An overview from a runner with a prior DNF coming back for a PR.
2014: Los Angeles: 4:37:39
2015: Los Angeles: DNF
2017: Houston: 4:08:43
I finished my second marathon last weekend. After the first, LA 2014 I swore I’d never do another. I could barely breathe by the end, and my whole body was a mess. Within 48 hours I had changed my tune and planned to do the same race again the following year. In the 2015 LA Marathon, I grabbed a DNF after breaking my ankle in mile 5. I knew I had to do at least one more to redeem myself, but was sure that would be my last for a long time. Now I want to do one every two years or so, and I think I’ll focus less on my time, and more just on creating the base to enjoy a run through whatever city or landscape I’m in.
Thoughtful & consistent training pays off with a new PR.
Sunday I ran the race I trained for, and though the time I saw when I crossed the finish line marked the achievement of one goal, I took it as a bench mark of two different paths I want to continue on. The two goals are intertwined; I want to become the best competitor in running that I can push myself to be, and I also want to be a useful training coach for fellow amateur athletes who want to push their own boundaries. With training on myself, I hope that I might find good practices to pass on to my fellow athletes, whether they are full of fury for a medal, or just want to feel more confident and comfortable in community races.
Summary of the Race
I’ll write about specifics, including pacing and training, lower in this post, but first I wanted to give an overview of the race. It was the “Dad’s Day 5k” in downtown Houston, Texas. I love these community races- something always chokes me up, and this one got me good. The cause was prostrate cancer, as the race fell Fathers’ Day Weekend. My own father passed away over ten years ago, and it was from him that I got the running genes, so I thought about him a lot. I don’t doubt that soaring emotions helped me get to the finish line faster, I felt pretty inspired to do my best, just in case he was watching.
I found that it was a pretty big race, at least 1000 people running, more volunteering. There were men dressed up as Captain America & Batman, and I grabbed a pic with Batman after the race, while waiting for the times to be posted. It was hot and humid, the stats being 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 80% humidity. I felt it as soon as I opened my car door at the race site. Those guys in the superhero costumes were seriously heroic for donning facemasks and tights in that weather! Once the race got going I felt like I was running through a volcano covered in a wet blanket.
They did a kids 1k race before the 5k started, and it was of course adorable but also inspiring. The bigger kids ran really hard, and I was floored to see that a girl took 3rd place, flying in well ahead of the next kids and the pack.
Running the Race
I lined up at the front. I finally realize that is where I need to be. Choosing a spot close to the start line is a relatively new move for me. In the past I’ve been scared it would make me go out too fast, but I finally have confidence in my training that I know my pace and can hold it, letting go of my ego, so that the people that rush out in front of me oftentimes drift behind me after a mile or so. There were signs posted from 7 min pace on up, and I marched in between it and the 8 min sign. Even with the weather, I was counting on running at the very least 7:40/mile. My previous pace for a race on about the same course was 7:50, but that was in February when the weather was much more forgiving.
Never ending. It felt like forever, and I glanced at my watch, reading a 7:25 there. For a long time that would have alarmed me, as getting close to 7:30 too early in the race gasses me. I stopped looking at my watch. Legs felt good, breathing was ok. My only source of discomfort was the heat.
The race was out and back, so the one mile mark meant only 1/2 a mile until I got to turn around. My pace quickened, and I didn’t really have to think about it. I was running in a pack that included a few women, and I had no way of knowing if they were hurting like I was and if they would suddenly take off. I would look at my watch, and still see times that were a little fast, 7:18 or so, and just leave the over-analyzing alone and ask the question- “Can I maintain this?”. I did, and I got faster. As I approached and rounded the turn-around, I counted nine women in front of me, making me ten. A little fear set in that I may drop out or I would get passed, which took my adrenaline up a notch.
Third Mile & Finish Line
Or as I like to think of it, the oh-thank-god-its-almost-over mark. My focus became just running at my threshold. I wasn’t going to leave anything behind. I had passed a few women, and there was one in front of me that I figured would stay there, but something happened in the last 200 meters or so. I looked at my watch, and the time read 21:30. My goal PR right now is a sub-22, and though I really thought I had no more effort left to give, I surged. I got to the finish line with a 22:33, and I was really proud with that. It busted my old PR by 20 seconds, even with me being 5 years older since I set that mark. What a rush!
As I crossed the finish line, I realized just how overheated I had become. I never got water in the race, not wanting to sacrifice time or stop my momentum, and as I came to the stop I realized I wasn’t altogether sure I wasn’t going to pass out. I also had to use the bathroom, and deliberated on the odds of me blacking out inside the Port-o-potty if I even made it there. YOLO, in I went, out I came, and grabbed water.
As a starting point for my training, I read Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. I was mainly interested in his VDOT charts, which take performance as an indicator of VO2 max, then provide a comprehensive list of times to aim for in training for 5 different kinds of runs. Once you figure out where you land with your VO2 capabilities, you are only getting started in putting together a training program. I had to identify my strong and weak areas, and prioritize my training to condition myself what I was worst at- holding a pace through discomfort.I know I’m capable, I just haven’t always been willing!
Lest I get super confusing for newer runners or people whose lexicon is different, here is how I describe and interpret my training. This is taken almost directly from JD Running Formula, I just adapted a few things within my training becuase his book describes a program for people who run way more volume (miles) than I do right now. I give a description of how interpreted and adapted the workouts for my purposes, and the paces I used, which were determined from Daniels’ charts in the book.
Interval Run: 400-1000 meters run at slightly faster than 5k pace with 60-90 seconds of recovery.
7:20 pace for this training cycle
Tempo Run: runs of 20 minutes at hard but comfortable pace
Reptition Run: short intervals on the track. I used 200 meter sprints, with a 200 meter recovery jog.
50 seconds/200 meters
Easy/Recovery Run: should be self explanatory, but runs of half an hour to an hour a few times a week.
I ran maybe 20 miles a week. I was able to get away with relatively low mileage because I supplemented resistance training in the gym. The resistance training was more or less targeted to not just strength, but endurance, including short to no rest periods between sets targeting different muscles. What I found was that training this way conditioned my mind to push through pain and fatigue, which is just what I needed!
For this race, I went in knowing what I was working with, because I had been training consistently, with progressive paces individualized to my workouts for months. I wasn’t as interested in where I placed in the field for this race. I knew this would be my last 5k for awhile, and I wanted to beat my best time. The big picture: If I placed last and ran faster than my fastest, then the race would be a success. The race was a total win. I ran hard the whole time, held on when it got really rough, and somehow found the grit to rev up even more at the end. I start training for the Houston Marathon next month, and I’m really excited to work out my training details for that race!
I ran a race last weekend that gave me the opportunity to counteract a mindset that had been holding me back, a mindset that created a belief system that had me giving up too often. I touched on this aspect about myself in a previous post. I had identified an ugly work pattern that exists not only in my racing style, but in my general life approach. The picture: I rush into something and then give up. I might not necessarily leave the venture alone entirely, sometimes I’ll just give less effort. Believing the goal I set is unattainable, maybe because of some minor setback or unforeseen obstacle, I’ll either divert my energy to an easier cause, or lower the bar I was originally reaching for. It’s a self-protecting measure I developed to protect an oversensitive ego. This way of living no longer serves me the way it once did. As I get older, the thought of leaving more undone is colliding with my increasing awareness of mortality and legacy, and how I see myself is mattering more and more than what I think I can prove to others.
In the 5k I ran last weekend, and I went out too fast to start. I projected from my workouts prior to the race that I could run a 7:45 pace, and hold it for 3 miles. However, my pace for the first mile was a 7:33, likely much faster than that for the first half mile. Going out with too much intensity meant I didn’t have as much left for the second half of the race, which consisted of more uphill running than the first half. I kept my eye on my pace, and watched it steadily climb, to 7:40, 7:50, and past 8:00 once I was on the uphill. Everything hurt. Aside from going out to fast, I had almost no warm-up, as I overslept, and my only pre-race activity was running from my car to the starting line, where the National Anthem was being sung just as I arrived. So, with less than a mile of warm-up to get me going, I moved to the front of the pack anyways. I could have hung further back in the crowd, which would have helped slow me down to start, but that morning I knew I didn’t want to deal with moving around other runners as the race got going.
So that was what was happening on the ground. In my head, mile one felt like it took forever, even though I was running fast. Mile two was even longer. I was actually looking forward to mile 3 even though I was starting to feel like there was lead in my legs, because I knew all I had to do was run to the end. Just keep running. This is where some of my workouts were really helpful. I’ve taken to only jogging or running for rest between working intervals, which has done something great for my mindset- I don’t stop. I hope I never walk in a race shorter than a half again, as I’ve sort of eliminated any excuse for that through practice. I now know that no matter how exhausted I feel, I can pick my feet up and put them back down again at a decent pace until the worst of whatever I’m feeling goes away.
In the last half mile, I didn’t want to walk or slow down, but I did really want to stop giving so much effort. It wasn’t getting me anywhere anyways. I’d push harder, only to look at my watch and realize I was still running an 8:06 pace, which was pretty demoralizing. (I may run the next race without the watch and see what happens, on that note). The thing is, I didn’t let up, I still pushed, and at the end of the race, when I heard footsteps behind me, I somehow found a kick. I had been using other runners as benchmarks to keep me moving forward as strongly as I could, and I didn’t want to give up a place in the last 100 meters. The runner didn’t catch me, I’m happy to report, and the photog captured some great images of it all.
I finished in 24:31, cumulative pace of 7:53 per mile. I was third for my age group (30-34), and 9th female overall. I was not thrilled about this result, even though I recognize it is far from something to complain about. The more time I’ve had to analyze, the more I see that it was a really good race to start to look at what I can improve on. First and most obvious- prep better. Wake up on time, eat breakfast, do a decent warm-up. That one’s easy. Second, I need to work on my form some, I’m looking at pictures and noticing that my left arm has a tendency to cross my body too much, thought its possible that I could have just been looking at my watch just before the snap. Third- stop relying so much on the watch. Learning to gauge pace from feeling would really serve me, especially for goal four- hold back at the start. And finally, fifth thing to work on is my endurance. I had the heart this race, I know it, but I got to a point where there was just no gas in the tank. I’m surprised I had a kick at all.
Here’s the deal, I didn’t give up or in, and putting so much effort in for a time that is over a minute slower than my PR hasn’t deterred me. My goal is to run a sub 22 5k- this is not unattainable, but it will probably be pretty hard. That’s cool. Finally, I learned something pretty neat this weekend- as long as special events aren’t scheduled, Downtown Houston is straight up dead on Sunday mornings, and I look forward to doing some fun and training runs there in the future- running down the middle of an empty urban street a la Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky.