Race Review: The March 50K

I went in to this race with no small amount of anxiety. My only goal was to finish upright. I came off a strong training 50K two weeks ago that helped me build some confidence that I could at least complete 31.1 miles. But racing a trail 50K is different from running a training run on mostly roads on a home course that I know like the back of my hand. I’ve been training through heat and humidity for a few months, so I was confident my body could handle the temperature. But as I laid out my clothes on Friday afternoon, I understood that this would take more than the normal marathon race prep that has become almost second nature. I also didn’t end up wearing my headphones. I haven’t worn them much lately, and this didn’t seem like the kind of race where I’d want to zone out. Good call.

Only a little freaked out.

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Of course, preparing for this race started before Friday afternoon. My mileage has slowly crept up since Big Sur. I worked in a few marathon-distance training runs and a 50K in the past few months. In the past week, I got between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, and I monitored everything I ate and drank. I tried to taper even though my legs were begging to run more on Thursday night. And Friday morning. And Friday afternoon. But mostly, I convinced myself I could finish this distance.

We chose this particular race for several reasons — and we signed up about three months ago when 90-degree temperatures seemed unthinkable. Late July was a time of year we didn’t have any other marathons. My goal marathon is in October, so if I injured myself training for a long race, I would have enough time to recover. Plus it made sense to begin to build up toward Comrades with a longer race. This one was on a wide trail with rolling hills. It was written up as not technical, though it has “some lose sand at points.” I’m mostly a road racer, so anything that isn’t paved scares me a little.

The race started in the most anti-climactic way you can imagine. A guy — I believe a war vet — said, “Two minutes ’til race start.” Then, “One minute.” Then, “Y’all gah on now.” Michael and I exchanged a look of, “Hmm. OK?” and we were off. The first 11 miles are not too hilly, and with temperatures in the mid-60s, I was moving right along. At the first turnaround, I could tell I was about four minutes ahead of the second woman. I wasn’t too far behind the leading male group, either, but I knew I had a long way to go.

Sometime around Thursday morning, I started to worry about horseflies because someone mentioned them on the group’s Facebook page. It was all I could think about. Or maybe they were deer flies. Whatever the big, stupid, biting bugs are that follow me for miles at a time when I run in the boonies. I asked around about remedies and heard eucalyptus might work, so I went in to the race doused in eucalyptus essence and eucalyptus lotion. I also layered a bug spray/sunscreen combo on top of that. Still, around the ninth mile, a giant fly started circling my head and then moved to my legs. About a mile and a half of circling and swatting later, I’d had enough. I stopped to try to catch the bug. From behind me I heard, “Was it a spiderweb or what?” from one guy and then saw Michael next to him. Oh good, more people for the bug to attack. The bug moved on to swarm the three of us, and I got to run with Michael for the next eight or so miles. Win-win.

Michael and I stopped at the second aid station, around mile 11, briefly, to refill our handheld bottles and grab some fruit. Then we were off to the hills of the rest of the course. Around mile 15, where knew there was supposed to be some kind of course change because a portion of the course was closed, we started to see the three leading men come in to view. We were happy we were on track — that we hadn’t missed a turn. We followed them for a while. They came to a road that I was pretty sure wasn’t on the course map. I sped up to catch them to ask what was going on. We’d taken a wrong turn, somehow. We were running parallel-ish with the course. A guy in a truck drove alongside us to let us know someone had marked off a section that should not have been closed. We would be adding about two miles to the course.

Sometime around the 19th mile, I followed the group down a hill to the aid station. The three guys ahead of me took about two minutes each to grab supplies, and they filed out. I stayed a little longer and ate fruit, a Bearded Brothers bar, drank a bottle of water, put ice in my bra, asked for more bug spray … This part is a little blurry. But by the end of it, I felt like a new person. The volunteers were amazingly helpful. They refilled my water bottle, handed me cups of ice for my bra, lied and told me I looked great. I walked for about 100 yards, stopped to pee beside the trail where I was out of view and then kept running.

Here, I got the giggles because I started running through this underbrush area that was unlike anything else on the course. I kept thinking, “It is A SHRUBBERY” and then laughing and laughing and then hating my life because I had no idea when this slow stretch of overgrowth would be over. I couldn’t see my feet, and I there was sand under the shrubs. After about a half mile, Michael caught up with me, and we made our way out of the shrubs to giant hills that were straight-up sand. My legs were kind of shot, and running on sand wasn’t going great. But I kept it up. My mile splits aren’t terrible through here, but I definitely wasn’t putting down the 7s and 8s like I could in the first half.

We ran together for a while to the 24-mile aid station. The world’s nicest woman insisted on refilling my bottle for me twice. She was amazing. I ate the best Nutella sandwich I’ve ever had. Again I put more ice in my bra. And we were off. The three leaders passed us on the way to the aid station, which was the farthest point on the course.

Around the 27th mile, a guy shuffled past us the other direction and said, “Watch out. Slippery back there.” This launched me in to singing all kinds of Talking Heads. “Slippery People” seemed doubly appropriate.

Cool down
Stop acting crazy
They’re gonna leave
And we’ll be on our own

I might have been damn loopy by the time we got back to the shrubbery (!) and back to the heavenly aid station. Ah well. The volunteers cheered and whooped as I came down the stretch. I think I dropped several curse words in front of children while I was there. I was glad to be upright and happy to know I only had around five miles left. I left the aid station happier and much cooler than I’d entered. But because we came to the aid station from a different direction (read: we were lost the first time), I was confused about how to get home. Here’s my being confused.

Asking the volunteers which way to go.
Asking the volunteers which way to go.

Michael and I were together for a few more miles. I think he saw some kinds of animals at one point — guessing coyotes or wolves, maybe. And at some point I started chanting, “Same as it ever was. Same as it EVER WAS.” I crested one final hill and saw a flag in the distance. The final stretch of trail was probably half a mile, and I could hear the volunteers yelling for me the entire way. Running it felt kind of surreal. I’d never been that far before, and I certainly didn’t expect to feel so good. My finishing time for 33.2 miles was 5:09:28, which was better than last year’s woman’s winning time by about 30 minutes. And that includes two extra miles. I won a pair of Altras and a knife I’m not sure what to do with. Aside from the trail being poorly marked and the bugs swarming me off and on, I don’t think I could have hoped for a better first ultramarathon experience. Veronica, the woman who headed up the race, was so warm and gracious. Each of the volunteers made me feel like I was the most important person out there. They were phenomenal.

50K race winnings. Plus a pair of Altras! Not a bad first effort.

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The best news about the race is that I didn’t get hurt training for it or running it. None of the stomach or lethargy issues I had on my training run reappeared, probably because I kept my nutrition top of mind the entire race. I ate when I didn’t much feel like it, and I had two bottles for fluids for two-thirds of the race. And today I met up with Laura, one of my Strava buddies, and somehow managed to put down four miles at 7:21 pace. Maybe the endorphins are still going, and maybe the muscle soreness won’t set in until tomorrow. But right now, I’m cautiously optimistic I can do more of these crazy events.

Finishers: 4th and 5th place! And female win for me!

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So what’s next? Other than continuing to build toward running Comrades in 2016, I’m taking on a big, scary goal to run a 50-miler in November. Everyone needs big, fun, scary goals to keep going, right?

race view

The beginning of long training runs

On Saturday I turned a corner in my running life. I ran a 50K training run. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started. I thought about the long, long run off and on for most of the week. What would I eat? What would I wear? Should I carry water? A handheld or backpack? How many gels? Would I make it the whole way? Where would I run? Would I have to walk? Maybe it would be just five more miles than I’d ever run before — not a huge deal. It might just feel a little longer. I’ve been running between 85 and 95 miles weekly this spring and summer, including two marathon-distance training runs the first two weeks of June. My base is definitely strong enough to go longer.

I’m pleased with the effort, and I can say I finished with a giant, goofy smile on my face. Michael ran the first 20 or so miles with me, which kept my mind off the task at hand. My pace was consistent — between 8:49 for the first mile and 8:03 for the 28th mile for 8:23 per mile overall. This is slower than my normal long run pace, which is in the 7:45 range, but with a goal to just finish, I can’t complain. And I learned a few things about how I deal with longer distances.

First of all, I have to figure out why my toes aren’t happy and solve this blister situation. For the first 14 miles, we had a steady, light rain. My Adidas shoes that actually worked well for three hours in the pouring rain in Boston tended to create pockets of humidity around my feet for this run. They’re the most ventilated shoes I have, but I think I need to look in to alternatives. I’m wearing lightweight Balega socks that have never given me problems before, but I still end up with soggy toes.

