Monday, September 22, 2014

Race Report: Top of Utah Marathon

I left you a week ago with all the stats heading into race day: miles trained, race goals, mantra, everything. Over the course of the week I continued my preparations like clockwork. On Wednesday I transitioned into a carb-focused diet. On Thursday and Friday I took special care to hydrate and rest. On Friday, I left for Logan right after work. The 90 minute drive took 2 hours due to construction and traffic, getting me there just in time for dinner with a dear colleague and friend (frolleague? collend?) and her son, then they went with me to the expo to see what it was like (and, ok, yes, to keep me from getting lost). We stayed up until about 10 talking, after which I laid out everything for morning, emailed Mr. Joanna a picture of the spectator's guide I'd gotten in my packet, and went to bed.

I slept in fits, waking up at least 4 times before my alarm went off at 4:45am. I got up and went through the motions. I made my pre-race breakfast but couldn't eat it because my stomach was upset (this is normal for me when I get up super early), so I took it with me to eat on the bus, which my friend was so very nice to shuttle me to.

5:15am bagel & jelly
Arrival at the bus to take me to the start line, 5:30am
Once aboard the bus, I sat next to a woman who was doing the race as a training run in advance of her A Game marathon in a few weeks. After we talked for a few minutes, and I unsuccessfully tried to munch on my bagel some more, I closed my eyes. It's unusual for me, but I was having some motion sickness with the bus going up the canyon in the dark. Closing my eyes helped, and 14 miles later we pulled into Hardware Ranch.  Even in the pitch black, it was gorgeous. The stars were bright, a sliver of moon was out. And slowly, slowly, the sun started to lighten the horizon to the east.

I got through the port-a-potty-ing, stood in the warm tent for about 10 minutes, and saw my very fast neighbor, gave up on my bagel and gear checked my stuff, then lined up. I introduced myself to the pacers (who I knew I probably wouldn't run with), set my Garmin, and we were off.

The first 14 miles of the race headed down Blacksmith Fork Canyon were gorgeous. The leaves were changing colors, the sunrise cast these big dramatic shadows over the jagged rocks, and there was a breeze to our backs. Incidentally, we passed a road sign declaring the possible presence of cows for the next 10 miles. But despite it all, I just could not get myself to relax and just enjoy the morning. A few factors were working against me:

  • It took me about 9 miles to get into the groove of pacing on the downhill course. The downhill isn't constant, but is down, then levels out, then down, then levels out, and I'm not accustomed to that. I got there, but it took some time. Partly as a result of this,
  • I went out too fast. About 20 seconds faster than planned in the first mile, and 10 in the second, which was good because
  • Garmin error (where my Garmin reads the course longer than do the mile markers) was exaggerated in the canyon, I imagine because the road curved so much. And all of that is completely unrelated to the fact that,
  • My right eye duct was clogged, as sometimes happens when I run in cool weather, and I could not get my right eye to stop producing tears. Like, lots of tears. Finally, I pressed on the duct hard enough that it felt like my sinus passage (what? yeah, I don't know, I was bad a biology. That's what it felt like) opened, and the tears stopped. This took 8 miles. 
HOWEVER, my trusty pace bands kept me on track mile-to-mile, and I felt fine. I'd successfully Gu'ed at miles 6 and 12 and put a new Gu tablet in my water around mile 11. I'd ran with the pace group for a bit around mile 7, then passed them. When we exited the canyon at mile 14, I was only 40 seconds off of my 3:55 goal time pace band. 

Out of the canyon, I expected the rolling downhill to proceed until mile 18, but it felt like it leveled out a bit. The hills in miles 18 and 19 were pretty much exactly what I'd expected (I'd gone so far as to Google Map stalk them earlier in the week). It took the entire mile from 18 to 19 to ingest my third Gu, and I knew then that there would be no fourth Gu at mile 24. My friend came to cheer for me between mile markers 19 and 20 and snapped this action shot. At this point, I knew that my energy supply was not infinite, but I was feeling ok and was keeping pace with my per-mile target times just fine. 

I ran mile 21 in 8:55, and 22 in 9:07, right on pace. But by the time I'd hit mile marker 22, the miles seemed to be lingering forever on my Garmin. I was ready for a boost from my race crew, but I had at least a mile until I'd see them. That mile took me 9:26, and as such was the first mile where I really missed my goal time, by 13 seconds.

Mr. Joanna had told me to look out for him and our boys at mile 23, but when I got to mile marker 23 I knew there was no way they'd be there. It was in this very residential area with lots of streets closed to traffic, and it wasn't close enough to the downtown finish area for them to have walked. I knew mile 24 was more convenient, and figured that's what he'd meant.

But oh, was I tired. So, so tired. My quads were trashed. My feet hurt. My fuel was running low. I was over it all. And right there, right there, is where the mental element of training kicks in. I started reminding myself of how I'd sworn I'd dig deep when it got hard. And finally, and shockingly on pace, I got to the mile 24 marker, and there were my amazing boys, cheering their hearts out for me. I told Mr. Joanna that I was on track but without much of a cushion. He knew this already because I was a minute behind the 3:55 pacer, but I didn't know that until much later.

