Saturday, December 27, 2014

Race Report: Schaumburg Half Marathon 2014

When you last left Cheesy Runner Mom, she was hoping to capitalize upon her BQ Marathon fitness by updating her PR in the half marathon. However, she was also kinda sorta enjoying running for fun. Did Mr. Pete Pfitzinger and his "Road Racing For Serious Runners" training plan bring her back to PR glory? Read on for the details!

Training...Such As It Was

I decided to use the Pfitz Half Marathon Plan for runners who run more than 50 miles a week. My maximum weekly mileage this past marathon training cycle was north of 80, so I figured it was the best fit. (By the way, Pfitz released an update to this book as of November 24, 2014, called "Faster Road Racing." I applaud the much less pretentious title!) My first week on the plan was just five weeks out from the race, so I never reached the peak mileage of the plan. I decided to make sure to hit the long-run, medium-long-run, and workout mileage each week, and fit in the easy/recovery mileage as closely as I could, i.e., not stress.

Anyone who knows me, knows that not stressing about nailing a training plan is a personality transplant! But that basically sums up my attitude toward this race: To hopefully update my half PR to better reflect what Mr. McMillan's calculator thinks I can do based on my marathon race result. It would of course be great to surpass the calculator's predictions and continue to make fitness strides, but realistically, I didn't think there would be enough time.

I did do a few speedwork sessions, several sets of strides at the end of easy runs, and a couple of race pace runs. My speedwork paces let me know that I hadn't lost any speed since the marathon, which was good news. When I was able to hold my desired race pace for 9 miles, two weeks prior to race day, I knew I was as ready as I was going to be. I didn't do as drastic of a taper as Pfitz recommended in his plan, but I did cut back the week prior to the race.


Packet pickup was a breeze, at a local running store. Easy in, easy out. The swag was a half-zip fleece. I love half-zips, so this was much appreciated over the hooded (no-zip) fleece sweatshirt from last year's race, which is currently collecting dust in my closet.

See? Not too shabby. For me, it beats another t-shirt!
 When I first started stalking the weather for the race early in the week, the forecast showed rain. By race-eve, the forecast showed sunny skies, with temps around 35 at the start, warming up to around 40 by the end of the race. Talk about tricky race weather!  I become one with the "What to Wear" tool on the Runner's World website, downloaded an app called "What to Wear," and Googled "racing in 35 degrees." Eventually, with encouragement from these sources, I decided on my race outfit: a tank top, arm warmers and shorts, with two layers of throwaway shirts and throwaway sweatpants to wear until the start. Apparently my fashion inspiration was going to be Kara Goucher at the NYC Marathon. Except much, much slower.

I wasn't planning on compression socks, but my midriff was covered, so maybe it's a tradeoff? Image found here.
Were you cold just reading that last paragraph? Perhaps some background is in order. Since the weather has turned colder around here, I have been breaking out my winter wardrobe, and with the exception of one run when snow was falling, I have invariably been at least one layer overdressed by the end of the run. By that logic, the weather seemed to call for capris and a long sleeve tee.  Subtract one layer of warmth from the top and bottom, and add the fact that I was truly racing this event, and you arrive at my wardrobe choice. Plus, my legs find it more difficult to stride out in capris or tights -- I realize this is probably a mental hangup, but one I have yet to get over. I also knew that I could hide out in my car until the start if I played my cards right.

In case that's not obvious, that's kind of been my motto so far this winter!
This race is held in a forest preserve near Schaumburg, Illinois, and is point-to-point. Racers have two options: To park in the smallish parking lot near the start line, or park closer to the finish line and take a shuttle to the start line. I was able to score a spot at the start line for last year's race and it worked great, so I planned to do the same this year. I arrived at a little after 7 a.m. and was one of the first cars in the lot. I played on my iPhone while waiting, as well as amused myself by watching the school busses arrive and drop off freezing runners. I looked hopefully for anyone wearing shorts or throwaway sweatpants that I figured they would strip off. I saw a couple of crazy high school kids, but that was it. Surprisingly, I still remained calm and confident in my choice.

At about 8:40, I opened my car door to head to the start line for the 9:15 gun. A gust of wind hit me in the face. I shut the car door again, and dug around in my car for my gray hat. I shuffled to the start, looking like a homeless person in all my mismatched layers. I stood around for a while, removed one layer from the top and bottom and checked my bag in gear check. 

The obligatory start-line selfie.
In order to PR, I needed to beat an 8:12/mile average pace. The course is fairly flat, so I figured I would try to do even splits of about 8-minute miles for a nice personal best to end the season. I lined up just in back of the 8-minute pacers and stripped off the last of my throwaway clothes to reveal my tank and shorts. To my relief, a fair number of other folks near the front were stripping to shorts, too. No other tanks, though. A guy next to me said "Wow, you are brave!" as I stood with my teeth chattering. I laughed and said "It's supposed to warm up to almost 40!" To me, that is a rationalization for a tank. To him, it was further confirmation I was insane. He did shame me into putting my throwaway top layer back on until the gun went off.

The Race:

I took off with the 8:00/mile pace group. I was a tad ahead of them at first, and things were feeling easy, except for dodging the unexpected patches of ice and snow on the path -- yikes! As I suspected, I ditched my throwaway layer at mile .50 and never felt a need for it again. Shortly thereafter, I was reminded why I generally hate pace groups. I felt a thundering herd approaching as the 8:00/mile group began to pass me like I was standing still. I attempted to stick with them for a bit, until I looked down at my watch and realized we were running 7:35 pace. I decided (for the umpteenth time during a race) to run my own race, and let them disappear into the distance.

The course features two short out-and-back sections, and the first one occurs just before mile 4. Although I didn't have friends to look for like I did last year (I did look for my friend Michelle's husband, but I didn't see him), it made the time pass a little quicker to look for similarly dressed folks. I did see another girl in a tank, although she was a legit fastie and therefore way ahead of me. I almost felt sorry for some of the folks, imagining how they were sweating in their multiple layers. Perhaps they were cold-blooded?  Mile splits 1-4: 7:56, 7:57, 7:51, 7:52.

Just running along, all biggie...
I took my first gel at mile 5, and I could tell that I was starting to need it. Some readers may recall my issue with my Spibelt at the Chicago Marathon, where I lost three of my five gels. Immediately upon getting home, I ordered a Flipbelt, and I haven't looked back. It doesn't slip, and has held my phone and gels securely during my long runs. This was my first race using the Flipbelt, however. I'm happy to report that I had no fueling issues whatsoever. I lost a little time at mile 5 while I was gelling, but that is to be expected.

The rest of this section passed uneventfully, and I was pleased at how the miles were ticking along. I started to think that I could be pushing myself a little faster if I wanted to, but I reminded myself that I was right where I expected my fitness to be, and I didn't want to risk a blowup by pressing any more. If I kept this up, I would have a nice PR. Mile splits 5-8: 8:00, 7:58, 7:58, 7:48.

I was starting to get a little bored and my mind was beginning to wander, and my mile 9 split of 8:05 reflected it. I decided to pick the pace back up a little bit, and threw in a quick stride to jump-start my legs. It was around this time that I saw the 8:00 pace group reappearing over the horizon. It was much smaller than it had been, and featured only two of the four pacers I had originally seen at the start line. I wondered if the other folks in the group (including the other two pacers) had bonked due to the super-fast pace. Over the next mile, I reeled them in, ran with them for a bit, and then finally surged again and put them in my rearview mirror.

At mile 10, I took my second gel. Around mile 10.5, we weaved around a parking lot, and the footing entering and exiting the lot was extremely slippery. I slipped a couple of times, which definitely woke me up! Before mile 12, I ditched my gloves, which I had been storing in my sports bra in case I needed them. The reason was extremely shallow: I knew that the photographers were in full force as the finish line approached, and I didn't want to appear unevenly buxom. Mile splits 9-12: 8:05, 7:56, 7:56, 7:59.

Look at that! I'm so happy that my chestal area is even (and that I'm about to PR)!
After Mile 12, I decided to turn on the jets a little bit more. In retrospect, "turning on the jets" in this instance was still not at full sprint effort, and I was still a bit conservative. The pace felt comfortably hard, but I think that I may have pushed a bit harder if I was watchless and didn't know that I was well within PR parameters. Mile 13 split: 7:32.

My favorite part of the race came near the finisher's chute, when I saw my sweet friend Michelle and her equally-sweet daughters. She took this great shot of me, and I was so pumped to see her. After she took the photo, I gave her a huge high-five and punctuated it with a "Woo!"

Here comes my biggest beef with this race: Approaching the finish line, the race decides that its participants need to experience a cross-country atmosphere and takes them across a grassy field to the finish chute. I think this definitely slowed me and a lot of other runners down during our final finishing "sprints." Since I usually don't look at the elapsed time on my watch in the last mile, I was surprised to see 1:44:XX on the finish line clock. My PR was bigger than I had hoped for!

Finish Time: 1:44:01 (One pesky second...see why I'm a little peeved about the grassy finish? LOL!) - PR by 3 minutes, 26 seconds
Average Pace: 7:56/mile (my first time breaking the 8-minute barrier for a half!)
Overall Place: 208/1620
Gender Place: 51/887
Age Group Place (40-44): 5/142 (Alas, the field was fast, and the third-place woman was just under 5 minutes in front of me. Maybe I will place some other year!)

A happy post-race selfie!
Based on my marathon time, Mr. McMillan thought I was fit enough to hold a 7:55 average pace for the half-marathon. That personally sounded fast to me, which is why I decided to go with the average pace I hit during my 9-mile race-pace training run. Well, I guess Mr. McMillan has more faith in me than I do; I'm pretty sure that if the path had been clear of ice and snow and the finishing chute was paved, I would have hit or bested that pace. In fact, my Garmin said I averaged a 7:54 pace! So I'm going to call my race goal -- to get my half-marathon PR in line with my times at other distances -- a success. I probably could have gone a bit faster, but who is to say for sure? I will definitely take the result!

Now, for an offseason (currently in progress, since this recap is late), which will be all about maintaining a base of miles, and then (hopefully) onward and upward to new fitness goals in January. My spring marathon is the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon on May 17, and training starts January 12th! The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field is calling me!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This...Ahem..."Serious Runner" Gets Back on the Training Hamster Wheel

I took three weeks off of training post-Chicago-marathon. By "three weeks off," I don't mean "sit on my couch and watch Real Housewives." I always watch Real Housewives on the treadmill, anyway, and the Beverly Hills season doesn't start until mid-November! (I also have a running streak to uphold.) By "three weeks off," I mean, "easy runnin'." The apostrophe is required, in order to accurately describe the loping that was taking place. And most of it was on the treadmill.

For those of you who don't know my training routine, I usually have to be home by shortly after 7 A.M. on the weekdays, so my husband can head to work. Many a training run for Chicago was logged in pitch darkness, until the sun would make its first appearance about halfway through my run. My 'mill is also old, and the console display of speed and mileage is useless, making any quality workouts or speedwork difficult. However, if I go to my 'mill in the basement, I can run until 7:30ish until I have to wake the kids up for school. For a recovering marathoner who is all about sleep and who doesn't give a hoot about her pace, which one do you think she chose nine times out of 10?

Yep, this looked like me a lot of mornings.

So just picture me getting in some miles in my basement, setting the pace to whatever seemed like it wouldn't overly exert me, and stopping when I felt like it. I did run outside on the days my son was in preschool, and my pace was a bit faster, like it usually is outdoors, but I did not press the pace at all and stopped when I felt like it. On the weekends, I did venture outside for longer runs of about 10 miles. My goal was to maintain my base of mileage I had built up over the past year, nothing more or less. My brain got a luscious vacation from stressing about splits and weekly mileage totals. It was awesome.

Okay, there was one day where my ambition got the better of me. On Tuesday of my second week of easy runnin', I began to get antsy that my speed was leaving me (what speed I had in Chicago -- it's all relative, folks). I decided to order myself up some 3/4-mile repeats and see what would happen. My first interval was around my average race pace for the marathon. Oof. As the repeats went on, however, I got progressively faster, until I was approaching my 10-K pace at the last one. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but I reassured myself that I would still have a solid base in another week. Back to easy runnin', treadmills, and gloriousness.

But I signed myself up for the Schaumburg Half Marathon on November 29th, and the race wasn't going to run itself. Plus, as I established at Chicago when I PR'ed the half marathon split, my half PR is a little soft and ripe for improvement. I can never resist a good PR chase, so I just needed a plan to jump into that would get me there. Enter...

I agree, those guys look totally serious...

My man with the plan who got me my sweet BQ, Mr. Pete Pfitzinger. But seriously, Pfitz, you are *killing* me with the self-important book titles! First, I had to cringe when I talked about my training plan for my second marathon, since it was from a book called "Advanced Marathoning." Now I have to cringe about being a "serious runner." I can accept this mantle better than being an advanced marathoner, though, I guess!

This training cycle won't be a true test of this plan, since I will only be doing 4 weeks of it. But I'm a gal who needs structure to prevent overtraining (I'm an ISTJ, don't 'cha know). This book was published prior to "Advanced Marathoning," and Pfitz added a day-to-day training plan calendar for the latter book. "Road Racing for Serious Runners" just lists the key workouts for the week (long run, medium-long run and speedwork), and a weekly mileage total. It is up to you to fill the rest of the week with easy and/or recovery miles, breaking it up among as many or as few days as you like. This is similar to "Daniels Running Formula," which makes sense since Pfitz was influenced by Daniels. I kind of like this structure better, since I tended to stress out during marathon training if I moved a workout to a different day. This way of presenting it makes Pfitz seem a little more like a benevolent dictator rather than a tyrant. 

I jumped on the plan this past Sunday, with a long run of 13 miles. I actually made it 14 miles, since when I got back to my car, I was already at 13.5 due to miscalculation. My paces were on par with my long-run paces during taper, and both physically and emotionally, things felt ready to rock again. Since then, I've done my medium-long run for the week of 11 miles. I was able to do it outside, which I rarely had the chance to do during marathon training. One of the many benefits of morning preschool! I plan to do some mile repeats on Friday, and then a long run this coming Sunday of 16 miles. Then it is off to taper town, so to speak!

I'm approaching this training plan with a different attitude than my marathon training. Psychologically, I'm still on my BQ victory lap, and I feel like a PR (or lack thereof) at the half-marathon will neither enhance nor diminish my accomplishment. I'm also going to run at least two additional half-marathons before my next marathon, which will give me at least two more chances to PR. Plus, the weather for this race has a good chance of being sub-par, which could tank my PR chances anyway.  My mindset is a great one, to give myself a break from constant serious training, while still being able to run for fitness and chase a goal. However, I'm definitely lacking the "fire in the belly." For now, that is!

Image found here. If I don't get some fire, I could end up looking like this Buddha!

I will post more updates as my training unfolds and the race draws nearer!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Grinding My Way to Success: The ISTJ Marathon Runner

One of the members of my Chicago Running Posse, the fabulous Penny of 26.yikes, mentioned her Myers-Briggs Personality Type on Facebook today, and a discussion ensued. I took the test a long time ago, pre-running, when I wasn't bone-tired in the evenings and could stay up late taking long personality tests on the Internet.  I was pegged as an ISTJ, and I recall that the description I read was shocking in how much it resembled me.

I found this photo here. See, look at me, following the rules of blogging...
I have heard people say that the Myers-Briggs test is nothing more than the equivalent of an astrological sign (I'm a pretty typical Cancer too, in case you were wondering). But the facts don't lie, and there is a lot from the ISTJ personality type that applies to my running (I gleaned a lot of the following ISTJ personality traits from Wikipedia and this website):

The ISTJ has an extremely long attention span, and once he/she has a goal or task, will work tirelessly to fulfill it. In fact, this article states that schools cater to the 10% of the population who are ISTJs. We are the perfect rule-following worker bees. 

This summarizes my marathon training and racing philosophy in a nutshell: Put my head down and grind it out until I get it done. If I don't do it the first time, try again. And again. What I lack in natural talent, I attempt to make up for in sheer determination. 

ISTJ's believe that for the most part, established procedures are the best ones.  Um, hello, Mr. Pfitzinger. During this marathon training cycle, I hitched my train to his wagon and whatever he said, went. I am proud to say that I never missed or cut short any workouts for any reason, and I always met or exceeded the plan's weekly mileage totals. What? That isn't how everyone trains? Why not??? Read on...

