March Madness Half Marathon Recap

Friday, March 15th

I was so nervous leading into this race and I think my coach knew that. We had a pre-race conversation and she asked me how I felt about running this race somewhat blind. What she meant by that was that it would be an effort-based run where I wouldn’t look at my watch to see my pace during the run and would purely just be pushing hard up and down the hills. I could look at mile splits if I wanted to but the rest of the time I would just focus on running a comfortably hard effort and let my inner GPS take over.

Saturday, March 16th – Day Before

I went for a 25 minute shakeout run the day before running the half marathon. My overall pace was a 7:57 but I didn’t feel great. My body felt sluggish and tired as I was on very un-tapered legs from marathon training. I came back into the house and immediately put my legs up on the wall. My husband came downstairs, laughing at the sight of me, and asked how my run went. “I didn’t feel great,” I said, “but I’m going to do everything I can to get my legs recovered for tomorrow.” I started with an Epsom salt bath and then took a nap, because rest is so crucial to the recovery process (and I really love naps). After my nap I headed out to pick up my race bib in Crystal Lake at the Running Depot. Packet pickup was easy and the volunteers were so friendly. I don’t know what it is about packet pickups but they always get me in a good mood for racing! For dinner that night I made the Turkey Trot Meatballs from Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow along with Banza spaghetti (I honestly prefer this chickpea pasta to regular pasta!) and the marinara sauce from the cookbook. We ate shortly before 8 p.m. which is later than normal before a race so I had a Kind bar while cooking to start getting in some fuel. Lights out around 10 and I would end up sleeping very well which is rare for me the day before a race; I think getting to sleep in my own bed where I was comfortable made a big difference.

Sunday, March 17th – Race Day

I woke up at 6 a.m. on race day and got changed to do a quick 10-minute shakeout run on the treadmill a couple hours before my race. I have done this before every half marathon I have run over the last year and it really helps loosen things up early on and get my body temperature to rise after sleeping. To learn more about why I started doing this, click here to read an article from Runner’s World (the same article that convinced me to try something new last year). After the shakeout run, I made some Quaker instant oatmeal and a cup of coffee for breakfast along with a glass of water. I let myself eat slowly and was unusually relaxed for race day. I had run the Cary course 3 times in training and so I think it felt a little bit like just a regular long run morning for me being at home in my kitchen. After breakfast, I changed into my outfit which I had laid out the night before. I said goodbye to my husband, who I told could stay home since I had no idea what I was going to do out there, and he told me that I was the most inspiring and strongest woman that he knew and it brought the biggest smile to my face. I threw on a pair of sweat pants over my shorts and a jacket and headed out to the race which was about a 25-minute drive from our house.

When I got to the race, I had to park a little over a third of a mile away from the high school because the lot had filled up already. I used this as an opportunity to do a light jog up to the school to get my legs moving after sitting in the car. I met my running club for a photo in the gym, then changed into my Vaporflys and checked my bag at gear check indoors which was a very smooth and easy process.

With my running club, BWRC, before the race.

I started my mile warm-up and strides at about 8:20 a.m. which was 15 minutes before the race started. The timing of this worked out well as I was only in the corral for about 5 minutes and didn’t get cold; had this been a bigger race I wouldn’t have been able to do that but I took advantage of the 1000 participant size and used it to my advantage. My warm-up mile with strides was at 7:18 pace and it felt effortless. “Hmm,” I thought, “let’s make this a fun one.” The gun went off at exactly 8:35 and we were off. The first mile flew by, literally, and my watch clicked at 6:42. My first thought was “lol you did exactly what everyone told you not to do on this course, you went out too fast,” and my second was, “well 6:42 felt pretty comfortable, let’s just take it down slightly but keep this comfortably hard effort going.” My friend Marie came up on me shortly after but having my headphones in I didn’t hear her at first. She looked so happy and comfortable and we ran stride for stride for a couple minutes until she kept going ahead. I felt a little bit of a cramp in my right ab but tried to focus on my breathing since I get this cramp pretty regularly and know that it’s often caused by uneven breathing. My second mile came in at 6:46, so I didn’t exactly slow down, even though I felt like I had. I felt very in control and while normally I would have freaked out about these fast miles, the goal of the race today was just to go run hard so I had no time pressure on me. Miles 2 and 3 are net downhill so I kept pushing ahead running off of effort. There was an aid station and I normally don’t take fuel in so early on but I took a swig of Gatorade and used it as a distraction for the upcoming hill.

Running with a bigger crowd towards the beginning of the race

Mile 2.5 has the first climb in the race and I let people pass me here; I didn’t want to use energy pushing up this hill because I knew I’d be greeted with a long downhill on the other side (the same section that becomes a major uphill leading up to mile 10). I cruised down the hill to finish mile 3 in 6:37. It was here that I made the decision that I was just going to keep going no matter how many 6’s I saw on my watch that day. In racing, I normally make calculated risks, but on Sunday, I just took a flat out risk. There was nothing to lose. It’s possible I could blow up later in the race but what a perfect opportunity to go test it with nothing on the line besides pride. Mile 3 to 4 is an ever so slight incline but Krishna, a friend who I had asked for advice prior to this race, had told me not to waste my energy here since I’d get it as a nice decline on the way back. So again I let some people pass me and just maintained my effort-based approach. 6:54. Yep, there was that incline, but seeing another 6 pop up was pretty cool.

From running this course during training, I knew that the first big hill of the race would be coming up just after mile 5. I used mile 4-5 as an opportunity to coast and go on auto-pilot as it’s a slight downhill for most of the mile. 6:49 clicked. I could see the big hill ahead and told myself to just work up it off of effort and to not blow my legs out on it. I remembered what my friend, John, said about this course being a series of surges and recoveries. This would be a surge and I could use the other side of the hill as a recovery. I focused on the people ahead of me and tried to let them pull me along up the hill. As soon as I made it up I opened up my stride and let the downhill take me. 7:03. My first mile in the 7’s, but also the first mile with a big hill (named Shoe Tree Hill). After 6 miles I looked at my watch and knew I was about to set a big (unofficial) 10K PR. 42:20, over a minute faster than my last 10K. I smiled big even though no one else around me had any idea what I was smiling about. The smile quickly faded though as I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before I got to the next hill and one of my least favorite on the course, “Sneaky Hill”. It’s a short hill, probably about .15 miles total, but incredibly steep. Again I didn’t waste too much energy here and just worked my way up. 7:02; consistent with the last mile and I was happy with that given the nasty hill. Mile 7-8 winds around and you end up climbing for quite a bit up the next hill, “Substantial Hill”, but I knew I would be greeted with an aid station and a downhill on the other side so I started moving. I thought about taking my gel but the thought of it made my stomach queasy so I decided to stick to my swigs of Gatorade and water. After the aid station before a turn, I saw my friends, Tim and Fred, cheering and I gave them a big smile and a thumbs up. They gave me momentum and mile 8 clicked at 6:46.

Smiling at Fred and Tim before mile 8.

I was truly in awe of what was going on in this race. I felt great; I was relaxed, my form was really good, and I just felt happy running fast. Mile 8-9 has the slight decline that was the slight incline from miles 3-4 and I could feel myself picking up speed. “Work this section”, I thought to myself, and ended up running with some guys for the mile. 6:37 for mile 9. It was about this point that things finally started to hurt but I thought about the fact that I only had about 4 miles to go and that I could and I would do this. I embraced the hurt and had mentally prepared for it. It was here that I really let myself believe that I was going to have a massive PR on a ridiculously challenging course and I used that to help get me through the toughest section of the course. Not only is it tough because of where the miles fall in the race (the latter portion) but this is also the section with the most back to back hills and the longest ones. “10-Mile Hill” rocked my socks off, but it was also doing that to everyone around me. I felt like I was slowly marching up the hill but I wouldn’t let myself stop and walk no matter how much I wanted to. I was counting random objects that John had told me about to get me through it; a speed limit sign, a mailbox, etc. I knew the aid station would be on the other side of the hill since we had come down this earlier in the race so I kept the legs moving. At the aid station I took some Gatorade again and mentally prepared for the next hill I was going to encounter in about half a mile. I tried to find my speed again after “10-Mile Hill” but my legs were toast. “You knew this was probably going to happen after all these training runs out here. This isn’t a negative-split kind of course so just hang in there. There’s still a big PR coming, and you get to determine how big it is.”

Running down hills was much more fun that running up hills!

Mile 10 came in at a 7:18; not surprising because of how slowly I crawled up the hill which is about a quarter mile long. Less than a half mile later I was pushing up “Big Hill”, appropriately named. It was here that I saw someone begin to walk but although I was basically crawling up it, I refused to stop running. When I made it to the top, I let gravity take me down a slight downhill in a neighborhood and mentally started preparing for the last big hitter, “Lung Buster Hill”. Mile 11 clicked at 7:30 and then I was climbing Lung Buster Hill. “Just hang on. You knew this was going to hurt but this is the last big one. Keep pushing. You’re going to see Tim and Fred on the other side.” So I kept grinding. Seeing Tim and Fred brought so much joy to me and I yelled, “I’m going to PR!” and pumped my fist. I was seriously so tired and so ready to be done but like the saying goes, “fake it till you make it”. I’m not sure where my fist pump energy came from as mile 12 was still a 7:32 but at least I was hanging on consistently. In training, I kicked it in this last mile to finish out a 20-mile run. I tried to do the same here and did bring mile 13 down to 7:20 but I really had nothing left to give. I tried so hard, knowing that I was going to be dang close to qualifying for the New York Marathon with this half, and while my mind was still in it, my body had given it everything it had and I had to respect that. I somehow kicked it in at 6:30 pace, stopped my watch after crossing the line, got a medal and water, and found a nice spot in the parking lot to pop a squat. I let myself look at my watch. 1:32:20 (my official time would come in at 1:32:19). It was officially a 2:43 PR on the most challenging course I’ve ever raced.

