Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week in Review

~55 miles
0 doubles
17 miles at Houston
14 miles at marathon goal pace
7 AFDs

There's no point in rehashing the past seven days of training, as essentially the week can be reduced down to yesterday's marathon and I already covered that. Looking ahead to next week I will be staying in Texas (Houston and Austin) until Wednesday to travel with our local sales rep and host a few wear test runs, which is always a lot of fun. I'm home on Wednesday night but not for long--headed to Atlanta on Friday so I can conduct a Saturday morning run club with some of my favorite peeps at West Stride. But wait--there's more! I'm flipping a U and driving back home Saturday night so that I can return to Charlotte in time for an event I have been looking forward to for weeks: the Craft/CRC/TrySports fun-stravaganza on Sunday afternoon! Yes, I know that Sunday is the Superbowl, but everyone needs to burn a few hundred calories before ingesting a few thousand more of the hot-winged variety. So if you're reading this in the Charlotte area, come by TrySports in Blakeney at 2pm for a fun run, a chance to wear test the best base layers in the history of Earth AND a sweet raffle for Craft products and TrySports goodies. This is going to be a blast and I am so looking forward to it--now if I can just make it through another half dozen or so states before then!

Houston Marathon: The Good, The Bad and The DNF

Target: 26.2 @2:45:59 (6:19 pace) or faster
Actual: 13.1 @1:22:50; 6:20, 6:30, 6:40, DNF

First things first: despite the end result (or lack thereof), I'm actually feeling pretty positive about the weekend in Houston. Physically I am fine, emotionally I am stable (keep your snarky comments to yourself) and mentally I came away with some valuable lessons and, most importantly, a determination that is more fervent than ever to achieve the elusive OT qualifying time.

Secondly, race debacle aside, the overall experience in Houston was fantastic. I had a blast cheering on Caitlin, Ruth, Dave and Leo in Saturday's US Half Marathon Championships, mostly due to the cowbell that Ruth loaned me to help take my cheering up a notch. It was just as inspiring to watch Dave qualify for the Trials with a 1:04:20 half-marathon debut as it was heartbreaking to see Leo miss the same milestone by a mere 30 seconds. I have no doubt that Leo, like me, will rebound quickly and achieve his goal within no time. It was also wonderful to see my parents, who endured a ten-hour round trip drive plus countless minutes of circling downtown Houston at one time or another in search of a parking spot, all to stand in the rain and watch their only daughter fall short of the goal she had set for herself. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Jason Sosa and the elite athlete committee for even allowing me, someone who feels like an interloper among the true elite runners, access to all the accomodations and accoutrements that most of the other 20,000 race participants did not have. Caitlin and I agreed that after spending the entire weekend being pampered and catered to (both literally and figuratively), with everything from our amazing hotel to free meals to massages to separate bathrooms at the starting line, it will be awfully difficult to go back to being a "normal" race participant again. Honestly, if I didn't already have enough motivation to take my running to the next level, knowing that this sort of VIP treatment awaits at most major events is definitely an added incentive.

And now, finally, on to the race. I awoke at 4:30 on Sunday morning to skies that were overcast, breezy, humid and cresting 65 degrees. From a marathoner's perspective, the only thing that could've been worse were the predicted thunderstorms that had threatened to move in the night before; in their event, the race could've been postponed or, unfathomably, canceled midway through. I resolved to push thoughts of the weather out of my head as it was beyond my control, and instead I began my mental and physical preparations for the race. The next two and a half hours seemed to crawl by, but finally at 6:53 I was on the starting line. At the elite technical meeting the day before I'd learned that two men would be leading a 2:46 pace group; one planned to run through the half, while the other was committed to seeing us to the finish. The second pacer said he planned to come through the half just on pace and then negative split the second half, which was identical to my race plan. I was relieved to easily locate both of them on the starting line and resolved to stick to them at least through the half.

There was a prayer, a song, a cannon, and then we were off. I don't remember much from the first six miles of the race, other than that I was comfortably tucked in with the 2:46 group and looking forward to seeing my parents plus Caitlin and Ruth around mile 8. I took my first water bottle at mile 5--elite fluids were yet another perk--and even managed to squeeze down half a CarBOOM without incident.
The first familiar faces I saw belonged to Jennie and Leo, somewhere around mile 7, and at this point I felt great. A few minutes later the clamor of a cowbell signaled that I was approaching my cheering squad, and I couldn't help beaming when I saw Caitlin, Ruth and my parents screaming and jumping up and down. Aerobically I felt fine, perfectly controlled, as though I could've held a conversation with any of the 10 or so women clustered around me, and as far as my legs were concerned the pace felt very relaxed. At this point I was confident and optimistic that I was a mere two hours away from calling myself an Olympic Trials qualifier.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure where that changed. I continued to feel good through 10, even through 11, though in hindsight that's right around where we changed directions and began to run into the wind. Still, this wasn't a huge problem as I had two guys to block it for me. That is, until one of our pacers--the one who'd pledged to run the entire race--began to fall off the back of our group. I was in disbelief. For a minute I thought I was confused, as there were a few other random guys near us as well, but then one of the girls next to me said, "Did our pacer just fall behind us?" The other guy was still running strong, but I knew he would only be with us for a few more miles. Just like that, my plan for a 26-mile escort evaporated. But I didn't dwell on it. I knew I was strong enough to run the pace without him, and with any luck our group of women would band together. Mile 12 came and went.

