Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Kind of Idiot Races a Half Marathon 6 Days After a Full Marathon?!

This idiot did!  In all fairness, I won a free entry into a local half, or I never would have done it.  How can you turn down a $70 entry?

Initially when I won the entry, I told a friend I would pace her to her goal of 1:45.  No way could I race the thing 6 days after my season goal marathon.

My season goal marathon came and went, and that's a whole other story.  I'm not normally an emotional person, but geez I was a bit of a wreck for a few days after Dallas.  I was mentioned on our local news and in the paper, and everywhere people knew about my finish.  But every time someone congratulated me on my 2nd overall female finish, I almost burst into tears, because I didn't get my sub-3:00.  Then I would feel even worse for being greedy and not being happy about the place and PR.  I know I was in shape to be way under 3:00, but it just wasn't my day.  I've come to terms with it and am planning my next try, but this is a story for a different post anyway.

Back to Run for the Ranch Half yesterday.  My friend going for the 1:45 got injured, so I switched to running it at base pace (7:15-7:30), especially since I had a bit of a sore throat/cold.  Driving to the event, I thought, "Well, I'll just run it at marathon pace (6:50) so I can still be under 1:30."  That thought lasted about a half mile into the race, when I saw a woman who I knew of just a little ahead of me.  I decided I would just run 6:40 pace with her for awhile (I did and chatted with her for a few miles).  6:40 turned to 6:30 as I pulled ahead of her, and to 6:20 as I pursued the one woman who had beat me at this race last year.

This race course is horrible for a good time, because it's 4 loops of the same course with a million turns on each lap.  It's run in conjunction with a full marathon, a relay, and a 6-hour run, so even on the second lap at the my pace I started lapping people, and by the 4th lap the course was super congested.

I kept waiting for the wheels to come off (I couldn't have been fully recovered - it had been less than a week!), but I strangely enough felt super good and strong.  Once I passed mile 10 I knew I could maintain 6:20-6:30 pace for the final 3, and would finish in what would be my second fastest half marathon ever.  Kind of ironic that I chased a high-1:25/low-1:26 all spring and couldn't hit it, but in this race with zero expectations, 6 days off of a marathon, with a cold, and plumped up from a handful of sugar-binge days since said marathon, I hit 1:26:15 on a course I would never tell anyone to run fast on, with some left in the tank.  Irony at it's finest.

Although not the smartest move, my confidence sure needed this race!  Dallas just wasn't my day, but being able to run a 1:26 half just 6 days after showed me that I am fit, and that I definitely have that sub-3:00 in me.  Ironically, I had kind of hoped that after I ran my first half in Dallas in 1:29 (which I did), that I would finish off with a 1:26-1:27 second half.  I'm usually a really good negative split marathoner, but it wasn't my day to do it.  Run for the Ranch was a nice way to finish off a year that was really good for me.  Here's to 2016 being even better!

Official time:  1:26:15

Some of the race course congestion as we lap walkers

 After the race with my friend Danielle who works across the hall from me (running talk on work breaks is the best!)

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dallas Marathon was [insert adjective here]

I haven’t yet come up with the ideal way to describe this race. I vacillate among:

Disappointing. I missed my sub-3:00 goal time that I know I had the fitness for, after doing everything right.

Amazing! I placed 2nd overall female in the event, behind one of the only women I am okay with losing to (my awesome training partner).

Heartbreaking. I lost it all in the final 3 miles, and I am usually a really good negative split marathoner.

Inspiring. I ran a PR of 3:01:45, 2:02 faster than I’ve ever run a marathon.

Unkind. It was rainy and windy, but on the other hand I didn’t run 23 miles in a snowstorm in training for nothing!

Bittersweet. A solid PR, a 2nd overall placing, but no sub-3:00.

A blessing. Being out there and running injury-free is the biggest blessing I could have!

The short version of the race:

My training partner, Jamie, and I went into this event with sub-3:00 goals and plans to pace together. We knew that one of us would be stronger at the end, and we knew it would pretty much come down to who had the better day because we are pretty evenly matched and trade off wins when we race. After the crowds thinned and we settled into pace, everything ran smoothly!  We were right on our goal pace through the 10K, the half, and the 20-mile mark.

We were also leading the females in the race as early as the 5K mark, but we had no idea that we were! In hindsight, at one point a man said what we thought was “Top 10 women” and we decided that he must have actually said “Top 2 women”.  Hah.

