Here I am just days away from the start of another marathon training season. Once again, I'll be looking forward to Saturday mornings spent in fellowship at the Church of Running with my Team Navy (now renamed Team Midnight) family.
What a different place I am in from this time last year. Last year, I was a marathon virgin, babying my recently-broken foot and filled with anxiety. Now, with two marathons notched into my belt, I feel like an old hand at this game.
But I'm really not an old hand at all. Actually, I don't think it is possible to ever become old hand when it comes to marathons. Whether you've run one or fifty, each and every one is a completely unique beast, its training season a maze of detours, pathways, obstacles, and lessons. And no matter what you do, when marathon day dawns, part of what happens out there will always be beyond you control.
As I've alluded to in a previous entry, my two marathons (Richmond and Raleigh) could not have been any more different from day one of training season to the finish line, with very different results. In the weeks since Raleigh, I have been stewing on the respective experiences and trying to figure out how to distill them into one grand master plan for conquering Steamtown. Which things should I do the same? What should I change up? Should I just repeat everything that I did for Richmond, which was The Magic Marathon experience? Was there anything about Raleigh that is worth doing again?
To help me in this quest, I thought getting my thoughts written (typed) on paper (virtual paper) might help. Thus, the following Tale of Two Marathons.
Part I: Training Plan
Richmond: I made much of my very carefully plotted Frankenstein plan - a mash up of the FIRST Run Less, Run Faster sixteen week plan and the MTT Run and Then Run Some More twenty-four week plan. I then faithfully executed the plan, hardly every straying from the prescribed 3-run-a-week format: speed work on Monday, tempo mid-length run on Wednesday, and MTT long run on Saturday.
In addition, I did cardio-based cross training twice a week without fail. Initially a mix of biking and swimming, it ended up being more swimming heavy at the end when I decided that it was the bike that was making my back and butt hurt.
I held myself accountable, dutifully recording every work out in a spread sheet, on my Google calendar, and on Daily Mile. I also reported weekly in the blog (that was more for me than you) and kept a running (punny!) tally of my mileage totals.
Raleigh: Since the Frankenstein plan had led to such success in Richmond, I fully intended to do the same thing for Raleigh. That, however, was quickly abandoned when I got benched for two weeks in December thanks to the piriformis issue reaching the point where my left leg went numb on cue at mile 3 of any run. I didn't do another two digit run until January 26.
My training plan became a survival plan. I just wanted to get to the start line and run the race, not be a superstar. I maintained the three run a week format but did not do any speed work and cross-training wasn't the prescribed swim or bike, but usually a cop out elliptical session. There was only one 20-mile long run.
In terms of tracking and accountability, I pretty much disappeared from the blog. I created a training plan spreadsheet but never updated it (it still sits, sad and abandoned, on my Google drive). Don't ask me how many miles I ran during training, because I have no idea! I did upload to the Garmin website and Daily Mile, but didn't keep a tally. Mainly because I knew the number was going to be dismally small and I was worried about how that small number would impact my mental preparedness.
Part II: Outside Factors
Richmond: In my mind, the single biggest reason for my success in Richmond is simple: MTT. From the first long run to pretty much the entire 26.2 miles of the marathon, I had a teammate or coach to rely on when the going got tough. As the summer wore on, I logged fewer and fewer solo miles. Greg and I did speed work on Monday, Coach Shawn organized group runs for the Wednesday mid-distance, and of course there were Saturday long runs with the entire group.
Thanks to the Navy contingent that ran together on marathon day, the Richmond Marathon felt like just another long run.
I also lucked out with a really good few months of weather. Richmond summers are notoriously hot and humid, and while the summer of 2013 was each of these things, we didn't experience the sweltering 100+ degrees for days on end kind of weather that had been the hallmark of 2012. Sure, there were a few blistering days, but they didn't hang around for too long.
For each of my twenty milers, the weather was overcast (in one case, it was raining) and temps were not terribly oppressive. Out of all those other training runs, I think only 3 or 4 had to be done on a treadmill because of heavy rain or dangerously high levels of heat and humidity.
