Sunday, October 28, 2012

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

I ran a couple of short runs after my St. George marathon and felt fantastic. My quads were never sore after the 3,000-ft decline race, and my calves felt the effect just a tad. My conclusion is that my legs’ training was perfect: hills sprints, high-speed downhills every three/four days, legs extensions at the gym three times a week. All paid off.

I was ready for a race comeback as I honestly believe I couldn’t race my marathon, I simply ran it. I had Poulsbo Half Marathon scheduled for the week after the marathon which was part of the Silver Strider Grand Prix. I needed the run for my hunt of the Half Fanatics Sun status by February. However, I was hesitant of running it as my brother Freddy, who I haven’t seen for 9 years, was coming to town with his wife, Nelly. As one of his main hobbies is photography and that’s what he wanted to do during his 10-day stay, I found the way to make it work. I told him: “I have a race in a town founded by Norwegians that is really pretty. If you want to come with me you need to get up very early, we'll leave at 4ish and drive around the Sound (the ferries don’t start early enough). While I run you can wander around downtown; then we can visit Chief Seattle’s grave located just minutes from the race, and take the ferry back home”.  He, as a very easygoing person, said: YES.

So, that’s what we did. We left about 4:45 am, drove down South to Tacoma and back North to Poulsbo, all along Puget Sound.  The memories I had from this race were a long and hilly 20-miler run I had to do in my preparation for New York marathon in 2010. I remember I ran the Half, grabbed my medal and continued the marathon course for 7 more miles, but it was so hilly that I turned around at some point and to finish the 20 miles I ran the last mile in the school parking lot for my entertainment and pain. This time those 7 miles were not scheduled!

My brother Freddy and I before the start of 2012 Poulsbo Half Marathon
The course was changed since the last time I ran it. We had to do a loop, twice around the school what I found annoying. Then we went on the course I remembered. The run was good with its hills up and down. When we approached downtown I was hoping to see my brother and indeed he was there. He took a picture of me, and it was so nice seeing him there. 

I continued through more hills with gorgeous scenery. The last 2 miles were uphill; I was running slower than my pace because I was definitely feeling the tiredness from my marathon, but I felt strong. I never felt spent, or exhausted. I had a great race. I clocked 1:55:52, and my brother was there to capture the moment. I placed 4th in the 50-59 division but as the three first ladies were 50 and 51, I captured the 10 points given to the 1st place in the 55 division for the Silver Strider Grand Prix. 

From there we visit Chief Seattle’s grave (Chief Sealth) to pay our respects and then took the ferry in Kingston to Edmonds just a 20 min drive home.
Chief Seattle "Sealth" grave in Suquamish, WA
SEALTH (SEATTLE), Chief of the Suquampsh and allied tribes. Died June 7, 1866. The firm friend of the whites and for him the City of Seattle was named by its founders. Baptismal name, Noah Sealth, Age probably 80 years.
The rest of the week was awesome. I still had my early runs and during the day we did visits around town where Freddy shot thousands (literally) of pictures: Seattle downtown, Pike Place Market, Queen Ann neighborhood, our beautiful Needle, the EMP, Shilshole, Ballard, Fremont,  Gas Works, Lake Union, Lake Washington, UW Campus, Sammamish River Trail, Woodinville Wineries, Mukilteo Lighthouse and beach; Mount Rainier National Park. He and Nelly also had the opportunity to visit with my son Diego, and know my granddaughter Peyton.

I decided to skip Salty’s, the following weekend's race. My brother was leaving that very night and though he would’ve loved to photograph Alki and Seattle from the west side, we decided to spend the whole day with my hubby and a nice lunch at home. The vacation ended with a large file of beautiful memories (and pictures). We drove to the airport without missing on our way, the memorial of our great Jimi Hendrix. 

I love when everything can be combined to make everybody happy: racing, tourism, photography, history, traveling through the Sound on water, visit our natural massive monument Mt. Rainier; in short, to enjoy the magnificent nature of the Pacific Northwest. All this was possible because He Ain't Heavy, He Is My Brother. 
The menu: Ivar's Clam Chowder as first course, followed by a nice Flat Iron Steak cooked by my adorable Hubby, accompanied by a nice radicchio salad from my garden and garlic bread.... and WINE!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bouquet Of Goals

I trained for St. George Marathon like nobody’s business which would be my first attempt to qualify for Boston. It was the hardest training of my life so far: 3 months with 640 miles / 1024 Km; 12 tune-up Half Marathons; one 10-mile race; one 10K; and two 5K. Three months that told me I was in excellent shape. With the course profile and my tune-up races results (1:45 for the HM, 48:23 for the 10K, and 23:08 for the 5K) I designed the strategy for my 10th marathon, my 8th state in my 50-state quest, St George, UT race.

There were endless indications and St. George profile’s formulas that could be used to establish the pace per mile: from the slight decline at the start, to the hard and steep incline at Veyo; from the rolling hills, and the “brutal” downhills (they were not brutal at all, at least for me that trained hard downhills).

I knew several runners that had run it and all their splits were consistent with the above description, so, I had calculated that my first 7 miles will be around 8:20-8:25 min/mile, Veyo around 9; rolling hills around 8:40, and the back half in the low 8’s with under 8’s for the so called “brutal” down hills, which I consider I have mastered. I had an excellent downhill training mimicking many times these hills, and I knew I had good quads for this event.

I left Seattle on Friday morning to St. George via Salt Lake City. The flights were uneventful and the airplane SLC-STG was a 48-seat regional jet where half of the travelers were marathon runners. Conversations started, strategies shared, and excitement was boosted.

I joined 3 runners in the airport to go directly to the Expo (taxis were absent and not available, so rental car is recommended). Once at the expo we parted our ways; I grabbed my packet, bought a handful of GUs and called a taxi to take me to my bed & breakfast, Seven Wives Inn (go figure, is Utah).

It was 2 pm and I sat on the balcony to enjoy the B&B garden view while having my lunch: pasta with a touch of milk, a mound of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and a couple of fruits (I take the meals with me if I travel the day before the race so I don't have to deal with restaurants.)

I took a 2-hour nap, and at 5 pm I took a shower and arranged my running gear. I lied down again to watch a movie; those kind of movies that are irrelevant, nothing to think about.  I just wanted to be on that relaxing stage where nothing but my rest matters. At 7 I had my second load of pasta not because I am carboloading, but because this is my menu almost 365 days a year; nothing more simpler than that. Boring, could be, but simple! After this I went to sleep. Took me a while, but I know the sleep the night before the race is not the key. The key is the cummulative rest that I’ve had the week prior to the marathon.

The B&B (good place to stay if all hotels by the finish area are booked) had breakfast bags arranged for all runners and left in the fridge at 4 am to grab & go. A yogurt, a home made granola bar, a protein bar, a banana, and water or juice. I also prepared my personal oatmeal which I usually eat 2 hours before the race. I joined a couple of runners at 4:30 am and rode with them to the shuttle area (1 mile from the B&B) where we were going to be bused to Central, UT, 26.2 miles away. I had my oatmeal at 4:45 am while riding in the bus, and chatting with guy sitting next to me. He was local and had run this race many times, and confirmed my plan was totally in-sync with the course profile.

There were at least 50 bonfires for runners to stay warm. I walked around, talked to runners, took some pictures, porta-potties a few times, and left my gear bag at the U-haul truck.

From there to the start line where we were set to go. I had a disposable flashlight for the first mile as I was told it was pitch dark but there was enough moon and it was not too bad. I set my pace to a comfortable start with the caveat that it was not comfortable. I felt my chest tight and I had a minor difficulty to breath. I knew it wasn’t asthma but I was not able to breath smoothly. This mile was a slight downhill and I felt my legs so heavy that I thought I was running uphill. I had trouble lifting them. Did I taper too much? What was going on? When I hit the mile marker I was in 9:08 what concerned me a little. In none of my plans 9 min/mile was considered with the exception of Veyo climb.  During the 2nd mile I still had trouble breathing. I thought that probably I had a beginning of a cold therefore my chest was tight. 2nd mile was 8:58. During mile 3 though my legs still felt heavy, my breathing improved; I felt much better, and then is when I realized that altitude hit me. Definitely that was; my chest lighten up, I felt more secure and continued my run trying to convince my legs that they would be fine. However, they were still heavy and I told to myself “I will never taper that much again.” I felt like if I had not run in 6 months, and I was only in mile 3 with no challenges yet.

Paces were improving as planned but only because the course profile; my legs were not collaborating. Then Veyo climb approached. This is a hard hill even for Seattleites. I went as planned, shortening my stride, running at moderate pace to not blow it. It’s early in the race, and this is where the race is lost if trying to keep the pace that you bring from the downhill section. My pace was not what I expected. During my training I was doing 8:40-8:50 in hard uphills back home. Now I was doing 9:40. With that 9:40 on Veyo, I thought that my goals were out of reach. Veyo is a 500-foot climb in one mile. When I finished Veyo, I was done. I felt like puking, and I wanted to quit. I was not in my natural “good feeling” state. I haven’t run anything extremely difficult, I was just in the first third of the race and I felt absolutely spent. Big Sur climb was similar with headwinds, further in the race (mile 10) and though it was hard, I never felt spent. Though I had strategies for every mile, I decided to follow my overall strategy. Do first half in max 1:55 and the back half same pace or faster, as most everybody recognizes that is a negative splits course. That would put me in my main ulterior goal of 3:50.
My mind started to send negative messages. During the super smooth rolling hills from 8 to 12 I felt miserable. At mile 10 the same negative feeling of quitting was all over me. I started to feel desperate. At mile 12 things improve when the downhills section was ahead of me. I hit the half mark in 1:56. I thought if the negative splits were true, I still had a good chance to keep my goals in mind, but though my paces improved I never felt well. At mile 17 I just pulled over to the side of the road and was very close to puke again. Unsuccessful. I talked to myself. What do you want to do? Do you want to quit? The answer was yes. Then I saw myself getting a ride. Then I saw Petra, my dear Brit friend, running Berlin in 2010. I pictured her at the exact mile I was, 17, shivering, wrapped in a blanket inside a medical tent. I pictured her all discouraged because she was shooting for Boston as well, and she was about to DNF. Then I saw her standing up, and kept going. Then I saw her qualifying for Boston. I was not at that level of discomfort, I was not shivering, and I was not in need of a medical tent. I was in need of a BQ. From that moment the quit feeling was gone but not how I felt.

As the miles went, my goals started to be thrown out of the window. I threw away the 3:5ish, and held tight to the 4:00 and lastly to 4:10, my BQ. When I crossed the 30K at 2:48 I had some hopes but then mile 20 was at 3 hours even. I had 60 minutes to pull a 10K if I still want a sub-four. Gosh, my 10K is 48 minutes fresh and I was doubting I could run it now in one-hour. I pushed the pace and ran an 8:11, but when you are going downhill, the slight flat, or uphill becomes a mountain. I clocked a 10:10 in mile 22. Orders given, back to the 8ish. At mile 23 I was in 3:27. I had 33 min to pull a 5K plus 0.1 mile. Could sound easy, but we seasoned marathoners know that nothing is a given. I pushed as I could and ran mile 24, a blessed downhill in 8:42. A fan by the road screamed: “Lizzie you are just 2 miles away, and this is the last downhill. The rest is flat.”. I didn’t want to hear that, I needed gravity to help me. Flats sections were mountains since I started because my legs didn’t play ball at all with me during the whole race. For the last 2 miles I knew I had Boston in my pocket; in my first try. I knew as well I had the sub-four. I would have to collapse for not getting it and I was not in so bad shape. I think my mind was blurry during this stretch. Then I hit mile 26 and I was in 3:54:55. I have 0.2 miles to go. I did it, I did it. I saw the finish line. I crossed it, it’s 3:56:39. I stood underneath the mist showers. I stayed there. I kissed Utah’s ground. The guy that put my medal on hugged me tight because I was crying heavily with one picture in my head: Myself crossing Seattle’s Marathon finish line 5 years ago, in 2007 in 5:54. My kids were in my mind; the words my beautiful daughter Alejandra told me before the race were resonating,"Mom, with faith you can move mountains. With doubt you only create them." She had so much faith in me; my adorable Hubby Randy who endures my "disappearances" every weekend to go to races. Michelle who was fundamental in my training, and Petra, because her Berlin experience helped me to keep moving. Mind over matter. Mind over matter. Everything is possible.

I had a wonderful list of goals to shoot for and I knew they were possible. I achieved most of my goals; some were lofty but with the training and information I had I knew they were achievable. I trusted my training and I trusted myself. Elevation hit me hard, and those are the variables we can’t control, but without the training I had I would have not been able to attain most of the flowers in my Bouquet Of Goals.

1) Conquer Utah (i.e.: Finish) - Checked
2) PR (Under 4:35:13) - Checked
3) Get a BQ (4:10:00) - Checked
4) Get time to spare for Boston registration 2nd week (4:00) - Checked
5) Sub-four - Checked
6) Position me on the top 10 for 2012 in Washington State - Checked
7) Get time to spare for Boston registration 1st week (10 min or more time to spare) – Checked. As 2013 was not sold out I could get a spot in 2013.
8) Place on the top 8 in the marathon (around 3:50) (awards went to top 8) – Nope -   Placed 11th out of 97.
9) Place on the top 5 in the race (around 3:45) - Nope
10) Position me on the top 3 for 2012 in Washington State (under 3:33:10) – Nope
1- 9:08
2- 8:58
3- 8:10
4- 8:24
5- 8:20
6- 8:00
7- 8:03
8- 9:40
9- 9:33
10- 9:05
11- 9:42
12- 9:22
13- 8:51
14- 8:59
15- 8:21
16- 8:38
17- 8:54
18- 9:47
19- 10:35
20- 10:08
21- 8:11
22- 10:10
23- 8:36
24- 8:42
25- 9:18
26- 9:07
26.2- 1:46 (8:45)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Let's Race The Race

Week 1 - Phase IV - Core Workout: REST
10/01/12 - 10/05/12 - Pre-race

My 50-state skirt with 7 stars (bottom-right corner) representing the conquered states... Utah will be my 8th state
I have had 9 tapering periods before and every one of them was happily welcome ... Not this one. Reason is that for all my previous marathons I trained 3 times a week, max 4, so I only needed to shorten the distance and continue with my 3 days for 3 more weeks. But for this training season I ran 8 times a week, so, I didn't need only to shorten the mileage but the quantity of runs. I needed to sleep in, I needed to take time off, I needed mentally not to think much about running. My routine changed dramatically. I stopped my running commute to/from work. I had too many "free" hours in my hands (and feet).

First week was crazy. I was indeed tired physically as I was coming from two hard HM races plus a 20-miler all in the same week. My legs were ready to rest but mentally I wasn't. I liked so much my routine, that to give up 3 running hours per day was going to be tough.

I didn't have a particular taper plan (or none at all), as the plan I was following was built by me for me. Following conventional wisdom and all marathon's plans available I should run the first week of taper between 70% to 80% of my mileage. If the % was based on the peaked mileage it would put me in 56-64 miles: too much; if based on the average mileage, it'd be around 48 miles: still too much. In addition my running partner (one of my running forces) was gallivanting with her husband in Hawaii, so being her away made me lazier than ever.

After investigating the science behind tapering I found some studies that revealed when we need to run our absolute best, we should put emphasis on high-intensity workouts and extremely low mileage. (I liked the "extremely low" part). One scientific study concluded that a drastic reduction in training volume (as high as 85%) decreased final race times plus had benefits in other areas (oxygen consumption). Also I followed various advices from runners (the advice we hear many times): Listen to your body, and Bart Yasso's: You can't taper too much.  

Week 3 - Phase IV - Core Workout: REST
09/17/12 - 09/23/12 -
Week Total:  23.3

I decided to go with those advices. I listened to my body and ran only twice, a 12-miler and an 11 miler. Easy.

Week 2 - Phase IV - Core Workout: REST
09/24/12 - 09/30/12 -
Week Total:  18.3

On week 2 I ran three times (running partner was back). One of my runs planned to be a high intensity 6x800, but mind and legs settled for fartlek (0.1 miles) at 6:40 pace ... I took it anyway.

And then, THE WEEK. This week... Week one... This one... Marathon Day week... Nerves, nerves, and more nerves. I went for an easy 3.1 miles with asthma on Tue 10/02... I may run another easy 3.1 today... (may). I took Thursday off. I'll fly tomorrow Friday. I'll run on Saturday. I'll fly back on Saturday afternoon. I will discern on Sunday.

I have studied my numbers, the profile, the pace according to the profile, formulas behind St. George. I feel like those horse racing studious people that review all the stats to improve their odds of winning.

I have very high goals... Very high. Two main goals are to conquer my 8th state, Utah, and to get me a pass to Boston for 2014, but I have more goals which I only have shared with my beautiful daughter. 

As always, I conclude what I have always concluded. Race day is race day, and that's the day where everything needs to be aligned to make the stats work. As my daughter told me: "Mom, with faith you can move mountains. With doubt you only create them."

I not only have faith, I have numbers to back up that I should do very well... should... but I must run first... Let's Race The Race.