Tuesday, May 31, 2011

13.1 Chicago Pre-Race Workout

3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 2xmile @5:35-40 w/4 mins rest; 2x1k @3:25 w/3 mins. rest; 4x300m strides
Actual: 5:35, 5:29, 3:21, 3:22, 54, 54, 54, 53
2 mile c/d
Total: 10 miles

Though I haven't done one in some time, pre-race workouts were a staple of my training while at Queens. Rather than being designed to elicit fitness gains or blazing fast times, the objective is simply to turn the legs over at race pace or faster and emerge feeling comfortable and confident in your upcoming race plan. In theory, it makes perfect sense. In practice, it often works like a charm. Today, I felt like death.

To be honest, I have no one to blame but myself. And perhaps Mother Nature. Sure, I could've started before sunrise, but I naively thought that departing my house for the AG track at 7:30am would still give me plenty of time to complete the relatively short workout before the heat and humidity became too oppressive. I was grossly mistaken. I'd also forgotten how much of the track--really, all but about 20 meters surrounding the starting line--is completely exposed to the sun. By the time I finished my warmup and strides I was already wilting rapidly. The first two mile repeats and their lengthy rest should've felt easy and relaxed, but instead every part of my body felt tense and heavy and almost unbearably warm.

I had just finished the second mile repeat and was slowly trotting around the top of the curve when I spotted a familiar face jogging toward me. My friend and CRC teammate John Fillette had just arrived for his own workout but graciously offered to run with me for the remainder of mine. What a difference his presence made! My first 1k, which I did solo while John finished his warmup, was as much a chore as the preceding mile repeats. But I felt instantly, inexplicably better once John jumped in for the second one. Just having someone else running alongside me translated to a tangible difference in my level of perceived exertion. Thanks to his company I finished out the 300s feeling relaxed and strong--albeit indescribably thirsty--and to offer a small token of my appreciation I stuck around and cheered him through a solo mile repeat at the end. He even joined me for part of my cooldown, which was an added bonus. I have no doubt John will crush it at the King Tiger 5k when he toes the line this weekend!

As for myself, this workout did little to affect my confidence in either direction for my upcoming race. On the one hand, the entire thing was a struggle. On the other hand, I was still able to run faster than my prescribed paces despite feeling terrible from the first few steps. I'm definitely keeping my fingers crossed for better weather in Chicago this weekend, but either way I know I'm in solid shape. And it's not like the weather is going to improve any time soon, so I might as well get used to it. Game on, summer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Week in Review

60 miles
30 mins. elliptical
0 doubles
3 AFDs
5 states (NC, MA, NH, MA, RI)

Before I comment on this week's training, I first want to express my gratitude. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who sent me their thoughts, prayers, well-wishes, text messages, emails and donations on behalf of my family members in Joplin. As one benefactor stat
ed, "I know we're not in close touch, but this running world and industry is one big family." Never has that been more apparent than after the outpouring of support I received this past week. For that, I thank you all. If you've not yet donated and have an interest in doing so, please see my previous blog post for both a mailing address and a PayPal account.

Though running is somewhat insignificant when compared to the events in Joplin, it is nonetheless what all my many adoring fans (read: my dad) look for on this blog, so I would be remiss without providing a brief recap of last week's activities. True to my word, I took a "down week" that consisted of sig
nificantly lower mileage, no doubles and no workouts. Doing so was hardly difficult. I spent the early part of the week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, meeting with the rest of the Karhu North America team to learn about the exciting Karhu and Craft lines for Spring/Summer 2012. If you think that means we spent all day lounging around and logging miles, you'd be wrong. Tuesday's meeting lasted almost 11 hours and Wednesday's wasn't much shorter, which meant my runs were early and relatively brief. Portsmouth is a charming New England town, and what it lacks in terms of running paths and trails it makes up for with beautiful harborside views. My personal highlight was running across one of the nearby bridges solely because the other side was home of Kitterly, Maine. Prior to this week both Maine and New Hampshire were states I needed to cross off my travel "list," so I was psyched to easily traverse between the two in the course of a single run.

