A 10K, Recovery, and the end of the Fall Season!

On Sunday, I ran the TCMC Turkey Trot 10K in Scranton, PA. It was all pretty convenient: we were planning to visit my husband’s grandparents up in that area, and I needed to do a faster paced workout. Enter the Turkey Trot. Couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.

It ended up being much more eventful than I’d planned. I won it – like flat out, first runner to cross the finish line and about a minute before the first male. It was pretty funny because there was a bike escort for the whole race and a police escort (with sirens and everything) as I finished the race. I wasn’t running extraordinarily fast – it was fast for me, but not “win a race” fast. I’m just starting to ramp up my speed again since I took a break after Chicago and only PR’d by 9 seconds. I was shooting for something in the 39-42 minute range (ultimately, sub 7 minute miles). Ideally, I want to run a 39 minute 10K at some point. Realistically, I’d been running very low mileage and just started picking up the intensity again over the past week, so I didn’t even know if I’d come in anywhere near my former PR. I ended up running the race in 41:39. On the slower end of my goal, but still a PR and good enough for the win (and a free turkey!) so I was ecstatic.

The 5K and 10K began at the same time, and I started the race right up front. I went out too fast (typical), and was running with the two males leading the race. Imagine my surprise when they turned at the 5K turnaround to head back to the finish. Whoops. I was running their 5K pace for the first mile and a half. It felt okay, but I ended up running a positive split for the race to pay for the speedy start. My husband was waiting for me at the finish line and cheering as I came up the huge hill to the finish. The whole course was pretty hilly, but the uphill at the end was crazy steep.

I can’t remember the last time my fall marathon season ended before late November or early December. This year, it ended in early October with the Chicago Marathon. I lowered my mileage and my intensity tremendously after Chicago. I’ve really only been running around 25 miles per week, and mostly easy paced miles. Before last week, My fastest “workout” was the  Oley Valley 10 Miler. It ended up being a PR and a decent race, but I wasn’t feeling super fast that day. I signed up for a whole host of short distance races to run over the next few weeks, but I don’t expect outstanding performances at any of them. Mostly, it’s to keep me from going crazy until my next marathon in February (the Lost Dutchman in Arizona!) and to get my legs moving. I’ve really enjoyed the recovery period.

In the past, the words “off season” and “recovery period” were never part of my vocabulary. I began working with a coach, Kenrick, back in August. I’d gotten fed up of making progress (with both my 50 state goal and my marathon time) and getting sidelined with an injury. It’s been a cycle for me since the beginning. And who knows – maybe I’m just injury prone and it doesn’t matter how I train or who I train with. Regardless, I’d get to a point and either plateau (like how my marathon time hovered around a 3:30 for about three years) or get injured. Or both. So when my whole calf injury ordeal continued to flare up through mid August, I gave in. I haven’t written too much about the coaching thing just yet because it’s all still pretty new. I went to him injured and he got me through my fall season while I recovered from my injury. I even managed a nice marathon time in Chicago (3:08) – coming in less than two minutes off of my PR. I pretty much ran the race without a watch and hadn’t been able to do speed work in months because of my calf, so that alone was a miracle and a considerable success.

IMG_7335Most importantly, the off season gave me the opportunity to incorporate a few things into my schedule that I haven’t had enough time or energy for in the past few months. Like booze going out with friends to places that don’t involve running and spending quality time in my kitchen. I’ve pretty much converted my entire diet to Paleo. I still eat my pizza on Friday nights (I refuse to give that up!), but I’ve given the rest of my diet a complete makeover. I’m absolutely loving it. I’ve had less stomach issues in the past few months than I’ve had in the past ten years, so I might actually be on to something. Besides, foods included in a Paleo lifestyle are all foods that I truly enjoy. It’s the first dietary change I’ve made where I don’t have the desire to “cheat”, even when I go out to restaurants (well, except for the pizza! Because…pizza). My latest Paleo conquest is determining which foods I can eat prior to running and racing that will give me the same kind of energy I get from pasta and bagels.

I’ve also been very consistent about getting to the pool to swim. Instead of just going to the pool and swimming whatever distance I felt like doing on that day, I’ve been following specific workouts that are assigned to me. Instead of just swimming laps, I’m actually doing things like sprint workouts and paying attention to the time clock. Sometimes, I get my swim workouts and think, “ugh, I would NEVER do something like this on my own”. Then I do the workout and find out that I really enjoyed it.

