Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turkey Trot

On Thanksgiving, my newphew Evan and I took part in the Pittsburgh Turkey Trot 5K.  It was his first Pittsburgh "trot" and my third. The forecast was accurate for once - 100% chance of rain and 36 degrees.  It was man vs nature, and we were not going to back down. The forecast also meant 100% chance that Grant and Spencer would not participate and I can't say I blame them.

Unfortunately due to the rain, I couldn't wear my turkey getup as the feathers are felt and would have quickly become a heavy sodden mess.

The race course was changed this year and we started from PNC field - the home field for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was excited about that until I realized that the only part of PNC field we had access to was some dark loading dock/dumpster storage area!

Lovely conditions!
The race started slowly, as they all do.  I started my watch late and didn't capture that slow first bit. I hit a 6:56 first mile, then 7:05 for the next two, and finished the last bit at 6:50.  The turnaround was close to the 2 mile mark so I kept wondering if they had measured the course wrong.  I didn't want to turn it up too soon and discover the race was 4 miles and not 3.1 miles. When I confirmed the finish line was in sight, I sprinted and was glad to discover I had sprint left in me. And finally, I had thawed out!!

It was a fun run, not super speedy for either, but a good effort that made way for lots of turkey to follow.  I ran a decent but not fabulous 22:46, 7:20 average pace, 79th out of 1341, top of the 40-49ers.  The whole pack seemed pretty slow because I sure seemed to pass alot of people.  Maybe they were all hung over or saving themselves for Black Friday!  Results here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book reviews

It seems that part of my post-marathon recovery involved a reading marathon as I devoured two books in five days: The Grace to Race by Sister Madonna Buder and Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer.

Sister Madonna Bruder has done 340 triathlons and 45 Ironman races plus countless marathons including Boston.  She didn't start running until age 48 but continues even now, at age 80. She has traveled the world to race and has dealt with injury, stolen gear, travel mishaps, missed time cutoffs, and the same mental challenges we all face in a tough race.  But she has such deep faith in God, His plan for her, and His provision. I want to display the kind of faith and calmness that she embodies. She is also our reminder that age is immaterial.

Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run with a number at the all-male Boston Marathon in 1967.  Back then it was believed that women could not hold up for those distances and it was detrimental to their health.  But this doesn't start as the story of a rebel.  She was a girl who liked running and who ended up with a running partner who had finished 10th in Boston many years ago.  After hearing his stories incessantly, she decided she'd like to train and run for it. The opposition she faced there, and the resulting media firestorm inspired her to (1) become an advocate for women's distance running and (2) become the best marathoner she could be.

Kathrine ran that first Boston race in 4:20.  Her eventual marathon PR was 2:51!!  Early in the book, you have no reason to believe she is anything other than an average runner, an average athlete.  But her work ethic and single-minded focus to improve her race time and be taken as a serious athlete was incredible. She was putting in 100+ mile weeks with two-a-days on top of a more than full time job.

To go from being the first woman marathoner to successfully leading a campaign to get the women's marathon into the Olympic games is incredible. Kathrine comes across as hardworking and humble. I hope I might have the chance to meet her in Boston.

One training takeaway from this book is that if you train the same, you'll race the same.  If you really want to improve, something has to change. I'm not saying I am ready to move to 100+ mile weeks, but I recognize that if I do want to improve significantly I need to up my focus, volume, and intensity.

I think I'm going to have a hard time finding a satisfying book after reading these two!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Richmond Marathon

I guess a PR is a PR even if just by 37 seconds (that's a whopping 0.28% improvement if you are calculating!).  Most importantly, I emerged healthy and happy and truly enjoyed the experience and all the challenges.

My goals, as stated the day before, were to be more in the moment in this race, and run from confidence, not fear. I also wanted to maintain even pacing throughout the race, with 8:10 as the target per-mile pace. I met the first two goals, but perhaps a larger dose of fear (perhaps more properly referred to as self-restraint and discipline) could have helped me with the third, which went askew after mile 17.

