Friday, July 31, 2015

One year as a 'coached athlete'

In many aspects of life I operate under the "If it ain't broke...don't fix it" model of handling things. With regards to my running this was how I stayed healthy (mostly) and saw improvements along the way.

Last summer, it broke.

So, I set out to fix it and picked up some help along the way. It's been a year now, and can definitely see the changes working with a coach has produced. I've talked a lot about WHY I hired one but now I can look back and see the results of it. It doesn't mean I wasn't successful before, and hiring a coach doesn't mean handing over all control; it is a 'team' effort. At the end of the day, yes it's me who has to do the work and grind out the miles but having support on HOW to run those miles has been crucial.

Self Coaching
I had coaches in high school and college, obviously- but post collegiate running for me wasn't something I ever saw turning into what it is now(for me personally). So a coach was never really a thought for the longest time, and that was okay. I truly enjoy reading and learning about running, training and different methods used to achieve results. Combine that with my own experience, and self coaching was actually the best thing for me at the time.

What worked well for me: The freedom/control of making my own schedule. I enjoyed sitting down and piecing together the puzzle a training plan can be. I was generally pretty accurate with assessments of my ability, and I was still improving.

What didn't work so well: I ran too fast on easy days and didn't push enough on workouts. I was VERY inconsistent with mileage(with the exception of the final few months). I didn't have the accountability and would constantly change the plan that I had laid out. I also wasn't good at implementing workouts that I didn't like, even though I knew they would make me stronger (Tempo's, I'm looking at you).

PR's: I wasn't completely flailing around aimlessly while self-coaching and my times proved that. My first marathon was a 3:46 and my last PR before hiring a coach was 3:13; a 33 minute difference. My half marathon time went from 1:45 down to 1:29, as well as 5+ minute improvements at both the 5k and 10k distances.

Currently: 1 Year with Coach
What works well: Accountability is probably the most important. Because he is making the plan for me(including paces) I stress much less about training because I just simply do what is written down and don't have to think about it much. He also implements workouts that will help me better reach my goals, and workouts that will help strengthen my weaknesses instead of strengthening my strengths(read: he makes me do tempo's). He understands how my mind operates when it comes to training- and is good about explaining WHY he gives me certain workouts.

What I miss: I admit, there are times I miss having a little more control (which has more to do with the many stubborn thick headed tendencies I have than it has to do with coach). There are times I'd love to just throw the training plan out the window for a week or two. {BUT I have learned what things typically trigger those responses, and also what are actions better suited to fix it. I also am comfortable having conversations with coach about where I am at- and if I think I need something different}.

Challenges: We are internet/phone based so sometimes communication can be tough. Yes there are so many ways to stay connected but with 2 people and VERY busy schedules on both ends it can present a challenge. Different environments; he lives in the South and I obviously do not; here enters winter training and the need to explain lots and lots of things (usually involving photo messages of snowbanks and temperature readings with captions along the lines of "F'n treadmill time" or "I fell on my ass with ice").

PR's: In the past year, I have improved my personal bests in the 5 mile, 15k, half and full marathon distances. I have a bone to pick with that darn 5k PR, it's going down next weekend(8/8) if it's the last thing I do!
5K: 19:09
5M: 31:57*
10K: 41:20
15K: 1:02:12*
Half-Marathon: 1:28:44*
Marathon: 3:04:03* {9:25 improvement (1:45 PR, 7:03 PR, :37 PR)}

It is worth noting that I have broken some of my best times in workouts (which I don't list as official PR's above), but I simply don't race some distances very often. It's also worth noting that the biggest improvement has been in the marathon, because that is what we have been focusing on. I love the marathon distance, and have a strong desire to see what I can do with it. This means at times neglecting other race distances to keep my focus on my 'A' goals.

I know that I got extremely lucky with my coach; as in the first one I worked with was actually the kind of coach I needed. We have similar training philosophies but yet he still gives me new workouts and challenges me. I look forward to continuing this and seeing what we can do with focus on other distances, as soon as I get that pesky marathon elephant off my back ;)

I don't think everyone NEEDS a coach, and I know that I won't always have one. Running(at a semi-competitive level) will not always be as high of a priority for me as it is now(I say that as an honest reality). I do think there are many ways you can benefit from the guidance of a coach though, assuming it is the RIGHT coach for you. Having a coach requires putting trust in someone else which isn't always easy- I think it has become so much better for me because I trust him, but more importantly I trust myself. I know that I work hard, I know that I am capable of a lot of things; but I also know that I stand to gain a lot of experience and knowledge from working with someone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tibbetts Point 10k

I've mentioned a few times on here that my family has a place up in the Thousand Islands region. It's not in an overly populated area (we are about 35 minutes from the super crowded touristy stuff) so there really aren't many races. This meant there wasn't any containment of my excitement when I saw that the small town (Cape Vincent) 5 miles from our cabin holds a 5k/10k race later in July. It meant an extra weekend at the cabin, but still could jump in a small race; the course also happens to be on my favorite route to run up there.

Originally I had convinced my parents to do the race, we would all make a fun weekend out of it. I then invited Heather to come spend time with us too, as she had been to the cabin last summer with me. Hollie was planning on joining us from NJ as well. Life happens and things changed and my parents as well as Hollie were unable to come up for the race. The weekend was still going to happen, Heather and I even convinced Meg to come with us after hanging out with her at Boilermaker the previous weekend.

So that was a super long intro to say I was excited to run a really pretty race, in an area I love with some good friends. Anyways....

Blurry but this photo was the beginning of a GREAT weekend.
The part of the weekend leading up to the race was about what you would expect for myself and two friends. Friday night after driving up there, we sat under a covered deck watching live music complete with burgers and brews. Saturday's theme was "if we want to start drinking we need to go run", which set the tone for the day. We ran, kayaked, swam, treasure hunted (pulled 20 golf balls out of the bay), drank beers, napped, and so on and so forth. It was what a summer day in the islands should be.

The second evening involved movies, cooking dinner, bourbon drinking sunset, goofing around with sparklers (Harry Potter spells getting thrown around), and curling up with the bedtime movie that is "Team America". You know you want to be friends with us.

Photo collage courtesy of Meg
Sunday came and so did the realization that we actually had to get our butts in gear. The race didn't start until 10 (that should be illegal), which meant a little easier going morning but also a much toastier race. We may have questioned the affect the extra nightcap of Woodford, but agreed- it didn't matter.

Out of the 3 of us, 0% of us would be "racing" the 10k. We had all raced Boilermaker the weekend before, and planned on using it as a workout or part of a long run. We each did long warm-up runs, and then meandered to the start of the race. I kind of checked people out at the start line, admittedly I knew that I could probably win the race even as a workout- but I also knew that if someone was near me it would be hard to hold back and NOT race.

The 5k and 10k started at the same time, so the first half mile was spent doing the whole "let it go" rendition in my head while the 5k runners took off speedy.  I focused on holding back while trying to figure out who was in the 5k and who was in the 10, praying someone went straight (10k) instead of turning for the 5k. Luckily about 6-7 guys continued on past the turnaround and I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew the course and it wasn't about getting lost, I just really didn't want to be in the lead and feel like I had to hold the race. I enjoyed the views that  I have ran by many times, and also savored the 10-15 seconds of shade whenever we went under tree cover.

When we got up to the lighthouse I smiled because it's one of my favorite places. Tibbett's point lighthouse marks where the St. Lawrence river meets Lake Ontario- and when you look across the water you see Canadian soil (and lots of windmills).
source (here)
I took some water from a volunteer, drank some and dumped the rest on myself. After the turnaround I knew I would see Heather and Megan coming back at me. I waved my hands in the air like an idiot for about a minute while cheering for them. We were mimicking some Team America stuff from the night before, and confusing the other runners in the process.

By this point the residents along the lighthouse road realized there was a race and had come out and started cheering and watching the runners go by. I smiled and waved, while enjoying some "you go girl" comments. I passed 1 or 2 guys and then realized despite the heat, I was feeling good. My legs wanted to go. I stopped looking at my watch and just let myself run- as long as I wasn't pushing (I pinky promised I wouldn't push and race). Once we got back closer to town I started reeling in the rest of the guys, and wanted to try and catch 1-2 more. We made the final few turns, ran through a sprinkler, and then found myself on the tiny incline to the finish. I cruised around the corner and saw the time, knowing I had done what I wanted to do and also snagged a win.

42:13 (6:48 pace) 

First Female, 4th overall. The funny part is, had I actually raced it I could have won the whole shebang (The winning male was less than a minute ahead of me). But I know that a goal marathon paced workout was far more conducive to my training at this point. Not going to complain about a win(by 6 minutes) and a solid workout time coinciding though.

I found the rest of Team America and we got some water and stood there sweating buckets together. Eventually went off to run a few cool down miles to round out the long run for the day and come back for awards.

My name will be engraved on this super awesome lighthouse shaped trophy, probably for no one to ever see until the race next year (I'm assuming it sits in a closet somewhere all year).

I did snag a beer mug with painted lighthouse on it which I loved. Too bad the moment water hit the paint it all came off- ruined beer mug and a sad face ensued. Oh well, we at least got one photo of it before it died prematurely. RIP beer mug.
No I don't look hot, tired, ready for beer. I have no idea what you are talking about.

Overall, obviously a fantastic weekend with friends. This was the first time I had ran this race, and will most likely keep doing it- even if just as part of a run. It was incredibly well done race, low entry fee, friendly people, decent water stops- and extra excuse to spend a weekend at the cabin in the islands. My only gripe would be that it needs to start before 10's July, after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Boilermaker (20)15k

When you get to do a fun race that also is a check-mark on the bucket list, it's double winning. A fun race, a PR, weekend with friends, AND bucket list check- epic winning. Boilermaker 15k 2015 will definitely go down as the latter.

Boilermaker has been on my list for a while now. It takes place in Utica, NY is known as one of the best 15k's in the country{which is odd, because...Utica}. Second Sunday in July, challenging course, and finishes with a HUGE party at a brewery. I like races, I like a challenge, and I certainly like a beer (or two)- kind of a no brainer. To say I was excited to do it this year, would be an understatement.

Race morning was pretty smooth. Heather and I were up early and went to Dunkin' then came back to hotel to finish getting ready. It was an easy ride to the start line. We concluded that I would be singing Pitbull songs the whole race (I was bib 305), Heather was going to be the snuffly one (worst luck of getting sick right before the race!), and her man was going to be the hall monitor (he recited us the rules in a funny fashion). We each had our roles, and it was going to be a good day!

We parked near the start (point to point course) and started with the usual pre-race routines. You know the excessive body glide application, bag check, bathroom lines, warm-up and strides; everything was going smoothly. I made my way to the corrals, and was happy to only be in the second one from the start. I had a good placement, and managed to find friends to chat with before we took off.

Heather had told me that there was a house, a tenth of a mile into the race that would make me laugh. Sure enough, on the right at a tenth of a mile into the race was a house yelling "only 9.2 miles to go". They were loud and rowdy and had everyone running and smiling. I knew I was going to like this race.
Photo source:
My plan was to start conservative, no real shocker there as that is my go-to strategy. The first few miles of this race are rolling, with a large hill at the golf course around mile 4. I stuck true to my plan but was more conservative than I needed to be. Having not run the course before I wanted to make sure I didn't run it stupidly. I hit the first 5k in a little over 21 minutes, I knew right then it was too slow. Put it this way, my 40k split in Boston was faster than this split. Live and learn.

I knew I could make up ground on the back half of the course, but wanted to wait until after the hill. Before heading up I took 2 cups of water and a cup of ice at an aid station. 1 cup of water in the mouth, 1 cup of water on my head, and 1 cup of ice down my bra. My goal was to prevent myself from overheating as early as possible. I went up the hill around 7:10 pace, it's a good sized hill but I do think I could have pushed on the gas a little more without killing myself.

After that uphill, the downhill is like going down a ski slope. I was instantly hitting 6:15's without even trying. I focused on going with the descent but also controlling form not to kill my legs.  I hit the 10k mark in 41:48 so had made up some ground even with the 7:10 split in there. I was continuing with some ice, and water working hard on staying cool and hydrated. I also went through no less than 5 sprinklers and hoses that spectators had on course. I looked like I jumped into a pool, but the best part was that I felt like it too. Mission accomplished to prevent over heating.

Mile 7 was probably my least favorite of the day. It's slight incline, wide open road with no protection from the sun. I kept the pace under 7 still but definitely slowed. Once I got past that though, I felt wound up and ready to go. I was passing more and more people and knew that I could finish with a decent negative split. I was going back and forth with two guys, both were encouraging me and we just kept picking people off. I was excited and knew a fun finish line waited for me.

Love my "party shorts". Also happy I raced in the Fast Twitch for a little more support than my flats (for the elevation changes).
I got a nasty side stitch in the last 1/4 of a mile which made pushing through the chute slower than I wanted but didn't really affect the outcome of the race...maybe a few seconds, if that. I finished in 1:02:12, which is almost a 4 minute PR! Granted I hadn't run a 15k in 2 years, and expected a large PR. My old best was slower than my current marathon pace, so I was prepared for a good day- but a PR is a PR!

I will actually get an Age Group Award because a few of the people ahead of me took overall places which pulls them out of AG contention. 3rd Place 25-29, hell yeah!
Controlled execution.
The guys I was running with fist bumped me and we chatted walking through the finisher area a bit. I got my finishers pin, and found my way to water, bag check and then BEER. The finish area was very well organized and I had known where I needed to be, as we had planned our meetup spot. Finishing at a brewery is genius, just throwing that out there. Music was blasting, people filing in more and more by the minute, and fresh cold summer pils by the truck load.

My favorite part of the whole day was standing drinking a beer and seeing Heather walk towards me after the race. She had that big goofy smile on her face that told me instantly she had a good race. Loved seeing the happy face when she told me she PR'd despite being sick- it was time to celebrate! Great friends able to celebrate each others successes- something that can be hard to come by these days.
We chatted about our races, the fun things we saw/heard, and enjoyed the time as more and more of our group joined us at the party. I can see why so many people do this race every single year, you can bet I'll be back for more. It says a lot about how awesome a race is, that despite being very warm and a challenging course people keep coming back year after year. I would compare the spectators and race execution to that of Boston- but on a 15k scale. The community gets so involved, people love this weekend, and everyone has a good time runner or not.

Post-Race Thoughts
Of course I am incredibly happy with such a big PR, and I really don't have any complaints about this race. Sure, I KNOW I could have gone faster but it was less because I couldn't and more because I didn't. I felt it was wise to play it a little safe my first time on the course. I can look back and see where I could have given more, there are a few spots and I know for next time. Overall my execution went very well, fueling, pacing, and mental game were all on point. I ran about what I expected, based on where I am at in training, course, conditions etc.

Boilermaker, I'll be back for you next year.

Overall it was a great weekend, a well executed race, and a fun experience. Can't ask for much more than that!

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Running Update: Base Building

I figured it might be time to actually update on my running, and not just random 5k recaps that have been splattered on this corner of the web.

The last 7 weeks of training have been pretty standard. Lots of easy running, some track workouts, and nothing crazy long. In essence, just getting a good base. My mileage each week has been as low as 40 and last week was the highest at a little over 55. That used to be a peak week, but after taking time to build properly it's nice to see that as a base number.

Mentally I am in a good place with my training right now. First and foremost- I am ENJOYING training. Sometimes it becomes so much of a grind that we forget why we do what we do, this isn't my job and isn't paying my bills- so I want to enjoy it. Yes there are days it's tougher than others to get out the door, and some workouts are better than others but that is the natural ebb and flow that goes with training and life. I enjoy looking at my schedule and seeing work, workouts, and other things- the busy life works well for me and I tend to thrive that way.

The Easy "Stuff"
I've been good about taking the easy miles actually easy- and not stressing about pace. The time on the feet is important and there is no reason to be pushing on non-workout days. Something I learned the hard way. I've actually found I have been able to relax on easy runs lately- zoning out more and thinking less about what I'm doing and actually just doing it.

My endurance is pretty good right now. It's hard for me to personally quantify that, when I haven't had any really long runs (Longs have been between 12-16), but I know that the overall mileage has been doing its job. I admit though, I'm looking forward to some longer runs- that's the mental part of marathon training kicking in for me.

The Workouts
I've done more consistent track workouts in the last few weeks than I have in a while- as tempos were taking focus before. I've enjoyed being back on the track, and grinding out 1 km and 1 M repeats. Track workouts are "comfort" to me, because it's something I did for so long- and gives me confidence in myself. I enjoy running in circles, focusing on one lap at a time, and pushing for paces. My turnover has seen some big improvement lately, and I feel the difference in my form from consistently working on this.

