Friday, April 13, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Cherry Blossom

Photo Credit: RunWashington
Three weeks ago, while I was wallowing in my disappointing workout, I got an email from the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race saying I qualified for the elite women’s start, which would take off 12 minutes before the men and the rest of the field. The email—which I almost deleted without reading it, whoops—immediately lifted my spirits. It was an opportunity to be treated like a star, and even though I would get my butt kicked by the actual stars I knew I wanted to do it.

But I wasn’t sure if it was a bad idea; I’d likely be dropped in the first ten meters, was it worth being stuck in no woman’s land for 10 miles just to feel special? So I asked Friend of the Blog/Neon Angel Kerry, who’s run it a couple of times, if it was dumb to start with the elites, only to feel elite, when I was surely going to be dropped immediately. But she assured me that was exactly why you do it, that we deserve the special opportunity, and if I was in sub-60 shape I should go for it.

Breaking 60 minutes was my goal, but I hadn’t yet said it out loud and as I typed it back to Kerry, it became real: Oh, geez you really think you can break 60? That’s crazy.

At the beginning of the season, I thought this was one of the races I could go for a PR, but that seemed less and less likely lately. I figured a 10K PR was much more in reach, as my 10K PR (37:08, or 5:58 pace, from the first part of a half marathon) is actually a slower pace than my 10 mile PR (59:24, or 5:56 pace). (Which is why I remain super bummed to skip the opportunity to race a 10K.)

In the week before the race, I tried to wrap my mind around why, even if a 10 mile PR was a bit ambitious, sub-60 wasn’t totally crazy. I wrote down my rationale: I ran sub-60 pace at Cherry Blossom in 2015 and I’ve run some* faster workouts and a faster half marathon this season. (*It’s never ALL. Some workouts are faster, some are slower, and a lot comes down to which you focus on. I actively try to focus on the faster/glass half full ones.) As my confidence grew, the possibility snuck in of maybe—on a perfect day, if I feel unexpectedly amazing—maybe, just maybe going for a PR.

And I let the deadline for opting out of the elite start quietly pass.

Race morning was cold and there were about 40 other women freezing their buns off in the advanced start, all of whom looked intimidating. But I talked to one who had a similar goal—start at 6:00 pace—so that made me feel a bit better. I wouldn’t be totally alone from the gun.

Within the first quarter mile, two packs formed: the lead pack, trailing the press truck and motorcycles, and a “chase pack” of five or six women, including myself. I laughed to myself when my internal monologue called us a chase pack, as if the race was televised and the commentators had any reason to refer to us. Which of course they wouldn’t have, because we weren’t so much chasing the leaders as a self-selected group of women who clearly all had the nice round goal of 60 minutes on our minds. I was psyched that, not only was I not alone, there were a couple of women with the same idea. At a turn around near mile 2, we broke up a bit, but I stuck by Rochelle Basil, who had seemed to be in control of our little pack. 

At three miles we were exactly on 60-minute pace, but I fell back a little from Rochelle. I didn’t want to lose contact too soon as I worried that might lead to me giving up a bit and falling off the pace, so I was glad when I was able to reel her back in. As I pulled back alongside her, I began to feel better and around mile 5 ended up passing her.

Photo Credit: RunWashington
As we ran back down Independence, the sun was in my eyes and I could barely see in front of me, but as we turned to head south along the Tidal Basin I finally spotted another ponytail ahead. She was far off but I sensed I could catch her so I focused on her and just kept churning. I was feeling good and the next few miles were sub-six minutes. Maybe I could PR after all?! Around the 10K, I thought, Hmm maybe this is where I get my 10K PR… and I may have sped up a hair for a few strides to hit the 10K timing mat three seconds faster than my old PR.

Mile 7 was a 5:48 and I was flying high. I am going to PR! I suspected I might be running fast because the wind was at our backs, and things might drastically change when we rounded the tip of Hains Point and started heading north, but I was actively repelling all negativity so I didn’t dwell on it. Instead I focused on how good I felt and how much I was surprising myself. I’m in better shape than I thought!


Somewhere in this stretch I caught the woman ahead of me and started focusing on the next one, which was Susanna Sullivan, one of the top runners in the region. Could I catch Susanna Sullivan?! She must be coming back from something. (I later read that link and yes, she is.) I couldn’t really believe I was just behind her, but she was the next ponytail so catching her was my new focus.

