Monday, April 23, 2012

Faster than a speeding bullet....well, not really

As a lot of people know, I have an ultimate marathon goal. No, it's not to qualify for Boston. Even if I could run a 3:40 marathon, there's no way I would ever do a marathon that starts well after 10am. Give me my 7am start time and I'm happy.

My ultimate goal is to run a 4 hour marathon. After this year's two great marathons, Houston and Austin, I felt like with a lot of hard work over the course of the year it wasn't an unreasonable goal to shoot for 3:59. My "coach" has the same goal, and although he is probably actually at that capability right now, he needs to continue his own hard work to maintain that throughout the summer months. It's good to have someone to keep you in check, and that's what he does for me.

I knew that it was very likely that after running two marathons, plus a half marathon and a relay I could very well need a break. But amazingly enough, although I was sick for a few days after the relay, my body is doing just fine. I "non-raced" a hilly 10k just 6 days after the marathon, sans Garmin, and pulled off a 9:05 pace (my PR is 8:36 pace). I've since run long twice, in addition to hills and speedwork, and my overall pace since the relay is 9:01. Take out the 8 mile trail run I did where I walked for a 1/4 mile at the turnaround and it gets me down to 8:57 pace. I have never in my life been able to maintain this kind of pace over the course of weeks, with long runs included.

I rarely look at my Garmin for my current pace now when I run. I'll check my mile splits as they beep at me, and although I might be surprised at how fast some miles are, if my body is comfortable I don't slow it down. So often I am surprised when a mile split comes through at sub-9 pace when I'm almost certain I'm running 9:30 pace.

This past Saturday I ran a 10 miler out at Brushy Creek. I planned to do it alone, but my coach asked if he could join me. He'd been sick and really needed to do something tough to get back into a rhythm. Little did I know his master plan was to kick my ass. We started off relatively slow and I was certainly having a hard time warming up. The poor guy is hacking up a lung still and telling me he's having a tough time catching his breath. But after about 3 miles we picked up the pace considerably. I was afraid to look at my watch and instead just kept pace with him. I think he may have used the term "10 mile tempo run." Really?? We took a short break at the turnaround and it took a good mile to get back into rhythm after we started back up, but then we were flying. I kept thinking that there was no way I could maintain a pace like that over the course of the last few miles, but surprisingly they just seemed to quickly click by. During the last mile, Coach just let loose and I did my best to keep up with him. It was tough, I'm not going to lie. I was hurting and breathing very heavy. His words to me were something along the lines of "this pace isn't going to get you a sub 2 half. Run faster, stop slacking." He's lucky I couldn't speak and I was too tired to beat his ass when we were done. When we finished, I was honestly shocked that my watch showed our time at 1:27:33 (running time, not including the break at the halfway point). My previous 10 mile PR was 1:31. Our last mile of this run? 7:41.

So I'm getting faster. I'm cautiously optimistic it will last. I need to take care of my body to keep this up. Yoga, strength training, core work, stretching, plyometrics.

It's going to be a busy summer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A different kind of race

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to sign up for a small local 10k race, the Opossum Creek 10K. My only hesitation was that it was going to be only 6 days after the Texas Independence Relay, and after the tough (but awesome!) racing year I've had I didn't want to push myself too hard by piling on more races. However, it's hard to find good 10k races in Austin (want a 5K, however? No problem!), plus this one was in the country. If I don't have to drive into Austin for a race I'm a happy camper. I'd much rather run on country roads with a couple hundred people rather than fight twenty thousand of them in downtown Austin.

Another bonus- the race was on Greg's birthday! It would complete my "birthday runs" for the year. I ran Houston on my birthday, Austin on my daughter's birthday, and had a tough half marathon training run (in between the marathons) on my son's birthday, so of course I needed to do something on Greg's birthday, too!

I knew I wouldn't actually be "racing" this 10k, but instead planned to just have a good time, listen to my body, and just run with no real goal in mind. I didn't even plan to bring my Garmin! If you know me, you know this is HUGE. I have been pretty good about ignoring my Garmin on my recent runs, however. I was strangely looking forward to not having a clue how I was doing in a race until I crossed the finish line.

Sadly, Greg was really sick race morning and he and the kiddos were not going to be able to come out to the race with me. I was bummed. I knew the kids would like being out on a farm and I was looking forward to the free beer I could give to Greg afterwards at a local restaurant. A bit of a disappointment.

I picked up my friend Karen and we drove together to the race. It was cool and foggy. Okay, so maybe not really "cool" but after the heat from the relay, 62 degrees felt fantastic. The humidity? Not so great. I remember telling Karen as we're driving by farms out in the middle of nowhere that I could live like that. Beautiful and peaceful. I was in a great mood!

