Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon

I’m not exactly sure why or when, but sometime over the summer I decided to register for the Richmond Half Marathon on November 11.

It’s a convenient local-ish race and one I have quite a positive history with. While I’ve never run the half marathon distance, I’ve run the Richmond Marathon a total of three times. It was the site of my very first marathon (in 2009) and the third time I ran it (in 2014), I achieved a pretty big PR. Because of that, Richmond has always held a special place in my heart. Richmond is also known as “America’s friendliest marathon” and while that may be a bit of hyperbole, I have always appreciated the tremendous course support at the race.

Registering for the half distance this year created some training challenges, as I’d be coming off the Cloudsplitter 50k, just 5 weeks earlier on October 7. Suffice it to say, training for a trail 50k and training for a road half couldn’t be more different. The former requires a strength/endurance focus, while the latter, speed. I didn’t have much turnaround time – just three weeks – once I factored in recovery after the 50k and taper for the half. My training largely consisted of some of my “favorite” Team HPB speed sessions on the treadmill and one two-hour tempo run outside two weeks before the race. I was able to nail that tempo session, which made me feel fairly confident heading into Richmond, but you never know how you’ll feel on race day.

Speaking of race day, the weather leading up to race day was a bit of a puzzle for me. I usually run hot, but with temps predicted to be in the 20s, I wasn’t sure how to approach dressing for the race. I ended up packing three outfits with progressing levels of warmth – (1) capris and a lightweight long sleeve; (2) tights and a lightweight long sleeve; and (3) tights and a mid-weight long sleeve and a very lightweight wind vest. More on that shortly.

Richmond is always a Saturday race, which I normally love because you have Sunday to recover. However, this year, it presented some challenges for me. I had a work event the day before and it wasn’t something I could skip or leave early. My normal eating would also be thrown off, as lunch would be catered in and there weren’t any vegan options. I should have packed a PB&J, but hindsight is 20-20.

In any case, by the time I left the event and drove down to Richmond in rush hour traffic I was tired and starving. I’ve never, ever, moved so quickly to get in and out of an expo. I probably spent a total of two minutes running in, grabbing my bib and teeshirt, and running out. My bib number was 12666, by the way. Not a good omen.

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After I left the expo, I checked into my hotel (the Candlewood Suites, which I highly recommend if you’re doing this race!), ate spaghetti I packed from home, laid out all of my gear for the next morning, and went to bed.

On race morning, I settled on the medium warmth outfit – tights and a lightweight long sleeve. I followed my standard race morning routine with regard to breakfast, got in my car, and drove the ten minutes into Richmond only to realize that I didn’t have cash to park in the parking garage. #racemorningfail

Luckily traffic was light and I was able to scoot back to my hotel, grab cash, get back to the parking garage, and run to the start just in the nick of time. It definitely wasn’t an ideal way to start the morning.

By the time I got to the start line I was feeling really hot. I normally leave on a layer of throwaway clothes – at least a light shirt – at the start when it’s cold (and in this case, temps were in the low 20s), but I was so warm, the only extra layers I wore were gloves and a headband. I ditched the rest of my layers in the coral. I assumed I was warm because I had a bit of a frantic morning, but it ended up that I was coming down with a stomach bug – more on that in a bit.

My race strategy was similar to what I did at the Rehoboth Marathon in December 2016. I set my Garmin to only show my pace and distance for the mile (lap) I was in and as soon as the mile past, I put it out of my mind. I tried to focus on staying relaxed and getting into a rhythm, but I just didn’t feel right. I didn’t know I was getting sick at the time, so it was a mystery to me, but I just tried to focus on my cadence and nutrition. I’ve learned over the years that you can only focus on what you can control during a race.

At one point, the half course has an out and back section and I noticed there were some speedsters heading back as I was heading out. I figured I would probably see Alyssa during this stretch, so I moved to the right so I had a better line of sight. I did end up seeing her and I was able to give her a quick cheer. It gave me a boost, too, to see a familiar face.

I ditched my gloves and headband in the park (at about half way) and in retrospect, might have been better off in a tee shirt and arm warmers because it was warming up (or, I was warming up). I definitely should have worn sunglasses. It was really perfect fall racing weather with the brisk temps and sunny skies.

My only physical issue during the race was a tight left hip flexor, which I paused to stretch, but was otherwise able to work through.

