Friday, July 19, 2013

Vermont City Marathon Race Recap

It has been almost two months since I ran my first marathon and it was starting to seem like I might never blog about it. But this was too great a thing not to put into (written) words. I started this post (through about mile 4) the week after the race and wrote the remainder yesterday. Luckily, I still remember it like it just happened...

VCM: Sunday, May 26, 2013

Josh and I left DC at 5 PM Friday and drove about 5 hours in the rain to Middletown, NY. The next day we drove the remaining 5 hours to Burlington and I was constantly refreshing the hourly weather forecast on my phone. It was cold and raining and it wasn't supposed to get any warmer or dryer until after the race the next day. We arrived at my aunt and uncle's house for lunch, went to the expo and hung out the rest of the day. After my classic vace's pasta with ground turkey and red sauce, we played a game and then went to bed.

It was a cold and rainy day in Burlington, VT.

I slept well through the night and woke up before my alarm at 5:37. I ate oatmeal and changed my clothes several times. Nikki had made me this awesome marathon shirt with my name on it but it was a white tank top so, sadly, I decided not to wear it in the cold rain. We left the house a little after 7AM, an hour before the race was scheduled to start, and I was strangely not nervous. I couldn't really believe that we were driving to the race and that I was only minutes away from running my first marathon. Because we were late, parking was hard to find so Tony dropped us a few blocks from the start. We had just enough time to use the porta-potties once and get into our corral. I kissed Josh goodbye and we were off.

With Katy and Simon just before starting the race!

Katy, Simon and I started together, singing Sweet Caroline, by the 4:30 pace group. I didn't even realize we'd crossed the start line and started my garmin a little late. We ran together for the first mile or so and it was fun running together after talking about and training for this for so long. A mile or two in, I went to catch up with the 4:15 pacers. My goal was to finish the marathon in 4:15 but I wasn't sure whether to pace myself or to stay with this crowd. I ran down Church Street and loved all the spectators. There were girls on one corner, in pajama pants, singing Frosty the Snowman which made me laugh. We ran by Josh and Joann around mile 4 which was fun.

 Before Joann started her half

Those first few miles flew by easily and are a blur to look back on. I was feeling kind of clautrophobic with all the people running with the 4:15 group but the pace felt good so I stuck with them. Just before mile 5, we arrived at the belt line. This began a 4ish mile out and back which I expected to be challenging. It started with a long and steady downhill so I mentally prepared myself for what that meant on the return part. I kept entertained by listening to the conversations of other runners.

About halfway out, we started to see runners coming back the other way. Watching the fastest runners speed by you in the other direction keeps this stretch of the marathon really exciting at a time when it could feel monotonous. It occurred to me that I could see Nikki, who I knew would be running ahead of me, during this part of the race. I slowly moved away from the 4:15 pacers to the inside of the highway. In the process, I sped up and left the 4:15 group behind. This may have been stupid so early in the race but I was focused on looking for Nikki and it just happened. There was just a small stretch of grass between me and the runners coming the other direction. I constantly scanned the crowd of speedier runners but started to get dizzy. I saw the 3:30 pace group run by and knew that I probably still had a little time before I saw Nikki who I predicted would be between 3:45 and 4:00. Eventually, we saw each other and shared a quick high five as we passed. I got teared up in this moment, feeling sentimental about the marathon and about the fact that I was running the same course with one of my best running buddies who I had yet to ever see in the state of Vermont. I love that this was our first interaction on a trip that meant a lot to both of us.

Soon after I reached the turn around point, I passed Katy and Simon only a little ways behind me. Then I kept my eyes on the road and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Around mile 7 the tendon in the back of my left knee started to feel really tight. I had never had this feeling before and it made me nervous but there was nothing to do but keep running.

I got to the end of the beltline and ran another jaunt through the cool downtown Burlington. At mile 10, after a steep downhill away from downtown, my left quad started to feel really sore and I freaked out a little bit. I was only 10 miles in and had a long way to go. I worried that I'd made the classic mistake of going out too hard and that I'd slow down a ton over the next 16 miles. My pace for mile 10 was just under 9 minutes because of the downhill but I had been maintaining a steady 9:00 to 9:30 pace for the first 10 miles. I had run ten miles much faster than this so I was annoyed that I was already sore.

The next few miles were tough and I just told myself to run to mile 13 and I'd have some cheerleaders. At mile 12, we turned into a hilly neighborhood and I overheard a conversation between two people who either lived in Burlington or grew up in Burlington and hadn't seen each other in a while. They just ran into each other during the race and caught up for a little while before going their own ways (really the same way but at their own paces...). This happened many times along the course which I thought was so cool. The race had such a hometown feel while also feeling large, supported and organized.

At the half way point. 

At mile 12.5ish, we merged onto a bike path that would bring us to the half/relay transfer point. Josh was waiting nearby with his camera and I gave him a thumbs down. I have never done that in a race but I was worried about my legs and I told him I was feeling pretty tight and sore as I ran by. He said "you got this, just keep running" and that's what I did. Then I saw my uncle Tony, standing on a rock snapping pictures. Soon after, my name was screamed from the crowd of relayers. I didn't see her but I knew it was my aunt Joann waiting to start running.

