Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What I Learned About Running from Not Running

After MCM, I took a nine-day hiatus from running. The last time I took that much time off from running was after the NYC Marathon in 2011. Prior to my break, I had these grandiose thoughts that this break would be glorious and that I'd be able to accomplish all these things that I put off during my training.

In reality, it was not as glorious. I grew antsy and started itching for a run. I grew slightly irritable, despite doing other forms of cardio. (I say slightly because I noticed it, but nobody else commented on it. Maybe I just need some brutally honest friends up here.) And then it dawned on me. I think I just missed running. After 16 weeks of training, not running just feels odd. Every time I'd see someone running outside or on the treadmill, I'd wish that I were running. Seeing others running just reminded me that I was on a forced break, and though I knew that I needed that break to help with recovery, I didn't want to be reminded of it. During my training, I griped about having to run and didn't want to do it some of the time. And when I was on break, I griped about not being able to run. Ultimately, I suppose I have a love-hate relationship with running.

Running seems like one of those family members you see for a couple multi-day spans every year. You seem to get annoyed by them when you're with them, but you miss them when they're gone. (Okay, that's probably one of the worst analogies ever, but you get the idea.)


Speaking of being annoyed, it seemed like everyone assumed that I had/have races coming up on my calendar. What makes you think that anything is next? Because you know me to be kind of obsessed with the sport?

As strange as it sounds, nothing is next at the moment. However, I'd be lying if I said I weren't thinking about my next move. I’m thinking of doing a 5K in December, the Shamrock Run in March, and a half-marathon in the spring, but I haven’t signed up for any of them yet. I’m also thinking about a late spring/summer marathon. A few ideas: BMO Vancouver Marathon (5/4); Newport, OR Marathon (5/31); Santa Rosa Marathon (8/24). (I welcome other suggestions too!) I’m forcing myself to wait a few more weeks before signing up for one. I’d rather not fall into my usual cycle of “training, off-season running, training, off-season running.” That’s probably how I ended up burnt out in the first place.

A couple of friends have even asked about the sub-3 marathon. To them, that seems like the next natural goal after breaking 3:05. Without a doubt, that's my next goal. (It's actually been on my list of running goals since before I broke 3:20.) Does the thought of running a 2:xx marathon scare me? OH YEAH. But does the thought fire me up and make me want to sign up for a race and resume training? You bet your lucky stars it does!

I ended my break last night with a 6M run. The first three miles were ~7:45/mi, and the last three were ~7:15/mi. Chalk it up to nine days of pent-up desires to run, or simply good fitness. Whatever the reason may be, I'm pleased with it, and I'll take it as a confidence booster.

Whenever I start training, I think I need to print this and hang it on my fridge to serve as a reminder/motivation to do my workouts.

Have you signed up for any races yet for 2014? If so, what? And would you mind a slightly nutty Oregonian crashing your race party joining you?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Than a Race

After two days and a six-hour plane trip back home, I still haven't been able to process everything that transpired on Sunday. I want to be able to write this and take the emotion out of it (because it'd be so much shorter), but I can't. It's just too much a part of the story.

DC holds a special place in my heart, As most of you know, I did the first two years of undergrad in DC, and still have some close friends in the area. During that time, I joined the crew team, which is when I feel like I became an athlete.

I also started running for fun during those years. I vividly remember the moment I was in my friend/teammate Christine's room, and she was talking about this race in Philly that she read about in "Runner's World" (the Philadelphia Distance Run; now the Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half-Marathon). She and a couple other mutual friends were going to sign up, and she said, "You'll be in Philly. You should join us." My response: my usual, "Sure! Why not?" (This seemed like a fabulous idea, despite never having run a road race.) Though I didn't officially complete the race until after I moved to Philly, the running seed was planted while I lived in DC. 

In 2012, MCM sold out in 2.5 hours, and though they hadn't made any indication of switching to a lottery system, I wanted to make sure I ran it (and had my homecoming moment) before they did. I signed up for this race on March 27 (exactly 7 months before Race Day)

Since registering, life happened. I finished grad school, moved to a new apartment, and started a new job. My new job started the same day as my 16-week training plan, and so my training got off to a rocky start. I was feeling burnt out from two years of nearly-nonstop marathon training. I had actually debated over deferring my entry to 2014, until I later determined that that'd be too brash. So I continued on with the training, and to my surprise, the cycle actually ended on a high note.


Before my trip even started (i.e., while I was still at work), US Air called me to say that my flight was delayed, and it was likely I'd miss my connection. Oh great. I still showed up at the airport when I was supposed to, and found ways to pass the time. Eventually, we boarded, and I ended up with a whole row to myself. Last time that happened on a red eye: never.


We landed at 7:18, a whopping 12 minutes before my connecting flight was scheduled to take off. The flight attendants said something about my flight already leaving, though it wasn't departure time. So I joined the two other travelers connecting to that flight in sprinting to the gate (which was in another terminal), only to see that the plane was five FEET away from the jetway, and they wouldn't bring it back.

US Air rebooked me on the 11:35 flight, and placed on standby for the 9:45 flight. While waiting for my new flight, I ate, brushed my teeth, caught up on emails, tried to get on the 9:45 flight (to no avail - the earlier flight was oversold). So I just took the 11:35 flight. And the best part? 

The customer service rep gave me a first class seat! Entire row on one flight, plus first class on the other flight -- felt like all-star travel to me! Also, I now get to cross "fly first class" off of my bucket list.

I eventually made it, and Metroed to Expo. I got there around 2. My friend Alanna was going to be off of work around 4, so rather than try to cram in a bunch of gallivanting, I just took my sweet time perusing the booths. 

The Expo

I'm not sure what this mascot is, but who wouldn't want to pose with a mascot?

Can't say I came up with that hashtag, but I think it describes my feelings about MCM at that time.
The motivational board. Pick a slogan and write it on the wall. Mine: "Operation BQ!"

They had the standard booths there (e.g., Clif, Honey Stinger, Brooks). One cool thing they had was a vendor conducting body composition analyses. Yes, I ended up doing this. If you want to know more about how they did the analysis and what they said, just ask me. Once I met up with Alanna, we stopped at the freshly-renovated Harris Teeter so I could pick up carb-loading/pre-race provisions. Once at her house, I prepped a big batch of my pre-race millet porridge (ate about half for breakfast on Sat, and the rest on Sun). 