The half marathon course was definitely not as scenic as I remember the full course being in my three prior Richmond Marathon experiences. Maybe that is true, maybe I am remembering incorrectly – OR, more likely, maybe I’ve been spoiled by all of the trail running I’ve been doing over the past year. In any case, between that, the cold temps keeping the spectators away, and not feeling quite 100%, I can’t say this was quite the usual Richmond experience for me. That being said, I kept my head in the game, focused on my nutrition, and ended up crossing the line in 1:56.28.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to celebrate a solid race because after I got back my hotel and showered, I ended up getting quite sick with a stomach bug. I will spare you the details, but it was unpleasant to say the least and definitely not the ideal way to recover after a race effort (especially with a full marathon on the schedule just three weeks later).

The stomach bug was mostly better in about 24 hours, but I didn’t feel right for several days. With the short turnaround time to the Rehoboth Marathon, I didn’t have much time to rest and recover. Just one week post race I did a 3:30 easy effort so that I would get in at least one long endurance run before the full. That run actually went decently well, which was a pleasant surprise. I was even able to go to a “Friendsgiving” and have fun that evening, which is pretty good considering I ran over 21 miles.

Now, I’m tapering and focusing on nutrition, rest, and recovery for the next two weeks as I prepare for Rehoboth on December 2. I also want to keep stretching out the hip flexor so that I don’t have to worry about that on race day, and foam rolling to make sure I can stay injury-free for my last race of 2017. My goal in Rehoboth is to run a 4:10 or faster, which will be a challenge, but is certainly within the realm of possibility, as I ran a 4:11 and change there last year.

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Double PRs

I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, the first time I’ve had enough spare time to blog in THREE months, which is certainly a personal worst for me. I started a new job this fall and I’m still adjusting to my new schedule. I love the job. I’m working in sales for a title company (call me if you work in real estate in Metro D.C. area!).

In any case, even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve actually been racing quite a bit! Back in October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon as a member of Team Fisher House. I’m proud to have raised $2,655.00 for Fisher House, which is an incredible organization. I definitely encourage you to look them up if you aren’t familiar with the work they do.

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Leading up to the race, both Alyssa and I thought I could have a good day based on some of my times during my key workouts, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. I finished in 4:33 something, which isn’t a personal worst, but I knew I was capable of running a much faster race. So, despite quitting sports forever somewhere around mile 16 of the race, just a few days afterward I registered to run the Rehoboth Marathon on December 3. It’s incredible how easy it is for Alyssa to talk me into things.

In the interim, I ran the Vienna Turkey Trot, which is a great local race on a surprisingly challenging course. This event was a lot of fun, as many of my friends ran as well.

Okay, so now on to Rehoboth. I’ve had a really long season this year. I ran the L.A. Marathon back in February and then of course Marine Corps in October, and an Ironman, the Tour de Skyline, and several other events in-between. I’ve never done two marathons so close together (just five weeks apart). I really wasn’t sure what to expect of my body at all. I joked with Alyssa that I thought I would have a good race because my training was going so poorly. Alyssa told me to have fun, no matter what happened during the race.

I carpooled to the race with two of my friends who were running the half and I laughed so hard in the car that my stomach actually hurt the night before the race. We stayed with another friend from our running group, who was also racing the half.

The four of us headed to the race start on race morning, but we got there with *barely* enough time to use the porta potty before the start. I had no time to warm-up and was definitely feeling a bit anxious about the harried start.

The gun went off and off we went. I started off feeling good and just took the race one mile at a time. As soon as a mile was over, I stopped thinking about it and focused on the mile I was in. I actually did this so well that at a couple of points I wasn’t even sure what mile I was in until I saw the mile markers along the side of the course.

It was nice and cold, which always helps me, and as the miles ticked by, I knew I was on track to break 4:20, which was my goal for the race. While this race course is flat, there was a lot of wind and there were two particularly notable sections where we were running straight into the wind for an extended period of time. For the first, I was able to tuck behind the pace group leader for the 4:10 pace group. He blocked the wind for me, which was awesome. The second time, at mile 19ish, I was on my own. I saw my “lap pace” on my Garmin creeping up and I started to get nervous that it was the beginning of the end of my effort to have my dream race. But, I stuck with my plan and as soon as that mile was over, I tried to put it behind me. I fought for every mile.

