Monday, December 16, 2019

Sly Fox Brewery Half Marathon, Pottstown, PA, 12/15/19

What a great way to end 2019! I drove almost 2 hours to PA this morning to see what I could do. This course was new to me. It was run on a trail along a river. I emailed the RD to ask about the terrain. I wasn’t interested in driving two hours to run slow on muddy, rooty terrain when what I really needed was the chance to run HARD and see how fast I could go. I was told there would about 8 miles of "trail" some gravel (it was cider) and some paved sections of "trail". The rest was on closed roads. It was primarily downhill on the road to the trail, which meant uphill back to finish. 

On 12/8 I raced a 5k in 6:20 pace but I really thought I should have been faster. If I used my recent 3:08 marathon as a guide, I would come in around 1:28:xx, but if I used my 5k as a guide I would be 1:29:xx. Funny. It isn't supposed to work that way. 
I really was hoping to chase a new PR, which is currently 1:27:21. But I really wasn’t sure if today would be the day. I would try.

I miserably failed to properly manage my pre-race routine. I left my house at 5:50 when I should have left at 5:30. I had enough time for about 1M of warm-up. Thankfully I used the bathroom right after getting my bib but with nerves taking over I felt I like I need to get back online. I looked at my watch and I had 12 minutes until the gun…. ugh. The bathrooms were steps from the start so I got online and decided to wait to see how far I get with 4 minutes to go…. well, I never made it but the truth is I didn’t need it. Nerves make me feel like I need to pee when I don’t. I should have just kept warming up.

The weather was perfect today. 43 degrees for December in PA is awesome. There was some light wind. I wore shorts, calve sleeves, arm sleeves, gloves, and a singlet rather than a T-shirt. I expected to pull off the gloves at some point, maybe the arm sleeves and maybe even the singlet if I was overheating and felt just a sports bra would work. But I kept it all the entire race. No sunglasses today because it was a little grey. Has the sun broke through it would have definitely warmed up. 

I line up at the front because based upon last year's race results, a 1:29:xx won it. I look at the ladies up front wondering if there could be anyone faster than me here today. I see at least two women who I think could be fast just based upon body composition and choice of racing gear. At the starting line, this is usually all we have to go on.

The gun goes off and we start up a mild hill, turn a corner and then head down and mostly downhill until 2.3M. There was some uphill in that but it was mostly down and at one point it was long and steeply down (which I knew would be challenging on the way back). I hold back my speed on the way down because I don’t want to exhaust myself at mile 2.  I know there will be work for me at the end. I tell myself it is only 2.3M of work and that isn’t too bad. I will deal with that challenge when I get to it.

Once off the closed road, for the next mile to a mile and a half, we ran on a paved trail along the river. It was flat, fast, and peaceful. From the gun, I am the first female. I am in a small pack of men. One guy (Wayne) seem to hook up with me. No words exchanged. Our pace was just in sync with neither of us fighting for it. I know I was trying to hold on to a pace that was as fast as possible while still allowing me the ability to negative split.

Wayne and I are side-by-side, but running our own races. We take turns leading which really just maintained the pace. It became clear we were working together just from the proximity of our bodies and how our strides were often in sync. It felt nice to fall into a flow state with a complete stranger without discussion. I am not a fan of chit-chat when running fast. I want to conserve my energy. I want my mind to focus on my race, my pace, how I feel, what I need, not where someone is from, what their goal is, how many races they have run, etc.  We can get to know each other later.

The energy was very positive and collaborative. Little things like how one of us if in the lead would point down to some branch or post or obstacle if we saw it first as a way to put the other on notice made it clear we were a team. We were moving well at 6:40 pace (which was my goal) and reeling in the men ahead slowly.

At about 3.75 miles, I believe, we hit the gravel part of the course. The path turned into damp cinder. Wayne spoke.  He said “Oh I don’t care for this at all. It is slippery.”  He was right. I said “I thought it was just my shoes. The traction is poor here."  The shift in the surface caused us to slow a bit, but then we got back up to speed.  

At about 5 miles, we pass a spectator who called out “You are the first woman!” and this makes Wayne glance back. I ask, “Do see any other ladies back there? I am afraid to look” ;)  He says “Oh no. There is no one. I think you got this.”  I say, “Well, it is early still. Not even halfway yet.”

I am hoping to negative split so if I don’t see any women near me or ahead of me by the halfway mark, I do feel the since most people don’t negative split, this means I will be hard to catch. BUT I am about running about 20 seconds per mile faster than my 5k race pace and I know there will be 2.3M of uphill at the end… so it is still early and things could go south before the end.  

We hit the turn around and the pace on my watch is 6:41 average.  I know my PR half pace is 6:39.  I do a quick 180-degree spin around the chalk "turnaround" dot on the ground and pick up my effort. I would like to try to get my pace down to PR pace. I would LOVE to set a new lifetime PR today! 

I know to have a chance to PR I need to really work the course from here through 2.34M to go because those last few road miles are going to hurt. I know they could easily cause me to not Negative split and I am ok with this. 

I drop Wayne at the turn around. I was sure he was waiting as well to push the pace on the way back too. His breathing sounded good. He was so fluid. But I had a PR on my mind and I needed to stick to my plan. 

I dig and I see 6:35. I feel ok. I tell myself, this is going to be a 10k race home until it becomes a 5k race home… and I start working carefully to make up time.

There are two men ahead and I go after them. The trail is filled with runners coming towards me who are so excited to tell me that I am the first female. Two of the most memorable comments include the one guy who could have been my age call out “You are doing a good job, ma'me!”  (my first “ma'me” in a race. I am not sure how I feel about that except to say that I sincerely appreciate anyone who errs on the side of being “too respectful.”) A few minutes later, I am greeted by a woman who calls out “OMG!!! YOU ARE SO BADASS!!!” It was crazy loud. She made me smile… and I thought about the last year of my life and said to myself “You have no idea, sister!”

Then we hit the paved trail and I look down at my watch is reading 6:24 pace. I look at the watch and think “Holy Crap…. this doesn’t even feel that bad.” I hold on to it for as long as I can. I know I will fade from that speed on the climb back to the finish. 

