A Week in Review: 12/15-12/21

IMG_7769Merry Christmas! The next few days are about to get crazy busy so I’m not sure now much posting I will be doing. We attended one of our annual Christmas parties yesterday, so we couldn’t help but snap a picture in front of the tree. My husband comes from a pretty big family, so we celebrate Christmas Day with his family on the weekend before the actual day so we can all be together. Of course, the day wouldn’t have been complete or as fun if it didn’t start off with my Sunday long run!

I already recapped much of my efforts last week because I posted about some of the different workouts I completed (track workouts and speed work). I don’t normally blog about my specific runs and paces, but I really want to keep track of my efforts as I move towards 2015 and my goals. I ran five days and 44 miles this past week. That’s the most mileage I’ve run since before the Chicago Marathon, and I finally got back up to a 14 mile long run. The previous week was a rough one for me, with a not-so-pretty hill workout and a tough race at the end of the week. It wasn’t that any of it was really “bad”, I just didn’t feel great. Having a few “wins” this past week felt good.

For this past week, the icing on the cake was my Sunday long run. 14 miles, 7:05 pace! We started a little more conservatively, and ended faster.The best part was that the last two miles were the fastest, with a 6:52 and 6:46. There were several other sub seven minute miles sprinkled throughout the entire run, but those were the fastest and meant the most because they were at the end. We were tired, we were hurting, we weren’t even able to talk – but we were pushing! A group of us went out for our long run together, but I mainly stuck with Kathy the whole time since we took off and cranked out the miles. For the first half, I was able to talk but was slightly concerned that I might not be able to hold that pace. After our first mile (it was a little slower as we warmed up), I saw our pace hovering in the 7-7:10 range and I panicked a little. I know my coach actually has it on my schedule for next week to run that pace for my long run, but I hadn’t really mentally prepared for that to happen any sooner. We’ve been running around a 7:20 pace for our long runs, so this was a bit faster right out of the gates.

I don’t know if I could repeat that performance again anytime soon (I sure hope I can!) but it was a HUGE confidence booster. I remember in the fall of 2013 when I began breaking the 8 minute mile barrier on long runs. I felt exactly the same way I felt this weekend when we were pushing the pace and hitting some sub 7s. Panicked that I would burn out, and worried I couldn’t touch those paces again. But the more I ran, the easier it got. Soon, it was “normal” to hold 7:30s for a long run. Not “effortless” but what once took everything in me to keep up with my friends turned into me leading the pack. Kathy has really been working hard lately (definitely harder than me – more miles and longer runs), so it was really great to have someone as determined as me to knock out such a good run. It was really challenging to run that fast for 14 miles, but I hope tackling that pace is the beginning of breaking through another barrier.

Around mile five, I took a gel. Normally, for a 14 mile run I’d only take one gel but my coach is working with me on nutrition. He recommended bringing 3-4 gels on the run, just in case. I ended up using two of them – the second one was at mile nine. It made a huge difference and I don’t know that I could have held that pace without some fuel. The calories helped me focus and held off any negative thoughts. He also wants me to break out my fuel belt but I absolutely hate running with it. I’m still deciding what I want to do to get some fluids in my system while running. I’ve also used a hand held water bottle in the past but I don’t like that much either. I know he’s right, I’ll figure something out eventually.

IMG_7778Other than running, I had two nice swim workouts of about 3,000 meters each. I’ve really been loving my morning swim sessions and how they loosen up my legs. I did core work almost daily and got to the gym for a few strength training sessions. I made a point to get on my yoga mat almost daily to stretch and foam roll. A few weeks ago, the local running store that I frequent informed me that I was the lucky winner of a brand new pair of Newtons! Lately, I’ve been preferring my Brooks Pure Connect (4mm drop) and Nike Zoom Elites (8 mm drop), but I wore Newtons for over a year. I backed off the super low drop shoes when I injured my calf in the summer but do miss them. I prefer my Brooks, but like how Newtons really reinforce that forefoot strike because of the lug design. I don’t know that I want to use them all of the time, but I really want to use them for my speed workouts. I prefer the Distance model because of the 2mm drop. Originally, I ordered the Distance Elites but they sent me the Distance S instead since they were out of stock. I’m stoked to have another pair to add to my collection, and even more excited that they were free!

Do you wear a fuel belt running? What does your nutrition and hydration look like when you are running long? Ever take notice to the effect it has on your run?

