Monday, October 26, 2015

UltraRunning Oktoberfest 13.1 Race Report

I’m so over the moon happy with this race. The number one reason is because I feel like I tried as hard as possible and when I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left. I used up all my legs and all my breath and all my try and I swear the last 0.45 miles was run on purely the fear of wrath from my future self. The number two reason is because I set a massive PR and hit a time that projects out to better than my goal marathon time. The number three reason is because I came in second in my age group, and won a beautiful trophy barometer from the organizer of the race, who makes German cuckoo clocks in his day job. I’ve never placed in a race like that before!!

The race is run in Pennypack Park, which is a beautiful wooded park in northeastern Philly. The trees were all changing color and it was absolutely gorgeous. Most of the course is run on a gravel bike path, but parts are run on grass, pavement, and a single track dirt trail. The start and finish line is a German-Oktoberfest-themed party with accordion music, dancing, and lots of potato-based food. The race charmingly starts when the race director counts to three in German, and then yells “Go!”

The first mile went by quickly and I was very excited to be running. I struggled with finding the pace, however, running too fast and then slow in turns. 7:45 is not a pace I typically run (usually I’m going faster or slower), so I wasn’t used to how it was supposed to feel. But, I managed to hit the first mile in 7:43 and settle into the pace a bit. We hit the first hill in mile 2. The paved trail went straight upwards and I bounded up, screaming “like a ninja badass!” I ran down and had the very distinct thought “I’m going to regret that later.”

By mile 4, we had gone through quite a few hills and I was struggling. I decided to make it to 6.55 miles (halfway) and then I could back off the pace. At mile 5, a woman ran up next to me. I glanced over and smiled at her. She grinned back, and said “You’re running a really good race! I’ve been trying to catch you for a while now!”

I went, “WOW! Thank you!” and then bombarded her with questions. Running next to her, my legs turned over faster and I didn’t notice if I was struggling with my breath. I felt strong and free. I was so happy. We ran a couple of miles in the 7:30’s. Around mile 7, we took a hard right to turn onto the 2.5 mile section that was dirt single track. Jen, my hero, said she was going to fall back a bit. I went ‘nooooo’ in my head. I’m really, really hoping I said “Good luck!” to her, but I’m very worried I only said it in my head. I didn’t have any luck with getting her contact info from Google (like a creeper), so I asked the race director to pass along a message, because she saved my race and I am so grateful.

Jen and I had been following a guy running a 7:45 pace for a while, as we turned onto the single track and she dropped back, I refocused on sticking to the guy in front of me. He knew I was behind him, because as we entered the woods I yelled “Whee! I’m like Legolas!” He was very nice and pointed to hazards such as rocks and ditches when he encountered them. Each mile, I told myself to just make it one more mile and then I could slow down. But I just couldn’t watch my unofficial pacer run away from me, so I stuck with it.

Finally we cleared the trees again and turned onto the paved trail. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore, which was really great, because the hills were back. I slowed to about 8:06 per mile in mile 10 and 11. I could keep the pace on the flat, despite the pain, but each hill slowed me to a crawl and I simply could not make my legs turn over faster. Finally, we hit mile 12 and I let out a strangled sound of joy and despair. It was weird.

I ran the last mile in 7:48, sprinted down to the finish line, and then bent over trying not to throw up. When I was reasonably certain I could, I stood back up and went to high five and thank my unofficial pacer.

My time of 1:42:22 projects out to a 3:34:23 marathon. So the one little thing I didn’t do was run a time that projects to my pie-in-the-sky goal of 3:32:00. That being said, the course was very hilly, the organizer himself stated that it was not considered a fast course in his welcome email, and I ran it during a peak training week (i.e. on tired legs). So I’m feeling pretty good.
This was the most fun race I’ve ever run. It was extremely well-organized and well-run (HAHA get it?? see what I did there??). Everyone was friendly and encouraging. The communication was clear and the timing company did a great job. The course was lovely and well-marked. They gave me a really beautiful tech shirt that actually fits me! They gave the winners handmade cuckoo clocks and age-group placers handmade barometers. The food was excellent and the music was…entertaining. They donate the proceeds to lung cancer research. I highly recommend it. I will definitely be there next year!!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sprinting Toward the End

I did my first track workout outside on a real track last night! I added in a sprints workout each week on the treadmill last April. Initially, I started with 4x200m with walk breaks in between. I could stick to 9mph (6:40 mile) for the first two and 10mph (6:00 mile) for the second two. Slowly, I worked up 10mph for all the sets, then 11mph and even 12mph for the last one or two. I upped the distance to 800 over the following months until I was running 4x800m at 9mph once a week in July.
Then, I read about Yasso 800s and realized, yay, I’m doing it.
Bart Yasso is the Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World Magazine and a very famous figure in the sport. He is the celebrated creator of the Yasso 800s workout. Essentially, if you can run 6-10 800 meter sprints (half miles) in your marathon time, you are prepared to run your marathon in that time. What does this even mean? If you can run a half mile in 3 minutes, 20 seconds, 6 times in a row (with breaks in between), you should be able to run a marathon in 3 hours, 20 minutes. It doesn’t make any sense, but apparently people swear by them and they frequently work out perfectly.
Anywho, up until this week, I ran on the treadmill because I could set the speed and just concentrate on not falling off. But I really wanted to see if I could achieve similar results on a real track. Turns out, I could!

This is how I felt the first 100 meters of every sprint:

This is how I felt the last 700 meters of every sprint:

But I did every repeat in less than 3 minutes, 23 seconds. So it seems I’m doing well with the training whatnot.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Training Log for Weeks of 9/27 and 10/4

I am training to BQ at the Philadelphia Marathon on November 22nd, 2015!!! To do so, I need to run it in 3:35, or 8:12 per mile. My super super goal is to run it in 3:32 so as to make sure I get into Boston when the race registration opens. In the last six months, I’ve been setting a lot of PR’s that project out to better than my goal time. Only the 5k was set during a race, the rest are just personal timing.
5k – 21:53 (in a race, though not chip-timed) May 2015
5 miles – 36:18 August 2015
10k – 45:48 September 2015

10 miles – 1:15:42 September 2015

Right now, as long as my legs aren’t exhausted, I’m finding a 7:38 pace to be pretty sustainable for 10 miles or less. Slow recovery runs or tired days I can maintain a 8:45 pace very easily.

Week of 9/27
Goal: Cutback week
Sunday: Bikram Yoga
I took it easy on my legs, but desperately needed to stretch my back in all the ways, so it ended up being a pretty good workout.

Monday: 5 miles, 43:06

Rock climbing and strength exercises

This run was slow and a little painful. My quads were very sore and tired. I’m not sure if it was from Bikram or from running 20 on Saturday. I felt tired but kept my heart rate down so I never got out of breath. A lot of my friends were climbing at the rock gym so I climbed for about 1:30, longer than my normal 45 minutes. Exercises (pushups, tricep dips, situps, planks) always take about 20 minutes.

Tuesday: 5 miles, 43:34

This run was more difficult than I was expecting. My legs no longer hurt, but I felt overall exhausted. The first mile was 9:20 and the next 3 hovered around 8:45. The last mile I felt a lot better and ran in 7:58, but that might have just been because I was excited to be done. I felt a little discouraged with my performance, but kept reminding myself I was only 3 days out from the first 20-miler of this training cycle.

Wednesday: 5 miles, 37:23

See my other post re Motivation.

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Rock climbing, no running

Climbing felt good today. Worked on some slab and made plans to climb outside with friends next Sunday. Hooray!!

Saturday: 14 miles, 2:05:27

I wanted to run this slowly because this was supposed to be a cutback week. The plan I am following called for just 8 miles, but I felt like that wasn’t enough this late in the training cycle. I can rest when I taper! That might come back to bite me in the ass. It was very cold for the first time this fall (turtleneck and tights kind of running).

Week of 10/4
Goal: High mileage, high fun
Sunday: 5 miles, 42:33
I decided not to rest after my long run because in my mind it was ‘short’, and because I wanted two days of rest later in the week before my next 20-miler. The result was agony and a very slow run.

Monday: 5 miles, 44:53

No rest for me! I shall continue the goal of getting my short runs in early in the week! My times continued to decline and my butt complained a lot.

Tuesday: 5 miles, 47:28

Still no rest! I also decided to run Ben Franklin Bridge, which is essentially running one giant hill! I haven’t run this slowly per mile in years. On the plus side, taking it easy let me sing to amuse myself during the run, and gave me time to look around and appreciate the Delaware River, which I don’t normally do while charging up the bridge.

