The Wind Strengthens the Tree Only After It Stops Blowing

I’ve just finished one of the heaviest training weeks I’ve had so far this marathon cycle:  just over 80 miles.  I’ve reached this barrier before while preparing for other marathons, so I’m not celebrating too much, but it’s time to take a step back.

Yes, instead of continuing to build the quality and quantity of my runs each and every week, I’m purposely cutting back for a week.

Research shows that intentionally dropping mileage for a week during the 10-12 week marathon specific period not only does not hurt your progress, but it leads to growth.

It seems so counterintuitive to build, step back, build, step back.  Our minds want progress to be linear.  We should simply build and grow in a nice smooth arching line upwards.

The logical way to build endurance should be like building a house out of Legos.  You start with the foundation, add some walls, then a roof, and you’re done.  One step after another.  Relentless forward progress until the house is built.

But that’s not how growth in living things work.

We are more like a tree in a windstorm.  As our tree sways back and forth in the wind of hard training, intense cellular damage is taking place in the trunk and in the branches.  The tree is being pushed farther than it is used to going so it stretches and bends and tears a little.

After the storm passes and the winds become calm, the tree repairs itself, builds stronger cell walls, and becomes even more resilient to withstand the next storm.

Yet, if the wind is unrelenting, blowing day in and day out, the tree has no chance to repair the damage and get stronger.

It will break.

So tomorrow I’ll skip my run and rest.  I don’t feel especially tired or worn out, but my long run today was not the quality run it should have been.

Missing splits is often a sign that you need to rest, instead of continuing to push and train harder.

How much should you drop down for an easy week?  Well, that’s a bit subjective.  Many experienced athletes many only need 10-20%, while those venturing into new territory of distance and/or intensity should probably aim closer to 30%.

I’m planning for about 20%.  Maybe I’ll take a bit more than that if I need it.

I admit that dropping that much when I know I can handle another 80 mile week hurts my ego a little.  It plays on my fears that I’m not doing absolutely everything I can to get better.

But ironically, there is a freedom in restraint.  I know that resting and cutting back on mileage is a training strategy for improvement, not a sign that I’m not fit enough or not working hard enough.

I’m simply taking some time to prepare for a hurricane.

Can I Start Marathon Training Yet?

After taking the spring off of racing marathons, I am so ready to get back to it.

I feel like I’ve been wearing someone else’s wardrobe for the past few months by racing 5 and 10Ks and nothing ever fit right.  I just want to put my jeans and t-shirt back on and get back to my passion.

So I have chosen my fall race, the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon on October 1.

The course is a lovely, point-to-point race along Lake Michigan.  With only a couple hundred feet of elevation drop over the entire course, it is about as flat as you can get.

Here’s the course profile for the first half:

Course elevation profiles always look a little more dramatic than they actually are.  The little rises and falls will feel almost imperceptible over this distance.

And the last 5K has a nice little descent which will be welcome at that point!

Besides the favorable course and the likelihood of good racing weather, the other reason for choosing Milwaukee is because I went to college there at Marquette University.  It’s always nice to go back and visit and hopefully catch up with some of my dearest friends from back in the day.

My sister also lives in Wisconsin, so hopefully she’ll be able to come out and be ready with a steaming bag of french fries for me at the finish line!

Milwaukee is a beautiful, fun city and while I didn’t run in college, I’m really looking forward to running there this fall.

Besides the race itself, I am mainly looking forward to getting back into the long grind of marathon training.  I know that sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t run them, but I like the sense of accomplishment I feel when I train for a marathon.  I haven’t really fallen in love with the shorter races as I had hoped, and I have been a bit disappointed that I haven’t seen my times improve this spring.

Well, actually, I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  My racing times certainly haven’t improved, but there have been a few bright spots in workouts that have given me hope.

Nothing dramatic or clear cut, but a few track laps here and there that I know that I wouldn’t have been able to hit a year ago.

Little moments that show me that I’ve got it in me, I just need to coax it out at times.

For now, I’ve got one last 5K to race tomorrow and that’s the Downhill at Dusk 5K that I raced last year.  (Just rereading my race report is making me wonder why I’m doing this to myself again.)  It’s a very steep downhill the first mile, cruising to flat the second, with a nasty little crest at the end.

I’ve got no goal this year, except just to race it hard with an open mind and see what happens.

Because as soon as I cross that finish line, marathon training begins.

 

Charleston Marathon 2017 Race Report. New PR!

I feel so good about this one.

My goal for Charleston was to have a happy race.  I wanted to do well for myself but I did not want to get anywhere near the edge of everything I’ve got.  I needed a confidence builder and Charleston delivered.

Does every racer lay out their clothes the night before?

The temperature at the start was a comfortable and sunny 53 degrees and would rise into the high 6os by the end of the race.  This is warmer than ideal by about 10-15 degrees for racing, but I didn’t mind it.

I woke up three hours before the race and had my usual breakfast of two slices of whole wheat toast with almond butter and jelly with a banana, a small cup of coffee, and about half the juice from a can of sliced beets.

Two hours before the race, I mixed 40 grams of cornstarch into the rest of the beet juice and quickly chugged that down (that’s a little rough on the tastebuds so the quicker, the better).  That would be the last liquid I would take before the race.  An hour before, I took one 40g caffeine mint. Then 45 minutes before the start, I ate two Nature’s Bakery fig bars.

At the start of the 2017 Charleston Marathon

For fuel during the race, I mixed 60 grams of cornstarch, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of Morton’s Lite salt in my 8 ounce fuel bottle with enough already-mixed True Lemon lemonade to fill the bottle.  This is almost double the starch of my original recipe, but the mix is still quite thin.

I had practiced this concentration in training, but never at the marathon distance, so I made up two bottles of fuel. The plan was to have my husband hand me the second bottle at mile 18.

I wanted to stay on or around a 3:05 finish pace, which translates to 7:03/mile or faster.  I wanted to run the first half conservatively to save energy for the second half, but not so slow that I would have to make up time.

Miles 1- 5: 6:38, 6:57, 6:43, 6:59, 6:53

The first mile is always too quick for me.  The full marathon runs with the half marathon, so there are a lot of fast runners in a big group.  This makes it more fun (at this point), but it is easy to get swept up with a faster pace.  I never completely trust GPS during the first mile, so when I saw the 6:38, I tried to reign it in.

Mile one

 

I was feeling so fresh for these first miles, that it was hard not to think about whether I really could try to make 3 hours. But I let that go and tried to stay in the present moment.  We were running along Battery Park near the water and it was just gorgeous.

Miles 6-10: 6:59, 6:58, 7:06, 6:59, 6:57. 10K split: 43:08 (6:57 pace)

As we left downtown Charleston and headed north, the scenery changed from historic to industrial.  The half marathon turned away from the full just before mile 10 and the marathoners began an out-and-back.  I’m really happy with my pacing here.  I was feeling fine and my breathing was still easy.  I had started taking sips of my fuel at this point as well as grabbing a gulp of water every two miles at aid stations.

Miles 11-15: 7:01, 6:52, 6:48, 6:55, 7:03.  11.8 mile split: 1:23:29 (7:04 pace, was my GPS pace off?)

Just after mile 12, we ran out a pier on the water and turned around.  This was where I could see the women ahead of me for the first time.  Elite runner Esther Atkins (who was just on a training run) was well over a mile ahead of the next woman at this point.  I could see a woman in green ahead of me for a few miles and I was only about 50 yards behind her at the turn around.  I was in fifth place.

As we headed back to re-join the half runners, I thought I had a chance to pass the woman in green.  When I clicked off a 6:48 mile at mile 13 and still couldn’t catch her, I decided to let her go.  Then I saw the third place woman starting to walk.  I was in fourth.

At mile 14.5 the full course met back up with the half course.  We had just run 4 more miles than the half runners at that point so the road was full to the edges with slower runners.  I lost sight of my competition and tried my best to stay at the edge of the crowd.  At one point, I hopped up onto the sidewalk so I could have a clear path.

Then, just before a turn thick with runners, I saw a woman struggling at about my pace and I passed her easily.  It was the woman in second at the turn around.

I was now in third.

Miles 16-20:  7:05, 7:07, 7:04, 7:10, 7:00. 20 mile split:  2:20:31 (7:01 pace).

I knew I was starting to slow down a little, but I was still feeling okay.  Third place is really good in a marathon and I wasn’t ready to push any harder to go faster.  I just wanted to maintain.

But in order to maintain this late in the race, I needed to push harder.

At mile 17, a took another caffeine mint.  The minty taste felt refreshing and I hoped it would give me just a little boost of energy, bypassing my stomach.

I saw my husband at mile 18 and I tossed my fuel bottle before him and grabbed the new one.  I still had about 25% left in the first bottle, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need it, but you never know.

This part of the course is a series of loops that begin and end around Park Circle like petals on a flower.  Esther Akins was so far ahead that I saw her a couple of times at the beginning of a loop that she was already completing, but I never saw the second-place woman in green again.

My music stopped for whatever reason around mile 20 and my upbeat pop music was silenced.  Not the best timing.

Miles 21-26.2:  7:26, 7:16, 7:22, 7:27, 7:34, 7:44, 6:45 (last 0.2). Finish: 3:06:57 (7:07 pace).

The last 10K was clearly my weakest.  I knew that I had to exponentially increase my effort just to keep the same pace and I thought I was, but every time I looked at my watch, I was surprised at how slow I was.

At mile 22, a volunteer cheerfully shouted, “you’re almost there!”

“No, we’re not,” I muttered.  Don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate everyone who volunteers at a race, but for the love of everything sacred, DO NOT say “you’re almost there” to anyone in a marathon until mile 26.  It’s just cruel.