Toenails are all, “We hate you.” 😕

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Another lesson I learned the hard way around mile 28? I need to start eating solid food. Even though solid food sounds completely unappetizing in the middle of a hot, stinky run, I could have used more in my stomach. The four GUs and two Clif shot blocks I had weren’t cutting it. I felt a little lightheaded past the marathon point. Maybe it was just a mental block. I also probably should have eaten more than a banana and a half cup of coffee before the run. Guess I need to wake up earlier so my stomach has time to settle if I’m going to eat more.

The most surprising thing from this first longer effort is how completely wiped out I felt for the rest of the day. I was home by 11 a.m., and I felt like I’d been running all damn day. By 3 p.m., I wanted to go to sleep, but I had this endorphin-fueled, wired thing going on, so I couldn’t nap very well. Physically, I felt like I’d run a kind of easy marathon — sore but I could still walk down steps without much wincing. The main difference for me between 26 and 31 is the mental drain. That’s what I need to train to push through.

Finally, another interesting quirk came in the form of some pretty vivid hallucinations. I haven’t had to run through this level of euphoric, fuzzy just-put-one-foot-in-front-of-another since the St. George Marathon last year, when I think I was probably dehydrated and I saw the road start to kind of melt. The two things I saw during this run were rainbows and a bird. The rainbows were flashing by my head on both sides as I ran down Beach Drive. Going by my head like really fast cars. But just by my head, not by my whole body. At the same time I felt like I was running with rocket shoes. Looking back at my Garmin data, this was my fastest mile. Then at mile 29, I looked down at the ground and saw a dead blackbird. “Hmm. That’s not a good sign,” I thought. Then I blinked, turned away, turned back, and the dead bird was gone. So. It probably wasn’t there? Then I got in my head and decided that seeing a dead bird and then having it disappear was also not a good sign. I drank some more water a quarter mile later and felt good through the end of the run. But man, that bird.

I have a 50K race in 10 days in North Carolina. There, the goal is to finish at an OK pace (maybe between 7:45 and 8:30?) and to work on my fueling and blister/soggy feet issues some more. Oh and not to see phantom dead animals because that’s a little weird.  I will have a trial and error period for a while before I get this long run thing right, but I’ll definitely figure out what works before Comrades.

A Few New Goals for Recovery Week

For the first time in years (years!), I had a week without a training plan. Aside from my traditional ten-mile Tuesday run, I had nothing on my calendar. I indulged in a few treats early this week: pizza, cookies, ice cream. But after a few indulgences, I decided I really wanted to go easy. After eating fairly well for a while, I have kind of lost any cravings for really fattening food. My coach said to just have fun this week and to take it easy. In the absence of a plan, I had time to think about my goals for the summer through to my next big marathon attempt. Here they are, in no order.

  1. Return to physical therapy: I came off Big Sur with a touch of knee soreness. That’s new. My quads and calves were pretty tight after two marathons in a week, so I’m guessing my knees are taking on extra work. Multiple flights and lots of sitting didn’t help. My running mechanics need a tune up if I’m going to put in high mileage through the summer. I’m sure I need to stretch more, and I certainly need more hip and core strength. My physical therapist an help with that.
  2. Try group runs: Shakeout runs before marathons are some of the most personally enriching experiences I have all year. The time seems to pass quickly, and I get to talk to new, interesting people while I run. D.C. has tons of running groups. One of them will probably be a good fit, right? I tried a Pacer’s group run on Saturday, which had the benefit of being slow enough to keep me from overdoing it this week. I don’t think I’ll return to run with this group because the pace was a little slower than I’d prefer, but I’ll find one that sticks.
  3. More trail running: I’ve resolved to put in more trail miles in the past, and I know more miles on softer surfaces will help reduce my risk of injury. I need to hold myself accountable this time. Maybe a trail run every other week to start. To get this started, I went for my first trail run in many months today.
  4. Learn to carry water: We have a 50K fire road/trail ultra coming up in July. It’s going to be hot. I need to figure out fueling and try out water bottles. Maybe backpacks too. I hate carrying things, so this is going to be tricky.

I know 80 miles is a lot for an easy week, but I had a lot of fun. I ran slower than normal. I went out for short, relaxing runs when I felt like it. I started chipping away at my goals. Got in some nice hill work, too. In a few weeks, I’ll be ready to start working toward the big October goal.

Boston 2 Big Sur: Big Sur Marathon Recap

The Big Sur Marathon is undoubtedly the most beautiful race I’ve ever run. The scenery is everything they talk about but more vibrant and the smells — the redwoods and the sea air — are perfect — and sounds — waves and drums and footfalls — are what running should sound like. Sure, the roads slant away from you, and you kind of lose your place when you’re trying to run. The wind this year was particularly awful, not just at Hurricane Point. It blew straight on and from the side for miles 6 through 21. But this was my second marathon in a week, and maybe making a time goal was not the most important thing for this race. Even so, I ran a 3:15:36, which was right on track for my optimistic A Goal.

I spent this week as I would any vacation week, stupidly running more miles than I really should have because California running is glorious and always beautiful. Every day except one, I deviated from my plan. I was dumb. But I was happy. And looking back on it, I wouldn’t have changed any runs this week.

A recap:

  • Tuesday: We landed in San Francisco, and I got in a few miles in Golden Gate Park for 12 for the day. It should have been 10, but I felt good.
  • Wednesday: I thought I’d have an easy run across the Golden Gate bridge for maybe six miles, but I felt great, so I ran some hills. And I ran 10 miles. Oops. Then we walked about five miles around the streets of San Francisco. My feet weren’t happy.
  • Thursday: Actually, I think I did well to only run five easy miles on trails on Thursday. Michael and I went to Marin to hang out for the morning, and we walked about a mile and a half around Muir Woods.
  • Friday: I finally had my legs back, so I celebrated by running seven miles at 7:37 pace. Way too fast for a recovery/taper week. But I got to see the ocean on my run!
  • Saturday: Stuck to the plan for once and ran a short shakeout run with Bart Yasso.

On to the race! Big Sur starts at 6:45 a.m., and the buses need to be off the road for the runners to funnel on to the road, so that means everyone needs to be in the tiny runners village no later than 5:30. My 4:15 bus was one of the last to leave Pacific Grove, and we arrived at the start line around 5:30. If you back out that timeline, that means I had to wake up around 3:30 to hurriedly gather myself and my stuff to get to the bus on time. And because we’d been in California since Tuesday, I couldn’t use my East Coast/West Coast powers to wake up early.

The runners village is a setup of rows and rows of portapotties (I only had to wait in line for about two minutes both times I went) and tightly packed, nervous runners huddled together in the darkness. There is coffee, water, Gatorade and maybe snacks. I didn’t look for snacks. I tried to find a place to put my towel so I could stretch. That was kind of a success. After about 45 minutes, the race announcer started to call the later wave starters to line up. Because the road is so narrow, there isn’t really room for runners to make their way to the corrals, so they have to line up back to front. The wave 1 runners shuffled around and did weird warmup drills until about 6:40 when the announcer finally called for the final group to line up.

After a few introductions for the elite athletes, everyone edged forward a bit, and we were off. The first six miles are rolling downhill. They aren’t all downhill. But they’re blocked from the wind. In hindsight, I probably should have gone faster here because this was the only point in the race that running felt normal.

A strong headwind — stronger and more unrelenting than anything at Boston — knocked us in the face right at the seven-mile mark. You could hear the group let out an audible groan, and everyone shifted to try to get behind someone else. We were out of the cover of trees, and the people I’d been running with and the ocean came in to a kind of technicolor. But the wind. Ugh.

For the next four miles, I stuck with a group of guys and one woman who were trying their best to fairly take the running burden and shield each other from the wind. I would tuck in behind a guy and run beside another for a while, and they’d reposition themselves after about a mile. I wish I could have stuck with them longer, but the group seemed to disband at a water stop.

Mile 10 has a nice downhill that I tried to not take too fast. I had to tie my shoe during that mile because the WIND UNTIED MY SHOE, which took about 20 seconds.

Wind on Bixby Bridge
Wind on Bixby Bridge. Also: heel striking and awful form!

On Friday, Michael and I drove the course, so I kind of understood how awful Hurricane Point might be. It is deceptively long. I’m used to running hills with steeper grades in D.C., but I don’t train on any hill that is two miles long. So miles 11 and 12 were 9:05 and 8:18, respectively, but Strava tells me the grade-adjusted pace for those miles is 7:08 and 7:09. That’s what it felt like. And wind. So much wind.

The Bixby Bridge piano player was adorable, but I wasn’t going to stop to listen. I plowed through and tried to get my mind right for the rest of the race. Looking at my watch, I could tell I’d need to run a negative split to get to my goal. The rest of my miles were all under 8:00 pace, and I ended up averaging 7:26 for the race. I even stopped for strawberries at mile 23 and ran a 7:33 mile. So hooray for negative split!

Done! Cumulative time: 6:17:02

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My overall placing for the B2B for women was fifth out of 219. I came in ninth of 2,133 women overall, which is pretty good, considering I didn’t have fresh legs. The B2B tent was stocked with all kinds of food — sandwiches, fruit, cookies — and beer that I promptly chugged. I got a sweet medal and jacket, and I got lots of cheers for running Boston along the route. The race was incredibly well executed for a medium-sized event. The race communications, water stops, bag check, swag, pasta dinner, expo. Everything. Everything was organized like the best marathons you’ve run. Hell, the guy who gave me my race shirt bag even put my number tag on my bag for me.

I know I can run Big Sur faster than 3:15 now that I understand the course. I would adjust my training to work in more long hills and more back-to-back weekend runs. I had plenty of those on my schedule, but I could have flipped the order to run Sunday longer instead of Saturday.

One of my goals for next year is to break three hours at Boston. I would love to run Big Sur again some day when the lottery gods are smiling, but I can wait another five years before I return to such a punishing course.

This week I will run easy, fun runs. I started this morning with an easy recovery run in Palo Alto. And later this week, I’ll put together my race and non-race goals for the next few months. I know I’ve got a three-hour marathon in me, and I have more PRs to set.

Boston 2 Big Sur: Boston Marathon Race Recap

The first part of the B2B Challenge is complete, and I’m beyond happy with the result. My A Goal (a 3:00 marathon) coming in to the taper was quite aggressive. My PR was a 3:02:21 in St. George last fall, but that course is notable for its crazy downhill profile. That day was perfect. I ran the tangents. There was a tailwind. Boston is a tougher course. Running better there seemed like a long shot. But goals should be aggressive.

Training went well this winter, even through the coldest temperatures D.C. had seen in decades. I knocked out my training runs and nailed my 3:00 marathon goal pace during tempo runs. I’d had a sub-par race marathon in Austin, another hilly course, in February, that I was trying to get over mentally. A lot would have to go right for a new PR, and a lot would have to go right to break three hours here.

My taper went remarkably well, though holding back during those final runs wasn’t easy. Last week’s key workout was a 10-miler with two miles at marathon pace. I also practiced running in the rain and running in to a significant headwind at marathon pace. I didn’t know how handy the thoughts of those runs would be on Monday.

Ready for Athletes Village looking like a homeless Teletubby.

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This year I went all out with my warmup getup for Athletes Village. I might have looked like a total idiot, but I had to be the warmest person in the tent. Michael and I hopped on the first round of buses to Hopkinton. We left around 6:25 and were off the bus by 7:15. I spent at least an hour relaxing, nearly asleep, under the tent. My nerves only started to kick in around 8:30. Somehow I remember the road to the start line being longer. This year, the distance between the tents and the corral seemed shorter. It isn’t. I’m crazy. Got in the corral around 9:40. We’d had a passing rain shower around 8 a.m., but there wasn’t much wind or rain at the start. I decided to try for my goal pace and assess that pace and the weather after the screams at Wellesley, when maybe I’d be feeling optimistic.

The one mistake I haven’t made at Boston in the last three years is going out too fast. I have to be OK with a slower first mile. This year was no different. My 6:58 pace felt incredibly easy, given the downhills and crowds, and I knew I would be going faster soon. The next few miles ticked off perfectly: 6:42, 6:43, 6:42, 6:49, 6:36, 6:40. I kept on like this through Wellesley — past Wellesley. I took my GUs on time. I sipped Gatorade when I needed it. I even held my goal pace through a downpour during miles 14 through 17. Everything went well. I could have done without the headwind and the downpour, but I dealt with it.

The one thing I could have done better this year, and the thing I could probably stand to work on in every race, is running the tangents. Boston is a point-to-point course with only four turns, so I’m not losing time on the corners. I did tend to weave a bit more than I needed to. I would get frustrated and dart around a slower runner or a walker, especially at the end. That adds up. My final Garmin reading came in at 26.3.

The Newton hills were tough, but I knew I’d lose some time there. Once I crested Heartbreak, I did a quick calculation, in kind of a half-math, weird, what is 8+7 what I don’t even ugh math, thing and realized I would certainly be setting a Boston personal record. I would need to walk to miss it. I then tried to reason my way through whether breaking 3:00 was possible. Well, if Heartbreak is mile 21 and I have five-ish miles to go, how fast do I have to run? How far off is my Garmin? Can my legs hold this pace? Would I need to go faster? Probably would need to go faster than seven-minute pace. But there’s a lot of downhill and cheering. I’ll try?

Miles 22 through 26 felt windier than the rest, but I tried to will my legs to run through a final kick. I couldn’t quite hold my goal pace for the final miles, which would have brought me under 3:00. I ran 7:00, 6:58, 6:53, 7:09, 6:53 (for the final .3). At the 25.6-mile marker, I figured I would need to run a 6:00-mile to end up under 3. I would have to settle with a 3:01-something, but I’d definitely push it all the way down Boylston. Coming down Boylston is always my favorite part of the running year. Coming down Boylston with a shiny, new PR (3:01:26) is even better. I came in somewhere between my A and B Goals, and I’m pleased with how well I ran, given the wind and rain. I’m sure I can break 3:00 in the fall on the right course.

After the race, aside from a few stomach issues and minor knee aches, I felt pretty good. This week is about recovery and relaxation and getting my mind and legs in a good place for Big Sur.

I ran half of Ten-Mile Tuesday long the Charles this morning before we left for San Francisco. I’ll finish up my miles on the West Coast, and I’ll look forward to a week of recovery running.

The Great Taper: How I Won’t Screw Up Before Boston and Big Sur

Somewhere around Potomac Park in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler-ish
Somewhere around Potomac Park in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler-ish

My mileage took a decent step down last week from 95 to 80 miles, and it will go down again for the next week. For the past week, I’ve had a nice feeling the past three months of training are starting to snap in to place. My legs are cooperating, and I’m hitting my pace for every workout. I’ve banked a bunch of hard miles and long runs. Now is the time to concentrate on not screwing up the seven days between now and Boston.

To build a little more confidence ahead of two big races, I set a few PRs in the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler yesterday. The course was shortened by a half mile because of an incident before the race, but I still set a few new PRs of my own for the 5K (19:33), 10K (39:30) and 15K (59:57). And I blew away my 6:36 pace goal with a 6:26 average per mile.

I’ve felt more energized over the past week than at any other time during the training cycle. Even after a rainy 15-miler through the cherry blossoms last Wednesday, my legs still felt like they could have kept going for at least 10 more miles. I also have concentrated on eating a little healthier this month. I’ve cut out most sweets and have tried to limit myself to one glass of wine a day or nothing at all. So it looks like I’ll start Boston at my goal weight and with many more miles and hard workouts than I’d ever thought I could run.

Here’s the plan for the next week that I’m going to try to not screw up.

  • Monday: 8 miles easy
  • Tuesday: 10 miles moderate pace
  • Wednesday: 10 miles: 6 miles easy, 2 miles at marathon pace, finish out easy
  • Thursday: 7 miles easy
  • Friday: maximum of 45 minutes
  • Saturday: 10K shakeout
  • Sunday: shakeout with Bart Yasso
  • Monday: Boston Marathon

Once I get through Boston, I’ll start to focus on recovery and time goals for Big Sur. Right now, given my training and the forecast, my best guess for time goals is:


  • A Goal: 3:00
  • B Goal: 3:05
  • Having Fun Goal: 3:15

Big Sur

  • A Goal: 3:15
  • B Goal: 3:25
  • Having Fun Goal: uhhh 3:40?

B2B Training Ramp Up: Three 90+-mile Weeks

The last three weeks of training have really kicked my ass. I can’t remember a time when I was ever so excited about running and exhausted at the same time. These three weeks aren’t the highest-mileage weeks I’ve ever put in (they’re close), but each one has included at least one hard workout. Those hard workouts make a huge difference. They’re the reason I can’t wait to head out the door most mornings, and they’re the reason I’ve started sleeping eight hours a night.

Now that most of the hard training is done, for the first time in my running life, I’m looking forward to a taper. Maybe I wasn’t running to my full potential before, so I wasn’t ever really tired enough to want a long taper. But after yesterday’s final long run and after a nice brunch, I came home, sat down on the couch, and felt that warm, completely drained, buzzy feeling. That’s what the training is supposed to do. My legs need some time to recover before three hard races. And I’m excited to let that happen.

Here are my top five runs from the last three weeks. This stretch has coincided with an intense time at work (multiple product releases, boss was gone for a week), and I’m even more psyched I’ve been able to train at this level with so much else going on.

5. 17 miles with Michael through Richmond

Michael and I were both tempted to stay home and work all weekend, but we decided to get away for a nice overnight trip to Richmond. I got great advice for a potential long run route, and Michael drew a makeshift map. Off we went down Monument Ave. and along some trails. This was my second long run for the weekend, and I was happy with the time on my feet.