As we approached the 13 mile marker and halfway point, I began to notice that my upper half felt much heavier than it had before. My legs were still solid, but my breathing had quickened noticeably. We passed through halfway at 1:22:50, perfectly on pace, but I felt the first sliver of doubt creeping into my mind. It didn't help that our lone male pacer peeled off just past the 13.1 marker and that our group instantly, inexplicably dissolved. I mean literally one minute we were all running together, and the next it was as though a rubber band surrounding us all had suddenly snapped. This was also when I began to feel lightheaded. Over the course of the next two miles I gradually drifted into no-man's land, falling off the pace a little bit more with each step. The lightheadedness turned to dizziness at mile 16, and after seeing a 6:40 split I knew I was done for. I thought maybe I could walk a little bit between 16 and 17 and regain my momentum, but by the time I gallowalked to that mile marker my watch showed an 8-minute split. That's when I knew I was done. I'd tried my best to stay hydrated throughout the weekend and during the early stages of the race, but apparently it wasn't quite enough.

Now, a word about dropping out of races. Some people are adamantly against it in principle, and I respect that. There is certainly something to be said for persevering in the face of adversity and pushing yourself even when the race isn't all sunshine and candy corn. I am not one of those people. To me, if the cost of finishing the race outweighs any potential benefits, then frankly I don't see the point. Yesterday, I knew that struggling to a 2:50 (or worse) finish and spending a month dealing with the toll on my body simply wasn't worth it. If anything, that outcome would actually put my OT goal out of reach by delaying my training and the opportunity to try again. So, while I am certainly disappointed in the outcome of the race and in my relative failure, I am completely comfortable with the decision I made. To be honest, the strongest negative emotion I'm experiencing is embarrassment. There were so many people, from my parents to CRC members to coworkers to Facebook friends, who had taken considerable time and energy out of their own lives to support me in some form or fashion. And let's not even mention Jordan. Knowing that I let them all down and didn't produce the results they were all so confident in is not a good feeling. One of the worst, actually.

So what does all this mean going forward? Well, simply, it means I'll just dust myself off and try again. I'm not sure when or where, nor can I guarantee that I'll knock it out of the park on the second attempt, but you can bet I'm not finished. On the contrary, I'm just getting started. And though it might be easy to dwell on all the negatives from yesterday--and believe me, I indulged in a mini-pity party involving a Domino's pizza and some dark chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups at the Holiday Inn Express last night--I'm choosing to move forward. That's not to say I won't process all the things, good and bad, that I learned from the race. But tomorrow is a new day.

And I think I'll probably go for a run.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Taper Time

Monday: 5 miles
Tuesday: 6 miles
Wednesday: 6 miles

Okay Dad, here's that taper you've been asking for. As I predicted last weekend, the first few days of this week have made running almost an afterthought. I would've been hard-pressed to squeeze in any more miles without sacrificing sleep, time at our corporate office or safety. All three of these runs took place within the confines of my hotel's fitness center in either the early morning or late evening hours. Fortunately the treadmills were equipped with individual TV's so I was able to keep boredom at bay. To be completely honest, while I was initially a bit stressed out about traveling so much the week of the race, I'm starting to see it as a blessing. I've literally been too busy to think about Sunday as I've been jumping around from one thing to the next up in Boston. On that note, also on my list of blessings is the fact that I got out of dodge just a few hours before the next blizzard system hits the Northeast tonight. I have less than a 24-hour turnaround time before my flight tomorrow and I did not allot any time for delayed or canceled flights! On that note, time to do unpack one bag and pack another. Next stop, Houston!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week in Review

77 miles
3 doubles
12 mile "long" run
4 AFDs

Though my dad questioned whether 77 miles qualifies as a taper, I would contend that it does for someone accustomed to logging 85-95 miles per week. Besides, I only had one hard effort--my lengthy workout on Thursday--and no true long run to speak of. That run is usually reserved for Sunday, but today found me at McAlpine with Jordan for a mere 12 easy miles.

Leading up to next week's race, however, I expect the volume to drop off significantly. Much of this is due to my early week travel to Boston, which commences bright and early tomorrow morning with my 7:05 flight. I'll be spending Monday through Wednesday scheming with the bright minds at Karhu North America about how we can take over the world in 2011. The forecasted high--yes, high--temperature there tomorrow is 11 degrees, which means most of my runs will undoubtedly take place on the hotel treadmill whenever I can squeeze them in. From Beantown I'll be home for less than 24 hours before departing for Houston on Thursday afternoon. So, as you can see, there will be plenty of activity to keep me distracted from thinking about the race and/or about how little I'm running. As far as I'm concerned that's definitely a positive thing.

Welp, that's it for now. No keen insights or thought-provoking wisdom to share with seven days remaining. Just a touch of anxiety and a lot of excitement for the week ahead. I get to spend time with my coworkers in Boston, watch several of my friends race the US Half Marathon Champs on Saturday, see my parents later in the weekend and, before all is said and done, run one teeny tiny little race.

It's almost go time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Final Houston Workout

3 mile w/u
Target: 15 mins. uptempo(~6:30ish); 3 mins. rest; 6x3 mins. @~5:40 pace w/1 min. rest; 3 mins. rest; 20 mins @MP (6:19) or faster
Actual: 15 mins. (6:32, 6:23); 6x3 mins. (800m @2:50, 2:49, 2:50, 2:49, 2:50,2:47); 20 mins. (6:10, 6:13, 6:08)
2 mile c/d
Total: 14 miles

This final workout before Houston found me on the paved section of the American Tobacco Trail in Durham with my trusty sidekick JSK. We're making a rare tandem work trip and spending a few nights in the Research Triangle area, which has given us some refreshing new training venues to break up the monotony of McAlpine and the Booty Loop. We've run on the ATT bike path several times before, as it is right down the street from our friend Sarah Swiss's house, but this was my first time to attempt a workout on it. The trail seemed ideal as it is relatively flat (never rolling but with some long, gradual grades mixed in throughout) and doesn't involve too many busy traffic crossings.