I think my favorite of the workouts I have been doing are the fartleks or the mile repeats. Fartleks are a great way to mix in speed, but the mile repeats are such a quantifiable workout. It's one mile, there are no calculations to be made, no guess work- it's a mile and whatever time it takes me to run it- is the result. I know that these shorter workouts are going to fade now that it's time to get to more marathon specific work but it doesn't mean those efforts didn't help my speed along the way. I do admit that I am looking forward to the additions of tempos again though, I know that those played a huge role in my half and full marathon PR's. Remind me of that in a few weeks when I'm losing my mind staring at a ridiculously long and hard tempo run in 90 degrees.

The Other "Stuff"
I've been pretty consistent about cross training(Swimming, cycling, some elliptical), and getting supplemental training (strength training) in. No super long efforts, but more consistent throughout the weeks as a whole. I actually enjoy cross training, as well as working on getting stronger- it mentally helps break up the week a bit too. I do admit though, cycling and swimming lately has put the tri bug back in my ear a bit. Don't be shocked if I throw some triathlons back in the mix next year- I have unfinished business with the 70.3 distance and would love to drop my time down quite a bit. But that is a post for another day.

Even on vacation I made sure to get my strength work in- although my nephew hijacked my "medicine ball"
I've also been good about doing my own Pre-Hab at home. E-Stim, Ice baths, stretching/dynamic stretching, rolling, etc. I know we don't always see the benefits of these things right away which is hard (lets be honest, as a whole society is driven by the promise of instant gratification)- but I know that in the grand scheme of things this is all really important to do. I've found even just a few minutes of dynamic stretching or some simple yoga poses before bed really helps- and is a manageable amount of time even on the busiest of days.

Now what?
This week is a cutback week for me as I will be racing Boilermaker 15k on Sunday. I haven't ran a 15k in over 2 years so I am curious to see what I can do, either way it will be a good time. Boilermaker is an iconic race, and a bucket list item- also means weekend adventures with Heather:)

The last 7 weeks have been a solid foundation, now it's time to build on that. My goal marathon is less than 10 weeks away. Originally my plan was a mid fall goal marathon- that was thrown out the window HAPPILY when I found out I would be working with Saucony, Competitor, and Brittany for the Chicago Marathon/ Saucony 26 Strong.  After a lot of debate, it was decided that doing my goal race BEFORE Chicago would be best.

This allows me to focus on my training and what I need to do, and then switch gears afterwards and focus on Chicago and getting Britt to her own finish line. I want to go into Chicago not thinking anything about my own running- because that race is Britt's and I want to do everything I can to support her. This also allows me to have the rest of the fall to unwind a bit and NOT be marathon training. I feel like this will be a good "break" in late fall, before getting ready to ship up to Boston in the spring again.

See you next week for a Boilermaker recap! (I'm typing that so maybe I have some accountability not to wait a million days after the race to write it )

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Summer of Stupidity & A Work in Progress

I've alluded to it a few times (particularly when I discussed hiring a coach)- but I can openly admit that last summer I was on a destructive path with my running{which also affects life....}. It's something I think about often, in hopes that I don't go back to that again. You guys, it wasn't worth it.

This time last year was the turning point where things went from okay to seriously not okay in a hot second. It's hard to look back but at the same time it's good to see what I have learned and how far I have come in a year. A lot of these are going to seem like common sense- but you'd be amazed at how EASY it is to fall into these traps.

1. I wasn't taking the time to recover. I was working insane hours, combined with heavier training  I'd done before- and I simply wasn't resting. Add in the fact that I never recovered from Boston properly because I was vulnerable and thought diving back into things would help me get through life. Sometimes I would be so busy I would use my 17 hour double work days as my 'rest days' from running- nope, that really isn't resting or recovery. I'd be good with it for a few weeks, and then crash hard and spend a day in bed sleeping. Not a good cycle.
Everything is great! Then it wasn't.
2. I let my nerdiness get the best of me. I LOVE numbers, particularly running numbers. I was so focused on numbers I needed to hit- whether it was daily/weekly/monthly mileage, or paces. I ran more off of feel than specific miles/paces for years- and it served me very well. But all of the sudden I believed that I couldn't get better without the numbers. Which- I do partially believe is true, but when you go about it the smart way. I believe one of the best things is pace RANGES, some days your easier pace might be slower than others- and not being tied to a set number is important.

3. I was running too fast on my easy runs. ALL. THE. TIME. This is something I was always a bit guilty of- but last summer took it to an extreme. I was dealing with a lot of peaks and valleys with my emotions which manifested itself in my running. Once in a while going a little faster on an easy day is one thing, but this was EVERY day. That accumulated over the course of a few months and it came to the point where I couldn't even hold 'easy pace' in a race. My body didn't know how to push at races anymore, because I had pushed it every other day of the week. When I finally started working with my coach (August), I questioned my ability to hit paces in the long tempos he gave me. Oddly enough I found slowing down on my easy days like he said, meant I had way more energy on workout days and was able to get it done- imagine that!

4. I was taking advice from the wrong people. I'm a nerd, not only do I love numbers but I also love learning about things. I read mountains of books and articles each year about running, training, racing, nutrition and general fitness. I ask questions to those people who know more than me, or know about something that I may not be familiar with. This is a good thing, I do think my willingness to learn has helped make me the runner that I am. BUT, in this day and age. It's easy to get caught up in- he/she is fast so they must know the best information! He/she is a certified coach so there is NO WAY they would give me bad advice. Pardon me, but I once read a blog post by a "certified coach" who classified 800m intervals as a tempo run....because it was Tuesday- TEMPO Tuesday y'all! {NOTE: This is not a person I was taking advice from, just an example}. I was listening to advice that wasn't right for me, and some of it just not right in general.

5. I stopped practicing what I believed in (and what had worked for me). I was always good about backing off when I felt I needed to, taking an extra rest day (or cross training) when warranted, and other such things. I stayed pretty damn healthy and injury free for a long time because of that. Last summer, not so much. I felt like backing off was a sign of weakness. That you gain through pushing when you can't anymore, in some cases it's true but not always. I was trying to be a completely different runner than I was before, changing everything about the way I ran and trained- instead of focusing on one thing at a time. Change isn't a bad thing; but I basically tried taking an entire engine apart at once while it was still in the car going 100 miles an hour down the highway- and I don't exactly have Fast & Furious type skills.
Any excuse I can to use a Paul Walker GIF.
6. I fell into the "eat/drink what's convenient trap". Because I was working so much, it didn't always leave a lot of time for making healthy meals. I knew better, I knew I should be prepping my food, packing lunches, and not making excuses. I was eating out of convenience, and admittedly was indulging far too often. A few drinks after work, became more of a normal occurrence. Granted this was less about convenience, and more about washing away the pain and helping me sleep. Some days I ate little to nothing and others I rivaled the diet of an NFL linebacker. The lack of proper fueling on my part, definitely played a part in lack of recovery and lack of energy when I needed it.

7. I played the blame game. So and so made me feel this way so I need to do this. The weather was so bad that's why I bonked. I was told I need to do this or won't get faster, it ran me into the ground. I'm hurting so I'm allowed to do what I want.

Fact of the matter: I wasn't making smart decisions and that's my own fault- but at the time I was doing what I needed to in order to get by. I can't change it, I don't regret it- but I can learn from it.

Looking back it all makes me laugh, and cringe. Yeah, I do a lot of cringing. I thought that looking back certain events last year would be tough- and it was. But it's far tougher to see look back and see the things that I was doing wrong that I was actually in control of.

This year things are far different, and I am grateful to have a good support system that helped me get there. I say all the time, running may be individual but I certainly always feel like I have a team. I rest when I need to, I run easier paces on my easy days but I also run harder on workout days- it's been a good balance. While I sometimes still struggle with the nerdiness and wanting to see all of the numbers- it's gotten easier because this time around I'm actually trained and ready for more.

I've taken a lot of time to really reflect, and adjust my attitude about things. I've become a much more positive person in the last year or so- and it has had an impact on all aspects of my life. Taking responsibility, and taking control of the things that I can. I'm far from perfect, and I know I have some bad habits still- but it's okay to be a work in progress, that means you're living your life.
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