I had a great week leading into the race and stayed very relaxed, very chill right up through the start. I slept well the night before and all systems were good - legs, stomach, energy. The weather was ideal, sunny and cool. I was decked out in short tights, arm sleeves, gloves, and a cool new top that I love that has a big pocket in the back for gels and such. (Apparently it's all about the wardrobe...or at least it was for the guy I saw in black tights and a pink running skirt!!

I got a picture with running great Bart Yasso at the expo. I read and enjoyed his book, My Life on the Run, not long ago. He just finished the grueling Comrades race in South Africa this past summer, and he's a running icon. More on Bart later…

Me and Bart Yasso

Jake and I had planned to run this race together. We’d done a 23 miler together and his troublesome IT bands had held up but we still knew this race was a roll of the dice. Still, we remained optimistic.

We saw Shannon Price in the first corral, ready to pace his 3:10 group. He’s an ultrarunner from Blacksburg who does much to encourage and inspire others. I love to see him before a race!

Off we went, and I was so glad to finally have the chance to get to work rather than just think about it.

Miles 0-5
The crowds were great from the start and it was hard to hold back. Compared to the previous year, these initial miles felt much easier and I seemed not to have to waste energy dodging people quite as much. I think they were dodging us as we went out conservatively.

The iPod was off, I was in the moment, high-fiving the occasional child, and smiling through the miles. I felt amazing.

feeling easy

Miles 6-10
Jake had some flareups of the IT band and it was not settling down. I was torn between encouraging him to continue and suggesting he pull out. We hit a few downhills that exacerbated things and I watched his expression grow more pained. At about mile 10, that moment came where we both knew the decision had been made. He couldn’t risk a more significant injury nor could the ITB hold up for another 16 miles. We had discussed this possibility. He wished me well, and I kept going, never looking back.

It suddenly felt very lonely, but I had to do this for both of us now. The iPod came on. I just worked to keep my miles around goal pace. I would stop at the aid stations, then run a little faster to keep my pace on track, and run a little faster still for the reward of bringing a mile in under time.

I shed my arm sleeves, handing them off to a spectator.

Miles 11-16
I ran for a while behind a threesome of young guys who were whooping it up, jumping through leaf piles, running backward, really engaging the crowd. They were running at my same pace so I enjoyed trailing behind them. They began to slow, and I pulled up along them thanking them for the entertainment and for unknowingly pacing me. I teased them that they were slowing down and could they pick it up? They did for a bit and eventually really tailed off so I went on without them. I bet they paid for their early race antics.

The three jokers ahead of me

At this point I was still smiling, happy, and finding a lot of flow.

Around mile 16 we cross a bridge over the river, and who should be there cheering on all the runners, but Bart Yasso! It gave me a nice little boost when I needed it.

Things still felt pretty easy and I was actually proud of how well I had been holding back, or so I thought. I rationalized a bit and told myself that I had obviously picked a goal pace that was too conservative. I was thinking how great it would feel to really pick up the pace for the final few miles when others were fading and I still had gas in the tank.

I got a little greedy.

Just before Richmond, Jim had shared a race report from one of his athletes who did a 50 miler. In an email, he had cautioned her: “please, no thoughts about “banking” any early time, that would come back to haunt you.” I should have heeded that warning as I'd heard it from Jake too.

Miles 17-20
Here’s where the wheels started coming off. I’d had 3 gels to this point, one every 5 miles, and alternated PowerAde and water at each of the aid stations. Oh, and that nice big pocket in the back of my shirt?  Stuffed with the $2 kid's gloves I'd worn and all the empty gel wrappers. Yeah, good I carried all that with me, the garbage collector!

At mile 17 I guess I hit a “wall” where I felt pretty mentally spaced out as if the blood was shunted from my brain to my legs. I took another gel, stayed calm, and altered my race plan. Now my goals were to find as much flow as I could and keep moving. Walking was absolutely not an option, but I did stop shortly at the aid stations. Nothing in particular hurt, so I reminded myself I didn’t need my brain fully functional to run, I just had to keep running.