Over dinner last night we concocted our workout plan. Common training philosophy postulates that ten days out is the last opportunity to make fitness gains that will manifest themselves on race day, which meant it was now or never to pull out all the stops. I wanted something quick without a specific distance attached to it, and Jordan thought I should add in some longer sections both to increase volume and to better approximate the exhausting late stages of the marathon. Thus we came up with the above: 15 minutes uptempo but slower than MP, 6x3 minutes fast, then 20 minutes at MP or faster. I hoped I'd feel as light and fresh as when I worked out with a similar paradigm a few weeks ago at McAlpine. Unfortunately, that was not the case today.

From the first uptempo section, I could tell this wasn't going to be a walk in the park. Maybe it was the early hour or the chilly air, maybe it was yesterday's hilly runs in the Duke Forest and at Umstead Park, or maybe I'm still fatigued from Sunday's race. Whatever the reason, it was clear that today was going to turn into one of those where you just grit your teeth and try to make it through. Simply put, I felt sluggish on the uptempo, heavy-legged on the shorter intervals and just straight up tired on the last section. The mere one minute of rest between the 3-minuters took its toll on my body, and by midway through the final tempo I was decidedly uncomfortable . I managed to duck in under marathon pace but it wasn't pretty. My chronically tight left hamstring was acting up a bit toward the end and my breathing was more labored than it should've been, which meant I finished the workout feeling more frustrated than triumphant.

Succinctly speaking, this effort was not great. I hit all my splits but it involved way more effort than should have been necessary. To be honest, had Jordan not been there for me to latch onto, I can't imagine I would've finished. It's clear that my fitness is there, but the much-desired spring in my step is not. Good thing I've got another week and a half to rest up and prepare. Come next Sunday, I'll be ready.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week in Review

80 miles
3 doubles
3 states (NC, IL, CA)
3 treadmill runs
2 weeks until Houston

The take-home lesson from this week? With a modicum of determination and some skillful schedule juggling, you can find a way to meet your training goals regardless of obstacles. When I woke up on Monday to find a blanket of snow--soon to be ice--on the ground in Charlotte, I thought for sure it would hamper my running. When I looked ahead to the rest of the week and saw a schedule filled with early mornings, rental cars and airports, I mentally acquiesed to the seemingly inevitable reality of having to miss at least a day or two of training. Now, with the week behind me, I'm pleased with the final mileage result. It's not nearly as high as the past few weeks, but with less than 14 days until the marathon it probably shouldn't be anyway. I wish I could've squeezed in a short workout early in the week, but Sunday's positive race result almost entirely makes up for it.

Also, more importantly, reflecting on this week in training makes me feel incredibly grateful. Grateful for selfless friends like Jay Holder, who drove all the way across town to pick me up and drive me to the gym on the snow day. Grateful for being able to "work from home" with John and Caitlin for the entire afternoon and share in some, um, interesting conversation topics. Grateful for a job that not only affords me the opportunity to travel across the country doing something I love and meeting amazing people along the way, but--get this--actually pays me to do it. Incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love and support I received from friends and family after doing something as insignificant as winning a silly race. And, finally, let me assure you that I didn't take one single step during that race without feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for being healthy, fit and strong enough to participate in this amazing sport of ours. Regardless of what happens in two weeks, I hope I am able to maintain that positive attitude and thankful spirit all the way to the finish line.

13.1 LA Race Recap

3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 13.1 miles @MP (6:19) or faster
Actual: 1:20:27 (first half @~6:15; second half @~6:00)
1:20:30 gun time; 1st place female
Total: 16 miles

As most of you know, my training leading up to Houston Marathon has been fragmented at best. For various reasons, I haven't had the opportunity to enact a marathon sim
ulation run, which I consider to be 13-16 miles at marathon pace or faster. Luckily I have the best job in the entire world. This means that I am often allowed to participate in the events at which I work, provided that I arrive early to help set up and stay late to help sell our wares. With 13.1 LA, I figured that the combination of being jet-lagged and working on my feet for two days would fatigue my body in a way similar to having already run the first half of a marathon. It wasn't a perfect race simulation, but it would have to do.

Leading into this race, my plan was to start out comfortably at 6:20 pace and then progress as my body dictated. Garrett and Daniel, two employees at our partner account Top to Top, had planned to start at 6:20s and then gradually work down to a ~1:20 finish time. That sounded swell to me, so we made plans to work together. Initially I'd heard that the first half of the course was slightly downhill while the second half was slightly uphill, which I thought would help our cause. (As it turns out, the exact opposite was true, but I wouldn't learn that until around mile 7
of the race. Awesome.) After helping set up the Craft/Karhu booth at the finish line, I was able to jog to the start with time to spare before the 7:13 gun time and fortunately located Garrett and Daniel with ease. Things were shaping up nicely.

Before I continue, another word about the start: It was on the boardwalk. Adjacent to the beach. Where there was sand, palm trees, crashing wav
es and a glorious sunrise. Oh, and it was 60 degrees at 7am. IN JANUARY.