Wednesday: Rest, blessed rest

Thursday: Still resting, high chocolate consumption

Friday: Interval training!! 6x800meters at 3:20

I do these on the treadmill to ensure I maintain the pace I want. I did not have a good attitude.

Saturday: 20 miles, 3:01:26

I ran in John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, which I had never been to, despite living in the area for more than 4 years. It was beautiful, flat, and pleasant. My legs felt comfortable and I appreciated the ranger at the visitor center cheering me on every time I stopped in for water. I kept to what felt like a slow and easy pace. When I finished, my legs still felt good! This was the first time I finished a run longer than 14 miles and still felt good and happy. Hooray!

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Yesterday, I read the news on Runners World that registration closed for the 2016 Boston Marathon, and the cutoff time was 2:38 faster than Qualifying Times. Looking at past years, I was planning on running about 1:10 faster than the Qualifying Time of 3:35:00 to make sure I got a spot. Given the difference in times between 2015 and 2016, I’m assuming that to get into the 2017 Boston Marathon, I will have to run at least 3 minutes faster than the Qualifying Time. In other words, my new A goal for the Philadelphia Marathon needs to be 3:32:00. This is only 7 seconds faster per mile than simply meeting the qualifying standard. Still, yesterday I spent the day freaking out. All of my PR’s project out to at least 38 seconds slower than the 3:32:00 I want.

Because it was raining and because I wanted to ensure I ran at a fast pace, I ran inside on the gym treadmill. My legs were exhausted yesterday. I ran 20 very hilly miles on Saturday, did Bikram Yoga on Sunday, ran 5 miles on Monday, and ran 5 miles on Tuesday. Nevertheless, images of crossing the marathon finish line minutes after my goal time motivated me to set the speed to 7:29/mile and run until my numb muscles hit 5 miles. I finished feeling very relieved that I had two rest days planned before a long run on Saturday.

I think I’m getting too caught up in the numbers. I am excellent at setting standards and then achieving them. To-do lists do not stand a chance in the path of my wrath, and checking things off gives me a sense of bliss. Once I set a plan, I follow it religiously. All of the numbers say that I am about a month ahead of where I was the same time last year, and that I am way faster. My mileage per week is way higher. I don’t think I could be trying any harder without courting injury. But then…I second guess myself. Could I be trying harder? Should I be running more miles? Should I be forcing myself to run faster? Or should I be running slower to keep my heartrate lower? It does not help that this is a cutback week in my training plan.

Of course, there are never any guarantees. But I was feeling very prepared. Now knowing that I have to run just a little bit faster than planned is really messing with my head.

In all the sports I’ve done, the goal has been completion, with auxiliary ‘it would be nice’ goals. Even last year, my main goal was to finish my first marathon, with the hope to maybe come in under 4 hours. I finished comfortably in 3:49:36, and I didn’t have to push at the end except to make sure I kept moving forward. In rock climbing, my goal is to get up and down rocks safely with friends. In horseback riding, my goal was to complete each event. This is the first time I am aiming for something very specific.

How do you deal with the pressure?! If I don’t meet the time, I will sign up for a spring marathon and try again. But I want it. I’m dreaming about it, in weird ways.

I’m going to get it. I think.

Weight Changes Everything

Typically when I run, I don’t carry anything but my Garmin on my left wrist and maybe a BonkBreaker bar in my left hand. Running outside, I don’t even listen to music. Last weekend, that changed a little. My first 20-mile run of the training cycle was scheduled for Saturday. Due to the Pope and his associated festivities occupying most of my normal running routes in Philly, I decided to head north and do four 5-mile loops around Tyler State Park. I had never run there before.

First of all, contrary to the knowledge on the Internet, it is NOT flat. So I unintentionally did a very difficult hilly and slow (well, I was trying to run slowly, but even slower than I intended) 20 miles. Secondly, because I would be running somewhere new, an hour from home, through woods and meadows and whatnot, I carried my cell phone with me so that I could theoretically call 911 and tell them where to find my body if something untoward happened. Hurrah. I carried my iPhone in my left hand where my Bonkbreaker typically goes. Since I would be looping by my car, I left the Bonkbreaker there until I was ready to eat it around mile 8. Sometime around mile 10, my right glute and hip starting shooting pains to my brain. I immediately slowed down.

I have a few strategies I employ when weird cramps and pains crop up during my runs. I slow down. I concentrate really hard on relaxing whatever area is paining me and deliberately take longer, slower breaths. Lastly in all the sports I have done, from horseback riding to Bikram Yoga, it has been evident that I have a tendency to shorten my right side and weight my left more. Almost always, if a cramp or pain is serious, it is a result of my posture. If I lengthen my right side, drop my right hip back down, and put a bit more weight into my right leg, the issue goes away. So I tried all the things.

Nothing worked. I was starting to get very concerned. I was only at mile 10. The pain was bad enough that I was worried about injuring myself if I continued as things were. I wracked my brain trying to figure out why this was suddenly an issue. The only thing I was doing differently was carrying my iPhone…

I switched my phone to my right hand. Within about ten meters, the pain was gone. It was miraculous! I’m having trouble believing that so little weight could make such a huge difference. But I ran the rest of the hilly and single-track 20 miles issue-free for a very, very slow 9:51 per mile. The experience reinforced my dislike for carrying things while running and made me even more interested in testing all possible combinations of race-day equipment before race-day!

Have you found that small things make such a huge difference while running?

Hi. I'm Me, Nice to Meet You

Hi, my name is Alex. You can call me Slappy. I like to run like a ninja badass wind! My boyfriend says that’s just a smelly silent fart. Ignore him.

When I was a child, I used to jump on my parents’ bed, and then leap as far as I could off the edge, convinced that if I practiced enough, one day I would miss the ground and learn to fly. I also used to sit in the backseat of my parents’ car and imagine riding a horse along the side of the road, convinced that if I wished hard enough, one day I would have a horse. I didn’t really think it would work. But then, after years of working on farms and bumming rides off friends’ horses and working through grad school to achieve real employment, I became airborne for two glorious, crazy, beautiful years.

The ending is that I crashed, magnificently. I competed in the high-adrenaline sport of eventing, in which one trains to a very high level and then gallops full speed over very solid jumps in large fields and woods and doesn’t seek psychiatric help for the condition. From the moment I got my (at first untrained) horse, I spent every waking and dreaming minute thinking about riding. My beautiful, surly, mare became a combination of child, trusted partner, and significant other. But, toward the end of Year Two, I broke my wrist (falling off my bicycle, ironically). With the medical bills came the realization that if nothing changed, I would be living on the same scary financial edge for the next 20 years. If I wanted to dig out of student debt, have a good place to live, and put the time into my career to achieve good things, owning a horse needed to wait another 5 or 10 years. Thus, I made the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life, and sold the furry creature that was a part of my soul.

So what replaced the 30 hours a week I spent training, exercising, and competing my magical pony? At first, the answer was 100% Netflix. But even Neil Patrick Harris cannot keep me in a chair and dissolve all the sadness. So I took to the streets.

I have always run for exercise and leaped about because I can’t sit still. In the first months after I sold my mare, I ran to exhaustion to forget my depression. But then…there is a moment, when a horse is galloping, that all four hooves leave the ground and it feels like the world is held in suspension. After a while, as my legs got faster and my breath got deeper, I started achieving that feeling from my own feet. It seemed the next logical step was to sign up for a marathon, and convince one of my good friends and my little sister to train for it as well. Dream small.

I ran the Philadelphia Marathon last year. My goal was to finish, and I was really super hoping to come in under 4 hours. I finished in 3:49:36. All the while leading up to the marathon I swore up and down I would never run another one. Before I went out for my one and only 20-mile training run, I sat rocking back and forth in a corner of my bedroom crying that it was too cold and I didn’t want to and the whole idea was stupid until finally my boyfriend threw enough pillows at me to force me out of the house. As I crossed the finish line of the race and looked at my watch, I immediately dissolved into happy sobs and then declared “next year, I will BQ.” I'm doing a lot of running right now, and my friends are starting to safe-word out of discussing it, so I need another outlet. Now everybody and the Internet's mother gets to listen!

Yay for medals and very large quantities of pasta!!!

Right now, I am 9.5 weeks into an 18-week training program and feeling pretty hopeful so far about hitting the 3:35:00. Most of all, I’m happy. Running is awesome. I’m flying a little bit.

Me sprinting to the finish of my 5k PR last May. My time projects out to better than my goal marathon…fingers crossed!!!