Sunday, April 29, 2012

Week in Review

87 miles
3 doubles
5 states (MA, NY, NJ, CT, PA) 
20+ mile long run
5 AFDs

Despite a lackluster race and hectic week of traveling, I still managed to salvage my mileage thanks to an epic Nahant run with Jordan on Sunday. Last time I traversed this loop was on Easter with Jordan and Emily, and I was so beat afterwards I swore I was sticking to two-hour long runs for the foreseeable future. At the time I didn't realize the foreseeable future would involve punishing myself for a craptastic 10k performance, so away I went! Fortunately it was an absolutely stunning, gorgeous morning, and though my spirits flagged when Jordan powered away over the final four miles, I felt much more spry finishing up the run (and throughout the rest of the day!) than on the last go around.

Speaking of Jordan, and in another stunning development, he is blogging again! Well, sort of. I wouldn't get your hopes up that this will last, but in an attempt to help him regain some of his disgruntled former fans I'll throw him a link. Plus, I'm lazy and would rather have this offer you an insight into what I've been doing than actually writing about what I've been doing. In a less stunning development, Jordan has a mullet. Lucky me.

So what's on tap for next week? No traveling, no races, just training and hanging out with Weezy. Oh, and potentially buying a condo. What, you thought I could have a normal, laid-back week for once? Silly you.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Penn Relay 10k Race Recap

Best case scenario goal: sub-34:00
Additional best case scenario goal: Victory
Next best goal: sub-34:20
Acceptable goal: PR (sub-34:37)
Worst case scenario goal: sub-35
Actual: 35:05, 4th place
(Should be combined with collegiate results)

As it turns out, there was quite a bit of rust to be busted.

I'm not sure why this race went so poorly. My legs felt light and springy in the days leading up, and despite working somewhat of a full day I managed to spend plenty of time off my feet. I even dusted off ye olde spikes for the first time in two years, and after a few strides and several tweaks they felt as delicious as buttery slippers on my feet. Even the weather, which is characteristically irascible at Penn, cooperated. By the time the gun went off at 10:15pm, the air was cool but not cold, breezy but not windy, damp but not too humid. In short, all signs pointed to me having a great race.

And then, inexplicably, I didn't.

Even more puzzling is the alarming rate at which things unraveled. For a few miles I comfortably clicked off 82s and 83s, tucked in behind the two leaders and feeling like I was positively walking. With the Collegiate and Olympic Development fields mixed, there was a trail of 30+ people behind me, and I was confident I could run with any of them. I knew, without a doubt, that I was capable of maintaining that pace for another 20-odd minutes...until, all at once, I suddenly couldn't. My 82s slipped into 84s and then 85s right before my eyes, and I was powerless to do anything about it. With two laps to go I did some quick math and realized the incomprehensible: not only would I fail to achieve any of my goals, but I would actually run slower than my "worst case, totally unfathomable, hasn't even occurred to me as being within the realm of possibility" cutoff of 35 minutes. The fact that I was exerting this much effort to run such a mediocre time was, to put it mildly, quite humbling and not just a little embarrassing. I tried to summon a kick on the final lap, pushing with whatever remained, and crossed the line in a decidedly underwhelming 35:05.

I'm sure in the coming days Jordan and I will have plenty of time to reflect and analyze the race more objectively. As with any perceived failure, there are always lessons to be learned and tangible takeaways that can be gleaned and transformed into future success. I fully understand that and will certainly do so at the proper time. Right now, however, I'm going to eat my emotions with a glutenous apple fritter from the only gas station that is open late enough to serve us dinner after the race. If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Penn Relays Pre-Race Workout

2 mile w/u
Target: 2x1200 @4:06, 2x600 @2:00, 2x300 @55
Actual: 4:06, 4:07, 1:59, 1:59, 53, 52
2 mile c/d
Total: 6.5-7 miles

Not a whole lot to say about this workout, which was quickly done on lunch at Beverly High. Similar to a few weeks ago, Jordan and I were joined by a few intrepid coworkers who he once again led in a modified version of our workout. Conditions were incredibly windy, gusting at nearly 20 mph, and I was relieved I wasn't really trying to nail any arduous paces or lengthy distances. One of the main objectives today was to throw on spikes--which I haven't worn in basically two years--for the 300s to see whether I feel comfortable racing in them on Thursday night. To be honest, I'm really on the fence about it--I know the spikes will undoubtedly facilitate a faster time, but I may or not be able to train (or walk!) for the rest of the week. They feel particularly uncomfortable on my left foot thanks to a problematic bunion, so I may have to modify the actual spike configuration a bit if I'm going to make it work. Either way this will be a game time decision.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Week in Review

