Air Force Marathon training: weeks 1-5

We’re already five weeks, two tempos, two track workouts, and five long runs (including a cutback) in.

Things that are hard:

-opening your handheld water bottle for a water fountain refill mid-long run with sweaty fingers

-melty summer long runs

 

Things that are awesome:

-Eating ALL the things!

I want a burger with EVERYTHING

-the beauty that is running in Pittsburgh

-pwning the #RWRunStreak (plus bonus days), completed officially on July 4th, despite Florida heat and humidity (we purposely scheduled our first cutback week – after four weeks of build - for this vacation week for obvious reasons. But damn was that a tough buildup. File that tidbit under “things that are hard,” I guess.)

-racing for fun and speedwork, and scoring some age group bling!

-logging a whole bunch of miles with friends: in addition to the hubs, I’ve been maintaining my weekly runs with Danielle, and Kim and I have also been meeting up when our schedules mesh to log some miles together, helping each other dial into marathon goal pace and chatting up a storm while doing it.

The breakdown

Week 1: few easy runs + 1 track workout (3×1600, totally nailed it despite not having done a mile repeat workout in AGES, which was freaking me out) + 5 miles @ MGP with Kim  (not scheduled, but I could not resist) + 12 mile long run with last 3 @ marathon goal pace.

Week 2: easy runs + 14 mile long run (all easy) + dead legs Man Up 10K (mini-race report below), spectated by my dad!

Week 3: easy runs + track workout (6×800, made all my paces despite wanting to quit so badly around the 4th repeat) + 15 mile long run (about half of which were on delicious trails) w/ last 3 @ MGP

Long run fuel/water/river re-group

Week 4: easy runs + 7 mi tempo (1-5-1, and made it semi-progressive as my legs tried to re-learn how to tempo) + 16 mile long run with middle 4 @ MGP. Majorly struggled the last few miles of the run due to full sun, heat, and humidity, and took quite a few walk breaks, but got it done.

Week 5: all easy runs, including a 4:20 am 3.3 miler before hopping a plane to go on vacation, and then super-sweaty runs Tuesday through Saturday, not once breaking the streak. 10 miles on Sunday, including Sweet Spring 3K (see below)

Race Reports! (yes, TWO)

Man Up 10-K

We’ve run this race the last few years, and like last year, my dad got up SUPER early to drive in from Cleveland to spectate. After our warmup (1 mile easy, then drills and striders), we met him near the starting line for pre-race hugs and well wishes. We both felt pretty shitty, having a rough week and 14 miles on our legs from the day before. But having my dad there made me want to still try to punch it. At the very least, I wanted a solid tempo effort. My legs couldn’t deliver a PR, but despite wanting to quit around halfway in, I never did, and walked away with 2nd in my AG and a time not too far off my PR of 44:02, finishing in 44:27. The girl who got first crushed me by like 5+ minutes, but I’ll take it. I gassed it at the end and was in tears, barely pulling myself together before my dad walked over to give me a hug.

Worth it.

Best fan ever :)

 

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Sweet Sprint 3K

We ran this last year, too, and this year it came on the heels of our cutback week. We’d arrived home from our Florida vacation late Saturday night, getting to sleep a little after 1 a.m. (ugh) and getting right up at 7 a.m. for a quick breakfast and drive down to the finish/packet pickup area. We met up with our friends Mark and Shannon, and ran easy to the start. Then, after some drills and striders, and various delays, we entered the pain cave for the race. What hurts more than a 5K? Oh, buddy…

Stretching out my hips and waiting for the start
Stretching out my hips and waiting for the start
And.... go!!
And…. go!!
Moving so fast we're blurry! Mark in the foreground here.
Moving so fast we’re blurry! Mark in the foreground here.

blur start2

I started off at a sprint then reined it in…slightly. I found myself pacing with Keri, whom I’d met while running to the start with Shannon (girl Shannon – hee), and we were cooking along in the low 6’s, gradually easing back to around 6:30s. At the one mile mark, we went under the overpass and satellites went briefly haywire. I’d taken note of a sign that said “almost there!” on the way up, and noted it was about 2/3 mile from the finish, which was  a nice check point to have. I dropped Keri slowly and was reeling in a younger girl who I wasn’t sure whether she was in third or fourth perhaps. In the last half mile, as she faded, I passed her and tried to gas it hard to the finish, catching sight of Kim (who was meeting us for the rest of our 10 miles, having already done 8 of her planned 14), who snapped a couple shots of me (including this top one here – other one was taken by the organizers)

photo 1

me finish3I crossed the finish in 12:12 by my watch – 12:09 official. BIG improvement from last year’s 12:57. While it still hurt like the dickens, I thing I was more mentally prepared for it, not to mention was already in training and had a few speed sessions under my belt. We figured we nabbed some bling, but didn’t want to make Kim wait, nor postpone our last 10K of our long run as it was already getting pretty darn hot. We joined Kim for 6+ miles around the downtown area, crossing a couple bridges and seeing some of the “furries” from the annual convention.

Hubs’ shot from Fort Pitt

Turns out, my husband got 1st in his AG and I got 2nd woman overall! (it bears mention that this race only had like 75ish finishers). Mark grabbed our bling for us in our absence, having gotten 1st in his AG as well.

Now the real work begins: from here on out, we have two-week build cycles followed by cutbacks, so hopefully we can really push on the builds and then rest “aggressively” in between to reap the most benefits. I’m still treating the training plan like an overall guideline: any sign of trouble and it’s subject to change. But after the first couple weeks, first feeling strong and then feeling dead, we could feel that our bodies were already responding to the higher training load and adjusting to it. It can be demoralizing how rough the first couple weeks of marathon training are, but I always remind myself that those first weeks are roughly equivalent to peak half-marathon training. We will adjust, but it won’t be instantaneously.

 

 

Need for speed

Time for a little ketchup.

Okay, okay. Bad joke.

What have I been up to? Well, for one, a very abbreviated off-season. I took Monday through Thursday off post-race, before diving back in Friday with a 5-miler with Danielle – a warm, humid 5-miler. While I can’t generally complain about how this spring into early summer has been, we did have  a couple of surprise hot and muggy days that were a bit of a shock to the system. Then again, I had forgotten what it was to sweat from a run – and I kinda loved it.

Hail Mary mesh is right – saving grace on a hot run

I contemplated reigniting the run streak again, and while I did eventually, I let myself ease in. Danielle and I changed up some routes – a hilly-as-hell 9-miler though Schenley Park springs to mind (done at an 8:34 average – I blame all the marathon training talk getting our hearts pumping as our splits started creeping into BQ marathon pace range the last few miles, even after all the quad-crushing climbs), and I dove back into cross-training with a vengeance.

We returned to some old favorites, including the 5K ladder workout, a week and a half out from a local 5K we wanted to kick butt at.

This would be the hubs’ data overlay, not mine, but to be far, I wasn’t THAT far behind! We also did this at Schenley Oval, since as you can see, CMU was unusable.

We also got to venture into new territory, including me being stupid about mileage (but it’s okay, because, off-season?). The week of the 5K,  and after, I did the following:

Friday: Kim and I ran 5 miles at goal marathon pace (~8:15) and marveled at how much our legs wanted to click into 7:30s (half-marathon pace) and as a result, how “easy” low 8:00s felt. Hope that remains true! I’m not targeting a BQ (YET) but am training with two women who are, so bring it.

Saturday: 10 miles with the Early Birds! These downright mythical creatures (okay, okay) are an offshoot of Steel City, and all wicked fast and really cool folks. The hubs hung with them, but after the first mile clicked off in 8:0x, Kim and I backed off to 8:30s to cruise the last 9 miles in, which was still a solid effort! And my ACTUAL marathon goal pace. Since we were near REI, I of course had to load up on Picky Bars…

Once again, not my data overlay. Clearly.

Sunday: 1.1ish mile warmup, striders, and raced the It’s About the Warrior 5K.

This tiny local race was at North Park, and as predicted, was an out-and-back starting at the Boat House and going around the lake loop counter-clockwise until the turnaround, which meant just enough rolling hills to keep things interesting. We got in a full mile-plus warm-up, did drills, and got the fast twitch muscles firing with faster-than-race-pace striders. It felt like death, but I knew this was what it should feel like. At least for me.