Another mentally challenging part was that there were very few marathoners on the course at this point but there were a lot of 3-hour half marathoners walking and chatting and listening to music.  It was not nearly as crowded as it was earlier in the race, so passing was not a problem, but I didn’t have a pack to pace with.  My body was tired, but my brain was even more so.

This is when my sweet but negative Nancy voice in my head got loud.  She means well and just wants to protect me, but she does not care a thing about my racing goals.  You’re in third, she said kindly, just hang on and get there.  No need to speed up.

In training, I concentrate hard on my breathing patterns.  I know that when I’m working hard, I breathe in for two steps and out for one, so I told myself to forget my heavy legs and just get into hard-effort breathing.  I would speed up a little, but then involuntarily slow back down.

About a half mile from the finish, a pacer from the half marathon who had long finished shouted out that I was on 3:05 pace.  Instantly, I forgot about all the mental mind games telling me to slow down and I kicked as hard as I could.  There were several hard turns before the finish and I clipped each one as tight as I could, drove my legs forward and pumped my arms.

The last quarter mile was at 6:45 pace, proving that I still had plenty of energy left in my legs if my brain would just allow it.

The clock was ticking closer to 3:07 and I was determined to get under it.  With three seconds to spare, I did.

At the finish with my friend David.

So while I’m not thrilled with the last 10K, I am very happy with how the race went overall.  Nutritionally, it was perfect and it’s great to know I only need one 8 ounce bottle.  I have never felt better physically during a race and I know that’s because I stayed within myself and didn’t go to the well.  It was still a hard effort, but I’m satisfied knowing that I still have more to give.

And to share the podium with an elite American marathoner whose PR is 2:32 was so much fun.  Sure, she beat me by 20 minutes and was practically jogging, but I don’t care!

Sharing the podium with elite Esther Atkins

Now it’s time to savor, rest, recover, and EAT!  Not sure how many days I will take off running just yet, but after such a long training cycle, I’m really looking forward to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Through Taper Week Without Tantrums

Taper week can do some crazy things to runners.  Some people feel nervous and anxious about the big day.  Without as much running scheduled to ease the mind, nerves can get a bit frazzled.  We worry about losing fitness and gaining weight, we obsessively stalk the weather forecast, and we stress about making sure every last detail is taken care of.

We get the taper tantrums.

As a running coach for Runners Connect, I get a lot of questions about taper week.  Every individual responds to taper a little differently, but there are some basic rules that may help the time go by a little easier, without losing your mind.

What should you eat?  How do you carbo load?

This is one of the questions I get the most.  As a general rule, you do not want to change things up too much in the week before your race because it is not enough time for your body to adjust.  Taper week is not the time to experiment with a radical new diet or stuff yourself with pasta.  You should eat a normal, healthful diet of whole foods, especially plants, just like you should all year round.

Because you are running less during this week, you are not exhausting your muscles’ glycogen stores so they will stay full from a plant-rich diet.

If you are data-driven and need some actual numbers, Runners Connect recommends that you eat 3-5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight during taper.

Every morning, I eat the exact same thing: 2 slices of my homemade whole wheat sourdough bread, lightly slathered with almond butter and jam.  Making homemade bread is something that I just love to do and it’s a great way to fill some restless time during taper that I normally would have spent running.

Fresh loaves of whole wheat sourdough

But I’m careful not to go overboard with the bread.  The main sources of my carbs this week are starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and bananas), fruits and veggies, legumes, and whole, unprocessed grains.  The day before the race, I’ll choose those with a little less fiber for easy digestion, making sure that my biggest meal is lunch and not dinner.

When do I back off strength training?

Again, you should not be trying to change things up too much from normal during taper, just back off the length and intensity.  So if you normally strength train twice a week, you should still do that, but your routine should be shorter, with fewer reps and lighter weights (if any).  You should never lift to fatigue during taper.  Remember, you will not gain any fitness taper week.  You are simply going through the motions so that your body is tricked into thinking everything’s normal.

 

 Should I be this tired? I thought taper was supposed to make me feel better!

Some of us just don’t feel good during taper.  Some people even start to get sick because the immune system lets its guard down after months of hard training.

Not feeling great happens to a lot of us because it take 10-12 days to fully recover from hard workouts, which means you are not going to suddenly feel fresh and peppy.

If you do get sick, here are some great tips from elite marathoner and my colleague, Tina Muir.

Should I schedule a massage?

Be careful with this one.  If you normally get weekly massages (lucky you!), then staying with your routine is probably the best plan, as long as you let your therapist know to take it easy on you this week.

But if you do not have a regular massage routine, this is not the time to start.  Massages are wonderful, but they can also leave you sore, which is the opposite of what you want.

What should my goal pace be? 

You should already have determined your goal pace at least a couple weeks before your race so that you get a chance to practice and perfect it.