2 medals – 1st place Age Group, Race Medal

To everyone who believed in me even when I wasn’t believing in myself, thank you. Just a few shout-outs…A few weeks ago I was struggling through a 20-mile long run in Barrington Hills talking to Marie Billen about this race and how there was no way I was going to PR here. She pushed back on that belief and both she and I ended up running the races of our lives yesterday (1:29 for my super speedy friend!). My chiropractor, Nick Nowicki, encouraged me to run this race and told me that because of the competitiveness of the field, I would likely have a lot of people to run with who would push me. Both true statements. My coach, Jessica, who helped get me into the best shape I’ve ever been in and encouraged me to run this off of effort to manage my nerves. I’m pretty sure she knew the kind of shape I was in from my workouts and just wanted me to prove it to myself; mission accomplished. Finally, my husband who said the sweetest things to me the morning of the race; he’s my biggest supporter and I’m so, so grateful for everything he has done to help me be the best version of myself. I think I was the only one who had doubts about myself going into Sunday and with that I had several takeaways for my last few weeks of training for Boston and beyond.

With friends Marie and Dave (lol not Don) after the race. We did a 1-mile cooldown together.

Takeaways

I’ve had a little bit of time to digest this race and there are a few things I’m taking away from this experience.

1. Racing is not always about getting a PR. Sometimes we race as part of our training and part of a bigger goal. That’s all Sunday’s race was about for me; doing something hard to gain fitness for Boston. If we lose the fun of racing and it only becomes about getting a PR, then is it really worth it anymore?

2. Sometimes the stars all align for something really special. On Sunday, we had really great racing weather; low 30s, partly cloudy skies, and light wind. On top of that I woke up feeling well-rested, had no pain for the first time in weeks when running, and my mind was in a great place. All of this made for a strongly executed race. We don’t always get ideal conditions but when we do, we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it.

3. Keep showing up every day no matter what excuses you have. Showing up might look different each day (i.e. if you’re sick, “showing up” might mean getting extra sleep to kick your illness to the curb), but the end goal should always be kept in mind with the decisions you make.

4. Stop being so scared of failure. Give it your all, whatever that is on that day, and stop overthinking everything. Trust in your training and how it has prepared your body and your mind.

5. Dream really freaking big and believe in yourself. If you believe you can, you will find a way to get there. Manifest the sh*t out of your own destiny.

The Fear of Failure

I have been struggling to find the words to describe how I’ve been feeling about racing this coming weekend and so I decided to just put pen to paper and let the words and thoughts flow. Writing is how I best process my thoughts; whether it be through free-writing or making lists, it makes me feel more in control.

I signed up for the Cary March Madness race back in December; the race sells out in 30 minutes and is limited to the first 1000 runners who sign up. It is known in the area as the most challenging half marathon, with many runners using it as a tune-up and check-in for the Boston Marathon. In just 13.1 miles, runners will gain about 700 feet of elevation. The hills are so intense that they even have names (one is referred to as “lung buster hill”; see photo below for the hills). This race scared me from the moment I signed up to run it, but knowing that Boston was a hilly course, I wanted to sign up and see how I could do. I knew with signing up that it likely meant I would not see a half marathon PR in the spring. At the time, that was ok with me, but I think I’ve gotten caught up in the comparison trap a little seeing some fast half marathon PRs coming from other athletes who have raced on good courses. “How embarrassing would it be if I’ve been posting good workout times and then have a slower pace at Cary?” This is probably the number 1 thought that has been going through my head lately.

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March Madness Half Marathon Elevation + Hills

Pride. I am afraid that this race will be a ding on my racing “resume” and not be indicative of the kind of fitness I’m in by time alone. I think what scares me the most is what it’ll do to my mind going into Boston. I know this course is humbling; I’ve done 3 training runs on it so far (12, 18, and 20 miles) and while each time I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve battled windy conditions and massive hills that have pushed my brain and body to its limits. Back in August 6 weeks before the Berlin Marathon, I ran a half marathon PR in super muggy and hot conditions and it gave me loads of confidence going into my marathon. Because Illinois is cold and icy during the winter months, there haven’t been any races for me to test my fitness at; I’ve been running really hard workouts and hitting paces but there’s something about the racing environment that can’t be duplicated in a workout.

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PR at Minnesota Half Marathon in August 2018 prior to the Berlin Marathon.

When I started experiencing pain in my hip area (diagnosed as a tight hip flexor and TFL muscle), I panicked that all the hills were starting to erode my body. I was and am worried that racing on Sunday will aggravate the tender areas even more. But I have a feeling it’s more than just being worried about physical pain. I think I’m afraid more-so of the mental pain that can come with running a challenging course.

After a successful workout Tuesday, it hit me. I am afraid of failure. Or at least what I perceive to be failure. I know that not every race will result in a PR, but I feel like I’m in shape to run a fast half. I need to use things like yesterday’s 10-mile workout to reassure me that the fitness is there and I just need to keep trusting the process and not let my ego get in the way. The race on Sunday is intended to be effort-based. I should be doing this for me, not to post on my blog or Instagram that I ran a new PR. It’s supposed to be making me stronger for Boston. Boston is the goal; it always has been and every decision we’ve made this training cycle was to prepare me for it. I can’t lose sight of that and I’ll get my chance to leave it all on the line there when it matters most.

Heading into this weekend, I am checking my ego at the door. Everyone running this race is dealing with the same conditions, the same course, and the same challenges. I am going to run hard and push myself to my limits. That’s all I can ask. I’m going to use the fact that I’m in really great shape to help propel me over those hills. It’s going to hurt, it’s probably going to get ugly at times, and my time may reflect that, but I think what this race will be able to teach me more than anything is mental resilience, and that is invaluable.

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Remembering my why and my goal race for the Spring season.

Ready Or Not, Here I Come

Back in December, I signed up for a secret marathon. I told no one, except for my husband for the first couple months. To date I’ve told less than 3 people. It wasn’t to be able to make some big announcement, it was because I wasn’t really sure that I’d want to run another marathon in 2019. The marathon distance scares me still. It’s not easy and I’ve never run one that didn’t hurt. It requires a crazy amount of discipline and about 3-4 months of commitment. It means waking up early on Saturday mornings to start long runs and going to bed early on Friday nights to get enough sleep. A half marathon if trained for on its own can be pretty intense but it pales in comparison to the marathon.

I’ve been having a strong itch to do a solid half marathon training block. I did one last winter/spring and completely fell in love with the distance. I talked with my coach a little bit about this and I like the idea of focusing the first half of 2020 on the half marathon. Marathons take up a lot of time. I feel lucky to be where I’m at in my life right now – in a stable full-time job with a good income, home most weeks, and having the flexibility to make my own schedule after work and on the weekends. I recognize that I won’t always have all this time and that life is only going to get busier as I get older. I have goals to grow my business and to one day have a family and while the latter is farther out, we really only have 1-2 good marathons in our legs every year and I want to make the most of that. For awhile, I had hit a plateau in my training and had started to accept that maybe the marathon just wasn’t the distance for me. But then I hired a running coach and ran times that helped me to start believing in myself again and saw teammates accomplish incredible things, too. Things that I could only ever dream of, until suddenly, they didn’t seem so unrealistic.

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There are about 10 months left in 2019 and after Boston, I’m excited to do a summer stint of fast racing from May-August. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like yet but I’m pretty excited to hit the track in the heat of summer and run some fast intervals. I think it’s just the kind of thing I’ve been craving. Come fall though I’ll be lacing up my trainers again and hitting pavement training for what I hope will be my 8th marathon, the California International Marathon in Sacramento, CA. I was inspired by so many of the performances I saw at the race last year and want to be a part of that this year. After 2018’s Chicago Marathon, my fourth year in a row running it, I knew I needed and wanted something different in 2019. I think CIM will be that for me and I’m looking forward to being part of a race where many women will make their last attempt at running an Olympic Trials qualifying marathon. While that will not be my goal, I’d still like to run a pretty speedy time. TBD what that looks like, but I’m excited that the cat is finally out of the bag and I don’t have to lie when someone asks me what my fall plans are!

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Your Own Journey: Stop Comparing Yourself to Someone Else

You get back from a run that you’re feeling overjoyed about. You just hit all the paces in your workout, ran a great pace over a long distance, and you’re feeling good about yourself. You get all excited to post about it on Instagram to brag a little about that awesome run you just had. You click on the Instagram icon on your phone, type up your post along with a picture of you giving a big thumbs up after that awesome run, and click “Post”. People start liking your photo, commenting things like, “you rock!” or, “awesome workout!”.

And then you start scrolling. Scrolling through everyone else’s posts from their runs and seeing how they nailed “xyz” workout and you come across someone who ran the same distance as you but maybe at a faster pace. So you start justifying. “They probably didn’t run as many hills or as challenging a course as I did.” or “They’re running in beautiful weather and I’m stuck with this garbage weather so of course their run would be faster.” or even “Well the pace doesn’t tell everything. Maybe they stopped on their run but the overall time doesn’t reflect that.”

Hold up. 5 minutes ago you were happy with the run you just had, elated. So why does seeing someone else having success suddenly make you feel less-than or that you have to justify what you just did? It’s the all-too common comparison trap, and thanks to sharing sites like Instagram and Strava, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in it.

There’s a shirt out on the marketplace that says, “My Race My Pace”. As amateur runners, the only person we need to be comparing ourselves to is well, ourselves. We’re not elites, our paycheck doesn’t depend on how fast we run or how we stack up against the competition. That doesn’t mean you still can’t be competitive on a racing circuit, however, this is your journey and you’re going to progress at a different pace (literally) than other runners on Instagram or beyond. Celebrate your personal victories, regardless of how they stack up to people you admire on Instagram. We are all on an individual journey and if you’ve been hitting your paces in challenging workouts, that should be reassurance to you that you’re on track to achieving your goals, not that you’re any less-than someone else who may have had a faster workout.

We don’t always know what our peers’ goals are and even if we do they may have a different plan to get them to those goals; there isn’t only one way to get to a goal and coaches often have different philosophies and strategies for each of their athletes depending on their schedules, injury-history, etc. As athletes we are all different. Although it may be frustrating to see someone with natural ability reach higher levels without having to extend as much effort, relish in the fact that you have a strong work ethic and even if it takes you longer to get to the same goal you have continued to be persistent and trusting the process.

There is always going to be someone faster, someone stronger, someone who appears to be having success in everything they do. Utilize these individuals as inspiration, not as someone to compare your own times to. Look back on how far you’ve come as an athlete and use that as your benchmark for success. When out on the race course, you can still be a fierce competitor, but be in it for yourself most of all. Congratulate those you follow who are doing a great job, too. This community will only continue to be a positive one if we commend one another for a job well done and be happy that others are reaching their goals, too.

Comparison is the thief of joy. This is your journey and no one else can do a better job of being you than you.

comparison

 

An Update on My Marathon Training Cycle

There are 67 days to go until the Boston Marathon. Each day that the time ticks down leaves me feeling just a little more nervous, but I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride in this training cycle. It feels a lot different than when I was training for Berlin last year and I think for a while I was expecting the two cycles to feel the same, but I’ve realized now that I’m chasing bigger goals in different weather conditions that things are bound to feel different.

I am scheduled to run a half marathon on March 17th in Cary, Illinois. The March Madness Half Marathon is touted as the most challenging half marathon in Northern Illinois and for good reason – the hills are intense and keep on coming. I’ve run the course twice now this cycle for training runs and fortunately the second time was better than the first which means I’m improving, but it’s scary to think I’ll be trying to race on the course in just over a month. I don’t feel ready yet. While I never expected to PR at this race because of how challenging the course is, even if it was flat I don’t think I’m in PR shape. It’s then I realize that I’ve only truly been training for Boston for the last month and in just a month’s time so much has changed and my body has been adapting. After running the course last weekend I came home and told Ross, my husband, that I was so tempted to ditch the race and sign up for another half marathon happening the same day on a much flatter and faster course in the south suburbs. “I need a confidence booster,” I said. “Last cycle I had the August half marathon in Minnesota where I PR’d just 6 weeks before Berlin and it gave me so much confidence going into the marathon.”

I explained this to my coach last night on a phone call and something she said to me has stuck with me since. “You’re going to be training at paces slower than you’re used to because of the hills you’re running on. The half marathon will be a good test of your effort over the hills which is similar to what you’re going to encounter in Boston. You won’t be paying attention to your pace as much as you’re going to have to be paying attention to your effort on each section of the course to run a smart race.” This is why we have coaches, friends. They give us tiny nuggets of advice like this that remind us that we’re doing just fine and the plan will work. I do notice changes happening already. When I ran a stride workout last week on a flat course, I was cruising after doing all my runs on hilly routes. 7:22 pace overall for 6 miles felt nearly effortless and it is runs like that that will build my confidence. Just this week I ran a hilly speed workout over 9 miles averaging close to my goal marathon pace and by the end things were feeling really comfortable and I unintentionally ran my “cool-down” at marathon effort over hills.

It’s hard for me not to have check-ins this go around like I did when training for Berlin. What helps me is to gain confidence from reading last year’s journals and analyzing data from the paces I was running this time last year. I’ve definitely grown and improved as an athlete and am starting at a different place than I was at the start of 2018. I’m starting to look at the positives of the Cary half coming up – the first couple miles start off on a downhill just like Boston will so it’ll force me to run a strategic race to not burn myself out before getting to the hills. I’ll have to learn how to work downhills and conserve for uphills and this knowledge of tactical racing will serve me well on Boston’s challenging course. Every marathon and half marathon I’ve raced to date has been relatively flat so this isn’t something I’ve had to deal with before so in a sense I’m growing as an athlete by expanding my capabilities.

I know the hardest weeks are ahead of me in February and March but I think over the last couple of weeks I’ve finally shook the funk that I started with at the beginning of this training cycle. A super low mileage October and November made December a challenge getting back into shape post-injury but it’s amazing how quickly our fitness returns once our body is healthy and we consistently complete workouts. I’m staying the course, trusting the process (and my coach), and will keep showing up every day because that’s all I can ask of myself.

Here’s what I plan to work on over the next few weeks in my own training:

1. Continuing to build my mind and empower a positive mindset. This means re-reading books like “Let Your Mind Run” by Deena Kastor, listening to my favorite running podcasts for inspiration, and surrounding myself with people and places that bring me joy and separating myself from the things that do not whenever I have a choice.
2. Nailing down a nutrition plan for taking gels and water at the race. I will be practicing this in my long runs and the half marathon because I do not want to have a repeat of the Chicago Marathon sh** show (literally) in Boston.
3. Making sleep and recovery a priority by going to bed on time and maintaining consistency in my routine
4. Building strength. I’ve been doing a good job this cycle of incorporating more weights and strength training into my daily plan and I’m already noticing the results (oh hey there, arm muscles!). This added strength will make me a more efficient runner and help me be stronger on a very tactical course.

 

Recovery Running – Why to Do It and How to Start

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a few people reach out regarding recovery runs. Some have asked what pace to do their own recovery runs at. Others have thanked me for posting these runs and not just focusing on the speed workout days. It got me thinking that we need to celebrate the recovery runs more as they are a big pillar of marathon training!

Recovery runs make up about 20% of my training volume (by mileage). I run 6 days a week with about 2 aerobic paced runs, 1 speed workout, 1 long run (sometimes with speedwork built in), and 2 recovery runs. I posted recently on Instagram that the “secret sauce” to running fast was running slow. I didn’t realize this until the last year when I truly took my recovery runs seriously and slowed things way down. My coach recommended I do these by my heart rate and try to keep it below 150 beats per minute (bpm). There isn’t a set “pace” for these runs but my pace typically falls between 9:00-10:30 pace which is over 60-90 seconds slower than my current marathon pace. It’s a big range but doing things based off of HR makes me be conscious of how much recovery my body actually needs. One day this summer when I was in peak fitness, one of my recovery runs was closer to 11 min pace because my HR was so elevated from the heat and humidity.

