Thursday, October 16, 2014

Steamtown Marathon. Scranton PA. 10/12/14

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tablos
I read somewhere how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself, at least once, in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head. - Chris McCandless (quoting Primo Levi), as written by John Krakauer, Into the Wild.

I needed to wind down and get some sleep. I had to be up at 5:00 am.  In the room next door, someone played their electric guitar.  Who brings an amp to a hotel?  It wasn’t horribly loud but just loud enough to disrupt my sleep in a quiet room. The TV had an unfortunate volume problem where at Level 1 the volume would drown out the guitar but was much too loud to be relaxing. One click down was Level 0, which meant it was off.  So I pulled out my iPad for diversion.

During the DeMar Marathon two weeks ago, I was completely consumed with the song Society by Eddie Vedder.  As that song played in my head, it propelled me through the second half of the course, distracting me from the pain of trying to run as fast as I could. 

I found the song, hoping to feel strong again before I fell asleep. I learned it was from the sound track of a movie called Into The Wild.  Into the Wild is a film adaptation of the biography of Chris McCandless written by John Krakauer. It is the true story about Chris, a young man who graduates college and then runs away from his life, from his material possessions, and from his family. He seems to be trying to find himself and how he fits into the world. He seems to be testing his theories by teaching others he meets what he believes is the meaning of life and the key to happiness.  He changes his name to Alexander SuperTramp. He travels across the United States. He believes he will find his peace once he is able to finally live in isolation off the land in the Wild Alaskan Wilderness surrounded only by the boundless beauty of nature and what the land naturally provides.   

I watched clips from the movie until late in the night, well past the apparent bed time of the guitar player next door.  I was fascinated by the story . The quote above stuck with me the next morning. 

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tablos

Race Pressure
For months I made Steamtown my focus. I wanted to run faster than I ever have before.  Steamtown would be my way of measuring myself as a runner and as a coach.  

I don’t like focused race training. It is emotionally exhausting. The sense of putting all eggs in one basket just screams out with the potential to be an opportunity for self-actualization or for the soul-crushing realization of personal limitations. Something as tiny as starting off just a few seconds too fast and overestimating ability could be all that is needed for me to tip the scale from extreme joy to heartache.

As a coach, I help others work towards their goals.  My runners trust me and I am confident that the runners I choose to work with are runners I am sure I can help if all things go well. I race often but not often to meet a goal.  When I do make a race the focus of my training, I want to show my runners that when I train myself with the same focused training I expect of them, that I, too, can and will see positive results if all goes well on race day. I can handle the pressure I put on myself as a runner, but I also feel the weight of the pressure I put on myself as a coach. In many ways the latter is much much greater. 

DeMar Marathon.
I feel like I got lucky. I had a great race two weeks ago, by accident. I ran the DeMar marathon because I needed one more 22+ mile Long Run. I started comfortable, feeling so good at mile 14 that I decided to push myself. I negativie split the race on the hilly second half. I finished DeMar in 3:15.  This was one of my best races.

Then a few days after DeMar,  after 1.25 miles of warm up, at 153 feet into the first 800m of my final speed session, I felt the track reach up and grab my hamstring.  My stride cut short. I hobbled. I tired to get back up to speed and it spasmed again. John called out, “Oh crap, you are serious!?”  Dave asked what I needed, what could he do to help. I said, in complete honesty, “I don’t know... this has never happened to me!” 

I jogged slowly to see if maybe it would loosened. 10 minute pace did not bother me, but just speeding up a little faster was to much. I could feel it grab. So I stopped and sat on the track. I put my cold water bottle on the tight spot. I felt overwhelmed with concern about what this meant. Dave and John did 4 repeats and I left them to finish their workout while I got myself home for ice. I decided that even if Steamtown did not workout for me, at least I had a good run at DeMar so all wasn’t lost.   

Twelve Days Later, I sat in the gym in Scranton trying to decide what to wear.  My car had ice on the windshield about 90 minutes earlier when I left the hotel to catch the bus to the start.  It as very cold at 6 am.  I was wearing capri pants, a t-shirt, arm sleeve, a hat, throw away gloves, a long sleeve throw away shirt. I knew I was over dressed, since it was now closer to 40 degrees and the air didn’t feel like it was biting my skin.  

I was glad to have brought extra clothes in my gear bag.  I changed into shorts and a singlet, kept the arm warmers and throw away gloves. Took out my sunglasses, my inhaler, 4 gels, and three small packets of iodized salt (yes, I am back experimenting with salt again, but only the iodized kind).  Ok, I was ready.

But where was Dave. I was sitting at the 3:10 sign where I said I would be. There was 15 minutes to go. I left the gym, alone, to line up after one last stop at the bathroom. I rushed to the front. I was on my own.  For months I visualized running with race with Dave nearby.  We are pretty equally matched and I thought we would at least start together.  Not today. 

Dave and I starting training together for this race after I insisted that he should actually try to run a fast marathon for once in his a life. I knew he should be able to run fast if he set his mind to do it.  His BQ time is 3:10. I wanted to try to break 3:10. I asked him to try to do it with me and we picked Steamtown. He would need close to a 20 minute PR for this. It would be hard, but not impossible. We met for speed work and long runs, getting focused and most committed to training with about 8 weeks to go. Training went well. There was some room for improvement but overall we both felt ready to give this an honest try.

The hand-cyclist were sent off and the runners are called up to the start.  I begin to walk forward wondering if I would see him along the way. I was ok with racing alone.  It could be better to start that way, since we knew it would be unlikely that we would execute the pacing in the exact same way, unless it happened naturally. 

I hear my name being called out a few times in the crowd.  With seconds to go before we start,  Dave and I spot each other and take our positions side-by-side in the starting corral. We are ready to get to work! 

M1 is a steep downhill start. It takes about a minute before we finally get some room to run freely. We say nothing.  M1 6:55

M2 and part of M3 are uphill. I planned to take it easy since I knew a long fast descent would follow. I wasn’t interested in fighting too hard early on and getting ahead of myself too soon.  Dave and I are still together. I tell him the next few miles are going to be fast.  M2 7:20, M3 7:16.

Dave starts to get a step or two ahead of me.  I don't force my pace.  Dave comments that he feels really good. He looks great.  He sounds great. I slowly watch him drift ahead of me. I felt I was running as fast as I could tolerate and still survive the duration. I was right at my red-line. I felt that pushing harder, even just a few seconds faster to stick with Dave would be a mistake for me. But Dave is stronger and bigger than me. He wasn't working too hard as he pulled away. I had visions of him waiting for me at the finish claiming a 3:05!  M4 6:54, M5 6:56, M6 6:58

The Pace Plan: I sent Dave my pace plan a few days before.  I don't know if he saw the plan. I scrutinized the past years results.  I calculated the average fade of the runners who successfully ran my goal time based upon the 18 mile split.  The hills came after 18 miles.  I did not expect to be able to Negative Split this race and still meet my goal. I wanted to hold an average of sub-7:10 through the half way, try to hold on if possible for that that same pace through 18 miles, coming through at just under 2:10. If I could do that, then my pace could naturally fade to a 7:26 pace as a terrain became more challenging through the last 8.2. If all that happened and he was with me, we would run a 3:09.  

I knew at mile 7 the course had a hill. I expected to fade a little, but I was 2 seconds below my goal pace for this section so I had some time to use.  I was able to pick it up again by M8. M7 7:16, M8 7:04 (Gel and salt)

Steamtown has rollers.  It is not a straight descent from 1-19.  As the terrain rolled I kept my effort even and just tried to keep my average pace a 7:10.  As I approached the half way mark, I was falling off. I was slipping into 7:11 average pace and knew I needed to think about what to do. M9-7:11, M10-7:16, M11-7:09, M12-7:15, M13-7:19 

First Check point - Targeting Sub-1:34
I hit the halfway mark at 1:34:xx and knew I was already off pace.  Someone calls out you are number 18 for the women. People had been counting ladies and I expected this to be the case. 

Mile 14.5 would start the trail section. I wasn’t worried about the footing. Nothing I read suggested I should expect to slow down on the trail. I was surprised to find that there was a lot of fresh cinder, rather than just hard packed dirt.  I tried to hold my pace but it was slipping. I felt it was a lot more work to run in loose cinder than to run on hard road.  M14 7:14, M15 7:19

With a few more miles of cinder covered trail, I decided that I was simply working too hard to maintain my goal pace and come out of it ok.  I was very concerned that pushing for 7:10's now would result in a hard blow up on the hills an hour later.  A guy next to me says, “Oh Wow. This is like running in quick sand!” I agreed. The effort it took to run a 7:10 pace felt like a 7:00 effort and it was incredibly too early for me to work that hard and expect to hold on. I decided to settle down and wait it out.  All I could do was try to make up time after I got back on the road. M16-7:28, M17-7:25, M18-7:22.  (Gel and Salt)

The Second Checkpoint - Targeting sub-2:10 at 18M
Finally out of the woods, I take a gel. It felts like I was a little late for a gel. I should have done it about a mile earlier, but I wanted to be near water. I was fading mentally as I knew I was falling off my goal with 3:09 slipping away.  I hit the 18 mile at 2:11:xx and knew I had a lot of work to do in the last 8 if I wanted to run a 3:09:59. I also knew that the worst hills are in the last two miles so it was going to be almost impossible for me to make up 90-120 second in those 8 miles. I started to feel defeated. M19 7:30

I needed to regroup. Re-focus. To dig. To start to fight. To not give up on myself.  I may not reach my 3:09:59 goal but I am still on pace for a PR and a PR is success!  I start to push a little harder and work every downhill I can find. M20 7:25

I am waiting for the music to start.  The music that appears in my head that helps me to feel strong. The music that distracts me from the pain. The music that propels me through. And today there is nothing.  None.  Not a single sound in my head except the pounding of my heart on my ear drums.  But I start to pick off ladies.  And I start to count my position. And I start to feel like I have a job to do!  M21-7:24 17th female.

Measuring Myself and Feeling Strong
I can see women ahead and I know I am moving steadily faster than they are. I am starting to feel strong.  "I read somewhere how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once."  I start to feel like if I fight and dig and use everything I got I might still have a chance at 3:10. I pass two more ladies. M22 7:23 15th female.

Dave had been ahead of me the entire time.  I knew if I saw him and caught him, it meant he was fading. I did not want to see him.  But as I approached 23 I did.  He was running well, but at this point, I was moving faster than most runners around me. Most were fading through the hills and I was holding steady.  

I was breathing so hard that I could tell Dave heard me before I got there and knew it was me. I asked him to come with me.  I wanted him to find a second wind. There were ladies just up ahead that I wanted to catch. He said he was done.  I asked him to dig.  He said he had nothing to dig for.  I told him he had more, it was in there... that he put it all in there during all our training... he just needed to find it.  

I had hoped he would unlock some false bottom of fatigue and come along with me so we could cross the line together just like I had imagined... but he just told me to go.  

I knew he was right.  This was his first serious marathon.  Pacing is very tricky.  When he drifted off ahead of me at mile 4, I thought about calling him back, telling him to stay with me because 7:09’s is fast enough for the 3:09:59... but I also know he is bigger than me.  He is stronger than me.  He trained with me but I know he can run faster than me.  I hoped that when he pulled away this meant he would finish hard and run sub-3:09. But when I caught him I knew he was depleted. He wasn’t going to be able to dig for low 7’s in the last 3 miles.  Three miles is a really long way when the legs are just empty. I know next time this won't happen to him. I know he learned a lot.  M23 7:32

I told him to stay strong and run for his PR, which would be HUGE for him.  A few seconds after catching up to Dave I was back on track trying to pass as many ladies as I could.  As we hit the very very steep hill I could no longer speak. A man sat on a chair at the top of the hill.  He cheered people up the hill. As I got close, he loudly exclaimed “Oh Wow, You Look Mad!”  I could not explain that I was in so much pain and just wanted it all to stop... so instead I just grunted at him and continued on my way. I think to myself "I feel strong!" M24 7:27, 14th female

