Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall Running

D-  I moved to a new town just south of Boston this Fall. One of the tough things about moving is finding new running routes - and one of the benefits it turns out. I can do 3 or 4 miles hard in a quiet neighborhood without waiting for light. A 9 mile run can take me up and over the Blue Hills, through woods and with an amazing view of Boston. Best of all, it's only 2 miles to hit the Bay and be greeted by the smell of ocean air.

So, to celebrate the new season and new city (and per request from C) here are photos of my weekend runs.

Cheering on the Marine Corps Marathon

2013 Marine Corps Marathon Map
D and I will run a marathon, it's just a question of when.  In the meantime, I spent the morning at the MCM scouting the race/cheering at the top of my lungs.

I ran about a mile and a half to the course on the southern side of the mall (around mile 16.5).  From my first cheering spot, I could see the runners cross the far bridge and then turn around and run directly in front of me.  As you can tell, there weren't many spectators that early in the race, but I got there right before the first runner-
Very blurry photo, but this is the lead car, and the Ethiopian runner who would eventually go on to easily win the race.

The second two runners.  For a race without elites, I was surprised how spaced out the front was.  It took a while before there was a steady stream of runners.  After a pack of runners finally did start to come, I ran on the sidewalk along the course toward the center of the mall where the crowds were bigger - I was still cheering away though. I was a little disappointed in the number of spectators who just stood there - Cheer!!

"You run better than your government"

Special MCM water cups?!?

The marines were manning a lot of the water stations, which was pretty awesome.  The marine above was drinking about every other cup when I went by :0)

A final view from about mile 18.  I only covered about 2 miles along the course, but I could see across to the other side of the mall as well.  I wish the crowd support was a little better, but it was great to see so many Marines spread out along the course.  I would seriously consider running the MCM, but I need to learn a little bit more about the number of hills early in the course.  However, it's hard to imagine a much better setting than the national mall!

On a personal note, this was not an impressive run by me today (I think I probably ran about 3 miles total, with some seriously long cheering breaks).  I ran 10 miles yesterday (approx 9min/mile pace).  I'm looking forward to my 10k with D next week!  After the 10k I'll start upping the mileage again.

-Peace and MCM love!-

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What I Learned


I'm still trying to figure out exactly what went wrong with my Johnstown YMCA Half Marathon. Actually, a lot went wrong, but I need to separate out what I have control over vs what I didn't, and try to move on from there. Effectively, turn this into a learning experience while enjoying a few weeks off.

The Training Plan

What went wrong: We upped our mileage, both in terms of weekly and our longest run. C may have gotten into the best shape of her life from our training plan, but for me, I think it missed some important components. After months of being tired, I didn't work in enough of a taper, and I think was still tired walking into race day. I also don't think I was ready for 40 mile weeks, as I was tired for 2 months and never got in any speed work and walked on more of the runs than I care to admit.

Can I control it?: YES! Experimenting can create great results... or trip you up. I know my body can handle more than I throw at it, but I also should have eased into this last cycle a bit more. For the next round of training, we're going to modify the workouts to build in some breaks and some speed workouts.

The Positive Spin: I ran 40 mile weeks, week after week. Sure I was tired, but my body handled it. I also ran 18 miles, actually ran it (no walking) - which is the furthest yet.

The Cupcake Project
The Government Shutdown

What went wrong?: Our original race plan, to do the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half, got shutdown when the national park 8 miles of the course was on was closed. We had to scramble to find a new race in only a few days.

Can I control it?: No... well, "Of the People and For the People," but in the larger sense, things go wrong, races get delayed, and you have to accept that.

The Positive Spin: With 4 days notice, we found a great race, booked a hotel and even managed to drive the course. Adaptability Badge unlocked- next time things are looking bad, I know we can dig in and find a solution. Next time I won't let it stress me out as much.

The Inclined Plane

What went wrong?: We got to the start of the race by riding this awesome platform, or Vehicular Inclined Plane, up to where the race started at the top of a massive ridge.This meant a net downhill course. Woohoo PR!!! Actually, the downhills were so steep and long (2 miles at one point) they hurt. This left shot legs for the uphills and flats.  There were lots of uphills too somehow.

Can I Control It?:  Yes. Working hills more frequently will allow me to deal with these challenges. I can't change the hills, but I can train for them.

The Positive Spin: My body/mind didn't give up on the race until after a few of the daunting hills and I mostly had a flat run back to the start. So, I actually managed to conquer the tough parts of the course. With training I'll be in better shape after finishing them.

The Heat

What went wrong?: My tolerance for racing in heat is somewhere in the mid to high 70s. Since Johnstown got up to almost (maybe actually) 80 degrees I was out of my element.

Can I control it?: No, I can choose races... but if I'm going to be doing more races in DC, I'm going to have to adapt.

The Positive Spin: I've gotten in the habit of running on the treadmill (see above issue with hills) in AC. A doctor I talked on my flight back home pointed out I should do heat training if I'm heading south for a race (purposely run short runs mid day in the summer) or in general just in case the temperature jumps.

Source Wiki.

What went wrong?: I overheated at the end of the race, and part of it was not having water.

