Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What I'm craving lately (April-ish through May-ish)

As usual, I feel like I missed a lot of food photo-ops, so I combined two months.  Eating the food generally takes priority over taking pictures of it...

This picture illustrates Albani's cravings.  Jon caves into buying her ice cream all the time, and I am thankful that she prefers chocolate because I (gasp) don't like chocolate ice cream.  Look at her cute little belly here!

I'm a big fan of nuts in general, and these pecans are straight from my father-in-law's farm.  He sends us home with a big bag of them each time we visit, and I generally get 90% of them!  They are great plain, but also good in oatmeal, on yogurt, or with fruit.

Green onions make an amazing topping over nearly any savory dish (tilapia pictured here, and you can see the asparagus and sweet potato I had with it).

This was an amazing stir-fry dish I had the evening of the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon; I am sure it was great sodium replacement too.

Some omelets look prettier than others, but they remain one of my favorite post-run meals.

IHOP's presentation is better than mine.

Jon is growing me spinach!  I put it in/on nearly everything, so this is a good plan.

A simple way to eat spinach - it's just steamed in the microwaved and seasoned with garlic salt and nutritional yeast (an immunity booster).  It's good sautéed in coconut oil, but that's a little higher maintenance.  You can also see the tilapia and sweet potato on my plate; I continue to eat a lot of these.

More garden goodness - kale!  I make kale chips (shown before cooking here) or use it in omelets and really any veggie dish.  It's also good sautéed with sweet potatoes.

Jon also grew cauliflower, which I love roasted.  This is pre-roasting with curry powder.  Albani was not a fan of the curry powder!

Healthy and hearty meal shot:  herb baked chicken, baked sweet potato with cinnamon, roasted yellow squash and mushrooms, steamed home-grown broccoli, and black olives.

Cantaloupe is back in season and on Aldi produce special.

Strawberries also came back on produce special.  I bought 6 cartons one week and Albani and I had them all down within 4 days.  We are also growing strawberries, but few make it into the house to get photographed because we eat them while picking!

This smoothie was made with frozen sweet cherries, beets, almond milk, and chocolate protein powder and was divine!

This was my recovery smoothie immediately after a 21 miler + strength workout, and included frozen pineapple, spinach, almond milk, and birthday cake protein powder.

I have no qualms about drinking my recovery smoothies in the bathroom while showering and getting ready...the refueling window is important!  This was after my 18 miler on May 5 and included beets, frozen banana, and protein powder. 

Frozen mango makes fantastic smoothies, and pairs well with any flavor of protein powder (this one had peanut butter flavor).

A insanely busy month at work meant that I ate some to-go meals in April, and I really don't like to admit I ate dinner from Casey's, but Casey's does make a mean chicken salad sandwich!  This didn't happen in May, so yay for that - and I started making tuna salad with Greek yogurt, which I'm still perfecting but like quite a bit.

This is advertised as healthy, but in the end it's still a cookie (although it was really tasty!).  It's also supposed to be two servings, but would anyone actually not eat this whole thing (I would have eaten two)?!  I guess that means you get 32 grams of protein, though!

If you are going to eat a cookie, this is a real cap off my healthy foods post, when I eat unhealthy, it typically involves frosting and lots of it!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

"But, why?"

An employee in a different department of my company recently asked me about chasing the 2:45 Olympic Trials qualifying standard.  I don't really know him, and he isn't a runner, but he had heard it through the grapevine.  I confirmed that it was my Big Dream Goal.  He then asked about me subsequently making the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, to which I kind of laughed and responded that there was no chance of that, as if I even made it to the Trials I would be among the slower competitors there, and probably a good 20 minutes behind the top 3 who would go on to represent our country.  He looked flummoxed and asked, "But, why?" - meaning why would someone strive to qualify for the Trials when the person had no chance at making it to the Olympics.

The shorter answer is that for people like me, the trials are our Olympics.  Of the 150-200 women who will start at the Trials, maybe 20 of them have a realistic shot at making the Olympic team.  For the rest of the group, the Trials (not the Olympics) is the Big Dream Race.

The longer answer is below.  This is also as close as I'm going to get to a Grandma's Training Journal series...after writing those leading up to my last two marathons, I'd hoped to do another, but life got too busy!

Selfishly, I never want to wonder "what if?"  I want to know that I did everything I could to accomplish something big that's important to me.  I'd rather give my all and fail then wonder if I could have if I'd only tried.  Even if I never get the standard, I'll be glad I tried for it instead of accepting that a certain marathon time was my limit.

I want to set an example for my daughter.  I feel like this is a "stock" answer to this type of question, but I want her to see what it means to truly dedicate yourself to a goal.  She knows I wake up at 4:45 a.m. and run before work, she knows I run every day, she sees me do the extras like foam rolling and strength training, and she sees me fuel my body well for performance.  She doesn't understand the implications of these things now, but I hope when she's older she appreciates them.  I also hope it helps her have a healthy relationship with her body (seeing it as strong and valuing it for what it can do) and with food (seeing it as fuel and something that helps her body).

