Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week in Review

101 miles
5 doubles
20-mile long run
3 successful workouts
14 days until CIM

Wow, what a week. Though it wasn't originally intended as such, this was by far my most intense, high-quality block of the training cycle...and I crushed it! Balancing and adapting to the weather proved to be the most challenging hurdle, but I think I did a pretty good job of rolling with it and maintaining my equanimity. From here there is little left to do but rest up, recover, race the 104th Annual Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati and then taper all the way to the starting line!

Personal success aside, by far the most rewarding part of my week was having the opportunity to hang out with the Fit Girls from Village School in Marblehead on Thursday afternoon. The head coach of Fit Girls, an organization similar to Girls on the Run with over 140 participants, invited me to attend one of their practices and spend some time with the girls. There was never a program like this for me to participate in when I was their age (4th-6th grade), and I can only imagine how many more young girls from my hometown would be engaged in the sport of running if there were! I had a blast and will be cheering these girls on virtually as they complete their target 5k on the same weekend I'm racing CIM.

Which is in exactly two weeks. Yikes!



Winter Weather Workout(s): Part Two

See Part One here
PM: 1/2 mile w/u
Target: 10 miles @6-6:10 pace
Actual: 15k @58:30 (6:15 pace)
My route
1/2 mile c/d
Total: 11 miles
Daily total: 20 miles

When I last left you, I was eating a donut and drinking chocolate milk in bed with my cat whilst wearing compression socks, all in an effort to recover from Part One of today's workout. Part Two, a 10-mile steady tempo, would take place later in the afternoon...but where? It was still sub-freezing with ridiculous gusting winds outside and no improvement on the horizon. Upon returning home from his road trip in the early afternoon, Jordan once again floated the idea of hitting the YMCA treadmill...but I just couldn't do it. I was already convinced I wouldn't be able to maintain the pace, which meant the workout would be doomed before it even began. My next strategy was to gauge the direction of the wind (WSW) and try to devise a point-to-point course which would allow me to run more or less with the wind at my back on easily navigable roads...all before the ridiculous 4:30pm sunset would plunge everything into total darkness. Simple enough, right?

Coach Jordan was skeptical, but agreed to let me give it a try. We settled on a route that would start in Danvers, run past our office complex, through downtown Beverly and into Salem, through downtown Salem and past Salem State, down the long hill to the Marblehead Rail Trail, then finish up with ~3 miles on the soft surface path before being dumped out near my boss's house on Seaview Ave just over the Marblehead/Swampscott line. If all went to plan, I would pass through a total of five towns in an hour's time. There were a few sections where the streets might be busy and a couple questionable intersections where I would almost surely have to stop, but once I made it through Salem the second half would likely be free of interruption. If only the weather would cooperate, this just might work.

The ride into Danvers was a solemn one, as I tried to ignore the wind whipping tree branches and debris across the road. I kept trying to reassure myself with the reminder that the wind would actually be helping me for most of the run, which worked until I almost couldn't force Jordan's car door open due to a particularly strong blast. He instructed me on the use of his Garmin, promised to pop in at a few spots along the course, and then sent me on my way. I jogged a few minutes easy and navigated a tricky intersection before launching into the uptempo portion. I actually couldn't remember where my exact starting location was supposed to be based on our prior Google mapping--as it turns out, I didn't start out far enough, which explains why the end result was closer to 9.5 miles instead of 10--so at some arbitrary point I just clicked the watch and started rolling.

The pace was difficult to gauge, unsurprisingly. I wanted to run by feel instead of looking at the Garmin every five minutes, but I found it increasingly difficult to establish a consistent rhythm. My legs were a little fatigued from the morning's effort but felt fairly decent, so I was confident they wouldn't hinder my completion of the workout. The one true variable was the wind, which seemed to swirl at random. During the course of running several minutes in a straight line, it might be aggressively pushing me forward one second and then slapping me in the face shortly after. Somewhere on Rantoul Street in Beverly, just before I would see Jordan for the first time, I actually had to stop for a moment when a wayward tree branch made a beeline in the direction of my face. The worst of it came on the Beverly Bridge, when the violent crosswinds literally had me scared that I might get blown over into the harbor. In hindsight, crossing the bridge might not have been the safest or smartest move--not to mention my pace (and form!) slowed to a veritable crawl--but I had honestly underestimated how tough and exposed it would be.

Understandably, the pace fluctuated. But overall I knew I should be averaging well under 3:50 per kilometer, and instead I was hovering in the 3:58-4:00 range. I was growing flustered and frustrated, and biding my time until I thought it would be acceptable to drop out. I suspected I would see Jordan again at the bottom of Lafayette Street, just over halfway and just before entering the rail trail, and I made up my mind that I would call it a day there. What was the point?! Sure enough, I spotted him, stopped my watch, slowed to a stop and commenced whining. "I'm not even close to the pace!" I moaned despairingly, hoping he would tell me to stop. "Just keep pushing," he responded. "Settle in on the trail." 

But darkness was falling, and quickly. The trail is exceptionally well groomed, so footing wasn't an issue, but I still wanted to make it through to the other side before the lighting completely waned. Once I rounded the turn by the middle school I found myself running directly into the wind, but inexplicably the average pace was finally inching down into the low 3:50s. Perhaps I wasn't completely screwing this up after all.

Once I popped out on Seaview, I knew the course would be short. I was just under 14k and now running in complete darkness. Jordan was waiting in his car near my boss's house, and he started driving just ahead to light my way. I decided then that finishing out 15k would be respectable enough. It was cold and dark and seemed rather pointless to continue. My breathing was controlled and my legs felt as though they could continue at that pace and effort level indefinitely, but I was just incapable of going any faster. Whatever the ultimate objective was, the conditions simply weren't going to allow for a different outcome. I've never been happier to jump in a warm car at the conclusion of a run!

Overall, I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to execute this workout as well as I did last year, but in spite of that it actually does provide a boost of confidence. More than the result itself, I'm proud of myself for staying mentally tough--did I mention I ran 50 laps indoors this morning?!--and troubleshooting the conditions instead of writing this off before even giving myself a chance. If I can do the same in two weeks' time, I just might have a shot at pulling off a respectable marathon.

Winter Weather Workout(s): Part One

AM: 2 mile w/u + strides
Target: 10k tempo @ 35:45-36:30
Actual: 36:21 (5:51 pace); 18:18/18:03
1 mile c/d
Total: 9 miles

Last year, two and a half weeks out from Philly, I executed arguably my most difficult (and most impressive) workout(s) ever, consisting of a morning 10k tempo followed by an evening 10-miler at MP. Jordan, fresh off an injury, joined me for both efforts--and I dropped him on both. Having never outrun Jordan once in my life, much less twice in one day, this workout served as a huge confidence booster and solidified my fitness for what would be a breakthrough marathon performance a few weeks later.

With only 14 days separating me from my next 26.2 endeavor, it was time to attempt this workout again. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans.
Picture perfect conditions on tap for Sunday morning

I saw this abysmal forecast less than 24 hours before the first part of this workout was to begin and promptly started freaking out. I called Jordan, who was on the road, and we started running through our options. Unfortunately, delaying the workout wasn't one of them, as we'd be flying out for Thanksgiving on Monday evening, and anything after that would be much too close to the race. Could we try a treadmill? Certainly more favorable, but I unequivocally suck at treadmills and highly doubted I could run sub-6 pace for more than three consecutive minutes. I floated the scenario by Carly and Terry, who came up with the perfect solution (at least for Part One): the Harvard indoor track! Why didn't I think of that?? Oh wait, maybe because it meant I would be running 50 laps?!? But still, it was by far my best option. The next step was trying to recruit someone crazy enough to do this with me. I put out some feelers to the BAA with no success, and by Saturday night I'd all but tucked myself in on Sarah's futon (she lives so close to Harvard!) and resigned myself to doing this solo. Then, around 9:30pm, I received an email from a GBTC member named Charly Allan who'd heard of my plight and offered to help as part of his long run. Needless to say, I jumped at the offer and prayed he would actually show up the next morning.

Sure enough, just before 8am, my new BFF arrived as I was in the midst of my warmup jog counterclockwise along the perimeter of the eerily quiet facility. The weather prediction had been spot on, and as the gusts of wind howled around the outside of the building I knew I'd made the right decision. Before long, Charly and I were toeing the imaginary start line. The plan was simply to take it out conservatively, tuck in behind him and gradually crank the pace down during the second half--all without losing count of our laps. I was just as intimidated by the mental challenge as I was the physical one, and was beyond relieved that someone else was there to do the heavy lifting for me. I just needed to relax, zone out, fall into a rhythm behind Charly and trust that the pace would come naturally.

The first few laps felt clunky and awkward, both of us adjusting as strangers in a strange land. After the first mile or so I settled in, feeling comfortable and eager and trying not to clip his heels. The pace seemed slow, a little too easy, and I was unsurprised when we came through 5k a touch off the target. "Let's hold this until four, then gradually pick it up for the last two miles," I requested. He was happy to oblige, and before I knew it the invisible lap counter was down to single digits. We dug deeper (or at least I did) for the final mile, and I felt like I was working for the first time in 30 minutes. As we crossed the finish line to the applause of exactly no one, I was ecstatic--not just that the workout had felt relatively easy, but that I hadn't allowed the adverse weather conditions to thwart my carefully laid plans.

Actual weather at go time. Meanwhile, inside was pleasant and wind-free!
 At least, not yet. There was still an afternoon tempo to contend with, and the frigid winds showed no signs of abating. Time to go home, recover, and plot my next move... 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beverly High School Benchmark, v3.0

3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 10x3 mins. @3:23-3:25/k pace w/2 mins. rest
Actual: Above
2 mile c/d
Total: 11 miles

As all my devoted readers know, this is a core benchmark workout that I'm fond of doing sporadically throughout the course of every training cycle regardless of what specific distance I'm training for. Most recently, I've done this twice during my buildup for CIM. The second session, done almost exactly one month ago, was a breakthrough for me as I ran two more intervals than ever before and with shorter rest. Today, running without the assistance of my favorite pacer, my objective was not necessarily to run faster, but to replicate the workout from last time feeling stronger and more relaxed. Since my workouts have been much improved as of late, I was confident I could achieve this goal even flying solo.

Just as I'd hoped, I'm happy to report that I did feel much stronger and more relaxed than last time--and still ran faster and farther on most of the intervals! I didn't realize until writing this blog that I'd only been given 1:45 rest last time. For some reason I totally forgot that and did this off a 2:00 rest today, which felt unnecessarily long. Now I know why! Even during the second half of the workout, when my legs were more fatigued and my body more taxed, I still found my breathing returning almost completely to normal after 45 seconds or so. I'm confident I could've hit the same paces off 1:45 or even 1:30 rest, which is not something I've been able to say many times before. I was also a teeny bit nervous going into this, knowing in the back of my mind that this was the workout that directly precipitated my mystifying hip mini-injury last time, but fortunately it was a non-issue today. (But I didn't sit down for a while afterward, just in case!) 

This will probably be my last Beverly High benchmark workout of the year, so I'm excited to end it on such a high note! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Solo 20-Mile Success...Which Is Weird

This long run can best be summarized by the email I sent to my friend Brett shortly after finishing it. Brett is a Boston expat (now living out west) and accomplished marathoner who also has the good fortune of being my upcoming roomie at CIM. We've been keeping each other abreast of our recent training, by which I mean commiserating about how out of shape we feel and how frustrated we are that things aren't going as smoothly as we'd hoped. But recently we both seem to have rounded a metaphorical corner, an unexpected phenomenon no better exemplified than by my strangely awesome solo long run on Monday afternoon.

"So, as I mentioned in our text convo, I've had a surprising recent development: I'm not feeling like total shit. My workout Saturday was solid, for starters. Then I was supposed to do 20 but I pushed it because my legs were tired Sunday, then crazy bad weather here Monday morning, so I finally got out and did it this afternoon/evening (snuck out of work...shhhh...) One of my biggest weaknesses from this training cycle is I haven't done enough long (18+) runs, so I was a little uncertain about how this one would go, especially solo and in the afternoon which is weird timing. But I felt GREAT. I'm not sure about pace because I don't run with a Garmin but it wasn't slow. And literally afterward I stopped, clicked my watch, and said 'Welp, that was easy.'
What's going on????!!!"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Week in Review

100 miles
5 doubles
3x20 minute workout
2xmedium long run (12 and 13)
4 AFDs

Things are finally starting to come together. The only missing piece this week was a true long run, but I aspire to knock that out tomorrow morning. I could've/should've done it today, but my legs were just too fatigued from yesterday afternoon's lengthy workout. Instead I did an easy 13 with my boss and devoted the rest of the day to recovery (read: eating pizza in my underwear). I'm nervous and excited to tackle 20 tomorrow--SOLO, no less--and I think the way I feel after the two-hour mark will be a reliable harbinger of what's to come in three weeks.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

3x20 Minute Success

AM: 5k shakeout
PM: 5k w/u + strides
Target: 3x20 mins. (10 mins. hard, 10 mins. @6:00 pace) w/4 mins. rest
Actual: 20 mins @5:53 pace (3k @10:58, 5k @18:20), 20 mins @5:54 pace (3k @11:00, 5k @18:23), 20 mins @5:53 pace (3k @11:00, 5k @18:22)
2k c/d
Garmin splits
Total: 15 miles
Daily total: 18 miles

There may be hope for me yet.

As a reference, I did this exact workout at the exact same time (three weeks out) in December '11 prior to the January '12 Trials. At the time, I would say I was objectively in 2:40-low shape, but ended up running just slightly off that at 2:41:06. I ran this particular workout quite well, and ended up splitting between 18:35-18:45 through each 5k. (See my recap (in astonishingly small font) here and Jordan's more detailed splits here.)

Today, as you can see above, I was consistently 15-20 seconds (a full 80-90 meters) faster through 5k on each interval, and with shorter rest. Granted, some of my "hard" sections weren't as fast as last time--in '11 I snuck a 3:32 in there, while today's quickest was 3:35--but I was able to consistently maintain a much faster clip on the marathon-paced second halves. I wouldn't exactly say the whole thing was a walk in the park--the third kilometer, which in theory is meant to be one of the fastest, is in reality almost entirely uphill--I ran strong throughout and there were sections where I truly felt like I was jogging.

Too little too late, or finally coming around at just the right time? We'll see in three weeks.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Week in Review

92 miles
4 doubles
4 AFDs

Despite today's disastrous race, I'm actually feeling relatively encouraged about my training. I've felt consistently better on runs and workouts the past few weeks than in the months prior, and other than some hamstring tightness and general body fatigue I'm healthy and strong. With four weeks to go, it's critical that I hit a handful of big workouts and longer runs, but I'm confident I can get it done.

Seacoast Half Marathon: A Lucrative Disaster

3 mile w/u
Target: win, run marathon pace-ish (1:18:30-1:19:30)
Actual: 1st place female; 1:23:11, $300
1 mile c/d
Total: 17 miles

To be honest, I don't want to dwell on this race because I know it's not indicative of my fitness and I refuse to let it get me down. The Seacoast Half Marathon was a great local event, very well-run and with excellent crowd support given the small coastal community, and despite the race being long closed the event director was gracious enough to allow me a spot. Regretfully, I wasn't able to capitalize on any of this with a solid performance. My legs felt tired and lifeless, and with few runners in sight in either direction I had little motivation to push myself beyond mild discomfort. I stopped a handful of times, mainly to stretch an exceptionally tight hamstring (residual from my hip issue?) and once for a bathroom break (because hey, at that point, why the hell not) and as a result managed to run my slowest time in years. I'm going to chalk it up as getting paid 300 bucks for a bad workout and move on.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fast K's