We were right on pace and side by side at mile 20, but I could tell that Jamie was going to be stronger than me in the final 6.2. I knew my sub-3:00 could go either way depending on how hard the next few miles got, but I was a little scared because I felt at 20 how I usually feel at 22-23 (like I have 3-4 miles left in me at that pace giving 110%). Jamie was pushing and I was hanging on from mile 20-22. At 21 I told her that she was stronger and to go, and she encouraged me that I was strong too. I was able to hold on to her and a solid 6:40-6:45 pace until about 22.5, and then I couldn’t quite hang on. Mile 22 was still 6:50, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto that pace for the final 3. I hung on the best I could, but it wasn’t pretty for the final 3 miles. I promised myself the ground or the medical tent if I could just keep moving! With a mile left I knew my sub-3:00 was out the window, but that I would still PR and that alone kept me from walking.

As I neared the finish, the race announcer said, “Here comes our 2nd overall female finisher, Sara! She is our first woman finisher’s training partner!” At that point I was most excited to hear that Jamie had won the marathon! I had no idea I was going to be 2nd overall female! It was so different than my win at the Bass Pro Marathon in November where I heard “first lady”/”first female”, etc. every few feet! Jamie said she didn’t know she was leading until near the end as well.  I was so proud of Jamie, but scrolling through a range of emotions for myself and what I knew would not be a sub-3:00 finish.

Crossing the finishing line and seeing my 3:01 was a bittersweet moment.  Near tears of happiness for the PR, and near tears of disappointment for not being able to hold on for a 2:59. I didn’t have much time to think about it because Jamie and a few race officials were waiting for me. Jamie and I were whisked off to a press conference, and the race officials called my husband and then went to retrieve him from the family meeting area to join us. You can see my amazing training partner, and read quotes from both of us here:

Perhaps the best way to describe Dallas is: An amazing step in my journey, and not the end. I will run another marathon, and I will get that sub-3:00. When our plans don’t work out, it’s because God has better ones. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11  I can't wait to see what's next!

We were interviewed in the press room post-race!

Fun at the expo

Official PR chip-time was 3:01:45

Garmin splits 1

Garmin splits 2

My training partner is a stud!

Bling (overall awards are mailed)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Competing Schedules (the answer to "How do you find time?")

Every mother who works full time and trains is often asked, “How do you find the time?” Since this runner is also a BCBA, I will give you the behavior analytic answer: competing schedules of reinforcement. In other words: prioritizing, organizing, and streamlining to fit it all in.

In daily life, we do the things that maximize reinforcement and avoid punishment. It’s not as simple as a laboratory arrangement with a rat pressing the lever that delivers food while avoiding the lever that delivers electric shock, but it’s the same principle. There are always countless things going on in our lives, and we make choices based on what brings us pleasure (e.g., hugging our loved ones, eating a favorite food, petting our cat), what we have to do to continue in life based on our higher level rule-governed behavior (e.g., working to make money to support our families and to avoid losing our home, sending the kids to school to learn and to avoid truancy, etc.), and what we have to do in the moment to avoid aversive situations (e.g., turn the stove off after cooking breakfast, stop the child from taunting the cat). There isn’t a simple way to describe how this all works for me or for any one person, but there are many concurrent schedules or reinforcement and punishment operating all of the time in our lives, and we behave accordingly.

I find time to train because it is very reinforcing to me. I arrange my daily schedule and life in a manner that is conducive to working, spending time with my family, meeting my other obligations (the boring stuff like paying bills, doing my laundry, cleaning my house, getting my oil changed), and training, which is my leisure time. For me, this means I wake up between 4:30-5:00 a.m. during the week to complete my workouts before I leave my house for work around 7:40 a.m. Is getting up at that time always easy? Absolutely not. But not only is running reinforcing, missing a workout is aversive. My behavior matches that – I get up out of my warm bed and get the workout in, and am always better for it.

I am fortunate to have a supportive husband who makes this process easier simply by staying in our warm bed and therefore home with our daughter while I’m exercising. Once, when he was out of state during the week (and on some weekends) for 6 weeks, I learned how much harder it is without him. But I still worked out daily, thanks to lunch break runs, our home workout room, repeated back-and-forths on the road right in front of our house, and the YMCA Kids Zone and dirt half mile loop (I have run 32 laps in a row on that puppy).

I also don’t do some of the things that others enjoy, because training is more valuable to me. I don’t watch television or movies (except during indoor workouts), I don’t make extravagant home-cooked meals, I don’t do anything featured on Pintrest, I’m not big on shopping. I have nothing against those things, they just aren’t priorities for me. No one can do it all, and no one should try to. But we all should do the best we can at our most important jobs (for me that is being a Christian, wife, mother, and BCBA), and have some “me” activities we enjoy that make us better at the important jobs (for me that is running competitively!). At the end of the day, I’m just a regular person responding to her environment, just like everyone else.
This is how we do cold weather race spectating!