Goals on the Horizon: A Change of Focus


The point of this blog has been to document my quest to conquer my 50 state marathon goal and ramble about my other favorite past times (yoga, triathlons, cooking, etc). I post about which states I plan to visit each year and review races. I mostly do it because I don’t want to forget the incredible experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have. It’s purpose is also to update the family and friends that enjoy following me as I work towards this goal. Sometimes, I document training efforts and injuries so I can learn from my mistakes and help others who may find themselves sidelined with something I’ve encountered.

It’s no secret that I’m gunning for a sub-3 hour marathon one of these days, but I don’t dwell on it because I feel like eventually, it will come. For as much as it seems to rule my training lately, pace is ultimately a secondary goal for me. My primary running related goals are to be able to run healthy, train with my friends,  and to see new places. My pace goal is always to run a PR unless I’m legitimately using the race as a training run, like I did with Knoxville for Boston last March. I never really throw out my goals and paces regularly. I guess in the past, I felt like if I actually posted about it and didn’t achieve it, I’d be a failure. But a failure to who? The reality is that I do this for me. I enjoy the camaraderie of the sport, the friends I’ve made along the way, the order it brings to my life, and the time I get to spend outdoors.

I’m still planning on hitting up all 50 states for a marathon, but I’m going to take that goal a little more slowly in 2015. I made some big progress last year- running seven marathons in six new states (Boston was a repeat). From a pace standpoint, if you look at where I started when I ran my first marathon in 2008, the amount of time I’ve cut is huge. I did run a 3:06 in June, but in 2008, my PR was a 4:52 – that’s one hour and 46 minutes slower. To break three hours, I need to cut more than six minutes off of my time, and I can do it. It will take a lot of work, but that’s something I am willing to do.

I’m bringing this up because my ultimate goal is not to break three hours, but to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Okay. I said it out loud. Go ahead, you can laugh at me – because I laugh at myself when I actually hear what that sounds like. The reality of me actually getting to the 2016 trials is slim, but not because I don’t believe I can do it. The window of time that I have left to qualify is closing quickly.  I need to run a lot faster than a three hour marathon, and I need to do it by January 2016. I have until 30 days before the trials to run my qualifying time, and I need to run a 2:43 to meet the “B” standard. To put it simply, I need to cut off an entire minute per mile from my current marathon time. It’s faster than my current 5K pace and a hell of a lot to ask of myself.

I’m extremely stubborn, persistent and self-motivated. And I’m certainly not a quitter. I didn’t start running until my late 20s, but that just means my legs are fresher than anyone who has 20+ years in the sport. It also means I still have a LOT to learn about racing and training. I didn’t even know much about putting in the work until the last few years, and with just a little effort got to where I am now. I believe I can do this. And if I can’t, and I end up running a 2:50 marathon or something, would I be that disappointed? Helllllllll no!

The whole thing became more of a reality for me after I met and began working with my coach back in August. He asked me what my goals were, and I said I wanted to break three hours in the marathon. He questioned what I would want to do after I break three hours, and I joked, “Oh, I don’t know. Qualify for the Olympic Trials?” I’ve qualified for the other big races. I don’t say that to be snotty, it’s the truth. Boston. New York. Chicago. Check, check, check (though I’ve qualified for NY but haven’t actually run it). I used to be a Boston sqeaker. Then I wasn’t. I might as well try while I can. I don’t have kids, and my husband is extremely supportive. As a teacher, my hours are ideal for training purposes.  I’m also fortunate to have some of the most amazing and supportive friends. People of all different paces to run with, push me, and motivate me.

The reason I even had this idea in my mind was actually thanks to a friend of mine, Bill. He’s a friend that I met through my friend, Bart Yasso (he’s lives a few miles from me!) at the Marshall Marathon and “introduced” me to Ariana Hillbourn’s story. It’s scary similar to mine. She also began running in 2007, in her late 20s and was never spectacular at sports. Like me, she also ran her first marathon in 2008 – and she ran in 4:36. Over time, she had the same goals and milestones I’ve had – qualify for Boston, run sub 3, and now the trials. She just ran a 2:35 at the Twin Cities Marathon – her SECOND trials qualifier, and now qualified under the “A” standard (a 2:37).Coincidentally enough, she was a teacher before all of this began.

So over the next year, I have a rough idea of where I am headed. I’m only going to run courses that are certified and sanctioned by the USAT&F. My coach has put in some serious time planning out the method to this madness. It’s looking like my season will start with a tune up race in February, and run through June. Then, I can do a short recovery and start again for fall – kind of like a split season. So far, these are the races on my schedule:

  • February 15, 2015 – The Lost Dutchman Marathon (Apache Junction, AZ): My goal will be to use this as a benchmark test. I would love to break three here. The reality is that I may not even run a PR. I am only up to a 14 mile long run right now, so this will really be more of a training effort. I may use this race as a chance to try to run sub-7s for an entire marathon. My current PR marathon pace is 7:08. I emailed the race director to ask if the race had USAT&F sanctioning and could be used as a trials qualifier, and he gave me a free entry coupon! As a bonus, I haven’t hit up AZ for a marathon yet, so it will be State #27! Winning.
  • March 22, 2015 – Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon – tune up race for Boston
  • April 20, 2015 – The Boston Marathon – This will be my 5th consecutive Boston. If I could pick one place to break three hours, it would be here. This race has been an integral piece of my running experience. I wrote about how this race has been my source of motivation to overcome obstacles right before the 2013 race. You can read all about that here.
  • June 20, 2015Grandmas Marathon (Duluth, MN): if nothing else, it will be state #28 since I haven’t visited Minnesota for a marathon (or for anything) yet!

I don’t know anything past Grandma’s at this point. I’m eyeing up Indianapolis Monumental for fall, but that’s totally up in the air right now. I’m assuming my spring will be spent chipping away at that sub-3 goal. If I can make that a reality, then I can move onto part 2.

It’s a serious long shot. It’s going to require me to have a day where all of the stars are aligned and my training will have to be on point. But I’ll never know if I don’t try. So yes, this blog will still follow and document my 50 state quest. But over the next year, it’s going to follow my quest to reach my newest goal. I read an article the other day about a 44 year old woman who had a 3:08 PR that qualified for the trials. I’m the right age, I have the time to train, and the desire to go for it. I have a great support system – a husband, family, and friends that support my goal and a coach that might believe I can do it more than I actually believe I can do it. So…here it goes. The clock is ticking!

What’s the craziest goal you’ve ever set for yourself? Did you achieve it? 

Facing Fear and Four Minute Mile

“If you do face that fear, it’ll change your life.”

I ran a 4 minute mile.

Haaaaa. TOTALLY kidding. But seriously, I watched a movie on Netflix called “Four Minute Mile”…close enough, right? I also did a speedy workout yesterday afternoon before watching the movie, so it was all very fitting. The movie is worth mentioning. I’ll get to that.

On Tuesday, I spent my day (besides working, of course!) fueling and mentally preparing for my track workout. It wasn’t the workout I’d expected since I wound up on the treadmill, but it ended up being a good one anyway. It also wasn’t the only workout on my mind. As soon as my track workout was over, I had to start hydrating, fueling, and mentally preparing for Wednesday. The workout my coach planned was a six miler. No problem, right? Wrong. It was no easy peasy recovery run like I’m used to on the day following a hard workout. He wanted me to do a 1/2 mile “fast” (a 6:15 pace), followed by one mile “strong”, (a 6:45-7 minute pace) and repeat for the duration of the run. Um. When did he decide that 6:45 was my “strong” pace – like it would be some kind of a recovery or something? Last time I checked (which was just the day before), I had to work pretty freaking hard to run anything sub seven. I did the math in my head. He was basically asking me to run a 10K PR…the day after a decently tough track workout. The 6:45 intervals from the day before suddenly made sense. They were challenging, and they tired out my legs – but they were not meant to completely trash my legs. Not completely, because something had to be left for the leg buster he had planned for me the following day.

Every time I thought about running throughout the day, I had this knot in my stomach. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to run, but I was scared. What if I couldn’t even touch a sub-8 minute mile? How am I going to hit race paces on a day like today? What have I gotten myself into? My legs weren’t exactly sore, but they were heavy and tired. And I was actually kind of angry, too. It honestly sounded like a super fun challenge – on FRESH legs, which I didn’t have. Not to mention I was just plain scared because I’ve always followed the hard/easy rule. Everything about what my coach is doing with me right now is new, and it scares the crap out of me. We are increasing intensity at the beginning of the training cycle to increase my top end speed. The hope is that as we begin the heavy base building, my “easy” pace is faster than when we started. I think it’s working…I hope it’s working….