Katy and Simon about to finish their half!

Passing the half gave me a mental boost and I believed I could finish the race. But it also took us to a bitterly cold and windy run right alongside lake Camplain which I knew would be perfect in the warm sun but, at that moment, was not. I mosied along the bike path, maintaining my 9:30ish pace and then emerged onto a street just before mile 15.

I'd heard more about this part of the race than any other- it was the beginning of the Battery Street Hill and it would be brutal. It turned out to be my absolute favorite part of the 26.2 mile course.

A few days after the race, taking a picture of my favorite part of the marathon.

I trained on a lot of hills and I enjoy running on hills in general. I don't like what they do for my speed but they seem to keep things interesting and almost always make me feel strong. I don't know if I've ever felt stronger running than I did while running up the Battery Street hill. The crowd support was insane and Eric, my friend and Nikki's fiancé, was right beside the course screaming my name which was hugely motivating.

In the top right corner, you can see the beginning of the Battery Street Hill.

I wanted to cry happy tears when I got to the top. And then things got ugly. Miles 16-20 were hard. My legs were really tired and I knew that ten miles was a long way left to run. I spent those 4 miles telling myself (over and over) that I just had to get to mile 20. I had run 20 before so I knew I could get there and, when I did, I'd have only 6 miles left. From there, I'd have my mile dedications to push me along. Just three miles to twenty, two miles to twenty, one mile to twenty... I could do it.

Miraculously, this strategy worked. I got to mile 20 and had a new burst of energy. There was a spring in my step and I felt myself speed up just slightly. And then the sun peeked it's pretty little head out of the clouds.

At the 21 mile sign, when I thought things couldn't get any better, a girl next to me said to the guy she was running with, "we just passed mile 21 in a marathon. I can't believe this moment is really here." Again, I felt like crying. What a surreal thing- to have worked so hard and so long for something and to be so in the midst of it. I felt this profound connection with these people who I had ever spoken to and will probably never see again in my life.

I had a little longer to ride out my high and then things were going to get tough again.

At mile 21.5, we began our final stretch toward the finish line back on the Burlington bike path. The problem is that a "final stretch" that lasts 4 miles, when you've already run 21.5, feels like a reeeeally long one. And, at a time when my mental toughness seemed more crucial than my physical toughness, the monotony of that bike path was brutal. Honestly, I might as well have been running on a treadmill. I felt ok for the first mile, and then just kind of bad. But from mile 24 to mile 26, it was all I could do not to stop and walk (or collapse). I felt like every fiber of my being was telling me to stop and I had to fight that urge so hard. I checked my watch constantly and couldn't believe I'd only gone .25 or .11 miles since my last watch check. You can see by my splits that I slowed down a lot in those final miles. My "dedication" thing didn't motivate me in the slightest and all I could think about was how far I had left. I kept comparing the distance remaining to runs I do at home. I'd think, just do your three mile loop up macomb street and you'll be done, then just run to work and back (.9 miles from my apt) and you'll be done, and then just run to work and you'll be done.

And then, eventually, I almost was. The bike path ended and my watch approached the 26 mile mark. Out of some very deep place within me, I found an ability to pick up my pace and I "sprinted"for the last .4ish (according to my garmin) miles. It turns out my sprint was really an 8:05 minute mile but I'm still quite proud I could even pull that out. I rounded a corner onto some grass and Josh and Tony cheered at me soon after. One more corner to round, a short straight away, and I was crossing the finish line.

Rounding the final corner of the race.

"Sprinting" to the finish.

I finished in 4:12:51 and I felt happy and exhausted. My legs had not stopped running in over 4 hours and it was strange to stop and walk. I grabbed a heat blanket, more than my fair share of chocolate milk and water and headed out to find my family. I saw Tony first, as he rushed to get the car. We hugged quickly, he said congrats and headed off. And then I started to cry. There is no explaining the tears that come at the end of such a great physical accomplishment. But they come for me every time and they always make me feel good. I found Josh quickly and cried some more as I hugged him. What a happy place to be.

We met Katy and Simon who were doing what they could to stay warm on the grass and ate some food they'd grabbed. They'd both finished the first half but then sat freezing in their sweat for the next two hours. Joann appeared and she had apparently finished only 30 seconds after me, completing her half with a PR just under two hours. She'd been trying to catch me for 13.1 miles and I think if she'd known she was under a minute away, she would have. What an even better ending that would have been!

We sat for a little while then went to stock up on the best post-race food I've ever seen: hot pizza, moe's chips and queso, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and all your typical fruit, bagels and granola bars. Then we walked up what Katy coined the "stupid ass hill" and piled in the car to head home.

It's hard for me to look back two months later and remember what it felt like to be in the act of running that marathon. I think your body and your mind are in such a different place when you're running for that long that you're kind of on a high the whole time- even when you feel like total crap. And it's impossible to describe why it feels so good even though it feels so bad at the same time. Before I even crossed the finish line, I knew that I'd want to run another marathon. And that I'd want to run another Vermont City Marathon. If they could just do something about that 4 miles on the bike path at the end, it would be perfect!

Until the next 26.2...

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Last 6.2

A long time ago, before I ever knew I'd run a marathon, I read a post from a DC running blogger about her mom's first marathon. Her mom dedicated each of the last six miles to different people and ran that mile for them. Then, she couldn't quit during their mile because she'd be letting them down. I have always remembered that story and I've decided to do it for the last 6.2 miles of my first marathon.

There is a lot of weight in those last 6.2 miles. Everyone says that they're the darkest part of a marathon, when your body really gets tested. Each of those miles achieves a distance that most first-time marathoners have never run before, myself included.

For the first 20 miles of the race, I'll have the confidence of knowing that I've run 20 miles before. And for the next 6.2, which is a long way even by itself, I'll have the people I love listed below on my mind and in my heart to make me keep pushing. I know I will not want to quit during any of those miles and have to say "I gave up during your mile". So it's easy... I can't give up.

Mile 21: Nathan, Ingrid and Inna
My brother and my two best friends, all of whom I have some running history with and all of whom I dream of running a long race with one day. Nathan is a great athlete and he runs but he also smokes so it's hard to convince him to run too far. We ran an 8k together two years ago and I know he's thought about running further. If not, he'll always be a fun person to play pick-up football and random games with. Ingrid is my original workout buddy. We have played soccer together since we were 5 years old. We attended sports camps, ran in our neighborhood and did intense training workouts at our local park. We both have a love of athletic adventures and one day I expect us to ride ragbrai and run a half marathon together. Inna is a strong and speedy little runner. She has never thought that the idea of running a ton of miles was fun but she is committed to exercising for health and fitness. For the first time last week, she revealed that she's recently considered running a half marathon one day. If I can't finish mile 21 for these people that I love, how will I ever be able to convince them that they should run a long race for fun?!

Mile 22: Nikki and Hadley
These are two of my dear friends in DC who I met through work three and a half years ago. On October 12, 2010, I joined them for an after-work run at a time when I had not been running often. They tricked me into running nearly 6 miles that day, got me hooked on frequent runs together, and eventually led me to register for and run my first half marathon. This series of events turned me from a person who ran for exercise into a person who runs for fun and to accomplish new goals. These girls are marathoners themselves. Nikki will be running VCM as her fifth marathon on Sunday and Hadley ran her first in October. I admire their strength and appreciate all the support they provide, in running and other life endeavors.

Mile 23: Katy, Joann and Tony
My cousin, aunt and uncle who I am so delighted to share in this experience with. They live/lived in Burlington and (with Emily) are the reason I fell in love with the idea of the Vermont City Marathon. Various teams of them have been running the VCM relay for years, before I even thought about running 13.1 miles. Aside from this race, they are the poster child of an awesome, outdoorsy, adventurous family. They go on canoe trips in the wilderness, hike, bike and run. I can't wait to spend time with them this weekend and will be incredibly motivated knowing Katy and Joann will be running somewhere along that course on Sunday morning and that we'll all get to celebrate together at the finish. I'll also run for Katy's boyfriend Simon, who will be running and who I've only met once but who I've e-mailed a bunch for running and training advice. In order to celebrate, I'll have to finish mile 23 for all of them.

Mile 24: Emily
Emily is part of the awesome, outdoorsy, adventurous family of Vermonters but, since she can't be there with us, I will be dedicating mile 24 to her alone. She has run the VCM relay more times than I know and she ran the marathon for the first time last year. She injured her hip during one of her last long training runs and didn't think she'd finish. But she finished it strong and has nothing but wonderful, positive things to say about her experience and about the marathon in general. Emily is studying abroad in Chile this semester so she can't be here this weekend. She is actually doing way cooler things than running races- backpacking and sea kayaking in Patagoina, hiking in Machu Picchu and playing on her Chilean University women's soccer team. If I can finish mile 24 for her, I'll only have 2.2 miles to go and then I'll be ready to run a marathon with her (and hopefully Katy) one day.

Mile 25: Mom and Dad
Growing up, my parents were at every single soccer game that I can remember. They left work early, gave up years of Saturdays and Sundays, and forked over lots of money to support my goals. They helped me over-analyze every game and gave me all kinds of constructive criticism. They didn't push too hard and left the decision up to me when I thought about quitting. And, as if that wasn't enough, they joined me, and helped make possible, one of the greatest adventures of my life- our bike ride across the country. I owe my athletic ability, determination and confidence to them. I will run mile 25 for my mom to help her understand why someone would actually want to run a marathon and for my dad who used to run and is working through knee strengthening exercises so that he can ride a bike and exercise for countless more years.

Mile 26: Joshua
If you're not a runner, you don't dream of a vacation in which you get up absurdly early to stand around in the cold, in crowds, or in rain for hours just to watch other humans run by. But if you're in a relationship with a runner who you care about, this is what a lot of your vacations look like. I feel so lucky and grateful that Josh cares enough to join me at every start and finish line and that he usually manages to take awesome photos along the way. Like my mom, he doesn't understand why a person would choose to run such an absurd distance just for fun. But it has never even been a question whether or not he'll be joining me in any racing adventure. I will be running mile 26, and that last .2, for Josh who has been so supportive and whose arms I know I'll be dying to fall into after I cross that finish line. I'll need to finish the mile, and the marathon, to see his face and that has to keep me going.