We are almost done and yet there is still one more hill left.  I am working so hard.  I am mumbling random profanities out loud. The hill seems to last forever and I am running as fast as my legs can go.  Women cheer on the side.  One holds a sign that says,”Smile because you dont have to run tomorrow!” I think, “Not True!" I pass another lady as she walks up the hill. I think again, trying to convince myself of something I know is not true.  "I feel strong!" M25 7:22, 13th female

I missed the 25 mile mark. We are still running up hill and it just wont stop.  I ask a guy if we passed M25 yet, and he assures me we did. "Thank God!" I call out.  He laughs at me.  I fight to hold my speed.  I dont want to be passed by any women in last mile. Someone yells out a half mile to go!  I look at my watch and it say 3:06!  OMG, if he is right then I might be able to run break 3:10!!! I am trying to find any strength I have in my entire being to do this. I try again to focus. "I... FEEL... STRONG." (Lies... all lies) M26 7:21

My pace say 7:16 overall on my Garmin, but the distance is already reading long. I need to average 7:15s for 3:09:59 and I don't think I can do it … but I am just not sure.  Over the hill and down to the finish. I push myself as hard as I can.  My watch is already reading 26:3x and I am not there yet. The clock has turned to 3:11. I know I was only 10 second behind gun time. I wont get sub 3:10.  I won't even get sub-3:11.  That "half mile to go" was more like .7 miles to go, which it ok.  It felt great to believe I had a shot.  Last 0.2 - 2:30 (calculated on watch as 6:48 pace over the .37)

I finish strong, stagger though the finishing area, proud that I just ran the fastest marathon of my life.  I sit at the finish, waiting to see the finishes of those runners I trained. I find Steve and learn that he did get his BQ!  I find Dave and learn he set a new marathon PR by over 15 minutes!  I later get emails from the other runners I coached, learning two BQ'd and five in total ran personal bests either at Steamtown, Mohawk Hudson, or Chicago.  I call a few friends on the ride home to share all the amazing results of the day!

Final Time: 3:11:42
OA Place 163/2185
Gender Place: 13/931
AG Place: 2nd

I may not have reach my "A" goal, but I could not be happier with my result.  I wanted to run the fastest marathon of my life and that is exactly what I did!

At the end of the Into The Wild, Chris discovers that he has been looking at his life all wrong. He realized that living off the land, in the wild beauty of Alaska is a grand adventure and something to be proud to be able to do.  But he has no one to experience his adventure, his joy, or his struggles with.  He is alone and writes one final thought in his journal about what he has learned.    

“Happiness. Only Real When Shared.” - Chris McCandless 

Thank you very much for reading my blog. 

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tablos

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Prioritize Your Sleep to Get the Most Out of Training

I will be submitting articles to my Running Club for our monthly newsletter. If you reside in New Jersey and would like to become a member of Clifton Road Runners, please visit this website for more information on how to join: 

Here is a copy of the most recent article:

Prioritize Your Sleep to Get the Most Out of Training
by Shannon McGinn, Certified Running Coach 
Sept 2014

How often do you truly get a good night’s sleep? Most of us are guilty of stealing hours from our sleep in order to be “more productive”.  In some cases, getting better organized can help us find that extra time to be more productive without compromising our sleep. In other cases, we will need to change our patterns of behavior so that we can sleep better (e.g. Get off Facebook and go to bed).  Seriously commit to getting more and/or better quality sleep, especially as your training mileage increases, and you will see greater improvements in recovery time and running performance. If running well is important to you, then sleep must become a priority. 

How much sleep is enough sleep? One rule of thumb states that runners should add one minute more of sleep per night for every mile per week that is run (e.g. If you run 60 miles per week, you need to get an extra hour of sleep per night as compared to when you ran 0 miles per week). Most of us really do need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This means runners should be getting more than that average.

More Sleep = Better Recovery. The release of human growth hormones (HGH) surges while we sleep. Training breaks down body tissue in order to rebuild it stronger. HGH repairs body tissue. To encourage the body to release the most HGH possible, get on a regular sleep schedule. HGH is not released while awake. Sleep deprivation disrupts the timing and the amount of HGH released once regular sleep is resumed. Yes, this is the same HGH that elite athletes get in trouble for using in supplement form. Since we know how desirable HGH is for athletes and we have the ability to maximize our body’s production of this performance enhancing hormone (in a legal and natural way), it makes sense that we make every effort get as much sleep as possible. Read all about Sleep and HGH here:   

More Sleep = Better Training. A rested body and rested mind will train better.  Few things contribute as much to missing or failing a workout than exhaustion. It becomes too easy to decide sleep though the alarm when the body is sleep deprived. In fact, it may be best to do just that, if the body is in need of more rest. Chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to higher injury rates.  A body forced to train after less than ideal recovery is not as likely to tolerate hard workouts as well as a rested body is. In addition, sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system making us more susceptible to illness. Even though many runners attempt to continue to train while ill, a sick runner can never train as well as healthy runner.  

More Sleep =  Better Eating. Healthy eating results in better athletic performance. Well-rested people tend to eat less and/or eat better. Late night snacking is often automatically eliminated by going to bed earlier.  While awake, well-rested people make better food choices.  A fatigued person is more likely to choose high calorie junk food because exhaustion lowers will power. Sugary snacks provide a quick surge in energy, which is something exhausted people crave (followed, unfortunately, by a low energy crash).   

What the Pros do. Here is a great resource that highlights some conclusions about the impact of sleep on athletic performance. It also graphs how much sleep professional athletes get. Tiger Woods really needs to do better.

What can we do? To become a better runner, start paying closer attention to your sleep patterns. Make it a priority to get high quality sleep for the maximum amount of time possible. Here is a Sleep Diary to help you get started:

If you cannot get more hours of sleep, make the sleep you get higher quality. Make your bedding more comfortable. Think about room temperature, excess lighting, excess noises and minimize any disruptions. Set a regular bedtime and wake up schedule, even on the weekends, to maintain a regular routine. For more idea about how to improve the quality of sleep, see

What you are all doing as runners is very hard and very time consuming. But if you make getting quality sleep a real priority it will absolutely help to make all the hard work you do as a runner much more effective.  For more information about how important sleep is to athletic performance, see


Shannon McGinn is an RRCA Certified Distance Running Coach and the owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is a life-long runner, becoming more involved in racing after surviving cancer.  She considers herself a marathon and ultramarathon specialist, earning several USATF National Championship top 10 or better placements in the 50k and 50M distances. She has not missed a day of running since December 2011. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An Anecdotal Study of the Impact of Humidity on Performance: Part II. Clarence DeMar Marathon, Keen, NH, 9/28/14

Whistling while I work :)
[The song in my head while cruising along in the zone:
Eddie Vedder, Society]
Last week's Half Marathon shook my confidence.  My best half is 6:55 pace. To train for a full and then run a half in 7:21 pace was not part of the plan. Yes, the humidity was a huge factor. But, it was hard to not think that maybe the humidity was not as big of a factor as I would like it to be. Maybe I am just not as fit as I hoped to be by now. 

I registered for the DeMar Marathon a few weeks ago. Sidney, Enzo, and I wanted to see Burlington VT.  Keene, NH is near  Burlington, VT, right? :) (Sidney is a good sport).  

I needed a Long Run while away from home. I was not planning for a great race.  Since Dave and I had trained all the way up to 23 miles for our LRs, I didn’t see a problem with running a marathon as a long run. I didn’t expect to PR, but I did plan to make a genuine effort to run as strong as felt I could run the course. 

I cannot say enough good things about the DeMar marathon. The race is very well organized with just enough communication from the race organizers to make the weekend go smoothly.  This is a smaller race of about 400 runners.  There is "morning of" packet pick up for those who cant get out to Keene the night before.  Even though I made it just in time to get my packet the night before, I cannot say how much I appreciate races that still allow runners to get their bibs in the morning.  

The Elm City Rotary and other Volunteers were incredibly friendly and helpful at bib pickup! It has been a very long time since I looked into my swag bag and found anything that I was happy to see. The DeMar provided a tin of Badger Foot Balm, a Bar of Specialty Soap, a Gel for the race, and then some instructions about where to go in in the morning with actual street addresses. There was not much else in the bag (which is a good thing). The T-shirt was gender specific. Besides being one of the nicest race shirts I have received in a while, this shirt actually fits me!  

Course: The course is a net downhill course with mostly all of of the descent between M1-M14.  Although the second half is not hilly, with the exception of an uphill between M3 and M4, all of the "uphills" that would impact pace were found in the second half. (M14, M21, and M23).

Weather: I had anticipated cooler weather, but I have no complaints about the sub-50’s just prior to the start and maybe just over 50 by gun time. It would rise to about 75 degrees by the afternoon but the humidity was much much lower that last weekend... approximately 65% humidity.  

On the drive over to the race, I take a gel (1).  It was sub-50 when I was dropped at the start so I used that too large long sleeve Newport Liberty Half T-Shirt as my throw away (I was unlikely ever to wear it) over a singlet and shorts. I even wore a pair of throw-away gloves at the start.  Really!  I was very comfortable while waiting to start. I did ditch the shirt in the bin the race provided to collect throw-away items before we started running, but I kept my gloves because I rarely ever actually throw away throw-away gloves.  It felt so great to be a little chilly at the start of a race for a change! 

I take a Gel (2) on the walk to the start. Usually I don't take two before the start, but I didn't feel like carrying 3 gels and my inhaler. 
After running a 1:36 half last weekend, I just hoped to be able to stay under 3:30 but I was targeting a 3:22 as my goal. I lined up towards the front, because review of past race results told me that even a 3:22 should place me high in the women’s standing, if not actually win it.

The Gun Goes Off: Three women take off faster than I do.  I kept an eye on them as they pull away.  I noticed that right off the start I just don't feel great.  I had some tightness around my left ankle that was new and odd. The rest of me felt tired and my stomach was a little off. I didn’t feel like I was able to take the downhills as fast I thought I would. I chatted with Dan, who I met on the starting line when he had on a Sunset Classic Shirt, during the first 2 miles and then decided that I needed to let him go ahead without me.  M1-7:16, M2-7:20
With JP on our way to the Dam

Mile 3 had a nice decent during which I was finally able to feel the tightness leave my ankle. M3-7:10.  

My new found peppiness was quickly put in check by a hill in mile 4 that was about .4 miles long and steeper than I expected to find before mile 14. Net descent does not mean there will be no uphills along the way.  The presence of a significant hill that no one seemed to mention made me very very concerned about the hills people did actually tell me about. M4-7:44

I take some time to recover from the unexpected incline and I settle down and save myself for those hills in the second half. I remind myself that this is just a Long Run so I can be a little more relaxed. The course rolled along and my pace reflects the terrain more than a change in my effort. M5-7:37, M6-7:28, M7-37, M8-7:31. I take a gel (3) here.

I ended up with a small pack of guys. One guy declares that we are the 7:30 pace group.  It doesn’t take them long to drop me.   M9-7:42, M10-7:40.  

I pick up JP at this point and we get to spend several miles together.  He shares his plan to bank a little time. I mention the hill at mile 14 and he was not aware of the lay out. I share my intelligence with him.  He shares that he thinks I must be one of the top ladies.  I tell him “I am eighth.”  He asked me how did I know that.  I explain that I always try to start up front and I count them as them pass me.  Three were ahead of me at the start and between M3 and M10, 4 more ladies passed me.  

As we hit a decline, just before the incline up to the Out-n-Back across the dam, we see the leaders flying back the other way.  There are no women in range for me to catch any time soon.  M11 - 7:38

The view from the dam is beautiful! M12-7:48
View from the Dam
JP made a comment about noticing the pace was fading and we both picked it up a little. It helped to have that descent off the dam to get us back up to speed... but we both knew that the hill around mile 14 was looming.  M13 - 7:18  

There is sign for the half way mark and I notice I hit it in 1:38:50.  Not my best first half, but I will take it because I feel good and I have some room to fade to a 3:22 if those hills pummel me. I take a packet of salt... well as much salt as sweaty fingers can get from a paper salt packet. 

I relax through mile 13, while a little worried and wondering when the hill will start. The aid station is at mile 14, which also is the bottom of the start of the hill.  M14-7:30

We start to climb and it was not that bad at all. I was ready for it.  I have been running hill repeats on hills that made this look like joke.  I pass everyone in my range on the way up.  The hill is about .75 miles up and once I crest it I feel great because I realize the rest are shorter hills, I only have 11 more miles to go AND I feel fresh and ready to start getting to work! M15-7:43

There is a nice descent after the uphill and I take advantage.  At this point forward I have no plans to hold back on the descents.  And then the music starts in my head. (Eddie Vedder, Society)

This is undeniably a signal to me that I am in my zone.  I started humming, then actually whistling, then even singing out loud when no one was too close by.  The idea that I could whistle or sing in spurts while running helped me stay in check and keep my effort challenging but not too fast.  At this point I realized I really liked the taste of the salt from earlier and decide to take my second salt packet. M16-7:18, M17-25. 

I planned to take my next gel between M18-M19. My timing is messed up. I had taken off my singlet and I have that in one hand. I have my gel the other. I turned a corner and approached an aid station, while trying to free a hand for water, I accidentally drop my gel.   In most cases this would have disrupted my flow, but I wasn’t concerned.  I felt great and hoped maybe the race might have a gel station. M18-7:25.

With 8 to go, I immediately shift into progression mode.  Dave and I have been working on negative splitting our Long Runs and this seems to have become ingrained. M19-7:17, M20-7:17, M21 7:20 

I see a guy in the street holding a tray and calling about something about power gels.  I am so excited. My wish has been granted!  I get close and he has power gels chews. I was hoping for a gel, but thanked him and took a handful on the fly. I snatched up 3 chews as I passed by and was grateful for more sugar since the first of the “steep hills” was coming up soon. M22-7:32

Here is where I start passing ladies back. Up the hills, I felt on fire and figured if I can pass the women on the incline and put some distance on them on the descent, then it was unlikely I would be challenged.  I had the energy to push hard uphill. Since most people don't feel that way at then end of a marathon, I was confident that those I passed would simply let me go.  M23 7:20 

I already crested one hill with good results.  The last one was in the Cemetery... but I thought the last one was at 22? I was hoping maybe that maybe the hills were over. 

And then we enter the cemetery. We have a serious descent first, where I passed another woman and then I passed one more as we crested the Cemetery hill. At this point my count was off, there were early start runners to consider, but I hoped I was at least in 5th. 

Once out of the Cemetery we are gifted with a rejuvenating descent! I am catching the men ahead of me. M24-7:22.  One points to the woman up ahead and asked, “You gonna catch her?”  I tell him, “I am gonna try! I have 2 miles to do it”.  I feel no compulsion to do anything sudden.  What I am doing is working. I am reeling people in as they naturally fade and I feel amazing. By Mile 25, I catch her.  M25 7:19.

The final mile is what I have been training for.  I don’t want anyone passing me back and if they want to I want to make it hard.  I kick.  For the entire mile.  It is hard.  People keep telling me I am almost there.  I feels like it is taking forever.  There are so many turns.  Where is that finish line. M26 7:09

Why cannot I still not see the finish?  People are getting more densely packed.  Cow bells are ringing.  Dogs are barking. One man calls out"73% of the field is currently behind you!” :)  Little kids with hands out for high five get my attention and a high five because it makes them happy.  I see Sidney.  That makes me happy.  I dig a little deeper. I make the final turn onto Keene State University. I finally see the shoot. I hear my name announced. The roar of the crowd is so loud for such a small race that I fear someone is chasing me down.  I cannot bear to look back. I finish harder instead.  Last .2 at 6:52 pace. 

Final time 3:15:44... a 2 minute negative split on a course with the hills in the back half and a descent to start!

I find out once the results are posted that I took 3rd female OA. :) What a great race

Time: 3:15:44 (7:27 pace)(6 seconds slower per mile than last week's half)
OA:  22nd
Gender: 3rd
AG 1st

So the final conclusion of this informal anecdotal study of humidity’s impact on performance is as follows:  Humidity in the 90% range sucks.  Or more specifically as Jimbo keeps informing me, the Wetbulb temperature is really important when setting performance goals.  The second half of my marathon was practically run at the same pace as my half last weekend. I ran an entire marathon only 6 seconds per mile slower in temperatures that were slightly cooler but significantly less humid.  It seemed impossible to consider running a 3:15 after my 1:36 performance at Newport.... but running and racing is fair.  A bad race happens for a lot of reason, but if you are well trained, know your course, pace yourself smart, and get lucky with weather, you will have your chance to shine. Control what you can control... manage the rest. And if weather doesn't cooperate, just keep on racing. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

An Anecdotal Study of the Impact of Humidity on Performance - Part 1: Newport Liberty Half Marathon 9/21/14, Jersey City NJ.

Photo from Anthony's (My Team Captain) Album
Anthony, Kim, and me.
I usually write my race reports the week of the race.  I just couldn’t bring myself to write up the Newport Liberty Half Marathon report last week because the race was just a horrible experience for me.  

Before I continue, I need to squash a few potential comments about how to judge performances.  First, I want to say I know my half marathon time was not a “bad” time.  I know that many people would love to run the time I ran... etc.  But I am not comparing my performance to others and making some judgement call about what is a “Good” or “Bad” half marathon time. In fact, in my opinion there is no Good or Bad times, instead there are specific runners with specific goals and specific times they are targeting for specific reasons. To set a realistic goal, to train for it and then to miss that mark simply feels bad and it is allowed to feel disappointing ... even if a ton of other people would “Love” to have run the time.

Ok, so with all that said. Last year, I ran a 1:31 a the Newport Liberty Half. I had run the Rock and Roll Philly half the week before also in 1:31.  I was racing a lot more last year and felt lean and fit and was riding a peak of a wave of good racing.  