As we rounded the turn at the bottom of Hains Point, reality set in a bit. The wind was in our faces, but I was willing myself to stay positive. By mile 8, I had averaged 5:56 pace and I just needed to keep that up for two more miles to PR. I had figured any chance of a PR would mean wildly picking it up at the end, but I didn’t need to do anything too crazy, just maintain. I kept my sights on Sullivan.

But my ninth mile was 6:01. Just like last time, I was unraveling a bit and it was clear the wind had been helping and was now actively hurting. Okay, well now I do need to kick it in a little harder. One more mile, pick it up. But I couldn’t, or I wasn’t anyway. There were signs for 1200 meters to go, (C’mon, GO!), 800 meters (GO GO GO!), and, while I felt like my effort was increasing, I wasn’t sure I was going any faster. I seemed to have nothing. The men had started passing me around mile 9 and they were flying by. Beforehand, I had wondered what effect that would have: if getting passed by someone at essentially an all-out sprint would (a) encourage me to pick it up or (b) crush my spirits, but it was actually (c) no effect whatsoever. The finish line being so close also had no effect. The last mile, often my fastest, was the slowest of the day.

So I did not PR. I lost it in those last two miles and finished ten seconds over. It was incredibly frustrating because I came so close and I really thought I had it. I keep missing my big goals by a hair (sub-2:50 in November’s marathon by 20 seconds, sub-1:20 in March’s half by 27 seconds) and I absolutely cannot miss my next big goal by a hair: ten seconds, twenty seconds, whatever. But on the other hand, only in my really optimistic moments did I think a PR was possible at this race. My PR came from the spring of 2015, when I felt fit and fast, fresh off qualifying for 2016 Trials, and with the added motivation to beat my brother. This time I surprised myself a bit, especially with how good I felt in the middle miles while knocking off sub-6 minute miles. (Yea, the wind may have helped, but shhh!)

Even though I was alone for the second half of the race, I have zero regrets about doing the advanced start. Being in the elite start reminded me that I really want to be in more elite starts, to deserve to be there, and to be mixing it up more with the top locals and top Americans. I want to be able to hang with the Susanna Sullivans and not just when they are coming back from something.

I needed that reminder, because it's time for me to stop making excuses or doubting myself because I’m coming back from something, namely having a Baby. A month or so ago, Husband asked if I was still using Baby as an excuse. He was just curious: did I feel like I still was being held back a bit/recovering from pregnancy? I said no. That was my excuse last season, but this season I'm back to running times and doing workouts that are pretty close to my old self, even my old self at her best. And I’m sick of putting an asterisk on things, “This is the best I’ve run since Baby.” (Please note: every woman is going to have a different timeline and road back, this is just my own personal experience and I realize I’m lucky to be where I’m at. But every woman should feel totally comfortable with taking it at whatever pace she wants or needs to!)

But… sometimes I do doubt myself and think, Well, I just had a Baby, I don’t deserve to start with the elites/there’s no way I can run that fast/a PR is out of the question. During the race, I was thrilled at the idea of PRing because that would prove (to myself more than anyone) that I am faster than ever, not just the fastest I’ve been postpartum. Well... not quite yet.

Although I did technically get that 10K PR, so at least there's that.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Little Extras

Professional runners often talk about the little extras: it’s not just the miles and workouts that make the difference on race day; it’s all the other little things done throughout the day that keep them healthy and able to run those miles and nail those workouts.

The problem, of course, is that we’re freaking busy. We’re not pros, so we don’t have time to sit in NormaTec boots, take afternoon naps, or spend hours lifting. It takes enough time just to get the running done and so the little things often get skipped.

Over the years I’ve worked hard (sometimes successfully, sometimes struggling) to focus on the non-running extras. Having Baby obviously threw that all for a loop and I’ve had to rededicate myself and find new ways to fit it all in. I still don’t have it totally figured out and things get skipped here and there, but below are some of the tips and tricks that are helping me at the moment. (Anything to add? Do so in the comments below!)