83 miles
3 doubles
3 nights with friends over
3 AFDs

All in all, not a bad week of training. I held back on the weekend miles once I found out I'd be racing Penn on Thursday; otherwise I could've easily topped 90+. Hoping that self-restraint will pay off next week in Philly!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Charles River Tempo Run with the BAA

2.5 mile w/u
Target: 6-7 miles uptempo; first 4 easy with group then pick it up
Actual: 6:35ish, 6:20ish, 6:08, 6:08, 5:52, 5:56, 5:36
3 mile c/d + strides
Total: ~13 miles

As is becoming fairly routine for Saturday morning when I'm not out of town, I met up with Terry and Carly and a solid BAA contingent at the Harvard track. I was pleasantly surprised to also see Teresa for the first time since her kick-ass 10k at Stanford, and was also glad to finally be formally introduced to Caitlin's good friend Liz. After a relaxed warmup filled with stories and conversation, the morning was already off to a great start.

Trotting back over to the starting point of our familiar 4.2-mile loop, I'd already decided to tuck in for the first few miles since I knew some girls wanted a conservative pace. (As a side note, multiple people have told me that this is the "slow" tempo loop on the river as opposed to a different, faster course that the BAA also sometimes uses. All I know is I've joined them at least a dozen times and we've never once worked out on the "fast" loop. Terry, I know you're reading this--stop holding out on me!) Teresa felt the same, seeing as she's fighting a troublesome hip and attempting her first workout since Stanford, so we just settled in at the rear and spent the first few miles chatting. I could already tell that all of us felt worlds better than when we'd done a similar tempo two weekends ago (which was so abysmal I didn't even bother to blog about it), and just knowing that gave me the confidence to hold back early and save up for a strong finish.

I should also mention one other factor that led to me restraining myself today. After several weeks of waiting, I found out yesterday that I was accepted into the 10k field at the Penn Relays next Thursday (yes, five days from now). Jordan and I will already be there on Karhu business, so I reached out to the meet director with the mindset that I had nothing to lose by using this as a rustbuster in preparation for next month's BAA Twilight meet. Now that I'm officially in, I'll need to strike a careful balance over the next few days of still striving for fitness gains while not overdoing it so I can be fresh come Thursday night.

Back to the tempo and the start of the second loop: at this point our group began to string out a bit, with Teresa and I naturally taking up the charge. I felt a little strained but overall still comfortable opening up my legs a bit with Teresa. Considering that she just ran 32:50 for 10k a few weeks ago, I fully understand that I wouldn't have any hopes of staying with her on a normal workout, but today I had a lot of fun trying (and failing miserably) to emulate her form and match her long, loping strides. Opting for only six miles, she pulled away from me midway through the second mile of this loop and powered to the finish. At this point I was surprised to see Melissa Nash, another BAA girl, sticking close and then sprinting around me to finish her own six miles quite strong. I was definitely hurting now, but I also knew the third mile of the loop was the fastest and would offer me a gentle tailwind. I pushed as hard as I could for the next five minutes and was rewarded with a 5:36 final mile. I'll take it.

The hard part over, I continued jogging the loop until I met up with Carly and we finished up the run together. A few more laps on the track with Terry, a few strides and then it was time to enjoy breakfast and the beginning of a relaxing weekend at home.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mile Repeats With JSK

2.5 mile w/u + strides
Target: 4x1600 starting @5:22-25 and getting faster, 3 mins. jog
Actual: 5:25, 5:22, 5:20, 5:15
2 mile c/d
Total: 9 miles

After several days of uncharacteristically warm weather (an understatement for all the marathon runners), Wednesday seemed to take a turn in the opposite direction. A day that started off sunny and breezy turned overcast and blustery by late afternoon, just in time for me to take to the Beverly High oval with Jordan. He'd agreed to play queenmaker and pull me through some quick mile repeats, and though I'm always grateful for his presence the wind made me feel especially so this afternoon.

Though I knew the intervals were supposed to be fast, I also realized that the workout would go best if I just relied on Jordan's pacing and didn't check my watch every 20 seconds. So from the outset, I resolved to only check my split at the end of each interval and simply run by feel. The first mile was intended to be the slowest, and it felt that way. Still, I was a bit surprised/disappointed to see a 5:25 split as my legs sensed it to be a bit faster. That would be the theme throughout the workout; each split getting gradually quicker but feeling just a little harder than I'd like. I was pleased to set a new mile PR (pathetic, ha!) of 5:15 after the final push, but it didn't come easily. I'll need to be rattling off 5:15s with no problem if I hope to achieve my 10k goals later in the season. I look forward to revisiting this workout a month from now to see how much I've improved!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Marathon Monday

From the moment I awoke on Monday morning and glanced out the window, I knew the prognosticators had been right. It was going to be a hot one, perhaps even record-breaking. It may seem a bit paradoxical to say I was filled with equal parts excitement and dread, but that's exactly how I felt about spectating the race. On the one hand I was thrilled to be experiencing Marathon Monday as a fan of the sport and friend of many of the race participants. On the other hand, it was almost a certainty that every single person I knew, regardless of fitness level, would miss their goal times. At best, many of them would resign themselves to this irrefutable fact early on and adjust their game plans. At worst, others would struggle stubbornly against the elements until the elements mightily, emphatically won. It would not be pretty.

But first, before any of the carnage unfolded, Emily and I had our own run to tackle. We met up with Carly in Back Bay and carpooled up to Wellesley, where we planned to camp out several hours later. As we drove up Comm Ave through the Newton hills, tracing the marathon course in reverse, it was hard not to get swept up in the magical feeling that is Marathon Monday in Boston. Even now, hours before the race was to begin, the road was crowded with cyclists, runners and walkers, volunteers, police officers and even incredibly dedicated spectators who'd already staked out their prime viewing spots. (The fact that several of them were obviously sunbathing already only further reinforced the absurdity of the weather situation.) Arriving to Wellesley at 8am meant we got an ideal parking spot in the downtown train station parking lot, steps away from the halfway point on the course but still with easy access out of the lot and back to the highway. For the next 90 or so minutes we meandered around the nearby soft surface trails, concerning ourselves more with the next available water fountain than the pace. While we were having a great time frolicking around in the woods, we were also getting hot. In particular Carly, our pregnant companion, noticed how much stronger and more intense the sun felt than any other day during her pregnancy. The three of us grew somber with the realization that if we were struggling now, before most racers had even toed the line in Hopkinton, the situation for everyone from elites to charity runners was going to get real in a hurry.

Thanks to excellent strategic planning (Terry would be proud), we made it back to the car with plenty of time to towel off, grab a few key belongings, dash the spirits of several drivers hoping to snag our parking space, and secure a spot on the edge of the race course with minutes to spare before the elite women came by. We also had in our possession a cooler and large bag filled with several frozen water bottles of all shapes, sizes and varieties. Carly had pre-arranged a handoff with several BAA sub-elite runners, and I'd let Jay know I would have one ready for him as well. For what was probably only a few minutes but seemed like an eternity, we had nothing to do but hurry up and wait. The crowds swelled as we gradually found ourselves surrounded by several hundred other ebulliant fans, all of whom were just as nervous and excited for their daughters and sisters and fathers and friends as we were for ours. For now, in those expectant moments, the only aura was excitement. As we would learn, for many the dread would soon follow.

The elite women passed first, and once the lead African pack had passed it became apparent that most were already struggling. None were walking--yet--but not a few of them had already been reduced to a shuffle. For the three of us, I think that was the first moment of the day that was actually sobering, a harbinger of things--and people--to come. The men's elite field came by several minutes later, looking markedly better but still incredibly, absurdly hot. We stood quietly, nervously, craning our necks off into the distance in hopes that the yellow and blue BAA jerseys would materialize soon. Shortly thereafter several did, and the next 30 minutes or so passed in a flurry of activity as we busied ourselves with handing out the water bottles. Technically, this type of behavior is against the rules of this and any other major marathon. Today, I would've defied anyone to stop us. It's probably telling of the situation at hand that we earned bursts of cheers and applause for our efforts, especially on the handful of occasions when we had to toss the bottles into the road and, miraculously, every time they were snagged from midair by their intended targets. Around the 1:17 mark I saw Jay's familiar loping form in the distance, and several seconds later he was right by my side still looking fresh and strong. I handed him a bottle and some words of encouragement and then watched him stride ahead, his two Urban Athletics teammates close behind. The next familiar face we expected to see was Betsy's, but as the minutes passed and the masses thickened we began to grow concerned. Instead, the first woman we saw approaching from the mass start was Emily's friend (and our other housemate for the weekend), Meredith. She was grinning from ear to ear and easily looked the best and most comfortable of anyone else we knew. Similarly, Elle passed by shortly thereafter also beaming. (Side note: I'm certain Dalena Custer from Charlotte must have also gone by during this time as she finished right between these girls in the final results, but I never saw her. Must've been going too fast!) Over the next few minutes I spotted several jerseys I recognized, from CRC (go, Caleb Boyd!) to Trak Shak to Charlotte Running Company to TrySports, but still no Betsy. We were just about to abandon our post and book it to Heartbreak Hill, our second destination, when Emily spotted her. I quickly grabbed a bottle of water and sprinted after her, knowing with a sinking heart that she was already struggling in the conditions. Like hundreds if not thousands of others, today was not meant to be her day.

Once I rejoined Carly and Emily, it was time to embark on a race of our own to Heartbreak Hill. We made it there in remarkably good time and located a stellar parking spot, which meant we'd still have an opportunity to see most if not all of our friends. I hoped to catch Jay, but he must've already passed--which for him was a good thing!--so I would estimate we arrived just in time to see those who would ultimately finish in the 2:45 to 3:00 range. You know, those who typically look fit and spry and sprightly. Today, in sharp contrast, I doubt there were more than a few 7-minute miles among them. As Allen said with painful eloquence in his own tortured race recap (which, by the way, is still hilarious and incredibly well written because--SPOILER ALERT--he managed to not die from heat stroke), most of their hearts had been broken long ago. The minutes ticked by at an agonizing pace, as did most of our friends, some looking far better off than others, and after a while it was honestly too difficult to watch. We left, shaking our heads in disbelief and awe at the throngs of racers pushing themselves to--in some cases beyond--their limits, with a dogged perseverance and tenacity that no doubt embodies the true spirit of the Boston Marathon. As much as I respected them all, I have never in my life been more grateful to not be competing in a race.

The rest of the race was a bit anticlimactic, at least for me. By the time we arrived back to Emily's and made our way to Boylston Street, the crowds were too dense to allow us many good views of the finishing stretch. I'd once again missed Jay, who held on strong to finish remarkably close to his PR. We did see Meredith bounding by, still looking as fresh as ever in 2:55, with Dalena (who I finally saw!) and Elle soon to follow. By that point Jay and most of the BAA guys had already passed, but many of our other friends would still be quite some time. Having spent the past six hours out in the sun myself, I felt as tired and salty as if I'd just finished my own marathon. We decided to head back to Emily's, only then hearing reports that both the men's and women's winners had run the slowest Boston winning times in years. Last year's champion, Geoffrey Mutai, had dropped out due to heat-related cramps. The returning women's champion, Caroline Kilel, was rumored to have been seen walking somewhere near Fenway, another victim of the extreme conditions. One of the most prestigious sporting events in the world had been reduced to nothing more than a quest for survival.

And yet, miraculously, everyone did survive. I say that with no facetiousness, given that hardly a warm marathon goes by anymore without one unfortunate report of death. I think it's a testament to the efforts and organization of the BAA, coupled with the general level of fitness and preparedness that most Boston runners take with them to the race, that mercifully resulted in today not becoming another statistic. I'm relieved that all of my friends made it out of there only slightly worse for the wear, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for everyone who toed the line today knowing it would be tough and embracing the challenge anyway. As for myself, I leave Marathon Monday the same way I approached it, feeling excitement tinged with dread. I know for certain that I never, ever want to run Boston if it means experiencing conditions like today's. But I'd also be lying if I didn't admit that a part of me pictures myself out there next year, tearing up Heartbreak Hill and sprinting for the finish down Boylston. Either way, one way or another, I'll be back for Marathon Monday in 2013.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Week in Review

70 miles
2 doubles
4 days in Boston
3 AFDs 

But enough about me...Marathon Monday tomorrow!

BAA 5k Race Recap

2.5 mile w/u + strides
Target: 5k @16:50-59 and/or top 15
Actual: 17:10, 15th place
3 mile c/d
Total: ~9 miles

When Emily and I originally decided to run the BAA 5k a few weeks ago, we decided to approach it both as a hard, painful rustbuster and also as an opportunity to participate in marathon weekend without actually running the whole silly marathon. (This was a decision made long before the Marathon Monday weather forecast took on the life of its own that will now live in infamy, but as the weekend progressed that would only further reinforce the soundness of our thought process.) That said, I would be lying if I didn't admit that a large part of me was planning on swinging for the fences and setting a big road PR. After all, my training has been going well as of late, and if I'm hoping to throw down any remotely fast times on the track later this spring then I need to demonstrate some semblance of progress now.

I woke up early on Sunday morning feeling excited and energized but with a tinge of nervousness. For the upteenth time in the course of a few days, I realized how appreciate I was to Emily and Matt for hosting us at their house all weekend. To say they're conveniently located to the marathon festivities is a drastic understatement, as their front steps are less than two blocks away from the famed Boylston finish line. Since this landmark would also serve as the start and finish for today's 5k, that meant my transportation to and from the race would consist of little more than walking out the front door and trotting down the sidewalk for a few minutes. Long port-a-potty lines? Not a problem when your "hotel" is just as close as the nearest facilities and much less crowded.