Originally I'd planned to undertake a rather cumbersome cab/bus/train combination down to Providence on Friday morning, but fortunately two of my coworkers who live in Providence graciou
sly offered me a ride at the close of meetings on Thursday. Jordan flew out on Thursday morning and was eager to relive his glory days so without further ado we commenced our holiday weekend a bit early. I spent the majority of the following three days repeating the mantra "This is his special weekend. This is his special weekend" over and over in my head, as most of the time I felt like I'd fallen asleep and awoken in the middle of a "Van Wilder"-meets-"Animal House"-meets "The Hangover" scenario. I've never seen more doctors, lawyers and other Ivy League advanced-degree holders behaving in a more juvenile manner, but it was clear they were having a blast and their shenanigans were (mostly) harmless so I refrained from objecting too loudly.

Though there weren't too many ladies in the mix, I was grateful to have my friend Kim around for most of the weekend.
After an incredibly courageous performance during last month's Boston Marathon (during which she gapped the entire field by almost a minute at the halfway point), Kim sustained a soleus tear and a DNF that was just as emotionally painful as it was physically. Fortunately she has healed quickly and is back on her feet already, so I was eager for us to log some miles together. Not only did I get to tag along for several runs with the RHT (record holding trio) of Kim, Molly and Roisin but I also recruited Kim for shopping and day drinking and generally helping me put up with the silly boys. Definitely a clutch performance by Ms. Smith.

Memories! Jordan and I at Campus Dance '08, our first "event" together

Brown '06 classmates, teammates and best friends:
Craig, Jordan, Owen and Tushar reunited at Campus Dance '10

After such an exciting and exhausting week, Jordan and I could both use some time to rest and relax. Unfortunately neither of us will get it, as he departs for DC on Tuesday and I'm off to work 13.1 Chicago from Wednesday on. This means I'll probably be frontloading my mileage for the week, which might actually work out well since I'm planning to race the half marathon on Saturday. The temperatures are sky-high here in Charlotte and I can only hope for some reprieve in the Midwest next weekend. Either way I plan on putting forth a hard effort with the goal of earning a PR and the victory. The down week is over; it's time to get back to work!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Request For Help

As you all know, running is one of the most important aspects of my life. It is my hobby and my livelihood and my passion all rolled into one. It is normally the primary topic and concern of this blog.

Not today.

Like most Americans, I awoke this morning to the news of the devastating tornadoes that ripped through Joplin, MO last night. This was particularly alarming for me because most of my mother's family lives there. While none of them were injured, which is a tremendous blessing, they did not emerge unscathed. It was with an incredibly heavy heart that I learned of my uncle Evan, aunt Shelly and their daughter Avery losing their entire house and almost all of their belongings in the wake of this disaster. In an instant their shelter and their possessions were reduced to virtually nothing.

For the immediate future, they are incredibly fortunate to be able to stay with my aunt Kelly (Shelly's twin sister), her husband Mark and their son Preston. Unlike many of the hundreds or even thousands of other Joplin residents left homeless in the wake of the storm, they do not have to worry about finding a roof to put over their heads--for now. But there will surely be months of work and heartache ahead as they attempt to rebuild their home and their lives. The physical, emotional and mental strength it must take to start from nothing more than the clothes on your back is almost incomprehensible to me.

Evan, Shelly and Avery would never ask any of you for money. They don't know most of you. Truthfully, I probably don't personally know all the people who read this blog. But I am asking for your help anyway. I have set up the PayPal account below with the specific intention of reaching out to anyone who is willing and able to lend a metaphorical hand. I don't know if this post will generate two donations or 200, but I am positive that literally any amount will be received with open arms and a grateful heart. I can do nothing more than promise that every dime you donate will be given directly to my family, but I hope you will take me at my word. I do know that PayPal charges a transaction fee for me to extract the money, but I will match that amount in cash to ensure that your contribution is given in its entirety. If you would prefer to donate in person or to mail a check, you may send one to me at:

Meagan Nedlo
4754 Hedgemore Dr. Unit T
Charlotte, NC 28209

My intention with this post is not to put anyone on the spot or cause you to feel uncomfortable. I know there are countless worthy charities out there that many of you already support, just as I know that there are many of other Joplin residents who need and deserve this money as much as my family does. I write humbly with no expectations. But if you feel compelled to give, however large or small, please know from the bottom of my heart that it will be sincerely appreciated.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week in Review

