Thursday, June 28, 2018

Caffeine Taper, Pre-Race Meals, & Marathon Day Nutrition

What you run during race week matters, but not nearly as much as what you’ve been running consistently during marathon training. Much in the same way, what you eat race week and race day matters, but isn’t as important as what you’ve been consistently eating throughout your training build. Really, you can’t gain much based on either just before the race, but you can screw it all up! Everyone knows not to run 15 miles the day before the race and not to eat jalapeno poppers the night before the race, but we all like hearing about how everyone else fine tunes their tapers and their fueling. Here is what works for me!

Before my last 3 marathons I've done a caffeine taper.  One week before a marathon I cut out all caffeine. I usually stop drinking coffee about 3 weeks before, then gradually wean myself down with tea and nuun energy. My caffeine taper wasn’t easy before Grandma’s Marathon, and I almost gave in on the first day when I experienced a withdrawal headache, but I made it through! Caffeine is a proven performance-enhancer, and by abstaining for 4-5 days before a goal race, you can theoretically maximize the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine on race day. I just do a full week off of it so I can begin my abstinence on a non-work day! I first read about this technique in a couple of blog posts by Neely Spence-Gracey (found here and here). On a typical day when I am not doing a caffeine taper, I drink one travel mug sized cup of coffee each morning during my commute (after my early morning run). On some key workout and long run days I have a nuun energy tab in water prior to my run (1-2 times a week at most), and sometimes I’ll have a cup of tea or a nuun energy tab mid- to late- morning at work, so I'm not consuming pots of coffee, multiple energy drinks, etc. at any time (those drinking several caffeinated beverages daily might struggle with something like this more).

The week leading up to the race, I eat the same as I’ve been eating the entire training cycle, which I would describe as mostly clean and well-balanced. I eat from all of the food groups and emphasize whole and natural foods. I don't count macros or calories or subscribe to a specific diet plan. I eat quite a bit of fiber on a regular basis (whole grains, fruits, veggies), and don’t change that because it doesn’t adversely affect me during races.

In the final 3 days before the race, I increase the percentage of carbs I’m eating. I still don’t count anything, but make common sense substitutions (oatmeal and toast instead of an omelet for breakfast, fruit and pretzels for snacks, two potatoes and a small piece of chicken instead of a large chicken breast and one potato, etc.). I also add more electrolytes into the water I’m drinking, using nuun.

I try to keep my food choices familiar, including packing quite a bit of food when traveling to races. We left home for Grandma’s on Thursday morning, so I had 6 meals between home and the race, and I packed 4 of them. I ate out for dinner on Thursday (a chicken, rice, and veggie bowl that was very brown rice-heavy), and for lunch on Friday (a Subway foot-long on whole grain with eggs and all the veggies), all typical foods for me. I packed a cooler with a couple of servings of a leftover quinoa/lentil dish that I ate for Thursday’s lunch and Friday’s dinner -- yes, I ate lentils the night before the race, along with a sweet potato with I said, fiber doesn't bother me. I also packed some hard boiled eggs and lots of carby snacks (fruit, pretzels, bars, bagels, electrolyte chews).

Race morning I eat a large baked sweet potato without skin about 3 hours before the race. I also start sipping on nuun energy in water, which contains electrolytes and caffeine (40 mg/tab and I have 2 tabs). I gradually drink this, finishing most of it by an hour before the race. 2 hours before the race, I begin sipping Generation UCAN vanilla mixed with either almond milk or water. I use 3 scoops of UCAN so it’s pretty dense calorie-wise but doesn’t weigh heavy on my stomach, which is important because I am used to running on an empty stomach.

During the race, I take 3 Accel gels, around the 10K, 20K, and 30K marks. Each of these gels contains 40 mg caffeine. At Grandma’s I picked them up at miles 5, 13, and 19 because those were the closest bottle stops to where I wanted them. I had water in the bottles I took with the gels. I also placed nuun energy (half a tab per bottle) at miles 7, 15, 22, and 24. I drank probably half the 8 oz bottles at 7 and 15, and the whole bottle at 22 (that was a mistake though, because I got a terrible side cramp that lasted 2 miles after I did it). I didn’t take the bottle at 24; it was mainly just there for if I was dying and fortunately I wasn't. I took sips of water at some other course stations. In most previous marathons I’ve drank water only, because the sports drinks on course always seem to be mixed to different strengths and the brands don’t always agree with me, so I prefer to rely on my gels with water. CIM had nuun (not nuun energy though) on course so I took some of it there.

All of this in combination works great for me! I feel like I have enough fuel to sustain me throughout the race and don’t experience any stomach or GI issues. Nutrition and especially during-race fueling is different for everyone, so I encourage you to practice your race day plans before and during long training runs and workouts so you know it will work for you. I’ve done this overall routine for 6 marathons now and it’s gone smoothly each time. I’ve only done the caffeine taper part 3 times, and it's certainly the hardest part, but every second counts!
During race nutrition

Grandma’s Marathon: The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race

Onto the next!

Although I did not run a PR or a 2:45, I really felt like I ran the best marathon I could have on that course that day.  I had 8 weeks of terrible-ness at the beginning of this training cycle, before gradually coming back to good.  By the time I really hit my stride around the time of the Bill Snyder Half, I was only 4 weeks out from Grandma's and didn't have enough time to make the gains I needed to improve as much as I needed to in order to hit those times.  But after all, if I accomplish all of my goals today, whatever would I do tomorrow?

Some of my satisfaction about this marathon was because I chose thankfulness, but it was also related to my expectations for the race.  I really didn't expect to get the standard, and I was stuck on 2:48 as an ideal day time.  I told Jon about 50 times that I thought I'd run 2:48.  I think I was right on with that expectation, because I probably lost 30 seconds during my 2 miles of cramping, so on an ideal day I would have run a 2:48.  I'm pretty good at predicting what I can do - I was also stuck on 2:46-2:48 prior to running 2:47 at CIM!  I guess this means that if I ever actually think I can run the 2:45, I will probably be right...but that doesn't mean I won't try again even when I feel like I'm not quite there.  One thing is for sure, I'll never get it if I don't try.

This training cycle and race taught me not to take improvement, gains, or my health for granted.  I was blessed with a really nice progression without any injuries from the first time I broke 3 hours in October 2016 until CIM.  With my injury history, it's truly a miracle that I haven't had any issues since February 2016.  I didn't have any injuries this cycle, but I had a health issue (and all kinds of wonky blood work values) that really affected my training and daily quality of life for about 8 weeks.  After I started feeling better, I really realized how terrible I'd felt.  I'm proud of myself for persisting through that, although everyone I train with or interact with on a frequent basis heard me say multiple times that I might not even run Grandma's (sorry for all of that whining).  I had several weeks where I couldn't hit 6:27 pace (my average pace at Grandma's) for even 1-3 minute durations during fartleks!

Although I admit I'm impatient about improvements, which is exacerbated by the fact that I can't run quality marathons back to back to back (Houston was a harsh reminder that although I've done two close together successfully, trying that is not guaranteed to work out) -- when I take a step back I am extremely thankful that in the span of 20 months, I have run 6 sub-3:00 marathons and 3 in the 2:40s.  I'll keep plugging away, and trust that God's plans are better than my dreams...but also always aim to remember how many of my running dreams have already come true!  After all, I used to think 2:59:59 was my max.

This article about Kellyn Taylor's break-through performance at Grandma's really spoke to me.  She noted that it wasn't just the training block before Grandma's that set her up for a 4 minute PR; it was the 3 years of training leading up to it.  This illustrates the importance of continuing to show up and having faith that eventually it will all come together!

I've noted before that I will keep trying for that 2:45 until I get it or until the qualifying window closes in January 2020, and I still feel that way.  However, I have learned that I will never make running a 2:45 my singular marathon goal.  I plan to go back to CIM in December 2018 to chase the joy of the marathon!

Grandma’s Marathon: Post-race feels

I finished happy and thankful.  So often we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to enjoy the journey, but I enjoyed not only the marathon but all of the miles and experiences leading up to it.

After I finished, I was immediately handed my elite gear bag, and walked through the chute smiling for photos and looking to the sidelines for my family.  I spotted my parents first, and Albani and Jon (who got to sit in special bleachers) a few minutes later.  I think they weren't quite sure how I was doing physically or emotionally; my parents were worried I'd experienced vertigo because of my form coming in.  I do need to figure out the neck cramping thing because it makes me run slightly leaned back with my head tilted back, which surely can't be ideal.
Smiles for miles
I made my way through the finishing area, seeing a handful of other runners I knew or had met during the race along the way.  I grabbed food and drink, changed in the provided changing tent (they even had baby wipes and travel size deodorant in there!), and found my way to an exit to meet back up with my family.  We snapped some photos on the lake before heading back to our hotel.  One thing I learned on this Minnesota trip is how much colder any given temperature feels when you're near Lake Superior!

Albani's sign says "love will keep you going"

My sweet mom
The best cheer crew
We all felt like we walked a marathon in this skywalk
throughout race weekend!
I rode my post-marathon high for all it was worth all day!  I received a complimentary massage with my elite pass.  I never splurge for massages but it was heavenly!  The masseuse commented that my calves were in the best shape of anyone he'd seen so far (as in, the least beat up from the race).

Race evening, I attended a post-race VIP reception with my family.  I even changed out of running clothes for it.  We all enjoyed the food (I had 2 loaded plates!), band, and hearing honors for special race contributors.  I fell into bed that night feeling blissful but of course still wanting more.  With the help of a muscle relaxer, I even slept 5-6 hours that night!  Post-marathon insomnia is real - I've had a handful where I haven't slept at all the night of - but now I know that with a heavy med (plus another Melatonin when I woke up in the middle of the night) I can sleep some.  And that is yet another thing that I'm extremely thankful for!
My angelic family

My dad loved the elite treatment even
more than I did!
Our only photo together in non-
running clothes, ever

She was a big fan of the meatballs &
complimentary water bottle

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Grandma’s Marathon: Closing 10K

Mile 20 is the halfway point of a marathon.

