Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paying anything to roll the dice, just one more time

4 days before a marathon is, eternally, the day when I suddenly find myself questioning what the hell I'm doing with my life. Today, a coworker (who is also a runner/triathlete, so she does understand these things) asked me "So, are you going for a PR on Sunday?" My reaction must have been hilarious, because I honestly had not even thought about that question until she asked it. It's like I forgot that I've been training for a race or something. I think part of my hesitation is that my last PR took me 5 years and as many marathons to get. And it was SO big, so beyond my expectations - I think it's hard for my brain to fathom that I could not only run that fast again, but even run faster?

And yet...

Without putting a lot of thought into it, I've run some of my best ever long runs this training cycle. Not just some, but all of my 20 milers included 5-8 miles at or below goal marathon pace, all during the second half. I took far fewer casual rest breaks (running with friends definitely helps with that) which I feel like generally made my long runs a lot higher in quality. However, I also did them all on the same, consistent course (gradual uphill miles 1-8, downhill 8-10, uphill 10-13, gradual downhill the rest of the way). Clearly, running faster on a net downhill is easier...but Lakefront is also a net downhill course. So there's that. My track workouts this cycle have also been significantly stronger than any in the past, even with the atrocious heat and humidity we've had all summer. I know that I have pretty good leg speed and strength, because there's no way I would be getting through these types of workouts otherwise. The weather is also playing a part - I've done maybe a grand total of 5 runs in sub-70 degree weather (it was 85 and humid during yesterday's easy 5 miler...on September, are you kidding me?) Sunday's forecast calls for high 40s at the start, mid 50s at the finish...aka GLORIOUS, holy grail running weather for me. I'm definitely anticipating getting to run in cool weather after so long will put some extra snap into my legs. Finally, the Lakefront course is relatively mild in terms of hills and is actually a net downhill as well - essentially, very similar to what I've been training on. Reading back on this paragraph...that's a lot of strikes in the positive column. But even with all those positives, the idea of running 7:26 or even 7:30 miles for 26.2 miles? Still terrifying! In the negative column, of course, we have my dismal tune up race performance (which comes with its own asterisks, but still), lack of tempo runs, and failure to keep up with strength training this cycle - although regular dance I hope has made up for some of that.

Pro and con columns aside, my basic plan is to run this course similarly to Boston, but hopefully faster. They are actually similar in that they're both point to point and have a significant amount of downhill in the first half as well as downhill/flat in the last few miles, so I feel like a similar strategy (go out fairly relaxed/easy, and be able to turn on the afterburners at mile 20) makes sense. With my focus on fast finish long runs this cycle, I also feel like I'm physically prepared to execute a negative split sort of strategy. Cognitively, however, going INTO a race with the idea of even or negative splitting is scary. In Boston it sort of happened by accident; literally I just knew I couldn't go out like an idiot and whatever followed would follow. I didn't think about it in advance. Trying to execute that strategy again feels a little like asking lightening to strike twice. Still, I think it's the best strategy to try in terms of going for a PR. My best races have been those where I didn't blow up at the end, and that typically means NOT GOING OUT LIKE AN IDIOT (just putting that in all caps, for myself to read later). And with Boston, I was still able to negative split despite the inevitable slowdown in the Newton hills, which isn't a factor on this course. It's been ages (since 2010) since I ran a flat, non-trail marathon, so there's something to be said for that too.

So...what am I hoping to run? On a good day, I certainly think I can PR - whether it's by a little or a lot is unclear. Any PR would obviously make me happy; the closer to 3:15 the more thrilled I'd be. Under 3:20 and I certainly wouldn't be mad about it. I still feel this need to legitimize myself, to prove to myself that I can run a good race again. My best races come when I'm not dwelling on a specific time goal, and I think this race definitely falls into that category. I just want to go out there, run, and be awesome. I know that I'm capable of it, I just need to have the confidence to DO it. No crowds, no headwind, no pouring rain, no hills - I feel like this race is stripped down to the basics which, hopefully, will make it a great stage for me to be able to go out, me against the road in myself, and run my ass off. My favorite Journey lyrics pretty much sums it up...

Workin' hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Paying anything to roll the dice, just one more time...

Looking forward to rolling that dice for the 9th time, knowing that I've done the homework (as Tom said) to hopefully sway those odds just a little bit further in my favor. 9 freaking marathons...if you'd told me when I graduated college that 6 years later I'd be working on marathon #9 there's absolutely no way that I would have believed you. To be capable of running 26.2 miles, and to be capable of trying to do it faster than I ever have before is something I hope I never stop feeling grateful for.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

All the things

Why do I always wait until I have 700 things to write about before actually sitting down to write about them? The past month since Falmouth has been a whirlwind, both in terms of training and life, which has been a good thing, but hasn't left much time to write about it. It's included a lot of running, some racing, some of the best track workouts I've ever done, and some hiking - all of which I meant to do full posts about, and then never got around to it. So, here's the Cliffs Notes version...

