Thursday, October 15, 2015

Steamtown Marathon Race Report (marathon #5)

Let me just preface this race report by saying that my training going into this marathon was stellar. I nailed all of my long runs & nailed all of my tempo runs. My knee had been bothering me a bit off and on throughout the summer, but the few weeks before the race, it was behaving itself. I had PRed 2 race distances in the prior 2 months and was running the best I've ever run in my life. The weather was looking amazing. I had a pacing plan. I felt confident.

Two weeks before the race, I started feeling under the weather. I don't know if it was pre-race jitters or a real illness, but try as I might, I could not get it to go away. No "real" symptoms were manifesting but I had a non-stop headache, plugged ears, and I felt foggy - even lightheaded at times. And very, very tired. Especially in the few days before the race, this was causing me a lot of concern. Concern that I wouldn't be able to hold the pace I needed during the race, concern that I was going to "waste" all of my hard work on a failed BQ attempt when I didn't feel well. And no one could help me. No one could tell me what to do. No one could make me feel better. I was a MESS on Saturday.

Excellent seats!
Friday night, John and I had tickets to go see Newsies at the RBTL. We had to switch our tickets from Sunday to Friday because we were going to be in Scranton still on Sunday. Friday night was not ideal (I turn into a pumpkin at 10:30 pm regardless of what night of the week it is) but I hadn't wanted to get mid-week tickets due to having to juggle workouts, class, and my job.. this leads to a lot of early mornings and I didn't want to add a late night at the theatre into that mess. John dropped me off at my house after the show a little before 11, and I was promptly in bed by 11:01. He went home, as he was told that "under no circumstances will any alarm be waking me up before 8 am" and he wanted to run in the morning before we left. I actually ended up waking up at around 7 and getting my shakeout run done on Saturday morning!

John and I left Rochester at about 10 am and made it to Scranton by about 2 pm in time to pick up my race packet and attend the pre-race meeting. After being sufficiently scared by the entire race committee telling everyone to NOT GO OUT TOO FAST on the first 7 downhill miles of the course (or we'd regret it at mile 21), we drove the last few miles to check out the hills (miles 23-26) again. We then checked into our hotel, I cried for about an hour, and then we went to dinner.

I know, I am ridiculous. It's just a marathon. It seems so trivial in life but it's so much more than that (for me).

After dinner, because I had convinced myself that I was having some sort of allergies (even though I have never had allergies in my life), we went to CVS so I could buy an anti-histamine and hydrogen peroxide to try to unplug my ears. We went back to the hotel room, checked out the Kona stream, and I took a Benadryl and passed out.

Wake up call was at 5 am. I got up, went downstairs to get coffee and breakfast, then showered, got dressed, popped my anti-histamine, and John drove me the few miles to the finish and dropped me off so I could ride the shuttle to the start. He was going to head out to one of the early spectator points, run, and then wait for me there. I felt ok in the morning.

The ride to the start was uneventful, I chatted a bit with the girl sitting next to me and then listened to my music. We were welcomed into the Dickson City High School by a hoard of high school students, cheerleaders, and other volunteers. It was great to be able to stay warm in the gym (because it was below 40 degrees out at the start). I had on pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a hat for the bus ride, but I left the long sleeved shirt and pants in my drop bag and started the race wearing shorts, a tank top and gloves (I tossed the hat to the side of the road right before the race started - and I actually hit a guy in the face with it - oops!). I had my nutrition in my pockets and my Garmin on my wrist. Porta-potties were plentiful and lines were short. I can't say enough good things about the organization of the start of this race!

As I was heading to the starting line at about 10 of 8, I realized I had forgotten my sunglasses. Cursing, I ran back into the gym to see if I could grab them from my drop bag, but it had already been taken to the truck. Crap. Oh well, I'm pretty good at rolling with the punches. The race course went southwest, and the sun rises in the east, so I should be ok, right?

After a few words, the national anthem, and the blast of a very loud cannon, we were off and running. I crossed the mat after about 30 seconds and had a pretty clear path from the start (always a nice thing). I had planned with Jennie to run my first mile (aggressive downhill) at 7:40, my second two miles (which were flatter) at 7:50-8:00 pace, then miles 3-6 (more aggressive downhill) at 7:40 pace, and then after that to settle into my 8 minute pace for the remainder of the race (as the elevation profile leveled off more or less after the first 7 miles). After the race committee scaring the bejeezus out of me the day before coupled with the fact that I STILL did not feel great when I started running, I decided to split the difference and not try for those 7:40s.

this was at the very beginning
you can actually see me on the right in my hot pink!
I was not feeling great for the first 6 miles and was wondering how long I was going to be able to focus on my pace while feeling so "foggy." The downhill miles made it feel easier to hit pace but I knew that once it flattened out, it was going to be more challenging than I had anticipated. I saw John at mile 6 where I threw my gloves at him and asked him if he could hand me his sunglasses at the next spectator stop (because the sun ended up being REALLY bright and I was squinting a lot).

This was at mile 6 - the first time I saw John
I tossed him my gloves and demanded his sunglasses at the next stop!
Miles 1 - 7: 7:49, 7:49, 7:49, 7:48, 8:06, 7:50, 7:57

There were a few hills along the way as we ran from small town to small town, and eventually we made it on to the freshly paved rail trail path. I hit mile 10 still on pace (actually ahead of pace by about 40 seconds to a minute). This surprised me considering I still wasn't feeling great. At this point, I started breaking the race up into chunks. "Make it to mile 13, that's halfway." I went through the half in 1:44 something. Right on target.

Miles 8 - 13: 7:51, 7:55, 7:55, 7:59, 7:57, 7:56

"OK, make it to mile 16, then there's only 10 left." This worked rather well and gave me small, manageable sections on which to focus. I was pacing mile marker to mile marker, always making sure I was there before the appropriate multiple of 8. I just kept repeating the time I needed to be at the next mile in my head over and over again. I kept an eye on my Garmin for HR (I wanted to keep my HR at around 165 max) and average pace per mile (keep it between 7:50 - 7:55). At mile 16, my quads started to twinge and my HR started to rise. Uh oh.

Miles 14 - 19: 8:04, 7:53, 7:55, 7:49, 7:57, 8:09

 "Next, get to mile 20." I made it to mile 20, then 21, then 22, then.. oh crap. My quads were done. I saw John at around mile 22 as I was dying and yelled at him for trying to play 20 questions with me - "Please stop talking to me." (I swear I said please, John says I did not). Probably everyone around me thought I was a raging bee-yatch for yelling at my obviously-trying-to-help boyfriend. I lost the entire amount of time I had "in the bank" in this one mile. Mile 24 was torture as there was a large hill. A very large, demoralizing hill. With a large downhill after it that was painful to my poor abused legs. I got pretty negative here, knowing I was going to miss my sub-3:30 time goal/BQ guarantee, but at some point I must have realized that a) I could still PR as long as I held it reasonably together and b) I COULD STILL ACTUALLY RUN A BQ TIME. Even though at this point, you can't just run a BQ and get into Boston, it doesn't mean that I couldn't still try to beat the standard. Perspective, Alexa.

Miles 20 - 26.2: 7:55, 8:04, 8:06, 8:54, 9:20. 9:25, 9:08, 2:54 (7:59 pace for that last 0.2)

Finish: 3:34:16, 8:08 pace. PR by over 5 minutes, BQ by 44 seconds.

this path was a delight for running
I was wrecked when I crossed the finish line. John was jogging alongside me down the homestretch so he was right there when I finished. I got my medal and my foil sheet and staggered over to hug him over the fence. I was upset and on the verge of crying but I got it together. I walked through the food tent (they had amazing post-race food but I usually cannot eat right after a race) and went and sat on the grass in the sun for a while.

new blaaaaaang!
John saw me 7 times during the race. He was amazing. It felt like every time I ran past a group of people, he was among them. I can't remember a lot of details about the race, I can't remember when I saw him or where I was, but he was always there cheering and giving me words of encouragement. Even when I yelled at him he was fine with it (I did apologize afterwards). He's the best.

We were able to check into our new hotel in downtown Scranton (we switched from the crappy pre-race hotel that I booked to John's Hilton with his points) right after the race (several hours before check-in, even) and we lounged for a bit, walked to a place to get hoagies (because when in PA, one must eat PA food.. right?), and then hit the hotel hot tub! We went to a Hibachi place for dinner because I was craving.. vegetables(?).. both John and I surprisingly liked downtown Scranton. There were lots of places that were within walking distance from the hotel, the weather was amazing, and it was fun to just hang out for once without a schedule.

In the morning, we slept in, got some coffee, hit the record store that we had seen the last time we were in Scranton (that was closed on Sunday), met up with my dad for a late lunch, and got back to Rochester Monday evening!

Thoughts on the race itself:

I loved it! The organization of the race was impeccable which made the weekend very relaxed (well, as relaxed as it could be for the most important race of the year). There were great directions to the shuttle drop off, the start, to view points for the spectators, etc. The shuttle ride was easy, the porta potties were plentiful, you could roll out of the warm high school to the starting line 1 minute before the start if you so wished. The crowds along the course were AMAZING for a small town marathon (~2000 runners). I think 2000 runners is the perfect size - it's not crowded but you're never alone. There was no half marathon which can be nice when you don't have to worry about dodging the slower half marathoners (or being crammed in the start with them). The weather was PEFRECT (obviously this is not controlled by the marathon but mid-Oct. is a pretty good time for a marathon) and it is a very scenic course. To be noted: I tried very hard to run the tangents, and I actually only ended up being *slightly* over 26.2 miles for my total distance, which is refreshing, and I also couldn't believe it given the amount of turns on the course. The race shirt was awesome - long sleeved women's fit tech shirt with THUMB HOLES (!!!!) and it was green! (I am easy to please..). The medal was nice. Post race food looked great. The emails sent by the assistant race director in the months leading up to the race are hilarious.. like..  rivaling Jeff Henderson level of hilarious!

I can't say enough good things or recommend this race enough! I am not into repeating races.. but this one could be a repeat possibility for me.

Thoughts on MY race:

I was initially disappointed, but after having some time to come around, and talking to Jennie, I am feeling pretty good about my race. I did not feel 100% healthy while racing, yet I managed a 5+ minute PR. I fell apart at the end, but looking at my Garmin data, I never backed off my effort. I did not qualify for Boston with my 5 minute buffer, but I STILL QUALIFIED FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON. That is something that I have seriously doubted I would ever be able to do - ever since my very first marathon in 2009 where I ran a 3:59. In 5 marathons, I have taken 25 minutes off of my marathon time. That's not nothing and it's DEFINITELY something of which to be proud. My running has come a long way and I personally believe it can still go a long way from here on out!

Thoughts on my.. shoes(??):

This was my first marathon using my Saucony Zealots. I switched to Saucony sneakers at some point last year after running for years in aggressive motion control New Balances (with custom orthodics) and it was overkill. I went to Fleet Feet to find a neutral trainer, and they put me in Saucony Triumphs, which I like and ran in for a while before experimenting with the Zealot to get a lighter shoe. Now, I tend to alternate between the two shoes, using the Zealots for speedwork and long runs and the Triumphs for day to day runs. It took some time to get used to the minimal heel-to-toe drop of the Zealots, but I worked my way up to longer miles with them and now I LOVE them. They were perfect in the race - no rubbing, no hotspots - it was great!

And finally...

Now, I need to figure out what is next. This story isn't over yet. My goal going into this race was to run sub 3:30 because that would give me the 5 minute cushion to be able to register for Boston 2017 during the first week of registration. With my current BQ time, I highly doubt I will even get into Boston at all. Which means.. I need to try again. I know I can do it. It's just a matter of a) utilizing the fitness I currently have and b) trying to take care of this before my 2 really hard classes start (Spring 2016 - Fundamentals of Experimental Design - and Fall 2016 - Capstone - are both going to be immensely challenging and will require a workload that will not permit the time to incorporate serious marathon training).

Stay tuned..

Monday, September 21, 2015

Rochester Half Marathon Race Report

Yesterday, I wrapped up the 4th (and final) race of the Fleet Feet Four Seasons Challenge - the Rochester Half Marathon.

The 4 Seasons medals - I stole this photo from Todd b/c his is much better than mine

I *love* the Rochester Marathon. I love running and Rochester and its running community and the fall weather (that we sometimes get in September).

This year, the Roc Marathon had a new course. Instead of running 14 miles of the Erie Canal path (less for the half marathon), the course was moved to the northern part of the city - Charlotte - and part of West Irondequoit where races are rarely run. However, this part of the city has some lovely parks/trail systems that even I had not seen (and I live in East Irondequoit!!) until I previewed the new course to see what it would be like.

Although the previous marathon course was fast and predictable, the canal path can get a bit dull after a while. I was happy and excited for the change. I've run the Rochester half and the full on the old course, so I'm glad I got to experience them while they were in existence, but psyched to see the race move to a fresh locale.

Since I am running the Steamtown Marathon in 3 weeks, I was not allowed to go "balls out" for this race - per Jennie. However, we both thought that if the weather cooperated, and I had a good day (basically, the stars aligned), I could PR this race.

Note: I was not specifically trying for a PR, I was simply trying to execute this race according to Jennie's instructions and if a PR happened - great.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I have been trying for a half-marathon PR since 2011 - and not just a PR - a sub 1:40 time. I set my half PR in 2011 at Flower City Challenge: 1:40:55. That is not the easiest course and I was confident that I could best that PR, however, in 4 years, I haven't been able to do it. I came reasonably close in both of my attempts last year: Buffalo half-marathon (1:41:45 - admittedly I was not in great shape) and PA Grand Canyon half-marathon (1:42:20 - hilly as shit course). I failed at my attempt this year at Shoreline (blame the weather for that one).

So, it has been getting pretty ridiculous.

However, my main goal this year is Steamtown. I want a BQ, I want it really, really badly, and that is all that I want.

My instructions from Jennie were to start out at 1:40 pace (7:38 min/mile) (and actually, to go out a bit faster than this initially to account for the downhills during the first few miles of the course) and maintain this pace past the hill on Thomas/until mile 6. At that point, I needed to self-assess: if I was feeling reasonably comfortable with the pace - then maintain the pace for a 1:40 half. If not, I was to back off and run the rest of the race at 8:00-8:10 pace (which would still give me a good workout with some marathon-pace miles). I was not to get to a point where I was putting forth more than 90% effort until the last few miles, and then it was ok to make myself uncomfortable. This required me to be self-aware and to be able to give myself an ego check if I wasn't feeling great. That's hard to do - I am competitive, I want the PR, John was racing and I (not so secretly) wanted to beat him - but I knew I had to be able to back off if my body dictated.

Adding to the fun - John and I had late nights on Friday (at the Fringe fest) and Saturday night (at a wedding in Geneseo). We left the wedding at 9 pm (which I felt badly about) in order to get back to Rochester and I was in bed before 11.

We had a 5 am wake-up - and we had to do the bathroom in shifts - since myself, John, David, and their friend Mark were all racing. We left for the race around 6, climbed on the shuttle to the start, hung out at the start for a while as we saw random friends here and there. I did a 1 mile warm up solo, ditched my long sleeved top, and lined up maybe 5 or 6 "rows" back from the line. The weather was great - it was nice and cool and cloudy. In terms of food pre-race I had coffee & half a bagel with jelly at John's, a banana once we got to the race, and then a Honeystinger waffle before my warm up, as well as some water which I sipped on until it was time to line up.

The course is really fun. It starts in Maplewood Park by the tennis courts, heads north, and then at mile 2.3 it sends runners off the road onto the Genesee Riverway Trail which goes through some woods, over a boardwalk, and then pops out onto Lake Ave. Runners then cross the Genesee River and head south on Thomas Ave. At about mile 5.5, there is a significant climb which ends the downhill portion of the race. Runners then turn right onto St, Paul, and stay on St. Paul until heading back to the Riverway Trail in Seneca Park, across the pedestrian bridge, and back into Maplewood Park. This is about mile 10. Runners head south on the Riverway Trail, cross Driving Park Ave. and cross the river at Middle Falls, turn onto Brewer St. (and up a big hill), then run to Frontier Field for the finish.

You can see me in pink shorts, and Heather in blue shorts to the left of the flag guy
I ran the first few miles with Heather and Mark (they were both doing the full). Mark pulled away first, and then Heather did while we were on the boardwalk - she was going too fast for me and it wasn't worth it to me to try to keep up. My first 5 miles were pretty quick: 7:23, 7:33, 7:28, 7:21, 7:35. I slowed a bit running up the Thomas Ave. hill, but I didn't mind this hill. Mile 6: 7:52. After getting up the hill, I assessed how I was feeling. I still felt like I was running comfortably and my knee wasn't bothering me, so I made the plan to run 7:35 - 7:40 pace until the 10 mile mark. If I still felt ok at that point, I would pick it up. If I ever started to struggle, I would back off. Miles 7-10: 7:37, 7:40, 7:39, 7:33. Still feeling good and reasonably comfortable with the pace.

John passed me somewhere after the Thomas Ave. hill. We had a *small* wager about the race just to make it fun - but nothing that I wouldn't be too upset over losing - so I let him go by me. I figured if he was within striking distance at the 10 mile mark, I'd try to catch him.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge, I cranked it up a notch. This turned into "try to maintain current pace" because the course got a little rough here with some rolling hills, some dirt trails, and a super steep uphill on Brewer St. which I was unaware of (oops). I definitely slowed a bit here, but not for lack of trying! I passed John (pretty hard) at around mile 10 (sorry dear). At mile 12, I knew I was going to be very, very close to going sub 1:40. I slammed on the gas and ran it in as hard as I could. I saw Katie with about a quarter mile to go which was encouraging. I could see the finish line and I could see that my Garmin said 1:39 (of course, no seconds were visible). I saw the clock turn to 1:40 just seconds before I crossed the line. Miles 11-13.1: 7:41, 7:39, 7:06, 1:54 (6:33 pace) - my Garmin clocked my run as 13.29 miles.

I was hopeful that perhaps the net time would be enough to put me under 1:40. However, my official time was 1:40:01. Good enough for a 54 second PR, but not sub 1:40. I was slightly annoyed, however, I can't be too upset since I got my PR without trying too hard, got in a great prep. race for Steamtown, and ended up getting 3rd in my age group!

My go-to nutrition plan during every (running) race that is longer than an hour is 2 Honeystinger chews (or currently I am using Skratch Lab Fruit Drops) every other mile (so basically, at every "even" mile - I eat), along with water when I take the chews. I followed this at the Roc Half and I will follow it at Steamtown, although will add in on-course electrolytes there as well. If it's hot, I slam as much fluid as I can at the aid stations.

John finished in 1:40:18 which is a several minute PR for him. (He had a goal of going sub 1:40 as well). I'm very proud of him! I wasn't sure what happened to him after I passed him but he was right behind me. He'll be taking another crack at a sub 1:40 this year I'd imagine.

I know, we're adorable
Me? I'm focusing on Steamtown. Only a few more weeks (if that) of solid work left, then taper, then it's go time!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Happenings & Race Reports

I guess I have some catching up to do!

I have jam packed my summer with a class (Categorical Data Analysis which just finished on Friday), working my new/exciting job, marathon training, Singletrack Academy (a mountain biking course I'm taking) and being a supportive Iron-gf for John, who raced IMLP last month and Peasantman yesterday.

This has not left much any time for blogging, with which I am A-ok. I guess I don't feel like it's so necessary to try to write about my life when I am having more fun actually living my life.

Last month, I raced one of my key races of the year, which was the Shoreline Marathon, which is west of Rochester on Lake Ontario. This was race 3/4 of the 4 Seasons Challenge, but it also happened to fall mid-marathon training cycle, so I thought I would have a good shot at a PR. Jennie and I coordinated this so that I did a taper for this race and was feeling really good going into the race. My goal was 7:40 pace for the first 5 miles, and then drop down to 7:30 pace until the final 3 miles - where I would try to pick it up again. This would hopefully get me to the finish in faster than 1 hour and 40 minutes (my current PR is 1:40:something from 2011).

Then, race morning happened with 100% humidity. I had known that the race is typically hot and I was prepared with a handheld bottle packed with ice, and lots of hydration the day before, but nothing could have prepared me for the insane humidity.

I ran a short warmup and made it to the starting line with 1 minute to spare. Starting the race completely drenched in sweat - awesome. Gave John a kiss and then the race was off. The first 5 miles were manageable. I didn't feel great with the humidity, but I was holding steady at 7:40 pace. I then tried to pick it up to 7:30s, and I couldn't. I tried to stay positive and hang on at 7:40 pace, convinced that the race/PR attempt wasn't over for me. However, it just kept getting harder and harder to run at that pace. At mile 8, I gave up. It was SO hot, I was getting cold chills/goosebumps/dizziness, and I was pouring water on myself at every aid station (and walking them). At mile 11, we were back up by the lake and there was a breeze, which perked me up slightly, and I passed a few women. The last mile was a little rough because I was so tapped out from the effort in that weather.

Even with my very low point in the middle of the race, I managed to finish in 1:46:38. Given the heat/humidity, that wasn't too bad. I also ended up finishing second in my age group, which was a nice bonus after the disappointment of not getting a PR.

Splits: 7:34, 7:37, 7:38, 7:40, 7:37, 7:39, 7:42, 8:13, 8:29, 8:47, 8:57, 8:24, 8:22.

John and his brother are also registered for the 4 Seasons Challenge - but they walked a large portion of Shoreline because John had IMLP in a week and was tapering!

The Four Seasons Challenge is exactly that. Winter - negative degree weather with windchill. Spring - weather perfection. Summer - 100% humidity. Fall - TBD. Rochester certainly sees the extreme of the seasons!

so hot. so many cornfields.
love this photo of the boys!

Two Sundays ago was my next key race of the summer - the Bergen Road Race (5K). This race draws a very elite field and is on a fast course, so I knew it would be a good place to go for a PR attempt (my 5K PR was 21:43 from 2009). A few days before the race, I got asked if I wanted to join a team - the Brockport Distance Project - which my friend Trisha is very active in. $30 and a USATF membership later, I was a member, complete with a new racing singlet! I got to meet 5 of the girls (plus Trisha ) at the race on Sunday. Our A team won the race and our B team (which I was on) got 5th. So it was a good day for us BDP women!

As for my race - I ran about 2 miles as a warmup, and then headed over to the start. I knew that I needed to keep my average pace under 7 min if I wanted a chance to PR.

I went out pretty fast, 6:30 but I felt good (classic 5K move). I then managed to hold on to a 6:49 2nd mile, and 6:55 3rd mile. I wish I had paced it a little better, but I run 5Ks so infrequently and it's pretty challenging to pace well with all of the speed/excitement going on!

This gave me a new PR of 21:17!

So that is 25 seconds faster than my previous PR. I was psyched!

workin' hard

this photo is ridiculously hilarious

Brockport Distance Project post-race team photo
I've also had some very successful mid-week tempo runs and weekend long runs. This weekend, John and I are heading to PA for a birthday party, and I am doing a 20 mile preview run of the Steamtown Marathon course. This is exciting!

Now I'm off to enjoy my week of freedom from RIT!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pittsburgh Marathon Race Report

In the last few years, I have transitioned away from triathlons and really started to focus on my running. In "Alexa world" this means: I register for a marathon, I forget about the marathon, I remember about 9 weeks beforehand that I have a marathon that I'm supposed to be training for, and I go "oh crap" and ask Jennie Hansen to get me through it. She does, and I rejoice.

This marathon was no different in terms of preparedness, however, for once, it was not my goal race of the year (which all of the other marathons were - so far I have only ever done 1 marathon per year!). After coming up 4 minutes too slow for a BQ at the Rochester Marathon last year (I actually trained for that one!), I decided to give it a go again. My thinking was to run a spring "tune up" marathon as a practice run at the distance and to get myself training earlier in the year, and then run my goal marathon in the fall. This worked out to be the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 3rd and the Steamtown Marathon which is on October 11th.

For only having about 10 weeks of quality training with Jennie behind the wheel, I put in a really solid effort. I was nailing my mid-week tempo runs, I nailed my (lone) 20 miler, only skipped 1 run, had a light taper after racing the two prior weekends, and headed into race weekend questioning my sanity. Sounds about right - no?

John driving us to Pittsburgh while
making fun of all things PA (hey - I'm from PA!)
John and I left town Friday after work and got to our hotel in Cranberry Twp (about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh) pretty late. We basically just went straight to bed (after being upgraded to a King-sized suite because of John's Hilton card), got up late, got breakfast and hit the expo where we picked up our packets, played with some greyhounds, bought some clothes (tank top and some new sneakers for me), ate lunch, drove part of the course, did a shake out run, ate dinner, did some studying (I had to prepare for a quiz on Tuesday), watched some How I Met Your Mother on my iPad, and passed out early (isn't the day before a marathon supposed to be relaxing??).

at the expo - one of the many bridges in the background

My alarm was set for some ungodly hour (4 am maybe?) because the marathon organizers suggested we be to the marathon site at 5 am (race started at 7) due to road closures and city parking infrastructure. This is where an expensive city hotel would have been useful, but I'm cheap, so we sucked it up and got there at around 5:15 - luckily parked with no trouble and walked the 0.5 miles or so to the start, wearing our very fashionable throwaway clothes that we bought the day before at a Goodwill in Cranberry. (I actually really liked my shirt and was sad to toss it when the race started).

race morning!
We hit the porta-potties multiple times due to there being millions of them with no lines, and then headed over to Corral B, where we split up because John was to run a warm-up before the half-marathon, and I was not going to run any farther than the 26.2 that I had already allotted myself for the day. I got my good luck wishes and goodbye kiss from John and then I stood in one final bathroom line for a long time before squeezing myself into the middle of the corral.

I tend to zone out quite a bit during a marathon and just let the miles tick off, but I went into this race with a pretty specific pacing plan. I was using this race as a trial run for a negative split marathon I plan to do in October. I've never run a negative split anything as far as I'm aware (other than that 20 miler that I did this year) so I wanted to see if I could even actually execute it (at a moderate pace but not all out 'racing' the marathon).

My goal, which I hammered out with Jennie about a week before the race, was to run the first 10 miles at 8:45 pace, the next 8 miles at 8:30 pace, and the final 8.2 miles at 8:15 pace. This plan came about after a whole bunch of exchanged emails, but I liked it and it seemed reasonable so I went with it. Jennie's theory (or one of her old coaches' theory) is that a marathon is "a 20 mile run with a hard 10k at the end." I'm not sure I'm quite up for that so this was a good compromise.

If all went as planned, I would finish in 3:43 with an 8:31 pace.

In order to try to pace this by myself, I set my Garmin screen to show 4 fields: Distance, Average Pace (this field was just as an FYI), Current Lap Pace, and Overall Time. I've had a lot of success pacing by lap pace rather than current pace because it resets every mile. That's how I've done all of my tempo runs this year and I have been nailing the paces either spot on or within 1-2 seconds. Nutrition plan was to eat 2 Honey Stinger chews every 2 miles, drink Gatorade/water at aid stations as needed, and I had one of those Wegmans organic fruit twist things on me if I needed a big boost.

My race outfit was chosen quite far in advance as I am very particular about what I run in.. I need to be cool, comfortable, yet look cute. :)

  • Saucony Ignite Singlet in pink/purple - this is my favorite top to race in because it's bright, it sticks out, and it's super lightweight and comfy - I have 2 but need more.
  • Saucony Bullet Tight Shorts - these have great pockets on each hip for nutrition storage (this is why I chose them) and I like them b/c they prevent chafing and they don't ride up too badly - the downside is that there is a badly placed seam that goes right up the crotch meaning I can't wear these without undies which is undesirable but I manage.
  • Saucony Triumph Iso - I *love* these shoes and they are keeping my knee problems in check. the downside is the price tag ($150).
  • Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves - I have 3 pairs of these and I wore my hot pink tie dye ones. I have used these for years for recovery/standing all day at work but with being on my feet so much between work/training, I started wearing these for some runs as well (mostly my tempo and long runs). Although they were fine during this marathon, if it was any hotter out, I think I'd have to ditch them.
  • Balega socks - always Balega socks. period.

I was actually happy that I started in the middle of the corral because it helped me to control my pace early on. It's hard running an 8:45 pace off the start line but I succeeded in keeping my pace in check. Once I found a decent rhythm, the first 10 miles flew. I should note that Pittsburgh is a hilly course that goes all over the city, crosses several bridges, and runs through several college campuses. Most of the hills aren't bad but you're always going either up or down so it's hard to "settle" into a pace. I was constantly checking my Garmin and adjusting my pace accordingly but it was a good way to stay on top of things and keep myself engaged in the race. Worth nothing: I had some HR spikes in the first 10 miles.. these likely occurred either a) going around groups of people, b) trying to make up time after a hill, or c) making time up after a pee break.