Strength/core/drills

On Sunday nights, I look at my training plan for the week and figure out what days make sense (workout-wise/time-wise/Baby-wise) for strength, core work, and drills. (Each week, I aim for two strength sessions and four core sessions, although some of those core days are just a quick plank series. I do drills before harder or longer workouts, which is usually about twice a week.) In my log I write down which days I’ll do them and make little check boxes for each session. It seems trivial, but it works for me to (a) have a plan and (b) write it down. If I haven’t planned it, I won’t make the time for it (which usually just means getting up earlier) and if I don’t write it down, I’ll just keep putting it off until all I’m left with are days when I really can’t squeeze it in. Plus, checking it off at the end of each day feels good: at least one thing got accomplished.

An example of my log with my intention for the week. 
Yoga

I also make a checkbox for one weekly yoga session. I often plan it for a day I know I’ll need the extra stretching (for example, if I have Baby all day, post-run stretches can be a little trickier). I prefer to do it at home, where I can do sequences designed for runners at whatever time works for me, but having a scheduled class could help keep you accountable. I had been doing Runner’s World videos but recently started Jasyoga (which has a promo code for a free month if you sign up by April 8!) I’ve been enjoying the videos so much, I’m hoping to do more sessions each week. (Jasyoga also has short meditations, which can be really helpful leading up to a race.)


Sleep

This is one of the hardest and the one that makes me the most jealous of the pros and their claims to get twelve hours of sleep a day. With all the other things to do, how are we supposed to find time to sleep? Two things have helped me:

1. Cut back on TV
Back in 2014, I gave up TV as a New Year’s resolution, in part because I wanted more time to take care of these things. (That same year I qualified for the 2016 Trials, which I don’t think was a coincidence. I wrote about it for The Washington Post and also achieved a life goal I didn’t know I had: making it on FloTrack.) We as a society spend a ridiculous amount of time watching TV, even though we also claim to be crazy busy. If it helps you unwind and relax (which is important for running well!) then go for it. But what I realized over the year was that doing other relaxing things (like reading or going to bed earlier) helped me more; an hour spent reading felt longer and more refreshing than an hour spent watching TV. Although I do watch TV now, I watch significantly less, which means I have more time in the evenings for yoga/strength work/relaxing/just going to bed.

2. Set an alarm
A much simpler trick than banning TV is to set an alarm on your phone telling you to go to bed. I usually set mine for about thirty minutes before I want to be lights out, so I have enough time to stop whatever I’m doing, get ready, and have some devotional time. Admittedly, sometimes I snooze this alarm just like I would a morning one, but I do think it helps keep me accountable for what I promised myself. Apparently, even in my thirties, I still need someone telling me to go the fudge to sleep.

Foam rolling

I foam roll after nearly every run and (on days I’m really on top of it) before some runs. Doing it at the same time every day makes it a simple habit; like brushing your teeth before bed, it becomes routine and just takes a few minutes. You could put the roller where your store your running shoes as a reminder to do it when you come back from your run or beside your bed as a reminder to do it before bed. Alternatively it’s also easy to roll while watching TV or, if Baby lets you, while playing on the floor.

Baby "helping" me foam roll.
Eating right

Meal prep is everywhere these days and while I don’t quite go to the extent of others, at the beginning of the week I plan out each night’s dinner and do all the shopping. It’s easier for me to take the time to make the decisions all at once and then the rest of the week I don’t have to think about what we’re going to eat or whether we have the right ingredients. If I don't make a plan and just scrounge something up, I don’t eat as well.

Easy runs

This one actually does involve running, so I’m not sure if it counts as one of the “little extras” but I’m throwing it in here because it’s so important and is so often ignored: run your easy days EASY (so you can run your hard days hard). Compared to the others, this takes the least amount of extra time; it just means your runs will be a few extra minutes longer (and we’d all rather be running than lifting and foam rolling, right??). But too many people run moderately fast all the time, which means their bodies can’t recover properly. On my easy days, I wear a watch to make sure I’m going slowly enough, which for me is about two minutes slower than my marathon pace. You should finish your easy runs feeling refreshed, not more tired than when you started.

What are some of your tips and tricks for fitting it all in? Any other little extras you emphasize?

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, March 30, 2018

Readjusting

One thing I'm admittedly bad at is reading too much into one workout. When a major one goes poorly, my confidence tanks. On the other hand, a good one is sometimes all I need to carry me through a big PR. It’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, but sometimes that works: knowing that I have no option but to succeed. Sometimes, though, it doesn't.... as evidenced by a recent marathon pace workout.