Last night, when I told Josh I was running mile 26 for him he said, "Why?! Why don't you run it for yourself?" That's an interesting point. But I'm running the whole race for myself. And for all of these guys. And for anyone else who has shown support of this adventure. Less than two days. Woohoo!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Big Fat Marathon Training Catch- Up Post

I was enjoying writing a post about every week of marathon training. While I run, I think about what I would title a post about that run or about that week. I narrate posts in my head and I get really into them. But then the million other things going on in life take over and I never get around to actually writing down those thoughts and ideas. So here is a big catch-up post of weeks 10-16. I'll say just a few words about each week. For fun, I'll also include I would have titled a post about that week.

Week 10 (4.1.13 to 4.7.13): Go Long

Monday: 30 minutes weights, 4.19 miles at 9:23 pace  (rest)
Tuesday: 20 minutes yoga (CT Cardio)
Wednesday:  3.76 miles at 8:40 pace (3-4 miles)
Thursday: rest (rest)
Friday: 17.22 miles at 9:39 pace (17 mile long run)
Saturday: rest (yoga, strength core, run?)
Sunday: 4.29 miles at 8:29 pace (yoga, strength core, run?)
Total:  29.46 miles of running

I am really enjoying marathon training. I don't feel like I spend that many more hours a week working out than I otherwise would and it's fun to constantly push myself and test the strength of my body. But there is one thing I don't like: planning everything around running.

On Friday of week 10, I flew across the country for a conference in San Diego. Luckily, I knew I'd be training for the marathon when I booked my flight so I made it late enough that I could squeeze 17 miles in before I had to leave for the airport. The nerves before my run were in full force, though. It was my longest run yet, three miles longer than I'd ever run alone, and if I got stranded somewhere by the side of the road, I'd miss my flight. But everything went smoothly and it felt like a successful week of training.

Week 11 (4.8.13 to 4.14.13): The Weak Week

Monday: 2.52 miles at 9:05 pace  (3 mi speed)
Tuesday: 20 minutes planks/core (rest)
Wednesday:  3.93 miles (up and down the Hollywood Mountain) at 9:43 pace (3-4 miles)
Thursday: rest (rest)
Friday: 30 minutes weights (rest/weights)
Saturday: 12.21 miles at 9:18 pace (12 mile long run)
Sunday: 2.14 miles at 10:04 pace, 2 hour yoga for runners workshop (3 miles)
Total:  20.8 miles of running

It was a struggle to train while in California. My days at the conference were full from 7-7 most days. I actually only ran two days during the conference and was able to squeeze them in during a lunch break and before getting started one day. My cross training was pretty non-existent though- all I did were some planks and stretching in my hostel room. I took a red-eye home which it took me a few days to recover from and had a work event on Saturday which left me standing most of the time from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM. I did my long run on Saturday afternoon, after the day of work. I was really tired and had an upset stomach (first time I've had to take a bathroom break during a training run) but I powered through and was really glad to have it done. Overall, my training felt weak during these days but it was a cutback week so I didn't beat myself up over it.

The best workout of the week, by far, was my run from my friend's LA home up a small mountain to the hollywood sign. I will write more about this soon.

Week 12 (4.9.13 to 4.21.13): Resisting Burnout

Monday: 3.95 miles at 8:33 pace  (4 miles)
Tuesday: 40 minutes arm weights (weights/cross train)
Wednesday:  5.01 miles at 9:33 pace (5 miles)
Thursday: rest (rest)
Friday: 18.01 miles at 9:33 pace (18 mile long run)
Saturday: 3.8 miles at 10:09 pace (5 miles)
Sunday: rest (yoga)
Total:  30.77 miles of running

My first full week back from California was hard too. Up until the trip, I'd felt like I was rocking training. I felt strong and motivated. Going away and having an off week disrupted that a lot. When I got back, training felt harder than it had in the weeks before I left. On every run, I thought "is this what it feels like to get burnt out during training?"

Luckily, I got to do another long run with my friend Nikki which helped motivate me. Another friend and I took a bus up to NYC to surprise our BFF Inna for her birthday on Saturday morning. So I switched my 18 miler to Friday morning. It was definitely the hardest run yet. The last 4 miles, I felt totally spent and wasn't sure how I could possibly finish. During the last mile, I actually noticed that I was landing on my heel with every step I took. After so much training to change the way I run, I was reverting to my old way of running when my calves and quads got so worn out. When I got home, I laid on the floor drinking chocolate milk and eating bananas and cheez-its for nearly an hour before I mustered up the energy to shower and walk to work. Even though I felt weak, I knew that I was making myself stronger by powering through each challenging workout of the week.

Week 13 (4.22.13 to 4.28.13): Running takes the Cake?