As much as we runners love round numbers and big goals, that’s not the best way to choose your goal pace.  For anything but your very first marathon where you are simply trying to finish, goal marathon pace should feel a step harder than easy. The more experienced you are at the marathon, the more you can push the effort level.  If you’ve had a good 12-16 week build-up, the goal pace should be something that felt pretty hard the first few weeks, more manageable in the middle, and good (but still a little scary) toward the end.

If you’ve had a less-than great build up, you’ll want to be a bit more conservative.

I love this article that has an assessment about whether or not you are ready for your goal pace.

This is my seventh marathon taper and I’m feeling surprisingly calm and relaxed this time.  It’s as if I have nothing more than a long run on the books for this weekend.  It’s not that I don’t care about the race this weekend–I most certainly do–but this time, my perspective has changed.  For the better.

Part of this comes from experience.  I’ve been through this before and I know that allowing myself to stress about the race for an entire week does nothing but harm.  I am determined to run this race to the best of my ability which includes sticking to conservative speed limits in the first half and then just seeing where my legs will take me.

With any luck, it will be my best race yet.

“Over It” Might Really Mean “Overtrained”

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

I am losing my enthusiasm.

After feeling so well prepared and ready for a big success in Richmond and then not getting there, it’s been a challenge trying to stoke the fire again.

I have gained so much fitness this year that I wanted to get back on the horse and try again.    With eight additional weeks of training, the Charleston Marathon seemed like a good choice to learn from my mistakes in Richmond and get just a little bit stronger.

Yet part of me just feels over it.  I thought I would be done training this hard by now.

In some ways, I am glad the DNF happened. What I am able to see now is that I was clinging on to my sub-three-hour goal so fiercely that it became like a wet bar of soap: the tighter I held on to it, the more easily it slipped away.

Afterwards, I rested and recovered and scaled back for a couple weeks.  Then I chose Charleston and put my nose back to the grindstone.  I quickly got back up to 70-85 miles a week and began watching my food intake carefully again.  Not too much, not too little, but just enough to get a little leaner and and a little faster.

Then I bombed a key marathon workout, the 2 x 6 miles.  Blowing one workout is no big deal, but this was a complete mental and partially physical unwillingness to come anywhere near the paces I normally do not struggle with.

But I let it go and kept up with my schedule as usual.  The next workout was fine.

A week later, what should have been an easy workout in the middle of my pace range felt like a struggle.  I hit my paces, but for some reason the slower-than-marathon-pace run felt unusually hard.  What was going on?

But then the next workout was great.  And then I had a really fantastic fast-finish long run.  Just what I needed for my confidence!  All better, right?

And hey, I’m almost at 3000 miles for the year of 2016!  If I run around ten miles a day for the month of December, I could do it.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Then came another bad workout.  This time on a cut-down run where each mile gets progressively faster.  These runs are always hard, but back in October, I had run a cut-down beautifully.  Textbook perfect and faster than I ever thought possible.  But last week, I could barely get below marathon pace without feeling defeated.  I ended the workout early.

I was yo-yoing from good to bad to mediocre and back again.

I needed some advice.  Marathon training is supposed to be hard and exhausting, but I was starting to get to the point of not really caring anymore.

I brought my concerns to my coach at Runners Connect.  Being a coach myself, it’s all too easy to try to be my own coach.  But that’s a lot like being your own lawyer.  When you coach yourself you have a fool for an athlete.

 “You’re running too much,” warned Coach Danny.   “More isn’t always better, especially with volume. Even though you aren’t tired physically, you are mentally, and I think that’s more of a sign of overtraining.”

Ideally, I should be concentrating more on nailing the workouts with fresher legs and scaling back on the easy miles in between.

In other words, my 10 mile super slow easy days that I thought were doing me so much good are actually sabotaging me.

The other thing Coach asked me to do is review my training.  “Look back at logs and find a string of weeks that you really nailed every workout and felt you broke through a plateau, or things were effortless,” he said.  “That’s the ‘sweet spot’ of your volume vs. intensity and you never want to get too far from it.”

Unfortunately, there was no clear correlation between big volume and bad performances.  I had some of my best workouts during some of my highest mileage.

Even so, I think the cumulative mileage is starting to show up in my workouts.  It seems that overtraining is a sneaky affliction because I don’t feel tired in the rest of my life.  My muscles are not sore.  My appetite and weight have been stable.  I’m not getting sick.

I’m just mentally tired.

I’m losing my enthusiasm.

So I’m scaling back.  I will not run today. I will not run any more 10 mile easy days before Charleston.  I will shift my focus away from mileage and concentrate on “training density,” which is making the workout days really count.

I will not get 3000 miles this year and that is just fine.

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston. (That was hard to type, so I’m going to type it again to make sure it sticks.)

I will not aim for a sub-three-hour marathon in Charleston.

It is still a goal of mine to cross the finish line under three hours.  I will do it someday but not this time.

After a year of great running without a great marathon, I just need to focus on finishing one well again, no matter what the time on the clock says.

I need to take a smaller bite out of the elephant instead of trying to eat it all at once.