My inspiration

Before the Bass Pro Marathon 11/1/15

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

How I Beat Plantar Fasciitis

Dreaded plantar fasciitis struck me at the very end of 2014. I ran a half marathon on December 27, 2014 and felt the first twinges following the event, but I initially wrote it off to the poor race conditions (every form of precipitation possible fell during the race – sleet, snow, freezing rain, rain) and my new standing desk at work, which had also resulted in a little foot pain.  A couple of weeks later when I touched my heel after a long run and literally jumped out of my chair, I couldn’t write it off any longer.

With that, a few online searches led me to self-diagnose with PF.  I immediately began all of the typical recommendations in January 2015:  rolling with a golf ball/lacrosse ball/frozen water bottle, wearing shoes at all times, icing multiple times a day, experimenting with shoe inserts, buying new work shoes, wearing a compression sleeve, and a lot of stretching of the foot and calves.  I progressed to a night brace and heel cups, and bought my first pair of Hoka Cliftons.  I was determined to run through this by throwing everything at it!  At the time, I was running just 4 days a week anyway, and I tried to do more swimming instead of other cross-training on my non-running days to increase my time off of my foot.

Although many/all of these things seemed to help, nothing would make it go away.  Once you have PF, it seems like everyone else either has had it, or currently has it too!  I heard from people who said to stop running immediately before it got any worse or I would regret it (which made me paranoid), and others who said they kept running through it (which made me hopeful!).  I kept running.  Overall, there were good days and bad days, and it didn’t get better but it didn’t get worse.

In May, after I ran a half marathon in racing flats and really regretted it, I tried taping for the first time.  Midway through my workout that day, I had to sit down on the track and remove the tape, and then ended up calling my workout early because the tape made my foot pain much worse.  Then I resolved to see a medical professional, because a workout cut short was my limit.

I made an appointment with a podiatrist, but due to the wait time for an appointment I saw a chiropractor/ART therapist in the interim.  ART, one missed long run, and a few weeks off speed work helped a lot, but PF was still hanging on.  When I made it to the podiatrist, he gave me an injection of primarily ethanol (sclerotheapy) and a small dose of anti-inflammatory medication, which was intended to speed up the body’s natural healing processes, along with several of the usual PF treatment suggestions.  He said I was fine to keep running if I could tolerate it, and I could.  The injection helped, but my foot still wasn’t 100%, and a month later it seemed like I was back to square 1.  Good days and bad days, but it wasn’t gone.

I kind of just resigned to living with it at that point, and hoped it would go away if I took some time off over the winter.  I was in the best shape of my life and certainly not ready to take any time off at that point!  Thanks to the Hokas I was able to keep running with it, but it was always there.  The podiatrist told me to stop stretching and rolling my foot and to stop with the night brace, so I’d tapered off most of the other “interventions” by this point as well.  I was still wearing the compression sleeve to run in and icing regularly.

Then I saw this link posted online at the beginning of October, and decided to give it a whirl.  I didn’t really expect it would work, but it felt good anyway.

Within a week of doing this stretch 1-2 times daily, my foot was perfectly fine.  I stopped the icing and compression sleeve, and it was still fine.  I have continued to run almost solely in Hokas (once in awhile I mix a pair of Asics in there), because it was too late in the game with marathon training to change shoes, and I like them well enough (really I like everything except them looking like moon shoes).

Someone told me that it’s difficult to know what actually works for PF, because it goes away on its own for most people, but I disagree with that for me.  This is what worked.  My calves have gotten tight a couple of times after speed work or 5K, and my foot pain returns.  I then increase the frequency with which I do this active release stretch, and my foot is fine again!  Typically, I do it once a day, after running.

One final note:  I am confident I got PF to begin with mostly due to switching to a standing desk at work while wearing cheap flats (I don't think running helped, but I also don't think it was the main culprit).  In retrospect, I should have known better!  But let this be a lesson to those of you who don’t have foot issues (who probably aren’t reading this, ha ha!):  wear quality shoes when not running.  Doing that up front would have saved me a lot of hassle and money in the long run!  I dress up for work but have found some supportive dress shoes that are even decently cute (and if I’m in my office alone for awhile, I slip on running shoes at my standing desk).

Everyone’s PF is different, but I hope this stretch can help someone else out there.  It literally changed my life!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

You want me to run what?!?!

Since starting to work with a coach in July 2015, I've done several workouts that I never would have written into my own schedule.  When I receive my training schedule with these workouts on it, my thoughts go something like this:

"What?  That's crazy."

"That's going to be really hard.  I can't hit those times."

"Where did he get the idea that I could run that?"

"Well, I'll give it a try."

Low and behold, I have hit or exceeded the splits on each of such recommended workouts, so over time I've become less scared of them.  Often I call them "hard, but possible."  However, today's workout terrified me, because 400s have been my nemesis for the past several years (really since high school when I used to like them).  I rarely ran them pre-coach, under the guise that I really didn't need repeats that short to perform well in races from 10K to the marathon, which have been my distances of focus since graduate school.

The workout was 16 x 400, in sets of 4.  200 jog recoveries (1:10 or less) between reps, 400 jog recoveries (2:20 or less) between sets.  My goal time range was 1:25-1:27, which is 5:40-5:48 pace.  With warm-up and cool-down, I would have 10 miles total.  The one thing I did like about this workout was that it was much preferred over the standard 10 mile "long" run done one week before a marathon (which makes me feel like I am not doing anything).

Last night, I was texting my long run/marathon partner about the workout and said things like, "I'm scared of this workout", "That is way too many repeats, even though they are slower than usual", and "Worst case scenario, if I can't hit the splits I'll just finish off the mileage at base pace."  But then I lightened up and said, "Let's just get out there and do it."  Although, I said that we had to do them at 1:27 instead of 1:25 at the beginning, ha ha!

And we got out there and did it!  The pace was brisk, but not all-out, and the reps clipped by quickly. 

My splits were:
1:26, 1:26, 1:25, 1:25
1:26, 1:26, 1:25, 1:25
1:26, 1:26, 1:25, 1:25
1:25, 1:26, 1:24, 1:23

I finished not feeling that spent.  It was a good feeling!  In the not-so-distant past, I couldn't have run 8 400s at 1:25 all-out, so this was a good confidence boost.  My Saturday running partner and I took turns leading them and that helped the workout go by quickly too.  We are quite evenly matched and are running Dallas together as well - and our goal time would make a nice PR for each of us.

Now the true taper madness begins!  I have a "final tune up" fast-ish 2 miles next week, but that's pretty much it; and no runs over 6 miles.  I feel pretty good about Dallas and my time goals.  At this point I'll focus on getting extra sleep, eating quality nutrition, and not obsessing too much (if that is possible).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Unconventional 10K PR

