of when Boston is on the warmer side: with the late start and lack of shade, even just slightly warm temperatures can catch people off guard at Boston. The last few miles of the Atlanta course are pretty exposed, so a sunny day could be tough.)

3. Atlanta Track Club is going above and beyond.
And finally, although we got a hint of Atlanta Track Club’s commitment to the race and the athletes by the shear fact they put this preview race on, the weekend provided more proof of what a phenomenal job they are doing. They took surveys of all the athletes to ask what we’d like to see at the Trials, what LA did well--and not so well--at the 2016 Trials, and took the time after the race to talk to everyone and get our thoughts. Lots of people (myself included) were disappointed with how LA treated the athletes; it’s clear that Atlanta is going above and beyond to make all of us feel special and on a level playing field. (For instance, they will be helping pay travel/hotel fees for ALL the qualified athletes—not just faster, A-standard ones—even though there will be more of us than ever.) 

Now for my race: it didn’t go so well. (Although it did serve the purpose of learning everything I wrote above!) I consider myself to be a strength runner, usually good on hills (e.g. Charlottesville, Pittsburgh) but even though I’m in the middle of Boston training (supposedly focusing on hills) they crushed me.

But of course, I am in the middle of training. I took this race as a workout (at the end of a week with two other hard workouts). I felt like things were shifting and starting to come together, and hoped running this as a hard tempo run would continue to point things in that direction.

I tried not to stress about it too much (It’s just a normal workout!), but possibly that just meant I wasn’t as mentally prepared as I should have been. I went out around 5:55 pace (I think? I missed the first mile marker) with the intention to pick it up in the second half. I lost my group by mile 3 and started to struggle a bit, but was surprised mile 4 was decent (turns out it’s downhill). As soon as we hit that marker, a group of Hanson Brooks athletes passed me (they were behind me??), clearly with orders to pick it up after four easy miles. Or that’s what I told myself, but truthfully I just totally crumbled from this point on. I never recovered from the hill after mile 4 (above, I call it the worst on the main loop for this reason); it was like a switch flipped that I couldn’t ever flip back. I averaged 5:56 for the first four miles and 6:12 for the second four. I don’t know if mentally I just didn’t recover, if I gave up a bit too much when I realized how far off my goal I was, or what, but I couldn’t get it together and was just surviving until the finish from here on out.

[Credit: Michael Scott]

The final out and back under the Olympic rings was cool (although when we hit this stretch at mile 24 next year, there may be a sense of "yea yea yea, who cares”), but after that I couldn’t tell where I was going since I had fallen just far enough back I couldn’t see anyone ahead. (Not being able to see anyone also didn’t help my mental fight.) The turns slowed me more than usual as I had to repeatedly ask volunteers, “which way?” (This won’t be a problem at the Trials because of more signage, more participants, and a heck of a lot more spectators lining the roads). One volunteer told me to “Swing, swing, swing” which apparently meant turn right (in my addled mind, I was thinking it was a baseball reference: "Swing harder to drive this home???"). Fortunately she told me to turn before I idiotically almost missed it.

Even in the final mile I had nothing left and couldn’t summon a kick. My stomach was beginning to revolt, but “C’mon I’m almost done, who cares?!” That’s possibly what’s most frustrating: I was trying to try, but it wasn’t working. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, which is making it hard for me to get over this race. Things were starting to turn around and this feels like six steps backwards. I had hoped being in a race environment would help me run this workout faster than I could alone at home, but that turned out not to be the case. I know it’s just one workout, but as I head into the Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon this weekend, I wanted to have a good one to build confidence going forward.

And at the moment, I can’t imagine running this course four times. Fortunately, I have a whole year to wrap my mind around it.

Dream big,

Monday, December 10, 2018

Race Report: CIM 2018

Like this season's half marathon goals, my early season goals for the marathon needed some adjustment. My A++/pie in the sky goal was a sub-2:37, the Olympic Trials A standard (which comes with a free trip to the Trials). Even when I made it, full of early season optimism, I knew it was bold and probably unrealistic. It would require a PR of over five minutes and running nearly eight minutes faster than I have recently. My more realistic (hopefully!?) B goal was to break 2:40.