As much as my body, and even my brain, were putting on the brakes, I was at the ready to overcome them, begrudgingly. The distance was passing more and more slowly, and I knew that soon I would not be able to make myself go faster. This was my arsenal of mental tricks to power through:

  • I'd trained over 1000 miles for this. There was no chance in hell I'm letting go of my goal with [fill in the number] miles left. 
  • So what if my feet hurt? 
  • Remember how bitter that day in Cleveland was, and how long I've waited to vindicate myself at this distance. 
  • This, this right here, this running while exhausted, this is what I've trained for. This is why I've trained on tired legs. This is why I've trained 5 days a week. For this moment. For powering through when I'm spent. For this. Now. 
  • Turn off the brain, turn on auto pilot. My body can handle this. I've trained it to handle this. 
  • I have a small cushion. I can slow down if I absolutely have to. A little. A very little.  
I ran mile 25 about 20 seconds slower than my goal pace. At about 25.6 I saw my boys again. Please let me be done--keep pushing--I want to be done, I'm so tired--one foot in front of the other--less than a mile. All I could manage to say was, "I'm so close!" I finished out mile 26 about 15 seconds slower than my target pace. 

A few more turns and I found myself looking down the straightaway at the finish line, one turn sooner than I'd expected. I heard my boys before I saw them, twice actually, and I finally spotted them on the left, near the leading edge of the crowd of spectators. I high-fived Mr. Joanna and our older son--there was no way I wasn't going to share this with them--and barreled down, such as I could, to the finish. 

I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin, and yelled. I'd done it. I'd finished in under 4 hours. 

Garmin time: 3:56:16
Chip time: 3:56:13
Gender place: 65/309
Overall: 199/657

The uncontrollable rush of emotions and adrenaline came pouring over me. I recapped to my boys, tried not to cry, drank chocolate milk, and started to cool down and stretch. I was incredulous, but I'd really done it. 

Finally, we headed back to my friend's to have lunch, hang out, and pick up my things, then head home. I'm writing this on Sunday night and I'm sore as anything, but wouldn't trade it for the world. What an experience. Thank you all for following my journey!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mondays in Love: Race Week!

This is it guys. It all comes down to this. Just five days stand between me and the start line of the Top of Utah Marathon.

It's kind of hard to believe. Back in January I sat down one night and, all at one time, registered for the Salt Lake Running Company's training group, the Salt Lake Half, the Utah Valley Half (my A Game half for the year) and the Top of Utah Marathon (to avenge my standing PR at this distance). I've been training since the first week of February. In that span, I've missed only 2 Saturday long runs--one because I was sick, and one because I was in Paris. I've felt great about this. Training for nearly 8 straight months is a first.

A bigger first came this past week, though, when I cleared the 1000 mile mark for the year. I've never exceeded 1000 miles in a year, let alone by mid-September. I'm proud to finally join the 1000 mile club!

It's looked like a whole lot of long run miles and a lot of easy miles, and some other stuff mixed in.

Yes, there have been mornings that I've wanted to stay in bed. There have been days that I've been really, really tired and wanted a break from it. There have been plenty of times I've caught myself doing calf stretches in public and realizing that people were staring. But the effort put in has been worth it. I can't describe the adrenaline rush that came the day I sub-1:50'ed the Utah Valley half. Or the day I ran a 6:24 mile, having absolutely no idea I could do that until I tried. Or learning to nail my long runs. Or how great it's been to make friends, real friends, through running.

My next post will be the race recap. Heading into race day, I'm feeling excited, nervous, and prepared. I know that there is no certainty in the marathon. Anything can, and does, happen. But I'm hopeful. And strong. And thrilled to have taken this journey.

I'll leave you with the pre-race stats:

My race mantra (thank you Coach Mike, as always!): Run easy, run free
Race goals:
     B--sub-4:10 (this was my goal at Cleveland, which in case you've forgotten, was an epic failure fueled by an epic lack of appropriate fueling, although it's still my standing PR)
Fueling plan: I'm using a pre-race fueling guide I got from RW a few years ago (my shopping cart looked ridiculous today, btw). During the race, I'll Gu every 6, and use an electrolyte tablet in my water every 10ish.
Pacing plan: Taken care of, as always, by pace bands
Expected weather: Very cool at the start line (maybe as low as 40), warning up to maybe the 60s by the finish.

The countdown is on. Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

10 Days and Counting!

I am into my pre-race taper. Normally, I get a little bit of "taper madness" and I don't want to jinx things, but so far so good! I am 10 days out from race day and feeling anxious, nervous, and excited.

During the taper, I still train. The idea is to reduce miles, not intensity. This past weekend I was supposed to run 15 miles. I convinced my friend Tessa to join me. We met at o'dark thirty to start (5:30 I think?). A rough sequence of events:

  • We got started in the pitch black
  • The sunrise brought gorgeous colors into the western sky--gray, blue, white, purple, orange
  • I busted out a rendition of the West Virginia state song
  • Way off in the distance, to the west, we saw bolts of lightening
  • Followed, some time later, by the feet of two rainbows (bottoms? pillars?), and then, lightening flashing across those, then more of the rainbow appeared
  • We saw a recently finished "Walking Bridge" and decided to see where it went. We quickly discovered that the sign was incredibly literal--this bridge ain't made for running, due to bounce. doesn't really go anywhere. But here I am giving it a try. 

  • Then we got into uncharted territory (for us) on the path, and ended up somewhere we didn't know the path went. Along the way, we ran past what appeared (over the cinder block wall) to be a shanty town, with a very real random horse hanging out (sans wall, just a wire fence) by the trail. 
  • After our turn-around, it started misting. 
  • And we made a wrong turn which,
  • Took us about a mile out of our way
  • And then it started full-on raining, when we had about 1.5-2 miles to go (I don't really mind this, for the record)
All told, we ran 16 miles at a 9:25 pace. It felt easy, which is crazy. This was a case where a good attitude prevailed. We believed the distance was short, so it felt short. 

Otherwise this week, I've already done 1 easy day and 1 tempo run, and have 2 easy days to go. I've started making final plans and arrangements for race weekend logistics: dinner reservation is made, race clothes are picked out, Gu flavors are selected, pace bands have arrived. The only big thing left is to plan my nutrition during race week, because I will not let poor fueling sink my race! Been there, not going back. 

Who else has a race in the coming weeks? Do you have taper madness? Are you excited? Anyone on the fence about signing up for a race?

Monday, September 1, 2014

August Recap: Insanity

August 2014 is going down in the record books as my highest mileage month ever, by a large margin. It's been epic. It's been intimidating. It's been confidence-building and tiring and wonderful. Here's August, by the numbers:

Miles ran: 204. Yes. TWO HUNDRED FOUR.

# Runs: 20, including an 18-miler, a 20, and 2 22-milers, plus 2 sets of Yassos that went amazingly well, a ton of easy runs, 2 pace runs and 1 tempo run.
BoB posted this on FB and I thought it was too funny not to pass along!
Favorite run: It's always hard to choose, but I think the first set of Yassos, early in the month. They felt much easier than I anticipated, and that built confidence for race day.

Other notable runs: A 9 mile tempo run about 2 weeks ago was certainly notable! We started in the pitch black--as in, so dark I felt like I should have brought a head lamp. As the sun was rising, we saw movement to the right of the path, and quickly realized it was a skunk, then 2 more. We both jumped to the other side of the path (maybe 3 feet?) and hurried up, but they were hissing at us and watching us. I was sure we were going to get sprayed, but luckily they kept to just hissing at us. Then of course every tiny motion in my peripheral vision for the next 36 hours was a suspected skunk. Also, the last 1.5 miles were in the rain. Because...why not?
What these morning runs in the mountains look like. My friend Tessa took this.
Other workouts: Maybe I should just stop posting this section at all.....(I swear I'm gonna do yoga at some point!)

Training updates: While I've been running 100+ mile months back-to-back for a while (since March) Running a 200-mile month taught me a few new things:
  • Managing electrolytes. How did I learn this? For years, at the end of a long run, my face would be gritty with salt, gritty enough to self-exfoliate practically. Recently I switched up my fueling routine so that I Gu every 6 miles I plop a Gu Brew electrolyte tablet into my water bottle every 9 miles. And just like that, the grit stopped. Also, my stomach isn't getting upset from ingesting too much sugar any more. It's like magic. I balanced my electrolyte intake.
  • I can do this: I always feel funny saying this, but it's true--even though I've been a runner since I was 15 and I've been doing enduring running since 2007, I still get intimidated sometimes. This past month, looking at 2 50-mile weeks, a new threshold for me for sure, was intimidating! And even though I love (love!) going fast, I still get intimidated sometimes by speed work. And you know what, I can do this. I DID do this. I AM DOING THIS. 
  •  I need to actually eat before a long run: I've realized that half a bagel with jam is a good call. Otherwise, I spent at least 10 miles thinking about food. 
  • When I run mileage like this, I need more sleep. TrainingPerks told me this a while ago, but I had to see it first hand to believe it. 
House projects completed: Our office is this close to being finished (and should have been finished weeks ago...), but alas not yet. My Mom and I made curtains for some of the windows in the living room (the last of the pink is gone! Hooray!), but the drapes are yet to come. 

Other lovely things from life: We had a One Year Party to celebrate the first year we've been here in Utah. We had a really nice, low-key evening with the crew that helped get us here, and people we've met since. 
My selfie from the end of the night
Also, the blackberry harvest is nearly complete, and the grapes are in full force. I've been making jam and jelly, and Mr. Joanna is going to can applesauce this week. Like I've said many times before, we never intended to become farmers, but homesteading is a beautiful lifestyle.

Photo: And back in Utah, the blackberry harvest begins.
Berries from the yard
We've also been getting into more local events here, and have more lined up over the coming weeks. The longer we're here, the more I love it.

So, my friends, I am three weeks until race day, and I'm anxious and excited! The taper is on (although I'm still running 45 miles this week), my pace bands are on their way, and we're in the final stretch. Stay tuned while I count down!