13.1 LA start line

Moving on. The gun sounded at 7:13 and a resounding hoard 3,000 strong sprinted off into the gradually lightening daybreak. I stuck with Garrett and another girl, the only potential female speedster I'd spotted on the starting line, not sure of the pace but feeling quite comfortable. When we split the first mile in 6:22 I knew I needed to pick it up a bit, and together the three of us plus Daniel cruised to a 6:18 second mile. At this point the other girl's breathing was labored and I was admittedly growing a bit panicked by the lackadaisical pace--even though I'd told myself ahead of time that I would be perfectly fine with this tempo, but I clearly wasn't--so I made a conscious decision to strike out on my own. I would not see any of them for the remainder of the run.

With that said, despite my resolve to increase the tempo, my third and fourth mile s
plits were more of the same. This was a bit distressing, as the course was angling slightly downhill the entire time. This was the first and only time that I allowed a few negative thoughts to flit across my consciousness."Why do I feel this flat so early in the race?" "If I can barely muster marathon pace while running downhill, what hope do I have for the second half?" "Maybe I should just back off and turn this into a training run." I allowed myself about a half mile's worth of a pity party before resolving to push those thoughts aside and simply focus on taking the race one mile at a time. Apparently this worked, because before I knew it the six mile marker was upon me. I remember the split being around 37:30, almost exactly 6:15 pace. At this point I figured 1:22 was a realistic goal for the finish, and one that would still be considered a success by my original expectations. I had no idea how quickly my mindset was about to change.

In hindsight, my shift in tempo can largely be attributed to the sharply downhill seventh mile. Without increasing the effort, the drop in elevation corresponded with
my drop in pace. I clicked off a 6:03 at the bottom of the hill, just in time to turn around and retrace my steps all the way back to the finish. Faced with a seemingly endless gradual uphill, I expected to drop back into the 6:10-15 range almost immediately. Instead, I was shocked to discover the complete opposite to be true. Inexplicably, my legs were jolted to life by the uphill, and I found myself charging up with an intensity and cadence I hadn't come close to experiencing in the previous seven miles. It was during the following two splits of 6:03 and 6:01 that I found myself catching up to quite a few dudes who'd no doubt gone out too hard. A few offered encouraging words as I passed, while others simply glanced up halfheartedly before returning to their own struggle; either way, I guarantee I was just as surprised as them to find myself rolling by with hardly a second thought. It was also during this time that my spirits were buoyed by the cheers of encouragement from the hundreds of participants I passed going the opposite direction. I found it absolutely amazing that many of them, who were no doubt working just as hard as I was to complete their own races, were willing to expend precious air and energy to encourage a complete stranger. Their shouts of encouragement helped keep me strong and focused throughout the second half.

The miles kept rolling by: 6:06, 6:01. My breathing was labored and my legs were tired, but I refused to let the pace lag. I didn't catch the 12-mile split, but as I (finally) crested the hill at 13 I saw 11:55 for the previous two miles. The finishing straight was agonizingly long, but I still felt strong. A quick glance up at the clock indicated that I would definitely come in below 1:21 but would miss 1:20 by a sizeable amount. Had I known earlier in the race that I would come so close to that barrier, I probably would've pushed to find 30 extra seconds. 1:20:27 is a 2-minute PR for me, but 1:19 sounds way more legit. Such is life, I suppose. At any rate, after breaking the finish tape I didn't have much time to dwell on the race, as things were hustling and bustling at the Craft/Karhu tent. I'd unfortunately missed witnessing our "Beat the Bear" promotion during the 5k, in which we'd pledged to give away a free pair of shoes to anyone who beat the lucky chap encumbered by the Karhu bear suit (which boasts all the heft of a college mascot costume). As it turns out, our "bear" ran a very respectable 18:45 (and, by the grace of God, did not succumb to heat stroke or agoraphobia and pass out on the course), which meant only 13 people were at our booth clamoring for free footwear. Still, the resulting activity meant I missed out on any chance of a cool down or moment of post-race reflection.

Karhu Sisu and a few of his competitors

Fortunately, I have time for that reflection now. Initially my goal had been to run at or below marathon pace comfortably, and I'm happy to report that I accomplished that. Only one of my splits was slower than marathon pace, and that was the first mile of the day. And, while at no point did I feel like I was simply out for a morning jog, it's hard to be displeased with such a substantial negative split. I'm fine with not feeling comfortable in Houston as long as I feel strong, and that certainly was the case today. Most importantly, this cobbled together marathon simulation taught me that it doesn't really matter if I feel terrible during the first 10k of the race. In fact, given the nature of the marathon and the state of my current fitness, I should almost expect to feel terrible early on. In reality, all that matters is my ability to keep my composure and to confidently rely on the knowledge that once I settle into pace, good things can happen. Perhaps even, dare I say, great things. We'll see in two weeks.

Accepting my award with the second place female

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Coast to Coast Travel

Mon and Tues: Charlotte
Wed and Thurs: Chicago
Fri, Sat and Sun: Los Angeles

Whew. What a week. Honestly as I'm typing this it feels more like two. Things started with a bit of weather-related tomfoolery in Charlotte, as Mother Nature decided to grace us with four inches of snow on Sunday night. This meant the landscape was absolutely beautiful on Monday but quickly turned treacherous by Tuesday. Turns out that when you live in a city where it allegedly only snows once a year, it isn't deemed fiscally responsible to invest in plowing and sanding systems. I agree with this in principle, but one has to wonder if the three days of school and work missed by many Charlotteans (more for some) doesn't do something to offset those savings.