The training never stacked up to 2:37 and try as my dreaming-big brain might it could not rationalize going for that. It wasn’t until November that even sub-2:40 seemed possible, but by then sub-2:40 just didn’t seem exciting enough. I’ve wanted to break 2:40 for years (basically since the day after I ran 2:42) but now that it was (possibly) in my sights, I got greedy and wanted more. Could I break 2:39? My best workout, 16 miles at marathon effort, averaged 6:08 pace. But I told myself that I often run four seconds/mile faster on race day (a fact I relied on heavily before last season’s Pittsburgh) so maybe I could run 6:04 pace, which is a measly hair over 2:39. My other best “workout” was the Richmond half, which I ran two minutes faster than my tune-up half before CIM in 2014 (where I ran 2:42). Two minutes faster in a half equates to four minutes faster in a marathon, right?? That would put me at low 2:38 (6:02 pace). For some reason, the possibility of running 2:38:XX got me disproportionately more excited than 2:39:XX.

And so I convinced myself to go for 2:38:XX, despite the fact, that uhhh yeah... pulling off the four-seconds-faster-on-race-day trick seemed like a minor miracle at Pittsburgh. (Also, to break 2:39, I’d have to go five seconds faster.) There’s a line in Clueless where Josh (Paul Rudd in his breakout role!) asks Cher (Alicia Silverstone), “What makes you think you can get teachers to change your grades?”

Cher responds, “Only the fact that I’ve done it every other semester.”

Random and weird as it sounds, that quote always comes to mind when my inner monologue asks what makes me think I can run both faster and farther in a race than a workout. I respond back, “Only the fact that I’ve done it every other semester.” [Insert confident gum twirl.] (Even though I haven’t really and have had flops and disappointing races.) I’ve done it before; surely I can do it again. And my pace at Richmond and half-to-marathon conversion was considerably more comforting. All those other races/workouts that were nowhere near these paces? Ignore those.

My race plan was to go out in 6:04s (a hair over 2:39 pace), then cut down to 6:00 at half way, hoping to average 6:02 (and finish around 2:38:11). Again, the logic here is bold to say the least, but the confidence I gained from the Richmond half made me think it wasn’t absurd. I’d start at a pace equivalent to what I've done "every other semester" and even if I only managed to pick it up a tiny bit, I could squeeze under 2:39. No matter what, I’d give all I had in the last 10K and fight for every last second there. I really wanted to push myself and finish knowing I couldn't have given any more.

We made it to Sacramento without any trouble (unlike last CIM), Baby was in an amazingly good mood (unlike Pittsburgh) and watching her run around excitedly was distracting, keeping me surprisingly calm. The weather was perfect, the course was fast, I had no excuses, just like I told myself before the Richmond Half. It didn’t seem quite as reassuring (you know, given that the marathon is twice as far...) but I wasn’t as big a bundle of nerves as usual.

Even on race morning, I remained strangely calm. It was such a contrast to Pittsburgh where I was so nervous I could barely eat. I felt like I was in denial, like I would get to mile 20 and wonder how the heck I got there. Am I mentally prepared for what is about to happen? It seemed like maybe I wasn't. I kept ignoring it, even when we arrived at the start and waited in a tent with 200 other fidgeting, overly-hydrated elite athletes. And then we were in the corral and the gun went off…

Ok, this is happening. Stay calm in these early miles. Don’t get wrapped up in the excitement, slower is better. The first and second miles were right around my goal of 6:04s. I found myself just behind a group of four or so talkative guys and Rachel Hyland, who I recognized from the Jacksonville Half and Olympic trials. (Also, she finished fourth at this year’s Boston.) But the third mile was too fast (5:57) so I tried to let the group go. The fourth mile was still too quick (5:59); just relax. The biggest down hills were in this first section, so maybe they were helping. Don’t beat yourself up over too fast or too slow, just get back on it.

The next few miles I congratulated myself on backing off just a bit and hitting a few miles a second or two over pace, so it seemed I was back to averaging 6:04s. I tried to stay a little ways back from the guys and Rachel, thinking they were a hair fast so if I stayed a bit behind them I’d be good. But I kept drifting back to them. At one point I heard one of them say we were on 6:02 pace. No, we’re not, we’re doing 6:04s. (Hindsight: They were right. I was just clinging to the hope I was correctly executing my race plan.)

An early race smile and wave. Feeling good.
Around mile 6, as I again tried to let a gap grow between Rachel’s pack and me, another woman I was running near asked my race plan. I said 6:04-6:05 (I really should slow down to 6:05 for a few miles…) and it seemed like we could work together, but I immediately lost her at a water stop. (Hindsight: Probably because I was still averaging under 6:02 pace, which I didn’t admit to myself. I told myself I was back on my planned 6:04s.)

The miles clicked by. As always, my family was out in full force cheering, so I focused on the next time I’d see them or have to grab a water bottle. If I felt bad for a mile, I told myself it was just a bad patch, it was too early to truly be tired. If I felt good, I told myself it was too early for that too and not to get ahead of myself.

By mile 9, I was pretty much "bang on" (for some inexplicable reason, my inner voice favors British turns of phrase mid-race). I was feeling good, but suddenly found myself at the front of Rachel’s pack. This isn’t right. Mile ten was just under 6 flat. And the next mile was 6 flat. Too fast.

I was enjoying the guys talking, though. It reminded me of Chris Mocko, the pacer from 2014’s CIM. At one point they mentioned singing during a previous race and I secretly wanted them to go ahead and sing again. I’ll take any distractions possible, please and thank you. But I needed to slow down.

Relax, stay behind this pack until the half.

Or… maybe I’m having an incredible, truly special race! Maybe I’ll hit the half ahead of pace and have an even better day than expected!

No, it’s too early for that. Just relax.

At some point, I thought I overheard Rachel tell the guys that her plan was to pick it up at the half. That’s my plan too! Perfect! At this point I finally accepted I was running with this group and not just behind them. I realized how lucky I was to have them; even if it meant going out a hair fast, it was worth it to have people to run with. And I didn’t want to lose them.

We hit the half just ahead of my goal, in 1:19:18 (6:04 pace would have been 1:19:32). Step one: check. Now: pick it up. Rachel and I (and I think one other woman) dropped the pace and lost the guys in this section. I repeatedly assured myself that I felt good. I can do this, I am doing this. One mile at a time. These can be the trickiest miles mentally because the finish is still so far but you’re starting to feel the effort. I remembered what Mocko said last time: these were the miles to focus. We were successfully hitting them around 6:00 pace, exactly according to plan.

By mile 18, we were a group of three women: Rachel, Bria Wetsch, and myself. Bria said something encouraging about the power of our little pack and Rachel responded back about how we’re coming in strong. I wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the energy or the words. Bria mentioned the hills we ending soon, which was a relief. Everyone talks about CIM as a fast course, but it does roll quite a bit and I was glad it was ending. But still: I have handled the hills according to plan, everything is going perfectly, I have women to work with, I am doing this!

Trying to stay with Bria (left, in black)
and Rachel (front, in blue and yellow).
Mile 19 was a blazing 5:56, which was simultaneously awesome (Oh man, we are really crushing it!) and terrifying (Actually, if we could all please slow down that’d be great.) A little while later (things start to get hazy) another woman caught us and zoomed by. Rachel went with her. There was no way I could. Fortunately Bria hung back a bit too. Oh thank goodness, I can stay with her. I need to stay with her.

But soon enough Bria gapped me too. I tried to not let the gap grow, playing the often futile game of telling myself to keep the distance between us the same. I knew I’d slow alone. Just get to the next mile marker. Don’t think about what’s left. One mile at a time. I'd been praying the whole time, but now the tone got desperate.

In the past, I’ve thought of the last 10K as my place to shine. But here I was slowing. Miles 20-22 were about 6:04 pace, but when I glanced at my watch between the mile markers the pace seemed dangerously slower. Am I going to make it? C’mon, God. Help.

My power pack was long gone, the gap insurmountable. I honestly wasn’t sure if I had another mile in me, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make it to the next mile marker. I can’t drop out when I’m this close to getting a PR.

Oiselle’s Cowbell Corner was around 23.5 and getting there became my sole purpose. And holy cow, what a boost. It was so loud I felt like Desi coming down Boylston or Shalane cursing through Central Park. I couldn’t help but smile (hindsight: probably more of a strained grimace) which reminded me of the advice to smile when it hurts, Eliud Kipchoge style. I tried to smile more once past the team, but I’m not sure it helped much. In my focus to get to Cowbell Corner, I missed mile marker 23, which was possibly for the best. Miles 23 and 24 averaged 6:12 pace.

As I made the turn after mile 24 I heard my Mom screaming wildly. I hadn’t expected her to be there, which reminded me of 2014 when I hadn’t expected her cheers at the end then either. In that race, this was the place I started to pick it up. C’mon, Teal. Almost there. Two tiny little miles to go. But I wasn’t picking it up. Everything ached and hurt and I couldn’t get my legs to go.