85 miles
3 doubles
3 runs at McMullen
3 Great Harvest cookies

Another solid week of training in the books, including several runs with friends and a few great Karhu events. On Wednesday night I partnered with Bull City Running to host a wear test at their new social run at Fullsteam Brewery. This run is only in its fifth week and they already have over 100 participants! The venue was amazing and Jordan and I had a blast hanging out with the runners and then later spending the night with our friend Sarah the Brooks tech rep. Saturday morning after the Great Harvest race I hustled over to the beautiful new TrySports location (which is technically the same address as their old location, only a few spaces down in the shopping center) and lit up the pavement with neon orange and green Fast Rides for their morning group jaunt. I never complain when I get to run with people as part of my job requirements! And lastly, I closed out the weekend with a great--albeit sweltering--12-miler with Jenna under the shaded canopy at McMullen. We stayed up late Saturday night surviving the rapture and then watching the Oxy High Performance Meet online (congrats Pezz on your long-deserved sub-10 in the steeple!), which meant we slept in to the unprecedented (for me) hour of 9am. With the mercury already above 80 at our 10am start time I feared the worst for the run, but fortunately the relaxed pace and engaging conversation (and a few water fountain detours) kept things manageable and relatively comfortable throughout.

Looking ahead, next week will be a forced but admittedly needed down week as I travel to Boston and Portsmouth, NH for our bi-annual Karhu North America sales meeting. From there I'll train it down to Providence to rendezvous with Jordan and many of his college buds for graduation weekend and his unofficial five-year reunion. I'm looking forward to all of the week's activities but fully realize that those activities will not include very much running. However I've been hovering at 80+ mpw for several months and could use a break before my next round of racing. This time next week I hope to feel refreshed and reinvigorated and eager to ramp up the miles once again.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Great Harvest 5k

3 mile w/u + strides
Target: win some Great Harvest Bread, then 3xmile on the greenway w/3 mins. jog
Actual: 17:44; 5:39, 5:38, 2:38 for 800m
1 mile c/d
Total: ~10 miles

Last year Jordan and I had a blast running the Great Harvest 5k and winning plenty of free baked goods to boot. Because I am a fat kid trapped inside a skinny kid's body, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do the same this year. Plus, the race was taking place just down the road from the TrySports grand re-opening where I'd be hosting a group run later in the morning
(which sounded like a much better idea in theory than after actually running a workout and a race), so there was really no reason not to participate.

As I warmed up on the first mile of the course with Billy, Paul and Eric, I came to the sobering realization that the course was much, much hillier than I remembered. To be honest I could recollect very little about the course from last year, and I'd sort of assumed that everyone who complained about its excessive hilliness were just being big babies. It didn't take long this morning for me to admit that they were correct. The first mile started on an uphill grade and only got worse from there, its difficulty further exacerbated by the number and frequency of sharp turns. I made the game time decision to consciously be conservative on the first half of the course so that I could truly run a "tempo" effort and save something for the mile repeats I had planned for afterward.

I have to say, standing on the starting line of a RFYL Grand Prix race without Jordan by my side was a little strange. For at least the millionth time in the past month I wished he were there with me, but fortunately I was still surrounded by a solid group that included Rebecca, Michelle, Danielle, Alice, Lat and several others. The clock ticked past 7:30 as we waited for a tardy Mike Moran to scramble over to the starting line, and then we were off into the morning sunshine. I found myself pulling up
alongside Billy and Chad, both of whom I knew would be running close to 17-flat, and was surprised to see them starting so conservatively. For a few minutes I had inclinations to surge ahead, but then I reminded myself that they would be picking up the pace soon enough and it would serve me well to try to hang on then. Sure enough, just before the mile marker Chad kicked into another gear--they probably split 5:40ish to my 5:44--and before long I had another companion, my warmup buddy Eric. For the rest of the race he and I would work together, occasionally exchanging the lead but otherwise matching each other stride for stride. The second mile came and went quickly due to its mostly downhill nature--I split a controlled 5:41--but the final mile meant several long uphill sections as we retraced our steps toward the finish. With about 800 to go I could see John Fillette almost imperceptibly moving backwards toward us, and I quietly encouraged Eric to focus on John's back and reel him in. (John, if you're reading this, it was all in the spirit of friendly competition!) Sure enough, as we rounded the final uphill turn into the parking lot (who decided that was a good idea??) Eric took off and pulled up alongside John. I finished a few seconds later, more exhausted than I'd hoped to be and pretty happy to be done. I'd originally planned to take just five minutes before starting my mile repeats, but I could tell right away that there was no way I'd be recovered by then. Instead I took about 10 minutes to cheer in some friends, guzzle about a gallon of water and wring out my sweat-soaked shirt before begrudgingly making my way down to the adjacent greenway. (As a side note, how is the greenway so flat when the nearby neighborhoods are so hilly?? I liked Danielle's suggestion earlier today of running an alternate Great Harvest course out and back along the greenway--sure, it might be a tad congested, but it's still bound to produce speedier times!)

