Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A few lessons...

In successfully training for the Potomac River Run, I learned a lot from my previous mistakes and I think I turned into a better runner because of it. This is just what worked for me!

First up: Make sure you're wearing the right shoes. 
For me, it was the Brooks Ravenna with green Superfeet orthotic inserts. This goes beyond going to a reputable running store and having them watch you run and tell you what kind of shoe to buy. I did this and was told I didn't overpronate, so I needed neutral running shoes. I bought them, but sometime always seemed a bit off...I felt like my arch wasn't getting enough support, and I'm pretty certain this is at least part of what led to my tibial stress reaction. If something feels off, it probably is, so return the shoes if you think you need something different. Most stores will do whatever they need to to make sure you leave happy and confident that you're wearing the right shoe.

Next, your training plan should increase your mileage 10% per week, with one "pull back" week where you do less mileage. I followed (and LOVED) Hal Higdon's Novice 2 marathon training plan for this marathon.
I really enjoyed this plan and would highly recommend it. In the past I followed the Smart Coach plan on Runner's World, but since I got injured while I was following it back when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, it felt a bit tainted to me this time around. Someone recommended Hal Higdon's plan to me and I have to say, I thought it was perfect. I just made sure to alternate mid-week runs between tempo runs and speed runs (à la Smart Coach). The plan is free, it's easy to follow, and it's from a world-renown running coach. What more can you want?

Well, I'm the type of person who wants a little bit more -- I like to have splits to focus on and having a speed goal in mind helps me. That's where the McMillan Training Calculator came in handy for me -- you input a recent race time (or goal race time) and it spits out the pace you should run for your speed workouts, recovery workouts, long runs, and more.
It's almost too much information, but I loved having it available to me. Runner's World's Smart Coach also has this feature (there's a free iPhone app for it too), but I feel like the McMillan one is more tailored to your time and has many more options.

I did my best to follow the plan, but I had a 17-day vacation about a month into training where I missed two full weeks of training. This was all part of my go-with-the-flow attitude, and I didn't freak out about missing a run here or there throughout the training. (I did, however, run all of the long runs, except for the ones that were on the training schedule while I was in Asia!)

Those were the main training-related things that I did, and guess what? I didn't get injured! I think something else that helped me was taking daily vitamins and calcium and vitamin D supplements. I can't say it helped my running, but it probably helped my bones stay strong and free of stress fractures. I also gave up meat for much of my training (and am still doing my best to remain a vegetarian), but I will probably write a separate post on my nutrition needs during training another time.

Right now, I'm following Hal Higdon's recovery plan and so far, it's been great. I'm running about four days a week, including a long run of 6+ miles over the weekends, and my legs feel great. In fact, I feel faster than ever! The first two days after the marathon were absolute hell (living on a fourth-floor walk-up was NOT easy when the time came to leave the apartment...ouch), but I feel like I've bounced back and am ready for more.

After this recovery plan, I plan on coming up with a workout routine that includes more yoga, more strength training, and some other fun cardio, like spinning and other classes (like cardio jam, which I'm attending tomorrow with my friend Katie!).

Another summer goal? To feel confident enough to run in just a sports bra. I think I can do it...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I ran a marathon on Sunday...and it was awesome. Official time: 4:13:12, which I could not be happier with!

I set a few goals for this race, including not dying, getting under 4:20 if possible, and if not possible, under 4:30. It's safe to say I am still alive AND I crushed my time goal! Basically, I'm on cloud nine and nothing can bring me down :)

The morning started at 4am when my alarm went off. I took a 5am cab, which was organized by the race director, with three others from Arlington to Carderock Park, MD, and arrived at the race site about two hours before the start. This race had two starts, a 6:15 and a 7:15, and since 7:15 was the default start time, I stuck with that instead of switching to an earlier start. I mostly hung out, checked Twitter and messed around on Facebook while trying not to freeze before the race started. Though I was wearing sweats, it was still a bit chilly! When 7:00 rolled around, I headed to the start line with everyone else.

The race was small, only 199 people ran the marathon and 59 ran the half-marathon, so the start wasn't too bad. It was, however, a little bit old school -- there's no chip for this race; instead when the gun goes off exactly one hour after the early start, that's your start time, and when you pass through the finish, you tear off the bottom part of your bib and hand it to someone and hope they get your time right. Not high tech at all, but it's still a Boston Qualifier!

When I started out, I had a goal time of 4:19 in mind, which meant holding a 9:54 average pace for 26.2 miles. I started out slow:
  • Mile 1 - 9:52
  • Mile 2 - 9:35 (when I saw my parents and got a liiiittle excited!)
  • Mile 3 - 9:42
  • Mile 4 - 9:52
  • Mile 5 - 9:44
  • Mile 6 - 9:42 (gel #1, Gu vanilla; turnaround at mile 6.5)
  • Mile 7 - 9:42
  • Mile 8 - 9:46
Hi parents!!!

Pretty consistent and pretty reasonable. Definitely faster than my goal pace, but when you're feeling good, you just want to go with it! Every so often I'd remind myself that I had 26.2 miles to run, to reel it in and slow it down. I did not want to go out too fast in the first half and finishing strong was a main objective for me. And then two of my friends from college showed up, somewhere around mile 10:
  • Mile 9 - 9:37
  • Mile 10 - 9:39
  • Mile 11 - 9:36
  • Mile 12 - 9:43
  • Mile 13 - 9:38 (gel #2, strawberry banana Powerade gel; turnaround at mile 13)
This was when my friends Shawna and Anne joined me. I wish there was a picture of when I spotted them, because I was beyond ecstatic! I knew they were coming, but I had no idea they would be running with me! They ran toward me, and I thought I recognized them but wasn't sure...as soon as I knew it was them, I literally skipped and the smile I'd been running with the whole time got even bigger. 

My running entourage, Shawna and Anne!

We laughed and chatted and it really helped elevate my mood and my adrenaline. I was feeling good and was so happy to share this experience with two friends!

The next few miles were QUICK:
  • Mile 14 - 9:24
  • Mile 15 - 9:20
  • Mile 16 - 9:19
  • Mile 17 - 9:27
There's something about reaching that "less than 10 miles to go" feeling that can't be beat. Getting to the single digits was a huge motivator for me and got me psyched for the last 90 minutes of the race. But I started to slow down a bit. I can't remember exactly why...it might have been me trying to reel myself in and keep a strong pace to the end, but it also might have been that my hips were feeling incredibly tight.
  • Mile 18 - 9:38 (gel #3, strawberry banana Powerade gel)
  • Mile 19 - 9:39 (turnaround at mile 19.5 aka 6.7 miles to go!)
  • Mile 20 - 9:36
Oh, mile 20...you will hold a special place in my heart forever. The farthest I ran before this marathon was 20 miles, and at mile 20.1 a song that had played on my iPod two years ago during my first race, a 5k, came on, and I nearly cried. Yes, I was THAT RUNNER, with tears welling up and feeling overcome with emotion. (The song, by the way, was "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield. Not gonna lie, it really motivated me during that first 5k, and it had a similar effect for me on Sunday!) At mile 20, there's only 10k to go, 6.2 miles, and I was on my last lap and heading to the finish line. No more turnarounds! And trust me, at the last turnaround, I yelled out, "LAST LAP!!!" I couldn't have been more excited.
  • Mile 21 - 9:30
  • Mile 22 - 9:31 (gel #4, double latte Gu)
  • Mile 23 - 9:43
  • Mile 24 - 9:39
  • Mile 25 - 9:46
  • Mile 26 - 9:35
  • 0.3 (according to my Garmin) nubbin - 2:35
And you can believe that I ran my heart out to that finish line.
Running to the finish!

Almost there!!! This is the look of exhausted elation.


Soon followed by "I'm the happiest girl in the world!"

Seriously. SO happy.

Also, confused. Did I REALLY just run my first marathon in 4:13:12?!?!?

Yes. Yes, I did.

And then I took an ice bath.

Even more amazing than the ice bath? The meal I had afterward - French toast, eggs, salad, potatoes...and a beer, of course! All soon followed by ice cream and a chocolate chip cookie for good measure.

So, I obliterated my goal. I can't tell you what an amazing feeling that is. But it was probably the toughest 4 hours and 13 minutes of my life, both mentally and physically. The race was very small, so there were few spectators to cheer on the runners. In fact, I found that I was probably the biggest cheerleader on the course (aside from Shawna and Anne who cheered on passing runners as we ran), clapping for people and "woo!"-ing a lot (and I mean A LOT). I ran by quite a few people who were walking, who seemed like they'd given up or were too tired or over it to go on. It was tempting to join them, but I had a goal to accomplish, and finishing the marathon in under 4:30 was one of them. It made me incredibly grateful that I'd trained by myself and knew how to run those long miles alone

I'm so thankful for the running mantras I've picked up that motivated me. I can't say I ever really used them during my long runs, but in this race, I used them quite often. "Pain is weakness leaving the body" and "your limits might not be where you think that they are" were repeated many, many times. There were tough miles that made my muscles ache and made me want to pull over for a quick stretch or just walk for a bit, but I decided against that (perhaps I should have stretched, who knows?) and just kept trucking.

My legs are pretty mad at me today and are making simple things like walking down the stairs of my fourth-floor elevator-less apartment building an impossible task, but I am so psyched to be able to call myself a marathoner now that I don't even care. As a new-to-me exercise mantra says, "It never gets easier. You just get better", which to me says that there's always going to be pain, and that's just because I'm getting faster and stronger. My limits are being pushed and I'm feeling that. 

And I'm not gonna lie...I'm kind of loving it.

Full stats here: