Training for Tuesday: Planning My Off-Season

I made it to the end of my 2014 races! Finally! If you think you've been listening to my training forever, just think how I feel.

I kid, I kid.

Kind of.

After the Richmond Half Marathon nine days ago, a truly great year of running came to a close. I'll do a 2014 running by the numbers recap at the end of next month, but y'all, I don't think I could have dreamed of a better year. It was absolutely the best year of my (short) running career. I accomplished far more than I ever planned and far exceeded any and all expectations I had for myself this year. I have a couple more small races lined up before the year is really over, but those will be more for fun than anything (although, for the record, I wouldn't say no to another PR...). But besides those, all the big ones are behind me, putting me now in my off-season.

I use the term "off-season" pretty loosely here, since it will only be about a month long. That's because I already have a a goal race lined up for March 2015 (which all five of you who actually read this already know):

Rock 'n' Roll USA half marathon in DC!

I'm super excited about this one, but it will be bittersweet because it means I won't be able to run Shamrock that weekend, which was my first half in 2012, second half in 2013, and last year I completed the Whale Challenge, my first time running back-to-back races: 8k on Saturday, full marathon (my second) on Sunday. Since Shamrock is local and I always have friends running it, it's become a staple in my running calendar.
The good news is that I think the benefits of RnR will outweigh Shamrock. It will be my first RnR series race, my first time running DC, AND (the best part), it's going to be a blogger race party with Alyssa, Becky, and Erin (to name a few). I could not be more excited!!! But, it's not quite time to start hardcore training yet, which leaves me with about a month to get my body rested up but still ready for another training cycle. I know December is a hard month to stay on track, but I want to do my best so that I'm as prepared as possible when I start training again. Here's what I'm thinking for the interim period before RnR training starts:

Continue to run 4x a week. I've miraculously managed this schedule for the last couple years, and that's my running happy place. I don't want to hold myself to a strict mileage goal, but I would like to keep my base by running 15-20ish miles a week. I don't think I'll do any specific speed workouts, but I'll probably keep my weekday runs the same (3-5 miles each) and do a long run of 7-10 miles on the weekend.

Keep short runs to ~8:00 per mile (or under), and long runs sub-9:00. My biggest fear is that I'll somehow regress and lose all the speed I've built up. I've put in so much work over the last year and I hope to keep getting faster, so maintaining my speed is really important to me. 

Cycle once a week. I just got on my bike last week for the first time since Giant Acorn Oly in September. Although cycling outside probably isn't going to happen, I have no reason not to hop on the trainer for an hour a week. Cycling is such great cross training and a habit I need to get back into. 

Get back in a strength training routine. I have made so many excuses for why I've let weightlifting fall by the wayside, but I'm ready to change that. Specifically, I'm thinking of doing the New Rules for Women program again. I know I asked this before, but would anyone be interested in a review of the program as I go through it?

So that's my game plan for the next 4 or 5 weeks before the real fun begins! How's your training going? Are you enjoying your off-season or gearing up for your next race? Grab a button, link up, and share!


My Running Fans

I'm linking up today for Runners Tell All, and this month may be my favorite topic yet. I had one person in particular that I planned to talk about today, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I'm lucky enough to have several people I'd consider my biggest running fans. So, lucky for you, today you get to hear about all of them!

First up is all of my fellow running friends. I'm a solo runner in my daily endeavors but I love being a part of the running community. I have friends I've made through running that I never would have otherwise met for myriad reasons. Some live in other places, some are nearly twice my age, some I've never even met in real life, but forging these unlikely friendships has impacted my life in a way I couldn't have anticipated. We might run different distances or paces, but at the end of the day, runners are a very we're-in-this-together kind of crew. There are some runs I wouldn't have made it through without these people's pep talks or encouraging texts. There have been some races that have felt like utter failure, until I get a high-five from a running friend who also suffered through it. Some are new friends, others have been there since the beginning. They inspire me and motivate me. I'm so grateful and proud to know these people not only as runners, but as friends.

Next is my original running partner in crime: Ben. When I got a wild hair and wanted to start the Couch to 5k program in 2011, Ben didn't really want to do it with me. But he did it anyway. Truthfully, 100% honest, no bullshit here: if he hadn't, I'd probably still be on the couch. I don't think I could have done it on my own, not in the beginning. Trying to run was scary for me. I had never been successful at it before and I was so terrified of failure, but having him there to support me even when I struggled gave me hope that I could succeed.  Ben is the best person to have on my side because he's biggest believer that if you put your mind to it, you can do it. When we ran our first 10k, I ran so slowly that he physically couldn't match my pace, but he stayed back with me and helped me through it anyway. After that race I kept up with running and he didn't, but he still gets up and drives me to races, cheers me on while I run, and is always waiting for me at every finish line, happy to celebrate each accomplishment with me. He's recently started running more races with me (although, after 3 halfs in the last 5 weeks, he swears he's going into retirement). I think we both prefer him waiting at the finish line, ready for me to jump into his arms and cry (either sad or happy tears, depending on how the race went).

And finally, really my #1 running fan if I had to pick just one: my dad. I have a great dad, and growing up, I assumed everyone had a great dad. It wasn't until I got to be an adult that I realized how fortunate I was, and that not everyone has the kind of dad I have. My dad coached a lot of my sports teams growing up, so we always had athletics in common, but he coached me through more than just softball. My dad taught me to push myself, and that a little hard work never hurt anybody. He never gives up on me and he never lets me give up on myself.

My dad is the reason I ever entertained the idea of running in the first place. He has always been an athletic guy but not a runner until 7 or 8 years ago. In his late 40s he joined a gym and starting running local races. I wasn't living locally at the time so I only heard about his experiences secondhand, and I didn't really get it. I couldn't figure out how he could be so happy doing something so boring. I remember him posting a watch picture on Facebook from his first sub-2 half and I asked, "You're HAPPY you ran for 2 hours?!" Like I said, I really didn't get it. A few months later I moved back home and found myself needing an answer to the post-grad "What do I do now?!", so I thought maybe I'd try running. Not because I had ever been even decent at it (in fact, I had historically been very, very bad at it) but because I figured if my dad could do it, surely I could too? And the rest, as they say, is history. We don't get to run together a lot, especially now that I've moved, but we do most of the same races. He ran my very first (very slow) half marathon with me, and crossing the finish line and then having him place my medal around my neck and tearfully tell me, "You earned it." will forever be one of my Top 5 Tearjerker Moments.

Another spot on that list goes to the time 2 years later when we finished his first marathon together, hand-in-hand. But before we got to the finish line, I was seriously struggling. Thankfully, my dad was there to coach me through it, in a way that only he could have. He knows just what to say to make me feel like I can do it while simultaneously pissing me off enough for me to get my shit together. As much as my dad is my hero, I think he'd say the same thing about me. He's always been my biggest cheerleader and my #1 fan, and the proudest moments of my life are the moments I knew I made my dad proud.

Demand More From Your Body

I used to have a really great spin instructor, back when I went to the Y and went to spin class. She was a little intense but also super nice and fun. She'd always crank up the music during tough parts of the class and she would yell things at us to keep us going, so we wouldn't give up, so we'd hang on just a little longer. The things she said always resonated with me, but none more so than this:

That class was almost 2 years ago. I was training for a big PR at my second half marathon, and I was willing to push myself as hard as I needed to get there. I thought I really got what she was saying, but I really didn't fully understand it until this weekend during the Richmond Half Marathon. 

I know I've been harping on this for like 2 months now, but this was finally, FINALLY my last big race of this year. A year bookended by two big races: my first marathon in January, and my (hopefully) first sub-2 half in November. If you've been paying any attention here lately you know that I actually hit that sub-2 not once but twice over the last month. Still, I hoped to go out with a bang at my last big race of 2014 in Richmond. I didn't have a specific goal in mind other than another sub-2 (I like to think of it as the Triple Crown). I had some other goals in mind, none that I was willing to admit out loud, none that even came to me until the day before the race. Here's the thing: I think my days of being married to a time goal are over. I've run a lot of races with a very specific time in mind. I used to spend a whole training cycle, leading up to one race, trying to reach a certain goal. I've achieved some and blown others. It's been a long time since I trained for a specific time, and I kind of prefer it this way. It's hard banking all that training on one day. It's a lot of pressure. I didn't train for any particular time for Richmond and I waited until right before the race started to entertain the thought of any goal times for the day.