I plan to pace myself slower than Richmond and hope to cross the finish line between 3:05 and 3:10. This is a conservative goal for me, but it would still be the fastest I’ve ever run that distance, so I’m going to prepare myself for it to hurt more than I ever have before.

And if I fail again, I will learn again.   And, eventually, after a nice long break, I will try again.

With enthusiasm.

The Rain is Coming

The Southern Appalachians are on fire.  Extreme drought combined with carelessness and arson have set the mountains ablaze leaving the valleys choked with smoke.

When the wind shifts, the grey haze clears and blue skies return.  When it shifts again, the smell of wood smoke clings to our clothes and the ashy air fills our lungs.

Needless to say, this has not been a good month for running.

When I left for my long run yesterday, the skies were blue and the air smelled fresh.  I am back on marathon training again and this was my first 20 miler in many weeks.

The schedule called for 12 miles easy, 6 miles fast, and 2 miles of easy cool down.  I had hoped to run a couple laps around Lake Summit, a pretty 9-mile loop in the county south of us, but by the time I drove down there, the blue sky had turned to haze.

I turned around and headed back to Asheville.

The first easy miles were quite nice.  I jogged through the city listening to NPR podcasts in the sunshine.  I could feel the steady 10 mile run from the day before in my legs a little, but that was the point.  I was supposed to run on tired legs to simulate the conditions of a marathon without actually running 26.2 miles all at once.

When I dropped down to the river and ran towards the park, it was like hitting a wall of smoke.   Ugh, I thought.

20161127_152528

Maybe I should just go to the treadmill and finish this, I thought.  But I was on mile 11.5 and I was over 2 miles from home, a mile of it straight uphill.

I really don’t want to run on the treadmill and mess up the run.  I’ll just see how it goes.

It was not a great idea.

The plan called for those fast six miles to be 10-15 seconds faster than marathon pace or 6:35 pace.  And that’s AFTER running 12 miles on tired legs.  When I read that, I smiled and knew I wasn’t even going to attempt that.

Because of my recent fast finish in the half marathon, my assigned paces in my workouts have gotten much faster.  The only problem with that is that longer distances are my strength.  My maximum speed probably hasn’t increased that much; I can just keep it up longer.

So trying to run half marathon pace on tired legs at mile 12 isn’t going to happen and I wasn’t going to try it.  But maybe marathon pace (6:50-55) wouldn’t be too bad.

I decided I was just going to do the best I could.

The first mile was slow (6:57) and the second was even slower (7:04).  I was breathing much harder than normal for that pace and every breath forced the smoky air deeper into my lungs.  My legs were starting to feel sore and heavy.

Okay, this is dumb, I thought.  I’ll just do one more fast mile and run the rest easy.

But then the third mile came in at 6:43.  The tension I was feeling about the run and the smoke and my legs hurting simply evaporated when I saw that number.  A visceral wave of pain relief seem to flow over me and for just a moment all my discomfort vanished.

Just three more fast miles.  Finish it.

I turned the corner both literally and figuratively and my resolve strengthened.  As hard as it was to breathe and run each stride, I was not going to quit.  Not this time.

The final three miles came in right on pace:  6:55, 6:52, 6:49.

It was not fun.  It did not feel good at the time.  I don’t recommend running through wildfire smoke.

But I got through it.

This run is like adding another arrow to my quiver.  When it is time to slay the marathon beast, I can pull this one out from my memory and use it to keep fighting.

The forecast calls for the rain to start tonight.  So much rain, in fact, that there is a good chance of flooding.

Hopefully, it will be enough to extinguish the wildfires and wash the air clean.

I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait to run in the rain.

The Painful Lessons of the Dreaded DNF

If I had known it was going to hurt this much, I might have kept going.

It was as if my stomach had trapped a rabid animal desperately trying to claw its way out.  The pain worsened with every step.  No amount of positive thinking or deep breathing would soothe the writhing beast captive inside despite my best efforts for over an hour.  Rather than continue to escalate the torture, I quit.

I got my first Did Not Finish (DNF) at mile 16.

The possibility of this happening never, ever occurred to me.  I had big goals for this race, but I also was prepared with not quite meeting them.  At least, I think I was.   The idea of actually giving in to the evil voice in my head that says it’s okay to quit never crossed my mind.

Until it did.

There’s no other way to say it: a DNF sucks.

It’s like being dumped by your high school boyfriend and getting the thin envelope of rejection from your dream college on the same day.

My heart feels like a stress ball in the hand of nervous day trader.  The acute pain I felt on race day seems like nothing compared to this constant ache.

So what happened?  Several things that added up to a big mistake.

At the hotel the morning of the race with my family, I woke up a few minutes before the alarm, three hours before the race.  Since I didn’t have access to a toaster, I ate my standard almond butter and jelly toast as a sandwich with my usual cup of coffee.  Everything went down fine and I had no inclination at that point that anything would go wrong.

