Thirty Thursdays: Break My Half Marathon PR

Hi friends!  The big 3-0 gets closer every day and I’m still working on checking things off my fun 30 before 30 list.   Today’s story came completely unexpectedly.  One of my fitness goals for this year (and really, if any runner is being honest, a goal since the last time I set a PR) was to set a new PR in my half marathon distance.  My previous best time is 1:47:36, set on the St. Jude course in Memphis, TN one December morning over 5 years ago.  I was young, I was coaching running and I had a pace mate Russ who leisurely jogged along beside me taking all the shots of beer offered while keeping me company and dragging me through the last two miles.

This racing season has been so rewarding to me.  I trained specifically for the 5k distance and finally nailed some PRs down in the St. Patrick’s Day and Spring Fling races.  I did not at all feel trained or ready for the half marathon distance.  Rather, I chose this race because it was local, free to me because of Oklahoma Sports and Fitness membership and it was a good time to start building mileage up before the July marathon.  I was absolutely not expecting to PR or even try for one.  Right up to the start line.

IMG_7375On race day I was all on my own.  It’s not often that I race alone but I don’t mind it either.  I run this sport for me and while it’s so wonderful to have company and share the miles, going alone will never stop me from doing a race.  I worked late the night before again, and was up way earlier than I normally would have been to take Chap to the airport.  This completely threw off my rest, my eating schedule and my coffee plans.  But, I wasn’t worried about it because I just wanted to enjoy the race.

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I waited until the last minute to trot on over to the start line.  I was so glad I did because it was freezing in the high 40s in just my shorts and a tank top.  I’m pretty sure my teeth chattered the first two miles.   I got my app all set to track (Strava), Maren’s Deluxe album pulled up on Spotify (country music to keep me from going too fast), and stuck my phone in my beloved side pocket.  Got the GPS started on my watch, waved to some friends and waited for the gun.  We were off and I still had no plan.  Since it was a smaller race, I was near the front.  I felt myself getting swept up into the lead runners and made a mental note to slow down.  It was a beautiful day, I was loving my side-pocketed-shorts and the basking in the anticipation of a new flat course.

Eventually my app talked to me and said, previous mile in 7:45.  WHAT?  Way faster than I felt like I was going, and way too fast to maintain for 12 more miles.  The next mile ticked by in the neighborhoods of Jenks: 7:32.  DAMN!  Still way faster than I thought I should be going.  But, it wasn’t hard.  I was in a good rhythm and hanging stride for stride with a fellow OKSandF teammate so I thought I’ll just keep this pace as long as I can.

I expected to hold it maybe to halfway, or just a little past.  I remember texting M saying “I’m running 7:30s!”.  And texting my dad, “racing a half this morning, just did 5 in 37:45”.  I like these longer races because they allow more time to really hang around a group of runners.  I had several women that hung around me (or me around them) for many of the middle miles.  Miles 3-6 I hung behind a duo that were super chatty.  I didn’t listen to them but stayed one stride behind.  Then I passed and was passed, passed and was passed another gal for a few more miles.  Every time I shifted positions with any of these people, there was also a positive energy transfer.

Finally we made it to the turn around on the riverside trail, just a little over halfway.  I was ready to slow down but was also in my favorite part of the race – the heavy-traffic part of an out and back.  I cheered for everyone that I could as they passed.  Sometimes I ran out of breath but it’s fun scanning the lines of runners for friends and Insta running buddies.  I really started to slow down a mile or so into this turn around and my friends I drafted on for a while passed me again.  One gal said, “come on you can hang with us” and I just waved them on.

The last three miles were a struggle.  Between doing the math in my head of the average minute per mile I needed to run to break 1:40, then to PR, then to stay below 1:43 and trying to actually stay moving, my brain and body were hurting.  I noticed the fatigue in my arms (yes, still), and a blister forming under the ball and big toe of my right foot.  My right knee was getting stiff and tight and my lungs and ribs were tired of breathing.  But the road was flat and the weather perfect so I tried to keep moving.  I thought about my Fit Camp girls, my running girls, Teresa and Steve and my family.  Thought about mimosas later in the day and a nice nap.

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Sprinting and crawling to the finish

I am not ashamed to say that I walked a good part of the last three miles.  I tried to take 100 deep yoga breaths running to every 6 deep yoga breaths walking.  Not sure how the numbers fell that way but they did.  I was walking along when a gal I’d been behind for a while earlier came up behind me.  “We’re so close, let’s go”  This got me running again, but I couldn’t stay with her even though she was so encouraging.  We were able to quickly talk about our sub 1:45 goals and she powered in to a strong finish.  I did not have such a strong finish but I got there!  I ran it in too but man did it feel like I was running fast and not going anywhere!  But I made it.  I killed my PR and beat 1:45.  I was so, so surprised (even though that math back towards mile 10 pretty much secured a PR in my head).  My official time was 1:43:38.  I was so surprised because even though I’d been training fast for the 5k distance, I had only done one long run since the last half in October.  That partially explains why I bonked out at mile 10, but it doesn’t explain to me how I was so strong for 10 miles.  I’m pumped though!

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PR for me!

I would have loved to hang around and search down my new friends from the race but instead had to jet off to teach.  I could not have asked for a better day to run and ease into the routine of weekend long runs.  I’d highly recommend this race to local Tulsans!

Next up on the race calendar: Boston 5k on April 15 (have decided to run for fun, not race), Garmin Half Marathon on April 22 (not trying to PR, but guess I know how that can go now!) and that’s it for April.  Next main focus is the big mileage increase for July, and then will target another September PR.

 

 

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Race: Spring Fling for a Cause 5k

Many of you know that a small piece of my heart and life lives in Muskogee.  This opens up an entirely new willingness and radar for additional races.

Chap watched me struggle to break my long-standing 5k PR for nearly a year when he suggested this Spring Fling for a Cause 5k in Fort Gibson.  It’s flat, it’s an out an back (my favorite for short runs) and it’s during the time of year when temperatures are likely tolerable.  I put it on the calendar thinking it could be a backup race in case the St Patrick’s 5k wasn’t a PR.

This race rolled around and I so wasn’t into it.  I worked late the night before, had to drive out to Muskogee and got in around 11pm only to wake up to 16 mph winds and rain (thanks Michelle for teaching me to read the windometers).  And I lost my running partner.  A broken nose injury benched Chap so I was facing the out and back on my own.

Even as we sat in the car at the start line and I watched maybe 100 people scurry about, I didn’t want to go.  The rain had just picked up, it was in the low 50s and the winds were crazy.  But Chap said, “You won’t regret it.”

With 2 minutes to start I scurried to the start line, turned on my watch and Strava app and bounced around to stay warm.  Then we were off.  I had a goal to try for sub 7s the whole time which would get me my sub 22 target.   It was raining and windy but I couldn’t really tell which way the wind was blowing.  We were running down a paved, flat road that would eventually wind us around a corner before we turned around.  I had about ten people in front of me, mostly males and one female, before I just zoned out.  I tried to keep my pace around my track workout pace and as close to the 7 minute mark as I could.  For this I use my Garmin and keep the display on the elapsed time and pace screen.

I remember beginning to slowly pass the tail end of the pack in front of me.  The lead pack is normally far out of my reach but small town races are a different story.  I started ticking past them one at a time.  First the gal, then two fellas running together and then one guy on his own.  The first mile marker went off on my app and I checked my watch – mile 1 was under 7.

I was banking time as my dad would say.  I kept my pace as close as I could to that until the turn around.  That’s where I met the wind and realized that before when I didn’t know what direction it was coming from, it definitely wasn’t blowing against me.  But now, when I’m halfway in and pretty tired, I can feel it.  I fought through it the best I could to mile 2, also under 7 minutes.   A guy pushing a baby in a stroller motivated me to stay on pace.  I just kept chasing him, we caught the same pace for a little bit and then I pulled on past.

The last mile was the toughest.  I was feeling similar fatigue in my arms that I felt in the St. Patrick’s Day 5k.  (Which Chap later attributed to me moving my arms too much in my stride.  True statement, and good observation.)  I wanted to walk.  So much.  But I just kept refocusing my mind on my breath, on the strength I knew I had from weeks and months of consistent track and circuit work, and on the finish line which was just a flat road ahead (ok, and maybe on the donuts and fella at the finish).

When that third mile time went off on my app, I checked my watch and the distance to the finish line and pushed it.  I thought for sure I could beat the 22 minute mark.  I was running as fast as I thought I could to the finish and just as I’m about to cross the line, the guy with the stroller comes blazing past me.  Talk about a strong finish.

I was just relieved to be done and so happy to have another PR even though I was only 4 seconds off that 22.  They handed me a water bottle instead of a medal at the finish and my arms were so weak I threw it right at Chap’s broken nose (on accident!) so I didn’t have to hold it.  There’s more work to be done, and I am thrilled with the progress made this season!