I catch the two men and one says with surprise “Oh wow! Nice work!”  The other does a double-take, appears to realize I am a woman, and he won’t let me pull away without a fight to stay ahead of me. After a few surges back and forth, he drops back and I continue on with my plan. I am not racing him. I am racing ME.  I am waiting for the road to come. I am sure I psyched myself out thinking way too much about the hills at the end. I need to not do that. 
I am alone now and make a turn onto the road and not only do we start to incline, but there is also a headwind.  Oh, come on!!! I can feel my quads getting hot. I think to myself “This is why you lift! You are strong. Dig!!! It is just 2M!!!” 

I am pushing and I see 6:40s, and this is fine. The turns are frequent and I am watching for the white marks.  It was all so clear on the way out, but there was one turn on the way back that confused me. I was tired. I pushed up a hill. The volunteer saw me. He took out his phone and snapped a photo. I saw the mark on the ground point to go left but it looked unclear as to whether I need to stay all the way left or make a quick right.  I called back “Which way?!” He didn’t hear me. He was looking to see if he got a good photo. I was slowing down… I didn’t want to have to backtrack. I was so unsure. Ugh. The guy I passed on the path turns and is catching me now. I ask “This way????”  He called out “I think so” while shrugging.  He is following me. Great!

I had worked so hard to drop my average pace to 6:37 and I expected to lose some on the climb but not because I wasn’t sure where to go and practically coming to a stop?  I am sure the course was marked fine and I was just tired and easily confused.

Then I could see in the distance a guy in a yellow vest at an intersection. I felt better knowing I was on track. I tried so hard to get my pace back down but the hill kicked my butt. They were not easy. I pass one guy who was walking, with maybe .8M to go.  

At this point, I know my watch is at least .1 off so even with my pace reading 6:39 (PR pace), I know I won’t run a new PR, but I give it my all. Once we turn the last corner we get to go back down the little incline we started on and I open up my stride. 

Where is that finish line! Finally, I see it and I see the clock.. 1:27:58… 1:27:59… 1:28:00 and 1:27:xx is gone. Darn it 6 seconds later I am done.

As soon as I cross the line. I try to stop my watch. The RD is at my side. She asks me if I was able to get my watch stopped. I lean forward, hands on knees, trying to breathe. She asks me to stand up. She hands me my award. The photographer snaps a photo. I am sure still have snot on my face. She takes the award back from me. Hands it to another lady. That lady repacks it for me and that is it. I actually thank her for doing the awards as we finish (but seriously holy crap, I needed like just 30 seconds to catch my breath, LOL.  Talk about efficient. I respect that! Good for her!). 


1:28:06 (6:44 pace for 13.1)
1st Female Overall
6th place OA 

Bring on 2020! 

Lifetime PRs, look out. I am coming for you :)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

(1) A8K, Glenn Ridge, NJ 11/28/19, (2) NCR Trail Marathon, Spark, MD, 11/30/19, and (3) The Holiday Hustle 5k, Lincroft, NJ 12/8/19.

I will try to be brief. I make no promises. 

I have been racing a lot again and it is amazing. All for training. Nothing has been a goal race. I can’t be happier with the results, although I can’t say that I am nailing my goals perfectly. When I miss the mark I set for myself (like in the last of these races), I feel more motivated to look at my training, nutrition, sleep, stress, etc and see what I can tweak to help me get one step closer to my "A" Goal.

My last race was the Clifton 5k on 11/17. I wanted to run 6:20 pace and I ran 6:41 pace that day. I did not feel like it was my best work. I did not feel like I had the ability to dig deep at the end to pull down my pace. I left feeling dissatisfied with my performance and not really sure what I could have done differently. This concerned me. It easy to accept missing a goal when you know why.  It is hard when you have no idea why you just didn’t “have it” when you wanted to. Was I reaching some limitation that I wasn’t prepared to find yet? 


Ashenfelter 8k, Glen Ridge, NJ 11/28/19

As a result of all of the above, I had some mixed feelings about the A8k. Before the last few races, I was overwhelmed with pre-race anxiety. This could be sabotaging me. So this time I tried to be much better about pre-race stress.  First I NEED some anxiety to run well but not so much that I can't function well the day before and get to bed hours later than I should.  This time I slept better. I ate better. I managed my schedule much better. But I can’t say I felt as confident in my ability as I would have liked to feel. After all, I wasn’t trying to run a PR, I was simply trying to identify a realistic goal and then achieve it. This should not be that hard for me to do since I do this for others as my job and I do it well.

Annemarie, my Clifton Road Runners Team Captain, asked for my A8K goal so she could put me on the appropriate team.  Without hesitation, I wrote, “I plan to run 6:20-6:40 pace.” I hit send and then thought to myself “What? I just raced a 5k at 100% effort and only managed 6:41 pace. I just said I could run an 8k faster than that. Ok, I guess I need to do it now.”

I love the A8K. I have run it maybe 5 times? It is a fast race. It is huge race. But the race is always good to me. I like the course. 

So how did it go!  It was awesome.  I nailed it! Negative split. Raced a chick into the finish and passed her just before the finish line.  I was pleased!


NCR Trail Marathon, Sparks, MD, 11/30/19

Two days later, I got up a 4:00 am, drove from NJ to MD and raced the NCR Trail Marathon, then drove home.  It was a great day! 
I have run the A8k/NCR double many times and it always goes well.  There is something special that can happen when a higher volume runner races a fast short race a few days before a marathon. I feel like it wakes up the fast-twitch. But it only works if the runner has enough volume under them that a 3-5M short race doesn’t take too long to recover from.  I felt I would be find in two day, but I was also not concerned because the NCR was not a goal race for me. 
But what was my goal? This was hard to figure out. First and foremost I wanted to negative split this thing. The course is set up for this. I has about a 1% incline out to the turnaround and then run down that same 1% decline on the way in. But 1% is not very significant, but it is still 1% and any percent can help with smart pacing.

My goal window was huge, based upon my 6:23 pace at the A8K two days prior I was looking to come in under 3:10, but that was pretty ambitious.  My last marathon was in Atlantic City on 10/21/19 and it was a 3:35. I would need to drop a minute per mile

How did it go?  Well it was amazing!!! 

I was smart and careful and confident the entire way. I allow myself to settle into whatever pace felt “fast enough” for the way out which would still allow me to really work hard on the way in. It was cold for me. I wore my extra layer for 14 miles, when I usually drop a throw-away shirt by the first aid station. My hands could not stay warm until I picked up the pace on the way in.

I had moments during the race where I felt like I starting to slow down slower than I had expected to, like all the miles in the 7:30 on the way out, with a long way to go. 