Monday: 4 mile tempo building up to 7:19 pace (weights)
Tuesday: 40 minutes arm weights and core (5 miles)
Wednesday:  13.86 mile bike ride (Cross train)
Thursday: 5.27 miles at 8:22 pace (6 miles)
Friday: rest (rest)
Saturday: 14.04 miles at 9:25 pace (14 mile long run)
Sunday: 3 miles on treadmill at 9:58 pace (3 miles/frisbee)
Total:  26.31 miles of running

There seems to be a pattern in a lot of these weeks. I have too much going on and have to schedule a lot of my training around other commitments. This week, I was making a wedding cake and a groom's cake for a friend's wedding and rehearsal dinner. By Wednesday morning, I was a complete basket case with baking and decorating. My weekday runs were shorter than they were scheduled to be but I made the most of my time and got cross-training in by commuting to a dentist appointment by bike.

And my long run this week turned out to be fabulous! Again, Nikki and I did the bulk of it (12 miles of 14) together and I introduced her to my favorite long run route- the rolling hills of Massachusetts Avenue. By the end, I had some sharp pains in my foot and my ankle hurt. But I remember reading a blogger who said her running coach told her that aches and pains are just par for the course when you're training for a marathon. I'm usually a hypochondriac but that statement has helped me get past a lot of little pains during this training cycle.

Week 14 (4.29.13 to 5.5.13): 20 Miles or Bust

Monday: 40 minutes weights and core  (weights)
Tuesday:  4.04 miles at 8:53 pace (4 miles)
Wednesday: 40 minutes spin, 10 minutes arm weights (Cross train)
Thursday: 6.14 miles at 8:54 pace (6 miles)
Friday: rest (rest)
Saturday: 20.05 miles at 9:51 pace (20 mile long run)
Sunday: 2.92 miles at 10:45 pace (5 miles)
Total:  33.15 miles of running

This week was all about my 20 miler. It was on my mind a lot and it seemed like the summit of marathon training. Once I did it, it'd be all downhill to the marathon. As much as I could, I treated this run like a test for the race. I ate my usual pre-race meal and I bought a fuel belt to try out before race day. I let the nerves build up like they surely will the night before the race.

I changed the plan for my route about four times. Mapping a route was tough and showed me just how far 20 miles is. That is a LONG freaking way to run! I settled on a [paved] trail-heavy route that went down to the mall, around the mall a few times, across the river into Virginia for a few miles, and then home. When I started, I made a very deliberate attempt to run slower than normal. I maintained this pace and ran my first 13 or so miles around a 9:50 to 10 minute mile. I sped up a little bit over the last few miles, to simulate an ideal race plan. I intentionally finished a little under a mile from home, on the the trail by my weekly frisbee game. I walked about 20 yards and then rolled onto the grass beside the trail. I laid there staring at space feeling a total high. I knew I had a significant walk home and didn't want Josh to worry about how long I'd been gone. But I could have lay there for hours. I got up, walked to cvs for chocolate milk, and then walked home to keep my legs moving and break up some of their lactacte build up. 

As far as 20 miles goes, I couldn't imagine anything better. I was really happy with the route I chose, I felt strong and smart, and I finished feeling like I could run 6.2 more miles if I really had to. Finally, I truly believed I could do this thing.

Week 15 (5.6.13 to 5.12.13): The Mental Battle Begins

Monday: 30 minutes weights and core  (weights)
Tuesday:  4 mile tempo run on treadmill (4 miles)
Wednesday: 35 minutes spin (Cross train) 
Thursday: 3.76 miles at 9:36 pace (4 miles)
Friday: rest (rest)
Saturday: 12.02 miles at 9:53 pace (12 mile long run)
Sunday: 3.01 miles at 9:31 pace (5 miles)
Total:  22.79 miles of running

Week 16 (5.13.13 to 5.19.13): The Mental Battle Continues

Monday: 40 minutes weights and core (weights)
Tuesday: 3.78 miles at 8:33 pace (3 miles)
Wednesday: 30 minutes spin and 10 minutes core (Cross train) 
Thursday: 2.98 miles at 8:44 pace (3 miles)
Friday: rest (rest)
Saturday: 8.1 miles at 9:39 pace (8 mile long run)
Sunday :Rest (3 miles)
Total:  14.86 miles --- this seems like too few...

Once 20 miles was done, I just wanted it to be race day already. In terms of mileage and physical fitness, I was right that once I ran 20, it'd be all downhill to the marathon. But the biggest mental battle was just beginning. For me, the greatest mental challenge comes in the weeks before a big race and, in that sense, it's all uphill to the marathon. I'm hoping that the nerves will subside once I cross the start line, that the adrenaline will be like none I've ever felt before, and that I will be mentally strong every step of the way.

At this point, it is comforting to know that I've done all the training I can do and now I just need to keep my body healthy so that it can be it's strongest on race day. The race is only 5 days away and I'm desperately counting them down...