There was no more high-fiving of the kids along the route, no more thumbs-up, and not so much smiling. I can't tell you what was on the iPod.
Feeling stiff and slow at this point

I will admit though, having been burned by embarrassing race pictures in the past, I did try to mug for the professional photographers when I was alert enough to spot them. So maybe that’s a little vain, but I’m counting on those. I have zero pictures of my own from the race since I didn’t travel with any non-runners.

This graph shows my per-mile pace throughout the race and just where I started breaking up.

Miles 21-26.2
I continued struggling along, concentrating on maintaining form, and trying tricks like upping my cadence, or lengthening my stride a hair, anything to try to squeeze a little speed out of myself. I managed to kick it up pretty good again around mile 23. There were more and more people slowing to a walk, or coming to a standstill to work out cramps, so I simply focused on picking off the next runner. That helped, but only for a while. After that, I was the one who was passed. When I saw the 3:40 pacer go by I was a little bummed. But I never slowed to a walk, I just kept on running. I think I managed my bonk pretty well as things could have unraveled much much more than they did. Mentally I didn't get too down or negative which is a big win for me.

I made it through the finish chute in 3:38:01, 37 seconds under last year’s time. That put me 15/231 for my age group, 127/1575  women, and 647/3755 overall.

The finish

I saw Bart Yasso again at the finish line, so it was kind of cool that he was a presence at the start, middle, and finish of the event.

I made my way through the crowd and found Jake. He had put his own frustration aside and was there to support me.  I was happy to be done, but this wasn't how this race was supposed to end.

I began assessing the damage. I kept moving (more like staggering) which was key. That first hour was still rough. Everything hurts and you can’t escape your own body. A hot shower helped. As did a good lunch, a beer, some ibuprofen, and the satisfaction of knowing that although it was far from a textbook race, I stuck it out and kept it together.

Lessons learned
The obvious lesson is that I should have held back more in the front half. That is THE biggest challenge for me, to stick to a race plan and not decide in the heat of the moment that I suddenly have a better plan.

The tough thing with marathons is that there are so few opportunities to hone one’s strategy, and it’s always a bit of a gamble. Sometimes the gamble pays off, often it doesn't.

On the plus side, I am happy that I was able to stay relaxed leading into the race and to know that it doesn’t affect my race intensity. I was more in the moment and it was fun to run along familiar routes from last year. I stayed positive even when the going got tough, and that's not easy for me, or anyone really.

Jake’s meal plans and pre-race electrolytes kept my stomach out of the equation, with no GI issues to speak of! And overall I still feel like I was stronger this year than last. I do believe I still have a better marathon in me.

After the race I sent an email to Jim telling him, half-jokingly, that I am clearly a solid HALF marathoner. But in a twisted way I love the mental challenge of the back half of the marathon and you don’t get that in the same way with races of shorter distance.

My goal for Boston in April is to run smarter, to have a conservative plan and execute it.  NO last-minute changes! I’ve said that running Boston is not about getting a PR, but about the experience, so I need to capitalize on it and show that I can deliver on a plan. I’m already looking forward to it….but after some downtime!

These things are never accomplished without the love, support, and sacrifice of others.  Many thanks go to Jake, Jim, my family, and the underground brotherhood/sisterhood of runners and triathletes - Shannon, Michaela, Tanya, Ginger...too many to name.

Off to rest and recover...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Richmond Pre-Race Report

I’m a day out from the Richmond Marathon. Last year at this time, I was being chased by the fear of failure from having missed what was supposed to be my first marathon the previous spring. A leg injury delayed things till fall, and I had a single-minded determination to finish that race and get a Boston Qualifying time since based on training times I was fairly sure I was capable...physically anyway.

This time around I feel like I am equally determined to have a good race, but not driven by fear.  This time….I’m not sure how to describe it….I want to be more “in the moment.”  I don't want to be running from fear, but within a (however small) bubble of confidence.

I’m still anxious of course, that's part of the process.  The marathon has not been far from my thoughts all week.  My biggest concern has been, am I too relaxed?  Have I focused on the task at hand enough? I’ve had a very busy week, really a busy last FEW weeks with training, work, family things, and kids’ activities. I think it’s good I’ve been occupied because obsessing doesn't do any good.  It may not have been restful week, but this is real life, and I'm glad for all the facets of life.