I want to motivate others.  I fully believe that if I can do this then anyone can.  Genetics and personal history set some parameters on maximum athletic potential, but any one of us can find our personal best.  I'm never going to compete with Jordan Hassay and Molly Huddle, but I can sure work to whittle down my own personal records.  Although races are by nature a competition, the older I get the less I care how I fare against anyone else; that's why I went to CIM to take what was by far the worst placing of my adult life in a female field (65th) with a time that would win most marathons.  I cared most about pushing myself to my limits, and I always push farther in races that I do not win.  I think most/all runners would chose a PR over a win any day!

Chasing goals is a healthy part of human nature.  I feel very blessed to not only have a goal that I feel passionate about, but also to be passionate about the process.  Marathon training is miles and miles day after day after day for one race.  I can't imagine anyone doing it without loving the training!  I have family goals and I have professional goals, but this is my "selfish" goal...something I do for me, although I hope it positively affects others along the way.

I might never achieve the OTQ standard.  But, if I hadn't started chasing the standard, I would definitely not have ever run a 2:47:14 (6:22 pace used to be my 5K pace!).  When you set big goals, you might not reach them, but you will likely reach higher than you would have otherwise.  If you reach every goal, and if you reach every goal on the first try, you're not setting them high enough or truly challenging yourself.

I believe that God gives us talents for a reason, and although I'm certainly not the most talented runner out there, I am above average.  I think the passion I have for the sport is also a gift I've been given.  I hope I'm using my gifts for good along the way.  If one person comes in contact with me at some point and subsequently starts a personal relationship with God, then it was all worth it for that alone.  I try not to be preachy, but God really does weave the details in our lives in certain ways for a reason.

I am going to keep chasing this Big Dream.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, right?

Yes, yes I would

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Bill Snyder Highway Half: Sometimes Random Decision-Making Pays Off!

The short:
I entered the Bill Snyder Highway Half at the last minute, mostly so I wouldn't have to run the monster workout I had scheduled alone.  While the workout morphed from a split tempo to a continuous tempo when I found myself running around 2-3 other women early in the race, the outcome was much better than I would have predicted.  I finished 2nd overall female in 1:21:41, in humid 70 degree weather and during an 82 mile week, following an 81 mile week (both weekly mileage PRs for me).  There were a few wrong turns and hills that didn't help my finishing time, making me even happier to come away with the fastest half I've run in 2018.  Although a part of me really wonders what I could have done if I'd tapered (tapering improves performance by an average of 3%), I am trying not to regret that and focusing on the benefit that running this with so many miles on my legs will give me in my marathon.  I know more than ever that I have a 1:19 half marathon in me, but that goal took a backseat this season.  Always dream bigger, but thank God for what you have more than you ask Him for what you want.  Also, if you haven't tapered for any races all season, don't start doing the math on that 3% gain, hah!

Another fun fact:  My time was the 2nd fastest half marathon ever run in the state of Kansas by a 35-39 female, and the 21st fastest half marathon ever run by a woman of any age in the state of Kansas on a certified course.  Those rankings are found here.
You may not recognize me smiling AND
without a double chin in a finishing photo!
The long:
When I saw the workout I had scheduled for May 19, I thought it was just begging to be run within a half marathon race:  3 miles warm-up, 3 x 4 mile tempos at 6:07-6:14 with 0.5 recoveries (making the "meat" portion of the workout 13 miles long and at my half race pace), 2 miles cool-down.  Around the same time, my friend Michelle mentioned that she was running the Bill Snyder Half as a workout in her Grandma's training.  I've wanted to run this race for a few years, but it's never worked out before.  For a few weeks, I was 50/50 on entering the race, with the main barrier in my indecision being the 4.5 hour drive. After running a lot of solo miles in the weeks leading up to the race, I decided that having others to run the workout with was my only hope to hit the workout on tired legs would make me more likely to hit my goal paces and make the drive worth it, plus based on past results I thought I could win enough prize money to at least cover the cost of the trip, so I signed up two days before the race.   As it ended up, my brother-in-law's family also traveled to the race, so in the end we made the whole thing into an extended family weekend get-away!

I was in an 82 mile week (only my third lifetime week in the 80s), but I had the workout on tap whether I ran it within the race or not.  I'd run two halves already this season during 70 mile weeks (Rock the Parkway and Illinois), so I wasn't too worried about my lack of taper, plus I haven't raced anything tapered since the Houston Marathon, so racing on tired legs has become normal and I keep telling myself that surely it's good for me.  But on the other hand, when I bumped up to 80 mpw it sure showed me that I'd gotten comfortable with 70 mpw but wasn't comfortable at 80.  Side note:  last season mileage in the 70s still seemed very big to me and 60s felt normal, but this season 70s became normal.  Hopefully next season I can say that 80s are normal, but this time around I am feeling the increase!

Race morning started with thunderstorms, and the buses poised to transport us to the start of the point-to-point course were delayed to ensure runner safety.  The race director was great about giving updates and sharing his plans, but this is something that would have stressed me out if this had been a goal race.  As it was, I just rolled with the punches and chatted with Michelle on the bus until we made it out to the start.  I didn't have time for my full 3 mile warm up or strides, but I got in 2.2 miles and a few drills, with just enough time to spare to pee in a ditch.  Again, this was something that would have bothered me had this been a goal race (I didn't even do leg swings - the horror!), but I was just thankful I'd had enough time for what I did; at one time the race had thought they wouldn't start sending the buses until 30 minutes before the start due to the weather, which would have been a really tight timeline since it took about 20 minutes to drive to the start.  It sprinkled during my warm up and my shoes got pretty wet from puddles, but we didn't get rained on during the race.

The first mile of the course had a significant downhill drop, so many people got out fast.  I held back to what I felt was 6:20ish effort and ran a 6:05 first mile split (Strava said my grade-adjusted pace [GAP] was 6:21, so yay for my effort gauge!).  I saw four women get out ahead of me, and I knew who three of them were from Midwest racing and Strava.  I suspected one would be significantly faster than me, but I thought I could hang with the others so I didn't want to let them gap me by much (remember, I needed to finish in the top 3 to rationalize the cost of the trip!).  Mile 2 was all up incline, and I was aware of not putting in too much effort too early.  I pulled up with the ladies sometime in that mile and shortly after began chatting with Sharon.  I'd never officially met her before then, but we have a mutual friend and I knew who she was.  She mentioned that she was on PR pace at that point, and I told her I was supposed to run a split tempo workout but didn't see that happening anymore, so I hoped to keep plugging along at that pace, so we should go get her a PR.

We caught up with Chantalle, one of Sharon's Kansas City Smoke teammates shortly after, and Sharon encouraged her to join us in pacing together, which she did.  We also had men around us here and there.  Mile 3 had a some drop, then mile 4 was again incline.  If you've ever driven about any highway that goes into Kansas City, that's what the first 8 miles of this race were like - straight with long inclines and declines.  Early on I could feel the long inclines, but they weren't a problem; however, I knew that I was in for climbs during the race's final miles and was conscious of that.  I paid a lot more attention to my watch during this race than I have in any other race this season, partially because I wanted to hit the workout paces my coach had given me and partially because I wanted to help Sharon PR.
This is somewhere between 4-8

You can see the wet roads & our female pack

And you can see the long incline we are running up...also other
female runners make me look tall!
Mile 5 was fairly flat, then mile 6 had a huge drop.  It was my slowest GAP of the race, which I wasn't surprised about because I felt like I had the brakes on.  It was a mile you definitely could have hammered, but that could have come back to haunt your quads later in the race.  I was also conscious of not wanting to pound my legs during the peak of my marathon training - I would go straight into my biggest mileage week ever after this race.  Miles 7-8 had a gentle decline, which I enjoyed.  At that point Sharon, Chantalle, and I were all together, along with a man named Juvenal who trains some with Michelle (cue It's a Small World After All).  We came into town at mile 8 and I suddenly thought, "Wow, I feel good!"  I felt better than I'd felt at that point in my last 2 halves, which was particularly nice since I was running with two other women (no one wants to feel not good when running with a pack they hope to outlast!).  I'd been chatting most of the race and pushing the pace of our little pack without thinking much about it.

Shortly after that, Chantalle and Juvenal fell back and it was just Sharon and I.  Miles 9 and 10 had a little up and down but were generally pretty flat.  I checked our total time at mile 10 and told Sharon it was time to pound the final 5K for a huge PR for her.  I felt like it had become my duty to pull her along to a PR; I'd told her that we would be in the 1:21s, and in my runner's high state of mind I decided I was like Desi helping Shalane at Boston...helping someone else was helping me too!  I always find it amazing the bond that you can forge with someone through running miles next to them.  I was really excited to see her succeed!

Somewhere in mile 10 we started the confusing part of the course, which entailed switching between sidewalks and the road.  In several spots there were signs that had "right turn" indicated, but there were two paths to turn right on, and we made several mis-steps off the course.  Mile 11 was The Confusing Mile (also my least favorite mile - especially after the wonderful straightness of the first 8 miles), because it was super winding on paths through campus and it was really unclear which way to turn in multiple spots.  I assume the race wasn't allowed to spray paint on the campus paths because the rest of the course was better marked than that portion.  On 4-5 occasions I took steps in the wrong direction and had to correct.  I never went very far off course, but it affected my momentum more than anything.  I was leading Sharon by a couple of steps throughout this time, so sometimes led her wrong and other times she was able to go the correct way when a volunteer corrected me, and then we would be side-by-side again when I turned back the right way.  There were volunteers at all of the turns, which was nice, but most didn't voluntarily tell us which direction to go, so I also ended up asking more than I wanted to talk at that point in the race!  Mile 11 had some short but steep uphills, but overall the weaving was much harder than the elevation.
The drop from 6-8 was nice; the climb from 9-13 was not as nice
I knew that mile 12 had some elevation gain, and when we turned a corner to see a long uphill it was intimating.  I felt like I had a strong finish in me, but I don't think anyone wants to climb 70 feet during mile 12 of a half marathon.  I'd stopped looking at my watch after mile 10, and was just pushing to get both Sharon and myself in as quickly as possible.  I'm glad I didn't look at the mile 12 split because it was 6:34 - the GAP was 6:20 though, so although we did fall off pace a tad, it wasn't as bad as it looked.  I was happy to get over the hill and to shortly after see the mile 12 sign.  I'd pulled out a little on Sharon on the hill, and I think even though that climb hurt my time it likely was to my advantage competition-wise because I am more of a strength runner and generally good on hills.

I knew it was go time for me in the final mile, so I pushed with all I had left.  We had another long incline, then had to make a few turns in a parking lot going into the finish.  It was a massive stadium parking lot, and I was certainly feeling the race and the high mileage leading up to it on my legs, but I knew I couldn't let up.  I reminded myself that this wasn't about how I felt; it was about what I'd trained my body to do.  Sharon's husband and teammates were around the final stretches, encouraging her to get me, and I kept thinking that I had to keep the pedal on the gas or she was coming!  My final 1.13 was at 6:03 pace; my Garmin recorded it lumped together due to how I'd programmed the long forgotten workout into it.  As I rounded the final turn, a man told me, "You've got about 30 meters on her" and I was able to enjoy the final stretch because I knew that there wasn't enough real estate for her to make up that much distance.  I even remembered to smile for my finishing photos!
Final stretch
Clock shot by Jon Ibbetson

Professional clock shots

I really was smiling even though you can't see it!

How's this for running through the finish?  You can also see my
sweat-soaked pony tail.

5 of the top 10 finishers were women
running under 1:23:30!
Sharon came through just behind me, elated with her bright shiny new PR, and we hugged in the finish chute.  Michelle was in not long after that, and we all made quick fuel, water, and shoe change stops, then headed out for a cool-down together.  Michelle needed 5 more miles to hit 20 for the day, and I told here I'd run the whole way with her unless I got too hungry (typically low blood sugar is my biggest barrier for race cool-downs, but I carried some chews with me this time!). Sharon wasn't going to go the whole way with us, but after we couldn't find through streets where we thought they should be to get her back to the stadium, she ended up running the whole 5 too.
We look pretty good for having run over 20 miles!
The way my splits are recorded is proof that I
really intended to run the scheduled workout!
We then headed to the awards ceremony and received our awards from the legendary K-State coach Bill Snyder, the namesake of this race and the highway the first 8 miles were run on (his highway was the best part of the course!).  Luckily I did win enough prize money to pay for the trip!  After the race my family played in Manhattan with Jon's brother's family, which made the trip even more worth it.  When I told my coach about forgoing the workout and instead running 13.1 at the prescribed tempo pace, he responded, "I figured that might happen", haha!  At least I'm predictable!
Awards by Bill Snyder
Everyone wants to PR, and I am no different, but I feel that what I got from this race was just as valuable, and I am so thankful that I went to it.  I believe that if the final 5 miles of this course would have been more like the first 8, I would have PRed even without a taper.  I believe if I'd tapered I would have broken 1:20 (that 3% math is in my favor, equaling a 2:26 gain).  But none of that would get me to the Trials, and to hit a 1:21 half with 2 weeks of mileage in the 80s on my legs in warm weather was a huge confidence-booster going into Grandma's.  If I hadn't run this, I wouldn't have the confidence that I can race well in a long event at 70 degrees - because historically, I haven't! Remember 4 weeks before CIM I couldn't hit marathon goal pace in the Bass Pro Half Marathon in warm temps (I ran 1:23:50)?  Then there was my death march at the Dam to Dam Half Marathon, which was even a goal race that I tapered for (1:26:19 there when I was in at least 1:21 shape).  I should mention that the wind was very light for the Bill Snyder Half at 5 mph, which was a change from the Bass Pro race and from the other two halves I ran this season.  It was also cloudy, which feels cooler than the same temperature and sunny (fingers crossed for cloud cover at Grandma's!).  I also now know that my race shoes function just fine on wet roads and when soaking wet from puddles, so that is one less thing to worry about if it rains at future races!