Silly running map. We didn’t get lost!

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4. 16 miles with five miles at half marathon pace

The day before the Richmond run, I went out for 16 miles with five at half marathon pace. That ended up being 6:53, 6:56, 6:51, 6:37, 6:37. This run was a huge confidence builder because I’d just run a half marathon the week before and wasn’t sure if my legs were back yet.

3. Cardozo speedwork: three different sessions

  • Session 1: 6:37 and 6:28 miles as a second run
  • Session 2: 6:35 and 6:28 miles as a second run, though I felt like I was dragging
  • Session 3: 5K time trial with 6:29, 6:24, 6:26 miles. And on this particular Tuesday, I ended up running 22.5 miles total. That day was ridiculous.

2. 24 miles with last four pushing the pace

I ran my favorite loop around D.C., Virginia and Maryland, through some nasty wind. The last four miles were around 7:00 pace, despite some nasty gusts. This run lets me know I can push the pace after mile 20 in a few weeks.

1. 20 miles on the W&OD

This run legitimizes the idea that the I’ve improved my fitness in the past three months. With a head wind through the first half and a great tail wind pushing me in the last miles, I ended up running 20 miles at 7:21 pace. The week before Boston last year, I ran 14 miles at 7:35 pace and felt like I was really peaking out.

Last long run before Boston /Big Sur taper
Last long run before Boston /Big Sur taper: Strava

Gradual Progress Toward the Elusive Three-hour Mark

I’m dropping in an update on how training has been going. I’ve dealt with ups and downs, but my overall fitness is noticeably better. For most of January and February, I ran around 90 (usually 93) miles every week. I layered in two speed work sessions most weeks and a second run on Tuesdays. I also added a second longer run most weekends. My legs seemed to be able to handle the increased stress, especially if I took an easy day on Monday. In D.C. we had the coldest February in years, so my training went inside for about a quarter of the time. The roads were simply too icy to go outside some days.

The Bad

A viral infection sidelined me for longer than I’d like. I felt in a total funk for about a week. I shook the initial fever, vomiting and chills in about 36 hours, but I wasn’t able to get past the worn-down feeling for about a week.  I kept up 10-mile Tuesday with a fever and extreme nausea. It wasn’t pretty. I went to Dallas to visit my family and escape the snow-covered trails, but I was too sick to finish my second long run. In hindsight, a light week probably wasn’t the worst thing for my body. I convinced myself that I was actually dealing with overtraining symptoms. Overtraining and this nasty viral bug have the same symptoms. The doctor reassured me it would pass. It did.

I ran a sub-par marathon in Austin and had extreme stomach issues around mile 25. They persisted on my cool down run. I did make a handy map to keep track of these kinds of incidents, however. (You’re welcome.) I know I shouldn’t complain about a 3:16 marathon on a hilly course in warm weather. But I know I’m capable of running faster, and I wish my body could have cooperated that day. I also ran 84 miles that week, which amounted to a tiny taper. In reality, just a few years ago, I would have been ecstatic to put up a time like that. It just wasn’t my day.

Not my best time, but maybe my hilliest marathon.

A photo posted by amandahi (@amandahi) on

The Good

In the middle of a speed work session, my treadmill broke on what was the coldest day of the year to that point. That seems bad. I put on four layers and finished my run outside and felt entirely bad ass for doing it. Bonus: I was on day 364 of my yearlong warranty. The treadmill is fixed now.

I set a 27-second PR in the half marathon this week. The PR came on a nasty rainy day and on a hilly course, so I felt pretty good about it. My previous PR was in perfect conditions on a flat course, so this was a noticeable improvement for me. And it was a few weeks after that awful viral stomach bug, so I might have still been a little weak. Still, progress.

Finally, I settled on two goal races for 2015: the Hartford Marathon in October where I’ll try to break 3:00 and a low-key 50K in North Carolina in July. The goal of the 50K is just to finish upright.

Bumping the mileage, getting faster

Sometimes you start to feel like you’re closing in on those big, crazy goals you set for yourself. Like maybe that ultramarathon is doable. Maybe running (racing?) two marathons in a week is possible. You might break three hours this year after all. It hits you in the middle of your long run, when you’re knocking out marathon-pace miles on tired legs. It hits you when you look at your training log and see week after week of totals you never thought you’d get to.