As the day wore on, I was pretty uneasy about the whole thing. I even texted him to ask if he was really, really, REALLY sure this workout was a good idea.  I mean, 6:15 is my 5K PR pace. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that on my watch when I’m not racing or on the track. Definitely not on a regular, everyday run. Not to mention that 6:45-7 is certainly not a pace that I consider a picnic to recover from a 6:15-paced interval. I typically walk/jog my recoveries when I’m hitting paces like that. In the back of my mind, I knew he had me scheduled for a swim on Thursday, and an easy 6 mile run on Friday. I was already thinking, “Maybe I’ll just do the easy run today, the hard run tomorrow, and the swim on Friday” as I drove to the trail. Problem is, he also prefers me to do the workouts in the exact order he gives them to me. Life happens, and adjustments sometimes have to be made – but there was no reason other than my head telling me “I can’t” to not try the workout.

I chose a local trail near the school where I teach as my playground for the day. I find that if I need to run fast, it usually comes a little easier on this trail…and I was going to need all of the help I could get. It’s a cinder path, and the flattest place I know of other than a track. Since I was beginning to accept the fact that I actually was going to have to attempt this, I started thinking of ways I could make it seem easier. It was basically four, 1 1/2 mile intervals. I just had to make it through that 1/2 mile and then I could “recover”. I refused to let myself think about the pace at which I was supposed to hold for the recovery – I just kept telling myself to make it through a half mile and it would get “easier”. Mind over matter. If I told myself a 6:45-7 minute mile would be “easy”, maybe I could trick myself into getting through this workout relatively unscathed.

I didn’t warm up much, just a quick walk around the little park to get my legs moving. I should have done a 5-10 minute jog, because my first half mile was rough and I didn’t hit that 6:15 pace…instead, it was a 6:28. I started to feel defeated and thought about just letting myself do the easy six miler instead. But then something happened. My “recovery” mile was a 6:42 and it didn’t feel awful. I mean, it wasn’t like “wow, this is the most comfortable thing ever“, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. It was enough to transform my “fail” mentality to “ohhh, it’s ON!” I was able to negative split the remaining 1/2 mile intervals with 6:15, 6:13, 6:11 pace, with the “recoveries” all in the 6:45 range.

During the last mile and a half interval I could see an orange shirt running up ahead. Our school colors are orange and black and the person was moving pretty quickly, so I knew it had to be one of the boys from the cross country team. It kept me hanging on for the last mile as I tried to catch whoever it was. Ended up being a speedy kid that I had in class last year. He had to be cruising at a 6-6:15 pace…and it’s their off season. So impressive!

I feel like this was a key workout and a turning point for me. It broke through a lot of mental barriers, which is something I’ve been struggling with lately. After the run, I spoke to my coach. I mentioned how I was scared because I thought the 1/2 miles seemed doable, but I thought the “strong” pace following it made it seem like an impossible feat. He questioned why I thought that. For me, anytime I see a pace that starts with a “6” on my watch, I think it’s just a fluke. Like I could do it once, but fat chance I could repeat that performance. Especially in a training run. He started to talk to me about having confidence that I am actually there – that these ARE my paces now. I needed to hear that, and I needed that confidence booster. I’m still working on getting myself to believe that, but it was nice to hear.

I also asked what the intention was of this run – was it to see how hard I could push on tired legs? I explained that it made me uncomfortable to do two hard days in a row. He told me he knew that when he wrote the plan, and part of what he is doing right now is intentionally trying to make me uncomfortable. Like I’ve said before, distance running is all about embracing certain levels of discomfort. It’s about being okay with the unknown…you know, and all of that good positive motivating stuff. At any rate, I felt pretty excited with my run and he was excited for me.

4minmileThe best part was that I went home, did my MYRTLs, stretched, cooked dinner and finally hit the couch to wind down. I was checking out Netflix, and a movie called Four Minute Mile caught my eye. It’s decent. Not too much of a climax, but a inspirational movie about running so it’s worth checking out if you are in the mood for something mindless. It’s about a naturally fast high school track runner with a bad temper. He decides he wants to run a sub-4 minute mile, so he starts working with a retired coach. The movie highlights his struggles, but also has some truly motivating moments and quotes. The theme was mostly about overcoming mental barriers through running. It was just a strange coincidence that I stumbled upon it last night, because I was fighting quite the mental battle all day. I didn’t think I could physically do what I set out to do. As long as I was telling myself that, I really couldn’t do it. I could not hit my first 1/2 mile interval. As soon as I told myself I could, I did it. I realize not all workouts and races will have that same happy ending, but it was just funny how that theme was so present in my day yesterday. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Have you ever started a workout that you just didn’t think you could complete? What was the result? What mental barriers do you face when running? How do you overcome them? 

Track vs. Treadmill

For as much as I looooove running, I reeeeaaaally don’t love the treadmill. What I love most about running is being outdoors, running on hills, and exploring. I hop on a treadmill maybe five times per year, and it’s usually due to two situations: we’ve had some sort of precipitation that turned the roads into ice skating rinks (I love to run in snow, but not ice) or I need to fit in a track workout before work because I’m busy with something after work. I am a high school teacher and have to be at work by 7 a.m., so the likelihood of me getting up early enough to get to the closest track (I don’t even know if it would be open at that time of morning), doing a track workout and coming back home to shower before leaving for work is just not possible. And it MOST definitely wouldn’t leave enough time for my absolutely necessary stop at Starbucks.

Yesterday, I ended up on a treadmill and it was due to neither of the above circumstances. The last time I stepped foot on a treadmill was sometime in March. I had a track workout to do and I packed up my running clothes to go to the track after work. As the day went on, it started to rain. I had a not-so-fun rainy hill workout last Tuesday and just wasn’t in the mood for that again. The day before all of this, my poor husband came down with a fever and horrible cold, so I was concerned about running in the cold, chilly rain and getting sick before the holidays. I know, I know, weak. I was cranky about the workout (I’m starting to see a trend: cold, rainy, dreary December days + hard workouts = FML) and the weather. The day before was sunny and mid-40s, but I went swimming to loosen up my legs from two tough weekend runs. That would be my luck.

So I went to the gym and begrudgingly got on the treadmill. I had to do a pyramid workout: 15 minute warm up, and then 1000 meters, 2000 meters, 3000 meters, 2000 meters, 1000 meters at 6:45 pace, with four minutes of recovery between each interval. The whole thing was followed by a 15 minute cool down. When I first read the workout, I thought the 6:45 pace seemed a little easy for those distances. Not that a 6:45 pace is easy by any means – but I just held a 6:27 for the Christmas City 5 Miler. Then again, the race WAS on Saturday, followed by a hard long run. I had one day of swimming to recover, and then it was right back into the intensity with this track workout. Maybe that was my coach’s logic in suggesting that pace. I confirmed I read the workout correctly and that he wanted me to hold that pace, but still have to ask his rationale. He has a pretty good reason for everything, and I am trying to learn everything I can at this point.

I did the warm up as a progression to get my turnover moving before the intervals, beginning around an 8:30 pace and progressing to about a 7:30 by the time I hit the 15 minute mark. For my first interval, I set the treadmill to a 9.0 – a 6:39 pace. I figured I would crank it up a little faster than my coach asked me to for the workout since I think the treadmill is easier (note: I have plenty of friends who train SOLELY on a treadmill and are way fast. I just mean that the treadmill is an easier workout for me, personally. I am in no way saying that if you train on a treadmill, it’s easy!). During the first interval, I cranked it up halfway through to a 9.2 (6:31 pace). The rest of the workout went the same way, starting each interval at a 9.0 and progressed throughout the duration of each interval. I was relatively conservative with the first two, but once I hit the 3000 meter interval I was almost over the hurdle of the halfway point and the most difficult distance. I really started to let it rip and would end the intervals closer to my 5K pace. By my last interval, I had the treadmill cranked to 10.0, which was a 6 minute mile.

While I still much prefer running outdoors, completing this workout on the treadmill had a lot of benefits. It brightened my attitude because I didn’t have to fight the elements. I know a lot of being successful in distance running deals with overcoming mental battles, but I just didn’t have it in me yesterday and wanted to have a good workout. Maybe that’s weak, but its also a week until Christmas and I want to try to stay healthy! The treadmill also made me negative split my workout, with every single interval run faster than the one before. I did that on the track two weeks ago with my 400s, but I almost always positive split my speed workouts and races. It forced me to be conservative early on because I could literally “set” the pace. The whole workout ended up being 10.1 miles, so it was really important to start easier so I could finish stronger.

By default, the treadmill also forced me to do exactly what I’ve been trying so hard to do in my recent workouts: shorten my stride to take short, quick steps to increase my cadence. I’ve gotten in a very bad habit of lengthening and hyper extending my stride to try to get faster, and it’s putting a lot of strain on my glutes/piraformis. Particularly the right side, which has been pretty angry with me lately. By shortening my stride, it puts less strain on the area and increases my running efficiency. But most of all? Oddly enough, something about running on the treadmill just made me relax. I feel like I’ve been so wrapped up in numbers and paces lately that it’s been hard for me to just relax and enjoy the workout. For as much as I say I dislike the treadmill, it gave me a sense of peace and helped enjoy my run. Oh yeah, and I got to wear a tank top and shorts to run in December. Bonus!

Do you use a treadmill regularly? Which do you prefer – outdoor running or treadmill running? Any tips/drills on shortening your stride? 

Christmas City 5 Miler and a Week in Review

Saturday morning was the annual Christmas City 5 Miler! Living near the Christmas City, I can’t think of a more beautiful town to run a race in during the holiday season. It’s a great local race that I try to get to every year. Most of my friends run it so it’s not only about the fun course but about spending time with good friends. I missed a few over the past few years because of late season marathons, but this year I was in town and decided to sign up. I ran a PR in that distance over the summer at the Belmar 5 Mile (33:07), and that was a pancake flat course. The likelihood of me breaking that PR wasn’t too good because the Christmas City 5 Miler is a pretty hilly course, and I am still building up my mileage from the off season. I had some good short distance races recently, but still didn’t think it would be enough for a PR on that course.

I warmed up before the race with a few friends on the streets of Bethlehem. While my legs felt decent, I felt a little winded at what should be an extremely comfortable pace. Maybe it was just nerves, but I had no idea what to expect from the actual race itself. When the gun went off, I went out with the leaders and knew I’d gone out wayyy too fast when my Garmin beeped at mile one and flashed a 6:10 pace. Five seconds faster than my current 5K PR pace. Whoops…this could be a loooooong five miles. I hung on to a decent pace over the next two miles, but slowed down a little for the remaining two. Partially because I’d gone out too fast (big shocker there), but also because it’s a hillier second half of the course. I’m sure it is common to run a positive split no matter how conservative you start. Around mile 3, I also had a bit of a side sticker and backed off. Though my piraformis is still feeling a bit sore and tight , it did not act up during the race – I was just aware and cautious, especially on the hills.

I ended up finishing the race in 32:16, a 6:27 pace and a PR by 51 seconds! I was something like the 7th female but 1st in my age group. The best part of the day was the company – lots of my friends were present and participating, and everyone ran well and seemed to really be enjoying themselves. Cassie (pictured on the left, who was the first female overall in 30:14 or something) even got me to wear something festive, which is completely unlike me:


And yes, the socks actually stayed up during the race!

Overall, it was a productive week. I had two super fun swim workouts, both around 3,000 meters. Fun distances and fun paces that kept me interested and feeling strong. I’ve really been enjoying getting in the pool and using swimming as a cross training tool. I spent some time in the gym continuing my strength training and core work. Besides the Christmas City 5 Mile race and my nasty hill workout, I logged some low intensity recovery miles throughout the week and nice long run on Sunday. It was 12 miles at a pretty good clip (7:24 pace), which was exciting because we all raced on Saturday and had somewhat tired legs. The rest of the group ran a little further than 12, but I stuck to what my coach gave me. Although I felt like I could run longer, I am just starting to increase my mileage again, raced on Saturday, and want to keep an eye on my piraformis. I still only logged about 37 miles this week, which is relatively low for marathon training but I’m still happily easing my way back into it.

How was your weekend? Have you ever dressed up for a race? Any holiday themed races on your upcoming agendas?

Hills…Speedwork in Disguise

hillsOn Tuesday, nothing about my run felt good. At all. My workout was to warm up for 25 minutes at a 7:30 pace, complete 5×2 minute hill sprints, and then cool down for 25 minutes at a 7:30 pace. I had a good hill to climb that takes exactly 25 minutes to run to. It was a relatively flat/gently rolling terrain to get there. Perfect. I like hills. Being able to power up a hill makes you physically and mentally strong. I was excited for the workout…until I actually DID said workout. So, brace yourself for some whining and complaining. I promise to end with something motivating, about overcoming struggle or whatever. But first, I need to whine.

