Monday, March 31, 2014

Esprit de She!

I am excited to announce that I've joined the Athleta Esprit de She family as an ambassador!

NC friends... come join me in Cary on June 26 to run the 5K or 10K! Some of the perks include two complimentary drinks and a GoVino wine glass, post-race snacks, a one-year subscription to SELF magazine, an Athleta performance tank, and more! Yes, a sweet tank top instead of yet another standard tech-t AND a travel wine glass AND a post-race party. (Pretty sure they were thinking of me when they organized this!)

Register here, use the referral code EDS75, and let me know that you'll be joining us!  Hope to see many of you on June 26!!


Despite still being slightly behind where I had hoped with my training, March was actually a pretty decent month.  I feel like I have a pretty good base, and other than the bruise on my foot and a few occasional aches and pains, my body seems to be holding up ok (*knock on wood*).  My biggest concern is not having a run of more than 16 miles going into Boston.  But I did hit 40 miles last week (in March 2013, I topped out at 35 miles with one 18 miler and managed a marathon PR in Boston), so I'm trusting the plan and hoping for the best!

Running: 155 miles, 20:52:24
Cycling: 147 miles, 10:25:03
Calories: 23,820 (that's a lot of cookies)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Merge 25K

The Merge 25K was announced in the fall, and is a unique race that runs from Chapel Hill to Durham, in celebration of Merge Records' 25th anniversary.  The course is pretty hilly and I knew I'd be in the midst of Boston training, so I figured it would be a great supported training run, hopefully at marathon goal pace, and I knew it would be good for me to get off of the ATT and work on my hill running.

We did a test run a few weeks ago, and it really didn't go well for me at all.  The hills killed me and I decided to stop at mile 10.  Thankfully Nancy was willing to come back for me with the car, and it all worked out in the end, but I struggled to run at 8:30 pace and dropped 2/3 of the way in, so I was pretty skeptical about my ability to actually run the whole thing at or faster than MGP.  Plus my legs were feeling pretty heavy after a decent training week (the last 7 days included over 30 miles of running and 60+ miles on the bike).  On top of that, I spent the entire day before the race at the NCAA tournament in Raleigh and the last game finished around midnight, so I finally got to bed around 1am before waking up at 4 to take my dad to the airport.  So between the miserable test run, tired legs, and lack of sleep, I was extremely apprehensive going into the race.

Pre race RUN DRM tattoo modeling with Jennifer and Karen
Photo credit: Bull City Running Company
Originally my plan was to try to run at marathon goal pace (7:45), but my coach suggested running in the low 7:30s, so I figured I would shoot for something in the 7:30-7:45 range.  Sara had a similar plan, so we started out together.   We failed to get in a warm up, other than jogging off to find a bathroom spot (apparently it's not a race unless I pee in the woods), so we took the first couple miles pretty easy (7:50-7:48) before picking it up a little (miles 3-8 just under 7:35 pace).  Around halfway, Sara picked up the pace a little and I decided to keep steady in the 7:30s, so I was then running solo.  My legs didn't feel awesome, but I felt much better than I'd expected and was pleasantly surprised to be holding pace through the hills.

I've been struggling with race nutrition lately, as my last few attempts at mid-race gels have led to an upset stomach.  It's not a big deal for half marathons or anything shorter, which I can get through without taking anything, but I know that I will need to eat something at Boston and need to get this figured out.  Honey stinger chews (which size and texture-wise are comparable to gummy bears) have worked well for me on the bike, so I took some of those along for this run.  I ate one at miles 8, 9, and 10 and planned to eat one per mile for the rest of the race.  I was also drinking a few sips of water at all of the aid stations, which were about 2-3 miles apart.  Around mile 11, my stomach started acting up and the last chew and bit of water came back to haunt me.  With that out of the way, I felt a little better, and got back to the business of running 7:30s.  Unfortunately that was short-lived, and I got sick again at mile 13.3 (I remember checking my watch and thinking if only it was a half marathon, I'd be done).  I could tell there was a lot more to come, and my focus shifted to just getting through the last 2 miles so I could get off of the course and avoid massive public vomiting (no one wants to see that).  Through the last miles, I found that the fastest pace I could run without jostling my stomach too much was around 8:10.  My legs were feeling ok and cardio-wise I felt great, so it was hard to just watch the people around me pick up their paces to finish strong and not be able to go any faster.  As soon as I crossed the finish line, I ran out of the finisher area and found a secluded spot to get everything out that wanted to come out.  I'll spare you the further details, but I did finally feel a little better...  And my official time was under 2 hours, averaging 7:43 despite the slower miles at the end, so overall I'm pretty happy with the run.

One of the things I'd been most looking forward to about this race was the post-race party (I do love a good post-race party!), but unfortunately I couldn't stand the thought of eating or drinking anything.  I did my best to at least get through a beer, but two sips in I had to give it to Sara.  So disappointing!  It was a great race though - the course was pretty (despite the hills), it was well organized (of course, Bull City Running Co is the best), the weather was perfect, and the post-race festivities were great.  I just wish I could have enjoyed it more.

