Sunday, September 30, 2012

Philly Training: Week #1 in Review

108 miles (new record)
11 runs
18-mile long run
2 workouts

Another inadvertent all-time weekly mileage high, two successful workouts, two runs with Emily, plenty of sleep and a 30-minute massage. If the rest of my Philly training goes as smoothly as this week, I'm bound for greatness!

Battle Road Long Run/Fartlek

60 mins. easy
60 mins. w/1x 1 min. hard; 2x2 mins.; 3x3; 4x4; 3x3; 2x2; 1x1 all with 1 min. rest
5 mins. easy
Total: 18 miles

For the third day in a row, I awoke to cool, dreary weather. Emily and I had plans to meet at Battle Road, but the second I stepped outside and saw how hard it was raining I immediately longed to be back under the covers enjoying a rare lazy Sunday morning. Instead, I steeled my resolve and began the 30-minute drive toward Lexington. No sooner had I flipped on my wipers and inched out of the parking lot than I received a plaintive text from Emily: "Have you left yet??" If she'd reached me five minutes earlier things might have turned out differently; instead, the two of us met as planned and resolved to enjoy some social time together despite the inclement conditions. The next hour passed quickly and with little effort, but the entire time I was mindful of the hard running to come. Since Emily had tempoed the previous day she just planned to go 10 easy, so we reluctantly parted ways at the 60-minute mark.

One aspect of marathon training that I really want to focus on this segment is running hard and fast while tired. Anyone should be able to hit marathon pace or faster after a light warmup, but that won't really be of much help when you're two hours deep on race day. Today, though the first hour of running had flown by easily, its effects were instantly palpable once I embarked upon the faster segments. Despite the weekend's incessant rain the trail was mostly dry, but as the run progressed and the rain intensified yet again it became necessary for me to incorporate some modified steeplechase water pit tactics. All a part of the training stimulus, I suppose. Though I never felt great or even good during this workout, I executed it to the letter and continued to push despite the temptation and freedom to do otherwise. Count it a success!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Solo Progression Run

2 mile w/u
Target: 12 mile progression: 3@ 6:30, 3@ 6:15, 3@6:00, 3@ faster
Actual: ~3@ 19:10; ~2.5 @15:03; ~2.5@ 14:26; ~3@ 17:30; bonus fast finish to the stoplight at the top of the hill by Salem State @3:38
1.5 mile c/d
Total: 15 miles

I considered doing this workout yesterday evening since Emily made plans to come up to Salem and run with me for a change of scenery. However, in general I prefer working out (especially marathon workouts) in the morning, so by Tuesday afternoon I was already hoping that she would agree to a more relaxed social run instead. Fortunately she was on the same page (no doubt running a whopping 28 miles on Monday played into her decision-making process) so we enjoyed a fun 13-mile frolic through the Marblehead rail trail, around the Neck and back. Though this run was at least twice as far as I usually go on my typical evening double, it was totally worth it for the company and the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Atlantic.

In contrast, Wednesday morning dawned gray and dreary and decidedly solo. With Jordan's hip bugging him, my one chance of having a weekday morning workout buddy had instantly evaporated. As I trotted down toward the trail, retracing in reverse the return trip Emily and I had taken a mere 12 hours prior, I knew this lengthy progression run would be just as much a test of mental fortitude as it would be physical strength. Fortunately/unfortunately, with no Garmin and no specific mile or distance markers the endeavor would be largely effort-based. I decided to mentally and physically break up the route into four separate segments: the largely unpaved and slightly downhill section from the trailhead to the Neck, two paved and rolling loops of the Neck itself (minus the "lollipop" add-on to the lighthouse that Emily and I had tacked on the previous evening) and then the return trip, now slightly uphill and into the wind, from the Neck back to the termination of the trail. Normally that would also signal the end of the hard effort, but Jordan had also instructed me to run the next half-mile uphill section from the end of the trail to the next major street crossing hard. "Like, really really hard." If I had anything left, that is.

