River Horse 6k (Ewing, NJ)

Start and conditions:
10 am start, with pre-race packet pick-up starting at 8 am
Beautiful day to run! Bright sunshine, about 50-55 degrees, wind topped out at 8-10 mph gusts. Perfect day for a race!

Results:
27:19 (7:18 pace) for 6k (on the dot!)
6/103 Women 20-29; 15/416 women overall; 54/799 overall finishers

Event Logistics
I actually ran from Princeton to the race with a teammate buddy of mine. We both had to get long runs in, so we thought that would be easiest. Then we could use the race as a delayed “fast finish.” So we ran to the race, half on the towpath and half on the street. A few segments were a bit iffy because there was very little shoulder, but it was early enough in the morning that it was fine. Then we had a ride home after the race courtesy of my teammate’s husband, who also graciously looked after our stuff while we ran.

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It was a beautiful morning to run-commute though, let me tell you!

Packet pick-up was quick and easy, and they let us come back to pick up growlers (for teams) and coasters (for all) after finishing the race. The finishers’ pint glasses were given out as you got your free beer after the race. No tote bags of flyers, which meant less trash, but also meant more finagling stuff in my hands. I made it work though!

Gear and fuel
I ate a Honey Stinger waffle and drank a cup of coffee before I left my apartment, and I took a 10 oz water bottle with me on the run since it was going to heat up about 15 degrees before the race. Around 9:25 I took the Power Bar gel that I’d brought because I thought a caffeine boost might be nice pre-race; not sure I really needed it though.

Goal(s)
I signed up for this race as a social event with my weekend running group. A weird distance at a brewery with a post-race festival? Yeah, the focus was NOT on the race, at least not for me! I wanted to run fast, have a good time, and get lots of cool swag, with time and pace being secondary. But of course, I like a plan, so I decided to try to go out between 10k and HM pace, so 7:15-7:20 min/mile. I figured if I could pull that off after running 10-11 miles, I could rest easy that I’m in good shape for my marathon. But if I didn’t feel good, I could slow down, enjoy the race as a fun run, and feel just fine about it.

The Race!
The race was really fun! I’ve never run a 6k before, but I basically thought of it as 4 miles in my head, so being done at 3.75 felt like a treat. The course was easy to follow with gradual, rolling hills, so it was a pretty ideal course, in my opinion (I don’t mind hills). The course wasn’t totally closed; some places we had just one closed lane so that cars could still come to and from their homes.

I started pretty close to the front, mostly because no one was bold enough to toe the line. I knew I wasn’t the fastest there but it was weird to start with so much empty space… and I wasn’t about to fill it and look stupid getting passed by a few dozen people from the word “go”! And because I wasn’t truly racing, I made sure to stay behind the people who had serious game faces on.

The first mile starts uphill, but then levels out. I got caught up in the excitement and ran a bit too fast… a 7:00 mile on the nose. I then purposefully slowed down because I wasn’t aiming for a PR. Plus, I’d just run almost 11 miles! My other miles were much closer to my target pace — I wanted 7:15-7:20 pace, and my next miles were: 7:28 (gradual uphill), 7:20 (mostly flat) and a 7:24 pace for the last .75.

I had a hard time getting my legs moving the last 1.5 miles because I was trying out my calf sleeves + a fast pace for the first time, and sadly it was not a good match. I’ve been loving my calf sleeves for recovery and slow, easy runs, but my calves felt like they were choking wearing them while trying to run fast! So unfortunately, calf sleeves will not be part of my marathon race-day outfit. Best to find out during a low-pressure 6k though rather than a couple miles into my goal marathon!

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Oh Beautiful Pink Calf Sleeves, how badly I wanted you to accompany me on marathon day…

Finish and feelings
I felt good at the finish, and I was really satisfied with my time (27:19). At halfway, I figured I’d be somewhere around 27 minutes, and I was. I wanted to pace 7:15-7:20, and I did (7:18). At the finish there were bottles of water and bananas, and then you could go to the post-race party and get your (empty) growler (if you had a team of 10+ people) and your metal coaster, then get in the beer line for your finisher’s pint glass + a free glass of beer.

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Great swag! No t-shirt (available for extra $$) but I am more than happy with a coaster and glass!

They also had some food trucks assembled in the post-race festival area. I quickly gave into temptation because the smells were amazing. I bought some fantastic BBQ pulled pork sliders for lunch and got to sample some fried cheese curds a teammate bought (as Midwesterners, our appetite for cheese curds was not quenched, but as far as fried cheese goes, it was gooey and delicious). The post-race party — the beer, the food, the awards — seemed like the focal point of the race, and it was very well put-on. I had a great time hanging with my team as well as meeting a friend from MyFitnessPal who was in town for the race from Philly.

And, well, in summary…
Great race! I will definitely look into other races in the Great American Brewery Run series in the NJ/Philly area. The course was nice and the field was fairly competitive, but the atmosphere was all about the post-race party, so it was a really fun way to spend half a day! I planned this into my race schedule as a bit of a marathon taper crazies diversion, and it worked!
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Sun-in-the-eyes team photo!

General format is borrowed from this article in Women’s Running:

http://womensrunning.competitor.com/2016/03/fat-girl-running/why-you-should-write-a-race-report_55754

 

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Self-Sabotage Goals and How I’m Trying to Avoid Them

In my Run of the Mill 5k race recap, I mentioned that when I set race goals, I tend to self-sabotage the closer the race gets. For the ROTM 5k, this came in the form of signing up for the race with two very realistic, achievable goals: to run under 22 minutes (a ~20 second PR) and to place #1 in my age group; and then daydreaming even harder goals that left me unhappy with a solid race day performance.

As the race neared, my confidence (or maybe arrogance?) grew. When I signed up all I wanted a sub-22, but in the days leading up to the race I started to dream of 21:30… or 21:15 for a whole minute faster than last fall’s PR… or even a 21 minute 5k, a huge (and totally unrealistic!) improvement. I should note that I don’t actually train for the 5 kilometer distance and my training didn’t support any of this dreaming. On treadmill ladder workouts, I never practiced more than a 6:53 pace as my 5k pace. My mile PR is still in the 6:30s officially. Pacing 6:45 for a 21 minute 5k would take a miracle… and I was going to be running this race at the tail end of a 60 mile training week.

So instead of sticking to my realistic original goal, I had a mental image of crossing the finish line in a triumphant 21:30, and when I came in at 21:56 and first in the 20-29 age group — achieving both of my original goals! — I was a little disappointed in my performance. Despite hitting my goals and running a decent race, I couldn’t find it in myself to be happy about it.
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I should look much happier in this photo… I smashed my (original, attainable) goal!

And this happens to me far too often. Last fall, I ran a surprising 1:43:38 at the Princeton Half Marathon in early October. I’d done 10 easy miles the day before and expected to come in at 1:47 or 1:48, so I completely exceeded my own expectations when I snagged a 9.5 minute PR! But then, two weeks later as I toed the line for the half marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival, buoyed by my recent and surprising success, I wanted a sub-1:40. Even though I’d run a 20 miler one week earlier and my race was coming at the end of a 5 day streak (I usually don’t run more than 3 days in a row), and Baltimore charts a hilly, challenging course! In hindsight, sub-1:40 was way outside my reach, but I talked a big game to myself pre-race and was totally let down by my 1:44:24… even though it was less than a minute off the huge PR I set just 13 days earlier!

I have countless examples of times that I ran a race with an A+++ goal in mind, failed to reach this extraordinary (and overambitious) goal, and then felt disappointed in myself for a performance I should have been happy about.

Two of my best races in the last year have come from a totally opposite mentality. Rather than dreaming big, I kept my goals realistic and in tune with my training. Last spring I ran the Minneapolis Marathon thinking I could do 4:20… maybe 4:15 — which would have been a 23+ minute PR from my first marathon (4:43). I was then both blown away and overjoyed when I ended up crossing the finish in 4:04:39 — a 39 minute PR and a time that was beyond my wildest dreams. And I was smiling for days after my 1:43 at the Princeton HM, coming in 5 minutes faster than I had expected. In these cases, I set realistic goals, and when I surpassed those, I was full of pride.

And that is the mentality I want to have as I go about setting goals for my two big races this season: the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon on April 3 (this Sunday!), and the New Jersey Marathon on May 1. Rather than set crazy goals that I’d have to be having a miraculous day to pull off, I want to set goals that I have a real chance of meeting. And I don’t want to inflate those goals the closer race day gets!

So, considering my recent race and training times, here are my realistic and unwavering goals for my spring half and full marathons:

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon, April 3
Goal:
1:38-1:39:59 (7:29-7:37 pace)
I want to break the 1:40 barrier, and I truly think I can do it. A half marathon is the perfect distance for me to dig deep. I do 10 or 12 mile midweek runs every week, so 13.1 doesn’t feel like a foreboding distance anymore. The CR course is pretty flat in the first half, with a long stretch of uphill in the middle (about 2.5 miles), and then a long bit of downhill (3 miles worth) before an incline up to the finish line in the last quarter mile. This is pretty similar to the elevation chart for the Princeton HM, and I tend to do fairly well with hills. I am taking a cutback week the week of the race (my mileage in the 4 weeks leading up to the race has been 58-61 miles, and the week of the race I’m cutting back to “just” 40) so that my legs will be fresh and ready to race the morning of April 3.