When I envisioned my 10K PR, I didn’t have delusions of grandeur, but I did expect a few components.  I imagined my husband and daughter cheering at the finish line, a finishing photo with the clock showing my bright and shiny new PR, and a picture my husband would snap of me in post-race glory in race gear and a beaming smile.  What I really got was complete darkness while the world slept, a beaming smile, and photos of my Garmin!
I knew I could run a solid 10K in the 38:00s.  I lined up a flat and fast certified course on November 14.  A few days out, the forecast looked absolutely perfect (around 45 degrees, sunny, and low wind).  My workouts were going well and I felt ready!  But, family comes first, and when my 7-year-old second cousin passed away after a battle with cancer on November 11, his funeral was scheduled for November 14 at 10:00 a.m. in a town about 3 hours away from the race.  I scrapped my taper and made plans to travel to the funeral.
Since I missed this race, I searched for a replacement 10K.  November 21 wasn’t a good weekend for one since I had a key marathon long run of 23 miles, and I couldn’t find a Turkey Trot within a reasonable distance of our holiday destination.  I settled on a 5K Turkey Trot and made plans to run a 10K time trial on my own when the weather cooperated.  The weather did not cooperate in a reasonable time frame (thunderstorms, wind, and cold rain for almost 2 weeks), and my coach also discouraged this endeavor, so I planned to wait until after my December 13 marathon to give a 10K time trial a go.  At least I had the 5K coming up!
I thought the 5K Turkey Trot would be a good replacement, but instead it pretty much stole my soul.  I set out to run under 18:23, or 5:55 pace or better.  This seemed reasonable or even a tad conservative, considering that I had recently done 4 x 1 mile repeats in 5:50 average unrested, that I had run a 5:48 throw-down mile after a 10-mile tempo run at 6:30 pace, and that my final 5K of my last half marathon was 19:10.  I ran the mostly flat out-and-back Turkey Trot course for a warm-up on race morning, and realized that a good time would be a stretch.  The wind was 22+ mph and in my face for the second half of the race, and it was 64 degrees.  I decided to be okay with a time in the 18:30s or 18:40s with a positive split for sure, and to go for the win.
When I finished that 5K in 19:06, I felt like an abysmal failure, despite the overall female win.  “I should be able to run a 10K at that pace!” I thought.  I was uber disappointed.  I felt a little redeemed after Googling the second place female finisher, one of the top high school runners in the state of Kansas who was just off a season of 5Ks in the 18:00s and one in the 17:50s (she finished this one in 19:22), who had also just signed to run cross country and track for my alma matter.  But this race hit my confidence hard and made me start questioning everything about my paces and training – which is not a good thing 2.5 weeks out from a goal marathon!
On December 2, I had a 3 x 2 mile repeat workout on my training schedule.  The night before, I looked up my splits from the last time I ran this workout and planned to aim for 12:30, 12:20, 12:10 for my times.  I then started thinking, “Well, that’s about 10K pace…and it’s 6 miles total…”  The gears were turning.  I decided that I would start my first repeat around 6:15 pace, and if the weather was good and I felt good towards the 2-mile mark, I would keep running and try for that 10K PR.  If I didn’t feel like I could sustain that pace, I would run the workout as scheduled and no one would be any wiser.  I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing this, because after the 5K disappointment I couldn’t handle another hit to my ego!  I’ve also never been one to be able to run PRs outside of races; I usually need the race environment and competition to spur me along, but I was so hungry for this one.
In 30 degrees before dawn, and after a 2.2 mile warm up that included some tempo pace running and plyometrics, I was off on what would be either my first 2 mile repeat or 10K time trial!  I settled into 6:15 pace, and it felt good, so from the beginning I was optimistic I was going to give the time trial a whirl.  I came through the mile at 6:13 and at that point was 90% sure I was going to keep going for 6.2.  I came through mile 2 in 6:11 and decided that this was happening!  I told myself that worst case scenario, I would maintain this pace as long as I could, and if I couldn’t do the whole 10K I could take a recovery jog and then finish the 6 hard miles in whatever way I needed to.  But I was going to give this thing my all!
Mile 3 was 6:09, and I had to hold myself back.  I told myself not to over-blow too early.  I also knew that mile 4 on this course (which I have run a million tempo runs on!) was the slowest due to some incline, but I felt strong through it in 6:13.  I knew I needed to average 6:15 pace or better to run in the 38’s, and at mile 4 I knew it was going to happen!  I felt strong, and I got excited on mile 5 and came through in 6:04.  I didn’t take the time to worry too much about going too fast, because I knew I had a solid 1.2 more miles in me and my goal time was going to happen.  Mile 6 was 6:05, and then I sprinted in a final 0.21 at 5:26 pace.  I stopped my watch at 38:06, and it announced a bright and shiny 10K PR of 38:05!
Not to get technical, but this 10K time is an average pace of 6:08, Garmin
I'll always have my Strava data!
My smile may have lit up my dark neighborhood.  I was elated!  I knew I had a 38 in me, but a 38:05 (6:07.7 average pace) was more than I’d even hoped for.  I teared up a little bit with happiness.  I was strong, and I was ready for a marathon PR attempt.  Like any runner would, I also thought, “Geez, couldn’t I have run 1 second faster per mile, or run the final mile in 5:59 to break into the 37:00s?” (I hadn’t realized how close I would be to that) – but it’s good to have a goal for next time!  I also had a few thoughts along the lines of “screw you, 5K Turkey Trot!” as I started on my cool down. 
As I walked back into my house, it was extremely hard not to wake my husband up to tell him my great news!  I waited patiently while I stretched and showered, until his alarm went off.  When he asked how my 2 mile repeats went I shoved my Garmin in his face (before he even had his contacts in), and showed him my solo new 10K PR and splits.  My Garmin celebrated my “Fastest 10K!” with me.
I feel like the next edition of this Garmin should cheer when this happens
However, my Garmin continued to taunt me about my crappy 5K by telling me that I also ran my “Fastest 5K!” during this workout.  I knew after that Turkey Trot that I could run the pace I ran there for twice the distance, and, yes, I could!
Second 5K of the 10K
I wish this was an official 10K race instead of a pre-dawn jaunt around my development, but I know I did it.  I know that Garmins aren’t perfect, but neither is real life.  I know I can do it again when I race a certified 10K in the spring.  Most importantly, I know that crappy 5K was just one sub-par race in crummy conditions that doesn’t determine my running destiny.  Perhaps God thought I needed a little humbling on Thanksgiving, but He also knew that I needed this time trial PR to go forward with a PR marathon attempt on December 13 (pretty amazing when you think about how He cares about every detail in each of our lives like this).  Every bad race or workout makes me appreciate the good races and workouts far more.
My expression shows exactly how I felt about the 5K Turkey Trot - *%&*#%$!
It was all also a good reminder not to take myself too seriously.  I psyched myself up about the Turkey Trot, obsessing about every single detail (I toured the course on Google Earth for goodness sakes), and spent most of the race worrying that I was not running well and wasn’t feeling strong (does anyone feel strong running against a 22 mph wind anyway?!).  During the 10K time trial, I spent the whole “race” enjoying myself!  It was fun!  It was why I run!  And after all, I’m not a professional runner.  At the end of the day, this is a hobby that I LOVE, and certainly not something I ever need to torture myself over.
So I rejoice in the 10K, put the 5K behind me, and press on towards the Dallas Marathon.  I plan to enjoy every second of that race, whatever it may bring!  In the end, it is only running.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – Hebrews 12:1

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bass Pro Marathon Backstage Pass

I could write many wonderful things about the Bass Pro Outdoor Fitness Festival!  I look forward to reading all of the articles about the triumphs, the PRs, the first marathon experiences, the awesome aid stations, the wonderful crowd support, the well-marked course, the nice swag, and the support for the fastest runners and the final finishers (and everyone between).  I thought I could offer a bit of a different perspective, as I got a behind the scenes look at the race this year.
One of the many things I enjoy about Bass Pro is that they have a lead female cyclist.  Many races have a lead cyclist, who typically ends up leading the overall male in, but it’s more the exception than the norm to offer an additional cyclist with the top female.
The lead cyclists lined up in front of the start
2015 was reminiscent of my last Bass Pro full marathon in 2010, as when I turned right and split off from the half runners, a cyclist joined me.  Both years the rider informed me that I was the female leader and that she (2010)/he (2015) would stick with me as long as that was the case.  This year when I replied something like, “Well, it doesn’t matter much who’s leading now, only who is leading 25 miles from now”, the cyclist joked that he was fickle and would leave me if another woman took the lead.  In 2010, I was terrified of being in the lead so early, but in 2015 I was comfortable with it because I was looking at the marathon as a long run and not a race, so it was easy to relax.
With and small pack & the lead cyclist, probably around the 15K mark
I quickly realized that having a cyclist escort would have bonus entertainment benefits.  He was carrying a walkie-talkie 2-way radio that was connected to the 2-way radios of many other people who were instrumental to the success of this race, and I could hear most of the conversation!
Initially, the exchanges focused on starting line logistics:  all marathoners and half marathoners had cleared the starting area, the 5K was lining up and then their starting gun went off, all cyclists were in the correct places with the leaders and the back of the group, etc.  So many people were working together to make sure all of this happened as scheduled, and from the sounds of it, it all ran like a well-oiled machine.
After the logistics of the start were coordinated, the event organizers were on to ensuring the race experience was ideal for all participants.  I heard conversations about getting course marshals to certain corners, and talk about getting traffic control to potentially problematic areas.  The frequent conversation and quick responses were amazing.  “We need someone on the corner of Sunset and Battlefield” – done.  “I need police assistance on Sunshine” – done.  “Additional support is needed at the first relay exchange” – done.  Someone would ask and someone else would answer and take care of it, smooth as could be.
An aid station is running low on supplies?  No problem, someone’s got it – far before it became noticeable to any runners I’m sure. The volunteers and race organizers were all rocking it, and it took a huge team to coordinate all the logistics and meet the needs of all the runners.
It wasn’t only the runners who the event organizers were eager to please.  I heard about a problem with spectators trying to exit the Bass Pro parking lot, causing congestion.  Bam, traffic control was on it.
A few things I did not hear were arguing, blaming, or passing the buck.  I guarantee this isn’t the case with most large teams working together under stress and time pressure.  What an amazing behind the scenes group!
All of the lead cyclists communicated about the positions of the athletes who they were accompanying.  This gave me a fun play-by-play of the half marathon race.  I looked at my watch when both the lead male and female cyclists for that race announced that their runners were passing mile 12, and marveled at their speedy times!  I heard where the lead male marathoner was, and also heard reports on the pace groups.
Around 2.5 hours, I heard the announcement that the lead male marathoner was in.  Then when I was passing 25 miles, I heard that the second male marathoner was behind the Bass Pro building.  This made me eager to get in myself, and I will selfishly admit that I liked hearing “my” lead cyclist call in my position during the race – especially the “lead female is coming around to 26!”