This year, I have been focused more on marathon training. I have been skipping racing in exchange for getting out early every other weekend with Dave to run 21-23 mile Long Runs, successfully negative splittings these in hot/humid weather, starting easy but pulling the paces down into the 7‘s and then trying to break 7 minutes per mile in the last few tenths.  We have been hitting the track once per week for 6 minute (or sub-6) paced or better repeats of various fractions of a mile. We have been crushing those workouts.  I have been meeting Kim for challenging hill work where we warm up with 7.5 miles of a hilly XC course and end with up to 5 x 0.2 mile repeats of a very very very steep road incline. I was working hard.  I was getting enough recovery between runs.  

At the start of Newport, I did not expect a PR, but if the opportunity presented itself I would not turn it down. Based upon the weather, I did not expect to run the 1:31 that I ran last year.  But I was hoping to see something like a 1:33-1:34. The weather was simply OPPRESSIVE with humidity between 91-96%.  This humid day came after a week of cool mornings with exceptionally low humidity.  It was stifling even with a start temperature of 67 degrees.  

I personally only know of one person who actually PR’d at Newport (Congratulation Joe D. for beating all odds and doing amazing work!)  

Kim, John P., Enrique and I did about a 5 minute warm up at about a 10:30 pace, which resulted in massive and immediate sweating. I think we all knew it was not going to be a great day. 

Last year I started at 6:45... this year I hit M1 in 7:04 and it felt hard. Very Hard.  I readjusted my initial goal from trying to match last year to something slower. I felt 7:15’s were possible and I believed I could sneak in just under 1:35. This was not what I needed or wanted to see as a predictor race, but it was a realistic compromise. 

The next many miles were simply an exercise in trying to hang on until the half way mark where I planned to make a re-assessment. M2-7:13, M3-7:19, M4-7:19, M5-7:23, M6-7:17.

The only thing that gave me peace of mind that the difficulty I felt running this race was not a failure of my training was that I saw most of the runners I compete with nearby.  Collectively we were all suffering. Just past mile 6 I ran into a female runner who seems to leap frog with me in races.  As I pulled up along side of her we talked for a minute. She reported that she was just shutting it down and cruising it in, feeling she went out too hard. I was trying so hard to remain optimistic by reporting that humidity was supposed to be worse at the gun time and decreasing as time passed.  Maybe things would get better?  But they didn’t.  M7-7:21, M8-7:18. 

And at some point around M8.5 Sean passes me. He mentioned that I passed him there last year.  He is so upbeat and positive.  I tried to stick with him a bit. Maybe things could turn around.  M9-7:05

That little extra push was soul-crushing. I felt like my legs had the power but my lungs were just not getting enough air to fuel the effort.  I faded back and watched Sean speed away into the distance. M10-7:20, M11-7:22.

I was soaking wet and not sure how much was sweat and how much was water I was dumping on me.  I just wanted this to be over. I had no ability to find another gear.  I decided to minimize the suffering and just finish it off. I slowed my pace to what felt tolerable. M12-7:33, M13-7:45 with the Last .14 at 7:06 pace

UGH.  This is probably the first race in a long time where I just had 0 kick at all. But I also had 0 motivation to dig for it at that time.  I was just happy to get to stop the madness. 

Time: 1:36:26 (7:21 pace)
OA: 209 out of 2782
Gender: 37 out of 1327 
AG: 8 out of 217

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jimmy D. 5k, New Brunswick, NJ. 8/31/14

The Jimmy D 5k has been a wonderful 5k held each year to honor the life of FD Deputy Chief James D'Heron. He lost his life after entering a burning home which shortly exploded as a result of illegally stored propane.  The money raised at the 5k has been used to support burn survivors and fire services.
At the start of the race, each year, Jimmy's daughter makes a sincere and moving speech telling the story of her father.  It is meaningful and motivating and each year it makes me feel glad to have chosen to attend and support this event.  Today's race will be the 10th and final Jimmy D 5k.

The course is as simple as they come.  It is a straight shot out and back.  The course is gently rolling but it is primarily down hill on the way out with the steepest descents in the early part of mile 1.  We run down the road to the firehouse, where firemen hand out water at the turn around.  From there we run back (primarily) up hill to the track.  The track finish seems to awaken kicks that most don't realize they have in them.  I love a track finish! 

Kim and I met at 7:40 because we wanted 10 miles today.  We decided to run the course as a warm-up after getting our bibs.   It was a great way to get a handle on what to expect.  The firemen were already setting up the table and boosted our ego's by telling us how awesome we were to be warming up for a 5k with a 5k. :)  

By the time we got ready to start the official race, at 9:00 am, the humidity and warm was quite high.  We did a few strides, and took out sweat soaked selfs to the starting area. I knew this was going to be a really tough day.  Not only was the humidity quite oppressive, I also ran 21 miles yesterday in the 8:30's.  I felt tired and beat up and stifling hot and the idea of running a race as fast as I could was making me a little anxious.  

I have said it a million times because it is true...5k's scare me.  In a marathon or a half, you can run comfortable for miles and miles before the race starts to feel like you need to work and focus and dig.  In a 5k, I get 2 minutes of running while comfortable and for the next 18+ minutes, I can feel my heart in my ears and my lungs are on fire and there is nothing I can do to make it stop. 

Last year I had a great Jimmy D, one of my fastest 5k's of my life.  This year it didn't go as well, but I have no complaints.  The pack took off at the sound of the air horn and I try to find some room to run in the crowd.  The steepest part of the descent happens early and I saw was running low 6 minute pace.  I tried to settle down and find a pace that felt swift, but not over my head.  I reach M1 in 6:25.  I had hoped to be a little faster considering the decline, but I'll take it. (The clock here was 20 second off).

I begin to preparing mentally for the uphill half,  I feel like I am running in quicksand and just can't go any faster.  I look at my instant pace and it is still in the mid-6:00's.  I have an up hill to deal with.  I try my best to stay steady, knowing that worst part of this uphill is at the end.  M2 in 6:39.

I see Kim on my way in and she calls out that I am on 10th, I can see two ladies up ahead, but I don't think I can catch them.  I don't look back, but I hope that I can hold off whoever is behind me.  I feel like I am making a solid effort.  No one is passing me and I am overtaking a few guys on the way up.  My breathing is hard and I just can't find any more speed.  I can tell I am reeling in one woman and think if I can just get close enough on the track, and she has less of a kick than I do, then maybe I can advance one position.  The humidity and the incline sucks the life out of me, but this mile is done. M3 6:50.  