Image found here.
If ISTJ's are not careful, they can become obsessed with rule-following and doing everything "by the book." Literally, since my plan was from a book.  At times, my preoccupation with mileage goals, training paces, and my McRun race-time predictor calculator threatened to overwhelm me. Luckily, I was able to recognize it and give myself a reality check. I was not curing cancer; I was trying to do well at a foot race. I will probably continue to struggle with this as long as I am chasing PRs, but admitting it is the first step. I think that my fueling mishap during the Chicago Marathon may go a long way toward loosening my anal-retentiveness, since now I know that success can happen even without perfect conditions!

ISTJ's prefer to be lone wolves, but will work well with others if needed. At my first 5K, I attempted to race with my friends. About a quarter-mile in, I realized they were no longer beside me. Even in training, I prefer to set my own pace and my own schedule. At some level, it is a necessity, due to my husband's and children's sometimes-crazy schedules. But even if I had all the time in the world to train, I would still prefer solitude. After races, however, I love social interaction!

When ISTJ's succeed, they usually see their accomplishments as simply the natural fulfillment of their hard work. I encountered this after each of my marathons; it took some time for what I had done to sink in, since part of me thought that since I worked so hard, success should be all but assured. After all the books, blogs and articles I have read which prove otherwise, I should know better!

Since ISTJ's often take their own efforts for granted, they have a tendency to take other people's efforts for granted, as well. I would like to think that I do a good job of encouraging others on their accomplishments (my children and husband, as well as other runners), but this is definitely not something to ever ever neglect!

Now Martha, that's a little harsh, don't you think?? Image found here.
Under stress, ISTJ's will focus incessantly on things they could have done differently, or tasks they did not complete to the best of their ability. Guilty. I had a few bad workouts and one sub-par race this training cycle, and they made me reevaluate my entire training plan and even my running hobby.  Again, some perspective is super-valuable, and I eventually got my mind back on track.

Overall, I dig being an ISTJ. It is too bad that despite a thorough Google search, I could not find "long-distance runner" as a suggested career or hobby for ISTJs. I guess they just figure that if ISTJ's work hard enough, they can make anything happen!

What Myers-Briggs Personality Type are you? Can you relate it to your running? How does it relate (if at all)?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2014 Race Recap -- So Wrong, Yet So Right

The 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon was a culmination of 18 weeks of hard work, dedication and attention to detail. I painstakingly figured out a prudent goal pace and time (as detailed in my previous post), and as the taper went on and I continued to hit my training paces for a 3:38 marathon, I grew more and more confident it was an achievable goal. I made lists upon lists, watched YouTube videos and visualized.

Almost none of that prepared me for my actual race experience, when I had to rely on my training and mental toughness, because that was all I had.  Well, I had a bit more than that, but I discovered that there is more than one way to run a marathon. Read on for the details!

Saturday, October 11: The Expo and the Hotel

I headed down to the city about 11:30, after making my Flat Runner on my bed and packing duplicates of almost every piece of clothing and gear I was bringing. Including shoes -- what if I needed to replace a broken shoelace? My suitcase looked like I was going for a long weekend, if not a week's vacation. When my husband (good-naturedly) tried to make fun of me, I informed him that I was not going to squander a summer's worth of training because something didn't work. I struggled down the stairs and I was on my way!

The same outfit I wore for the Chicago Athlete 20 Miler. I knew it would give me confidence on race day, so I immediately washed it and enshrined it in a corner of my closet!
As I entered the city limits and headed toward my hotel on Michigan Avenue, I saw the banners above the streets advertising the marathon. All of a sudden, it hit me that 45,000 people (roughly) had been training all over the world for the past few months with a common goal, and now we were all going to come together in less than 24 hours. Pretty darn cool.

These signs were everywhere.
I arrived at my hotel, checked my bags with the bellhop since my room wasn't ready, and made tracks to Niketown a couple of blocks north -- one of the Expo shuttle stops. I immediately realized the difference in my personality as I made my way down the Magnificent Mile -- serious, driven, focused, on a mission, not interested in any unnecessary human interaction. I am usually a tad more sociable and aware of my surroundings, so this took me aback a bit, but I also noticed that most of the runners I saw on Saturday weren't especially chatty. I chalked it up to "getting my game face on."

I hopped right on a shuttle (actually a school bus) and was at McCormick Place with no hassle, for which I was very grateful. The Expo was surprisingly not as crowded as I expected -- I had been warned to get there earlier in order to avoid the crush of humanity. I decided to get the business portion of the visit out of the way and hopped in the line for my bib. I was impressed that they checked my ID and bib ticket at one station, and then the worker at the next station called me by name. Nice touch, Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Then I crossed the Expo to get my t-shirt. The line for a small shirt was the first and only line I encountered all day, since I didn't wait in line for any of the photo ops. People were complaining about the shirt color and design, but I don't mind. I don't like wearing t-shirts when I run anyway (it's either tank tops with arm sleeves or long sleeves for me), so I knew this would be a running-errands shirt, and it looks pretty cool for that. Reasonable people may differ!

After my business was done, I checked out the Runners World booth (no Bart Yasso, boo) and Saucony booth (drooled over the new Guide 8s, but decided to wait for the reviews) on my way to the Nike apparel section. I snagged my official black marathon jacket that I had been coveting, even though it made my credit card weep. I wanted the blue tank top reeeallly bad, but they were out of my size. I wandered around a little bit more, took some selfies, and decided to be on my way.

Welcome to credit card debt, everybody!

What I was planning to dream about that night...
My room was ready when I got back to the hotel, and it was after 3:00 and I was ready to retire to my bedchamber. I had many lists and maps to review, after all. I had taken notes on important parts of the participant guide, and made note of the aid stations on the course where I planned to fuel. I reviewed the starting area map and course map, laid out my flat runner again on my hotel room's sofa, made some final changes to my race-day playlist, and tested my iPhone alarm and the hotel room's alarm clock. Then I decided to relax by catching up on some running blogs, but I painstakingly avoided the race reports that did not go well. I decided the Alabama/Arkansas game would be more relaxing. After calling my hubby and parents, I turned out the light and, considering my off-the-charts anal-retentiveness, was surprisingly sound asleep by 10 P.M.