We ended up having Thai for dinner, which hit the spot nicely.


I went for a 2.2 mile shakeout run down Four Mile Run. Fantastic, scenic route! 

I spent the rest of the day catching up with my friends. Lunch with Alanna (more Thai food), coffee with Alanna and our mutual friend William, and dinner with my friends Erika and Meg (Macaroni Grill; service was awful and the food was meh). So wonderful seeing everyone! 

On my way home, I read the most encouraging email from my friend Erin. To quote part of it:

"ok, seriously, speedy legs tomorrow. when your legs fatigue, which they won't, but hey, contingency plans, let your heart fill in the gaps. your heart is what got you here in the first place and what keeps you coming back for more. you're strong, you're trained, you've practiced running SEVERAL MARATHONS' WORTH OF MILES in order to run 26.2 tomorrow effectively and efficiently. promise. you can do this."

I fell asleep surprisingly easily, and only woke up once. No bizarre dreams either.


I went into this race feeling calmer than I have in the past. I hadn't run the race yet, but I seriously felt like I had already won. I think it's related to all of the support I received in the previous days and weeks. Also, I just had this gut feeling that this was it. Still, I listened to my pump-up music as I ate breakfast (millet porridge with dried raisins, craisins, and honey; coffee) and trekked to the start. I also ate a banana before the start of the race.

6:45am. Mass exodus of runners trying to get off of the Metro at Pentagon

Inside the Runner's Village trying to stay warm. (Side note: reusing the space blankets from previous races works quite well!)

Since I have a record of being horrible at pacing, I planned on starting with the 3:05 pace group. However, by the time I saw them in the corral, I couldn't make my way up there, so I started behind the 3:15 pace group. While waiting for the race to start, I realized that I put the fellrnr bracelet I printed on the wrong way, so I couldn't easily read the times on it. Typical me. Fortunately though, I had memorized the goal times for each mile.

Start-mile 4: Around 8am, the gun went off and we were on our way! I made the mistake of starting my Garmin six seconds early (when crossing the inflatable arches as opposed to the mat). I meant to stop and reset it, except I never reset it and didn't realize it until about a minute later (not quite sure). (In hindsight, I should've just lapped it, but oh well, live and learn.) At that point, I just started it and figured I'd manually lap it at the next mile marker so I could just go by the splits (I lapped it at mile 2 marker). I wasn't happy about this, but I knew it wasn't the end of the world (people have qualified for Boston without GPS watches, and "you can't control the elements; only how you respond to them") and I couldn't let myself get rattled over it. Guess it didn't matter that my pace bracelet was on the wrong way.

The first couple of miles were uphill, which I expected. For the first few miles (and for much of the race as well), I was focusing on running tangents (based on the way they map the course, you could end up running more than 26.2 miles if you don't take the inside curve on turns). I also remembered my friend Steven's advice that "You can't win a marathon in the first mile, but you sure as hell can lose."

Miles 4-5: Around mile 4, I could see Georgetown's campus and immediately felt a sense of nostalgia. Not that I went to G'Town, but it's a beautiful campus and the neighborhood is my favorite part of DC. We crossed the Key Bridge, went down M Street (major drag in G'Town), and toward Foggy Bottom.

Mile 5-6: Looped through Foggy Bottom, and onto Rock Creek Parkway. I had never set foot in Rock Creek Park or on the Parkway, so this was uncharted territory for me. The road was tree-lined and the trees were lush. It was like an oasis in the concrete - so close to the city, yet so far away!

Mile 7: I made some good headway, and had nearly caught up to the 3:05 group. I was tempted to pass them, because I was feeling bottlenecked, but I resisted because I remembered the trouble that got me into during Eugene '13. So I decided that it'd be best to run my own race, and if I had the energy at mile 20, surge past them.

Mile 8-9: Began trek down RCP toward downtown DC. Took Gu #1 (Vanilla Hammer Gel). Decided it tasted like cake icing. I should also point out that I saw the best signs of the race on RCP:

1. "Walking? Ain't nobody got time for that!"
2. "You run better than Metro." (If you've spent any time in DC, you're probably aware that Metro shutdowns/service interruptions are a regular occurrence.)
3. "You run better than the government."

Another theme of signs that cracked me up was the "Beat Oprah" theme. (Oprah ran MCM in 1994, and her time of 4:29:15 is STILL talked about.)

Miles 10-11: We went under the bridge near the Kennedy Center. My race still seemed consistent at this point. 3:05 balloons were still close, and my Garmin splits were pretty even. I had expected to see the DC Front Runners here, but I didn't. (It's possible that I heard chants of, "Go Front Runners!", which I probably followed up with a fist pump.)

Miles 11-13.1: Out to Haynes Point. I had run this before (as part of my long run the last time I was in DC), so I knew that this would be quiet. The Marines were handing out Clif Gus at mile 13, so I grabbed a raspberry Gu pack (Gu #2). Crossed the halfway mark in what I thought was my goal time. I was still feeling good, and the 3:05 balloons hadn't crept ahead.

Miles 13.1-15ish: Back toward the Mall. Nothing particularly exciting.

Mile 15ish-18: Passed the Washington Memorial (all coated in scaffolding), and continued toward the north side of the Mall. At mile 16, I was closer than ever to the 3:05 group. Again, I wanted to pass them, but I decided to leave the surge for the last 10K. (After all, "A marathon's just a 10K with a 20 mile warmup.") While running along the Mall, I heard, "Go Austin! You're looking great!" (Or something of the sort.) I turned and saw my friend Lavar. First familiar face I saw out there! 

Mile 18-20: My left hamstring started tightening up at mile 18. At this point, I had to tell myself, "You're doing great. You have less than a hour to go", as well as, "Run with your heart" (a line from Erin's super-sweet and encouraging email that she sent Sat night). So I fought back and quickly forgot about it. I also took Gu #3 (Chocolate Cherry Clif Shot) at mile 18. I figured that the caffeine (100 mg; equivalent to about 2 shots of espresso) would kick in around mile 20, just in time for the 14th Street Bridge.