Here in the northeast, we’ve been having some less than optimal weather. We were supposed to get some snow and ice, but it ended it up raining on Tuesday instead. Temps were hovering around 40, so no freezing precipitation by the time I got out running after work. Just cold, steady December rain. Yuck. I wasn’t thrilled about running in a chilly rain, but I wasn’t about to bail on the workout either. I already didn’t feel like doing the run and started with a bad attitude. I just wanted to go home, cook dinner for my husband, and cuddle with my new little kitten while binge watching Netflix (currently, I’m stuck on The Walking Dead. Disturbing, but now I feel like I have to see it through).

I know of about three lengthy hill climbs that I can use for hill sprints, and chose Tuesday’s course based on several factors. The two super steep hills are on busy, narrow roads. I knew I would be running in the rain/wintery mix and it would get dark out, so that ruled out those two. This left me with a long, gradual hill as my playground for the day. Additionally, I haven’t done formal hill sprints in about a year and a half because when I trained myself, I used Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning book as a guide. Pfitzinger doesn’t have specific workouts set aside for hill sprints because his theory is that all of your runs should be done on the type of terrain you are training for. While I buy into that school of thought (trying to mimic race conditions for optimal race day performance), I believe hill repeats have a place in training. It’s a speed workout, but also a strength workout. To get faster, you need to get stronger. The hill I chose had rolling terrain to get to the hill, and the hill itself wasn’t super steep. That was appealing to my rusty hill sprinting legs. Here’s my pretty little elevation chart. I like how the little peaks look in the middle:


The whole 7:30 pace thing was the least of my concerns before the workout. 7:30 is my usual general aerobic pace for runs. I wouldn’t call it effortless, but it isn’t crazy aggressive either. But when I began running on Tuesday, it just felt HARD. I found that the 7:30s weren’t happening and my legs felt completely dead. On a side note, I’ve also been dealing with this dumb piraformis/glute pain thing lately. I literally have a pain in my ass. I didn’t notice the pain when running on Tuesday, but to remedy the problem I’ve been doing some additional hip/glute strength work. I did squats with weights for the first time in a long time on Monday. I’m wondering if my heavy/dead leg feeling had anything to do with that.

I was able to average in the 7:40s for the warm up. It wasn’t that far off, but it just FELT off. I felt like it was too much effort expended to get my legs moving faster and I knew I had the hill sprints to complete. I didn’t want to burn out before the workout even began. I chose to back off on the way out and try to get them moving again on the cool down. As I neared the hill, I wondered how the heck I was going to manage five uphill sprints. It was only 2 minutes at a clip for a total of 10 minutes, but it just seemed endless.

Surprisingly, the repeats ended up being the highlight of the workout. I was able to pick up the pace and averaged much faster than I anticipated. It didn’t feel good at all, but I got it done. I also practiced keeping my effort hard on the way back down. When I ran with my coach recently, he noticed I would push up hills, but relax at the top to recover. He wants me to keep pushing and let gravity do it’s thing on the downhill, so I gave that a shot.

The whole workout ended up being just over nine miles, and the last two miles were ugly. I hit a 7:39 for one of the miles on the way back, but then ended up averaging 7:50s for the last two miles. I actually kind of felt a little dizzy towards the end, but it also could have been the light playing tricks on my eyes. As I headed back, the sun started to set and it was dark by the end of my run. I probably only even held a sub-8 minute mile because, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching Walking Dead. Since I was running in an isolated area, I was scared that a herd of zombies would come out of nowhere (yes, I realize exactly how ridiculous I sound). Pretty good motivation to finish a workout.

I’m basically whining because it didn’t feel good. I know, they can’t all feel good. It was a successful workout, all things considering. Even without really hitting those 7:30s (of course, the next day, on a “recovery” run with J, we did a hilly 5 miler at a 7:36 pace, no problem. Go figure). As for Tuesday, I just wasn’t feeling it and neither were my legs…but those are the workouts that are the most important. The workouts where you have to force yourself to start and push yourself even harder to finish. Those are the workouts that make you strong, both physically AND mentally. I’m not suggesting pushing through pain and injury – but to achieve a goal, sometimes you have to make yourself comfortable with being uncomfortable.  In a marathon (or any distance race), no matter how good you feel at the start and how well you’ve prepared, there is a good chance you will feel pretty beat up at some point in the race if you are pushing your limits. You need to know that you are physically and mentally prepared to handle that. I’m chasing a sub-3 hour marathon finish, and that’s absolutely a goal that is pushing my limits to the max. So while I felt like I was riding the struggle bus on Tuesday, I consider the run a success because I finished it.

Have you ever struggled to finish a workout? What was the outcome? How do you push through a workout when it just doesn’t feel good?

A Lesson in Track Workouts

IMG_7699Since I’ve been working with my coach (started in early August) he’s gotten me back on the track for some speed workouts. I think I mentioned in a previous post that my last successful track workout was in June, before the whole calf injury ordeal and before my final marathon of the spring season. I made through two fall marathons with zero track work and one long run. My chance for a PR was shot but I still got close at the Chicago Marathon (3:08, about two minutes off of my PR). Now that the recovery period is pretty much over, I’ve put in three successful track workouts since starting back up.


The first two workouts given to me were both mile repeats – something I’ve done very infrequently in the past (and usually try to avoid). I used to do a lot of 800s, and when I actually did mile repeats I would only ever do three of them in a workout. My coach gave me workouts where I did four repeats the first time, and five the second time. So adding a few extra repeats on was new…and hard…but doable. I was able to hit the goal paces given to me and felt strong.

Last week, my track workout was completely different than anything I’d done before. It was 12×400 in 1:25-35 with two minutes of recovery between each. I never do 400s because I didn’t really think they had any value in marathon training. Well, after actually doing them I can absolutely see their value. Especially when you are doing a lot of them. When I first saw the workout, I actually thought it kind of seemed easy. Yes, a 400 in 1:25 is somewhere around a 5:40 pace, but it was for ONE quarter. Yes, there were 12 of them, but that only equals three miles. And, there were two whole minutes of recovery time in between each one. How hard could it really be?

Haaaaa! It was HARD! But SUPER fun. Because as hard as it was, I felt like I could really push the pace (especially when I got past #6) and feel what it feels like to run that fast. My splits ranged between 5:48-5:57 pace:

1- 1:31
2- 1:30

3- 1:30
4- 1:30
5- 1:28
6- 1:30
7- 1:29
8- 1:29
9- 1:30
10- 1:28
11- 1:28
12- 1:27 (last one, fast one!)

It was the first time I ran negative splits for a track workout. However, my overall pace for the whole workout (warm up, cool down and recovery time) was 8:44. I did walk/jog my two minute recoveries because when I did my initial track workout with my coach, he had me do just that. I normally run my recoveries. By the time I got to my cooldown following the 12×400 workout, I was lucky to be able to average a nine minute pace.

So, that brings me to the title of my post. I’ve always trained myself and never had any guidance on how to do speed workouts. I was also never much of an athlete until I began running in my late 20s. I tend to judge the quality of my workouts based on my overall pace – including track workouts. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing slower paces on my Garmin messes with my head. For example, on a day where I am supposed to be running fast (like a track workout), if my overall pace was “fast”, I thought I was successful. On Friday, my overall pace was much slower because I slowed my recoveries, and had almost nothing left for the cool down. I really almost had to walk, resulting in a slower overall pace. I had mixed feelings about this. Did I nail the workout because I hit the interval times, or did I fail because I was unable to maintain a specific pace for the overall workout? I realize at this point I should be able to answer that question on my own, but I decided to ask my coach his thoughts.

His response made a lot of sense and basically just served as reassurance to what I already knew. Track workouts, in a sense, are not necessarily about the quality of the overall average pace so much as they are about the quality of the intervals. The quality comes from hitting each interval hard, which I did. It’s more important to hit the interval hard and take the rest periods extremely easy so you can be ready for the next one.  I just needed to hear someone tell me that I was doing it right.

As for the rest of the weekend, I followed up the track workout with a nice easy run around Bethlehem on the Christmas City 5 Mile course to prepare for next weekend. My 5 Mile PR is a 33:xx, and I’d like to break that if I’m feeling good. I just need to keep my eye on my piraformis, which has still been a bit sore. On Sunday, my group hammered out a nice 8 miler at a decent clip to get in the weekend “long run”. Most of the group is running longer than me right now since I’m just building up my mileage again. I think I hit something like 38 miles last week, and that was the most I’ve done since Chicago. I’m used to a lot more than that, so now that my recovery period is over it’s time to start ramping up my mileage. I do have a marathon coming up in February, but I’m really just thinking it will be a good long run to get my legs ready for Boston!

Do you do track workouts? Do you base your success off of your overall pace or quality of each interval? If not, what kind of speed work do you find works best for you?