Sunday, October 12: Race Morning -- To the Start Line!

I woke up with my alarm at 4:10 A.M. (praise Jesus). I wandered aimlessly around the room for a bit and then settled in for a while on the toilet. TMI alert, but some people may find this tactic useful: I pulled up some YouTube videos of the Chicago Marathon course and pre-race area on my phone, in order to stimulate my race-day nerves and get things moving, as it were. Worked like a charm!

I got dressed and packed, and was downstairs giving my bags to the bellhop by 6 A.M.  The lobby was already hopping, and I could see runners making their way down the Magnificent Mile in front of the hotel. I joined the crowd moving south on the street. I was wearing two throwaway hoodies and a pair of throwaway sweatpants, and my teeth were still chattering. You might say it was cold! No one was talking much, which was great, because my "game face mood" seemed to be still intact from yesterday.

We made it to the race entry gates in Grant Park, and I got wanded by security. I wasn't checking a bag, so the process was pretty pain-free. I wandered around the area outside the corrals, shivering, and finally decided to get in my Corral D around 7 A.M. I attempted to line up toward the front, since my planned pace was actually more in line with Corral C'ers. As more people joined the corral, however, they lined up in front of me, so by the time the corrals closed, I was more like 1/4 of the way back. I knew I had to throw off some clothing (okay, a lot), so I lined up on the far left side. In front of me was a girl with cute penguin pajamas that I knew my daughter would love. Almost no one was talking, and there was lots of dynamic stretching going on. 

I wondered when people would start throwing off their clothing. After the National Anthem, I got my answer, as Ms. Penguin Pajamas and everyone else began throwing their clothing over the chain-link fences. A few people got clocked in the head! The elites took off at 7:30 and we began to slowly shuffle forward, but the participant guide (and my notes thereon) had said that Corral D would take off around 7:45. Imagine my surprise when just a few minutes later, people around me were beginning to run and I could see the start line looming in my face. I hurriedly started my Garmin and my playlist, and stuffed my phone in my Spibelt as I began to jog. For the first time in history, my Garmin wasn't catching a satellite within a few seconds. I ended up having to slow to a walk for a few steps before I reached the start line in order to allow time for it to sync. I hit start on my Garmin and I was on my way! You might want to revise those start times in the Participant Guide for next year, Mr. Pinkowski!  

The Race

I ran up Columbus Drive, just like I had seen in all those YouTube videos and photos, and it was as epic as I had imagined it would be. My chosen opening playlist song, "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors, was playing in my ears, and it sure looked like it would be one of the best. My second song, "Girl On Fire," made me feel like I was, indeed, on fire. Then the third song came on: "Play Hard," by David Guetta. A great running song, to be sure, but one that wasn't supposed to come on until later. A sinking feeling came over me: My painstakingly crafted playlist was on shuffle. Seriously? Oh well, I decided -- I had omitted a lot of the mid-tempo filler from my marathon playlist, so I knew there wouldn't be a large impact on my pace.

My Garmin was being indecisive about my pace with the tunnels and tall buildings in the Loop, but I had expected as much. I had printed out a 3:38 paceband (8:19/mile pace) from Marathon Guide that I hoped would keep me on track when my Garmin got whiny. It was a bit nerve-wracking waiting for the mile markers, however! I was also a tad worried that my pace didn't feel as easy-breezy as I expected after three weeks of taper.

Split for the first 5K: 8:03/mile. Oh. That was why it didn't feel easy.

After Mile 4, we headed north and entered Lincoln Park. I was looking forward to this part of the course, and also to my first gel at mile 5. My time-tested fueling plan was a Gu Roctane Chocolate Raspberry Gel ten minutes prior to the start, and then every five miles thereafter until Mile 20. I had four gels in my Spibelt's gel loops plus one in the main pocket for emergencies, as I had practiced in my first marathon and every one of my five 20-mile-plus long runs in training.

My headphones were starting to cut in and out, so I fiddled with the headphone jack on my iPhone and fixed it. Then I reached my hands around to adjust the belt to make it tighter around my hips, since my phone was lower than usual and that is what was causing the headphone issues. As soon as my hands touched the belt, I heard a "plop plop" sound as the gels on the right side of my belt hit the ground. I knew I couldn't turn around for them without getting trampled.  They were gone. I touched the left side of my belt and felt only one gel there -- the other one must have fallen earlier.

How it looks as a person moves to Plan B...
I kept the above look on my face for most of the next mile. My brain was whirring, wondering how I was going to make two gels last a marathon. For a split second, my brain flashed forward to an epic bonk at mile 23 (or sooner) and all my training going to waste. Even in my panicked state, I knew there wasn't any time for those thoughts. I needed a Plan B, and fast.

I knew there was at least one PowerGel station on the course. I had no idea where it was since I wasn't planning to need it, but I knew it was in the second half of the course. During the next two miles, I crafted my new fueling plan. I would drink Gatorade at every aid station until mile 10, skipping my first gel and hoping that the Gatorade would provide enough electrolytes. I had come to rely on the caffeine coming from the Gu Roctane, but I would have to live without that and rely on race-day adrenaline. At Mile 10, I would take my first gel (which I had safely moved into the main pocket of my Spibelt in case it decided to follow its brethren and fall off). Then I would grab as many gels as possible at the PowerGel station(s), taking at least one of them between Miles 10-20, and then take the last Gu Roctane at Mile 20. I had never gone so long between gels in training, and I had never used Gatorade in training or PowerGels in my life, but I was going to make it work. I had to.

