Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Preview to Family Duel II: The Rematch

Alright, readers, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for all season: a rematch of the Family Duel. 

A little background to bring everyone up to speed: in 2012, my loving, wonderful older brother decided he wanted nothing more than to beat his little sister in a ten mile race. He did.

Now, three years later, we will meet again on the streets of Philadelphia (well, just the one street really) to duke it out for the title of 10-mile family champion. The stakes are higher. The race has been talked about all over the country (well at least in DC’s best running magazine), the Twittersphere is abuzz, merchandise is being hawked on the streets. (Okay, I made that last one up, but I wouldn’t put it past Brother to sell ‘Beet Teal’ shirts.)

'Beet Teal'
The 2012 Family Duel shirt, designed (and worn) by Brother. 
Let’s size up the competitors:


The undefeated champion. Two weeks ago he tried to spark some fear in his competition by running a world record in the 5K, but the time was later overturned and ruled as a “chip malfunction.” (The IAAF has decided not to pursue Brother's questionable ethics in this matter, because that’s how they deal with these things.) He has since taken his smack talking to Twitter, in the hopes that rhymes are correlated with times.

For more, check out @Realblakeconnor.
Note the avatar and bio. #obsessed

On paper, I have the faster 10 mile PR. (I tried to spark some fear in my competition by running a 56-minute 10 mile at Cherry Blossom, but that backfired when the shortened course was made public.) My downfall could come in the location: I have a 0-7 record for running well in Philadelphia. Ultimately, I’m focused on the marathon and not on petty tune-up races, but still hope to get back at Brother for getting Will Smith stuck in my head all week.

The Dark Horse

Don’t discount Cousin, who could come steal all the glory from the two trash-talking siblings. He’s another Philly native (who beat Brother at last year’s race) so keep your eyes on him.

The whole family after last year's race.
Sometimes we actually like each other.
Truthfully, (as always) I really only care about the time and competition with myself. If I beat Brother, but don’t run the time I want, I’ll be upset. If I lose to Brother, but do run the time I want, I’ll be happy.

But where’s the fun in that? That kind of talk isn’t so exciting to the bettors, the Vegas odds makers, and friends and family watching closely. So back to talking big: I'm going to try to win this one for the little sisters everywhere. 

Who do you have? Join in by leaving your predictions in the comments below. And stay tuned Sunday morning, when it all goes down.

After all, this is certainly the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, if not the century.

Dream big,

Friday, April 17, 2015

Race Report: Cherry Blossom (Not Quite) Ten Miler

Sometimes even the flattest courses can have lots of ups and downs: moments of hope and of doubt, mental high fives and battles with demons. The Cherry Blossom Ten Miler was one of those races, but—in a weird twist—some of the biggest ups and downs came after the race was over.

An absolutely gorgeous race day.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Young
Because of an accident on race morning, the course had to be rerouted between miles 4 and 6. When the organizers made the announcement before the start, they didn’t know how much distance would be lost; they guessed somewhere between a quarter and half a mile. (Major props to the organizers for how they handled the situation, making last minute changes and still starting on time.)

My goal for the race had been to break 60 minutes. I had never run sub-6:00 pace for any race in my life (5Ks, 10Ks, anything), but I figured (hoped) I was roughly in the shape I was in before Army, where I ran 60:19.

Army went well because I got behind the No Negative Self Talk idea and didn’t berate myself over the pace as I went. But I also had no real goal for Army, and this time the goal was clear: must run 6:00 miles (and at least one 5:59). I worried I’d freak out over the pace (Too fast! Too slow!), especially since splits that start with 5 still seem crazy fast to me. And freaking out is the opposite of No Negative Self Talk.

But then the course got shortened. Setting a PR wasn’t an option anymore; whatever I ran wouldn’t really count. I still wanted to run sub-6:00 pace, but without an official distance it seemed the pressure of hitting that pace exactly was off a bit. Would that be good or bad? I didn’t know.

In another last minute, pacer-sent-from-above moment, Sebi—one of the GRC guys who’s coming back from injury—said he was game to run 6:00s, so we set off together. We hit the first mile a hair fast and the second a hair slow, but by mile 4 we were a couple seconds under 6:00 pace. I was feeling good—which was shocking as my watch kept flashing those seemingly impossible paces that started with 5.

After mile 4, the reroute started. We knew by mile 6 we’d be back on the regular course, but the miles between were no man’s land. Or no pace land, anyway. I consulted my Garmin a bit, but the pace it told me for the 5th mile was so fast I knew it wasn’t accurate. (I go by the mile markers in races, because Garmins can be frustratingly off.) “Mile” 6 was essentially a blip, not an entire mile and no way to know our pace.

But then we were back on course, heading down Hains Point through a canopy of cherry blossoms. It was beautiful, and I felt like I was still in a pretty good spot. I didn’t really know our pace from miles 4-6, but mile 7 was perfect: 5:59. I had to assume we (and by we, I mean Sebi) had kept perfectly on pace.

When we turned around the tip of Hains Point, I started to fall apart a bit. I had been grateful for Sebi’s presence the entire time, but by mile 8, I was indebted to him. Without him I think I would have lost focus or given up, but I just concentrated on sticking by his side.