But I have to say, I never let the watch dictate my mood. If I felt concerned, I shifted my focus and I told myself “You are doing really good work right now. You are doing what you came to do. Just wait for the turnaround and see what you can make happen.”

First half splits: 

The turn around was at 13.7M.  I have been enjoying pushing my pace with 12.2M left. I just feel that if I waited patiently at a pace that is not overwhelming me for 14 miles, then I would be able to handle harder work for the last 12.2M.  I know that when I work too hard from the gun, those last 12M become physically and emotionally overwhelming and once the wheels fall off, the demise always results in more lost time at the end than I would have lost in the beginning had I been more disciplined and patient. 

Once you learn that negative splitting a marathon will almost always result in a faster time and feel better along the way, there is usually no return to racing in a way that allow the race to control the pace. 

I did not need to or want to bank time. Planning to do that means you I would be start my race with the negative expectation that I was going to fade and there was nothing I could do to stop it. That is a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy based upon a lack of confidence in ability and training. I had neither. I trust my training. I believe in myself. I know I can negative split a marathon at comfortable paces.  But this one was going to start to get into the uncomfortable zone. But still, I wanted to start with the expectation that if I keep my first 14M comfortably hard, I would set myself up for a negative split. The question would be just how fast could I bring it home. 

Well again, I nailed it!  6-minute negative split! 1:37-1:38 on the way out. 1:30-1:31 on the way home!

Second half splits. 

On the way back, I had more miles in the 6’s than I thought I could run and they felt amazing! In the last 10 miles, I moved from 6th place woman to 2nd place! I was 51st place overall at the turn-around and 27th OA by the finish.  There is nothing more amazing than flying into the finish at a marathon. 

At mile 21, I passed a pack of men and one asked, "Are you in the half????"  I said, "No. The full!" And he replied, "HOLY CRAP!" And I was gone. Talk about a confidence boost! 

There was a moment during mile 23-24 when the course slightly inclined and my pace slowed. I got worried. I had told myself to hold on until 2.2M to go and then dig… and here I was just before that mark and I was fading. I did not want to fade. 

And then I hear what sounded like a kennel of dogs barking like mad. We were in the woods on a trail. Not deep in the woods. There were home nearby. I don’t know where the dogs were, but they were loud. This snapped me out of my funk. 

On the ride down, I had a conversation with Enzo.
For those who don’t know, Enzo was my canine ultra-endurance training partner who passed away from cancer in May. Now, when I run I think of him always.  I miss him. When I race I carry him with me in my heart.  On the ride down I said to myself “Ok boy, you love running in the woods. You ready to rock-n-roll?  Show me a sign that you are with me…”  

And at that moment I passed “Dogwood Road” Seriously.  Ok, I will accept that. You are with me. Game On little buddy. Let's go crush a marathon.  

So back to the race. I am at 23-24M. I am fading for a moment. I hear the dogs going nuts. I snap out of it.  Omg, Enzo! You are reminding me to fight. I imagine him grinding away ahead of me with his leash tethered to my arm like he always was.  I can see him in my mind's eye PULLING me. Pulling the pace. LOVING it.  

And suddenly, I have wings.  

I drop my pace to 6:32 for the next mile, fade slightly to 6:44 for mile 26 and then dig for a kick of 6:21 pace to finish in 3:08:19, 2nd Female OA.  #EnzoIsMyCoPilot! 

We did it, Enzo!  We did it!  Thank you! 

Holiday Hustle 5k, Lincroft, NJ 12/8/19

I have been on a high from running a 3:08 at the NCR for days. But by mid-week, my mind shifted to the next challenge: The Holiday Hustle 5k.

My last 5k (mentioned in the beginning) felt very dissatisfying. My 5k PR is from the Holiday Hustle in 2016. I like this race. I did not taper for this. I did take a “Rest Week” after NCR but that meant I just opted for a lot more treadmill running because the weather was turning very cold and I felt more comfortable inside. I wanted to take advantage of the give the treadmill offered so my running was slightly lower impact and I considered that my "rest." I ran 75 miles for the week ending with this race.  

I was still tired from the marathon but I was able to run 14M on Monday 12/2. I skipped my interval work and ran 8M on Tuesday 12/3. By Tuesday afternoon, I felt my left calf was having a problem. If I kept pushing I would end up strained. I wasn’t sure if I would even make the 5k. I was definitely NOT racing if my calf was angry. But because I caught it so very early and I took a rest day (2M) on Wednesday, by Thursday I was back to 100% and I did my hills.  

I also resumed lifting heavy weights again between the NCR and the Holiday Hustle. I was lifting heavy before the Clifton 5k, but I cut out the lifting starting after my lighter session on the Monday three days before the Thursday 8k and NCR double. I wanted to get back to my strength work, so I knew I would sacrifice something at the 5k. I didn’t really expect it to be much.  

5ks are too short for me to count as a training day. I met Alanna and we ran 11.2M before the race. I could argue that the 11M w/u made me "tired" but I don’t really believe that was true. I was likely just not fully recovered from the marathon the week before. 11M did not deplete my glycogen. I refueled and rehydrated between the w/u and the race. If anything, I was probably a pound or two lighter by gun time for doing a long warm-up, which would help. I have raced PR 5ks with 10-12 mile warm-ups. If I was a 20 mpw week runner, an 11M warm-up would be ridiculous.  But at 75-90 mpw it really did not physically take much out of me, especially because the pace was easy. 

Kim had asked me my goal prior to the race, and I said “Well, I just ran an 8k in 6:23 pace so I really would like to be faster than that! My last .4M at the NCR  Marathon was a 6:21 pace, so I will aim for a 6:21 first mile and try to pull the pace down from there. 

So how did it go? Ugh, 5k’s are hard. 

This course starts with a slight decline, the makes a big loop and returned back to the starting line. One thing that worried me and definitely impacted my pace was my fear that there was ice on the bridges and some parts of the path. I did not want to fall. During my warm-up, I did feel how slippery the bridge was.  But that was at 9:00 am before the 10:00 start. At 9:00, I told the RD about my concern to see if anyone wanted to or could do anything about this.  They put cones where there were slippery patches. I know I slowed on the bridge in the first/last mile on the way out and back.