I saw my high school friend/XC teammate Sarah at mile 10 or so (the EZ Pass Mile AKA "the flattest mile on the course") which was a nice pick-me-up and from there, flipped the switch to 8:30s. I had absolutely no trouble clicking them off and was actually a bit fast for most of them. Those 8 miles flew by (somewhere in there the marathon and the half split off from each other), and at mile 18, I cranked it up again to 8:15. By this time, it had started to heat up. I was drinking at every aid station, and they were handing off these water soaked cloths that I was using to clean my hands (sticky from Gatorade) and then wipe off my face and wet my hair. I was so glad that I wore sunscreen (considering I got fried 2 weeks earlier at the Seneca7).

I interacted a lot with the crowd - at one point someone was giving out gummy worms so I grabbed one and ate it. I slapped hands with kids and about 30 JROTC teenagers, and I petted one of the greyhounds at the greyhound aid station late in the race! This always makes a long race more enjoyable to me.

Somewhere around mile 20, I noticed that my armpits were chafing, which has been happening to me this year when I run long. I liberally applied Body Glide before the race but I guess I either sweat it off or didn't use enough. There were people at aid stations handing out gobs of Vaseline on popsicle sticks, and I was uncomfortable, so I took one and smeared it all over the skin that was chafing. Big problem: the Vaseline had some sort of menthol or liniment in it (you could smell it) and that shit BURNED for several miles. Yikes.. I think I would have preferred the chafing!!

After this, details begin to get a bit hazy. There was a sizable hill (meaning.. long) at/around mile 23 (which I was forewarned about!). My pace dropped off a little bit here and I was ready to be done. The large downhill that followed was good but my quads were screaming and it was hard to push the pace down the hill. Then we went around a corner and ran ~2 miles along this straight boring road. Knowing the finish was close and being on a boring stretch of road with no spectators and sweating my butt off was not a good combination, but I kept moving and finally made it to the finish. I wasn't able to keep up the 8:15 pace over the last few miles but I didn't slow down much, and all of my miles started with an 8! I finished and was given the heaviest finisher's medal in the world. I walked (hobbled) through the chute and found John at the family reunification area under H (although he *swears* we met at G) and we peaced out of Pittsburgh (after stopping back at the hotel for a nice shower) because it was time to head back home.

a random guy took this at the race, looked up my bib,
found me on facebook, and messaged me this photo!
(I love creepy internet strangers!!)
(&& free race photos!!)

great finisher's medal!

My official finish time was 3:45:26 which works out to a pace of 8:35.

My Garmin read long at 26.57 miles which worked out to a 8:29 pace. Must get better at running the tangents. The Garmin puts me spot on my pace, whereas the official time does not. May not matter now, but come October, those extra minutes are super important.

More fun Garmin information:

My splits for the first 10 miles (goal: 8:45 pace): 8:44, 8:44, 8:44, 8:36, 8:48, 8:45, 8:39, 8:42, 8:37, 8:40

These were pretty spot on.

Next 8 miles (goal: 8:30 pace): 8:27, 8:17, 8:20, 8:31, 8:30, 8:38, 8:22, 8:22

I had some trouble here, need to work on dialing it in a little more.

Last 8.2 miles (goal: 8:15 pace): 8:14, 8:18, 8:07, 8:10, 8:33, 8:08, 8:21, 8:31

These were good - the 8:33 was the uphill mile, the 8:08 was the following downhill, and then I really only died that last mile!

here is my awesome HR chart (grey) overlaying my pace (blue) over the length of the marathon

I was 711 out of 4214 marathoners, 140 out of 1699 female marathons, and 24 out of 305 in my age group.

I am very happy with my race. I felt great for almost the entire race (definitely up until mile 23), I held onto a decent pace, I didn't walk at all, I managed my nutrition and hydration, and I finished strong. I felt the best I have ever felt after a marathon. (John told me I looked great afterwards - though we all know he's obligated to say so). I was able to eat a few hours later - normally I can barely eat for the rest of the day. All of these things point to a stellar race execution and it makes me excited for the summer and for Steamtown!

I also really liked the city of Pittsburgh (this is a bit shocking since I am clearly a PA "east-sider") and thought they put on a great race. I was entertained for the whole race (except maybe the last 3 miles) and there was plenty of crowd support, lots of bands, aid stations were plentiful, the expo was fantastic, etc. I have only good things to say about the race and I'd definitely do it again! I can also say now that I've done the 2 big marathons of PA! Once a PA girl, always a PA girl. :)

Now I am doing a bit of recovery (biking/easy running) and am gearing myself up for a strong summer of training.

Also, because I was there with John and he is a great person to have at a race (he brought my stuff back from the car for me, drove, etc.) I have to mention that he PRed the half marathon.. at a "hard effort" and not even truly racing!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

2 out of 3 ain't bad.

As my title may or may not indicate, I've raced the past 2 weekends, and I have one more race this weekend!

This is not really my normal approach - I am not much of a high frequency racer - at least I haven't been for at least 5 years. I like to pick a few key races and focus on them. Occasionally I will use a 5K to "test" my fitness level but that's about it. I've been a little all over the place the last few years but this year I am dialing in on a few "A" races and an overarching goal. After this 3 week stretch, everything I do will be progress towards that goal.

This spring, however, has had a different theme to it. I have been really enjoying training with my boyfriend a few days a week, and racing helps me to stay focused, especially early in the year when weather hasn't cleared up yet and motivation can be low. Plus, the busier I keep myself, the more I get done. Don't ask me why that happens but when I am training AND in class, I get more accomplished in a day than if I was only doing one of those things.

So.. what have I been up to?