After some more milling around, they told us to head to the start – you know it’s a gun start when they say “go stand by the ____ shelter” and without any warning whatsoever, the gun went off, and we were off! The hubs and I shared quick wishes of “good luck and have fun!” as we took off at a dead sprint that I quickly tried to rein back in. I took a gander at the field and saw I was probably among the top four or five females (in the admittedly very small race). I figured this was as good a spot as any and tried to lock into right around 6:50ish, which was a good 20 sec/mile faster than my actual PR pace (though I did “break” that PR twice during teach split of the Great Race 10K, though at doesn’t really count).  I started reeling in one girl, then another, and mile 1 clicked off in 6:48 as we headed up a hill, tanking my pace for a bit, but I caught up. I could see my sweetie not too terribly far ahead – though definitely out of striking distance.

As we approached the turnaround and we went for our typical out-and-back high five, I saw there was only one girl ahead of me. I wasn’t sure how much she was scoping out the field, but I just chugged around the turnaround table and started reeling her in, wondering if I should pass her, stalk  right behind her, or hang out right beside her, righting the current and making her sweat. I ended up slowly reeling her in, despite some efforts to stay just off of her, and we ran together for probably a good half mile, trading a few words of encouragement. As we clicked off past the second mile (6:54), I slowly inched past her, knowing it was too soon to kick yet and praying I could just hang on. I had gotten the sense she was struggling to maintain the hot pace she had set, but as the mile counted down, I imagined her hot on my heels, telling my brain not to quit.

Mile 3 came in at 6:40 and I was in absolute agony, perking up a hair when I heard the crowd clap a bit more as I rounded the corner as first female. I neared the chute, a guy I had passed briefly and who then re-passed me, just a few seconds ahead, and I saw that two volunteers were waiting for him to clear the chute… so they could draw a finishing tape across! I couldn’t believe it! I was going to break the tape! The pain gave way to elation as I crossed with arms up and I’m pretty sure a big dumb grin on my face. I’m also fairly certain I heard my husband say, “holy $#%&!!” (in the best way)

I shook hands with the second place girl, who was really nice and a great sport, and we meandered around, sucking down gatorade and eating the post-race snacks until the awards. When I was given an invisible trophy!

Okay, not actually invisible, but sure looks that way.

And my sweetie got first in his (very competitive) age group!

Monday: 6.8ish trail miles with Kelly. Gosh darn beautiful… and warm. And someone – the mom of the second place female, I believe, recognized me from the race, which cracked us both up.

Finally getting to see the greened up trails.

Tuesday: I swore up and down I would take it easy. My legs were DEAD and I was just generally worn out. But when Danielle texted – “same route as last week?” (i.e., 9 miles including Schenley), well, I couldn’t say no! We were both dead tired – me from too many miles and her from racing a 5K on Monday and doing lunges, plus all her other mileage, but it was still pretty fabulous. And we saw a lovely doe, which I never see at Schenley, and it made it all worthwhile.

So there you have it – 35.5ish miles in five days. Whoops…? I put myself on mileage lockdown the rest of the week, but with one mile minimums because…

Yep! Streaking again – I’m counting the official streak, but adding a parenthetical +4 to my counts since I actually started the Thursday before Memorial Day. We’ll see how long it lasts!

 

Race Report: Pittsburgh Half-Marathon

7:37

That’s the pace I’d need to run to break 1:40. The pace that – in September 2011 – was my 5K race pace that left me wanting to vomit a little. The pace that was faster than goal tempo up until the last several months. The pace that was 12 seconds per mile faster than my PR from JASR. And the pace that was kind of scaring the pants off of me. But no matter what, I knew my real goal was to have fun: we have a lot of running pals in the area now, and big plans to see as many of them as possible. So without further ado…

Saturday

My husband and I rolled out of bed at a leisurely 8 a.m. after almost 10 hours of sleep. Ah, bliss. We ate a quick breakfast before heading downtown to the expo, parking at the convention center and then strolling to Market Square to meet up with Kim for a quick shakeout run. Our satellites all went haywire from the buildings, but we kept the effort super, duper easy, ran a couple of bridges to and from North Shore, and talked race strategy before heading back to the expo, Kim grabbing a quick breakfast before rejoining us there. There, we had a special job to do: watch this nugget … …while his mom – our friend Kelly – and her other kiddo ran in the Kids Marathon, the culmination of the 25.2 training miles they did in the weeks leading up to race day, wrapping up with one mile from north side to the downtown finish line. While they prepped for their race, we hit up the expo to grab our bibs and packets and scope out the booths, all while navigating the area with a stroller (moms – HOW DO YOU DO IT?) and watching the clock to make sure we headed out at the appropriate time. Baby and I made good friends while we waited. Or I was a horrible influence. We headed out of the expo to park ourselves a little before the finish line to watch some pretty cool kids run the race with their pretty cool parents.

Kelly, in pink, with her kiddo
Mark and his sweetie pie daughter – her first race! (I think)

We got the baby boy back to his momma (he saw her run by, we think, and then had a little meltdown when she didn’t stick around, so he very much wanted to be with her again. Poor tyke!), who gave us bottles of WINE to say thank you (seriously, I’d hang out with that kid for free) before heading back to the expo for a bit. I caught up with Danielle for a few minutes, my hubby bought discounted shoes, we both got some fuel, and True Runner through in a cowbell as a bonus. The rest of the afternoon we tried to stay off of our feet. We had fortunately done our shopping the night before (Giant Eagle is DEAD at 8pm-ish on a Friday evening – protip). Late in the afternoon, my former childhood neighbor Liz and her running buddy Carol arrived from Toledo. We chatted for a while before they each headed out for their respective dinner plans, while the hubs and I had our usual granola pancake dinner (all leftovers, actually). Everyone was home around 8 or 8:30 and by 9 pm we were all winding down – stretching, foam rolling, and heading to bed as soon as possible. The 4 am alarm waited for no runner.

Race Day

As usual, I’m pretty sure I was already awake when the alarm went off – though groggy, in a what the hell is that annoying sound? oh wait that’s the alarm TIME TO WAKE UUUPPPPzzzzz kind of way. But it was time to go: oatmeal, coffee (instant, because I’m lame and forgot to buy coffee filters, which I thought I still had laying around), and about a thousand trips to the bathroom before Devin and my running partner Danielle arrived and we all headed to the race! We took a longer route to get to North Shore just in case of early road closures, and after one misstep, parked a half mile-ish (maybe longer) walk across a bridge and to the start. We hit up some untouched porto-potties on the walk over, and had a photographer stop us for a group shot, still carrying our bags and wearing our throwaways.

pre-race group 1
Left to right: the hubs, Devin, Liz, Carol, me, and Danielle

pre-race group 2   After some discussion and bag dropping, we decided to chill in Market Square for a while, snagging a big table with plenty of seats, near a cluster of portos, which, yeah, we hit up like two or three more times (or was that just me?).  20ish minutes to start, we headed to the corrals, wishing each other luck and splitting up. Before I knew it, the anthem was being played, and I was running (my warmup! I guess) with my hat in my hand, trying to get to A corral. We GU’d up, stripped off our throwaways (after much deliberation, the outfit I landed on was the winona tank, bum wrap, and arm warmers (all Oiselle), and CEP compression calf sleeves. And, of course, Brooks Launch, and some swiftwick socks on my feet), and squeezed into the corral, locating the 3:20 marathon pace group (since there was no 1:40 half group) and finding Kim, who had the same goal. Score! A few minutes later, it was gun time – go time.

The Race

After the typical start line bottleneck, I hit START on my Garmin a few strides before the mat, exhilarated and excited. We tucked near the pacer and I soaked up the sights and sounds. I had chosen to race as long as I could without music, my iPod strapped to my arm, ear buds tucked into the pocket of my bum wrap. I felt calm, yet excited; focused, and thrilled. I was racing with my husband. I was racing with Kim. I was gunning for a 1:40, or at least a PR (previous PR at JASR being 1:42:17). But at the end of the day, I wanted to just enjoy every step running through this city I have grown to love. Some spitting rain had shown up during the last 20 minutes pre-race and kept on a little bit into the race, but I felt comfortable, and within the first three miles, shed my throwaway gloves (I just used a pair of thin winter gloves that needed to be retired anyway since they were getting very frayed). It was kind of hilarious running with a marathon pace group, since so many of the cheers we got were “yeaahhhh go 3:20!!!” But, I’ll take it. The pacer was also calling out how far off pace we were (not much) and reassuring everyone not to worry, that we would make it up. I appreciated him easing in, though.

7:47. 7:41. 7:30

Up Liberty and then doubling back down Penn, we curved onto the first bridge: 16th street (one of my favorites, actually – it’s beautiful) to hit up the north side. The first few miles are super flat, but the rolling hills began with the bridges and I buckled up for the task of really working the hills and my experience on the course to my advantage. On the bridge, the pacer called out that the last split was on pace, and that we were 20 seconds behind overall (well, you know, approximately). No biggie. The miles clicked off and I tried to stay even and relaxed behind the pacer. Kim seemed to be feeling great and surged ahead of him a bit. I monitored my breathing – in control – and stayed near my husband, the first time actually racing together in quite a while.  I took my first gel at the first water stop I was prepared for, which was I think at 4ish. Soon we were onto the double-bridge cross: you run 9th Street into downtown, run down two blocks which are LINED with people, and head back across on 7th. I’d work the rollers, and feed off the crowds, I told myself. _dsc0712 _dsc0715 _dsc0716 _dsc0718 _dsc0719 _dsc0720 The crowd was a little quiet as we moved from bridge to bridge, so I moved my hand to my ear and motioned to the crowd to pump it out. I got cheers and cowbells in response and tried to keep my pulse and pace from jumping too high. What a rush. Back across to the north side and past the first marathon relay exchange, I eyed my 10K overall time as we crossed the mat – a little slower than I’d hoped but not bad.

7:43. 7:37. 7:38

Official 10K split: 48:01 (7:43 pace)

 We rolled down a hill and headed toward the West End Bridge, which is a big one, but with a great view of downtown. At this point, I was very much on the outskirts of the pace group, and by the bridge, I had lost contact. I also lost Kim from my rearview after a water stop right around 10K. I kept the pace group and my husband in view but let myself follow my own feet: it was time to run my own race, especially as we made the Steuben Street climb right after the bridge ended. The rollers were starting to get to me, but as we spun around Steuben to Main to eventually land on Carson, I laughed and grinned as a band played “500 Miles” (modified for running, naturally), cruising down a hill. I tried to bring my pace back up and my effort back down by increasing my cadence, a tactic that seemed to be working. The pace group and the hubs were still out of reach, but I was holding steady as we reached Carson. By mile 8 or so, I was feeling slight twinges to turn on my music. But every time, I got a distraction. A girl who looked to be about 14 was running with her mom – she was going at a great clip but was suffering and her mom urged her on. I gave her a quick “you’ve got this” and kept on. We came upon the usual contingent of military folks, and even as I felt my pace and heart rate sky rocket, I still got as many high-fives as I could. Worth it. But it was still starting to get mentally taxing. I had lost sight of the pace group (I think they were going a bit fast, possibly banking time before the more brutal hills on the second half of the marathon) but I mostly had my husband in my sights, keeping an eye on his dark gray shirt and bright white compression socks. I made myself a deal: make it to mile 10, quickly evaluate, and if needed, turn on music. I also realized I probably needed a gel, and took one at 9.5 or so, a little ahead of a water stop.

7:40. 7:33. 7:38. 7:58

Yeah, I needed it. Out came the earbuds and I plugged right in, accidentally skipping a song, but it was perfect: on came “Get Lucky,” the perfect mind calmer and rhythm setter. I shouted to the crowd: “Let’s hear it, Southside!” and got a cheer echoed back. The split was coming. Soon we were spilling onto Birmingham Bridge – big and brutal – and the split was done: marathoners to the right, halfers to the left. I tucked in and pushed up, trying to stay relaxed. And I was drawing closer to my guy.

brains
I call this my zombie photo. BRRRRAAAAAIIIIINNNSSSS

beatthebridge2 beatthebridge3 beatthebridge4

As the bridge reached its peak, I found myself drawing abreast of my guy, giving him a very quick glance, but mostly providing him quiet company. We turned left onto Forbes and had the last steep climb, which I knew was coming – but had forgotten just how bad it was. I was trying maintain pace. Then I gave that up and tried to maintain effort. Dear lord please let this end. Can I make it up this hill? I want to walk. I NEED to walk. No, I just WANT to walk. Don’t walk. Just a little farther… (apparently he knew I was having this debate in my head – I think he knows me well or something)

The hill finally ended – or at least the portion – and we wove onto Blvd of the Allies, a long, gradual climb, but I knew exactly where it ended. The desire to quit and walk went away, and I rallied everything inside of me to just keep calm, be patient, and wait for the hill to end and the descent to start. And it would happen just after the mile 12 mark.

7:43. 8:04.

The hill – finally, mercifully – ended, and something in me clicked. I switched songs (Lady Gaga’s “Applause”) and took off.

The course goes down and down and down and down.

elevation pgh 2014
No but seriously: the last couple miles

I rode the hill, picking up my cadence and feeling the miles and miles of pounding in my feet, begging the blisters I was starting to feel to hold off just one more mile. A girl blew past me and I gave chase – not completely, but enough not to hold back, not to give up just yet. I rode the hill as long as I could, and as it began to flatten, looked at my overall time and cursed. A man next to me asked if I was going to break 1:40. “Not quite,” I said. But I was still not going to give in. The song ended and I restarted it as the flat began to climb just a little – only a little, but so cruel. The finish line was right down the street, but not in sight. I knew I was about a 10th of a mile off, but I wouldn’t look at my distance, glancing down only when I saw mile 13 tick off.

6:47

The hill ended and it was all downhill to the finish, the banner at last in sight. I didn’t know how close I was – I knew sub-1:40 was just out of reach (after some back-and-forth on the mush brain mental math) – but I prayed for my own watch not to tick over 1:41. In the last few strides, I had no kick left to give, felt like I was slowing, felt like my legs were oozing out from under me, and prayed that I would just. hold. on.

stretchrun1 stretchrun2 stretchrun3 stretchrun4

Final sprint: 6:07 pace

I flew across the line, arms in the air, and hit stop on my watch, gasping for air and chocking back tears.

finishing1 finishing2 finishing3

Chip time: 1:40:40 (7:40 avg) – new PR***

Post-race

A volunteer was instantly in front of me, helping me stand. I reassured her that I was okay, that I was just really happy, that I always do this (seriously – does anyone else cry at the finish line? Because it’s like every. damn. half.). I stumbled over to get my medal and looked back to see my husband had finished just behind me (27 seconds, I believe). He looked ready to fall down and/or vomit, so I broke the rules and stopped moving, then walked over to him to rub his back and help him walk to get his medal. We stumbled through the volunteers to snag our finishing photos. And I noticed how badly I had chafed under my right arm.

owchafing

derp official finish 2We grabbed all the food we could get our hands on and found Kim, all making our way to the FedEx tent for post-race massages, catching up with a few other folks there, including Mark.

A little bit later, we caught up with Devin, who finished in about 2:05 – a 15 minute PR!!! After a bit more stretching and relaxing, we packed it in and hobbled to the car. We had a brunch to throw! We took turns with the shower and shuffled to the end of our street where the marathon passes, clanging our new cowbell and cheering for the marathoners for about 20 minutes before we needed to head in to set up and start cooking.

Between noon and about 4:30 we had a steady stream of runner friends, and their partners, as well as a couple of kiddos. People rolled in and out depending on finish time, schedules, and distance. We traded war stories, gossiped about local running happenings, tracked our friends, drank mimosas, and ate like runner kings: bacon, pancakes cooked in bacon grease, bagels from Bagel Factory, fruit, and French toast.

Seriously. How did we live without griddle? And bacon-grease cooked pancakes?

I of course took no photos – but at least that means I was really in the moment and enjoying myself, right?

Now what?

Well, now, I rest. A little. I’m planning on doing a 16-week marathon training cycle for Air Force, starting June 2. Injected with a whole lot of confidence, I’m hoping to tackle the cycle with grit and determination; high mileage and marathon pace workouts; speed and form training; and strength training that will hopefully get me to the start line as a solid sheet of muscle (or something like that).

Maybe that will help me make up for the lack of marathon experience.

Maybe.

Pittsburgh half buildup: salvaging the mileage

We had grand plans for this training cycle. I was already doing 30-35 mile weeks before training commenced, with help from the run streak and my mile hog run buddy, Danielle. I was loving it. I felt so fit and so in love with the sport. We aimed to hit  a peak week of 48 miles before the half, just a couple weeks after our wedding.

HA. Fat chance.

Week before JASR week: 36 (which included cutting a long run short + cutting out a recovery run because of hip trouble)

JASR week: 19 miles (3 mile walk + 3 mile test run + half-marathon)

Wedding week: 20 miles (sleep prevailed a couple of times over squeezing in more miles. The right decision)

Honeymoon week: 23 miles

We had figured wedding week would be nuts and hoped to get in 30 miles. I think he managed that – I did not. Being in the thick of it at home with my mom, finalizing wedding stuff… not possible to get in more than 20 miles without losing sleep and therefore my mind. And the 40 miles we had planned for the honeymoon, because we hoped for an awesome gym and treadmill set up?

HA. DREAM ON.