Friday, April 26, 2013

VCM Training Week 9: More than Halfway

Week 9 (3.25.13 to 3.31.13):

Monday: 5 mile tempo run on TM- built up to 7:35 pace for middle mile  (weights)
Tuesday: 40 minutes weights and core strength (5 miles)
Wednesday:  1 Hour Spin Class (CT cardio)
Thursday: 4.76 miles at 8:00 mm pace (5 miles)
Friday: rest (rest)
Saturday: 16.01 miles at 9:13 pace (16 mile long run)
Sunday: 1.92 miles and 1 hour 15 minutes of intense frisbee (5 miles)
Total:  30.69 miles of running

Having gotten behind on blog posts again, it didn't occur to me during Week 9 that I was halfway through my training plan. Instead, I was just going through the motions of my daily workouts and having a blast. I had two wonderfully speedy midweek runs and I hauled my ass to the gym for a 6AM spin class with my favorite instructor for the first time.

To top off the fun week, I got to run 16 miles under the wing of my marathon runner friend Nikki which took some of the stress out of it. The night before, I went to bed feeling kind of like I do the night before a race. I was giddy, nervous and excited. We ran an 8 mile out and back to and around Haines Point. The only time I'd ever run there was during the Run for the Parks 10k in October and I loved it. I've since done two more of my runs there. It is flat, scenic and peaceful.

Nikki and I do short runs together fairly frequently but hadn't run longer than 5 or six miles together in years. The last long run I did with someone else was with Hadley in August 2011 and, before that, the last was the National Half with Nikki in March 2011. So, at about mile 8, it became clear that talking wasn't going to come easy for the whole run. For the second half, I let Nikki do more of the talking and, a few times, asked to just run quietly. At mile 12, I got a pretty bad cramp, something that hasn't happened to me at all during training. I'm sure it was from many miles of chatting and running which I think is kind of cool. It's interesting what a different workout it is for your lungs and I like to think of it as good training for when I want to cheer back at spectators on the marathon course.

Around mile 14, my legs were just dead. Every step felt like wading through mud. But we pushed on and finished 16.01 miles just below Woodley Park at a 9:13 pace. Another nice thing about this run is that I hardly paid attention to my garmin. Until the last few miles, when I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn't doing something like a 20 minute mile, we just cruised along at a comfortable pace. It was less hilly than many of my other runs so that accounts for some of it but I was really proud of our comfortable pace for 16 miles. Probably still faster than Hal Higdon would advise we go but whatever.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Some Things About Boston

Last week, I planned to publish a bunch of catch-up posts about VCM training and my trip to California. But I didn't want to say anything more about running before I said something about Boston. I started to write about it two different times and got stuck. It seemed like nothing I had to say mattered and I couldn't come up with the right words. So I read what other people had to say instead.

Instead of trying a third time, I'm just going to share with you some articles and blog posts that moved me over the last week.

Emily's powerful thoughts and analysis - A DC running and tri blogger who has run Boston twice.

A story about the dad of a guy I went to high school with who was aiming to break a record for most consecutive Boston marathons run.

A Vermont running blogger who was spectating in Boston a few hours before the attack.

Runner's World - The Boston Bombings: A Loss of Innocence

An article about the winners and how their victory means so little in the face of what happened.

A first-hand account from pro distance runner Lauren Fleshman.

A blog post on the Vermont City Marathon blog with a note from the race director.

There are, of course, so many more. This is something that will affect the running community and the country for a long time. But it has shown how much good there is in people in the face of such un-explainable evil. People will persevere and people will keep running. And we'll think about the people of Boston and those who lost their lives every time we run.

Monday, April 15, 2013

VCM Training Week 8: Lessons in Intensity

Week 8 (3.18.13 to 3.24.13):

Monday:  40 minutes weights (weights)
Tuesday:  4.15 miles at 8:01 pace (4 miles)
Wednesday:  Hill repeats: 8 x 240 meter uphill sprints- walks downhill between each (CT cardio)
Thursday: 4 miles tempo with .5 miles at 8:49, 8:19, 7:35, 6:53 and back (4 miles)
Friday: rest (rest)
Saturday: 14.21 miles at 9:30 pace (14 mile long run)
Sunday: 45 minutes frisbee (3 miles/frisbee)
Total:  28.06 miles of running

At the beginning of week 8, I found myself googling hill workouts and learned a valuable lesson on the intensity of various runs during marathon training. The main take-away was something that I remember reading in Born to Run last year: that most people do their slow runs too fast and their fast runs too slow. According to Hal Higdon, long runs should be done 30 to 90 seconds or more per mile than their marathon pace. The problem with this, for me, was that I had no idea what my marathon goal pace should be. But I knew it certainly wouldn't be a 9:00 minute mile or faster, which I had been maintaining on most of my long runs.

So I started off the week with a more specific plan. I pushed myself harder than I had been on all three shorter runs and I did my first set of hill repeats. I hadn't done these since my high school soccer days but doing them by myself on a concrete sidewalk was very different than doing them surrounded by my team on a grassy hill in cleats. They were hard and I felt like I might vomit at the end of each. But I felt strong and ready to do another by the time I had walked down the hill to my starting point. I ended up doing 8 repeats of 240 meters/.15 miles with a one mile warm up and a half mile cool down.