I am excited to see what this all means at Grandma's in 4 weeks!  This season has felt very different to me than last season.  I've become more flexible and more thankful.  Leading up to CIM, I spent the whole cycle obsessing about focusing on a 2:45, and even though I didn't think I was quite ready for it on race day, nothing else was going to be good enough and I didn't enjoy my PR like I should have.  For most of my Grandma's build, I've felt like I have no chance of getting the standard this cycle.  Just recently I've started to think that maybe, just maybe, it's possible -- still not likely, but I don't think I will ever be confident about it because 6:17 pace is just so darn fast for 26.2 miles!  Whatever my best is on race day is going to be good enough though, and I am going to be thankful for it and for the process.  Each time I don't run 2:45, I will remember to be thankful that I can start another training cycle and keep trying...and for that reason I'm also thankful that I didn't get it at CIM or Houston, because my Grandma's cycle has been good for me in many, many ways.
My sister-in-law also raced, only a couple of
months postpartum with her 4th!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Nike Vaporfly 4% Shoe Review

The title "When you're desperate enough for a 2:45 that you'll pay $250 for a pair of shoes purported to make you 4% faster, even though you are highly skeptical..." was a bit too lengthy.

The short version:  I'm not convinced these shoes will help you race faster, but I am also not convinced that they won't.

The details:
Most runners have heard about the Nike Vaporfly 4% shoe by now.  I'm not going to include any details about the shoe's development, history, and supposed benefits, but you can read about those here, here, and here.  I'm going to write about my personal experience with the shoe, which I see as somewhat ironic because I work in a field where we always rely on research-based evidence above personal anecdotes.  But many people have asked what I think of them, so here is my opinion!

I purchased the shoes at the beginning of January, mainly because my 2:47 at CIM had me salivating for more and I'd known a handful of people who'd smashed already fast marathon PRs wearing Vaporfys in 2017 fall marathons. Although the shoes arrived about 10 days before the Houston Marathon, I wasn't bold enough to run the marathon in shoes I hadn't worn on a long long run and in a shorter race, but as it turned out I'd have needed way more than 4% in Houston anyhow!  I tried them out on a 2 mile tempo shortly after Houston, mostly because I wanted to test them while they were still within the return window, and I while ran faster than I expected to that day, I felt like there were too many variables at play to really judge much (the main one being that I was rested, a rare commodity in marathon training, since I'd taken time off/easy after Houston).

Since then I have raced four times in them, at the Big 12 12K, the Easter Sun Run 6.5 mile 10K, the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon, and the Illinois Half Marathon.  I wore them for a 5 mile tempo run and a split tempo workout prior to racing in them, and later in a 20 mile workout to ensure that my feet felt okay in them for longer distances.  I've done all of my other workouts and long runs in my "typical" training shoes, which are Hoka Cliftons.

What everyone wants to know first is do they make you faster?  Because we all want to run faster!  I even did the math before I purchased them...would a 4% increase get me from 2:47:14 to 2:45:00?  It turns out that mathematically I need a 1.5% improvement for about a 2:44:44 finishing time...sign me up for even half of the 4%!  So far, I don't think they actually make me any faster.  Whomp whomp!  The workouts I've done wearing them weren't any better than those I ran in my usual shoes.  I had one workout twice within a few weeks - 4 x 1 mile split tempos - so once I wore my Vaporflys and the other time I wore my Cliftons.  My splits for those two workouts were very close (neither were stellar), with the workout in the Vaporflys being a tad slower.  The workouts and long runs I've nailed have seemed more related to other factors, particularly the weather and feeling a bit more rested.

But, do they reduce fatigue?  I think they reduce leg fatigue, which in a marathon could certainly translate into faster finishing times.  Since I've only raced distances up to half marathons in them, I can't yet speak to how they influence my marathon performance...ask me again mid-June!  I have noticed that I've recovered quickly after runs in them, but I also can't say for sure if that is the shoes or the fact that I've been running higher mileage recently.  Racing 13.1 is going to take more out of you when you're used to running 50 mpw than when you're used to running 70 mpw.

How do they feel?  They feel much different than Hoka Cliftons and Saucony Kinvaras that I otherwise run in, which should come as no surprise because the heel to toe drops are very different, with my usual shoes being low drop and the Vaporflys having a high drop.  The Vaporflys feel stiff yet soft, and springly.  Their feel does make you think you'll be faster in them!  We all know that thinking is half the battle, so...  The first few times I ran in them my feet got slightly sore on the bottoms, I imagine because they are used to cushy Hokas, but since then I haven't had that issue again.

I am planning to race Grandma's Marathon in them next month, so I'll further evaluate them afterwards.  When you're whittling down your times, every little factor helps, so I figure why not try.  It's the same reason I'll wear a sports bra that doesn't rub, socks that don't blister, and (if it's sunny) sunglasses that eliminate squinting - every little bit helps.  At the same time, you can find me focusing daily on the other big and little factors:  my training (first and foremost!), core work, strength work, foam rolling, sleep, nutrition, heat acclimation, etc.  Even if a shoe does help, it can only help so much, and putting in the daily work is far more important.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Tale of Two Halves

If you follow my blog, you know that I raced two half marathons in April (if not, you can read more than you ever wanted to know about my races at the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon here and the Illinois Half Marathon here).  Running two of them two weeks apart really allowed me to compare the races.

First, I am happy to report that both races went well!  They were not PRs, but they were some of my top half performances.  I'm at the point where I need everything to align in order to PR, which means a very fast course, ideal weather, a taper, and competition to run with (I hope I can someday get fit enough to PR under bad conditions, but I am not there now).  For each of these races I only had one of these factors in my favor, but having people around me in both events certainly helped me get the best outcomes I could!
Finishing photos that didn't show how much fun I had racing were a common factor

The Courses:
Rock the Parkway
  • Out and back with a loop around a residential area and park, kind of a big P shape.
  • Hilly, with over 500 feet of gain.  
  • The most difficult uphills are in miles 2, 3, and 8. 
  • The most noticeable downhills are in miles 4 and 13. 
  • You cannot/should not run even splits because of the elevation.
  •  I think you can run fast on it, but it is not the fastest course you could find.  
  • Loop with some long straights but a lot of turns.
  • 215 elevation gain, but nearly all of that gain is unnoticeable incline.  There are no hills.
  • Winding residential roads and even more winding park path from miles 5-10.  Then mile 12 had a circle drive thing in it that I really disliked and might have run the wrong way on had I not been following someone closely.  On my post-race survey I suggested they remove that and move the starting line backward to make up the distance!
  • You can run pretty even splits since the elevation changes are minor.
  • Like RtP, I think you can run fast on this course, but I have definitely run much faster courses (most notably White River, Rock 'n' Roll Arizona, and the second half of the Phoenix Marathon, which is their half course).  However, these two are among the best spring races in the Midwest.
The Weather:
  • The weather was very similar for both races.  The starting temperatures were around 40* with wind chills around 30*.  The wind was over 20 mph at both events.
  • The temperature was perfect for me, and while obviously that strong of wind steals time from everyone's finishing time, I know the wind hurt me far less than a temperature of 70* with 100% humidity would have!
My Strategy:
Rock the Parkway
  • My plan for this one was to place as high as I could, ideally in the top 5 female positions.  I wanted to make sure I started conservatively, especially with the uphill in miles 2-3, but then I wanted to race, however strategically that played out.  I hoped this would get me a time I was happy with, but I didn't have much confidence at this point in my season.
  • I again planned to start conservatively, which is pretty much always my strategy so could probably go without saying.  I secretly hoped to beat my RtP time, but I also knew that it could be difficult since I'd run nearly all of RtP side-by-side with Janell, and running with someone always makes for a better performance.  I again wanted to place high in the field, but based on past results I knew it would take a PR for me to get into the top 3, and this year ended up being far more competitive, with the top 3 running 1:14-1:16 and 8 women breaking 1:20.
My Splits:
  • My Garmin splits are below for comparison purposes.  I ran more evenly at Illinois based on the terrain.
  • Both courses are certified, so both courses are 13.1 miles, but my Garmin read pretty differently.  This is related to the number of turns on the courses, as Illinois had waaaaay more.  My Garmin usually reads a little short (I'm still bitter that because of that Strava didn't give me credit for a full marathon at CIM!), but if there are a ton of turns it may read a little long.
  • I'd like to point out that although my Garmin split below has my RtP final mile at 5:53.0, my actual watch said it was 5:52.96, and I'm going with 5:52, haha!
  • I'd also like to point out the random start times of the races, at 7:03 a.m. and 7:34 a.m.  Illinois was officially supposed to start at 7:03, but I think RtP was supposed to start at 7:30.
  • I am pretty consistent with stopping my watch when I am 2 seconds through the finish, as both my official times were 2 seconds faster than I had on my Garmin.  Now if I could just remember to wait a little longer and to smile when I finish to get better photos!
  • Both races had high winds, but at Illinois we didn't have very long stretches running into them, which was a benefit of many turns on the course.  The main portion into the wind that I remember (and that my splits show) was mile 10, although many people mentioned that the final 5K was all into the wind.  At RtP, we ran into a headwind for miles 8-13, which definitely wore on me more and slowed those mile splits (in my opinion, by 10-15 seconds/mile when there was no block, so I think we'd have had a nice negative split without the wind).