I expected to see many people I knew at this race. It was put on by Georgetown Running Club and a few years ago I did midweek runs with many of these people. Sure enough, I saw several fellow runners that I knew and it was great to get hugs beforehand. With only 110 people racing, it was sure to be a good time.

My friend Tony was also running and he planned to just chill out and not race as well, so the three of us (seriously, we're ALWAYS together) were going to have a great time. No pressure, no worries, just a good training run out in some beautiful Texas country. When the cowboys on horses started cruising around the start area, I was totally convinced it would be fun times.

(Side note: what the heck is wrong with me that I didn't get any pictures of any of this???)

The national anthem by Charlie Daniels played from a laptop and an unexpected grass fire were our prelude to the start. No, really, there was a grass fire.

The race itself was pretty uneventful. Some of my favorite highlights:

1. Feeling like I was running 9:45 miles when they were actually 9 minute pace (Karen had on her Garmin and shouted out a couple mile splits that were far faster than I thought).
2. Seeing little kids - REALLY little kids, like 6-8 years old - running alongside us for over a mile
3. The cowboys following us on horseback and us shouting "no fair, they're cheating!"
4. The unexpected hills. I really am done with Damn Hills.
5. Peace - you can't beat running on Texas country roads - NO CARS!
6. Passing a tractor or two
7. Did I mention the cowboys?
8. Racing up a hill against 2 teenage cross country boys...and winning, all the while teasing them about how much older than them we were.
9. Taking actual breaks at the water stops.
10. Completely missing the Mile 4 marker and stumbling upon the Mile 5 marker, having no idea there was only another mile to go.
11. The downhill finish
12. Never feeling overly winded or tired.
13. Finishing in 56:20 when I thought for sure it was well over 58 minutes.

There were only 110 runners. You know what that means? Yes, I got a medal. 2nd in my age group! That pretty much kicked butt.

Karen missed a medal by just one place, but her age group was the biggest one. Tony got second in his age group, too. As a matter of fact, a lot of my friends got medals.

Tony, me, and Randall - all Round Rock Fit coaches!
Me and Tony with Justin and Kat from Georgetown Triathletes, who I try to run with once a week
Tony brought Greg a nice Birthday Beer, but sadly it was going to waste, so you can imagine what happened to that beer. Yes, it got drank (and even spilled a little).

We missed Greg, we missed the kiddos, but all in all we still had a really good time. Karen will tell you she hates me for making her run a 9 minute pace 10K but if you push her she'll admit how much she loves me. Her mood most certainly brightened up when she noticed that one of the cowboys became the post-race masseuse (her exact words: "Who needs Danielle Steele??"). You just can't get that in Downtown Austin.

I'm going to keep finding these awesome little races to run. Thank you to the Georgetown Running Club!

Oh, and I bought Greg a new Birthday Beer. Someone owes me $6.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

22 seconds

My family and I traveled to Washington, D.C., during Spring Break of 2011, so we could visit our dear friends and former neighbors. the Nelsons. Diana Nelson is the very first person I met in our neighborhood before we moved in. On the day I closed on my brand new home, she was the only neighbor nearby who had already moved in (our neighborhood was far from being built out), and because we were returning to California for 6 weeks before we officially moved to Texas, I really wanted someone to watch over my house and have my house key. The moment I met her I knew I had a friend for life. There is just something about Diana and her amazing family...these are the types of people you just don't get to meet very often in life.

Unfortunately they only lived two door down from us for 3 years, but during those 3 years, our families became very close. Diana is actually the person who introduced me to running back in 2007 (I don't think she imagined how big a part of my life it would become!) Our youngest daughters are only 15 days apart in age and were quickly best friends. When they moved to Arlington, Virginia, in 2010 we are all heartbroken, with the promise we would visit over Spring Break. 

We did just that, but unfortunately we missed the National Marathon and Half Marathon, a race Di was running, by just a week. I made another promise...I would fly out in 2012 and run the half with her. They are due to move to Thailand for 4 years, so it would be my last chance to see them and race with Diana for a long time. 

On March 15, I flew to D.C. and spent a fantastic 4 days with the Nelsons. Diana and I would be running the Rock 'n Roll USA Half Marathon (RnR took over the race) on St. Patrick's Day and I felt very prepared for a possible PR (1:59:26) and even possibly breaking 9-min pace (<1:57:54). My two previous long runs were just shy of 10 miles and at 9 minute pace even. I had a shot at it, that's for sure.