Jake and I will run together.  We’ve targeted what we think is a doable pace for me, and for his ailing IT band that’ll take work, but is not overly aggressive. I will focus on running a mile, 26 times over, and working to come as close to the goal pace as I can for each mile. I will stop at water stops, stay relaxed, and strive for “flow” in my run. I will set fear aside. I will remember that tough patches will not last forever, and I will stay positive.  I will think of countless people who have encouraged and helped me and honor their faith in me.  I will remember how blessed I am that I am physically able to run and that I have the time and resources to do so safely and comfortably. I will reflect on how running has impacted my life and my children’s lives. I will remember that pain is temporary but the joy of overcoming doubts is forever.

I’ll report back after 26.2

Friday, November 5, 2010

Race Week then Off-Season

I am eight days away from the Richmond Marathon. This week has been really busy with the kids, which is a good thing because otherwise I'd be obsessing about the race I'm sure. I've done the training, put in the miles, and I know I can do the distance.  The unknown is what will I have on race day? Will my goal pace (no, I'm not revealing that card!) be doable and what will my mental state be?  Can I keep things positive?  Every return trip to a race leaves you wondering if you can improve on the last performance. This race is no different.

Jake has been having some IT band issues recently so going for a best race is out for him at Richmond.  He's had to back off so his backed-off state is fairly close to my best-effort state so we are planning to run together, which I am glad about.  He's good at thinking, tracking, monitoring, navigating.  When I run, I'm pretty sure the blood gets diverted from my brain to my legs so the less thinking, tracking, monitoring, and navigating I have to do, the better.  For us, running "together" generally means I am at least a few steps behind him, which suits me. I lock in on him and focus on keeping up.

I've begun thinking about my off season, which will begin after Richmond and go on through the holidays. (Except for the Turkey Trot, which is non-negotiable.) 

Last year I blew it. I was afraid to lose ground and reluctant to back off so then in January and February I hit a patch of major burnout. Our cold, snowy, icy winter and far too many miles on the treadmill didn't help matters.

This year I feel more comfortable dialing back and I know I need it and will benefit from it in the long run.  I realized that in the past calendar year, I've done 5 triathlons (3 sprint, 2 olympic), 2 bench press meets, 3 swim meets, and 4 races (5k, 8mi, 10mi, marathon). It's been a lot of gearing up, digging deep, and recovering.

It's time to let up, recover, refresh, and get hungry for the 2011 season.

It sounds good in theory, let's see if I can actually do it!

Weight Club Fall Fitness Challenge

On October 30 I participated in Kurt Weidner's Fall Fitness Challenge to raise money for the Humane Society of Montgomery County.  We took pledges for the number of reps or max weight of an exercise that we could do. Since I had a 23-mile run the day before, I had to pick something that didn't involve legs, so I went with bench press.  That is an exercise I am always working on, benching weekly, and working toward the February bench press meet at Virginia Tech.

I took pledges for the number of lbs I could get in excess of 100 on a max bench press. I was confident through 130 and I hit 140 a few weeks ago for the first time EVER as part of my normal bench routine. On this day, I hit an ugly 130, and missed 135 twice.  It was the best I had in me at the time.

It was a great event with men and women of all ages showcasing situps, pushups, pullups, deadlifts, squats, running, and tire flipping.  Kurt and Vaughan Twigger each did as many flips of an 850 lb rubber tire as they could.  I'd never seen that, but it's such an awkward movement, having to get a grip at floor level. On Kurt's last flip (#15), the tire slipped and landed on his leg.  We were all stunned and it seemed like an eternity before a few guys removed it from him.  His leg looked awful all week but it seems he escaped major injury.  Good thing, since as a personal trainer and world-class competitive bodybuilder, you kind of need both legs.
As a group we raised over $4500 for the Humane Society. It was great event to be a part of in support of a very worthwhile organization and fun to see the talents of so many folks.  We had a few spectators and hopefully they were inspired to new personal bests.

Kurt flipping the tire

Mario, a pullup machine