Miles 20-22: Mile 20 marked the start of the bridge back to Virginia. Meg and Erika warned me that this would be tough (they ran the Army 10 Miler, and the bridge is mile 8-9 on the course), so I was somewhat mentally prepared. There was an incline, but I still managed to pass some people. It was such an odd feeling to be passing people at mile 20, but also a huge confidence booster. I definitely needed that, because the only spectators on the bridge were the Marines. I noticed the tightness in my left hamstring again, and thought of Erin's friend Ken, who recently fought through hamstring issues to run a sub-3:05 marathon. That helped me push those issues to the back burner. I hit mile 21 in under 2:30, so I knew that my chances of hitting my goal time were good. I also realized I had something to look forward to at every mile until the end (Alanna at 22, Gu at 23, Dunkin Donuts munchkins at 24, DCFR at 25, and the end). It felt so weird to be running on a freeway (excuse me, highway, because nowhere east of the Rockies seems to call them freeways). Soon after hitting mile 22, I heard Alanna scream my name, but I didn't see her. Thank God she's loud!

Miles 22-24: I was still passing people, and got more amped up with each kill (kill = person passed). However, the crowd around Crystal City seemed quiet, so I ended up motioning for them to cheer. Took Gu #4 (Honey Stinger) at mile 23, and in the process of opening it, part of it ended up on my glove. Oh well. Got my highly anticipated Munchkins at mile 24. 

Miles 24-end. This stretch led us back to the Pentagon (where we started), along the route that we took to the starting line, and up to the finish. I had some cramping in my hamstring again, but I was still making kills. I had also clocked a couple of sub-7 minute laps (lap = 1 mile, based on Garmin). By this point, I was confident I would set a PR (personal record), and pretty confident that I would qualify for Boston, so I was just floored. At mile 25, we went up an on-ramp onto the road where the race started. Somewhat of a hill, but I passed one runner and was trying to pass this runner with these shorts that resembled the Maryland state flag. Seeing the Marines between miles 25 and 26 was highly motivating. Again, I didn't see any of the DCFR, but it's possible that I heard them and acknowledged them non-verbally. After mile 26, all I could think was, "Where the hell is this finish line?" I eventually saw it...atop a hill. Seriously, a hill in the last quarter-mile? And bigger than Mt. Roosevelt at the end of the Chicago Marathon (CM)? Fortunately, the Marines were there cheering everyone on, so that helped. Once I got to the top, I turned right, and saw the finish line. The clock atop the finish line had just hit 3:05, telling me that my BQ was almost certain, so I just charged, and raised my fist in the air the moment I saw those photographers. (They also captured it on video. Fast forward to about 1:13.) I crossed the finish line and the clock said 3:05:2x (I didn't see the last digit), thus setting my sixth consecutive PR.

For more race photos, check out MarathonFoto's site, and look up Marine Corps Marathon 2013 and my bib number (14659).

I felt so stiff afterward, but felt like that was the most well-executed marathon I had ever run, and that there wasn't anything I could've done differently.

All of the Marines were lined up to shake hands, congratulate runners, and thank them for participating. I had to thank them for all that they do, because I felt as though they were more deserving of thanks than I was. Along the route to get the medal, they were handing out food, water, Gatorade, and these cool lightweight jackets (in lieu of the usual superhero cape). 

Sleeves, a zipper, and a hood!

One of them put the swanky medal around my neck, and then a photographer took my photo. After that, I was on a mission to find my time. I was nearly certain that I qualified for Boston, but I just wanted to confirm that. The walk to the baggage trucks seemed SO LONG, but eventually, I made it and got my bag. I dug my phone out primarily so I could get a picture with the Marines (something my friend Mark, who ran MCM in 2012, had recommended), and saw excited texts from my mom and Erin about my 3:04 finish. I was beyond stoked. So stoked, in fact, that after getting the photo that I wanted, I started playing Erin's voicemail (yes, she called as well), walked away, and only later realized that I left the bag with all of the food and recovery supplies at the baggage truck. (Lose some food (that I presume they'll just donate), gain a BQ... Yeah, I'll take the latter.) 

Anyway, I called Erin back, and I'm pretty sure I freaked out the woman in front of me when I yelled "Erin!" into my phone, and then we had our celebratory moment (after Eugene '13, I told myself that whenever I qualified, she would be the first one I called). She said that my splits were pretty even (which I thought was the case, but didn't know because my Garmin was unreliable for that.) While I was on the phone with her, I had to ask, "So what was my actual time?" She said 3:04:46. 14 seconds to spare; talk about a close call! While on the phone with her (and recalling the story of how I thought I heard Alanna from 50 yards away). I found Alanna (and the handmade, sparkly sign that she made and I didn't see) in the family reunion area. 

I changed into my post-race apparel of track pants, pullover, and Birkenstock clogs (poke fun all you want, but I had them long before I moved to Oregon, and they have orthotic benefits), and headed toward the Metro. Once there, I caught up with the Facebook posts, tweets, and texts that I received in the previous few hours. And then proceeded to document the end result on social media. (I'm sure everyone's delighted to no longer see the hashtag #mcmweekend.) 

While I was doing that, Alanna pulled up my splits and sent me the screen shot. Not only did I PR and BQ, but I ran the second half FASTER than the first. (Granted, it was only 34 seconds faster, but still faster, nonetheless.) Also, the unofficial rankings: Out of 23,526 finishers, I came in 342nd. Holy whoa!

I realized when we got home that my orange gloves were in that bag that I left at the UPS truck. Bummed, but they're perfectly replaceable. 

Post-race celebrations consisted of a salt bath, shower, splurge meal (burger, sweet potato fries, and Oreo milkshake), and celebrating with the DCFR. 

Rockin' the mock. And also completely oblivious to the French fries two inches away from my ear.