I prefer to run my last marathon pace (MP) effort 3-4 weeks before the marathon. But this season, I had my heart set on racing both the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and the Monument Avenue 10K, which are four and three weeks out from Pittsburgh, respectively. I didn’t want to run the MP the weekend before those races either, because that would be three hard weekends in a row (and that’s gotten me into trouble before). So I decided to do the last MP six weeks out. When I planned this all out, I knew thinking I could hit that pace that early was ambitious, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. I figured if it went well that early in the season, I’d really be set to race well at Pittsburgh. And because I stubbornly wanted to do those other two races, I didn’t see a way around it.

The problem with this run is that I really, 100% needed to nail it. I usually gradually work my way down to marathon pace over the course of the season; I just don’t retain the speed over the off-season to jump into goal pace right away (though most plans assume you do it that way). For example, this season I wanted to do four MPs (each a few weeks apart) with the following goals:
8 miles at 6:30
10 miles at 6:25
13 miles at 6:20
16 miles at 6:17 (OTQ pace)

I needed to nail that last one because (a) even if I nailed the others, it’s the only chance I gave myself to do a long effort at goal pace, (b) I didn’t nail all the others (the 13 miler was actually 6:29, though I had a cold that day and it was crazy windy), and (c) I get a lot of confidence from this workout: running 16 miles at OTQ pace was the best evidence I had going into CIM that I could qualify and I relied on it heavily. I’m not sure I can convince myself to go after an OTQ without it.

Well, I didn’t nail it. I averaged 6:21 pace, which is faster than the windy 13 miler and a hair faster (but much longer!) than the 10 miler (actual pace for that was 6:22), so most people will probably think I’m insane in how much this run disappointed me. I went in believing I could do it and, though I was obviously struggling, I don’t think I ever fully gave up on myself. I told myself I’d make up time on the downhills, but I didn’t. With a few miles to go, I was still trying to calculate a way I could make it: Just run the last two miles at 5:50 pace! (Told you I was ambitious…) But I didn’t pick it up, even slightly, even in the final mile. I just didn’t have it and I don’t have any excuses, really, which makes it harder to get over than the 13 miler.

… Except, of course, the major one I stubbornly refuse to accept: that it was too early in the season to expect to hit this workout.

Instead, I spent days fretting about what I would do. I worry that I’m in over my head trying to run so crazy fast on a hilly course. Why the heck did I pick Pittsburgh? I started looking for other races to do (something flat for crying out loud!), maybe even a week or two later. But of course I ran up against the same problems that made me pick Pittsburgh in the first place.

I know I sound crazy with all this, but I really want to prove to myself I can run at OTQ pace for a long chunk. I didn’t used to be quite so anal and, looking back now, I see that I was often able to run faster in races than during these workouts. But I keep coming back to CIM. Again, I know it’s problematic to keep comparing everything to that season, but I know how crucial running 16 miles at goal pace was for my confidence. And with a harder course and no pacers, I’m going to need all the help I can get.

So I fretted and fretted about this very bad run, until finally my stubbornness unclenched slightly and allowed some logic to seep back in. If I’m going to compare everything to CIM, I need to be fair. And six weeks out from CIM, I ran 13 miles at 6:18 pace, six seconds off my goal pace. This workout was six weeks out from Pittsburgh, and I ran 16 miles four seconds per mile off my goal pace. That’s both farther and faster at the same point in training. If I give myself another shot in a few weeks, I might just be able to shave off those seconds, just like I did before CIM. (Three weeks out I ran 16 miles averaging 6:12—OTQ pace at the time.) Which means I need to try again.

Trying again in a few weeks means admitting that I can’t do everything I wanted this season: I’m going to have to skip the Monument 10K and redo this workout that weekend. I’m surprisingly disappointed to miss out on the 10K; it's only a 10K after all. But I was hoping for a chance to PR at some distance this spring, and my 10K PR is probably the softest PR I have. (It’s actually from the first part of a half marathon.) I was also looking forward to running a big hometown race and all the “It’s not RVA without the 10K” signs around town have seeped into my subconscious. But racing Cherry Blossom and having another chance at this workout make more sense for my marathon prep than doing a 10K. The good news is that not racing Monument means I’ll be able to cheer on Husband instead and try to give back a little bit of all the support he gives me.

And after all that desperate Googling for other marathons, doing just the opposite—finally signing up for Pittsburgh—got me surprisingly excited, because I got to do so as an elite, which comes with travel assistance and other perks (like another personalized bib!). Maybe it seems silly and insignificant, but sometimes someone else believing in you, based on some time you ran in what seems like another lifetime, helps you believe in yourself.

