Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get Lucky Chicago 2015: The One Where I Continue To (Slowly) Chip Away At My PR

March 14, 2015 was a great day for running in Chicagoland. And run I did, at the Get Lucky Half Marathon! Read on for all the details!

Goals For the Race

I signed up for this race when I was reviewing my training plan for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, since it fell on one of the weekends when I was scheduled to do a 12-mile race pace run. During my buildup to the Chicago marathon, I subbed out half-marathons for these pretty frequently, and it ended up working out well. The way I look at it, I have about a 1000% greater chance of hitting my marathon race pace in a race environment than on a neighborhood road by myself. 

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to run a half-marathon in this fashion, and I am going to attempt to actually hold back and run the race as a training run. For the Get Lucky and for some other races in the past, however, I have used my marathon race pace as a base not to fall below, and have treated it like a glorified tempo run with a medal at the end. My philosophy: If the race is a success, perhaps my eventual marathon race pace will be faster!

Bling for a workout? Yes, please! Image found here.
As race day grew nearer, I knew that I was making progress in my training, but this progress was unlikely to result in a substantial PR from my indoor half marathon in January -- especially considering the fact that January's race was, you know, in a perfectly 50-degree environment devoid of any wind or precipitation. Because I figured that January's PR may have been inflated above my fitness as it existed at that time, I vowed not to beat myself up if a PR didn't result, and be happy if I was in the ballpark of that number.

Pre-Race Shananigans 

Races are always more fun with friends, especially when one does not relish city driving. After I signed up for the race, one of my best running friends, Wendy of Taking the Long Way Home, decided to sign up as well. As a bonus, she also offered to drive the two of us to the race! We carpooled to a race together last summer and it was tons of fun, so I jumped at the chance for another road trip with her.

There was a wee bit of uncertainty in the weeks prior to the race, since we found out through the grapevine (and later by e-mail) that the race start was being moved from Jackson Park (on the south side of the city near Hyde Park) to Soldier Field. I had pre-paid for a parking space near the old start line, so that was a bit of a bummer, but luckily the race allowed us to pre-pay for spot in the Soldier Field garage, as well. One of my least favorite aspects of races is parking-spot jockeying, and the ability to reserve would allow us to sleep in a tiny bit later!

Even with the reserved parking, I was at Wendy's house at 6:30 for the drive down to the race. I was fairly confident in my decision to wear a tank and shorts for the race, but staying warm prior to the race was a potential challenge. Just in case, I brought my Yellow Tote Bag of Warm Weather Accessories (stored in my car at all times for last-minute layering), and wore some throwaway sweatpants and a zip-up jacket.

The tank top was neon green, you'll just have to take my word for it!
The drive into the city was full of fun and laughter, as I expected, and we sailed into an awesome parking spot with plenty of time to spare. We were reluctant to step out of the warm car, but we eventually did in order to make a port-a-potty stop. The port-a-potties were plentiful, which was a huge relief, as I usually need the services of one at least twice prior to a race! We scurried back to our car for a few more minutes (seriously, it was chilly), but then decided to bite the bullet and look for our friend Karen in the warming tents. At the last minute, I decided to wear my arm warmers for the race start, planning to roll them down if necessary.

What a smart cookie she is; we found Karen and her friends right next to a wonderfully toasty space heater! It was great to chat with her, as well as meet some of her friends who are also running the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon!

Karen, Wendy, and myself (still too chicken to shed my throwaway clothes)
I usually start to retreat into myself to get my "game face" on as race time draws near, but Wendy provided some comic relief by photobombing some complete strangers, accompanying me to the port-a-potty (again)  and keeping the atmosphere light. Before I knew it, it was (past) time to line up. Both Wendy and I used our stealth sneaking skillz to weave toward the front of the crowd.  I staked out a spot between the 1:40 and 1:45 pace groups, knowing that I would probably stick with neither.

The Race!