2.5 mile w/u + strides
Target: 5x1k @3:25 (5:30 pace) w/2:30 rest; 5x1 min. faster
Actual: 3:25, 3:25, 3:25, 3:22, 3:23; 5x1 min. @5:07-5:17 pace
1 mile c/d
Total: 9 miles

Yesterday morning I did a light fartlek of 5x(30, 45, 60) to limber up the legs and prepare to run fast today. It must've worked, because I hit the necessary splits just fine despite the cold temps and early hour. Hopefully this workout will benefit me in a few weeks when I try to avenge my second place finish from the 2011 Cincinnati turkey trot!   

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Week in Review

99-100 miles
4 doubles
1 night in NJ
1 night in PA
2 nights in NYC

I can't be certain that I actually cleared triple digits this week--in reality, 99 is probably more accurate--but regardless I'm darn impressed with myself. Despite a majority of the week spent on the road, a hectic work schedule and far more socializing than usual, I still managed to hit two solid workouts and otherwise squeeze in the miles. I doubt every week of my 31st year will be this eventful, but it's certainly a good one to start with.

NYCM Birthday Weekend (Oh, and a Workout)

Sunday AM: 3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 4-5x3k @11:00 or faster (5:52 pace) w/2 min. jog/rest
Actual: 11:18 (into wind), 10:55, 10:57, 10:53
1 mile c/d
Total: 12 miles
Sunday AM #2: ~4 miles to/from/around marathon course
Daily total: 16 miles

Wow, what a weekend! It's hard to summarize it all into one cohesive blog post, but since I'm far too lazy to write a handful of separate entries I'm going to attempt just that.

So, let's go back to the beginning. Except I don't really know where the beginning is. Technically, this trip started on Wednesday morning as Jordan and I loaded up and headed out for the rest of the week on the road. NYC was our ultimate destination for Friday meetings at the Runner's World international editors summit and marathon weekend shenanigans, but we had several stops along the way. Wednesday night found us in Princeton, NJ and an impromptu hosting from newly relocated Esther Erb. Fresh off her recent top three finish at the US Marathon Champs, she led us on a great Thursday morning run in an amazing soft surface park next to her new digs before we continued southbound to Philly. On Thursday night, Karhu sponsored a Halloween-themed Urban Scramble with Philadelphia Runner, which basically meant that I sprinted through the downtown Philly streets with a heavily perspiring Karhu bear (and yes, I did count those two miles). We had great company yet again for my birthday morning run, as former D2 standout and soon-to-be Philadelphia Marathoner Tina Muir showed us around her favorite local training grounds in Wissahickon Park. And then, finally, we set off on the final leg of our journey into Manhattan. Marathon weekend was upon us!

The Karhu Bear and his new Philly Runner buddies

Friday afternoon until Sunday morning was all a blur of reunions with friends, industry colleagues, and elite marathoners and coaches past and present. My workout was originally slated for Saturday morning, but after a little bit too much fun Friday night at the Runner's World party it seemed a bit unrealistic. Instead, Jordan and I decided to see how long we could stretch out a 10-mile run (answer: about five hours) by meandering our way around various marathon-related activities. First we jogged up to Columbus Circle and met Sarah and Jay to cheer on Molly, Esther and other elites in the NYRR Dash to the Finish 5k. In desperate need of coffee and lured by the buttery aroma of freshly baked croissants, we swung by Fika before making our way over to the Hilton on Avenue of the Americas for a quick work meeting. If you've never experienced this hotel during marathon weekend, it's really something else. Besides being the official host hotel for the event and its athletes, it is also the unofficial hub for the elite race and everything it entails. Within its massive lobby and bar area, you're likely to be surrounded at any given time by dozens of elite marathoners, coaches, agents, team--ahem--doctors, media and pretty much anyone else that is associated with the race in any capacity. It's hard to make it through the lobby to the elevators without bumping into a handful of people that you know, which of course is what happened and somehow resulted in us abandoning my workout plans in favor of a pre-race shakeout with Kim, Amy, Katie DiCamillo and Diane Nukuri-Johnson, whom I'd never met before in person but upon first glance quickly confirmed that, as suspected, her legs were twice as long and half as fat as mine.