I was in control for the first mile and was happy to see a 6:22. I was behind 5 guys, well like three teenagers and 2 grown men. One kid was a rocket and gone. The other 4 were in range. I was in no rush to pass anyone. Instead, I wanted to stick to my plan. 

About halfway, I looked at my pace and says 6:15. It just felt like a lot of work to lift my legs. My breathing was not terrible. I did not feel cardiovascularly taxed. Instead I felt like I did not have any other gears to shift into and I still had 1.5M to go, with an incline to the finish.

I was able to move past the men just after the half way point and from there I was running alone. And even though I wanted to get more lift and generate more speed, I just couldn’t do it.  My legs said, “No. Not today." I settled on just hanging on, trying to not fade. I cruised through the finish line at 19:38, but couldn’t stop my watch due to my giant mittens getting in my way. 

Sub-20 is good. I was really hoping for 19:11, not 19:38.  27 seconds off my goal. This felt like the disappointing Clifton 5k all over again for me. 
But this the work. This feeling is dissatisfaction is the process. Everything can’t be easy. I don’t expect success after success. "Failure" is where learning happens.  

So what happened? I could make 1000 excuses. Was it too cold? Did I warm up too much? Were my legs tired from lifting too much? Was my calf still not 100%?  Was I not fully recovered from the marathon the week before? How much did my fear of slipping slow me down? Did I not enough grit? Did I drop the ball mentally? Did I lose motivation because there was no one to chase and no one chasing me? Am I just maxing out my top speed because I am 44 years old and 5ks are hard? Is this the best I can do and I should be happy? All of the above? None of it? Who knows? 

It doesn't matter. I will assess my training and lifestyle.  I will change what I can change to move me in the right direction. Keep working hard. I will chase the dreams I have set for myself in my heart.  

I have time to grow.  I will see where this leads.  

But truly I am racing again! I am racing again!!!  And this fact, all on its own, is a victory. 

I can't lose. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

5k Stampede Through Clifton, Clifton, NJ 11/17/19

I forgot about this part. Racing in less than comfortable weather. I have been spoiled as I made my “come back” with shorts and singlet weather. It hasn’t even gotten bad yet. 

I forgot about the part where I throw practically all the clothes I own in a bag just before I run out the door to a race since not knowing what I will want to wear 2 hours later because it might be 29 degrees with 10-15 mph winds or maybe it will be 35 degrees with a light breeze.  

I am out of practice. I need to handle race stress better. Some stress is needed. I know. But I used to do better than this.

I spent all day Saturday setting myself up to fail under the guise of being busy with things felt I needed to get done. Most of that stuff was not important. Part of me knew I was scattered, setting myself with an excuse to stay home and that part of me I knew exactly why. Fear of Failure. Fear of seeing my dreams crumble.

I have been making a solid come-back, better than I thought I would or could. Three marathons. A half marathon. Each faster than the race before it. All negative splits. All with deliberately controlled pacing. All starting a little slower than I felt I could handle but all ending better than my expectations. All were exhilarating.

All of these races whispered a promise that I can rise to personal greatness again if just do the work and believe in myself.  

Run the right amount of miles. Lift the right amount of weight. Eat the right type of food. Sleep the right amount of hours.

What is “right?”  I don’t know. 

But I know what I was doing before when sick was all wrong for PRing. So I will find out along the way if I just do a little more “right’ over time than I what I was doing when everything was going “wrong.” 

But how much is enough?  Good question. I guess the wall will come at some point. I was thinking today might be the day I stop seeing gains and hit it. 

And then what? Then I learn where I am weak. Then the real work begins. 

This race was just a local 5k. It was a local fun run. It was not going to be competitive. It is the shortest race on my calendar. It would replace my speedwork day. I wasn’t going into it fresh.

This race should not worry me but instead, it really had me scattered-brained and self-sabotaging. As grateful as I am to have the ability to run again, there is now a growing part of me that has heard the quiet whisper that reminds me “You know how to rebuild. You have done this before. Just believe in yourself. Give yourself a chance.” 

There is a big part of me that wants to race well again. I am not done here. 

And then there is the other voice that says “but you are 44 now…” (and “so what? That doesn’t have to stop me” I counter, but I can’t deny what I heard).

Weeks ago, high from a great race, I built the skeleton outline of a dream. I worked out checkpoints and milestones for pace goals I want to hit along the way. There really is no room for setbacks if I want to hit my A goal on time (I am not going to share that until I am writing a race report about doing it). 

My Why: If you were ever once a Big Dreamer and actually were able to achieve a few of your goals and then had the universe snatch it all away without warning, you might feel what I feel. There are a lot of things that make life worth living. Dreaming and believing you can achieve great things through hard work and belief in yourself creates joy. This joy can give significant purpose and meaning to even the most menial and tedious tasks (like eating, sleeping, being structured and efficient, appreciating supportive people, appreciating good health, etc). Without dreams, without the capacity to dream of the pursuit of excellence, life can feel downright monotonous.  When you can’t do what you love, when you can’t be yourself, when the universe sucks your soul out of you, when the universe makes you find a new way to tolerate the daily grind with a smile, you will find that when the universe gives you back the chance to dream again, you may, like me, dream bigger and harder than you ever thought you could… 

And then you find the thought of racing a little 5k that could kill you dreams in 20 minutes overwhelms you with the fear of failure, the fear falling down again, onto your still bruised, beaten, and fragile ego. 

This race would be the first race in my training-race schedule where I wasn’t actually sure I could achieve the goal I set for myself. I wanted so badly to not blow it.

Yet, the night before the race, I ended up working late, getting home at 11:30 pm thinking about how I really could just sleep in, do a tempo run, get more mileage than I would likely get at the race, be done sooner, and lose just the $17 I paid to preregister.  When I looked at the 28 degree and windy weather prediction, sleeping in was starting to sound like a good idea.

But I am not a quitter. Within an hour I was in bed. Between Alexa and my cell phone, I had about half a dozen alarms set because I knew I really did want to go. 

This is part of the process. If I want to succeed I have to be willing to fail and then learn from it.
I also really wanted to see Jim O. We spent many years road racing together. There are some people who I look forward to seeing at races and Jim is always one of them. It has been a long time. 

At the race, Jim and I run the course as a warm-up and have a good time catching up. I get to do my dynamic stretching. I do my strides. I am starting to feel less nervous.  My strides are fast. 5:45 pace.  I am feeling like I have nothing to worry about.  My goal for this race was 6:20-6:40, but I am feeling like that is too conservative.  Maybe I can go sub-6:20, which would be a huge confidence booster. My last 2.5M of my half was 6:45 pace so this is not unrealistic.