Top 4 women: me, Alice, Michelle and Danielle, Photo courtesy of
Danielle (and Chad) Crockford

Originally I'd made tentative plans to round up Johnny C. (the decisive men's winner), Alice (female runner-up) and Lat (her trusty sidekick) to bang out these repeats with me. When the time came, however, I couldn't spot John anywhere and failed in my repeated attempts to get Alice and Lat's attention. Rather than extending my recovery even longer, I opted to begin by myself. The first two intervals went surprisingly well; as expected, my legs felt fatigued, but my breathing was controlled and I never felt like I was straining to hit the pace. If anything, the biggest obstacle was the congestion from other runners and walkers, cyclists and people cooling down from the race. Tired and thirsty, I'd already decided to cut out the final repeat when I ran into my race partner Eric cooling down. He agreed to help lead me through a final 800 and did a great job of keeping the tempo honest when all I wanted to do was sit down and take a break. We finished up just in time to jog back over to the race site for the awards. As expected, I received the awesome prize of Great Harvest bread and cookies and a set of Great Harvest oven mitts. These will make a great addition to the apron and chef's hat I won last year for all those hours I spend slaving away in the kitchen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

8 x 1k at AG

3 mile w/u + drills and strides
Target: 4x1k @3:25 (2:44 through 800) w/2 mins. jog; 4-5 min. break; 4x1k @3:20 (2:40 through 800) w/3 mins. jog
Actual: 3:24 (2:44 through 800), 3:25 (2:44), 3:24 (2:44), 3:24 (2:43); 4:30 rest; 3:18 (2:38), 3:19 (2:38), 3:18 (2:38), 3:17 (2:37)
2.5 mile c/d
Total: 11-11.5 miles

AG track, lane 2, Jordan holding the watch. 55 degrees, overcast, sprinkling at times.

I'm not gonna lie, this wasn't easy. After finishing up the first set right on pace I told Jordan that I knew I could speed up but wasn't sure I could hit 2:40. Turns out I was right--I actually ran faster. No idea how I pulled that off but I dug deep and managed to hold the pace until the end. Considering I struggled to break 2:40 for 800s on the Dilworth Speed Loop a few weeks ago, I'll take it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Week in Review

84 miles
3 doubles
5 nights in TX
1 night in OK
3 AFDs (oops)

This was my highest mileage week in some time, and also the best I've felt in as long as I can remember. Actually, the way my legs have been feeling lately remind me of how they felt in the two weeks between Houston and Birmingham. Every run is light, bouncy and enjoyable, the feeling we runners always yearn for yet rarely experience. I know it won't last forever, but you can be sure that I'm enjoying it in the moment.

Who Says You Can't Go Home

One of the perks of my amazing job is the almost constant opportunity to run with different people in new and exciting places. Because I happened to be traveling this week to Texas and Oklahoma--the former being the state where I grew up and the latter being where I spent a summer with Jordan a few years back--this week's running was made extra amazing due to the amount of familiar faces I had the pleasure of seeing.

My first stop, Austin, brought
90+ degree temperatures and, not coincidentally, several days of pre-5:30am wake-ups. On Tuesday morning I hosted a wear test run at Luke's Locker and enjoyed some miles around the Lone Star capitol and Town Lake with some store staff and customers. Wednesday morning found me at the same place, same time for a track workout at a nearby high school. I was fortunate enough to tag along with several of the aforementioned Luke's crew who were also planning a trip to the oval, and though their workout was neither the same pace nor the same rest as mine I still benefited from their presence and encouragement as I pushed through the palpably humid air. On the jog over to the track I met a Luke's runner who shared her incredible story of losing over 100 pounds in the past year, solely through the old-fashioned method of drastically changing her diet and training for her first half-marathon. 100 pounds--can you imagine?! She said she went to pick her dad up from the airport a few months ago and he literally walked by her without a sliver of recognition. This young woman was eager to talk to me about my training and my Trials preparation, but I was quick to assure her with complete sincerity that her progression was much more remarkable and inspiring than mine. Stories like hers make me fall in love with the running community all over again.

Speaking of the Trials, however, while in Austin I also had the opportunity to catch up with Allison Macsas, my roomie from Houston Meltdown 2011. Allison, who runs for Team Rogue Elite, missed the Trials standard by a heartbreaking 30 seconds on that day but just last week redeemed herself with a sub-2:45 in Vancouver. Team Rogue Elite coaches Ruth England and Steve Sisson (who is also the head women's coach at Texas) graciously invited me into their home along with the rest of the female Team Rogue Elite contingent for an evening of delicious wine and food and conversation. As is inevitable with a group of runners, the conversation eventually drifted back to training, and I remained mostly quiet as I listened to Steve espousing his own pearls of wisdom. The one sentiment that stuck with me the most was his notion of "checking off all the boxes" every day. He rightfully believes that one day or one workout isn't any more significant than those that come in line before it or after it, but rather that the sum total of continued consistent training ultimately moves mountains. If you go to bed each night secure in the knowledge that you've "checked off all the boxes" of that day's training--whether it be running, stretching, core, weights, fueling, massage, whatever--then you can rest easy knowing you've done everything you need to do in order to add one more drop in your fitness bucket. For someone like me, this perspective is both challenging and comforting. Challenging because my work and travel schedule often means the only box I check off is hastily stretching a hammy or calf muscle while hurrying through a frantic post-run shower, but also comforting because it means that greatness can be achieved in small increments and gradual accumulations.

As my trip brought me further north to Ft. Worth, the influx of familiar faces continued in earnest. Thursday afternoon I took in an easy afternoon double around the Rivercrest Country Club with my friend and former training partner Cindy. It was just like old times--plus one small addition, as
on this day I was also pushing her almost-two-year-old daughter Ellie in the baby jogger. This was my first baby jogger experience, one that left my upper arms sore for several days, and I finished the run absolutely awed by people like Mike Beigay and Mike Kahn who can click off sub-6 miles with their kidlets in tow. Friday morning found me once again running on the familiar Trinity River Trails, only this time with another old training buddy Megan Skeels. A former high school stud (her Texas Relays two-mile record stood for over 15 years) and Arkansas standout, Skeels also went the motherhood route and put her running on hold for a few years before returning to the sport with the marathon Trials in her sights. After a disappointing finish in Houston (noticing a Houston pattern here?) and an agonizingly close 2:46:30 in Eugene a few weeks ago, she may re-train her sights on the half-marathon qualifying time this summer. Whichever route she chooses, I have no doubt she'll be toeing the line with me in Houston in 2012.

Ellie showing off her new Karhus (and her undies...oops!)

At this point you're probably thinking my week of reunion runs must be drawing to a close. Hardly! I was borderline giddy on Friday afternoon as I continued northbound toward Norman, OK and the famed OK Runner shoe purveyors. Jordan worked at OK Runner for almost three years while he was in grad school, and we both consider the entire crew (including Luna Bar-loving pup Lance) to be family. Returning to Norman brought back a flood of memories from the amazing summer that Jordan and I spent living in a crappy apartment above Mr. Roberts Furniture on Main Street. Back then our days consisted of little more than running, slinging shoes, running some more and savoring warm and windy evenings of laughter with friends. (Come to think of it, that's pretty much what our lives are like now too. Sweet!) Norman might not be many people's idea of summer vacation, but the company we kept made every moment enjoyable. I was lucky enough to spend some time with a few of those people this weekend--Scotty, Jerry, Jason, Kristi, Aja, Craig and Jenny, to name a few--and even put in some miles together around town. On Saturday afternoon I experienced what I might consider to be the singul
ar most random encounter of my entire life, during which I ran into my mom's former college roommate in the bathroom of Jason's Deli. The randomness was further compounded by the fact that neither of us live anywhere remotely close to Norman and have not seen each other in about five years, so needless to say it was quite the pleasant surprise! (In the course of our hasty catch-up conversation--which, yes, also took place in the bathroom--I learned that Tina actually reads this blog. Since she is quite an accomplished writer this means I will have to take measures to step up my prosaic game going forward.)

Lance the OK Runner guard dog hard at work

Though every single one of the moments described above made my heart happy, the run on this trip I enjoyed the most took place this morning with my dad. For the final leg of my trip I met my parents in Plano for a post-Mother's Day dinner and hotel sleepover, and this morning I took my dad on a tour of the crushed gravel path on the Frito-Lay campus that Jordan and I discovered a few months ago. At the tender age of 62, my dad ran a blazing sub-22 minute 5k yesterday after hovering in the 22's and 23's for the past year or so. Even more remarkable, we averaged right around 8:15 pace for his long run today, which meant he ran just over a minute per mile slower than his race pace! I hope I'm still running when I'm his age, much less still improving, and it was fun to catch up as we clicked off the miles together.