But I digress. As this is a running blog, the important thing is how the weather affected my training. Monday morning I enjoyed a beautiful snow-covered run on the Booty Loop, to be followed by a less beautiful and far less enjoyable Monday evening run during which I endured being pelted in the face by shards of freezin
g rain. Tuesday morning I was supposed to fly out to Chicago which did not even come remotely close to happening. Instead, injured cross-training guru Jay Holder pulled a VIP move and braved the icy roads to pick me up--if I was going to trust anyone to drive me around in this mess, it was the native upstate New Yorker--and transport the two of us to Caitlin and John's gym near their apartment. There we enjoyed a Team CRC group "run"--alongside each other on treadmills, and an elliptical for Jay--which is really the only civilized way to endure an hour on one of those dreadful machines. Apparently Caitlin and I had such a good time that we slipped and slid back over for round two in the afternoon. There wasn't much else to do considering my second flight was also canceled and she was "working from home" for the second day in a row.

Miraculously, the third flight attempt was a charm, and at 6am on Wednesday morning I found myself on a plane en route to Chicago. With my trip cut short by
a day that meant all my work appointments were drastically compressed, which made for an extremely busy few days in the Windy City. This, combined with the hallmark Midwestern cold and snowy weather--though, surprisingly, it was neither colder nor snowier than the supposedly more temperate state in which I live--made running a challenge, but I was able to combine some loops around Navy Pier with a few treadmill miles with a suburban jog at one of my accounts to cobble together a few days of decent mileage. Besides, all I had to do when the going got tough was conjure up images of warm sun and swaying palm trees, so close I could almost touch them...

Navy Pier in the summer. There were definitely no ferris wheel riders
out there this week.

...which I finally did, the next day, when I completed my cross-country journey and arrived in Los Angeles! I would be there for the entire weekend representing Craft and Karhu at the 13.1 half marathon, and I was beyond excited for a reprieve from the wintry weather. My run on Friday morning was 75 degrees with not a cloud in the sky, and I swear I almost cried. The best run of the entire week was Saturday morning when I rose at sunrise and enjoyed a breathtaking jaunt along San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica. Similar to the Booty Loop, this mostly residential street is divided by an expansive grassy median that conveniently has a sinuous path worn into the ground by the countless runners who've trod there before. Unlike the Booty Loop, the shade here is mostly provided by trees of the palm variety. I took the boulevard all the way down to where it dead ended at the beach, where I was greeted by a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean in all its aquamarine glory. To say it was beautiful would be doing a disservice to the vista, and at that moment I literally could not think of a legitimate reason why I--nay, why anyone in the entire world--would want to live anywhere else. (Fortunately Caitlin reminded me later that it's too expensive and yadda yadda yadda, but still.) I could've spent several hours meandering along the coastline and soaking up the sun, but unfortunately I had to keep in mind the reason for my sojourn and thus turned around a few minutes later.

The commercial section of San Vicente Blvd. Not me in
the photo but it looks like she's keeping a good clip.

View from the end of San Vicente Blvd. at sunrise

Just typing this brings on the urge for a nap, but alas, my busy weekend was hardly over. The next 24 hours would include working a six-hour packet pickup, rising at 4am to set up our Craft/Karhu booth at the race finish line, putting in a quick 13.1 of my own, returning to aforementioned booth to sell some schwag, then hopping another cross-country flight back to the Queen City. Weeks like this are both exhausting and exhilarating for someone like me who is privileged to work in an industry centered around the activity she loves. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Week in Review

95 miles
3 doubles
21 mile long run
4 AFDs

Without question, this was a defining week for me. Not only did I achieve my highest mileage in several years, but I did so while managing two of my strongest workouts in recent memory. It was these workouts that solidified my decision to man up and book my Houston flight, for better or for worse.

Looking ahead to next week, my mileage will surely be lower (which is not necessarily a bad thing, since I do have that pesky marathon on the horizon now). For starters, Snowpocalypse 2011 is scheduled to roll into Charlotte tonight, promising to wreak havoc and panic and poor driving skills across the Southeast. In addition, I have an incredibly busy and exciting week of work ahead. Tuesday through Thursday I will be in Chicago (which, though not anticipating snow, will no doubt be colder than I can even begin to imagine as I type this in my snuggly warm house); then Thursday I head west for 13.1 Los Angeles. I will be working the packet pickup and the post-race festivities, and in between the two I plan to run/tempo the race as well. That will most likely be my only structured workout of the week and thus needs to be high quality. So far it appears as though the weather and the course will be conducive to running fast and relaxed, just like McMillan advocated at the Distance Summit this past weekend. I can hardly wait to take a few runs in a city where the weather forecast is low 50/high 70 as far as the eye can see.

21 days until Houston.

Super Distance Summit Run

60 mins. (~8 miles)

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the Super Distance Summit at Queens put on by Coach Simmons. This is the first year that I've been present, and it was definitely an edifying way to spend the weekend. Guest speakers included Greg McMillan, the legendary coach Joe Vigil, biomechanist Jay Dicharry, Coach Simmons, high school powerhouse Fayatteville-Manlius coach Bill Arris, and finally Renato Canova, arguably one of the best coaches alive in the sport today. It was a stacked lineup, and it did not disappoint. I could spend this section recapping the Summit, but instead I will cheat and link to a great summary already written up in Mark Hadley's blog. I will add that it was pretty cool to see quite a few of other Charlotte-area running enthusiasts and coaches, as well as a few friends from out of town.

It was with one of those friends, Leo Kormanik, that Jordan and I enjoyed an easy jaunt during the lunch break on Sunday. Leo is married to my friend Jennie from Atlanta and will also be racing at Houston in a few weeks, so most of the run was spent discussing, well, running. The sky was brilliantly blue and clear, and the cold air quickly grew comfortable as the minutes ticked by. It was a beautiful day to go for a recovery run around the Booty Loop and Freedom Park, and though we'd heard that inclement weather was looming on the horizon it was hard to imagine at the time. Instead we were content to amble along enjoying the day and the camaraderie before heading back to the Summit.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Decision Making Run

Target: 20 miles w/last 10 @MP (6:20)
Actual: 21 miles in 2:24: 10.5 easy, 9.5 @6:20, 1 mile wog

Time is running out.

Houston Marathon is a mere three weeks and one day away, and my flight isn't going to book itself. At the end of last week I told myself I'd make the call by the end of this week, and for better or worse that decision would all come down to how I performed on today's long run.

The run started well before daylight, when I met Alice Rogers and Ann Falcone at the entrance to the McMullen Creek greenway. The last time I was here I nailed a crucial workout with Jordan and B-Mac, and I was hoping to continue that trend today. Fortunately, I would have lots of company--at least at first. The plan was for Alice and Ann and I to get in a few early miles, then loop back to meet a group of CRC folks at 7, who would then loop back and meet another group of CRCers at 7:30. From there I would have another 2-3 easy miles out on the greenway before commencing the marathon pace portion of the run, which I thought would occur on a simple out-and-back route along the paved path. Unfortunately, I didn't foresee rain on Friday night and below-freezing temperatures on Saturday morning; to our chagrin, we discovered on the first few miles that many sections of the greenway were slick with ice. This can be annoying at best and quite dangerous at worst, particularly when trying to run fast, so it became apparent early on that I would have to readjust either my workout or my expectations, or both.

By the time we looped back to the parking lot to pick up the 7:30 group I already had 7 miles under my belt. Mainers agreed to help me out with my tempo, although he had to be back at his car and on the road by 8:30 at the latest. This meant that by the time we started picking up the pace at 10.5, he would only be able to accompany me for 3.5 miles back to the parking lot. Much appreciated for sure, but I knew it would make for loneliness in the late stages, particularly when my other companion B-Mac also bailed at the parking lot. From this point, 14 miles under my legs and only a third of my tempo done, I had three options: 1) Turn around and run back down the slippery greenway, adjusting the pace to allow for the ice; 2) Abandon the greenway and make up my own route through the rolling nearby neighborhoods; or 3) Run out and back on the single dirt mile (i.e. hard-packed but fortunately not frozen) for the remainder of the run. Option 1 would guarantee a slower run and, as I mentioned before, hold the potential for falling. Option 2 was equally unappealing as I didn't have a Garmin to measure pace, nor was I familiar with the neighborhood streets. Option 3 promised to be super boring and would involve executing a 180-degree turn every six minutes or so, which was also likely to slow things down. With no stellar options--among those, the desire to simply say "forget this" and head home--I opted for door #3, the dirt mile out-and-back.

Was it super fun? No. Did I feel easy and relaxed? Definitely not. But as I closed the workout with my fastest mile of the day, 6:09, I felt surprisingly strong. And that strength leads me to believe that if I can run marathon pace by myself, in the frigid morning air, bouncing back and forth like a yo-yo along a single mile stretch, in trainers, taking no water or nutrition unless you count the half cup of coffee I threw back at home--well, then just maybe it will be possible for me to do the same thing three weeks from now in Houston. If nothing else, it's worth a shot.

I booked my ticket.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Breaking Through

2.5 mile w/u
Target: 6x5 mins @~5:45 pace w/2 mins. rest; 20 min. tempo @6:20
Actual: 6x5 mins @5:42 down to 5:30 pace; 20 mins. @6:04, 6:02, 5:52, 2 mins.
2 mile c/d
Total: 13-14 miles

At one point during our warmup today, Caitlin remarked that she was holding fast to the confidence she gained a few weeks back during a killer 3x2 mile workout. It was that session, she said, that told her she was ready for her upcoming half marathon at Houston. I remarked that I hadn't yet experienced that feeling of completely nailing a race-specific workout. Typing this entry a few hours later, I can say that confidence has finally arrived.

In hindsight, today's workout had all the necessary ingredients for success. Caitlin and I had managed to recruit two companions: Jordan (whose Achilles is much improved thanks to Dr. Greenapple's ancient Chinese magic) and Heidi, a New Yawker and Duke alum who is in town visiting her in-laws for the week. We met at lunchtime, after all of us had plenty of time to wake up and get the blood flowing, and though the air was cold and damp there wasn't so much as a whisper of wind. The 6x5 minute format was Caitlin's idea, and Jordan suggested that it would benefit me to tack on a 20-minute tempo at marathon pace immediately after. Sounded intimidating, but I was game.

