Feb 27, 2011

Pacing 101: Struggles.

It has recently come to my attention that I have no idea what I am doing.

Okay, I might be exaggerating a little but when it comes to pacing my runs I'm mostly just winging it. This is pretty evident if you have read my recent 5K race recap. I generally just go with what my body is telling me to do and am usually only vaguely aware of the pace I'm running at.

Entering my goal marathon time of 3:35:00 in the Runner's World training calculator gives me an idea of what paces I should be training at to best be able to reach that goal on race day. The paces listed below are what I will be using as a rough guideline throughout my training. Using these paces I will hopefully find the proper balance between not being fast enough and overtraining... which is a pretty fine line. Right now I'm going to talk about my biggest struggle; pacing the easy run.

9:14 min/mile              Easy run training       
7:41 min/mile              Tempo run training   
6:25 min/mile              Speed training          
3:33 min/mile              Yasso 800
9:14-10:25 min/mile    Long run

My easy runs should ideally be done at a pace of about 9:14 minute/mile or about a minute slower than my marathon goal pace. At this easy pace I should be able to speak in full sentences and my heart rate should be at 75 - 85% of maximum (145-166 bpm). This ideal slower pace better enables to me to build my endurance and prevent burnout.

The info I've gathered from my Garmin shows that on average I've been running at an 8:45 min/mile with a heart rate of 163 bpm on what I consider my easy runs.  This means that on an average easy run I'm working at about 84% of my maximum effort.  If my average run is on the high end of my target heart rate zone then this must mean that for some of my runs I'm working harder than I should.  I am also aware that when looking at a long list of paces from previous runs I'm all over the place; ranging anywhere from 8:15 min/mile to 8:57 min/mile. This could be why in the past, every couple of weeks I've found myself dropping mileage because I'm spent.

In order to run fast when it counts you have to do a lot of running slow. As I mentioned in my first post, my primary concern has always been my mileage. For the most part I've never really put any thought into my pacing efforts. When I go out the door to run my only goal is to go out and come back.

Overall I would just like to get a better grip of my pacing. I want to know what my 9:00 min/mile feels like compared to my 8:00 min/mile and all all the paces in between without having to stare at my watch the entire run to figure it out how fast I'm going (which can be pretty dangerous). I also need more consistency in my pacing for each run to minimize wasting energy.

So first things first; I'm going to try talking to myself. I think I probably already provide some good entertainment for this busy town when I'm running around in neon shirts and compression tights, so why not make it more fun for everyone by talking out loud to myself while I run?  It couldn't be any worse than the time I started crying while out on a run because I had reached a sappy part in the audiobook I was listening to.  Hopefully talking to myself in combination with the times from my Garmin will help me gauge when to slow down and when I'm in the right p(l)ace.

Second, I'm going to run without music for the next week. I think a lot of time my pace is influenced by the beat of the song that I am listening too. I also think this will allow me to be more in tune with myself and how I feel at each pace. This isn't going to be a big deal as I've done plenty of runs without music.. including one 20 mile training run. You'd be surprised at the fun things that go through your head.  This is actually something I've been contemplating lately anyways. Running with music is a hot button in the running community but I'll save that for another post.

So here goes something... stay tuned. 

Feb 20, 2011

Klutz |kləts| noun informal. a clumsy, awkward, or foolish person.

Do you ever have one of those days where you think you would have been better off NOT getting out of bed? 

I knew it was going to be a rough day last Thursday morning from the moment I attempted to reach for a coffee mug from the overhead cupboard. I reached past a mug in the front for a larger one behind it. The mug in the front came tumbling out towards the floor. I somehow managed to grab it in what seemed like slow motion before it shattered all over the floor. I grabbed the larger mug in back before replacing the fallen one and fumbled with it all the way to the coffee maker. I distinctly remember thinking "where are my fine motor skills this morning??" I remember this because I then quickly reflected on how nerdy I have become since starting nursing school. I also remember thinking that this couldn't be a good indication of how the rest of the day was going to go. I had a 250 mile drive ahead of me that day and I began envisioning guardrails and airbags in my future. This is not an exaggeration. I'm a klutz by nature and some days this is more profound than others. 

It was an amazingly beautiful sixty degrees and sunny in Philadelphia (in February!) and I was heading out for an easy 6 mile run on the Perkiomen Trail.  I hadn't been out on the trail in a few weeks because of the crazy blizzards that have been passing through.  I was looking forward to a healthy dose of vitamin D and the serenity that comes with not being on the main road dodging cars on the shoulder for miles.  

I drove the short 5 minute commute to the parking area and made a quick decision on which direction I wanted to head on the trail. At last weeks 5k I spotted a girl with her car key looped into her laces. At that time I thought to my self "how genius" I have always just stuck it in my front pocket and headed out. However, I'd always been worried about losing it.  So this day I thought I'd give the lacing a try. I unlaced my shoe by two holes, pulled the lace through the loop in the key, re-laced my shoes, and tied them up. I got out of my car and suddenly it dawns on me... I still have to lock my door. I thought about unlacing my shoes and starting over but that seemed like a lot of work. SO... I just lifted my foot up to the lock, stuck the key in, and turned. I couldn't help but laugh.  To anyone who may have been enjoying their lunch break in the parking lot: you're welcome for the show. 

On to the run. It took me a good 2 miles to settle into a comfortable rhythm. That's a long time for me. This was one of those runs that you just struggle for a while. I couldn't get my head on straight and the only thing I could think about was how much I didn't feel like running. Despite the gorgeous weather and conditions it just wasn't clicking. I got to the one mile mark on the trail and it was a new area that isn't paved and was covered in snow and ice and I wasn't wearing my trail/snow shoes so I decided to turn around because I knew the other directions would be safer. I got back to my car at mile 2 and was tempted to stop but I reluctantly pushed on and by some miracle finally managed to get my head in the game. I was starting to feel good and running seemed a lot less like work. I had purposely started out heading west in hopes that the snow would be more melted because I knew how many massive puddles lay on the trail east bound.  I started approaching those "puddles" and managed to either find shallow spots or run on the mud around them. I came to a particularly deep looking puddle around mile 3 and decided to hit the outskirts of it in an attempt to keep my feet dry. There was a lot of partially melted snow and ice with sopping wet mud around the outside of this puddle. I momentarily lost my footing a couple times and made it about 3/4 of the way by it before things got ugly. 
My left foot landed and slipped on the ice and mud. I couldn't even get my right foot down before both my legs were heading sideways. I landed right on my stomach with my face an inch from the puddle. Thankfully no one was around. I stood up laughing at myself and surveyed the damage. I grabbed a fistful of snow and wiped off my hands. I still had 3 miles to go and I wasn't about to cut it short because I got dirty. 

I passed countless dog walkers and I can't even begin to imagine what was going through their heads... I was a mess. It made me laugh out loud just watching some of their expressions.Turns out the puddle actually came up above my ankles. I ran right through it on my way back to the car... not taking any chances. Lesson learned.  I finished the run out and luckily had a plastic bag in my trunk to sit on for the drive home. These pictures don't really do the mess justice since the mud and puddle water had long since dried, and the tearing directly through the puddles on my way back washed off a lot of the mud on my legs but it gives you the general idea.

Despite the few setbacks it was a great run and made for a great story. I had a successfully uneventful long drive later that afternoon. Perhaps I shook out my klutzy-ness in that run which is great because I'd rather land belly down in a puddle then face first in an airbag any day.

Feb 16, 2011

When you can't change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails

Obviously I've been doing a lot of research lately about qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I remember last year when it filled 8 hours after registration for 2011 opened. There has been a lot of speculation as to how the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) is going to handle next years registration. A lot of people who put in the hard work and met their qualifying times were closed out. Well, it came across my Twitter feed this afternoon that the BAA has finally announced some changes. They have revamped their registration process and are changing qualifying times.

I had already come to the conclusion that registering for the Boston Marathon for 2012 is completely unrealistic for me even if I do qualify. Registration for 2012 is set to open in September and I'm guessing it will be closed within a week, two tops. Since I'm not running my 26.2 until late November this means even if I did hit my 3:40:59 goal I would have to wait and try to register for the 2013 race when that registration opens in the fall of 2012.

However, as I mentioned the registration process has completely changed. Registration will now open first to people who meet the qualifying time by at least 20 minutes. For example: females my age group need a 3:40:59 or less to qualify, so ONLY those who finished a marathon in 3:20:59 or less are able to register on the first day. The registration will progress by slowly opening to those who just met the qualifying time until the race reaches capacity of approximately 25,000 -26,000.  There is no guarantee that registration will even be open long enough for those who just made established qualifying times to get in. It basically means being able to run the Boston Marathon is now less about attaining the golden qualifying time and more about hoping you run faster than some people who qualified and intend to register. Make sense?

BUT WAIT... There's MORE...

They have also made a huge change and lowered the qualifying times by 5 minutes for each division beginning in 2013. You also no longer get that 59 second cushion. That means in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2013 I now have to finish 26.2 miles in 3:35:00. That's an average 8:14 minute mile for 26 miles and 385 yards. Woah. This still won't even be a guarantee for a bib number given the new registration process.

So the big question is do I stick with my original goal of 3:40:59 in qualifying for 2012 despite the fact the chances of registration not already being closed out are slim to none... OR change my goal to 3:35:00 to qualify for 2013 and actually have a stab at registering.