To say, however, that the entire pre-race experience was stress free is omitting one tiny detail: Jordan forgot my race number. In the Airstream. Which was over at the Seaport Convention Center. To be fair, I'm the one who initially forgot it the day before after picking it up at the marathon expo. But after multiple texts and one phone call during which Jordan assured me he was putting the number in his bag, I didn't think twice about it. Fast forward to 7am on race morning, t-minus 60 minutes until go time, when I began quietly rummaging through Jordan's backpack while he slept off a beer or four in the bed beside me. After a few unsuccessful minutes, I nudged his groggy rat-tailed head and asked him to find it for me. Several frantic minutes and muttered expletives later, Jordan stumbled from the bed, hastily pulled on his speediest Karhus and sprinted out the door. He would be making the four mile round trip to and from the Airstream, hopefully with number in hand, in time to pin it on my kit and send me to the starting line in a little less than an hour. In contrast, I set off on a leisurely warm-up jog with Emily, forcing myself not to stress and reminding myself that Jordan excels at running while hungover. This is an underappreciated, but often quite useful, talent that would come in handy today.

Sure enough, less than five minutes before the start of the race and only two minutes after a heavily panting Jordan arrived with my bib, Emily and I squeezed through the dividers and wiggled our way to the front of the race. I immediately spotted several familiar faces, including my friend Kim Smith and my friend and former D2 rival Sarah Porter, but overall I was shocked by the sheer number of race participants and fans who had turned out. When my dad ran Boston in 2005 I joined him for the BAA 5k, but at the time I remember it being more of a lackadaisical fun run where we ambled around Boston Common and back. Nowadays it's serious business, with a legit elite field and prize purse on the line. I was starting to feel a bit out of my league, but fortunately Emily was there to remind me of our primary goals: run hard, run fast and enjoy the experience. As the gun sounded and we set off down Boylston Street into the morning sunshine, I felt nothing short of inspired.

No doubt it was that euphoric feeling, coupled with the breakneck speed at which the actual real elites sprinted off the starting line, that apparently caused my adrenaline-addled brain to convince my legs that they had only signed up for a mile race. If I had to put a conservative estimate on it, I'd say I charged through the first 400 meters at around five minute pace. When my legs finally got the memo that they had never, under any circumstances, actually run an entire mile--much less three consecutive miles--in five minutes, they immediately pulled back on the throttle. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. My fate was sealed by the time I hit the Boston Common hill toward the end of the first mile, a marker I passed in a 5:28 that felt far too labored. It was around this time that Esther Erb, a Zap Fitness athlete, came bounding past me. If you take a gander at the results and see how her finishing time differs drastically from mine, you'll understand how she, more than anyone else in the race, inadvertently taught me a lesson. Though I don't know her following two splits, they undoubtedly got faster from there thanks to her measured and conservative start, while I sputtered agonizingly backwards.

Unfortunately, thanks to my rookie tactical mistake, I didn't really enjoy the remaining 10 or so minutes as much as I'd hoped. I did hear a surprising number of passing cheers from people who actually knew me--Lauren and Jay Holder, Jocelyn Sikora, Betsy Burke, Chris "Gundy" Gunderson, Donna Sterns and my high school coach Tony Collins come to mind, though I know there were others--but I wasn't able to put on much of a show for them. I felt like I was crawling as we made the uphill turn onto Hereford Street before taking the final left onto Boylston. As I'm sure thousands of marathoners would realize the following day, that last stretch is a lot farther than it looks. I kicked for home for what seemed like an eternity, finally crossing the finish line in a decidedly underwhelming 17:10. Emily finished just a few steps behind me, quite impressive given her recent retirement (and subsequent un-retirement) from running. The flat course and stellar weather had primed many people for fast times today, but for whatever reason I was unable to capitalize on them. I didn't bomb, but I didn't achieve that highly sought after "breakthrough performance" either. Still, Emily and I accomplished the goals we set out for ourselves, and with an exciting Marathon Monday ahead of us and some freshly baked muffins awaiting our return there was little reason to dwell in disappointment.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

BAA 5k Pre-Race Workout

PM: 2 mile w/u + strides
Target: 1600 @5:22-25, 2x800 @2:40, 2x400 @75 all w/2 mins. jog
Actual: 5:21, 2:37, 2:36, 72, 70
2 mile c/d
Total: 7 miles