Despite the plan to stick around and enjoy the afternoon, we left right after the awards ceremony because I was still feeling pretty bad.  It was a ginger ale and crackers kind of day, I was running a slight fever, and had a few dizzy spells.  I was feeling a bit better the next morning and was scheduled to run an easy hour, but called it a day after two miles when I felt like I might throw up again.  I guess the good news is that the issues during yesterday's race might not have been due to the race nutrition.  I think this is the first time I've ever been happy to have a stomach bug, but it at least it means there's still hope for my marathon nutrition plan!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tobacco Road Half Marathon

I'd originally signed up for this with the intention of running at marathon goal pace (7:45), but my coach recommended that I try to run a bit faster, so my plan of semi-leisurely miles was out the window.  The race is on the Tobacco Trail, where I have probably run thousands of miles, so I know the course enough to know that despite the race description of a flat course, there are actually very few flat sections.  Granted, there are no real hills, with the exception of a couple small ones on the road section between the start/finish and the trail access, but the majority of the course in slight incline or decline, which really is quite different from flat.

With this in mind, the plan was to try to run mostly even effort, pushing a little harder on the incline sections to prevent my pace from falling way below the target.

The first mile was pretty crowded, and I felt like we were going really slow.  I was contemplating speeding up a bit until I saw the 1:30 pace group in front of me and realized that under no circumstances should I be passing them, so I just settled in.  My knee started to hurt around mile 2, which had be worried, but thankfully that went away when we turned on to the trail.

Miles 1-2: On the road, small rolling hills, out to the ATT access.  7:15-7:10

Once we were on the trail, I just concentrated on keeping my perceived effort around "comfortably hard" and was less concerned with pace than I normally would be in a race.  The weather was perfect (40s, partly cloudy), I had plenty of space, and other than the aid stations and occasional spectators, I felt like I was just out on a regular Sunday run.

Miles 3-5: Packed dirt/gravel, mostly decline. 7:07-7:05-7:09

It's an out and back course, so as I approached the turn around the leaders were coming back on the field.  I cheered for the leaders and focused on counting how many women were ahead of me as we headed up to the turn around point, and then looked for friends as I headed back.  This was a great distraction, especially as my the pain in my foot worsened (I'm still telling myself it's a bruise on the bottom of my foot and nothing more serious), but sadly I often didn't see people until they yelled "Go, Kara!" and by the time I realized who it was they had passed. (To all of my friends who cheered as I went by - I didn't mean to ignore you and your encouragement was very much appreciated!)

Miles 6-8: Up, down, hairpin around a cone, up and down again. 7:24-7:22-7:18

Showing of my Bull City Running Co temporary tattoo at mile 8
Thanks to my hubby for coming out to cheer and take pics!
Running up, even at a low grade, is definitely not my favorite, and I knew from experience that miles 9-11 were just a slow, steady incline.  I did work a little harder through this section, but was ok with slowing down a little and not letting my heart rate or level of exertion skyrocket.  My foot was definitely not happy, but I told myself I needed to stay at least below MGP.

Miles 9-11: Not uphill, but all at an incline.  7:28-7:40-7:31

Once we turned back onto the road, it was back to the rolling hills leading to the finish line.  I had had my sights on a woman in a blue shirt for quite a while, so I worked on closing the gap between us.  Ultimately, I was successful in this, but once I moved up next to her, she picked it up a notch and pulled away heading to the finish.  Once we turned into the park, I tried to push a little harder and finish strong, and ended up crossing the line in 1:36:13, which was not far off my time from Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, despite this being a more challenging course.  Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the run, but I could really do without the foot pain.

Miles 12-13.2: Back on pavement.  7:14-7:05-6:41

After crossing the line, I waited for Brittany, who had been right behind me at the turn and had a great race to finish with a 4 minute PR.  We headed to the car, changed, stopped by the beer tent, and then went back to cheer on friends who were running the full.  I jogged down to the bottom of the hill at mile 24.5 and ran for a bit with Anne Marie, who also had a great race a huge PR.  Once she was off to the finish, I went back down to meet Lora, and ran back up the hill and to mile 26 before calling it a day.  I joined the group of DC runners who were in town for the race and we cheered on a few more of their friends as they finished the marathon, took a few photos, and then headed home.  Just as well pulled out of the park, it started to rain, so thank you to Mother Nature, who apparently hates us this winter but was nice enough to let us stay dry on this particular day.

With the great contingent of DC runners who came down for the weekend

Ring that PR Bell!  Congratulations, friends!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Phoenix Half Marathon

We arrived in Phoenix on Friday, checked into the Hyatt Mesa (host hotel), walked over to packet pickup, grabbed and early dinner, and then sat out by the pool where we enjoyed the little bit of sunshine that the trip would bring. 