As is often the case for me, I muscled through feelings of sluggishness and lethargy during the first few intervals, perfectly content to tuck in behind Caitlin and Jordan while my legs grew accustomed to the pace. The second interval led us all the way back to Old Bell, and once we turned around I finally settled into a groove. I found myself splitting 5:30 pace or faster through the halfway mark of the final three intervals, and my body inexplicably responded by growing more comfortable with the increase in pace. That said, my legs felt pretty fatigued after the final segment, and for a few seconds I questioned whether I'd be able to maintain marathon pace for the upcoming tempo. Fortunately I didn't have much time to ponder, as Jordan and I picked up the pace as soon as we returned to the starting line of the Footlocker course.

Fearing the worst, I was pleasantly surprised to find my breathing relaxed and my legs fully functional as we settled into pace. To avoid the mud we'd slogged through during the first part of the workout, I suggested we turn left at the half mile mark and continue along the paved section of the trail. This meant I would be running slightly uphill for the first two miles of the tempo, followed by a 180-degree turn and slight downhill to close things out. I was pleasantly surprised to split 6:04 for the first mile, which felt like a jog. A slightly tired jog, but a jog nonetheless. The pace continued to feel comfortable and relaxed for the remainder of the tempo, and there were several times when Jordan had to chastise me for trying to pick up the pace further. It's always my instinct to leave it all out there at the end of a tough workout, but fortunately Jordan was there to remind me that the purpose of this effort was to run relaxed and controlled as opposed to just barreling ahead as hard as I could. He's a smart one, that boy.

So, in summary, I'm quite pleased with how this workout turned out and even more pleased to have shared it with such great company. Does this mean I'm ready to run Houston in three and a half weeks? I'm still not convinced. But without a doubt this is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Week in Review

91 miles
18 miles at Davidson
4 doubles
4 AFDs
4 states driven (OH, KY, TN, NC)

I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty pumped to close out 2010/begin 2011 with my highest mileage week in several years. I'm even more excited that through it all, my Achilles has not only held up but has in fact felt 100% normal. I was a bit apprehensive that my workout on Saturday would set me back, but to my delight it felt great on Sunday's long run and even allowed me to pick up the pace for a mini-tempo in Davidson. This doesn't solidify my decision to race Houston, but it does provide some encouraging indicators. If I can maintain another week of high mileage including a workout or two, then nail a marathon simulation run, I think I'll give it a go. If by this time next week my fitness isn't deemed adequate, then it will be time for a serious conversation with Jordan followed by a look at some other early spring options. Houston seems like the best venue for running fast, but I don't want to go all the way out there if I'm not ready. We'll see soon enough.

Davidson Trails Long Run

Target: 18-20 miles w/30 mins. uptempo
Actual: 2:05 (18 miles) incl. 10-15 @6:44, 6:28, 6:32, 6:17, 6:19 pace for .66)

For our first big long run of 2011, Caitlin and I rounded up a group to meet north of the Queen City at the Davidson College trails. I'd never been here before but everyone I know raves about the shaded, rolling, well-manicured grass trails near the college campus. Since the prospect of running 2+ hours at McAlpine was almost enough to reduce me to tears, I was desperate to try someplace new. Fortunately several other people were up for the same, and when we rolled into the parking lot at 9am we were greeted by John, Caitlin, Allen, Leonard Hilliard, Kevin Ballantine and even a few new (to me) faces. We set off into the muggy, foggy, warm (altogether a bit yucky) morning air at a relaxed pace, chatting about our respective New Years' and about the HORNED FROGS WINNING THE ROSE BOWL! Go Frogs! Let me just say, they've come a long way since the bowl they headlined my freshman year. Way to win one for all the little guys out there! (Okay, I'm done. For now.)

A few miles into the run, Caitlin and I both observed that we felt, well, pretty crappy. We'd planned an uptempo section in the second half of the run, but neither of us were feeling much pep in our step. She must've been reading my mind when she suggested we take to the roads if and when that uptempo section occurred. Though I was loving the trails, which were every bit as great as I'd heard, I knew there was no way we'd be able to pick things up with the ground being as mushy and slow as it was today. Fortunately several members of our party, including Jordan who was still nursing his Achilles, wanted to head back after about an hour, so we all ran to the parking lot to drop them off. All of the sudden our group was reduced to three, leaving John, Caitlin and myself to soldier on for the remainder. As a side note, let me mention that at this point I was warm enough to take off my shirt and run in just my sports bra. On January 2nd. Crazy! (I'm also pretty sure the craziness will be short-lived as temperatures are supposed to drop into the low 20s tonight. And I thought I left the weather's crazy mood swings behind in Texas.)

To be honest, for a few minutes I didn't realize we'd started running faster. No one verbally initiated this section of our run. All I knew was I felt absolutely terrible and was suddenly having a difficult time relaxing into the pace. It all made sense a few minutes later when Caitlin's Garmin beeped and she announced our first mile split. Time to get down to business. To be sure, running on the road/sidewalk/bike path definitely helped us pick up the pace, but we would get no favors from the rolling terrain. In particular, once we turned around at 15 minutes it seemed to be all uphill on the way back. My legs were feeling the effects of yesterday's somewhat failed workout--after all, I was now running moderately hard for the second day in a row after not having done so in three weeks--and Caitlin and John began to pull a few meters ahead. I knew that if I didn't close the gap in a hurry I'd flounder mightily for the last mile, so I manned up and charged one of the downhills to come back on their heels. We finished with two marathon paced miles going uphill toward the campus, which was both faster and harder than expected. I'll take it.

Unfortunately for me, John and Caitlin were ready to wrap it up at this point. Not that I blame them, as both are training for half marathons and Caitlin is recovering from a bit of a sore knee. I was tempted to pack it in with them--mostly because of the impending group breakfast at Toast--but I knew I needed to extend things for a few more miles. I looped around the adjacent streets and a small neighborhood park several times, surprised that my legs felt better than they had before the tempo, lost in my own thoughts. I felt strong enough to continue beyond the two-hour mark, but I knew my friends and my peanut butter banana french toast were awaiting me. I jogged back up to the main drag and arrived at the restaurant just in time to clean up and change clothes before being seated. I spent the next hour enjoying a delicious breakfast with great friends--Caitlin's boyfriend Garrett even drove up to meet us, which I'm going to (probably inaccurately) attribute more to the allure of our company than the draw of a mean-looking omelette. We finished our al fresco meal just as the first drops of rain began to fall--perfect timing to head back home for an afternoon of lounging and recovery. Our first long run of 2011 was officially a success!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

CRC Hangover Run

AM: 2 mile w/u
Target: 1x5k, 2x3 miles @faster than MP (6:19)
Actual: 18:35ish for 5k, 1x3 miles @~18:00
1 mile c/d

Total: 9 miles
PM: 4 miles

Happy New Year! I woke up this morning excited to attend the first annual CRC Hangover Run, but also nervous because I planned to use the 5k prediction "race" as just a small part of my larger workout. Originally, my plan was to start around 6:20 pace and then cut down. However, several things threw a wrench into that plan. The first was that the race was a prediction run, which simply means that watches aren't allowed and that the winner is the person who runs closest to his or her predicted time. In other words, there's no way to monitor your pace other than by feel. Normally that wouldn't be a huge deal to me, but since a) I hadn't run hard since Club XC (three weeks ago) and b) the back half of the xc course was a muddy, sloppy mess, I began to question my abilities. Also, while I wasn't technically hung over, my system was a wee more alcohol-intensive than is ideal for a workout. Whatever. I put my prediction at 19:30, which under normal circumstances I would consider quite slow but hoped would be a good starting point today.

Bantering with official race photographer Leonard Hilliard before
ascending the hill

From the "gun" (Was there a gun? I highly doubt it. I think it might have just been club chairman Aaron shouting "Go!") the pace felt a bit slow, but I chalked that up to the built-up lethargy of having not worked out in three weeks. Allen Strickland sidled up beside me about half a mile in and asked what my prediction was. When I told him he responded something to the effect of "Welp, see ya later," as he elected to throttle back his pace. By the first mile marker no one was ahead of me except Paul, John and Ben, and they were so far in front that I was further convinced my pace was molasses. Still, for whatever reason I could not get my legs to feel 100% comfortable. Aerobically everything was fine, but my lower half seemed insistent at plodding along. Maybe the unseasonably warm, muggy air had something to do with it, or maybe I'm just a weenie. The lone hill came and went without adding too much fatigue, and before long I was rounding the pond for the first time to raucous cheering from the spectators (read: Jay, Aaron, Matt and Jordan). My legs felt momentarily buoyed by the support of all my fans, but I resisted the urge to pick things up by reminding myself that this was supposed to be the first of three intervals. "Supposed to" being the operative phrase.

With about a half
mile to go, the course got messy in a hurry. Last week's snow didn't fully melt until yesterday afternoon, leaving the back mile a slippery, muddy, mucky mess. Ugh. I hate getting dirty, and opted to tiptoe gingerly through the stickiest sections instead of sprinting through full-bore; were this a real race I would've lost valuable time here. Instead I was content to jog light on my feet until I reached the pond, where Caitlin (the club-appointed "sweeper" for the race) was waiting for me. She chose to run me in by starting ten meters ahead and yelling, "You have to catch me!" To which I eloquently responded, "Oh, shut up." We have a loving relationship. At any rate, coming down the straightaway to the deafening roar of the crowd, I hammed it up a bit. A little slow-mo, a little fake flailing and finally a lean at the tape. Victory was secured! Well, not really--I may have been the fastest female, but I missed my prediction by almost a full minute. Whoops. Guess I was moving a bit faster than it seemed. I had a sneaking suspicion this would come back to bite me in the very near future.

Leaning at the tape for my first victory of 2011

And the crowd goes wild!

I have to admit, at this point finishing the workout was not high on my list of preferred activities--it ranked much lower than, say, rehydrating with the bloody Marys from the CRC cooler--but I decided to go for one more interval and see how things felt. To both avoid interfering with the race and tromping through more mud than necessary, I opted for a simple out-and-back trek along the trail toward Old Bell. I figured I should be able to run at least as fast as my pace for the preceding 5k fairly easily, but unfortunately I was wrong. No excuses here; I just haven't put in the work. I split 6:02 and 5:57 before stopping the interval about 30 seconds short of three miles. At this point I was approaching the stage and didn't want to blow by the awards ceremony like a jackass--good call too, as my name was announced literally 10 seconds after I stopped. I graciously received my award of nothing (technically a pair of Balega socks courtesy of our favorite sock salesman, but I sort of already have plenty of those) and spent the rest of the morning mingling with fellow CRC members and helping Jordan hawk old Craft samples. Oh, and turns out Ben Hovis won the prediction contest by guessing a mere 5 seconds off his time of 17:25--perfect pacing, although I have to agree with Allen that it sort of defeats the purpose of that type of race to have a speedy person win. Still, I'm pretty sure a great time was had by all (including me, failed workout notwithstanding). Maybe this is the runner geek in me shining through, but I can't think of a better way to ring in the new year!

First annual CRC Prediction Run contest winner Ben Hovis