Later as we got in the car to go to the start, we ended up in some traffic and had the anticipated struggle to find a parking spot.  I don’t think I felt particularly stressed out about this part, but I definitely was more distracted than I would have been on my own.  We found a spot to park at 6:55, fifty minutes before the start, which seemed perfect.

But as we were getting out, I realized that I had forgotten to take the caffeine pill that I normally take 90 minutes ahead of time, so I quickly washed it down with just a sip of water.  I am always cautious of drinking within an hour of the race to avoid having to stop to pee, but I don’t think I had remembered to drink any liquid at all except for the one cup of coffee.

The banana that I usually eat was forgotten in the car.

After jogging my warm up, I got to the start about 15 minutes before the gun.  I put my cold hands in my pocket and felt the fig bar that I like to take about thirty minutes before the race.  Oops. I managed to chew through half and tossed the rest away.  I wished I had a little water to clear my mouth out, but I dismissed that thought quickly and got into the corral.

The gun went off and I settled in with the 3:05 pace group (7:03 pace per mile).  My strategy was to negative split or to run the first half slower than the first.  It is especially important to run the first 4-5 miles slower to conserve your energy for when things get really hard, so I thought the slower pace group would be a great way to stay slower.

But we ran the first mile in 6:56.  That is too fast for 3:05.  That could be okay for 3-hour pace (6:52 per mile), but still, it’s cutting it a little close. I knew they were going too fast at the time, but the fear of going too slow got the best of me at the time and I remember feeling good about the split.

The water stations were every two miles for the first 20 miles and I took at least a sip or two at every one.  (A sip or two is not enough.)

The next few miles stayed consistent:  6:55, 6:56, 6:47 (danger!), 6:52.  I was in a good group of men at this point and the jockeying for position had stopped as the 3:05 pace group finally slowed down to a more reasonable pace behind me.  I was surrounded by people that were going for sub-three.

It was time for my first gel at mile 5.  I tore open the lemon flavor one and it was saltier than the sea.  A faint alarm went off inside my head, but I pushed it away.  Running hard intensifies every sensation so I told myself that it was my taste buds playing tricks on me.

As soon as the overly-concentrated gel hit my nearly-empty stomach, the pain began.

As we hit the nice, long downhill going to the river at mile 6 (6:56), I fell in step with a guy next to me.  I asked it he was going for sub-3.  He said yes and asked me the same.  I was managing the discomfort okay at this point at expected it to settle down at any moment so I smiled and replied brightly, “that’s the plan!”

He said, “Good.”  Then he added, “just so you know, this is uncharted territory for me, so if I blow up, just go on with out me.”

I said, “me, too.”

We sailed down the hill in a speedy 6:42.  I saw my husband and kids at the bottom of the hill and tried to manage a smile for them, but I was really not feeling good at all at this point.

At the next water stop, I thought I was grabbing water, but it was Powerade.  The opposite of what I needed, but I had a couple swallows anyway and stayed glued shoulder to shoulder with my new running buddy.

A woman who had gone out faster than I did was slowly coming back to me and as we passed her, I felt a momentary  sense of relief that I would get through this rough patch.  This was temporary and would pass.  Miles 8 and 9 were a still-consistent 6:53 and 6:56.

As we headed up the only real hills of the course up from the river, I expected to slow some, but my stomach was in full riot mode.  The next three miles were 7:02, 7:04, 7:05.  At one point, I saw my buddy look back for me and I’m not sure I could even manage to shake my head.  He went on without me.

I knew despite how my stomach was feeling, I had to continue to fuel or I would definitely be doomed.  I opened a peanut butter gel (that was thankfully the correct concentration) and managed to get it down, but violent churning continued.

The 3:05 pace group passed me at the top of the hill.

Now, had I been thinking rationally, I wouldn’t have let that get to me.  My pace was still just about perfect for a negative split and if not that, there was still a really good chance of finishing way faster than I ever have before.

My mind would not let me go there.  I had stopped thinking about finishing and had started looking for an escape.

Maybe I could make it to the half.

I did, but with my slowest mile that far in 7:10, with a half split of 1:31 and change.  Seeing 1:31 at the half should have been a good sign, but it got to me.  I was hoping to cross the half in 1:29 or 1:30 and just that extra minute felt like a slap.  That thought, of course, is absolutely ridiculous and a 1:31 is probably even smarter than 1:29, but at the time it felt like my dream was slipping away.

My family had planned to watch me at mile 16, so I just needed to get that far.  More runners continued to pass during miles 14 (7:07) and 15 (7:13).

The last mile I ran was the long windy bridge across the James River.  Since the packs I had been with had long gone, I tucked behind one guy and braced myself against the wind.  I cringed when I glanced at my watch and saw our 7:45 pace.  I was done.  I just had to get across that bridge to safety.

The last mile was a defeated 7:52 and I hit the stop button and crumpled to the curb.

I sat for a moment, drank some water, and assured concerned volunteers that I was okay.

I called my husband.  Because of traffic, they had decided not to try to go to mile 16 after all and they were closer to the finish.  I told him that I could walk and meet them.

While we were talking, I heard a volunteer shout to the racers, “Great job!  You’re on 3:08 pace!”  In my sad, angry, and dejected state, I muttered, “Fuck that.”

And right there shows me now the most important thing I got wrong.  I was holding so tight to my A goal, that I was not being reasonable.  Right now, I’d be thrilled if I had managed a 3:08!  Yes, I had a B goal and a C goal and even a D goal, but I had not really allowed myself to be truly okay with them.

In the end, I know if I had chosen to continue, my stomach issues most certainly would have only gotten worse and I would still be upset about missing my goals.  If I completed the whole race simply to finish, not only would it have prolonged and intensified the torture, but I would have given up any chance I may have to try again this season.   I cut my losses before any damage was done to my legs.

My heart is another story.

I will be processing this for a while, but even though I quit, I am not giving up.  I am considering either Kiawah in December or Charleston in January.

Even though I made mistakes, what I do not regret is sharing my experience.  The good and the bad.  Maybe I should also feel some embarrassment on top of everything else because I failed so spectacularly in front of others, especially my children.

But I do not feel embarrassed that I didn’t succeed.  I think there is some failure and some success in everything we do and perspective matters.  I made some dumb mistakes and I will do better next time.  And maybe someone else can learn from this as well.

I have been on this unreal trajectory with my running where I have PRed in every race I have attempted until now and as much as I hate going through this, perhaps it needed to happen.   I will learn some real lessons that will make me a better runner.  And a better example for my kids.

One thing is for certain:  now that I know what’s it’s like to DNF, that voice telling me to quit will never be as powerful again.

 

 

Belief is One Thing, Proof is Another

There is scientific evidence that belief is a very real factor in performance.  If you believe you can do it, you will.

This is not to say that by simply believing that achievement is possible.  I’m not going to jump off a building believing I can fly.  Belief is built by doing the work, every day, and respecting the process.

I have no doubt that I have the physical capability to run a sub-three hour marathon.  Zero.  It is in my legs and it is in my heart.  I know it’s a big statement when that would be more than 11 minutes faster than I have ever run the distance before, but I have never been more prepared.

Based on my half marathon PR a couple weeks ago, the fancy running calculators give me a predicted finish time of 3:00:23 to 3:02:24.  But I know I can do better than that.

All I need to do is prove it.

That will be my mantra on the tough miles when my legs are screaming to slow down.  Prove it.

When my hips begin to ache and there are still miles to go.  Prove it.

When the very act of breathing starts to feel like a desperate panic, I will breathe deeper and keep going.  Prove it.

When I catch sight of my husband and my kids cheering me on from the sidelines, I will remember they are learning what passion, drive, and accomplishment looks like.  Prove it.

Just two short years ago, it took me over four hours to run a marathon.  Breaking 3-hours is really an arbitrary time goal that is no more of an accomplishment than 3:01 or even 5:01.

But for me, that magic number symbolizes the impossible.  The ridiculous.  The unbelievable.

It symbolizes climbing a mountain that I never thought was climbable.  It means years of putting my head down and taking a single step over and over and over again until one day I see the view from the top of that mountain and look back at how far I’ve come.

Sure, there are other mountains bigger and steeper and higher.  But this is my mountain.

As we pack up and get ready to leave for Richmond in the morning, I know I’ve done all I could have to prepare for this race.  I’m feeling good, but anxious, and more determined than ever.

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The weather is looking a bit cooler than I would prefer: a chilly 36 degrees on the starting line, only warming up to the low- to mid-forties by the end of the race.  But a little too cool is good for racing and it’s certainly better than being too hot.  Boston this year was about 30 degrees warmer.

I have no more runs on the schedule, other than a quick 15 minute jog tomorrow and a warm up on race day.  The work is in my legs and in my mind.

There is nothing left to do now but prove it.

 

If you’d like to track my progress in the race click here and enter my bib number 498.

 

Is it Crazy to Race During Taper?

Tomorrow begins the last full week before the Richmond Marathon.  After two months of dry, warm weather, the forecast for November 12 calls for a 55% chance of rain with a high of 57 degrees during the race.  If I had to be picky, I could do without the rain, but the temperature and cloud cover is pretty close to perfect for racing.

The taper cycle for this marathon is different than any I’ve had so far because I’m racing twice in the last three weeks.  The first was the French Broad Half Marathon and tomorrow is the inaugural Zero 5K happening in flat Carrier Park where I train most days.  I had originally planned to race the Vance Rocket Run 5K tomorrow, but after jogging the course and its SEVEN hills, my coach and I came to the decision that it was not going to be beneficial for Richmond and pounding out those downhills could actually contribute to a little more muscle damage that I’m not willing to risk at this point.

Flat and fast it is.

So why am I racing a 5K a week before my marathon?  Shouldn’t I be tapering and resting and only doing a little marathon-specific work?

Yes and no.  The point of a fast 5K right now is to open up some speed in my legs that I haven’t felt in a while.  The faster speed of a 5K also pushes me into the racing red zone for just a little while, practicing one more time what I will feel like when I am pushing myself harder than I ever have before in the last few miles of the marathon.  Yet the 5K is short enough that I will be fully recovered by race day.

In other words, this is mental strength training.

I do not expect to PR at this 5K since I have not been putting in the kind of speed training specific to the 5K.   But you never know.

My PR is 19:33 (6:17 pace) from the Downhill at Dusk 5K back in June and as the name implies, it was mostly downhill, so I have gravity to partially thank for that time.  I know that I’m am much fitter now, but I have a lot of marathon miles in my legs.

Another nice benefit to racing during taper is that I have something to distract me rather than just getting bogged down by the taper tantrums.  Most marathoners struggle with taper because it is such a shift from our normal running routine.  We feel nervous and cranky and heavy and we miss our runners’ high.  We doubt our training, worry about eating too much and gaining weight.

Having this shorter goal has helped shift my focus to what is right in front of me.

Another nice distraction from taper anxiety has been this week of coaching at Runners Connect. I truly love the community of athletes we are growing and I’m enjoying being a part of so many runners’ journeys.

But I have never sat in front of a computer so much in my life!  I’m still working in real estate and plan to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, but I typically do not spend hours upon hours staring at a screen.  My eyes are tired at the end of a coaching shift and by butt feels suction cupped to my chair.

So today, I  installed my high-tech stand up desk.

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My glutes feel better already.

 

#richmondready

Yesterday was the longest long run of this marathon cycle training for the Richmond Marathon on November 12.  Twenty-two miles.  That capped off my biggest volume week at just over 82 miles.

I’ve run 80 miles per week in both of my last two marathons, but this was the best so far.  I feel strong and fresh as opposed to being sore and tired.  It’s a good sign.

This particular long run was not yet another Long Slow Distance.  It was a quality workout that had over 8 miles at or faster than marathon pace.  After 10 miles of easy running (in the 8 to 8:30/mile range), I had 8 surges of 90 seconds each at 6:30 pace, with 5-minute “floats” of marathon pace (goal is 6:52) in between, finishing the rest of the run easy.  The goal of this workout is to simulate the pace changes you might have in a race and to keep you running fast when tired.  It is also a great indicator of marathon readiness; if you can nail the floats at goal, you’ve got a great goal.

I’m proud to say I executed this one perfectly.  My surges averaged out to be 6:26 and my floats 6:51.  Right on the money.  More than any other workout so far, this one that combines length with speed tells me a lot about my fitness and the possibility of achieving my goal.

But it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Am I really #richmondready?

Renowned marathon coach Greg McMillian, famous for his running calculators, wrote an article for Competitor Magazine that just happened to pop up on my feed after my run yesterday.  It’s called “Six Key Factors to Achieving Your Marathon Goal.”

Would I pass McMillan’s test?  Let’s see.

 1. Stable mileage?  Check.  After a summer mostly staying in the 50 mpw zone, I gradually moved up to the sixties during August, up to the seventies for five weeks through Septmeber, and just crossed over to 80.  I like big mileage and can handle it because the majority of my running is very easy.

2.  Long Runs? Check.  Yesterday’s 22-miler was great and I’ve had two other 20s and two 18s.  One of the twenties was not quite up to speed, but it was only a few seconds off.  “Successful marathoners are usually the ones that not only get in the long, steady runs,” McMillan writes, “but they’re the ones that recover well in the few days that follow.”  I feel zero soreness today, which I’m extra happy about.

3.  Grooving Goal Pace?  Check.  The nice thing about running those faster strides is that in comparison, goal pace felt much more under control.  I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, but it’s comfortably hard.

4.  Leg Durability?  Check.  I haven’t felt leg soreness in a very long time.  This is a huge difference from past marathon cycles.  It certainly helps that I’ve eliminated the high-intensity strength training, in favor of simpler body-weight routines.

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5.  Fueling?  Check.  I’ve been really happy with my homemade gels.  No tummy issues and they go down smoothly and easily with a lot less water.  My caffeinated Salted Peanut Butter with a touch of protein was perfect for the back half of yesterday’s workout.  The Lemon Cream Pie will also be with me in Richmond.

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6.  Mental Toughness?  Check.  I earned this one at Boston this year.  Toughing out a PR in less-than-ideal conditions was the hardest race I’ve had.  I think I’m even better prepared now.

Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston
Barely lifting my feet up on Boylston

My score: Six out of six!

There’s is still a little over a month to go before the race.  I’ve got a tune-up half marathon along the French Broad River on October 22, which will be another good test of my fitness.

But the big miles are now behind me and I see big breakthroughs ahead.

 

*top photo of the James River in Richmond, VA courtesy of www.rvanews.com.