As we stood shivering in the porta-potty line on Saturday, I was talking to Ben about how weird it is that I don't really get nervous for races anymore. I'm sure it's a combination of things, not the least of which is that I've stood at a couple starting lines in my day. I wholeheartedly believe that one of the best cures for race anxiety is simply to race more often. But another contender for the top spot is something I've only managed to start doing recently: trust my body. I used to race by the mantra "Trust your training," which was great for when I had been following a strict training plan, but that hasn't been the case lately. Don't get me wrong, I've been training, but not for anything in particular. I've been training for everything and nothing at the same time. So when I lined up on Saturday, "Trust your body" seemed more accurate and more appropriate. 

The morning of the race was cold, so cold, freezing actually. Starting temps were 28*, making this one of the coldest races I've ever run. I tend to do better in less-than-perfect weather (as long as it's of the cold and/or rain variety, not the heat and/or humidity variety), so I hadn't resigned myself to a less-than-stellar race like I think a lot of people had. The beginning of the course was easier than I remembered from last year. The first few miles were more or less flat and all I could think was that I was finally getting my reward for all the tough hills I've been running. I knew from almost the beginning that a sub-2 was pretty much guaranteed, and after a few miles, so was a PR. I started out fast but in control. Like I said, I hadn't committed to any time goals, but I did have 1:50 in the back of my head. I had already looked it up, just for funsies, and found out I needed to average 8:21 to pull it off. So starting after 5 miles, when my average pace was at 8:15, all I could see was the number 4. As in, come hell or high water, the number that came after the 1: on my finish time would be a 4. 

That was that. It was decided. And that's when I thought about what my old spin instructor had said. Demand more of your body. It will give it to you. I hadn't thought about that in a long time, but all of a sudden it popped in my head and became my mantra through the rest of the race. And, oh, the rest of the race. If the beginning was easier than I remembered, the rest was harder. There were hills where I didn't remember there being hills (not even close to Hokie Half or City of Oaks level, but still not easy). There were long straightaways that maybe could have used a small hill or two to break up the monotony. There were a couple sizable hills and my average pace dropped by a couple seconds but not enough to throw me off target. By mile 9 I was starting to get tired, and right before mile 10 I walked a water stop and got a drink. I walked another one and got another drink right before mile 11 and I watched my average pace go up to 8:22, just over where I needed it to be for 1:50.

This is not the first time I've gotten to mile 11 and had now-or-never choice to make: are you going to give up and just miss your goal, or are you going to keep going and finish this thing? I thought some more about what my spin instructor had said. And about what a friend texted me the night before the race: "Remember lay it all out on the line!! this is what you train for!!" That was the same friend who jokingly-but-not-jokingly suggested I go for sub-50 at the Wicked 10k a few weeks ago, his words, "Leave it all on the course" echoing through my mind and carrying me to the finish line that day. So once again, I let his words and my spin teacher's words carry me through to the end of this race.

I knew I had a big downhill coming at the end, so I just needed to do the work until then and then I could let gravity take over. I felt a little bit like I was running in slow motion at that point. I got to mile 12 and I just remember thinking, "Only 8 more minutes." Eight more minutes and this big, awesome, intense, crazy, rewarding, humbling, triumphant year of racing would come to an end. I ran my heart out this year, and I wasn't about to stop with only 8 minutes left. I knew I had to give it all I had, to finish strong. There were a few turns during mile 12, which was nice after a lot of the course running straight down one road for a mile or two at a time. I remembered that part of the course from last year and once I got to where I knew I only had a half mile left, getting really close to that downhill, I started booking.

I finally made the turn to see the long, steep downhill to the finish! I didn't know at that point if I would be just under or just over 1:50, but I knew I had given it all I had and that was all I could do. I took that downhill aggressively, looking at my watch frequently. Once the 13 mile marker was in sight, I had about 2 minutes to get to the finish, and that's when I knew I had it. The finish is very, very steep so as much as I was trying to push my pace, I was also trying to reign it in to make sure I didn't trip and fall on my face. Running downhill is harder than it sounds! 


I crossed the finish line and immediately checked my watch (duh). It read 1:49:34 (later official time was actually 1 second slower, SORRY I LIED ON INSTAGRAM). I know I sound like a broken record saying that I never, ever in my life dreamed I'd run ________ (fill in the blank with my most recent PR), but a 1:4X:XX half marathon is something I never even thought about until Saturday (for those of you keeping score at home, I've now taken 52 minutes 46 seconds off my first half 2.5 years ago - bet you can guess what my ultimate goal is ;)). Still, crossing that finish line, I wasn't totally surprised that I did it. I knew from 1/3 of the way into the race that I'd finish with a 1:4X:XX time, but it still wasn't a guarantee. I got it because I demanded it (and also because of that big ass downhill at the end...gotta give credit where credit is due). I'm still getting used to being able to trust my body, to know that it will give me what I demand of it.  I spent so much of my 3.5 running years not being sure what I could ask of it, not being able to trust it, being surprised and overwhelmed and crying tears of joy every time it actually did what I wanted it to do. It feels strange to all of a sudden know that I control my body, my body doesn't control me. Strange, but awesome. I can't think of a feeling I'd rather have to end my 2014 racing year.

City of Oaks Half Marathon Recap

This was my second year running the City of Oaks half marathon. Last year I learned that I don't have any clue about running hills. This year I learned that I still know nothing about running hills. Remember when I thought that, of my 3 halfs this fall, the Hokie Half would be the hilliest? Well, let me just tell you: that was incorrect.

Top: Hokie Half. Bottom: City of Oaks Half. I know the scales are different BUT STILL.
Until 3 weeks ago, last year's City of Oaks was my half marathon PR: 2:09:59. I was super ecstatic about that time last year, because I got in under 2:10, which had been my goal at a race earlier that year. And I did it despite having a head cold, running a mile before the race started (had to get in 14 miles total for marathon training), and never having run hills before (and there were plenty).

When I lined up at the starting line this year, again I wasn't expecting a particularly great race. My weekday runs last week all felt terrible. After two big PRs recently, I was tired. I knew I wasn't in mental or physical shape to run a hard race, so I had asked Ben earlier in the week if he wanted me to run with him and/or pace him. He said he did but he didn't have an exact goal, so we planned on finishing anywhere between 2:00 and 2:10, depending on how we felt.

The first few miles were mostly downhill, which was nice at the time, but I made sure to warn Ben that that was going to be the easiest part of the race. We ran them faster than I think either of us expected to, but we both felt good so we kept it up.  The 2:00 pacer was well ahead of us, which made me feel bad for all the people following him because he went out way faster than I think I would have wanted to if that were my goal. Miles 1-3 were 8:52, 8:46, 8:57.

Right at the mile 4 marker we started a pretty big climb, and it was up and down for a long time after that. The next few miles took us through a little bit of downtown Raleigh before we headed to a more residential area. At some point we caught up to the 2:00 pacer, and we played back and forth with that group for the rest of the race. All I could think about for the first half of the race was how amazing it would be for me and Ben to finish together, AND to finish under 2 hours. I had been keeping tabs on our pace the whole time and was sure we'd be able to do it with at least a minute or two to spare. Miles 4-7 were 8:57, 8:56, 8:48, 9:08. I don't know what happened to make us slow down during mile 7, but overall I was really surprised by our consistency!

Soon after that we passed the 10k finish line and relay exchange, which was great because there were a lot of people out cheering. But right after that we hit a HUGE hill, and then another really big, long hill after it. Essentially, 7.5-8.5 was a huge climb (and of course it was up, down, up, down even after that). We turned a corner and I distinctly remembered it as being the one where I developed my "What goes up must come down" mantra that I kept repeating to myself through the end of last year's race. That mile really took it out of me. I might have just been a little fatigued since I hadn't eaten anything since before the race, and I wasn't convinced my stomach would play nice if I tried to eat my raisins mid-race. Whatever it was, I was getting tired. There was another long climb from 9.5-10.5, not nearly as big as the previous one, but a climb nonetheless. At some point along that hill, I was really done. I was pretty sure I'd still finish under 2 hours, but I didn't want to chance it for Ben so I told him to go ahead without me. There had been a couple times that I wanted to walk before that and didn't, but I was done with hills at that point. It really wasn't that bad, but I just wasn't in the mood to kill myself that day. I took a walk break and almost immediately I got passed by the 2-hour pacer right as the hill crested (I'm glad I knew he was way ahead of schedule!), and I heard him say that that was the last big hill.  I didn't want to walk too much because I knew I'd be mad at myself if I came that far and didn't get a sub-2, so I ran enough to keep my average pace at 9:00 or below. I walked a water station to get some Gatorade and water in hopes it would give me enough of a boost until the end. Miles 8-11 were 8:53, 9:07, 8:58, 9:53.

When we got to the mile 11 marker, we made a turn to separate from the marathoners. It was about a half mile in one direction, then we'd turn around and run straight to the finish line. I remember this part being really awful last year, I think because it was a little hotter that day, but it wasn't so bad this year. I got to the turnaround and before I knew it, I was in the home stretch. I was thankful when I turned around and realized the wind was at our back, and my pace did pick back up for the last couple miles. When I got to the mile 12 marker I was right around 1:49:00 on my watch, so all I needed to do was maintain a 10:00 pace for the last 1.1 miles to get in under 2 hours (if you've ever wondered how I don't get bored running long distance, it's because I spend at least 50% of the time doing mental math). Even though there were some hills on that last stretch, they weren't nearly as bad as I remembered, and the last mile was mostly downhill.

Before I knew it I was running by the NC State campus toward the finish. There were a lot of people out at that point and I kept scanning to see if I could find my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and friend who were there. I passed the mile 13 marker and kicked into high gear to cross my 41st finish line. Ben ended up finishing only 50 seconds ahead of me, which made me glad I didn't really lose much time with my walk breaks. I'm actually happy I took them because it made the finish much easier, and I had an awesome kick right at the end.  Miles 12 and 13 were 8:53 and 8:30, and the last .1 was 7:03.

Of all the things I thought would never happen in my running career, running not one but TWO half marathons with this dude would probably be #1.
And, with that, my 9th half marathon was in the books! At 1:58:20 it wasn't my fastest, but I think I can live with that ;)

AND! I got to meet Lisa after the race! I knew she was running but we weren't able to coordinate before the race, so I was super excited when I was standing around after the race and heard my name and turned around to see her! I didn't introduce her to family because I didn't want to have to tell them about this here blog, and later when my sister-in-law asked me how I knew her, I responded, "The Internet." I'm really smooth like that. Anyway. This was her first half and she finished in 2:14, on that crazy course no less. How amazing is that?! Only in my dreams would I have had any shot of finishing my first half in that time. You go, Lisa. Now if only we can get Alyssa in on that City of Oaks action next year...

I have to say, I signed up for this race mostly because I remembered how beautiful and quintessentially fall I thought the course was last year, but it didn't impress me as much this year. Not because it wasn't beautiful (it was!), but because all the fall foliage wasn't so novel for me this year. Since I no longer live at the beach and now live in an area that, honestly, looks pretty similar to Raleigh (i.e. it's like a mountainous fall wonderland every day), the course just didn't strike me the same way. It was still a really pretty race, and the weather was perfect for running (maybe a little chilly for those North Carolinians, but I was into it). It was well-organized, the swag was nice, and the post-race activities were great. I really have nothing but good things to say about this race and hope to be back again next year! I don't know what it is about the City of Oaks but I seem to do some of my best running there, even when it feels unlikely.