Based on feel, I might have gone out slightly too fast. 6:30 is sort of an ambiguous pace for my legs, one that sounds like it should be difficult but usually ends up feeling quite easy. As a result, in situations like this when I don't have any feedback on the pace, it usually means I end up running faster than prescribed. I didn't necessarily mind since my legs were feeling pretty good, but at the same time in the back of my head I knew that the faster I ran on the way out, the faster I would be required to run on the return trip. Nonetheless, I reached the Neck eager to pick up the pace and increase my level of effort. Thanks to its constantly rolling terrain, that happened quickly enough. Again, I maintained control knowing I was expected to run the second loop faster despite the accumulated fatigue. With only a general knowledge of distance and pace any time goals were somewhat arbitrary, but I set a target on the second loop of finishing at least 30 seconds faster than the first loop of 15:03. Satisfied to see a 14:26 split on the watch, I knew the toughest running was yet to come. Not only would I be headed into a headwind across the causeway, but I would also be running gradually uphill for the majority of the return trip. It would've been easy to get discouraged as my comfort zone quickly evaporated, but the minutes ticked by quicker than expected and I held on to finish strong all the way to the top of the hill.

To be honest, this wasn't nearly as bad (or as boring) as I'd anticipated. Mentally breaking the workout up into four sections made the time fly, and not feeling pressure to hit exact splits allowed me to lose myself completely in the effort. As my marathon training progresses, I look forward to revisiting this workout and seeing some tangible improvements. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

(New Record High!) Week in Review

107 miles
11 runs
15-mile long run
1 hour yoga
7 days/nights at home

With a significantly less hectic work schedule, no travel and my previously detailed abundance of sleep, it was actually quite easy to hit this week's unexpectedly record-setting mileage total. Winning a few bucks was a much-appreciated bonus, as was capping off the week with some enjoyable miles and even more enjoyable social time along the Charles with Emily and a strong BAA contingent--including a special guest appearance by Teresa, back from her Fulbright fellowship in Mumbai for a brief sojourn. The air is crisp, the leaves are beginning to change and pumpkin-flavored products are in abundance: it's officially autumn in New England!

Not only am I lucky enough to enjoy this famously beautiful and temperate season, but I'm also fortunate to be embarking on my marathon-specific training at the same time. The past three weeks' half-marathon trifecta established a baseline for this incipient phase of my race preparation, and by all accounts I'd say I'm feeling pretty good about where things stand. The most important thing is that after a summer of unprecedented (for me) high mileage, I'm feeling 100% healthy and remarkably fresh as opposed to banged up or worn down. This is likely due to taking several strategic down weeks, banking some much-needed sleep (have I mentioned that already?) and not having really gone to the well with any grueling workouts or long runs. In fact, true "long" runs have been all but nonexistent save for an impromptu 20-miler with Brett and Jordan during my first high-mileage week way back in June. With only eight weeks remaining until Philly, it's time to start incorporating a smattering of 18-22 milers--ideally with some of those miles at marathon pace--into my training regimen, along with, you know, some sort of structured workout routine. Honestly though, I don't think it will take anything drastic to round me into race shape provided I can continue to stay healthy and strong.

While Philly stands as the end goal, I will have several interim opportunities to test my fitness. The first will be Army 10 Miler, exactly one month from now and one month from the marathon. Last year, recently removed from injury, I ran this race "for fun" with Caitlin and pleasantly surprised myself with a 58:55 clocking. Seeing as I split 59:00 through 10 miles in last weekend's half-marathon, I've obviously got higher hopes for this year's edition. In fact, I've set the ambitious if somewhat arbitrary goal of running 57:00, or just under 5:45 place, which has a realistic chance of placing me as the first non-African (which again is completely arbitrary seeing as there's no prize money or specific award designation either way). The next week I'll be in Dallas working and running yet another 13.1 event. Last year I just eeked under 1:20 at this race (including an unplanned but absolutely necessary bathroom detour) and really enjoyed the relatively flat, fast course. This year the event will fall three weeks before Philly and I'm hoping to run 1:16:30 or faster. Not only would that be a much-needed half PR but it would also boost my confidence with the knowledge that I could split a full three minutes slower through the half at Philly and still achieve my marathon goal.