I’ve been in the gym strength training, but (most importantly) I’ve been back to a yoga studio. Although I regularly get on my mat and do some form or stretching or yoga, I haven’t actually been to a yoga class in quite some time. I stopped teaching yoga classes when the school year started, so not being in a studio regularly really made me forget how much I miss even the most simple practice. The past two weeks, I’ve been taking a beginner level Ashtanga class with one of my original teachers.

I’ve lost a significant amount flexibility since I’ve given up my traditional Ashtanga practice schedule, but I haven’t lost any strength. When I began this blog, I practiced six days per week. You can read about that a little more here. Before I started to cut back on my Ashtanga practice, I was working my way through each syllabus in the Ashtanga yoga practice. I was about a third of the way through third series, also known as Advanced A. My practice was never shorter than 1 1/2 hours, and would regularly take over 2+ hours to complete. Once I started running a little faster, my practice became shorter and simplified. I’d like to continue getting to a studio at least once per week as the miles and intensity begin to build. In the class, simple postures that I haven’t done in a long time make me smile when I hear the teacher call out the name.The recovery period gave me a renewed appreciation for my yoga mat.

Last week, I began picking up the intensity again and I’m starting to come out of recovery mode. I did a track workout with Kenrick last week. Being at the track made me realize that my last successful track workout was back in June before the Charlevoix Marathon. He made me do mile repeats – four of them. He came to the track and timed me but didn’t give me a goal, he just wanted to see what I was capable of. The results were interesting. In my head, I had a time that I wanted to hit for each one. I only hit my time goal for the first one, but I did every single mile faster than my current 5K PR pace. I felt like it was a success and a great way to kick everything off.

Even though it’s been a different kind fall this year, It’s been a lot of fun. I didn’t PR in the marathon, but I had some really good races and so did my friends. Emily completed her first full Ironman a few weeks ago, and finished the marathon at the end in 3:55! Ashley did her first full Ironman over the summer and then went on to run an awesome PR at the Chicago Marathon. Kathy was the overall female winner at the South Mountain 10 Miler, and Cassie ran a smoking fast marathon PR in New York – a 3:03! Mark H. ran one of his fastest marathons in several years, finishing Clarence DeMar in 3:01. I’m really excited to start really getting back into it and spending time with everyone back on the roads. Bring on 2015!

“Off” Season Racing: The Oley Valley 10 Miler

I ran the Oley Valley 10 miler in 2010 and I’ve wanted to go back ever since, but each year I’ve had scheduling conflicts that weekend. Since I wrapped up my marathon season after Chicago, I decided to take advantage of having nothing on the horizon for awhile and sign up up for some shorter distance events. I remember absolutely loving the Oley course the last time I ran it and just feeling great in general that day. I signed up with hopes that I could have a repeat performance and run a PR.

As the race got closer, I wasn’t really feeling into it. I’ve been taking it really easy since Chicago – low, easy mileage and not running much at all. I’ve been doing something everyday, but certainly not a whole lot of running – mostly swimming and some strength training to give my body a rest. I’ve been really enjoying some extra sleep and lots of extra time relaxing on my couch for the off season. So when I woke up on Sunday morning and looked outside at the cold, windy weather, I almost went back to sleep.

IMG_7369Almost. But of course I didn’t do that. I begrudgingly laced up my running sneakers and headed to Oley anyway. It’s about a 40 minute drive from my house on beautiful back roads, so that gave me some time to wake up. I met up with Mark H. and Mark W. shortly after I arrived. After getting our packets (a.k.a just bibs and cotton long sleeve t-shirts – it’s a no-frills race), we sat in my car to keep warm. It wasn’t that it was cold outside, but it was super windy – making it feel pretty freaking cold. The race is basically out on roads that go through cornfields, so there isn’t much of a wind barrier. We all agreed that it was the kind of day that if we turned around and just went home without racing, we would be completely fine with it.

But we didn’t do that, either. We lined up at the starting line anyway. As the race began, my feet felt numb and cold and we were running directly into the wind. By the time my watch beeped indicating that we’d run a mile, I couldn’t catch my breath and really wasn’t feeling into it. Why did I sign up for this? I should be in bed. My first mile was a 6:46, and I knew I would not be getting any faster than that – it was more likely that I would slow down. My primary goal was to run a PR, which meant I needed to run faster than a 7:05 pace. I could certainly slow down and still do that – my legs felt good, but the wind in my face was making it hard to breathe. My “B” goal was to average sub 7 minute miles, and my “C” goal was to run around a 6:45 pace. I was on pace for my reach goal in the first mile (and for a little while after that) but knew I didn’t have that in me for the whole race. My legs didn’t feel bad, though – they felt pretty decent. They didn’t feel heavy, like I expected from my low mileage – but they also didn’t feel very responsive, either.