I joined a Seneca7 team back in the fall. That was basically a given - I'd done it twice before and had a blast both times. Also, Fleet Feet Rochester created a race series called "The 4 Seasons Challenge" which is comprised of 4 half marathons - 1 in every season, and if you finish them all, you wind up with one giant "mega-medal" (along with all of the regular stuff you get from each individual half marathon). Because gimmicky stuff like that calls to me, I obviously signed up for it (along with John and his brother David, and a whole bunch of other people I know). Then one day John told me he was going to run the Pittsburgh Marathon with one of his coworkers. I have always wanted to do a spring marathon, and particularly, this spring marathon (also, Vermont City Marathon and Big Sur are on that list) so I registered as well. John ended up dropping to the half a few weeks ago due to conflicts with his Ironman training, but I am full steam ahead for 26.2!

So those are my 3 races in 3 weeks: Seneca7, Flower City Challenge Half-Marathon, Pittsburgh Marathon. Probably not the dumbest thing I've ever done. Probably not the smartest thing either.

First up was the Seneca7 on April 19, which, for those who don't know, is a 7 person relay around Seneca Lake, totaling 77.7 miles. It starts and ends in Geneva, NY. The team captain/crazy organizer was my friend Richard (who I also run with quite often and play with in a monthly board game night, nerds unite), but most of the rest of the team were people I didn't know well. The only exception was another Ironman friend, Tim, who was a later addition to the team. So.. nothing like stuffing 7 (smelly) strangersrunners into a van for 12 hours as a way to get to know each other. We were a non-competitive team which is fine by me (I have never been on a competitive Seneca7 team and I like it that way).. and everyone was great - we all unloaded ourselves from the van at every exchange point to cheer on the baton (slap bracelet) exchange, and everyone screamed and rang cowbells out the window as we passed our runner. This was made even better by our neon yellow team shirts! I ended up running a little over 12 miles as the Leg 3 runner of "Chafing the Dream!" and I kept my average pace under 7:30 which was a struggle for sure (especially the last leg). I also got sunburned beyond belief! My face is still peeling 9 days later.

Team 'Chafing the Dream!''

hand-off in Watkins Glen

The following weekend was Flower City Challenge which has a paddle tri and duathlon on Saturday, and a half marathon and 5K on Sunday. John did the duathlon on Saturday, and even though I didn't go down to the start with him (it was cold and I really needed the extra time in bed after a tiring week), I headed down there at around 9 am and was able to see him finish, and then hung out for a bit before heading to Collegetown to do some schoolwork. I cooked a delicious (seriously) dinner for John and I on Saturday night, and then we headed to the race Sunday morning. Because neither of us were "racing" the half, leaving at 6:55 am for a 7:30 am race seemed reasonable. I even managed to hit the bathroom beforehand and still made it to the line with 30 seconds to spare.

This ended up being one of the most fun races I've ever done! Probably because I wasn't racing it (I was using it as a tempo-ish longer run on my way to my upcoming marathon) but also because at various stages throughout the race I ran with a combination of John, his brother Dave, Dave's girlfriend Katie, and other random people that I saw throughout the race. (Funny story - John, Katie and I all had the same shirt on). Plus the course is just fantastic - it stays within the Rochester city limits, runs through a bunch of different neighborhoods, Highland Park, Mt. Hope Cemetery, and the River Trail. The weather was perfect as well. Just a great experience. I also will note that John gave me bunny ears for one of the photographers (typical John behavior) and then grabbed my hand at the finish (NOT typical John behavior, but super adorable!). We then all went back to the boys' place for a giant brunch which was super fun and yummy.

this is my boyfriend, folks.

sometimes, he's pretty cute though

John and I after the race - twinsies!

This Friday, John and I are off to Pittsburgh!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I'm in a PA State of Mind

I had a fantastic weekend.

The week leading up to it was tiring. My Vitamin D had not quite kicked in yet, and I am in the process of switching to a new job, so I am splitting my work time between two labs in two different buildings and learning the ins and outs of a new (technically, a job I was doing a few years ago) job while maintaining responsibilities at my current job. It was stressful, and the new job is a little less flexible in terms of hours so that makes mornings (not my best time of day) a little more problematic for me (especially if I stay at John's the night before or have a morning workout to squeeze in before work).

I managed to get out of work a bit early on Friday (after working late Thursday), picked up John up at 4:30, and we hit the road for Syracuse. Why? Billy Joel concert at the Carrier Dome! If I had a bucket list (which I don't really).. Billy Joel would be on it. We bought these tickets months ago and it has always seemed to be so far in the distant future until we finally hit March, and then time flew by!

We checked into our hotel at around 6, got a quick dinner at Chipotle, and then went to park by the field house on South Campus. We got stuck in a loooong line of cars for 20 mins or so, at which point I started freaking out that we were going to be late, but we ended up in the parking lot, on a shuttle bus, and into the Dome before 8 pm. (Sidenote: I'm not sure how we managed this; we must have picked the right "entrance" into the parking lot because apparently many people were stuck in traffic for hours, waited in huge shuttle lines, and missed part of/the entire concert. Frankly, once we parked, we could have walked/ran the mile or so from the parking lot to the Dome if necessary. There was NO WAY I was going to miss the concert, especially at $100 per ticket!). We got to our FLOOR seats (our friends Ken and Emily were already there) and I managed to hit the concession stand (for John) and get a t-shirt (for me) while Gavin DeGraw was playing (because.. who cares about Gavin DeGraw when he's followed by Billy Joel - amirite?).

Can I just say - it was awesome!!!

1) Billy Joel still sounds a-freaking-mazing and he's 65 years old - he SOLD OUT the Dome, and this was his 7th sold out show there!
2) he played/sang for 2 hours straight!
3) he played "The Downeaster Alexa" which is MY song! ***best moment EVER***
4) you could hear 37,000 people singing along to Piano Man which was the coolest thing ever
5) floor seats rocked because we had folding chairs, and the bleachers there are super uncomfortable
6) Billy Joel is officially BA

John and I!

John, me, Emily, Ken

It could have been a logistical nightmare getting out of there, but it wasn't. We bolted the minute the encore ended and beat the crowds outside. We got right on a shuttle and got out of the parking lot with no problem. As we were cruising down the highway, back to the hotel, we could see the lines of cars backed up waiting to get on the highway. We were in bed by 12:15 - not bad!

The next morning, we had plans to do our long run(s) in Syracuse. I had 16 miles, John had 2 hrs 20 mins, so I had mapped out a 7 mile loop for us to do twice (and then I would add on the extra). I was kind of excited about this because I lived in Syracuse for about a year and was looking forward to running around my old neighborhood. But.. it was cold and raining, and it had snowed overnight. So we decided to eat a big breakfast and hit the road to my dad's house in PA, and then run there (weather looked better). So that's what we did. My dad lives about 2 hours from Syracuse so it's not a bad drive. John got his first taste of rural PA (at least with me) when we stopped at the local Dandy Mini Mart (i.e. gas station) that's about 5 minutes from home to get some snacks/supplies and the first guy we saw standing outside had a huge belly hanging out from underneath his t-shirt. Lovely. We visited for my dad a bit, and then changed into our running gear and headed into town.

We ended up running a 4 mile loop 4 times in the next town over from where I grew up. Sounds boring but it was pretty great. We could stop at the car and refuel/remove layers and doing small loops like that kept the run distance from seeming overwhelming. Plus I could point out interesting (at least to me) landmarks and tell stories to John for the entire run! After having a not so great 14 mile run last weekend, this run was a much needed ego boost, as it went really well. I was instructed to run at a relaxed/moderate pace until the last 3-4 miles, and then try to pick up the pace 10-20 seconds per mile. At mile 11, our average pace was 9:31 (I have never been one to push the pace on long runs).. and then I ran every mile faster than the one before it: 9:03, 8:44, 8:35, 8:33, 7:52 for the last 5. I ran the last 2.5 or so on my own because John turned around early (his run was a little shorter than mine). I know this does not seem like any kind of speed demon workout, and I am certainly not a super fast runner, but after years of dying at the end of long runs, this shows progress. Also, I have only been running consistently for.. 1 month? I was very happy with how I felt and how I was able to pick it up at the end (vs. last week's run where I was unable to speed up). This kind of run puts me in the appropriate mindset for the Pittsburgh Marathon which is rapidly approaching. I am even starting to get excited about it!

We refueled with a PA staple - Tastykakes, and my dad's eggplant parm. and then went to see "Fiddler on the Roof" at my high school (my dad wanted to see it). They did a pretty good job, and it was something different to do on a Saturday night. Sunday we just hung out with my dad and fiddled with the old video camera (we want to transfer our old home movies from the 8 mm cassettes they are currently on to DVD or some other modern storage system), before heading back to Rochester at 1 pm. We got back, did a trainer ride, and that was the end of our (very busy) weekend! This coming week and weekend will be much more low key. No obligations for me other than workouts and studying (and one dinner out with friends), plus I am on "spring break" so there is no class tonight! It's definitely a relaxing weekend to which I am looking forward!

Friday, March 13, 2015

hello, spring!

So.. it's March. I'm not exactly sure how that happened. The days have been whipping by.

Life has been the same: work, school, social life (a relatively successful one at that!). Because it was winter, there was also some cross country skiing. Not much running.

I got to the point where I was so frustrated with myself over my laziness, that I signed up for the Pittsburgh Marathon (it was the plan anyways) and hired miss Jennie Hansen as my run coach. Better late than never!

That, combined with the (finally) melting snow has prompted actual training miles! Real, outdoor runs! Shorts! New outfits! New sneakers! The return of the joy of staying active!

I would say I'm working out 6 days a week, with Tuesdays off (because I have class), bike rides Thursday and Saturday, and runs the other 4 days. It's good, exciting, and consistent, and hopefully it will keep me from overdoing it. I'm confident that Jennie will get me to the starting line in Pittsburgh (which is in less than 2 months) ready to run 26 miles, and then after that, we can focus on a fall PR/BQ attempt. That's the plan anyways!

I also have a few other races scattered in there: the Seneca7, the Flower City Half Marathon, the Shoreline Half Marathon, and the Rochester Half-Marathon. A currently undecided fall marathon. Probably looking at a PR attempt at the Roc half if all goes well.

One weird thing that has been happening is I've had some major exhaustion going on. Back in Feb., I worked a week of overnights, and then John and I traveled to VT that weekend, and then I ended up getting sick the following week. The fatigue that came with the sickness persisted even after my nasty cold went away, and after a while, I stopped believing that it was caused by the aftermath of the nights/sickness combination. I know I have a lot going on in my life, but it's been this way since 2013 and I've always managed to stay healthy and on my game. I successfully trained for 3 Ironmans while working a shift rotation, I've made it through 2 marathon years while simultaneously in grad. school and working full time. Doing a lot in a day isn't a new concept for me. I like going to bed knowing that I've accomplished things at my job, intellectually, and physically. However (and this is where things get weird).. insomnia is my baseline. I've had trouble sleeping my entire life - it's the norm for me and although it got really bad a few years ago during the job with the shifts, it's since gotten manageable again (with the help of medication and sleep doctors and whatnot). So, when I started passing out at night within 30 seconds of crawling into bed while being seriously cuddled by my boyfriend (and I am a strict *don't touch me while I'm sleeping* kind of person), I started to think that something was up.

I ended up getting blood work done and found out that I am Vitamin D deficient. NBD right? Everyone in the Northeast is probably Vitamin D deficient. A lot of times you don't even know. However, I have been having symptoms like crazy, which is what prompted the blood test, which prompted a prescription for a giant weekly dose of Vitamin D.. for the next 3 months! I'm hoping it helps. It's hard to live a busy life (of things you want to do) when your body is telling you to go to bed at 8 pm and not get up until 8 am. Sorry.. not possible. Most nights I don't even get to my homework until after 8 pm!

The good news is that there is a solution, that I love my life and want to keep going the way that I have been going, and am excited to get my energy levels back up! I have too many things to accomplish to slow down now!