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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!