The race doesn't really start until mile 20.

It's scary how much time you can lose in the final 10K, but it's exciting how much time you can gain.

I could go on, but anyone who has run a marathon knows that the final 10K is a different beast!  I've run enough that I've experienced all kind of variations of final 10Ks, from the preferred strong finish/fastest 10K of the race type, to the death march type.  I know how I "should" feel at mile 20, and that is about how I felt at this mile 20.  I thought I could get a solid final 10K out of my legs, but not much more -- but at the same time nothing is ever for certain until you actually cross that finish line.

The Grandma's course enters Duluth a little before mile 20, and the increase in spectators and noise on the course is very evident.  I felt like I'd been running mostly alone for miles, but after 20 I was suddenly barreling past people (if you can negative split or even split a marathon, this will always, always occur at the end, and it makes me feel like a rock star).  It gave me a great boost and kept me occupied - look ahead, catch him/her, repeat.

I picked up my bottle of nuun energy at mile 22, and decided I should drink the whole thing for the caffeine, which I now think was a mistake.  Around this same time, it started raining just as I came to the race's infamous Lemondrop hill.  I remembered the general location from the course tour, but as I was running up it I thought, "Surely this isn't it; it must be on the other side of this tiny hill", but at the top of the incline spectators were screaming that we were up Lemondrop.  That was a nice feeling, but I didn't have much time to enjoy it before I got a horrible side cramp in my left side around 22.5.  I didn't let myself panic over it, because although it was a sharp stabbing dagger, I've encountered similar cramps before and have been able to work through them.  I tried to breathe it out but nothing seemed to help.  I could tell the pain was affecting my form, but there wasn't anything I could do except keep going.  I felt like I was falling off pace, but I was still passing people and kept pushing with all I could.

I'd had the cramp for nearly 2 miles and had pretty much just accepted that I was going to finish the race with it, when it abated around the same time the rain shower ceased!  At that point I was around 24.5, and I felt like I could really crank it in through the finish, even though my neck was cramping somewhat (similar to what I experienced at CIM but nowhere as severe).  I also knew we had more decline than incline after that point.  I was around many more runners than I'd seen for miles, and I could see a few woman ahead of me so kept pushing to catch them.
Somewhere in 24 or 25
Around mile 25 I heard a spectator tell another runner, "You've gotta move if you want under 2:50", and that spurred me on because I was determined to be under 2:50.  It's probably good I didn't know how much cushion I had or I might not have kicked as hard.  I could hear the finish line announcer as I navigated through the final turns of the course.  I saw two clocks on the course, but there were no signs by them indicating distance so they were meaningless; it never even occurred to me that I could look at my watch to find out.

When I rounded the final turn and spotted the finish line, I really kicked it into high gear.  There was one more woman in sight and I was determined to pass her, and I did so with authority (you can see her behind me in the first picture below).  I heard the announcer saying my name and my family cheering.  I tried to smile and my heart swelled with thankfulness as I crossed that line in my second fastest marathon time of 2:49:08.
Final stretch

Gritting it out
Almost there!
I ran through that finish!


Elevation of the final 10K

How 'bout that 6:12 final mile & 5:55 pace final 0.2?! I can
barely run 800 m repeats at 5:55 in training, bahaha!

Grandma’s Marathon: Half through 20

As I entered the second half of the race, I felt good but not good enough to put the pedal to the metal.  For most of the race, I just felt like I was running exactly what I could maintain for 26.2 miles.  When my coach asked me afterward how I felt the majority of the race - all-out effort, strong, fast, etc. - the only way I could answer was that it felt like the maximum pace I could sustain for a marathon, and I still can't think of a better way to describe it.

After the half, I ran with the man in the red jersey for a bit, then moved back into No Man's Land.  Although I felt fine enough physically, I went through my roughest patches mentally during this portion of the race.

Thoughts like, "I'm never going to be good enough to run the 2:45" started creeping in.  I began wondering if this race was worth it, knowing I wouldn't PR or run the standard.  Why had I trained for so many months to at best run a 2:48?  Was I even going to make it under 2:50?  I was disappointed that race day magic hadn't made 6:15 feel easy and maintainable.  I was angry that I couldn't force my body run a faster marathon.  I wondered what I'd done wrong, and what all of the women ahead of me were doing better.

But I fought the negative, reminding myself of the progress I've made and how just 18 months prior I'd never have believed I could run a marathon at 6:2X pace.  It's so easy to want more, but often so hard to appreciate how far we've come.  I reminded myself to be thankful that I'd made it to this marathon, after how poorly my training cycle had started.  I was truly thankful, but sometimes when I'm getting tired it's more difficult to remember!
Based on my posture, this was probably
taken after mile 20, but I need a photo!
It was also in this section of the race that I realized how terrified I was of finishing this race feeling like I felt at the end of CIM.  I did not want to experience that again; I wanted to err on the side of being conservative to avoid it.  I was also scared about the time that can potentially be lost in the final miles of a marathon.  I can take end-of-race physical pain, but the mental anguish of falling off pace while fighting with every ounce of my being to stay on is harder for me to handle.  Sometimes in a marathon, there is just nothing you can do to make your legs do what you want them to do.  I'm not sure I'll ever get completely over being unable to force my body to move any faster at the end of CIM, but I didn't really realize that until this portion of Grandma's.

The half to mile 20 was a net uphill, and although it was hardly noticeable when running, it influenced my splits particularly in miles 17 and 20 (I think it's clear why from the elevation profile).  I am thankful for many reasons that I didn't run this race by my watch, and this is one of them!  My Strava grade-adjusted paces were more even than my actual splits, which I am very proud of.

The closer I got to mile 20, the more runners I started reeling in and the more spectators I saw lining the streets.  The mile 20 clock read 2:08:5X as I passed (officially 2:08:51), and I told myself to give it my all and try for a sub-40 final 10K.  I took an inventory of how I felt, and noted that I had more left than I'd had at that point at CIM (but also that my time at 20 at CIM had been 2:06:10).  Nothing hurt or felt off.  I was fatigued but didn't feel like I was going to bonk, which is always promising!  I reminded myself to run the final 10K with joy and thankfulness, with all my legs had in them.

Elevation profile


Grandma’s Marathon: 6.2 to halfway there

After passing the 10K, I continued on at my maintainable effort through the next major checkpoint: the half marathon mark.  The course was covered in fog and Lake Superior was visible on the left hand side of the course.  I kept my gaze focused ahead, working towards runners in front of me.  I was running alone, but I spotted a pack ahead of me with women in it and worked on pulling them in. 
I have no idea where this picture was taken,
but we will say it was in this section!
My second bottle (nuun energy) was at mile 9, and my pick up there went smoothly.  The volunteers can't hand you your bottles per USATF rules, but they can help you locate them.  At this aid station and all of the subsequent ones, there was someone standing before the bottle tables who would call out the numbers of any elites coming through, and then a volunteer at the bottle table would point to the correct bottle.  I was never running with another elite at an aid station, so I'm not sure how this worked when multiple elites came through together, but it was extremely helpful for me!  I'd considered putting pipe cleaners or a plastic flower on my bottles to make them easier to locate, but decided against it because I thought that would annoy me when carrying and drinking, but I can certainly see why people do that.

From the course tour, I remembered the bus driver saying that mile 10 on the course was the fastest mile, and mile 11 was one of the slowest.  I also remember reading a blog post about the 2016 event that said the same thing, and my splits agree.  During the race, mile 10 sure felt easy.  There was a clock at the 10 mile mark, but I don't remember what my time was when I passed it.

I caught up to the pack just after mile 10, and they were running in almost a triangle formation like the Breaking 2 project.  I wasn't sure if it was intentional or not, but it almost seemed like the men were helping the women.  I slipped in at the back of their pack.  No one was talking and I couldn't get a read on the situation, but I was momentarily hopeful that I'd found people to run with. I sat in there for about a mile before I felt like they were slowing and I needed to move on.

After leaving that pack, I focused on a man in a red jersey and worked to pull him in.  I did, shortly before the mile 13 aid station, which had another of my bottles (water with a gel).  I grabbed that without a hitch and was working on it when I saw the half clock and mat.  The clock read 1:24:5X when I came though, and I didn't even think to double check my watch because that seemed reasonable, but my actual half split was 1:24:36 so that clock was a bit off.  I settled into running with the man in red, offered him the remainder of my water before I tossed it (he took it with his gel), and did a little bit of math on projecting my finishing time based on my pace, my effort level, and the second half of the course.

We still had cloud cover and wetness around, and the temperature was staying cool.  I was working on my second gel and tackling the second half of the marathon.  I like to come through the half feeling like I can definitely do that again, and I did (in contrast to 10Ks where I never feel like I can run another 5K at my pace halfway through).  I knew I wouldn't be able to pull of a 2:45, but hoped I had a negative split in me.
Elevation of 6.2-13.1...I think
it's clear why mile 10 was easy!


Grandma’s Marathon: Opening 10K

The first 10K of a marathon is kind of like the first day of a new school year or a new job.  You're excited and euphoric, it feels easy, and anything seems possible...but on the other hand, you know it's only a small portion of the work.  As I've gotten faster at the marathon, I've noticed that marathon pace isn't as easy as it used to be, even early on -- but thanks to tapering and race day magic, it's still the easiest 6:25-6:30 paced miles I've ever run!

The race was crowded initially, but thinned out over the first few miles.  I was running with/near Nichole and we were hitting the miles just as we wanted.  I felt comfortable and was also happy that cloud cover had rolled in.  The first 4 miles of the race was the only time I monitored my splits, and they were right where I wanted to be starting out.  I was hoping they would feel even easier than they did, though, since those first miles were a net downhill, but I chalked it up to needing some time to fully warm-up.  I also reminded myself that while it wasn't extremely easy, it felt very maintainable.
Nichole's husband took this shot, & I don't
like how I looked but it's all I've got & she
reminded me that we should not be so
critical of ourselves!
I lost Nichole somewhere after mile 4, and although we'd discussed running our own races I was regretful because I love having someone to work with and support.  From then on I never had anyone to run with for very long, but I could always see other runners so it was much better than the nearly 20 miles I ran without seeing anyone in Prairie Fire 2016!