To simply put it, I was (and still am) floored. I could be mad that I missed my A goal of breaking 3:04, but given how long I've been chasing the Boston Qualifier, missing 3:04 just seems irrelevant. I just feel like I'm in a different class of marathoners now. In addition, I never thought I could run the second half of a marathon faster than the first. It just seemed like this fantasy that never happens. I'm also in shock that I finished in the top 2% of the third largest marathon in the US, because I never would've expected that. And to do it all in a city that means so much to me? All the more reason why MCM is "more than a race" and why I have a special place in my heart for MCM and DC.

Would I run MCM again? I think I would. Definitely not in 2014, but in some future year, I'd be open to running this race again.

Am I ready to think about what's next? No. I just want to sit here, savor this moment, and just enjoy running for what it is before jumping back into a training cycle. Until next time, mission accomplished.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I Passed!

I know, I know -- my recap is a day late. Sue me. It's been an eventful week in these parts.

For starters, I passed my thesis defense on Thursday!

Naturally, this required a celebratory happy hour. And then two more days of celebrating/doing what I wanted. Run in the morning, drink wine with friends in the evening. 

But back to the running (since that's the focus of this blog). 

Last week's workouts (week ending 6/9)
Running - x5 (35.24 miles total)
Cycling - N/A
Core - x3
Strength - x2
Foam rolling - x2 (or maybe 3 -- I didn't do a good job of logging my foam rolling sessions)
Salt bath - N/A

I ran more miles last week, and did an extra day of core. I feel like the core work may actually be helping my posture. Or maybe that's just in my head.

I decided to run along the Leif Erickson Trail on Sunday. I had a long run planned (10M), and needed to clear my head, so a trail adventure seemed perfect. During the first mile, the scab from my heel friction wound ripped off. Once it ripped off, I didn't feel any pain and I just got lost in my thoughts and the trails. It felt so good that I decided to extend it another mile. Once I finished, I discovered a very blood-stained Achilles. (I'll refrain from posting pictures, but it took 3 rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton balls to clean the blood and trail dirt.) I'm convinced it was due to the PureFlows (when I wear the Mirages, I don't notice any bloodshed), which is odd because I've used those shoes without issue for two months. Looks like it's back to the Mirages for a little while...

During my 6M run on Wednesday morning, my mind was in it, but my body was not. My legs just felt like lead weights, and I felt under-fueled. It was as if I didn't eat enough or drink enough water, which is possible -- when I'm stressed, my appetite tends to decrease. Another possible explanation: maybe caffeine gives me an added boost?

Overall though, I'm happy with the mileage (my first week of 35+ miles in about two months), and met my goals for ancillary core and strength work. Using one of my rest days for core work seemed to work out nicely.

So what's next (on the running front)? I think I should try a morning run (about 5M) right after waking up and without any fuel (food or coffee) beforehand. That should (hopefully) answer my questions about my issues from last week. Also, keep gradually upping the mileage (MCM training starts in a few weeks!), and keep up the core and strength work.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Keeping it Short and Sweet

Y'all. I defend my thesis in three days. I'd say that I'm calm, cool, and collected about the whole thing, but I think y'all know me well enough to know that that's not the case. I've also started planning my move out of Portland. Not to mention this job search that seems endless. Between all of that, I'm surprised I haven't melted down yet. I may have procured a pint of Ben & Jerry's Cannoli ice cream the other night to help with stress relief. Bad news, people. Especially when you have lactose issues. (Damn you, Ben & Jerry's! Why do you have to be so delicious and irresistible in my times of stress??)

I will, however, say that I'm ready for the thesis dreams/nightmares to end, and to stop thinking about this presentation on my runs. (Yes, that did happen.)

Last week's workouts (week ending 6/2)
Running - x5 (30.34 miles total)
Cycling - N/A
Core - x2
Strength - x2
Foam rolling - x3
Salt bath - x1

I met my goal last week of doing two strength workouts and two core workouts. I ended up using one of my days off from running to focus on core. I think it worked out nicely.

The weirdest thing happened on Wednesday. I was running, and after about mile 4.9, my right heel felt like it had rubbed against the back of my shoe too much. I was only planning on 10K, so I decided to tough it out. When I finally stopped, it looked pretty raw. I was wearing my PureFlows (which I've used since March without issue), so I figured it was the socks (they were very worn and thin).

My heel, post-run
Fast forward to Thursday. I used thicker socks and my Mirages. Same thing, except this time, the damn thing bled on my shoe. And with the exception of a few hours on Thursday night, I wore my Birkenstock clogs exclusively between that run and Saturday morning.

Fast forward to Saturday. I decided to wear a pair of Balega socks, because they cover the affected area. Still pain, along with a bloody sock and shoe. I had to Google "removing blood from clothes" to find a good laundry trick for getting the blood off of my sock and shoe.

Fast forward to Sunday. The masochist in me decided that I didn't want to miss a day of running for something that doesn't even seem like a legit injury. Before I left, I had the brilliant idea of putting vaseline (and by vaseline, I mean antibacterial ointment, because that's what I had on-hand) on the scab. And you know what? It worked. Now if only I knew what caused the issue in the first place.

And with all of that being said, I'm off to try and keep myself relaxed. And (hopefully) not aggravate my lactose issues.

PS "Spirit of the Marathon II" comes out on June 12! Who wants to come see it with me??

How do you deal with stress (other than running, of course)? 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Unofficially Summer!

It's Memorial Day in the States. First, I would be greatly remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to acknowledge the veterans and express my gratitude for their service to our country, and for fighting for the rights that we consider to be so fundamental.

Second, this is supposed to be the unofficial start of summer. Oregon didn't seem to get that memo...or maybe it just chose to ignore it. I woke up to rain pattering against my bedroom window this morning, which made it quite difficult to want to get out of bed. I eventually did, but I still haven't ventured out for today's run (or really, any errands, for that matter). Rather than start this week's training, I'll reflect on last week's.

Last week's workouts (week ending 5/26)
Running - x5 (27.20 miles total)
Cycling - N/A
Core - x2
Strength - x1
Foam rolling - x3
Salt bath - N/A

For the first time in a while, I went trail running. I did 4 miles on the Wildwood Trail on Monday. While the hills weren't easy in the least (the first two miles were uphill, and resulted in a 600' climb), it was a great way to just lose myself in a run. I normally shy away from this run because of that climb, but my runner friend Darren reminded me that I shouldn't shy away from the hills and trails because they'll make me stronger and less injury-prone. 

I also did my first unstructured fartlek workout on Friday. (Up until now, I've just done basic intervals with the same amount of rest between each interval.) And dare I say it was actually kind of fun? 

In the days after Eugene, one of the big things that I noticed was that my appetite decreased. I've read about runners eating just as many calories post-marathon as they were during the peak of their training, so for that reason, I was grateful that my hunger levels decreased. This week, I noticed that my hunger levels increased, which I'm convinced is due to the increased activity (i.e., increased mileage, 5 days of running instead of 4).

I did one day of strength work (20 min) and two days of core work (about 30 min, collectively). After my core work yesterday, I concluded that I should put more emphasis on ancillary work. My goal for this week is to do at least 2 days of core work and strength work (2 days for each). Three days of each would probably be optimal for making me stronger overall, but when setting/achieving goals, it helps to break up the bigger goal into smaller, more attainable benchmarks.

Running Articles
I came across a couple of interesting articles this week. I can go into detail about these in another post, but I wanted to share them with you now.

"The Exercise Equivalent of a Cheeseburger?"
(Source: Wall Street Journal)

The article claims that endurance running (over 30 miles/week) could result in elevated levels of coronary plaque and increased vulnerability to other adverse cardiac conditions. If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I'm skeptical and critical of this article. The references that it cites are limited and hard to track down, and the one I could find was a flawed study. My friend and MPH classmate Annie suggested I use my skills from grad school to compose a more developed and eloquent critique. This is in progress.

"Why Long Runs and Workouts Don’t Need to Feel Like You Could Run Goal Pace for the Full Marathon"
(Source: Runners Connect)

I've been asked before why marathon training runs max out at 20-21 miles if the race is 26.2 miles. I think that this offers an interesting (i.e., one I've never heard before) perspective on the subject.

"Summer Reading: 2013′s Best New Running Books"

I haven't read any of these, but some of them look really interesting. Hopefully, I'll be able to read some of them this summer!

Coaching Update
Thanks to Erin and the lovely world of Twitter, I've looked into the USATF and RRCA Coaching Certification courses. Both are well-regarded, but I'm more inclined to take the USATF course. USATF is the sport's governing body, and the course prepares one for both club- and school-level coaching. Sadly, neither is being offered in a convenient location for me anytime soon. (C'mon guys, add some more west coast dates!) 

Have you read any good running books/articles lately? And if so, which one(s)?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Elites and the Rest of Us

As you may have noticed, I've been doing a Monday recap of my training from the previous week. I'd like to keep that up, because it gives me a chance to reflect on what went right/wrong in the week's training, and a chance to pass that wisdom onto you.

Last week's workouts (week ending 5/19)
Running - x4 (20.29 miles total)
Cycling - N/A
Core - x2
Strength - x1
Foam rolling - x4
Salt bath - x1

My workouts felt pretty good. My run on Friday was at a 7:13/mi pace and my run on Sunday was at a 7:05/mi pace. I'm not quite sure where the speed came from, but I'm not really complaining either. My right quad felt a bit tight after my run on Sunday, but I think the side leg raises, clam shells, and salt bath helped that one out.

Running Celebrities
More exciting than my speedier training runs -- I met Kara Goucher on Saturday at the Portland Rock 'N' Roll Half Expo. (For those of you who don't know, Kara's an Olympic runner, and a fellow Portlander to boot.) Thanks to Twitter, I learned that she'd be speaking at the Expo on Saturday. So I showed up, just expecting to hear her talk. What I didn't expect was that she'd be doing an autograph and photo op after her talk.
In honor of the "pics or it didn't happen" saying...
I'll be honest -- the runner nerd in me was a bit starstruck. Fortunately, that didn't last very long.

But back to her talk. It was interview-style -- some guy (I have no idea who he was) asked her questions about her running career for about 30 minutes, then he took a break so that the audience could ask questions (this was about 10 minutes), and then her husband and son joined her on-stage to discuss the career-family balance for a few minutes.

Her solo portion of the talk was excellent! A few highlights:

-She had tried other sports, but running was the first one that felt natural. In her words, "Running was the first sport where I didn't have to think."

-Elite runners, like the rest of us, have good races and bad races. Sometimes (e.g., her 2007 World Championship 10K), the elements are going to all come together, and the race will feel incredible (and possibly surreal). But in some races (e.g., 2009 Boston Marathon), she's given it everything she can and has fallen short of her goal. She was initially disappointed by missing a goal she felt was realistic, but then she asked herself, "Now what? What can I take from this to become a better runner?"

-You're not always going to meet every goal. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't set your goals high. Setting high (but realistic) goals for yourself keeps you challenged.

I really felt like I could relate to her. For me, running just felt...right. What's more natural than putting one foot in front of the other?

And like her, I've had good races and bad races. My surreal race was Chicago -- I crushed my half-marathon PR by 5 min, and my full-marathon PR by 13 min. I remember thinking "Holy $#%@, did that just happen?!" when I crossed the halfway mark, and just being floored when I crossed the finish line and saw 3:11 on my watch. And my bad race? Eugene. I was disappointed that I didn't achieve a goal that I felt was realistic, but looked at my performance to try to find ways that I could improve as a runner.

Once I felt like I could relate to her, I began to think that maybe the elites are a lot like the rest of us.

Career Thoughts
As you may know, I'm finishing up grad school in a month and am hunting for a job. This job hunt has forced me to consider what kind of career I really want. And what I'm realizing is that I want to be involved in coaching in some way. The idea of helping others live healthy lifestyles and become better runners appeals to me. And now that I have a point A and a point B, how do I get from A to B?

Any tips/leads for getting into coaching?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Random Observations

I was catching up on Facebook this morning, and one of my friends posted a photo from a recent 10K. He's grimacing in said photo, and captioned it, "Worst Race Photo Ever." I told him to go look at my photos from Eugene, because my expressions definitely look worse than your standard grimacing.