But it wasn't all magical and perfect. I did have a lot of anxiety and took a week off after I had a semi-meltdown about foot pain that ended up being thanks to a piece of glass being stuck in my foot for a few weeks. I also felt very over-scheduled during the September and October time frame, having an event on almost every weekend in addition to the longest long runs I had ever run.
Raleigh: Although I am forever grateful for the camaraderie of Team Navy, I think that I got slightly over-dependent on other people to get me through the miles. As much as I love each and every one of my running friends, I let them become crutches for me. In Richmond, it worked out perfectly.
The dependency carried through to training for Raleigh, when I joined a smaller training program along with Teresa, Kit, Lauren, and Will. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. The group was smaller and we didn't always run together.
On marathon day, it was just me and T. And then, at mile 9 or so... it was just me. Now that I think about it, I think that those 16 miles were the longest I have ever run solo in my entire life. Who knows whether or not I would have been faster if I had had T with me or some other running buddy. Given the hills, the heat, and my lack luster training, I don't think it would have mattered. But that's the thing about marathons... you just never know.
While the weather for Richmond training was blissfully drama free, training season for Raleigh just happened to coincide with the winter of the Polar Vortex. We were breaking record lows left and right and it snowed so many times in Richmond that even I was tired of it. Snowy, icy roads meant that not only were they not safe to run on, but I also missed a number of mid-week runs because they weren't safe to drive on either and I couldn't get to the treadmill.
When we did run outside, it was freakin' freezing. Layer upon layer of clothes, hats, gloves... I even bought butt warming down-insulated shorts to layer over my fleece-lined tights. And still my butt cheeks went numb on countless runs, along with my face. I seriously considered buying a balaclava, but that was just one step too far for me.
And of course, the underlying negative factor that defined my Raleigh training was my persistently-painful piriformis. (Did you like that alliteration?) There were days when it hurt so much that I was in tears; that I would have gladly allowed a doctor to stick a giant needle into my back or butt if it meant the pain would stop. I was in PT for the entire duration of training. Thankfully, the pain mostly happened when I was sitting or standing still and not when I was running, so I didn't miss many training runs because of piriformis pain.
Part III: Are You Mental?
Richmond: I had one true mental break down, which was the foot-in-glass incident. Otherwise, there was never an "I can't do this" moment. By the time marathon week rolled around, I was so excited that I was more like a kid at Christmas than anything. Having tracked and tallied my hundreds of training miles, with two good 20-miler experiences to my credit, I felt confident that I was ready to tackle this thing.
Raleigh: Thanks to suddenly recurring foot pain and panic over the very warm weather forecast, I was pretty much certifiable in the week leading up to Raleigh. I was 99% convinced that the race was going to end up as a DNF. I called BFF Steve on that Friday and he had to talk me down from the ledge. The ledge being: I shouldn't run this race, because if I do, I will break my foot again. I made Husband get my crutches out of the attic and put them in my car (just in case).
Starting a race thinking you're going to end up with a broken foot is not good.
Outside of that, I knew that my training had not been as thorough and deliberate as it had been for Richmond. I felt under prepared and that scared me.
BUT of the two marathons, I'd say that my mental toughness prevailed in Raleigh more than in Richmond. In Richmond, I just didn't have to address the mental side of things. Ever. In Raleigh, on top of all of the anxiety I had beforehand, I had to rely on me, myself, and I to get through 16 challenging miles after T and I separated. Even though my performance in terms of time was not better in Raleigh, I am really proud of being able to get my head on straight and channel all of the anxiety into a strong finish despite many obstacles and unexpected challenges.
Part IV: What Does It All Mean?
First and foremost, it is obvious that I did better when I was faithful to a plan and carefully tracked my progress. Given my generally OCD/Planny McPlannerston nature, that isn't much of a surprise. So, that will need to happen again if I am going to improve in Steamtown. I will also get back to my weekly progress reports, so prepare for that tedium.
Fully committing to the FIRST program is also a must. It worked in Richmond - when I did it the way I was supposed to. Swimming will become my go-to for cardio cross-training days. No more lackadaisical elliptical sessions for me. Three runs a week will have purpose and focus.