I enter the track and feel someone coming up on my shoulder. It is Eric, a really talented super fit guy I see often at race.  He doesn't have the traditional runner's build, considering he is basically 100% muscle (or at least it looks that way).  It always makes me feel super strong to be racing near him.  He tries to overtake me around the curve, but I think about my Track Practices with Dave and John and I find another gear.  I dig as deep as I can and I am actually holding him off! We are picking off people in our way and I am reeling in the girl ahead… but I just don't have enough time to catch her… and then Eric blasts past me in the last few yards, but I am ok with that.  We finish and he shakes my hand saying something like "You got a pretty fast kick for an Ultrarunner!" :)  Last .13 - 0:40 (5:05 pace) 

Kim finished strong, shortly after me. After a short break we ran the course again.  A spectator called out to us as we ran by, "Wow, running the course twice! That's impressive!"  It felt pretty good to be able to say… "Oh no, not twice… Three Times!"  It is a special thing to be in good enough health and fitness to run 10 milers with a 5k race in the middle. I am not sure how long this will last, but I know that I wasn't always able to do this either.  I know Kim wasnt always able to or interested in doing this as well.  Sometimes feeling proud of yourself, isn't always about the race pace or placement (but that helps too), but about how far we have come with hard work and dedication to being healthy.

Time: 20:36 (6:38 pace)
Overall Female: 9th
Age Group: 2nd

Friday, August 22, 2014

Turkey Swamp 50k, Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold, NJ 8/17/14 (Road Racing Flats for a Trail Ultra; How to be Over and Under Hydrated at the Same Time)

Top 3 ladies.
Photo provided by Sonia B (on left)
who took 2nd in her first 50k.
It has been almost a week since I raced Turkey Swamp 50k. I needed to think about what I wanted to say about this race. In 5 hours a lot happens. This is my report:

It has been a month since I last raced. That race was Running with the Devil, which doesn't file away in my mind in the same way most races do.  That race is a feat of strength and endurance in a much different way than any other race I run.  Turkey Swamp is quite the opposite of Running with the Devil.  I feel that Turkey Swamp is best described as beginner trail.  It is a beautiful introduction for road racers into the world of trail running.  Due to a few rooty spots, a grassy section that lacks any semblance of shade, and the heat and humidity of August, I believe the course is a bit slower than it seems like it should be. Otherwise the course is a very runnable mixture of terrain that breaks up the loop nicely.

I was nervous, but I am always nervous before a race.  I don't expect to PR at every event.  I show up mindful of the training and circumstances surrounding me at the time and set my goals accordingly.  But even if I know I won't have a great race, even when I am not supposed to care about the result, I simple do care.  This is who I am.

And at Turkey Swamp I never expect a great race. My PR weather seems to be 37 degrees and rainy.  This is August.  Like most runners, I am not very resilient in the heat and humid.  In fact, I have learned to relegate my summer running focus to (1) recovery from spring, (2) surviving hot and humid training, and (3) fall race prep work. I am happy to just finish the races I start from May through mid-September without feeling disappointment about my slower summer performances.

The Course:
The course is a combination of dirt road, rooty and/or sandy trails, and fields.  The whole thing is runnable.  It is flat, with the exception of two little uphill sections in the fields.

We start in a parking lot, run out the North Side of the lot onto a woodsy trail section.  We exit the trail onto the dirt park road and make our way back towards the very same parking lot we started in, except this time we are on the South Side.  Here at .5 or so miles into the course we find a set of porto-potties conveniently located just steps off the course which makes it very convenient for runners traveling on that part of the course to make a pit stop. These port-o-potties are also available to runners as they finish their loops, but the runner will have to walk all the way through the parking lot towards the north side of the course to access them. It is not that far away, but it just seems smarter to run all the way around the course and then stop at them.

The dirt road continues until we are about 1 mile into the loop, where we turn left and enter the woods.  We travel through the runnable woods for about another .8 miles until we enter the fields. This is about the half way point of the lap.

The fields are separated in my mind into two sections: (1) the top cooler sections and (2) the bottom warmer section.  The top section has more shade cast from the trees during the race which keep it slightly cooler up there. There was also a water stop and port potties if needed.  After completing the perimeter of the first field, we reached two very short but noticeable hills, and the 2 mile point in the loop.  There we start to run a gradual incline around the field which felt shadeless to me and therefore cumulatively sucked the life from me during the last 6 loops. Stephen felt this section was fast, but I felt like the grass was grabbing my feet and holding me back, while rays of sunshine pummeled the life out of me.  Once around the cars parked in the final field, we entered the woods for a short trip back to the start finish line at 2.6 miles.  There was fluid and aid available.  Repeat that 12 times for the 50k. 

Road Racing Flats for a Trail Ultra? (And Why I love High Drop Shoes):
My biggest decision leading up this race was what shoes to wear.  I have been posting a lot lately on my FB page about my love of High Drop Shoes. This may be quite odd when the running community is so very much in love with Low Drop.

Please let me share my secret thoughts about drop. One drop isn't best.  High drop doesnt make you a heel striker.  Being a heel striker makes you a heel striker.  I run in high drop and I run up on my forefoot.  In fact, I find that low drop makes me more of a heel striker than high drop does. Low drop challenges more of my achilles and calves. I can feel them working harder, even my gluteus too since I find I sit back over my heels more in low drop, rather than ride up on my forefoot.  This extra work is what is supposed to makes us stronger.

But Low drop isn't always going to be the better choice over Higher drop options.  I believe the right answer is to rotate your drops in a reasoned way.  I have about 7 pairs of running shoes I use for a variety of reasons.  They vary in drop, weight, and traction.  My drops vary from 0mm through 12mm. I have training shoes, racing shoes, and trail shoes. And after reviewing my race results and analyzing my best races, I have discovered this pattern: I find that when I use low drop shoes for training, I engage more of my achilles and calves. The extra work can act to keep the strong, flexible and healthy. This is true until they get overworked, then I need to train in high drop to help them recover.  If I stay in high drop too long and I lose those benefits of low drop.  Since I run a lot, I periodically feel my achilles or plantar fascia getting irritated.  I know the only thing that resolves this almost immediately is to train in high drop shoes until the achilles and PF are happy again.  I am constantly choosing shoes based upon what my body needs, not what marketing or others say I should use.  One last observation is that my fastest races have been raced in High Drop, Light Weight, Low Stack Height Shoes. My motto (for now) is going to be Train Low, Race High.