However now that the week of the race is here, I can hear myself thinking, “But what about 1:35? How close to that could I get?” And I am shutting that down right away! I am not going to start daydreaming about super fast times. I am going to stick with my 1:38-1:39:xx goal no matter what, because I know that’s a time my training has set me up to run. And looking at the weather forecast, I’ll probably be running in challenging conditions (20-30 mph winds and about 40-45 degrees at the start if I’m lucky!), so it is best to keep my goal very realistic.

New Jersey Marathon, May 1
Goal:
3:26-3:32 (7:52-8:05 pace)
Last fall, I know I was in shape for a 3:40 marathon, had I not gotten injured 10 days pre-race. So this spring I want redemption in the form of a kickass BQ time. 3:32 would get me under the Boston buffer I hope — last year’s cutoff was 2 minutes 28 seconds under qualifying time (and was a record high). I am in much better shape now, both physically and mentally, than I was last fall, and I’m optimistic about how fast I can run a marathon, because lately I’ve been doing tempos at the end of my long runs and meaning to run 7:55-8:00 pace, but hitting 7:40s with ease. 7:45-7:50 seems to be a great cruising speed for me these days, but I don’t want to make a lofty goal of pacing under 7:50 for the whole 26.2. I think something in the 7:50 range will be challenging in the later miles, but achievable — plus I’ve never paced under 9:00 minute miles for a marathon, so I’d love to skip the 8:00s altogether! I’ve got a big taper in my schedule in the two weeks before the race, so fresh legs should yield fast results!

Does anyone else tend to make self-sabotaging goals, and how do you avoid letting it get into your mental game?

What are/were your goal races this spring and how have you gone about setting goals?

Run O’ the Mill 5K (Clinton, NJ)

Start and conditions:
8 am start, high-30s at start, low-50s by awards at 9 am

Results:
21:55, 7:01 pace
Splits: 6:46, 7:20, 7:00, allegedly paced 6:20 for the last tenth of a mile

Course description and event logistics
Started off with a gentle downhill, a small rectangle in town, then right back up past the start (pass the starting line about 1.2-1.3 miles in). From about .9 until mile 2 is a slight but definite uphill until the turn around, then you get to run that hill back down to the finish line. While there were many local runners at the race, it was not a spectator-laden event. There were maybe a dozen people spectating in the first mile, and then no one besides course marshals the rest of the way. It was a pretty quiet race which gave me a lot of time to do mental math and question if I was really going to hit my goal time or not!

Logistics for this race were so simple. I pulled into a grassy lot around 6:50 where there were volunteers from NJ-NY track club directing cars into widely-spaced rows (this was very easy to get out of post-awards as well since half the participants were gone by the end of the ceremony). The next block down was where the community center and packet pick-up was. Super easy. Checking in took me about 1 minute, and everyone was really nice and helpful. I was parked and pinning on my bib by 7:05. There was no bag check, but people kept their bags in the gym or outside with no issues since the only people there were race volunteers/coordinators and participants/participants’ families.

Training
I didn’t train specifically for this race. I threw this into my race schedule two weeks ago as a fun event. I really just wanted to PR at a 5k with all this great new training cycle fitness. This 5k was at the end of a 60-ish mile training week, so it was probably not the best conditions to get a huge PR, but I really wanted to nab a sub-22 minute 5k and knew I could do it.

Gear and fuel
I had a bowl of oatmeal before I left my apartment to drive the 45 minutes to the race, and drank a cup of coffee in the car on the way. I wore my Oiselle Pacers singlet, Saucony Ignite tight shorts, some Feetures socks, and my teal Saucony Breakthrus.

Now, with the shoes, I wore them because I’ve had amazing speed workouts with the Breakthrus on the treadmill. However it’s 50/50 when I run outside in them. When I run in them at group runs at night: no problem. When I’ve run in them on a Saturday morning: problems galore! I had considered bringing two pairs of shoes and deciding between them at the race, but then last-minute chose to just take the one pair because the Breakthrus are so fun and cute! (Note: stop making running gear choices based on cuteness!) So around 2 miles into the race, my right shin got really tight and felt like it was about to cramp.  In hindsight, I wish I’d brought my tried and true Saucony Ride 8s along. They may be a bit heavier, but they never give me any issues! Had I worn different shoes, I think I could have done sub-7 for pace and cut maybe 15-20 seconds off my time overall.

Goal(s)
My goal originally was sub-22 minutes and #1 AG placement. But as the day got closer, I started to tell myself I could do 21:30… maybe even 21:15 and take a clean minute off last fall’s PR!

I tend to self-sabotage in this way. My original goal was spot-on and achievable. But I often let myself dream big and set harder goals as the race nears, and then I am disappointed not to reach them even though I knew it was a long shot anyway. This is a big mental hurdle I want to overcome this racing season (and I’ll probably write a blog post all about it).

Your finish and feelings
Overall, I finished in 21:55, which was a 7:01 pace on my Garmin (clocked it at 3.13, so a very fair course!) and 7:04 by the race results. I came in 1st in my age group (women 20-29), I placed 6th out of all women and 36th out of all finishers. I nailed my original goals for this race: I came in under 22 minutes and first in my age group. I am going to call this a success, even though I was a bit disappointed (only because in my head I wanted 21:30, a 6:55 pace, even though my training only sort of supports that kind of time). My second mile really dragged my pace down (7:20!), and I just keep thinking that if I’d been able to push it a little more on that mile, I’d have run an even faster 21:XX and broken the 7 min pace barrier. Oh well. There’s always next time! I refuse to let this bring me down or let myself think of this as a “bad” race when I achieved the (realistic!) goals I set for myself when I signed up for the race 2 weeks ago. I need to stop setting self-sabotaging goals, or I’ll never be happy with my race performances!

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Post-race happy face. Even though my shins were quite upset with me.

And, well, in summary…
Overall, it was a good race, and I’m glad I made the (beautiful and scenic!) drive up from Princeton. The race had a fun, local feel: AG awards for 20 and up went by whole decades, but they had AG awards for 0-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, and 15-19 to reward as many kids as possible for being active, which was awesome. Special shout-outs went out to AG and overall winners who were local runners, be they adults or local high school athletes and local running clubs.

Though I didn’t go above and beyond my goal for the race, I got done what I went there to do, and it was an excellent way to kick off my spring racing season for 2016! Looking forward to more PRs! Next race: April 3 at the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon!

 

General format is borrowed from this article in Women’s Running.

My Running Renaissance

What I call my Running Renaissance began in April 2014, when I had the idea to train for my first full marathon. Let me tell you how this happened.

Up until this fateful April, I had been content to run half marathons and trudge along with painful knees and an out of shape mental game. However all that time I had spent NOT running in 2013? Apparently that did wonders for my knees… all that time off healed them right up! When I went out one day for a 7 mile run and returned home only to realize that my knees weren’t sore and I wasn’t even tired mentally… that was when I started to get the idea. A half marathon? Of course! A full marathon? Perhaps!

As I got through an 8 mile run… a 10 mile run… a 12 miler… all with ease, I decided to give 14 miles a try at the end of June. And while it wasn’t a breeze, it wasn’t painful — physically or mentally. So I shopped out a few marathons within an afternoon’s drive of Princeton and decided on the Baltimore Marathon. We had a family friend I could stay with, and that was that. I registered and tweaked a Hal Higdon training plan to my liking and got on the training band wagon.

That first training cycle was not ideal by any means. I would run 16 or 18 miles on a Sunday and then half-ass my way through meager mileage the rest of the week. I think I topped out at 32 or 35 miles in a week during that training cycle. I was definitely overtraining; my long runs were often 50-66% of my weekly mileage. I ended up with a calf strain after a local half marathon that utilized some sandy trails for a couple miles — a hot late August race that netted me a 2:02:02 finish and a blow to my confidence — and then suffered with IT band pain in the weeks leading up to my marathon.

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But race day morning, my knee finally bounced back and gave me no problems. However that marathon was a hot mess. I was so anxious I barely slept the night before. I felt confident when we started. The first few miles were a breeze. But I started to deflate around mile 11 and by mile 14, I hit the wall… and the many hills of the Baltimore Marathon. I walked about 30-40% of the next 12 miles and came across the finish line at 4:43:43. It was a true slog, and I was exhausted, but I was done. And I was the fittest I had ever been in my life… so immediately I began shopping out my second marathon.

I decided on the Minneapolis Marathon (not to be confused with the Twin Cities Marathon!). It was May 31, which was right after the end of the first year of my Master’s program, so I could fly into Minneapolis and meet my parents at a hotel and we could stay there for the weekend, then they could bring me back home to Iowa with them. It ended up being a great plan. Recovering from my marathon in the gigantic, soft guest bed at my parent’s house was a great way to kick off my summer vacation!

Training for Minneapolis went much better than training for Baltimore, but it wasn’t perfect. I had some overtraining strain my left calf, but I was able to run through it and it went away on its own in June. I ran the half marathon at the New Jersey Marathon that spring as my race prep race and surprised myself with a 1:53… a 5 minute PR! It was my ninth HM and the first one in which I didn’t walk a single step. I felt unstoppable.

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The race in Minneapolis went much better than Baltimore as well. Though my training still maxed out around 35-40 miles, I was much more mentally prepared. I started out pacing 8:40s as the first half of the course trends downhill. My parents met me at mile 11 to give me the water bottle I’d carry the rest of my race, the pocket filled with gels. They barely made it down to mile 18 in time to cheer me on as I was still running a much faster pace than we’d planned on the night before when we came up with their spectating plan. My dad ran with me from about mile 18.5 to mile 20.5 which was a big mental boost. And then I slogged through the last 5+ miles alone. Going into the race, I expected a 4:20… 4:15 at  best. I was shocked to cross the finish line in 4:04:39, a 39 minute PR!

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And so I wondered… if I stepped up my mileage, how much faster could I run? I hadn’t really done anything new this training cycle besides add about 5 miles a week to my schedule. What if I added even more? How much faster could I get… could I qualify for Boston?

And so the summer of 2015 was the summer of “trying out high mileage to see if I crash and burn.” And you know what? I didn’t. I didn’t do a single mile of speedwork from June through August; all my miles were easy. But I stepped up to 45, then 50 miles a week. By September, my training range was 45-60 miles. And I had an amazing racing season. I dropped my 5k PR from 24:40 to 22:17. I lowered my half marathon PR from 1:53 to 1:43:38. I expected that I could run my fall marathon in 3:40… maybe even somewhere below a 3:35… I was not-so-secretly hoping for a 3:32 so that I could qualify for Boston under the buffer time.

My third marathon was late in November at the Philadelphia Marathon. And despite all my amazing fall races, this one did not go well at all. I decided during my taper madness to do some yoga, despite never doing yoga otherwise. And in the midst of this yoga, I strained my right hamstring. And because I was in a taper, I had no way to evaluate how injured I was. I optimistically believed I’d be fine by race day. But oh boy, was I wrong!

The race started and I was on pace, hitting my 7:55-8:10 splits on the nose. I was feeling good, feeling confident. But around mile 9 or 10 of the Philly marathon there’s a hill. Basically the only major hill on the course. And after that I could not get my pace back on track. My legs felt weird and tired. I thought about pulling away with the half marathoners and cutting it short, but — ever the optimist — I chose to continue on the marathon course. By mile 15, my calves started to cramp. Then my quads. Then my feet. All my muscle groups were overcompensating for my strained and uncooperative hamstring. By mile 18, I figured it’d take me just as long to drop out and walk back to the finish than to just push on and run-walk the last 8 miles, so… continue I did.

My amazing Oiselle teammates met me around mile 24 and ran with me to mile 26. I just had to make it through 0.2 miles on my own at the end. But those last miles were miserable. I was swearing up a storm, almost in tears, and I instructed them not to let me stop under any circumstances! I was running on cramping feet, and I was in so much pain. I crossed the finish line in 4:02:32, a two minute PR. On one hand, I was happy to have finished at all, but on the other hand… I had wanted to run thirty minutes faster. I was disappointed. I even cried a little — the only time I have cried at the end of a marathon to date! — because I was so mad to have all that season’s hard work be “wasted” because of my stupid hamstring.

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I let myself take a week to have a pity party. I rehabbed the hell out of my hamstring. And then I got back at it. I got back to 35 mile weeks… then 45 mile weeks over winter break. And I started up training at the end of January 2016 at 50 mile weeks, with my schedule’s training mileage ranging from 50 to 65 miles per week. In my mind, I’m not training as a 4-hour marathoner. I know that I could have done 3:40 at the very least at Philly. I’m working hard not only for a BQ but for redemption, to prove that my fast fall times weren’t flukes, and that I can run a Boston Qualifying time… and even faster.

For the first time since I started running ten years ago, I finally see that I have some potential in this sport. As a high school and college athlete, I thought that I just wasn’t fast… as if fast was a trait you were born with. But it just took me a lot longer than some to realize that to be successful in running doesn’t require innate ability. Rather you have to learn to be comfortable with discomfort, to embrace suffering, and overcome self-doubt. Now that I’ve finally learned that I can do this, I’m eager to see how far and how fast I can push this body of mine.