Yes, I'm behind on my blog. Yes, I have multiple entries to catch up on. (Though I'm back-dating this entry for the sake of consistency, I'm actually writing it a full week later. Shhhh, don't tell.) I'll do my best to accomplish this in the next few days, but for the entire past week I've been caught up in Boston Marathon fervor. The agony, the ecstasy, the heat stroke...none of those words describe my own personal Marathon Monday experience, but I'm pretty sure I saw a little bit of all three out there on the course.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Last Wednesday, before the weekend craziness ensued, I ventured out to the Beverly High School track on my lunch hour to knock out a light, fast pre-race workout. Jordan and I invited several of our co-workers, most of whom dabble in running but are decidedly categorized on the cycling side of the industry, and it was actually quite fun fostering a group atmosphere even if we weren't all literally running together. For my part, I tucked behind Jordan and let him block the wind and set the pace. I was pleasantly surprised with my splits, particularly the 400s which felt completely relaxed. It was always a running joke (pun intended, obv) at Queens that I could never break 70 seconds for the quarter regardless of where it fell during my training cycle or within an individual workout, even when I was in 16:30 shape. I didn't do so today either, but I also wasn't trying to. I actually see this as quite an encouraging sign and indicator that I might be in better shape than I think. I'll have my first chance to prove that on Sunday at the BAA 5k.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Week in Review

95 miles
4 doubles
20+ mile long run
2 runs in Boston
4 AFDs

Happy Easter and Passover and whatever else you may be celebrating! Today Jordan and I observed Easter by running long (too long!) around Nahant and back with Emily, eating a delicious brunch, taking a nap, then later being treated to a traditional Korean BBQ dinner at our friend/coworker ST's place. It was a fun way to cap off a solid week of training, though Sunday's looooong run combined with a lackluster tempo on Saturday left me fatigued enough to realize that I need to take it a bit easy if I have hopes of performing well at the BAA 5k next Sunday. (And by "performing well" I mean running a fast time and road PR--with plenty of speedy American and international runners in the field, I could very likely go sub-17 and still not finish sub-17 in the placing!) Regardless of how the race goes, Emily and I have agreed that it will be a great rustbuster and opportunity to participate in the marathon weekend festivities without the whole silly "running 26 miles" business. I'm beyond excited for a weekend filled with friends, running, parties, more running, more friends--and, of course, lots of sweet Karhu action. If you're coming to the expo, make sure you stop by for our ribbon cutting and autograph signing with Karhu's own 1972 Boston Marathon champion, Olavi Suomalainen. Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Breakthrough Performance

With the spring/summer racing season kicking off in earnest, this is what I'm hoping for. It's timely that I was pondering the topic on this morning's run, seeing as tonight's Stanford Invitational marks two years since I experienced one of two such performances in my own brief racing career. For the better part of nine months I've been running healthy and strong, and especially of late have been hitting tough (for me) workouts and long runs with relative ease. I feel like my body has been absorbing all the training and mileage I've thrown at it, recovering quickly and completely within a short period of time, but I'm still waiting for that one race to really surpass everyone's expectations and take my running to the next level.

The first time this happened was in February 2010. I was coming off a fall and winter riddled with injury, during which I'd taken at least nine weeks completely off from running. I began training again just two weeks before the D2 national cross-country meet, in which I competed for my team and finished upwards of 100th place. Shortly thereafter I had to take even more down time when an acute case of shin splints flared up, no doubt in response to my frantic attempt to regain fitness and salvage my only collegiate cross-country season. When I toed the line for a 5k at the Armory in early February, I was working off about six weeks of healthy running. At the time, my 5k PR was 17:27. I remember asking Jordan, who is nothing if not frankly objective about my running, what he thought I was capable of on that day. He told me a goal of 17:15 would be reasonable. To say I wasn't on anyone's radar is being kind.

The gun went off, and eight laps later I remember passing through the mile marker in the low 5:20s and doing a double-take. Hasty calculations told me I was well out of my league, but inexplicably I felt great. Shortly thereafter I crossed the finish line in 16:54, notching a huge PR and securing an automatic qualifying berth at the D2 indoor national meet. From that moment on, I started thinking and training like an All-American, which I would become for the first time a month later. My entire mental paradigm, my own confidence and self expectations, shifted dramatically.

A few weeks after the indoor national meet, that shift happened for the second time at the Stanford Invite. At the time, my 10k PR was a woeful 36:12 and the D2 national qualifying standard had just been lowered to 35:30. I knew I had the ability to run the qualifying time but was still very inexperienced at the event (and at track racing in general, for that matter). After a recent mile repeat workout with Jordan, he told me I was capable of running clos
e to 35-flat, but I honestly would've been satisfied with 35:29 on the dot. I just wanted to take that next step toward being competitive at the national meet. Instead, on one of those fabled magical Palo Alto nights with calm air, loud fans and fast times, I raced to a nation-leading 34:37, nearly a full minute faster than I'd anticipated. The very next day I approached my coach about coming back a month later and aiming for the USATF outdoor standard of 33:45.

I did go back a month later, and I didn't hit the time, but that's not really the point. Breaking through and running a huge PR once again made me reevaluate what was possible. It was the first time I had a confident thought about qualifying for the Olympic Trials, or competing at national championships, or proving myself beyond the niche of a brief D2 career. Two years later, I'm definitely ready for that feeling again. I'm a bit wiser, a bit more experienced and definitely more self-aware of my own potential. But at the same time, I don't feel as though I've really taken a significant leap to that next echelon in the running ranks. (One could argue that my time at the OT marathon was such a performance, but in reality anyone who followed my training would agree that I was in 2:40 shape. My Trials race was good, but not revelatory.) When I toe the line at the US Half-Marathon Champs this summer, I want to feel like I belong there specifically and among elite runners in general.

But first, I need another breakthrough performance. I've learned you can't predict them or expect them--after all, isn't that half the point? But you can prepare for them, which is what I'm trying to do with purposeful training every single day. I'm sure several of my friends, running buddies, current and former and future competitors will enjoy such a performance at Stanford tonight. For them, I'm excited. For myself, I'm ready to experience that unparalleled feeling again.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Harvard Track with the BAA

2+ mile w/u + strides
Target: 6-8x1k starting @3:25 and working down w/1:45 rest
Actual: 3:24, 3:23, 3:22, 3:21, 3:18, 3:17; 4x200m @~33
2+ mile c/d
Total: 10 miles

In a rare case of the stars aligning, I was able to leave work a few minutes early and join in on a BAA track practice. Last weekend Terry and I had floated the idea of trying to sync up a workout with Brett, and we were able to peer pressure Emily into joining us with relative ease. All day long I found my body humming with that familiar feeling of nervous excitement usually only experienced leading up to a late-night race; this time I attributed it to being both apprehensive about stepping onto the track, which I rarely do, and giddy over the prospect of doing so with other women, which probably hasn't happened since the last time Caitlin and I took to the oval at least a year ago. As the afternoon wore on, however, my nervousness morphed into being less about the task at hand and more about the impending weather. Sure enough, by the time I pulled up to the Harvard track a few minutes before 6:00, the wind had picked up to a brisk 20 mph and ominous clouds were beginning to block the sun.

As our group embarked on a slow warmup loop, it became apparent that despite my fervent hopes to the contrary the wind was going to be a significant factor. The Harvard track is completely exposed and breezy even on the calmest of days; this evening, the home stretch was so gusty it was almost comical. Fortunately, running a 1000-meter interval meant that we could intentionally stage the start and finish to have three straights with the wind at our backs and two with it in our faces; unfortunately both curves were windy enough that it was pretty much a wash. With three of us running together, the plan was to alternate leading one entire interval at a time, ideally limiting (and spacing out) the number of laps when each of us would have to face the gusts head-on. Even if this wouldn't make a huge difference physically, the mental reprieve was almost more important.

From the start, Brett got us settled in perfectly on pace. She's just a few weeks back into workouts after taking down time due to a hip injury, but from tonight's effort you would hardly know it. Similarly, Emily was attempting sub-6 minute pace for the first time since a mini-retirement last month, but of course fell into step seamlessly. We came through the finish line in 3:24, then had just enough time to jog the remaining 200 and shed our long sleeve layers before assembling for the start of interval two. This time it was my turn to lead, and I was blown away (pun acknowledged) by how much more noticeable the wind was from this vantage point. Emily took us through the third rep significantly quicker thanks to a 77-second first lap (during which she apparently construed my "settle down, Em" comment to actually mean quite the opposite), and we continued to hit the desired splits for our target progression. All the while the sky continued to darken and the winds swirled ever stronger, making it hard to hear Terry calling out our 800 splits despite passing within only a few meters of him. By the start of the sixth interval I think each of us were convinced this would be our last repeat at this distance, though none of us said so. Emily solidified it by taking things out hard and distancing herself by at least five meters on the second lap, by the end of which we were all simply tired of battling the weather.

Looking to Terry for guidance, he suggested we do some on/off 200s to get in a bit more speed and distance while letting the wind help us along for a change. I expected each "on" split to be somewhere around 36, but instead the tailwind propelled me forward at a much quicker pace. I surprised myself by feeling faster and stronger during these short segments than any time in recent memory--and, honestly, I could've gone faster had the goal been to run all out as opposed to just opening up the legs. Physically and mentally, this was undoubtedly a more encouraging way to close the workout than battling through two more 1000s.

