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Friday, August 16, 2019

Race recap: Greek Fest 2019

I signed up for the Greek Fest 5k in a moment of delusion, thinking that I'd somehow use the adrenaline of the starting line to rally for a good race, and hey - maybe even PR the 5k! While nine weeks pregnant and routinely barfing all day. Sure. Makes perfect sense.

The race is a Friday night race before Memorial Day weekend, and it looked to be a slow one, as it was one of our first warm and humid races for the year. This was an unusually long and pleasant spring for us in NOLA, so when summer temperatures hit, we weren't ready! By race day, it was quite clear to me that PRing was not at all going to happen, even though I'd had a surprisingly good workout that Tuesday. But Friday was not a good day. I took a gel to the start, hoping that 100 calories of sugar gel would make up for throwing up any solid food I'd eaten all day. Right.

(Insert race photo here, except the NOTC's facebook page got hacked and now it's a disorganized mess missing tons of information. But for a few hours, you could get addiction treatment for cheap, in Arabic!)

I warmed up for about two miles, and started the race actually not feeling too bad. But I quickly learned not to rely on pre-pregnancy pace assumptions. I ran the first mile in 6:06, only to rapidly fall apart. I just felt weak and slow all of a sudden. The race is an out-and-back and I saw I was in fourth place at the turn around. On a better day I could have maybe tried to catch up to third, but definitely not this time. I felt terrible, sick and exhausted, and my pace was around 6:30 for the last two miles. I ran 19:59 for fourth female. And then I got Greek food at the festival, and now I can never eat Greek food again.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Running: the past few months

Just to quickly let you know how running is going, here's a recap of what I've been doing during my long hiatus:

Terrible track workout the week I
found out I was pregnant!
May: The week of my scheduled surgery I had two TERRIBLE workouts. Tuesday on the track I felt horribly lethargic and slow, but I didn't know why, and I was honestly freaked out. I thought that maybe I didn't take off enough time after Boston and was showing signs of training fatigue. But I reminded myself that I was about to take off two weeks post-op, so I'd have plenty of time to recover. With that in mind, I moved Friday's tempo to Thursday morning - the morning of my noon surgery. Last workout before a ton of time off! But I felt SO bad. It wasn't because I was fasting; I never eat before I run (and I totally drank water - it was five hours before my surgery. I'm a little cheater like that). I actually stopped between my last two 1.5-mile reps and sat on a bench with my head down, feeling dizzy and nauseated. Well, a few hours later I found out why I felt so bad! And after that, I just started gradually slowing down more and more.
I was able to participate in all my workouts in May, even though I usually showed up minutes after pulling over to throw up! And for a few weeks, I even hung with my old pace group. My day-to-day running didn't change, either: I felt my best while running, and in May I hit 286 miles!

June: I kept it up in June, despite persistent nausea and poor (terrible) nutrition. I dared not skip a day running: it was the only activity that kept the vomiting at bay. Something about drawing blood flow away from the stomach really relieved my sickness. But alas, pregnant bodies don't work like non-pregnant bodies. Toward the end of June, I started having tendon and ligament pain that made some old injuries flare - specifically my left biceps femoris tendon. This is the exact same nagging injury that plagued me in the Boston build-up, except it was my right leg. I ran my last real long run on June 16th, a 15-mile progression run, completed at 7:34 pace. Right after that, I ended up taking most of the rest of the month off, trying to let my tendons and ligaments heal.
Early June: running with a baby bump! 

July: July was not a good month for me at all! It began with a week of almost no exercise at all. I started the month with an emergency room visit that left me wearing a catheter bag for the first week of the month, which obviously is not at all conducive to exercise.
This is how I spent July.
Once I was back to normal, I tried some test runs, but I was obviously limping, and I took another two weeks off. I ended up somewhere around 90 miles for the month.

August: So here we are in August. I gradually started to run again, but it was a huge shock after taking a few weeks off. I got much slower during that time! I knew I'd slow down, but I assumed it would mostly be related to weight and fluid gain later in pregnancy stressing the cardiovascular system. Nope. I've definitely gained a lot of weight (I can cram myself into a pair or two of my running shorts, and I've been in larger bras since May), but clearly something else is going on. My stride is incredibly awkward and uncoordinated, and I tire easily. I simply have no speed in my legs at all. I went out for my first long run in almost a month this week, and I ran 9:25's! Obviously, I'm going by feel now, but I have been wearing a watch or Garmin to keep an eye on the time - I am slowing down so much day by day that I might accidentally make myself late for work!

Suddenly slow and clearly preggers in August 
For now, I'm running some, at very slow paces, which are determined by feel. To give my ligaments and tendons a break, I cross train on some kind of low-impact machine on Mondays. I am still attending group workouts, but with modifications: like walking or standing rest when needed (and skipping reps - I don't have all night!). I think any type of exercise during pregnancy requires common sense; I know what's hurting me and what's not, and my body is making sure I know exactly my limitations! 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Baby on the way!

If you read my last post carefully...all the way to the end! you know that I'm pregnant! And how this whole story developed was, well, super duper dramatic.
Where I left off before my sudden silence, I was scheduled for uterine surgery to remove and biopsy a mass that couldn't be diagnosed via ultrasound. I had been in incredible discomfort for months, compounded by debilitating anemia due to the associated blood loss, and I was eager to have the surgery.
Curiously, my symptoms abated before the surgery. In fact, I called my doctor to wonder if maybe the surgery wasn't even necessary? "Maybe the intense marathon training was taking a toll on your body, and you've improved now that you aren't running," she suggested (this was during my week off after Boston). "But regardless, we have to biopsy that thing. It's a potential carcinoma." So, I dutifully prepped for surgery, and the morning of the procedure reminded myself that the post-op nausea would be worth symptom relief. But...I hadn't had any symptoms in weeks.

I was in my hospital gown about to get my IV when my doctor came in with the news. "I can't believe it, so I had them run the test twice," she said. "We have to cancel your surgery: you're pre-op pregnancy test came back positive!"

I was floored. I started hyperventilating. This was the last news I expected to hear! I have "known" for years that I could not get pregnant due to a combination of several health conditions. Well, amid the most challenging of circumstances, somehow this little baby succeeded! I have a hunch that the high-dose hormones I took in a failed attempt to control my bleeding this winter and spring actually worked like fertility treatments. But still - how one gets pregnant WHILE ACTIVELY HEMORRHAGING is still beyond me (and my doctor).

15-week baby bump in my Boston jacket...
pregnancy hormones are making me all
sentimental and I bought a jacket this year
after I realized I'd run the race pregnant! 
I had the super awkward task of calling David sheepishly and asking to be picked back up 15 minutes after he had dropped me off for surgery. So much for a cute way to tell your husband you're pregnant...we kind of spent the next day or two in shock, but then reality sunk in. This was a high-risk pregnancy. My uterus is...crowded. I don't just have a baby, I have fibroids and I still have the large mass! I decided to go quiet on social media and the blog for a while, to give myself time to tell friends and family: and for that, I wanted to wait until I saw my doctor to actually quantify my risks. As it turns out, you don't really see doctors early in pregnancy (I didn't know: it's my first pregnancy, and my mother never had a doctor for the six pregnancies I observed!). While I did an early ultrasound and requested my thyroid be checked right away, I didn't see my doctor until the end of June: which was also the beginning of my second trimester. So sorry for the silence.

At first, I was excited to hear that all appeared well, and I would be removed from the high-risk category. I mentioned some fairly alarming symptoms I'd been having, but my doctor seemed unconcerned and told me that they'd probably abate as the second trimester progressed. Unfortunately, just a week later, I proved her wrong; without going too far into it at this point, I have a very rare but dangerous complication called uterine incarceration that necessitated a visit to the ER, a catheter, and an emergency procedure. At my follow-up two days later, I showed improvement, but I'm not 100% out of the woods. The uterine mass (which my OB thinks is a submucosal fibroid) is to blame. This is frustrating and worrisome news, but some sort of complication is not unexpected given my age and health. Instead of letting that worry me, I'm focusing on the positive: I'm grateful that I have good healthcare and the prayers of many loved ones!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Boston by the numbers

Time: 3:00:21. WHY.
Pace: 6:52
Garmin distance: 26.35. I don't think that's bad at all for a race of this size, and it's exactly what I thought I'd see. I am usually much better at tangents, but it's tough at a large, crowded race to do that.
Cadence: 186. Hallelujah, I am finally running a better cadence!
Fastest mile: 6:29 (mile 16, big downhill)
Slowest mile: 7:19 (mile 21, heartbreak hill!)
Bib number: 8578
Finishing place: 2676. So, I read several places that in Boston your goal should be to "beat your bib" since your bib indicates your qualifying placement. You want to move up places. Obviously I beat my bib by a lot, because I didn't run a good race at Rocket City to update my time (I registered with an "easy BQ" from the Buffalo marathon, off a short build-up after my stress fracture, so I was hoping to improve my waive/corral based on Rocket City in December. However, I had a terrible race, so I didn't move up too much). What this does show you is maybe why I felt like I was fighting through crowds the entire race: if you "beat your bib" by close to 6,000, then you probably had to pass close to 6,000 people through the course of the race (estimation, obviously). No wonder I felt like the race was congested!
Finishing place, gender: 177. Hm. Maybe I'll break 150 some day. If I ever run Boston again.
Training cycle: 11 weeks
Days off: 0, amazingly.
Training mileage: 700 miles
Average mileage: 63.7 MPW. I was in the "low mileage" group on our team workout calendar, and I think that suits me just fine. I only had three weeks that hit 70, and they just barely hit 70! I definitely felt like 60-65 was better for me than 70-75 would be. Now, since our training plans aren't individualized, there is a lot of leeway within each group: for example, it will say something like "1-2 mile warm up, 3 - 4 repeats of 1.5 mile at tempo, 1-2 mile cool down" or "rest day or 40-60 minutes easy" - so while I was in the low mileage group, I got higher mileage than some of my teammates, who may have opted for the shorter option most days. Probably 55 mpw would have been too low, so I think I mostly hit the sweet spot.
PR by: 5:57
PR from: 2012 (I am choosing not to count RnR New Orleans, since I still have my qualms about its actual distance, but if I did, it would be a 4:17 PR from a month and a half earlier)
Recovery days after: Six days off totally, followed by three days of very easy and short running, before easing into a pretty benign workout. Despite the fact that my legs felt completely torn apart by the end of the race itself - I could not even WALK after, although a surge of adrenaline hit a few hours later and I merrily waltzed up 100 stairs in the T station rather than take the escalator - I felt recovered pretty quickly after this race. I have a hunch that having oxygen in your muscles may enhance recovery, too. Perhaps!
Ferritin in December: 8
Ferritin two weeks before Boston: 27! Could be better - I think athletes aim for 40 or higher - but this is a magnificent improvement!
Hemoglobin in February: 10.3 (This is after being on iron for 3+ months)
Hemoglobin two weeks before Boston: 12.3! Thank you, iron, for turning my running around!
Weeks pregnant on race day: 4

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Boston: Logistics and details

Logistics: I'm not a race-travel or Boston expert, and this is only my second Boston, but just to give you an idea in case you're planning to do Boston at some point, we did a few things that worked well. One was getting a $21 weekly pass for the T. We did all of our travel on the T, so that was a great deal (and when we left, we still had a few days on the cards, so we gave them to a couple at the airport). We also chose to stay in Cambridge, and I thought that worked very well. Travel was simple, we were right by a T stop, and it wasn't as hustle-and-bustle as downtown. Nice and laid-back and calm compared to the congestion and mayhem downtown. We stayed at the Porter Square hotel, and it was ok - it was definitely a good low-cost option, but the rooms are really small. Luckily, we were upgraded to a suite, but if we'd had a room only, it would have been pretty cramped.

As far as race day logistics go, I went in with a less-is-more view, but I could have done better here. I got on the bus in my race outfit with an old sweater on top, gels already tucked away, and I carried my gummy, cold oatmeal (which I picked at, as usual) and a water bottle. That was it. The only problem was that race morning actually had a lot of little moving parts, so I was a bit stressed out about that.

The big one was my super special private athlete's village. Now don't get me wrong, having someone offer you a house to stay in - complete with breakfast! - pre-race is absolutely amazing. But also anxiety-inducing. I had to get in contact with them once I got to Hopkinton, so I spent the whole bus ride asking to use someone's phone. I finally found a runner with a phone, but it randomly shut down as we neared the start, and she had to reset it (it had gotten wet in the crazy weather early). I ended up getting back on the bus and borrowing the driver's phone to text the family. Well, then I walked to our pre-arranged meeting spot - in desperate need of a bathroom, I had been on a bus for an hour and forty five minutes! - and no one was there. After about ten minutes, the police officer at the end of the road approached me and asked if I was waiting on the guy with the red Honda. Yes, I was! Well, he'd been calling them all day for runners, so he called them again, and was able to get in touch. Phew. They came and picked me up, but at that point I was really rushed to make it to the start. I used the bathroom, ate a croissant, tried to wring my still-wet socks out, and then headed back to the start. Except - because I was getting driven there, I had to wait for the rest of waive 2, and everyone being in different corrals, there wasn't much sense of urgency. Once we were dropped at the start, we had much farther to go than we thought - almost a mile, as we had to make a big loop around closed areas - and I barely made it in time. Not complaining about my incredibly gracious hosts at all, but - if you are the type who likes to be in control of your race morning, this kind of arrangement may not be worth it.

Then, once I got into the corral, I was frantically looking for Jeff and Van. We'd planned to run some of the race together, which I thought would be helpful, but I also didn't want them wondering where I was and letting that stress THEM out! I couldn't get to them by the gun, but I ended up working my way up to Jeff after all. I didn't see Van until he had started walking later in the race. Basically, I botched all my meet-ups.

I didn't use gear check, and I went straight to the family meeting area after the race, and that worked out well. David found a shorter security line so I didn't have to wait too long. In the future I might go ahead and check a bag so that he wouldn't have to go through a security line to have his backpack searched.

Race outfit: I went with our new crop tops for the race, since it was projected to be warm, and it was the right call. Two problems - one was that the large Boston bib hung over the edge. We should have screened the team logo higher! The other problem was...I had worn mine once before, and washed it, and it completely fell apart in the wash. So I ran with a crop with a ripped out hem and dangling threads!

Race shoes: I ran in the Nike ZoomFly SP. I got these shoes on clearance for a cool $41 - can't really beat that, and I thought the plasticky upper might repel water a little in case it rained. My only concern was that their smooth, flat laces come untied easily, but the only time that happened was immediately pre-race. I didn't have any shoe issues. In fact, overall my clothing had no issues. This might be the only race I remember in which I had no chafing and no toenail problems at all!

Race nutrition: After not eating enough before Hunstville and bonking hard, I spent the day before Boston overeating like crazy. I mean, I ate so much. Huge pasta lunch with bread on the side and a giant salad, enormous Thai dinner, several cookies at midnight, and some other snacks I'm sure I forgot. I basically tried to eat a whole extra meal's worth of calories to make up for the meal I'd miss (lunch) while running Boston. I don't know if this would work for everyone, but even though I was stuffed and forcing myself to eat, it worked for me. On race morning, I brought oatmeal with honey on the bus with me, but as usual, I couldn't really eat much. I did eat a mini-croissant about 30 minutes before the race. During the race, I had four and a half gels (couldn't really stomach that last one) and had a small sip of Gatorade at every water stop. I definitely did well with my nutrition: no bonk, no wall, no stomach cramps.
This is why I didn't wear sunscreen.

Race mess-ups: I definitely needed sunscreen, and the thing is, I had two opportunities to apply it: I brought some sample sunscreen packets to Boston, but didn't bring them to the race because the forecast was so dark and rainy; I got a second chance at my hosts' house before the start, where other runners were applying it, and declined. I got a pretty red sunburn!

I should have made more concrete plans to meet Van and Jeff in the corral. I rarely race with someone, and don't think you should pin your race on it, but I think all three of us would've done better if we'd worked together.

Other, more experienced runners have told me that I should have run a more aggressive first half: that the Boston course is not conducive to an even or negative split. May be true!

I was really disengaged with the crowd for this race. It was crowded, I was often in the middle of the road, and honestly the crowd just sounded like a dull roar. I think I could've taken better advantage of crowd support to push me along.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Boston marathon, continued: the race

Starting from the back of wave 2, corral 1, I was instantly enveloped in crowds. It was packed at the start. I refused to weave about, but it was tough not to. Lots of people poured past me for the first few miles. Without getting caught in the surge, I managed to work my way up to Jeff. Together we covered the first 5k in 21:36, which was perfect. It was great to have Jeff nearby, and we chatted a little. The weird thing about this race is that I almost didn’t talk to anyone besides Jeff. Last time I ran Boston, I talked to other runners a lot, and also interacted with the crowd. For some reason, this race I felt very isolated from everyone else. Maybe I was too preoccupied with my race, but I do think I missed out on the energy the crowd has to give you. Of course, part of this was because I didn't want to ruin David's photos. See, David is taking a photography class, and this week's assignment was "Narrative photography". He was supposed to tell a story via pictures, and of course the Boston Marathon was a great opportunity for that; however, one of the required photos was an action shot, and he was nervous about getting a good picture. He wanted me running the race, not clowning for the camera. So I resolutely ignored anyone I heard cheering my name, in case it was him wielding a camera (results below; do you think he passed the class?!)!
 I could feel myself braking hard on the hills and wished I had a better method for downhills. I forgot to take my watch off auto lap, but for the first few miles, it stayed pretty accurate, despite the crowds (tangents were hard). We passed 10k in 42:42 and Jeff and I agreed: “Perfect”.

 At that point, something crazy happened: we started catching the slowing runners who had passed us earlier, and then we started catching wave 1. From that point on, I was running with a mix of wave 2 and wave 1, and the whole rest of the race felt like I was struggling through seas of people running at a slower pace. This was probably because my wave and corral position was based on a 3:09, when my goal was now ten minutes faster, and in a race the size of Boston, that could put thousands of people with a slower goal pace in front of you. The race never opened up for me and remained congested the entire time. This was by far the hardest component of the race for me (I realize that all my photos show an overcast, totally empty course, when I'm claiming it was a crowded, sunny course. My husband is a magic photographer I guess, ha ha. My official photos more reflect my perceptions, but I can't post them here because I'm not about to pay for them!).

Slowly, Jeff drifted ahead. The weather still felt ok to me: by no means cool, but not hot. It was 64 at the start, with an expected high of 69 during the race. But I knew that the humidity would take a toll on me, so from the very first station, I was grabbing Gatorade. I took a sip of Gatorade at every single station on Monday! By about mile 10 or 11, I realized that I might have lost touch with Jeff for good, and I was also working too hard on both uphills AND downhills. My lack of hill experience was obvious. I hunched over to crawl up the hills, and slammed my feet down to brake on the other side. The profile of Boston really is a nice net downhill, but I’ll be darned if that doesn’t somehow make it more challenging. I definitely need practice on handling both ups and downs efficiently.

I hit the half in 1:29:34, right on pace. My plan was to start easy and pick it up in the easiest spots in the second half, but to do so measured by feel rather than by pace. I figured that, with the harder second half, that would result in an almost even split.

Around me, I thought I was hearing my name. Maybe there was another Grace near me - or maybe people on course actually knew me! I was definitely hearing “Power Miller” - hah. It must be hard to read our jerseys when we’re running! I definitely got a lot of "Miller"s but - I'll take any cheering, right?! The crowds were huge and loud like always, but for some reason I just wasn’t zeroing in like I did when I ran in 2012. I think part of the reason for that was the congestion. I was usually in the center of the course, working my way past people. I didn’t actually recognize any spectators on the course, not even David or the other Powermiler spouses.

I had taken two gels in the first half, and kept up the sips of Gatorade, and I was glad to have the electrolytes when all of a sudden - the sun popped out. Bam, just like that, it was blindingly bright out. I was so thankful I’d brought my sunglasses! We were heading into the hills now, and to my dismay I saw Van on the side, walking a water stop: a terrible place to be at mile 15, poor guy. Up the next hill I realized that I was closing back in on Jeff. I took advantage of the downhill to catch up to him. “Alright Grace, go girl,” he said - and that was the last time we spoke during the race! I thought he was right behind me, and he was for a little bit (I could hear other “Power Miller” cheers just a few seconds behind me!), but around mile 17 I realized when he didn’t answer me that I’d dropped him somewhere behind.

I had to really work now. This race was getting hard. It was warm and sunny and the hills were feeling more difficult than before. Despite the forecast, we had bright sun for almost half the race. I told myself to take my gels and Gatorade, focus on my form, and try to engage my glutes (sadly, my race photos clearly demonstrate just exactly how bad my form was at this point!). By now, there were not many people around me who weren’t struggling. I climbed heartbreak hill slowly, thighs burning, but at the top another runner tapped my shoulder. “Thanks for being my rabbit and getting us to the top”. I checked my time at mile 20 and realized that breaking three would be extremely close and would require a huge amount of late-race effort. I had about thirty seconds to make up. I hoped the downhills would get me there, but my legs were feeling totally shot. I realized that I’d underestimated the course : the early downhills really do chew up your legs for later miles. The last few miles were very tough: I was practically dodging walkers or slowing runners every step, and my legs were on fire. At every mile, I saw my pace fall short of the speed I needed to break three. I was able to use the long downhill to squeeze out a 6:37 for mile 22, but after that the 6:51's and even 7's kept popping up. I knew exactly what I needed to run, but my legs couldn’t respond to what my brain commanded them to do. I made the final turns and gave every single bit of effort I had left, crossing the line in 3:00:21. I had made up nine seconds. It wasn’t enough.

I almost collapsed just after the finish. My legs were toast and I was terribly disappointed. I definitely thought I had a shot at 2:59:59 and I came up short. It was close enough to regret it! But still: a big PR, and I was pleased with my effort. I ran a 47-second positive split, and if I had only been able to overcome that, I would have broken three. I tried to take the first half easy, but I just didn’t leave enough in the tank. I miscalculated - not the pace I needed for the last few miles, but the effort distribution needed to hit my goal. My splits show how totally spent I was: the best I could come up with for my 0.2 sprint at the finish was 6:22! Bemusedly, I realized that I had almost exactly hit my V-dot predicted marathon time of 3:00:43.
If you look closely you can see me at the bottom left, being helped by a volunteer in orange. That's my almost-collapse, preserved for posterity by my neighbor, who took a photo of her TV and texted me! Ha! 

Right after the race, I met another runner, Melissa, who had just missed 3 much like me. She and I chatted - she was running only her second marathon, having run a 3:09 to qualify! Amazing progress! I wished we’d run together and maybe tried to work for that sub-3:00. What a tough cookie! And then I headed straight to the family meeting area. David met me in about 30 minutes, having somehow found a short security line. The sky had suddenly become overcast again, and the wind whipped up, so I was glad he’d brought my jacket. He’d seen me twice on course, but apparently I was way too into my race to notice him or anyone else who told me later they’d cheered me on! But still - I feel like I subliminally absorbed the cheers and they powered me to a PR! I definitely regretted not being more into the crowds, atmosphere, and other runners - that’s the whole point of Boston. If I could do anything over from Monday, that would be it. Just kidding, it would be running 22 seconds faster, ha ha. But if I could do TWO things over...
This is a runner who is disappointed in her time.

We headed to our hotel where David - who had skipped lunch - helped me eat my race food (you know, a protein bar...bananas... Hawaiian bread). I realized I was nice and burned since I'd neglected sunblock, but I didn't chafe and my toes/nails felt fine. As for my hamstring injury - I could barely walk the moment I stopped running. It's amazing how your brain can override pain during a race, but the minute you stop? It takes over! I definitely need the time off post-race to heal up!

The Powermilers Slack group was chattering, and we decided to meet up at a brewery.
The race reports were mixed. Wayne had PR’d, breaking a years-old record by 40 seconds; Tarak had a breakout race with a 2:48 and negative split (prior best over 3); Daniella and I had big PRs. Our men’s open team was fifth overall with 2:31/2:32/2:37. But others had struggled in the heat, and we had several who experienced muscle cramping. I was hoping for better team results, but I couldn’t hope for a better team.
Alcohol may have been involved. Also, I LOVE Michele's (Paul's wife) sign! 
No doubt about it, the Powermilers got me that PR. Sure, iron helped (hugely). But running with this group of fast guys and girls is what motivates me and makes me try harder. Want to get fast? Go run with people faster than you. I’m excitedly looking forward to future PRs and finally breaking three with this group.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Boston: Pre-race

I’m sorry I didn’t post some goals and pre-Boston thoughts here, but I just got pretty busy tying up loose ends before our trip. Actually, as the weather forecast kept changing, I wasn’t even sure what my goals would be!

By the day before the race, it looked like the rain and wind would have lessened by race time, and the temperature would be mid to high 60’s throughout. It was also forecast to be cloudy and humid, with humidity in the 90’s. The wind would be a crosswind for my wave, but its impact would be negligible anyway, as the winds were light at ground level. That sounded fine to me. While we were blessed with great weather for most of our Boston training cycle, I’m no stranger to heat and humidity, so those conditions did not seem bad. Since before the race we heard all about various likely weather - torrential rains, cold air, hot temperatures, wind - I packed two options, our new team uniform crop top versus a singlet and arm warmers. I also packed a hat and sunglasses. Who knew what the weather would be race morning?

I was pretty sure I was in 3 hour shape going into this race. How I came up with that was based on my tune-up 10k. I ran that race in 39:06, which, plugged into the Jack Daniels equivalent calculator, predicted 3:00:43. Part of me thought I could actually run faster than that: after all, that 10k had been un-tapered, and I felt like I’d left something in the tank. But part of me also figured I would probably run slower than that, because the 10k was on a fast course in perfect weather and basically ideal conditions, compared to the challenging timing, weather, and course that Boston presented. I decided that those two factors basically cancelled out, and if I got decent weather - anything short of last year’s hurricane - I would shoot for sub-3.

The Powermilers had a group of twenty qualifiers, and nineteen who chose to race. During this training cycle, I started out running with one other girl near my pace, but as training progressed and I got faster, I ended up all alone for most weeks. Then I moved up to do my weekly speedwork with Mike, Jeff, and Van. They are all faster than I am, with faster goal times, but I could usually hang on for workouts, generally falling off on the last rep. They were all projecting times under 3, between 2:56 and 2:59. Because I would always lose them on the last rep, I had some trepidation in placing my goal so close to theirs, but I also knew that a 3:05ish effort at Rock n Roll had felt more like a hard workout than a race. So 3 hours sounded reasonable.
We did a tour of the Tiffany glass windows in Arlington church

I spent the day before the race doing way too much walking, but overall it was a good day. I started my morning with a 3-mile jog (including 8 strides) from our hotel in Cambridge. We stayed in the Porter Square hotel and it ended up being perfect - right at a T stop and very easy travel without being crowded for the race weekend. And the neighborhood was cute. I was just jogging along, looking at the little shops, when I heard my name. It was Audrey, from one of my favorite blogs, Hurdling Ham! I was jogging in her neighborhood! I stopped and got to catch up with her (we met when she raced RnR New Orleans) and we wished each other good luck for the race. I loved that serendipitous meeting! After my run, David and I attended Palm Sunday services at nearby St. John the Evangelist, then headed downtown for the rest of the day. We had a busy, busy day but fit a lot of fun activities in. We hadn’t thought out ANY logistics for the next day, so we went to the hotel bar for a happy hour Old Fashioned to plan for the race and work out all the timing and meetups. I knew that would push dinner pretty late, but that was the plan - eat late, race late. Unfortunately we ate MUCH later than we thought we would. The Thai restaurant we went to was packed, clearly understaffed, and we waited for our food for an hour after we sat down. But it was just what I needed - protein, rice, veggies - so it served its purpose.

On race day, I slept until almost 6, waking at 5:53 without my alarm. The weather was horrible! Storms, ferocious wind, and cold rain. But later it would clear up, and it would be close to 70, so I wore my crop top and shorts, skipped the hat, and brought sunglasses - just to block the wind, I thought. I did not expect sun because the forecast was for almost complete cloud cover. I was wearing my ZoomFly SPs , which I mostly like, except that the laces are slippery and flat and come untied all the time. But they do ok if triple knotted and tucked in, so I took my chances. I threw a throw away sweater I’d taken out of our Goodwill pile over my crop top, grabbed my oatmeal for the bus ride, tucked five gels into my shorts, and we headed out.

David walked me to the station under an umbrella , which was useless. We were drenched immediately. He rode with me and walked me all the way to bus boarding, trying to keep me dry, but the swirling rain and wind meant that my shoes were saturated before I ever got to the buses. I kissed him goodbye, found a bus, and took my seat.
Here I am with two other friends of my friend Kate: all of us taking shelter at the home of the Calkins. What a sweet family and a great idea! We had food, water, Gatorade, bathrooms, even vaseline and moleskin available. It was a little mini athlete's village...without the port-a-potty lines!

The bus ride turned out to be... interesting. My driver and a few other buses got lost, all following one mislead bus, and we rode that thing for an hour and forty minutes! Luckily I was early, and our driver navigated us to athletes village by some back routes. And it gave me time to sort of dry off, along with meeting some great runners with wonderful stories (like the guy from the running group called something like "The north side stallions" and he made them change the name to "striders" or something less of a turn-off to women! And now they have several women running with them!). Once I got to the village, I borrowed a phone and texted a friend of a friend. She and her husband live near the start, and host their own “athlete’s village” each year. She kindly reached out to host me, and the prospect of a house and a real bathroom was very appealing!

I followed her instructions to our meeting point, and her husband picked me up. There were a dozen runners at their house already. As I arrived, the wave one runners were getting ready to leave. I had enough time for a bathroom stop and to eat a croissant before I also got a ride back to the start. This was such a great perk and I just love the word-of-mouth running community that made this possible!

I actually cut it way too close getting to the start. I was in wave 2, corral 1, and didn’t realize how hard it would be to get up there. I wanted to meet up with my training partners Jeff and Van and pace with them for some of the race (Mike had a faster qualifying time and was in wave one). But with a minute to the start, I had to choose - squirm up to where I saw Jeff, or stay in the back of the corral and retie my shoe. Obviously I picked shoe! No sooner had I tucked my laces under then we were off. My Boston marathon had begun!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Oh, yeah, and the crime part

For some reason, in my last post, I forgot to mention that I was also the victim of two athletic-related crimes during this training cycle! Which probably means that they didn't impact me too much, so shouldn't have been included anyway. But they're stories worth telling, so...
(Many thanks, by the way, for the kind thoughts on my last post - I am grateful).

Crime number one occurred on a Monday night, when my schedule requires me to run from downtown at dusk. I chose to run on the Lafitte Greenway, which is a new bike/pedestrian path from Midcity to Downtown. It's lit, so I thought I'd be safe, despite the sketchy neighborhoods it runs through. But actually, I was attacked by a gang of kids and teens. Without getting into too much detail, there were some decoy kids and older teens were hiding in the tall grass and brush in the "Louisiana meadow" area of the green space. Apparently this is a favorite spot for attacks on pedestrians, as it not only offers cover, but is also outside the crime cameras range. I was struck by one of the ten or eleven year olds, hard enough to cause me to actually fall over - more from loss of balance (I was totally surprised!) than from force, although it was quite hard. To the gang's surprise, I leaped to my feet and lunged toward the perpetrator, and they scattered in surprise. I gave chase, a response I can only blame on my body choosing "fight" over "flight", but most of the kids jumped a fence. But after I turned away, they immediately returned, this time preying on a group of kids who had just peddled up, and stealing the youngest one's bike. Now the oldest kid of the group was swinging a baseball bat. But I was still riled up, and I silently ran over and snatched the bike out of the thief's hands! At this moment a car passed on the nearby road, and the gang again scattered for cover. The biking kids and I huddled together and we were surrounded by this gang of about 12 kids and teens. Luckily, another pedestrian soon approached, and I used his phone to call 9-1-1. The gang vanished for good when the police arrived, and they escorted the biking kids (who were so sweet, they had actually biked over because they saw me get punched!) and myself safely to our destinations. Because I chased these kids, I forced them into an area with a crime camera, so NOPD does now have them on film, which might help their enforcement efforts (although another very similar attack happened there just a few weeks ago, so I doubt they've gotten very far). I still have to run on Monday nights from downtown, but now I either go down Rampart to Esplanade or deal with the traffic and go down St. Charles. No more Greenway for me!

Crime number two is less dramatic and more a moving violation than a real crime, ha ha. But just two days after being punched by a kid on the Greenway, a pickup truck frustrated with traffic jerked into the designated, protected bike line and struck me as I biked to work. Luckily only his mirror hit me, but I twenty feet in the air (having the sense to drop the bike before I landed, or that would have hurt a lot!). We were right outside Audubon park, with many pedestrians around, and there was a collective scream as he hit me. Luckily, he was honest, and stopped and gave me insurance info. I was in terrible pain, but it was just bruising and swelling. I couldn't move my arm or neck for a week!
I was a little bruised. 

So yeah. That's how this training cycle has gone. Oh, but I do have a follow up! My doctor scheduled my surgery for May 2nd, so no sooner am I back from Boston and recovered, then I have to have surgery. I am mostly eager to get this done. The women reading here know what it's like to be a female runner and have to deal with a period sometimes, even worse if it is during a race or a workout. Well, imagine that except ten times worse, and almost nonstop for six months. Yeah. At this point if the doctor told me, "Oh sorry, we also had to take off your left leg" I'd be ok with it. The pain (I often throw up from pain), the inconvenience and embarrassment, and the anemia are not something I want to live with any more, and I am lucky to live in an age where an outpatient procedure can solve the problem!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Tumultuous training

Phew. Wrapped up a marathon training cycle, and for once - I took no time off for injuries! I felt like my fitness and speed improved, but man, was this ever a tough cycle. Not in terms of running: I actually think the training plan was a little easier, since I was grouped with the low mileage bunch, a decision I wholeheartedly agree with. Rather, outside factors made the last few months especially tough.

  • I lost my grandmother unexpectedly. She was in her late 80's, but was in good health, and had actually begun traveling recently. Her sudden stroke was a sad shock. Our sense of loss is compounded my complicated family relationships that made it difficult to form and maintain a good relationship with her (no fault of grandma, who always answered the phone with "Gracie! My darling!" no matter how thorny relationships with my mother became). My grandmother and I had a lot in common, loved each other dearly - and besides that, she was an icon to me. She represented a lifestyle that embraced beauty, something my childhood sorely lacked, and gave me so much to hope for as a child. 
  • I also have been, as you all know, struggling with not just ill-health, but the trepidation the accompanies a long wait for a diagnosis. Receiving an ultrasound report that shows an unidentified mass that could be a carcinoma is, well, distressing. Especially when you have to wait a month for an appointment. 
  • Plus, let's not forget why I went to the doctor to begin with... I feel terrible all the time! 
  • And meanwhile, I am still on thin ice as far as my iron goes. I continue to lose iron at an incredible rate, and have to be diligent to maintain normal levels (as of last week, my hemoglobin has recovered, but my ferritin remains low and my blood work shows lots of baby RBCs and platelets, as my body works frantically to replace the ones I keep losing).
  • My duties both at church and as a board member of the Power Miler Track Club really picked up in the last month. Both services are ones I am happy to undertake, but let's be honest here - free time would be nice, too! I wouldn't call these late hours and extra events stressful (in fact, both are things I truly enjoy), it's just that a packed schedule with no down time isn't really the best way to refresh a tired, training body. 
These various inputs in my life have certainly made this training cycle challenging, but a lot of good occurred over the last few months, too. 
  • I finally began to benefit from the iron I started taking last fall. My iron stores were so low that it took quite a while before I began to feel improvement, but when I did, it was AMAZING. I am no longer constantly out of breath. I don't faint when I stand up. I am not quite as cold all the time. I can run long distances without getting light-headed. And finally, I can reap the benefits of training without feeling so exhausted that I am doing more harm than good. 
  • I do have a treatment plan for the endometrial mass that has been causing so many symptoms. After a visit to a gynecological surgeon, I decided to undergo a biopsy/hysteroscopy. I'll have the biopsy analyzed while I am in the OR, and the surgeon will then complete the surgery as guided by the pathology. Unfortunately, the mass just isn't identifiable any other way - it's not a fibroid, but what it actually IS is not apparent from imaging. But at this point, I really don't even care. I feel so bad so much of the time that I was practically begging the doctor to take it out. I'll schedule this for after Boston. 
  • Hey, I got faster! I don't know exactly how Boston will shake out, but it's undeniable that I have had a good training cycle. I had no idea how much my anemia was hurting my running, but now that I am on iron, I am running better than I ever have before! 
My hope for Boston is that I can put all of these outside factors aside and run well, despite the stressors, or maybe even channel them. And of course I'm worried about my health, so I also hope that race day isn't one of the days I wake up feeling terrible! It's just a week away, so I'll find out how I handle the day soon enough. Looking forward to it! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

My Mobile mini-getaway

When the Power Milers traveled to Mobile to run the 10k, we decided that Boston racers should stay an extra day to complete our weekly long run in a hillier area than we can get at home. Mobile isn't insanely hilly, but we mapped a route with some long inclines and some nice hills near the Spring Hill campus. Since I'd have all day Saturday in Mobile, I made it into a little weekend get-away!

Friday: I was arriving late since I left work at 5:15 or so, but I planned some quiet alone time before meeting up with the group. Instead of going to the hotel, I went to dinner first, where I had dinner and a glass of wine and read my book for an hour.

It was lovely and relaxing! I am in general a gregarious person, and definitely an extrovert, but I have no problem eating alone and reading at the bar. I actually think it's quite a luxurious way to spend an evening. Although - the bar tender asked if I was in town for the race, and when I said yes, he asked me my goal. I told him I was running with a women's team, and the goal was to win, and he...laughed. I guess I didn't look all that serious. After dinner I walked around downtown Mobile for a bit, since it was a lovely cool night. Finally I did head to the hotel, and sat with the group on the veranda for some late night beers and conversation.

Saturday: After the race, our whole team headed to the awards ceremony, but from there we met up at a pub for lunch. We were finished pretty early, and I'd already planned the rest of the day: I was going to the USS Alabama. I'd never visited this WWII warship, and this was a great opportunity. I drove over and ended up spending the entire rest of the afternoon there; I stayed outside a good bit, too, since the weather was perfect. The only bad part of this afternoon was the bizarre couple taking sexy photos all over the tanks. I mean, it was so weird. It's a solemn memorial, and here they are pole dancing with the guns. So disrespectful. I shot them the JUDGING eye and moved on.

After I completed touring the ship, I drove to the sketchiest massage parlor ever to take advantage of a $50/hr special.

The rest of the club heckled me enormously for this, but hey, I'm never one to miss a bargain. I am pretty sure I didn't contract MRSA in there, and even though it wasn't the best massage in the world, it wasn't as bad as everyone expected.

We all met back up for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, which was fun. I missed the group dinner the night before due to my late arrival, so I was glad I could fit another in. After dinner, Paige and I headed back to the room, where she worked and I read some more (and had some more wine!).

We were up bright and early for the planned long run, even though so many people had bailed that we only had a group of six. But I am SO glad I stayed. We hit a bunch of hills, and I know I needed that badly. My little 25-foot levees aren't going to cut it for Boston training! We had a good group and again, perfect weather, and our "no specific pacing" 20-miler was most enjoyable. All in all, a great time in Mobile! A trip with friends, good food, books and wine, history, a massage, running, and a PR? Perfect weekend, I'd say!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Azalea Trail 10k - a stepping stone

A big group of Power Milers traveled over to Mobile for the Azalea Trail 10k this past weekend. I ran this race before with a team, and was excited to run it again, this time with the Power Milers. It's Saturday morning, so I left straight from work Friday night, getting in around 7:30 pm. I went directly to dinner, since it was growing late, before meeting the team at our hotel. Sara had booked us a double queen and Paige, Rachel, and I shared it with her. The location was perfect, and it was very affordable: for two nights we paid $73 each. 
Runners in the courtyard on race morning

Our veranda

 We got up around six and all met downstairs for a warm up at 7:15. We got two miles in before lining up. I realized at the start that, beyond a vague, "I should PR", I had barely thought about race pace or strategy. Not good. I find that I do not race well without a definite plan. Even worse, I have this mental block around the whole concept of 10k - I just can't envision what a 10k feels like. So I can't trust myself to race by feel. I realized all this as the gun went off, and the thought popped into my head, "Run 39". So that became my default goal.

The weather was perfect, the course is flat and fast, and despite my trepidation, I was confident I would PR. My PR going in to the race was 40:59 from another perfect-weather day at the Crescent City Classic. But I was in much better shape now. Unfortunately, as you know, my health has not been perfect, and I keep having issues with intermittent hemorrhaging. Naturally (unnaturally?!), this had started up again on Friday night, accompanied by considerable pain. But I am so used to it by now that honestly, I barely thought about it. During the race I had to remind myself a few times to keep running through the pain and to stand up straight (the pain tends to make me hunch or double over), but otherwise, I am now a pro at ignoring these symptoms. What I mean to say is - I had NO excuse not to PR Saturday! 

The race started FAST. The elites tore off the line, and people were passing me left and right and, in fact, almost knocking me over. I took off, too, and the whole first mile was just stabilizing and settling in. But I started too fast - I ran 6:10 for the first mile (6:06 on my Garmin, which terrified me, but it beeped short, thank goodness. It didn't feel like a 6:06, but that would have probably cooked the rest of my race!). Mile two was more spread out, more chilled out, more zoned out. My problem here was that I started conflating my race goal with 6:20's - the night before the race, Paige had told me that we could possibly get the women's team course record. I asked what I would need to run to achieve that and, based on everyone else's goal time, she said "6:20's". In actuality, to make MY goal, I'd want 6:15ish. Anyway, this is why you need a race plan! I ran 6:18 for mile 2, but after that settled solidly into 6:20's. And I just cruised. 

Because of my too-fast start, I had the uncomfortable experience of being passed by quite a few people around mile four. Not fun at all! My own fault, though. And here's the thing. After running 6:20 for miles 3,4, and 5, I didn't feel bad. I didn't hurt. I wasn't working as hard as I should. But it didn't occur to me that I should speed up, because I am so unfamiliar with 10ks! I should have hurt THE WHOLE TIME. 

In the final mile, the 10k and 5k merge, and that provided some excitement. For some reason I still didn't pick up the pace. Sure, I was tired, but it was 55 degrees, the course was shaded and pancake flat, my New Balance 1400s were perfect for my pace, I wasn't working hard - and I was at the end of a race. But I was holding something back. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an elite Kenyan woman passed me. WHAT?! In that last mile?! And then - another one flew by! I was immediately thrown off. What was going on? Did the course change, and have a final loop now? Impossible! Had I gone the wrong way?! No, people were all around me. What was going on? But I couldn't stop to think - I could see the finish line. I tucked my doubts away and suddenly realized that another women was in front of me - ten yards, maybe 12 - I tried, but I didn't catch her. I crossed the line in 39:05 just as a realized that the lead pack must have been lead the wrong way. 