My first bottle was at the aid station just after the mile 5 marker.  The first aid station was at mile 3, so I'd been able to scope out how the elite bottles were placed.  We'd been told they would be on the right side of the road, before the aid station, in numerical order, but I wasn't sure how men's and women's would be distinguished.  As it turned out, the tables were very well-marked with huge signs that said male and female elite fluids, so it was clear which table I needed to go to.

As I approached the first bottle spot, I looked for my bottle and thought I spotted it, but ended up grabbing someone else's that had the same color of duct tape as mine (I think it was F49).  I had to step back to the table and replace hers and grab mine, which I believe is why my mile 6 was a little slower (although looking at the elevation it was also uphill).  If that bottle hadn't had a gel on it, I'd have probably just put hers back and run on to the main aid station, but I knew if I missed a gel that early I'd stress about it, so it was worth a few seconds for peace of mind.  I carried one gel in case I missed any of my bottles, but I didn't want to use it for my first one and have the pressure of being on point with bottle pick up when I'd assuredly be much more fatigued at mile 19.  I held my gel for a bit before starting to sip on it, since I usually start it around mile 6.  It usually takes me about a mile to finish each gel, because I take them slowly to avoid stomach upset (this works like a charm for me; I've never had any issues with gels).

The first course clock was at the 10K, so I knew I was at 39:5X and around 6:26 average pace, which I thought was perfect.  It made me a little sad to compare, because in my last two marathons I'd come through the 10K closer to 39:30, but I also knew that even if I had a dream day, I'd never regret going out a little slower!  No marathon PR is ever secured in the first 10K, but many are lost there.

Elevation for first 10K

Splits for first 6 miles (course 10K was 39:58)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Grandma’s Marathon: Race morning anticipation

I woke up before my alarm on race day (as per always!), feeling fresh and ready (as per never this season since this was the first race I tapered for!).  Since there was an elite bus departing straight from my hotel, Jon and Albani didn't have to wake up early and I got ready quietly while they slept.  It was silent and a little lonely, but I was glad they didn't have to be up at 5:00 a.m.  I checked the weather (51 degrees/100% humidity), ate, drank, dressed, pinned on my bib, foam rolled, double checked my gear bag, and took a final look at my phone before leaving it for Jon and heading down to the hotel lobby.
I took this to send to my parents so they'd
be able to spot my outfit, but it's my only
pre-race photo!
I met Michelle in the hotel lobby, and we waited for a few minutes in a crowd of elites before boarding the coach bus that would drive us out 26.2 miles so we could run back - a little ironic, right?  I was calmly excited.

The bus dropped us off near the elite staging area, and I bundled up to stay warm until I started my warm up.  I looked around in awe at the other elites and chatted with Michelle and Jamie.  When I was sitting in the elite tent, I felt warm and started worrying that the sun was going to make things steamy by our 7:45 a.m. start, but when I exited the tent I realized how much warmer it was inside it than out.

I did my usual easy mile warm-up and some drills and glute activation, then made a final bathroom stop.  At that point many elites were a little frantic because the organizers were announcing that we needed to get to the starting line before the wheelchair races set out, which was 5 minutes earlier than everyone had planned.  I felt like I was ahead of many others in the process (several people were changing shoes or waiting in line for the bathroom still), so didn't worry as I dropped my gear bag.  I spotted Nichole and waited for her to drop her gear bag so we could get on the starting line together.

We lined up towards the front but far enough back to avoid getting pulled out too fast.  The sun was shining, which made for a picturesque start.  Without any fanfare, we were sent on our way!  26.2 miles back to where we started!

Grandma’s Marathon: Elite excitement & expo

My experience as an elite athlete at Grandma's Marathon was truly unlike any I've had before!  I can see why many runners return to this event year after year.  I was honored to receive an elite entry, especially because this race boasted many true elites, including eventual winner Kellyn Taylor, who is now the 7th fastest ever American female marathoner.

