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.