I was so bummed after this workout that I avoided writing about it in my log until this morning, but writing this all out has helped, as did looking back at other seasons and accurately assessing what I’ve done in the past. (So I encourage you to journal or keep a log. Even if you don’t share your neuroses, stubbornness, and ambitious plans that flop with the world.) I’m embarrassed how much this workout threw me off, but I need to be realistic about where I'm at, understand that I can't do everything, and prioritize what will help most for the marathon. And give myself another chance to see what I can do with a few more weeks of training.


Moving on... 

Dream big,
Teal

Thursday, March 22, 2018

One Year of Baby

This week Baby turns one year old. Looking back at the last year, the number one thing I wish I knew—or rather wish I believed when people told me—is that it gets easier. Eventually, Baby started to sleep, stopped needing to eat seemingly every five minutes, and stopped crying all the time (mostly) and the effect of a little sleep for Husband and me and a little more time between nursing/pumping/washing bottles (so many bottles!) made everything better. The hormones finally settled, the fog lifted, the totally overwhelmed feeling shifted to a lesser, just constant hum of overwhelming-ness that I can (mostly) ignore.

One helpful piece of advice came from a prenatal class about breastfeeding. The teacher warned that nursing would be really hard at first and not to think about how long you hoped to do it for; don’t think about six months or a year or even a few weeks. Just take it one day at a time. I hated breastfeeding so much at first that almost as soon as I was done one feeding I was already dreading the next. So I tried my best not to think about how long I wanted to keep it up. And soon enough it got easier.

I think that’s good advice for all overwhelming things baby/running related. Don’t think about how long it takes to get back or how far you are now from where you were. Just take it one (sleepless) day at a time. And one day you’ll look up and realize it’s been a whole year and it’s not nearly as difficult and exhausting as it used to be.

So yes, babies get easier. So does running. Below are a few more things (besides the art of diapering, the words to every Sandra Boynton book, and that children’s songs are malicious ear worms on long runs) I’ve learned in the last year. (Or am still learning…)


1. It may take longer than you’d like, but your core/strength/speed will come back.

One of my most tangible issues postpartum (besides exhaustion and feeling like the Tin Man running) was diastasis recti, separation of the abdominal muscles. I spent months going to the PT, often feeling like it might be a waste of time and money. In early fall, I was wearing an ab splint 24/7 and hating every uncomfortable moment and doing an hour and a half of exercises each day to fix it (in three sets of 30 minutes, all while Baby was sleeping, when I wished desperately to be doing a million other things). When my PT told me it was essentially hopeless for a few more months (because of hormones from nursing), I had a bit of a meltdown. My abs wouldn’t be back to normal as soon as I’d like, no matter what I did, so I just had to be patient. To save my sanity, I cut myself some slack and stopped wearing the splint and doing most of the exercises.

Instead, I spent my time and energy focused on other issues, like tightness in my hips and pelvis. Finally, in January, my abs had made some progress, I was able to resume doing my old core workouts, and a few weeks ago I had my last appointment with my PT.

When I was two months postpartum, a friend of mine told me she didn’t regain core strength until eight months after her c-section and I thought: Eight months? OMG, that’s an eternity! Well, it turned out ten months was about what it took for me. (It was around the same time that workouts also started to click and I began to get glimpses of my old self.) Know that even though it may seem like an impossibly long time to wait, your strength/speed/etc. will come back someday. Patience is key for all things postpartum. Do what you can, but don’t drive yourself crazy forcing anything.

2. Relax about the weight stuff.

My weight is now close to where it was when I was in peak shape. Running helps of course, as does nursing, but so does relaxing about it and just letting your body find it’s new groove. This season, knowing I’m still helping feed a growing baby AND training for an Olympic Trials qualifying attempt, I’m eating more than ever. I’m focusing on trying to eat plenty of really nutritious (and delicious) things (thank you, Run Fast, Eat Slow!) and keeping Baby and I healthy and strong. As a result (or maybe because of time passing; there’s that patience thing again...), my weight is now getting back to my old normal. But really, that number doesn’t matter. My weight may be back in a similar range, but I feel different; stronger here or there perhaps, or maybe just shaped a little different. My body will never look exactly like it did before because, DUH, it grew a human in it for nine months. And that’s totally fine. In fact, it’s pretty flipping amazing.

3. Your body is flipping amazing (and it just may surprise you).

There were (are) many days when the road back seemed (seems) impossibly long, but there are also days I surprise myself. There’s evidence of at least one postpartum advantage: a boost in oxygen-carrying red blood cells, the same sort of effect people try to get by doping. Supposedly this boost only lasts about four months, so by the time I was back to real training it was long gone. But there were days where I would surprise myself; I’d run a pace that seemed unimaginable only a few weeks earlier, a long run would feel effortless, I’d catch a glimpse of something like the old Teal. Even now, when a workout goes well I wonder if there’s some special new mom juice still coursing through me. Because as much as I dream big and expect a lot of myself, I also have moments of sitting back and thinking: Geez, it’s really incredible I’ve even gotten this far. I truly believe God gives us more potential than any of us know and over the last year I’ve been reminded of that. Our bodies are pretty flipping amazing. They make babies, they run marathons, they bounce back from injury, inactivity, illness. Sometimes in the middle of the struggle it can be hard to see, but every once in a while you may catch a glimpse and see how your amazing body is working for you and getting better/stronger/faster.

4. You’re still you.

I’m a mom now, and that is undeniably life changing. But I’m also still a runner, with big dreams. When you become a parent I think it’s easy to assume you have to give up some part of yourself (your body/your sleep/your mind to a whole new set of worries) but you are also still the same person when that sleepless fog lifts, with the same strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams. I can once again run far, I still struggle with speed, and I still get immense joy out of pushing myself. No matter how much my love for my daughter grows (and it does, every day, in an incomprehensible incredibly overwhelming way that is also impossible to fathom even though people try to tell you), I still have room to love running.

5. Quit comparing.

Don’t compare your postpartum journey to others. You may come back faster or slower; maybe your abs will cooperate, but maybe some other issue will come up. There are plenty of women who are doing things quicker than I did/am, and others more slowly, but there’s no sense comparing. It’s hard to resist—and social media doesn’t always help—but remember that everyone’s situation/pregnancy/body/babies are different. Focus on taking care of yourself, taking it one day at a time, and trusting that it will get easier.

I promise, it does.


Dream big,
Teal


Friday, March 16, 2018

Race Report - RnR DC Half

Going into the Rock-n-Roll DC Half Marathon I was nervous about all the logistics with Baby (as is the reality these days) but also excited to be racing for real again. It isn’t that last season wasn’t for real or that I wasn’t doing the best I could at the time, but it seemed impossibly far from where I used to be. I’m still not quite there, but I know I’m closer, back in the general vicinity of my old paces and times.

My early season goal (written back in January) was to break 1:20, which is what I did in the half marathon before I qualified the last time. But my early season goals often get shifted a bit as the reality of training sets in; my updated/hopefully more realistic goal was to run 6:10 pace. (Sub-1:20 is 6:06 pace.) I planned to run as close to 6:10s as possible until about mile 10 and then to press from there to the finish. (I really wanted to practice digging deeper and pressing earlier than I have been in workouts lately.) Maybe things will go amazingly and I’ll hit 10 miles ahead of pace and could possibly push to finish in 1:20 after all. I’ll certainly lose time on the hill at mile 6, but maybe I’ll make up more time than expected on the downhill...?? This is where my pre-race (lack of) logic always goes; I think of a seemingly realistic goal and then somehow twist it into a (not very sound) plan that can get me my crazier goal. But it’s not rational; I couldn’t make up all that time in the latter stages of the race unless I was really holding back in the beginning. And I didn’t think 6:10s would be holding back. In fact, in my normal pre-race pendulum swing of ambition and doubts, I worried 6:10s might also be a reach goal.

As we lined up at the start, I found myself near three women I knew were super speedy and assumed they would take the top spots. Maybe I can get fourth; I’ve been third here before and am hoping to run faster today. Then the gun went off and it seemed like twenty women passed me. Where did all these ladies come from?!? I took a break to have a baby and now I’m old and washed up and getting my butt kicked. (For the record, I don’t actually feel old—and many of the women who beat me are around my age—but you know what I mean.) I told myself I was being smart and running my own race, but I didn’t have much hope they were all going to come back to me. (Spoiler alert, they didn’t.) Whatever, my focus is on time anyway.

On pace at Mile 4.
I tried to relax and run my 6:10s, but the first split was still a little fast and the next a little slow. I focused on seeing my family at miles 2.5 and 4 and by mile 4 I was exactly on pace. We headed up Rock Creek Parkway, my old stomping ground. I remembered how good I felt running on this same road in my first race back last fall; it's my territory/my place to shine (even though I moved a year and a half ago and suffered many totally awful runs there when I lived in DC). I felt in control and optimistic, despite losing a couple seconds here and there. My focus switched to getting up and over the hill at mile 6 without doing too much damage physically or mentally. Like all hills, it started out tolerable (oh this isn’t so bad, I can do this) then got terrible (OMG, I am basically walking, when does this thing end?) and then, thankfully, it was over. I tried to regain my composure and pace so the 7th mile split wasn’t too abysmal. I was about 30 seconds over 6:10 pace at that point but I knew I’d successfully made up that much time on this course before.

Rock Creek Parkway
Photo credit: RunWashington
The next section rolls a bit, but I reminded myself: There’s more down than up. I felt good; I’ve always liked this section of the course. A few friends were out cheering and my watch seemed to say I had picked it up. But the 8th mile split (at the bottom of a big hill) was only a few seconds fast and the 9th mile split was somehow slower than 6:10. This wasn’t the plan.

But mile 10 got me back on track; I made up nearly 20 seconds (and later realized mile 10 has the most significant downhill) and knew my 6:10 was in reach. I had told myself I’d start to really push here, but I was mentally hesitating. Fortunately, just as I was talking myself out of attempting to sustain a sub-6 pace, a girl caught me. She had been one of the very few women I assumed I had successfully vanquished around mile 3, but here she was again. (All those other women were still ahead of me, though there turned out to be ten of them, not twenty-plus.) I knew it would be helpful to stick with her, so I tried to hang on and surprised myself that she didn’t immediately drop me.

We stayed together for maybe a mile, with me getting back in front of her a bit. We dropped another sub-6 mile and I was so grateful she was helping me stick to my original plan, but at mile 12 she finally gapped me. My split was slower (though that mile is slightly uphill) and this is the part of the race that’s plaguing me now: Did I give up too early? Could I have pushed harder to stick with her? At the moment I didn’t think so, but I still wonder. I tried counting in my head, which is a strategy that often keeps me focused and helps me pick it up at the end of hard workouts, but it didn’t seem to be working. But the pace for the last 1.1 mile (~5:55) was the second fastest of the day, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

Mile 12ish, getting dropped.
I finished in 1:20:27, which is a postpartum PR (not too hard since my only other half was 6 months postpartum) and a course PR (a way more significant stat, since I’ve run this race six times, in various degrees of shape). It's also my third fastest half ever. My final pace (6:08) was exactly halfway between my two goals of 6:10 pace and sub-1:20 (6:06 pace). 
Last push to the finish.
Photo credit: Cheryl Young
Still, I don’t entirely know what to make of it. There were many pre-race moments I didn’t think 6:10 was possible, yet I managed even better that that. Of course my season isn’t exactly matching my crazy pre-season hopes, but I’m not too far off.

The problem is I worry that I am "off" because I keep comparing everything in this season to my buildup to CIM, where I qualified for the 2016 Trials. Having the stats of what has been successful before can be a helpful gage, but I have to keep reminding myself that this season is different and the buildup can’t possibly be exactly the same. For starters, the tune-up races are different; this half was three weeks earlier in the season than Raleigh, the pre-CIM half where I broke 1:20. Back then I felt like I was putting the finishing touches on the buildup, right now I’m smack in the middle. Also, the time I now need for the marathon is two minutes slower than what I needed back then. (And I ran almost exactly a minute slower for half the distance, so the math works out. And yes, I'll look for just about any stat to help my ambitions seem mathematically sound.) But every time I think about how the standard is easier, I remember how much harder the course I’m trying to run it on is and how quickly those two minutes will disappear on those hills.

For now though, all I can do is get back to the grind.

Dream big,
Teal

Friday, March 9, 2018

Track Work

There is an endless assortment of workouts you can do before a marathon, with different schools of thought touting one type over another. I think most will agree that the closer to race pace and distance you are, the more the workout matters. To me that means marathon pace workouts are the ones to nail and the ones I put the most emphasis on, followed by tempo runs and finally track workouts. Although least important, track workouts are still a staple of my prep: pushing yourself at shorter, faster efforts can teach you that you have more to give, even when you already feel like you’re sprinting. And sometimes it’s just fun to fly down the track.