But we still did pretty well. We ran most days we were there, and though it was often short, we did pretty decent paces. Our “long run” was about 8.5 miles divided between 4-ish mile morning and afternoon segments.

When we got home, newly husband and wife + one week, we knew we’d have to adjust our plans. We dialed back the mileage but still hoped to hit about 36-38ish and then 40-42ish for the final week.  We’d do our best and listen to our bodies, respecting their limits. I seemed to have gotten my hip under control, but I knew that was probably a fragile peace.

The first week back home, we did a little over 8.5 the Monday we both took off to regroup, I got back into a groove with Danielle on Tuesday with an easy 6, ran 1 mile + cross-trained Wednesday, and then – trading out a track workout for a tempo – met up with Kim on Thursday morning at Bakery Square for a little road redemption. With the harsh winter, I had yet to tempo outside this season. And having missed some speedwork in the previous couple of weeks, was worried I could manage it. Kim and I figured an HM tempo was our best bet, and – if you can believe it – I ran the entire thing without music. I had brought it with, but didn’t turn it on at first, looking to key into the pace. But then – it felt great! True, a couple points I kinda wanted to turn it on, and the last mile was a grind that we both sort of died on. But we kept at least 1:42ish half pace, and mostly stayed at (or under) 1:40 half pace (around 7:38). Having a suffer buddy was absolutely clutch, and we got to witness a great sunrise at the end to boot.

We were in Athens, GA, for my sister-in-law’s wedding that weekend, and after having planned a 12 miler and hoping for the middle-ish four to be at HM pace, the hills and our utter exhaustion got the best of us: we stuck out 10 miles, mostly at just-get-through-this-alive pace. Not pretty, and not very confidence boosting.

The next week we bounced back, but my confidence was still shaking. We had great runs, all easy, leading into the weekend, when we ran a 12-miler on one of our favorite routes, also all easy. The next day, of course, was Burgh 10K. Flat. Fast. Ripe for PRs.

But that was not our plan. With a lot of hemming and hawwing and whining, we decided to go with our friend Mark’s idea (well, okay, we stretched it a little – sorry, Mark!) of making it JUST  tempo run. NO RACING. We ran an easy one mile warmup, did some drills, and I was able to find Danielle, so we lined up at the start together with a plan: 7:37 average (as best we could manage) for a half-marathon tempo. My husband (so weird saying that) and I left music at home on purpose to prevent the urge to race. We picked through the crowd at the start, since it’s a narrow-ish crushed limestone trail, but otherwise reined in our horses. We lost satellites in and out of the tunnel on the out-and-back course, and my Garmin stopped at some point (I bumped it? it froze?) so for the last 2.5ish I had no real idea of where we were and what pace I should be doing. We actually nailed goal pace on the way out, but came back in too fast. And of course sprinted to the finish to finish only a second or two apart from each other. I finished in 46:18 for a 7:27 pace.

One mile cool down with all of us plus Kim later, we went to get our wings and free beers, try to defend a helpless garter stake from women screaming about it and one person stomping its tail for no good reason, we found out that my husband got 2nd in his age group, and Danielle and I got 4th and 5th! If we had raced it, we could have gone 1-2 or 2-3! Ridiculous.

20 miles on the weekend, and almost 42 on the week.  All that was left was the taper. Oh, and the race.

Race Report: Just a Short Run 2014 (half-marathon)

Sometimes a half-marathon is a half-marathon. You have a goal. You have a plan to execute that goal. You have mantras and a warm-up routine and the perfect playlist (if you’re into that) and pre-race breakfast and fueling strategy.

And sometimes, a half-marathon is a week before your wedding. And it gets to be even more fun.

Photo Mar 29, 7 46 05I took almost the whole week off before this race after a sharp, tugging pain in my left hip emerged. I iced, stretched, foam rolled, and strengthened like a mofo, and after thinking it was bursitis, I think it was some combination of hip tendinitis and IT band inflammation, both of which I should have kept on top of better with daily foam rolling. By Friday, I ran a short test run on the treadmill (3 miles) and felt good. I was ready to at least give it a go.

We went to the race with our buddy Devin, who is also running the Pittsburgh half and was running the 8.1 mile option. We hung out inside where it was warmer and started getting situated… and became instant celebrities. Why, you ask?

Photo Mar 29, 8 06 34 Photo Mar 29, 8 07 14Yep, we dressed up as runaway bride and runaway groom. I had the perfect, super-bridal running top from Oiselle (crossback mesh) but had to put on a white longsleeve underneath because it was pretty darn chilly out. We found my guy a tuxedo running shirt and were able to have them put our wedding date on the back. People came up to us for pictures and to wish us congratulations, which was pretty much fun – weddings are sort of a vanity exercise, after all, so we decided to soak it in. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I had a big goal for this one: 1:42:24. Yeah, pretty exact. I came in with a PR of 1:43:56 (7:56 average) and when I saw that the cut-off to apply for a seeded position as a female in the Pittsburgh half was 7:49 pace, I decided to go for it. I’d have to watch hawk a lot since there is no pace group for a goal that precise, but I tried not to let that psych me out.

About 20 minutes to start, we took our gels and headed toward the start line, doing some drills and jogging the third of a mile or so from the Rose Barn to the start. My guy and I exchanged kisses and wishes of good luck, and a few minutes later, we were off!

As always, this race was three loops for the half-marathon: a 5K loop around the ice rink, followed by two 5-mile lake loops. Within the first mile, there’s a decently gnarly climb: my strategy was to stay as steady as I could up the hill, but also use it to rein in my pace, before coming screaming down the other side as the course then transitioned to rolling to flat. It worked.

7:56. 7:38. 7:38.

I came through the 5K split (one of the few times I allowed myself to look at elapsed time) around 24ish minutes (24:03 by my official split). Right on schedule. I settled in and prepared for the next climb. I had chosen to race without water, so I ended up taking a gel just around the 4 mile mark so I could hit up the water station. I was already seesawing with a few people around me, trading leads and trying to find some kind of pacer buddy.

7:46. 7:48

Maybe 6ish miles in, I started passing a guy who then saw the sign on my back, pulled abreast for a second to smile and say that he saw my groom. “Better go catch him!” he said. “Naw, he’s with the 1:40 group – I’m not that fast!” He checked his watch and said, “You’re not that far off!”

I soaked up the course and enjoyed the positive vibes I got from people reacting to my outfit, whether it was a chuckle from behind me, or someone speaking to me directly. I came through the first lake loop (8.1 miles total) apparently a little slower, but I think it had to do with the way the course was measured.

7:48. 7:53. 7:47

The second loop, I on and off got into my head. This is getting hard. This is a bit fast. Is this sustainable? But I got a boost each time, either from a little downhill, or the aid stations on the second loop remembering me, recognizing me from the front this time (“Hey Runaway! Go catch your groom!”). I think I ended up taking two gels on the second loop, though the details are a bit fuzzy.

7:48. 7:53. 7:46.

I was still pretty much where I needed to be, but my watch was way off the mile markers, and we know how unreliable GPS can be sometimes. My 12th mile was a grind, a long, slow uphill sapping my spirit almost as much as the view of the finish line 2 miles out was.

7:57

I checked my watch, and despite tired mid-race mush brain, I knew I that if I wanted that seeded time, I had zero wiggle room. I had to absolutely CRANK the last mile. I watched my pace kick up for a while before switching to overall time, racing against the clock. I wanted to quit so badly in the last half mile, just back off a hair, but I could not let myself.

7:03

As I crossed the last mile mark, I saw Kelly and her kiddos cheering for me, and I mustered a big smile and wave before giving completely into the pain, breathing like a dysfunctional freight train, and crossing the finish line with probably the worst pain face of my life.

6:23 final sprint

JASR2014 pain face

Chip time: 1:42:17 (7:49 pace) - New PR***

I came across the line and basically wanted to collapse. Devin was concerned about the fact that I was gasping and crying (exertion plus giving your all to actually get your goal do that sometimes). I stumbled over to get my medal and try to pull myself together.

I bumped into my awesome friend Lara, who kicked ass at the 8.1-miler as part of her PIttsburgh half training (her first!) and Kelly ran over with her kids and we all chatted and downloaded about the race. A perfect end to an awesome race day.

Photo Mar 29, 10 26 41 Photo Mar 29, 10 26 44 Photo Mar 29, 15 28 02

We ended up feeling pretty darned chilled, so we quickly headed out. If we had gone back to check our times, we would have found reason to stay: I got 2nd in my age group and NF got 1st in his! We didn’t pick up our bling for over a month, since, well, we were busy…

 

Up next, how our mileage tanked during wedding and honeymoon week, and how we tried to pull it back together for the PIttsburgh half-marathon… stay tuned!

Race Report: Spring Thaw 2014

I’m beginning my third week of Pittsburgh half-marathon training, and already it’s off to a helluva start.  We’ve been maintaining the runstreak (X days and counting!), and with it, a lot more cross-training. We planned in some 1-mile-minimum days to keep the streak alive, and given the weather this winter, it’s often preferable to just get it done on the treadmill and then get in a weights workout, rather than bundling up to go outside for less than 10 minutes.

So here’s where I stand so far:

Week 1

Monday:  Easy 6 miler in crazy snow with my guy to kick off training. Wore trail shoes – best idea ever.

Tuesday:  Easy 4 on the treadmill. Would have done a weights workout, but this began a couple of insane weeks at work, so I went to the office early instead. Extremely core-focused pilates class after work – my abs hurt for days.

Wednesday: 1 miler on the ‘mill, followed by squats-heavy legs workout. I’ve been doing a circuit type workout where I intersperse squat sets with calf raises and other ankle/balance exercises to keep my body moving and work different muscle groups. Minimal rest, and I get through it faster, but never overwork one muscle group in too short a period.

In the evening, we ran to True Runner to check out the Brooks Transcend wear test – the wonderful PGH Brooks rep Ally (pictured below) did her darndest to get a pair of size 15s to have NF try – they didn’t come in in time, unfortunately, but we had a nice 3+ mile loop with Danielle, and I tried the shoes out. They are AWESOME. I don’t need that “much” shoe, and they’re expensive and I already have three shoes regularly in rotation (four if you count trail), but for such a big shoe, they didn’t feel heavy or cumbersome. It was like running on clouds.

Thursday:  With the sidewalks a mess, I brought my tempo run inside again. And absolutely crushed it. I’m still concerned since I  haven’t done a real outside tempo in literally months, but these treadmill tempos are still a confidence boost. I’ve been starting with an easy 9-ish minute mile (slowly seeding to 8:30s since jumping up that much on speed on the console is a little intimidating to look at), then did the first two tempo miles @ 7:24, dropping to 7:13 for the last one, before easing into a cooldown. I finished up the long workout with biceps/triceps and a short but hard core workout.

Friday: Easy 1-miler on the ‘mill, followed by back/shoulders and more core.

Saturday: Well, we were PLANNING on going to the store runner at True Runner, but when we woke up, the roads and sidewalks were a MESS. Absolutely ridiculous. Not sure if the store run happened, but we bit the bullet and went to my gym, running side-by-side on the treadmill while watching USAvRUS hockey. Our treadmills stop at an hour, so I stopped at 6 miles to reset, then restarted to do the last 2 at half-marathon race pace (7:47 on the treadmill) per our training plan. I threw some hills into the workout and slightly altered the speed during the first six, but not much – just enough to keep me from getting totally bored.

Sunday:  1.6ish mile run to cap off the week.

Week 2

Monday: The sidewalks were a bit better, thogh still fairly covered and slick, but NF and I braved an 8-mile loop that took us up and up and up Shady, before looping back down Beechwood and into Shadyside. It was frigid – single digits – but an absolutely clear morning. At one point, near the top of the climb, we were running in a more open area, and the moon was just waning gibbous and everything was glittering all around us. I soaked it all in.

Tuesday: A warm-up started last week, so Tuesday morning was wet snow/rain and squishy slush everywhere – Danielle and I ran 6-ish together. Our toes were wet within the first five minutes, and on one main road we were running through ankle deep slush on the sidewalks. Yuck! But cars were kind enough to avoid splashing us (though we failed to dodge a couple buses that doused us). It was one of those runs where, had we been running alone, we’d been in pretty foul moods, but together it was just humorous and ludicrous.

Wednesday: 1-mile treadmill + legs workout

Thursday: We had a track workout schedule (4 miles with 2×1600), but despite the thaw, the track was still covered! I suppose when it looked like this only a week before, it was inevitable.

It was actually pretty solid, though. We warmed up 3/4 of a mile, cranked 2×1 mile with half mile rests, and cooled down 3/4. I did about 7:03/6:50ish for mine, fighting a stitch during the first one, but better on the second. I know the treadmill belt drives you a bit, but there’s not much to be done when the track is still frozen.  We then powered through a short workout with NF’s buddies Matt and Devin: back and shoulders, plus a short but painful core workout I led them through.

Friday: 1-miler near home – rough week and pre-race, we took it easy, and did a 20-minute yoga video (that was more meditative than we expected, but we probably needed that, too)

Saturday: Race day!

We’ve run this race the past few years, and for the first time, NF and I were BOTH using it as a half-marathon pace training run. Part of me was pretty pumped – I felt like I could make a strong showing at my goal pace for 10 miles. The other part of me wondered if I was foolish to think I could manage that this early in the training cycle. Kim and I had been talking a few weeks prior about running it together, since she was targeting a similar pace, and having a pacer buddy makes everything better. It took a bit of the weight off my mind, but I made it clear to her that if I wasn’t feeling it that she should let me go. Her A race is next month, and I did NOT want to be that person who dragged her down when she was kicking ass.

All that aside, I was psyched for this race – in addition to Kim, our friends Mark and Kelly were going to be there – with Mark pacing NF at 7:30 for 10 miles – and I was going to get to meet Oiselle runner and new twitter pal Jen Bigham! The day also dawned bright and sunny and warmer than it had been – starting in the 30s and creeping into the 40s, though gusts of wind were not our friends. We couldn’t complain, though – usually the name of the race, Spring Thaw, is more irony than anything else. This time it really was a thaw, however temporary.

NF and I were up and at ‘em at 7 a.m. (10 a.m. start – leisurely!) and left just after 8 a.m. to get to the race after eating some oatmeal, making sure we had all our gear, and changing our minds about what to wear about 10 times (or maybe that was just me). I had an A+ brain morning after two hard work weeks: we got on the bus to the start from the ice rink lot, when I realized I had my headphones but not my iPod, and then realized my bib was also in the car. D’oh! So we stayed on for the bus to circle back.

Photo Feb 22, 9 04 02
I have a tendency to photobomb panoramic shots.
Who's excited to race, guys? Btw, totally broke the rules and wore a new thing on race day - but Oiselle's lux side zip did NOT disappoint!
Who’s excited to race, guys? Btw, totally broke the rules and wore a new thing on race day – but Oiselle’s lux side zip did NOT disappoint!

We hung out at the Rose Barn to stay warm, bumping into Mark shortly before his warm-up,  and after a short bathroom stop, headed over to the boathouse to hang out in the sunshine with Kim and Kelly (actually two Kellys!) – it was kind of a wind tunnel, but when it wasn’t gusting, it was lovely. We got some photos before the start, and I caught sight of Jen as people were lining up to start. She is SO sweet – it was so awesome to meet her in person.

Left to right – new friend Kelly, Kim, Mark, me, Kelly, and NF photobombing/growing out of Kim’s head in the back (Kim’s photo)
Photo Feb 22, 9 56 30
Kim, Jen, and me

The national anthem played, we got our hats back on, and the race was off! The announcer was chattering a bit, but suddenly there was a gasp and silence, and the announcer made a sound of surprise – I figured someone had tripped at the start (as often happens in the tangled crowds) but couldn’t see what it was that happened, and quickly forgot about it as Kim and I maneuvered through the crowd.

We quickly dialed right into pace. The 5-mile lake loop is perfectly rolling, and Kim’s strategy of increasing pace before and after water stops and then power walking trough the stops worked great. I usually just try to jog through them and wind up with water all over myself, so I may have to try this strategy in the future instead. We chatted a little, mostly checking in on things like water stops, pacing, noting hills that were coming and going. We both didn’t really feel “locked in” – we wavered between feeling good and feeling like it was hard (though manageable). Kim really powered up the hills, which I thought I was getting decent at, but man, she pushed them! For my part I think I pulled us down the downhills, so it was a very symbiotic pacer relationship. I was measuring long already by the end of the first loop, but our paces were perfect and gave us wiggle room for GPS measurement issues: 7:43, 7:39, 7:49, 7:45, 7:38. The chip time at halfway had me at a 7:51 pace, to give you an idea of where we really were.

Near the start of the second loop, we caught sight of Mark leading a group, including NF, across the lake. They looked strong and steady, and I sent him good vibes. We kept clicking off perfect miles, though commented to one another maybe 7ish miles in that it was beginning to feel like a bit of a grind. Still manageable, but hard. I was doubting my ability to kick at the end, and thought maybe I’d just maintain. 7:40, 7:46, 7:49, 7:45. But as we approached the last aid station, right before the 9 mile marker, we decided that after the last hill (with just under half a mile to go) we’d see if we could gas it a bit. So we kept each other reeled in until we crested that hill, then I started to fly down the other side, with Kim just over my shoulder.

Up ahead, I caught sight of a guy wearing a Marine Corps shirt from this past year. I put a target on his back – not because of the guy, but the symbol. The race that (okay I know – not really, but kind of) defeated me. I wanted to beat the symbol. It wasn’t my biggest kick ever, and I was pretty gassed, but I kept turning over faster and faster, and flew down through the finish at 6:32 pace for the last bit (last mile split – 7:29), finishing exactly at 1:18 for 7:49 average – my exact target pace.

finish4

 

My flippy right foot is out of control
My flippy right foot is out of control

finish2finish1

We were thrilled! Kim and I hugged and thanked each other, and chatted with NF about his race. Mark had already headed out on another loop, so we hung out by the finish for a bit, greeting Jen when she finished, and saying hi to Kelly as she started her third loop, looking strong.

He totally kicked ass - 7:33 average, and in the pain cave. So proud of his fight!
He totally kicked ass – 7:33 average, and in the pain cave. So proud of his fight!
Pacer buddies! Seriously could not have done this without her.
Pacer buddies! Seriously could not have done this without her.
Photo Feb 22, 12 02 15
She won the 10-miler. NBD. Look at our #flystyle! :)

We headed inside, chatting with Jen and her husband, Jeff, and grabbing some pizza before they headed out. I was waiting to hear from Danielle, who was running the 15, to see if she and her fiance had time to join us for our Bagel Factory tradition. When she texted back, turned out she had already left with a horrible headache. Turns out that noise at the start was the start line scaffolding and clock collapsing (how did I NOT notice it? I realized I did notice the lack of banner at the loop and finish, but I was in full-on racing mode and it didn’t faze me, apparently), and hit a few runners, knocking some to the ground. She wound up with a big ol’ bruise on her head. She admitted she cried (I would have!) but she kept running! She got in 10 miles and threw in the towel. I don’t blame her.

So NF and I headed back into the city, scarfing down food at the Craig Street Bagel Factory before getting cleaned up at home and lounging for a while. Not too shabby!

Sunday: NF and I ran a very quiet 4-mile loop at a recovery pace – it was cold again, but not bitterly so, and the sun was shining. We felt tired and beaten up, but it was so peaceful out that it was really restorative.

The cold has returned in full, but so far the snow has held off. I’m not holding my breath, but there’s a snowflake’s chance in hell (yuk yuk yuk) that Thursday I can actually do my tempo outside. Let’s see if I can drag Danielle along for it, too. ;)

News flash: it’s winter

From xkcd

So the notorious furball Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow (per usual). And no one anywhere was surprised. Six more weeks of winter? Also not a shocker. But, there’s a run streak to maintain (69 days and going strong!), and oh, btw…

tt1

That’s right – one week left of the off-season.  And I’m trying to enjoy every last second before the plan begins, with its inherent structure and planned workouts. Only a little more playtime left.

Danielle and I have been keeping up our weekly runs, sometimes as many as three times a week, pretty much regardless of the weather – extreme cold drove us inside, but we braved the snow and messy sidewalks. Extra strength workout, right?

I had snow all over my hair.

We got so coated the other morning that her eyelashes and eyebrows were completely white and frozen, and some of my hair sticking out from under my hat apparently looked like grandpa hair. Sh*t running friends say to each other…?

The weekend before last, I was back home in Ohio to get some wedding errands done, and we got hit by a deluge of snow.

Yeah. I wouldn’t call that “runnable.”

Fortunately, a kind woman at my hometown rec center (which I haven’t belonged to in years and am of course not a resident) took mercy on me and let me pay the drop-in fee and run. I had to drive back and forth twice because I left my shoes in the front hall buuuut that’s another story… as was the person the next day who wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t a current resident. Bummer.

I was relieved I’d been smart enough to pack gym clothes, and because of the nasty roads and back-and-forth-left-shoes-at-home oopsie, I only had time for five. I think the treadmill wasn’t calibrated well, because I ran the middle 3 miles of a 5-miler at half-marathon goal pace progressing to faster than tempo, and it felt effortless. At 2% grade. Or maybe I was just having a good day.

Last week I got an email from Kim, letting me know – in the way that runners nudge each other – that she was planning on 12 miles at North Park on Saturday. Well, of course I was going to join. I was a bit concerned about the distance – I hadn’t gotten past 10 in a while, and even that not for a couple weeks. So NF and I loaded up on delicious pancakes the night before, and I had one for breakfast with peanut butter and sliced up banana. We headed out to North Park and started just as the sky was starting to get lighter – at 7 a.m. There were plenty of runners out already, and I realized I hadn’t run the roads in North Park except for races. What a treat! Kim and I chatted the entire time and breezed through 12 miles at a quicker pace than I would have predicted.

The next day, I met up with Kelly and Kim at North Park to hit up the trails. It had warmed up the previous day so the ice was slushy but still slick, but with still a fair amount of snow in places. It was slow-going and tricky, but really beautiful, and sometimes the ridiculousness of what we were trying to navigate had us laughing. We wanted to try out a bit of the Rachel Carson, but with the narrow passages flanked by drop-offs and lots of ice, we wisely decided to bag it.

Kim contemplating how to cross the stream.
Frozen water – we have no idea how we’re going to cross, but how great is this?
Kelly and I take the opportunity for photos.

We sorta managed to get across – twice – without getting TOO wet.

Foot dunk! And I’m contemplating escape or something. (Kelly’s photo)
“Is that rock stable?” (Kelly’s photo)

Now I admit, I’m kind of a weenie when it comes to frigid river crossings and climbing up wet, icy rocks (which w also did). But did I want to look like a chump in front of my trail buddies? Hell no. So I laughed, took my time, and had a blast.

In the end, the RCT was just a bit much for the conditions. As Kelly put it, Rachel Carson is kind of a bitch. But we’ll be back!

So in five days time, training begins for my next goal race.

This will be my fourth time running the Pittsburgh half-marathon. Last year I crushed my expectations with a sub-1:50 finished, which I bettered that September at Air Force with a 1:43:56. And this year, well. There’s this whole deal:

seeded info

Gulp.

My half-marathon PR translates to a 7:56 average pace. Seven seconds away from being able to apply for (emphasis on “apply”) a seeded position at Pittsburgh. I’ve been gradually increasing my goal paces, so this should be within reach, as long as nothing goes horribly wrong. But can I make it happen this spring? Just a Short Run is at the end of March, right before the deadline for applications. It’s my last chance. It’s my only chance. I have to run 1:42:24 to qualify to apply. Just seven seconds per mile faster. Tiny. And huge.

Over the weekend, NF and I wrote our training plan – part of the snag being our wedding and subsequent honeymoon in early April – but with Just a Short Run being the week before, we scheduled a cutback for wedding week, and plan on doing a decent amount of treadmill running (at least for quality workouts) while we are on our honeymoon (in the Dominican Republic!). We’ll see what actually happens there. Either way, some miles are better than zero miles, and miles are better done together. Right?

We’re keeping a lot of elements from last year’s very successful plans: increasing distance tempo runs, mile repeats, and half-marathon pace miles during long runs. To give us more of a boost, we’re both starting the season with a much higher base than last year. I have us starting not too aggressively with a 30-mile week because we’ve been maintaining 30-35 the last month and loving it. Last year, we started with a 20-mile week (and I think I was whining because I’d been stuck in a rut of weeks in the teens) and peaked at 38. This year, we’re starting at 30 – conservatively – and peaking at 48 (also rather conservatively, given the previously mentioned wedding/honeymoon training roadblock. Love you, honey!)

But wait – if my goal for Just a Short Run is 1:42:24 – what about the Pittsburgh half itself?

Do I dare even mention it aloud? Should I tempt the running gods?

No, probably not yet.