It was due to injury and personal issues (not choice) that I didn’t run this full marathon from 2011-2014.  I certainly don’t plan to wait 5 years to do it again this time!  Kudos to all of the Bass Pro behind the scenes team, and to all of you who organize races.  Hearing commentary of proactive actions and quick problem solving for 25 miles sure makes me admire you, even more than I already did!
A lovely porta-pottie backdrop at the finish
Awards were given by Dick Beardsley

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Run a Half Marathon PR in 15 Easy Steps: 2015 Waddell & Reed Kansas City Half Marathon


1)    Run a familiar event. 
This race is routine for me.  I completed the full marathon at this event in 2005, 2007, and 2011 (early on I believe it was simply called the Kansas City Marathon, and also ran a different course).  I ran the half marathon distance at the event in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014.  This is one race I’ve run when I’ve been injured and not even running or remotely fit.  My sister and her family live in Kansas City, and it’s become a tradition for me and my parents, who live in the Wichita area, to visit them every October over race weekend.  We have all watched this event grow from a small marathon to a nationally-known competitive event.

2)    Win a free entry. 
I won a free entry for life into the event in 2011 in a photo contest -- possibly the best prize I have ever won!  In 2010 I received an elite comp entry, so I have received a comp entry for the past 6 races.  I would absolutely pay the entry free to run this race, but a comp entry and family to stay with makes it that much sweeter!

3)    Don’t make it a goal race. 
My season goal race is the full marathon in Dallas, and my half goal race has been ever changing, but it was never Kansas City.  Who tries to PR on a course with around 580 feet of elevation gain anyway? 

4)    Make sure the course is hilly, and the race extra competitive. 
See #3.  The course is tough, but it’s also deceptively fast if you’ve trained well on hills (and don’t all of us living in the Ozarks train on hills by default?).  You climb a lot in miles 2-3 and 7.5-10.5, but you come down a lot from 4-6, and again from 10.5 to 12.
This was my first race in quite a while where I wasn’t gunning for an overall female or top 3 female placing.  Past results showed the top 3 women consistently running under 1:20, something I’m not capable of.  This helped me during the race because I didn’t focus on, or even know, where I was place-wise (I ended up 5th overall female, which I was ecstatic about).

5)    Work with a coach. 
I started working with a coach for the first time since college in July 2015, because I decided I needed to go all in to try for a sub-3:00 marathon.  This has changed the way I train, and I have hit paces and workouts I never thought I could. 
This has also shown me what a control freak I am!  I have had some very challenging workouts, but the biggest challenge has been giving up control of my schedule.  It was clearly a good decision for me though!

6)    Don’t listen to your coach. 
I am probably a bit of a nightmare to coach.  I am the one who adds a few miles here, a race there, and a tempo run there (not to mention I shuffled several races around while I was recovering from cryptosporidium at the end of the summer).  My coach told me to run Kansas City as a workout.  I know he was looking at my long-term goal of a PR at the Dallas Marathon, and I really considered listening to him.  In the end, I couldn’t justify driving 3 hours each way to the event without racing it, and I also really wanted to see where I was at with my half time at this point in my training.

7)    Find a training partner with similar goals, and push each other to speed up your long runs. 
When my coach advised me to do my long runs around 7:30 pace, I panicked a little.  In past marathon training cycles, my long runs were at a relaxed easy pace, which rarely dipped under 8:00 pace.  I even remember one hot 23 miler before my PR marathon that I ran over 9:00 pace – over 2:00 slower than what I ended up running for my marathon!  I felt comfortable with 12-14 milers at 7:30 pace, but the thought of doing 20-24 at that pace running alone terrified me. 
Fortunately, though a mutual friend I connected with Jamie, who was also chasing a sub-3:00 marathon and had quite the impressive collegiate resume (I knew because I Googled her before I knew her, after she beat me at the Medical Mile 2.5 mile “5K”).  I was really excited to find a female to train with, even though I feared she would be too fast for me! 
We started meeting for Saturday long runs, and quickly realized that we were the perfect match on these runs (plus, she is an awesome person in addition to being a talented runner).  In fact, she and I seem to be so evenly matched in our paces, I think anytime we race each other it will simply come down to who has a little better day.  Neither of us could imagine running the paces we hit on our hilly training routes alone, but when running together it was easy.  I never thought I would run 20 miles with over 1300 feet of elevation gain at 7:25 pace and call it easy, but I believe speeding up my long runs and running them on tough courses was the biggest training change that contributed to my PR in Kansas City.  In addition, running the race with Jamie was instrumental to the PR, as she pushed me throughout and made me feel like I was on a training run, only with near silence instead of constant chatter!
See how closely matched we are?
8)    Have the most supportive, yet somewhat doubtful spouse.
My husband is extremely supportive of my running, and as a runner himself he understands what it takes to PR.  He is interested in my workouts, my splits, and my races, and he never complains about the abnormal things I do for the sake of running.  He encourages me and not only spectates at all my races, but genuinely wants to be there (even when I offer to find a sitter for our daughter so that he can race too, he usually responds with, “I would rather watch you!”).  All in all, he couldn’t be more perfect, but he was pretty doubtful that I could run a PR at Kansas City – so much so that he offered to find a “good half course” for me to run instead that weekend and complained that I was wasting my PR-level fitness on this event.  I was stubborn – I wanted to visit my family and run Kansas City, and I was determined I could PR there!

