Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2014 Monthly Recap - January through June

At one point in my life I updated this blog on an almost weekly basis. I was doing a lot of running while trying to figure out how to be a teacher and a coach, and I was getting too little sleep. Fortunately, I came to understand a word, priorities, and made a few changes to make life easier.

Blogging had to be cut down in order to dedicate more time to teaching and coaching. Running is still happening (somewhat), but since it isn't my job, I can't justify spending more time on it to sacrifice what I get paid to do each day and for what actually matters in this world. The work I do every day makes more of a difference than the running I do.

There are some days that I wish I had more time to dedicate to running, but I am happy knowing that even if I can't get all of the running in that I want to, at least I have a job (coaching) that allows me to experience running every day. I get paid to think about running and wear running clothes. It could be worse.

As we approach the holiday season I find it nice to reflect on the year. I'll do it a little differently this time around - a month-by-month summary and then I'll conclude with my favorites of the year. Here it goes!

Overall running this year
Two summers ago I was hitting 200+ miles per month. I was running 60+ miles a week and saw some nice PRs in the marathon. That hasn't been the case this year. I've had much lower mileage each month, but I have focused more on strength training. As a result, I saw PRs in each distance this year from the 5K to the half marathon. I can feel a huge difference in my running form and strength.

January: 143 miles: Marathon training for Boston had started. It was cold. There were lots of snow days. I was miserable. It was to become the same routine for the next three months. I began to do weekly indoor workouts to get in some cross training and to save me from the cold. The track workouts no longer existed.

Layers can help to get out the door on cold, winter nights

February: 149 miles: Another month into Boston training, and a month in which my mileage should have picked up. It did, but only by 6 miles. More indoor training days and a dread for Boston developed. Boston simply wasn't feeling like a marathon I wanted to run. I had no internal motivation to do it, therefore, hardly any motivation to train, especially with more snow! I thought I had moved to a warmer climate, but we had a total of 8 snow days this winter!

An 8 mile run in our worst snow of 2014

March: 177 miles: Alas! Some more miles. The weather started warming up and the outdoor track season was in full competition. A switch turned in my mind during one run: I wouldn't focus on training for Boston. Instead, I was going to focus on the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler that I would run two weeks before Boston. I decided to follow my marathon training, but rather than thinking about Boston each time I ran, I focused on getting a PR in the Cherry Blossom. All of sudden I was excited about running again!

April: 129 miles and 2 races
I spent the first week of April in Boston at a conference. It was just what I needed to get excited to run Boston. I love the city and the buildup to the race had already started. I ran by the finishing line each morning before the city woke up. The first time gave me goosebumps.

I snagged a new PR in the Cherry Blossom 10 miler (1:05:47) that qualifies me for automatic, seeded entry into next year's race. The only problem is next year's race is ONE week before Boston. DANG!

Boston also happened. My legs had been sore for over a week from the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and I knew I didn't have the miles put in for a PR at Boston. However, the weekend was one of my favorite marathon weekends: talking to Shalane Flanagan in the bathroom at the airport, having dinner with high school friends, eating brunch with college teammates, and then meeting up with Laura and other bloggers at the start. I paid for the lack of training starting at mile 14, but the amazing crowd support carried me to the finish line and I finished with a 3:20:36. I loved the weekend and had a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when the race was over.

With the marathon done I could now focus on speed. I promised myself that I would do no more marathons for a few years. It made me happy to know that crazy training and hours from my weekend life would no longer be a problem. My new goal was to get a PR in the half.

May: 90 miles and 1 race
I was a little bummed to find out earlier in the year that Tom and I would not be able to make Vermont City Marathon work. With so many weddings this year, we could not justify another trip to Vermont.

My mileage was lowered as I focused on the end of the year teaching tasks and finished the season with the track team. A bunch of colleagues and students ran in the Capitol Hill 10K Classic, where I ran my 2nd 10K of all time. I finished with a 40:05 and a new PR. What surprised me about the race was hitting the 3rd mile below 19:00. I knew that I needed to get into a 5K to see what I was capable of. I hadn't run a sub 20:00 5K since college and knew that I was ready to do it.

June: 146 miles, 1 race
The end of the school year brought excitement for a summer filled with running and more hours to dedicate to wedding planning. My mornings became the same: Wake up, eat, run, eat, shower, wedding plan all day.

I managed to hit up a Father's Day 5K and nabbed a 19:18 finish. The race had that same 5k pain that I hate, the kind where you want to throw up and I almost did. I raced a silly race, going out too fast, and knew that if I raced a smarter race I could break 19:00. I was determined to do it!

Did you really make it down to the end? Congrats to you! I'm going to assume that 6 months is enough for one post and will write about the second half of the year in another post. For now, I'm going to enjoy these next few days of relaxation, food, and even some snow in this city of DC! Yes, snow! And for the first time in years I actually have some winter boots. I was probably the only Vermonter going to school in Vermont without some real winter boots, but I have finally smartened up!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Veteran's Day 10K

It's becoming the same story with races now: Too little sleep and too little running during the work week. The week leading up to this 10k was hectic. Crazy hectic. It was the end of the quarter, which meant comments for 110 students needed to be written, I played my saxophone in the jazz band during the Fall Concert on Wednesday, and then we had our Fall Sports Banquet on Thursday. I love it all while I'm doing it, but then I get home at 9:00 and there's no chance for a run.

A co-worker posted this race in our faculty room in October and after hearing that it was a fast course I decided to sign up. For the last month this race was my focus on all of my runs. I wanted to break 40:00. I had good speed leading up to it and had just raced a new 5k PR two weeks before. However, after the crazy work week, I had to reevaluate what my goal for the race would be. On race morning I decided that finishing would be enough. A PR would be great, but I couldn't expect it, nor did I want to put my body in the pain that would be required to get it.

I'm not a professional so I don't have the time to dedicate to running. Sometimes I have to be OK with 12 or 17 mile weeks. When those weeks happen to fall in the week leading up to a race then I have to try my hardest to talk myself into racing by convincing my mind that I'm in better shape than I am.

The basin at 7:00 on race morning

Race morning started off in the low 40's, but it was sunny and not windy. This was a relief, especially since we were racing on Hains Point. Tom and I volunteered at a 10K there the weekend before and the wind was horrible. I would have cried if I had to race with the wind, and the weather for this 10k was just about perfect.

We met up with a few co-workers of mine before the start. It was awesome to see and be with familiar faces at the start!

The Race:
I did an extra long run for warm up by accident and didn't get in the drills in that I normally do. I was OK with this, considering everything else had worked out better than could be asked that morning. The gun went off and we were out. I knew I was cruising and was not surprised to see 6:15 on my watch for the mile 1 marker. A little too fast, but nothing to freak out about.

I stayed right behind two girls starting at the second mile, which I went through at 6:28. When mile 3 came (6:26) I was bummed that it wasn't a 5k. 5Ks feel so nice now and I would have been very excited to be done racing. This was my third 10K ever and I still didn't know how to race it.

I passed the two girls in front of me at this point. My fourth mile was strong. I felt strong and it flew by in 6:23. I started to feel the race a little more during the 5th mile, but held on, finishing that mile in 6:29. Tom was at the 5th mile marker and that is when two girls came out of no where from behind me. Good strategy, chicas. They knew just how to throw me off my focus. They looked strong and I wasn't feeling strong. I kept counting down the tenths of a mile, which is not a great way to stay calm.

I got to mile 6 with 0.2 to go (6:31) and felt the 10k-urge to vomit. So did one of the girls in front of me who suddenly stopped and pulled off to the side. I shut my eyes knowing that if I saw anything come up I'd lose my cookies too. She saw me at that moment and decided that finishing was more important than vomiting and hopped back into the race.

Once again, like the last race, I saw the clock tick its way closer and closer to 40:00 and could not make my legs get to the finish any sooner.

Tom's phone deleted all of the photos he took of us while running. The only photo that somehow survived is me  after getting my award

Final Time:
New PR
9th Female
3rd in Age 
(not including the overall winners)

I'm a little frustrated, but I know that a 39 will come with better training, more speed work on the track, and a better work week. 

We hung out at the finish for some time and it was fun to be with friends. After the awards, Tom and I paid a visit to Thomas Jefferson.We had fun enjoying the peacefulness of DC at that hour in the morning. 

It looks like the next race is a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. Hopefully I'll get in some quality runs between now and then. It's nice not having to worry about a training program yet. That will come at the end of December as Tom and I both begin to prepare for Boston. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2014 Walk (RUN) to end HIV 5K Race Recap

During my first year of teaching I made a bet with a student that if we ran a race I would beat him. He was an 8th grader back then, and at the time I figured we wouldn't actually race each other. Little did I know that he would come out to join the cross country team the following year. Nor did I know that I would get a chance to race him this year, as we both ran the Walk (I say RUN) to End HIV 5K two weekends ago.

Pre Race Summary:
  • Sleep the week leading up to the race was not the best. Too many weird dreams and waking up at 2:30 am. 
  • I was eating too much Halloween candy. I bought it for the trick-or-treaters and made the terrible mistake of opening the bag to "test it" for safety concerns. Kids can't get bad candy can they? 
  • My right eyelid was twitching constantly leading up to the race. Was it stress? Caffeine? Something else? No matter what, something wasn't totally right with my body. 
  • I barely got any miles in the week leading up to the race. I probably got a total of 12 in. 
Race Morning:
  • Woke up at the same I normally wake up for school, just so my body was used to doing its morning routine. It was nice to do my normal breakfast and know that I'd be OK for the 9:15 start time.
  • It was gorgeous: sunny and 50 degrees when we arrived at the start
  • I got in enough warm up but I felt sluggish during the slow-running warm-up portion. The drills at the line helped to wake me up. 
  • I felt confident for a good race all week and all morning. The mental prep is key when hoping to run a good race or to win a bet. 
It was really fun to be able to run in a race with all of my cross country kids for the first time. They were excited to be running a flat road race instead of the hilly and grassy courses they are used to. They were also really cute at the start when they did their traditional pre-race cheer, and made sure to change up the cheer to shout "Coach Svetlana", their nickname they gave me last year.

They all knew about the bet, of course, and it was awesome when the athlete I had the bet with walked up to the front of the line saying "If we're going to race then I need to start up here with you."

Right before the gun went off I kept telling myself "6:10. 6:10. 6:10". I didn't want to go out in a 5:55 like the last two races. A 6:10 would be nice. 

A few of the boys on our team went out ahead of me. I let them. I knew how to run my own race. I also thought that the boys would slow a little later in the race which would allow me to catch up. A few women also sprinted ahead of me at the start. I felt off and couldn't stay up with the, nor did I want to ruin the 6:10 that I knew I needed to hit. I didn't feel energized like my last few races, so I had no clue what was in store for me.

We got to the first mile marker: 6:14. Good. I was OK with being slower than 6:10. It gave me the confidence that I wouldn't die, but I knew that I also needed to push over the next two miles. Two of our kids were ahead of me still at this point. 

After mile 1, the course took us in a new direction and the wind was blowing against us. Luckily I was able to get behind a few guys to draft for that portion of the race. Sometimes it comes in handy to be a female and the shortest one around. 

The course was an out and back which allowed us to see everyone behind us as we made our way through the second half of the race. A lot of our athletes cheered for us, but I was way too focused to cheer back. I felt so bad for doing that. I could barely breath at that point, let alone shout out to them, and I was way too focused on the boys ahead of me.