If you read my last race report, I had some serious achilles pain and managed to survive Running with the Devil.  I immediately ordered some 12mm training shoes since I was training in 9.5mm and 4mm shoes and feeling pain.  After a week in the 12mm my achilles were happy.

But I was very concern that by racing 31 miles in my 4mm trail shoes, I was going to reverse all the hard work and patience I had put into my recovery.  Rather than risk this, I decided to wear the same pair of racing flats (but a new pair) I wore at Strolling Jim 40 miler in May, the ST5 Racers.  These are not my lightest racing flats, but they are under 6 oz for my size, have a 12mm drop, and they have a supportive post under the arch.  I am a neutral runner, but for some reason I found that the stability posting of this shoe helps to eliminate all foot pain in ultra distance races.  I just love this shoe.  But it is road shoe.  The tread is not meant to navigate roots or manage muck.  But like I said earlier, Turkey Swamp Trails are beginner trails so I suspected Road Racing Flats would work and they were perfect.  I ended Turkey Swamp no worse for the wear than before I started.  No achilles pain.  No blisters.  No plantar fasciitis pain.  No black toe nails.  Nothing was wrong and this is a big deal.

Over-Hydrating while Dehydrating and What to do about it:
Hot humid weather is tough, but this year Turkey Swamp started out extremely mild. Mid 60's in a blessing in August.  The early laps were enjoyable.  I manage to run about 5 laps of the race non-stop without worry.  It felt easy.  I wanted to start just under 9 minute pace and that is where I was by lap 5.  Thank you Stephen for the company at the start. I knew I would not run all 31 miles non-stop since the heat would beat me down.  I started to take the one little hill in the field as a walk break on lap 6 and hoped I would not need to add many more walks to this day.  But turns out I was wrong about that.

At 5 laps in, I could already tell the humidity was getting to me.  It is not a good sign for me when I am struggle before the half way mark. The temperatures rose significantly from the early morning.  The sun broke through the clouds and beat down on us strongly.  At two points we had the gift of a light rain, but that didn't last very long.

I was carrying a bottle and drinking cups of fluid at the stations.  Thank you Alanna for filling my bottle at the station to help me out.  I tried to drink as much as I could but even though fluid sloshed in my stomach, my mouth was extremely parched. I needed hydration so badly but simply could not get it into my body fast enough.

I had two options at this point.  I could try some sodium to see it that would help trigger some faster absorption… or I could slow down and walk more to try to sweat less while digesting what I had consumed.  I didn't want to do that, so I took the salt.  I haven't taken much salt in races in a long time, so I hoped this would work.  Unfortunately, it really didn't help much.

I continued on, slowing a little hoping to digest the fluids still bloating me. I tried to focus more on pouring water over me to try to cool myself down rather than drink.  At the same time I began to try to figure out my race position.  I needed to think about strategy not speed if I wanted to get through this.  Thank you to Sidney and Stephen for doing all they could to sort out the race information and getting me some leader board info.  They did a great job with limited data and it helped me keep my head in the game.

I needed to start walking more just to make sure I was getting some hydration. I knew I didn't need to drink more, but out of sheer thirst and reflex I was still sipping fluids.  By the start of lap 8, my stomach couldn't handle me trying to push in any more fluids and I ended up throwing up everything I was trying to put in.  Because this bout of vomiting had nothing to do with stomach irritation, I actually felt better.  This is not the same thing as when my stomach starts bleeding at hour 14 of an ultra and nothing helps.  This did help some and I was able to run again.  I continued to douse myself and sip water as I moved along, but my pace suffered.

As I came around lap 10, Sidney told me I had about a lap on the second place woman and was this a relief to hear. At this stage, I just wanted to finish this but knew I was still teetering on the edge of a DNF if I threw up again.  I was feeling very unwell.  I was dry heaving when trying to force in calories.  I was on the verge of throwing up at all times and it felt horrible.

During the entire race, I was only able to get in water, some diluted gatorade, a sip of mountain dew and 1.5 gels the entire race, and one of those gels I threw up. This is about the same as running 31 miles on practically nothing.  My energy was shot, and I was unraveling completely.  It was a suffer-fest but I had surprisingly not reached my limit yet. I admit that already started thinking about how much I wanted to just stop, but this time I was able to shake those negative thoughts away easily and I did everything I could to keep moving forward.  I was still running, but just adding more walking when I would have gagging fits.

When I started lap 12 and realized that I was still over a lap ahead of 2nd place, I knew I was going to finish the race and take home a first place for my effort. This was a big deal to me because Sidney was able to make it out to this race and I didn't want to fail at one of few races he gets to see me run.  He was incredibly helpful and even made me laugh a bit when he tried to hustle me out to run after I lingered a little too long at the aid station before lap 12.The final lap was a death march but I didn't care.  I was finishing and that was such sweet relief.

This race ended up being over an hour slower than my best 50k and slower than I ran Turkey Swamp last year, but I am so very very proud that I got this done.  It took hard work to cover each and every step of that course.  I was falling apart.  I could only focus on one thing and that was to get to the finish line and officially be done.  What a great feeling it was to get to do that.

I want to thank Alanna for being at the aid station and helping with my bottles; Stephen for running the miles he ran with me and then getting me race data when his race was over; (The Amazing) Kim for sticking around after her half plus 7 miler to be there at the finish; and to Sidney for being there to provide such great motivation and support.  It is nice to have such great people in my life. :)

Thank you Tom for RDing one of my most favorite races :)  It is alway so great to see how genuinely supportive you are of all the runners out there on the course. You do a great job!
Sidney walks behind me as I finish. photo by Vivian Corlew

31.1 miles
1st Female
6th OA