That scrunched up look on my face? I think I might've been trying to fix my contacts. Or I might've been ready to clock someone. Yeah, we'll just go with the latter...
And my all-time favorite for "Worst Race Photo Ever"...

Mere yards from the finish line. I look like I'm ready to eat someone's head off, and my friend described my hand gesture as "devil horns" (that's actually my gesture for "Rock on," but I could see why she'd think devil horns).
(For more ridiculous race photos, go here.)

Last week's workouts (week ending 5/12):
Running - x3 (14.18 miles total)
Cycling - x1 (8.6 miles total)
Core - x2
Foam rolling - x4
Salt bath - x1

Each run felt better than the one before it. I'd like to credit the foam rolling for helping me work out the residual kinks in my legs. We've also had some fantastic running weather! (Perhaps a bit on the warm side, but if you know me, you'll know that I'll sooner complain about it being too cold than too warm.) Maybe that had something to do with my quality runs.

After two weeks, I think I can say that I've recovered from that race. Which is good, because my thesis defense is officially scheduled, and God knows I'll probably end up doing some stress running between now and D-Day! And/or stress eating. Either way, I better watch out for cortisol. That crazy B...

One thing I noticed during my recovery was that my appetite seemed to decrease tremendously. Not that I'm complaining (it's a nice change from the peak of my training, when my appetite was insatiable), but when you're used to the insatiable appetite, it feels weird to go for hours without wanting to eat anything.

I had a random discovery during Thursday's run! While running on my usual path along the South Waterfront, I looked around at the trees (rather than the path ahead), and noticed palm trees! Yes, palm trees in Portland! I've run on that spot dozens of times, and can't believe that I never noticed them before Thursday. (If they're fake, don't burst my bubble. I'm happy just thinking that I live somewhere where palm trees are present in nature.)

Anyone else have a moment where you've been somewhere numerous times before noticing some minor/major detail?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Looking Down from Above

Have you ever spent months working on a big project, and felt burned out before the project even ended? Or drained and worn-out because of how much time you invested in it?

That's how I was feeling post-Eugene. Don't get me wrong, I love running. But between Eugene '12, Chicago '12, and Eugene '13, I've been in training mode for the last 16 months. And being in training mode for that long is just draining. (You like that rhyming there?? No? Alright, I'll just go in the corner and laugh to myself then.)

You know what else is taxing? Training for a goal and not meeting it. After missing the BQ (Boston Qualifying) standard in Eugene, my first thought was to sign up for a summer marathon so I could get one last chance to try to qualify for Boston '14 (the cutoff is in September). However, I felt that I needed a break before I could even think about starting training for another marathon. I wanted to get my head in the right place before I start the next round of training (which, in case anyone's wondering, it's the Marine Corps Marathon in October).

My time off from running allowed me to catch up on my life and wrap my head around the race. 

I finally went to First Thursday for the first time (after living here for a year and a half)...
A whole exhibit on chickens! Only in Portland... (Go watch the first episode of "Portlandia." I would post the clip, except it's unavailable on YouTube.)

Mural in the Pearl. Even on my break from running, I can't escape Pre!
I caught up with plenty of friends (which may or may not have entailed happy hour and brunch), and went to a fine Cinco de Mayo festival (just fine though -- what kind of CDM fiesta has Chinese food for sale??). I also worked on my thesis, which needed to happen because I hadn't devoted as much time to it as I should have due to marathon training.

I also wanted to take a step back to find out what I did wrong so I (hopefully) don't make the same mistakes in Marine Corps. After all, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  Thank you all for your comments and advice! Would you believe that this was the first time I've ever taken a good, hard look at my running to see how I could improve?? Once I took a step back, I felt like I was on the roof of a building and getting an aerial view of the sport of running and my race history. And in a way, life in general.

-I had delayed runner's high. Not qualifying created a runner's low (if there is such a thing), but once I broke past that and started appreciating the PR, the runner's high set in. And to be honest, part of me is still amazed that I ran a 3:08 marathon.

-I have an issue with pacing. I get too excited at the start of the race, fly through the first half of the marathon, and then have to slow down in the second half. Steven had a wise suggestion for preventing this -- start in a slower corral.

-After reading Kat and Erin's comments on my fueling, I thought about my fueling strategy, and realized that it was quite flawed. For some brilliant reason, I thought that two gels (220 cals altogether) would be enough for 26.2 miles when I had been consuming that many calories on my 20-21 mile runs. Furthermore, I didn't consume anything in the final 10K, when I was probably in greatest need of glycogen.

-Runners typically prioritize the races on their calendars, and one way of doing so is by classifying them as A, B, or C races. The most important ones are A races, and the least important ones are C races. If I shell out money for a race, I want to do well in it, and so it becomes an A race. I know that after a marathon wears you out, it takes a while to get back to normal. For that reason, I don't schedule races for a few weeks post-marathon. (Except for free, untimed fun runs -- those are my C races.)

-Marathon training is like a job, in that it consumes a large amount of time. (Between warm-up stretching, running, cool-down stretching, foam rolling, long run planning, pre- and post-long run food prep, etc., I wouldn't be surprised if training took up at least 15 hours/week.) If you're going to perform your job to the best of your ability, you need some time off. I'm not talking about 1-2 rest days/week, because that's simply a weekend for the marathon training job. I'm talking about a full-fledged, leave-the-trainers-in-the-closet break that lasts multiple days. In a full-time job, you typically receive a block of paid time off that's meant to be used for recharging your batteries (or so that's my view). Why should marathon training be any different?

-More importantly, I concluded that I wanted to register for a summer marathon so I could have a do-over, and prove to everyone (but mainly myself) that I am capable of doing what they believe I can do. I thought that if I did that, then I could erase the sour memory that not qualifying at Eugene created. But  erasing the memory would mean erasing the whole experience. Maybe I didn't BQ. Maybe I spent the second half thinking that it was the worst race ever. But I set a new PR and learned so much from this race. And life isn't about erasing the bad events. It's about learning to take the bad with the good, and using both to become your best self.