Miraculously, my pace was staying pretty awesome during all of this, if not a tad fast. I had locked in and it was feeling easy. 10K split: 8:05/mile.

We headed into Lakeview and made the turn to head south, going back through Lincoln Park. I chugged water and Gatorade at each aid station like it was my job, making sure to thank every volunteer. And I did feel like it was my job from here on out. There was plenty of room to run, even through the aid stations. I only knocked elbows a handful of times during the race. This environment made my brain feel like I was doing a supported time trial through closed streets where other people also happened to be running. My head kept looking around, but I wasn't really seeing or comprehending anything. I couldn't tell you what any of the people running around me looked like; they were merely obstacles to steer clear of and/or pass. I was reading the funny signs and seeing the entertainment, but I wasn't connecting with it or reacting to it. Without making a conscious choice to do so, I had put my head down and was hard at work.

15K split: 8:08/mile.

At this point as we made our way back into the River North area, I took my first Gu Roctane gel at Mile 10. I decided to let my foot off the gas a bit and try to get a bit closer to 8:19/mile to conserve energy. It made me a bit nervous to see slower splits, but I knew it would be a good thing overall. 20K split: 8:20/mile.

As we made our way back into the Loop, I saw volunteers handing out Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Chews. My first instinct was to run past them, since I have always avoided chews/chomps like the plague due to their texture. Just as I was about to pass them, my brain woke up and screamed "You have no fuel with you! Don't be a %^&*(* idiot!" I grabbed a package and carried them in my clenched fist in case they decided to make a leap to the ground.

My Garmin started to freak out in this portion of the Loop in a more intense way than it did the first time through. According to my watch, I was alternately going way too fast or way too slow for my pace. My feet erred on the faster side. Mile 13.1 split: 8:09/mile.

My half-marathon split was 1:46:45, which was a PR. A common rule of thumb among runners is that you are in trouble if you PR the half during a marathon. I didn't let it freak me out, however, since my half marathon PR of 1:47:27 was set at the beginning of August, and I suspected it was a little soft. According to my McRun app, a 3:38 marathoner is supposed to be able to run a 1:43 half. Stay the course, stay the course, I repeated to myself.

As we made our way west on Adams Street, I began to concentrate again on keeping my pace more toward 8:19/mile. All the recaps I read told me that the West Side portion of the course is the most desolate and demoralizing. They weren't lying. I decided to eat my Gatorade Chews over the next few miles, and they were surprisingly good.

25K split: 8:22/mile

On Taylor Street after Mile 17, I finally saw the PowerGel station and snagged myself a chocolate one with caffeine. Score! I also took gels from the next two volunteers and stuffed them in my Spibelt. To my disappointment, they were uncaffeinated vanilla, but carbs were carbs and beggars can't be choosers. For the first time since mile 4, I felt like I had adequate fuel, and man, it was a great feeling. 

30K split: 8:22/mile. I'm Miss Consistency all of a sudden. I was wishing my consistency was a tad faster, but I knew I had time in the bank and I wasn't giving up much ground.

Around mile 19, we entered Pilsen, which was the most electrifying part of the course for me. The spectators had an energy that was unsurpassed in any of the other neighborhoods. I was hoping my feet would respond, but unfortunately, they were getting the heavy, fatigued feeling I remembered from the Wisconsin Marathon. I was happy that I was feeling this sensation a little bit later than I did then, and I had been expecting it to happen earlier due to my fueling. These were good facts. My goal became to mitigate the damage until hopefully I sped up again near the end of the race. Focus on effort, not pace, I told myself. What if this is the epic bonk?, a small voice asked. Don't let it be the epic bonk. Relentless forward progress.

My (a little scary, I must admit) second-half game face.
I don't remember much of Chinatown at mile 21. And it doesn't remember me, since there are no photos of me there. I was looking forward to seeing the dragon. Maybe next year?

35K split: 8:36/mile. 
My playlist had been focusing on kids' songs during this stretch: "Axel F" by Crazy Frog, "The Hampster Dance," "Everything is Awesome." After Chinatown, it played "When Can I See You Again" by Owl City. I had set up this song to play right before the finish line, like it did at my first marathon and during my Sunset Half Marathon this summer. At those times, it provided me with an extra boost. It wasn't having the same effect this day. We were heading south, away from the city, and I just wanted to be done.

At last, Enimem's "Lose Yourself" began to play, with it's super-motivating lyrics. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime. We made the turn north on Michigan Avenue and I could finally feel like the end was in sight.

The photographers took my photo while standing on a bridge. I decided I had better smile in case this race turned out well, which it looked like it was going to.

Fake that smile until you make it!
40K split: 8:41/mile, but I was getting faster.

My splits were finally back around 8:30 and I knew I had staved off the bonk. My pace band told me I was still on track for a 3:38 finish, but even though the numbers were staring me in the face, I didn't allow myself to believe them.  I saw the signs "800 meters to go" and "400 meters to go," and I was surprised. That didn't seem so far. Could I really be almost done?

We made the right turn to go up "Mount Roosevelt." It definitely felt like a hill, but I powered up it, knowing the finish line was directly beyond. I made the turn onto Columbus, and soon I could see the finish and the clock reading 3:46. I didn't know how many minutes I started after 7:30, but I knew it was more than one. I was going to Boston. I was going to freaking Boston.

Finish split: 8:26/mile.

Final time: 3:38:09 (a BQ by 6 minutes, 51 seconds). 
Average pace for 26.2 miles: 8:19/mile (exactly my goal). 
Average pace for 26.53 miles (which is what I ran -- stupid tangents): 8:13/mile.
Overall Place:  6,375/40,802
Gender Place: 1,386/18,390
Age Group Place (40-44): 144/2,636

My first half split was 1:46:45, and my second half split was 1:51:24. A positive split to be sure, but many many marathoners have seen much worse, even with their correct fuel! I'll take it.


As I slowly walked through the finishing area, I turned my phone off of airplane mode and opened the Chicago Marathon app to double-check my finish time. I also immediately received a text from my husband, who had seen me cross on TV. I was a bundle of emotions as I texted something about setting aside money for a trip to Boston, and how the race was one of the hardest things I had ever done. "I hope our children have learned about setting goals and achieving them," I texted.  Pretty heavy stuff for right after a marathon, so immediately after that I reverted back to "Woo hoo!" and "Booyah!"

I next received e-mails from my parents and my new local running friend, who were both super-happy about my BQ. I put my phone away at that point to receive my heat sheet, drink a bottle of water and pose for some super-happy photos.

Yep, I was happy.
Standing like Superman, if Superman ran a marathon and got a BQ and a medal.
Since I had met my race goal, I now had a new goal: To make it to Runner Reunite Area Q, where I was to meet my Chicago running posse. While I waited, I posted to Facebook and texted with my posse as they made their way to me. I was ecstatic to see them and chat about our races. Wendy and Karen both set PR's, and Penny had a tougher day but was still able to smile. We had talked in the days prior to the race about how awesome our party at the finish line was going to be, and it was just as sweet as I imagined.

From left: Penny, Wendy, Me, Karen

Lessons Learned

I am still a little bit freaked out that I exactly reached my "if everything goes according to plan" goal, when everything obviously didn't. I think my "Fueling Plan B" must have worked, against all odds. I did slow down in the later miles, but I kept a mostly positive attitude, never stopped to walk once on the course, and was able to speed up at the end. I told my friends post-race that I went out too fast, and perhaps I did a little bit, but after looking at my splits, I'm kind of glad that I banked some time (but not too much time) for the inevitable slowing in the second half. I will have to contemplate this further.

My huge takeaway: I don't think I have reached my potential in the marathon. I have already decided that my spring marathon will be the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon in May. Watch out, Lambeau Field -- I will have more Big Hairy Audacious Goals for you!

Oh, and I ordered a Flipbelt. No more Spibelt for me, as I think it would cause me PTSD at my next race!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Adventures In Goal-Setting -- Chicago Marathon 2014

Welcome to my real blog! As opposed to my Facebook page, which is like my "kinda-blog." Since I really like the ease of Facebook, I will probably only post race recaps on this blog, but the blog format allows Google to index the recaps and perhaps allow them to turn up in searches. It is my hope that my recaps (and other in-depth stuff like this entry) will someday help someone who is planning to run a marathon or other race that I have done! I know I have benefitted a ton from blogs, and it is time to pay it forward!

To start the saga of this training cycle just completed, let's take a trip in the wayback machine to April 2014 – Boston Marathon Monday. I was tapering for my first marathon (the Wisconsin Marathon on May 3rd), and I confessed on my Facebook page that when the bombings occurred at the Boston Marathon in 2013, I had only been running on my basement treadmill for a few months  and didn't know what a "BQ" was. Some other things I didn't confess: I didn't know that Boston had qualifying times, or that it was considered the "amateur runner's Olympics." I also didn't know if 4:09:43 (the time on the finish-line clock when the bombs went off) was a good or bad marathon time. You might say I was pretty clueless. 

I also made the bold proclamation that I had "no real desire to BQ." [Cue the foreshadowing music…]

I ran the Wisconsin Marathon pretty darn near my goal time, in 4:02:57. I had already registered for the Chicago Marathon through their lottery, so after recovering for a few weeks, I hopped back on a training plan for my second marathon.  The goal for Chicago: Sub-4. With a previous time of 4:02, this was the no-brainer of the century. The ladies of Another Mother Runner had expertly led me through my first marathon with their "Train Like a Mother: Marathon Own It" plan. My maximum weekly mileage during that cycle was 50 miles. I was feeling like I wanted to raise my game a bit more for the Chicago training cycle. Big marathons call for big mileage, I reasoned, and I was feeling up to an increased challenge.  I spent some time on some running message boards, polled my running  friends, and reviewed quite a few books at the library before I decided who was going to lead me to Chicago glory: Pete Pfitzinger and his book, "Advanced Marathoning."

Immediately, I felt like a poser with the title, but the book actually has both lower- and higher-mileage plans. I gravitated toward the 18/70 plan (18 weeks, a maximum of 70 miles/week), but felt that my inexperience would better call for the 18/55 plan. I decided to mix-and-match, swapping some of the higher-mileage weekday runs in the 18/70 plan for those in the 18/55 plan to end up with around an 18/62 plan.  
My training officially started on Monday, June 9th, right after Ragnar Chicago. One of the first things I did was install the McRun app on my iPhone. It is Greg McMillan's training pace calculator and race-time predictor that you can get for free on the Internet, but since I am on my phone way more than my laptop these days, I thought it was worth it.  Best $4.99 I have ever spent, especially with all the use I got out of it…but I'm getting ahead of myself!

The first goal marathon pace I put into the app was 3:55 – I figured that was the best place to start if I was targeting a sub-4, to account for problems running the tangents on the course, etc. I had also run a 49:37 at a local 10-K on June 1st, which McRun said should net me a 3:52 marathon. My half-marathon PR didn't agree that I could run a 3:52, however. I hoped that my next half would get with the program and fall in line; until then, 3:55 it was.

Training went great through June and into July.  My first goal revision occurred when I set a 10-K Garmin PR on July 7th of 48:50, during a tempo run. I decided it was time to move the chains (sorry-not-sorry for the football reference in a running blog!), and I adjusted my training paces for a 3:49 goal.

On July 19th, I ran a 1:48:38 at the Alexian Brothers Fitness for America Sunset Half Marathon. What do you know – perfectly on target for a 3:49 marathon! It felt good to get some validation that these pace goals weren't crazy. I resumed training with renewed vigor. Then, I somehow pulled out a 1:47:27 at the ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon on August 2nd. Now we were looking at a 3:46 pace goal. Then on August 9th, I ran a 22:39 5K. The course was short, so I used my Garmin's average pace of 7:24 to set what McRun thought my marathon time could be. McRun said it was 3:44. 

Alexian Brothers Fitness For America Sunset Half Marathon: I didn't beat all the East Africans who were strangely there, but I did get third in my age group!
Zooma Half Marathon. I got first in my age group at this one...quite the attractive coffee mug, eh?
At this point, I had to stop to take stock. My Boston qualifying standard was 3:45. But did I really care if I ran Boston? I decided that no, I did not have a deep burning desire to run the marathon itself.  But I DID have a deep burning desire to get the best out of myself that I could.  My new goal: To "squeak into Boston," running just under a 3:45. I would probably not be able to run the marathon, since they haven't let in all the qualifiers in the past few years, but at least I could say that I qualified and I could have that pride in my heart. My training paces were now set for a 3:43 marathon (again, allowing for those pesky tangents).

I did not breathe a word about this new goal to anyone, not even my closest running friends. The fact that I was so quiet has nothing to do with them – they could not be kinder or more supportive people. I knew they would tell me to "go girl," but I was afraid of what they might be thinking inside – that I was punching above my weight class (are boxing references better than football ones??), and a more conservative goal might be better in order to prevent a crash-and-burn during the race, not to mention staving off injury during training. Those were the fears that I had, and I was projecting them onto the brains of my friends. Not recommended behavior at all!

It was also in mid-August that I took stock of my training plan.  I had developed a bit of a running streak and had not been taking full rest days, substituting a few recovery-paced miles instead. I realized that due to the lack of a rest day, my weekly mileage was more equivalent to the 18/85 plan in the "Advanced Marathoning" book. After comparing the 18/70 and 18/85 plans, I realized they were very similar in long run distance and weekday mileage – the only real differences were the lack of a rest day and a few miles here and there.  Why not jump to a plan that better reflected the training I was already doing? I knew I was not qualified to make up a prudent training plan, and that seemed to be exactly what I was doing. Stop the insanity, and let Pfitzinger show me the way!

As I was photocopying and annotating the new plan, I knew that I was in completely uncharted waters. And again, I felt like I couldn't share it with anyone, for fear they would tell me I was making the wrong choice.  If my decisions led to success, I would eventually share them, I decided (which is…spoiler alert!…what I'm doing now). But at the time, I was feeling very lonely!  I tentatively reached out to a local runner who I knew was a veteran of Boston-qualifying and fast race times – our children go to the same school and we have many mutual friends. Trying hard not to come off like a fangirl, I gave her my running resume and asked her whether she thought a BQ was a faint possibility for me. To my relief, she couldn't have been more supportive, and gave me lots of training, gear and fueling tips that I soaked up like a sponge!

(My new-found running friend also filled my ears with tales of the wonders of the Boston Marathon, which finally made me admit to myself that running it would be pretty darn cool...)

My training cycle did not completely go from strength to strength. I ran a disappointing 10-K in humid weather on August 31st, barely PR'ing. I also had a couple of speed workouts where my times were not what I was looking for. I was very glad I hadn't shared my marathon goals with the world at that point, as I was afraid of the backlash that would have resulted. In my heart, I sincerely hoped that these events were an anomaly due to the weather, but I couldn't be 100% sure. 

I signed up for a "redemption" 10-K two weeks after the disappointing one, at Chase the Bear in Glenview. My time of 46:32 smashed my previous PR by over three minutes. I knew that a real breakthrough had taken place, and my new McRun-predicted marathon time was 3:38. I couldn't have been happier with how things were coming together, but I also knew that 10Ks were not as iron-clad predictors of marathon fitness as half-marathons. I didn't want to race another half marathon, but I did have my last 20-miler coming up on September 20th. My fast-running local friend advised me to run this last long run before taper at race pace, and that would solidify my confidence. Or bring me back down to Earth, I said to myself!

As it turned out, my confidence was solidified. I did 22 miles at the Chicago Athlete 20-Miler in a time of 3:03, at an 8:19 average pace. Even allowing for some slowing in the later miles, it seemed like a solid, non-squeaker, 3:38 BQ was at last a real possibility. All I had to do was execute.

My head was spinning, and my lips remained completely sealed on the Internet. The reason for my silence now was that no one on Facebook seemed to be floating the possibility of a BQ-caliber marathon time to me. I was posting photos of my Garmin, so people had an idea of my paces. I received lots of positive comments, but no one suggested that those paces would translate into the marathon performance I was shooting for. I continued to simultaneously (a) feel like a poser, and (b) feel determined to show everyone that my balls-to-the-wall, shoot-for-the-fences training choices were not a recipe for injury and burnout, but in fact the ticket to my success. As the race drew nearer, people did start to mention it, which meant the world to me, but like I said before, I was projecting my own fears into the minds of my Internet followers.  Confidence has to come from within, and I clearly did not have it!

Did I execute my race plan and obtain my BQ time? The answer is no, and yes! Stay tuned for my next post!