On the last out and back stretch, where you are running through a beautiful wooded area, I saw the 4:10 pace leader again (he was running solo at this point). It didn’t seem like he was that far ahead of me. I yelled “I am trying to catch you!” and he said “You totally can!”

In my mind, I actually did start to think I could run a 4:10, which was good motivation to keep pushing hard until the very end, even though (spoiler alert) I missed it.

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I finished in 4:11, far surpassing my goal time, with my friends cheering me on at the finish. It was awesome! I couldn’t wait to get back to the car to text Alyssa.

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Of course, she had been tracking me and already knew, although, she joked that I owed her ten years of her life back because there was a huge gap in the splits and she was on the edge of her seat the entire time!

So, after this race, I was majorly riding the pain train for a couple of days, but I had registered for the Gar Williams half marathon on the following weekend, so…

Fast forward 8 days to December 11 and I was on the start line of a half marathon. I was there with two other friends from my running group (love my running group!). I, once again, had no idea what to expect from my body having run a 12 minute marathon PR the prior weekend. Alyssa and I had decided in advance that I would just run and see how I felt. It was up to me to decide whether I wanted to really try to race it or not.

Thankfully, it was another cold day and I started off feeling pretty good. I was ticking off miles at under 9:00 minute/mile pace and thinking I could definitely try to PR by breaking two hours. I hit the half way mark at 58:08, running 8:53 pace.

Around mile 7 or 8 though, my body realized what was happening and said “OH, HELL NO!” and the wheels started slowly coming off. My pace started slowing, and slowing, and slowing… I knew it was going to be tough to break two hours at that point, but I tried to employ the same strategy I used the weekend before in Rehoboth – just fight for the mile you’re in. Don’t give up.

I ended up finishing in 1:58:33. Another PR! Even though this was a terribly paced effort, I was happy to have held on.

This sport is so odd. Two years ago, every half I did, all I wanted to do was break 2:00 (see here, and here…) and I never could. And then, out of no where, I was able to do it the weekend after running a marathon PR. Team HPB is known for doing “doubles” (although, usually that means double Ironmans), but I did my own mini version of the double and was able to double PR.

Huge thanks, as always, to Alyssa. When I started working with her, my marathon PR was a 4:40, and we have slowly worked our way down to a 4:11. I would have never EVER imagined I could do that when we started working together many years ago.

Now, I would say that I’m looking forward to taking a bit of a break, but I’m registered for my first ever ultra-marathon, a trail 50k on January 14, so I’m off to the gym instead.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Race Report: Loudoun Half Marathon

On April 12th, I ran the Loudoun Half in Ashburn. Since I’m not one for very detailed race reports, the long story short is that the weather was great, the race was well-run, and I finished in 2:05:30.

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If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know that I really wanted to break 2:00 hours in a half marathon this year. While I didn’t achieve my sub-2:00 half marathon goal at this race, it went better than the half marathon I ran last month.

First of all, there was no rain. It was colder than I would have liked at the start, but by the end of the race, the weather was beautiful. Second of all, I was able to stay close to my goal pace for most of the race. After 9 miles, I was still on pace for 2:00 (1:22:20 total time, which is just under 9:09 pace). Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold on until 13.1.

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Alyssa prepared me well (as always), but I wasn’t able to execute. No excuses.

Speaking of, I had heard the course was “hilly” and I don’t think that’s really accurate. The difficulty is that the last few miles are a long gradual incline and that is challenging only because of where it occurs in the race. I don’t necessarily think this is PR course, but I also don’t think it’s a super challenging course.

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This is definitely a race I would do again, for many reasons:

  • The registration fee was quite reasonable, as compared with other half marathons.
  • There was plenty of parking by the start & finish area and it was easy to exit the parking lot after the race.
  • The course was not over-crowded (so many races seem overcrowded these days!).
  • The race benefits Loudoun County cross country and track & field teams.
  • Race photos are FREE!

That being said, I do think there are two things that could be improved for next year:

  • While I loved having real bathrooms, there simply were not enough and right before the race start several of us ended up using the men’s bathroom to avoid missing the start.
  • I would also prefer more frequent water stops along the course, so that it isn’t necessary to carry your own fluids. That is especially true since the temperature could be quite warm at this race by the finish.