We stuck around for the awards ceremony which gave me plenty of time to eat a few donuts ;).  Chap knew some people so he was chatty and I just tried to stay warm.  For the first time ever I placed as the first female in a race.  I still can’t really believe it.  And fourth overall.  Sure, it’s a smaller race but come on, me?  The girl who had to be bribed in to running over 10 years ago.  I’m not sure I’ll ever place first in that division or top 5 overall again so I tried to soak it in.  I’ve got some pretty cool hardware to show for it, and a lot of motivation and inspiration to set up the next training cycle (time to drag out the distance by 10-23 miles!)

If you don’t mind making the drive from Tulsa to Ft. Gibson the morning of a run, I’d highly recommend this race.  Flat course, reasonable registration fee, excellent cause (Special Olympics), well organized, small, great food after and great trophies!

It’s easy to get caught up in missed goals.  At the end of each race, PR or not, I try to reflect on the “fun” of the training, the will to race and the spirit of the sport.  I like how strong being fast makes me feel,  and the reward for the work put in.   It doesn’t come easy, and it certainly hasn’t come quickly but with consistency, I’m chipping off those seconds of my PRs.

 

The 2015 Route 66 Half Marathon

I’ve been waiting to write this blog.  And perhaps haven’t been posting other events because this one hasn’t been published.  Well, it’s time.  I’m ready to race again on Monday and I want to get this race off my chest, checklist and conscience before I run.

I’ve been avoiding thinking about the half last winter.  Avoiding writing about it.  Facing it again.  Let’s flashback to last fall/winter.

I’ve been chasing my 2011 St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon PR (1:47:36) since about 2012.  Not in every race season, but at least once a year.  And I decided 2015 was a good year to go for it again.  Track work, tempo runs and long runs became the norm and I racked up those miles as the temperatures began to drop.

I was feeling really confident a few weeks before the half when I ran in the Tulsa Run, a 15k on much of the same course as the half.  I hit it in 1:16:44 (pace of 8:13).  So I’d need to turn it up just a bit for a few more miles to get my half PR.

In the three or four weeks between the Tulsa Run and the half, I backed off the tougher runs a little.  Probably too much if I’m truly honest with myself (definitely too much slacking if I wanted that PR).  But, I still never expected that I’d feel SO bad.

On race morning I went through all of my normal routine.  Coffee.  Banana.  Water.  Foolish Things to drop stuff off and get some energy from friends.  Got a surprise walk to the start line from boo thing.  Was ready.

Too ready.   Started too fast.  (This is all I remember 7 months later).  Reigned it back in.  So hilly.  Cold chest, can’t breathe.  Only mile 3.  Slow down.  Keep going.  Plenty of time to make up distance.  Why’d I start so fast?  Need to walk.  Walking.  Feet hurt.  Knees hurt.  Why?  Don’t usually hurt this early.  People keep saying they like my pants (lace black Fabletics).  I don’t give a damn if you like my pants.  Crying, not even halfway.  Still cold in my chest.  There’s fella.  Stop to talk, tell him its not going well.  But must keep moving.  Will not get a DNF.   Knees.  Knees.  Do I need new shoes?  Maybe I shouldn’t have had that all that pizza.  And cookie dough.  It shouldn’t be THIS bad.  Mile 10.  I don’t even want to keep going.  Texting dad.  Positive words, trying to believe him.  Passed by friends.  Cheer them on.  Pass the marathon turnoff.  Find Katie.  Cry some more.  She runs me in.  Finally across the line.  Moon blanket. Medal.  Skip the food.  Where’s Chap?  Where’s a warmer blanket?  Hug. Tears.

That’s all my mind can recall at this point.  And feelings of major let down that lasted from mile 3 through the rest of that night.  I probably put too much pressure and hope on that single race.  I probably went out too fast.  I probably didn’t take those 3 weeks between Tulsa Run and Route 66 as seriously as I should have.  I probably did need new shoes.

Lessons learned:  I have a great supportive network.  From my mom and dad cheering me on in text messages.  To my friends who ran me in on the final stretch.  Friends on the course giving me kind words as they passed.  And a fella and sweet dog to distract me afterwords.

One bad race doesn’t mean your training went to shit.  I raced well shortly after this disaster.  Sedona went well on hills and at altitude.  I ran one of my fastest 5ks ever less than two months later.

One good race doesn’t mean the next will be good too.  Especially if you stop the work.

What a journey running and racing has been, and how much it has taught me about life.  I’m grateful for it, even through the times when I want to break up.  It happens to all runners – stay committed and some of your best days will follow!  ‘Til this year R66.