So that pretty much sums it up--only not at all. It's not exactly possible to articulate how blessed I feel to be able to reunite with so many friends and family in the course of a week, all while getting paid to talk about the sport and the brands I love every day with fellow runners and athletes. Home is where the heart is, as the axiom goes, and this trip brought the realization that I am lucky enough to have several homes and many companions with which to share them.

It's a good feeling.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Austin Shape Cutting

3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 3x(5x400m) w/1 min. rest b/t reps; 400m rest b/t sets
First set 81-82; second set 79-80; third set 75-77
Actual: 82, 80, 77, 80, 78; 78, 77, 76, 78, 76; 75, 75, 75, 75
Set avgs: 79, 77, 75
2 mile c/d
Total: 9.5-10 miles

Ferocious wind on the homestretch, one million percent humidity, warm but not hot. 3:30 rest between sets, avg. 55 sec. rest between intervals.

Will recap later, just needed to write this down before I forgot.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Week in Review

81 miles
3 doubles
6 AFDs
2 nights in Raleigh/Durham
$500 won

Another solid week of mileage and workouts capped off with a successful race. I'm definitely moving in the right direction and, more importantly, my knee/ITB seems to be holding up to the increased demands put upon it. I'm still striving to do my strengthening exercises 3x per week in addition to 2x per week core and now 2x per week drills, which will only become increasingly important as my training intensifies. Next week I'm off to Texas and OKC from Monday to Sunday, which promises hot weather--98 in Austin tomorrow?!?--and an erratic schedule but will hopefully still allow me to achieve my mileage goals.

The goal remains: move forward.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capital City Classic 10k

3 mile w/u + drills and strides
Target: 10k race @sub-36 mins
Actual: 35:54; 5:55, 5:38, 5:34, 5:42 (off course), 6:06, 5:52
1st female, $500 (results)
2.5 mile c/d
Total: ~12 miles

After spending a few days visiting accounts in Durham and Raleigh, Jordan and I made our way to the downtown Raleigh Sheraton just after 5pm on Friday evening. Since this was a Balega-sponsored event, Jordan's sales manager Carol had graciously offered us a room at the host hotel, which of course we appreciatively accepted. We already thought this was awesome enough, but when we realized that the race started and finished literally outside the hotel, we were even more excited. There is nothing better than waking up race morning and walking straight downstairs to the starting line, which is exactly what we did about 12 hours later on Saturday morning. The still-gimpy Jordan went off to man the Balega VIP area (which promised post-race mimosas, among other perks) while I set off to warm up solo along the downtown streets.

In contrast to last year, when I hear temps were in the 80s, it was 60 degrees and low humidity as I prepared for the start. Though the cloudless skies and bright sunlight would make for some very warm spots along the course, overall the weather was best case scenario. If my goal of breaking 36 minutes was not met, it wouldn't be due to the conditions. And even though I'd heard the course was rolling and hilly throughout, I doubted that would be a limiting factor either; not because I absolutely adore running uphill, but simply because I don't know any other alternative at races in the Carolinas. Saying I couldn't break 36 due to hills would effectively be saying I'd never break 36 on any course in the state, and I wasn't willing to resign myself to that end without putting up a fight. A few minutes before the start, all of us gathered on the line as the race director read off the bios of the seeded athletes. I began to feel a little intimidated as I heard the pedigrees of the former D1 runners who toed the line beside me, but I tried to block out any negative thoughts. I lined up next to Heather Magill, a 1:15 half marathoner from Wilmington who Caitlin knows. We'd officially met a few minutes earlier and expressed similar race goals, so I hoped we'd be able to work together during most of the race to pull each other along to fast times.

Within the first 400 meters of the race, that desire seemed as though it would become reality. Though our pace didn't feel unusually speedy, there were already no other females with us. That is, until about 1000 meters into the race, when a tall brunette shot past on on a downhill section--literally sprinted as though she was racing a mile--and gapped us by about 20 meters within a matter of seconds. "Do you know who she is?" I turned and asked Heather. She did not. As it turned out, this wouldn't pose much of a problem. Without increasing our pace we caught back up to her on the next uphill and proceeded to reclaim the lead. (I didn't see her again for the rest of the race, although I believe she did manage to hang on and finish third in 37:0x. I also heard from another athlete that she continued the pattern of downhill sprinting, uphill jogging throughout the entire race. Whatever works, I suppose.)