Hanging in DFW on my way to D.C.

Diana was actually injured leading up to this race and trained mostly on her bike rather than running. She was able to knock out a 9.5 mile run but not without major IT pain afterwards. It really was going to be a shot in the dark whether or not she could complete the distance without pain, but we were going to try. She deliberately didn't tell me any of this until the week before the race, knowing it would weigh on my mind and she didn't want anything to interfere with my mental training. She's a smart lady! She also didn't want to hold me back if I was having a good race. Our plan became to start together, for me to set the pace and she would hang in there as long as she could, hoping against hope it would all work out. I would have to determine if I would go ahead or stay with her if she had to slow. I honestly didn't know what I was planning on doing, right up until race morning. 

The weather was not conducive to a PR for me. The starting temp was creeping up to 60, it was sunny, yet incredibly humid (95% at race time). The temp was slated to be close to 70 by the 10am, when we'd be finishing. I would be tough to keep a fast pace, but I was going to make a good effort. 

One other thing I was going to do differently, and this was somewhat decided because of the weather, was that I wasn't going to be a slave to my Garmin. The only time I planned to look at my pace was in the first 5K, and only so I could make sure we didn't start off too fast. After that I would run by feel and look at my mile splits as the watch alerted me. I could determine after about 8 miles if I needed to speed up or if I was on target, and if I felt I could push out either a sub-2, a PR, or my stretch goal of sub-9 min pace. I really REALLY wanted a sub-2 hour at the very least, but my heart was also set on finishing with Diana no matter what the time ended up being (I figured she definitely could get a 2:04 at the slowest). 

It didn't escape me that this was my first half marathon since my terrible, gut wrenching, grief stricken half in San Antonio in November of 2009, just three months after my sister passed away. It was an awful, yet cathartic race for me, and stands as my slowest half by 10 minutes. I've run the distance countless times since then in training, as fast as 2:02, but a race is a different ballgame. This was a big deal for me.

Me and Diana pre-race

Ami and Diana
And finally, 15 minutes after the start, we crossed the starting line and got into our rhythm. I'm glad I looked at my Garmin a couple times during those first 2 miles since I did catch us at sub-9 pace right away. It's so difficult to start off slow when you're pumped up about the race. Seeing the United States Capitol directly in front of you at the beginning doesn't do much to help quell your excitement! My plan was to get us to about 19 minutes or so after 2 miles. We did it almost perfect....9:45 first mile, 9:21 second mile, then we dropped it closer to 9 minute even pace. After 5K we were right on target at 29:24. I hoped to be just under 58 minutes at the 10k point.
Waiting for the start in our corral

A huge American flag and a sea of green at the start

I tried to pay enough attention to look at my watch when it beeped at every mile split, but I totally missed it at 5 miles. Unfortunately, this was a very hilly race. I didn't look at the elevation map beforehand so I wouldn't freak myself out, and I figured nothing could be as hilly as the Austin Marathon, so I could handle whatever it threw at me. Ha! Dammit, this was feeling really hilly! Diana told me later she noticed there was a very long steady incline during this middle part of the race, and looking back at the elevation chart totally explains why I fell off pace here. Mile 5 was 9:27 and Mile 6 was 9:16 (both should have been about 9:00-9:05). But I had no idea Mile 5 was so far off because I missed looking at my watch. I do remember wondering at the 10K point (I hit it at 58:25) why I was so far over 58 minutes. 

Diana had moved from alongside me to just behind me during Mile 6. I figured she was just pacing off me and staying just behind was comfortable for her. She was feeling just fine from what I could tell. I wasn't doing a lot of talking because of the humidity, which was kind of a bummer because Di and I always like to chat during our runs. But I knew preserving my lungs during these first miles would benefit me later. After the 10K split point, I glanced behind me to see where Di was and I didn't see her. A few more quick glances without seeing her told me that she intentionally dropped back without telling me. She wasn't prepared to increase our pace and didn't want to slow me down. She knew I was feeling okay and would want to drop the pace to the finish and she wanted to give me the opportunity to run my race, rather than holding back because of her. She's quite the stubborn lady, that one. 

Knowing I wasn't going to find her, I plowed on ahead and tried to increase my pace little by little. All those little hills after 7 miles look minor, but at the time it felt like they just wouldn't stop coming. Luckily, miles 7 and 8 seemed to fly by for me.