I would also note that there is virtually no spectator support along the course, so I wouldn’t recommend this as a first half marathon. I think it’s fun to experience the cheers at Rock ‘n’ Roll or one of the other bigger races for your first half.

This is probably my last running race report for the foreseeable future. Tri season starts in just a few weeks!

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Race Report: Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon

Writing this race report is sort of like pulling off a bandaid. It’s going to hurt a bit, so I’m making it quick and getting it over with.

I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. half marathon last Saturday. I haven’t been shy about my sub-2:00 half marathon goal and I really thought I could do it at this race. I ran a 2:00:14 at the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. race, so I only needed to run 15 seconds faster this year to achieve my goal. Just over one second per mile.

I didn’t make it.

No excuses. I just didn’t do it. I was only on pace for the first three miles of the race, so it was clear fairly early on that I wasn’t going to make it.

I kept running, though, and didn’t give up. I ended up finishing in 2:08:01, which is my second fastest half marathon ever.

All around, it was a pretty miserable day. I actually thought I was going to get sick I was so nervous before the race. It was raining and cold before, during, and after the race. It took me over two hours to get home on Metro (the terrible D.C. subway system) because there was some issue with the trains. I couldn’t wait to get in a hot shower when I got home! I’m telling you this not because these things had anything to do with my performance, but because I think it was just a bad day for me all around. Those days happen to everyone. There is no benefit to dwelling on it.

The person behind me here was definitely dressed more appropriately for the weather.

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I know I can run a sub 2:00 half and I will do it. My next shot is the Loudoun Half on April 12.

 

Ready to [Rock ‘n’] Roll!

One of the highlights of my year last year was running an 11-minute PR at the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. half marathon in March.

I shocked myself by running a 2:00:14 at that race just one week after finishing an intense Team HPB tri camp in Tucson. I had hoped to run something in the 2-teens, if I had a good day, so I didn’t even believe my finish time, as listed on the race website, could possibly be correct (I ran without a Garmin, so I had no idea what my time was when I crossed the finish line). I had my husband check the site himself to see what time he saw next to my name. I sent a screenshot of the results from my phone to my coach, asking her if it could even be right. It was right. I had an amazing day and I have thought back on it many times since.

 

On my way to a huge PR at last year’s race.

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The 2015 race is Saturday and I actually feel ready. I say “actually” because, like a lot of people, I often struggle with doubts and insecurities before my races. However, before I ran Richmond in November, I tried to focus on positive thoughts. I had to force myself, but it worked. And, since it worked there, I’m doing it again here. I believe that I am going to have a great race on Saturday.

I’ve done well at this race previously. My prior half marathon PR was a 02:11:31 at the same race in 2012. I also ran the race before it was a Rock ‘n’ Roll event, back in 2011, running a 2:15:34 (I had registered for the race in 2013, but was unable to start due to an injury). If all goes according to plan, I will run the race a fourth time on Saturday. It will be the only race I’ve run four times. I know and like this course.

I also ran a great ten miler last weekend and my last long-ish training run, which I did yesterday, went well. I think I’ve finally settled on shoes that work for me – my Hoka Cliftons.

My nutrition is better now than it has ever been. I’ve also been working on my strength and I think I’m going to start reaping the benefits of all of that hard work.

I’m going to focus on my hydration and getting plenty of sleep this week and we will see how I go. My best-case-scenario goal is to run a sub-2:00 half, but even if that doesn’t happen, I just want to run a strong race, start-to-finish.

 

I’m prepared to fight for a sub-2:00 finish. 

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I’ve done what I need to do and now I just need to execute come race day.

 

Comfortably Uncomfortable

Today was a huge day for me.

I’ve been riding the high from TeamHPB camp for the last ten days or so, but the Rock n Roll USA (Washington, D.C.) half marathon has been lurking in the back of my mind.

The race was scheduled for less than two weeks after camp. I knew I would still be recovering from camp leading into the race and, suffice it to say, I haven’t had a lot of great race results lately. I can rarely make the magic happen when race day comes – Ragnar, NYC Marathon – for reasons that have never totally been clear to me. With this race approaching, I sent Alyssa an email saying I really didn’t want to have to walk because I hate walking races. That was my level of expectation about this race.

When I registered for it – I think it was last summer – I put down a very aggressive finish time goal of 2:05. My half marathon PR is a 2:11:31. I’ve been fairly consistent in my half times (2:13, 2:15, and the PR time) for races that haven’t had bad weather (one super cold and one super hot and I think both of those times were in the 2:20s). In any case, I expected to be in the 2 teens somewhere again today if all went well.

Before the race Alyssa told me (1) I would be running “naked” (no Garmin) and (2) she wanted me to be “comfortably uncomfortable” for most of the race, with the final push being “uncomfortably uncomfortable.” She also reminded me about the day we rode Mt. Lemmon and then ran at camp. She said she believed in me having a good race.

So, that leads us up to today. I was trying to be really positive – focusing on Lemmon and the fact that I have run 13.1 miles a zillion times in races and training. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

I also focused on my nutrition. One of the big lessons I learned at camp was that you have to eat a lot- even when you don’t want to. Holly told me this during our swim. Maik told me this during our trail run. He said that once you are bonking, it’s too late. So, even though I really like just drinking plain water when I run, I planned to drink Infinit during the race (even with gels, which Hillary told me to do during camp). I thought about Alyssa telling me on Lemmon day that I needed to have a bigger breakfast. And I had a great day that day. So, today, I had a big bowl of oatmeal with banana and almonds and soy milk before I left the house. Right before the race, I had one of those PowerBar fruit blends pouches too.

It took my corral a while to get to the start line and I never actually saw what time we started. So, I was really running with no concept of my time. Instead, I thought about being “comfortably uncomfortable.” I was constantly checking in with myself throughout the race and asking whether I was uncomfortable. I was. Two of the miles did have clocks and I knew that I had run the distance in-between in less than 10 minutes, which was a great sign. My PR was about 10 minute miles so I thought I was ahead of that.

I was definitely working hard and pushing myself, but that made me scared. I really didn’t want to blow up and end up doing my standard “I suck” walk to the finish.

There was one big hill around mile 6 that really slowed me down and it took me some time to recover from that one. But, around mile 7, I felt better again.

I was staying very close to the 4:00 pace team (the marathon and half marathon run together for most of the half marathon course), but I just thought they were probably off pace.

Around mile 11, I really started running out of steam and all of the tricks I had used earlier in the race – “Mt. Lemmon was way harder than this!” – didn’t quite seem to get my legs moving any faster. I took in some gel that I hadn’t really planned on and slowly (very slowly) kept moving. I knew I was not going to stop or walk, even if I was “running” at what felt like 11 min/mile pace. I started wondering whether I was losing all of the hard work I had done earlier in the race. I started to get down on myself, but then I woke up and told myself if I wanted to PR, I needed to keep pushing.

I actually did start to feel better for the last half mile of the race and finished strong. When I finished, I saw that the clock said 2:20 something, but since I didn’t know when I started and didn’t have a Garmin, I didn’t know my finish time.

I immediately took out my phone and texted Alyssa. I didn’t want to say for sure that I did well, because I didn’t know my time. So I said something like “I think I did well but I’m not sure.” I wasn’t sure whether slowing down around miles 6 and 11 screwed up my PR, so I added something like “I slowed down in two places.” The lawyer in me can’t help but add caveats to anything I say when it isn’t a sure thing!!

I went to the website for the race and checked my time. And, I couldn’t believe it was true. I called Jon and asked him to check on his phone. He got the same time. I emailed Alyssa and sent her a screen shot from my phone. I said something like “This can’t be right, can it?”

Well, I’ve checked the website approximately 4 billion times since then. And it still says the same thing:

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An 11 minute PR!!! I’m not sure whether it was the inspiration from camp, not wearing my Garmin, better fueling, all of the hard work I’ve been doing with Alyssa, some combination of those things, or something else altogether, but whatever it was, it worked.

So pumped!

2014 Schedule

What better way to occupy my time during taper than to register for more races!!

I’ve been working on my race schedule for next year and I’m already very excited about what’s to come in 2014! Here’s the plan so far:

January 1, 2014 REHAU Rotary Resolution Race (5k)

February 27 – March 3, 2014 Tri Camp

March 15, 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon

May 18, 2014 Columbia Triathlon

June 22, 2014 Ironman 70.3 Syracuse

September 14, 2014 Rev3 Poconos

I’ll be doing my first ever 70.3 in June after my first ever tri camp with the big kids in February. It’s going to take a lot of work to get there, but I’m ready for it.

2014 is going to be an awesome year!