 

State 17: The Sedona Marathon Event (1/3)

This past weekend I jetted to the southwest to complete my 17th state!  Arizona was not a new state for me to visit as my dad’s parents have lived there for most of my life.  We’ve all been to Phoenix and Sedona several times.  Grandpa had been inviting me to run the Sedona half as my Arizona state for a few years but the timing was never right.  Until this year!

Uniquely, this run was scheduled for a Saturday morning (perhaps  due to Super Bowl Sunday?) so I made plans to fly in on Friday morning.  My parents jumped in on the fun and met me there.  I wasn’t expecting them to be there while I was doing most of my planning so I can tell you that there are shuttles at reasonable prices from the Phoenix airport to Sedona (which is what I’d planned to do), and back.

I left Tulsa Friday morning but not before swinging through Foolish Things to grab some chocolate for my hosts, a coffee for me and to start on my glycogen storing, I grabbed a delicious CinnaBomb.

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Making other travelers jealous

I don’t follow a specific pre-race eating routine, but I do try to eat a tad more “fast” carb treats than I normally would allow.  It works for me, and my taste buds.  This CinnaBomb was like a fluffy cake donut magically dipped in cinnamon and sugar.  It didn’t feel heavy at all and after staring at it in the pastry case for weeks at the cafe, it was wonderful to finally meet it.

The flight was delightfully direct and I was scooped up by my parents quickly after landing.  They spent the night before with college friends in Phoenix, reliving the glory days I’m sure.  The drive from Phoenix to Sedona is about two hours so we decided to stop for a bite to eat on the way.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity for some photos by the really large Sajuaro cacti all around us.  They’re ugly but majestic things.

I tried my best to stay awake in the car but backseat traveling, especially on winding roads after eating, has never been a strength of mine.  The landscape was amazing to look at while I was awake though!

The general plan for the rest of the day was to visit with Grandpa, hit the packet pickup and grab dinner at a pasta place.  We arrived in Sedona, visited for a bit and then made the trek to the packet pickup at Yavapai College.

Packet pickup was very small and straightforward.  Everyone was exceptionally friendly and Grandpa knew a few people at the info desk.  We stopped to strategize parking and shuttles, studying maps and clocks for a while before moving on to the Clif bar sample table.

It was Grandpa’s idea to drive the course.  I’m not sure if I appreciated seeing the hills ahead of time or not.  The course is out and back so half uphill and half downhill.  We hit some downhills initially and I just thought, “coming back up that at the end is gonna suck.”  Oh well, that was to be dealt with the next morning.

Here is a little snapshot of the elevation profile:

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Half up, half down

The course was breathtaking that’s for sure.  I was putting no pressure on this run and was just going to enjoy running in the middle of this incredible wild landscape.  So, the hills didn’t scare me too much.  A little challenge for a casual run.

Soon after, it was time for dinner!  My thoughtful Grandpa had already made reservations at a local italian restaurant, thinking I would want some pasta before the run.  It was a great decision.  I had wine, a fantastic caesar salad with mushrooms and kale, and a light veggie pasta dish.

The restaurant was Cucina Rustica.  My pasta noodles were made in house that day and what a difference!  Dinner was full of catching up on chicken business (my parents), studio updates (me) and travel plans (Grandpa and Martha).  It was great company and delicious food.

We headed home so I could catch some sleep before the run.  Luckily it was a later start – 9:10 so we wouldn’t have to get up unreasonably early.  All of our planning today landed us on a 6:30am departure from Grandpa’s house for coffee and to head to a shuttle stop.  After the Revel Rockies shuttle fiasco I was a little nervous but knew I would find the start either way.

Announcing State 17!

For a long time my dad’s dad has been inviting me to run my state race in his current hometown.  For one reason or another, I’d never been able to commit.  After about 3 mailings of newspaper clippings, registration info and more invites I am pleased to announce that state 17 will be:

ARIZONA!

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State 17!

Image from localfirstaz.com

The race is right around the corner: February 6!

Grandpa lives in Sedona and he has bragged on their local race to me since this dream was born.  In lieu of a Rock n’ Roll or other “chain” race in Phoenix, I opted for the scenic Sedona (Half) Marathon.  Just from browsing the website I can tell this will give my Revel Rockies race a run for the “most scenic race” crown.

Since I’m still focusing on 5k training I have no goals for this race except to finish, take beautiful pictures and enjoy the scenery.  I’d also like to enjoy our day trip to the Grand Canyon the day following the race, so it certainly will not be an all out effort day for me.

Where’s your next race?  Anything in Sedona or the Grand Canyon you recommend to do or eat?

Go Short, Go Long, Go Very Long

Publishing out of order for the sake of trying to get a new habit going!  Route 66 is coming, I promise!

As part of trying to get faster in general this year, I decided to focus on my most hated distance – the 5k.  I plan to check in on my progress every month by running one (either a local race or just the distance on my own) and tailoring my training to this particular distance.  I know I won’t be able to resist the pull of the half marathon but my training will not be geared towards a strong half marathon time.

I decided this almost immediately following the Route 66 race last November.  You’ll see why in a few days when that post pops up.  A large part too was that I needed shorter runs and training days to help me manage my time better, and to feel successful.

I started 5k training almost immediately after the half marathon.  Nothing like a disappointing performance to light a fire underneath your motivation, right?  So, it’s been about 7 or 8 weeks of focused training of one track, one tempo and one long run per week.  Plus some cross training and lots of yoga.  I’m very pleased with my first test of training!

Race Review

  • Price: Reasonable, purchased on sale during Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Course: Awesome.  West side of river trails.  If race grows too big, could be very crowded.
  • Organization: Not great.  We had that false start and awards seemed to take forever to get started in the cold.  Volunteers were awesome.
  • Post-Race: Awesome.  I wish I’d remembered to use my food and beverage tickets!
  • Would I run again? Yes.

I signed up for this race on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  Fleet Feet, the organizers, do a nice discount on one of those big sale days and I took full advantage signing up for this 5k and the Golden Driller half in April.  This particular race had four distances to choose from: 5k, 10k, 25k and 50k.  With my new goal in mind, I selected the 5k.

Packet pickup was a breeze.  I was in and out of the downtown location in less than 4 minutes.  I chose the earliest time on the Friday before the race to go.  It was a simple packet, as to be expected with such a small local race, and included our bib, shirt and four safety pins.

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Contents of the Packet

The morning of race day was pretty low key for me.  I got up, fed Miley, grabbed a banana and headed to Foolish Things for a cup of coffee before the race.  The later start time of 8:30 was awesome for these morning errands.

The start was at River West Festival Park, a recently renovated part of the trail system on the west side (obviously) of the river.  I showed up around 8:20, had no trouble parking and finished my coffee in the car.  The start line was just a quick warmup jog away.

Not much was around, a few tents and the vendors for after the run.  The start line was set up and we had a great view of downtown.  I’m imagine this park to be pretty stunning when all the wildlife isn’t in hibernation!  I’m way excited to get back on these trails in the spring.

I found my spot close to the front of the pack in the corral.  The entire 5k is run on the trail system on the west side.  We had a small glitch at the start where the race director did the countdown but we didn’t actually start when he said go.  This added some time to my app timer but wasn’t a huge upset since the chips didn’t activate yet. We got officially started about 5 minutes late and I got swept up in those front runners.

The 10k group was also running with us, but at our turn around at the pedestrian bridge on 21st street, they continued on.  This race was small and I could see the leaders almost the entire time.  I definitely had my sights set on April (I learned her name later), the lead female.  I felt my leg muscles starting to get the wave of fatigue before the half mile and knew I should back off.  So easy to get swept away in the energy.

The race flew by!  It’s been so long since I’ve run a 5k that it seemed really short!  It wasn’t very hilly and I enjoyed the out and back part of it.  Loved the energy of people running against me after the turn around and cheered as many on as I could in between breaths.

My pacing was decent throughout the race – I prefer negative splits but I feel like I gave it my all without tanking too early.  It’s always nice to feel strong through the entire distance, and also at the end like you might lose your banana and coffee.

I’ve never ever finished so well in a race.  It was a personal best but also, placed well in the field of runners.  Everyone at the finish was so polite and friendly and congratulatory. The first female came up and introduced herself to me, and we congratulated each other on great runs.  I was 90 seconds behind her.  I met a guy named Jim who hung around with me while we waited for age group awards.  He’s familiar with the local racing scene and told me April is one of the best in the state.  A couple other runners came up to talk too and it was nice meeting such friendly people – not sure if it was my breakout time or my flashy pants!

We stood around for what felt like forever waiting for these awards.  My fingers went numb and my brain was so cold I completely forgot about the free beverage and food tickets!  I missed out on some Old School Bagels, Marshalls Beer and a food truck.

I set my sights on 24 minutes today – that’s been the goal of training these past 7 weeks.  I’m surprised by my fast time today, but I’m also not.  I’ve been consistent with the training runs, eating well and consistent with strength training and yoga.  These are the results I should have.  Let’s see if success can fuel the flames as much as disappointment did in November!