I caught up to one of our athletes, the boy I made the bet with, at this time and together we made our way to mile two. We hit it at 12:25 - a 6:10 mile. GOOD! It was a good time for me, but an even better time for the kid I was running with, who hadn't run that fast of a this season. I was super excited to see our kids racing their way to a PR, but couldn't form a coherent sentence to tell them.

I eventually pulled away and set my sites ahead of me to another boy on our team that was running with the two women ahead of me. I was afraid of pushing too hard at this point in the race to make myself throw up, but now know that I should have pushed harder. I kept getting closer to the lead ladies, but not fast enough. At some point I realized that I was totally letting myself trail behind them and that I wasn't actually in Race Mode. I needed to work, and this was my last chance. 

With about 40 seconds left of the race I passed the two women ahead of me at the same time. Not having seen the any other females for some time, I starting to think I was in the lead - but definitely not positive. I saw the clock hit 19:01 just before I made it to the end and my first thought was that our lead boy was going to get over a minute PR for the day! I also realized that he was going to beat me and become the first boy on our team to beat me in a few years!

I also realized that I had made some mistakes in the race that cost me breaking 19:00, which has been my goal time this summer. The whole time I was racing I felt like crap and thought that I was going to get a 20:00. Everyone in front of me looked slow. I felt slow. I just thought 20:00 would be it for the day, NOT a low 19. I believe I could have pushed harder but didn't do it until it was too late. You live and you learn.

Final Time
2nd female
New PR!

I ended up winning the bet, but I am confident that if (or when) we race again, I will lose. This kid can beat me in every distance shorter than a 5K and by next fall, he'll take that honor as well! While I hate losing, this will be a bet I will be happy to see him win. 

This race was a PR, but am I happy with it? Not 100%. I was stupid:
  • I didn't fuel at all properly during the week.
  • I didn't pay attention to the watch and just went by feel - which was 'crappy'
  • I didn't push myself at all out there and never actually felt like I was dying.
The good news, however, is that every one of our athletes got a PR and some kids got HUGE PRs! It was so much fun to end my race and to turn around and watch our athletes finish their races with huge smiles on their faces. All of their hard work from the year paid off and it was fun to reward them with a fast PR on a fast course.

Also, I secretly really like running 5ks and 10ks in the city. It's fun to run the streets, in between the large buildings, and to see the sites like the Capitol. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tackling A Race: The Mental Game

Being a high school coach has made me consider each thought and action I have during a race. One area that I find new runners curious about is the mental preparation of a race. What do you do when you're afraid to run? When you doubt yourself?

Don't get comfortable
Over the last year I have learned to "forget" about what I have always done. Just because I ran 20:xx for 5Ks over the last few years doesn't mean I still need to. Just because I always ran my regular runs around 7:30 minute pace doesn't mean I can't run faster - or slower- depending on how my body feels on that particular day.

I remember my track coaching saying that we have a box. It's our comfort box. It's easy to run in that box and get the same times every time. But if you want to get faster, you need to step out of it. You need to take a risk, whether it is in a race or in training.

Believe in yourself
I always tell my runners that they need to know that they are going to run well when they step onto the starting line. They have to believe in themselves. They can't be doubting themselves. They have to feel it in their heart and body.

Easier said than done, right?

Lose the Fear
So what happens if you know you can do it but are afraid? For one, ask what you are afraid of. Is it hurting? If so, running fast means you need to hurt. Tell yourself that and accept it. Get through the race and you'll feel fine after. Convince yourself that it's only 19 minutes, 22, or 28 minutes of pain.

Are you afraid that you'll go out too fast and "die" or "bonk" half way through, being passed by tons of runners at the end? If so, you'll have another race to run. Try a new approach, learn from it, and make changes to your next race. Just because it could happen doesn't mean it will.

No regrets
Do you really want to have regrets after the race? It sucks to finish a race and immediately say, "I know I could have pushed more", or "I relaxed too much and could have ran faster." Far too often I see runners prevent themselves from having success because they are afraid of failing in the process. Change your mindset. Although it sucks to have a bad race, each bad race is a learning experience if you take the time to analyze it. Each bad race can be a little tool in your tool box for future races.

What do you have? 
A new way to approach the race is to approach it with curiosity. What is your body capable of right now? Inexperienced runners always say, "I can't run that fast!". I say, why not? Why can't you? Who says you can't? You are the one telling yourself this, and if that is how you believe, then that is how you run.

Go out there and run your race with your heart. Don't look down at your watch to compare what you're doing with what you've done before. Go on effort. Go on belief. Know that your biggest obstacle out in a race is you. Put your doubts behind. Question what is in you and allow your body to work. We are meant to move. We have moved for thousands of years. It is in our blood to work. When you step on that line, remove the fear by allowing the unknown to emerge. Convert your doubts into curiosity for what your body will give you.

Have a plan
I've heard coaches tell their athletes to envision the race. I never could understand it. It would be better if coaches said to have a plan. You know you are going to slow down in mile 2, so what are you going to do to change it? Or, what are you going to do when you know that your arms are going to start hurting in the third mile? Or when you get to that huge hill? Or when your asthma kicks in?

What will you do?

In general, successful people, know how to overcome obstacles in their path. To be a successful runner you need to recognize your areas of weakness, and decide how you are going to overcome those in a race. It won't happen immediately, but every time you race you have a chance to improve something. Over time, those "little somethings" add up to a big something - a PR.

During Boston, I knew that my weakness was the last two miles of a race. Mentally, I break down. My focus for that race was to change my attitude toward those miles. I envisioned myself staying calm, worked on relaxation (thank you winter yoga), and it worked.

In my last 5K, I knew that my weakness is slowing down in Mile 2. What was I going to do? I said I would speed up, but found my thoughts drifting off during that mile, just like they do in every 5K. Sometimes your weaknesses are easy to change. Sometimes they take multiple tries. Work at it, be patient, but never give up.

Put it together 
Knowing your plan will help you line up at the line feeling confident. You can know in your heart before the start that you are about to give the race your all. And when those things are present, you can finally ask your body to bring out your best. You can put away the fear and allow your heart to run. When you do this, you will be amazed to find that what you thought you could do was far less than what you are truly capable of doing.

It is this reason that I find coaching such a rewarding job: Over the coarse of a season we begin to see athletes gain confidence in themselves that not only translates into better races, but extends into their academic lives, allowing them to question their abilities in the classroom, and bring up their grades. The mental preparation needed for a running race doesn't have to stop on the field or track. Those same techniques can be applied to life: the classroom, the job, or the home life.

Running isn't about getting faster. What I've come to discover over the years is that running is about learning to live life and living it to your fullest. You aren't just getting a PR on the track, but rather PRing in life.

A view of high school cross country runners from a race 2.5 weeks ago

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parks Half Marathon - Take 2

Looks who's back! I've been training, I've been coaching, and I've been teaching, but I haven't been blogging for some time. I wanted a break from worrying about it, and from being connected to technology all of the time. However, I still want to make sure I document my races as it's fun to look back on them months and years later.

My focus for the last few months has been the Parks Half Marathon, which I also ran last fall. I used the Hanson Method for Half Marathons this summer for training, but it wasn't great training because of my own doing (not because it isn't a great program - it is an excellent program). Once school started, my training and sleep took a hit. My A Goal going into this race was to get 1:27:XX, but my B, and more realistic goal was to get close to my PR, but still be under 1:30.

This Sunday was the coolest morning it has been here for some time and it was around 50 degrees at the start. I was surprised to see that there were no "elite" female runners at the start like last year. It turns out they waited too long to sign up and didn't want to pay to run. Bad for them, but great for me. I was hoping that with their absence I would be able to place higher in the rankings this year. I knew I had to hit sub 6:47 miles to get a PR, and I was confident on the line that I could manage that. I was focused and ready.

Miles 1-3:
6:22, 6:30, 6:42

I was the first girl leading the start for a few hundred yards, but I didn't want to be in that spot. I didn't want to make the mistake I've been making in 5ks. I wanted to hit the first mile around 6:45ish, and pulled back the pace, allowing 3 girls to go ahead of me. I stayed relaxed, felt good, but still came in too fast.

It turns out that the first two miles were downhill, and I had forgotten that before and during the race. A smart runner would have prepared for those downhills and I could have put in less effort. I wasn't worried when I saw my first splits, and ran calmly. I wanted to see what was in me.

By mile 3, a woman in pink had sprinted past me. She looked very strong and I doubted that I would be able to catch her. The first three girls were long out of sight and I knew there was not hope of catching up to them.

Miles 4-6: 
6:45, 6:38, 6:34

When I got to mile 6 I decided it was time for a gel but the coldness of the air had left my hands stiff. I struggled for a few minutes (no joke) to reach into my pocket that was placed INSIDE the back of my shorts. Seriously Nike, what were you thinking? I probably mooned the people behind me trying to reach for the gel. My breathing got off, my stride was off, but I was happy to get some fuel in me and to see that I was hitting some nice mile splits. I could no longer see the 4th place woman and could only hope that I had a strong 5th place. 

During these miles, as we went up and down hills in the woods, I realized how much I truly enjoy this race. It's in the woods, it's peaceful, and I loved that there were no crowds around. It felt like a "grown up" cross country course because of the paved trails. While I had men around me the whole time, we were all staying in our mental zones and working to get through it. 

Miles 7-9
6:48, 6:42, 6:40

Tom was cheering at mile 8 and I felt good when I passed him. Mile 9 was a different story though. I started to feel cramps in my calves, something I have only felt once before - at the end of the Cherry Blossom this spring. My calves may be fine in my flats in a 5K or 10K, but the longer distance was killing them. I tried to hold on, but began to fear what lay ahead. I knew my calves were going to suffer for the remainder of the race. As I ran, the knotting in them got worse. 

Miles 10 - 13
6:42, 7:06, 6:59, 7:13, 0:42

Check those splits! They do all of the explaining and I am sure you can guess what happened next. I struggled to get my feet to move. The last two miles, which are totally flat and in a straight line, killed me. Around the end of the 12th mile a turn around spot gave me a glimpse of the runners in a 30-45 second window behind me. I was praying there would be no female, but alas, there was! She was withing those 30 seconds and I knew that the last mile would be my slowest. I entered the last straightaway hoping that I could hold on to the 5th place finish. 1:27 was out of question, but I had hopes to still get a PR and knew I needed to focus.

At one point I asked myself, "what hurts?" Is my breathing off? No. Is my upper body sore? No. Are my hamstrings or quads out of energy? Sadly no. The only thing holding me back was the inability to respond to the signals my nerves were sending in my calves to make them function.

Tom was cheering 0.3 miles from the end, and when I passed him I was trying with all of my might not to stop and to just make it to the finish. It could have been a cute moment where he could have helped run me in, but I told him not to. I was so focused on trying to move my feet that I didn't want a distraction.

It was sad, but still a slight relief, to see the clock read 1:28:26 when I crossed - a 20 second PR. The 6th place woman finished not too long after me as I was able to hold onto some distance between us.

Final Time: 
20 second PR
5th female out of 983
$100 prize money

Like last year, the post race was excellent. I was finished by 8:30am and was offered sandwiches and pizza by 8:36. I had to laugh it off. No thank you to pizza that early in the morning. 

I have to remind myself that there were positives to this race: 
  • I loved the course
  • I was calm
  • I was focused at the start and excited for it
  • I was running great splits for a majority of it
  • and I still got a PR. 
However, it still isn't the race I wanted it to be, and I didn't expect to not be able to work my calves. I know my training was not top notch and I should have ran in my flats more. That will be fuel to work harder next time around. I want to see a 1:26 or 1:27 and know that it takes some serious determination to get there. I'm ready to put in the work.