For better or worse, I'm a social runner who does better in a group. So of course I am training with Team Navy Midnight again. Many of the cast from last summer will be returning too - Teresa, Kit, Lauren, Greg (now Coach Greg), Coach Shawn, Will. But we are also adding to the family with the addition of Marathon Winer and a few others that have been recruited during the "off" season. I don't have to tell you that I'm really looking forward to it.
Anxiety is my worst enemy and always has been (whether related to marathons or not). To help with that, I'm making an effort to not schedule a lot of weekend events over the next few months. It shouldn't be that hard... I used up all of my vacation time (and money) on our crazy European adventures last year so we aren't going anywhere of note. My parents are moving to Richmond, so we won't be trekking to Maryland as often. And by now, pretty much all of our friends are finally married off, so we shouldn't have a bunch of weddings to go to. Sticking to a well-thought out training process and tracking my progress should also help me feel like I am accomplishing something and hopefully cut down on anxiety as well.
Weather is weather... just deal with it as it comes. I heard that the Farmer's Almanac predicts a cooler than usual summer in Richmond. Not really sure if I believe in that stuff, but for now I'll take it.
That leaves the elephant in the room - injuries. Much to my chagrin, it has become clear that I am an injury-prone runner. No one wants to be one or admit to it, but there it is. In an effort to start things off on the right foot, I have taken it somewhat easy during the time after the Portland Half and the start of MTT this weekend. All I can do as the training cycle progresses is be careful and vigilant, while not verging into paranoid.
I hope all of you had a great Memorial Day weekend - and that you got some running in! The weather here in the RVA was just glorious. I ordered it up especially for the 3rd Annual KBP + HMR Memorial Day Run. Marcey and I had a great time exploring some of my favorite spots along the rivah including the Pipeline and Belle Isle.
It was fabulous, as always.
Anyhow, now to the real purpose of this entry (no, it wasn't gratuitous running shots).
The Run Like a Girl Pocahontas 4-Miler is this weekend on Sunday! Wow! I can hardly believe it's already here. Team Run Eat Play RVA is up to that magical goal number of 10 - which is just awesome. Thanks to everyone who already signed up and if there are any stragglers out there, you can still sign up online for just a few more days.
I want to make sure each and every one of you has a great experience, so here are a few tips for race day that will come in handy.
Packet Pick Up is available Saturday, May 31 at Lucky Foot running store. If you can't make it to Midlothian, race day packet pick up is available starting at 7:30 am. In the past, I have always picked up my packet day of. However, if you choose to do this, it is mucho importante that you arrive early. Pick up starts at 7:30 am at Pocahontas. I would try to show up at 7:15 am. That gives you plenty of time to park, get your packet, get your number on juuuuuuuust right, dump the rest in your car, and get back to the start. Which leads me to...
Race Day Arrival & Parking.First,parking is $5.Make sure you bring $5 cash. If you don't, you're out of luck. I would recommend carpooling if you can. There is a handy dandy Starbucks at Iron Bridge and Courthouse Road (6921 Commons Square, Chesterfield, VA 23832) that I have used for this purpose in the past. Plan on a rendezvous with your fellow park and ride buddies around 7:00 am and that should give you plenty of time. Bonus: when you are finished the race, you are right there at Starbucks and can go in for a post-race celebratory latte. Second, traffic into the parking lot does have a tendency to get backed up so I would highly recommend aiming for a 7:15 am arrival time, especially if you are picking up your packet. The earlier you are there, the less time you will spend being annoyed at having to sit in a long line of cars as you wait to park. I don't want any of you to show up annoyed.
Apparel & Gear. Right now the weather is looking great - partly cloudy with a low of 59 and high of 82 (don't worry, we'll be long gone before it hits 82). We will be running on mainly shaded trails, but I would still recommend sunblock as the finish festival area is in an open field area. I also suggestbug spray. Personally, I am a bug magnet. If there is one within a 10 mile radius of me that bites, it will find me and bite me. Therefore, I will be dousing myself with the stuff before the race. I'm also going to wear an older pair of shoes, just in case I end up stepping in something unsavory. And no, you don't need trail shoes for this race. The trails are not intense and are more like tow paths than anything else for the majority of the 4 miles. Your regular running shoes will be fine.
