Saturday, October 30, 2010

2500 Years

2500 years ago, Pheidippides ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens, Greece to announce the victory of the Athenians over the Persians.  History tells us that he promptly expired after delivering the news.  Humans enjoy commemorating major milestones through reenactment and hundreds of thousands run marathons each year around the world without even thinking about the original messenger's final act 2500 years ago. Of course, now we run an arbitrarily longer distance of 26.22 miles and only a handful of runners give up the ghost in the attempt.

There is a slightly less dramatic history behind my personal journey to follow the actual course of Pheidippides and it started in October 2009. I had just completed the Twin Cities Marathon and set a personal record by 5 minutes. I was thrilled with my accomplishment, and arguably deserved a break from training. However, the military championship marathon was being run in Washington DC in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October and the winners would head to Athens, Greece in October 2010 to compete for the USA in an international military marathon competition. This running of THE marathon would be in celebration of the 2500 anniversary.

As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to run that race and try to earn my spot on the team. As it turned out, I had one of the most amazing races of my life at the Marine Corps Marathon and was glad I ran it based on the day's experience alone. I came in first military female, second overall female, catching and battling the leader in the last few miles of the race. I also set a masters course record in the process. Best of all, I would be headed to Marathon, Greece in one year.

Fast forward one year and I am on a flight headed to Athens, Greece (actually, I'm sitting in a dorm room the night before the race, and finally able to connect to the Internet to post this!) I have done very little training in the three weeks since Chicago in preparation. Last week, I ran about 40 miles culminating with a 16 miler on Saturday. This week, I am running between 3-5 miles each day with a few strides thrown in on a couple of days. My hypothesis for this train-through plan is that my fitness will carry over regardless of of how little I actually run, but running too much could lead to injury. So, I'm being conservative.

My goal for this adventure is to enjoy the race while doing my best to place as high as possible in the competition. This will require a conservative approach. The marathon course looks brutal with about 10+ miles of straight uphill and the last 6 down. So, starting out conservatively is essential if I want to finish strong. I don't have a time goal other than I'd like to run under 3:00. I could run a lot faster than that if I have a good day. Last year's adventure at the Marine Corps Marathon proved that to me.

I'd also like to finish the race still standing and able to walk. I have a few days of vacation tacked on to the back end of this trip with The Genius that I'd like to be able to enjoy wandering around Athens and the ancient island of Thira.

The future
I have spent these last few weeks reflecting on my running future. I am in a great place right now having achieved my life's running goal. As I mentioned in my last post, it's also a little unnerving for a planner like me. That's not to say that I don't have new goals already brewing in my brain. But my running goals are only part of my running future. I have been thinking more about how I want to experience the sport of running. Regular readers of my blog probably picked up on a sense of unease that began to trickle into my happy little running world mostly in the last 3-4 months. It really bothered me. I was starting to dread workouts, wasn't enjoying races and this extra anxiety was having a negative impact on my life. I had a gut feeling, that a change would be good for me mentally and physically.

I have a fine, reliable posse of girlies who I am lucky to meet up with somewhat regularly for easy runs. Prior to joining this group (called the Early Girlies because we run weekdays at 5:15), I did all of my running alone. For the most part, I do all of my hard training alone. Many of the girlies are also coached by Nicole Hunt, but we never seem to be on the same program and we don't run the same paces even if we do the same workouts. I have been longing for some time now to find a group to do my hard training runs with, but just haven't been able to make it work.

I have had great luck training with my on-line coach, Nicole Hunt. She is the most professional, wisest, level-headed and nicest person I have never met. People often find it odd that I have worked with someone so closely for over three years, only talked on the phone with her once and never met her in person. It takes a lot of personal motivation and good communication between coach and athlete to make a cyber coaching relationship work, and I have had all of that.

The running experience I crave right now includes training with a group of women and men that are around my same level and doing similar workouts. I want the benefit of having a more traditional coaching relationship where my coach is able to watch me run and can help adjust my workouts when needed. I also think that I need a new focus for my running. I have been a serial marathoner for 6 years now and I think I would enjoy training for shorter distances, maybe even changing up my routine.

I am a member of one of the best women's racing teams in the Country, the Impala Racing Team. Most of my teammates live and train in the SF Bay area. I live 90 miles away in Sacramento and have not had the ability to train with them regularly, or at all actually since I joined the team back in 2008. Several of these fast women train with coach Tom McGlynn of Focus 'n Fly and they perform some of their workouts together.