Miles and miles and a return to racing

First off, thank you for the responses on my marathon predicament – it was helpful! In the end, though, a lot of it came down to logistics. We don’t know where we’re going to be after September. Not to mention that I’m familiar with this race, and have lots of friends running the half, and one running the full. Haven’t figured it out yet? Well, here it is… Yep. NF and I registered for AIr Force once more on January 1st – he registered for the half, ready to dominate. I registered for the full, and freaked out. But my friend and running buddy Danielle has run the full a few times and will be doing so again this year, so at least I won’t be alone at the start line with my nervous jitters! I did the math, and if I do a 16-week training plan, I’ll have three weeks “off” between the Pittsburgh half in early May and the start of training. With a 14-week plan – which should be plenty doable, given I’ll be starting with a strong base but would also like some more “training free” down time – I’d get five weeks off. I plan on picking the brains of some more experienced marathoners when figuring out how to handle it. In the meantime, I’m still in the off-season, at least for about another month, and enjoying it a ton. NF and I successfully completed the run streak – 35 days of running at least a mile a day! – and have kept it going. I’m still making use of the one-mile-minimum days as “rest” days or days to get in more cross-training. The streak also helped us get out the door when we were visiting my Grandmom over New Year’s up in Michigan with temperatures in the single digits to negatives, and wind chill frequently below zero. I have to say, neckwarmers are clutch in that kind of weather. Also, trail shoes on the snowy roads.

Post-5 miler on Jan. 1 – the last official day of the RW Run Streak. So bundled!
You can’t see it, but there was ice in my hair.
The only way I was able to get my hands warm without a painful, frozen first 1-1.5 miles: thumbhole + thin glove over + fleece glove over that. Chilly finger tips for about a half mile, then warm.

Some of the snowy runs were better than others – painfully cold hands made me cranky for the first bit of the Jan. 1 5-miler, and a snow-packed 3-miler was exhausting. But other times the beauty of it all was energizing.

This snowmobile path was tiring to run on, but man was it pretty.

When we got home,  the cold weather followed us with the polar vortex, so I did a lot of treadmilling – I bundled like I was going outside to run just to get in my car to drive to the gym! Hello -5* with -28* wind chill!

By the end of the week, though, the worst of the cold broke and I was back to running with pals! Danielle and I ran 6 hilly miles that Friday. The next day, I went to a Steel City Road Runners group run for the first time! And it poured. But I got to run 10 miles with Kim (first 5 with NF, too), and we chatted up the storm, almost not noticing that we were drowned rats – almost.

Soaked everything

Sunday morning was the annual Frigid Five Miler! (oh hey, look how I snuck in a race report!) After a false start leaving the apartment, having left our bibs at home (luckily we were only like 4 minutes from home), we got to the start in just enough time to park at the top of the hill.

Walking into the Lodge and just starting to get scan the crowd, I was immediately pounce-hugged by Kelly (birthday girl!), and a little bit later, found my my work pal Lara. I had emailed her earlier in the week about the race, and as she’s training for her first half-marathon, she was excited to check out another local Pittsburgh race.

Pre-race group shot, taken by my guy. As usual, I overdressed.

We chatted and waiting around until about 8:50 before stepping out to the start line (dumping off extra layers in the car, which was parked conveniently on the way. We didn’t have time for a warm-up and my Garmin barely found satellites in time. And I selected the wrong playlist on my iPod before tucking it in an inner pocket and then making it inaccessible with my bib pinned over it – oh well!

Before I knew it, we were off! I had no idea what I would have in me for this race, especially knowing full well how tough the course is. The first mile is rolling but a little uphill. The second mile is definitely downhill. Mile 3 starts as a screaming downhill, then levels off and heads to some more, tough rollers. Mile 4 gets hard, then kinda levels off. Mile 5? Oh… mile 5.

My playlist was still good, just a different one than what I’d originally wanted. Honestly though, I hardly listened to it. I spent the whole time just trying to pick people off as a way to stay focused. It had been sleeting/misting and some spots were icing – I never slipped, but could feel my feet skate out behind me a few times. I found if I stayed near the middle of the road (but off the painted line), it was better.

Mile 1 clicked off in 7:16. Mile 2, with a serious downhill, was 6:56. I tried to ride hard down the screamer at the start of mile 3, and didn’t have TOO much wind taken out of my sails after it leveled off, finishing that mile in 7:01. The pace was hard, and a few times I almost freaked out – I wasn’t fit enough for this – but I focused on my breath, the fact that it was very much in control, and told my brain to SHUT UP. And I kept pushing.

Mile 4 though, man, mile 4… there’s a cruel hill, that’s not even that bad in the scheme of things, but you can feel how dead your quads are already getting from all the pounding downhills, and you know what’s coming for you at the finish, so it’s just demoralizing. I got dropped by a few people I’d passed on the downhills and flats, but kept a woman in a neon yellow/green jacket in my sights, pulling ahead and falling behind at points.  7:44. Mile 5 starts out… almost relaxing. I was trying to focus on my breathing and maintaining the fast clip while I could. All too soon – almost precisely a third of a mile into that last mile – the hill started. The ridiculous, insane, crazy hill. Two-thirds of a mile climbing about 250 feet (according to my haven’t-taken-a-math-class-since-freshman-year-of-college calculations, it’s a 7% average grade). So I tried to relax my arms, keep my torso straight and leaned into the hill, picked up my knees and just trudged up it.

Every single year I have walked on this hill. Every single year I have tried to get to various checkpoints, but have always walked at least once (maybe at least twice, to be honest). This was the year I was going to do it. I wasn’t going to walk, not even once. Maybe I’d be going so slowly it may as well be considered walking. But dammit, I’d be lifting my feet high enough to consider it running! I ignored my pace. I tried to breathe. I saw people pass me and drop behind me as some people kept grinding it out and others felt the weight of the hill in their already tired legs. The woman in neon came up behind me, but we kept fairly even going into the steepest section – when I really really really wanted to quit. But I didn’t. I didn’t pass the woman in the end, and could barely push across the finish line, but I did it! 8:52 (6:52 sprint to the finish – so I guess I did sprint a little?). 38:03 chip time.

finish1
Could never get ahead of her, but shook her hand at the finish and thanked her for the motivation to keep trying!

A few minutes later, I hobbled a little ways before the finish line and watched Kelly and another woman encourage each other across the finish line, and I got to give her another birthday/yay-awesome-race! hug after she was done. And just a few minutes after that, Lara finished! She did kickass, finishing in about her usual 5-mile time, but on a MUCH tougher course.

Kelly had to take off shortly after and Lara, NF, and I stuffed our faces with pancakes and listened to the awards. I had only half an ear on it for a while, chatting with Lara, when Shannon started grabbing my arm, telling me to go up. “They’re on 20 to 24,” I said. But sure enough, they were calling my name. Whoops! I walked up and explained that I’d been called, and that I was actually 26. They rechecked the numbers, reissued the 3rd place 20-24 award to the right girl, and handed me a medal for 2nd place in 25-29! Well, okay!

I’ve got a few more weeks to goof off, and I’m trying to get in as much cross-training as I can, and the occasional speedwork/tempo workout, usually on the treadmill. I’d been doing 7:30 tempos but Sunday’s race showed me I haven’t lost all my speed, so I should probably push myself a bit more, little by little.  Thanks to Danielle the mileage enabler, I’ve already run 18 this week between Monday and today (and we won’t discuss how many miles I ran without a 1-miler “off” day from Thursday through Tuesday). NF and I are planning to do about 10 on Saturday, and I’ve got a trail run with Kelly and Kim on Sunday.

Weekend mornings packed with running? Yes, please.

Highs and Lows of Lucky ’13

Taking a tip from my nerdy fiance, who took it from @TheCranberryKid, instead of a full-on, way-too-detailed-to-be-interesting-to-anyone-but-me Year in Review, here are my highs and lows for the year. And I have to say, this really puts things into perspective – this was a great year for my running life.

Let’s get the low out of the way:

I can summarize my low of this year in three letters: DNF. Aye, there’s the rub. It burns. It stings. It rankles. It’s the monkey on my back. If I hadn’t rolled my ankle two days out… if I hadn’t decided to wear that ankle brace that seemed to cramp up my foot so badly (or bruise it, or whatever that agonizing feeling was with every step beginning around mile 16)… what would I have accomplished? Would I have gotten that sub-4? Or at least a PR by a few minutes? Would I have blown up, but at least have finished my second 26.2? Would I have surpassed all my wildest expectations?

Ice and bourbon were my only friends (okay, not true at all)

There’s no way of knowing. Like there’s know way knowing if not wearing the brace would have changed the outcome. But it’s hard not to dwell. Instead, I”m choosing to let it fuel my fire for next year. A strong marathon is my priority. I’ll still be working on my speed for the half, but with a heavy focus on building mileage and strength smartly.

First run back from MCM DNF/ankle sprain was 2 miles on the treadmill (with long walking warm-up). And I was ecstatic.

I know I have it in me, especially from my list of highs:

Air Force half

PRs: I lowered my 5K PR twice (distance corrected about 22:20, but I have since bettered that in a 10K so I can do it faster next time). I lowered my 10K PR three times (now 44:02). I lowered my half-marathon PR three times (now 1:43:56)

I raced new distances. The 26.2K Run for Gold was a beautiful course, I made a new friend, and stunned myself by how well I could keep my goal marathon pace (or faster) for 16+ miles, even early on in training. The 3K Sweet Sprint the previous month showed me that yes, there was something more painful than a 5K. It also got the ball rolling with new running friends…

26.2k
3K

I ran a lot with new friends. NF and I met Mark finally in person at the Sweet Sprint, and I connected with Danielle, whom I had encountered at the Burgh 10K in April, getting caught up in a race with a pack of girls, including her. We didn’t introduce ourselves then, but by November, we began a regular weekly run together.  Mark and Kelly joined NF and I on my birthday run, and I have since gone on a few trail runs with Kelly and our friend Kim. Snow? Fabulous. Mud? Bring it. Tons of deer and wild turkeys – okay!

Muddy trail feet! Kelly’s photo (also featuring Kim’s feet – we need a picture of our faces at some point!)
We’ll never actually run “with” Mark. Just near him. Using a broad definition of “near.”
Actually chatting with Danielle for the first time! Beginning of a great running friendship

Running with old friends – I had a couple of opportunities to run with Keeley, as well as our former Ragnar teammate, Rose. I paced a lot of the Pittsburgh and Air Force half-marathons with Danimal, and NF and I continued to run together regularly. We realized just how great it is to not just be in a relationship with a running buddy, but to live with that person. Don’t want to get up? Tough. The other person is dragging you out of bed. Here, take this foam roller. Need a foot rub? I gotcha. I also traveled to Seattle and ran with my bet friend from college, Abby. Abby is in many ways responsible for my reignited passion for running during the last couple yeas of college, senior year in particular. We got each other out the door and I learned the joy of exploring the city and telling endless stories over miles, an aspect of running I had been missing for the first several years.

Higher mileage – I hit 50 miles in a seven-day period at least twice this year, and it’s something I”d like to manage more often. First: it felt GREAT. Second, the speed gains from high mileage are amazing. Sure, I know I got faster in the last year-plus period because I’ve been diligent about my speedwork and tempo runs, but both marathon training cycles (fall 2012 and this fall) led to explosive speed gains.

The run streak. I kind of love it. I know I”m sort of an obsessive and self-competitive person, so it remains to be seen how long I keep it up (without being dumb, of course), but I love how the easy 1- or 2-mile runs on “rest” days have led to fewer aches. Running those short guys on the ‘mill made it easy to cross-train more, since I was already at the gym and warmed up, as a result. It also got my mileage back up, gradually, post-marathon season, and I hit over 30 miles last week! And over 100 in the month of December. That is UNHEARD OF for me, especially in the cold, busy, travel-laden final month of the year.

A DNF, especially one related to a stupid injury so soon before a goal race, can overshadow a great deal, but looking at my year in the rearview like this, all I can hope is to keep it up. The fire is there – I re-fell in love with running this year – more than once. I have a lot more running buddies who make me laugh, make me push, make me so excited to lace up, even in the roughest conditions, even in the darkest of moods.

There will be more bumps on my running road, to be sure, but for now, to 2014 I say: bring. it. on.

A marathon-sized decision

The end of the year is fast-approaching, and with it, the one-day, January 1 fire sale the Air Force Marathon always holds. The last two years, NF and I have registered on January 1 to get the lowest price on the half – we figure, we’re GOING to run it, why not just go for it on day one for the lowest price?

Except right now, I’m still not sure what marathon I want to run next year, including whether I want to attempt the Air Force FULL this year. So here I am, blogging about the 26.2 thoughts spinning around my head. I’m looking for feedback, to be sure, but I also know that in writing it all down, pros and cons and all, I’ll probably get a better idea what I really want. Like when you flip a coin to decide, and when it lands against your secret gut choice, you know for sure.

So, with that, here are my top three four choices – in no particular order (or are they? Okay, actually just put them in calendar order, SO THERE YOU GO):

Air Force Marathon

September 20, 2014 – Dayton, OH

Pros

+We know this race, at least by its half-marathon brethren. It’s an easy enough drive from Pittsburgh. We’ll be going regardless because we love this race and its amazing atmosphere and great organization. I mean, the flyovers! (please, no more sequester), the flat, fast course! the amazing house we rented this year! the free beer!

+I have a bunch of friends who have run the full, including some who have PR’d the shit out of it, so I have plenty of ears to bend about the 26.2 course.

+We are 99.9% (or more) guaranteed to still be in Pittsburgh at this point, as NF will be just about to defend or have JUST defended (or lord, see the cons section), and if we are moving after he graduates, we won’t have yet, so getting there should be straight-forward. This is not necessarily the case with the other options.

+The weather has been great the last three years. Chilly in the morning at the start line, not really above low to mid-60s by the finish. Humid sometimes, but totally doable, especially after a long summer of training in the heat.

+Would make for a long off-season (late September through at least the end of the year/whenever we start training for our first 2015 race. Though I suppose nothing is set in stone, given we may be moving)

Cons

-Not much downtime after the Pittsburgh half in early May. A 16-week plan would begin about three weeks after that half. A 14-week plan (which I could probably get away with, since I wouldn’t be starting from zero and would – hopefully – have a solid base to build marathon fitness off of) would give me a solid month of mini-offseason/maintenance before jumping back into training.

-NF doesn’t want to run the full, at least not in 2014. I don’t blame him. Thesis stress + marathon training don’t necessarily mix well. So while he’d probably do a lot of the training with me, I might have some high double-digit runs solo/partly solo, and we wouldn’t be lining up at the start line together. Womp womp.

-He could have to defend within a few days of the race. Which would all kinds of suck. We lost one of our group going to Air Force this year because he defended the day before. Hopefully we’d be able to control this, but who knows?

-Our luck could run out as far as weather and it could be an extension of summer. September in southern Ohio can be hot.

 

Steamtown Marathon

October 12, 2014 – Scranton, Pa.

Pros

+Fast effing course, and supposed to be beautiful.

+Still driveable from Pittsburgh

Cons

-Should I save this fast effing course for a BQ attempt in the future? You saw nothing.

-Will we even be in Pittsburgh still? If not, how are we going to get to Bumfuck, PA, if we’ve moved across the country or something? But it’s in earlyish October, so chances of this happening this quickly I suppose are still on the low side.

-Training plan headaches: Air Force half is 3 weeks before this race, which would mean a 20-miler, which obviously does not quite work. Maybe I should just delete this one? Oh well, you can see my process. LEAVING IT. *z snap*

 

Columbus Marathon

October 19, 2014 – Columbus, OH

Pros

+Close enough to drive from Pittsburgh, but also has a semi-major airport so flying in wouldn’t be impossible if needed.

+I still have friends who live in Cbus, so we’d have places to stay. Plus, parents could come watch (if they wanted/I wanted).

+Flat, fast course, from everything I’ve heard. And ends in Ohio Stadium, so that’s cool.

+Perfect time of year for running a marathon, unless global warming bites us in the ass.

+Not too huge of a race, but still seems like decent crowd support

+Has a half option, if NF does not want to tempt the 26.2 gods in 2014, given the Big Life Changes happening

+Timing for the final 20-miler is much better – would be the week after Air Force half, so that week would be at least somewhat of a cutback week.

Cons

-The last 20-miler would fall on the weekend of the Great Race 10K. But whatever, because we can’t seem to race a 10K without screwing over our legs with a long run the day before. SO WHY THE HELL NOT?

sprint suffer face
Great Race 2012 – day after 16 miler. PR.
finalpush2
Great Race 2013 – day after 12 miler. GIANT PR.

Not pictured: Burgh 10K – day after 15 miler – another big PR.

So… case closed? PR guaranteed after long run? K, cool.

 

Richmond Marathon

November 15, 2014 – Richmond, Va.

Pros

+Have heard nothing but great things from several people who ran it this year.

+Good time of year for running weather

+Still pretty driveable from PGH, and decent-sized airport otherwise if necessary? Maybe?

+Almost 2 months after Air Force, so pretty good for a tune-up half before this full.

+Has a half-option for NF, if he wishes.

+Not too big, but seems like still a good amount of crowd support.

Cons

-Makes for a long season (though I’ve survived a pretty long season before. Albeit ended up pretty burned out, but…)

-Housing may be expensive for just us two traveling there (compared to others where we could stay with friends or score another cheap house rental with a big group)

 

So there you have it. My rundown. This has helped a little, but honestly I’m still not sure. So I throw it back at you – the reader: Have you run any of these marathons before? Any pros/cons to add to my lists? Any favorites? Ones you’d rule out based on experience? What marathon are you running next year? Lay it on me!