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 father 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 started praying.

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.

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, 
Teal 

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, 
Teal 

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, 
Teal

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,
Teal

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,
Teal

Friday, July 13, 2018

Race Reports: Cul-de-sac 5K 1 and 2

The summer of speed has kicked off with two 5K races, which I’m using as practice before aiming for a big PR at the end of the month.

Cul-de-sac 5K #1
These races happen on July evenings in Virginia, so you know what you’re getting into when you sign up: it’s going to be hot. Still, the first one was even hotter than I expected: by 7 pm, the temperature had only dropped to 91°, with a real feel of 101°. I knew all time goals were out the window, but I did want to compete well; everyone would be dealing with the same conditions. No matter what, this would serve as a baseline for the rest and let me know where I needed to improve most.

But the heat was making me really nervous. The purpose of these 5Ks is to learn how to push myself, even when (especially when) I feel like it’s safer to hold back. To resist the urge to go into marathon savings mode, as if I have 10 or 20 miles left instead of 1 or 2. But could I fight that hard in the heat? The weather was helping me wuss out before we even started.

I hit the first mile in 6 minutes and second place. That seemed decent but I was immediately passed. And mile two was a mess; I tried to stay with it and continue to push when it got uncomfortable, but I was falling apart. My split for mile two floored me, 6:26. Seriously?? I tried to get back on it and when another girl passed me I didn’t immediately let her go. I remembered the DC Half, when I stuck with a woman trying to pass me longer than I thought I could, and tried to channel that fight. I tried again to not give up because I had been caught, but to use it as a wake up call to get back on it. It worked for a little bit but eventually she gapped me. And another woman caught me too. Geez, this is terrible. Why am I so bad at these?? Why I am running these?? Mile 3: 6:22.

With just the 0.1 left, I finally found a way to push and managed to squeak back into fourth in 19:23 (6:14 pace). I think my exact words upon finishing were, “That super sucked.” I was at least glad to have a kick at the end, but as usual disappointed that I don’t use that energy to push harder from farther out. Maybe that’s because it was freaking hot, but also I just never push hard enough. That’s what I’m supposed to be working on. Blaming the heat for the slow time is easier, but it was hot for everyone and I didn’t compete well. Next time.

The final sprint for fourth.

Cul-de-sac 5K #2
Next time turned out to be about ten degrees cooler (a chilly 82°) and far less oppressive (a real feel of only 83°!). Once again I wanted to compete well, but this time I also had time goals. I figured 6:00 pace seemed doable, given the cooler temperatures, my knowledge of the course, and geez, hadn’t I run faster than that for ten miles three months ago?? I mean, c'mon. My strategy was to hit the first mile in 6, same as last week, and then really focus on pushing the second mile to hit that one on pace too. I generally slip way behind in the second mile but thought if I could just hold this seemingly not too difficult pace for two miles, I could still find something in the last mile to kick it in. I wouldn’t get too far into a hole I couldn’t climb out of.

The race gets its name from three cul-de-sacs you run through in the first mile; three quick out and backs where you basically turn around a cone. I kept my eye on my watch (as I always do, often to my detriment) and it was hovering in the low 5:50s. I tried to relax a little and not get ahead of myself, but it still read sub-6 pace when I hit the mile in… 6:06. What?!? Damn those out and backs for probably screwing up my watch. Damn me for relying so much on my watch.

On to mile 2. I didn’t try to immediately make up those seconds but just tried to stay with it, to not let the woman who had gapped me slightly (when I was busy worrying about going out too fast) get any farther ahead, to try to hit two miles in as close to 12 flat as possible. But mile two was slower still, a 6:11.

And that’s when my strategy changed back to the old RunnerTeal strategy: screw up the first two miles and then push the last one when you finally realize, “Oh hey, there’s only one mile left!” With half a mile to go I tried to push harder still and rounding the final corner, I put on the same sprint as last week, finishing in 18:53 (6:05 pace) and second place. In the last mile I finally felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, feeling the fatigue and still pushing, but it was still only a 6 flat. I didn’t make up any distance on the woman ahead, although she had been steadily pulling away in the second mile and I did stop the gap from growing.

Finishing the second race.
My time was thirty seconds faster but considering the better conditions, my experience on the course, and that last week I was really only getting my feet wet (quite literally as my shoes were totally sweat drenched after that race) I thought I would do better than that. I did improve from fourth to second, but that’s only because two of the women who beat me last week didn’t come this week. And really, given my time goal for the season, it’s not enough of an improvement.