After talking with Tom, other runners who know him and some of the athletes he trains, I decided that training with his group was a great opportunity. I have been told by some of his athletes to brace myself for a big change in my program, and I am excited to see what that change will be. It has come to my attention that I have a reputation for having an aggressive training program. This is funny to me, because I don't really see it that way. I see the workouts and total volume that others put in and think they are much more difficult. I really don't label myself as anything when it comes to running beyond being a masters runner and now an OTQ. I don't see myself as only responding to high mileage training, mainly because I've not tried the alternative. I would love to explore other ways of training. I honestly believe there are multiple ways to become a fast runner, the best being the one that keeps you injury free and maintains your love for the sport.

Over the next few months, I'll be making a concerted effort to get to SF most weeks to train with my new coach and his athletes. This also means that I'll be able to spend more time running and getting to know my teammates, something I've wanted to do since I joined the team.

Of course, I won't leap into this new program for a bit so I can recover from my two marathons. The good news is that Coach Tom doesn't have a problem with me continuing my running blog as long as I don't do stupid stuff and attribute it to his coaching. That's not my style. I'm a mea culpa kind of gal.

Exciting times ahead, and you are welcome to come along for the ride!

Monday, October 11, 2010

10-10-10: Chicago Marathon Race Report

Here's the proof.
Thanks to for the pictures.

I feel a little lost right now.  It's that feeling you get when you've been dreaming about something for so long that it has become a part of your psyche, and you don't quite know what to do with yourself once you've arrived.  I have been dreaming about and working my ass off to become fit enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials for the better part of five years, and yesterday, on 10-10-10, I did it.  I ran 2:45:09 in the Chicago Marathon.
Pre-race Paranoia

I will say this.  The easy part was running the marathon.  The hard part was dealing with my brain this last week.  I refrained from blogging or Facebooking about any of this pre-race madness because I didn't really want to put it out there.  Putting it into words makes it real.  If it's simply in my head, there's a chance it isn't real or won't come true.  I don't think that what I experienced was in any way unique, but boy was it uncomfortable.
For starters, my right foot started acting up last week.  It's never, ever done this before.  My arch was very sore after my runs, even after easy runs.  I immediately started thinking "stress fracture."  I just knew that in my next run, my foot was going to break, just like Deena Kastor in the 2008 Olympic marathon.  I worried about this pretty much non-stop over the week's course.
Then, there was the weather to worry about.  The long-term outlook appeared good a week out from the race, but, as we approached race day, things started looking bad.  Really bad.  I know that people say there's nothing you can do about it, but you do have to respond to it in your preparation and your race plan.  I felt lucky that most of my training runs were run this summer in very warm conditions.  I was certainly acclimated to the heat, but I knew this did not make me immune to it.
I made the mistake of spending way too much time this weekend looking at the literature on how heat affects running performance and everything pointed to a marked slow down for the temperatures predicted for race day (60s at the start, mid-70s at the finish).  The most depressing factoid I found was that, the equivalent of a 2:46 marathon in these conditions was somewhere between 2:40-2:42 in ideal conditions (<60F).  I was not convinced that I was in that kind of shape.
After allowing myself to get worked up about it, I finally resolved to just go for it and stick to my original race plan.  I would hydrate like crazy and see what I could do.  Needless to say, I did not sleep well at all the two nights leading up to race day.  Worry, worry, worry.  Well, sleep was also made difficult by some punks outside the hotel making noises that sounded like vuvuzelas all night long.
The Race of My Life  

I awoke at 4:15 and started my pre-race routine of eating as much as I could stuff into my gut, showering and getting into my battledress.  I pinned my Airborne wings on the back of my shimmel, ensured my race numbers were in place, and both D-tags were affixed to my racing flats (yes, they required two for elites and sub-elites).  I bundled up in sweats, a long-sleeved shirt and jacket in hopes that all weather predictions would be wrong and I would be chilled en route to the start. 
The Genius and I headed out into the dark Chicago morning to catch the train to the start and were greeted with still, warm air.  Damn. I so wanted it to be cooler.  The Genius later told me that a digital clock/temperature sign on a bank we passed read 71F, but thankfully, he did not point that out to me at the time.
Regardless of all of my worrying, I was surprisingly upbeat as I ventured off to the Elite Development Tent in Grant Park.  I love the energy in the hour or so leading up to a marathon race.  It's electric and intoxicating.  I found myself feeling super excited as I blasted a few upbeat songs into my head before heading to the starting line for our 7:30 start.  After getting a big hug from fellow Impala, Brooke Wells (who would go on to run 2:37!), I took a deep breath and waddled forward with the crowd as the gun sounded.