But there’s no consensus on just how to do them. Some training plans (for example, Advanced Marathoning) include shorter efforts (like 5 x 600) in the second half of the season, as you start to peak, to work on VO2max (how much oxygen you can take in and turn to energy). On the other hand, Renato Canova (a renowned coach of many top Kenyan marathoners) sticks with what I said above—that efforts closer to race pace matter above all—and does the opposite, emphasizing intervals that get longer and slower (closer to marathon effort) as the season progresses. I’ve been curious about Canova’s methods (read more here) for a while, but have yet to make the (rather drastic) jump. My track workouts are somewhat in the middle of these two extremes.

Below are some of my favorites to do during a marathon buildup. I need to credit Coach Jerry of GRC for inspiring most of these. Under his tutelage and weekly track workouts, I dropped ten minutes off my marathon time and was able to hit paces in workouts that intimidated me when I first read them. Just writing these down makes me miss all the laps (and commiserating over a shared hatred for 2Ks) with the speedy GRC ladies!

These intervals are generally done on the slower end of 5K pace. (Or right on/slightly faster than 5K pace for me, because my 5K times have never quite measured up.) For simplicity’s sake, I almost always jog a lap between reps, but I give myself a little extra (maybe a minute more) for intervals in the 1.5-2 mile range. (One rule of thumb is to take rest for 50-90% of the time it takes to run the interval. If an interval takes 6:00, the rest—mostly easy jogging—would be 3:00-5:24.)

THE TUNE UP: 6 x 800

I always run at least one half marathon or ten miler in the lead up to the marathon (see my upcoming races here) as a tune-up to see where I’m at fitness-wise, to get a hard workout in, and to practice racing and all the logistics that go with it. Three or four days before a tune-up race, I do 6 x 800 meter repeats, starting at a very comfortable pace and progressing with each one. I don’t do any too hard; the goal is to feel fast yet relaxed and to remind your head and legs of the speed you’ve got but not do anything that will leave you tired for the race.

LADDERS

There are endless variations of ladders: some building up and coming down (400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400) or just coming down (3200, 2400, 1600, 800). You could also go by minutes, more fartlek style, if you want to do it off the track. (For example, 2 min, 3 min, 4 min, 5 min, 4 min, 3 min, 2 min). These are fun because each interval is different, so it’s a different challenge, which can make it less mentally tough. The next interval may be longer than the last, but it’s slower (or faster but shorter) so you can talk yourself into focusing on whatever aspect is getting easier. I think these are good earlier in the season when the longer stuff seems too intimidating, but it can be fun to switch up the paces whenever.

THE GRINDERS

These are the longer intervals that really teach you to keep grinding at a pretty tough pace. I’ll do either 3 x 3200 (2 mile) or 4 x 2400 (1.5 mile) with a slightly longer rest than the other workouts. These can also be done off the track to better simulate road racing conditions, although I’d still opt for a flat route. Of course all these workouts could be managed on a road if a track is unavailable, but I tend to think the longer, slower stuff is easier to translate. It’s tough to hit super fast splits for the shorter stuff off the track.

THE DREADED: 2K repeats

I hate 2K repeats. I don’t know why I hate them more than the longer stuff (see above), maybe it’s because the paces are always slightly faster. Something about 5 laps just intimidates me; I can wrap my head around 4 laps, even 8 laps (telling myself I’ll be going slower) but 5 laps are dreaded. That said, the workouts you dread are often the ones you need to do most; dreading them is probably a sign they are taxing some system that needs work. I usually do about 4 repeats of these.

FINAL FLOURISH: 3x 1600

This is my favorite track workout of the season. About 10 days out from the marathon, I do my last track workout, 3 x 1600. The first rep is relaxed, the second is faster but controlled, and the last one is basically all out. I usually set a PR on the last (yea, it’s a little strange to set PRs in workouts but I haven’t raced a mile since high school), which gives me the confidence I need for race day. (See the video below, when I set a (then) PR of 5:22 ten days before CIM.) 



That’s really the biggest thing track workouts do for me; ostensibly, they’re helping my lungs and legs, but really it’s about building confidence and feeling fast.

Dream big, 
Teal