After the race, I thought: 
  • Wow, huge PR, 1:54 off my PR and 2:40 faster than my last 10k race!
  • I am not nearly tired enough.
  • Huh? Pat and Rich? Tyler behind me? Crap, they went off course too! 
  • Paige WON! Due to elite woman's wrong turn, one of our Power Milers crossed first!
  • Why didn't I sprint...or cut just ONE second off each mile?! Or start slower?! Or finish faster, my last mile was 6:19!
Basically, mayhem reigned for a while. After I caught my breath, I decided that taking 18+ seconds per mile off my 10k PR was enough for now. I was happy with it. Now, I'm more confident in predicting my 10k pace and ability. I definitely need a better sense of 10k race pace and a better race strategy next time, but this race was more about learning the distance. I think I can PR again in the 10k easily - even though this was a perfect-conditions race. I needed one good race to get a grip on the distance and get my mind right about 10ks! I'd had too many bad ones in a row!
Lady Power Milers!
 As far as the elite women, and the Power Milers' fastest guys, yes - they took a wrong turn. The elite men took off so fast that they, and the lead bike, were quickly out of site. Someone took a wrong turn, and everyone followed. After doubling back, the poor runners ended up with 7.2 miles! 

All showered and waiting for awards
But all's well that ends well. Once we scored our teams, the three Power Miler men's teams scored 1-2-3, and the women won! 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Four weeks to go and a mini-taper week

Long runs with the stupid hamstring wrap. 
Four weeks to Boston! You know what that means? That means that two weeks ago, when I pulled my hamstring, I was six weeks from Boston, which means...I once again got an injury six weeks out from a goal marathon (same over a year ago for Houston and recently for Rocket City). Somehow, I weathered this one without any time off, so perhaps I'm getting more tolerant of the miles: but! I can't help but wonder if long training cycles just aren't for me. I think I do better with shorter cycles and shorter tapers, but I am not experienced enough to go off on my own for a whole training cycle. Our plans are written by the Power Milers group coach. While he can't individualize them for our 50+ strong group, obviously, this year he kindly separated us into two general groups, low and high mileage. It's super nice of him to write this stuff up for us, and even take into account the other group races we'll probably be running, and he doesn't get paid. So I want to both appreciate his time and skill (he has many paying clients and loads of experience, plus he learned at the feet of a master: his dad is a coaching legend in NOLA) and also acknowledge that I've gotten faster running with this group. More injured? Yes, for marathons, I have been more injured (2/2 with training cycles!). But I've never yet completed one of the marathon training plans, either. I want to at least complete a cycle once before I decide that they're too intense for me or too many miles. If I make it to Boston healthy, it will be a litmus test. Will I be fast enough to justify the tougher training?

Speaking of group races, the Power Milers are traveling to Mobile for the Azalea Trail 10k next week. I am very excited to be competing as a team. We're sending one women's team and three men's teams. To add to the fun, the men's teams are speed-balanced, so this is going to be an all-out competition for place! Heading into the race, we're pulling back on mileage a touch this week: our easy days are 5 minutes shorter, and our long Friday tempo is replaced by Saturday's race. I hope those changes make the difference between tired legs and fresh legs, because I'd REALLY like a 10k PR. My PR is 40:59, and that's from years ago. Since then, every 10k race has been a disaster one way or another. As recently as January I ran a painful 41+ 10k, but that was a day when I was really very ill. And now that I have a better grasp on my anemia situation, I should be able to avoid that scenario. I am making sure not to miss a single iron dose leading up to the race, since every single milligram counts right now (until I replenish my iron stores, my day-to-day iron intake impacts how I feel. Normally you have a huge buffer of stored iron to prevent those swings). I'm also trying to get this concept of the 10k being my Achilles heal out of my head. There's no reason that this race will be bad just because it's a 10k. I just need to figure out a workable race strategy, stick to it, and run my ability. Sure, it's not a distance I am "good" at, but that's why it needs practice! So if any of you have any 10k tips or strategies, please share. I remember a good friend and the coach of Varsity Sports running group gave me the "ten-minute" tip before: think of the 10k in 10-minute segments rather than miles, and run them like this: 1. Go out not too fast or too slow during the excitement of the start. 2. Assess how you feel, choose and settle into a pace. 3. Assess placement in the race and run strategically to pass others. 4. Run as hard as you can, hang on, don't die.
Any other thoughts are appreciated!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Mid-training injury and illness; a long and fast workout

Although I haven't had to take time off, I am actually working through a little injury right now. About ten days ago, I was running tempo mile repeats on wet asphalt and my foot slipped, causing me to pull my hamstring. I immediately had it treated with acupuncture, and I have been able to run on it, but it's still painful. Worse, though, is that I have some compensatory stiffness and pain surrounding the hamstring. Mostly, the pain is in my IT band, which is working overtime to stabilize that knee joint. To make matters worse, I stupidly rolled and massaged that area aggressively, and made it super sore! Right now, I am still running with a compression wrap, and I can feel pain when that leg is fully loaded.

And also - there is the mystery illness I have been dealing with, too. Long story short, I begged my nurse practitioner for an ultrasound because I felt terrible and knew something was wrong. There was a mass on the ultrasound that will require a specialist to diagnose and so now I have to go down that road - but hopefully it is benign and treatable and I can get well and move on. I wish that wasn't a vague post, but the US reading was vague!

Despite all this - I am running well! This past week was a lower-mileage week, and I do think that I am suited to somewhat lower mileage. My easy days are mostly slow five-milers, which allows me plenty of rest, and my workout days have been strong. The focus this cycle seems to be mostly on long runs, and I've been able to get those done with no problem. After a very good 16-miler with 10 at marathon pace (6:47), I was ready for the next big workout: 18 with 15 at marathon pace. Summer is well on its way here, and Sunday was supposed to hit 82F, but it was still low 70's early in the morning. However, it was incredibly foggy and muggy! The Power Milers met at the park as a team, and did this workout as an out-and-back on the levee. It's a good choice if you want to make sure you won't have any stoppage at all, since there are no vehicles and it's a non-stop path. But you can run into some terrible headwind/tailwind situations. Luckily, the wind was minimal Sunday, and our biggest concern was the dense fog. Man, if Boston is 100% humidity, I think we'll be ready!

We tried to group up for this workout, but our team paces are rather strung out this year. We had three strong groups, but then we had a long string of loners. I ended up alone, although in retrospect I was close enough in pace to Mike to run with him. But I got in front of him at the very start, and we stayed in that position throughout. The fog was so dense that I couldn't read my Garmin - even if I'd turned the light on and held it to my face, the moisture clinging to the screen obscured it. So mile one was fast, 6:42. And mile 2 was slow, 7:00. And then I decided to just run by effort, forget trying to read pace. The miles ticked by, and a couple of guys on our team biked between groups with water and Nuun. I grabbed water twice on the way out, and as I turned at 7.5 got a look at the women and men behind me. For the most part, we all ran really strong!

The way back was a bit harder. I wasn't looking at overall pace, but I kept hitting miles in the 6:40's. I did start to get thirsty, but luckily our bikers were there, and I grabbed some Nuun and Powerade Zero on the way back. I had brought a gel with me, but I have done all the workouts this cycle fasted, so figured I should stick with that. I had my eye on the runners ahead of me. Some were struggling, and I passed them or closed in on them, and others were much stronger than I, speeding up on the way back and pulling away. I run the levee pretty often, so on the way back I sometimes play "get to the next landmark" - "Almost to the Huey P Long Bridge. Then get to the flea market." "Pass Causeway Boulevard, then Ochsner is next, then the bend in the river." "Cooter Brown's and St. Charles Ave, then the downhill off the top of the levee. First entrance to the Army Corps entrance...pass my street..." etc. That countdown rolled through my head, and I was astonished to see mile 14 before I knew it. I was suddenly tired, but pulled off a 6:39 for the final mile of the workout. I didn't slow too much for the jog home, because I had coffee duty at church. That left me with a 6:56 average for almost 19 miles, and a shocking (to me) 6:44 for the 15 miles. I ran the second half about a second per mile slower than the first - not good - but then, we also had a tiny headwind on the way back. All in all, I was happy with the workout, but it left me with questions.

  • If I can run 15 miles in a workout at 6:44, is 6:54-6:56 too soft a marathon goal?
  • Can I...gulp...start looking to break three hours? That's a goal I've had my sights set on for years, but always in a "one day when I am fast" sense. Am I getting close?
  • Should I take this workout seriously, or remember that a straight, pancake-flat, on-course assistance workout isn't the same thing as a hilly Boston? 
  • Or will I feel faster on race day, between taper and race-day energy? 
Lots of questions over here, and not a lot of answers! Hopefully the next few weeks of training will guide me as I determine marathon pace!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

This, that, and karate

I FINALLY took my yellow belt test for Shotokan karate, so we can move on along to some new stuff. I was supposed to test back in September, but I was in Scotland. And then I was supposed to test in December, but I was in Huntsville. The next test was in March...while I plan to be in Mobile for the Azalea Trail 10k! When I told my Sensei that, he pretty much forced me to drive an hour to Ponchatoula and take the test with another group. That all went well; the first belt test is really, really easy so not a big deal (although we learned different sparring defenses for each type of attack, whereas the Dojo in Ponchatoula just defended with a basic punch). Even though we only do the most basic karate, it has an impact on my running. I hope that over time it makes me a stronger person overall, and that I gain strength in muscles or movement planes that running doesn't develop. But in the short term, it leaves me a little sore for Tuesday workouts and, more seriously, does sometimes irritate my hip. How far I progress in karate definitely depends on how much it affects my post-surgical hips (oh, and also my coordination. You know.)

Training has been going mostly well. I hit about 265 miles for February, good for a short month, and the majority of my workouts went really well. This is totally surprising considering I had a marathon earlier in the month and was struggling with anemia for about half the month. I don't actually know my iron status now, but at this point I'm much more attuned to the symptoms than I was before, and I can hazard that I'm doing better. The thing is, my ferritin is so very low that I become symptomatic right away with any blood loss, because I don't have any back up stores! Right now, we don't have a cause for the problem, but the educated guess is some kind of autoimmune destruction of platelets. No mature platelets = no clotting = blood loss = anemia. If blood work bears that theory out, I think we'll do a short course of steroids to see if that helps. I have already been screened for various clotting disorders and thrombocytopenias when I had chronic nosebleeds in my early 20's, so that narrows things down (weird that I've already been through this sort of thing, though).

But actually, I am running pretty well! Even without being fully oxygenated! I like to think that anemia is kind of like altitude training, ha! Here are some of my more key workouts from the month:

20 miles with 4x2 at marathon pace. I actually struggled on this run. My marathon pace looked pretty good, but my rest paces were supposed to be aerobic and I had to run them easy instead. I also felt like DYING that day. This was the first long run - workout in the Boston cycle (we actually did 20 the week before, but no pace goal, just finish strong).

7x1k on the track. This workout was the Tuesday following the 20 miler described above, and I could tell I felt better. I ran 3:58, :55, :52, :54, :53, :57, :55. This is mostly notable because we repeated the workout later so I have a comparison - see below!

10 miles with 3xtempo, 2xtempo with 2 minute jog between. Less than a week after my "long run marathon" and I hit 6:31, :30, :34 followed by 6:32, :23. The final 6:23 gave me confidence that the marathon didn't tear me down too much, and gave me confidence that I was on the right track with workout paces.

Worst tempo ever. Six mile road tempo - not that bad, right? Uh... I totally bombed with workout. I couldn't even hit marathon pace. Maybe it was hot, maybe it was the puddle jumping, maybe I was just exhausted? I was feeling terrible that night, but everyone else had a bad night, too, so it could have just been weather related. It was hot, humid, and raining.

16 with 10 at marathon pace: This long run went really well. I averaged 6:47 for ten miles, and it was ten miles on the roads with no stopping. I think being able to run that pace on variable surfaces without taking water breaks or anything is very good for me. By the way, 6:47 is NOT my marathon goal pace, but it was what my effort brought me that day. My goal pace is 6:54.

8x1k on the track. A few weeks later and one rep longer and I ran 3:59, :51, :47, :48, :52, :47, :49, :49. Faster. Good!

It's kind of crazy to me that I've felt my running improve this month, even while I have been dealing with a health problem that directly impacts my running. The human body is amazing! I also want to note that our group separated out into two teams for Boston training: Boston high mileage, for those rock stars like Paige running 6:18s for MP (!!!). They're hitting multiple 90-mile weeks. And Boston low mileage, which includes me, and I am doing much better there. Grouping us all together held the fast people back, and it was more than I could physically handle. I'm not durable enough for that stuff, and I think a training plan with fewer miles makes sense. Sadly, I am still alone for training: our group is too small but also too fast for me to have any training partners at my pace!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Marathon recovery, and what's next?

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I truly treated last week's marathon as a long run, rolling straight back into training. Risky? Probably. I have mixed feelings about races as "training runs". For one thing, I like to think of myself as someone who really wants to race! with all the effort! for all the PRs! And then, I think that "it's a training run" can become an excuse for a poor performance, and I don't want to start giving myself excuses. And for another thing, unless you have supreme self-control, there is an injury risk, as it's likely that the "training run" will be faster than typical training.
For your viewing pleasure, me covering my mouth politely while choking on a gel mid-race (manners matter all the time!)
I justified Sunday's marathon-as-a-workout for two reasons: one, it's just plain stupid to all-out race a marathon half-way trained; two, I'd been feeling SO bad for SO long, that a healthy day made me want to go ahead and run the distance since I might not have another chance soon (I really don't know if my sudden improvements will last because I don't know why I have pancytopenia!).
Anyway, now that I've explained my oddball behavior, I assessed how I felt Sunday night and throughout the day Monday, and determined that, but for sore quads, I didn't feel that much different than I would after a typical hard long run. So I slowly eased back in, with four 9.5 minute miles on soft surfaces Monday, then straight back to work on Tuesday. Luckily Tuesday was an easy day for us, with some aerobic-pace loops on the Bayou bridges. But of course, the race went over these bridges, so it was kind of deja-vu in the most painful way. I survived, and by Wednesday felt back to normal. The only different thing about this week was my hunger: I was absolutely starving all week, even to the point of getting out of bed to microwave some rice at 11pm one night. I'm usually hungry after a marathon, but relative inactivity keeps the starvation in check. Not so this week: keeping a normal workout schedule made me ravenous.

If tomorrow's long run goes well (and it might not, since I have a ball tonight and won't be home until maybe 2 or 3, and it starts at 6 am!) I'll be at 69 or even 70 miles - the week after a marathon. All I can say is, this bravado better be rooted in reality, and Boston better be significantly faster than this last race!

Speaking of, Boston is up soon, but not up next. Our team is heading to Alabama to run the Azalea Trail 10k. I ran that race years ago as part of the NOTC's team, and it was my very first team experience! I thought I ran really well considering the circumstances (like, I had a FRACTURED FEMUR as it turns out), so I'm excited to see how this year's race will go. The plan is for the marathon group to stay overnight and complete a Sunday long run on the rolling hills nearby. Sounds fun, and I'm excited! Other than that, though, I might just behave myself and not do any other sudden races.