My race plan was to go out under control for the first 5k, hydrate like a mad woman, see how I felt and try to get through the half in 1:22.  My pace band showed splits for a 2:46 marathon.  Back when the weather was looking a bit more favorable, I had printed one for a 2:44, but that seemed a bit too ambitious under these conditions.
I had several women and men to run with for the first 5 miles, but there was never a consistent pack like I had in the Twin Cities Marathon last year.  It was more of a string of women that I knew were likely shooting for the same time as me.  It turned out that my best pacers, my only pacers actually, were a couple of dudes that I hooked up with around mile 4 or so.  I believe I stuck with them through about mile 14 when one of them sped up and one of them slowed leaving me stuck on my own.  I would later pass the one that sped off at around mile 25.
I gulped at least a half cup of water at every aid station and took my gels every 5 miles without incident.  I was thrilled to see water bottles offered at a couple of spots on the course.  It was nice to be able to carry it along for a bit to make sure I got enough.  Hydration was not a problem for me, except that I think I over did it.  My bladder felt full at the start, which is normal, but it usually resorbs within a few miles.  I had a full bladder the entire race and seriously considered peeing my shorts many times because it was very uncomfortable.  You'll be happy to know that I refrained.
My right foot started to bark around mile 10 and the worrying set in big time for me.  I cringed with every step thinking the next would be my last with intact bones.  While the aching remained on and off for most of the race, my foot did not break and actually feels quite good now.

Aside from the right foot issue, I felt great in the first half of this race.  I mean really great.  The heat was not affecting my pace at all, and I was easily clicking off splits of 6:10-6:15.  I kept watching time being deposited into my race bank account with each mile split and ended up at 1:21:37 by the half.  It was a little faster than I had planned, but I couldn't deny how I felt.  I decided I would keep at the 6:12-6:15 pace through mile 20 if I could, taking it mile by mile.  I kept thinking about keeping my feet light on the ground, repeating "tap tap tap" to myself, mimicking the sound of my quick little feet hitting the pavement.  I thought about running smoothly like Bernard Lagat.  For me, he is the vision of grace in a runner and thinking about his stride relaxes me.
Around mile 16, I saw a tiny figure up ahead that I thought might be Joan Benoit Samuelson.  I wondered when I would see her, if I would see her in the race.  As I approached, I could hear the crowd yelling, "Go Joanie!"  I was star struck.  I quietly ran up behind her pacer and ran alongside her for about a half mile.  I looked down at her face at one point and saw this look of sheer determination in her eyes.  That short bit running with Joanie might have been the highlight of my race.  When I finally looked down at my Garmin and noticed that my pace was dropping off into 6:20 territory, I moved around her pacers and kept going.  I was still able to hear the chants from the crowd urging her on for several minutes as I thought about how amazing she is and got a little choked up.

I was blown away by how many people I passed in the second half of the race.  Based on a quick count, it looks like it was about 100 men and 10 women.  It made me nervous at times, coming up so fast on people going backwards so fast.  I wondered whether my ambitious pace would bite me in the butt after mile 20.  I decided to not worry about that and just took the race one chunk at a time.  I thought this even as I saw the banners go up indicating that course conditions were now moderate for running and race officials were blasting over the PA system that we should think seriously about adjusting our pace accordingly and to be sure to drink extra fluids.  Around mile 20 or so, I ran past a bank that showed the temperature at 80F, and we were entering the most exposed part of the course.

In the final miles and covered in sweat.
Even at mile 20, I was surprised with how the pace felt as I was able to easily breathe through my nose with my mouth closed.  I was, however, preparing myself mentally for the last 10k, ready to pull out some Chuck Five Zero action to get through those last miles.  I pretty much knew I would slow, but I wanted to get as much as I could out of every mile before the lead filled my legs.  

Cruising down the home stretch.
I finally started to slow around mile 23, but not by a lot.  As I ran up Michigan Ave., I figured I was probably going to meet my goal, but I knew I couldn't let myself slow too much.  The sun was really beating down on me at that point, and I saw 6:30 pace on my Garmin for a few splits.  I decided to just take in everything and kept telling myself that this was my day.  I was going to do this, and I needed to remember what it felt like.  I took in the trees lining Michigan Ave., the spectators and their cowbells, the other runners and even the bright sunshine.  This was my day.
As I rounded the corner to head up the last cruel hill to the 26 mile marker, I looked at my pace band and misread the numbers.  A major wave of panic set in as I convinced myself that I was barely going to beat 2:46.  My brain wasn't working right as I rounded the corner, and I began busting ass to get to that finish line which was more than 200m away.  I couldn't see the clock and didn't have time to look at my watch.  With about 100m to go, I finally saw the clock and it read 2:44:40-something.  I knew that I was going to make it.  I raised my arms up as I crossed the line and then, just kept walking.  What had I just done?  Did I really do this? 

Marathon Finisher!

My Splits
1   6:11
2 6:16
3 6:21
4 6:06
5 6:14
6 6:12
7 6:11
8 6:14
9 6:12
10 6:14
11 6:11
12 6:15
13 6:17
14 6:13
15 6:15
16 6:15
17 6:20 (the Joanie mile)
18 6:16
19 6:17
20 6:20
21 6:18
22 6:19
23 6:30
24 6:30
25 6:34
26 6:37
26.22 1:19

Post-race party

I got my finisher's medal, waved on the mylar blanket and ate a banana as I walked for about a mile to get back to the Elite Development Tent to collect my gear and look for my family.  The whole way, I was alternating between being choked up with happiness and frightened that someone was going to tell me that I hadn't actually qualified for some reason.  I was relieved to get my iPhone and see on Facebook that others had virtually witnessed me cross the finish line in 2:45:09.  I had failed to stop my Garmin when I crossed the line, so I didn't even have my own chrono-documentation of my achievement.
I was greeted by The Genius, my Mom and Val soon after reaching the tent and was showered with many hugs, flowers and tears.  It was quite a moment.  I enjoyed hearing about my sister Jill and brother Jeff tracking me on line and how my sister was calling my Mom with updates.  We went to the results tent to get a printout of the results of my race.  I found out that I had placed first in my age group and was second female master overall--second to Colleen De Rueck.  If you have to be second to someone, she's a pretty cool competitor to follow.

Looking back on this race, I have to rank it as my third easiest in terms of how I felt.  I never once felt a rough patch.  I didn't have to call on Chuck 50.  Maybe this was the result of the focus I put on my mental preparation for the race paying off.  I'm not sure.  Aside from a sore foot and a bit of understandable slowing at the end, this was a pleasant experience.  The heat certainly kept me from reaching my full potential, but it didn't overwhelm me.  I have no doubt that I could have run a lot faster in cooler conditions, but there's always something that seems to keep you from running to your potential in a marathon.
I loved reading through real-time Facebook comments from people who continue to encourage and inspire me.  Joe posted a touching account of his experience of my race including some great Facebook chat, and Julie announced my achievement to the world in a very cool post about my race on her blog.  
The outpouring of congratulatory notes and comments I have received from friends and family has been truly overwhelming.  Thanks everyone for all of your support and encouragement along the way.  I have been blessed to have so many people express how much they believe in me and my ability to achieve this goal.  Indeed it is a big reason I crossed the line in under 2:46.

The Future
As originally conceived, this accomplishment would mark the end of my blogging journey.  I set out to write about my trials in achieving this goal, and I am now there.  I am not sure what I will do next in my running or my writing, but I will continue to do both in some form.  I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of a community of writing runners and feel like I have gained a whole new perspective on running, writing and a unique and satisfying relationship with readers and fellow bloggers, most of whom I've not met in person.  
Houston 2012, here I come!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stop! Taper time...

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!
You know, I really don't hate the tapir.  How can you hate a beast with a long, double-barreled, prehensile schnoz like that?  And those delightful little toes?

Sorry for the Emily Litella moment. I know that was really bad.  Never mind.

The taper.  Right.  I hear other runners talking about how much they hate the taper, but I have to say I'm not on board with that.  I used to think I hated the taper, probably because someone told me I was supposed to. To be honest, I like the feeling that I get in my legs.  Really.  It feels like my legs are growing stronger every day, and according to this article, that's exactly what's happening.  They definitely feel different than they have for the last 12 weeks or so, but I associate that with them getting stronger so it's a positive thing.

I am also taking that extra energy I have left over to take stock in all of the work I've put in: not just in  this training cycle but everything that has brought me to this point.  Here are a few thoughts that I've had running through my brain:

1.  Six months ago, I was not running.  Remember pool running Jaymee?  I over trained.  I learned from that and am now fitter than I ever have been.
2.  I have been sleeping 8 hours per night, eating well and running my easy runs as easy as I ever have.  I pride myself in running a positive split in my easy runs.
3.  My butt no longer hurts.<3
4.  I have nailed all of my goal marathon pace workouts these last two weeks and feel great running at 6:10 pace.
5.  This will be my 16th marathon.  Yes, sweet 16!  I've run, on average, just under 3 marathons/per year in the 6 years I've been running.  Eight of the last 15 have been under 3 hours.
6.  Joan Benoit Samuelson is running Chicago = Awesome!

It occurred to me this week, as I was preparing for a GMP workout, that I feel 100% confident that I am fit enough to achieve my goal.  In some ways, I can't believe the feeling of calm and confidence I have about that.  I have been getting more worked up about my silly training runs than the race itself!   I have no idea if the subliminal recordings I've been listening to at night are doing this for me, or if my most recent training runs have boosted my trust in my mind and body.  Regardless, I'm very happy with where I am right now.

I know that there are still many things that can go wrong that are out of my control going into this race.  While I hope everything lines up for me, I know that even if I don't have the best day, the work I've done has made me a faster runner and will continue to pay off in the future.

One week to go!!!!