Saturday morning I woke up before my 4 am alarm, went through the usual pre-race process, and walked over to the shuttle busses around 4:45. It's a point to point race with no parking at the start, so everyone had to ride the shuttle. The busses ran from 3:45 until 5:00, so it was great to be able to see them out of my window as I got ready and not have to worry about any additional logistics given the already early morning. I boarded a bus fairly quickly, and arrived at the start line around 5:10, leaving me with an hour and twenty minutes to kill until race time. Fortunately it wasn't cold (temps around 60), but the wind was blowing pretty hard and every now and then it would sprinkle a little, but fortunately the heavier rains held off for most of the time we were sitting around. I was a little cool in my singlet and shorts, but had to laugh as thousands of runners clad in capris, pants, and jackets huddled around the 60+ heat lamps they'd set up in the parking lot. Of all of the races I've done, at least 75% have been in colder weather (often MUCH colder), yet this was the first time I'd seen a sea of heat lamps like that. I went through the porta potty line, walked down to check out the start, went through the line again, and then found the 1:40 pace group. It started to rain as they played the national anthem at 6:05, so I put on my garbage bag for the warm up. I went off with the pace group and we ran about a mile or so before heading up to the start. We had a few minutes left and I had to pee again, so I ducked off into the woods with a few dozen others. I had to laugh again because I couldn't think of many other situations where people would be peeing in the woods around total strangers with little (if any) attempt to hide. Ah, runners… lol

Over the last few weeks, I've been building my mileage little by little and even added in a track workout last Tuesday, but I wasn't sure what I could expect of myself. I decided to start with the 1:40 group (7:38 pace) to be sure that I didn't start out too fast, but given the course (all flat or gentle downhill), I was hoping to finish somewhere between 1:35 and 1:38. The rain picked up as we waited to start, but thankfully the wind seemed to die down a bit. After battling the wind in Myrtle Beach two weeks ago, I decided the rain was definitely the lesser of two evils, and it wasn't a cold rain, so I really didn't mind.

After about five minutes with the 1:40 group I'd been chatting with, I sped up and settled in around 7:15 pace, coming through the first mile in 7:27. I stayed pretty consistent with my pacing (miles 2-9 were all between 7:10-7:17), drank Gatorade at the water stops, roughly ever other mile, and felt surprisingly good. The rain mostly stopped after mile 2, and the clouds helped to keep the temps from climbing out of the 60s, so I was thankful for that. The only thing that was bothering me was the bruise on the bottom of my right foot, but that hurts with every step regardless of walking, jogging, or running fast, so I figured the faster I ran, the sooner I'd be done and slowing down certainly wasn't going to help with that. I considered taking a gel or some honey stingers about an hour into the race, but after the less than awesome experience I had eating Gu while trying to run fast-ish (at Battleship in November), that idea was off-putting and I decided to just stick with gatorade. It worked out ok for this half, but I'm really going to have to figure something out before Boston.

Somewhere between miles 9 and 10, I started coming up on the 10k runners. The 10K ran on the last 6.2 miles of the marathon/half marathon course, but started a bit later. This really wouldn't be a problem if the walkers and joggers at the back end of the 10k were a bit more courteous, but they didn't seem to care that I'd already been running for over an hour, had a time goal, and was trying to get by. The weaving, curb-hopping, and missed water (there were so many people walking through that it was impossible to grab water on the move) had me really frustrated; and combined with the fact that I was actually starting to feel tired, I fell a bit out of my rhythm and off my pace (7:29 and 7:28 for miles 11 and 12). Fortunately once I passed the mile 12 marker, I was able to get it together a little and pick the pace back up for the last mile. As mile 13 beeped on my Garmin, I realized that if I hurried I could get in under 1:36, so I did what I could to kick to the finish (which I am always lacking) and crossed the line 1:35:58.

I got my medal and a water and headed out of the finisher's area, met Monte at our agreed upon spot, and walked back to the hotel. The awards ceremony for the half was supposed to be at 9, and we were back at the Hyatt by 8:15, so I had time to get some breakfast (they had a pretty decent free spread) and take a quick shower before heading back to the post-race festivities. Yet another reason staying at this host hotel was a fantastic decision… I wish every finish line was only a 3 minute walk away from a post-race shower! 

Results/awards were delayed, so after an announcement that it would be while, we went back to the hotel so I could eat another breakfast and get packed up while we were waiting. The second return to the finish line was well-timed, as they were in the middle of the awards ceremony but hadn't yet gotten to my division. Monte told me that I was around the 35th female, but that there were a couple of women ahead of me who might have been Athenas, so I wasn't sure if I'd placed. Either they were under 150 or didn't want to race in the heavy weight division, because I finished first and am now two for two in winning my division in half marathons with weight classes! 

Pros: Nice swag (wearable race shirt, arm sleeves), convenient host hotel, fast course, well organized, plenty of busses to the start, pre-race heaters.
Cons: The last bus leaves at 5 am, which is well before the 6:30 race start; few spectators (though this could have been due to the rain); the 10K creates a lot of congestion, results/awards over an hour later than scheduled.
Verdict: I would definitely run this race again, and may consider the full some time in the future.


The good news is I'm running knee-pain free!  I'm starting to get some consistency back into my running training, but it's a slow process and my weekly mileage is only back into the 20s.  

The most exciting news from this month, though, is that I've hired a coach!  With so many races on the calendar and some ambitious time and distance goals, I think it will prove to be a wise investment, and I am really excited to see what happens!