So, there you have it: a goal, a plan, a checklist to keep me on track along the way. It sounds overly simplistic, but then I've never been one who believed marathon training to be complicated. I trust the process, I trust my body, and I go to bed tonight excited to wake up early and begin the next phase of this journey.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wicked Half-Marathon Race Recap

1.5-2 mile w/u
Target: Victory
Actual: 1:20:32; 1st place female; $300
1.5 mile c/d
Total: ~16 miles  

Let me preface this post by saying how wonderfully exquisite it is to sleep well and soundly the night before a race in your own bed, wake up a mere 90 minutes before go time, drink your own coffee out of your own mug and then casually jog over to the start. Don't get me wrong; I love traveling, and I am blessed beyond measure to have a job that allows--more accurately, necessitates--me to run races all over the country and squeeze them in amid changing lives for Karhu before and after. But man, was it glorious to run a "hometown" race this morning with absolutely no work responsibilities!

Undoubtedly there were several factors that played a role in me feeling so terrific this morning, the aforementioned certainly being one of them. It also didn't hurt that I set several sleep PRs this week as well, something my body was desperately craving after a few exhausting weeks of work and travel. I started strong out of the gate with a whopping 12 hours of sleep on Sunday night, settled in to a comfortable 9-hour rhythm early in the week, then made another definitive move on the penultimate lap with a 10-hour kick on Thursday night. Friends, never--like, never in italics--underestimate the power of some good shuteye. Trust me, it will make you feel like a completely new and instantly better person.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about today's race and not this week's REM cycles (although can you tell which one I'm more proud of??), although as I was saying prior to my tangent, no doubt the success of one was directly correlated to that of the other. As Jordan and I jogged to the starting line in the cool early morning fog, I felt fresh and confident and light on my feet. When we signed up several weeks ago I'd envisioned not really pushing the pace on this morning's run, as I'd hoped the $300 prize purse would not be quite enough to draw any of the city's big talent. It's not that I'm averse to running an honest race, but three nearly-all-out half-marathon efforts in three weeks is just silly. That said, as we trotted closer to the start area we began to see more and more reasonably legit-looking men and women. BAA jerseys were abundant, as were those of several other Boston-area running clubs. On the women's side, I didn't spot anyone I recognized but did see several other fit-looking women who could easily be in the mix. As we toed the starting line, I began to feel a faint twinge of uncertainty.

Fortunately, once the race began all doubt evaporated fairly quickly. I eased toward the front at what felt like a fairly relaxed early pace--I'd decided from the outset not to look at my watch at any point in the race, so all of my pace deductions would be derived solely by judging effort--but none of the women made a move to come with me. I settled in to what felt like a very comfortable uptempo pace as we ran away from Salem Willows toward downtown, then took a left and headed downhill past Salem State University toward Marblehead. I've run or driven this route about a million times before, a reality which could either manifest itself as comforting or boring in a race scenario. As the miles clicked by effortlessly, it felt distinctly the former. Just before approaching Ocean Ave. and turning right to approach the familiar terrain of the causeway and Marblehead Neck, I spotted a familiar mustachioed gentleman just ahead. Apparently Jordan, whose hip has been nagging all week, decided to pull the plug on his own race effort and shepherd me for part of mine. I tucked seamlessly behind him as we bridged the causeway just like we've done a hundred times, allowing him to dictate the pace over the rolling terrain of the Neck. This hilly section, miles 5-7, was the only time I felt remotely pressed or uncomfortable during the entire race. Just before the 8-mile marker Jordan slowed to a stop and waved me onward, leaving me with just 30 minutes of running remaining. The roads were so familiar, the route so routine, that instead of feeling increasingly fatigued I actually felt more energized. No race happening here, my legs remarked. It's just another day of finishing up our morning run--only slightly faster than normal.

