Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Half #7 - CC River Run 2015

Let me start by saying I finally did it! I finally broke 1:45 in the half marathon! I don't think this race could have gone any better; it was a perfect day on the perfect course. It was one of my best executed half marathons (if not the best!) and I managed negative splits.

Pre-Race Thoughts
I was very nervous leading up to this race. I have been chasing 1:45 for quite awhile and I did not want to finish yet another race filled with disappointed. I started drafting up a "pre-race thoughts" post for the blog, but then I started feeling a bit confident. And somehow feeling more confident flipped around to feeling even more anxious. I felt so confident going into Charlevoix and every comment I received on this post was so supportive. I just did not want to have to come back and be all "Look at me, the girl who can't make reasonable race goals!"

So I alternated between thinking about time goals [sub 1:45. If it is a stars align sort of race sub 1:43. I didn't even share that dream goal with my husband.] and repeating to myself: "Do your best and see what happens." My husband also reminded me that my goal race this fall is Grand Rapids, not this half marathon. Pushing to an injury would be stupid.

Pre-Race Shenanigans
The race takes place in Lansing which is over an hour away from my house. My husband's childhood home is just 20 minutes away from the race, so we drove up Saturday afternoon and spent the night. I spent the day hydrating like a champ and obsessing over the race.

Packet pickup was a breeze. There was no expo; bibs and shirts could be picked up from a local running store. For the past two years, the women's shirts have been absolutely terrible; the "long" sleeves are at least 2-3 inches too short. Last year I exchanged for a men's small. This year I registered for a men's small and they upgraded the shirts to a nicer brand. I was a bit disappointed that they wouldn't let me swap for a women's small.

We grabbed some pasta from Noodles and Co. on our way out of town. There is a Noodles and Co. in Grand Rapids as well, so I will be repeating this exact pre-race dinner in four weeks. I was having a hard time relaxing Saturday night, so when my husband wanted to grab a beer from a local brewery, I decided to join him. Maybe not the best pre-race practice, but I balanced it out with 3 extra glasses of water while at the brewery and it helped take my mind of the race, which was really needed at this point.

Race Morning Disaster
The race started at 8:00 am, so I planned to get up at 5:50 and leave for the race at 7:00. That would easily give me 40 minutes to warm up and use the restroom one last time before that race. Unfortunately I had not accounted for a million closed roads (construction, not race related) and the ones that were open were one-way streets making it nearly impossible to get to the start line. Eventually we gave up on parking and I hopped out of the car at a stop sign near-ish the start line at 7:40. I jogged through the Start/Finish area looking for the port-a-johns. Instead of warming up as planned I spent most of my time in line.

Business taken care of, I had a few minutes to warm up a bit and make my way to the start. I had no idea if my husband had managed to find a parking spot or not. I did not think I would be able to find him before the start, so I almost didn't even look for him. Until I realized that I had not taken my inhaler. I usually take it 20 minutes before a race. Fighting through tears I made a panicked search for him and prayed that he ignored me when I said I didn't need the backpack of running supplies that was in the car.

With 5 minutes to spare I found him and was flooded with relief when I realized he was wearing the backpack. Not an ideal situation, but way better than trying to race without taking my inhaler. My exercise induced asthma is mild; I don't take any medication for short, easy runs. I hoped that if I could keep it easy during the first couple miles, that I would be okay.

The Race (finally)
I lined up between the 8:00 pacers and the 8:30 pacers. My tentative plan was to keep the first mile around 8:15 and then work my way up to the 8:00 pacers. After 5 miles, IF I was feeling strong I would start working my way down to the 7:50s and 7:40s.

Away we go! (I'm wearing the purple and orange compression socks.)
I threw this plan away when I breezed through the first mile in 8:03. At least it was over 8:00! I decided to hang with the 8:00 pacers for the next 4 miles (so sort on plan), but a few minutes later I glanced down and saw my current pace was 7:48. That was much too fast for mile two, so I let them pull ahead a little and focused on my own pacing.

The first 5 miles of the race are basically a straight line down a road, then you hop onto the river trail, which is a paved multi-use path, significantly narrower than the road. The pace group was still right in front of me and I knew that a group that large was going to end up creating a bottleneck when the course narrowed. At about 4.5 miles I worked my way up toward the front of the pack, even so once we hit the trail our pace slowed to 8:15ish. This was the part of the race that I wanted to be picking up the pace, not slowing down. I also worried that since the pacers had started a bit fast, they were going to slow it down a bit to get back on track. When there was a section with a wide strip of grass alongside of the trail, I hopped over to the grass and kicked the pace up.

With the pace group officially behind me, I was ready to start picking up the pace. Except I had just run the first 5 miles faster than I anticipated. I told myself that I should hold it steady for another three miles and then make a move into the 7:40s. A couple tenths of a mile in front of me were two girls with matching singlets that seemed to be holding a consistent pace. I used them to set my pace and glanced at my watch every now and then to check my pace. It was too fast, but I felt strong.

That hoard of people in the distance is the 8:00 pace group.
I saw my husband out cheering for me at mile 7, which was sort of expected. That was what we had planned, but with the parking disaster I wasn't sure if he would want to leave his spot. But there he was cheering me on and taking pictures! He even had my inhaler at the ready in case I needed it. Best husband, for sure!

Mile 8 is home to my favorite aid station ever! All of the volunteers are wearing grass skirts and leis and there is Hawaiian music playing. It is just so much fun! I continued pacing off of the matching singlet girls (they were still a solid tenth of a mile ahead of me, so it isn't like I was running right on top of them or anything). They must have had a similar race strategy because the pace was gradually starting to pick up.

One of my favorite race pictures! Feeling strong and still smiling 9 miles in!
At mile 9 the marathon and half marathon courses split. As I turned follow the half course I was surprised to see my husband again! I love the pictures he took, there is sunlight streaming through the trees and I look like I am out for a leisurely jog. The pace still felt easy at this point and I was feeling very confident about breaking 1:45 (compare to Charlevoix when the pace started to feel difficult at the half way point).

Miles 9-11 passed quickly. I don't really remember much about this part of the race. I remember focusing on my breathing quite a bit because I was worried about getting a side stitch, but that never happened. This was also the part of the race where I started picking off some runners as I continued to pick up the pace.

Really making it look easy (love this picture).
With 2 miles to go, I started to wonder if sub 1:43 was an option. I'm not really that great at math while running, so I while I knew it would be close, I wasn't sure if it was a possibility. The last two miles also felt like the longest miles ever, even though they were my fastest. For the first time in the race the pace felt hard to maintain. It did not help that at that point you are on the east side of the river but the race finishes on the west side. You can see the bridge that crosses the river (right at mile 13!) for almost a mile so it feels like you are almost done, but you aren't.

When I hit the bridge I was too focused on kicking hard to take a glance at my watch. I knew I had 1:45, but I wasn't sure on 1:43. I sprinted past two people in the finish chute like they were standing still. I felt like I was flying. I crossed the timing mat and was overwhelmed with joy. All those miles, weeks, months of training finally paid off.

I was hunched over trying to catch my breath when I realized I had never stopped my Garmin. I quickly hit pause and about lost my mind when I saw 1:42:41. It was a perfect, stars-aligned sort of day after all.

Time on that last split is long since I didn't stop my watch right away.
 Post Race
Post race was kind of a blur of emotions. There was a lot celebrating and thanking Kendall for his amazing support. After some pizza and a banana I was able to locate a tent for swapping shirts (hooray!) and track down my official times. I can not believe that I took almost 4 full minutes off of my time!

What's Next?
[besides the Grand Rapids Marathon in 4 weeks!]

Before the race I spent some time analyzing my training leading up to CC River Run 2014, Charlevoix 2015, and CC River Run 2015. I'd like to spend a bit more time looking into my past training so I can work on shaping a half marathon specific training plan. I'd really like to dedicate a large portion of 2016 to half marathon training, because I'm already starting to think about breaking into the 1:30s (only joking, sort of).

Monday, September 14, 2015

Grand Rapids Marathon - 5 weeks of training remain!

My running motivation this week was nonexistent. This was basically a week of heading out to run because I had to run, not because I wanted to run. I know that this is a normal part of training and I just need to push through. I kept reminding myself that I only had two 50+ mile weeks left. I could also tell that I was feeling a tiny bit beat up and taking a few extra rest days was super tempting.

rest day :)

unscheduled rest day

When I saw it was in the 90s I just couldn't. My legs were still tired from my 20 miler on Sunday and I had absolutely no interest is suffering through 8 miles in the heat. I wasn't sure if I would try to make up the mileage later in the week, but I just could not force myself out the door.

Distance: 11.03
Pace: 9:34

I was supposed to run 12 miles, but due to a major math fail I ended up back at my house at just 11 miles (note: 9 + 2 never equals 12). I decided that 11 was close enough.

Distance: 5.08
Pace: 9:35

Distance: 18.3
Pace: 8 miles EZ (9:37), 10 miles MP (8:40), plus a little extra

I shifted my long run to Friday to free up Sunday morning a bit. On Saturday I hosted a party to celebrate my husband's birthday and I knew I would be too tired for a long run on Sunday. The weather was perfect and I felt so strong hitting those MP miles! I focused on taking it one mile at a time. I ran a slight progression starting with 3 miles in the 8:50s, 3 miles 8:40s, one mile at 8:30s, and the final two miles in the 8:20s.

My Garmin actually died 17.38 miles into my run, so I am just hoping that for the final 0.92 miles I was able to hold my pace. I didn't feel like I was fading, and really, that is the important part.

Distance: 5.07
Pace: 9:54

Distance: 12.5
Pace: 9:12

Total: 51.98 miles (just slightly shy of the 52 miles I had originally scheduled)

It wasn't a fun week, but knowing I was able to just get it done makes me happy. Although it was a slight reduction from last week, the intensity was really increased this week. A long run with over half of the miles at goal pace is definitely helping my marathon confidence.

Next week: Race week! With a half marathon on Sunday, I will be reducing my mileage this week and keeping all runs leading up to the race easy. I am anticipating somewhere between 40-45 miles, depending on how I am feeling.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Grand Rapids Marathon - 6!!!

SIX WEEKS! This marathon thing is starting to feel very real and I can't seem to decide if that is a good thing or the worst thing ever. It is extra crazy to think that of those 6 weeks, 3 weeks will be spent tapering and 1 week will be focused on racing a half marathon, which really only leaves 2 real "normal" weeks of training.

A couple weeks ago I put in an amazing 20 mile run and was starting to feel confident that I was ready for the full 26.2 miles. This week I struggled through my 20 miler and was left feeling like the marathon is going to be a disaster. I'm glad that I still have one more 20 mile run scheduled, because I have a few ideas about what went wrong this weekend and will have a chance to test my theories.

First of all, it was much hotter this weekend than it was a couple weekends ago. Plus it was hot all week leading up to my long run. I think that the weather took more out of me than I realized and I went into the long run extra fatigued. Fortunately it is extremely unlikely that the forecast will be showing 90s in October in Michigan (the average high for race day is 59), so I shouldn't need to worry about the heat for the race.

The second issue might have been due to poor fueling leading up to Sunday. For my first 20 miler I was very careful about what I ate on Saturday and made sure to eat a healthy pasta filled lunch. This weekend I didn't really pay attention to what I was eating and had Chinese takeout for lunch and nachos for dinner. Carbs: yes; remotely healthy: no. I needed a bathroom break about 10 miles into my run and about 13 miles into my run I was starving.

I managed another couple decent miles and then really struggled the last 5 miles. So many times I told myself to keep my chin up and hold it together. I just wanted to sit down and cry. Looking at my Garmin data, my splits for these miles aren't terrible, only about 15-30s slower that I would have liked. I am really pleased that I didn't give up and call for a ride home. I know that the marathon is going to be difficult and I need to try to be ready to for it.

Monday 8/31
rest day

Tuesday 9/1
Distance: 7.0 with 7 strides
Pace: 9:20

Wednesday 9/2
Distance: 11.0
Pace: 9:46

I was hoping to run 7 miles at HMP, but it was just too hot. I decided to start at goal marathon pace and try to work my way down to half pace over the course of the run. After a two mile warm up I managed the following splits: 8:47, 8:47, 8:36, 8:22. After those 4 fast-ish miles I was done. I couldn't even keep moving at a slow jog. I walked for a few minutes and then for another few minutes. Eventually I was able to get running again, but I kept it slow and easy.

Thursday 9/3
rest day

Friday 9/4
Distance: 12.0
Pace: 9:24

Saturday 9/5
Distance: 5.0
Pace: 10:01

Sunday 9/6
Distance: 20.25
Pace: 9:54*

*Average pace includes a bathroom break at mile 10 and a short break around mile 17 while I messed with my watch. If I were to remove those breaks, my pace would have been 9:45.

Total: 55.25 miles

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Keeping the ball rolling

Usually I look forward to the start of a new month because it feels like a fresh start. A chance to get back on track and start over. A nice clean slate. Not this month.

Now, I don't want to let my ego get too big, but I feel like I've been killing it this summer! I don't want a fresh start, I want to keep the ball rolling!

In July I surprised myself by running my first 200 mile month (200.25 to be exact). Although my long runs weren't quite what I wanted them to be, I had a couple of really solid tempo runs and my training volume was way up (May and June each had about 150 miles).

In August I ran a total of 213.15 miles (that 0.15 is totally important, right?). I got my long run up to 20 miles including running the last 5 at goal MP. My average distance per run is in the double digits (213 miles, 21 runs). My yearly mileage is up over 1000. I've even lost the 5ish pounds I gained while injured last fall.

I definitely do not want a fresh start. I want to make September my third consecutive month of 200+ miles. I want to take all of the hard work and training from the past couple months and start seeing some awesome race results. I want a sub 1:45 half Let's try not to talk about that! I want to run my first marathon!
I'm coming for you! (source)
At the same time, I am tired of the hour+ runs almost every day of the week. I'm tired of getting up at 5:30 on Saturday AND Sunday so I can run before it is a million degrees out. I'm definitely looking forward to the cutting back and relaxing in November and December. But right now looking back at just how hard I have been working this year is making me so excited that race season is finally (almost) here!