In short, despite the adverse conditions I'm really glad I made the trip into the city. I can't guarantee I'll be able to come every Wednesday, but I want to make a conscious effort to join at least a few times a month when my work and travel schedule permits. The teamwork and comradery of a group effort such as this is something I haven't been a part of in a long time. It definitely made what would've been a frustrating effort into something rewarding and enjoyable.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week in Review/Weekend Review

90 miles
4 doubles
7 days at home (!!)
16 miles with Jay
4 AFDs

All week long I'd been waffling about my plans for a Saturday workout. I briefly entertained the idea of doing a four-miler with prize money, but the relatively small purse in relation to the amount of driving required made my ambition wane with each passing day. Similarly, a solo hard effort on one of the same loops I do every single morning held little appeal. Then I received a passing message from Jay saying that he and Josh (two of the three J's, for those of you who remember my male escorts from last weekend's half-marathon) and another friend from NYC were contemplating a whirlwind trip to Boston to check out the race course. Naturally I jotted down a quick email to Terry, and naturally he wrote back with minute-by-minute bulletpoints of exactly how everything was going to go down. I'm learning to expect nothing less from this master logician--I'm not sure if that's a word, but in my mind it means a magician of logistics, which is precisely what he is--but he then proceeded to go above and beyond by not only planning their entire trip, but facilitating it. He offered to pick them up from the train station, drive them midway down the course, drop them off, park the car farther toward the city, run a few miles with them to talk race strategy, then pick them up at the finish line. With such an overwhelming outpouring of generosity from someone who didn't even know them, I felt like the least I could do was join in on the action. The fact that this offered me a convenient excuse for avoiding the previously outlined workout options was just a bonus.

That said, I still harbored some intentions of tempoing part of the run. In the end, that idea sort of fell to pieces thanks to the weather--drizzly, at times sleety and into a direct headwind--and the brisk pace established practically from the outset. Though Jay insisted that all three of the boys were looking for a "really easy run," I suppose the excitement and emotions of the course got the best of them. After an initial mile hovering around the 7-minute mark we immediately dropped into the 6:40s. It wasn't difficult, but I knew it wasn't exactly 7:30 pace either. After eight miles of this comfortably hard running I attempted to launch into an uptempo section, only to split a rather underwhelming 11:45 for two miles (one of which was considerably downhill). About 400 meters into my half-hearted third mile I encountered the one tricky interstate crossing on the entire marathon course, and several frustrating stop-and-go minutes were all I needed to pull the plug on the entire thing. Less than a minute later I ran into Terry coming from the other direction, so we turned around and jogged back to the rest of the guys before soldiering on together to the Newton hills. From this point onward I felt pretty horrendous and almost got dropped several times on Heartbreak--although it does make me feel better to subsequently learn that we split sub-6:30 on this extremely tough mile--and when I had the choice a mile later to either stop at the car with Terry or continue on to the finish line, I didn't hesitate. I'd covered almost 16.5 miles in 1:48, quick enough to count for something even if it wasn't quite the "workout" I'd envisioned. Even better, of course, was the chance to spend time with Terry and Jay and his friends and relish some of the exhilaration that is Boston in marathon month, even when it is a cold and soggy and entirely unromantic day.

Sunday, in contrast, dawned beautifully sunny and clear. After dropping Jordan at the airport for his weeklong trip to the Carolinas, I traveled back in the same direction I'd come from the previous day to meet some of my BAA friends for a group run starting at Brett's house in Natick. She and Matt live steps away from some great soft surface options that weave through Natick and Wellesley and the surrounding areas, and the miles fell away easily thanks to the easy chatter and group comradery. At the 90 minute mark Matt split back for the house with Jenn and Justin, which left Brett, Carly, Emily and I with a beautiful and scenic wooded loop around historic Wellesley College. As we passed within yards of where the marathon course will cross in just two weeks time, it was utterly impossible to imagine this quiet reverence shattered by hundreds of screaming voices and cacophonous shouts. I guess it's one of those things you can't truly imagine until you witness it. Today the only voices heard were ours as we trotted together back to Brett's house. For the next few hours we over-ate a delicious homemade breakfast (most of us), drank fancy beer (only some of us) and had a great time socializing (all of us). As per usual, this is my favorite part of the Sunday long run!

Looking back on this week as a whole, I only logged a few more miles than last week, this time on 11 runs instead of eight. There was no great strategy involved there--although I'd be interested in hearing the arguments from either side on why one approach is better than the other--rather, I was just following the mandates of my schedule. Last week I was traveling and working long hours but with later start times, while this week I was back in the typical office routine of early mornings and relatively early evenings. I had plenty of time to double at night, so I did. Next week promises more of the same uneventfulness (not that I'm complaining!), so I'll likely adopt a similar schedule. I continue to feel stronger and fitter every day, which means I just need to keep doing what I'm doing!