Can I control it?: Not sure yet

The Positive Spin: I think overeating and drinking (water) the day before a race is a habit I need to get over. As marathon talk recently pointed out, I should eat reasonably and healthy, and we'll see if that helps. In the mean time I'll have to channel my inner camel.

Mental Failure

Running Time article on mental fatigue
What went wrong?: My mind gave out a few miles before my body started resisting. Part of it was the heat, the dehydration, the hills - but in the end I know I gave up on the race before it was over.

Can I control it?: Yes! To admit otherwise would leave room for it to happen again.

The Positive Spin: Train smarter - part of the mental fatigue came from last minute race planning, over training, and other life stresses. The biggest part was that I over-reached with some runs and ended up walking. Effectively, I trained myself to stop running. Sure, running too far is bad, but I should have taken the sign to modify my training schedule. The solution will be to draw on the feeling of having a race slip from you to push out the extra miles when needed, and the planning to not put myself in the position where I have to.

At 1:57, this was my slowest race since my first half marathon. Considering all the hard work (possibly too hard at this point) it was crushing. I was almost glad for a painful thigh as an excuse to take a week off from running.

It's now going on two weeks, with only some light weekend mileage, but no more excuses except a cold. I have 2 weeks of training before a 10k tuneup race, and 15 weeks till New Orleans Rock n Roll Half Marathon.

Will I look back at this and say, "oops, should have done all that" or will I smash my PR in NoLA? The good news is the weather will be somewhere between 48 and 67, my idea racing weather, according to averages... or between 20 and 85 by records....

Monday, October 14, 2013

YMCA Johnstown Half Marathon (or the DC Half that wasn't)


We learned the Wednesday before our planned half marathon that it was going to be shut down by the government shut down (or, rather, postponed for a month to a date that we couldn't race).  Our training has been brutal, and it was even more brutal to think about all that training going to waste.

D found a new race for us- the YMCA Johnsontown Half Marathon in Pennsylvania.  This race was as 3 hour drive from our original race destination, with a lot less runners and frills (no medals, few spectators, fewer aid stations, fewer signs, etc), and a lot more hills.  It was also incredibly inexpensive, still open, and run by friendly volunteers.

"The world's steepest inclined plane," which we took to the start line.  It was free - a great race perk - but it was also a sign of what the race course is like."
I'm happy we raced, even though neither of us had the race we wanted.  The course was brutal, and neither of us had trained for hills.  It began with about 4 miles of small undulating hills (very doable), before plummeting down a steep hill for over a mile, only to bank back uphill for far too long, then back downhill, and then ended on two miles of pancake flat roads.

I'm not joking when I say the last 2 flat miles were the worst.  I pushed myself through the hills, and my legs, while not happy, were in a rhythm and pushing through the course on autopilot - but then I hit the flat empty road, and I lost all of my momentum.  My leg muscles were burning, and any shade that had been on the course gave way to searing, sun-soaked strip mall roads.  The temperature was in the mid to high 70s (how this happened in mid-October in PA, I have no idea).  There were very few spectators and one final aid station.  Some of the few people I saw were runners passing me.  My running mantra went from "go go go" to "make it end, make it end" - not pretty, but the thought of being able to completely stop and sit was what motivated me to keep moving forward.

Getting ready to race on quiet streets with lots of parking.  The race didn't start till 9am.
In the end, D and I were both far off from are PRs.  I think I was in my best running shape ever, but I was not at all prepared for the course that we ended up running, and I still finished more than 6 minutes behind my PR for the half marathon.  Final race time- 1:51:26.  There was chip timing at the finish line, but not the start line (not that shaving the few seconds it took to get to the start would make much of a difference).

I ended up running near a young female runner for much of the second half of the race.  She got in front of me for the last 2 miles, but I kept within about a city block of her and charged up alongside of her at the finish.  She was startled to see me near the finish line (I'm sure she thought she dropped me in the last mile), but she also surged.  My goal was never to pass her, but to have a target to keep me moving forward, and I finished a second behind her.  I didn't push to beat her in that last second, and I don't know if I could have passed her or not.  Even so, I think my last minute surge upset her, which was the last thing I wanted to do.  I often race other females in to the finish, and then usually one of us will congratulate the other on the strong mutual finish.

I hope I helped the runner shave a few seconds off of her time as well- the goal should be to find the best race in everyone, not to beat someone in a sneak attack -we weren't going to be in the top 3 females no matter what (had that been the case, all sneak attack options would have been considered :0).

Marathon header
YMCA Johnstown Half Marathon, 2013

What I loved about the race was that it felt like a race for true dyed-in-the-wool runners.  There weren't many runners, but among those there were people decked out in "marathon maniacs" shirts, and runners sharing old race stories.  There was a free, all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner the night before, friendly volunteers, and a free trip up a verticle incline.

What I didn't love about the race was the course (particularly the lonely, ugly finish), which left me feeling like I had nothing to show for all of my effort and I'd lost out on an opportunity to do some damage to my PR.  I really wish there had been more water/gatorade stops - it sure didn't feel like they were every 2 miles, as promised, at the end.  I admit I like cushy races with flatish courses, pacers, race medals, and tech t-shirts.  This race will never be one of those races, but hopefully it made D and I better, smarter runners.