Heather and I hit the first mile and I split my watch at 5:55, a number I read with dismay. There was no way I would've guessed we were running that slowly, but the clock doesn't lie. (Although maybe the placement of the clock does, as I heard from several people post-race that the first marker was off by about five seconds.) I almost threw my goal of sub-36 out the window right then and there, but fortunately Heather didn't allow that to happen. Visibly agitated by the seemingly slow pace, she took off and almost instantly put 10 meters between us. While I knew I needed to pick up the pace, I also knew I wouldn't be able to maintain the clip she was currently running. I kept my cool and noticed her slowly coming back as the mile progressed, and by the time I clicked 5:38 at the second mile marker I was only a stride or two behind. The third mile contained probably the most downhill section of the entire course, and before I knew it we'd recorded our fastest split of the day, 5:34. Heather and I matched each other stride for stride, passing through the 5k mark in 17:45 on the dot, but a few steps later I felt the momentum shift ever so slightly. Until then I'd all but convinced myself that she was going to burn my legs out from under me and run away with the race, but by 5k I'd found my groove. I pulled a few strides ahead, coming abreast of two older guys and trailing another male master's runner by about 20 meters.

Somewhere around 3.75, the incident happened. We were running slightly uphill along the interstate access road and approached an intersection where it seemed as though we would exit to the left. The guy in front of us--who I subsequently learned is John Hinton, a former 3x Olympic Trials Qualifier and sub-4 miler and general badass who was putting me to shame at the age of 52--turned left. "Left or straight?" asked the guy next to me. "I have no idea," I responded unhelpfully. "I guess we'll just follow the leader," he replied. At that point the four of us--me, the two dudes and Heather--followed Hinton's lead and veered left. We'd gone maybe 15 meters in that direction when some rando on the overpass who was walking his dog--not, mind you, the police officer who was actually getting paid to stand there and direct us--yelled out, "Hey! I think they went this way!" With that the four of us shouted a cacophony of expletives (or maybe that was just me), hollered in Hinton's direction, then broke right. If you've never tried to run uphill through multiple grass medians while in the midst of an already painful race, I don't exactly recommend it. Somehow I still managed to split 5:42 for this mile despite the detour, but it certainly didn't do me any favors. I was winded and flustered and approaching the most difficult section of the course. If I missed my time goal due to this snafu I would be absolutely furious.

Unfortunately, it didn't help that we turned left less than a minute later and began an almost two mile ascent to the finish line. I'd been warned that the final miles of the race were hilly, but to me that implies there are both uphills and corresponding downhills. Not so much. Virtually the entire fifth mile was uphill, and no amount of grunting and heaving and flailing on my part was going to help keep the pace respectable (though it undoubtedly made for an interesting race experience for the guy running next to me). I split 6:06 and felt like death, with no idea of how Heather was faring behind me. If she was also dying, I could probably hang on for the win. But if she felt even a fraction better than me, this was definitely her chance to reclaim the lead. The sixth mile continued to climb for about 800 meters, and only when we took two hard lefts in a row was I able to sneak a peek behind me and see that Heather was no longer within striking distance. The final turn brought us to a generous 600 meter downhill to the finish, and I kicked with everything I had to get under 36. It wasn't pretty, but I got it done. Heather hung tough to finish about 20 seconds behind me , but I couldn't help thinking that she would've been close to breaking the 36 minute barrier were it not for our detour. (It is worth noting, however, that Hinton managed to recover quite well and ending up finishing in front of me despite going much farther in the incorrect direction than the rest of us did. Props to him.)

All said and done, I'm mostly happy with this race. I succeeded in breaking 36 minutes and setting a new road PR, finishing over a minute faster than I did at the Race Fest 10k just three weeks ago. My fitness is starting to come around, which only further fuels the fire to see what I can do in the coming weeks and months. It is also interesting to note that the men's winner, Bobby Mack, ran 29:45 today after posting a blistering 28:11 less than a week ago at the Stanford Payton Jordan Invitational. Granted, he is certainly still tired and recovering from that race, but if he is in shape to run 90 seconds faster on the track then I have to believe that I could run at least a minute faster on that surface than I did here today. That tells me I'm not too far off the shape I was in this time last year, which is a good reference point to have going forward. The next big (read: money) race on the horizon is the Running of the Bulls 8k in Durham next month. Caitlin won this race last year in just under 29 minutes, but after today she and I are convinced we should be in shape to go 28:30 or faster on the right day. Heather is planning to race there too, so it will be a great opportunity for the three of us to work together and help push one another to fast times. Will we all hold hands across the finish line? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

6 x Mile Solo Effort

3 mile w/u + drills and strides
Target: 6xmile @5:40 or faster w/3 mins. jog
Actual: 5:40, 5:38, 5:37, 5:36, 5:38, 5:34
2 mile c/d
Total: 12-12.5 miles

Q: What takes longer than doing a 6xmile workout? A: Doing a 6xmile workout by yourself.