Factors that helped me in both races:
  • Not looking at my watch.  I need to write a post just on this and how much it's changed my running this season!  At RtP I only looked at my mile 1 split (because I felt like we started slowly) and at Illinois I only looked at my 10K and 10 mile splits (because there were course clocks at those points and the 10K clock was wrong).
  • Not having goal paces or times.  This seems counter-intuitive because how can you expect to achieve goals if you don't have them, right?  I recently read that it's difficult to gauge your fitness during marathon training because you are always running on tired legs.  I didn't have a good gauge on my fitness going into RtP particularly; prior to RtP I'd only had one really good workout this season, and it was 20 miles long and occurred 6 days prior to RtP (too close to the race to obtain any physical benefits from, and it actually probably hurt my race at RtP...but it did give me a mental boost!).  Then at Illinois I wasn't sure how my legs would respond being 2 weeks off RtP, with a 21 miler the weekend between the races.  I wasn't tied to any specific pace goals, but wanted to run consistently and finish strong, with what my body had to give on race days.  I'm good at gauging my pace and what I have (even in terrible workouts I do not start fast then fade, I am simply consistently slow on my splits), so this meant I wasn't nervous at all.
Random thoughts about both races:
  • The higher mileage I'm running, the more 13.1 miles flies by!
  • I am proud of myself for being brave enough to race these without tapering.  
    • Before working with my coach, I never raced anything without at least taking the two days prior to the race off/light - generally for a Saturday race I would do Thursday off and Friday 2-3 miles, and for important races I'd do a short Wednesday also.  This meant that my weekly mileage was less consistent back then, which I now know held me back in my important races.  
    • I only started running 70 mile weeks in September 2017, but this season I ran solid halves during them.    
    • I run 7 days a week and my Fridays are always short, at 3-4 miles.  The Fridays before these races were no different, so although I don't count that as a taper since I run that every week, I do think it's worth noting that I had that short easy day in there so it was not as if I ran 8-10 miles the day before these races.
I'm glad I decided to run both of these races; I think they were just what I needed in April!

But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded. - 2 Chronicles 15:7

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Illinois Half Marathon: Just let it happen!

The short:
In my second un-tapered half in two weeks, I made it through 13.1 windy miles in 1:22:00, and felt like I got everything out of myself that I could have that day!  I started conservatively, ran without looking at my watch (aside from at the course clocks, which were at the 10K and 10 mile marks), and kept picking ponytails in front of me to try to chase down.  The race went by very quickly, I felt strong throughout, and I was able to close with a 19:04 final 5K and 6:02 final mile.  This was a competitive one - I won my age group (35-39), but was 11th female overall, which makes me feel old.  The race organizers did a fantastic job with the event - everything about the race ran smoothly and they treated me amazingly well as an elite entrant.  For that reason, I will return to this race, even though I did not like the curvy roads and paths that some of the course was on (don't even get me started on the circle drive thing in the final mile!).  My parents took the trip to the race with me, which was fantastic!

My official result is here.
My dad's video of my finish is here.
All smiles at the expo with my mom

The long:
Against better judgement/typical practices, I scheduled two half marathon races within two weeks during my marathon build-up and told my coach I didn't really need to taper for either of them.  For the Illinois Half Marathon, I secretly hoped to beat my time from Rock the Parkway on a flatter course, but I didn't know how my body would respond to racing two halves so close together, particularly when on the other weekends in April I ran 20+ milers.  My race plan was to just get out there and let it happen.

I traveled to the race with my parents, and greatly enjoyed the trip with them.  They may have enjoyed the perks that I received as an elite entrant even more than I did (they definitely liked the pre-race dinner lasagna!)!  There were several really fast women entered in the race, and although I'm not sure I will ever get over that impostor syndrome feeling when I line up with the elite field, I didn't feel intimidated before this race.  It's amazing how much not worrying about my split times and pace averages reduces my pre-race nerves!  I think I used to worry that I'd have to force my goal pace come hell or high water, and now I recognize that I can't force anything, but instead I'll push with all I have that day and it will be enough.  This also reduces my stress about factors I can't control, such as the weather and other runners.
I wasn't prepared for this photo, but it shows my
socks & the elite hospitality suite!
On Saturday morning I took advantage of the elite hospitality suite just off the starting line, then headed out for my usual 2-3 mile warm-up.  When my watch beeped 1 mile, I looked to see that I'd run a 7:17, which is faster than my warm-ups typically start (plus I'd felt like I was running about 8:15 pace).  Then when I ran my uptempo 3 minutes during my warm-up (with the goal of settling into half effort), I was at 5:56 pace, so I started thinking that perhaps I was going to have a good day!  On my warm-up I noted the strong wind that was going to be difficult to battle through when running north and west, but I was very thankful the temperature was cold (38* at the start), since this time of year can go either way!  That wind didn't help anyone, but a warm and humid day would have hurt my performance far more.
Can you find me?
I got on the starting line at the last minute, and dodged into the middle of the corral to tell my friend Julie, who was running the full marathon, good luck.  We talked for a couple of minutes while the wheelchair racers started, and then we were off.  There was quite a crowd for the first half mile or so, but it gradually thinned out.  I noticed many women out in front of me, and after the first couple of miles my race plan became to focus on the closest ponytail and move up, which was awfully reminiscent of Rock 'n' Roll Arizona last year and is probably my favorite way to race.  My pace felt brisk but comfortable, and I spoke with several other runners around me (a man who was running the marathon and was concerned he was starting out too fast, a woman who a mutual friend had identified to me as close to my pace and who I worked with for a bit, other racers who I briefly encouraged as I passed).  I got a lot of compliments on my compression socks!
Just keeping up my tradition of double chin
pose in race photos - I think it's part of my
running form!
The 10K mark came up relatively quickly, and was accompanied by a chip mat and course clock.  As we neared the clock, I saw it ticking to 40:50ish.  When I saw it, I thought, "Is this why I feel good??  Am I really running over 6:30 pace?!"  It became necessary to check my watch at that point, and it showed 38:5X, so I realized that course clock was started with the wheelchair racers who went off 2 minutes before the main field.  My 10K course split was 38:58, which is 6:16 pace.  I remember when my 10K goal was to break 39:00, so I always get a boost from seeing my 10K split times in halves in the 38s.