I received helpful email communication from the elite coordinator leading up to the race, including hotel and travel information, weekend schedules, and documents detailing the elite packet pick-up, bottle procedures, buses to the starting line, and post-race events. This added to my pre-race excitement, although it was also intimidating!
Hospitality room
Jon, Albani, and I arrived in Duluth late-morning on Friday, just a half hour after my parents arrived.  There was a media luncheon offered to elite entrants on Friday, but since we were unsure what time we would arrive, I didn't want to commit to attending.  We checked into our hotel upon arrival, then walked to the convention center, which was probably around a mile from our hotel via a skywalk (this was extremely helpful since it rained much of the time we were in town)!  We went straight to the elite hospitality room, where I picked up my packet and dropped off my bottles to be placed on the course.  I was so excited that I would NOT have to carry my gels in my shorts!  While there, we talked with my coach and his wife, who was an elite entrant in the half marathon.  Albani enjoyed the snacks that everyone else was passing up (there was also fruit, bagels, baby carrots with dip, bars, etc. and several drink options).
Fueling like a future elite, hah!  I think it's
clear that Jon was supervising her when she
filled this plate.
I placed these at 5 (gel), 9, 13 (gel), 15, 19 (gel), 22, & 24
From there we took a brief look around the main expo, then hopped onto a bus tour of the course that was complimentary with my elite badge.  I also met up with Michelle in line for the bus.  As we were waiting to board the bus, a significant storm rolled in.  The course tour was not that informative because of the heavy rain; it was difficult to see much of anything.  It was fun to hear the driver's commentary and I tucked away a few bits of information about Lemon Drop hill and the final miles.  Otherwise it was just a bus driving straight into a torrential downpour of grayness!
Main expo
I needed the sign my mom has at Bass Pro 2016!

We talked often during our training cycles,
which made sharing race day extra fun
After the course tour we ended up going back to the elite room to pick up passes for the other members of my family to attend the post-race VIP reception.  My timing worked out well, because I met up with Nichole there.  We'd connected several months ago, and both have the long-term goal of running the OTQ standard for 2020, but also both felt like we weren't quite there for Grandma's.  We planned to start out together around 6:30 pace, and it was great to meet her in person beforehand.
Marathon signs were everywhere!
Then I headed back to our hotel with Jon and Albani, and my parents headed back to their RV.  Our hotel had a race hospitality room too, and we stocked up on fruit and Clif bars wherever we went.  Marathon excitement was truly wherever we went as well!  I prepared all of my race gear, foam rolled, did legs up the wall, and rested a bit in the hotel room while Jon took Albani swimming.  We ate dinner in our hotel room and were in bed by 9:00 p.m.!
My Golden Ticket for the weekend!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Grandma’s Marathon: There's more than one way to success & thankfulness

Every marathon is a different adventure, and the person who starts the race is never the same person who finishes it.  Anyone looking to maximize personal growth within a few hours should race a marathon!  Grandma’s Marathon was a 2 hour 49 minute 8 second finale to a training block that made me a more thankful person.
Almost there!
Race morning brought nearly perfect running weather, with temperatures in the 50s and overcast skies.  The much lower than expected temperatures made it impossible to complain about 100% humidity.  I wrote the verse “With God all things are possible - Matthew 19:26” on my arm; only because of Him did I even make it to this marathon after a rocky start to the training block.  On the bus ride to the starting line I was thankful that it wasn’t hot or a deluge, both of which had been forecasted at some points. I was thankful for the amazing perks I received as an elite athlete in this event, which included a nice bus from our hotel to the start, an elite tent/staging area (Kellyn Taylor was in there too!), separate porta-potties and bag checks, and the ability to have my own bottles placed on the course (more elite details coming in later posts).  I was also thankful to share the bus ride with my friend Michelle, just like we had before the Bill Snyder Half four weeks prior.
My race verse
I stuck to my typical pre-race warm up and routines, found Nichole who I planned to pace with at the beginning, and felt ready to go on the starting line.  Although anytime I line up for a marathon, the 2:45 standard is on my mind, I knew it would be a huge stretch off of the training cycle I’d had, and we planned to start at 6:30 pace. I am pretty good at gauging what I have to give, so I knew that once I got rolling I’d know if I should stay at that pace or drop.

I started with Nichole and her friend Craig (you can read Nichole's race report here). The pace felt perfect as a marathon effort and the crowds thinned out. I looked at my first 4 mile splits and then switched to effort-based racing. I suspected my pace would drop a little as I got more warmed up and into a groove, but I didn’t want to force it down in an effort to hit certain splits and have that come back to haunt me later in the race like happened at Houston. One thing I’ve learned about marathoning is that just because you’re in shape to run a certain pace doesn’t mean you’ll be able to run that pace on race day, and forcing it early sure doesn’t do you any favors!  Plus I wasn't actually at a fitness level to run 6:17 pace; I just had a small outside hope that race day magic would happen, but knew 6:20-6:30 was more realistic.

I wrote additional posts with the details of each section of the races (links below), but overall the miles flowed and I felt like I was running at the correct effort-level for me that day. I was thankful to be out there feeling good, although like any long race some parts were easier and some were rougher.  I saw course clocks at the 10K, 10 mile, half, and mile 20, so I knew about where I was at based on those. After pulling away from Nichole and Craig during mile 5, I never ran with anyone for more than a mile or so, but I kept focusing on the runners ahead of me and working towards them.  I'm pretty good at getting stuck in no man's land no matter how large the race, and the faster you're running the more likely that is to occur!