I am dressed lightly and the wind feels cold. I am worried I am underdressed but I hope once moving fast I feel better. I line up 3 rows back. This is appropriate. 

The guns goes off and before the guys in front of me are even able to take a step I feel a large hand pressing its palm into the small of my small and I am shoved hard by the guy behind me. I can’t turn around because I am trying to run forward.  I yell back “STOP PUSHING ME!” and hear nothing.  This did not feel like a jostle or a mistake.  Runners are usually polite and will say “Sorry” or “Excuse me”… or something if they bump into someone by accident. This felt deliberate and it bothered me. 

The start was downhill with a tailwind. I look at my watch and I am running 5:45 pace for the first few strides.  No… this is not good.  By the first turn, I settle into 6:20 pace which feels surprising hard. 

Ben pulls up next to me. I am still mad about the shove.  I tell him I am running too fast but I am just feeling irritated by being shoved hard at the start. It helped to complain and once I said it out loud, I was over it. I didn’t fall. Nothing happened to me. It just rattled my focus.

I look up and see one woman ahead of me. She is working incredibly hard.  I ask Ben… “Who’s that? Do you she will hold on?” This isn’t even mile 1.  
Ben says “Probably not. I don’t think so." I say, “I don’t think so either.” 

And at that same moment, a very fit young girl glides past me.  I turn to Ben and I say “But I think she can”… and she drifts ahead. M1: 6:34

It is too early in this race to worry about placement or chasing down anyone. I know there is a long hill in M2 but it is not steep. It is really more like a gradual incline with some more obvious steep sections.  But I can feel the wind and my fingers in my thin gloves feel frozen. I don’t feel loose. I feel like I am working very hard. I remind myself to check my form. I look at my watch and it is slower than I hope to see. M2 6:44.

I had already passed the first woman who I knew could not hold on to her fast pace.  The young girl is pulling further ahead. I don’t know if I can catch her. We crest the “hill” and I try to open my stride. I can pick up the pace a little but not really like I hoped to do.  I am reeling in first place but we are running out of road.  M3 6:33

I hit the last turn and I give 100%.  My legs feel heavy but I try to lift my knees, use more power. The final last tenth is up the incline and into the wind. I manage a 6:13 pace for that final push, not catching first female.

I look at my watch and I see 6:36 pace for 3.14M. I know this means I was slower than 6:36.  I end up 6:41 pace for the entire 5k, one second outside of my goal pace window. 

I feel like I mentally set myself up for this day. I feel like I made sure I was going to struggle. I feel like I missed my goal window 12 hours before this race ever started. I feel like I caused my own self-fulfilling prophecy. I walked off the course thinking “I really do have a lot of work to do” and maybe that is the lesson: Wanting something badly doesn’t ensure you can do it. Wanting something badly can get you working harder than you have ever worked before, but there are no guarantees. All you can do is work hard and set yourself up to have a real chance and then go for it... I started to think about how to revise my training to help me move my skills and ability in the right direction.

The good for me was that even when finding it hard to run as fast as I wished I could, I still negative split this race. This was part of the plan and I am happy to have achieved this even when racing all out from the gun.

I watch Jim finish. I did a cool-down run and then waited for awards with Jim and Esly. It felt like it was years ago when I raced almost weekly and tried to make every team race I could make. 

I miss my Clifton team and racing as part of the USATF Road Racing Series. I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings. This is going to be a fun year!

20:45 (6:41)
2nd F
1st AG

Monday, November 11, 2019

HiTOPS Princeton Half Marathon, Princeton, NJ. 11/3/19

I have run 3 marathons since Sept 14 of this year. All of those have been races used as "Training Runs." I did well, but they were not 100% race effort from the start. It is a little easier on the anxiety level when you show up at a race knowing it is not supposed to reflect your best effort. Instead, your ability to execute one specific task (negative splitting) as part of practice was the goal.

On 11/3 I raced a half for the first time in a long time. I haven’t run anything fast in a long time and I really wasn’t 100% certain what to expect. But for this race, I knew one thing, I really did want to do well. I wanted to feel like I ran hard and smart at the same time. I still wanted to make sure I negative split the race, but I also could see from the elevation chart that there was a significant hill in M6 and another in M10 but I wasn't sure how long it was. Maybe I was just tired, but I would argue that there was also an uphill in Mile 13 as well. I felt like a mountain but wasn’t even steep enough to appear like a hill on the elevation chart. :)

My plan was to take my pace from the last 12M of Atlantic City Marathon, which bounced around between 7:26 and 8:00 per mile and use that to set a somewhat realistic goal pace for this half. I decided to aim for 7:20-7:40 pace for the first 10.5M (where I thought the hill ended). Once over that last hill, then I wanted to shift gears and see what I could do. I wanted to remain comfortable through 6.55M and not start to do any harder work until the second half.  I wanted to listen to my legs on the uphills since I really have not done a lot of climbing in training.  I did not want to blow up early and see a fade. Finish strong has really been the theme of my return to racing so far and I want to keep it that way. 

There are a few honorable mentions about this race that I would like to make before I carry on about me. :)  First, this was the first race I was able to run with Alanna in a long long time.  That made this special right from the start. 

Next, I also would get to see Gary who I have been coaching for many years now.  Gary just qualified for Boston in October and was running lifetime PRs. I looked forward to seeing him in person and actually getting to run with him today! I rarely run with my clients but everything just worked out for us.

Finally, I found this race the day after my last surgery.  My surgeon has cleared me to run, finding that while under anesthesia, he could see that I only had minor issues to repair. He confirmed that from what he could see the surgery I had in June was actually a success and the infection that would not heal in my GI tract looked like it finally closed.  This was a huge success.  So the next day, I registered for this race.  

I happened to see that there was a fundraising option for those who wanted to do a little more to help the HiTOPS organization, which provides non-judgmental sexual health education to adolescents and young adults over a wide range of topics from cyberbullying, sexual health education, and LBGTQ+ support. 

I decided that if I was going to try to get back to racing and turn my nightmare around, I wanted to try to Create some Momentum along the way and raise funds for this organization. Teenagers have a lot of questions during a confusing time in their life. This organization provides support and education. I started a page and asked Alanna to help share it. With the generosity of so many people who followed my journey, who care about me, who care about Alanna, donations equal to $1700 were made to our team fundraiser page. I am so incredibly grateful to all who were able to generously offer their support. This truly made me want to do my best on race day.
Race day morning was one of the colder mornings of the year. It was about 35 degrees at the start and I wasn't sure how to even dress for a race.  I was initially layered up in tights but with the lack of wind, it didn’t feel so bad.  Then I remember this phrase an elite ultrarunning friend of mine used to say to himself when deciding what to wear: “Shorts are for Racing, Tights are for Pacing” and it made me laugh and then I put on shorts. I was here to race!

I need to work better on my pre-race timing. I am out of practice, clearly. I only had time for 1.5 miles of warm-up and then I headed to the start, where I was lucky to find Gary!

Alanna didn’t plan to race so she moved back. Gary and I went up towards the front behind the faster more ambitious runners but far enough up that our 7:30 pace would be unencumbered.  It was nice to get to catch up with Gary and all my chatter allowed me to not focus so much on my concern that today might be the first day I don’t achieve my negative split task.  I just wasn’t yet confident that I would be able to hold a 7:30 pace for most of the race and then have another gear, but I was going to surely try.  I really wanted to run a 7:20 average pace for the whole thing but I wasn't sure if that was too ambitious for me for right now. 


The first two miles were comfortable and were mostly net descent.  Then we hit a little incline in Mile 3 and I felt it. I felt it more than I wanted to feel it.  My legs noticed the uphill and I knew that I would need to be careful with my pacing. This was so incredibly subtle but I think it is important to listen to your body and use that to guide pacing not try to stick to the time on the watch at all costs. Gary was next to me and he looked fine. Gary just ran a 3:20 marathon. I just ran a 3:35 Marathon. I told Gary I needed slow a little just because I am out of practice on hills. It was too soon in the race for me to feel anything of concern. Gary pulled away. 


I thought about the elevation chart and how I didn’t even hit the real hills yet. “I have a lot of work to do” I thought to myself. “But it is ok. I am happy where I am at right now and I just getting started!”  

The descents felt good. Nothing hurt. I was being patient. For fleeting moments, it felt hard to see ladies ahead of me and not try to catch up to them. But I just reminded myself that my job was to be able to run fast after 10.5M and not fade. Catching ladies in M4 or M5 will do nothing to help me achieve my goal. 


One of the significant climbs took place throughout Mile 6. As per my watch, it took me more than 4:45 seconds to get up the hill. It really wasn’t overwhelmingly steep although there were some people walking around me. At this point, I was still being patient.  A female competitor was right on my heels. I reminded myself that I was not racing her. I was waiting for my mark and then I would go. She passed me just as we crested the hill. I returned the pass on the descent but not because I wanted to get ahead of her.  She just seemed to have worked a little too hard on the up and needed recovery whereas I didn’t work as hard and once over the hill I could open up my pace again. 

As we passed the 6:55 timing mat, I noticed my average pace was 7:32 per mile. I knew that to a negative split, I needed to see that drop by as much as possible in the second half. I felt ready, willing, and able to do that. I was glad I was patient through this point in the race. 


The next mile was lovely. It was a super-fast descent that really allowed me to regroup after that climb. It mentally helped me to see my average pace already dropping but it was still early. I had one more climb to go and I thought it was supposed to be steeper and/or longer than what I just did. 


It was during this mile that I rejoined Gary who looked great but was running his own race.  I was moving well and I was happy he didn’t try to change his race to come with me.   

M-9 7:11

Ok, here we go. The last big climb. I am not even sure how bad this will be. The windy road meant I couldn't see the top of the hill. When I look at my watch data, it shows that the incline was about 18 minutes.  It started at 9.1M and ended at 11.5M but there was a little relief at 10.25 that helped.  

Once I hit 10.25, I was ON. That was my mark to start to pick up my pace and I didn’t care what the course looked like. I would listen to my body to see how fast I could go. I waited for this. I didn’t allow myself to blow up early just so I could do something special at the end and now was my time to try.


Once over the peak of the last hill which was really at 11.5M, I glanced at my pace and was so happy to see sub-7 pace.  The descent was helpful and I was able to recover from the climb while pushing my speed.  But then we turn and start going back up!  It really wasn’t terribly steep but at 6:45 pace it felt like a mountain to me. 

Here is where my form falls apart. 
I am passing people and moving faster than anyone around me. One woman responds and goes with me.  It has been a long time since I felt like someone was able to make a move to go with me when I am negative splitting. This is not because I believe “I am just that good” but rather it is because 99.9% of the runners in recreational races simply do not believe they can negative split so they just go out too hard and have nothing left at the end to respond with. 

For a moment I felt like I was going to be in a footrace to the finish. For a moment I wasn’t sure what would happen. I didn’t have another gear at that time. I used them all up. I was holding a 6:45 pace on an incline and my form was starting to fall apart on me.  Maybe if we hit a decline I could shift again but maybe she could too. The finish line was less than a half-mile away. Could I really race her in for that long? It will be fun to try! 

And then she dropped but I still felt proud of her. I don’t know who she is but she had grit. She didn’t think about what to do when I pulled up next her at 12.5M to go, she just reacted by going with me and fighting back. That is fantastic. I wish I could have shook her hand at the end, but I was having a full blown asthma attach as soon as I stopped moving and was almost ushered into the medical tent. I did not need that. I have my inhaler. Unlike what most people may think, Exercise-induced Asthma attacks are most likely to happen upon stopping the exercise not midway through it. For me as soon I as stop running hard and for several minutes after, I will not be able to get in enough air to breathe properly, but I have my inhaler and I do recover quickly.

A minute or two later, I see Gary finishing strong and later we find our he PR'd again!  Alanna had a great day too running a very solid training run and achieving he goal for the day!

Last .1 (or .17 for me) in 1:10 (6:46 pace)

1:36:37 (7:22 pace) and a 2:10 minute negative split.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Atlantic City Marathon, Atlantic City, NJ 10/20/19

This is a two-part race report. The first is about some of my theories and how I practice when it comes to negative splitting a marathon. The second part is a recounting of my race. All of this includes Kim’s race as well because the entire point of racing AC was for both her and me to negative split.  Kim’s negative was a bigger deal than me doing it because it was the first time she decided to try and she was amazing! 