But how much faster? Believe it or not, I'd actually held true to my promise of not looking at my watch a single time throughout the entire race. As I passed the 12-mile marker, only minutes remaining, I reasoned that based on the difficulty of the course (noticeably tougher than both the Chicago Half-Marathon and 13.1 Boston) and my perceived level of exertion (legs growing a bit fatigued but breathing quite comfortable), my finishing time would probably be somewhere between 1:19:30 and 1:20:30. Sure enough, as I crested the final hill and spotted the finish line, the digits clicked over from 1:19 to 1:20 and ticked just past 1:20:30 as I crossed the line. It may have been my slowest finish in the past three weeks, but it was by far my most comfortable and relaxed race experience.

And so, as I shared with the Facebook world shortly after the race, home by 9am with 16 miles under my belt and $300 richer is not a bad way to start the weekend. After having such a great experience today, the Wicked Half-Marathon is already on my calendar for next year! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

(Down) Week in Review

70 miles
2 doubles
3 PSLs

Well, this down week was a bit of a mixed bag. I did lower my mileage as scheduled, but due to early week travel plus a late week event plus a crazy work week in between plus hosting two new coworkers at our place, well, let's just say it wasn't exactly conducive to recovery. After fighting to drag myself out of bed each morning and override my body's self-preservation instincts, I spent most of my runs shuffling along feeling sluggish and tired. "I need some actual rest during my rest week," I grumbled to Jordan on Friday morning. All things considered, it should probably come as no surprise that Sunday's race found me feeling flat and heavy-legged in spite of "barely running" in the days leading up to it. I had no response when the leader pulled away early on and no higher gear to throttle up to when I was required to close the gap, but I tried to keep pushing and thinking positively until the end. In that respect, though I'm not pleased with my performance I can honestly say I'm not disappointed in my effort.

So, what's on tap for next week? Another half-marathon, of course! The Wicked Half Marathon just happens to be an unbelievably ideal setup: jogging distance to the start/finish, a course that runs around all our familiar Salem and Marblehead streets, a bit of prize money, and, most importantly, the promise of pumpkin bread at the finish. It should go without saying that I hope to win but also to expend much less of a true race effort and more of a tempo effort. Once this one is finished, I'll be ready to spring full force into training for the Philly Marathon!

13.1 Boston Race Results

1 mile w/u
Target: 13.1 miles @goal MP (1:17-1:19; 5:55-6:05) and WIN
Actual: 1:17:48 (5:55 pace); 2nd place
Splits (from memory): 5k @18:15; 10k @36:30; 10 mile @59:00
Total: 14 miles

I owe my readers a detailed recap but for now I wanted to write down the details before I forget. Suffice it to say I got my doors blown off out there despite running faster than my victorious Chicago Half race last weekend. I'm tired. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week in Review

100 miles
10 runs
5 days in Chicago
17-mile long run
3 AFDs

At the outset, I had every intention of designating this a "down week." On the heels of four weeks in a row at 100+ and with an expo weekend looming, it only made sense to throttle things back. Then Monday had to come along and turn itself into a holiday, and before I knew it I was already 20 miles in and significantly ahead of schedule. Still, I paid the numbers no mind until I did some cursory math before heading to expo setup on Thursday and realized hitting triple digits was still achievable. At that point I felt neither great nor terrible, neither fresh nor exhausted, so with little to lose (except more sleep) I decided to forge ahead and aim for five weeks in a row. Fortunately I managed to juggle all my responsibilities and achieve the mileage as well as the victory on Sunday, which means...

...this next week is absolutely, positively devoted to recovery. That's not to say I'll have much down time since 13.1 Boston is next weekend, but I plan to curtail the doubles and drastically pull back the mileage. In part this is designed to strengthen my chances of taking home some cash money at this weekend's race, but with Philly "only" 10 weeks away the bigger goal is to freshen up so I can begin my true marathon-specific buildup first thing next week. 