At mile 20, I felt like I had more left than I’d had at that point at CIM, which I was thankful for -- I was also about 2:40 slower so that probably had a lot to do with it!  Although I loved the Grandma’s course (especially the straightness of it!) and would describe it as flat, the first half is a net downhill and from the half to about 23 is a net uphill. It’s not enough that you notice it racing, but it influences pace, especially when you're getting nit picky about seconds. I wasn’t sure how my body would respond in the final 10K, but I tried to focus and to catch and pass as many people as I could.

Elevation profile
The closer I got to the finish line, the thicker the spectators became, and the more confident I became about having a strong finish. I drank my entire 8 oz bottle of nuun energy at mile 22, mainly for the caffeine, and shortly after I developed a terrible side cramp. It persisted from about 22.5-24.5, and I was able to keep running but wow it hurt. I’d kind of accepted that I’d have it through the end, so was extremely thankful when it abated and I was really able to cruise in.  It also rained for awhile starting around 23 and Lemon Drop "hill".  I developed some neck pain in the final few miles, which I've experienced at the end of my last 3 marathons now, and although it made me lean back a bit and tilt my head upward, it was nothing major (at CIM it was debilitating, but at Houston was also fairly minor).

Around mile 25 I heard a spectator say “You’ve gotta move if you want under 2:50” to someone, and I thought “I sure want under 2:50!” and moved with all I could, which meant a 6:12 final mile and 5:55 pace final 0.2. After 25 miles with only 4 turns (all added to the course they've run in the past, due to construction, and all after mile 20), the final mile of the course had 5 turns, but I thought it was almost helpful at that point because it made it easier to lie to myself about how close I was to the finish line! There were also 2 clocks in the last mile, although they weren’t marked with distances so weren’t actually helpful; it never occurred to me that I could look at my watch to check the distance, but I don't think knowing would have changed anything at that point.
I remember running over this, I think
in mile 24 or 25
As I came down the final straight, I was again filled with thankfulness for making it to the finish line, for making it through my training cycle, for being 100% healthy, for my third marathon in the 2:40s, and for my second fastest marathon ever.  My smile in this photograph that was taken just after I finished (and was immediately handed my gear bag - another wonderful elite perk) says it all!
Few things match the thrill of the
Results & official course splits
My official results, along with a lot of fun stats and two finishing videos, are here.  I was 43rd female (I was ranked 42 so finished very close) and 9th in the 35-39 age group.  2:35 won my age group!

My family found me from the sidelines (Jon and Albani got to sit in a special section of bleachers with my elite pass!), and I think I surprised them with how elated I was. Sure, I was 4:08 off of my Big Dream time, but I met all of my realistic goals for the race. Those were to pace within myself and evenly (not by my watch), to negative split, to finish strong, to finish in the 2:40s, and to be thankful no matter what. I truly believe I got the best marathon I could have gotten out of myself on that course in that field on 6/16/18, and that’s a fantastic feeling! Before the race I’d been stuck on 2:48 as a realistic ideal day finishing time, so I was very close in my prediction. One big lesson I learned this training cycle is not to have 2:45 as my singular goal, because while I certainly want to hit that time standard, it can’t be the only way to success if I want to maintain the love I have for the marathon and the joy I find in racing it. I’m thankful for my passion for this hobby, and wouldn’t trade that for any marathon finishing time.
Post-race celebration with most of my
cheer crew (Jon took the photo)
On the other hand, I like to believe I’m improving, even though my time progression isn’t linear. I give a lot of myself to this pursuit. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I truly love marathon training, but I dedicate a lot to it in a life where I don’t have a surplus of time, plus traveling to ideal races is an investment each time. I am thankful that told me that based on course differences, I am improving!
I've said it 1 million times:  Too
bad you can't OTQ at Phoenix
With God all things ARE possible, and I am most thankful for that.
Run Superior!
Garmin splits 1
Garmin splits 2
More about my Grandma's experience can be found:
Elite excitement and expo
Race morning anticipation
Opening 10K
6.2 to halfway there
Half to 20
Closing 10K
Post-race feels
The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race
Caffeine taper, pre-race meals, & race day nutrition
Minnesota Vacation (how to family vacation along with Grandma's)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Joy is in the Journey

I wrote a long analytical post about my goals for Grandma's Marathon, but I haven't hit "publish" on it yet.  A marathon build is a monstrous training endeavor for a single race, and no matter how remarkable the outcome of that race, the journey to the starting line is more significant.  I once said that I'd enjoy marathon training even if it did not end in racing a marathon, and I hold to that.  Falling in love with the process is crucial.  No matter how my race goes, I've already succeeded because I've loved this training block!
The 3 of us are going to Grandma's!
Some highlights include:
  • The clear choice for my favorite part is the time spent with all of my wonderful training partners.  Some friends I ran with once, others I pounded the pavement on farm roads with multiple times a week, but every mile spent in good company is something I'll always treasure!
  • Running buddy highlights include (excuse me for forgetting many!):
    • Running a workout in 38*, 20 mph wind, and light rain; Amy was coming over to run her workout on the same course or else I don't think I'd have gotten out!  She said the same thing, and then she went on to run in even worse conditions at the Boston Marathon.
    • One of my running buddies tripped over a dead opossum in the darkness...that'll teach her to wear a headlamp!
    • One of my running buddies stopped to go to the bathroom on a road we never see anyone on, and while I was waiting for her a man came out to get his mail just in time to see her run out from behind the trees.  We said hi to him and moved on!
    • Once I stopped to pee during a long run after our group had spread out.  I told the guys to go ahead, and made a very fast stop because I wanted to catch back up to them.  Rebecca was behind me and got to witness my Shalane-at-Boston-fast pee stop.
    • Amy has been trying to get a Lululemon ambassadorship (and she should!) and she is in several Lulu groups, so she takes photos of all of her run outfits to post.  I enjoyed photobombing some of them and posing with her in others; it became a post-run tradition.  Anytime she ran with me and her run was too fast, she started putting the tag #blameSara on her notes for her coach (who is also my coach).
    • Whenever Rebecca and Claudio both came to a run, it was guaranteed they would speak to one another in Spanish at some point, which I always enjoyed listening to.
    • Amy P. met me at work at lunchtime for my second runs whenever she could, and the break from work to run and chat with her was always very welcome, but we always needed more miles than we had to really catch up!
    • I had many medium long runs with Jessi while she finished her collegiate career, but the most memorable was one day I was able to take a long lunch at work due to a cancellation, after we'd missed the morning's run due to ice on the ground.  Running 11 miles at lunch in daylight was sure nice on that cold day!
    • Daniel joined for a group run after some time off, and ended up running 15 miles with us after having gone no farther than 7 the entire season.  I tried to convince him to sign up for a marathon at that point.
    • Michelle and I live 4 hours apart, but texted all of the time about our Grandma's training, and ran three of the same races during our build (Big 12 12K, Rock the Parkway, Bill Snyder Half).  We got to meet once for a training run when I was at my in-laws in Kansas, in a little town named Burlington that was halfway between our locations.
    • Missy is our group "mama" and always looking out for traffic for us.  She calls one of our routes The 11 Mile Death Loop.
  • Solo runs are also very enjoyable for me.  I do some of my best thinking, praying, and problem-solving while pounding the pavement.
  • Tales of terrible weather, from the coldest winter we've had in years, to a very windy and brief spring, to sweltering humidity.  In January I set a record for the coldest temperatures I'd ever run in, in March I ran a workout in the coldest and windiest rain I've ever run in, and recently I've worn long sleeves and ear warmers in temperatures I'd be burning up wearing a sports bra and shorts only in.  It's sure nice to run in ideal weather, but the crap weather always makes better stories!
  • Learning to race longer races without tapering.  I've raced plenty without tapering, but this season I became an expert in racing half marathons completely unrested, which I hadn't done before.  The main factor was staying out of my own head about it!
  • Heat acclimation death...I have never over-dressed so much for so many runs!  This was not a fond laundry memory, but I did laugh a lot about it for various reasons ("Bet my neighbors wonder why I'm in a sports bra and shorts one day [workout day] and in long sleeves and a hat the next!").
  • In both the Bill Snyder and Rock the Parkway halves I had the pleasure of running with and chatting with someone for most of the race, Sharon and Janell respectively.
  • Traveling to the Illinois Half Marathon with my parents was wonderful.
  • My "oops" story of the training cycle is that one day after I ran at lunch from work, I placed my gross sweaty running clothing in a bag I was taking to a meeting at another location.  I only intended to put it in the bag to carry it to my car since my hands were full, but I forgot to take it out when I got to my car and ended up taking it into the work appointment with me.  I'm sure hope I was the only one who noticed it!
  • I wrote a post all about my mileage this build in comparison to other builds, but I didn't hit "publish" on that one either, and a bullet probably suffices.  In the 18 weeks prior to race day (presuming I run exactly what is scheduled between now and race day), I averaged 70.3 miles a week!  No weeks were below 62 (except race week will be), and I had 3 weeks in the 80s.  The simple fact that I did this 100% healthy is a huge highlight!  My average mileage in the 18 weeks before CIM was 67.4, so this cycle was not drastically different, but still notable.  The drastic difference comes when I point out that the highest average I'd had in any build prior to CIM was around 56!  I've done some marathon build comparisons before, which can be viewed here (this table has 20 week mileage averages) and here (this table has 12 week mileage averages).  I also confess that the reason I went with my 18 week mileage average for the statistic this build was because my 20 week average was 69.8, haha!  My 12 week average would be higher, but I want credit for how many consecutive weeks I've been running 65+ mpw too.  I felt like I handled the mileage better this cycle than I did before CIM as well.
You can track me via the Grandma's Marathon app (search Grandma's Marathon in the app store and it will pop right up).  I am F42, which means I am ranked 42nd female, and I will try to place higher than that.  The race is Saturday, June 16 starting at 7:45 a.m., so the count-down is on!
Illinois Half trip
Illinois Half trip
Amy's daily Lulu photo
Jessi's last Mentor run before moving
One of the four times I was with Michelle in
person (we talked a lot more than we saw
each other)
Heat acclimation with Amy & Jeff