The last time I felt myself getting faster was about two years ago when I inched toward 70 miles per week. I can certainly look back through my training logs and see good weeks scattered over the last two years, but I can’t remember this exact feeling. In April 2013 when I wrote about getting faster, I said what worked for me was basically running more and incorporating speed work in to my already high-mileage weeks. But back then I didn’t realize how much room I had for improvement. I took another five minutes off my marathon PR and took seven minutes (!) off my half marathon time. Hell, maybe I don’t realize how much farther I can go even now.

Mileage since coaching started
Mileage since coaching started

The last week of January was probably the hardest training week I’ve ever run. It included ice and freezing temperatures most days, too. I know there are more of these in my future. After seeing the results, I’m sickly excited about them. On Sunday afternoon, I felt legitimately exhausted. I didn’t run 100 miles (only 93), but I ran faster, harder miles than I ever would have scheduled on my own. It looked like this:

  • Monday: Easy 8-miler and a gym workout for about an hour and a half. It was just starting to snow, but the pavement was clear. Easy meant 8:30 pace.
  • Tuesday: 10.7 miles in the snow with YakTrax in the morning. Another 6.3 miles on the treadmill in the evening.
  • Wednesday: 12 miles with speed work at Hains Point. Temperature was in the low 20s. Miles at 6:54, 6:36, 6:38, 6:34, 6:41, 6:41.
  • Thursday: 10 miles at 7:45 pace.
  • Friday: Easy 10K at 8:30 pace.
  • Saturday: Half marathon race on an awful, icy trail. Finishing time (1:29:09) is less than a minute off my half marathon PR. Warm up and cool down for 18 total miles.
  • Sunday: 22-mile long run. I could only manage an 8:28 pace after the race.

I never would have planned a long run the day after a race in my old training plan, but I now have confidence that I can at least finish a long run the day after a shorter race. It just might not be pretty. I think slower runs like these, combined with speed work (see Wednesday) are why I’m seeing real gains. I’ve also started taking easy runs seriously. By not running at a sustained 7:40 pace, which I used to feel like I needed to hold just to feel kind of fast — by just taking that pace up another 30 or 45 seconds, I’m able to save my energy for the harder speed workouts.

My next race won’t be a PR. It’s the Austin Marathon a week from today. I have no hopes of running a PR on a hilly course in the heat after four consecutive 90+-mile weeks. But I will probably set more aggressive goals for Boston and Big Sur.

Training with a coach

Starting this week, I took a big, scary step toward becoming a better runner. Hiring a coach and, more importantly, putting my training plan in someone else’s hands is probably the most significant change I’ve made to my running since I decided to train for my first marathon.

I didn’t make the decision lightly. I hate not being in control of my life running plan, so giving over my training plan to someone is not something I would do on a whim. I wouldn’t ask someone I didn’t trust or respect. In early 2014,  I’d been approached by one coach via Twitter, and I hated the experience. He looked at my mileage and goals and told me he could help me break 3:05 but only if I cut my mileage in half and agreed to take full rest days. His attitude about what was right for me and his cavalier statements about the Right Way to Train instantly turned me off. I ran a 3:02 in October by following my own training plan.

Last month, I altered my training plan to stretch for a 100-mile week. The week before the 100, I’d run 90 miles. I’m not foolish enough to think I could keep up this kind of mileage without getting hurt or that regularly stretching for 100 is a good idea. But I do know I can push harder and run faster and that my goal for Boston 2 Big Sur should be more than just “to finish.” I need a little guidance.

Speed work. Ouch.
Part of my speed work. Ouch.

So after much deliberation and some budget calculations, I decided to ask Michael Wardian if he had any coaching openings. Mike has run all my goal races (Boston, Big Sur, Comrades), and he understands my goal to run every day. He *gets* my Ten-Mile Tuesday streak absurdity, and he’s worked that in to my schedule. He agreed to take me on, and we’ve had a great first week. Hearing from Mike on a daily basis has been a dream. This week, I’ve run faster speed work than I would ever put on my own schedule and pushed my middle long run miles more than I would have on my own. This week’s weather in D.C. has been horrendous, and I still managed to head to Potomac Park for some mile repeats when it felt like  0 degrees on Thursday morning. I might have wimped out and given myself another treadmill day if I wasn’t accountable to anyone else. On Saturday I tried two new things: an organized group run in Alexandria and I ran a part of the Mt. Vernon Trail I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. See? New things! Out of my comfort zone.

I’ve thrown out my self-guided training schedule for Boston 2 Big Sur, but I’m sticking with my build-up races. We’ll see how this change pans out. With a week of hard training behind me, I think putting my training in a competent professional’s hands was a great decision.