Giving into what my body wants and running slower on recovery days has made me a faster runner. Here are the benefits I have noticed by slowing down:

  1. I am generally able to hit my splits in my speed workouts and pace work in long runs. It doesn’t mean it isn’t still tough but my body is more recovered and able to show up to get the job done.
  2. As a result of successfully completing speed workouts, I’m able to translate my speed to races and accomplish the big goals I set for myself.
  3. It’s allowed me to run with friends that I normally don’t get to train with because we run different paces. Recovery running days are great days to go with different pace groups in your running club or with family/friends who don’t normally run with you.
  4. It’s relaxing. I do some of my best thinking on these runs because when I slow down my pace and am not worried about hitting certain times, I have time to think about things that are bothering me, plan my next big move, etc.
  5. It keeps injuries away. Until October of last year when I overdid things with 2 marathons in 3 weeks, I had not experienced an injury for 2018. Through a couple tough training blocks and big PR races, I still remained injury free and a lot of this can be attributed to slowing down and giving my body the recovery time it needs.

There is a lot out there on the internet about the power of recovery runs, but one of the most common questions I’ve been asked lately is, “how can I slow down my pace?” My answer to that is simple. You have to be disciplined and consciously make yourself slow down. It’s not natural to run slower than our everyday pace so we have to force ourselves to slow down. If you aren’t able to do it on the roads then take your recovery runs to the treadmill and let the machine set the pace for you (don’t allow yourself to speed up the pace either). It will take time – it took me a few weeks to get it down after my coach told me I was running these runs too fast, but if you keep practicing, it will become more normal for you just like anything else that you practice!

Still not convinced and need data to back it up? How about the fact that my half marathon in PR was a 1:41:44 in May 2016 and it wasn’t until March 2018 that I set a new PR. By August 2018 I lowered it to 1:35:02. 6 minutes and 42 seconds off (about 30 seconds per mile). Correlation? I didn’t slow down my recovery run paces until February 2018 thanks to the guidance of a running coach.

When I started my blog and my Instagram, one of my promises was to stay real throughout all of my postings. This means posting recovery runs and paces just like my speed workouts and races. While they aren’t as exciting to showcase, having a platform means other people are watching and I want to set a good example for new runners in this community who may not know about the benefits of taking recovery seriously. I also think it makes us more “human”.

One last piece I’ll leave you with – on the Morning Shakeout Podcast, Coach Ben Rosario of NAZ Elite was interviewed and said something that stuck with me about recovery. Talking about elite marathoners after they ran their goal races, he said that if not recovering and keeping going at a hard effort was the best thing for you to do, the elite marathoners would be doing that. Instead they take a couple months off of hard running before building back into another training cycle. If elites are taking the time to recover, we definitely should be! Even Eliud Kipchoge who ran a marathon in 2:01 runs his recovery runs slow (this article in Canadian Running states that he runs up to 9:40 pace/mile for his recovery runs. Note: a 2:01 marathon is about 4:37 pace/mile.) I challenge you to post your recovery runs on social media, too, and to be proud of them because #runslowtorunfast.

2019 Running Goals

A friend of mine recently made the following comment to me, “You made your goals so public this year and put it out there for the world to see. A lot of people crumble under that sort of pressure but it didn’t seem to affect you at all.”

I’ve always been the kind of person to write my goals down and share them with others. I don’t feel extra pressure to achieve those goals simply by telling others, but it does give me more accountability to follow through when others are aware of what I’m chasing. It also makes it all that more special when my goal race comes around and my friends and family are cheering for me knowing the goal and if successful are there to celebrate with me. The same can be said if I don’t meet my goal; they are there to pick me back up and help me with my confidence.

With that being said, I’ve laid out my current 2019 goals below. I’m still not fully decided on what I’ll be racing in the second half of 2019 so I expect to add to this list once I have more clarity!

Boston Marathon – 3:20 or better, negative-split. This goal is really exciting and special to me as last year I came in wanting to run a sub-1:40 half marathon and now I’ve set a goal to run 2 of those back to back. Pretty cool stuff.

Half Marathon – 1:32 or better; this happens to be the half marathon qualifying time for the NYC Marathon so YES, it was intentional!

Marathon Peak Mileage – Hoping to peak in the 70s for miles in the Boston training cycle if things are going well.

Year in Miles – 2019 miles in 2019; I was on track for this goal in 2018 until my injury in October and gave up the goal in order to heal. I’m hoping 2019 will be my year!

Fall Plans – 3:15 or better IF I run a Fall marathon; I signed up for a late Fall marathon to secure my place in the race but have also been having the itch to do a speed season (10Ks, half marathons) so I won’t be sharing which race that is publicly unless I fully commit to it. If I don’t run the Fall marathon, I’d like to target a sub-1:30 half marathon.

Strength Work – Do a pull-up. Seriously. I can’t do a pull-up anymore and it’s making me embarrassed!

Coaching – Have my LLC fully set up by the end of January and start taking on athletes soon after. Coaching has always been a passion of mine since I started running in high school and I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to work with other runners to achieve their own running goals.

2018 Running Year in Review

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I was thinking about my goals for 2019 and realized I hadn’t yet thought through everything that happened in 2018. In many ways, 2018 feels like it’s been the longest year ever. In other ways, it feels like it flew by. My biggest running goal for 2018 was to qualify for the Boston Marathon at the Berlin Marathon and it was what was driving me through all my running endeavors this year.

At the end of 2017, I was disappointed with how my running had gone throughout the year; I had tried different workouts and plans but things just weren’t clicking anymore. I was frustrated but more than anything I was determined to make a change in the new year so during January 2018, I hired Jessica of Sugar Runs as my running coach. My confidence as a runner started coming back when I was hitting paces in challenging workouts and my excitement for racing returned. In March, I exceeded my goal of breaking 1:40 in the half marathon by nearly 3 minutes running 1:37:09 at the Carmel Half Marathon. My previous best was 1:41:44 set in May 2016 and this was a big breakthrough for me and my racing.

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April brought 2 weeks of stressful work travel and I was only getting a few hours of sleep a night to be able to fit in workouts between long nights of work and early morning starts. It was a rough time and I was unsure that racing the Illinois Half Marathon at the end of April would go smoothly. Somehow, I found the extra gear and was able to shave another 30 seconds off my PR running 1:36:39. I was elated, but certainly ready for a break before Berlin Marathon training began. I wasn’t running much or very fast for the month of May but managed to pull off a 10K PR in 43:35 at the Chicago Spring 10K. I won $250 for being the 3rd female to cross the line, a pretty nice prize for a 10K, and my confidence continued to build.

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It was a very hot summer in Chicagoland and I struggled for a couple months trying to adapt. I felt like I was breathing through a straw many days and wasn’t sure if the training was paying off since I was running slower and often having to stop to catch my breath (I have exercise-induced asthma that was really kicking in during the heat and humidity). I ran some of the hardest marathon training workouts and long runs that I’ve ever done in my life, but things really appeared to be going well when I ran another half marathon PR at the beginning of August in humid/hot conditions in 1:35:02 (those 2 seconds still kill me!). It reassured me that changes were happening in my body and that my goals for the Berlin Marathon were within reach.

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In mid-August, we bought our first house, repainted nearly every wall in the house, and officially moved in at the end of August. It was right around this time that I was running my peak mileage for Berlin training and things got a bit rough when I tried to do everything. After my 3-hour simulation run, I headed straight to the house to peel wallpaper off the walls and ended up with a terrible migraine. I completely overdid it and by late evening was in bed throwing up into a garbage can clutched between my hands. It was a lesson in not trying to do everything at once as my body just shut down and took awhile to recuperate after this incident.

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In September, we jetted off to Germany for the big trip. We arrived on Friday afternoon with quite a bit of jet lag and went through the hectic expo. The race wasn’t any less hectic and was congested until about 14 or 15 miles (tiny European streets aren’t super conducive to major marathons, as I would learn, especially when start corrals weren’t enforced) but I was still able to pull off a 3:28:06, a 10+ minute PR and my first BQ. I don’t write this to be bratty or ungrateful but it was the most frustrating race I’ve ever run. I crossed the finish line and knew I had my BQ, but I was just so mentally and physically drained from the race that it took me awhile to internalize what had just happened. There was a moment around 7K where I was nearly in tears as I couldn’t find my husband where he said he would be and I was being bumped left and right because of the congestion and having to weave in and out of people who had started in a faster corral than where they were seeded. The little tiny plastic water cups didn’t help either for being able to get liquids down and we had to slow down through the water stops as there were slippery piles of plastic everywhere. I still firmly believe I had more in me than the 3:28 but I just didn’t have any energy left by the end of the race from all the weaving in and out of people for about 13 miles. After talking to my coach, I found out that Boston will be similar in terms of people always being around so Berlin helped prepare me for that, but at least the corrals in Boston are heavily enforced and down to the minute so I’ll be running with other athletes who have similar times to me.

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3 weeks after the Boston Marathon I ran the Chicago Marathon. I was supposed to run it just for fun, but after feeling dissatisfied with what happened in Berlin, there I was going guns-a-blazing through 15 miles until I was stopped dead in my tracks with GI issues. I clawed my way to the finish line, stopping at every porta-potty along the way, and finished my 6th marathon in 3:53. It was stupid and as a result it probably was the cause of my hamstring injury and from this experience I learned the importance of giving your body time to recover between hard efforts and that even if my mind is ready to go back into battle it doesn’t mean my body is.

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I spent October and November rehabbing my hamstring and running a few miles at a time. It definitely messed with my motivation and my interest in running for awhile. Just last week I wrote about being in a running funk. But it’s funny, as soon as I aired how I had been feeling about running, things started going back to normal. I’m really looking forward to training for Boston and for the new challenge of hill training. It seems scary at times but I’m thankful to be healthy and happy training again. 2018 was my most successful year of running in a long time and I’m so appreciative of everyone who helped me have such an awesome year. As great as the year was, however, I’m excited for 2019 because while I’m still the same person I feel like a new runner and I can’t wait to see all that this body is capable of in the new year.

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Next week I’ll be posting about my goals for 2019. Check back into the blog to read more!

Running Funk

It wasn’t until I saw someone else refer to being in a “funk” with their running that I realized that’s the perfect name for what I’m feeling right now. A funk. I’ve been doing my workouts, checking each one off daily, but the excitement just isn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and moving my legs, but something seems different this time and I’m hoping I’ll grow out of it soon.

It could be the comparison trap – I see friends and peers doing epic things this winter and feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines and not in the game myself.

It could be the cold air – it’s hard to get out of a warm bed in the morning wanting to go freeze outside. I’ve also noticed my muscles are a lot tighter in the winter and breathing is harder for me which makes it even less enticing.

It could be the hamstring injury – I feel like I’m just waiting for an issue to resurface and it messes with my mind when I try to push my pace at all.

It could be the paces – I’m doing nearly all of my runs at an aerobic effort or easier as I build a base back up so those little glimmers of hope that you get while doing speedwork and reminding yourself that your body can do hard things haven’t been as prevalent.

It could be the hills – we moved to a hillier place in August and what used to be an easier effort is now made more challenging by running on hills. I’ve been trying to remind myself that I will adapt the more I keep at it but it’s not fun while I don’t feel conditioned for it just yet.

It could be the fact that I feel out of shape – I was in peak shape just a few months ago and coming off the high of a BQ has been challenging.

It could be the BQ itself – for 6 years I was chasing the same goal and although it’s odd to say, I feel a little lost that I no longer have that “constant” in my life, the thing that was driving me.

Let’s dig a little deeper into that last point as that is truly what I think is going on here. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon in April. However, I’m having a hard time getting as excited as I used to be about training. I have goals in mind that I’m trying to get myself excited for but while I’m sucking in lots of air getting back into shape, it’s hard to even imagine getting back to that point where those goals are feasible. As of two days ago, we are only 4 months out from Boston and that scares the heck out of me. 17 weeks sounds a little less scary and more manageable. It’s funny how just reframing it can make a huge difference. But that excitement piece – I’m still working on it. My husband and I were talking about something totally unrelated the other night and one of the things he said to me stuck with me – “we don’t like to do things we aren’t good at.” Hmm. Good is a relative term; what’s good to me might not be so impressive to someone else and vice versa. But right now I don’t feel “good” at running. I feel like I’m just scraping by and being mediocre and that’s not a fun place to be. Writing this I recognize that it seems silly on paper, but you can’t shake a “funk” just by writing about it.

I’ve had some small victories along the way – a 10-mile run on hills after the stomach flu and after 2 months of no double-digit long runs my pace came in at just under 8:15. A stride workout where my legs got to move under 6-minute pace again and by the end the 7 teens pace felt comfortable. These little sparks help bring my confidence back and remind me that just a few months ago I was doing really hard things and that my body can’t have forgotten it all in that time.

Although this funk might be messing with my head right now, I’m going to keep showing up every day and doing my workouts. I’ve been adding in weights in the weight room to mix things up and have been enjoying seeing myself get stronger. I know in my heart I love this sport and the funk will only be temporary. I hope to start getting myself excited about the goals I have for Boston and that soon they’ll be just as exciting as the BQ goal.

Thank You, BWRC

Last night, I had the privilege of attending Busse Woods Running Club’s Second Annual Holiday Party. In 2017, we were ecstatic about the 50 people who came to our holiday party. In 2018, we had over 100 people come out for the party. It’s been an absolutely incredible journey over the last year and we’re just getting started. This year I saw so many of our members grow in their own running journeys. Between new PRs that were set, some running their very first marathon or 5K, a few people who came back to running after a long hiatus, and so many other stories, I was so inspired this year and grateful to be a small part of each of these journeys.

It’s been said many times that this club is like a second family. My own experience has been nothing short of that. Like a family, we have our ups and downs, our own “drama”, and our quirks, but each piece of this family is valuable and makes the culture of the club what it is. This has been the most welcoming and inviting group I’ve ever been a part of and while we all come from different backgrounds, different places, and different walks of life, we all share one thing in common – the love of running, and that binds us together. When I moved back from St. Louis 2.5 years ago, I was looking for a training group to be a part of. My running had plateaued, I was missing the aspect of “team” in running, and I wanted to meet more friends who shared this obsession of mine. From the day I first step foot on Ost Field, I was welcomed with open arms. What has meant the most to me, however, has been all of the support over the last year that I received when I set out on a very individualistic quest to finally catch my unicorn and qualify for Boston. It required a lot of time spent away from my running family, but I felt like they were with me every step of the way.

After I finished the Berlin Marathon and secured my spot at Boston, the texts and Facebook messages came flooding in. Mind you, Berlin was run at 9:30 a.m. Germany time, which was 2:30 a.m. Chicago time. How lucky am I to have such an amazing support system that was up at 2:30 tracking my race, posting about it to one another, and sending so many positive vibes my way? I get goosebumps just typing this now. Although I crossed the finish line and the BQ was next to my name, it took a village to get me to this point and I am eternally grateful for the words of encouragement, support, and inspiration from so many of the BWRC runners that played a huge role in helping me achieve my goal.

Serving as the Director of Marketing & Social Media for BWRC has been such an honor and I am excited for all that’s to come for our club in 2019. We have big dreams and hopes for our club, but without each and every one of our members, we would not be living this dream.

Thank you, BWRC, for one of the best years of my life. 2019 has a lot to live up to after everything that happened in 2018, but I know that with all of you by my side and the new friends that will join our club next year, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Love,

Katherine