With Sebi, in the 9th mile.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Young
I assumed we had to still be on pace for a sub-60 equivalent, but really I had no idea. Those lost miles between 4 and 6 started to plague me; we could be ten seconds under or twenty seconds over. And we (and by we, I mean me) were slowing; mile 9 was the slowest yet.

I was possibly risking my sub-60 equivalent, after having felt so great at the beginning of the race. But the reality that it would be a sub-60 equivalent, and not a sub-60 was sinking in. The demons were talking. This doesn’t matter, who cares, it won’t be a PR anyway. Still I wanted proof I could run 6 flats in a race.

I tried to pick it up as we got closer, but it didn’t seem to be working, my legs didn’t seem to be churning. There’s a slight hill up to the finish, so slight it barely makes a blip on the elevation chart. I tell myself that I run hills well in races so I tried to push my way up it and then keep sprinting for the line. But the not-even-a-real-hill took everything out of me; I was barely moving by the top. Once I could see the finish I finally mustered a sprint and made it in 56:16.

But what the heck did that time mean? The effort felt sub-60 worthy, and everyone I complained incessantly to (I just want to know I ran sub-6:00 pace!) agreed that it must have been. (Possibly to shut me up, which is fair enough.)

Later in the day, they announced the course was 9.54 miles. At first I was ecstatic, I surely ran sub-6:00 pace! I didn’t do the exact math right away, but just let myself be thrilled. I had exceeded my expectations. This season is off to an amazing start!

But the next morning, the 9.54 distance seemed questionable for a couple of reasons: 1. My Garmin said 9.49 and it always overestimates distance. 2. That distance would mean I averaged 5:54 pace, but there was no way I picked it up in the last mile enough to do that. In fact, I was pretty sure I hadn’t picked it up at all. Could I have run miles 4-6 crazy fast? (Was my Garmin split for mile 5 correct?!) It seemed unlikely.

And it was. By Tuesday, they had officially re-measured the course as 9.39 miles. I ran the equivalent of 59:57, aka extraordinarily close to missing sub-60. I wonder what would have happened if it had been a full ten miles. I would have had to run over half a mile farther in a race where I was struggling in the end, but, ironically, I think the full distance would have helped. If I had been calculating splits in my head or had seen the clock at 59:XX, I have to believe I would have dug a little deeper in the last mile, knowing how close I was to missing my goal. The demons would have still been out, but I would have had more ammo to silence them.

It turns out that I did what I wanted to do: I ran a race at sub-6 minute pace for the first time in my life. But this week has been so up and down (OMG, I’m in better shape than I thought! Oh wait, no I’m not…), now I’m no longer satisfied with that. Remember that glorious, fleeting moment when I “ran” 5:54 pace? Yea, that was nice. Ah well, next time. [Shoves more fuel in the fire.]

GRC Women post race.
Dream big,

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Click, Click, Bust

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve false-started this post. Every season I think I should write about the “Click,” the moment when things come together, when that hill that left you huffing and puffing no longer feels significant, when that double digit run feels normal, when the pace you dreamed of hitting becomes the pace you did just hit.

But every time I think I’m close (Yes! This is it! Things have clicked!), I have a workout that feels like a giant step backwards. Welp, guess I’m not there yet. Still out of shape. So I delay writing about it. I keep waiting for the real Click, as if I can only be sure I’ve made it when every single workout goes perfectly.

Since RnR DC, I’ve had a couple great track workouts and some pretty moderately okay tempo runs. (Given my constant struggle with tempo runs, “moderately okay” counts in the success column.) Things were definitely clicking.

Then, a few weeks ago, I attempted the season’s first marathon pace workout. In a word, it was terrible. In a few more words, it was discouraging and demoralizing, the kind of run that makes you wonder why the heck you do this to yourself. The kind that makes you doubt all the other good workouts. I guess I haven’t made any progress.

Click, click… bust.

But this is becoming all too familiar. After a couple of seasons with the same routine, I’ve had an epiphany. The elusive Click never fully comes. There is no one point where training switches from tough, huffing and puffing to wonderful, nail-every-workout bliss. No, even after things start to come together, there will always be bad days. (And historically, my first attempts at marathon pace runs are often disastrous.) But as training progresses, there will be more and more moments when you surprise yourself, when suddenly you are keeping up with the paces that seemed impossible not too long ago. Just because you have a day when those paces again seem ridiculous doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It doesn’t mean you’re back where you started.

Even with my (probably perfectly human) attitude of being more discouraged by the bad than encouraged by the good, I can’t really deny things are (at least starting to) click. It’s just not in the way I imagined or hoped for, because it never is. But a couple steps forward and one step backwards is still progress.

After years of snapping photos of these guys
on my runs, it's finally time to race by 'em. 
Speaking of progress and moving forward, this weekend is my first official race of the season: on Sunday, I’m popping my Cherry [Blossom]. Shockingly, although the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler is a rite of spring and I’ve lived in this city for six years now, I’ve never run it. I’ve always had some marathon that takes April priority. But this year, I’m in and I’m excited to see how I’ll do. The blossoms are beginning to come out, hopefully the PRs will, too. Good luck to all those racing!

Dream big,