9)    Make the most obsessive pace band in the history of the world.
Since I have run Kansas City so many times, I knew a consistent pace strategy would never work.  There are some fast net downhill miles on the course, and there are some slow primarily uphill miles.  And I had my race data from 4 previous halves there to refer to!  I analyzed all of my past splits, along with the course elevation chart, and came up with a formula to get to me to a 1:26 finish.  The fastest planned mile was 6:12, and the slowest was 6:59, but the goal splits averaged 6:37.  This was a more painstaking process than I expected going in (the initial strategy was just to take off 10 seconds per mile from my splits from when I ran a 1:28 on the course, but I quickly made it more complicated than that!).

10) Form an unofficial pace group with PR goals.
Jamie and I planned to run Kansas City together and push each other, just like in training.  I also connected with Jerry, after pacing off of him for the Panther Run 10K at the beginning of October.  He wanted to run a 1:26 also, so our unofficial official OMRR PR-chasing pace group was formed!  Even though it wasn’t a goal race…

11) Pee behind a dumpster.
Believe it or not, this was integral to the PR!  I used an actual bathroom in Crown Center before starting my warm-up, but after a 2 mile jog and plyometrics I knew I needed to go again but didn’t have time to go back to Crown Center or the porta-john area, then get back to the starting line in time.  With the race being in an urban area, there weren’t a lot of options, but a few blocks away from the starting line I found an area tucked away between buildings with several dumpsters that provided the best possible option.  After all, no one can PR with a full bladder!

12) Start out too fast.
Ironically, my #1 strategy in races is to never start out too fast, because you will always, always pay for it later.  Although our first mile was slow, after the field thinned out significantly Jamie, Jerry, and I kept clicking off miles faster than my obsessive pace band planned pace, and the miles really flew by.  In the end we ran negative splits, so the too fast start was just relative!

13) Run the middle miles too fast, and stop looking at your Garmin and doing the math.
We kept passing course miles faster than our planned pace, and it felt like a challenging but do-able half pace.  I stopped looking at our pace, as it was super intimidating!  My previous half PR was 1:27:08 – 6:39 pace – and I knew we were averaging somewhere in the 6:20’s and mentally I just couldn’t fathom that.  Usually in longer races I will take inventory of where I’m at time-wise and project my finish time, and although I knew we were on PR pace I couldn’t quite comprehend our split times.  At some of the course miles I checked our progress and let the others know that we were under pace, and hoped I wouldn’t bonk!

14) Run the final 5K in 19:10.
Miles 11 and 12 of this course are fast, and Jamie and I were pulling in another female quickly which really spurred us along.  Our mile 12 split was 5:59, which I would never have expected in anything over a 5K.  The final mile flattens out before a challenging long incline to the finish, but I managed a 6:10 final mile, and 6:05 pace for the last bit up the hill.
Coming down (actually up!) the final stretch, I was thinking that I might run a 1:25, but my math skills were out the window well before mile 12.  Once I was close enough to read the clock, I realized that I would run a solid 1:24!  My parents, husband, and daughter were on the sidelines screaming, and I crossed the line in 1:24:33 (6:27 average pace) – a bright and shiny new PR that was faster than I ever thought I could run.  Jamie and Jerry also ran huge PRs!  I don’t think I could ever have done it without running with them!
PR-ty time!
Garmin + obsessive pace band
15) Realize that you’re not dreaming, be thankful, and plan your next PR! 
Just after Madam President Stephanie asked me to write this race report, I received an email with the subject line “It wasn’t a dream – KC Marathon/Half Marathon 2015 photos prove you did it”.  The experience was a bit surreal and dream-like to me, so I am thankful for those photos, my Garmin data, and my official certified course time!  It’s rare that I am completely satisfied with my performance, but for this race I was.  I don’t think I could have run it any better, and taking my PR from 1:27:08 to 1:24:33 after several months of chasing a 1:25:59 was HUGE to me. 
I am thankful that God gave me the strength to run a PR, and that He led me to training with someone with similar abilities and to working with a coach, as both were key in my performance (all of these blessings came to fruition through a lot of random events!).  Now, I am going to find a flat course and chase a 1:23:59.  One of the beautiful things about running is that you can always strive to improve on your best, and you always gain far more than PR along the way. 
This race had the most awesome runner tracking app I've ever seen
I was 5th overall female

Note:  This article appeared in the November 2015 OMRR newsletter