(I should confess that I ended my complete break from running on Saturday so I could join the Front Runners for their Saturday morning fun run. I hadn't been able to join them for a few weeks, and so it was nice to be able to return to the group. I kept the run to a conversational pace, and it felt good.)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When Your Best Simply isn't Enough

Finally, the Eugene Marathon is done, and the race I spent 4 months training for is now a (not-so) distant memory. As I sit here to type this, so much is coming to mind, but I can't think of the words to describe any of it. So I'll just have to describe the events.

Saturday (Race Eve)
Erin, Erin's friend Kelly, my friend Ellen, and I left Portland Saturday afternoon to head down to Eugene. But first, we made a pitstop in Corvallis for an untimed 5K/10K that Oregon State University hosted in honor of Sexual Awareness Month. Kelly's former boss (Ann Marie) told her about the event, she told the three of us, and Erin and I decided that it'd be a good shakeout run. The four of us decided to do the 5K, while Ann Marie did the 10K. Erin and I stuck together, and ran about 9:00 miles for the whole thing. Afterward, the five of us went out for lunch in Corvallis, and then parted ways with Ann Marie so that we could get to Eugene.

For this year, they moved the expo from the Hilton to the Lane Events Center, and this year's expo was kind of a letdown. It was much smaller, and didn't have any out-of-the-ordinary vendors. On the plus side, none of us felt guilty about leaving after 20-30 min.

Bibs acquired. Ready for Sun!

We drove to Pre's Rock, and then headed to Ellen's parents' house (her parents were gracious enough to host me). We relaxed in their home until dinner time. Dinner consisted of pasta with homemade sauce, salad, and bread, followed by a few cookies and tea. All of it was delicious.

Around 8, Erin and Kelly left to drive to their hotel so they could get some sleep. I chatted with Ellen and her mom for a bit longer, and then headed downstairs to get ready for bed. While I was digging out my toiletries, I realized that I forgot my night guard (confession: I wear a night guard nightly because I clench and grind my teeth while I sleep). Of course I'd forget it when my anxiety is through the roof. Argh. Eventually, I fell asleep (around 9:30 -- crazy early for me!)...and proceeded to wake up every two hours or so (after having some bizarre dreams).

Sunday (Race Day)
After that reasonably fitful rest, I woke up before any of the four alarms I set went off. I got dressed, and ate my breakfast of millet porridge (millet cooked in water, with dried cranberries, cinnamon and sugar, and honey) and orange juice. Ellen drove me to the start, and headed back home so she could meet up with her parents for their "cheer and bike" morning (cheer, bike to the next stop, and repeat).

Good morning, Eugene!

Once I got to the start, I checked my bag and met up with Erin. We chatted, and then ventured to the Porta-Potties (I don't know about her, but I had to pee, despite having peed before leaving Ellen's parents'), except we gave up on that because of hella long lines. So instead, we proceeded to our separate corrals.

I started my warmup routine when I got to the corral, but was a bit rushed because the start was less than 10 minutes away. I was able to do most of it (save the lunges). In the corral, I saw one of the PFR runners who was doing the half. Soon after that, the officials made the pre-race announcements, and the gun went off.

I planned on a 6:55/mi pace, and made a bracelet with the times when I needed to hit each mile marker. I hit mile 1 ahead of schedule, and saw Ellen and her family sometime between miles 1 and 2. Shortly thereafter, I came across a set of Porta-Potties and used one of them. (If I was going to be ingesting fluids, I needed to make some room or else I don't think it'd be very pleasant.) I made up that lost time by the 5K mark, and then went a bit faster than target pace for mile 4-7. I saw Kelly at mile 6, and Ellen's family at mile 7, which probably pushed me through those miles. They had the first banana table  around mile 8, and I grabbed one (for potassium).

Mile 8 brought the uphill that nobody was expecting. Seriously, it was a beast. But I saw one of the funniest signs on the course ("You've been training for this longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage"). By mile 11, I was kicking myself for going such a fast pace, and had no idea how I was going to finish. Because of that, I figured that mile 12 would be a good spot to consume my first gel. Shortly after that, they had the second banana table, and though I wasn't hungry for fuel, I decided to grab a piece for later. I started eating it around mile 14, except I felt nauseous and feared that I'd throw up if I ate any more of it, so I tossed it at mile 16. I also started ignoring my split bracelet then, because it had already started screwing with my mind. And just when I didn't want anyone seeing me looking like death, I saw Kelly. Around mile 17, I needed some more moral support, and saw Ellen's family again. At either mile 17 or 18 (I can't recall which one), my contacts started bothering me, and the left one felt like it was about to fall out. I had to tell myself that I can't control the elements, only how I respond to them (an old saying from CUA Crew). At mile 19, my stomach was ready to handle more Gu, so I took another gel.

I remember hitting mile 20 in 2:20 (~7:00 pace), and thinking that I still had a shot at BQing. During the last 10K, I just felt like shit and wanted the whole thing to end. (What kept me going was "Finish what you start.") - everything burned, and my knee ached a couple times going downhill. From miles 24-25.5, all I could think about was, "Get me off of this trail and onto the damn road!" After I got on the road, my thoughts switched to, "Get me to Hayward and get this shit over with!" I saw Ellen's family at mile 26, and didn't even smile (that's how badly I wanted that race to end). I missed the BQ and finished in 3:08:22, which is still a 3 min PR for me and a 16 min improvement over last year's race.

Immediately afterward, I was drained and pissed. When I trained that hard to BQ, gave that race everything I had, and still came up short, I couldn't help but be let down. It didn't matter that it was a PR, or that it was my 5th consecutive marathon PR. I just wasn't in the mood to celebrate my race. But what was I supposed to do when everyone around me was saying, "Congrats! I'm so proud of you."? Get all pouty because even though it's the fastest marathon I've ever run, I still fell short of my goal? No, because I know what they'd tell me -- "You're being ridiculous," "Get over it," "PRing is still a huge accomplishment." So instead, I spent Sunday celebrating Erin's massive PR, and trying to convince everyone (myself included) that I was equally stoked about my own PR and breaking 3:10 (though I probably failed at this one because I'm not a great actor). When I posted the results to DailyMile later, I stated, "I don't want to belittle any of my accomplishments today (because a PR is always worth celebrating), but when you give a race your all and still come up short, it's bittersweet. Does that make any sense?" After posting that, I decided that the best thing for my mood would be to get some sleep.

I woke up to some positive comments, which were along the lines of "Congrats on the PR!" and "A PR is always worth celebrating!" However, my friend Steven somehow knew exactly what I needed to hear:

"I can imagine you're probably sort of in a middle-ground between being proud of a new PR but also disappointed that you didn't get your BQ. This is natural, but I hope that the achievements of the new PR outweigh everything else. You've made such big jumps as a marathoner in the past two years, and I think when you take into perspective how many minutes you've chopped off in the past several marathons you should be even more proud of what you accomplished at Eugene. Keep it up. The BQ will come."

At that moment, I looked at the big picture. Suddenly, the race was no longer about what I didn't accomplish, but about all that I have accomplished. Over the last 2.5 years, I've shaved 25 minutes off of my marathon PR (nearly a minute per mile). Two and a half years ago, I never would've thought that I could break 3:10. Yesterday, I did it. And when looking at the progress I've made so far, I can't help but be amazed and proud.

Lessons Learned
While the end time was great, there's definitely room for improvement. In true coaching fashion, I'd like to reflect on what went wrong this time so I know what to improve for next time and (hopefully) get that BQ.

  1. Starting out way too quickly - This is a horrible tendency that I've had in all of my marathons. I get excited, start out really fast (and don't seem to slow down, despite my repeated pleas to myself to do so), and then positive-split the second half. After looking at the stats, I realized that this was my second-most evenly run marathon (the second half was less than 7 minutes slower than the first half). I'm getting better at pacing, but I still need to be a bit more conservative in the first half.
  2. Letting my nerves get the best of me - I had that bracelet on to tell me when I needed to hit each mile. But as soon as I couldn't hold that pace, I started beating myself up because my race plan fell apart and I felt like the BQ slipped away from me much earlier than it did. I think that me telling myself "Don't let your nerves get the best of you" helped, but I think I also need to remember "It ain't over until it's over."
  3. Poor fueling strategy - When I ran Chicago, I participated in the Gatorade Sports Science Institute's study on GI issues during exercise. I just re-read their results, and compared to the other participants, I took in less fluid and carbs during exercise and felt more discomfort. This time around, I think that my GI issues were worse (I don't recall how bad they were during Chicago, but I know that I didn't feel like I wanted to throw up). Maybe I didn't take in enough fluid or carbs during the race? Or maybe bananas during the race aren't good for my system? Or maybe I should've taken in carbs during the last 10K? Either way, I need a better strategy.

What do you think I could've done differently? What recommendations do you have for future races?

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Mental Game

With less than a week to go until Eugene the Sequel, I can’t help but think about Race Day. I’m currently feeling a whole slew of emotions, and turning another year older isn’t helping that fact. (Yes, my birthday and Race Day are within a week of each other.)

I’m nervous because I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and shooting for such a lofty goal scares the shit out of me. Running 26.2 miles in 3:05 just seems hella fast. Yes, I know it’s only six minutes faster than my Chicago time, but entering “Club BQ” puts one in this different class of runners. Boston may have recently become synonymous with “tragedy” (no, we’re not discussing that topic right now, because the news and watching coverage for two days after the event depressed me to the point where I can’t handle following the situation), but to me, it still symbolizes “prestige,” “speed,” and “elite.” And the pedestal I’ve placed it on has made this goal seem so formidable.

What makes me even more nervous is that I feel like I have a real shot at it this time around, and I’m afraid of blowing it. During this training cycle, I’ve had a 15K and a half-marathon PR, and have logged more miles (and faster miles) than ever before. I’ve felt more support and encouragement during this training cycle than ever before (thank you, Twitter and dailymile). And while all of that excites/motivates me, I’m also worried that I’ll get overexcited on Race Day, start out way too quickly, and then burn out in the second half. (This is one of my goats.)

I’ve also put more emphasis on diet during this training cycle. I’ve tried to clean up my diet by eating more whole (i.e., plant-based) foods and drinking less alcohol. And up until a few weeks ago, I’d like to think that I did a fairly good job of that. Then, I had one of my best friends from NYC visit me, which involved drunch, wine tasting, and enough sugary treats to make us call her visit “Diabetes Weekend”.

Drunch. Regular mimosa for her, grapefruit mimosa for me.

Wine and cheese party at home. (This may or may not have been a daily event for us.)

Moonstruck desserts. (Hey, Moonstruck's a Portland staple. Gotta check it out while visiting!)

Columbia Gorge Wine Tasting event. 
After that, I fled to SoCal to visit friends and family, which, so far, has involved drunches, wine tasting, and loads of dairy and sugar. (We seem to use alcohol and sugar to bond.) Long story short, I’m just worried that these last few weeks of poor food choices have screwed me over.

I’m freaked out, and when I get freaked out, I feel ready to jump out of my skin. Such urges make me want to run, which would be good and well if I weren’t in the midst of tapering. It’s times like these I wish I had another means to deal with my emotions. (Writing can be effective, except I’m barely making any sense to me, so I can’t imagine that I’m making sense to anyone else.)

I need to stop psyching myself out. I’m excited to race because I feel like this is the culmination of 16 weeks of hard work. I’m especially excited because I’ll have some incredible friends running and watching. And while it makes me incredibly nervous, the goal of qualifying for Boston fires me up. Plus, the weather forecast currently looks great (knock on wood).

What I’m realizing is that taper mode is when the training focus shifts (or should shift) from the physical aspects of racing to the mental aspects. At this point, I’ve done everything that I can do to get ready for this marathon. As we’ve established, I’m happy with how my training has gone. But now, I need to calm myself down so I don’t let my nerves get the best of me. For that, I have a few sayings:

-“Keep calm and rock the f*$& out.” (Thank you, Erin for that one.)
-“You got this.” (I’ve read that using “you” in a mantra is more effective than using “I” because it makes you feel like someone’s alongside you providing support.)
-“Let’s make the most of tonight, like we’re gonna die young.” (Thank you, Ke$ha. Your songs may be ridiculous, but they are catchy, and this one helped get me to a sub-1:30 half-marathon.)