Posing for the paparazzi on Friday night with Huub, the Karhu CEO. He would go on to run 3:50 on Sunday.

The run was easy, relaxed and fun, but at the same time infused with a distinct undercurrent of nervous energy. As we entered Central Park, I'm sure each of the girls visualized what it would be like the next day when their race-weary feet would pound the same section of pavement on the finishing stretch. The park is always bursting with energy the day before the marathon, as eager runners criss-cross the paths and snatches of conversation in every imaginable language can be heard in passing. The girls stopped for drills and I continued on with Jordan, jogging under the finish line banner to soak in the atmosphere even though we knew it would be an absolute cluster. We continued south on the West Side Highway, our run now approaching a total of eight miles and approximately three hours, before deciding to stop at the Javits Center and poke around the expo for a bit. Finally, just past 1pm, we returned to our hotel to relax before another run and a birthday dinner with friends. Since Heidi was in town and she turned 31 just a few days before me, it was only natural to make this a joint celebration. Naturally, with a group comprising all runners, we were full and happy and buzzed and soundly tucked away in bed before 11pm.

Pre-dinner Sardinia reunion at the Hilton with the incomparable Marcello Magnani. His two elite athletes, Valeria Straneo and Daniele Meucci, would crack the top 10 in the elite race the following mroning.

Race morning! But first, my stupid workout. Delaying it by a day sure sounded like a better idea 24 hours prior, but at this point I was out of options. Time to get it done. The first few steps out the door confirmed that the weather had indeed turned overnight--the first two days of November had found me incredulously running in only a sports bra--and now it was cold, overcast and quite breezy. Actually, "gale force winds" might have been a more appropriate way to describe the gusts that blasted us in the face as we hit the West Side Highway, but I tried not to dwell on it. As unpleasant as it would be for the first part of my workout, the marathoners would face it for the majority of their run. If they could handle it, so could I.

That optimism lasted approximately five minutes into my first 3k interval, which we were unfortunately forced to run northbound into the wind so that the rest of the workout didn't send me south all the way to the Statue of Liberty. Jordan and I consciously decided to relax and not force the pace for this one; there was simply no point. But my struggle would be rewarded with the wind at my back for the remainder, which enabled me to run strong and relaxed and totally comfortable at the target pace. Hell, with as much action packed into this weekend, I consider simply completing a workout to be an accomplishment in itself! There was no time to revel in my self-satisfaction, however, as we started jogging back to the hotel immediately after the final interval so we could rinse off, layer up and then head uptown to meet the crew for some race spectating. We hoofed it over to First Ave to see the elite women at 17, and I was pumped to see Kim holding strong in seventh place. From there we dashed to the park and planted ourselves squarely at the 24-mile marker, eager to see the final stages of the race unfold in front of us. We screamed like crazy for Kim (who finished sixth!) and Amy and Diane (who still managed to look like a model over two hours into a marathon) and then the elite men who followed shortly thereafter. I've never spectated from this particular location before but I'd definitely recommend it--not too crowded and with a fantastic vantage point.

Eagerly waiting at mile 24...

...for Kimberley to come flying by!

By the time I made it back to the hotel, checked out, said goodbye to Jordan as he departed for a friend's house, and met Sarah back at NYAC for some post-race fun, it was time to hit the train station and head home. I boarded the car and settled in alongside Huub and our other coworker ST--both of whom had just crushed the four-hour barrier in the marathon and then hustled down to Penn Station--and was almost immediately struck by the letdown, the carefully measured mix of exhaustion and sadness and almost instantaneous nostalgia that always sets in at the end of this sort of weekend. People ask me all the time if I plan to run NYC, and I always honestly respond that I'm not sure. It's a deceptively tough course with mercurial weather, and I would be lying if I didn't say that I witnessed some carnage out there today. But without question, I know I'll return next year and years to come just to be part of this amazing experience.