Franconia Notch Hiking
Andrew and I have made it our mission to hike at least one mountain every year, and this year's target was the Whites in New Hampshire. We've somehow never made it up to NH despite really enjoying the mountains and having lived here for over 6 years so we finally decided to take a couple of days and do a solid day hike. I picked one of the more popular loops that I could find on the internet: Falling Waters trail -> Franconia Ridge -> Old Bridle Path, which took us over 3 mountain summits and a significant amount of time above treeline. Truth be told, I spent the whole week leading up to the hike psyching myself up for spending so much time above tree line, because I've had some pretty significant issues with panicking due to height/exposure on previous hiking trips. Turns out, I had nothing to be worried about - I loved every single second of this hike. The trek up started off fairly easy and then turned into a seemingly endless boulder run up and up and up.
They call it Falling Waters Trail for a reason

Our first summit, Little Haystack, was just a prelude to the absolutely amazing ~2 miles we spent hiking along the ridge to Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette. It was kind of a cloudy day which could have been a huge bummer, but we managed to strike a perfect balance between gorgeous views and hiking into the clouds, which I felt like was equally as cool.
It was definitely a challenging hike - the descent was a quad killer - and I was surprised to be pretty damn sore the following day. However, since the hike came on the tail of a near 60 mile week (with a 20 mile run the day before, hah) my legs really felt remarkably good throughout the whole thing, and more importantly I got to spend 8 hours on the trails just being totally present in the moment. Why don't I do this more often?

Training & Racing
This was one of those months where I sneakily had a really good month of training. The last 4 weeks I've run probably the best 4 track workouts of my life - any time my average pace for an interval workout is hovering anywhere close to 6:00-6:10 pace, I have to be in shape. Actually, as I type that, I realize that this month is the first time that's actually EVER happened...hah. My last sharpening workout before the marathon on Tuesday went significantly better than I expected going in, and I ran 4 x 800 at right around 3:00-3:01 and then 4 x 400 at a slightly faster pace. I really hope I never stop being amazed at what I'm capable of. When I go to GBTC practice I basically expect that I'm going to be off the back because most of these girls ran in college and no matter how long I run, I still have a little bit of an inferiority complex - like, oh, I could NEVER run with those girls. And yet doing this workout, right there with a pack of 5K runners on these just felt absolutely amazing. It's the most empowering thing to be able to push yourself and do something better than you ever have before, and it's also a nice reminder to never assume that you can't go faster. Because probably, with time and with effort, you can. And also, to not be scared to run with people you perceive as "too fast" for you.

Besides the track workouts, I've been making my long runs workouts during this cycle as well. It's been kind of funny - the transition between being a newbie marathoner and just surviving long runs to being someone who doesn't think just running 22 miles easy is enough, we have to make it harder and add some GMP miles - happened so slowly I almost didn't notice. But I've done 4 20+ mile runs this cycle, each of which I've run a decent chunk of the last 10 miles around 7:30 pace. I also have done a couple of races this month, both of which I signed up for the day before and neither of which I felt deserved their own posts, but I guess I'll talk about them briefly here.

Cape Ann 25K - Holy shit, I raced like CRAP at this race. I was hoping for this to be a big confidence boost with a whole bunch of GMP miles, but I conveniently forgot that a) the Cape Ann course is probably one of the hardest courses in the Greater Boston area, b) Labor Day in Massachusetts is not not not cool, c) One of my talents as racing like an idiot. Let's just go ahead and let the splits tell the tale of this one...
Miles 1-4: 7:12, 7:10, 7:14, 7:20 (subtitle: Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb)
Wow! Life is great! This feels so easy! Wasn't this course supposed to be hilly? I mean sure there are some little rollers, but whatever, no big deal! Man, I'm almost feeling cold in my sports bra, this is awesome! I'm jamming out to some Ben Folds, I'm smiling, I'm enjoying life. Man, this is going to be a great race!

Miles 5-8: 7:52, 7:41, 7:46, 7:49
Hmm...well...alright, this got significantly less fun. Did these hills get bigger, or is it just me? There's a part in Finding Nemo I think where a little fish is swimming towards the tempting light of an anglerfish and has a thought like " good...I love this...feeling so good..." and then suddenly gets close enough to see the predator lying beyond the light and goes "GOOD FEELING GONE" right before it gets eaten. Welp...that was me over the next few miles of this race. Crap crap crappity crap. I went from feeling pretty awesome to the polar opposite of awesome VERY rapidly. There are 2 huge hills just before mile 6 and just after mile 8 that just about destroyed my soul. By the top of the mile 8 hill, I straight up had to walk. Absolutely nothing left. Literally wondering if I would make it to the finish line.

Miles 9-15:  8:15, 8:13, 7:45, 8:04, 8:24, 8:24, 7:59, 7:34 pace last 0.6
THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME HOW AM I ACTUALLY STILL MOVING FORWARD?! My feelings over the remainder of this race fluctuated between embarassment, frustration over my idiotic race strategy, resignation, and an astonishingly strong desire to stop running. The fact that I was still moving forward was mysterious to me. There was no way I could be feeling as awful as I was and actually still be moving. I had dropped from 5th woman to 10th woman, and I vaguely hoped I could find my way into the top 10. The fact that I had to walk ~5 times over the last 5 miles and each time it became more and more difficult to convince myself to resume running made me feel like this was unlikely. Yet somehow...I actually came in 10th woman. I have no idea. The last couple of miles of the race were a giant clusterfuck; the roads weren't closed and there was tons of traffic headed to the beach, so we were weaving on and off of sidewalks and across streets. At mile 13 my ipod decided it was sick of having water dumped on it and died (in the middle of "Jungleland", which I was hoping would carry me through the next mile). It was really effing hot and I was really effing dehydrated - after the race, I drank a bottle and a half of water, a gatorade, a beer, a glass of water, and a nuun before I had to pee. Yup. At one point I came up on a guy who had passed me earlier and he was like 'nice comeback!' And I just wanted to laugh...or cry...or something. It was bad. I actually managed to finish SLOWER than I ran this race 5 years ago, which is pretty sad because that was literally my only goal. It's fascinating though, to look back on that race - 5 years ago, I was ECSTATIC to run 7:50 pace for this race. I felt like the queen of the universe. I ran less than a minute slower this time, and I felt like it was this horrific, embarrassing performance. So that, if nothing else, shows that I have definitely grown as a runner. Hilariously, I somehow still managed to get 2nd in my age group...for which the award was a nice paperweight...and entry to next year's race. HAHAHA. just ran the hardest course ever! Wanna do it again next year?! I mean...we'll see. I like free stuff.

Fall Classic 5K - This is a perfect example of the sort of crap that happens when I'm bored and feel like doing something ridiculous. I wanted to incorporate some faster running into my last true long run, 17 miles. I also felt like if I went out on another 2 hour + run on the Minuteman Trail I was going to gouge my eyeballs out. Top that with the fact that the previous Sunday I had lain on the couch until 3 pm whining about how far I had to run, and I felt like it would be good motivation to have a specific time to do my long run...and you get me signing up for a 5K, which I planned to tempo in the middle of my long run. So...what happened was this. I woke up bright and early, slightly hungover and dehydrated which is pretty much the expected result from spending the evening at a beer tasting event at the zoo. Drank a bottle of nuun and ate a yogurt, then headed out for a 7.5 mile warmup to the race. Felt GREAT on the way there - was running nice and easy and I just felt super relaxed and smooth. I got to the race start, waited around for less than 10 minutes, and then...ran a 5K. Despite my plans to tempo I got caught up in the start and went screaming out of the gate. By the half mile I had already told myself I needed to slow the eff down, but mile 1 came in at 6:33 and slowing down was no longer a choice after that. I felt like crap and I had to keep reminding myself that most of the people surrounding me had a) not run an almost 8 mile warmup and b) did not have to run 7 more miles after this race. I slowed it down to more of a tempo effort, 7:04 and 7:11 to come in at 21:31 for a final time. Certainly not a super fast 5K for me, but really quite respectable especially considering the circumstances. I was also 18th woman out of 1400+ which was somewhat shocking - and again, if I ever need a reminder that in the grand scheme of people who run, I'm actually not too bad, doing something like this was it. I felt pretty awful after I finished so I ended up drinking some water (and...maybe half of a Jack's Abby beer that they were handing out...I paid $40 for this race, I needed to at least TRY to take advantage of the perks) and hung out for about 20 minutes before begrudgingly heading back out to run home. This part of the run was pretty hilarious. The first mile and a half or so I was running soooo barely moving...and then all of a sudden, I felt AWESOME! Maybe it was the half beer? Or the fact that after a 5K 7:30 pace just doesn't feel so bad? But whatever it was, I ended up throwing in 2 random GMP miles which both felt extremely smooth and easy. By the time I got home (before noon! There is nothing better than being done with a long run BEFORE noon!) I was really happy with my choice to do the 5K...and I mean, the t-shirts are really nice. So there's that.

I was going to write more about my thoughts on this upcoming marathon (9 days! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!) but I think I'll save that for another day. As Tom told me Tuesday, I've "done my homework" so hopefully that will add up to a good performance on October 4...what I'm actually hoping for? Well, that's a question for another day.