Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Portland Marathon [training + racing]

I'm trying to make this not boring.

I had an incredible race for the Portland Marathon. I felt awesome, I was strong, and I ran so evenly. I worked hard for it, and on race day, it came easy.

As I stated in my blog post before, I drew from three strong women for my training plan. There were things I did religiously and things I slacked on.

I never got my mileage above 48 miles in one week. When I decided to train for a road marathon, I didn't want to do high mileage. I not only had no interest in returning to ultramarathons but I had no interest in dedicating my life to logging miles. I wanted to work hard, but I wanted to enjoy the life Zac and I have built together and the city in the summer. We went on camping trips and hiked mountains because we love to do that together, which for me is more important than logging a 15 mile mountain run by myself.

I worked on every run. I didn't go out for lazy runs or easy runs. When I first started running, a man named Joseph Trupp was one of my mentors and I will always remember him telling me "The hardest thing about getting faster is the reality that you just have to run faster. If you wanna get fast you gotta be fast." That was in 2011 and it still rings in my ears. I wanted to qualify for Boston at Portland, and in order for that my average mile time had to be at least 8:12. So I ran all of my miles faster than that while training. And guess what? It wasn't easy at first. But it got easier. 8:10 clipped down to 8:05 and that clipped down to 8:00 miles and for the last 8 weeks I was regularly running comfortably under 8 minute miles. There are several arguments for embracing the easy run, but I've been doing that for a long time and I was very over it. It felt good to work hard, and I saw results. I made myself believe I could run comfortably in that range and it happened. I didn't crush Portland because I live at 5,280 feet. In fact, altitude training is not really that reliable (look up Jack Daniels' talks on it, they'll help you understand) and Denver isn't even that high! I just had to address this because non-athletes kept saying "Oh, you'll be at sea level!" when it doesn't work like that. Portland went well because I worked really hard and was really dedicated. (end rant)

Tempo/Mid-week long run
I did two running workouts per week. The most important and valuable part of my training was my mid-week longish run with Zach Byers. If this guy's name rings a bell it's because he's no stranger to my blog, I gave him a shout-out in my sappy 'Goodbye TKD' post (which is now over a year old - crazy). Anyway, Byers is a fast runner. He's faster than me, and every Tuesday (or Wednesday sometimes) we would hit the pavement together for 10-12 miles and he held me steadily at a pace anywhere from 7:20s to 7:45s. Our slowest average time was 7:49s, and I ran these distances at this pace while having conversation with him. This not only helped me obviously get faster, but it boosted my confidence. If I could run this pace for this long and still talk and get the appropriate oxygen to my muscles, sub-8:12s in Portland shouldn't be a problem. If I couldn't talk much and was struggling, Byers held the conversation by himself and helped me pull through. This workout was also the only time I trained with anyone else. It's also important to note I did this workout every week, two to three days after my track workout.

My track workouts were 3.1 to 3.25 miles long, religiously done at North High's track. By myself (except for once when Byers joined me and crushed me). I took the workouts from Rocky Mountain Road Runners' website (thanks for posting them!) and I worked so hard every time. Most of the time I did them in 90 degree heat and the blistering Colorado sun. Alone. If I didn't hit sub-6 mile pace for repeats, I ran the next one harder and would be in the low 5:00 mile range. If I was tired, I caught myself saying "I should listen to my body..." and pushed it out of my mind, sucked it up, and ran harder. I pushed for more, always. And I got more.

I weight trained once a week. I broke this training up into three cycles over my four months of training. I built a base with medium/hard efforts with exercises for shoulders/back/biceps/triceps/hips/quads/glutes. It was about an hour workout every time. The second cycle was heavier weights with maximum effort, same exercises. The third cycle was plyometrics to keep the fast-twitch muscles awake and active as I moved my running training into lower mileage and into a taper.

I did a core workout of 400 reps of ab exercises 5 times a week, because every experienced runner knows your legs don't do all of the work.

 (non-runners: 'Taper' is the time, generally 2-3 weeks, before a big race where you back off your training and let your body completely heal and be as strong as possible before the big race.)

I pulled up injured over three weeks from the start of the Portland Marathon. I still am injured. One day I simply woke up and my left calf was screaming as soon as I got out of bed. I took it easy for a few days and ran only 3-4 miles and it didn't get better. It never felt okay. It hurt at work, it hurt at home, it was unmanageable pain up and down stairs, and never got better while running. I stretched, I iced, I rolled it out, but 3 weeks out from the marathon it was still hurting. One particular run I stopped at the top view of Cheesman Park, my absolute favorite spot in all of the city, and broke down. I sat on a bench and put my head in my hands and knew that I knew this pain. This was the same pain I had when I first was injured before ultimately wrecking myself 8 months later. My calf pain was coming from my weak hips and I knew, from experience, there isn't a quick fix and it wasn't going to feel better for Portland. I sat on that bench and cried pretty hard. I came home and looked at all of my training. I logged ALL of my training by hand on paper calendars that I hung on our fridge. Workouts, miles, average mile times, all of it. And I had totally, completely neglected hip strength. This is important for all runners, but I know this is specifically a weakness for me. And for months I just didn't really think about it.

I paced around the apartment and thought about not going to Portland, but I had worked too hard to not start. This injury had pushed me into a 3+ week taper, and I had to figure out how to deal with that mentally and physically, so I read A LOT. I read article after article from Olympic runners and collegiate cross country coaches and professional athletes around the world. I knew if I just 'tapered' normally with low mileage and easy runs I would feel like shit on race day. I had to keep my intensity up and my injury at bay, somehow. It was also important to me that I not gain weight and maintain my muscle so I wouldn't feel sluggish on race day. I *KNOW* that a big part of this for me is having my taper time at MAXIMUM of two weeks. So a three week taper was a HUGE wrench in my game plan.

So I went to spin classes! My climbing gym, Movement, has spin classes 6 days a week and I went to every single one. I got up at 5:30am during the week to make it to the 6:15 spin classes. For my birthday (early September) Zac got me the Suunto Ultra Sport HR watch. It is by far the nicest piece of equipment I have ever had in my life and I'm still figuring out all of the bells and whistles to it, but during injury what I relied on most was the chest heart rate monitor. I was so thankful for this. I had never worn a heart rate monitor regularly before, and although the wrist ones are kind of cool, nothing is more accurate than a chest strap. I wore it for a few runs and learned what my max heart rate was, and which zones I wanted to be in. This helped so much for spin class, because cycling is fucking hard and I'm not surprised that people dope so much in that community. Watching my heart rate on my watch made me add resistance to the bike when I was already dripping sweat and gasping, pushing me to my maximum for an hour while keeping it light on my calf. I truly believe I was actually gaining aerobic capacity in my last three weeks of training from this. After spinning, I hit the weights. I focused so much on my shoulders, upper back and triceps. I did heavy weights 5 times a week for these areas because I knew that if my injury really got in the way during the race, I would have to turn to my upper body to help carry me through the hard times, and I needed that muscle to be there. So I built it.

From July 12 to October 8th I was sober, with the exception of my birthday and when my sister came to visit. Sobriety is a big part of training for me for a few different reasons. First, alcohol isn't good for you. We all know the article that's been viral for two years now on how 'red wine is good for you', but we all (hopefully?) are aware that it's not true. When you choose to not put poison into your body, your body is able to work harder and better. I also slept better. Training hard has got to be matched with good sleep for recovery, and I NEVER sleep well after I drink. I also make awful dietary choices when I'm drunk, and if I'm hungover I don't run. So I just cut alcohol out, and it was awesome. It was also extremely difficult, because I was bartending at a job I hated where everyone else was drinking on the job (or blowing coke in the parking lot - but that's a different story). I once again stopped eating meat in May and gave up dairy as well while training. Dairy causes more phlegm and I'm already kind of disgusting when I run, so less snot rockets was really great. Again, it goes back to putting the right nutrients into my body so it could recover and have the ability to perform the way I knew it could and the way I knew I wanted it to. No alcohol and no dairy were difficult lifestyles to adopt at first, but once those 7:30 miles started to come easy, so did the lifestyle.

I had some pretty big failures in my training. I already mentioned I led myself into injury from ignoring hip strength workouts, but I also never made my long run goals. I took my long run schedule from Hal Higdon, with three 20 milers 2-3 weeks from each other, and I failed each one. They were all done in 92-96 degree heat, and by myself. My longest was 19 miles, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain in the first 9.5 miles. That is A LOT for a road run, and the total elevation gain of the Portland Marathon is about 400 spread over 26.2 miles, so it was good training. But I never hit 20 (and I truly don't think you have to). However, my average mile time for my slowest long run was 8:26. So that was good. As I mentioned in the blog post before, I used those long runs to work hard, not to run easy. I tried different strategies and fuels and learned lessons on each one.

I wanted to weight train twice a week and I really had no excuse not to, I just didn't get to the weights a second time per week. Ever. Not once.

Sometimes I put cheese on my tacos. Zac makes us incredible veggie tacos with the Morning Star crumbles, and sometimes I used cheese.

I should've gone to yin yoga more. I do not use yoga for exercise, but I practice yin to help break up connective tissue, deep breathing exercises, anxiety prevention and meditation. It's important and it should've been a weekly regimen while training so hard.

The morning we left for Portland Zac and I found out we had to move when we returned to Denver. It's a long story for another blog post, but it added A LOT of stress, and without Zac being a pillar of reason and comfort, I would've been a wreck. With Zac throughout all of this training I don't think I would've had such a great race. There were a few times he told me to "Remember you're doing this because it's fun" and it annoyed me so much but I knew he was right. I also don't think I've ever had a spectator at a race the way Zac was, and it makes my heart so happy. Anyway...

My first goal for Portland was to have a good race. I wanted to finish knowing that I had pushed and I had been smart. My second goal was to qualify for Boston, to average 8:12 miles and finish under 3:35:00. My third tier goal was to run closer to a 3:20, because I really thought I could.

Zac and I stayed at the host hotel, the Hilton, downtown. We went to the expo and he took my picture with my number in front of the Portland Marathon banner, and the whole building was buzzing with racing vibes. Several volunteers wished me a great race, and it felt truly genuine, and I was so grateful for those words. Because I wasn't there to run a marathon. I was there to race a marathon. And goddamn it has been a long time since I've said I'm at a race to race. It's been two years since I've actually trained to race, not just to finish. I was so nervous that I had an 8 oz glass of wine at the hotel bar that night. Sober through training but come the night before, I kicked back with an Oregon Pinot Noir. That night we walked around and settled on having ramen for dinner. I chose a not-spicy soup to help my stomach for the morning, and drank a lot of water. I should note that the whole week before the marathon I drank A LOT OF WATER.

The morning of the race I really wanted to eat oatmeal. Oatmeal is the best race breakfast and I generally always eat it before I run, but I couldn't do it. I was too nervous. I ate one huge banana and had two cups of coffee. I took 800mg of ibuprofen for my calf pain - I hadn't taken any pain medication at all my entire training, so I knew the 800mg were going to work well.

I was started in the first wave, which always makes me blush and feel humbled. It was so cold that morning, I didn't take my jacket off until about 30 seconds before the start. I generally get emotional at big race starts, because there are thousands of people who are there that all went through their own journeys and training, and running is so important to them for all kinds of reasons. That just always makes me tear up. However, when the air horn went off and I crossed the start line, I had no tears. I was too focused.

I'm not sure what else to say other than I had a great race. I had my watch dialed in to the face settings I wanted, and it vibrates after each mile. I looked down after the first mile, clocked at a comfortable 7:30, and knew I should back off. I ran easier and forced myself to run slower than I wanted to, which was difficult. The next time I checked my watch was at the 10k mark and knew I was in the clear by far. The Portland Marathon is a big out and back, but it's so beautiful. You run through the industrial park which isn't great but you have this incredible view of the St Johns Bridge which you get to run across! With the river, the bridge and the colors on the trees, I was just in awe. I wouldn't change Denver's beauty and view of the high Rockies, but this course was so fun and entertaining because I had not done it before, and had no idea what I was going to see. At mile 8 (I think?) is the climb up to the St Johns Bridge, and it's long and it's steep, but I destroyed it. I was SO HAPPY to be running uphill, my legs just fired away and I let loose a little bit. I caught a lot of people on this climb and never saw them again. Running over the bridge and through the neighborhoods on the other side was so fun. I struggle to find other words to describe it. At mile 14 was the turnaround, and I thought to myself "Alright cool, time to jog back to the city". It was also here that I noticed my watch was ahead by one quarter of a mile, which is a bummer. I hadn't calibrated it to Portland from Denver, which I should've done, but I still knew my times were quick enough that I was ahead of my first two goals.