It ended up being a “B” goal kind of day, which I was completely happy with. I knew there were a few girls ahead of me but I wasn’t letting myself get caught up in the competition this time. I hadn’t been training hard enough to win, and I didn’t want to completely ruin my race experience on a course that I always speak so highly of. I wasn’t even sure that I had a PR in me, but it didn’t matter. I signed up for this race to have fun, and that’s exactly what I did. I kept a casual eye on my Garmin and committed to running at a comfortable pace, which ended up being sub seven minute miles. That was more realistic for me that day, and I crossed the finish line in 1:09:27, which is a 6:57 pace. It was a PR by one minute and 24 seconds and a sub-7 minute mile average. Sweet.

It was such a strange race for me. At some points, I felt completely awful, but at other times it felt effortless. Once I looked at my splits, I realized that the moments where I felt awful happened to coincide with the miles that were completely into the wind. Imagine that. About four miles of this race were almost completely into the wind. I got slightly off pace in those miles but not enough to screw up my chance at a PR or my sub-7 minute average. Mile 6 was a 6:41 and mile 10 was a 6:43, and it felt great. At mile 10, I actually wished it were a full marathon because I felt like I could run all day. It was the first time that I crossed a finish line where I felt like I had a lot more left, which means I could have pushed harder. I decided I suck at running into the wind – so I will really need to get out and do more of it because it isn’t always going to be at my back. I didn’t realize how much of a weakness it for me until this race.

The lowest point in the race? Somewhere between mile 8-9. That was the mile that got me off pace enough to miss a 1:08 and my slowest mile of the race. We came out and turned on to a long stretch road surrounded by fields, directly into the wind – and almost entirely uphill. By that point, I was feeling good but didn’t feel like fighting the wind anymore. At least during the other windy segments I could see ahead where we would turn to end the wind tunnel torture. This time, all I could tell is that we were running straight, uphill, and into the wind for an indefinite amount of time. I put my head down and tried fighting it for a little while, but finally felt frustrated enough to give in and slow down when I started to feel like I couldn’t catch my breath.

It was a lot hillier than I remember, but the hills don’t scare me. The wind….well, apparently I need some more practice running in that! Either way, after I warmed up, I had a blast. I also didn’t put enough thought into my nutrition, but interestingly enough I’d grabbed a GU and had it in my pocket when I started running. I used it around mile 4.5. I never use stuff like that in “short” distance races, but I almost wished I’d taken one before I started. I’d eaten half of a gluten free bagel and half of a banana for breakfast, but I don’t think it was enough. I was hungry when I started running, and it was interesting that I started feeling so much better after eating something. I didn’t really make myself eat much before because it was only 10 miles – it would be over fairly quickly and like I said, I just wasn’t that into it.

IMG_7367All in all, it was a successful day. I ended up being the 5th overall female, and I got 1st in my age group. Maybe if I’d been more into it I could have been the 3rd overall female – I could see three and four ahead of me – but I hadn’t put the work in for that. Or, maybe I just don’t have that kind of speed in me. Either way, this race was ultimately supposed to be about having fun and seeing where my fitness level is in this “off” season. Mark H. placed 2nd in his age group and ran a 1:05, and Mark W. ran an amazing 1:16. It was a job well done all around!

Although I might have said differently in the first few miles of the race, I would absolutely go back and do it again.While the course features lots of long, rolling hills on roads surrounded by fields, it is very scenic and well organized. I remember this race being windy back in 2010, too – but not as windy as it was this year.  There is post race soup, hot chocolate and coffee. The awards are nice, and even though the t-shirts are cotton, they are really nice. I still love the one from 2010 because I love the logo. Since the race is in Pennsylvania Dutch country, the logo on the shirt is a “hex” sign (you can see it on my mug featured above) – something the Amish farmers use to keep away evil spirits and bring good luck. Besides, that was my second time winning one of those cool ceramic mugs – I wouldn’t mind adding a few more to my collection!