The best part of this whole "intensity" lesson was what it did for me mentally. Alleviating the pressure to push myself and do my long runs as fast as possible made them much less scary. This couldn't have come at a better time, as week 8's long run began a series of "longest runs I've ever done" which were very scary for me. I incorporated a fair amount of rolling hills into my long run, something I'm aiming to do in anticipation of Vermont's mountains, and finished 14.21 miles at a 9:30 pace. I still think this is faster than my marathon pace (I would be shocked to be able to keep such a pace on race day) but it was still significantly slower than I've done my short runs so it seemed like a compromise.

I finished this 14 miler the happiest I've been at the end of any long run. Something about the fact that it was the longest run I'd ever done (and was the first of these) made it very emotional. I finished 14.2 miles on a sunny Saturday morning with many people walking around my neighborhood and I felt like I would cry happy tears. I was on some kind of runner's high and it felt wonderful.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wedding Planning

The spot where loved ones will watch Josh and I get married, weather permitting...

One of the reasons that I have been posting infrequently since Bike America is that I am spending a lot of time planning my wedding. With such a long engagement, I've been able to spread aspects of planning out over time which has made most of it fun and exciting. Though I still have plenty of time and haven't hit a point of feeling overwhelmed by it, there are still a million and one things to do in the way of planning. So it has taken over a lot of my free time.

When I first got engaged, it never crossed my mind to blog about wedding planning. It doesn't have much to do with fitness and sweating. But it does have a lot to do with style, something I strive to incorporate into this blog from time to time. So...because I love reading about weddings on other blogs and would like to provide inspiration if there are any interested future brides, because I think I'll blog more if I'm free to write about this thing that's consuming a lot of my life anyway, and because, to be honest, this blog is really designed for me to share my life with whoever is out there reading, I've decided to begin blogging about planning my wedding. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

VCM Training Week 7: Running on Tired Legs

Week 7 (3.11.13 to 3.17.13):

Monday:  4.61 miles at 8:15 pace (weights)
Tuesday:  30 minutes weights/abs and 45 minute spin class (4 miles)
Wednesday:  4.55 miles at 9:13 pace (CT cardio)
Thursday: rest (5 miles, weights)
Friday: 12.0 miles at 8:54 pace (rest)
Saturday: 45 minutes soccer (12 mile long run)
Sunday: 3.76 at 9:20 pace (3 miles/frisbee)
Total: 24.92 miles of running

When she was helping me tweak my marathon training plan, my friend Nikki said, "you want to train yourself to run on tired legs". If that's the point of marathon training, then week 7 was the perfect week.

I decided to take last Friday off to get some rest after the busy week prior. Switching my long run to Friday would allow me to play soccer and cheer for the half marathoners on Saturday. That meant cramming my weekday workouts into three days instead of four. I ran on Monday and felt strong. Tuesday, I tested my muscle strength with a lifting/ab session at lunch and a spin class after work. The combination of the best spin class ever and a weird ab workout that worked my legs more than my abs resulted in some very sore quads on Wednesday morning. With all the running, biking, and sport playing I do, my quads almost never get sore. So when I went running on Wednesday after work, my legs were heavy and slow.

I rested on Thursday and felt good on Friday morning. My legs were a little sore but they didn't slow me down much. My big mistake of the run was the route I mapped. It took me down Mass Ave from 16th Street to the Capitol building. I've run down this stretch of Mass many times and it's often busy but it has never been as bad as it was at 10AM on Friday morning. I had to stop constantly at lights which made it hard to get in any running groove. My clock time was 1:46:56 and my overall run time (including stops) was 2:01:27. Most of that 15 minutes of stopping happened between miles 3 and 5. Not only was this hard mentally but I don't think it was good for my muscles. Stopping so much made my muscles tighten as lactate surely built up from the lack of movement.

After mile 6, I barely had to stop at all. But I spent the second half of the run making my way uphill away from the mall. And I ran up my favorite long hill (Mass Ave between Dupont and the Cathedral) around mile 10 which was definitely a test of running on tired legs.

Elevation chart from Friday's long run.
On Saturday, I played a very intense game of soccer which was 4v6 in the first half and 5v7 in the second. My team was the one playing down two players. We lost 3-1 and spent basically the entire game playing hard defense. There was a lot of sprinting and it was a good workout.

I woke up Sunday morning and remembered what a unique workout soccer is. As is always the case after my first time playing in a while, my groins, butt and many muscles in my legs were sore. On my Sunday afternoon run, my legs felt heavier than they had all week. I was initially frustrated by my slow pace. Then I remembered Nikki's words of wisdom and decided that I was doing exactly what I should be- running on tired legs. The sore muscles only mean that my legs will be stronger on May 26th. That knowledge will make every hard workout a little easier in the coming weeks.

Monday, March 18, 2013

RNR USA Spectating

If you live in DC, it is very likely that you or someone you know ran the Rock and Roll DC marathon or half marathon on Saturday. Nearly 30,000 people ran the race. The past two years, I was one of those runners but, this year, I never signed up for it for a few reasons. I didn't want to pay the outrageous registration fees that are a product of the corporate rock and roll buying it out last year. I also know that it might not have been smart to push myself too hard, which I surely would have been tempted to do, while training for my first half marathon.