Start line pic, my arm warmers still intact. Dang, my legs are kinda muscle-y! Swiped from the Get Lucky Facebook Page.
To my surprise, I hung on to the back of the 1:40 pace group for the first mile, even while repeatedly checking my watch to make sure I wasn't going out too fast. I don't know if the pace leaders were just warming up or what, because all of sudden they took off like bats out of Hell, and I had to put the dream of a 1:40 finish to rest. My first mile split was 7:47 -- a tad faster than my pace band mandated, but I patted myself on the back for hitting my pace and then keeping it under control. This race could end up all right, after all!

The Lakefront Path on race day, swiped from the Get Lucky Facebook Page. It could be a lot worse!
We were running with a tailwind on the trip south of the city, and I ended up ditching my arm warmers at the Mile 1 marker. Wendy told me she saw them on the side of the road and chuckled to herself! I put it in autopilot as the miles rolled on, continually monitoring my effort level. I found myself in a pack of folks, and I figured that as long as I stuck with them, I would make it to the finish line in PR fashion.  I was trying to make my own pace group, in other words. I glued myself to a tall, buff-looking guy in an Ironman tank and we began to leapfrog each other.

The pace group worked great for the first few miles, and my splits were in the 7:40s. At around Mile 5, a girl and her friend/boyfriend pulled into our pack. Ironman Guy was beginning to slow down, so I hitched myself to their wagon. Unfortunately, they were going exactly my pace, which made it a bit awkward when trying to navigate the path, since the fasties were now coming back the other direction. We were passing Hyde Park, and as has become tradition, I gave the peace-sign to my old apartment building where I lived during Law School.

I passed Just My Pace Girl as the turnaround approached. I think I might have made her a little upset. Shortly thereafter, the girl reminded me why I generally hate pace groups, as she took off like she strapped a rocket to her back.  I knew I couldn't hang with her, and I was left muttering forlornly (in my head): "I thought we had an agreement..." 

Worryingly, (No Longer) Just My Pace Girl was not the only one leaving me behind, as I was now heading into the wind and my pace was slowing. Mile 7 was my slowest of the race at 8:02. I pulled it together for a 7:50 Mile 8, only to be hit with the double-whammy of 8:01 and 8:00 for Miles 9 and 10. My PR cushion was melting away with every mile.

Even though I had vowed not to stress about hitting a PR, I was very upset to see it slipping from my grasp. It is one thing to start the race and have a sense that this isn't your day; it is another thing to be on PR pace for over half the race and not end up with one. I knew there was only so much I could do as my legs could only move so fast, but as Soldier Field started getting closer and I could smell the finish line, I resolved to dig as deep as I could. My Mile 12 split was finally back on pace, but would it be enough? I managed a 7:38/mile "sprint" for the final .18.

The clock at the finish line was reassuring, but I quickly pulled out my phone to check the online results. A nine-second PR.  I was happy, of course, but a tad disappointed that I hadn't pulled off something more magical.

Final Time: 1:43:27 (9-second PR) (7:54 average pace)
Age Group Place (40-49): 9/124 (Man, this age group is rough!)
Gender Place: 36/474
Overall Place: 111/771 

Post-race selfie with my pretty bling!
Post-Race Revelry

I headed to the warming tent to see if I could find my throwaway pants that I had stashed under a table. Happily, they were still there, as I was cooling off rapidly! It wasn't long before I got a text from Wendy, who had scored a massive PR, as well as second in her age group! There was much celebrating and photo-taking.

After confirming that there wasn't an award ceremony, we high-tailed it to the car before frostbite set in. Okay, that is a bit of hyperbole, but it was still quite chilly! The ride home was full of happy chatter at how well-run the race had been (both by the organizers and the two of us)!

What Does It All Mean?

Now that I have had the benefit of a few weeks to process the result, I am more than satisfied with my time. If I had run my January race in an outdoor environment (and had the most-likely-slower time to show for it), my PR would likely have been bigger. I did as well as I could have hoped, given my level of fitness on March 14. Does that mean I am satisfied? Heck, no!  My next race is the Chi-Town Half Marathon on April 4th, and I hope to chip away further at this time.  Stay tuned.  Onward and upward!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Mom On the Run Becomes a Leader of the Pack

I have some great news to report: I have been selected as a "Leader of the Pack" for my spring marathon, the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon! What that means is that I will be sharing my running, training and racing journey with all of the marathon's social media followers from now until race day. I will be utilizing my blog, my Facebook page, and my Instagram (find me there as Cheesyphoto) to keep you updated and inspired as I head toward the start line of my third 26.2.

But first, I feel like I should introduce myself to any new followers -- and you tried-and-true followers will probably find some surprises in this post, as well! Let's take a trip in the wayback machine, back to my childhood in southeastern Wisconsin, where rooting for the Green Bay Packers was as common as breathing. Settle in while I summarize my athletic accomplishments prior to 2013:

You might say that I was a bookish girl who couldn't decide whether she wanted to be a hardcore band geek or a drama-club geek, so she dabbled in both. But athletics were not part of the equation. At all. Marching with the band in a parade was the extent of my physical movement in high school, unless you count working out to "Hooked on Aerobics" on PBS in the comfort of my bedroom (which I don't).

Watching out for measure splits, not mile splits.
In college, I majored in journalism and minored in late-night pizza runs, so there was no athletic activity there, either, although I did hit the StairMaster or the occasional aerobics class just for weight-loss purposes. It was the same story in law school, as well as in my mid-20s career-building phase; I would hit the gym for brief periods if my clothes started to get a little tight or I wanted to look good in my wedding dress. But a fitness lifestyle? Fuhgeddaboudit.

My early 30's were a blur of pregnancy and motherhood in the Chicago suburbs, working a full-time job and trying to remain upright due to sleep deprivation. There was also a period of depression and anxiety while I was pregnant with my second child. I should have been running during this period, but I wasn't.

I did make a pilgrimage with my Dad to Lambeau Field in 2007, in honor of Brett Favre's final season as a Packer. I look forward to my return trip for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon!
Fast-forward to May 2012. I had gained weight with my third pregnancy in 2009, as one does, but I had added on substantially to that poundage total following my son's birth. I was now a stay-at-home mom and I was doing the supermom thing extremely well, but my physical health was taking a back seat and I did not feel comfortable with my body. After seeing pictures of myself with my children on Mother's Day, I decided to step on a scale for the first time in years. I weighed 197 pounds on my 5'3" frame. It was like someone flipped a switch.

One of the Mother's Day photos that sparked a running journey.
A few days later, after the kids went to bed, I announced that I was going to go downstairs and walk on our basement treadmill.  I hadn't done that in a while, but my husband said "Okay" and didn't think much of it. I went back downstairs the next night, and the next. I started going further and faster, and began to mix in little sprints while holding onto the handrails. By early 2013, I had lost about 60 pounds through exercise and cleaning up my diet, and my self-esteem had increased exponentially. I was mostly running rather than walking on the treadmill by this time, as I realized I could spend less time exercising for the same calorie burn (brilliant deduction, eh?). But when the Boston Marathon bombings occurred in April 2013, I was saddened, but it did not affect me like it did most runners; I didn't yet consider myself a part of that world.

And then my treadmill broke. Cue the panic! I didn't want to let my newfound fitness slip away, so I knew I had to do something. I had seen people post on Facebook using MapMyRun, so I downloaded that app onto my phone, scrounged up a pair of headphones and hit up my neighborhood trail. Down in my basement, I wasn't sure how far I was running, since my old treadmill did not reliably keep track of those things. But on the trail that spring day, I did 5 miles and felt like I could have done more.  Lo and behold, another switch was flipped.

My Facebook status update from May 5, 2013.
I finished my first 5K in 29:30 on May 19, 2013 -- just over a year after I began walking for fitness. I remember thinking that 3.1 miles was too short. A 10K followed a few weeks later, and I quickly signed up for my first half-marathon. I trained all summer long for the Chicago Half Marathon, and finished in 2:06:46. Pre-dawn workouts and weekend long runs became part of the domestic fabric. My running was the "new normal," and my family adjusted to this with a mixture of admiration and incredulousness.

Finishing the 2013 Chicago Half Marathon -- one of the top five proudest moments of my life.
My new favorite pastime became setting audacious (for me) running goals and meeting them: Go sub-2-hours in the half marathon (I did that a few weeks after my first half). Set another PR in the half marathon (I did that two months later). Train for and finish my first marathon (I finished the Wisconsin Marathon in May 2014 in 4:02:57). And finally, the granddaddy of them all: Qualify for the Boston Marathon (done at the 2014 Chicago Marathon in 3:38:09).

Photos from my 2014 year in running.
Is the next step an ultra? Maybe someday, but for now, the marathon is my jam. I still have tons to learn about the distance, and many more races on my bucket list. I am knocking one of those races -- the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon -- off my list in just a few short weeks. I'm still trying to chip away at my race-distance PRs, but my focus has shifted from a laser-focus on the clock to embracing the running culture. Through my social media outlets, I have been able to connect with many runners whose friendships I treasure, and I love meeting more people whenever and however I can. I sincerely hope that my experience as a "Leader of the Pack" will allow me to add many new folks to my tribe. You don't even have to be from Wisconsin to win my friendship (although it does help...); you just have to love making forward progress. I came to this running party later in life, but I'm here to stay!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Blister Update, and the Power of Belief

With trepidation after the events of yesterday, I hopped on the treadmill this morning for my recovery-paced miles. I can happily report that I was able to run with little discomfort, and there are no new blisters post-run.  Hopefully my new pair of Guide 7s will continue to serve me well.  This has been a heck of a learning experience for me, and I will definitely take action sooner if I have blisters after changing shoes in the future!  I'm especially glad that this did not impact any key workouts, and I didn't get behind on my weekly mileage. Onward and upward!

After I took that poignant photo, I had second thoughts and fished my shoes out of the trash. Just in case I ever donate my old shoes to make playground equipment or something. I made sure to label the shoebox, though:

I wouldn't wish those shoes on my worst enemy. Well, maybe Rita Jeptoo!
I actually want to explore something that occurred on Saturday after I returned home from my half marathon. I received an e-mail from the race company with my very detailed race results. It was the type that goes into how many people you passed and how many people passed you. I had seen these results on the race website right after I finished, but something stood out at me this time (SPOILER ALERT for non-Facebook fans! Recap coming soon, I promise!):

As I recapped on my Facebook page, my last four miles or so were not my favorite miles ever. I was trying to find another gear, and it was not to be found. Therefore, when I saw the "split" stat, I assumed that was the difference between my first half of the race (before the turnaround) and the second half. I posted accordingly in my recap, saying that I went out too fast and faded, to the tune of a 19-minute positive split. I tried to put a positive spin on it, saying that I still salvaged a PR so all was not lost. I let the "likes" and "atta girls" roll in, and didn't think much of it.

Lying in bed that night, my brain decided to do some math. If I had run an even-split race (51:14 x 2), I would have finished in 102:28, or 1:42:28. Um...I did positive-split the race, but only by 59 SECONDS, not 19 minutes.

Now, I do have a mild-to-moderate case of math anxiety -- I did all right in math classes, but I never enjoyed them and avoided them if at all possible.  However, that fact does not explain how I neglected to figure out that I didn't have a 19-minute positive split (what was that number for, anyway? The split from the 7Kers? We didn't split from the 7Kers!). I accepted a horrific stat as gospel with no cross-checking whatsoever.

What this says to me is that I let my "meh" feelings about my race performance get in the way of all reason. My "fade" felt that drastic to me, so I went with it. Now that I know the real numbers, I feel a lot better about my grasp of racing strategy, but what I need to do more of is positive self-talk.

I also need to keep on doing my speedwork (the next session is tomorrow!) so I can negative split my next half in three weeks. And, you know, I might also need to brush up on my math facts...

Image found here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Tale of Three Shoes: Are Pairs of the Same Model Shoe Created Equal?

My injuries can never be run-of-the-mill. Allow me to tell you a cautionary tale, dear readers; a tale that does not currently have an ending!

I swapped out my old Saucony Guide 7s with a new pair last Monday, in preparation for the Get Lucky Half Marathon (check out my Facebook page for the results of that race, and a full recap is coming soon!). They had served me well, but had over 500 miles on them -- I couldn't trust them when I was trying to run speedily! When I put on the new pair, they immediately felt tighter than the previous pair, but I didn't think too much of it. I even shrugged my shoulders when a few blisters formed on the sides of both feet (the inside on the left, and the inside and outside on the right). The shoes just needed a break-in period. Sure enough, the blisters popped and I thought that was the end of it.

A few minutes after I finished my half, I started limping and my right foot started hurting at the sites of the old blisters. My pal Wendy even asked me what was up. I told her I was breaking in new shoes. After my treadmill recovery run on Sunday (the day after the race), I saw a hotspot on the inside of my right foot, and the skin on the top of my right pinky toe was blistered and peeling (don't even ask about the toenail).

Then I am the Queen of Awesome. Image found here.
After viewing the toe-tip blister, even head-in-the-sand me knew that my shoes must be too small, as hard as that was to comprehend (they were the same freaking model!). I bandaged up the wounds as best I could, and decided to switch to a new pair of Guide 7s for today's run (yes, I stockpiled them at half price when they came out with the Guide 8s). The new Guides immediately felt roomier in the toebox, but the sites of the blisters were still tender.

Today's run was outside on one of my favorite routes. I was really looking forward to it, as temperatures were in the 50s. The pain at the blister sites was noticeable, but manageable. About two miles in, the blister at the site of the hotspot popped. Ow. I started running with my right big toe pointed upward to take the weight off the blister site, which wasn't sustainable (and not conducive to a good pace). My legs were still pretty dead from Saturday's race, so I called today another recovery run and packed it in early.

I was pretty depressed for a while after I got home: Can a marathoner really be brought down by a blister? I am hopeful that the popping means my foot will begin healing, now that I have a roomier toebox in my shoe? Why in the heck do three different pairs of the same model shoe fit so differently? Can I put my 500-mile shoes (or heck, the other three pairs of Guide 7s I wore before those) in a time machine and make them brand-new again?

I'm currently wearing slippers. Will my blisters be healed enough for tomorrow's run? Does anyone have any advice to speed the recovery process? What silliness! To be continued...

Seriously, some help would be great.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"A" Races, Take Your Places!

Today was a big day in Cheesy-Land! In the midst of my training for my spring "A" Race, the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, I lined up my second "A" Race for 2015: The Chicago Marathon! I was able to gain guaranteed entry for 2015 through my BQ time of 3:38:09 at the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Women with times of 3:45 or below were able to skip the lottery and register with no stress. 

I qualified at your marathon -- you would hope that would speed up the process? We shall see!
For a few weeks post-Chicago, I was thinking about switching up my fall marathon for 2015.  There are so many great ones local to me, not to mention many others within a few hours' drive. But I have to confess that it feels good to "time qualify" for a marathon, and that warm, fuzzy feeling was the final nudge I needed to make my decision. Well played, Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Well played.

When I cross this photography spot this October, hopefully I will be hurting less, but just as close to a BQ! 
Training for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon is in full swing -- only 9.5 weeks to go, and I can't wait! We (my husband, children and parents) booked our hotel rooms at a Green Bay waterpark close to the start line. I was pumped to snag some rooms there, since it eliminates the stress of entertaining the children during the post-expo downtime on Saturday, as well as post-race on Sunday. I also expect that the water will feel heavenly on my aching muscles after the race -- the lazy river and I have a Sunday afternoon date!

My next "see where I'm at" half-marathon is this Saturday at the Get Lucky Half Marathon in Chicago. My goal is to come as close to a PR as possible, knowing that I still have a few tune-up races left in the cycle. By Saturday evening, I will have a much more solid grasp on where my fitness lies and what training changes may be needed. I promise to fill you in as soon as possible. Go to my Facebook page for the quick-and-dirty recap, with a longer version to follow here soon!