I remember around mile 16 I started to work my arms and pick up my pace, and I had to tell myself no. I didn't want to push with 10 miles left. I didn't carry a water bottle or anything for the race, there's so much aid at road races that you don't have to. I did, however, force myself to take aid at every single aid station, which is almost one/mile. I started with two cups of water and one cup of Ultima (electrolyte mix), and I changed it up according to how I felt. If my legs started to feel tired, I took two Ultima and one water. If my stomach was starting to feel off, I took all water. This only happened twice. The only aid station I skipped was mile 25 (seemed ridiculous), and my hands were so cold that I dropped a few cups. I never slowed down or stopped to take cups. I was happy the entire time, taking in all the views, and the weather was perfect. Overcast with some drizzle, mid-50s with some sunshine for me the last three miles.

At mile 18 I started to press a bit. I never felt weak, but I knew it was coming, and I knew it should. At mile 21 I started to feel tired and kind of weak and took 5 cups of aid. My belly was full but I knew my body would use it soon. I focused on my breathing and thought about Kate and everything she had told me. "Allow yourself to be slower here. It will happen." Oddly enough my average mile time at 22 had dropped to 7:53. At mile 23.5 I was feeling rough. I engaged my shoulders and pumped my arms and took the effort off my legs, but I was tired. I thought about sleep a lot, and how nice it would be. My thoughts started to drift to "I can just take these miles easy, I'm tired, and I've worked hard. I'm happy with this." But I quickly thought back to myself "No. NO. I am NOT doing this. I didn't work so hard all summer to run an easy last two miles. I know how to push." I thought "I have two miles left. I've had harder two mile runs than this" which is true, because I had done a two-miler the day before, the morning we left Denver, and it was AWFUL. It was so hard. And I smiled when I remembered that. The 3:30 pace group was just a few seconds ahead of me, and I looked down at my toes and thought "Okay, time to catch them and give it everything" AND THEN A FUCKING AMTRAK TRAIN CUT ME OFF. I looked up and a police officer was stopping the race, and train track arms were going down. You can imagine the reaction from everyone. I stared in doubt, and stopped my watch out of sheer city running habit. The guy next to me told me I'd still qualify for Boston and I spat "Yeah I know that's not my worry!" Because I had something to give. I had more to push for. My legs still had juice! I was at mile 24 and I was able to say my legs felt good. The train was 42 seconds. I know this because Suunto tells me how long my watch is paused for when I pause it (a blessing and a curse).

I couldn't catch the 3:30:00 pace group, but I still pushed until the end. I saw Zac about 500 feet from the finish line and he was videoing, and I smiled and waved and shouted "I'll see you in a few minutes!" As soon as I crossed the finish line I stopped my watch, and it buzzed with a congratulations text from Byers. I teared up immediately and felt so proud of myself. I had a near perfect race, my splits were consistent and I had a happy mindset for three and a half hours. I had no pain in my left calf the entire race, but toward the end, my right calf was really hurting. I assume this was from not only running on pavement for 26 miles but my right calf was definitely compensating for my left. I couldn't feel the injury on my right, but it was there. Still is.

My official time was 3:31:19. Overall I placed 271 out of 2,948. I was the 54th woman out of 1,467, and 16th out of 306 in my age group (25-29).

I'm fully recovered and have been ready to get back to training since I finished. I'm going to start training to run a 1:30:00 half marathon. That's really fast, and I have no idea if I'll be able to do it, but it seems fun to try. I've fallen in love with running hard and getting faster. It's a much different style than I'm used to, but getting back to hard training has helped running shine into corners of my life that make me a better person. It took a long time for me to return to running the way I wanted to, but when I'm working hard with running, I'm a better person. I'm more driven as a human, I'm a better partner, I'm a better friend, and I'm happier. I hope I never lose it again.

My watch splits for the marathon (remember it was .23 miles ahead)