Speaking of Philly, one interesting and completely anecdotal factoid: Last October, 10 weeks prior to the Olympic Trials marathon, I finished 13.1 Dallas just a hair under 1:20. Roughly doubling that time and adding a minute will give you my Trials finishing time of 2:41:06. Ten weeks from now I'll toe the line at Philly, and if the same formula holds true I wouldn't be disappointed in the least.

Looking back on this "Summer of Malmo," I'm really proud that I set out a seemingly ambitious training goal and hit it out of the park. Initially I'd just hoped to string together a bunch of 90-mile weeks, but after my first foray into triple digits in late June I decided to see if I could keep the trend going eight or nine more times. Ten weeks later, I've hit a total of 1,089 miles--an average of exactly 98 miles per week for 11 weeks straight. For me, someone whose body is used to succumbing to aches and pains all too frequently, this is no small feat. Many people would argue that there is no victory in training; that success derives solely from the end result. But for me, that race day triumph would not be possible without the confidence gained from owning the process. At the end of this process-oriented summer I am excited to say that I feel healthy, confident and--after a week to rest and recharge--excited to start working toward the end goal that will bring all this training to fruition.

Chicago Half-Marathon Race Recap

1/2 mile w/u
Target: 13.1 miles @goal MP (5:55-6:05); ~1:18-1:19 and WIN
Actual: 13.2 miles @1:18:21; 5:58 pace; 1st place female
Total: 13.5-14 miles
Chicago Sun-Times Article

Going into this race, I ruefully joked that it would be an excellent simulator for racing half of a marathon--the second half, that is. Instead of running 13.1 miles beforehand, I spent virtually every waking hour from Thursday morning until Saturday night immersed in all various and sundry aspects of executing a successful 20,000 person race expo: booth setup, product preparation, selling, standing on my increasingly swelling feet on a thinly-carpeted concrete floor for three days straight, being incessantly and unfailingly nice to people (undoubtedly the hardest part for me), then breaking said booth down and whisking it away into the night like the ringleader of an exceptionally fit band of carnies. The fact that it barely even registered to my body that I was somehow managing to execute another 100-mile week--any fatigue or tiredness from running was little more than an afterthought when compared to rhythmic throbbing of my lower legs due to the demands of remaining bipedal at all times--gives you an idea of how worn out I was leading into this race.

And yet, as Jordan and I darted from the Karhu booth to the starting line at the last possible minute (my warmup would wind up being virtually the same distance as my cooldown, which is to say nonexistent), a cool breeze rippling through the air as the sun rose powerfully over a shimmering Lake Michigan, I found myself--at least for a few minutes--feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and borderline giddy at the prospect of toeing the line of a real live race for the first time in several months. Though I'd envisioned this as a marathon-paced run, I was prepared to press if necessary in order to attain the victory. There was no prize money on the line--even though the speedy results from last year, particularly on the men's side, had initially caused me to think otherwise--but winning an event of this size and magnitude in front of quite a few coworkers, friends and acquaintances from local accounts was definitely something worth aspiring to. Quite simply, I wanted to make them all proud.