Part I: 

I love the marathon because it can feel like magic sometimes. When we run well, it almost feels like a surprise to even ourselves. How did I just run 26.2M at a pace I could not hold for shorter long runs?  

Today Kim and I ran the AC Marathon with the sole purpose of practicing Fast Finish, Negative-Split Marathon pacing. No matter how many times I negative split a marathon, it will never get old and it always feels like a tremendous accomplishment.

But today was special because it was Kim’s day to deliberately attempt a negative split. I tend to not formally coach my friends because dual-relationships often don’t work out well. However, Kim and I have found our way and we trust each other tremendously.  

Negative split training is hard because most people don’t have the ability to run a marathon as a training run due to physical, financial, and other valid reasons. Not everyone is willing or able to register for a marathon and then use it as a skill-building training run, but that is exactly what works and this is what we did. 

The assignment was to take our average pace from the last marathon we ran together at Clarence DeMar 3 weeks ago and average that pace for the first 14 Miles. And then at Mile 14, we needed to get to work, finding a faster but sustainable pace.  We wanted to feel like we were running a 12M race with a 14M warm up. I would run my race and she would run hers but at the end of the day, we both should cross the finish line with respectable time, faster than the last marathon and with the second half much faster than the first. 

This was a training run, not a goal race so the plan was to practice negative-splitting by running slow enough in the first half to ensure that we had more gears to use. And we wanted to still run a respectable time despite holding back early.   

On the ride over we spent some time revisiting some really important concepts.  Weight changes during races, the Cori Cycle, and having the courage and self-confidence to hold back, trusting that we will find the strength the persevere at faster speeds hours later.   

My thoughts and experience about weight changes on race pace.  Years ago, my husband was talking about flying an airplane. He explained how the plane is at its heaviest when the tank is full. It much harder for the plane to move its mass. It is a less efficient machine when the tank is full. But as fuel is burned off, the plane gets lighter and more efficient. It has much less trouble picking up speed.

I think about this when I race. Speed is not related to how much fuel is in my tank, it is related to how light my machine is compared to how strong my engine is. I regularly weigh in before and after my long runs. Even just an hour of running will result in weight loss.  For my long runs, I come home 3-4 lbs lighter even when I drink fluids along the way. 

But it seems many runners start a race thinking this way: “I want to start somewhat hard, while I have the most energy in me and my freshest legs. I want to bank a little time before I hit the wall.”  

These runners then start at a pace that is faster than their goal pace, which is just a little too fast to sustain especially when they are most heavily loaded with glycogen and hydration. To me, it makes little sense to work extra hard while my body is actually in the most inefficient, heaviest, and slowest form it will be in all morning. Instead, I want to start at a pace that is comfortable, that keeps my goal in reach but gives my body time to burn off some fuel/hydration and become a little lighter (and faster).  If my body isn’t beat up by working too hard too soon, I will get to the second half still surprisingly fresh, but now pounds lighter (even when eating and drinking along the way). This is when I want to shift gears and start “racing”. If this goes well, there should be no fade, no wall, and my fastest miles should be at the very end. 

I also explained to Kim how the Cori Cycle worksHow many of us understand that the human body is a glucose recycling center? This little-discussed system is truly magical.  Basically, when glucose is burned for energy, lactate is discharged into the bloodstream as a by-product of the chemical reaction in the cells. When this lactate makes it way back to the liver it is converted back into useable glucose that once again can reach the cells and be burned as energy. 

The accumulation of lactate is regulated by our pace. Faster paces make more lactate.  Lactate is not a problem until we have too much of it. If we work just a little too hard, more lactate accumulates in the blood than can be recycled by the liver and it builds up. This excess of lactate reduces the pH balance of the blood, impacting how well the blood can transport oxygen and negatively impacting muscle contraction.  When this happens, the body’s survival mechanism kicks in and we start to slow down. This slow down in pace allows the liver more time to recycle the overage of lactate. Often when we get back under our lactate threshold, pH balance is restored and we get a second wind. 

Our lactate threshold can be pushed higher with training methods. But racing our best requires us to understand that pushing through the burn is not the smartest thing to do early in a race. We want to do this at the end where overshooting our lactate threshold will be less problematic because once we hit the finish line the race is over and we can walk around while lactate clears. 

If we are very in tune without bodies we can feel the subtle signs that we are starting to accumulate too much lactate. For me, I can feel my legs start to feel heavy and my breathing gets a little bit labored.  One question I ask myself repeatedly as I run is “Can I get faster? Do I have another gear?” If the answer is NO before my “go faster” mark, then I need to slow down because I am at my redline for lactate accumulation. I stop letting my Ego rule me too early.  I need to save that for the end.

Finally, Kim and I talked about how much courage and confidence it takes to PLAN to negative split a race. It is risky, especially when you believe the WALL exists regardless of your pacing. Most simply don’t believe that it is possible for them to get faster in the second half marathon. They think the wall is coming no matter what and they can’t stop it.  Negative split a marathon at a pace you are proud of just once and you will learn that there isn’t a wall for everyone. The less discipline you have, the bigger your wall will be.

Of course, first, we need to be trained to handle the demands of 26.2M of running before we can think about the ways to manipulate pacing over that distance.  Kim was trained to run 26.2 and her recovery was fast. Same for me. 

The best way to build our sense of self-efficacy is to witness someone who we feel is similar to ourselves do something that we didn’t think was possible. When we see it is possible for someone similar to us, we start to believe it is possible for us too.  Once Kim was able to see me run a 14-minute negative split at Clarence DeMar, I knew she would be interest, ready, and willing to try it for herself. Kim and I have different strengths and weaknesses but we know each other and we know there are more similarities between our approach to training, nutrition, life than there are differences. 

Self-confidence is a tough element to control. When it comes to negative splitting a marathon I don’t think anyone is going to feel truly confident until they do it once.  Kim has been my training and racing partner for years.  She has witnessed my success with pacing and knows that I have been able to negative split every single PR race I have ever run in my life. 

The irony is people might imagine that a negative split would feel physically harder than banking time and then letting the body fade, but that can’t be further from the truth.  Instead, for me each time I negative split a marathon, the experience is not painful. It is exhilarating. To err and run myself into the ground for 14 miles first and then try to power on for 12M more doing more and more damage to my already beat up body that just wants to stop moving is so incredibly painful, physically and emotionally. Lactate accumulation can hurt when we have too much. It is a horrible feeling to want to lift your legs but to find you have no ability to do it. However, in contrast, running 14M just under the lactate threshold, taking advantage of the Cori Cycle, recycling glucose, not getting beaten up, just doesn’t hurt. And then when I hit the 12M to go mark, it is my “Go Time”.  The pace I pick when practicing negatives is a pace that is significantly faster than what I just ran, but one that still allows me to hold on to one more faster gear for the end.  Because I am running faster than all those around me, the crowds feed my Ego and inspire me to try harder and run strong.  And because I am moving faster than anyone around me, any competition I reel in will be completely unlikely to respond in kind (because few runners have the skill and ability to negative split).  By the time I finish, my last mile should be one of the fastest and the pain will be minimal.  And there was never a Wall at all.  

Before someone negative splits a marathon for the first time, it is hard to believe it is possible. But after one time, race pacing should never be the same again. To learn you can run for 2+ hours at a respectable pace and then decide to run the last hour+ much faster and then do it changes us. The best way to build this confidence is to set yourself up to succeed by picking a marathon, and running with discipline for the first chunk and then picking a mark in the second half where you will shift gears and turn on the power and just plan to learn about what you can do. Forget about the finish time. Forget about chasing a PR. Just pick a race and deliberately practice mastering this skill and then say goodbye to the wall forever.

Part II

Some of my Race Performance Journal Notes:
Condition/Terrain: The conditions weren’t terrible, but they could have been a little better at the end. It was about 60 degrees at the start and overcast. For my lasts 80 minutes, it rained and the winds kicked up to about 14 mph. When running into this wind along the ocean on the soft, energy-absorbing boardwalk, it was more of a struggle than I hoped it would be.  

One surprise to me was how slow the boards were. I am used to running the boards from Spring Lake to Asbury Park to Long Branch. After Hurricane Sandy, a lot of our boards there are replaced with a hard plastic boardwalk. It is solid and really doesn’t feel much different than running on the roads. But for AC, the boards are old and bouncy and they have way too much give. My pace dropped 10-15 seconds per mile immediately every time I hit the boardwalk segments compared to the road segments. I didn’t expect this much of a difference.  

Shoes/Gear: NB 1400s, Sports Bra (on inside out because I got dressed in the dark ;)  Maybe this is good luck.) Bike shorts by Brooks. Waist Belt by Nathan for gu because shorts did not have pockets.

Health/Wellness Factors: Feeling strong, fit, and ready to execute my negative split plan. Not able to weigh in before and after this run but guessing about 115-117 the morning of the race, which was close to 6 lbs less than I was at Clarence De Mar.  

At some point during the race, I had suffered some type of allergic reaction. I didn’t realize it until after I finished but my eyelids were incredibly swollen and I had an uncontrollable sneezing fit that lasted 25 minutes straight, non-stop sneezing?  It took three days for my eyes to look normal again. I don't know if this impacted me during the run. I didn't notice.

Nutrition:  I do what works for me and ate about 1000 calories MORE than my usual intake spread out over the day before the race (Risotto at Spanos for dinner with my parents). Instead of the 80-100 grams of carbs I usually eat, I ate about 300g of carbs the day before.  The morning of the race and during the race I got about 175g of carbs in me (pumpkin spice donut, gels, Gatorade, and BCAAs). For me, this nutrition plan works like rocket fuel. You don't need to copy me but rather find your own way. I was so well-fueled that energy level was never a problem. I was not ravenous after. I was able to return immediately to my high-protein, lower-carb style of eating. 

Sleep: I slept horribly the night before. Hardly any unbroken sleep. I totaled 5 hours and 43 minutes of broken sleep. This is terrible for me. We stayed at my parents' house and Lapis was not happy.  She was up pacing around at night not sure what to do with herself. It took a while for her to settle down.

Execution of the plan:  Here are my splits … I think it went well considering the last 80 minutes was in the worst weather of the race for me.  

For the first 14 miles, I was so patient. I let everyone go and I reminded myself what my task was for the day. The slower-paced start allows me to work on form. I thought about how my body moved and try to be efficient.  There were moments along the way when I worried about whether or not I would have another gear or two… but when those thoughts were recognized I shook them away and reminded myself to focus on my goal. 

As I got past 10 miles, I wanted to ensure I could shift.  My first 14M pace plan was to sit between 8:20-8:40 pace. When I started to wonder if my last 12 would go well, I made a decision to slow my pace a little to help ensure that it would. 

As soon as I hit 12 to go, I was ready and antsy to start racing. I took the first mile a little too fast but the course was more decline here and I felt amazing.  I was hoping to hold a pace under 8:00 and ideally around 7:40 for the last 12.2M but the weather turned and it just added a little more difficult than I expected. I was happy working to just stay under 8:00.

I wish I knew what place I was in when I hit 12 to go.  I wish I counted how many people I passed on the way in. There was one guy at the end that was moving better than me but I passed a massive number of runners as if they were standing still. Not one female could go with me and I knew it. 

As the rain came down and the wind picked up, I reached the boards again. There is no shelter there. Just a straight run along the ocean for miles. I passed a younger female runner who tucked in tight directly behind a guy (boyfriend maybe) who was clearly there to help her.  He was shielding her from the elements.  We had 2 miles to go.  He looked back and saw me coming. I could tell he wanted to try to hold me off. He said something to her to encourage her. They picked the pace up together, her so close to him that she couldn’t even see the ground in front of her own feet. As I blew past them, I wanted to say “It must be nice to have a helper but you don’t need him” but I decided that was not necessary and it didn’t matter, they couldn’t stop me or even go with me. This could have been her first marathon and maybe she just didn’t believe in herself yet. She was doing really well. Some day this girl is going to want to know what it feels like to run strong without anyone to aid her. 

I wanted to kick with 2-3 miles to go but the wind was making every step work. I was still moving well and decided to wait until the 25M mark to make my final push. 

I was able to get my pace down to 7:11 for the last .35 miles and that felt amazing.  

When I checked the result I was incredibly happy to see I managed a 3:35 and was 10th place female!  When I look at my last half, I managed a 7-minute negative split and felt such a huge sense of accomplishment. 

I waited a few minutes for Kim to come through, hoping she did well.  At 4:01, she came sprinting over the finish line, having managed to run a 10-minute negative split herself with her last mile her fastest!  

My Stats: