Hop Hop Half Marathon Race Recap and A Marathon Training Check-In

Where does the time go?! I mean, seriously, I feel like it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was putting together my training plan for the Newport Marathon and here I am, only about 4 weeks away from the big day. Is this another one of those signs that I’m getting old? The sensation of time going by so quickly, I mean. It must be.   It’s right up there with my new, annoying need to use the zoom function on my computer screen when I’m reading text these days. (Does anyone else feel like 12-point isn’t what it used to be?!)

Enough with the questions and the lamenting about the passage of time, I have a race to tell you all about. Held on the Saturday before Easter, the Hop Hop Half Marathon served as sort of a trial run for me.   Six weeks out from Newport I wanted to test my fitness level, and even more importantly, my pacing. I struggle with pacing myself evenly and I know that this is going to be a key element in my marathon success.

hophop2014

I’m going to put it right out there and acknowledge that this was a tough race for me. I did not taper, as I was considering this just part of my training plan, and I definitely felt fatigue in my legs and body when pushing my speed. I also got caught up in a bit of self-doubt about my clothing choices at the last minute, which resulted in me hastily adding an extra layer on top, which I almost immediately regretted after the run got going. I overheated and struggled with the ramifications of that for the majority of the race.

Despite all of that, I only finished 31 seconds short of my half-marathon PR AND I did a relatively consistent job (with the exception of one tough mile) of pacing myself evenly, while staying in tune with my level of effort and my actual pace time. There’s also something to be said about the level of mental focus that I had to hone in on, given the challenges I was having.

Hop Hop Half Medal and Bib - edited

The course was the same as last year, which is to say, it was absolutely enjoyable and peaceful. The route took us along the Columbia River, with what was a clear, impressive, and positively imposing view of Mt. Hood for more than half the route, until we made the turn around. The staff and volunteers from Foot Traffic were great and the logistics of the run all seemed to go off without a hitch. I also was super lucky to cross the finish line when I did. About 10 minutes later, as I was in my car and headed home, the sky absolutely opened up and those still out there were treated to some serious rainfall!

It was a tough race for me – a really tough one, actually. But it served its purpose. Looking at it from the perspective of it being one part of a larger plan and goal, I’ll even go as far as to say it was successful in some ways, too. I feel good having that trial run under my belt – and I hopefully learned a lesson about making last minute wardrobe decisions based on pre-race anxiety!

McMillan and Me: Marathon Training 2.0

When I planned for the Newport Marathon last year, I did so in a manner that I imagine is pretty common among first timers. I found a pre-written training plan online (I went with one of Hal Higdon’s), shifted one or two things around in order to fit my particular schedule and lifestyle, wrote it up on a calendar, placed it on my refrigerator, and went to work. I followed it nearly to a T. It worked. I completed my first marathon and even recovered from it pretty quickly (Thanks, Hal!).

Newport 2014

But the truth of the matter is, even though pre-written training plans are infinitely helpful (especially to newbies), each runner is unique and to get the most out of it, training needs to be personalized. There isn’t really any such thing as a one-size-fits-all training plan.

Which is why I knew going into this round of training for my second marathon (which is, by the way, once again the Newport Marathon), that I wanted to do things a bit differently. But . . . do what differently? And then . . . how differently? Anyone who has ever trained for a race likely knows the options for putting together a plan are bountiful. I’ve toyed with the idea of seeking the help of a professional – a paid professional – like a coach or a site that will personalize a plan for you, based on your input. Those are certainly still options on the table for future events, but for this one I decided to put my trust in myself and Greg McMillan.

You McMillanGreg McMillan, a distance running coach and exercise scientist, is the author of You (Only Faster), which is the book that ended up being my primary guide for developing my next marathon training plan. The book provides training plan templates, however, it also guides you through several steps of self-assessment, allowing you to adapt the plans through each phase of the process to best suit your individual body, running style, goals, and needs. For me, this was an ideal approach. It struck a great balance between having a plan developed from scratch just for me (which was kind of an intimidating prospect) and working straight from a pre-existing plan that didn’t take my specific self into account (which is not as effective as I would like).

Plus, I learned a lot – I repeat A LOT – about myself as a runner as I moved through the steps outlined in the book. I tuned into my body and running patterns and learned more about what type of runner I am, including what type of runs are most challenging for me, what types I recover most quickly from, and what types help give me the greatest confidence boost. I’m still applying this information and learning new things all the time.

One of the great parts of this process is that it lines up perfectly with something that I mentioned back in January. You may recall that I wrote about wanting to focus on living with purpose and intention this year. McMillan’s plan has helped me apply this to my running. I am thinking about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Some runs may be about going slow and building my endurance, others are about pushing on that VO2 Max, or about simply being in the moment and enjoying a run without a distance or pace goal in mind, but through all of them, I have a particular purpose and that feels really good to me. Quite good, actually.

I tend to excel in most areas of my life when I have a plan, a goal or two, and purposeful steps along the way, so it makes perfect sense to me that I follow a similar trend when it comes to running.

So here I am, five weeks of training under my belt, and about ten more to go. I’ve to say, I’m really loving how this is going so far. In addition to the positives that I’ve already pointed out, I feel like my body is responding well. I’m building back up some of the endurance that I got away from during the winter, but I’m also adding in more speedwork, which hasn’t ever really been much of a focus for me before. I’m challenged by my speed days, but I also find them to be a new satisfying way to push my abilities a bit further. I’m feeling healthy and committed to my training, too, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

It’s still early to be able to say how this will all play out in Newport, but my hat is off to Greg McMillan for pushing me to be Me (only faster).

Holiday Half Marathon Race Recap

Well . . . let’s see here.  It has taken me a bit more time then I had anticipated to post this race recap.

Clearly, this finding life balance thing is still a work in progress.

So, anyway, here I am, a bit late, but still eager to report back on my 2nd year participating in the Foot Traffic Holiday Half Marathon.  I ran this event on December 15th and it was the final race of the season for me (side note: How cool is it that I had a racing season???).

Holiday Half

In 2012, this event was remarkably cold, windy, and damp.  So it was with much joy that this year’s weather played out differently.  It was chilly, for sure, but dry and calm – nothing some strategic layering couldn’t address to keep me warm.

Mr. Move Eat Create accompanied me to the race.  With him handling logistics (such as transportation), I was free to focus on my performance.  My confidence level and thoughts heading in to the race were messy and conflicting.  On the one hand, I was feeling good about having recently noticed improvements in my pace times.  On the other hand, I had been coping with a strange foot pain that had seemingly popped up out of nowhere and I hadn’t completed any real focused or targeted training for this specific event.  Yet I was, of course, still gunning for a PR.  Go figure.

Holiday Half Bib 2013 - edited

With that in mind, here is how things shook out with this race, including the good and the bad.

Cons:

1. The first mile was frustrating.  Frustrating not because of anything I did or didn’t do, but because of the worst route congestion that I have ever experienced.  With no wave start, no corrals, no pace signs to line people up accordingly, and a large, diverse group of runners and walkers, it was a bit of a mess.  I found myself stuck and blocked in for at least a mile and finished mile one a full 1:00+ minutes slower than I had intended and was capable of.  Boo to that.

2.  I’ve mentioned before that I have Raynaud’s Disorder.  Since going gluten-free, my symptoms have lessened significantly in frequency and severity (Yay!), however, they started raging during this day’s race (Grr!).  It was painful and distracting.

3.  In a total running blunder, I apparently had recorded two different race times for my last half-marathon, which had been my PR – leading to great confusion on my part as to what my best time actually was (huge runner fail on my part).

Holiday Half Medal 2013 - edited

Pros:

1. The route is a nice one.  I really enjoy running through old Portland neighborhoods and this had a lot of that.  Plus, the clear sky provided an exceptional view of the magnificent St. John’s Bridge.

2.  Transportation and parking for this event are both wonderful.  I love the shuttle buses that take you from the large free parking spaces to the start line.  Stress free!

3.  Plenty of space (indoor and outdoor with heaters) to meander pre-race, lots of port-a-potties, and a coffee truck on hand for warm, caffeinated beverages.  All very good things.

4.  After much confusion, followed by embarrassment about said confusion, and then initial disappointment, I did discover my true previous PR and, to my delight, I set a new one!  Setting this PR provides me with some validation that the consistent work I’ve been putting in, even if it wasn’t via a targeted training plan, is paying off.  It is always nice to see concrete, measurable improvement and growth in my running, and it was a great way to finish up the season.

My final numbers:

  • Finish Time: 1:47:24
  • Overall Finish: 359/2505
  • Age Group Finish: 31/332

Now my off-season has begun!  Slightly reduced mileage and strength training will be the focus for a few weeks while my 2014 calendar takes shape.  More on that to come!

Preparing For the Last Race of My Season

Tomorrow morning I will race for the last time in 2013 at the Holiday Half Marathon in North Portland.  I also ran this event last year and recall it being a very wet, windy and cold morning.  The extreme frigid and icy weather that we’ve been experiencing the last week or so was making very extremely nervous for the prospects of this year’s race, however, things seem to be easing up.  Thank goodness!  When I went for a training run last night, the 37 degree temperature felt like such a warm relief compared to the days prior!