From the gun, I settled into a comfortable clip and found myself trailing only one female, a brunette wearing bun-huggers. For the first mile I watched her gradually come closer to me, then shortly after the first mile marker (which I split in 5:50, the only exact split I would consciously register for the remainder of the race) she began to fade behind me. Almost immediately thereafter I found myself next to a group of guys, including former Karhu Bear-suit wearer Dan McDowell. They were clipping along at a pace similar to my own, so I asked if I could join them for a bit and they immediately agreed. A mile or so later we were passed by my other friend Dan Kittaka, the footwear buyer at Fleet Feet Chicago, and one of his teammates. I latched onto them for several minutes before determining that their pace was quickly spiraling out of my comfort zone. At that point I had a choice to forge ahead alone, slightly behind Dan K. and slightly in front of Dan M.'s group, or to ease up for a few strides and allow myself to be absorbed by the latter faction. Knowing that we would soon be turning north onto Lakeshore Drive and facing five miles into a direct northerly headwind, I instinctively chose Option B. As we turned into the dreaded gusts, I immediately tucked in behind Dan & Co. and focused on staying as loose and relaxed as possible. Over the ensuing miles their presence would be invaluable, as the benefits gained from not fighting the wind preserved me mentally and physically for the majority of the race. At one point, in fact, I realized I'd zoned out so much that I'd allowed myself to fall in step behind a member of their party who had slowly but surely been getting dropped. When I finally snapped to, Dan and his core teammates had put at least a 15-meter gap on us. I knew I needed to make up the lost ground but almost couldn't bear the thought of charging after them into the headwind alone--but, in a rather uncharacteristically definitive move on my part, I made the break and began reeling them in. "This is why," I told myself. "This is why you've been running 100 miles a week all summer. You may not feel fast and you may not feel fresh, but dammit you're strong enough to put in a mid-race surge and close the gap." Several minutes later, I did just that.

Safely ensconced in the Flying-V formation

Once that excitement subsided, less than a mile remained before we reached our much-anticipated turnaround point, which consisted of a short and steep incline up an exit ramp, a sharp left turn onto a short overpass, and another sharp left and downhill on the on-ramp back to Lakeshore in the southbound direction. From this point onward, while I was running one way on Lakeshore there were throngs of runners, literally thousands and thousands of people, passing toward the turnaround from the opposite direction. This meant that in addition to the sporadic encouragement from spectators along the side of the course, I was now greeted with wave after wave of cheers and applause from runners passing in the outbound direction, many of whom were actually shouting for me by name. I've rarely experienced anything this empowering and humbling in a race before, only eclipsed by the fanfare of the Olympic Trials. As the wheels threatened to come off during the final 5k, the cheers and shouts of encouragement from the other competitors pushed me to keep pressing. That, and I was running scared with little awareness of the proximity of any potential female challengers. I would've been beyond frustrated if I'd led for this long and then allowed myself to get passed in the final few kilometers, a fate I was determined to keep from happening. Finally, as I made the final turn off Lakeshore with less than half a mile to go, I allowed myself to relax a bit and tried not to flail around like a total spaz in an awkward dash toward the finish line.

Okay, I still sort of look like a spaz. But the photo itself is awesome, and courtesy of Matt Sands.
Shortly after breaking the tape I saw Jordan, who had himself put on a respectable performance to finish 7th in one of his first competitive races in many, many months. My co-worker Jeff also informed me that while I was en route to a somewhat unremarkable half-marathon time, our costume-clad Karhu Bear had bested the unofficial previous "bear world record" with a stellar 18:25 showing. And one of our newest Karhu employees, fresh off the plane from Finland, had also clocked an all-time personal best of 1:14:50. (I would also find out later that our other new employee, coming in at 1:36 and change, would finish within a minute of his personal best as well.) All in all, a spirited display of sisu from the Karhu contingent on a beautiful Chicago morning!

Carrying my flowers as I ran my victory lap. Yes, that happened. Photo credit Matt Sands.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week in Review

105 miles
97 miles in 6 days
11 runs
14-mile "long" run
3 AFDs (oops)

No time to update now--things are nuts nuts nuts around here! But congrats to the the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Pat Tarpy!

me with the beautiful bride

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Second Verse, Same As the First

2 mile w/u
Target: 5.5 miles @6:00-5:55 pace; 6 min. jog/rest; 5.5 miles @5:55-5:50 pace
Actual: 5.5 miles @32:30ish; 6 min. jog/rest; 2.5 miles @14:40ish
3+ mile c/d
Total: 14 miles