I had many friends racing, though, so I got up early and showed up at mile 6 to cheer. This year, the course ran within a mile of my apartment so Josh and I rolled out of bed, walked south and arrived in Woodley Park around 8AM, just as the first runner sped by. We didn't have time to snap his picture but got some of the elite runners in his pack.

A few minutes later, our friend Ben arrived with his family. They were there to cheer on his brother Paul and we formed a good team of cheerleaders. But apparently not good enough because, early on, one runner yelled at the spectators for not being loud enough.

Only about twenty minutes after our arrival, Nikki and Jamey ran by. Josh pointed them out and I might have missed them if he hadn't. Nikki told me afterward that, just before they passed, she said to Jamey "I think we missed Carrie" and Jamey looked over and said, "there she is!"

Only five or seven minutes later, Eric ran by. Somehow, he was easier to spot in his all-black uniform!

Next on the list of expected runners-by were Catherine (my friend at work) and Paul (Ben's brother) who both aimed to run about a 10 mm average pace. The problem with race spectating is that if you look away right at the wrong second, you completely miss the runner you're looking for. And then you don't know if they've passed or if they're still coming. And, when you're on the front lines of cheering for an hour and a half, you just have to occasionally look away to sip water, fix your screwy cowbell and post instagrams of your friends who just ran by. Somehow in that mix, we saw and cheered for Paul but missed Catherine. Eventually, I was sure that she must have passed and kept an eye out for Hadley. She came into view in an outfit I was used to cheering for- the outfit she wore for her Marine Corps Marathon in October. I got a picture of her cursing the horrible hill that she had just run up out of Woodley Park. It is definitely one of the worst hills in DC.

Before we left I snapped a picture of our cheering ground. When we arrived, Josh and I stood at the white line by the cars in the far right of the photo. Early on, a guy with his bike went to stand at the far edge of the green, on the left in the photo. Over the course of the hour and a half we were there, the crowds inched up all the way to the double yellow lines, cutting the width of the course in half. We always stayed a bit behind the line, fighting the move but the crowds, especially the bike guy, kept pushing on. At one point, Ben told a policeman that he should control the crowds but the policeman wrote him off, saying he couldn't get everyone to move on his own. From a runner's perspective, it was frustrating.

Surprisingly, I wasn't really sad not to be running this race. If it weren't for VCM, I would have been. But I felt like standing on the sidelines was exactly where I was supposed to be. It certainly made me more excited for the marathon!

Congrats to all the runners on Saturday. I'm very glad that you survived the beastly rock creek hill and, even more so, that it didn't end up raining on you!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Week 6: VCM Training and Reflection

The first line of each day is what I actually did and the parentheses beside it show what my scheduled workout was...

Week 6 (3.4.13 to 3.10.13):

Monday: 45 minutes spin class (rest)
Tuesday:  2.82 miles at 7:49 pace (4 miles)
Wednesday:  30 minutes yoga (CT cardio)
Thursday: 3.32 miles at 8:35 pace (4 miles, weights)
Friday: rest- and by "rest", i mean standing in heels all day and night and running around like a crazy person setting up for and executing an event (rest)
Saturday: 8.04 miles at 8:56 pace (8 mile long run)
Sunday: 90 minutes frisbee (3 miles/frisbee)

My first cutback week during this training cycle came at the perfect time. It was the week of my big dinner at work and it was also the week when my foot pain flared up a little bit. I worked late nights and had some trouble squeezing workouts in. I went to spin class on Monday so that I could get it over with before my schedule got too out of control. On Tuesday and Thursday, I went for late afternoon runs and then returned to work for more long hours. I shortened them both because of mild foot pain and felt that I could get away with this during a cut-back week. Wednesday, a snow day in which I worked from home, I let myself rest and only did some quick yoga in my living room.

The hardest workout of the week, though, was my long run on Saturday after all the work was done. My ten miler the week before had been tough- it was really cold, windy and felt long, so I wanted a confidence booster during this eight miler. Long hours on my feet the day before, and two late-night glasses of de-stress wine, left me feeling tired and lethargic, even after nine hours of sleep. The weather was amazing- 60's and sunny- and I felt guilty for not being more happy to be running under the beautiful sun. Around mile 5, my friend Nathaniel, running in the opposite direction, called my name from across the street and that gave me some adrenaline. About a half a mile later, though, I was looking at a trash can as I threw away my gu packet and tripped on a jagged piece of the sidewalk. I was moving pretty fast so I went flying and skinned both knees and my right elbow, forearm and hand. 

It hurt my knees at first to continue on but I just got up and kept running, mostly wanting to run away from the embarrassing scene. I got a bunch of stares at the blood running down my legs which was embarrassing but, strangely, I felt a new energy for the rest of my run. I finished at the soccer field where Josh and Ingrid were playing and basked in the sun, watching the last 20 minutes of their victory.

So far, training has been really fun. As I prepare to run 12 miles this weekend, and face the fact that I will be doing double-digit runs for the next nine weekends in a row, I am slightly terrified. I counted and, since December 2010 when I began training for my first half, I've done only 15 runs over 9.99 miles. But I'm going to take it one week at a time and I'mg going to keep pushing through when things get tough!