Shortly after we passed the 10K mark, we entered my least favorite part of the course, which included curvy residential roads followed by terribly curvy park paths.  I could not wait to get out of that park!  I kept chasing the women in front of me, but I was stuck in no-man's/no woman's land within the field at that point, and I couldn't hit a rhythm on the winding paths.  I knew from the course map that it had more turns than I'd prefer, but it was a big loop and didn't look nearly as bad as the winding areas were.  Partway through the park we turned directly into the wind and I felt like I was really losing it; the women I'd been gaining on seemed to be pulling out on me.  My mile 10 split confirms that these were pretty accurate thoughts!

I breathed a sigh of relief when we exited the park just before mile 10, even though we were still running into the wind.  I was slowly gaining on a man and kept telling myself to just get to him to tuck in behind him until we turned out of the wind.  Just as I was almost to him, another man came flying by me, just before the 10 mile clock.  I told myself to latch onto him, and then when we both passed the other man he latched onto us as well, so we had a pack and my adventures in no-man's land were thankfully over.  We passed the mile 10 clock at 1:02:56, which is 6:17 average, and I checked my watch to confirm that clock was correct.  I was vacillating between thinking, "If I run the last 5K in 19:00, I'll be in the 1:21s" and "What if I can't manage a 20:00 final 10K and I'm over 1:23?!"

I stayed with the stronger man (the other man dropped off) and running with him really helped me gain on the women in front of me.  He was in the full marathon and therefore not working nearly as hard as I was at that point of the race.  We passed one woman just before the mile 12 mark, and the man, who I'd spoken to enough to tell him that I was hanging onto him as long as I could, encouraged me to go get the other who was in sight ahead of me.  I pushed with all I had for the final mile, pulling ahead of the man before the full marathoners split off, and gained a lot of ground on the woman.  As we came into the stadium finish, I knew I didn't have enough distance to catch her, but I never let off, particularly when I saw the finishing clock.  I gave it my all to get through the line in a time starting with 1:21, but my official time ended up being 1:22:00.  Since they didn't give us tenths of a second on our official times, I'm just going to assume it was rounded and was truly between 1:21:59.6-1:21:59.9, haha!  My average pace for the course was 6:15, although my Garmin read a shade faster on pace and longer on distance; there was no hitting all of those tangents. 
Watch-stopping photos are also my tradition
Post-race glow
Garmin splits - I was pleased with my pacing
aside from mile 10 (Strava said the GAP was
6:21, which is not quite as bad but not what I
wanted consistency-wise)
This is my third best half finishing time, although my Garmin pace was 1 second/mile faster than what I ran in my second best time at Rock 'n' Roll Arizona.  The Arizona course was faster (and straighter) than this one and the weather better there, plus I tapered for that race and for my PR half, but even without those details I'm pleased to run one of my top times.  I'd say this is my second best half when you consider all of those factors, and I am proud that it came during a 70 mile week.  Last season I was so caught up in thinking that I had to break 1:20 in the half before I could try for 2:45 in the full, and while that would still certainly be ideal, I felt no pressure to do it in this half or at Rock the Parkway without tapering or peaking.
Expo posing
I truly found joy in the journey during this race, and just letting the best performance I had that day come out of me.  I ended up with 20 miles for the day, and I think anytime you make a half race into a 20 mile day it's a success!  I can't thank my parents enough for all of the races they've accompanied me to over the years, and for their unconditional support.  They would be just as proud of me if I ran a 2:21 vs. the 1:22, which is so much more meaningful than any race time.  I never appreciated them as much as I began to when I became a parent myself.

7 weeks after this race, it will be time to run a full marathon!
My parents have selflessly traveled the U.S.
with me as I've pursued running goals
They are truly amazing and the best supports I
could ever ask for!