Last mile.
I worried I was slowing too much, giving up too much at the end. 2:38 seemed out of the picture, would I miss sub-2:40? I knew I had been pretty on pace through 20 miles, but what was this dramatic slow down costing me? As always, I had the mile 25 split memorized. My original goal was to hit it in 2:30:50. As I got close I realized I was nearly a minute off (actually 2:31:37).  And suddenly I couldn’t remember which goal 2:30:50 corresponded to: 2:38 low (6:02 pace) or 2:38:59?? If I’m nearly a minute off 2:38:59, I might miss sub-2:40. Oh crap oh crap oh crap. C’mon, God, help me at least break 2:40. (Note: my memory, logic, and math skills get as wobbly as my legs do.)

I was just doing anything and everything I could to get to that final turn (8th street, c’mon 8th street) and felt like I was giving a valiant effort, but I continued to slow. I hit mile 26 at about 2:38 (I think? Everything is questionable at this point…) and once again I had two minutes to run about a quarter of a mile. I can make it: I’m going to break 2:40, thank God. Past my screaming family, turn to the finish line and actually (unlike many races where you make the final turn and it still seems like forever to the line) the finish was right there. Oh thank God.

I finished in 2:39:11 (2:39:08 chip time, 6:04 pace) and was just So. Incredibly. Relieved. To. Finally. Be. Done.

I was thrilled with the PR (over three minutes and four years in the making), but also a little salty about how close I got to my totally-made-up, no-one-cares-but-me goal of 2:38:XX. I wondered if I had known (or calculated accurately) how close I was to breaking 2:39 if I could have pulled anything more out of me. It turns out at mile 25 I was actually on 2:39:00 pace. Maybe my tradition of memorizing the mile 25 marker (and more crucially not remembering what time it corresponded to) backfired. Instead I think it helped scare me a bit, thinking (wrongly or not) that sub-2:40 might be in jeopardy.

2:40 is certainly a nice barrier to break, but I spent so long talking myself up that sub-2:40 no longer seems like that big a deal; I’m on to dreaming of other things. Not that I’m not happy with it, because of course I am. But mostly I’m excited I’m three minutes closer to that A++, pie in the sky goal of 2:37. It doesn't seem so outlandish anymore.

I wished I had more to give at the end, but I’m proud of how bold I was. Maybe I should have been more intimidated by taking such a large chunk of time off my PR (and more than 5 minutes off my time from the spring). Maybe reading this makes it seem like I should have gone out a hair slower. But really I’m incredibly grateful to have had the pack I did for nearly 20 miles, who made running PR pace seem not so impossible. I’ll certainly work on re-mastering that last 10K, but for now, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I raced.

Oiselle had a campaign a while back that said, “Be brave, get ugly.” I was brave. It got ugly. But I stuck it out and pulled off a big PR. And I’m proud of that.

Couldn't have done it without my
amazing-as-always cheer squad.
(Not pictured: photographer/spectating planner Dad.)

Dream big, 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Richmond Half Marathon

At the beginning of the season I write down my goals. They are always full of dreamy ambition based on the hope of training and life going absolutely flawlessly. Then training begins…. and reality sets in. Workouts don’t go perfectly. Early season races are ridiculously warm and humid. So are midseason races. Slowly over the course of the season, I realign my goals with what might be more possible. This season my pie-in-the-sky A+ goal for the Richmond half marathon was to break 1:17 (5:52 pace). I haven’t raced any distance at that pace ever, so yea, it was a little crazy. And given my September and October performances, it seemed near impossible. An adjustment was necessary.

But I was stubbornly reluctant to back off too much. Despite my race performances, I was running workouts faster than ever. Based solely on one tempo run that went surprisingly well, I thought I could run 5:55 pace, which would put me at about 1:17:30. Race day was going to be perfect weather, so I had no excuses. It would be my last big effort before CIM, my last chance to prove to myself that I truly am in the best shape of my life, and time to finally get that first official PR post baby.

But in typical Teal fashion, after I made this more realistic goal, I thought about how I could twist it into meeting my original goal: I’ll go out conservatively (e.g. 5:55 pace), and maybe I can pick it up in the second half? But going out at 5:55 isn’t exactly conservative. I have only run that pace for a 5K (and not recently). Running that pace would mean I’d run 10K and 10 mile PRs in the middle of a half marathon. I ignored that logic, except to remind myself that I should certainly not go out faster than 5:55.  

Race morning was a bit windy but otherwise perfect as promised. The first two miles were a hair over 5:55, perfect. We were running into the wind and I tried to visualize the course and how this meant we’d have the wind at our backs at the end. Look at me, staying positive! I found myself in a little pack of four or so women and tried to quiet my over analytical mind (Is this too fast? Is this too slow?) by latching onto them. But the third mile was a little fast (5:50) and as we headed towards an out and back, I got dropped. That’s okay, the pace was a little fast for this early. Just keep them in sight.

Photo credit: Cheryl Young
On the out and back, I tried to count the women ahead. The top five would win money and in recent years, 1:17:30 would get fifth. As always, it seemed like a whole mess of women had flown by me at the start, I felt like I must be in twentieth place. But the sun was in my eyes, so it was hard to see who was coming back; I guessed I might be in eleventh. The women who had just dropped me had joined a larger group ahead. Keep that pack in sight and try to reel it in.

While the elevation chart for this race looks flat, it doesn’t seem so flat when you’re running it. The worst of the hills are in a park from mile 5.5-7.5. In Deena Kastor’s book, she wrote that she would mouth, “Charge!” to herself on each uphill. So I tried that and passed two women on the hill at the park entrance. Oh yea, I’m good on hills.

I knew the 10K split would be a PR, but was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t by just a second or two but by over twenty. 10K PR: check. One PR down, two to go.

I tried not to be intimidated by the pace, but to take it one mile at a time. Just get through the park, through these last rolls. I can do it, I am doing it. When I looked at my watch between miles and saw the pace hovering over 6 minutes, I created a new goal: don’t let any mile be over 6. Mile 8 was close with a 5:59, but I was more relieved I had managed another sub-6 than worried my time was inching higher. I caught another woman around mile 9 and then had my sights set on Esther Atkins. Can I catch her?? I thought I could. I’m going to really press from 10 on and catch her. Just get to 10 miles.

Photo credit: Cheryl Young
10 miles was another PR (unofficially, since there was no timing mat) but for some dumb reason I did the math wrong (10 miles is one of the easiest places to calculate splits! C’mon mid-race Teal!) and thought I was over 5:55 pace by 11 seconds. (Actually, at 59:11, I was just one second over.) I needed to press these last few miles, which was my plan all along. Here we go.

Soon after 10, I saw my family. I was still feeling good so tried to give them a big wave to let them know. But as soon as I put my arm up, a flood of exhaustion hit me, like holding up my arm was more than I could handle. Huh, I guess I am more tired than I think. Continuing to put one foot in front of the other seemed easier than waving, so I stuck with that.

But I wasn’t picking it up as much as I needed and I think I finally I accepted that sub-1:17 wasn’t going to happen. Esther had taken off around mile 11 and so my plan to catch her was also failing. But around mile 12 I could see her catching a group of two or three women ahead. I hadn’t seen anyone around me besides Esther for miles, but now they were in my sights. Can I catch them?? I had no idea what place I was in but I guessed one of those women was in fifth. If I could catch the pack I could maybe snag a spot in the money. But I wasn’t going any faster and I was quickly running out of room.

As we made the final turn and hit the steep downhill to the finish, I knew I didn’t have enough space but I tried to finish as strong as I could. (I actually hate this race’s sharp drop at the end: the pounding is magnified on your already aching legs and it’s hard to resist the urge to brake.) I figured I was still running well enough to break 1:18 but wasn’t really sure and had lost track of splits (plus I was thrown off by my erroneous math at mile 10). So when I saw the clock flashing low 1:17s it was a relief.

I finished in 1:17:26, for the third PR of the day. I was psyched I had finally pulled off a big (90 second) PR and had to be satisfied that I wasn’t *that* far off my early season goal. I also ran perfectly even splits, 5:54 pace at 10K and the finish. But the last two miles left a bad taste in my mouth; I didn’t compete well and I feel like there was more left that I didn’t tap into. I wished I had pressed harder to try to catch those women. I wished I had gone when Esther went and dug a little deeper. I finished in eighth, which was disappointing since I really thought top 5 was possible.

But the string of PRs is an obvious sign that I am in the best shape of my life, for the first time in nearly three years. I’ve finally come fully back from having a baby and am running better than ever. The season started badly, with embarrassingly slow races, but I kept my head down, kept plugging away, and trusted things would turn around. It took longer than expected, but it’s clear they have.

Oh yea, and one more (incredibly unofficial) PR while we’re at it. My last 5K (from 10 to 13.1) is a 5K PR by two seconds. So I guess the summer of speed is more like the fall of fast. That’s fine by me.

One more PR to go.

All smiles on a day full of PRs.
Dream big, 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Race Report: Army Ten Miler 2018

After the Navy Half, things seemed to turn around. The weather improved, workouts went better, the September slump was ending! Maybe I could pull off the same comeback as 2014, when a bad September race was forgotten by a big PR at the Army Ten Miler and the trajectory of the season seemed to shift.

But the weather had one last (please let it be the last!!) dose of humidity to smother us with, just in time for Army. I didn’t want a repeat of the Navy Half, where I completely crumbled in the second half, so I knew I had to adjust my goals even more. I put aside my hopes of PRing at this race and tried to take a more modest approach. I wouldn’t worry about outcome goals like time or place, instead I’d focus on process goals, which are more about strategies used and aren't affected by things out of our control (like weather and other competitors). My new goal became to negative split. I’d go out slow and pick it up at halfway. Surely I could do that and come away feeling successful, which is what I needed most of all.

Mile 2. Taking it so easy I can do this with my eyes closed.
I started slowly, a few seconds back from the line, and tried not to worry about the women surging ahead. But once again, it was hard to turn off my overanalyzing inner monologue. Is this easy enough?? I told myself it was and I hit 5 miles just over 6:10 pace, the slow end of my “start easy” range. OK, first part of the mission was a success. Surely I can pick it up from here. Around the loop by the 10K, I felt good, catching some of the men around me, feeling like I had another gear to shift to. I caught a woman as we started up the long, endless (~2 mile) bridge/highway, and reminded myself this time I was racing smarter; catching people rather than being caught. But the next two miles were more of the same pace-wise, a hair over 6:10. I wasn’t actually picking it up at all.

Mile 8 was even worse, the bridge hadn’t ended yet and went up ever so slightly to swing us around to the off ramp. The split was the worst of the day. Rather than getting faster, I was slowing drastically, again. 

I told myself to really push the last two miles, and coming off the highway (it’s always a joy to get the heck of 395) and seeing my family made me smile through the pouring sweat. But once more, the split was slower than expected, nearly as slow as mile 8. From the bridge onwards I had slowly reeled in a friend and I finally pulled alongside and slightly ahead in the last half mile. I finally found another gear to push with, but it seemed in vain given how ridiculously off my goals I was. At least I can make this mile the fastest. At least I can finish strong.

The last mile.
I finished in ninth, in 1:02:01. If I had known my chip time was so close to breaking 1:02 would I have kicked harder? I don’t know. I was so far off my early season goals it’s embarrassing. I didn’t even get my “surely I can at least negative split” process goal either, as my second half was 20 seconds slower than my “slow start.” Surprisingly, ninth is the highest I’ve ever placed at Army, which shows how much the weather slowed things (my best time at Army is almost 2 minutes faster).

But I am, as always, so sick of blaming the weather. I know it affects times, obviously, but everyone is dealing with the same conditions. I seem to melt a little more: am I psyching myself out too early? Mostly I find that humidity saps me of my fight. I need to find a way to fight back harder.

I hoped that Army would be the moment that things turned around, like they did in 2014. But I need to remember that I can’t capture 2014’s magic exactly, things will be different season to season. (Not least because the weather was nearly ideal for Army that year.) I continue to struggle with learning that lesson, that I can’t compare everything to previous seasons. I need to find a new way to make some magic this time around.

Dream big, 

Friday, September 28, 2018

September Slump

The summer of speed ended with a thud. My goal 5K was grossly humid (a constant torment, see below) and I went out at the pace my track workouts told me was possible, hoping to finally master the bravery and suffering required of a fast 5K. Instead, I fell apart hard and finished way off my goal.

So I’m still not great at 5Ks, so what? There will be another time to try to conquer that beast again. It was time to get back to my bread and [peanut] butter: marathon training.

The first few weeks went well, surprisingly well. Maybe the 5K training is paying off?! But while on vacation at the end of August I had a bad workout. I blamed vacation and being out of my rhythm, but when I got home, it was more of the same. Every workout was wildly off my goal pace and twice I cut them short, totally discouraged. It was always 98% humidity, but: Hadn’t I managed decent workouts despite the humidity all summer?

Going into my first race of the season, the Navy Half Marathon, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really have the long, hard efforts to back myself up, but I tried to focus on the workouts I was hitting just a few weeks ago. I hoped to run around 1:20 (6:06 pace) and thought that would put me near the top. Given my shaky confidence, I decided starting at 6:10 would be more realistic. When that seemed ambitious too, I tried to stay positive. Don’t give up on yourself before the race even starts. I didn’t look at the humidity. Better to not psych myself out.

For the first mile I tried not to go out too hard and found myself with two other women; collectively our pack was in second. I kept telling myself to take it easy and when the split (6:16) was slower than my plan of 6:10, I took it as a good sign. Over the next couple miles I kept trying to run relaxed and not worry that the splits were closer to 6:15s than 6:10s. It is humid, so slower is probably smarter.
The early miles.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]
But despite trying to stay relaxed, I was obsessing over my effort way too much for so early in the race. I couldn’t shut my brain off and was constantly scrutinizing how I felt, which ended with thinking that I really just wanted to drop out. I told myself I had to at least make it to my family (around mile 7) but that reminded me I couldn’t drop out there either. I had dragged them to DC for this race, I had to make it worth it. (Having my family at races continues to be one of my best mid-race motivators.)

Around mile 4 my old teammate Kerry caught up to me. I was happy to get to run with her, it’s been a long time since we’ve run together. I remembered that (possibly?) the last time we had run side-by-side through Hains Point was a workout leading up the 2016 Trials. Despite Kerry’s valiant efforts helping me that day, the workout had gone terribly. Yikes, don’t think about that! Today will be better.
Side by side with Kerry.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]
Last year, the combination of a super caffeinated gel and seeing my family had been like rocket fuel, so I tried to replicate it by scarfing down a gel before mile 7. But I struggled to get it down and lost Kerry. I knew if I let her go I’d fall apart and sure enough, the unraveling began.

I did get to see my family just after that, and Baby had learned a new phrase “Go, Mommy!” which was the highlight of the race. But on the out-and-back up Rock Creek Parkway I was slowing drastically and waiting for the inevitable. When will I be caught? I was now in third and figured the women from the first few miles along with other friends couldn’t be far behind. I couldn’t believe how much I was slowing and I just wanted to stop. But maybe the reason I was running so poorly was because I had given up on myself too much recently, and I really needed a longer, harder effort. No matter what, I need to finish the workout.

"Go, Mommy!"
A slight change in the course meant we had to endure a steep hill at the turn around at mile 8.5. I slowly shuffled up it and on the way down could see my competitors coming for me. Despite the cheers of the other runners heading for the turn around (thank you all!!), I continued to crumble. Around mile 11 another old teammate, Maura, caught me. She, like Kerry, tried to urge me to keep up but I couldn’t hang on. By the last mile it was all I could do to not stop and walk. In the last quarter mile I was passed by yet another friend and had no response.

I finished way off my goal pace and place and left feeling completely defeated, similar to how I felt after my last 5K. But a half is more in my wheelhouse, what’s wrong with me? I did at least finish and was crazy sore (and dehydrated) afterward, which told me that—no matter how slow—it was still a tough workout. 

Which reminds me of something I wrote after a nearly identical race, 2014's Rock-n-Roll Philly. It was also humid, my early pace was too ambitious, I fell apart and essentially jogged it in. But despite a similar September slump, that season ended well, with a huge PR at CIM. Sometimes I get caught up trying to prove my fitness in a workout or at a race, but that’s not the point of these early season efforts. Instead the point is to gain fitness, so I’m focusing on doing the work, taking care of myself, and knowing there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

In the meantime Baby continues to say “Go, Mommy” at random times, which is always encouraging.

Dream big,

Friday, July 27, 2018

Race Reports: Cul-de-sac 5K #3 and a Track Mile

The summer of speed continues with the last race of the Cul-de-sac 5K series and my first track race in 15 years.

Cul-de-sac 5K #3

After coming in fourth and second in the first two races, I really wanted to win one. And in the back of my mind, where the crazy-over-the-top ambitious part lives, I thought if I could somehow pull out a win, there was a teeny tiny chance that I might be able to pull off the series win. The series is scored like a track meet (10 points for first, 9 for second, 8 for third, etc.) and after two races I was two points behind. Getting the overall title involved some kind of World Cup elimination math: not only did I need to win, but Current Leader needed to get third, giving us the same point total. Then it would come down to cumulative time; going into the last race she had sixteen seconds on me, so I also needed to beat her by at least that much.