Okay, so maybe it doesn't literally take longer, but it certainly feels that way. Because Jordan's hip is still banged up and because I'm too lazy to get up and do this at 6am, I had the privilege of taking a solo trip to McAlpine to attempt one of my longest workouts of the season. Jordan set the bar at a challenging, but achievable, level, and I went into it confident I could hit the mark. My legs felt light and fresh during the warmup, due in no small part to yesterday's massage from Byron, and I actually took extra time to do the drills and stretches that Jenna introduced to me last week.

After that, it was time for the real work to begin. I decided to stick to the first mile of the Footlocker course, which meant miles 1, 3 and 5 would go in one direction and mile 2, 4 and 6 would go in the other. In this way I was able to mentally break the workout up into three sets of two, which somehow seemed less tedious than six individual efforts. Though temperatures were "only" in the mid-70s, the air was thick with humidity, a harbinger of tonight's impending thunderstorms. Luckily cloud cover prevailed for most of my workout, because otherwise I think the weather would've taken a toll. Instead I felt strong and fluid throughout, with no objections from my knee, and the only time I truly faltered was on the penultimate interval. I was running down the long straight stretch from the woods back to the starting line of the Footlocker course, and at that point the wind in my face began to wear on me. I swear I felt like I was slogging through at 6-minute pace, but somehow I managed to still dip below 5:40. The downside of that extra effort is that I was spent. Instead of jogging around casually during the rest segment like I'd done for the previous four, this time I opted to stand and drink from my Nuun bottle and simply take a few minutes to catch my breath. For the briefest of moments I contemplated bagging the final interval, but then I tricked myself into thinking that having the previously hindering wind at my back would surely make sub-5:35 seem like cake. While that wasn't exactly the case, I did manage to dig in and find another gear to just dip under my goal time.

Remember in my Week in Review when I talked about focusing on incremental fitness gains? While today's workout wasn't remarkable, I definitely come away from it feeling confident that such gains will be made. Furthermore, I averaged only a few seconds slower per mile than when Jordan dragged me through the same workout last March. Why is this significant? Because a week later I ran 34:37 at Stanford. Now, I am a realist, and by no means do I think this translates to me being in 34:xx shape right this minute. However, it does give me the confidence to believe I should be able to run sub-36 on the roads (barring a ridic course like the 5 Miler last weekend). I'll have the chance to put that prediction into motion when I attempt to do just that at the Capital City Classic in Raleigh on Saturday. It won't be easy, but after today I definitely think it's doable.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Week in Review

80 miles
3 doubles
5 AFDs
5 miler in Columbia
2 slumber parties with Caitlin

This week, friends, is ground zero. A baseline. A starting point, if you will, for my 2011 fitness. I say that because, contrary to what you might believe, I haven't truly felt fit at any point during this year. I was fit enough in Birmingham to nab a Trials qualifier, but in reality my progression leading up to the race was capricious at best. Don't get me wrong, I definitely nailed a few tough workouts, but for a variety of reasons I was lucky to squeeze in one of those per week. I only completed one long run of 20 miles or more, and my marathon "simulation" inadvertently took place during what was supposed to be an actual race attempt at Houston. Come late February, several down weeks plus an onset of seemingly insurmountable ITBS essentially wiped out the two months following Birmingham.

But that was then. Now I feel strong and healthy. I don't feel fit, exactly, but I feel like I'm finally setting the foundation for getting there. Saturday's race--which Caitlin recapped brilliantly and thus saved me the trouble of doing so--was a harder effort for me than I would like to admit, but I'm okay with that. If 29:30 on a hilly course is my baseline, then I'm excited to see what I can do with a dozen or so weeks like this one under my belt. As summer approaches, the goal is consistency in training and incremental fitness gains. There is no reason to shoot for the moon right now. The Trials are almost nine months away and the real marathon training won't begin until November. When that time comes, I plan to be ready with a solid baseline of fitness and an insatiable hunger for success. The payoff will come in January, but the goal begins now. I'm ready.