Look for me! I have my outfit picked out and will post a photo of what I'm wearing. Don't worry - it's a loud, distinctive pair of shorts and neon yellow tank, so I should be pretty easy to find. If I am feeling crafty (which isn't likely), I might even make a meet up sign and hold it above my head for a while. My upper body strength is pretty sad - almost as sad as my crafting skills - but I'll do my best. I plan to arrive at 7:15, pick up my packet, and then plant myself near something distinctive in the RLaG village. Once I finish running the race, I will also be hanging out at the finish line to cheer you all in. If you finish before me, I expect the same!
That's all I can think of for now. I hope you all are getting as excited as I am! Check back later this week for an outfit update and any last minute tips.
Before you unplug for your Memorial Day Weekend, don't forget to sign up to run with me as a member of Team Run Eat Play RVA at next weekend's Run Like a Girl: Pocahontas Edition! We are currently at 8 and I'd love to have 10!
Just click on this link, select Team Run Eat Play RVA, and enter our password - cupcake
See you there! I'll be the one in the very loud plaid shorts.
This past weekend I snuck off to the West Coast (for the first time ever!) to spend some quality time with my beloved Work Wife, who moved to Portland, Oregon last July.
It just so happened that Portland was hosting the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on that very same weekend. Well... I will confess that this happy coincidence was planned. Of course the primary reason for going to Portland was to visit Work Wife, but I did make an effort to identify a weekend with a race on it. Typical crazy runner behavior.
Being just 5 weeks out from my marathon, on the West Coast, and featuring a rather frightening elevation chart (see below), I didn't have any big plans to have a great race in Portland. I just wanted to do it to say I'd run a race on the West Coast.
The race was such a non-event in my head that I often forgot that I was running it at all. For instance, I packed pretty much everything on Monday night and then on Wednesday as I ticked through the things that I needed, I ticked off running shoes. When I got home, I luckily realized that my shoes were not packed at all. In other words... I almost left for Portland without my running shoes.
Which segues nicely to the next part of my tale. My flight to Portland was last Thursday at 6:00 am. That meant that I had to wake up at 4:00 am and leave my house by 4:30 am to get to the airport in time. 4:00 am is very, very early and my brain was not working very well when I threw my suitcase and bag into my trunk and took off at 4:40, running late. About 20 minutes later, as I was driving down a back road to the airport, it dawned on me that I had forgotten something very important.
But there was no going back - I was cutting it close as it was and I definitely did not have time to go fetch my Garmin, which was chilling on its charger in the office (and which I had had a feeling I would forget). So, for the first time in years (quite literally), I was going to run without my Garmin. And worse yet - I was going to run a race without it.
Once in Portland, I spent two days enjoying the very un-Portland-like dry weather by covering the city on foot with Work Wife, walking miles and miles through The Pearl, the Rose Garden, and Downtown. Copious amounts of coffee were consumed, along with flights of cider and all manner of delicious foodstuffs.
Small sampling of my pre-race strategy (or lack thereof)
Clockwise, starting top left:
Cocktails at Petite Provence
Cider Flight at Bushwacker Cider
Burger at Besaw's
International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park
The whole point of this bit of the story is that in the days leading up to the race, I surely wasn't doing myself any favors by spending a ton of time on my feet and stuffing myself to the brim with caffeine, alcohol, and food.
We did make a pit stop at a Target, where I obtained a $6 Timex to wear during the race so I would have some sense of whether or not I was running myself into the ground - which was my main worry associated with not having a Garmin strapped to my wrist. I also grabbed a pace chart bracelet for a 1:45 at the expo. Mind you, I had no intentions of running a 1:45 - it was just the closest pace chart that they had for my real expected time of somewhere between 1:50 and 1:55. I figured that I'd use it as a warning sign - if I was actually on pace with that chart, I'd know I was running too fast.
After two lovely days with little to no rain, Portland decided to be Portland and it poured on race morning. Work Wife kept apologizing, but I was like, "Eh - it's Portland! It wouldn't seem right if it wasn't raining." I debated and debated as to whether or not to wear my water resistant running jacket and against my better judgment, decided to keep it on because the rain was coming down hard and it was just slightly chilly as we walked down toward the start area.