Right, well that seemed unlikely, especially since I had not beaten her at all yet. But if none of that worked out, I at least wanted to have won one of these races. That was motivation enough.

The weather was in between the previous two races (88° with a feels like temp of 94°) but at this point I felt mostly used to it; I wasn’t obsessing over it at least. (Acclimatization at its best!)

Race plan was to run relatively relaxed the first mile, but not obsess over pace, and then start pushing at mile 2. I was of course hoping to go faster than the previous two, but I didn’t want to obsess over the pace; I just wanted to focus on pushing and not berating myself for going too slow (like the first race) or screwing myself up thinking I was going out too fast (like the second race). I forbid myself from looking at my watch at all the first mile and tried sticking with a guy who I regrettably let get away from me in the previous races. I allowed myself to glance at my watch at the 1-mile marker, but I hit the wrong button and couldn’t really see the split; I think it was 5:55ish. (For the amount of time I use my watch and obsess over splits, you’d be surprised how often I screw it up mid-race.) Whatever, doesn’t matter, good enough. Time to push, only two miles left.

Through the three out-and-backs I was in first and saw that Current Leader was in third. (Second place was a woman who got second in the first race, but skipped the next week so wasn’t eligible for the series competition). Seriously, is this happening? Could I actually pull off both wins? Wait a minute, don’t get carried away, I’ve been caught and beaten by both these women before.

Through the second mile I tried to press harder than I had the other weeks and to use the fear of being caught to keep pushing. Once again I only allowed myself to look at my watch at the mile marker. (12:01 for two miles, so the second mile was probably too slow, but not as bad as previous weeks.) Right, ok, whatever. This is the last mile, the last time I have to run this race, the last chance to push all the way to the finish. With half a mile left I tried to push harder still, but wondered whether I had enough to fight if anyone caught me. The negative thoughts started swirling (I’m going to lose this right at the end!); I had to keep reminding myself that so far those were just fears and not reality: I was still winning and just needed to focus on getting my butt across the finish line as fast as possible and not worry about anything else.

I didn’t believe I had it until I rounded the final turn and crossed the line in 18:36, my fastest time of the series. I was happy to run faster each race, but the time still isn’t where I hoped it would be at this point. I was also happy to finally get a race win, but still wasn’t sure about the series competition; while waiting for the results I convinced myself that I had gotten second. When they finally announced the results, it was a shock: I had pulled it off. The tiebreaker rules worked in my favor and I won with a slightly faster cumulative time. (Happily, they didn’t have to go to yellow cards.)

Prize for the series win was a trophy that's
basically the same size as my 16 month old.
Summer Series 1 mile

In a serious departure from marathon life, the races for the week weren’t over. Two days later, I raced a mile as part of the Richmond Summer Track Series.

In the day leading up to it, I had to constantly remind myself why the heck I was racing a mile. 5Ks are enough out of my comfort zone, but a mile?? I haven’t raced on the track since high school, I don’t even know how to properly warm up for a track race. The truth was I hoped for a PR because my current mile PR (5:19) is from the last interval of a 3x1 mile workout before the 2016 Trials. Surely I could run faster in a race, having focused on shorter intervals (rather than tons of marathon miles), and if I was just running the one (and not three), right??

Wrong. I went out in 80s (5:20 pace) and held that pace for two laps, but the third lap was too slow. My chest and lungs were starting to burn but I simultaneously realized I was still too comfortable for such a ridiculously short race. I tried to kick it in, feeling my last lap would be my fastest and maybe I could make up what I lost in the third lap, but it was another 80 and I finished in 5:23, exactly the same split as I ran in a 3x1 mile workout in April before Pittsburgh.

Racing on the track for the first time in too long.
The reality is I’m just not in as good of shape as when peaking for a marathon; I’m still building my mileage and getting my legs back under me after Pittsburgh. A few weeks of 5K training has not gotten me in the same shape as months of marathon training. (Which also explains the ridiculous fact that my 10-mile race pace from April remains faster than what I’ve been running for 3.1 miles.)

But I also think it was silly to just race the mile once; I suspect (for me anyway) the shorter the race, the more practice it will take to get it right. (Or maybe it’s just that shorter races can be practiced more often.) If I ran another mile I think I could improve based on my experience and not letting myself get so comfortable in the middle. The 5K is the same: I’ve improved in time and strategy with each race. Hopefully on the last one I can get it right.

Dream big,