Spring Half Marathon Training 2018 - Week 7

This week was great for me and hugely confidence-boosting. I really took the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned from Rock n Roll last weekend to heart and was able to correct them quickly enough to nail one of my big races this spring, the Shamrock Half Marathon. Shamrock is such a special race to me and this Sunday - 6 years to the day since my first half marathon - luck was definitely on my side. 

This was my 7th week working with a coach and I'm honestly not sure I could have made it to this point in just 7 weeks without her. It is crazy to me to think that just under 2 months ago I hired her after an 8:47-pace 10-miler that felt like death, and in just two months I worked my way back to an 8:22-pace half marathon that felt strong AF. What's even crazier is that I'm still not quite back to where I was a couple of years ago, but I don't even care because I am putting in the work to get there and I'm just so happy with the results so far. 

Rock n Roll DC Half Marathon Recap

I have run this race twice before, but both of those times I ran with and paced someone else, so this was my first time running it on my own effort. I wasn't quite racing it, though, as I signed up for it several months ago solely because there was a sale and it's local - why not use it as a training run with 7000 of my closest friends? I had intended for it to be a long marathon training run - running to and from the race would have given me 18 miles, exactly the number I had planned for this weekend on my NJ Marathon training plan - but since I decided to switch the the NJ half about 6 weeks ago, I wasn't sure if or how this race was going to fit into my new plans. I'm running Shamrock, one of my goal halfs for the spring, next weekend, so running a half marathon the weekend before a goal half seemed...excessive? But my coach Katie had the idea to use RnR DC as one of my workouts for this week, and since she is smarter than me and I trust her, I decided to go ahead and do just that.

Spring Half Marathon Training 2018 - Week 6

I am so happy to finally be over the cold that kept me down all last week! I thankfully never got super sick, but it was enough to completely zap my energy and just make me feel off. It was so good to feel like my normal self again this week!

This week I did all my weekday runs in the morning, and I have no idea why I didn't start that sooner. Over the last few weeks running after work has been bothering me more and more. I hate getting home from work, getting dressed to go right back out, and therefore not really getting home from work until 7:30. I try to go to bed at 9 or 10 so that doesn't leave me a lot of time for dinner, hanging with Ben, chores, etc. and I couldn't handle it anymore so I promised myself I would give it my best shot to run in the mornings and just see what happened. It was so much less of a hassle running in the mornings, and it was really nice having a couple those weeknights completely free! I'm worried about how next week is going to go with the time change since I'm not super comfortable running when it's as dark as it's going to be at 6:00am now, but I hope I can keep doing morning runs.

Central Park Half Marathon Recap

As I've mentioned already, my race plans for the spring have evolved quite substantially from what I thought they would be even a few weeks ago. This race was originally supposed to be a marathon training run/race, and when I decided not to run the marathon anymore it became more of a "physical fitness test" to see where I am in my running ability right now. I've lost some speed to Ironman training over the last couple of years, which has been a hard pill to swallow. I've been expecting it to come back immediately and it's just not, so over the last month or so I've started to take a step back and reevaluate my goals, so my plan was to use this race - the first half marathon I have raced in 2 years! - to find my starting point. I started working with a coach and have been working really hard to get that speed back and get even faster, so this race was the first step in this new journey!

My time goal for this race was pretty broad, by design. I knew it wouldn't be a PR (1:48), but I hoped to finish between 1:50-1:55, which I felt like was a good range. I've only run two sub-1:50s, so I knew that 1:50ish was probably a little ambitious but I was curious to see how close I could get, and 1:55 is the time I've been aiming for in the last two half marathons I've run since IM Louisville. I finished those in 1:57 and 1:56, so I was hopeful that this time I could at least make 1:55 happen.

More than anything, I wanted this to be a good, fun, solid race. The last two halfs I ran didn't go well for a lot of different reasons. They didn't feel good and I didn't really enjoy them, and that's a huge bummer. I run because I do enjoy it (even if I don't enjoy every second), and it always sucks to have races that I don't feel like I get anything positive out of. I was overdue for a half that I felt good about, with a time that I felt like aligned with where I am in my running journey right now.

I talked to my coach Katie on Thursday night before the race and we talked about time and pacing strategy, but we also talked about process/non-time goals. She is really big on process goals and so am I, in theory, but in practice I usually have a hard time coming up with them! She had a few suggestions to get me started, and as we talked I identified a few things I wanted to accomplish during this race:

1. Try not to look at my watch.
Katie gave me the goal of not looking at my watch after the first 2 miles, which was very scary for me. I actually tried this for the first time ever during the Kiawah Half and it did not go well. I made it 9.5 miles without looking, but when I did I was disappointed by my pace and already havng a tough time and the wheels totally came off after that.  The idea behind this being that I have an idea in my head of what certain paces feel like and what's too fast and what's too slow, but I'm working on redefining that because a lot of times my brain is flat out wrong. 

2. Be nice to myself. 
I talked abot this in my Kiawah recap, but I didn't start that race in the best mindset, and I got into a weirdly dark place during that race. I'm not sure why I went into it so negatively, other than the fact that it was supposed to be a fun race weekend and it didn't end up at all like I was expecting (weather was crappy, I was sick, etc.), so from the start I think I felt kind of like what is even the point of this? Nothing was that wrong and nothing bad happened during the race, so it was sort of weird that there was no obvious catalyst for it, but by the end of that race I hated running. I hated every single step and I just wanted to stop more than I have ever wanted to stop running in my life. Looking back I think I was dealing with some burnout, that possibly - or even probably - I didn't give myself enough time off after Louisville. Whatever the reason, it was a very bad race for me mentally, and given that that was the last half marathon I ran before Central Park, one thing I really wanted to do this time was to be more positive. I got really negative and really down on myself during Kiawah that I wasn't able to run like I thought I should be able to and it just wasn't a good experience.

I'm really hard on myself in general, which I know sounds sad, but I honestly don't have a lot of positive self-talk. That's just not where my brain naturally goes so I have to try really hard to look at the bright side and tell myself nice things. And when I'm running and it's not going as well as I would like, it's really difficult for me not to default to a lot of negative self-talk. So one of my goals this time was to be nice to myself, and since it doesn't come naturally me to usually, I tried using a technique that actually has been coming to me fairly easily recently: I've been thinking a lot lately about races when I felt really happy or strong or really enjoyed so I've been trying to channel those. I know I'm never going to be able to replicate any past experience 100% - every race is different, of course - but I wanted to be able to cycle through in my mind a few different races that for whatever reason made me feel good and feel good about myself. I thought that reminding myself that not all or even most of my races have been like Kiawah, and that I have run a lot of races I enjoyed or felt sucessful during, would help me regain some confidence.

3. Run the mile I'm in. 
That's something else Katie brought up, but it's a mantra I've had for a while that I try to use when I'm really struggling to try to focus on taking one mile at a time. I've always thought about it as focusing on the mile I'm in, but recently I realized it can also mean not focusing on the mile I'm not in. That might be really obvious to everyone but me but I had never looked at it that way before. In the last couple of halfs I've run I've definitely gotten overwhelmed in the beginning thinking that if the race feels hard in those miles, the next X miles are going to feel so much worse. While I think there is definitely some room for that - pacing is important so thinking about the later miles is kind of necessary for that - I think I let those thoughts spiral too much and be too quick to draw the conclusion that if mile 2 is hard then mile 10 is definitely going to be hard and I should just stop trying or caring. So that was something that I wanted to avoid this time and not think about the later miles. I had always thought of this as more of a mental strategy than a practical one, but it hit me for the first time that if I'm running mile 2, I can't think about mile 3 or mile 6 or mile 8 because not only am I not running those in the present moment, I physically can't run those miles until I get to them and nothing I do in my current mile is going to change that fact.

Race Day
This race didn't start until 9:00am which was much appreciated! I don't mind earlier start times and actually sometimes appreciate them, but I started coming down with a cold on Friday and, despite all  my efforts to abate it, when I woke up on Saturday to drive to New York I felt awfult. I had a headache and my back hurt and my stomach hurt, I think from taking so much cold medicine, and I just didn't feel right at all. I was seriously concerned that I wouldn't feel better for the race (but also thankful the race wasn't on Saturday because that would have been a total distaster). I ended up sleeping in a little more than I had planned to to rest up as much as I could, and the later start time meant that I could get a good night's sleep on race eve without going to bed at an unreasonably early hour.

Alyssa and I left her apartment about 30 blocks north of the race start at 8:30am, walked to the subway in light rain (which would continue for the duration of the race), and made it to the start with just enough time to spare to hit the porta-potty. I had read before the race that there wouldn't be any waves so I wasn't too worried about the possibility of starting a little late. This race didn't actually utilize any type of corral system - I had assumed that there would be signs with paces to self-seed, but it wasn't even that. People just lined up in the start line as they showed up, so since we got there later we were definitely toward the back of the line. 

We were only in line for a couple of minutes when the horn blew and we were off! We could see people ahead starting to run and we made our way to the start line and took off. There were just over 1000 runners so it definitely wasn't small, but it wasn't big by any means. There was some congestion the first couple of miles, which was a little worrisome since the course was almost 3 loops through the park, so I thought there might not be enough room to spread out, but it really didn't end up being an issue. 

The course is made up of almost 3, almost-5 mile loops around Central Park, starting on the West side at 96th Street, heading south to around 70th Street before turning to get to the East side of the park and heading north to the top of the park and snaking through the northern part of the park, up and around Harlem Hill (which I now know is a thing) before turning back south and going not even a full mile to get back to the start line. We did that two full times, and the third loop was probably close to 70% of the full loop (the finish line came just before what would have been the third time hitting Harlem Hill). I have run a 3-loop course once during a 70.3 and suprisingly liked it, but the loops on this course felt a little long to me for some reason and the race felt like it dragged on just slightly.

Spring Half Marathon Training 2018 - Week 5

Well, this week did not go at all as planned! When I started getting sick last week my sole focus was making it through the race healthy(ish), and I was fortunately able to do that, but I was still sick for most of the week following the race. I had to skip one of my workouts completely, significantly shorten another one, and therefore lower my planned mileage substantially. It's definitely frustrating, but considering that my spring goals are things I am aspiring to and not necessarily hellbent on hitting,  I'm not as stressed over this setback as I would normally be. It was a weird week for a lot of reasons, but I'm finally feeling almost back to normal so I'm ready to move on from this crappy week!