Holiday Half

Heading in to this last race of the year, I’m finding myself having some mixed emotions.  I’ve been training consistently, and have noticed myself getting a bit faster, but I probably haven’t focused on specific training patterns as much as I should have in order to really deliver a peak performance.  Due to this, my confidence in delivering a PR is not super high, though I find myself still hoping that I might be able to achieve one, nonetheless.  I’ve also been having some weird pain in my left foot that I’m not super happy about.  I don’t think it’s anything serious, but it feels like it needs some tending to after tomorrow’s race is said and done.

I’ve been a bit tired lately and am looking forward to finishing the season strong, and then allowing myself some more relaxed running and cross-training for a month or so to rest and recuperate from this past year.  During this time I will also work on planning out my major 2014 racing events – so I’m sure I’ll be posting more about that soon.  I’m excited to think about what the coming year will bring for my running.

If you’re up and about Sunday morning and think of it, please feel free to send some good running vibes my way!  I’ll, of course, report back about how it goes next week.

Anyone else preparing for their final races of the year?

Anatomy of a Long Run

My alarm beeps at 5am on Saturday mornings, just like it has all week long, but instead of snoozing for another half an hour, I generally get right up.  On Saturdays, when so many others are sleeping in, resting from their work weeks, I pop out of bed and begin a well-practiced routine.

Saturdays are my long run days.  Some runners love long runs, others loathe them.  I pretty much consider them sacred.

I shuffle into my kitchen, where a glass of water and a Picky Bar await.  Snack consumed, I make my way back to my bathroom for teeth-brushing, contact-inserting, and, well, using the bathroom, of course.

Then . . . I wait.

Street Crossing - croppedNeeding to pass some time for my pre-run snack to settle a bit, I crawl back into bed, pop myself up against the wall, and crack open a book.  I avoid the news, the internet, or anything else that would shock me into the events of the real world before I’m ready.  30 minutes fly by and it’s time to change.

Running clothes are donned, shoes laced, cap pulled on over my messy hair and out I go.  Pausing only at the edge of the sidewalk to give my Garmin time to lock on to a trusty satellite, I am off.

Most of the year, it’s still dark.  The streets are calm and quiet.  I pass by dim storefronts and glance inside, peeking at the goods which line the shelves and wait to find a home.  My eyes wander across the lawns and porches of houses that tease me with glimpses of cozy kitchen tables and warm fireplaces.  Stop lights tell me “Don’t Walk”, but after glancing in all directions, I generally see that it’s all clear and run right on through.

Early risers creep their cars through the drive-in coffee windows and the sun starts to rise.  Depending on the time of year, it may be warm or frigid, dry or wet – all of it telling.  It is on these runs when I watch the seasons change.  I notice that what was once 30 minutes spent in darkness turns to 45 as the winter inches in.  I watch ducks usher in the summer mornings with their quacks and squirrels gather up their food stores as the warm weather fades.  I notice the very first of the leaves fall and the precocious flower buds of early spring.

My first loop – just over 8 miles – eases me into my day.  It’s a loop that I’ve run many times and is by now comfortably familiar to me.  I traverse it with gut recognition and instinct, providing me the time to fully wake up and warm up.  My mind drifts, not thinking per se, but just letting random thoughts pass through.  Some are meaningless and others seem genius at the time, though I can never remember them later.  Mostly, I am just completely present in my thoughts, in my body, and in my city.

By the time I sprint up the stairs to my apartment for a quick pit stop, I’m totally engaged.  I spend no more than five minutes inside.  Bathroom.  Water.  Snack.  Back out I go.

My second lap varies.  The distance and route bend to my particular goals and feelings on any given day.  By this time of the morning, though, the sun has risen and the day’s mood is making itself known.  Have the clear skies brought the other runners, leaves on wet road - croppedcyclists, and rowdy kids playing in the streets?  Or, are the grey skies rushing people from one shelter to another?  Either way, I run on with thoughts of breakfast starting to enter my mind.  My day’s task list begins to take over head space, too, and my body begins to yearn for coffee.

Regardless of the specifics of that morning’s second loop, I tend to run a path that leads me down some fun hills, spitting me out into one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in my town.  Those last few miles, momentum building and spirits lifting, are the best.  This is where the calmness of the morning turns into energy for the day.  It’s also where the negative split takes hold.  And, for those of you who are runners, too, you know how much we love a negative split.

Then, just like that, I’m home.  I kick my way through the parking lot, stop at the door, click stop on my trusty Garmin, and begin the rest of my day.  Shower.  Coffee.  Food.  Compression socks.

Contentment.

What Running Has Taught Me About Patience

I am, by nature, a most impatient person.  And, I really mean that.

Traffic lights feel like an eternity to me.  I’m usually convinced that all the other lines at the checkout are moving faster.  When I find something I want, I feel the need to have it RIGHT NOW.  And, I’m still a bit like a kid on my birthday – antsy to open presents and eat cake.

This is just one of the reasons that running has been so good for me.  Running, you see, has taught me about patience like nothing else ever quite has.  It’s true that when you begin running, you do see some changes and results quite quickly.  Those first few months (with practice and training) can fly by with increases in mileage and speed happening all the time.  That 3 mile run becomes 4 miles and that 9:30 pace quickly can drop to 9:00.  But, the truth of the matter is, that running takes a lot of patience.

Sky and Top of Reed Buildings

Building one’s self into a consistent, skilled runner requires persistence and work ethic that have to be sustained over years to truly accomplish specific goals.  I don’t think I ever realized this when I first started running, probably because I just didn’t think about it much.  But, I’ve been at this for nearly two years now and I’ve come to be humbled by and appreciative of the amount of time it takes to improve as a runner.

Sure, anyone can set out to run a 5k, or hell even a marathon, and get through it with only a few months of training.  But, if you want to drop your pace, run injury free, or build stronger muscles for hills, for instance, it takes time.  Serious time.  I read a lot of running related books and this theme is consistent across all of them.  Elite, top notch runners that one might imagine were just born with the gifts of speed and endurance, all talk about this.  They speak of years of training cycles to slice just a minute or two off of their race times and they clearly acknowledge that nothing is more important to improving one’s running ability than simply working hard over long periods of time.

This has been an incredibly important lesson for me to learn.  I expect a lot of myself and I don’t usually give myself much allowance for mistakes or failure.  I tend to believe that I should have accomplished this or that very quickly, without error, faster than others have.  But, when it comes to my running, I know that there are no quick accomplishments – no super fast results.  I head out, day after day and run miles after miles knowing that eventually, over time, it will result in me meeting more of my goals, and I just have to be patient with it.  Because there’s no other way.

street crossing 2 - cropped

Of course, I do see certain types of results all the time.  For example, I’ve been keenly aware lately how much easier it is for me to run longer, more often.  Runs that once left me exhausted often feel fairly run of the mill these days.  I used to be impressed with myself when my weekly mileage totaled 25 and now I easily hit 40 most weeks.  But, it’s been a gradual process with small advances along the way.

Like so much else that running has taught me, I’m trying to remember this lesson in other aspects of my life, as well.  I had a birthday recently.  My birthdays have always been a time when I tend to reflect on what I haven’t yet accomplished.  You know that process, right?  It’s the “I can’t believe I’m already XX years and I haven’t done XX yet!  I’m so far behind where I thought I would be!”  Well, when this birthday came, I certainly had some of those thoughts creep in, but I do like to think I did better with them this year.  And, I like to think that’s yet another thing I owe to my little running regimen.

I Think The Wind Was Out To Get Me . . .

I do.  I think the wind was out to get me during yesterday’s run.  My day started off on a sour note when my regular Saturday long run was delayed.

I was not pleased.

This is my favorite time of the week, you see.  Just me in the early morning running silently and peacefully for miles and miles.  It clears my head and sets the tone for my whole weekend.  But, when I woke on Saturday the weather was bad.  Really bad.

photo credit: heanster via photopin cc

photo credit: heanster via photopin cc

I can run in rain.  I can run in wind.  I can run in the dark.  But, combine hard rain with wind gusts up to 23 mph and the pitch black darkness of the very early morning and things felt a little dicey.  I put on my gear and waited.

And waited.

And, eventually, I grudgingly decided it wasn’t wise to head out.

After breakfast and errands, I felt renewed hope for making my long run happen.  It was light enough to see and while the wind gusts were still happening, the rain had mellowed to a light, but consistent, drizzle.  I figured I would work through the head winds for the first part of my run and then use the tailwind after I turned around for renewed energy.  But here’s what actually happened.

I headed out east with the hard wind coming straight at me.  I reached a point where I turned around and headed back west.  And the wind was still coming straight at me.  WTF?!  How could it be blowing in two opposite directions?  After another few miles, I made another turn to head south.  I figured I must be in the clear, right?

No.

No, I was not.  The wind was still coming straight at my face.  How is that even possible?  Was it magic wind?  Did have some vendetta against me that I didn’t know about?

Finally, after making my final turn north, I found it at my back and it ushered me home.

I think it finally had its fun and decided to cut me a break.  It had toyed with me enough and moved on to some other poor runner heading in the opposite direction.

Damn wind.  There is a reason (okay, many reasons) why it’s my absolute most dreaded weather element.

But I am glad to say that it didn’t stop me.  I ended up finishing my long run about 2 miles short of where I’d like to have been, but it still added up to another 14 miles in the books.  Let’s hope tomorrow is better, shall we?  (Though the forecast seems to think it won’t be.)  Damn it.