Afterward, a friend asked if my problem with 5Ks is that it takes me longer to get in the groove of it. I hadn’t really thought of it that way but remembering the last mile (which was harder but also felt better somehow) made me wonder if that is my problem. I’ve debated a longer warm up but never sure that’s a good idea on a hot day. I do strides but perhaps not enough. Somehow I need to find a way to conjure mile 3 Teal (or even mile 26 Teal) earlier on.

One more “practice” 5K to go.

What’s your go to strategy for a 5K?

Dream big, 
Teal 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer of Speed

Summertime means sports bra tan lines, sunlit morning and evening runs, an unimaginable amount of sweat… and another attempt to improve at the 5K.

My 5K PR just does not stack up to my marathon time. Although I still think running calculators are not always accurate and need to be taken with a grain of (sweat-encrusted) salt, it’s striking that plugging in my recent Pittsburgh time predicts a 5K over a minute faster than I’ve ever run. The women I compete against run 5Ks a minute or more faster than me, and as I aim to get more competitive, I need to address my weakness: the dang 5K.

One of my problems with the 5K is I don’t give it enough respect. I do one or two a year, at most, usually in the summer when I’m not totally committed and really just waiting for marathon season to start again. (I admit I’m pretty much doing that again, dedicating an 8-week mini-season before gearing up for a fall marathon.) My other issue is that the 5K is a different kind of pain than the marathon; while the marathon starts off comfortable and gradually becomes a slow burn that settles over you in an achy exhaustion, the 5K is holding your hand in the flame almost from the gun. It’s a fiery, I-want-to-throw-up feeling in your chest and stomach that you have to maintain even as your marathoner’s brain is yelling to pump the dang breaks. It always seems too far to keep up the pace. And yet... the 5K really isn’t that long, but I never seem to understand that until it’s over. I always give up slightly in the second mile then kick it in more than I thought I was capable of and end up mad I didn’t push harder earlier. Doing well in the 5K means being comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m just so used to the feel of marathon pace, I can’t seem to deal with the shorter, sharper burn.

So I’m trying to work on getting comfortable with 5K uncomfortable-ness. I found a plan in an old Running Times (RIP) for marathoners dropping down to the 5K and have been doing the track workouts. They start with super short reps (200s!!) and short rest (30 seconds!) and build up to 1K repeats at 5K pace. I’ve been having fun with the changeup (I have no idea the last time I did 200s) and they haven’t been that hard yet, which is a good sign, since they are still so short. It’s comforting to see the progression and know I just have to hold that pace a little longer each time.

Track workouts from Terrace Mahon.
Move up to the next when you can hit or better the projected paces. 

As for getting used to the distance and pacing, I’m going to run a 5K for three Monday evenings in a row as part of Richmond’s Cul-de-sac 5K series. The times won’t be fast (it’s generally 100 degrees and humid), but I’m hoping I can improve each week, if only in giving a more even and fuller effort. And because Richmond is full of fun summer running events, I’m also going to race at the Summer Track Series. I’m looking to do a mile and also taking on my husband in a Spouse Showdown* at 800m. (Because nothing says true love than trying to out sprint each other, right??) My only reasoning behind the track races is they seem super fun (I’m even less a miler than a 5Ker), but that’s reason enough. They certainly aren’t the focus of the season. (Or that’s what I’ll be telling myself when Husband destroys me in the 800.)

The summer of speed begins.

The focus and serious PR attempt will be at the Pony Pastures 5K at the end of July. It’s a flat, fast course and a morning race so hopefully it won’t be too blazing hot. And even though “it’s just a dinky 5K” (my words, which I’ve spoken at least ten times when describing this race) I’m putting it on the calendar early and trying to start giving it the respect it deserves (i.e. not calling it "just a dinky" 5K). Hopefully this year’s attempt at a summer of speed will pay off with a big PR, and if not, it will still be a fun changeup.

Summer of Speed Schedule
Cul-de-sac 5Ks – July 2, 9, and 16
Track mile – July 18
Pony Pasture 5K – July 28
Spouse Showdown* (800m) – Aug 1

*The Spouse Showdown is our own creation; everyone else is just racing an 800m and not risking their marriages over a track race.

Dream big,
Teal