Two weekends ago, fresh off an extended trip to the left coast and a restless redeye flight, I dragged Jordan down to the Charles to join Jenn, Emily and some BAA dudes for what was intended to be a 12-mile tempo effort. Due to my general state of exhaustion and a gravely necessary bathroom break, that workout ended up morphing into something slightly less intense and significantly less impressive. This morning, with Jenn already planning to maintain a faster pace (5:50 was advertised as opposed to 6:00 like the previous run), I knew that even without a built-in jet lag excuse I wouldn't be able to hang on for 12 miles faster than my half-marathon PR. Instead, I planned to stop at essentially the same location where I made my bathroom detour last time, as this was almost exactly at 5.5 miles and would thus allow for a delightfully long recovery segment before the group turned around and caught back up with me. Hopefully by that time I'd feel refreshed enough to tuck in and tough it out for the remainder of the workout.

Within a few minutes of starting the warmup, however, I could tell the conditions would be adversarial. Unlike the cool, calm, overcast morning that greeted us several weekends ago, today the already-prominent sun radiated a dense, sticky heat. A warm wind whipped off the water, making it immediately obvious that we'd have to battle its gusts for several miles of both halves of the u-shaped run route. Don't get me wrong; things could've been much worse. In fact, for any purpose other than attempting a hard workout it was by all measures a beautiful morning. But these were hardly the weather conditions I'd pick to race a half-marathon, which is essentially what we'd be doing. 

As 8:00 approached, so did a trickle of runners to our meeting point from virtually every direction. By go time there were almost a dozen of us, mostly the usual suspects and including our favorite baby daddy Terry Shea. On his suggestion, I joined him and Emily for a 15-second head start on the group. Quite simply, neither she nor I wanted (or really needed) to hit 5:50 pace right out of the gate on a run of this length, especially since she was contemplating extending even farther beyond 12 miles. Instead Terry led us out in a calm, comfortable 6:05-6:10 (not sure the exact split as I intentionally avoided glancing at my watch) at which point we were absorbed by the chase group as planned. From that point onward I focused on settling in and locking my eyes on Jordan's back just as I've done countless times before. Jenn was situated at my left and seemed quite comfortable, but I could hear Emily breathing harder than normal just behind me. It clearly wasn't a fitness issue, seeing as she crushed me in the original workout two weeks ago, but for whatever reason I could tell that she was struggling to find her rhythm. The miles clicked by, and before I knew it we rounded the bridge that signaled the approach of the 5.5 marker. I slowed and trotted to the side as planned and was not entirely surprised when Em did the same. It wasn't her day and she knew it, so rather than force the issue she was content to jog with me for a few minutes and then shut things down. Emily is smarter about listening to her body than almost any runner I know, so I didn't question her decision. (Though I would definitely miss her company on the second half!) 

I shuffled along for a few more minutes until I could see the group approaching in the distance. At that point it was time for me to refocus and, unlike in the first segment, commit to pushing past my comfort zone. My breathing to that point had been surprisingly calm and relaxed but my legs were heavy. (As well they should have been, as I'd already logged over 90 miles since Monday.) I felt sure of my ability to lock into 6-minute pace or even 5:55, but if Jordan stepped on the gas like last time I'd be toast. Steady as clockwork, the group materialized around the bend behind me and I seamlessly fell in line. This time it was Jenn whose breathing sounded increasingly ragged, and every step we took into the wind seemed to sap a bit more of her strength. I, too, began to fall off the boys but was still maintaining some semblance of the intended pace, so when Jenn and a few others decided to stop at eight miles I continued onward for a few more uncomfortable minutes. I tried to stay focused on the backs of the guys in front of me (even as those backs grew increasingly more distant), but after one more mile I knew I was almost in the red. The heat, the wind, the dead legs--it was all too much to allow me to finish the entire distance feeling as strong and confident as I'd hoped. Instead I waited for Jenn to approach so we could commiserate and cool down side by side. It wasn't our best workout ever, but that certainly doesn't discount the effort or the fitness gains attained.