As we stood in the rain waiting, the guy next to me turns to me and goes, "So, when are the wheels going to start to fall off?" I was somewhat taken aback. "I'm sorry... what?"
"When are the wheels gonna come off? For me, I think Mile 10, " he said.
I just stared at him like he had a third eye. "Dude, you can't be standing in the start corral thinking about when your wheels are coming off! They aren't coming off!"
I was kind of put off by that little exchange and therefore didn't try to engage anyone else in chit chat, worried that the result would be more Negative Nancies adding to my anxiety level, which was already pretty high considering my lack of Garmin, that I was in an outfit I didn't feel comfortable in, that it was pouring rain, and that I knew there was a very daunting hill somewhere out there ahead of me.
The start was slightly delayed, and after what seemed like ages of listening to the race announcer cycle through sponsor shout outs and annoying "Let's get psyched, Portland!!!"-esque rambling, my corral finally crossed the start at 8:15 am.
The first half of the race was nice and flat, but not exactly what I could call scenic. We ran along the waterfront park which gave way to an industrial section of town before looping back on itself at mile 1.5. That's about where I couldn't stand having the jacket on anymore. The rain had slowed to a barely-noticeable drizzle and I was hot. Of course I hadn't packed a bib holder and the bib was safety pinned to my jacket, so I wasted probably a minute standing on the side of the Naito Parkway, unpinning then repining my bib to my tank and getting my jacket tied securely around my waist.
Back on course I tried to settle in to a pace that felt good. We crossed the Hawthorne Bridge into South East Portland during miles 5-6 and that's when things started to get dicey. And by dicey, I mean a giant hill in the form of Hawthorne Boulevard, which we ran up for a very long mile and a half. It wasn't the steepest hill I'd ever run during a race, but it was definitely the longest.
After we finally took a left hand turn off of Hawthorne, I felt like the worst was behind me. I recalled from the elevation chart that everything was (relatively-speaking) downhill after Hawthorne. I didn't feel great but I didn't feel terrible, and I thought I was keeping a pretty decent (but not killer) pace.
Somewhere after Hawthorne, I started thinking to myself that I wanted to PR this damn race. I guess it was because I had that all-downhill-from-here elevation chart in my mind's eye and I figured that if I was ever going to PR, it would be on a downhill course. The funny thing about all of this is that I didn't really even know what my PR would be. In my mind, it was a something in the 1:47 - 1:48 range.
And of course, I didn't have a Garmin to help me with my pacing. I had been doing my best to try to do math and see how I was stacking up against the 1:45 pace chart, but my ability to do mental math had left me somewhere back on the other side of Portland. And let's be honest; my ability to do mental math is pretty pathetic to begin with.
We finally crossed the river again on the Steel Bridge with one mile to go and I looked at my little Timex, which read 1:43. I figured there was no chance of a PR but still put on the juice as we ran along the waterfront toward the Finish because to be honest, I really just wanted to be finished!
After hitting the stop button on the Timex, I promptly accidentally erased my time, so I really had no clue what it was. Unlike in Raleigh, I really did want to know what my official time was. Thankfully, I have some good stalkers friends who immediately texted me my results (I had posted that I forgot my Garmin on my Facebook and asked someone to text me) - 1:50:25.
Good, but not a PR.
Or so I thought.
Since I couldn't actually recall what the half marathon PR was in the first place, I pulled up this good old blog on my phone and what do you know - it turns out that my previous best half was a 1:51:52 at the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach in 2012.
A very flat, fast course, need I remind you.
So, the race that I kept forgetting about, that I neglected to pack my Garmin for, that started in the pouring rain, that was fueled by a terrible mix of caffeine and alcohol, that contained a ridiculously long upward climb, and that I had no intentions of running well turned out to be my new Half Marathon PR.
Funny how things work sometimes, isn't it?
Big Fat Shout Out to my Work Wife, for not only being "my person" at the race and holding all of my junk, but also making all of the associated logistics a piece of cake. I didn't have to worry about a darn thing. She even cooked me my traditional pre-race meal of a steak on Saturday night and as soon as I crossed the finish, she hugged me even though I was sweaty and then said, "I made us brunch reservations while you were running."