I could go drowning my sorrows in an everything bagel with extra cream cheese but what good is that really going to do me?

I'm still going to give it my all. I'm still going to try and qualify for Boston. All the more reason to not skip the quality runs or any workout for that matter. The winds are changing and I'm adjusting my sails to get me to my destination... a little bit faster than I originally planned.

It's very frustrating to think that I could put all this hard work in and not even get to register because enough people ran faster than me to shut me out.  I KNOW there's a lot of people out there who could pull this marathon time with not nearly as much hard work as I'm putting into it. But in the end this is about seeing what I can do when I put everything I have into it. So regardless of whether I actually get to cross the starting line in Boston in 2013 I can say I worked my ass off with no regrets.

New goal: Finish a marathon in 3:35:00 or less to qualify for the 2013 Boston Marathon.

I still plan on running NYC or PHL in November.  Attempting to meet my original marathon goal of 3:40:59 before this September to register when 2012 opens is unrealistic for many reasons. First, I'm using these coming months to build a strong foundation from which to start actual training. Second, if I rush into training I'll probably end up hurt and discouraged. Third, I melt in the heat and just the idea of trying to hold that pace in a marathon under the hot summer sun makes me sweat and my face turn purple.

This new goal gives me time to train properly and some wiggle room. If I don't meet the new time of 3:35:00 in November I can still sign up and continue training for a spring marathon. Win, win.

Overall I'd say this was a smart decision by the BAA. It makes the prestige of "running Boston" that much more enticing.  Now it's time to reassess my pacing and upcoming race goal times. More on that soon!

Feb 13, 2011

All Systems Go. 5k Recap

Yesterday was the Cupid Chase 5k in Philadelphia. My number one goal for any race is to finish... no matter how awful, broken, tired, or spent I feel. My big goal for this race was to finish in under 23:04. That's a 7:25 min mile for 3.1 miles. According to the training calculator tool provided by Runner's World this 5k time indicates that I have the potential to hold an 8:23 min mile for 26.2 miles which is what I would need in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

I fueled up the night before on a Wegmans Old Fashioned Assorted sub, some baked chips, and a pit stop at the new frozen yogurt place across from Wegmans (YUM!). This is not my typical fuel pre-race. I'm usually a pasta girl.  I had intended to make some goulash but apparently I felt like throwing caution to the wind... which is generally a terrible idea the night before and day of a race.

I had no idea what to expect from myself for this race. The last time I ran a 5k in race fashion was 2 years ago and it also happened to be the first time. I finished that 5k in 23:47.  I didn't have a particular game plan for these 3.1 miles. I just wanted to see what I could pull out of me at this point. All I really knew was that I was going to push and then push some more. My biggest fear was going out too fast and bonking before reaching the finish line. I wanted to give it all I had and I wanted to be able to finish strong.

The race took place on the Schuykill River Trail in the heart of Philadelphia. This place is inspiring. The trail was crawling with runners and bikers despite the sub-freezing temperatures at 8AM on a Saturday. I felt at home. There was a cold breeze coming off the river and I could not wait to get started.

The race got started a little late but while waiting I managed to sort through runners and used my best judgement to figure out where to be in the pack. I started out a little too quick thanks to the adrenaline surging through my veins. I was flying past people trying to thin out the crowd. Once I found a clearing I settled into a comfortably difficult pace. I had been glancing at my Garmin 405 GPS enabled running watch periodically to try and decipher how I was doing. I hadn't used any of the fancy settings, I just pushed start when the race director yelled "go". I couldn't really tell how I was doing compared to my goal time unless I wanted to do math. Needless to say math was out of the question when my primary concern was trying to breath and not vomit on myself. I just judged whether I should go faster based on the pace I was currently running and how far away from collapsing I felt. I just kept pushing. If I felt like I was going to die sooner than the finish line I eased off and then when I felt like I was thinking about getting comfortable I pushed more. 

I came around the bend in the last quarter mile and the finish clock was blurry and partially hidden from my view. It looked like it was reading 22:4x (mystery number). I pushed on the gas and left everything I had on that path in hopes of finishing in under my goal time of 23:04. As I got closer I realized the clock was reading 22:14. I crossed the finish line in 22:19. That's an average 7:15 min mile for 3.1 miles. I was ecstatic.  I smoked my goal time and crushed my PR. Unbelievable! 

Here is the breakdown from my Garmin. I forgot my heart rate monitor which would have been helpful in gauging how hard I was actually working.  I finished 40th overall (out of 451) and 2nd in my age group (F 25-29).

I celebrated with a turkey sausage and egg on pumpernickel bagel sandwich and the best cup of vanilla hazelnut coffee I've ever had. Life doesn't get much better than that. Also, I went to grab a shower when I got home and realized my base layer shirt was on backwards. Good luck charm!? 

Long story, short... I'm pumped. Motivation is spilling out my ears. I wish I could bottle it up and save it for those days when getting out the door is like pulling teeth. But for now consider my butt in high gear. A BQ doesn't feel like just a wild dream I'm chasing, it feels like an attainable goal. I can do this!

I just cranked out an easy 5 miles this morning and let my legs dictate the pace. I feel like a million bucks. Now it's time to plan out the upcoming weeks workouts, do a little more training research, and line up some more races. Stay tuned for the next adventure in my chase for a BQ.

Feb 10, 2011

Failure isn't the worst thing in the world. The worst is not to try.

2009 was great. I got into nursing school, got my act together, and managed to squeeze in 7 road races before the end of summer. Things were smooth sailing. I knew after I finished the NYC Marathon in 2009 I was hooked. This is probably the best day of my life thus far. It was the most amazing experience and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I was on a runner’s high that lasted a whole week and began at mile one when I was holding back tears of joy running across the Verrazano Bridge looking at the most beautiful view of the city that never sleeps. I started looking for my next big race very soon after.  I registered for the Chicago Marathon the day it opened. 10/10/10 was the date of the race...
I could come up with a long list of excuses as to why I let my running go but when it comes down to it I was tired and lazy. I was working full time as a clinical research associate for a local cardiology group and going to school full time on the weekends. Long runs were becoming a hassle and it just wasn’t fun, it was a chore. School weekends happened to land on every big race weekend in central NY, which made finding tune-up races and the accompanying adrenaline/motivation nearly impossible. Then 5 or 6 weeks into my 18 week training plan I had an unscheduled minor surgery that kept me off running for 5 weeks. Talk about kicking me when I’m down. I gave up. Biggest burn was that I couldn’t put my registration fee towards next year’s race. See ya $75.
I somehow managed to put some kind of fitness level back together towards the end of the year and pull a PR (Personal Record) on Thanksgiving at our local Turkey Trot 10k. This was the flame that lit my ass. 
...Until winter and the holiday season blew that fire right out.
2010 blew. Hard. I’ve never been so ecstatic to ring in a new year. 
I ran outside on new year’s day in shorts. It was a balmy 44 degrees and sunny. My quads were a little wind burnt but it couldn’t have started better. It also happened to be the day after moving to a new town and my first run of the new streets. 
I make new year’s resolutions. I keep new year’s resolutions. 2011 is about getting my ass in gear... and flossing (among other fun things). My biggest goal for 2011 is to get another 26.2 miler under my belt and... wait for it... qualify for BOSTON. Which brings me to the point of this blog. 
I need to finish a marathon in 3:40:59 or less. That’s an 8:23 min mile for 26.2 miles. 
I’m a month deep into the year, building my mileage and feeling strong. I’m embracing the aches and pains that accompany this task with open arms. Pain is progress... unless you’re actually hurt, then it’s, well, not.  
Lots of attention goes into training and training properly. When I trained for NYC I was concerned about the mileage, plain and simple. This time I’m bringing in some new elements. Strength training, stretching, speed work, cross training, and most importantly, consistency. Right now I’m just building a strong base and foundation. Actual marathon training won’t start until summer time. I applied for the NYC Marathon (11/6) lottery but I’m leaning towards running Philadelphia (11/20) instead. 
I still consider myself a running noob, despite the fact that I’ve been doing it for a few years now. I've picked up some tidbits here and there from Runner's World, mostly. I've never had a coach and I never ran track or cross country in high school. I was just fat and wanted to lose weight, so I turned to running. Turns out I ended up liking it. There’s just so much to know about it and myself when it comes to running. This journey to getting a BQ (Boston Qaulifier) is going to be full of research, trial, and error. 
I’m lining up some local tune-up races. Thankfully moving to the suburbs outside Philadelphia has increased my race weekend options tremendously. Writing this blog helps keep me accountable and provides me with a little extra dash of motivation on those days when I think I just don't want to run. I plan on sharing my adventures in training, eating, and learning on my journey to a BQ. I might fall flat on my face, shred my achilles tendons, strain a hamstring or two, get frustrated, or eat too many bagels, but when 2011 is over I can say I tried my damn hardest. So stay tuned for some humor if nothing else. 
Some PR’s for your enjoyment/reference:
5k   23:47      02/08/2009 Chilly Chili 5k
      22:19      02/12/2011 Cupid's Chase 5k
10k 47:50      11/27/2010 Turkey Trot 10k
15k 1:14:17   07/12/2009 Boilermaker 15k
Marathon 3:58:32 11/01/2009 NYC Marathon