It took me a bit after the 10k split to get down to sub-9 pace and I knew I was really pushing it for a sub-2 hour finish. The humidity definitely gave my lungs a beating, and I was feeling the fatigue in my legs. The sun wasn't as bad as I anticipated, but it wasn't exactly comfortable. All in all, I do think it could've been a lot worse. Despite all this, I did manage to continue to speed up and hit some target miles. When I hit the 10 mile mark at 1:32:35 I knew I had a shot at even possibly a PR. I remembered being right at 1:32 during my PR half marathon back in 2008, so I wasn't that far off. My "Rainman" brain did the calculation....26:50 final 5K for a PR, 27:24 for a 1:59:59. I needed 8:40 pace miles to the finish, 8:50 at the slowest.

I was hurting, however. The constant hills wore me out, it was getting hotter, and I was honestly just ready to be done. During mile 11 I accidentally cut off another runner taking a turn and she shoved me. It really didn't do much for my attitude. My mood brightened when I saw my Mile 11 split come in at 8:33, however. It gave me some wiggle room on my pace.

My optimism was a little short-lived, however. I definitely was slowing down during Mile 12. I unfortunately didn't look at my Garmin to see just how much I slowed. There was another small hill at this point in the race.

9:13. Uh oh. This would have been a really good mile to have been a slave to my Garmin pace. Hindsight is 20/20. 

I got a bit of a break during Mile was downhill and I was riding the euphoria of almost being done. I knew the finish was about a quarter mile uphill curve, and I was definitely worried about it. I didn't have much left in me to battle the incline and I was cutting 2 hours very, very close. A glance at my time and distance told me I needed about a 9 minute final 1.2 miles to pull off a PR and it was going to be very, very tough to do. But I kept my head in the game and pushed on. When I started the final ascent to the finish I honestly thought I had the sub-2 hour finish., but not a PR. I remember glancing at my watch and still seeing 1:58 and I didn't think the finish line was too much further away. But because it was on a curve, I couldn't actually see where the finish was and it felt like it was taking forever to reach it. I continued to push until I glanced again at my watch and saw I was already at 1:59:50 with the finish line finally in sight. But it was simply too far away for me to reach in time. Knowing sub-2 hours was out the window, I did something I never do....I slowed down at the finish. I figured it didn't matter if I got 2:00:10 or 2:00:20 at this point, so I might as well enjoy crossing the finish line in less pain!

The final stretch in front of RFK Stadium

22 seconds

As I walked through the finish chute, I had a mass of emotions come over me. I was a little heartbroken at coming so very close to breaking 2 hours again, yet I was amazed that I pulled of a 2:00:21 in conditions that usually do me in. Humidity is my nemesis because of my asthma, and add in the heat, and I could've easily completely fallen apart. But my 5K/10K/10 mile/Finish splits were all strong negatives. I never felt like I needed to stop running, and I did almost the entire race based on FEEL, not based on what pace my Garmin said and what I thought I should be running. I maintained a 9 minute average pace for the final 10 miles, and it was what my body wanted to run, not what I was forcing it to run. This race was far hillier and more difficult than my PR San Antonio race, which was also pre-asthma onset.

Just a little sweaty :)

There were so many great things about my performance, that the fact that I missed 2 hours by a mere 22 seconds didn't really seem to matter all that much. I realized that on a flatter course, with more favorable weather, I possibly could have gotten a 1:55. My body was actually possibly in 1:55 shape for the first time ever. It was a huge confidence boost. 

I found Diana after the race and she ran very well all the way to the finish WITH NO PAIN! She finished in 2:03:48 and quite possibly could have hung in there with me. But I think her plan was smart. She ran even splits to the finish and felt great the entire time. Her performance was just amazing considering she hadn't been able to go beyond 9 miles pain free in months. I was so very proud of her! A little mad that she allowed me to get ahead of her, but proud nonetheless! We both had a lot to be happy about.

Diana, Ami, and I headed back to Arlington to have brunch. I realized at this point that I had completely forgotten about one of my pre-long run rituals....a cup of coffee. And now I was seriously craving it! As soon as we sat down at the cafe, Le pain quitodien, I ordered water, a Mimosa, and coffee. It was blissful.

Overall, I loved this race. The organization was great, the shirts are really nice, the expo was a blast and I bought some great stuff from Brooks, the start went off without a hitch, the water stops were well managed, and with the exception of the uphill finish, I thought the course was a lot of fun. Washington, D.C. is a beautiful city and we got to see a lot of different parts of it. It certainly a race I would consider traveling for again. 

My overall stats:

2:00:21 Finish
4747 out of 16,321 total finishers
2233 out of 10,725 women
291 out of 1540 women ages 35-39

Yeah, I'm happy with that!